So here I am having finished my last race of the year. I’ve competed in more 10Ks than I can count on my hands, one aquathlon and four triathlons throughout 2016 and I have survived them all. But, what have I learnt?
I love triathlon
For the first half of my training all I did was moan about how I couldn’t wait for 2017 to arrive so that I could have ‘just a running year’. Well, it turns out 2017 isn’t going to be ‘just a running year’ because I have discovered that I love swimming, I love cycling and I love running. I love everything about triathlon and don’t want to trade it in.
Being coached isn’t for everyone
Despite the aforementioned love of triathlon, I didn’t enjoy being coached. I’m not entirely sure what my approach is going to be next year but it will probably be quite unstructured. I can’t foresee 2017 being the year where I take triathlon super seriously and focus on times but I can envisage it being a year where I develop a solid base of knowing what works well for me in training and what gives me the results I want and need.
Triathlon takes hunger to a whole new level
I have always had a somewhat challenging relationship with food, but triathlon has forced me to overcome a lot of those issues because nobody wants to underperform on race day simply because they’re worried about calories (totally happened to me in the 2010 London Triathlon). When I started my training I was under-fuelling myself and my performance suffered…I was just walking around in this perma-miserable state of exhaustion. It wasn’t pretty. Luckily I took the right steps to fix this, figured out what macros and micro nutrients I needed to perform the way that I wanted to and gave myself a stern talking to. I also discovered that if you’re having a really bad day and just cannot be bothered with consciously thinking about fuelling then bagels become your best friend. I frequently default to bagels with the Pip & Nut Coconut Almond Butter (you really should try this, it’s heaven in a jar…and the best part is that my husband is allergic to almonds so I have the jar all to myself!) to get me through an evening of training.
Your body changes a lot
This year I gained 8lbs…that’s over half a stone and it was a conscious decision. I am still a way off my goal racing weight, but I figured that the extra 8lbs is better than nothing and I did feel physically healthier for it towards the end of my season. I have mixed feelings about my triathlon body; sometimes I’ll see nice definition and think ‘yeh, I’m rocking this extra weight’, other times I’ll just hate that weight and will moan to anyone who will listen. My poor husband is generally the one on the receiving end of my complaints about my legs being too fat, my bottom too big, or just feeling generally heavy. Luckily he takes it well and tells me to stop being silly…although we do both agree that my legs are ridiculously heavy for my body. This year was probably the first year in a very long time that I felt confident in a bikini on a beach though, so that’s progress.
It doesn’t matter if you’re slow
Unless you’re aiming for a spot on Team GB, it really doesn’t matter if you’re slow as long as you are enjoying yourself. I’m not a fast swimmer (lack of biceps), or a fast cyclist (weak quads), and running has quite frankly been a disaster after being diagnosed with hyperextension in my feet earlier this year. However I have enough in me to get through training and to enjoy a race, and it’s the enjoyment factor that is most important. Generally most people will come to triathlon with at least one strong discipline, but with impressive determination to work on their weaker disciplines – and that is what’s so magical about triathlon. All elements of the race are technically challenging (and don’t even get me started on transitions…) but none of the elements are insurmountable. All it takes is a little bit of time, effort and dedication and you will easily be able to complete the race. This winter I will be focussing on getting stronger though, I want to have power behind me so I can have a fast season next year.
You’ll crave make-up and accessorising
Okay, so this is one for the girls. I know there are female triathletes out there who manage to balance looking lovely and immaculate with being a total badass in triathlon (in fact I’m following plenty on Instagram). However I am not that kind of triathlete and tend to look like a swamp monster most of the time. I have never really been one for wearing mascara or accessorising with jewellery anyway, but when you realise that in order to get to work on time after a morning in the pool you have no choice but to discard such frivolities, well, that’s when you really want to wear make-up and a nice necklace and bracelet. Perhaps this will be what I work on during next year’s racing season. That being said, I am now racing in the most vivid pink tri suit possible, and as someone who avoids wearing colour in everyday life, I find it somewhat amusing that I am leaning towards a colour that I would usually shudder at.
Mental strength is the most important ingredient
Despite all the hours of training I put in, the one thing that actually got me through my races was a positive mental attitude. Unfortunately it took me half a year to figure this out and as a consequence I severely underperformed in all of my races up until about June. Luckily something magical happened from July onwards and I was able to relax and enjoy myself whilst finishing off the season with an abundance of enthusiasm and passion towards the sport.
Don’t overfill your race schedule
After having a year of very minimal racing (whilst finishing my Masters, working full-time, planning our wedding and completely renovating the house we had bought that year…), when registration for the 2016 races started opening I may have been a little over-enthusiastic about what I could physically take on. Take March for example…I had a race every weekend, including a destination race and one weekend where I had to take part in Swimathon (as I was one of the official bloggers for it) plus a 10K race the very next day. This was also at a time when fuelling was a major issue for me…poor nutrition plus 5 races to get through during my busiest month at work is essentially a recipe for disaster. Plus it was still winter and cold and I was just miserable. I still don’t know how I survived March. My last race of the season was towards the end of September at Hever Castle and although this was my all-time favourite triathlon, I probably won’t sign up for it next year. September just felt a little too late to be ending the season – I could quite happily have completed the Oysterman at the end of August and been satisfied. I’m still trying to figure out my race schedule for next year but will learn from my mistakes (I say, knowing full well that I have already booked onto 4 events for 2017 already…).
So, here’s to next year – another year of triathlon!