Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Anatomy of a Crash

I'm hacked off, really hacked off this morning.  My Powertap has been reading low power for several weeks and not just because I'm a jessy who would be better off considering cheerleader school rather than trying to ride a bike.  No, there was definitely something off, so I sent it away for maintenance.

And then the news comes back this morning that the electrics need replacing and this will be a paltry £400 thank you very much as I am out of the 1 year warranty (I've had the PT 2 years).  That's actually not much off the price of a brand new hub (c. £550).  Winner.

I got all angry with CycleOps and thought, damn it, these things are so temperamental and I've hardly had the sodding thing 2 minutes, etc, etc.  And then I remembered.  Oh yeah.  When did I start to get issues?  Er that would have been right after I fell off my bike a few months back and redistributed half the skin off my hip somewhere in Surrey.  Not only that, but I further damaged my already damaged coach, and may well have been the straw that broke the camel's back, meaning he couldn't compete with his well earned slot in Kona this year.

Jack was close behind me as I went into a sharp roundabout too fast on wet roads and with a poorly executed racing line.  In the matter of seconds this is what happened to my wallet:

  • £0 New Powertap plastic cap (thankyou Torq!)
  • £400 New Powertap components
  • £25 Powertap courier costs
  • £75 Repair Winter Jacket (zip and elbow hole)
  • £80 New Rear Derailleur
  • £35 New Bar Tape, Cables & Fitting
  • £40 Ripped Unrepairable Bib Shorts
  • £25 Medical Supplies

Total damage £680.  Ouch - that hurts more than the first salt water swab on the road rash.

This is an expensive sport, and I've made my peace with that.  I spend a large part of my income on getting to where I want to be.  Equipment, flights, accommodation, race fees, coaching, gym membership, sports nutrition products.  I don't want to total up what I spend in a year.  I know it's a huge wadge of cash and I'm damn lucky that I have the opportunity to do what I do.  And I derive a lot of pleasure from the sport, but what really gets me is the bunch of cash I spend just to keep me on the road, money that doesn't seem to get me any closer to my goal.

So I think, maybe I'm missing the point here.  Maybe all the gadgets and gizmos are just snake oil, crutches that make me think I'm training smarter, harder, better.  Maybe I should just go back to basics and just train.

In other parts of my life I strive to reduce clutter - a simple work life, a simple home life, get rid of the junk, focus on what's important, but when it comes to triathlon, I let the sport take free reign.  It concerns me that the products we buy often end up owning us, and we are no longer in control.

Get the biggest mortgage you can afford, then you have to fill your big house with lots of big stuff, and you need a big car to sit outside your big house, and you have to live a big lifestyle to go with your big house.  And you need a big job to pay for all your big stuff and before you know it, you're no longer in control.  You're the hamster in the cage running on the wheel to stay exactly where you are.

OK I've gone off the rails a bit here.  Getting all philosophical because my bank balance is dropping faster than my pace towards the end of the ironman marathon.  I guess I'm thinking should I go old school for the winter and train without the stats, or do I take the hit on the belief that it will make me a better rider in 6 months time?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Great South Run 2010

Huw texted me last night to say he's sick and won't be running today - shame I reckon he would have torn up this course in the perfect race conditions down in Portsmouth. The alarm went off at 5AM to give me plenty of time to get the trains down south. I didn't fancy driving and the ensuing chaos on arrival with 23,000 competitors entered. With Huw having bailed, I had a damn good think about jacking it in too and staying in my nice warm bed. Sod it, step up to the plate monkey boy. HTFU. And other such rubbish - I slunk my sorry ass out of bed.

Conditions on arrival were ideal: cool, sunny, no wind. The course is more or less totally flat. Goal was a sub 60 with the additional goals of pushing hard into the red zone, maintaining strong mental form throughout and being competitive right through to the finish. Sub 60 is a tall ask on the best of days, and we're well into the off season. This was going to be interesting.

Breakfast involved an apple, a pear, 2 cups of coffee from various train stations and 2 croissants during the 3 hours to start time. My that's the breakfast of champions Howard. Hey it's only a 10 miler right? What could possibly go wrong?


I started close to the front. It took 10s to cross the start after the gun, 10s which they did not take off my official race time the buggers - I'm going with my watch time. Even so, as always there were a bunch of muppets up there who had seeded themselves in totally the wrong place. I looked over at a guy in a devil costume, sporting a foolish grin and carrying a plastic trident in front of me.  I won't repeat what I thought.  Maybe this is not such a bad thing - it meant my first 2 miles were a little slow rather than being crazy adrenaline induced fast, and also meant I was overtaking people throughout the race. After mile 1 nobody came past me.

I settled into a good rhythm and felt strong. Miles 2-6 felt fine with a decent pace. I noticed my auto lap mile function on my GPS watch (Garmin 310XT) seemed to be a number of metres down on the mile markers, and this got more pronounced throughout the race. My final distance showed 315 metres over 10 miles. The course is accurate so don't know what the hell was going on with the watch.

After the 6 mile marker I had to start really focusing - I knew if I could get to the 8 mile marker in good shape, I'd be able to push home. At this point another runner asked me what I was looking for and I said sub 60. Me too, he said, and this is my 6th attempt. Good luck mate, it's going to be tough, I replied as cheerfully as I could.

As it happened we ran together to the finish and encouraged each other when it got tough. Usually I don't like someone hanging on my shoulder but I was glad to have this guy there. We had to catch runners ahead of us - holding position was tempting but would just not be good enough, and we slowly bridged from one runner to the next.

At the 9 mile marker I felt pretty rough but my running partner was pushing on and shouting encouragement. I practised another mental technique (I'll cover this in my next post), clearing the mind - I relaxed, focused on my breathing, on my rhythm and just staying with my new running partner. Disassociate from the pain - not far to go. With 800m left he started to breathe really heavily and let out a couple of groans. Keep With It! I shouted, Keep With It! He immediately settled down.

I'm kind of embarrassed about the next bit, but my bowels weren't feeling too great and I had a Paula moment in my running shorts. Nothing to do but keep going. Sorry, I know that's Too Much Information, but hell this is my race report and next time I need to remember to make better breakfast choices!! Besides I reckon I'm kinda badass for pushing so hard this had to happen.

And finally the finishing straight with a runner close ahead. I had no real desire for a sprint finish but there was my running partner / mobile support crew shouting Go On, Take Him! Gee thanks, because you know what, I feel real energetic right now!!  HTFU Howard, HTFU.

I began to wind it up. I came past him and made a few yards, but hang on, Damn, I kicked too soon - I was tying up! I looked back and sure enough here's hero boy coming back at me strong. I kicked again with just metres to go and we crossed the line together - not sure who took the photo finish, and not sure anyone cared. I was totally spent and am pretty sure I couldn't have gone any harder with my current level of fitness.

59:17 with all goals achieved. I maintained a strong mental attitude throughout, I practised positive self talk and clearing the mind, I dug deep and endured some good old fashioned red zone pain and stayed competitive right to the finish line. Oh yeah, and did I mention I shat myself?  Actually that goal wasn't on the list, it was just an added bonus.

Average Pace 5:56 per mile, 3:41 per km
Average HR 179

85th Overall
34th Amateur
7th M35-39
14,924 finishers

Pace Breakdown
Mile Split HR
Mile 1 6:00 166
Mile 2 6:04 175
Mile 3 5:41 178
Mile 4 5:25 180
Mile 5 5:43 181
Mile 6 5:42 183
Mile 7 5:55 182
Mile 8 5:56 183
Mile 9 5:57 183
Mile 10 5:51 185
315m 0:58 186

Mind Games Pt 3: Self Talk

It seems I've been thinking about this post for weeks, so I decided it was time to get a grip and put it down on paper - this one is about Self Talk. Whether we like it or not, all of us have an internal dialogue going on telling us how we feel about ourselves, our plans, ambitions, our likes, our dislikes. This self talk shapes our world view and how we perceive ourselves within that world.

For the most part it is unconscious and we often do not take time out to analyse the internal voice or try to take control of it. The voice is the product of our past and upbringing, and can define the very essence of who we are. The voice can be positive, self affirming, encouraging, but equally it can be damaging, limiting and blinkered.

It is important to listen to this voice and assess its impact on your life. If you are often talking to yourself in negative terms then you would do well to make a strong effort to change this. However this is not a self therapy session, but more a look at what I can do to improve specific performance.

The point to take away is that we can change what we say to ourselves and by changing this, we can have a direct impact on our mental outlook come race day and our performance in the race.

First and foremost, do you really believe you can achieve your goal? There is a very simple way to test this. Write down your goal in a simple sentence. For me this would be something along the lines of: I will qualify for Hawaii in Ironman Utah next May. Now stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and state your goal aloud. It is important that you say this aloud and not just in your mind. Gauge your reaction - it is surprisingly easy to assess how much conviction you have in your words.

Looking back to last year, the first time I tried this, I did not believe myself. I wanted to believe but deep down I didn't. By race day I would say I was 90% convinced but not 100%. I try this now and I do believe - it is a firm conviction and I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary.

If you feel yourself less than 100% then you need to take charge and improve that internal voice. In fact we need to take charge even if we do believe - there's more to it than simple confidence. What are the specific steps to take?

The visualization techniques I have already discussed are very useful here and you can use these in conjunction with the following suggestions. The first step is writing an Ultimate Intention Statement (UIS). I give full credit for this to my friend Robby in this post. I'll also link to the youtube video showing how Dirk Bockel has used this technique to great effect.



The UIS is a succinct statement of what you will do on race day and how you will feel as you achieve your goals and dreams. You will read this statement regularly (daily is good if you can manage this, and again aloud is best). What will happen is that you are changing your mind to truly believe that your desired outcome will actually become reality - it will not be a surprise on race day, it will be a deep felt conviction that will give you the strength to prepare in the manner you need to prepare and to execute accordingly, to overcome the inevitable obstacles that will rear their ugly heads on the way. You may hit setbacks but because of your belief you will handle them and they will not get the better of you.

Belief is important, because you do not suddenly become a Hawaii qualifier on race day - you need to believe it long before race day and become that person months before. It is what we do now, today, that determines what we will do when the start gun fires.

Ok so you have your UIS and you are stating it aloud to yourself on a regular basis - what else can you do? For your visualization sessions, you can write scripts for scenarios to practice, whether they be simply sections of the race, or how you will cope in adverse conditions.

Also, assess your feelings from your B & C races, even your hard training sessions and be vigilant for negative feedback. Pay attention to how you can change negativity to lessons to learn and areas to focus on.

Last weekend I did a half marathon in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast. It started with 3 miles on a shingle beach and then proceeded to take me over 4 brutal climbs with equally precipitous descents. Sure there was some stunning scenery and glorious sunshine, but you tend not to be thinking that as you are reduced to a walk with your heart rate firmly in the red zone.

It was hard and afterward I realised 2 things. Firstly my capacity to endure pain needs to be improved - I found it too easy to back off when it began to really hurt. And secondly my competitive spirit is not as strong as it could be. I dropped 3 places in the final flat half mile as I wasn't prepared to dig deep and truly didn't care about my final placing. That's all very well in an unimportant 'fun' race in the off season, or actually, no it's not very well at all - it's dangerous to get into bad habits. Now I realise these weaknesses and now I can build them into my various preparations.

To wrap up, be conscious of your internal dialogue and strive to make it a positive and strengthening voice. Often our limitations are not real, they are self imposed by our own belief systems. Take charge.



Now it's time for me to take a dose of my own medicine. I'm writing this on the train to Portsmouth where I will be doing the Great South Run in about 2 hours time. After the jump, it'll be the race report..