Triathlon and running coaching for all abilities

Post appendix & the volcano...

Since the removal of my appendix on February 20th, I have been determined to get back what fitness I had lost. I had an uninterrupted winter and managed to get my running and swimming to a level I was confident that would put me in good stead for the season. But there I was, lying there, unable to peel an orange / a lindt truffle.

 Emily had been so supportive of me and most importantly got me to the hospital when I was bent over with pain! I had never been to hospital before, so most things were new, perhaps the worst part of it all was ‘nil by mouth’ something that didn’t register with me! I scoffed a cake in the canteen of the Royal London Hospital prior to my food ban - it reminded me of school dinners! Friday night is not the best time to be admitted to hospital, especially when you live in Hackney; your mere appendix is down the pecking order when more serious incidents are passing through the doors..

The surgery went smoothly, and I woke up in a haze of morphine, which people had promised would be a nice feeling – it wasn’t, I felt so sick! And you certainly do not want to be sick after someone has drilled 3 holes through your stomach. Once I got back to the ward, I was greeted by Emily, my friend Hunter, my sister Katie and her husband to be Max. Emily, bought me a box of lindt chocolate – my favourite and for some reason I got the giggles and every spout of laughter hurt like hell!

The next day, the doctor came to visit and said I should really start to try walking now. What! I really didn’t feel like I could, but slowly I got up and hobbled about and within a few hours I could walk around the ward. ‘Once you can walk, you can go’ he said; a similar policy to pizza express I thought. We booked a cab and within a few hours I was home. I asked the doctor about recovery before I left, he said 4-6 weeks of recovery, with no weight bearing activities for at least 4 weeks. I was determined to prove him wrong. I could not wait that long – my first race was 10 weeks away.

 Once home, I did everything I could to recover. Every hour I tried to walk 10 minutes and by the 2nd day out of hospital I could walk to the shop, by day 4 I was off the pain killers and by day 6 I got on the stationary bike. I was more of a challenge getting my leg over (no pun intended), but once over, I felt no pain and pedalled away. The main issue was the sweat running down my stomach onto the wounds. I would leave a day between cycling to see if there was any after affect, and, after 9 days I was cycling twice a day. This kept me from being frustrated, but did mean I was often visiting ‘Boots’ getting extra dressings!

 The running and swimming was a different challenge. The doctors were worried I would give myself a hernia (as was Emily), so I was tentative about running in particular. After 2 and a half weeks I shuffled out the door into Victoria Park and within a mile started to get a stitch like feeling, I stopped and walked back (sensible me for once) but very frustrated nonetheless. I waited a full week to run again and this time suffered no pain, my patience, not a well known virtue of mine, paid off. Once I could run 10min without pain, I stepped it up quite quickly, waiting a day between runs to make sure there was no aftermath. Within 4 weeks I was running again. And on the 4th week I managed to run 14miles with my good friend Richard around Richmond Park, who was preparing for the Manchester marathon – I was starting to believe again.

Swimming was the last discipline to come fourth. Once the wounds were closed, I got in the pool and tried to swim. My reach was a little hampered and stiff, but once warmed up I was swimming again, albeit in a noodle like fashion. By week 5 I could, theoretically do a triathlon! Getting back in the pool with the swim club however was a baptism of fire; I was at the back of the lane again, struggling to hold on. I thought, I had spent the entire winter trying to getting to the front of the lane and here I was at the back again – ahh! I finished the first session and it was a struggle washing my hair after.

Once I had recovered, reality set in; it was going to be a tough couple of months to get back to fitness. I was working Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the coaching was picking up so it was a tough time fitting everything in. Getting up earlier was often the answer. I’d get the over-ground from Hackney to Hampstead Heath before work, stashing the suit, keys and phone in a bush, run 25km before breakfast then getting the train to work, hallucinating about the Tesco express stop prior to getting to the office. This would become a common theme and it gave me good satisfaction, knowing that by 9am I had a good session, was about to earn some cash before my 6km with the swim club in the evening.

I decided to pull out of the European Championships at the end of May in Italy and just focus on the British Championships on the 7th June. This way I could get more ‘work in’ and just focus on the one race, with a warm up race in Lanzarote – the Volcano on the 3rd May.

Prior to heading to Lanzarote on the 21st April, I decided to do a 25mile time trial with the lads from the ‘34Nomads’, to ‘blow the cob webs away’, and it certainly did that. Stupidly, I had set my time trial bike up incorrectly and after a few miles was struggling to reach the pedals which in turn caused numbness down one side – not ideal. The plan was to run 5km off the bike but I was so hacked off, I went back to the club and made the most of the communal cake stool in a huff! To make matters worse, I bet my friend Adam lunch Id beat him – lunch was certainly on me, chapeau Adam. Whilst driving home my frustration brewed and I decided to do the whole thing again on the turbo when I got home. And so I did (with a newly adjusted bike), ran off and felt good. Job done, move on. And thanks to Richard for allowing me to soak his kitchen floor!

After the time trial, I took a couple of easy days before my 2 week block of training on the rock. Boy was I looking forward to a break, the chance to catch up with my great friends Trevor and Lucy and the village people! Trevor and Lucy had found me a great apartment in the village of La Santa, which was like a second home to me. As soon as I touched down in the village I popped over the road to see my friend Monica, who runs the Mama Africa restaurant in the village. Luckily for me, she was off on holiday the next day and donated a joint of beef, some Thai green curry and some spuds– I was sorted for food for the next few days. Thanks Monica!

I soon realised that whilst the sun was shining and I could lie in past 7am, I was here for some hard work! One day stood out; a 3km sea swim, followed by 6 x 1mile on the track @ 5.20per mile pace, followed by 2hours on the bike @ 285W, then a further 4 x 1mile @ 5.20 pace. I would take a couple easy days after this to recover! Fortunately, Jimmy, APB…’s new team member was on hand to give me a massage, he has fantastic hands and really ironed out any tightness I had. Cheers Jimmy!

Training alone all the time is one of the harder aspects of triathlon I find, so I was very lucky to have Trevor there to ride next to me on my long run set. It was a 20km set around the lagoon near Club La Santa and the tarmac (if you can call it that) is horrendous. Trevor put up with me shouting ‘what is the split’ while he was riding the Lanzarote version of Paris-Roubaix! I appreciate it mate!!

On the 3rd May, the Volcano triathlon was taking place – Trev and Mike suggested this would be a perfect warm up race for me at the end of a hard couple weeks training. It had been a while since Id done an Olympic Distance so I was looking forward to it on a course I knew well. Also a chance to pick up some pocket money….you always race harder when you need to. I had a point to prove, I had yet to race well in Lanzarote, so I wanted to set the record straight. It was a leisurely 10am start (thanks to the Spanish organisers) so I took a spin down on the bike and flicked through the gears for the last time. We took a shady spot and chilled before the race start, with my good friend Bert Jammaer (2 x Ironman Lanzarote champion!).

The swim start was a mass start for the men and it was a brawl for the first 400m, people swimming over the top of you, hitting you, generally not a pleasant experience! After a while it settled down and I could see ahead. I felt better as the swim went on, although I did see quite a few people ahead which was a slight worry too. I exited the swim in 19.20, ran up the steep bank, heart rate through the roof to transition and jumped on the bike.

 The swim start

The swim start

 Trevor was waiting around 500m out of transition to give me a time check and placing. I was 17th and 90seconds down. Not ideal I thought, but doable! I chased hard on the first section of the bike, the first 3km of which were uphill and I ticked off the people I passed. By the time I got to the 20km turnaround point I was in 7th. I continued to push, and reeled in 3 more before starting the run course.

Transition has never been a strong point of mine, it should be – I have never been a faffer! I struggled to get my shoes on whilst two people, who I had previously over took sped past me! I’ll bring a shoe horn next time. I started the run and felt good; with no pain in the stomach (a common theme for me) so I was pleased it was just the legs I had to worry about. The sun was intense (around 30degrees) so at every opportunity I threw a cup of water over my head. I had no watch so I had no idea of my pace, which I think is a good thing. A watch certainly won’t make you run any faster! I didn’t actually feel I was running that fast. I quickly passed two and was sitting in 4th. Trevor shouted ‘he’s dying’ – the guy in front that is. I pushed on and with 2km to go had him in my sights. I slowly pulled him in and once behind, caught my breath before making a surge up the hill to the finish. He dropped back and I pushed on for 3rd place.

 Thank you James Mitchell for this snap..

Thank you James Mitchell for this snap..

 It was great to finish on the podium and especially next to my friend Bert and put to sleep some doubts that had been plaguing me since my appendicitis just 8 weeks previously. I was also pleased that my run split was the fastest by a minute so things are looking up!

 Special thanks to Trevor & Lucy for their unwavering support, Emily, for putting up with me on a daily basis, Mike for his worldly advice and Kenneth Gasque for hosting a great event!

 Trev & I at the finish!

Trev & I at the finish!


Winter training

Training through a British Winter is tough, especially when you have spent the previous one in shorts and t-shirts! I moved back to the UK at the end of June and moved in with my girlfriend Emily and her friends in Hackney. A slight contrast from where I had been. I took a month off after Lanzarote for a physical and mental break before training in earnest for the following season. I have to say, I have found it tough coming back, especially the first couple months.

When it’s dark, raining, freezing and a 4:50am on a Monday it takes a special kind of nutter to train. I remember listening to a Bradley Wiggins podcast and he talked about ‘training when no one else was’. It breeds a smugness and mental armoury that you can return too when racing. The key for me this winter would be finding the right people to train with. Training on your own all the time gets tiresome and having some company more than anything really helps you enjoy what you are doing – at least I thought so!

My running really let me down this year. We know why, so a strong winter of higher mileage and base/strength training would be essential to the lay the foundation for next year. One morning about 11am (when everyone else is supposed to be working). I spotted a slight, African guy striding out around the muddy footpaths of Victoria Park. I knew he was good just watching him for 30seconds. The guy could run. I caught up with him; we chatted and soon got enough info I needed. He was getting back into running, had run 50min flat for 10miles and was also keen to find a training partner. Perfect. We have been meeting up ever since, except when it rains, “Africans don’t run in the rain bruv”. Which is probably quite sensible in Africa, but not in a British Winter. One run stood out recently when we ran out to the Hackney Marshes (once home to the most amounts of football pitches in London) and the pace got faster and faster. At about 5:20/mile pace he said he was only breathing through his nose – which slightly took the piss. Nonetheless, running long runs with this guy was only going to help me. The only problem with Hackney is there are no hills!!

The same applied to the swimming. The gains I had made early on were slowly reducing and I needed something extra. I searched far and wide for a swim club, getting the usual response of ‘how old are you’? Too old, you can’t swim with kids!” Finally, I found a club that would take me. ‘Newham and UEL Swimming Club’. I turned up at 5:30am Monday for my trail session and the coach, Giuseppe gave me the nod. I just felt sorry for the parents dropping their kids off! I thought I had pushed myself hard in the pool before. Little did I know - the training is intense. The first 8 weeks I had my ass continually kicked by kids half my age and size but slowly I am seeing the gains and getting the odd positive look from the coach. Who, I have been extremely impressed by. One session of 10x400 followed by 30x50 stood out, and left me unable to lift a bar of soap after the session. Feel is what I needed, and that is what you get once you have been ploughing up and down a pool for a minimum of 5km a session for 10 years, I had some catching up to do…

It was great getting reacquainted with the roads in Kent and spinning out with my mates from the 34 Nomads Cycling Club. No ride was completed without a mandatory stop for a cake and coffee, one of the many perks of cycling (no matter how much cake you eat you can’t get a stitch!). Nick Gasson, Steve Cavey, Richard Payn were all regularly cycling and were great company for those cold winter days. 

Lanzarote training block

Back to the rock again! I really felt privileged to be out in Lanzarote again, especially in the height of winter back home. I was also conscious not to send pictures to friends of us in shorts drinking coffee outside – however tempting! We rented an apartment in La Santa from my good friend Debbie who runs the ‘Ver De Mar’ restaurant in the village (a must visit by the way!), and after a whip around we stocked up (mainly on pasta) and settled in for 3 weeks of training. By this time I knew every bakery on the island, a must for those long rides. My good friends Ben Cockburn and Sam Wattie shared the apartment (and the cooking). I had around 30 hours per week training scheduled with a primary focus of bike strength and swim / run maintenance. One key session of the week involved an intense gym session, including core stability, metabolic conditioning or circuits followed by single and double leg press. Next was a 3hr ride with 1hr at 70.3 pace (around 300WATTS) followed by a 60min run (30min at race pace and 30min easy recovery). I was feeling strong and was managing 4-5hr rides at around 240-250WATT. I got checked over by Jamie and had a couple of treatments from Trevor at the Clinic during this time. Things were going well, we even got Vince Cooke a local professional photographer to capture some of our sessions 

With just a week of the camp to go I started to get stomach cramps, I first noticed this on our long coastal run to the beach of Famara when I had to walk back because of the pain. The stomach cramps continued for a good 4 days and stopped me from sleeping. I couldn’t train and being surrounded by exercise freaks just frustrated me more! I first thought it was a bug my girlfriend Emily had given me (I apologise) and I assumed id be better soon – and get my sense of humour back!

If you get your appendix out. DO NOT LAUGH!

After the severity of the cramps subsided, I had a recovery week where I took it easy with just an hour of easy aerobic exercise per day. I built up to a 5km easy swim with the club Thursday but I still didn’t feel right! Then on the Friday evening after dinner my cramps became more and more severe to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed. After a good 5 hours of pain, Emily called NHS direct and in I went to A&E. It was confirmed – I had appendicitis. I hadn’t been to hospital since I could remember so all the procedures seemed very new to me. The doctors were nonchalant as ever – it seemed like a big deal to me! A few mates came to visit, which was great – although laughing killed!!

There I was, fit as a fiddle, laid out unable to peel an orange. Shit I thought. My season!!