Everything changes, everything stays the same…

What’s new?

Coach – Dave Newport and Mark Jones

Dave @snoozeport Newport’s no nonsense approach is getting my off-season run training bang on track. To be honest I have rested on my laurels with running over the past few seasons relying on my background as a half decent runner back in the day… but losing places on the triathlon run leg (or not making up as much ground as I thought I should..) really started to nark me last season, so I decided to do something about it. Getting back into structured run training was a bit of a shock to the system, with run pacing all over the place depending on fatigue from the bike and swim and whether my running legs decided to show up that day or not. I’m not where I want to be yet…. but Dave will make sure I’m heading in the right direction.. (even though I still get lost on an out-and-back route)!

I’m  also starting specific bike work with Mark Jones @therealmcjonesy this month. Mark is a drag2zero team mate and pretty rapid rider himself having ridden 18mins for 10miles. Being a very intelligent guy he takes a individualised approach to cycling, prescribing sessions that tap into your physiology. Really looking forward to getting in for physiological testing with Mark and Richard Baskerville at Oxford Uni at the end of this month – I’ll blog about it after the visit – it’s going to be pretty unique stuff and drill down into what kind of athlete I am and what type of training I’ll respond to best. Cool stuff.

Work – Performance Chef

IMG_8416

Because there’s life outside of training and because triathlon doesn’t pay the bills (yet….) I’m doing some consultancy work for a new bespoke sports nutrition company Performance Chef. Performance Chef is the brainchild of michelin star chef (retired) Alan Murchison who also knows a bit about being pro amateur elite at duathlon too! It’s about taking your training plan and building a meal plan around it. To be honest my main role is chief recipe taster so you will be glad to know that any meal on your Performance Chef nutrition plan is vickstertri approved.

IMG_8778

Habits – Yoga

For ages I have been told yoga is good for you but I’ve never really got it. It all seemed like a bit of a waste of time and being an unflexible runner type most of the postures out there on instagram just looked painfully unattainable. I quite liked the idea of the whole relaxation and getting tuned into your body thing so when I recently moved house I started going along to a yoga class run by former elite marathon/ultra runner Michaela McCallum. Being in a class full of mostly runners rather than scarily bendy yogis made all the difference. Suddenly I wasn’t the crap one at the back struggling with the simplest of postures while everyone else contorted themselves into pretzels or whatever the heck those postures are called, there were other people there just as useless as me…  and yes I know yoga isn’t a competitive sport but it’s hard not to compare sometimes. Even though my Monday night yoga class is often the hardest session of my week, it is also the one that makes me feel the best about myself and my body. Total yoga convert – thanks Michaela.

IMG_8530

Home – Winchester

Having made my home in Devon for the past few years, the end of 2015 saw a massive upheaval and relocation to Winchester in Hampshire. While I felt spiritually at home in Devon and will always treasure my time spent there, it was tough not to feel isolated sometimes and as an athlete it was logistically challenging. As a pro athlete needing to travel quite extensively to race it often added an extra day of travel pre and post race affecting prep and recovery. Major life changing circumstances prompted the relocation to the green hills of Winchester – the hot bed of running and triathlon talent –  counting 4 huskies, Simone Dailey, India Lee and Louise Damen as fellow residents.

IMG_7715

 

What stays the same?

Swim Coach – SwimForTri Dan Bullock

Really proud to continue my association with SwimForTri’s swim guru Dan Bullock. Dan really is the best in the business and though I often test his patience to the limits he continues to inspire and motivate me to keep working at my swimming. We’re hoping 2016 will finally be the year to break 60min for the ironman swim having been stuck around 61/62mins for the past few seasons. Swimming will never be my strong point but with the aim of damage limitation and enjoyment I can’t fail!

Sponsors – Drag2zero, SwimForTri and speedo, Powerbar, Brooks running, Velotech 

If it aint broke don’t fix it. Loyalty is very important to me and in 2016 I will continue to build on successful  relationships with people and brands who have backed me from the word “go”. I am very happy to have retained these sponsors and look forward to representing them to the best of my ability this season. Keep an eye on twitter and my blog for new product reviews over the season. Next up is a blog on how to train for a triathlon (aimed at accomplished runners and newbies alike) on the Brooks running website.

IMG_7436

 

Training camps

Next up is SwimForTri training camp at Club La Santa in late Jan/early Feb. This will be my 5th, 6th or 7th trip to the island – I lose count – but Lanzarote never loses it’s magic.

 

 

Heads up on upcoming races…

Powerman Mallorca, a fast half marathon attempt and an early season 70.3 feature in my plans. Full schedule TBC soon.

If Plan A doesn’t work out the alphabet has 25 more letters….

A lot can happen in three weeks.

A DNF at my Plan B race Ironman Copenhagen on August 23rd (following a DNS at my Plan A race – Challenge Roth – earlier in the season due to illness) and I was starting to think an iron distance race in 2015 just wasn’t to be.

So what went down in Copenhagen? Quite simply – I forgot about the process and focussed only on the end result. I wanted a PB, which is why I chose this race in the first place and I put pressure on myself to go out and get it. To cut a long story short – my swim was slow (1:04), bike split fell short of expectations (5:09) and I managed about 10k of the run before getting hauled off the course by a race doc after being deemed unfit to continue. In my head I’d envisioned a sub-60min swim, sub 5hr bike and then emptying the tank with a low 3 hour run. What went wrong? Conditions certainly played a part, the swim was tough and congested, the wind was screaming past me on the bike and the run was hotter than anticipated, Nothing I couldn’t normally handle but I wasn’t in the right mindset to adapt my perfect plan. I pushed too hard on the bike trying to make up time after a sub-par swim ignoring my screaming legs and more crucially my thirst. I held it together for about 3hours until my pace started to drop and my plan crumbled. I rolled into T2 emotionally and physically spent. There must have been something showing in my demeanour because the race medic was right on me in the transition tent asking me to remove my sunglasses so he could see my eyes and kept asking me my name and date of birth. Weirdo, I thought. Of course I know my own name. I assured him I was fine and I continued on my merry way. A few kilometers into the run course I became vaguely aware of being followed by a bike. I thought this was strange because they only usually accompany the top 3 athletes and in my mind I felt like I was in last place in the whole race. Maybe it was the sweeper bike making sure I made the cut-off? Weird thoughts (I was actually 5th place pro at the time…). Turned out it was a member of the medical team assessing me as I ran. I did my best to appear unfazed and run in a straight line but made the mistake of running straight through an aid station – I didn’t feel hot (it was hot) or thirsty (I was massively dehydrated at this point) and when I staggered into a bush on the side of the course it was the final straw. I was pulled from the race. On hearing “race number 35, your race is over” I collapsed on the ground a mixture of disappointment, confusion, anger and finally relief (and guilt that I felt relieved) enveloping me. It was over. My first trip in an ambulance and a post-race IV later and the ordeal was done. Then there was the emptiness of unfulfilled goals and failure. If you’re an athlete, I’m sure you’ve been there at some point but you never get used to it. It’s the flip side to success and it hurts.

So. What next? I briefly considered shutting my season down. Briefly. But I knew I had something left in the tank and I wanted to go out and use it. Plus I knew stewing over a DNF over the winter would not be a healthy thing for me so I set to work searching out a Plan C. Challenge Weymouth landed right in my lap. It was the ETU long distance champs and being a home race it was the perfect solution – minimal travel/stress/expense – it was worth one last punt.

Fast forward 3 weeks and I’m standing on Preston beach along with a handful of other pros about to hit the water to start our iron distance day. I felt the usual pre-race nerves but mostly I felt gratitude and excitement that I had a second chance. Self-imposed pressure was replaced by a determination to have fun and enjoy the course – whatever will be, will be…

swim start focus

The swim was 2 x1900m laps in the sea and while the conditions were calm-ish there was a definite swell at the turn buoys. This made sighting a bit tricky but instead of panic like I usually would I kept calm and thought logically about my orientation in the ocean. This kept me mostly on course and I exited the swim in 1:07. And this is where my positive mindset started paying off. Instead of focussing on the time on the clock I used other parameters to judge my swim. I was in 6th place out of the water, 10mins down on the lead pack containing some of the main protagonists but crucially 1min down on Alena Stevens and 1min up on swede Camilla Lindholm (my pick for race favourite). I’d done my homework before this race and had expected to exit the swim in proximity of these two athletes so all was on track. No wallowing in self pity over the time – it didn’t matter – the first leg was over and the real action was about to begin on the bike. I felt fresh exiting the swim so knew I hadn’t wasted any unnecessary energy so got into my cycling right away. Given what happened in Copenhagen my plan on the bike was to ride well within myself, pay utmost attention to feeding and hydrating and very little attention to pace. I rode along in my own little world enjoying riding my bike and the beautiful scenery around Weymouth. I was so switched off from actually racing that it barely registered that I was working my way through the field and was surprised to hear I was up in 3rd place on completion of the first of 2 90k laps. I rode the 2nd lap much the same but because I was feeling so chilled about the whole thing I had to remind myself a few times that I was actually in a race and not out on a Sunday ride which got my arse in gear a bit. I rolled into T2 with a massive grin on my face. I’d eaten all my planned nutrition, hydrated well (notably shouting to my feed station domestique that I’d peed 3x in the first bike lap when questioned about my hydration status) and generally enjoyed being out on my bike. My time of 5:18 was inconsequential at the time but looking at the results after the race I was chuffed to see I’d ridden the 2nd fastest female bike split. There’s a lot to be said for not looking for the race but just letting the race come to you. I left T2 in 2nd/3rd alongside Camilla Lindholm with the race leader 2-3mins down the road. Game on. After exchanging mid-race encouragement Camilla and I got to work – it was every woman for themselves now. The early miles clicked off effortlessly – 7:03, 7:07, 7:09, 7:02, 7:17… I was running faster than the 7:15-7:30 I’d practised in training but my energy levels were good, the gap to first place was closing, Camilla was running away from me…. the racer in me came out and I stopped looking down every time my garmin bleeped and starting to race. I passed half-way in 1:35 in 2nd place to Camilla, held strong for another 5miles or so before my early excitement started to bite. Finally pain had caught up with me. I stopped running away from it and started the process of coexisting with it for that final hour of the race. It was there to stay, the only consolation being that it had taken almost 9hours to catch up with me. In Copenhagen it had been alongside me all day. With pain now accompanying my every move I focussed on sticking to my feeding plan – 2 powerbar hydrogels per lap and and electrolyte bottle from the special needs food station – even this late in the race I was taking no chances. Within sniffing distance of the finish line I was overtaken and demoted to 3rd place. I urged my screaming body to cover the move, which should have been an easy task considering I was plodding along at 8:13 pace but my body refused to respond, laughable now but impossible at the time. That final kilometre was by far the toughest of the whole day. The relief on crossing the finish line was immense. I’d done it! I’d completed my first iron distance race of 2015. Despite fading badly in the second half of the run I put down a 3:22 split. That elusive low 3 run split continues to evade me but the quest for it will continue – I just haven’t got the formula quite right yet.

run weymouth finish

UK anti-doping tests, a light massage and a hot drink later and my achievement started to sink in. I wasn’t astounded like I had been when I won my bronze medal at the ETU champs at Challenge Almere last year. It was more a feeling of relief that I’d executed a race that reflected how I’d been going in training.

At the awards ceremony on Monday it was a surprise to have been promoted to the silver medal position following some ETU technicality. Though I knew I was really 3rd place on the podium it was nice to receive the medal and it planted the seed in my head of completing the collection next year…. To be continued…

podium medal

Challenge Poznan Half – 25th July

Poznan race venue

Challenge Poznan race venue from the air.

A race of many firsts… unfortunately that didn’t include crossing the finish line first but as always these races are almost as much about executing the plan as the end result. Great execution can lead to victory but equally it could all end in a stunning defeat but with many small triumphs along the way. It’s all part of that cliched “journey”…

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 19.32.38

So what were my wins and losses at Challenge Poznan?

Travelling on Friday (2 days before the race as opposed to Thursday as I normally would) leaving little margin for error – loss

Booking a flight with a layover in Frankfurt – loss

Bike lost by Lufthansa in Frankfurt despite 6 hour layover – loss

Writing down address of wrong hotel on lost baggage form – loss

Intercepting bike at airport on Saturday before it got delivered to wrong hotel – win

Stress caused by bike going missing – loss

Dealing with the stress in a fairly civilised way (by Vickster standards) – win

Scicon bike bag damaged in transit – loss

Bike squashed but fixed by race mechanic – win

POLISH FOOD – big traumatic loss

Being resourceful and cooking brown rice noodle in my hotel room – win

Losing my beetroot juice on Friday which was packed in lost bike bag – loss

Finding beetroot juice in local supermarket – win

Drinking whole bottle of beetroot juice not realising it was concentrate – loss

Buying the wrong water in the supermarket (sparking instead of still) about 27 times – loss

Learning Polish. Gazowana means sparkling! – win

Surviving a choppy swim without panicking – win

Swimming a 1900m personal worst – loss

Not being last out of the water – win

Passing people on first lap of the bike – win

Throwing up beetroot juice all over Drag2zero suit and bike – loss

Losing power and getting overtaken on the second lap – loss

Dismounting bike with good run legs despite feeling rough on the bike – win

Overtaking 2 runners in first 5k – win

Swearing on finding out I’m down in 10th place – loss

Momentarily giving up the fight thinking “what’s the point, 10th is crap” – loss

Snapping myself out of my personal pity party within 1km – win

On the chase – win

Overtaking 3 more women by 15k – win

Holding position on last lap when pace started to bite – win

Not giving myself and excuse/opportunity to give up – win

Crossing the finish line as 8th pro smiling – BIG WIN!

Genuinely congratulating people who beat me without thinking bad thoughts in my head – win

Enjoying the post-race fatigue and dwelling more on the positives but learning from the negatives – win

            watersick
Mistakes are an opportunity for learning – only an idiot makes the same mistakes twice. So what would be my advice to people contemplating Challenge Poznan 2016?
1 – Book a direct flight. Even if it’s with Ryanair.
2 – Pack your own food.
3 – Be prepared for a headwind/tailwind bike leg.
4 – Be prepared for a long run leg (the 21km marker is about a km from the finish line…. hmmmm)
5 – Enjoy Poland if you haven’t visited before – they put on a fantastic race!
IMG_6819
Next up – Ironman Copenhagen August 23rd.

On the rebound…

vg indurance

Running around with iron depletion makes you tired, miserable and emotional…. who knew? I do now (as do those around me ha!)

After the sombre tone of my last blog it’s great to be feeling more upbeat. A two week training break to fully recharge my body and soul has worked it’s magic. I’ve come to terms with withdrawing from the bucket list race Challenge Roth and restructured my season to peak later. My revised race plan is looking like this:

26/07  Challenge Poznan (half)

01/08  National 25mile TT

23/08  Ironman Copenhagen

05/09  National 10mile TT

13/09  National closed circuit champs TT

04/10  Ironman Barcelona

Back with a bang….

At the end of my first full week back training I decided to ride the National 100 mile time trial champs. Maybe I was a little optimistic when I initially entered it 3 weeks ago but by the time race day rolled around I was really glad I had. I’d been feeling buoyant all week leading into the race and started to get the sense of my “old self” back. Even so I was aware that so early into the rebuilding process I had to manage my expectations and keep my effort levels in check so I didn’t put myself back to square one. My sole goal for the race was simple – to enjoy riding my bike. However being an analytical person I had a benchmark time in mind, around 4hrs20min depending on the course and race day conditions.

Race day dawned with a little lull in the temperatures we’d become accustomed to over the past couple of weeks and riding down to the start I was actually a bit chilly. I didn’t have time for a course recce but as it was a lapped course I figured I’d use the first lap to do that and then readjust my pacing if need be. The course was pretty straight-forward, mostly straight dual carriageway and some rolling B roads to break the monotony and engage different muscles. I set out strong but controlled then settled into a rhythm for the first half. Watching my garmin I was amused to ride the first 10miles faster than a standalone 10mile TT I raced just a few weeks ago in the depths of my fatigue. I couldn’t believe it, I was hardly breathing, my legs felt great and was really enjoying the ride. Feeding every 15mins alternating Powerbar hydrogel and sips of isomax drink kept me busy and before I knew it I’d passed halfway in 2:08, comfortably inside my initial goal time of 4hr 20min. I started asking myself some questions…

Are you pushing hard enough?

Do your legs have more to give?

Are you holding optimal aero position?

Are you pedaling as efficiently as possible?

Post-ride cake?

And so on….

I raised the effort level a notch while trying to concentrate on the tips gleaned from my drag2zero windtunnel session during the off-season to make myself as aero as possible. The combination of the two meant I closed the second 50miles in 2:03 to ride a totally untroubled 4hrs11min for the 100.5 mile course hitting it totally out of the ballpark. And yes, after riding 100 miles that extra half mile IS significant because it almost screwed with my 24mph average. Not obsessive at all… Another bonus is that my time was good enough to place me 6th overall, another top 10 finish at National time trial champs under my belt.

results 100

What’s funny is that 6 weeks ago, just before I tested for iron depletion, I rode a totally exhausted 25mile TT after which I crawled home and slept for a week. On Sunday I beat that 25mile seasons best 4 times in a row and happily pulled on my running shoes for a brick run off the bike.

Massive lesson to me about the importance of keeping your engine topped up with the right fuel. And a timely reminder to keep on top of my InDurance blood profiling tests going forward.

Feeling fit and healthy is so much more fun.

In other news I’ve been excitedly working on my new website www.vickstertri.com to be launched soon. Watch this space!

“You only need the light when it’s burning low…

Only miss the sun when it starts to snow

Only know you love her when you let her go

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low

Only hate the road when you’re missing home…”

This is what my mid-season wall felt like. I hit it just before Challenge Salou but kept on running into it for another 2 weeks just for the craic.

And I spent the past week knocking it down brick by brick.

I realised I’d got so used to feeling “wrong” that it had started to feel “right.”

After a week of complete rest I no longer feel dizzy when I stand up, I’m no longer constantly freezing, I’m feeling feelings instead of being numb. A friend commented that I’m smiling with my eyes not just my face. I’m sleeping 12 hours a night. My appetite for food, training and life in general has returned.

One of the things I’ve had to learn to be is flexible, which doesn’t come naturally to me. I can’t touch my toes and I am a routine kind of person. I “need” to know what is happening when, why and how and any deviation to my routine spins me out….

I’ve learnt to switch off.

So with my newfound sense of flexibility I have re-written my race schedule, started a new training log and even delayed today’s planned morning ride to the afternoon when the weather is looking better.

As far as my physical health is concerned, I’ve almost finished my course of iron supplements and I’ve noticed my nails and hands are pink instead of their usual sexy bluish-grey. My energy levels have returned along with my taste buds and I’m enjoying good food and cooking.

hand  iron

All in all a very positive rest week.

A lesson to all – keep on top of your mental and physical health because they go hand in hand.

The iron war

Screen shot 2015-06-06 at 11.29.16

9th May Mallorca 70.3

I finished 13th pro in a top class field. The results itself was solid enough, not spectacular but certainly not a disaster. My comment immediately after the was “I’m stoked at with how I battled it out on a heavy legs day. Word of the day was perserverance. Not so long ago I would have binned it off if I wasn’t having a perfect day.” I couldn’t pinpoint a specific issue, I just didn’t feel “right”. Of course I took my bike straight into the bike shop as soon as I got home – my brakes MUST have been rubbing or something right? What other explanation could there be for it to feel so hard?

21st May InDurance blood test

blood

25th May 25mile Time Trial

This was supposed to be one last hard effort and confidence booster ahead of Challenge Salou 6 days later. My cycling had felt pretty laboured leading into the race and I’d put out a couple of sub-par 10mile TTs. Nevertheless I went into this time trial with a positive head on determined to pull out a good result. My bike had been into the bike shop (again!) so I was confident in my equipment. My head didn’t see any logical reason why I should fail to have a good ride. My body thought otherwise. From the first few miles it was immediately apparent that there was a problem. By 5 miles I felt like pulling off the road, by 10 miles I was crying with frustration but hoping I was going uphill into a headwind (I was doing neither), at 15miles I was, quite literally, shouting at my legs, by 25miles I was just grateful to have finished. My rate of perceived exertion was through the roof and my power was through the floor. I am no stranger to the pain of racing, in fact like most endurance junkies I go out looking for it, but this was not good pain. this was banging my head against a brick wall kind of pain.

TT

26th May InDurance blood results

Showed iron depletion and low zinc levels.

27th May InDurance consultation

Dr Will described being iron depleted as running a car with a low fuel tank. You can still drive it but you have to be more conservative or risk breaking down. I made the decision that I still wanted to race Challenge Salou even though I was going into it knowing that my engine was working sub-optimally. While this sounds like a negative approach, it probably saved my race. Being iron depleted means you fatigue faster and have fewer matches to burn throughout the race. We discussed my race plan and decided that in order to be successful I needed to rein in the effort and exertion early on in the race, take on more carbs in the days leading up to the race and during, and back off on training leading up to and after the race.

31st May Challenge Salou 1900m swim – 90k bike- 21k run

Unlike my previous few races, I went into this one knowing what to expect. If I felt rough early on I knew there would no point getting frustrated with myself and pushing harder, I had to calm down and focus on being as efficient as possible and getting myself to the finish line on a high not in a bucket. YOU CANNOT DIG YOUR WAY OUT OF A HOLE! I’m happy to say this approach worked. A swam steady, rode steady and ran steady, at no point pushing myself to the point of fatigue that i’d felt in my previous few races. I took on more carbs than usual (75g/hour) and I felt like I needed every last one of them. I crossed the finish line feeling strong and smiling – for the first time in a few weeks. And my solid day was good enough to place 5th pro in a time of 4:21. Jumping for joy!

salou

Lessons learnt:

1 – Do not leave it too long between tests. My last test was October and my results were all optimal which lulled me into s false sense of security. Your body is constantly renewing itself. Staying healthy is an ongoing process.

2 – Knowing your levels are optimised heading into a race obviously gives you a boost BUT knowing your levels are not optimal does not have to be a negative thing. You can turn it around by knowing how you can adapt your race plan for your body to deliver the best it can on that day. It saves a lot of frustration and sweat and tears.

  1. There were probably many many more iron depleted athletes out there racing but they did not have the knowledge and information to modify their race plan so I had the edge on them. Knowledge is power.
  1. Look after your body as you would your bike. It’s the most important bit of kit you own! I must have taken my bike into the bike shop 6 times before thinking about getting my bloods done!
  1. Racing iron deleted is like swimming with drag shorts on, riding a bike with soft tyres and a rusty chain, and running with lead weights in your shoes. It can be done, it’s not advisable, and I can’t wait to feel back to full gas.

My number one priority right now is to get healthy. Mid-season break then I’ll be back to hit the second half of the season.

Keep in mind, it’s better to be 100% healthy and 95% fit than very fit but ill or injured. Stay on the right side of that line….

Now where’s that steak?… Such a hardship I know….

steak

No news is good news…

As they say “no news is good news” and in this case it rings true… While I’ve been busy transitioning those winter miles into summer smiles I’ve had little time to sit down with a chai and reflect on my blog… So here’s a quick recap.

8th March

I started the 2015 season in the same way as last year with the Cambridge Half Marathon organised by One Step Beyond Events. I chose this opener for two reasons – firstly I had a great race experience here last year (great course, support and flawless organisation) and secondly it gave me an opportunity to chart my progress. Triathlon is always a balancing act for me. I can keep two of the three plates spinning pretty well and one always seems to be crashing down. With a glaring weakness in my armour (swimming) and a developing strength (biking), running often bears the brunt. With a solid grounding in running I’ve rested on my laurels a little bit with it the past few seasons and I found I ticked along OK-ish with minimal focus. While I was not putting out the run splits I wanted or know I’m ultimately capable of, I kept things solid while the swimming and biking played catch-up. You’ve got to work on your weaknesses but you also absolutely have to play to your strengths. I found out “OK-ish” run legs are not going to win races. So over the winter I decided it was time to rediscover some running form and Cambridge Half marathon was the first progress report. While I’d incorporated key workouts into my schedule (mile reps and a progressive treadmill tempo) to test myself, I was mindful of what a running coach once told me “When you plant a bulb you can’t keep digging it up to see how it’s growing, you’ve got to water and nurture it and believe in the process…” So I went into the half-marathon excited to see the fruits of a winter’s work. Having run 1:22:55 here in 2014 and having run an all-time best of 1:13:59 (back in 2004 when I considered myself to be a “proper” runner), I went in with an achievable and realistic target time of 1:18-1:20. 13 x 6:03/mile and 2 x Powerbar hydrogels later I crossed the line in 1:19:04 and 2nd female. First 2015 goal achieved.
IMG_546620x30-CAMG0653-1Cambridge

29th March

The British Elite Duathlon Championships was a last minute addition to my race schedule. It is one of the few opportunities (if not the only chance) to race draft legal duathlon in the UK and being sprint distance (5k run – 20k bike- 2.5k run) it is proper full-on head-to-head style racing. Draft legal sprint duathlon is everything that long distance triathlon is not – fast, on-the-limit, on a road bike and in a whole sea of lactic. While it’s not very specific to big season goals it did serve a purpose – dealing with pre-race nerves, race day routine and practicing transitions under pressure to name a few. A short race is the best HIIT session I can do, that race day magic and my competitive personality (usually so well hidden, I know….) means I can push that little bit harder than I do in training. And I love racing, it’s fun. However, all best laid plans are still at the mercy of the British weather and unfortunately gale-force conditions screwed this one up royally. With winds gusting over 40mph organisers were forced to make a last minute decision to change the race to a 10k run only. Disappointing but unavoidable in the circumstances. The race was pretty dull and unremarkable. After a sedentary first 2.5k, the pace picked up, I didn’t get blown over and I crossed the line in 5th place. A little underwhelming overall but a lesson in dealing with the “uncontrollables” and adapting your mind set and race strategy accordingly.

11th April

The British Elite champs also served as a warm-up race for the European Long Distance Duathlon Championships (10k run – 60k non-drafting bike – 10k run) at Powerman Holland 2 weeks later. This event is hosted annually by the very dutch town of Horst – flat, windy and culinary quirky (brussels sprout omelette anyone?) I’ve competed here the past 2 years with polarised experiences. In 2013 I raced as an age grouper, winning the AG race by 5mins and recording a time that would have placed me 9th in the elite race. The following year I naturally stepped up to the elite ranks but an unfortunately timed course of IV antibiotics during race week put a stop to any race day heroics. Even though I went into the race this year with mixed memories, I was confident in my health and preparation and really felt like I belonged on that elite start line, a real growth area for me. My pre-race goal was to be “in the mix” on the first run as I know being “involved” in the race keeps me motivated. I ran the first 10k in a pack of three (5th-8th place) with 3rd and 4th place in view. I felt really cruisey and my confidence was sky high as I mounted my bike. Out on the windy bike course I was thankful for the time I’d spent in the drag2zero wind tunnel honing my position. A strong bike leg (4th fastest) brought me into transition in about 5th place. I hit the run with good legs, picking off 2 places to move up into the bronze medal position with 2k to go… which is where I’d have quite liked the finish line to be… But as they say “it’s not over until it’s over” and I got over taken, didn’t respond aggressively enough and wound up in 4th place. It was a close fought race (see results below) and instead of dwelling on missing out on a bronze medal (by 9 seconds!) I chose to celebrate my 4th place finish. To be in with a shout of a medal and only 2mins 30sec away from gold firmly planted the seed in my mind that I’m capable of winning this race if things pan out. Pre-season goal was “a top 5 and pushing for the podium” – which is exactly how it played out…

http://www.powerman.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Long_Distance.pdf

HORST2015

25th April

A little unexpected “Brucey Bonus” of placing well at the British Elite Duathlon Champs was gaining selection for the GB elite team for the ETU standard distance Duathlon championships in Alcobendas, Spain (10k run – 40k draft legal bike – 5k run). The last time I competed in anything like this was when I won the age group race at the World Duathlon Championships in Edinburgh back in 2010. Racing in the Elite race theoretically meant a second opportunity at draft-legal racing. I approached the race with my “long distance” athlete head on, focusing on even pacing and economy of effort, totally the wrong strategy in hindsight. You need to well placed after the first run to make that main pack on the bike (or chase VERY hard to bridge the gap in the early few kilometres) neither of which I did particularly well. I ran a steady first 10k, coming to T1 with a small group, took my time getting into the bike, by which time the race had GONE. I rode a frustratingly consistent 40k 1min off the back of the main pack, matching pace but unable to bridge up. My final 5k run was solid yet unremarkable resulting in a 12th place finish. For a race that was not on my pre-season radar I got a positive vibe about the whole experience. I learnt a lot about short course racing, made the most of the opportunity to represent GB and spent the weekend with an amazingly talented group of athletes. Former running buddy and team mate India Lee judged the race to perfection and came away with the bronze medal after a breakaway on the bike – that’s how it’s done!

vicksteralco

Race reporting to be continued…. (with the unfortunate addition of a little bit of swimming…)

 

Freshly Profesh…

I’ve taken a leap of faith…

I’ve left the comfort zone of the not-quite-age-grouper but not-quite-professional-triathlete and have signed up for an Ironman pro licence. For the past few seasons I’ve felt like a bit of an inbetweener – stuck between being a good amateur and a mediocre profesh… the epitome of the “elite amateur triathlete” I suppose. Last season this label was particularly appropriate. I competed as an age-grouper at UK70.3 and IMUK where I placed 4th and 5th overall respectively, in the top couple of AG spots and just about good enough to get in the “pro prize money” as meager as it is. In domestic races I was regularly top female and placed in the top 10 overall including the men (always take pleasure in handing out a good chicking.) I got selected to race for the GB Elite team at the European championships, I met the “elite amateur” requirements of training more hours a week than I worked and yet I didn’t feel comfortable with identifying myself as a profesh triathlete.

In a Q&A at the 220 Triathlon Show last weekend I was asked why I’d waited until now to make the switch to racing pro even though I’d satisfied the “criteria” back in 2013. Thought provoking.

In triathlon I’ve always found the concept of having to buy a licence and declare yourself “pro” a bit of a strange one. It sits uncomfortably with me. What kind of statement does it make? In the running world it’s not quite so black and white. The first 10 over the finish line are the top 10 in the results regardless of status – end of. You are professional if you can earn enough money from your sport to live off. You represent your country internationally if you meet strict qualifying times and selection criteria at trial races. In some races like the London Marathon there is an “elite” starting pen but it doesn’t exclude those not starting in that wave from winning prizes in the overall results. It’s an even playing field.

Then there’s the big fish, small pond scenario… I’m an incredibly competitive person. I like winning, who doesn’t? Competing as an age-grouper allowed me to keep winning. And as they say winners are grinners. I was grinning but did not feel fulfilled.

comfortzone

The biggest underlying issue for me was lack of self-belief. This has always been a factor in my life and it’s a facet of my personality that I’ve learnt to live with and at times use to my advantage. Fear of failure is a very powerful thing. But in this situation was it making me overly cautious? I wasn’t ready to put my hand up and declare myself “good enough to race pro”. I was scared of being labeled as deluded. I often asked myself the question, at what point is it “acceptable” to turn pro? When you go sub-10, sub-9:50, or sub-9:30 for ironman? When you dominate age-group competition? When you win a big race outright?  I think the answer to this is different for everyone. The results need to be there of course but importantly the mindset needs to be right. For me, the goal posts kept drifting ever upwards, I didn’t feel fast enough. Not yet.

So what changed?

The European Championships at Challenge Almere at the end of the 2014 season was my game-changer. Representing GB in the elite race gave me a buzz. Instead of letting self-doubt cloud my race, the step up in competition stoked my fire and focused my mind. Despite a very sub-optimal build-up (detailed in a previous blog if you’re interested) I carried that positive vibe though the race. I had a solid swim, strong bike and ran myself onto the podium. That bronze medal proved myself to my own worst critic, myself. For the first time since dabbling with elite racing, I felt like I belonged in that elite field, and I wanted more of that. It’s now or never…

photo (3) photo (1)

An important result of stepping up to race pro is that it gives me the opportunity to represent my sponsors better. Choosing not to race as a professional last season had an impact on visibility. The TV coverage of Ironman UK focussed solely on the top 5 Pros and failed to show or even mention the age groupers who finished in the top 5. In the recap at the end of the show the age-groupers were missed off the overall results. In fact 5th pro finished about 2hrs behind me. Not a big deal but it does cause confusion and chip away at the credibility of the sport.

This season I will be strengthening great relationships with existing sponsors as well as adding new weaponry.

NEW PARTNERSHIPS

Brooks running are kitting me out in the best racing and training gear for the third discipline. I was a brand ambassador for Brooks as an elite runner and I’m incredibly excited to renew this partnership. I genuinely love the product and have run in Brooks shoes for the past few seasons – because they work. My go-to racing and training shoe is the Pure Connect – cushioned enough for long distance training but light enough for race day. A winning combo.

IMG_5507 IMG_5466 IMG_5400

Neolaw are a London based law firm. Simon Murray,  Neolaw partner and CEO, is a keen triathlete himself and swims with SwimForTri, which is how we met. I am delighted to have the backing of his company who are contributing towards training and racing expenses, travel and essentially allowing me to give the professional athlete thing a proper go. It is invaluable to have this stability so I can focus my attention more fully on training and racing. Thank you Neolaw.

Neo Law Logo CMYK high res

RaceForce is a brand new partnership. I met the RaceForce team out in Mallorca at my final race of the 2014 season. The race itself was a disaster for me but something great came out of the trip! The RaceForce mechanics did a top notch job of getting my bike race ready and the whole team were out on the course cheering everyone on – giving out a really good and genuine vibe. I was delighted when they contacted me offering me the opportunity to be a brand ambassador for the 2015 season. RaceForce will be looking after my bike transport and assisting with travel/accommodation booking for my key races. This is a massive asset for me and takes away the stress and worry of travelling to races. Their mantra ” together we race” means I will feel part of a team when I travel to races solo. They travel to all the major European races and offer packages from just bike transport to a complete travel and accommodation package including race entry. Check them out: RaceForce

And for training camps (and races that RaceForce aren’t travelling to) I have a Scicon  Aerocomfort triathlon bike bag. It’s revolutionary design means you can pack safe, ride fast. No brainer.

It’s no real secret that swimming is my weakness but Speedo are helping to make swimming more colourful and dare I even say fun?! I will be racing in the Elite wetsuit and Fastskin elite goggles this season, equipment that has proven itself time and time again in previous races. Finding the perfect race goggle is a very important quest and one that I have successfully conquered! Having a stress free start to your race cannot be under-estimated in my opinion. The fact that the elite goggles are being offered in new bright colours this season is a bonus of course and didn’t sway my opinion at all. haha

FullSizeRender

InDurance launched at the 220 triathlon show last weekend and offers comprehensive blood profiling to athletes of all levels. I worked with InDurance behind the scenes last season and experienced first hand the impact that keeping my engine running smoothly had on my race performances over the year. Read what I have to to say about it here: InDurance, the inside scoop.. I’m very excited to have this level of feedback on how my body responds to training, ground breaking stuff.

Indurance-master-logo-070115

NEW STUFF FROM EXISTING SPONSORS

My relationship with Simon Smart and the whole drag2zero team strengthens each season and I’m very happy to be riding for team drag2zero again this year. As well as helping out with a bike, Enve wheels and race suit for the season, in December I had a mind blowing bike fit in the D2Z wind tunnel. I learned that small changes in position resulted in significant drops in drag. As well as being more aerodynamic, my new position is also more comfortable, a win-win for both my time-trialling and triathlon aspirations this season. What dropping drag means to me is – hold the same speed as last season with less effort or put in the same amount of effort but go faster. YES!

wind tunnel IMG_5517

My racing and training will once again be fuelled by Powerbar. I first starting using Powerbar products as a distance runner at Florida State University back in 2001. As my training has evolved so has their product range meaning that pre/during/post training and racing fuelling is  taken care of as well as hydration needs and supplements to maximise training gains. My favourite new flavours are the jaffa cake protein plus bar (click on the link to win a box!) and the extra-caffienated cola hydrogel.

Business advice and support from my financial guru and Possibility race team founder  IronTarsh. Thanks for your continued input helping me chase the dream!

along with CONTINUED PARTNERSHIPS with

SwimForTri, Rotor, Birlem Oil, Dryrobe, Tridynamic.

Bring on 2015!

When the body’s saying “no”, and the mind is saying “let’s go”…

ETU Middle Distance Championships, Mallorca

IMG_3498I’d decided that Challenge Almere was my last race of the season. And it was… until I recovered fast, got itchy feet and got blinded by the prospect of a final hurrah in the sun, sea and sand of Challenge Mallorca. The race promised to be “fast” and with a sea front/boardwalk run, I imagined, flat, warm and scenic…

The swim 24.9degrees, non-wetsuit, calm, 1x1900m loop from bay to bay.

It was my first non-wetsuit triathlon swim and starting in the elite wave, I knew it was going to be a tough one for me. I actually prefer the sensation of swimming sans neoprene even though it does punish the non-fish somewhat. And I definitely fall into that category! Being a sea swim we were able to warm up (cool off?) freely in the water before the start. It was a coming together of two worlds on Tora beach – the holidaymakers and triathletes looked at each other in equal bemusement. After intros and the usual pre-race hype the elite men started followed 3mins later by the elite women. As there was a decent size women’s field, I was optimistic there would be a few other non-fish to hang out with… As the start cannon went and we hurtled into the sea I immediately started to get left behind… Driftwood!! There was no point in panicking, it was all about damage limitation and getting though the wet stuff as efficiently as possible. By the first buoy I had a little bit of company and small group of 3 or 4 us bobbed round the swim together. On exiting there was a 200m run up the beach and through to T1. I ran away from the girls I’d been swimming with, and this turned out to be the fastest running I would do all day…!

FullSizeRender (2)

Swim 32mins

The bike undulating, twisty, sunny, scenic, 2 x 45k laps

Having ridden the bike course on Thursday, I knew it was one of those rhythm breakers. Not a get down on the bars and TT-it-up kind of rides at all. Aside from the undulations and turns there were speed bumps, pot holes and 2 trips through beachfront Magaluf thrown into the mix. The race course is an uncontrollable, it can influence your choice of race but once you’ve committed you can’t change it so you might as well embrace it. The start of the bike was pretty quiet for me having been dropped by the majority of the elite women but only been caught by a small number of age group men (who started 7mins behind). Somewhere along the road I saw fellow GB team mate Parys Edwards. She shouted words of encouragement which gave me a boost and we knuckled down to get ourselves back in the race. To be frank I’m pretty disinterested in a race if I’m not involved in it, so I decided my best strategy would be to ride an aggressive first lap to get myself back in the mix. This was a risky strategy, something I wouldn’t normally do, but I decided it was worth a shot. It was already a bonus race, I was feeling brave and my body and mind were egging me one. Add to this the excitement of riding the drag2zero disc for the first time and there was no holding back – FULL GAS! It worked, kind of. By the end of lap 1 (1hr14) I’d passed about 10 women, the adrenaline was pumping and I was getting that race day excitement back. GAME ON. This is where I made a big mistake. Instead of easing back, consolidating and waiting for the run, I got cocky and pushed on. Halfway round the second lap IT HIT ME. The road suddenly felt more uphill, the pedals stiff, my vision narrowed, and the communication between my brain and body slowed down… as did the pace. Feeding was on plan so I took water, salt tablets and tried desperately not to pedal squares. In my confusion I stopped at the penalty box towards the end of the lap, even though I did not have a penalty, before realising and getting back on my bike and making my wobbly way to T2.

FullSizeRender (3)FullSizeRender (4)IMG_3470

2:37 (1:14,1:23)

The run flat (NOT), shaded (NOT), great support and camaraderie (YES!)

As I ran out of T2 my running form would have been more appropriate stumbling out of the nightclubs in Magaluf than on a European Championship run course. When you feel the need for 2 gels within the first 15mins of the run, you’ve an idea it could turn out to be a shocker. I don’t remember too much of the run, just that it was hot, cold, numb, long, hilly… Apparently clinging onto a wall and various GB team mates featured heavily in my finishing strategy. THANK YOU and apologies to those involved…(Martin Bay, Boo Alder, Russell Kingston to name a few)! When the going gets tough, we all got tougher….

IMG_3505

Thank you John Levison @tri247 for capturing the true essence of that run!

2:10 (personal worst)

Of course I’m disappointed. I don’t think anyone ever goes into a race with failure and self-destruction in their race plan! But I don’t regret “going for it”. It was a bonus race, it hadn’t figured in my season plan but I wouldn’t have put myself on the start line if I didn’t think I was capable of delivering a good result. I know I would have looked back with regret if I hadn’t given it a go.

This race was going to be a cherry on top of the icing on a very big cake. I might not have got my cherry but I’ve still got my cake, and I now intend to eat it 😉

IMG_3499

Never count yourself out.

Monday 8th September

It’s race week. A BIG race week. My debut race for GB Elite team at the European Long Distance triathlon Championships in Almere, Netherlands. And I’m feeling crappy. I’ve had a sore back since Friday which has got progressively worse over the weekend, add to that some nausea and general “unwellness” and I’m not a happy bunny. I managed a 50min easy ride in the morning before admitting I probably should get things checked out with the Doc. Part of me is thinking it’s pre-race paranoia but, being pretty in tune with my body, I can tell something’s not quite right. The check up reveals a mild kidney infection, which explains the back pain and other symptoms. I’m prescribed low dose antibiotics for 3 days and I sloped out of the surgery with my head down and a growing sense of disappointment. Such bad timing. I ditched the rest of the days plans and R&R took priority.

Tuesday 9th September

Four days until the race. I’d spent the night falling in and out of sleep, waking up drenched in sweat and simultaneously hot and cold. I must have drunk 2-3 litres of fluid overnight. Powerbar electrolyte tabs are literally saving my life right now! Once up and moving I don’t actually feel too bad. I’m on a mission now – to make that start line in Almere. After a scheduled ride and pre-race chat with my coach Joe Beer, I’m feeling a little bit more positive and optimistic about the weekend. Four days is still a long time to turn things around. Despite lingering nausea and lack of appetite, I’m forcing myself to keep eating well to keep those glycogen stores topped up. The afternoon is spent in a sweaty mess, moping around the house in a pathetic heap, channelling all my energy into getting healthy. Luckily we’re driving to Holland and I’ve already packed most of my race kit and my bike in the van. All that was left to do is pack a bag and take the train to London to meet up with Dan (Chaffeur extraordinaire) to begin the road trip.

Wednesday 10th September

First sweat free night of the week! I feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I’ve definitely turned a corner and I can see light at the end of the tunnel. It’s my final day on antibiotics so fingers-crossed they’ve done the business and cleared the infection. A little swim tester – just 1.5k with a few 50s at race pace – reveal I can in fact still swim. And I haven’t morphed into a sumo wrestler despite unaccustomed inactivity. I head to London for a pre-race treatment with Caroline. She picks up on my low energy and does her witch doctor thing on me. That night I slept like a baby.

Thursday 11th September

I wake up early and take stock of my body and energy levels. I’m feeling GOOD! After a 30min shakeout run with some accelerations, I text my coach to say “GAME ON!” and all negative thoughts of illness and interrupted preparation are put to the back of my mind. I can’t afford to dwell on the negatives. Now I’ve made the decision that I’m healthy enough to race it’s time to take responsibility for my performance and not cushion myself with pre-prepared excuses. It may all go tits up and I may fail but I’m feeling too good to not at least try. It’s better to try and fail, than fail to try, right? After a long travel day we arrive in Almere in time to check into our accommodation and head down to the swim recce. One lap of the swim course down and we head for food and much needed sleep.

Friday 12th September

Pre-race day! In place of the usual pre-race nerves is a feeling I’m not so used to – a feeling of confidence. At this point I’m counting myself well and truly IN! A day of the usual pre-race faffing – registration, race briefing, bike check in, race bag check in – and all of sudden it’s time for ” the last supper” before bunking down and getting a few hours of kip ready for the customary middle-of-the-night race day alarm.

Saturday 13th September

Race day!

04:30 10min shakeout run before a breakfast of COFFEE, Kallo rice puffs with banana and soya yoghurt.

05:45 Uniform check (ETU are strict on size/position/number of sponsors logos on suit). Luckily – I PASSED! Phew.

06:00 Final bike check, tyre pressure check and adding drinks bottles and nutrition to my bike.

06:30 Powerbar Charger, wetsuit on, arms swings and a quick dip in the lake to flush out the suit.

06:50 Presentation of Elite athletes on the pontoon.

07:00 RACE START. Now I’m happy, I’m in familiar territory. Until this point I’m a tightly coiled spring of anticipation and nervous energy. Now it’s all about just doing what I do every day in training. It’s my first experience of starting in an elite wave and with the swim still being my weakness I had prepared myself for a lonely start to the day. I shouldn’t have worried. I had company! I exited the water in a relaxed 1:01 in 7th place.

08:05 After a fast T1 I moved up into 6th place heading out onto the bike. The bike course in Almere is a 2 loops, flat as a pancake with the only adversity being ” a little wind”. After a twisty first few kms it was “head down time” as we headed out onto a 20mile straight road along the dyke into a significant head wind. I didn’t actually mind this bit too much. I knew to look at my average power (and NOT speed) for fear of being demoralised by the slow going so early on the race. I was a bit concerned to be vomiting every time I took some fuel on board, but I kept eating and drinking hoping my stomach would settle down. After reaching the turn point, we enjoyed a tailwind for the remainder of the loop, it felt like almost cheating to be floating along using very little energy. Heading onto lap 2 I’d moved up into 5th place and my legs were feeling really good. I’d stopped being sick (I put that down to the ingesting some lake water, as it only happened for the first hour on the bike) and my race day feeding plan was on track. I was relishing the long straight headwind section, I was getting a buzz from the discomfort and the challenge. It was a lonely ride, just me and the road. Then I spotted a speck in the distance. Head down, pedal, pedal, look up. The speck had got bigger. Oh good, I’m making progress. Head down, pedal, pedal. I play mind games. How long can I keep my watts EXACTLY the same for? How long can I go without looking up or shifting position? (bear in mind I’m on a dead straight, closed road, with no competitors around me). Then I played around with my head position, watching the speed/power numbers change depending on the drag. I felt like I was in my own personal wind tunnel! Fun and games. By this time, the 20 mile headwind section was over and I was almost disappointed. The speck I’d seen earlier up the road turned out to be a female German elite who I passed just before turning for the “cruise” home. Except the wind had decided it was going to play some games of it’s own. It was as if it was saying “well if you’re having that much fun, how about I keep you company for the rest of the ride”. Ho hum. The easy cruisey pace we enjoyed on lap 1 disappeared and it was now time to work for it! I maintained my position, gaining a little time of the German, and dismounted and ran into T2 having put down a 5:15 bike split. Pretty solid.

13:25 It’s time to RUN VICKSTER RUN! The ironman run is where you really find out what kind of legs you’ve got that day. To some extent you can bluff the swim and bike, but the run will find out any weakness you may have and EXPLOIT them until you’re stumbling and crying and promising your body that you’ll never put it through this ordeal ever again. The run course in Almere is 6 laps around the lake which gives spectators lots of cheering opportunities, and my support crew did not disappoint. My game plan was to get 2 laps out of the way before assessing how I’m feeling physically and mentally. 2 laps down and I’m feeling strong. I’m boosted by the fact I passed the 3rd place female halfway round the second lap, so I’ve now got a cycling chaperone for company. My spectators are going crazy, I’m staying calm outwardly but starting to get a little bit excited inside. But with 4 laps to go it’s way too early to start celebrating, the hardest part of the race is yet to come. I hit half way in 1:37, putting me on schedule for a 3:15 run split. Now I’m in unknown territory. I’m running faster than I ever have before in an ironman, but it’s a pace I should be capable of maintaining. This is where I let myself relax. I give myself a lap “off”. I’m a comfortable 3rd, there’s still a long way to go, and I get scared. The pace slips. 4th lap down. Heading onto lap 5 someone shouts “keep the pressure on”. I wake up and snap myself out of my comfort zone – the race is FAR from over. SUCK IT UP. 4th place may be catching me, I can’t afford to slack off. With 10k to go I take a Powerbar Cola Hydrogel. At this point in time it tastes like HEAVEN. A few minutes later the caffeine kicks in and the pace picks up. I’m floating, feeling no pain, and I begin asking myself “how much do you want this?” and my body is responding. 1 LAP TO GO! I think I’m clear in 3rd place, I’ve lost track of what time I’m on for, and all I think is “CONSOLIDATE, CONSOLIDATE, CONSOLIDATE”. With a few km to go, my bike companion says “enjoy the finish” and I now I know I’m going to do it. I’m going to finish on the podium. At this point I got a little bit emotional, I’m not going to lie. I pushed on those last 2km, just in case, it’s not over til it’s over. If I keeled over and had to do the ironman crawl, I wanted a bit of a buffer over whoever was running in 4th. I need not have worried, I hit the magic red carpet and soaked up every bit of atmosphere on that finish chute. This is a finish I will remember for a long time! I’d done it! A Bronze medal at the European championships. Only later did I realise I’d also set a new PB on the run (3:20) and an overall iron distance PB of 9:42. I’m whisked straight off for the medal and flower ceremony. My legs are shaking so much I’m worried I’m going to fall off the podium in front of everyone, which would have been a bit embarrassing! Then I’m off to doping control before an emotional reunion with my wonderful supporters who had sweated out there with me, albeit with a burger and beer in their hands….

I learnt a lot of lessons last week, the biggest of which was to NEVER count yourself out.

photo (3) photo (2) photo (1)