For the tenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe my transition from a Tri newbie, and my training for my first Multi-Sport event – Avon Aquathlon 19th March 2018.
In the previous chapter of my blog (Widths to lengths “The making of a Triathlete”) I described how I was “Hoodwinked into turning up for a Triathlon swim training session.
Turning up for my first ever swim with STAR (Stonehenge Triathlon and Road Club) on the 14th December 2017 was the best decision ever. Before that night I had only ever been in the pool for 30 minutes a time, and was barely able to get from one end to the other. When I did get there, I would be hanging around for an age composing myself. My first Triathlon swim training session would force me to swim further, and longer than I ever had before. I really was pushed outside of my comfort zone, and I loved it! I did indeed sign up for membership with them the very next day. Sue Hartwell, I hold you fully responsible, and I cannot thank you enough!
Somehow, in the space of a few weeks I had gone from being a depressed and injured runner, into a guy becoming a member of a triathlon club. I was going to be “Baptised” and enter one of the clubs events. I now had a new goal – I wanted to be able to call myself a “Triathlete”
The first “Introduction” session with STAR was a hugely nervous experience for me, I had been open and honest with the coaches Sue Hartwell and Katie “Narna” Mcbain and they had been open and honest with me. If I was going to be calling myself a triathlete in the future, I needed to get some swim practice in. That training session with STAR gave me the confidence that I could get in the pool on my own, and gave me the belief I really could do this. I no longer needed to attend the adult swimming lessons.
Being part of a triathlon club does mean you are going to have to do a bit of running from time to time. I was very nervous about running again, My injury experiences had made me paranoid. I had brought new running shoes and countless other gear, compressions socks and so forth.
I had been gradually building my run fitness since the end of September, but I wasn’t back to where I had been on my Parkrun graduation day in April. It was a slow and steady approach. The paranoia of getting injured again was a hindrance, and any slight niggle would put me off. My goal was to be fully fit for a Poppy run I had signed up for, late October. I had raised a lot of money for the Royal British Legion and I didn’t want to let my sponsors down. On the 28th October (having narrowly avoided running in the wrong event, a University “Mankini” event) I would “fast mince” my way along the seafront. I amazed my brother Andre at how fast I could “mince”. The low impact option of “mincing” would be shelved after this event. I would have to put my fears behind me and get running properly again.
I asked Caroline, Stonehenge Osteopath If she knew of anyone that I could approach, and began looking around myself. The next part of my journey “Fatman to Ironman” is slightly bonkers perhaps, but nonetheless, pivotal!
I made the conscious decision not to go with Caroline’s advice. Her suggestion was to go with a personal trainer. I just felt this wasn’t right for me. I didn’t want the one to one contact that a personal trainer offers. I knew I was going to do this! I had proved to myself I had the determination to succeed. I just needed someone to create a plan.
Shortly after my first swim with STAR on the 14th December 2017, I went on to employ the experience of a professional Ironman coach, Billy Harriss of Tri Force. I had gone from being a guy mincing his way through a 5k charity event in Portsmouth, late October 2017, to taking a serious step towards endurance distance triathlon in December. Initially our plan was to be a successful sprint distance triathlete, and be injury free whilst training for Marathon distance running. Those were my goals in my 40th year, and as you will read later, I smashed the triathlon goal!
I had never heard of Ironman events at this stage. My goals and ambitions would change as my confidence as a swimmer grew.
I had seen Billy Harriss and Fenella Langridge (TriForce) riding around the roads of Salisbury Plain and through my village, I had passed them on my way to the pool many times. I had no idea who they were at that time, I just saw how they were riding their bikes and thought “That’s what I want to be doing”. They have a pretty cool race-skin outfit as well. I remembered the feeling of how I used to ride a bike, when I was fit and young. Before I became a “Fatman”
I researched them via their website and Facebook page, I liked what I saw. I sent a vaguely worded Email enquiring how I could join them. I kind of hoped they wouldn’t reply so I could get this silly idea out of my head. Tri Force got back to me straight away. Simon De-Burgh, was very helpful and encouraging, and put me in contact with Billy Hariss. We would meet up and discuss this barmy plan I had been hatching all this time.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon
In that first meeting we would discuss how I could convert the negative of being injured, and unable to run, into a massive positive – I would become a triathlete.
Billy firmly believed I could do it, after chatting with me. It felt like a job interview I had nailed. I now had the job and I didn’t want to disappoint.
We discussed at length, the hurdles we would have to overcome. Not least the fact I was pretty much still unable to swim. I also didn’t have a bike, and had lost most of my run fitness. Billy Harriss is a hugely positive person, he believes anything is possible. He convinced me to get back in the pool as soon as I could, and put the work in – Our journey had begun.
That Christmas I would get in the pool as much as I could, a difficult time of the year to gain access, but nonetheless I clocked up four, 30 minute sessions before the new year, and a further six swims before I went on holiday on the 12th January 2018. My swimming was coming along, and every now and then I would get a full length in. I was now super focussed and began to improve my run fitness again.
I would run on new years day! An absolute jaw dropper for those of you who know me of old. I would even be seen on the treadmill, or out on the plains as early as six O’clock in the morning.
I was just as determined as I was with Slimming World and my C25k course . This time I now had the added self belief of knowing I would succeed. I also had a structure and a plan. Most importantly I had begun to surround myself with the right people – My support crew;-
I would swim again with STAR on January 4th 2018. My second triathlon swim training session. This night I got in the pool without the nerves I had before Christmas, I had belief and focus – I knew I could get through the session, I had been practicing and was excited to see how it would go.
I was disappointed! The “T” demon would return. The panic after feeling the change in water temperature, the fear of the darkening water. My stroke rate would increase dramatically as I fought the water. I was near hyperventilation. I was 5 meters away from the end of my first length. I grabbed the wall, then changed into breaststroke to get the job done. I would now spend the next few minutes at the end of the lane chatting with my swim buddies “The DivStars” Charlie Waters, Sue Allison and Angela Bailey. I must have looked a right state. They were struggling with their own demons, and we would have to get each other through the session. We developed a bond that night, a true and lasting friendship. I rediscovered my technique! A technique that would go on to frustrate my coaches so much over the next few months – The swim 20 meters, panic and go into breaststroke, Grab the wall and chat technique.
I had booked a holiday to Sri-Lanka and the Maldives for the last three weeks of January 2018. My wife, Sue and I had been waiting all year for this holiday, we booked it way back in March 2017. We have been fortunate over the years with holiday locations, and have had some truly lovely experiences. In the past I had looked on, as my step children were brave enough to swim in the seas of Hawaii or Bora Bora. I never had the courage, or ability to join them. I would miss out on sharing these experiences with them, as they grew up. I would only ever snorkel in the shallows of the lagoons, where I knew I could stand up. Anything above waist height was an absolute NO!
This holiday would be different! I was now chatting with Sue about how I was going to swim in the sea! I was so excited.
For the first time ever, I would be on holiday with my running shoes and swimming trunks. I would swim, or run as much as I could, and even put in some swim/run brick sessions. I swam in the sea and beyond the lagoons and reefs. The sea life was amazing. There wasn’t a wall to grab hold of, and it was full of things with teeth. Yes! reef sharks look pretty big to me.
I would also be in the pool, swimming as many lengths as I could and happily post on Strava every day. I used the exercise bikes in the gyms and thought all the time about becoming a triathlete.
I now had to learn the importance of balancing a life in sport, with personal life. Something I have yet to master.
I would return from that holiday eager to get back in the pool with STAR and reunite with my swim buddies the DivStars. It seemed like an age since we had seen each other, in those few weeks they had improved so much. I was confident from my swims in the sea, and they had overcome their own individual demons. Charlie had progressed up the lanes. That night we would all commit to entering our first multi-sport events – The Avon Aquathlon 2018 and the Durrington Triathlon 2018.
I’m not sure any of us would have entered if we had been on our own. We entered as a team, although we would race as individuals. Our team ethic that night was to train together and get each and every one of us over that line. Our swim coach Katie “Narna” McBain convinced us all we could do it. We all went home and signed up. We would all go on to call ourselves “Triathletes”
For the next part of this blog I refer you to my first ever multi-sport race review, my second ever race review.
A person that never got a mention in this race review is Lisa Mathews.
Lisa Mathews had entered her first multi sport event as well, it was a 500m Swim, followed by a 5k hilly run. Despite suffering disabilities associated with Downs Syndrome, Lisa had decided to enter the Avon Aquathlon to raise money for her chosen charity. I had decided to enter it for myself.
We would both start off the event. I was in lane 2, Lisa was in lane 1. That was our wave.
Every time I got to the end of a length of that 25m pool in Durrington I was exhausted. Absolutely spent. The “T” Demon was trying to make a comeback! I was literally trembling with fear every time I got to the end of the pool.
I used my “Chat at the end of a length” routine to compose myself, and deal with the nerves. I was petrified every time I kicked off that wall! I thought I was going to drown every time. The lane judges were confused, and eager to get me going again. The life guard, as ever was poised!!!
Every time I looked into lane 1, there was Lisa, smiling her way through breaststroke and loving every minute of it. She was being guided by the truly amazing Katie “Narna” McBain
I was suffering from nerves like I had never experienced before, I simply couldn’t control myself. My breathing was erratic, I would have to do twenty lengths. An absolute suffer-fest. Feedback after the event was that I actually swam well, my technique looked great and everyone was confused by why I kept stopping.
I was surrounded by my support team. Fenella Langridge and her Mum, Francesca Gay, my wife Sue and all my coaches. Along with all the athletes waiting for wave two to start. I had a large audience. They would be “hurling” encouragement at me, although they had the best intentions, the noise was a new experience for me. It added to the pressure and anxiety.
Lisa Mathews and her support team had nothing on their minds except success. Lisa was loving it.
The very fact that Lisa could do it, gave me the confidence to kick off that wall each time. The support from the crowd, my coaches and my support team helped, but Lisa is responsible for my swim success that day.
Thank you for taking the time to follow my blog. I couldn’t wait to get round to writing this chapter. In short I managed to turn a huge negative into a massive positive, and turn 2018 into a year of possibilities. At the same time I formed many friendships, and now had a solid platform on which I could build. I would use this as part of my training towards my first ever triathlon. I now had Multi-sport event experience.
If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win
For my next chapter I will describe my experiences of training and racing my first ever (Pool based) sprint distance triathlon.
I would love to hear what you think of my blog so far and welcome your comments. I hope at least one of you might be inspired enough to believe you can achieve your goals.
“I wouldn’t say anything is impossible. I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it.” – Michael Phelps
Take on that challenge and find an event for you “Hit enter” and let your journey begin