Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bow Drill - Sycamore

Yesterday I had a bit of spare time and so I went out and harvested some Sycamore to try bow drill.  It's another wood I haven't tried before - or at least I think I may have tried it a while ago, when I was initially learning the skill, but I'm pretty certain I never had success with it.

I carved the set, and perhaps had a couple of slight concerns: some of the bark once sliced off looked a little greenish, but there was certainly no moisture.  As far as I could tell the wood was dead (admittedly I did not look closely to see if there was any growth further down the branch when I harvested it, and now I was back in my garden).

The second concern was the central soft pith which was a millimetre or two in diameter, and which I thought may collapse either at the base or the top meaning I could not get the spindle burnt in.

Unfortunately I don't have a photo of these problems, I just thought I would forge ahead regardless.  I harvested some live ivy for the bearing block.  This is a great option - there's usually plenty of it around and no-one is going to give you grief for harvesting some live ivy.  I would typically feel a bit guilty about harvesting a live branch from a tree, especially since the width needs to be a decent size for a good bearing block.

As it happened my concerns were unfounded - the set burnt in quite nicely - I gave it more than I thought necessary to be absolutely sure.  Then I took a drink of water and went for the ember.  I got a good fat ember first time with very little difficulty - usually I would have to rest for 15 mins or more after burning in, but that was not the case this time.

I particularly focused on the spindle - creating a very straight and smooth cylindrical surface and this seemed to pay off.

For some reason I was expecting Sycamore to be harder to work with, but in truth it worked really well.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bow Drill - Alder

We headed out to Lydiard Park with the dog this morning.  We haven't been there for ages but Jo wanted to check out a dog agility event there (we've started doing this).

So while she went off for that, I knew there was a pretty good Alder carr in the park and thought I'd check it out to see if I could get some dead, dry and standing wood.

When I had a good look about I could see there were actually quite a few Alder coppices - so finding wood in the right condition and shape was not too difficult.  Unfortunately I neglected to take any ID photos, so here's something from Google to prove I actually know what indicators this tree has at this time of year.

I usually like to carve the spindle and hearth on site, since if there are problems I can search for more wood, but in this instance I was pushed for time, so I selected several pieces hoping I would have a workable set.

When I got home I carved the set below:

I was slightly concerned about a bit of punkiness on the hearth which meant it was not as wide as I would have hoped, but I reckoned I was good.  I burnt in the set using the same bearing block and bow I had from the previous post.

As you can see, the bowl is a little too close to the far edge.  I'm right handed so that edge is pointing away from me.  I thought for a second about carving the notch on that side, but decided against it as when I push the bow I thought that would potentially push the spindle out.  Instead I just ensured I had a nice upright position on the spindle, burning directly down into the hearth.

At this point I took the dog for a walk - this forced me to take 45 mins rest.  I wanted to give myself the best chance of success.

First attempt looked pretty good - smoke, ash and almost an ember.  A quick stretch, a drink of water and then attempt two.   This time I got a big fat ember and the set worked a dream.

Conclusion: Alder is a winner when it comes to bow drill.  Easily as good as Willow.  I have now added two new woods to my repertoire - awesome.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Bow Drill - Pine

Spoiler alert - this did not go to plan.

This was actually my first attempt at Paul's challenge mentioned in the recent post on Bow Drill (Poplar).  I'll keep it short.  Here's the tree:

Here's the set I carved:

You may be able to see the major problem from the photo.  There's too much resin.  What I have done is found some promising pieces of fat wood.  When I tried to burn in the set, the below happened:

So I think I was onto a loser here.  On the plus side I did harvest some other pieces of excellent fat wood and tested them out.  I have not used fat wood before - my god, it's amazing.  It takes a spark very easily and then burns hot for easily 30 seconds - it's like birch bark on steroids.

Here's a photo of some honeysuckle I intended to use as my kindling bundle:

Lessons to learn:

  • try to select pine that is not too resinous
Bonus: what's this fungus?  I have zero clue.  It was spongy to the touch.  There may have been some alien life form incubating inside.  I didn't cut it open to find out.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Bow Drill - Grey Poplar

I decided to resurrect this blog, mainly because I wanted to write up some bushcraft experiences and it seemed easier to use this old blog rather than create something new.

I do various online courses offered by Paul Kirtley, and in a recent video he challenged his students to try bow drill with two woods that they have not succeeded with previously. Since I've only ever tried Willow (success), Lime (success) and Hazel (fail), then there are plenty of options for me.

I've done both of those woods several times, and have succeeded with them in the last few months.  I have also failed this year with Willow - a good lesson that if you don't keep honing these skills you can lose them.

On a regular walk I noticed what I believe to be Grey Poplar, so I thought that's a good starting point. It's pretty similar to Willow in many respects and so should not be too difficult.

I made up the set after referencing Dan Hume's book The Art of Fire for some pointers.  He is very specific about dimensions and so I thought I would follow what he has to say and see where it got me.  I have practiced bow drill a fair bit, but my success is certainly not as high as I would like it to be.

He mentions a hearth depth of 2cm, a spindle width of 2.5cm and a spindle height of about 25cm.  After my attempts I would say 25cm is a good starting place for burning in the set, but is probably a little long for me when trying to get the ember.  By the time I get to that stage though, the spindle will have reduced due to reshaping the top point.

The set at the start of the process, with a slightly too long spindle.  The bearing block is green ivy - the bow is one I made a while ago - I don't see any point in remaking that bit each time.

I was a little worried about the weak pith on the spindle I had selected (see image below), but the pith was off centre at the top point (just visible in the previous image) so I thought I might get away with it.

The wood seemed to be pretty effective and it wasn't too hard to burn in the set once I had reduced the spindle length down to a little below 25cm.  I was feeling confident.

So this is where reality set in and I struggled, despite plenty of smoke and ash.  I think the main areas I need to show focus are:

  1. Position - small adjustments here can make a big difference to ensure that the larger muscles in the shoulder and back are activated without tiring the bowing arm
  2. Also small adjustments in position can ensure the arm holding the bearing block does not require an undue expenditure of effort to hold the block in place.  I have not quite mastered using body weight to bear down on the block rather than brute strength
  3. Recarving the hole in the bearing block to be quite shallow to reduce friction - this made a big difference.  The hole can develop sides after a few attempts which catch the top of the spindle
I had to give up on day one because I ran out of energy.

Day Two

I really felt my set was a good one and that the materials were also very good, so the next day I got the set out again and gave it another try.  Attempt one was close but no cigar.  Attempt two was a success.

Being fresh helped but there were minor adjustments that also helped:

  1. Tightening the cord a bit - I had experienced a little slippage
  2. Reshaping the groove - the bowl had moved slightly and so the groove was no longer centred properly
  3. I did not use ash that had previously been created - I wonder if this makes the set less effective?  No idea
  4. Positional adjustments that I think really helped to recruit the correct muscles

This is very much an ongoing process!  I now have three woods under my belt though which is awesome.  Next stop any of alder, sycamore or pine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three Oceans

After I came back from Utah I must admit my enthusiasm for triathlon took a dive. It wasn't an immediate process, but developed slowly over a couple of months.

In fact I did do some events, and even got my first AG win in the inaugural Cotswold 113. A great event by the way and one which I'll be going back to this year. The win was in part due to a lack of depth in competition, but I still put in a solid performance working off the fitness from Utah.

Looking back I was mentally burned from putting in all that effort, achieving lifetime best fitness and executing the race I wanted to (36 mins faster than 2010) and after all that, getting absolutely nowhere nearer to qualifying. Overall position went from 101st to 81st, but crucially AG position went from 17th to 22nd.

After Cotswold 113 my training took a slide - first I stopped swimming, then there were other things to do besides ride at the weekend, and finally the runs became less and less frequent too. The only problem was I had signed up with friends for a marathon in Dec 2011.

When I got to the race in Portsmouth I knew it was going to be bad, but I hadn't counted on just how bad. I'll cut it short and just say don't enter a marathon on no training (and when I say no training, I'm not talking about the 10 hours a week triathletes will tell you is no training, I mean No Training).

I ran / walked my way to a PW 4:40, worse than any of my IM marathons, and my fledgling 4:19 in NYC in 2003. Apart from the grandmas running by in the last 8 miles, my favourite moment was when an old guy came past, popped into a pub on the route, bought himself a pint and then ran off into the distance, pint in hand. Since I was walking at this stage and it was way too painful to run I just had to smile to myself.

It was just the wake up call I needed.

A few days later I signed up for Two Oceans Ultra with my mate Huw who went a rather more respectable 2:57 in Portsmouth. I had already organised to spend Jan thru Mar in Cape Town (which is nice), and out there in the sun and the incredible scenery I slowly won back the love of exercise.

I also had something that was sorely lacking in Portsmouth: The Fear. Two Oceans is 56k, quite a way longer than I've ever run, and it goes over 2 pretty big climbs: Chapman's Peak and Constantia Nek, the second and hardest of which is after the marathon point in the race.

Starting from what felt like ground zero I knew I had plenty of work to do.

By the time Huw came out in late March I felt confident I could finish the race and hopefully not disgrace myself too much.

Race day was electric - you have to give it to the saffers, they don't do things by halves - over 9,000 people had signed up for this race! Each of them had to have a recent qualifying marathon in sub 5 hours (no marathons in SA have a longer cutoff than 5 hours), and probably a fair percentage of them were using this ultra as a training race for the real daddy later in the year, the 89k Comrades.

Some guy blew a fish horn, the SA national anthem was sung with obvious pride and a cannon sent us on our merry way.

Pretty much the first half of the race is flat or gentle descent, but as mentioned The Fear meant there were no heroics at this stage. I came through 10k in about 45 I think, which was on course for my sub 5 goal (Sainsbury medal).

Soon after the heavens opened and Two Oceans became Three Oceans. A few millimeters of rain were forecast but I don't think anyone predicted the rainfall that did greet us that day, and indeed continued on and off for 3 days. As we ran through Kalk Bay I remember vainly trying to dodge rivers of water on the road - in seconds everything was soaked.

But I'm British - never mind all the warm weather acclimatisation I'd done over the preceding months, when push comes to shove and it comes to a run race, give me a rainy day any day. Loads of people said the conditions were tough, but for me 35C would have been tough - a little water was no problem.

Soon enough we were going over Chappies, and I still held what I had in reserve, just hoping I wouldn't blow up. Coming down off Chappies lots of people will tell you not to fly down as it can trash the legs and cause big issues for Constantia Nek to come, but I ignored all that and caught a bunch of people on the way down. I noted as in Utah, that my flat and downhill speed is comparatively better than other runners at a similar level, and my uphill speed is comparatively worse.

Then there was the gradual ascent out of Hout Bay before the ominous Nek. I could feel it by this stage, after all a fair amount of distance had been covered and soon enough the marathon point came up. I was happy to go through in 3:19. Now I knew I was looking good for the sub 5, and also my dream time of beating the ignominious Portsmouth 4:40.

My conservative pacing had worked well, and it meant that I was gradually catching people throughout the race - excellent for morale. Of course the odd person did come past me, but there weren't too many of them.

And then the brutal climb up the Nek started in earnest. Thankfully I've cycled it many times, so I know all the corners and how long it is, as well as where it steepens. This was when I began to work hard, and the heart rate climbed as fast as the gradient.

I still felt strong hitting the top of the climb (with welcome support from friends in the pouring rain) and then had a bit of a respite as the slope leveled off. There's still about 9k of the run left at this point and although there's plenty of downhill, there's also a couple of evil little hills and a highly cambered road to deal with.

But I dug in and focused on catching people in front. At 52k I passed Zola Budd (now Pieterse) and said what I hope were some encouraging words. Yes she was wearing shoes. I only hoped I could keep ahead of her (as it happened I beat her by about 30 seconds - my claim to fame!).

Coming to the water logged finish I was delighted to see I was going to duck under 4:30, with a 4:29 finish, which seemed to me a fitting way to put to bed the demons of Portsmouth. Thankfully I also didn't leave the Welsh Whippet Huw waiting too long - he had completed in an awesome 4:08 (he went through the marathon in 3:04!).

A few minutes after finishing my legs hurt like hell, but it was all worth it. I have the excitement back and I have big plans both for 2012 and 2013. That will have to wait for another post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

IMSG 2011 Race Report

I got to the swim start well rested, uninjured and up for a good day's racing - you can't say fairer than that. Weather conditions were thankfully mild at this stage with about 18C water temp and little wind. On a few days leading up to the race, the temp was 12C with pumping winds and white capped waves on the reservoir so the conditions were on my side at this stage.

My goals this year were very different from last year. In 2010 I was only really concerned with qualification and, when I felt that my race was going south, my mind started to give up on me which meant for a very long and painful marathon. This year I just removed that stress - my main goals for the day were to race strong throughout and have a solid marathon at the end. By solid I meant my best effort with staying mentally strong, nothing to do with position, pace or time. If qualification happened, that would be a bonus.

My key lessons from last year were to improve mental form and nutrition (both day to day and race day specific). Without going into too much detail on the nutrition aspect, I can say I'm happy that my diet is now much healthier and supportive of physical fitness.

The Swim
Last year I made the mistake of placing myself centrally to the front, and so spent the first 1k of the swim battling the washing machine of other athletes. This year I seeded myself to the right of the starting line - in fact I had zero contact on the whole course. The water was calm and I had a very smooth and easy swim. For the most part I swam by myself, but caught a draft for the last 800m or so.

I had done a lot of swimming and my times had come down a good deal in the pool after a couple months of master's sessions in Jan & Feb. As such I was a little disappointed to come out of the water in 62:45, a full minute slower than last year and one of my slowest IM swim splits. 4 years of focused swim training and my swim times haven't budged an inch. Awesome.

Well I reckon part of it is I just took it too easy. It did feel like a low effort - perhaps a lack of recent race experience has made me lazy in the water. On the plus side, conserving energy early on with this course is a very strong strategy, because the real work comes much later in the day.

Transition was quick, almost exactly the same as 2010. The wetsuit strippers really help!

The Bike
I was mentally prepared for a brutal day on the bike, with pumping winds and cold conditions early on. As it happened, it was very mild to start with and in fact the wind was in the opposite direction to last year. This meant there was no headwind on the long ascent to Veyo, but a headwind on the downhill sections back to town. As such you are working for the whole day, but I'll take that wind direction any day. The bike times were about 10-15 mins faster than last year, and what can be a really tough course didn't feel too bad. One day the winds will be blowing at IMSG and I'm happy I won't be there to experience it.

My race strategy was to keep everything in check til the end of the first loop, and then if I was feeling good, pick it up. Also I planned to alternate PVM bars and gels every 30 mins. That worked OK for the first couple of hours, but then I couldn't eat the bars any more and so stuck with gels and water. I drank a fair amount of water as the temperatures gradually escalated through the day. I did start with energy drink, but like the bars, I couldn't stomach it after the half way point of the ride. Total food was 3 bars, 8 gels, 1 bottle energy drink and about 2.5 bottles water.

Around 40 miles in, a M45-49 AGer took me, and we swapped over a couple of times when he said "Looks like we're gonna be doing this most of the day". He wasn't wrong - we stayed pretty close and certainly it helped to pace off him, and when he slowed, go ahead and swap roles. No drafting mind! In fact that's one of the great things about a tough bike course - I didn't see any drafting out there.

I did the opening section to the first loop in about 1:05 and then the loop in about 2:05, I was on for a much quicker time than last year. One thing I didn't have though was power data. Last year I rented Zipps with Powertap, this year I had my own pair of Fast Forwards but no power meter. That's fine for me during the race, but it's a shame not to have it for post race analysis.

As I got on to the second loop, I felt OK, but not so good that I could open it up further, so I just decided to hold it together and save myself for the run. My second loop was about 2:10 with an additional few minutes down to T2 - excellent even pacing. In the final hour I did feel a little uncomfortable with some lower back pain and tiredness, but nothing like 2010. Last year I did 5:39, this year 5:25 - that's probably an equivalent performance given the easier cycle conditions this year. Average HR was 151 - that surprised me, obviously I was putting in the work out there.

T2 was pretty quick, but I needed to pee, so the time stretched out to 4 mins. That pee felt like it lasted forever, probably not surprising as that was actually my only loo break all race. People will probably say that means I was dehydrated, but my bladder just seems to shut down during a race - actually it's a pretty good time saver.

The Run
In T2 I handed my bike to a catcher and about 20s later I realised I left my Garmin on the bike. I thought for a split second about going back to get it and then thought forget it. I knew I didn't want any feedback in the race, but it would have been great for post race data. Oh well.

Coming out onto the course I started the gradual ascent to the first real climb. A M40-45 AGer asked if he could run with me on this section and I said sure. He started chatting away very hospitably and I chatted back, but all the time thinking, you know I really don't want to talk right now. I was feeling uncomfortable more or less right from the start of the run and I realised pretty quickly that actually what I needed to do was just slow down and collect myself. The AGer soon moved away - I hope he finished as strong as he started that run. At the new pace I started to feel better.

In training in SA with heat and wind and hills I practised what I call 'appropriate pace'. This is simple - it's just the pace that feels right and comfortable. It's not the pace you WANT to go, it's the pace you CAN go. The other key element is to be happy with that pace and not beat yourself up about it. BTW this doesn't work for shorter races - in those circumstances it's supposed to hurt!

Those first few miles felt slow and I thought to myself, damn this is not going to be easy, this is going to be a long ugly slog. The temperature had risen to 33C+ and out on the road with zero shade and the red rock reflecting the sun, I reckon the temps escalated higher than that. These are pretty much my nightmare conditions - at 35C my body starts to shut down and my pace falls off dramatically. Give me a cold drizzly day in the UK and I'm firing on all cylinders, but out in the desert it's a different story.

The godsend were the aid stations - they're every mile, very well manned and have all the key options: sponges, water, ice, coke, energy drink, gels and more besides. I played every trick in the book to keep cool. At every aid station I drank water, I took sponges and doused myself, I threw water on my head and body, I drank coke and then I took ice and put it either in my run cap, down my tri top or even on a couple occasions down my tri shorts. I did all this without needing to walk. I would try to have some ice to hold in my hand when leaving the aid station and would run with that, every so often taking a bit of ice and eating it, crunching down on the cooling refreshing goodness. I also ran with a small water bottle in my other hand, which I topped up every so often. Even with stations just 1 mile apart I really needed to sip water in between to keep me going. I know if those aid stations had been further apart or less well stocked, I would have been in real trouble.

I only managed 3 gels on the whole run. I planned to eat more but I had to make a big mental effort to take even them - I had zero appetite for them. I think it was enough - I did not feel light headed at any time, a clear indicator of depleted energy.

After the first hard climb up Red Hills Parkway, the course leveled off and I found I could pick up my pace to something that felt much more normal. I started to catch people and get into a rhythm. I realised that it's so important to just keep going, no matter how slow it seems, because sometimes it comes round and you do start to feel better. I found this was consistent in the race - on the flat and downhill I started to catch people, and then on the uphills my pace went way down and people started to come past me. There wasn't anything I could do about it, it wasn't a mental issue, it was physical. The only thing I can conclude is that I'm not a hill runner, especially not in an IM marathon. My strength as a runner seems to be nullified by the hills, even with all the hill training I did in Jan/Feb/Mar (I did a lot!).

I came through the half in 1:46, although I had no idea about that, having left my Garmin in T2. That's pretty respectable even if it did feel real slow. Unfortunately I couldn't maintain the pace and I slowed on the second lap. I don't think I messed up my pacing, I didn't go too hard on the bike, or the first lap of the run. My dad asked me afterward why I slowed on the second lap and the answer I gave then seems about right: "Dad, you know what? I was just plain tired". The attrition of the heat and hills just wore me down.

What I am most proud of is that I kept going, I never gave up and I was determined to give my best effort. On that second loop I did catch guys, and yes guys passed me too. Running down the final big climb before the turn around I looked over and saw Meredith Kessler, at that point the second placed female and with almost 40 IMs under her belt, walking up the hill. Wow, so it's not just me then I thought. I found out later that when she got to the top of that climb, 22 miles into the run and downhill all the way home, she collapsed and when she woke up she was in the med tent.

When I got to that climb, my pace was so pitiful I tried 'power walking' but I had to concede that was even slower and so got back into my marginally faster than walking run. Getting to the top of that climb, I knew my legs would come back and my goal was just to give it everything for the 4 miles downhill to the finish. Everything hurt, my legs, my head, my core especially but I picked it up and started to catch people ahead of me. Way back at the beginning of the run, one guy in my AG came past and on his trisuit it said 'Powered by Christ'. Now I remember at the time thinking that was a bit unfair - surely that's some kind of doping, having the Son of God giving you a performance enhancer? Anyhow I ran past him walking, so maybe he hadn't been saying his prayers often enough.

I was so happy to come into the finish chute and I made sure to savour the experience too. I had no idea of my time and was frankly delighted to see 10:26 up on the timer. 34 minutes faster than last year. My second half had been 2:05 for a marathon time of 3:51. Not too great, but I knew I gave it everything and I couldn't have gone faster on the day. I also knew I hadn't qualified but this year I really didn't mind - I gave it my best race and on the day that fell short. Maybe that story's not over yet, time will tell.

Round Up
I achieved all my key goals out here on a tough day. I raced intelligently and I raced with a strong positive attitude. I think a very strong field turned up here which made my time look slow. I was 34 mins quicker and 5 places lower down M35-39 (from 17th in 2010 to 22nd this year). I actually came 81st overall, whereas last year I was 101st. I count this as my best ironman performance, even if I've gone faster or placed higher in others.

As an indicator check out these details: The M35-39 winner Fabrice Houzelle finished in 9:26. He came 2nd in AG in Kona with 9:05 last year. 4th place, Declan Doyle finished in 9:41 - he was 16th in AG in Kona with 9:21. The guy who came 21st in front of me, John Marinovich, who qualified at this race last year in 7th, did 9:48 at Kona. About 1 of every 5 who started this race did not finish (18% DNF).

10th place, who I think took the final slot, did 10:06, so I was 20 mins out. Last year 10:36 was good enough for a slot and 10:04 won M35-39.

If you want to test yourself and you didn't get a place at the last Lanza IM this year (and you're not crazy enough to take on Norseman), then consider a trip to St George. One thing though - don't ask me to join you!

Section Split AG Overall
Swim 1:02:45 26 148
T1 0:02:43 9 59
After T1 1:05:29 21 115
Bike 5:25:32 20 81
After Bike 6:31:01 19 66
T2 0:03:56 64 341
After T2 6:34:57 18 68
Run 3:51:25 32 136
Total 10:26:22 22 81

224 athletes in AG finished from 321 signed up
1310 athletes overall finished from 1926 signed up (around 1600 started)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

IMSG Course Recce

Today I did a loop of the bike course, plus a little of the section approaching the start of the 2 loops. Earlier in the week on Thu, I did a half marathon loop of the run course to cement it in my mind and see if there was anything I'd forgotten. More on those later.

I flew into Vegas on Tue on a flight full of Brits, stags and hens going to spend their hard earned cash on living the dream. I'm sure the casinos welcomed them with open arms. Once landed I got my hire car and got the hell out of Dodge. I don't like Vegas, but I know there's plenty of people who disagree.

By the time I got into St George I was pretty beat - it's a heck of a long journey door to door, plus once getting in I decided to shop for basics for dinner and breakfast. Virgin did not do a good job of feeding the beast that is a man coming off volume training. On the return leg I will take a LOT more food with me.

By the way, if you're traveling to a race this year, it is now officially not permitted to take your aero helmet on board. This is because you might put it on mid flight and the pilot would have a coronary laughing at you so hard and crash the plane. Either that or you'll head butt your way to control of the aircraft and then do all kinds of BAD things. Be warned. I had to put mine in my canvas travel bag - amazingly it did not break in transit.

It feels good to be back here - not because I love SG - the place is actually pretty sleepy, but I think mainly because it's familiar and I've been thinking about it for ages. I was truly excited about getting out on the run course which beat me up so bad last year.

Run Course
When I analyzed a Garmin capture of the course, it struck me that my memory of the course didn't seem to tally with what the profile was showing. Probably not surprising as at that stage of the race I was just hurting and wanted it to be over - I wasn't taking course notes.

The start of the run is a gradual uphill for a couple miles - it's nothing to be scared of, a gentle gradient which ends in a short off course loop with a couple of short sharp kickers. These can be vicious on shattered legs, but today seemed pretty innocuous. Then the gradient ramps up a bit until you get to Red Hills Parkway, an 8% climb for maybe 500m.

I made a lot of this climb last year and I thought this was the hardest section of the course. Actually it's not at all - the real beast is the climb after the turnaround. Going steadily up RHP I was pleasantly surprised that it was nothing harder than what I had practiced on in Cape Town (Camps Bay Drive to Signal Hill) - in fact my runs in CT were all harder in profile than the run here and there is nothing like the ramps up to Lion's Head car park or the Cable Car if you're familiar with those routes.

Coming off RHP there's a plateau and then a further gradual climb up to the high point of the course. From there you come down sharp and then there's the loop round Pioneer Park with a number of testing little rollers - again trouble for tired legs but seemingly simple when you're running from fresh. A further descent to the turnaround, then back up to Pioneer Park for a second look.

Coming out of Pioneer Park you have what I will now call The Beast. This is a pretty serious climb up to the high point of the course. The Beast demands respect. This will be hard come race day, and my strategy is just to go steady and not stress about pace or HR too much. The HR will go up, the pace will go down, just stick with it and it'll be over soon enough. I know what the right effort level feels like - just dial into that and that's the best I can do.

The bonus is that now you are at the high point, you are pretty much downhill most of the way to the end of the loop. There is a slight gradual to get you over RHP, but it's not much, and of course there's the 2 kickers I mentioned earlier. I will need to take care not to push the pace too much here - it's damn tempting, but it's too early with what you have to come (another loop that is). These downhills should be relaxed efforts, resting a little for the hard work ahead.

My marathon strategy is take the first loop at a relaxed pace, and continue like this until I'm over RHP for the second time. At this point there are 10 miles to go. If I feel good open it up, if not just keep it going. Simple. Well we'll see how that works out for me.

Bike Course
I just got back from doing the loop today. There's a section from the swim to the start of the loop, then 2 loops before T2. When I got back off this ride it was with a deep sense of relief. Relief because the course is easy? No, relief because I am still alive. More about that later.

The early sections have plenty of small and moderate climbs - with all the adrenaline and energy pent up it's tempting to smash these. My strategy is to take it easy - there's plenty to get your teeth stuck into later. I've found on a number of my rides that I can hit it for about 4 hours and then I start to drop off quite a bit. I certainly do not want that happening on Saturday - I want to be able to finish the second loop strong, which will mean easy efforts early on - efforts that will make me worried I'm going way too slow.

The sections in town are all pretty good - relatively smooth roads, low wind, nice and fast. Then you get out on to Highway 91 and the wind picks up. Today I cycled in wind conditions much harder than last year - I'm glad I got this now so I know what race day can be like. Essentially what you have now is ascent, from gradual to moderate, to short and sharp and for a long long way. And head wind - from harsh to brutal at times. This was the Cape Town wind I've been training in, so I'm used to it, but that doesn't mean I want it on race day. It was pumping and if it blows like this on race day, it's going to be carnage.

Actually a big problem I had was that often I didn't want to take one hand off the bars to get my water bottle or to take nutrition - seriously the wind and side gusts were that strong. I'll have to make more of an effort to force myself to take nutrition, not only when I feel good, but also on the sections where the wind drops off a bit (rare). One of the towns just down the road is called Hurricane. Go figure. The image is not SG by the way!

Finally after what seems an age I got to The Wall, the climb that is billed as the tough section of the course. Actually it's not too bad - it was the first time when I had the wind at my back for a long time. Getting to the top of the climb is far from the end of the challenge though - cresting the climb you swing round into a brutal headwind and gradual incline - I actually had to gear down here - this bit was harder than The Wall.

Soon enough I got into Veyo and now you come round and the wind is behind you pretty much all the way back into town. But there's more - a pretty decent climb out of Veyo which is work even with the wind helping. In fact the whole section back to town takes some care, because the winds are often side on or gusting. Much of the time I felt nervous in aero and came up on the drops. Which brings us to the point where I got a very real scare.

There's this one bit which is a sharp descent but I think the canyon funnels the tailwind down it, because it sends you flying through there. And there are side gusts too. It didn't help that the traffic was quite close, but even without them I could feel my bike going into a speed wobble. There are only 2 things to do in this situation and neither of them seems the rational choice. One is come off the brakes - trying to brake even lightly is more likely to increase the wobble to a point where you're out of control. And the second is to relax. If you tense up, then the tension in your arms will increase that wobble, and it's only going to get worse. So there I am kicking along at 70kph, a cyclist who wishes he had better handling skills, on a twitchy TT bike with deep section wheels and gusting winds, traffic overtaking about 1 metre away from me, holding off the brakes and shouting to myself "It's OK, it's OK". It was very goddamn un-OK is what it was, but what can you do?

To cut to the chase, I didn't fall off and die, but I was seriously rattled and still am (can you tell?). If the wind blows like it did today, I can't see how there won't be some accidents on that section of course - I'm just praying it isn't me because any accidents there will not be pretty.

Oh one other thing I didn't really mention, is it's cold here first thing. I'm going to be cold coming out of the water, and I'm going to be cold for probably the first couple of hours of the bike. Thankfully I handle it quite well, but I'm thinking I could do with some additional clothing in T1. I didn't have any last year. Food for thought.

In summary, it's going to be tough - well I knew that already. If the wind blows then it'll be exceptionally tough. At least it's the same for everyone.