For the eleventh chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe my transition from first time multi-sport event finisher to Triathlete.
I found myself writing this chapter after finishing my last swim training session with STAR for the year. It was Thursday 20th December 2018. Before the session had started I was sat poolside with Charlie Waters (DivStar) and Sue Hartwell, my swim coach. We were reflecting on our year and how far we had come. Coach, Katie “Narna” McBain would shortly join us. Together we reflected on what we had achieved.
2018 had been a year of possibilities.
We had started off the year, in the pool at Durrington, in our second Triathlon swim training session ever. I would go off on holiday, and come back to find Charlie had already been promoted up a lane. My other DivStar buddies, Angela Bailey and Sue Allison had also improved, so much in such a short space of time.
Having shared my experiences of the Avon Aquathlon with you, I couldn’t wait to jot down my experiences of the second of those events we had signed up for. The Durrington Triathlon 2018. I was determined I would perform better.
For Billy Harriss (TriForce) the Avon Aquathlon had been all about me gaining some multi-sport race experience. That day he would see the monumental task ahead of him, and me. He never once expressed any negative thoughts, in fact he was full of praise, he always believed I would be a Triathlete. We met up for a race debrief, and hatched the next phase in our plan.
I would need to get a bike!
April isn’t really an ideal time of year to start cycling outside. We were still suffering the usual unpredictable British weather. Nonetheless, I started researching the vast world of modern bikes. When I last rode a bike it was so much simpler. No Carbon, No Di2, just simple alloy frames, and cable based mechanics. I also had to consider Tri bars and TT options. I was overwhelmed! It was now a very different world. I was about to spend a fortune and I didn’t have a clue! On top of this I had never ridden a road bike.
I was trying to educate myself and understand it all, Billy would try and help but ultimately, it was down to me. I had to decide on a marriage safe budget.
In the meantime, I would visit the gym and start using Wattbikes.
I had never heard of Wattbikes before. Billy had convinced me everything would be ok. I downloaded the Wattbike App and started getting some early data back to him. I didn’t understand terms like resistance, Watts or cadence. I would soon learn!.
I would quickly form a love/hate relationship with those bikes. I loved the fact I was riding again. I loved the fact that my training was becoming so varied and interesting. I hated the puddle of sweat I would leave on the side of the bike. That embarrassed me back then. Today, I see even the fittest of guys sweating profusely on those machines. I love a Wattbike Session.
In the meantime, I had convinced myself, if I was going to do this triathlon properly, I needed to spend loads of money. A classic trap. I have since read about many athletes, in their first year, spending bucket loads of cash on kit. What I have learnt since then is the best investment, undoubtably is weight loss. I’m still working on that one.
Fortunately! The ever tempting world of Wiggle, and endless online discounts would only go as far as a decent pair of Swim Jammers (Game changers) some cycling shorts, and a pair of Tri shorts. The race skin would have to wait.
It was my work colleague, Nigel Brown who would help me make the right decision.
Nigel was quite vocal at the time, and I was surprised by his reaction. We have a great working relationship and rely on one or other to speak their mind. He would not be holding back. Despite my best efforts to convince him, he was right. The age old adage “Buy cheap, buy twice” was not going to cut it with this particular Royal Marine. This Royal Marine was also very familiar with triathlon.
Nigel was worried I might spend loads of money, and actually hate triathlon. On reflection, it was a fair point! However, I would fall in love with this barmy, bonkers sport. I was hooked. The guy who had grown up without sport in his life, had now fully embraced it, and it all started with a bad back.
Fortunately, that year had seen the employment of another colleague, also a Royal Marine and a keen cyclist. Mark Anderson was looking to become race fit. He had signed up for a series of events, and was in the process of going full carbon. He had a bike he was using for winter training, that he wouldn’t be using if he upgraded. He offered it to me at a very fair price.
I’m not sure if those two Royals got together on that deal, but they saved me a few quid, put some money towards Marks new bike, and potentially saved a few domestic disputes. See you on the start line Mark!
Going to the bike shop
I didn’t get a chance to get on the bike for a few weeks after buying Marks bike. I was keen, yet fearful at the same time. I had never ridden a road bike before and needed the right day. I also needed some decent shorts….. I needed to get to a bike shop.
For my first trip to a cycle shop in twenty years, I had decided to go full out and have a spend. I had saved a fortune on the bike after all.
As well as the essentials, helmet and lights etc. I would buy cycling shoes. Yep! with cleats. With little experience I would be clipped in.
Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t have bothered me. However, a member of my running club, transitioning into Duathlon, had broken his arm wearing the very same shoes (forgetting to unclip at a junction) I will spare him the indignity of being named but Ian, you know who you are.
Before I had left the shop, the owners made sure they had sold me everything I “Needed”. I really had my pants pulled down in the bike shop that day.
The following day I would return my Gucci Assos bib shorts, having never felt the comfort of memory foam. Even my coach Billy had never worn these and chuckled at my vulnerability. I used the refund money to buy more bike accessories.
Having signed up for my first Tri event I had convinced myself I needed to invest. In reality I already had, I had a professional coach. What I was failing to do was invest time – Time with my wife. More about that later.
My first ride
My first ride was planned as a simple one mile loop around my village. (I didn’t plan to post it on Strava)
I practiced, leaning against the side of my house, clipping in and out. Eventually I would push away and go.
I was quite surprised just how much confidence I had lost on the bike, I was wobbly from the get go. Perhaps as wobbly as the last time I had ridden, either the last time being through drink, as a teenager. Or when my pedal fell off and I gave up after one week of riding.
As I approached the end of my lane, I chose to try the brakes, well in advance. So much so, I had to pedal to get going again. I had quickly realised that if I became too slow I would need to put my feet down. They were clipped in. I was not going to break my arm!
The end of my lane is a blind T junction, you cannot see what is coming from either direction. We are in the country, and most people do not follow rules. I would frantically unclip my left foot whilst I had a bit of momentum. I now had the indignity of walking, a straddle, to get to the junction. Ridiculous! How come as a teenager I would be fearless, drunk or sober on the bike. Somehow, as an adult the ground seemed a lot less forgiving.
I would turn right at this junction and then left at the next. A sort of arm signal offered to anyone around.
I wobbled my way left into, what I thought was the sanctuary of Orcheston. A village in a valley? I had run and walked the hills many times, and somehow convinced myself a quiet walk is as good as a quiet ride. I was beaten, shaken, and would turn back to the sanctuary of Shrewton within minutes. I was not ready for hills.
On the way back past the stables, and past the vets. I began having a word with myself.
I live in a valley. “If I am going to get out of my village I am going to have to put some work in”
I was back at the same junction where I had turned left. At this point I could of gone home, it would have been a mile or so. I chose to bear left and crack on!
Very quickly I would be faced with my next decision. A more open T junction with limited visibility from the right, Nothing was approaching ahead/left. I would instinctively remember the cyclist wobble at the line routine. I would stay upright with enough time to make my decision to go. I was impressed with myself.
I turned left/ahead and made my first accent for twenty years. I was proud and scared at the same time. Scared if I couldn’t keep peddling, I would fall off. Proud that I was once again riding a bike.
I gave it my all. Despite fading and being near death at the top, I was there. I had used all of my gears and all of my breath. But I was there. I made a phone call to Sue, reassured her and got going. The Wattbike had worked!
That planned 1 mile loop turned out to be a 18k out and back ride. You really can’t forget how to ride a bike?
My first DivStar ride
My cycling had been going well and I had accepted the invite from my training buddies, to join them on a recce of the Tri route. It was now only a few weeks to go before race day. Coach Katie “Narna” McBain was eager to get us all out there and get “a feel”.
The route is in a beautiful part of the countryside, and on part of Salisbury plain I had never seen.
We all met up at the pool in Durrington, where only a few weeks earlier we had endured the Avon Aquathlon as a team. Today we were raising the bar, we were triathlon training.
Having realigned my front wheel, pumped my tyres and reset my helmet more times than nerves would permit. We all lined up for my first DivStar team photo, on a bike.
It was a mild and overcast day, I had plenty of water and was on a mission. I was now starting to use hydration supplements and energy gels. Just a few weeks earlier. I had had my first ride in a long time. Today, I was going to smash it.
We set out as a group, allowing Coach Katie to see where she needed to be in the pack. Before long we got stuck in and began to put the hammer down. I soon found my “love” of hills and the girls found their “love” of mechanics. No one was left behind on the ride out. It was brilliant fun.
We would stop for a chat and refuel at the halfway point.
For the way back Coach Katie “Narna” McBain had briefed us all about a particular hill. I listened intently and promptly ballsed it up when we got there.
I remember the politeness of each and everyone on the bike as they cycled passed me. As I lay in a heap on the side of the road. Giggling in my own indignity.
If they had slowed to help, they would have suffered the same indignity. It is a brute of a hill.
I approached the hill hard and fast, momentum was going to get me a fair way up. Then I would have to change gear. My cadence had dropped and my chain was tight. My derailleur couldn’t shift the chain across. I was left in a high gear at the front and rapidly unable to rotate the crank. That day my knee would save me from a broken arm, but my dignity would be shattered for ever. I would suffer almost the same on race day. I would get off and walk that day.
Despite this, we all performed beyond expectation and our coach was proud of our development. In the meantime I had been working exceptionally hard on my swim.
As you will read in my race review for my first ever triathlon “Durrington Triathlon” The Swim wouldn’t click until the week before race day…. Taper week. I had suffered the “T” demon and I had had enough.
For this part of my blog I refer you to my second only multi-sport race review, and third race review….
The feeling of euphoria as I crossed the finish line was overwhelming. I had completed my triathlon ambition. Somehow, I knew my journey wasn’t going to end there.
I was exhausted that day in May 2018, although, after finishing, I managed to find the energy to run back and cross the finish line with my training buddies. I was buzzing with a post race high!
The run part of my events has since become my weakness, partly through injury. Mostly because run injury has made the other disciplines my strength. As a runner alone, injury would have written me off, and doubtless I would have given up long ago. Today, as a triathlete, injury makes me stronger.
You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is realjoy! Arthur Ashe.
Thank you for taking the time to follow my blog. I have found the process of recalling the highs and lows of my journey (Reflection), to be hugely beneficial.
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe how I bounced from pool based triathlon, into Open Water Tri
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 know you can Tri.
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
For the twelfth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how my “A” race for 2018 had suddenly changed. My goal had become bigger, the challenge greater.
I would become an open water swimmer, and successfully complete an OW Triathlon.
As you have read in my blog, previously Ch. 11 Durrington Triathlon “a stepping stone”my first triathlon on the 13th May 2018 was a huge success. I had trained as best I could for the event, and I had Pb’d everywhere except for the run. I had come close to a PB run too. My swim Pb, however, was a huge 11 minutes.
It was especially poignant to have my first swim coach, Sarah Jenkins, as my lane judge in that event. Not only had she seen the product of all her hard work. Unwittingly, she had encouraged me to raise the bar and up my game. I had proven I could do a pool triathlon. I had proven (to myself) I could swim. The doors to endless opportunities had been opened.
The pool was no longer long enough for me.
I was buzzing and quickly set about looking for the next challenge. All only after a few weeks of finishing my first ever multi-sport event, “The Avon Aquathlon”
I sat down with Billy (Tri Force) and discussed my options. Before I knew it my questions were not about whether I could swim an open water event, but how far.The Cotswold Triathlonhad now become my “A” race for 2018 – The bar had been raised! 2018 was going to be an awesome year.
I entered the Cotswold Tri on the 25th May 2018 (12 days after my first ever Tri!) Super eager, I quickly set about hiring a wetsuit for the Open Water season and got in the lake two days later.
My first open water swim
My first open water swim was a “Fear Fest” and a triumph at the same time. I stood at the side of Lake 32 in the Cotswold Water Park looking out at that first buoy, trembling! The 750 loop seemed impossible, and the first bouy seemingly miles away. OMG! What have I done? How am I ever going to do this Triathlon? The Triathlon I had entered involved a 750m OW swim.
I had no idea at this stage, that I would be standing on the start line of the most pivotal event of my “Fatman to Ironman” Journey so far. I wouldn’t know this until registration (the day before race day), there are a lot of lakes here.
It turned out to be a real blessing. However, I still had to get through day one of Open Water swimming.
Nigel Brown, my ever suffering work colleague, would suffer again today.
For several months now the office chatter had changed from (Chapter 2) slimming world (We were both losing weight) to swim, and Tri challenges. The difference this time… Nigel knew he could swim, Royal Marines tend to have to do it from time to time. I had only just convinced my self I could swim in a pool. I knew I had to get in that lake.
I got into the changing room and set about slipping into my wetsuit. I was quite surprised how trim it made me look. Nigel thought otherwise, and we both walked to the side of the lake. I wasn’t going to hang about and allow my fears to get the better of me. So I strolled in waist deep and then took my first plunge in a lake…. Since I had near drowned, as a child.
It was cold, the shock made me stand up again. I quickly composed myself and tried a few breast strokes. I thought I had been hiding my fear well but clearly the close proximity of Nigel suggested otherwise. I just needed time to settle before I got going.
Nigel had suggested we try the 200m loop first of all, and see how I got on. I was very glad about this, as the option of swimming 750m was definitely out at this point.
As we headed toward the first bouy in the triangle, I remembered the sighting techniques I had learnt in the pool. Doing this meant I was not focusing on technique. I couldn’t control my breathing, and I could feel myself begin to panic. I had learnt in the pool to change into breast stroke and keep going. This was how I eventually got to that first bouy. However, I wasn’t there yet.
I now found myself well out of my depth, and what felt like the middle of the lake. As I looked over my shoulder, swimming back was a lot further away than where the first bouy was. On reflection, whilst I was out of my depth. I was actually quite close to the shallows. It just didn’t feel like it, as I treaded water for as long as Nigel could bear.
“Come on boy” I heard him say. That fuelled a fire in my belly I hadn’t had since my first ever full time job. My boss/apprentice master would soon learn how I reacted to being called boy, and use it many times.
Nigel had actually said “Come on, swim to the bouy” (and have a break there) All I heard was boy!
We would laugh about this many times as we swam around that lake. He didn’t know why I was angry, I didn’t know why he kept saying it. It wasn’t until we finished our swim that it all came out.
In fact, not that Nigel knew it at the time, but putting that fire in my belly was just the thing I needed. I would go on to swim that 200m loop three times. The last loop, on my own and growing in confidence.
Swimming OW with my Tri Swim Coach.
After my first OW swim at Lake 32, I would go on to have a mixed bunch of OW swims leading up to my event. A particularly fond memory of mine is getting in the lake at Eastleigh with my Tri Swim coach Katie “Narna” McBain.
The build up to the swim in Eastleigh had been good for me. I was enjoying open water swimming and becoming quite confident. I was eager to get as much OW swim experience as I could, and the chance to swim in a different lake (coached), could not be turned down. Katie wanted her newbies “The Divstars” to progress and invited us all down for a swim, prior to the club championships.
That day it was Charlie Waters, Coach Katie, and me standing on the side of Eastleigh lake. Charlie had driven us down there and I was feeling great. Charlie was in training for his first OW event at Bowood house. Another club event.
We all got in the lake full of confidence. I was perhaps even slightly cocky, knowing I had been doing so well. I would soon pay for this.
Charlie was awesome that day, Katie would have to suffer, yet again. As I used my (Now adapted) Swim to the bouy, have a chat routine.
I had swam too hard, too soon. I was trying to impress, and certainly wasn’t relaxed. I needn’t have bothered. I later learnt that both Charlie and Katie were already very impressed with my swimming. However, I’m pretty sure it’s the fastest I had ever swam at that time.
Katie was awesome that day, it took me at least a loop and a half to relax and settle into my rhythm.
Something I have learnt from this session is i’m not strong in the beginning of my swim, but as others tire, I can endure. I will take this with me to Chasewater resesvoir.
I did indeed endure that day, I would swim 4 x 400 loops of a lake. More than I had ever swam, anywhere.
I have never been back to Eastleigh to swim, I fell in love with Ellingham Lake, in the the New Forest. One very noticeable thing about my swimming after Eastleigh was, that my pool swim had now become much, much easier.
The reason I fell in love with Ellingham Lake is varied. By far the main reason is I could now share my training with my wife Sue.
Sure a 0600 Hrs swim is early. But that’s how triathletes get their day done right? Since coming back from the Maldives, in January 2018, Sue had struggled to get her head around my sudden headlock with this sport.
She couldn’t come running with me, and didn’t want to come out on the bike. Nonetheless she hated the fact I was always “Out there” it confused her, and made her paranoid.
I so much wanted to include her. But, somehow triathlon had made her feel less and less involved in my life. She feared we were drifting apart.
Ellingham changed this!
The lake offers a very simple cafe area, complimented with plentiful dog walking areas. On top of this, a seated vista of the entire lake (On a fog free day). Perfect! I could train and Sue could be there, perhaps even reading a book as I swam around the lake?
Our first swim at Ellingham involved my coach Billy, and Pro Triathlete Fenella Langridge. It was an important swim and I was focussed! We both got up early and drove down to the lake. I was excited and nervous at the same time.
Billy said he’d meet us there at 0700 hrs. True to form I was there, and ready to swim at 0630 hrs. Fenella was nearly finished with her swim set, and was about to hop on the Turbo. As she got out of the lake she confirmed the loop measurement to Billy. She had been wearing her Gucci Garmin multi sports watch. I very much wanted one of these. However, at this stage in my training it was just about setting a time, and having a benchmark on which I could improve.
This is where Sue would be in her element. Because I didn’t have any gadgets, Sue would now become my time keeper and keep me honest. I was now being pushed by my wife, and I loved it.
Billy would see a reasonable effort from me on that inaugural Ellingham Lake Swim. My first 500m loop felt good, I did take a few breathers at the bouys to compose myself, but mostly to absorb the moment. I was enjoying my time in the water today. Ellingham is a beautiful lake.
I would go on and swim another loop that day, and make friends with the guys on the paddle boards as they encouraged the newbie around. I was surprised by the amount of encouragement everyone was giving me. The Open Water Swim community is awesome.
Sue and I would return many times to Ellingham Lake in the build up to my “A” race for 2018. Knowing Sue was on the stopwatch kept me focussed, my swim times were steadily improving, and I was less inclined to have a breather. We were finally able to embrace the sport together.
This swim was different, for many reasons!
I was weeks away from the big event. It was close to showdown time, and I was beginning to feel the pressure.
I had been given the task of swimming 1.9k (2x 750m & 1x 400m) by my coach and I wanted to smash it.
Sue and I had a lie in that day and chose to drive down to Vobster Diving Centre in Frome instead for an afternoon swim.
Vobster is a flooded quarry, one side is 20m deep, the other 40m deep.
At this stage in my training I was becoming quietly confident in OW swimming, but standing alongside that dark water that day, I was ready to just turn around and go home.
However, after a fair amount of flapping and fannying around, I got the job done!
My first 750m loop was mentally tough. I was in unfamiliar territory here. The water was so deep, and so vast. Apparently there are submerged Aeroplanes and Busses down there for the divers to explore. I never saw a thing through the depths of that dark water.
For my second loop I was more relaxed and felt at ease. I thought I was on for a good time. However, when I got quay side, Sue informed me I had finished the loop with exactly the same time as the first? A good, consistent swim! The only drama being when a load of bubbles came up from the depths. I panicked, as I thought a diver was right underneath me. For 20-30 meters you might have thought I was being chased by a shark.
I didn’t swim the final 400m that day and settled for a consistent 2x 750. I was fatigued from the distance for sure, but my confidence was growing.
After swimming Vobster there was nothing left to fear…. I was ready!
For this part of my blog I refer you to my race review of the Cotswold Triathlon “My first OW Tri”
My swimming has continued to go from strength to strength. I have now swam in many lakes and many pools. I no longer fear the swim and my times are steadily improving.
However, the run leg of my Cotswold Triathlon would suffer that warm day in September 2018. It continues to be an on-off relationship of mine, now that I have been introduced to a new injury….. Achilles Tendonitis.
I knew it was becoming an issue leading up to the event, and briefly considered bailing out of the run.
I had trained hard for this event, and discussed my options with Billy (Tri Force) I had entered a cycling Sportive and a Time Trial event as part of my training plan. Some of the key events I worked towards in preparation for race day. We reflected on those gains, and adjusted the remainder of my training block.
I had done well in both events. Holding a good consistent 10M TT and being able to endure the bike leg well beyond the race day distance. This would turn out to be priceless. Having lost confidence in my run ability, I could now switch my focus toward a positive swim and a strong bike. The pressure for the run was off!
Despite a run/walk approach on the day, I nearly Pb’d. I was fitter than I had been for 15 years.
I entered my off season and approached my winter training, injured!
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-12 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe my first ever “Off season” and winter training…. I had signed up for Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire and would be be building my aerobic base?
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
For the thirteenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how having successfully completed my second “A” race for 2018. I would go into my first ever “Off season” and then into winter training.
Having completed The Cotswold Triathlon I was left with mixed emotions. An enormous feeling of achievement, satisfaction and above all, pride. However, I had been working towards this goal since May. Now I had no goals. It’s a bizarre feeling, a kind of post race depression. One that I had felt before…. After completing my first ever triathlon, The Durrington Triathlon.
Uh oh! What was I going to do next?
I hadn’t given up on the Marathon in my 40th Year! It probably seems a while since you have read about that barmy, bonkers idea? I have made a pact with my friend and Osteopath, Caroline, and I intend to stick to it. More about that later.
My first “Off season”
I had been given the opportunity to take a rest, an “Off season” from Billy (TriForce) . He offered it as a suggestion, but I think he was encouraging me to take a break. I would take two weeks completely out of it. Just active recovery, walking my dog or gentle casual cycling. I owed Sue some quality time, and I owed my body a break.
At work (during theses two weeks of rest) I would be staring at a collection of books given to me when I was first training for sprint (Pool based) Tri. These books were given to me by a colleague new to the College I worked for, Mick Stone. He had recently left the Army as a keen triathlete, and British Army Team member. He missed the sport, the Army had allowed him to embrace. As a civilian he had decided not to carry on with the sport, and was “retiring” from it. He had heard of my journey and gave me, amongst other things, a vast collection of training material. Sadly his bike was too big for me. I would of loved to have bought that.
These books were Ironman training books. Mick was keen to do one of these, one day, but never got the chance. Before that day I had never heard of Ironman, except the Marvel Comic guy, played by Robert Downey Jr. I certainly hadn’t heard of endurance distance triathlon. I thanked him for the kind offer and returned the favour with biscuits, as is currency within military establishments. I would stare at those books throughout the summer of 2018, without opening one of them. The idea of me being able to do one of those? Ridiculous. Mick saw something in me when he gave me those books.
During my “Off season” I became curious and started to have a read. A seed had indeed been sewn by Mick, and it was beginning to grow.
As I read these books I remembered my Marathon at 40 plan. Subconsciously I was prioritising my goals. Realistically, I was going to have to leave it till my 41st year, 2019. I was ok with this, 2018 had been pretty awesome. Besides which I now had an aggravated and overused Achilles on my right leg.
As I was reading the Ironman books, I started researching Olympic distance events. I thought this ought to be my next step. I found some really good events in the area but never really felt it was going to be enough of a challenge. I now wanted to enter an endurance distance triathlon.
I hoped Billy would talk me out of it. Alas, not “Nothing is impossible” Billy Harris. He was just as excited as me, perhaps more so. Do you think I could do it? “Absolutely” was his response. “I have no doubt about it”. “We will need to build your run, but your Swim and bike have come along nicely”
We needed to be absolutely sure that this was the direction for me. So Billy suggested I pop down to Weymouth for the Ironman 70.3 (2018). His partner Fenella Langridge was racing in the pro wave. There was also going to be a few other athletes I was beginning to be aquatinted with. Fenella had been very supportive of me during my early swimming days, and in my Aquathlon. I felt I owed it to her to offer some support back.
Ironman 70.3 Weymouth 2018
Sue and I headed down to Weymouth early Sunday 24th September 2018. We were with Fran (Fenella’s mum, and her partner Moss (James)
Sat Nav took us on an unusual route, and the drive was somewhat longer than it should have been. All the time I had this Ironman idea in my head. Sue didn’t know what I was thinking about. I needed to be sure I was going to do it, before I told her my plans.
We got to the pro swim wave just as Fenella was exiting the swim. She is an awesome swimmer. “Go Fenella” I screamed as she ran up the carpet from the sea towards T1.
It was a biblically wet and cold day. In the short few minutes of walking from the car park to the swim area. We were soaked, and frozen to the core. We had prepared, and had warm gear… Nonetheless, on this occasion, no amount of protective clothing would have been enough. Sue was not overly impressed and Otis, my dog, was trembling through cold.
I was inspired and buzzing with all the excitement.
We headed back toward Transition 1 (T1). I wanted to experience as much as I could. T1 was now welcoming the age groupers, as they got out of the sea. I would be doing that soon!!! So many bikes and such a large transition. Yes!!!! Nothing had put me off yet.
Fenella was long gone on her bike leg now, and wouldn’t be back for some time. We were tracking her, and the other athletes on our phones.
Many athletes would not complete the bike leg, through hypothermia, or simply being too cold to function, or shift gear. It was an epic display of British weather.
We found a Travel Lodge, and got inside to get Sue a cup of coffee. Due to the appalling weather there were a lot of very damp, very cold spectators in there that day. But notably there was not a single person complaining. Everyone was enjoying the atmosphere and spectacle that I was experiencing. Ironman was continuing to sell it’s self to me.
This is where I would meet more of my fellow TriForce athletes, and in particular the relay team for the day. Kent Langridge, (Fenella’s brother) had already completed the swim leg.
Team Tri Force would go on to win the relay, and Fenella would cross the line 3rd. Her 5th podium place in her first year as a pro.
I was inspired and buzzing through all the excitement.
The weather had not put me off. In fact, quite the opposite. I saw so many different levels of athletes achieve their dream that day. I wanted my piece of the pie.
I remember chatting to Simon De Burgh (Tri Force coach and nutritionalist) at the finish line, as he was cheering his guys on. I casually asked “Do you think I should do one of these” Hoping he would come back with a cautious…. Maybe try an Olympic distance first! He never hesitated with his response, “Absolutely”
That was the moment I signed up for my first ever Ironman event. I would go home that night, warm up and dry out. The next day I would be hitting “enter”
Keeping it a secret
I would keep the fact I had entered an Ironman event a secret for over a month. Only Sue and Billy would know I had committed.
I felt at the time I didn’t want the pressure of everyone knowing. Billy agreed.
In reality I needed time for it to sink in. There were many, many OMG moments during the next four weeks. Added to this, I am rubbish at keeping secrets. I am perhaps one of the most open books you will ever meet.
The pressure of keeping it a secret gradually became worse than the fact I had entered the event in the first place.
During this period I recalled how many times my Coach Katie “Narna” McBain (STAR) had suggested I write my blog.
I had never even read a blog before now, and quickly researched this fascinating world.
I read a blog by fellow TriForce athlete, Lori Westcott and her “Why” a kind of…. Why do I do this blog. It inspired me. I also read a Blog by another TriForce athlete Matt “Badger” Heath. Again I was inspired.
I had a story to write, and Katie “Narna” McBain had been right all along.
I used to consider myself an amateur poet many years ago. Never having the courage of my convictions to print any of the material I wrote, I eventually gave up. Poetry had been a very useful therapy. When times were hard I would write. It was also a brilliant tool for reflection, when times were good, I would also write.
I hadn’t done this for many years. Indeed I did have a story inside, and I now needed to tell it.
Writing blogs is also a useful way of using one of the few skills my school offered, that I actually enjoyed.
1/2 marathon ideas
Over the course of my first two seasons in sport (2017/2018) I had entered three 1/2 marathon events. One I wanted to run with my brother, Andre and the other two were supposed to be with Roxy Foster, from my running club (Shrewton Running). Roxy was running her first ever half marathon and I had promised to do it with her. Sadly, I was injured and could only be there as a volunteer. The following year she would Pb by 20 minutes, and all I could do was cheer her on from the side of the road. I should of been out there with her.
Sadly all three half Marathon events were cancelled, through injury. However, in each case I would volunteer as a marshal. I was intending to use these events as a step towards a full marathon. But as you have read, I am delaying that barmy bonkers plan for a while.
Having accepted I couldn’t run my events, I chose to marshal for the organisers instead. Marshalling is great fun, and when injured allows you to feel “involved” it also allows you too see so many more aspects of the race. The joy, or pain in peoples faces. Everyone goes through so many emotions on race day. Everyone is on a journey and I love being part of it.
Marshalling is another factor that encouraged me to hit “enter”. Every time I marshalled I was inspired by everyone’s efforts. Whether it be a 5k Parkrun, or a Half Marathon. You could see the elation in the faces of the families, the emotions of the runners as they successfully completed their dream. I missed that feeling.
Bizarrely, being unable to run these events was another factor I considered when hitting “enter”. What better time to do my first half marathon…. In my first Ironman event! That is how my mind works I guess. I see a set back, (a negative) as a challenge…… How can I turn this negative into one big positive? Yep! thats my rationale.
I had worked out where my journey was going.
I sat down with Billy to work out my next training block. My “Off season” was about to end and we needed to start thinking about 2019. It was going to be huge!
Billy advised me that we were going to strengthen my body in preparation for what the disciplines of triathlon expose it to. Especially now I was upping my game into middle distance.
I had never thought the gym was going to make me faster or leaner. I was never really looking to be ripped. Billy changed my approach to the gym that day. This was all about injury prevention. Being smart with my training. It would also burn off a few pounds. I began to look at the gym as a kind of pre-recovery. Something I could be doing whilst I was unable to run.
We would back off the intensity of the bike and swim, and keep them aerobic. Another skill I am developing (Learning to train within heart rate zones) I agreed that we needed to allow my Achilles time to heal, and would not run at all. Although I would have to get over my fear of the Cross Trainer in the gym.
I would also be introduced to the Turbo (Indoor Trainer) for the bike. However, I still loved the WattBike and would get on that whenever I could instead of the turbo.
A fellow member of my running club (Shrewton Running) Ritchie Appleton, had given me his old turbo. He had upgraded to a Smart Turbo, and had immersed himself into the world of Zwift.
The turbo is a lonely place. It beats being out on the bike in the cold wet winters of the Uk. But only just. Sat stationary on the saddle for long periods of time can become a bit tedious. My man cave had now become a pain cave! And I was loving it.
I knew I had it coming! I thought we had avoided creating a big issue by adapting my training prior to the Cotswold Triathlon. In hindsight, I lacked any history of strength and conditioning training at all. I had been doing some basics, calf raises and stretches etc. But my tendons and ligaments were struggling to keep up with what I was demanding from them. The doctor would immediately diagnose the issue and insisted I keep off it. Apparently I wasn’t far away from a complete rupture. This time I was listening. The pain from an Achilles flare up is unbearable.
Clearly I was going to have to embrace the gym for the first time in my life. I did not want to experience the kind of pain an Achilles flare up can give you again.
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-13 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill.
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe my first ever proper use of a gym. Now with a purpose, I now had a new goal.
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
For the fourteenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how I would fully embrace strength and conditioning as part of my winter training. I would be using the gym properly for the first time in my life, and and loving it.
As you have read in my blog I have suffered through injury many times. Going to the gym was now even more important than ever before.
I had visited the gym sporadically in the past. The usual New Year effort which would fizzle away. More recently I had the privilege of using the Wattbikes at work (In the period I didn’t have a bike). But now I was an aspiring endurance distance athlete. I was in a totally different headspace when I went to the gym for the first time, in a very long time. It was the 17th October 2018.
I headed down to my local Gym straight after work on that Friday evening. Billy (TriForce) had discussed at length with me, the routine I would be starting with. I had printed out some graphics of examples, and was eager to get going.
In the past I had suffered, like many I suppose, the usual image consciousness whilst exercising in the gym. The feeling everyone is watching you? Or in someway judging you. This is probably why I never really stuck it out in the past. I was a pretty hefty guy at one point.
This time the gym was different. I was focussed on my goal, perhaps the fact that I had a goal had made all the difference. I never hung around in the car park, or in the changing room like I had in my early swimming lessons. I just cracked on with it and got into the gym. My first gym session would go by without the fear of what other people were thinking. Mostly, they have their headphones in and are all focussed on their own goal. I didn’t care either way.
I would be introduced to a new word in that first gym session “Potentiation” I think this is where you are effectively warming muscle groups up prior to increasing load or intensity. Either way, I thought you just got in the gym and did a bit of whatever, then showered and went home. No! These were going to be very structured sessions.
Having done my 10 minute easy treadmill I would have a blast with the foam roller, and then go through a series of Lunges, Squats, Glute Bridges and Leg Aductors etc. I was sweating profusely and hadn’t even been near anything heavy yet.
I would then start off with various things like leg presses, curls, Lat pull downs etc. etc. The gym staff very kindly showed me the ropes, and the session would go very smoothly. I would start off with 3 x 6 receptions on each muscle group and then a 90 second break. 90 seconds seems like a long time. I am learning that recovery is so important and key to consistent training. I would be disciplined and adhere to the plan.
I wasn’t lifting anything big. I had been told not to. Firstly technique was most important, I was to make sure I was getting the complete movement or rotation. The weight would be built gradually.
After completing the various weight machines I though I was done. But no! These were very structured sessions indeed. I would now have to complete a circuit three times. I had a choice which circuit I could do. The circuits are a mix of Aleknas, press ups, press up/pull through, face pulls and cable pulls amongst other things. Oh and a plank or two for good measure. Then still not finished, I would go through a stretch routine.
I finished the gym session having drank every last drop of water I had taken with me. I showered, and would go home very content. I would be doing this twice a week. Gradually building the load, and intensity as we went. I couldn’t wait for the next session.
I would grow to love the gym over the next few weeks. I began to make acquaintances as the familiar faces that showed up each week began to chat. It just made so much sense what I was doing. I also began to notice gains every week. Most weeks I would be lifting more than the previous weeks. The circuits became routine, where as before I had to keep referring to my notes. The potentiation would continue to get me sweaty before I had even done anything, but I guess thats its purpose.
The gym became quite an amusing place. I am a keen people watcher and the gym is full of all sorts.
Most amusing is the teenager trying to get ripped. He turns up and is the fastest on the rowing machine, oblivious to the risks, and lifting the heaviest of weights. However, he burns out in seconds and achieves nothing. This guy returns every week, and is there for about 15 minutes.
Then there is the travelling community. These guys really do respect their bodies. But they train in a group, each feeding off the others endorphines, like a pack of wolves.
One of my favourites is the guy who shows up in a vest so small his nipples are on show… Really? He isn’t there a lot fortunately. The ladies don’t do this pal, why should you.
The body builder amazes me every time. He is always there before I turn up, and he is still there when I leave. He doesn’t always lift big, but when he does it is impressive. His repetitions are consistent, and he respects the recovery time. Religiously writing down the weight each time.
Then there are the guys who look at themselves in the mirror, whilst doing their set. These are an odd, clearly self obsessed bunch. I smile in amusement when they take selfies of their tensed muscles.
The ladies are a different bunch all together. They don’t feel the need to make loud noises or exaggerated gasps when lifting weights. They don’t tense up their faces either.
Then there is the fat guy. I look at him with admiration each time he shows up. I remember where I was once and think “Good on you” at least you are here. He returns every week.
The older generation amaze me. There are a few clearly in their seventies, maybe older? They aren’t just working out because the doctor told them too. They are on a mission. Clearly they all have goals and ambitions. Their sessions are just as tough as mine. Good on them.
During this period I had been listening to my music collection through my iPhone but was beginning to get bored of the same shuffle repeats. I had dowloaded a few compilations and a few new albums, but really couldn’t find the right thing for me for when I was training.
A while ago I remembered listening to Fenella Langridges Podcast through Team Oxygen Addict. I had downloaded it via a link from a Facebook page. This was the first ever podcast I had listened to. I would revisit the world of podcasts and change the way I trained.
I would listen intently to the various podcasts I had downloaded that week, on the drive to the gym and whilst exercising. I would zone out and smash my training whilst listening to all kinds of subjects. Nutrition, sweating, recovery, heart rate training, and so on. The list is endless. Naturally I was focussing towards Ironman related podcasts. However, Im sure there is a podcast out there for everyone.
Amongst the podcasts I have listened to, two stand out above all;
An exceptionally talented athlete who suffered an extremely serious cycling accident shortly before his “A” race of the year – The Ironman World Championships at KONA. With a broken neck he was forced out of training and racing, and into a HALO.
This is a truly epic story. He has recently released two videos describing his return to racing.
Johnny has a truly remarkable to story to tell and hopefully the title of his podcast sums it up.
I won’t spoil the experience for you by repeating their stories here now. I just encourage you to have a listen. Suffice it to say they are two very inspirational people that have been on an epic journey. Neither have ever given up on their goals or their dreams. They have always found a positive out of whatever negative situation they have found themselves in. As a result they continue to be very successful at what they do. In some way I hope to have taken a little out of their mantra and applied it to my own.
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-14 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”– Muhammad Ali
Unlike this great champion, I have never “hated” my training. For sure there are days when I find it tough. Or moments when I feel like giving up. But like him I want to be able to live that dream. I may not be the champion, but in my own mind I will have won the battle and successfully completed my journey.
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe how I began to shape my 2019 training and race season
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
For the fifteenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how I would shape my 2019 training and race season. I would do it off the back of a very successful “Santa Swim” Challenge.
I had had a lovely Christmas and new Year. Now I needed to sort my self out and create a plan for 2019
Building a race diary
This is something I hadn’t really done before. Working with my coaches had changed the way I thought about this. In 2017, as a runner, I just entered events without thinking about how I would be able to train for them. Sure, I used these events as goals, but without decent planning, I would end up racing a lot of events poorly prepared.
In 2018 we had a plan for my first triathlon, and it went well. As you have read my plan kept on changing.
So 2019 needed to be different. I needed to be really clear in my mind how I was going to train, and what events would be used to get me up to the best possible condition on race day. In Chasewater reservoir, Staffordshire.
I had fannied about through November and December 2018, occasionally searching through The British Triathlon Federation web page for events. I also had the Triathlon 220 Magazines list of races. I had short listed a few events that I thought would be right. The focus being on building my run, and experiencing at least one triathlon, preferably Olympic distance.
Billy (TriForce) was impressed with the list I had come up with.
I was in my winter training and progressing well at the Gym. June seemed so far away at this point.
However, before I knew it, it was January 2019. Two months had passed already and with the exception of my “A” race, I had made no other commitments.
I kept the list of possible events on my phone, and every now and then, I would whittle it down to preferred options. Deleting the rest.
I decided not to race my Tri clubs (STAR) races again this year. Part of me wanted to see how much I had improved, and how much I could Pb by. The real part of me knew I had already proved to myself I could do it. It was a tough decision, but the right one. I will give something back to STAR this year, and volunteer as a marshal. They are a wonderful little club and I would love to see someone else “stepping up” and giving Tri a go. I will be cheering them along with the added experience of knowing exactly what they are going through.
I also decided not to include any half marathon races in my training plan. So those too, were crossed off the list. I didn’t want to tempt fate and risk another run based injury, paranoia? Perhaps, but these decisions were made after several weeks of suffering from Achilles Tendonitis.
At this stage I had almost given up on running, at least thinking about it. My Running Club (Shrewton) would now see a full on effort by me, as Secretary, and committee member to promote the club in as many other ways possible. I knew I was not going to feature in their league pursuits as a runner.
As I got through the short list of events I began to wonder why I was trying to cram so many into my plan. I wasn’t a pro athlete, I was barely even an athlete yet. At best I was an injured athlete. I didn’t need that level of stress in my life.
Billy (TriForce) had encouraged me to enter a few events so that my training was focussed. He was worried that if I didn’t have a race or two planned before my “A” race I might lose interest, as I sat on the Turbo or plodded up and down the pool.
I understood that mindset from Billy, but he was beginning to learn just how determined and focussed I was. How deeply entrenched I was in my journey.
I eventually whittled the list down to just one event. An Olympic distance Triathlon at Stourhead, In Wiltshire. “The Immortal”
There are many reasons why I chose this event. Mostly, it is local to me, and that takes the admin problems away. I could just drive to the venue on race day. Amongst others, the scenery in that area is said to be beautiful. A stately home not far from me, that I had never been to. What better way to see it than through swim, bike, run.
The main reason was, I had been kindly offered a place at a discounted rate for marshalling two of their half marathons. I was desperately disappointed in being unable to run Salisbury Half, twice. However, volunteering for the organisers had now been rewarded. I now had two races booked for 2019. Race 1 of 3 already smashed!
I was straight off the bat from a very successful “Santa Swim” challenge organised by TriForce. I had been awarded “The Most improved swimmer” award, and received wine and vouchers for my efforts. The accolade alone would have been enough. I already had one success as I started 2019. I counted the “Santa Swim” as event 1 of 3 now. I hadn’t been expecting any competitive events for some time. So hence it appears as race No. 1.
When I signed up for the “Santa Swim”, I knew I was never going to win the challenge over all. I had no chance of getting near the podium either. TriForce has some pretty serious athletes on their books. I was amongst the beginners. They had dangled a carrot for us, and anyone else suffering with their swim. We could become the “Most improved swimmer”! This I knew I could do. My swimming had been coming along nicely, this was just the sort of thing I needed to take me out of my comfort zone.
I was just as focussed on that swim challenge as I had been in any event I had entered previously. I had convinced myself I could claim a reward, and humbly set about smashing it!
The coaches had set us targets to swim on the days when the pools would be open over the Christmas period. These “options” were on top of our normal training schedule. They weren’t an option for me! I wanted that title! I had worked so hard to be in a position to challenge for it. I was not going to let this opportunity slip.
As I found last year, In my first Christmas as a swimmer, Christmas is a very difficult time to gain access to the pools. Nonetheless, I set about putting my name on that bottle of wine and getting that Wiggle voucher.
I could choose from the list produced from the coaches what swim set I would try. Ruling out the 5k and 10k swims as way beyond me (I didn’t want to be in the pool all day anyway, neither did the council) I certainly wasn’t going to do a 500m kick set either. However, the remainder of the sessions seemed doable if I could get in the pool with enough time.
I would go on to crush my 100m, 400m & 750m Pb in my first Santa Swim. It was a 1k non stop swim. I had never done that before either. I would then go on to swim a non stop 1.9k swim (the distance I will be swimming in Chasewater resevior) and follow this up directly with another 100m Pb, 11 seconds quicker than the Pb two days previous. The next swim was truly epic. I swam 3k non stop. Yet another first. There was no 100m Pb there though. This swim would introduce me to the discomforts of chaffing. My armpits were red roar. But I didn’t care. I felt awesome and knackered at the same. I eventually swam 5 epic swims over the Christmas period of 2018.
I finished the challenge off with a pyramid swim totalling 3k. Santa set me off buzzing into the new year and I knew I needed to put my hand in my pocket and sort my race diary out.
Despite being so focussed on the “prize” of that “Santa Swim” I was amazed when I was given the title “Most improved swimmer”. I was honoured to be mentioned in the ranks of so many great people…… I swam my arse off.
I had recently been given a birthday gift from Sue, a Gucci multi sport Garmin watch. My birthday falls at the end of November, and without me knowing it at the time, gave me a few weeks to get used to the advantages.
My swimming had improved without any tech, but this Garmin watch was a game changer. For the first time ever, I could swim eight lengths without forgetting how many I had swam. The watch would take care of that. I could simply focus on technique, my breathing, and above all relaxing into my swim.
Bizarre, even writing those words. That’s what Billy (TriForce) had been telling me all along. “Focus on technique, relax. The pace will come later”
Having that watch made it easier to complete a successful Santa Swim. I was probably the most relaxed I have ever been in the pool.
After getting this accolade I would have to refocus and look at my race diary. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so reluctant. For the last two years I was jumping in two footed at everything that came my way.
Perhaps that was it. I was now a little more experienced. I would bide my time. The right opportunity would come along.
Some time ago, as far back as August 2018, TriForce had invited it’s athletes to their summer training camp for 2019. It was to be held in Mallorca. The images they posted were enticing. I had read the reviews of their previous year, and expressed a keen interest at the time.
We could not afford it, there was simply going to be no amount of flowers or breakfasts in bed, that would convince Sue it was a good idea either. I would just have to shelve the idea. Before I did, I left it with Billy (TriForce)that I felt this was ideal for me. He agreed it would be a “Game changer” as he put it. Nonetheless Sue was not going to be convinced as easily.
The Open Water swims at Ellingham went a long way to change this, I had also been much better at dividing my time. I think Sue also saw a passion and desire in my cold, wind, and rain beaten face at Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. However, back then Sue was in a bad place with my Tri life, I needed to tread carefully.
It came out of the blue. In the week leading up to Christmas Sue announced she wanted to go with me. And that it was on! She had thought long and hard about it. I was knocked off my feet, I had almost given up on the idea. So we chatted all day, on and off, about it.
Sue was ok that I would be training long and hard in the day. She accepted I would be up for early morning swims. I didn’t know what to say.
That was it! That was the reason I wasn’t committing to any races. In my heart I knew that I wanted to go to Mallorca. I just didn’t know how to make it happen.
I quickly got in contact with Billy to get some details of this event and chatted about my race calendar.
I knew financially I wasn’t going to be able to enter many races now that we had committed to Mallorca. I also knew I never really wanted to. I could now focus towards a training camp in Mallorca. That has to beat any early season races. Boom! I was excited and driven again. I now had that drive and focus. It was on!
2019 is going to be awesome!
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-15 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
“An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.”
– Emil Zatopek
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe how I began to gently up my training in preparation for Mallorca 2019
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
For the sixteenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe how I had now begun to train and build towards my first ever triathlon training camp “Mallorca 2019” For this chapter I describe the ups and downs of January.
2019 was fast approaching as the clock ticked away. I wasn’t interested in waiting up to see the fireworks, or Big Ben chime. I was looking beyond that moment, I was looking forward to my journey evolving in 2019 and how I would feel standing on the side of Chasewater reservoir in Staffordshire, for my first ever Ironman event!
New years day for most people is all about a hangover or a lie in, perhaps followed by a full-English breakfast and a day in front of the TV, watching westerns. I used to fit into that category and would cheerfully sit on the sofa moaning and groaning. Not this year! This year was going to be different. I was determined to get myself in the best possible shape for Mallorca. I would be training from day 1 of 2019, I was excited.
I have never been a fan of staying up past midnight on New Years eve, so that side of things wasn’t a problem. I was in bed at 2130 hrs and had a great nights sleep. I knew the following days training was going to be tough, and I needed to be ready.
New Years Blast
It’s the afternoon of January the 1st 2019 and I am heading off to my “Pain Cave” Formerly known as my “Man cave”. Its a cold winters day and I am turning the heating on ready for the session, in an hours time. The afternoon light is dwindling as I wander back in doors to change into my cycling gear – It’s Turbo Time!
I have become very fond of the Turbo. For most, it is a love hate relationship. I have quickly begun to realise that a turbo session is one session you can always fit in. Regardless of the weather.
Todays session was described as aerobic with efforts. The efforts would be just shy of max, 9/10 on the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale. So after a Z2 (Zone 2/Heart rate) warm up for ten minutes I was off! 5x 10 seconds hard/50 seconds easy. I got through this interval relatively easy and enjoyed 2 minutes back in Z2. My Garmin watch has been an absolute game changer for this type of training.
Then suddenly boom 10x 30 seconds 9/10 with 30 seconds easy. Wow that was a toughie… I was sweating like a Royal Marine in a maths test, as I recovered in Z2 for 5 minutes. I would repeat the cycle and cool down for 5 minutes at the end.
The term cool down would usually have been quite easy. My heater barely takes the edge off a cold winters day, but I was hot, really hot and really sweaty. I laughed as I saw steam rising off my head in the second phase of this training.
The whir of the Turbo and the rising steam, whilst listening to a podcast in my pain cave. Thats how I do New Years Day now. BOOM
I would set 6 peak performances for that session, my Training peaks account was going to look good! Not a bad way to start off the year.
I would be back in the pool on Thursday 3rd January 2019 having enjoyed a rest day. My Tri club (STAR) were also delivering aerobic sessions, as we all built our aerobic base for the upcoming race season. I swam a mile that night in around 40 minutes, and thought nothing of it. It was an easy swim compared with the Santa swims in the two weeks previous.
As I sat in my car at the end of that session, I reflected on how far I had come. Amused by how ridiculous I had been in my early days of swimming.
The gym was going to be key going forward into 2019. My coach Billy (TriForce) and I had chatted at great length about this prior to Christmas. You will have read about this in Ch. 14 – The gym, with a purpose. However, I was now beginning to feel like I knew what I was doing and was beginning to notice some gains.
I would do a ten minute warm up on the Cross Trainer (Something I had hated in the past) and would feel good as I got off. I went at a fair lick and really got a sweat on. I might have looked like I had been In the gym for an hour as I entered the room put aside for potentiation. I really was hitting 2019, and I was feeling great.
By the time I got to the circuits, after about 45 minutes on the weights and presses etc. I was spent. I now had 15 minutes of heel drops in which I could people watch all the different personalities that populate a gym.
For the first time in my life I actually felt like I belonged in the gym, as opposed to being some kind of imposter. It was Friday 4th January 2019 and I was 41. I had bagged another 5 peak performances for my training peaks account, and I was excited about the weekends training.
The weekends training
Saturday would see my second 90 minutes session on the turbo. It was an aerobic session where I had to fit in 10 x 30 seconds hard at any point. I had chosen to do this every 10 minutes to break up the ride. I would fit in a few closer efforts toward the end and have a fifteen minute cool down. I had done a similar session the week previous and knew what was in store.
I went through the ritual of turning on the heater, changing into my cycling gear and preparing my hydration. In went the headphones, as I tuned into my current podcast of choice.
I would be in a different zone for the next 90 minutes. Miles away from the pressures of life. I loved the feeling of exercising, and how you completely exorcize your demons. The reward of a good training session is immeasurable. In that moment you are untouchable.
At the end of a good session there is an instant high as you know you have smashed it. I received 6 peak performances in my Training Peaks account, and knew it was going to be a great weekend.
Sunday saw me back in the pool and swimming just shy of 2k in 47 minutes. I had the option of going for a 30 minute run/walk but canned that and opted for a swim. I was pretty chuffed with my week of training. I didn’t want to balls anything up by running too soon. My Achilles injury was settled but only very recently, and I was paranoid. The running could wait.
The Santa swim challenge had done wonders for me. I was becoming very confident with my swim and found I could relax into the rhythm quite quickly. I knew I needed to be swimming 2k consistently and knew having recently swam 3k that I would be fine with the goals being set for me, by my coach.
There would be no peak performances for training peaks that night, but I didn’t care about that. This time last year I was barely able to swim a length.
Week two – January 2019
I would take a well earned rest day on Monday, and researched the world of “Calories in and calories out” I wasn’t on a diet, but I needed to be smart with what I was eating. I was burning a lot of calories. I would download “MyFitnessPal” from Under Armourer and link it to my Training Peaks account. Now everyone knew what I was up to.
Tuesday 8th January was Gym day. I was so excited to be going straight from work and into the gym. I was in and out of the changing room and quickly smashing out a twenty minute Cross Training session to warm up. Now I was sweating more than ever, the “Royal Marine in a maths test” was back! 8 Peak performances for that, and off I went dripping, into the potentiation room.
I would breeze from one machine to the next in the gym that night, pleased with the weekly gains, and increased weights I was pressing or lifting. I didn’t need the help of diagrams I had downloaded, and I was becoming familiar with the varied sessions. The circuits at then end left me near broken, as I expended every last drop of energy before my drive home.
I was now training smart, eating smart, and hydrating well. I felt on top of the world as the fears of hitting “Enter” were well in the past. I was full of confidence about my A race. I was loving training, and loving life.
The rise and fall of an athlete
Wednesday 9th January saw the rise and fall of an athlete. I had recently began to brick a swim and bike session into my Wednesdays. A “beasting”, and one which I loved.
I approached the session like all the others for the new year. Full of positivity and good preparation and planning. I had an awesome swim and felt strong throughout. The swim was aerobic with some strong efforts, and finishing just shy of 2k I was content with my effort. I got to the Wattbike and set about tuning in to my podcast. I felt really good as I got into my shoes and laid out my towel. By now I was very familiar with the ideal height setting for the bike, before long I was into a rhythm. This session was focussed around cadence and I was determined to finish on a high.
The Wattbike would see me in HR Z2 and 3 throughout the session and the cadence was maintained at 90+/100+ it wasn’t a particularly difficult session but nonetheless I was sweating buckets. This is the norm for me on these machines and I was prepared for it. Drinking electrolyte based fluids regularly.
The end of the session came at 58 minutes (10 minutes short of the planned time) up to this point everything had gone very well. I had to stop because I was beginning to feel the very early signs of cramping in my calf muscles. I knew I needed to get off the bike quickly before my legs locked up completely. The indignity of cramp whilst clipped in on a bike is not something I planned to suffer that day.
The problem occurred when i tried to get out of the cleats. Unbeknown to me, someone had tightened the release up so much it was impossible to remove your foot. I didn’t know it at the time, but the process of trying to unclip my feet, whilst having fatigued muscles would introduce me to my latest injury, and pretty much write off the remainder of January 2019.
The following morning I would wake up in the early hours in agony, as the damage caused to knee ligaments and tendons earlier in the day, had slowly swollen to the point I had lost the ability to straighten my leg. Eventually the pain would be so unbearable that a trip to A & E was inevitable. I thought I had broken something.
The whole of the following week I would be in crutches, the hospital scans had confirmed that it was tissue damage, and not anything that the old fashioned remedy of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) could not sort out.
I am not a big fan of daytime television and quickly searched for a positive in this latest “set back”. I would eventually decide to write Chapters 12-15 of my blog that week, which by now you would of had the pleasure of reading.
Writing my blog whilst injured
In the past, being in pain, injured, or off work, would be a depressing time for me. Housebound and dependant. This time my experience was different. Recalling my journey for those chapters was very good therapy, and reminded me of the “Absolutely” response of Billy Harriss and Simon De Burgh, when responding to my question “Should I do an Ironman event”
All of my coaches STAR and TriForce absolutely believe in me, and continue to impress me with their positivity and belief. That week in crutches could have been the end of my journey if I didn’t write those chapters. I absolutely believe I can do it, and hope my experience of January is just a “Set back” and that February is a much better month for me.
The Moral guidance here is “Be careful when riding someone elses bike”
Awards and accolades
During this period of injury I was given the biggest of boosts, and a massive pat on the back from both Tri Force Endurance, and my Triathlon Club STAR. As you have read in Ch. 15 – Shaping my 2019 training and race season off the back of a “Santa Swim” TriForce had already awarded me the title of “most improved swimmer” for my efforts in their Santa swim challenge. I wasn’t expecting the bottle of wine and the Wiggle voucher that came through the door though. Thanks guys!
An even bigger surprise was to come the morning after my Tri clubs (STAR) AGM/Awards night, Friday 11th January 2019. It was completely unexpected, especially as I was unable to attend due to being injured by the Wattbike the Wednesday before. I was desperately disappointed to have to offer my apologies, I was more upset about that, than the fact I was injured. My triathlon club is full of very inspirational people and I am fortunate to be able to call them friends. I felt like I had let them down by not attending. The following morning my coach Katie “Narna” McBain would inform me of the following;
I had been nominated for three awards on the night by the membership, “The most improved swimmer”, “Most improved athlete award”, “The athletes, athlete of the year award” and my favourite… “The – You cannot be serious award” Katie advised me that I had indeed been missed.
I was voted by the membership, and awarded two out of the four awards for my efforts in 2018 – “The most improved Swimmer award” and the “Athletes -Athlete of the year Award” I was particularly chuffed to receive the latter. Especially given some of the epic challenges my fellow club members had completed through the year.
What to do?
It turns out that Triathlon is ideal for some one as injury prone as me. After an initial moody week on crutches, and easy week at work. Billy and I sat down and chatted about the way forward. I would swim my arse off for the remainder of January! Something that this time a year ago, simply wasn’t possible. Swimming was now my strength, and I would use it to my full potential.
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-16 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe February’s training in the build up to my triathlon training camp “Mallorca 2019”
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
For the seventeenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe my training, and build towards my first ever triathlon training camp “Mallorca 2019” For this chapter I describe the ups and downs of February.
As I publish this Chapter (2nd March 2019) ….. Ironman inform me it is 100 days until my event in Staffordshire!
Leading into February 2019
I had had a hard time injury wise through the last weeks of January, and it had begun to take its toll on my mental state of mind. I’m not saying I was loosing it, but I had started to allow negative thoughts to enter my mind. Something recently in my life that I am unfamiliar with. I had become so used to a structured life around training, it frustrated me I couldn’t train as I had been. I found it difficult to accept that I was injured, and it would be a long term recovery. I was shocked when The last day of January approached and things rather than getting better, we’re getting worse.
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
I needed to get myself back into the right headspace. I had organised a follow up appointment with my friend and Osteopath Caroline. This was on the morning of Thursday 31st January 2019, and it couldn’t have come sooner. I would have a long chat with her whilst being treated.
I also chatted at length with Billy (TriForce) on the Wednesday prior to visiting Caroline and discussed things from a coaching perspective. I needed reassuring I guess. I needed to silence the demons in my head.
February – Week 1
I had now accepted that January was a write off. Ok I had one great week at the beginning, but since then the roller coaster had been free rolling down hill.
I decided that February 1st would be where I would get back on it. Billy and I had agreed on a suitable swim session and I was focussed. I was ready to restart my training year.
That day Wiltshire was hit with heavy snow. The kind of Snow that paralyses the UK. We had more than was required, and the councils had closed all the pools. Normally this wouldn’t of affected me. In the past I would simply shuffle my training and do a Turbo session on the bike. With this injury all I had was swimming. I was devastated. I couldn’t even go for a walk through fear of slipping on the ice and undoing my recovery. February 1st was written off.
I got up on the Saturday really pissed off with myself for forgetting the process, and focussing on the goal. I had written about this in my blog and should be learning by my mistakes. Ok let’s make February 2nd count.
Officially my training had me down for a rest day. Not a chance. I’ve been resting for three weeks. Billy was in Dubai with Fenella Langridge for Dubai 70.3 (Her first race of the season) and I didn’t want to disturb them. I would pick from a list of swims I had missed over the last few weeks and just crack on, off my own back.
When I got to the pool I realised I had forgotten my watch, or any reference to the intended swim. I sat in the car thoroughly cheesed off with things and contemplated just going home. I got a grip, and had a word with myself. This was not who I was, not now.
I would get in the pool that night, and swim a set I could remember. I made one up on the spot and decided to swim 10x25x10. I gave myself an hour to complete it, then just cracked on. Writing on a white board each time I had swam 10 lengths. Just like old times. Just like the days before my Garmin watch. Only this swim was without the pressures of my watch monitoring my every move…. A free swim.
I was buzzing when I got out, as the clock had only just gone past the hour, and my set was completed. I was at last training again. The last weeks of January I had swam my arse off, as I put it. But that felt like injury rehab. This swim was different. Ok yes I was still injured, and was still recovering. I felt great as I sat in my car recovering from exertion, slowly sipping away at the remainder of my hydration.
1st Structured session
The night of 2nd February I sent Billy a message asking for a swim set the following day. I was down for a recovery Turbo session of 45 mins. However, I had missed several Turbo sessions and knew I would fail this. Billy sent me over a set to which I immediately responded “I will smash that in the morning”
The swim set was made up of (after a warm up) 500 steady/4×50 hard x3 with a mix stroke cool down.
I would indeed go on to smash it with a 2.3k time of 54.47 I was content with what I thought was a solid swim, given the congestion of a Sunday afternoon council pool.
Billy had messaged me whilst I was swimming. He was still in Dubai, but keen to find out how I got on. When I sat in my car reviewing his message, I tried to compose a reply. In the end I just sent him a screen shot of my Garmin feed. I was blown away with his response.
Despite the fact my injury had left me with no kick (Off the wall) and I was turning like an oil tanker in the pool. I allowed myself to feel pretty chuffed with my efforts. I was conquering everything the Tri Gods were throwing in my path, and was beginning to see some improvements in my time splits.
Onwards through February
I didn’t train for two days after this swim. A difficult day at work had aggravated my injury and I would have to return to the doctors…. Having hoped for some sympathy, the doctor promptly advised me to get back in the pool. He was keen for me to keep using my leg as much as I could. He wasn’t about to sign me off work, quite the opposite. He wanted me to crack on! He knew how far I had come and wasn’t going to play to my weaknesses. He was giving me no option, a proverbial slap around the face with a wet Kipper, and get back in the water you fanny!
I would be back in the pool on Wednesday 6th February 2019. I had been on an emotional rollercoaster, and I wasn’t enjoying the ride.
Billy’s kind words, along with the trip to the doctor, changed how I would approach the remainder of February. I had beaten the injury demons that were creeping into my head and smashed two back to back swim sessions. I was now focussed on the process again and had a renewed sense of belief.
Over the next four days (6th -10th February) I clocked up 8100m of swimming, swimming every day. At this stage we were adjusting my training on a daily basis, as my injury began to heal. Billy would send me a different swim for each day, and every one of them I would smash. Determined to improve somehow on each session, and see gains, however small they were.
On Monday 11th I took a well earned rest day, and reflected on my efforts. As I browsed the stats stored in my Garmin Connect account… I was blown away…. My Friday swim (8th February) I smashed my 400m PB with a time of 7.27 my previous time was something like 12.08. The Sunday (10th) swim was truly epic…. A 750m PB @ 16.18 (Was 17.25), A 1k PB @ 22.46 (Was 23.38) and a 1.5k PB @ 35.44 (Was 36.42). On top of that I was now consistently swimming 2k.
The positives of injury
Before I write about the last two weeks of February, a moment to reflect…. Yes! It’s a bizzarre title for a paragraph, but the process of recovery allows you take an inward look at your self, and your journey.
When you are training, you are so focussed on the moment, the numbers, the following day, or the goal. It is easy to overlook where you have come from. I had indeed been on an epic journey, and it was time I started patting myself on the back for getting where I was at this point. Yes I was a bit downhearted in the first few days of February. Naively I thought I would just keep progressing. I never for one minute expected I would go backwards. However, I now had the opportunity to turn it all around and make February an exceptionally good month. I needed to think about my journey, and not on my injury. Why did it start. The many, many wins and successes along the way. The weight loss (Ongoing), C25k, making friends through sport, learning to swim, Aquathlon and triathlon medals and cycling Sportives. Etc etc. The biggest, and most notable gain I reflected on was that the journey so far had made me a better person, a positive thinker. A person that had learnt to believe in dreams, and make them happen. Once I had got to this mindset again I could focus on the next session…. and smash it.
February did turn out to be an epic month (As you are about to read).
Billy had tapped into a rich vein of form and clearly knew how to push my buttons. After my rest day on the 11th February 2019, I would accept my next challenge…. Swim 10k in a week!
Each day I would have a different swim set. Each of those swim sets would have their own individual goals and challenges. The problem here, and Billy didn’t know it at the time, was that the weekend was going to be a “Grandparent” weekend and training was going to be difficult to fit in….. On top of that I had Valentines day to consider, leaving just four probable training days. None the less, the challenge had been set, and I was not going to disappoint.
My stats for this week blew me away; –
12/02 = 2.5k in 55.12
13/02 = 2.4k in 55.01
15/02 = 2.6k in 58.20 & 1.6k later in the day in 35.31
18/02 = 2k in 43.04
Total = 11.1k in 4 days.
Hence the title of the previous paragraph… I had indeed found a positive from injury!
The focus wasn’t necessarily to become quicker at this stage, but to be able to swim 2k consistently…. Billy I told you I would smash it…..
Reflection is a very important part of progression. As you have read I used this process to help me smash the 10k in “Four” days challenge.
In this epic week, I found myself reflecting on situations that in the past would have been too stressful to even think about.
I remembered the double swim day of 15/02 especially…..
I was quite tired having got into the pool for the 0630 hrs swim, and swimming what was a hard 2.6k. Especially as this swim was based on the guilt of having not trained on Valentines day.
The later, lunch time swim was a real mental battle. I knew I was fatigued and felt I was going to struggle. In reality the biggest struggle was putting my wet swim Jammers back on. Once in the pool I would smash the mile….. Now the moment for reflection…
As I got in the pool I noticed Fenella Langridge doing a swim session. It didn’t seem to phase me as I got in the fast lane and casually got my self ready. I couldn’t have done this a few weeks ago. Wow! Now to swim….
Pretty much every stroke I thought about the day when Fenella had helped me, my bad experiences in the pool and my fears of drowning. However, in this session it drove me forward, the memory no longer created fear, it had become a drive or a force. I was using my weakness as a strength. Something within me that I had beaten or conquered.
Whilst I can’t say I was able to keep up with Fenella, a pro athlete, I was comfortable with being in the same lane as her and all the other fast bods…. A few weeks ago I would have snuck away under the rope into the medium lane.
I now had the confidence to use their strengths to help me. I would draft off of them, watch their technique from under the water, chase them before they turned, and where possible get myself amongst their wake. I was using this session as training for my event….. The big boys and girls were not phasing me. I had come a long way.
Build back to fitness
The following week was supposed to be different. My mind was now in a good place going forward, and I had recent successes on which to build.
However, the grandparent weekend had near broken me again…. more accurately the “Soft Play Area” had broken me. Ironic that a place designed to keep children safe, had quite the opposite effect on me. Fortunately adopting the prone position and plenty of ice, reduced this to a mere scare! However, it highlighted the need to start building strength back into my knee.
We would start the week with a two minute turbo session, no resistance, easy gear. Simply introduce my leg into the range of motion and see how it felt the next day. After this I would be straight in the pool for another 2.5k swim (48.23) The times were tumbling down.
The session of the 22nd February embraced everything I have written about. A truly epic beasting from my STAR coach Katie “Narna” McBain, (Somehow, cruel to be kind) and one which I fully committed. I loved the fact that I could see our journeys evolving, and somehow felt we were feeding off of each others recovery and development. Katie has been injured for some time too. Not once has she expressed a desire to give up. A true beacon of positivity, and one of which I continue to feed off.
The beginning of this session saw me buddy up with Charlie Waters, one of the group “DivStars” I started Tri with. We had been separated in the pool for some months now as he had progressed quicker than me. Tonight we would be pushing each other, and at times I felt I had the edge. Only to be caught up each time I did my oil tanker turns. I was ok with this too, as it just made me push harder in the water. I also knew that in the lakes I would not have a wall to be kicking off from anyway.
I used this session to practice my open water sighting and clocked my coaches huddled together watching me. I was becoming aware of my status and I was loving it.
Whilst Charlie and I were being beasted by Katie. I noticed a new guy (Andy) and briefly said hello during a 20 second strict rest interval. He (over the course of a few more rest intervals) was able to explain his journey was following mine, only he was at the beginning of his. He had been reading my blog. I was empowered by the fact my blog was in some way helping someone begin their path into Triathlon. I used this to dig deep and complete the session. Cheers Andy (There will be plenty of time to chat when we are wearing our finishers medals around our necks mate, apologies)
I remembered the intimidating, barmy bonkers place a Tri club session can be for a newbie. Tonight, Charlie and I were adding to that atmosphere, as we raced and out paced each other, with Katie hurling “encouragement” at us. It was time to move on. We were no longer the beginners. We were graduates, Triathletes. Good luck Andy. You will smash it mate.
I finished that Tri Club session in bits. Absolutely spent, exhausted, and I loved it. After I got changed I found myself sitting next to Jacqui Taylor, my lane judge from my Aquathlon. Here I was, a year on from only being able to swim a length, to this. I had indeed come a long way.
More pain… leading to more gain….
In the last week of February my knee injury had taken an odd turn, it was affecting me psychologically in the pool, and my rehab on the turbo had been put on hold because of it. My swim times were still heading in the right direction, but I just felt like I wasn’t able to give it my all, when required. I was five weeks into recovery now and knew this was a different problem. I felt it was in someway associated but hoped it was a quick fix.
I was due follow on treatment from Caroline, my Osteopath, and we set a date. In the meantime I researched the issue and tried to understand what was going on.
It turns out my body had been reacting to my injury by tightening hamstrings and tendons etc. to protect the damaged areas. Caroline would confirm this whilst reminding me of my responsibility to stretch. I knew I should have been stretching out, but clearly I wasn’t stretching them out enough. My IT Band and hamstrings were binding against each other, and as they got tighter and tighter I was loosing the range of motion and unable to cycle or kick.
Fortunately Caroline got in amongst it, as we chatted through the pain of a thorough treatment session. The kind of session where I am left trembling and absorb a whole pack of chocolate brownies without any guilt at all. 2 hours later I would be in the pool for my last STAR Tri club session for February.
Last session of the month.
I would enter the last session of the month quite confident. It was my Tri Club night and I wanted to finish on a high!
I had just come off the back of a pretty underwhelming week of swimming. I had consistently swam 2k or above but felt I had plateau’d a bit and was looking for a break through. It had to be at Tri Club! It was time!
I got in the pool before anyone else and before the life guards had finished putting the ropes out! I wanted to get the warm up done quickly and get on with the drills… I wanted to smash this set. Bizarrely enough I found myself making excuses to my coach about having only just being treated by my Osteopath. Clearly that fell on deaf ears and before I knew it Katie “Narna” was interrupting my warm up and promoting me up a lane. I didn’t resist and quickly completed 6 x 50m. Then without instruction began the drills set. I knew what I was supposed to be doing and wanted to get on with it. I was racing ahead of the others.
Katie had noted my fierce determination, and decided to “buddy” me up with Andrew Mathews (One of the coaches, electing to swim tonight) Andrew is a really nice guy, as are all of the Mathews family. After our brief from Katie… Swim 50, change lead swimmer, and a very quick chat with Andrew…. I was off! Eagerly staying in his wake and drafting off of it. Andrew is a different beast when it comes to training, clearly. He was not holding back, and clearly didn’t want me to catch him…. I got to the wall of the first 25 hoping for a brief catch of breath as we turned. No! Andrew was off and I had to keep in his wake.
We had a strict twenty second recovery… Now I had Katie and Andrew reminding me of the ticking clock. It was my turn to lead, and my turn to try and swim away from Andrew…. My turn to turn without waiting…. my turn to build pace as we both began to tire…. 20 seconds was just about enough time to recover and we were off again… We would do this for 4x 100 at near race pace and we were both loving it. We really were pushing each other, neither of us wanting to falter and get caught….. Awesome!!
As we completed that I got a “Chuck up” from the team captain, Dale Kirk McCarter. (Soon to be a triple Ironman) he had taken some time out of his busy training schedule to see how Team STAR was doing. “You look good mate, effortless and smooth” The truth was…. Under the water I was blowing out of my arse. I’ll take that accolade though. Cheers Dale.
After a brief scan of the next part of the set, and a quick look at Andrew, we were off! No time to chat. This was serious.
We now had a 4 x 75 at the same pace but a reduced rest interval of 15 seconds. We were tearing up the lane as we both refused to slow down and be caught. Andrew got caught in some lane traffic and I seized my moment. A quick “Crocodile” look above the water line and boom! I dug in and got alongside him, only to pull back in behind as the lane got a bit congested… Next time mate.
we completed this in no time and quickly got about a 4×50. Increasing the pace and reducing the rest. We were clearly now both slightly above race pace, as we refused to be caught, changing roles each 50. I was overtaking others in the lane, with a quick “Crocodile” and go…. straight down the centre of the lane squezing between two athletes…. refusing to slow down. (Sorry guys we were on a mission).
We were now at or above the pace of the lane next to us. The lane supposed to be faster than us! We really pushed each other that night and I can’t wait to do it again Andrew! Great shout Katie xx
An easy warm down/cool down with ten minutes to spare…. Thats how to smash a session and how to finish a month!! Thanks for the comments Ina (Another STAR coach, who also has a video from when I just started with STAR)
The praise I got poolside, and after was overwhelming. I cannot thank the coaches enough. In particular Katie “Narna McBain and Sue Hartwell for their endless praise and positivity. We will smash this!!
For the eighteenth chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will start with a quote….
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt
I truly believe in this kind of mantra. However, strap your selves in! March was a real roller coaster of a ride. One I was determined not to get off of!
I certainly wasn’t where I had planned to be, as we started the last 6 weeks of training before my training camp. Nonetheless I was excited and determined to knuckle down and be as best prepared as possible. Having said that, I could never of dreamed I would be doing so well in the swim. That indeed was a bonus. I never thought I would ever say “The Swim is my strength”
The first weekend in March
The first weekend in March went pretty much as planned. My focus was to remind myself what I had achieved in the first 100 days of my journey. I was buzzing about what I could achieve in the (Now less than) 100 days before I would be on the start line in Staffordshire.
There had been times in Ch. 17 where I thought of deferring my race to later in the year. It meant a Sea Swim….. Weymouth! The sea never bothered me, I could swim now, besides, the salt makes you more buoyant! However, Billy reminded me of what we had achieved in those early days together…. I was so much further forward. 100 days would be plenty! I reminded myself of my own quote.
“The body achieves what the mind believes“
I didn’t need to defer, I can do this!
Billy had asked I start moving about on my feet some more, and I had agreed to start taking my dog Otis out for some longer walks. Otis had been Suffering with me. It was about time I made it up to him. I was continuing to smash the swim sets and starting to increase the time spent on the Turbo. The first Saturday in March would see me peaking at an impressive 12 minutes…. Boom!
Things seemed to be a bit chaotic with life outside of training, but I felt I had a grip on things. The reality was, I had become used to the easier training schedule, whilst I recovered from injury. The recovery was now coming to an end, and training was slowly increasing. I had been banging out some quality swims, whilst not having to worry about the other disciplines of triathlon, my garden, or the race calendar, all were growing around me.
I seemed to be struggling to balance life with it and needed to take a break, before I fully transitioned from injury.
Sue and I took a well earned social break away from our life, and caught up with our good friend Lucinda Colucci. A tonic, the world having tasted would be a better place. Sue and I both needed this distraction. On return, the mind would reset.
Starting the week
I chose to swap Monday’s rest day with Tuesday to make things work. My swim for Monday ended up as 1725m in 35 minutes, I was content with my planning and my effort. Albeit I was supposed to swim a 2k set! My watch hit the lane ropes a few times towards the end, as I tired and my swim became ragged. This pressed the lap button and left me confused. I don’t know how this happened, especially as the lap button is at the bottom of the watch. However, having noted I was fading I decided to call it a day, knowing I had swam more than a mile.
Perhaps my mind had not fully reset?
Tuesday was not so good.
I was down to increase my Turbo session through the week, and prepare for a possible outside ride at the weekend. I was eager to get my cycling gear back on and do some meaningful work on the bike. I had promised myself, and Billy, that come rain or shine I would be out there. The recent Turbo sessions were so short I didn’t bother changing, and I longed for something more. My patience was wearing thin.
Despite being very positive about the potential ride, I was unable to complete Tuesdays 15 minute Turbo session, and bailed after 5 minutes. I was getting some mild knee pain and through paranoia, I stopped at the earliest signs.
It was the right thing to do! The following day I was limping and struggling to fully straighten my leg when walking. Fortunately the mild pain would subside by lunchtime and just leave tightness. However, in the meantime I had succumbed to mental weakness and sent Billy a negative message, and booked an appointment with my Osteopath.
Whilst I had been on my feet a lot at work on the Tuesday, in reality the problem was completely down to me. It took this message, a creatively worded response and subsequent “chat” from Billy. One that was later confirmed with a slap round the face with a wet Kipper from my Osteopath.
I had been over-stretching, stretching badly and weak minded.
In order to increase volume on the bike I had been told stretching was going to be vital. It turns out that a stretch whilst standing having a chat, or leaning over a bench is not the best approach. I should have been focussing on what I was stretching and, in particular, not stopping when it felt too tough.
Whilst I sub-consciously knew this, the conscious state was using the excuse of the mild pain from the turbo. For that matter any other excuse I could find. How did this happen?
The problem was me! Billy and Caroline would have no problem in telling me! I had essentially set myself back a week by being casual about my stretching. “A schoolboy error” and one on which I do not intend to repeat. I was also allowing mild pain signals to control my decision making. Paranoia?
The limping wasn’t down to pain. Although it was there. I was limping because my Hamstrings had been allowed to tighten to the point I had lost the full range of movement.
Because of this Caroline has now paid off more of her holiday, and I now have to work off the last two sessions on the chocolate brownies.
Billy “Anything is possible” Harris was straight on it and adjusted my plan. Through this, we had released the question….
Should I start running?
Up until I got this “wake up” I wasn’t even contemplating running. Through guilt, I found myself searching for a positive, and in doing so I decided it was time to ease myself back into the run.
Billy agreed, without hesitation, but insisted I was very self controlled. There would be no “Sexy” run sessions for a while.
My Running Club (Shrewton) as if through fate, were starting their C25k course the following Tuesday, and as Secretary and one of the Run Leaders, I felt duty bound to attend. Despite helping with the planning of this with the committee, I was dreading turning up and being “Plain clothed”. I have done this far too many times in the past. It’s great to catch up and be social, but watching your running buddies go off into the distance as you walk home is no fun at all.
Billy and I agreed that I should get my kit on for the C25k, and run with the newbies. I would fulfil my duties as run leader and at the same time have a safe, steady return to running. Assuming my kit still fitted?
The focus for the remainder of the week would be to swim the Tri Club session and follow this up with (Tuesdays) failed 15 minute Turbo. Hopefully I could still hit the targets for the week?
For some weeks now I had been unable to use my leg (Kick) in the swim and had been
focussing on upper body. The Pull Bouy, a simple device, had to this point saved my sanity, fitness and interest. Without this many sessions would have led to failure.
My swim was now my strength and I was beginning to show confidence. The previous two weeks I was first in the pool. I did not want to hang around chatting poolside, I wanted to, and needed to train.
For the Tri Club this session was important, one of the coaches was being assessed for his level 2 qualification. (Top work Tom.) Especially as your prepared set was quickly adapted to allow for me. I had a cracking swim under Toms coaching and learnt some tips on which to improve. I swam the whole session with a Pull Bouy and now wonder what I could have achieved without it. Having said that, this was still only two days after a scare and I’d like to think I made the right choice.
I did finish off the week as planned. My endurance 2.5k Swim was nailed on the Saturday just on the hour mark. And later followed up by the bike. Although I opted to do the bike indoors on the Turbo, this time due to the weather.
I had somehow managed to juggle my training, with work and life. Deal with a negative mindset, and finance other people’s holidays. All this in just week 1. However, I had earnt my rest day on the Sunday and promptly sent Billy a more positive message. I eagerly awaited the adjustments to my plan for the following week, and was excited, yet nervy about running.
Sunday was a rest day/or walk
My brother Andre, and sister in law Gaby we’re running the Surrey half marathon. Sue and I set off early to find a key point in the event to support them. I wasn’t able to run, but my brother Andre (Who started this thing) was. We were not going to miss the opportunity to encourage their efforts. It was an epically windy day. The kind of day when supporters have to have a deep rooted reason for being there.
I loved it. The atmosphere of the crowd, the enthusiasm of the marshals. So many different levels of ability, everyone enjoying their achievements.
We were at the 8/9 mile point and the runners were encouraged to dig deep as we cheered them on.
I fed off of this and realised I couldn’t wait to have the feeling myself, I remembered it from the events I had entered in the past. Just when you feel like you can’t do it, you hear a cheer, or see a face…. Something gives you that lift. Before you know it you are back in the zone and striding towards that medal. I missed this, I was ready to get back to training again. Injury rehab was over! It had been 8 weeks.
Monday after work I raced upstairs and dusted down my cycling shorts. They felt a bit snug, but they were on. I checked for spiders in my cycling shoes and hopped down to my “Man cave”. It had been some time since it had been my “Pain cave”. I didn’t worry that it was cold, as I clipped into the cleats. I had wanted this for so long!
For the next 20 minutes I built into my ride. The resistance was now back on, on the Turbo. I gently added more resistance as I climbed up through the gears. My first non-rehab session! I eased off after 18 minutes for a cool down and noticed the first bead of sweat on my forehead for 8 weeks….. Small gains?
It might only be 20 minutes, but to me it was huge. I then set off for the pool…. Buzzing.
What a day indeed!
As you have read I was keen to get out of my “plain clothes” and back into Lycra. It was finally time to run! As feared, the Lycra had become snug, as the Chocolate brownies made their appearance! My running tops certainly needed a bit of pre stretching, and whilst my shorts fitted, they required selection before I was happy to leave the front door. Fortunately we were two weeks shy of the clock change, and any wardrobe failures could be hidden by the cover of darkness. In reality I didn’t care! I would be running again.
Week 1 of Shrewton Running Clubs C25k went really well. A well organised event created a great atmosphere for the newbies, and an ideal platform for me to make my surprise return. I had not informed the club of my intentions. I guess I still feared I couldn’t do it. However, on the night I would surpass even my own best expectations….
I would run/walk the entire session as planned. I even had to stop my self running between the recovery intervals. I wasn’t out of breath and I wasn’t sweating. My Heart rate was fine. I even took responsibility of running the second half of the session, as Karen’s (C25k Co-ordinator) stopwatch was creating….. Boom! The swimming had paid off!
I resisted the offer of going for a run with club members after. I felt I could do it, but I had already ran for longer than planned. I had started the day thinking 2 x 30 seconds pain free would be great. I had completed a twenty minute session without breaking a sweat.
Wednesday I was down for a “Hard swim”! Having recently told Billy that the swim had become easy, I was apprehensive. I had indeed come to the end of my injury rehab.
I approached the swim with a positive mindset, despite suffering from mild D.O.M.S (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) from the C25k run. I had stretched well, but clearly after 8 weeks my quads had been given a shock.
The swim went well as I built into the “Hard” and “Max” elements. I was creating a hell of a bow wave as I dragged the Chocolate brownies through the water at a 1.56 per 100 m pace. I would hover at this pace for 10 x 25 followed by 3 x 50 marginally quicker…. I was blowing out of my arse. The intervals had a max 20s rest.
Somehow I had forgotten to swim 3 x 200 easy between these sets. I was now spent and had a fair way to go. I felt the heat of the blood rushing around my body as I near overheated poolside, my face felt violet and I was dizzy. A phenomenon I had read about when wearing a wetsuit in water too warm…. Hence some events at the last minute are Non-wetsuit.
I took a minute or two poolside, confused! I considered bailing out, but opted to swim on. Ironman would be unforgiving so why not use this experience. The remainder of my set was a battle of the mind over the body.
I would go on to complete a mile in 33.01 despite the fact I was down for a 2.1k Swim I was content.
Prior to my injury Tri Club night was often a stand-alone session. Tonight was different. We now had limited time available in the build to Mallorca. We needed to be creative. I would get on the bike prior to the swim and smash out a 20 min spin. It was indoors as light was fading, I built the cadence into a constant 85 rpm. Lifting the resistance as I climbed through the gears. No pain, and a bead of sweat as I entered my cool down.
A simple session to most people, and if I’m honest I could of stayed in the saddle for longer. I didn’t care, I had become consistent and I knew this was key in going forward. I also knew Billy would be increasing the bike volume next week and being a “hero” was not in the plan. I could wait.
Tri Club was awesome. The bike had no impact on my swim. In fact the confidence I got off of it helped me in my swim. I was going to nail this session. I was first in and eagerly awaited instruction to enter the 6 x 50 warm up! I was conscious I was swimming too fast and thought of slowing down. I wanted to be able to finish this session too. However, I quickly settled into a rhythm and was relaxed with my breathing, even at this pace. Perhaps I had indeed progressed. I maintained the pace and before I knew it the warm up was done. I later learned that my warm up pace was now sub 2:00 min/100. Perhaps a little quick, however, the splits late in the main set blew me away.
I had recently been promoted up a lane and knew it wasn’t going to be long before that happened again. I was slightly anxious about this but in order to progress I have to step into the unknown once in a while.
I was buddied up with Charlie Waters (DivStars) and we spent the night pushing each other beyond our comfort zones, despite being a friend, we had little time to chat. This was serious training. Top work Charlie, cheers mate!
I had become comfortable with swimming in the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and used the easy intervals as recovery. I was happy with the swim “on feel” approach. My watch was simply recording the session for Billy. This skill is doubtless going to be priceless as I get carried away at the beginning of the Ironman “Washing machine”
As I plodded through the easy intervals I would chuck in the odd zipper drill or shoulder tap to train, and maintain, my high elbow recovery. In the hard intervals I would push right through the swim stroke, trying my hardest to maintain form. In the past the rest intervals were never enough (before I became relaxed with my breathing) Tonight the rest intervals (15/20 sec) were plenty.
The session was adjusted as we neared the end of our set with 15 minutes to spare, piggy backing off the elite lanes set to fill the time. Boom! Charlie and I had come a long way. Later my Garmin would show some epic improvements and the odd 1:30 min/100. Clearly not a race pace time, but nonetheless on short intervals I knew I could do it.
I was buzzing as I staggered towards where I thought my car was, knowing I had left everything in the pool. I was so focussed on the session that I had forgotten where I had parked my car. Bizarre, given there was probably only twenty cars in the car park. Eventually finding it, and hoping this sort of thing happens to everyone, I got in and gave out a uncontrolled sigh. “I WAS READY”, at least as far as the swim was concerned.
The drive home was hindered by my windscreen misting up, as the heat of my exertion filled the cold air inside my car. The journey home was a blur, as I dreamed of a successful swim around Chasewater Reservoir On June 9th. I now needed to change my focus. I would keep up the swim, but the bike and run needed to take priority.
I don’t know that there is one single factor that has allowed me to improve in the swim
so much, but I do believe consistency is key. Due to injury I found myself consistently in the pool, to the point I felt like Dory, from “Finding Nemo” I also know that my wife Sue had a huge part to play.
Sue has suffered more than any in my transition. Through thick and thin she has found a way to come through and believe in me. As I describe a successful return to training, it would be a cardinal sin not to mention those who suffer in the background. However, in order to “suffer” properly I had asked sue to come along. It had been some time since she saw me swim.
Sue was blown away at the difference winter training had made. Somehow a boring hour as a poolside spectator went really quick for her, as she saw me glide through a tough session. Again, I was blowing out of my arse but on the surface it all looked good, apparently?
A well earned rest day, something usually not blog worthy, but today, was important. Important because I would be home early from work and sort out the oven. It had recently stopped working. However, in my very recent return to “proper” training I had failed in my husband duties for a couple of days. The oven would take priority today. How is it that I have changed that much that I now used a situation like this to perform stretch routines.
The oven is currently the injured member of the family as my repairs were only able to stretch to one of the ovens and the grill. The main oven would have to wait…. in the meantime the heat was now fully on as the rehab book closed once more.
The remainder of Friday would see me organise Bike Hire for Mallorca.
In terms of training, the Saturday was going to be straight forward. I had to complete a 30-35 min Turbo session. I had the option of running it as I felt fit. The problem being that it was now early spring and the garden had indeed sprung.
I smashed Saturdays ride and found the 30 min mark with not only a bead on my forehead but a puddle at my feet. I would cool down with the first lawn mowing of the season.
I would also have a great swim on the Sunday, despite feeling some mild knee pain early on.
I was hitting an endurance pyramid a tad hard, the first 100 & 200 @ 2.00 min pace, too quick! I felt a slight twinge as I began the 400m. Slowing down to see how it felt, it seemed to go away as quick as it came on. I continued the remainder of the pyramid (600/800) at a much slower pace of 2.20 min per 100. I’m not sure I could of maintained the original pace anyway. The cool Down was something of a plod.
It had been a great weekend, finishing what I considered my first non rehab training block, I was ready to up my game. I hoped to now see some early success in the run.
I wasn’t worried about the bike, I knew I had lost a bit of bike fitness, but the run had ground to a halt a long time ago.
Monday went past as an uneventful rest day although I did notice I was quite fatigued and glad of a day to recover….. Tuesday I would be back with the Running newbies for C25k wk2.
Tuesday C25k wk2
I had spent my lunch hour at work adjusting my “Ironman Athlete Profile” On The Ironman website. I had been asked to do this as I paid my entry fee way back in September 2018. Since then I had many other things to focus on. Until now the start line was my goal. Today I was focusing on crossing the finish line!
I was going to do this!!
I didn’t get home until 1800 hrs. The clubs C25k session was due to start at 1830 hrs. I quickly hydrated and got into my running gear. No time to be faffing selecting the right outfit. I was out of the door and walking up the lane to the recreation ground. Proud to be calling myself a runner again. Proud the be training for a multi sport, and above all, positive I would be successful.
The newbies were also very confident with a noticeable increase in pace. I wasn’t going to get carried away with myself, and held my run leaders position mid pack. Occasionally I would drop back and check on the tail runners, feeding off of their enthusiasm as we all got through the session. This time I was sweating as we finished the final interval of run/walk.
The chatter of a bunch of people experiencing something they never thought they were capable of is spell binding.
The newbies congratulated each other on their success, and I quietly patted my self on the back for overcoming the negativity of the last couple of weeks, by conquering those thoughts, and smashing out two half hour run sessions.
As I entered our cool down I knew I had been away from running for a long time. I felt amazing having completed two running sessions without any niggles. This time the stretching would be serious.
I awoke the next morning to a very positive message from Billy, excited about the remaining four weeks leading to Tri Camp. Whilst I had lost my way…. Billy never lost belief in me. I would now get my head down and smash the remainder of my training.
After a particularly stressful day at work, a session was just what I needed. Not the kind of session the old me might of had, the kind of session where you feel “alive” as the endorphins take you on a ride away from life. A post exercise “Rush”. My job is usually very rewarding but today, Job satisfaction was going to come from a different type of work….. It’s Turbo time again!!
I love a Turbo, as you have read, but recent sessions were for rehab and not training. Today’s session would change that.
Ok it was only 30 mins. But as I prepared my towel and clipped in, I was instantly in the zone. The outside world could have been a different continent. I was completely detached from life, as I focussed on the set.
I was building through the warm up, listening to a random playlist, and holding my heart rate in an Aerobic state. Then as if a lightning bolt from the Tri Gods, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” instantly spiked a hard effort, right on cue with the programme. The session was going to be awesome. (Despite not being a massive fan of Metallica, I can say this tune was bang on)
I then watched my heart rate glide back down into an Aerobic state for the next interval. There could have been twenty people in my “Pain cave”! I wouldn’t have noticed one. It was me versus the numbers. The desire to hit the target was back. The desire to be disciplined was back…. I was back.
The sound of unclipping my cleats was the most amazing sound I have heard for a long time. My senses were heightened through exercise, as every beat of my heart pounded joy from ear to ear. I WILL do this!
A short run as a build back into training….
I awoke to the early chirps from the birds as they began their dawn chorus. I wasn’t hanging around, as I got myself up and into my gear. I remembered what it was like to exercise before most people were awake. Just you, and the birds. The air was crisp, as I walked a fast pace warm up. The light a deep blue! The earliest of the sun broke the darkness. I reached my start point and got into a steady Aerobic pace. I was retracing one of my favourite routes. One of which I hadn’t run since before Christmas. The Blackbirds song, fought by the chirp of a Robin, as I attempted my first flight of steps…. I can do this….. It turns out that….. No I couldn’t. I had indeed lost “A step” and any attempt to run would have left me exhausted once at the top…… I would walk these steps, and begin running once at the top.
A quick pause at the top, and a right turn towards a country track. I nearly overran the interval as I was so “In the zone”, the vibration and beep of my watch bringing me back in touch with my heartbeat. A short walk to allow myself back into the Aerobic zone.
By the end of the third repetition I was quite sweaty. Clearly burning off the chocolate brownies. I was content with my effort as the clock ticked past 0600 hrs.
There really is no better time to train!
I challenge you to at least……. Go for a walk as the birds awake, and as the sun rises. Go on get out there!
Early that morning (at work) I would “tweak” my knee whilst instructing students on “best practice” when applying torque to screw threads. It was a reasonably high torque of 163Nm. I didn’t want them to injure themselves. In demonstrating “best practice” my weak knee buckled slightly, resulting in my fist clouting my ear, as my grip left the torque wrench. I also suffered grazing and cuts to the left hand as I slipped across the screw threads. As with any true professional… I carried on as if nothing had happened. Teeth gritted and fingers bleeding. Also true to form was the compassion from my colleagues and students alike as they giggled at my expense. Such is the standard operating procedure within military establishments.
I would choose not to attend Tri Club that night.
The pain at 1030 in the morning was noticeable, and by lunchtime it had gotten worse! My injury had been aggravated and I was being reminded by my body not to try and be a hero! By the evening the pain had resided, nonetheless I pulled out of training for the night.
Besides, my swim was not in question. I could afford to miss a session. I hoped the following day to be rid of the pain and be able to get on the bike.
I awoke early, excited by the possibility of an early morning Turbo. Sadly the walk down stairs reminded me I was not “Out of the woods” and opted to have a chill out prior to leaving for work.
Military minds do not forget, as the sarcastic “welcome back” greeted me through the door. I had been off a fair bit recently through injury. The lads were surprised to see me.
As the morning developed I knew the Turbo session was going to have to be binned. The pain was only occurring when load bearing on the knee… Climbing steps etc. When standing or walking it was fine.
Given my recent positive mindset, I knew I could fall back on the swim. I sent Billy a message explaining where I was at, and asking for a swim option.
Boom! I was indeed back!
As soon as I got home I adjusted the workout on my watch to allow for the swim session. Billy, clearly having a full understanding of how to push my buttons, had set me a strength swim. The kind of set where rest intervals reduce and intensity rises. This time I made full use of the easy intervals.
I would go on to smash the set!
The weekend was going to be pivotal. I had researched the amount of energy supplements I would need for my training camp. I had made the purchase, allowing for some full on 100k rides, some serious swim beastings and some running. Now I needed to be training again. This work related thing needed to be gone come the morning.
The “Pivotal” weekend. (23/24th)
T-4 weeks to Mallorca! There wasn’t anytime left to fanny about! I had to start testing my injury. Somehow I needed to start building strength into the bike and the run. It had to start…. Now! Ironman 70.3 is not an afternoon family bike ride, and the run is no “walk in the park”! You are plucked out of the event if you fail to reach transition within a certain time. No refund! Before all of this you have canoes and paddle boards waiting to pounce on your weakness.
Saturday started with a proper “Full English”. Sue was unwell, and I was let loose in the kitchen… We were well fed, for sure. Fortunately I had a potential Brick session ahead. If I felt good getting out of the pool I could transition straight into the run, treadmill or outside.
I wasn’t able to get to the pool until 1500 hrs. I arranged all my kit for the session and tended to the lawn.
The swim went exceptionally well. Another endurance pyramid. Using the lane congestion as my recovery, I finished a 2.1k Swim with plenty left in the tank.
After a quick towelling down I put my running top and shoes on. Within no time at all I was into a rhythm. The treadmill pacing me, through the run, and my music denying any negativity through the recovery. This was an awesome start to the remainder of my training. I might have looked like I had just got out of a lake, despite previously towelling down, but I didn’t care! I had completed my first Brick session of at least eight weeks. It felt like proper training, and it was pain free!
I did get a “reminder” as I straddled past the shower door. A sudden pain from behind the kneecap. It was a reminder that I wasn’t yet clear of the woods. I guess my ligaments are still weak, and any odd movement allows my knee to buckle and stresses the tendon? I was walking a tightrope.
Fortunately an hour later I was pain free except when ascending or descending steps. The plan for Sunday was an outside ride…… I live in a valley!
I would sleep and assess things as I came down the stairs. My kit would be ready to go regardless.
I would finish the “pivotal” weekend with a simple ride, an unremarkable 12k tester. I had chosen to stay within the boundaries of our village. Testing the odd short hill here and there. One thing is for sure, I have plenty of work to do.
I chose to finish this chapter on the anniversary of my first ever multi sport event – The “Avon Aquathlon” (25th March) It has been a year since I was barely able to swim a length. A year since I completed an event I genuinely though I was going to drown in.
You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”– Michael Phelps
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-18 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe my training through April and my experiences in “Mallorca 2019”
#IRONMANTRAINING #IM703STAFFS #ANYTHINGISPOSSIBLE
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
Chapter nineteen in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” is going to be awesome…. It has to be. There is no time for anything else!…..
April started with a rest day, the sun was shining and everything was good in my world. I had started running again, gradually building the distance. I had also been on two “Out, out” bike rides as March came to a close.
I was officially out of injury rehab, and was back to multi sport discipline. I was in a good place mentally, visualising crossing the finish line in June and the medal being around my neck.
First of all I had to get ready for Tri Camp.
Billy contacted me at the end of March to check everything was ok? I had gone a bit quiet and he was concerned I might of had a set back.
Everything was fine! I had simply got my head down, and focussed on completing the remainder of training.
T-3 training weeks until Mallorca – Let’s do this.
April’s training would start with a run on the Tuesday. I would rejoin my running club, and carry out my duties as a “Run leader” helping the C25k newbies progress from intervals of four minutes to the weeks session of 4 x 6 minutes. I would need to add some volume to my effort by running prior to, and after the event. I was going to need to manage my time and link the sessions tightly to stay warm. Paranoid about injury, the build to this was worrying. It reminded me of the pre race nerves, the butterflies in the belly. I needed to use those nerves in every session now.
Nerves are a good thing. They remind you of the effort you have put to getting yourself where you are, how much is at stake. How “Failure is only for those who give up!” I was not going to give up. I will finish this journey, and I will smash April!
“What makes something special is not just what you have to gain, but what you feel there is to lose.” – Andre Agassi
Shrewton Running Club C25k wk4
As a club we had to send notification of a change of venue. Our usual meet point was being used by the football club/fair. We agreed to meet at the next Village Hall, in Orcheston.
As it turns out this was ideal for me. I could now use this journey as my warm up and pre run. Things were starting to fall into place for me, finally.
The club were a bit twitchy on the night, hoping all the newbies had received the message. I was also a bit twitchy, had I planned my pre run correctly?
20 Newbie runners would make it, and I was given the task last minute, of running the session. I jumped at the opportunity, my job involves me being in front of an audience, helping people learn a new skill, achieve things they never thought possible. Tonight I could use those skills, along with my “Fatman to Ironman” experiences to help people embark on a journey of their own. How awesome is that?
Wednesday I was down for a swim/bike Brick session. I was nervous through the morning leading up to this session as it would be the first time since my knee injury that I would be straight out of the pool, and onto the Wattbike.
A bizarre turn of events led to me missing this. I had been suffering from a shortage of breath, a tight chest, which had been making me increasingly tired. I would go home after work and fall asleep on the sofa and miss the afternoon swim session.
Ok! Clearly I was more tired than I thought. My mindset was… Ok, I can skip the bike until the weekend and get the late swim session in still. Perhaps I will just have a nap, so I am ready.
I would then sleep from 1700 hrs, till 0430 hrs non stop. I didn’t make the swim!
Thursday makes the week even more bizarre! So I am now up before the Sparrow farts (0430 hrs) I might as well go for my lunchtime run now?
Yep, at 0500 hrs, -1 degrees and a developing storm, I found myself leaving the comforts of home to plod the dark pavements of “Midsummer Shrewton”. The week previous I had enjoyed the lighter mornings, as we exited from winter and into spring. Some Numpty decided that “Daylight Saving” would once again screw me around, as it does twice a year.
My “favourite” route was now not so much fun, the plod through the dark graveyard was accelerated, only to be slowed by the climb of a flight of stairs, the “shadowy” country lanes, eerily silent as the birds clearly thought “Bugger this” and remained in bed.
However, before I knew it I had ran my first fifteen minutes (non stop) in probably 3 months. I would finish the run at 30 minutes having had a brief walk interval. Not quite to plan but content nonetheless.
Wednesday had been a write-off but Thursday could be something special?
⭐️ Tri Club
Despite getting my run in very early on in the day, I didn’t approach the swim session with the same confidence. Whilst I was eager for the session to start. I was hunting for an easy option. The last thing I wanted was a set back in the swim. I was still exceptionally tired, despite all the sleep I had had. I advised my coach Katie “Narna” McBain that I was a bit “Out of sorts” and would see how it went.
I wasn’t quite first in this time. Lane 1, the elite bods, beat me down the ladder. Clearly the start of the race season is imminent. However, I was first to kick off the wall, as I entered the warm up. Only to be stopped midway through my first 50m.
Lane 3 and 4 were busy tonight, my coach, Katie wasted no time in seizing an opportunity. I was plucked from the comfort zone of lane 3 and plonked into the unknown world of lane 2, one lane away from the elite bods. Eek…. This was not what I had planned when asking my coach for an “easy” option. Katie, clearly knowing how to push my buttons and seeing right through all the flannel, told me I was more than capable and to “crack on”! If I was finding it too tough we could change things then. I had only recently been promoted, I was being promoted again. Twice in 4 weeks!!.
Right! Let’s do this!!
Never one to shake off a challenge, I set about completing my 6 x 50 warm up. I was pleased to be keeping pace, but mindful that this was only the warm up. I became confused, as I stopped on each 50, the others were plodding on? A quick check of the session card…. I was now supposed to be doing 100s as a warm up. This was indeed a step up! “Ok! I best chuck a few more in” as I now needed to catch the others in the lane before they moved into the drills.
Whilst I kept pace in the warm up, the drills were different. These guys had honed their skills, I was still developing mine. I did manage to stay sort of near them, but my effort was clearly going to need some work.
We entered the main set in no time at all. I was surprised at how fresh I felt. The tiredness had gone, washed away by the excitement of my promotion. Fuelled by endorphins, I powered into the pace build intervals. The intervals were longer distances than previous Tri Club Sessions, the recovery shorter. Not only was I keeping pace with these guys, I was confident I could go harder. However, being only halfway through an hour session, I chose to hold back and see how I felt at the end.
As we paced, and outpaced each other through the repetition builds of 100m, 75m and 50m, I caught glimpses of the elite bods doing the same session. Their effortless glide, and full length of pull was awesome, as my mouth filled with their passing wake. Those guys are quick! In the past this experience would have led to me climbing back under the rope into the next lane. Not tonight! This is training. No one will care in the “Washing machine” start of my Half Ironman Swim. I will need to use every experience. Good and bad.
The best compliment of the night came from Lee Salter. Standing at the end of the lane in a rest interval. He said “You will be in this lane before you know it” Boom! That was awesome, and for at least a few minutes my pace increased, as I tried to keep pace with his lane. Perhaps not yet Lee! But maybe you are right…. Soon.
I had the best Tri Club Swim ever, and this despite not being “Up for it”. I also had to “transition” and change my goggles as the strap got broken halfway through.
An inspired decision from Coach Katie “Narna” McBain and one that will help me immeasurably going forward.
On Friday my management at work had become concerned for my welfare, and asked me to get checked out by the doctor. I was also concerned. My breathing was slightly laboured, but my tiredness was not normal. They wanted to be sure, and so did I.
This was not good news from a training perspective. There was a high probability that the doctor would advise “Rest” and work would expect same. Not good at all… I was due to be on the bike after work, a key session prior to the weekend long ride. I had not been on a long “Out” bike ride since October! I did not want any bad news from the doctor.
The biggest inconvenience was that a late visit to the doctor meant limited daylight for the ride….. Another Turbo?
Fortunately the weather in the UK was not as it would be in Mallorca, and the Turbo was actually the better option.
My doctor has an exceptional talent of making me feel at ease, extracting the facts. He got the whole story, including my desire to train. In any case we were now on first name terms, I even had a reserved slot in the Surgery car park. I had been there so much recently. (TIC)
After a fairly brief examination, the all clear was given, I was fitter than I had been for twenty years. The Doc advised that my body was likely in the process of fighting a virus. Any increase in symptoms, chest related, I was to see him again, immediately. Confused, I quizzed him further. In short, the “Fatman” got sick a lot quicker, and easier. The “Ironman” was fighting it off.
I could train💪, and in doing so, I looked like I had gotten out of a lake. The Turbo is unforgiving.
The Tri Gods are beginning to lose the battle.
I entered the weekend with a heightened sense of belief and confidence. I decided to catch up on the missed swim from Wednesday, and do it as a “brick” session with the run planned for Saturday.
Spoilt for choice with pools with good running routes I elected to swim in Salisbury, and run along the river Avon.
The swim was a straight forward 2x 700m with a warm up and cool down either side. It was meant to be a hard effort for the 700s, so I was unsure how much would be left in the tank for the run.
The swim was completed on the 40 minute mark. I now wanted to apply the 3 minute rule, and be out on my feet quickly. No time to shower, just chuck on a running top, hop into my shoes and get cracking.
As ever, I set off too quickly, fortunately I now had my Garmin to wind me back in. I settled for a steady 7 min km pace, as I worked through a run walk pyramid. Sweating wildly.
There must be something that happens to me post swim. I always sweat afterwards, a lot. Only now I was running straight after, receiving some very odd, and concerned looks from people trying to enjoy an afternoon stroll. With this sweaty mess panting past them.
I got to the last interval of the pyramid and was spent. Completely empty. I walked my way back to the car. Under no doubts that I had been working out for over an hour.
I had just ran my first 5k for some time. Not a staggeringly fast time, but considering it was a brick run after a 2k Swim, and only 3 weeks out of injury, I gave myself a pat on the back.
I would be back as soon as I could, to do the session again.
Week 1 closed with my first “Long” ride of the year. I needed to be out for 1:45:00hr if I could manage it. A step up from the last two out and back rides, this would be a loop. I contemplated a couple of routes. As you have read, I live in a valley, so whichever way I chose to go I would be climbing. I was buzzing off the success of Saturday’s Brick session, and decided to take a hillier option.
The weather was ideal, probably 12/13 degrees, Sunny, with a breeze. I knew I was going to need this breeze to help regulate my body temperature. The first hill took me out of the village, a long steady climb followed by some “free speed” as you descend the other side. I used all of my gears and all of my will power. But I did it.
The next hill was not so kind. Last year I was climbing it no trouble at all. Today, I would be reminded that I had been injured for eight weeks, and that there was work to be done. I had to stop! As I did my chin became a stream of sweat as my helmet released all over my face, the salt burning my eyes.
After a few minutes I set off again, in the lowest of gears and barely moving. Eventually I would reach the top and be thankful of the returning breeze. I will go back and smash that hill.
The worse was yet to come. A series of hills all linked together, would come straight after having to stop at a blind junction. Starting a hill climb from a stand still. Fortunately, these hills come after quite a long, rapid decent. I would be cooled by the passing breeze, and fresh from the “free speed”
I have never completed this hill series without having to stop. Today was no different. This time, wise to the helmet sweat release thing.
I stood for a few moments taking in the delights of the countryside. Enjoying where I was in life. It was early spring and the lambs were out. I took a few photographs with my phone and allowed my heart to relax.
The determination came back as I re-mounted my bike, I dug in for a final push. The descent the other side was awesome, Big Gear, and down on the drops. I was exhausted! But I wanted to see how fast I could go. Passing 65 kph was fast enough, there was a bend approaching. Probably the fastest I have ever been on a bike.
It was a tough ride. But I will go back stronger, perhaps even getting right round non stop?
I would finish the ride looping my village a few times to cool down. Proud of how quickly I was getting my fitness back. When I eventually stopped, my Garmin watch congratulated me with a “Hill climb” award. Not often I swear at inanimate objects but today, it felt necessary.
I now needed to rest. I had completed a tough week of training. Overcoming a breathing issue, juggling my training around sleep, and being promoted again in the pool. No wonder the ride was tough.
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant – Robert Louis Stevenson
After a well earned rest day I hit Tuesday full of positivity. It was the Clubs C25k day, the newbies were now on week 5. I was excited to be helping them out, whilst building on my return from injury.
I sat down with my fellow “Run Leaders, prior to the event, and agreed on a loop out, and around the village. The days weather had been quite wet, and I prepared for the run accordingly, layering up.
Typically, after a brief warm up, and run interval of my own, I got to the session in time for the skies to clear. Now overdressed, I was in for a sweaty session.
I was excited to be asked to help run the session. The newbies received a good warm up, and then ran a solid 3 x 8 minutes. They were going to smash the goal of completing a Parkrun in 4 weeks time. I was now worried…. Could I? I finished my run off with a further run interval, and in doing so, would also be clocking up another 5k run. The sweat dripping down the sleeves of my rain jacket in the process.
The following day, I woke up feeling a bit rough, probably just a chill from being so sweaty and out in the cold air of an early spring evening. I was down for an outside bike session followed by a swim later on. I really wasn’t feeling the “Love” in the morning and suggested to Billy I might bin the swim and do the bike on the indoor trainer (Turbo). My logic here was “The last thing I need is a set back in the swim”, I have experienced this before! It can take me weeks to get over the psychology of a bad swim. Billy agreed and we adjusted the days training.
In the end I decided to get “Out” on the bike and actually put in a respectable effort for 51 minutes as an out and back ride. I knew how important it was to build some strength into my legs ready for Mallorca, as good as the Turbo is, it doesn’t replicate the skills required for the road. Feeling content that I had completed some meaningful training I went home for an early night, I needed to be awake for the “Sparrows fart” and an early run on the Thursday.
I clearly needed the rest, as I did not wake up with the birds. I did however, wake up feeling a lot fresher for having had a decent recovery. I wasn’t disappointed I had overslept, I felt confident I could brick my run session together with the bike when I got home from work. This would be at the sacrifice of my Tri Club night. I was still concerned with my tiredness nonetheless.
I weighed the options up through the day knowing the focus should now be towards the run and the bike. I was conflicted! I knew I could get in the pool and have a tough, but good session. I was not so confident with the bike and the run. I discussed things with my coach Billy and he set me two options.
In short…. Swim and run, or bike and run
In the end, I would chose what must have been the more difficult of options, the bike/run brick session.
I got home from work later than expected and quickly set about getting all my gear ready. I wanted to be able to practice transition a bit too. Therefore I needed all my run stuff near me as I got off the bike (Turbo) I also needed to think about hydration through the bike, so I could deal with the 50 mins Run/walk intervals.
Everything was set up and I started the training session for the bike leg on my Garmin. 10 mins easy effort at RPE4 (Rate of Perceived Exertion) then into 20 mins Hard at RPE 8.
Halfway through I was sweating, a lot. The outdoor bike keeps you cool as the wind passes over your body. Today I was on the indoor trainer, and the fan was merely assisting the warm air around my body. I was three quarters the way through my water/electrolyte mix and willing the clock round. I was maintaining 100 RPM in the big wheel, beginning to fade.
2 mins to go and I had nothing left, I needed to ease off, the run had crept into my mind. As soon as I unclipped my shoes I had to get my top off and towel down. I was dripping and straight away, my new, clean running shirt was sticking to my body as I wrestled it over my shoulders. I finished off the remainder of my water and got out onto the run happy, that whilst my transition was smooth, it could be quicker.
I set off on the run at a steady pace. I hadn’t felt the immediate feeling of transition for a while, I needed to build into this. Besides it was a 20 minute interval and I was determined not to bail and walk. Within the first five minutes I was as sweaty, if not more so, than when I had left the bike behind in the comforts of my pain cave.
The route quickly took me onto the edge of Salisbury Plain, and into the cool shade of the few trees that are there. This was a welcome relief, despite it not being a particularly warm day.
As I got to 19:48 mins I was entering a flat part of the route that looped back toward my village, I was just about done. Dig in, you’ve got this, as I gritted my teeth. I was thankful of the 5 mins walk interval. I was hot, sweaty, and my heart was pounding in my ears. Seemingly after the shortest 5 mins ever, my Garmin was alerting me of the end of the interval. Ok, I’ve got this!
The next run interval was only ten minutes, but needed to be at a slight increase of effort. It took me through an old favourite, and down to the riverside. The increase in pace was taking its toll as I stopped to cross the road. I was determined to finish as planned. As I left the riverside a short, steady incline would zap all positivity out of my mind, I ground to a halt just shy of 9 minutes, my quads felt solid from the bike, I needed this walk to help loosen them up.
I knew I had been training for over an hour now, the bike seemed like ages ago. Despite looking like I had just been swimming, I was feeling a bit better, my heart rate was back to a more aerobic pace. “Beep” Beep” Beep” etc. as my Garmin reminded me it was time to run. However, this time I was running back in the direction of home, knowing I was about to finish a 50 minute run/walk straight after a 30 minute bike.
Thursday had been a good day
Friday was uneventful at work, however I would not be home in time to get a decent ride out in the remaining hours of daylight. The option of a back to back turbo was inevitable. I considered riding in the dark and weighed up the risks….. It’s Turbo time again.
Billy sent me a “Tester” I wasn’t expecting anything easy. This indeed was a test!
More a test of mental strength than physical. Although the last 15 mins were rather moist.
I was required to build my HR (heart rate) up every 5 mins. Starting from 100 bpm, an easy warm up. Then increase resistance either through the Turbo or through the gears on the bike. All the time keeping a constant cadence of 85 rpm. I finished the set 45 minutes later with a river of sweat coming off my chin, soaked from head to toe. The cool down was ragged to say the least.
Boom, I needed a tough session, one that would put me in the right mind-set for Mallorca. Of course, I still had the weekend to complete but now I was starting to feel strong, and ready.
The second weekend in April was mixed. My run on the Saturday was a simple run/walk effort that just never felt easy at any stage. “I guess you just get days like this?” I thought to myself as I began my struggle against reality. The reality being my legs were fatigued from the Turbo session the day before. I needed to get used to this feeling, as its exactly the same as the feeling you get after getting off the bike in T2 (Transition 2) I paced the first 20 mins really steady before trying to ramp the pace gently.
I did finish the run bagging another 5k, but I hoped the Sunday would be more fruitful. I was due to be out on the bike for a 2-3 hour ride. A crucial ride, the last long effort before I would pack all my gear and head for the sun.
Sundays long bike
Having spent the morning with a leisurely breakfast, it soon became time to get out on the bike. It was one of those unpredictable days we get in April in the UK, the kind when it is 10 degrees cooler than the day before, with a biting headwind. The kind of weather you don’t want when going out on your first long bike ride for some time.
I prepared well, knowing I had a belly full of food. I concentrated on hydration for the bike and good clothes, layering up accordingly. After a quick step outside I realised a rain jacket and gloves were also going to be required. What I didn’t do was think about my feet!
I had decided on a 50k loop around the southern part of Salisbury Plain. A lovely scenic route, a mix of sharp hills, descents and steady climbs. A route I had done a few times last year, therefore expecting to be a bit of a challenge. What I wasn’t expecting was that 15k into the route, as the headwinds began to bite (especially through the descents) that my toes would be exposed to the through breeze in my shoes. Shoes not designed for what was effectively a winter breeze.
I now started to get the negative chimp in my head, telling me to turn around and just call it a day, 30k would be ok? I refused to give in, although it was a viable option. Before long I was beyond the halfway point and able to stop at a restaurant for a coffee. I sat outside for a while just waiting to get some feeling back in my toes, I phoned my wife, Sue to let her know I was ok. She sensed from my voice that things were not great, I half heartedly joked about needing a lift home. This too was a viable option.
I convinced myself that I was passed the hump, I could do it, I was on the home stretch.
I took a few steps back and forth to get some blood flow around my toes, whilst scrunching them around in my shoes. I took on an energy gel, and a quick photo of my surroundings. Yep you’ve got this! Crack on you fanny.
It took me a few minutes to feel the love again, a few hill climbs to feel warm and from nowhere, a sudden burst of enthusiasm, as I near crawled the last ascent. I got onto the drops and started to get some speed on. The lure of a promised hot cup of coffee when I got home, perhaps? More likely the energy gel had found the spot. I still had bloody cold feet though.
A warm bath later, and the bike was forgiven. Lesson learnt. Either stay on the Turbo next time or wrap up your feet.
T-1 week – The Suitcase is out!
The week flew by, everything was in place and all I needed to do was tick off the remainder of my sessions.
I would start the last week before Mallorca as I had all the others in April. I would join my running clubs newbies in their quest to run their first ever 5k. I ran before, and after their session and struggled throughout. I needed to add volume to my run and was struggling. The newbies are going to smash it. I, on the other hand, have much work to do before I can call it run-fun.
I ticked off the swim I missed on the Wednesday and followed it up with a straight forward out and back ride on the bike.
Thursday started at the crack of dawn with an early run, I was down to do it at work but not being keen on the hygiene of the showers a 0500hrs run would be fine. Besides my colleagues were fed up with hearing about my journey. I would quietly crack on and hope to be awake enough for Tri Club in the evening.
Saturdays ride would put some real doubts in my mind. The weather was now warmer than in Mallorca as I climbed the same hills from the week before. The sweat came earlier and the need to hydrate. The hills had grown and the negative chimp was back.
I eventually gave in after 40 mins of battle and stood roadside, exhausted and bewildered at the same time. Neither keen to continue riding up nor keen on heading back. Either option was going to be tough.
I manually cycled my pedal with my hand to get in a lower gear and got back in the saddle determined to get up that damn hill.
I did, eventually and somehow found the feel of a slight down hill and free speed encouraging. The worst was behind me and I’d actually done better than before. I wasn’t up to the levels I was last year. But there was definite progress. I got on the drops and enjoyed the easier home straight.
That should set me up for the last run prior to getting on a plane?
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-18 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe my experience with TriForce in Mallorca. My first ever Tri-Camp.
#IRONMANTRAINING #IM703STAFFS #ANYTHINGISPOSSIBLE
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
Chapter twenty in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” is a special chapter for me, a real sense of achievement. Something of a “Game changer”…. I also had a bloody fantastic time. If you haven’t done something like this before?… Do it! You will not regret it.
Our camp would be the last week, of a whole month of TriForce being in Mallorca. I was hearing, and seeing all their efforts through Facebook and Instagram. Watching their updates coming through as I was on the Turbo (Indoor trainer/bike). It looked awesome what they were achieving, albeit somewhat daunting. I was not going to be training at that level, those guys are pro/elite. I would find my place amongst other amateurs. Nonetheless the hill climbs and distances looked way beyond me, and that was just the bike. Throughout Ch. 19 I was trying my hardest to get myself fit enough to hold my own when I got there. Would it have been enough?
The week before we were due to leave I went through the ritual of laying out all my running, cycling and swimming stuff before packing it. The helmet, the various shoes, bottles, energy gels and hydration tablets. I had made a short checklist of the essentials (Ultimately forgetting my toothbrush) I began to realise just how much kit I had accumulated recently as the suitcase gradually became filled, realising my life was being dominated by Lycra. Barely even room for some clothes for the evening, and not a great deal of clothes for Sue either. I would have to rethink this and pair it down to the basics. In the end we took a second bag.
A couple of days before we were due to go I sent Billy a message, worried about not being where I wanted to be fitness wise. In fact, I had been pretty much bombarding him with messages recently. Billy had assured me they wouldn’t be asking me to do anything they didn’t think I could achieve. Nonetheless I was apprehensive to say the least.
Ridiculous really! In hindsight I had done pretty well to get where I was and should have been reflecting about that, not where I wanted to be. Billy convinced me that TriCamp will turn my nerves into confidence and that the experience would be a “Game changer” He was right!
We landed in Mallorca midday on Easter Sunday, surviving a flight with the Rif-Raf… Our first ever experience of budget airlines was very good. I could manage that for a couple of hours. The transfer from the airport to the hotel took us about 50 minutes, as we took in the delights of Palma. I was glad to see the back of that, I hadn’t flown all this way to be in the city. Eventually the Spanish island began to appear as per the postcards. The palms and cactus abundant amongst the tiled roofs, as people enjoyed their siestas. In fact….. The people weren’t out, where was everyone? No one could be seen, it was clearly too cold for the Mallorcan’s. It was bloody freezing, especially compared to what we had left behind in the UK.
We had left in temperatures of 23 degrees, an unusually warm spell for April. The forecasters had warned us that the UK would be warmer than Mallorca, we didn’t expect it to be this cold though. Not only was it cold, there was a thick covering of cloud giving the atmosphere of inevitable rain. My summer camp was starting to look like a winter camp and my feet were doubtless going to freeze.
We checked in to our hotel and familiarised our selves with the facilities. Once Sue was settled I headed off to find the Hire shop, where I could collect my bike for the week. It had warmed up a little and the rain was holding off. The beachfront and promenade looked lovely albeit lacking any form of golden glow from the illusive Spanish sun. As I walked back with my bike I took in the surroundings and prepared myself for what lay ahead.
As I looked out to sea, the chopping of the waves disturbed the quiet sands of the beach, I would be swimming in that. It didn’t look like the postcards, in fact it looked more suited to surfing, the sea being churned by the distant storm. I looked to my left at the epic hill climb, swaying from left to right up the mountainside.
I would later know this as “Formentor and Lighthouse”. As I looked to my right, more mountains. It became clear in that moment, I was not on holiday! However, the nerves I experienced before we left were not present. I knew looking at those climbs it would be tough, perhaps the fact of making the effort and actually being on the island was enough to believe I could do it. I hadn’t travelled this far to give up, or refuse a challenge.
The afternoon was spent as a mixture of frequenting the coffee bars and adjusting my bike to fit. Sue was not particularly pleased with the weather, after all she was on holiday. Neither of us had packed any warm clothing, the one rain jacket we had was for me on the bike, even packing it I thought twice about needing it.
We got an invite to join the groups (TriForce Mallorca) Whatsap and asked to dinner that evening. A meet and greet. We already knew some of the athletes, Fenella Langridge who has helped me out in the past, The coaches Billy and Simon to name a few. The rest we would need to get to know. As we sat waiting to be seated I noticed a face I recognised coming towards us… Tracy R Lyne, I didn’t know her face to face but I knew her through the TriForce Facebook page, she recognised me and along with her friend Collette Porter, we instantly struck a lasting friendship. Sue got on very well with them too, I was worried how Sue would fit in and hoped she wouldn’t feel an outsider, quite the opposite, Triathletes are a very friendly bunch and this group is no exception.
It was going to be a great week.
The evening before we had sat down after dinner and listened to the coaches plans for the following day. We knew we would be swimming before breakfast and going for a 50 mile bike at 1000 hrs. The bike would also be a brick session into a 5k run. We had been split into two groups and Simon would be our coach for the day.
Knowing it would be a long day I had sorted out my nutrition and hydration before going to bed. I was excited and apprehensive about getting it done.
I was sat outside the pool waiting, knowing that the session would start without me if I was late. I did not want to be late. We tip toed across to the ladder, the air was cold, steam rising off the outdoor heated pool, the water considerably warmer than the air. Straight into a 2 x 200m warm up and quickly into the drills, we were not hanging around. Tracy and Collette, who I had met the night before, were very polite as I struggled with the hotels paddles. I had only used these once before, the week before with my TriClub, these were a different brand and I was not getting along with them. Simon didn’t know if I was taking them off or putting them on at one point.
My knee held out for the entire swim, a set that included efforts, pace build and open water skills. The latter a particularly amusing set, crawling all over the swimmers around you, cuddling their wake to get a bit of draft. Before I knew it we had completed the 2.5k set and had earned our breakfast.
Sitting at the breakfast table with a standard size meal was not going to get me through the day. Being polite and only having one helping was going to see me crash and burn at some point. Tracy had told me the night before to eat loads, its going to be a busy week. She had learned from her trip the previous year. I was amazed at just how much everyone was eating though, especially the pros. They really must be burning some calories. I eventually opted for a full english, followed by some fruit. I would learn the following day to pile in some more.
Having had a very successful swim I was keen to get on the bike, I needed to get my training started and get over the slight nerves I was feeling. We had agreed at breakfast to meet up and be ready to go for 0930 hrs. I eagerly arranged the various energy gels and hydration wherever I could, I do not own a cycling Jersey so, was happily stuffing flapjacks up my cycling shorts. I didn’t care what people thought, I was not going to “Bonk” especially knowing in advance that we would be out for a long one. There would be no excuses for bad planning, poor hydration and/or nutrition.
It had been raining lightly as I prepared my bike, but now the heavens were beginning to open up. The wise amongst the cycling world were reducing their tyre pressures before leaving, not missing a trick I promptly followed suit, having never considered this in the past. The rest of the camp were already outside in varying colours and degrees of protection. All I had was a lightweight jacket and a long pair of socks. These guys had rubber over boots and all sorts. I was going to be getting wet.
The route took us right out across the sea front of Port Du Pollenca. On any other day it might have looked lovely. Today it was bleak, the sea was being whipped up by the wind, creating very surfable waves. The rain gradually becoming heavier as we dropped in behind each others wheel in turns. Coach Simon took the lead, he knew the route and was probably also trying to give us a bit of protection from the strong headwind. I might as well of been on a road back in the UK as I joked about our “Winter camp”. This was not what we planned for. Nonetheless we were all as determined to get the job done and gain from the experience.
I was surprised at how well I was doing on the bike, a hire bike unfamiliar to me. Instantly settling down with the “Gucci” gears that I didn’t have on my own bike, and enjoying the speed the deeper rims were giving me. within ten minutes I had fallen for it and knew I needed to invest when I got back home.
We headed through the lovely town of Alcudia, a place I knew my brother had visited in the past. A very wet looking version of it quickly sped by as we headed out toward a location called Arta. By now my shoes were completely filled with water, water running down my legs and into my shoes, water constantly replaced by a through flow of rain splashing off of my down tube. I was barely able to see out of my misted and soaked glasses, it was ridiculous but somehow I was enjoying it. We weren’t talking much as a group, and none of us were willing to make the inevitable call to bail. That came as we approached a roundabout, Coach Simon called it, we were about to start making our first ascent as we left Alcudia, 30 minutes or so into the ride. We would be heading back.
Simon advised us that he didn’t want us all going down with colds or injury on our first day, and that we should head back, warm up and dry out our gear. We could attempt the trip to Arta the following day.
Tracy was hilariously vocal at this point, I knew this was someone we would be having a lot of laughs with in the future. Collette and I were quietly disappointed, but fully understood the reasons behind the decision. I didn’t need the flapjacks I had stuffed up my shorts and certainly didn’t need much hydrating! We would go on to smash the ride to Arta as you will read later.
As soon as we got back to the hotel Simon asked us to go and get all our wet gear off and get into our running shoes, ready for a half hour run. So far, I had gotten wet in the pool, soaked on the bike, and was now about to get drenched on the run. Quietly, I was happy it was raining for my first run in Mallorca, I had only just got my run fitness back up to 5k and I knew I would be sweating as my heart rate climbed.
I switched on the towel radiator in the hotel room and somehow perched all my wet gear on to the various rails, hoping that at the very least the chamois in my cycling shorts would be dry the following day. Sue was surprised to see me back so quickly and having no plans to explore Mallorca anytime soon, wondered in amazement as I ventured , yet again out into the cold and rain. Following to take a photo to record the moment.
We assembled in the hotel lobby for a quick brief then headed out onto the beach front and followed the promenade, I was trying to keep a steady 7 min/km pace, not wanting to get carried away with the moment. Tracy and Collette, much more experienced runners than me had chosen to hold a much steadier pace. The rain had us soaked within minutes, fortunately the temperature was warmer than it had been for the ride and added to the intensity of the workout, I felt quite warm. I was concerned that we should be staying as a group and offered to loop back. Simon was keeping tabs on where everyone was and told me to keep going toward a roundabout, it was his job (as coach) to be looping back, not mine. I was here to train. We had been running for twenty minutes and I was loving every minute of it. By the time I got to the roundabout I was starting to slow my pace down a bit. My heart was pounding in my ears, screaming for me to take a break. I wasn’t going to stop until I got to the roundabout.
As we all regrouped Simon gave us some coaching tips on our running form, and asked us to watch as we run past shop windows, the reflection of our bodies. He had given us a ten minute route back to the hotel on which we were to take on these tips, slowing our return and focussing on technique. As we passed the shops all I could see was this fat guy running, I couldn’t see the “form” although I could feel the changes as I listened to the advice. Unbeknown to the others, I needed that break at the roundabout and probably would have started walking if we hadn’t paused to chat.
We got back to the hotel after what I would call my strongest run for some time, the concierge noting the soggy mess squelching past them yet again. I had to find a way of getting more wet gear dry. As I stood next to the towel radiator in the bathroom, rearranging all my gear. I hoped the following day would be dryer. Sue was proud of my achievements, probably amazed that I kept going, despite being so wet.
Day one was a huge success, I had earned my dinner and would not be shy about piling on a second helping.
The evening previous we had all sat down for our briefing and I was left under no doubts that I would be doing the 50 mile ride we had missed, following it up with a swim in the afternoon. I wasn’t worried about the distance but the term “Undulating” had been mentioned. I knew what that meant.
Back on the bike
Tracy, Collette and I had asked Simon if we could leave a bit earlier than the planned time of 1030 hrs. Part of the plan was that the elite/pro guys would be swimming first, getting on the bikes and chasing us down. We wanted a head start.
The ride started at 0930 hrs after a hearty breakfast. I was super stoked to get this done and repeated the ritual of stuffing flapjacks up my shorts. I also had some spare hydration tablets to refill my water bottles with.
Collette had warned me at breakfast about the “Undulations” and not to push too hard on them. “There are many efforts involved and if you push too hard, too soon you won’t make it”. Another factor was the sun had come out as Collette had been promising, and the day was going to be warm. Sue could tell I was a bit anxious, despite me trying to hide my nerves. I made sure I piled on the suncream and pumped my tyres back up ready for a dry day.
Before I knew it we were back at the roundabout we had turned back at yesterday. We had been sitting in each others draft and holding 35 kph, Collette mostly taking the lead. I was impressed with the effort she was putting in and wanted to keep up. Simon had asked if this was my all-day pace, clearly concerned I might be going a bit hard. I felt great, I was quietly amazed with myself. The training and effort I had put in back home clearly had paid off. Added to that I was riding a better bike. Either way I was in a comfort zone and pretty sure I could keep this up all day long.
Tracy wasn’t keen on the pace and was beginning to drop back. I was conflicted with holding back with her, or maintaining an effort. Simon made the call and got Collette and I to work together through a set of effort repeats whilst he rode with Tracey. We were given a turn around point where we would regroup.
The efforts were to ride at a hard tempo pace for ten minutes keeping to the pace set by the lead rider, then change over. We would do this continuously until we reached the turn around some 80 minutes later. The intensity eased by sitting in the draft of the lead rider. What we didn’t know was the the start of our efforts would also be the start of the “Undulation”
Collette and I worked through this set very well together, forming a “Training buddy” friendship. We appeared to be able to push and motivate each other from the get go. I on the other hand would get “Chicked” on the first incline. I had decided to hit it hard and get to the top quick, only to find that not only had I ran out of gears I had also ran out of puff, watching Collette gliding past me holding a rhythm. Ok the novice has just been taught a lesson. I would use my energy much more efficiently for the next climb. Getting up a hill quick is great if you are only trying to get up just one, clearly the better option for dealing with “Undulations” is to go slow and steady, tapping away at your gears all the time. Who knew?
Simon clearly has a different understanding of the term “Undulating”. I would probably of used the term “Unforgiving” or “Relentless” nonetheless the team work with Collette, the newly learnt, better method for a climb, and good use of my gears was getting me through it. We would “undulate” several times.
I was eventually beaten by what would turn out to be the last, and longest ascent before Arta, our destination. It was a long steady climb that just kept on giving. My heart rate, (pounding through my ears) in a vein attempt to cool me down, had risen to the point my sweat was streaming down my face and into my eyes. To this point I had held my own with Collette, proud to have got this far, but nonetheless beaten. I just needed a few minutes stood still to let my heart slow down. As I stood admiring the climb, I looked back down the hill and there was Simon powering his way up the hill. Typical, the moment I chose to rest and there is my coach catching me loafing about. He mentioned something about turning around as he whizzed passed me to catch Collette who was about 500 yards ahead by now.
I was quite pleased not to have to get going up again, and positioned myself to cross the road and head back down. I was amazed at just how far we had climbed, enjoying the free speed as we descended. I was also worried about all the other climbs that lay ahead.
The journey out had offered lots of free speed as we descended, now I was having to climb back up them. I was rejuvenated noting that the Pro’s/elite guys hadn’t caught us yet and began keeping a look out for them. I didn’t want them to see me loafing and began to put an effort in. Before we turned around I had gobbled one of my flapjacks and was clearly buzzing from the sugar. I didn’t get “Chicked” this time, I combined power with commitment, ensuring I tapped through my gears. I felt strong and confident and like I could ride all day long. I had nailed my nutrition and hydration, there was plenty in the tank.
We were riding as a close group of three, I would use my extra weight as we descended only to slow as we ascended. we were going at a fair lick on the flats and before long had returned to the point where we had started our efforts. Realising we had just done one big effort to return, I eased off for a moment to reflect. Absorbing the cheers of encouragement from the Pro/elite guys. They had formed in the exact spot Collette and I had started, they were just getting their brief from Billy but all cheered our effort as we rode past. Fist pumping the air.
We would turn off at this point for a well earned coffee and cake stop. This was something I heard Triathletes did a lot and I was not going to miss out. We were probably 20k away from the hotel and what would end up being an 80k “Undulating” ride. The cake was well earnt.
Before we got back on the bikes I treated myself to a “Full fat” Coke, fuel for the remainder of the ride.
Boom, day three was already awesome….
Now we were back at the hotel it was time for us to do our swim, whilst the pro/elite guys worked their way through the efforts on the bike. Fortunately the coaches had devised the swim to allow for the fact we were knackered. They knew what was in store for us for the rest of the week, and kept us at an aerobic swim pace with some basic drills. A kind of recovery effort to keep us ticking over. before they revealed the next session. The latter part of the set was based on open water swimming.
Getting us to stay in the wake of the swimmer in front, using the free speed as we had on the bike. We changed lead swimmers and drafting positions, hanging off the toes in front or hugging the hips. You quickly notice the increase in effort if you let them get away. We also knew we were all tired and consciously tried to keep at each others pace. I now had a renewed confidence in my knee, clearly after all that time on the bike, the injury must be healed. I reinvented the turn on the wall to a style suited to a newbie, after three or four attempts I began to nail a solid turn, something beyond me for months now. After forty minutes I was pleased to be seeing my days activities come to a rest. Particularly proud of what I had already achieved. As we got out of the pool I noticed Sue admiring our efforts from our balcony. Work quickly turned into play, as we all splashed around like children waving at the camera.
We now had a couple of hours to chill out before dinner. Just enough time to pop down to the beachfront and have a cup of coffee with Sue.
Sue had had a good day exploring the local town and market whilst we were out on our bikes, she wanted to go back to a shop and buy some clothes for our grandchildren. What better way to end a day of solid training.
At dinner we were set our training for the following day. The pros would be climbing Sa Colabra and we would be climbing Formentor and heading out to a lighthouse at the end of the peninsula.
I was excited about the challenge and at the same time nervous. I had seen the hill climb the day we landed and even from afar it looked a daunting challenge. We would also be swimming in the sea after the bike, and finishing the day off with a 45 minute run. I was focussing on the ride for now.
The bike – Formentor
I made sure I had plenty of breakfast and focussed on lots of fruit. Then began the ritual of stuffing my shorts with flapjacks, restocking my top tube bag with energy gels, and filling my water bottle with electrolytes. I was ready to go. Tracy neatly folded some sandwiches into small squares for her back pocket and Collette collected her share of the Bananas on offer.
Billy would be our coach for today. I was keen to show him just how determined I can be and put in a shift. We headed out across the promenade towards the hills, the route clearly signed, and the roads ideal for cyclists. Colette and I worked each others wheel as we had the day before. I was now becoming familiar with the various hand signals cyclists use when cycling as a group. Pot holes, slowing down, moving out etc. On the ride I was particularly deliberate about drinking a swig of water every five minutes or so. Not only was it a warm day, I was about to be climbing the biggest series of hills I had ever done. I would be sweating a lot.
As we passed various landmarks Billy had advised me that it would he his call to abandon the ride if he felt I could not make it. Ride back to here and wait to regroup etc.
I was determined to do this and made it clear that I would rather give up trying, rather than not try at all. Billy was impressed but also had a duty of care for me.
The first part of the accent was brutal, as I looked ahead and saw the road snaking up the mountain, hairpin after hairpin. very soon I would find myself super hot, sweating more than ever before, and with burning quads. The view back down to Port Du Polenta apparently is beautiful, I didn’t see a bit of it. Focussed on keeping my bike from coming to a complete standstill and falling off, trying to keep the legs spinning. Fortunately the climb would soon level out and offered a welcome decent. I enjoyed the free speed and chance to dry out. Little did I know that pretty son we would be climbing again…
Fortunately Collette had mounted a GoPro camera to her bike and kindly shared the memories for all to see. Ride out to Formentor1 video (Click the link) look out for a few more videos later on.
I was now becoming accustomed to the sling-back design of the roads. Every hairpin turn gave a sharp increase to the gradient, Billy had advised me to go wide on the turns and try to slingshot my way out of it. After a few attempts I began to see the benefits, the few seconds of easier riding and the chance to drop a gear or two. The the climb ate into your quads. Simon’s “Undulating” ride yesterday somehow seemed a breeze. This was a proper climb.
Billy was keeping at my rear and giving me encouragement all the way, willing me on. He wasn’t going to allow me to stop. “You’ve come this far”. However, the negative chimp had got in my head and my heart needed a break. I was soaked from head to foot, just like day 2, this time I was drenched in my own sweat.
We had paused in a shaded spot enclosed by a pine forrest, I only needed a few minutes to calm down before I got going again. Billy could see the determination in my face and I could see the concern in his.
After a short rest I was feeling much more confident about nailing this, I hadn’t come here for a rest and I wasn’t going to be giving up on a challenge. The forrest continued to give, and the hairpins kept on coming. Eventually the road opened up into the next stage of the route, offering another welcome descent, cooling me down further. I was now in a rhythm.
Billy had been talking about a tunnel ahead and that if we got to there he was confident I could do this. Colette was now way ahead, I was not going to let her down. We would be meeting for coffee and cake at the lighthouse.
The tunnel was a bizarre experience, about 300m long and with no lighting. A cooling experience that somehow makes you want to cycle hard to the light at the end of it. Fortunately Billy had advised me to lower my specs before entering, otherwise I wouldn’t of been able to see a thing.
Shortly after the tunnel we began to see our goal – The lighthouse, a couple of hundred year old building glistening in the light of the Mallorca sun. We were welcomed by A fast snaking descent into a valley, catching my breath ready for the final stinging ascent. More repeating switchbacks and a relentless climb. All the time knowing I would have to cycle the whole route in reverse. Knowing there were just as many ascents as there were descents.
I made it to the roars and cheers of Collette, she had probably arrived 5 minutes before me, maybe more. Nonetheless I had now made it too, and despite being charged 6 Euros for the slice of cake, I felt I had earned it.
The view of the Island from here is quite spectacular and despite the effort required to get here… It is well worth it.
We didn’t hang around for long, Billy didn’t want us getting cold. We refilled our water bottles and began attacking the various climbs, ascents and hairpins in reverse. Only now I was feeling revitalised and confident. I now felt as strong as I had done in my ride the previous day. I was slower on the ascents, but rapid on the descents. Using my extra weight as a strength. The tunnel was quickly upon us and, as before, I lowered my glasses ready for the blackout. We were descending into it this time and going at a fair lick. The return trip and Tunnel video (6mins in)(Click link)
The ride back was indeed quicker as Billy had promised, the two major climbs quickly despatched. We were now on the last descent back towards Port Du Pollenca.
An awesome, challenging ride and one where a benchmark has been set.
As soon as we got back to the hotel we were to get into our running shoes and Brick a run to the bike. I was eager to get this done but my body was unwilling. All I could muster was a 2k run/ walk… I was exhausted and walked back to the hotel for a rest, passing the shop fronts I had ran past the other day.
I should have been disappointed with myself for not being able to do the run. But because I had just had such an epic two days, I really couldn’t be hard on my self. Sue and I would opt for lunch and coffee by the pool instead.
Typically, as we sat down Billy was also enjoying some time by the pool and clearly saw me loafing. I had now been seen loafing by both coaches on two different days. I apologised that I just couldn’t do it, he also felt I had had an amazing two days and suggested I rest before the Sea swim later on in the day.
The swim – The sea
Those of you that have read earlier chapters in my blog will know the challenges I faced learning to swim. Swimming in the sea was going to be a huge step forward. Oddly I wasn’t nervous about it.
We all headed down to the beach at 1730 hrs, we would all be swimming as a group, the pro/elite guys would swim further.
It was awesome being amongst such a lovely group of people, each helping with the zipping up of the wetsuit, everyone chatting about their ride in the morning. Sue came down with us to witness this monumental occasion, and after a safety brief from the coaches we got in to the water. I allowed water into my wetsuit before really committing, allowing my body to acclimatize before eventually fully submerging into a surprisingly cold and slightly choppy sea.
We first swam out toward the edge of a row of rocks. About a 100m swim, where the goal was to practice sighting and swimming in a straight line. All the time using our breathing techniques to remain calm and relaxed. Tracy paused for a moment and I swam up along side her, inadvertently scaring the proverbial out of her, the loud screech resonating in my ear. I have no idea what she thought I was, but she certainly wasn’t expecting it. We cracked on with the swim and turned toward another focal point, all the while giggling in between breaths.
We had just swam approx 200 metres and despite battling a current, I had kept myself reasonably straight throughout. I wasn’t nervous, in fact I was confidently enjoying the moment and wanted more.
Coach Simon now set us an out and back challenge where he would act as a bouy for us to swim around. The goal here would be to swim in a straight line ending back exactly where we had started, meanwhile swimming around Simon as tightly as we could.
Simon was mega chuffed with our efforts, and remarked on just how good we were.
Collette was enjoying the swim, and like me didn’t want it to end. Simon set us both another challenge. We were to swim a triangle of what was probably 300 m holding a straight line and exiting the sea as quickly as possible, using our hands and feet to crawl up into a running position. I smashed the swim but crashed and burned on the sea exit bit. The sand was so soft and I just couldn’t get a firm grip of anything, frantically sinking into the sand each time i tried to put my hands or feet down. Hilariously, eventually getting out into a wobbly exhausted mess. During this frantic battle with the sand I had also stubbed my toes on small rocks. I didnt care… It was great fun and I would love to do it again sometime soon. There is nothing left to fear as far as swimming is concerned.
The evening before, we had been set our individual training. I was pleased to hear the term “Easy day” thrown into the conversation. The climb up Formentor, as awesome as it was, had taken its toll, I was glad going to bed that all I needed to do was be up for an early morning swim and run later on in the day. I was going to need more rest than I thought…
“Bollocks” I thought to myself as I awoke at 0330 hrs with the all too familiar tightening of the Achilles’ tendon (Tendonitis) Where did that come from? It had been months since I had any trouble, I even felt thankful that, whilst injured with my knee, I knew the rest I was giving it was also helping my Achilles.
What had I done, or not done to aggravate it? I lay in bed determined not to suffer aloud, also knowing we had no pain killers or any form of ice or chilled things to ease the swelling.
I was going to have to make a decision about the swim as the clock turned towards 0700 hrs. With bugger all sleep I sent what I thought was the right message to Billy, I wouldn’t be up for the pre breakfast swim. He was fine with this, and advised I get a bit of rest and then do some gentle stretching and if possible foam roll my calf’s.
Sue and I would wander down for a late breakfast on the Thursday, my limp embarrassingly obvious. The swimmers were now chomping their way through huge breakfasts clearly concerned as I got mine. I tried to shrug it off but these guys were all too clued up with their own experiences, and knew pretty much straight away what was wrong. The advise I got that morning was almost the opposite of what I had diagnosed myself during those early hours.
After breakfast the first thing I did was dip my leg into the main pool (Not the training pool we had been using) more of a family pool. Simon had been right, the water was freezing and the ease to the inflamed tendon was quickly welcomed. I stayed in that position for long enough to go past the cold sensation and near the numb. As I struggled to get back up on my feet I noticed Collette looking down pitifully from her balcony. It must have looked like game over to her at that point. I was not going to give in. After an hour or so I started some very light heel drops and pushed gently through the pain. I felt confident to get in the gym and foam roll my quads.
The most uncomfortable foam rolling experience I have ever had, but necessary. My calf’s had clearly contracted overnight and stressed the tendon. I was ready to take the day off. But after some traditional RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and mobility work I would be accepting the missed morning swim set from Simon and booking a lane in the pool for myself. I would keep my compression socks on for as long as I could.
Unbeknown to me Collette had a bad night too. Hers was stomach related, through what she thought was too many electrolytes/gels. She had also missed the swim and asked if she could share the lane after she had completed her 1hr run. I should have been running myself but that was definitely not on the cards, and probably wouldn’t be for the rest of the camp.
I booked the pool for two hours between 1100 & 1300 hrs, and whilst still gently stretching got my kit ready for the swim. I had agreed to meet Collette for 1130 hrs but decided to get some lengths in first.
Collette was bang on time and despite running for an hour, was keen to crack on with the swim. Slightly confused by why she had been waiting outside the pool for twenty minutes for me. Not knowing that I was actually already in it (Sorry Collette)
Despite my admin cock up, and aggravated Achilles I would go on and swim a 3k set. On what was supposed to be an easy day. I even did the warm up twice. Most of the efforts were done with a pull bouy. But otherwise it was a solid swim by both of us.
The swim was massively helpful to my Achilles, an active recovery as I have been told many times is far better than lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. I should have got up and swam with the others.
Fortunately my Achilles had reduced to a mere scare by 1400 hrs and with residual swelling I took the opportunity to go explore Mallorca with Sue. A lovely twist to what could have been a drastic end to training. The next day, Friday, I would be back up to full speed and ready to go. The coaches had a surprise for us all…. The intensity was likely to be building further.
Our brief for the day was to have breakfast and then be ready to go on the bike for 1000 hrs. The ride would be less “undulating” and efforts would be involved. We would be riding an out and back for coffee in the lovely old town of Campanet.
First we had to get the swim done.
I was very much up for this day, super stoked by having successfully beaten a potential Achilles flare up. I needed to be wise and chose to swim mostly on pull bouy, relying on upper body strength the entire set. Today’s swim was mostly drills and pace build. Racing and outpacing each other. I felt strong throughout, even brave enough to be kicking off the wall gently. There was no issue, wow. This was indeed a first. My Achilles has been known to write me off for a week or more in the past. Maybe I could smash the bike later too.
Whilst we had been swimming through our set the others had been on an epic ride up Sa Colabra and back. Our coaches would be having a “double ride” day and also riding with us, we would be pushing hard. Tracy had chosen to ride solo on another route to LUUC. A place I would be visiting the following day.
For the first few minutes of the ride the coaches rode behind us. Probably checking on my Achilles situation. After a while they were happy it was ok and I wasn’t just saying so. As we pressed on towards Campanet, we passed Orange groves and Vine yards. Sue would of loved it here, very typically Spanish countryside, sadly not on the back of a bike though. Instead Sue would enjoy the other reason people go to Mallorca…. A holiday. We were going at a fair lick, holding each other’s wheel. Collette and I taking the lead in turns. The “undulations” returned but this time they were easier. Nothing was going to be like the hills at Cap Formentor.
Before long we arrived in Campanet and blindly followed the infamous navigational skills of Simon. Weaving back and forth down the narrow streets, again thinking of how Sue would love this place.
Eventually meeting up at a cafe with the elite guys who had also seemingly been riding all day. The cake these guys eat is huge and yet they are so thin and strong. Maybe cake is the way forward after all.
I opted for carrot cake and full fat coke and enjoyed the delights of this old town, people watching away a good half hour of Mallorca sun. Unbeknown to us this was Simons treat to us. Yet another awesome day in Mallorca.
We all got back on the bikes and headed in our set directions, again blindly following Simons lead. Some of the group headed out for “More miles” we headed back, as planned.
I don’t know what it is they put in coke but it was like rocket fuel to me. As soon as I got up in front I would take the initiative to put my foot down and hit a canter. Thankfully a reversing van had slowed the others down allowing me to make my move. I didn’t disappoint myself, or the others as they all clung on to my wheel. Whizzing back through the Orange groves and Vine yards. Too fast to take in the sights. My head was down and I was pushing hard. Slowed only by the road coming to a junction and being unsure of the route. Video of ride back from Campanet(van at 2min)(Click link)
“More of what Lawrence is having!” Was Simon’s passing reply as the coaches retook the lead. I didn’t want to stop, I was in a rhythm and in the zone.
Day 7 – Saturday
The coaches had left the “Efforts” till last and had been keeping this one a secret! What could possibly be more of an effort than I have done so far? What could be so worthy of being kept a secret?
We had our usual brief after dinner the night before and I had taken a photo of the plan.
We would be cycling about 20k to the base of a hill climb at Luuc, that would be our warm up. Until this point I had not seen this hill, so naturally began to assume the worst.
Once at the base of the hill we would regroup and be released in timed intervals to complete our “Efforts”
Things like Lactate threshold and FTP (Functional Threshold) were mentioned, I knew this meant a tough day. Fortunately through discussion I agreed with the coaches not to do the planned 10k brick run after the bike. I would enjoy more Mallorcan sun as the others pressed through what must have been a tough run.
The Bike efforts
I thoroughly enjoyed this. I had been rereleased in wave two, a couple of minutes after Collette. I immediately began to hunt her down. We got to the start point of the two minute hill climb and I quickly saw any gains I had made on her quickly swallowed by the effort I was having to put in to get up that hill. The turnaround point came quicker than I knew it and I was thankful to be in recovery mode as I descended again. Then boom! On the clock for ten minutes at 90% FTP… Hunting down Collette.
I didn’t get to catch Collette until toward the end of the second effort but I was glad that I did. She must have known I was closing in on her as I was blowing hard. I eventually got past her and settled into a rhythm. She wasn’t settling for that and put in a kick, we would be cat and mouse until the end.
The session was set up so all the pros would be riding with us. Their effort was just as hard as ours, doubtless they would be going further than us due to their fitness, clearly able to climb higher in the two minutes. It was a great experience as we all passed each other at various phases, usually whilst they were in recovery mode. Cheering and helping each other to finish the set.
I was thankful to have a rest whilst the others, one by one, transitioned into their run. I was super impressed by the levels of commitment. Everyone, regardless of fitness levels was smashing it.
The ride home after the efforts should have been an easy recovery for me. Due to the fact I hadn’t run, I felt a bit guilty and clearly still full of energy. I decided to get on the wheel of two of the Pros/Elite. Tori Waight (Whom I had seen race in the infamous Weymouth 70.3) and Kent Langridge (Fenella’s brother). Before long they had noticed my intent and Tori invited me in a bit closer. Drafting off their TT Bikes back to the hotel was an awesome experience. Getting my head down and enjoying my last full training day. I held on (They were probably being kind and eased off the gas) and finished off with another 60k to what had been an incredible week.
Day 8 – Sunday and were all leaving
All good things come to an end? Well mine wasn’t going to end yet. I had booked the late flights back to the UK to maximize our “Holiday” I could get in an extra swim and then spend the day chilling out on the island with Sue.
After we had breakfast I booked the pool lane and committed myself to a pyramid swim of 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100. A lovely way to finish my training. After a quick visit to the gym to do some mobility and stretching stuff I finally switched off the training chimp in my head and enjoyed 3/4 of a days holiday.
The weather was warm and none of us really wanted the experience to end. Sadly, one by one, our group became smaller and smaller. Saying goodbye to people I now considered friends and committing to events I had never heard of. Agreeing with Simon to come back next year and attempt Sa Colabra….. I will be back – You heard it here first
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-20 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
The next chapter in my blog will be all about the last 5 weeks before my first ever Ironman event…. 70.3 Staffordshire on the 9th July
#IRONMANTRAINING #IM703STAFFS #ANYTHINGISPOSSIBLE
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
So here we are in the last weeks building up to one of the biggest moments in my life, Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire on June 9th 2019.
I have been writing this blog now since the beginning of November 2018 and have very much enjoyed the process. Initially I was going to keep the fact I had entered an Ironman event a secret. Just tell my wife and my coach and keep it super low key. I soon realised in order to complete my goal I was going to need all the help and support I could get. I’m also not very good at keeping secrets.
Over a period of a few weeks I went from keeping it a secret, to beginning the process of writing a blog and sharing my entire journey with the world.
The process has helped me overcome many, many hurdles along the way. Reflecting on the positive things I have achieved, all the time keeping focus on my goal, and the process of how I was going to get there.
Return from Mallorca (Tri Camp)
I had a blast in the Spanish sun. It certainly wasn’t a holiday (Ch. 20) but it certainly was fun. I was already thinking about the probability I would be back next year. I felt exhausted and awesome at the same time. Once the dust had settled after our flight home, once the bag was unpacked and the pets all back, I sat down and had a look at my training schedule. It was 2300 hrs and I needed a rest. Fortunately Billy had predicted this and slotted in two rest days. It had been some time since I had the pleasure of back to back time away from training. I would sleep like a baby!
The return to work was odd. I was exceptionally tired from travelling, and doubtless fatigued from the weeks efforts. Throughout the day I recalled the various memories of Mallorca. The effort of the moment now replaced by fond memories of fun. My love of all things swim, bike and run had grown. I wondered how a single week can completely change a mans perspective on life? Mallorca certainly had a positive effect on me, as you are about to read.
Building on my achievements
My return to training back in the UK started on May 1st. I was down for an aerobic swim and a tempo effort on the bike. Billy had told me when I was leaving Mallorca, that I had a great week, and was very impressed with my efforts. He now wanted to see me build from that.
The pool availability meant I would be swimming in Salisbury. The very pool that nearly ended my “Journey”. I remembered the time Fenella Langridge had helped me out in that pool. I was training for my first Open Water Triathlon (Ch. 12) and had a mid pool meltdown. A mouthful of water had quickly turned to a panic stricken fight to reach the end of the pool. Exhausted and lacking the confidence to get back into my set. Fenella swam with me for a few lengths and observed my technique. A kind gesture from a Pro athlete to an aspiring athlete. But nonetheless her comments and encouragement that day, made the difference between completing my set and moving on to the next, or simply giving up completely. Back then I was working towards swimming up to a 1000 m.
My first swim back in the UK was awesome, swimming at an aerobic pace for an hour and easing past 2500m feeling like I could swim all day. Sadly I had to get out of the pool and head out on the bike.
I go back to the pool at Five Rivers in Salisbury as often as I can. A kind of gesture to the pool demon and Tri Gods, and in the true belief of the Ironman slogan “Anything is possible”
The Bike – Tempo
It wasn’t a particularly cold day but I had been used to mid twenties for the most part of the previous week. I would layer up for this ride.
I was down to complete 90 minutes of efforts, broken down in intervals of 10 minutes easy, and then 10 minutes at RPE 8 (Rate of perceived exertion). Followed by an easy 10 minutes ride home to cool down.
This was going to be a tough set, I had experienced this kind of ride on the last Saturday in Mallorca when we all rode out to LUUC. I was mentally prepared and keen to see what I could do.
I decided on a simple out and back for the efforts, after climbing out of the village onto a gently undulating road. I had set myself a point in the road I wanted to reach in the first ten minute interval and got cracking.
I had worked it out perfectly, the undulations were tough but Mallorca had given me the knowledge and confidence to hold a rhythm. Tapping away at my gears until my Garmin gave me licence to ride easy. I turned around after 5 minutes of easy riding, and gently approached the spot I had ended my effort at. Boom! Thirty minutes of riding done, and barely out of breath.
I would do another two identical repeats of this before eventually needing a rest. I had pulled up on the side of the road, just before starting my final effort. Pausing my Garmin and taking in the views of Salisbury Plain. The Swallows had began to arrive, and so had Billy.
Damn just as in Mallorca, the moment I chose to loaf about and there is my coach riding up behind me in the distance. “Shit” he will know its me as I’m wearing my tech T-Shirt from Mallorca. “Hey Ho”. Deciding to make the most of my rest I waited for him to pull up and have a short chat.
Billy was mega impressed with my day so far, chuffed to see me putting in an effort. Knowing that I was about to put one more in, we got cracking back in the direction of home, Billy holding my wheel, being pulled from my draft just like we had done in Mallorca. Only this time I was in front doing all the work, I loved it. Quickly passing the ten minutes and pushing for another 3. “Cheers Billy, that was awesome” as he went his way, and I went mine.
After two and a half hours of training I was content and would put my feet up and enjoy the remainder of my day. Mallorca has made training fun!
Day two of training would not be as much fun. The weather in the UK had forced a turbo session for my ride for the day. I had enjoyed the better part of the week being warm whilst training, my muscles somehow more relaxed and flexible. I wanted to be out and about on the bike, but today it was not going to be possible. I was now entombed in my pain cave for 45 mins. The chilled air from the recent rain making the warm up all the more crucial. 45 minutes may not seem like a long time to be in the saddle, but on the Turbo there is no free speed. No breeze to cool the flesh. The scenery stays the same. With the sweat dripping off of my chin and my wrists, believe me 45 minutes was plenty.
As I got off the Turbo I noticed my Achilles was tight and set about some, now all too familiar gentle stretches. I was due in the pool with my Tri Club in an hour. I hoped I could shake it off soon.
After just 8 minutes and 22 seconds my coach Helen Witt had made the call for me to bail on the set and go home and rest. After just 400m of swimming my Achilles had been aggravated to the point that it was obvious to those around me. Helen made a good call that night (as you are about to read) and besides 400m in 8 minutes is not too shabby, especially considering the discomfort I was beginning to feel.
Proactive not reactive
I had learned in Mallorca that there was little point in trying to battle through a set that wasn’t working out for me. Pain is no friend, and it certainly is not weakness leaving the body (I have heard this quoted many times in my life). Pain is an indicator, a signal that something is not right.
After getting home from the bailed swim I was not disappointed or upset. Quite the opposite! I was pleased with myself for listening to my body, and the advice of those around me. I would apply some ice, rest and elevate for a while, and then set about some active recovery. Some may not think of foam rolling and stretching as active recovery, but for me it was better than lying on the couch and feeling sorry for my self.
The following day I got back in the pool and ended the week on a high.
As soon as I got home from work I went straight down to Five Rivers swimming pool in Salisbury and gave the pool demons and Tri Gods the bird. Smashing through 2300m of freestyle swimming, concentrating on technique and strength. The set whizzed by and with 8 minutes to spare the 1 hour session was done.
The following day (Saturday) I would get on the bike for 2.5 hours solid. Riding a new route through the picturesque Woodford Valley in Wiltshire. The hills would get the heart rate up but there was nothing here like Formentor, I was strong and the Achilles fine. I finished the ride setting three new peak performances for my coach. Hitting the goals and returning home with pride.
That is how to deal with a set back. Look it straight in the face, rest and readjust, then come back stronger.
Focus! The big day is fast approaching.
For the remainder of May I began to go through a process of shutting out all the white noise and really focussing on the goal ahead. Balancing life at this time was difficult, I was clocking up 12-15 hours of training a week. I would run in the early hours before work, use the gym in my lunch hour, and be in the pool or on the bike after work. I was loving life and ticking off session after session. I didn’t write much in my blog, as quite often I would be falling asleep, recovering and resetting for the next day.
On the Saturdays I would get down to the New Forest in Hampshire and swim in the lake for an hour, before a brick session on the bike and run. The New Forest is an awesome place to be before the rest of the world awakes. Nature appears to be completely at ease with the lone cyclist sharing a sunrise with it. The herd of Ponies completely oblivious to me passing by. There really is no better feeling than that of complete exertion, to being completely spent, but having done it completely free of the stresses of life. Thats what Tri training did for me and it happened in the New Forest. I will be looking for that feeling again, and again.
There really is no better feeling than that of complete exertion, to being completely spent, but having done it completely free of the stresses of life.
Sundays had become my long bike days. I would ride blissfully around the Wiltshire countryside quite happily for up to four hours. There wasn’t a hill around that phased me. Yes they are still tough, but I took them all on….. knowing my taper week was looming and making sure I got the best out of my sessions. I would use these long weekend sessions to test my fueling strategy. Being a larger build and a heavy sweater, hydration was going to be key. In Mallorca I had been well disciplined with this and felt pretty good going into Ironman.
It was now June. Crikey, that month flew by. It was no time since landing back in the UK after Tri camp that Billy and I were sitting down to a cup of coffee and discussing key components of my race…… The strategy.
Swim…. I was ready for the swim! Having signed up for the event in October 2018 and being injured pretty much thought the winter months, I had spent a lot of time in the pool. Swimming 1.9k in under 1hr 10 min. Was going to be a doddle. As long as I could deal with the pre race nerves, and a rolling start off of a pontoon? We agreed that I should place myself in the 40min seed. I was comfortable I could achieve that. Besides all my worst moments were behind me, my recent swims in the lake at the New Forest were proof I could do it. It would push me, but I wasn’t there to have a picnic.
Bike…. I was absolutely confident I was going to be able to smash the bike. 56 miles in 4.5 hours? I was aiming for 3.5 hours, and sure I would be there or there about. We chatted about two hilly components at the start and near the finish. They would slow me down for sure, but they were never going to get close to the hills I had conquered in Mallorca. I needed to keep well fuelled and hydrated, and be smart with my gears. The bike was not an element we were concerned with at all.
Running… I had only been back to running for four weeks, The Achilles scare now in the past. Nonetheless, this was not great preparation for a half marathon by any standards, especially after swim and bike. Yes, I had a good aerobic base from the training, but I was not conditioned into the physical demands of running. We needed for me to have a strong swim and bike to bank some time. I would focus on running from one aid station to the next. Knowing it was a 2.5x loop around the city of Stafford, we had worked out I would pass an aid station every 1.4 miles and hopefully have 3 hours to complete it. Yeah I could do that, surely?
All I had to do was get there……
A crushing blow…
You all probably know how my day ended…. before it started! Some of you might of been wondering where my journey was heading? without exception the support I received over the remainder of June has been amazing. As I write the remainder of this chapter, I am currently still injured but gradually getting back into the pool, and next week on the bike, hopefully……. Anyway here is how my big day went….
June 9th 2019 HIM Staffs
On the morning of Friday 7th June 2019 Sue and I travelled up to Staffordshire for our big day. Having packed and prepped all my gear the night before. Sue was up before me and just as apprehensive. She was worried about the run element, but believed I could do it. Sue has been integral to the process and shared some of my darker moments on the journey. The fact she knew I would do it was as much a success, as me getting the medal on the day.
However, I had had a rough night. On the Thursday I had been getting muscular tightness in my “Good” leg. Stretching and foam rolling hadn’t really helped and I was quite stiff in the knee area. Things were not looking good as I struggled to get down the stairs.
I felt I could stretch it off? In any case I was not going to give up now. I had come this far. I was so close.
We eventually got to the hotel after a miserable 4.5 hours driving, mostly admiring the delights of the M6 Birmingham. Rain, rain, rain. The journey had not done my knee any good at all. Instead of activity to loosen it up. I was sat in a car. This would turn out to be the death of my dreams for Sunday, albeit I hadn’t accepted it at this stage.
As soon as we had acquainted our selves with the hotel we set about driving to race HQ. Rain, rain, rain. Sue didn’t want to get out in the rain, so I plodded off and entered the world of Ironman. My knee was much better, now I was moving about. The Ibuprofen helping somewhat.
Tori (TriForce) had messaged me earlier to see if I was about, and we met at registration. I joined the queue and collected my race gear. The various stickers, swim cap and infamous Tattoo’s (Transfers) you get when you enter these kind of events. I was exceptionally calm and was now referring to my knee as a niggle. I also met Emily (TriForce) Both Tori and Emily (Seasoned Ironman athletes) were impressed at how relaxed I looked. I felt as if I had nothing to loose and everything to gain. I just needed to ensure I got round that lake.
We sat through the race brief and I entered my red bag (Running gear) into transition 2. Sue had now been sitting in the car for over an hour. Rain, rain, rain. Not how I had planned to start the weekend for her. I didn’t think the race brief would be so long. I would have to get her back to the hotel and buy her a G&T.
Saturday 8th June 2019
Today we would go down to the lake for a recce of transition 1 (Bike) and have a look at the lake. Rain, rain, rain. We got the shuttle bus that Ironman had laid on, despite forgetting to pay for Sues pass in registration. I left my bike in the car, whilst we went for our recce.
I guess sub-consciously I knew I wasn’t going to be taking part at this point. Although even at this stage the thought of not starting had not even crossed my mind.
The transition area was filling up with tens of thousands of pounds worth of bikes. My entry level bike would be easy to spot amongst all these flashy TT things. My racking area was right in the far corner and near to the bike exit. Awesome, nothing to panic about when getting out of the lake. So we headed off to look at the vast expanse of water, rain, rain, rain. It hadn’t stopped since we hit Birmingham.
We had a short walk from the shuttle into what is the SSSI (Nature reserve) of Chasewater and by this time we were soaked through. Sue was doing a good job of staying upbeat, clearly not wanting to put any extra pressure on me. Deep inside she must of been cursing the very day I signed up.
The walk from T1 to the lake was quite a way, I had been warned of this by Billy “Expect quite a bit of a run from the lake into transition”. Normally this would have been fine, but now my knee was really starting to complain. I was starting to lose the full range of motion, as the swelling and inflammation began to protect whatever injury I had received. The walk to the edge of the pontoon start was a long one indeed. Physically, yes, but now I needed to make a decision. As I stood looking out across the buoys, visualising my swim, and sighting distant objects to help me navigate the 1900m, I had the first sense of negativity for a very long time. I knew I could do the swim, but what was I going to gain if afterwards, whatever this injury was, left me broken and unable to get out of the lake. The biggest fear was that an official would see my physical condition and pluck me out of the race altogether. This was going to be my choice and I made it whilst standing on the start line.
I was not going to race!
By far the hardest decision ever. I had discussed it in a phone call with Billy before hand. “You could do the swim and get something out of it” was discussed, it just made no sense. I had been swimming distances well over that for months now. I knew I could do it. The problem was that in order to swim, I had to first rack my bike and get my timing chip. At this point my knee had swollen so much that the ibuprofen was not even touching it. In all probability I would of struggled to get my wetsuit on. Mounting a bike, whilst probably amusing to all those around me, was not the way I wanted my race to end.
What I needed to do was accept that I had a rather bad injury and allow the process of healing to begin… Now!
I made the decision not to rack my bike, collect my running gear from T1 and go home.
The best decision I have made since taking on a sport I have become extremely fond of. Triathlon, and Ironman may have won that day, but all the successes I have had along the way far out weigh the disappoint of the moment. I made the decision, not Ironman, and in doing so will be back to full fitness quicker, and ready to complete my journey. Albeit on another day.
Once I had made the decision there would be no going back. Despite which fact, the Transition areas would close in 2 hours. The feeling of going back into T2 to collect my running gear was awful. I was the only one heading in the other direction, limping.
Bizarrely, for the first time since Friday morning the rain began to ease. As if trying to lighten the mood of the moment. Outwardly I was staying positive and happy, inside was a completely different story. I needed to get home before I could start feeling sorry for myself. I approached the race officials in the giant marquee and explained my situation. Whilst sympathetic, they were thankful I had made the right choice. That was it! The moment my day ended, and I didn’t even collect a T-Shirt.
Sue suggested we go back to the hotel and have a few drinks, maybe go and watch the race the following day. I needed to get away from it and go home. I don’t think Sue really wanted to be in the rain any longer, but was simply trying to put some happiness into the situation….. We checked out and went home.
The following day, I awoke to the news of everyones efforts, some brilliant swim times from Team TriForce. I switched off, selfishly I couldn’t bear to watch. The sun was shining and they were all having a great day. I couldn’t even walk now, the Injury was worse than feared.
I put a lot of positive thoughts on social media about how I felt, but inside as the days passed, I began to get depressed.
I needed to recover. Physically and mentally, and ultimately took time away to switch off from training for a week or two. I had to stop the world and get off!
Billy was brilliant during this time. Keeping a distance and allowing me to gather my thoughts. When we did touch base, he timed it perfectly. The day before I was ready to give up. However, this day I had decided to accept where I was at. Put running on hold, and focus on what I knew I could do, Swim. Bizarre as it may sound to those who read the early chapters about me learning to swim a width. However, here I was, signing up for my next challenge and putting Ironman on hold until next year.
My Running club and Triathlon club have been amazing through this period, as I have said before, if you surround yourself with the right people, success will come. I just needed a week or two to feel sorry for myself.
The Fatman-Ironman journey, nearly ended in disaster, failure or me giving up. However, in simply moving the goal posts, I get to have a whole lot more fun, and do the big one another day. So…… It turns out there will be another chapter, and I will go on to get that medal. The training will not have been wasted.
I am now signed up for The Big Cotswold Swim on the 14th September. Knowing I could do the 1 mile, and looking for a challenge to help me get over the disappointment of Staffs ….. The 2 mile option seemed just the ticket.
Wish me luck.
Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog. I’m now over the disappointment and focussing on all the positive things I have achieved so far. For a while it was difficult to see beyond injury, almost impossible to even think about blogging it. However, I have now done that, and hope you are excited as me to see where this journey takes me next.
Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-21 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.
I don’t know what the next chapter in my blog will be about, or when I will write it. But rest assured, I will still be hunting down my finishers medal for my first ever Ironman event. Watch this space.
#IRONMANTRAINING #IM703STAFFS #ANYTHINGISPOSSIBLE
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
“Without fear, there is no challenge, without challenge there is no growth, without growth there is no life” – Ant Middleton (SAS – Who Dares Wins)
It’s 0430 hrs 22nd September 2019, my alarm has gone off on my phone. The cheesiest, longest ring tone I could find. It didn’t matter I was already awake. Excited and nervous at the same time. It was race day and I was not about to miss it. Besides, I had been listening to the heavy rain and wind blowing through the harbour, and along the Jurassic coast. Willing it to settle in time. The conditions on the Saturday looked tough. I did not want the swim to be cancelled. I had been working hard and I wanted my piece of the pie. I was getting in regardless!
Sue was ok with the early start. However, convincing her about pre race nutrition had failed. All Sue could foresee was a lot of hanging around. She would not be wrong, as it turned out.
I got the porridge on, bananas and toast. Careful not to go crazy. I made Sue a cup of coffee and slowly got through my meal. I was in no rush, I was relaxed. Everything was prepared the night before. I had just descended the flights of stairs of the town house we were invited to share with the lovely Farwell Family, door after door of bagged up kit, waiting to be grabbed. Mine was there, I was ready.
I had slept with the timing chip on so I wouldn’t forget it. It had been presented to me the day before by Fran (Shrewton Running Club), as if it were the Crown Jewels, her palms caressing it as if it were on a velvet cushion. It was an exceptionally important part of the day… This was our relay Baton! Sue had the honour of crowning me with the Jewel. Taking the very important role of securing it to my left ankle.
We were working as a relay team. Fran was taking the run leg, after her partner Moss finished the bike. We all had our parts to play, but mine was to be first. I am the swimmer.
I slowly sipped from one of my water bottles and filled it up again. The last of my preparations was done. Hydrated and eager to see what I could do.
I took a little walk outside. Sue was right, we had plenty of time, I was pleased to see the sea had calmed down a bit. Still a strong wind in the air, and still raining. However, the aggression of the waves had gone. It looked like the swim was definitely going to be on. Let’s do this!!
Fran and Moss rose later than I did. I was chomping at the bit, excited, I wanted to see the marker buoys. I needed to visualise the course. Sue and I headed from the finish area toward the start line.
The previous evenings weather had dumped the beach all over the roads and paths, mini dunes and drifts swirling around, mesmerising and soothing at the same time. If the sand didn’t get washed or swept away Fran, our runner, was going to have a tough day.
It was eerily silent as a gentle flow of people began to make the walk to the start line. Or at least to transition 1. I needn’t worry about the bike, I went straight to the start pens. The noise began to rise as people began to mass, the tension and nerves electrified the atmosphere. Doubts, fear and confidence stood side by side. I had none of those. I had focus, I had trained for this moment, I had a job to do. Success was inevitable, The only uncertainty was how quick the swim could be. I was doing it to conquer the demons of Staffordshire, but more than that, I was doing it as part of a team. I was not going to let them down.
I slipped into my wetsuit and lubed the points of friction my training had taught me. Training is also learning, and chaffing is no fun. Especially where salt water is concerned.
As I stood chatting with Sue, putting a swim cap on (I would be wearing two, as a frozen head is no fun either) the announcement came out from the Familiar Irish tone of the Lady announcer…. Swim start is delayed and the distance shortened. This was not good news, I had trained hard for this event and consistently swam well at endurance distances, swimming 950 meters? Is that a sprint? What do I do? I was not prepared for this eventuality.
The night previous it was more likely the swim would be off….. Ok!, so lets see this as a positive. I would at least get a swim.
After a little hanging around I eventually decided it was time to crack on and get amongst it. I said my goodbyes to Sue, the hardest part of these events for me. At this point I knew it would be easily a long half hour before she saw me safely out of the water. Sue was now laden with my change of clothes and the fact she had to have complete faith in my ability, I knew I could do it, and I knew I could be quick (Not Michael Phelps, but for a guy dragging a belly… I knew I was pretty quick) Sue, however, simply had to believe.
I took myself up into the seed pens (areas cordoned off and intended to separate the athletes and their predicted swim times). Despite the shortened swim, we were advised to stick with the times for the full distance. I was going to hit 40 mins for 1.2 miles, I had trained for a hard finish! Today I was going to have to aim for 20 mins for 950m.
Shock and fear came over me for the first time since I got in my car to drive down to Weymouth, since then I hadn’t felt at all doubtful. I expected to be able to see the large buoy markers. It was now 0620 hrs and the Pros were due out at 0700 hrs. I couldn’t see the route, I knew it was shorter, but where were the sighting references? A peak in the coastline? A Lighthouse? A tree line or bigger house? I couldn’t visualise it because the buoys had not been put out yet. On top of that a big sea mist had set in the distance. Huge oil tankers began to disappear.
After a few minutes the boats started dragging out the buoys and the tension started to ease, the distant red turn buoys were deep in the mist and it would be impossible to use a land based marker point. I figured I would just have to swim to each way point marker…. Yellow buoy to yellow buoy…. eventually I would be able to see the red buoy and make my turn.
The chatter around me was tense, a guy next to me revealed he was shitting his pants and looked like he was about to climb over the railing and bail. I gave him a line about “We’ve done the training” “Now its showtime” but clearly I needed to shuffle forward politely, this guys energy was not good.
I shuffled through the tight masses of rubber (Neoprene) clad people until it was impossible to go any further. I was in sight of the 38 minute flag. perfect. I must be at the 40 min point. I recognised a guy standing next to me from my first ever open water triathlon, it was clear he recognised me but through sheer focus and belief we had entered a zone. we nodded but didn’t communicate verbally, the start was imminent.
My feet ached as I stood on the cold damp pebbles of Weymouth beach, the swim start carpet in sight. We had been held back! A delayed start on top of a shortened swim. I wasn’t bothered by this now, but I knew I had left a wife expecting a husband out of the water half an hour ago, my team would also be confused…. Why has he not exited the water yet…. I did not get into the water until 0816 hrs.
So here it is, I am now on the famous red carpet, walking toward the open sea. The pro’s are finished and out on the bike, The tunes are pumping…. “Right here…. Right now” its my time! I quickly apply a last minute bit of spit to my thumb and wash it around my goggles, I do not want to fog up. I choose my lane, like a race horse I am now funnelled into a start block. Beep, Beep, Beep…. 6 seconds and I’m off. The others go quick and hard down the beach, running and diving into the sea. I knew I would catch them so mine was more of a jog, a controlled start. I was still technically injured, or at least in recovery, and not about to try and be a hero. I was quickly into a rhythm but my breathing way too fast. I knew this would happen, I had trained for it, I opted to breath every stroke and settle down. Buoy one… Boom… Its on! I am sighting well, the buoy is close to my right shoulder.
I dug in and found a hip to swim alongside, like a baby Dolphin would be with its mother, drafting and conserving energy. I was trying to relax my breathing and become more bi lateral. The guy I was swimming alongside was not so keen to drag me along. He was very proficient at breast stroke and appeared to be alternating between that and Front Crawl. Every kick of his breast stroke intended to send a message to me, was swiftly replied with a strong catch and pull of my arms. Neither of us were prepared to give up the advantage of drafting off each other. Each of us fighting to secure our spot.
We got each other to the next yellow buoy and slowly he began to fade into the distance. I needed to find another toe, or hip to tuck in on. We were beginning to spread out. Some had chosen to go wide of the group. I was sticking to my line, tight to the buoys. Others had began to pass me, clearly lighter and stronger swimmers. My buddy was now nowhere to be seen, I was sticking to my own race.
The red turn buoy was now clearly in sight, the sea mist had began to lift. Ok, I thought to myself this is where I begin to really work…. I turned at the buoy only to be faced with a swell sufficient to stop me dead. 30 feet to my left a guy who moments ago was swimming fast and strong, now neither of us appeared to be moving…. Wow! Now I had to work proper hard, lets get out of this swell. Pleased it wasn’t just me, watching with each breath the challenges the swimmers around me were facing. The overwhelming smell of diesel filled the air as the rescue boat came and plucked someone out. It really was tough at this point but the very fact that people had given up spurred me on. I was here to conquer.
The sea was big out here, any confusement to why the organisers had chosen to shorten the swim, now gone. Just ten minutes earlier I stood looking out to the sea and feeling pleased at how much calmer it looked. The Pros has nailed it, but right now it wasn’t calm at all, and some people were struggling. It needed respect. Eventually we pushed through to the next turn point. Pleased to get the swells and waves behind me. No longer would I be taking huge mouthfuls of salt water on board each time I tried to breath. I would use the swells and waves now to my advantage, they would push me home.
The next challenge came in the form of sighting, until now I was doing alright. Now as I swam up a wave the buoys would be gone, hidden by the water, and as I climbed, so would I have to fall down the other side, the buoy now below me. To some I might be exaggerating, but this is how it felt to me. I had not been in a strong sea before, not this strong. I had chosen good weather to train in. This was all new, I was learning on the job, and I was loving it.
I chose to sight every three strokes now, knowing that mostly the buoys would be hidden behind a wave each time. Beforehand a quick crocodile sight, or lift of the head every six strokes was sufficient. It was working, I was keeping to the course. The only challenge now was that the current was slightly to my left, so as well as pushing me home, the sea wanted to push me right. I needed to keep working my swim back against the current. It was a challenging five minutes or so. My friend from earlier still nowhere to be seen.
As we all swam in our various states, the water being beaten to a frenzie, the shoreline began to get clearer as the sea mist from earlier was lifting. I became conscious of the heavy rainfall around me, but more so, of the ever nearing beach. I was nearly there. It felt comfortably within the cut-off time, but I wouldn’t be looking at my watch until I was firmly on my feet and running towards T1…. And Moss, our cyclist.
It is no accident that the shoreline for these events is full of marshals, in and out of the water. I took my first few steps after righting myself. The swim had indeed taken a lot out of me, despite being a short swim, my legs were like jelly and I collapsed. Fortunately it was only temporary and the various marshals ensured my next few steps were going forward and not down, or backward.
I had decided whilst out in the swim not to bother taking my wetsuit down to my waist, I had trained for this in other events, but today it would be easier for my relay team to spot me coming in, if I was the only one still fully suited.
As I ran up the beach front and across the coveted red carpet that is synonymous with Ironman events, I knew that Sue would be just around the corner. We had an agreed point where the crowds would be thinner, I glimpsed her in the distance, phone at the ready. I made sure I put on a happy face and tried to breath in a bit for the camera. The happy face was the easy bit, I was elated to actually be part of something I had trained so hard for, part of an Ironman event. Breathing in was not so easy.
I kept a steady pace to T1, literally just out of a long injury I didn’t want to slip on the wet roads, equally I didn’t want to be minceing into T1. This was my first run of anysort since June.
As I entered the funnel toward T1 I heard the congratulations and encouragement from Tori Waight and Kent Langridge, Many of the Tri Force gang had said they would be racing, I had already met up with Leanne James. At this moment I forgot Tori and Kent had said they would look out for me. The boost was immense, I got the pace up and made a proper entrance into T1. Moss, our cyclist and Fran, our runner pleased to see me. The Crown Jewel (Timing chip) could now be handed over… My job was done.
I now had the awesome task of being spectator and supporter of what truly is a brilliant spectacle. The atmosphere at these events is electrifying. #anythingispossible
Moss would go on to have an epic bike split taking us up into eighth position amongst 47 registered Relay teams. The effort he put in made clear by the difficulty in walking he was having as we chased Fran around the run route, offering our support. Fran would get the warm part of the day, but despite this she opened up her engine for a Half Marathon PB.
We met a few hundred yards before the finish line and ran across the line together. Each of us earning our place amongst the team. Each of us truly deserving of our medal.
Team Shrewton Triers aced it with a very respectable time of 5:44:24
If you have read my previous blog chapters, and in particular Ch. 21 – The final chapter… Or is it? You will know that my Fatman-Ironman Journey has had many ups and downs. I was able to conquer many fears and achieve things I thought never possible. I had managed to adapt and live with my fears, and perhaps even began to use them as strengths, helping me go beyond what originally started out as simply “Losing a bit of weight”. However, the set back of HIM Staffs DNS and the weeks after, was by far the hardest part of my journey so far.
I had put everything into achieving my goal at Staffs, and I believed I was ready. The run would have been a run/walk strategy but I knew the bike would be strong. Sadly, as I would quickly learn, injury can come at any time.
I initially walked away from training completely. I needed to deload and switch off, this was always the plan anyway, I just expected it to be with a medal. When I returned to training the drive was no longer there. I wasn’t able to bike, and wasn’t able to run. But as before I could focus on the swim, and improve that. This time round the fire inside my belly had burnt out. Training through July was a chore, getting to the pool was an effort, and pretty soon training was becoming inconsistent and my times were dropping off. I would swim a 100 lengths, and the next day the pool was the last place I wanted to be. Before Staffs I was swimming in excess of 10k a week, every week, and loving every session. Now I was starting to loathe it. What had happened? I eventually owned up to Billy in a heart felt conversation. I wasn’t giving up, I just didn’t have the drive. I wasn’t attending my Tri Club sessions and I was generally down in my mood.
I kept digging in, seemingly on the Mondays I would be up for it, and smash out some awesome times in the pool, really going for it. The following session I just wouldn’t be there mentally. By the end of the week I simply didn’t do it. I knew this was not good, but I didn’t have the tools to reverse the cycle. What I needed to do was get out on my bike. The world was enjoying a glorious summer, and through injury my head was face down in an indoor pool. I wasn’t going to be able to ride for a while yet and had to make a decision.
The decision would come in a bizarre form. Moss, our cyclist at Weymouth announced to me at our running club social night that I was doing an Ironman relay? Was I? I was derailed immediately, he announced “as I could swim, I could form part of their relay team” Him and Fran, “Get you out of injury and back into training”. They were looking for a swimmer, and everyone they knew was either in an event or training for one. Moss has a brilliant sense of humour, and is great at making you feel at ease. However, this was no joke, and I was not at ease. He was serious.
Initially I laughed it off and cried “Injured” and desperately looked for a way out. Just say no, was the whisper from my friend Karen. The reality was, I was afraid I would let them down. Injury had allowed me to think negative. This had not been the case for a very long time. The last few weeks I had been down, because I was allowing fear and disappointment to rule my life. That night in Shrewton I very nearly turned down the best ever opportunity to reverse my depression, If I had, I probably would have given up on my journey all together and thrown in the towel. Instead I awoke the next morning and sent Fran, Moss’ partner, and our runner a message saying I’m in and where do I sign up etc.
In an instant my approach to training had changed, I was now back in the pool most days, hitting big sessions and signing up for events to focus my training for a 1.2mile Sea swim. I contactced my swim coaches at my Tri Club and organised coached seaswims. I would get to the sea as many weekends as I could with my wife Sue patiently keeping an eye on me. I would swim in lakes and quaries as much as I could. In August I had turned it all around again, I was swimming further and faster than before, and by some way. I felt efficient and confident. The negative chimp long gone.
My first training race was at Vobster Quays I swam their last aquathlon event in Septemeber, clearly not a runner yet, but an event where I could choose my swim distance, and go for it. I swam 1.9k that day in 43 minutes and had plenty in the tank for more. On the 14th September I swam 2 miles at the Cotswold Big Swim comfortably longer than Weymouth was going to be….I was ready!
Thank you for taking the time to read the latest chapter in my blog. As I have said before “If you surround yourself with the right people, success will come”
I now have a renewed focus, the doors of possibility are firmly open, and I am considering my plans for 2020.
I have a score to settle.
I hope someone, somewhere can take something from my journey and apply it to theirs. I hope to see that person on a start line somewhere
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”