This year was chock full! After years of talking about how great it would be to live abroad Carly and I finally bit the bullet and took advantage of an opportunity and moved to London. This, coupled with a new job, new bike, and a focus on the 70.3 WC’s in Australia made 2016 a very complicated year! I’d like to keep this space a bit more focused on the triathlon side of things so I’m going to gloss over the aspects of the move that don’t specifically relate to triathlon (or training).
Writing a year review in January is a bit odd when you sit down and start to think about it. The ‘end’ of season really seems to be moment you cross the line on that last race and the start of a couple weeks (or months) off. Waiting till January is really is an odd time to reflect as one has most likely already moved on (at least mentally) to the upcoming season and the training which has already started for some of those events. I know that I’ve been already planning for and getting into training for races months away so with that said, let’s get into it…
One of the things I’ve prided myself on as I’ve gotten further and further into the sport is keeping my financial investment limited and making smart purchases where (and when) it mattered. Everything, wetsuit, tri suit, bike, helmets and even shoes was analyzed (however briefly) for cost to time gained. I was riding a second hand Felt B16 with a rear wheel cover which I was getting some great times on in anything from sprints to 70.3 races. But at nearly four years old and two years of solid training and racing under my belt I felt like I needed (ok, wanted) an upgrade. I began considering my options towards the end of the fall/early winter of 2015 and had narrowed my search down to a BMC TM02 or Dimond. Both of these bikes are incredibly fast and would provide me with a great tool with which to train and race. I began pricing out each bike and while the BMC had a distinct price advantage which appealed to my sensibilities the Dimond had an ‘it’ factor which no other bike can touch. After a successful Timberman and qualifying for the 70.3 WC’s I had already formed the idea that I may not being doing any more ITU races (similar to the race in Chicago) and wanting something that was just different I elected to go with the Dimond. Brad (and the entire team at Ruster Sports) guided me throughout the process and I pulled the trigger on a race build with custom Virginia Tech inspired paint. Ashlee at AMI graphics printed me up some vinyl graphics for my wheels which were expertly installed by Chris. It was in the middle of this process that the move to London became a reality so knowing I was making one of the biggest purchases of my life on a bike with my racing future a bit unknown was slightly terrifying. The whole process ended up taking around ten weeks and I received the bike just before we moved. As soon as I received the bike I dropped it off at Fast Splits and had Brian finish the assembly and do a final fitting. The bike was promptly repacked (along with my other bikes) for its trip across the pond….
Our move date of March ended up being pretty well orchestrated from a training perspective. For the months/weeks leading up to the move Tommy pushed the training volume up more than he would have otherwise at this point in the season knowing that I’d basically have 2-3 weeks of off/down time once I left Boston and got situated in London. This plan worked really well and the last few weeks before the move I pushed some major volume with a nice couple weeks of ‘rest’ once we arrived in London.
When we moved we came over with three bags each (basically all clothes) and no place to live. So our our first priority was to find a place to live and organize shipping the rest of our day to day over. We quickly found and moved into a place in Islington, which has been a great base for exploring the city. Once we had the address I arranged for our bikes, exercise gear, shoes and some other items that we just couldn’t fly with. I had originally been prepared to be without my bike for several weeks so when it turned out that I could get all the stuff delivered by air freight in a few days I immediately elected to use that service. Within four days of leaving Boston all the stuff arrived at our door (and was very quickly unpacked). While we were looking for a place and before my bike arrived I had been going for short runs here and there, hitting up the odd spin class (barf) and looking for a pool. Ultimately, I took about two and a half weeks off of structured training.
Once settled in Islington and had my trainer set up I was able to settle back into my normal weekly routine. The one remaining piece was a pool… this was a bit tricky. In Boston I had a pretty good deal with my local pool and I found that gym memberships in London are expensive (not a huge surprise). I looked into Virgin Active and a few other clubs but ultimately settled on a Better Gym membership. They have a pool only option which lets me use any pool within their network in London for £30 a month. I don’t get access to any weights but the pool is clean, generally open and convenient. I’d like (and may eventually get) a membership that offers use of the weights and other equipment but right now, just need a pool to swim some laps and this is more than sufficient.
Speaking of laps… my pool in Boston was 20 yards (not long) and my pool in Islington is 25 meters. While I love having a standard distance pool (no more crazy math aerobatics during workouts to move yards to meters based on a short pool) it did take some getting used to. I’ve found that the increased length gives me far more time to focus on my stroke and makes for a far more ‘normal’ exercise routine. The one drawback is that the pool is quite full in the mornings. People in London seem far more inclined to swim than in South Boston. With the added ‘crowd’ I’ve also found that the ‘fast’ lane is a bit subjective and I most likely burst a few ego’s when I show up to swim (and I’m not particularly fast!). It’s tough trying to complete a scripted workout with 3 or 4 other people in your lane all doing their own thing. Sometimes I just get frustrated or distracted and get off the workout but more often than not everything works out ok and I get the time and distance in.
With my ‘A’ race being the 70.3 WC’s in September I needed some small carrots to get me through the summer. I found two races which (on the face of it) seemed fun and could provide good opportunities to shake things out a bit. The first was Windsor Castle Olympic and the other Exmoor 70.3. Windsor seemed like an easy one to sign up for. Race around a castle? Sign me up! The town and venue was awesome and it was really great to get out of the city and ride the Dimond. Despite pouring raining the crowd (specifically Carly) was amazing and helped propel me to a decent finish. I was even able to (re)connect with Johnny who I raced in Chicago last year. It was good to catch up with him and one of his friends after the race and know I have some training partners in the area.
Exmoor, as the report details out, was a bit more of a disaster. While I still was able to race and finish the course was epic and it really bled me dry. The climbing on the bike, combined with the run was just brutal. It was easily one of the toughest races I’ve ever done and my body was beat for a while after that race. That said, it was a great excuse for Carly and I to get outside of the city and see a bit of the English Countryside. It was nice to cross off one of the hardest 70.3’s on the European circuit and I had a decent day on the course all things considered.
Those two races did serve as a couple of great milestones though and in retrospect definitely positively contributed to my racing development. The major takeaways from those two races were that, despite how shitty I felt in the pool during workouts I was able to put down very respectable swim times which was huge mentally. This year I am really struggling with the swim, or rather, seeing positive results during training and I was concerned my fitness there was really suffering. I don’t expect I’ll ever be the first person out of the water so my main goal is to keep as much contact as possible with the leaders. Both Windsor and Exmoor showed me that while I might not be putting great times down in the pool the fitness is there, I just need to keep struggling through it and keep being consistent with my effort.
The other obvious benefit was some solid racing on my new bike. Just with Boston I do all of my bike training indoors (around 170 hours last year) so any time spent on the bike outdoors is a treat. I do ride to work so I maintain my bike handling skills (mainly bus avoidance skill) on a daily basis but it is certainly not ‘training’ in any sense. But getting used to a brand new race bike during a race has certain complications. I’m still getting used to riding with a deep dish wheel and the impact that wind and road conditions play on handling. But after an olympic race in pouring rain and wind and a half ironman with near constant climbing or descending I started to get the hang of the bike and its idiosyncrasies. This coming year I’ll like to spend more time on the Dimond while training so I’m going to look into some rollers to help get used to my bike and its fit (as well as new smart trainer for my standard workouts). Oh, and maybe I’ll ride outside a few times as well…
When late August rolled around I was feeling ready and pumped to travel to Australia for the race (and subsequent vacation). It had been a long six months of new job, training, new city… everything so Carly and I desperately needed a few weeks of rest. Just had one long day to get through and I was there. You can find the full report here, but overall I’m very happy with how the day went. Could I have race a bit harder… perhaps… but ultimately that was the race I had and I’m happy for the experience. It was extremely satisfying to travel halfway around the world and not only finish but turn in a big PR. I’ll be back at the race again and will have another whack at the apple.
Oddly enough the aspect of the race that most frustrated me was the run. I’ve never really been too concerned with my run training (or racing) as it has always just come along naturally. I had started the run at a good pace but quickly fell off the pace and the second lap turned into a bit of a slog. This was the first race where I came away a bit frustrated with my performance. It was with that bitter taste in my mouth that two weeks into the vacation I signed up for the Boston Marathon. It was an odd experience… staying up till midnight in Sydney to make the 10am Boston entry time. It was a bit strange, to be excited about signing up for a marathon just a few short weeks after a half ironman where I hadn’t run well and knowing I had nearly seven months to consider and prepare for this one race. I entered with my time from Marine Corps, a 2:54 which was well under the 3:05 cutoff but could still not make the cut if enough other people with faster times entered. So there was a bit of anxiety over the next few days until the official acceptance letter arrived that I might not have made the cut.
After the race in Australia… more specifically after vacation, Tommy and I had a post race chat and he challenged me to find a half marathon to run with no preparation after i lamented my poor run. He wanted to see how I would race with a couple weeks off, see if I could run the time I had in my mind on ‘fresh’ legs. I found a race in Kingston-upon-Thames (West of Central London) and signed up on a whim. The race went pretty close to how one would imagine a race would go with three weeks sipping drinks on a beach and no training… around mile six the wheel came off and it was overall not a brilliant performance (report here).
After that race the rest of the fall was spent in light maintenance. Just enough to keep the fitness up and skills fresh before diving into the winter training block. It’s during that time that one’s mind starts to drift… to overthink past races, to dream about the next season’s races. Dream about what upgrades I’ll make the bike (sorry Carly)…
This past year I’ve raced far less than I thought I originally envisioned before moving and while understandable, the extended and heavy training load with infrequent racing made the year seem much, much longer with the rewards few and far between. I’m by no means suggesting that my season was not successful nor that I am beyond happy with my performances. I was able to PR by more than eleven minutes in Australia which is amazing and that’s before discounting the nearly seven minutes in extended transition time. The race while leaving me wanting did give a great reward for my hard work. I finished as the 3rd fastest American and have the desire to be faster, to push harder.
I’ve started to formulate my race 2017 race season and after Boston I have signed up for Staffordshire 70.3 in June. I’ve got a couple of other races, Olympic and 70.3’s on my mind around England and a few around Europe. In lieu of one larger trip Carly and I want to spread our vacation time with more long weekends exploring Europe and England, maybe we’ll even mix in a short vacation/race combo. We’ve also thought that the 70.3 in Dubai could be a great excuse to travel there. This will certainly make the summer more interesting for training and racing but it is important that we take advantage of our proximity to new opportunities.
I think that is what the most important take away from the past year has been, seizing new opportunities. We’ve certainly done that with our move here and our plan moving forward for how we want to spend our lives here in London. I need to start doing a bit more of that with my racing. I think, overall, I’ve been playing it safe, slowly getting into the sport, trying out different distances, playing it a little safer on race day. I want to be a bit riskier in my racing, pushing the envelope for a greater reward. Maybe I’ll have a couple races where I can’t finish or totally blow up because of a poor choice, but perhaps I’ll also find another gear deep down inside me and get a bit faster.