They think it’s all over…

Regular readers of this blog will know that, for a fair few months now, my hip has been “playing me up”.

Not my right – metal – hip.

No – that one is soldiering on quite nicely.

My left – fully biological – hip.. that’s the one giving me problems.

Regular readers of this blog will also know that the reasons for the issues with my left hip go all the way back to childhood… and they’ll know that, around 11 years ago, I was informed that, like my right one, it would need to be replaced at some point.

When I was given that news, it was pretty upsetting to say the least – I was full of hope regarding how successful my right hip replacement was turning out to be so “bad news” was not on the agenda… but I resolved to put it to the back of my mind… I wasn’t experiencing any pain or mobility issues so there didn’t seem to be any point worrying about it.

I continued “not experiencing any pain or mobility issues” until earlier this year when, all of a sudden, I became aware of it.

A couple of excruciating runs and a few sleepless nights later, and I was conceding that, finally, the time has come when my left hip was giving up on me.

Which was a shame.

To say the least.

Trying to delay the inevitable, and with one eye firmly on being able to take part in Ironman Hamburg at the end of this month, I started seeing a sports physiotherapist and, honestly, he seems to have been helping.

My 5km runs have been improving and, until a couple of weeks ago, I had been hopeful of returning to the kind of pace I used to be able to maintain without any trouble.

And then – almost two weeks ago, now, with Ironman Hamburg looming up the road, I decided to go out on another run.

A hugely positive first 2 miles bled into a hugely painful final 1.5 miles… and I was in tear inducing agony which lasted for days.

My heart was asking big questions about my ability to complete Ironman Hamburg at the end of this month and my head told me that the only way I could even think of doing so would be to completely revisit my strategy for the run part.

Out of the window went any dreams of “running” the whole 26.2 miles.

In through the front door came the notion of “run/walking” it.

I resolved to try said “run/walk” strategy (running 4 minutes, walking 1, running 4 minutes, walking 1 etc etc etc) over a 10km route just to see how that felt.

I chose last weekend to make the attempt – a full 8 days after the previous, disastrous, run… I wanted my hip to be as fresh as it realistically could be.

But as the day of the attempt approached, I could just feel that it was hopeless.

Even walking without a limp is becoming increasingly difficult and I only ever feel just around the corner from being in pain. I don’t fancy my chances of walking 26 miles… let alone covering the distance any other way.

It’s all very difficult to accept.

With that in mind, the notion of attempting that 10km “run/walk” all seemed a little moot – I already knew the outcome (I could feel it, quite literally, in my bones!) – and the risk was that, by doing it at all, I’d just damage myself even further.

And for what?

Nothing really.

A sad moment of realisation followed and, in a flash, Ironman Hamburg was over before I had even reached the start line.

Yes – as bitterly disappointing as it is – I’ve decided that Ironman Hamburg is not going to happen… it would break me… and I do mean “break”… and who knows how long it would take, or what lengths I’d need to go to, in order to be repaired… and that’s if “being repaired” was even an option – it might not be.

It’s doubly disappointing because my 2019 entry was already a deferral from 2018, when severe motivation issues, rather than physical obstacles, got in the way.

I now find myself regretting my decision to defer last year when my hip could have made it ’round.

I’m gutted.

There’s no other word for it.

Of course, the people who know this decision already have reassured me that it’s the right thing to do.

Lisa has, I feel, breathed a sigh of relief; she was supportive of me going to Hamburg, of course, but she also has my best interests at heart and deciding against lining up on the start line is definitely in my best interests!

She knows that.

I know that.

I daresay that even you know that.

So a hip has scuppered me once again… just as my right one did in my teens (when I was told I might not walk again) and in my early thirties (when, again, I was told that I would need a wheelchair fairly imminently).

I’m going to go away, now, and get on the “pathway” towards the hip replacement I know I need.

That might not happen for a year or two, which is fine – as it stands, I can still swim, cycle and, most importantly, live without any serious issues – it’s only running that I need to stop right now.

My experience with my right hip replacement tells me how amazing I’ll feel again once I’ve had the operation… and that’s something to look forward to! Goodness, the one metal hip I do have managed to get me around Ironman Sweden, after all.

But, since the topic of this blog-site is really pointing straight at my taking part in an Ironman, the deletion from the calendar of the Hamburg event really also means the end of this blog, I guess.

A heartfelt thank you to those who have read it over the months and years – I write it for my own enjoyment… but to know that others read it and take something from my words really has been very special.

And as the most famous two sentences in English commentary go:

“They think it’s all over….

It is now!”

(Except it’s not, really – Lisa has notionally given her blessing for me to do an Ironman once I have two fit and health metal hips…. and, at the same time, I may even resurrect this blog… so this is less of a “goodbye” and more of a “see you later”)

 

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Last chance saloon

Friday was the day of the summer solstice sunrise swim at the marine lake where I do pretty much all of my Open Water swimming.

Now – sunrise on the longest day of the year, by definition, takes place quite early in the morning.

Around 4:50am to be precise.

To be at said lake, ready to get into the water a few minutes before the sunrise, then, meant a particularly early start.

For me, being that I just have to be nice and early wherever I go (frustratingly so, from my family’s perspective), I had an alarm set for 3:15am.

Oof!

3:15am is dangerously close to being a late night from the day before… rather than an early morning on the day in question!

I did my level best to bounce out of bed and have my breakfast but I didn’t really wake up until I was on my bike (Yes… I did, of course, cycle the 6 miles to the lake!).

Predictably, I was the first to arrive… but only by a minute or two. Others started to drift along and the chat was great.

My swim buddy (with whom I did the same event last year), Rob, arrived a few minutes after me and, within a few more minutes, we were ready to go.

The skies were looking stunning as the sun started to peek out over the horizon.

We were in for a real treat.

In all, I’d say between 30 and 40 people took part… some (like Rob and me) were wet-suited.. some were not.

Wading into the water was a bit of a roller-coaster for the senses.

Initially, it felt cold… really cold… but just as soon as I was properly “in”, I realised that, actually, it was pretty warm!

I tried to reassure a couple of “skins swimmers” who were getting in straight after me that it was a lovely temperature but the noises they made as they finally took the plunge seemed to imply that they were finding it a little on the nippy side!

Being that, for me anyway, it felt genuinely warm, I had none of the issues I tend to get in cold water – namely the huge aversion to breathing!

Nope – I was able to get straight into my stroke without delay.

Rob did likewise.

We (that is: Rob and I) proceeded to swim side by side for a mile (give or take a few metres).

To be honest, that in itself was a bit of a surprise; Rob has always tended to be quicker than me… so I wasn’t expecting to keep up with him.

But I did.

And so that became the first “real” gauge that I have for how my swimming has improved of late.

Rob even kindly acknowledged as much whilst we were getting dressed by the side of the lake.

But to talk about pace would be to miss the point.

The setting for the swim was a visual feast… better than words can convey so I’ll let pictures (and even a video) do the talking:

The day had started brilliantly and it wasn’t even 5:30 in the morning!

My mindset as I cycled home was just about as positive as it could be.

Feeling inspired; I wanted to go for a run (yes – I actually WANTED to) and, at the first realistic opportunity I had, later that day, I did.

My legs were feeling amazing and I’ve been sensing that I’ve turned a bit of a corner with my left hip issues.

It’s not been hurting as much and walking without a limp has been far easier.

Against that backdrop, I felt sure that I was going to have a good run.

And, on paper, it WAS a good run!

Not “good” by comparison to runs I was doing “pre left hip pain” but those days are gone so I have had to reset the parameters a little.

I did 3.5 miles and, as I say, the stopwatch time would tell anyone snooping through my Strava stats that it was probably my best run this year!!!

But.

It wasn’t, really.

It was probably my worst.

I felt very strong for the first two miles and, actually, there were even stints when my pace was every bit as good as it “used to be”!

I had a huge grin on my face.

The grin started to become a grimace for the final mile, I would say.

My left hip was hurting.

Really hurting.

It was even making a bit of noise… popping and clicking… which was not especially welcome.

I slumped down on a chair when it was over.

In agony.

So, despite the “scores on the doors”, it wasn’t a particularly happy “Phil” who sat with a glass of wine later that night, reflecting on the run.

In fact – it was a decidedly unhappy “Phil”.

I was in a lot of pain all evening – just sitting still was taking my breath away – so much so that I even medicated (and people who know me well will know how rare that is!).

I was almost in tears, it was that bad (although that was probably down to a combination of pain and disappointment).

Not good.

The pain still hasn’t gone, four days on, which is clearly worrying.

I’ve tried cycling and swimming – both of which I can just about do … but walking is a sufficiently big challenge that, on Saturday,  I even had to abort a trip to the supermarket and return to the car to “take the weight off”.

On Friday night, shortly after the run itself, Lisa understandably gave me a pep talk about the Ironman.

Buried within the obvious things she was saying (“You’ve got nothing to prove”, “If you feel like this after 3.5 miles, imagine how you’ll feel after 26.2”, “why are you doing this to yourself?” etc etc) was something that hadn’t occurred to me.

She asked me how I’d feel if I did so much damage to myself IN the Ironman that cycling and swimming AFTER the Ironman became impossible.

That hit home.

When my right hip was at its worst (which lasted for a good few years), I couldn’t even get on a bike, let alone ride one.

What’s to say that I don’t find myself in the same boat as a result of being daft in Hamburg?

That hadn’t occurred to me, to be honest.

I’d be okay with this Ironman being my last ever run but how could one day in Germany possibly be worth risking my love of cycling and swimming?

It probably sounds, to you, like I’m about to announce a decision to pull out of Hamburg, I guess…

And I probably should be doing just that.

But I’m not.

Not yet, anyway.

I have one final strategy to try.

And it revolves around a total change in my approach to “running”.

Rather than trying to return to the days when I could run without pain, which is what I’ve been hoping for, I need to accept that they’re gone and my only chance on the day of the Ironman will be to adopt a “do what needs to be done… and no more” approach.

With that in mind, I’m no longer thinking in terms of a marathon of 8 minute miles… or even 9,10 or 11 minute miles.

In the hope that the pain issue is caused by pace, my next run will be deliberately slower.

I’m also going to adopt a 4:1 run/walk strategy (4 minutes running, 1 minute walking) – it’s what I now intend to do in Hamburg so I’ll prepare for that.

Whilst slower, though, I’ll probably make my next run longer than my norm – I need to understand how my hip responds to distance and my regular 5km just wont cut it.

This is “last chance saloon” stuff – make no mistake.

If, when adopting my new strategy, my hip gives me the kind of pain it gave me during/after Friday’s run, regardless of what my pace/strategy is, then the decision re Hamburg will be made for me.

If, on the other hand, I can get through pain-free then I’ll feel like I’ve struck gold… and Hamburg will very much be in my sights.

Let’s hope for the latter!

I do find a huge positive in the fact that my right hip (the metal one – the one which is meant to hurt when I run) doesn’t give me any pain at all!

And that’s a positive way to end this blog so I will!

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Rain, wind and the unmentionables…

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged.

I try so hard to make sure that I never blog for the sake of blogging but, since my last post, I have nearly fallen into that trap twice.

I had one idea for a blog all about getting back into using my clip-on TT bars (titled “TT or not TT”) and another all about an Iron-Distance lake swim I did (titled “Swimming in the rain”).

Truth be told, though, both of them would have been so full of “padding” that neither really warranted a blog in their own right.

But, on Saturday, inspiration for a more substantial blog came along.

My regular cycling buddy, Russ, suggested another 200km ride – how could I resist?

The route was to take in a combination of roads rarely traveled, as well as those which seem to form part of almost every long ride I do – and I found that appealing; a mix between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

As always, you can choose not to read the blog and just watch the video, below… but, and without wanting to give you any spoilers, just like “the book is often better than the film”, I daresay that the blog includes bits that the video will not! (Make of that what you will!!)

The weather forecast for Saturday was for a typical British summer’s day.

Rain.

And wind.

Never forget the wind!

I’m not particularly superstitious but I did get all of my wet weather clothes on in the hope that doing so would invoke some kind of “sod’s law” i.e that my having prepared for the worst would have led to the sun putting in a miraculous appearance, just to spite me.

Russ and I were in no rush to set off “early-doors” so we rolled off up the road at 8am.

The first part of the route was dispatched with relative ease as we pushed on towards, firstly, Bristol, and, subsequently, Bath – by way of the Bristol to Bath cycle path… one of the better examples of cycling infrastructure in our area of the country.

I really like the cycle-path part of the route – it was once a railway line so it’s broadly flat and, on a few occasions, you go through what would once have been railway tunnels – one of which is the biggest part of a mile long, I believe!

It’s also, crucially, a “zero motor traffic” stint meaning that you can simply enjoy the process of riding along, chatting and taking in the scenery – rather than worrying about whether the next motorist to overtake you will choose to flatten you rather than give you a wide-birth.

At about mile 25, I guess, the cycle-path was replaced by roads as our general direction of travel turned from “east” to “south”.

The route became fairly hilly for this part, too.

On paper, with just over 4,000 feet of climbing in 125 miles, Saturday’s route was hardly what you could call a “hilly”… BUT… the majority of that climbing comes between mile 25 and 45 so, as soon as we hit mile 25, the next 20 miles felt like one long, continuous, hill.

By now the rain we had been expecting had also started so we were being treated to that lovely feeling you get when you just know that you are being “hardcore”! (silver linings and all that!)

Onwards we went – taking in the village (Kilmersdon) which claims to be the “home” of nursery rhyme legends; Jack and Jill.

And yes, you guessed it, you just know that the home of Jack and Jill is going to have a hill!

Well what else would Jack have fallen down and broken his crown on – only for Jill to come tumbling after?

The hill in question was not especially steep although it is a bit of a drag… but we were within the first 45 miles of the day so, as much as I mumbled and grumbled my way up it (as well as a few of the other long drags we seemed to be encountering) it was all just “bluster” really – my legs were doing fine.

Once that 20 mile stint of climbing had been completed, we had the glorious Cheddar Gorge to descend through and, from the bottom of the Gorge, it was a relatively short hop (10 miles or so) to our lunch stop for the day at Glastonbury.

It feels like all of my cycling lunch stops are at Glastonbury (probably because they pretty much are!) but Russ and I sat down at our “regular” cafe for our “usual” platter of paninis, cakes, tea and Coca-Cola (full fat, obviously!)

(And before you pick me up on the use of the word “paninis” in that last paragraph – I know that, technically, “panini” IS the plural and “paninis” makes no sense but just accept that we have Anglicised the word so my “s” at the end stands – so there!)

The weather was treating us kindly – far more kindly than expected. The rain we’d encountered earlier in the day had lasted no more than 25 minutes so my strategy of dressing for wet weather in the hope of getting it wrong was working!

The next 25 miles can be best described as “a tad windy”.

There were times when it felt like a real slog.

And for the rest of the time, it felt a bit harder than a slog!

But one thing I really noticed (and which the previously mentioned, but never published, blog; “TT or not TT” would have been about) is just how much quicker I was when I was down on my TT bars.

I guess I’d forgotten over the winter months (when I take them off the bike) just how much faster you go using TT bars, in return for what seems to be no extra effort from the legs.

Into that headwind, every time I dropped onto the TT bars, I noticeably edged away from Russ who confirmed that he was having to work much harder whenever he saw me “tuck”.

My back doesn’t feel sufficiently comfortable to hold the position for more than a handful of miles at a time but, with an eye on Ironman Hamburg, it’s very reassuring that the TT bars release a bit of “free” speed whenever I use them.

The only issue I could see was that, as the miles clicked by, adopting the tuck position became progressively less comfortable on my… err… delicate area… but I think a small tweak to the saddle position will sort that.

Over the last 20 miles of the ride, when our direction of travel changed broadly towards home, we were treated to a bit of a tailwind and, all of a sudden, life felt a little easier again – I still took the chance to use those TT bars (deciding that the fun of speed was worth the ever increasing pain in my “unmentionables”) and, true to form, every time I did, my forward progress became just that little bit faster.

A final cup of tea stop with 15 miles to go – just for kicks – and the ride was pretty much done.

Russ and I had, seemingly effortlessly, got ourselves ’round the 200km without any drama (and, to be fair, I’d expect nothing less from Russ being that, a couple of weeks ago, he got ’round a 600km route.. yes… 600km!!)

Sure, there were times when both of us went through the motions of talking about achy legs but, truth be told, I don’t think either of us were particularly tired at the end.

In fact, I was so “not tired” that, as I walked through the back door, I decided that I just NEEDED to go out on a run (as you do) – just to see how the legs responded to being asked to ride 125 miles and then run up the road – after all, I’ll be asking them that same question in Hamburg!

It was never going to be a long run –  just over a mile – but, as anyone who has done a Triathlon will know, the first mile of the run is the one where the legs protest the most so I figured that I didn’t need to run far for the experiment to be worthwhile.

I, of course, have the extra concern re my left hip but, honestly, the run felt nicer than any other run I have done recently – and all of those have been done on supposedly fresh legs.

The fact that running seems easier after a long ride than it does on fresh legs bodes well for Ironman Hamburg, next month (yes; NEXT MONTH… eeek!)

So, in Ironman terms, I am actually feeling pretty good – I’ve comfortably managed an Iron-distance bike ride followed by a run and, as alluded to earlier in this blog, I have also got a full iron-distance lake swim (3.8km in the rain) under my belt –  I did that just to make sure that my confidence in my ability to swim that distance without getting tired is well founded.

It’s not all roses, though, my left hip still gives me serious doubts regarding its ability to cover a marathon run. My one mile, post-bike, effort was a confidence builder, certainly… but it wasn’t 26.2 miles… that’s for sure.

I keep trying to work out when to decide whether Ironman Hamburg is a realistic goal or whether it would be detrimental to my health to do it… and I keep reaching the conclusion that I just don’t want to decide yet… I reckon I might end up deciding the day I’m meant to set off for Hamburg.

That sounds like a plan!

 

 

 

 

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The future’s bright

On the one hand, the blog you’re about to read doesn’t really fit the brief of this blog-site as a whole – being that it’s not about my Ironman “training”.

But, at the same time, the blog you’re about to read does deal with the fact that getting on a bike doesn’t have to be about “training” and that cycling is as diverse an activity as any I know.

And, whilst I “bang that drum” fairly frequently, a Twitter buddy, Kristy, reminded me that this blog was worth posting.

So here goes!

A week ago was the day of the inaugural “City of Bristol Gymnastics Centre” bike ride.

As many of you will know, my oldest lad, Angus, is a gymnast (as is my youngest, Evert, for that matter) and his coach suggested to me that, on their rest day (Saturday), it would be a nice idea to get the boys together on one of the many cycle-paths around the area and go for a social ride.

And hey – if someone is asking me to organise a bike ride then I’m all over that like an ill-fitting suit!

The uptake was good and included the whole of Angus’ squad (plus Dads… but not Mums, curiously, which was a shame since it gave the day an “only boys were allowed” feel. It also meant that Lisa didn’t really want to join as would have been my preference).

Even a couple of siblings wanted in on the action.

I chose the most local cycle path to me – largely because I know it so well having done many a family bike ride on it… and, furthermore, I know that there are cafés situated at both ends of the “there and back” ride I had planned.

I wasn’t going to force us all to ride some ridiculous distance… it’s all too easy for me to think that, just because the boys are comfortable on their bikes for a couple of hours and more then that must mean that everyone will be… no – I decided that this first outing should just be about “testing the water” with a 5 miles out/5 miles back route.

10 miles.

That’s reasonable for a bunch of kids and Dads who ride bikes far less frequently than “Family-Collard”.

That said, I find myself typing the phrase; “since the bike ride started fairly close to home, we decided to ride to the start” fairly frequently in these blogs… and, for me, Angus and Evert, last Saturday was no exception.

I said to the boys that, since the cycle path starts only a little over 5 miles (of country lanes) from our home, it would seem mad to get to the start any way other than just riding it!

The extra mileage would take our day up to 20 miles, so the boys jumped at that chance.

That did leave us with a bit of a quandary, though – we were lending out a few of our bikes to other participants in the ride and, with us cycling to the start, we did find ourselves wondering how to get the rest of them to their borrowers for the day.

Enter “Super-Lisa”!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No… it’s my wife!

Once again, I find myself thanking Lisa for swooping in with her support and, last Saturday, she once again stepped up to the plate by driving her car (complete with the three bikes we were lending out) to the start.

The ride itself was nothing short of brilliant.

The weather had apparently decided to ignore the forecast for cloud and, instead, treated us to full sun for the whole journey.

The boys were having a great time – they spend 18 tough training hours together every week so, actually, they see each-other as closer friends than they have even at school.

And, whilst Evert isn’t in that same squad, he does train at the same gymnastics centre so, again, he knows them all well enough to just fit straight in.

Even the siblings who were coming at the ride without such tight bonds with the rest were being included as if they were part of the one big happy family.

As for the Dads, we were busy chatting away the whole time… as you can probably imagine!

The pace was, by design, leisurely and the location of the halfway stop was a café of a disused railway station – where an old steam train still sits – which means we could eat the snacks on offer whilst sitting in an old railway carriage or, as was the case for us, the open-air (cleaned out) coal truck repurposed by virtue of a set of garden furniture sitting where the pile of coal once would have!

A few of the group started making suggestions to ride a few more miles before turning around to head back but I put up a barrier to that, if I’m being honest.

I didn’t want the ride to be about distance – I wanted it to be about fun.

I sensed that, asking some of the boys to ride a bit further would place us all in danger of it starting to feel like a chore as we came to the end.

I wanted to finish with everyone wanting more… I figured that that would give us the best chance of people having fond memories of the day.

The ride back was no less fun.

“Super-Lisa” (who’d obviously gone off for a couple of hours doing her own thing before come back in time for our arrival – to take the loaned bikes back home) lived up to her name once again by bringing a selection of ice-lollies for everyone to have as an “end of ride” treat.

As everyone went their separate ways, Angus, Evert and I rode those last 5 miles home and that was that… the end of the ride.

You know, sometimes, a day feels about as good as it could be?

That was last Saturday.

Everyone, without exception, enjoyed themselves and since that was the primary goal (as should always be the case), the inaugural “City of Bristol Gymnastics bike ride” was a success to be repeated.

From a pure “cycling” point of view, it was a huge success, too – seeing a bunch of kids loving the process of riding a bike really gave me hope that the future of cycling for the next generation is bright.

Here are a few pics from the day (and even a video!):

And, if we’re trying to extract some kind of tenuous link to Ironman training, for the sake of making this post relevant to the blog-site as a whole, I think I’ve found one.

Whilst we only covered 20-odd miles, we were riding for around 2 and a half hours… and something struck me as we were nearing the end.

It doesn’t really matter too much “how far” we’d ridden… what matters is that I was pretty much continually turning my legs over, and sitting on a bike, for 2 and a half hours…. and that, surely, must confer at least some training benefit.

I’m clutching at straws, a little, I know – but I don’t care… I’m claiming it!

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Gert Lush

Sunday was the day of the inaugural “Gert Lush” sportive bike ride.

In case you’re not familiar with the phrase; “Gert Lush”, I’ll start by saying that it is a local phrase which roughly translates as “Really great”.

With that translation in mind, the “Gert Lush” sportive could not have been more aptly named… read on or, as always, watch the video below (or both.. your choice!)

Since the ride started only a handful of miles from home, I, along with my riding buddies for the day, Gary and Nick, decided to ride along to the start… you know… as you do!

It was a sportive with a difference (which is good because I tend not to be a fan of “regular” sportive bike rides).

Sunday was for vintage bikes… and vintage clothes to match.

By “vintage”, the organisers had wisely refused to alienate too many people by stipulating that your equipment needed to be a certain age but, in reality, most of the bikes taking part were at least 25/30 years – with some being significantly older.

There were some lovely machines out for the day – it really was a visual feast as we readied ourselves for the start.

It was my opportunity to wear my “La Vie Claire” cycling jersey – pic below.

But, far more importantly, it was my opportunity, at last, to take Carmen the Electra for the long ride I have wanted to do on her since I bought her.

I’ll not make this blog a “back-story of Carmen” though… I have already done that and if you want to know more, you can click here . But here’s a pic to whet your appetite.

Up until Sunday, I think that the furthest I had ridden Carmen was around 25 miles and, more importantly, I think I can count on two hands how many times I’ve taken her out of the garage.

Suffice to say that she is a bit “molly-coddled”.

The sportive on Sunday, though, saw me asking her to get ’round a 65 mile route, including some hills… PLUS Gary, Nick and I always had it in the backs of our mind to chuck on some extra mileage (including the ride “to and fro”) to round that up to a nice 100 miles for the day.

The weather was glorious and spirits were high as we rolled out of the official “ride start” along with a few others… there was no firm “grande depart” – it was left to us to decide when we set off, within reason.

The ride was never going to be about speed… it was more akin to a vintage car rally than a sprint around the countryside… Sunday was all about leisure.

Out towards the local hills we went, mainly on country lanes, giving a cheerful wave to everyone we passed en-route.

The bike was performing well and spirits were high.

Being on the retro bike… surrounded by other people on retro bikes, just made the day feel a bit more special than a regular “long ride”.

There was one “mini-drama” which occured as I reached the bottom of a long descent; The brakes on Gary’s bike are marginally “less functional”, shall we say, than he would like them to be so he took the down-hill section a little more steadily than Nick and I… but, whilst we were stopped at the bottom awaiting his arrival, a couple of other chaps informed us that “your mate has punctured near the top”.

We then had a choice – we either take the “good mate” option and head back up the hill to help him.. or we take the “bad mate” option and just wait until he arrives of his own accord.

Nick was a good mate – he headed back up to assist.

I was a “bad mate” and waited at the bottom… it’s not something I’m proud of so don’t give me grief, okay.

While I was waiting, I got chatting to a couple of ride marshals who, co-incidentally, were set up on right on the junction where I found myself. They had gone the “full-monty” in terms of dressing up for the occasion – which was lovely to see.

Gary and Nick reappeared quickly enough, puncture repaired, and we set off for the next hill of the day, Cheddar.

In the true relaxed spirit of the day, we stopped at the bottom for a quick cup of tea before mounting up for the climb up through the Gorge itself.

My bike is the genuine article – it hasn’t been “softened” over the years to make it more like my modern bikes… in short; I mean that it is still running authentic 1980s gearing which, by today’s standards, is not really something you would call “hill-friendly”.

Specifically, for you technically-minded people, the smallest ring on the front is a 39 tooth and the largest cog on the back is a 19 tooth.

That gearing makes hills feels a little steeper than they do on my modern equivalents although, mercifully, despite its inclusion in the list of 100 best climbs in the UK, only the first few bends of the Cheddar Gorge climb (with one in particular) are anything approaching “steep”… after those, the hill just becomes a very pleasant “leg spin”.

My Peugeot took me through the steeper bit very respectably before settling into a nice rhythm for the rest.

The official “ride lunch stop” followed just a handful of miles later and, again, we were treated to a very “period” atmosphere whilst we munched on the sandwiches on offer.

From there, we just had a flat 20 miles to go before the end… and being that they were on roads/cycle paths that I’m very familiar with, those miles were dispatched with relative ease.

As we rolled over the finish line, and straight into a vintage jamboree (complete with live music, drinks, food, fun and frolics), our thoughts turned towards whether we were going to tag on another 30 miles (to reach 100 for the day) or settle for another 10-ish… just to get us all home, via a pre-planned stop in a nearby country pub.

Motivation was high and all three of us agreed that the century was on the cards.

Butt…

(And I mean “butt” rather than “but”)

Those saddles!

Those vintage saddles.

Let’s just say that they had EITHER lost their comfort over the years OR they were never comfortable in the first place.

My personal discomfort was growing by the mile but Gary’s was far worse.

He (and Nick) decided enough was enough… they decided that the century was not something they wanted enough… they decided to head to the pub.

That left me with a decision; put up with the growing saddle-related pain or peel off with them.

I quickly calculated that, if I went with them, I’d finish the ride at 85 miles.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Not on Carmen.

I’ll rarely get anywhere near a century on her and stopping that close was simply unacceptable!

So I pressed on – got an extra 15 miles in – and only then allowed myself to join Gary and Nick with a pint of Coca-Cola, sitting outside the pub in the sun!

The day itself was nothing short of marvelous… and the fact that I cracked 100 miles only added to that.

Gert Lush, indeed – I only hope that the organisers make it an annual thing!

In wider “Ironman” news, the bike ride only served to cement the fact that, in terms of completing the distance at least, even on an old steel bike with a tortuous saddle, I’m in a permanent state of being Iron-fit for the bike-leg.

Similarly, I’ve done another couple of “longer” open-water swims since my last blog; both of which were getting to within half a mile of a full Iron-distance – and neither left me feeling in any way tired.

So, as always, it’s all about the run… and, on that front, I did another 5km yesterday.

What made yesterday’s run a success was that it was broadly pain-free (in terms of my hips) and, all of a sudden, my pace was lower than my previous attempt by 35 seconds per mile!

I’m still some-way short of the pace I was able to effortlessly run only a year ago… but things are going in the right direction there.

And, lastly, just so you know where my commitment is; I’ve booked somewhere to stay in Hamburg.

Til next time!!

 

 

 

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Mine’s a double!

A very pleasant block of training has passed by since my last blog so I thought I’d jot it all down (do we “jot” electronically??) and publish it for your reading pleasure!

You lucky lot!

In cycling terms, last week was a “POTs” week.

“POTs” is a fairly local group who go out every Wednesday for a social ride and, as good as makes no difference, I try to make sure I join them every other week.

The name of the group is clearly an acronym so I’ll get that out of the way now. It stands for “Portishead Old Timers”. (Portishead being the name of the town where most of them live)

But don’t be fooled by the “Old Timers” part of the name- I get the impression that they started as a group of people who, shall we say, had enjoyed a few more birthdays than most… but now it seems to be made up of a far wider demographic.

Besides which – even the more “senior” members are no slouches when they want to be!

The key point to their rides, though, is that they’re all about the “social” element of cycling.

Speedy breakaways are positively frowned upon. (Except for one road in particular where, for some reason, the ride suddenly becomes an eye-balls-out sprint for glory!)

It’s all relative, I know, but from my point of view, these “alternate Wednesday” rides with POTs are best described as “a chatty pootle”… varied in distance (between 35 and 50 miles) but always (and I mean ALWAYS) include a cake stop.

They’re a lovely bunch of people and I’ve always felt most welcome – last Wednesday was no different as we avoided rain, thunder and lightning to log a decent 35 miler with a couple of climbs thrown in for good measure.

To drag the topic of the blog back to “Ironman training”, for a moment, I’d say that my POTs rides are useful… rather than what some might seem “junk miles”; I find myself pedaling steadily, at a low heart rate and with controlled breathing, for fairly prolonged periods when I’m out with that group… and I’m of the firm belief that this is a good thing to have as part of any training pattern.

Experts agree, right?

On to swimming and, as well as my regular pool swims (which will continue), I’ve paid another visit to the local lake to add some distance to my open-water tally for the year.

As is always the case when the water temperature is still struggling to get above 12°c, the process of getting a wet-suit on by the side of the lake was a bit of a mental battle.

On the one shoulder, I had a mini-Phil asking what on Earth I was thinking… being that I was about to hop into water which, he knew, would cause me considerable discomfort.

But on the other shoulder, another mini-Phil couldn’t wait to get wet.

That more positive mini-Phil; he’s the wise mini-Phil.

He knows that, within about two minutes of getting in that lake, I’ll be having a great time.

He also knows that, once I’m out and dried off, I’m going to feel like the proverbial million dollars for the rest of the day and beyond.

On Friday, I listened to the wise mini-Phil.

And, as always, he was right.

As I mentioned in my last blog, my intention at the moment is to keep adding 500 metres to my distance each time I go to the lake so, on Friday, I swam 1,500 metres before I came to a stop.

I considered doing a bit more, actually, such was the fun I was having, but I reminded myself that I had places to be (or, more specifically, a son to pick up from school) and summoned up the motivation to stop.

Now… on to running.

My last blog alluded to feeling broadly ready to test my left hip on the road, having done a couple of confidence-boosting treadmill sessions.

So – on Thursday – I donned my running shoes and headed out.

My hip has good AND “not so good” days – I’d caught it on a good day… so that was a positive.

I also chose to go out straight after a fairly light turbo-trainer bike session, so my muscles had at least some warmth in them…. again, a positive.

If what followed had happened a year or two ago, I would now be writing about an absolutely disastrous run.

I’d be saying that it was 25% slower than my “normal” comfortable pace for the 3 mile route I chose. (And, if I were being really frank, I’d be telling you that I couldn’t have gone any quicker).

I felt sluggish and ungainly so I’d also be including a thinly veiled appeal for sympathy.

I dare say that I’d be groping around for an explanation as to how things could have gone so wrong!

But this blog isn’t being written a year or two ago.

It’s being written now… after doing next to no running for a loooong time… and only a short while after a 15 minute treadmill jog had left me in absolute agony.

So, believe me, for all of its faults, my 3 mile run on Thursday was a raving success… simply because I got to the end.

I ached afterwards, mind.

Goodness; I ached.

And that ache persisted.

I could easily have interpreted that ache as being something new… and a symptom of my ongoing left hip issue.

Something to worry about.

But, in fairness, I’ve always ached for a few days after a run (unless I’ve got on a bike within an hour or so of stopping, just to free the legs off)…. it’s just the way it is.

So I wasn’t reading a huge amount into my aches and pains.

I was still feeling it when I got out of bed on Sunday morning.

But, despite that, I did something that, even at my “running best”, I have never done.

I went out for a second run of the week.

A “double run week”.

Goodness!

I’ve always avoided the temptation to run twice (or more) per week, simply because my right hip means I shouldn’t even really run once, let alone multiple times.

But I’ve got this Ironman in 2 and a half months’ time and I need to get a bit of confidence in the bag. The way I see it is that Ironman Hamburg is highly likely to be my last ever run, for obvious reasons, so I only have to push these boundaries of mine for a couple of more months.

So – needs must – an already achey Phil dragged himself out of the door at just after 5am on Sunday morning.

It should have felt harder than Thursday; I was still carrying those aches, I deliberately didn’t have breakfast before I headed out and I hadn’t done the whole “warm up the muscles on the turbo trainer” thing.

Bizarrely, though, it actually felt easier.

I was conscious that I wasn’t grimacing nearly as much as I had a few days before and, well, it just felt less laboured.

Disappointingly, though, that second run was no faster than the first.

Not that I was expecting to suddenly find pace, mind – I just mean that, since it felt noticeably easier, a small part of me was hoping that I’d be quicker.

As for how my hips felt; I think the best thing I can say is that I felt no worse at the end than I had when I started.

I’m taking that as a win!

Knowing that my legs do seem to benefit from a spin on a bike after a run, I immediately hopped on the turbo-trainer for 20 minutes which did seem to have the desired effect.

I’m still in two minds as to why I’ve gone back to being able to run 3 miles when, not that long ago, I couldn’t break 15 minutes due to hip-pain.

I so want to believe that my hip is improving and that my worst fears (articulated here) are actually not about to be realised.

I desperately want to believe that the sports-physio chap I’ve been seeing is working his magic and that, before too long, I’ll be running happily again.

But, equally, my body could just be developing a tolerance to the pain I’m in (for context; when my right hip reached its very worst condition – weeks away from putting me in a wheelchair – I confounded the doctors by telling them that I felt no pain at all… my only symptom was a physical lack of ability to walk – that was just how far my body had gone to shut the pain out. But, bizarrely, permanent and intense pain rushed in like a flood as soon as I had a date in the diary for my hip-replacement – that’s the power of the mind, right there!).

And if all that’s happening is that my body is doing this whole “pain blocking” thing then, in reality, I’m making no progress at all.

But let’s make a deal – whatever the truth is – can we all agree that I AM making progress and that my hip IS getting better?

Yeah?

Great.

Onward and upwards, then.

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Still hanging in there.

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about how my ability to even get to the start-line of Ironman Hamburg was hanging in the balance (click here) and the brutal truth is that it still is hanging in the balance…. and for the same reason (my left hip, in case you didn’t know).

But, hey, that’s not as bad as it could be, right?

I could be sitting here typing a blog saying that my left hip had progressively got worse and that I’d given up all hope of being a 2 x Ironman.

I’ve now been to see the sports physio chap, mentioned in that previous blog, a few times and, whether or not it’s all in my head, my hip now seems to have more “good days” than it did before… and fewer “bad ones”.

But, and make no bones about it, it’s far from perfect… and I’d only be lying to myself if I said it was.

It still hurts daily and, from time to time, it’ll wake me up in the night.

And if had a pound for every time someone asks me why I’m limping (even when, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t feel any pain at all so assume myself to just be walking normally), I’d be amassing quite a pile of cash.

It’s a real pity because, let’s face it, I have no concerns about my ability to swim or cycle the distances I need to on the day… you could say that I maintain myself in a constant state of being “Iron-fit” in those two disciplines (albeit with the scope to train for more speed, obviously)… so were it not for my concerns over BOTH of my hips (with my current focus on my left hip pain, it’s all too easy to forget about my metal right one!), I’ve no doubt I could get “Iron-fit” for the run, too.

It’s intensely frustrating that I can’t just go out there and put in the running miles without a second thought about the damage I’d be doing or the pain I would be facing.

It’s tempting to focus on the negatives, here… and fall into a “why me?” mentality.

But… and it’s a big but….

A week or two ago I decided that I basically had two options.

Option one was to be focussed on the uncertainty I have about the Ironman and to dwell on the “why me?” concerns around my hips.

Option two was to just press on with what I CAN do, in terms of Ironman training.

I figured that “option two” was more constructive and so, on returning from a mini break with the family in Scotland, and with a little over three months to go before Hamburg, I considered what I needed to do.

Number one on that list was to get back to open-water swimming (but not at the expense of my longer pool swim sessions, obviously, which I’ll continue to do).

Number two was to attempt some running just to see what happened.

Number three, of course, was to keep cycling.

So let’s begin with open-water swimming.

The water temperature in the marine lake which is conveniently close to my home, at around 12°c, may still be on the nippy side for a bit of a wimp like me, but I couldn’t hold off on getting the practice in any longer.

I set a very modest target for my first dip; get in, swim 500 metres in whatever fashion I could (even if that meant keeping my face dry because of the temperature) and get back out.

The target was just focussed around reintroducing my body to colder water, having become somewhat accustomed to the far more amenable temperature of the pool where I’ve been clocking up the miles so far in 2019.

The first 100 metres of that lake swim were, indeed, spent keeping my face out of what seemed like freezing cold water.

I didn’t send myself into a spiral of self-criticism for not getting my head under, though (like I maybe would have a year or two ago).

I was IN the water… THAT was what was important.

But, at the same time, and throughout that initial 100 metres, I consciously kept trying to force my chin and mouth under… then it was a case of getting my nose under… then my eyes.. and so on (you get the picture).

At around 100 metres, I suddenly started… well… just swimming properly.

Normal breathing.

Normal strokes.

Just like pool swimming.

I’d adjusted to the temperature far quicker than I’d targeted and I was away.

I did my 500 metres and got out a very happy man (having, also, I might add, rediscovered my total love for open-water swimming – it truly is amazing!).

Open-water swimming session two, a week later, was pretty much identical to the first… except I was into my stride after just 50 metres and, having doubled my target distance, I went on to swim around 1,000 metres (I’ll keep adding 500 metres to each session so, in reality, my swims will progressively become less about acclimatisation and more about “proper” training).

As for running; we have a pretty decent treadmill at home and it seemed wise for me to use it to test my hip… rather than venture out on the road and risk finding myself in agony a mile from home.

I (very nervously) got myself kitted up for a first run since a session which saw me in absolute pieces after just 15 minutes… that was a month or two ago.

I set myself a 20 minute target – but, as with my expectations in open-water, I told myself that I would be happy with whatever my pace was over that 20 minutes… even if I “ran/walked”.

Sure enough; I started slowly and every couple of minutes, I upped the pace.

As I got through 15 minutes (i.e past the point where the hip agony had become overwhelming a little while ago), I became very optimistic about getting to 20… which I duly did without drama or debilitating pain (decreasing the speed over the last few minutes as a warm-down of sorts).

It seems a bit daft to feel over the moon with running for 20 minutes when I’m a couple of months away from having to complete 26.2 miles… but I really was happy with what I achieved.

My second running session was, again, on our treadmill (just in case)… but I revised my target to 30 minutes and gave myself a structure:

5 minutes “slow”, 5 minutes “a bit faster”, 5 minutes at what would have been deemed “normal” only a few months ago.

Then I was going to ease off for 5 minutes before returning to that “normal” pace for another 5.

To finish the 30 minutes, I’d jog my way through the last 5 at a “warm down” pace.

And, wow, didn’t that session feel good!

Not least because I got to 30 minutes as planned.

To say my hip was totally fine would be a bit misleading… it drifted in and out of feeling “awkward” but there was significantly more time spent without any sense of it making its presence known.

It certainly benefitted from the “interval” nature of the session… and, because of that, I’ve already decided that that’s exactly what I’ll do in Hamburg, assuming I get there.

My next run, I think, will be on the road… I now have confidence that my hip will get me through 30 minutes, at least, so I’m happy to get outdoors and maybe try for more.

So I’ve told you about the open water swimming and the running but, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really feel that I need to go into too much detail re the cycling, here.

Mainly because there’s not a lot to tell.

Suffice to say that cycling is still fine… it doesn’t seem to aggravate my hip and I’m still putting in around 140 miles per week, which I’m happy with.

So I’ve focussed on how I’m feeling, physically… but what about how I’m feeling, mentally?

The combination of two really successful open-water sessions and two equally successful treadmill sessions has, quite frankly, left me feeling pretty invincible!

There’s no other word for it.

I’ve got no right to feel invincible, really – I know, deep down, that my left hip is now on a trajectory towards where my right hip ended up 11 years ago – but, despite that, I can’t help the fact that… well… I do feel invincible.

And if there’s one thing I learned in Ironman Sweden, feeling invincible is a pretty key component for getting to the finish line!

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