Monday, 25 May 2015

Expect The Unexpected - A Duathlon Debut (Of Sorts)

Expect the unexpected is how the cliche goes.

However,  not even the most fastidious application of the Boy Scouts motto "be prepared" would have allowed me to be 100% ready for the final triathlon of my first season in the sport. Oh, and when I say the word triathlon, I mean duathlon.
The event was staged at Port Stephens in New South Wales. A picturesque coastal town renown for blue skies and crystal clear water.
Our arrival in the town the day before the race highlighted the old "exception proves the rule" theory with pouring rain, high winds and massive surf all prevalent.
The organisers had no option but to cancel the swim due to the dangerous conditions and decided to replace it with a beach run.

The Beach Run
This race was to be my first step out of the Enticer distance (a race designed for beginners) and into the Sprint event. The replacement run was to be based roughly around a similar time to the swim and my 750m swim was substituted with a 2km hit out on the sand.
Luckily, around 70% of the run was conducted on fairly hard sand so it didn't end up being as taxing as it could have been.
I was careful not to go too hard early as sand running takes a fair toll on your calves and I wasn't overly keen on entering 20km of bike and 5km of running with them already fatigued. I completed the leg in 7:39, 130th overall (out of 322) and 17th of 27 in my age category.

I was looking forward to the first transition simply because it was an area I had practiced hard to improve on. 
I was in and out of T1 in 1:32. 99th overall and 12th in my category. While these stats may not appear overly flattering on face value, they are a quantum leap for me in terms of improvement. To put it in perspective, I had been the slowest in both T1 & T2 at my previous triathlon which was a beginner event. I was now racing more experienced athletes and managing to be in the top 30%. 

The first lap of a two-lap bike leg
So it was onto the bike for a two-lap 20km spin on a course that featured a nice incline. 
Sporting a new set of lighter wheels, I traversed the 20km in 40:30 (avergaing just under 30km/hr), again 17th in my category and this time 106th overall.
Cycling is still a big area of improvement for me and that result is probably pretty much as good as I could have expected.
T2 was not as good as my first transition but still an improvement on where I'd been. A time of 1:42 had me 18th in my category and 205th overall. I still have plenty to work on there. 
Now it was just a case of slipping back into the shoes and run 5km as fast as my legs would carry me. 
Heading out on the run leg
The run leg is a very important part of the race and I was determined to put my best foot forward in this leg.
The course may have been a tick under 5km and I managed to get through it in 23:45. I had to overcome a few demons at around the 3km mark and managed to finish strong. The time landed me 14th in my category for the run and 102nd overall. 
The run was my best leg and definitely one that I want to improve further as it is the most valuable part of the race.
The strong finish saw me move up to 14th in my age category and 95th overall.
I was happy with the results for two reasons. It showed me how far I had come in a very short time and also allowed me to identify a plethora of things that I can work on next time. 

My Spider-Man outfit for the Superhero Enticer
Later in the day, my partner and I backed up for the Enticer event in a fun idea known as the Superhero Wave.
Anyone who had raced earlier could enter the wave for free, provided they dressed up as a superhero. There were some sensational outfits on display and the race was conducted in terrific spirit.
I chose Spider-Man as my character and enjoyed the constant cheering and words of encouragement from all the kids out on course. The "Go Spider-Man" tally must have been well over a hundred during the race.
It is a part of the day that makes it an attractive proposition for the 2016 calendar.
Already, I can not wait for next season to roll around and hope to race as many triathlons as possible. 
For now, it is back into the training and looking for a few running and cycling events to have a crack at and possibly some duathlons too.

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Monday, 11 May 2015

Six Simple Ways To Improve Your Triathlon

In triathlon, there is no substitute for consistent training coupled with a good training plan. However the fact that an event involves three disciplines and two transitions also means that there is a lot of ways to improve your race aside from just swimming, cycling and running.

My first two events have been a steep learning curve and I am the type person who is always looking to improve themselves.

Below I have listed a few of the things that I have taken on board by reading, observing and listening to make my experience a little better as a novice triathlete.

Some are more cost effective than others but all worthy of consideration for anyone who is just beginning their foray into the sport.

1 - Use A race belt - Possibly one of the most simple but effective pieces of equipment to have in your artillery. It saves the hassle of pinning a number on a shirt or go through the pain of putting it on after a swim. Not only is it very easy to attach your race number to, but it also is just a simple case of clipping on and away you go. This also gives you the ability to have your race number on the back when you ride and swing it around to the front when you run. A race belt is also one of the cheapest pieces of equipment that you are likely to buy.

2 - Practice your transitions - There is a lot to think about on race day. Many of us do a lot of training in all three disciplines but it can all come undone with a couple of transition mishaps. I like to practice my changes from swim to bike and then bike to run to the point that it becomes second nature. That way, on race day when you arrive at T1 or T2, you know exactly what you have to do and can be in and out of there with a minimum of fuss.

3 - Try a wetsuit - Swimming is often the most revered leg of the triathlon and probably the leg that deters a lot of people from even attempting a triathlon. A wetsuit can be a valuable tool that assists in conserving energy. Not only will it keep you warmer but also provides buoyancy which can make the swim both a little easier and also a little faster. It is not the cheapest of my suggested improvements but definitely one to consider when you have tried most of the others.

4 - Plan your nutrition - Racing anything from sprint distance or above is going to see most novice triathletes out on the course for at least an hour and a half. With nutrition being a vital part of your race, it helps to plan when is the best and most convenient time to have your gel, rehydration or whatever it is that you like to have. It could save you from falling apart later in the event.

5 - Wear triathlon cycling shoes - This is another piece of advice that is not on the cheaper end of the scale but one that will see you in and out of T1 in a flash. The shoes are designed so that they can be pre-clipped into your pedals and only need to be slipped on at the start of the ride. There is plenty of info on YouTube about the best way to secure your shoes and get into them effectively.

6 - Lay your gear out - When you arrive at T1 or T2, the last thing you want to do is find yourself looking for a certain item. When practicing your transitions, work out the best order to lay out your equipment for the easiest possible changes. This is another simple but effective thing that can reduce both time and headache.

There is literally a myriad of ways to improve your racing and to give yourself the best opportunity to set a new PB. None of the suggestions above can substitute for good, old fashioned hard work but they compliment it nicely.

Feel free to add any more advice for prospective triathletes in the comments section below.

Above all, have fun!

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

My Introduction To Cycling Sportifs

Nearing the finish at Bathurst
Training and the desire to improve can often mean an athlete is always looking forward and rarely pausing to recognise how far that they have come.

Prior to February of this year, I had hardly been on a bike of any description for around 23 years. In mid-April, I found myself lining up for my first cyclo sportif.

After originally getting a bike simply to allow me to cross-train for running, I had opened up a can of worms. I not only found a deep passion for two wheeled adventures but also for triathlons after I had a go at a couple of entry level events.

The Blayney to Bathurst sportif was a 70km ride over some beautiful rolling country side. It included some challenging climbs and was a genuinely enjoyable course.

Leaving the picturesque streets of Blayney
Having never ridden that distance I had no real expectations other than breaking three hours. Both my partner and I started in the slow wave and made it all about fun and enjoying it. She had endured a tough 70km hilly training ride the day before so just to finish was amazing for her.

The downside of the slow wave may have been the fact that there was no real groups to ride in and I found myself solo for a large portion of the journey.

I felt that I got my nutrition right and used both my own stocks and the aid stations to ensure I had enough in store to maintain my energy until the finish.

I completed the 70km in 2:32, nothing special in most peoples terms but probably faster than I expected.

I met quite a few cyclists on the route and it was a lot of fun having a chat.

Finishing at Bathurst

For the last 15km I was lucky enough to share the work with a guy I had met called Greg and it certainly made the final stages of the race a lot more enjoyable and a bit easier! Having done next to no group riding, I found it to be a nice change.

The race finished in the pits of the famous Mount Panorama motor racing circuit at Bathurst which is a real icon of the Australian sporting landscape. It was a good feeling to complete the 70km.

While my cycling ability is most definitely a work in progress, I love the challenges it presents and would not hesitate at giving this sort of thing another go in the future.

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