The best-laid plans

Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and realise when it’s time to call it quits. After a long season my body has had enough. Long term fatigue isn’t something you can take lightly and judging by these last two weeks I’m suffering from a serious case of it. It goes beyond simply not putting out the numbers you’re looking for. For what I suspect to be a combination of physiological and psychological reasons I haven’t been able to push myself hard in training, constantly finding excuses for skipping or shortening sessions. Every ride, run or swim has felt like a real drag, something which for me is very unusual. Time then to put 2017 to rest, take a month away from sport and reflect on a season that took a completely different direction to that which I was expecting.

Last December an article appeared on my twitter feed, something from a Triathlon magazine. Tips for training for a first Ironman. “You have to do one of those”. Went an inner voice that refused to go away. So it was that Project Ironman was conceived. I decided to divide my season into two halves, the first would be spent focusing entirely on Cycling. Thereafter I’d go over to what many of us roadies think of as the dark side, adding running and swimming into the mix. In order to motivate myself to go through with the change I decided to enter a half-ironman due to take place in September.

Things kicked off in a very similar way to last season, a hard block of training followed by a bout of illness just in time for my first event . Finishing 9th in my first ever open TT gave me hope that good things were to follow, especially considering I only managed to get round with the help of industrial quantities of nasal decongestant spray. I picked up the time trialling bug, realising that the discipline suited me far more than the chaos of of Road Racing. Unable to help myself I purchased a highly unflattering skinsuit and started messing around with my position. With the help of a dedicated TT bike PB’s came thick and fast.

Perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the season came along during the Easter holiday. My father and I had entered a 25 mile TT, a couple of hours drive from where we live. Being organised we decided to go up the day before and stay the night in order to avoid a ridiculously early start. Upon arrival I had a nagging feeling I’d forgotten something. Sadly on that occasion I was right, I couldn’t possibly have raced without my helmet. So it was that we ended up driving back home to pick it up. The four hours sleep I eventually managed to get that night will forever be my excuse for finishing a mere five seconds off a podium position. Lesson learned – don’t be a complete and utter pillock.

Next up came the event that I’d had my eye on all season, namely the John Andrew’s Memorial RR, run by my local club. Unfortunately it served to confirm my suspicions regarding my aptitude for Racing. I had good legs but my head was never in the game, memories of the crash eighteen months beforehand in which I broke my collarbone made riding in a high speed pack a nerve-wracking experience. Honestly I was glad when it was over. I’d be surprised if I ever rode in a bunch race again.

After a week off it was time to begin Triathlon training in earnest. It wasn’t long before I realised just how difficult it was going to be to get myself ready to tackle an Ironman 70.3 with only four and a half months to play with. I could barely swim more than 25 metres and was bogged down by running injuries from day one. Nonetheless I enjoyed the challenge, there are few things in life as good as the feeling of making progress and pushing forward in the face of adversity.

A blessing in disguise was just around the corner. Losing my summer job was one of the most unpleasant life experiences I’d ever had, second only to that of dropping out of University. By chance I heard about a LEJOG ride taking place a month later. I’ll forever be grateful to the organiser for fitting me in at the last minute. Those twelve days were truly unforgettable. Just about everything was thrown at us; extreme weather, mechanical issues and a level of physical and mental fatigue that I doubt anyone was prepared for. Nonetheless we made it. We developed a real camaraderie over the course of the expedition, people who were relative strangers at the beginning of the trip have become good friends.

A mere five days after rolling into John O’Groats it was time for my first triathlon . Luckily it went better than I expected, the only hitch was that of getting misdirected on the run and ending up doing an unnecessary extra mile. I can’t deny that it was sobering, the Olympic distance (that’s a 750 metre swim, 25 mile ride and a 10k run for anyone who doesn’t know) was hard enough. Ironman 70.3 Weymouth at over double the distance and with an open water swim was set to be brutal.

Suffice to say I started to think I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Still, with such a high entry fee there was no way I was going to give up and pull out of the event at the last minute. Getting in a couple of Aquathlons was vital so as to have experience of sea swimming before race day. Let me tell you that it’s a world away from doing lengths of your local swimming pool.

Two weeks ago the big day finally dawned. I knew it was going to be very tough but nothing could have prepared me for the experience. Cold water shock came close to putting an end to my hopes before the race really had a chance to start. Fortunately I managed to nurse myself through the swim and make up a good amount of time during the bike leg. The run was a matter of survival. I’m no stranger to the tiredness that comes with long hours in the saddle but I won’t hesitate to say that the fatigue I experienced during the latter half of those 13.1 miles was far, far worse. I was holding back tears by the time I stepped over that finish line. I’d never have thought that finishing in 428th place could bring such elation.

All attempts to get back into training since that day have been met by my body with a very firm answer. “Seriously? Are you f*cking kidding me??“. My grand plan of taking November off in order to avoid the worst of the weather simply isn’t viable. Still, a long winter of training is a small price to pay considering everything the year has given me.

There is of course a long list of people to thank. My parents for driving me to events and putting up with my legendary pre-race bad moods. Experienced triathletes who have given provided me with a wealth of advice, most of which has been nothing less than invaluable to someone so new to the sport. My local bike shop Tri-Uk  for keeping all my machines going (i.e. correcting my poor handiwork). Various event organisers and volunteers who make those endurance sport experiences possible. Finally my fellow Yeovil CC fast group members for pushing the pace on those Sunday club rides, helping me to prepare my legs for whatever challenge I decide to put them through next.

Thoughts will soon turn to next season. There are many things to tick off the bucket list; running a full marathon, riding a sub 1 hour 25 mile TT, learning to ride off road and bettering my Olympic Distance Triathlon PB just to name a few. If there is one thing 2017 has taught me it’s that anything can happen, chances are that if I set goals at this point they will have completely changed in a few months time. To that end I’ll keep my options open and see what comes along. Here’s to a good 2018.

Thanks for reading.

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