Sometimes it can be a struggle to train, right? Whether you’re a newbie to triathlon, or an old-hand, sometimes it is such a drag to get out there when the weather seems to be against you, and life gets in the way. In this sixth and final article in our Starting Triathlon series, we hope to inspire and motivate you by sharing a personal story and some handy tips.
Growing up in the West Midlands I found myself an oddball, an outsider. Most of my friends, inspired by Aston Villa, West Brom, and Wolves, played football. I rode a bike. The peace and tranquillity of the Shropshire lanes and the adventure of discovering far off villages filled my time. Life was simple, and it was good.
Fast forward twenty years and I’d become another work obsessed thirty-something in desperate need of losing a few pounds, well 70 of them in fact. Suddenly afflicted with heart palpitations, I went to see my local old-school doctor. The news wasn’t catastrophic, but equally it wasn’t great. I had no permanent damage - good. But, with blood pressure almost off the scale, unless I radically changed by lifestyle, my chances of seeing my 40th weren’t great and my 50th? Almost an improbability the doc informed me.
“I told everyone that I was going to do a triathlon. Amazingly, most people were really supportive even though, as a fat lad, the whole thing seemed a little ridiculous.”
Now, around this time my brother and sister-in-law were doing spectacular things in the Tri-World. Si was, and still is, ultra-disciplined in his approach to training. He worked for results and, I believe, is a testimony to what a focused training approach can allow people to achieve. Rhian, on the other hand, was a force to be reckoned with, from winning her first ever triathlon to getting bronze in the ITU World Age Group Championships. Not bad for someone who couldn’t ride a bike just a few years before!
Anyhow, I was boring them about how I was going to get fit, going to lose weight, going to… when Rhian said, “Ok, so why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and do a triathlon?”. I love a bet and, I have to admit, I really love to prove people wrong. The bet was on!
It was when I assessed my current condition and compared it against where I needed to be that the enormity of what I’d bet on, hit me. Here’s my day-one analysis:
Target: 400-m pool swim
Current: 25-m of breaststroke (just)
Target: 22-km hilly course
Current: not able to ride up the 50-m hill to my house
Event: 5-km out-and-back up a steep hill
Actual: unable to run for one minute
Ninety days to the event and it’s fair to say that I had some work to do. I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of those three months, but these are the things that really helped me when everything hurt, and my mind wanted to sink back into the comfort of food and drink:
Tell everyone - I told everyone that I was going to do a triathlon. Amazingly, most people were really supportive even though, as a fat lad, the whole thing seemed a little ridiculous. I told so many people, that failing to complete the event would be a complete blow to my ego.
Follow a plan - I followed training plans: the beginner’s program from The Lance Armstrong Performance Program, and a ‘my first 5-k program’ from Runner’s World.
Keep a diary - I recorded every training session along with my daily waking weight. It was so motivating seeing my weight and times decrease.
Visualise - I lived and breathed triathlon. I created a vision in my mind that was so real, it was as if I had already completed the event.
Find role-models, mentors, and coaches – I found so many people who helped me. Friends, relatives, others aiming for their first event, staff in the swimming pool, and members of cycling and triathlon clubs.
Adapt – I had great plans, but not everything always goes to plan as you’ll soon read.
Sixty days in and things went a little off the rails, to say the least. I’d taken the bike to France. I’d planned on a week of training and remote working. Everything was perfect with undulating lanes passing through picturesque countryside, the sun warming my body, and fresh produce offering wonderful meals. Then, I had a mechanical. Fifteen kilometres from base, my bike failed, and I chose to run my bike back to base. At three times my longest run and bare-footed, it was a stupid idea.
“Our bodies are extraordinary. Give them the right training and nutrition, and they can achieve the seemingly impossible.”
That unplanned run caused all sorts of problems. The main one being that my plantar fascia became so inflamed that I couldn’t run until the day of the event. Luckily, it didn’t seem to affect riding or swimming. But on that note, my swimming wasn’t exactly going to plan. I’m sure that I have heavy legs and add to that my total detest of having my head underwater, it’s no surprise that my swimming was looking like a ‘total fail’ in the making.
As we got to the day of the event, things weren’t exactly looking great. Here’s how I stood:
Freestyle max 75-m. Breaststroke max 200-m
Completed some 40-km rides
Had reached 5-km, but unable to run for a month
So, I wasn’t exactly perfectly positioned for my first Tri, but some things were on my side. The coaching and mentoring I had received gave me confidence - I knew what to expect and how to deal with things if they went wrong (keep going and never give up). I’d also lost about 30 pounds so was feeling much better, and although swimming was my Achilles heel, I had refound my love for the bike.
On event day, breaststroke was my only option. Once the shock of sharing a lane with so many people subsided, adrenaline and excitement pushed me to swim the entire 400-m non-stop. I was in the slowest one percent for swim time, but I completed it – my longest swim ever.
“The pain was there, but I could move. Slowly, one foot in front of the other, I was moving.”
As I got out of the pool, my heart was in my mouth like a frenzied bass unit pulsating through my entire body. I’d opted for a tri-suit, so I transitioned quickly, and I was on the bike passing people before I knew it. The feeling of passing fit looking people when 90 days before I was one of the most out of shape examples of humankind, was so inspiring and humbling. Our bodies are extraordinary. Give them the right training and nutrition, and they can achieve the seemingly impossible. I finished in the top third on the bike leg.
As I came off the bike, I slipped into my pre-laced trainers and started to run for the first time in a month. The pain was there, but I could move. Slowly, one foot in front of the other, I was moving. The 5-km run was the hardest run I have ever done. It lasted an eternity. Everything hurt. I wanted to walk when things got steep, but you can never stop, can you? Eventually, I finished the 5-km in a time close to 50 minutes – I know, some people can walk that fast.
Looking back, I remember all those frustrating hours in the pool, putting my bike in the car so that I could ride somewhere flat, running 50 metres and having to stop, the people that encouraged me during training, the spectators cheering on race day, the new sensations I felt during the race, and the agony of those final kilometres. And, do you know what? I can’t recall the finish. I have the medal. I have the t-shirt. I have a new transformed life, but no memory of the finish line. But, as they say, the journey is more important than the destination.
[Ed: twelve years on and I’m loving the bike, seventy-five pounds lighter, and still…I hate swimming!]
This concludes our Starting Triathlon series, but don’t worry because we’ll have plenty of future posts that you’ll love to read. Next week we start a new series on Time Trialling. As a triathlete, time trialling can provide you with an excellent way to improve your bike leg. In the meantime, we would love to hear about your first triathlon. Pop a comment down below, or message us to share.
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