Boring Into the Statistics!

It has been 6 weeks since the weekend of the Paris Marathon, and almost 6 months since I truly embarked on this journey!  Less than 4 months, and 5 challenges left to go, and it’s time to reflect on how far we’ve come…..and where we must still travel to…!

Since I signed up to the Ironman, and saw the nutritionist and a physio for the first time before Christmas, I have lost over half a stone (approximately 10 pounds in fact) in weight, and gained a good basis of endurance fitness.

I have also begun to learn things I had only read or heard about, and I thought I could not possibly understand.  In the domains of cycle maintenance, swim-stroke metrics or cadence, I am slowly becoming an “amateur expert”, if such a thing exists!  Granted, I am still asking Mave to visit once a week to check every single rattle on my bike, but at least I am changing punctures and adjusting saddle positions myself now!  And I’ve stopped falling off the bike too….at least for the moment!

WP_20150522_002In the pool, thanks to B’s sadistic drills, my technique has improved dramatically and I am now wearing skin tight swimming shorts that I swore I never would, but which have helped make me faster.  I really am becoming obsessive and probably beginning to bore those around me.  This though seems to be the norm for endurance athletes of any discipline, constantly talking in what seems like code to outsiders, yet enthusing each other about Strava segments and elevation gain!  Only this week did I begin to trot out statistics about climbing the Tumble to two non-cyclists whose eyes instantly glazed over……

I know I will never be able to afford the super lightweight bike and aero helmet that would increase my speed by a couple of KM an hour, reduce the effort I need to make, and improve my time by a few minutes.  And I know that for a one-off year of activities and a solitary Ironman, it wouldn’t be a sound investment.  But I still find myself looking at these bikes on the internet and wondering just how light they are, and how fast they go……  I really seem to have become an endurance athlete even when out of my trainers, swimsuit or clip on pedals.  I don’t know whether I should be worried, or just more aware of how my disposition differs from others around me!

Of course, some (most?) of this could be excused by the mental aspect of the training.  Not only is this a lengthy process entailing constant exertion which necessitates mind over matter to keep pushing forward, getting out and improving times and fitness, but it is also, for large parts at least, a solitary experience.  Suddenly, I am now spending more and more time on my own, in the pool, on the bike or out running.  That means the only source of conversation is, well, myself!  And funny enough I talk about exactly the same stuff, no wonder I have become slightly narrow-minded in my outlook!

WP_20150517_005At least I can sometimes train with some like-minded people from time to time and talk bikes and Ironman plans without worrying about boring them to death!  On Sunday last, thanks to a kind invite from Andy Tom, I joined a group cycle from Hoffi Coffi in Abergavenny which headed over the Llangynidr Moors and up to Hay, before returning via the Gospel Pass.  Andy and Jan (whose wife owns & runs the coffee shop) are avid cyclists and many of the peloton had ridden to Paris with them a few months ago.  WP_20150517_002This gave me an opportunity to learn to ride in a group, and to ask a whole host of questions about bikes; cycling to Paris and the Ironman itself!  I was like an eager young lad badgering everyone asking for information!  Two days later I ran 18Km around town, mostly with Mave, giving me yet more opportunity to talk bikes and fitness!  The rest of the week’s training was a solitary affair however, with a 40Km cycle on Wednesday (over the Tumble!) and a long pool session of drills and intervals on Thursday, which amounted to 3.2k according to my watch, but was more like 3.6k (drills which do not involve the arm with the watch do not get recorded!!).

WP_20150514_003I also had my final physio session with Naomi (unless something on me breaks before September….!) and she asked what I will do after the Ironman is over.  This is a question I have been trying to answer as I am sure it will seem strange to have no fitness goal in mind.  Nothing to focus on, no guilt when having a lie-in or enjoying a beer…..  It will certainly be different, but I equally do not wish to commit to anything further as that wouldn’t be fair on those around me.  These events certainly take up much time and money, and I wouldn’t fancy doing anything unless I train and prepare properly, as I am able to do just now.  All I can say at this stage is that I will enter some “fun” events with others (maybe a “Tough Mudder”) and offer myself as a “billboard” if a charity needs an entrant in an event.  However I do state that I cannot continue to ask friends and family for donations as I am this year – that would simply not be fair!

Indeed, on the charity donation front, some continue to be extremely generous, and some less so.  Surprisingly, some I thought would be very supportive are not, and others I hardly know are happy to donate without any prompting.  Some to whom I have donated previously are unwilling to reciprocate, whereas others have doubled what I gave when they asked me.  I suppose this is how the world works, and all I can say is I am thankful to all those who have taken the time, and continue to take the time to support me, both with messages and donations, I know who you are and I promise that I am grateful and remain thankful to you each and every step I take.  It’s empowering and warming to know you are behind me.

As I mentioned last time I wrote, I was missing a few pounds and so last week I headed to the Cardiff Blues to shake a bucket and collect some loose change at their game against Zebre.  Thankfully, the fans were generous enough and I managed to raise what I needed, and, once the auction money arrives on my JustGiving page (£125 for the Racing Metro jersey from Brian at Tight 5 Events), I will break the £2000 barrier, just in time for the deadline I had been set.  To say this is a relief is an understatement, and I am now certain to be cycling to Paris in less than two weeks time!

WP_20150520_003Away from the training, there is still life, although it may sometimes not seem like it, especially to regular readers of the blog!  But there is, and I continue to juggle my freelance working with Paul and also Community Music Wales, alongside the training.  WP_20150520_001This week has involved a meeting in London to follow up on the Disney event, networking in Cardiff to push the CMW name, and a meeting in Taunton with Nic Sestaret (who coached with our team in Disney) to talk about future camps and tours!

I am also mulling over what to do personally in September.  After the Ironman, there is a natural break in terms of training and my freelance contracts.  The question is whether I seek full-time employment, or try to build my own business.  At this stage I am not sure!  It could depend on the job itself, the location, or indeed whether I can grow my own business to a larger level.  Personal concerns will also play a big part in this decision as we seek to eek up another rung on the property ladder.  Certainly plenty to ponder as the year goes on, but you never know what is around the corner and an offer or two may well crop up and make the decision for me!

All I can say for now is that despite today being a “rest day”, there is actually a good amount of housework I must attend to….right now!

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A Successful Tri

In terms of my training and achievements, I am extremely pleased to begin this blog with good news!  I participated in my first ever triathlon last Sunday in my home town of Abergavenny, on what I have seen described as a “beautiful but brutal” course, and placed 42nd out of 79 finishers.

Elsewhere, the fundraising seems to have stalled and time is running out before the Blues cycle to Paris.  I am making a plea to anyone who has not donated to please do so now!!!  The link is of course: www.JustGiving.com/StayStrongForOws-GJS – more on this later in the blog though!

BackWP_20150509_002 to the triathlon….  Preparation was not quite as relaxed or exact as in Paris for the marathon.  On the Friday before the event I ran a quick 5km around town and although the Saturday was ostensibly a rest day, I ended up rushing about to squeeze in eating to ensure I could still make it to Eugene Cross Park for Ebbw Vale’s key semi-final clash with Cross Keys, which the home side duly won!

transitionFortunately I had a good amount of time at home on Sunday morning to prepare, meaning less rush and panic in what were unfamiliar circumstances at the event.  I arrived at the Leisure Centre about 9am and spent time registering, racking my bike and trying to set up my transition area.  All this was new to me and I was sneaking glances at other entrants and marvelling at some of the equipment on show, which must have cost a small fortune compared to my own kit!  I met up with a former rugby colleague, turned triathlete, who is entering his first ironman in Tenby this year also!  Gary was beginning the Y-Fenni/Blaenafon event in the same swim “wave” as me at 10.35am and would provide a good marker as to how I was progressing in my training.

I entered poolside at the allotted time of 10.25 and to my horror the safety briefing was already in full swing!  We had been warned this was vital and we could not miss it, but fortunately I was not prevented from “racing” which would have been really frustrating!  Because of the transition being outside, and to prepare me for future events, I was wearing “undershorts” (Helly Hansen LIFA boxers if you are interested!) under my costume – which I had practiced with the week prior to the triathlon.  I would be wearing these throughout every discipline and in the pool to identify my start time I was given a swim hat to wear, which I had never used before!  As the start time approached, I suddenly felt some nerves, really for the first time, even with B at the end of my lane counting the lengths and my parents supporting me in the viewing gallery…..  The last few minutes slipped by very slowly, I just wanted to begin!  I’m now wondering just how will the start feel at the bigger events like the Ironman itself….?!
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Then, whistle….time to swim!  Almost immediately I was caught by a faster swimmer, which didn’t feel great, I felt so slow!  I just tried to keep good technique, not let the nerves get to me, and swim smoothly.  By the time the 800m were over, I had managed a time of 16:02, which is actually my best swim ever!!  I jogged outside across paving and grass and into transition……  Usually in my brick sessions I would be at home at this point, with time to casually talk and stretch!  Now I needed not to waste time if possible, although I still chatted with more experienced riders who were racking their bikes ahead of their swim start!  I wanted to try to relax and enjoy the event as well as learn!  As I left transition on my bike, my parents were already there to cheer me on and wish me luck on the bike section.

11039301_10153382494832664_8227663925304615550_nCycling has become an enjoyable pastime for me and living around Monmouthshire, the Tumble is no longer a climb I fear.  That said, it is still a long drag and requires concentration to keep turning the cranks.  On the way through Llanfoist I was passed by a leisure rider but I did manage to overtake five riders on my way to the summit (including two from the triathlon!) as well as finally also re-passing the guy who passed me who needed a walk before the top!  The road across to Brynmawr went well, as did the kink through Beaufort onto Llangynidr moors.  I averaged 20.55km for the first hour with the climbs in the bag, and, thanks to a fast descent to Bwlch and a solid ride back into town afterwards, I managed over 30km/hour for the second hour, completing the cycle in 2h05m approx.  The only slight mishap was the chain coming off over the moors, but this was easily and quickly rectified!

As I came back into town, my parents had again strategically positioned themselves at the Old Hereford Road lights and then walked up to the start of the run route to surprise me again!  In transition I tried to work quickly to get ready for what would be a very challenging run straight up the Sugar Loaf (500m elevation in the first 6km!).  I ate some chocolate and Haribo sweets and swapped my shorts and tied my trainers and then started the journey!  Looking at my watch I knew a run of 1h29m would mean that I could actually complete the whole event in under 4 hours, which had been my initial target weeks ago but then seemed too far out of reach as I trained!

I managed to walk very little until I reached the gate to the forest trail over the Deri mountain, at which point I hiked up, past the first “aid station” and over the brow of the hill before jogging again, only stopping to walk once the climb became steep in the last 1.5km.  As the wind gusted around I strode as quickly as I could past another two triathletes to check in at the top where I treated myself to a glass of water before heading down!  I ran as quickly as I dared on the undulating ground (as I am an extremely inexperienced trail runner!) to the road, and then onwards past the vineyard (saying hi to Cath who was marshalling as I passed her!) and back to the centre.  As I crossed the line and stopped my watch for a total time of 3h55m20s, I was personally very pleased with my accomplishment, although I later found out the overall victor was over an hour quicker than that!  For those interested, full results from the day can be seen here: YFenni Blaenafon2015Results.

Gary came over the line not too far behind me and complimented me on the achievement, which really meant a lot given his experience, and gives me a good boost to push on with training.  He also mentioned the Ocean Lava middle distance (half-ironman) triathlon on 1st August, and specifically how it is a good base before the Ironman itself.  I’ve now signed up for it too and added it to my list, to do after the cycle to Paris and the Monmouth Aquathlon!

Again in Abergavenny, the support of my family was fantastic, especially given the nature of the event where they couldn’t see me for large parts nor could they predict when I would turn up in transition!  Presumably it was as much a training exercise for their trip to support in Tenby as it was for me to learn about a triathlon!!
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Finally this week, I’d like to return to the burning issue of sponsorship.  Things are getting tight in the sense that the Cardiff Blues want me to raise £2000 by Friday May 22nd and I am up to £1780 so far, plus the highest auction bid of £120 to date.  This leaves me a total of £100 short and, having already spent over £4000 of our personal money to take on these challenges, I am really unable to pay this myself.  Therefore I am still asking those people who regularly read this blog and have not yet donated to show their kind nature and to help Owen and also to support me.  Any amount will do, and if you would prefer to pay cash that is also fine, just let me know and I can collect from you.  I urge you to consider doing this for me please.  The link, as usual, is: www.JustGiving.com/StayStrongForOws-GJS.

Thanks for reading, I hope you are enjoying these posts, please do feel free to comment and send feedback, I do appreciate all the support and love reading your messages!

Tri-ing to do something new!

I have hardly seen the time fly by since my last blog!  So much has happened, so much has been done, that time has passed me by without a spare few minutes to sit and update this diary with a new post!

WP_20150425_002Training took a bit of a jolt since my last post following our unexpected stay over in Paris.  Thankfully though, that was worthwhile in the end as B’s Dad now seems firmly on the road to recovery.  In the days after we finally returned to Wales (one week after the marathon), he awoke from his coma and is, on the whole, fit and well.  Naturally this was a complete and utter relief to all the family and B was so ecstatic we drove back to France the following Saturday (25th April) to spend another two days visiting him, returning on Monday 27th.

Over the course of the two weeks of travelling in and out of Paris and back and forth to the UK, I was very run down, had not eaten correctly and as a result had caught a cold.  This naturally also had a negative impact on my training and I am in fact only beginning to shake it off now!  I have though been trying to adjust my training to the different challenge posed by my very first triathlon this coming Sunday (May 10th), as opposed to running a marathon.

I have spent more time in the swimming pool than during the previous two months, which were almost exclusively spent out running!  I have got back on my bike, which proved quite tough, and also built in some brick sessions where I learned to run straight after finishing cycling.  After about two weeks of fighting a cold but trying to train, I am finally beginning to make headway!  My “bike legs” are coming back and I am swimming more quickly and running well off the bike.

As a first triathlon, I probably could have picked something slightly easier.  The Blaenavon-Y-Fenni route is tough.  Really tough!  After a sedate start (an 800m pool swim), the cycle route takes competitors over the gruelling Tumble climb then across the Llangynidr moors and back into town before a final “run” straight up (and I mean straight up!!) the Sugar Loaf mountain.  The “run” is more like a hike, it is impossible to run the whole thing, and the descent is almost sheer in places and equally demanding!

On Saturday 2nd, I watched Ampthill win promotion to English National Division 1

On Saturday 2nd, I watched Ampthill win promotion to English National Division 1

I have though managed to practice the route a couple of times.  Mave and I ran the Sugar Loaf one Wednesday (before I went swimming) and I made it pretty much to the top on my own directly after a swim session the following Friday.  Last Sunday, one week before the actual event, Mave and I completed the bike course (more or less – we did all of the hard parts anyway, even if we ended up 3.5K short in total!) and then I continued to run straight up the Sugar Loaf, which was extremely difficult!  That said, I managed it, and although my time will be nothing earth-shattering, I know I can complete the course and learn the basics of triathlon and the transitions.  Fingers crossed for Sunday now!

One of the major issues with being out of the country was the inability to continue with my fund raising as I had hoped, and to really push the prize draw we were running at the time.  Thanks again to Paul and my parents, the message was spread and I did manage to ask a few friends when we returned home.  The result, when the draw did close, was that we had amassed £1770 for the #StayStrongForOws campaign.  I was pleased with this total in general, although somewhat disappointed not to have broken the £2000 barrier, in particular since I had been unable to persuade all readers of this blog to part with a small amount to help the cause.  I have also found that it is now imperative that I reach £2000 before May 22nd in order to join the Blues cycle to Paris…… Therefore I must again make a plea for your pennies to help me raise the last couple of hundred pounds! (www.JustGiving.com/StayStrongForOws-GJS as if you needed reminding!!).

Draw_Image_050515The prize draw was due to take place on May 1st at Rockwood Hospital, but thanks to some excellent news for Owen and his family this could not happen as Owen was in fact released from hospital on the day.  Instead, on Tuesday 5th I cycled over to Monmouth Leisure Centre with the entries in hand, and centre manager Nick Butler drew the winners.  After we posed for a photo, I headed home in the comparative sunshine, albeit with a blustery wind.  Sadly this relative comfort did not last long at all before the heavens opened and a torrential downpour accompanied me over the remaining 20k! By the time I arrived back home, I was totally drenched! Fortunately I had taken precautions and wrapped all of the essential items in my rucksack in plastic bags beforehand to protect them!

wp_ss_20150507_0001The prizes themselves were won by a variety of people, both from the world of professional rugby, journalism, or simply kindly individuals who had donated to my cause.  Most though then showed enormous generosity once again by donating their prize back to enable me to raise yet more for the #StayStrongForOws campaign!  Therefore right now and until May 21st, an auction is running for the Racing Metro shirt, handed to me by Luke Charteris and signed by the whole squad, including Jamie Roberts and Jonny Sexton.  Bids can be tweeted or emailed to me and the highest bidder at midnight on May 21st will win the shirt!  Please do pass these details on to any person or company that could be interested in winning the jersey as of course, as always, we are trying to raise the maximum amount we can for Owen Williams!

Time for me to finalise preparations for my first triathlon on Sunday.  It will be hard, and a steep learning curve, but hopefully it will also be enjoyable……