Monday, 11 July 2016

What alcoholics refer to as "a moment of clarity"

On Saturday evening I arrived home from a long drive back from Sussex, having  been eating food at a BBQ all day.  Well I say food.  Mostly cake.

I was tired out.  I didn't want to do anything other than sit on the sofa and perhaps enjoy a nice cold beer.  My wife and I had put our girls to bed, and we were all set for a night of doing as little as possible.

As I wandered into our bedroom to change into some trackies a strange thought came over me.  "Why not go for a run.......?"  As soon as it popped into my head it seemed like the obvious thing to do.  I had been eating cake all day, hadn't done any exercise for almost 2 weeks and a run would do me good.  It appeared that I actually wanted to run.  My brain seemed to be telling me that I would rather go for a run than sit on the sofa and drink beer.

I found myself changing into my running gear in a trance-like state.  Before I knew it I had said goodbye to my wife, had strapped my trusty Luna Sandals to my feet
and was out of the front door, running my regular 7km route.  Despite having a relatively full belly and being hugely dehydrated I was running well.  I wasn't watching my pace on my running watch, I was just running.  

Reaching the halfway point on the run I decided to take a different route home as I fancied running a bit further than I had planned.  Quietly, in the back of my mind I could hear a voice faintly saying "What the hell is wrong with you Snooky?".  But there was nothing wrong with me.  I was just running.  Running for fun.  And I was enjoying myself.

Now obviously I have enjoyed running in the past, but Saturday seemed to be different.  I just felt good running.  Comfortable.  Like it wasn't an effort anymore.

Continuing on (and getting a bit lost) I eventually found a road I recognised and headed home.  I had run almost 11km at an average speed of 6min/km.  That used to be close to my maximum speed.  Now it appears it is just my normal running speed.

This change in me, this love of running, I really hope it is here to stay.

TTFN

James




Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Arundel Castle Triathlon - Olympic Distance





It's 3am.......yes that's right, 3am on Sunday 26th June.  My alarm has just gone off.  This can only mean one thing.  Time for the Arundel Castle Triathlon.

As regular blog readers will know, triathlon involves a lot of getting up early in the morning.  I have complained vociferously about this in the past; however on this occasion I didn't mind getting up early.  It has been over 9 months since I last competed in a triathlon and I was keen to dust off the cobwebs and get out on the course.

Breaking with tradition, I had actually packed up my gear and put it all in the car the night before, so a quick breakfast and it was out the door and on the way to Arundel.

In 2015 and 2014 I competed in the Arundel Lido Triathlon, which is a pool swim of 800m, then a 40k bike and a 10k run.  Having not enjoyed the pool element of the swim, I was pleased that the same organisers also run Arundel Castle Triathlon, which is a river swim of 1500m, a 40k bike and then a 10k run.

The bike course is different from Arundel Lido.  Flatter and faster.  The run is still super hilly, although rather than undulating hills it is one big drag uphill and then a fast downhill after, although you do this twice as it is two 5k laps.  As for the swim, this is in the river Arun, one of the fastest flowing rivers in the country.  The fast flowing nature of the river is the reason we had to start so early.  The triathlon kicked of at 5:15am, which was "slack water".  In other words, there would be little to no flow at that point, as the river is tidal.

Arriving in Arundel I parked in transition and quickly got my stuff organised.  I spotted Curry on the way in, and also quickly met up with Dempo, who were both competing with me at this event.  Curry is a Grazing Saddles teammate, but this would be the first ever triathlon for Dempo.

Fielding a whole bunch of "rookie" questions from Dempo, such as "which part of the bike is the front" and "is it OK to swim backstroke", we were all into our wetsuits and then off to the rivers edge.


This is Dempo
Dempo was swimming in the first wave, due to the fact that he is actually part fish.  Have you seen that film Waterworld?  Well if you have, then that is Dempo.  He has competed in numerous endurance open water swims and his place in the fastest wave of swimmers was well deserved.

Curry and I were swimming in the second wave, so as soon as the first had gone off we were into the water and strategically made our way to the back of the bunch.  I had completed a grand total of 1 swim training session in the preceding 9 months, so was not too confident of a good swim time. 

We had been warned that there was a lot of "debris" in the river, such as seaweed, bits of floating wood etc so as soon as the klaxon sounded and the thrashing upstream began, we quickly swam into a good old bunch of seaweed.

Unfortunately this slowed down those in front, and I found myself swimming into the back of a lot of people.  I probably should have started a bit closer to the front of the pack, but in all honesty I wasn't bothered.  The group soon thinned out and I was into a rhythm, swimming as fast as I dared on the back of almost no training.  

The floating seaweed rafts continued as we went upriver.  It seemed like forever to get up to the buoy, turn around, and head back to the swim start where we would exit.  As soon as we turned downstream I realised why.  Whilst this was supposed to be "slack water", there was still a bit of current and it was a joy to swim back to the start with this helping me.
Exiting the water post swim

Hauling myself out of the water it was a quick jog into transition to jump onto the bike.  I had managed the swim in around 34 minutes, which is way off pace for 1500m, but as I had done almost no swim training I couldn't really complain.


Just out of T1.  Feet still not in shoes!
Entering transition my triathlon pedigree showed through, as in less than a minute I was out of my wetsuit, helmet on and jogging towards the bike mount area.  As soon as I reached this, I jumped on my bike and started pedaling away.  My shoes were already clipped into my pedals so it was just a simple task of slipping my feet into the shoes and off I went.  Well I say simple task.  Due to the shoes deciding to velcro themselves shut it took me about 2 minutes of messing about at a very slow speed to actually get my feet in.  So much for a speedy transition.

Due to all this messing about Curry slid past me on the bike, with a hearty "come on Snooky".  I thought he was probably in front of me after the swim but it was good to see him as we cycled out of Arundel and up our first little hill towards Crossbush.  I was determined to put in a good bike time so as Curry started to slow up the hill I overtook him and concentrated on a good strong start to the bike leg.

As the bike leg continued onwards I felt good.  My legs felt powerful, my heart rate was in check and I was overtaking quite a few people.  This was a new experience for me, as usually I am the one being overtaken.  My main aim was to try and keep a steady pace and leave enough in the tank for what I knew was a hilly run.  


On top of a hill, with people actually behind me!
During any bike leg of a triathlon, when things are going well my mind always wanders.  On the same day as my triathlon, my friend Mick was competing in his first Ironman event in Bucklers Hard.  I was thinking of him, and his extremely long, tough day ahead.  At the same time I was remembering my Ironman, how it felt and the elation of crossing the line.  Triathlon is a strange world.  Unless you have done one it is very hard to explain, but you feel a connection with every triathlete worldwide.  I was wishing Mick every luck as I sped through the Sussex countryside.

As the kilometres clicked by I made sure to keep hydrated and took on board a couple of energy gels to make sure I had a bit in the tank for the run.  In just over 1hr 20 minutes the 40k was up and I was back off the bike running into transition for the second and final time.  Again I managed a super fast transition, and in less than a minute I was running out of the transition area and off on a 2 lap 5k run around Swanbourne lake.  


Yes that's right, I run in sandals
I knew this run would have one very sizeable hill in it, but only when I got to the hill for the first time did I appreciate its relentless nature.  Running is not my strong point, and my legs felt a bit crampy as I started to climb the very steep hill.  I was determined not to walk, but inevitably my pace slowed and I was overtaken.  I managed to keep up a slow jog and made it to the top of the hill on lap 1.  It was at this point, about 15 minutes into my run that I started to feel really good.  I knew I had a long downhill before making my way round the lake for lap 2.  Upping my cadence (steps per minute for the uninitiated) I flew down the hill for the first time and overtook somebody.  Yes readers, that's right, I actually overtook somebody on the run leg of a triathlon.

This was the first ever time this has happened, and to say I was pleased was an understatement.  I knew I would be at least 55 minutes on my 10k, which is hardly Mo Farah pace, but to overtake somebody was sublime.  Most importantly I still felt good, so made the conscious decision to up my pace for the second lap.  This increase in pace felt OK, so as I got to the hill for the second time I powered my way up and felt much stronger than the first lap.  Throwing everything into it I flew down the hill into Arundel, then ran the final kilometre of the run in under 5 minutes (good pace for me) and was absolutely delighted to cross the finish line in 2:57:50, under 3 hours and almost 30 minutes faster than my previous Olympic Distance best.

Needless to say I was more than pleased.  Dempo was finished well before me (no huge surprise there) and Curry crossed the line shortly after I did.  I also bumped into an old friend from a previous job, who had finished in the top 20.  Superb result Andrew!
Almost over the line


So all in all a good day of competing.  Not bad for an old man who had only done 5 weeks training.  Having had a chance to reflect on this triathlon it is now clear to me that I must be fairly fit.  For those of you who have read my blog from the start, you will be aware what a great feeling this is for me.  I went through injury, self-doubt and sheer panic as I blundered my way towards Challenge Weymouth last year.  9 months on from that my fitness has stayed with me enough to be able to do a sub 3 hour Olympic Distance triathlon on very little training.  To say I am chuffed would be about right. 

Spurred on by this success, I have booked a half Ironman in September.  Only 11 weeks to go till that event, so as soon as this is published it is time to write a training plan.I'm really looking forward to the race and hopefully beating my previous half Ironman best time.

TTFN

Snooky








Wednesday, 25 May 2016

It appears I have forgotten how to swim




So we are well into May, and the Triathlon season is upon us.  Last year I had a lot to aim for, with all of my events building up into the September Ironman.  This year it is a bit different.

With no major event looming at the end of the season, my desire to train has been low.  That, combined with an ongoing ankle injury, has meant that I have been doing way less training than I should be (by way less, I of course mean none).

Determined to get back into my training, I went for a brief bike ride last week.  Just over an hour on the bike and I was hooked again.  It is strange how you don't really realise how much you have missed something until you have the chance to do that thing again.  Being reunited with my bike and riding through the Hampshire countryside, I couldn't help but think back and remember how I rode this same bike 112 miles, and then ran a marathon.  That seems like eons ago.  I still can't quite believe it.

Spurred on by this re-kindling of my love of cycling, Bushy and I went out on Sunday for a sociable few hours.  We got lost, but managed to eventually find our way to a pub which sold a very nice drop of local ale.  Not having the pressure of training for a specific event and just riding the bike for the fun of it was great.  We just enjoyed a nice sunny day cycling.  What better way to spend a Sunday morning.

Now all of this talk of not having an event to train for is not exactly true, as on the 26th June I am competing at the Arundel Castle Triathlon.  This is an Olympic Distance event, which means a 1500m swim, 40k bike and then 10k run.  Either I am incredibly arrogant or overly self confident, but I don't see completing this event being an issue.   In fact, I reckon I could go outside right now and complete this.  That being said, there is a distinct difference between completing and event and competing at it.  So with about 5 weeks to go, I have embarked on a proper training plan.

This plan is simple.  Train 6 days a week.  2 swims, 3 bike rides and a couple of runs.  Easy right?  Should be around 10 hours training a week which I can fit in fairly easily without it impacting my home life too much.  As usual, most of my training will either be very early in the morning or late at night, but I am used to this and it isn't a problem.  My wife is on a exercise campaign too, meaning that we can train at the same time in the evenings and I am not abandoning her to go training all the time.  Plus, there is no need for the mega long distance work I was doing for the Ironman, so time is not so much of a factor.

With the plan in place, I set about training this week.  Monday was a beautiful evening, so I jumped on the bike when I got home and whizzed up and down the hills which are right outside my house.  Only 35 minutes of riding, but 3 decent sustained hill efforts behind me I chucked the bike into the garage and then was straight out for a run.  These sessions are known as "brick" sessions, where you cycle and then run afterwards.  Designed to mimic the transition between Cycle-Run in a triathlon, they are a vital part of any triathletes training plan.

I am back into my barefoot running, so without further delay it was off with my shoes and onto the pavement.  I love barefoot running, but it can be tough on your feet for a while whilst you adapt.  As I had done no barefoot running for some time, I took it easy and only did 10 minutes, managing just over a mile.  There was some gravel and broken tarmac but I handled this well and have no signs of blisters etc so my form must have been good.  Great success!

With Monday training behind me I woke up on Tuesday feeling good.  I was planning on going for a 6am sea swim with some friends from the Pompey Triathletes, but I woke up later than planned so this was out.  Instead, I swam in the evening at the local pool.  This is where the trouble began.

Starting off my swim session I felt (if you pardon the pun) like a fish out of water.  I seemingly had forgotten how to swim.  Combined with this was the fact that swimming really seemed to aggravate my injured ankle.  This left me having to swim without kicking.  This is fine in a wetsuit where your legs float, but without the buoyancy a wetsuit provides my legs sink like a stone, acting like a giant brake behind me.  As I hauled and battled my way through consecutive lengths I was absolutely exhausted.  The chap swimming in the same lane as me must have had a bath in Lynx deodorant, as I could taste this as I was swimming along.  Hardly ideal.

After about 1000m of swimming I was done.  My calf felt like it might cramp and I was fed up.  Swimming used to be my strong point.  Now it was apparent this was no longer the case.

Arriving home to cook dinner I discovered that my wife had hurt her knee running, so all in all not a great day of exercising for the Snooks.  My ankle was swollen up.  I was not happy.  Waking this morning my ankle is hurting again.  The ongoing saga of an aging triathlete.  

Still lessons learnt and on with the plan.  I will not be swimming in a pool again unless I absolutely have to.  I don't enjoy the chlorine in the water, don't like having to turn around at the end of the length, don't like having to avoid the other people and would much rather swim in open water.  So it looks like 6am sea swims are the way forward.

Perhaps see you at the beach?

TTFN

Snooky

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Waiting..............and why I am bad at it




As I sit in my house writing this, there are numerous things that I am waiting for.  What I have realised (which is what I have probably always known) is that I hate waiting for things.

Firstly I have busted my ankle and I am waiting for it to heal.  Just a sprain, but bad enough to stop me from running.  I can still cycle (all be it very gently), but running is absolutely out of the question.  As every good triathlete knows, when you get injured you have to rest.  Sadly, every good triathlete (and also the bad ones) are terrible at resting.

Resting is just dead time.  Every moment you are not following your training plan is a moment wasted.  "Rest day" seems a nonsense.  There is no time to rest in triathlon!  The truth is that resting is important.  Whilst our bodies are excellent at adapting to whatever we throw at them, we need time for those adaptations to take place.  This is how a totally unfit lump of lard like me managed to complete an Ironman. As it says in the picture, lots of small efforts repeated day in day out equals success.

This why having to rest is so tough.  The whole time you are resting you cannot help but feel you are going backwards.  Getting "less fit".  Of course this is true if you do nothing for large periods of time; however occasionally having some time off and letting your body recover is not a bad thing.  My busted ankle has forced me to do this, so I am channelling my efforts elsewhere.

I have been doing some weight training, which I love.  In fact I was at the gym at 4.45am this morning.  Don't worry, I have not turned over a new leaf.  I don't suddenly love getting up early.  My littlest little one is running a high temperature and couldn't sleep.  After my wife trying for ages to settle her it was my turn.  I managed to get her off to sleep but then was awake myself, so off to the gym I went.  

To be fair the weight training is just what my ankle needs to recover.  It needs to get stronger and putting your body under load with weight training makes you stronger, so it seemed a logical thing to do.  I am following a Stronglifts 5x5 weight training regime which I have used before (a long time ago) and is great for adding strength without too much "bulk". Will keep it going through the summer as weight training has numerous other benefits, especially as you get older.

Also tomorrow night Bush and I are back off to Trevor's Wednesday night Triathlon club.  This consists of a spinning session, followed by a stretching session (think pilates on steroids) and then a swim.  I am going to duck the swim, but will go for the spinning and stretching.  I haven't seen Trevor since I completed the Ironman, but owe a huge amount to his coaching hints and tips and generosity.  Bushy and I both agree we would not have completed the Ironman without his help, so it will be great to see him again and say hello to some of the old gang from his sessions.  As a totally shameless plug, if you are a Triathlon buddy of mine and are looking for some simply superb coaching then you cannot get better than Trevor.  Check out his website for more info.  http://www.zone6coaching.com/

I am also going to go back to swimming, though I am yet to work out when.  Probably do a couple of early morning sessions, although my local 50metre pool doesn't open until 7am weekdays and that would only really leave me about 30mins to swim before I had to head into work.  Luckily the open water swimming with the Pompey Triathletes starts this weekend, with the Wednesday evening sessions to start soon after to perhaps I can just concentrate on going to that.  Will have to work out what is best.  Bit more research needed I feel.

Anyway that's about that for this blog update.  Probably not the most exciting thing you will ever read, but it is too late now, you cannot "un-read" it.

TTFN

James

PS - The other thing I should mention we are waiting for is to move house.  Almost up to 11 weeks since offers were accepted the entire way up and down our chain (which is only 3 houses anyway).  A cynical person would say that conveyancing solicitors slow things down on purpose to make their ridiculous fees seem more reasonable.  And a cynical person would be quite right.




Wednesday, 20 April 2016

It's been a while..............but I'm back..........and better (ish) than ever.


So last week marked exactly 7 months since I competed at Challenge Weymouth Ironman.  It seems a lot longer ago than that.

On Sunday 13th April I should have run the Brighton Marathon, which I trained for over the winter.  Sadly I did not run.  I have had a cough now for at least the last 9 weeks (perhaps longer) and decided to pull out of the marathon last week.  It was a very hard decision, but I wasn't getting enough training in and to be honest my chest hurt when I simply breathed in, let alone ran. So whilst the decision not to run was a tough one, it was most probably the right one.

Two Chestnutters
What I was not prepared for was the sense of utter disappointment I felt in myself for not being able to run.  As any regular blog readers will know, I compete in major events to raise money for Chestnut Tree House and the fact I was letting down the charity that I care for so deeply affected me a lot more than I thought.

Luckily, my grumpiness about not being able to run was fairly short lived.  Mostly this is because my wife does not tolerate any self-loathing behaviour (thank you for that Doc), but also because there are plenty more races and plenty more chances to raise money for Chestnut.  It is just deciding exactly what to do.  

Once again, as luck would have it (and as Baldrick would say), I have a cunning plan.  Part 1 of this plan is simply to sign up again for Brighton Marathon.  I have already done this.  Because I enjoy a challenge and because my catch phrase is "how hard can it be", I have decided to run the marathon next year barefooted.  More to come on this in future updates. 

Part 2 of my plan is to get organised for a big event again.  I have done an Ironman and whilst I would love to do another one one day, I am fancying something a bit different.  
Enter onto the radar Ride 24, a 24 hour non stop bike ride from Newcastle to London.  This is 310 miles in total, takes on over 6,000ft of climbing on the bike and is a hell of a thing to do.  Doing anything for 24 hours is tough, but riding a bike for 24 hours non-stop is a fairly decent challenge.  

As usual, my Triathlon buddies have rallied around and Bushy, Neil, Mike and Curry are all making noises like they might join in with me.  It's not until August 2017 and after all, how hard can it be?

I am going to try and update the blog more regularly (for those of you who care), so keep your eyes peeled for future updates.

TTFN.

Snooky

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

So what's next for Iron Snook...............???????



The question I have most often been asked following my Ironman exploits is "what's next?"

This question is asked with a sort of expectation hanging over it, as if I should have already planned my next endurance event.  A huge number of people who complete an Ironman for the first time immediately sign up for another one.  The buzz that you get from Ironman, the sense of accomplishment and the exhilaration of finishing the race are so huge that you want to feel that way again.

I have not signed up for another Ironman.  Don't get me wrong, I would love to do another one; however this would need to be some time in the future.  My wife and family sacrificed a lot to allow me to do all the required training for Weymouth.  The stress and worry I put my wife through, competing at Weymouth, is not something I wish to repeat in the near future.  Likewise, with my girls being so young, I owe it to them to have a few summers together where we can enjoy ourselves without having to fit Ironman training around us.  

So if not another Ironman, then what is next?  One thing is certain, I will not be going back to my old lifestyle.  The couch potato is long gone.  I really enjoy exercising now and intend to keep it up.  Also, I love a challenge.  Weymouth was exactly this.  I went, I competed and I conquered.  Another challenge for 2016 is needed.  Some people may not understand this but I need the challenge in my life.  Something to aim for, strive towards.  After all, a rolling stone gathers no moss........right?

I have been running through a few ideas in my head.  None of them have really cemented.  The closest I have gotten is considering running a marathon every month from April to December.  I already have Brighton Marathon booked up (in April), proudly competing as one of the Chestnut Tree House runners.  It would be easy to book a marathon for each month until the end of the year. Bizarrely though that challenge doesn't seem big enough.  I am fairly confident I could put my trainers on in the morning and run a marathon.  I am physically fit enough, the rest is just mind over matter.  My experience at Weymouth has taught me that mentally I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Looking back through my blog it has become apparent to me that a little over 12 months ago I couldn't run at all.  Injury had plagued my running and I searched high and low for answers, eventually finding a solution to my problem in barefoot running.

I ran barefoot to rehabilitate myself from injury.  It worked.  As soon as I was healed I went back to running in shoes as I had to do fairly big mileage for the Ironman and was not going to compete at that barefooted. It made sense to run in shoes.  Ever since I have neglected my barefoot beginnings, running over 800km in my trusty Brooks running shoes.  Recently I got an email from Strava (the run logging app) advising me that I had run past the 800km mark and I needed to buy some more shoes.  Apparently you are not supposed to run more than 800km in shoes.  You need some new ones at that point to protect your feet.  That has gotten me thinking................

I know from my barefoot running that you do not need running shoes to protect your feet, especially when running on tarmac.  Our feet are strong, and have 1000's of receptors in them that constantly feed back to our brain in a beautiful subconscious loop.  Just like our fingers and hands, our feet and toes are sensitive.  To perfect the art of running, to truly understand my body mechanics and how it works, I need to run barefooted.  To become better at playing the guitar or making a clay pot you would never dream of wearing gloves. It would dull your senses and make it harder for your brain to receive the feedback that it wants to.  Wearing shoes and socks does the same for our feet.

Now obviously I am not going to try playing guitar or making a clay pot with my feet.  These are both artistic endeavours, requiring the dexterity that your fingers have.  You would not necessarily think of running as an art form, but in a lot of ways it is.  Similar to many things in life, running (done badly) is doing nobody any favours. If you run with poor form, you will get injured.  If you don't listen to your body, you will over train and hurt yourself.  Our feet are the number one way that our body has to tell us if we are over training when running.  They will hurt before we injure ourselves, forcing us to stop.  Encasing them in shoes and socks can stop this feedback loop, leading to running with poor form and injury.  This happened to me once before.  I have no intention on letting it happen again.

As such, Iron Snook will be reborn as Barefoot Snook.  It is my intention to set myself the challenge of completing a major running race barefooted before the end of 2016.  Depending on how I get on, this may be an autumn marathon.  Alternatively I might make it an autumn half marathon, or perhaps a 10 mile race (like the Great South Run).

Compared to an Ironman this may seem like small beer; however teaching myself to undo all of the bad habits that years of wearing shoes have taught me will not be easy.  Wearing shoes with raised heels (as almost all shoes have) has shortened my achilles tendons, shortened my calf muscles and weakened the bridge of my foot.  I will need to take it slowly to allow my body time to adapt to that of a barefooter. I also need to build up the foot and leg strength required for barefoot running.  Finally I need to make my running form as close to perfect as I can get.  Barefooting will allow me to do this.

Of course there will be more info to come from me over the next few weeks as I re-start my barefoot journey.  For the time being Iron Snook is having a rest and Barefoot Snook is rising from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix.  

TTFN

Snooky





Sunday, 1 November 2015

The big one, Challenge Weymouth 2015


It's 04:30am on Sunday 13th September and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for Challenge Weymouth!

Warning - this blog post is quite lengthy.  You might want to get a cuppa before reading!

Bushy, Mike, Curry and I had traveled down to Weymouth on the Friday to register and collect our gear for the Sunday.  Bushy, Mike and I were competing in the full event, with Curry competing in the half distance event.  By way of a reminder, the full event was a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on the bike then at 26.2 mile run.  An Ironman triathlon that very few attempt.  In Weymouth there would be 500 full distance athletes, and 700 taking part in the half.


Registration
Arriving at the Weymouth Pavilion to register on Friday Bushy and I were asked our first question of the weekend "are you doing the full or the half?"  "Full", we replied in unison.  The guy smiled, said well done and advised us to go upstairs to register.  I couldn't help but notice that his smile was a rather wry one.  Did he know something I didn't?





Weymouth bay from Pavilion balcony
We soon had out timing chips, transition bags and complimentary Challenge Weymouth backpack and we were out on the balcony where we caught our first glimpse of the finish line.  I must admit there was a lump in my throat. It was becoming very apparent that at this point there was no going back.  I was going to compete in the ultimate endurance events. I had never felt less ready.



I was staying in a nearby village (massive thanks to Giles' folks for the house) so I said goodbye to the others and went off to find the house I was staying in. We met up again later that evening for the pasta party.  Put on by the organisers, this was an opportunity to eat as much pasta as you can stuff in, check out some of the other competitors and be introduced to a few of the pros who would also be competing.  


Pasta Party selfie

In 2015, Challenge Weymouth was also doubling as the ETU Long Distance Championships, meaning that there would be athletes representing their countries at various age groups.  There were also the usual elite amateurs and professional athletes competing at this Challenge event.

The pasta party was again in the Pavilion, and I think it is fair to say that the building could do with a bit of an update. I described the inside decor as being like "the worst wedding you have even been to."  You can see for yourself what you think from my lovely selfie I took.   

Following some brief interviews with some of the better known pros, we stayed for a bit to listen to the strangest band I have every heard, eventually parting ways and agreeing to meet up again in the morning to rack our bikes and drop off our transition bags.

This was new territory to me.  On Saturday we had to leave our bikes in transition, along with 2 bags.  These are the bag to take you from swim to bike, then another bag for bike to run.  My usual style is to do all of my preparation at the eleventh hour; however on this occasion I was forced to be organised and have all my stuff prepared to rack on Saturday.


Bike racked
Meeting up with the others on Saturday I had packed my bags and was confident everything was in place as I had double and triple checked.  The bike was popped onto the rack, the bags put in place and then the rest of the afternoon was free to meet up with some of my gang of supporters and relax as much as possible ahead of the race on Sunday.

Relaxing with my wife in our accommodation the night before the race I was feeling good.  As usual, I was convinced I had done nowhere near enough training.  I am fairly sure that 99% of triathletes feel exactly the same way, especially before an Ironman race.  Other than this niggling doubts about my training, I was extremely excited for the race and genuinely looking forward to it.  My wife Cat had clearly gotten all the nerves that I should have had, as she was very worried about the race and mostly my welfare during the race.  An Ironman is not to be taken lightly.

Waking up at 04:30am I felt sick.  This was nerves and I knew it.  Forcing down a cup of tea and a bagel we gathered the final bits and bobs I would need and headed down into Weymouth.  Arriving in transition it was dark.  I checked my bike to make sure the tyres hadn't mysteriously deflated in the night, added some rice cakes into my transition bag for eating on the ride and then met up with Bushy, Mike and Curry.  Soon it was time to put my wetsuit on and join the other athletes in the "holding pens".  

Before I did that I wanted to make sure I said hello to Rooke, Louise, Mr Palmer, Nicola and my Mum and Dad who had all come down to support.  Dashing around at the last minute I managed to see them all and get a big hug from everybody.  My wife had been with me all morning and she gave me a final hug and I was off with Bushy and Mike to await our turn to swim.  Curry would go later on in the half distance race.

For some bizarre reason they were playing extremely ominous music at the start.  The sort of music you would get if you were waiting for a ride at Alton Towers.  It did little to calm my nerves, but luckily I was not really feeling that nervous.  All the hard work was behind me.  The 100's of hours of training was done.  All I had left to do now was 140.6 miles in less than 16 hours and I would be an official finisher.  I would also be an Ironman.  Just writing these words brings a grin to my face.  Little did I know at the time what sort of journey I would have over the remainder of the day.  At this point I was still unsure I would even finish.  So much can go wrong and up to 10% of Ironman entrants can fail to finish on a bad day.

As usual with my triathlon races that have open water starts, I chose to keep to the back and the side during the first part of the swim.  Positioning myself alongside Bushy and Mike I turned to both of them and had a final hug and words of good luck. The starting horn sounded and I waded into Weymouth Bay to start my swim.

When you are my level of fitness, the name of the game in Ironman is to take things nice and slow.  I settled into my swimming beautifully and was glad I spent so much time training in the Solent over the summer.  I got one elbow the ribs and kicked in the face as the bunch thinned out, but this was nothing to worry about and I felt relaxed and was swimming well.  Overtaking quite a few people I was constantly telling myself to slow down; however I was not swimming particularly quickly and felt great as I slowly moved my way up through the pack.  The swim was out for 700 metres, along the coast for 500 metres and then back to the beach to complete the first lap.  There would be two laps to total 3.8km (2.4 miles). Rounding the first buoy I was swimming strong and feeling great.  Round the second buoy I was on my first trip back towards the beach.  1200 metres swum, only 2600 metres to go.  

Arriving at the beach I stumbled out of the water only to hear a shout of "Snooky!"  Bushy has swum his first lap at almost exactly the same speed as me and as we made our way along the beach to start the second lap we exchanged some words.  We were both so pleased to be one lap done and started on our Ironman journey.  Into the water for the second lap, I was presented with considerably larger waves on the way out.  The weather was closing in and the swimming was becoming much more challenging.  Never the less I swam on.  Round the first buoy, underneath me I saw an absolute whopper of a jellyfish.  It was about 10 feet below me, but the crystal clear water of Weymouth Bay meant I could see it in all its glory.  Hoping not to bump into one of these beauties, I swam on through the choppy conditions.  

Round the final buoy and back towards the shore I felt my left calf start to cramp.  This is standard for me during long swims.  I almost always get calf cramp.  I tried my best to keep breathing and not to tense up and managed (by swimming more slowly) to get to the shore without the calf properly cramping.  As I climbed onto the stony beach I saw my wife and the support crew shouting and hollering at me.  It was great to see them and I gave them my biggest smile as I made my way up the beach and across the road into transition.

Into transition, I grabbed my T1 bag and made my way into the changing tent.  Presented with all manor or semi naked men, I spotted a clear changing bench near the exit of the tent and made my way towards it.  Once again I head a shout of "Snooky".  Turning in the direction of the shout I saw Bushy, one leg raised onto the bench towelling himself dry, as naked as the day he was born.  Now Bushy is called Bushy because of his extremely hairy nature.  Not a single inch of his body is hair free.  Seeing him in all his hairy glory was hardly what I needed; however I took a spot on the next bench and started chatting to him about what was to come.  112 miles of cycling.  I couldn't wait. 


Past my support crew
Changing into my cycling gear we were on our way to grab our bikes.  Bikes collected we were soon out of transition and off on the bike leg.  

There are strict "anti-drafting" rules in place at most triathlons, so I settled into my riding with Bushy about 15 metres in front of me so I could not be accused of any cheating.  Once again, the name of the game was to take it very very slowly.  There was a long way to ride and Ironman competitions are full of stories of people going too fast on the first part of the bike leg and suffering for it later on.  All I had to do was eat and drink on schedule and keep the pedals turning round.  At some point into the first lap (around 20km in I think) I overtook Bushy going up a hill.  He hates hills so this was not a surprise.  

Onwards on the first lap of the bike course every time I needed to stop for a wee, or went through an aide station to top up my drink Bushy was behind me.  I later found out that his entire tactic on the bike leg was just to keep me in view and he knew he would be doing OK.  We had a target time for the bike leg of less than 8 hours.  Having completed the swim in 1.5 hours, this would leave us 6 hours for the marathon (when you allow time for transiton).


Awesome banner my wife had made
100's of speedier riders were flying past me but I didn't care.  This was my race and I was racing it on my terms.  It was not a case of finishing fast, just a case of finishing.  Ironman is tough and must be respected.  There was nothing to be gained by riding quickly and then being unable to finish the race.  At the end of the first lap (90km, or 56 miles if you prefer) I was feeling strong and gave a huge smile to my wife and others as I turned the cone near transition to start the second lap.

There were a lot fewer riders on the second lap.  Most of the full distance athletes were ahead of me.  Also all athletes who were competing in the half Ironman had gotten off their bikes after one lap to start their running, so the course was nice and empty.  Soon after starting our second lap Bushy rode up alongside me and we started chatting.  There was no risk of being in trouble for drafting with us riding side-by-side, plus I don't think that anybody really cared about us as we were so far towards the back.  As we rode on chatting I was loving my Ironman bike ride.  I was riding in beautiful scenery with one of my best mates by my side and best of all, I was competing in an Ironman.  I felt superb.

Mostly this was down to me getting my eating and drinking regime just right.  I knew how much food I could tolerate from all my practice rides and just meant sure to keep on eating on schedule.  A rice cake ever 30 minutes, followed by a gel every other 30 minutes.  1 bottle of drink per hour to wash it all down.  Plus we both had our secret weapon, a couple of brioche each.  These are delicious when you get fed up of gels and rice cakes.

Bushy and I also started to overtake a few people as we approached the 80 mile mark.  Clearly our "slow at the start" tactic was working and some of our fellow athletes were struggling.  On and on we cycled.  We discussed that at the pace we were going at we were looking at around 7.5 hours on the bike.  Not bad at all.  At around the 100 mile mark I could sense that Bushy was starting to struggle.  We had been cycling for over 6.5 hours and had a long uphill drag to go before a quick descent into Weymouth.  Keeping my pace going, I knew he would stick behind me and not let me get too far into the distance.  He is a competitive sod and wouldn't let me get away that easily.

I too was starting to struggle a bit, but I knew that I was almost there on the bike.  100 miles done.  12 to go.  Seems amazing even writing this now, but I was really feeling OK.  Up the final drag and then a quick downhill into Weymouth we were then riding the final straight along the bay into transition.  We could see all the runners plodding along the seafront and would soon be joining them.  Little did I know how tough this run would be.

Into transition we grabbed our T2 bags and then back into the changing tent.  Unfortunately it had been raining a bit and when I got my running gear out of my bag it was all soaking wet.  Putting on wet gear is never the nicest.  I must admit I was not happy with the organisers for leaving everybody's gear outside in the rain to just get wet.  Surely they would have a contingency planned for rain.  We were competing in England after all.


These were well earned
Anyway despite me grumbling about this, Bushy and I were soon out of transition and running together on our first of 4 laps.  The plan was to collect an armband at the start of lap 1.  Once you had collected all 4 armbands you only had that remaining lap and you were done and would forever be an Ironman.  This sounds simple enough, except that the distance we had to cover was a full marathon and we had both already been exercising for over 9 hours.  Marathons are hard when you are fresh.  They are even harder when you have just finished a 2.4 mile swim and an 112 mile bike ride.

Needing to be factored into this was the weather.  It was incredibly overcast, very very windy and only looked like getting worse.  As the wind whipped up it blew sand into our faces as we ran down the shore.  At this point we hadn't even collected our first armband.  How ever were we going to get this run done?

The support was excellent as we slowly jogged on, stopping at each feed station for a drink, some crisps, flat coke (nectar to a triathlete) or an energy gel.  I was struggling to stomach anything but knew how important it was to stay hydrated.  The marathon stage of an Ironman is where I was most likely to fail. Running is not my strength.  I had suffered crippling cramp when I ran at Brighton Marathon in April and that wasn't that long ago.  What was going to happen?


I think we have one armband on here.
Must be end of lap 2
We managed our first couple of laps with no major incidents and soon had two armbands.  We were approximately half way done and then the weather turned on us.  Severely turned on us.  The wind remained, but it started to rain.......HARD.  Quickly I was soaked through, having put on only a running vest to run in.  The running conditions were awful and we had at least 2 hours of running still to do, if not more.  Pushing ourselves through we got our third armband and were back along the shore into a hurricane on our next lap.

At this point Bushy really started to struggle.  His head was down and his pace slowed hugely.  We had been running non stop, so I suggested we started to adopt a walk/run strategy, walking for a bit to help recover and feel a bit better.  This was working OK, but Bushy was still in big trouble.  Remarkably I felt OK and he told me to push on so he could chase me.  Once again his competitive nature meant he would not let me go so I pushed on, regularly calling back to him to make sure he was still with me.  We had been side-by-side since the second lap of the bike race and there was no way I was going to leave him behind now.  It was dark, raining like a monsoon, windy as you can imagine and we needed each other more than ever.  

Between lap 3 and 4.
Bushy starting to struggle at this point
As is the way with endurance racing, Bushy had hit "the wall".  This is notorious amongst distance athletes and all you need to do is push through it.  Once you get to the other side you start to feel better and get a "second wind".  I knew if Bushy just kept going he would be OK, and sure enough he was.  It was around this point that we worked out we had 10km to go and more than 2.5 hours left before the race cut off.  I knew that we could run 10k in 2.5 hours.  I just knew it.  A huge rush of euphoria hit me as I started to genuinely believe I would complete the race.  

Sadly it was not much longer until I no longer felt this way.  My main issue was that I was freezing.  The wind and rain had not let up for hours and I was in a running vest and shorts.  Luckily we were on our final lap with only 6km to go; however I felt absolutely awful.  I couldn't stop shaking and I was more cold than I had ever felt before.  Chatting to Bushy, I said to him how I had read stories of people getting this close on and Ironman and then failing.  Being unable to make the final few kilometres no matter how hard they pushed.  I was terrified this would be me.


Start of the final lap
Luckily for me, Bushy was there to spur me on.  He reminded me of how far I had come and why I was there.  Thinking about my supporters and all of the families that Chestnut Tree House support I gave myself a good talking to, sucked it up and started running again.  I had come too far, trained too hard.  No way was I quitting.

I owed it to my wife, my family, Steve and Lou and every single person who had sponsored me to get this race done.  Even if I had to crawl I would get through this next 6km and finish.

We plodded on, walking for a bit then running for a bit.  With about 3km left we just ran.  Not fast, but we kept running.  As we rounded the final point and had only 400 metres to the finish, we started to get a bit emotional.  We had done it.  We would finish.  Bushy and I both had a tear in our eye but as he quite rightly said "man up Snooky, we can't go over the line crying, we are Ironmen".  

I couldn't have done it without him and told him so.  He felt exactly the same way.  We were so lucky to be similarly matched in fitness so we could bike the second lap and run the whole marathon together.  Who knows what might have happened if we had to go it alone.


And across the line we go.
Through into the finishing chute and the music started blaring.  I was going mental, shouting at the top of my lungs, hands in the air.  We had done it.  140.6 miles (or 226km) of effort.  15 hours and 15 minutes.  We were, and will always be known as Ironmen.  



The best hug EVER
L-R Mike, Bushy, Me, Curry
Collecting our medals it was straight over to say hello to and most importantly give massive hugs to our family and friends.  I saw my wife and simply said to her "What a thing" as I leant forward for the best hug of my entire life.  The emotion I felt was like nothing I had ever experienced before or since.  Utter relief combined with a huge sense of accomplishment.  I was so pleased to see her, my parents and my friends.  Our friend Mike had already finished quite a bit before (he is a fit old chap) and we posed for a group photo along with Curry who had done the half earlier that day too.  


Challenge Weymouth was complete.  Soon I was to be told that I had also hit my fundraising target.  I was overjoyed.  Not only was I an Ironman, but I had raised enough money to pay for a days care at Chestnut Tree House.  Phenomenal.  

As this blog post has become rather lengthy, I will spare you all the details of how I felt afterwards and how long it took me to warm up (but it was quite a while).  What I would like to do is say huge thanks to some very special people who came down on the day to support.

To my Grazing Saddles buddies, their relevant WAGs, Palmer and Nicola, huge thanks for being there on the day to support me.  It meant so much.

To my parents, thank you for braving the freezing cold conditions to support your son. Next time I will make sure to compete somewhere a bit warmer!

To Louise and Steve.  From the bottom of my heart thank you for letting me compete in honour of your lovely daughter Amber.  I hope that what I achieved in her memory lives long in yours.  She may be gone but never forgotten.  I shall continue to fundraise for her until I can no longer do so.

Bushy, what can I say to you.  We trained together, spent endless hours debating eating strategies and racing strategies.  It was an absolute pleasure to have you by my side during the event and I really do hope that perhaps we can do it again one day.

Finally, the biggest thanks and eternal love to my beautiful wife Cat.  You suffered through my endless training, looking after our two girls on your own whilst I was cycling or swimming or running for hours on end.  You put up with me talking incessantly about triathlon.  You didn't complain when I spent a fortune on triathlon gear.  You were there to reassure me when I felt low and didn't think I would ever be fit enough to become an Ironman.  The biggest thing of all, you suffered emotionally more than I can imagine whilst I was out there on the course.  The race was harder for you than it was for me.  I am eternally grateful for the support that you gave me, for you allowing me to complete this huge challenge.  I love you millions and trillions.

That's it folks, the story of Challenge Weymouth.  Sorry it has taken me so long to post this.  Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Many people have asked me what's next.  Well keep your eyes on the blog for my future plans.

Finally there is a video on YouTube of Bushy and I crossing the line.  The look on my face when I hug my wife perfectly sums up what becoming an Ironman is all about.  If you are reading this and thinking of doing it yourself, my advice would be to get one booked and get out training.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  Never to be forgotten.


Click play to see us crossing the line. Thanks to Neil for the video.

TTFN

Snooky