Are The Times A Changin?

To borrow a title from Bob Dylan is brave on my part as there is no way my writing stacks up against Bob’s and I am unlikely to write anything that is remembered and celebrated like him, but irrespective of this I will continue to share my exploits.

Back to the main reason for writing, as anyone who has read these before will know over the years I have had some challenges with a certain sport, and that sport is one third of a triathlon and has led me to not have carried on with the challenge of triathlon for the last few years.

For anyone who hasn’t guessed so far, the sport in question is swimming, a sport that those who do it don’t understand anyone who can’t and those who can’t or struggle wonder how anyone can possibly enjoy it.

I am firmly in the camp of how can anyone enjoy it, it takes place in artificially lit plastic boxes with cold chemical filled water, which as if to make it harder gets deeper at one end.

For those of us that struggle with swimming the act of getting from the shallow end to the deep end gets more fraught as you go on as once you get past a certain point you can’t stand up and so the chance of drowning becomes a realistic possibility. The return journey is not as bad as the water gets shallower but I get more tired so drowning remains possible as you can drown in a few inches of water!

Now, it turns out swimming has two major components firstly technique, very important and secondly the mental side which is probably more important as if you can’t relax in the water than swimming is almost impossilbe.

I have struggled with both of these components and frankly thought the idea of ever swimming in a relaxed enjoyable way was not for me, it was something other people did.

Recently I have been thinking about future challenges and triathlon kept coming to mind as I obviously felt I had unfinished business and so it became a simple question of either of overcoming the struggle of swimming or forget triathlon for good, and find other areas to go at.

Unfortunately there is never an easy way to overcome a struggle, and so my approach was simple, go to the pool and try swimming again with no pressure and then find some lessons to sort out the technical side and hopefully the mental one as well.

The few times I went to the pool, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, I did some lengths and tried hard to be as relaxed as possible, it seemed that perhaps there was a chance swimming was possible. The outcome of these trips was that I decided to search out some lessons

Finding appropriate swim lessons is tricky, you need to find someone who you can trust, someone who is able to help you and break the technique down into chunks you can understand. Luckily for me via social media I saw an advert for a course run by someone I met years ago when trying triathlon who I knew was a good swimmer and was now coaching full time.

The lessons were over a 5 week period, and to summarise the course it basically broke the technique down and each week a different element was worked on, culminating in the last week of reassembling it and swimming!

I quite enjoyed the course and whilst it certainly wasn’t easy I did learn a lot and had my first experience of swimming where it felt I was on top of the water rather than dragging myself through it.

Since the course I have been swimming at an open air pool, which is heated and is so much more enjoyable than the normal leisure centre one, it also has the advantage of being open on my way home from work.

This week I had the new experience of a whole swimming session feeling “easy” or rather moving through water and the amount of speed reflecting the amount of effort rather than the effort out weighing the movement.

Perhaps the most important part of this is that I have been enjoying swimming, and actually looking forward going which is making it easier mentally.

The final part of the puzzle is that I have decided to enter a sprint triathlon in July and that is going to be the acid test, where this will take me in the end is unknown but this is a start, and a good one at that.

If you want some swim lessons then look up Bex Tri Fit there are various courses and I am sure you will learn.

Who knew that I would finally find swimming enjoyable and believe that I could again try triathlon.

Is It In The Mind?

Whilst racing my last duathlon I noticed that many of the fastest racers were all wearing compression calf guards whilst racing, now I own and use calf guards but only generally for recovery not in races. I consulted “Iron” Mike on this and he said he had raced with them and it was certainly worth a go to try them.

Initially I used them on a couple of training runs, and the only thing I noticed was that the muscles had that “warmed up” feeling from really early on, much sooner than even after a period of warm up. There was no evidence I was going faster or that the muscles weren’t tiring as fast, but that was mainly down to the types of sessions I was doing.

I decided to used them on the usual ParkRun to see what happened. Incidentally, there are quite a few runners wearing either guard or long compression socks each week. The result was that I set a new pb by 10 seconds or so, could this be down to the calf guards?

The following week I used the guards again whilst training, this time on a harder intervals session I was struggling to maintain a set pace, it was a pace I can hold but just couldn’t. This led me to wonder if perhaps the guards just were having a placebo effect.

Come the ParkRun, whilst I didn’t run another pb I was only 2 seconds off my previous weeks time, so I was back to thinking is there really something in this?

I know if you look on the companies who make compression clothing websites they will show you studies that suggest better performance etc but in real terms, terms of non-elite athletes do these things really work?

If I am honest I really don’t know, my race times suggest they might, my training times offer no real help, I have another duathlon coming up so will wear them on that to see if they help me there or not.

The only conclusion I have been able to draw is that they don’t seem to make things worse.

For the record I am wearing a pair of calf guards made by Compressport and so I haven’t tried any other makes, as these ones I have found help with recovery post event. IF anyone knows any manufactures who would like me to test theirs then I would be happy to oblige if they wish to send me some!

 

Some Things From This Week

Slightly different post this wee, I thought I would highlight 5 things I have learnt, rediscovered or just forgotten about.

1 – Press-ups. As many people will have seen there is a 22 day challenge to do 22 press ups each day and post a video of yourself doing this to raise awareness of combat vets. There are apparently 22 vets a day committing suicide and this challenge is to raise public awareness. If I am honest I was hoping to avoid this challenge s I hate press-ups, but I got tagged and rather than ignore it, I have taken on the challenge. So far, so good I have managed 4 days and am actually enjoying it, working some muscles everyday is never a bad thing. If you are tagged, don’t ignore it, give it a go. I have 18 or so days left and that is plenty of time to tag people. so watch out!

2 – Interval training. I have said it many times that interval training is the work of the devil, however you dress it up it hurts regardless of the length of the interval. This week I have had a set on the bike of 1 minutes intervals every 4 minutes for an hour. What surprised me most was just how quickly the 1 minute intervals came round, it seemed no sooner had one finished the next was starting. I was glad when the hour was done and I could just ride home!

3 – Trail running is brilliant. There is no shock to this, I love trail running and I particularly like it in the evenings when after being in the office all day you can get out in the fresh air and the countryside. Being able to head out across fields and woodlands for a run is one of things in life that never gets boring, yes the running is harder but that really doesn’t matter as it is offset by the views and environment.

A short post but I have been not writing much lately and so need to get back on it and hopefully this will be the catalyst.

2 Wheels Are Best

I have spent the last week indulging myself by riding a variety of bikes in different locations but all with one thing in common, it was fun!

Starting last weekend I took part in the Brompton World Championship (BWC) race in London, a crit race around St Jame’s park after the Ride London Women’s pro race. The BWC has some rules, one of which id the dress code, a shirt, tie and jacket must be worn and no lycra. This makes for some wonderful sights with people really going to town to dress up.

For me, I went for a pink jacket to add some colour to the occasion.

Bwc_1

To take part in the race you don’t actually have to race, you are more than welcome to just enjoy the ride around the course. However, a race is a race and the opportunity to have a thrash around is too much to resist for me. In terms of competition there were ex-pros Dave Millar and Dr Michael Hutchinson plus various ex winners so there were some fast people. For me I covered the 17km at an average speed of over 36km/h to finish 68th overall, a result I was more than happy with.

Next up I went for a tour round the Chilterns with the aim of having a mid-ride coffee at some gardens, the route I got from a local cycling club and was around 80km in length. I found I was enjoying the ride on my road bike and so when the Garmin said to go straight across a junction I decided I would add some more distance and went left to add around another 20 odd km. The extra loop allowed me to ride through the countryside and do a couple of hills I haven’t done before. On arrival at the gardens I treated myself to a coffee and large slice of ginger cake, I know I am trying to reduce my sugar in take, but I just couldn’t resist.

cake_coffee_1

The ride home after this felt easy and I reckon I was probably grinning as I was going, even the hills to home seemed enjoyable.

Back to the Brompton of army next ride, and this was a couple of hours riding round Silverstone in an event organised by Muscle Help

I did get a few funny looks from some riders when I rolled up to the start on the Brompton, but once we were let loose on the track I think I changed their opinions mainly by riding past them or dropping them out of chain gangs! Some of the more season better riders were complimentary and seemed to enjoy watching me pass people who might have had a nice bike and good gear but no legs!  Riding round Silverstone was interesting as I had never really realised how windy sections of the track could be, and how in real life some of the run off areas are not that big and so stopping an F1 car from ploughing into a face might be tricky. No such issues on the Brompton though!

Brompton_Silverstone

After the fun of racing round a flat motor racing circuit it only seemed right to go and do some hills, so I headed down to Surrey to have a look at some of the famous climbs down there, and also it gave me a chance to recce Boxhill prior to the Ballbuster later in the year.

Now, I do not know the Surrey area at all, and this became apparent when I went came to Dorking and the Garmin seemed to be trying to send me down a way I couldn’t go and I couldn’t see how to get to the road I needed so I ended up following a sign that said Leith Hill, and this turned out to be a great decision as it took me up Coldharbour Lane which was a good climb, although the road was really greasy due to overnight rain and so if you got out of the saddle the rear wheel started to spin, or it could just be I was laying down tremendous amount of power! The countryside was great with some lovely views and I have to say drivers who all seemed happy to give me space so perhaps the stories of all drivers in Surrey hating cyclists isn’t true?

The final part of the ride was the climb back up Boxhill, having only seen this for the first time when I drove to the car park at the top in the morning I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, it didn’t look too steep but did it have some hidden traps? The early part of the climb was easy to get into a rhythm and I had the added advantage of being able to see another cyclist further up the climb who I was able to aim at. The other cyclist I thought initially was going quite quick but i soon gained and passed him leaving me on my own. The hairpins actually enable you to pick up some speed and so it wasn’t long before the climb was done. It seemed fairly easy to keep a steady easy pace and I have to admit to being a little disappointed really I was expecting something a little more, never mind though the views at the top were brilliant and well worth the trip.

Finally it was time to break out the CX bike and do a little off-road riding back in the Chilterns. I have to say I didn’t really push very hard and so the route was easy with a good mix of tarmac and dirt. Possibly the best part was riding along an ancient cart track past a model aircraft club field and seeing them flying some really big planes, impressive things. The rest of this ride was good fun enjoying some climbing and looking forward to that post ride coffee!

The other cycling aspect to the week was visiting both Look Mum No Hands and the Rapha Cafe in London on a trip there, both server excellent coffee and food and are places I will return to when the situation allows.

All in all I feel that I have had a great fun week where I was left to my own devices and so basically just played on bikes. It never ceases to amaze me just how much fun you can have on bikes, regardless of what type, model etc Any bike can go fast it all comes down to your legs, are you able to pedal it. Yes I am lucky in owning several bikes but I enjoy them all and ride them where possible

In conclusion I spent most of the week riding bikes and I loved it!

Simply Fun

What is better on a sunny Sunday morning than a bike ride, possibly nothing.

This Sunday morning was sunny and offered the perfect excuse to head on the cross bike and ride through the Chilterns using the Ridgeway as the central point.

Now I have to admit I haven’t ridden a huge amount of the Ridgeway I don’t know why, in fact I have probably run more of it than I have ridden, so today was the perfect excuse to use a portion of it.

The Ridgeway is an ancient track that has a variety of different surfaces, gravel, grass, chalk and a bit of mud, all of which make for good fun on a cross bike.

So today I headed along the ridgeway, it has some short sharp climbs, and headed off towards Aston Hill. This route was great, and on reaching the hill I headed up the rode to the top as I knew there was another bridleway at the top. Going up the road I passed one guy, but equally was passed by a pair although they didn’t really distance me!

The bridleway at the top turned out to be steep and stony steep downhills on a cross bike are a little tricky, particularly when the route is very rutted and has a good covering of slimy slippery mud. No need to say I went down it like Bambi on ice, I could have gone faster but I wasn’t feeling brave or stupid!

Once down it was out onto a wide track which I flew along, and headed back in the general direction home. However, I had one more section of Ridgeway to do, and actually dropped of it early to take in an extra road hill to keep stretching the legs!

After the “joy” of a steep climb back towards home it was a case of crossing a field, which I mashed, and back home for a coffee.

Cycling in the sun is a simple pleasure, and I enjoy it even more when I only have a general idea of my route, like today, the idea of a bit of exploring is great.

There you have it a simple pleasure, the weather is improving so go out and ride bikes, and do some running as well for variety!

Shrug, smile sweetly and move on

I wonder if I have upset the sporting gods this week, it seems I was allowed one good session and3 not so good ones.

It started on Monday evening, a run session that was planned to be hard but not impossible, the weather was cold and I even remember to put a waterproof jacket on (more on this later). I headed out along a flat disused railway line which has been converted to a trail and for the first 5 minutes all was well, and then changed.

I felt a spot of rain, and thought well at least I have a waterproof on, and then as if someone turned a tap on, the drop become a deluge of freezing cold rain. In about 5 minutes I was soaked and cold, very cold. I tried to carry on and tough it out, but my leg muscles were so cold I gave in, and let the pace drop down to where I just jogged it in, yes I did the time but no where near the pace.

As for the waterproof jacket, well I have known for some time that it wasn’t really that waterproof but it used to keep a fair amount of the rain out but now it was basically useless, probably down to its age rather than anything else so time to research and buy a new one.

The next session that wasn’t perhaps as planned was the turbo session, this was an interval based assault really. In each interval for about the first of the three minutes I could hold the power and then it was a case of just holding on. It hurt and isn’t one I would be keen to repeat. Whilst I got through this, again the time was right but I never held the average power targets.

The next run I did however, was great, an evening trail run just pushing along not flat out. The sun was out the trails were drying out and it was a pleasure to be running across fields and through the woods. I even enjoyed the hills at the end!

Finally we come to todays bike ride, as my road bike is currently in bits awaiting some replacement parts I decided to head out on the cross bike and ride off road. It started off ok, came to the first interval and the legs went, “you must be joking” there didn’t seem to be much there. I plodded on up the hill and hoped they might return. After the next muddy section, I noticed the rear tyre was flat, not a major disaster, just pop in a new tube and away we go. Out came the rear wheel I put my hand in my bag and no tubes, what a plank I had forgotten to pack them. I never go out without spare tubes, well apparently I do now. Plan B, I had some patches, found the big thorn in the tyre, removed it, patched the tube and pumped it up. I could hear air escaping, found the second hole, patched that, pumped it up and all seemed well. Put the tyre back on and pumped it up again. Once more I could hear air escaping, tyre off again, found the third hole, patched it, tyre back on pumped it up and this time all was ok. However, I now had used all my patched, had no spare tubes and had really lost the enthusiasm so rode home.

I know that in context these are not the tales of real life disasters and there is plenty in the world which is worse, and I accept that but, these types of weeks make me wonder sometimes why I bother.

Next weekend is another race weekend, another duathlon and a chance to have some fun, race hard and remember that I do this for fun and that training weeks that don’t go so well really don’t matter!

One Of Those Weeks

This week has been one of those weeks that happen and you think what did I do to deserve that?

It started on Monday when on an easy paced trail run I basically bonked, had the jelly legs and the odd feeling. Not sure what caused it but it certainly put pay to any chance of a decent run. The only way I got through about 45 minutes was because I stopped for a few minutes and luckily started to feel better. One day in and one dodgy session

Tuesday was a good day, the weights session went well, always good to get a positive in the writing

Wednesday an interval session on the turbo trainer, really tough going got through it in a sweaty mess but the numbers were nothing to write home about. 3 days in and we are back at 2-1 for not great.

Thursday, a run for 75 minutes, simple enough on paper. I went to an old dissed railway that has bene converted into a path, it rained, and it rained hard but no matter I had a waterproof. The running went ok, the factor I forgot was that it gets dark still and so the last 10 minutes were in total darkness, luckily there was no body else on the path but add another one to the not great sessions, 3-1 now.

Friday, a rest day, even I couldn’t mess that up this week! 3-2

Saturday, and my first attempt at a Park Run, now I have been signed up to Park Run for ages but have just never got round to doing one. So, 5k as fast as possible.

Well, I ran 5K but have to say the end result was a disappointment , yes the grass was soft and muddy and there a set of steps on the back of the course but even so to record a time of 24:15 was disappointing. 4-2 to the downside and only one day to go.

Finally on Sunday a bike session that went to plan and was fun to do, it might have been helped by the sunshine or something else but it went to plan and so pulled one back.

After adding up the scores it was 4-3 to the downsides and frankly it was a fair reflection especially when one of the positive days was a rest day!

Despite all of these things next week is the last duathlon race I have booked in and hopefully it will be decent, but based on this week who knows!

Relaxing In The Mud

After a week where I have found the training hard and haven’t felt as tired at the end of it for ages, it was good today to go out and run the trails with no pressure of time or pace.

I know to some, the idea of running off road in the mud, up and down the hills with the ever changing terrain and levels of grip, isn’t their idea of a relaxing run, but to me it is.

There is nothing better than going and spending time running the trails, you are away from traffic, and the only people you see are also out enjoying the countryside, be that on foot, bikes or horses.

The Chilterns are not the biggest of hills, but they do provide some excellent running and often you are treated to great views across the valley’s. You have companions in the red kites flying over head adding a little more variety.

Today, the sun was out, it might have only been 4C but that was enough to allow just a base layer & t-shirt combined with hat and gloves for the perfect attire to enjoy the mud.

The condition of the trails today is best described as muddy and wet, but if you are running off-road yo have to expect mud, after all you can’t make a cake without breaking a few eggs!

Sometimes I wonder that if I stopped doing races and just decided to run when I felt like it and ride my bike the rest of the time would I be any worse off? I might miss the competitive side of it all but also there wouldn’t be really hard weeks of training. A question of another time I think.

Back to the run today, and basically it was the best part of an hour and a half spent out in the fresh air enjoying the countryside and feeling good about life, when you are out like that there are no stresses or pressures, you leave them at home.

Next weekend is the first duathlon race of the year, and I am hoping to use it as a benchmark for the other ones, the main aim is to enjoy it, but everyone knows what happens when the gun goes and the race is on, all rationale thinking goes out of the window and race mode takes over!

I Dream of Sunshine

On my run tonight it was dark and cold again. Infant it seems to have been like that for months. Overtime I go for an evening run I need a head torch, hi viz vest, hat, gloves and layers and I have had enough of it.

I cannot wait of those light evenings where the toughest choice is which lens to put in the sunglasses but those times seem so far away.

Running fast in the dark and cold is hard, especially when your only light is from your head torch, as we have no street lighting where I live, and so those sessions often produce results that on paper look a bit disappointing.

Every year I think that around this time of year I should really arrange to go away somewhere sunny for a week, take my bike, running shoes and probably the wife and go and enjoy some warm weather somewhere.

I have never done this, but I can’t help but think it must give you a boost on a couple of fronts, firstly you can train during the day in warm weather in a new environment, and secondly I think it would give you a mental boost. You would come back invigorated and looking forward to the race season, rather than seemingly plodding your way into it as I feel I am doing currently.

But, as I haven’t booked a trip this year then I will have to put up with it, and put some new batteries in the head torch and get back out on the road again later this week.

I can dream of the sunshine in the meantime!

What About The Weather?

Well the last week has certainly produced a fine array of weather that has gone form one extreme to the other.

Last Saturday I was mountain biking in frozen and also deep wet mud, and that made for a tricky day, that is another story and not one I want to recount again here!

Sunday, there was a blanket of a couple of inches of snow which was melting rapidly and turning the trails into really wet muddy paths. This made running an interesting affair, as when you put your foot down in the snow, you has no idea if it was frozen underneath or another muddy puddle. I enjoyed running in it but wouldn’t want to do it everyday.

Monday was a weights session, so the weather had no impact, minors was warm and comfortable.

Tuesday, ah Tuesday was bloody freezing, infant it was -3 and so doing hill repeats was no fun, the cold air, the road was icy and so basically it was purgatory.

My turbo session on Wednesday was also cold, my turbo trainer is in the garage and so a couple of extra layers were required to get the body up to the warm working temperature, perhaps next time I will bring it into the house?

Thursday was better, yes it was cold but the temperature was on the increase and so running was not as bad.

Friday, much more like it, an increase in the temperature meant a much more enjoyable time.

Saturday, again warmer and so for my run a change of kit to remove of the extra warm stuff, and no hat just gloves and even then I probably didn’t need them, I noticed my wife went running without hers, so perhaps I need to man up a bit!

Finally, Sunday and the circlet is complete a much much warmer day, about 12 degrees and so with a watery sun trying to come out made for a really enjoyable bike ride, if only the wind would go away it would have been near perfect.

So there you have it, my training last week was really more about the weather, and t didn’t help by having a coach posting comments and pictures from a very sunny looking southern Spain, perhaps his rates are too high and I need to renegotiate!