As you know, I have been a coached athlete since October last year. This has been an enlightening period for me and I felt it was time for a bit of a review. One of the biggest issues I faced when following a generic plan was that of exhaustion. I blindly followed the instructions and constantly found myself very tired. With no-one to talk to, it’s hard to understand why and what you should do about it.
Since having a coach, one of the biggest benefits has been having someone to discuss minutiae with. How a session went, what you should do if you’re just not feeling it etc. It’s been very refreshing! Secondly I’ve also found that whilst I am working very hard, the gains have been significant; across all aspects. I’m tired, as the sessions are hard, but with the structure of someone who knows what they’re doing, I rarely find myself beyond the brink. If I do, we talk and we adapt. Simples!
I’ve always been a fairly strong swimmer, but it’s fair to say also a little lacking in technique. I’m fairly resigned to the fact that I will never have a decent kick, but hey it’s something to work on. I’ve seen huge progress in the past few months, with times (for all they matter in training) tumbling down. Shaving 10 seconds off a 400m PB AFTER a 1900m set was a highlight. Equally, almost a year apart to the day I did a 20 x 100m set and each 100m was 15 seconds quicker. Fingers crossed this form continues over to the outdoor stuff!
The single biggest area of progress in my mind has been in my running. Since changing my shoes I have seen massive gains in my running performance. I still don’t know if it’s psychological or a genuine change from natural running, but it’s working. I am now comfortably running in excess of 10k in every training session, from easy runs through to tempo sessions. Most importantly I’m able to run faster and further with it.
These are harder to measure. Most of my work over the winter has been, like many, on the turbo. I’ve done a few rides outdoors and initially didn’t feel like much had changed, probably due to the point in the training block. Recently i’ve done a couple of solo rides where things have just clicked. I was able to zip along at speeds that previously were only really done when in a large group on a fine day; rather than alone in a hurricane! Time will tell with this one, but things are looking good!
One thing I did try recently was some different nutrition products. I’ve been a Science in Sport user for some time and figured that the off season was a chance to experiment. I won some Ucan at a show last year but hadn’t got round to trying it. First impressions were that whilst it seemed good from an energy point of view, (although tricky to tell off one ride with so much else that has changed), the consistency isn’t great. It was reminiscent of certain gels, I felt like I needed some water to wash it down. Not ideal from the hydration element of your fuelling strategy! So things aren’t looking good for our relationship!
We’ve recently entered another level of training, so we’ll see how that goes. But fingers crossed, things are looking good for the season aims.
As per my post of a few months back I’m now firmly putting myself in the category of a swimming improver. As I noted in the last post, I’ve been working hard on various drills throughout my training and have definitely been getting quicker over the months. My coaches would say that a lot of this is down to brute strength as my stroke has been labelled ‘horrible’ and much worse! I still have major leg sinking problems, very rigid ankles and cross my arms. I’ve been concentrating on trying to lengthen my stroke and keep my arms wide. I’ve also having some tailored advice as to specific drills to work on.
To help with the leg sinking I’ve purchased a Finis Axis Buoy as it can lock my ankles and keep them afloat. Next up are some Finis Freestyler Paddles as if your stroke is wrong on entry, they fall off! Finally a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro to help with my pacing. After that it’s down to me and thinking about my stroke!
I’ve decided to add an additional session in to my current hectic schedule. Thursdays were a rest day, but now they will have an easy swim technique session coupled with some strength and conditioning. I desperately need to work on core strength following the hernia and have never fitted it in.
Anyway, to the exciting part. Monday nights swim session involved a 400m Time Trial. The last time I swam one was in the Halesowen Triathlon. I’ve gone from a PB of 9:08 to a slightly more respectable 6:41. I’m fully aware this isn’t breathtaking but I’m really pleased with the progress. Next psychological barrier is to break 1:30 for a 100m… The journey continues!
When starting out as a triathlete I wouldn’t say I was particularly skilled in any discipline. Yes, I’d consider myself a good runner, but definitely lacking a lot of fitness and technique after all these years. My cycling was very limited in that I’d been riding a mountain bike for a couple of years but that was it. My swimming was definitely my weakest link, like most I’d learnt to swim when I was young and was perfectly capable, but my time was mostly spent paddling around on holidays and never in any sort of competitive environment.
As any triathlete will know the importance of the swim discipline varies greatly depending on the race distance. Arguably it is at its most significant in the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) as it becomes more of an endurance element. Technically as the distances are exactly half in the Sprint distance it should carry equal weighting but I don’t see it as so as 750m swimming is more of a well, sprint. In the ‘Ironman’ distances the swim is even more skewed, at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire next year I have to swim 1900m, bike 90k and run 21k so as you can see most disciplines are double again over an Olympic apart from the swim which is ‘just’ another 400m.
A little over 12 months ago having just being diagnosed with a hernia, I rocked up at ‘The Pingles’ to meet many new friends at Nuneaton Triathlon Club. The lovely Vanessa took me, like so many before me, under her wing and guided me coughing and spluttering to the other end of the pool. Over the coming weeks I persevered and over time was able to string a few lengths together without stopping for a break, it even at times loosely resembled front crawl!! I starting watching various pro events on TV and as I always do was intrigued to see the speed/times they were swimming. Even now the 1:10 per 100m that the pros do in ITU events seems way out of my abilities and to be fair the fact that in Ironman races they’re doing under 1:30 per 100m for the 3800m is probably also beyond my capabilities 😀.
I didn’t spend much time in open water over the summer but went at least once a week. My biggest issue there is a psychological one, I need to get over my initial fear with the water as it often affected my breathing. Thankfully things were improving as the season ended so fingers crossed we start from where we left off next year!
I now feel like I can swim though… In my first race I swam 9:04 for the 400m pool swim, which is the sort of pace I now do as a warm up at a club session over the same distance or longer. I am now part of the BRAT Club and have a coached session on a Monday evening and through numerous drills, that hurt a lot at the time, I’m really starting to see improvements. As with most things, technique is key and understanding how all of the elements link together has been key. From the angle of arm entry, to the ‘catch’, the position of your ams as they pull through the water, the head position, the roll of the hips, the angle of the leg kick… it’s a lot tot take in when each stroke is over in about 5 seconds! As well as the coached sessions I spend a lot of time doing my own sessions from Sara McLarty’s excellent blog and also watching a lot of videos, particularly the Speedo ones:
At the moment my weakest link is definitely my kick, I’m persevering with the drills using fins, but my word do they hurt! I may be unique in that I am far slower when using fins – I can happily lead the lane doing everything else but drop to the back when we put the fins on – maybe having Size 11 feet and thus huge fins isn’t ideal!?
It’s clearly all working though as on Monday I was overjoyed to set ‘a new PB’ for 100m of 1:37… And that was near the end of a 2k set with lots of leg kicking drills! It may be the shortest discipline of the event and theoretically the least significant for me, but i’m enjoying seeing the improvements.
Last weekend I was incredibly lucky to spend a weekend training with Helen Jenkins, it was a competition I won from 220 Triathlon magazine and was facilitated by Science in Sport, so a special thank you to them as well as Marc, Helen’s husband and triathlete himself!
I received an email earlier in the week informing me that I had won and even better that I could take a friend, cue invite to Anth (thetrinerd). The weekend took place in the sunny Welsh town of Porthcawl, home of the only (in my experience) tarmac beach! Even better it was actually sunny pretty much the whole time!
We had arrived early and were a little unsure what to expect but it turned out upon meeting Helen, Marc and Emma (from Science in Sport) that it was going to be a fairly intensive weekend of training but that they would be joining us for everything – including breakfast! We were presented with a nice Science in Sport Endurance Pack and their new Electrolyte Gels to help us get through the weekend too! We were joined by the other competition winners, Heather, Pete, Ashley and Matt.
Our training schedule for the weekend was as follows:
9am – Park Run
11.30am – Bike Ride
5.30pm – Sea Swim
After all the excitement of the first day we went to bed, ready to do both mine and Anths’ first ever Parkrun in the morning.
We were up at 8am to meet in reception at 8.30 for a warm up. It turns out the Helen had found out the course record and being a typical athlete had decided she needed to have a crack at it – go girl! My right calf has still been causing me grief so I wasn’t expecting much from the Parkrun so I had decided to go out steady and see how we felt…. which was fine until we got to a descent with a dead turn at the end. My calf screamed no as I tried to head back up the hill, thus I had to take it even steadier back, but overall i was happy with a debut time of 23:40!
More importantly is that Helen went out and nailed it, finishing 1st overall and taking the women’s course record in 16:40! Hugely impressive stuff! The prize from Parkrun is probably already in her trophy cabinet…. that’s right, a stick of rock!
After the run we headed back to the hotel for a highly nutritious breakfast, a fried breakfast! Following that we had a short break before meeting downstairs for our cycle ride. The original schedule had alluded to a 2 hour ride, what we ended up with was a little different. A 3+ hour out and back 78km ride through some beautiful countryside, culminating in a climb up a local legend of a hill called the Bwlch. It was a bit of a beast and I was lacking energy… still it was a cracking climb and although I got dropped, who cares, i’d spent large portions of the ride chatting with a double World Champion – the sort of thing you have to pinch yourself for! We were also joined by a friend of Marc and Helen’s, Darren, owner of PedalCover
After the epic ride we had a stretching session with Helen (we got some very odd looks lying on the restaurant floor!) some lunch and a bit of a rest before heading to the sea front for my first ever ocean swim, and indeed the first ever open water swim for a couple of folks!
Things were a little interrupted as, as we were entering the sea via the lifeboat launch, they got called out. A minor disruption but slightly exciting! This was my first time swimming in the sea for any reason other than a holiday paddle. I found it very different to a wetsuit swim in a lake, the salt water tasted awful of course but I felt the extra buoyancy it offered. I also learned that the currents play havoc with my inability to swim in a straight line… something I need to work on and also something that Marc and Helen gave me some guidance on!
After the swim it was back to the hotel for dinner and some well deserved sleep, I was knackered!
Up very early as we were meeting on the beach at 6.30am for our second sea swim, getting into a damp wetsuit is not fun! We were entering the sea from the beach this time which gave us an opportunity to practice beach starts and mid swim beach exits too. Such a shame that I hate sand between my toes!!!! This time I had some time with Marc, Helen and another friend of theirs (sorry i forgot your name!) who were all helping with my sighting issue – it seemed I was able to swim, breathe and sight, just sadly not all at the same time! It also transpired that we were there early as there was a local sprint triathlon on at the same time.
After a well deserved breakfast (another fry up!) and a short rest we were setting off on a gentle recovery ride, that turned out to be the same route the triathlon had taken earlier that day. This was a more relaxed affair but still enjoyable. We had planned a sort of brick session for when we got back, but my calf was still sore from the run the day before and I only managed a very short one before it was too painful.
We all re-convened back at the hotel, with the others going for much longer runs than I! We then sat around and had a really casual chat. Such a surreal environment but it never felt anything other than normal and great fun, Helen and Marc are two of the nicest and most genuine people you could meet. Emma was lovely too – don’t want her feeling left out! Thanks all for such a great weekend!
Apologies, I’ve not been posting recently! The good news is that the reason for this is that i’ve been training, sadly not entirely injury free but hey, baby steps!
Since my last post it has taken a while to recover from my calf injury and irritatingly it has started niggling again recently, usually as a result of training on brick sessions – so not ideal really! I’ve gone back to basics and have been training with my wife, who is getting back into running. By training with the good lady I run at a slower than usual pace which has been great for getting my legs back into it, so here’s hoping it’s good for the long game.
So, what have I been up to? In no particular order:
Joined a new/another triathlon club.
This was rather accidental in that I popped to the gym for a swim on a Monday; which is not a normal training day and discovered that the BRAT Club have coached swimming lessons from 19.30. I was invited to join in and got chatting about other sessions too; which ended up in me heading along to their open water session on a Thursday also. The joining happened as the open water session is for club members only and rather than miss out, I figured I may as well sign up! So far so good…
Did my longest cycle to date.
“Shall we go for a ride this weekend?” – a perfectly normal question from thetrinerd, culminated in us taking part in the Birmingham Bikathon for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. This was a 52 mile (or 54 in my case after a wrong turn) ride that started in Cannon Hill Park on 5th July. It started out as a relatively steady affair until Mr Competitive started getting bored sitting behind people…. so just over 3 hours was a touch more competitive than I had intended and it certainly took the legs a bit of time to recover, but it was a lot of fun!
As a bit of a treat to myself, I decided to upgrade the rather heavy standard wheels on my bike. I stumbled across a rather good deal on a pair of Vision T30 wheels in a nice stealthy black finish, coupled with some Schwalbe One 700x25c tyres.
Perhaps through my odd pursuits I got it into my mind that I NEEDED a 16 tooth rear cog; maybe as I kept finding myself searching up and down the rear gears at around the mid point. It seems that Shimano don’t seem to make anything suitable that has this, so enter SRAM with the PG1070 12-28 Cassette. I didn’t see much point in an 11 tooth cog as I’ve never spun out yet….
The final bike treat was a Selle SMP Dynamic saddle. This came after a recent visit to the Triathlon Show in Manchester, where I spent quite a bit of time looking at them. It was a bit of an indulgence but it is rather lovely, it also has the added bonus of apparently saving my man bits!
Finally, I treated my feet to a new pair of running shoes. Due to the calf injuries I’ve taken a time out from the natural motion phenomenon and decided to try a pair of the new Brooks Ghost 8. They’re incredibly comfy, well cushioned but have a hell of a spring out of the forefoot – thus far, I’m really impressed!
Had another Bike Fit
I had a bike fit earlier in the year but felt that I had started to improve somewhat and there was scope for improvement. I met Tony Corke of Torke Cycling at a show earlier this year whilst looking at Selle SMP Saddles. Tony advised me on saddles and we got chatting about bike fitting also. I happened to be heading on holiday to Somerset and by chance found out that he needed a ‘guinea pig’ for a fitting course he was doing in Bath, this seemed like a dream scenario! There were no computers telling us what to do, just me, my bike and some rollers with lots of flexibility/strength tests, rider feedback etc – it turns out that my initial fit wasn’t far out, but i had improved my flexibility somewhat so a 2cm drop in stem spacers was required – we also fitted my new saddle which necessitated some tweaks to the height/angle of it.
After the fit on my current bike, we also had a play on a more techie piece of machinery, a BioBike, designed to judge my fit for a triathlon bike prior to purchase. This was a lot of fun, though I was a little disappointed to learn that seemingly my lack of flexibility suggests that a triathlon bike may not be the most suitable thing for me…. i’ll continue to work on the flexibility and see later on though, i’m determined to get new shiny things!!
Mammoth Bike Ride
Whilst down in Somerset I felt the need to take the newly adjusted bike on a bit of a ride. Unfortunately it became quite apparent that from our base, the only options were very hilly route or very hilly route. So I opted for a very hilly route and decided to take on the Porlock Hill. In hindsight I wish i’d left the original 30 tooth rear cassette on, in fact I wish i’d fitted a 42 tooth! Such was the absurdity of the climb – sections were 25% incline that I stood no chance. I also managed to break a chain link so had quite a long, uphill walk to find a spot to fix it! Thankfully, after that, despite the earth being stupid and having lots of down, followed by up bits the ride was very enjoyable. The scenery was pretty breathtaking also:
The Strava elevation graph is below….
Open Water Swimming
I figured I needed to get some practice in at this. Unfortunately my first few attempts were a bit of a fail. I suffered fairly major anxiety issues and was struggling to breathe correctly. Which is depressing when the scenery was as stunning as this:
Not long after this I received an email about a British Triathlon Open Water swimming day taking place at the West Midlands Water Ski centre. I figured this was just what I needed, so signed up! It turned out to be a really good day and the tips and tricks I picked up have helped me on my way to swimming my first 1k in open water last week – rejoice! A few pictures from the day:
Met This Guy…
Bit of a legend and thoroughly nice guy!
Entered a Half Marathon
Slightly challenging trying to train for a 5k in my next Sprint Triathlon and then a Half Marathon a few weeks later, but hey… I’m running this with a friend of ours who is taking on her first half marathon, i’ve heard some scary things about the finish in Birmingham! It was during my first longer run for this that I felt my calf ping a little… fingers crossed we’ll be ok!
Great news, I’ve signed up for my first triathlon, the Halesowen Triathlon. It’s a Sprint Distance but most significantly for me has an indoor 400m swim in a local pool. I’ve no experience of open water swimming yet so see this as a good first event. I’m also considering signing up for the BRAT Standard later on the year as I’ve heard very good things about it.
New Year’s Resolutions…
Not really, I’ve just done the stereotypical thing and joined a gym with the good lady. Unlike many others I fully intend to go regularly and have done so thus far. Sadly where we used to live we had a great public gym, whereas where we are now we’re limited so we’ve ‘ended up’ at David Lloyd. The facilities are fantastic and most impressively the pool has been practically empty whenever I’ve gone, despite the new year rush! I had my initial meeting with a personal trainer and was again very impressed, after 40 minutes discussing what I want to achieve, my drive, my aims etc he is devising a strength and conditioning program to compliment the triathlon program I am already following. Incidentally the program I am following is the Beginners one recently published in 220 Triathlon. At first glance I thought it looked simple, 5 days in I’m definitely feeling it!!
Garmin Forerunner 920xt
I’ve been playing with my shiny new Garmin Forerunner 920xt which was a Christmas present to myself. I’ve done one of everything now, from a running and cycling point of view its remarkably similar to the Forerunner 620 I used to own. Today I got to try out the swim section which was the main reason I upgraded in the first place. Today’s session called for a 30 minute warm up (How fit do they think I am!!!??) followed by a nice pyramid of 25-50-75-100-75-50-25 with a 30 second rest between each set. I started to struggle with form as I got more tired but remained fairly consistent with the pacing, the watch was very useful to review post event but I didn’t feel confident to monitor it during the swim. I’ve certainly improved my swim since I started in September but I’m far from a ‘Master’ yet.
I’ve been researching nutrition extensively as I am conscious that it’s something i neglected in my running training. I’ve been a fan of Maxi Nutrition so figured i’d give that a go and hey, if it’s good enough for the Brownlee’s…. So far, i’m a fan of the Viper Boost Energy Bars, but the Recovermax tastes pretty awful. I’ve never been a fan of Orange flavoured drinks anyway but i find it really hard to get down, if it works though maybe we’ll stick with it. I may find myself mixing some SIS in there as the Rego Recovery gets good press and comes in much nicer flavours!
A lovely and early start today, just heading out the door for a training session at the local pool with my club. The early start was so I could try eating before the swim based on my hardly surprising earlier discovery that energy in, helps with energy out!
After that I’m off to The Cycle Show. Not sure if it’s quite the UK equivalent of Interbike but we shall see. Plenty of shiny new things to see and maybe I’ll see what Garmin have to say about the Forerunner 920xt….. Must remember to leave my wallet behind!
If it’s worth it and I get enough pictures and information I’ll stick up a post about the bike show later too…
Thankfully the pool was much quieter today, I think arriving a little later – 7.15pm probably contributed to this. There were was me and 4 others in a double width lane and all bar one were capable swimmers (I seem to count myself in that category…)
I felt much better also, which I think I’ll put down to eating about an hour before. I don’t usually worry about nutrition in swim training sessions at the moment as I’m not exactly pushing myself, however based on this session even just a flapjack seemed to make a big difference. I felt able to keep going and at no point did I feel exhausted. I’m still doing my own thing with my training but focussing on technique and increasing my continuous distance. This session was sets of 100m with a break (length of my choosing) between each set and I did a total of 8 sets.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was trying the Get Speedo Fit campaign, however it became apparent that even the warm up would be a challenge for me at this stage, as such when I feel I can complete that, I’ll start on the campaign.
In other news I got chatting to another guy who was beating himself to death by doing breaststroke with hand paddles – it looked hard work! He like me is more of a mountain biker and not convinced about his abilities at front crawl, he may come along to the triathlon club on Saturday!
Thursday nights session was a bit of a damp squib, cut short due to massive congestion at the pool. Despite the pool having a reasonable good system for lane usage, unfortunately the ‘slow’ lane is usually taken up by kids playing, meaning anyone who actually wants to swim ends up in the ‘medium’ lane and thus it gets too crowded after a while. I felt ok, not brilliant, but ok, the Speedo Pull Kick is definitely helping me float better enabling me to swim more naturally. Here’s hoping that the hernia op and knee fixing take place soon.
Saturday’s session was back with the club, so a bright and early 7.30am start. A fairly gentle 4 x 25 front crawl and 2 x 25 backstroke for a warm up, followed by a full 400m without stopping (I didn’t make this, but did managed 6 x 25m without a break, which is big progress from my first session a month ago), once finished it was on to leg drills with 4 x 25m using a kick board. This hurt in my current physical condition!
Sadly Amazon failed once more to deliver goods on a date promised, so no finger paddles for me 🙁
As a result of the no show, I opted to create my own training plan using what I had already got and what I felt like doing. The kick buoy proved its worth as I used it for both kicking workouts and as a pull buoy, progress was glacial as a kick board as my kick technique is awful and needs work, but at least I had the opportunity to practice my breathing. Things were much more positive when used as a pull buoy; as I’ve alluded to before a major issue at the moment is my bottom half sinking in the water which exacerbates my other problems, I’m pretty sure this is in part due to the hernia. With the pull buoy in place I was comfortably able to swim 500m with only short breaks whilst waiting for a spot to clear in the rather crowded pool. All in all massive progress – I await to see what benefits the finger paddles bring…. If amazon ever deliver them!!
End result; my longest swim to date and by some margin the most comfortable.