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.