Sunday, September 15, 2019

Post 188 - World standard distance tri, and post-event

The standard triathlon day began with an early start. 5am. It was dark. I was tired. Not just normal 5am tired, but really tired from yesterday’s exertions. But there was a world championship to race so I got up, got breakfast, got my bits and pieces together and we jumped in the taxi. There were no trains running at 5:30am on a Sunday morning… I wasn’t keen to pay what could end up being 40 or 50 francs for a taxi that might not even be able to get us anywhere near the start, due to the closed roads. But there was no choice.

The taxi went the long way round, to say the least, right around the by-pass to the north of the city and then down the west and along the waterfront until we hit the closed roads. This was as close as we would get, so we coughed up the 60 francs (obscene money) and walked to the start. Time was getting tight, and I hate rushing on race morning. There’s plenty of time in the race for the heart rate to get high, but you want to keep the pre-race heart rate under control…

In the end it worked out just about OK. I got the bike sorted, got the drinks and gels put onto the bike, got everything else done, and we walked up to the swim start. Wetsuits wouldn’t be allowed. Damn. At such an early hour, it wasn’t exactly roasting hot. I felt a bit depleted. A bit tired. A little bit not keen to get in the water, especially without a wetsuit. I’d be glad when this was over.

I went for a quick jog to warm up. Immediately I needed the toilet. I’d already been first thing after waking up, but your guts can do funny things in the day(s) after a race. Queuing for the official port-a-loos wasn’t an option as I’d miss my race start – the queues were too long. There was a smaller toilet block around the corner, without too much of a queue. The New Zealander ahead of me in the queue saw I was in a hurry and let me go first. This was a very selfless gesture…

There wasn’t much time to hang about. I joined my start pen just after 8am. With 90 seconds to go, we were called into the water. I did the same as yesterday, away off to the right. There were so many entrants in my race, they had started it in two separate waves, and the first wave athletes were already off a couple of minutes ahead. There was a bit of a breeze. It wasn’t exactly rough water, but neither was it flat calm. I’d just have to get on with it.

Within a minute or two of the start, my goggles started leaking. They have never leaked before. It was so bad that I had to stop twice to clear them out. My eyes didn’t feel great as a result. The swim just went on and on and on. Sighting was difficult. It was a rough swim. I never really warmed up. It was inhospitable. My cold water wimpishness and my fatigue from the sprint race didn’t help. There was no quick way out, I just had to keep swimming.

It was such a relief to finally be shorebound, with the big tree to aim at. If everything had been perfect I’d have hoped to swim around 22-23 minutes. I was over 27 minutes. It felt a lot longer. Oh well. The bike and run couldn’t be much worse.

I was a bit of a mess in transition, feeling absolutely beaten up. I could barely see, as my eyes had water in them for the entire swim and now wouldn’t stop watering and wouldn’t focus properly. The race certainly hadn’t got off on the right footing. But there was nothing else for it except jumping on the bike. My eyes took ages to settle down. Everything took ages to settle down after the swim. Drafting wasn’t allowed in this race and I had to be really careful not to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. A penalty wouldn’t have helped my mood.

Going up the first hill, I knew right away my legs were a long way off how they had felt on the same hill yesterday. A standard distance bike is 40km (twice that of a sprint distance), but it always feels much longer. It was just a grind of a bike. Gritting the teeth and grinding it out. The same amazing smooth roads, but just not the top-end performance level. Usually in a race your legs feel full of life after tapering down. Not today…

Big wide open roads to the west added on the extra distance. Motorbike marshals and referees buzzing all over the place. I needed to pay good attention to hydration and nutrition, much more so than in the sprint race.
The bike did somewhat settle down eventually and I found a rhythm of sorts, and an output that felt OK. There weren’t many overtaking me, but I figured that the fast people were long gone after the swim. There was more space on the bike compared with yesterday, and it wasn’t as fast and furious and exhilarating, nor was I as fast and furious and exhilarated. It really was just a case of grinding it out. In the end I held around 250 watts for 64 minutes (my Garmin worked the whole time). If I’d been fresh I’d have hoped that might have been nearer to 270 watts.

Such a great course

But I kept telling myself to stop dwelling on it, and that I had a silver medal in my pocket, and that today was never going to be great. In the end, 64 minutes was pretty much right up there. Another minute or two faster and it would have been right among the fastest bikes of the day. It was the swim that let me down today.
I got off the bike, ruined another set of cleats running through transition in my bike shoes, whipped on a pair of socks and runners, and started to run. I knew exactly what I was in for. 2 laps of yesterday’s hilly course. 10km. I felt OK running, but not great. I carried a couple of gels. I put them down the front of my tri-suit for when I’d need them, and they fell right down to the crotch area. Not a good look. And an even worse look to maintain pace while trying to “massage” them back up to my chest where I could retrieve them.

I hadn’t needed to pick up water at the aid stations yesterday in the sprint race, but I wanted water with the gels today. All three attempts to pick up water from the volunteers ended with the water going flying everywhere and I didn’t grab a single cup successfully. I’ll need to work on this…

The hills were tough. It was getting warm. I went through 5km in 20 minutes, which was disappointing, but that was the pace I had. I was running as hard as I could. Or has hard as I dared. I didn’t want to be slower than 40 minutes for the 10km. It was starting to hurt badly. There’s good hurt that you can rip through, that you relish. And there was this.

Getting under 40 minutes for the run became the motivating target. Again I don’t think anyone passed me in the run. I survived the hills. I was dying for a drink. I kept going. The finish area was great – the course went right past the finish chute, then doubled back, then doubled back again to the finish line. It was a fun section, with great crowds. Or at least it would have been a fun section if it wasn’t at the end of two tough races and I hadn’t been right on the limit.

A bit of "helmet hair" going on here

The second half of the run must have been better than the first half and my legs must have worked their way into it, as I ran under 38 minutes. Not bad in the circumstances. I crossed the line thinking I had raced as well as I could with what I’d had. I’d had one of the top runs of the day, and I finished 22nd overall out of 123 finishers. It hadn’t been a bad race.

I reckon doing the sprint race had cost me 3-4 minutes on the bike and in the run, and my swim hadn’t been much better than a disaster, there were easily another 2-3 minutes there. Take 7-8 minutes off my finishing time and I’d have been right in the mix. But it was what it was. I’d absolutely settle for 2nd and 22nd. I was glad to be done. The racing had been great. The world championships, super courses, tremendous support and weather, but now it was over.

And now I could finally relax a bit. I chatted a bit with a few Irish, including our team manager. The staff had been putting in long, long days. We found a great table in a cheap-ish but functional restaurant along the front, and I fairly enjoyed an hour or two of recovery, chip butties, crisps, and yes, some beer… Then we ambled down to the race expo area where I fairly enjoyed some more recovery with burgers, pizza and possibly more beer. And some music. “Oh life…” The rain didn’t look like it was starting any time soon, which was great.

They were opening transition for bike collection shortly and hordes of athletes were queuing to collect their gear. It was scorching. For many, the event experience was over. For me I was really happy to be heading back to the expo venue that evening for the awards ceremony (and more good recovery food and drink…)

Before that it was back to the apartment (via the train – I was absolutely not cycling or walking up that hill), and I set to work – dismantling and packing bikes, clearing up, washing dirty kit in the shower, and trying to get as much done as possible to make the final packing tomorrow morning as easy as possible (particularly as there might be a hangover involved tomorrow morning…)

We headed back to the waterfront and had a couple of drinks in a bar overlooking the lake as the storm and the rain finally rolled in. It was quite spectacular. The far side of the lake vanished in the mist. Oh well. We hadn’t done badly for weather. The bikes had stayed dry. We’d had good weather up to now. I hoped the rain would clear before the awards ceremony, which it duly did. Fantastic.

I’m glad, as an athlete, that I don’t need too many drinks to start feeling it, because at a tenner a pint in Switzerland it could quickly get expensive. At the awards we had vouchers for free food and drink anyway. Superb. It was really good fun, meeting a few of the other Irish, having a bit of craic, watching the ceremonial stuff, queuing for the podium, chatting to other medallists, going up on the podium, getting the medal, meeting Roisin (Ireland’s other silver medallist), taking photos, reliving it all. It was brilliant. Such a good atmosphere. Podium, burger, beer. None of these things in isolation happens very often. All three together? Probably a unique occurrence. I enjoyed it.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the rain started. We made a dash to a nearby pub. I had another burger and another drink. Chatted all things triathlon. There was an Irish guy there who had been to Kona in the 80s. A few were heading down to Nice for the half Ironman world championships the following week. A tentative agreement was made with the media officer to meet tomorrow at around 1pm at the station, for an interview, as we were on our way to the airport. All too soon it was time to get the last train home.

There was scope for a bit of a lie-in the following day, as we didn’t need to leave the apartment until around midday. When I finally got up, it was all action, getting all the packing done and getting everything tidied up and cleaned up, and eating the last of the food. My head actually felt OK, surprisingly.

Always a relief to get these closed, and back from an airline in one piece

I was sorry to leave, it had been a great place to stay, with a great view. But you don’t get something for nothing, it hadn’t been cheap and another cost of the view was the hill… I ended up not meeting the media guy at the station. I walked all around the whole station for 20 minutes in my green Triathlon Ireland top, and finally decided that we had to head to the airport. A few minutes later he texted to ask where I was… I had to apologise.

It was good that we had left when we did, because the queues at Geneva airport were unbelievable. The whole world was heading home, with their bikes. It was so slow. I went and picked up a mobile phone which a team-mate had left behind at the airport car rental place. We must have queued for well over an hour and just as we got to the front of the queue, they called anyone remaining for the Liverpool flight to come to the front. Typical. We just about had time for a great feed at the airport before boarding.

The drive back up to Edinburgh was punctuated with a stop at the famous Tebay services. The best services in the world…? Tremendous food. Plus if you buy a main meal, they will give you kids’ meals for £1. So I always have “kids in the car” when I’m at Tebay. For £10 I had a burger, steak pie and lasagne.

It was after midnight when I got back, and there was no-one available at this time to help with the bike boxes up the stairs. So reluctantly I had to leave them in the car overnight. I covered them with blankets and hoped for the best. They were still there in the morning. Then it was a case of building them all up again and getting all the washing and cleaning and tidying done.

What a great trip. What an unexpected silver medal.

Next will be a week of fairly easy training and recovering, before a 3-week block of training for Kona. I haven’t quite decided how I will spend this three week block: train straight through for 3 weeks (tough, usually I only do 2-week blocks), or train for a week, have an easier week, then a final tough week. I will have to put a lot of emphasis on heat training, which is uncharted territory for me as I’ve never had to do this before. Heat training will include sitting in a sauna for a long time, turbo training in the flat with the heat on full blast, and wearing a lot of clothes when out running. I’ll need to be careful not to get dehydrated. But it’s all for Kona. I’ll do what I have to do. Or what I think I have to do. Bring it on!

Training done was as follows:

Monday, September 9, 2019

Post 187 - World sprint triathlon championships, Lausanne (silver medal...)

Lausanne, Switzerland. The 2019 International Triathlon Union (ITU) world championships, in both the sprint and the standard distance. The bottom line is that I won a very unlikely and surprising world silver medal in the sprint triathlon. What follows, explains…

Ironman UK on 14th July took quite a while to recover from. I had to make a fairly quick decision in the aftermath of Ironman UK, with Kona qualification finally achieved, as to whether I would actually compete in Lausanne or not. If I wanted to, Triathlon Ireland had said there was a place for me in both the sprint and the standard races, on 31st August and 1st September respectively. Ironman UK was on the 14th July. Triathlon Ireland needed my decision on 15th July.

Would I, should I, could I? Should I bail out on Lausanne and focus completely on Kona? Could I go to Lausanne and do both races, or would I focus on just one? Would it affect Kona? I knew that all the long-course training I’d done for Ironman UK wasn’t ideal training for the shorter races. I knew that trying to recover from Ironman UK and train for Lausanne wouldn’t be ideal, it would be a bit more pressure, and it would take away from the long-course training.

But that said, the opportunity was there. Lausanne is “fairly” local (compared with future ITU world championship venues in Canada, Bermuda and Abu Dhabi). I know Lausanne, having passed through in the summer of 2005 when I was working in France. I’d swum in Lake Geneva before. I know that in theory I like racing in the heat. I know that I am probably better at the shorter distances. So, I decided, let’s do it. Let’s do both races, while the opportunity is there. The sprint race was first – I know I can recover very quickly from a sprint race, so hopefully doing the standard distance race the following day wouldn’t do too much damage.

But which race would I prioritise? All the long-course training would suggest I should prioritise the (longer) standard race. But if you asked me, I would probably say, based on my limited experience of a few sprint races and one standard race in 2018, that I am stronger in the sprint race…

But the sprint race was a draft-legal race. I’m not the quickest swimmer in the pack, which would mean I would miss the lead group, and it would be difficult to pull back up to 2 minutes on the lead group on the bike. I’ve never even done a draft-legal race. My only experience of drafting on a bike came with a couple of rides in Steve’s group when I was living in London. There was a reason I only did a couple of these rides: They were fast and furious and a bit intimidating, and when you’re tucked in behind a wheel at up to 30mph, basically riding blind, with no view of the road ahead, well, some would say it’s thrilling, others would say it’s terrifying… I hoped I wouldn’t suffer any crashes or injuries out in Lausanne that would jeopardise Kona…

Given that the sprint race was a draft-legal race, and the standard race wasn’t (where we would have to maintain a gap of 12m to the rider in front unless overtaking, or else risk a penalty), I would have to take two bikes – my road bike for the draft-legal race, and my time trial bike for the draft-illegal race. This added considerably to the logistics and cost. I managed to borrow one bike box and had to rent another. I can’t say the travel was much fun.

In the run-up to Lausanne, when I began to feel a bit more recovered after the Ironman, I had managed to get a couple of weeks of decent training done. It took a month after Ironman UK before I felt my running was “normal” again, with no residual pain or fatigue from the Ironman. It is fair to say that Lausanne had been overshadowed by Ironman UK and Kona qualification, but as the Lausanne departure date loomed ever closer, and as I clocked off what turned out to be a few decent training sessions, I started to get a bit more excited about it. I knew I wouldn’t be optimally trained, but I’d at least be able to go out and give a decent account of myself.

I had the bikes serviced, sorted and packed. Each of the boxes weighed almost 30kg. How would I ever get them down three flights of stairs from my top floor flat? At 6 in the morning?! I was driving from Edinburgh to Liverpool airport, meeting Deirdre, flying to Geneva, getting the train to Lausanne, getting another train up to La Conversion, near where our accommodation was, and then walking the final bit. Liverpool was handy for flight times and prices and dates, but 6am wasn’t exactly a selling point when asking friends if they might be able to help with the heavy lifting. But I had no choice, I couldn’t lift those bike boxes myself. So I had to ask a friend nicely if he would mind helping me at 6am to carry all the stuff down the stairs and load the car.

To his credit and my relief, he agreed. But even so, when I was carrying my suitcase down the stairs, something went in my back. Not good. A pulled muscle, a strain, whatever. It was excruciating. Everything went into meltdown and stiffened up. I had to take some ibuprofen and delay my departure to try and stretch it out. 5 hours sitting in a car down to Liverpool wasn’t ideal. Nor was the fact that I had developed a sore tooth and gum. I’ve never had problems with my teeth. This wasn’t a good time. I was so fed up with both my back and my gum, and with bike boxes and carrying and heaving luggage that I decided I’d have a Guinness at the airport. Well, half a Guinness. Usually this would be unthinkable. It didn’t last long...

Apart from that, everything went fairly well in transit until we got off the train near our accommodation. Then it was a steep uphill walk for 10-15 minutes, with 2 bike boxes, a suitcase and 3 rucksacks. Not the most fun I’ve ever had. On arrival at the accommodation, which was terraced on the hillside, it was down three flights of steep stairs, which didn’t exactly add to the fun. I was absolutely knackered on arrival, but there was still work to be done putting bikes together and finding food. At least there was a good view over the Lavaux, over the Lausanne suburb of Lutry, over the lake and over the mountains (the Lavaux is a world heritage region famous for wine and vineyards).

The bikes were almost rebuilt before it got dark, while Deirdre went off to find food. The nearest shop had just closed, and the bigger supermarket was a mile down a very steep hill, which just wasn’t happening at this time of night and in our knackered and sore state, so we raided the cupboards in our Airbnb and cobbled together what we could. Rice, tuna, peppers. That’ll do. It was a dinner with an amazing view. Then gratefully off to sleep. Unfortunately we missed the parade of nations but we hadn’t arrived early enough to make it.

The next day was busy. Down to registration on the bike. Via a steep downhill and some of the closed roads we would be racing on. The roads were brilliant. So smooth. Not a bump or a pothole in sight. The lake looked amazing. So inviting. I couldn’t wait for a dip later in the day after “business” was all finished. I got all my numbers and stickers and chips and bits and pieces and racked my road bike for the sprint race the following day, which for me would start at just after 11am. A good time for a triathlon to start – mostly they start very early, so 11am would allow more sleep time and be less of a rush in the morning. It would be warmer at 11am, and I wanted it to be warm, to help with Kona preparations.

By now we were hungry, and had realised Switzerland was indeed an expensive place. Wandering along the waterfront’s hotels and restaurants, seeing prices of 80 francs (£60+!) for lunch was almost enough to kill off any hunger. In the end we found a good pizzeria on the side of one of the hills I’d be riding up tomorrow. It was a great feed with a great view of some of the racing that was already going on.

One of the hills on the bike course. It took me a few goes to get the 
confidence to take the preceding corner flat out...

Lausanne, and in particular the race area around the waterfront, was buzzing. The whole world was here – all nationalities – Irish, British, various European nations, plenty of Americans and Canadians, a big Mexican squad, Brazilians, South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, Asians. All ages. Para-triathletes. Elites People from all over, united by sport. It was brilliant. The world championships. In great weather. How it should be!

We ambled up to the Olympic museum where the Team Ireland briefing was to take place. What a venue for a race briefing, in a big air-conditioned auditorium in the Olympic museum. I’d have happily stayed in there out of the heat for the rest of the day. It was good to chat to a few other Team Ireland competitors and meet our team management and media officers etc. I also saw the “hill” in the grounds of the Olympic park that we’d have to run up. It was the steepest thing I’d ever seen.

Then we got the train out to Lutry, downhill from where we were staying, to finally get a dip in the lake. I was sweaty and filthy and hot and tired and in need of a bit of reinvigoration. I still wasn’t sure if wetsuits would be allowed in the races or not (if the water is above a certain temperature, they aren’t allowed). My wimpishness in getting into water manifested itself yet again as I stood up to my knees trying to steel myself to take the plunge. I hate anything remotely cold. The water didn’t exactly feel cold, but it was fresh enough. Finally I took the plunge and swam about for a bit. It was nice. Not warm, but not cold. In the heat of the day tomorrow, at 11am, with the adrenaline of a race start, and swimming hard as I would be, I wasn’t worried about the water temperature any more. There was a big storm off to the west, and it looked quite dramatic with big dark clouds not far from us. They weren’t moving though, so we were unaffected.

Rejuvenated, we headed for the supermarket and got supplies for the next few days. The plan was then to walk the mile or so back up the hill to our apartment. I hadn’t accounted for the steepness of the hill. It was obscene. It was even steeper than the hill in the Olympic Park. And at least the Olympic Park hill was short. This hill was a mile long. There was nothing else for it. I had to zig-zag up it to reduce the gradient.

With hindsight I’d have paid 50 or 60 francs for a taxi to drive us up because it didn’t do my legs or mood any good. I had been carrying my aero helmet around all day (mainly to ask the transition officials if it was OK to use it in the sprint race). On one of our stops going up the hill, I put it down and didn’t pick it up, and didn’t realise until we were up the hill. I dreaded the thought of going back down. Deirdre went, which I was very grateful for.

Steep or what...

Then I finished putting together the time trial bike, had another very scenic, functional, cost-effective dinner out on the terrace and that was the end of a busy day. The next day was race day. A 7am start. Not too bad. Down on the train to Lausanne central and then a 15 minute walk down the hill to the transition area. A final check of the bike. Yep, the tyres still had air in them. Yep, the bike shoes were still there. I mounted the Garmin computer, calibrated the power meter, put a bottle of Tailwind nutrition drink on the bike. Put my running shoes and sunglasses and running watch in place. Ready to go.

I saw some of the women racing, including a couple of crashes as people weren’t sure exactly where the dismount line was (it was fairly blind from the main road and easy to come on it too quickly), and also there were some mix-ups as to which way to go to start lap two and which way to go to enter transition. As bad as it was to see the crashes, I was glad I now knew in advance exactly which lines to take for the second lap and for transition.

Then a 10 minute walk to the swim start area. We were in good time. We found a quiet spot. I got suited up. No wetsuit. Put on some suncream. Put on some BodyGlide on the parts which might rub. Went for a jog. Windmilled the arms. My back wasn’t feeling great, but it seemed to be more of a superficial pain, rather than a restrictive pain. Or so I hoped. It was time to line up. It would only be an hour of racing. A bit different from an Ironman…

There must have been about a hundred in my age group’s starting pen. It was an in-water start, in chest-deep water. It was really well managed. We were called to the water with 90 seconds to go. I was in position, away off to the right, with 30 seconds to go. No hanging about. Any thoughts I had of possibly toning this race down to save myself for the standard distance race the following day went out the window. I was racing this as hard as I could. I figured I’d be around the middle of the pack after the swim, and that I’d maybe gain a few places on the bike, and hopefully have a decent run to finish somewhere around the top 20. If I could get near the top 10, that would have gone down in my book as a very, very good day out. But equally I wouldn’t have been surprised with 40th or 50th.

My race starting, I'll be on the far side under the black rock

The starting horn went. We were off. 300m out to the first buoy, turn left, 150m across, turn again at the second buoy, and then in to shore. I tend to swim off to the side, away from all the aggression and argy-bargy. Maybe I lose a little bit of time because I don’t draft much in the swim, but I think that balances out with reduced risk of being kicked or thumped or dunked. The lake was very flat and calm, the temperature was decent, and I swam fairly hard, without going into an all-out flat-out swim. 

I had hoped to squeak under 11 minutes for the swim, and I had thought I would be no slower than 12. It was the first time I’ve done a non-wetsuit swim, and swimming in only my tri-suit felt a bit strange. But I made the best of it and was soon shore-bound. At the Team Ireland briefing we had been told about using the big tree as a sighting guide when heading for shore, and sure enough, it was a good marker and I headed straight for it.

It was difficult to tell where I was in the race. I had a quick look at my watch at the swim exit. Just over 12 minutes. Not a super-fast swim by any stretch of the imagination. I think I was 23rd out of the water (out of almost 100), but I didn’t know it at the time. Anyway, it was what it was. Now to get on with things.    

Through transition, helmet on, sunglasses on, bike shoes on. I always put my bike shoes on in transition. This cost me another 30 seconds (which is a lot in a race of just over an hour), but my logic is that there’s less risk of damaging my feet on stones or glass in transition, also I can give my feet a bit of a clean to reduce the amount of grit in my shoes before I put them on, and then when I do mount the bike I can simply go “click, click”, get both feet clipped straight into the pedals, and get going, without worrying about getting feet into pedal-mounted shoes, without worrying about tightening the straps of the shoes, and without weaving all over the road while looking down to do up the shoes.

And sure enough as soon as my feet were clipped in I passed a few people who were trying to do up their shoes. My Garmin wouldn’t turn on. I wanted it to turn on so I could see and record my power. It just wouldn’t come on. Maybe this helped, because I couldn’t see the massive power spikes I was outputting. Maybe it was better not to know how hard I was going…

I knew there would be groups ahead that I would have to catch. I was cycling so hard. As hard as I could. No holding back. Almost immediately it was into a fairly steep hill, maybe 2-3 minutes to get up. I was going well up the hill. I passed a couple of Irish supporters. At the top it turned right, and became a false flat. I love false flats. I got good speed going compared to most of the others around me, and made my way to the front of the group.

I could see I’d have to give the vocal chords a bit of a workout when coming through, to make sure that people knew I was coming, and to reduce the risk of crashing. The false flat led into a long sweeping downhill, and I wanted clear air in front of me for this so I hammered to get to the front. People seemed to be coasting down the hill, but I kept the power on, and a big train followed me down the hill into the tight U-turn at the bottom. Then it was back up. My legs felt good. High power, although I couldn’t see it on the Garmin. I reckon I was doing 500-600 watts in places. Not bad for 63kg. I glanced back. There was an army of cyclists all sitting in my slipstream, getting a free ride.

I shouted and flicked the elbow to try to get someone to come through and share the work. No-one did. On the flat section across the top I eased a bit to let people come through, then I tucked in behind. It felt far too easy in the slipstream. It’s only 30 minutes on the bike. It’s not meant to feel easy. I felt good. Pile it on. I took to the front again as I wanted clear air for the steepest downhill section. It was like going off a cliff. So fast, with a big stop and right hander at the bottom. Someone was standing at the exit of the corner trying to fix what looked like a flat tyre. A very dangerous place to be, and I shouted at him to move.

I was now catching more people on the flat, and passing them. They were joining the train behind. I was a little tentative in the corners as I didn’t know the course and after all my crashes and injuries on bikes, I’m naturally a little more tentative now. The train broke up on the narrow ascent on the west end of the course. Lapping or passing slower athletes helped contribute to it becoming a bit of a free-for-all as we each tried to pick our lines and tried to ride hard enough but breathe gently enough to show others we were doing good, without going too far into the red. There was still a run to come…

I was still feeling good and I knew if I got through the bike, my run should be OK. It was a narrow descent down onto the lakefront road, which was high speed. I was able to get into the time trial position, forearms on the handlebars and hands dangling ahead. It was exhilarating, and fast, and very smooth. Like riding on a magic carpet. I passed transition, and started the second lap. I had to get the voice going again as people in later waves were exiting transition and the road was busy. My Garmin finally decided to start working, but the pace and concentration were so high that I hardly ever got to look at it. I wasn’t wearing a heart rate monitor either. Sometimes it’s better not to know…

Again up the hill beside where we’d had lunch the previous day. Legs still playing ball. Going well. Again I made sure I had clean air for the sweeping descent. Powered back up the hill. Onto the top flat section. High speed. Down the “cliff”. When you know the road is clear, you can let loose. It’s exciting. Brake as late as you dare. Onto the bottom flat. Up the hill at the far end. The bike section was passing quickly. Down again. Onto the flat. A Swiss guy started to look like he wanted to share the work, but at this stage the bike was nearly over. He was fast/brave through the corners and I had to work very hard to close the gaps he was getting. Then I eased off for the final hundred metres into transition. I felt I’d biked well. I think it was the second-fastest bike of the day. About 10 of us all hit transition at the same time. I'd done pretty much 30 minutes flat for the hilly 20km, I think it turned out that this was the second-fastest bike split of the day.

Again I clumped through transition in my bike shoes, racked the bike, changed my shoes and got going. Immediately I felt good running. Usually in short-course triathlons the run is my strong point. I quickly passed a few people. I said to myself I would try not to be passed by anyone. Ahead was a Ukrainian who had come into transition in my group. He was running well as I didn’t catch him as quickly as others. I focused on him. I’d get him. I hoped. I ran as hard as I dared. I knew the Olympic park section would be tough. It was hot. I didn’t want to blow up and lose pace. I passed the Ukrainian. He couldn’t stick with my pace. I was pleased about that…

After just under a mile on the flat, we hit the first hill in the park. People were walking it, or doing what they could to run it. I ran it measuredly, because running it as hard as possible could have dire consequences coming back to bite me in the final mile. There was a tough zig-zag descent off this, with a few tights hairpins and it was impossible to open the legs out. Then another ascent, another descent, another ascent, and a descent out to the far side of the course. A tough hilly section. Then it was back towards the finish for about 300m, a U-turn, out again, another U-turn, and then back towards the finish. Team Ireland had great support on course and it makes such a difference.

No-one had passed me yet and I was still running well. I kept passing people. I felt I was putting together a reasonable race in the circumstances, and I couldn’t ask for more than to be able to say that. I had less than a mile to hold on. I remember passing two British athletes with about half a mile to go. They looked about my age. One said “how do you do that?” and the other just said “f**k…” I’ll take it as a compliment!

Then it was into the finishing straight. I overtook a Mexican guy. But the finishing straight was where people sometimes raise a big sprint finish in front of the crowds. The Mexican guy started to sprint. I didn’t even know if he was in the same age group as me but I wasn’t having any of it – no-one had passed me yet and I wasn’t about to be passed 10 metres from the line, so whatever energy I had remaining was left on that finishing straight to keep him behind. I ran well under 18 minutes for the 5km on a hilly hot course, which was the fastest run of the race by a good margin.

The next thing I heard was the finish line announcer over the loudspeakers saying something about “male 35-39 second place finisher”. Well that’s my age group, so who was second then? Not me surely?! Was it me? Couldn’t be! I was looking around, waving two fingers and pointing at myself and shaking my head and shrugging and trying to make eye contact with someone who might know.
Then I saw two Irish guys in their distinctive green Triathlon Ireland polo shirts. They confirmed it. Second in the world. Second in the world?! What on earth?! How could that be?! They took a quick photo and then the winner came up and shook my hand and said congratulations. I had never ever expected to be on the podium. It was unbelievable. Yes I’d had a good race, but this was the world championships. I was ready to be told I’d finished in 31st or 23rd or maybe 15th or something, but second?!

Then the horrible perfectionist in me (sometimes this is a good trait, sometimes not) started wondering how I could have found that minute to win it. My back hadn’t been good. My gum/tooth hadn’t been good. My “hillwalking” escapades yesterday hadn’t been good. Honestly speaking, my training hadn’t even been that good, I was only 6-7 weeks after an Ironman and Lausanne hadn’t been a massive focus for me. My swim hadn’t been all that great. My transitions were fairly slow. But then I had to tell myself that I was second in the world, way beyond anything I ever thought I could achieve here, and that I’d have to focus on that for now instead of the “what-ifs…”

I felt pretty good in the immediate aftermath. Athletes were stripping off, standing under cold hosepipes, pouring water over themselves. I was fine. A volunteer smiled and pointed a hose at me, and I quickly had to say “non, non, non merci” and rapidly get out of her vicinity… I hate the cold.
I got my finisher’s medal, got some water and electrolyte on board, got a banana and an energy bar and then I saw Deirdre up on the top promenade in the crowds. There were a few other Irish about as well. I still couldn’t really believe it, second in the world. That was about all I could say to anyone – “I really didn’t expect that!”

Team Ireland had another medallist: 70-year-old Roisin Lynch from Derry, won a silver. Phenomenal stuff. I didn’t know her but I’d meet her at the awards ceremony the following evening (more on this in the following blog post). Triathlon Ireland had been really good with their social media updates during the race, giving great coverage to everyone, and the two medals were already publicised with a few good photos and videos. I’m not really one for much interaction on social media but the Triathlon Ireland media team did a really good job and it was really cool to be able to watch video clips and look back at race photos. 

We found a quiet shaded spot a bit away from the action and chaos of the aftermath of the sprint race, and sat down and took stock. I took my recovery drink. I’m not really one for celebrations, but I couldn’t do anything today anyway as I had the standard distance race, now only about 19 hours away… I went for a jog to get the blood flowing and the lactic dissipating, and realised my running shoes (with no socks, for speed in transition) had rubbed on the top of my foot and there was a small blister. But apart from that, all seemed good. Had the standard race been first, I would have been a lot more fatigued.


There was then more business to sort out. I had to pick my bike up, ride back up the hill to the apartment, pick up my other bike, ride back down, and get it racked for tomorrow. The first flat bit on the way back was a nice easy cycle. I got chatting to an Aussie guy who was also heading back to his accommodation after his sprint race. He was also doing both races. He said he wished he wasn’t after today…

A fairly cheap (butnot a bad) second hand bike, a cheap helmet,
hairy legs and not much specific training led to a silver medal.
This is getting me thinking about next year...

Then that hill back up to the apartment… it was so tough. So unneeded. I laboured up it. I was dripping with sweat and knackered and hungry and needed a lukewarm shower (that’s as close to a cold shower as I’ll get). The plan had been to get lunch after the second bike was racked, but I was so  hungry by now and I devoured a massive bowl of muesli.

Then it was back down to rack the time trial bike. I was checked in by the same Dutch official who had checked me into and out of the sprint race. He knew I had finished second. “You must go one better tomorrow!” he said. I just laughed. Doubtful. Food was much needed by now. We had vouchers for free food from the expo area, and couldn’t really be bothered walking to find an overpriced restaurant, so some tremendous pasta and pizza was consumed. To be fair, it could have been the worst pizza and pasta in the world but at that moment anything would have seemed tremendous. I managed to see some of the elite men finishing their races. Some big names. Brownlee. Mola. Alarza. Blummenfelt. Etc. The best in the world.

We wandered down to the swim start area thinking we’d have another dip. A few others had obviously thought likewise. But alas a lifeguard soon put paid to that, telling us the beach was closed and there was no swimming. What a load of rubbish. How can you close a section of lake?! He pointed to the adjacent beach and said to go there. And made it very clear there would be no swimming on his patch.

So we went “next door” and got our dip. Again it was great. Such a great place to swim, with the French Alps over on the far side of the lake, and a nice Lausanne waterfront on our side, with warm(ish), clear blue-green water in between. Superb.

Then it was back to the apartment, via seeing the elite women on their runs (again all the big names were there) and dinner on the terrace as it got dark, watching the lights of the French towns start to twinkle in the distance. Such a view. There were storms in the vicinity, as lightning was flashing over the mountains off to the east and south. Spectacular stuff. I could have watched it all night. The weather for tomorrow was to be reasonable in the morning, leading into afternoon and evening rain showers. My cleats had been absolutely ruined by clumping through transition, they were now unusable. Fortunately I was able to get a spare pair and change them over.

Flora Duffy

Nicola Spirig

It was an early bed as it would be an early start for the standard race tomorrow. My wave was due off at just after 8am which meant a 5am alarm, and with no public transport running so early on Sunday morning, we had to book a taxi… So ended the 2019 world sprint triathlon championship day… What a day.

(I haven't yet bought any of the official race photos yet but if I do I will upload a few).

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Post 186 - World sprint/standard triathlon championships preparation

There was a bit of a comedown after Ironman UK. Recovery took longer than I thought. The tops of my feet/ankles were sore, and my knees were sore. They took a while to feel normal again. It was exactly a month later before I felt like I could run hard with no pain or discomfort. But if that’s the non-monetary price to pay for Kona qualification, I’ll take it… It’s maybe a bit self-indulgent because it’s old news now, but I kept looking back at the photos. Ironman UK was unreal. Kona is coming up!

I’m probably better at shorter distance triathlons compared with Ironmans. I am due to compete in the world sprint distance triathlon championships (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) in Lausanne (Switzerland) on Saturday 31st August, and then the world standard distance triathlon championships (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) at the same venue less than 24 hours later.

In my first season of short course triathlon last year, I did reasonably well, probably surprised myself a bit, won a couple of races, got a few more podiums, competed on a par with some of the best athletes in the country, and finished 8th in my category at the European sprint triathlon championships in Glasgow last year (I was disappointed with this as an injury meant I was unable to do any running training. I had thought a podium might have been possible).

Anyway, I thought a bit about whether I would take up my qualification places in Switzerland, with Kona coming so soon afterwards. My year has been dominated by long-course training and racing, with not much specific high-intensity speedwork having been done, and with the recovery having taken so long after Ironman UK.
But I thought I would take the opportunities while they are there – who knows what I will or won’t be doing next year, and the year after… and the world championship venues in future years might not be as “convenient” and “close” as Switzerland…

I managed to get a fairly reasonable 3-4 week block of fairly focussed training done, which has just finished. I’ll now taper down for a week. There hasn’t been a great deal of focus on the longer distance training in this most recent training block, but I will get through the short-course championships and then I will have a three-week block to train for Kona, with the long-distance training being a big focus again. I will also have to include heat adaption training.

Anyway, the training done over the last 3 weeks included some turbo intervals at the start of the block, where my power numbers were definitely down. Ironman recovery takes time. I will say that repeatedly. Then the next evening I didn’t feel my legs and knees were recovered enough to go out and run, so I did an hour of hard turbo pedalling to simulate a standard triathlon distance. My heart rate was high and my power was still down. Ironman recovery takes time… But it was still early in the training block. I had to stick with it.

The next day, Friday, I swam 20 x 100 yards in the pool, having hoped to make it to 16 x 100. So to hit 20 was good, and my times were actually decent. 1:20 for the 100 yards, which was well under 1:30/100m pace. That was positive. It’s also positive to have such a quiet pool where I can swim hard and fast without anyone getting in my way, and it’s positive that I have the flexibility at work to be able to go swimming at 1pm for an hour and a half or whatever.

Buoyed by this I hit the weekend and I went out on the bike intending to do 3 hours hard. The first hour was great, the second hour still wasn’t bad, I was feeling good, feeling like the Ironman had finally left my legs. The final hour and a half were a rude awakening. I felt awful. “Brain to engine room, more power please…” “Sorry, we are done, shutting down…!” There was nothing left, the power was ebbing away quickly, the legs weren’t playing ball, and it was a sobering slog back home.

The following day’s 10k run was also a bit disappointing. Hmmm. I had thought I might enter the Kelso sprint triathlon the following weekend, partly as training, partly as race practice. I decided against it, as it would interrupt focused training. I needed to train, not to have a mini taper and mini recovery from a race.

It was not looking great for Switzerland at this point, and I wondered (and keep wondering) how I would do in Switzerland if it had been my prime focus for the year. But if this had been the case, I wouldn’t be going to Kona. And with trying to do the two races in two days in Switzerland, they are both going to be a bit compromised anyway. The sprint race is first. I would normally say I would be stronger at the sprint race than the standard race. However, the sprint race is draft-legal (slipstreaming is allowed, which is a bit worrying as I don’t have a lot of experience of riding at speed at close quarters with packs of riders, it will be jittery and nervous and I really don’t want to crash with Kona coming up).

This means I have to use my road bike in the sprint race, because time trial bikes are not allowed in draft-legal races, which means I have to bring two bikes because the standard race is draft-illegal. I can bike and run with the best of them, but my swimming is a little bit down, so the fast swimmers in the sprint will get away on the bike and ride together as a pack, and I will never be able to catch them up. That’s not negativity, that’s realistic. I might swim 11 minutes flat, the fast guys will be sub-10, and in a draft-legal race it’s very difficult to make up 80-90 seconds in 30 minutes on the bike.

Anyway, I will do what I can! Also, the lake is so “warm” that wetsuits might not be allowed. I really feel the cold, so this could be an issue. The water at Ironman UK was 21 degrees, and with my thermal wetsuit on, it was brilliant. A perfect temperature, with the wetsuit. I believe if the water is over 22.5 degrees in Switzerland, they won’t allow wetsuits. Over the past couple of weeks, the water temperature has been fluctuating between 21 and 23.5…

Then I will no doubt be tired for the standard race less than 24 hours later. I will have to do everything possible after the first race to ensure I recover as well as possible. But again I will do my best! It’s just not optimal. Nor is all the travelling. I have already been looking at bike box rental and borrowing, and making plans for the trip and how it will all work: travelling by car to Liverpool airport, meeting Deirdre, flying out together to Geneva, getting a train to Lausanne and then somehow getting across town with all the gear to the accommodation… sounds like fun, living the dream… hmmm…

I still had two to three weeks left to try to knock myself into shape. I went for a massage, the first one since the Ironman, and that helped a bit. I got back into a routine and a training mindset again. Got back to doing all the stretching and core work and weights and everything else that’s needed.

I did a pyramid interval session (of sorts) on the bike. I started intending to do 1 minute hard/1 minute easy, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 6/6, 8/8, 10/10 and back down again but I went too hard in the first two intervals to feel I could do the longer intervals, so I maintained repeats of 1/1 and 2/2, and maintained power output of over 300 watts, which was better than last week’s interval session and more getting towards “normal” levels again. I did a fartlek run, making it almost like an interval session. It felt OK. Two tough sessions which had been reasonable. Then an easy bike session to recover for a weekend of hard work.

I again got lucky with a quiet swimming pool and did 8 x 200 yards. A previous best similar session was 6 x 200m, all in less than 3 minutes. I did my 8 x 200 yards in less than 2:45, which was just about less than 3 minute pace for 200m. I was pleased to hold onto the pace and not have the times drop. So I wasn’t far away. I did some single leg turbo drills that evening. My parents and Deirdre were over this weekend so it was good to relive the Ironman again and show them the photos and videos. We fitted in a ParkRun, and I got my heart screened via the CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) charity. I’ve had my heart screened quite a few times and was pleased to see everything was still normal…!

Hooked up for scanning

But I had business to take care of over the weekend so they headed off to the Edinburgh festival while I jumped on the turbo trainer. I did over 3 hours in the heat on the turbo, building every ten minutes for an hour, from 130 to 300+ watts, repeated 3 times. The third build was so tough and I needed a couple of caffeine gels to give me a final kick to get through it. It wasn’t bad. Then I met everyone else in town for a show and a bite to eat.

I'm famously anti-coffee, never liked it. 
I did get onto espresso martinis once.
The best I can say about this gel is that
it wasn't as disgusting as I thought it
was going to be, and it gave a good kick

On Sunday I battered out a 65-minute tempo run taking in 10 hills, by now I was feeling better with every day that passed. I knew the following week would be into a third straight week of training. I usually train in blocks/cycles of two weeks, followed by an easy week. With timings and recoveries and tapers, there wasn’t much choice but to launch into a third week of tough training, but I’d be very mindful of how the body felt. I can’t afford to overdo things and have problems, as there is too much riding on the next couple of months, and too much invested.

I needed to really test myself out and see where my levels were at. It seemed my swimming was at a reasonable (for me) level – it won’t be quite as good as the best of them at the world sprint/standard races, but in terms of my own level, it’s there or thereabouts relative to how good I can make it with the time I have available to spend on it. The bike and the run, if I’m fit, should be pretty close to the best of them in Switzerland. They key thing is “if I’m fit”. Fitness is all relative to what you’re doing. Ironman fitness is different to short-course fitness. If I’d had 4 months specifically to prepare for one short-course race, I could be very fit for that. I haven’t had that, so I am making the best of it.

Tuesday’s test was 8 x 3 minutes hard on the turbo, with 2 minutes of recovery. I’ve done this session a few times and had usually been able to get over 300 watts. I ground out the session and built from 280-320 watts. Not bad. I’d take it.

Wednesday’s test was a run. 6 x half a mile. I’ve done this session a few times. 2:30 or better per half-mile is good. 2:28 fading to 2:34 is not good. This was also a big test for my knees, exactly one month after the Ironman. My knees felt fine, finally. I did 2:34, 2:30, 2:29, 2:28, 2:26 and 2:32. Not bad. The first one was slow, but I wanted to make sure I was bossing the session rather than the session bossing me, as would have happened if I’d ran 2:27 for the first one. The last one was a little disappointing but not a disaster, and the middle 4 were decent. I’d take it.

I did an easy recovery cycle on Thursday night, out by the airport. Then another tough swim on Friday. 6 sets of 50 yards, 100 yards, 150 yards. I held the pace well, at 40 seconds for 50 yards, 1:20 for 100, and 2 minutes (or even slightly quicker) for the 150. Another good session, followed by single leg turbo drills. Then it was into the weekend, and I did exactly the same turbo session as I’d done last Saturday: 3:10 on the turbo, building every 10 minutes from 130 up to 300+ watts. My overall average power was 5 watts up, and my heart rate was 7 beats per minute down, so that was positive. On Sunday I did a tempo run on tired legs.

Spin out to the airport

By this stage I was feeling a bit more positive for Switzerland. The world championships in short course triathlon! It has been overshadowed massively for me by Ironman UK and Kona qualification, but Switzerland is huge in its own right. The best in the world. A great venue, on the shores of Lake Geneva. They speak French there (I like speaking French). I’ve been there before. The Olympic city. I started reading up on the athlete guide, the schedule of events, the course, the logistics, and yes, past results. There could be 60-90 of the best athletes in the world in my category. I’m not going to win it, but top 20 is certainly do-able, with top 10 a possibility. Give me 6 uninterrupted, focused months and a podium wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility…

I was now into a fourth week of training. Feeling decent. I hadn’t done any long runs or long bike rides, which I think helped me to feel good into a fourth week. I had another massage. My Tuesday test was 2 x 20 minutes as hard as possible on the turbo, with a 5-minute recovery (and of course a good warm up and cool down). I’ve done this session in the past. It’s probably the second-toughest session I do. I don’t look forward to it… (well, I do, it has to be done to improve and I choose to do it and want to do it, but it’s tough). A previous best for this session a few years ago I believe saw me hold averages of 301 and 303 watts (but I can’t remember in which order). How far off that would I be…?

The first 20 minutes was 300 watts. Probably 5-10 watts higher than I expected, but this first 20 is meaningless unless you can back it up with a good second 20. I blitzed myself into holding 297 watts for the second 20 minutes. Not bad at all. Obviously I wish I’d had 5-10 (or 30, or 50) watts more, but 300 and 297 was more than I was expecting so soon after an Ironman. I’d take that. I wanted and needed to follow a hard bike with a run, so I went straight out the door and ran 3km fairly hard at faster than 6 minutes per mile pace. This was about the pace I’d hope to run in the standard triathlon, and slightly slower than what I’d hope to run in the sprint.

I did a fartlek run on Wednesday, an easy turbo on Thursday, and a swim time-trial on Wednesday. 48 lengths hard (1200 yards/1100 metres), in 16:57, which worked out at just under 1:33 per 100m. That’s 11:35 for 750m, but I’d hope if it had been only 750m I’d have been a bit faster, so I might hope for a sub-11 swim in the sprint race, and a sub-23 swim in the standard race. I did 20 minutes of single leg drills that evening. Then it was the weekend. An “easy” two and a half hours out in East Lothian with Dermot turned out to be a lot less easy than I hoped, but it was a nice ride on some roads I’d never been on, in nice weather. Then I had the bikes serviced and started to pack them. An absolute pain. An easy run followed on Sunday, and then it’s into a tapering and travelling week.

A bigger, better, wider box than the one I took to South Africa.
And this one has clips that work too...!

I’m looking forward to Switzerland. It’s certainly no holiday, it will be hard work with all the travel and logistics, but I am in the best shape that circumstances have allowed me to be in, I am carrying no injuries or niggles, and I hope to compete well. I was going to say it’s a miracle I have no injuries, but I do so much work in the background to try to ensure I give myself the best chance of being injury-free.

If I can be close to sub-11 in the sprint swim, and then have a bike and a run on par with everyone else, then top 10-20 should be do-able. If it’s a wetsuit swim, it will suit me a lot better. A non-wetsuit swim will be slower and colder. The question is, how aggressive should I be in the swim, how hard should I push, to try to stick with the leaders so that I can try to be in the lead bike pack? The risk is overdoing the swim and blowing up later in the race. A tough balance. It’s more difficult to predict how the standard race, as I have no idea how I will recover in 21 hours. But again, if I can swim my swim in under 23 minutes, and then bike and run comparably with the best of them, again top 10-20 should be do-able. Time will tell.

Then I will take an easy week to recover, get a massage, get the bikes built up again, and try to get myself as fresh and recovered as possible for a tough 3-week block of endurance and heat training before Kona.

Training done in the 4-week training block was as follows (mileages are much lower than full iron distance training):

Week 1: Swim 2.1km, Bike 130 miles, Run 7 miles 
Week 2: Swim 1.9km, Bike 140 miles, Run 22 miles
Week 3: Swim 2.1km, Bike 135 miles, Run 16 miles
Week 4: Swim 1.4km, Bike 110 miles, Run 14 miles