Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The BrazilianGunner has gone Ultra...

For a while now I’ve been flirting with the idea of doing an ultra, the problem was always finding the race that would suit my triathlon season commitments.  Some of you already know that I drive trains for a living, my main route is between London Euston and Northampton, I tend to work lots of early morning shifts and I often take train to be washed from Euston into this place in Camden, and from there a taxi picks drivers up and takes us back to Euston. Underneath where we wait for the taxi is the Grand Union canal path and I often look at it and think to myself: ‘this goes all the way to where I live’. One of those mornings I stared at it and thought I should run it; there and then the idea was born.

My last triathlon in 2012 was the Long Distance Classic, a ¾ Ironman distance in Essex in August, and rather than not having anything else to aim for in 2012 I came up with the idea of running the Grand Union canal to Leighton Buzzard in December. I shared my thoughts on Twitter and soon I had people interested in joining me. Once I was back from holidays I started training for it but I was still uncertain of the exact mileage, I had imagined 52 to 55 miles. Before the end of September I covered the route on my single speed bike (that was an adventure in itself) with my friend Colin and my Garmin clocked 60.5 miles (eeek). I had a chat with the other runners and the reaction was that we should aim for 62 miles (100k). 

How did I train for it? Basically I borrowed the ideas from the book ‘Relentless Forward Progress’, but being a keen triathlete I had to keep up with the other two disciplines. So in my training plan I only wrote the schedules of the long runs, the rest of the training was very unstructured. To give you an idea, I did a couple of marathon distances training runs, a 33.5 miler and a few 18-12 back to back long runs. I only ran 3 times a week and my other sessions included fixed gear bike rides, long swims sessions, swim classes, easy turbo trainer sessions and weight training (low weight, high reps type). I hardly did any speed sessions running; sometimes I’d do 2 miles at marathon pace during a 5 mile run. The majority of the weeks I trained six times with most Sundays off. I regularly clocked 10 to 12 hours weekly and gave every fourth week a bit of a break and reduced the hours.

The biggest change for me during the ultra-training was nutrition, I was recommended by a friend a book called ‘Nutrition Periodization for Athletes’ by Bob Seebohar. Basically, Seebohar came up with a concept called metabolic efficiency, whereby you can manipulate the types of food you put together in a meal or snack in order for your body to be able to better utilise your fat stores. As I understand it the concept is about reducing your body insulin response when eating and thus allowing the athlete to transform from a carb burner into a fat burner. Bearing in mind that even the skinniest of the athletes have enough fat stores to keep going for a long time the idea seemed plausible to me and I was willing to give it go. Seebohar goes as far as saying that if you get your body in a metabolic efficient state there is no need to the usual carb loading before endurance events and the need to feed during races is reduced. I wouldn’t describe my new diet as a high fat diet although I do eat a lot more good fats, but it now involves managing my carbs, particularly what type they are and when to have them. Alongside this I was also recommended a sports drink which is made out of corn starch rather than refined sugar, an American product called UCAN Generation. The manufacturers claim that the drink doesn’t give you a fast insulin response thus allowing a more stable source of energy compared to the usual gel/sport drink. Now you might be asking what is the problem with the ‘normal’ gels/drinks that you find in the UK?  Not too long ago I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic (genetic pre-disposition) so for me taking refined sugar in the form of gels/drinks was always a concern, also it is terrible for your teeth. Now when I look at a plate of food I no longer look at calories or fat content, I think about whether it will create an insulin response. What I can say is that with this new way of eating I have become better at managing my hunger cravings and I also look leaner despite losing very little weight during ultra-training. I would be curious at some point in the near future to have my blood tests re-done to check and see if my glucose levels have levelled out.
I treated every long run as an opportunity to test my nutrition strategy for the “big day”. I soon found out that refined sugar in the form of jam sandwiches and mars bars didn’t work well with my tummy so I tested other options alongside my new eating plan. The pace during these long runs was always much slower than my usual long run pace and I also set out a walking strategy, basically for the big day the plan was to run for 2 hours at the start then start a run 25min-walk 5 min strategy. 

The big day soon rolled around and my confirmed running buddies were Stuart & Steve. We caught the 3h50 train into London and by 4:50 we were running, although it was very cold the forecast said no rain and after 10min or so we were warmed up.  Leaving London we hardly needed to use the head torches with all the street lighting and sometimes the moonlight. I aimed at eating every half hour and for the first four hours I didn’t touch any sugar, I had cheese and ham sandwiches in halves, Pringles, UCAN sports drink and water. The pace was very gentle at around 10:30min/mile and we chatted the entire time, which made time fly by and soon it was getting light. I took charge of the walking breaks and we did them almost to a military precision. We were able to carry half of the water/food we needed for the day and my beautiful wife was summoned to crew for us at the 30miler mark, a very convenient Tesco’s car park in Rickmansworth. It took us 6 hours to get there, great pacing at that point.

We had a bigger feed there and probably stopped for a good 15min. We all found it a bit painful to start running again but within 10min or so our legs felt normal again. We carried on with our run/walk strategy, eating as we went and by then I had introduced some sugar in the form of peanut butter/banana sandwiches in halves, Nakd bars, coffee beans covered in dark chocolate and malt loaf pieces as well as all the other savoury stuff I had in the first half. My stomach felt fine throughout and as the miles ticked away the legs felt more and more ‘worked’ but no crash or bad patches at all, but every now and then a pain would develop on my big toe or my right hip. By mile 50 I could sense we would all finish and with about 10miles or so to go my tri club mates Alex and Colin were waiting for us with flat Coke. It was great to quickly catch up and get a nice caffeine boost along with a few photo opportunities.

Once on the move again the conversation between us reduced, by then there was a 15 metres gap between us, but we marched on taking our walking/eating breaks every 25min. Lots of things were going through my head by then but crazy as it seems I didn’t want the run to end. It was a good place to be in; I was running more than I have ever done in my life and loving every minute of it and I now get all the buzz of ultra running. 

As we entered Leighton Buzzard my mate Phil was waiting alongside the canal with a torch and he ran another 2 miles with us. We started chatting more by then and we were all in good spirits and even Phil telling me Arsenal had lost to Swansea didn’t ruin my great mood.  When we approached the big Tesco’s in Leighton Buzzard some of the friends from the tri club surprised us there clapping and cheering us on, it was awesome and gave me a boost of energy and with 5k to go my legs seemed to work like new. I was checking my Garmin and the pace was about 8:15min/mile, we were ‘flying’!  

As I entered my road, my wife had Rocky’s ‘Eye of the tiger’ playing on the loudspeakers for our last few metres home and then we were done…. what an experience, this wasn’t a race, there were no medals, no goody bags, no timing chips, but I bloody loved it!!!

I have lots of people to thank, firstly my wife Anna and my girls for putting up with my training and still loving me. Thanks Stu and Steve for being great running buddies, I know a lot more about you guys now. Thanks Colin for riding that canal with me not once but twice, and also for helping us lots on the day. Thanks Alex aka The Fish for the support and help on the day and for the great pictures you took. Thanks to my club mates Diane + husband, Steve + his son, and Andrew for cheering us on at the end, that was so cool and I will never forget that. Thanks Mark for the many tips you gave me during the day and for cheering us on in that last km. Thanks Phil for running those two miles with us and encouraging us to finish. Thanks Dan, during these last few weeks I learned lots from you buddy, next time we’ll be doing that together. Thanks for everyone who couldn’t be there on the day but who have encouraged me in the last few weeks, and for all the lovely messages I received.
So what’s next for me now? I will be taking it really easy for the next four weeks, nothing long or high intensity, but in January I’ll start training for Ironman Austria in June, that’s my A race for the year.  I want to earn the M-dot tattoo. I am also planning an autumn marathon, perhaps Amsterdam…
In terms of ultra-running I would now like to complete a 100 miles distance at some point, although I am not sure whether I will enter an organised race or create my own route again. That will probably happen in 2014 J

Some useful links:

Friday, 17 August 2012

My 2012 triathlon season - Road to Ironman Austria

Having started triathlon in 2011 I was eager to do some more races in 2012. It's no secret that my dream is to complete an Ironman triathlon so my 2012 triathlon season would include some longer races as a learning curve to my ultimate goal.
My objectives for the 2012 triathlon season were to do a good half ironman distance triathlon at the Cowman, in Olney, my ‘A’ race this year and complete a longer distance triathlon, so I found the Waterside Long Distance triathlon in Bradwell, Essex, which is a 2.4k swim, 121km bike ride and a 30k run.
Although I was training for the London marathon during the winter months I also dedicated time on bike and swimming. I joined the newly found Leighton Buzzard Triathlon Club and found the technique drills we did throughout winter very useful, I feel more aware as to what I am doing in the pool and have definitely made good progress in that department.
Looking through my training spreadsheet I can see how consistent I was with my training, basically I trained 6 days a week with the majority of Sundays as my day off, there were lots of 10/11 hours weeks with some weeks peaking at 15 hours, most weeks I did 3 bike sessions, 3 runs, 2 swims and a couple of sessions working my core.
My racing kicked off with an Olympic distance in Gloucestershire where it was my first opportunity to test my first TT bike, the weather wasn't great for a good bike split but I still managed to shave a couple of minutes and an overall 6 minutes off the previous year.
Next up was the Cowman middle distance, if you live in the UK you know that it hasn't been the greatest summer weather, the forecast for the Cowman was relatively ok but the transition area had become a massive bog and as a last minute measure the run course had to be altered as the original course was too muddy. I had been training well so I had high hopes for the race. The swim was great, I felt well in the water and couldn't help noticing people around me taking two strokes while I took one, same speed but I was more efficient, at the end of the swim I had made nearly two minutes from the previous year, so job done.
The bike session was reasonable, to be honest I was expecting more with my new bike but the speed wasn't there although the legs felt fine. The run went superbly well, I was impressed with myself, and ran each lap faster the other and still had some left in the tank for a sprint finish, I clocked 1:27:59 on the run, this time would make a 13.1 PB but with the run course changes it meant it was a shorter distance but a good run nevertheless. In the end every section was a PB including transitions and I improved my overall time by 16min in total, ‘A’ race with an A result. I have been trying going sockless in races without a problem, so my transitions have been faster, I have been clipping the shoes to the bike and using Zoots Tempo for running, these are great as you don't need laces and feel super comfortable but they aren't good for Ironman distance so I was told.
Now there was only one race left on my calendar, I came across this race in a magazine and thought it would sensible to try something like this before an actual Ironman. The training was just a continuation of what I had been doing for Cowman but with longer sessions. Key part of my training this summer was time trials on the bike which I really enjoyed, it's like a midweek mini race and a great way to measure your improvement over the weeks and it also gets you fit. It was a great boost to my confidence getting PBs on 10 mile and 25 mile TTs in the weeks leading up to my longest triathlon ever.
Five weeks went by really quickly and last Sun morning I was lining up to start the Waterside Tri at 7am. I was a bit worried about the organiser's description of a challenging river swim but in actual fact it was a marina and they must have timed it right as there wasn’t a strong current and in the end I enjoyed the salty swimming very much with the boats around us. The forecast for the day was for warm weather and winds of up 15mph, the bike course was reasonably flat with very few inclines, being a loop meant that I rode against and with wind on my back. A bit of discomfort flared up on the last lap of the bike, with back & neck pains, I stretched a bit but tried to stay in that aero position. It was hot by the time the bike section was completed, in transition 2 I opted to put some socks on for comfort and at the first aid station I poured a cup of cold water over my head, back pain and neck pain disappeared by then. It was basically 3 x 6.4 miles loop,  and the first time round I averaged 7:40s min/mile, the speed gradually faded and the second loop was like 8:05s the last loop was even slower, with 2miles to go I think the heat got the better of me and I was glad it was finishing. In the end I averaged 8:19 on the run, not bad although I imagined a bit faster, nevertheless I never felt the urge to walk, I made up two positions on the run so I could say I finished strong or perhaps wobbling less. My finishing time was 7:36:34 and the splits: 2.4k swim 55:59 - T1 01:15 - 121km bike 03:56:10 - T2 01:54 - 30k Run 2:41:14. Nutrition worked well on the day for me, I consumed 750ml of SIS sports drink for heat on the bike during the first hour and I after that I took one High5 Isogel every 25min and about 2.25 litres of water, for the run I used one Isogel every 30min and sipped water at aid station. I also took one Salt Stick every hour from the second hour onwards; I didn't suffer from nausea, cramps or bad patches as such apart from the last two miles of the run. I felt lightheaded after the finish but a glass of flat coke and some muesli bars bits cured it quickly.
The last few weeks I had quite a few people ask me why I would bother doing a 3/4 ironman, I might as well do the full one. In Brazil we say that if you rush your burn your tongue and end up eating uncooked food; I signed up for Ironman Austria for June next year but my journey to get there has already started, completing an Ironman is a big task, I don't want to be standing on the starting line shit scared of the unknown, I want to be at the starting line anxious but know I worked my way up and left no stone untouched, I want to be as prepared as I can be. There is a massive gap between a half and full ironman and doing the Waterside Long Distance triathlon has made that gap a bit closer for me now.
What's next for me then? From Mon I'm taking two weeks off any exercise, I know I'll hate it but my body will appreciate and my family as well, my daughter even told me today I must eat biscuits and ice creams on holiday because all my clothes are falling off. When I return from the family holiday I'll start training to run about 55 miles in Dec from London to my house via The Grand Union Canal, not a race, just something I’d love to do. I'll ditch most speed work and will be spending lots of time on my single speed bike, also at the gym doing weights, obviously will have to do really long slow runs/walk and also continue with swimming classes with my triathlon club. I'll also do some cross country races with my running club, the Leighton Buzzard A.C. With this I hope to improve my endurance and build some stronger legs to help me achieve faster bike times in races. In January I will start base training for IM Austria.