Category Archives: Off-road triathlon

Byron Bay Triathlon preparation week 3

This week is the third week of my Byron Bay Triathlon preparation. I’ve been quite disciplined at following the training program that I downloaded from the Triathlete Europe website. The program is split into four 3-week sets, which focus on speed, strength, race-specific preparation and tapering. Each 3-week set is split into two hard weeks followed by a recovery week.

I’m currently in the recovery week for phase 1 (speed). I found the first two weeks incredibly tough because I was stepping up from training 5-6 times a week to training 8-10 times a week at a much higher intensity than I had been used to.

Swim

Before I started the program I was swimming sporadically (I only did 4 swim sessions between December 5 and February 18). When I did swim I was only swimming about 1km, with at least half my sessions being breast stroke. I didn’t do any speed work, kick board or pull buoy training. It’s quite shocking really that I swam 20:45 for my 1,500m at Kingscliff Triathlon.

Under the training program I am swimming three mornings a week. My sessions range from 1.5km to 2km. I am now doing a structured warm up, main set and cool down. Many of my sessions include speed work, kicking, pull buoy or all three. I’m actually using the timing clock at the pool now to limit my rests between repeats and, sometimes, to time my speed. I am feeling strong and confident in the water, and will be starting my last two races of the season at the front of the swim start rather than all the way out at the back.

Bike

Before starting the training program I was cycling once or twice a week. Most sessions were just social rides with either my mum or my running friends. I was riding 25 – 40km at about 22 – 26kph with the odd 27 – 30kph effort thrown in for good measure. My race speed at Kingscliff was 34kph, which is astounding given the training – I think I really brought it on the day.

Under the training program I am cycling 2-3 times a week. My sessions are much more structured, including time trials and hill work. As the training program progresses the time spent cycling at higher intensities will increase. I am enjoying the hard bike work and can feel a significant difference in both my strength and speed. I am finding that my warm ups and cool downs are faster than my training rides used to be (that being said, I never used to do warm ups and cool downs).

Run

Before starting the program I spent most of my training time running. I joined the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers in about August last year and found myself enjoying their company a little too much for a triathlete. But while I was running quite a few miles, they were also relatively slow. The great thing was that I went from struggling to complete a 5km training run to knowing I can run any distance I choose if I pace myself appropriately. But my speed suffered (I ran a 54 minute 10km at Kingscliff).

Under the training program I am running 3-4 sessions a week. The training is structured and focused on increasing my 10km pace, which is what I need for triathlon. For the first few weeks I was still going to parkour training, which I included as my weekly speed running session (we run 5-7km at parkour plus activities). However, in the coming months I might be knuckling down to focus more on triathlon training and leaving parkour until my partner’s days off change again (she’s currently off work on Thursday and Friday, which means I like to be home with her on Thursdays). While I miss my running friends I know the absence is temporary and that I am on the verge of a significant running breakthrough that will probably come in the next two phases of the program, which include more hard training at race pace. I know I’m about to go from running 6min/km pace to 4:30min/km pace over 10km, and that I’m about to crack the point where I can confidently set off on a 30-50km trail run and pace myself to return home safely (even if at 7:00 – 8:00min/km pace).

Adaptations to the training plan

I have made some slight adaptations to the training plan to make it better suit my lifestyle.

  • I do not train on Sundays unless I have an event. I have learned that my body and soul need a day off every week. I need a day for my garden, for my family and friends, and for my body to recuperate from the effort of the week. I am pushing myself quite hard when I do train and I don’t want to injury myself or become ill.
  • I also do some of my running on trails and will be doing some of my cycling on my MTB. Being in the bush is food for my soul and I prefer it to pounding or rolling along the pavement. Also, after the Byron Bay Triathlon on 12 May, all my events (starting from 20 May) will be off-road until at least April 2013. So it’s good fro me to start mixing my preparation to finish this road season strong and have some sort of base for my off-road future.
  • I have been doing basic strength exercises most nights while I’ve been watching television. I just do plank, push ups or crunches during add breaks. I don’t enjoy strength work and hate going to the gym but this is one way that I can manage to squeeze it in without feeling like I’m ‘doing strength’.

 

I’m confident that the new training program will do wonders for me. I’ve already noticed some changes in my body – my arms and chest are more muscular from the swimming and strength work. The last bits of belly I had have disappeared though I am definitely no Ryan Gosling and doubt I’ll ever have a six-pack (I like food too much). I feel more confident about entering different types of events, such as the Adventure Race Australia (20 May), Dawn Attack AR (September) and the 50km Washpool World Heritage Ultra Trail Run (October). And I think I’m going to really have a good crack at breaking 2:15 for the Byron Bay Olympic Distance Triathlon.

I do admit, though, that I’m excited about this week being a recovery week 😉

 

Trail running Cunningham’s Gap

Cunningham's Gap (lowest point), Mt Cordeux (right of the Gap), Bare Rock (far right)

My training program listed today’s training as a 13km run with the last 1.5km at 10km pace. Last night I was telling my partner that I really wanted to hit the bush rather than having to do my run along the same old roads and she simply asked “why don’t you?”. So I did. I got up at 4:30am to ride my motorbike two hours to the top of Cunningham’s Gap and run the 12km return trail past Mt Cordeux and on to Bare Rock. On the way up to The Gap I took the above photo to show you today’s running grounds. Sorry that it’s a little out of focus, I only had my mobile phone with me.

View south from Mt Cordeux track

I was cold after my motorbike ride, the temperature up on the Scenic Rim is always a lot cooler than it is down at my home near the coast. The GPS showed that it was 15’C – perfect for running. I set off up the trail and soon realised that I had bitten off quite a bit more than I had anticipated. It’s been a long time since I walked at Cunningham’s Gap and I had clearly forgotten how steep and rocky the terrain is (though logic dictates that I should have anticipated it – The Gap is one of only two passes crossing the steep mountain range west of Brisbane).

I ran my first kilometre at 7:05 pace, which I thought was excellent for a trail that climbed steeply and included many rock gardens and mud patches. The second was much slower (10:04) because my legs and lungs were burning, and the ball of my left foot was giving me trouble. I think I also got a bit overwhelmed by the idea of trail running on an bushwalking trail on such an isolated mountain range. However, by the end of the third kilometre (9:45) I started to settle into the bush and to really enjoy myself. I took the photo above somewhere during the second or third kilometre.

Mt Cordeaux lookout (south)

Mt Cordeaux lookout (north)

The view from Mt Cordeaux was stunning. I took a few moments to drink it in and use it to fuel both my legs and my soul. This is why I am falling in love with trail running and why I want to break into adventure racing – for the wilderness and the views that come with it.

Mt Cordeaux

Overgrown trail around Mt Cordeux summit

My fourth kilometre included a stunning view back at Mt Cordeaux from a narrow rocky ridge that connects that mountain with the Bare Rock section of trail. I must have felt good because I ran this kilometre at 7:03, not bad given the rugged terrain and overgrown trail.

View north from Bare Rock

After a short respite, the trail started to climb again until I reached the Bare Rock lookout. I ran kilometre 5 at 8:40 pace and then kilometre 6, which included a rough scramble up and down Bare Rock lookout, at 9:55. I had climbed from 773m elevation to 1,168m elevation in 5.8km. While it’s not exactly Mt Everest the consistent climbing was new to me and I definitely need to work on it more.

The run back to the carpark was amazing. After reaching Bare Rock I realised that I am capable to tackling the bushwalking trails in our national parks and mountains. While it seems silly to think I was uncertain about my plans to run out here, it seems somehow different to running trails in my local bush where I am just a few minutes from civilisation. The exposure of being on hiking trails and all the warning signs about how you need to be prepared certainly affected my mental state this morning. So reaching Bare Rock and not giving in was important.

Loving the run

The run back to my motorbike was amazing! Not only because it was downhill but because I felt strong, confident and optimistic about making this type of trail run a regular event. I ran my kilometres back to the car at: 7:16 (I had to walk through some stinging nettle), 6:40, 6:28, 7:44 (I had to take it easy on a steep narrow stair section), 7:02 and 6:29,

The indicative time for the trail is 5:30 for walkers. I completed it in 1:34:44 at an average pace of 7:50min/km. It’s a fantastic starting point and confidence booster as I continue to train to move into adventure racing and off-road triathlon from next season. I also think it was a really good tough session to assist in my preparation for the Byron Bay Triathlon in 9 weeks today.

My new shoes are now worn in

If you are getting bored with running on the road, let me encourage you to explore your local hiking trails. You don’t need any special equipment except a way to carry your water. I ran the trail in a cheap pair of Pumas, which held up perfectly well despite not being trail running shoes.

Total: 12.09km @ 7:50 pace

Night trail run

Geared up for this year's first night run on the trail

I have one of those days today at work where I just feel tired and lackluster. I feel run down, tired and a bit light headed. Probably both because my diet hasn’t been quite right the past week (too much sugar) and my partner’s working late shift (not enough sleep). So I ride my motorbike home the long way home over West Mount Cotton Road to get some inspiration. While I am out on the bike I decide I need a trail run.

After feeding the kittens I pull on my skins and a sweat wicking shirt (that definitely no longer protects against stink), fill my Camelback, grab my GPS, pull on my running shoes, put my headlight on and head out the door. I have to take Mum’s ute to the shop tomorrow for a repair so I decide to run the 7km trail run to her place to pick it up.

 

No way were my feet staying dry. Check out the reflections.

As I run through the grass field I try to keep my feet dry but it proves pointless – there is no way around some of the puddles so I just plough straight through. While my feet get wet, the reflections of the clouds in the puddles are beautiful. I must have started out on my run at just the right time to catch them.

Early in my run I had to climb a fire trail up a steep hill. It’s hard going and I have to walk a short part of the hill before sucking it up and continuing to run up it. I literally pat myself on the back – it’s a silly little habit I started when I was in primary school. Before my first cross country run at school the teacher told us something about patting ourselves on the back and I took it literally (I was only 5 years old). Ever since then I’ve given myself an over-the-shoulder pat on my back when I achieve something difficult while running. Don’t laugh – haha.

Time to turn on the headlight

Darkness descends as I drop down the Grass Trees track; I turn on my headlight. Within 5 minutes the last rays of sunlight fade as drops of rain start to fall on me. The rain drops look funny by the light of my headlamp.

The bush is peaceful now that it’s plunged in darkness. I can barely see beyond the edges of the trail so my whole being is focused on putting one foot in front of the other and on being present on the trail. The air is still thick with humidity and I stink from sweat but it doesn’t matter because there’s no one else out here to smell me. The only other living creatures I see are toads, frogs and those tiny ground-dwelling spiders with bright blue eyes. I’m glad I hit the trail tonight.

I’ve decided that I’ll do one of my run sessions on the trails every week to help prepare for the Adventure Race Australia, which is the week after Byron Bay Triathlon and also because the reality is that next season I’ll be focusing all my race efforts off-road. The trail running is also good preparation for Tough Mudder, particularly given the many almost unrunnable hills in Bayview, which challenge every muscle fibre in my legs.

Total: 7.0km @ 6:06 pace

Trail run

The sun is hot on my skin as I run down the street towards the bush. It’s already 5:30pm and the last half hour of sunlight promises to be punishing. I run down the road to the start of the bush trails, the white trunks of the Moreton Bay ash trees towering above me against the blue sky.

I practice some precision jumps across two large mud puddles, keeping my new white joggers clean in the process. After about 500m I vault the gate to the Bayview Conservation Park and am away along a narrow rocky stretch of single track. The trail roughly follows the contours around the edge of a hill, rising and falling with the changing terrain. I kept my mind in the bush and on the trail for most of the time. It wandered to work twice and both times I almost rolled my ankle so that was incentive to focus on enjoying the bush.

While the sun was still hot the bush was quiet. The only sounds were my rhythmic breathing and footfalls on the rocks and gravel. Occasionally a wallaby hops across my path and skitters off into the bush or stops to eat grass.

And then the sun starts to sink quickly and the light turns gold on the western sides of the hills but grey on the east. The bush comes alive with the sounds of crickets and other night insects. My footfalls soon become inaudible over the din but my steady breathing continues to ring in my ears like a metronome.

After 5km I vault back over the gate and complete the last 3km of my run along quiet local roads. It’s dark by the time I get home, drenched in sweat. I ran the bush section of my run at 8:45 pace and the road sections at 5:45 pace. It’s not going to break any land speed records but was a solid and enjoyable run; the perfect way to finish the week.

Total: 8km run @ 7:11 pace

Off-road brick

It happens quite by accident. I decide to ride my mountain bike to running training and end up doing an off-road brick session. It’s my first brick since the start of the road triathlon season and I find myself thoroughly enjoying it.

It’s still dark when I leave home for the 5.35km along both sealed and gravel roads to meet my running friends at the trail head. I haven’t needed lights on my bike since I started triathlon last year so I get some duct tape and use that to strap a flashing red light to the back of my seat post and a bright white light to my handlebars. It’s not the world’s prettiest set up but it works a treat.

The morning peak hasn’t quite started yet but there’s still light traffic on the roads, which are speed limited at 80kph. Given the darkness, the lack of shoulder and the high speed limit in this area I am shocked and disgusted to see a road cyclist ahead of me without any tail light or reflector. I figure he must not know his light isn’t working so I call out to him four times, including calling out “CYCLIST!” in my loudest voice. He ignores me. I work hard on my old MTB without toe clips or clipless pedals to catch up to him to let him know his light isn’t working: I’d want someone to do that for me if I was invisible on the road.

“Oh yeah. My lights smashed a few months ago.” the candidate for the Darwin Awards tells me nonchalantly. I tell him that he’s pretty much totally invisible and that it won’t take long until he’s killed. He just mumbles “thanks mate” and keeps going. It makes me irate to see this guy on a $2,000 racing bike wearing full cycling kit who didn’t seem to care that he is a risk to himself and others by being invisible on the road (his jersey was black with white bits – not exactly highly visible). All because he doesn’t want to go to KMart and pay $25 for a basic set of bike lights (that’s a full set – seems cheap to me).

I fly past him and keep ahead of him for a ways until he gets all testosterone filled and decides he should probably not be overtaken by a bloke in running shoes on an old clunker. Perhaps my muttering that he was a *insert expletive starting with w* might have set him off too but I can’t stand invisible cyclists.

Rant over, I arrived at the trail head to meet my running friends in plenty of time. Six of us set off on a 40 minute trot down the trails. Within about 5 minutes we had split into two groups of 3, each running at a different pace. I went with the quicker pair, enjoying my first run in days. We ended up running 6.78km at 6:06 pace, which felt just right for the terrain and humid conditions. I enjoyed being in the bush and chatting away with Leanne and Craig.

After our run I set off on my mountain bike to map some more bush trails. I found heaps of single track near the trail head, ranging from rocky climbing tracks with log obstacles to sweeping smooth sandy trails with almost no technical elements. I’m definitely still at the ‘almost no technical elements’ stage but persisted with the more technical trails in the interest of mapping them. I enjoyed a solid 90 minutes playing around on my bike. The only sounds were the birds waking up in the trees, the cables on my bike clattering against the frame, and my tyres hitting rocks and tree roots. There were no other voices and I couldn’t hear the cars anymore once I got deeper into the bush. The air smelled of the start of cross country season – that time of year when the last summer heat sneakily fills the air with sticky humidity before the cooler months start in May. This smell will stay around now for the next few months, inspiring me with memories of my high school cross country days.

By the time I get home I stink with sweat and my legs are covered in mud. It’s been a fun morning.

Total:

MTB along roads to running training: 5.35km @ 24.6kph (flat pedals with running shoes)

Trail run: 6.78km @ 6:06 pace

MTB: 10.57km @ 9.2kph average moving speed (7.2kph actual average allowing time to make notes for trail mapping)

 

Hooked on the MTB

Smooth flowing single track

With smooth flowing single track like this to enjoy, it’s little wonder that I’m currently getting hooked on my MTB rides.

It’s a glorious morning and I am in two minds whether to have a good road cycle hit out or to continue mapping Bayview Conservation Park on my MTB. I have an Olympic Distance triathlon race on Sunday morning at Kingscliff so know that I really should have a road session but my heart demands to hit the bush. As is often the case, I listen to my heart.

I start by riding the fire trails down to the bridge where I left off with mapping on Sunday afternoon. While I’m down there I find a new single track that I’ve not ridden before. It’s only a few hundred metres long but still delightful. I ride up to the top of the hill and turn right down towards the Carbrook side of the bush.

I know there is a network of trails on the far side of the bush that I’ve not explored since I was a teenager. On my last visit down there (almost 20 years ago) my sister and I were riding horses when we stumbled upon a drug camp. Men came out of the camp pointing rifles at us and threatening to shoot us if we ever went down near that part of the bush again. Needless to say, we stayed well away from those trails. It wasn’t until late last year when I was running with the BRW club that I went back down those trails. I knew the drug camp was gone because I’d seen it in the news about 10 years ago but still – it was disconcerting to know that I’d been chased by men with guns.

Bush sunrise

The only drama this morning is the sun rising through the trees casting a stunning golden light. I enjoy the sight for a few moments before continuing on my way. I ride a few fire trails and single track for almost an hour before I realise that I really need to go home and get ready for work. I make notes of every major creek crossing and intersection, measuring the distances between each for reference later. These distances will be helpful when measuring trail running training routes.

Plenty of creeks

We’ve had some heavy rain the past few weeks (it is February after-all) and the creeks are all flowing. There’s really one creek system in the bushland, Serpentine Creek. It has many tributaries and they all lead into the Logan River swamps, which spread for about half a kilometre on this northern side of the river. The only problem with all this water is the mosquitoes. But they don’t bother me too much if I keep moving.

My Garmin Edge 800 getting a workout

I’m using a Garmin Edge 800 to map the bushland. It has all the usual features of speed, distance, calories etc with the added bonus of a map screen. This means I can see which trails I have covered and can get a sense of whether tracks will double back on each other or link up. It helps me identify the most logical order in which to map all the trails and tracks here in the bush. I won the GPS in a lucky draw at my first race of the season and, while I never thought I’d say this, I’d be lost without it.

Total distance: 20km @ 13.9kph average moving speed (10kph actual average including stopping to take notes and photographs)

More MTB madness

Sweating it out in 38'C heat

It’s stinking hot when I leave home on my mountain bike at 11:30am. The mercury is well above 30’C and the sun is beating down. I know it’s not sensible to head out in this heat but I had family commitments this morning and again this afternoon so it’s the only way I can squeeze some training in. This training session will be aimed at four things: the Adventure Race Australia that I’m racing in May, the Tre-X off-road triathlons that I’ll be doing next season, general fitness and I want to map the bush trails near home for the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers club.

I had my three-monthly testosterone injection on Friday and it’s wreaking havoc with my left glute. The injection is intramuscular and it hurt a lot going in. The injections usually don’t hurt but I’ve had them in the left side for about 18 months because the right side was causing me problems before that. When I mentioned the pain to the nurse she said I’d need to swap back to the right side again; something that concerns me. But what concerns me more as I ride out is that I can barely sit on the saddle because my left glute is swollen – it feels like I might have compartment syndrome again, like I got the one time I got my injection in my thigh. But I’m determined not to let it stop me – even if it should.

I ride out through the grassy field and across German Church Road into Bayview bushland reserve. I spend the next two hours riding both fire trails and single track while mapping the parts of the bush nearest my home. The trails here are focused on a big hill and some trails are unridable. I ride each trail systematically, making notes of distances between each intersection and major feature in a notebook I’m carrying in my hydropack.

It’s exciting when I find a kilometre of single track that I never knew existed. After all these years riding in the bush I still sometimes find little pockets of track that have sprung up or that I’ve missed commuting to my mother’s and sister’s homes. I am struggling with the heat so my technical skills are appalling today but I’m enjoying being in the bush between the trees. It makes me feel happy.

My mountain bike

My mountain bike is a basic rigid frame model that’s I bought from Bicycle Revolution in West End. Bicycle Revolution rebuild bikes from recycled components. The only things that were new on the bike when I bought it in 2009 were the chain and brake pads. I only paid $250 for it and have had hours of fun riding it. It’s beaten up and old so I don’t have to worry about breaking it – because I suspect that’s almost impossible. The only thing I still want to do to it is switch the flat bed pedals to clipless pedals once I feel more confident off-road.

I used to have a flash orange Giant Yukon with disc brakes and front suspension but that was before I switched to commuting to work on road bikes back in 2006. I used to use it to commute to and from work but then I got myself caught between a bus and 4WD, which made me feel vulnerable having wide MTB bars commuting in traffic (the two vehicles were to the left and right of me). I sold the bike to my bother-in-law and then bought my current MTB a few years later when I was looking for something a bit fun to ride after I got sick of riding a road bike.

This purple beast is the bike I’ll be using in the Adventure Race Australia and the Tre-X events. It will probably be the only steel frame fully rigid bike on the course. It will almost definitely be the only bike without disc brakes. And it is the ugliest bike I’ve ever owned. But I love it. The frame is the perfect size for me, the bike works and I feel like a big kid when I ride it. And I always feel happy to be alive when I feel like a big kid. It reminds me about why I’m training and racing – to enjoy the good life.

My left glute is agonisingly painful tonight and I’m a little worried about whether it will be better by Sunday when I have the Kingscliffe triathlon race. I’m going to try icing it tonight and tomorrow in the hope it helps. But I’m happy about my mapping expedition. I covered 10km in 2 hours. It’s not far but given the task and the 38’C heat it was just right for me today.

MTB madness

My beast in Bayview forest

It was my sister who found the Brisbane South MTB Club online this week and who suggested we take a ride with them this morning to see whether they’re a good match for us as we prepare for the Adventure Race Australia on 20 May. Neither of us has much MTB experience and this will be a big part of the race (up to 35km of it). I’m also training for the Tre-X off-road triathlon series next summer. So rather that try to teach ourselves we’ve looked at our options: MTB training courses, joining a club or winging it. While MTB training courses are probably great for learning skills in an intensive way, just going once or twice probably won’t help us with confidence and the cost of classes is relatively high. We looked at the BSMC website and saw they have beginners’ rides every weekend.

My sister, her 6 year old son and I loaded our bikes in her car this morning and took off to Daisy Hill Forest Park for the club’s one hour beginners’ ride. My sister and I were the only beginner adults with the rest being kids aged between about 8 and 15. There were three experienced adult riders with them and they never made me feel silly for being such a beginner (the kids could have ridden laps around me skills-wise). We rode for an hour along some simple technical single track trails and the ride leader gave me some fantastic basic tips, such as when to stand on the pedals and when to sit, and how to take corners.

After our hour ride, I went home to my sister’s house, which is on the other side of the Bayview bushland reserve from my home. The running club I am with often run through the trails in Bayview so I decided that I would map the trails for them so that everyone can enjoy their trail running without worrying about getting lost.

Enjoying my ride

So after a short rest at my sister’s house I got on my beaten up old mountain bike and headed off into the Bayview bushland reserve to start my mapping project. Over the course of the next hour I rode the tough fire trails around the outer edges of the reserve. The hills in Bayview are serious and I had to walk up and down two that were particularly steep. I tried to apply some of the skills I learned at the BSMC ride this morning. By the time I got home I was exhausted – unsurprisingly given that it was 33’C outside and because I’d been out riding my MTB for 2 hours. It was a good exhausted though.

This afternoon I’m off to a 2 hour Parkour training session in the city. But first some lunch and a short rest.

Total: 2 MTB sessions:

  1. 6km in an hour (skills focus – so lots of stop and start)
  2. 9.7km in an hour (lots of hills)