Monday, 29 April 2013

What's it like?

Amongst many questions such as ‘are you insane?’, ‘what does Mich think?’, ‘are your kids ok with it?’ I often get asked ‘what’s it like?’ to run or ride or swim or just casually chill out in a Morphsuit. I’ve covered the running in a few posts before and the disaster that was the swim is well documented. A jaunt on the bike however was a new experience.
My main fear was that unlike when running, if something goes wrong on a bike the repercussions can be more serious both for me and fellow competitors. When running if I miss a pothole or raised area and stumble or I only spot a fellow runner at the last minute the worst that can happen is a bit of a fall at a relatively slow speed. Likely outcome being damaged pride as much as anything else. However, on a bike even I can reach speeds of 30 mph which brings with it a massively reduced reaction time and massively increased damage potential.
Normal Vision

Morph Vision!
I had put off the Morph cycle experience for long enough so I arranged a 3 hour jaunt with Carl at 6am the other Sunday. I opted for the trusty 2XU tri shorts and a long sleeved skin under the Morphsuit. I don’t have contact lenses but my glasses are pretty fixed when on so I was confident I wouldn’t have to add to the risks by riding completely blind! I checked my bike over, checked myself over and wheeled the Merida onto the drive. I zipped the hood up completely, popped the helmet on and secured my glasses. I took a deep breath, clipped in and off I went. I only had to cycle a mile or two up the road to meet Carl and so only had to negotiate 3 islands, 1 crossroads and a T junction. It was at the third island Carl (who can only have come from the opposite direction) caught me up and made me jump out of my skin with a ‘Good Morning’. It was a worry that I hadn’t seen or heard him approach at all! We cycled on to a safe spot and pulled over to sort the route and for me to get a pic!

So, ‘what’s it like?’. Well, if you imagine a bank robber with a stocking on his head it feels much like I expect that to! My nose is pressed flat against my face; the suit is tight across the nose, eyes and mouth. Breathing is harder, peripheral vision is massively restricted, forward vision is reduced, looking behind over the shoulder is pointless and hearing is reduced. The body bit is great. Legs, arms and torso all neatly held in and it is probably quite aerodynamic as a result. Unfortunately the senses take a battering in addition to the annoyance of my eyelashes scraping on the inside of the suit. I can drink through it while riding but the intake is reduced by about 70%. I quickly had to make a few facial adjustments when breathing. Breathing in has to be through the mouth to get a reasonable intake but if I breathe out normally the warm breath air stays close to the face and steams up my glasses. To combat this I have to breathe out using the ‘make a whistley noise by blowing over the top of a beer bottle face’ to try and blow down to keep it off my face! This is an annoying additional face ache I had not previously considered.
We covered 46 miles that day and I stayed fully suited throughout. While the sun came up ahead of me I could see next to nothing as the sun just lights up the inside of my suit. I made a slight helmet adjustment to bring the small peak on the helmet down slightly to give a bit of shadow from the sun but I may need to wear a peaked cap under the helmet for Outlaw. When the sun was behind me I felt much happier! I was reluctant to take the lead as I was comforted by focusing on Carl’s rear light to keep my bearings on the road. I also went much slower than I usually would on descents! It is as claustrophobic as ever but I can deal with that as mentally I will be prepared for 8 hours on the bike in it. It does hold sweat though! Coupled with the fact that I produce a shed load of the stuff this may be a problem. The back of my neck and middle of my shoulders were definitely feeling the moisture build up and associated cold and this became very uncomfortable toward the end. I also had to keep stretching my arms, hands and shoulders as the constant ‘pull’ of the suit can get quite uncomfortable. Having to stop and de-hood to eat will be a pain but there is no way around it.
We averaged 15mph which I was really pleased with for a first Morph cycle outing. It was quite scary but great fun. As we passed through various villages a few of the locals probably gave me a strange look as I shouted ‘good morning’ but to be honest I couldn’t really see their faces to tell you!
The best thing was that I had survived and with a few kit and body adjustments I am sure I can do the Outlaw ride. My one and only Morph run will be this Sunday at the Lichfield Half Marathon when I am running my first race with Mrs B.
It was a confidence boost and it removed the final ‘unknown’ from this challenge. There is no doubt now in my mind I will be tackling Outlaw fully Morphed and I am relatively confident I won’t die!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Boston & VLM

I think I need to get this down for my own peace of mind because the morning after the bombing of the Boston Marathon it is hitting home just how much of an impact the challenges I have taken on have affected me. I don’t mean the soul searching, the euphoria, the fear, the excitement, the failure, the determination of doing the challenges at the time (those are all well documented). I mean the impact the ’community’ of people has had on me personally.
Me and Mrs B watched with overwhelming sadness and disgust the horrific scenes unfold at Boston. Mrs B was visibly shaken as events unfolded. I suspect this was because despite the events being thousands of miles away they were just to close to home. We have both stood at the finish supporting, our kids have stood at the finish supporting and we have both been participants on many occasions!
I don’t directly know anyone that was running or supporting at Boston (and whether you are running or supporting the emotional rollercoaster is very similar!). Through Twitter I follow a few American runners and triathletes and I am friends with a couple on Facebook too. I have never met these people but we share a common interest. Taking on challenges for charity, or personal improvement, or both. Despite, what I consider to be, my well founded agnostic beliefs one of those Americans is a Pastor (I am sure that’s the correct title?) who is an actual proper runner. He was introduced to me and the Poppyfields Appeal by a mutual friend and has supported me in my endeavours and the charity for some time. We have talked previously about running the NY marathon together for Poppyfields (albeit that he could run it twice, shower, have breakfast and still be waiting at the finish for me) and I was very relieved to hear via FB that despite him initially having a place at Boston he was unable to run so he hadn’t travelled to Boston!
I still have the dream to run in the States with Matt Dobson but if I ever make it over there we have agreed we will run Boston together instead. Whilst it doesn’t make a jot of difference to the people of Boston and the direct victims of yesterday and whilst there isn’t actually anything I can do personally to help, it would be, for me, a way of showing support. Of course every runner and charity challenger will now be keen to run Boston because I am quite sure everyone in the ‘community’ will feel the same way. That’s why you will see thousands of runners wearing black armbands in London on Sunday, or with a written message on their shirt, or just running with Boston in their heart.
It is also why thousands of people will run today. They may have planned to anyway, or they may rejig their training plan to run instead of ride or swim, or they may feel under the weather but I get the sense the ‘community’ will be out in force because we perhaps just don’t know what else to do.
It is easy for me to say London should go ahead because I am not running this year as I couldn’t get a place. Only people in the position of having a place can make the decision as to whether they run or not and additionally whether they take their family to watch! Such a decision can only be right for them. I would like to think I would run. I would want to defy whatever invisible unknown lunatic is responsible for such cowardly inhuman acts and I would want to visibly show support for Boston. Would I want Mrs B and The Rugs at the finish waiting for me? Of course I would. Would I allow them to be? You see….on that question I am not so sure!
If I didn’t have a family I would think it is a no brainer! The nearest personal experiences I can relate it to are the shootings in Lichfield of two Soldiers in the early 90’s and the disruption of the Grand National in the mid 90’s. The first incident was, I think, a Friday or Saturday night. I was due to meet friends for drinks in Lichfield but that afternoon the news broke of two soldiers being shot dead at Lichfield train station by the IRA. As a young irresponsible man and with no responsibilities it was an easy decision to make to find another way into Lichfield (the trains were cancelled for obvious reasons) and carry on with my planned night in defiance of what had gone on. It was the only time I had seen armed police on the streets of Lichfield and probably the only time I had witnessed a completely incident free evening with any arguments and animosities put to one side.
It was neither big nor clever to be stood on the course at Aintree, fuelled with drink, singing ‘No Surrender’ as the police tried to clear the course due to a suspected bomb threat from the IRA after only the third race. It was, however, the only defiance we could display!
London will be super charged with emotion for the runners and the supporters. I can only liken it to the visit of Leeds Utd to Aston Villa the week after two Leeds fans had been killed in Turkey. Wreaths were laid by Aston Villa at the away end, there was an impeccable minutes silence and both myself and Mrs B experienced the super charged emotional atmosphere where traditionally (ridiculously) violently opposing fans were united. It was a rare moment in football but humbling to be part of it.
The London Marathon of course already has an international ‘community’ of runners and supporters, it is already emotionally charged, it is an epic event to take part in but on Sunday I would imagine all of that will be taken to another level. I ‘said’ on FB yesterday ‘I don’t know much about much. I am not a proper runner or athlete but I do know that a marathon is built on goodwill and with good intentions both personal and charitable. A marathon doesn’t segregate by wealth, race, class or religion. The running/charity community provides huge support across the globe. Sundays London Marathon will be hugely emotional in support of the people of Boston. I know loads (of people) running London. Run safe, run proud and have a place in your heart for Boston. Run safe!’
I will run today because I don’t know what else to do. It may help order my thoughts, control my emotions. I will watch London on Sunday entirely jealous of everyone who is running and then anxiously await the race reports, tweets, texts saying ‘I finished, I’m safe and my time was….’.
My heart goes out to Boston and my very best wishes to everyone at London! Enjoy and Race safe!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Commitment – either you do or you don’t. There is no in-between!
A holiday is supposed to recharge the batteries right? Give the body a break? Allow it to repair and prepare for the final 12 week pre Outlaw onslaught? I loved my holiday in Cornwall. Lots of walking and climbing, nice food and quality family time. I had allowed for it in my training schedule. Unfortunately I didn’t feel recharged when the holiday ended….just gutted to be back to reality! I did sneak in a 9 miler midweek which was a great test of strength and stubbornness due to some fantastic hills and a miscalculation resulting in the run being 3 miles further than I had planned.
This week was supposed to be bike based. Take advantage of the Easter school break (meaning I can commute at 6am or 7am) and rack up 48 miles a day. I wanted to do this on three days during this week and run the other two. Sadly due to my own laziness and lack of will power I haven’t got on the bike yet this week and only managed a 4.5 mile run on Monday. I have seriously pissed myself off – as I often do.
The situation I find myself in now is that I have only got in the pool on a handful of occasions, I haven’t been on the bike enough and certainly not logged enough ‘big’ rides and I’ve not really run more than 10 milers for 6 months. This induces swim panic, ride panic and run panic! I can try and make myself feel better by pointing out that my run pace has improved dramatically (but not tested over distance!), my ave speed on the bike has improved (but not tested over distance) and weirdly I seem to think I will be ok on the swim anyway! Ultimately of course I don’t feel any better and with a little less than 12 weeks to go I can’t afford to be arsing about.
I think I’ve slipped into a ‘comfort’ zone of doing something without the ‘push’ required! This will put me at risk of clocking another whimpering Outlaw effort. Don’t get me wrong I was very pleased with my 2012 16:45 Outlaw time but that was set against an injury hit prep and it being my first triathlon. This time I have to be better, fitter and faster. There are no excuses not to be.
I want to go away from posting this all fired up to get out there and nail some training sessions. To push harder, further, faster. To sort the Morphsuit bike testing (still not done) and to sort the Morphsuit tinkering for the swim (still not done) but, at the moment, I wonder if I have convinced myself? I probably won’t have until I actually get the sessions under my belt!
In the ‘ups and downs’ of Outlaw preparation this is a ‘down’ (without real reason), but waffling on to myself about it may just help me focus. It will at least log where I am right now which is in a better place than some. Sometimes a bit of perspective is required to remind me not to be such a whinger. Just this week @Ironholgs has announced his withdrawal from Outlaw due to injury and some barely got started before injury did for them @cpt_jacksparra
There can be no 'in-between' and i can't allow myself to drift into such an abyss! I need to up my game considerably.  
Quick reminder that @mjgreenfield1 is on stage 4 of the Marathon Des Sables. Today’s stage is 47 miles of Sahara Desert! Look him up he is running it for CLIC Sargent and updates are posted on his twitter feed! Now that’s commitment!