Sunday, 15 December 2013

Rotorua Half Ironman Race Report - An Enjoyable Morning Learning More About Fatigue and Performance


Yes another blog post from hot and sunny New Zealand.

Yesterday at 6:25 am I sprinted into the Blue Lake at Rotorua and commenced my first triathlon in over 14 years.  Although it had been quite a while since my most recent triathlon, in many ways it seemed like only one or two years had past.  I'll go straight to the results and then expand a little on what I learnt during the race.

The 2013 Rotorua Half Ironman was the 15th edition of the race, and if you visit the website you will notice their 'catch phrase', "Making Triathletes Suffer Since 1999"!  As you can imagine, with my focus being on enjoyment and positivity, their theme of suffering, which I see as a rather negative term, didn't really resonate with me, but apart from that, the race organisation was superb, and the overall event was 'a great morning out'!

Standing next to me on the shores of the Blue Lake, were I guess around 300 - 350 male triathletes, with around 50 - 100 women triathletes and around 50 - 60 relay teams standing a little further back, waiting for their start, five minutes later at 6:30 am.  Opps, I was going to go straight to the result!  So 5 hours 12 minutes and 32 seconds later I crossed the finish line in a sprint finish in 27th place overall.  So what happened during those five or so hours?

As I struggled into a borrowed wetsuit, stretched on an old swim cap, and splashed my swim goggles in the lake.  During the last minute or two waiting for the start I was taken back to March 1993 as I was similarly lined up on the beach, but back then it was at the 1993 New Zealand Ironman.  On that occasion I was searching out fellow triathlete from Christchurch (I lived in Christchurch at the start of 1993 for a few months racing and preparing for the Ironman) George Hilgeholt.  George was that little bit quicker than me in the swim, so he was a good person to follow as drafting is allowed in the swim leg of triathlon.  Here today, apart from my brother in law Ken Maclaren, who is far too much faster swimmer for me to follow,  I don't know anyway else, so it doesn't really matter where I stand on the lake shore.

There is simply a shout of GO and we are off, sprinting into the lake and then straight into flat out swimming.  For the first minute or so I am really going for it, just like the 'olden days' really blasting it hard at the start of the swim to get further up the field than my swimming ability and training should allow me to be, and then simply try to 'hang on' to as many feet as I can for the remainder of the swim leg. Actually that race strategy seems quite familiar to my ultra trail running tactics.  So now I know where I developed the "race as fast as you can, while you can" approach from!  Then after around a minute I have a 'panic attack'.  The mega pace, combined with the tight wetsuit, the coolness of the water, and the frequent collisions with the other swimmers, results in me finding it really difficult to breath.  I simply have to stop swimming and just try to relax and regain my breath.  For a brief moment I thought my race was over.  The negative thoughts were immediately trying to take over "You foolish idiot trying to race a Half Ironman with two swim training sessions"!  The thought of the race turning to disaster was beginning to get hold.  Fortunately I just told myself, relax, relax, relax!  I know I can swim, I swam 1600 metres in the pool just the other day.  Forget racing, just switch to training mode and all will be fine.  So I guess after around 30 seconds tof telling myself to relax, I finally get swimming again, but by now having lost all of the quick feet to draft behind.

The swim route is two 1000 metre laps, so a total distance of 2000 metres rather than the standard half Ironman distance of 1900 metres.  I had swam 1500 metres in 29:40 at the pool on Wednesday, so was expecting a little bit quicker pace come race day, and with the aid of the wetsuit.  I therefore had scheduled 40 minutes for the swim plus transition, so around 37 - 38 minutes would count has a good swim.

As I completed the first lap and headed back out to the faraway buoy, I was tempted to look at my watch to see if I was on schedule for a sub 38 minute swim.  Since my small 'hiccup' at the start of the swim, I had settled into a good rhythm.  A smooth controlled pace without over exerting myself by trying too hard.  I therefore decide that there was nothing to gain by knowing my half-way swim split time.  It felt that I was swimming okay, and as I often say to my run coaching athletes nowadays, simply focus on the moment, during the moment, and let the finish time 'look after itself''.  I did exactly that.  I reminding myself just how great it was to be able to swim in such an amazing fresh and scenic lake.  I reminded myself how great it was that I was able to swim at a good smooth pace, after only two swim sessions.  I simply reminded myself to enjoy the moment!

I exit the water and run up the sand passing over the computer chip mat.  About two seconds later I hear my name being called out over the loud speakers.  I glance at my watch it is just over 35 and a half minutes, excellent, (official split time 35:38) two to two and a half minutes up on schedule.  The positivity is growing, I sense that feeling that today is going to be a good day!

I make my way to my bike, and have what is a pretty slow transition.  It takes me ages to take off the wetsuit, then I put on some socks as I always run with socks on, and then finally I put on a cycle jersey.  Not because it is cool, no it's actually quite warm even at 7:00am in the morning, but the cycle jersey has pockets in the back to carry a spare tube, puncture repair kit, and most important some TORQ energy bars and gels to fuel me during the next 4 - 5 hours.

The bike route immediately starts with a pretty solid climb.  As my swimming has always been the weakest of the three disciplines, my natural triathlon instinct is to absolutely attack the moment I get on the bike, and to regain the lost time and to try to move myself up the field closer to the position I feel that I should be in, not way back in the field after a weak swim.  The provisional results are available on the following web link, however it appears that quite a few people are missing from the results, including my brother-in law Ken.  However, I pasted the top 100 results into excel and did some sorting.  Out of the top 100 recorded finishers in the provisional results, I was 76th quickest.  So as you can see compared to my overall provisional finishing place of 27th, I needed to get a move on, and gain some places back.

I climb the first hill with no idea of what intensity I should be cycling at.  All I know is that I should be blasting past the other triathletes as that was what I always did when I previously raced triathlons!  I get up and over the hill and down a quick decent and start the long flat stretch past the airport.  After a few kilometres on the flat as I continue to pass many other riders, I am slowly overtaken by an old looking guy.  I guess in his early 50's.  He looks pretty fit, his bike looks the part, although to be honest, EVERYONE'S bike looked like it cost many thousands of pounds!  Instantly I revert back to my old triathlon racing days.  If anyone ever past me, no matter what speed they were doing I would latch onto them.  I immediately up the intensity and stick to his pace, maintaining the 10 metre required gap behind him.  I am loving it.  He sets the pace, I sense that I am possibly over extending myself a wee bit, but hey, this is what racing is all about.  Being within the moment, and loving it as we continually overtake loads of riders.  What will happen an hour or two later, no need to worry now.  Sort that out when I need to!  So a simple pacing strategy just keep to his pace!

We head off the main road, onto a closed ride that runs along the north edge of Lake Rotorua.  Just by coincidence, this is the same stretch of road that I have strong memories off, whilst racing my first ever road marathon as a seventeen year old, way back in 1980! (Click here to read my reflections on my first marathon).  The bike route does an out and back along this stretch, so as we (me and my pacer) are heading out, we see the leaders making their way back.  I spot one of my main competitors for the day, Ken, making his way back, and then quite some time later I spot one of my other target competitors, friend and former partner of Ken, former GB International triathlete from the early nineties Ali Hollington.  Although Ali was one of Britain's top Olympic distance women triathletes in the early to mid nineties, she is still competing at a high level as evidenced by her 9:40 finish time at this year's Challenge Roth Ironman.  (Ali had however been taking it easy since the Roth race back in July, so she was not in the same race shape yesterday.)  As Ali passes me going in the other direction, I see the turnaround point just up the road, so I am not that far behind her (although she did start five minutes after me in the women's start!)

As we start making our way back along the north edge of Lake Rotorua, including some pretty good undulations, the rate at which my pacer and I pass the other riders is slowing down.  On many occasions as we pass riders, they tend to pick up the pace and latch onto us, and then as we make our way over the undulating climbs each rider has different strengths and so the order of the pace line tend to swap.  I find that I am getting pretty excited by the way I am riding and therefore decide to leave my pacer behind and go it alone over the next set of undulations.  I shortly catch up to Ali, say a quick hello and go straight past. I wasn't expecting to overtake Ali until some time during the run.  So overtaking her so early on, I guess at around half way through the 90 km (56 mile) bike ride is a really bonus, a real boost to the already positive occasion I am experiencing.

Shortly after a decent of one of the undulations Ali re-overtakes me, and rather than immediately settling in 10 metres behind her my mind starts wandering to the big climb that is shortly coming up.  The climb is on an out and back section on the Whakatane highway.  It just so happens that friends Mitch and Foxy who lent me the bike live at the bottom of the climb.  We had stayed with them the previous weekend and I had run up the pretty step and long climb the previous weekend, so I knew that it was more demanding than the undulations we had just completed.  As if instantly the easiness of the cycling seemed to disappear.  Where as up to this point in the race, although I knew I was working at a pretty demanding intensity, it had felt easy.  My rating of perceived exertion (RPE) had been pretty high, but yet it hadn't required that much focus, what I call Race Focus Energy (RFE).  I guess if you refer to my RFE Fatigue Model, the enjoyment I was getting from racing in a triathlon again was simply rotating the RPE to RFE needle downwards.

But now whether due to no longer being within the moment, or maybe the legs were simply trying to tell me that two days of cycling training just wasn't sufficient, I don't know.  Was it a physical initiated response, or a mental initiated response.  But whatever, most likely an combination of the two, from the moment I started the long climb, the ease of riding, the enjoyment from the riding just didn't match what had taken place during the first 30 miles.  Surprisingly, this swap from cruising to beginning to struggle on the bike also coincided with cycling past Mitch and Foxy's house, where I had a very vocal support team cheering me on, including France my wife, and our two boys, Rob and Chris.  In some ways them seeing that I was performing well up to that point, as I had provided them with estimated split times and time gaps between me and Ali and Ken and I was slightly up on a pretty demanding schedule I had set, somehow meant that I could start slowing down.  I had already probably exceeded their expectations, and reflecting back now, it felt that at that moment in time I started to lower my own very high self-expectations.

Waving to my Support Team at the Start of the Big Hill Climb

The final 25 miles of the bike, to express it in a single word, would be described as a "struggle", or maybe perhaps it was getting closer to the term that the race organisers used to describe their race, I was beginning to"SUFFER".  And as it was getting more demanding, the inner voice was telling me loudly and clearly "I told you that you can't expect to perform on the bike on two training rides.  What a fool for riding so hard during the first 30 miles!"  And for the last portion of the bike leg I had to put up with this message going around in my head.  However, although the RFE - RPE needle was no longer rotated massively down, I was preventing it from rotating upwards, as my response to these negative thoughts were "No problems, it won't be long until the run leg, and then I will be in my element, trail running, and then there will be no holding back.  I will be back to blasting past everyone again"!  And so in this situation, looking ahead to the future and not staying within the present moment was a good strategy to adopt.

Nearing the End of the Cycle Leg

Just prior to the end of the bike leg, we do a little out and back, so we are able to see the runners further up the field head off for the first two kilometres before heading off-road into the Rotorua Redwoods forest.  I spot Ken probably about one and a half kilometres out from transition, and then spot Ali about 400 metres out from transition.  I complete the bike leg and as indicated by my GPS watch (GarminConnect link) that I had started the moment I got riding my bike, it had taken me around 2:53:30, so around six minutes down on my planned bike split time of 2:50 which also had to include around three minutes of lengthy transition time from the end of the bike to the start of the run. But considering the scheduled time I had given myself was a pretty tough time, considering my lack of bike preparation, my immediate response to seeing the bike split was still positive, I was quite pleased with the time, albeit the last 25 miles had been a bit of a struggle! I rack my bike, off with the helmet and cycling jersey, on with the running shoes, and I am on the way for the anticipated quick 13 mile run.

Oh no!  As I start running, the smoothness, the rhythm isn't there.  My back is sore from being down on the aerobars for loads of time during the last three hours.  My shoulders feel sore and tight, either from the awkward position on the aerobars, or from the swimming, and it is now 10:00 am and the sun has come out so it is pretty hot!  The anticipated over-taking of other triathletes isn't happening.  In fact I am overtaken my a team relay runner, who isn't running very fast, rather I am going pretty slowly.  Having learnt from my Beachy Head Marathon battle, I decide that rather than try to 'fight my way' though these negative feelings, I would do the opposite, and try to relax.  I guess a bit like what I did at the start of the swim when I had difficulty breathing a few hours earlier.  So I really focus on relaxing, but whilst trying to maintain my slowish running pace.

The route leaves the road, and as I start running along a tree enclosed, pine needled covered path, I really remind myself just why I do these events.  I tell myself "Look around you.  Look at where you are.  You are running along a fantastic forest path, overlooking the most beautiful natural lake, on a glorious hot sunny blue sky day"  "And you have got a great competitive race on your hands, probably four minutes to catch Ali (and then need to put an additional five minutes on her due to her later start) and probably around fifteen minutes to catch Ken.  Remember 1991, your change to bring the score back to 1 -1"!  So I remind myself that it doesn't really get much better than where I am at this present moment in time.

I come across the first drink station, briefly stop for two cups of cool water, and with the next section of the run including a gentle downhill to join the scenic track along the Green Lake, I really relax and appreciate the amazing scenery and finally pick up the pace.  The GPS trace shows a 6:42 mile.  Not that quick but quicker that the two previous miles of 7:33 and 7:39.  I make my way along the edge of the Green Lake which is an out and back section, so again am able to see the runners ahead making their way back.  I am conscious that I should be running at a higher intensity, but also conscious as I don't want to 'fight' my way through this amazing run course and therefore 'miss out' on the enjoyment of the run.  So I probably am just running that little bit below my usual race focus intensity.  But I am more than happy, as even at this slowish pace I am rapidly overtaking other runners, including overtaking Ali on the outwards Green Lake section.

As I approach the turn point I pass Ken running back the other way.  Ken is no youngster, being aged 52, but he is still in pretty good shape, and combined with his Elite GB International triathlon status, albeit from the 1990 Commonwealth Games and the 1991 World Triathlon Champs, 'taking him down' wasn't going to be easy!  But as he passes, his running style isn't the most fluid, and I acknowledge that at that moment in time he is beginning to look closer to his age!  So the target is there.  The Race Focus is slightly raised, but again I simple decide to stay within the present moment, focus on the now, and let the gap between me and Ken come down as a result of running smoothly, rather than worrying/focusing on the actual time gap.  I remind myself, to focus on the enjoyment of running, and the 'result will look after itself'.

Passing Through the Start / Finish 5km from the Finish

Passing Through the Start / Finish 5km from the Finish
Photo taken by Rob, the shirtless boy in the background of the photo above.

The run route passing through the start / finish area before completing one final five kilometre loop of the Blue Lake.  There is great support as we pass the start / finish area, where the leaders have already finished.  My family and friends cheer me own, and I purposely do not ask for the time gap between me and Ken.  There isn't anything to be gained by knowing the time gap.  If I catch him in time before the finish , then so be it.  But the bonus of knowing that the longer the distance to go, the greater the chances of catching him are, results in me wishing for the race to continue.  Whereas. in most races, many runners will start to 'count down' the miles, in anticipation of the finish, in the hope that the race will soon be over.  Here I was 'wishing' for the opposite, hoping that the run course was longer, and surprisingly with that simple change in attitude, there is a swing downwards of the RPE - RFE needle, and although I am still putting in the same intensity, it just feels a lot easier.  I am therefore able to up my running pace, and apart form the third mile which contained a good downhill section, the last two miles of the half marathon are the quickest, miles of the run both being 7:14 minute miles on undulating twisty trail tracks.  Not super fast, but still not too slow after five hours of continuous racing!

With less than two kilometres to go, I finally spot Ken ahead, and move rapidly past him with a quick giddaye.  I am really enjoying the last section of the run, probably the most scenic around the Blue Lake forest track.  With the increased pace, I pass probably five or so runners during the last kilometre, although some of these are runners still with the final Blue Lake lap to complete.  Just as I am all set to relax and enjoy the final 100 metres cruising across the sand to the finish chute, one of the runners that I have just past starts sprinting past me.  Well , there was no way I was going to let him get past me without a battle.  So I am in full sprint mode for the last 50 metres, but unfortunately he is just to quick for me, and all I achieve by trying to hold him off, is that my finish photo that my son has waited to take, to sell to me for some 'bargain' price, is ruined as I finish directly behind the other guy so totally obscured!

Being Out Sprinted by a Team Relay Runner

I finish in a total time of 5:12:32, a little over 12 minutes slower than my demanding scheduled finish time of five hours, made up of a 40 minute swim (including transition), a 2:50 bike (including transition) and a 1:30 run.  My official run time is 1:35:42 which place me as 10th fastest run time from the first 100 finishers.  So easily my best performing discipline in comparison to the 76th fastest swim split, and the 57th fastest bike split.  Ken finishes around two minutes later, and Ali around twenty minutes later.

Ken Finishing

All Smiles with Ali at the Finish.  Wearing my 1992 Sponsored Triathlete Race Vest!

I sub-titled this blog post "An Enjoyable Morning Learning About Fatigue and Performance".  Firstly just a morning's learning, as I had finished my race before midday.  In relation to an ultra trail race, the race seemed to simply 'fly by'.  The changing of the disciplines, does seem to make the race that little bit less demanding in terms of race focus.  I guess, being only a Half Ironman rather than a Full Ironman, so hence a much shorter duration than say your typical 50 - 100 mile ultra trail races, also results in a much shorter time racing.  What about fatigue and performance?  Well this race experience just further reinforces to me the importance of enjoyment during the actual race, and to try not to 'battle' ones way through a race.  It has reminded me of the significance of focusing on the present moment, and the end result will simply happen.

In terms of expectations, I have for many years been well aware of how ones self expectations affect performance.  But what was probably most intriguing about this race, was the unknown involved in not having raced a triathlon for many years. I simply had very little to gauge what intensity I should be swimming or cycling at.  Especially trying to ascertain what the ideal race pace was on the bike was difficult.  The term 'running' by feel, or 'racing' by feel is often used, but what exactly are you feeling?  Is it your breathing rate, your heart rate, the strain / tension within your legs, or arms or face?  How does one 'feel' the ideal pace, the ideal intensity?  And the following question, what exactly is fatigue?  Well as Tim Noakes described within an interesting article last year; "Fatigue is a brain-derived emotion".  And with it being an emotion, fatigue is therefore highly responsive to ones state of mind, including ones self-expectations, the need/desire to perform, and the level of enjoyment / excitement at the present time.  If one gets these aspects right then ones performance can be so much closer to the overall limit of performance which is set by the physical / physiological mechanisms.

Did I get these important aspects right yesterday during the Rotorua Half Marathon?  Well not exactly.  During portions of the race, I feel really happy with how I performed, but then during other portions of the race, my mind wasn't in the ideal place, and my less than ideal thoughts distracted me from getting closer to my capable physical limit.  When I am asked why am I still racing, why do I still get the enjoyment from racing, the excitement from the competitive environment.  I guess one of the main reasons is that I am still learning.  Even after 35 years of endurance sport, I still have much to learn.  And my brief venture back into the triathlon world has reminded me of the progress I have made in terms of discovering the determinants of performance over these last 15 or so years since I was previously a triathlete.

Do I have any plans for any future triathlons?  Well not for 2014, as I have still have so much to achieve within ultra trail racing.  So big things are planned for 2014, but that is for another blog post.

Time to sign off;  "Enjoyment from racing can result from a pleasing performance, but perhaps the satisfaction gained is possibly largely a result of a greater understanding of what it is within ourselves that enables us to firstly to challenge ourselves, but then to raise up, as one strives to meet these demanding expectations."  Stuart Mills, 2013.

May you feel satisfied with your performances,


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Going Back in Time - Just Some Random Thoughts!


As mentioned in my last post I am spending Christmas in New Zealand.  Well I have actually been in New Zealand now for almost a week, and I am really enjoying catching up with friends and family, as well as the warm weather.  As the post title above indicates, tonight's post will just be a few random thoughts which hopefully will contain some interest to others apart from myself!

I guess the main aspect of tonight's post is the fact that this Saturday I will be racing my first triathlon since August 1999, and my first Half Ironman since July 1995.  Although I did race my fifth and last Ironman in August 1995.  Yes, after watching live the final of the World Triathlon Champs at Hyde Park in London back in September I found that I was excited by triathlon again.  It's pretty hard not to get excited when watching the amazing Brownlee brothers and the rest of the World elite!  Yes, many years ago, for a few years I was a triathlete.  If you have read my five year review part 3 that covered 1988 - 1992 you will be aware that I raced the 1992 Hawaii Ironman, after qualifying at the very first Lanzarote Ironman in May 1992.  (Yes, I know, I never did write five year reviews parts 4 - 7.  Maybe next month)!

So in the weeks prior to coming to New Zealand, when brother-in-law Ken Maclaren (ex British International Triathlete from the early nineties, but now lives in New Zealand) mentioned that he was racing the Rotorua Half Ironman during the time we would be nearby in Cambridge, New Zealand, I was a little bit tempted to take him on, and perhaps avenge my defeat to him, the last time we raced, being at the Welsh Olympic Distance Triathlon Championships in Cardiff, Wales, way back in June 1991.  The only problem was that I literally hadn't swam, mucking around with our boys aside, since my last triathlon in August, 1999.  And in terms of cycling, I had only ridden my road bike twice during 2013.  So yes, I may be run fit to run a marathon or ultra race, but Half Ironman fit???

Being a bit daunted at the prospect, I get on the phone and ring some old cycling / multi-sport mates and see if they are keen to join me and enter as a relay team.  I would swim and run, they would do the 56 mile cycle leg. One, by one (I asked four competitive mates from the nineties) they all said no.  "Get real", they all said, "I haven't raced for years", and the comment from one really keen former cyclist, "I haven't ridden my bike for years"!  The fact that I am still racing competitively nearly 35 years since I raced my first road marathon, doesn't seem strange to me, but to my mates, it seems totally unreal that I am still racing, and even more unreal that I am still getting the same enjoyment, if not more enjoyment nowadays, whilst they only have distant memories to enjoy!

So am I a 'freak'?  Should I have 'grown out' of this competitive urge?  Being a half-century old, shouldn't I be content that I am actually still mobile, and am still able to run?  Chatting with a work colleague a few days after my worst ever placing in not only the Beachy Head Marathon, but in all of my 30 trail marathons (5th place), he suggested that perhaps it was time that I stopped racing marathons, rather than 'disgrace' myself, with ever deteriorating race performances!  It got me thinking, how will I react to getting slower, not being able to perform to the same high level?

Taking up Ultra Trail Racing in 2008 has enabled me to still perform at the highest level, even though my 'top end' speed has declined as I have progressed through the forties.  So even at the age of 50, 51 next month, I feel that I am still on the upward curve in terms of ultra trail race performance.  But maybe the following year, or perhaps the year after that, once I have reached my peak, what will be my goals?  Well racing the Rotorua Half Ironman in less than three days time, has given me a glimpse that I will still be able to set myself goals.  Still able to challenge myself.  And still able to get the anticipated enjoyment, that I expect from this Saturday's race.

Yes, it is 'nice' to finish near the front of the field in races, and yes it is nice to be applauded and to be congratulated by others for what they consider to be fine performances, but 'at the end of the day', the only person you really need to impress is yourself!  Yes, it is all about setting yourself a challenge which extends you, so if you achieve the goal you set, you feel content in knowing you have performed well.  The difficult thing though is how exactly does one know what is a challenging goal.  What constitutes a 'good performance'?  Thinking about this, I don't really know the answer.  It is one of those intuitive 'gut feeling' situations.  Where somehow you know that you have performed well, or not!  But is this 'gut feeling' really correct?  Hard to say, but based on my 35 years of endurance sport, I would say that for the majority of these years, I under expected!  Yes, for the majority of these years, although I had high levels of desire.  I wanted to achieve high, however, in reality I never really expected to achieve high.  Why?  Why were my expectations low?  I don't really know.  I have some ideas, but I think I will leave this topic to another day.

This Saturday then. What are my expectations?  Given that I was hesitant to enter as an individual, preferring to seek out a cyclist team mate, my initial expectations were rather low.  Could I actually get around in a 'respectable' time, whatever counts as respectable, and respectable to who? But I guess the turning point that led to me putting in my entry last Friday night (only 7 days and 7 hours before the start time) was the high expectations expressed by my two sons Rob and Chris.  When I mentioned to them my concern at racing 56 miles on the bike, their response was straight to the point: "Didn't you say that you were a better cyclist than a runner.  If so, then 56 miles shouldn't be a problem.  What are you worried about?"  And they were correct.  I have always considered that I performed to a higher level racing on the bike in New Zealand in comparison to my running road racing performances whilst racing in New Zealand or Britain.  So with their total confidence in my ability to perform, the decision was made.  Although, I did delay entering until I had swam 1600 metres in Cambridge Pool last Friday, just to check that I could still swim!

So what seven day training programme is appropriate for one's first Half Ironman in over 18 years?  As mentioned in many previous blog posts within UltraStu, how one performs in endurance events is largely determined by one's self expectations.  So this week's training has all been about raising my self-expectations. Following my 1600 metre swim last Friday, I entered the race that night.  Saturday's training, well nothing!  Well nothing in terms of physical training, but much time was spent on non-physical training.  Basically I spent Saturday identifying what I would need over the coming days to raise my race day expectations.

Sunday, well, not really what you would expect, but I ran a fantastic 22 mile trail run within the Rotorua Redwoods forest. (GarminConnect link).  Not really triathlon specific training, but a good reminder that when it comes to ultra trail running I am still an elite level performer, as demonstrated by 'banging out' a 22 mile trail run at a steady pace, no problems at all!

Monday, more thinking about my previous triathlon and cycling past, and a gentle 5 mile road run.  Why no cycling?  Well simple really I didn't have a road bike.

Tuesday, I finally manage to sort out a road bike from a friend, and ride around 3 - 4 miles, adjusting the seat height, cycling shoes / cleats, handlebars etc.  Plus a gentle eight mile road run.

So finally today, I start collating the 'evidence' I require in order to convince myself that yes, even after 14 years since my last triathlon, I can still expect to perform to a level, that I will be happy with.  Performing to a level that I consider reflects that I have 'done well'!  So it was another 1600 metres in the pool this morning.  Followed by 27 undulating miles on the bike around mid-day. (GarminConnect link).  Then to finish off, a relaxing five miles of running late afternoon.  Did the triathlon training work?  Well doing all three different disciplines in training today, probably the first time I would have carried this out since probably 1999, did indeed make me feel like a triathlete.  It brought back memories of my triathlon training days up in Aberdeen in 1992.  But more amazing were the vividly strong images I had whilst attacking the hills on the bike, and accelerating out of the corners.  I was instantly taken back to 1988, when I was a cyclist in Dunedin, New Zealand.  I had clear visions of Geoff Keogh and Brian Fowler, the top cyclists in Dunedin and New Zealand respectively, who I raced frequently at the time,

Yes, the feeling of riding a racing bike at pace today, being my longest road ride since December 2006, even though it was only 27 miles, took me back 25 years.  And by the end of the ride, I felt like a cyclist again.  Yes, attacking the hills, working really hard for 27 miles probably wasn't the best physical training to do three days out from race day.  But I feel that performance in endurance events such as running, triathlons, is mainly determined by one's non-physical training.  Yes, the physical training, the physical preparation sets the upper limit of performance.  But it is the non-physical training that determines how close one gets to this physical upper limit. Just to 'cement' this feeling of being a cyclist again, what better way to do it than a photo of racing with Brian Fowler from 1989.

The Joy of Racing the Best - With Brian Fowler 1989

Tomorrow's planned training?  Around 15 - 20 miles of flat spinning on the bike, and yes, as one probably wouldn't expect, 18 holes of golf with my brother Graham.  Yes, when it comes to competition, nothing beats competing against ones' older brother, even though he does have to give me one and a half shots per hole to make it an even contest!  And I guess, this typifies what sport, what competition is all about.  It isn't actually about the winning, or about the result.  But it is about responding to a challenge.  Graham beating me in golf isn't a challenge to him, but if he gives me one and a half shots per hole, then it becomes a challenge, and for him to win, he knows he has to perform well, and that is really all one hopes to achieve when competing in sport.  To have that feeling that whilst you are performing the sporting activity, that you are performing well, you are enjoying yourself.  That you are responding to your self-imposed challenge.

Well I started this blog post with various random thoughts in my head.  Typing them out has enabled me to make some sense out of them, to provide the structure which helps it to make sense.  Hopefully, my random thoughts resonate with some of you out there reading this post.

So as I commence my second half century next month I feel confident that the joy and satisfaction I gain from competing in endurance sport will continue, hopefully for another 35 years.

"Here's to challenging oneself, extending oneself, and best of all enjoying oneself as one rises to their demanding expectations"!  Stuart Mills, 2013

Saturday.  I can't wait!

All the best with your challenges,


PS  Just to further reinforce my perceptions of being a triathlete again.  A photo from the past of training in France with triathlete mate Dave, prior to my most recent Ironman Triathon, the 1995 EmbrunMan, where I finished in 5th place overall in an international field, winning my biggest pay cheque ever, 8000 French Francs (£1000)!!!

Cycling in France 1995 with Dave - Overload Training!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Upcoming UltraStu Presentation - March 2014


Just a quick blog post tonight to let you know about a presentation and run I am doing next March up north in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.  It was back in April at the TORQ weekend, that took place in Shropshire, when I met John Lloyd from Cannonball Events.  Recently he approached me to see if I would be interested in doing a Performance Enhancement Presentation on my trail running ideas, to the trail running community up north.  No doubt as you are probably aware from the length of my blog posts, I do enjoy sharing my ideas, so I agreed to travel up in exchange for some good friendly northern hospitality and of course, a reasonably lengthy trail run with a group of runners.

So on Saturday 8th March commencing in the morning there is a 22 mile run along the Calderdale Way, part of the Calderdale Way Ultra race route.  Then later that day at 6:30pm, as described by John from Cannonball Events, there is "An Evening with Stuart Mills".  Sounds a bit like a BBC Evening with a Famous Singer TV show!  Don't worry, I definitely won't be singing!

The image below is from the fancy flyer that John has produced.

Click the following link: to find out further information.  It should be a great night, as well as an excellent run at a pretty leisurely pace.

Just one more tiny bit of news tonight.  I was recently approached by a Mum whose son is a trail runner who enjoys reading my UltraStu blog and finds the material aids his running.  She asked me if it was possible if I could share my racing, training and coaching experience in person with her son in conjunction with a weekend of trail running taking in the amazingly scenic countryside of East Sussex.  Her plan was to give the Trail Running Weekend as a Christmas present to her son.  I felt really 'honoured' in that running with me would be someone's Christmas present, so I produced a fancy voucher to mark the occasion. 

I then thought maybe there are other people out there who have a keen trail runner friend, partner, son/daughter, or Mum/Dad and just don't know what to give them for Christmas.  So if you like the idea of giving a Trail Running Weekend in East Sussex as a present, then simply zap me an e-mail and we can discuss details.  It wouldn't have to be the same format as the voucher below.  Whatever you feel would be the most ideal Christmas present.

Anyway just a thought.  Just one last point, although the Christmas present is Trail Running with me, it wouldn't actually be during the Christmas period, but some time during 2014.  As I am commencing my summer training camp out in New Zealand next week.  Yes, I am off to New Zealand for Christmas to catch up with family and friends, as well as planning to get a few fantastic hot sunny trail runs in.

Hopefully, I will be publishing a few posts from New Zealand, but just in case I am too busy doing loads of running, have a great Christmas.


PS Just one last mention.  No doubt many of you are probably planning your races for 2014 around now.  If you are looking for an off-road run that takes is a variety of terrain and scenery, including the Ashdown Forest, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, then checkout the Weald Challenge Trail Races, that take place in East Sussex on Sunday 25th May, 2014.  The Weald Challenge Trail Races consist of a 50km Ultra Trail, a Trail Marathon, and a Trail Half Marathon.  Go to the race website for further information and to enter online: