Elemental

I’ll never quite get the hang of this blogging thing again, it seems. Ever since I stopped writing weekly updates it’s just become pretty impossible to consistently put anything together; partly because my schedule’s so busy these days I don’t have enough time to write as much as I’d like, but also partly because I don’t make the effort to force it into my schedule anymore. A month! A whole month. Gah. I was trying to stop these massive breaks but… well.

Since the last update, a lot of stuff has happened. I have spent a month trying to articulate why the whole ‘not drinking for a year thing’ fell apart exactly as quickly as everyone except me expected it would. I have semi-soberly written possibly the best paragraph of self-referential caustic prose I’ll ever write, except it’s no longer relevant, so I’m not sure if I can post it (but probably will anyway). Peak training for Ironman Lanzarote has been complicated by a fortnight-long work roadtrip. Tapering for Ironman Lanzarote has been complicated by locking myself out of my flat whilst my erstwhile flatmate was away on holiday. Oh my sweet Christ, Ironman Lanzarote is less than a couple of weeks away.

Well, anyway, now I’m into my taper, hopefully I can find a little more time to write some more. Maybe. Given the plans I’ve seen slotted into my TrainingPeaks calendar, that could just end up being more blind optimism, but lets see.

Right. Let’s gloss over that, so I can talk about something else: racing. Morning’s pale light has graced the dewy grass, the beast has fucked off back to the east; limbs have been shaved bare, the season is upon us, and 2018 is ready to begin in earnest. Goodness has returned to the world. I have smashed my legs to bits. The spell has been broken.

In all honesty, I was getting a bit (read: VERY) twitchy about the lack of racing this year. Since moving out of my old house I’ve been involved in a very lengthy and very, very ugly deposit dispute with my former landlord (long may he suffer cancerous lesions in his undergarment-area, the venomous prick). This has been both exhausting, and financially crippling. With Lanzarote being quite an early race there was never going to be many opportunities to see where I’m at, but even those that presented themselves were mostly skipped because I didn’t feel like I could afford them. This probably hasn’t been helped by my addiction to buying a series of probable needless but easily justifiable upgrades for Agro, but hey: I’m a triathlete. The opportunity to wank away cash on hobbies is why we bother to keep jobs.

For all the testing you can do in the pool and on the turbo, things are different on race day. Despite any progress made on swimming and biking, it’s been a little hard for me to internalise that with no hard, pressurized trials. There were a couple of races on holiday in March, but these weren’t truly under race conditions to me. At least, not the way I approached them in my head.

yeah i have art on my walls im cultured

Running’s a bit of a different story, of course. I haven’t done much road racing, but at least I had some standout XC performances to fall back on- enough to earn the coveted crown of Chasers’ Most Improved Male Runner of the 17/18 XC season. Not enough to keep us up in division 1 (still bitter) but enough that I have approached the last few months with a lot more self confidence, knowing that I’ve finally, finally learnt how to pace myself. Which basically involves not hitting your top speed for the race in the first 100 metres. Genius, I know.

So, to the Thames Turbo then. One of my favourite races, the first triathlon I’d ever done, way back in 2015. Could be a lifetime ago. In 2016 I managed a decent 1:07:13, almost-but-not-quite a 10 minute gain on my first effort. Last year I had to pull out of the race due to a buggered achilles, so spent the morning cheering on my novice class of 2017. This year, I was back: older, wiser, pro-er, and with a very serious ice cream wager with Coach Tim. Because any bet involving ice cream is serious. Don’t fuck with my ice cream.

It was a simple proposition: fastest overall time wins. Loser buys winner ice cream. Job done. So there I was, knowing I had the edge on running, but knowing Coach Tim is far stronger than me on the swim and the bike, but not sure how much better I’d got at the swim and the bike, so not really having any idea how fast I’d to run to make up the deficit. Also, Coach Tim was also responsible for giving me my race plan for the day, and ice cream is serious business for him, too. He is definitely a professional, obviously, always… hmm.

COFFEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

The race start rolled around, via a coffee-and-electro-house powered cycle down through Richmond Park, a tradition of the Chasers Novice Programme. Really, I can’t understand why everyone wasn’t as excited as I was. It was race season! There were multiple white deer! MULTIPLE! These normal people, and their aversion to early mornings, pah. Soon they’ll be worn and broken like me. Well, not quite like me, hopefully. That would be awful.

I learnt a surprising lesson, yet brief lesson in transition, setting up before the race: this stuff is automatic to me now. There wasn’t a great amount of thought process behind where and in what order my kit went on the floor; not to say it was positioned badly, just to say that either I’ve done this way too many times at this point, or that the coffee had worn off and I’d just got extremely lucky. Either way, it was brief.

Watching the first few of ‘my’ novices in the swim at the start was a joy, as ever. It’s lovely, and very encouraging, to know that I’ve still yet to accidentally kill one of them. This was the year that for the first time, someone on the novice programme who’d entered the race didn’t feel comfortable enough to compete in it, so I’ve been ruminating on that over the last couple of weeks. I’m not necessarily sure that I’m to blame for that, or not at least primarily to blame for that; but it’s a good learning experience, I guess, on the topic of the type of coaching I’d prefer to do going forward. I love the novice programme, but the sheer volume of people who have been taking part this year have made it a bit unwieldy at times, and hard to keep track of.

Pool-based swims can take a while to get through all the starters, so I was lucky enough to be up after an hour or so. There were nerves, but quiet ones; not the raging torrent of emotion one drowns in metaphorically, when considering all the possible ways one could drown literally, toeing the start line before the swim of an Ironman. This is a comfortable race for me, thought I. I know how to do this. First I start swimming too hard, then I wonder why I have a poor swim…

Like that, I was off and thrashing through the water. When the start whistle/gun/clipped yell goes up it always seems to catch me by surprise. I had a specific swim plan to follow, but mainly focused on being relaxed and extending well, which this season has gained the moniker of feeling ‘Zen Penguin’. A halfway-hackneyed callback to Fight Club, ‘Zen Penguin’ is the kinda of mantra or mindset I have taken to searching for when swimming well; it means I’m extending enough at the front of my stroke to feel a slight burn under my arm and down my side, proper reaching straight-arm-like. Focusing on that to the exclusivity of all else, it leaves me pretty chilled out, just sliding through the water.

Look, it makes sense in my head, okay? Jesus. The lengths we go to. Have some sympathy for my therapist, who has to, for the second time in his life, try to make sense of a person who refers to a slight muscle burn as a ‘Zen Penguin’.

I think maybe, possibly, I could have put a little more effort into the swim. But coming out of the water, I knew I’d done good, because I wasn’t flustered, or rushing to get on the bike and make up time. The Penguin had well and truly Zen’d – and, in a turnup for the books, despite feeling like I’d swum at a pedestrian effort, I’d knocked just over a minute off of my swim when I last raced this one in 2016.

2015 swim: 11:35
2016 swim: 9:24
2018 swim: 8:22

There was a clear bike plan as well, which relied on me aiming to maintain a certain 30-second average power output throughout the race. Aaaaaaaand here was where that ‘automatic’ transition came back to bite me in the arse. My power pedals have been somewhat flakey this year, and seem to be requiring calibration at the start of every ride if I want to get something approaching accurate (and Coach Tim still thinks that they’re reporting about 20 watts lower than my actual output which I am TOTALLY FINE with). Obviously, obviously, I had forgotten to switch my bike computer on and calibrate my pedals before I started the race. So when I set off hard, like hard hard, and my power readout said I was actually working at a very mild recovery effort… plans changed.

I maintain that, 6 months into a training plan, you shouldn’t need to pay attention to your numbers in a race that closely. By that point you should be so bored of trying out specific paces, heart rates, cadences, power outputs, stroke rates, effort levels, and suchlike that you should know fairly instinctively what is and isn’t blind stupidity. I quickly decided on a new plan: maintain a reasonable cadence throughout; doing this, find a gear where it starts to hurt a bit working at this cadence, then add another gear. It kinda felt like this was on the borderline of blind stupidity, but hey, only had to keep this up for half an hour, right? A lot of my focus this year has been on the idea that I need to work harder on the bike and be prepared to sacrifice a bit of freshness on the run, so this would be a good test of that, if nothing else. Tuck your chin, get out of the wind, pedal hard.

breaking the speed of light, or at least its natural confidence

Evidently I biked so fast that I broke the speed of light, or at least made it significantly worry, as the only pictures that exist of me on the bike are about as blurry as your average UFO conspiracy theorist’s proof. Nevertheless, it was nice to be the TT bike that wasn’t getting overtaken for once. I’m sure this might have been different had I been starting further down the field, but still, it was encouraging for a not-super biker to not be overtaken once during a bike split. There was almost a little bit of disbelief when I looked down and realised that I’d carved over 5 minutes off my most recent bike split at this race (and only mild dismay when the corrected results came in, accounting for me switching my Garmin on well over the dismount line, and this being changed to nearly 5 minutes). I also felt pretty pooped at this point.

2015 bike: 43:38
2016 bike: 38:05
2018 bike: 33:24

Recovering in the deadzone at Thames Turbo is nice, but it probably skews the run in my favour a little bit, as I’m fairly sure the proper strong bikers would recover from their efforts a little bit easier than I would, but hey. Race the race. A quick transition, in which I wasted a few seconds sneaking my phone into my new race suits’ back pocket, and I was off doing the bit that I felt pretty competent at.

I had a set of cues to follow for this bit as well, mainly heart rate based, which I managed to follow for about 600 metres before they went out of the window and I got a bit overexcited. See, I quickly eased into a pace that wasn’t too dissimilar from my 5k PB at Dulwich Parkrun just before Christmas. This felt absolutely glorious, for all of a couple of minutes. Then the pain started setting in.

By the time my watch auto-lapped the first kilometre, I was already feeling like my enthusiasm had pulled a fast one over my lungs, and scammed them out of a large amount of oxygen. Two more times, I looked down at my watch as it beeped, and thought, fuck. This hurts. I have gone waaaaaay too deep on this. It was the kind of run where I spent most of it trying to second-guess when are where I would blow up and keel over. Not too dissimilar to an Ironman, then. Well, a bit shorter.

I like this photo because it's too blurry to show the pain and confusion

The fourth time I looked down and thought, well, actually, maybe. Oh, it hurt like hell, and the glowing orb of hot fire was rising in the sky, just in time to begin the renewal of my razor-sharp tanlines. Only a few minutes more became the order of the day. The fifth time my watch beeped I wondered why the hell I wasn’t at the finish yet. Seconds later I crossed the line and promptly did an overly-dramatic swan dive onto the nearest patch of empty grass.

2015 run: 19:21
2016 run: 18:11
2018 run: 17:02

Turns out there was some nice progress there. Including transitions, my total time was an only mildly infuriating 1:00:35. This put me 15th in a pretty tough field, or 6th in the Male 20-29 category – to highlight how tough the field was, in 2016 a 1:07:13 put me 4th in my category. Almost 7 minutes faster, but 2 places dropped (I checked and none of the names above me were the same across both races as well). This is a prime example of why you should never, ever use other’s results as a comparison point against your own progress.

By far, this is the most complete race I’ve ever raced. It’s kind of evident in the 15th place overall (out of over 450 finishers), which I take about as much pride as I take frustration in just missing out on dipping below the hour mark. It’s great, for sure, but I’m more happy with my general performance, which replaces last year’s hometown effort at the Shoreline Triathlon as my race that has made me feel most like a triathlete and not just a runner with a horrible secret. Second fastest run of the day is no mean feet, but I’m happier still with seventeenth on the bike – by far the furthest up the rankings I’ve managed on that particular bit – and cruising to a one-hundred-and-thirty-seventh swim, which is the first time I’ve broken the top third on that. Gosh. It’s almost something like competency.

A lot of boring drivel later, and maybe it’s gone some of the way towards explaining how one little sprint has given me a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the looming titan of Lanzarote. The uptick in general mood didn’t last long, for sure. You’ll probably read about that in the next few days. But hey, I got something off my chest, and the legs are a’firin’. That’s something to celebrate.

Listening: Theoden’s Speech at the Pelennor Fields – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King; not sure how aero those horse-plumed helmets are, but it sure puts fire in the legs. DEEEEEAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTTTHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Reading: anything and everything that will give me some kind of comfort that I have made the right wheel/helmet choices for Lanzarote

EDIT:

If you’re wondering who won the ice-cream bet: it was close. Reeeeaaaaaalllll close. Like, way closer than I thought it was ever going to be, if I’m honest (I didn’t expect to bike that fast). In the end and according to the final results, 39 seconds and 5 places was the difference between Coach Tim and I… in his favour. As predicted he outswam and outbiked me, and I outran him – but not by enough. I feel like I have let my friends down, my family down, and most of all I’ve let myself down.

*dode voice* reeeeaaaaalllll close

BUT!

Originally the gap was larger than that, and Coach Tim was on the podium as third overall, a more comfortable victory. However, Strava data didn’t seem to support this, so honest Coach Tim ended up disputing this with the race organisers who he claimed had given him a quicker time than they should of, who submitted in the face of raw data and knocked him down to tenth. Considering these unreliable results, the contest was deemed null and void. We remain without closure, and all parties eagerly await round 2, I’m sure.

(In honour of the contest I still shotgunned a pint of Ben & Jerry’s when I got home anyway)

2 responses to “Elemental

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