Mad dogs and Englishmen…

A few months ago, you may recall that I was genuinely ready to throw in the towel on cycling and, no doubt, had I done so, I expect I’d also have stopped swimming and running, too.

I’d had two consecutive DNFs at 200km distance and, given that both were wholly due to simply “not enjoying the ride”, I reached the conclusion that cycling wasn’t doing it for me any more.

Don’t underestimate how genuinely close I came… I was poised over the “delete” button for my beloved Strava app!

And then I had a bit of a moment where I consciously thought about how to get my mojo back.

And it fits better with this blog if I leave you in suspense re just how I did get said mojo back until later… but I’ll just say that, since that “wobble”, I’ve done two 200km rides, a 300km ride (only a couple of days ago) and, in terms of my day to day riding, I think my “year to date” total mileage covered is higher than any previous year except 2015 (when my 1,000 miles of John O’Groats to Lands End ride tends to skew the figures a little).

So, anyway, Saturday’s 300km ride, then;

I wasn’t really sure what to think when, in conversation with my dependable cycling buddy, Russ, the idea of entering the Rough Diamond 300km Audax came up.

I don’t even know which one of us suggested it!

I think it was a case that it suggested itself and, because I was feeling buoyed at having just nailed a 200km ride, adrenalin had the final decision – and it decided to go for it.

300km is quite a long way.

I’ve not done too many 300km rides (and only once have I ridden significantly further than that in one day) so we’re not talking about entering an event which I could “bang out in my sleep” here.

I actually started to get a little nervous about the whole thing, the day before.

Two weeks previously, I’d done a 200km ride at a pace which left me feeling, truth be told, pretty spent – did I really have another 100km in my legs?

The start was at 6am from a location a clear hour’s drive away from my home.

I like to get somewhere like that a good hour before the start.

I also like to give myself a good hour for breakfast and general “waking up”.

A mathematician will have already worked out that I needed to be out of bed at 3am to get my day off to a good start.

I met up with Russ, and a couple of dozen other audaxers at 5am and, before we knew it, we were lined up at the start being given our pre-ride briefing.

One of the things I love about Audax is that you get such a huge variety of people and bikes taking part.

There were what I can only describe as “stripped down racing bikes” (although I know I’ll sound old by saying that), full on touring bikes with panniers and even a big, heavy looking, tandem with a recumbent front half and a more conventional rear.

I think it’s fair to say that Russ and I were “somewhere in the middle”… clearly riding bikes that were more used to being lighter and speedier but, for the occasion, had let us hang some bags off of them.

A blow by blow account of the next 192.2 miles would probably take you the same amount of time to read as it took us to ride it (12 hours, by the way – not including stops for food and drink)… so I’ll spare you that.

Suffice to say, though, that it was characterised by the weather; we’re currently having a hot spell, here in the UK and yesterday saw temperatures of over 30°c being maintained for most of it.

I’d taken, as I normally do on longer rides, copious amounts of gels and energy bars but I ate literally none of them – the heat was suppressing my appetite like you wouldn’t believe!

Even at the stops, I ate very little.

But my; did I drink!!

The first 60 miles, before the sun had really found its feet, was business as usual; I had a few swigs from my bottle but not anything out of the ordinary.

The next 130 miles were basically spent drinking anything I could get hold of.

And, because I was only interested in taking on fluids, I needed to rethink the fluids I was ingesting… electrolytes were fine, but I wasn’t about to get any sense (false or otherwise) of energy from them.

So I did things I’ve never done before on long rides (driven by the choices I was seeing others around me make, I should add).

I was throwing Coca-Cola down my neck at a rate that almost certainly will see the share price of Coca-Cola rocket. (That’s a stock tip for free!!)

I was filling my drinks bottles with energy drinks (as well as electrolytes tablets – odd taste but acceptable).

At around 140 miles, I even went into a shop to buy a protein milkshake.

If it was liquid, my body was craving it in a way unlike I’ve ever known.

From a pace perspective, Russ and I were, as usual, pretty much identical.

There was one occasion where he pulled away from me, on a particularly nasty hill at around 125 miles, but he waited at the top for me.

Having someone who rides at broadly the same pace over that distance is a huge positive.

It pulls you along.

When your energy ebbs and flows, as it inevitably does, you find it within yourself to keep up the pace… if nothing else than to make sure you can carry on chatting!

We did have a “third spoke” to our wheel – a chap called Justin joined us at around 60 miles and rode with us all the way to the end. He typically stayed a few bike lengths off the back but wasn’t shy of mucking in at the front if Russ or I slowed – so that was nice. He seemed a lovely chap.

Outside of going into boring detail about every climb, descent, flat, straight road and twisty bit, there’s little else to add, really – except to say that the views we were treated to throughout the day were stunning.

As we rolled into the village hall where the ride finished, both Russ and I were pleased to see a 16mph average speed (rounded down to 15.9mph by Strava – damn you, Strava)…. not least because 16mph was where we had wanted to be at the end of the (quite hilly) 192 mile route.

We were even more pleased with that average when we took into account the fact that a huge portion of the last 25 miles was spent either at a snail’s pace on a gravel/stone canal tow-path or at an even slower (almost pedestrian-esque) pace negotiating our way through Gloucester (seriously, Gloucester… you might think you’re “cyclist friendly”… but you’re not… sort it out!)

So let’s return to that thing I mentioned before; what did I do to get my mojo back?

Well, firstly, I deferred my Ironman Hamburg 2018 entry to 2019. The “pressure” it was putting me under was counter-productive and it needed to go.

Secondly, I joined the Audax organisation. Sure; I’d done countless Audax events before but never as a “member”. Being part of the club changes the dynamic of taking part in their rides. I feel more at home – more welcome… and I’m accumulating “points” towards the various Audax statuses that are there to be attained. It’s nice.

Thirdly, and most importantly,I resolved to enjoy not just the “pedal pushing side” of cycling… but to also appreciate the scenery I am riding past. I now give myself permission to stop when I see something really worth looking at (especially when I’m riding solo); a lovely view, a field of cows, a swan in its nest by the side of the road. Before, I think I was too “head down” to even notice any of that.

As a natural extension of the above, I also make sure that, for most of my rides, I take photographs. People who follow me on Strava may have noticed that I now upload pictures far more frequently than I ever did – I’m lucky to live in a gorgeous part of the world and cycling through it is a pleasure to be captured/shared.

I also take my go-pro with me more often – and upload the results to YouTube. On solo rides, in particular, it’s almost the next best thing to having company (Lisa astutely pointed that out) and, for all rides, it’s nice to watch the resulting video back and relive moments that, at the time, I clearly thought were worth preserving.

And on that note; here’s the video of the Rough Diamond 300km Audax!

I hope you liked that and, until the next time – keep enjoying what you do!

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Don’t come back until it’s done

The last thing Lisa said to me before I set off on Saturday’s ride was; “Don’t come back until it’s done”

Russ (my erstwhile cycling buddy) and I were entered on a 100km Audax which, given that we were cycling to the start and back, was going to be “rounded up” to a 200km ride (c124 miles)… which is what I needed it to be in order to open my “RRTY” campaign of one 200km ride each month for 12 consecutive months (click here for more info on that).

It would be Russ’ 7th consecutive month for his RRTY so he’s quite a way ahead of me on that front.

That parting shot from Lisa was a reference to my last two 200km attempts, both of which had been fails – the second of the two getting dangerously close to leaving me never wanting to cycle again!

On neither occasion had I been physically broken, though… it was just that, by the time I’d reached 80 miles or so, I just had this overwhelming sense of simply “not enjoying riding my bike”… on both occasions, that had come as a shock… I’d never felt like that, before.

So it was with a little reticence that I headed out on Sunday… but I parked that reticence behind a significantly larger chunk of positivity… and Russ and I cycled off up the road full of intent.

The ride to the start of the organised part of the day was without drama.

The weather was gorgeous (if still a bit cooler than I’d like in May!) and there was barely any wind.

We were even treated to the sights of a few hot-air balloons and life felt good.

The initial feedback that my legs were giving me was positive too.

We rocked up at the start around 21 miles later.

Quite a few people (who’d generally driven to the start) were carrying out final preparations to their bikes whilst Russ and I signed on.

I’ve done countless Audax events before but the fact that this was my first as a bona-fide “Audax club member” just subtly changed how it felt.

I’ve never really bothered with the Brevet card before, for example, but, on Saturday, I needed to.. and that made me feel more “part of it” rather than someone who was just tagging along.

We all set off at around 9:30am.

Russ and I found ourselves towards the back of the group so much of the first 30 miles was spent “drifting past” the others, intermittently slowing to chat with those whom we knew, before picking the pace up again.

The route was best described as “rolling” rather than “hilly”.

There were a couple of tougher climbs, sure, but I’d be lying if I said that it was just one climb after another.

It wasn’t.

The toughest of the climbs came at the second “Audax control point” (where, for the uninitiated, they verify your arrival as evidence that you are completing the route rather than “cheating”), I’d say.

Russ and I were c60 miles into our day and the control was at the bottom of a steep descent, around a mile long – a descent that we’d then need to climb back up once we’d had our Brevet card stamped.

We grinded up it rather than going for glory… probably sensible with another 70 miles to go before home!

That control was at a pub… a pub serving food… and Russ and I were hungry.

But the queue at said pub was loooooong and we’d have been there for hours, I’m sure, so we agreed to push on and stop at the next cafe we saw.

There was no cafe.

Thankfully, though, the final control was at another pub (where the queues were much more manageable) and we got to that quicker than I thought we would.

By now we had only around 15 or so miles of the Audax remaining (around 55 miles left of the day as a whole) so a slightly more prolonged stop with food and a cuppa seemed like a good idea.

A bowl of chips and a cup of tea later and Russ and I had a renewed spring in our step as we pushed on.

Another rolling 15 miles and we had finished the Audax!

Simple as that.

It really was pretty stress-free cycling on what remained a lovely day to be out and about.

All we needed to do now was get home!

That’s not strictly true, actually.

Home was barely more than 20 miles away but, to get to 200km for the day, we needed our homes to be 40 miles away… so our plotted route to get there was a “longer than strictly necessary” loop, taking in some of the countryside around where I live.

We headed off with around 90 miles in our legs and our pace was surprisingly quick!

I think we covered the next 10 miles at over 19mph average.

By this point, of course, we were on very familiar roads… and I always think that helps to make the miles feel shorter.

I’ve no doubt we could have made that last 40 miles in one hop but neither of us were under any real time pressures so, with just 13 miles to go (and after a particularly nasty little climb to test the legs!) we pulled into a cafe, well used by me and the family, with views of the sea and the beautiful Victorian Clevedon Pier.

And that was that, really… the remaining 13 miles were pan-flat and incident free.

Russ and I had around 129 miles on the clock, taking in c6,000 feet of climbing, as we pulled in for a final “go our separate ways” chat just around the corner from my home.

My legs still felt good and, mentally, I was buzzing!

A video of the day is below:

What a huge difference from the last, failed, 200km ride (and the one before that)… I was in love with “going long” again and had no trouble finding enjoyment in being on the bike.

Why the difference, then, I hear you ask.

Well, I think it’s a whole number of things to be honest.

I tried to make sure I ate appropriately – both during and in the lead up to the day. That helped.

I set off with the mindset of not thinking about “how far we’ve got to go” and, instead, just enjoying the scenery (something I’ve been doing generally, of late). That helped.

Likewise with average speed. I set off not caring about that at all. That helped.

Having Russ’ company (and draft, I should add) helped, too.

I guess I also need to credit near-perfect weather conditions as well – there’s no doubt that it made the day more pleasant.

Lastly, I had broken the ride down in my head into very manageable chunks: I wasn’t out to ride 130 miles at all… I was riding 20 miles to the start of an Audax. Then I was riding 20 miles to the first control point of the Audax itself. Then another 20 miles to the next control point and so on… you get the idea.

At no point was I thinking about the big miles… for all but the last few miles, I didn’t even have my bike computer on a view where I could see how many miles we’d covered… or our speed for that matter… I spent the whole day just looking at a route display.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day… and immensely satisfying to put those last two long rides behind me!

My RRTY account is open that feels grand!

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The sheer audacity of it all…

Having decided that Ironman Hamburg 2018 was not for me… as a result of the whole thought of it slowly dragging the enjoyment out of swimming, cycling and running for me… I guess I initially decided to not really have any focus on a “goal”, as such.

I tend not to need a “raison d’etre”… so I was in no rush to find one.

But then, I got to thinking;

Maybe, whilst I don’t need something to aim for, a goal of some sort would be nice to have all the same.

Goals need to be challenging… otherwise they’re not really goals – they’re just boxes to be ticked off whenever you can be bothered.

Goals need to involve effort.

Goals need to be something that’ll make you feel that you’ve achieved something!

And what better discipline in which to set myself a goal than cycling?… the discipline which led to the whole lack of “mojo” in the first place!

As you know, it was my failure to complete two successive 200km rides (a distance I used to eat for breakfast) that got me into that whole spiral of self-doubt which led me to rethinking my approach.

So maybe a few successful 200km rides would be a good place to start in terms of setting myself a new goal.

But why stop at a few?

A number of my cycling buddies are members of “Audax UK” – the club for long distance cyclists.

The very word “Audax” is basically the Latin word for “bold”… (and it’s from this word that we derive our words “audacious”, “audacity” etc etc)

Yep… serial “Audaxers” are proper, bona-fide, hardcore, BOLD, cyclists.

Most of my long rides, as it happens, have been organised by “Audax UK” (they’re superb rides – check them out) but I’ve never been inclined to “join the club”

Until now.

You see – a few of those cycling buddies I referred to before who, themselves, are members of “Audax UK”, are in the process of earning themselves an “Audax” title; “Randonneur Round The Year” (or RRTY for short)

To get this title, you need to cycle an approved 200km ride every month – for 12 consecutive months.

That means cycling throughout those dark and miserable winter months as well as the more pleasing summer period.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?!

Having decided to set myself the goal of completing a few 200km rides – to make up for those two failed attempts – it makes sense (to me, at least!) to set myself the goal of one a month, for twelve consecutive months… thereby earning myself the RRTY title!

How hard can that be?

No – really – how hard?

So, the other day, I formally joined “Audax UK” and entered my first ride, in May, to start off the RRTY attempt.

And I’m champing at the bit to start.

As for the Ironman… I’m not totally done with that – not yet.

Instead of cancelling my entry for the event, I’ve taken my option of deferring it until next year… and let me tell you, as happy that I am that I won’t be doing it this year, I’m equally happy that I still have it in the diary.

If, this time next year, I am still finding the whole idea less than motivational, then I’ll simply not do it… but, until then, I have retained the option of turning up in 2019.

That feels like the right decision to have made  and, in my experience, if it feels right – it is right.

As a quick aside – those of you with a keener eye on my wider social media presences will have noticed that I’ve been taking more photos and videos whilst out on bike rides, recently.

This is all part of me making cycling more pleasurable again – and it’s working!

If you’re finding yourself where I was, with a lack of desire to be on the saddle, I’d advise you to do the same, actually… give yourself permission to stop when you see a beautiful view… drink it in… take a photo. It’ll remind you why cycling is so great.

I’m genuinely back to loving being on the bike again – which feels great.

So, for your viewing pleasure, below is my latest video on YouTube.

If you’re about to watch it on a desktop, you can click that little image of me at the bottom right of the screen to subscribe to my channel – but if you’re watching it on a mobile, you’ll need to click here to subscribe

For my photos, you can find me on Instagram by clicking here – feel free to follow me if you like what you see!

Thanks, as always, for reading (and watching) – and stay tuned for my RRTY attempt!

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Off the beaten track

Whenever I head out on a medium length solo bike ride (I’m talking 50 – 80 miles), I always head south.

When I go south, I know where the flat roads are.

When I go south, I know where the climbs are.

(I also know where the cafes are, too!)

South is where I’m comfortable.

A couple of weeks ago, as a family, we went for a day out at Slimbridge – a lovely tourist attraction around 35 miles north of where we live – where you get to observe all manner of water-birds (I can’t think of the correct term but, you know… ducks, swans etc) in a stunning and serene setting.

As we drove up towards the entrance of said tourist attraction, I had a bit of a flashback; a few hundred yards before arriving, we passed by a little cafe which sits right on the side of a canal and right next to a lock.

I recognised it immediately!

A few others and I had stopped there for a cuppa and a cake, whilst out on a group ride, at some point in my dim and distant past.

Instantly, I knew where my next solo cycle was going to take me.

It was going to take me north.

Not south.

North – to this very cafe.

I set about planning a route using t’internet, since I really don’t know that area at all so certainly couldn’t be trusted to accidentally stumble upon a series of cycle-friendly roads.

Crucially, I was keen to avoid the miserably boring (and borderline dangerous) A-road that constitutes the most direct option.

Instead, the little series of country lanes that I plotted to take would have me go through numerous tiny little villages, as well as the best of British countryside, on what promised to be a very pleasant 72 mile (36 miles each way) journey.

I’d originally planned to do the ride on Wednesday but the depressingly long winter is still rumbling on here in the UK, and I awoke on “the day” to rain hammering against the bedroom window… a 5am look at my weather forecast app, through eyes that didn’t seem to want to open, showed that the rain wasn’t about to ease up.

Call me a big wuss if you want but I’ve suffered so many soakings on my bike of late, that I’ve just about had enough.. the weather forecast for the following day was better anyway… so I deferred the ride by 24 hours (don’t worry, though, I punished my lack of “badass-ery” on Wednesday with a Zwift assault on Alpe Du Zwift… the online equivalent of Alpe D’Huez).

As it happens, Thursday started with misty and drizzly conditions, too, but I’d deferred once and wasn’t about to defer again… no chance.

I dropped the boys off at school and had 6 whole hours to do the ride (before school pick-up time)… that was a clear hour more than I expected to take – factoring in a generous amount of time for a cake stop (gotta have that cake!)… so I had plenty of contingency time built in for mechanical issues, just in case.

It was never going to be about pace, though… this was always going to be about riding different roads to my normal stomping ground… and taking in the scenery.

Now, rather that give a written review of the ride, like I normally would, I’ll share my highlights video, instead! (Yep – that’s new, eh???)

If you’re a YouTuber and you want to subscribe to my channel – click here:

It was lovely to ride on different roads, for once, and, by virtue of the fact that I had a lot of fun doing it, I reckon I’ll make more of an effort on these solo-sorties of mine to steer clear of familiarity in future.

My mind has already started racing with new places to go!

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Unfinished business

I so wanted this blog to be a positive and uplifting account of a 133 mile bike ride taking place last Sunday… one which I (and a few riding buddies) we’re going to bump up by a handful of miles just by riding to and from the start.

It had all the hallmarks of a positive day, too.

It was sunny.

It wasn’t especially windy.

There was a great group of people taking part.

But, despite these positives, I’m afraid to say that my account of that ride isn’t going to be what I would have liked it to be.

The first 60 miles or so were broadly without incident… if anything, my legs were feeling strong (as evidenced by a whole series of Strava segment “achievements”).

With those 60 miles in the legs, we all pulled into an organised cake stop and stocked up on cake, tea and camaraderie.

The rest of the ride was scheduled to be broadly split into two stints of 40 miles. How hard could that be?

15 miles beyond the stop, at about 75 miles in to the day, having lost touch with one group and eased away from another, I was alone, with just my own thoughts keeping me company, and that probably wasn’t a good place to be.

My legs were slowing… and they weren’t showing any positive signs of being able to drag me ’round another 65 miles.

For the second time in just a few weeks, I found myself in serious trouble whilst out on a bike.

I pulled up at the side of the road to grab a gel from my back pocket and tried to figure out whether my problems were physical or mental.

I’m genuinely not sure whether I physically could have completed the ride – I believe I could have but I don’t know and I don’t want give a fake impression of confidence.

Either way, I do know that my mind wasn’t about to let me carry on.

There, by the side of the road, I was forced to reach the conclusion that I simply wasn’t enjoying myself enough to bother trying.

I was even contemplating whether my love for the bike was there at all.

Not just on Sunday… but every day.

I dwelled on the fact that every time my face feels even the faintest breeze against it, I whinge about the “horrendous headwind”.

I dwelled on the fact that every time the road starts to resemble even the steadiest of inclines, I whinge about another cliff-face to get up.

I dwelled on the fact that every time I hit a pot-hole (and the roads where I live are, basically, a string of pot-holes stitched together with small lumps of poor-quality tarmac), I whinge about how the council need to carry out urgent repairs.

The list of whinges goes on and on.

Lots of whinging, basically.

At no point does my focus ever seem to be on positives.

Added to the above came other questions I found myself asking, whilst out there on Sunday, all alone;

1) I just want to be at home with Lisa and the boys. Why can’t I be? What’s stopping me?

2) What’s the point in all this nonsense?

So I made a call to Lisa to let her know that a very dejected Phil was on his way home, sent a “sorry, I’m bailing” text message to Russ, up ahead (so he didn’t feel the need to wait), and turned on my heels.

Incidentally, I bailed out on that ride at exactly the same spot where I’d been forced to make the same decision… for the same reasons… riding the same route… only a handful of weeks ago.

I proceeded to ride 25 miles in as close to a straight line as our roads allow. Those miles took me home (and, incidentally, just through the 100 mile barrier for the day).

I was upset at myself and grumpy that I’d fallen out of love with what has become such a large part of my life.

I was mentally defeated and a bit lost.

Within 24 hours, I’d typed out a whole blog in which I gave notice of my decision to stop cycling altogether.

In said blog, I also gave up running, swimming, triathlon, Strava and even writing this blog.

I was clearly feeling quite low and I wasn’t much fun to be around on Sunday night/Monday morning – Lisa and the boys can testify to that!

On Monday night, though, a wave of defiance swept over me.

I don’t know quite where it came from but it was pretty uplifting.

I wasn’t going to give up.

I was going to fight.

So, on Wednesday, I resolved to head out early on my bike… ride to the spot which had been my undoing on that route twice in the space of a month, and “complete” it, once and for all.

I had unfinished business and I needed to attend to it.

I was out for enjoyment and nothing else.

I deliberately gave myself no time pressures – I started just before 6am and I played around with my bike computer such that it was only giving me a map – no indication of “miles ridden” or “miles yet to ride”.

I just went wherever the 83 mile route, loaded on to the navigation page in front of me, told me to go.

The ride possibly warrants a blog to itself (not that it’ll get one) but suffice to say that it was characterised by conditions.

From beginning to end, it was raining heavily… torrentially so for prolonged periods.

It was also bitterly cold and the combination of that, plus being soaked to the skin, was making it a tough day.

Between miles 30 and 60, I couldn’t feel my hands at all… and from mile 45, I was essentially riding a single-speed because I simply couldn’t summon the dexterity in my fingers to change gear.

With 20 or so miles to go, I knew that the sensible thing to do would be to try to warm up so I stopped for a cup of tea.

I was shivering so badly that the other  customers were enquiring as to my well-being… and I discovered a temporary party trick, mainly because I couldn’t hold the teaspoon, of being able to plunge my fingers into the hot water to get the teabag out by hand – I genuinely couldn’t feel any heat at all (and, yes, I know that this was a daft thing to do because I could still have scolded myself – so don’t point it out to me!)

Incidentally, at that stop, I was only 5 miles from home so, particularly given how I was feeling, cutting the ride short was an option… but my legs were holding up well and I’d set out to ride a fixed route so nothing was going to stop me… not even the fear of mild hypothermia!

I was determined to complete what I’d set out to achieve.

Anyway – to cut to the chase, I got to the end and was immensely satisfied to have done so – especially after how I’d felt about not just cycling but everything sport related, just 48 hours before.

So what started out as a negative blog on Monday, ended up with an unexpectedly positive editing session.

I’d twice hit insurmountable mental obstacles on that route… but had finally battled through to succeed.

It’s not all what you’ll interpret as “positive” news, though.

The thing that got me ’round yesterday was the fact that I went out with pure enjoyment as a target… no sense of having “one eye on target average speeds” (which, trust me, were slow!) or “Ironman training”.

As such, I was forced to accept that the fact that training for the Ironman is detracting from enjoyment, rather than enhancing it.

With that in mind, I have decided that I’m highly unlikely to take part in Ironman Hamburg.

I am, after all, already an Ironman and completing another one will make no difference to that… and I do know that I would complete it, I should add (although, incidentally, failing to complete it would leave me forever doubting the validity of the first so there’s another reason not to go again!).

I’ll not officially withdraw just yet… but unless, suddenly, the idea of turning up at the start line becomes the thing that gets me out of bed every morning, like it was in the run up to Ironman Sweden, I really can’t see myself taking my place at the water’s edge on July 29th.

Please don’t see that as a negative, though – it’s not meant to be… it’s a positive decision to do what I always tell everyone else to do; enjoy your hobby.

I feel a sense of relief in my decision – It’s clear from my last few blogs (and I’ve repeatedly said as much) that my mind has been veering wildly between positive and negative for quite a while and I now put that down to the added pressure of the Ironman.

As it is, I’m free to just enjoy myself once again.

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Get back to where you once belonged….

You’ve probably picked up, in my blogs, a bit of an “up and down” trend to my emotional state when it comes to my training.

One minute, I’m having a nightmare bike ride which is shaking my confidence to its very core… the next minute I’m walking tall having found that hill-repeats on my bike seem to be the key to me getting my mojo back.

The whole thing left me, and still leaves me, wondering if, mentally, I still have what it takes to complete another Ironman event… not to mention physically.

I look back to my last Ironman year and recall being able to mentally overcome virtually everything and yet I now find myself sometimes questioning obstacles before they even become obstacles.

Then I wonder whether I am looking back at my previous conquest through rose-tinted spectacles… I have a read of my book (cheeky Amazon link here) and realise that it certainly wasn’t all plain-sailing then, either… from the near-drowning episode in open water to the time when I did not finish a ride due to poor conditions and, frankly, a lack of will-power.

So perhaps I’m not so different now, after all.

Anyway, all of this has led me to continually search for that confidence in my own mental determination… I’m sure it is there… it’s just a matter of doing things that remind me of its presence.

A week or so ago, having realised that hill-repeats on my bike were such fun, I thought I’d go in search of said mind-control and do something that, frankly, I never thought I’d want to do; hill-repeats on a run.

I selected a nice quiet hill – a country lane where, realistically, the only cars you encounter belong to the people that live along it – drove to the start (so that the whole run would be either running up the hill or back down it), got out and started stretching.

I could see the top of the hill looming over me… it was quite intimidating. I’ll give you some numbers;  It’s just over 0.6 miles long from bottom to top, and rises around 200 feet with gradients approaching 15% in places.

I started running at a very steady pace… and onto the hill I went.

The first ascent was far less eventful than I’d expected it to be so I ran back down, picked a spot to turn around at the bottom and went again.

Second time to the top… no more difficult than the first.

I was holding up both physically and mentally.

A second time at the bottom, a turn on my heals, and a third time running up the hill.

I’d targeted three ascents and three ascents was what I did.

I got back to my car having covered almost 4 miles and a little over 600 feet of climbing… and I felt great.

As I drove home, I had a little smile to myself – perhaps that mental determination I seem to have been looking for was a little more tangible than it had been 35 minutes previously.

On to my second example of searching for that “I can do this” attitude that I fear I may have lost and, this time, it was at the pool.

Put simply, I am keen (nay desperate) to get rid of my nose-clip when I am swimming.

I’ve always used one, ever since I started to swim properly – I even credit it with being the key ingredient in me discovering the ability to swim. I simply couldn’t do it without that clip – the water going up my nose (especially chlorinated swimming pool water) actually hurts so I genuinely couldn’t swim with my head under-water before some bright spark suggested the nose-clip.

I recall trying, and failing, to ditch that clip a little while ago. I previously set myself the same target of swimming without it – I even publicised what I was trying to achieve – but I quietly dropped the target when it became obvious to me that I was setting myself up for failure.

So, back to the present – You have to realise that the whole nose-clip thing is a bit of a faff which I could well do without;

Try sitting on the pool for ages before you start swimming, trying to stop it slipping off your nose due to the lubricating nature of the water – you look like a bit of a numpty.

Try worrying that it will be knocked off, spelling the end of your race, in the scrum of a mass open water start – always a concern.

Try spontaneously splashing around in the pool with your kids if you need to clip your nose every time you go under-water – it takes something away from the fun, let me tell you.

So, I set myself this target of weening myself off of the crutch that it has become.

I was planning on achieving my target by, initially, swimming the last 4 lengths of a given swimming session without it.. then I’d do the last 8 lengths.. then the last 16 and so on… until I wasn’t using it at all.

Thursday was going to see my second attempt at swimming without it (the first had been achieved without too much drama, in a pool only lightly “polluted” by chlorine) so I was planning on just a short swim – a mile – where, in keeping with my plan, the last 8 lengths were “sans-clip“.

I lowered myself into the pool only to find that I’d left the nose-clip in my locker.

Ordinarily, I’d be getting back out of the pool at that point – to go and fetch it – but on Thursday, I figured I had a choice to make;

Do I just try to press on without it… no “weening myself off” of the crutch… just a straight-forward “cold turkey”?

Or do I go back to plan.. get the clip.. and swim the majority of the session with it?

And that’s where my focus turned towards this whole search for my “mental determination”.

I decided that “mentally determined Phil” would just press on without it… so that’s what I did.

I pushed off the wall.

I stopped around 10 metres into the first length – the pool I was in on Thursday is particularly chlorinated and my nose was actually in physical pain.

I composed myself and went again.

I managed another 10 metres before stopping again.

I repeated this a fair few times before one of the lifeguards, clearly good at reading the situation (and spotting me frantically rubbing my nose each time I stopped), came over to me and offered me a nose-clip that he had gone to take from the pool-shop.

I explained the situation and my target so politely declined the clip – I actually turned it down!

The offer of external help was almost embarrassing – it was certainly enough to make me “harden up” a bit and I pushed of the wall again but, this time, with added purpose.

I managed 4 lengths – not pretty lengths, admittedly, but 4 lengths all the same.

Then I did 8 lengths.

I then did another 8 lengths – still not pretty but I was getting better.

I then casually stepped it up to 32 lengths non-stop.. all without the clip.. and with each length, the pain I was experiencing was either disappearing or becoming easier to cope with – one or the other and I’m not sure which.

Finally, with more composure than I ever thought possible without a clip, I threw in a final 12 lengths to make my swim up to a mile.

Having targeted 8 lengths without a nose-clip… and having felt that even that was ambitious.. by forgetting to take this poxy bit of plastic out of my swim-bag, I’d inadvertently put myself in a position whereby swimming 64 lengths without it was my only realistic option.

And I’d done it.

I’m a long way from saying I’ve conquered the “clip-less” swimming… my pace was fairly poor compared to the norm… but that’s okay. I took a big step and that’s what counts.

Again, I journeyed home from this success, just as I had after my running hill-repeats,  with a smile on my face and a deep sense of satisfaction that I’d pushed through something which, to me, is a big deal.

So, back to the point of this blog; What with forcing myself to run hills and forcing myself to swim without my clip, it feels as though I have had glimpses of that mental determination which seems to have been missing in action for a little while now.

So maybe I really still am the Phil that can mentally conquer obstacles after all – let’s hope that that Phil sticks around!



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What goes up… must go up

I’ve been pretty down on myself for the last couple of weeks, dear reader.

I would be easy to say that it started on “that” ride which shall be discussed no further (save to say that I bailed out early and found myself hating cycling in a way I never thought possible – read about it here if, you must).

Easy… but inaccurate… I think it’s been coming for much longer.

Bit by bit, issues I’ve been having have chipped away at my usual self-assured nature and I think I’ve just let it all get to a point where I am spending too much time being particularly self-critical.

I’ve been lacking pace on my bike… on both flats and ascents alike.

And that ride, along with a few other medium distance sorties I’ve done in recent weeks, have shown me that my endurance has, inexplicably, drifted since a fairly positive 140 mile event I took part in only 6 weeks or so ago. How on earth can that happen so quickly?

My running pace has also slowed and I can’t seem to pinpoint why. Try as I might, I just can’t get close to the speeds I was running only a few months ago.

My swimming has been going well enough, I guess, but even that hasn’t really been inspiring me towards self-congratulations.

I’ve tried rest.

I’ve tried stepping down my miles.

I’ve tried stepping up my miles.

I’ve tried different eating strategies.

And I’ve tried just about everything else that I can think of.

Nothing has made any difference – either positive or negative.

So I’ve ended up just settling for being annoyed and frustrated at myself.

In fact… I’ve been being so hard on myself that I’ve been questioning whether to just call the whole Ironman Hamburg thing off (and I still am questioning, if truth be told)… not just because I’m unsure as to whether I could complete it (although that is part of it) but also because I always maintain that enjoyment is the number one priority and if I’m not enjoying the prospect of taking part then why the hell am I bothering?

You see my predicament?

I have no idea whether the whole “it’s all in the mind” thing is the issue here… after all, there must be at least some of it which is “in the body”… but, earlier this week, I decided that a change of mindset is worth a go.

And since my training is primarily spent on the bike (in terms of hours spent doing each different activity), it seemed to me that the bike would be a good place to start.

A couple of years ago, as a cycle commuter, I recall forcing myself to choose a hilly route home from where I was working at that time, at least twice a week – whatever the weather… and however much I didn’t want to – just so that I could see some improvements in my hill climbing.

I did improve on hills – the improvement over time was remarkable and I watched the length of time it took me to get up one particular hill tumble from over 8 minutes to around 6 and a half.

My ability to get up a hill quite that well has since disappeared but the memory of how much confidence and, ultimately, enjoyment it gave me hasn’t… and, since enjoyment is what I find myself in search of now, I figured that getting better on hills again might just be the ticket.

So, on Tuesday, I wrapped up warm in this week’s icy conditions, and headed out for hill repeats.

Those words alone… “hill repeats”… weren’t filling me with joy, though.

More recently, whenever I’ve hit a hill, my heart has sunk a little bit as I’ve watched the majority of those with whom I ride slowly edge away from me with my legs seemingly unable to respond.

But I parked that sentiment… I convinced myself that hills were my route to confidence and, therefore, enjoyment, and eyed up a hilly route that pretty much starts at the end of my road.

In short, my route was going to take in two hills – repeatedly.

The first hill; an average gradient of c7% but with ramps of up to c15%.

At the top, I’d “about turn” and come back down.

On reaching the bottom of the first hill, I’d head along a short stretch of road (itself a steady incline averaging c5%) before taking on the second hill; averaging c10% gradient with sections of up to c20%.

I’d then come back down the second hill, return to the bottom of the first and start all over again.

I decided that I would target time – being 1 hour – rather than a specific number of repetitions – it just felt like a more palatable measure than forcing myself to do a set number of climbs… there’s logic in there somewhere!

I set off and had one hour to go before I could get off the horrible merry-go-round that I’d created for myself.

I got to the end of the third repetition (so that’s three times up and down each hill) and my hour was up. I’d covered just under 14 miles but, crucially, over 2,000 feet of climbing.

At the start, I’d expected to welcome the end of the hour with open arms.

As it was, I didn’t really want it to be over.

I’d loved every minute of my hill-repeats and actually had to persuade myself to go home and get on with my work!

I wanted to do at least another 30 minutes but just felt that leaving myself wanting more was better, psychologically, than running out of enthusiasm and having to drag myself home.

I put a large part of my enjoyment down to the fact that I was solo – and I mean no disrespect to anyone with whom I normally ride, I should add – it’s just that, with no-one else around, I wasn’t experiencing that frustrating sense that I get from watching people disappear ahead of me.

Nor was I desperately trying to stay ahead of someone behind me.

It was just me… and the hill.

And that was nice.

When I got back through my door, I was buzzing.

Okay – I didn’t set any personal records on Strava up either of the hills that I chose (although I got reasonably close, unexpectedly) but I’d smiled my way ’round a route that I’d expected to find horrendous.

I finally had something to congratulate myself about… which felt different, at least.

I went out on another hilly route yesterday, too – more distance (at 21 miles) with less climbing (c1,800 feet), granted, but still much hillier than I would have previously chosen of my own volition.

Despite the icy surface (I took my CX bike for extra grip) and bitterly cold winds, that second hilly ride did nothing to undo the sense of enjoyment I got from the first, so it’s looking like I might really make this into something that I can get behind.

Stick with me, then, to see if this experiment helps me to find my mojo… it has to be somewhere… and it’s not down the back of the sofa… I’ve looked!





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