Friday, September 24, 2010


So, the Coast-to-Coast is done with. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped. A combination of factors, mainly physical, a little technological, maybe a bit mental as well. These are just some assorted memories from the race, good, bad and ugly, and a few thing to pick up on for the future.

Introductions, banter, catching up, the sun rising over the sea, watching dawn chasing us, having a brew by the beach and getting sorted for the off. Praying for fine weather, preparing for rain. A brave Provost greeting, the sound of the horn and away.

Stage 1 - Run, 11km. 1:11:15.
Taking it steady, knowing Phil was behind me, until he caught me again. Rewarding myself with Jelly Babies, cursing myself when I felt like I needed to walk. Pins and needles in my left foot, a blister on my right. The beautiful red sunrise off to the left, over the hay field. Up the drive of Cawdor castle, "You're going the wrong way, Pyro. The teashop's that way", into the transition, fast change, and onwards.

Stage 2 - Road bike, 55km. 2:24:19
Feeling good, down on the bars early, pushing a good gear on the flat. Turning upwards at Galcantry, running out of gears technically and physically, grinding on the up. Daviot, having to step off and stretch my back out, but through the tunnel and on, and up... Being glad Ross had warned me about the exposure on the top road, keeping going to keep warm. Head all over the place, up and down like crazy, highs and lows physically and mentally. Dropping my sweets, insidious climbs, being caught and dropped, the first Racer category rider going through. Tucked and dropping, aero-a-gogo. Descending fast but cautious to Inverfarigaig, a couple of short snotbag climbs, then the signs for the turnoff, into transition. People sitting in transition, 3 close together, other people looking worse than me. Beef wrap, drink, food, into the boat and off.

Stage 3 - Kayak, 17km. 2:35:44
Better shape than some. Fighting with the boat and what little swell there was, back end of the boat (a whitewater racer) being pushed out of line every minute or so. Constant re-correction, Houli's tape on the paddles (from him borrowing them for training) rubbing blisters. Wobbling like crazy when I stopped for food. Catching Elizabeth and someone else, feeling sorry for the latter as he pulled over and apparently got picked up by the safety boat (cramps). Loch Ness going on forever into the mist, starting to see the end looming but still a way away. Bouys coming into sight, Racer paddlers coming into sight, the end coming into sight. Out of the boat, up onto the headland, and seeing Big Chris and Trudi. Limping to the bike park, legs tight, still smiling

Stage 4 - MTB, 53km. 3:56.45
Out of transition, fast and smooth down the canal, feeling the pull in my left knee (ITB). Fast rotation, spinning away, pace but not power. Seeing Racers getting cheeky parental support not 30yds from a Marshal, onto the tarmac, onto the singletrack, off. Empty tank, struggling with the mud and the climbs, off and pushing, on and riding, off, on, off. Fantastic singletrack hairpins, roosting it down towards Invergarry, onto the tarmac again for a while. The Racer with his helmet on his rucksack (tut tut tut), off-road once more, feeling like we were going the wrong way, fire-road on and on and on, Clunes, then Bunarkaig, places I recognize at last. Knees getting worse, seizing when I stop, easing some when I spin, agony when I have to put the pressure down. Helping out the pair struggling on the road, the guy on a hire bike with the jammed chain, grovelling onwards on the road, to the Corpach road, into known territory, into Claggan...

"Sorry mate. They moved the cutoff forwards half an hour. It's twenty past four, you've missed it."
Mixed feelings. Pluses - Saves the knee, saves me from the killer trek. Minuses - my race is over, I haven't completed, I came here to complete. Frustration, food, painkillers, dry clothes. "If we'd started on time instead of 15 minutes late" - You'd still be 5 minutes out of time. Driving to Glencoe, resigned gradually. Seeing old faces and friends, cheering for the prizegiving, seeing Bruce up on the podium. Off to our 'Hobbit' for the night, Dark Island and excellent burger in the Bothan bar then sleep. G'night.

Lessons to be learnt.
It's a frustrating one. If we'd started on time and the cutoff hadn't been shifted, I would have made it in with 25mins to spare, headed out onto the hill, and probably got cutoff at the paddle start, which was what I'd said was my worst case scenario. I'd have been suffering with my knee but I'd have kept going. I won't ever blame an organiser for shifting a cutoff, but more notice, a message via the marshals further up the course for example, would have been a sign to push, instead of cruising in to preserve the knee. Starting on time would have helped as well.

I'm not one to try and blame everything on technology. The simplest improvement I could make would be to train more, get fitter, mix endurance work with speed work, spend more time doing the mileage, and lose some weight. I think the ITB problem is a symptom of pushing too far too fast, better training would alleviate that as well.

Tactically I think the race played out as I'd wanted. I didn't waste time in transitions, I stuck at paces I could continue (be they slow or otherwise), and I ate when and where I needed to. Steve, as support, was absolutely superb on getting what kit I needed, where I needed it, when I needed it. We'd prepped and planned very well, sorted the gear as we needed it, and stuck to our gameplan.

Foodwise I made a couple of mistakes, and these showed. I've never been good at eating first thing in the morning, so I need to possibly force more food down pre-start. I had a bowl of porage but maybe that's not enough. I munched a few Jelly Babies on the run, which was about all I needed, but should have eaten more on the road bike in prep for the paddle. Cumulatively, not enough went into the tank on the first 3 stages, and I started to crash out on the MTB. I ate everything Steve had prepped for me on the MTB, and was still dropping off. Food strategy is definitely something to work on.

Technologically I'd make a couple of changes. Altering the gearing on my road bike bring it in line with my MTB (and therefore my normal riding style). A triple chainset (or a compact double) would be a good start. Computers on both bikes might also be a help, although I'm undecided on this: I don't know whether being able to see pace and distance would be a boost or a frustration. I don't ride with a computer normally so something I need to get into the habit of.

A different boat would also make a difference. I took a whitewater racer because, frankly, it was what I could get a hold of, but it was probably one of the slowest boats there. The mechanics of steering (leaning) and the lack of rudder meant I was getting pushed out of shape by the swell, despite it being relatively small, and spent too much time fighting the boat to be able to paddle effectively. Something like a sea kayak, with a rudder or at least a skeg, would help.

One thing is for certain (he says, signing his own execution warrant)...

...I'll be back for another go.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"I may be some time..."

So, the latest batch of lunacy looms. And it's a biggie. The Nokia Coast-to-Coast, the focus of a summer's (ahem) training. 160km across Scotland, run-bike-kayak stylee. And guess what? I'm nervous.

A wise old man (or was it a doddery old goat?) often used to tell me that being nervous was natural, it showed you were taking things seriously. Well, I often try to pretend I'm not taking it seriously, but in this case, it's a definite lie. I'm taking it really, really seriously. I'm in Expert category. That's not a refection on my abilities as a racer, just that I have the skills and desire to put a long kayak section into my race. I may be the least Expert of the Experts, and there's only 40 of us.

I'm competitive, if only with myself. My only aim is to complete the course, irrespective of ranking or time. I am going for a long day out in the hills. It will hurt. I know all of this, I keep repeating all of this to myself. But the truth is thus: If this were a team event, I would be less nervous. The support and presence of others in the same boat is a big motivating factor to me. But this is a solo event. Steve is supporting me, of which I'm very, very grateful. Aside from that, I have to push myself the entire way. No helping hands, no extrinsic motivator alongside, no-one to help through their bad patches and to be helped by through mine. I don't handle solo racing as well as I do team work, and this is a big solo. Mentally, that's hard work for me. We'll see how it pans out.

What's in store for me then?
11km trail run - 55km road bike - 17km kayak - 53km mountain bike - 23km run/trek - 1.5km kayak. 
What's making me nervous is the foot work. An 11km trail run is neither here nor there, it's two-and-a-bit laps of the parkrun. It's a gentle shuffle to get me warmed up and into the race. 23km run/trek worries me more. I'd never think of entering a road half marathon. I know, theoretically, I can do the distance, but it's a long way, at the end of a day like that. That is the crux, for me. In my own head, I need to clear the cutoff at the end of the MTB leg by at least an hour, to give me a comfort margin for that trek and to see me clear of the cutoff time at the start of the final kayak. Not making that final cut, to be that close, to look across Loch Leven and be able to see the finish but to not be allowed to complete, that is the worst case scenario.

It won't be quick or pretty, but then again I'm neither. Am I prepared? Ask me at 5am on Sunday.