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Racing Update - May 2019

Despite my tardy blog post, the 2019 season is well and truly underway.

Winter & spring training has been very promising; consistent as ever in terms of volume, injury free, and carefully structured. I've made a significant change in approach this year, by taking on a coach - the highly regarded duathlon specialist Dave Newport. In the past, I've been lucky enough to have an experienced team-mate willing to guide me in session setting. Thank you for your help Ian. But in the last year the opportunities to train together have waned, and it seems unfair to permanently exploit a friend's goodwill (especially when he has his own demanding secret training schedule to maintain!).

What have I learned so far? Well, I've found it surprisingly easy to embrace the idea of handing over responsibility of my program to someone else, and to trust in the gradual process of improvement. Concentrating in particular on getting the right balance between my two sports; the goal is to bulletproof my running (and maybe even trim a bit of time off the shorter distances), so I can excel on the bike. I consider myself a fairly low maintenance athlete - I like to be doing, and am happy to tackle whatever session comes my way in Training Peaks. I don't need a lot of convincing. In the past I would have chased the numbers and mileage. Now I am learning to recognise the balance of quality hard sessions surrounded by easy volume and adaptation work. My worst mistake before was to continually try and over-compensate for a missed or below-par effort, ultimately resulting in a dilution of intensity. Now I have Dave on hand to oversee everything and adjust and adapt as necessary.

Unfortunately my own race scheduling has been a mess. I had to skip the English AG Championships at Ashridge Duathlon as it clashed with a local race I organise, and I wasn't be able to defend my title at the British AG Championships at Bedford thanks to a work trip. It's fair to say I have been feeling a little 'all dressed up with nowhere to go'. But... I have now settled on a key target: the European Middle Distance AG Championship at Powerman Viborg in Denmark. Everything is all systems go to be in prime shape by May 11th! Even a minor back tweak disappeared as quickly as it came on.

But anyway back to the racing update...

First up, was a 10k test race in Washington USA. Everyone needs to have a good range of excuses; in my defense I had a rare cold, and America was in the grip of the polar vortex. It was minus 16 on race morning. Nonetheless I ran a solid controlled race and came in a second under 37 minutes. A decent enough time and one of my fastest 10ks in several years, but still with plenty of room for improvement.

After that came the Cambridge Half Marathon in March. This has become something of a habit race for me, despite having a mixed relationship with the half marathon. I think I've only run two good halves, where I've been able to hold it together and stick to a race plan - one of those in 2016 for my current PB (a shade under 78). This time out the goal was to run sensibly, and finish strongly. I extrapolated that into a simple plan: run four 3 mile efforts getting progressively quicker and then empty the tank. On top of that I mentally committed to making sure the last mile was faster than the first. Even though I wasn't supposed to be clock watching, secretly I was also going to keep an eye on getting back to sub-80.

Mile 0 - 3: The first part of the course runs through town, with plenty of support, and even more eager athletes to run with. I spent most of this first leg holding back, determined to find the biggest and most relaxed group to run with. It was pretty wet, but I have no problem with that. Mission accomplished - average pace: 6:06

Mile 3 - 6: As the race hits out through Trumpington towards Granchester, finding the right heels gets a little harder. Paces begin to fluctuate, with bodies looking to cash various ego-written cheques. I still felt I was within myself; knowing the course was about to pick up a fairly favourable tailwind, I allowed myself to work between groups - average pace: 6:04

Mile 6 - 9: I saw the family at mile 7, fair play to them for coming and standing in the rain. I even looked like I was having fun after dishing out the fives (and I even appear to have some semblance of running 'form'). Back into town with that westerly wind was a delight. I've struggled here before, but today was different, still in control - average pace: 6:01

Mile 9 - 12: All going remarkably well, until a blip at mile 10. I'd taken a gel - and for some reason became fixated with putting the wrapper in a bin. I was necessarily distracted by this mission and lost a bit of focus. It didn't impact pace or time, just took my concentration from what I was supposed to be doing. It is weird how things like this can happen when racing hard. Afterwards it is easier to rationalise and see it for what it is, a drop in blood sugar affecting the brain. Again we were in town and the support definitely helped get me through this section - average pace: 6:03

Mile 12 - 13: This was supposed to be my empty the tank mile, but on rounding the corner onto Elizabeth Way Bridge I came face-to-face with the wind that had been so generous earlier. I didn't enjoy this section at all, but I can't imagine anyone did. I struggled to limit my time losses - average pace: 6:16

Finish: A little watch check on the final corner and I knew that I was going to be pretty close to the 80 minute time. Having run an irritating 1:20:01 before, I made sure with a longish sprint finish to stop the clock at 1:19:45 - average pace: 6:05.

All said and done, I pretty much ran to plan and got the result to match. With this race now so big I can't even trouble the first page of the results, but it was nice to be in the top-100 overall (and 20th male over 40).

Next up, came the Clumber Duathlon - time to put the multi-sport training to the test against a decent field looking for Team GB age-group spots for the ITU World Champs in 2020. I opted for an early start and after a couple of hours on the A1 and a painless registration I was all set. I'm pretty relaxed on race days now, but I did deliberate for a bit on whether to go with a base layer - I knew I'd be fine running but was a bit concerned about the bike leg on a chilly morning. As it turned out, arm warmers was the right call.

Run 1 - golden rule of duathlon, don't give too much too soon. I tried my best to be cautious and sat in with a group of three, letting two from my AG go. I ran the rolling course fairly well, but I need to focus on not fading in the third quarter. Nonetheless, I gapped places four and five into transition.

T1 - my transitions aren't the quickest, with good reason. I am inclined to spend 15-20 secs longer than I would otherwise need as a result of my shoe selection. However, I have calculated that I can consistently gain more back through a combination of better aerodynamics and not having to faff with tightening shoes (or not tightening properly, as is usually the case) on the go. On paper other athletes have faster transition times, but I don't think it makes them faster overall. My approach works for me anyway.

Bike - within minutes of starting the bike leg, came the realisation that the training plan has been working. The effort on the run, to record a solid enough time, had not taken an excessive toll. I could ride hard without going deep (in fact I was holding myself back at a wattage well above that which I would normally aim for in a duathlon). I concentrated on maximising my aero advantage (so many duathletes need to get some friends who are into TTing to help them with kit and position!) riding rapidly through the field of earlier starters and trying to spot the two leaders in my AG. I passed one well before halfway, the other I didn't spot...

T2 - I hadn't spotted him because we pretty much arrived into T2 at the same time. The announcer called us out onto the second run together, and the race was on.

Run 2 - I sat on the guy's heels, knowing that he'd blown me away already in run 1, hoping I might be able to match him off the bike. For the first half I thought I might be in with a chance, then at the turn he opened a gap. A decent sized gap, pretty quickly. Maybe I should have tried harder to chase, maybe I was right to focus on my effort? Either way he did me for nearly 40 secs by the finish.

I was pretty content with the result, at least for my first outing of the year. I have another automatic qualification in the bag, that's six successive seasons now, and a lot of confidence to take forward to Denmark next weekend. We shall see how that turns out. Thanks everyone for the support, and Dave for the coaching help!

Thanks for reading!