Howard's Bones

PCB – Post Comrades Blues. They say it hits some pretty badly. I’ve been in the swing of things work wise so haven’t really had time to get bored or frustrated with my self imposed downtime following last week's ultra. Plus the brain has been working over-time and I have been gathering my thoughts together of how to tackle next year. Maybe Ironman South Africa followed by the Comrades one month later, and totally skipping Two Oceans? Possibly a more sensible approach. But I am intent on doing well at the races rather than just surviving them.

And suddenly a friend of mine, Houston, sends me this picture:

Houston is the guy who turned himself from a social runner into an uber-Ironman going 10.16 at his first Ironman attempt at Western Australia. Not bad for an Englishman! Houston is wise and tackles things like a military general. As he had some downtime due to broken bones, I asked him for his thoughts on his first Ironman, what he did right and what he could have done better. He'll go sub-10 soon enough so it's best to get his ideas down onto paper before he actually achieves this and hindsight clouds things! Knowing what it takes, is sometimes different to thinking you know what it takes.

His reference to the Empire of the Sun in his email below hits home in a big way. Here’s what he had to say:


During 08 with a string of sub par performances (Boston marathon, OK result in Zurich on sub optimal training and a painful experience in IMUK) I had plenty of time to think, OK what went right in 07 and what went so wrong in 08?Firstly I don't think it just started with my race prep for IMWA, it started way back with a string of excellent results throughout the year. I did a 6 month race build for London Marathon using Greg MacMillan - this put me in great shape. This article is well worth a read by the way and there are several other online resources there worth a go when you have some downtime.

So I had excellent base early season, and London didn't really damage me in the same way an IM does. I took downtime after the marathon and then did some simple work in prep for Swiss Half (strong PB but not a lot of history in 70.3 to better). In my IM race prep I also did London Olympic and Vitruvian, again very happy with both performances and I think they gave me good targets to work towards, as well as giving me some 'speed' work to sharpen up.

So the main points that worked:

1. I was rested and uninjured going into the 6 month program (4 weeks maintenance 20 weeks build)

2. I respond well to an organised schedule - I plan my week and execute as best I can. In 08 I had no coach and discovered I am an excellent executer but a very poor self coach

3. Consistency is king. It's all about doing it over and over again week in week out. Starting slow,
putting the base in place (lots of workouts where you think nothing is happening and you're not doing much, but actually it's happening just slowly)

4. I put in lots of time - too much actually and other aspects of my life suffered, especially work. The MAO (mark allen online) plan gets time intensive very quick and is not that well balanced. 3xrun, 3xswim, 2xbike, 2xweights is a big ask - and it was supposed to be 3xbike...

5. The volume did help however and all the work at aerobic threshold meant that half way through the program, bike and run saw strong improvements, and these were assisted with late program speed work (run track sessions). I never did any bike or swim speedwork.

So in summary in 08 I already had a great base going in, I built on that slowly to increase volume. I did plenty of volume with excellent consistency. I had the massive bonus of no injuries or illnesses - this requires care and a large dose of luck! On race day conditions were perfect and probably by luck rather than anything else my pacing strategy was pretty much spot on. At no point did I go out to get a 10:16 - it wasn't even in my wildest dreams. I had fear and the priority was finish at all costs, which held me back from crazy stuff on the bike and run. I thought 12:00 would be good and 11:00 was a best case result. As it happened I was moving faster than that, and thus was in a situation where I could run the whole marathon without slowing down too much. I guess I focussed more on how I felt rather than what pace I *should* be going.

Given all factors I think it was my perfect race - I can't see what could have been improved, and that my friend is very lucky indeed!

Fast forward to now. I am 8 months into a 9 month training program with Jack, an ex pro cyclist who lives down the road, and before my collar bone I was in very very good shape. Better than IMWA by a margin. I was running 7:15pm at 150HR over 20m in training and it felt easy. I moved my threshold power (20 min bike TT) from 243 watts to 298 watts, a 4.4 power to weight ratio. 4 is generally considered pretty sharp and 4.8 is considered strong ( Hard to judge the swim but I would have been disappointed with anything over 60:00 in Nice.

The goal: firstly a PB. Tough ask in Nice! second a sub 10 - very tough call but possible. third qualify (unlikely but still possible - requires 9:45 or thereabouts).

Sub goals: drastically improve the cycling (my weakness)

So what went right in 09?

1. Got a coach - as mentioned I'm a good executer once I've been given the workouts

2. Got a Powertap - helps the coach gauge my progress and set where I should be in workouts. Much better quality of cycle training

3. Long slow build as I had NO base going into the program (start Oct). Many times I thought 'This isn't enough.' It was. After 3 months times started to fall on the run, after 5 they started to tumble

4. Strong consistency. Training through a tough winter builds character :)

5. Moved long run to mid week and did back to back Sat/Sun rides (with bricks). Long Sat, shorter tempo work Sun

6. The focus was very much bike with TTs in all disciplines every 4 weeks. The run naturally responded to the endurance work on the bike

7. Balance. This year I wanted to achieve work/life/training balance. I'm self employed and single - these help massively, but I was doing less than in 07 with better results. Also happier and less stressed with work/finances

8. Enjoy the journey. In 07 I was focussed on result, this year I wanted to focus on enjoying the journey towards personal excellence irrespective of races. In the past I used races to 'prove' something to myself - this is fleeting and ultimately unrewarding - you always want more (more money, bigger house, faster times). Don't get me wrong I'm still on the treadmill but I savour the process more these days. Perhaps why I'm a bit philosophical about the 'recent unpleasantness'.

What can I do better?

1. Better nutrition (I class my nutrition as acceptable, not excellent)

2. Weights. I did weights in 07 but have neglected these in my current program

3. Core work - related to (2)

4. Stretching - just can't be bothered!

A long one Robby - I don't know if this helps but maybe there's something of use. Shout if you have any follow up questions. I think your biggest struggle is time and consistency due to large work/life commitments. I would recommend consistent short sessions, with a 2 month period where you can work in volume. You have great talent and massive mental strength (far beyond what I have). If you had the opportunity to train like I have, you would have been to Kona several times by now.Oh and if you haven't got this book, then buy it:

It has upset me writing this because I have had to face the reality of what I have lost. It's a hard sport that only allows you 1, at best 2 real races a year. Have you seen Empire of the Sun? I understand the frustration of the japanese soldier who has trained to be a pilot but can't go to war as the war has ended and he tries to kill himself (ok I DO NOT want to kill myself!!). At least it's not the Olympics - can you imagine training for 4 years, being in great shape and then being injured before that?! I pray that the experience will give me strength. Mark Allen's shaman, Brant Secunda says that sometimes the Gods test you to see if you really want something enough. This is my test and I do not intend to fail it.

Power my friend.

BTW Tour of Ireland race report coming soon..


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