Marathon des Sables 2013

Marathon des Sables 2013

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Weekend warriors

The Rio Olympics are in full flow and after the negative build up over facilities not being ready, poor crowds and doping athletes the real action is getting to the medal stages.  These finely tuned career athletes have put in at least 8 years hard graft to get to this level and made an amazing sacrifice to represent GB in Rio.  They have a support team of trainers, physio's, nutritionists etc giving them the best chance of bringing home the medals.  Not everyone does but just representing your country at the Olympics is an amazing achievement in it's own right.
For us weekend warriors we can only dream what it must be like to be on the start line of the Olympics.  But when I listen to the interviews and the athlete's saying "we've worked so hard to be here today; the early morning starts in the winter, training in the snow and rain", I think to myself we're not so different in that way.  Training for an Ironman takes 9 months of hard graft 6 days a week, while holding down a fulltime job and having no support team.  Getting ready for the Grand Canyon will take a years training and during that time I have a business to run and a family to support. 
Yesterday I was at the ATHelite Triathlon Club BBQ and I was looking round at all the successful weekend warriors.  From sprint triathlons to ironman, ultra duathlons to ultra marathons we'd done them all.  It made feel very privileged to be part of this friendly, fit group of individuals who encourage and cajole each other to bigger or faster challenges.  The Olympics may be the pinnacle of an athlete's career but let us salute the weekend warriors that hold down jobs, train in every spare moment to line up on a start line that won't be featured on the BBC but the result is every bit as important to them as a gold medal.  Weekend warriors - we ROCK!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Slow road back

When you've given everything for your "A race" it's not easy to get back to training especially when you are being careful and recovering properly.  It's now 5 weeks and I've started to adventure back out.  On Wednesday last week I went for my 2nd run but I had to force myself out of the door - mentally I didn't want to go through the pain.  The good news is my heart rate fell from the previous run and I didn't suffer the DOMS in the following two days.
I was away in London the next two days but on Saturday went out on my bike.  That was a lot tougher than I thought it would be.  My heart rate was racing and I was struggling with my breath on the hills.  Fortunately I met a pal who dragged me home for the 2nd half of the ride but in total it was only 1.5 hours!
This tells me my body is still fatigued but that I also need to get back into a regular training programme.  On Sunday morning I attended a new yoga class for an hour.  It was tough but in a good way.  I think my body really appreciated the workout and this is definitely going to be part of my training to get me ready for the Grand Canyon in 2017 www.g2gultra.com .
Come September I will have a training plan scoped out as this is when I work best.  Having goals written down and monitored by a third party who I am accountable to gets the best out of me but for now I'll ease my way back into training.  And before I forget how to swim, I'll be getting back into a loch while the water is warm enough and back this up with some pool training.  It will be a slow road back but improving my strength and flexibility is a priority and will help reduce my chances of injury.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Being a sloth

Exactly 4 weeks ago today I was finishing off Ironman Frankfurt doing an impersonation of Quasimodo for the last 13 miles of the marathon.  I was in extreme pain as the muscles in my back had gone into spasm.  But I got through it with the mantra "the pain of failure would be worse than the pain I was suffering".  At the same time I was determined to finish my final ironman on a high and in the end I raised more than £6,000 for Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres so a big thank you to everyone who supported me.  It really helps having a reason that drives you to give your all.
The next step in the journey is the recovery; both physical and mental.  I had a plan with my coach to do nothing for 2 weeks except some light yoga and I stuck to that.  The following week I went out on my bike but it was a windy day and my legs felt like lead weights so 30 mins was enough.  Then I headed off to Portugal for a weeks holiday with the family.  The temperature was in the mid 30s so I rested the whole week not wanting to push my body which was still fatigued.  Even been back four days I'm still tired.
On Friday I went out for a 30 minute run and loved every minute of it.  I didn't push the pace I just ran.  I had a quick look at my stats and my higher than normal heart rate showed I've lost some fitness and shouldn't be rushing back.  Yoga the following day gave my tired legs a stretch but other than that  I've been resting.  I'm really turning into a sloth!
Mentally the "ironman blues" haven't set in yet and hopefully with next year's target already set and my training plan about to start again, I can skip that stage.  I've got a focus and this "time out" is all part of the master plan.
I've put on some of the lost weight and I tried on my suit which I'll be wearing to work tomorrow and it fits better so that's a good sign.  My appetite is certainly not sloth like as I am eating as though I was training but I don't take 1 month to eat a meal which sloths sometime do.  After 10 months of training 6 days a week I think taking my time in coming back will best best for my physical and mental state.
My blog is entitled "Derek Mission Ironman" and when I stated it 7 years ago my aim was to complete an ironman which I thought almost impossible.  Despite now having completed 3 ironman events and other extreme ultra events like Marathon des Sables, I'm going to keep the blog title to remind me of where this journey started.  The next chapter is about to begin.  Bring on the Grand Canyon September 2017.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Recovery and world ranking!

It's amazing how time flies and the memory of the pain fades!  But the pictures tell a different story.  Every day I have felt shattered by the end of the working day.  I didn't sleep too well for the first few nights but your nervous system is shot to bits and needs time.  My aches and pains disappeared within 4 days but my energy level is low.  Some of my Frankfurt team mates have been out for a couple of bike rides despite advice to the contrary and I really hope they don't get injured.  I was under strict instructions not to do anything, other than say 10 minutes yoga a day, and for 2 weeks I have done just that.
Today however I went out for a bike ride to spin my legs.  It was a windy ride and all the way out was straight into wind.  As a result I changed my plan and didn't go over the "rig" as not only would it have been very exposed, but my legs were telling me they were'nt ready for this level of effort.  I plan to increase the yoga and start swimming twice a week.  Running is at least 2 weeks away.
I've been eating like a horse and am pleased to report that I've gained 3 pounds - 147lbs!  My face has lost it's gaunt look and soon my clothes will fit.  By the end of the month I will have my plan in place for my 2017 goal, the Grand to Grand Ultra in the Grand Canyon in September 2017.   However there is much work to be done in getting my body strong and flexible enough to take the strains of the training and the event itself.  My blog will follow the journey and I hope you will too.
But let me sign off from the 2016 Ironman journey with some amazing news.  The Ironman organisation wrote to me to tell me that as a result of my Frankfurt Ironman race I am ranked in my age group (55-60, although not 55 till December) 13 in the UK and 259 in the World!  Wow that was unexpected and a good place to finish my short Ironman career!  A new chapter will start in August.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Mission accomplished

What a day yesterday was.  The Ironman European Championships with over 3,000 competitors.  Breakfast at 4am then a bus to the swim start.  I had agreed a strategy with my coach which was push hard on the swim and hard on the bike and hang on in the run as we weren't sure if my hamstring would hold up following the tear 5 weeks ago.
The swim was amazing and I was out of the water in 1hr 9min.  A PB by 4 minutes and it felt easy - the training had paid off.  Onto the bike and it was a fast start.  I was averaging over 30kmph and on the tribars 98% of the time.  There were some strong winds and on the exposed parts you had to work hard.  With 40 km to go (total distance 180 km) the rain came on chilled me to the bone as I was only wearing a sleeveless trisuit.  I knew I was on for a good time and came flying into Frankfurt finishing in 5hrs 54mins averaging over 30 kph - unbelievable.  Then the problems started.
My left leg was twitching uncontrollably and with cold hands I could hardly tie my shoe laces.  100m into the run I had to stop as I had cramp in my left (not injured) hamstring.  I stretched it off and at the first two water stops and took salt with my water which helped.  I was aiming for a record breaking 3hrs 59 mins marathon but by half way knew I wasn't going to make it.  My lower back was starting to hurt from being on the tribars for so long and it was altering my running position - I was starting to double over as I ran.  I was now walking the feed stations and knew this was now about survival and nothing else.  Thinking about the money I was raising for Maggie's spurred me on but I was really hurting.  Every step was painful in my quads and my feet and I was having to walk more in order to straighten up my back.  I'd stop, try and straighten up and push my pelvis forward then start running or should I say shuffling!  By the end this method lasted 50m before I had to walk and repeat the exercise.
I was walking 500m before the end and the amazing crowds were screaming at me to run - it's only 500m they said.  Felt like 5,000m to me.  But then you reach the chute heading into the grandstands which is lined 10 deep with screeming supporters.  Your name is on your number so they are all shouting encouragement. So stooped like Quasimodo, hardly able to look up I shuffled up the chute. I would love to have run into this arena as the noise was unbelievable.  Everyone likes to see someone struggling to the line so along with the announcer they were screaming encouragement as I staggered past the dancing girls.  I must have had 5 people run past me on that last 20m but it didn't matter I reached the finish line.  I tried to stand up straight for a picture but couldn't - the bells the bells I thought! Big heavy medal place around my neck, which didn't help, and straight onto a trolley with 2 paramedics and whisked away to the medical tent!
Attached to an IV drip and 2L pumped in and three holes made in my big toe to alleviate the pressure from the blood trapped there.  My team mates came and got me and took me home, but not before taking pictures!
I did say this was my last ironman and I meant it.  It was good to go out with a PB (by 45 mins) of 11:50 but had my training schedule not being affected through illness and injury I was hoping for 11:30.  But hey, sub 12.  I'll take that any day at 54 and my first Ironman in 4 years and I finished in the top third of my age category which is a good note to retire on.
It just leaves me to thank a few people, too many to mention, who got me across that line.  First of all there is you.  One of the reasons I write this blog is it forces me to do what I said I was going to do - I can't wimp out because what would I tell you?  Yesterday proved that point.  I could have (and some would say should have) given up half way through the marathon so thank you.
Then there is my coach Genevieve Freeman who put together the most amazing training programme over the last 10 months.  We started when I was injured and she adapted it to take account of my family life, work and other injuries that occurred.  Her believe and encouragement never waivered and she got me there.
My team mates at ATHelite are brilliant.  What a special, friendly bunch of people who cajole you into greater things.  Within days they will be posting the finish video of me with pictures of me in the medical tent but it's that kind of special humour that spur me on.  They may call me "Old Spice" but yesterday I delivered the result!  Back home they were all following the race on FB shouting encouragement to us online - we knew they be reacting every time we went over a timing mat and that helped me.
But behind every successful triathlete is someone picking up everything else including a lot of smelly lycra and listening to never ending statistics about my training.  Fiona Stewart without you I could never have done it so thank you from the bottom of my heart.  And while I will continue to take on daft challenges (it's in my DNA), no more Ironman. Now let's go and catch up on a social life.  I've got weight to put on!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Getting to the start line

I can almost taste the start line.  The final preparations are being made.  Today my bike, and 7 others, we picked up from my house and are on their way to Frankfurt where we will be reunited on Friday.  I was reading through some old blogs when I first signed up for Frankfurt and at the time I said it will be here before I know it - and it is.  When my pals were dropping off their bikes most were saying that for various reasons they hadn't done as much training as they needed to have done.  This is a normal feeling as the doubts creep in.  Controlling your thoughts is key otherwise you waste a lot of nervous energy on these thoughts.
I checked with the hotel to make sure we could get breakfast at 4am on race day and that I'd have access to a microwave to make my porridge.  The "breakfast of champions" is my staple diet and is essential to make sure I am fuelled for my swim.  I don't want to risk any other breakfast as keeping your stomach happy can make or break your race.
Tonight I went for my first run in 5 weeks.  It was 3km!  My hamstring felt good but who knows how it will be after 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike.  My thinking is it will be warmed up and ready to have the run of a lifetime - I have goals I want to achieve as this is my last full Ironman.
The journey has been amazing and last week when I knew I was going to make the start line I put up my just giving page for Maggie's - www.justgiving.com/derek-stewart4 so far we've raised £2,345! Unbelievable.  I'm aiming for £5,000 so if you have any spare cash then your support would be appreciated.
I've only a few training sessions left before the race and I must remain focused on the task.  The logistics in packing is hard enough never mind everything in the run up to make sure I am standing at the start line in the best possible physical and mental condition.  This is the nearest I'll ever get to being a professional athlete which is what makes it so exciting.  Being inside "the ropes" while being cheered on by tens of thousands of spectators will be really special.  Over 3,000 competitors will all have there own story as to how they reached the start line and more importantly why.  Thank you for following my journey and supporting me along the way.  I'll post a pre-race blog before the race and then follow up the race with a blog on the Monday.  Bring on 3rd July.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Marginal gains

Today is a day for reflection as it's Father's Day.  I was spoiled by the kids and had a wonderful day but before the festivities I was out on the bike for a couple of hours at 7am, and in the pool at 9.30 And I had time to remember my dad who passed in 1990 and I wondered what he'd have made of this madness called Ironman?  He probably would have been proud but thought I was nuts which sums up what my kids think.
This time in 2 weeks I hopefully will have completed Ironman Frankfurt and be enjoying a well earned beer and a steak.  I'll have a broad grin on my face as this is my last Ironman.  After 9 months of training totalling over 2,400 hours, I will get my life back again.  But until then I still have work to do.
At this stage it's all about marginal gains. Improving my speed on every training session will make a difference over the swim, bike and run.  So shorter but intense sessions are the order of the day and I can see the improvement.  I'm also entering the final preparation stage. Testing all my gear, having the bike serviced, arranging for my bike to get to Frankfurt and the all important insurance.  Race strategy will be discussed with my coach along with my race nutrition. Nothing will be left to chance.
The excitement is building as is the wind up amongst my 7 fellow team mates which will add some "spice" on the day.
And finally. Now that I know I will make the start line I have launched my fund raising for Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres. Supporting Maggie's has helped me get out of bed when it's 5.30am on a dark snowy winters morning to run.  It's an amazing charity and if you know anyone with cancer please encourage them to go along for practical and emotional support.  I'd be so greatful if you could donate. My page is www.justgiving.com/Derek-Stewart4 .  Thanks for your support.