There’s now less than 3 weeks to go until my first Ironman of 2017, where I’ll finally get a chance to find out if flogging myself senseless for the past 6 months has actually made me any faster/stronger or if I’d have been better off just staying in bed instead of getting up early every single morning before work to train.
I jest of course, and the result at the Outlaw triathlon in Nottingham is just part of the long journey I’ve now found myself on, which isn’t purely measured on times and placings in an event only a tiny minority of the population even know exists. Over the past few years I’ve found triathlon training is something I get a significant amount of enjoyment out of. It also makes me feel better both mentally and physically, and most importantly is something I can share with Katie – our combined love of endurance sport brings us closer together.
Since the start of the year I’ve been coached by Dan Holmes at Profile PT; I’ve really enjoyed working with Dan and together we’ve seen some encouraging gains across the 3 disciplines. During one of our weekly catch-ups, the idea of a ‘training camp’ was mooted – one intense, week-long block of exercise during my peak training phase before I started to taper down towards the big day.
Being the cheapskate that I am, instead of heading off to one of the glamorous triathlon training destinations (Lanzarote, Mallorca), I decided to base myself in our two-bedroom flat in Southfields. I managed to juggle the week so that I took 3 days holiday from work and on the other 2 days squeezed my sessions into the morning and evening. I thought I’d be good to do a quick write-up of how it went, as by the end of the week I felt like I’d actually achieved something akin to finishing a demanding race – I was absolutely spent!
Monday 26th June
Morning – 2.5km swim set – 1 hour
Most of my swimming recently has been focusing on the drills given to me by Ray at Swim Canary Wharf, Teaching someone who moves like a concrete block through water much be especially tough, but I’m hoping with another year or so of hard work my swim can improve to at least a respectable level. Still work to do though.
Luncthime – 62 mile ride – 3 hours 20.
I headed out into the Surrey Hills for a relatively easy spin, keeping the effort levels in check as I knew I had a long week ahead..
Evening – 8 mile run – 1 hour.
Stretching out the legs with some steady running.
Tuesday 27th June
This was one of my working days so I had to squeeze two sessions in – it was a long day.
Morning – 3.8km continuous swim – 1 hour 10.
I jumped on my bike to Tooting lido to have another crack at a full ironman-distance swim, getting in some practice wearing my wetsuit. For those who haven’t been to the lido before, it’s massive; 100 yards long and 25 yards wide. I didn’t get off to a great start, ripping my wetsuit by the calf as I was rushing around whilst worrying about being late for work.
Once I’d managed to suit up, I set off at what I thought was a sustainable pace for over an hours worth of swimming. I ended up clocking an hour and 11 minutes – exactly the same time I swam in Shepperton two weeks previously. Satisfactory, but I’d like to be quicker than this. I know that swimming is much more of a skill based sport and I need to invest more time in improving my technique.
Evening – 42 mile ride – 2 hours.
I headed straight home from work onto the turbo for a session on the bike. A 30 minute warm-up was followed by an hour working at around 75% FTP (functional threshold power) before a further 30 minutes steady spinning.
Wednesday 28th June
Morning – 112 mile ride followed immediately by 8 mile run – 6 hours 30 minutes.
This was the big one, and the one I’d been the most nervous about when I’d seen the schedule. At the same time, I was excited to see what kind of power and speed I could produce for the 112 miles – the exact distance I’ll be riding on the day of the Outlaw.
I can’t say the legs felt particularly fresh after a 2 hour turbo session just 12 hours previously, but at the same time, training for an event like this isn’t meant to be easy -right? I put on all the gear I’d be wearing in Nottingham, and used the ride to test the nutrition strategy I’m hoping to employ, which ideally won’t lead to me stopping to use the toilet every mile for 2 hours like in Zurich.
I headed out on a relatively flat route through Windsor, Maidenhead and then on to Henley. Annoyingly, and unknown to me, the Henley rowing regatta was going on that day, and I ended up having to weave my way through traffic towards to river, which caused me to slow down significantly for a few miles.
I hit a bit of a low point after this as I’d only covered 50 miles, and another 62 seemed like an awfully long way at the time. However, I knuckled down and started to feel better as the ride went on, finishing strongly to complete the distance in just under 5 and a half hours.
This is actually a good 10 minutes faster than I rode in Zurich last year on completely closed roads, but it’s hard to compare the different routes. I did spend a lot of time having to stop at traffic lights and crawl through town centres, so I’m hopeful for a decent improvement in 3 weeks time.
I jumped off my bike back at the flat, and after a quick change, got out running along the Thames towpath. I was really surprised how good I felt, running for an hour at around 7 minutes per mile, keeping the effort levels firmly in check. These quick transitions at the flat were a feature of the week, with the builder who’d been present throughout (fitting a new bathroom) always giving me a quizzical look as I’d arrive after 5 hours out on my bike only to disappear minutes later with my running kit on. By the end of the week I knew he thought I was absolutely insane.
Thursday 29th June
Morning – 2.5km swim set followed immediately by 16 mile run – 3 hours.
Anyone thinking I’d have an easy day after yesterdays efforts would be mistaken – another hours worth of drills and swimming in the pool was followed by a two hour trail run in Richmond Park.
The swim felt good and if anything helped to loosen up my, by now, very stiff muscles. However, the run was a tough one, but once I got to the Park and got my head up and realised how lucky I was to be running rather than at work, it was bearable enough, and I felt stronger as I went into the second hour.
Afternoon – 62 mile ride – 3 hours 20.
This was one of the hardest workouts. For the first time in the week I wasn’t really up for heading out. Luckily, my mate Alex was around and kindly said he’d join me for a few laps of Richmond Park. So I just ticked them off, one by one, ending up doing 8 in total. I was thrilled to get through the ride – I felt like the mental gains I got from this session would be more important than the physical ones.
Friday 30th June
Another working day, and a slightly ‘easier’ day.
Morning – 31 mile ride followed immediately by an 8 mile run – 2 hours 30.
90 minutes of riding included 45 minutes trying to hit my half-ironman power target, which I managed, but it was a bloody struggle. I ran straight to work after this, spending another hour on my feet, most of the time counting down the minutes until I could eat breakfast!
Evening – 8 mile run – 1 hour.
Another run after work, very much a recovery-level effort. For the first 15 minutes my legs felt like death warmed-up, but they came around and I enjoyed the second half, making the most of the glorious sunshine.
Saturday 1st July
Morning – 75 mile ride followed immediately by 13 mile run – 5 hours 30 minutes.
By now, the end was in sight, but it wasn’t time to start celebrating just yet. There was still the small matter of two massive weekend sessions.
I’d decided to try and tie the bike in with the Clapham Chasers group ride, just to have some social company and stop me from going insane. However, I naively chose to go off with the faster group, and after 20 miles of clinging on, my fatigued legs said enough was enough, and I dropped off the back.
I think this was the sensible decision to make, as today was just a case of getting the miles done at a steady pace and not absolutely smashing myself. Once I was on my own it felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could ride at my own (slightly more relaxed) pace. The miles seemed to fly by after this and before I knew it I was back at the flat, with no more cycling planned for the week! There may have been a mini fist pump when I realised.
Running gear on and again I was surprised at how good running felt after a prolonged time on the bike. The first hour was spent at a very steady pace, before upping the tempo for the final 30 minutes to try and simulate increasing the effort towards the end of a race. I ended up covering just under 13 miles in the hour and a half I was on my feet for.
Sunday 2nd July
Morning – 3.4km swim followed immediately by 22 mile run – 4 hours 10 minutes.
The final day! By this point I was certainly ready for the end of the week. We stayed at Katie’s parents on Saturday evening so headed down the road to Didcot to use the local swimming pool.
The set was 30 x 100m, swimming at around the same speed I hope to hold during the Outlaw, and I quickly realised this would be a really tough session. After a 200m warm-up I was straight into it, and found I actually started getting slightly quicker as I loosened up after the first few intervals.
It also really helped to have Katie swimming in the pool with me, and I kept glancing over to her to try and glean further motivation during each of my 10 second rest intervals. I hauled myself out after 30 repetitions with slightly sore arms, but very excited that there was just one final session to go…
There was just 3 hours of running between me and the finish line. The objective of this session was just to gain more ‘time on feet’ and it’d be a great test of running on (extremely) fatigued legs – fatigued everything in fact. I set off straight from the pool and ran to the Thames, picking up the Thames path at Wallingford and heading towards the end destination of Pangbourne, where Katie would be picking me up.
An hour in and I was really struggling mentally, even though the pace was relatively comfortable. It was heating up considerably, and I’d already started counting down the minutes, which wasn’t ideal with 2 hours of running ahead of me. I tried to think of anything but running to distract me, but I just wanted to pack it in.
I was internally bargaining with myself – ‘get to 2 hours and that’ll be enough, that’s a decent run after the week you’ve been through.’ Slowly the time passed, and I got to an hour to go, and then 45 minutes. The closer I got to the finish, the better I felt, and with 30 minutes to go I knew I was going to make it.
I rounded the corner into Pangbourne and spotted Katie waiting with her dog, Billy, and ran towards her, managing and quick kiss and hello before making friends with the floor, completely and utterly spent. 22 miles in just under 3 hours in the bank – and more importantly, Spragg Camp 2017; completed.
Swim – 12.5km
Bike – 414 miles
Run – 83 miles
Total training time – 36 hours.
The week itself was incredibly testing, but something I really, really enjoyed. I absolutely love being out training, and I could happily do this week in, week out, for fun. I actually found it more challenging mentally, with sessions such as the final long run requiring me to call on numerous mental tactics to keep me going. I’m hoping this will stand me in good stead for upcoming races – having these experiences to draw on when times get tough could help me through the bad patches which will undoubtedly come during the ironman.
It’ll also be hard to judge whether a week like this will be beneficial to my fitness in the long run, or whether it could actually harm my performance. If I have a good race at the Outlaw, this could just as easily be related to having 6 months of consistent training rather than a one single huge week of training. In the same vein, having a bad day can’t directly be attributed to one particular part of the build up – it may be down to a mistake I make on the day.
One thing I can be sure of is that I’ve certainly given it everything I’ve got, so under-performance won’t be down to lack of effort in training. I’m having a much more relaxed week this week, ahead of the Norwich Triathlon on Sunday, a race I took part in last year and something that seemed to work well in my preparation for Zurich.
After that it’ll just be a case of ticking over for 2 weeks before the big day in Nottingham. Will Spragg camp pay off? Only time will tell.