TORQ Winter Shandy Gel – Boosting Your Performance With Beer

torq-winter-shandy-gel-adnams-breweryOne of the first energy gels I ever used was TORQ’s Rhubarb & Custard flavour, which is without doubt the nicest tasting gel I’ve ever had. On tough Ironman training rides and long runs, the thought of rewarding myself with a great tasting gel made all the difference.

Now as a real ale fan and triathlete, hearing TORQ had created an energy gel made with real Ghost Ship beer from Adnams Brewery, was a dream come true. The post/mid ride coffee is an integral part of a weekend club ride, with caffeine gels being commonplace, but why can’t we have beer?! This gel is the ideal solution and the effects of alcohol in Winter Shandy isn’t an issue, as you’ll need to down 34 of the 1.2% ABV gels to consume the same amount of alcohol in half a pint of regular Adnams Ghost Ship.

I found the perfect time to test Winter Shandy after flagging a little on this morning’s club ride. At an opportune moment I tentatively squirted a little into my mouth and instantly got the sweet taste of the cheap lemonade that you would associate with any pub shandy (this isn’t a negative, it’s amazing how spot on they’ve got the taste). Hot on the heels of this comes a really natural beer flavour that cuts through the sweetness with the bitterness of real ale. Well Torq have done it, another adventurous flavour to an already impressive range, which offers a novel change to a plethora of so so flavours on the market.

On top of the amazing taste, this gel has no preservatives, colours, artificial sweeteners and only uses natural flavouring, which when you consider how many gels you get through on a long training session, is an important factor. Also the gel is wheat and dairy free and suitable for vegans.

This limited edition gel will be available in stores all over the UK and online from week commencing 26 September.

Note to anyone with concerns about consuming alcohol in gels – Etixx have been producing a guarana and ginseng energy gel for the last nine years, with 2,95% alcohol which is a by-product of the process to extract guarana/ginseng. To quote them “The alcohol is kept in the product due to the fact that during development Etixx found out that it was a lot faster absorbed with alcohol than without. The very small amount of alcohol triggers the saliva to be active. More saliva productions give to the body the signal that food is available, so the body faster absorbs the carbohydrates.”

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Ironman UK – Race Report (Completed Using Don Fink’s Be Iron Fit)

2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim / 112-mile (180.25 km) bike / 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run

IMG_20160719_085953Accompanied by my long suffering wife, we arrived at the Reebok Stadium outside Bolton at 4pm on Friday, allowing plenty of time to register. To make the whole operation of depositing my kit in two different transition areas less stressful, I wanted to attend the Friday race briefing, freeing up more time on Saturday. The briefing was very similar to the Tenby one, with the competitor rules reiterated, although it was to become apparent that only a handful of people must have been listening!

Things were getting very real, and every hour closer I got to race day, the more anxious I was feeling. I couldn’t help wondering if the theory of Don Fink’s “Be Iron Fit” training plan would work in practice. We were staying in a guesthouse that was 15 minutes walk away from the stadium, so dropping my running bag off was a breeze. Once at Pennington Flash a casual glance at the still lake put my mind at rest a little and I busied myself with racking my bike. I faced the usual problem of using a big bike, by having to rack my bike using the bars and brake levers, rather than the saddle. A very friendly race official showed me the ins and outs of T2 and with my run bag racked, it was time to chill out (if only!).

The good thing about being near to the stadium was that there were lots of places to eat on what was a huge retail park. My wife had booked a table at a well known Italian food chain and after a calamari starter, I went for a simple pasta dish that would sit gently on the stomach. What arrived looked like a child’s portion and didn’t taste anything like its £14 price tag, so after a lengthy exchange of words with management, it was struck off the bill, leaving me still hungry!

By the time we got to our beds, had a hot chocolate and affixed race tattoos, it was time to try and get some sleep. I managed about three hours sleep and at 3am tried to eat some porridge to no avail. I was feeling surprisingly spritely at this ungodly hour, although I was in a sombre mood as the dreaded swim loomed ahead. As we queued for the bus to take us from the stadium to the start, my mother in law appeared and wished me luck.I was now nervous beyond belief, and was very monosyllabic (sorry). Before I knew it I’d put my water bottle and Garmin on my bike, gone to the portaloo and fought my way to the back of the swim queue, self seeding for a 1:50 swim. I passed Pete, my training partner, who’d placed himself more towards the middle of the pack. Vicky, who I’d met open water swimming in Ellesmere Lake, gave me a big smile and some encouraging words. There was only time for a quick chat with the other nervous swimmers in the slow section, before the line of neoprene clad athletes snaked down toward the start. I was overjoyed to see my friend Sarah right by the start line, and my wife and mother in law cheering me on.

Once I was over that timing chip and into the water, panic was replaced with grim  determination. Having regular buoys along the route gave a sense of accomplishment as I plodded along. Occasionally swimmers on their second lap would swim over me, but I kept going and was very happy to get to the Australian exit. Half way through the swim my time was 55 minutes and I was confident I’d get through the swim. I thought the second lap would be easier with hardly anyone else left in the lake, but I received a kick to the chest that shocked me and could shake a couple of other swimmers that were going at the same pace as me. Finally I was out of the lake for good, but being pulled out of the water too zealously by a volunteer caused me to pull my calf muscle and I limped to T1. My plan on the bike was to go for comfort and made my way straight to the private changing area where I completely stripped off and put on my cycling shorts and jersey – goodbye 15 minutes! The struggle to get out of my wetsuit aggravated the pull to my calf muscle and running to the mount line was uncomfortable. T1 was thick with mud and I started off not being able to get my left cleat engaged in the pedal. Being one of the last swimmers out meant the first part of the point to point part of the bike route was a lonely affair. I was cycling quite gently as the calf pain subsided and only when a clump of mud fell off the bottom of my shoe, did the cleat properly fit in the pedal. Someone looking official with a fluorescent coat was shouting at me and I stopped to see what the matter was, only for him to ask me a question about the road still having cones on it. I gave him a very curt “I don’t know!”, annoyed at being stopped needlessly and continued on my way. Soon other athletes were appearing in the distance and before long I was overtaking other cyclists in ever increasing numbers!

I looked at my bike computer and noticed that 10 miles had passed already and then I started counting down in 10 mile blocks. After successfully refuelling with gels, bars and bananas for the first hour, my stomach became unhappy and I stuck to banana and energy drink for a while. When the distinctive turn for Sheephouse Lane was upon me I braced myself for the climb as all of a sudden there were a glut of others cyclists on the road. I didn’t want to go too quick round the first lap, but the squeaky wheel of someone trying to overtake me, but not being able to, annoyed me into increasing my cadence and soon I was enjoying the views at the top of the climb.

The crowds and yells of support were really encouraging, with the climb being reminiscent of the supporters on the cols of the Tour de France. From there was the fast descent and an uneventful hour until Hunters Hill. Hunters Hill was a shorter, sharper climb, but it didn’t tax me as I enjoyed more support from the crowds. I was half way round by now and psychologically in a good place. My mental maths wasn’t so good as I’d miscalculated that I wasn’t going fast enough. After a caffeine gel I upped the pace, fearful that I’d miss the cut offs. I was working my way past lots of cyclists, soon getting onto the second lap and feeling more confident. By Sheephouse Lane the second time round people were flagging. I passed a man and woman pushing their bikes, renouncing their decision to enter the competition! On the steepest part of the climb reams of people were off and pushing, but I felt good… despite worrying I’d run out of energy due to not eating as much as I felt I should. I think I’d heard enough people shout “dig in” or “don’t stop” by now and come the second time up Hunters Hill a lot of competitors were pushing bikes, but this time “supporters” were throwing sarcastic comments to them – oh the shame!

I was feeling quite smug and glad the the end was in sight when I cockerel darted across the road. “Man falls off bike when cock gets caught in wheel” (there’s a joke there, somewhere), swerving with my swerves, to the point where I thought we were going to collide. Luckily for both of us we parted company without incident and my next near miss was almost hitting a traffic cone getting past two competitors cycling side by side.

Before I knew it I was negotiating the bike rack of T2 trying to find my number, then back into the changing room to completely change clothes and waste another 15 minutes! With the amount of time left, I was uncharacteristically confident, although I still couldn’t face solid food. I managed the first 12 miles without having to walk, then added the occasional speed walk up the inclines. By now I was being entirely powered by flat Pepsi and energy drink, with a cup of water to cool my head down. I was travelling in a little bubble of euphoria, chatting to friends who were supporting me and feeling quite confident. I did shut my mind off to the aches and pains of my lower legs and the toe carnage that was going on in my socks!

The lap band envy kicked in as it felt like I’d never get the red, blue and green bands that I needed to end the run. Once I had two bands I was suffering from lap band sympathy, thinking about the poor souls who’d got so far to go. The saying about not judging a book by its cover was so apt, as I saw competitors who were a lap ahead of me that looked like they’d just got off the sofa after years of inactivity. Conversely, chiselled models from fitness magazines were struggling behind.

I’d lost all concept of time by now and was getting a bit bored of running, so knowing the finish line was close got me to put a spurt on. I knew I wasn’t far behind Pete, as we’d passed each other near a turnaround point, so I wasn’t surprised to catch up with him on the last little hill before the finish. There was about 50 meters to go when we were rudely pushed out of the way by a couple of blokes racing to the finish, but I think ending up finishing in unison was the perfect end to the journey we started out together on.


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Product Review: Amphibia Sports Waterproof Pouch

DSC_0768My wife can navigate through dense woods or thick fog, with the merest glance towards the mossy side of a tree, or a solitary star and was probably reincarnated from a beautiful pigeon. Me on the other hand, am only days away from needing my address sewn into my clothes, should I be found wandering the streets in confusion. My lack of direction is legendary and each time I venture out on my bike I kiss my children goodbye as if it’s the last time I will ever see them again.

So for me a smartphone with GPS is vital for survival, as although my Garmin can guide me in the general direction of a new route, I invariably need some help with less obvious junctions. Not long ago said iPhone would be tucked inside a trusty old food bag to keep it dry. The trouble with this is that not only can’t you guarantee the safety of a phone in a flimsy bag, it’s a major job to make it accessible come the moment of need.

When you have unravelled phone from bag, if you’re caught in rain you then end up with a soggy device. As winters get progressively wetter year on year, I’m glad to have another offering from one of my favourite gear suppliers. Amphibia Sport’s waterproof pouch is a transparent pocket that’s is 100% waterproof & submersible. It also lets you navigate touch screens through the waterproof material. It’s more than big enough for an iPhone and looks like it could accommodate larger phone models, with still enough room for a car key.

With three seals that fold over themselves, there’s little chance of any moisture getting in and you can even navigate the screen wearing gloves. It makes the perfect companion to my favourite piece of kit, the Amphibia X2Bag, keeping sand, dirt and water from your valuables on the beach or lakeside. It even has a lanyard, stopping you from losing your prized possessions amongst the waves!

At £12 I think it’s pretty good value, especially when compared to the price of a new car key or smartphone! Available to buy online via this link.

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Triathlon Training and the Irony of Cancer

Dusty BottomsI’m not surprised no one likes cancer, it ruins everyone’s fun and can’t be trusted.

It doesn’t play by any rules and does things just to spite you.

After my parents died of cancer and a genetic test showed I had the BRCA1 cancer gene mutation, I decided to improve my fitness. Anyone who’s read this blog before will know I chose triathlon as a means to try and stay healthy and keep my horrible birthright at bay.

Things had been going pretty well until recently when I noticed an injury on my forehead. It seemed to be taking ages to heal so I was very careful not to catch it with swimming goggles and cycling helmets. Finally the scab disappeared and a slight indentation was left, which was very reassuring.

Then it bled again and scabbed over. I figured that my skin was quite thin over my temple, so I didn’t worry too much. The whole cycle started time and time again so I went to the doctors. By now I was having the soreness of many an injury, with periods of burning, which was exactly like someone stubbing a cigarette out on my forehead. The doctor referred me to the hospital’s dermatology department and I think you can guess where this is going?!

Yes I was diagnosed with skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) to be exact, which is a very slow-growing cancer that doesn’t spread to other parts of the body and if treated early, are usually completely cured.

I have to appreciate the irony of triathlon training to keep cancer at bay, yet all that exposure to the sun would have caused it! I have to take some responsibility, as I rarely used sunscreen, although I did avoid running in the heat.

My advice to you all is very obvious (in retrospect) – wear suncream and a wide brimmed hat whilst training. I’ve opted for a sombrero. In the meantime I await my date for surgery.

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Ironman Wales: The Welsh Tsunami

It’s taken three weeks for me to be able to talk about the unfortunate failure that was my attempt at Ironman Wales. I’m ridiculously embarrassed by the whole affair, but now it’s time to share my experience… which is kind of why I have a blog. It can’t all be good news.

99% of this really did happen.

Knowing that there was a rolling start for the swim calmed my nerves as I stood there, the tight rubber of the wetsuit keeping the fear of my impending swim from escaping. Still, I wouldn’t have throw away 10 minutes of the swim, waiting for everyone to go ahead of me as I avoided the craziness of thrashing bodies.

I felt relaxed as I hopped over the waves breaking on the shore and swam front crawl, my head out of the water until I got past the bulk of the waves. I never got past the bulk of the waves. The waves got bigger and bigger. The wind had picked up and was blowing in the perfect direction to create a swell that was lifting me high into the air for a perfect view of the first buoy, 750 metres away, before dropping me deep into the abyss. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I dare not panic, despite having little experience of swimming in these conditions. I felt isolated, as if I were in the middle of the ocean, despite not being far from shore. One swimmer’s flight path converged with mine long enough for them to smack me over the head with their arm, then they disappeared into the darkness of the sea.

I keep going with no concept of time… just how long had I been out here? Slowly I got closer to the turnaround buoy, a ghostly fluorescent apparition, rising from the dark. Just as I got alongside this floating monolith a swarm of competitors on their second lap swam over me and I literally clung onto the side of the buoy to stop from being pushed under.

I’d been told that once I changed direction at the buoy, the sea would be with me, the sea would be my allie. The reality was I turned to face a wall of water blocking my way. As it crashed down onto me I froze and started paddling water as I composed myself. At this point a fellow athlete asked if I was OK and offered to stay with me until I was safe. I was really touched by this, but as I was eating into his time I convinced him to carry on while I stopped on a marshall’s paddleboard. It was here that I looked at my Garmin and saw that I’d taken 38 minutes to swim 750 metres. My dream was washed away as I realised I hadn’t the time to complete the swim course.

I was suddenly shaken from my sorrow as two other triathletes grabbed on to the paddleboard, surprising it’s pilot. One of the triathletes, catching his breath, disappeared into the spray. A jet ski headed towards me and the other triathlete (who I’m going to refer to as the Russian, due to his accent, impressive mustache and general toughness).

We had to pull ourselves up onto a board on the back of the jet ski, but the Russian was having difficulty. “Give me your hand Oleg” I screamed as he fought against a watery grave. I grabbed frantically, trying to get a grip of his neoprene second skin. Finally I got a purchase and lifted him to safety, only to then slip back down myself. “Tell my family I love them, Oleg… gulp… gasp” I cried. “I will not leave you my friend, I owe you my life.” came the reply, in a thick Omsk accent. We were in a giant washing machine, other competitors were swimming straight into the jet ski! The jet ski struggled to turn in the swell, so not thinking of my own safety I lept into the torrent, kicking frantically to turn our only chance of survival. Soon the jet ski was moving and I was holding on as best I could with my legs still in the water. It was just too choppy to take us back to shore. Luckily a dingy was headed towards us.

Oleg was alongside the vessel and dragged himself inside. I was so weak, I just couldn’t scrabble over the slippy vinyl exterior. Suddenly, when I’d given up all hope, a powerful arm grabbed me and hauled me into the dingy. I was upside down, between two shiny black thighs, but was safely heading to shore. Through my exhaustion I managed to utter one last sentence, before losing consciousness. “I will never forget you, as long as I live… Demitri.”

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Ironman Training: Bulges, Blisters and Praying Poseidon Enjoys his Holiday in Wales

PoseidonWell a fortnight today it will be all over and hopefully I’ll have a medal!

I can only liken this training experience to school exams… you do your coursework, revise and then get to the point where you can do no more… just hope all comes good on the day!

As I mentioned in previous posts, some training sessions have worked better than others. I’ve abandoned the turbo trainer for brick sessions as I can’t stay in zone 2 on it.

Initially I found it easier actually cycling on the road, but then for some reason that all went pear shaped! The last couple of weeks I’ve been doing my Wednesday brick session on a spin bike and running machine. It’s a bit soul destroying, but I stay in zone constantly.

As for staying in zone 2 for Saturday’s long bike sessions, that never happened, I just concentrated on lots of hills and trying to enjoy myself. You’d think this deviation from the plan would worry me, but seeing constant improvements on the speed up hills (thanks Strava) has given me some confidence. Regular feeding on the bike has helped me feel fresh, so I’m happy with my nutrition. An experience with a tyre blowout yesterday reminded me that unforeseen circumstances could scupper my Ironman attempt. Luckily a used gel wrapper patched the hole well enough to travel 10 miles, despite an unsightly bulge!

As preparation, I’m fitting new tyres and brake blocks on my bike, together with a new chain. I’m also taking along a chain link tool and spare links.

Out of all my training sessions, only the runs have gone exactly as prescribed in Don Fink’s training plan. The only worry was when new socks (which must have been too small) pulled my toe in contact with my shoes. This resulted in a huge blister and an infected toenail, which eventually fell off. All is well now, after my longest run of three hours provided a lovely 19 miles around the New Forest, surrounded by wild horses.

That just leaves the swimming! What can I say, nothing ever changes with that. Times are staying the same and it will be tight finishing within the cutoff point… especially if there is any turbulence in Tenby’s bay on the day. I’m praying to the sea gods every evening.

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Budget SFX

Very interesting young blogger interested in special effects makeup.


SFX makeup can be really expensive and if you’re a beginner and you are still deciding if SFX is for you then you don’t want to be spending lots of money on professional makeup when there are plentyIMG_7381 of alternatives for affordable prices.

In this picture I have all the inexpensive products that I like to use like…

Cheap paint brushes from WHSmith that were £2.99 and are perfect for special effects as you don’t want to ruin any expensive makeup brushes you may already have. I also have bits of sponge that was used for packaging that I ripped up and used to apply liquid latex.

Liquid latex – you can buy big bottles of this from sites like eBay or Amazon for really affordable prices and liquid latex is a very versatile product, you can use it with cotton wool and tissue to build up wounds and textures…

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