Tomorrow is the first day

… of official triathlon training 🙂

You know me. I do like a plan and my 12 week plan starts tomorrow. It’s not too much different from what I do at the moment, just with a few more focused sessions for swimming and running – distances and paces to hit. And then some brick sessions in a few weeks’ time. I am excited about it. Can you tell?

I love having an event to focus on and train for. I know I can happily keep things ticking over when I don’t and even enjoy trying things that aren’t on plan occasionally, but the focus seems to suit me. I’m also sticking a 10k race in one weekend and probably another aquathlon a couple of weeks before my tri.

I’m not going into this with huge expectations. My swim time is not that fast; I’ll be on a bike with nobbly tyres, and my 5k time puts me at the back of the middle of the pack for parkrun. But I’m massively looking forward to the challenge and am warming to the other disciplines as my run mileage decreases.

So, as they say in one of my favourite movies, here goes nothing…

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A parkrun a ride and a celebratory haggis

Some frost, some sunshine, a couple of early starts and lots of training activity this week means I’m feeling good. Feeling good too, because I wasn’t as worn out as last week by the time Friday came around. My diet could have been better as I’ve been on a bit of a sugar rush and couldn’t be trusted around the office biscuits, but I’m not going to beat myself up over that.

Up and about getting ready for parkrun on Saturday morning, opting for warm layers and a change of clothes for later. I even had time to get my race entry in for the Northumberland Coastal run before setting off. So that’s me, running at least 13 miles, mainly off road this July. I hope it’s a lot more enjoyable than my last off-road race, but I already know there will be a fair few friends doing it too, which should make it a good day.

I met Penny as I parked up and we fell into our usual easy chat, comparing training sessions as we walked up to the park. There seemed even more runners than last week milling around and a grand turnout of Fetchies.

No plans for how to run this week, just see how I feel. But as Penny seems happy to start beside me in the middle of the pack, sticking with her for as long as I can seems to be a good goal. Not much wind this week and once we’re round the first corner the pace feels fast as we stretch out over the moor.

Penny pulls ahead just before the 1km mark and I’m happy to let her go, although I try not to let her pull away too much of a lead. Out along the back onto Grandstand Road is my favourite bit of the course and I feel like I’m running well, stretching out and rather warmer than I expected to be.

Back through the gate and onto the rougher ground and I’m still okay, but my quads are starting to feel stiff and achey. Quick mental check, breathing’s good, head’s good – yeah, push on.

Round the corner by the museum, over the stony path. This is always the tough part. Is it me or is this a slight incline. It’s usually into the wind. I hear a hard breathing runner behind me. Sorry mate, but I’m going to make you work to get past me, I can’t afford to let my head drop now.

My quads are screaming now, like they do when we turn the resistance up in spin class and the instructor yells ‘sprint’. I try to do the opposite of what I feel and get my legs turning over faster, keep pushing on. The hard breathing runner goes past and I cannot match his pace.

There’s the 4k gate and a sense of relief, just easy on the smooth path to the turn and try and pick up the pace a little. Stewart shouts out encouragement and reminds me to finish fast. Either the legs have stopped burning or I’ve turned off the bit of my brain that notices and I begin to lengthen my stride, thinking smooth, easy, relaxed. The stream of runners fluoresce yellow, pink and red against the grey path.

As the last lamppost approaches I gear it up a notch and another. There are two men ahead of me, still distant, but I’m reducing the gap. Pushing on harder, longer strides and then picking my point to start the sprint. Power down, get the arms going and turn over the legs. I cruise past the first guy and realise I have a chance at the second. Sprint right through the line. He gets away this time – but it’s closer than I thought it would be.

Ah there’s Jeff by the finish line, encouraging me to go for it in the dying seconds of the race. I pant my way back to normal breathing, which causes some consternation among my fellow runners waiting to hand over their barcodes and chips. But I’m fine.

I glance at the watch to see 25.29 and am surprised. I didn’t feel like it was a great run, and I knew I’d slowed down between 3 and 4 k. But I said at the start I wanted to get closer to 25 and that’s definitely heading in the right direction. I can’t remember my PB for this course – but I know it’s close. Checking the results later I’m just 5 seconds slower.

In the queue to return my timing chip I turn to see Lesley and Dave heading for the line and think to myself, that looks like a sub 30. Catching up with Fetchies at the finish, it’s great to hear the flurry of PBs on a great day for a run. Great too to catch up and refuel in the cafe, to talk of runs done and planned and get the full horror of the Bog of Doom from Penny.

Stats and stuff:
5k 25.29
kilometre splits:
1. 4.56
2. 5.14
3. 5.14
4. 5.23
5. 4.40
Sunday
I enjoy a slower start to Sunday. A bit of a lie in and then catching up on chores. We’re hosting an early Burns Night for our friends from the farm who deliver our organic meat, fruit and veg each week – including this week, the haggis. So I nip to the supermarket for some extra supplies to make cranachan.

Then back home for a quick tidy up and putting washing on before I finally get chance to head out on my bike. The plan is to head out and see how far I get in an hour, to give it some welly and keep pedalling fast and to use my summer long run route to get off road.

I’m straight into the wind as soon as I head off. This is a universal law of cycling, along with the one that says your back tyre is never as pumped up as you’d like it to be. But I’m away and much more confident out along the coast road, overtaking some casual cyclists and nipping down a side street to avoid stopping at road works and traffic lights.

I’m eager to get to the Waggonways and enjoy the freedom and safety of being off road. As I enter the pathways I have a brief stop for a drink of water and to check the time. And then I’m off down the muddy pathways, revelling in the freedom and space.

Catching up with the walkers and dog walkers who all make way and smile as I go past. Slowing down for a gorgeous wee yellow lab puppy, who behaves very well on his lead for his mum. The route is mainly flat and not too slippy, though there are places where I can feel my legs working harder.

Too soon 30 minutes has gone and it’s time to turn back. I pick an arbitrary landmark and stop for another mouthful of water and dried apricot from my pocket, then head back. I’ve either found my bike legs or the wind is behind me as I fly back down the paths, adrenaline pumped with the speed of the ride.

I notch it up a ring and keep pedalling (that’s good isn’t it?). This feels like I remember bike riding, when you’re steady and in control, but flying down paths between the trees. All the way home I’m in a higher gear than on the way out. Even on the road I feel more confident and settled.

As I approach the end of my street, I’ve been out for just over an hour and my Garmin tells me I’ve covered 18.4k. I’m enjoying this so much I instantly decide to tack on a wee loop to give me a base time for 20k – the distance I’ll be riding in my triathlon.

It means tackling a steep hill, but I’m ready for it. Pedalling fast, then dropping a gear and powering to the top with a great big grin. Through the village and back home the long way. I eventually stop the watch at 1 hour 7 minutes and a smidgeon over 20k, then freewheel down my street and home.

My bike is suitably muddy, so gets a quick scrub in the back yard before I give myself the same treatment in the shower. My legs are bike wobbly as I head up the stairs and I hope a few stretches will encourage them to forgive me.  But I think I may actually be enjoying this cycling lark.

Our friends arrive early bearing chocolate brownies, and our first home made organic haggis is a success. As is the cranachan, doused in the whisky that was in my prize bag from the Saltwell 10k. It’s a great, if indulgent way to round off a week’s training and look forward to more to come.

Going swimmingly

On Thursday evening I nipped off to the pool while Gary was enjoying his wine tasting class. The swim lane was busy, so I had to take my chances in the main pool with the aim of completing one 400m set and then swimming some more lengths focusing on technique.

I allowed myself a decent warm up, including a 100m set of front crawl, then took a rest and went into start my 400m set. But although my warm up had been slow and controlled, I immediately started rushing through the strokes. It’s like I just want it to be over as quickly as possible and windmilling my arms will speed me to the next turn.

I stopped after a couple of lengths, got my head together, swam a controlled length or two and started again. And it was a bit better, but I’m still rushing it. Rushing for the next opportunity to breathe or take a second at the end of a lap.

I had a bit of a messy head part way through, my mind taunting me saying ‘Why are you doing this? You’re not enjoying it. Who are you trying to impress?’ Hmmm, it looks like the monkey may have learned to swim.

Dodging some of the diagonal breast strokers took my mind off my mental doubts for a while. And slowing down, making the most of every stroke, relaxing on the out and in breaths got me back into a sensible rhythm again. So pretty soon there were only 5 more lengths to go and I knew I could do that.

I turned on the speed a little for the last three lengths, making a conscious effort to really push off the sides. My left goggle filled with water as I pushed off for the penultimate lap, so I ended up with one eye shut and a rather thrashy last lap, legs kicking, hard breathing, fingertips stretching for the wall.

I stopped the watch and saw 9:02 before it flicked over to pause. My fastest 400m front crawl to date. That was well worth a small skirmish with a swimming monkey. And I know there’s more in there. A faster turn around, a stronger push off, a more regular, slow, long and even stroke – there are seconds to be knocked off that time.

It’s a good starting base for my tri training which officially begins in a couple of weeks time. To be honest, if I can keep that kind of time for the swim, I’ll be very happy. And realistically I can expect to improve a bit if I keep practising and swim focused sessions regularly. But more importantly the lesson, as always, is to relax and enjoy. In swimming and running it brings me great rewards.

Reflections

I just want to record some reflections on my first aquathlon before they slip away completely.

I was incredibly nervous on the day. Couldn’t help it. Just was.

I did what I could to bring it under control – deep breathing, not overthinking, positive thinking, trying to make light of it. But I was still a mixture of nerves and adrenaline at the start.

I knew that getting into a pool full of water already being churned up by other people swimming was likely to be a bit off-putting.

I didn’t expect to find myself really gasping for breath on the first couple of lengths and grabbing onto the sides of the pool so often for a breather. I didn’t find it a problem swimming with other people in my lane – largely because I was never in danger of getting close to any of them.

During the swim I did think ‘Why am I doing this? It’s not fun.’ But I did it. Something kept me going. And I’ve only recently got up to swimming the race distance of 500m in one go. Previously, the kind of spluttering, panicked breathing that I demonstrated at times during the swim would have stopped me completely.

And when it comes to annoying distractions during your first multi-discipline event – having the alarm go off and being told you’ll have to get out of the pool is a pretty good one. But I’m just treating it as an interesting and amusing anecdote. If that’s the worst that happens to me in a race – I’ll take that.

My time for the swim, including the disruption caused by the alarm, was 12:51. The last time I did a 500m swim in training, it was 12:18. So really, I didn’t do that badly. In fact, I probably need to slow down and conserve some energy in the swim when I come to do another event.

Transition wasn’t a problem. In fact I relished the chance to catch my breath. My Hilly twin skin socks were like kisses on my feet and I trusted my Nikes that have seen me through so many miles this year to get me through.

But I think I carried a bit of the anxiousness of the swim into the run. I was still uncomfortable with my breathing and didn’t push it, allowing myself to ease off to run at a more conservative pace. I think this is something I need to work on on shorter runs. I spent so long trying to slow down and take it easy on longer runs in preparation for the GNR, that I’m avoiding the chest burning, slightly anaerobic state that I can sustain on shorter courses.

For most of this run I was on my own, no one else in sight. That’s probably because I was last in my lane and towards the later end of the first wave. So I didn’t have my competitive instinct fired up. Also, I’ve got used to racing at parkrun where there’s always someone ahead to chase down or someone behind that you can make work to overtake you.

Again, that’s something to work on for triathlon and dual discipline events. It’s not about who you beat, but your overall time that counts. So you really are just challenging yourself.

Good points about the run. I was never cold, which was surprising, given it was pretty darn chilly. My new tri suit was very comfortable and dried out very quickly. And somewhere after the first lap I did start to enjoy it, mainly because I knew I could finish.

And that’s what it was about really. Finishing it. Gaining the experience and knowing what to expect, so I’ll be a bit better prepared for the next one. Because make no mistake, there will be a next one.

There will be a next one because, after having said all that, I loved it. The adrenaline buzz and sense of achievement are massive. I am really proud of myself for having tackled it and I want to do it again.

I want to do it again because I know I can do better. Even if I just avoided the long pauses at the end of the swim length to catch my breath and settle my head, I’d be faster.

But I can work on my swimming. Swim longer. Improve my technique. Try and get some more practice in a busy pool. And I wouldn’t expect to go through the fire alarm drama again.

I’ll try out some swim coaching sessions with a tri club. I’ve already had some very friendly invitations and will take up one or two of them and see how I get on. Right now I have a couple of runs that I’d like to focus on, and I don’t want to take on too much. But pool swim training over the winter would be good and I’ve already dropped my run mileage considerably.

I keep coming back to my experience of my first race, the North Tyneside 10k in 2009 . Now when I think about it, I remember the buzz, the sense of achievement and the sheer joy captured in a photograph as I crossed the finish line.

But I was incredibly nervous then too. I did get a stressed head on. I didn’t like running in a crowd of people, being jostled, being passed, hearing others’ heavy feet and heavy breathing.

At the end of that race I was pleased to have finished but had a sense there was more in me if I looked for it. At that point I was projecting forward to my goal of completing my first half marathon. And I had a sense that it was going to be hard. That it would take some serious training and commitment. But it wasn’t impossible.

That’s how I feel about taking on a triathlon next year now. Struggling a bit and being at the back of the pack in the aquathlon has been a useful reminder that this will be a challenge and I shouldn’t take it lightly. I should respect it and celebrate that achievement when it comes. But it’s not an unrealistic challenge. It is possible. It is within me.