Training journal | week 8/41

For a few weeks now I’ve been looking forward to this week. It contained a session called ‘Jon’s lactic burner’ which had caught my eye.

For years, G and I beasted ourselves in the Pedal Active shed of doom. A spin studio in Ashtead. We feasting on double and triple spin classes featuring threshold sets, hill and occasionally inadvertant maximum heart rate tests.

Nothing scares me on a static bike. I was looking forward to the challenge of facing up to a ‘tough’ cycle session. On paper, the session looked quite simple. After a good warm up it jumped into 15 sets of 30 seconds of effort (at full welly mode) followed by 30 seconds of recovery – then two ‘threshold’ sessions. One ten minutes long at medium effort and one eight minutes long at hard effort. Tasty but definitely doable.

So, I was a little grumpy that the few days before it I was fighting off a cold. Going into the session my head felt really woolly. Determined to get it done, I loaded some high RPM tunes up to Spotify, plugged in and settled down to get it done.

Well, I absolutely loved it. The 30 second efforts were mad and I started to feel them by about number 7 but, because they were so short it was easy to deal with them mentally. I suspected the same would not be said of the prolonged efforts coming later. Sure enough, half way through the first threshold set, I could feel a dead legged fatigue settling into my quads. It was nothing like the second that hit like a train and left me focusing on a spot on the van parked in front of me and counting down the minutes.

I finished the session sweating so much I couldn’t see, the floor swimming and with a sense of satisfaction of a job well done.

So far so good for the week which saw G and I battling with the masses in the swimming pool the day before. The session was a good one, despite the mayhem of kids launching themselves at us, bloody breaststrokers swimming three abreast and chatting like they’d not seen each other in years (this is only a six lane pool) and determined breast stroke man, coming through regardless of who was in front of him.

I did manage to punch a bloke in the lane next to me – 2 for 2 in my last two swims – and then completed the session without further incident.

The week then eased up a bit as G and I had a half marathon scheduled in for the Sunday. Early Thursday morning, I waved goodbye to G and headed off to Surrey for work. Where I had a hot date planned with the girls on Friday and rough plan to head to Mole Valley Park Run on Saturday morning before driving home.

We had a great night out. I was staying up at work, which meant a bit of a walk home so I wore my loveliest comfy boots and headed from the pub at 10.30pm to catch the train from Epsom back to Ashtead. Almost immediately disaster struck and the boots started to rub. By the time I’d hobbled back to Ashtead, I was in considerable discomfort and horrified when taking my boots off to see two enormous blisters, one on each heel and covering most of the heel. I took myself off to bed and hoped they would go down overnight.

By next morning, they were sore and angry looking. I tried putting on my running shoes but they just put pressure on the blisters. I was really worried I’d run and they’d burst and I’d end up in a much worse situation. Driving on them was really painful too. I dithered for ages, then decided to drive straight home and complete the turbo session that had been scheduled for the day. Once that was done, I’d make a decision about the half marathon the following day.

The drive wasn’t too bad and I arrived one around 2pm, immediately got changed and on the bike before I could change my mind. The cycle shoes hurt but were not rubbing too much. Although, once off the bike, the blisters were now really hard with fluid and going black.


I swung between prodding and ignoring the blisters for the rest of the day. Neither action really helped, the blisters were resolute.

The next morning it was absolutely chucking it down. Flood warnings had been issued for bits of the route. There was little change in the blisters and I was worried about getting them wet and tearing. So, with a heavy heart we decided not to do the half and instead headed back to the garage to complete another turbo session. This time, an hours hard effort at threshold.

Not quite the end to the week we had planned and hopefully it will be situation normal in a day or two.

Meanwhile, the boots are in the garage with instructions to think about what they did!

Training journal|week 7/41

It was Sunday morning and G and I were on the Tarka trail just outside of Bideford. I was half way through my 3rd (of 6) 400m reps when the thought occurred to me.

I was running each rep at just under 10mm pace and it was feeling hard. I have too much of a gap to bridge and with only just over 30 weeks to go, not enough time to bridge it, to achieve a finish at Ironman Lanzarote next year.

G and I had made our way to the Tarka Trail for many reasons. It was traffic free; although busy, people generally headed in the same direction; a 400m course was already marked out (it must be a common place for the running clubs in the area to complete their speedwork sessions) and most importantly, it was flat.

I always figured I would need every minute available to me to complete the race. The cut off for the swim/bike is 11 hours and 30 minutes – a very generous time in comparison with other Mdot courses – and a total reflection of how hard the bike course is over the volcanic mountains. But, the overall finish cut off is still 17 hours. So even if I scrape in off the bike, I’d only have five and a half hours to do the marathon, an average of 12.35mm pace the whole way.

I always knew it was always going to be a big ask. But, I suppose on some level, I believed if I trained diligently and followed Jon’s program to the letter then it was possible that it could be done. This was a huge chunk of reality check. I felt a bit enhausted by it but not down hearted. I’m certainly not going to give up on the training and I suppose, as long as you’re making progress there is hope.

I completed the session as set and headed back home to do the hours turbo prescribed for the second session of the day. That session was completed without drama.

The day before, I’d had another lesson handed to me by Woolacombe parkrun. G and I headed out for a warm up run before the time trial. It was shorter than previous weeks and we were back with sufficient time to go to the loo and have a drink before lining up at the start. It had been a bit wet in the run up and the sand was hard packed. With fewer tourists than in previous weeks there was plenty of room to run. So, I pushed on the first mile onto the beach and then tried to keep a steady effort along the beach before turning back for the climb back up to the finish.

In the end, I overcooked the flat section and went into the dune climb with too high a heart rate. I couldn’t get my heart rate down and ended up walking a lot of the top section, missing out on a PB by 45 seconds in the end.

I was gutted, but it had been a good run anyway and I was really happy with it. We finished the morning off by heading into the sea for the last sea swim of the season. It was glorious and calm and the perfect way to cool down after a hard run.

Slowly, I’m starting to feel tangible improvements from the effects of the training. I’m more flexible and moving easier. I’m not in as much daily pain as I used to be. I feel stronger on the bike and run – able to inject surges and changes of pace in now, where before there was only moving and not moving and most importantly, I’m enjoying the routine of regular training.

Accountability (and discipline)

In a previous blog post I talked about consistency. It is universally acknowledged that consistency is the back bone of achievement. But there is another facet that helps to achieve consistency and that is accountability.

I’ve never quite been able to reconcile in head that people are so willing to neglect their own best interests in favour of just about anything.

Myself included.

I can’t speak for others but it’s frustrating just how willing I am to lie to myself (and believe those lies knowing them to be such), despite many of the trite quotes hurled my way. Although, a quick search of the internet reveals that many people apparently lie to themselves and not realise they’re doing it! Alas, I’ve never had the bliss of such ignorance.

So, when we talk about accountability, to be accountable to oneself should be top of the list, but sometimes it’s good to have a backup. I think that’s why I enjoyed lots of success with my goals when I had Pete to do the hard work for me. Having to sit opposite him each week and justify my decisions meant that I was much more likely to make good choices.  

Ditto having a coach now. I know Jon is checking in on a daily basis. As a result, I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing that every time I upload a completed session it turns green. Finally, a use for my almost obsessional desire to please.

Accountability in the form of self-discipline reared its head on Saturday at parkrun. Occasionally at runs one would witness a poor child being coerced around a run course. And yes, I realise I’m on slightly dodgy ground here and yes I also realise not having kids makes me an reluctant expert.

But on Saturday I witnessed it twice. And I will be frank – it’s very uncomfortable to watch a child, clearly not enjoying themselves and in some cases visibly distressed – being dragged by one arm and shouted at to run quicker because ‘it’s what we do’. I wondered to myself whether for some, parkrun has replaced the dreaded school cross country runs of the 1970’s and 80’s.

Later, I heard that parent talk to a friend about how children had to be coerced. That behaviour was necessary because they were not yet adults who had learned discipline and could recognise the benefits of regular running. They were congratulating and self satisfied. I felt slightly nauseous and moved away so I couldn’t hear them.

But, it did get me thinking about discipline and accountability to ourselves and here we are now. 

One of the attributes I sadly lack is discipline. So, I was interested in an article published in the Farnham Street blog ‘brainfood’. You can see the whole article here.

In the article the author quotes Scott Peck, who in essence argues that people generally want an easy time of it, but in doing so they make life harder for themselves. That it is in the ’whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning.’ They further quote Benjamin Franklin who was more succinct ‘Those things that hurt, instruct.’  Which is the essence of my blog post earlier this week.

But hurting yourself isn’t enough. It needs to be accompanied by the desire to learn from the experience. I fear those kids mentioned above may only learn that running is not enjoyable and will walk away from the sport at their earliest convenience (no pun intended). While for those who wish to learn discipline. One may need to understand what the lesson is and why it is important. 

In the Farnham Street blog, they cite delayed gratification; accepting responsibility; dedication to reality and balancing as the four pillars to achieving discipline. So, don’t expect it immediately, accept that success or failure is in your hands, don’t lie to yourself and understand that flexibility is essential to achieving greatness. I would add one other, understand the why of what you are trying to do.

I’m working on all of those things but until I achieve them, I’ll carry on enjoying turning those sessions green. 

Training journal | week 6/41

you are stronger than youo think

I’ve learned over the years, there are times in any training program where it gets tough. Those are the times where you learn the most about yourself, your aptitude for discomfort and what makes you tick. Those lessons will ultimately get you round whatever challenge you have set for yourself.

It’s nearly always where you realise you are stronger than you think.

Years ago, I used to deliver marathon training seminars. Each time I would stand up in front of a group of fresh faced people and look them in the eye. They would stare back with a hint of terror glinting in their expression – as though they couldn’t believe this is what they had actually signed up for. Then I would tell them, truthfully, that they already had the capacity to finish the marathon, if they had enough of a reason to do it. That, if the life of a loved on depended on them completing it then, right there, right now, they could do it.

I expained that training is only a vehicle to make it hurt less and help them get a little quicker (if that was what they wanted). It also helped them get out of bed in a better state the next day. Other than that, it is generally about BELIEF. In essence about convincing your head it’s a good idea. There are exceptions of course – and I have seen those too. But fundamentally I stand by my comments.

woolacombe 14 sept 2019

On Saturday I had one of those runs. The schedule was the same as recent weeks. A ‘long’ 75 minute run followed by an open water swim. G and I had taken to getting to the parkrun early and setting off along the South West Coast path for an out and back before heading back to the start for the parkrun. Earlier this week however, G had answered a plea for marshals from the parkrun director and so he trotted off to find out his duties while I got myself ready.

In reality, you never really know how your legs are going to feel until you set off. But this day, I just could not shake off the dreaded dead leg feeling. It was only 100 yards or so to where G was receiveing his briefing – but it may as well have been a mile. G then joined me for 10 minutes before turning back to take up his post. The comparison to the previous week could not have been starker.

But I carried on and made it to my regular turn around point before heading back. It’s at times like this, you wonder how on earth you’re going to manage what is set out for you and so I fell back to doing what I know works. Breaking each section down minute by minute and focused on the extraordinary wildlife and views around me.

I got back to the start in time for a quick loo stop and joined the back of the group – much reduced from its usual summer numbers which have been swelled in recent weeks by tourists.

We set off down the hill and I living in the moment, just tried to enjoy being there, in the sunshine and fresh air, until I reached G at his marshal point, just over 2 miles in. There was much more room to run in than the last few weeks and I enjoyed the space to do my own thing. I accepted the walk breaks with joy rather than embarrassment and pushed on as best I could.

Seeing G was a highlight. He greeted me with a £10 note – telling me to take it so I could get coffee in case he was late back up to the finish line to meet me. My heart melted at his kindness. I said I would wait for him and pushed on through the last of the sand dunes, back to the paved climb that led to the finish.

And here’s my point I think. Sometimes measuring progress is difficult. But if you maintain consistency, even though it may be almost imperceptible, it will be there.

If you’d asked me at the time when I had got to G, I’d have told you it felt like I’d run 20 miles, not the five I’d clocked. In previous weeks when I’d run like this – the run would take me close to fifty minutes but today, I was surprised to clock just 46 minutes, only two minutes out from my PB.

The best bit was that was off the back of one of my best runs yet the day before. Which itself was a brick run after a speedwork session on the spin bike. It all adds up to fatigue in my legs – it’s bound to, that’s the point of it. To learn to keep going on tired legs. Because, lets face it, if and when I get off the bike in Lanzarote, my legs are not going to feel brand new and I’ll almost certainly have a challenge to get to the finish line within the cut off. This is mental training at its finest.

On the long cycle ride yesterday – I was completely drained and stuck to the made paths of the Tarka trail rather than try and do battle with Sunday drivers – I reflected on the week just gone. 13 sessions, over 10 hours 25 minutes. Lots of lessons revisited. Progress made in running particularly and while the 35 weeks to the race left doesn’t feel anywhere near enough, at least I’m still inching forward and it’s better than being where I was six weeks ago.


Training journal | weeks 4 and 5/41

The last two weeks were meant to be taper and recovery weeks around a race on the middle Sunday, so a bit light in content. I won’t lie, the relative rest was very welcome. In the end I decided not to do the race. I’d been running a temperature for nearly a week that wouldn’t respond to medication. I didn’t want to put myself through a challenging event and make things worse. In any event, we went to the race and supported chums who were there doing much crazier distances than I’d signed up for. But more of that soon…

We started the week with a brick session; bike followed by run. Even after just four weeks I can definitely feel a difference in my running. Although still slow, I managed one of the best runs I’ve had for a while. It was steady and controlled and needed only one or two walk breaks.

Consistency really does work.

The raging temperature came back with a vengeance on Wednesday so I decided to take an impromptu rest day before returning to running and cycling on Thursday. Even then, I was still sweating buckets and feeling quite unwell 🤒

On Friday we packed and headed to Snowdon to set up camp in a house shared by competitors and supporters. Nervous energy quietly seeped through the house. This was to be a tough gig no matter which side of the fence you sat. We knew what was coming, we’d been here before.

Our friend was competing in the double Brutal Triathlon. A double Iron distance event comprising of 4.8 mile swim; 232 mile cycle followed by a 51 mile run. All conducted around Mt Snowdon. The cycle route alone included eight ascents of Pen-y-pass.

The house was situated at the top of a hill just off the main centre of Llanberis. Arranged by our friends (thank you) it was a perfect (although slightly spooky) base. Talk of ghosts before bed didn’t help our reaction when our bedroom door suddenly blew open in the middle of the night. I was fully expecting Granny Miggins in nightdress clutching a dripping bloody knife – thankfully nothing was there but it really put pay to any further sleep that night.

The weather the next morning was typical Cymraeg and the race start was postponed for two hours until the gale force winds settled down. Potential parkrun tourism when out of the window and instead we gathered in a field at the end of Lake Padarn while the heavens gave their best. It was a good way to verify that my water repellant jacket is definitely not waterproof and those stood by the side of the lake in wetsuits were definitely the most appropriately dressed. Never-the-less they eventually got into the lake to commence laps and we went off to hunt for breakfast.

It was a long and very inspirations couple of days. It’s rather humbling to be around people so dedicated to a sporting goal, they were willing to keep going without a proper break for 42 hours to achieve it.

For us, it was an excuse to be outdoors for significant periods of time. There was one wonderful moment when G and I were accompanying M on one of his night bike loops. We were in the van and leapfrogging him to make sure we were close by, in case he needed assistance. The pauses while we waited for him to come along gave us a chance to appreciate the darkness and quiet of rural Wales. The stars were glowing, bright and clear and uninterrupted by pollution. Bursts of them across the night sky. It was a unequivocal reminder of how small and unimportant we really are.

Because Coach Jon had anticipated a few days of recovery after the event, we returned home on Sunday with nothing scheduled in the diary. As it was, the recovery was very welcome. G and I headed out on a gentle, undulating run along the South West coast path on Monday.

We picked up the coaching again later in the week with a recovery spin and conditioning work before heading into Saturday and the long run.

This week the legs felt much stronger and I had a good half hour warm up before heding back to the start of the parkrun at Woolacombe for another round of Nicky v ‘the beach’. We were back to tide out and softish sand although I did take advantage of some very good firm spots on the beach. I managed to equal my course PB and came away feeling satisfied that there is progress being made.

The euphoria didn’t last long, as a little while later I managed to catch my toe on a piece of furniture and break it. Ouch!

Fortunately it wasn’t an important toe and we managed to head out to Dartmoor on the Sunday for a long ride. I opted to ride clipped in to take pressure away from the toe, which made for an exciting ride – especially down unmade rocky paths with Strava segments called ‘The Widowmaker’. But it was a really good opportunity to explore the area and we found some really good cycle routes to explore. Including a dedicated track along a disused railway line that used to serve the (now disused) tin mines in the area.

Week 5 done and back to a full week next week.