My first 4 week training block is done. I've started back at uni and this has meant settling into the new demands of my masters programme whilst also balancing the semblance of a social life I have at the start of the first semester and easing back into structured training. The initial bout of illness associated with the monsoon of freshers students has been overcome, and the required first crash of the season has also been swiftly dealt with.
Training at this time of the year is mainly about addressing previously identified weaknesses whilst developing the framework for more intensity and volume in proceeding training blocks. This is known as a 'base' of training and is analogous to the foundations of a pyramid, in that a strong peak cannot be built without a strong base. Consequently for the rest of 2018 and early into 2019 I'll be focussing on building fitness through a carefully planned programme of strength work and aerobic training, with the occasional dash of higher intensity to keep some speed in my legs.
I'll also be doing a few low key cross-country races throughout the darker months to keep motivation high and develop my running further. I also have the BUCS Duathlon lined up for mid November which always boasts a highly competitive field and provides a very early indication of how training is going. Race reports will be featured on the blog as and when I race.
Thanks for reading!
Sunday, 12 August 2018
Shortly after 0700, myself and 76 other Europeans between the age of 16 and 24 entered the cold waters of Strathclyde lock, on the outskirts of Glasgow. This race, the European sprint distance triathlon championships, had been my main focus for the entirety of the 2018 season. All my training had been specifically targeted towards the requirements of the race, and I was looking forward to competing again in a competitive international field and doing my utmost to finish on the podium. I started from the centre of the pontoon, directly opposite the first swim buoy, around 180m away. This opening distance should provide adequate distance for the athletes to spread out going into the first turn so that excessive buoy massacring could be avoided. With the sound of the starters horn I sprinted off the start line, aiming to get away from the ensuing tangle of arms and legs and into some clearer water, hopefully on the feet of some faster swimmers. After an initially chaotic first minute I thought I had achieved this – the amount of contact had certainly decreased. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind that I received a blow to the underside of my chin, either from a rogue elbow or more likely I’d swim over another competitors heel whilst moving up through the field. Reeling from this blow I suddenly realised that part of my tooth was missing. All this occurred within 2 minutes of the race starting. As you might think, my broken tooth preoccupied my mind for the majority of the swim, and I certainly lost some time due to the carnage of the start. In hindsight I would have chosen a starting position further along the pontoon which would have allowed me to avoid some of the melee.
I emerged from the water well off my usual pace. This was disappointing to say the least as I have spent a lot of time over the last few months working hard on my swim and I was not able to show this. T1 went off without a hitch and I was quickly out on the 3 lap, 20k bike course. I was soon powering along the course, swapping stories of swim-leg-related misfortune with fellow GB athletes. I was told by my mum after the race that I looked really aero, and as any triathlete knows, looking aero is way more important than any race result. The course was undulating to see the least. Each lap consisted of very little flat terrain, rather a combination of short sharp hills and descents. This meant the course suited TT setups less than other championship races I have done in the past such as in Kalkar and Dusseldorf in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Due to the rolling nature of the course, a concertina effect repeatedly occurred between athletes, meaning that drafting was rife, though the presence of draft marshals hopefully limited this. Certainly, I had a draft buster following me for the majority of the race, like a moth to a flame. Throughout the bike, I was able to reel in quite a few of my compatriots and athletes from other nations alike.
Coming into T2 I was in around 13th or 14th position and looking to chase down a few more places on the 5k run loop. The run passed by quickly and I was glad that the temperature was still quite cool at this time in the morning, as poor heat tolerance has been a limiter for me in the past. I ran with a German athlete and another brit for the vast majority of the run leg, frequently swapping the task of leading our little trio. We caught another brit around 1500m from the finish and the rest of the run passed without incident, bar a near miss with an angry goose. Despite feeling strong through the middle portion of the run, I was unable to hold onto my little group over the top of a steep hill and ended up crossing the line a few seconds after them, in 12th place.
Post-race analysis has revealed that throughout the bike and run I was reeling in many of the competitors ahead of me. If the race had been a little longer I’m confident I would have been able to overcome my deficit from the swim and finish comfortably inside the top 10. Comparing my splits to the eventual medal winners revealed that I was a little off the pace across all three disciplines. I come away from the race hungry for a better result next year. It’s frustrating to know that at my best I could have been featuring at the pointy end of the field. An impromptu break from run training less than a month ago due to injury certainly didn’t aid my preparations. I feel that all I’m lacking from my training is a run of consistency which will see me knocking on the door of a medal come my next championship race in Lausanne in 2019.
It’s now time for me to reset before diving into my winter training programme with new drive and determination to be a real contender at next years world championships.
Thursday, 19 April 2018
A selection of some of the things I've been up to since my last post following the BUCS Duathlon.
305 hours of training.
1,000,000m of swimming finally logged on strava
100, 200, 400m swim PB's
20min power and FTP PB
1xVO2max test to establish maximal oxygen uptake whilst cycling
5mile Time Trial PB
2x Bike fit's
1x failed festive 500 attempt
Biggest run volume week for 2 years
A few weeks of fairly abysmal riding in blizzard conditions in the peak district
2x 3 hour wattbike sessions
20th at the BUCS Modern Biathlon and 4th in the team competition
20th at the BUCS Modern Biathlon and 4th in the team competition
36x 6AM Swims
8 full rest days.
1x semi successful training camp in Majorca
Until then I can look forward to my first few races which are beginning to loom large; BUCS Sprint on the 6th May followed by BUCS Standard on the 20th May. I'll also be doing a time trial or two before then so I can remember what it feels like to pin a number on.
Thanks for reading,
Friday, 24 November 2017
This weekend past saw a return to racing for many of the student triathletes in the UK. DBMAX host the annual ‘chilly duathlon’ at castle combe, a race circuit down south near Chippenham. This would be only my second appearance at the race, having missed it last year through injury. Though not in peak fitness, I was looking forward to getting back into racing and testing myself against my fellow competitors.
We arrived at the venue at 1100, after an 0630 start. The male elite wave didn’t start until 1305, allowing for plenty of pre race toilet visitations, costume changes and opportunities for consumption of food. As always the race organisers didn’t disappoint, with 2 bowls full of jelly beans on hand in the registration area.
The race kicked off as scheduled with a 3.1k run preceding a 15k bike and then another 3.1k run to finish. My aims for the first run were to stay in touch with some of the better runners from both my university and other universities. I was also aiming to average 3:20/km, which would give me a run split 30 seconds quicker than my previous best here. 3:10, 3:20, and 3:30 kilometres weren’t exactly consistent but they got the job done and my performance in the first run has left my excited about what I can achieve on two legs this year. The first run wasn’t too eventful; some minor jostling for position occurred and there were some tight, slippy sections which were difficult to negotiate in a large pack.
I entered T1 in a decent position and from there recorded the 12th fastest T1 time of the day. I was quickly out onto the race circuit, though slaloming round athletes and running a little further to give me space for a smooth flying mount perhaps added a little time.
For the first lap and a half of the bike I worked steadily through the field, ticking off athletes whilst also getting overtaken by the odd uber-biker. I went out at what I thought was a sustainable effort, though for such a short distance, there’s not much to be held back! Unfortunately my power metre threw a tantrum and I wasn’t able to rely on it, instead I went old school and used RPE. About 6k into the bike was where the race began to go downhill for me. All of sudden I was being overtaken by a steady stream of people. I looked around and saw a group of around 20 athletes all riding together in a pack.
I couldn’t believe the audacity of these athletes, blatantly gaining an unfair advantage and openly breaking the rules. I sat up and drifted back as I didn’t want to be caught up in the foul play. I figured I would sit around 10m back, out of the draft zone, and try and keep pace legally. This was rather ambitious given the energy saving and aerodynamic advantages gained from riding in a group, and I soon started to drop off. No matter, I thought, as the motorbike referees circling the course would soon pick off the offenders, handing out 2 minute penalties and disqualifications left right and centre.
I left it at that and began the 2nd run after a 40kph bike split, intent on redemption against those immoral individuals ahead. I managed to put in a very respectable second run, faster than most that had been riding in the pack, despite the extra energy they’d managed to save over the bike leg. I picked up a few extra places and ran around 30 seconds faster than in first year.
I crossed the line in 55th (later 56th) position, in a time over 2 minutes faster than my previous best at the race. I raced really well and should have been very pleased with myself. Yet after finishing, it quickly became apparent that the 30+ athletes that had ridden in the pack at various points of the bike leg had received absolutely no punishment. A big fat zero seconds added to their times. Effectively myself and others had just been robbed of over 20 places.
Our uni’s best duathlete was also caught out by the lack of ‘draft-busting’ and after appealing to the race organisers with several photos showing absolute blatant drafting, was informed that the evidence was inconclusive. The decision over penalties was entirely at the discretion of the motorbike referees. In that case, I say to DBMAX (the race organisers), perhaps hire some marshals that aren’t blind next year.
Unfortunately drafting at the BUCS events has been a problem every year I’ve raced. Often the worst offenders are experienced triathletes from universities with established triathlon programmes that should know better. Race organisers need to really crack down and properly enforce the rules as it affects the BUCS points system which, at a lot of universities, is used to allocate funding and can be used as the basis for awarding scholarships. Organisers need not be afraid of penalising big names or big universities; if Alistair Brownlee is drafting then he should receive a penalty, just as I’d expect to receive a penalty if I were drafting. Here’s hoping for some better rule enforcement in the rest of the BUCS races this academic year.
Thursday, 23 November 2017
2 months have passed since world champs in Rotterdam. I’ve started writing my recap several times but 3rd year at university has proven unrelenting and I simply haven’t had the time. Without delving too much into the nitty gritty of my performances across the disciplines I’d like to instead reflect upon the experience as a whole.
The scale of the event was astonishing, over 2000 people were racing which meant that even in the days before the competition kicked off, you could spot a triathlete on every corner. For me it was a fantastic experience and I’ll forever be able to say I represented my country at the world championships – something I’m very proud of. It was also incredibly eye-opening; the depth of talent, particularly in the 20-24 age group was astounding and it was amazing to see the vast range of countries represented.
From my point of view, my performance was solid, yet not particularly exceptional. It was great to get my ass handed to me by the best in the world in my age group. This will serve as my major source of motivation over winter and the coming months as I try to realise my goal of finishing on the podium at a major championship race.
On paper my swim was subpar, yet post-race analysis revealed a swim distance 200m longer than originally billed, leaving me with a 1500m PB which is hardly shabby. I attribute this to the hard work I’ve put into changing my stroke and developing my rhythm this year, as well as the consistency in my swimming with Chesterfield Swimming Club over the back end of the summer.
The bike for me was a disappointment. The course didn’t play to any of my strengths, being way to narrow and technical to get any momentum going. The majority of the route was on bike paths, with multiple cobbled sections and dead turns. I actually ended up recording my worst average power for a race ever which is hardly something to write home about. This is partly due to some issues I have identified with my fit, which I’ll be looking to address over the offseason.
I’m slightly dubious when it comes to my performance on the run, and a lack of good GPS data only confounded this. A 20 second PB came as a bit of a surprise given my maximum weekly mileage was only 20k, with many weeks being much less than this. Again, this is already something I’ve begun to correct and my running is currently the best it’s ever been at this time of year. Nonetheless, I managed to pull back a few places on the 10k in Rotterdam, finishing 32nd as Greg Welch read my name over the tannoy.
The race has given me a lot of perspective and also highlighted some weaknesses. I wouldn’t say I was happy with my performance, but I would say I was content, delivering the best performance I could on the day. Given this was only my 4th Olympic distance race and I’d had a month off all triathlon training only 2 months before, I can be pleased with what I managed to achieve.
As this race was the end of the season for me I’ll summarise my racing year as a collection of good performances where hints of my potential have begun to shine through. Yet too many disturbances to my training and racing schedule left me a little lacking at the pointy end of racing. I aim to work on addressing this and other issues I have identified during the offseason and I look forward to achieving my goals in the new year.
Monday, 26 June 2017
On the evening of Wednesday 21st I flew out to Düsseldorf ahead of the European Triathlon Champs. I qualified for this event last year at the Nottingham Sprint Triathlon and since then have put in a huge amount of training to push my ability further and further. 4 nights in Germany before the race gave me some much needed acclimatisation time and I was able to do a little bit of training whilst there. The weather was tropical the first few days and I was very glad that it cooled down for the day of the race; I’m useless in hot weather, any ambitions would have taken a backseat to survival. Thankfully, come race morning it was a familiar 15 degree air temperature, although the water temperature was just below 22 degrees, meaning that wetsuits were optional for the swim leg. As I walked to the race start, I could see a lot of standing water on the major technical parts of the bike course and I just hoped that the combination of water, tramlines and white painted lines didn’t cause too much carnage later on. I arrived in transition with about an hour before my start time and set up the remainder of my kit (my bike and helmet had been set up the previous night). It’s at this point I should point out just how long the transition for this race was. With over 800 people racing, it was at least a 400m run from one end to the other. Typically, as one of the youngest in the field, I was right at the end. This meant I would have to run almost 800m in total from the exit of the swim to the start of the bike, barefoot! I was not keen but it would be exactly the same for my rivals too, and I’ve found the run to transition is a key stage where you can make up some ground.
So, fast forward 50 minutes of my pre-race playlist (mainly Eminem, a little bit of Gary Barlow) and a sweaty wetsuit clad dash to the start and I was stood waiting on the end of a pontoon. Into the water with one minute to the start and cue the sound of a heartbeat over the speaker system. At this point I was feeling pretty calm, my entire season had come down to this point and yet there was no point worrying, I had done everything I could to give me every possible advantage and now I just had to deliver what I was capable of. The airhorn went and after an initial 100m of typical swim brawling I was in open water, heading toward the first buoy 315m away. I never expected to be in the front pack for the swim but I was happy to see the field wasn’t too spread out. Starting at the left of the field meant I had a lot of space around me and wasn’t in the melee to my right, although this meant I didn’t have any feet to follow for most of the race. I followed the spiral swim course uneventfully, keeping the technique I’ve spent so many hours working on. With about 200m to go I started to see which athletes were around me and could identify a couple of racers who I knew were usually better swimmers than me. I was out the water in 20th position and immediately had to take in 30 steps from the temporary exit to the top of the bridge where the clock stopped for the swim. Up the steps I managed to overtake a further 4 athletes, bringing me into transition in 16th position.
The smoothest of wetsuit removals saw me record one of the quickest transition times (3 whole minutes!) and I was soon off and away on the bike. The initial 5 kilometres were pretty technical and it took me a while to get a feel for how wet the road was. My power numbers were looking good (300W) and I was overtaking athletes from the off. Within about 2k of the bike start I saw the first crash, a guy misjudging his line in front of me and taking a dive. 30 seconds later, on the next corner, a Belgian hit the deck in front of me and the sounds of carbon scraping the tarmac behind me indicated another crash. It was at this point that I made the decision not to push any of the corners and to ride sensibly, hammering the flat sections and making sure I made it to the run where the final battle would occur. The route crossed the Rhine twice before reaching a pan flat out and back section. Just as I was heading to the out and back section, there was a brief technical descent off the bridge which was the site of yet another crash. Thankfully, post-race I heard everyone was okay, and a couple of people even managed to finish after crashing. On the out and back section I could really put the power down and was averaging over 25mph. Despite the technical nature of the start and finish of the route, and my careful cornering, I still managed to average 39kph which shows just how much my bike splits have improved. Before joining my uni squad I had races where I would struggle to average even 30kph.
Though I was unaware at the time, my efforts on the bike saw me enter the second transition area in 3rd place! Only a Danish athlete and a Belgian were ahead of me at this point. After another smooth transition, I started out comfy as has been my style lately. I maintained this until about 1.5k where I was joined by another British athlete, a Frenchman and a Belgian. The French athlete charged past; I was only able to hang on for about 400m. I continued to battle with the Belgian, slowly reeling him in while fellow Brit James Hodgson moved slowly ahead of me. He would go on to finish as first Brit only 30 seconds ahead of me, despite crashing. I overtook the Belgian with about 2k left to go on the run, only to be overtaken by yet another Belgian who had been waiting behind. I was unable to hold on to him and just tried to run as hard as possible to the finish. The out and back nature of the course meant I could see the athletes both ahead and behind me, and I had my eyes locked on a Danish guy just ahead. I caught up with him with about 600m to go. Usually I wait and let the other person launch their sprint first. I wasn’t having that this time. With 300m to go I kicked hard and put in about 20 strides before looking back. Seeing he had nothing left, I knew I’d secured my place but still pushed hard. Perhaps too hard, as anyone watching on the livestream will have seen my finish line antics!
I was ecstatic to be 6th and the 2nd British athlete to finish. This means I have automatically qualified for next year’s European champs in Glasgow, where I’ll be looking for my first international silverware. As one of the youngest in the field, I have another 4 years in this category so I’m very excited to see what I can do. I will be back.
Next up for me is a well-earned break from tri; I’ll be travelling round Europe for a month with my girlfriend Lauren. Upon my return, I’ll have around 8 weeks until World Champs. I’ll do a local race or 2 during this time and work hard to make sure I’m a serious podium contender for the race in Rotterdam.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Thank you to all my supporters and my friends and my family. Thank you to everyone at the University of Nottingham Triathlon Club, you’ve all had an impact on me this year and helped me get to where I am. A big well done to Niall Rennie and Kat Hewitt who were also representing the uni. They both finished 12th with great overall performances; at one point Kat was leading! A big thanks to coach Steve Lloyd and the lads from the performance squad who have peer pressured me into the vast majority of 6AM swim sessions this year. Special thanks to my Mum and Dad, without whom I would never have been set on this path. It’s only thanks to them I’m able to do this sport and I will be forever grateful.
Monday, 19 June 2017
As of last week my second year at university is over and I can finally sit down and spend some time on my blog! So much has happened since my last post, back then I was just starting to build my running back up and looking forward to a training camp in Majorca. Since then I've had 4 races and a bucketful of exams; allow me to shed some light.
Majorca was an amazing experience for me; a whole week dedicated to doing what I love without having to think about uni work. Most of the days were spent riding up some brutal climbs, with Sa Calobra being the most famous, a 9.4km affair full of hairpins which sees you climb over 600m vertically. Clocking up over 300 miles during the week really helped to add strength to my riding and it has shown in my early season results.
Not long after returning from the training camp, I raced locally at Southwell triathlon. Originally, I’d been expecting to take an overall podium place but after a stellar turnout I was happy to take 8th overall and 4th in my age group. Some residual fatigue from Majorca meant I had a subpar bike leg and my swim wasn’t up to much either, but I had a decent run for this time of year (16:41 on a short 5k), leading to a solid result for my season opener.
A week later I was off down south with the rest of UoN Tri for the BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) Sprint Champs. The race was in Calne as usual which meant a 3AM start. We arrived at around 8AM, plenty of time for my wave which wasn’t due to start for another 6 hours. The BUCS races always have a cracking turnout, with some of the best student triathletes in the UK competing. Therefore, I was simply aiming to beat my time from last year and see the results of my hard work. I did just that, coming in over 3 minutes faster after knocking a significant amount of time from my bike split.
Next up was the BUCS Standard Champs, raced over the Olympic distance of a 1500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run. This was to be my second ever standard distance and, as I was finally starting to find my running legs, I was excited to see what I could do. First off, a less than elegant entrance into a murky ‘marine lake’ at our race venue of Southport. As the race began, I knew I had to maximise my swim time gains over the rest of my university team mates as we have some pretty good runners in the squad. I swam hard to the first buoy to try and stick with one of the lead groups and was pretty happy to be just at the back of a pack with clear water behind me. At the time I thought this was probably the chase pack, but in hindsight, looking at my swim time this was clearly not the case! A mediocre swim saw me exit the water down in 55th position with work to do.
After a mixed transition (I managed to lose my bike…) I was out on the bike course, trying to hunt down those ahead whilst also trying to stay clear of those behind me. As this race is draft ILLEGAL, the onus is entirely on the individual to ride as hard as they can with no benefit allowed from sheltering behind stronger riders. Riding to my power metre, I aimed to race at around 285W for the first half of the bike leg and then try and push on with whatever I had left in the tank. My legs didn’t have it in them on the day so I just gave what I could. The course was flat and fast, suiting those out and out power riders and giving no advantage to those with a knack for climbing (aka me). Due to the out and back nature of the course I was able to keep tabs on those athletes around me and though I was making decent headway, one of my teammates James Harkin (Side note, James cycled up Sa Calobra 13 times in a row on our Majorca training camp to equal the height of Everest. He’s crazy.) was well on his way to catching me. I put the hammer down with 5k to go and came into transition with around a 40 second lead.
In my previous 2 races, both times I’d set off on to the run with a stitch which hampered my performance. With 10k to run I’d decided to start off comfortably, not pushing myself too hard and just keeping my cadence high. Thankfully I had no stomach troubles this time round and I was very happy to see my first kilometre split was around the 3:30 mark; if I kept this up and didn’t fade too badly I’d be able to maintain and build upon my current placing for sure. As expected I did start to tire a little, but not before running my fastest 5k so far this season and moving away from everyone in the field bar Niall and Adam, the fastest runners in my club. Adam put in an excellent 33 minute 10k and Niall out ran me by about 20 seconds, but my performance in all 3 disciplines saw me hold them off and hit the red carpet as first scorer for the uni.
I was very happy to finish in 27th position, and as a whole the Nottingham boys finished in 5th position overall, securing crucial BUCS points. The girls team also did well, scoring points.
Next up was an interesting period where I tried to juggle both studying for my upcoming exams and getting ready for Deva Triathlon in Chester, a qualifier for the World Champs. I had my exams on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th of June, and with the race on the 4th, this meant for some tricky logistics and not the smoothest preparation for the race or for the exam. My parents picked me up from uni after my second exam and we drove to Chester to scout out the course and get an early night. Come race morning I was raring to go, having never tested myself over the standard distance except at the BUCS races.
Next up for me is the European Triathlon Champs in Dusseldorf. I’ll be flying out to Germany on Wednesday to give me time to acclimatise and do some course recon. My race starts at 8 AM on Sunday morning; hopefully the weather will be a little cooler than it is in England at the moment! I’ll post a link later in the week for anyone who wants to follow live!
As always, thank you for reading! Sam