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Monday, 11 July 2016

A first for me

Don't really know where to start with this........

Yesterday I was stood in a field in the pouring rain in my trisuit and my tracksuit bottoms grinning from ear to ear. I honestly can't remember the last time I was this happy.

Why you ask?

Simple I had just been presented with my first bit of triathlon silverware.


Me the person who at school was awful at running, who detested cross country, who as an adult did no exercise. Me the overweight ex smoker. Me the person who was told he needed to lose weight to run. Me, who in my first London Triathlon in 2012 came 3781st out of 4051 finishers.

Yes it may not be a national event like some people I know but this is well it's just me and I was gobsmacked to have won my age group.

I was the 1st placed 35-39 athlete at the Lincolnshire Edge Triathlon held at Cadney in North Lincs and 6th placed male overall to match my previous highest finishing position.


I'm not going to lie and say I hadn't been thinking this was possible but when an event is out of your immediate locality, you never know who is going to turn up and race.

But enough of me waxing lyrical and spoiling the story by giving you the ending first.

You really want to know the gory details of the race, don't you?

Swim

When I looked at the start list. 2 names stood out. Steve Grocock and Caitlin Bower. I was hoping for a cheeky #firstoutthewater but these two would test my metal. Caitlin has always set off after me in local races because shes a shwimmer as opposed to me who's just a swimmer. And a quick look at the recent Ironman Austria results confirmed Steves swim speed as he did a 58:04. Wow I was going to have an awesome swim to trouble these two.

I put myself near Caitlin and close to the buoy so my swim would be the least distance possible. The hooter went and we were off. Within 30m she was in front of me so I did what anyone else would do, I drafted her. I stuck on her feet until the first buoy but the I lost them and she was gone into the distance. Up until this point Steve was on my hip. We turned at the first buoy and Steve swam past me.

Right plan B, swim as hard as I can. I made good progress up the back straight and got to the second buoy just behind Steve.

We turned at the second buoy and the wind was smashing the waves against the back of my head with each breath. Wow it was choppy, thank god I breath to the left. The final straight home was tough going but I soldiered on. With 150m to go some one overtook me. I tried to latch onto their feet but couldn't manage it.

Race position - 4th (2nd male)

T1

Ripped off my wetsuit, threw on my helmet, grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line gaining on Steve.

Race position 3rd (2nd male)

Bike

After qualifying for Cozumel I made the decision that all my racing from now on will be on my road bike so I can become accustomed to it. That includes all draft illegal races, all time trials everything. I was fairly certain most people would be on TT bikes because they are allowed but I stuck to my plan and raced on the same setup I plan to use in 10 short weeks.

When setting up my GPS before racing, I became acutely aware of my powermeter not working. Oh well time to race blind and rip my legs off. I use my powermeter to monitor output and cadence. Racing a sprint is all about red lining anyway so if I was hurting then job done.

I mounted my bike and set about trying to go as quick as I could. After about 3 miles, I threw up and felt really gaseous. Oh balls. Maybe I wasn't quite over that viral infection (possible leptospirosis) from last week. 

I had to back it off a bit but kept applying the pressure.

The course was a lot lumpier than I expected and that wind was unrelenting in the first half. It was a constant battle against the elements. I expected a flat course with the race being in Lincolnshire but was shocked by the lumps in the terrain. Never mind it's the same for everyone.

I'd also forgotten the course was long (16 miles as opposed to the 12 I normally race over) and I felt those last four miles in my legs.

After about 6 miles Aiden Grocock flew past me. This was to be expected and wasn't a shock to me. By 10 miles I had been caught by someone else who zipped past me on his TT bike with disc wheel.


It all comes down to simple maths, they are displacing less air in their tucked position as opposed to me on my road bike so it's no doubt they were passing me. But it's about the bigger picture, I need to get used to being on my road bike. It needs to become an extension of me.

Race position - 6th (4th male)

T2

Rack bike, remove helmet, spin number belt, don trainers and visor. No dramas.

Race position - 6th (4th male)

Run

I set off on the run knowing that recently I have been capable of 23 - 24 minutes for the run so thought I would be able to replicate that today.

But........

My body had other ideas. As soon as I took those first few steps, I was in pain, my stomach felt ridiculously bloated and I wanted to be sick.

I had done nothing out of the ordinary nutrition wise so can only presume this was a result of last weeks illness. After about 1.5km I was running off road (and we all know how much I enjoy that) when I had to stop to walk a few steps to try and burp or throw up. Three belches later and my stomach still felt bloated but the nausea I was feeling had started to abate.

When we ran past the transition area after 2.5km, I so very nearly gave up, such was the level of discomfort I was in. I couldn't settle into my run. My stomach was bloated and I really wanted to be sick. I was really uncomfortable. 

By this point a woman and a man had ran past me so I was still in the top 5 male competitors. I then did some maths and those ahead of me weren't in my AG (either too young or too old).

Time to put up or shut up.

Do I throw in the towel and give up the possibility of an AG victory or MTFU and put up with 12 more minutes of pain and discomfort.

I decided to grit it out and that decision taught me a lot about the sort of athlete I have become. If this had happened in 2012 to 2014 I'd have given up. I really was in that much pain and discomfort. Each step hurt my belly.

I was back running on road at this point so that eased things mentally (as I detest off road running), time to knuckle down and run. I tried to relax, to take my mind to my happy place but my stomach felt awful. I was literally counting down the steps. At one point I was gaining on an athlete ahead of me and that gave me a little lift.

Someone else ran past me just before the turn point, they offered encouragement having seen me walking in pain before. How old were they, I had no idea.

We turned for home and I had just under 1km to run. I could see the finishing arch and used that as a focus to take my mind of the pain in my stomach. I was doing maths while running trying to work out how much longer I would be in pain for. with 200m to go, I had had noone else pass me. 1 minute to go and then you can burp, be sick, curl up in a ball.

I turned back into the race venue and surged to the line.


I was elated to cross the line and that 5km although painful and slow (28:01) taught me a lot about myself and racing.

Race position - 9th (6th male) 


Cue the nervous wait to see if the person who passed me was in my AG. 

Fast forward 1 hour and its the time of the presentation.

The main podium is announced and I am like a giddy child waiting for Christmas.

Then the AG's are starting to be announced. The heavens opened and rain started to fall from the sky. People were taking cover.

The announcer was working up through the age groups 20-24, 25-29, 30-34 and finally 35-39

The next words out of the announcers microphone were music to my ears.

And in 1st place in the 35-39 category from Doncaster Triathlon Club in a time of 1:31:49, Michael Barnett.

I was grinning like a kid in a toy shop as I went to collect my trophy from the event sponsors.

I hate photos of me but actually adore this one because you can see the glee on my face.

No tears, just pure unadulterated joy.


The transformation was complete.

Overweight, cigarette smoking couch potato to competitive(ish) triathlete - total time taken (since London Triathlon 2012) 1387 days

Is the journey over? Is it hell. Just watch this space. 

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

#dreambelieveachieve

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away....................

Well in late 2013, I made no attempt to hide my desire to represent Great Britian as an Age Group athlete in triathlon.

I have a dream

This dream has been something I have been quietly chasing for some time.

After the ITU decided to change the rules for sprint distance triathlon to draft legal for the World Championships in Mexico in 2016, I thought that was the final nail in my coffin but then I realised it actually might benefit me.

How could it benefit me you ask?

Well quite simply it turns the race into a running race.

Still confused?

Assuming I could swim well and bike with a good group then I wouldn't lose 9 minutes to compatriots on the run.

Why does 9 minutes matter?

Well it's all about the percentages. To qualify as an AG athlete you either have to be within the top four finishers in your AG at a qualification race or be within 115% of the winner of your AG.

Assuming I swam and biked with the 1st place athlete in my AG and they completed the course in 1:00:00. Then I would need to cross the line in 1:09:00 to be eligible.

And there is no way that that athlete could run 5km 9 minutes quicker than me. Given what I am capable of (23:00 at the end of a triathlon) he would have to run the 5km quicker than the World Record in 1960 for me not to be eligible.

So a plan was formed in my head 18 months ago.

In November 2014 I decided I was going to do all I could to get to Mexico. I decided to concentrate on sprints. I had a relatively good season last year (2015 review) where I concentrated on sprints.

But I needed to up my game this year. I had entered all the qualification races for Mexico to give me the greatest chance but I know where I stood the best chance of qualification. That race was Strathclyde. I am not saying why I knew I would qualify here but I was playing the game.

My preparation for the qualifying races was far form ideal because of life problems but here is a run down of my races.

Eton

In late May I travelled down to Eton for my first foray into draft legal racing. I have never before raced in a draft legal bike race or triathlon and boy was it a learning experience. I met a Twitter friend  (Duncan) in transition and we chatted about forming a group on the bike.

I had an awesome swim and came out at the front of the second group.

I quickly mounted my bike and set about working as hard as I could. Duncan caught me up after about 2km and we started working as a pair. After another 2km we got caught by another group of 3. That made a group of 5. We all set about working together and it was working really well. I got on the front and put in to much of an effort, I think I was on the front for two minutes. After I waved people through I had nothing left to get on the back again. I then watched the group ride off into the distance and could do nothing about it.

A huge learning point for me.

After a lap on my own I finally got caught by another two cyclists and we set about each taking turns on the front and it worked really well. We rolled into transition and I set about the run. I buried myself in the 5km.

I crossed the line spent, I had nothing left. I had given everything.

After the results had been announced I realised I hadn't done enough to be eligible for Mexico, I had missed the cut off by 46 seconds. 46 measly seconds. Having looked at the results I would've been into T2 72 seconds quicker if I had stuck with my first group. My eagerness to prove my worth had stopped me being eligible.

Never mind I learnt a lot from this race.

Strathclyde

I made the long trip to Scotland knowing this was where I stood the best chance of qualifying. How did I know? The race was held on the same weekend as the ITU world duathlon champs and the weekend after the ETU european triathlon champs so people might not race this race.

I had another wicked swim and led out the third group (all 100 athletes left at the same time), I was quickly onto my bike and riding alone. After the first 5km lap, 6 riders had caught me up and we worked like a well oiled machine each taking a turn at the front. We rolled into T2 together. I was with Duncan and another person from my AG. I knew they wouldn't run the 5km 9 minutes quicker than me but didn't know where the others from my AG were.

As it transpired the winner from my AG was ahead of Duncan (Q2) by over 3 minutes who finished 5 minutes ahead of me.

After analysing the times and results my roll down percentage was 112.75%. I was eligible to race in Mexico and currently lying in 20th position out of 20 possible positions.

Of the 20 positions, 12 were taken by qualification places, 1 went to a pre qualified athlete which left 7 positions for roll down. I was the 7th lowest rolldown. Talk about cutting it fine

I would have to go to Llandudno and race to ensure I had done all I could.

Llandudno

This race didn't really suit me as it was a long climb as opposed to Strathclyde (a series of short climbs) and Eton (pan flat) but I had to do all I could to qualify.

The swim went really well and Duncan had to really work to catch me on the bike which showed I was improving. He promptly dropped me on the second lap climb however. Damn my lack of proper preparation.

I ran as hard as I could in the heat and it hurt, as you can see from the picture below.

I hadn't improved my roll down percentage but two athletes with lower percentages had grabbed automatic qualification places so my position had improved.


Now just the nervous wait for the website to be updated. On the Tuesday morning the website had been updated. I immediately posted my joy on social media as this was something I had been aiming for for 18 months.


I still can't quite believe I have managed to do it, now I just need to fund the trip.

I would now like to give a virtual two fingers to the people who said I couldn't represent GB.

Someone from Twitter said I wasn't quick enough or good enough to be an AG athlete. Well you see that Q next to my name. That says different.

Someone else said I was too fat to be a runner. Yes you may be right I am not typically built to run but that doesn't mean I can't be a competitive triathlete.

Things like this help galvanise my belief that you can achieve anything you set your heart on.

I dreamt about going to Mexico, I believed I could do it (despite some people saying it wasn't possible) and I made it bloody happen with hard work.


On the 15th September I will line up in Mexico and will be so proud of what I have achieved. Just 4 years ago I was still smoking and hadn't completed a triathlon. I hadn't run 5km non stop and was clueless and now I am a GB AG athlete.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Not so marginal gains

Triathlon is a sport made up of 3 disciplines. So what should you concentrate your training on?

Ideally you'll be like Messrs Brownlee, Frodeno or Gomez and be awesome at all three. But for us mere mortals what should you concentrate on?

In my opinion you should concentrate most on the discipline you are weakest at. 

So if you're a swimmer concentrate on bike and run. 

If you're a run biker concentrate on swimming.

You can see where this is going.....

Ultimately it's all about concentrating on the discipline where you can make the most time gains. 

I see little point in me chasing the swim and spending 5 hours a week chasing an improvement that would at best get me 45s off my 400m time when the swim is such a small percentage duration in a triathlon and I have bigger gains to make across bike and run. 


If we look at an average triathlon duration for a sprint. The swim for me makes up about 10-15% of overall duration, the bike between 45-50% and the run the remaining 35-40% so it makes no sense chasing an improvement on the swim given the small percentage of duration it takes up. 

If we look back on my triathlon "career".

In 2013 I was okay at swimming but not great on the bike or run so concentrated on bike and run. 

In 2014 my bike was getting better so I spent a lot of time working on my run but still working on my bike. 

In 2015 I needed to make gains on bike and run so concentrated on those again. Finding my race distance helped me refocus my goals. 

And in 2016 I believe my biggest gain can be made on the bike. So guess what I'm spending a lot of my time on the bike. I still need to improve my run but I believe there will be a crossover improvement from the bike and also that the percentage improvement for me is greater on the bike.  


Is it fun concentrating on your weakest discipline. No it's bloody hard work but it's necessary hard work. 

Would I rather go for a swim than go for a run. You bet your ass I would but I know I am chasing the "not so marginal" gains by doing the hard work that is required.  


By all means still spend some time each week training across all 3 disciplines including the often forgotten "strength and conditioning" but make sure the split is right for you, your goals and your work:life balance. After all triathlon is three sports so you have three things to master.



In summary concentrate on doing the hard work on your weakest discipline instead of doing the fun work on the thing you find easiest as this is where you can make the biggest improvements. 

Thanks for reading,

Michael




Thursday, 18 February 2016

My 2016 season

Things are shaping up well regarding populating my 2016 race calendar.

I've made no secret of my desire to represent GB as an age grouper even writing about it back in September 2013 in this post I have a dream

The main goal for this season is qualifying at sprint distance to either go to the World Champs in Mexico this September or to the Euros in 2017.

To that end I am entering several (well most) of the qualification races. I am also racing some of the early season races to enable me to get some race practice in. After all there really is no substitute to racing.

My 2016 is broken down as follows.

March

20th - Gainsborough 10k. I'm undecided is I'm racing this to chase a new PB or pacing a friend to her sub 50. It all depend on how my running goes in the next few weeks.

27th - East Leake Triathlon. I fancied racing this early season tri to see how I am feeling after the winter.

April

24th - City of York Triathlon. After watching a lot of the athletes I coach race this last year, I decided to give it a bash.

May

8th - Pendle Triathlon. My Dad has invited me to compete in his club's triathlon. As it's a 750m pool swim it seems rude not to have a blast.

22nd - Eton Dorney - My first qualifier for Mexico. I thought it a good idea to race as many draft legal races as I could to try and qualify.

28th - Nottingham Triathlon - My first qualifier for ETU in 2017. Hoping I can peak in this race to secure qualification for next year's race in Kitzbuhel.

June

5th - Strathclyde Triathlon. I am hoping I can carry my peak for another week and race well on the same course used for the Commonwealth Games. If memory serves it was quite hilly. The second Mexico qualification race. GULP.

19th - Llandudno Sea Sprint -  I am hoping to not need to attend this race but if I do then it is my final chance to qualify for Mexico

July

3rd - Peak District Triathlon. My last chance to qualify for Kitzbuhel.

10th -  Lincolnshire Edge Triathlon. A local race that is flat and another chance to race in open water.

17th - Jenson Button Trust Triathlon. I had a blast racing here last year so decided to give it another go. The race format is unique and I really enjoyed it. This year I'll be sure to use my road bike.

20th - Doncaster 5k. This will be my third race in a row in Doncaster. I've set PB's the last two years.

August

7th - Bassetlaw Triathlon. Another local race. Remember it's good to support your local events.

20th - Relays. How can I not race Relays. It's the best race in the calendar. SO MUCH FUN.

21st - Relays take 2. Me and some other members from DTC are entering the mixed relays. I can't wait.

September

25th - Brigg Sprint. I love this local race and can't wait to race again.

October

2nd - Drax Goole Tri - Another local race I really enjoy.

9th - Epworth Triathlon. Finishing off the season as late as I can.

Yes it's a lot of races but I am quite good at recovering from sprints within a week.

Hope to see some of you at these races.

Thanks for reading,

Mcihael

Sunday, 14 February 2016

My first trip to hell aka Sufferlandria

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from Wattbike asking for people to be members of #TeamWattbike for the upcoming Tour of Sufferlandria. I decided to apply to be a member. Thankfully I was accepted.


Now for a little information for those not aware of Sufferfest.


The Tour of Sufferlandria is the "Greatest Grand Tour of a Mythical Nation", which is run by Sufferfest to raise money for the Davis Phinney Foundation (if you feel like donating to this you can do at this link). Here is the Official Tour announcement. https://vimeo.com/150839967 for this years tour.


Sufferlandria is the mythical nation which is featured in the Sufferfest videos.

I have contemplated training with Sufferfest videos for some time as the concept intrigued me. You can download from a selection of 25 cycling training videos by visiting thesufferefest.com, they also do running and triathlon videos but I haven't used these as I don't have access to a treadmill. Recently they have released an app which means you can have access to all video for a small monthly fee. With the current exchange rate it works out at £6.91 a month which is a bargain in my eyes.

Before being accepted onto #TeamWattbike I had completed exactly zero videos as they were never in my plan but after being accepted I thought it prudent to try one out. I picked Blender as this was one of the three videos I bought over the Christmas period.

I decided* to complete Blender with a hangover to increase the suffering.
*decided is a stretch, I overindulged on a night out and this was a stupid idea but you have to live life

After completing Blender I believe I got lulled into a false sense of security. I enjoyed the video and found it no harder than my current training. I genuinely couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

I then got ill so didn't get to practice any other videos.

I finally recovered from my cold with two days to go before the start of the tour. Hardly the ideal prep but it is what it is.

I analysed the tour and thought I knew what I would find hard.



My initial thoughts were that I would find stage 2 really hard and stage 9 would be my favourite stage. None of the other stages particularly worried me after completing Blender.

The tour started on the 6th February and there were highs and lows for me. This blog is a day by day breakdown of my first trip to hell (aka Sufferlandria).

Stage 1 - It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time (ISLAGIATT)

Unfortunately this was one of the lows of my Tour. I tried using the app on my 5 year old iPad but unfortunately it crashed. I then did not have enough time to replay the video due to plans with friends. I was confined to the Grupetto (the name given to the group of cyclists in a road cycling race who form a large group behind the leading peloton) overnight but knew if I didn't get too drunk with friends I would be fine after Stage 2

Stats - Distance 18.8 mi, time - 50 mins, speed - 22.6mph, power - 198W

Stage 2 - The end of ISLAGIATT and Double Revolver

It turns out I did overindulge on my night out and with the extra 70 minutes of ISLAGIATT, my date with Double Revolver filled me with more dread. 32 times 60 second all out efforts did not appeal. After about 20 I wanted to throw something at my telly but I got the job done and rejoined the main group. My legs were ruined when I removed myself from my Wattbike.


Stats - Distance 58.9 mi, time - 163 mins, speed - 21.6mph, power - 194W

Stage 3 - The Best Thing In The World

This was the absolute low point for me. I could not comprehend how hard this 48 minute session was. I mean seriously, its 48 minutes. My pre tour date with Blender had lulled me into a false sense of security. This video made me realise what true suffering is about. I hated all 2800 painful seconds of the atrocious video. I am sure this was in part due to having heavy legs from yesterdays near three hour session. This painful 48 minutes taught me to respect the videos. I even tried spinning my legs out for another 8 minutes to try and heal them.


Stats - Distance 20.4 mi, time - 54 mins, speed - 22.4mph, power - 209W

Stage 4 - To Get To The Other Side

Not my best moment. I got onto the Wattbike hungry after a tough day at work for this "recovery" ride and had to peel myself off it after a massive bonk. Combined with my Garmin dying after 72 mins meant I did not enjoy this "recovery" ride at all.


Stats - Distance 24.8 mi, time - 72 mins (Garmin died), speed - 20.5mph, power - 168W

Stage 5 - The Wretched


Given I had had two bad days in the tour I was dreading this stage all day at work. I was so relieved when I enjoyed it. It wasn't enjoyable but I felt strong, I'm guessing that was thanks to the "recovery" ride yesterday. It was such a relief to enjoy a session after 3 tough days. One of the few high points of the tour.

Stats - Distance 19.9 mi, time - 49 mins, speed - 24.2mph, power - 237W

Stage 6 - The Rookie

A chance to try out for Team Giant Shimano. 55 minutes including 3 10 minute race efforts. Time to get some hard work done. It was a tough session but by no means the toughest. I remember burying myself on the last sprint and my vision blurring but I felt strong. I am definitely getting used to this suffering.


Stats - Distance 20.9 mi, time - 54 mins, speed - 22.9mph, power - 215W

Stage 7 - Do As You're Told

Wow. What a toughie. It doesn't sound too hard but boy was it. You do 22 intervals all above 7.5/10 effort of different lengths with different rest intervals. At a mere 44 minutes, it was the shortest  stage of this years tour but boy does it pack in the suffering.


Stats - Distance 16.3 mi, time - 44 mins, speed - 22mph, power - 200W

Stage 8 - A Very Dark Place & 9 Hammers

I could not muster the mojo or motivation to get on the bike for this session. At just under 2 hours with 14 efforts, it had me a little worried after spending nearly 8 hours pedalling so far in the tour. I can't quite describe the horror of this session. The first 5 efforts in A Very Dark Place were fine but absolutely sapped the energy in my legs. The 9 efforts of 9 Hammers were disgusting, I wanted to quit in fact I nearly did. My legs had nothing for some of the efforts, I was suffering horribly. It was so hard. Whoever decided to pair these workouts is not on my Christams Card list. It wasn't pretty but I got the job done (just) thankfully.


Stats - Distance 37.1 mi, time - 107 mins, speed - 20.8mph, power - 201W

Stage 9 - Power Station & Violator

Before the tour began, this was the one session I was looking forward to. A double session combining low cadence/high power intervals with sprints. My two favourite things to do on my Wattbike. I loved Power Station. It was just enjoyable. Violator however hurt me. 64 sprints of either 5, 10 or 15 seconds with differing rests was beautifully horrible. I was so relieved after the last sprint.



Stats - Distance 39.9 mi, time - 120 mins, speed - 19.9mph, power - 201W

So there is is my first Tour of Sufferlandria completed. Like I said before it had some highs and some lows. I am pleased I decided to do it.

In total my stats for the 9 days are as follows

Distance - 257 miles
Time - 11:56
Speed (average) - 21.5mph
Power (average) - 202W

I fully intend on integrating these videos into my training going forward, I really can't believe it works out at £6.91/month for using the app. 

Will I be back next year? You bet I will. I think the last 9 days has made me stronger (both physically and mentally). I just need to test that out by doing an FTP test when I am fully recovered as my legs are trashed tonight.

I did the tour to boost my cycling ahead of going to Mallorca and the 12 hours in the saddle will have done me no harm whatsoever.

Thanks to Wattbike for the opportunity to take place.

Thanks to Sufferfest for the awesome videos and organisation involved in creating the Tour.

Thanks for reading,

Michael