Friday, 16 February 2018

Its been a while........

So here goes……….

Have you ever been so overawed by life that merely getting out of your bed each morning is a struggle that you never thought you would have to endure? A feeling where you feel worthless. Where you question what is the point in living anymore. Where every waking moment your head is filled with a sense of dread and negativity.

Well I have and this is the reason for my protracted disappearance from social media. I have taken a break from most social media while I tried to heal myself. This process has taken nearly two years to complete. And I sit here today writing as a survivor of depression. I can see quite clearly how this illness can claim people because I was nearly one of them. 

Since March 2016 I have been battling a depression that has shocked me to my very core. I have seriously contemplated suicide on several occasions. I have talked openly about this with my counsellors. I am able to put this down on paper without regret. Why should I regret it? Is it something to be ashamed of? No it isn't. It's an illness. If I'd broken my back people would be able to see that. But you can't see what's going on in people's heads. But that doesn't make it any less debilitating or real. 

What annoys me about mental health is the stigma which surrounds it. I was sat in a Mental Health First Aid course the other week talking openly about my issues. And I got thanked for sharing my thoughts. Why should I be thanked for being honest? Shouldn't we all be able to talk about this horrific illness without fear of reprisal? It's taken me a long time to get to this stage in my recovery. 

In the past two years there have been mornings when I have been surrounded by such a claustrophobic all-encompassing blackness that simply getting out of bed has been a battle. But I have battled because I felt I had to go to work. Because I had to keep a roof over my head. This was stupid. I should have sought help sooner. I wish I had.

I am not writing this for sympathy. I am writing this as a retrospective memory of where I've been and what I've been through so that if I ever find myself at the bottom of a well again I can reread this and remind myself that there is a way out. There is a ladder of hope that I can climb because I have been there before. I have overcome depression once so if needed I could do it again. I just hope I would seek the help I needed sooner. 

I have hidden myself away. I have not fully aired my feelings except to those closest to me.

I have lost friends because I have been reclusive.

In all honesty I should have sought help a lot sooner that I did. But I didn't. Because……….PRIDE. But now I know that this was stupid of me.

Looking back now some of the thoughts I have had had seem like the distant ramblings of a stranger but they weren't. At the time they all felt real and they were me. The me that was struggling but still me and still real even if a little strange. 

I can vividly remember laughing hysterically at my own joke in a meeting at work. I can remember the questioning looks of my colleagues to this day. I can remember the shame I felt as clear as if it was yesterday. Was I losing my grip on reality?

I can remember sobbing uncontrollably for four hours alone in my house before a friend convinced me I needed help, this was the turning point for me. I finally gave in after this because I was at my wits end. 

I can remember going on a night out with friends and being sat outside of a pub sobbing after they had gone home because I had to go home to the all encompassing deafening silence. 

Life threw me a curve ball. I wasn't expecting it. And it caused my to unravel. 

Depression doesn't give a damn about who it takes as a victim. It knows no boundaries and it doesn't care how much it affects people. It is the illness which could pick out anyone regardless of how well off they appear to others. 

I would like to go on record as thanking those who have stood by me through thick and thin. 

From the owners of companies (yes you Deano) who knew my problems but treated me as they always had by standing by me, supporting me and asking for my feedback on their prototype products.

To my family, friends and colleagues who have been there to check in on me, to listen to me, to pick me up and dust me off (more than once), invited me round for tea, made the effort with me, hugged me, been normal with me and gone for a beer with me. I could list you all individually but you know who you are and no amount of words can portray the thanks I owe to each and every one of you. 

I would also like to apologise to the people I have lost as friends. But my actions weren't me. They were the depressed Michael who was struggling with life. 

Around the same time I got thrown my curve ball by life. I got elected as the Head Coach of Doncaster Triathlon Club. I've done my best to juggle this role along with my battle with depression but I know I've not been as effective in this role as I would have liked. My passion for coaching and helping others is still there as it always has been and I hope now that I am feeling better, the people I coach will reap the rewards from my volunteer coaching. 

And now for my last rambling thought. If you're reading this and are struggling, feel free to get in touch via Twitter (@smoker2ironman). I've been there and the first contact is the hardest to make. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Don't keep burying your head in the sand. Help is available if you want it. I've used the Samaritans more than once in the last two years and they are an amazing charity. 

Thanks for reading. 

A survivor. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Swimming - eliminate the scissor kick

Since I've been coaching swimming, I have started to make a theory about the dreaded scissor kick that is the bane of most people who come to swimming from a non swimming background.

You know the kick where when people go to breath they spread their legs to give them more stability in the water.

Well each time that person goes to breath and widens their legs they are essentially creating a massive anchor that they are pulling behind them. They are slowing down their swimming because spreading the legs increases their hydrodynamic drag. Imagine if it was in cycling, you try to make yourself as small to the wind as you can so you go further for the same effort, well the same theory applies with swimming because you are still moving through a fluid.

Who knew that I would find a tenuous use for the the fluid mechanics I studied at University in 2001.

I am sure some swimming gurus like Paul Newsome may not agree with this post but I have been trying to eliminate this with some of the swimmers at Doncaster Triathlon Club and think I have found the culprit behind this scissor kick.

I looked at this with an open mind and after some experiments I believe I have found the cause of the scissor kick and a drill to eliminate it.

First the cause.

The cause for this scissor kick in my opinion is rotation. Yes you read that right rotation!

Before you get started and get angry, stay with me.

Yes you need to rotate in front crawl, but the scissor kick is caused by what you rotate with.

From my observations you are more likely to scissor kick if your shoulders are leading the rotation in front crawl.

The reasons being that your legs will lag behind the other parts of your body as you rotate. Imagine a wave in your mind or better still click this link.

As you can see from the video if the shoulders are leading the rotation it stands to reason that the hips will lag a little behind and the feet will lag even further behind. Because the feet lag so far behind it also stands to reason that the swimmer will need to create some stability for themselves in the water. To do this they kick their legs and the result is the scissor kick.

Second the solution.

If we learn to rotate from the hips instead of the shoulders, in theory the shoulders and feet will be rotating at the same time as we are rotating from the centre of our mass, and the body will be more stable so there will be no need for the scissor kick to occur.

So the key IMO to remove the scissor kick is to learn to lead with the hips instead of the shoulders.

Where I have managed to get swimmers to lead with the hips, the scissor kick is completely eliminated.

But as #practicemakespermanent it takes time and practice to get this to happen. Imagine if a swimmer has been swimming leading with the shoulders for 2 years, thats two years worth of bad habits we need to eliminate before they will feel natural rotating with the hips.

Now for the drill which can help eliminate this problem.

Before some of your lengths practice this drill. Yes you might feel like an idiot but it works.

You have to be in a streamlined position for this to work with your arms out stretched in front of you. The reason your arms have to be outstretched is that it stops you rotating with your shoulders and this means you must rotate with the hips.

As you push off from the wall perform a 360 degree rotation underwater (while kicking) in the streamlined position with your hips leading the rotation before you take your first stroke or breath. Imagine M Bison from Streetfighter II to help with this drill.

Because you have started the length leading with the hips, you will lead your rotation for the rest of the length with your hips instead of your shoulders.

Keep practicing this drill and you should notice that the scissor kick which has plagued you disappears over time.

I hope you find this blog useful and helpful.

If you need anything clarifying, leave me a comment and I will try to answer any queries.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, 11 July 2016

A first for me

Don't really know where to start with this........

Yesterday I was stood in a field in the pouring rain in my trisuit and my tracksuit bottoms grinning from ear to ear. I honestly can't remember the last time I was this happy.

Why you ask?

Simple I had just been presented with my first bit of triathlon silverware.

Me the person who at school was awful at running, who detested cross country, who as an adult did no exercise. Me the overweight ex smoker. Me the person who was told he needed to lose weight to run. Me, who in my first London Triathlon in 2012 came 3781st out of 4051 finishers.

Yes it may not be a national event like some people I know but this is well it's just me and I was gobsmacked to have won my age group.

I was the 1st placed 35-39 athlete at the Lincolnshire Edge Triathlon held at Cadney in North Lincs and 6th placed male overall to match my previous highest finishing position.

I'm not going to lie and say I hadn't been thinking this was possible but when an event is out of your immediate locality, you never know who is going to turn up and race.

But enough of me waxing lyrical and spoiling the story by giving you the ending first.

You really want to know the gory details of the race, don't you?


When I looked at the start list. 2 names stood out. Steve Grocock and Caitlin Bower. I was hoping for a cheeky #firstoutthewater but these two would test my metal. Caitlin has always set off after me in local races because shes a shwimmer as opposed to me who's just a swimmer. And a quick look at the recent Ironman Austria results confirmed Steves swim speed as he did a 58:04. Wow I was going to have an awesome swim to trouble these two.

I put myself near Caitlin and close to the buoy so my swim would be the least distance possible. The hooter went and we were off. Within 30m she was in front of me so I did what anyone else would do, I drafted her. I stuck on her feet until the first buoy but the I lost them and she was gone into the distance. Up until this point Steve was on my hip. We turned at the first buoy and Steve swam past me.

Right plan B, swim as hard as I can. I made good progress up the back straight and got to the second buoy just behind Steve.

We turned at the second buoy and the wind was smashing the waves against the back of my head with each breath. Wow it was choppy, thank god I breath to the left. The final straight home was tough going but I soldiered on. With 150m to go some one overtook me. I tried to latch onto their feet but couldn't manage it.

Race position - 4th (2nd male)


Ripped off my wetsuit, threw on my helmet, grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line gaining on Steve.

Race position 3rd (2nd male)


After qualifying for Cozumel I made the decision that all my racing from now on will be on my road bike so I can become accustomed to it. That includes all draft illegal races, all time trials everything. I was fairly certain most people would be on TT bikes because they are allowed but I stuck to my plan and raced on the same setup I plan to use in 10 short weeks.

When setting up my GPS before racing, I became acutely aware of my powermeter not working. Oh well time to race blind and rip my legs off. I use my powermeter to monitor output and cadence. Racing a sprint is all about red lining anyway so if I was hurting then job done.

I mounted my bike and set about trying to go as quick as I could. After about 3 miles, I threw up and felt really gaseous. Oh balls. Maybe I wasn't quite over that viral infection (possible leptospirosis) from last week. 

I had to back it off a bit but kept applying the pressure.

The course was a lot lumpier than I expected and that wind was unrelenting in the first half. It was a constant battle against the elements. I expected a flat course with the race being in Lincolnshire but was shocked by the lumps in the terrain. Never mind it's the same for everyone.

I'd also forgotten the course was long (16 miles as opposed to the 12 I normally race over) and I felt those last four miles in my legs.

After about 6 miles Aiden Grocock flew past me. This was to be expected and wasn't a shock to me. By 10 miles I had been caught by someone else who zipped past me on his TT bike with disc wheel.

It all comes down to simple maths, they are displacing less air in their tucked position as opposed to me on my road bike so it's no doubt they were passing me. But it's about the bigger picture, I need to get used to being on my road bike. It needs to become an extension of me.

Race position - 6th (4th male)


Rack bike, remove helmet, spin number belt, don trainers and visor. No dramas.

Race position - 6th (4th male)


I set off on the run knowing that recently I have been capable of 23 - 24 minutes for the run so thought I would be able to replicate that today.


My body had other ideas. As soon as I took those first few steps, I was in pain, my stomach felt ridiculously bloated and I wanted to be sick.

I had done nothing out of the ordinary nutrition wise so can only presume this was a result of last weeks illness. After about 1.5km I was running off road (and we all know how much I enjoy that) when I had to stop to walk a few steps to try and burp or throw up. Three belches later and my stomach still felt bloated but the nausea I was feeling had started to abate.

When we ran past the transition area after 2.5km, I so very nearly gave up, such was the level of discomfort I was in. I couldn't settle into my run. My stomach was bloated and I really wanted to be sick. I was really uncomfortable. 

By this point a woman and a man had ran past me so I was still in the top 5 male competitors. I then did some maths and those ahead of me weren't in my AG (either too young or too old).

Time to put up or shut up.

Do I throw in the towel and give up the possibility of an AG victory or MTFU and put up with 12 more minutes of pain and discomfort.

I decided to grit it out and that decision taught me a lot about the sort of athlete I have become. If this had happened in 2012 to 2014 I'd have given up. I really was in that much pain and discomfort. Each step hurt my belly.

I was back running on road at this point so that eased things mentally (as I detest off road running), time to knuckle down and run. I tried to relax, to take my mind to my happy place but my stomach felt awful. I was literally counting down the steps. At one point I was gaining on an athlete ahead of me and that gave me a little lift.

Someone else ran past me just before the turn point, they offered encouragement having seen me walking in pain before. How old were they, I had no idea.

We turned for home and I had just under 1km to run. I could see the finishing arch and used that as a focus to take my mind of the pain in my stomach. I was doing maths while running trying to work out how much longer I would be in pain for. with 200m to go, I had had noone else pass me. 1 minute to go and then you can burp, be sick, curl up in a ball.

I turned back into the race venue and surged to the line.

I was elated to cross the line and that 5km although painful and slow (28:01) taught me a lot about myself and racing.

Race position - 9th (6th male) 

Cue the nervous wait to see if the person who passed me was in my AG. 

Fast forward 1 hour and its the time of the presentation.

The main podium is announced and I am like a giddy child waiting for Christmas.

Then the AG's are starting to be announced. The heavens opened and rain started to fall from the sky. People were taking cover.

The announcer was working up through the age groups 20-24, 25-29, 30-34 and finally 35-39

The next words out of the announcers microphone were music to my ears.

And in 1st place in the 35-39 category from Doncaster Triathlon Club in a time of 1:31:49, Michael Barnett.

I was grinning like a kid in a toy shop as I went to collect my trophy from the event sponsors.

I hate photos of me but actually adore this one because you can see the glee on my face.

No tears, just pure unadulterated joy.

The transformation was complete.

Overweight, cigarette smoking couch potato to competitive(ish) triathlete - total time taken (since London Triathlon 2012) 1387 days

Is the journey over? Is it hell. Just watch this space. 

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 6 July 2016


A long time ago in a galaxy far far away....................

Well in late 2013, I made no attempt to hide my desire to represent Great Britian as an Age Group athlete in triathlon.

I have a dream

This dream has been something I have been quietly chasing for some time.

After the ITU decided to change the rules for sprint distance triathlon to draft legal for the World Championships in Mexico in 2016, I thought that was the final nail in my coffin but then I realised it actually might benefit me.

How could it benefit me you ask?

Well quite simply it turns the race into a running race.

Still confused?

Assuming I could swim well and bike with a good group then I wouldn't lose 9 minutes to compatriots on the run.

Why does 9 minutes matter?

Well it's all about the percentages. To qualify as an AG athlete you either have to be within the top four finishers in your AG at a qualification race or be within 115% of the winner of your AG.

Assuming I swam and biked with the 1st place athlete in my AG and they completed the course in 1:00:00. Then I would need to cross the line in 1:09:00 to be eligible.

And there is no way that that athlete could run 5km 9 minutes quicker than me. Given what I am capable of (23:00 at the end of a triathlon) he would have to run the 5km quicker than the World Record in 1960 for me not to be eligible.

So a plan was formed in my head 18 months ago.

In November 2014 I decided I was going to do all I could to get to Mexico. I decided to concentrate on sprints. I had a relatively good season last year (2015 review) where I concentrated on sprints.

But I needed to up my game this year. I had entered all the qualification races for Mexico to give me the greatest chance but I know where I stood the best chance of qualification. That race was Strathclyde. I am not saying why I knew I would qualify here but I was playing the game.

My preparation for the qualifying races was far form ideal because of life problems but here is a run down of my races.


In late May I travelled down to Eton for my first foray into draft legal racing. I have never before raced in a draft legal bike race or triathlon and boy was it a learning experience. I met a Twitter friend  (Duncan) in transition and we chatted about forming a group on the bike.

I had an awesome swim and came out at the front of the second group.

I quickly mounted my bike and set about working as hard as I could. Duncan caught me up after about 2km and we started working as a pair. After another 2km we got caught by another group of 3. That made a group of 5. We all set about working together and it was working really well. I got on the front and put in to much of an effort, I think I was on the front for two minutes. After I waved people through I had nothing left to get on the back again. I then watched the group ride off into the distance and could do nothing about it.

A huge learning point for me.

After a lap on my own I finally got caught by another two cyclists and we set about each taking turns on the front and it worked really well. We rolled into transition and I set about the run. I buried myself in the 5km.

I crossed the line spent, I had nothing left. I had given everything.

After the results had been announced I realised I hadn't done enough to be eligible for Mexico, I had missed the cut off by 46 seconds. 46 measly seconds. Having looked at the results I would've been into T2 72 seconds quicker if I had stuck with my first group. My eagerness to prove my worth had stopped me being eligible.

Never mind I learnt a lot from this race.


I made the long trip to Scotland knowing this was where I stood the best chance of qualifying. How did I know? The race was held on the same weekend as the ITU world duathlon champs and the weekend after the ETU european triathlon champs so people might not race this race.

I had another wicked swim and led out the third group (all 100 athletes left at the same time), I was quickly onto my bike and riding alone. After the first 5km lap, 6 riders had caught me up and we worked like a well oiled machine each taking a turn at the front. We rolled into T2 together. I was with Duncan and another person from my AG. I knew they wouldn't run the 5km 9 minutes quicker than me but didn't know where the others from my AG were.

As it transpired the winner from my AG was ahead of Duncan (Q2) by over 3 minutes who finished 5 minutes ahead of me.

After analysing the times and results my roll down percentage was 112.75%. I was eligible to race in Mexico and currently lying in 20th position out of 20 possible positions.

Of the 20 positions, 12 were taken by qualification places, 1 went to a pre qualified athlete which left 7 positions for roll down. I was the 7th lowest rolldown. Talk about cutting it fine

I would have to go to Llandudno and race to ensure I had done all I could.


This race didn't really suit me as it was a long climb as opposed to Strathclyde (a series of short climbs) and Eton (pan flat) but I had to do all I could to qualify.

The swim went really well and Duncan had to really work to catch me on the bike which showed I was improving. He promptly dropped me on the second lap climb however. Damn my lack of proper preparation.

I ran as hard as I could in the heat and it hurt, as you can see from the picture below.

I hadn't improved my roll down percentage but two athletes with lower percentages had grabbed automatic qualification places so my position had improved.

Now just the nervous wait for the website to be updated. On the Tuesday morning the website had been updated. I immediately posted my joy on social media as this was something I had been aiming for for 18 months.

I still can't quite believe I have managed to do it, now I just need to fund the trip.

I would now like to give a virtual two fingers to the people who said I couldn't represent GB.

Someone from Twitter said I wasn't quick enough or good enough to be an AG athlete. Well you see that Q next to my name. That says different.

Someone else said I was too fat to be a runner. Yes you may be right I am not typically built to run but that doesn't mean I can't be a competitive triathlete.

Things like this help galvanise my belief that you can achieve anything you set your heart on.

I dreamt about going to Mexico, I believed I could do it (despite some people saying it wasn't possible) and I made it bloody happen with hard work.

On the 15th September I will line up in Mexico and will be so proud of what I have achieved. Just 4 years ago I was still smoking and hadn't completed a triathlon. I hadn't run 5km non stop and was clueless and now I am a GB AG athlete.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 21 February 2016

Not so marginal gains

Triathlon is a sport made up of 3 disciplines. So what should you concentrate your training on?

Ideally you'll be like Messrs Brownlee, Frodeno or Gomez and be awesome at all three. But for us mere mortals what should you concentrate on?

In my opinion you should concentrate most on the discipline you are weakest at. 

So if you're a swimmer concentrate on bike and run. 

If you're a run biker concentrate on swimming.

You can see where this is going.....

Ultimately it's all about concentrating on the discipline where you can make the most time gains. 

I see little point in me chasing the swim and spending 5 hours a week chasing an improvement that would at best get me 45s off my 400m time when the swim is such a small percentage duration in a triathlon and I have bigger gains to make across bike and run. 

If we look at an average triathlon duration for a sprint. The swim for me makes up about 10-15% of overall duration, the bike between 45-50% and the run the remaining 35-40% so it makes no sense chasing an improvement on the swim given the small percentage of duration it takes up. 

If we look back on my triathlon "career".

In 2013 I was okay at swimming but not great on the bike or run so concentrated on bike and run. 

In 2014 my bike was getting better so I spent a lot of time working on my run but still working on my bike. 

In 2015 I needed to make gains on bike and run so concentrated on those again. Finding my race distance helped me refocus my goals. 

And in 2016 I believe my biggest gain can be made on the bike. So guess what I'm spending a lot of my time on the bike. I still need to improve my run but I believe there will be a crossover improvement from the bike and also that the percentage improvement for me is greater on the bike.  

Is it fun concentrating on your weakest discipline. No it's bloody hard work but it's necessary hard work. 

Would I rather go for a swim than go for a run. You bet your ass I would but I know I am chasing the "not so marginal" gains by doing the hard work that is required.  

By all means still spend some time each week training across all 3 disciplines including the often forgotten "strength and conditioning" but make sure the split is right for you, your goals and your work:life balance. After all triathlon is three sports so you have three things to master.

In summary concentrate on doing the hard work on your weakest discipline instead of doing the fun work on the thing you find easiest as this is where you can make the biggest improvements. 

Thanks for reading,