Triathlon: Things I’ve Learnt

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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!

 

Race Report: Hever Castle Triathlon

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In terms of picturesque triathlon locations, it doesn’t get much better than Hever Castle. I had been booked onto this race for an entire year and knew that this was the one I wanted to take part in to close my season. Aside from the fact that it is extremely pretty, it is also the most challenging course I did all year.

Whilst the swim was not particularly challenging, the lake is rather grim underfoot. Our wave was due to start at 9.15am so by 9 we were at the side of the lake being briefed by the course director on what to expect throughout the race. The day beforehand we received an email with the good news that the water temperature was 17’C and therefore wetsuits were non-compulsory. I did have a brief moment where I contemplated discarding my wetsuit in favour of a faster transition, but was glad I dismissed such a silly idea before racing. I sat on the side of the pontoon and dipped my toes in the water and thought that the water felt ok, however when I slid off and submerged my whole body I realised just how cold things actually were. Lakes always feel colder than the sea to me which is why I prefer sea swims in events. The good thing about Hever is that the lake is shallow enough to stand up at the start, however underfoot is so squishy and grim that you really don’t feel inclined to put your feet down for fear of what it is you are actually standing on.

Somehow I ended up at the front of the start line which was not my original plan – I had wanted to hang back to avoid getting kicked in the torso whilst swimming as I had some bruised ribs which were pretty painful, but clearly racing mentality took over. Soon enough we were off on the swim and heading out towards the turnaround buoy. The water soon warmed up whilst swimming and unfortunately I ended up swallowing a fair bit of it too as there was so much splashing up front – this was something I desperately wanted to avoid as the water looks horrid (I drank a lot of coke after the race so hopefully won’t get too sick from this). Eventually we were on the homestretch and were being pulled out of the water by the very helpful marshals (it’s quite steep climbing out of the lake so you need a hand) and then running up hill into transition. I heard a lot of people moaning about how steep the 100m run out of the lake and into transition was, but it wasn’t anything like the Oysterman slope so this didn’t cause any concern for me.

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Getting through the swim felt easy, and mentally I was telling myself that I was a third of the way through the race and could easily do the other two disciplines (in reality in terms of distance, completing the swim is nowhere near a third of the way through the race but it helps me to visualise it this way). I tried not to faff around too much in transition and before I knew it was heading out of transition and onto the bike route. Just as I made it to the mount line I realised there was something wrong with my pedal so had to spend a minute sorting that out, but once I was on the bike I felt comfortable and confident…initially. Now, I know the Hever bike route is hilly, but I think I had forgotten just how hilly it was. The first 2Km of the cycle was a climb and I secretly hoped that that would be the worst of it…oh how naive I was. It was climb after climb after climb after climb. And I really hate hills. Also, as it was undulating country lanes a lot of the route was shaded from trees, which may have looked pretty, but also meant I was suffering from the cold a bit whilst not drying off fully. There were some great bits to the bike though; every KM was marked which helped me to tick off the distance mentally and break it down into manageable sections, when some of the super speedy men overtook me on a climb they would shout words of encouragement to me, one of my fellow coached triathletes was out cheering in one of the villages, and I received two comments from ladies complimenting me on my trisuit. There were also some very nasty bike crashes I saw and a few punctures too…I was most worried about the bike section and just kept willing myself to get through it unscathed and without any mechanical issues. Because of this I didn’t push myself as hard as I perhaps should have, although certainly wasn’t just coasting my way through it.

Eventually I was on the last climb with only 2KM to go and knew I could make it back safely. By this point my whole torso was aching from being hunched over on my bike and I really felt like I needed a good run to shake things out.

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Heading back into transition I quickly had a sachet of baby food and a drink of water, put some lipbalm and my Advent Running hat on, moved my race number to the front and then out I went. By this point the sun was really warm and I was so excited to have my run and knew the finish was in sight. At the start of the run you have to climb a bridge to clear yourself of the bike route, and that was enough to make me keel over in pain (as evidenced in the above photo!) before managing to compose myself once again and giving the run all I could. The run is essentially a trail run but my shoes seem to be ok coping with all kinds of terrain, of course though, the first third of the route was pretty much all up hill again – I was certainly starting to feel the burn in my legs. Eventually things levelled out and I was at the next water station where I stopped for a few seconds to drink properly rather than run and drink, this was such a welcome break as the water felt ice cold and really left me feeling refreshed and ready to attack the rest of the run. After a bit more running I could feel the end was near and after one last gentle incline I could start to see and hear the crowds cheering us on. I didn’t quite give my usual sprint finish but I did have a consistent and well-paced run from start to finish which left me feeling incredibly happy.

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And so, there I was having finished my season of triathlon, feeling exhausted but proud of all that I had accomplished over the course of the year and ready to grow stronger throughout the winter so that I am racing fit for 2017. My little biceps are starting to grown (well, on my right arm…not so much on the left) and I feel as though I have really trained my mind to be able to take on anything that is thrown at me. Whilst I have found the training exhausting and draining at times, that feeling of accomplishment on race day more than makes up for it. I really do love the sport of triathlon.

 

#thetrilifereporter – month 5

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As you know, I’m currently being trained by Liz Scott at part of the thetrilife Masters Program which involves me writing a monthly update on how things have gone. On the whole this month was a pretty good one in terms of training; I did my first official brick session at the beginning of the month with a short run after cycling home from work (in ridiculously windy conditions) and I took part in my first super sprint triathlon of the year.

I expected to find the brick session pretty challenging but ended up being faster on my feet than usual with a 9 minute mile (although I’m a fairly slow runner anyway) and I really enjoyed myself too. The trick apparently is to lift up your pelvis and run tall which is something I will try to be mindful of in future brick sessions.

As for the triathlon, it was really good fun. Aside from the fact that it was an afternoon race which posed all sorts of questions and dilemmas in terms of fuelling, my swim and bike were strong. In fact, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging here, but my bike was really strong. This came as a surprise to me as although I have been enjoying my bike training I know that this is probably my weakest discipline, especially when it comes to hills…the short and sweet bike route had two monstrous hills but I even managed to chick a guy on the first one. I think I perhaps need to be a bit kinder and thank my powerful legs for what they can do a little more often. Unfortunately my run was pretty dreadful though, I think I just ran out of steam which I suspect was in part not knowing what to eat throughout the day…because, you know…didn’t really want to throw up mid-race. I was also wearing a trisuit which didn’t have a pocket meaning I had to leave my inhaler in transition which I really could have done with during on the run (poor asthmatic lungs).

So, as with all events, I learnt a lot and know what to fix for the next race!

The other semi-good thing that happened this month was that my foot pain that I have been complaining about for years and which really flared up when I started triathlon training has finally been diagnosed (after numerous x-rays, scans etc) as hyper-extension. So now when I run I strap my feet up and so far it has dramatically reduced the pain which I hope means I’ll get a little speedier as my training progresses. Oh, and my front crawl miraculously came on leaps and bounds…I’m certainly getting there with my stamina!

I must admit though, whilst writing this at the end of the month, I do feel extremely tired. I can’t quite figure out if it’s mental or physical tiredness but I am beginning to feel a bit worn out from my training. Hopefully with a bit of a shake up in my routine at the beginning of July whilst I am on holiday (and without a bike, tragically!) I will re-find my love and motivation to get stuck back into things once I am back and ready to tackle my big events head on, fully-rested, and with ridiculous enthusiasm.

#thetrilifereporter – month 3

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It felt like things just fell into place this month. I went out on my first outdoor cycle of the year, learnt to relax in my swimming and got a few extra miles into my legs, it was also noticeably warmer and sunnier which helped.

As you may already know, I’m a pretty lazy swimmer and tend to opt for breast stroke over front crawl just because…well…it’s early in the morning, I’m still half asleep and breast stroke is just oh so easy. But this month I managed to snap out of my lazy spell (sort of…) and swam front crawl for at least half of my main sets which I was pretty pleased with. I think one of the reasons I opt for breast stoke is that my front crawl technique is just not that good which makes it feel like I have to put in so much more effort to get it right. I’ve had a few good conversations with people in my lanes though and one of my aims for May is to book a swimming lesson with an instructor at my pool so that I can see what needs improving.

In terms of cycling, it was so good to get outside and get some real miles under my belt. There’s nothing sadder than cycling indoors on the turbo on a dark and gloomy evening. Honestly, you just feel so sorry for yourself if you’re not in the right frame of mind for a session like that. I also decided to cycle MTB miles rather than road miles during April as I fancied something a bit more technical. My Bianchi has been dusted off though and is ready for plenty of May miles.

As for my running, well, I finally went to the physio as I’ve been struggling with pain in my feet. I’ve actually been struggling for the past two years and just chose to run through the pain but it became pretty bad at the beginning of April when all I wanted to do was run, but each run left me barely able to walk the next day. Things are starting to feel a little bit better though and I managed to run quite a lot during the second part of the month.

I also had a work trip to NYC which meant I was sans pool and bike for a week (I couldn’t face the sad looking bike in the hotel gym) so spent that week focussing on good quality running which was incredible. I was really looking forward to that week as there are times when all I want to do is run, rather than the other disciplines of triathlon. Whilst I don’t think New York is the best place for running, mostly as I was using it as a form of commuting instead of the subway and so had to battle traffic lights and tourists all the time, it was really great fun and made me fall in love with running all over again. I also got to run Brooklyn Bridge which was on my bucket list. In my head I’ve been telling myself that after this year of triathlon is done I would revert back to ‘just running’. Somewhat surprisingly though, I found myself really missing the pool whilst I was away…so I guess that makes me a real triathlete now, right?

So, on the whole I have really enjoyed the training I’ve been doing as part of thetrilife Masters Program this month and it’s no longer an effort to fit training in as it just feels like part of my lifestyle now. Which is all rather pleasing, really.

 

#thetrilifereporter – month 2

This month has been tough. Really tough. March is always my busiest and most stressful time at work so thinking I could cram 5 sporting events over the course of 4 weekends plus training six days each week into a month that would ordinarily push me to my limits has, well, pushed me to my limits.

There have been moments where I have caught myself just staring at a blank wall, completely motionless because my mind and my body was just so ‘over it’. And there have been times where I really began to question whether I was cut out for sport at all. Then there are those ‘I don’t know how you do it’ comments from people you bump into on a daily basis and instead of breaking down with a bit of a tired sob, you just smile and say ‘because I love it’. And I do, honestly. I love swimming, I love cycling, I really love running, I’m just a bit worn out.

This month of training has brought my aches and pains back to life – I think when you train so much people just assume that your body copes with that level of intensity with ease and that you always feel great. Well, that’s definitely not the case. I’m fairly certain I have stress fractures or some kind of problem with my feet, I’ve had x-rays on them a few times now and each time the x-ray rather frustratingly comes back clear. The thing is my feet don’t hurt during exercise and I’m fairly certain it isn’t affecting my performance too much, but they do hurt afterwards when I’m trying to walk in everyday life. I also felt a bit of a twinge in my back in week 3 which immediately motivated me to restart the exercises my physio gave me last year. It’s amazing how in-tune you feel with your body when you push it to the limits each day.

The training I’ve been doing as part of thetrilife Masters Program has definitely had a positive impact on my racing this month though, and in particular on my result in this year’s Swimathon. I can safely say that without the swim sessions I would not have been able to perform anywhere near as well as I did. For the first time in my life I’m growing some bicep muscles too – or rather, I am on my right arm (the left side of my body always fails to develop muscle tone – no idea why, but I’m essentially lopsided). At the moment I wish I was running more as part of my training as that’s what I miss the most, but I have to say I am pleased with my performance in this month’s races. Admittedly I dropped out of race number 4, but that was due to take place the day after Swimathon which was an over-ambitious target in the first place, and soon became impossible when I forgot to carb-load and taper. So instead of viewing my DNS as a failure, I’m actually taking it as a small win as it’s not often that my over-achieving self makes good decisions like that.

I’m secretly hoping that as the weather begins to warm up things will start to feel easier. I am a firm believer in most things being mind over matter and I feel like at the moment I’m just clinging on, surviving, waiting for sunnier and warmer days to arrive. Once they’re here I’ll feel less weather-beaten on my beach runs, will enjoy cycling to work and will even be able to start swim training in the sea once summer well and truly sets in. There is so much to look forward to with the changing of the seasons.

So, lessons learnt for this month? Don’t ever contemplate booking 5 races into a month again – 1 would be preferable, 2 would be okay (at the moment I have one race booked each month for the rest of this year so I must resist temptation to book onto more). The world is not going to fall apart if you miss a training session or race, nor does that make you lazy. And start believing in your ability to be a good athlete – you’ve got all the tools, it’s just a case of using them properly.

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