Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lisbon Half Ironman

Just a quick post - full report to follow soon. I managed to finish in 4:44 which is a personal best so I'm happy. More soon!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lisbon: pre race bits and bobs

Although these gels are horribly sickly, they are giving me a real energy boost. I feel like I haven't felt for ages, which certainly helps at work. I spoke to Jonathan today and told him about my carboloading and he made me worry a little about the high glycemic index of the carbs that I am taking in. The higher the glycemic index (GI), the easier they are to digest and the more quickly the energy is released; the worry is that this could go against all this painstaking training to primarily use fat for fuel. I personally don't believe that 3 days of eating sweets can do any harm - I think the worst that can happen (apart from an upset stomach) is that the energy gets burnt off before the race starts, or that it gets turned into fat as excess calories. Here's what I ate yesterday:

Your Food Diary For:

Wednesday April 27, 2011 Ico_calendar
Breakfast Calories Carbs Fat Protein
Orange juice - Raw, 2 cup 223 52 1 3 Ico_delete
Tesco Gold - Coffee 50ml Semi Skimmed Milk 1 Sugar, 10 oz. 68 13 1 0 Ico_delete
Tesco - Pain Au Chocolat, 56 g 235 26 12 4 Ico_delete
Add Food
526 91 14 7
Generic - 8 oz Sirloin Steak Grilled, 8 oz 450 0 20 68 Ico_delete
Fresh Direct - White Bean and Escarole Stew , 2 Cup 260 32 10 10 Ico_delete
Silk- 1 Cup - Pure Almond Milk - Vanilla, 1 cup 90 16 3 1 Ico_delete
Tesco Gold - Coffee 50ml Semi Skimmed Milk 1 Sugar, 10 oz. 68 13 1 0 Ico_delete
Homemade - French Fried Potatoes, 10 strips 100 16 4 2 Ico_delete
Add Food
968 77 38 81
Generic - 8 oz Sirloin Steak Grilled, 12 oz 675 0 30 102 Ico_delete
Homemade - Gazpacho, 1 cup 100 5 4 7 Ico_delete
Peppers - Sweet, red, raw, 1 cup, chopped 39 9 0 1 Ico_delete
Sainsbury's - Fruit and Nut Muesli (With 100ml of Semi-Skimmed Milk), 75 g 341 51 9 13 Ico_delete
Generic - Red Wine (6 oz), 6 oz 128 3 0 0 Ico_delete
Add Food
1,283 68 43 123
Zipvit - Energy Drink Elite, 105 g 386 95 0 0 Ico_delete
Apples - Raw, with skin, 1 cup, quartered or chopped 65 17 0 0 Ico_delete
Generic - Almonds 100g (S), 33.33 g 193 7 17 7 Ico_delete
Zipvit - Zv7 Energy Gel Orange Boost, 480 g 1,632 408 1 1 Ico_delete
Nestle - Kitkat 4 Finger (Uk), 1 bar 233 29 12 3 Ico_delete
Add Food
2,509 556 30 11
Totals 5,286 792 125 222
Your Daily Goal 3,201 306 101 229
Remaining -2,085 -486 -24 7

Calories Carbs Fat Protein

*You've earned 900 extra calories from exercise today

I didn't quite manage to get to the 850g of carbohydrates I was aiming for, but I got pretty close. I don't think it is feasible to do this with low GI foods which, by definition are harder to digest and typically have a lot more fiber. If you want to do this with spaghetti, you are talking about eating 2 kilos of the stuff! I found an interesting article on carboloading, admittedly from the Powerbar website, so bound to be biased towards taking gels but it talks about adding some low GI foods on the last day before the event, which makes sense, so I'll have a big bowl of spaghetti the night before, as is traditional. One thing to be aware of is that the body stores water with the carbohydrates, so you can feel a little bloated and the bathroom scales can give you a bit of a shock.

Jonathan and I decided that the best plan for Lisbon is to go at race pace (that is to say, not at the slower Ironman pace) but that I should reserve just a little bit, to make sure I don't really destroy myself. As a "reward" I can cut down the training next week, which is just as well because, on Friday, I have a 5 hour bike ride followed by an hour run, which I was going to have to fit around my work day. That means that I really have done all the heavy weeks of training already. The timing is great because I start a new role at work on Monday so I can't really afford to spend so many lunchtimes in the gym.

I also paid a visit to Paloma today. She gave me a leg massage to flush out all the stiffness and knots that have been building up over the last weeks and months. Now I just have to pack and drive the 600 kilometers from Madrid to Lisbon... Last year I did it on my own but this time my whole family is going so my wife will be able to share the load. Also, it just so happens that this year, Monday is a bank holiday, so we will be able to enjoy a bit of Lisbon before heading back.

All that remains to say is to wish William and Kate a great wedding tomorrow and to say sorry I couldn't make it but I have this rather important triathlon...

Check back in here on Saturday afternoon to see how it went!!

(Oh, and by the way, I didn't get accepted in the lottery to run the New York Marathon this year - damn!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Holy Maffetone!

If you've been following this blog for a while then you'll know all about Dr Phil Maffetone. He was cited by 6 times World Ironman Champion, Mark Allen, as someone who transformed his way of training in this article, which is well worth reading. I've been preaching to anyone who'll listen for a while now, the benefits of "maximal aerobic training" which involves doing virtually all your training at an intensity at which you derive most of your energy from (aerobic) metabolism of fats. It is very hard to accept because we all have ingrained in us the "no pain no gain" dictum. As I have said before, Dr Maffetone is a holistic practitioner, which means taking everything into account but it also often ends up meaning "all-or-nothing". I've adopted what resonates with me and taken the rest with a pinch of salt.

My version of the MAF test (Maximum Aerobic Function, nothing to do with MAFfetone) is to run for an hour (he suggests 5 miles which would be a little over half an hour) at just under my Aerobic Threshold (AT) according to the tests Jonathan did to measure my O2 / CO2 exchange. Today I ran with my compression (calves and thighs) and on a flat, circular(ish) running track with moderate gusts of wind (11kph) and a cool 17 degrees. I managed to run exactly 14km without going over my AT, that's to say at an average heart rate of 150bpm! That's definitely a record for me. I think it is a good predictor of how fast I can run anything from 10k to a Marathon and it is useful to know for the future, if I am to compare myself with how I am now. Anyway, I am well pleased with this result.

Lisbon race plan

Transition area
 The swim (1.9km)

The best of both worlds: salt water and no waves
Pacing. In my case, that's easy: I plan to swim as fast as I possibly can without sacrificing form or getting out of breath (i.e., not very fast).

What to think about. 
1. Remember to sight every so often
2. DON'T PANIC! If things get really rough, swim a few strokes of breaststroke
3. Look slightly ahead underwater and, when rolling to breathe, look at a point on the horizon
4. Lead with the elbows
5. Minimize kick but coordinate with the arm pull 

The ride (90km)

4 laps. About as flat as it gets
Pacing. Keep heart rate less than 149 beats per minute all the way, 153 tops. If I am getting splits of 1:40 per kilometer, then I am on pace for a 2h30 bike leg; if not, DON'T WORRY, I have been training for the FULL Ironman distance and I haven't done a full taper yet.

What to think about. 
1. Make sure I take all the food, water and salt that I'll need for the run
2. Keep upper body relaxed (i.e., not gripping the aero bars tightly)
3. Pedal in swift smooth circles
4. Careful not to incur drafting penalties (once you are enter a 7m x 3m box behind the rider in front, you have15 seconds to overtake and you cannot drop back). 

The run (21.1km)

4 laps. Also very flat
Pacing. Keep heart rate less than 170 beats per minute all the way; if I'm not feeling great then aim for less than 164.

What to think about.

1. Run tall, keep hips forward
2. Punch it forward
3. Keep taking gels, water and salt tablets

* ...because I know that I can
  ...because I want to make good my bad experience with the Boat Race, 20 years ago
  ...because I am very ANGRY to have lost my good friend Neil
  ...because I will be an Ironman (soon)

Nutrition plan for Lisbon

I'm surprised by how little information there is on what athletes actually take during an Ironman event. I suppose it is for many different reasons including: it being a competitive advantage to keep it secret; not being able to remember or simply that it varies so much from one person to another that no-one considers it useful information. Being a bit of a nerd, I made a spreadsheet some time ago to try to work out the best nutrition plan. The goal is to maximize the number of calories ingested while respecting certain limitations - namely

a) the number of carbohydrates that can be ingested per hour without causing gastrointestinal stress (estimate: 1.1g per kilo if you are a man, 1g per kilo if you are a woman).

b) the concentration of carbohydrates should be around 6-8% to be isotonic (best absorption rate). If it is more concentrated, its absorption is slowed down.

c) the amount of water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) lost by sweating should be replaced. This depends on your sweat rate and the typical electrolyte content of your sweat (which can vary tremendously from individual to individual and even from zone to zone).

d) ideally you should consume protein in a ratio of 1g of protein for every 4g of carbohydrates.

On the run it is pretty much impossible to meet these requirements but you can at least get close. The bike is what I call "meals on wheels" and gives you a chance to recover from the swim and at least start the Marathon as close as possible to on a full tank.

Here is my plan - of course I will have to make some adaptions according to the sports drinks they give out during the race but I hope I will be able to stick to it better than last year when I just went freestyle and started binging on Coca-Cola because I was suffering so.

Amazingly (and coincidentally), the net calorie balance at the end of all the bike leg is 0 (in theory)!
On the run things like cereal bars are not easily digestible

Carboloading before the event

I base this on the guide from High5, my preferred supplier of gels.

According to High5, during the 3 days before the competition you should try to consume 10g of carbohydrates per kilo of body mass. In my case, that means 850g of carbs a day - nearly a kilo! It is actually quite a feat - this isn't just a question of having a few big bowls of spaghetti. The only way to do it is to stuff your face with sickly gels and energy drinks all day long. To give you some idea, in a typical day I may consume about 300-450g of carbs, depending on how much exercise I had done that day; and that means packing in some 15-20 gels on top a day. A little trick the High5 guys propose is to do a short 10 minute warm up half an hour after taking the first dose in the morning, and then to do a 3 minute sprint on the bike to fool the body into storing more carbs. A tip from me is not to carboload with the same flavour gels you use in competition because you will likely be sick to death of them before you even start.

On the day itself they recommend taking in 150 grammes of carbohydrates for breakfast. I'll have my normal breakfast and a gel / energy bar + energy drink. Just before the swim start, I'll take a last gel and energy drink.

I don't know whether it was due to carboloading, having a good aerobic base or simply not going off too hard, but I did not hit a wall of any kind in the Marathon I ran back in November. So I will follow the same recipe I used for the Half Ironman as a kind of dress rehearsal for the Full Ironman. I'll also take a couple of salt tablets the night before the event and one for breakfast.

Recovery after the event

I used to think that recovery was for wimps. Who cares what happens after the race? Of course, this time it really does matter because, if I get wrecked doing the Half Ironman, it will set my training back for the Full Ironman. In any case, there is nothing "cool" about having to walk down stairs backwards. Basically, it's important to take in carbs and protein (like the High5 4:1 Energy drink) as soon as you can. This means that you have to think about it before the race otherwise, by the time you get back to the hotel, it's already too late.

The grand total

All that means something like 50 gels / sports drinks, 15 salt tablets, 3 cereal bars and a banana for a Half Ironman and 65 gels / sports drinks, 30 salt tablets, 5 cereal bars and a couple of bananas for a Full!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dress rehearsal

I put on the trusty wetsuit in the swimming pool yesterday. I was exhausted before I even got in the pool. But what a difference it makes!! I did 200m in 2:55 which, for me, is ridiculous (normally I take 3:55 and that is giving it some welly). I did get very hot very quickly, so I had to take it off to do the rest of my workout. It seems like, the worse swimmer you are technically, the more benefit you get from wearing a wetsuit. Suits me!

Today I'll go for a run in my full competition regalia. I'm starting a brand new pair of Puma Kosmos trainers which should - in theory - be exactly the same as my old pair, but better to check. I laced them with some elastic laces last night so I can be sure that they won't come undone during the race.

Week 15 / 20

Phew that was a tough week! It started off innocuously enough but culminated in a 2 and a half hour run on Thursday, followed by a 5 hour ride on Friday and a "brick" (bike-run) of 3 and a half hours on the bike - 2 and a half of which at Half Ironman intensity - and a brisk 1 hour 40 minute run... Practically a Half Ironman on my own. To make things harder, this was during my Easter "break" in Asturias so, lots of hills and everything on a heavy heavy mountain bike. It was nice to have a change of scenery and the routes I took were jaw-droppingly stunning. Thankfully, the weather forecast was totally and utterly wrong; not a single drop of rain which is really saying something in these parts. They say that you can experience the four seasons in one day in Asturias. In fact, it did rain on our house but not on us - we were elsewhere. In Madrid it rained, apparently, while in London the weather was incredible.

I had to cycle through Poo
By the way, I ended up having to do the brick run in an old (but well before sell by date) pair of Nike running shoes from back in the days when I thought cushioning was a good thing. They are fine for the bike but running in them after all this time in minimalist shoes felt like running in boots through sand. I couldn't help thinking that Bill Bowerman, the inventor of the waffer thin waffle shoe and founder of Nike, must be turning in his grave.
Running in Asturias is something else...
It's hard enough fitting the training in around family commitments but to then make the same fuss about food is just too much, especially when I've either been tired or sleeping the rest of the time. Today I fell fowl of the massive calorie deficit from more than 3000 calories burnt in training and less than half a day in which to make up for it. The dog ended up paying for it - after pulling me around all afternoon I lost my temper with it and yanked it about and called it all kinds of things that I'm sure it didn't understand. To do this Ironman lark properly you really have to be equally pedantic about what goes in (food) as what goes out (training) but, unless you actually make a living out of it, it is hard to make a case of it.

So that's it, really. I'm into the final straight. I've done the work to get in good shape and now it's just a question of reducing the load while maintaining fitness. It's about not screwing anything up between now and the Ironman; there's not much I can do now to be any fitter or faster on the day.
The training is having an effect on my subjective load... (I renumbered the weeks again - week 15 is week 13 on the graph)
I have to decide with Jonathan whether to go all out in the Lisbon Half Ironman - perhaps risking injury or delaying recovery - or to do it at full Ironman pace. I know what the sensible thing to do is but who said that doing Ironmans was sensible?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Packing list for Half Ironman / Ironman

This is mainly for my own benefit but it could be handy for you so I decided to post it.

What to pack (apart from the usual):

- supplements
- gels and bars for carboloading
- transition bag
- information about the race
- triathlon federation card
- charger for Garmin
- toilet paper

- goggles
- wetsuit
- Body Glide vaseline (to help on with the wetsuit and minimize chaffing)
- swimming cap (they are usually provided)
- sandals to walk down to the water's edge
- ankle chip holder

Bike (T1)
- race number on race belt
- bike (I once heard a case of someone who forgot this important piece of kit!)
- chain lubricant
- rubber bands to fix shoes to bike
- water bottles: 1 aero (with corresponding rubber bands), one full of gels and up to 3 filled with High5 Energy Source 4:1 that I don't mind replacing with the ones that get given out during the race
- pump (on bike)
- 2 Ironman food carriers on bike in which I store the following food and puncture stuff
- cereal bars
- High5 Energy Source 4:1 sachets
- salt tablets
- 2-3 CO2 canisters + adapters
- spare inner tube
- puncture repair kit
- tools - pedal wrench, torque wrench, multitool, cassette removal tool (if I need to take off my disc covers)
- helmet
- towel
- socks
- bike shoes
- cleat covers
- tri shorts and top (with pockets)
- sun block (stored in said pocket)
- bananas (also in pocket)
- arm compression
- thigh compression
- sunglasses
- Garmin 310XT + heart rate strap
- chamois (pronounced "shammy" in English) cream
- tape

Run (T2)
- Breathe Right
- visor
- calf compression
- running shoes with elastic laces
- Fuel Belt with gels & salt tablets

- dry clothes
- Compex Runner
- food
- beer

Anything missing?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston Marathon

It's funny how your goals change. I remember "qualifying for Boston" was one of my early goals - it entails running a Marathon in 3:15 or less. By the time I had tamed the Marathon in my head, this goal came and went without my even noticing that I had achieved it. To some extent, something similar is happening with the Ironman - although I don't want to speak too soon! That is to say, at first the challenge seems daunting, impossible even, and as you get the training under your belt, you become more confident until you are absolutely SURE that you will achieve it. The problem is, once you get to this point, it almost seems pointless the actual achieving of it. I mean, if you know you can do it, why bother? This was how I felt at the end of my disastrous first Marathon - I knew I would eventually cross the line but so what?

The 2011 Boston Marathon was at the weekend and it sounds as though it must have been incredible. No less than two (Kenyans obviously) ran the course under the World record time of 2:03:59 and Ryan Hall, the fastest American Marathon runner, registered a spectacular time of 2:04:58! Unfortunately, Boston Marathon does not qualify as a course on which World records can be broken because it is a slightly downhill, point to point course (which can benefit, as it did this year, from a tailwind). Boston Marathon is special for two reasons - firstly, it is the longest running Marathon having started in 1897, the year after the Olympic Marathon, and secondly, the strict qualifying times mean that there is a generally higher standard. It also has an unbelievable atmosphere or so they say. For many runners, qualifying for Boston Marathon is the equivalent of qualifying for Kona (the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii).

Last year the race numbers sold out in 8 hours so they are changing the registration this year. First they will open the registration to those who are more than 20 minutes faster than the qualifying time (for their age group), then to those who are ten minutes faster, to those who are 5 minutes faster and finally, to all those who have qualified. Luckily, I was over 5 minutes faster so I will be able to register just before everyone else (assuming there are still slots available!). For 2013, they will be making the qualifying times 5 minutes faster across the board (although I will be in the next age group by then, so it will be the same cutoff for me).

It looks as though I will be doing Boston and New York next year unless, of course, I get lucky and get picked out of a hat for New York this year.

Happy birthday to me!

Yes, it's my birthday, not my blog's birthday or anything silly like that. How things have changed in the last few years... I got a two piece tri racing suit as my main present and I am crossing my fingers for the New York Marathon lottery draw which is any day now. I have to say, one good thing about triathlon and Marathons is that now I'm looking forward to being 40 next year, when I'll be competing as the youngest in my age group...

Last year I spent my birthday in Paris (no, wait, it wasn't like that...). It was the time of the volcanic ash cloud that caused aeronautical chaos all over Europe. A couple of work colleagues and I managed to get to Paris on the Eurostar, arriving at the hotel late in the evening, and then we had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch the first plane to fly out of Paris for about a week. So it wasn't exactly a romantic candle lit dinner celebration. This year we will be driving five hours to Asturias....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week 14 / 20

As you'll know if you have been following this blog lately, this week has been a bit up and down due to stomach problems. Still, I am very pleased with myself for having managed to limit the damage to my training schedule to a bare minimum. I was "bricking myself" before the brick session yesterday - 2h30 on the bike, half at Half Ironman intensity + 60 minutes running - but it wasn't too bad in the end, apart from having stomach cramps and feeling completely knackered all afternoon.

I decided to give my bike a bit of love and it has certainly paid off. (My wife will be thinking that I've been giving all my lovin' to the bike lately but it has actually been more of a love-hate relationship.) A bit of quality time and affection can heal any relationship: I re-indexed the gears, cleaned the bike even dismantling the cassette and cleaning all the cogs one-by-one and I re-fitted the disc cover which now fits better than ever. I think all that is left to do now is buy a couple of new tires and I'll be all set. I'd been wrestling with the dilemma of where to take the bike for its pre-race service: to the traditional grease-and-spit local bike shop where they might not respect the millimeter perfect adjustments I've made for my riding position or the torque ratings on the bolts; or the smart up-market and triathlon friendly shop which fitted my Rotor crankset and rings (both of which have fallen off during riding). In the end, however useless I am at handiwork, I realized I trust myself more than I trust anyone else. The other advantage is that you feel a sense of pride if you have done something yourself and a corresponding patience in the case when something does go wrong with it.

The long ride today was 6 hours on a fairly depleted fuel tank after the trials and tribulations of the week. In fact I had a bit of a bonk - bonking in cycling is much less fun than its other common meaning and happens when you run out of glycogen stores; in running it is called hitting the wall because it is much more dramatic. To hell with the healthy diet, I stopped in a shop along the route and stuffed two pink fondant covered doughnuts in my gob and swallowed down a can of non-diet coke. It got burnt off easily, that's for sure. In fact I burnt more calories than I did running the Marathon on the ride alone, which was just shy of 180 kilometers, the Ironman distance.

What do you reckon to this? It's hard to say whether my heart rate really was elevated or whether my Garmin was acting up - I'm pretty sure it was the latter, although it did start just after I'd drunk a Red Bull (I must stop doing that!). Following on from last week's post, I discovered on the excellent blog by DC Rainmaker that unrealistic heart rates in the later stages of a workout could be due to static electricity buildup from synthetic materials. Hmmmm, if this happens in the Ironman I'll be completely "blind".

For comparison, this is the heart rate graph from the 5 hour ride I did last Sunday:

 I'd made a route to go to Toledo and back and uploaded onto my Garmin but then I made a few wrong turns and just ended up doing a continuation of the route I did last week, although the added bit was really quite hilly. (In fact, it turns out that bikeroutetoaster had "toasted" me a route more suitable for a mountain bike - there is no route of comparable distance for a road bike.) When I was suffering, I thought of my friend Paco who was at that moment running the Madrid Marathon and was probably (no, definitely) suffering more than me. It was a lovely sunny day (25 degrees - a bit too hot for a Marathon but fine for cycling) and this time I remembered to be extra careful with the sun block. I did get a puncture along the way and then I discovered that the brand new spare inner tube I had, had a gash in it. I didn't lose my temper! Luckily, just at that moment a fellow cyclist stopped by after seeing me theatrically (but gently) banging my helmet in frustration and he gave me one of his tubes (and, by the way, at least 5 people asked if I was OK before I realized I was not). Thank you whoever you are! The camaraderie that there is between cyclists is really wonderful: united we stand against punctures and other motorists! I'm not sure where motorbikes stand in all this - sometimes they wave at you as one two wheeled minority road user to another and other times they buzz past you at such a speed that it nearly gives you a heart attack.

See the house on the hill with a triangular roof? Doesn't it look amazing? 
Here it is close up. How can this be allowed to happen?
By the way, talking of punctures, I learned a surprising but useful geek fact: apparently tires inflated with CO2 deflate much more quickly than those inflated with air. How can this be? Well, the CO2 actually seeps through the butyl (rubber) inner tube. I'm waiting for these guys to go into production with the most expensive (and apparently most durable and lightweight) inner tubes ever made. At the moment they are only available for mountain bikes. The peace of mind I would have racing with them in the Ironman!

In two week's time its the Lisbon Half Ironman so I had been expecting a bit of a mini-taper and it certainly was looking that way. But now I've looked at what the training plan involves in more detail, I think the load is even higher than this week. Jonathan says to stick with it - the tough workout is next Sunday, 3h30 on the bike, 2h30 of which at Half Ironman intensity + 1h40 running at Marathon intensity - practically a Half Ironman without the swimming. Ideally I would do this on a flat course with my road bike but we are going to Asturias for the Easter bank holidays and so it will be on my "B" mountain bike and with a lot of ascents and descents. Jonathan did say to focus on enjoying the speed that I can run and bike at, thanks to the great form I am in. Good advice.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Now we are 3

That's at least three of us commuting to work on a regular basis by bike (out of 6,500...). I hope this will go viral this year now that the weather is good and the days are long. For lots of people, the main barrier is a logistic one - finding a safe route, where to park your bike, where to leave your suit, etc. - so many people have asked me about these things, mainly out of curiosity, that I hope just seeing that it is possible will persuade others to do so.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I spoke too soon

I'm getting really fed up now - I've had diarrhea since Monday now and it's really screwing with my training. I did a 40 minute run at aerobic pace outside without too much problems but then the killer was the 40 minutes at Half Marathon intensity with a 9 kilo flak jacket. I started one of those absurd conversations with myself. It literally went along the following lines

- I'm feeling really crap, there is just NO WAY that I can keep this up another 30 minutes.
- You feel even worse all afternoon if you stop now, you'll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day and you have an important meeting this afternoon you can't afford to be down for.
- But surely this isn't doing me any good and, in any case, I'll be wrecked for my training tomorrow.
- This is the kind of training session that makes a difference, don't wimp out.
- Come on, Jonathan said that even if I do only 80% of the training, I'll be in good shape.
- If you finish this, you can really celebrate and feel good about yourself!
- But I've got to do four hours on the bike tomorrow!
- NEVER think about tomorrow's sesssion while you are doing today's!
- I'm pressing the stop button...
- I'll let you buy yourself some piece of triathlon kit if you finish, whatever you want!
- I'm really pressing the stop button...
- If you do this then maybe you'll be able to break the 10 hour barrier in the Ironman...
- That's crap - I'm pressing the stop button NOW...

...and I could see my hand press the button as if it were someone else's hand. I only managed to do 10 minutes with the jacket on and another 10 without and now I feel exhausted and I still have a swim to do this afternoon, not to mention getting up early tomorrow to start on the 4 hours of cycling I have to fit in around work.

The main thing is to put a stop to the runs - I mean the diarrhea, not the running of course - and to keep hydrated. Then I have to concentrate on the quality of the remaining training sessions and not obsess about the small (hopefully it will still be so) amount of training I have had to skip. Right now I feel like I did on Tuesday - I could quite easily spend the rest of the afternoon sleeping but I really cannot afford to miss this meeting.

Fingers crossed and my tummy will settle down.

POSTDATA: (Not quite sure whether "postdata" makes sense in English - I think it has crept into my vocabulary from Spanish.) I rather un-sensibly went back to the gym to finish the workout as I started to feel a bit better in the late afternoon - it seems like I actually managed to digest my lunch properly. It's stupid I know, but I feel better for having completed the workout (even though it wasn't quite the same as doing it in one go, but hey).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm back (again)

Amazing what a good siesta can do. I went home at half time yesterday and slept most of the afternoon. Got up to have a bit of dinner, see the family for a bit and then went to bed again. I made sure that I drank loads of Aquarius to rehydrate (I'd noticed that my pee was a disconcerting brown colour during the lunchtime run).

I wasn't sure how I'd feel today so I tried coming in on the bike but I didn't tell my colleague he could use my parking space as I usually do, because I wasn't sure if I'd make it... I made it in OK and so I felt like I could try the 80 minute run I had programmed. It's amazing how when you are sub par you feel like you will never regain that fitness, that to run another kilometer is a pointless nightmare and you start to dread your next outing. So I was a bit nervous before setting out because, only the day before, I had attempted a shorter run and it felt horrible. This time it was a completely different story. It felt so easy and enjoyable. I did allow myself to listen to music to motivate me when I normally run without music partly because in the race itself you are not allowed to listen to music and partly because if you can hear your footsteps you tend to run more lightly. I ran the whole thing at 4:30 pace (if I'd carried on another 15 minutes, that would be a Half Marathon in less than 1 hour 35) keeping my heart rate in the aerobic zone (145bpm average) and it was about 24 degrees and cross country. Not a record for an aerobic run but good enough to prove that I am still in good shape for Lisbon in a 2 and a half weeks. In the end the collateral damage of the sunstroke or whatever it was was only a weights session, half a swim workout and a 20 minute run, so pretty minimal.

Tomorrow I have to run 40 minutes at aerobic pace and then 40 minutes at Half Marathon intensity with a weighted flak jacket... One of the more sadistic workouts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Runs with the runs

Last night I felt pretty terrible, starting with a dodgy tummy that forced me to cut my swimming short. It was as though I were witnessing a battle that my body was raging against some unknown and unwelcome intruder. I crashed out at 9pm only to not be able to sleep past midnight, so I went downstairs and watched a film and drank copious amounts of water. I think (touch wood) my body won the battle. At least I feel a bit better this morning but I had no supper last night so I'll have to refuel well at breakfast. I'll be cautious about the training today - at least it is a "light" day with only 80 minutes running and a couple of weights circuits. Then I'll try to finish off the swimming from yesterday.

POSTDATA: I am still feeling crap, the "run" I did at lunchtime turned into a walk and I ended up taking the afternoon off. Emilio suggested it could be to do with the sunburn I got on Sunday - it makes sense...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cross country

Last week I found some great routes between my work and Villaviciosa de Odón. There is a gravel path that goes from the Castle in Villa all the way to an underpass that goes under the M-50, meandering through some fields and finally arriving at my work. Today I decided to push the envelope a little and see if I could make a big loop, passing through Villa on the way. It was much harder than I thought - I had to cross a couple of streams (one with stepping stones, one without), to clamber up knee deep grass and thistle covered embankments and to make great sweeping detours because of all the random fences in the way. It wasn't the most effective run I have done in terms of fitness but it was very exhilarating to be "lost" in the middle of the countryside in my lunch hour. I saw countless rabbits, hares, grouses (grice?) some kestrels(?), I saw a man letting his horse graze on a patch of grass and I even stumbled across some ruins that were so well hidden that there were no tell-tale empty beer cans or packets of fags. I also saw lots of spent cartridges but it's just as well that Monday isn't one of the hunting days... Definitely the sort of run I will be doing after my Ironman, this time without worrying that I am not running hard enough. I realize that I am very lucky to be working somewhere so close to the countryside although I did notice that they seem to be building some new roads around there...

Unsung hero(in)es: Chrissie Wellington

I'm not sure how much recognition Chrissie Wellington gets in the UK outside of triathlon circles (two worlds in which I no longer live) but, she does have an MBE, so at least the Queen is paying attention. As far as I am concerned, she cannot get enough recognition for her incredible achievements.

I think everyone has heard of Paula Radcliffe by now. Chrissie Wellington is the Paula Radcliffe of the triathlon world. It may be a cliché to compare one athlete to another from a different discipline, but it seems the only way to get the due respect in anything less than a lifetime. What reminded me to write something about Chrissie Wellington was reading last night that she not only won the Ironman in South Africa in record time, but her marathon leg was faster than anyone else (including the men, in case you were wondering). But this kind of result is no longer surprising now after the shockwaves that reverberated through the triathlon world in 2007 when she came from nowhere to win the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

At first glance her results look like an anomaly:  for example, last year, in Roth, she recorded a bike leg of 4:36:33 and a marathon of 2:48:54! I could go on, but you can find all this stuff in Wikipedia. The best article I have seen, however, is by the guys at Science of Sport who analyze whether she really is an anomaly or whether the gap between men and women in Triathlon is now where it should be as compared to other sports. All this is written in their usual style, being very careful not to detract from these amazing athletes.

What I like about Chrissie from reading her regular columns in triathlon magazines, is that she seems to have a contagious energy and healthy sense of humour. After all, she was unable to defend her crown in last year's Ironman World Championships due to illness and she has had her fair share of bike crashes and broken bones, so these two qualities will have come in handy. I'm just disappointed she didn't chose Ironman Brazil this year...

Week 13 / 20

If only all weeks were like this one. To start with, the weather was fantastic - as hot as 30 degrees which, although it's more conducive to lounging by the pool, it's most likely to be close to the conditions of the Ironman in Brazil. The only day I really suffered this week was on Wednesday, when I had to effectively do the bike leg of a Half Ironman at Half Ironman pace - on the indoor turbo trainer. It is very hard to motivate yourself on the turbo trainer, especially when the only goal is to elevate your pulse rate - there is no indication of how well you are doing (speed or power) and without the wind chill you sweat buckets. Other than that, the other runs and rides were very enjoyable and I made an effort to find some unexplored territory.

I read recently that in cycling jargon, you "get your seat" after some 400 miles or so - meaning that your derriere becomes tough enough to take the punishment doled out by the saddle. Maybe the fact that you have to sit so far forward on the saddle in triathlon means it takes longer to get your seat. I am still definitely suffering, that's for sure. I did find a couple of tricks that are helping, though. One is to smear chamois cream on the chamois itself (this is the padded insert in the shorts) rather than on me (I suppose there's a good clue in the name of the cream). The other is to really concentrate on a smooth, circular pedaling action to minimize the shifting around on the seat.

On Saturday I had a fairly hard "brick" session which consisted of a 3 hour bike ride (including series of high intensity climbs) followed by an hour run. It left me feeling shattered for the rest of the day and worried that I wouldn't recover in time for the long ride the next day. (It's funny how other people say things like "oh, you can run down to the shops - it will be good for your training". How to explain that - more so than for "normal people", my training has been carefully and scientifically measured out - not a minute more, not a minute less. In fact, I think that one reason my back got overloaded a few weeks ago was having to fill the diesel tank for the central heating with two 40 liter containers.) I had planned to meet up with some friends for the long ride but, as they were starting some 30 kilometers from my house, it meant getting up at about half six. I went to bed a bit late in the end and kind of accidentally forgot to put my iPhone cum alarm clock on charge. Of course, I woke up at 8 and ended up having to do the ride on my own (as usual...). It was probably just as well as my friends had opted for a ride in the mountains around Madrid (la Sierra) which would have been tough to do at my low intensity. I went on a relatively flat course (by Madrid's standards) instead with only 1,138m of climbs and I did the 5 hours at 30.8kph the whole way, and it felt easy (average heart rate 121bpm). Looking at the map, I was only 2km away from cycling out of the county (La Comunidad de Madrid) and into Castilla la Mancha - I'll save that for next Sunday, when I have a 6 hour ride planned. Amazingly, my legs didn't feel heavy at any point. I did get a bit sunburnt, though, because I didn't apply the suntan lotion on my back, a part of which I hadn't realized was exposed to the harsh Spanish sun the whole way. I'm convinced that I was able to recover so well from the day before because I slept 8 hours solid and I had stuffed myself with high protein foods.

As an aside, have any of you had these kind of problems with your Garmin 310XT? Look at this crazy graph of my heartrate during a 2 hour run last week. There is just no way that it was really doing that (for a start, my maximum heart rate is 191bpm). When it goes haywire like that, the calories that get calculated are much lower than normal when you'd expect the opposite
Typically I get this kind of behaviour for the first 8 minutes of a run (not on the bike, for some reason) and I put it down to the contacts on the chest strap needing a bit of sweat to make good contact. For a while I thought it might be due to some interference as it would always stop at more or less the same place (but then, the first 8 minutes of my runs tend to cover the same ground) and I am wondering whether that is the explanation this time. Perhaps it comes from aliens trying to read our minds. A more likely explanation could be that the batteries on the chest strap are running out but, either way, I would like to avoid this happening in the Ironman. It's funny how you tend to give a personality to a gadget and a brand. Had this happened with any other watch, I would be cursing it and saying it was a load of rubbish. But my Garmin has been with me along every step of the way and it is such a joy to use that it is hard to get angry with it. On the other hand, if someone told me that it runs a Windows operating system, then I would be slagging it off no end.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Top Triathlon iPhone Apps

OK, OK, this is an unashamed attempt to divert more traffic to my site (its all for a good cause, after all!). If you are new here, welcome, and check out some of the other posts on the blog.

My coach told me today that we were back on track and that I should enjoy the training and not get obsessed. That's like telling me not to think of an elephant (damn, just did). I am currently obsessed with my iPhone - its the best thing I have bought in ages, or at least it is for the moment. I'm downloading so many applications it's just as well that a lot of them are free. Anyway, here are the ones that get to stay on my phone:


I use this app for counting my calories. There are loads of apps around that do this but this one has the advantage of an offline mode (with a more restricted database) and it is very nicely thought out which makes the pain of logging every single thing that you eat bearable. It also syncs with an online account so you can be sure of not losing any data and you can also log stuff from your work computer and so on. The only problem I have with it - and this is an inherent problem of the absurd activity of counting calories in the first place - is that if I type in "chocolate croissant", for example, I am confronted with about 20 different equally plausible options, varying from 160 to 575kcal, and that's not counting "pain au chocolat". You have to use your common sense and, more importantly, try not to cheat. Some competing apps have a barcode scanner that automatically identifies the food you are eating (assuming it is in the database) - but, if you are mainly eating packaged food then perhaps you are at cross purposes. I use it to make sure that I pack in more calories on the days when I am training longer or harder as well as to help me eat "conscionably" in between main mealtimes. Typically, I try to budget myself for enough calories to spend on dinner and a small bedtime snack. The app gives a breakdown in terms of how much protein, fat and carbs you are taking in, as well as vitamin C, calcium, sodium, etc, but you have to take this with a pinch of salt (excuse the pun) as not all of the entries in the database have this kind of detail. Still, it helps me skew my diet towards a higher protein and lower carb based one à la Paleo. Since I started using it around September last year, I have gone from about 12% body fat to about 7% (according to the same - albeit (albethey?) flattering - bathroom scales).


You probably won't come across this little app unless you specifically search for it, it's very simple and low profile. It does all the conversions between pace, speed and race times but it also has a neat little prediction feature (based on Jack Daniel's or equivalent tables) that gives you a good idea of what kind of time you could shoot for in a Marathon, say, based on your Half Marathon time.

Run PaceCalc

This app is similar in many ways to the basic functionality of Pacemaker, but it has the quirky extra that, based on your race times, you can see at a glance where you would have ranked in a number of important Marathon and Ironman races around the world (based on the run time alone).

There are a lot of apps like this to choose from (for example, the one by Nike) from but this one is the best I have seen. It measures your speed as you run / bike, keeps track of the route, allows you to take photos along the route and plays your favourite music with an optional commentary of how many minutes or miles you have covered over the top. You can even see who else is running or riding right now near you. As I have my Garmin I don't use it so much for these features but more to get ideas of new routes - especially when I am traveling. One cute feature is that you can send a "pep message" to another person who happens to be training. I suppose you could also ask them to help you fix a puncture but I've yet to try it.

Mundo TRI

This may not be of interest to many of you as it is in Portuguese (although it has nice pictures!). It gives you access to all the past editions of the Brazilian Mundo TRI magazine and it is completely free! Of course I am particularly interested in it as I will be doing my Ironman in Brazil but, being fluent in Spanish, I have to say that Portuguese (especially written) is very easy to understand. And I like the pictures.


The other day I had to do loads of isometric exercises, each one for 30 seconds. "Isometric" means without moving - the classic example is the "phantom chair" where you sit with your back to the wall but with no support under your legs. (When I have do these type of exercises in the gym I often get the piss taken out of me because many of them look as though you are trying to overcome a case of bad constipation.) I needed a countdown timer that would simply beep every X seconds. You'd think it would be easy to find, right? I went through about three, beautifully fashioned countdown timers that did not have the option to reset automatically before I found this rather basic looking but functional one.

Training Log

This is a very simple app indeed, and that is all I need. I fill in a training log which I send to my trainer once a week; if I am away from work (where I keep it) for any length of time, then it is surprising how quickly I forget what I did or, what is more common, I start to play down the subjective load of the session or neglect to note any aches and pains which could otherwise develop into full blown injuries. I use this app to note down my training at the weekends, on holidays or on business trips.

Route Planner

With this app you can very quickly chalk up a route for the bike (or running, for that matter) complete with elevation data. It's quite handy if you have to improvise while out on the road.

Sleep Cycle

Perhaps not particularly targeted at triathletes, sleep is an important part of the equation (training + nutrition + sleep = good results). This amazing little app works by using the iPhone's accelerometer to monitor how much you are tossing and turning during the night - it can then work out which phase of sleep you are in. Here's the clever bit: you set your alarm to wake you up at no later than 7am, let's say, but with a margin of half an hour before. Why would you want to get up any earlier than strictly necessary? Well, if you happen to be in the optimum moment of your sleep cycles at some point in that window, the app will wake you up slightly before 7am and you will feel much more rested and awake. It also keeps graphs of your sleep patterns so you can easily see how much and how well you have been sleeping, which can sometimes give a clue to lacklustre performance in training.

File Viewer

Again, not specific to Triathlon by any means, but this is what I use to view my training schedules. They are pretty much etched in my mind anyway, so much time do I spend thinking about how I am going to fit them in, but the details of how long to go at what intensity with how much rest are important. My coach sends me my training plans in Excel and this app happily reads them.


The weather is all too important when planning a long ride - in 6 hours it can change from being sunny to pouring with rain (well, not so much in Madrid but you get the idea). As with all weather forecasts it doesn't seem to be terribly accurate going several days out, but it has good by the hour information including important data like wind speed and humidity which can influence performance greatly.

Heart rate

The difficulty I have with measuring my resting heart rate is that, by the time I remember to measure it, I'm drinking my coffee over breakfast and my pulse is already racing with the stresses of the day ahead. Occasionally, I have to admit, I have gone to bed with my Garmin recording my heart rate all night, and looked at the heart rate on waking but this is extreme, even for me. So, wouldn't it be cool if your alarm clock could take your pulse for you when you woke up? Incredibly, this app is able to measure fairly accurately your pulse using the flash to illuminate your finger as it covers the camera on the back of the iPhone. It sounds so unlikely to work that I nearly relegated it to the ever growing category of apps that claim to read your mind / read your fingerprints / warm your hands etc. It actually works. Having said that, I still never remember to measure my heart rate upon waking but it wins any "I bet your phone can't do this" competitions, if you go in for that sort of thing.


If you want to keep abreast of all the news and gossip in the Triathlon world, then this is your bag. It pools feeds from various blogs and forums into one place.