I started this blog a few years ago as a means for me to express my inner feelings about my journey to becoming an Ironman; as well as to record that journey to reflect upon later in life once the mists of time had descended and all was left was an unreliable memory and some photos. Since I completed Ironman, I have carried on writing about my adventures in distance racing – mainly because I enjoyed writing about it.
It’s time however for this blog to come to an end.
There are a few reasons why I’m ending the Tin Man Adventure – the only one that matters though is that, amongst all of the things I have going on in my life, I’m simply not enjoying writing here anymore.
It’s been quite a journey since I started back in 2011 – both for good and ill. I’ve had three jobs, lived in two cities, visited a bunch of countries and completed 5 marathons. I’ve done 5 triathlons, improved literally every personal best I could have, discovered the joys of turbo training on the bike and spent an embarrassingly immeasurable amount of money on kit. I’ve had a marriage separation and divorce. I’ve watched my amazing daughter grow and flourish from the Tin Baby into an actual little person – replete with opinions, character and attitude. I’ve helped bring a Tin Baby Boy into the world, a little one for whom the word ‘happy’ doesn’t quite do him justice, a beautiful cuddly little man who has already attended a race. And I have an amazing woman who tolerates my many foibles, who walks a marathon with me to check pacing, wakes at insane hours to support me at races and receives far too little in return. To say I am blessed is the greatest understatement of all.
It’s time to move on from writing here; though not distance racing. I enjoy that far too much to walk away from – but for now, I’ll do it without the race reports. I’ve loved the people I’ve had the chance to interact with online as a result of this blog (and in some cases, meet for beers), and if nothing else the meeting those people has made writing here worth every minute.
It’s been fun – but this is the end of this particular adventure. Thanks for reading.
And here we are again – at the end of the year; some of us celebrating a year of success, others mournfully staring into a glass of something-or-other and thinking of what might have been. At least that is how it is for the introspective of us; of which I firmly count myself as one of the pack. That is why I come back year after year and write these posts. In the case of this year, I’ve not been writing too much – but I do look forward to this post more than others.
So where does 2017 fit amongst the years as far as sporting achievement goes for Tin Man Adventures? This is my sixth ‘year in review’ post, and I can tell you that it probably fits somewhere in the middle. 2017 was a strange old year; the best word I can conjure to describe it is ‘complicated’.
Let’s start with the sporting side of things. After deciding that I wanted to spend time focusing on my PhD study and that that pursuit clashed fairly heavily with training for three sports, I came to the conclusion (albeit reluctantly) to focus on running for the year. To that end, it was my goal to achieve as many personal bests in running as I could – with a main focus on the marathon. I figured that I had made great gains in my running when combining it with swimming and cycling – imagine how much faster I could go if all I did was run! There was some truth in that logic, however I sorely underestimated the benefit I gained from mixing up my training, particularly the bike. That being said, I started the year with a bang – a new personal best in January for 5km, down to 20:32. With that in the bag, it was a shoo-in that I would go under 20 minutes by the end of the year (spoiler alert – I didn’t). My first race of the year was the flat Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon, and my first stab at going under 1:30 for the year. As is usually the case for me, my training was patchy at best, and the 1:37 that I ran was no less than I deserved. While it could have/should have served as a wake up call that progress wouldn’t be a given simply because I was only running – I did not heed it. This was painfully evident at my next race, the Rotterdam Marathon. I went to Rotterdam because it was flat, and I figured I could give a 3:30 a shove, if not even faster. My training let me down again, and though I ran a disappointing 4:13 – I did have a fun experience in Rotterdam; or at least that is what I convinced myself of at the time. In the months since, I’ve come to believe that there was a fair bit of rationalising going on there, and if I want to improve my time for the marathon, I would be better off training my body rather than worrying quite so much about my mind.
Following Rotterdam was a trip to what has basically become my second home in the UK; and the city of Aberdeen in God’s own country – Scotland. I was really looking forward to the opportunity to race in the first ever Great Aberdeen Run, and on a really good day I would have run a personal best – but I was happy enough with 1:33:57. My main memory from that race was the ridiculous opening 5km split of 21:21; not that far removed from the 20:32 that is my 5km personal best. That I was able to hang on for the remaining 16km is something I am rather proud of. Everything finally all came together though – as it often does – in Ealing in September. A race that I signed up for on a whim turned out to be one of my best runs ever, and partly validated my year of focus on running. 1:30:35 is a time that I am really proud of for the half marathon, and if I could feel that way about my 5km and marathon times – then I may not even have to run anymore! Ealing brings out the best in me somehow, and 2017 was no exception.
Which left me with one race for the year in which to break my last remaining personal best – Frankfurt for the marathon. It wasn’t meant to be, and the 4:01:12 that I ran was once again testament to poor preparation for the marathon, on a course that should have been suited to running at least 3:45 if not faster. A lesson that I am yet to learn, or at least to take corrective action to avoid – the race you run is resultant, more often than not, on the preparation you put in.
So by years end, I have new personal best running times for the 5km, 10km and half-marathon. It is odd that with that, I still feel the year is a failure because of my inability to get it done over the marathon.
The thing about 2017 for me is that running was but a small part of the year. Whereas in 2015, Ironman was a considerable focus and the success in Bolton served to buffer any poor races I had – in 2017 I tried my hand at balancing many of the competing interests that I have. I wrote enough words for my PhD to close in on the halfway point of my first draft; 30,000 words not bad for half a years work. I’ve changed jobs and moved from London to Glasgow – both stressful undertakings at the best of times, let alone when there are your children involved – this was probably, at least emotionally, the hardest thing I have ever done. But with the pain came great joy; in 2017 we welcomed my son into the world and while him sleeping more would be greatly appreciated at this juncture, his smile is infectious and he has a charm that must be his own, because he certainly didn’t get it from me. When I think of him, and my beautiful daughter growing up at a great rate of knots, I can’t help but say it simply – my kids are the most amazing thing in my life, and I am blessed to have them.
When I think of them, and what I have – not running a personal best for the marathon doesn’t seem to matter quite so much, if at all, any more.
Don’t confuse this for a second though with a lack of desire to improve.
My goals for 2018 are much different writing this post today than if I had have written this a week ago. A week ago I would have written that my goals were to get back into triathlon slowly but surely, doing a couple of 70.3 races to dip my toes back into the water (so to speak) before trying to strike a better balance between all of the things I have going in my life. Then I received an email saying I have a spot in the London Marathon – all bets are off. I’m getting a training plan sorted; I’m going to better make use of the time I have before and after work (10km run each way) and the city I live in (Glasgow is much hillier than London is) to finally knock down that marathon personal best. Oddly though – that is not my main goal for 2018. My main goal for 2018 is that aforementioned balance. I want to do everything there is to do, but I want to manage myself and my time far better than I have done in the past in order to give fair time to everything I should. That means eating and sleeping better to ensure that I have the energy to do things when I am in fact awake. That means squeezing the time that I have available to get things done; PhD work during lunchtimes, running to and from work – without taking time away from the thing I treasure the most above all else – my family. This feels far greater a challenge than the Ironman, or running a faster marathon, or any singularly focused task I have faced – as success here would enable success across the board. It is a lofty goal for me – but one worth taking on.
And so onwards to year six of the Tin Man Adventure. Who knows where it will end?
I had a thought this morning that I actually had to double-check on my own blog to make sure that it was true and that I wasn’t just imagining things. It goes as follows:
My last triathlon was Ironman UK.
I had to view my own blog to double-check, but it is indeed true – the last triathlon that I did was Ironman UK in 2016. That was about 16 months, 30,000 PhD words, two jobs and one newborn son ago. In my defence, I had made a conscious decision in 2017 to step back from multi-sport (in order to do more PhD and to be more Dad) and chose running to focus on. As a result, I ran three half-marathons and two marathons this year; which I would argue is not too shabby an effort. Here is the thing though – I do enjoy doing triathlons. I had reached a stage late last year when I was probably starting to burn out a little, and the thought of heading down the swimming pool for a time trial filled me with dread (on second thoughts, that has not changed at all).
Now, every time I see a big hill when I am on a train or driving by, my first thought is ‘I wonder if there is a paved road up that hill that I could cycle?’. I’m moving to Glasgow in a couple of weeks, and in amongst all of the many, many, many emotions that I am feeling at the moment – I’ve enjoyed using Google Maps to scour local areas and find some beautiful cycling spots to explore over the upcoming Scottish winter. Long story short – my head is telling me that it is time to look back to triathlon.
This is not to say that everything else will fall by the wayside. I have children whom I adore spending time with and they (along with my immensely tolerant and loving partner) will always be my number one priority. I also still have a PhD to research and write. And I have a new job managing the training for the upcoming European Games in Glasgow taking place in August that I want to excel at. So the ever-present need to balance everything will be there – in fact in 2018 it will be harder as I am re-introducing triathlon. Fingers crossed I can pull it off.
My current first race of the year will be Ironman Edinburgh 70.3 in July. I am immediately nervous about the prospect of a bumpy swim, but the opportunity to do an M-Dot race an hour’s drive down the road was just far too tempting for me. The deal was sealed when I realised that I could drive to drop my kit off on Saturday and then come home to sleep in my own bed, before waking early on Sunday and driving back again to race. #win
I am a bit concerned that I will struggle to get cycling training in, given that it is the most time intensive of the three disciplines (and also, I’ve barely cycled in a year), but I have about seven months to get up to speed on this – and hopefully getting in with Glasgow Triathlon Club will help on that front.
The other race I have planned is Ironman Dún Laoghaire 70.3 – the race formerly known as Ironman Dublin 70.3 . So I’m targeting half ironmans for 2018, as I really do think its the ideal distance for me; its a distance I find challenging but without completely turning your life upside-down in terms of time commitments. I’ve never been to Ireland before, and I’d love to go – so that is pretty much it for the rationale behind that one! It looks like a hoot, and it also gives me a bit of a celtic vibe for the year, which will be fun.
I’m hoping to volunteer at some club races during the year, and perhaps even race in some shorter distance events to build towards the two ‘A’ races. The shortest triathlon I’ve ever done is Olympic distance, so perhaps in 2018 I can try my hand at some sprints or super-sprints – we’ll see what comes up over the summer depending on other priorities.
So there we are. 2018 feels a bit locked in at the moment, but I just can’t really see how I’m going to fit it all in. Short term goals are to get my running shoes on and get out and about – particularly when I start exploring my local neighbourhood once I move. I haven’t mentioned it, but I’m around 30km shy of having run 1000 miles for 2017…
*cue The Proclaimers music*
Listening To: ‘Bang Bang’ by Green Day
I passed the course marker ’36km’ and my eyes began to roll toward the sky once again. This was not necessarily a voluntary action, but rather a desperate bid for relief from the pain enveloping my body and my mind. As if I could simply scream up to the heavens and the difficulties of the previous hour would simply melt away. I felt myself looking forward in an unfocused manner, my mind in a constant conflict between two warring entities – one screaming ‘STOP!’ and the other screaming ‘KEEP GOING!’. I still had 6km to go, and it felt like it was going to be the longest 6km of my life. Except I had been here before. It wasn’t going to be the longest 6km of my life. Just bloody hard.
At the start of 2017 I set myself some goals for the upcoming year on the athletic front. These were supposed to meld with other things going on in my life – namely, the birth of my son in the summer, and a renewed focus on my PhD to a point where completion wasn’t quite so questionable (I’m not convinced that I won that particular battle). I decided that the area of triathlon that I could do that would retain the most base fitness while still generating a time saving was running, so I set about bettering my running marks across my main distances – 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon. With this in mind, I signed myself up for the flattest marathons I could find. I balloted for Berlin and London, and when I was unsuccessful for those – signed up for Rotterdam and Frankfurt. Rotterdam didn’t go so well, owing to a lack of training (I was more focused on my PhD back then) so after bashing out a great personal best at the Ealing Half Marathon in September, I was optimistic that Frankfurt would be my time. If I could run a half marathon in 1:30, then surely a marathon in under 3:45 or even 3:30 was manageable.
If there is one thing I have learned in my journey through triathlon and distance running it is this – preparation matters. I am living proof that the approach of doing the bare minimum and then hoping to succeed is folly. Sometimes this failure is due to factors in my control; I am not motivated, or I feel lazy or whatever. Sometimes, as was the case with this marathon – there are other factors at play. At the risk of making excuses early on – I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and I don’t usually admit that. Some people use exercise as a release from stress and anxiety in their lives, and (I believe) there is science to back this up as a legitimate method. I find that I am able to turn virtually anything into a source of stress and anxiety, and running and triathlon are no different. For example, I worry that I am not running enough, and then because I’m so worried about it – get exhausted from the stress and worry and then…wait for it…don’t run enough, thus fuelling the cycle evermore. Throw on top of all of this stress and anxiety about other things in my life (ie. work, relationships, PhD) and while I need running to keep myself on an even keel, sometimes I just don’t have the space physically or mentally to make it happen.
And this is what happened with my training for the Frankfurt Marathon. I did some long runs (ie. 35km in Manchester two weeks prior to the race) and quite a bit of speed work (ref : Ealing Half Marathon), but my recurring issue tends to be muscular endurance, and I didn’t do enough long runs here to remedy that issue.
So when we hopped on our flight to Frankfurt from Heathrow at the absolutely ungodly hour of 7am on Saturday morning, it was more out of hope that I would run a good race than anything else. I had this thought ringing through my head again and again – I was able to run a 1:30 at Ealing Half a month and a bit ago; surely this means I can do this? Luckily for me, I had my cheer squad of Anna and my son coming along to watch the race, and we were pleasantly surprised to find one of the quietest flights I have ever seen in my life on the way over. It was spectacular, and it meant that my son could basically make as much noise as he wanted and it wouldn’t make a difference. He didn’t though – he saved that up for the full flight on the return home on Monday night…
So we landed in Frankfurt. Ahhh Frankfurt. Home of…banks. And…erm…it’s an airport hub for Europe. Look, what I’m trying to say here is that it isn’t exactly a tourist mecca. It’s no Paris, Rome or Bolton – ok? We did have a little wander around the red-light district though, which was perfectly delightful in the fading light of a Saturday night for your first evening in a country where you don’t speak the language. I did make my way to the marathon expo though, to go through the traditional ‘picking up of race numbers’ and ‘people trying to sell you shit you don’t need’. This was also my first opportunity to see if my periodic use of the word ‘danke’ would be enough to bluff the locals into thinking I wasn’t a tourist (spoiler : it wasn’t).
What it did give me the chance to do was the check out the amazing finish line that I had heard a little about – but hadn’t really considered when I was doing all of my pre-race preparation.
It looks like this:
What I did notice was the immense volume of triathlon club shirts that people were rocking at the pre-race expo. I had heard that triathlon was big in Germany, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of tri-club kit. And Ironman branded bags! They were everywhere, and I have to admit the tiny pang of a blow to my ego as I realised how many people have done Ironman races. It was great to see though, and really made me want to come back to Germany to do a triathlon one day to experience what that local passion for the sport translates into event-wise.
With my race chip and number collected, shopping avoided (I never need anything at these things) and weather checked (it was going to be cold – my choice of singlet only was mitigated by receiving a long sleeved race top) I was off to the hotel to rest, feed and sleep. Thankfully for me, my son obliged by sleeping the whole night through (win!) and allowing me to get pre-race rest.
On race morning, the wind was whipping between the massive office
buildings and the rain was teeming down – which was a relative first for me, as I’ve not run an event in truly awful conditions before. I nervously ate my waffle with fruit salad for breakfast (nutrition = fail) with one eye at the leaves outside battering everything their respective paths. Thankfully the weather broke about 30 minutes before the race start, so we made our way down to the start line so that I could make my way to my pen and set about getting into the right head-space for my seventh marathon.
In the pen there were massive puddles of water from the aforementioned storm, so we all huddled together in the drier parts of the pavement, listening to 90s dance music and occasionally tuning into conversations from groups that I could understand the language of. I was nervous because I knew I wasn’t particularly well prepared, but I figured if I paced myself well I could make a good fist of it. I know I was nervous, because I heard a shout from the front of the race and started my Garmin to try and start to take off running. It took me a few minutes to realise that the pro runners had started, and that I was going nowhere fast. This is important information for later on. Eventually though, after lots of chilly jogging on the spot, the people in front of me started to move and I was able to re-start my Garmin and head out on to the streets of Frankfurt for yet another marathon adventure.
A great piece of advice that I have been following in races is to run at a pace slightly above what feels comfortable and try to hold that middling pace for as long as possible. In training runs, this is usually around the 4:50 per kilometre pace, which would result in a 3:23 marathon. I started out at a comfortable pace, and after a slow first kilometre, started knocking over approximately 5:00 kilometres. If I held that pace for the race, I would do a 3:30, which I felt was unrealistic, but I wanted to run to feel rather than to try and hold a pace (a mistake I had made at Rotterdam).
Two kilometres in I also managed to catch my Fan Club(TM) who I stopped in front of and gave a quick kiss to. This required me to then re-enter a big city marathon race on the run, which earned me a polite shove in the back to notify me that someone was behind me and was going fast(er than me). The first few kilometres wound their way through the shopping district (I think) which were nice enough, but not particularly picturesque. I went through the 5km mark in 25:19, feeling good and managing a comfortable pace.
Kilometres 5 to 10 also took in a lot of the north side of the river Main and the business districts around there. With little to look at in the way of scenery (except a dinosaur statue wearing a t-shirt – true story), I instead focused on my pacing and my race, which was probably not such a bad thing. I was probably at my strongest during these sections of the race, effortlessly ticking over those 5:00 kilometres, and my brain allowed me the opportunity to daydream about going under 3:30 for the race. At this point, a personal best seemed pretty assured – I mean – I felt good at this stage! I do tend to do this, getting ahead of myself when I still had 30 kilometres to go! I went through the 10km split in 50:17 – pretty much bang on target for a 3:30 and nicely ahead of the 5:20 pace that I needed for a personal best.
Kilometres 10 to 15 took us to the ‘south side’ where I thought things might look a little different, but in reality they didn’t really. It was just more of the same, though perhaps a little more residential this time. Frankfurt is a rather green city it must be said, with some lovely little forests and whatnot – as well as a guy randomly on a street corner with an air raid siren blaring. I can only assume that this is always the case, but then again, I have a small statistical sample to draw from. I started to feel a bit rubbish at this stage, which was when I knew things might be a bit troublesome for me down the line. I was telling myself an old marathon mantra of mine, which is words along the lines of ‘you do not have my permission to give up, legs, until at least kilometre 35’. How true this would turn out to be. The clock says I was strong though, even if the effort was starting to catch up with me, and I went through in 1:15:40 – 5:02 per kilometre and ticking over nicely, if a little sluggish.
Kilometres 15 to 20 were all along the south side, and things started to drift here as my stomach started to feel a bit nauseous and the fact that I was running a marathon started to catch up a little bit. I was still running good splits for my personal best chances, but as the pace started to nudge towards 5:15 per kilometre, the 3:30 marathon slipped away once again – early on in the piece though. The difference in mindset this time – as compared to Rotterdam – was in Rotterdam I doubled down and pushed the pace to try to get to 3:30. This time I relaxed a bit and tried to just run as fast as I could; trying to ensure the best result I could have. I went through the half marathon point in around 1:47:07 – a really good split for trying to knock over my personal best, if I could hold on.
Kilometres 20 to 25 were me telling myself to hold on for dear life, and this is the point in the race where I start to break things down, 5 kilometres at a time. That is usually a tell-tale sign that I am starting to struggle, and in this case it was my stomach that went first. I just didn’t feel well; I felt a mild nausea and started to dry reach a bit, which usually made me feel a bit better when it happened. My pace started to move towards the 5:25 area per kilometre, which at least I held consistently. I also made the same mistake at this point that I made in my first ever race – and I would have to deal with it for the remaining 20 kilometres I had to run. I poured energy drink all over my head! To be honest, I gave it a smell before tipping it on my head, and I swear it was water. Then again, in the state that I was in, I’m not surprised I got it wrong. So as it happened, I got to run the rest of the race sticky, but smelling rather citrus-y.
Kilometres 25 to 30 were not too bad, but I could feel everything start to get a bit blurry on the edges of my vision, and the voice that was telling me in whispers to stop and walk early on started to get a bit louder. The organisation of the race was fantastic though, and the consistent aid stations made for great targets to aim for. I didn’t walk at any of the aid stations, but rather kept an eye on my watch and aimed to keep ticking the kilometres over one-by-one, with a view to reassessing how I felt at the major 5km landmarks. I went through kilometre 30 in 2:36:44 – at 5:13 pace, I was still comfortably ahead of the pace needed for a personal best – but with 12 kilometres to go, I knew I was in trouble because of the way I felt.
Kilometres 30 to 35 – oh my word, the pain. The wheels really started to come off at this point, as my stomach felt awful, my calves were screaming at me (this is a flat course, mind you) and the desire to walk became close to overwhelming. The 5:00 kilometres were long a thing of the past, as they were replaced by 6:00 kilometres – and I watched my race pace figure creep ever upwards on my watch, bringing me down with every upwards tick. At this point my main focus was on getting to the finish, preferably without walking. These are usually the moments during marathons in which I most question why I sign up for these things, and the voices of the crowd saying things like ‘keep going’ become strangely irritating. I went through kilometre 35 in 3:06:18, and knowing that I would see the Fan Club (TM) in a couple of kilometres, I really grit my teeth and tried to hold on.
Kilometres 35 to 40 were where I relented, and sadly, started to walk/run. I started walking from kilometre 37, after I had seen Anna at the hotel, and she remarked later that seeing me in the state I was in made her reconsider coming to see me do these races. I may struggle to finish races and have to walk the latter stages, but you best believe that it’s not out of a sense of laziness or anything like that. I leave everything out on the course, every time. I took to walking 500m and running 500m to get through this incredibly tough period, even though these are the times that I
most want to crawl into a hole, lie down and sleep for a while. My splits started going northwards of 8:00 per kilometre here, as my personal best hopes went down the tubes, and I started reflecting back on my Rotterdam experience and how I had replicated it. All that was left now was to make it to the finish and to the sweet relief of lying down on the ground.
The last two kilometres were pretty horrible, as rain began to fall fairly heavily and was accompanied by a wind whipping between the buildings and pushing against all of the runners. I finished the 42.2km by my watch in 4:01:12, and managed to be happy enough with that to manage a smile.
It meant that I was able to walk the last 500 metres or so (once I hit 42.2km on my watch – I’m not running any more!) and video the finish line. Sadly, WordPress won’t let me upload the video, but the 90s dance music and the hall ambience was fantastic – and experience I won’t forget any time soon on what was otherwise a disappointing race day.
So 4:01:12 in the books – a disappointing result from a time perspective both for the day and for the season. It was my last race of 2017, so I immediately went into reflection mode and swiftly moved from there to thinking about what races to do next. Such is the life of a distance junkie – there is always another race to do.
After heading back to the hotel and sinking into one of the nicest warm baths I can remember having in some time – we relaxed downstairs in the hotel bar with a big hamburger dinner (Germany!) and tried to get off to bed early. Sadly, my son had other ideas, and instead he screamed for a few hours while I tried to distract him with the Mexican Grand Prix (with German commentary) on the television. Eventually he tired himself out and fell asleep, which was my prompt to do the same.
The next day, we went exploring a bit in Frankfurt – checking out the botanical gardens and wandering the north side shops. The highlight was amusing myself with puerile phrases taken from German that might be questionable if directly used in English. I am a child. I also tried to eat my body weight in meat, though it was a bit of a half-arsed attempt because I just couldn’t really do it. I’m a lightweight.
And thoughts turned quickly to 2018! I have a lot to do on a number of fronts before thinking about races, but initial thoughts are of more European races (Athens, Copenhagen are early thoughts) based on places to go and fun, rather than flat races chasing personal bests. If it is meant to be, then I will prepare properly and run a good race. If not – then I’m feeling that a good strategy is to have alternative goals in your back pocket.
I’m also pondering a return to the multi-sport world. My first thoughts are to go Celtic, and run through Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh and Dublin. This would result in 2018 being ‘the year I conquered my sea swimming fears’, but that might be something worth doing as well. At the moment I have many other priorities in life, so I’m not giving too much thought to it.
Today though is about resting from the race, and the seemingly insurmountable amount of admin I need to do to start moving house to Scotland!
Listening To: ‘Settle’ by Vera Blue