Okay, so first things first: yes, it’s been a while. Part 2. Explanations, no apologies, and no promises to shore this up in the future below.
Second things second: between the last post and this post you may have noticed (I like to think someone, somewhere has noticed) that I’ve played around a bit with the layout of this blog. The original bunch of posts, from So It Begins to No, So Says the Preacher Man, But I Really Enjoy Long and Convoluted Titles On Things have now been archived in the Project Half-Rust area of the site, along with all the pages that related to that year. It’s done, it’s in the past; you’re still welcome to view and giggle at it, and hopefully there is something useful in there, but it’s no longer the focal point of this site.
Third things third: you may have noticed that the title of the last blog post changed a few days after I posted it. That is because in the process of creating said archive, I found out that I’d used the original title (Happy Returns) previously, and that absolutely, definitely cannot be tolerated. I have enough obscure antipop-culture references to choose from that I never intend to do that.
I’ve just noticed I need to redo that banner image. Definitely had not been decapitated at the end of that swim. Sigh.
So yeah. Been a while.
I’ve been in the process of writing this post now for well over a month, trying in my own bizarre fashion to articulate on the subject of goals, and working on achieving them. This has been kind of hampered by a number of things: an office move and job change at work, I’m back on the training horse (metaphorically, I’d never refer to any of my beautiful steeds as such), and apparently there’s something about January that makes life very busy when you’re Head of Triathlon at one of the largest clubs in the city/country/world/hopefully universe, one day, cos’ there just ain’t enough space for me and Trump to peacefully coexist on the same single planet. Progress has been slow and painful.
But progress was being made, and about halfway through January put a couple hours aside, sat down on my bed, stared across the room at the Svenska-Ironshrine, breathed in, and started spewing out – amongst diatribes against over-confident amateur swimmers and other rage – the following drivel:
Gosh, all of this newfound competitive and angst that came out through all of that? Sometimes I barely recognise myself these days. Silent and shrinking’s become quietly confident. Verging on arrogant. Verging. Sometimes I don’t know how happy I am with this metamorphosis, this unrecognisable fuzzy-faced man that the years have turned me to.
I think I have kinda sleptwalked into another severe depression and I haven’t really recognised it, or I have and I’ve just been trying to hide from it. Everything is so fucking hard. I feel too exhausted. Not physically, of course, I’m still going through all the motions. But mentally there’s so much to do and no energy to do any of it. Do you know all the things I was meant to have written this week? They’re all like this, sitting half-finished on my desktop. Which is about the state of things.
After re-reading these two finishing paragraphs, I decided to stop writing. Also I have since shaved. Not such a fuzzy-faced man here no more.
Just to compound things, the day following the above literary meltdown, I received an email from someone who’s life I stepped out of very abruptly and with no fanfare a couple of years ago. A couple years has been a long time, and obviously unhealthy brain took the opportunity for some more insightful naval-gazing. Would she even recognize me any more if we were to meet? Not just talking about the hobo-chic beard I was sporting at the time. This was a pre-sport relationship. How much can your hopes, dreams, mind set and philosophies change before you’re no longer the same person? Maybe the shaving was a subconscious attempt to roll back the years after all.
So yeah, I decided to take a few more weeks out from any intensive writing and just sort myself out. I think I’m getting there, but I’m still having a few ropey moments. Just trying to focus on the small victories, the little wins that make one smile. Not stressing about the big stuff. Like oh my shitting shit my triathlon coach training starts tomorrow and I’ve only just got the hang of this swimming business oh my god are you telling me I need to be able to teach people how to swim oh my god oh my god oh my g-
Anyway, let’s talk about the big stuff. Goals.
Challenge Roth. The second biggest event in the long distance triathlon calendar. The goals here are twofold: one, I’m going to cut an hour off my time at Kalmar and go sub-9:30:00; two, whatever occurs, this time will be fast enough to submit as a qualifying time for the GB Age-Group long distance squad, so I’ll be able to represent my country at the European Championships next year.
Let’s break these down separately. Going under nine and a half hours in an Iron-distance triathlon is no mean feat. Bear in mind: in Sweden I finished in 10:28:44, and 378th overall, which was fast. The slowest person to dip under nine and a half was 78th overall. Somewhere, I have to drop an hour off my time, and move from the top quartile into the top five percent.
It’s not a small step, that. I’m looking at a 1:06:00 swim; a 5:20:00 bike; and a sub-3:00:00 run, with whatever change I can eke out of that marathon adding to the remaining 4 minutes to make up my two transitions. Effectively I have to be 20 minutes faster in each discipline.
The swimming, at the moment, does not look unfeasible. I feel keenly aware that me being confident in my swimming feels about as alien as the thought of me being able to coach swimming in a few months, but the world is a funny place, ain’t it? I’ve already made some big improvements since December with the help of Coach Tim, and in his words, am beginning to ‘look like a swimmer’, and feel a lot more fluid in the water. I was gonna put a picture of me being all swimmy here, but it’s really hard to take photos of yourself when swimming on account of all the water and hand actions.
EDIT: Coach Tim has provided illustration of me looking like a swimmer! You can’t quite see it but rest assured the half of me out of shot looks equally awesome and speed-blurred.
Cycling, at the moment, has temporarily replaced swimming at the top of my in-head list of things I majorly suck at. Big news – I have invested in some lovely Powertap pedals, so I can measure my power output! I am the type of guy who doesn’t think twice about dropping a grand (actually a bit less due to the vagaries of CycleScheme) on a pair of pedals that don’t even have secret rocket thrusters! Aaaaaaand these pedals are slowly but surely killing any confidence I have on the bike. Awesome. There are some things man wasn’t meant to know, like how pathetic his quads really are.
I know it’s early days in the season yet, but my FTP tests (functional power threshold, a common way of measuring sustained power output on a bike) have thus far been woeful. All one of them. Coach Dan has another scheduled in for this coming Tuesday, but I’ve been a bit ill for a week and not got much training in, and I am severely unconfident right now in my ability to come even close to what I was managing last season. Obviously it’s not all about the one test, that’s just a way to see where I’m at and better structure my future training; but right now, I feel like I could use another win here. I’m trying to take solace in that the early season club rush is out of the way now so I should be able to dedicate a little more time to my own training…
…and hey, if the worst does come, I also have a fancy new disc wheel cover to win me some free minutes and look badass while I do so.
Anyway, running. This was the mighty sprint finish I put on at the end of the 3rd Surrey League Crosscountry fixture about a month ago. It got me 98th, which is the first time I’ve broken the top 100 in a Surrey League event (I had a pretty great run, just the standard is stupid fast). It also got me 13th Chaser home, which wasn’t good enough to succeed in my winter goal of scoring for the Chasers by being one of our top ten finishers. Goal not achieved. Goal failed. The 4th fixture clashes with my coaching course this weekend. Goal failure does not feel good.
However, having a winter goal – even if I ultimately blew it – meant that I kept working at it over the winter. Swimming and cycling kinda fell by the wayside, but I made a few track sessions, did a few Parkruns; not a lot, but enough to keep me active and working without making me feel like I wasn’t getting a rest. A month later, and last weekend I ran the Human Race Cancer Research Winter Run 10k as part of a work team. My reputation at work, mainly cultivated by me mouthing off when drunk at office parties, was at stake.
As a caveat, it was a largely charity-based run so the competition was more funrunner than clubrunner. But 35:33? Consider I spent half of it running in diagonals and hurdling central London’s pavements to try and find a path through people, that is a good minute ahead of where I thought I was at – and was also paced perfectly, something that has been a longstanding problem of mine. I also managed to sneak a 5k PB (17:22) and a 1 mile PB (5:17) in there, according to the watch.
Failing in one of my goals was not the end of the world. Suddenly, I have become slightly more confident in that sub-3 Ironman marathon time.
Moving onto point two from somewhere way up above: Age-Group Champs. It’s the ambition of any talented amateur triathlete who’s not about to go pro – not many other sports are quite as encouraging about getting you towards pulling on your country colours as mine. For a qualifying time at long distance, I’d have to finish within 115% of the time of whoever wins my age-group at whatever race I want to submit a time for, a measure that I was just outside of last August.
Except it’s not 115%, it’s 120%. I’ve been doing the maths wrong for a solid half a year. I already achieved this goal, and could have been at the European Championships in Amsterdam this year, wearing the finest Union Jack trisuit anyone did see. I figured this out shortly after the crosscountry thing, above. Goals giveth, goals taketh away.
So, er, where do I go from here?
The reason I can’t do the Europeans this year any more is because it’s on the same weekend that me and Joe have sort of mutually bullied each other into doing Ironman Wales; one of the Ironmans you do if you want to impress an Ironman. It’s a little bit hilly, see. To put things into context using my time from Kalmar again, a 10:28:44 would have put me 70th based on last year’s results.
It was hard to find a pic that fully illustrated how ridiculous some of the climbs are, okay. The above morbidly witty sign (that slightly edged out an image of the most hilarious PTSD-looking triathlete I could find) should tell you all you need to know: they have to warn you where the hills are, and it’s called ‘Heartbreak Hill’. That’s just not a name that gets thrown at a sleeping policeman. Welcome to the suck.
Looking at IM Wales, when Joe and I signed up, it was a bit of fun. We both have other Iron-distance races that we’re going hell for leather at earlier in the year, this was more a bit of fun (because God help me, this is what I do for fun these days). Sure, I would like to do well. A top-ten finish for our age group seemed like a hefty enough goal, one that I’d probably flail against the edges of. After all, I’d have already qualified for the Age-Group Champs at Roth, my main race for the year.
I’m now in the process of reframing my potential in this sport. If I’ve already qualified for what was my main goal for this year, what do I do now? Where else is there to go, shitty cycling drama aside?
Long distance triathlon is a weird beast, in that the more prestigious of the World Championships is not hosted by an impartial governing body of the sport; it’s hosted by the Ironman corporation (hence why I try not to refer to Roth as an Ironman, same distance, different brand). Kona is a lot harder to qualify for. Far better athletes than me I know from my club have described their efforts to get to Kona as the result of five years of plan and hard work. It is an utterly terrifying idea. It is the only one that makes sense anymore.
I am not planning to stake my claim for a spot in Wales. To explain, it’s a slightly different process; you can only get a spot through Ironman branded races, of which each one has a certain number of qualification spots divvied up based on how many people enter per age group. Wales is a very hard qualifier if you’re not at the top of the field; it attracts a field of absolute nutjobs, and it’s early in the qualifying season so people are less likely to let their place slide and roll down to those of us waiting expectantly beneath, the poor sots waiting for Immortan Joe to let the water gates open.
Nevertheless, Wales will now become the marker by which I see how close I can really go, and where I work out if all this talk of me being better on a hilly bike course actually makes sense anywhere outside of my own mouth. Then I’m going to have to start planning for an even bigger 2018. Hey, I might fuck up. I might embarrass myself. I might dash myself against the rocks of failure over and over until I’m spent, and never quite make it. But I’m willing to bet the process will make me work harder, as it did when I decided sprints weren’t enough and I fancied something a bit longer, and as it was when I decided I was faster than the original 12:00:00 goal in Sweden.
I guess that’s my overriding and slightly clichéd thoughts on goals. Sometimes you need to aim for the achievable things, because without any sense of accomplishment you’ll never be motivated to work towards any conclusion. But sometimes, those goals that are going to have the most impact are the impossible ones, because you’re going to have to work that much harder.
Anyway, I have an FTP test to go and prepare for. Anyone want to place bets on 5 watts per KG?