Friday, 26 February 2010

Kickass Month.

Just a quick blog post...

This month has been pretty damn good for training.

I did my first century on the bike. Which, incidentally, was also more mileage than I had ever done in a week. I checked that.. I had always fallen a bit short.

Ive also started to hit the pool. As I've mentioned before, Ive never really done any swim training... well, I hit the pool in the second week of the month and then joined a gym and have started to establish a bit of a routine. Ive now done more swimming in the last 3 weeks than I did in all of 2009. This isn't exactly a reflection of three weeks of intense swimming.. its a sign that I just didn't swim last year. In the last 3 weeks Ive swum 10700m... Over 10k of swimming. Sweet!

2 weeks back I hit a good target of 2 workouts in each sport for the week. 2 swims, 2 bikes, 2 runs... AND a weights session.
This week I hit the 2 X 2 X 2 again and its only Friday, which means I'm likely to hit my ideal target for the week which is 2 X swim, 3 X bike, 3 X run for ~ a 10 hour training week.

Today is a rest day though, and I'm very glad of it. I don't yearn for rest days that often, but today I need one.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Mental toughness and always learning.

Ive 2 themes to cover in this blog.. Learning and mental toughness...

There are lots of things I like about training.

I like the fact that it calms me, centers me, keeps me fit and will hopefully let me live longer to see my kids grow and stay active enough to keep up with them.
I'm not going to list off all the other good things about training, that would be dull.. and would also probably abrogate the necessity for ever writing another blog post.
Lets focus on one thing right now... I like the fact that I have to keep learning.
I spend an ungodly amount of time in the education system. 7 years in primary school, 5 years in high school, 3 years in tech (ehh.. for you Americans this is like a bridge between high school and university), then 8 years in university. That's 23 years of education.
One thing you get out of this is a love of learning. Not really a conscious love. Its not like you wake up thinking "HELL YEAH MAN I WANNA GO AND LEARN SOME SHIT".
No, its a bit more subtle. A "PhD" is a Doctor of Philosophy. Philosophy from the Greek "philosophia" which is the love of wisdom. This stems from "philia" which means love (of the dispassionate and virtuous kind) and "sophia" which means wisdom.
So its a dispassionate, virtuous love for wisdom and knowledge.
This sounds fancy and pretentious... but there is an element of truth. Although it may not be so much of a love and more of a compulsion. A compulsive desire to understand things. Sometimes I get frustrated when my toddler asks "why" about everything... but I try not too because I do it myself in my head all the time.
How does this apply to training???? Where am I going with this??? Do I know? Possibly, stick with it and see....

Basically, I tend to analyse what I do. when I take on something, I need to know a lot about it. So when I started running, it wasn't enough to go out, buy some shoes and run. I needed to read about running, research it, understand it. I also needed to stupidly ignore much of the "wisdom" I read and make mistakes. I probably needed to get injured, cuz sometimes its easier, sadly, to learn from your own mistakes than from the teachings of others.

The truth is though, that I like to learn. I like to read triathletes world, and runners world, and blogs and books about training. I listen to podcasts to absorb as much info as possible. Triathlon offers a lot to learn. On the surface this is obvious... its 3 sports rather than one. It goes beyond that though. There is also nutrition, transition, multisport (brick) workouts and the mindset that goes with triathlon.

So, in short, one of the things I love about triathlon, is that its like studying again.. but studying something immediately applicable that I love.

That last paragraph could possibly replace all the initial preabmle... but Im not deleting it now.

OK.. Theme 2.
Mental Toughness.

Training requires toughness and conditioning of the body. But it also requires toughness and conditioning of the mind. I'm pretty sure these two things are of equal importance.

One of the reasons that most endurance sports seem to be dominated by older folks has got to be partially due to the mental aspect. As we go through life we accumulate experience and mental toughness. We all go through hard times, life does kick the shit out of you at times, and as the expression goes... what doesnt kill us only makes us stronger. I think Nietzsche originally said this... more philosophy for you.

There is an alternative theory that whatever doesnt kill us leaves us battered, weakened and vulnerable... but lets ignore that and go with Nietzsche's theory for now.

Lets vaguely connect this to training.
Yesterday morning I woke up at 6am.
Yeah, 6am on a sunday, another example of how training changes us.
I woke up at 6am, all ready for my long bike ride. I had prepped the night before. I had sorted out the flat on my bike, packed my bag and layed out all my gear so it would be easier to just haul ass and hit the road.
I walked, zombielike, down the stairs, looked out the window and there was 3 INCHES OF FRICKIN SNOW.
Cue me standing at the window, bleary, half asleep looking backwards and forwards between kitchen (place of coffee), window (place of snow), stairs (direction of bed and place of sleep).
It was a tough call.
Eventually I decided to phase the movement. I hit the kitchen, put on the kettle and opened up the laptop and googled "cycling in the snow"
Long story short... I decided to go for it. I was actually too psyched up. I hadnt had a long bike ride in a few weeks, I had planned a 9 hour training week and had already dropped an hour on friday night and there was no way I was don g 3 hours on the trainer.
So off I went.
It was tough going. It started off very difficult. Turns out you cant clip in to pedals when your cleats are jammed with snow. Also, I reckon its probably pretty funny watching a guy sitting on a bike, leaning on a lampost and picking at his shoes with an alan key.
Also, going down a really steep hill in deep snow on slicks is SCARY.
Once I got out on the main roads though it got easier and i got a 3 hour, 45 mile ride in the bag and felt great afterwards.

So what did I LEARN????
AHA!!!! See? The themes come together.. you'd think I clevely planned this, rather than rambling till it made sense
I learned a few things... and I think if we pay attention we can learn something, if not from every training session, but at least from every training cycle.
Key lessons from yesterday.

1. Dont give up cuz it looks like its going to be hard. Or, in shorter form. DONT BE A WUSS.
2. Dont do speedwork the day before a long ride. Thats an obvious one and again, something I had to learn from my own stupidity rather than just paying attention to what Id been told before. I had done a 7 mile run the night before. The 3 miles in the middle were 400m repeats at 6:30 with 400m recoveries. I also did this after being on my feet all day down at the market in Belfast. Despite this making my ride much harder... it also highligted key lesson number three...
3. Mental toughness makes a huge difference. I did 45 miles yesterday on sore and tired legs in the snow. Did it seem unduly hard?
Not really.
Compared with cycling across that frickin mountain in California at the tail end of a century ride it was piss easy.
Ive done lots of way more tough workouts. a "tough workout" is totally relative.
For you it may be a 3 mile run.
For me, a year ago, (quick check of training log), an 8 mile run at a 10 minute mile pace was tough going.
6 months before that, running for 30 minutes non-stop wasnt even possible.

So, learning and mental toughness. Really important and intrinsically linked.
The body learns how to work harder. The mind learns how to train better. Similarly the body learns to handle the pressure you pile on it, and the mind learns to listen to the body to judge the effort level in order to properly judge the appropriate load to put on the body. And of course, the mind learns to be tougher. To realise when the bodys complaints can be ignored and when they need to be listened too.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hectic few weeks 2: First century ride

While in SF I managed to do my first century ride. The evidence is above in that dreadful photo.
I arrived on Monday and got to bed pretty early. Then, I woke after about 4 and half hours sleep at 2:30 on Tuesday morning. i struggle to call 2:30am "Tuesday morning", but i guess it technically is. There was no way that I was getting back to sleep so I just got up. I spent a good few hours getting some work done then at 8am I headed out.
I ran the three miles from the hotel to the bike rental place. I picked up my Giant Defy 2 and went on my way.

It was a hell of an adventure. I hadn't really planned a route so having a map and google maps on my phone helped. Didn't do a lot for my overall average speed though to have to stop regularly to figure out where to go.

I started out by heading across the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito, as I had done last time. Stopped there for a cup of coffee and to watch the ocean for a while, then started out properly to really do the distance.
I cycled up through Corte Madera. The last time I had done this Corte Madera was my turnaround point. The total distance that day was 33.91 miles, and was my longest run to date... a mere 8 months ago. At that stage I didn't even own a road bike yet. Today's aim was a little more ambitious.

I headed on up past Corte Madera, through Fairfax and onward north. I hit the coast again at Anelmo.. and at that point was at the 40 mile mark. In order to do the full century, this meant continuing north for a further 10 miles, then turning round.
That 10 miles north was hard.
Once i turned round and started heading back it was OK again. I had planned on stopping for lunch at some point after the halfway point... but after the halfway point heading back down the coast, there was nowhere to stop for lunch! I also ran out of water after a while.
At about the 70 mile mark I actually began to feel kinda dodgy. Id been out of water for a while and hadn't eaten enough. Up to this point I had eaten two cliff bars and that was it. I started feeling like I was on the verge of "bonking". So, I stopped, had a little break and ate the last thing I had left in my camelback... which was a powerbar. It fought off the impending "bonk" but I gotta tell ya... those things suck when you eat them without water. they are drrrryyyyyyy.
A few miles down the road I finally came across a shop and picked up a bottle of water and a bottle of gatorade... The gatorade was downed straight away and I started feeling OK again.
The last 25 miles involved crossing a small mountain range.
It was HARD GOING. There were climbs that had to be over a 10% elevation and lots of long climbs that were around 3 miles long.
I was crawling up these at about 5mph in the easiest gear I had and my heart rate was STILL pretty high.
The many downhill sweeps were 25-30mph, with not pedalling and the brakes on.
It really was tough.
It was a breakthrough training session.
I managed a century. I managed LOTS of hills and I managed it under far from perfect conditions. I was jetlagged, was functioning on less than 5 hours sleep and despite it being done during the day in real time.. but by my body clock, it was well after midnight by the time I had finished and I had actually done the guts of a full days work before starting.
If that's not building mental endurance I don't know what is.
Below is the route and the elevation profile.
I also took some video footage which I may post as a follow up.

Minor addition... The ride included over 5,000 feet of clmibing. I dont really have a point of reference for how much this is, but I just checked and Britains highest mountain is Ben Nevis, and its 4,409 feet. So I figure OMG THAT WAS A LOT.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Hectic few weeks 1: Belfast4Haiti 5K

I actually started out doing one LONG blog post.. but it was too long even for me so Im cutting it into two and will, in my usual style, be posting 2 blog posts in two days after nothing for a few weeks.

What a hectic couple of weeks!
This was mostly written the day after the Belfast 4 Haiti 5k on a flight en route to San Francisco for work.

Yesterday was a completely amazing day. It was an incredible success.
We had around 250 pre-registered for the event and right now I'm not 100% sure how many registered on the day.
I had printed 200 registeration forms
We ran out of these
We had 550 race numbers
we ran out of these too.
Not bad going for a couple of complete of people doing it in their spare time with no previous experience and pretty busy day jobs to do as well.

My colleauges Lisa and Lorraine did a phenomenal job and the list of volunteers who came to help out on the day were amazing.
Everyone invovled worked for free and with amazing enthusiasm.
We even had some local heroes come along... The picture above is me standing with Dame Mary Peters... A Northern Ireland athlete who won Olympic gold in the pentathalon in 1972. You gotta love my obnoxious orange/ yellow stylin combo.. and the fact that i seem to be scratching my nose...
I managed to do the run myself in a pretty decent time of 22:15.
We had a great day and in total the run raised over £7,000.
The total raised by the combination of the run and the two evening events is now over £40,000
Im unbelievably proud and happy to have been involved and to have been able to help in whatever small way I did.
Thanks to everyone who helped, took part and offered support.
For those of you who still want to donate, please feel free to do so, my donation page will remain open for another while.

Finally.. a bunch of nice photos... You can click on them for full size versions.

The first two pics below are me posing with the first lady across the line, Catriona McCorkell and a shot of the midpack, which gives a good perspective of the numbers if you look in the background. Thanks to Eddie for the photos

The next three come from Shereen The first is me being interviewed (which was weird) by the local news folks, the second are the two lads who came first (on the left) and second (on the right), the third shows people lining up and in the foreground, just behind those two random blokes are my co-organisers Lisa (left, in the Belfast4haiti t-shirt) and Lorraine (in the furry looking jacket).

Me and Cat, who kicked ass.

A bit of perspective of the pack

Me being interviewed

The superfast winning males.

The Pack.. and my co-organisers.