Coached Events…

I have had the pleasure of coaching athletes that have taken part in the following events:

140.6/Ironman/Challenge/long course triathlon
World Championships (Kona)
Port Macquarie
Coeur D’Alene
St George
Western Australia
Lake Tahoe

ETU/ITU long course triathlon
Long Distance Triathlon World Championships (GB age group team)
Long Distance Triathlon European Championships (GB age group team)

70.3 triathlon
Big Kahuna
Zell am See
St Polten
Day in the Lakes
New Forest Middle
Lake Stevens
Hever Castle

Standard Distance triathlon
World Championships (GB age group team)
European Championships (GB age group team)
Escape from Alcatraz
Little Beaver
Silicon Valley
Donner Lake
Eton Dorney

Sprint triathlon
Schongau (Germany)
Morgan Hill
UC Davis
Hever Castle
Thames Turbo series

Ultra Running
Western States 100
Winter 100
Lakeland 50 & 100
10 Peaks (Wales)
Lakes in a Day
Rock ‘n’ River 50
London 50K

San Francisco
Milton Keynes
Marathon (Greece)

Half Marathon
San Francisco
Barns Green
Walnut Creek
San Ramon

10 miler
Cabbage Patch

Chevin Chase
Abbey Dash

Cycling Sportives
Paris Roubaix
Tour of Flanders
Etape (TdF)
Nove Colli
New Forest 100
Surrey Rumble
Ride 100 London
Around the Bay (Australia)
Three Peaks (Australia)
Mt Taranaki (New Zealand)
Lake Taupo Challenge (New Zealand)
America’s Most Beautiful
Hell of Ashdown
Fred Whitton
Etape du Dales
Dartmoor Classic
New Forest Rattler
Etape Pennines
Exmoor Beast
Etape Caledonian
Dragon Ride
Soth Downs Way (MTB, two days)
Etape Cymru

Mt Diablo Summit

Open Water Swims
Hampton Court

Ironman UK: Race Day

I slept okay, up at 2:30am and having breakfast by 3am. The nerves got the better of me and I found I had to force myself to eat.

We arrived at transition for 4am (when it opened) and I readied my bike…speedfill aero bottle, bento box (cut up bar pieces and gel flask), watch, shoes with bands. Checked gears and tyres. Dropped special needs bag off with two gas canisters and a spare 80mm tube and hoped I’d never see them again, thankfully I didn’t.

T1 was a hive of activity so I headed for the nearest toilet queue, chatted with a few guys, got rid of a few grams, popped an Imodium and off to swim start. I met up with Rach and got some final last words of encouragement. On the way I bumped in to Helen Smith (from Thames Turbo) who convinced me to head over to the right side of the pack. We sculled our way over and took up a position on the far right.


A last look to Helen, who was pressing start on her watch. Good idea I thought and we were off.

It was a straight 750m to the first left turn buoy and I went out hard but not all out. It was relatively trouble free so I was able to get into a good early rhythm, breathing every two strokes to begin with. The first turn was a bit messy on the inside, so I went wide to avoid the hassle. The second left turn, all going well and we were heading back to shore with the wind, but extremely bright sun which made sighting difficult. I decided to go in to cruise mode and focus on breathing every three strokes with better technique. The pink hat swimming next to me meant I’d caught one of the pro-women.

Swim: Australian Exit

Swim: Australian Exit

I exited the first lap in 31 minutes, upon re-entry I decided that with a more spaced out field I could now take a tighter racing line. I was now comfortable and looking for a draft. It was at that point I felt something wrapped around my foot…weed. I kicked but it clung there. I kicked harder, but it still clung there. I dragged that tangle of weeds around for about 1700m, I couldn’t believe it. In hindsight, I should have stopped for 10secs to remove it. To drag it for so long would have cost me time. Focus!

The second loop was better than the first and I was able to turn tight to the buoys with no hassle. I kicked hard for the last 100m to get the blood to my legs and must have dislodged the weed because when I looked down on exit, it had gone. 1h 03m I was very happy (Target: Beat ironman swim PB of 1h 08m. Aim: 1h 05m with a good draft). I ran past Rachael shrugging my shoulders, arms held out in disbelief…where did that come from? She beamed back and from that moment it was game on!

Swim: 1h 03m (188th fastest overall, 21st in age group)

The answer was that the swim had come from training and it was great to be rewarded for hard work so soon into a race.

Swim: Final exit to T1

Swim: Final exit to T1

A long run to transition lets you gather your thoughts. I stripped to my waist and found my transition bag easily. Wetsuit off, helmet on, shades on, gel flask…go! Gel flask in rear pocket on way to bike. Counted the rows and ran to my bike, got it, ran to the mount line.

Bike: Exiting T1

Bike: Exiting T1

Rubber bands held as they had done in practice, a quick flying squirrel mount that the juniors I coach would have been proud of and I was heading out of T1, bare feet on shoes spinning along.

T1: 3m 15s (3rd fastest in age group)

Once away from the crowd, I put each foot in. Careful to do it between speed bumps. It was on the last speed bump when I heard something crash to the floor. I didn’t see anything. I reached down to my bottle cage, everything was in order…hmmmm, not me then.

Bike: Leaving Pennington Flash

Bike: Leaving Pennington Flash

I turned out of Pennington Flash and started to take note of the watts. This is when RPE can really let you down. You feel so good, even what feels like a moderate effort can be way harder than you should be going. Sure enough, I looked down and I was way over my target watts. I slowed up, paid attention to my watch and sipped water for the next few miles. It was at that moment that I realised the noise exiting T1 had been my gel flask falling out of the bento box as I hit the last speed bump…arrgggghhh. Okay, don’t panic – there’s food on the course. But, only energy bars. I thought about this for a while and decided to eat solids for the first half and then switch to my second gel flask (still safely in my rear pocket) for the second half. I then spent the next 10 minutes calculating what nutrition I had on board, the carb content of half a PowerBar (from feed stations) and re-calculating how much I had to pick up. It pays to know the nutrition content of everything you can get from an aid station. Fortunately this was one of the many things we checked in the days before the race.

This was my thirteenth long course event and it never ceases to amaze me how many riders go out too hard from T1. I just bided my time easing up on inclines to stay under my wattage ceiling – as riders blasted past me, wasting watts that they were going to be preying they had saved later in the day, half way around lap three.

Bike: Keeping an eye on the watts

Bike: Keeping an eye on the watts

So, the bike course was a lollipop stick, three loops and finally a 3km run into T2, with 5249ft of elevation gain. At 31.9km/h, it would give me a time of 5h 40m. The lollipop stick was quick and I averaged about 32km/h, so I banked a couple of minutes before hitting the first loop. I hit the lap button at the reservoir just before the first climb. A crowd was already gathering and a glance down at the watts told me to back off as I was over my ceiling and letting outside influences (the crowd cheering) into my race. No way I was going to mess this up, I had a 1h 03m swim in the bag. I shut them out and those riders around me who were again overdoing it on the climb…crazy. I could even hear their breathing, which told me they were at threshold. Up and over the first climb, another two and I was done. Watts were high and pace had dropped but the fast sections were still to come. The descent off the top was fast and I stuck to my lower wattage target, mindful that there was a bit of wind around.

It was great to have recce’d the course and knowing to gear down before the turn at the Black Dog pub really helped smooth that corner. Going into it hard and exiting well really got the crowd going as well, which gave me a nice boost. The climb out was one to watch as it was easy to over-gas it here having recovered from the descent. The power meter (Quarq Elsa) was a great help again.

Then came the fast sections. The first lap felt the windiest and I got blown about a bit. It was good to see the average speed going up though. I came into the built up areas where there are a lot more twists and turns and was joined for the rest of the first lap by Amy Forshaw, 3rd female. We went back and forth as I eased back on the climbs and she thrashed past me. This went on for a little while and I was aware the group was growing. This was turning into an issue. There were some riders keen to draft and I chatted to one guy who agreed we were picking riders up as we were going past. So, when the majority of them slowed down to grab a drink, I got the last bottle and put the hammer down for a while. I never saw them again.

I crossed the reservoir and hit lap. 1h 36m at 207w NP. Two minutes under target pace and 2w under target NP…result! All my calculations, testing and recce data was stacking up. 75kms into the bike and everything on target. Now it was going to be a test of the training plan, fueling, patience…

Bike: Climbing

Bike: Climbing

The second climb, and again I pootled up as I had the previous lap. The crowd was getting bigger and louder and there weren’t so many riders keen to hammer past me. Things were starting to bite for those that had had gone out too hard.

Descending more carefully off the top due to increased traffic, I hit the (Black Dog pub) corner harder than before and got an even bigger cheer…I was enjoying this. The descent down Belmont Road (A675) wasn’t as windy so I took the opportunity to relieve myself, hoping at 80km/h most of it would fly backwards away from me. Most of it.

Feeling comfortable, I was already going past those who were going to have a very long day and I was mindful that obstacles were going to become more of an issue. Feed stations got a bit tricky but fortunately I got through them all okay. I agree with anti-littering measures but having to dump your bottles close to the feed station means lots of people weaving around while they’re filling their aero bottles. I think it would be better if there was a bottle dump zone some way away (100/200m up the road) from the feed station or have a 200m stretch where it was okay to throw bottles.

I saw Rachael on the Tour de France-like Babylon Lane climb and was happy to report that I felt great! She told me that she thought that I was about 12th in age group. Good to know, but it didn’t really matter I was sticking to my plan. What will be, will be.

I crossed the reservoir again, 1h 35m, 211 NP, 45 seconds between lap 1 and 2. 126km, average NP 210 (still on target!) in 3h 58m, av speed of 31.8km/h. The accumulation of hitting target after target was increasing my positive mental state. I just had to hold it for another lap…

Last time up the Sheep House Lane climb. Again, it was hard not to get carried away by the crowd but I’d banked so much, up to now. Again, the power meter kept me in check. I was mindful of how my legs felt on the climb and I picked my way through people weaving up to the ‘lonely tree’. My legs were still good and I had to hold back – very encouraging.

Off the top, down Rivington Road and a final showboat with the Black Dog crowd…oops!!! Go it all wrongggggg. Locked up the back wheel and was heading for the crash barriers and an increasingly frightened group of spectators…rented wheels, rented wheels, rented wheels…an inch away from impact…one foot un-clipped…I stopped. A quick turn, clip back in and I was all smiles as the crowd’s nervous “wwooooaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” had turned in to a massive cheer and shouts all the way up High Street. ..phew! Great to give the crowd some excitement, but very close and very stupid. Focus!

For the remainder of the lap I had noticed it was harder to maintain target watts and I consciously allowed myself to coast a bit more below my downhill wattage target. I hit lap at the reservoir for the last time: 1h 38s at an NP of 204w. That meant 3x50km laps within 2m 25s…not bad pacing ;-)

No third climb for me, and the crowd in front of the Chapel give you an extra cheer when you carry on Rivington Lane and on to T2. One of the great event memories I have, was approaching a group of local cyclists who all pulled over and clapped me past. I got the feeling that they really appreciated that this was tough. Cheers guys!

BIKE: 5h 42m, target 5h 40m. (84th fastest overall, 16th in age group)

Because T2 was uphill and I ride with very uncomfortable cycling shoes (not tri-specific shoes), I decided to keep my shoes on until I handed over my bike to the volunteers who racked it (badly, they broke my Speedfill aero mounting – how, I have no idea. All I know is that I couldn’t have ridden with it like that and I would have noticed). I then took off my shoes and ran into Rivington High School bare footed (that tennis court surface really hurt!).

Inside, the volunteers were a great help locating my bag and I was quickly on my way. It was running out of T2 that I quickly came across an issue. I carry my own fuel – two Fuel Belt flasks for water and one gel flask. I put the gel flask in my rear pocket of my tri-top (which had been okay on the bike) but now it bounced about alarmingly. I had used this tri-top before, but there was no way it was staying in there this time. I had to carry the gel flask. I don’t like anything in my hands when running but I was going to have to suck it up today. Note to self: when testing kit, all kit means ALL kit, no matter how stupid you think you’re going to look on the Thames towpath.

T2: 2m 06s (5th fastest in age group)

I’d recce’d the run course and knew it was slightly rolling, but easy enough for the first 10km and that settling in, fueling and focusing on good technique were the important bits. A couple of guys went past me and I grew concerned that I wasn’t moving quickly enough. Going by RPE, I didn’t feel fast but checking the Garmin I was running 4:45min/kms comfortably. The target was 5min/km but knowing the lumps came later I had made the decision to bank a little time early on. So, I was happy to hold this pace.

Starting the run at the front end of the race and running along the canal was a bit lonely. A couple of guys passed me (one in my age group) but again I stuck to my plan. I amusingly swapped HR data with an Irish guy running past (he asked)…I was pleased to report 142bpm to his 165bpm! Bye for now, I’ll see you later (at that effort), I thought.

The first 10km was tough but my feet felt great (Newtons with a soft orthotic sole and talc…joy!) and I was fueling well (every 20mins) and the gels started to kick in. Running along the canal, thoughts of how tough this was going to be came in to my head. I used the rebuttals I wrote down. I thought about how hard the club juniors that I coach work, and I wanted them to be proud of me. Lots of ‘what ifs’…personal, coaching, my athletes, those I coach, family and friends, etc.

Leaving the canal there’s a tough incline and I passed two guys walking that had passed me only minutes earlier. At the top, Rachael said I was about 15th in age group and there were a few in a bunch just ahead. Encouraged, I joined the main three lap run circuit and my mood started to lift. Everyone was eye-balling each other’s number belts as they ran out and back, which was easy to do with so few on the course at this stage. I made the decision not to get into it and kept my head down and just kept doing what I was doing. My plan.

Heading into Bolton city centre I crossed into the middle of the road to high-five Jon Heasman (Thames Turbo Speedo Race Team). Just out of interest, I took a time check, he was 17mins ahead when I got to that position on the return. 1 lap down. I passed my dad and his partner (Shirley), which gave me another lift. I tried to encourage a struggling Bella Bayliss with a shout. My average pace was holding. I eased back on the steep section out of the city, which gave me a little extra on the false flat sections.

Run: Lucy Gossage in the background

Run: Lucy Gossage in the background

I ran with first female, Lucy Gossage for her last two laps. We went back and forth a few times as she hammered past me on the steep sections and I would re-overtake her as it flattened off. I thought it was a risky strategy, but it obviously worked for her. The crowd noise for Lucy was huge and a very welcome distraction.

Run: Drafting Lucy Gossage

Run: Drafting Lucy Gossage

On the second lap I got two fresh Fuel Belt bottles and a gel flask from Rachael from the special needs station. Fueling was still on target and my head was up. I just kept focusing on running tall, from the hips, head up and relaxing jaw, shoulders, arms, etc.

Run: Daniel Halksworth coming for a chat

Run: Daniel Halksworth coming for a chat

Around the city centre Daniel Halksworth (winner) passed me on his last lap. He was keen to chat with me about his displeasure about being sent down the finishing chute a lap early. I thought, ‘uh huh, yep, sorry dude, I can’t process your problems, I’ve got my own issues here fella’ :-) and he was gone…mumbling into the distance.

There were a lot more people on the course now and it was hard for me or Rachael to keep track of where I was. It didn’t really matter as this was all about what I could do. I knew my swim time. I didn’t know either transition times or my exact bike split at this stage (I’ll work on this) but I knew it was roughly on target and if I could keep this run pace going I’d be in with a shot of beating 10h 30m and getting a possible Kona slot through roll down. I tend to do the calculations pre-race and then just focus on hitting that pace at the time. Barring incident, the end result should work out.

Run: Bolton city centre

Run: Bolton city centre

The last lap and this was it. I was determined to run the steep hill out of town, which I did. There were a lot of people walking by now. After this, the final rise out of town and I decided this was the point to crank it up to the line (6kms left). I grabbed some cola from the feed station. I love cola but only use it as a treat towards the end of races. A reward. It was in plastic cups, so of course I threw it all over my face…great!

With head up and a last high-five with Jon going the opposite way (the gap now eight minutes between us) I started to search for those with three bands (meaning they were also on their final lap). I noticed a couple of guys in my age group and decided to pass them at speed so they wouldn’t be able to track me. I was flying. It hurt, but I just kept telling myself that I had put together a great race so far and to be able to speed up at this stage was my reward for 135kms of patience. I still had no idea what the result would be, but I was daring to hope. I was mindful not to push it too much. I could feel tightness in my legs and the fear of cramping in the final kms was a very real possibility.

I was constantly wondering whether this was good enough and that if it was there was no way I could ease up. I had to grit my teeth and push on. I was definitely inside myself at this stage. The soft talc soles of earlier didn’t exist anymore, and I could feel every piece of gravel. Preying that my legs didn’t cramp.

Is it really painful? Hmmmmmm, it certainly isn’t pain like when you hurt yourself. It’s not sharp or acute in any way. You can’t point to it. It’s not even like pain/soreness from a hard hilly interval session. It’s deeper and more whole bodied. Pushing a deeply fatigued state, your limbs can start to tingle, your vision narrows and you do go inside yourself. You definitely become more separate e.g. a mind within a body. Like you’re looking out from inside something. I didn’t notice much, even within this loud bizarre spectacle. Ignoring all feed station offerings. I was now just thinking about the line.

And…there it was…I turned a corner and started heading away from it…what!…errr…I turned another corner and there it was again…phew! (word to the course designer…that wasn’t nice!)

Run: Finishing Chute

Run: Finishing Chute

I was hurting coming down the finish chute (as you can see) but I couldn’t take my eyes off the time…10h 13m (and some change I didn’t care about)…eh!? This didn’t make sense. Had the pros set off earlier than the rest of us? No. Confused, I crossed the line…not even celebrating, still trying to work things out with a very mangled brain.

I saw Rachael and my dad and we all hugged. Rachael and I were all teary and open-mouthed about the performance. I asked about my time and she confirmed it. It was a great moment. All the sacrifices she’s made and the help she gives was really pleasing to deliver. You can’t perform at such a level without rock solid support, understanding for what it takes and belief.

I then went into the tent and found Jon (5th, 35-39) and another Thames Turbo Speedo Race Team athlete (Richard Newey, 2nd 45-49). They knew their positions and told me to go out back and ask Richard’s wife to find my position on the tracker. I was a nervous wreck waiting for Gill to bring up the age-group results… 4th..!!! No way. I had to look at it myself. I’ve never seen my name so high on any leader board before. Woah, that could be automatic qualification?!?! I went back into the tent and reported back to Jon and Richard. We all sat around, shattered and bemused. I couldn’t sit still. I had to find Rachael. I went out back and she was there with my dad and we just started jumping up and down. I’d done it, but had I? It seemed that way, but it was all guesses based on past years and the number of Kona slots available in each age group. You’re just not 100% certain. How many slots were there? What if I hadn’t served a penalty, been DQ’d…arrggggghhhhh.

Run: 3h 22m, 4:46/km pace (23rd fastest overall, 3rd fastest in age group).

I was all smiles though. I knew I’d put in a solid performance, hit all my targets and managed to surpass my run pacing target. The thought of an automatic Kona qualification meant years of dream realisations came flooding in. It was a real buzz (or maybe it was the caffeine) and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was soooo happy.

Total: 10h 13m, 4th in 40-44 age group and 41st overall.

Although the Ironman athlete tracker was saying 4th in category and last year this was automatic qualification, I still wasn’t booking the flights just yet. I was 80% sure…I still had to show up the next day at the awards ceremony, where there was a one hour window to accept my qualifying slot and confirm my intention to go to Kona.

After finishing I got a massage, some more to eat and we hung around the finish chute clapping atheletes still to finish, including Helen (who podiumed in her category). We eventually jumped in the car and went to T2 to pick up the bike and transition bag then on to the hotel, a quick bite to eat and bed. I checked the car had petrol and set two alarms that night.

Next morning it was back to the Reebok Stadium and the Ironman expo where there was a nervous wait with other potential qualifiers (and families) all stood around. Finally, a list of category qualifiers was sticky taped to a wall confirming my position and qualification. I could now pay for my slot…85%.

It wasn’t until my credit card was swiped, payment was confirmed and the torn-off receipt roll was being handed to me, that I finally relaxed, well…90%. I’ve still got to get there…

Time to Plan

Coming to the end of a calendar year can be an ideal time to take stock, look back on what you have achieved, celebrate your successes and plan for next year.

The media is full of stories about more and more people taking up sport and leading a healthier lifestyle. This is particularly evident in the UK at the moment, where the success of the British Olympic team, especially in cycling and triathlon, has meant an increased interest in these sports with events selling out faster than ever before.

Don’t miss out

Last year, Ironman Melbourne sold out in record time, many of the legendary trail runs have decade long waiting lists, sportives have huge waiting lists.

From personal experience, I just missed out on registering for next year’s Vitruvian triathlon, by two days, which now means the earliest I can do this event is 2014..!

Create a wish list of events

Since 2008, I’ve had a list of events/races/courses that I would like to do and have fortunately been able to tick a number of these off every year. The list continues to grow and event priorities change due to my circumstances.

The main point being, start a list and capture every event you’ve ever wanted to do. Research the sports that you like and pick out events that appeal to you, your budget, family, travel, etc.

Chart your events

The next step is to write all the events down by month, day on a page of A4 or next year’s calendar if you have one. Depending on your sport and race season(s) you’ll soon notice popular months.


When I’ve put everything down I then assign an A, B or C category to events based on my desire to do the race, travel, family commitments and a whole host of other personal circumstances. If you have a coach talk to them at this stage and together agree the objectives for these A races and what the training implications are.

Working backwards from my A events (I usually pick two or three per year), I can start eliminating events that will interfere with the necessary training plan. For example, if you want to be competitive at Ironman Wales then you won’t be doing Challenge Henley, which is on the same day, but The Dragon Ride could be an option if worked in to your training plan.

Talk to your partner

Before I start paying for events, travel and accommodation, I always ask those around me that might be impacted by my decision to do a race. This should be your partner but may also include your wider family and friends if you’re planning to stay with them because they are close to the start line.

Get help from your coach

When creating your plan get input from your coach who will be able to give you ideas about training implications and what other events might fit around your A races.

Register as soon as possible

Once I have all my races down on paper, decided which ones I really want to do and got agreements from my support crew then I set about registering.

This may not always work out, as you may find you’re too late, in which case go back and re-assess your priority races, Challenge Henley might now be possible.

Once you’ve registered your A races the next thing to do is book accommodation (or make sure there is availability at the same time as this may decide whether you do a race or not). Being close to the start line will ensure you get as much sleep as possible. Being close to the finish line will mean less faff and a quick getaway if this is important to you.

Find out when registration opens

It’s a good idea to research your desired events years in advance and find out when they open for registration. My calendar is populated with events I’ve registered for or the date registration opens with calendar alerts to make sure I don’t miss opening times, which can be midnight, 4am, 9am, etc. the day after the event finished that year.

In the UK, for cycling, triathlon and ultras my current thinking is to start trying to register for next years’ events on 1st October the year before.

I was a little late this year and paid the price but having now drawn up my plan for 2013 I’m looking forward to the exciting challenges ahead. I just hope it keeps me motivated through the British winter.

Test: Running

Every month during my recovery week I test myself in each sport to set my training zones for power, heart rate and pace for the coming month.

This is an overview of this month’s running test.

Without an assistant, the test I often use is Joe Friel’s CP30 Test. Once I have my average heart rate for the last 20 minutes of the test I drop it in to Training Peaks (the web-based planning application I use with all my athletes), which calculates the zones for me. Then whenever I upload my data from a run the program logs and calculates the time I spent in each of my heart rate zones so that I can manage my training load over time.

It’s important to replicate the conditions for each test as closely as possible. Trying to get the same amount of sleep beforehand, eat the same foods prior, test at the same time of day, same weather conditions, wear the same kit, use the same course, etc. Of course some of this is in, and some of this is out, of your control. The closer you can replicate each test the more accurate and comparable the results.

The results (using my Garmin 310XT):

Garmin File: CP30 Test, Running

CP30 Test Data in Garmin Connect

CP30 Test Data in Garmin Connect

50 miles of RnR

I think I’m currently moving towards ultra-distance racing in a transition away from triathlon and more towards running again, and more specifically mountain running.

Last year’s midnight Caesar’s Camp Endurance Run and this year’s Lakeland 50 may become pivotal races that spawned my love for ultra-running. Only time will tell.

Having now completed the toughest iron distance races on the planet and some unfinished Deca business but still finishing five iron distance triathlons in five days, I am keen to be able to compare an iron distance race with that of 100 mile ultra-run. Which is tougher?

Knowing that I was moving to California and with one eye on filling the 2012 race calendar, I found the Rock ‘n’ River 50. A qualifying race for the legendary Western States 100 (or at least finishing it under 11 hours would give me a 10:1 chance of getting a slot through the ballot). If I did get in to the Western States 100, it would fit well, coming six weeks after Ironman St George (an A race for 2012), but will probably compromise Vineman 70.3, which is two weeks after, but a B category race.

Providing I paid particular close attention to my recovery, the timing of the Rock ‘n’ River would coincide with the ITU World Triathlon Championships three weeks later (I’ll let you know whether this was a good idea) and act as my last long run.
The race also happened to be on part of the Western States route so doubled up as a partial recce as well.

The race is an end-to-end course and like many similar ultras had a coach laid on early in the morning to transport runners to the start. As Rachael was supporting by driving to aid stations along the route, we decided the extra sleep would be more important so we booked a hotel in Auburn near the start.

We called in at packet pick up (timing chip, race number and goody bag) and pasta party on our way to the hotel. We had a couple of questions about the legalities of pacing and on course assistance, none of which we could get an answer to.
Those getting the bus were up at 3am, we got up at 5am.
A 10-minute drive to Auburn Dam Overlook Park and I was donning my race kit in the dark and walking to join the others at the start line. It was dark and cold at the start, so I had a long sleeve top and head torch.

Ready for the start

Ready for the start

There was a short race briefing, which said to follow pink ribbons that marked the course and we were off, 06:30.

My strategy for this, my second 50 miler, was to run the whole distance or as far as I could before adopting a run/walk strategy. The course is downhill and I was concerned how my quads would hold up. I had contemplated quad guards but was unable to sort this before the race.

I started out at a 6-7min/km pace and had the usual smile as most of the field charged past me with their over enthusiasm.

After about 2kms we began a steep road descent down to the river. It wasn’t long after that I could hear shouting ahead followed by more and more people slowing to a group halt. We had gone the wrong way…already..!

Amused, I stood watching the carnage as runners went too and fro, up and down the hill searching for a pink ribbon. The majority of the field was lost. At times like these it is better to conserve energy (do not go charging up and down a very steep hill) and not to act on bizarre comments from those panicking around you, such as: “It cannot be this way”, “It must be this way” or other non-constructive, non-factual, irrational utterances.

In the end, myself and a couple of others amused by the headless chickens, decided to retrace our steps by walking back up the hill. It worked, we found a ribbon (we whistled and shouted to say we had picked up the route) and after 17 minutes we were back on course and I was back to 6min/km pacing.

Soon after, the road wound down to the river and I decided to save my quads and held back as I witnessed a lot of runners opening their gait and hammering down the hill. Perhaps due to the earlier mis-direction and people getting fired up but again I was astounded as to how many runners were thrashing down the hill. So much so that an older runner commented to me, as we were both getting passed, that he expected some people to be suffering later on. I agreed.

We eventually joined the American River and ran alongside it and around Folsom Lake, which was the best part of the course for me.
At the first aid station, the sun was rising so I got rid of my head torch and long sleeve top (in hindsight I shouldn’t have bothered wearing it).

I held back for the first two aid stations and then began to pick up the pace as I was enjoying the trail and fantastic scenery to my left. Unfortunately, picking up the pace meant I had to now go passed all those that had charged from the start line, those that charged after getting lost and those that charged down the descent. This was a lot of people and a lot of calling out, waiting, then passing. I wasn’t consciously racing but testing whether I could run the whole thing, so to keep things positive my thoughts were that if I got held up by slower runners it was probably for the best and I would benefit from it later.

I always test kit as much as possible before using it in a race and for this race I was introducing The North Face Enduro 13 pack (two bottle carriers instead of a bladder, quicker to fill), Injinji Performance Mid-weight Toesocks (my toes beat each other up and my thoughts were if they were individually wrapped it might delay the damage),Saucony Peregrines (grippy and light, even with my orthotics). I wanted to trial this kit but if I were doing this race again because the aid stations are so close together I’d carry a single bottle (either handheld or around my waist).

There were a few inclines along the river route but nothing that caused me to walk (long training runs up Mt Diablo on the Summit Trail served me well). I was going well at around 6min/km or under so continued at this pace.

I walked aid stations eating half a PowerBar (20g of carbs), swapping a full for empty bottle of electrolyte (Heed) and then having two Gu Roctane gels (25g of carbs) per hour aiming to ingest about 70g of carbs per hour. I started this after sipping only water for the first hour. The aid stations were well stocked and managed. Towards the end of the race I was drinking cola and stuffing ice down my front and back to keep my core temperature down (the good thing about wearing the TNF Enduro 13 is that the chest straps held ice on my front and back whilst it melted).

I started to feel some cramping in my quads in the late teen miles so downed aSalstick Cap, which did the trick. The route now joined the American River Parkway for the last 19 miles, which meandered along the Jebediah Smith Memorial Trail, which was a tarmac bike trail all the way to the finish. You could run on the crushed granite to the side if you didn’t want to run on the tarmac. Knowing the surface was going to change, I switched to a pair of Brooks Ravenna 2s, to enjoy a bit more cushioning.

Being on a bike trail, I had to constantly look around so that I could take the shortest route possible, which only incurred the wrath of one path-user and I had to apologise to a couple of other cyclists for causing them to slow down and use greater caution.
At this stage, there were very few runners around, little shade and the heat was relentless. The great thing about this part of the course is that you receive a lot of encouragement from other park users, which really helps.

The good news was that I was holding pace very well and apart from the odd sloshing feeling, in which I backed off the liquid a little, my stomach was holding up great.

When another runner did come in to view, I stuck to my pace and would eventually reel them in. each one a great boost in the latter stages. It’s better to be overtaking than overtaken towards the end of a race.

When I stopped at aid stations, I didn’t check the mileage and didn’t ask for positions, times, etc. I had a rough idea from studying the maps but daren’t look at my Garmin in case it said I had longer to go than I thought. It was only at the 42-mile aid station when someone said: “only eight miles to go”, did I start to calculate possible finish times.

Running on the American River Parkway's granite edge

Running on the American River Parkway’s granite edge

Knowing the wheels can come off at any time during endurance races, I was happy with what I’d achieved up to this point. If I could hold on to the end, then…bonus! I’m sure there had been a significant amount of sub-6min kms and I was continuing to run strong, so I continued with the nutrition strategy and plodded on in the baking heat.

During the last five miles I was yo-yoing with a couple of runners, gradually getting closer and overtaking them. I felt really strong. The volunteers at the last aid station pointed out the finish line but explained I had two miles still to go, an out and back of one mile and I was done.

On the way out along the final stretch, I saw the next runner in front of me. She was returning to the finish line and I concluded I didn’t have time to catch her. We waved to each other as we passed. I rounded the final turn, one mile to go. During that last mile, I too saw a few of the runners behind me and we all saluted one another as we passed.

The finish was the usual low-key affair as a handful of volunteers and supporters clapped me in. I hugged Rachael, who’d been fantastic all day and headed for the river, where I stood up to the top of my thighs for the next 30 minutes. Total time of 8h 19mins, 6th overall and 1st in my age group.

The crowd filled finish chute

The crowd filled finish chute

There was a great spread at the end. I tucked in and chatted with other finishers as we waited for the drop bags to return. Great event.

Now this is who you should get a massage from...yikes!

Now this is who you should get a massage from…yikes!

Tarantula Trail Training

With the move to San Francisco comes the welcome opportunity to train in a new environment with a better climate, challenging terrain and a variety of different wildlife.

Having settled inland from the City in the East Bay regional town of Walnut Creek, I’ve been exploring the 20,000-acre Mt Diablo State Park on the bike, with its 10.8 mile summit climb and on foot with various trails going up and around the summit.

Mt Diablo

It was out running on the trails when I stopped to read a local noticeboard.

A sign on a local trail noticeboard

A sign on a local trail noticeboard

Having read this I thought it wise to read up on anything else that I might encounter whilst running around the mountain. Errrrrr…coyotes now seem rather tame when compared to rattle snakes, tarantulas and mountain lions..!

Camera on full zoom...

Camera on full zoom…

Aware that I was losing the light whilst out running the other night, I decided that instead of running the trails back home and risking getting lost, I’d opt for the road. A longer route but easier to navigate home. I thought this was a smart move only to realise that when the park cools down the wildlife seeks the last remaining heat of the day by crawling, creeping and sliding on to the warm tarmac.

Thankfully, I only came across one snake, cuddling a cats-eye in the middle of the road and didn’t feel any significantly large crunches under foot thank goodness. I’ll set off earlier next time.

Deca: Body Management

I am hoping to go in to the deca relatively injury free, how I come out of it is another matter.

I’ve been very careful in my build up to never push my body too far. Progressive overloading is a valuable coaching practice but knowing when to back off is equally important if you’re going to make it to the start line.

Like most people, I get pains in various places but unlike most, I never train on an injury. I’ve learned over the years that ‘running it off’ doesn’t work and can cost you severely in the long term.

My experience helps me to decide how I should manage an injury e.g. I had an inside left knee issue, which was solved by getting a bike fit (Freespeed), calve pain meant having orthotics made (The Gait Lab), an ITB issue – foam roller and more stretching.


I used to suffer with shoulder discomfort but I’ve since out that down to a bad catch. I’ve been doing a lot of technique work throughout the Winter an attempt to improve my catch and use my back muscles more than my shoulder muscles. My shoulders haven’t been as bad as previous years so either my technique is improving or I’m not swimming enough.


During the big blocks of training a couple of months ago, I did a lot of back-to-back bike rides of varying distances and intensities. The main issue I discovered was saddle sores. Apart from being amusing, it’s a real concern. In recent rides I’ve tried all kinds of creams, clothing and saddles. The best saddle I’ve used is a Cobb V-Flow Max, which was fantastic at the TriGrandPrix. I’m also going to use two pairs of cycling shorts and Assos Cream, which is great.

As you may know, there are a number of considerations to take in to account when setting up your bike. For short races, like sprint and standard distance triathlons, I want the most power possible and I’ll suffer some discomfort to get it. In Ironman races and for the deca, comfort and the ability to run off the bike are my main concerns. I will have a road bike as backup (in case of mechanicals or a crash) but I will start the event on my TT bike, which I got Retul fitted by Richard at Freespeed. I raced the TriGrandPrix (92km) in the new position and had one of my best rides to date considering the the amount of wind. Running off the bike was also good. And, I was also happy to find that my shoulders, back and neck felt great the next day.


An obvious concern due to the impact, I always get some issues in a year. What has been niggling me recently is my right hip. Current thinking is that it’s down to changing my running shoes between a long distance pair (Saucony Pro Grid Guide) I use for the majority of my training and my preferred racing pair (Newton Distancia S) that I use in events (Paris Marathon and the TriGrandPrix).

To tackle this, I’ve been doing more focused stretching and some yoga aimed specifically at athletes. I also use a foam roller (for my back, ITB, Quads, hamstrings and calves), tennis ball (for my glutes, ITB and back) and a massage stick (for my quads and calves). All of these will be coming with me to the New Forest.