I’ve been in a very fortunate position this past week. As the rain and wind lashes down on the UK, I’ve been abroad basking in the glorious sunshine in Mallorca. I came to do a good week of training and also to compete in my first triathlon event, a 70.3 Ironman, which takes place in a few days time. The 70.3 Ironman is half the distance of a full Ironman event. Right now it’s perfect timing for my build up to the UK Ironman event on July 22nd to put myself through the half distance. I will be able to gauge how my training has been progressing and more importantly I will be able to experience what it will be like to be in a triathlon race environment.
Since retiring from being a full-time athlete, one of the things which is new to me is learning to train effectively with a radically reduced number of training hours per week. It’s challenging having to integrate training in and around a busy life, work commitments and studying for an MSc. The hours of training required for an Ironman are brutally demanding and I really admire people who take on training for the Ironman around fulltime jobs and families and manage to do it!
It becomes quite frustrating not to be able to put every bit of effort and focus into a training goal like I used to. But then the restrictions I have also serve to spice things up a bit! I have to be more efficient and smarter in the way I implement my training plan. That makes it a lot more interesting. I’m also enjoying having a more balanced life, where I have other things going on. This prevents training from becoming all-consuming. However, to put work, study and other commitments aside for a week and be able to focus more on training has been brilliant. I cannot express how delighted and happy I am to be feeling the warmth of the sun on me for the first time in ages. The difference it makes to my ability to train effectively and enjoy it is indescribable. I am a solar powered machine and am truly in my element when the temperature soars!
In my first 10 week block of this Ironman challenge, I really focused hard on the swimming and running disciplines as these were completely new sports for me. But when I recently turned my attention back to bike sessions, I found I’d slipped back a lot on my cycling performance which was frustration. I’ve come to realise this is one of the constant battles that triathletes have. It’s really important to get a good balance of training between all three disciplines, but it’s impossible to give all three as much focus as might be needed or wanted. Strengths and weaknesses will vary between the three and time and recovery constraints will always be the limiting factors. It’s pretty much accepted here will always be one discipline which you have to play catch up with.
Before coming out to Mallorca I assessed my progress and concluded that I’d reached a level which puts me on target for my swimming and running. So my focus has been to get some cycling miles in and build my strength back up on the bike. The terrain, the weather and having more training hours available to me out on training camp means I’ve been able to make some good progress and I’m confident I’m getting nearer to restoring some of my old cycling ability to my legs.
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the half Ironman, but if I’m honest, I’m a little apprehensive and nervous. The event is a 1.9km open water sea swim, a 90km bike taking in a 14km and 1980ft climb and then a half marathon run. I can cycle that distance no problem but I finish tired when doing it at a good race tempo, I’ve run a half marathon distance in training three times now and I’ve even swum that distance in the pool, albeit only once. But I’ve never strung all three disciplines together. Therefore I’ve no idea how my run section will fair up after a bike section at race pace and I’ve no idea how the bike section will fair up after the swim.
In fact I’m actually quite worried about the swim. It really is a long way! I wrote about my lack of swimming ability in my previous blog and documented how I pretty much started swim training from scratch, only being able to swim two lengths front crawl and being in a terrible state at the end of it. I’ve progressed well in the pool, and apart from a quick baptism in the freezing waters of Dorney Lake for a filming session for my sponsor SiS, I’ve only just been properly introduced to open water swimming out here in Mallorca over the past week. It’s been too cold to swim open water at home and my strength and endurance has only just reached a standard allowing me to tackle longer open water sessions.
Pulling on my wetsuit for my first decent open water swim session was exciting but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of what sea swimming was going to throw at me. The initial rush of cold water seeping inside my wetsuit and over my face took my breath away and panic began to set in as I was unable to settle into a rhythm and make distance through the water. There was the inconsistent chop of the wind and the waves disrupting any flow and relaxation and the unpleasant sensation of the salt water that was swilling in my nose, mouth and throat was a big distraction. The biggest problem for me is not having that option every 25m of grabbing the side of the pool if needed to catch my breath or the lane ropes to guide me effectively in a straight line! I’m fearful of the mass start too. The mayhem of 1500 people dashing into the water is something I will have to prepare myself for, especially because I find the first 10-15mins of swimming hard until my body settles into it.
So my first target for the half Ironman is to get through the swim successfully! Assuming I do, my overall target is to string all three disciplines together at my full Ironman target race pace and practice pacing and nutrition strategies for the longer distance race I have coming up in July. Above all this 70.3 Ironman event will hopefully give me a bit of race experience and something I can learn from. If I deal with it ok then that will give me confidence, but if I don’t, I’ll then be able to focus my training a bit more specifically over the remaining 10 weeks to make improvements in time for the Ironman in July. Overall I’m just really eager to experience in full this new sport of triathlon that I’ve taken up and as always I’m excited at the opportunity to pin a race number on my back and unleash my competitive beast!