If I had to summarise my 2016 season in a single sentence it would go something along the lines of…
“2016 has been an experimental year with a lack of an end goal, with many challenges and a change in focus which on reflection I haven’t enjoyed as much as previous seasons”.
Reading that sounds rather negative I have to admit, but, it isn’t entirely and that is certainly not the case.
After the ITU world championships in Chicago and having represented GB at both the European and World championships I made a conscious decision to step up a distance and have a year where I would try Middle distance triathlons. For those readers that are not aware that is a 1.9km swim, 56 miles on the bike and a half marathon thrown on the end for good measure. A total of 70.3 miles. Don’t get me wrong 2015 and in particular the grand final in Chicago was a fantastic season. The best yet, but I just fancied doing something a little different.
Having made that decision I realised that my season didn’t really have any goals to aim for. No qualifying races, no world finals…. So alongside my longer races I decided I would attempt to do my bit for charity and race 500 miles in 2016. In addition I would attempt to break the 3 hour mark for the marathon.
With these targets in place I started the hunt for suitable races. I needed a flat (preferably downhill) marathon and enough races to keep me busy all season and get me to the magical 500 mark.
After much deliberation I decided to sign up for Manchester marathon, where better to get my sub 3 hour marathon than in the shadow of Old Trafford.
I decided to sign up to the Grafman middle distance triathlon as that was nice and local to me and also the wonderful Brian Adcock donated a place at each of the Hever castle “Gauntlet” triathlons to assist me on my way to 500 miles. Hever Castle would be a return to my childhood as I grew up in that area between the ages of 9 and 12. That would do for a start and I would find other races as the season progressed.
So I am going to go through my races and key points in chronological order at a fairly high level in an attempt to keep this review as brief as possible.
Milton Keynes 20 – As part of the training preparation for my sub 3 hour attempt I entered the MK 20 in early march as a final check that my pacing and training was where it should be. In short it was. 20 miles completed in 2:14:44 which meant and average pacing of 6:45 per mile which essentially meant I was on for a sub 3.
Manchester Marathon – 16 weeks of training, 700+ training miles, Travel costs, Hotel costs, all for one event. Imagine that one event going truly tits up after 18 miles. Well, I don’t have to imagine. I started the race feeling good and ready to crack the 3 hour mark, I paced well until about 18.5 miles and then things just fell apart, cramping and sickness took over and I eventually crossed the line in 3:27:27.
MK Marathon – With the disappointment of Manchester I felt I owed it to myself to have another shot at the Marathon sub 3 before my triathlon training kicked in. Unfortunately it was like de ja vu, the 18 mile mark came and went and I was comfortable then bang, just before the 19 mile mark the wheels came off again the same way as in Manchester, the time was worse at 3:42:04.
It was later discovered that I have a “defect” in my body’s ability to retain or create its own salt. Therefore, at the pace I was pushing myself over 2 (ish) hours my body was simply reduced of the salts it needed to continue. Causing cramps and sickness. This helps now but at the time my love for running disappeared completely.
Grafman – Time to forget about my marathon disasters and focus on what I love. Triathlon. The first event of the season was the Grafman, based at Grafham water in Cambridgeshire. A great event and perfectly organised by the guys and gals at Nice Tri. I can safely say that I enjoyed the first tri of the year and was reasonably happy with the splits considering my focus had been marathon training until 3 weeks prior to the event. Swim 33:54. Bike 2:40:34. Run 1:34:35.
Southwark 10km – I entered this race last minute as my training plan suggested a 10km pace test. The only way to get me to push hard is to get me into an event. It worked! I nailed a 10km PB in a time of 37:38 and second place overall.
Hever Gauntlet (Round 1) – Excited to return to a place I spent many happy years growing up I neglected one very important aspect of racing. ALWAYS read the race information. I learnt a valuable lesson during this race as I attacked the hilly bike course on a TT bike and the toughest off road hilly half marathon in a pair of very light race shoes. Having said that, despite the tough course and the cold wet conditions I did enjoy myself. My Swim time had improved since the Grafman but the bike and run was significantly slower due to the dramatic profile of the courses. Swim 31:54. Bike 3:20:12. Run 1:44:43.
Boxend County club championships – So back to sprint distance in the name of the team. Stopsley striders fielded its first ever triathlon team for the county championships at Box end. I really enjoyed being part of the team and used this race as a hard training session the splits a fairly average 12:49, 32:32, 21:55.
Stewartby Sprint – Having returned from holiday I decided to enter my second sprint of the season. Again, using this as a hard training session. The event itself was run by Active Training World and fairly local to me. I was surprised to exit the water in second place and battled between 2nd and 3rd place until the end of the race. A slightly long 12:59 swim, 31:08 bike and a 15:46 (4km) run saw me finish in second place overall.
St Albans Stampede – Back in March when I suggested to my team mates that we entered this race it sounded like a really good idea. At the start of September it seemed like much less of a great idea. That said, the team of four started the relay strongly and took our turns on the 4 mile loop. It was clear from the second loop that the course would test our legs before the 12 hours was up. The team was in high spirits throughout the day and with three teams from Striders there it made for a great event and a good day out despite the very best of British weather trying to dampen our spirits. Our team continued to run well and we quickly found ourselves challenging for second place. However, in the 11th hour (literally) they just beat us into second place and we had to settle for third. We had run a combined total of 104 miles in 123 hours and I personally had covered 27 miles.
Unfortunately the hangover from the Stampede meant I had a common runner’s overuse injury. Initially thought to be bursitis of the hip eventually turned out to be damaged tendons in the hip\ glute meaning I would not run for two months. It was clear then that any running related races were not going to happen. That said, back to hever!
Hever Gauntlet (Round 2) – So back to Hever Castle again for the second time this year. My goals were to nail a sub 30 minute swim and beat the time I had completed in back in July. Well as mentioned above I knew I wouldn’t finish the race as I was unable to run. It is a strange feeling getting up at 4am on a Sunday morning, driving 2 hours to Kent to take part in a race you know you won’t finish. Regardless of that I decided to push hard on the swim and the bike and call it quits and grab a massage after T2. So, having left my trainers at home, that is exactly what I did. I swam harder than I have ever done before and way outside of my comfort zone, but that gamble paid off as I exited the water bang on 29:59. The official results pinched another 1 second off me but I’ll take that. 30:00 bang on for my swim was a huge PB for me and proof that the increased hours in the pool with PSC had paid off. Onto the bike and again I was conscious that my triathlon would end once I had finished the bike, with that in mind I pushed hard and managed to keep a decent average pace up over the two hilly loops. I knocked over ten minutes off the time in July. Finishing the bike split in 3:08:13. Into T2, packed up and headed to the massage tent. My triathlon season had ended.
Nice to Cannes Marathon – Well I had planned to do the French Riviera marathon all year and I hoped it would yield the magical Sub 3 hour marathon and along with it sign off on my 500 mile charity challenge. Unfortunately, again due to the injury this would not happen.
In a year which has had a lot of change personally I think this season was as good as it could be in the situation.
I have moved house, struggled through the worst employment of my life and eventually been made redundant (thank god!). I found another job and have settled into that job nicely and then just when I thought I could finish the season on a strong note. I got injured.
As I alluded to at the start of this blog, it was an experimental year and I have had some good results. Some good memories and some good learning’s. I have forged a new partnership with my fellow GB athlete and friend who will coach me into 2017 and beyond and I am really looking forward to the time ahead. This was certainly not a wasted season, I tried something different and I didn’t enjoy it as much as previous seasons. That doesn’t make it a failure. Not trying is a failure. Never be left wondering “what if”.
One thing it has done is fire me up for next season! The best version of me comes out in 2017. I can’t wait!
For now, it’s a little bit of down time and a decent recovery block before the off season training starts. Thanks to everyone for the support throughout the year. My friends and family have been as wonderfully supportive as ever and I couldn’t have done it without you.