The Spoke May 25, 2011

Fancy doing a Triathlon mate........?

This is an account of the training and my participation thereof in the Mid Sussex Triathlon. A so-called 'sprint' event (meaning 400 meters swim, 25.5 km cycle and 5 km run), due to be held on Sunday June 12th. For the record, it's the first one I've entered. 

Until now, Triathlons have not featured on my personal 'challenge' horizon. Now that's about to change. Somehow I've been talked into competing in one and I am blaming it firmly on Swazy who has assured me it would be 'fun'. Of course I don't just want to turn up and be happy with managing a finish; I want to let the competitive beast out and do my very best. Realistically I know I won't win it, but being placed in the top half would be good and anything close to a top 50 finish would be fantastic first time around.......

Potted History and Assorted Highlights

At one point I was a reasonable runner. By this I mean I have ran 10 km in 40.05 and completed the Brighton half marathon in 1.40.00.  My issue was the training. Not that I didn't like it, rather my shins/calves could not take the consistent/repetitive impact of running on hard surfaces (my preference). Over time they would become stiffer and stiffer and ultimately cramp up to such an extent that running became an excrutiatingly painful activity. This has been the case for the past decade or so, considerably reducing my ability to do running of any type and certainly putting paid to any aspirations I have regarding a Marathon attempt. I would not get past the training. Having said that, I recently went for a jog round Senlis (a small town on the outskirts of Paris) during a work visit and (a) quite enjoyed it and (b) didn't suffer too badly afterwards. This got me thinking.....

I learned to swim at lessons held at a nearby girls school every Tuesday evening. It took me a long time get the confidence to put my head under water but once I was there I really enjoyed it. My freestyle was never very good, the breathing letting me down. It's a common issue with this stroke. Breaststroke became my 'forte' and that hasn't changed. However, I cannot remember the last time I specifically went swimming, let alone paid to go in a public swimming bath. 

Cycling? Well that's already been quite well documented..... So out of three events, the cycling will present no problem, there's a question mark over how much running training (and where I am going to practice) I can manage and the swimming, well, let's agree I'm going from scratch on that. At least I CAN swim. Oh yes, I've also claimed I can swim 400 meters in 9 minutes as well, just for good measure.....

It's early May, I've got about 7 weeks to go until the event and work had never been busier. Maybe this was a bit optimistic. Oh yes, did I mention I'm doing RIDE24 a week later? So got that on as well. 

Family Holiday or Triathlon Training Camp?

In the past and 'on paper', holidays would represent an ideal time to do training of any type, but it would never work out that way. Basically there would always be something more exciting to do. However with the little man now making up our '3', the holiday schedule has changed somewhat. We found a hospitable resort on the Greek island of Zante which would be our haven for the next 11 days. Completely family orientated, it was perfect for us. What this also meant was my food and drink intake would remain stable and I could do some exercise if I wanted to......

I elected to see how running on a sandy beach went, the theory being that it would reduce the impact on my shins compared to the more traditional pavement. After a recent visit to the States I was armed with a smart new pair of Asics. I merrily put them one, did a few stretches and off I went. It wasn't too bad. I reckon I did 5 km at a steady pace, legs felt ok but I wouldn't want to go much further. The real test would be in the morning; could I walk again? To my surprise, I was alright. The before and after stretches must have worked......

Need to find pair of Wheels......

Having made it 3 morning runs in a row I decided to make a proper investigation of the town where we were staying, Alykansas. It's a place created to support the holiday villages, so not much authentic Greek culture to be found. You'll have much more success at locating sources for English Breakfasts and pints of Carling. Anyway, discovered there was a place you could hire bikes (and amazingly cars come to that) called 'Giant'. In summary, my advice would be avoid at all costs. Here's why.

A Death Trap not a Bike

An older man was manning the front desk of what looked like a disused office. 7 or 8 MTBs where lined up outside. They looked ok, nothing special, certainly not branded. Luckily I had low expectations and I was working on the premise that a pair of wheels was better than no wheels at all. I decided to take the plunge; €3 a day was hardly going to break the bank plus I would have some degree of mobility.

The first one I rode suffered from a complete lack of braking. On further inspection this was primarily because the front disk was not adjusted properly and the rear break shoes where not even adjacent to the rim. Not a great start. Having a quick look over it's counterpart, this looked a marginally better option. I had already been informed that the proprietor had no tools so my pedal/shoe packing had been in vain. At least it had 2 wheels. I rode the bike up the road and decided this was the least worst option. €21 for the week. Deal done. Got wheels. 

I braved the Greek roads home looking like a total tourist, complete with flip-flops and baggy shorts. This was met with some interest by the locals I passed on the way, who, judging by their looks, were not used to seeing tourists do anything remotely looking like exercise. Either that, or bike riding was considered a dangerous sport in Alykansas. I hauled it up the 4 flights of stairs to our apartment. Then it occurred to me a more thorough inspection might be in order. I was right to be cautious. I noted that the rear wheel had alot of lateral play in it. Far too much in fact. Just out of interest I checked the wheel nut....only to find it came undone under finger pressure. Not ideal. So with no tools on hand I decided perhaps the cycling component of the training needed re-evaluation. 

Irritated, I returned the bike to it's owner a couple of hours later. He was, shall we say, initially reluctant to return my money. "I've fixed the other one now," he said. I told him that I lacked confidence in his bike maintenance capabilities. "Don't have any change now, I need to speak to my boss," was the next excuse. I replied saying I understood the issue but it would be a shame if the bike was returned with 2 punctures. With this in mind he amazingly found some change in his pocket. There's nothing like the threat of unnecessary bike repairs! We bid our farewells and with that my opportunity for bike hire in Alykansas. At least I was able to walk away; it had the potential of being alot more serious. So it was back to the running and swimming. 

How difficult can swimming 400 meters really be?

After my aborted attempt to hire a bike I took the following day off from exercise. I had been reliably informed that it would rain the following day but that my decision was made, I would at least go for another run. Mission accomplished, I managed 4 miles though the legs were still feeling tight. Sure enough, the rain arrived. One sure way to empty a swimming pool......

The storm passed, but rain continued. Perfect timing for me and I took full advantage of a deserted pool. It was a decent size; at least 25 meters long. 16 lengths required then. 

My plan was simple; just do 400 meters first then worry about the (a) stroke and (b) quality of said stroke thereafter. I jumped in, put my goggles on and made a start. 4 lengths in I didn't feel great. My breathing was all over the place and I had already had a couple more gulps than I really needed. However I stuck with it and continued to plough up and down. I made it to half way and settled down, concentrating on the glide and trickle breathing. With 2 lengths to go I could feel my legs tiring. No surprise really I couldn't tell you the last time I had swum that far. Having said that I had completed the distance from scratch and that was ok. I tried a couple of half lengths doing freestyle and quickly concluded that it was highly unlikely I would manage enough practice to sustain me over 400 meters. Could maybe alternate each length though? Have to wait and see. I should also add that about 30 minutes after finishing I felt absolutely invigorated. 

The plan was to do 800 meters practice per day. In reality the swimming took a bit of a back seat. Couldn't summon up the motivation to repeat the previous effort. Probably an opportunity lost, but never-mind. For the rest of the holiday I concentrated on running. By the last day I had increased the distance to 5 miles and I could still walk ok. So 32 miles run over the duration. I was very pleased with that. 

The only thing I was really looking forward to regarding the return home was that it would allow me to get out on the bike; on one that wasn't a potential death trap! I also had a trip to Derby planned later in the week and a date with 2 significant hills in Matlock as well as some MTB riding nearby.  

Back on the Bike....and now for some Single Speed Training

I noted with interest in the June issue of Cycling Plus there was an article saying how training on a single speed could dramatically improve your performance on a 'normal' bike. My experience had proved exactly this. I decided to optimise the time I had and just train on the SS to help improve my hill climbing capability and strengthen my legs. I would combine this with some steady running along the beach at home and up the stakes in the pool. That was it. That was my plan. 

I'll let you know how it goes.

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