Triple Ironman

It’s about time that I got round to writing about my continuous triple ironman distance race from 2016, also known as Enduroman. I’ll try to keep this report a little shorter than the one for my double ironman in 2014 (read about it here).

There are loads of M-dot races to chose from each year, but for some reason there is much less choice when it comes to ultra triathlons, especially if you don’t want to race abroad. Enduroman or Brutal? The Brutal has the run going up Snowdonia, living up to it’s name, so I plumped once again for Enduroman. I’d raced there in 2013 and 2014, giving 2015 a miss. I was also upping the distance from a double to a triple. What an idiot, didn’t I learn anything from last time. Before sending off my entry fee (less than IMUK, read about my 2017 ironman journey here) I talked it over with my partner, who is now my wife. She was very supportive and told me to go for it.

I knew from 2014 that I needed to run more, so I ran at least 200km a month for the preceding 6 months, running most days in the build up, as well as a 32 mile run at the Halloween Hell on the Humber.

hellonthe

I reduced the number of times I was swimming, but did complete my longest pool swim ever, over 8km (read about it here). I also did a whole load of century rides and one double century, where I set off at midnight to simulate riding when tired. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. We took Nell (our loyal pooch) to Helen’s Mum, loaded up the car with bikes, food and tent, and off we went.

It’s a long old drive from Lancaster to Avon Tyrell in the New Forrest. Tent erected, small talk with Clive and Graham, before 1 lap of the bike course. Race briefing, plenty of familiar faces and an early night, although someone decided to crank out some Queen.

The triple started on the Friday at the ungodly hour of 9am. More than enough time to borrow a reflective vest off Clive, as mine wasn’t reflective enough for riding at night.

The lake isn’t particularly big, and I can’t remember how many laps were required, but I think it was about 40. A short swim brief from Dan and we were off. There were only 18 entries for the triple, along with half a dozen doing the 3-2-1 swim, which was a triple distance swim on the Friday, a double swim on the Saturday finishing off with a single on the Sunday. As you can see from the photo below it wasn’t your usual mass swim start.

swim start

The guy without the wetsuit is Nick Thomas, who tragically died later in the year attempting to swim the channel. I only met you a couple of times but you were unfailingly friendly. Far too young.

One of the funny things about ultra tri’s is that very few of us come from a swimming background, so there would be a few finishing close to the 8 hour swim cut-off. I’m smiling in the photo below because I’ve only got a couple of laps to go.

P1010786

Each lap we had to swim alongside a jetty and shout out our number, and this year I managed not to lose count. One of the other competitors had placed a large clock on the bank, so we could see the time ticking slowly round. On your last lap a message would be relayed from the lap counters to your support crew so that they would be ready to help. As you can see from the photo below the swim had taken a large bite out of me, although I was fifth out of the water in a time of 3 hours 51 mins. (Strava swim activity here).

P1010888

I made my way to the changing tent, with the help of my wife, removed my wetsuit and changed into cycling gear, and then sat down for lunch. Not your usual transition as I took 41 mins.

The bike course involved 29 relatively flat laps, which got progressively hillier as the days wore on. There were also problems with rubbish drivers, new forest ponies and cattle grids. My plan was to use my Fuji Tri bike (photo below) during daylight and my Scott Addict (here) at night.

fuji

Nutrition wise, my plan was to eat real food as much as possible, and then have a proper sit down meal twice a day. In my first bike session I managed 7 laps, although the swim had taken far more out of me than I had expected, with my neck, shoulders and elbows all feeling it. My right wrist was also hurting from going over cattle grids at speed on my tri bars.

A couple of laps into the bike course it was a pleasant sight to see Chris Wild with Helen at the race HQ. He had crewed for me during my double in 2014 and it was great to have him back once again.

Hot food, coffee and trifle and I was ready for the first night session. I didn’t eat all of the trifles, but I did have 2 or 3.

Tea

Out on the Scott and I started to feel better, and had soon knocked out another 6 laps. Before the race I had decided that if I felt tired, dangerously tired, I would stop for a sleep, and on my 14th lap I almost nodded off. I would have liked to have gone over half way, but I climbed off the bike, handed it to Chris and headed to the tent for a few hours of sleep. Helen had gone to the tent a couple of hours earlier, having decided that she crew for me on her own in the mornings, and Chris would do the evenings, with both of them crewing in the day.

A few more laps the next morning, breakfast followed by a 30 minute power nap, before pushing on through the day to finish the bike leg in 29 hours and 11 mins. Initially I had hoped to complete the bike leg in under 24 hours, but as I said, the swim had taken it’s toll. (Strava bike activities here, here, here and here).

Finishing the bike coincided nicely with tea time, and another 30 minute transition. A quick change into running gear, and off I went “running”. The run consists of an undulating technical 1.1 mile lap, which had to be completed 72 times. I managed 11 laps before I slowed so much that it made sense for another sleep. In the tent I woke Helen up with some of the most noxious pumps ever, sorry about that.

Three hours later and off I set once again. Chris climbed out of his camper van in time for breakfast and was amazed to see that I’d knocked out another half marathon. Like most competitors I was running the downhill and flat bits and walking the uphill, although this still meant that each lap would take 20 mins. Walking a whole lap seemed to take forever.

run

I had specifically told Chris and Helen that I didn’t want to know my position in the race, as as far as I was concerned I was only up against myself. Plus, a good friend had come unstuck in 2014 racing the triple (read his blog here). After the race I found out that there were two people hot on my heels who closed the gap on me every time I stopped for a rest, but once I started again I would pull away. One of them was walking the “run” wearing a pair of big walking boots. That would have been embarassing if his run had been quicker than mine.

I did however know that 1st and 2nd were having an epic battle, and had decided to run together until half a lap to go, whereupon they would race to the line. I had completed 2 of the 3 marathons, so I sat down with Helen and Chris to watch them finish. It was unbelievable watching these two guys all out sprinting to the finish line after 50+ hours of racing.

Only 1 marathon left for me, so off I plodded. One problem I had was that ever time I stopped for a break it would take me a whole lap to get running once again. The advice from one of the other runners was obvious, don’t stop.

The lowest point for me came with 13 laps to go. My feet were killing me, so Helen massaged them with neurofen gel. I knew at that point I could finish, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, as I couldn’t face another 6 or 7 hours. A hug and cry with Helen and off I set once again, determined not to stop until I was finished.

Getting down to single laps to go was a real boost, and Chris had placed a box of edible goodies on a bench on the opposite side of the run lap, which was nice. As with the swim I wasn’t having any trouble remembering what lap I was on. When I crossed the start/finish line with 5 laps to go, Helen, smiling, told me I only had 6 to go. Also smiling, I told her she could f*ck her 6 laps and that I was only doing 5.

run2

Soon it was time for my last lap, and at Enduroman this is done in reverse, so you get to see everyone. I had high-fived a very tired looking Matt Pritchard earlier in the day when he was on his last lap to finish in third place. I found this last lap to be very emotional in 2014, but this year I was just happy that it was over. The run had taken me 24 hours and 8 mins. (Strava run activities here, here, here and here).

13344730_10154218303444140_2767763774516930365_n

Hugs at the end, followed by a chicken dinner before being helped back to the tent. Helen asked me if I wanted more food. Yes please I replied, and then two minutes later I was fast asleep.

13315603_10154218493029140_793363193986724701_n

I finished in 7th place in a time of 58 hours and 23 mins, with only 5 DNFs. Not surprisingly it took me most of the summer to recover and I’m still not sure if I’ll ever do another long distance race, as at the moment I’m enjoying just going out cycling and taking it easy.

At the end of last year at the COLT Christmas do, I was awarded a trophy. Biggest idiot award I think, although Chris made a great speech.

Finally, there is no way that I would even have made the starting line if it hadn’t been for my wife, Helen. She has also promised to write about my triple, from the point of view of a support crew and loved one, which should be interesting.

Book Review 2017 – Part VI

Yet another book about long distance cycle touring. Good Vibrations, Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew Sykes. This one is slightly different from the others that I’ve read recently, as Andrew has a bigger budget. This means that he doesn’t wild camp and isn’t averse to staying in the occasional hotel, but mostly he stays in pleasant campsites with showers and other amenities. Interestingly, one of the first campsites he stays in is almost in the centre of London.

20170622_191928.jpg

The route that he takes is based on the pilgrimage by Archbishop Sigeric over a thousand years ago, who walked from Canterbury to Roma. Luckily this route can be cycled along Eurovelo route 5, if you can find it. Andrew spends a great deal of time online before setting off trying to find the actual route. I also liked the fact that he doesn’t really know how to repair or even look after his bike, which is good to know. He’s written a follow up book, cycling from Spain to Scandinavia, which I intend to look out for.

In my last book review I wrote about a pair of cyclists who rode across Siberia, in the winter (read it here). This is the other guy, Alastair Humphreys. In Moods of Future Joys he describes the first half of his round the world cycle ride, over a year before his ride from Magadan, although Rob Lilwall does ride with Alastair for a couple of weeks in Ethiopia. Al has a very different writing style, and unlike the other book in this review, he is doing it on the cheap, very cheap. He also doesn’t hide the fact that there were many times that he felt like quitting.

Halfway through Europe and the 9/11 terror attacks occured, meaning that Afganistan and Pakistan were no go areas. I was impressed that Al decided to head south through Africa instead.

A measure of a good book is would you buy another by the same author and for both of these authors the answer is yes.

You can find all of my book reviews from this year here.

The Squarepocalypse

June 17th 2017 will go down in history as the day of the squarepocalypse.

What?

This only means something if you use Veloviewer, and like to keep track of your explorer score. I’ve blogged about how much I enjoy the explorer score function and my maximum explorer square here.

Last week Veloviewer had a tweak with the algorithms, making everything more accurate. The result is that my total number of squares that I have visited went down from 6265 to 5816, and my maximum explorer square from 15×15 to 12×12. The Veloviewer blog explains all of the reasons behind this change, and how it works here. Interestingly a couple of squares which I now haven’t visited are located only a couple of miles away, so they will be easy to add, others not so much.

Thankfully last week I was touring Scotland with my beautiful wife, adding another 500 new explorer squares, taking me above my previous score of 6265. Additionally, Veloviewer has added a maximum Cluster score. This is explained far better than I ever could on the Explorer Square blog, here.

The image below is my maximum cluster of 597 tiles.

cluster

Increasing the size of this will probably be easier than trying to enlarge my maximum explorer square, and if I add those two squares nearby it should add another 5 or 6 to my cluster score, which I will try to do in the next week.

Lancaster Air Quality

I’ve set up a new blog site, just for air quality. You can find it here. My primary blog, Beards and Triathlons, doesn’t really work with the air quality stuff, which is why I’ve moved it all elsewhere. It goes the other way as well, as people interested in the air quality around Lancaster are probably not too interested in random book reviews, cycling stats and triathlons.

Me and Tim

In light of Tim Don’s amazing recent performance at Ironman Brazil, finishing in 7 hours and 40 mins, I thought I’d share a couple of memories from when I raced against him. (When I say ‘raced against him’ I mean that I was in the same race and wasn’t for a moment ‘racing’ Tim).

timdon

Back in 1999 I was living in Bournemouth, and during the summer there were a few open water swim aquathons, one of which a young Tim Don took part in. I would like to say I raced against him, but from the moment the race started he was gone.

20170529_152748.jpg

The race was approximately 500m swim followed by a hilly 5k run. I remember being happy with my run and not happy with my swim, although some of that was trying to remove my wetsuit.

A few years later I decided to have a go at qualifying for the age group world championships (Olympic distance) that were going to be held in Queenstown, New Zealand. The first qualifying race of the season was in Windsor, and I lined up with a few friends from the Oxford Tri Club, who also wanted to qualify. I can’t remember too much about the race, except that it felt good, as I finished 63rd overall, out of a field in excess of 1000, in a time of 2hours and 10 mins.

IMG

Tri-suits were a bit shorter in the leg back then and you didn’t get a time penalty for undoing your zip. I was also under the misguided impression that if I shaved off my beard I would go faster.

What about Tim? He was racing in the elite wave that day, and technically I beat him, as he was DQ’d, along with almost all of the elites. The leading swimmer turned at the wrong buoy and most of the elites followed. Three elites who were slower swimmers turned a bit further down the river at the correct buoy, giving the referee no option but to DQ the majority of the field.

Despite my quick time it wasn’t enough for me to qualify, although I did go in the end, as I was third reserve and three others pulled out. Tim, on the other hand, failed to qualify, although he had by that time raced in the Olympics, and would go on to race in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics as well.

Back to Ironman Brazil, and I struggle to comprehend just how fast Tim completed each discipline. 44 mins for the swim, 4hours and 6 min for the bike and 2 hr 44 for the marathon. Not many people could do any one of those events in the time, so my hat is well and truly doffed to Mr Don, and all the best in Kona at the end of the season.

Lanarkshire to Lancashire

February last year I completed 200 Strava challenges by doing a 200km ride (Strava activity here). So when it came round to 300 challenges I thought about doing something similar, although I wanted the ride to be a bit more memorable. I therefore decided to look at taking a train somewhere, and them cycling back. Glasgow was about the right distance, and I had never cycled half of the route, which made it an ideal choice.

I kept a close eye on the weather, and it looked like Friday would be best, so I booked myself and my bike onto the first train of the day. I also decided to start my ride in Motherwell so that I wouldn’t have to negotiate Glasgow at rush hour. The photo below was taken a few minutes before 6am at Lancaster station, with my pink Principia, loaded with extra food and lights, just in case.

20170519_055135

The staff on the train were friendly and I had a very nice cup of good coffee as I watched the changing landscape. The train manager was having a rough morning as there was a man without a ticket, and no way of buying one, who was refusing to get off the train. Transport police were due to meet him in Glasgow.

Getting off in Motherwell I was glad that I had created a route for my Garmin, as I would have got well and truly lost, but less than 10 miles later and I was on the correct road south. Another reason for cycling home from near Glasgow is that there is a road running parallel to the motorway all the way to Carlisle, making it fairly easy to navigate.

First stop of the day was at Abington after 50km, just for a few minutes, before continuing on to Lockerbie for my second stop at 100km.

20170519_100401

I was also lucky with the weather, as there was a small tailwind, although this did change later in the day. A few miles past Lockerbie there was the town of Ecclefechan. I had to stop for a photo, and I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce it.

20170519_121608

I was nearing the end of my Scottish leg, and onto roads I’d cycled previously. I had also created a route for my Garmin to take me through Carlisle. It is one of those cities that I’m sure there are easy ways to get through on a bike, but this is the fifth time I’ve been there and it doesn’t get any easier, much like trying to cycle through Preston or Hull.

I saw a few other cyclists on the route towards England, many of them fully loaded with panniers, who could well have been doing Lands End to John O’Groats. I used the Flyby function on Strava and saw that one cyclist had done 155 miles from Penrith to Glasgow, almost my exact route but in the other direction.

Once through Carlisle I stopped to refill my water bottles in Dalston and eat more flapjack (made by my lovely wife). Out of Penrith and I once again used a route I had plotted in my Garmin so that I could avoid the A6. Unfortunately my Garmin froze, so I restarted it and saved my ride up to that point. The last time my Garmin had done this I lost everything after that point, so I wasn’t risking losing 70 odd miles. As they say, if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.

The route from Penrith to Shap was where myself and Helen had intended to go on our Easter mini adventure (read about it here), although it was quite a bit lumpier than the A6. This was the first time on the ride that I had had to use my small chainring, as all of the hills in Scotland had been very gentle. The wind had also picked up and was definitely not a tailwind anymore.

I stopped once again in Shap as my total so far was 202km. One fairly bland Costa’s coffee and a very poor Ginsters sausage roll didn’t make me want to linger in the village for too long (sorry Shap).

20170519_162103

The last time I had cycled south from Shap was in terrible weather, so I opted to detour through Orton and Tebay, although the climb out of Tebay is a real killer. I also passed a geological feature that I visited on a field trip as a second year undergraduate, ten years ago. As far as I’m concerned, Geology doesn’t rock!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Up in the Howgills, and the micro climate decided that it was time to rain, and rain hard for half an hour. I made the decision that if it didn’t stop raining I would take the direct route home and not worry about completing 300km. Fortunately it soon stopped as I made my way to Kirkby Lonsdale and a slightly longer route to Morecambe to add a few extra miles.

On the cycle path from Morecambe to Lancaster I was still short, so I completed a few laps of the cycle track at Salt Ayre and then made my way home just as it was getting dark. My full route can be seen below, along with the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty I passed in England. Scotland doesn’t have any designated AONB’s, because the whole country is one.

300km

Total distance cycled was 300.3km with over 2500m of climbing, which took me about 12 and a half hours, including stops (Strava activities here and here). The bike I rode was my old aluminium Principia from 2000 with 9 speed dura-ace group set, which is still by far the nicest and fastest bike I’ve ever ridden (read about it here).

Helen, my beautiful wife, was waiting for me with pizza, beer and a hot bath. She also said how good I looked compared to when I was doing these sort of crazy distances last year, when I was training for a triple ironman (really should blog about that soon).

Overall it was a great day and a great way to tick off my 300th Strava challenge. At the rate at which I’m completing these challenges it will probably only be a year before I reach 400, and I might have already started looking at 400km routes. Edinburgh via Durham to Lancaster. Who’s with me?

 

300 Strava Challenges

I can’t believe that I’ve completed 300 Strava Challenges. Some of my Strava friends don’t bother with them, while others complete them every now and again. Me, on the other hand, got a bit obsessed with them.

Even when I joined Strava five years ago I was never too fussed about KOM’s or segment hunting. Back then, there wasn’t as many challenges, often only one a month, and they could be a serious challenge. Gradually more and more appeared, sometimes eight in a single month. Not all of them are posted on the Strava challenges page. The website here lists all challenges, although many of them are segment challenges in far off countries.

As I am a triathlete, I can manage both running and cycling challenges, and for an eight period from Dec 15 to July 16 I completed every single challenge, running and cycling, distance and climbing. The last year I’ve not completed as many due to a running injury, but most months I’ve managed the easier running challenges.

Back in Jan 15 I set up a Strava group, only for those athletes who had completed 100 challenges (find it here). We only have five members, so join up if you can.

In Feb last year I celebrated completing 200 challenges by riding 200km (Strava activity here), hence why yesterday I rode 300km to tick off 300 challenges (Strava activities here and here). I’ve set a trend, and while I might manage 400, I think 500 is beyond me.

To finish off my ramble, here are some answers to the more obvious questions.

First challenge:

Rapha Rising Jul 2012

Last challenge:

Gran Fondo May 2017

Toughest challenges:

CTS Bucket List Aug 2012, where the challenge was to ride 683 miles in 7 days. The Alpen-Traun in a day Aug 2014, where you had to complete a ride of 252km (strava activity here). It took me two attempts, as I only managed 245km a week earlier.

Easiest challenge:

What I find easy could well be a significant challenge for someone else, and what I find to be hard could be a walk in the park for someone else.

Memorable challenge:

Quarq Power Trip Feb 2013. The challenge was to complete a 100 mile ride, but there was only a three day window, and it snowed (strava activity here). Another memorable challenge was the Strade Bianche challenge from Feb 2016, as this was my 200th challenge (strava activity here). I emailed Strava and they sent me a T-shirt, water bottle, plastic phone wallet and a truckers cap.

Annoying challenge:

In June 14 I completed a double ironman, but my support crew managed to take my Garmin cable with them, and by the time I got it back I had missed the window to upload my 52 mile run, thereby not completing a challenge.

Favourite challenge:

I like cycling time based challenges. These level the playing field so it doesn’t matter how fast you are. It also doesn’t matter if you do hills, go off road or touring.

Challenges that could be better organised:

I don’t like to criticise Strava, but sometimes the challenges don’t appear to have been thought out thoroughly. For example, earlier in the month I ran a 10k, ticking off three 10k challenges that were all on at the same time. Next month the 10th Rider challenge requires you to complete a 100km ride, which is generally what the Gran Fondo challenges require. Why not have a different time period, or make it a slightly different distance.

Has anyone completed more challenges than me:

I don’t know, but if you do know of anyone, send them over to me.

Finally, here’s to the next bunch of challenges and hopefully I’ll still be here when I reach 400, 500, 600 or more.