Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I've finally sorted out the cockpit of my tri bike. The thing about the Giant Trinity Advanced is that it has a very complicated nose cone arrangement which supposedly shaves vital seconds off an Ironman bike leg (assuming that you are actually pedalling fast enough for it to have any effect, which is probably not my case). Well, it looks cool and it would therefore be a shame to screw up those carefully calibrated aerodynamics by sticking a water bottle in the wrong place - in fact the frame doesn't even have anywhere to attach a bottle holder. I've got the Xlab Carbon Wing attachment for the saddle which allows me to hold two bottles (except that I use this to hold a spare tubular tyre and associated tools when I am training) but it really isn't very convenient to have to reach back every time you want a sip of water. The end result is that you just don't drink as much, which is bad - especially in competition.

I got one of those aerobar supports, also made by Xlab, which allows me to cradle the bottle horizontally between my forearms, effectively not contributing in any way to the profile presented to the oncoming air. I can even hide the Garmin 310XT behind the bottle (which, of course, cannot easily be attached anywhere else on the bike). This is great from an aerodynamical point of view, but suffers from much the same problem as the behind the saddle arrangement: in the end I drink far less than I should (and to do so requires breaking out of the aerodynamic tuck). Finally my prayers have been answered in the form of the A2 Speedfil bottle, which is essentially nothing more than a bottle with a straw sticking out of it. What makes it special, however, is that it has a little flap you can open allowing you to quickly refill the bottle by squeezing the contents of another into it. Of course, the ideal solution would be to have a bladder hidden inside the frame of the bike like the Specialized Shiv boasts. The Trek Speed Concept solves the problem of where to store your energy gels and cereal bars by providing a special aerodynamic box which slots in behind the seat post. But I love my Giant...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bits and pieces

It's been a while since I've posted anything so I thought I'd write a catch-up piece.

Run Last weekend I was in London (another conference...) and so I decided I would plan a long (25 km) run using Garmin Connect and uploading it to my 310XT watch. The weather was bizarrely good, especially considering it was foul just before I arrived and returned to being foul soon after I left. I did the run (including some extra little bits due to getting momentarily lost) in under two hours but, not being used to running so long lately, during the first hour I ran significantly faster than in the second.  I ran in my Soft Start Run Amocs (the red ones which leave my feet looking like those of Christ on the cross) without any socks and without any blisters either.

I think this may be what inspired me to do something slightly unwise on Saturday, now back in Madrid. After a short but intense bike ride, I decided I would go for a run. Barefoot. I'm not sure what was worse: the friction with the pavement or the searing heat (which would burn your feet if you stood still for any length of time). I ran 15 minutes in one direction and then, of course, was faced with running back. My feet were fairly sore when I got back - the skin from the little toe on my right foot had rubbed off and there were a couple of blood blisters which needed lancing... I think that the damage is under control, though, and that my carefully cultivated leathery soles are still intact. Of course, there is always the possibility that a large piece of dead skin forms which will mean that I'll have to start all over again. It was nice to run barefoot - at least for the first 10 minutes - but I don't think it really warrants the patience I would need to get thick enough soles (not to mention maintaining them). If I'm honest, I'll admit that one of the reasons I felt like running barefoot was that I knew I wouldn't be able to run too fast.

Bike I've been spreading my attentions fairly evenly across my three bikes recently: the mountain bike, the road bike and the triathlon bike. On Saturday I took the tri bike out for a spin along a reasonably flat stretch of road. I wore the arm compression sleeves that I used in the Ironman last year and, whether it was for psychological or physiological reasons, the aero position felt easier to maintain. The road is really broken in parts and the vibrations tire out your arms. I find it much easier to stay in the aero position if I am actually going along at a good speed of 35-40 kph. I think this is because the extra effort to hold the position is only worth it if you are going at least that fast (or if it is really windy). I still have to shift my hands back and forth periodically to give relief to different muscle groups but the arm position that seems to work best for me is when I have the weight of my shoulders mostly supported by my elbows, such that my hands almost lift up from the aerobars as a result. I'm still trying to get hold of the nose cones for my bike which would allow me to raise or lower the bar: at the moment I am riding in a very aggressive position which would be where I would aim to get by the time I was about to race (which isn't for some time).

Swim I've ended up writing this in the reverse order of a triathlon but in order of my strengths (and therefore interests) to my weaknesses. Now that I am swimming with a 6 beat kick - which is more or less a continuous kick - the trick is to coordinate the arms and legs which have become a bit disconnected. It seems to be one of those left brain / right brain things: when I think about it too much it all falls apart; on the rare occasions when I get it right, it just "feels" right. I think I will finally have to bite the bullet and learn how to do those fancy turns at each end of the swimming pool. Luis has been banging on about it on and off since before I did the Ironman last year and he's right, it is a different sport to stop and catch your breath every 20 metres. The good thing is that the pool we have at home is only 9 metres long,  so you can practice the turns (and not much else) to your heart's content. Another thing that we have been working on is grabbing as much water as I can at the catch. A mental image which I have found helps me with this, is to think of a chimney sweep (or Santa, if you prefer) lifting himself out of a chimney. You would do this with bent elbows and by engaging the shoulders and the lats. Learning to swim really is an iterative process: each time I "get" something new, something old breaks again. But on each iteration everything gets slightly better and what I really do notice is that my balance and "feel" for the water is much better than it was before.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to kill sport

I've no idea whether Lance Armstrong is innocent or whether he has or does "dope". Either way I can't help finding it very sad to read this article in the Washington post which says that his 7 wins in the Tour de France are at stake due to allegations of doping from the USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) from blood tests performed in 2009 and 2010. What upsets me most is to see that this accusation alone is enough for him to be banned from participating in Ironman competitions with immediate effect. And he was doing so well: he had just won Ironman 70,3 Hawaii and was looking like a good bet for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, later this year. What better way to raise the profile of Ironman?

I must confess that I haven't followed Lance's saga of doping charges. I care about the end result once it has been confirmed but I don't want to know about all the ins and outs (because you never know them all anyway). I'd rather leave it to the professionals to judge whether he is innocent or guilty and trust that they have made a fair and proper decision. If I can't trust them to do this then it spoils my enjoyment of the whole sport because it becomes instead an endless speculation of "who is and who isn't" that some people, unfortunately, seem to find more interesting than the sport itself.

Perhaps if I had been following the story all along I might not be so surprised by this piece of news. To me it seems like there is a serious departure from how he would have been treated in a criminal case. Firstly, it would not be possible to open up an old case without there being fresh evidence - this is important because an innocent person can be considered as good as guilty by association if he is dragged through the courts time and time again. If there is fresh evidence, then what is it and why was it not available previously? And secondly, what ever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?". Was it a decision by the WTC (organizers of the Ironman) to ban him pre-emptively, or was it imposed by the USADA? Either way, it doesn't make anyone look good.

How can I be excited about who wins the next Tour de France when there seems to be a good chance that they will be stripped of their honours anything up to ten years later? What faith can I have in the anti-doping authorities if it takes so long to bring these cases to conclusion, especially the high profile ones? I'm not suggesting that there should be a cover up but the process should be handled in a way that minimizes the damage to the credibility of the accused-but-not-yet-convicted athletes and, by association, the sports in which they compete.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Carrera Solidaria Santander II

I'd been in two minds as to whether to run this 5K race as I have continued to have almost imperceptible but definitely there pain in my left Achilles tendon but I did a test last week of 12 sets of 1 minute running at 18kph and it seemed to be more or less OK the next day.

The race was actually 6 races running in parallel: a 5K and a 10K in each of Madrid, Valencia and Santander. In total there were about 6,000 people running, half of them in the Casa de Campo in Madrid. The organization was as you would expect with only one small niggle: the only water at the start was a huge pile of bottles which were being zealously guarded by a security guard, one who did not know the answer to the question she was inevitably asked between 1 and 3,000 times - "is there somewhere I can get some water round here?".

I managed to get a good spot on the starting line and a 9am, the gun went off. The first kilometre didn't feel that fast but we got there in 3:30 and I found myself running right at the front thinking that I might actually have to slow down a little and be a little tactical. I guess everyone else was playing the same game. My mouth started to feel very dry but I told myself that it was only a short race and it was probably better not to be carrying half a litre of water swilling around in my stomach.

That's my head poking out there on the right, honest
During the second kilometre we started to stretch out a little bit but I was still in a good position and there was always the hope that everyone in front of me was in fact running the 10K race. At the turnaround point only three people peeled off to continue on to the 10K race but at least the way back was mostly downhill. As usual, on the uphill sections I would lose ground and would make some of this back on the downhill sections. By now the final ranking was not going to change unless something drastic happened.

I wonder which distance is considered to be the most painful of all - I wouldn't be surprised if it were 5K. I ran all but the first kilometre at over my anaerobic threshold (178) but my pulse only got as high as 185 in the end. It's been a long time since I last saw my so called maximum heart rate of 191 bpm which, by now, may have come down somewhat (it is thought to drop by as much as one beat per year).

As I came down the finishing chute I remembered that we had been asked to make a gesture of rocking a baby to remind people of the cause for which we were running: Unicef. I think I was probably the only one who did it because the guys in front of me were probably to focussed on the race and I didn't see anyone behind me doing it. Now I come to think of it, it might have looked quite silly. I realized afterwards that, for most people, the gesture of rocking a baby is done cupping your elbows with your hands; when I hold a baby I hold their head in one hand and their bum in the other so my rocking gesture probably looked more like an impersonation of a gorilla. With gritted teeth.

I finished in a time of 18:12 which isn't bad considering I haven't been training for the distance or even running that much lately, as well as it being quite hot and a hilly. I was 9th out of about 850 people running the 5K and 3rd in my age group (36-45 - damn, what's wrong with 40-49?!). I hung around thinking that I might get on the podium for my age group. I don't get on the podium very often and my kids would find it infinitely more impressive that I got a trophy for coming 3rd in a race of 4 people than completing a 20 times Ironman. In the end I didn't get called up for what I was expecting but instead for being the fastest out of all the employees of Santander who ran the race (which sounds a bit crap but a large proportion of those running were from the bank). Actually, as you can probably imagine, they made much more fuss over the fastest employees (or "professionals" as the trophy says) than they did over the overall winners.

Haha, "Special Professional Prize" makes it look like I won the élite category. Pretty cool.

That's Chema Martínez lurking in the back there just behind me