Paul May

Oxford to Brighton, Weeknotes

18 August 2014

A week of solid progress on work projects; things are starting to get very interesting - that point of a project where big chunks start knitting together.

I trained lightly this week. I'm starting to plan ahead for the winter, and have just been trying to keep things ticking over. I'd like to focus on swimming and running this winter.

The week culminated in a long cycle from Oxford to Brighton, and then a lovely weekend in Brighton. The cycle should have been about 160K, but between meandering and free-form navigation, it ended up being 192K door-to-door, and about 7.5 hours on the bike. The journey wasn't particularly tough on the legs, but the constant navigation was mentally taxing. I was glad to get off the bike.

The weekend in Brighton was very nice; it's a really interesting town. Charming, hip, and a little faded around the edges; a mix of seaside tack and a graphic designer insurgency. Definitely somewhere I'd like to explore more. We stayed in a lovely AirBnB just outside the town. Highly recommended; incredibly friendly host, wonderful breakfast.

What else. Took lots of photos, saw people kitesurfing in the middle of a bloody gale. Ate fish and chips.

Successful week.

Paul May is a researcher and interaction designer from Dublin, Ireland. Keywords include: triathlon, photography, cooking, technology, health, data, society, media.

Do Anything, Eat Anything

10 August 2014

It's feen a fun week. I raced my first triathlon in 5 years last weekend. As this was my only priority race for the year (I'll maybe do one other triathlon before focusing on winter training), I've allowed myself a week of rest, eating anything I want, doing whatever. It's been nice. I've gained just over 1Kg in a week, which is hilarious and terrifying.

I took the time that I would have spent training fixing up my blog a little. I wanted to try some new typography, and a more flexible structure. The paint is still wet, but I am excited to be rummaging around and trying some new things. I get to prototype things at work quite a bit, but it's nice to work on my own little place on the web, even if I only have time to make something very simple.

Cliona is doing great. We are now just 10 weeks away from the birth of our first child. We don't know if it's going to be a boy or a girl, and as such, haven't decided on a name, or even a shortlist of names. We'll probably think more about that over the next few weeks. What's certain is that the baby is kicking and wriggling around like it can't wait for the transition to land-mode.

My sister-in-law, Michelle, got engaged to her boyfriend Kevin today. My sister-sister, Louise, has started sending out invitations to her own wedding in October. It's all very lovely.

Work is going well. My team is really working hard, and solving some very challenging problems. We need more people; so if you're a software engineer, interaction designer, or otherwise good at building things for the web, please get in touch.

The weather here has started to turn a little chillier, a little gloomier. I want to wring what's left out of the summer, so this week I'd like to spend some time out on the bike. Hopefully the weather cooperates.

London Triathlon Race Notes

10 August 2014

I took up triathlon in 2006 on a whim. A work colleague was racing the Chicago Triathlon to raise money for charity, and he wanted others to race with him. I took up the sport, raced in Chicago, and continued to train and race for a couple of years. Having done little sport or exercise before then, finding a sport that I enjoyed was a revalation to me. It had a hugely positive impact on my life.

In New York, I flirted with the idea of running a marathon. I did more running than I had ever before, but when I tried to ramp up my distance, my ankles and knees gave way, and I was forced to stop all running, and any training involving force or impact on my legs. At first, being injured was depressing and frustrating, not to mention sore. After a while, I got used to it. That was two years ago.

In January this year, prompted by our move to training-friendly Oxford, I decided to try some regular exercise again. I just tried to get back in shape without putting too much impact on my still-grumbling joints. I joined a triathlon club. I spent quite a bit of time cycling (indoor and outdoor), and got back into the swimming habit. I set myself a goal of completing a triathlon in 2014. Finishing the London Triathlon, a race I did way back in 2007, seemed like a nice, specific target.

In June, after a few months of good training, I set myself a more specific goal of finishing the race faster than I had in 2007. My time in 2007 was 2 hours 31 minutes; not terrible for a race that is roughly international distance.

In the weeks coming up to this year's race, knowing that I wouldn't be able to coast on the energy of my 20's, I made a very detailed race plan, based on a template described by Joe Friel.

I decided that I would actually race, rather than just aim to finish. I wouldn't set out to race other people, but I'd push as hard as I could. This might sound obvious, but when I raced before, my only real thought was to finish - never to push hard, or hit a specific set of goals.

I set a goal time for the whole race of 2 hours 30 minutes. I knew that this was feasible at a stretch, based on my training times. I set secondary goals for each segment of the race. Setting secondary goals was really a new idea to me, but it makes a lot of sense. The thinking goes that if you get a puncture on the bike, you are probably not going to make your goal for the whole race. You might still run a good 10K, so having that secondary goal to focus on is very positive.

The target times made up a small part of my race plan. I planned out my race week training and preparation in detail. I planned my diet in the run up to the race, so that I would maintain my weight while my training was tapering down. I planned my activities on the morning of the race, how I'd set up my transition area, and then I made specific notes about each segment of the race.

For the swim, I decided where I'd line up at the start, and what I'd do in each 500m section. For the bike, I decided on a target cadence and heart rate range - things I can control accurately, unlike my speed - which can be hard to maintain in windy weather. For the run, I set a target heart range and a target pace per kilometre, and made notes about my running form - which can get messy when I'm tired.

I read the whole race plan once a day in the week coming up to the race. On the morning of the race I was still nervous, but having the plan took a lot of the stress out of the small decisions; what gear to check, when to eat, what to eat, where to go etc.

Just before 3pm, my wave assembled in the Excel Centre, and a few minutes later we were in Victora Basin, starting the swim. The first 500m was rougher than I had thought it was going to be. There was plenty of space to swim, but I wheezed and strained, and felt like I was drowning. I resorted to some breast stroke to get my breath back, and got passed by a lot of guys. Once I passed the first buoy, my lungs opened up and I got into a good rhythm. I stuck close to the inside line, and navigated a straight line to the second turn. I passed a good few people, and got out of the water feeling good. There was a small hiccup when I pulled my timing chip off my leg with my wetsuit; thankfully I noticed, and got it back on again.

The transition to bike was fairly smooth. For the first time, I attached my shoes to my bike, and tried a rolling mount, albeit at low speed. I got away without a fuss, and got my feet into the shoes after about 100m.

I really went as hard as I could on the bike, without going into the red. I kept up a high cadence in my target heart range, and thankfully the conditions allowed me to get up to a good speed. I took on about 500ml of energy drink, and two gels on the bike. Unlike previous races, eating on the bike felt essential. I could really feel the difference at the end of the bike; sore, but not out of energy.

After two laps, I pulled into transition, but got confused and wasted time talking to the race marshals. The bike course is a bit shorter than advertised, and this threw me. I spent easily 3 minutes trying to work out if I had missed a segment of the course. I was still thinking about this, and worrying about being disqualified, well into the run.

The confusion over the bike distance had a negagive impact on the first lap of my run. My concentration had gone a bit, and instead of going out hard in the first lap, I dawdled and paid far too much attention to the pain in my legs. Once I had warmed up my running muscles, the rest of the run was fine. I had plenty of energy in the last lap, and finished strong.

My time for the race was 2:20:02, nearly 10 minutes inside my target time. Here are some more details:

On the day I was really thrilled with my time. I am still very happy that I met my goals, but I have a few questions about the length of the bike course on the day, and on reflection, I know that I could have done better in all sections of the race with more training. I'm happy with my age group place, which is decent given the number of participants.

This week I've spent quite a bit of time thinking back over the race, and have some specific areas to focus on:

I'm hoping that these notes serve me well as I think about doing more races, and face into my first full winter of training in 5 years. I want to keep it fun and challenging, then come back in the Spring with a plan to do more races. I might do London again next year, just to see if I can translate what I learned this year into a better performance.

More than anything, I'm very happy to be back doing a sport I love, after having very nearly thrown in the towel completely. I want to say a special thank you to Cliona who is always there for me when I'm pushing myself, and who gave me amazing support on the day of the race.