Welcome to the Blog of Karl Alexander - Ironman Triathlete, Road Racing Cyclist and Runner.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Journey to Kona

On 23rd August at 19:55 my partner and I welcomed the birth of a healthy 8lb 4oz daughter and I knew that training for Kona was going to be a lot tougher managing not only the training but the demands of a newborn and the boundless energy of my 3 year old.
After the initial change to my training schedules, I began to train earlier in the day thus leaving time for my family later in the day. On September 6th, we were given news that would mean a change to our plans both in the short and long term.
The diagnosis of our newborn daughter having a rare metabolic condition called Medium Chain Acyl CoA Dehyrogenase Deficiency or MCADD was a huge shock and will mean that in the coming weeks we will become regulars at our local hospital and Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children.
People with MCADD lack an enzyme responsible for the break down of medium chain fats. During times of prolonged fasting such as during illness the body will utilise fat to provide fuel to the body. MCADD sufferers can break down fats partly but not completely and is held up at the medium chain fat step, where the enzyme is not present, this then causes a build up of toxic substances that may lead to futher serious symptoms.
With this diagnosis, and after conversation and discussion with my family and friends I have taken the decision to withdraw from the 2011 Ironman World Championships, to concentrate my time and energy on my family whilst we make the changes necessary to accomadate my daughters needs. This has not been an easy decision for me, the last 2 years of my life have been spent with this goal in mind but my family will always take priority.
To those people that have helped and supported me during my season I am thankful for your help and apologise to you that I will not be representing you all in Hawaii, but hope you understand why I have arrived at this descision.
The upshot of this is simple, I have unfinished business, I will return to Ironman racing and I will qualify for Kona again and I will go and I will... you fill in the blank!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Reflections of 2010

It’s fair to say that my 2010 season has definitely been my best in Tri so far, OK I only have had 2 full seasons in the sport, but the results compared to last year significantly better. I use the term result not only as a marker of my overall finishing position but also for timings over the same courses.

I started 2010 with the same race as 2009, The Beaver Middle Distance. A Middle-Distance Tri allows me to gauge my fitness as I run up to Ironman UK and highlights any areas that require attention, this year was clear, I was losing on the run which led to a significant increase in run training which still wasn’t evident at Ironman UK 70.3, a race I hadn’t done since 2006, but crossing the finish line over 20 minutes quicker than in 2006 was definitely good for my morale and confidence. I also qualified for Clearwater, but with my sights set on Kona, I turned down my slot, placing all my eggs in one basket.

About a month out from IMUK my form started to come good and I was really making leaps and bounds in all three disciplines, this was demonstrated when I won the opening race of the MKCA Corley Cycles Summer Series Criterium with a lone break with about 15 minutes and 5 laps to go, I built a lead of nearly a minute which the chasing group couldn’t shut down.

My times in the pool and on the run were also tumbling and I knew I could go under the hour for the swim at IMUK and for the first time was confident that I would be close to 3 hours for the marathon.

You can read my IMUK 2010 race report here.

The disappointment of missing Kona was very noticeable, and for a few days I was hell to be around, but gradually the disappointment was replaced with interest as I began to dissect my performance and see what went wrong. Off the back of this analysis I decided to do a few more races, taking 2nd at the openwaterswim.co.uk Aquathon and 3rd place at The BustinSkin Middle (Report here).

In 2009 I closed my season with the Frieth Hilly 10k and the Marlow Half Marathon, and decided that they would also close my 2010 season with the addition of the Rugged Radnage 10k. These races were only pencilled onto the calendar as the back problems that hampered me at the BustinSkin Middle were still rearing there ugly head.

My performance at Frieth showed my running was still strong and 6th place against the local runners just coming into X-Country form was a good marker, my time was around 20 seconds slower than last year but a last minute route change by the organisers increased the race by around 300 meters which meant I was quicker than in 2009. Heading into the finish at Frieth pictured left.

The 3 weeks between Frieth and the Marlow Half Marathon were characterised by zero training, I mean none! Not once did I venture outdoors with the intention of elevating my heart rate, why? Because my back was in agony, so I spent my time stretching and performing self-massage (the type that doesn’t have a happy ending!!).

As I drove with Helen to the race I was optimistic that I would be able to finish in the top 10, the severe lack of toilets with a que that was biblically long meant I was scrambling to get ready as the runners were being called to the start line. I set off at a fairly even pace and was running in second place for the first mile, I was caught by a guy from Chiltern Harriers who must of thought this was a 10k and passed Add Imageme I decided not to get drawn into a battle and let him go and continued on in third place until mile 6 when I was caught and overtaken by two guys, my lack of training was showing and before long I’d faded into 8th position but as I crested the final hill I saw my 10k friend from early on and focussed on him as a target with a mile to go I had passed him and was in 7th place, I hung on for grim death and forced every last ounce of energy from my body, crossing the line in 1:21:26 I was surprised and elated to have finished in a time quicker than last years.

Next stop Radnage for a 10k X-Country jaunt then it’s racing season over for 2010, and a well earned break before I start training for my assault on 2011!

To all that supported me, my partner Helen and our beautiful daughter, my friends/training partners – Alex, Dave, Rob, Russ and Joel and of course my sponsors Tri UK, a huge thank-you and see you in 2011.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bike Training - The Alexander Method

For those of you that read my blog regularly or if you train with me, you will be aware that I am a bike specialist, utilising my key strength to propel me through the field after the swim to build a significant advantage over my competition entering the run. I will also take this early opportunity to reveal I come from a strong cycling background and have been the bearer of an Elite Road Racing License. Indeed even this year, I won the first of the opening round of the Corley Cycles MKCA Summer Series.

In this blog, I'll take you though a normal off-season training week or what might be referred to as base training.

After my final race of the year, I usually take a few weeks away from training all together, in fact last year it was closer to four weeks as I did nothing at all in December except attend Christmas and New Year parties and drink way to much! But those weeks off are what set me up for the rigours of the new season.
During December, I will plan my racing year looking at which events I want to do well in and then choosing races that will allow me to assess my fitness leading to the big race or as it's known in coaching terms, my 'A' race.

This year I chose: The Beaver Middle Distance, IMUK 70.3 and my 'A' race of IMUK.

So, with IMUK the main focus, I'll look to begin my long training rides in January aiming to complete 3-4 hours in the saddle which can mean riding up to, and in some cases, over 80 miles. Now, this is where I do things slightly differently, most coaches, training guides etc. would recommend rides up to 6 or even 7 hours in duration, I on the other hand rarely exceed 90 miles in training. With 90 miles being the longest ride I do, the shortest are still around 50 miles long. How my training differs is that as the year progresses I look to complete these rides faster and faster, using the same courses to gauge and assess my fitness.

That means the majority of my training rides are done well above my target race pace of 20mph (I averaged 19.9mph at IMUK) with the average speed being in the region of 21.5mph. Of course training at this intensity constantly is not recommended but it works for me, every once in a while I will ride for several hours at my target race pace and it feels comfortable bordering easy, which means I still feel fresh(ish) for the run.

I do intend do things differently next year however, now that Helen has returned to work, I have resumed my role as full-time Dad, part-time athlete! But the changes are already afoot, I have for the first time obtained a turbo trainer which I intend to use before every training run for at least 45 minutes to improve my running efficiency off of the bike, will it work? Only one way to find out! Sunday's will be the domain of the century ride, which this year will be done in accordance with a Heart Rate Monitor to control my efforts. But, where possible I will continue to train with intensity over shorter distances which will most likely take the guise of Criterium Racing at the Hillingdon Winter Series.

My results this year have revealed a glimpse of what I am capable of, if I commit to a more structured and organised training schedule, my 2010 results were achieved off of the back of an average training week of about 12 hours, so if I can increase my training and continue to absorb it as I have been then 2011 will be a very exciting year for me

Monday, 30 August 2010

100 Mile Run Week

The idea of the 100 mile run week is borrowed from fellow Ironman Triathlete Russ Cox who wrote about his experience here. With the bike leg being my strength, I am keen to develop my running both fresh and off the bike, using the 100 mile run week and over-reaching prior to my last race of the season seemed like a good idea...

Monday – Run 1 15.00mi/24km

The first run of the week and I was keen to get going, using the Wycombe Half Marathon course as a template for my route, I set off at IM race pace (6:51/mi) and felt comfortable for the duration. Towards the end, I began to feel an all too familiar sensation of tightening on the outside of my left knee, a brief stop to stretch out my quads and hamstrings and the tightness subsided leaving me to finish the run in relative comfort.

Monday – Run 2 5.39mi/8.7km

Having arranged a ride for Wednesday with Russ, I wanted to get a few miles in the bank in the event I was too knackered to run off the bike. So a quick gallop around The Rye bought my Monday total up to 20.39 miles leaving just 79.61 miles to go.

Tuesday – Run 3 16.38mi/26.36km

I had intended to use my regular long run route for this one and was going to be joined by my friend Alex, riding his MTB to keep me company and carry some fluids for me. However, all did not go to plan as Alex called me to explain that whilst changing a puncture on his bike he'd managed to somehow buckle his wheel quite badly?!?! Since a large percentage of the planned route was off-road it wouldn't allow him to ride his road bike so, I quickly planned a new route using some of the quieter roads so he could still ride with me. Heading out towards West Wycombe, I began to see the error in my hasty planning as I began to notch up what would be 1,053ft of climbing by the end of the run.

Wednesday – Bike with Russ 124mi/199.56km

As I had called the first route we rode together it seemed fitting that Russ should choose the second, nearly 7 hours after leaving the house I was riding home soaked to the skin muttering under my breath about the insane distance I'd just ridden! On a positive note I later learnt that Russ had punctured shortly after we parted company so not all bad!! By the time I had gotten home my run mojo had vanished so I decided to drink coffee and sit on the sofa instead.

Week to date: 36.77mi leaving 63.23mi to go...

Thursday – Run 4 15.12mi/24.33km

By choosing not to run the previous day I had left my self a daunting challenge of running a minimum of 15.8mi for the remaining days. I felt the safest way to tackle this was to run twice a day, 1 longer run followed by a shorter 'recovery' run to give me the desired mileage by the end of the week. Through the course of the week so far I seemed to be absorbing the miles well and the average pace from this run (6:40/mi) confirmed that I was still going strong.

Thursday – Run 5 5.42mi/8.72km

For my second run I followed the same route as Monday's second run, my legs we're feeling quite heavy for this one and I kept looking back to see if I was inadvertently towing a car behind me! As I ran the final stretch to home, my legs began to ease up and I started to flow and feel relaxed, pity I was at my doorstep!!

Friday – Run 6 10.76mi/17.32km

For the second time this week, I was joined by my friend Alex, but this time he would be running not riding after I had assured him that the purpose of these runs was about distance not about speed we set off. I must confess I enjoyed having someone with me again, and we chatted as we ran, as we approached the 6 mile point, Alex's recent injury and subsequent lack of run training meant he was finding it hard going so we agreed that he would slow down and jog and I would do a few laps of The Rye to make up my mileage.

Friday – Run 7 5.41mi/8.71km

I decided to keep the second run of the day a constant route as, by this stage, I wanted to know exactly where I was in mileage terms and how far I had left to go. I was beginning to find the week hard, not just physically but mentally too.

Saturday – Run 8 10.25mi/16.50km

With a 6 hour shift at work today, I had to get out the door early to give Helen a chance to get to the gym before I went to work, using my alarm clock which also doubles as my daughter I was up at 6:30. I woke with the feeling that I was about to go down with a bug and since Isabelle had had a cold all week I knew the likely source! Still, no time to mope, I got out the door and started off. I found the first few miles pretty tough going as my legs we're a little tender but I soon settled into a comfortable pace which would see me run an average 6:29/mi pace.

Week to date: 83.73mi leaving 16.27mi in keeping with Russ' original Lydiard inspired week that left one long run to finish the week...

Sunday – ZERO – SICK AS A DOG!!

I didn't do it, I never achieved the 100 mile target. But I don't feel bad, I have learnt that I am able to absorb a significant amount of run training without serious negative effect, and as I write this my legs feel good, actually they feel great. The process of over-reaching on my run training has had a positive outcome despite a bad end to the week. Will I attempt it again? Probably not. Will I run 80 miles in a week again? Yes, very much so! By blind luck, I think I've stumbled on my magic mileage!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Solid V's Liquid: Fuelling an Ironman

A practice that’s on the increase, especially with Professional Triathletes, is a liquid only fuelling strategy whilst on the bike. With athletes obtaining all the calories and nutrients required from fluids with a few additional energy gels are carried just in case the athlete feels in need of a few extra calories.

But for those of us not lucky enough to have Nutritional Supplement endorsement deals, is it a viable option whilst racing an Ironman?

Firstly, let’s look at what is available to athletes at aid stations at an Ironman event, in the UK we are given the choice of Gatorade and water distributed in 700ml bike bottles (handy if you have a compact or small frame!!) as our fluid options and Powerbar Performance bars in various flavours as our ‘solid’ fuel. The run course aid station menu’s are slightly larger offering Powerbar Gels, again in various flavours, Gatorade, Water, flat cola and bananas. You will also have the option of your ‘special needs’ bag should you require any additional items.

So let’s look at the nutritional values of the items available on the bike course:


Calories per 100ml/100g


106kj (25kcal)/100ml


0kj (0kcal)/100ml

Powerbar Performance Bars

1528kj (365kcal)/100g

In a 700ml bike bottle there is potentially 742kj or 175kcal. The bars are always handed up to athletes cut in half, each full bar weighs 60g so the calories available from 30g (half a bar) is 458kj or 124kcal.

Let’s assume that the average athlete will require in the region of 3,000 to 4,000kcals for the bike section of an Ironman so an athlete would have to consume between 300 to 750 kcals per hour based on your size, racing experience, training, weather conditions, and food tolerance whilst exercising.

Following a fluid only nutritional strategy would require between 1.3 and 3.2 litres of fluid per hour of competition, if only using the provided fluid option of Gatorade. When we consider what is required to stay hydrated during competition you should be aiming to drink 150-250ml every 15 minutes to offset fluid losses which would equate to only 1 litre of fluid. Now, I’m sure I am not alone in not having a bladder the size of a space-hopper so to effectively fuel on fluids only isn’t looking like a great option if you rely solely and what is available at aid stations.

There is also the potential threat of Hyponatraemia which can come from excessive drinking, firstly, urine production is decreased during excercise which seriously limits the body’s ability to excrete excess fluids and secondly, sodium is lost in sweat making it easier for what sodium is left in the body to become diluted. In milder forms Hyponatraemia causes bloating and nausea, and in more serious cases can lead to headaches, confusion, loss of coordination and even death.

So is it possible to fuel an Ironman on only fluids? Well, yes it is as long as the fluids you are consuming have a higher concentration of calories available. But if you’re reliant on aid stations this will not be the case and a nutritional strategy based upon fluids and performance bars should be employed to ensure you can go the distance.

Friday, 20 August 2010

No time to Tri

The thing with living is that life often gets in the way, especially when it’s something you really, really want to do! Like most full-time age groupers and indeed some professionals in order to make ends meet I have to work, and occasionally like last week, the opportunity to put in a few more hours and earn a little extra presents itself.

Triathlon is an expensive sport, not just race entry fee’s but even the training can be expensive, with pool costs, consumable equipment (tyres, tubes etc.) and sports nutrition products forever munching away at your hard earned pennies.

We all know that training for any endurance event is time consuming, the very nature of the events dictates it, but what happens when you can’t put the desired time in? How do you feel about having to miss a week due to work or family commitments?

But forced rest periods don’t have to be a bad thing, by using the time constructively by, for example, reviewing season goals or allowing some aches or niggles the chance to recover you’re more likely to return to training with your ‘mojo’ cup brimming over.

This week, I’ve hardly done any training of real significance, last Sunday after my Dad had departed, it was a family trip to IKEA to buy some flat pack Swedish crap that I’d been promising for months but kept putting off, I was lucky that between getting back and heading out for Sunday lunch with Helen’s parents I was able to get a session in on the Turbo, one my favourite workouts when time is at a premium is following a 10 min warm up I spend 10 minutes at threshold pace followed by 2 minutes rest, then 8 minutes at threshold, 2 minutes rest dropping the time spent at threshold by 2 minutes each time giving the workout the rather unimaginative title of ‘The 10 to 2’ workout which if followed by a 10 minute cool-down lasts one hour.

But with my time seriously limited, I’ve been able to spend some time planning my training for the rest of the year, entering races and of course writing for this very blog. With Helen off on her summer holiday (she’s a school teacher) we’ve been able to spend some time in the gym training together, something we don’t often get to do. We put our daughter into the Sports Centre’s Crèche facility and get an hour in together before I head off to work.

So time away from training doesn’t have to mean time away from triathlon, whether its planning or preparing the remainder of your season or engaging in some light stretching or core work, applying the ‘Tetris’ principle and fitting things in where you can you will eliminate the frustration of not getting out the door.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Ironman Transition

In the UK, both Ironman branded events require athletes to rack their equipment the day before the race, with the large numbers of participants and the early morning start to these events it makes perfect sense. However, over the short time I’ve been racing I see the same ‘rookie errors’ being made time and again, in this blog entry I’ll walk through my set-up for the race.

Once I have arrived at the race venue and have registered my attention turns to my equipment and packing my transition bags, at both UK events you are handed three coloured bags, blue, red and white.

The Blue bag is for your bike kit and mine always contains the following items: Helmet, Sunglasses, Cycling Shoes and an Energy Gel.

The Red bag is for your run kit and I have: Trainers, Sock, a Visor and an energy gel.

The White bag is for the clothing you require once you have finished the event, as a rule I pack short’s, a hoodie, casual trainers and a Recovery Shake to drink (see previous blog).

Once the bags are sorted, it’s time to assemble the bike and check it’s still in working order. During transportation to an event, sudden braking or cornering may have caused things in your vehicle to shift around and hit your bike. A hard knock to the rear derailleur hanger for example can cause problems with gear changes, so it’s best to identify any problems early and if necessary make use of the official bike mechanics at the event. Prior to the event, I will have cleaned, inspected and serviced my bike to minimise the potential for a mechanical problem.

At this stage, I don’t worry about tyre pressure or placing energy drinks onto the bike, this can wait until the following morning, there is little point in inflating your tyres up to 120psi to find that the weather on race day requires you to run a lower pressure or worse the air has expanded within the tyre and caused the inner tube to explode. The same is true of energy drinks. On nearly all self-mix energy drink powders it will say ‘Once prepared keep cool and consume within X hours.’ Yet time and again I see athletes putting their drink onto the bike the day before in direct sunshine for, in some cases up to 18 hours before the start.

On race morning, I always follow the same sequence with my bike. Inflate tyres to a pressure appropriate for the course and weather conditions, place my energy drinks onto the bike and then with an old cloth wipe and moisture from my drive train (chain, derailleur etc) and re-lubricate. Even if it hasn’t rained overnight there is usually enough moisture in the air for a light dew to settle on the bikes.

Many athletes choose to rack their bikes with the shoes already located into the pedals, and this is an excellent speed tip, if you can do it! My partner, Helen, has seen on numerous occasions athletes falling foul of this technique and either falling off or spending an age trying to get their feet into the shoes. If you are going to use this method then practice, practice and practice some more until it is second nature. I personally choose to put my cycling shoes on in T1 and running in them to the mount line before clipping in, and since I do this every time I ride, I can do it without a fuss and pass many athletes still fiddling with their shoes once I’m off.

However, at the end of the bike I remove my feet from the shoes and pedal last few metres with my feet on top of the shoes before dismounting, this allows me to run to transition barefoot and gives my legs a chance to adjust to running.

Once into T2 it’s socks on, trainers on and depending on the weather, visor on and off out onto the run course.

This is how I approach transition and it works, for me! At IMUK I had the 35th fastest T1 and 76th fastest T2 not world beating but not slow either, my fast, relaxed approach meant I was able to stay calm and focussed for the entire day.