ÖTILLÖ Swim Run kit breakdown

Swim with your shoes on, run in your wetsuit – it’s a funny business doing a SwimRun event and I’ve had a lot of questions about the kit we used for OtillO on the Isles of Scilly, so here is a breakdown…

  1. SwimRun Wetsuit: There is quite a difference in features to my usual triathlon wetsuit. Short legs, zip up the front for easy breathing when running, extra flexible in the shoulders and back of the legs for running, extra buoyancy on the front and sides, zip pocket on the back and small pockets inside for nutrition and safety equipment and the option to cut the sleeves down. I didn’t do so in the hot weather on Scilly found it a bit cumbersome to strip down to the waist for longer runs and re-suit for the swims. May partner Jenny had a different suit that came short sleeve as standard, with separate full sleeves (like bike arm warmers) which seemed to work well. I used the Zone3 Evolution SwimRun https://racezone3.com/product/mens-evolution/
  2. Running Shoes: You could absolutely wear your favourite shoe for a SwimRun but there are a few things I wanted from mine – lightweight when wet as well as dry, good traction to tackle rocky shorefronts as well as tough trails that were really fell running in places, low drop, non-absorbing soles for weight and also buoyancy in the water. After a lot of research, I went for the Acceleritas5 M RB9X by Swedish brand Icebug: https://int-shop.icebug.com/swimrun/acceleritas5-m-rb9x-1
  3. Paddles: Paddles are not mandatory and there were plenty people who didn’t use them. 8km is a lot of swimming to do with paddles so I did most of my swimming in the months prior to the race in them and it was definitely tough on the arms and shoulders but overall definitely worth it. The big boys used bigger paddles but these Speedo are size small which was perfect for me.
  4. Belt/Carabiner: Jenny and I experimented in training with a tether which we decided not to use in the race (too easy to get tangled up) but I kept the belt, added a carabiner and used that to clip my paddles onto for the longer runs – it worked well and I’d do that again.
  5. Goggles: Nothing fancy or special about these  – my usual Aquasphere model.
  6. Safety Equipment: These are mandatory items – a whistle, compass and compression bandage. I ditched the bulky bandage I bought at Boots and got this little vacuum sealed pack at the race. It is very flat and easy to fit in my wetsuit. It should also be noted I have no clue how to use a compass. You will have to show these items when registering in order to collect your vest and chip etc.
  7. Swim Cap: I used the race issue silicon cap but even in the once in a lifetime weather, the water got cold. Jenny wore a neoprene headband and that’s an item I’ll add to the kit bag.
  8. Pull Buoy: Another optional aid but used by almost everyone. I poked a couple of holes in it with a kitten knife then threaded a swim ankle band through to attach it to my leg. Insert between legs for swims, move to the side for runs.
  9. Neoprene calf sleeve: These came with the wetsuit and are a must have item. Helps with buoyancy and provided some leg cover when running through bushes etc.

 

Haute Route: a pro experience at the pointy end of the peloton

So, what is the Haute Route? Well, it’s pretty much the closest an enthusiastic idiot / weekend warrior can get to living the life of a pro cyclist.

The Haute Route is a series of seven day stage races taking place over the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, and Rockies. The seven days of racing sounds tough, but don’t stress, the organisers do give you a ‘rest’ day. However, on that day they also make you do an ITT up a mountain. So, only 60-90 minutes or so of pain rather than 5-6 hours. Mmmm restful. 

Whilst the riding is brutal, with an average stage being around 120km in length and at least 3500m in gain, the organisers do a lot to make life easier for you. They really do make you think you’re riding the Tour De France (other Grand Tours are available), with iconic Mavic cars and bikes patrolling the road to offer assistance, hundreds of assistants martialling the roads  to control junctions and keep you moving in the right direction, and the broom wagon looming large at the back.

With the broom wagon comes the competitive element – the stages are fully timed (bar some dangerous descents, which are neutralised), and you’re awarded a GC position for the week. Competition is super-high, with ex-pros and Olympians rubbing shoulders with amateur road champions and cat 1 racers, as well as the odd broom-wagon dodging overly-moneyed MAMIL on a Pinarello of course.

The Haute Route Pyrenees 2016 was lucky enough to be graced by three Black Line Londoners; Deenzy, Mel, and that new guy who didn’t come to the Box Hill rideout. We all opted to go through the Sports Tours International tour operator,  who do huge amounts to make a stressful week easier; organising airport transfers, briefing you on the stages to come, and most importantly, providing mountain top picnics resplendent with sandwiches and coffee in the neutralised feed zones.

We’d all met and become friends at the 2015 Alps edition, had all placed in strong but not outstanding positions, and so knew what we were letting ourselves in for in 2016. Mel was targeting stage glory in the TT, Deenzy would take whatever an old man can salvage from his decrepit legs and booze riddled innards, and me? Following a summer of training in the mountains and riding in lots of races / grandfondos etc, I thought I’d try to ‘compete’ in the Haute Route rather than just survive it. I knew I wasn’t going to be up there in the top 10% of the peloton, but reckoned I could get a bite of the next slice of the cake.

Having worked my way up to 68th of around 400 riders on GC in the first three stages, day four was my first stage starting in the prestigious top 75 ‘racers’ pen, and ironically enough, my first rideout in my virgin BLL jersey. As I stood in the pen of purgatory, chowing down on a peanut butter, banana, and jam sarnie eyeing my adversaries, nerves were high. I knew the pace would be breakneck from the moment we escaped the neutral zone. My adversaries in the pen looked lean and lithe, and I felt a little like an imposter. The fact that the parcours almost immediately took us over the 19km ascent of the Tourmalet didn’t exactly calm me down.

Team BLL

As expected, the first 10km of the stage leading to the base of the Tourmalet was taken at punishment pace. The pack of 75 looked and felt like a road race, surging up the draggy valley to the start of the col at well over 40km/h. Personal space was at a premium, with touches of knuckles with your neighbour a common occurrence. Just clinging onto the wheel in front over some of the pitches in the road lead me to push well over my power threshold and my heart rate monitor was close to breaking point.

Eventually the inevitable happened – CRACK – the sound of carbon on tarmac. A touch of wheels about 5 riders up the road led to two riders hitting the deck and a shrapnel of bidons, bars and other bits and bobs spilled across the road. I managed to dodge this, but several others were caught up.

Thankfuly the spill calmed the temperament of the bunch and of course, split us up. I found myself in the third group on the road, consisting of riders 30-50th ish on the road. We took the rest of the climb at a hard but achievable pace, and it was certainly something I won’t forget. Like coverage you see of Nairo, Chris, Alberto, Vicenzo and co, we attacked the 10% ramps and swept around the hairpins as one compact unit. There was no benefit to be had from drafting, but the psychological benefit of company, and the desire to keep your enemies close, kept us together.

We were climbing the west side of the col and were enshrouded in shade for the early kilometres of the climb, as the sun rose behind the far side of the mountain. The experience of riding in the lengthening morning shadows as the sun peeked over the summit, climbing through the barren rocks and empty fields of the Tourmalet’s landscape, accompanied only by the noise of burring chains, clicking gear changes and the odd communication between riders, was certainly something I won’t forget. I’m no pro, but it sort of felt like it. Riding further down the field can feel a little like any cyclosportive, with small groups of riders strung along the road. However, being up in the pointy end, riding in well matched and aggressive packs that are truly racing each other, really adds to the pro experience provided by the Mavic cars, marshals and massages etc.

I’m perhaps making the climb sound like some sort of Rapha-esque romanticised vision of a bike ride. This was certainly not the case. As we reached the ever steepening final kms, the attacks went and a few small groups accelerated off the front. Knowing that I was in a field of more accomplished riders than myself, with my legs searing with the lactate of around 80 minutes of hard climbing, I kept my powder dry and stayed with the remnants of my peloton over the crest of the col.

Having grabbed my pre-filled third and fourth bidons off my awesome ‘soigneur’, Roy, from Sports Tours International at the feedstation, zipped up my jersey (no gilets required on a day that reached 40 degrees C) and stuffed a piece of Duo bar down my gob, the breakneck descent followed. Topping out at 80kmph and averaging almost 50kph, this was almost as incredible as the climb.

As to the rest of the day, well, two more climbs followed on a day that reached, in Haute Route terms, a relatively benign 100km and 3,400m in total, and I finished 50th on the day, moving me to 55th on GC.

I faded towards the end of the week as my legs failed to keep up with the abuse dished out to them early in the week, but I finished a pretty pleasing 60th overall. I’d have loved to have breached the top 50, but hanging on to 60th feels pretty good to me. That elusive top 50 will be my project for Haute Route Dolomites 2017…

Jim Cotton

Box Hill 20 – 2016

Nothing sums up Black Line London more than our annual Box Hill 20 Challenge and this year’s was a cracker – great weather, friends, family and of course a mountain of bakes…..

 

A Rookie’s Guide to Ultra Trail Running

Last weekend I had a first go at running further than a marathon, and just to add a little fun to proceedings I did it off-road. The Weald Challenge is 50km long and 85% of it is pathways, muddy tracks, rutted farm fields (more of these shortly) and climbing over stiles, a lot of stiles…

Here, in random order, is some stuff I learned.

alan_ultra_weald_0003

  1. Ultra running is very inclusive. There are lots of skinny people yes, but there are also lots of other shapes, sizes and ages. They are a very friendly and welcoming bunch.
  2. As with all long distance running events, there will be an old guy at the start in plimsolls, worn vest and shorts, with a running style that looks like rapid-onset scoliosis. You will worry about him finishing safely.
  3. When the hooter goes, you will be thinking, “8km really isn’t that much further than a marathon, is it? How bad can this get?” The answers are a) ‘A lot’, and b) ‘Very’.
  4. You will very quickly find out that trail running is not all on nice broad paths like my local North Downs Way. Farm fields with trodden crops over deep ruts are the running equivalent of those Viet Cong pits filled with Bamboo pungi sticks. That, and downhills are not your friend if you don’t have decent downhill running technique.
  5. Compression socks are really great for protecting you from nettle burn. But not if you leave them in the drawer at home.
  6. The best way to run through a marshy riverside field is to have two large cows follow you with menacing intent.
  7. Pacing yeah? I should know this by now, but however slow you start, it’s still too fast. I got to 30k in a respectable 81st position, by 50k I’d dropped to a humbling 110th.
  8. Ultra running aid stations are the best. Fancy a cold slice of water melon in the middle of a forest after 5 hours of running? Not. A. Problem.
  9. There are adders in Sussex. Well, at least one 3ft long one.
  10. About 10k from the end there will be an old guy in plimsolls, worn vest and shorts, with a running style that looks like rapid-onset scoliosis. He will go past you like you are standing still, probably while worrying about you finishing safely.
  11. At the beginning of the race, climbing a stile over a fence will feel like it’s adding character and charm to your day. At around 48.5k into the race, the 81st stile (yes, 81!) you have to climb will feel like that big f*!king wall in Game of Thrones. PTSD actually stands for Post Traumatic Stile Disorder.
  12. That last 8k genuinely feels like 20. But it so worth it when you get a medal at the finish and a specially made pottery mug (and free coffee to go in it). It’s that kind of stuff that makes local races brilliant.

In summary, I recommend this ultra trail-running very highly. It takes a lot of mental stamina, concentration and some serious leg strength as you can’t just zone out like you do on the road. It’s challenging and fun at the same time, as competitive or social as you choose to make it and with tons to learn and improve on. Oh, and the views are awesome! I’m definitely in for more with eyes on the Pilgrim Challenge next February . Here’s hoping it doesn’t snow!

Thanks Carel and Alechia for the ride to and from the race, the support, the hotdog at the finish and the awesome photos. Special thanks to Alechia for ‘intervening assertively’ when I considered dropping to the half marathon about four weeks out from the race. What was I thinking!?

What Makes Kona Awesome?

Quite a bit of time has passed since I took my first steps onto the Big Island. Is has allowed the dizzy high of the experience to subside, and reflection to take place. Part of me still feels the Kona buzz, with the other half thinking it could only have been a figment of my imagination. To paint a bit of a picture, Kona was my seventh Ironman. Why is this relevant? Well, it means that since I first started doing this crazy sport, every October for the last eight years, I’ve sat up all night watching the World Championship of Ironman coverage. So even before I set foot on the island, it felt as if I knew it like the back of my hand. And this worried me.

God Complex

Kona sits on a pedestal. From the moment Paul Kaye asked if I wanted my Kona slot, the significance of the achievement hit home. Whoops, high-fives, applause and hugs. Seconds later, Paula Newby-Fraser (8-Time Ironman Triathlon World Champion) placed a lei around my neck. Suddenly I was standing on that very same pedestal.

Fast forward several months. I nervously approached a ‘built-like-a-brick-shithouse’ US Customs official in Seattle. Seeing my bike box, he asked, “Are you goin’ to Kona?” “Um, yes sir, I am.” Out stretched his hand, with a look of respect in his eyes and a booming voice, “Congratulations man, that’s awesome! Please come this way.” I felt like royalty. Sat on the plane, the Captain welcomed and congratulated all the Ironman athletes. I didn’t need a plane, I could have floated across the Pacific Ocean on my own cloud.

 Tourist Attractions

Like any destination, there’s a list of tick box attractions. Where Kona differs, is that most of them mean nothing to a non-Ironman. I can’t imagine a honeymoon couple jumping around excitedly in their seats, as they fly low over a huge set of industrial solar panels. Hello the Natural Energy Lab. Hallowed ground. Pack hire car, three left turns, one right – fucking hell I’m on the Queen K! It’s a motorway FFS, yet I’m staring at it in wonder, as if it’s the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. God save the Queen K, and its adjoining lava fields (thanks Rich). And so it continues, crossing over Palani Road, marvelling at how steep it is in the flesh. Unpack car, drive into town for a swim…only along bloody Ali’i Drive (AKA Witness the Fitness Drive). The biggest ‘pinch me’ moment however, is reserved for those first footsteps on Dig Me Beach. How they even came to giving a five metre section of white sand a name, I have no idea. Yet there I was, warm water lapping at my ankles, grinning wider than the adjacent pier – home to the most viewed triathlon transition area in the world.

Dig_Me_Beach

 Volunteers

Ironman races would not be possible without the amazing dedication of the countless volunteers. Add ‘Merican, and a world championship event into the mix, and the enthusiasm and helpfulness levels sky rocket. Nothing is too much trouble. It feels like you’ve got two personal assistants at all times. They’re knowledgeable, engaging and ever-smiling, regardless of the scorching heat and energy-sapping humidity. I worshipped a few that handed me ice during the race. They truly go above and beyond. Just ask Paul Burton.

 Swag

Who doesn’t like free shit! Nearly every single triathlon brand is represented at the expo. They must bring container loads of swag. Having a cap fetish, I was in heaven. I came home with more nutrition than when I left. I could clothe a small army with the tees I collected. Admittedly, these weren’t all free, but the quality and variety of cool stuff was staggering. Kid in a toy shop comes to mind.

#UPR15

It was said to me that the Kona experience is not complete without participation in the Underpants Run. Now I know why. Aside from ogling all the extremely fit bodies wearing virtually nothing, it’s a chance for competitors and their support crews to jog/walk around the streets of Kona together. All in the name of charity. It’s simply a vibe. Strangers take photos together. People wear customised underwear (we made sure we didn’t feel left out on this accord). There’s even an oath recited before the start.

UPR

 Island Vibes

2,500 of the world’s fittest individuals in a 10km radius can be a little overwhelming. Too much at times. Drive 11km and you’ve got an island paradise all to yourself. Palm trees, crystal clear waters, turtles and dolphins. This is where you really get to soak in the laidback, Hawaiian lifestyle. It’s easy to forget you’ve still got an Ironman to complete at the end of the week. Hawaii is a bucket list holiday destination. Everyone’s chilled and happy. You feel this energy.

Believe the Hype

We live in a world of hype. Searching for the next best thing. My biggest worry was that the hype wouldn’t live up to the expectation. I get overexcited easily and place huge expectations on life events. What if all the time, money, sacrifice, sweat and tears wasn’t worth it? Well, I’m pleased to say I was being silly. Kona blew me away. Thankfully not literally, as Madam Pele is known to do at times. It superseded my dreams.

If you’re close to qualifying, don’t stop trying. It can take a while. And it should. And maybe it’ll only happen later in your life. For many, Kona starts as a dream. A bar set by individuals who want to see what their minds and bodies are capable of. Nowhere is this more tangible than standing under the massive banyan tree on Ali’i Drive, 50m from the finish line. Last finisher, 61 year old Sharman Parr comes staggering down the red carpet with 16 hours and 49 minutes on the clock. 11 minutes before the cut-off. I get gooseflesh just thinking back to the roar of the crowd, with Mike Riley saying those famous words……

YOU! ARE! AN! IRONMAN!

Shit, I forgot about MY race…

See Paul, I told you you could do it.

For athletes like myself who have been marginal qualifiers – sellouts to Andrew Messick’s WTC global gravy train, collecting cheap backpacks with a cunningly calculated six-month lifespan and eventually the expensive golden ticket to the Big Dance – there’s a clear decision to make soon after qualifying for Kona: Am I going there to complete and soak up the experience, get the free caps/gels/bedspreads/curtains and just make sure I’m fit enough to get round that course in one piece with a smile on my face? Or, am I going to get myself in the best shape I can and go race properly – to see how you stack up against the best? Decision 1 – the mindset decision.

Then Decision 2 – the execution decision. Once you’ve done a few, there’s a clear honesty that’s needed about Ironman racing. You know in both your head and your heart when you’re fit and ready for the best performance you’re capable of – but more importantly you know (or should know) when it’s touch and go or when it’s definitely not on. Training tells you. There’s no bullshitting or bluffing this sport. It’s too hard. If you bullshit yourself and pretend things will be ok then you’ll be walking the marathon. Do this in Kona and there’s a chance people will be frying eggs off your back as you’re passed out face down on the Queen K. Or even Ali’i Drive if you don’t make it as far as Palani. So Decision 2 is in the weeks before the race, the honest look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror-question – what shape am I in, and what’s my race strategy to best reflect that?

Continue reading “See Paul, I told you you could do it.”

If Carlsberg Did Race Reports….Alan Grové Does IM Wales.

Everyone knows that when it comes to Ironman, it’s the night before the night before the race that is the important one to bank sleep. It’s probably the one bit of solid advice I have to offer when it comes to Ironman planning. Yet here I sit, bolt upright and wide-awake in my hotel bed in Tenby at 3:30am on the 12th of September 2015, rain lashing the window. I’ve got a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling up. I turn on the light and reach for a marker pen. So much for sleep.

Continue reading “If Carlsberg Did Race Reports….Alan Grové Does IM Wales.”

5 Things We Learned From Box Hill 20

Box Hill 20 2015

 

1. When you’re with your mates, the rain doesn’t matter.

2. You spend a lot more time than you think going downhill.

3. Once you try one of Alechia van Wyk’s Death By Oreo cupcakes prepare for any other baked goods to feel pathetically substandard for the rest of your life.

4. Roger Barr must have been bored out his mind doing 73 reps when Everesting Box Hill.

5. It’s easy to lose count.

Photo: Carel Du Plessis

Paul Burton’s Ironman South Africa 2015 – Kona Booked.

“Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”

That’s one of the cringeworthy ‘inspirational quotes’ that obsessed athletes wheel out to defend their mindset and what they do. It’s a load of rubbish. I’ve been utterly obsessed. I think everyone who puts themselves through endurance sport training with the aim of being as good as they can be is obsessed. Obsession is good for performance or else you wouldn’t put yourself through what it takes to get there. It can also be highly damaging if not kept in check to make sure some form of balance is maintained. But anyone doing this silly sport of ours who claims they’re not obsessed is most likely lying. Ask their families…

Continue reading “Paul Burton’s Ironman South Africa 2015 – Kona Booked.”