Triathlon Chris

Over the past year and a half, I have become steadily more excited about being healthy. Lots of people seems to think that being vegetarian means that you are automatically more healthy: they forget that vegetarians are allowed to consume their body weight in cheese every day.

Since August 2013, I have lost around 18% of my body weight (about 16kg) and have become steadily more enamoured with cycling.

I’ve even started running: not exactly frequently, but somewhere in the middle ground between regularly and occasionally.

As part of this exciting new me, I signed up to do my first ever Sprint Triathlon, the XTERRA Buffelspoort LITE

Training

I decided firmly to do the triathlon in around mid December, giving me 6 weeks to train. And I kinda did, vaguely racking up some time in each of the three disciplines:

Swimming

Ultimately, doing 80 lengths of a 5 metre long pool feels a bit ridiculous.

My swimming training was pretty rubbish – I only managed around 4 swims in my 6 weeks. I did a few practice swims at Sodwana Beach, but the current there is insanely strong, and the waves are pretty ferocious, so it wasn’t the best preparation for a flat lake swim of 400m.

I also tried to do some practices in local lodge swimming pools – but these ranged from 5m to 10m wide, making them not very practical for working on my front crawl. Ultimately, doing 80 lengths of a 5m pool feels a bit ridiculous, and I got more tired from constantly turning round than from swimming.

Cycling

wpid-1421077162864_fact_1.jpgThis is definitely my strength – as you know, I love cycling. In the tri, I need to do 19.6km on tricky off-road hills. I bought a second hand Rocky Mountain Element 50 in Paarl, and it flew with us back to KZN.

I’ve had some lovely little rides on it, up Paarl Rock, Table Mountain, Signal Hill and a few decent ~20km trips around Mseleni. I also went after work on day to False Bay Park and spent a few hours rocketing around, as you can see in the picture on right.

Running

I’m steadily starting to appreciate running more in my life, and I went on around 1-2 runs a week. The triathlon involves a hilly, off-road 6km trail run: a good fit for the undulating off road territory around Mseleni hospital.

I generally aimed to do runs around 6-8km, although I think doing a few longer ones would have been a good idea. My favourite run was probably the one up Paarl Rock, where I was able to sprint back down the hill at a ridiculously fast pace.

The Big Day

We are staying with our lovely friends, Paul & Debbie, in the exciting township of Soshanguve. Buffelspoort is around an hour’s drive from Sosh, so we ended up leaving horribly early – 4:40am. Whilst my friends took part in the trail run, I had several hours in which to fix a rather annoying puncture of my back wheel. After a rather exhausting hour scrounging tools (and experience) from some helpful strangers, I finally had a fully inflated back wheel.

By 8:30am, we were at the starting point, and by 8:50, I was in the water surrounded by nearly 400 other men in leotards. Soon the ten second countdown began, and off we went!

Swimming

It turns out that swimming in a tight triathlon suit for the first time, whilst surrounded in every direction by hundreds of other swimmers, is quite stressful. I struggled to get my breathing rhythm sorted, and then, when I tried to stop, had people trying to clamber over me.

I actually began to panic a little, but after a minute or so, I switched to breast stroke, and made my way forwards. After the initial crush, the field thinned out, and I was able to get some space, calm down, and switch back to front crawl again, overtaking some of the people who had shot past me.

Getting out, I nearly tripped over a few times, but soon got my balance and jogged into the first transition.

Time: 400m in 10:21

Transition 1

Putting on tight cycling socks with wet, sandy feet is always a challenge. I was still a little disorientated after the near drowning, so somehow I wasted nearly half the time I spent swimming just getting changed over.

The guy who won the event did both his changeovers in around 40 seconds! Anyway, soon enough I had my bike, and was off past the start line.

Time: 4:37

Cycle

Buffelspoort-XTERRA-LITE-MTB-ROUTEIt felt good to be in the saddle. The first half a kilometre was on a sandy road (see route on right), and I began to relax.

Just as I was starting to focus on my cadence, we moved onto some tricky singletrack, and there was a traffic jam. Everyone had to stop and shuffle along for a bit until the crowd had dispersed a bit. During this time, the leading girls (who set off ten minutes after us) overtook, which was a little depressing.

After a few minutes, things had thinned out again, and off we went. Generally I found the terrain quite tricky, but only had to dismount briefly maybe 20 times over the 19.4km, pretty similar to many of the guys around me.

When we went onto the smoother tracks, especially uphill I was pleased to find I was much more bike fit than the group around me, and was able to power past people, overtaking a lot. Sadly, on the technical downhills I was much too much of a wimp, and a fair number of people overtook me each time (but less than I was passing on the uphills).

I suspect this is probably a result of lots of guys enjoying a little Saturday afternoon MTB, where they drive to a tricky trail and whizz around for an hour, but they don’t do very much long distance: the complete opposite of me.

Cycle Triathlon

Anyway, after a nerve wracking technical descent, I completed the bike course, and went into transition 2.

Time: 19.4km in 1:13:52

Transition 2

Second TransitionThe automated chip on my ankle didn’t record my entrance time into the transition, and combined it with my cycling time, so I guessed that I made better time than the first one, given that I wasn’t wet, and didn’t have to change my shoes.

I did apply lots of sun tan lotion, but managed to forget to put it on my back, leading to a nice burn that has left my race number, “1505” in white skin surrounded by tan on my shoulder. I was a little disorientated, and initially tried to apply the sun lotion as a deoderant, since it was in a spray can. Needless to say, my armpit did not get sunburnt.

Time: 3:00 (probably)

Run

Run RouteShortly after leaving the starting line, I started to get a pain in the left side of my chest, with a very rapid heart rate, around 180. I decided it made more sense to walk for a bit than to die, so it took me a few minutes to get going again. Most of the runners around me were in a worse state than me, and after my myocardial infarction had settled down, I began to pick up the pace.

To my surprise, I had a lot more energy left than the people around me, and I was able to steadily overtake for the rest of the run.

There was a very steep gradient on one uphill, which I walked part of, but aside from this, I didn’t need to stop for the rest of the race (except a brief moment to eat some fruit gums and grab a glass of water from a refreshment stand).

The last kilometre was very enjoyable, and my pace picked up more, the closer the finishing line came.

Running home

And then I was done, the race complete!

Time: 5.8km in 37:28

Results

Winners MedalMy overall time was 2 hours, 9 minutes, 19 seconds. I came 173rd, out of 585 racers (29% centile), or 144th out of 389 men (37% centile). Given that I was aiming for 60% centile, I’m pretty happy.

Given that running is really not my forte, I was very happy with that side of things: compared to the Puma trail run results from earlier in the day (which did the same route), if I had entered that and run the same time, I’d have come 20th out of 234 runners (9% centile) – and I’d already done the first two parts of a triathlon!

All in all, I had a fantastic time, and definitely plan to do lots more of them. I think I need to get a fair bit more training in, but just on the swimming, cycling and running parts.

Five things I hate about cycling: Punctures

I don’t like roads, I don’t like hills, and I need a shower just getting my bike out of the house. Coming in at number 2 on the list of things I hate about cycling: Punctures.

The problem

Flat Tire vectorEvery cyclist knows it: the moment when your heart sinks, and so do your tyres.

Punctures are the intermittent pain that haunts cycling, especially those of us with road bikes (and thus skinny tyres). They may strike sporadically, or you may go through periods where they appear to be an incessant companion; either way, one constant remains: to cycle is to puncture.

The botheration is threefold: time, expense and frustration.

I have to be at work at 8am. I usually leave around 6:15, arriving at work around 7:20, have a shower, eat some food, and I have maybe 5 minutes to spare. If I get a puncture, I need to squeeze an extra 20 minutes into that. That’s assuming that I have actually brought my repair kit, unlike last time…

Whilst inner tubes aren’t terribly expensive, I find spending money on them very painful. I think its knowing that I am paying money for a task that I find very unpleasant. If you’ve ever changed a tyre on a road bike, you’ll know its a dirty, fiddly, finger trapping exercise, perfectly designed to cause annoyance. No one ever enjoys paying their dentist, and I don’t like buying inner tubes.

All this leads to a great deal of frustration. On more than one occasion I have felt like smashing up my bike and buying a Ferrari. The main thing stopping me is doing this is a desire to be healthy, and a lack of a spare £120,000. However, no such barrier prevents me from being grumpy and outspoken about my hatred of all things rubber for several days after a puncture.

The SOLUTION

This one took some thought. Solid rubber tyres don’t go flat, but they also require physiotherapy at the end of every short, bumpy journey. The key will be to reduce the frequency and irritation of punctures.

For frequency, the government simply needs to implement my plans to provide brand new glass-like roads across the nation. As a result, I will enjoy biking more, and get significantly less punctures into the bargain.

For irritation, I propose that all cyclists are followed by a support vehicle à la Tour de France, promptly swapping bikes for you at the first sign of trouble.. Whilst this will cause an increase in emissions, I will fund the carbon offsetting out of the savings I make on new inners. The cars themselves can be paid for out of penalty taxes on towns with too many hills. Sorted.

This article is part of my Five things I hate about cycling series. Read the rest here

Five things I hate about cycling: Terrible roads

Previously, I told you that I don’t like Hills, and that I smell particularly foul. Coming in at number 3 on the list of things I hate about cycling: Terrible roads.

The problem

There are two issues that cause my blood to boil here: road layout, and road condition. Come with me for a moment, as you go on an imaginary cycle around Sheffield.

You hop on your bike, wobbling as you attempt to navigate around all the pot holes on your residential street. You make a turn, making it to the main road, where the road surface is heavily worn tarmac, with raised sharp pebbles showing through – the technical term for this type of road is a “tyregrater”.

Vibrating through that, you find yourself on a lovely smooth run of tarmac, and just start to get some momentum running… when you hit a series of speed bumps the width of the road, with nowhere for cyclists to skirt round them.

The incline increases, and soon you are in a speedy downhill, but immediately have to start braking heavily, because at the end of the road, the sharp hill ends suddenly with a traffic light, a traffic light that stubbornly remains red no matter how much you glare at it.

Then you turn left onto a cycle lane. The cycle lane appears to pass through several car parking spaces (with cars in them), a bollard and a set of railings. Its also on the edge of the road, where many uneven layers of tarmac over the years have combined to leave a craggy 45 degree slope. After a few minutes you come straight to a roundabout with cars racing round so aggressively that your death would have been certain, if you hadn’t just gone over a massive hole in the tarmac surrounding a drain cover and punctured both tyres.

You throw your bike in the nearest dumpster, and get on the bus.

While this is a (mild) exaggeration, I have actually had all of these experiences, and have several of them every time I hop on my bike. I hate feeling like a second class road citizen, but being on a bike, this is often the case.

Road layout

My biggest bugbear with road layout comes in the form of cycle lanes. Renowned amongst seasoned cyclists for being unsafe, unrealistic and unhelpful, I generally tend to avoid them, at the same time resenting the money that is spent on them.

Warrington Cycle Campaign runs a Facility of the Month, which applauds, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, ridiculous, dangerous, deceitful and plain stupid cycle lane examples from all around the UK.

I have included my own submission, with a caption to accompany it below:

Ridiculous Sheffield Cycle LaneThis delightful two way cycle lane, near the University in Sheffield, is a beautiful example of urban cycle planning. Located right next to one of the most dangerous roundabouts in the city, the track used to join the dual carriageway at right angles, leading to a distressingly deadly arrangement.

Happily, the city council obviously listened to feedback from cyclists, and helpfully installed some railings between the end of the cycle lane and the main road. Since this, there have been no reported accidents on this 3 metre track!

Is this because cyclists ignored the track from the beginning and just take the filter lane on the left, which gently and safely feeds into traffic? Or is it due to the visionary work of Sheffield City Council? I leave the decision up to you.

Road condition

When it comes to road condition, especially in Sheffield, we have had some hard winters over the last few years, with a lot of freeze thawing, leading to many roads resembling a patchwork of repaired sections of tar. Unfortunately, lumpy road + inner tubes that are 3mm thick can only lead to one thing… but I will cover that in another post shortly.

The solution

The solution, on this occasion, is partly realistic, and partly less so.

Firstly, its time for the council to spend a lot more money on roads. Lets spend a few hundred million, and get some nice smooth roads. We’ll probably save the cost on petrol savings from the reduced friction. Well we won’t, but still, let’s do it.

Secondly, we need to change all the signs, so that cycle lanes become “car lanes”, and the bikes are given the sole licence to ride on the rest of the roads. Absolutely guarantee you would see a lot more cyclists around!

This article is part of my Five things I hate about cycling series. Read the rest here

Five things I hate about cycling: Sweating

Previously, I told you that my fifth biggest hate about cycling was Hills. Coming in at number 4 is: Sweating, and the need to shower.

The problem

Cyclist on a bike, in a shower, silhouette.So why is that you ask? First off, if you aren’t male, you may not be aware of the scale of the problem. A 2006 study showed that if you exercise 14 fit men for an hour and a half, they will produce nearly 16 litres of sweat between them. As a comparison, your average bucket is about 9 litres. Men literally are capable of sweating buckets.

This wouldn’t be a problem if our society wasn’t so discriminatory. One side effect of civilisation, it appears, is that there is no such thing as sweaty professionalism. Apparently the ideal businessman does not have wet patches back and front of his suit, and it seems that most people don’t want their doctor to be dripping whilst they examine you.

Unfortunately, on the scale of sweatyness, running from 1 (A rock) to 10 (Really old Brie, wrapped in socks, in a plastic bag, in monsoon season), I hit about a 9: I am definitely a sweat monster, especially when I have to deal with hills.

This all ends up frustrating me, since I can rarely use cycling to replace my normal mode of transport without knowing that I have somewhere to change afterwards. It means that I have to pre-plan every trip, often having to check out new locations at least once before I can cycle it.

Replacing a 10 minute car trip becomes rather impractical, since it becomes a 30 minute cycle, followed by a 10 minute hunt for showers, and 20 minutes making myself look presentable. And when the showers are locked/being replaced/filled with stacked chairs – all of which have happened to me – it can be a real problem.

A few years ago, I cycled 7 miles to work, only to realise I had forgotten my suit! It is hard to express the extreme misery I felt inside when I realised that I was going to have to cycle all the way back home, grab a suit, drive in and be an hour late for work into the bargain. If I could have cycled in a suit without fear of drowning, this problem would go away.

The solution

This brings me onto my solution for Sweating – compulsory laser treatment for all men, coupled with a readjustment in the attitudes of society toward odour. Sorted.

This article is part of my Five things I hate about cycling series. Read the rest here

Five things I hate about cycling: Hills

Silhouette of a man cycling uphillI don’t actually hate hills per se, just hate that I find them the biggest mental obstacle to getting out on my bike more.

In fact, I tend to savour the “burn” that hits you whilst you climb up them, and the post-exertion endorphins after the hill levels out. The feeling of achievement at the completion of a big climb is fantastic too.

The problem

What I don’t like is that when I contemplate going for a ride, the first thing that jumps into my head is “Nah, can’t be bothered”. This is probably because I live in Sheffield, erroneously renowned for being built on 7 hills, like Rome. This is wrong – Sheffield is worse, it has 8.

Leaving my house in Sheffield, I can cycle about 2 miles without pedalling, zipping down roads of seemingly ever increasing grade. The downside of this is that every single ride I ever take is followed by an ankle grinding crawl back up to somewhere high above the cloud line.

And it’s not just me. When London first trialled their cycle scheme, they had a problem with bikes disappearing from the stations at the top of hills, and the stations at the bottom being too full. The problem has been even worse in Paris and Barcelona, both cities that have more hills. In Sheffield, I suspect they would need some kind of continual conveyor belt, back up from town into Crookes.

The solution

This brings me onto the perfect solution for Hills – the city council needs to built a ski lift up to my house. Sorted.

This article is part of my Five things I hate about cycling series. Read the rest here

Five things I hate about cycling

My tires were slashed and I almost crashed but the Lord had mercy.
My machine she’s a dud, I’m stuck in the mud, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.
“Rosalita”, Bruce Springsteen

Flat tyre with a little boySo, last week I was cycling to work. It’s a 15 mile trek with some pretty chunky hills, but not too bad in general. However, as I was rolling down the off-ramp off the A61, just a mile from work, I went over a pebble.

I saw it ahead of the front wheel, maybe 30 centimetres away, too near to avoid. I saw it coming, and had time to think just one thing: I hate that pebble.

Moments later, there was the double bump, as both wheels went over it. Then seconds passed. Maybe 3. Just enough to give me the tiniest of hope… and then the vibration started, handlebars shaking whilst I pulled over to the side of the road. I stopped, just as both wheels went flat, as skinny wheels became useless rims with rubber hanging off them.

As I walked a mile to work, I decided my next blog posts are going to be about what I hate about cycling. So, in reverse order, over the next few posts, I am going to cover my five least loved aspects of bicycling:

The top five things I hate about cycling:

  1. Cars
  2. Punctures
  3. Terrible roads
  4. Sweating
  5. Hills

Healthy, wealthy, and tired.

I try to drive to work as little as possible, partly due to my desire to be green, and partly due to my desire to save £200 a month on petrol. In the last few weeks, I have been increasing my stamina at cycling, ready for the big one: cycling the 31 miles to Chesterfield and back, whilst also managing to stay alert, awake and professional at work.

Last week I finally did it, and documented the whole thing on GPS. In homage to my near anonymous friend “Jon”, and his Skinnywheels blog, here it is in all its glory:

To Chesterfield and Back

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It’s a reasonable easy ride. I take a direct route on the way there, which takes in the joys of the A61, a national speed limit dual carriageway that runs about 7 miles of the route. I only do it on the way there, because at 6:30am it’s fairly traffic-free. At 4pm, you don’t want to be on a road with lorries doing 70mph and no cycle lane.

The plus sides of the A61 are plentiful:

  • a smooth, smooth, non pot-holed road, all the way.
  • a solid 3 mile coasting downhill (I managed 31mph with the wind against me!).
  • a more direct, and thus shorter, route.

On the way home, I go through Chesterfield city centre, then Unstone and Dronfield, which is safer, avoids all but 2 of the monster evil roundabouts and is a more modulating route, with small ups and downs rather than a 3 mile long rise.

On recent trips, I have cut my 1 hour 15 outward trip to 1 hour 8. I am hopeful of hitting around 55 minutes, which would mean I am faster than driving it in rush hour!

[iframe http://www.everytrail.com/iframe2.php?trip_id=1063724&width=500&height=400 500 400]

Visit everytrail.com, where you can read all kinds of interesting details about my top speed, elevation, etc.