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Friday, 21 February 2014

February, sick and tired you´ve been hanging on me

Yes I know. Before any 1970´s music buffs start slagging me off, I know the 1975 hit by Pilot was actually January. A bit of artistic word play just because I can. You see February really is hanging on me. I couldn´t even manage my weekly report last Saturday.

The reason for this lack of words was due to work pressure. We had a school inspection on Monday and the two weeks before that had been full on with lots of twelve hour days and weekends in school. To say I was not really happy would be an understatement, but not wishing to sound like a miserable whinging teacher I would like to concentrate on the positives from these pressured times. What jewels of training knowledge did I find in amongst the stress of a school inspection?

I was very pleased that I was able to keep my training going and did not take a break. A few sessions were slightly shorter and I didn´t get to the pool, but I now know that if I can keep going during a period of limited time, I can keep following the programme until May 31st and the big race.

However, the most important thing I found out, is that I feel have crossed a boundary line in terms of difficulty and that life will get easier from here. Let me explain. 

On Sunday I was at my lowest ebb. I had been in school all day Saturday and had been in again until 2.30pm on Sunday, the weather had been wet and cold and I knew I had to do my hour run because Don Fink and his training programme said so. The big inspection was starting the next day and I was very close to listening to the voice justifying an extra rest day but somehow I dragged myself out.

Legs heavy with no thought out route, I just followed where they led me. This it turns out was a good move. I ended up after 15 minutes or so near the Guadalquivir river that runs through Córdoba and turned down onto a track near the centre of the city that I was vaguely aware of but had never been down. It went directly to the river side for about 50 metres and then headed west following the bank. The first 300 metres were ankle deep in thick leg sucking mud due to the recent high water level, but after a bit of sliding I managed to get up onto a bank and weave my way through trees and bushes. 

It was at this point, ducking and diving on a thin barely traceable path, that the sun popped through the cloud and I felt a warm glow. It seems a bit dramatic, but I really felt like someone had just plugged me into a new battery and all the non important rubbish I had been dealing with for last few weeks was moved to the side and I was reconnecting with what life is really all about. Guadaquivir is an Arabic word that means great river and I apologise if this sounds a bit like a tree hugging hippy speaking, but it was like the power of the river had been shared, enabling me to see all the beauty around me for the first time in ages.

After the section on the bank I eventually rejoined the main track as it moved slightly away from the river and I raced westwards under Puente de Andalucía bridge towards my favourite bridge, the Ibn Firnas with its huge bird wing shape soaring above the skyline.

The bridge is named after Abbas Ibn Firnas (810-887 AD) who was a muslim inventor, engineer, physician, poet, musician and most importantly aviator who lived in Córdoba. He is credited with being the father of aviation after he covered himself in feathers and jumped off a building, apparently flying a considerable distance. The beautiful curvy wing shape of the bridge is in his honour.

As I neared it, with no one else in sight, the wind in my face, the roar of the water thundering over the weir near the bridge, my speed increased and I felt like I was flying. I paused for a few moments under the bridge to take in the view and uttered an audible thank you, maybe to the mighty river that had let me really see what was around me, or maybe to the spirit of Ibn Firnas and his dreams of freedom in flight.

All good things must come to an end though, so it was with a slightly heavy heart that I turned north, back onto roads, with cars and people going about their business. They probably didn´t notice my slight smile changing to a huge grin as I neared home. I had just discovered a hidden jewel right in the heart of the city and had come away feeling stronger and more determined to achieve the goals I have set myself having found it. They, on the other hand, had probably been shopping. You can´t beat a bit of smug satisfaction.

                                     You can´t beat a bit of mud

Saturday, 8 February 2014

And then there was one

Nearly finished off another week and on reflection, I am quite pleased with myself. The training programme now seems part of my normal routine and the 5:30am alarm call doesn´t now fill me with dread. I didn´t attempt any swimming this week due to a shoulder injury which I would love to say was a reaction to excessive miles in the pool, but unfortunately, it was caused by putting on a jumper. Yes you did read that correctly, a jumper. A too rapid head flick and arm swing to get the jumper on, made muscles not trained correctly in jumper exercising rebel. Feeling better today though, so will be swimming next week.

What has most pleased me about this week was my morning ride today. Don Fink, legendary triathlon guru and his training programme I am following, stated that on Saturday of week 7, I should do a two and a half hour ride. So with this in mind I woke at 7:30 ready to go. Unfortunately though, Mother Nature had other ideas. The wind was doubling the trees over and the rain was lashing down. The bed on the other hand looked warm and inviting. It´s O.K I thought, Si and Fez are coming as well, be a bit easier in a group. At that moment the phone beeped and  the two messages I did not really want to look at, were there staring at me. Fez- "Rain and cycling do not mix. Bed more comfy. Enjoy the ride."  Si- "Going to Gareth Bale. Too soft." At this point the sensible man would have taken that as a message from some higher authority and joined the wife for a few more hours BUT unfortunately I remembered Curry Club.

Once in a while, the boys at school organise a night out to the only curry house in Córdoba. It´s a great night out. We eat, we drink, we talk about football and women, then women and football, then we drink some more. Last night was the same, except I was not drinking, (no alcohol until after the big race on May 31st) which is why I was able to remember very clearly, when the discussion moved from women onto training, that I had boldly stated, "well    I´m going out whatever the weather." 

A normal, more sensible man would have forgotten this quick flick of the tongue quite easily, but I couldn´t. You see, I´m very competitive and very proud. I didn´t want people saying, I talk the talk, but don´t walk the walk. With this in mind I got dressed. 

The route chosen for the two and a half hours of torture was rectangular in shape, with the first long side of the rectangle into the wind and luckily (or should I say cunningly) with a tail wind for the final long side back home. Psychologically, first point to me. Mother Nature nil. This changed very rapidly as soon as I left the security of the block.

When I said windy, I really meant windy. Roads I normally fly along, I crawled along. Mere pimples with hardly a contour line on them became alpine peaks and speedy descents turned into uphills. Mother Nature was kicking my ass. Every now again I would feel a huge shove and the bike would surge towards the drainage ditch at the side of the road. As I wrestled for control, I would over steer and find myself going onto the other side of the road. 

Just as this was happening Mother Nature released her next challenge. I would like to say the rain fell. It didn´t. It lashed me sideways, covered both the inside and the outside of my glasses with droplets and reduced visibility to mere metres.

At this point I think Mother Nature was feeling a little sorry for me. No she didn´t make the rain stop, or the wind to change direction. No she offered me another challenge. At the bottom of one of the small hills an ancient orange car overtook me, got halfway up and then stopped. Hazard lights came on and there it stayed. I continued up the hill and when I got level with the car I could see the 5 occupants (ladies in their mid twenties) and could hear them turning the ignition over. This was my challenge.

I carried on past them until I got to the top of the hill, a dilemma eating away at me. Should I go and help or should I continue? I´ve always prided myself on trying to do the right thing and I knew at that moment, I should have turned around, cycled down the hill and helped those poor souls in their hour of need. I didn´t, shame on me. I continued with my ride. Before you switch off and mutter "what a shit" , let me tell you my reasoning. 

Firstly, I know as much about cars as I do brain surgery. I know I´m a man, but checking the oil level is about my limit. Secondly I was soaked to the bone. Would those lovely ladies really want me sitting in their car trying to do something I wasn´t qualified to do, making their upholstery wet, whilst the driver of the car, probably without a coat, stood in the rain getting wet as well. Thirdly if I stood around not moving I was going to get cold then hyperthemic and then die. I didn´t want to die.

The rational side of my brain told me I had made a good decision, the touchy feely side kept calling me a shit. A tortured man I was. Every car that passed me on this minor road was checked. Was it the ladies? But every car was not the battered orange I longed to see. Surely some hero would have stopped. Surely they can´t all be shits like me. Finally, I heard a clattering, turned my injured neck and shoulders around and there saw the orange I hoped for. Relief could not have felt sweeter.

Mother Nature finally decided she was bored with me as I made my turn onto the tail wind leg. Mind calm and guilt free and I raced effortlessly back home.

Was it worth it? You bet it was. I didn´t see a single person on the road and every day I´m training and they´re not, means I´m closing the gap.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Perhaps being sacrificed by the Aztecs would be easier.......

Nearly another week completed in the training schedule. Only got tomorrow and the 1 hour run in zone 2 to finish it. Week 6 of the programme has not been bad, but I have felt different to last week. Just before you start thinking he´s lost spark, won´t be long until he has a rest and listens to the voices (no I am not taking drugs, see last week´s post) I´m still committed but the challenge of training with all of my other time demands is starting to become apparent.

First of all, in no apparent order of importance or stress, just noting them for your entertainment. Wife has developed a dodgy eye and is in pain, oldest child who is 16 is being a 16 old. Middle child has had a bad stomach for the last few days. Youngest child (the beast, aged 4), leaves a trail of destruction wherever she goes.

Add to this domestic mayhem a busy life as a teacher (no I´m not going to start moaning about how hard it is to be teacher), an assessment week requiring marking and analysing and a whole school inspection in a few weeks requiring extra paperwork shuffling and planning.

Also the water heater in the kitchen is leaking, I spent over an hour in the queue at the supermarket today and it´s bloody February, I´m getting older and I am still waiting to find out the meaning of life.

That feels better, list of stresses complete. I hope you can see then the reason for my lack of spark this week. I´m not saying I´ve more things to worry about than anyone else but all these commitments do drain your energy, nothing more than a class of 10 year olds and 3 children of your own.

According to Don Fink my coaching guru, next week, I will be training for 10 hours. One hour more than this week. How will I cope? I think it´s all about sacrifice. Point in case is where I am now, have been since 9.30pm, in bed about to go to sleep. It´s Saturday night and all my mates from work have gone go karting. Would have been nice to go with them, but the money saved on entrance fee and beers can be put towards some tri bars. The time saved can be used to get a longer sleeping session that will make me better in tomorrow´s training session. 

It´s also about priorities. My priority is on May 31st and I am prepared to sacrifice to get there. I will continue to get up at 5:30 am to train, I will continue to go out training in the dark, cold and wet and I will continue doing all the other things I need to do as well. 

If that doesn´t work, I´m off to Mexico to find some Aztecs to learn about how to sacrifice the old fashioned way!!

Looking down onto the clouds and Córdoba hidden below. Rain had just stopped and all the climbing was nearly over. One last thing. Beat my hill climb time by nearly two minutes on the bike ride. Still kept in zone 2 (max 152HR) so something good must be coming from the training.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stop the Whispering and Listen to your Heart

It´s been a great week. I´ve managed to get in 8 hours of training and have done 9 different activities (2 swims, 4 runs and 3 bike sessions) and am feeling rather proud of myself. I am waiting however, for that little voice at the back of my head to start whispering, "you´ll never be able to keep this up until the 31st May," when my big race of the year is on. This always happens when I train for events but has so far kept away. I think this has got something to do with how I am training and also my new mindset.

Being an enthusiastic bloke, I have normally jumped headlong into training when I have a race to prepare for, got tired and then needed extra rest days to recover, lost my training flow and ended up doing the race not being as prepared as I could be. I´ve always been a "get round the course" sort of man. This time it feels different.

The first reason is, I am using a heart rate monitor properly. I´ve had one of these for years and have used it randomly, to see how fast my heart beats up various hills or to see how high I can get my HR etc, but this time I am actually training in a specific zone. This has meant that as I complete my base phase I am just building up my tolerance and not pushing too hard. A good example is the big hill near my house. It´s a good few kilometres long and if I wear my HR monitor it will normally get up to nearly 170 if I am pushing myself to keep up with a group. Now I am spinning at a steady speed in zone 2 (max 152 beats) and it feels effortless. There is no yo yoing of effort. It´s a constant pressure and I´m not actually much slower than before. At the top of the climb there is no gasping of breath just a carry on with the ride. It can be hard if someone overtakes me though. The old ego thing kicks in and I want to race and it´s hard to make yourself stop. At least I´ve got an excuse though. I´m not really slow I´m just training in zone 2!!

 I am assuming that if this base phase keeps gradually adding on time, but stays in a steady HR zone my body will be prepared for the next phase when I start to push a bit harder. I have been really surprised that I have not felt  tired. On Tuesday and Wednesday I was awake just before 6am for my sessions and didn´t feel the effects I thought I would by the time I got to mid afternoon. Training in a good HR zone for the first phase definitley seems to be working. 

I am already looking forward to next week when I have an extra hour of training and will have three before 6am wake up calls instead of this week´s two. I am also going to try to sort out my amazingly weak core section. I have been watching You Tube and have found a great Craig Alexander core workout video which I am going to try and follow. Who knows. By next week I might have a bit more than this week´s one pack.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Hating the man you´ve never met.

Hating the man you´ve never met may seem a strange title for this post so let me explain. This was the something that my wife said yesterday, about Don Fink, legendary triathlon coach. She is not one to normally boil up anger and hatred and she´s never even met the poor man. Or even heard of him until last week for that matter, so I think I must take the blame slightly. You see I´m a bit of an enthusiast and when I get a new toy, idea etc I see it as my aim in life to get everyone else to get into it as well. My latest enthuse has been about the my most recent triathlon purchase. Iron Fit by Don Fink.

In the short time of having his book, I have mentioned his name thousands of times and quoted his methodology to everyone I meet, most of whom have no interest in triathlons at all. I hear myself saying, "Don says this" or, "if Don was here now he would say..." Friends just nod their heads and think, there goes Oliver again on one of his little moments. I know I shouldn´t, but I just can´t help myself. I´m a ball of triathlon enthusiasm and want to tell everyone, even if they don´t want to hear. So you can see how the poor wife, after suffering all week, finally snapped and took the Don and his name in vain. 

The book though, is very good. I have felt with training in the past that I have been wandering around not really knowing what I am doing. Now I have a plan to follow. Thank you Don. I am following the 30 week full distance plan but only up to week 23 as Don says ( must stop doing that) I should do a half distance triathlon and as my aim this year is to do only a half distance,   I´ll stop there. Next year when I want to do the full distance I´ll carry on through. 

I´ve started the programme on week 4 (not enough time for the full 23 weeks, bought the book too late) and have completed my first week. Even went out in the pouring rain for my zone 2, hour and half cycle yesterday. That for me shows enormous dedication as I live in southern Spain and normally I don´t go out if there is a cloud in the sky. I hope this sounds impressive, but the ride only happened after I had stood with a friend for 20 minutes waiting for the rain to stop, deciding it was too wet, going back into my block, deciding that Don said (sorry) I had to do a zone 2, hour and half cycle, deciding that I couldn´t face that amount of time in zone two on my rollers and finally deciding to go out in the rain. This it turns out was a good move. Spent the whole ride with water falling down my face, with the biggest smile ever, for the entire route.

One last thing before I go. I said in my last post that I wanted to just get round the course. Don says (oops) that sort of thinking is not the way forward. So my new aim is to race hard and beat as many people as is humanly possible.

Chasing the sun on my bike ride

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Here we go

I have spent quite a while thinking about how to start this blog. Feels like I am going to a confessional session to reveal a sordid character defect. Hello my name is Oliver and I have a problem. My problem you see, is that I want to be a triathlete. Not a professional one. Not even a particularly brilliant one. Just one who can get round a course. I don´t claim to be fat, or have any health problem that I´m fighting against. I have two legs and two arms. In fact   I´m rather ordinary.
I did two sprint triathlons last year, so I suppose I could class myself as a triathlete already, but I don´t feel like one. I remember starting the swims section surrounded by real triathletes and feeling a little bit inadequate. I do have a plan though. To feel like a real triathlete, I need to do a big one that will make me feel like I am part of the brotherhood. So I´ve entered a half distance triathlon on the 31st of May and am training away steadily. Next year I want to do a full distance event. That´s the dream I´m working towards so we´ll see what happens!!!