Saturday, 18 July 2015

Half Ironman Racing, Race Directing and Coaching - Keeping Me Active


Yes, it has been quite a while since my last blog post, but with having a break from ultra-trail racing there are no race reports to write, well not any trail racing reports.  As mentioned back in my 2014 review post, my break from ultra-trail racing is partly due to building up for the 2016 Lanzarote Ironman that takes place on the 21st May next year.  Having raced in the very first Lanzarote Ironman way back in May 1992, where there were only 116 finishers, next year's race being the 25th Anniversary race, with big celebrations planned, the idea of heading back out to the Canary Islands to race my first Ironman in  over 20 years was quite appealing.  Therefore upon receiving an invitation from Race Director Kenneth Gasque, (the same race director as back in 1992), to race the 2016, with my entry fee and accomodation at Club La Santa set at 1992 prices, it was with huge excitement that I entered the race a couple of weeks ago, at the much discounted price of 114 Euros, equivalent to 19,000 pesetas (pre-Euro days!)  So if you know anyone who raced the 1992 Lanzarote Ironman, please guide them to this linked facebook page for mega discounted entry and accommodation.

So, having got my 1992 racing bike down from the loft, this year has consisted of getting out on the road bike a wee bit, and a tiny bit of swimming, in addition to 'ticking over' with my running in preparation for the Grafman Half Ironman that took place at the end of June.  The Half Ironman consisted of the usual 1900 metres swim, 90km bike and 21.1 km run.  Being the English Middle Distance Championships, it was a particularly strong field, well it sure seemed quicker than back in the ninties.

Lining up at the edge of Grafham Water, I found that I wasn't at all nervous or anxious.  I guess partly due to the fact that I hadn't placed any big expectations upon myself like I had for my trail racing over the last 7-8 years.  I was quite excited, but more intrigued into seeing how I would get on after such a long break from triathlon racing.  Although I did complete a half ironman while back in New Zealand in 2013, as I hadn't carried out any cycle or swim training at all prior to that event, in essence this felt like my first triathlon race since the 1990s.

In There Somewhere!

My swim went pretty well as expected, with a time of 33:36, which was 157th quickest overall from the 434 finishers.  My swimming was never anything special, as I tended to be a one paced steady swimmer..  So with an Ironman swim PB of 59 minutes, being only around 4 - 5 minutes slower that 20 years ago, it was a good start.

Spot the Difference! - 2015 Grafman Half Ironman / 1991 Ironbridge Ironman (My first Ironman)

After a very slow transition I mount my 1992 carbon fibre bike with 1990 Scott Triathlon bars, although with new racing wheels, and amazingly racing the bike somehow just comes instantly back to me!  I had a really super bike ride, grinning the entire 90 kilometres, enjoying every minute, even though at times there was heavy rain and what seemed always being a head wind.  My cycle time was 2:31:00, which was 66th fastest bike time overall.

More Spot the Difference!  Grafman 2015 vs Ironbridge 1991

It was then run time, and as I get off the bike I am thinking great, time to move through the field like I always used to, back in the early nineties.  Alas, the running just didn't happen.  Although I hadn't carried out any quick specific running training I still expected to be able to run around a 1;27 - 1:28 half marathon, simply because 'at the core' I am a runner!  Only problem being that seven years of ultra-trail racing, specifically focusing on the one hundred mile races where I prioritised the non-physical training and very seldom carried out any quick key sessions (even though I include these as an integral part of the training I prescribe to the trail runners I coach), was not the ideal preparation for a flat 13 mile run course!  I leave transition going at a good pace, but within a minute or two I find that I am battling/fighting to try to maintain the quick pace.

Trying to Relax Whilst Maintaining Pace on the Run

I try to relax the mind and body, to maintain smoothness, whilst at the same time concentrating to keep the pace quick, but I find that I end up in ultra-running mode, and the pace slows.  As I try to up the pace, I am attacked with arguments from the 'devil on my shoulder' strongly telling me, that I am now an ultra runner, no longer a quick running triathlete and I should accept running slowly, and without much of a battle I accept being overtaken on the run.  The really disappointing aspect was that after trying a few times to up the pace, which resulted in a struggle, a battle, I took the easy option and decided that the devil's argument was correct and so accepted the inevitability of running slowly.

Currently reading Michael Hutchinson's book titled "Faster - The obsession, science, and luck behind the World's fastest cyclists", my running simply felt as if I was running 'badly', definitely not the characteristics he describes for a "hard (training) session done well", which I would often experience when racing well.  From page 19; "I think what distinguishes a hard session done well from a hard session done badly, is the degree of control. When you've grown good at it, you can push to the limits of what you can do while staying so relaxed that you can wriggle your toes.  There's no trace of a wild attack on the effort.  You can feel what you're doing, and judge the effort level, even while your heart rate is at its maximum and your blood lactate levels are heading for the roof.  There is a detachment.  You're not just piling everything on and hoping for the best".  Yes, being able to race at the high intensity as required for the 21km run definitely requires specific TOTAL training to develop the 'harmony' between the body and mind, to develop the ability to race fast, whilst not battling/fighting!

I complete the half marathon with a run time of 1:32:18, being 54th fastest run time overall, and finish the race in 61st place overall, which was also 5th place in the over 50s age category. Yes indeed, there are some amazingly awesomely quick fifty year old triathletes out there!  Although. I was a little disappointed with my run performance, overall I am really pleased with how the day went.  I am now even more looking forward to my second and final triathlon for 2015, the Vitruvian Half Ironman that takes place at the end of August.  With some non-physical preparation including "What do I want?  Why do I want it? How much do I want it?", combined with some quick key running sessions, the Ironman triathlete from the early nineties should be back!

All set for the 1992 Lanzarote Ironman

Apart from focusing on preparing for triathlons, sporting wise I have also been kept pretty busy being a race director and a running coach.  Back in May I was race director for the second edition of the Weald Challenge Trail Races, consisting of a half marathon, marathon and 50km ultra.  Being very well received in 2014, we had to close entries to the Weald Challenge this year at 529 entries, four weeks prior to race day.  Come race day, the event was another huge success, but this year with there being one or two issues including a runner falling through a rotten wooden footbridge and some direction arrows being deliberately removed (not by a runner), I found the stress levels and energy required to be race director seemed to pretty well match the levels required to race a 100 mile ultra trail race. Overall though there was a rewarding sense of satisfaction in putting my bit back into the trail running community,

Weald Challenge May 2015

Even though I found being race director was at times quiet stressful, I am race director again for a second trail event this year, and I am currently getting things all in place for the inaugural running of the High Weald Challenge 50km Ultra Trail race, that takes place in East Sussex at the end of September.  The route is equally as scenic and challenging as the Weald Challenge, and takes in the spectacular views of the Ashdown Forest, as well as passing over the iconic Winnie the Pooh bridge.  If you are looking for a trail race around the end of September, check out the race website: I may be a little bit biased as race director, but it is an awesome route, and will be an excellent well organised friendly event, complete with bespoke High Weald Challenge finisher hand made coffee mugs and medals.

High Weald Challenge 50km Ultra Trail - 27th September 2015

When I decided to take a break from trail racing this year, I thought that I would miss the racing, and perhaps regret the decision.  However, what has been a pleasant surprise is that I haven't missed the racing at all.  Yes, having two Half Ironman races this year has satisfied a bit of my competitive instinct, however, I think my run coaching, working with currently eight athletes to assist them to improve their running performances, has also played a large part in being quite content.  Yes, at times I find that I am getting as equally as excited about their upcoming races as they are.  And when their races go well, and for some of them this year, the races have gone extremely well, it is very rewarding.  But there is also the disappointment when sometimes things don't quite go as planned, but all part of the learning process, which sometimes can actually increase the rate of improvement.

With the Montane Lakeland 100/50 now just one week away, even though for the first time in five years I will not be there in Coniston, I am still really looking forward to the event.  In terms of overall race experiences, the Montane Lakeland 100/50 is right up there at the top of my list.  Yes, there is the very challenging race route and the awesome scenery, but I think what really makes it such a special event is the tremendous friendly race community. Anyway, I am 'itching' to tell you to look out for one of my athletes in the 100 mile race, as his preparation has gone really well, including his first ultra-trail race win recently,  but I don't think naming him would really aid his preparation, with the additional pressure from being watched by all of the UltraStu blog readers.  So, I will just have to keep to myself my race tip for a podium finish!

Looking at the 100 mile field, it looks as strong as usual with a few names jumping out at me including reigning champion Marco Consani, but also Paul Tierney with a 2nd and 3rd place finish from 2012 and 2011 respectively, as well as father and son Kevin (4th 2013) and Chris Perry (6th 2014).  It would be great to see Kevin show the youngsters a thing or two!  There is also Ken Sutor who tends to go off really fast, even quicker than my often questioned quick starting pace, having led at checkpoint one in both 2012 and 2013.  But there are fifteen legs in the Laklenad 100, however, if he could maintain the pace for further into the race he could be in the mix.  No doubt, there will be one or two lesser known ultra-trail runners right up near the front as well to make the race even more exciting.  I sense that I won't be getting much sleep on Friday night next week as I stay glued to the computer screen with the checkpoint updates,  At least it isn't five days of screen watching as experienced last month with the Dragons Back race.  Now that event is tempting. maybe a target race for 2017 following my short venture back to Ironman racing.

Time to finish this posts with a couple of brief mentions.  To those of you that listen to the Talk Ultra podcast, no doubt you would have heard Karl Meltzer talk about speedgolf.  Well the British Speedgolf Championships for 2015 are taking place next month in East Sussex.  I received an e-mail from the British Speedgolf Association asking me if I knew of any trail runners that also play golf, as apparently over the last few years trail runners have performed quite well at speedgolf.  So if you are interested in competing at the British Championships then check out the Championship website.

I also received a message from ultra-trail runner Andy Nuttel last week letting me know about the new Ultra Running magazine coming out shortly simply titled ULTRA.  Check out the magazine's facebook page to find out more.  Whenever I see examples of this, where runners follow their passion and commit fully to a project like this, it really inspires me.  I wish Andy all the best with the magazine.

Well, time to sign off.  Sorry no signing off quote tonight as I'm a bit out of practise with this blog writing and no words of wisdom spring to mind!

All the best with whatever sporting venture you are engaging in to keep you active and alive, but most of all happy!