Monday, 8 June 2009

All in a week of Ironman training

Last week was fairly unusual in that I raced four times in four days (five times in seven days if you count the previous weekend's Melbourne Team Series race). What started out as a fairly easy week on Monday with a beautiful evening run in Home Park became progressively harder as the week went on, culminating in a double-race Saturday (which marks my mid-season break from cycle racing so that I can focus on triathlon training), followed by a 22km run on Sunday with several intervals at half marathon pace. A tough week for sure, but it's all in a week of Ironman training.

Tuesday -- the long ride

The weather was beautifully sunny and hot, so Jim and I decided to give Hillingdon and Crystal Palace a miss -- and thankfully so, as there were big crashes at both races -- and do a 90km ride in the Surrey Hills with some of our favourite climbs instead. I set a surprising new best time on the Boxhill challenge with 6:38, knocking over 40 seconds off my previous best. It was only last summer that I was over eight minutes, and now I'm wondering when I will get below six!

Wednesday -- the running race

26.2 RRC, our running club, held its annual mile race on the local track. I've done a number of mile repeats in the past few months, but nothing could have prepared me for how hard four laps of the track was going to feel! Well, maybe some previous hard 400s and 800s would have prepared me... but nevertheless, after a warmup and some strides, I took to the start line with the rest of the ladies. At the gun we took off at an unholy pace, led out by one hardy soul running a 15-second first 100m until she crashed and burned, leaving me at the front of the pack to suffer alone.

1st lap: way too fast. There was no way I could hold this pace for the next three laps. 1:22
2nd lap: somewhat better. I was hoping to go under 6 minutes so this was about right. 1:30
3rd lap: despite my attempt to speed up on the back straight and drop the heavy-breathing women on my shoulder, it was actually slower and starting to hurt quite a bit now! 1:33
4th lap: after 150m I finally managed to lose everyone behind me and now it was just a race against the clock. The last 100m I felt I was gliding through the air, every stride was so long! 1:27 for a final time of 5:52, mission accomplished.

Once recovered, I figured I should make it a real workout, so I joined the men's race ten minutes later for a second mile at a more reasonable pace. I managed that one in 6:10 with much more even lap splits, leaving me amazed that a single second per 100m was the difference between a hard effort and an all-out gasping painfest. Clearly I need more track work on pacing if I'm ever going to run a good mile time!

The best part of the evening was the fun 100m dash we ran afterwards. I was transported back in time to when I was 10 years old and running at the Track and Field day at grade school. My time was surprisingly not much different either, around 13 seconds. I ran the entire 100m on my toes which felt amazing, though the next day my feet and calves were quite sore.

Thursday -- the handicap race

The Surrey League holds a series of handicap races over the summer and the circuit for this week's race was one we know pretty well. Having heard from teammates that handicap racing is the best workout around, Jim and I decided to give it a try. I was set off in the first group of 4th cat vets (40+) with teammate Ian, Jim went off in the second group of regular 4th cats and 3rd cat vets, teammate Andy was in one of the regular 3rd cat groups, and 1st cat Steve went off in the scratch group with a full 8 minutes to make up on my group. In fact, we had done an entire lap of the 3 mile circuit before Steve's group started, making it not only a physical but a psychological challenge for them to both catch us and then lap us to get in front!

We went off fast, and though we dropped several guys, I managed to hang on to the core group of half a dozen vets quite well. The difference in men's and women's racing became quite apparent, however; while I tried to do my part in the paceline, I found it ridiculously hard to pull through at 42km/h after sitting in the draft at that speed. In the end, I probably only did one out of every four turns that I should have, but I did manage to be less of a sandbagger than the guy who sat completely on the back and never took a single turn!

Nearly eight full laps went by before Jim's group -- led by Jim pulling the group along at the front, as usual! -- caught us. We all realised that this large group would be the front pack, as neither Andy's nor Steve's group were going to catch us in the two laps before the finish. I was hoping Jim could get a good placing and some points, so I stayed mid-pack to help him out where I could. On the last lap, right after Jim had reeled in an attack, another attack went up the hill and I jumped on the front to pull him back. That done, I settled back in the last km as Jim headed to the front to see what he could do in the uphill finish. Ended up a strong 4th place for him and 6 license points, while I cruised in at the back of the pack, picking up some Surrey League points as the first (and only!) female to cross the line. One more finish like that and Jim will be a 3rd cat himself.

Friday -- the swim TT

An easy day off the bike, and with my feet still feeling rough from the track work, I went to the pool instead. I'd been meaning to do a 1000m time trial to verify my threshold swim pacing and this was the day for it. After 1200m of warmup and drills, I hammered through 10x100m at 1:30 pace, maintaining good form throughout and finding the aerobic side of it surprisingly not taxing. Clearly my running and cycling fitness has clearly helped my swimming as well, as has the losing the extra 10 pounds! I think I'll do another one of these in a few weeks and see if I can't knock another second or two off my threshold pace, seeing how fast I can go before my form and technique gets too ragged. My swimming confidence is back, now I just need to get to the lake a few times with my wetsuit to burn the rust off my sighting skills.

Saturday -- the double race day

The morning dawned rainy but cleared up in time for the South East regional women's road race championships in the afternoon. With a field of only 30, it was a smaller race than what I've been doing lately, but still had its share of strong riders. Not a very hilly course and only 60km long, so next to no chance for me to get a podium place. However I did have two Kingston Wheelers teammates racing plus I knew there could be a break of half a dozen strong riders, so was hoping to join that if it happened.

Early on it was slow going, but on the second lap Charlie Blackman attacked hard -- she is so powerful when she does, she just takes off like a rocket -- and the rest of us gave chase. I knew Natalie from Twickenham would be my best bet either to reel Charlie in or to bridge over to her, so she and her Twickenham teammate and I set about working. Being the new and inexperienced and unorganised riders that we are though, we never managed to shed the rest of the bunch so after nearly a lap Charlie came back to us and we settled in for a few more laps with nobody really on the attack. My teammate Lise (a very good cyclist in her first race ever) turned out to be a bit of a wild card by racing very strongly, so when it became clear that it would end in a bunch sprint, I took to the front to drive the pace, figuring Charlie and Natalie would battle it out for the win and Lise would be up there as well. In the end, Natalie won it, Charlie came second, Lise picked up 7th and my other KW teammate Leona got 10th. I rolled in at the back of the bunch, feeling conflicted with my own poor result, but happy to see Natalie get a win and my teammates finish top 10.

Charlie (in white) before she attacked.
photo by Jim

Later that evening were the Smithfield Nocturne crit races in central London around ~1km of twisty city roads, including two sharp corners requiring some skill to navigate. The women's race was a last-minute addition to the elite race and men's support race, so I was keen to support it and help put on a good show for the 10,000 spectators lining the streets including a bunch of KW teammates on the "pub corner". Six or seven girls from the afternoon's road race were there as well, looking noticeably tireder than the bright fresh teenaged track riders and junior elites who were there to contest the win.

I wasn't sure how my legs would feel given the afternoon's race -- where admittedly I'd only done 15km of real work -- but after a quick recce lap behind the car, we lined up and started off fast. I took forever to get clipped in, and in that few seconds the main group was gone, leaving me to thread my way through riders as they got dropped off the back. Every lap brought me closer and closer, and having all that space to myself meant I could get used to the turns on the course, not that that helped my awful cornering technique much! About five laps into the race, I finally tagged onto the back of the main group which had about 15 riders in it. After a near miss on one of the worst corners -- skidding my front wheel and nearly hitting the barriers -- I eased off a bit and decided not to try to move up the group, sparing the other riders any close calls with my terrible cornering. This meant chasing on after that dodgy corner on every lap, but my legs turned out to be great. Since hard accelerations and sprints are not my forté I was pleasantly surprised to find that staying with the main group wasn't that hard at all.

About halfway through, a group of three girls attacked and left the rest of us behind, after which I just hung out at the back and enjoyed the atmosphere. The crowds at the start/finish line were banging on the boarded barriers every time we rode past, and on the opposite side the KWers were drinking more and more beer and cheering me on with gusto. Nineteen laps and 30 minutes after we started, we sprinted for the finish and then took a slow cooldown lap to the applause of the crowd. A very cool experience and lots of fun to be racing in front of so many spectators! And a great way to top off my racing season. Once the Ironman is over, I'll be back cycle racing but until then the road bike is taking a backseat to my new TT bike.

Giving a thumbs-up to the KWers on the pub corner.
photo by Jim

The new kit looks great!
photo by Jim

Taking a corner hard.
photo by Larry Hickmott for British Cycling

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