Archive for January, 2011

Swimmingly?

I have identified my weakest of weaknesses when it comes to this triathlon lark; the swimming. The last two sessions I’ve taken my Ironman watch so I could use the lap timer to keep track of how many lengths I’ve done.

For the half Ironman distance triathlon the swim is ‘only’ 1.2 miles, but being such a piffling distance they knock twenty minutes off what would be half the time of the full one. So it’s 2.4 miles in 2 hours 20 minutes for full distance, 1.2 miles in 1 hour for the half. Bastards.

The last two or three times I’ve timed it and I’ve been about three or four minutes outside the time. And it is really knackering. I don’t seem to have the strength to go faster or longer.

I suppose I should look at the positives, it’s not long since I was struggling to do 40 metres, and I think I’ve got the breathing sorted now. It used to be the whole of the battle was just trying to avoid drowning every time I took a breath, now I’ve got the the stage where I would say I am actually comfortable with it. Now I am busy trying to get my stroke right, stay flat on top of the water and not twist my body with each stroke. Not really thinking about breathing any more. So things are improving, if not as quickly as I’d like. I just have to practise until I develop muscles and a good technique.

The running is coming along well. It is only eleven weeks until my first full marathon race so I am following a training plan for that. I have been doing my running on the treadmill at the gym. It is a brilliant bit of kit! When you are doing distance running you are a bit cautious. It doesn’t do to run nine miles at a good speed, then be too knackered to continue, nine miles from home. Also, you get into a comfortable (it’s a relative term) rhythm and it’s hard to get faster. On the treadmill you can see what speed you are doing, can commit to it (if you can’t finish you can always step off) and can easily monitor your progress. The good/ bad thing is you overheat really quickly. The sweat pisses off me. This is good training for summer though (when most of my races take place).

In this months ‘Triathletes World’ they had a few top tips on running; putting the treadmill at 1% mimics real road running and running up tight to the front of the machine forces you to take faster, shorter strides putting your foot under your centre of gravity thus making your gait more efficient.

I have had a few notable successes. I said before that after a 56 mile bike ride I still managed to knock a minute off my time for a half marathon. My last big run, an 18 miler, I was feeling good so I set a good early pace. I started to flag at about 9 miles but I kept it up. I finished the half (13.1 miles) in 1:37.47 ! 5 minutes 1 second faster than my Warrington half time! That, let me tell you, is quite an impressive improvement. WIN!

Then I had to grind out another 4.9 miles! EPIC FAIL! That was rough. I did it, but my heart rate monitor kept slipping into the red, so I had to keep knocking tenths of miles per hour off my speed (or risk a heart attack!). I did it in 2 hours 17 minutes in the end. Then I got home, was too ill to eat my tea and ended up throwing up. Overdid the early stages a bit I think.

I am push biking to work a lot, just to try to build muscles drip by drip. It’s only about 5½ miles each way, but it has to be better than nothing. Some muscle build, and at the very least it has hardened my arse so I am not saddle sore anymore.

The next weekend I’m off I think I’ll try to nip the Lake District and back, get in some serious miles.

Anywho, swim, swim, swim. It’s my weakest discipline and if you fail on the swim (first event in the race) that’s it, your race is over.

Before I go, that heart rate monitor is another top bit of kit. I was worried I wasn’t pushing hard enough. Now I know my biking is on the borderline between the middle exercise state (aerobic?) and the last one (performance zone) and my running is all in the performance zone, except for when it strays into the zone labelled ‘ CRASH CART! STAT! ’

So, it’s all good. Except for the bits where I’m crap.

Later,

Buck.

Mighty Micra!

I took the Megane in for an MOT last week, expecting to fail on a bald tyre and tracking. Given that when our Lisa gave it to me it came via the coppers, who in turn had it inspected by an official Renault garage, and they couldn’t find anything majorly wrong with it. That was only a few months ago, so I was quite optimistic.

I booked it in to the garage for the morning of my day off, then work decided I was to go in in the morning, even though it was my 2-10 week, to go out with a driver. Ball ache, but with the push bike in the boot I managed to drop it off and get to work.

I rang them later and they said that I needed a wheel bearing replaced, and a few bulbs (which, in retrospect, I know I don’t need. Hmmm.) £49. I said ‘get on it’. And the ABS fault light is on.

This surprised me as, never having had ABS, I assumed it was lighting up to show me it was working! (Derrr!)

Rang back later and the update was, having run a diagnostic on the ABS the problem was a worn disc on the drive shaft. But they couldn’t replace the disc, had to get a whole new drive shaft with one on! £230! Ker-ching!

Bollocks to that!

The car, when I insured it was only valued at £400-£500. With the new tyre, tracking, drive shaft/ ABS disc, wheel bearing, bulbs (?) and £205 road tax it would cost more to run than it would to replace.

 

Desperate times demand desperate measures.

I eyed the Micra speculatively. I’d snapped off two bits in the engine. If they got into the moving parts it was game over. But incentivised by £500+ of expenditure I thought I’d give it a go.

A lad at work had said the snapped off bits would fall straight into the oil sump, where they would rest harmlessly. He happens to be a bullshitting blowhard, so it wasn’t that much of a reassurance.

I went to the scrap yard yesterday and got the whole unit, of which the two snapped off bits were the furthest projection.

I fitted it last night. I tried to turn the engine over but the battery was completely flat. Wouldn’t open the doors or light the lights. So I put it on charge. I assumed that having left it to get that flat I would probably have to replace the battery, but could use the one from the Megane just to try it out.

Then I got to thinking that perhaps it wasn’t helping matters any that the part had been removed from the engine for months, letting moisture into the cylinders. So I took the plugs out and sprayed WD40 into the barrels, let that soak in overnight to ease any potential rust/ seizure.

This morning I went out and put the key in, the dash lit up, then a few hazard lights went out. Turned the key, choking and not quite catching, but turning over. Put my foot down, kept the key turned and she fired and ran, all be it lumpily!

Go the mighty Micra!

Ran it, lumpily, for a few minutes. Nothing exploded. Got out and took the battery charger out from under the bonnet and noticed I hadn’t put one of the HT leads back on the spark plug!

Months being dead, open to the elements, dead battery, give it a quick charge and she starts and runs on three cylinders!

Mighty indeed!

I’ve taken it for a quick spin. Again, nothing exploded or seized. So far, so good, so what?

Now we wait.

For my peace of mind I may drop the oil. If the snapped off parts are in it I will be a happy bunny. If not I just have to keep on touching wood.

The Micra cost about half as much in road tax, insurance and petrol as the Megane. If only I knew for sure where those snapped off bits were I’d say it was a done deal. If it will get me through one more year, cheaply, I will be happy.

As soon as I get the driving job I’m treating myself to a VW Polo, 1.4 diesel. 80 MPG, VW so bullet proof, and diesel so should run for ever. Also, being a diesel it’s not likely to be a boy racer toy so hopefully the insurance will be reasonable.And it’s free road tax! Win-win-win!

So here’s to cheap motoring! Fingers crossed.

Buck.

Grrr….

Since my last post I’ve been out with a driver. Quite an eye-opener it was too. Some masterfully reversing! I’m nowhere near up to that standard. It’s not just the being able to do it, which I probably could, eventually, it’s being able to so it in one attempt. The stores are on main roads, the access being down little side streets with parked cars which have to be negotiated in reverse. So that was intimidating. On the bright side I got the impression off the driver that Claire, the transport manger, was serious about getting me trained up for the job. Also, I got to have an on-the-job induction to how you are supposed to do it, and how you do it when there is not an assessor about.

I got to run through all the stuff I’ll need to know (using the tacho card, tail lift, swearing at car drivers, eating a huge breakfast from a greasy spoon, etc).

The bit I wasn’t too keen on was getting in for 5.30 (half an hour earlier than a real, paid, shift) the when we’d done the first runs Claire asking if I was going out for the second run, which would have made it a 13 hour day, unpaid!

I’d already talked to the driver about it, saying if she wanted me too I had no choice but to do it. He stepped in when she asked and said that he thought I’d learned all I was going to for one day, pointless me going out again. Bless him. So just did 7 hours, unpaid, on my day off.

 

This was a might irksome, especially as I’m expecting this to be a protracted arrangement. However, the benefits of the plan became apparent when some arseholes tried to screw it up for me!

I told one of the lads in the freezer what was happening. Not really bitching, just saying about the cheek of ‘proving my commitment to the company’. He is mates with the union rep for the freezer. Something that hadn’t occurred to me. The union being the ineffectual management butt-monkeys they are I hadn’t even factored them into any equation.

When I went for my break the union rep was up in arms, me training, unpaid, not clocked on, not covered in case of accident (fair point that). He was saying he was going to speak to the drivers rep and see what could be done.

Just when you finally start to get your shit together some well intentioned, self important arsehole sticks their oar in.

I was not happy. I explained the the other managers had talked the talk but done nothing for me for the last 18 months, Claire had said it’s a bit of shit deal, but it’ll get you where your want to go. On Friday she said “see me Monday, we’ll sort something out”, by Wednesday I was out with a driver. That’s what you want.

He was still agitated and was set to talk to the driver’s rep, I could tell. To try to head it off at the pass I went straight to the driver’s rep. I said Rob, the freezer rep, had a bee in his bonnet about me not getting paid for driver training, just ignore him, I don’t want anything said.

He said “You’re not getting paid? That’s not right I’ll have a word with Claire.”

AAARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

I told him flat not to fuck it up for me, he said “you’ll never make a driver if you don’t stand up to them.”

 

I was furious  but powerless. I could see how this would look to Claire, I’d accepted her deal then got the union on to her. The company doesn’t have to train me, she could have thought; if that’s your attitude, screw you!’

 

I went in this morning looking for him to see how badly he’d screwed me over. I couldn’t find him. One of my mates saw Claire though, and said that I was really worried, she said not to be and said for me to see her. I promptly did and explained what had happened. She was O.K. about it, said the arrangement is still on.

Cool.

 

You don’t realise how good a shit deal is until you are in danger of having no deal.

 

I want  to get out on the road. You are your own boss outside the gates. The money is a big improvement, (the driver I was with said he took about £33k last year) and it’s so much less physically demanding. The latter being a consideration I have to observe as I slide into decline!

 

Anyway, only a week to go and I’ll take a day off ( I hope.)

Later.

Buck.

Partial Successes

Yesterday I took all of my new toys and gave them a work-out.

I’ve been wanting to test my level of fitness (mental as much as physical) in the only way that’s relevant; by doing a half Ironman. That is; swim 1.2 miles, (in under an hour) ride 56 miles (under 4:30) and run 13.1 miles/ half marathon (under 4 hours).

I have had a multitude of excuses why I haven’t done so to date. The snow and ice being a rather good one, then getting a day off when it was above zero degrees and when the swimming pool was open in the morning, etc etc.

Yesterday I took the plunge. I didn’t quite go the whole hog, leap from one discipline straight in to the next, but did all three over the course of the day. I got fed in between, and even took a shower. Pussy!

I did the swim at dead on the time limit. This was, he says hastily, at least partially down to poor use of equipment. I was using the lap counter on my watch to mark the lengths swam, but I don’t think it was registering every fumbled press. Also, as it’s only got a 30 lap memory I swam 10 lengths (6 mins) and pressed it, swam another 10 and they took 9 minutes! I think I lost count. I couldn’t have dropped my pace by 50% in such a short space of time.

Anyway, I just about made it, I think. I’ll give it another go soon to find out.

As I said, I had to rush home, run Wendy to church, grab some grub (I live in terror of the energy crash!) put the washing out (all recognized events in the revised Ironman rule book) then set off for the ride.

It was windy and a bit nippy, so going into it I wasn’t even sure if I was going to try for the distance, a factor that lead to the delay between events. No point in going off half cocked if you are not even going to go the distance. Even into the wind it was so much easier on my lovely new bike that I decided to go for it. I had two, two minute stops to drink water and eat, and still made the meerkat landmark in 1 hour 50. Sat down and had five minutes while I troughed out and put my gel pads on.

Apparently cycling can cause a pinching on a bunch of nerves between your toes which leads to your feet going numb and freezing. I thought by moving my foot-to-pedal position in the cleats I might have overcome it, so didn’t put on gel pads (which cushion said nerve cluster, supposedly easing the condition). Wrong. My feet were like ice to the touch, even though I was sweating. So I put the pads on whilst stopped. That particular horse had already bolted. So it was ice cold numb feet all the way home as well. Ace.

Full of nuts and water I remounted my trusty steed for the 28 miles return ride, happy in the knowledge the wind had been in my face and it had been constantly uphill on the way so I should fly back. I really should know better. The wind on push bike rides always manages to be in your face, omni-directionally, and the road is always uphill. Still, a lot better on my lovely Boardman!

I got home (pitstops included) in 3 hours 50 minutes. That was a fairly easy pass.

I had more nuts and cereal bars and a shower, then down to the gym for the last leg.

I got on the treadmill, and the pain wasn’t that bad. I did the first 3 miles at a 7½ minute mile pace (½ mpm faster than my previous standard pace). Then the fatigue started to bite so I slowed down to an 8mpm pace. As you are going into your seventh hour of pure graft you have to settle for what you can maintain! Still, the first time I did a 56 mile ride followed by a half marathon I dropped a minute a mile, so mustn’t grumble.

I finished in 1:42.48! Which, to put it in perspective, is a minute faster than I ran the Warrington half marathon!

OK, this was on a treadmill, hence no running up the cantilever bridge, but on the Warrington half it was gloriously cool (not sweat streaming off you the whole time) and I was fresh and hadn’t just done the previous two events.

Pro’s and con’s considered I’m taking that as a new Personal Best. It makes me wonder what I can achieve in this years half. I reckon I can slaughter the 1:30 mark at this rate. The race winner only (ONLY!) managed 1:09.  Hhhhmmmmm.

You see how easy it is to get carried away with this lark? Some 20 year old wiry super athlete versus me, a gritty but knackered old fart. Well, if they did a medal for ‘best improved’ I think I’d have a shot at that!

But back to reality. What I have achieved is a run in 1:42, less than half the time allowed for a half Ironman.

Go me!

Not the full, leap from one discipline to the next and keep going, but I did all three in a day, and passed two out of three comfortably. The swimming is my weakness, but a bare pass even now. By May I will be stronger.

So that was a beastly day. But not impossible, and mostly just steady determination. It has put my mind at rest a bit. After reading that guy saying he’d done a half IM and it had nearly killed him and how he had given up on a full IM, I was starting to think I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Turns out it’s no biggy.

Yeah, right!

 

In other news of partial success, I went in to hassle the manager chick in transport over my driving. I have had dealings with her when she was a shift manager in the warehouse so we know each other. She’s one of the better managers, she tells it like it is. If she isn’t going to do something she’ll tell you to your face. Unlike all but one I work for now. Anyway, I saw her on Friday and said that the driving assessor had said he would recommend to management that I do some runs with the assessor in the cab before going solo. Had there been a decision reached?

She said, to my amazement, “There’s no reason why you can’t go out with the assessor, come back Monday and we’ll arrange it with him.”

Given my history with them I didn’t get too excited. Went back today and she was as good as her word, shot straight off and talked to the assessor. Then we went into a meeting. The plan is; I prove my commitment to the job by coming in on my day off (unpaid) and going out as a passenger with a driver to see what the job entails. Do this several times, then go out and, once the driver has done the reversing in and unloading, drive it back. Then go out as the driver, with the driver watching me, then if they ever have enough confidence in me, go solo.

Prove my commitment! I paid for my own licenses! I went through all that stress and expense just because they had a sign up that said one of the workers initiatives was a warehouse-to-wheels scheme! I was a bit miffed by that.

Upon reflection though, a slow steady approach to the the job might be best. When I go out as a passenger I can learn all the ancillary stuff, such as operating the tail lift, operating the digital tachograph, working times and breaks, pre-op checks, paperwork, and all the stuff I don’t even know I don’t know. This frees me from the stress of trying to learn everything at once.

It’s not ideal, but it is a plan. If I get to be a driver at the end of it it will be a great plan. Also, I suppose they won’t want to move me from one stage onto the next until they are happy I’m good enough. In a way that gives me an open ended introduction to the job.

Just so long as I get to drive at the end of it. I reckon I’ll be driving by the end of the year. If possible, for DHL, but if not I’ll be able to say I’ve been getting lots of driving experience and I’ll have had both my licenses for over two years (a pre-requisite for agency insurers, apparently).

This is going to be the year!

Huzzah!

What a year it’s going to be. All these sporting events, getting out of debt (woo-hoo, go us!) and probably driving.

Oh, and I should get athletically slim. Yesterday I burned the best part of 5,000 calories. Today I can feel the loss of each of them.

Later,

Buck.

Training, new toys.

I’ve got my super new Boardman bike. I’ve swapped the tri bars over from my old bike, which has now been reassigned to the role of work commuter. That’s 55 miles a week on a heavy bike further weighed down by panniers, waterproofs, pump, lights et al. Got to be good for easy muscle building/ gradual stamina building.

But that’s old kit. Not exciting at all. New kit, my lovely Boardman bike!  Finally!

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The picture doesn’t begin to do it justice. Even if it weren’t all blurry. I spent ages viewing different websites and comparing the specifications and relative merits of different bikes before going for this one. I went for it because it was the best for the price Halfords did, and the cycle2work scheme was run by work exclusively through Halfords. But when that was in doubt I asked the seasoned push bikers and triathletes on Twitter for suggestions, and this still came out top spec for the money. So I got it. The one thing I wasn’t expecting was for it to be so damn pretty! The pictures, even the good quality zoomed in one on Halfords site (which I can’t seem to steal for here) don’t do it justice. The tyres are tiny, the wheels have that tapered ‘filled-in’ jobby going on to aid the aerodynamics, the gear changes are by twitching levers on the brake levers and the handlebars are sublime. Old racing handlebars were just a U on it’s side. You angled them down a bit so you had a slightly lower/ further forward racing position. This inevitably meant you slid into the bottom of the U and were very uncomfortable. Boardman have given you three brilliant riding positions, on top of the bars, resting on the rubberized tops of the brake levers, right down on horizontal bottom bars or crouched with your hands resting comfortably on a flat diagonal section, Obvious, once you’ve ridden it. One of those ideas that are so simple and perfect you can’t believe they ever did it any other way.

It is light as feather and in all ways lovely.

The keen eyed amongst you will have noticed the want of pedals and mudguards in the picture. This I fixed. I got some fancy ‘cleat’ pedals (the ones that lock your feet into the pedals, much to the amusement of many as you fall sideways at traffic lights!) and some lightweight ‘barely-there’ plastic mudguards.

Thus equipped, I then needed to buy the specialist triathlon trainers which fit into the cleats. That will be another £90. Kerr-Ching!

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The three holes in the soles accept the screws for the cleats, which in turn wedge into the pedals, locking you in. Also you might notice the big hole under the toes. This is so you can hop out of your wet suit, pull the one velcro strap tight (the shoes having been left in situ in the cleats) and cycle away, all the water draining out of said hole.

That’s a couple of minutes saved, not stopping, drying your feet, putting on socks, putting on shoes, and mounting your bike. In theory.

This is all good and well, you say, but what of the different time limits on the disciplines? How, oh how will you ever keep track?

With this;

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Observe the cunningness of design. Note that it has the ability to take lap times with the split button. Also you can have it run a stop watch and two countdowns! And it has ‘Ironman triathlon’ written on it! Yeah, baby!

In other news I’ve joined that gym and not found it wanting. The machines are tres cool! Each running machine and each cycling machine has it’s own monitor, upon which you can select your preference of TV channel (my taste running to ‘off’, but that’s just me!) They also have speed monitors on the treadmill, and resistance settings on the bikes. You can set the treadmill to say 10 miles, age 44, weight 149 pounds, set the speed and off you trot. It gives you a break down of speed, time and calories burned.

All very cool. Then I noticed it has a function that picks up your personal heart rate monitor. Had to get one. £36 and I have this;

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It is the watch part of it. There is a chest strap with a transmitter that comes with it. And a rather nice idea of mount for the watch for on the handlebars of your pushbike. Having fitted the aerobars there isn’t room on mine, so just have to wear it.

It was described in the right up as a good basic piece of kit (Ha! I’ve still not figured  out how to use it properly! Basic my arse!) and a good training aid.

Apparently your heart rate when exercising falls into three zones; 1: Health Zone, (55-70% of maximum heart rate)  2: Fitness Zone (70-80% of max) and 3: Power Zone (80-100% of max) . The calculation for maximum heart rate being 220- your age.

Thus for me it’s 1= 96-123 bpm, 2=123-140 bpm, 3= 140-176 bpm.

I went to the gym today to try out my latest toy. I hadn’t worked out the zones, or how to properly work my watch so was just watching meaningless numbers really. According to my  marathon training programme I was just supposed to do a 6 mile run today, but I thought that was a bit of a waste of time so threw in a fairly high resistance 10 mile push bike ride as well.

I started on the bike machine at about 138 bpm, which I quickly pushed into the 140’s. Sweat was streaming off me, I have to drape my towel over the machine to stop from sweating all over it. Put in a good effort and knocked off the 10 miles in  just under 38 minutes. Straight on to the treadmill, where I thought if I was doing a short run might as well make it a fast one. I was running 8 minute miles before I started at the gym, but to get the half marathon in 1 hour 30, you have to be running 6 minute, 48 second, miles. So I put it at that and went for it. My heart rate rose through the 6 miles from 148 to 155. Still just numbers. I slapped the speed up to a 5.5 minute mile pace for the sprint in, and my bpm went over maximum. I thought it was just being cautious because I’d strayed into zone 3. Nope, I’d spent virtually the whole hour and 20 minutes in zone 3 (“The training in the Power-Zone is very intensive and should only be performed by trained individuals” and then gone beyond!

So, in conclusion, I’m training hard enough.

Gotta go, so sayeth the Wendster.

Later,

Buck.