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2011 Review

Well, it’s been a while.

I’ve been inspired to start up again after reading the numerous articles that some of my fellow Man Tri club mates have put up.

I guess I should start with a review of the last 2 years. So lets start with 2011.

I had a great running year in 2011, with PBs at all the major distances, except 10K (much to my annoyance), and a decent marathon debut (albeit 90secs slower than my 4hr target).

The year started with a PB at the Helsby Half marathon. A nice scenic course in West Cheshire. I knocked 5mins off my PB from Birmingham to go 1:42. The downside though, was I pulled my hamstring sprinting for the finish, and barely trained for the next 6 weeks.

Helsby Half 2011

Helsby Half 2011

March saw my return to the Wilmslow Half. After being out of action for most of the build up, I was relatively happy with 1:47, the same time as in Birmingham the previous October.

After Wilmslow, my focus turned to my first “full season” of triathlon. I will admit that after catching the bug at Tatton in 2010, I went a little giddy with my entries. I pretty much signed up for every Tri that I could during 2011.

First up was the Wilmslow Sprint Tri. It was a great reintroduction to triathlon, a nice relaxed atmosphere, and a nice course. The swim went better than I was expecting, and I ended up lapping everyone in my lane. The bike went OK, and the run was much better than my run at Tatton. I finished 220th out of 472, which is a top half finish, so all in all, a good day. This was also notable as the only Tri I did this year in any thing approaching nice weather. The only real negatives were my transition times. However, being only the second time I’d raced a Tri, things could only get better.

Next was the Great Manchester 10K. This was my second time running it, after setting a nice PB there the previous year. It was a fairly nice day, good conditions, but I over cooked the first half, and faded on the return leg, finishing in 46:09, 40 seconds slower than my PB. 10K was the only distance I didn’t PB in during 2011. Up until this point, I had had something of a ritual, in that I made a point of running a parkrun every Saturday I could, even if I had a race the next day. I did Woodbank, with it’s “hill” the day before, and even more stupidly, I “raced” it. Lesson learnt, sort of, for the future.

Northwich Sprint Tri was next up. Truly awful weather (although not the worst I’d compete in this year) was the order of the day. It rained fairly consistently through the morning, which meant everything I had in Transition was thoroughly soaked come the start of my wave, at which point it promptly stopped raining, and just stayed overcast and gloomy. I had another good swim, and the bike was fairly reasonable, although the road surface was awful in places. The run was so, so. It was 5 times round a 1K loop on the playing fields behind the Leisure Centre. I quite like lapped courses, but 5 laps meant that you well and truely lost track of whether the people in front of you were a lap ahead, a lap behind, or prey to be overtaken. Still, I was happy with my time, and I finished 41st out of 209.

A week later was the highlight of my season, the Windsor Oly. Windsor is one of the marque names in UK short distance triathlon, and I jumped at the chance to race it, even if the compulsory registration and bike racking the day before turned it into a full weekend away. The weather on the Saturday was beautiful. I started the day with a cheeky parkrun at Black Park. Learning from the Great Manchester 10K, I jogged this one in, although I couldn’t resist a sprint finish to pick up an all important extra two places (and to avoid being “chicked” by a 12 year old girl – the only real downside of parkruns!). After racking, I spent the day in Windsor, and then had an early night.

On Sunday, as forecast, the weather turned, and it was cold and wet for most of the day. Come swim start time, it was warmer in the water (14 degrees) than on the bank (a mere 8 degrees). The swim is around 800m upstream, and then 700m downstream. I was a touch disappointed with my time, which although comparable to Tatton the previous year, was a touch slower than I would have liked given that I’d actually done some swim training this year! The bike is a very pleasant, rolling course, in the countryside around Windsor, before dropping back through Windsor Great Park into the town. The run is a 3 lapped course which takes you up to Windsor Castle, and over the river to Eton. I really enjoyed the run, and seemed to be in much better shape for it than many of the other people in my wave. I finished 737th out of 1665, another top half finish. Although the splits did highlight my weakness, the Bike Leg.

Next came one of my favourite local running races, Round the Reser. And when I say local, I mean that the start is within jogging distance of my house, just across the valley in Tintwistle. 2010 was the first time I ran this race, the weather was scorching hot, and I only ran 4 times during the whole month. This time round, I was back with a point to prove. Some decent (actual) training under my belt, and a cool summer’s eve, saw me course PB by 4 minutes!

It was around this time that silly thoughts started coming into my head. My long term goal is to race Challenge Roth, an Iron Distance triathlon in Germany, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, topped off with a 26.2 mile run. That’s right, a marathon. Given that my ultimate goal involves a marathon, I’d decided that I would want to run at least one before hand to see if my body could cope with the training, and the race. So I entered the ballot for the VLM, but what were the chances that I’d actually get a place (about 5:1 actually)? Those pesky people from the Chester Marathon had pretty much littered every race I’d run all year with flyers for their event, and so in the end, I gave in, and signed up.

Just two weeks after Windsor, was my second Oly of the season, Liverpool 5150. Although not a brilliant day – there’s just something about Triathlons that makes me think they should always be raced in the sun, even though I would probably blow up on the run – it was actually decent racing weather. Not too hot, not too cold, and little wind. The swim is held in the Liverpool docks, so it is a sheltered sea swim. I came out with quite a fast time, but as the course seemed to be fairly accurate, I can only assume that the extra buoyancy from the salt water, the sheltered nature of the docks, and the easy sighting made for fast conditions.

The bike and run course both suffer from the same problem. They are quite flat and fast, but soooooo dull and boring. The bike is four laps, consisting of going all the way to one end of the road, turning round, going all the way to the other end, and then returning to the middle. Rinse and repeat 3 more times. The run was a two lap jobby, largely along the side of the bike course. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near as scenic or “special” as Windsor, but then I can’t imagine that it would be feasible to shut down the centre of a City like Liverpool in the same way as the centre of Windsor was given over completely to the Tri. 196th out of 608 meant a top third finish, with splits better than at Windsor (although the course will have helped that).

The City of Manchester 10K was my next attempt to get a new 10K PB. The whether was scorching hot, and I should have known that a PB was a no-no right from the start. However, it took me a further Half Marathon to fully learn that lesson. I started out at PB pace, but the heat took hold at 3K, and by 4K I was barely hanging on. I walked the drinks station at 6K to try and recover, and then jogged it home. I finished in 47:33 which whilst 2 1/2 minutes slower than I was aiming for pre-race, was still my third fastest 10K,and very much in the region of respectable. The race had a great community feel to it, despite starting in the shadow of the epitome of shallow decadence, a Premier League football ground. Given the areas that the course took you through, there were considerably more spectators out than one might have imagined.

Three days later, and it was the Offerton 10K, probably one of the toughest “road” 10Ks in the country (I have no doubt that there are harder trail/fell 10Ks out there), given that it involves the full climb from Vernon Park, back into Woodbank Park not once, not twice, but three times! As with the Round the Reser race, the 2010 affair was hot, hot, hot, and raced off the back of very little training. This year, especially after the disappointment of the CofM 10K the previous Sunday, I was out for glory (well, a decent time at least). They reckon that to get a good idea of what you are capable of at the Offerton 10K, you should add 2 minutes to your PB, which would give me a time of around 47:30. I was therefore more than happy to come home in 46:49, quicker than 3 days previous, quicker than my expected time and over 5 minutes quicker than last year. A proper PB was never on the cards, but this was almost as good.

Next came a change of sport, with an organised Cycle, the Manchester to Blackpool. I played the game, and paid my money, but later felt rather cheated. Despite the implications on their website, none of the entry fee goes to charity. Given that, £18 is a lot to pay for a couple of sign posts, and a loaf of Soreen in the goodie bag. However, it was nice riding with so many other cyclists, and I may well do this again, although I’ll probably bandit it.

The Llandudno Sea Triathlon was next on the agenda. Three of us from work made a weekend of it, going down on the Saturday and staying over. The weather on the Saturday was gorgeous, and we gave the bike route a reccie. When we got to the top of the Great Orne, we got a taste of what was to come the following day, as even during picture postcard perfect weather down in the bay, up on the Orne it was blowing a gale. Just like Windsor, the weather turned on the Sunday, into the most awful conditions I have ever raced in, or even been outside in! The swim was cancelled fairly late on, and at the time we were wondering what the problem was. By the time we came to start the hastily arranged Duathlon, we saw why! The Bike leg is very much my weakness, and this was once again exposed at Llandudno. Four times round the Orne, in truly terrifiying conditions at the top, put me very much towards the back of the field. The run went in the opposite direction, 5km over the Little Orne, and back. There was a tailwind on the way out that virtually carried you over the Little Orne, but of course, when you got to the turnaround point, it was like hitting a brick wall. I finished 223rd out of 298, but I was just glad it was over to be honest.

So, back to running. You may remember that I signed up to run a Marathon. The training for it was going fairly well, but I made a rather crucial mistake, which I’ll come to later on, regarding my schedule.

In 2010 I took part in the Sale Sizzler series of 5K runs in Wythenshawe park. These are great little races, nice and flat, with loads of PB potential. Unfortunately, this year I was only able to fit one of them into my schedule, the last one. I had signed up for it before I signed up for Chester, and thus before I had scheduled a Half Marathon the following Sunday, as part of the Chester build up. The original plan was to take it easy, and treat it as a tempo run, especially given that I wanted another go at my Half PB at the weekend. However, following a sizeable course PB at Woodbank parkrun the Saturday before, I just went for it, and came home in 21:17, knocking 30 seconds off the PB I set at Bramhall parkrun, over what I’m sure is a slightly short course.

I’m glad that I didn’t hold back at the Sizzler, as the Newark Half was scorching hot. The weather in Glossop at 6am was perfect running conditions, and remained so all day. Cool, breezy and overcast. However, as soon as I got to the other side of the Pennines, the sun came out and the temperatures soared. The Newark course is mostly flat, and has loads of PB potential, just not on a hot day. I didn’t learn from the CofM 10K, and went out far too fast. Early on I latched onto a Farnham runner who was hitting the same pace that I was aiming for, and stuck with him until around mile 6 when the heat started to take hold and he dropped me. I finished in 1:45:26, and whilst gutted at the time, looking back this was still a damn solid time. I’d gone out at 1:41 pace, hoping to take another minute off my PB, so 1:45 was 4 minutes slower than my target, however, it was still the second fastest time I’d run for a Half.

September saw my final attempt at a 10K PB, at the City of Salford 10K. Run around the Salford Quays, the Lowery Centre and Media City, it was not the slickest organised race I’ve done, and the start was delayed as one of the bridges we were due to run over had to be raised to let a boat through. However, it was fast. I finished in 45:46, an agonising 18 secs slower than my PB.

My final Tri of the season was a return to where it all began, at Tatton Park. It’s a bit late in the day to rehash critcisms of the organisation. Suffice it to say, it’s unlikely I’ll be returning for a third stab at it. The swim was long, mainly due, I think, to incorrect instructions being given to the swimmers. It was turned into a two loop course, as opposed to the single loop in 2010, and I’m pretty sure we were told to turn at the wrong buoy for the start of the second lap. The bike leg was fine, so much more comfortable on my Cannondale Synapse than on my MTB, and the run was a touch disappointing. By this stage of the season, my focus had moved to the Chester Marathon, and I only raced Tatton because I had already paid the entry fee.

And so onto the big one, the Chester Marathon. I have this problem, whereby no matter how much advice I listen to, or tips I read, I seem to stuff up my first attempt at any distance by doing things I know I’m not supposed to. So, here at Chester I went out too fast. Not massively too fast, and that is what lured me into a false sense of security, but still, too fast. My goal was a respectable, but not spectacular, 4hrs, well go on then, 3:59.59. The pace for that is 9:09 minute miles. I went out at 8:30-8:40 minute miles! I couldn’t help myself, I’ve done a number of Halfs at below 8 minute pace, and this felt so easy. I felt good for the first 15 miles, and then OK for miles 16 and 17. It was mile 18 where it really hit me, and I dropped to 9:30 pace.

Then, at mile 21, I got a shooting cramp all down my right leg, from my arse down to my calf. According to my Garmin, I was stationary for around 2 minutes, trying to loosen my leg enough to start moving again. And that’s what did for my sub 4hrs marathon. The cramp was almost certainly brought on by the slightly higher pace at the start, and a less than refined nutrition plan. My time was 4:01:33. Still, not bad for a fat lad who only started running 3 years ago.

Upon reviewing my training plan for Chester I realised that I had made a rather serious error. As Chester was very much an after thought when I put my season plan together, not that there was really much thought in the first place (oooh that looks like a good race and so does that and that, and that, and oooh shiny medals….), I had races of various types on back to back weekends throughout the training period. Now for an ameutur like me, that’s not the end of the world. I’m rubbish, but I love the buzz of racing, so I enter as many races as I can. However, I didn’t allow for them in my plan. The plan I was following (a fantastic and highly recommended plan from the Runner’s World forums by someone called Shades) called for runs on a Tue, Wed and Thu, with a long run on a Sunday. The mistake I made was that I didn’t adapt the plan. If the schedule called for a 16 mile run, and I had a Oly tri booked in, I looked at it and figured, they’ll both take me over 2hrs, so it’s about the same effort, especially as I’ll be racing, so it’ll be alright. And the same for any other races. The up shot was, that the plan called for around 600 miles of running over 18 weeks, and I only managed around 450 miles Significantly further than I’d ever run over a similar period, but still, around about 150 miles short of what was required. Now, life, injury and fatigue are always going to get in the way, but the bulk of those lost miles were the long runs. And most of those were lost due to me running other (shorter) races instead. I’m pretty certain that’s why I suffered so much in the later half of the Marathon.

So now I knew I could complete the distance, and in a reasonable time, and had a fair idea of why it was SO painful, I just needed a new focus. Enter stage right, the Virgin London Marathon. In through the ballot on the first attempt, happy days.

My final race of the year was the Stockport 10. This was the third time I had run it, and it has a special place in my heart as it was the first “proper” road race I ever entered. I have a now well honed race plan. The first 5 miles are flat, so gun it and aim to be 2 minutes up on where I would need to be if I was evenly pacing it. Then, after the bump at mile 5, try and keep an even pace until the second bump at 8.5 miles. Once you start up New Zealand Road, it’s up hill all the way to the finish, well, at least until you get back onto the track with 250m to go, so conserve energy at the beginning. Once you turn left at the top of New Zealand Road, pick up the pace to the finish. I ran significantly faster than my expected time on my debut, and then PB’d in 2010. 2011 was no different, finishing in 1:16:35.

So there it is, my first season of Triathlon, and my second season of serious running.

Posted in Running, Triathlon.

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