Icarus Complex

Thank-yous of the week go to: smiley happy swimmy Jane, Coach Dan, Kathryn the sort-of ex-housemate (I can’t remember if you moved out before I moved in, or the same weekend, or what; it’s been a while), Mary, and Alison who’s a family friend and pushed a cheque into my hands at a birthday party last night, making me feel like some sort of big-shot. My presence alone turns normal social events into high-grade fundraisers. Boom.


Also a massive thank you to my sister, Amy, who set up this donations pot in The Nest, the nightclub/creative space she spends most of her time getting into arguments about feminism in (and also works at). Extracting money for charitable causes from drunk students sounds like a pretty tough ask, so it’s totally appreciated. Can’t wait to count all of the sticky WKD-coated coins.


For something a little different: a massive, massive congratulations to my best buddy Emma who became an Ironman/Woman/thing last weekend at Austria. I’m a little bit in awe: throughout the day, I’d been checking the Chaser’s times on the live tracker, and watching her split paces tumble. Something was definitely up – this is a GB age grouper, for crying out loud. It turns out she’d been throwing up for about twelve of the thirteen hours she raced for, after a nutritional mix-up.

It kinda got me thinking: what point would I have quit at? Em’s a far more accomplished athlete than I am. She has one of them fancy schmancy union jack tri suits (that I’m definitely getting, like, totally next year), and is fully capable of podiums in long distance triathlons. Unless she falls off her bike. No, I’m not the only one, we’ve all done it.

Watching someone, who had the same kind of goal times as me going into her event, slowly grind down to what in places was a halt was tough. It was tough for me, knowing that this is a possibility if I make mistakes in the heat of the moment as to what I cram down my gullet – part of the reason I am being very disciplined and minimalist in what food and drink I take in before/during races (far more disciplined than I’m being on any other day of the calendar year, anyways). The little voice telling me that this was a learning opportunity was also pretty unwelcome, and made me feel a little guilty.

Despite the adversity, Em pulled through and finished anyway. Just incredible. When dealing with the masochistic brand of sports we do, the satisfaction is in overcoming adversity. Going back to my last race at Deva: if I’d have hit my target time of 4:45, that would have been great. The fact that I finished the race at all after crashing and needing medical intervention, the fact that I ran a crazy stupid fast run with a bandaged knee and battered bones; that’s fantastic. Looking at it retrospectively, I think it’s more of an accomplishment that way, weirdly. Emma could have pulled out an 11 hour Ironman or something; but this way she didn’t do something hard, she was really pushed to the limit. There’s some advertising for you, global giant sports event brand.

Monday: 1 hr 10 mins running
Tuesday: 45 mins S&C
Wednesday: 1 hr 25 mins running
Thursday: 1 hr 30 mins turbo
Friday: 1 hr 5 mins running
Saturday: 1 hr 10 mins cycling, 2 hrs running
Sunday: 5 hrs 45 mins cycling, 35 mins running

Training! I am back in full swing again. Well, almost. Still no swimming, unfortunately (although I should be clear for that again from this week), but a run/bike heavy week to compensate has been pretty demanding by itself. While the midweek stuff was pretty unremarkable, the weekend – oh, the weekend – what a weekend.

The weekend did not start well. My long ride was meant to be Saturday morning, but I managed to a) pick up a puncture b) not pick up enough CO2 canisters to deal with the absolute hash job I made of changing the tube, leaving me to limp back on the train with a half-inflated rear wheel. Instead I kitted up in my dorkiest of long run attire and pootled straight up through the middle of the early stages of the pro-EU march that was congregating outside Hyde Park. Move out of my way, liberals, I have a job to do here. I had so much fun dodging the face painters and flag wavers that I went back for another pop through the crowd before heading home. Two hours done a little faster than my target IM race pace, which I was dead happy with. I do need to start bringing some water on my long runs, though.

With my wheel properly repaired now, I bowed out of the birthday party (mentioned above, right up there at the top) early in order to get some sleep before heading out again this morning. Coach Dan said ride a hundred miles, and at this point in the plan, that means I’m gonna ride a hundred miles – even if it’s a day late. Not rain, nor wind, nor any other act of God (falling cats?) would deter me, I silently vowed, as I stocked up on more repair kit than I thought it was possible to fit in the pockets of one cycling jersey.

Remarkable foresight, old chap – of course, I went straight over some broken glass and picked up two punctures in the first twenty minutes, chewing through both the tubes and all the CO2 I’d remembered to pick up this time around. Then coming through Richmond Park, the clip holding my aero bottle pinged off, flying into the bushes never to be seen again. No worries, thought I, it’s just a stupid piece of plastic.

They say bad things happen in threes. Generally, I don’t believe in that – bad things happen over an extended period of time, in my experience, and one bad situation usual merges into another to create a never-ending stream of misery. Except in this case, I was wrong, because the next thing I know I’ve hit a speedbump and the thirty quid aero bottle has gone flying this time, and oh look it’s leaking and the nose is cracked and mangled. Why did I not stop to fix that. Why. Oh hey Fred at Profile Design, does my warranty cover this as well…

At this point, frankly, I was about to start flinging things into the distance out of frustration and quit. Instead, the now redundant aero bottle got stuffed in one of my rear cages, with the bottle that had been occupying that cage now strapped between my aerobars. With an almost-inflated rear tire and broken bits everywhere, it was a pretty ramshackle configuration for an expensive triathlon superbike setup, but it worked. Bit rattly, but functional.

Then the magic kicked in. Frustrated, tired, and with a very improvised hydration setup on a sunny day, two things happened: I had a really strong ride, and I wet myself.

It was another ride where it would have been easy to quit, to make an excuse that I needed to go shopping for more. Instead – even without my douchebag helmet, which was being rested in favour of testing out my new Zone3 sunglasses – I worked hard on hitting my target cadence and heart rate, and whaddaya know? I checked my speed on three occasions to find that my heart rate was spot on, my cadence was spot on, and I was travelling a whole mile per hour faster than my Ironman Kalmar target pace. Uphill. Not a nasty uphill, but a gentle incline nonetheless.

Even fighting through London/Hampton flower show traffic for an hour at each end of the ride, I still managed to push out just over a hundred miles in comfortably under six hours. I’m largely putting this down to the combination of all the compression gear I own; calf guards, replacement arm sleeves (after the first pair got mangled at Deva), and customary cosy compression boxer shorts were all employed in full effect, pressing all of the blood out of my various extremities and straight up to my head where obviously it must have fed my ego until the thing was large and powerful enough to power cities in event of a blackout. Another beneficial side effect of my aero bottle having broken is that I was forced to master the art of whipping a bottle swiftly out from my rear cages, drinking, and replacing without even leaving my most aerodynamic mantis-pose tuck; something I have previously struggled with, leaving me in the irritating situation of having to stop to refill my aero bottle from a regular bottle, which kinda defeats the point of carrying two bottles in the first place. It’s the small things, see.

That was big achievement number one, and this is where things get a bit icky. Big achievement number two (or not; starting with the bad taste jokes as I mean to go on) was probably less of a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but was more of a sudden Eureka moment. As I explained to two of my far more dignified housemates earlier this week, navigating toilet breaks is a grim reality of endurance sports. Except ultra-running, where I’m assuming you just hide in a hedgerow or something, strange forest dwellers.

If you’re hydrating appropriately over a long distance race, it’s fairly inevitable that at some point you will need a piss. As I’ve found out, it’s pretty hard to properly evacuate your bladder whilst being physically active, especially when moving the legs. Honestly, I have studied this; looked it up on the internet and everything. This is a major problem over five hour plus bike rides, where you’re going through litres of fluid. But as tricky as a rolling piss is, stopping isn’t really ideal: it’s not just in the time lost, but also the energy it costs to get back up to speed again.

As it turns out, the last few months – the blood, the pus, the GI issues – they’ve all been leading to this. Today, I can proudly say, I have deciphered the lexicon; I have travelled to the final frontier in bodily fluids, I have broken the seal on my own Pandora’s Box of urinary delights. No where in South-East England is safe from my gleeful-toddler-esque rampage of utter indecency. From Kent to Berkshire, a glorious revolution is coming, and it will be heeded by the disgusted cries of “Oh Christ, that’s not electrolyte mix, is it?” It was even sweeter that I had my revelation while rolling down the high street of one of the oldest, most historic, poshest towns in England. Like a dog, marking newly-conquered territory.

(Interlude: you know those moments where you say something out loud without thinking, and instantly want to facepalm yourself out of existence? Sometimes, when I’m proof-reading the crap I come out with, I have those moments. Depression, I think, is the least of my problems. There is something intrinsically wrong with me. Like, I shouldn’t be allowed out in public.)

Obviously, I had to go for a brick run afterwards. Obviously, I forgot it was West Norwood’s monthly market day and the place was heaving. Now’s not the time to get in my way, kids, I’m literally covered in my own piss here – I had made a cursory attempt to rinse it off with my spare water, but let’s be honest about the possible effectiveness of that. Worse, I got my distances mixed up, and ended up finishing my run on the wrong side of the street; treating myself and the public to a walk of shame through the crowds in my ammonia-scented activewear. Come on, you’ve read this far. You should have realised by now that I lost all pretence of being a classy gent that day I signed up for this.

Is urinating on the move even legal in an Ironman? Well, strictly, no… but it’s another weapon to add to the arsenal. By which I mean my confidence. Being able to do the stupid, only marginally useful things like this makes me feel more like I know what I’m doing, and confidence is key in everything ever or so I’m told. Like the replacement aero bottle setup I’m looking at, it’s not necessary, but it will make me faster – psychologically, in this case through eliminating worry or premature death by overdosing on a chronic build up of my own excretions.

Having watched my partner in crime struggle through her own stupid self-induced hell, having had a strong run in the heat yesterday, having persevered and jury-rigged in the face of disappointment today to nail another stupendously long ride; right now, my head’s in a good place for this. I’ve said for a couple of months that if the event was tomorrow I think I could finish it, but I wouldn’t finish it fast enough. Not the case anymore. I think that, even having not swum for a month (I’m fairly sure anything I lost can be picked up in a session or two), I’m on point. I’m ready to hit this and hit it hard. Obviously there are still wrinkles, but there always will be.

Because everything seems to work in cycles, and my mood seems to be no exception, this should mean that next week will be a decent week. Then the week after that I’m due a mini-breakdown, one more training week to suffer through, and hopefully I will be cresting the confidence-wave once again come taper. I think that works out nicely.

Anyway, time to crack on with the next week of training… hell week 1. Oh. That sounds nice.

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Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!

3 responses to “Icarus Complex

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