Thursday, 23 June 2011

Vive le Tour

I am a triathlete, but like most of you reading this I stumbled into the sport from another area. For me it was swimming and deep inside, regardless of my love for triathlon, I am still a swimmer. I have since grown to love cycling and of course running, though it was in cycling where I found something that I had never been able to get from the other sports in my life. This single event each year in the world of cycling gave me something to obsess over, to watch each day on the television, to research, to visit and watch in person, cheering on the side of the road with the millions of other celebrating cycling fans. This event, the Tour de France, is an epic race. There is no doubt to this, controversy aside, that it is an incredible feat of physicality, team work and mental toughness. Every July roughly 20 teams, each consisting of 9 riders, play a huge game of cat and mouse across France in order to earn their team leader the coveted Maillot Jeune, or yellow jersey, and win cycling’s version of the Stanley Cup...or the Champions League.

In the process they will race upwards of 3,500km across vast mountain ranges and will take part in mile long 60 kph sprints followed by multiple 25km alpine climbs the very next day. For the swimmers and runners out there it gives us an epic battle to follow, a month long super bowl…or like having our team reach the playoffs…every year. It seems an impossible task, superhuman almost, and for many riders both past and present this is true. However, drug controversies aside it continues to draw us back, many to the roadsides and small towns of France where for 3 weeks each year we can draw chalk on the roads, drink beer alongside fellow fans and cheer loudly and wildly at the speeding peleton of brightly coloured riders streaming past at 45kph on their way to yet another sprint or mountain top finish.

This year with Canadian hopes firmly resting on Victoria native Ryder Hysjedal’s shoulders (and Bradley Wiggins for those back in the UK) I urge you all to read the articles, watch the highlights and cheer on the 200 riders as they vie for glory in the countryside of France. I am happy to admit that I love the tour, just as much as any other sporting event, and if I’m being honest - probably a little more.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

New Orleans, North Shore and the Escape from Alcatraz

A long time has passed since I last blogged, disproving the rule I mentioned earlier this year when I said that while injured, athletes tend to blog more. I suffered a pretty severe SI joint irritation late into March putting me out of the game completely for a week and pool running for a further 5. Those who know of my running know that 5 weeks of pool running might sound like a season ending death sentence, but I was assured that a full and well executed pool run program could maintain fitness and even maintain intensity levels. Huge thanks go to my run coach Jerry who kept me heading to the pool for run sets each day and Nicole for the technique advice.

It wasn't until mid May that I was off the ever increasing levels of walk/run I had been managing and into full running once again. 4 days later I was on the plane and headed to Louisiana for 5150 New Orleans. New Orleans as a city was incredible, so much history and culture, maintained beautifully and filled with really nice and friendly people.

I was there with my buddy from Vancouver - aspiring Ironman Darren Hailes, and as a team we managed to see the best bits of the city...and a bit of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida too. Unfortunately for me however the gods of triathlon were conspiring and due to the intense flooding upstate with 30 minutes to go before the race start they pulled the plug on the swim ... granted there were a few small waves in lake Ponchartrain but still ... Mike wants to swim. It was not to be, instead I had to rush a run warm up to get ready for the 2 mile out and back I now had to get through. I was a little apprehensive but considering the 2 months previous I actually ran well and was alongside Chris Lieto over the second half ... which was cool. Off onto the bike though and my legs were not working, being on a road bike into a serious headwind was a factor but my legs just weren't ready for a duathlon. Day was cut short as I came into T2.

Fast forward a week and it's a different story at the North Shore elite sprint triathlon in Vancouver. I have an unusually uneventful swim exiting the water about 5 seconds down but feel like I'm firing on all cylinders in the bike. It took me about 3km to find my legs off the bike but I finish strong and in 6th, definite progress.

Racing back to back weekends can be a double edged sword for many reasons but if the first race doesn't turn out as planned the quick turnaround to the next event can really prove a great way to reset mentally and get a good result in.

I then had a short 10 day reprieve in Vancouver before flying off to San Francisco for the IMG Escape from Alcatraz triathlon this past weekend. This time I took Nicole along with me and Darren flew down at the last minute to help with cheering, both of whom did an amazing job on course - shouting at me the things I needed to hear, and Nicole was amazing at keeping me positive and focussed before the race.

The course is legendary, it started way back in 1980 and has evolved over the years, initially as a mini Ironman around the awesome San Francisco bay and now as a pseudo Olympic/middle distance race with by far one of the hardest swims in the world ... Not forgetting the run course. Craig Alexander was here, Andy Potts, Bevan Docherty, Brian Fleischmann - lots of great athletes. I love races like that, getting to race against the best guys in the word, even if I finish 25th ... And get beaten by Leanda Cave, is an amazing experience for me.

The race starts by being released from a massive boat "the San Francisco Belle" which sails right out to Alcatraz prison. The water is intensely cold, 52 degrees F - around 11 degrees C I believe, and if you speak to the locals, filled with seals, sea lions and hammerheads. The age groupers get to jump off from opened up areas on the deck but the Pro wave has to clamber over the barriers and hang onto the side of the boat before diving the 8 feet into the bay. I had a good start but quickly the combination of very salty water and low temps + the general aggression of a big pro swim, had me feeling a little nauseous so I reverted to breathing 1 in 4 and got some clear water. With no buoys to follow I just followed the guys around me and though I felt as if I had dropped back from the leaders. Once I approached the shore, 2.5km from Alcatraz itself, I realised I was up there within 20 seconds or so of Andy Potts.

You then have a pretty big beach run up and an epic 1/2 mile run to transition which hurts the feet, though about half way through I realised I was running next to Simon Lessing who had been roped into a relay and had just killed the swim - pretty cool! Off onto the bike course and my focus was to stay measured on the 4 big climbs and not kill myself on the 4 equally big decents.

I felt as if I kept a hold of myself mentally very well on the bike, staying focussed and concentrating on working the hills, hitting the corners on the descents and taking in plenty of nutrition. 8 mile run was just around the corner...

The run course was intense, 1 mile flat out of T2 - up 100 stairs and continue the climbing until you are at the golden gate bridge - now you have to run down the other side all the way to the beach again and do a mile out and back in deep sand on the beach - up another set of stairs ... this time 400 of them - keep climbing after the stairs on the road to the bridge then back down the other side and a flat mile to the finish. I felt a little sluggish over the first few miles and the out and back in the deep sand was tough, but the dreaded "Sand Ladder" (the 400 stairs) wasn't nearly as bad as I had thought, most people apparently walk up but I managed a pretty good little jog most of the way, by the top I was feeling great and my pace started to increase. I finished well, coming down from the bridge quickly and holding pace along the final stretch to the finish line, in all I was very pleased with 37th / 2100.

I'm now back in Vancouver for a few weeks getting ready for my next event, where this will be I'm not yet sure, but it will be soon. Had a hard run set last night so feeling it today but will get going with a decent effort on the TT bike tonight. Have been missing home the last few weeks as well but a nice trip to the British food store last night helped me quite a bit, 1 jumbo pack of Custard Creams later and I'm feeling good.

Pictures to follow,


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Racing open water

I get quite a few emails each month, usually asking for advice relating to what people need to be doing in their lead up to their first triathlon. Every once and a while however I get one that requires a little more thought.

Today's post is a summary of what I recently wrote in reply to the question "I'm heading to France to do my first open water race, do you have any advice?". The type of racing and personal experiences that I'm referring to are all at the Elite end of the racing spectrum, but still, open water racing is a new and emerging form of swimming that can be great fun for everyone and take you to some pretty cool parts of the world. It's great fun and while for most people I'd recommend to just train hard then head out and have fun, the post below gives a little insight into the Elite side of the sport and reading back through it was even interesting for me to see how the racing I've done has made me think, both about open water racing and maybe the areas in it in which I have struggled, reflection is always a healthy thing in moderation.


Racing open water could not be more different from pool swimming.

You can't head in expecting it to be like doing a normal race in the pool. The races are long, veeery long, and the pain will be different, it wont be the same burn you get in pool swimming but for me at least it translates to aching both in my shoulders, back and of course legs. Legs as for a lot of 5km and 10km races your legs are not doing "as" much as they would be in the pool, so can and will get cold.

The best open water swimmers are able to fight when they need to fight, but not get distracted by it, they are able to find clear water and take their opportunities, if a gap in the pack opens up they push, move to the front and begin to increase the pace. However, they are also able to draft without getting kicked in the face every 2 seconds and are able to hold their lines without always swimming into people.

The fighting can really get to you, so expect it, especially from the French, those boys LOVE to fight. In some open water races I've done down there, like one of the french cup races last summer, I was being beat on from the start all the way through the 5km. It was tough, but they were all better at handling the abuse than I was and it got to me more than the other guys. It's nothing personal, its just racing.

You have to be able to sight and sight efficiently. If lifting your head out of the water to see where your going (often you will be in a wavy situation so waves can block your view) tires you out, or makes you uncomfortable, then it will be bad for your performance, so learn to sight well and comfortably, it should become a regular drill you do in sessions both pool and open water if this is something you want to keep doing. It's super easy to get used to, but at the start it can take some time, and often in races you can end up spending most of your time sighting, especially if you get nervous or start to panic about where you are in the group or if you start losing the feet. You just need to stay calm at all times as too much sighting will slow you down.

As races go on and you get tired, groups start to spread out, you start to get cold etc and you will get sore. If it's wavy your stroke will have had to change to adapt to this, often you "grab" for the water and because of the waves nothing is there, and then the next stroke you hit the water early as the wave is coming up. Along with lots of sighting and maybe fighting, you can be hurting in new ways. It's at this stage that its so important to just relaxl, stay on the feet (or find clear water at the front), and really focus on swimming efficiently. The best open water guys can stay out of the fighting, stay out of all the crap that goes on it a group, keep their form, stay efficient and really start to push towards the final 1km.

My problem is usually I am at the front over the first few km's then I get caught up a little too much in the group and take any fighting personally. So I get stuck in and lose energy in the process. If you get caught in the middle and are getting swam over I'd try and drift to one side and swim around the outside to the front again.

You have to learn to be aggressive but also clean and efficient in cold, wavy, aggressive and super long swim races. They are great fun but also tests of endurance (on a scale you wont have experienced in the pool), focus and determination. The athletes who want it most will win, its unlike the pool, you could be the best technical swimmer out there but if you let yourself get carried away you'll run out of energy before the end. 5km is a long way to go, 10km is even longer, so remember that and if in doubt, just hang on at the back, stay out of trouble and get yourself in a good position before the final speeds up quick at the end, so don't miss the move.

All those things though I had to learn the hard way, often in foreign countries surrounded by athletes I'd never met before, with no coach or trainer there to give me advice with everyone speaking French and shouting things at each other...then once the race started I'd get picked on and just had to stick taught me lots of things about both racing and myself. So my best advice would be have fun, don't take yourself, the other athletes or the racing too seriously and try and come away learning as many lessons as possible.

Remember, the race WILL end eventually, even though it seems like its going on for ages, and once its done you will feel 1,000,000 times better, so push like hell until then, it's worth it.

Monday, 21 March 2011

My first day

Today in the gym as I was cooling down (lying on the floor...) my thoughts went back a few years, 14 in fact, to the day I went from a kid attending swimming "lessons" to a kid going to swim training.

At the time it was a big jump. I had always been terrified of competitions, this in fact didn't change for quite a few years, so the thought of starting to race was a bit scary. In fact when the coach asked me after the Saturday morning "widths" swim lesson group if I wanted to make the jump up to competition "lengths" training I said no ... it was only after I had showered and changed that my mum encouraged me to change my mind. As I went to find the coach he was driving out of the parking lot and I had to (this remains a vivid memory) run after his car and hit my hand against the rear window to get his attention.

In hindsight risking my little life in order to tell my coach I had changed my mind might not have been the best idea, but as most 8 year olds I still didn't understand the concept of waiting another 3 days to tell him at the next swimming lesson ... or the idea of phonecalls.

Anyway ... after telling him I now wanted to be a swimmer I made my way home for breakfast, chest puffed out.

Later that morning in a conversation I regard as being completely fair and one a Dad was entitled to have with his son, my dad very kindly and discreetly reminded me that now that I was going to become a "swimmer" maybe I should lay off the cake a bit (I was in fact quite the chubby child). This might seem a bit mean but he was right, if I wanted to become a swimmer I couldn't be chowing down on cookies and chocolate all the time - I had to become an athlete.

The concept of training was still completely unknown to me so I went outside and ran around the garden. Twice. Now our garden isn't tiny but it also isn't huge, I'm talking 200m around at most. So there I was, 400m into my training, standing in front of the mirror inspecting my stomach - as if to be suddenly noticing the instant appearance of a 6 pack.

Little did I know it would take a further 13 years before that 6 pack would fully emerge, but there I was, hoping to see results.

Of course I didn't so that afternoon I convinced my dad to take me on yet another regular weekend swimming pool trip. There I stood in the reception of the Westhill swimming pool marvelling at all the swim accessories on the wall, swim accessories that "real" swimmers wore. And since "real" swimmers were lean and muscley I of course presumed that by buying some of them I too would become lean and muscley. So there I went, into the changing rooms, armed with my brand new pair of goggles and ... wait for it ... a nose clip. I still to this day don't know why I associated the nose clip with swimming prowess but there you have it.

Unfortunately neither the 500m I swam that day nor the nose clip seemed to make too much of a difference, and I guess therein started my since lifelong journey into the discovery of training and the human body.

It is funny to look back at myself as an 8 year old and to think of how little I knew back then, both about training and myself, but then I also can laugh reminding myself of how little I still know about myself, 14 years later.

The lesson I learned that day at the pool was that things take time. No matter how much you want it nothing will come after a few laps around the garden or a few hundred meters in the fun pool. More importantly I learned that no matter what you buy ... even if it is a nose clip, nothing can replace hard work and personal sacrifice. You have to be the one out there training, the nose clip's not going to do it for you.


Sunday, 6 March 2011

Race 1 - done.

First outing of the year today in Canada with the Bazan Bay 5km run on Vancouver Island.

Went really well, the field was and always seems to be super strong at this race and putting myself up against top runners is the best way to gauge improvement and ensure I keep getting faster. It's been a month now since I started working with my new run coach and I've been working hard on the track and in workouts across the board, so though 4 weeks is nothing in athlete terms it is still exciting to head out and run fast this early into the season. I crossed the line in 16.33 and even went through the 3km 10 seconds faster than my previous 3km PB I set last year, I started strong and though my pace fell off after the first few km's I was still running faster than ever before. The last km was tough but I held on to finish as the last male not to be chicked by ITU superstar Paula Findlay, that is a victory right there - she is quick.

I'm over in Victoria now for 2 weeks to get in some focussed heavy training before my family arrives for a visit on the 19th from Scotland. Next race is another 5km in 3 weeks time, can't wait.

Firmly back into the swing of things,


ps. Some pictures below taken by superstar photographer and girlfriend Nicole Akeroyd

Getting ready
My Akeroyd family support crew
Practicing their cheers
Possibly the coolest person to ever spectate a 5km
Pre race
Start line

Monday, 28 February 2011


It is very VERY difficult to do multiple things at the highest level.

To be truly great at anything requires 100% complete attention. Usually this is at the behest of other responsibilities or commitments. It has become clear to me however that training at full intensity means the downfall of one of my most important and serious activities ... BLOGGING.

Blogging over the past 3 years for me has often been a crutch when I am juggling too many things or not at full steam in training for whatever reason. It can be a great method to vent or even just pull yourself up a bit with some positive writing. In 2008 and 2009 I was just starting in the sport and in hindsight really didn't know where I was going or what I was doing. In 2010 I had a crazy amount of work to juggle with my final year of university and though I was doing my utmost to train at 100% it just didn't happen, more often than not (always the right call) my studies took the place of key sessions. The base load sessions were there just the high level intensity stuff was missed.

Looking at my blogging past therefore you can see the peak in the winter of 2009 and spring of 2010, highlighting the time of most distraction. I am not saying those who blog more are more distracted, just in my own case it seems as if the more I blog the more I am trying to convince myself of things I am doing that maybe I am missing out on. An online crutch.

Well ... seeing as this is my 3rd blog post of 2011 (a 78% reduction on posts from this time last year) I guess I have been busy - and I have! I am well and truly into the "train to race" part of the winter with all the base miles put away and intensity focus starting to shift into my weekly routine.

I am working with a new run coach here in Vancouver who has taken full control of my run training, Jerry Ziak, the hugely accomplished elite runner, coach and awesome dude.

My first race of the year is next Sunday with a 5km road running race. Looks like most of the Canadian National Triathlon team guys will be racing and though I have no likely chances of being up with them (those of which who run low 15 minute 5kms) but the plan is to run hard and try and I'll be looking for a good time.

This year being full time I genuinely plan to run fast, which in comparison to years past wont be too hard of a bar to hurdle but I am giving it 110. And a big thank you to those who told me to just get my act together and get a serious run program together. Its made a huge difference...but we'll wait and see how that pans out in racing.

Triathlon #1 of the year is in 48 days and I am itching to get going.

Who really wants to read about me though, here are some pictures from this past weekend in Tofino (for my birthday) .... such a nice place: