Tuesday 26 March 2013

How ballots break great events - Hyde Park and London lose again...

As you get into triathlons, marathons, half marathons, etc. you get used to talking about your experience as the curious and would be athletes constantly ask about your experiences, training, and generally the process of getting into these sports...

... as this happens, and being a Londoner, you rapidly learn how lucky we are as Londoners in having Hyde Park, and other parks to train in. My friends who live in the country cannot train due to country lanes accessing open areas being dangerous, others live in cities that just do not have the parks we have in London.

However, aspiring sportsters very, very seldom do their first event alone, nor do they do it far from home. They do it with people who have done it before and they do it close to home and at key locations, like Hyde Park (and uniquely Blenheim Palace). This is where Hyde Park has been pivotal in getting myself and all the people I know who do triathlons and half marathons into these great sports that have changed peoples' lives and make London one of the best places in the world to live in. For me, the Hyde Park triathlon was the London 2012 legacy we heard so much about.

The key to these events changing peoples' lives, helping them live longer, stay fitter, being proud of their city and to keep doing these sports is not only that they get people into sports, but they keep them in these sports by creating a stable event around which to keep bringing people into these events. Yes, some go, but for each that goes, at least one new comes, and the one that goes often come back again.

The Hyde Park Triathlon is, or was, a "must do" event that we hyped up, got everybody to subscribe to, to the point that we all follow the event religiously as we did all the brands that sponsored these events: We checked the pages weekly, daily, even hourly and when the moment came, we acted; there was no room for doubt - you were in, and committed to doing the event as it became available - but moreover, we were "all in".

Hyde Park Triathlon was an olympic experiment that got many Londoners into triathlon
This "all in" is important, as we are in together, we train together, and so the event is a success. You cannot expect to sign up for your first triathlon or half marathon alone and expect it to be a success. Do it alone and the chances of it being an unmitigated disaster you tell all your friends never to do is almost guaranteed. Join or participate alone it will most likely be a one-off, like the London Marathon and like so many "bragging rights" events that people come to, they do and they leave with the t-shirt.

Marathons are different; a marathon is 3 or 4 times the distance most avid runners ever want to run and then some more...they are bragging events and so the ballot works: Ironman is the same.

Half marathons and triathlons however are different: We are all members of clubs, either registered clubs or social clubs of our own making via email and social networks - we train together year after year, we plan the following year together, we race together and we compare personal bests year after year together... Which bring others in.

That is until someone who has no interest in the sport, or just wants to exploit an event for short term gain, decides to turn marketing and sponsorship gold that is a whole city gripped for an events release into a mass market maybe in one foul swoop by putting a ballot in place. It happened to the Royal Parks half in 2011 and it happened now in 2013 to the Hyde Park Triathlon. In 2011 I know of spouses who got a place in the Royal Parks Half, but the person who got the spouse into half marathons did not. In the 2013 hyde park triathlon I know 30 people in 5 groups who entered but only one got in. None of us have returned to Royal Parks half and none of us, not even the one who got a ballot ticket for the Hyde Park Triathlon, want to do the event again while there is a Ballot.

While I am very happy for those who got a place, and want as many people who can and want to, to enjoy a great event and a location I am lucky enough to train in every day; the long-term value of an event is built on the fact that it grips its locals and continues to change lives and return sponsor value year after year, and carries on building the legacy of the people who built it and the Olympics that changed London. It also depends on the people who are dedicated enough to follow the event and its sponsors to be on top of the event, its sponsors, their social presence so keenly that the moment they announce entry they buy a ticket and email the people who they bring into the sport and will continue in, the sport. The legacy builds this way.

A ballot not only ruins this community spirit, but also ruins sponsorship value: the Hyde Park tri this year is sponsored by Pruhealth, my insurance provider of many years, and a provider I have introduced and convinced many to join over the years... Is now a sponsor and health insurance provider, like the event, that I now no longer not want to be associated with! In 2010 and 20111 we all came back from holiday to compete and in 2012 we did the same and even took days off while screamed ourselves hoarse at last year's event we could only watch (due to the Olympics) while discussing next year's come back. This year we are unlikely to even turn up, even the one who got a ballot ticket, such is the disconnect a ballot causes.

At the same time, my loyalty to last year's sponsors; Garmin, Tata and Specialized, could not be stronger, and if they sponsor a rival event; I and my training partners will most likely follow wherever they go. And at least there is still the Blenheim Triathlon, which despite being just a sprint continues to grow from strength to strength, like the legacy of the of the man who was born there.

Organisers of events take note - the people who build your event are those who will maintain your event and its ability to continue to attract bigger and stronger sponsors, who in turn will attract more dedicated following and with it more tourism, bigger crowds and new entrants alongside loyal followers and the long term chance of your event going from a "must do" to a legendary fixture. Put in a ballot an you turn it into an x-factor that churns out one hit wonders and attracts second tier follower brand sponsors instead of market leaders... This is not the legacy London 2012 was supposed to create, and it should not be allowed to repeat itself.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

2013 tri training: Quality over Quantity

Operation 1:15 Blenheim Triathlon, 2:25 Hyde Park triathlon

Well, 2013 is here and underway, and like everybody else I have new year resolutions!

Last year's resolution was to drop 10 minutes of my Sprint Triathlon distance (could not do the Hyde Park Triathlon last year due to the Olympics) without increasing training quantity  just the quality; and I did it, this year I have to repeat it, well the 10 minutes part, which will not be easy, the methodology will not be entirely the same, however the quality of quantity will still be a core theme...
Did not get to race Hyde Park 2012, but did get to see the Brownlees and Gomez, and go hoarse cheering! 
First a point on last year's 10 minutes... I did not quite manage 10 minutes, but it was close enough, around  the middle of the 1:30 range to the middle of the 1:20 range! This is important as it is very easy to get obsessed in triathlon, and the whole point of this process is to prove that you can still run a normal busy life, with your friends and family not thinking you have become dull/obsessed/worse and get better at triathlons! The trick is to focus on quality and enjoy it. Going to bed at 8pm and getting up at 4:30am to train is not fun, its trying to do what Pro's do whilst trying to run a normal life and something will give.

So anyway, having got that off my chest, onto the results:

2011 saw a 1:34 (yes I know 1:34:42 is closer to 1:35 but everybody seems to state just the first part for overall time and splits and so I am sticking to it) and last 2012 a 1:26. So, 2013 needs to be in the middle of the 1:10 range, 1:17 at the very worst, so how is it going to be done? Well, sitting here recovering from flu, with the key part of my first week's training flumuxed, it does not look that easy but the key from 2012 was:
  • cutting a couple of minutes from the swim; 4th time in the wetsuit, finally getting used to it!
  • cutting 4 mins from the bike; some endurance and speed training in May
  • cutting 1 min from T2; not getting lost - free time
  • still managing to run in 5k in 26 mins (Blenheim is not flat!)

So for 2013 Blenheim training it has to be:

  • cutting the swim to 12 mins; training in the wetsuit in open water and doing more than 11 training swims! I have yet to manage to swim with my head under water in the wetsuit - this year!
  • cutting another 4-5 mins from the ride; this should not be hard, Blenheim is 3 laps, and last years results show a fast first lap, an ok 2nd lap and a weak 3rd lap - endurance training!
  • cutting the run by at least 3-4 minutes; this will be the hardest, but the one I have the most training and technique for, and the one that tends to get less interrupted by weather, work, etc.

So that's the plan, 1:15 Blenheim - how do I plan to do it?

Last year, and the year before, I had been focussing on quality rather than quantity, and it paid off. I trained nearly half the hours of my colleagues who came around my time and most importantly - was completely injury free.

Its all about the quality

2013 will be no different in terms of quantity, just the quality, so what does that mean? It means staying socially active; career, family and friends focussed, but getting fitter, the quality aspect has been sat in the back of my mind for a while but was triggered by an amazing article from Macca, or Chris McCormack's old blog where he said that amateurs make all sorts of mistakes, mostly in the run, where they knock themselves out trying to do the same runs slightly faster at zone 4, but should be doing more running either in zone 5 or zone 3: zone 3 is actually quite enjoyable: quality, and running at zone 5 is short pain but rewarding: quality again.

I leaned this early on in Business in sales as well, many people knock themselves out doing more and more work on things they think make a difference, like making calls, arranging meetings, sending more emails, but fail to look at what delivers and focus on the quality. Family and friends are the same: but a bit of effort into listening to a friend for an hour and you will get a more rewarding experience than hours, days or even weeks of playstation, beers or "hanging"... and so on.

So what's on the menu for 2013?

  • Firstly get the base miles, some long rides and zone 3 runs (I am also doing reading half marathon in March) with at least one sprint work a week. Sprint on bike is either intervals or a fast lap in Richmond park, with runs its either hill runs in Richmond or sprints in one of London's amazing parks that I am lucky enough to live near.
  • More bricks. With one of my training colleagues we have come up with a "brick" even that involves single speed cycling and hill runs: Quality! (small dose of sarcasm...) last year I did one brick in May!
  • More swimming: 2011 was appalling, I literally did 4-5 swims prior to Blenheim! last year was 11 in total I think - must swim more! More may sound like quantity over quality, but with swimming there is a big difference in that you are unlikely to injure yourself from over training, and the technique comes with practice, moreover, I do not swim anywhere near enough so a dramatic increase in quantity still only brings me to "is that all you swim!" 
  • Increase cadence flexibility: last two years have been taking me from a 60-80rpm "grinder" to being able to spin happily up to 120rpm and even 140 in sprints, however it has been at the expense of raw sprinting speed, need to get the 60-80rpm power back

The Story So far

The transition from 2011
2011 total activity
to 2012
2012  total Activity
Sees roughly the same amount of activities  however the quality aspect over quantity can be seen, in fewer hours, fewer kms, fewer meters of elevation and ultimately fewer calories to get better results! So the proof is in the pudding :) The key to these changes were doing exactly what Macca said: less beating yourself over the head in zone four, more quality at zone 3 and 4. Now this has been proven at its simplest level, these may change in 2013, as I do not have the pressure to keep the activities level as close as possible!