So, where are we at? Well, this is what my training currently looks like:
At this point, we could break an audience in two. Those who know Training Peaks and those who don’t. Those who know Training Peaks are looking at this and saying ‘that is your TSS? But…its so…low?’. Those who don’t know Training Peaks have already switched on to another website.
The long and the short of it – for me at least – is the rise and the fall of the blue line, representing training load. Over the last year or so I have been, as you can see, up and down with my training. I do ok for a few weeks and then something comes up – PhD, boredom, injury, birth of child. But right now is probably my most sustained period of consistent and quality(ish) training for a long time. At least in over a year. And I can feel it. I can feel it in my legs, in my running, in my being.
It’s just under two weeks until the Great Aberdeen Run (GAR), my third race of the year and probably my least targeted one when I set the calendar out at the start of the year. GAR was intended as an excuse to go up to Scotland and see The Lady’s family, and perhaps knock out and ok time after I had (ahem) bested my personal best earlier in the year at Hampton Court. Because I didn’t focus prior to Hampton Court and follow through with my training, this now becomes my ‘A’ half of the year, and I’m starting to put some pressure on myself accordingly.
I will have greater training load in my legs than I did when I ran my PB last year, and I just generally feel a better runner right now than I ever have before. I’ve finally started throwing some speed sessions in to my training – 1km off/ons, hill reps, tempo runs and the like. Efforts that I used to find taxing I don’t anymore, so my overall ‘tempo’ pace feels better. My top end speed is getting quicker, and it all feels like it is coming together. I ran 74km last week, which betters my previous best which was the week before at 67km. I may even click over the 1000 miles for the year by the time I am done, as I’m currently at 1141km, and need another 459km to get over the line. So things are great.
I’m just putting myself in a hole mentally is all. I’m already starting to worry about how I will pace the race in Aberdeen (go out hard? try to run a steady pace?) and also inventing excuses in case things don’t go as well as I hope they will (its ok, my real ‘A’ race is Frankfurt). I will be disappointed if, after a year of focusing on running exclusively, I don’t get PBs in any of 5km, half marathon or marathon though. And I think that is fair enough. But I take this worry to an unproductive place, and it is something for me to work on for sure. I know I need to go out and run the best race I can and let the result fall the way it will, but the chattering voice in my mind won’t let me and instead runs through all of the potential permutations (since writing this blog I have considered that I haven’t investigated the elevation of the course, whether it will be crowded or not, whether the wind of the sea will affect my run and whether or not carrying music will be disadvantageous. Ugh.)
So that is where we are. My legs feel heavy today, so I’m taking a planned rest day – but I have some long sessions planned for the weekend where I will tail my training off before tapering next week before the race. This will enable me to continue to focus on my other obsessions in the world right now – Game Of Thrones and the start of Fantasy Football!
Listening To: ‘The Evil Has Landed’ by Queens Of The Stone Age
As of today, it is 25 days until the Great Aberdeen Run, and a whopping 88 days until the Frankfurt Marathon. I mention this because for the first time in a long time – I am doing some consistent training. Whether this translates into results in Aberdeen is doubtful (my PB was off the back of Ironman training – so I suspect I won’t be at that level of fitness in three weeks time), but it does bode well for another crack at a marathon PB in October, in Deutschland.
I have said this often and loud – one of the key limiters to my performance as an ‘athlete’ is my ability to maintain a training regime, be it formal or otherwise (another limiter is diet, which I only mention because I ate so much at lunch today that I feel sick #undoingthegoodwork). So that explains why I am so happy with the fact that since I committed to training more in July, I have had two weeks with six sessions in them, one week with a session every day of the week – and a fourth week where I dropped it down to five sessions for the week (which was unavoidable due to work commitments). These have been a bit of a mixture of sessions as well – another change for me. I’ve *finally* started incorporating speed work into my training; mixing in some tempo work, alongside intervals (we have a dirt track near my work which is an odd 390 metres around) and hill work. This is also significant, because I have historically been in the camp of ‘I’m not doing speed work, but I’m not getting faster – what is wrong with me?’.
All of this has added up (literally) to the highest running volumes per month that I’ve ever run, which is great – for no larger reason than I am increasingly loading my legs and haven’t injured myself (*knock on wood*). I’ve been managing easy days in with the harder speed days which obviously helps – but it’s just nice to finally start doing some of the common sense things. I’m hopeful that these will lead to improved results in the form of 5km times, as well as over the longer distances. Just to give some context on some of my better months, distance wise – here are the four highest volume months that I’ve had in the last five years:
March 2016 – 158.91km
Jan 2017 – 164.27km
May 2017 – 204.34km
July 2017 – 209.08km
So, worth noting that three of them have come this year – but more significantly I suppose, the two in the last three months have been 40km a month more than my previous highs. I can hear you asking though – but what about June? 204.34km, then nothing, then 209.08km? Well – that was when my little boy was born, so running clearly wasn’t the priority for that time period! Being the parent of an (incredibly) young child has added another dimension of challenge to the whole endeavour, though admittedly this has been both a positive and a negative. It has been a negative insofar as my sleep and rest time is limited, so the motivation to get the runners on and get on to the road can sometimes be through a haze of sleepy eyes. Running has also impacted on my ability to stay awake late in the evening to help The Lady with the Tin Boy, so it has been important to not let running get in the way of the things that are more important in life. The positive though is that it is, realistically, the only activity I have at the moment that is wholly and solely ‘me time’ has been the running. So it has been very therapeutic; a great opportunity to clear my head and relax. This in turn, makes me a less stressed and tense Dad, and better for assisting in nappy changes and midnight cuddles.
What has dropped off the face of the planet has been PhD work, however that was by design for the next few weeks at least – surprisingly it has been hard to find the time to read detailed academic tomes while cradling a weeks old baby boy who demands attention at the best of times. Frankly it has been a stretch of my attention and energy to make it through more than one episode of a television programme with any kind of plot requiring focus. That I fell asleep watching Thronecast this week tells me everything I need to know.
So the plan at the moment – DON’T STOP. I’ve got three weeks to go until Aber-dabba-deen; so its all about maintaining the rage; keeping the speed sessions going and tapering to ensure that I give myself my best shot at doing a good time. It won’t likely be a PB, but it would be nice to run somewhere around 1:3x at least – preferably under the 1:37 that I ran at Hampton Court earlier this year. Fingers crossed. After that, the focus turns to Frankfurt and longer runs to ensure that I have the distance in my legs for a marathon; my eighth.
I almost forgot! On top of all of this; I went out and got myself a new bike – a lovely, shiny (very) Cervelo S2. I even took it out for a ride this past Saturday; thinking that given that it had barely been ridden by its previous owner (so shiny) that it would be good to go if I added a set of pedals and adjusted the seat to my own arse-height specifications.
Sadly, when the left-hand side crank arm fell off on a lap of Richmond Park I realised the error in not getting it serviced beforehand – and was left with a Uber ride home (in the rain with no battery left on my phone) to contemplate my own stupidity. I’m equally dreading explaining to the bike shop that I take the bike to what had happened; as my embarrassment at this stage is rather overwhelming.
So that’s where we are. Running loads (for me at least), still swimming regularly, and trying to get back on the bike. Sheesh. Someone would almost think that I was trying to get back into triathlon.
Listening To: The Three ‘Exogenesis’ songs by Muse
For someone who is focused on running for the year, I’ve started doing something curious of late. Something that even at my Ironman training peak I didn’t tend to do terribly often.
Swimming for the fun of it.
Getting motivated for a swim session used to be an absolute chore and don’t get me wrong – it’s still not too far from it. I was back and forth for my most recent effort this past weekend, and it was only the imploring voice of my 5 year old (who – if I swim, gets to go on the waterslide after her respective swimming lesson. I suspect she had an ulterior motive for her encouragement) that ensured me suiting up for my brief watery sojourn.
And that is all it is. 1000m (20 lengths) in as fast as I can. I have a PB over 1000m of 21:13 – which is, well, a bit shit. I’ve recently completed it in 22:23, 23:32 and 22:27. None of which have been terribly inspiring efforts, but at the same time, my arms have not become detached from my shoulders after swimming them, so I figure I have some improvement in me. This past weekend I was determined to go faster and try and nudge that 21 minute mark. I have an ambition to nudge around the 17 minute mark for the distance – so putting it mildly – I have a lot of work to do.
I set out in my most recent effort to try and make it a steady effort – strong kick, long arms and relaxed breathing. I figured I wasn’t making much headway into this early on when a breast-stroking mother (I know this because her son is in my daughters class) saw me coming and pushed off from the wall anyway. She figured she could take me over 25m while I was swimming freestyle. In retrospect I see her point. I was taking quick glances at my watch every few lengths to track my progress, but also to give me a distraction of mathematical calculation while I was pounding my way through these increasingly fast laps. I was telling myself that if I could just maintain my pace – or even speed up a little? – then that personal best was assured. Sure; I had only completed 200m and had 4/5ths of the way to go, but I was on track for that first incredibly short section. Success was assured, if I could just hold my initial lap pace for the entirety of the swim.
Breathing became laboured. Mind started to wander. Daughter started to become distracted from lesson and waved to me during a lap turn. I was getting bored so I waved back. Also it would’ve seemed un-parently not to. Songs in my head started to turn a decidedly poor range of CBeebies introduction tunes. I think Justin’s House got a run in there somewhere. It was dark times.
But then – the finish line came in sight. Admittedly it was the same line that I had passed some 10 times previous over the course of zipping back and forth in this 25m pool, but it was metaphorical more than literal. The kick strengthened again. The arms turned that little bit faster. I’m sure from above me the spray of my flailing limbs must have been a head turner for the parents who were watching their children learn how to swim on their backs. Look! Look at that man and his impressive swim stroke! He must be an Olympian or something! In Brentford!
The breathing got even harder as I became aware of how hot my head had become. I was now breathing on every second stroke, desperate for the oxygen to fuel my arms and legs that were pushing the very limits that they were built to push. At a quick glance I could see the lifeguard get out of his chair, and I could swear he was coming over to ask – ‘are you ok mate?’. It is easy to mistake a herculean effort in the pool on a Sunday morning for something akin to drowning in your local public.
I turned for the last 25m and left it all in the pool, which is what the chlorine is for I suppose. I grunted, and urged my body on ever faster, not knowing how much I was going to break my personal best by, but I was looking forward to the smugness of clicking on ‘ok’ on my Garmin Connect to indicate that I acknowledged it. Yes – thank you Garmin. I am indeed much faster.
I reached out for the wall with a final lunge, just as they do in the Olympics with the under water cameras, and I quickly groped the turn my Garmin off as every precious second leaked away from my time. I took great, heaving deep breaths to calm myself and relax after the huge effort I had put in – inadvertently stopping in the way of the old lady who was continuing her laps of backstroke. I looked down at my watch, ready to splash the water with a fist pump of joy.
Well that’s…ok? It’s better than anything I’ve done this year, but it’s not a PB. I’m confused. I’m not sad, but I’m not happy either. I mean, I’m not overjoyed, I’m just…finished. I continue to sit in the corner of the pool, watching my daughter leap into the water towards the end of lesson and dive down seeking to touch the bottom. I’m breathing deeply, but with a puzzled expression on my face. Am I disappointed because I didn’t get a PB? Am I happy because I swam faster than I have all year? Am I going to get a coffee after this?
After some reflection I decided this – I was pretty happy with that effort. I don’t swim much, so to expect improvement is like your mate who eats McDonalds all the time (with a Diet Coke) and can’t understand why they keep putting on weight. On this day, I was shit. But I was slightly less shit than I was before. And that’s something.
Be slightly less shit.
This weekend past was Ironman UK at Bolton, and once again – hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, of hardy souls lurched into the breach of pain, suffering and achievement in order to hear those much sought after words – you are an Ironman.
I admit it. More than a couple of times over the weekend I reflected back to where I was one year ago at that moment. ‘This time last year I was racking my bike’. ‘This time last year I was just out of the water’. ‘This time last year I was still on the bike’.
So what have I learned in the year since becoming an Ironman?
I want to go again
I went back and forth on this one immediately afterwards, but my overwhelming feeling now is – I want to go back. It was a great experience, even though there is a definite risk that I am suffering from ‘pregnancy brain’ – otherwise known as the concept that enough time has passed now since the significant pain, that I only now remember the positive stuff. There are just too many fantastic races over the Iron distance that I want to experience that mean that I really want to go back to it. Lanzarote, Nice, Roth, any US race – these are all on my race checklist. I also don’t want to forever be a ‘one and done’ guy; I feel like a lot of people could do this if they wanted to – but it wasn’t just a bucket list thing for me. I did Ironman because I love triathlon, and I want to do it again. There is also another reason…
I’m still pissed about my bike leg
I really thought I could go around sub-6 hours for my bike leg at Bolton, and my 7:17:42 bike leg was the most disappointing element of the whole day. It wasn’t just the disappointment in the physical effort either – psychologically it was the most down I felt all day, and the only time at which I felt like quitting. For the effort that I put into the bike leg in the leadup training, I was really disappointed that I didn’t do a better job, and I’d really like the opportunity to set that one right. I really feel that if I worked at it, I could be a slightly better than mediocre biker, and that is where I would like to be. The only way I find out whether or not I have that talent in me is to go again – and really look to smash that bike leg.
I still have the base fitness?
This one is a little more open to argument. In retrospect, I don’t think I trained enough for Ironman, but I also think that, and just bear with me on this one…it might not take all that much for me to get back into a place where I would be able to do another one *wince*. Look, I could run a marathon tomorrow if I needed to – no problems. And I didn’t do all that much swim training, so I could build up the endurance again in that area. It is really the bike that would take the work – so give me a few months, a cycle trainer, a backyard shed and a looped video tape of the NBC coverage of Kona – and I’d be ready to go again.
I don’t know how I got the training done
That being said – how the hell did I do that? How did I get up at those ridiculous times on Saturday mornings to ride 100km before rolling home at 930am and spend the day with the Tin Lady? Granted – I’m neck deep in 3am nappy changes at the moment (except for last night when I *completely* slept through one, much the chagrin/humour (hopefully) of the Tin Lady), so it seems all the crazier, but how did I do that? A lot of people get by with social networks, leaning on each other to push through the training – but with few exceptions, I really did it all by myself. I didn’t do a single training session focused on Ironman with anyone else. That’s a bit crazy; and I’d likely have to do it differently the second time.
I’m proud that I stopped
It was the right decision. It was hard, and it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do – but stopping to focus on non-triathlon things was the right decision. I know this because I am two and a half chapters progressed in my PhD, and I would have had to stop anyway because of the arrival of my little boy. I’m proud for a pretty immature reason, which is because I did what I had to do, rather than what I wanted to do. While this might qualify as ‘adult behaviour’ for most people – I still consider it a minor achievement for me.
So what have I learned in the year since Ironman? Well, I want to do it again, and I want to nail the bike. The biggest difference is that now I know can do it. That confidence is still there. A marathon doesn’t fill me with fear in the way that it used to – because it isn’t prefaced with a 3.8km swim and a 180km bike. I have a sporting confidence that comes from having gone to the deep dark places and coming out the other side. I’m not as fast as I want to be – but I know that with the right focus I can get faster.
And everyday that passes gets me closer to the day when I have the time and space to get back on the bike, having signed up for an Ironman the night before.
In honour of a recent television premiere – Ironman is coming. Again.
Listening To: ‘You Know You’re Right’ by Nirvana