Recently most of my posts have had something or other to do with triathlon or running. Coincidentally, I was browsing godaddy.com the other day, as you do, and I came across a domain which was too good not to register, enter tri703.com. For those not in the know, 70.3 miles is the distance covered in a half Ironman race. It seemed appropriate to go ahead and start up a second blog to record all my efforts in this area, so if you have any interest in hearing about one man's journey to balance work, life and training in the pursuit of, what I consider to be, the ultimate race, head on over.
Ever since I did the Monaco Ironman 70.3 in 2007 I have been keen to add to my list of endurance events. I recall very fondly the rigorous training schedule, waking up at 5:30am, cycling to the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park to swim with the ducks and eels, doing laps of Richmond Park on my bike in pelting hail and running lap after lap of the 3 parks, dodging tourists after a long days work. I never thought I'd be able to do it but in the end, all the training proved more than enough and I finished just as I hoped I would, in good time and thrilled by the experience. I was also a little burned out though, and it look quite a while to get back out there and really enjoy running and exercise again. I'm at the point now where I like it so much I need an outlet for me enthusiasm and so, I have registered for the Mallorca Ironman 70.3 on May 14th. Look out eels and tourists.
This past weekend I travelled solo to Helsinki to run the marathon there. I have done three marathons previously (Edinburgh, Berlin and Chicago) and they have always been tough. Something about a marathon makes it different to any other kind of race. I can take on a half marathon any given Tuesday, 30km’s on a Sunday pass without grave concern, but a marathon, now that's a challenge!
I signed up for the Helsinki marathon not because I am some kind of Finnophile, but because it was my intention to achieve my best marathon time yet, 3:10, thereby securing guaranteed entrance into the London marathon in the Good For Age category (GFA). I decided this all a bit late however, leaving only 5 weeks to train, which mostly went well, up until 2 weeks before race day when all kinds of aches and pains started to materialize. I knew there would be no running in the last 2 weeks, I just had to rest-up, give my injuries a chance to heal and hope that was enough come race day.
And so, with only 3 weeks of actual training, I set out after work on Friday August 13th (not at all portentous) to run the 33rd Helsinki marathon. The race went as follows:
Km 0: I'm standing on the start line, the pre-race music is blaring, my heart is already pounding and I love it. The gun goes and we start running.
Km 2: The injuries are flaring up. My right ankle is making all kinds of complaints, but I know they are all phantom, they will subside. Strangely, the more I think about what to do when my foot meets the asphalt, the more the injuries complain. I am reminded of Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and the fact that my subconscious can calculate what to do with my foot when it collides with the road many times more quickly than my conscious brain can manage and when I don't think about it, there is no pain. The more I try not to think about it, the more I think about it. It's difficult to remove the focus. If I say "don't think of a red balloon" what's the first thing that pops into your mind? So, I apply the idea in reverse, "don't think about the road ahead, do NOT think about the road ahead!".
Km 10: I'm rockin' along. I feel invincible, like I can lick this thing and keep on going, maybe the caffeine gels are kicking in.
Km 14: I realize I'm 1/3 of the way through and feeling great. Surely I can manage another 2 of these.
Km 21.1: This is half way, and psychologically one of the toughest parts of the race. I've made it in the time I wanted (1:30 on the dot) and starting to feel a little rough, but still confident I can achieve the 3:10 target time. One foot in front of the other, easy.
Km 30: this is as far as I have ever run in training, unchartered territory, "there be dragons here"... and there were, lots of 'em as it turned out. It is at this point where the marathon earns its reputation. I feel rough, but I'm still running, forcing the notion into my mind that there are only 12km's to go, a mere lap of the 3 parks which I have done 100 times, just not after 30 other brutal kilometers.
Km 33: I'm broken, everything hurts and my mind is saying "walk you fool, walk!". I give in, but only because I think the brief respite will actually help. It does, I have a stretch, walk about 100m and start running again, invigorated, a 2nd wind overtakes and I go with it, running the next 2km confidently and focused on the prize, but it's at this point the dream fades, I can’t go faster than I’m going and I realize I can't make 3:10. It's bitterly disappointing. By now my legs are numb, I have to look down to make sure they're not flailing all over the place, I’m glad to see they are still moving forward and true. I press on, it hurts, a lot.
Km 36: even though it's a mere 6km to go, it seems impossible. You might as well ask a 100m sprinter to shave 0.2 of a second off their best, I am destroyed and it's pure mind keeping me going. I know that later on, this half hour of pain will be forgotten, and all that will remain is the result, but I just don't have anything left, I plod on to the end.
Km 42: It's true, the supporters do add a couple of miles. Somehow I've made it all the way home and it's great. This is why I do it... the sense of completion, the achievement, the elation, it's excellent. In that moment, I can actually even contemplate another marathon… another time.
It's official, I am now an Ironman, or well, half an Ironman anyway The 3rd Monaco Ironman 70.3 was held in the beautiful principality of Monaco on September 2nd 2007 and after 3 hard months of dedicated training, I was there to claim the title of 'Finisher'.
Ever since I decided shortly after the Berlin Marathon I would do an Ironman, I have been working in some way towards that goal. The acquisition of my first road racing bike in almost half as many years as I've been alive was an inspirational step and set me firmly upon the path. From there, cycling to work and signing up for the smaller Blenheim and London triathlons further reinforced the pursuit, but it wasn't until one day when I was browsing the Ironman site looking for an event that I actually decided to make a reality out of so many fantasies. I chose Monaco despite its reputation as one of the toughest courses on circuit because of simple timing. The season was running out, I needed at least 3 months to train and I needed an event reasonably close by. Monaco fit nicely into that gap.
Entering the race would change my life for a few months. With only 14 weeks to prepare, I was on a tight schedule and needed a professional training program, fast. I looked around online and found a few free ones, but nothing really worked with my lifestyle of randomly long work days and social events. I looked a little harder and happened upon MarkAllenOnline.com, the namesake of a 6-time Ironman champion. His training program offered flexibility and professional advice like nothing else out there. I signed up right away and training began 2 days later. The program was tough going, consisting of (count 'em) 8 sessions per week (2 swim, 2 bike, 2 run and 2 gym) totalling around 12 hours. It was hard going in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks, I settled into the routine and really began to enjoy the training. The Mark Allen program stresses heart rate zone training and my Garmin Forerunner 305 and I became good friends. The weeks and months rolled by and pretty soon it was approaching race day. I felt I was ready, but could have done more, as is probably always the case.
I took the week leading up to the race off work and relaxed, spending most of my time getting good sleep and preparing myself and my equipment for the race. Came August 31st, I was on a plane to Nice and a short time later registered, with my bike racked and transition bags packed. Sunday, race day, was only a few hours away.
After a night of light and much broken sleep, race day finally arrived. I woke with plenty of time (unlike Berlin) and made my way down to the start line. For a change, everything was going off without a hitch. There was massive excitement in the air with 800 fully charged triathletes lined up on the shores of Larvotto beach for the start. I'd been on a start line many times in the preceeding months and I know my heart rate always leaps 50 beats before the gun. This day was no different, I could already feel the adrenalin surging strongly when the hooter sounded and I plunged into the grinder of fists and elbows that is the start of a triathlon.
The swim was going well, I'd carved out a little patch of water and was making strong progress. About 5 minutes in, I turned to the side to take a breath and swallowed a full gulp of salty Mediterranean water. No more electrolytes required I thought. Then not far from the finish, another swimmer crossed in front of me and I caught a foot square to the side of the mouth, tasted blood and carried on, feeling a little tougher. Exiting the swim leg, I figured I was positioned about half way through the field, good enough for my first attempt I thought.
Transitioning as quickly as possible, I dowsed my arms and neck in factor 50 sun lotion and set off for the bike course, a gruelling 90km through the hinterland with 3 fearsome peaks to overcome, the first of which reaches 700m above sea level. For the first 20km, I fared surprisingly well and summited the peak feeling fresh and ready for more. The race director had briefed us all on the descents, advising caution on the tight-turn hairpin bends. It was good advice. My hands were acheing from pulling the brakes by the time I had reached the bottom and I'd lost my profile water bottle after hitting a massive bump in the road that launched the bike and I well into the air. No biggie, I pressed on and summited peaks 2 and 3, finally descending to T2 with still more ache in my shoulders and lower back, grateful for the opportunity to stand straight up for the run very shortly.
I always felt like running was my fallback event where I could do the distance no matter how rough I was feeling, but on the way out of T2 I was feeling great, positively euphoric even and spoiling for the run. 20Km later I was still cruising along, almost at the finish and delighted with the knowledge that by the time I got round the last lap, the clock would be ticking over well under my target time of 6 hours.
I finished the Monaco Ironman 70.3 in a time of 5:41:49.
A full equipment list used for this event can be found here.
Lastly, thanks to my lovely girlfriend Gemma, who put up with all the early mornings and exhausted evenings for those 14 weeks.
Update 16 Feb 2008: I have entered for the UK Ironman 70.3 and am coinsidering Monaco again. Looks like some more early mornings are in store.
Cannondale Sprint CAAD9
Look Keo Classic Pedals
Cannondale Road RS1100 Sport Cycling Shoes
Giro Monza Helmet 2006
Continental GP Triathlon Folding Tyre Set
Topeak Tri-Bag Bar Bag With Rain Cover
Profile Aero Drinks System Water bottle
Trek Race Lite Water bottle Cage
Specialized Inner Tubes (Presta 700x20-28)
Park Tools Puncture Repair Kit Super Patch
Park Tools TL1C Tyre Levers
Minoura DS30BLT Work stand
Topeak Master Blaster Mini Pump With Gauge
Specialized Mini Wedgie Saddle Bag
Assos Chamois Cream
One of the guys at work sent around a mailer a few weeks ago, asking if anybody was interested in doing the London Pride 10k Run on August 18th. As with most of these events, it was for a good cause and in this case it was also sponsored by Merrill Lynch, so I figured why not and signed up right away. There's nothing like a 10k race to up your speed over the longer distances, so the race doubled as some good speed training. One tends to slow down pretty quick as soon as you shift into long distance pace training. I'm really glad I went along that day. The weather was fine, Victoria Park was in good form and the runners were all well up for it, even the fairy godfather
Standing on the start line, with all that pre-race tension and competitiveness building, I could see my heart rate monitor starting to register the excitement building inside me, climbing from 60bpm resting, to 120bpm by the time the gun went off. By then, as with all the races I do lately, I had edged my way to the front of the pack for the start. I figure if somebody is going to pass me they can work for it, rather than me having to fight my way through a pack of slower runners. This approach worked well at the Bananaman 10k, but a stronger type of runner turned out this day and even though I lead the race for the first 1k, a group of 3 faster runners come past and I didn't see them again. A 10k race is always a sprint and after some others passed me, I found my stride and maintained a solid pace for the rest of the race, seeing off a few challenges from those with my position in their sights, eventually finishing lucky 13th for a new personal best of 36:18.
The Ironman training has really paid off over the last couple of months. I managed to put in 2 good run results, coming 3rd in the Bananaman 10k held in Regent’s Park on July 8th and 16th in the Milton Keynes Half Marathon on July 15th. This past weekend I did the London Triathlon Sprint event. In retrospect, I should have entered the Olympic distance event, but by the time I realised my error, it was too late to change. I put in a reasonably good result, coming 11th in my wave but it should have been so much better. Somehow I got turned around coming into T2 and lost my bike rack, it was several minutes before I found it and the delay really cost positions. Anyway, we live and learn. Mental note to self: mark your rack position well!
The next challenge is the Monaco Ironman 70.3 which takes place on September 2nd.
Last week I took another step on the road to Ironman, admittedly it was an easy one, even a pleasant one, but a step nonetheless! I have purchased for myself a Cannondale Sprint CAAD9 105 bicycle (push-bike for those in the UK).
Things sure have changed some since I had my last bicycle, almost 15 years ago as a determined teenage cyclist. I recall vividly my father shaking me vigorously at 5:00am, in the dead of winter, heck the birds weren't even tweeting yet, to get my sleepy head off the pillow and get ready for whatever race we were doing that fine Sunday morning. How I ever managed to find the motivation to cycle 80km before most of the world had even considered breakfast I'm not exactly sure, but I better find it again because as my training triathlons, Blenheim and London, draw nearer and Ironman with them, I'll need evey bit of motivation I can muster to achieve this most extreme of goals, covering 140.6 miles of water and land, an Ironman.
The Cannondale Sprint CAAD9 105 is available from On Your Bike:
52 - 54 Tooley St,
Update: Yay! I collected my bike on April 17th... and she is a beauty.
Ever since I decided, shortly after the Chicago Marathon, to do triathlons I have been making slow but steady strides in that direction. Some have been easy (shopping for a new Cannondale racing bike), some not so easy (going swimming in a new Speedo... 1 size too small). With this sort of thing, I am not the kind of person who relishes the thought of a 6am gym session, or a bike ride on a Sunday morning after the night out so there's really only one way I can get motivated to do these things my head longs to do but my body is too lame to contemplate, that being, to just darn well book it!
So with that, I have entered myself into the Blenheim Triathlon, the London Triathlon and the London to Brighton bike ride. Like the Chicago Marathon, this will be an event organised by Merrill Lynch, so I get to wear a spiffy team vest, or more likely an all-in-one again. Yikes.
I have only ever done a duathlon once, and that was many years ago, so preparing for these two triathlons is going to be challenging at best. Fortunately global warming has made my task easier with back-to-back mild evenings just about the whole winter so far. I also did the Argus Cycle Tour, a major cycling event in South Africa, three times when I was younger, one year even managing to come 3rd in my age group, but it sure has been a long time since then. I certainly have my work cut out for me.
It was with surprise that I looked at my blog today and realised I hadn’t blogged anything about anything since September and was in serious danger of letting November slide without even so much as a single entry. This then, is it, back from the brink and Chicago, a précis of the town and the marathon.
In a previous post about marathoning (if there is such a word), I talked about Chicago and the time I spent there all those years ago. I know from annual visits home to Cape Town that cities are like people, they change, grow or wither and gnarle over time, a process of transformation fascinating to observe and exciting to be a part of. I was certain that going back to Chicago after more than a decade would yield the levels of fascination I was expecting and it never failed to deliver for a second. From the moment of arrival, old but familiar neural pathways, long since dormant, began to course once more and I remembered vividly the CNN-like sights and sounds of The Windy City, still vibrantly coloured and pristine with its crisp blue sky offset against the enormity of Lake Michigan, reflected in awe against skyscrapers of glass and steel, all made sharp to the eye by a near arctic chill (for a South African anyway).
Marathons can be a lonely mission, as I found in Berlin, but Chicago was a different affair with 12 Merrill Lynch employees and associates making the journey this time. Some doing their first ever gruelling 26.2 miles, others, no strangers to the experience. With everybody playing for the same team, there was a healthy amount of comradery and encouragement.
But enough about the place and the people, what about the marathon? Well, it wasn’t my finest hour, or even, gulp, 4 hours, but I did get round. In fairness I only managed to get in 3 training runs in the preceding 6 weeks so I really couldn’t expect more than that. I learned this time round that you absolutely have to get those long training runs in before the day and preparation is everything. Diet, routine and knowledge are what is required to run a successful marathon. With this in mind and with the drawing of inspiration from a recent acquaintance, I have decided to throw down the gauntlet and take up what will possibly be the biggest physical challenge of my life… the Ironman! Watch this space.