Living on a Prayer

Hmm. Where to start? It’s certainly been a weekend to remember, trying to get fit for a Half Ironman in four and a half months was always going to be a tall order. It seemed so easy back in January when putting in that online entry. Oh how wrong I turned out to be.

Training was plagued with problems from day one. Various running injuries meant I came into the race having not done anything longer than a 10k. Swimming had luckily gone a tad more smoothly, I had at least managed to get in a couple of open water events before the big day. Not surprisingly the bike leg was the only stage I felt truly prepared for, having cycled from Land’s end to John O’Groats a few weeks beforehand my endurance was better than it had ever been.

I underestimated the amount of extra equipment that would be needed for the move into this new sport. Wetsuit, tri suit, open water goggles, race belt and a new saddle just to name a few. On a student budget this proved to be far from easy, many hours were spend trawling the internet searching for review articles in an attempt to find the brands that gave the best value for money. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last few years it’s that you really don’t need the most expensive kit to put in a good performance.

I realised why the entry fee had been so high upon arriving at the venue the day before. With 2,500 participants organising the race must have been a logistical nightmare. Fifty six miles of closed roads for the bike course, the seafront set up for the run and a large section of beach taken over for purposes of the swim. Seeing the Ironman banners sent a wave of excitement through me, after months of thinking about it I was finally here – about to take on the challenge.

Race day morning was the usual affair. Wake up at 4:30, force down a massive bowl of porridge followed by an extra strong double espresso and get out the door as quickly as possible. It’s hard to describe the combination of nervousness and excitement that I felt when walking down to the startline. I’d invested so much time, money and energy in the race that at that moment in time my greatest fear was that of not managing to finish. “Beep, beep, beep, beep”. Went the countdown, the only other sound I could make out was that of my heart beating. Time to go.

The Swim (1.2 Miles)

Oh Shit”. The very first thought that popped into my head, I’d made the first mistake of the day and it might well prove to be a very costly one. It’s the first thing I would tell anyone doing their first open water swim – warm up in the sea / lake and get used to the temperature. In my defence I had tried, only to be told by an official that it wasn’t allowed. For anyone who hasn’t experienced it cold water shock is absolutely terrifying. The minute my head went underwater I gasped uncontrollably, struggling to breathe. It’s a reflex that you simply can’t override.

My only hope was to carry on and hope that it passed. Any thoughts of getting a good time went out the window in those first two hundred metres, now I was worried about making the cut-off. At first I was forced to use breaststroke simply because it made it easy to keep my head out of the water. A few hundred metres in and I hesitantly switched to freestyle, luckily the shock had passed and I managed to get into something resembling a decent rhythm. I breathed a sigh of relief, being pulled out of the swim would have been a truly soul destroying way for the race to end.

The water wasn’t quite as calm as it looked, I was caught unawares by large waves more than once and ended up taking in a few mouthfuls of disgusting seawater. Not surprisingly given that it was Dorset in September the temperature wasn’t what you might call toasty. Reaching the buoy marking the last turning point was a big milestone, I knew then that I was at least going to make it out of the water. The tide was with me on that homeward bound run in to the finish, exactly what you want when you still have the prospect of the bike and run at the back of your mind.

Having been caught up in the early adrenaline rush that inevitably comes along at the start of a race I had been blissfully unaware of another issue. Inspite of the very generous application of a large amount of vaseline my wetsuit had rubbed the back of my neck raw. In a shorter event that would have been a relatively minor concern, as it was I had cause to worry – that nagging soreness could prove very detrimental during the remaining five hours or so of racing still to come.

The Bike (56 Miles)

This leg I was looking forward to. The course suited me perfectly, rolling and technical with some familiar roads it could have been purposefully designed to allow me to redeem myself after the early difficulties in the water.

I’d spend a lot of time thinking about bike setup prior to race day. In all but the very worst weather conditions a Time Trial bike is the fastest option. I decided not to make any further changes to my position,  my flexibility is good enough to be-able to stay low and therefore aerodynamic for a relatively long period of time and not end up stiffening my lower back muscles (i.e. ruining the run prospects) in the process. I opted for a short tailed aero road helmet rather than a pure TT one, this meant I could move my head up and down without incurring a massive amount of drag. In the interest of practicality I opted for ordinary water bottles rather than the aero variety, the last thing I wanted was to lose one on course and arrive at the start of the run in a dehydrated state.

My Cannondale Slice was billed as “a bike designed for triathletes, not time triallists” and now I understand why. It might not have much in the way of fancy features but it’s a very comfortable ride, the brakes work well (unlike on a lot of TT bikes) and it’s light enough to make the hills as painless as possible. For that course the setup really was ideal, if only the swim and run could have gone so smoothly.

The Time Trialling I’d done in the early part of the season was really paying off, it was easy to settle into a constant rhythm and keep my mind on the task at hand. My pacing strategy was rudimentary but had served me well in the past, keeping to an average of roughly 80% of my maximum heart rate and not allowing it go above 90% under any circumstances. I felt good from the first pedal stroke to the last, soon losing track of the number of people I managed to overtake. It’s beyond satisfying to pass people on bikes that probably cost four times as much your own, usually sporting all of the aero gadgetry money can buy.

I was under no illusions when it came to the likely times I’d record for the run and swim (i.e. pretty abysmal), the one thing I was set on was a fast bike split. Luckily my legs delivered, a time of 2:41 translating to an average speed of 21mph was better than I could have hoped for at the start of the day. In keeping with the advice I’d been given by more experienced triathletes I took it very easy for the last mile, hoping against hope that I had enough left in the tank to make it to the end of the run.

The Run (13.1 Miles)

Now the real race began. Everything up until this point had been about arriving at the run in the freshest possible state. Now I would know if I’d managed to get it right with pacing, nutrition and hydration. I took my time in transition, making sure everything was as comfortable as possible. My run split was never going to be spectacular, this was simply about finishing the race.

Upon setting off, the enormity of the task that still lay ahead hit me. Your mind has a tendency to play nasty tricks like that towards the end of a long event when fatigue really begins to set in. I had to take it one step at a time, never thinking beyond the next mile marker. In terms of pacing it was completely unknown territory, setting a target speed would have been unrealistic – everything would have to be done on feel. To make things easier for myself I decided to drop to a walk when arriving at an aid station, walk the length of that station (usually about 50 metres) and then resume running. Another tool with which to ease the psychological burden of the race.

The course itself was straightforward, 3.5 laps up and down the sea front. Mercifully flat but quite mentally demanding, having some variation in scenery to focus on really makes a difference during a long run or ride – allowing you to take your mind off the fatigue. My neck was still sore from the swim, a constant irritation that I had to try and push through. Without wanting to go into too much detail the energy gels I had consumed on the bike had gone straight through me, necessitating an emergency pit stop at mile three to avoid seriously compromising my dignity. Triathlon is many things but glamorous is not one of them.

Character building is a term that I’ve used around quite a lot in previous posts but during the last lap of the run I really came to understand it’s meaning. Every fibre of my being was telling me to stop. All the external motivation in the world isn’t enough to keep you going when such deep fatigue sets in. That desire to finish has to come from inside, somehow you have to find it within yourself to say no to what your body is telling you and just keep running, one footfall at a time.

It’s strange what goes through your mind in that situation, an amazing clarity that I’d never felt to such an extent before. I simply didn’t have the energy to lie to myself or push things to the back of my mind, everything peripheral was stripped away leaving the bare bones of my personality. As you might imagine this lead to one or two large revelations, I won’t go into them here.

Only when I saw the finish line did I allow myself to celebrate, I was going to finish this race. It had taken me right to the very limit both physically and mentally. I can honestly say I fought back tears in those last few hundred meters. Never before had I experienced such elation upon crossing a finish line, I might only have finished in 428th place overall but the sense of achievement that came with simply getting round was almost indescribable. Half way there.

The Lowdown 

Delayed onset muscle soreness wasn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep, I’m writing this whilst bleary eyed and yearning for the third espresso of the day. I’ve just about had time to process the experience, it’s certainly not one I’ll ever forget. After a long and hard four months it’s time to relax for a few days and get my mind off training and racing.

I’m no longer going to hesitate when calling myself a triathlete, the transition from bike racing now feels fully complete. Yesterday further reinforced my conviction that it’s sensible to spend next season focusing on shorter races so as to refine my skills for this new sport. I can’t yet face the prospect of entering another half Ironman let alone a full one with the knowledge that it’s going to hurt as much as yesterday did. 2019 Seems like a much more realistic prospect when it comes to realising that particular dream.

Finally there is a long list of people I need to thank. First and foremost my family, there aren’t many people in this world who would get up at 4:30 to drive someone to a race as my father did. I’m not always the easiest person to put up with in the days leading up to a big race, their tolerance is very deeply appreciated. A shoutout should also be given to all the spectators on the bike and run courses, having a crowd encouraging you provides a real morale boost especially when the going is tough. I certainly wouldn’t have got round without the help and advice of a few more experienced triathletes beforehand, those tidbits of information are real lifesavers. Big thank you therefore to everyone who took the time to answer my questions. Last but not least I have to give a mention to the organisers and volunteers who made the race happen, it can’t be easy to provide for the needs of 2,500 athletes.

Thanks for reading.

Two footed woes

Running and I have something of a love-hate relationship. Like so many alumni of British private schools my first memories of the sport are of the ghastly cross country races held in the winter. Back than I wasn’t exactly athletic, a classic fat lad at the back if ever there was one. I’m amazed it still doesn’t give me nightmares; running through ankle deep mud, rain beating down on heavy feeling shoulders, gasping for breath and hoping against hope that the horror might soon be over.

Later in life, 20kg lighter and sporting a much improved cardiovascular system thanks to a couple of years of Cycling I learnt that running wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t until I broke my clavicle that I had a more serious foray into sport. Thinking about that first run is almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. It was a typical winter day; blowing a gale, ice on the ground, the trees bare and the roads covered in mud. Never before had I felt such a great sense of freedom, after weeks of being stuck indoors whilst forced to rely on other people for even the most basic of everyday tasks I finally had the chance to escape. It must have looked odd, I was still wearing a sling and the only running gear I possessed at the time was a pair of ancient trainers, my old P.E. shorts and a highly flattering fluorescent green T-Shirt.

Running whilst injured was a superb means to increase my fitness and keep me from going stir crazy. It was that experience that helped push me in the direction of Triathlon once I finally had the epiphany that Road Racing really wasn’t my thing. For me the downside of running is that my legs just don’t seem to like it. Over the years I’ve managed to hurt everything at least once; knee, calf, hip, ankle… the list goes on. Every change I make, be it a new technique or a change of equipment has a tendency to get rid of some of the old issues and bring a whole host of new ones with it.

My latest experiment has been switching to a forefoot strike, something contemporary research in biomechanics seems to indicate might be helpful in preventing injury. Well, my knees are fine but my ankles are shot. After a month of running I had a bout of tendonitis, taking three weeks to clear itself up. It’s frustrating that I can’t get in any more than ten miles or so per week without incurring an injury. As a result the run has become something of an achilles heel for me at this stage of my Triathlon career.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, this is a problem that needs to to be nipped in the bud if I’m to have any chance of making significant progress towards any multisport goals. My plan is to stop Swimming and Cycling for a month during the winter, either October or November depending on fatigue levels once the the competitive season ends. During that time I’ll focus exclusively on running, doing everything in my power to sort it out. I’m determined that next year I won’t be the guy overtaking people on the bike only to be caught again in the first mile of the run.

In order to motivate myself during that time I’ll have to come up with some kind of goal. As a University student there are few prospects that fill me with greater dread than that of getting up very early in the morning in the Winter in order to complete a gruelling training session. Perhaps bettering my half marathon PB of 1:35 or trying to run a sub 40-minute 10k during the Spring. Maybe even some kind of running based adventure, more on that in a future post if the idea develops any further.

It’s a tantalising prospect, finally being able to banish any lasting reminders of that overweight schoolboy who loathed all forms of physical activity. Sadly at the minute any running prowess has yet to emerge, the fact that I’ve spend most of the day hobbling around on sore ankles after running a steady 10k yesterday speaks for itself. Still, onwards and upwards.

Thanks for reading.

A fish out of water

I had a scare this morning, looking at the calendar it seems as if time has flown by. Just 23 days to go until Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. A 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile Bike and finally a half marathon. On the face of it none of those sound too bad – until you put them together and realise quite what a mammoth undertaking such an event is going to be. Six months ago it seemed very easy, signing up online as I’ve done hundreds of times before. Now the reality the challenge has truly dawned, I’m trying to forget that it’s only half the distance of my long term goal event, a full Ironman.

I’ve decided to change my approach to training, endless number crunching had sucked all the joy out of this new sport before I’d really had a chance to get into the swing of it. For these next three weeks I’ll train primarily on feel, at the end of the day it either hurts or it doesn’t – that age old measure of intensity still has plenty of merit. Already I’m finding the process far more enjoyable; running on undulating trails rather than boring roads, finding more time to enjoy the social side of cycling and not being overly fussed if my average swim pace was slower than that of the last session.

I was lucky to meet some fellow triathletes on the recent LEJOG ride. One of the most useful pieces of advice I was given was to get some experience of open water swimming before the big day. So it was that yesterday evening a group of us travelled down to Weymouth (a local seaside town for anyone who doesn’t know) to complete an Aquathlon. Again it sounds easy, a 1km swim followed by a 5km run.

Before even setting off I encountered the first hurdle – putting on my wetsuit. Even tougher than a TT skinsuit, without a liberal application of vaseline I would have lost the battle to get the damn thing over my shoulders. It was gently pointed out that I had managed to put it on back to front, shattering any misconceptions my peers might have had about my experience in Triathlon.

The water wasn’t exactly inviting, far from the clear, blue, warm seas you get on holiday. Instead it was classic UK, virtually opaque and rather choppy. Not wanting to spend any more time worrying about it I took a deep breath and went in to warm up, my wetsuit thankfully did it’s job, leaving hypothermia to tick off the list of potential hazards. After a few minutes it was time to go to the startline. I’m sure many of my fellow competitors were considerably more experienced, once again I was the newbie with a great deal to learn.

Anyway, the whistle went and the race got underway. I couldn’t help but have a small laugh to myself, all these people in neoprene wetsuits running into the cold water – it reminded me of one of those David Attenborough nature documentaries about Penguins, I could practically overhear the narration. It’s a totally different experience to a pool swim; people frantically jostling for position, battling through waves and grappling with a tricky wind direction. I was struck by how difficult it was to see the buoys we were using as course markers.

Once the initial shock had passed I began to get the hang of it, sighting every 12 strokes and following the swimmer ahead who happened to be wearing a conveniently bright coloured cap. Upon coming out of the water I experienced a sense of accomplishment and relief.  Another experience to remove from the bucket list.

Next came something I’ll never live down. I made my way to the transition area, quickly locating my towel and running shoes. You would think getting out of a wetsuit would be a relatively simple task, oh how wrong I was. Once I’d managed to unzip the thing I was puzzled as to why it wouldn’t budge, caught up in the racing atmosphere (this is my excuse for not thinking straight). After a couple of minutes had passed somebody kindly pointed out to me that the velcro toggle at the back was still done up. Had I not found it within myself to laugh at that point I may well have cried.

It was at that point that I decided to call it a day, any chance of placing well had long since faded. I would love to say that I felt guilty whilst tucking into a generous portion of fish and chips and watching the runners come in. Honestly I didn’t, a big part of me is of the opinion that there is no better way to spend a summer evening than eating by the sea, the darkness slowly creeping in. If all goes well I’ll go down again next week and actually finish the thing.

People say that Ironman training is a journey like no other. Having initially been sceptical of what seemed like an overly romanticised description I’m now beginning to understand what they mean. Even in training for a half distance event I’ve had to learn many new skills, pushing the boundaries of my sporting comfort zone. Juggling three sports has proved to be an immense challenge but one that I can’t quite seem to escape from, I can honestly say that going back to pure cycling would seem like an opt-out. Onwards and upwards.

Thanks for reading.

That Triathlon thing

Well, after a few months of talking about it I finally got round to doing one of those Swim-Bike-Run things. It turns out Triathlon is hard, very hard. Suddenly a whole new series of challenges have presented themselves, I now realise just how ambitious it was to set myself the challenge of training for a half-Ironman in just four months. One thing is for sure, the next five weeks leading up to the big day are going to be tough.

Before talking about the race itself I’ll get the excuses out the way. Who knows? This time some of them might even be legitimate. Preparation wasn’t exactly ideal, as per usual I failed to take enough recovery time following on from my last Road Race back at the end of April. Que an extra week off. After that it was a nasty bout of hayfever that got in the way, intense exercise really isn’t much fun with a blocked nose and streaming eyes. Luckily I managed to get it under control. Next I was put on medication for something unrelated, just typical that the side effects happened to be high fatigue levels in addition to nausea when exercising. What could possibly happen next? As it turned out, losing my job and subsequently setting off on a LEJOG ride. You couldn’t make it up.

I was close to pulling out of the race altogether. At the last minute I decided to go ahead, having the Weymouth Half Ironman as my first ever triathlon wouldn’t have been a sensible idea. I’m not usually in the habit of going into races when still feeling tired and sore from previous exertions. This one was always going to be a baptism of fire.

The night before involved something of a last minute panic. I really should have noticed my tri suit had no pocket, the only solution was to tape gels to the top tube. A quick glance at the rules revealed that the race was not draft legal as I had previously thought. My trusty TT bike was pressed into service. “Why on Earth haven’t I had the common sense to ride it before now, having made all those big position adjustments?”. I thought to myself – hoping against hope that I wouldn’t end up crippling my back, knees or anything else oweing to setting up the machine so hastily.

I won’t lie and say I enjoyed the 5:30 AM start. Anyone who knows me will probably tell you I’m not a morning man, even a double espresso failed to raise my spirits. After that it was the usual pre-startline rush; Arrive, park in what seemed like an impossibly small space. Run to registration before it closed, hand over my race license and collect my number. Set up bike, making sure nothing was likely to fall off. Sneak into the race briefing five minutes late and hope nobody noticed me. Put bike and run gear in transition, taking a healthy amount of time to admire other peoples machines and wonder how much those wheels/handlebars/saddles/groupsets cost. Get changed, apply generous amounts of vaseline to avoid chafing (such a glamorous sport this). Finally line up on the startline, in this case poolside and prepare for the pain and suffering to follow.

Swim

I was apprehensive, having not entered the water for over a fortnight my chances of setting a good time were minimal. In actual fact I felt good, even managing to overtake someone in my lane. Somehow it turned out to be a 750m PB. Of course I soon managed to completely lose count of the number of lengths I was doing, being lucky enough to hear the rather exasperated official telling me to get out of the pool.

Bike

My transition was a very long way from the slick, well practiced effort you see from the pros, or for that matter anyone who has the slightest clue what they’re doing. I dried myself off, debating whether or not to put on arm warmers. On went my helmet, gloves, socks (another lesson learned, you will almost fall over from the force it takes to pull them onto wet feet), and shoes. Fortunately I remembered to set the Garmin going, after all if it isn’t on Strava it didn’t happen.

Once on the bike I felt a sense of calm. I may not have looked like much in the pool but this I knew how to do, all that time trial training was surely going to pay off here. I felt fast for the following 25 miles, losing count of the number of people I managed to overtake. The course was perfectly suited to a rider such as myself, rolling rather than hilly and containing some fast descents that I knew well. My Cannondale Slice may not be the most aerodynamic of TT bikes but it is one of the lightest you can get without spending silly money. Passing a couple of people wearing GB gear was one of the highlights of the race, though they easily came past me in the first kilometre of the run.

Run

I climbed off the bike and realised straight away that I’d gotten carried away and overpaced it. The following 10km really made me question whether or not I would be-able to get round a half ironman with only a month of training left. Legs felt like jelly, my chest was tight and I developed a particularly nasty stitch during the last mile. A very different experience to that had on the swim and bike legs.

A nasty sting in the tail soon followed. Within sight of the finish line I was misdirected by an official, doing an extra .8 of a mile before another one pointed out the mistake. I feel very guilty for snapping at the man whilst in my tired state – “are you %*@!?% kidding me?” I cried out in protest. That outburst showed just how hard the race had been, I can’t remember the last time I was so desperate to stop and rest.  By the time I reached the finish line I could manage little more than a jog, any remaining vestiges of energy long since depleted.

It’s over!

I had to spend ten minutes standing in the finishing area before even contemplating walking the short distance back to the car. It had only been a few days since finishing LEJOG and all that fatigue finally caught up with me. Nonetheless I did feel a sense of achievement, now able to call myself a true triathlete. I can practically hear my cycling friends shaking their heads in disappointment, don’t worry I’ll always be a roadie at heart. The final result came as a pleasant surprise, 9th overall with the second fastest bike split of the day. If not for going the wrong way during the run  I’d like to think I might have finished a couple of places higher up.

As usual I have tried to take as much away from the experience as possible. My main weakness is definitely the run, confirming what I’ve long thought – shame as it’s also the discipline in which I seem especially prone to injury. After taking a couple of days to think about it I’ve decided to delay entering a full Ironman, perhaps 2019 is a more realistic prospect. I’ll spend next year learning the craft by doing shorter races. Amongst other things not having the pressure of such a massive undertaking will make it easier to enjoy training and racing.

Thanks for reading.

 

Argh – not this again.

A great many four letter words have been uttered during the course of the last few days, more than I would like to admit. Project Ironman has hit a major snag, motivation has skydived and I have at times felt like it would be much easier to just walk away. Hello to two of my oldest and most disliked acquaintances, injury and burnout.

It all started with a run. Nothing too hard, five miles on mixed terrain – something I would have thought nothing of during my half marathon training last spring. I ignored a slight twinge coming from my right foot during the last couple of miles, I have encountered similar things before and know that nine times out of ten it’s nothing to worry about. Once I got home the pain began to get worse, by the end of the day I was walking with a limp. At this point I did start to panic, when trying to turn yourself into a triathlete in four months an injury would be semi catastrophic.

It’s now a month down the line and my foot has only just started to feel normal again. My GP described it as a textbook case of tendonitis, the only solution being to rest as much as possible and hope the pain resolved itself. It’s far from over, I’ll have to be extra cautious with running for the next few weeks – we’re talking no more than a couple of miles on grass to begin with. Not exactly ideal race preparation.

On a more positive note my swimming has been steadily improving. It’s gratifying to see that gradual increase in both speed and endurance that comes relatively easily when new to a sport. I’d like to think I’ve managed to rediscover some of the technique that I managed to perfect all those years ago, at the very least I don’t get out of breath after 25m anymore. My times are still mid pack worthy at best but I’m optimistic for things to come.

Cycling has taken a bit of a nose dive. After the Tour of Wessex I made the classic mistake of not allowing myself enough time off. The result was depressingly predictable, tired legs and poor power output. Occasionally we all have to really drag ourselves out the door in order to go for a ride, during the last couple of weeks it’s been like that each and every time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that demotivation, poor performance and poor recovery indicate overreaching. That and putting on 2kg over the course of ten days.

As a result I’m in the midst of an unplanned week off. It’s been five days since I last got on a bike, the longest break since the off-season. There are a few encouraging signs; I’m no longer craving sugary foods, my legs don’t feel sore when getting out of bed in the morning and I have enjoyed better sleep quality.

Nonetheless it’s all been a real pain in the neck, tendonitis followed by overtraining. It would seem that my initial prediction that swimming would be the problem was in fact very wrong. Getting round a Half-Ironman is sounding much harder than it did six weeks ago when I started triathlon training. All I can hope for is remaining free from injury and overtraining for the next three months. Crossing that finish line is going to feel very good, assuming I make it there of course.

Thanks for reading.

Ready to go – If it stops raining.

I’m writing this whilst sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands, metaphorically anyway. It’s a Spring morning – sunny, fresh and full of possibility. Well, not exactly. In fact the sky is that classic cloudy grey that we in Britain know so well, rain is pouring down with a vengeance and it’s blowing a gale. Suffice to say that the Sunday club run for which I had made an effort to return home for the weekend is not happening.

Last week I had begun to hope that winter might finally be showing signs of remission, my happy illusion has been well and truly shattered. Any thoughts of riding the summer bike have long since gone down the drain, it’s sitting indoors looking sorry for itself. I now face yet another long turbo session, Zwift might make it more bearable but I’d always much rather be out on the road. Oh how I envy those who live in warmer climates!

I’m convinced its one of the main reasons why Cycling has only recently taken off in the UK as a mainstream sport. Our weather has a nasty habit of playing havoc with riding plans, even in the height of summer it’s unusual to have a week without at least one day being rained off. Of course it could be worse, at least there is no longer snow and ice to contend with. Having been forced to cut down on volume this week, my legs are feeling fresh for the first time in a while.

When I have managed to get out in between showers, the PR’s have been coming thick and fast. I’m certainly not at my best yet but am hesitantly optimistic that it’s time to start competing again. I’ve entered a local TT in three weeks time, a hilly course that should suit me well. The thought of wearing a skin suit is doing a very good job of dissuading me from indulging too much on the food front. I’m grateful to finally have the chance to put my training into practice, numbers can only tell you so much – the best indicator of performance is performance itself.

Project Ironman has also taken another step. Having finally succeeded in organising my finances it was time to pay the entry fee for my first 70.3. Backing out is officially no longer an option, I’ve made a point to tell as many people as possible about my goal so as to further minimise chances of dropping out at the last minute. I’ve had my nose in the Triathletes Training Bible for the past few days. With only a few months to prepare, I’ll have to come up with a quality training program and follow it to the letter if I am to get round in one piece.

It’s the run that worries me the most. Like many aspiring triathletes I have what can be referred to as ‘glass feet’ – meaning I’m highly prone to injuries. Moving to a front foot strike is paying dividends, for the first time in my running history I can go more than a mile without incurring a protest from calves, ankles, knees or a combination of the above. However, one problem has now given way to another – spectacular blisters on the balls of my feet. A mere two miles is enough distance for these to flare up. I hope that running more regularly will be the solution, as they say “that which does not kill you makes you stronger” (though I can find fault in that philosophy, no shortage of examples to the contrary).

Like all Ironman events, it will begin with a swim in open water. Short of swimming in the mediterranean whilst on holiday, this isn’t something in which I have much experience (I dare say the English Channel in September will be very different). I enjoyed some modest success in the water as an under eleven but haven’t swum seriously since then. It’s going to be a race against time, getting myself fit enough to survive what I’m told is often the most treacherous stage of triathlon. I’m not expecting to post a competitive time in the water, hoping I’ll be-able to make up some of the lost time on the bike.

Having given the bike course a quick glance, it’s a nice one. Taking place on roads I regularly train on, with some good hills thrown into the mix. My TT bike isn’t the most aerodynamic but does happen to be lighter than most, likewise my strength as a rider is power to weight rather than absolute wattage. I’m hopeful of posting a decent bike split time (i.e. banking on it as a consolation prize when looking at what will probably be an abysmal overall result).

On that, I really had better stop procrastinating. Time to get my kit on, drag myself out to the garage and climb onto the dreaded turbo trainer once again. Onwards and upwards.

Project Ironman – easier said than done.

The new year begun for me in much the same way as I suspect is the case for most of us – a severe case of post festive blues. It has been a case of getting back to the grindstone regarding training, nutrition and exam revision. I have certainly acquired a few bad habits of late; eating far too much sugar, forgetting to fill in my training diary and devoting a less than optimal amount of time to academic study. Just to name a few.

In order to motivate myself to get off the sofa and say no to those leftover festive treats, I decided to register for my first Half Ironman. Fortunately there is such an event taking place in September, a mere 45 minute drive from my front door. No excuses now. It was then that I realised the extent of the challenge that now lies ahead. I haven’t swum seriously for at least a decade and if previous experience is anything to go by I’ll have to be very careful with running volume so as not to injure myself. Time to hit the books.

I came across a very interesting volume called Born to Run. For anyone interested in running or simply endurance sport in general it is well worth a read. I was very intrigued by the argument it makes in favour of barefoot / minimal running. In short it mentions recent research that suggests humans have evolved to run and that modern, heavily padded running shoes serve as a hindrance and increase the risk of injury rather than reduce it. With a history of niggling running injuries I have decided to give it a go, ditching the unnecessary tech and going for a more minimal setup – once funds allow for the purchase of new shoes that is.

My go-to reference has been Going Long, written by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. Having gotten along very well with the training bible series and found the advice within to be helpful and reliable, it seemed like a sound choice. I’m still in the process of slowly digesting the information contained within, a proper training plan has yet to be drawn up. If only I could take in that which I am supposed to be revising for new year exams at a similar rate.

Yesterday I headed out for my first run in months. Two miles at a gentle pace, surely nothing could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately I failed to take into account my own general ineptitude, at the 1.5 mile mark I noticed a slight twinge in my left ankle. Thinking nothing of it I simply carried on, 24 hours later I am walking like C-3PO (i.e. hobbling) – my ankle is throbbing and my calves are seized. At this point, I’ll be lucky to get to the startline without having to resort to crutches.

To add insult to injury I have somehow managed to pick up a virus, after my disastrous run I attempted to head out for a ride. After all of of one kilometre I was forced to call it a day, sometimes the legs just say no – in this case my stomach was in agreement. I have had a headache ever since, as you might imagine this is not making the exam revision any easier.

Anyway, time to stop complaining and remember the positives. Hopefully my injury isn’t a long term thing and will clear up with some rest, the same going for whatever illness with which I am afflicted. From past experience I know that my legs will never be quite as painful as after that first run – things can (hopefully) only get better. An Ironman training plan will soon be formulated and it will be time to start for real, a most exciting if slightly scary prospect.

Until late April Cycling will still be my main focus, a race organised by my club will be a nice way to round off that particular chapter of my athletic career. Realistically Triathlon training will result in an decrease in prowess on the bike and as such I can’t expect to be as competitive in bike races. Time then for a last hurrah, nothing like a home race to really drive the motivation to the the highest level.

For now, I’ll leave it. A happy new year to all readers.