Friday, 15 September 2017

Raced less, busier year, mixed results.

Finishing off 2016 injured wasn't great and it took a more than a few few months of physiotherapy, sports rehab and chiropractic treatment to be able to start running again only to be hit with a calf tear again mid cross country season resulting in another 8 weeks away from my trainers and reduced cycling. On the upside I had a wedding to look forward to in late August and a couple of races already entered I was still hopeful of a return to some semblance of fitness.
First up was Xterra Greece at the end of April and the chance to meet up with friends Ian and Kathryn Blackie-Taylor and Christophe 'The Frenchman' Maury. Ali was also going to make the start line of her first Xterra on my favourite course from the previous season.
I knew my race was going to be tough with some of the 40-44 AG youngsters moving up to my 45-49 AG and I had just turned 49 and I ended up a really disappointing 5th. I had a great swim but lacked serious power on the bike and had nothing for the run. The bike course had slightly changed with an additional rocky downhill section that Ali found difficult in practice so on race day decided to walk down this section. I had overtaken Ali as I was finishing the 2-lap course and she seemed to be doing well but she struggled with the increasing heat and terrain on the second lap but in true Ali-style-perseverance she finished the course and to her surprise she was top of the podium and got her qualification slot for Xterra World Champs in Maui.

So now our honeymoon was going to incorporate our second trip to Maui....expensive year with the wedding!
I wanted to race Maui again as I'd been injured the previous year but qualifying was going to be tougher, not just in competition but financially too....did I mention the house move too??? A serious case of too much going on all at once, oh and I had a university final exam for my BSc in Natural Sciences to take in whilst Ali was finishing off her first year of a BA in Business Studies. How do we find the time?

In May and June the running races where coming up thick and fast and I was picking up the pace and holding off the injuries and even managed to win a 10km race overall in June just prior to Holkham Half Outlaw distance triathlon where I won my age group. All great prep I thought for the stag weekend in Dublin that was going to be 70.3 Ironman Dublin. Tony couldn't race due to knee surgery, Breezy was focusing on biking this year, Elliot wasn't interested in training with his final year at university, Ross wouldn't bring a bike across the world from Australia so it left Daz, Peter and me. The others were interested in the Guinness but we all had a few after the race with the worst being in the Guinness factory....go figure.
The build up to the race had gone well and we took in Cabinteely Parkrun the day before the race just for fun. It turned out to be a tad hillier than we expected but still it was only 5km. Lovely course, friendly runners/organisers and some amazing monuments in the park.

Race day came and the weather seemed to perk up a bit from the predicted stormy wet weather. Daz and I hit the water within 6 sec of each other and the plan was for Daz to get on my toes but I managed to exit the water around 30 minutes with freezing cold feet. Onto the bike I knew Daz would be chasing hard to make up the two minutes deficit but he caught me around 35 miles and I managed to keep him close enough to see him in the T2 tent. As I set off chasing him it was apparent something was wrong with me. I'd shivered my way around the bike course and now I was struggling to catch breath. A few minutes later I spat out some red saliva and after a few more metres I knew I would have to stop. Two years ago at IM Bolton I had the same and after months and months of tests and consultations  with various specialists they were really none the wiser but suggested I had burst a blood vessel in  my lungs. Well I tried to explain to the respiratory guy that I had read about Swimming Induced Pulmonary Edema (SIPE) but he wasnt interested. Now after a second episode I am convinced its SIPE. Cold water swimming, peripheral vascular shut down (I also have Reynaud's syndrome) and increased BP (assumed) as exercising hard results in blood pooling at the core and increased pressure in the lungs resulting in blood leaking back into the lungs. Not great when all you need is oxygen. After IM Bolton my oxygen saturation level was only 82% but knowing what was happening this time I decided just to stop in the race about 1km into the run despite running 7min/mile just as my mum and Aunt Sylvia turned up to watch. I was getting married on the following Friday and if it didn't kill me then Ali certainly would have. I'd promised if it ever happened again I'd stop. The common denominators with this are the weather conditions and temperature, but also my mum and aunt (jinxes!). Daz went on to finish 9th in AG and qualified for the 2018 World Championships in South Africa. Had I stayed within 4 minutes of Daz I'd have won my AG and got my slot also (he ran two minutes quicker than me at Holkham when I beat him overall). Peter who was having so much fun he fell over on the run was also offered a roll down slot but had to decline. So much for it being my stag do and having it my way. Well there will be more qualifying races. Daz and I both wanted to go go back to Port Elizabeth since racing Ironman there in 2009. At least it'll be warm.
So our wedding the following week went better than expected with a few surprises for everyone and Ali and I followed up with Marple Parkrun the morning after. Not technically a race so we wait for our official first race as Mr and Mrs Stephenson which just might be in Maui....

2017 triathlon results

Xterra Greece             5th AG
Outlaw Holkham        1st AG
70.3 Dublin                 DNF

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Xterra World Champs and end of year summary

I've been meaning to catch up on the blog for a few weeks since getting back from Maui but with being busy at work and Open University studying there really hasn't been much spare time.
So, on to the Maui trip.......the first few days in Maui were knackering. Both me and Ali didn't really realise just how tired we were but we were just chilling and getting over the travel. The accommodation booked through AirBnB was a lovely little condo in Napili Ridge about 5 minutes walk from a gorgeous sandy beach overlooking Molokai island and about a 5min drive from the race venue....perfect. Add to that a small reef about 50m off the beach out housing some Green turtles and lots of brightly coloured fish and this made for perfect snorkelling.
I wasn't able to train since crashing in Xterra Denmark and I was hoping to blag my way though the World Champs. My knee would be painful the day after any exercise so I recce'd the run course early in the week with Ian Blackie-Smith and a an easy ride on the first and last section of the bike course. I managed to ride the full bike course at a steady pace on the day the course opened and managed to snap my chain FFS! It was brand new after rusting up overnight in the bike bag after the Danish race. To say I was unimpressed was in understatement. £25 down the drain then another £50 to spent in Hawaii........nothing in Hawaii is cheap! Even local produce is expensive. I saw a women pay over £10 for a local pineapple and breakfast on the first day cost over £30...yep not $'s. Effing Brexit didn't help matters! Anyway I digress......

Recce ride ....taking in the views
Swimming training was possible but I'm shit scared of sharks and 20 miles down the coast a women was attacked by a Tiger shark and our condo owner messaged me to take care. Despite this I always feel safer in numbers and ben Allen and Jacqui Slack offered the British squad and some friends the opportunity to practice getting in and out of the surf. While Ben was explaining what to do I noticed a pod of Spinner dolphins about 100 metres out and had to interrupt......sorry Teacher, us brits just don't get that view every day!

I also attended the European Tour podium medallist ceremony to receive my gold medal and tour winners jersey from Nico Lebrun and Dave 'Kahuna' Nicholson. Big smiles to know this was my first full season. EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER! get in!

Two days before the race and the bike has been polished and lubed and ready to go then the heavens opened with rain. It rains a lot in the Hawaiian Islands but the sun comes up and dries it away, usually, but incy wincy spider wasn't climbing any spout. For two days it rained, and rained and rained. This was Xterra Switzerland, France and Denmark all over again but without my fitness to counter the off bike lugging up hill jaunts. No breaks for World Championships race then. Then just to make it more interesting the surf gets up big time making it rougher than an unstable twin-tub.
race morning comes and rice pudding downed then off to rack up and have a traditional Hawaiian blessing by Clifford Naeole. It was really quite spiritual and focussing to have this and I'll take anything to get me through this course.

The swim was OK but non-wetsuit so no opportunity to wear my Xterra Vortex Pro but I did get myself a new funky looking Xterra Valor speedsuit (my hardly used Xterra Velocity speedsuit is for me!). I came out in about 28 minutes and everyone's times are going to be down on normal. I race up the hill into T1 were I usually make up some time.....WTF do some people do in transition is beyond me....get in, get out.

The surf doesn't look big but...6ft waves!

Now comes the tricky bit.....I know its going to be tough and muddy but ffs this was ridiculous. The first 8 miles took over 90 minutes and at one point I was picking the mud out of the wheels and chainset then trying to ride only by the time I leapt onto the saddle the wheels had clogged up again. At one point there was a group of riders taking the piss and laughing and joking about the prospect of a new format..1500m swim:26.2 miles hikeabike. Walking was common and carrying the bike inevitable if you wanted to get to the top of a hill without dragging a 20kg mud bike. Some riders obviously could ride through it and for sure I need to learn to ride in mud, or at least learn how others are doing it. different tyres for starters. Narrow apparently are better and maybe I should consider a Cannondale Leftie to free up some front fork space. Something to consider but for now money dictates I stick with my Scott.

Mud, mud, mud!

There were lots of crashes and broken chains etc. all over the course and I given that I was well out of the top ten I offered my chain tool David Hui (Maui) with a broken bike. He was very grateful and I figured Karma might help me. After 8 miles the course was ride-able and with some fast bits. I managed a top speed of 35mph but my overall average was a pitiful 6-something mph. laughable really if it wasn't he world champs and a local training ride. I managed to take a few riders on the way back down hill to T2 and managed to run most of the course which heads uphill for 3 miles. My knee was playing up now and lifting my left leg was not easy going uphill. Downhill was better with gravity and I tried to run on my forefoot to limit ground contact time and keep the pressure of my knee. It seemed to work and the new trainers I had bought for mud, Salomon Talon 200, were great. they were also good for the 200m beach run just before the finishing chute.

Racing to the shower.... heading out of T1 and to the hills

I had estimated a 3:30hrs race and finished in 4:37hrs. I had hoped for top ten and to maintain my Xterra record so far. I have always been ahead of Christophe Maury in the head to heads but he was having a great race and I clearly wasn't and I can only compare the past.  I was 1st in Greece when Frank was 2nd and Christophe 3rd. In Maui I was 31st, Frank 12th and Christophe 18th. It is what it is but I am disappointed and set myself realistic and achievable goal. This time I failed to do that but with good reason.
One thing about Xterra is that everyone is so friendly. This year I have raced with some great guys and made loads of new friend, home and abroad. The elite or professional athletes are so down to earth too. I'm 48 year old now but on occasion I've been mixing it up with the pro's and after the race we all chat and all get just excited about our races. The World Champs was no different to any other race this year except the standard was greater. Sebastian Kienle, fresh (?) from 2nd at Kona was there as was Ben Hoffman (4th) aiming for the double but it was ben who took the overall time honours with his 7th place again Seb's 11th. Last years winner Josiah Middaugh was 5th this time and all eyes were on Ruben Ruzafa to take the top spot with the slippery MTB course suiting him. ben Allen led the swim but it was the amazing 21 year Mauricio (Mau) Mendez  who overtook Ruben at speed during the run and posted the best split to take the World Championships by two minutes. Its difficult to see how anyone will cope with him over the next few years with age and speed on his side. He also won Los Cabos 70.3 the week after! Oh to be young again.

Maui wasn't all about the race although that was the reason for going but Ali and I took in some of the sights. Haleakala is the highest point and we could see Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the volcanoes on Big Island, 80 and 100 miles away above the clouds.  I love wildlife and we went looking for Jackson's chameleons at Kula and Nene geese on the top of Haleakala but we were disappointed. We had plenty of Cane toads around the condo and massive snails which may have been the invasive African Giant snails. One thing we may have to do is go back again out of race season to see the whales migrate between the islands.

Chief supporter Ali and me on top of the world.

Xterra Maui was an awesome experience and injured or not I was always going to go and complete the course. This year has been a sharp learning curve transitioning from road triathlon to off-road. Seven Xterra races in seven different countries has made me feel like a pro-athlete without the race winnings or rest periods and training periodization. Bank of Stephenson has taken a big hit this year but you only live once and cant take it with you. Its all about experiences and taking advantage of what you've got at this moment in time because you never know when the luck runs out. Life is too short so take advantage and lay down some memories. There have been some incidents this year that have given me food for thought and made me appreciate what I have. Some people will know who or what I'm writing about and some people just aren't here anymore to read this and they are in my mind a lot and were when I was racing. Xterra Motto.....'Live more'....and I will to the best my finances will allow.

European Tour 2016  - Winner medal and jersey....1st season too! proud and chuffed to bits
So now I'm back I'm getting sorted with physiotherapy for my knee which is cracking and popping and seems to be the patellar tracking. X-ray didn't show any major damage or fractures and one course of acupuncture so far seems to have helped a little.
2017 will be less travelling due to our wedding but there is London marathon to train for and 70.3 Dublin on the cards along with a few more Xterra but for now its a little more down time and recover and rehab.

Big thanks must go to Ali for following around Europe this year and too all the support from family and friends whilst we have been away. Thanks to Chris Stirling for putting me onto CurraNZ tht has eliminated DOMS and to Ian Blackie-Smith for helping us when the hire care keys went for a drive without us in Denmark! To Christophe for the competition. Xterra Wetsuits UK for the Xterra Vector Pro that gave me some great times in the wetsuit races, Malta, Greece and France etc.

Roll on 2017!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Six countries, six races,

Jeez, what a year! I've just got back from a weekend in Denmark racing the last of the Xterra European tour off road triathlons. To say it was tough would be an understatement. Longer in racing time than Xterra France but this one had a few mishaps that cost me more than a few minutes but the course was similar to Xterra UK 2015 or this years Xterra Switzerland......muddy!
We flew into Copenhagen from Manchester on Friday evening by EasyJet and in typical budget airlines we arrived late which meant getting to the accommodation in Stege at midnight.
Saturday morning I built mine and Ali's bikes, met up with Paul Breeze and Greg McNally then headed to Mons Klint for the bike recce.
The course was lovely and dry and not overly technical but a few tricky parts with roots to negotiate. Ali was planning her Xterra debut but decided that the course might be a bit tough for beginner status and downgraded to the sprint version. The final decline also led into a wooden berm that demanded speed and careful steering and above all commitment but there was also a chicken run for those not keen on trying the berm. I practised the berm a few times and decided I would do it on the race. Paul and I walked around the run course and again it was reasonably dry and potentially fast until you get to the second lap that took you down the steep wooden steps onto a rocky beach  before traversing the cliff face and up the final set of 497....yes, 497 steps, for the second time (the first was after the swim to get to T1) to the finish straight.
Just as UK and Switzerland, that evening the rain came and destroyed the course turning the tracks and forest into a slippery mud bath. Adding to the course destruction were the sprint course athletes who set off an hour before us. Unfortunately Ali was not one of them after waking up with a sore throat and chest infection but Paul was after having a few off's during practice.
Just before 1030 we headed down the steps to a small beach and into the choppy, and surprisingly warm, Baltic Sea to warm up for the 1500m swim. The swim was frantic as usual but I managed to find clear water for most of the swim but did get a kick under the chin on the turnaround for the second lap. Exiting the sea I had decided to run and strip to the waist as soon as possible then stop at the next available flat section between steps to take off my wetsuit. Getting out of the wetsuit early is easier when its wet and the steps were going to take 4-5 minutes.

In T1 I didn't hang about and was quickly out on the bike course trying to get ahead before the course gets trashed and make up time on the non swimmer MTB'ers.
The first lap went OK and I thought about trying to please the crowd by taking the wooden berm and even that was slippery

1st lap of the bike

but the second lap was horrendous and I was running in the mud more than riding as the course was just un-rideable at my current skill level. Small wins and big smiles came from getting up tiny greasy slippery mounds that would go unnoticed in the dry and I was glad the berm had been closed for safety reasons at the end because my gears and tyres were clogged with mud and I only had the 36/24 front ring and one gear at the back for about 5 miles so the only option was the chicken run.

2nd lap of the bike on the chicken run

out of T2 feeling OK but 6km later.....
T2 was pretty quick again and the first few kilometres of the run was hilly and slightly...yep, you've guessed it,....muddy, but not so bad...yet! Getting onto the tarmac section was a joy and I was getting into my stride and catching loads of runners but no sight of Greg who had overtaken me about 2km into the second bike lap.

heading for the bike and body wash
I started the second lap of the run with a drink of water and a cup of energy drink in the face. I wish they had said there was a difference. The second lap was now really slippery in the woods but I knew when I could get to the road it would be plain sailing. Unfortunately this is where it went horribly wrong and I bonked and ended up walking for kilometre or more.. Feeling dizzy and my vision blurring I was begging overtaking runners for food or gels and managed to get one. This is hardly the image of a Xterra warrior but perseverance and determination is and after getting down the steps to the beach I was able to run again and headed up the final 497 steps to the finish chute I managed to overtake 4-5 other warriors.

Far from being a great performance I still managed to finish 7th in the 45-49 age group and complete my race schedule of 6 Xterra races to win the Xterra European tour with 364 points, a lead of 165 points. It also meant that I maintained my personal objective of staying in the top ten in all Xterra races so far, something I hope to continue at world champs next month.

So the next couple of weeks are recover and getting on with my Open University course and final assignment (stressful!!) then sort out some training plan for the build up to Maui. I'm just ticking over commuting until i get the assignment but also having some massage courtesy of Jane Murray.
With the 'temporary' European Tour winners medal. There's a reason I'm wearing my Xterra Vector Pro wetsuit post-race on the podium but its a long and expensive story best forgotten.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Poor race, average result, great outcome

Last weekend was the European Xterra Championship race in Zittau, Germany and it went, wait, that's how I wanted it to go in my dream but it was close to a disaster from arriving in Zittau.
I worked until lunchtime then Ali collected me from work to drive straight to Manchester airport ( then benefits of living close to a major airport) and we sailed through the Jet2 check-in procedure and they even allowed me to take two CO2 gas cannisters for my tyres. We even had some time, due to a slight delay, to grab some luch in the priority lounge we have tickets for from our bank account privileges.
Arriving a few hours later Prague and picked up the hire care we drove north to Zittau which is positioned just inside the German border a few km from Czech Republic and Poland. We got to the Airbnb booked appartment around 10pm and we thought it was a joke or they were showing us the store rooms. The appartment looked lovely on the website but the reality was the opposite. It was an empty shell. We stopped the night in shock and shivered most of the night as there were no duvets or proper blankets. The next morning we got on to Airbnb and left to the race venue at O-see to recce the 36km and 10km single lap bike and run courses. Not ideal prep the day before a championship race but I've used up all my annual leave this year to fit in the series and score points for the European Tour.

minimalist transition. ...No wetsuit boohoo!

Race day weather was beautiful after a murky start and the swim was non-wetsuit and non-swim skin....gutted! I love swimming in my wetsuit and I love the feel of water against my skin too too but I had a two piece race outfit that isn't conducive to not being covered in neoprene. Lesson learnt! I'm not sure why the German triathlon federation do not allow swimskins though. I thought I got an OK start but I was cold and Christophe Maury 'The Frenchman', one of main Euro Tour chasers was alongside me. I am usually a few minutes ahead in the swim and already I'm thinking its not going to be a great day or Christophe has improved dramatically.
Onto the bike, I started well but my saddle bag was heavier with spares than usual (I NEEDED to finish in the points for this race) with extra bits and it dropped into my rear wheel. I stopped, re-fitted, and set off again only for it to happen again. Each time Christophe pulled ahead and I was forced to take the saddle bag and put it down my top and carry it to the finish. In any other race I might have been tempted to ditch it and collect it later but I need to come in the top at most to secure the European Tour for the 45-49 AG (last year I was 4th in my first Xterra). So for the next 16-18 miles I was riding, and constantly adjusting, a kilogram of spares trying to work its way out of my tri top like a wriggling joey in a kangroo. Ironically the steep down hill sections were the easiest as I was bent so far forward and I had it up near my neck. There were some scary sections of downhill and a fair few crashes. There was also a couple of sections of uphill that were impossible to ride and on one section I was walking quicker than the riders.
T2 was a beautiful sight, an artificial ramp to conquer and leap of the bike and get into my trainers for the scorching hot run was a blessing that I had made it back without serious injury or race ending mechanical. I just need to get into the points.
Straight out of T2 was the 'Mother-in-law', an artificial obstacle of steps and hay bales (piccy below) before heading up a grassy bank, traversing left and up the grass pyramid and out onto the course of tracks and trails. As much as I was looking forward to the run my legs decided they weren't. They felt sluggish and I felt drained.
The 'Mother-in-Law' on the way out of T2 stay left

Was I dehydrated and tired? I think so, but that's racing.....some you win some you lose and you suffer all of them and keep plugging onwards. I kept telling myself I was racing for medals and points and it was impossible to know where you are in the race. I heard third elite male finish just after I was starting my run so I knew I was maybe 45 mins behind the elite men (they started ahead of the Elite ladies and the age groupers) which is probably a little more than I would have liked but I was already 3 minutes down on my swim time and who knows what I lost on the bike, but I usually make up a few places on the run. I was catching some runners and after about 7km I caught Christophe and went past with friendly, but a fierce-fully competitive, gesture. This was just before we headed into the 'nature park'. For those uninitiated to German way this means a a nudist beach. It's slightly unnerving to be racing through a nudist park but part and parcel of Germany I guess and it reminded me of the quadrathlon Ali and I did in Germany a few years ago when my sister and family came to watch. Young children and nudists don't mix well!
The temperature was in the mid 30's by now and the local fire crew had set up a hose at the end of the nudist area. I normally avoid getting my shoes wet in races but this is Xterra, you are meant to get wet and muddy, in fact the courses are usually designed to make you muddy and wet, and it was very hot so I ran through the edge and headed up the last big hill. By now there was only 2km to go and suddenly Christophe is on my shoulder again so I surged again and heard him say 'no Mat, don't do this to me' in a comical almost desperate way that proves our combative nature. I decided to go for it there and then and managed to pull out 16-sec by the end of the race and we made our friendship again afterwards.
I had no idea where we finished overall but after a massage and some alcohol free beer recovery drink and food I found out that I had come 8th in my age group with Christophe 9th. It was enough points to win the European Tour with a few spare although for some reason I was still unsure. Maybe it was disbelief that I had sealed the tour. The winner of our age group was in a different league and 30 minutes ahead of us among the pro times...maybe he was pro in an earlier life? Who knows? I was disappointed overall with the way my race went from start to finish but you have to take the rough with the smooth sometimes. No individual fact ten minutes away from the medals but I got the overall series.
So with one race left in the Xterra European tour we head to Mons Klint in Denmark next weekend with a 112 point lead. It's another gold race so 100 points for a win are up for grabs so I expect a good field of competitors. Christophe is considering coming too despite him having 2nd place in the tour pretty much secure. Ali is also racing her first Xterra. I'm sure I've mentioned it before that this year I feel like a pro in the sense that I've done a full series of travelling but without the race money, faster times and without the sleep and training commitments but I've done what I set out to do......firstly qualify for the Xterra World Championships in Maui and secondly, after consideration and my first win, take on the series for experience and win it. Hopefully in 2017 I can ride off-road a lot faster although financially this years reacing has been expensive and next year will be just as expensive with getting married, honeymoon and races. They are prioritised Ali! ;-)
Winning the series was a dream at times but would not have been possible without the support from my chief supporter and wife-to-be,Ali, and without being physically rebuilt after all the injuries and niggles by Jane Murray, Sports therapist, at Peter Bennett's Physiotherapy Clinic..Steve Austin eat your bionic heart out.. Other notable mentions and thanks should go to Chris Stirling for recommending CurraNZ which helps amazingly with the serious DOMS I used to get, I can't believe how excited by this I am! Marc Preece should get a mention for selling me his old Scott 910 MTB which is considerably lighter than my Cyclescheme Whyte 629 bike but also for recommending Xterra UK last year which was my first off road experience. All the other competitors incuding Christophe for the motivation to race to the finish line. Xterra Wetsuits UK get a special mention for providing me with a Vector Pro wetsuit that I just love swimming in. Roll on next weekend! Thanks for reading.

Race results for 2015..

  1. Xterra Malta                      3rd April                     1st
  2. Manchester Marathon       10th April                    2hrs 55min 15sec
  3. Xterra Greece                    7th May                     1st
  4. Outlaw half-ironman         29th May                    4th
  5. Xterra Switzerland            25th June                   6th
  6. Xterra France                     3rd July                     10th
  7. Outlaw ironman                 24th July                    1st new (AG record - 9hr 38min)
  8. Xterra Germany                20th August                8th

to do

  • Xterra Nordic(Denmark)                 4th September
  • Chesterfield half marathon              2nd October
  • Xterra World Champs(Maui)           23rd October

Saturday, 30 July 2016

I am an Outlaw

Well last weekend was the Outlaw Ironman distance race. For those uninformed, Ironman is now a brand name that originated from the first Ironman Hawaii triathlon which was a 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike and a 26.2 miles run, so the term Ironman gets used a lot for familiarity. Some also call 140.6(miles) or 226 (km) but its basically an Ironman triathlon for the old skool.
When I entered last year the plan was to emulate my mate Daz Sharpe in being an Ironman winner, (although he went and won the whole bloody race!) but this year, if you have read my blog you'll know, I'm trying out the off road Xterra racing, with some success, so my attitude and expectations had somewhat changed.
Last week I was so chilled out because I was expecting to do well and my knee injury was still healing so on Sunday morning at Holme Pierpoint I put myself on the start line feeling like I was doing a local sprint triathlon. No pressure on myself!
With about a minute or two to the klaxon I started my watch and waited for the swim start frenzy that never really materialised. Head up swim for about 5 metres then settled into long strokes getting out to the left away from the crazies. I spotted Nick Summers (among a 1100 swimmers) to my right and thought 'wow, i'm doing ok here', so I sat in and let him tow me round. A few times I tried to come past but the effort wasn't worth it so settled back again and sat there for most of the 2.4 miles and then sat in the middle of a small group for the last half a mile. I exited in 57min 21sec and Nick spotted me and I thanked him for the tow. The swim felt so easy made easier sitting in on Nick's relaxed style.
Nick already half stripped as I struggle to find my zipper cord -  

After a reasonably fast T1 it was out onto the bike but I heard Karl Alexander's name tannoyed so figured he wasn't too far behind but pleased to be ahead of the expected winner. Within a few minutes of cycling though Karl came past and disappeared just as quick. A quick wave to Ali's mum then it was onto the A52 with some riders in sight. After a few miles of overtaking and being overtaken I settled into my race pace of 150-160hr (I don't use or can afford power measurement yet) and found myself riding at a similar speed to a rider with DRG stencilled on his backside. We exchanged places a few times over the next 50-60 miles and he always seemed to pull away after feed stations as I fumbled with bottles and dropped bananas and gels. I had even dropped a protein bar I'd taken with me and was trying out some Cadbury's Brunch Bars as race food. Not conventional but as I mentioned, this race had different expectations, and they seemed to work and I got the feeling of eating normal food rather than energy food that can upset my guts. I also took a pack of Airwaves chewing gum which I ate regularly to freshen up my mouth after taking on the gels. I only took about 4 gels but used the High 5 drink every time at every feed. From about 70 miles I was on my own heading into the southern circuit and it was somewhere there I saw Karl sitting on the side of the road. After a consolatory wave I rode on and caught one of the relay riders who was cramping up. After a few miles of him yoyo'ing on and off the front with cramp he finally pulled away with about 7 miles to go. I never felt like I was pushing hard at any time yet still managed to ride the distance in 5hr 1min when I really expected to ride about 10-20 min slower. I was beginning to think today the weather and wind was kind to us. I cramped a little myself coming into T2 and had a little sciatica tingling around 70 miles and some scapula pain on the right side but when I handed my bike over to the catchers and started running to the change tent it felt good.
Leaving the change tent I started looking at my watch for the speed and heart rate display and instantly had to slow down. I had two plans pre-race; go hard and hold as long as possible or run 1:40 for the first half and see what happens. This was decided by the knee injury pain experience and I settled for option two and tried to control my pace to 7:30min/mile. The first mile was 6:45 but the following two where about 7:15 so I figured that would do and just watched the HR about 156. At half way I was on 1:40....the plan worked but still had another half marathon to go. My feet got hot despite choosing the lighter socks and the blisters started in the middle of my left foot, still I plodded on and I wasn't getting overtaken as I thought I might be.
post race walking would be difficult
 I took some paracetamol about 2 miles into the run but I was still getting some knee pains every now and then. Getting on to the rowing lake for the final circuits was a godsend except you can see the whole way round which is quite demoralising. With only about 5.5 miles to go Pete Norris caught me and went past but he soon cramped and I caught him just for him to start up again and jog on. I tried to keep him insight but soon lost him as the lake circuit filled with new athletes. Bethany, my daughter, and her boyfriend Lee, surprised me by coming along to watch and with a lap to go (4.8km) she said I was in 1st position in my age group but being caught quickly so I put in a final push for the line trying to take advantage of the tailwind then using other runners as shields on the home leg. Paul Breeze, my mate who should have been racing, and Cath his partner had also turned up to cheers us on and he was beaming nearly as much as I was as I entered the finish chute.
A few metres to go, no pain felt!
I heard my name called and that I was the age group winner and I just screamed with excitement and relief. I never really believe....or did I(?) that I would ever win a major title.
I then turned my thoughts to how Ali was doing. I always worry about Ali when she races but I found out she was on the run before I finished so knew she would be OK barring injury. Ali was having a mare on the run in comparison to her training runs but in good old Ali attitude she persevered and her determination got her to the finish time with 27 minutes to spare. I don't know if I could spend that amount of time out there or weather my knees and back could hold out for 7 hours of running but she does it well and out her non finish at Bolton behind her. Like me she is an Ironman and an Outlaw. Legend!
The next day at the trophy presentation I got the icing on the cake. I found out that I had also set a new age group record with 9 hours 38 min 33 sec. To say I was surprised was an understatement. I was just chuffed I'd won.
45-49 AG winner and record holder - 9h38m33s

 Swim57:212.4 Miles
 Transition 12:17
 Bike5:01:05111.99 Miles
 Transition 22:49
 Run3:35:0126.19 Miles
So now its onto the next focus...back to Xterra racing but first I need to order some CurraNZ which assist with prevention of DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, and by heck it seems to work. By Tuesday I could've run if the blister wasn't so sore, but I'm taking a few days off to recover from the tiredness and just chilling out but with the knowledge that I'm going to need some power for climbing on the MTB. One of the pro Xterra athletes, Jacqui Slack, has given me a few programs so I'm on it to get ready for Xterra Germany in three weeks time, Denmark in 5 weeks time then the World Championships in Maui in 2 months. Racing 2016 like a pro!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Double weekend racing

A little late getting onto this blog as I've been busy with work and study since getting home from our trip to Xterra Switzerland and Xterra France.  I'll keep them short cause I've got more recent news to share.

Clean before the start of Xterra Switzerland

Xterra Switzerland.
Ali and I flew out the morning of the Brexit announcement and you couldve heard a pin drop at Heathrow. We used our Avios airmiles to fly Britich Airways from Manchester to Heathrow to Geneva with the bikes included as luggage. Alsolute bargain and amazing service by BA. Car hire by Europcar was a Clio estate and perfect size for us. The hotel in Forcine le Haut was quaint and cheaper on the French side than booking in Switzerland and only about 15miles away from the race venue at Le Chenit. A quick recce in the dry on Saturday proved advantageous as the skies opened with thunderstorms late afternoon and drench the course turning parts into a mudbath. My swim didn't go particularly well and I choked on a bit of water but came out in 23+ minutes but onto the bike I thought I did OK on the first lap. It was so muddy and slippery though that I couldn't get any nutrition in as everything was covered in mud. Big mistake. The second lap was when I started to make mistakes and crashed a few times, the last crash only a mile from the finish would gash my knee open very deep. Onto the run and aware my leg was bleeding and aching I continued to catch people and ran my way back to 6th in the age group. Had I registered with British Triathlon in time this would have been an ETU bronze medal but I was here for Xterra European Tour points and i grabbed 63 from a possible 100. I was wiped out at the end and Ali didn't even recognise me as I was so muddy. I got into the small stream to wash off the mud and clean my cut then headed for the hot showers just as a bit of shock was setting in.
hard to recognise the make

Xterra France
We booked a lovely apartment in Gerardmer for the following week from a lovely couple Robert and Martine Schwarz and they were so kind inviting us to dinner. We laughed and joked about us being their first British guests ever and so soon after Brexit. We would go up to the course most days and Ali would go off swimming or road biking whilst I walked some of the run course and then managed to recce the bike course albeit very slowly with a painful knee. I got some hydrogen peroxide cream and dressings from the pharmacy but realistically I know it should have been stitched. By Wednesday I got some waterproof dressings and on Thursday I was able to swim the length of the Xonrupt-Longmer lake at ironman pace.
On race day the swim was manic. 1000 people crammed into a space about 25m wide so I went hard left into clear water and stayed there almost to the first buoy then joined the thinned out line of swimmers. I exited in 21:26 and chuffed to get out onto the bike ahead of a lot of Xterra Warriors. The bike course is tough.....really tough.....and really long....and really really hilly. Almost straight away you climb and climb forever and my Garmin read 5000ft of climbing over the 25 miles/two lap course and included a few man made structures to keep the spectators happy and entertained with crashes into the sand and falls from the ramps and jumps. The second lap was horrific know what is to come and its been churned up by the 1000 half course athletes in the morning and then a 100 full course athletes in the afternoon. My brakes were not brilliant, I've subsequently found out the front was rubbing and the back need adjusting as it just slipped and was non effective. I learnt not to trust someone else with the track pump as my tyres were too hard causing a few spills and managed to bash my poorly knee again which still hadn't healed.You live you learn! Onto the run I was smashing past loads of runners and made up nearly 50 places overall and was pleased with the 53 min run which also went up hill a lot,, but what goes up comes down and despite a little cramp going up I thrashed the downhill. I finished 10th in AG and gained another 45 points.
racked up for Xterra France

I now lead the series with 258 points with two more races planned; Germany and Denmark before finishing at the World Championships in Maui. Theres a few races left in the series for someone to catch me but I'll try my best to maintain the lead and I'll be learning how to ride an mtb from August to October.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Xterra take 2

OMG whats happening in 2016? I don't think I ever imagined winning one Xterra triathlon never mind two but I have. Coming over from road triathlon and ironman has given me a great starting base but there's so much to learn and I am little gutted I have left it so late in my triathlon life to fully appreciate the off road side. I should've been mixing it up years ago but I'm going to make the most of what I have right now.

Top spot again. I could get used to this.

When I won in Malta it was mission accomplished in achieving my slot to the World Xterra championship in Maui. Then I started to think if I could get more experience and practice at other events, all subject to funding by the Bank of Self. I looked at the Xterra European tour and checked out the race in Athens. The races need to be near or cheap travelling distance from major airports and Vouliagmeni fits. I had a load of Avios air miles from Tesco shopping vouchers saved up and I have never been able to use them and suddenly I have a British Airway's flight from Manchester via London to Athens for £70 in taxes only. A bus from the airport at 4am to Various takes 25minutes and €6 and then its a 40 minutes walk lugging a bike bag, a carry-on suitcase and a backpack through the empty streets to Appolonia apartments in Varkiza, about 2km from Vouliagmenia.  Everything is so peaceful until two large Alsatian dogs start barking at the noise of the wheels on the bike bag and run out onto the road I'm walking down. I know very little Greek despite living in Cyprus for 6 years of my life but u always remember my dad telling me to shout "no dog" in Greek which suddenly seemed relevant and helpful after 20-odd years. So, in my best Greek I hushed "oxi skilagi" (that's maybe the phonetic spelling! ), and the dogs stopped in their tracks and one sat down. I should also mention I positioned the bike bag between me and the dogs just for emergency. One continued to follow me for another few metres then I was able to relax whilst I lugged 23kg of bike bag to the apartment.
The key and welcome note was on the open reception (24hours service) and a quick check around the room at the facilities and in my chosen bed of three and trying to kip at 5.30am with the alarm set for 11am.  Vouliagmeni is the Greek Riviera and played his to the 2004 Olympic triathlon, the one where Marc Jenkins punctured or had a mechanical and had to run the last few miles to get back to T2 and finish his Olympic dream. Nobody wants a DNF especially at the Olympics.
The venue is a gorgeous private beach and behind the beach are the rolling hills. The Xterra Greece team are setting up when I register and I leave my bike with them to go recce a lap of the run route. It starts flat on the paths and roads outside the beach area and a stepped underpass takes you under the busy main road. The road ramps up steeply near the race hotel then there are some steep steps that take you up to the edge of the off road section. To this point the bike and run routes are the same. The run route goes left up a dusty rocky trail and on the recce I was able to run it but its steep. Reaching the top I stopped to take in the scenery of the sea and the islands and Dave Nicholas, Xterra Managing Director, is there with his wife and friends. A quick hello and chat then I'm flying down the hill towards the next climb. Brutal is a word I would use for the next climb. Its just rocks and almost a scramble and steeper than the previous. After that its trail and a small road climb and descent back to the steps for lap two or straight on back to the venue. On race day the run enters the private area and loops behind tennis courts and finishes with a 200m beach run (to emulate Maui?).
After lunch at a local bakery I return at 4pm to recce ride the course with Nico Lebrun, previous Xterra world champion and a few other guys. The bike loop is completed twice and we are not permitted to ride the steps down the underpass for safety of other riders and runners on race day. The steps at the start of the trail need to be negotiated and it means carrying the bike uphill each lap. Unlike the run, the bike leg does a bigger loop taking in more hills and trails with a few technical twist and turn sections to slow us,, down. The final section is a fast road via a water station then back out on loop two before returning to the underpass again. Everything seems OK except its easy to overcook a few corners on loose gravel and dirt. After the race briefing its back over the hill to the apartment and spaghetti and tomato dolmio sauce for dinner with a tin of rice pudding for dessert and then its off to bed to race in my head whilst trying to sleep causing me to stay awake for hours.
I get about 5 hours sleep and after porridge, custard bagels and tea I leave at 7 for the race. I set up my transition and recce the transition entry and exits and walk through my routine.
At 9am we are due to start and on the shoreline I chat with British professionals Rory Downie and Matt Dewis. There are not many Brits here, Louise Fox being the only female British pro. I do meet Gary Dressel, my age group, later on the run and I had seen he was a good swimmer if its the same Gary. I also met a Brit called Colin Brown but he lives here, and Rory's dad Gavin is also racing.
The swim starts and I'm positioned near eventual winner Roger Serrano but in metres he disappears but I'm also in the pack amongst the red-hatted pro's for the first lap before just dropping off the pace during the second 750m lap. It feels great and I'm buzzing with positivity. Getting to my bike I can see none have gone from my age group and there were only a handful of white hatted age groupers ahead on the swim. The bike goes pretty well despite jamming my chain at one point right at the start of climb and getting dropped by the female pros but at least I was ahead and I just try to ride smooth and maintain speed in the turns as Nico pointed out. I did have another forced stop which resulted in cramping both quads when female pro Latina Buss slipped her back wheel on a short climb and I was right behind her. I spun it off but it was in my mind just as it was in Malta.
Back into T2 and I'm the first bike back, yippee, and I'm out on the run feeling pretty relaxed, well trying to, knowing the bloody awful climbs are coming. The first road climb I manage to run but thereinafter its a walk with cramp again on the first rocky climb. In my head I am trying to keep the speed going to do enough to stay head without over doing it. Second time down the hill and its almost joyeous to reach the road and head for the underpass with just the beach to finish. I hit the sand and aim for the water line hoping for firm traction and its probably better than the really soft deeper sand.
I enter the finish chute and in my head I've won but I'm taking it for granted. When I'm having a massage and food, The Frenchman as he's known,  Christophe Maury tells me I've won with him third after being overtaken by another French triathlete Franck Fonteyraud in the closing stages. Still I'm not convinced but 99% accept it. Later that evening it would be confirmed on the podium. Winner!
Another trophy and another winner certificate with the Maui entry code which Christophe is after but Franck may take the place.
I had won by 9 and 10 minutes over Franck and Christophe and I now lead the European tour with maximum points after two wins from two.

Finish line thinking I've won but not convinced

The tour is the best score from two silver and four gold events. I now need to race four golds to stand a chance. I am racing in Switzerland in June then hopefully France, the Xterra European championship in Germany then finish with Denmark in September before heading to Maui, Hawaii for the world championship. What a year! A lot of money to consider but I'll try to do it as cheaply as possible to make it happen.
Another issue I usually have is DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, and it usually wipes me out 2-3 days later. This time I had none which may have been due to the fact I was sent some CurraNZ supplements, on the recommendation of Chris Stirling, which are basically a shed load of New Zealand blackcurrants in pill form. They are antioxidants and help aid lactic acid dispersal and for now I'm saying they work and i'll be trying them again next time.

CurraNZ, a world-leading superfood supplement for health and fitness

I've also got a half ironman and full ironman in Nottingham (Outlaw) pre-entered and I wish I wasn't doing them now but my perspective may change on these. We'll see.
I have enough Avios points to get me and Ali to Switzerland so just accommodation and a car to sort then its consideration for the other races.
If your reading this and your company or you know of a company could sponsor me for travel to the races or an individual event then please contact me. I'd be extremely grateful.
So, now my trip to a then is at an end and I'm sat in the airport waiting to check in writing this blog. Its been fun....when I got past the 24degree\40 minute walk back to the bus to the airport lugging all the kit again. I arrived here about 1.15pm and I can't check in until 5.30pm but I spent an hour helping an elderly British family download Easyjet tickets from a playing up machine to save them £180. I even have their boarding passes on my phone!
I'm so grateful to use BA with my Avios points as my bike travels as part of my luggage allowance up to 23kg and my wetsuit and cycling shoes etc are in my carry on luggage. Well done BA! Maybe I'll contact them or send this to them as a tweet. I'm using them again for Switzerland as I have just enough points left for me and Ali.
I'll add some photos and post this later. For now I will have another coffee, check in and look forward to my night at Heathrow before my morning flight back to Manchester and heading into work.
Thanks for reading if you got this far....... Retweet or share as you like. Race hard but smart. Mat added and Xterra Switzerland (ETU Championships) entered but France is full and I'm on a reserve list. Also entered Germany the European Xterra Championships.