Michaelangelo calves in Port Beach!!!

Screenshot_2018-09-24-11-57-18I’ll be completely honest from the outset, I really wasn’t looking forward to this one. Having started this triathlon season with a race on the June bank holiday weekend in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record it seemed it would wind down to a much colder, wetter and windier conclusion 4 months later.

This penultimate race would be my 9th triathlon of the season, four more than last year. I had actually to do even more but a calf strain sustained at the end of July after the Belfast triathlon put paid to that and enforced a six week lay off. In hindsight a brief sabbatical was probably beneficial physically but also mentally. Psyching yourself up frequently for races is demanding and there’s a fine line between being primed for a race and experiencing mental fatigue. The latter is almost as undesirable as a calf strain because it has the potential to seriously undermine your competitive edge.

When I returned from that layoff I was straight into the season with renewed vigour in the knowledge that I had four triathlons on my list to complete by season’s end. I was subsequently buoyed by my performances despite the break due to injury. I was also rediscovering my run fitness which was great news. I was determined to post a quicker run split for this week’s Pulse Port Beach national series triathlon in Louth. The only stumbling block might be the elements however.

As you know the weather has been less than clement in recent days and I really didn’t relish the thoughts of a sea swim in high winds. The temperature had dropped markedly in recent days and the sea temperature would be a lot less inviting than the 22 degrees I experienced in the Blessington triathlon in June. This however is why I got into triathlon in the first place… Get comfortable being uncomfortable!!

I chose to drive to Louth the morning of the race rather than the night before primarily because it was only an hour commute and I just prefer to sleep in my own bed unless I have no choice. When I arrived on site just after 8.30am the place was already buzzing. With 600 entrants this would be the biggest field to date. As I mentioned it was a national series race so the standard would be higher than that of recent weeks. The elite men and women were first to take to the frigid waters which we were gleefully told were a balmy 12.5 degrees…. I was part of the fifth and last wave so it was well after 10.30am and almost an hour after the elites started that we would take our turn. Now I take a cold shower daily so I would be used to the discomfort albeit temporary, that cold water exposure brings. What never leaves you is the fear or dread in anticipation of that exposure. Standing at the waters edge we seemed to wait an interminably long time, just standing there shivering. I eyed my salt water nemesis as the minutes ticked by. I just wanted to get going. To add another layer to the mix, this would be my first ‘mass beach start’. Think of the Normandy landings in reverse and you’ll get a sense of the scene. As the hooter finally sounded, arms and legs of about 150 men flailed in every direction as they tried to gingerly negotiate running into the sea.

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When I eventually took the plunge after hurdling a couple of waves the cold water hit me full in the face. While the cold is always sobering, I have become so used to it that while it registered initially, I had moved past that initial reaction within seconds. My race had begun.

I made the mistake of starting on the inside line as we thrashed en masse enroute to the first buoy. Consequently I was pincered in a sea of bodies like a million wildebeest crossing a river in the Serengeti. If only I had taken a wider line I would have had clearer water and a greater chance to establish rhythm. Indeed I bemoaned my stupidity as I enjoyed at best a staccato rhythm for at least the first 200m. Once the field finally spread out I felt I coulad start to race in earnest.

By the time I excited the water I looked at my watch and knew the swim was slow as it registered nearly 18 minutes, but more on that later.

My feet and hands were like ice blocks so it made disrobing the wetsuit tricky. I elected to wear an extra top on the bike just in case I was cold and I also put on socks. The bike segment was rather uneventful in that it wasn’t very technical with lots of bends or hills. My watch gave me updates after each five km segment and I noticed the splits were quite quick. I was passed by a few riders which is never the most heartening of sensations but I reminded myself that this field was of a national standard so there should be no ignominy in this company.

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On reentering transition I noticed the bike leg had been completed in 33 mins which was my second fastest time after the pan flat Belfast course. I was about 50m into the run when a chap passed me. He had calves like they were sculpted by Michaelangelo himself so I knew he was a serious triathlete. I knew if I could stay on his shoulder I might be able to make up some of the shortfall I felt I had lost on the swim. So I put the foot down and stuck to ‘calf man’ like a limpet to a rock. This was good, we were passing alot of people and running just over 4 min per km pace. The first half of the run was up hill so I knew once we doubled back from the half way point my pace would be even quicker. Every so often calf man would put in a burst of speed and I would reciprocate. This pattern continued until the 3rd kilometre when I drew alongside him. I wasn’t sure whether to push on but I felt strong so when we hit the 4km mark I went for it. I had memories of Belfast when I passed a chap on the run and he beat me on the finish line because I was oblivious to his presence behind me. This time I was determined not to make the same mistake. I floored it. I was running 3.45 per km pace. If he was going to beat me to the line he’d have to employ those herculean valves of his like never before. Before long I could see the finish line in the distance but I was cognisant that calf man could glide by me any second. I kicked again. Checked over my shoulder. Nothing. Again I kicked as I rounded the final bend with the finish line meters away. I had done it. 18.27 mins for the run, a time that even impressed me at least till I twigged the run was 400m short. I was still very encouraged by my ability to stick to a pace maker, take a bow calf man.

In fact not only was the run slightly short but the swim was 250m long which accounted for my 18 min swim. In summary the swim was a standard pacing for me while both the bike and run splits were very quick. I finished 118 the out of 600 and about 25th in my age group so slightly further down the pecking order than my previous national series result but I don’t think I could have posted a faster time. A good day at the office I think. Now just one more race till the season ends…

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Bagpipes in Cavan

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Greetings folks thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m actually quite pleased I’ve managed to keep this blog going so long, granted the posts have been a tad intermittent of late but I do try to update it once a month a least which is a little easier when I have something of note to tell you. Thankfully I had no abreaction to last weeks triathlon. You’ll recall I had taken a few weeks off during the season after having completed 6 races and to allow my calf to heal. I am still investigating the origin of successive calf strains which involves various exercises etc. more to come on that later.

So this week I was off on the M3 for a change as I’ve spent much of the summer on the M4. Funny enough I was still heading north west , but instead of Longford, Galway or Roscommon this time I was heading back to Cavan where I started off this season which seems like yonks ago. Now in the run up to the race on Saturday morning there was very scant information online as to what the day’s schedule would be, for instance I didn’t know when the race would be starting so based on that I decided to book accommodation for the Friday night and travel after work on Friday evening. This way I wouldn’t be getting up at silly o’clock on the Saturday to travel 2 hours to  Cavan.

I found a BnB near the Farnham estate which was about 6 km from the Killykeen forest park where the triathlon would take place. The one thing I noticed on my way through Cavan was the size of the houses, including the one I was staying in, they are all absolutely enormous. Its really quite extraordinary how small Dublin properties are by comparison and then you consider the cost of a detached house with acreage in Cavan compared to a shoebox with a faux balcony and fireplace in Dublin 24 and the mind boggles.

Anyway enough of my property observations. As it happened the race didn’t start till 1pm which gave me ample time to have a breakfast in my BnB which is something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do before , mainly because I have left before the breakfast is served. A quick spin down to the Killykeen forest park and I registered and set my bike up in transition. Like the previous week the field was mall which lends itself to a more intimate vibe which I like. The transition zone was again beside the lake so it would lend itself to a short transition time.

Now heres where things got a little unusual. Similar to the triathlon in Athy in June of last year we were led along the waters edge 750m to the water entry point, but this time a bagpiper led the way … Yes you read that correctly, a bag piper. It was a quirky but welcome touch given that the procession on a dirt path to the starting point would have been rather mundane trek. Picture the scene .. a bag piper in full gear followed by 150 wetsuit clad triathletes emerging from the woods .. Somehow I managed to find myself right behind said piper so it was a good thing I had my earplugs already deployed, and that’s not intend to detract from the pipers musical prowess.

So into the water we went from a jetty all 150 of us. I have to say the water was fresh so I was eager to get underway as soon as I could. You always have a range of emotions in advance of a race.  There’s a mixture of nerves and apprehension because you go from nought to 90 within the space of a few seconds and you must maintain that effort for the guts of 75 minutes give or take. Believe me when I say it is very demanding physically and mentally so I think anticipating that discomfort contributes to the prerace anguish for want of a better term.

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As is generally the case the start of the swim was frenetic. At one point I was almost pincered by one swimmer either side of me, but after a couple of hundred meters things settled down. As I mentioned this swim literally involved swimming in a straight line following buoys parallel to the waters edge which makes things a lot more straightforward. So much so I exited th water in 17th place in just under 13 mins which is a fast lake swim for me.

Throughout this season I have at time chosen to use cycling shoes and clipless pedals (where you are attached to your bike) and on other occasions I have chosen to cycle with traditional pedals with my runners on. I chose the latter on this occasion because there was the chance of rain on the day and I just feel more at ease with runners on when the road conditions might be poor. As it happened the rain was spitting and the surface was damp. The first transition went without a hitch. I think Im getting much better at disrobing  these days as the wetsuit was off in no time. I was still gasping for breath after the swim as I mounted my bike and set off on the bike leg in an effort to chase down some of the faster swimmers. Very quickly it became obvious this was going to be a very twisty, windy, undulating and technical bike leg. In fact it was probably the most technical bike leg I have ever completed. The bends and undulating were relentless and it made it difficult to establish any rhythm as you were constantly moving up and down the gears, braking and accelerating. I must have changed gears a couple of hundred times which is a lot for a 22km cycle, but the terrain called for it. At one point we cycled on a road which was covered in slurry, consequently we were splattered in it too. By the middle of the bike segment I found myself surrounded by about 5 cyclists. Some of the I had managed to catch up with but was unable to pass and some had caught up with me. The nature of the bike route meant that we were all fairly evenly matched and took turns attacking and swapping position but only temporarily. No one in the group seemed to be able to break away for any considerable time which encouraged me , because it meant that I wasn’t the only one suffering J This in fact remained the case until we entered transition for the second time and perhaps it was the fact that I was already wearing runners that help speed up my transition but I exited ahead of all but one of that particular group of riders.

The first kilometre of a run after you finish a bike leg is always a bit tricky. You have spent 22km pedalling furiously before hopping off and running for your life. The body undergoes huge physiological changes as it redirects blood flow to facilitate the change in demand. You would think you were using the same muscles in cycling and running but that’s not the case. After the first km I had managed to settle into a rhythm, not a comfortable one but a rhythm al the same . I managed to pass one runner before being passed by one of the chaps who I passed on the bike. He moved about 50m ahead of me and stayed there so I kept him in my sights. At one point I could hear someone breathing on my shoulder and as I descended down one hill I kicked on to stave off any attempt by him to pass me which thankfully worked. As we entered the final km I noticed the chap in my sights was dropping his pace and saw the opportunity to make my move and pass him which I did in the final 500m. I was careful to make sure he didn’t retaliate and find myself being passed on the finish line which happened in Belfast. This time I kept the foot down. I could also hear someone on my shoulder again which I presumed was the breather guy making a final push, so I thought I would do the same as I upped my pace again. Thankfully it was enough  and I was delighted to see the finish line as I crossed in 10th place.

Now that was very pleasing because of the tough nature of the bike course and I managed to knock 1 minute off my run time which is a good improvement on last week’s time and also in the context of it being only my second 5km in 6 weeks. Now after the race I availed of a free massage and the therapist told me I should massage the soles of my feet because tight ligaments and tendons in the foot can contribute to calf problems. So this will be something that I will look at. I do need to incorporate more strength training and conditioning including stretching into my training for sure.

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For the moment its back to training ahead of my final 2 races of the season.

So far so good

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So after a short midseason sabbatical I returned to the triathlon fold at the weekend. In truth there were a couple of reasons for my inactivity in recent weeks. One reason was the calf strain I had acquired the day after the Belfast triathlon and the second reason being that I just needed a rest as I had up to that point completed 6 triathlons since the June bank holiday weekend.

The recurring calf strain situation is something I am addressing as it occurred at exactly the same point last season, give or take a week. In fact it prematurely ended my reason if memory serves me correctly. So I am looking at my running biomechanics at the moment to see if I am possibly overstretching when my foot contacts the ground thus creating an imbalance. Ideally you are supposed to run with your feet making contact with the ground beneath your pelvis with your head directly above that in a line. When you deviate away from that head, pelvis, foot central alignment you have an increased tendency to experience injury. So when you are told to run with your head up theres a very good reason for it.

I am considering approaching a coach to give me pointers regarding my run form. I had considered having  my run gait checked in one of the running shops but I have a big issue with this concept primarily because running on a treadmill is totally different to running outdoors, plus the main objective of run shops is to sell you running shoes. I would rather have a run coach watch me run outside and assess my form from head to toe in a real world context.  So this will be on the agenda in the medium term.

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So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I approached the Lough Key Forest Park Triathlon at the weekend. I had done some treadmill running but only 2 to 4km once the initial strain had subsided. I chose to drive up to Roscommon on the Saturday night as it was going to be an early start on the Sunday. Its funny I seem to have travelled the M4 a half a dozen times this year en route to many of the races I have taken part in, so I am very familiar with the towns and villages along the way.

I slept well and woke at about 6.30 am before having a bite to eat and some fluid. The setup in Lough Key Forest park was very similar to that in Blessington and for the Two Provinces in that the transition area was right beside the water’s edge thus making the whole affair quite intimate and leading to a short run up from the water. I do enjoy lake swims primarily because the water is less prone to be choppy and subject to currents. There were two waves based on participants’ predicted swim times so I found myself in the second wave, however when it came to my wave it was obvious some people in the first wave underestimated just how quickly the would complete the 750m swim  as I passed them out despite their starting 5 minutes before me. The swim went well. I have a tried and tested strategy now in that I try to ignore the frenetic commotion at the start which is made easier by my starting out wide away from the melee. This allows me time and space to focus on myself. The first few strokes will always be a little faster but after a few metres I set into a rhythm which for me is 36 strokes per minute pace. This enables me to complete the 750 m comfortably even if I encounter a stray foot in the face from another competitor which is what happened, but it comes with the territory. Coming out of the water I saw my time was 14 mins 20 seconds with which I was pleased.

I had elected to complete the bike segment using runners and regular bike pedals rather than bike shoes and clipless pedals. In fact I have alternated between both methods through the season in an attempt to arrive at a definitive decision as to which method, clipless or not, suits best. The jury is still out. Apparently clipless pedals lend themselves to a more efficient pedalling stroke as opposed to the standard runners on flat pedals, but like I say I cant decide which is better for me. I can tell you I almost forgot to put my runners on as I was preparing to wheel my bike out of transition for the bike leg!!

Once on the bike I was quickly passing riders by the dozen as we made our way down a tricky country lane. Then it started to spit rain and immediately I was thinking of safety. Its far too easy to come off the bike especially when rounding a corner in the wet so I was choosing my line with as much care as possible. The first few kilometres felt quick. I had put my speedometer on the end of one of the tri bar extensions so I could glance down every so often. I am satisfied when I notice my speed is north of 35kmph much of the time. There were many descents and ascents and at one point I dropped down to my lowest gear which is a rarity for me. I was hearted by my progress and by not having to get out of the saddle at any stage to ascend any of the hills. There were a couple guys who I kept swapping places with as we worked our way through the field. I kept passing them on the hills and they kept passing me on the descents. There was one terrific section where we joined the motorways and had a brief period where we were doing about 50kmph for about 30 seconds before meeting another hill. All in all I was happy with the bike leg given it was 23km so 3km longer than what I would normally cycle and also given that I hadn’t done a race in 6 weeks and would have lost a bit of my racing edge. I averaged a speed of 32.4 kmph.

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Now came the run leg. This would be the biggest test of my calf. As I said In hadn’t run in anger since Belfast in July. This would be the first 5km I would run since then so I was acutely aware that it was a real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to complete it. However as I began I was pleased to see that there was no abreaction to my lay off. The run route was more of a cross country route with its multiple undulations and one particularly gorgeous section through what can only be described as a cathedral of trees. It was clear I had lost some pace and I was huffing and puffing but I was managing to pass runners without being passed myself. I was relieved to see the finish line in one piece. The run time was a slow 22.14 mins but one without injury. All in alL I came in 22nd place out of 250 people and 4th in my age group so I was very pleased with that. On reflection not having competed in recent weeks hadn’t hampered me very much at all which means that I must have a basic level of fitness which stood to me. My task now is to get faster at all three disciplines. My only grievance about the Lough key Forest Triathlon was not receiving a medal. I may have made this point before but I always like to receive a medal for participating because I can hang it up and use it as motivation, I don’t quite get the same level of motivation from a t shirt or a hoodie ( although the hoodie we received was very high in terms of quality and has been worn since).

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So a good day out was had and I’m trying to  decide what my next race will be. I don’t want to jump right in with two feet again and endure another injury with the season 4 weeks away from completion. I have signed up for 2 more races so I may simply complete them and be satisfied we shall see.  😉

A hat tip to Mark Kelly for some of the photos.

Getting the hang of this now

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The glorious scene greeting us at the Blessington lakes, the water was as warm as a bath

Again forgive me for the sporadic nature of my posts in recent months. While my excuse was illness in the early parts of the year Im delighted to attribute my intermittent silence to being run off my feet in the working sense. I have been doing a lot of work for RTE (I’m a radio presenter) in Limerick so there has been much commuting and juggling of multiple balls and while its been exhausting at times, its been thrilling to be so busy. From a logistical standpoint  splitting myself between Dublin and Limerick in the run up to and during the triathlon season has provided a challenge. Thankfully the University of Limerick has terrific sports facilities which I may have alluded to before but which definitely deserves another mention. What is great about them is they have a 50m pool, an indoor running track, a full gym and the training pitches which facilitate running outside. In fact the only thing I couldn’t do was bring my bike with me which would have been terrific but you can have everything. I was also blessed with the most incredible weather I’ve ever experienced in this country. At one point I was running around the training pitch in UL in 90 degree heat .. I was pinching myself .. was this really Ireland ??? Indeed it was.

I’m waffling so lets get down to the nitty gritty. When we last spoke I had completed 3 triathlons and had been rather pleased with my form thus far. My fourth triathlon of the season saw me return to Wicklow for the Blessington Triathlon. This was one of the first races I did last year and I was keen to see how my performance this year would compare. Last year I managed 21st place in a time of 1 hour 20 mins so I definitely wanted to better that even though the bike route was slightly different this time round. Well I’m delighted to say it went well indeed. Now it has to be said it was a hot day, so much so we were given the option of swimming without a wetsuit as the water was 20 degrees Celsius, which is almost as warm as an indoor swimming pool. Not having swam in a lake without a wetsuit before I elected to stick to what I knew best and swam with my wetsuit on. The swim was straightforward enough and I paced myself carefully as I have done all season. I’ve said it before but its worth repeating, that its so easy to get carried away and let your competitive instincts get the better of you by exploding off the start line. I see many people doing this every race but it’s the worst thing you can do because sooner rather than later you will be gasping for breath and going nowhere fast. The swim took me 6 mins less than last year which sounds impressive but I must add in the caveat that my watch measured the swim route and around 100m short which I find frustrating but out of my control.

The first transition was seamless compared to this exact transition last year when my wetsuit ripped (that’s a whole other blog post on its own) and I was out of transition in no time. Now my main gripe with this Blessington race is the steep incline out of transition each time. The road is about 150 metres long and really taxes you due to its gradient which is a further challenge at 2 crucial points in the race. One beyond this ‘neutral zone’, we made our way around the glorious countryside of Wicklow, alas you don’t really get the chance to saviour those stunning vistas because you’re either busting a gut struggling to maintain pace going up a hill or trying to eek out as much speed as is safely possible on one of the downhill segments. The bike route was tough with its seemingly incessant inclines, declines and sharp bends. Quite honestly I found the route to be dangerous especially because the roads hadn’t been closed to public traffic. At one point I was descending at 60km  per hour and was truly grateful to have disc brakes because it got pretty hairy, in fact one cyclist ended up in the back of an ambulance and 3 others suffered punctures which will give you an indication as to how good the road surface was. At another point the road narrowed and I slammed on the brakes as a car approached from the opposite direction, this is something organisers will have to address because it was by the grace of god that no one was seriously injured.

The run segment was a struggle initially s it usually is after getting off the bike. I think the extra exertion on the bike route, took its toll on my legs. Combine the really tired legs with a hilly run on an oppressively warm day and you are looking at a slow run time. Throw in the fact that the run was also 600m longer than 5km and you are looking at a slow run time. That being said… I still managed to complete the course 6 mins quicker than l did last year and bagged a 9th place and so I was very pleased with my first top ten of the season. Is that my first top ten ever ? I’m actually not sure, I’ve lost track, I think it may very well be!!

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No rest for the wicked and in an attempt to get as much money’s worth out of this short triathlon season I was quickly into another triathlon this time in Roscommon. Its funny I seem to have already travelled the M4 motorway half a dozen times this year to triathlons, they all seem to congregate in this part of the world for some reason. This particular triathlon was a National Series Triathlon which meant it would be of a higher standard in terms of organisation and standard of competitor, akin to the Westport Triathlon I did a few weeks ago. The difference with this national series triathlon would be that I wouldn’t feature near the top as I had done in Blessington, in fact I wouldn’t even be able to emulate my 48th position from Westport because I benefitted that week from watered down field because there were two national series races on the day of the Westport Triathlon. In essence my result this time would be an undiluted real reflection of where I was, so with that in mind I was aiming for 20 top in my age group and 70th overall.

I was most impressed with the degree of organisation of this race. Everything was run with military precision. I enjoyed watching the elite men and women take to the waters first. It was amazing watching them swim  the 750 m swim in 9 minutes without the need of  a wetsuit. My wave was the last wave to go and while the swim was to all intents and purposes a lake swim, the wind was blowing hard and threw us off course to such an extent that I had to keep correcting my line in the water. I was pleased enough to come out in 14 and a half minutes or thereabouts. The transition was quick and the cycle incident free. Looking at my stats afterwards I did notice that I have a tendency to fall off the pace on the bike leg in the last 3 to 4km, so this is something I will need to address. I tend to give it everything on the bike every time so I may have to look at my training to help me bring up my power and speed because I am yielding about 2 minutes on the bike leg each time to the top 3 guys in my age group. I was happy with the run especially given my determination to post a faster average pace than I did in Blessington. I managed 71st overall and 15th in my age group with which I was very happy. My finish time was decent too , coming in at 1 hr 13.

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The following week we were on the road again. The destination this time was Belfast for the Titanic Triathlon. I was interested in doing this particular triathlon because it was going to be my first city based triathlon which would be novel because of the potential for crowds of spectators but also because there would be fewer hills!! Yay!! Fewer hills translates into a flatter course and thus faster times. I travelled up the night before the race and managed to get a really nice and breakfast about 15 mins cycle from Victoria Square where the race would takle place. I slept  the best I have ever slept before a triathlon that night, primarily because I am getting so used to doing these races that pre-race jitters are now at a minimum. In fact if I could physically do a race every week I would purely to keep thise jitters and uncertainties at a minimum, but the body might have an issue with that!

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Me being attacked by a random giant foot 🙂

Again the swim went well. The race took place in the Lagan which is a salt water river. The temperature of the water was actually chilly enough by recent standards but we managed to heat up fairly quickly once the r5ace got under way. I posted a time of 14 and a half minutes again for the swim even though I swam an extra 100 metres. Then came the cycle which I have to say was a joy. I say that because at one point I was looking at my speedo at it was consistently registering 40 km ph which for me is fast. The bike route took us through an industrial area home to Harland and Wolf boat makers and I believe where they built the Titanic too, not that I could appreciate the significance mid race. Unfortunately despite the route being flat and not particularly technical there were a couple of casualties as a couple of guys fell off their bikes, so hopefully they weren’t too badly hurt.

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The Belfast Titanic Triathlon Medal .. probably the nicest medal I’ve received yet.

I was determined to give it more on the run leg than I had in previous races. I felt the flatter course would favour a faster time but I would need to dig deep if it was going to happen. A couple of guys passed me on the first lap of the run and I chose to try stick on the shoulder on one of them, to my surprise I was able to do this and actually passed him out. I was clocking around 4 m per km pace and was approaching the end of the second lap when one of the guys I had passed earlier in the run , shot past me. I dug to try to get more speed to catch him but alas he crossed the line in 7th leaving me in 8th . I will not be so remiss next time. Overall I was delighted to get 8th, it was a great result and my best placing so far. Anyway I’ve prattled on long enough for the moment. I will be taking a break from competitions for a couple of weeks and will fingers crossed return to the fold in a in August all being well. Thanks for reading 🙂

Three triathlons is a charm

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Well its been a busy few weeks and I simply haven’t had a spare minute to write a blog post so you’ll have to forgive me for condensing a couple of weeks into one post.

When we last met I had just finished the James Mc Manus Memorial Triathlon and had been rather encouraged by my performance. In an attempt to make maximum use of the triathlon season after a loooong looooong winter I had elected to register for 3 triathlons in 3 weeks. My second triathlon of the season was the Tarmonator which would take place in Tarmonbarry Co Longford, not far from the previous week’s. The difference this time was the swim segment took place in the Shannon. From the point of view of scale, the size of the field was very similar to the previous one in Cavan, so around 150 people.

The benefit of a smaller field is the transition area is smaller and generally the entire operation is more intimate which I prefer. The swim itself went without a hitch again. I chose to stick to the strategy which served me so well the previous week and stayed out wide to the left and enjoyed clean water. Once I round the first buoy the swimmers were more spread out and I simply paced myself back to shore.

The first transition was problem free. I had done up the zip on my triathlon suit so that it didn’t come undone as it did the previous week thus saving me time. I am still getting used to using clipless pedals and cycling shoes and struggled a little with trying to get my feet into them and the straps secured before knuckling down into a good rhythm on the bike. I always find I’m breathless when I’m first on the bike. I suppose its inevitable given the hare’s pace at which I have been swimming.

The cycle itself was uneventful, I passed a few people which always gives you a surge of confidence and literally only 2 cyclists passed me out which was good. One of these cyclists stayed ahead of me by about 100 meters and no matter what I did I couldn’t bridge the gap. Returning to transition after the cycle is more fraught than it was for me last year because of those clipless pedals. I cant just lift my foot off the pedal, hop off the bike and start running. I now have to gingerly remove my feet from the cycling pedals and place my foot on top of the cycling shoes and continue to cycle at pace before dismounting just in time before the dismount line. If you time this incorrectly it can lead to time penalties at best and injury or disc-qualification at worst.

Helmet off, runners on and we were off again. The run itself was as uneventful as the cycle. Nobody passed me and I could still see the chap who passed me on the bike 100 m ahead, but no matter what I did I just couldn’t close that gap.

In the end I managed a decent enough 15th place overall, so I was delighted with that. The swim was very satisfying, it took me 13:30 mins , the cycle was 4 seconds off last week’s and 34 min 11sec and the run was 19:55 min, over all I came within a few seconds of last week’s at just under 1:11 hours, so very similar to the previous week’s times.

Fast forward another week and I was hurtling across the country again, this time to Westport in Mayo. I had chosen to travel on the evening before the triathlon as it was going to be a very early start on the Saturday morning with an 8.15 am start which is a couple of hours earlier than normal primarily due to the tides. This particular triathlon was a National Series Triathlon which is of a higher standard than previous triathlons I have taken part in. I had elected to try to step up a level purely to see where I was by comparison.

I managed to get a b and b cancellation only a couple of days prior to travelling and to my delight its location was absolutely ideal in that it overlooked the swim section of the triathlon and transition itself. I never seem to sleep especially well the evening before a particularly early start and this situation was no different. In my defence though, a fitful night’s sleep never seems to negatively impact upon my race day performance.

The morning of the race was a shock to the system. Unlike the previous two week’s there sun was hiding and the wind was blowing a gale. Throw in cold temperatures, rain and a choppy looking Clew Bay and the 45  minutes prior to the start was filled with trepidation. I must admit I did fleetingly consider not competing given the conditions. The sea looked rougher than anything I had swam in before and the thoughts of trying to cycle uphill into a wind while soaking was not at all appealing but I felt I had to compete. The whole point of my starting out on this triathlon journey last year was to put myself in uncomfortable situations. feel the fear and do it anyway, and that is exactly what I said to myself as we got into the choppy water.

Surprisingly, the water wasn’t quite as cold as I had thought it would be, but the chop proved challenging. What didn’t help was my goggles kept filling with water which meant I had to stop several times midrace to empty them out and put them on again. At one point I chose to do the breast stroke for a few strokes to get my bearings. Once I managed to get a rhythm I felt comfortable but before I knew it the swim was over.

The transition went without a hitch and I chose to use the cycling shoes and elastic bands to enable me to get into the shoes as quickly as possible. Once I got going on the bike I started to pick people off. I had started in the second wave of swimmers with the first wave having a 5 minute head start. The cycle itself was uphill into the wind towards the base of Croagh Patrick. The outward 10km took me 22 mins which for me is painfully slow but I think it affected everyone. The inbound journey took me 11 mins and I was hitting 50km plus per hour with the benefit of gravity and a tail wind. I have to a mention to the views all around me on the bike leg, they were truly stunning, sadly I couldn’t hang around too long to admire the vista.

The run felt a little slow and perhaps the fact that this was my third triathlon in three weeks was beginning to tell on my legs. I was tired prior to this triathlon so maybe the accumulation of races rather than a restless night was the cause. The run leg took us through the picturesque setting of Westport House along what was essentially a trail run. In the end I managed a time of 1 hr 15 mins, 48th of the individual competitors and 10th in my age group. Given the conditions in the water and the challenging bike leg I must say I was very pleased with my performance in this standard of field. Interestingly, out of everyone who started the second wave I managed 3rd.

Next up … Blessington triathlon…

Back in the saddle

brackely lake

Well its good to be back. After what felt like an eternity of an off-season and endless hours winter training last weekend saw the beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful triathlon season.

brackley lake map

The opening race for me would be the James McManus memorial triathlon in county Cavan who I must credit for some of the photos in this blog post. Now this very weekend last year I had opened up my triathlon account in Kildare at the well known TryAthy. It seems to be a rite of passage for any newbie triathlete owing to the course being less physically demanding and thus constituting a soft introduction to the world of triathlons. While I enjoyed my first foray last year I found the race had far too many competitors and it became a bit hairy at times from a safety standpoint. I did bring this up with race organisers and it seems these issues were addressed for this years’s race. I elected however to compete in a smaller more intimate race and setting in Cavan and I’m very pleased I did.

The swim section took place in Brackley lake near Ballyconnell in county Cavan. There was cloud cover and the forecast had threatened thundery downpours. The water temperature was a warm 14 degrees and the transition area was literally a few feet from the water’s edge. This is what I love about smaller events. Everything is contained in a small geographical space. The registration tent was right beside the bag drop off point, which was beside the transition area which would hold the 150 bikes and beside this were the all important toilets and the lake. A field of 150 is perfect as it means its alot easier from a logistical standpoint for the organisers to manage and the whole event is much more manageable for the competitors too.

The idea of a lake swim had left me a tad apprehensive as I had only last week re-entered the open water after a winter in the pool. It was a bit of a culture shock to be outdoors again and in my wetsuit which had hung on a hanger all winter. It took me a couple of days to reacquaint myself with the sights , sounds and sensations of open water swimming. despite the added buoyancy of the wetsuit I was finding it tough to swim a couple of hundred meters in the sea at seapoint where I tend to swim outdoors.

The good news for me was that on race day, the water in Brackley lake was as flat as glass and as I practised a few strokes ahead of the starting whistle, I found I could manoeuvre through the water with ease compared to my attempts earlier in the week in the salt waters of seapoint. The only down side was the water was brown and impossible to see through but that is often the case. As we started the swim section I elected to pace myself and stay out wide away from the melee which always accompanies the start. Outdoor swimming is still inherently alien to me as is the concept of swimming so close to multiple bodies thrashing and splashing so I learned from my exploits last year to avoid the mayhem and chart my own path towards the first buoy. As I did I could see the main body of swimmers take a different more direct line but I was happy to sacrifice a few seconds for the sake having clean undisturbed water to swim in . The effect this had was that it enabled me to stay calm and pace myself without being worried I was going to hit someone or that someone was going to clobber me inadvertently.

As we approached the first buoy I had established a rhythm and rejoined the main body of swimmers which had at this stage stretched out substantially. Every so often I would remind myself to slow down and allow my breathing pattern to dictate my stroke rate and not the other way around. Its so easy to get caught up in the moment and allow your competitive instincts to take over. The problem with this is while your pace accelerates so does the demand on your lungs and pretty soon you’re gasping for air because your lungs just cant keep up. This inevitably leads to having to breathe after every single stroke and at the same time your form breaks down and you lose momentum. I was very happy with my ability to maintain a plan to breathe every three strokes bilaterally up until the final 100 meters when more frequent sighting was necessary as multiple swimmers jostled for position on the final straight.

Out of the water and I glanced at my watch to see 13:30 mins. I was very happy with this given my previous attempts at swimming 750m in a lake hadn’t been anything as fast. I was also very happy with my first unbroken 750m swim in almost a year. Now while I can swim 2000m non-stop in the pool, its not quite the same as swimming non-stop in open water as there are no opportunities to grasp a breath at the end of each lap in open water.

pedals shoes

My cycling shoes already clipped into the clipless pedals

In transition as I took off my wetsuit my triathlon suit beneath it came off inadvertently which slowed me down a few seconds. I then grabbed my bike and remembered I had to attempt a flying mount as I had already attached my cycling shoes to the clipless pedals. All of the pros elect to cycle in triathlon shoes and employ clipless pedals, the argument is that they give you a more efficient pedal stroke and help save energy, who am I to argue. I probably should have tried the flying mount before using it for the first time in a competition but anyway, I just about managed it without coming a cropper. As per the photo, the triathlon shoes are already attached to the clipless pedals and held in position with elastic bands, which allows you to place your feet on top of your shoes as you begin to cycle. Once you have sufficient speed, you can insert your feet into the shoes and start pedaling at which point the elastic bands break. The process is the reverse when attempting a flying dismount.

tarmon 4

The cycle itself was fair enough, in that there weren’t too many hills. We cycled 10 km west though the countryside and then returned along the same route. The beauty of this is you can count exactly where you are in the race by counting the number of riders that pass you on the way back. I was relatively happy with my pace on the bike. I averaged 35 km ph and got around in just over 34 minutes. Like last year I chose to put a swim cap on my bike helmet to make it a bit more aerodynamic and enable me to travel through the air with less drag. I had also bought some latex inner tubes which are meant to have less rolling resistance than regular butyl tubes and thus yield a similar speed but for less power output.

tarmon 3

Looking a tad dishevelled !!

I determined by the end of the cycle I was in 26th place but wasn’t 100% sure. Its strange at first when you get off the bike, as your legs are full of blood and the last thing they want to do is run 5 km. A quick transition and I was off on my run which if I’m honest felt slow but then this is always the case especially on the first kilometer or two. As it happened each of the five kilometers I ran was faster than the previous one and as I crossed the line I determined I had run the 5 km in just under 20 minutes which like the swim and the cycle was a PB for me. While initially I had thought I managed 30th position in 1 hour 10 minutes, I had actually secured 29th and was delighted with that.

Its good to be back in the saddle.. now on to the next one !!!

On the precipice

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Apologies first of all for not having made an entry in my blog in recent weeks, very remiss of me I know. I could use the dual excuses of illness and work commitments as the main reasons for the hiatus but that would be facile. While I was ill with a virus for a few weeks and pressed for time owing to work I’ll be honest and state here and now I simply didn’t make the time.

I suppose I found myself in a quandary from the point of view of writing something new that was worth reading. In the aftermath of that bloody virus which clung to me like quicksand, I felt I had to relearn the process of triathlon training all over again. I felt weak as a kitten and just completing a few hundred metres in the pool or on the bike was a challenge to say the least.

I can’t say that I was necessarily disgruntled by the prospect of trying to restore my pre illness fitness levels but more perturbed by the tedium of grinding out sessions that previously were easy to me.

I recently had the opportunity to train in the sports complex of the University of Limerick which was terrific. This afforded me the ability to keep my recovery on course while away from Dublin. I was most impressed with their indoor running track which enabled me to run in anger for the first time in months without resorting to the treadmill. I have a tendency to experience lower limb issues so I have to tailor my run training to suit, hence I avoid running on tarmac / cement until I absolutely have to. Thankfully I have experienced zero abreaction to track running or most recently grass running. In fact I ran only my 3rd outdoor 5km of the year on Tuesday and managed 19 min 53 sec, not the fastest by any means but very welcome at this stage.

I have found the best approach to training and staying fit is to listen to the body and build slowly. Sometimes you need to take one step back to move forward. This can take the form of simply sitting out a training session because of fatigue. It’s best to listen to your gut than push the envelope too far and then miss days or even weeks due to injury.

So the triathlon season has begun. I am taking a steady as she goes approach to my build up and will earmark specific races with particular goals in mind. Ultimately I’d love to qualify in my age group to represent Ireland and the European championships in sprint distance triathlon. If I manage to attain one of the top 5 places in my age category in any one of this year’s national series races then I qualify, it’s that simple. I haven’t as yet selected which races I’ll compete in purely because I’ll wait till closer to the date to see if I’m fit enough to race. So with the full season ahead we stand on the verge… Only one thing to do. Embrace the fear and dive in.

Bacteria to the future

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Greetings, don’t worry I chided myself recently due to the infrequency with which I have been updating my blog. In my substantial defence, as was outlined in my previous entry I have struggled somewhat of late with my health. Now before you start dropping to your knees and doing novenas I am fine. I seemed to have succumbed to that stubborn virus doing the rounds (isn’t there always one) at the beginning of February and was still wrestling with it until the third week of March!! To say it was frustrating and discommoding was an understatement but my frustration gave way to acceptance fairly quickly because the mere thought of exercise fatigued me. Yes there comes a point when you just have to let the body do its thing. So in all, I took about 5 weeks off training which is the longest time I have been inactive for 20 years. I even took 2 sick days!! This was a big deal as I hadn’t taken a sick day in about 6 or 7 years.

So there were two trips to the doctor who ironically enough had been ill himself with a similar ailment. He prescribed steroids the first time and a brief course of antibiotics on the second visit, more on this later.

The strain of virus I had, affected my chest with a niggling cough but more than that it sapped my energy. Feeling listless is very alien to me. I generally have boundless levels of energy and can survive easily on 5 hours sleep no bother. The last few weeks however would be characterised by an unfamiliar malaise which could be attributed to the virus in my system. Eventually my energy levels returned to normal and I’m back training now thank goodness, but in the aftermath of the illness and having taken a brief course of antibiotics I elected to take some probiotics

The illness prompted me to put on my biochemists hat and investigate further. I happened to be in the book shop when I saw The Psychobiotic Revolution on sale. The premise of the book fascinated me in that it suggested our gut bacteria were in constant dialogue with the brain and could influence diet, mood as well as immunity.  It seems our microbiota (the name given to our gut bacteria ) changes constantly based on our diet and directly influences that exact diet through cravings, it also influences our moods through the use of neurotransmitters that reach the brain via the vagus nerve and is instrumental in our ability to fight disease both short term and chronic.

Above I referenced having been put on antibiotics for a short period of time despite my doctor being fairly sure I was suffering a viral infection. Perhaps he was hedging his bets or trying to placate his patient by writing a prescription so as avoid leaving the surgery empty handed. The trouble with this is that antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut and are useless at killing viruses. We are instructed to take probiotics so as to attempt to reestablish the bacterial homeostasis that existed before the course of treatment. The problem with this is every successive course of antibiotics further disrupts and complicates an already highly complex microbiota status quo.

There is always a war going on in your gut between harmful pathogens and the good bacteria like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. When your good bacteria are thrown off kilter you are open to ill health in the form of systemic acute and chronic infections, inflammation, autoimmune disease, craving unhealthy foods and alarmingly depression and anxiety.

What I find very interesting is that our diet is very much dictated to us by our gut bacteria. If we get sugar cravings it is partially because the brain associates sugar with dopamine release. Sugar is also an instant source of energy which is always valuable to the muscles but it is also a food source for the bad bacteria in our gut. The argument here is that we have overlooked the huge influence gut bacteria has on our food choices. When you reach for pizza and a coke its actually the bacteria influencing your choices via neurotransmitters and not actually you. The result is the bacteria that crave sugar become satiated and begin to quickly outnumber the good bacteria and before long you are overweight, addicted to sugary foods. A byproduct of such an overproliferation of bad gut bacteria is chronic disease plus depression and anxiety.

It’s no coincidence that obesity has become an epidemic at a time when western diets have been so laden with processed foods. It is also no coincidence that anxiety and depression have become so ubiquitous when we are consuming more sugar and unnatural food than ever. One of the arguments made in the book is that depression and or anxiety often accompanies chronic illness and can actually be a precursor to illness. The most compelling thesis is that by treating a person with a particular strain or combination of strains of bacteria you can treat the disease plus the accompanying anxiety / depression.  The book gives hundreds of citations as evidence that the health of your microbiota can be enhanced benefitting your physiology and your neurochemistry. Targeting the gut brain axis is also seen as the key to the development of new psychotropics that will treat depression and anxiety conditions.

Apologies for the heavy science but it seems revelatory to me that these little single celled organisms can have such an influence on not just our physical well being but also our mental wellbeing. Certainly there is still much research to be done, but if simply adopting a balanced diet laden with fresh fruit and veg and probiotics while eschewing processed foods and refined sugar can bring me immunological plus mental health benefits then I am all for it. Check out the book if you’d like to know more, by the way this isn’t an advert in any way, merely a subject I thought would be of interest.

 

Oh dear goodness

cold

So I’m back. See you thought I had given up on the oul blog but no. See I’ve been going through the horrors of late, ok perhaps not quite the horrors but it’s been a miserable few weeks having contracted a chest infection which has forced be to lie low.

Now I’ll freely admit that I’m like most men in that I’m not a good patient. Now at the outset I’ll say I have been sicker in the past but this time it was the combination of the chest infection and the total depletion of energy levels that rendered me incapable of going about my regular schedule. While I was given steroids the medical consensus was that I was just one of an epidemic of victims who had succumbed over the winter and the gestation period of this illness would most likely be several weeks and indeed that’s how things turned out.

Naturally all exercise went out the windows for the month of February and quite frankly I was far too listless to care. Normally I’d be fretting over missing a session but there comes a point where you just say sod it. The biological imperative ensured that I needed to fight the virus, rest and recover in that order so any talk of cycling, swimming or running was laughed out of town considering turning sideways in the bed was a major achievement.

Thankfully I’m practically back to my former self. I have done a couple of very light sessions on the bike this week but have resisted the urge to challenge myself too much lest I tire myself into a relapse, god forbid. I will step things up gradually in the coming weeks and am encouraged that my niggling leg injury seems to be behaving itself given there seems to be no abreaction to yesterday’s brief treadmill session, fingers crossed I will be able to kick on from here. So expect regular service to be resumed in the coming weeks and months as the triathlon season gets underway in earnest.

High standards !!

ali dubai 2

Just a brief post this week. I have to give a mention to one of the icons of triathlon Alistair Brownlee. Last year he took the step up to middle distance triathlons from the sprint triathlon world which he has dominated at both the ITU and olympic level for years. This chap is 3 time european champion, 2 time world champion, 2 time olympic gold medalist and 2 time world team champion, so his pedigree is second to none. Last year he took part in his first 70.3 triathlon and dominated the field which included Lionel Sanders amongst other heavyweights, so it was no mean feat. Unfortunately for Brownlee, he subsequently underwent hip surgery so has been recuperating for the last 6 months. At the weekend Brownlee took part in one of the first 70.3 triathlons of the year in Dubai and totally dominated the field. In fact he posted an average speed on the bike of 45 kmph completing the bike route of 90km in just under 2 hours. His swim and run legs were also so strong that he posted a time which was the second fastest in history, an ominous sign for his competitors.

ali dubai 3 Brownlee on the scott foil triathlon bike valued at 10k

As someone who trains and competes in triathlon at an amateur level it is mind boggling to even try process the speeds at which the top pros are swimming, cycling and running. In fact Alistair ran the first 10 km of the 20 km run leg in Dubai in a blistering 31 minutes!!! Incredible stuff!! It does however provide inspiration for regular triathletes like me as we plod through weekly routine that is winter training. On that note I have been enjoying (not sure that is quite the right term) using my new turbo trainer. It has allowed me to up my weekly mileage on the bike which is vital at this stage of the year if I am to improve and achieve my first goal of qualifying for the european age group triathlon championships. To do this I need to get top 5 in my age group in one of the national series triathlons during the upcoming season. Now I have certainly improved on the bike in comparison to last year and with a new lighter bike I would expect to be faster than last season. I have been plugging away at the swimming which can be a frustrating sport as it is so technical and improvements are slower to come. I am seeing the first signs of improvement by incorporating speed work and endurance work, something I had omitted before. Running is proving equally frustrating but for a different reason in that I am experiencing tenderness in my shin again so have had to take my foot off the running pedal for the moment. I am looking at acquiring new footwear, orthotic inserts which are used by runners with recurring injuries as well as having my run gait analysed to rule out any biomechanical flaws. For the moment, I am focusing on running, swimming and strength training as I work on my core which will reap dividends later on this year. That’s the hope at least. 🙂