The Training Works - First Race of 2016

Photo: Triquetra Photography / Stuart Gillespie
Some of you will know I'm training for my first Ironman ("and your last", says Liz), writing about the experience in a separate blog here.

Yesterday was the first test of almost eight months of winter training and I'm pleased with the results. I took part in the LochLoMan Triathlon, a middle distance event with a 1.2ml swim, 53mile bike and 13ml run.  That's roughly a half-Ironman distance.

I knocked 16 minutes off my previous half-ironman time at Lanzarote, improving in the splits in all three disciplines.

I ran the half-marathon in under two hours, a personal best and something I've hitherto been unable to achieve in competition.

But still I can't get a helmet to sit square on my skull!  Thanks to Stuart Gillespie of Triquetra Photography who took all these great photos of the event for capturing my wonky head...

The run was surprising because, since twisting my ankle last October, I haven't run much all winter, certainly nothing over 6ml.  The last time I ran 13 miles was at the Lanzarote Ironman 70.3 in September and that took 2hr 9min.  However, my coach Joe Beer has had me deep water running in the pool and every bike session has been followed by a short session on my feet - either walking or jogging.  Clearly it paid off.

The swim was 10.7C so neoprene caps, gloves and booties were mandatory.  I wore two pairs of booties and my Zone 3 neoprene vest under my wetsuit plus some ear-plugs.  Swimming every week through the winter in Loch Sunart clearly paid off because at no time did I feel cold.  The extra neoprene might have slowed me down, but the gloves worked like mini-paddles and improved my catch.  However, low morning sun made sighting an issue.  Take a look at the GPS track below - we swam anti-clockwise.  

The first two sides of the 'square' were fine, but during the SE short side, close to the shallow coast, it was almost impossible to see the buoy even though it was huge!  second time around, when my goggles had really steamed up, I just followed the middle of the pack in front and hoped they could see where they were swimming.


My two trips to recce the bike course paid dividends because I knew to pace myself on the hills and then give it full gas back down Glen Fruin.

With 4,900ft of ascent it has more vertical climbing than the full Ironman I've entered!  I was overdressed in my Castelli Gabba whereas most other riders were fine in Tri suits.

The forecast at 4:30am had predicted some heavy downpours which in the end we were lucky to escape.

I don't think the Gabba was a mistake, I was just a little unlucky, and at no time did I overheat.

Incidentally, the bike route had more climbing in it than I'll face on my full Ironman.  It was a rather hilly course.

Then came the run - two loops of out-and-back.  The front runners experienced quite a few problems because a second event put up their signage which directed the leaders of our event off our route and onto theirs.  I believe this caused the organisers a lot of stress on what would otherwise have been a good event.  It probably meant some lead runners didn't make the podium, but the course had been described in detail in the athletes notes for which I had been able to complete a full recce.

There were niggles about the event, but nothing more than that.  I'd certainly do it again.

* The run Aid Stations were not located where the athletes notes said they would be - at the turn around points - they were some distance before.  One was missing altogether.
* One of the turn around points was so badly marked lots of runners missed it, me included.
* Those Aid Stations did not have the goodies that were promised and which I'd expect form other races - no pre-mixed energy drinks and no gels (warned about the day before the event by email).  Instead it was water, coke, bananas, biscuits and cake-things.  I was pleased to be self-reliant and only took water.
* There was an assumption that "it's all in the athletes' notes", when it wasn't.

As I say these were niggles, not complaints, and points from which I learnt.  Indeed, I learnt an awful lot from the event, so much that  I've written a detailed debrief to myself, one you really don't want to read.

Our Tour de Hebrides

This is a great Hebridean bike tour.

No huge mileages, you can travel ultra-light and it is easy to organise at the last minute when you've seen the current weather forecast - that's important because travelling with the wind at your back is gives a much more pleasurable experience.

Our trip was all last-minute.  On the Saturday we decided to go, so I fixed up the bikes with racks and bar-bag holders.  On Sunday we packed and waited for the evening long-range TV weather forecast.

On Monday, we started riding.  We were home again Friday evening.

If the route interests you, I suggest you start and end at Oban where there's long term parking in front of the Youth Hostel.

There's a good cycleway (Sustains 78) to the Corran Ferry if you wish to follow our route.  Alternatively take the CalMac ferry to Mull, and then cross back to the mainland at Fishnish or Tobermory.

The only 'major' island our tour didn't visit is Lewis, simply because it didn't fit the schedule.  You could add it with an out-and-back from Harris, but the main road to Harris is not one I'd rush to cycle.  With two extra days on the mainland, you could ride through Torridon to Ullapool and take the CalMac to Stornoway.

Our trip started and ended at home in Strontian and breaks down like this, with links to Strava.

Day 1: 64 ml / 4049ft to Lower Breakish, Skye (where we stayed with friends)
Day 2: 48ml / 2156ft to Tarbert, Isle of Harris
Day 3: 54ml / 2500ft to Claddach, North Uist
Day 4: 54ml / 1824ft to Isle of Barra (with diversion to the excellent airport cafe)
Day 5: 54ml / 2044ft to Strontian, Ardnamurchan

If you're tempted to try this, then I'd urge you not to use panniers.  Keep your load light.  A bar-bag and light pack on a rack (as we did) or better still a saddle-bag you are all you'll need.  Then you'll not be hauling necessary junk around with you and, should the wind blow against you, won't be pedalling into it with two sails either side of you catching the wind and blowing you backwards.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Deep Water Running for Ankle Injuries

Since spraining my ankle last October I've done a lot of deep water running.  Along the way I've picked up a few ideas which work for me so I thought I'd share them here in case they work for you too. (This article also appears at My First Ironman blog)

Deep Water Running is a zero impact training alternative to regular running after it was recommended by Coach Joe Beer.

Done correctly it works the cardio respiratory system and many of the same muscles as regular running, without the impact.  Obviously, it doesn't work the calf muscle as there's nothing to push-off, but the research suggests it's way better than nothing.

*  Firstly, the belt.  I use the Speedo Hydro Belt which at £21 seems more compact and less RoboCop than others I've seen in the pool being used during Aquacise classes.

*  If you're visiting a new pool, tell the lifeguard what you're doing.  Seriously, you don't want them thinking you're struggling to swim.

*  Don't try to use it when others are lane swimming, you're too much of a hazard.  Done correctly, your arms and knees will be pumping and you could easily punch a swimmer in the face.  Wait until it's 'free-swim' time, get into the deep end, then work alongside the wall.

*  Go in with a fixed time and session in mind.  The longest I managed was 70 minutes and that was only possible because I had a structure and something to listen to.

*  How to do it - Google Deep Water Running for videos.  You can even buy sessions to download.  My advice is to get the arms and legs working together as if you are running.  Keep knees high, but don't let your legs perform a cycling motion.  The advice is to lean slightly forward, but I found this promoted the bicycle action, so I limited the forward lean.

I could travel from from the deep end to the start of the shallow part of the pool in two minutes, so let's call each of these half-lengths a 'length'.  Every length down the pool, facing the wall with the clock, I'd do a sprint - 20" on the first length, then recover while completing the length and returning to the start, 30" on the second length and 40" on the third.  There's a lot of recovery time in that set, and initially it seems too much, but do this for seventy minutes and you'll get quite a work out.

*  But there is no getting away from it - it's boring.  I listened to Podcasts to pass the time, and rather than buy one of the many Waterproof mp3 players I found an easier way.

Unlike swimming, your head is not submerged when deep water running, so you don't need goggles or, in my view, waterproof headphones.

I played the podcasts from my iPhone in a waterproof case by the poolside (have a towel handy in case you need to handle the iPhone) and listened to it on the same pair of Bluetooth headphones I use for normal running.

These SoundPEATS  cost just £14, stay in my ears, and sound really good - I believe a test by The Gadget Show found them almost as good as the Beats pair and they were literally a tenth of the price.

I'm delighted to say my ankle has improved thanks to the biomechanics work by my podiatrist.  The belt is back in the gear cupboard - long may it stay there - but thanks to it and deep water running I don't feel my run is starting from scratch.  I haven't improved since last October, I'm just picking up where I left off.

Video, Swim Progression and Training Camps

Our second Open Water Swim Camp with Swim For Tri has just ended so let me reflect on how they've helped. (This article also appears on My First Ironman blog)

For me the real benefit didn't come on the first camp itself but once in the pool back home when I put into practice the drills I'd been taught.

Progression is slow (especially at my age) liked by Dan Bullock of Swim For Tri, as more akin to learning a language than a sport.

Please bear this in mind when you look at the photos and video below - I don't turn into Michael Phelps in 12 months.  Progression is slow and gradual, the visual changes quite subtle, but the feel in the water is quite different.

Some triathletes push 'The Swim' to the back of their minds, relegating it to the role of 'something to get through before the race begins'.  Although I am no real swimmer, I take a different view.  I want to start the bike feeling as strong as possible, so an efficient swim - efficient, not necessarily a fast one - is my goal.  Plus the cardio training, weight loss and core strength from swimming benefits all three sports.

Dec 2014
Back in December 2014 I didn't swim, but Liz persuaded me to try two days of coaching at Club La Santa (full story).  At the start I looked like this.  My hand pushed down on the water each stroke, so I bobbed along, rising and falling - the only propulsion happened when my arm reached vertical and briefly traveled backwards.  Each time I took a breath, the arm swung out to counterbalance, and my leg kick widened (alarmingly!) to counterbalance the arm.  Two days of one-to-two coaching did not transform my swimming but utterly changed my mindset and we started going regularly to the pool, roughly twice a week.

Sep 2015
In September 2015 - I swam worse!  Ten months of un-coached practice and, although I knew the theory, the video shows some faults are worse than before.  That said, there are signs of a catch starting - the elbow is beginning to bend.

This was shot first day on the Swim For Tri open water camp at Club La Santa and it was during that camp things started to come together.  At the end of it, I knocked 10 minutes off my 1.9km time, completing the swim section of Lanzarote Ironman 70.3 in 36min.  So we went away and increased our pool training to three times a week, incorporating many of the drills we'd been taught by Dan Bullock on the camp.

Feb 2016
By February 2016 I was swimming a lot better.  Again, this was shot on the first day of the Swim For Tri open water camp at Club La Santa so shows no improvement made on this latest camp.  My catch is developing, with propulsion happening much earlier in the stroke as my forearm heads towards vertical.  My 'sinky legs' are higher in the water thanks to a stronger controlled kick.  While that kick is still bigger than it needs to be, it is not splaying out so much when I breath.

Crucially, my toes are starting to point backwards, something which is physically very different for my ankles.  When they point down, the legs sink and the arms have to tow much greater resistance through the water.

During the camp we learnt more things to practice and I'm sure my stroke has improved again over the last few days, although I know the real progress will come in the Fort William pool in coming months.

That said, at the end of the camp we swam the Lanzarote Ironman 70.3 course again, despite swimming off line due to a sighting into a low sun,  I knocked another two minutes off my time coming in at 34mins.  My 100m speed, however, was unchanged at 1'46" so perhaps the course was shorter?  No matter.  As I explained at the start, the real improvement will hopefully come in the next few months when I put into practice what I've learnt this week.

Please remember, my progression in the three video clips below is not huge - but it is happening.

Free Holiday

Sorry if you thought I was running a competition.  I'm not, I won one - which at least proves people do actually win these things.

It was a Twitter / Instagram / Facebook competition with hashtags and it ran in run up to Christmas.

The prize was an apartment for two for seven days at Club La Santa in Lanzarote, a place we love to go.

This should fit perfectly into the training for my first Ironman race and I was asked by Club La Santa to write a short piece for their blog.

As I mentioned yesterday, if you're interested in triathlon training I'm writing about the lead up to my first Ironman on a new blog here.

Attempting My First Ironman Race

This will be the year I attempt my first Ironman event.

I've been thinking about it for a while.  I know the training demands are huge and consequently, there's a significant risk I won't even make the start line.

But as I've previously written, I like to attempt things where the outcome is uncertain.  If you know you can do it then, where's the risk?  In other words, what's the point?

The first post on this blog was 7th November 2006, and while it reflects lots of changes in our loves, I don't want it to become purely a record for my Ironman training.

There is more to life.

So I have started a new blog, specifically about training for my first Ironman event.  

Some of the posts I write in the coming year will find their way onto both blogs, and some of the relevant ones from here are re-published there.  If you're interested in how a bloke who is pushing 60 years old is training for the toughest race of his life then you might find it interesting.

Meanwhile this blog will remain a place where I try to write about Cycling, Sea Kayaking and Life in the Scottish Highlands.

Our Essential Kit for Winter Open Water Swimming

We swim in Loch Sunart pretty much every week so we're starting to learn what equipment we need to stay warm.

We're still relatively new to regular open water swimming and haven't done a full winter.

So I've taken advice from more experienced people like triathlete Sean McFarlane and Dan Bullock of SwimForTri, whose open water swim camp we went to in (balmy) Lanzarote.

I've combined their advice with our own experience for this short article.