Friday, 17 November 2017

A conversation about... How triathlon helps mental health

As exciting as my adventures are I know I can get a little tiresome and even the palette cleanser of SRG isn’t always enough. 

So to keep the blog exciting and fresh, I thought it would be interesting to include profiles and interviews of the people that motivate and inspire me.

Now these profile subjects will come from all walks of life, some will be sports orientated (because, you know this blog does fly under the guise of being about Triathlon) some may be more well-known than others (anyone remember my interview with Daley Thompson?) but hopefully they’ll inspire you in some way as they have inspired me.

Anyway, the first person I wanted to tip my hat to is a fellow member of East Grinstead Triathlon Club. I can’t remember exactly when I joined the club but I do know it was this time of year (mid November) which means I am actually celebrating my five-year anniversary of being a member of EGTri.

Wearing the club colours with pride
While my attendance has waxed and waned, depending on what I’m training for and what other commitments I have on, I probably don’t express my appreciation to the club, and its members, how much of a positive impact it’s had on my life.

Anyone that has witnessed my grumpy, slightly aloof demeanour poolside at 6.30am on a Saturday morning (or the fact that I may seem to disappear for weeks at a time) may be surprised to hear that, but yes, I bloody love the club. 

While it’s fair to say that I am one of the heavier members of the club, and my weight goes up and down, I dread to think the shape I’d be in if I hadn’t joined.

However, being a member has also massively helped my mental health – pushing me to believe in myself more but also providing a social circle when I first moved to the area and has really helped me at times when I’ve felt lonely and isolated.

But wait a minute, I hear you say, why are you banging on about yourself as usual? I though this post was meant to be about someone who is more interesting than your Mr Trihard?

Well not too long ago a message popped up in the EGTri Facebook group from a member that I didn’t know particularly well by the name of Dave Flynn. The message was expressing thanks to the club, stating that since he had been a member of the club his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) had become a lot more manageable.

Just in case you were wondering, Dave is number 288

Two things struck me about the message. The first was how refreshing it was to see someone be so open about their mental health. Having struggled with anxiety and depression since I was at school it is something I am trying to be more honest about – both to myself and to others around me.

And in the interest of transparency, one of the reasons I disappeared from the Tri Club a couple of years ago was because I was actually being treated for anxiety and depression in a residential clinic in the Midlands for a couple of weeks.

But anyway, back to Dave.

The other thing that struck me about Dave’s message was that it got me thinking about the link between exercise and mental health, and how the social aspect of being part of a community helps mental health.

So recently me and Dave sat down for a coffee to chat about his experiences.

Dave is an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) with 20 years of experience, which to the layman means he assists in different types of surgery in operating theatres. In 2010 tragically one of the patients Dave was assisting with died in the operating theatre. 

As this was a relatively healthy, low risk patient the death was highly unexpected and resulted in a police investigation which lasted for four years.

While it was more a case of the circumstances being investigated, as opposed to Dave’s personal actions, understandably the pressure of losing a patient and the resulting investigation took a severe toll on Dave’s mental health.

He says: “In 2013 I had a complete breakdown. One day, as I was leaving the house I started shaking, I was sweating profusely and was physically sick.”

Dave was eventually diagnosed with suffering from PTSD and was signed off work for four months. Dave says: “For a while I could not leave the house. Even now I don’t respond well to crowds or sudden changes in plans.”

While Dave received cognitive behaviour therapy and counselling, the one thing that he found really helped him was running.

“My wife would call them my Forrest Gump moments. I’d say I was going out for half an hour but would just keep going and come back hours later. I’d lose myself in the moment and just keep running.”

Run Forrest Run!

In May 2016 Dave signed up for the East Grinstead Triathlon, the annual race organised by the club. Now I’m proud to say that the club always gets overwhelmed with positive feedback from participants, particularly from those that are taking part in their first triathlon, due to the supportive and friendly nature of the members that marshal the race.

As a result Dave, who lives just over the road from the club’s headquarters - East Grinstead’s King’s Centre - decided to join the club for a Saturday morning run session in August 2016.

He says: “I wandered over to the King’s Centre which took a lot of will power. Introducing myself to a bunch of strangers was a big thing. But right from the start the club looked after me and treated me as one of their own.”

A couple of months later Dave decided to literally take the plunge (I thank you) and attend one of the club’s swim sessions.
He says: “My swimming is definitely the weakest of the three disciplines. It’s awful, I wouldn’t even call it swimming and I always feel so vulnerable.”

Well he looks like he knows what he's doing to me

However, Dave says the coaching and the overall environment of the club has worked wonders for him both physically and mentally. Despite finding that his PTSD is worse in the Summer, Dave says he did not have to take anytime off work this year, the first summer he has been able to do this since 2013.

“The way everyone at the club has treated me has brought me along more than I could have hoped for,” he says.

“I’m now achieving things that I didn’t think I could achieve. I went from struggling to swim 500m to being able to swim 2km non-stop. The sense of achievement has had a great effect – I’m not just physically improving but mentally improving. Without running or the Tri club I would not be where I am now.”

Not the post-race nutrition EGTri coaches usually reccomend

Interestingly Dave says that as a younger man he didn’t have an appreciation of the impact poor mental health can have. “When I was in my 20s, if someone had described this to me I would have just said ‘pull yourself together.’ However, I am now very passionate about highlighting mental health issues – if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.”

Personally, I found speaking to Dave a huge weight off my shoulders. I don’t speak about my mental health issues as much as I should. Part of this is because I know it can be difficult for someone that hasn’t experienced debilitating anxiety or depression to understand.

When I am in a good place even I find it extremely difficult to reconcile my state of mind with the person I am when I am in a not so good place.

While our circumstances are different there was a lot that Dave spoke about that helped me understand my own issues, making me think “Hallelujah, I’m not the only lunatic on this planet!”

It’s also made me realise that when I am suffering from the dark cloud reaching out to someone who understands the rollercoaster of mental health massively helps.

So thanks Dave, we’ll have to do it again soon and this time I won’t splash our conversation all over the internet!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Race Report: Ballbuster Duathlon

I'm not going to lie, this one properly broke me. This week I have felt a shell of a man, mentally and physically drained. So much so that it's taken me six days to get round to writing this race report!

So a bit of background. The Human Race Ballbuster duathlon is a race that I have had my eye on ever since I took part in my first multi-sport event six years ago. However, in the words of Human Race, the organisers, it's a "notoriously tough event which remains one of the toughest endurance challenges in the UK."

They really sell it well don't they? Not convinced? Well it's "a ‘must-do’ race for every competitive multi-sport athlete in the country as it will test your fitness and stamina to the max."

Even now writing that, I'm wondering what on earth I was thinking!

While I've progressively got fitter in recent years, I've never been the quickest runner and I've never been able to get my weight down to one that I think would be conducive to getting up and down Box Hill.

Mr Blobby

However, as you know I've recently made some important life decisions and have been encouraged to really push myself beyond my comfort zone, both physically and mentally.

So about four months ago I decided now was the time to give it a go.

Last year I'd completed my first Half Iron distance triathlon, I'd previously run a marathon (well "run" in the loosest sense of the word), I'd lost a decent amount of weight and was perhaps in the best shape of my life, so how hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, much harder than any other event I'd taken part in!

Things started out well. I'd managed to take care of my bathroom business (not once but twice!), had been picked up by my good friend Keith from the EGTri Club and we'd made it to the top of Box Hill without any hiccups.

No race report is complete without a picture of the queue for the toilet

After spending a considerable amount of time queuing to collect our race numbers I needed to spend a penny. As predicted, the queues for the toilets were rather hefty, so I slipped into a discrete wooded area.

It was then that I realised I'd never taken, what we call in the TriHard family, a "wild wee" in my tri suit.

There is no fly in a tri suit, you normally have to take the whole thing off to answer nature's call. But while there are certain parts of Surrey woodlands that you can often find naked men, this perhaps wasn't the right time or place.

I therefore had to resort to pulling down my gym trousers and rolling up the leg of my tri suit to er, ease myself out, which wasn't a particularly easy or elegant maneuver. Predictably, this resulted in me giving my trousers a good spraying. But at least my bladder was now empty for the race,  I consoled myself.

I staggered out of the woods, hoping Keith wouldn't notice the large wet patch on my trousers. If he did he was too polite not to say anything, so thanks Keith!

We then headed back to the car to "rack up" in the transition area, where we also bumped into another club member, Richard, who is an amazing athlete and who you''ll hear a bit more about later.

I wouldn't be smiling much for the next four hours...
The transition area is where you leave your bike and nutrition for various parts of the race. My plan had been to have a bottle of race juice (a ferocious mix of high caffeine, carbohydrates and other scientfic things that I don't understand) in my bike bottle holder, a less ferocious one for me to take sips on during the two transitions (from run to bike and then bike to run) and some caffeine and carbohydrate gels to take round with me for the run sections.

I pulled up my hoodie to put the gels in the pockets of my cycling jersey. But the pockets weren't there. Because my cycling jersey wasn't there.

Then I realised that when I'd taken my er, number two number two at home, I'd had to strip out of my racing gear. Obviously I'd put my tri suit and base layer back on but not my cycling jersey.

At least I remembered my bike

In the grand scheme of things this was unimportant but these are the silly things that really play on your mind. I was just going to have to leave one gel in transition to pick up when I started the second bike leg. But wait a minute, I could only find one gel. I'd left the other one in Keith's car and there wasn't time to get it!

Now I was feeling on really shaky ground but queued up with the hundreds of other competitors.We set off in small waves, which were based on where you were in the queue. I was relatively near the back.

Now some of the advice I'd been given was to run the first lap at a very easy pace. Obviously you need to have something left in the tank not only for the 24 mile cycle but also for the second eight mile run. And did I mention this was all up and down Box Hill?!

All by myself...

So I was one of the last to set off. And I went off at what is a comfortable pace for me. This was pretty much walking pace for everyone else. So it was unsurprising when the competitors that had started behind me went striding past.

But not only did they ease past me, they soon disappeared. It was a very grey, drizzly, cloudy morning on Box Hill and my fellow competitors had literally vanished into the mist ahead of me. On what was the biggest physical challenge of my life I had never felt so alone.

What was I to do? At my current pace I was the very last person in the field, but if I pushed myself too hard would I have enough in the tank to finish the race? In the end pride won. I upped my pace a bit and was delighted to then spot some of my fellow competitors in the distance.

Not only this but I then managed to catch a few up and overtake them. Hallelujah, I wasn't the slowest runner in the pack! However I was still concerned that I was overdoing it.

I managed to settle into a decent pace and tried to forget about the fact that I didn't have an energy gel to keep me going through the initial run section (I'd decided I'd be more in need of my solitary gel on the second run leg).

So I was delighted to keep up a strong pace, and overtake a few runners. And then somewhere between miles five and six of the run the first cyclists came past. That's right, I still had a good couple of miles to go of the initial run and there were those that were already eight miles ahead of me.

I was running in this one, honest!

I knew that on a course of that nature it was inevitable, as there were some very serious athletes taking part but it still really affects you psychologically. However I soldiered on and finally reached the base of Box Hill. Just one more mile of the (first) run to go, but the toughest mile of the eight.

I began my ascent. I was determined to get up without walking and succeeded, again overtaking a few competitors as I went. I reasoned to myself that whatever happened I'd moved sufficiently up the field that I wouldn't be last. I know someone has to be last but when I first started taking part in events like these it was always my mantra to try and not finish last.

It has never happened and as I've got stronger and fitter that eventuality has become less likely but during that morning there were several times when I thought it was a distinct possibility. Anyway, while I was half way up Rich from the tri club went past. Despite the hell I was going through I was pleased that he was doing so well and we gave each other encouragement.

So, I finally made it into transition feeling exhausted, dehydrated and not incredibly motivated. I changed into my cycling shoes, put on my helmet and wheeled the bike to the point where you're allowed to start cycling.

As seen on my Facebook profile
I rarely get cramp, even at the end of tough races but as soon as I started cycling my legs felt like they were seizing up. Again I was fighting a psychological battle of whether to hammer the bike as hard as I could (as cycling is my stringest discipline), or take it easy to ensure I could get round that second run - my God I was really starting to worry about that second run...

In the end I went at a steady pace, as already I felt I couldn't really go any harder. On the first of those three bike ascents I had that first moment where I thought "I can't do this." My legs were really complaining ("Shut up legs!") and I didn't think I could complete the cycle, let alone the run afterwards.

I thought about how much my life had changed over the last 135 days, when I'd last had a drink. I'd achieved my early business goals, I'd lost a ton of weight, I was fitter, I was happier. Basically I was already a winner. I didn't need to complete the Ballbuster to tell me that.

But then I thought about all the people who had been cheering me on in the days and weeks leading up to the event. "Hey guys, I was a third of the way round and I thought I didn't really need to complete it because I've achieved so much already."

I didn't think that would wash. So I carried on into the second lap. This felt a lot easier and I tried to ignore the smattering of competitors who were already setting out on the run. This was my race, I was here to challenge myself, not to compare myself to others. So I carried on.

Is it nearly over yet?!

It was on the second ascent that I passed Rich, who was on the final push of the run and finishing the entire event. I worked out he was going to finish a good hour and a half ahead of me. He deserved it, he's an incredible athlete and this isn't about me comparing myself to him, I told myself.

I pushed on. It was then that I saw a huge stream of runners coming out of transition. It was then that the psychological battle went into overdrive. I could just head into transition, pretend I'd made a mistake and confess later and miss out a bike lap. That would still be an achievement wouldn't it?

No it wouldn't. It'd be a failure. I honestly felt like I was going to cry. I carried on, ignoring the runners that were on the final leg, that would be finished a good hour and 20 minutes ahead of me.

If I felt lonely at the start of the run I felt even more alone now. But I willed myself on, again trying not to think about that final, painful run. Trying not to think that if I had to stop and walk at all then it would take a lot longer than the first run.

This lap of the bike seemed to take forever. And I knew it was going to take a lot longer on foot, even if I had it in me to go faster than a stroll. I finally made it to the foot of Box Hill. Just one more ascent of that bastard hill on the bike, followed by one more on foot.

I said is it nearly over yet?!

It was on that final ascent that a fellow cyclist said "I think we're going to make it by the skin of our teeth." I just nodded and grinned (well grimaced) at her, not really understanding what she meant.

However after overhearing a couple of other conversations I realised there was a cut off point! If I didn't get back into transition by a certain time I was out of the race. I made it but as I dragged my bike in to transition again the devil on my shoulder started chattering away.

"You'll never be able to run all the way round, why make a fool of yourself, just give up now otherwise you will finish last!" But I ignored the voice and soldiered on. However throughout the first couple of slow painful miles all I could think about was turning back and throwing in the towel.

I was cold, wet, thirsty, tired and all I could think of was a hot bath and lying on the sofa with the woodburner on. I'd seen a few people pull out for various reasons so why shouldn't I?

Even if you've been walking for the past 15 minutes you have to break into a run when you see a photographer

But I couldn't and wouldn't give in. Amazingly I managed to run up until the six mile mark. From there on, and especially up the final ascent, it was very much a walk, run, shuffle. But do you know what?

It turns out that a lot of people were doing that and my walk and shuffle is a lot quicker than other people's walk and shuffle. I was delighted to overtake a man several years younger than me and a good stone lighter.

In your face young man!

So I eventually dragged myself over the finishing line in 4 hrs 19 mins 53 secs. According to the official race results it appears that at least 100 people that entered didn't turn up.

33 that started didn't finish.

I finished 344th out of the 367 that finished, so all in all I was (eventually) pretty pleased with myself.

It was easily the toughest event I have taken part in and I learnt a lot about myself, about how deep into my resolve I can dig when I really need to.

And what about Keith and Rich. Well Keith, who did next to no training finished in 296th place with a time of 4 hrs 2 mins 25 secs.

And Rich, well he finished in 15th place with an astounding time of 3 hrs 40 secs. I told you he was fast!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Pre-race preparation

So tomorrow is the event that I have spent the last four months training for.

Well, if you're reading this post on the day that I wrote it, the event is tomorrow.  But if you're reading this post after that, well I'm either in the middle of dragging myself up and down Box Hill or I have completed/failed said event.

But let's not get bogged down in the paradoxes of time and focus on what this post is about: pre-race preparation. And when I'm talking about pre-race preparation I don't mean running through frozen Siberian rivers and fields, in order to improve my racing constitution.

It's a bit late for that, the training should have already been done...

No, I'm referring to the prep that you need to put in, in the days and hours leading up to an event. The amount of prep really will depend on the type of race you're doing (whether that's a run, duathlon or triathlon), the distance and location.

My main event last year was a half-iron distance triathlon, which required two nights of camping, my wetsuit for the open water swim, obviously my bike, cycling equipment, running gear and a full range of nutrition to get me through the event and recover afterwards.

Mental note: Don't forget the bike

As you can imagine, this took an awful lot of organisation. So working as a team with Mrs Trihard, I got on with the highly complicated task of making sure I had everything I needed for the event, while she had the simple job of making sure we had everything reuqired for a family of four's two-night camping trip, which would also involve entertaining two children for about six hours in the pouring rain.

So let's run through my checklist of things I often forget when I don't follow my own advice of getting everything ready in advance.


You may be new to this blog and new to triathlon so I'll explain that every triathlon begins with a swim. Sometimes this is a pool, sometimes this is in a lake or the sea but generally the same rules apply - nudity is frowned upon so you're going to need a swimming costume of some description.

Artist's impression of swimwear

Even better is a triathlon suit, which includes padding in the undercarriage, so you can get on to your bike as quick as possible. And if it's an open water swim, depending on the water temperature, you may need a wetsuit. And don't forget your goggles.

Despite the dubious weather forecast for tomorrow, it is a duathlon so I won't be needing my wetsuit but will be wearing my Tri-suit, with some extra layers on top.


For the cycling section (NEWSFLASH) you're going to need a bike. But perhaps almost as importantly you're going to need a helmet. While it's not illegal to cycle around the UK roads without a helmet, in Triathlon you can't race without one. So don't forget it!

Soon after getting into multi-sports I invested in cycling shoes and cleats. These are those funny shoes that you have to clip in and out of and makes you walk like you're constipated when you're off the bike.

I once turned up for a club cycle (which I had driven to with my bike in the car) and realised I hadn't packed my shoes. Luckily I was early enough and near enough to drive back home to get them but I wouldn't have been so fortunate if I'd been at a race.

While it's possible to cycle in your running shoes it's less efficient than cycling with cleats. And you can't underestimate the psychological impact of realising you haven't got something you need (even if it's still possible to race without it) as I once discovered after leaving my sunglasses in a portaloo, moments before the start of a race.

However you also need to check that you have the necessary tools and equipment to fix any minor problems you may have during the event. I have cycled six miles on a flat tyre in an event before (which didn't do either me or the bike much good) so swiftly invested in a puncture repair kit and spare inner tubes.

In fact I got a puncture on my last event so I'd better try to remember to put a new inner tube in before I set off tomorrow morning.

I was feeling rather deflated, see what I did there?

If you rack up a lot of miles its good practice to get your bike checked out by a reputable bike shop every few months (or do it yourself but I'm incredibly mechanically inept) but certainly if you have a race coming up.

Luckily I had a spectacular accident a few weeks ago, which left my handlebars (and almost my shoulder) pointing in a direction they shouldn't be, so have had it looked quite recently. However after writing this I'll be giving my bike a clean and lubricating the chain and gears and checking that everything is in working order.

I'm feeling pumped for this event. See what I did there?

Let's hope it is because I am being picked up by a friend at 6.15am tomorrow and haven't got time to get it looked at if there is a problem...


Make sure you've packed your running shoes.


Some events you'll need to register once you arrive, others you'll get your race number and timing chip in the post beforehand. If it's the latter make sure you keep it in a safe place so you can find it the night before an event to put with your other gear.

You'll also need a racing belt or safety pins to attach your racing number and don't forget your timing chip, which I did the other week, otherwise you won't get an official time.

If you have to register before the event check not only what times registration opens but also what time it closes. With some big triathlon events you have to register the day before, which can obviously spoil your event if you turn up on the day and you're not able to race!

This hasn't happened to me but me and my friend (who's ugly mug you can see above) cut it very fine the other week when we turned up for registration just as it was closing.


One of the golden rules is not to try anything on race day that you have not tried before. But it's also important to make sure you have fuel to keep you going through the event.

If it's a run I stick to energy gels but if it's a triathlon or duathlon I also have a carbohydrate or caffeine drink (ready mixed sports drink, I wouldn't recommend trying to boil the kettle on your bike) to keep me going.

Don't eat it all at once

I also have a recovery drink waiting for me afterwards to try and get me feeling normal as quick as possible after the event.

Lighten the load

Perhaps the most important bit of pre-race prep is taking care of any bowel business. As my friend Ali (whose ugly mug you can see above) once told me - you're never going to get a PB (personal best) if you've got a round jammed in the chamber.

Now this can be a difficult one, particularly if you're up earlier than normal for the event which messes with your normal, er, schedule. But if possible try and clear as much out as you can at home, because there are always horrendous queues for what are generally horrendous toilets, already in a horrendous state, at events (and this is coming from someone that has been to Glastonbury many times).

And there's nothing worse than your gut telling you mid-race that you've got a late arrival , even if you can find a toilet. I would have probably  finished the Vitruvian Half Iron distance race a good five minutes earlier (Mrs Trihard might argue 45) if I hadn't had to have a portaloo stop on the run section.

And with that delightful image, I'll bid you farewell.

If you've liked what you've read, please follow me on Twitter @Therealmrtrihard.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you…

What’s this?  Where’s Mr Trihard?? Who’s this new guy???

That’s right, after years of appearing as a comedy walk on character in this very blog, I’ve finally been trusted to temporarily take over the controls and update you on the exciting running exploits of an all round nice guy, of a generally misunderstood and surprisingly modest runner. Me.

After the, er, temporary hiatus of a three year gap in posts, Mr Trihard has asked for a brief update on what I’ve been up to since you last saw me drinking beer from a glass that was as large as my head.

Unfortunately, far from enjoying a stupendous purple patch, I have mostly been battling a series of injuries as first my right glute and then my left knee (which, it turns out, was doing more than it should do after the glute gave up) put paid to any dreams I may have had of achieving anything close to a PB.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst PBs have been few and far between there have been a couple to cheer about, and thanks to some hard work I’ve put in in other areas I’m now the fittest I’ve been in a good few years. So, rather than talk too much about the running, I thought I’d let you know what else I’ve been doing to get myself back on form.


That’s right. Yoga. I’d never done Yoga in my life, but it turns out it really is good for you.  Well, it’s good for me, so I’m presuming it would be good for you too.

I started off just doing a small routine that I followed from YouTube, but now I regularly attend at least one session a week at the gym. This has really helped me strengthen up my glute and my knee and improve my flexibility. If I go two or three weeks without having done a down dog or a sun salutation my body starts grumbling at me, so I try to keep on top of the Yoga.


I really enjoy Yoga. I don’t really enjoy Core, but I know that it’s good for me and I can feel that it helps with my glute.  Core sessions at my gym are led by Craig who can find new and intriguing ways for your core to scream at you for 40 whole minutes every single week.  The first time I went to Core I thought it was alright.  Pretty easy, in fact.

That was until the next day, when my entire torso hurt. Non stop. For the best part of a week.  Unlike Yoga, my body never grumbles if I don’t go to Core, but I also know it will hurt like hell if I stop and then go back, so I try to keep on top of Core.

That time I made some of my core class do a plank pyramid because my little sister had posted a picture of her doing one and I’m a bit competitive


Let’s get this straight. I’m incapable of swimming any distance whatsoever. It’s not helped by the fact that despite being nearly 40, the first thing I want to do when I see a pool is divebomb into it.

I do, however, like to get on a bike every now and then and since our exploits at The Bishops Castle Tandem Triathlon (more on that coming soon) I’ve been spending a bit more time on my bike.  That may be because the final bike leg of the BCCT is the most fun I have ever had in any kind of race ever.

So, since summer 2016 I’ve been hitting the road when I can and trying to go to Cyclefit at the gym. Cyclefit sessions at my gym are led by Craig.  They’re like the Core sessions, except it’s your legs that do the screaming. I quite like Craig, but writing this blog I’m struggling to remember why.

Me and my bike. It probably costs as much as one of Mr Trihard’s wheels

Sports Massage

Above everything else, it’s got to be having a regular sports massage that has really helped me get back on track. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a slow and steady journey, and I’d have preferred it to have been quick and instantaneous, but apparently that’s not the way injuries work. That’s why it’s worth finding someone who knows what they’re talking about and trusting them to do it.

Luckily, I’ve been seeing the amazing Dan Worboys from Highwoods Health Clinic in Colchester, who not only knows what he’s talking about, but also listens to my own Pseudo-Scientific analyses of my injury woes, quietly discounts them in his head whilst smiling amiably at me, and then does what he knows is for the best.  Thanks, Dan.

This man knows his knees from his leg elbows

So, where does that leave the running? Well almost a year since the knee decided to go ‘flobby’ and over two years since the glute went ‘pop’, things are finally looking up again.

I’m not as fast as I was, but I surprised myself with an 18:49 at the Ipswich Twilight 5k in August, saw my 10k dip back under 40 minutes, with a 39:37 at Takeley 10k in September and just missed out on a sub 90 minute half at the off-road Hatfield Forest Half Marathon a couple of weeks later.

Then, just last week, I found myself just 15 seconds off a 5 mile PB at Wix 5, with a 30:50 finish.  Crikey.

Smile for the camera

What’s that? Why all the running?? Oh, that’ll be because of the 30 mile ultra marathon I’ve entered at the end of October. Wish me luck.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Race Report: Cabbage Patch 10

Yesterday I took part in the Cabbage Patch 10. This is a running event that starts off in Twickenham, follows the Thames to Kingston (er, Upon Thames), up to Richmond and then back down to Twickenham. It begins at the Cabbage Patch pub and is 10 miles in distance, clever name eh?!

I have since found out that this is quite an iconic race, which has been going since 1982. Mo Farah is a previous winner but I didn't really know much about the event. This was because I hadn't actually entered it. the year I turn 65 and will still probably be 10 years from retirement

Mrs Trihard had signed up for the run, along with some friends, to raise money for MDS UK Patient Support Group.

When we first moved to Turners Hill I would take the artist formerly known as Toddler Trihard (now  Trihard Jr 1) to a  playgroup. There I met a wonderful woman by the name of Lisa. She had a son a few months older than Trihard Jr 1, who was two or three at the time.

Occasionally Lisa's husband, Gavin, would pop in as well. I later learnt that Gavin was suffering from a rare malignant disorder, known as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

But you wouldn't know it. Despite the family (they had two older daughters) going through what I can only describe as sheer hell in the time that I've known them, you'd rarely, if ever hear them complain.

Gav was always chatty, ready with a joke and would often have a queue of three year olds waiting for him to spin them round by the arms.

To cut a long story short, Gav, tragically lost his battle in 2016 (months before his 40th birthday), after finding himself at the centre of a political bun-fight over the funding of second stem cell transplants. However, because of Gav, Lisa and the children's tireless and fearless campaigning this policy has been changed, which you can read about (and I strongly urge you to) here.

Despite several lawsuits, the Crown landlord never got tired of the "superglue round the rim of the pint glass" gag.

So, Mrs Trihard and a few of her friends signed up to raise some money for MDS Patient Support. However just a week before the event, due to unforeseen circumstances, a couple of the fund raisers had to drop out.

Out of all the running, cycling and triathlon events I have taken part in there have only been a couple that I have done for charity but it has been very much on my "to do" list to raise some money for the various causes that have helped the Hepburns over the last six years.

And to be honest they are my heroes who inspire me and motivate me on a daily basis. I don't think there are many adults who could have coped with what Ellis (now eight), Tilly (ten) and Olivia (13) have been through, let alone use the situation to help so many others. They are the living and breathing example of the phrase "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

So I was more than happy to step in.

And I had selfish reasons for taking part as well. It's been almost a year since I had competed in an event and, as I've mentioned in a previous post, I've been training hard and have lost a bit of weight in recent months, so wanted to (as I described it to Mrs Trihard) "take my new body out for a spin."

Also, I am booked in for a half marathon in January where I would like to break the sub two hour mark (my personal best for a half is just under 2 hr 10 mins) so I wanted to gauge how much work I have to do, to get myself to that level of running fitness.

Preparation, preparation, preparation.

When you've done as many events as I have you know how important it is to get everything prepared the night before and have an early night. Which was why I was out until the small hours, drinking a bar dry for a friend's 40th birthday.

That's right, I was out drinking. And I drank so many alcohol free beers that the bar ran out of them. By the time I got to bed it was 1am (I'm usually tucked up in bed by 10pm) so really wasn't feeling it when the alarm went off at 6am. However after consuming several gallons of caffeine I began to feel that I might just about make it to the start line.

These are proper athletes, so don't bother looking to see if I'm in this photo

Stitch in time

So, arriving at the starting line, Mrs Trihard asked if I could help her with some stretching exercises, which I duly obliged. However it was then that I noticed she had a timing chip on her shoe. I looked around, so did everyone else.

As I mentioned, the night before a run it's good practice to get everything ready - pin your number to your shirt (I did that in the car) and fasten your timing chip to your laces. I'd obviously left it in the car but the car was a good 10 minutes away (well, probably two for Mo Farah).

Realisation set in. If I got a world, European UK or course record it wasn't going to count. If I didn't beat Mo's winning time, it wasn't going to count. Was there any point in me racing?

Well, obviously I was doing it for charity, lots of people had sponsored me (and if you haven't you can here) and I owed it to the Hepburns, so I wasn't going to let them down.

And my expensive new watch (which was actually a huge bargain, thank you Mrs Trihard) would record every microscopic detail of the run. So at least I'd know if I happened to achieve a new world half-marathon record, even if the world didn't.

Go hard or go home

Now I was fuelled up with caffeine I decided what my tactic was going to be to assess my fitness for a half marathon. Should I start off at a pace that I was comfortable with and try and increase it as the race went on? Or should I go at a pace that I knew was the equivalent of a sub 2hr half marathon and see how long I could keep it up for?

All of my training runs involve hills, not out of choice just because its quite hilly round my way. If I want a flat run I have to get in the car and drive, which is obviously rather counterproductive. So to have an easyish run, I still have to take in several inclines. And this is all off-road.

As a result I find I am quicker (relatively speaking) when running on a flat, mainly paved route. So I decided to go at a pace that was a little out of my comfort zone but would give me a taste of what was required for January.

The old stamping ground

Another reason I was eager to do the Cabbage Patch 10 is because I'm so familiar with the area. I went to Kingston University and lived in the area for six years in total. Everyone I was out with the night before I'd met at University, more than 20 years ago. I'd obviously had some very drunken nights out there.

This was going through my mind as we approached Kingston Bridge. It was then that I spotted some freshly laid vomit in the doorway of a shop. I then realised it was Sigma Sports. A very high end Triathlon and Bike shop. I had a bit of a wry chuckle.

I knew that if I had been drinking the night before I would have been feeling pretty ill myself at that moment. Instead I was running through my university town, at a pace that when I was a student would have probably made me want to puke my guts up, with or without any booze.

Any Kingston Uni friends want to join me next year?
Another thought struck me. About seven years ago, I worked in the communications department of Kingston Council. It was during that time that I signed up to my first ever event, the Kingston Breakfast Run. I remember attempting a run one lunchtime, up through a park by the river and back again. I had to stop several times. I've just looked at Google Maps and it's about a mile and a half there and back.

And now I was storming through there four miles into the Cabbage Patch 10.

At the six mile mark I decided to ease up. I'm not sure if this was a wise decision or not. I know it wasn't a pace that I couldn't keep up but even after a mile of taking it relatively easy, I wasn't able to get a good pace back up and was really starting to struggle. However, I realised that if I was able to keep up a moderate pace I might be able to finish in under 1hr 30 mins (a little off the course record of 46 mins 2 secs), which was a lot better than I had been hoping for.

You can't escape it

I was willing myself on but was beginning to feel quite dehydrated, I was absolutely gasping for a drink. I rounded a corner and was confronted with a stand giving out tiny cups of beer.

Beer?! Can you believe it?! Had they not read my last blog?!

I was so thirsty that I almost gave in. "Just a tiny bit wouldn't hurt would it?" I thought. But I pushed on, rounded another corner and was delighted to see the finishing line.

I clocked in at 1 hr 32 mins 7 secs, so what does that equal in half marathon terms? Well despite dropping off dramatically at the six mile mark, my average pace came in at 5.44/km. Over a half marathon this would equate to 2 hrs 0 mins 58 secs...

So with three months to go I am actually wondering whether I shouldn't perhaps set my sights a little higher. Maybe even a sub 1 hr 50 mins. We shall have to wait and see.

I'm coming for you Mo...

Want some micro Trihard? Follow me on Twitter @therealmrtriha1

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

We need to talk about... Cancer

While I generally try to keep things light and entertaining on this blog, there are occasions where I will discuss subjects that aren't necessarily a laughing matter.

Cancer is one of those subjects. I know I am not alone in saying that cancer has taken a number of people close to me. 

In recent years several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer. 

One of them has beaten it. Another is currently fighting it. One lost his fight, before his 40th birthday.

I have taken part in several events to raise money for various charities that do an amazing job in researching and fighting the causes of cancer and aiding those that are battling with it. 

It's not uncommon to take part in a race and see people wearing t-shirts with a picture of a loved one that has been taken by this vicious disease, or a message for them on their t-shirt.

This never fails to choke me up. Whenever I am out training or racing and I'm starting to flag and want to stop, I think about those that I've lost and the pain they inevitably went through. 

I tell myself that what I'm feeling is nothing compared to the pain they went through and how lucky I am to be fit and healthy enough to run a half marathon or cycle 50 miles.

In my blog where I discussed the reasons I am taking a break from alcohol there is one reason I omitted but was a factor in my decision. And that is because I want to be around for my children for as long as possible. 

Cancer is a lottery, and perhaps I'm kidding myself, but I want to increase the odds of me having a long healthy life. I know cancer is caused by a lot of things so wouldn't want to suggest that anyone who is being treated for cancer encouraged it by drinking.

And I don't want this blog to be about me moralising. I am choosing not to drink at the moment, I have no intention of forcing my views on others. Please bare with me over the next few sentences.

The facts show that alcohol, in the words of Cancer Research UK, "is one of the most well established causes of cancer."

According to Cancer Research, alcohol has been classed as a Group 1 carcinogen since 1988 which "means that there is convincing evidence that alcohol causes cancer in humans." 

Not only this but Cancer Research states that "there’s no ‘safe’ limit for alcohol when it comes to cancer". 

Apparently "regularly drinking even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer . A review of the evidence in 2012 concluded that having one drink a day (around 1.5 units) could increase the risk of breast cancer by 5%."

All very shocking and sobering (pardon the pun) statistics. So imagine my surprise when I discovered this weekend, that despite offering all these warnings, Cancer Research actively encourage women to drink after completing a half marathon or marathon.

"One drink a day (around 1.5 units) could increase the risk of breast cancer by 5%"

On the Sunday that has just passed I was supporting someone taking part in one of Cancer Research's Race For Life events. These are women only races, pitched as perfect for beginner runners. 

Race for Life offer some fantastic training programs that can be downloaded from its website, including information that, as a beginner, you may be unaware of, such as the importance of stretching.

I did not see anything on their website advocating drinking alcohol as part of training. In fact I couldn't find any information on the importance of rehydrating after such an intense run.

Yet finishers were encouraged to head straight to the prosecco bar for their complimentary bubbly - with the organisers announcing over the loud speaker to finishers "Well done, go and get yourself a glass of prosecco."

I know this is not the only endurance event to offer alcohol at the finishing line. However for a charity that's sole purpose is to raise awareness about the causes of cancer I thought this, at best, gave a mixed message and at worse was incredibly irresponsible.

I spoke to an event organiser (a Cancer Research employee) who didn't agree with my views, stating that it was fine in moderation (which obviously isn't the message given on their website).

So I asked why didn't they give cigarettes out at the finishing line, stating that if three competitors shared a cigarette, by her logic that would be acceptable. Unsurprisingly she didn't agree.

So my question is, why is it acceptable to give out alcohol, which as stated by Cancer Research is a Group 1 carcinogen but not cigarettes? 

In the interests of transparency, I have consumed alcohol within minutes of finishing an event but never after an event that was about raising awareness of the dangers of alcohol.

You could argue that I am overreacting (please let me know your thoughts in the comments below) but I feel this really gives out mixed messaging on the health implications of drinking alcohol. There was a time when smoking wasn't viewed as it is now.

Attitudes to alcohol are slowly changing and surely Cancer Research, of all people, should be leading the charge on this.

I have been in touch with Cancer Research and given them the opportunity to comment, which I would have included in this blog. However after a phone call and three emails they have unfortunately not responded. 

If they do I will happily update this post.

These are the questions I put to them:

1) If alcohol is so harmful why was a free glass of Prosecco offered to those completing Race for Life's half marathon and marathon at Lee Valley park?

2) Does this not give out mixed messaging and encourage people to drink (which isn't recommended after intense exercise)?

3) If alcohol was being offered why wasn't information on the harmful effects, as displayed on your website, also given to allow competitors to make an informed choice?

4) What was the measurement of the glass/unit given to competitors?

5)Why weren't competitors  informed of how much of their recommended daily units this was in case they though they might enjoy another glass or more later in the day?

6) Is it  common practice to encourage competitors to drink alcohol after Race for Life event?

7) Are there any plans to change the policy of encouraging competitors to drink alcohol after taking part in a Race for Life event? If so why not?

8) Are there plans to offer complimentary cigarettes to competitors after taking part in a Race for Life event? If not why not?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Why alcohol and triathlon don't mix

Confession time. This is actually a rehash of a blog I originally wrote for 220 Triathlon back in 2014. I was blogging about my preparation for the Windsor Triathlon and had been invited to the Surrey Human Performance Institute to try out their Advanced Triathlon Package.

Despite putting in a considerable amount of training and being relatively careful with what I was eating, all the hard work was undone in the space of two weeks.

A rather boozy stag do in Hamburg was swiftly followed by a week's holiday in Greece, where I lazed around eating and drinking.

So I wasn't exactly in great shape when I turned up for an in-depth assessment of my fitness. The findings were quite concerning, so concerning that three years later I've finally decided to do something about it!

So here we go...

We’ve all seen photos and footage of elite athletes powering away on a treadmill with various tubes and wires attached to them.

But I’m not an elite athlete, I’m a less-than-average age-grouper with a bit of a weight problem. Is there really that much I could learn from being put through my paces under lab conditions? Turns out there was.

This is what it looks like from the outside

A weighty issue

The first part of my testing involved a body composition test. Measurements of various skinfolds around my body were taken using what looked worrying like medieval torture instruments. I was pleased to discover that there wasn’t any pain involved.

I was also delighted to find out that I had an estimated body fat percentage of 22.2% which placed me in the “acceptable” category. According to the report I received a day or so after the testing this puts me in the “average” category for both athletic and normal males.

However that’s where the good news ended. The next measurement taken was my waist to hip ratio. This quantifies your distribution of fat tissue around your waist and hip. According to my report storage of abdominal fat is particularly undesirable, as fat tissue is therefore stored in closer proximity to the vital organs, increasing the cardiovascular risk.

My waist-to-hip ratio was 1.02, which is above the recommended level for males (<0.95), putting me at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. My BMI was calculated as 32.5kg/m2, which is in the obese category. Unsurprisingly it has been recommended that I cut down on alcohol, sugars and saturated fats.

On your bike

Next I took part in a ramped cycling ̇ test which increased at a rate of 30 watts/min. My underlying physiology during cycling was measured through gas exchange analysis of inspired and expired air. Apparently I peaked at 330 watts when my maximal oxygen uptake was 37.4 ml/min/kg.

My anabolic threshold, or AT, (which indicates the intensity of exercise at which the body’s ability to effectively clear circulating lactate from the blood is surpassed) occurred at a power of 210 watts. This was when my heart rate was at 138 bpm, 80% of my maximum recorded cycling heart rate of 173 bpm. My oxygen uptake at threshold was 25.5ml/min/kg (68% of my maximum oxygen uptake). Apparently elite athletes can have an AT of around 90% of their VO2max.

Just a normal Saturday night for me really

Considering the report I received is 17 pages long this is  rather a simplified summary but effectively it was recommended that I alternate sessions where I exercise at an intensity around my AT (40 minutes with my heart rate around 138 bpm) with high intensity interval sessions. The former should help improve my AT while the latter will help me not only lose weight but reduce lactate production and enhance neuromuscular control.

While I know this is pretty much the triathlete’s training mantra (longer, steady rides and runs on some days while others it’s short, sharp intensive drills) this was probably the first time that I actually fully understood the science behind it. Probably because I didn’t do very well in my science GCSEs.

Run for the hills

Finally my running performance was measured through gas exchange analysis while running at incrementally increasing speeds on the treadmill. This was carried out in stages. Firstly the treadmill speed was increased by 1km/h every three minutes until anaerobic threshold was reached. In the second stage, the speed was set 2km/h below the AT and the gradient was gradually increased (by 1% incline per minute) until I cried for my mummy and could no longer carry on.

This is what it looks like on the inside and what I look like from behind

Running is my least favourite part of triathlon and I am particularly slow. However I was pleased to discover that my running economy was “generally very good”. This apparently means I have an efficient technique and therefore improving my physiology (in other words losing the belly) should improve my threshold speed. Again it has been suggested that I alternate sessions between longer runs set roughly at my AT with high-intensity interval sessions.

In conclusion

I am aware that my poor approach to nutrition greatly inhibits my triathlon progression. Seeing the impact this is having in black and white (“increased cardiovascular risk”) adds a slightly different perspective. While I consider myself “fit” it is increasingly evident that I am not particularly “healthy”.

Therefore I think the challenge for the remainder of the season really has to be in reducing this dangerous fat around my vital organs. Improving race times quite bluntly has to be a secondary concern but hopefully the latter will be achieved by tackling the former.