Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cold Turkey - a retrospective

I've been meaning to write this article for a while but wanted to make sure that I was where I wanted to be before I penned it. I came up with the title at Christmas and since the title is very apt for the content the Christmas pun also amused me.

So, you may have seen one or two (or far too many for that matter) witterings from me about having lost my MOJO. If you don't know what MOJO is then let me explain. First off I googled it and realised it has hundreds of meanings and nothing specifically along the lines of what I and others in sport have been using it for. My MOJO (or lack of it) related to loss of motivation, fitness, interest, energy, drive and most of all EXCITEMENT about my sport of triathlon.

The loss of any one of these elements can cause you to derail but when you lose all of them then you're really in trouble. What comes with losing my MOJO is also rapid and monumental weight gain - you can only imagine how that compounds things!!

Last year I competed in Ironman Langkawi, Ironman China, Ironman Kentucky and represented the British Age-Group Team in the ITU World Long Distance Championships. Plus many other run races and triathlons. I was ninth amateur in Langkawi but only 5th in my age-group so didn't qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

I talked my way into Ironman Kentucky after it was full in a last ditch effort to qualify. I had a good swim and bike but was destroyed on the run and was so far down the field that I didn't bother going to the Hawaii roll down. You can imagine what a gut wrenching feeling I felt when a few weeks later I viewed the results to see that a qualification place rolled down to an unbelievable 130th place in my age-group - Arrrrrgggggghhhhh!

After all this I was physically wrecked and knew that I wasn't in great space mentally either. I bluffed the Miri Sprint and Olympic Distance tris with a 2nd and 3rd place respectively but had to pull out of going to Powerman (dualthon) as I doubted I could have even finished let alone defended my title.

Every night I struggled to sleep with intense pain pulsating through my body and especially through my legs. This was the case EVERY NIGHT pretty much from September through November and I was only training twice a week, one bike and one run.

I thought that as soon as Kona came and went in October that all my issues would fade away and I'd get back into training. After all, I'd set out in 2010 with a 2 year plan to qualify for Kona. If I made it in 2010 then it was going to be a bonus but my real target was 2011.

Kona came and went but if anything, things got worse, mentally, physically, the pain at night and to top it all the weight started to pile on. For Ironman Langkawi I was 69kg by Christmas Eve I was 82.5kg. OH MY GOODNESS!

A friend of mine who did actually qualify for Kona had to pull out of the race a few weeks before, due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. How dreadfully sad was that? Listening to the symptoms I seemed to be suffering from some of them and ultimately I concluded that I also had CFS, albeit a milder form than my friend's. I started sharing that conclusion with people and convinced myself this is what was wrong with me.

A few weeks before Christmas I mentioned it to my unfortunate friend and was told in no uncertain terms that I didn't have CFS, she was blunt, too the point and there was no doubt in her mind that wasn't my problem. So I did a little more research and concluded that she was probably right and so my only conclusion was that I was suffering from CHRONIC BURN OUT. Pretty obvious now, although the pain at night wasn't totally resolved and I theorise that this may have been due to muscle atrophy due to the massive reduction in consistent training.

So, a little more room for optimism you might think! BUT NOT AT ALL. I just had a different name for it, the feeling was the same. During these months I did a few 10k run races and as time went by my results went along these lines 7th, 37th, 84th, 191st.

The last race I did was the steepest, hilliest run race I've ever done, it was a 12k hillfest. I'd had 3 hours sleep the night before due to a dinner party and I was sporting a hangover from hell. I was well over 80kg at this point (see photo above) although I'd stopped weighing myself (always a sign that things are very very bad).

I somehow managed to run from start to finish without stopping but it was miserable, I met up with loads of really cool running and tri friends but still I was so down, I wished I wasn't there.

AND THEN CAME THE TURNING POINT...As I was running down the very step hill to the finish, overtaking a lot of people but only because it was downhill and I desperately wanted to put an end to it, I ran past someone who shouted out "Hey Simon, it looks like you've found you're MOJO". I felt like stopping, I needed to explain to them that they couldn't be further from the truth, in fact my primeval instincts were far more angry than simply wanting to explain - I wanted to scream it at best and explode into a violent rage at worst (violence isn't my thing so there was never a danger of that happening but I am just trying to share my emotions of the moment). I certainly felt like crying, literally. (The photo above was taken less than a minute later).

It happened in a split second and soon passed and within a dozen strides I was ashamed of myself, here was someone (sorry I've no idea who it was I didn't even get a look at your face) who clearly new me, a friend, they knew about my loss of MOJO so probably read this blog and to cap it all they were enthusiastically encouraging me as I went by, happy that I seemed to have come through my dark period and rediscovered my MOJO. I felt 2inches tall.

I don't recall when the eureka moment hit me but it was within minutes or just a few hours of that moment. I suddenly realised that what had angered me so much was not that my friend had got it wrong, not that I hadn't found my MOJO but that MY MOJO HADN'T FOUND ME! It dawned on me (as I well know anyway), that nothing in life comes easy, nothing worth having anyway. I'd actually been waiting for my MOJO to find me but I needed to pick myself up, kick myself up the behind and really go find my MOJO.

And so I did, the very next morning I forced myself out of bed at 5am and did 1 1/2 hours hard interval swim, followed by a spin class at lunchtime and then a 1hr11min maximum resistance turbo session in the evening. Day 1 of Ironman training was in the bag - no easing into it, just full on, I went COLD TURKEY, hence the title. This continued the next day and the next and has continued ever since.

Yes I've found my MOJO but only because I dragged it kicking and screaming back to the core of my heart and sole. Fortunately I started the week before Christmas which minimised the negative impact and potential overindulgence's of the festive period and as I usually do I stopped drinking on January 1st. Usually I do this until March 18th which is my birthday but I have now committed to giving up the booze until I qualify for Kona. It might be at Ironman China on 29th May or it might be 5 years time...haha. I have also given up pizzas and ice-cream. Desserts and sweets too, although I don't really like those anyway.

So far it's been 6 weeks and I've lost 6.5kg (14 pounds). I'm eating 5 small meals a day, working out 2, 3 or 4 times everyday. I feel great, I'm looking much better and I had a good result at the Singapore Duathlon on Sunday despite still being many kilos over race weight.

The only issue I have is that I'm not sleeping well and I can only put that down to the huge increase in training and the reduced food intake. Some people would (and have) called that over training but then none of those people have trained to win their age-group in an Ironman. I'll stick at it and the sleep will come I'm sure.

I have an overriding philosophy in life which is this: - "The point of life is singular and uncomplicated - TO BE HAPPY"

Now I AM HAPPY AGAIN - I have my MOJO back. I'm still a work in progress but that's called life!



POSTSCRIPT
I love quotes and there's a couple that I've come to love in the last couple of weeks. One was posted on Bryan Payne's Blog: -

"ALL OR NOTHING" - sadly (or happily) that's who I am. The switch is either on or it's off. If it's off it's not pretty but if it's on I'm happy and I can do amazing things - as indeed anyone can.

The other was posted by Jocelyn Wong (The Wongstar) of TBB. I think she was quoting Brett Sutton (arguably the best tri coach there is): -

"MODERATION = MEDIOCRE" - I've been told more times than I can possibly recall to live my life in moderation and I've never had a good retort, now I have. Moderation is just not me, it's not how I tick, yes that's how I became a 107kg (235 pound) fat slob but remember "ALL OR NOTHING" is who I am. So if it's channelled in the right direction then I'm gonna be unstoppable and I downright refuse to leave this planet as MEDIOCRE.

Thus the sermon ends.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Singapore Duathlon - 23rd January 2011

(Photos courtesy of Tey - Huge thanks from us all Tey, you really are a fantastic guy and your continued support to all athletes in Malaysia and Singapore is greatly appreciated)

I entered this race some months ago when I was sure that my missing mojo would have long since returned and I'd be in real good shape. Alas I got that wrong and believe me, a duathlon hurts far far more than a triathlon ever will. It's not a race to arrive at out of shape.

But hey, here I was toeing the start line with the biggest wave of the day, 40-44yo age-groupers. I was burnt out, fat and unfit. I was not even close to being race ready but my biking and running mojo have returned and so it was time to test the legs, lungs, heart and most importantly the spirit.

I went to the front of the start chute, no point in hanging back. It was a 10k run, 40k bike and 5k run. I have a theory with duathlons that the race is pretty much won or lost during the first run. It's certainly lost during the first run if you don't lay it all down and take it easy. Pacing therefore is easy, red line it all the way (without going into oxygen debt too often).

The gun went and before I knew it I'd gone from having no one in front of me to about 20th place within 200m. But did I mention don't go into oxygen debt? Even in my depleted state of confidence I knew that many of these "fast out gate" guys would be reeled in long before the end of the run. Having said that, the real runners were unbelievably fast and within a small number of minutes were lost way ahead of me in the crowds of the earlier waves.

The race was 4 laps of 2.5k; by the end of lap 2 I was hurting bad and it became a mind game to keep the effort levels, cadence and thus pain levels high. (Sorry I forgot, we don't call it "pain" anymore we call it a "high level of discomfort" - haha).

By the time I got to T1 the "level of discomfort" was off the chart but I reckon I was in around 10th place at this point - and now to bring down the hammer, it was now my element, my territory, THE BIKE.

The bike was 6 laps and I caught about 5 guys in my age-group on the 1st lap including a very very tall guy who I assume was first after the run - you couldn't miss him and he was running at an unbelievable pace. His cycling however...mmm! First of all he was drafting in a none drafting race but since he was about 8 feet tall and he was drafting behind a little Chinese girl of about 4 feet 6 inches I was chuckling too much to bother shouting at him. Not to mention that his cadence was about 120rpm (ridiculously fast) and he was only going about 25kph.







I reeled in some more guys in my age-group on lap 2 and then it was impossible to tell who was who and whether they were in front of you or behind. So I just kept concentrating and putting the hammer down. I couldn't believe how many brand spanking new Trek Speed Concepts were there. I went past quite a few and couldn't help complimenting the riders on their steeds - awesome bikes.

I finished the bike in a little under an hour, hit the ground running (for half a second), then walking and then hobbling. The first run had taken its toll on my feet, especially the recent Achilles Tendinitis injury in my left ankle. T2 was a long run/hobble but I struggled through, got my runners back on and I was off on the last 5k run.

The first 500m were genuinely a hobble and a limping shuffle but the ankles then warmed up and I was able to turn over a reasonably fast cadence. After the turnaround half way through lap 1 I saw a guy in my age-group moving very fast not far behind me - my heart sank a bit but I told myself that the second run was all about keeping focused and doing whatever the body was capable of - the mind gives up before the body! There was another guy in front of me (not in my age-group) who looked like he was flying but amazingly I was reeling him in. I used this knowledge to convince myself that I could still do it.


I really am in terrible shape, I'm 77kg whereas in February last year for Ironman Langkawi I was 69kg. So I had no illusions as to my current form...BUT...this race did seem to be going very well, I passed guys on the bike early on who'd creamed me on the first run and I was fairly confident that I was in the top 3. No way was I going to let myself down for the last lap. At the turnaround half way through the lap I saw the guy behind who seemed to be flying, he was a couple of hundred metres further behind than last time - awesome! Just goes to show what you can do if you believe (or at least convince yourself to believe - DENIAL is a wonderful thing).













I cruised down the finishing chute to be greeted by the winner who was looking disarmingly fresh and chilled out. I was 2nd and comfortably ahead of 3rd. I was very pleased with that as a result - a huge confident booster and this just 5 short weeks after I decided to go looking for my mojo. I'm 5kg lighter than then but still 10kg more to lose (I need to be 67kg for IMChina) and a massive amount of training a.k.a. pain, misery and suffering to go but we're on the right road for sure.

Also Having just checked the results, I had the fastest bike split of the day out of the entire field not just my age-group, so I'm pretty stoked about that. And amazingly not only was I second in my age-group but second overall. 40-44 age-group ROCKS!


POSTSCRIPT
Although I had to leave Shilpa, Sid and Seb behind in India to attend this race I did have the pleasure of driving down and back with Disco Dave and Lydia which made the weekend a real joy. Not to mention Dave won his age-group and Lydia got 2nd in hers. Thanks for the company guys and well done on your superb results.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Benefits of Yoga and/or Drinking

(Courtesy of David Clenton)

Research confirms that drinking gives you the same benefits yoga does !!!

Savasana
Position of total relaxation
CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENLARGE











Balasana
Position that brings the sensation of peace and calm












Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
This positioncalms the brain and heals tired legs











Marjayasana
Position stimulates the midirift area and the spinal comumn











Halasana
Excellent for back pain and insomnia











Dolphin
Excellent for the shoulder area, thorax, legs, and arms











Salambhasana
Great exercise to stimulate the lumbar area, legs, and arms











Ananda Balasana
This position is great for massaging the hip area











Malasana
This position, for ankles and back muscles

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Security Alert Announcement

(Courtesy of Steve Dennison - please blame him, I'm just the messenger)

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved."

Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out.

Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender."

The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose." [Sorry Angela, Marcus and gang - I'm just the messenger]

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be right, Mate."

Three more escalation levels remain: "Crikey,!" "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend" and "The barbie is cancelled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Ashes - gloating time

(Courtesy of the Telegraph online)

1) What do you call an Australian Cricketer with 100 by his name? A bowler.

2) Why can't Aussies open bottles? Because they don't have any openers.

3) What do you call an Australian with a bottle of champagne in his hand? A waiter.

4) What do you call a world class Australian Cricketer? Retired.

5) What do you get if you cross the Australian cricket team with an Oxo cube? Laughing stock.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Priorities

A Professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the Professor then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The Professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the space between the grains of sand.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else - the small stuff.



"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Stay physically fit. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18.

There will always be time to clean the house, fix the lamp, wash the car. "Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."






One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The Professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers with a friend."

Ashes: England wrap up 3-1 series win over Australia
















England won the final Ashes Test in Sydney by an innings and 83 runs to wrap up the series 3-1 and secure their first win down under in 24 years.

Simon says: - Enough said!

Ian Botham says: - "you've got to feel sorry for the Ozzies" - the beauty of that is we all know he doesn't mean it - nice one Beefy.

No pain, no gain - Chrissie Wellington - what the coach says

Coach Dave Scott describes Chrissie Wellington's fearsome regime

Chrissie's schedule is incredibly arduous. The build-up to an ironman race spans a seven- to eight-month period. It's ferocious, but she has an uncanny resilience and ability to recover.

Chrissie swims, bikes and runs every day. Typically she will swim up to 5.5km six days a week. She will also run each day and on the weekend do a longer distance, say 30-40km. One day a week she will do a long ride on the bike, which means four to five hours at a fairly fast pace. One or two days a week she will do a bike/run combination as if she is simulating a race. For example, she will do a three-hour bike ride of, say, 110-120km, including some hill training, and then follow this up with a run of around 8-12km, again at a stiff tempo. What makes this possible is that she has a phenomenal ability to tolerate discomfort, coupled with an incredible work ethic.

Chrissie is very diligent about doing strength training, which is an area triathletes have been recently gravitating towards because it is invaluable for injury prevention. Around three or four days a week she will do a session in the gym. This usually means anything between eight to 16 different exercises – a combination of weights and single-leg exercises.

With this enormous workload we need to be very careful that Chrissie is getting enough recovery time because everyone is vulnerable to getting sick and developing those minor, niggling injuries. She goes to sees a physiotherapist three times a week and gets a massage up to three times a week, too.

She also needs to pay lots of attention to her eating. She eats very well and healthily, but there's a fine line between eating well and weaving that in and around these intense workouts. Sometimes it's a matter of her day getting so congested with working out that it's hard to find time to fit in the eating.

In this sport we don't like to use the word pain. We prefer to describe it as a high level of discomfort. Discomfort is something you can control, and when you're a racehorse like Chrissie you can ratchet up the discomfort to extraordinarily high levels. When it becomes painful, that means you are out of control – and in an ironman, losing control is something you never, ever want to do.

Simon says: - Interesting stuff - I've been saying for a year or two now that the secret to a good Ironman is to "suffer" in training, another word I use a lot is "misery".

When I tell people this I almost always get a look of disbelief and I know they're thinking "That guy's got it so wrong, what's the point if you're almost always suffering and in misery when you're training".

I think they have a point but you have to then ask where are the wins - for some it's in the training, for me it's in the competing, whether in a race or against myself in training. Trust me though if you're not suffering or to put it another way "dealing with a high level of discomfort" in training then you're leaving time on the course in your key races.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Chrissie Wellington interview: The iron lady

(Courtesy of The Guardian and Ben Zuehlsdorf)

Chrissie Wellington did not even discover sport until her early twenties. Now, the civil servant from rural Norfolk is the greatest female endurance athlete on the planet. Here, she describes the sacrifices she has made for ironman triathlon and why they are all worthwhile.

"This body has taken me to heights that I never imagined": ironman champion Chrissie Wellington at Birmingham University, her alma mater. Photograph: Shamil Tanna for the Observer

It is rare to hear someone so openly appreciative of their own physique as Chrissie Wellington. "I love my body," she declares. "I am more than content with it. I take a holistic view and see it not just as the contours of my skin but as the muscles, sinews, bones and everything else. This body has taken me to heights that I never imagined. I do love it, and I don't mean that in an arrogant way."

Most 33-year old-women would rather curl up and die than pose, oiled up, in a swimsuit in the middle of a busy cafĂ©. Not Wellington. She leaps on to a table in the canteen at Birmingham University in front of the gathered students and happily strikes pose after pose for the photographer. You can see why she shows such willing – hers is a body that has been worked on and honed to within an inch of its life. "I'm not flawless," she says standing, muscular arms akimbo, on the wobbly table. "I have unattractive feet, unruly hair and oversized calves, but I push this body to its absolute limit and it has never let me down."

Wellington is an ironman. That is, her chosen sport is a race which consists of a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km bike ride, rounded off with a full marathon. It's one of the most hardcore tests of human endurance there is and comes with associated stories of medical horrors and bleeding athletes crawling over the finish line. She caused a sensation in the sport in 2007 when, in only her first year as a professional athlete, she won the ironman World Championship in Hawaii at her first attempt. Finishing five minutes ahead of the field, she blew her rivals out of the water and left commentators speechless because they had no idea who she was. She has continued to astound – rarely losing, outperforming even top male athletes and pushing her body to feats no one thought possible. She holds all the world records for her sport, wins many of her races by half an hour and is by some distance the greatest female endurance competitor in the world.

Wellington's story is even more remarkable because for a long time she had no inkling of these superhuman capabilities. Up until a few years ago she was an ordinary woman with an ordinary job in the civil service. As a child growing up in rural Norfolk right through to her early 20s, she never showed any sign of excelling athletically. "I never did any sport at a high level," she says. "Winning that race in Hawaii was surreal – I still have to pinch myself. I went from being a nobody to winning the biggest race in our sport on the biggest world stage. It changed my life forever."

It all started in 2001 when, not long out of Birmingham University with a degree in geography, Wellington decided to have a go at running the London Marathon. "I had just got back from travelling and had gained a bit of weight, so I started running as a way of controlling it," she says. "I wasn't fast and I didn't do it in a structured way – I just put on my old running shoes and went out and ran." Wellington got round in a little over three hours. "I never expected to do it that quickly," she says. "And I was surprised at how little discomfort I felt."

The following year she was gearing up to have another go when, cycling to work through Clapham, she was hit by a car. "I went over, smashed my chin, damaged my quad muscles and wasn't able to run for four months," she says. So Wellington started swimming instead and soon after was spotted in a pool by a coach who asked her if she'd ever considered a triathlon. "I'd never given it a moment's thought," she says, "but a seed was planted. I started thinking that I should give this triathlon malarkey a shot. I love the outdoors and I do love a challenge."

Wellington signed up to do a short super sprint triathlon and invited her parents to cheer her on. "They came up all the way from Norfolk to Redditch," she says. "It was pouring with rain. I was wearing a borrowed wetsuit and when I got into the water it flooded. I couldn't lift my arms and I almost sank. I had to be rescued by a kayaker. Not a very auspicious start."

Undeterred, Wellington signed up for a couple of longer races, both of which she won. "I was still very much a novice," she says. "The night before one of the races I had to be shown how to clip and unclip my shoes from my bike. But what I lacked in understanding of the sport I made up for in drive and determination."

After these wins she decided it was time to get herself a coach and joined a team headed by the controversial trainer Brett Sutton. Widely recognised as one of the best triathlon coaches in the sport, Sutton is also a convicted sex offender. In 1999 he admitted to five offences against a teenage swimmer in Australia and is banned from coaching there for life.

"There is a lot of controversy surrounding Brett, but he was absolutely fantastic for me," says Wellington. "He has an authoritarian coaching style which I found difficult, because I like to question things. It was also very hard for me to trust him, and initially our relationship was volatile. It was only when I gave myself over to him and stopped thinking and followed his every order without question that I started achieving success."

It was Sutton who spotted that Wellington had astonishing aerobic capabilities and mental strength, which made her perfect for competing over enormous distances. One of the first things he did was sign her up to do a long-course triathlon in Alpe d'Huez, which takes place on some of the gruelling climbs of the Tour de France. She got a puncture, catapulted over a crash barrier and still managed to win.

Five weeks after the Alps, Sutton sent Wellington to Korea to take part in her first ironman. "It was 90F, with 90% humidity, but even so I was chomping at the bit – I couldn't wait to race," she says. "My naivety in my capability was a blessing. I had no expectations. It turned out to be a war of attrition and a fight for survival because it was so incredibly, incredibly difficult. But I loved it, really loved it." She beat her nearest female rival by 50 minutes.

Which is how in October 2007, Wellington, equipped only for the first time with a proper time-trial bike, found herself on the starting line for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. She began with a distinctly average swim, three minutes slower than she was aiming for. Then at around 130km into the bike ride, with Sutton's words "Don't defer to anybody" ringing in her ears, she started moving up the pack. "I came up to the lead group of girls and instead of thinking: 'These are the champions and the best in the world', I just went straight past them." Even so, Wellington never believed she would hold on. "Halfway through the marathon I still never thought I would win," she says. "You know they are behind you and you never know what they are capable of. I was running scared the whole way, thinking: 'They'll catch me, they'll catch me.' But they just didn't."






As Wellington ran she used a number of mental tricks to propel her towards the finishing line. In her head she went over and over the lyrics from "Circle of Life" from the Lion King, Leona Lewis's "A Moment Like This" and Queen's "We are the Champions". "Quite embarrassing, really," she says. "Shows my total lack of taste in music." She also recited stanzas from Rudyard Kipling's "If" – a poem which was given to her by Sutton, the dog-eared photocopy of which she still takes to every race. "Because when you're 30k into the marathon," she says, "it's not your body that's carrying you, it's your mind."

There were no friends or family there to share Wellington's big moment. A few competitors she knew from the circuit supported her as she was thrust blinking into the limelight, but aside from that she was alone. It is still widely acknowledged as the biggest shock result ever seen in the sport, and she says that from the moment she crossed the finishing line to the end of that year everything passed in a blur.








To prove it wasn't a fluke, Wellington went back and won in 2008 and again in 2009 (she couldn't take part in 2010 because she had pneumonia, strep throat and West Nile virus). In 2009 she smashed the ironman world record by 12 minutes; she broke that by another 12 minutes not long after. The day after we meet she is due to receive an honorary doctorate from Birmingham University, and two days after that an MBE from the Queen. "I will have worn more posh frocks this week than I have in all my life," she says.

Wellington describes herself as an obsessive compulsive, and it is this trait, she believes, which explains her late-blooming success. The reason she didn't stumble into her sport sooner was because in her youth all this drive was directed into her studies. "I was very, very focused on getting the highest possible grades," she says. "When my studies were completed, all of a sudden I'd achieved my goal and needed another one."

She also cheerfully admits to really enjoying pain. Even in training, she regularly pushes herself beyond normal thresholds. "I go beyond what I think is possible; I punish myself and really learn to suffer," she says. "That gives me the peace of mind and confidence to know that when I'm racing and it hurts, I can overcome it. When I get off the bike, for instance, I don't think: 'Oh Lordy, I've got a marathon to do', I think: 'Bring it on.'"

Sutton, who is famous for his brutal training techniques, would regularly have his athletes doing marathons on the treadmill or running with rucksacks filled with rocks, and all the while refusing them water so their bodies learned how to deal with dehydration.

The extremes seem to amuse Wellington. "There are a lot of people in the medical tent at the end of an ironman," she tells me with a grin. She tells me of the chafing, the "nasty sores and cuts" she gets on her undercarriage after five hours on a bike, blisters the size of tea cups, and how in most races she usually crosses the line with a couple fewer toenails than she set off with.

She has no sense of embarrassment either. She will regularly greet her boyfriend after a training session, her face whitened with dried-up dribble. "If you've got time to wipe away the dribble then you're not working hard enough," she says. She thinks nothing of stopping on the roadside in the middle of a race, whipping down her shorts and going to the toilet. "You lose all sense of modesty because a lot happens to your body during the eight or so hours it takes to do an ironman," she says. "I've done diarrhoea in my shorts and left it trickling down my leg, but I've never been one to be ashamed of that kind of thing." On her blog she cheerily apologises to the cyclists caught behind her for the "six pees" she did as she went. "If you do it on a downhill," she says, "you don't make too many friends."

Her diet, too, is extraordinary. She eats a healthy, balanced diet, but has to consume around 5,000 calories a day, so the volume is enormous. A pre-race meal consists of an industrial-sized bowl of tuna and tomato pasta the night before and white bread, jam and full-fat cream cheese on the morning of the race. After the last ironman of this year's season in Arizona she demolished two burgers, three plates of chips and 15 donuts.

Wellington, who split with Sutton in 2008 ("not acrimoniously"), now lives with her boyfriend Tom Lowe, also an ironman, in Boulder, Colorado, where they train together. She has had to make, she admits, enormous sacrifices for her sport. Not only moving away from family and friends, but giving up a promising career in development economics which took her to Nepal for nearly two years and is a subject about which she remains passionate. As well as all of that, she has given up all spontaneity. "Being an ironman is a 24/7 job," Wellington says. "It's not just training, which I do up to six hours a day; it's eating right, it's recovery, it's massage, it's injury prevention and it's sleep. That doesn't leave room for the other things I enjoy. It's a monotonous, regimented, monodimensional life."

What she has gained, however, is a platform, which she is hugely grateful for and determined to use responsibly. She raises large sums for charity and regularly campaigns on development issues. "I know I'm not David Beckham," she says, "but I do believe I am a role model to show that anything is possible and that your limits might not be where you think that they are. I'm continually surprising myself by what I can achieve."

Due to the all-consuming nature of the ironman, Wellington says she probably won't go on much past 40. Does she plan to have children? "I definitely think once I retire I'd like to have them," she says. "It is possible to combine both, but I don't think I'd like to. I like to be able to dedicate myself to the task in hand. For me it's one thing or another. All or nothing."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Ironman China open for entries - 29th May 2011

So at last the site is open and taking entries from Friday onwards. Looks like this is the one then and since the actual date is one week later than advertised it gives me an additional week to train which considering my current weight and state of fitness it's a pretty good thing I reckon.

On that note I have some stuff to say about my Mojo or lack of it and now with Kona a distant memory, Christmas and the New Year out of the way, China resolved and soon to be accepting entries not to mention a couple of enormous kicks up the bum I think I have some good news. Watch this space - I need to find a bit of time and also to be sure of my current direction and see whether I can stay on course.