Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Going Back in Time - Just Some Random Thoughts!


As mentioned in my last post I am spending Christmas in New Zealand.  Well I have actually been in New Zealand now for almost a week, and I am really enjoying catching up with friends and family, as well as the warm weather.  As the post title above indicates, tonight's post will just be a few random thoughts which hopefully will contain some interest to others apart from myself!

I guess the main aspect of tonight's post is the fact that this Saturday I will be racing my first triathlon since August 1999, and my first Half Ironman since July 1995.  Although I did race my fifth and last Ironman in August 1995.  Yes, after watching live the final of the World Triathlon Champs at Hyde Park in London back in September I found that I was excited by triathlon again.  It's pretty hard not to get excited when watching the amazing Brownlee brothers and the rest of the World elite!  Yes, many years ago, for a few years I was a triathlete.  If you have read my five year review part 3 that covered 1988 - 1992 you will be aware that I raced the 1992 Hawaii Ironman, after qualifying at the very first Lanzarote Ironman in May 1992.  (Yes, I know, I never did write five year reviews parts 4 - 7.  Maybe next month)!

So in the weeks prior to coming to New Zealand, when brother-in-law Ken Maclaren (ex British International Triathlete from the early nineties, but now lives in New Zealand) mentioned that he was racing the Rotorua Half Ironman during the time we would be nearby in Cambridge, New Zealand, I was a little bit tempted to take him on, and perhaps avenge my defeat to him, the last time we raced, being at the Welsh Olympic Distance Triathlon Championships in Cardiff, Wales, way back in June 1991.  The only problem was that I literally hadn't swam, mucking around with our boys aside, since my last triathlon in August, 1999.  And in terms of cycling, I had only ridden my road bike twice during 2013.  So yes, I may be run fit to run a marathon or ultra race, but Half Ironman fit???

Being a bit daunted at the prospect, I get on the phone and ring some old cycling / multi-sport mates and see if they are keen to join me and enter as a relay team.  I would swim and run, they would do the 56 mile cycle leg. One, by one (I asked four competitive mates from the nineties) they all said no.  "Get real", they all said, "I haven't raced for years", and the comment from one really keen former cyclist, "I haven't ridden my bike for years"!  The fact that I am still racing competitively nearly 35 years since I raced my first road marathon, doesn't seem strange to me, but to my mates, it seems totally unreal that I am still racing, and even more unreal that I am still getting the same enjoyment, if not more enjoyment nowadays, whilst they only have distant memories to enjoy!

So am I a 'freak'?  Should I have 'grown out' of this competitive urge?  Being a half-century old, shouldn't I be content that I am actually still mobile, and am still able to run?  Chatting with a work colleague a few days after my worst ever placing in not only the Beachy Head Marathon, but in all of my 30 trail marathons (5th place), he suggested that perhaps it was time that I stopped racing marathons, rather than 'disgrace' myself, with ever deteriorating race performances!  It got me thinking, how will I react to getting slower, not being able to perform to the same high level?

Taking up Ultra Trail Racing in 2008 has enabled me to still perform at the highest level, even though my 'top end' speed has declined as I have progressed through the forties.  So even at the age of 50, 51 next month, I feel that I am still on the upward curve in terms of ultra trail race performance.  But maybe the following year, or perhaps the year after that, once I have reached my peak, what will be my goals?  Well racing the Rotorua Half Ironman in less than three days time, has given me a glimpse that I will still be able to set myself goals.  Still able to challenge myself.  And still able to get the anticipated enjoyment, that I expect from this Saturday's race.

Yes, it is 'nice' to finish near the front of the field in races, and yes it is nice to be applauded and to be congratulated by others for what they consider to be fine performances, but 'at the end of the day', the only person you really need to impress is yourself!  Yes, it is all about setting yourself a challenge which extends you, so if you achieve the goal you set, you feel content in knowing you have performed well.  The difficult thing though is how exactly does one know what is a challenging goal.  What constitutes a 'good performance'?  Thinking about this, I don't really know the answer.  It is one of those intuitive 'gut feeling' situations.  Where somehow you know that you have performed well, or not!  But is this 'gut feeling' really correct?  Hard to say, but based on my 35 years of endurance sport, I would say that for the majority of these years, I under expected!  Yes, for the majority of these years, although I had high levels of desire.  I wanted to achieve high, however, in reality I never really expected to achieve high.  Why?  Why were my expectations low?  I don't really know.  I have some ideas, but I think I will leave this topic to another day.

This Saturday then. What are my expectations?  Given that I was hesitant to enter as an individual, preferring to seek out a cyclist team mate, my initial expectations were rather low.  Could I actually get around in a 'respectable' time, whatever counts as respectable, and respectable to who? But I guess the turning point that led to me putting in my entry last Friday night (only 7 days and 7 hours before the start time) was the high expectations expressed by my two sons Rob and Chris.  When I mentioned to them my concern at racing 56 miles on the bike, their response was straight to the point: "Didn't you say that you were a better cyclist than a runner.  If so, then 56 miles shouldn't be a problem.  What are you worried about?"  And they were correct.  I have always considered that I performed to a higher level racing on the bike in New Zealand in comparison to my running road racing performances whilst racing in New Zealand or Britain.  So with their total confidence in my ability to perform, the decision was made.  Although, I did delay entering until I had swam 1600 metres in Cambridge Pool last Friday, just to check that I could still swim!

So what seven day training programme is appropriate for one's first Half Ironman in over 18 years?  As mentioned in many previous blog posts within UltraStu, how one performs in endurance events is largely determined by one's self expectations.  So this week's training has all been about raising my self-expectations. Following my 1600 metre swim last Friday, I entered the race that night.  Saturday's training, well nothing!  Well nothing in terms of physical training, but much time was spent on non-physical training.  Basically I spent Saturday identifying what I would need over the coming days to raise my race day expectations.

Sunday, well, not really what you would expect, but I ran a fantastic 22 mile trail run within the Rotorua Redwoods forest. (GarminConnect link).  Not really triathlon specific training, but a good reminder that when it comes to ultra trail running I am still an elite level performer, as demonstrated by 'banging out' a 22 mile trail run at a steady pace, no problems at all!

Monday, more thinking about my previous triathlon and cycling past, and a gentle 5 mile road run.  Why no cycling?  Well simple really I didn't have a road bike.

Tuesday, I finally manage to sort out a road bike from a friend, and ride around 3 - 4 miles, adjusting the seat height, cycling shoes / cleats, handlebars etc.  Plus a gentle eight mile road run.

So finally today, I start collating the 'evidence' I require in order to convince myself that yes, even after 14 years since my last triathlon, I can still expect to perform to a level, that I will be happy with.  Performing to a level that I consider reflects that I have 'done well'!  So it was another 1600 metres in the pool this morning.  Followed by 27 undulating miles on the bike around mid-day. (GarminConnect link).  Then to finish off, a relaxing five miles of running late afternoon.  Did the triathlon training work?  Well doing all three different disciplines in training today, probably the first time I would have carried this out since probably 1999, did indeed make me feel like a triathlete.  It brought back memories of my triathlon training days up in Aberdeen in 1992.  But more amazing were the vividly strong images I had whilst attacking the hills on the bike, and accelerating out of the corners.  I was instantly taken back to 1988, when I was a cyclist in Dunedin, New Zealand.  I had clear visions of Geoff Keogh and Brian Fowler, the top cyclists in Dunedin and New Zealand respectively, who I raced frequently at the time,

Yes, the feeling of riding a racing bike at pace today, being my longest road ride since December 2006, even though it was only 27 miles, took me back 25 years.  And by the end of the ride, I felt like a cyclist again.  Yes, attacking the hills, working really hard for 27 miles probably wasn't the best physical training to do three days out from race day.  But I feel that performance in endurance events such as running, triathlons, is mainly determined by one's non-physical training.  Yes, the physical training, the physical preparation sets the upper limit of performance.  But it is the non-physical training that determines how close one gets to this physical upper limit. Just to 'cement' this feeling of being a cyclist again, what better way to do it than a photo of racing with Brian Fowler from 1989.

The Joy of Racing the Best - With Brian Fowler 1989

Tomorrow's planned training?  Around 15 - 20 miles of flat spinning on the bike, and yes, as one probably wouldn't expect, 18 holes of golf with my brother Graham.  Yes, when it comes to competition, nothing beats competing against ones' older brother, even though he does have to give me one and a half shots per hole to make it an even contest!  And I guess, this typifies what sport, what competition is all about.  It isn't actually about the winning, or about the result.  But it is about responding to a challenge.  Graham beating me in golf isn't a challenge to him, but if he gives me one and a half shots per hole, then it becomes a challenge, and for him to win, he knows he has to perform well, and that is really all one hopes to achieve when competing in sport.  To have that feeling that whilst you are performing the sporting activity, that you are performing well, you are enjoying yourself.  That you are responding to your self-imposed challenge.

Well I started this blog post with various random thoughts in my head.  Typing them out has enabled me to make some sense out of them, to provide the structure which helps it to make sense.  Hopefully, my random thoughts resonate with some of you out there reading this post.

So as I commence my second half century next month I feel confident that the joy and satisfaction I gain from competing in endurance sport will continue, hopefully for another 35 years.

"Here's to challenging oneself, extending oneself, and best of all enjoying oneself as one rises to their demanding expectations"!  Stuart Mills, 2013

Saturday.  I can't wait!

All the best with your challenges,


PS  Just to further reinforce my perceptions of being a triathlete again.  A photo from the past of training in France with triathlete mate Dave, prior to my most recent Ironman Triathon, the 1995 EmbrunMan, where I finished in 5th place overall in an international field, winning my biggest pay cheque ever, 8000 French Francs (£1000)!!!

Cycling in France 1995 with Dave - Overload Training!


  1. All the best for your Half Ironman .... but remember where your true love is!!

    Enjoy NZ

  2. Andy Ashton, delamere Spartan13 December 2013 at 21:49

    Good luck stu, and yes you are a freak.
    You'll be right mate.