Monday, 25 June 2012

Maracycle 2012 - June 23/24

Over the last couple of weeks coming up to the event I wasn’t really sure what to have for the weekend; so if in doubt, overstock :-)

Day 1-
Arrival at House of Sport – Start Point Belfast

Thankfully I had quite well prepared for the morning. The night before I had got ready all my bike gear, checked and re-checked the weather and re-read about twenty times the race pack info for each day. I was a bit worried about the weather as it had rained pretty heavy non-stop the Thursday and Friday, but it showed that the weekend held only occassional showers. I decided on wearing my heavy rain jacket, however in the last five minutes before the set off I changed my mind. The riders all pretty much were wearing light rain tops which although not heavy rain proof, are fine for light showers and provide an extra barrier for the winds. I ended up 3 layers on way down to Dublin and two layers (changing to one layer) on the way back to Belfast the next day.
Anyhow, getting back to the morning, I had a banana, 2 muffins and crunchy nut cornflakes before heading to the house of sport for the kick off. On arrival I dropped off my bag and went to the start point with my bike. The bag would be delivered to Dublin for me to collect when I would be checking in to Dublin City University halls of residence.
Set off -

The start started smoothy enough at just after 7.30am. I was using two waterbottles. I recently added a second waterbottle to my bike and my aim was to roughly drink one bottle of water/energy drink per stop with gels, protein bars and gels along the way. This worked well for me.
As I never was in a cycling club and only knew very little about cycling I never really contemplated group riding on the route down to Dublin. Every time a group came along I let them go on ahead and never jumped on (this would change on day 2). Pace was probably 2-3 zone level bearing in mind I didn’t want to over exert myself for tomorrow and I especially wanted to enjoy my first time at this event and knew my bike was prone to chain jumping or the chain falling off when pushing down too hard when changing late.

Lunch stop – O’Connells GAC

The lunch stops on both days I followed the same format. Toilet, sandwich and coffee before heading off again. 

At some stage after the lunch stop I got lost somewhere after Castlebellingham. At one point I rememember a marshall waving me on, twenty minutes  later it seemed I reached a roundabout with no signs with the only direction for Dublin was the sliproad onto to the motorway showing ‘no cyclists.’ As the maracycle makes a point of not going on any of the motorway, I knew I had took a wrong turn somewhere, or I had not caught a turnoff signpost somewhere. I started to think about the last time I had seen a sign or a cyclist and I started to worry. I rang the helpline number which was busy, so I decided to go back and hopefully I would get back on track.
About five minutes later I came across a fellow cyclist, waved him down and he said he had followed the marshall like myself and he thought he was going the correct way, but was worried like myself due to the lack of signs. He said he knew a route which is an old road which should take us to Dublin. Twenty minuted of hard effort of trying to keep up with big ‘Puk’ (I later found out his name) we came to Dundalk. At this point Puk gave up and he concluded he didn’t know where to go from here. He rang the helpline and the logistics folks gave him a route to take which I followed the big lad on for 6 miles roughly until we finally met the main riders at the next rest stop at Bennets Pub, Ard Cath.  I was also kinna glad to stop here for 5 minutes to catch my breath as I no longer wanted to do any more cycling with Puk as my guide – he was way too strong and fast. He may be a trusty  ‘St Christopher’ when you need him, but keep up with him you must, or he would drop you like a sack of potatos! He never at any stage looked behind him to make sure I could keep up with his pace and I remember at one stage he had said to me he was hoping to cover the distance in under 7 hrs! – I was pacing for 9 hrs! I then continued on my journey.
After leaving this last rest stop I felt tired but I knew I could make it ok to Dublin ok, so I plodded on by myself. Soon my spirits were going to be lifted –

After this I shortly came to DCU entrance and had finished the first leg; yepee!

After arriving, I parked the bike in the large hall

Day 2 -
Dublin to Belfast
After a tasty fry up and chat to a fellow novice cyclist I geared up and got ready for the off.

After ten minutes of riding I came across my first group ride and decided to give it a go and latched on to the group 'peloton'.

This was my first proper time trying this 'peloton' out. Group 'peloton' riding as far as I know has different formats but we generally operated two abreast with an anti-clockwise format at change-overs. I made a few mistakes early on by after being domestique I jumped all the way to the back instread of merely taking a step back a turn on the left side while someone took my place in the front. The principle behind group riding is that the front two take the force of the oncoming headwind and create the all important ‘draft zone for the riders behind to fall in behind and thus the riders behind use less energy and power to maintain the same pace as the two riders at the front. When you are part of a goup ride it is important to call out things that are coming up in front (eg call out ‘ pothole, car up head, on your left, lights, right/left turn/stop etc) these call out help prepare riders way behind you be prepared fro what is up ahead of them. As part of being in behind, it is important to stay close, but not too close to the rider in front. I aimed to be roughtly 6 foot at the most behind the rider in front, however at times I needed to brake or speed up according to what the riders in front were doing. You need to pay careful attention when traveling at average speed of about 17 miles an hour not to hit the person in front of you. Peloton riding is pretty cooll I have to say. For about half the ride up to Belfast I was part of various different made up groups, few of which were set groups. Some I lost due to rest stops, or some I caught up with and I joined. I became acustomed to the call outs and quite happily did my fair share of the work up front. I formed groups of just me and another person taking turns, other groups were roughly about ten with the largest about one hundred it felt like! There is something unique about the sound of so many bikes flying along at synchronised speed. It is almost like a train.

The second day lunch stop came a lot quicker than yesterday I felt, probably because i was going slightly quicker average speed and output of probably Zone 3. Apart from the half mile severe gradient getting up the hill to Lislea Community Centre.

So far I had travelled 63 miles. I had my sandwichs and coffee and was off again.
After another stint at group riding I was feeling pretty good and strong and came across the beautiful Camlough Lake in Armagh

I knew the finish was near at hand when I reached the Moira Demesne last reststop

I cycled on after this along some back roads for about ten miles before jumping onto another group for the last 5 miles right up to the finish via Lisburn and Malone Road leading back to House of Sport finish.

The rest stops were well manned. There were a lot of volunteers and these were even supplemented by the irish defence force in the republic. I also have to say both the PSNI and the guards did a great job of helping direct us. A first time maracycle for me that I really enjoyed.

Started at – 7.39am
Finished at – 5.09pm
Stage 1 – 4.54
Rest – 24 min
Stage 2 – 4.11
Overall – 9.05 hrs
Started at – 8.16am
Finished at – 4.02pm
Stage 3 – 4.21
Rest – 17 mins
Stage 4 – 3.24
Overall – 7.28 hrs

Monday, 11 June 2012

Tour de Family - 9 June 2012

Just a wee update on where I am after the last event. Have been doing a few commutes to and from work and have studied the Maracycle training schedule. I noticed that I should try and get some long cycles in before the event and also I should try the cycle two days consecutively aspect also.

Last Saturday I went out with intention of doing a cycle to either Ballynahinch or Saintfield from Belfast depending on how I feel (approx. 30 miler). This should take me approx. 2 hrs so all I took was one bottle water and a small piece of banana bread for nutrition along the way. As I set of within the first half hour I began to get into my stride and felt really good.
The weather was perfect with mild breeze, overhead cloud and forecast had said no rain all day, temperature about 12 degrees.  I noticed as I cycled into the countryside roads I was really falling in love with biking again. The night before i had watched Lance Armstrong documentary DVD about tours and his life and it had me all pumped up to go. 
I decided to plot on and try to make a stab at going to Newcastle. As I passed Ballynahinch I began to get an idea in my head of idea of visiting not only my parents’ house in Newcastle, but also my sister’s house in Lisburn and then my brother’s house in Belfast to end off the journey.

As I was passing through Clough I noticed a turnoff towards Castlewellan which is beside Newcastle. I then thought that it might be useful to try the gradient on the ‘Mill Hill’ road that comes into Castlewellan. For me as an amateur cyclist this was pretty hard and steep, but I plodded up it and eventually got to the top before turning off to get to Newcastle where I briefly stopped to chat to my folks and steal a banana sandwich and a top up on liquids before setting off again.

As I left Newcastle I worked out in my head the direction I would need to go to get to Lisburn from Newcastle. I knew that it would probably be quicker to go via Hillsborough but I thought I might come across a duel carriageway so I decided to go via Carryduff back roads.  I picked up the pace as I knew my time was running out before me and the wife were heading out for dinner that evening. I eventually got to my sister’s house where I caught up with my little niece.

Refuelling once again (banana bap this time – I love my bananas!), I left and knuckled down for the last stop in Belfast to spring a third surprise visit to my brother and his kids.

After leaving here I had only a few miles to travel to get to my local leisure centre were my car was parked. When I arrived I checked my imapmyrun app on iphone to see how far I had travelled. Unfortunately the battery had run out. When I got home I checked the logged route after recharging the phone in addition to a manual mapmyrun distance calculator online which totalled 84 miles. Before this my max was 66 miler doing an annual cycle sportive I have done in last couple of years, so to do 84 miles and still feel pretty ok afterwards. as for the planned dinner outing i just about made it in time. Result!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Half Ironman - 2 June 2012

Half Ironman Triathlon – 2nd June 2012

Pre - Race Preperation

Since the marathon in May I have only done a couple of runs and a couple of short cycle commutes to and from work. To check my fitness a few nights ago after my cycle back from work (14 mile) I did a 10 mile run later that evening with fitness partner McGregor (our dog). We both enjoyed and I knew I had a reasonable chance of achieving the half distance ok. Unlike last year I have not done any other triathlons to test things out or even tested out pre - race open water swimming. The closest I got to open water was the odd surf session with my brother and a few friends during the year.
I tried to go into this event with a relaxed mindset. Although in previous events I noticed that I always tend to freak myself out, over thinking things and also on the day of events let the morning preparation stress me out. I realised that I ought to try the cool, calm and collected approach and merely just go out there and ‘enjoy’ the event, after all, no one was insisting that I do it. I later realised that this helped me during the day a great deal to have a calm and positive mindset.

In the morning I had the usual bread and peanut butter with crunchy nut cornflakes and set off for Dungannon. Arrived ok and registered and got ready for the set off. After registering I briefy met a friend from facebook I got in contact with Eamonn Sheehan who is doing a great upcoming Autism charity event '212 in 2012'!/212in2012. Great to meet Eamonn, a real down to earth guy.

The weather was perfect. Slightly sunny and minimal winds with water temperature perfect. I set up my bike and kit in transition area and got changed into my wetsuit. The bikes in transition were as usual all very cool looking and a lot better than my mudguard setup basic road bike. Anyhows I didn’t let it dampen my spirits and made my way down for the swim.

The swim got off to a good start but after about 5 minutes I felt my left goggle filling up with water. Not sure whether this was due to poor fitting or if it was because they were an old pair of goggles I haven’t used in a long time. This resulted in me every few minutes stopping and re-adjusting. I made sure that I didn’t fiddle about too much in case they broke – I didn’t fancy a mile open water swim without any goggles. Unfortunately halfway done my second swim cap came off when I was fiddling so I tried to be extra careful from there on in. Only once did I go slightly off course and thankfully a canoeist support team member kept us right. I did notice that some of the folk did cheat a bit and cut the buoy markers a bit short instead of going around them fully. I felt great during the swim although I struggled to find anyone who I could draft behind this time around. Felt as if I could have gone faster during the swim but I purposely held back as I knew it was going to be a long day. On the way out onto dry land after the swim I had a funny moment when I fell over coming out of the water as I was pretty unsteady.

After the swim the transition went ok. I took my time, got changed and set off. I started my garmin cycle sensor to keep track of milage but quickly realised it wasn’t working – dam it! Nutrition on the bike I ate a couple of flack jacks, a gel and caffeine tablets. Throughout the bike ride I drank plenty. Feeling well filled up with fuel and drinking almost 2 bottles of fluid on the bike section I felt ok with no periods of low energy. The course is mostly country roads with minimal ups and downs throughout which was to be appreciated. During the ride I thought about the upcoming Belfast Dublin Maracycle; this I have wanted to do for years since secondary school when I heard about it. It’s always been an ambition of mine.
During the ride it was good that Eamonn came across me. We cahtted for a while and advised me that I had done 29 miles so that gave me a rough idea of how far I still had to go and also guided my decision making for nutrition for the rest of the ride. I noticed that quite a few people overtook me on the bike ride and I think I was one of the last handful of people in towards the end. I have never been fast on the bike, so maybe this could be something I could work on in the future. To be honest towards the end of the ride I was looking forward to it to finish as I had a pretty sore back and my poor bum cheeks had fallen out with me after three and a half hours on the saddle!
In transition after the bike, I took my time and then got running. Unfortunately this time I made a mistake and after starting the run I quickly realised it. I had not changed from cycle shorts to running shorts. I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal as I would be returning to this transition area at the end of each of the 4 laps so after the first lap I had a quick toilet stop at the portaloo and changed into my run shorts and off I went again. The run went pretty well and my garmin watch worked with my footpod for distance and my HRM read an average of 167 which I am happy with. Of the three disciplines I had looked forward to running most of all this time. Thankfully I ran with little difficulty throughout. Fair enough I was slow, but I was steady and I felt my form was fine without strain or breathing difficulty at any stage. My nutrition plan ran well with a couple of gels and a few caffeine tablets to carry me through the run. I also actively tried to drink water at three of the four laps which I think helped. Throughout the run I overtook more people than those that overtook me. I finished feeling tired but strong and with a smile on my face. What a great day!

Big thanks to Bob and the rest of the lads from Tri- Limits that organised the event. I have to say they did a great job in every manner despite there being probably twice the amount of people taking part compared to last year. Big thanks to them
Here I am with good friend Eamonn who finished shortly after me: -

Eamonn had a very tough day with quad injury playing up and his leg seezing up during the swim, so hats off to the big fella for being able to complete the race. Eamonn told me that Bob and some of the other guys are doing the Newry Marathon the next day after this race, now that’s crazy; I would love to have given it a go I admit.
As for my total time I think it was about 6.47. A lot more than last year but last year I did cut the swim route short. Also at no stage did I even try to push myself during the race. I merely wanted to enjoy it to the full, and indeed I did, what a ‘beautiful day’ as the song by U2 goes.
That’s that for now. In three weeks time I have the maracycle to do. Hopefully this new event for me will go well.