Agony and Ecstasy on Mont Ventoux

Yesterday morning I set off pre-sunrise with two friends. The three of us have competely different cycling backgrounds. I consider myself a ‘cyclist’ with many years of hard training behind me. Jonny has a couple of ascents of Ventoux on his palmares and whilst not an out and out cyclist, he is light and has a very solid fitness base. The final member of the triumvirate, Luke, is a Ventoux virgin, new to cycling and how shall I put it, someone with a few more years’ life experience than Jonny and me. In other words, this was going to be a great challenge for him. This is what is so wonderful about this sport: three people spinning along the road, each with a different goal ahead yet a shared experience.

Sunrise

We were very excited as the sun rose over Faucon on our way to Sault

There was a lot of excited chat as we left the campsite. Spirits were high as we cycled through Faucon with the sun rising to our left, the first warm rays of light hitting our sides. We descended into Mollans, headed up the D40 to the Col de Veaux then wooped our way down the other side before the ride up the valley through the famous lavender fields. Ventoux always towered above us to the right, her bald limestone slopes from Chalet Reynard just about visible. The short windy ascent up to Aurel showcased the beauty of Provence and then we found ourselves heading down the final 5 km to Sault. It wasn’t quite how Eddy Mercx once described the approach to the Ventoux when he said, ‘You could hear a fly buzz through the peloton’, but we were all starting to feel a little nervous as we approached the foot of the climb. We decided that a coffee and pain au raisin was required and enjoyed these in a bar overlooking the valley below and the summit away in the distance. We very nearly settled in before heading back to camp: why ruin such a lovely day by riding up a mountain?! However, as the caffeine hit the spot we decided to get on with it and before long we were clipping into our pedals and heading off.

The view from Sault

The view of Ventoux from Sault

I wanted to go hard up the climb and see how fast I could do it. I was treating the ascent as an hour time trial with an extra 10 to 15 minutes at the end which I was planning on getting through on adrenaline/excitement as the summit got closer and the cycling traffic swelled. I was on my TT bike due to a problem with my road bike and the 42 tooth inner ring would not allow a nice spin anyway! I went off hard, keeping an eye on my power and heart rate. I have been told that the climb from Sault is incredibly picturesque, but I can’t really comment. I tried to catch the odd glimpse of the view but was more often looking at the 2 metres of tarmac in front of my front wheel as I buried myself. Fortunately, the French tarmac is infinitely superior than the British equivalent so it wasn’t all bad. In fact, a pot hole in Provence is a talking point. Unlike in England when a nice stretch of road is worth mentioning. Behind me, Jonny was setting himself a hard, but doable pace. However, in the excitement, he had forgotten how challenging the section from Chalet Reynard was and later realised he was working far too hard – the final push to the summit was going to be tough! Luke was spinning his way up, having the odd stop to enjoy the view and leaving enough in the legs. The sun beat down, 37 degrees C according to the local weather forecast and when we emerged from the shade of the forest and entered the moonscape at Chalet Reynard we were hit by irrepressible heat. When the strong wind – this is the ‘windy mountain’ after all – was at our backs it was incredibly hot but easier to pedal. When the orientation of the road changed and the wind was in your face it was refreshingly cooler but incredibly hard work to turn the cranks. I’m not sure what I preferred. Both were tough. I had really pushed hard and the plan to empty the tank in the final 3km did not materialise. According to my heart rate I had more to give but the legs were not willing and I plateaued in the 150s. I couldn’t get into the 160s for love nor money! Passing Tommy’s grave in the final km is always a poignant and inspirational moment which enables you to find that little bit more to get to the top and eventually I made it to the famous final right hander, got out of the saddle and danced, or more accurately, grinded the cranks for the final few metres to then collapse over the aerobars. After a few minutes I descended back down, gave Jonny a shout of encouragement as I whizzed past him in the other direction, then pulled into Chalet Reynard for an extortionately expensive but incredibly satiating Coke before finding Luke having a rest before the final push to the summit. I warned him of what was to come, gave him a cheery good luck and then set off myself back up from Chalet Reynard, this time keen to soak up the scene a little more.

Tommy Simpson's memorial with Pyrenean Mountain Dog - Copy

Tommy Simpson’s memorial with cuddly Pyrenean Mountain Dog. Do not be fooled. They’re vicious.

The road from Chalet Reynard to the summit was littered with cyclists of completely different standard: some ascending it for the first time, some completing the toughest physical challenge of their life, others time trialling up for training, and others in the midst of the second or third ascent of the day as part of the ‘Cingles du Ventoux’ Challenge. The variation in cadence, kit, quality of bike, riding style and level of fatigue from rider to rider was stark as ultra-lean elites and rather less lean mamils shared the same tarmac. But whatever the rider’s story it is a shared experience – the heat, pain, suffering, relief, elation, adrenaline. The final few kms in those conditions are tough for anyone neand it is always an achievement to reach the top, whoever you are. The summit is a mass of excited cyclists and support crews, talking animatedly about their experience, the endorphins raging, the feel-good-factor off the scale. The impressive array of sweets on display on the pop up stalls on the tiny area of flat tarmac beneath the imposing wannabe lighthouse added to the colour, but did not seem to be doing a decent trade. I presume this is because most of the cyclists had had their fill of sugary gels and bars on the way up. Jonny had already summited and begun his descent to Malaucene to get back to his younger family so I sat on the wooden barriers waiting for Luke, soaking up the scene around me. I observed the contrasting bikes, level of leg hairiness, listened to the hubbub of different languages and stared at the incredible panoramic view with the Alps visible on this clear day. After a while, I could just about make out Luke down below in the final 500m or so. He was hunched over his handlebars battling the ever-increasing wind – it looked painful – but the end was firmly in sight. After a short time – which no doubt did not feel short to him – he turned the final corner and made an impressive dash for the line. The satisfaction was incredible. Despite the pain and suffering he broke into a broad smile. What an achievement! We had the obligatory photos beneath the newly refurbished Mount Ventoux summit sign and then sat down to discuss our ordeals.

IMG_2577

The unique moonscape after Chalet Reynard

View from the summit

The view from the summit. Well worth the toil.

We then descended down to Malaucene, the temperature steadily rising from cool to warm to hot to sauna setting. We caught the odd evocative smell of pine needles in the heat as well as burning brakes on the cars that we shot past at high speed, the adrenaline putting paid to any thought of cautiousness. After 20 minutes or so we zoomed into Malaucene, its cafes full of satisfied cyclists tucking into their lunches, amazing bikes lining the roads outside various high-end bike shops and cars having to make way for the dominant mode of transport: the bike. We road through the village side by side talking animatedly about the scene around us then rode back to camp along the smooth D938 to Vaison la Romaine with the help of a strong and much appreciated tailwind. Luke turned off to new Macdonald’s just before the campsite. He claims that it was for the superior wifi from which to upload his data to Strava (the campsite’s wifi is very average) but we all know it was because he wanted a Big Mac meal. Quite frankly, who can deny he deserved it!

 

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Exceeding Expectations at the European Elites

Powerman, St Wendel, Germany, 21st May 2017.

European Long Distance Elite Duathlon Championships – 15th (happy!)

I was unusually nervous. Normally I’m buzzing after 300mg of caffeine. But today, I certainly wasn’t. The Powerman race organiser was starting to rev things up over the load speaker with a few minutes to go before the start. I was standing towards the back of a single-file line of elite entrants with the current world number 1, Seppe Odeyn at the front and the rest of us in rank order behind him. The top athletes were introduced much like heavyweight boxers before a fight with a list of their duathlon achievements – the announcer getting more and more animated – before a long drawn out semi-controlled shout of their name. I was waiting for my turn – not buzzing as was hoped – but feeling rather sick. In fact, I wanted to crawl under the bushes by the side of the track and go to sleep. This was to be my first foray into elite level racing abroad and my first experience of a long distance race: and I felt the pressure. I was eventually introduced, very quickly and rather mumbled as ‘Number-25-Ben-Price’. No elaborate intro for me. Clearly the organisers wanted to get on with things once the big boys had been called out. I can understand that. I jogged forward nervously to the start line and waited for the gun.

Leading the world number 1, Seppe Odeyn, into T1 was a great feeling

 

The countdown began with the crowd clapping in time to create even more tension. I’m glad they were having such fun: clearly taking great pleasure in not having to do what we were about to! The gun went and we were off. Once we were going it was fine – the nerves disappeared and it was down to business. I was soon into my running and settled into a group with Julian Lings (one of my fellow Brits), Soren Bystrup, Anthony Le Duey, Glen Laurens and the previously mentioned reigning World Champion, Seppe Odeyn. I was pretty excited to be running in such company, and more importantly, feeling ok with the pace. We were the second group on the road, not far behind the leaders. The opening 10k consisted of two identical 5k multi-terrain loops with road sections, paths, gravel tracks and even a boggy cambered grass section. It was incredibly hilly with several parts almost forcing you to walk. It was an incredibly tough run – the steep downhills on the tarmac were the worst for me – my quads were getting smashed. I hung in there and was pleased to enter transition feeling OK alongside the big boys in 10th.

Heading out onto the tough bike course: 3 x 21k laps totaling over 1200m vertical

After a quick T1 on the lovely grass in the centre of the St Wendel running track we headed out on our bikes for three laps of a 21K loop. Each loop included more than 400m of vertical climbing with two significant hills on each lap and undulating roads in between. In other words, it was tough and would reveal any cracks. Odeyn and his mates headed off into the distance, never to be seen again (by me anyway) and I found myself biking with Julian. I worked pretty hard on the bike but it was a difficult one to judge. I was entering new territory in terms of race distance and knew there was a tough run off the bike waiting for me, but at the same time, I needed to work hard to stay in a decent position. I was running a disc and my new favourites on the front: the K1-80s which seemed to be really solid on the climbs despite their deep section and incredibly fast on the descents. As time went on my confidence grew because very few riders had come past me. Just as I was thinking this, several riders, including Pete Ellis (the other Brit in the race), came past me like trains. I was mentally prepared for this demoralising moment and remembered what my coach, Dave Newport, had said, ‘Just remember, the final run will be carnage. You never know what’s going to happen to the guys that come past you on the bike’. I settled into a hard but manageable rhythm, making the most of my 55 tooth ring on the descents and tucking into the most aerodynamic position I could as much as possible: I was going to need every little advantage I could get.

After 1 hour 49 minutes of hard biking I came into T2. I was seriously encouraged to see Julian, Pete and several other athletes just leaving T2 for the run – they were not as far ahead as expected: about a minute – I could catch them! After a reasonably quick transition I was out on the run and struggling to run free. The calves and quads were hurting and I was on the point of cramping in both legs in various places. This was going to be tough. Very tough. I tried lifting my heels and rolling the shoulders to loosen off and settled into a hard but manageable rhythm again. After one km I hit the first climb and wow, it hurt. There was no wind and the sun was beating down – it was hot and I had planned on a 2 hour 45 minute race not a 3 hour plus race so was thirsty and feeling dehydrated. I slowed almost to a walk up the first hard incline but was pleased to see – once at the top – that whilst I was running slowly, those ahead were running even slower. I kept pushing, seeing the runners in front coming gradually closer. Just before the 5k point I took Peter Ellis and several others – my view was narrowing down and I was only aware of what was just in-front of me – I had no idea who I had caught. A friend of mine was at the 5k turn point shouting at me but I couldn’t even raise my head to acknowledge him. However, I did know that Julian was just up the road and I was catching him. With 2k to go I passed him. For me this was a big moment because I was the first Brit on the road. This was more than I had been hoping for. I was hoping not to come last in the elite field and to be in this position gave me a huge lift. I’d also taken a few other runners and was somewhere in the top 20. I was in such pain but it was a manageable pain because I was doing well. Then with 1k to go I started cramping more, my quads were seizing up. Julian came closer and passed me. I tried to respond but I was right on the limit of my legs seizing up completely. If I pushed on I could risk losing it all and DNF-ing. I nursed myself through the final kilometre, hoping to kick at the very end and take him but I didn’t have the legs and I crossed the line an agonising (in several ways) 10 seconds behind Julian. I soon found out that I had placed 15th. What a feeling. It was crazy. The relief, euphoria of racing well, the physical emptiness, the mild heat stroke, the pain and the rush of endorphins was a heady mix at the finish. What a concoction. My over-riding emotion was one of pure elation. I exceeded my expectations with 15th and was utterly delighted. I’m writing this three days later and have only just been able to walk down the stairs forwards – my legs are wrecked! But it was worth it – what an experience.

In pain at the START of the final run!

 

Celebrating at the finish with my team mates, Pete Ellis (20th) and Julian Lings (14th)

 

Feeling good at the finish.

10 tips for a faster bike leg

I recently spent an afternoon with Dan Bigham of WattShop at the Derby Velodrome riding the boards and talking techy aero chat (not at the same time). It was a dream of an afternoon!

I learnt tonnes and here are the 10 go-faster-tips that I gleaned from the experience:

1. The ‘turtle’: shrugging the shoulders in aero saves big wattage – Spend as much time on the TT bike as possible with your head tucked in training the body to adapt to this aerodynamic position. We draw the line at operating on one’s clavicles to encourage a more aero body shape as suggested by Ed Clancy (I think) some years ago, but it’s a nice idea.
2. Latex inner tubes are faster than conventional rubber inner tubes – They’re incredibly porous so you’ll just have to keep pumping them up. Luckily they’re fast enough to offset the inevitable gain in arm muscle mass from all that pumping #guns #goodforthebeach.
3. K1–80 wheels are FAST – And also worth noting that they are very reasonably priced.
4. 23C on the front and 25C on the back – Though I must admit, this debate seems to always go in circles (no pun intended)
5. If you’re running a tub, then the Vitoria Corsa G Speed is pretty damn shifty – Just don’t let your other half find the receipt. I can tell you, it’s not pretty (ultimately, they’re right, it is just a tyre).
6. Skin suits really are slick and worth investing in – Just avoid being seen by your neighbours on your way out the door to your local 10. They simply won’t understand.
7. Shave your legs – Only a marginal aerodynamic advantage but more importantly, it just looks right. The same applies as previously re the neighbours. But also, your wife may not be too impressed and it’s a little hard to avoid her.
8. Cables are evil – Those were Dan Bigham’s exact words. Dan is founder and owner of WattShop, who also happens to be a 3 time British track champion and a bit of cycling legend, so I wouldn’t argue. If you’ve got the money, go electronic shifting. If not, then a cable tie and some electrical tape can work wonders.
9. Clean your drive chain – A mucky drive train will cost you some watts. I got a right ticking off.
10. Change your jockey wheels – Data suggests that the Tacx t4065 jockey wheels are great, worth exactly a 1 watt saving over conventional jockey wheels. This is probably the most marginal of marginal gains. Only to be done if you’ve:
a) maximised your training
b) maximised your body position on the bike
c) can hold the turtle position for the whole event
d) have optimised all other equipment
e) done all the above
f) have excess cash
g) are obsessed (which most of us are)

@benpriceduath

Kinetic One’s Ben Price gets aero in the velodrome and finds out that the new K1 80c’s are pretty damn fast!

Aero-testing with Watt Shop. Or more accurately: geeky wattage chat and the ‘tunnel of pain’.

It was a dream day for any cyclist who wants to go faster: private access to the ‘boards’ of an indoor velodrome, a British Cycling coach holding up your splits to make you feel like Wiggo himself, lots of serious data crunching and techy chat about wattage, plus a few new acronyms such as ‘CdA’ thrown in for good measure. Not to mention walking away a faster athlete at the end of the session with no change in physiology!

When my friend and fellow multisport athlete, Dan Geisler suggested some aero testing at the Derby Velodrome I thought he was mad, that it was just for the pros and David Brailsford with his obsession for marginal gains. But the more I thought about the more I thought, ‘why not?’: I train my arse off, have never thought much about my position on the bike (so clearly throw away some power) and fancied taking the TT machine for a spin on the boards. Plus, who’s not excited about the possibility of some ‘free speed’?!

We got in touch Dan Bigham of the new company Watt Shop and sorted a session at the Derby Arena.  Dan Bigham is a university graduate with an engineering degree, a serious passion for the finer detail, a 3 time gold medallist at the British Track Championships earlier this year (and currently heads the British elite road racing rankings), loves all things cycling and is also a very nice bloke to boot. In other words, he was the perfect person to make it a productive but also highly enjoyable day at the track.

The testing involved 8 or 10 laps of the track at a set power and speed (roughly 45kmh) before downloading the data, making changes to our bike setups and doing it again.

The changes I made included testing a high performance 58mm Zipp carbon front wheel against a new K1-80c Carbon front wheel, (that Andy at K1 had built for me the night before), lengthening the stem, narrowing the aerobars, trying a Huub high performance tri suit, shrugging the shoulders (the ‘turtle’) and several different helmet models amongst other things.

It was awesome fun hurtling round the track with Mick or Simon (local British Cycling coaches) holding up the timing iPad to show whether we were up or down on the target lap splits like you see on TV for the pursuit ‘schedules’. For a few fleeting seconds it felt like I was in the individual pursuit, hunting down Sir Bradley.

benvelodromepc

 

The only slight problem with the session was that I got the timing wrong on the first couple of tests: I basically went faster than I thought I had to, pushing harder than the threshold effort mentioned by Dan at the start. As the first two sets were at this pace I had to stick at it to make the data as meaningful as possible: in other words it got quite painful as the session went on! In the end it was really hurting and whilst trying to maintain the aerodynamic ‘shrug’ position with a new helmet obscuring my view I was in what can only be described as a narrow ‘tunnel of pain’- 10 laps was more than enough. The hour record? No thank you!

It was reassuring to find out that my Kask Bambino was faster than the other helmets I tried (no need to buy a new one).

Most interestingly from a K1 point of view: The new K1-80c wheels were worth 2.0 watts per wheel over some Zipp 58mm’s I ran as a comparison. To put that in context: the 4 watt gain from running a pair of K1-80c’s compared to the Zipp’s would take me incredible amounts of training to achieve from body power gains alone!  That’s quite a saving in absolute terms and quite a gain over a serious market leading wheel!

Ok, The Zipp is 58 deep and is a model that I had, that must be 4 years old and the K1 is 80mm deep and a 2017 model – so you might expect it to be faster – But…. ( as Andy at K1 keeps telling me), the Zipp’s are well over twice the price of the K1’s, and I now know scientifically and independently – that my K1’s are faster than the Zipp’s.

Actua Data Below: Wheel aero test comparisons in yellow

Test 1 _ baseline normal position/ Zipp 58 front wheel /K1 prototype Disc Wheel

 

Test 2 _ baseline normal position/ Kinetic-One K1-80c front /K1 prototype Disc Wheel

Ben test data - watt shop

Sadly, as expected, the horrendously awkward shrug position is worth a fair few watts so I’m going to have to get a bit more flexible and spend more time on the tunnel of pain if I want to maximise my speed!

Overall, it was a brilliant day. I highly recommend Dan and WattShop. It’s a brilliant concept that yields great results. With Dan’s expertise, enthusiasm and cycling talent, WattShop is going to grow massively in the coming months and years. Sign yourself up whilst you can!  Ultimately, what more can a competitive cyclist ask for than a private ride round the velodrome, some wattage chat and walking away at the end of the day a faster rider?

 

Highs and lows

The highs and lows of sport. Just a few weeks ago I was celebrating selection for the elite GB team for the European Long Distance Duathlon Championships and was buzzing after a great result at the British Elite Duathlon Champs. However, today was not so good. I was trying to defend my title at the Storm the Castle Duathlon in Ludlow but my legs were wrecked and I sat up on the bike leg. I sort of new it would be like that having just got back from a massive 6 days of training in Majorca but you always hope to be OK. I could have finished but with my big race in four weeks time in Germany I thought better of completely mashing myself on the bike and then even more on the hilly final run leg. Whilst remaining pragmatic and philosophical – knowing I had done the right thing – it was still very disappointing standing to the side watching the prize giving and seeing the guys standing on the podium like I did last year. It made me realise how important it is to soak it up whenever you run a PB, win an event or simply put in a great performance that you’re proud of. As endurance athletes we are always working out how to improve and are immediately thinking about the next race and how we can get better, often as soon as we cross the finish line, if not before! Sometimes, when it goes well, we’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the moment.

Transition with Ludlow Castle above

After a mile or so the legs weren’t feeling great and the writing was on the wall. The very hilly run leg (10k) didn’t help!

K1’s Wendy Wins World Silver

On the weekend 4th & 5th June the ITU World Duathlon Championship’s took place in Aviles, Spain. The event included both elite & age-group athletes, all looking to perform to the best of their ability. This was my first World Duathlon Championships & my ultimate aim was to get a podium place but foremost was to run/bike to the best of my ability & to enjoy the experience.

 

The venue and organisation of the Championships was superb. I arrived in Aviles two days before my race, which enabled me to do a recce of the course. On the Friday morning I rode the bike course with the GB team & I was filled with confidence. The course was only slightly technical and had a few inclines in it to break groups up, the road surface was superb (which meant fast) and lots of long straights, which suited me. Both run courses were pancake flat, running up and down the side of the river.

On race morning we had great weather, though the supporters probably enjoyed that the most! I lined up for the 10km run relaxed & confident that I could beat the majority of my competitors. The gun went & I set off at a reasonable pace following a Spaniard and Australian. I settled into the first lap running alongside fellow GB athlete, Gill Fullen. We worked together and gradually caught and passed the Aussie. I entered T1 leading my age-group, which boosted my confidence as I set off on lap 1 of the bike course. I knew I had strong cyclists chasing me down but I remained focused and kept thinking of my recent improvements I had seen in my bike training leading up to this event. On the final lap a Danish girl in my age-group came past me, but I didn’t let this bother me & kept pushing on. I had a reasonably quick T2 and started the 5km in silver medal position. My run fitness was beginning to show now though,  and I knew my pace was dropping and competitors were catching me! Since April I had struggled with achilles problems, so hadn’t been able to do the necessary run sessions and mileage as I would have hoped. Nevertheless, I was in silver position and was determined to keep it that way.

The crowd support was immense and 400m from the finishing line I was aware of GB supporters shouting at me to run for the line! My husband was screaming at me to sprint! Once I hit the blue carpet and saw the finish I sprinted to the line, beating a girl from the US by a mere two seconds – phew! I’d won a silver World Championship medal and finished 12th female overall. This is my best ever result at International level and I was immensely proud of my achievement. Next year’s champs are in Canada & I’m gunning for Gold!

Humbled by the half

On Sunday my first Ironman 70.3 came to an abrupt and premature end. With only 4 miles left of the final run, debilitating cramp in both hamstrings left me flat on my back by the side of the course with a pair of spectators holding my legs up in the air. Sport has a great way of bringing us right back down to earth. Sometimes literally.

Earlier in the day. Much earlier in fact. 3.40am to be exact, my alarm had gone off to wake me ready for the slightly criminal 6am start. I didn’t actually need an alarm because I had barely slept at all – my lovely 4 year daughter decided that it was the perfect night to spend vomiting. I know I should have been a caring, loving Father but as the hours ticked by and the anxiety grew, my nursing skills tailed off rather and I was sent downstairs by Rach to sleep fitfully on the sofa bed.

Bed

Ended up on the sofa bed downstairs. But at least I had some quality time with my beautiful bike.

Anyway, after forcing some food down I drove to the Cotswold Water Park for the event (Cotswold 113 Events Middle Distance Tri: 1.2 mile swim – 56 mile bike – 13.1 mile run)). Having set up in transition and carried out the obligatory pre-race faff and indecision about how many gels/how much malt loaf/water/electrolytes etc. to attach to the bike I wandered groggily down to the water’s edge for the swim start. Whilst I have somewhat transformed my swimming (from a disappointingly low base) over the previous 8 months, I am still not very good and 1.9km looks a long way when it’s marked out on a lake! It was daunting. Luckily, I didn’t have much time to dwell on it and we were off. Wave 1 consisted of about 140 people and we were all packed in quite a tight area: basically it like a scrum in water. The race starter may as well have said, ‘crouch, bind, set’. Not much fun if you’re a good swimmer, a nightmare if you’re not. I was being pulled, bashed and kicked from all directions but managed to stay alive and gradually the field thinned out and it became a little more more civilised. Smelly, but civilised. The rain of previous days plus all the thrashing of arms and legs had disturbed the waters of Lake 32 and I must say the several gallons of unplanned hydration that I took on tasted and smelt really rather unpleasant. Then after 20 minutes or so I felt a worrying twinge in the right calf muscle, and then the left. Despite the hard efforts I’d done in the Lido, nothing really prepares you for a 1.9k hard effort in the water and I think perhaps I wasn’t as relaxed as usual – which might have contributed. I started kicking less vigorously and settled in for the final section which luckily went by without much incident. As I was hauled out by the lovely marshals at the end of the swim I saw on my watch that I had completed the swim in under 33 minutes – way faster than I had ever have hoped all those months ago when 500m felt like a long way.

Pleased with the time when I checked the watch!

Exiting the swim. Pleased with the time when I checked the watch!

After a solid T1 I was on the Cavallo del West TT machine and speeding along. Or would have been if the hamstrings weren’t giving me slight jip. Again, the intensity of the situation is something that is hard to mimick in training and I had to take it reasonably carefully for the opening couple of miles as the legs adjusted to this new form of pain I has now pushing them through. It was also starting to rain very hard now and it was a little chilly in just the trisuit. Anyway, only another 54 miles of the 56 to go…..

One thing about being relatively weak at swimming and stronger at cycling and running is that there will always be plenty of people to overtake after the swim and it was this that gave me great confidence and motivation as the bike went on. I wasn’t thinking about the distance, just tapping out a hard but manageable level of exertion and focusing on the next rider up the road. The bike course was made up of two 28 mile loops and it was on the second loop that I caught Duncan Bullock. Duncan is like me, mainly a duathlete, but giving triathlon a go. He placed 3rd at this race last year and is a strong biker so I was very pleased to have dragged him back. It gave me confidence and I forged on through the rain towards T2.

Head down and powering on

Head down and powering on

Calm and collected game face specially for the camera

Calm and collected game face especially for the camera (then back to puffing and gurning like a gurnard)

I screeched into T2 and after a rapid transition was out on the run. This was the bit I had been most looking forward to: my best discipline. I settled into a solid pace with a very manageable heart rate and good sensations (as the pro cyclists say) in the legs. Despite the slightly slippery off-road sections I was running comfortable sub 6 minute miles which I had earmarked as a rough guide for the final run based on previous duathlons and my recent run form. I reeled in quite a few competitors in the opening 4 or 5 miles and with the odd quick conversation with them worked out I was somewhere in the top 6 – this is going well I thought. But then a niggling doubt crept in. A niggling doubt that was brought on by a niggling set of quads. Just a very slight but clear soreness. Stay relaxed, run relaxed, breath well. Unfortunately it kept coming and my pace waned ever so slightly. Then the hamstrings started twitching a bit and I knew I was in trouble. I crossed the timing mat to complete the second of 3 laps and continued onto the 3rd but I was not confident by this point. That’s the feeling of inevitability, I thought to myself in that agent’s voice from the Matrix. Then sure enough, 200m later my hamstrings went bang and cramped up. Fair play to them, they didn’t hold back. I dived for the floor and called out to several spectators who rushed over and quickly lifted my legs and pushed my toes towards my chest. After a minute or so I tried to stand up but my quads had also decided to join the party. After 5 minutes or so of painful stretching I tried to shuffle onwards – I could have made it but with other events coming up I decided to call it a day and hobbled back to the start/finish with my tail between my legs.

End of the second lap (approaching 9 miles) and the legs were starting to complain

End of the second lap (approaching 9 miles) and the legs were starting to complain!

Not looking too good. Maybe the sleep desperation and nearly 4 hours hard racing in the cold is the reason!

Not looking too good! 34 going on 55?! Maybe the sleep deprivation, nearly 4 hours hard racing in the cold and increasing pain in the legs is something to do with it!

I think the pain, caffeine, endorphins and sleep deprivation justified the emotional rollercoaster I then found myself on: despondency and frustration intermingled with satisfaction and euphoria. I was a bit all over the place! Then after a very painful massage that felt like the masseuse didn’t like me very much and was enjoying my reactions a little more than someone in her profession should, I drove home, desperately trying to stave off the cramp which could quite easily cause me to veer off the road into a deep Cotswold hedgerow at any moment.

After such a full-on experience there’s nothing like eating well and relaxing in the bath and flopping about in front of some sport on TV in the afternoon. In fact, those are probably three of the best things about exercise. Sadly, this doesn’t happen when you’ve got 2 energetic children under 7 years old and have been away all morning….. Dig in!

Costwold Super Sprint 8th May 2016

I was very nervous lining up on the banks of Lake 32 at the Cotswold Water Park ahead of the start of the super sprint triathlon. The reason for the nerves was purely due to the fact that I hadn’t done a triathlon for about 8 years and am no swimmer. Yes, I had been putting in a fair few hours in the pool since I was injured and unable to run in the winter but I was starting from a low base. Luckily the water in the lake, despite only being 14 degrees or so, felt positively tropical compared to the sub 12 degrees I had been forcing myself into at the Cheltenham Lido before the boiler was fixed.

A fair description of things just before the start

A fair description of things just before the start

The exit from the water to T1. It was nice to get there!

The exit from the water to T1. It was nice to get there!

 

A few token spins of the arms as warm up and the hooter was sounded. It was a crazy start with arms, legs and feet everywhere – I was being dragged backed and pulled here there and everywhere – just what you don’t need when your confidence is low. However, after a minute or so it settled down and with regular sighting I managed to pick a decent line and the rest of the 400m swim went without too much incident. I pulled myself out of the lake and ran into T1. I had left my bike perfectly set up but the competitor next to me had managed to get my elastic band (used to hold my cycling shoes level on the pedals) wrapped around their pedals. It took me far too long with shaking hands to untangle and cost me a fair amount of time. It also meant my shoe was the wrong way up and cost me valuable time when I first got on the bike. Once I had done my shoes up properly it was head down for the fast 20K bike route. I didn’t hold back and put in a decent time before screeching into T2, perilously close to the dismount line. A quick T2 and I was off running – or sliding as the case may be. The heavy rain the night before had turned the off road trail into a bit of a mud bath and the final run was a frustrating affair involving quite a bit of sliding and the narrow path meant I was having to weave past plenty of runners from previous waves. All this meant I never hit a decent rhythm but I still put in the fastest time of the day on the run which was satisfying. At the finish, once I had recovered, I found that I had won my age group and had placed 2nd overall. I was absolutely astonished!

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1st in age group and 2d overall – most unexpected!

I was really pleased with my swim – it wasn’t fast but was certainly a fair bit quicker than what I could have managed in October when the thought of swimming 400m non-stop was quite a daunting prospect! With the post race endorphins flowing I went off and recced the bike route for my next triathlon: the 113 Events middle distance triathlon at the same venue on 12th June. Whilst the 2nd place gave me great confidence, the thought of being in the water for nearly 5 times the length of time I was in the sprint fills me with trepidation. I’d better get back to the Lido asap!

 

T1 alongside Lake 32 - what a beautiful spot!

T1 alongside Lake 32 – what a beautiful spot!

Storm the Castle Duathlon 2016

Storm the Castle Duathlon 2016 (17th April)

Really tough but interesting run and bike routes, stunning Shropshire scenery, great organisation, friendly marshals, a well stocked athletes village within the outer bailey of Ludlow Castle and warm(ish) spring sunshine: the Storm the Castle duathlon was a seriously enjoyable event! It claims to be the UK’s toughest run-bike-run race – the Ballbuster Duathlon might disagree with this – but I must say it was really tough!

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The finish and athlete village within the outer bailey of Ludlow Castle

 

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The bridge over the River Teme with the castle above

 

The opening 10k comprised two hilly 5k loops incorporating such challenges as ‘The Lactic Ladder’ and ‘The Wall’ as well as some tough off road trail sections. I went hard on the opening run and opened a decent lead ahead of the bike leg. I was finally caught towards the end of the undulating 33km bike section by a fast moving Adam Jackson but a slightly white knuckle decent into Ludlow for T2 kept him behind me and then it was a case of keeping it together on the final 5k run – something that I managed to do – to cross the line in 1st place. It was an absolutely superb day and an event that should be in any keen endurance athletes diary!

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Smiling at the camera – should have pushed harder!

 

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Standing on the podium with the castle behind. It was a great day!

British Elite Champs 2016

British Elite Duathlon Champs 2016 – Windsor Great Park (April 3rd)

Three months or so ago I was not expecting to be ready for the British Elite Duathlon Champs this year: injury had wrecked my winter and I was only just getting back to proper training. It was therefore a real bonus to be there on the start line in Windsor Great Park and because I was not in top shape there was no pressure to perform. I was there to simply enjoy the racing. However, there are always nerves before any event and looking around at the athletes in the start pen – their names emblazoned across their chests – it was clearly a strong field: Richard Horton, Calum Johnson, Liam Lloyd, Daniel Jenkin, Carl Avery and Danny Russell were there, many of whom had run well under 15 minutes for 5K in recent times. As well as this, there seemed to be an unfair number of competitors with deep tans, obviously cultivated on various warm weather training camps over the winter. Warm weather training is effectively cheating in my book! At this point I began to wonder how many of them had two young children and full time jobs. Perhaps the organisers should consider a ‘Dad’s category’ next year?

Anyway, before I could mull over these things for too long, the hooter had gone and we blasted off up The Long Walk towards Windsor Castle for the opening 5k run. The pace was crazy to begin with but I expected that from my experience of this event in 2014. I did not get overexcited and stuck to my race pace which meant that I steadily caught people throughout the run who had gone out too fast. I eventually worked my way up to the head of the second pack on the road – a group of 4 athletes – with a group of 7 out in front. Given the race was draft legal for the bike, there would be no point in forging ahead on my own – I would need guys around me to work with on the bike to catch the front group which had entered transition 30 odd seconds ahead of us. After a frantic but controlled T1 I jumped on my bike and found myself in a group of 3 alongside Tom Crouch and Andy Greenleaf. We worked together for the opening section of the 20k bike section (4 laps of Snow Hill) but I found the pace tough and could not contribute as often as I wanted to on the front. I did my bit but we were caught by a larger group behind to make it a 12 or so strong peloton. With a group that size it was hard to work together, everyone had their own agenda: some of the stronger runners were happy to sit in at the back and wait for the final run whereas the stronger bikers wanted to break the group up, whilst others – like me – were keen for us all to work together to catch the lead group. This strategizing is what makes draft legal racing so exciting. Everyone has their own plan and it makes the bike leg tactical and more fun. As it was, we held the same gap to the lead group and were soon blasting down The Long Walk to T2. My transition was not as quick as it could have been – only a few seconds too slow – but it meant I started with 7 people ahead of me from my bike group as well as the 7 leaders further up the road. However, I tend to run well off the bike and felt confident. I could also see that some of the guys ahead were tiring. I pushed on and steadily picked up 5 places over the final 2.5km run leg to take me into the top 10. However, in the final 200m I was overtaken by Sam Wade and had absolutely no response to his strong finish, so ended up placing 11th. I was really chuffed with this result and thoroughly enjoyed the post-race endorphins, general chat with my fellow competitors and the impressive surroundings. But it wasn’t long before I was thinking about next year…. with an injury free winter behind me, I would hope to be closer to that front group, if not in it….. that’s the aim for 2017!

British Elite Duathlon Champs

11th at the British Elite Duathlon Champs 2016