Can Hobbies Help Triathlon Training?

The general consensus is that in order to run a triathlon you need to adopt running, cycling and swimming into your routine and focus on these to improve and be ready for race day. Whilst I agree with this, do we need to scrap our hobbies? Will they have any transferable skills? I was told at the beginning of all this that I would need to stop doing my hobbies and focus on the three triathlon disciplines. Now, this may be true, after all, if I do not finish in July it may have been down to focusing on hobbies instead of solely throwing myself into Iron Man training. However, for the most part, I get bored easily. My mind wanders, my concentration goes and I will fall out of a routine if I am not kept engaged. This is why I carry on with hobbies, this is why I have so many of them.

However, what hobbies are a hindrance and which are helping? Are any of them helping? After a few months of juggling hobbies and upping Iron Man training, I have begun to feel a bit over faced with trying to fit everything in. This will ultimately lead me to give up a few things as time goes on and has lead me to evaluate if hobbies have transferable skills.   

Riding

Great use of core and leg strength. A transferable skill of keeping weight in your heels and balance for the bike hill climbs. It can be a hard workout or an easy workout for a rest day. It does not feel like exercise at all due to it being part of my life for 22 years. It takes your mind off everything else and is a great escape. Overall physically it can be as easy or hard as you like. It has benefits and few minor transferable skills/aids but the mental escape from “exercise” whilst still staying active is the biggest plus for this hobby.

Conclusion: Keep

Gym

In the past, I have lived in the gym. I love the place. Fortunately, gym workouts can be adapted to aid in triathlon training. However, rather than spending 6 of 7 days in the gym I need to spend less time in the gym and more time doing specific triathlon training. There are masses of transferable skills to benefit from in the gym from drills, circuits, run clubs sessions and strength sessions for explosive power. It will continue to be my biggest alley alongside practising the three disciplines but offers a change of scenery and change of routine.

Conclusion: Keep but cut down hours.

OCR

Something I used to do a lot of. Whilst the obstacles have little transferable skills to triathlon training the running element is helpful and having the obstacles makes it more fun and interesting. I have always been a rubbish runner and get bored easily if there are not things to entertain me like a random wall every few hundred meters! So I suppose runs with no obstacles would be best to keep me from stopping, however, running anything is better than no running at all!

Conclusion: Do a couple

Shooting

None physical so it is not hindering training with excessive physical stress and I can easily cycle there for a recovery spin on a rest day. Mental escape.

Conclusion: Keep

Pole

Physically very demanding with little transferable skill to triathlon bar core work. However, I have been finding that these sessions are ruining my arms and draining me as I am no longer a beginner and the moves are getting progressively harder. This is in a way a waste of allocated energy. It is a very hard hobby and alas is not easy to balance with the intensity of triathlon training, one will always suffer due to the other.

Conclusion: Stop until Iron Man is finished. 

Kickboxing

Physically demanding and always cardio intense. This in itself a transferable skill. I feel my cardio has improved hugely and I am getting used to pushing through painful lactic build ups. It is a great way to increase fitness without having to spend hours running. It is fun and goes quickly as well as learning a skill on the side. However, I have noticed that it is causing pain my shoulders and calves which is affecting my running and swimming so I need to cut down a bit.

Keep: Reduce to once a week.

Overall

People have said I am an idiot for having hobbies on top of training, training should be your hobby and maybe they are correct. However, if I am honest I do not find cycling and running overly fun and if that is all I did I would go mad, get bored and begin to resent triathlon training and sack it in all together. So the above is not only to stay active on rest days and have alternative sources of core work and cardio, but it is mainly to mentally keep me going. Hobbies act as little openings during the week/month as downtime that I know I will enjoy and if you are giving your all and working hard during training, surely you deserve a treat and something to look forward to regularly? I have been sensible and put off and reduced some to make way for running and cycling but wish to keep a few going as long as possible. I guess we will see if this was a sensible approach in three months!

Be sensible, you can not do everything. Note down things you enjoy doing, take the ones out that you can live without for a period of time. Stop the ones that are going to hinder any progress in terms of taking up time or making you too tired to train for a triathlon (or the goal at hand) and be selective. It is all a case of finding a balance between enjoying each week but having effective time training for the goal you are working towards.

Learning to Swim

After a few months of paddling around in vain at my local leisure centre, and not really getting anywhere in terms of efficiency, I decided to admit defeat on the swimming front and have lessons. How useful was this? Did it cost a fortune? Did I improve?

Initially, I figured that a couple of swims a week would be enough. No gadgets, no drills just upping my mileage each week until I could swim 2 miles. I reached the point where I could swim 2 miles without stopping in the pool. However, it consisted of front crawl 25m and then breaststroke 25m back over and over as I was becoming exhausted doing front crawl for longer periods of time. This was hugely un-motivational as I was only just making the cut off time of 2 hours and was physically exhausted to the point I was struggling to climb the ladders out of the pool after. Not good. People would be tearing past me, not kicking any stronger or paddling any faster than me, but somehow were going twice the speed of myself at half the effort. I was doing something very wrong in my approach to swimming training.

Enter lessons! After hunting around for a week at the leisure centre I was beginning to become a bit depressed. Lessons were in excess of £20 for a private lesson and were only available when the instructors felt like getting back to you, which was rare. I had figured out that I would like a lesson a week for two months. This was to make sure I was practising correctly and once a week bad habits could be nipped in the bud before they became any worse. This was going to cost a fortune, a fortune I did not have, let alone to throw away frivolously on swimming after all a girls got to eat!

I scoured the net and phoned up recommendations but everyone was either fully booked for weeks, expensive or the nearest pool was 10 miles away. As a last resort, I phoned up my old secondary school Sutton Valence. Knowing they had a decent 25m pool available I begged if it was possible for “Old Suttonians”  to use the pool on occasion for a lesson. The answer was a no, however, a triathlon club held lesson sessions there on a Tuesday evening so I was advised to call them and ask. RESULT!

I called the local triathlon club Maidstone Harriers, beginning to wonder why on earth I was not a member, surely if you are a first-time triathlete taking on an Iron Man a triathlon club would be invaluable?

Long story short, I joined the club and booked on to the 4 lesson block for £20, a bargain compared to the other prices I was being quoted. These were group lessons, but seeing as the pool was so big we each had a lane to ourselves and the two coaches made sure everyone had ample attention.

On the first lesson I arrived a little nervous, I knew my swimming was not up to standard, but thankfully another new member was there and we agreed we could be rubbish together. First port of call before anything was a go pro analysis of our technique under the water and above at all angles to see exactly what our strengths and weaknesses were. Feedback was an email with our video, a video of the perfect stroke, things to improve on and videos to drills to help with improvements. Mine was as follows: 

Firstly, there are a lot of good aspects of your stroke. Breathing, roll and head position are all looking good.

Here is Mr Smooth for comparison, Mr Smooth is Swim Smooth’s ‘ideal’ smooth swim stroke.

Here are a few areas to work on:

Reach.

It is quite noticeable (from the side view video) that after hand entry your arms typically dive deeply quickly – particularly your right arm when you breathe on that side. Ideally, your ‘spearing’ action should be more shallow with your arm extending forward under the water (more similar to your left arm action). Any drills that encourage you to a long stretched position would be good to correct this.

This is a nice one for encouraging you to stretch forward with each stroke.

Crossover

From the top view of your video, we can see that your arms cross over the centre line of your body as you extend forward. Ideally, the hand should enter the water ahead of the shoulder and extend forward in front of the shoulder and should not approach the centre. Some drills that focus on hand entry and extension should help e.g. 6-1-6 Drill

Kicking Technique.

There are two aspects of your kicking we can improve:

  • Avoiding Knee Bend. You have quite a lot of knee bend in your kick technique. Ideally, kicking should be imitated from the hip with a relatively straight but supple knee. Try kicking with a straight leg and practice some kicking drills – perhaps some torpedo kicking
  • Avoiding Scissoring. From the top video view, we can see that at particular times, your legs scissor apart particularly when you are breathing. Ideally, your legs should be largely together. Scissoring them will create drag and is probably a subconscious reaction to the ‘crossover’ issue highlighted earlier. Again kicking with a kickboard or torpedo kicking will really help.

Here’s some general good advice for kicking. Improving your kicking will help with your body position by lifting your legs higher also.  

On reading this I panicked a bit and thought “Oh dear there is a lot to improve no wonder I am shattered after a swimming session I am not efficient at all!” However, not one for giving up I decided to let the lessons roll out and see what improvements were made in the next few weeks. All I can say is I was amazed.

The lessons had structure, something I was not used to in the pool seeing as I had a flippant lets-just swim as far as possible approach. The lessons consisted of a warm-up with sink downs, a drill section, build up section, main set and cool down, with each lesson covering around 2000-2800m total swimming. Each lesson was broken down to focus on one key element of the stroke I.e kicking from the hips, hand position and entry etc. Gadgets and aids were used in each session depending on what we were working on. Having never used any of these before it was a slight minefield. I was thinking to myself naively, surely we do not need flippers, fins and floats, surely we just practice swimming? However, now I appreciate that these aids let you take your mind of one aspect of the stroke to focus on another, not as much of a waste of time and money as first thought!

The first block of my lessons consisted of the following sessions:

  • The first was focusing on breathing. I used to gasp for air every second stroke like an asthmatic with a plastic bag over their head, not ideal when you are trying to relax in the water. The more I would panic the more I would have to breathe and rush my stroke, vicious circle really. The sinks downs got me familiar with submerging myself under the water and breathing out in long controlled breathes. A few of these and I was getting used to controlling my breathing out and not worrying about being under the water for longer periods of time.
  • The 6-1/3-6 drills allowed me to carry this through to a stroke and applying it to my body position. However, the real help came with the main set where bi-lateral breathing had to be the norm, no more breathing every second stroke, this was forbidden. Forcing yourself to experiment with every 4th or 5th stroke on the way back really makes you appreciate how easy bi-lateral actually is and makes it feel more natural. It helped me mentally adapt to the fact I was not going to run out of oxygen any time soon and as a result, I relaxed a huge amount and could focus on my position a bit more.
  • The second lesson was on kicking, a nightmare element in my video. The torpedo kicks were the trick here and the notion of touching your big toes together. To start off with the teacher got us all to tread water, but rather than flapping around as one usually does she made us kick from our hips and not our knees to stay afloat if our legs bent she would pull us up on it. This was a nice quick test to see if you are kicking correctly, if you are kicking from the hip your hip flexors and glutes should ache after a couple of minutes of treading water properly!

Once we had the motion correct we moved on to translating this new found muscle movement into swimming technique. Having to think about a different item every exercise really forces you to swim properly. The big toes touching was a huge help, I now make an effort to notice my toes touching when I am swimming so I no longer have my legs spread like a prostitute on a Friday night after too many Vodkas. Doing this not only made me more streamline but also forced me to point my toes. I noted a huge pace increase just by straightening my legs, kicking from the hips and pointing my feet. The bottom half of my body by the end of the session was more a gliding help then dead weight frantically trying to push me forwards.

The third lesson was speed and altering your pace. This was straightforward. A set of 6-3-6 drills to ensure our balance and position was correct before entering pace pyramids. These were:

  • 300m slow
  • 200m steady
  • 100m fast
  • 50m sprint
  • 50 m sprint
  • and back down

I have always been a one pace pony when practising and doing this really forced me to consider race pace. I would have to up the speed at Iron Man and with that comes a need for accurate body positioning, technical ability and fitness. This really tested all three and has been adopted into my swimming regime once a week at the end of a session to push myself. It was also a great way of appreciating how slow I have been swimming and that a 200m steady pace is more than doable for a long period of time rather than my slow 300m.

The final was hand position and entry, again a not so positive aspect of my technique. The below paddle drills really made me think. Paddles go over your hands on your middle finger with your hands flat to the plastic. If your hand does not enter the water correctly then the fin will slide around and you will get no pullback in the water, causing you to slow right down. The longer tips also forced us all to have a high elbow recovery, ideal for open water swimming in unsteady water. The single arm freestyle drill was hell, and one part of the lesson I did not enjoy. I was all over the shop, banging into the wall and the lane dividers I could not control myself without my other arm to balance me out. Another thing I noticed was how hard it was to lift my left arm up without my right arm out in front coming back from its stoke. It would appear I have a very very weak left arm that relies heavily on the balance and alignment of the rest of my body.

From just these four sessions alone (I was lazy and did zero practice in between!) my swimming has improved a ridiculous amount:

  • I am breathing every 5th stroke without any bother and no panicking rather than my past gasping for air every second stroke.
  • I am kicking from my hips so my legs are no longer tired at the end of a swim session but are rather effortlessly drifting behind me in the pool offering my arms a touch of help, rather than the knee scissor thing I was doing.
  • My hips are higher in the water.
  • I look down, keeping my spine in line rather than having a slightly crookneck.
  • My elbows are raised high on arm recovery rather than my arms skimming the water and creating drag.
  • I stretch out in front of each shoulder with a flat hand, rather than cupped hands in front of my face with a diagonal entry.
  • My arms are relaxed on recovery rather than tense in the forearm and wrist.
  • I have noted the importance of keeping your core solid in keeping alignment.
  • Obviously, I am not a perfect swimmer, nowhere close, and the above are not always happening at once, but I am aware of how a good front crawl stroke should feel, it should not feel as if you are being drowned in the sea by a mass murderer.

So to anyone reading this thinking about taking on any triathlon, whether you are like me and useless at swimming, or even if you are one off being Michael Phelps I would urge you to join a swim or triathlon club to get lessons. Having someone film you and show you what you are doing wrong is invaluable, as is having someone pool side picking up points to improve at the time.

To anyone struggling with swimming just keep going. Have a few lessons, have someone look at your technique and work on it. Do not worry about the miles covered each week to begin as you will struggle an awful lot and will find it draining without the correct technique once you get past a mile. I intend on having another block of lessons minimum before going out onto the lake with my triathlon group, however now I have the basics in the back of my mind I shall be starting to do a long swim once a week to start clocking up the miles again, hopefully this time in a less painful and more relaxed manner!

So how useful was this? Very

Did it cost a fortune? No, £20 for 4 one hour lessons.

Did I improve? Yes, not that I could have become much worse, but the improvement has been huge.

Very few of us are experts and sometimes you can not muscle through something with brute determination. Seek help, have lessons and get better. It will all be a lot easier in the long run if you swallow your pride early on.

Popping A Cherry

Last weekend saw the introduction of pure road running races. No adventure marathons, no mud, no trial runs, no mountains, just loop upon loop of tarmac…I could barely contain my excitement. 

13 miles up Benidorm strips and on the seafront. I had not given the run much thought as I had signed up as an excuse for a weekend away in the sun more than anything. Run club had been cancelled the week before so the last time I ran was two weeks ago, a modest 13k around Maidstone. However, with spirits high in the group I travelled with and the sun shining all day I began to warm to the idea of running that evening.

The race started at 6 pm (I am assuming Spanish folk do not like running in the heat) which gave us all day to register and eye up the competition. At events in the UK, there is ALWAYS  a batch of fun runners or people that are not going to be taking the run seriously. There are so many of them that anyone taking a race seriously stands out like a sore thumb. However, in Spain this is reversed, everyone was skinny and kitted out in head to toe Lycra and running gadgets. There was not a single fun runner bar three men from the north of the UK who had come along on a stag do.

The majority of the field were running the 10k race rather than the half marathon, feeling deflated by the combination of professionals and minimal half marathon runners  I was preparing to be the last person across the finish on the 13 miler.

At the start, the heavens started to open. Music blared from the start line band, everyone was cheering and the support was something else. People were stood on their balconies, lining the streets, crammed into cafes and stopped in cars on the roads that were open to cheer us all off, and boy was there a lot of us. I can safely say it was the most atmospheric start line I have stood on in terms of support and build up.

After a while, the gun went off and I started my journey. Feeling well I jogged off fresh and bouncy, enjoying the support down the stip from the stag and hen parties. The sun was setting the streets lit up and the crowds swarmed the streets, it was buzzing. This, of course, makes for quick running, I get a bit carried away. However, fortunately, I am beginning to notice when I am not pacing myself, it is something that is taking time. I really can not stand people overtaking me but I am learning to let it slide and think of the bigger picture. So after 2 miles of bombing around and enjoying the atmosphere, I slowed down a fraction and set in for the long run ahead at a steady Eddy pace.

Seeing as everyone in this race looked like a professional athlete I took advantage and watched how people ran, their form, their pace, their posture, everything. I began to apply the running drills Paul at my gym had given me and rather than adopting my steady foot shuffle of a run. I lifted my knees and took elongated smooth paces, covering more ground per stride with less energy consumption. For anyone trying to improve their running without wanting to cover miles upon miles during the weeks, I would highly recommend running drills for improving efficiency.

At the end of the 10k, a lot of people peeled off towards the finish line. I was rather tempted to do the same and join the rest of my party in the surrounding bars, but my distance was plastered across my chest and the crowd were cheering me on to run the 21k, so off I went. By this point the front runners of the half marathon were coming up to the split to cross the finish, I was maybe pacing myself a bit too slowly for once! Time to speed up a tad.

The course took us up through the old town, the streets still packed with people both locals and drunk tourists offering shots to runners on passing. Live music was pumping from all the bars and from street discos that had been put up for the event and I felt strong running out onto the second half of the course. Catching up with a tall lanky boy who looked to be running a similar pace I set myself behind him and took his lead onto the beachfront deciding to use him a pacer.

Everything was going rather well, the pace was on point, I had not stopped and I felt good considering it was the furthest I had run in half a year. Pottering up a long but not difficult hill I began to feel a bit sick, might be something to do with the huge lunch I ate and sweets I scoffed minutes before the start. Ignoring this I carried on jogging along behind my pacemaker.

After a while, my lead began to slow down and I was jogging on top of him with my Darth Vadar running breath hitting the back of his neck. He stopped and told me to overtake him, whoops I think this might have been a bit of a telling off. I apologised and jogged past, feeling a bit lost without feet to follow I took off in search of new, faster feet to follow. In an attempt to catch up with a group of people 100m up the road my stomach did a 180 and the contents of my stomach appeared on the road via my face. “uh oh, this isn’t good” I thought to myself. A Spanish policeman marshal shouted something at me and started to walk over to me. “Can you be arrested for vomiting in the streets of Benidorm?” I thought. Not wanting to find out I shouted “Lo Siento” at him a few times and ran off (my GCSE Spanish teacher would be so proud of me for my only applied Spanish being “I am sorry” for when I am sick across her countries streets). Fortunately, I was near my hotel and so took a quick detour to make myself sick in the loos. Feeling much better for Jelly babies and Jaffa cakes no longer having a dance off in my tummy I had a new lease of life.

I caught up with my pacing man again, overtook him as we reached the double back to the finish line, around 7k out. Determined to make up the lost ground I ran past him, conscious that the 2-hour marker flag runner was catching me up. On the double back the “Out of time” bike and car were following a couple of runners-up the hill. “Christ the slowest people on the course are not that far behind” I worried. Panicked at the lack of fun runners and the prospect of being last I upped the pace and ran along the seafront a bit faster than I should have done.

On exiting the seafront and returning to the old town I thought I was done. Running down the cobbled streets I danced and hopped around high fiving children as I ran past and generally rather a happy bunny. However, I was not nearly done, the course veered off back towards the seafront and away from the finish line. “NOOOOOOOOO” I cried internally, “How am I not done!?” A 5k marker appeared.

Without going into too much detail the last 5k was a bit of a trawl. I had spent most of my remaining energy running through the old town and dancing on thinking I had finished. However, determined to not stop I jogged on watching all the stag and hen dos on the seafront cheering us on. The support was still in full flow and the vibe of the race still amazing, truth be told it was this that kept me going. This and the worry that if I stopped one of the stag dos that had been chasing runners would manage to catch up with me, pick me up and carry me into the bars. Usually, I wouldn’t be opposed to this but I wanted my medal.

As I turned off the seafront to the strip the 2-hour marker man ran past me. *Insert profanities here* I was not happy. I ran to keep up with him, following his feet, trying to stretch out my gait as I had done at the start. Finally finding a rhythm I jogged alongside the little group that had accumulated around him. On reaching the finish line, and always one for a bit of showing off, I sprinted up the finish line hill and collected my medal. Slightly surprised by this excess energy I wandered around for a bit watching the remaining finishers and noting that my legs did not feel as bad as past runs, nor did I feel tired. This pacing lark was obviously the way forward and clearly worked. Result!

The next day I did not ache or have any problems which again is rare for me. 2 hours for a half marathon on the face of it is pretty shocking timing for someone that is not new to running. However, from the point of view that I am learning to pace myself over long distances on roads after a  swim and cycle I think this may well be the approach to running races I need to take. Rather than burning myself out in the first 7 miles I can slow it down, focus on technique and adapt my running technique from stop, sprint, stop, sprint to a slow, continuous, more effective run. 

This was by far the most valuable run to date. Learning to apply newly learnt techniques in drills and forcing myself to quash my competitive nature to an extent and let people overtake me. Ironman will not be a race for me it will be a case of finishing and for that to happen I will need to pace myself, rather than get caught up in the thrill of the competition and running off too quick.

Lessons learnt:

  • Road runs can be fun with drunk spectators and live music.
  • Do not eat a massive lunch a few hours before a long run or gorge on sweets on the start line, you will be ill.
  • Pacing is everything, you can run an entire race and still feel fresh at the end if your pacing is on point.
  • Think about how you run. If you adopt the shuffle as a means to get by you will exhaust yourself early on and won’t cover the ground as efficiently. Run with cause and run with technique to the best of your ability.
  • If you are going to high five children spectators do so with care, they are a lot smaller and you might miss and clock their face as you run past rather than their hand (Note: this was a man in front of me, I do not hate children that much)
  • If you need to put yourself behind someone to pace yourself then do so, just do not run too close to them or they may get a bit angry at your heavy breathing down their neck.
  • If you feel like you are going to be sick, make yourself sick otherwise it will just come up and take you by surprise anyway, better to plan the exit!
  • Look at the course plan before you set off so you do not pre-empt the finish and use all your energy up prematurely dancing in the streets.
  • If you have energy at the finish line there is nothing wrong with a little sprint over the line.

Duathlons: The Good And The Bad

Last weekend I part took in my first bit of brick training for Iron Man in the form of an Olympic Duathlon…well that is what it was supposed to be. Why did I do this? What benefits did it add to my training? What lessons did it teach me?

Why?

I have been told by many triathletes that brick training is very important. Learning to run when off a bike is a horrendous experience to start off with and should not be taken lightly. Being the cocky creature I am I thought people were scaremongering. I had done watt bike cycles in the gym followed by a quick treadmill run and nothing had made me worry about using my legs after cycling. It turns out gym equipment is not a good way to test how your legs will react to brick training AT ALL.

Where and What?

I had signed up for this event in October, back then that I would be in fighting fit condition with a chance of having a decent time. Fast forward 4 months, a few injuries, one overindulgent holiday and a large lack of motivation later and I was mentally and physically not really prepared.

The event consisted of a 10k run, 40k cycle and a 5k run to the finish. On signing up this did not sound like a lot at all 20+ miles in a running session was fine and cycling I could muddle through (I really need to stop underestimating things, and I think this event hit this notion home).

The Race

I arrived at the delightful Eton College in Windsor, the location of the London Olympics rowing events. The sun was rising and mist clearing across the lakes to show the path we would be running and cycling. At this point I realised it would be a lapped event, another thing I need to start doing, researching events rather than just rocking up. Not being a fan of lapped events (I get bored easily) I had a grumble to myself, noted that Iron Man is a lapped event and decided it would be best to start getting used to them.

I took my bike to registration, got all my number bibs, kitted myself out and plonked my bike in the transition point, fairly happy. Sitting down taking in the view, I was watching the regulars wandering around, what kit they had on, what bikes they had, items at the transition point, how their transitions were set up for optimum changeovers etc. absorbing as much information as possible.

The Oxford and Cambridge University competitors set off a few minutes earlier, speeding off into the distance. The pace at which they set off was impressive and I began to panic a bit that the pace of this event would be too fast for me. People were warming up everywhere, I have never warmed up for an event, usually jogging the first mile or so as my warm up and it had never failed me before, until this particular day.

On the start line, I put myself towards the middle of the field. “I am not a fast runner, but I am also not the slowest,” I thought to myself, “surely I cannot be the slowest person here?” Well, the countdown began, the lineman set us off, people ran off and I felt a lot like I was in the scene from the Lion King in the gorge, the one with all the buffalo and where Mufasa dies, I was Mufasa. Slim, toned, athletic humans stormed past me, I tried in vain to keep up and as a result, was gasping for breath after the first 2.5K lap. My legs were tight from lack of warm-up and stretching and I immediately regretted my lounging around in the sun life choice over warming up my muscles.

As my pace slowed down to get my breath back, the slower people of the group overtook. I had gone off far too fast, people were overtaking me and I felt totally demoralised. “Why do I think I can do Iron Man?!” I thought to myself “I can’t run 3k without being tired, fat people are overtaking me, hell I am one of the fat people! Crap! What has happened to me!?” I dived into panic mode. “I am going to differ Iron Man to next year, I will have a year of training. But what will people say? Can I carry on training for this for another year? I miss my old life. I do not enjoy this taking up my spare time. I miss crisps and cake for breakfast” Before I knew it I had run another lap without much hassle. It turned out I needed to find a way of keeping my mind entertained and off the pain of my already, shamefully tired legs.

I stopped at the end of the second lap and thought “can I do another 2 laps of this?” (most people had moved onto the bike as they were doing the super sprint and sprint distances) I was the slowest runner left and I guess a sense of pride meant I did not want to be the last person in at the end of the day. Silly I know, but I had bitten off more than I could chew and the remaining Olympic distance duathletes were storming the run at impressive speeds, I was not. Therefore, I bowed out at 5k and decided to do the sprint distance instead.

I jogged to the transition and sat scoffing flapjacks and water, happy that I had a bit of time to play with now. I changed shoes, took off my sunnies, put on my helmet and left my remaining two flapjacks on top of my bag for quick scoffing on my return.

Meandering over to the cycle start point I hopped on and clipped in one shoe to push off. However, as I did the chain on my bike fell off. Confused, I jumped off and put it back on. This continued to happen and the chain would not play ball. Determined not to flutter my eyelids to get out of this one I turned the bike upside down, lubed up everything in sight and put the chain back on playing with the gears while turning the peddles until eventually, the chain clicked into place. I am still not sure what was wrong with it all, might have been I was putting the chain on the wrong cog or something, who knows! But it was the first bike mishap I sorted on my own at a competition. Feeling dead professional, I hopped on, clipped in and was off for my 20k cycle.

I really enjoyed this part of the day. People were overtaking me a lot, yes, but I overtook a few people! Which has been pretty much unheard of in my cycling careers thus far? Elated every time I overtook the same poor man each lap I cried “keep going you can do it!” He would just glare, so my cheerleading stopped after the third lap.
Navigating a tight turn at the top of the course without any issue was a sure sign of improvement in confidence and as the sun began to shine I was in high spirits, maybe road sports were not too bad after all! I felt like a cyclist, leaning over my handles bars, enjoying it for the first time, getting some speed in. Alas, little did I know I resembled Susan Boyle about to have a heart attack, riding a clown bike. Oh well at the time I felt bad ass.

By midway, I was playing a game of rate the bottom to keep my mind engaged. There were many fantastic bottoms and to be honest I think this helped me cycle faster to keep up with them. However, it was after my 7th bottom I began to notice dark, dense patches on men’s tri suits. One bottom, in particular, had a mass of dense darkness so I tried to keep up to get a better look. When he bent over his handlebars to go faster down a slope his lycra suit went, even more, see-through. The only way to describe what I could see what that it was like he had Jimmy Hendrix smuggled in between his legs, his bottom was so hairy and his lower legs so naked that I was not sure whether to laugh at him or pull him over for a chat. Men reading this, please wear thicker lycra, or manscape your bottom, or even wear pants, just something or you will have immature pervs like me laughing at you. Sorry.

The last lap I flew around looking forward to getting off the bike and giving my bottom a rest (note to self-longer rides needed to toughen up skin!). Coming towards the transition area I could hear the marshal shouting “dismount before you get to the line!” over and over. I could not see the line, where was this line? “Ah there it is” as I sailed over it and towards a lot of expensive looking bikes. Once again heavy legs and unclipping feet from peddles was not my friend. It took longer than I thought and as I slowed down to a near standstill my feet were attached to my bike. However, this time (rather than opting for throwing myself on the floor) I took a more discreet method and aimed my bike into the barriers to my right for something to cling on to and unclip. Great idea, less commotion to the spectators, less embarrassment, but ample crushing of my right leg, perfect for running another 5k.

Leaching myself off the barrier I tottered off to my transition point to eat my food and change. However, to my horror, the flapjacks had gone!!! I was fuming. Food is my favourite thing in the world, to many people, it would be like your child being kidnapped. I asked a man nearby if he had seen the missing flapjacks and he shrugged and ran off to get on with his race. I changed, eyeing up everyone that walked past, everyone was a suspect.

Once I had come to terms that my flapjacks were gone forever I stood up and jogged onto the run course again. This is where my legs went. I chuckled to myself finding it amusing that I could not control them, reminiscing about the university and all those times I could not walk in a straight line. However, after a few hundred meters the novelty wore off and I began to panic that I may never feel my legs again, was this normal? Was this why I needed to do brick training? A nice marshal ran over to me, seeing my Bambi on ice act, and offered me an energy gel. Not usually being able to stand the things I politely declined saying they make me feel sick, which they do. I have always found in the past they sit in your stomach for ages like a layer of oil on water and keep coming back up, never really digesting. “If you do not have this gel you won’t be able to walk properly let alone run, it will help I promise” Not wanting to appear to be ungrateful I begrudgingly consumed the gel. “Give it a few minutes and your legs will come back,” she told me “see you at the finish!”.

Off I went, jogging the pace of tortoise amputee, and after a mile, my legs came back! I am assuming that this was because of the gel, I will never really know I suppose but from now on gels will feature in brick training, I am totally converted. Thoroughly humbled by jelly legs and grateful for that marshal I ran the last 5k without much issue, spouting words of encouragement to others if I overtook them. No one said anything, and they just looked at me like I had five noses, so eventually, I stopped bothering and just got on with finishing. I crossed the line, grabbed my medal and watched the Olympic distance people finish the cycle, secretly on the lookout for the flapjack thief still.

Summary

Overall, I would not say I enjoyed the event. It was very well run, and clearly, everyone else loved it, it is just not my idea of fun. Running around laps of tarmac and then the same with the cycle, I missed mud and fun. That being said it served a purpose. It showed me the level of people out there, it taught me not to underestimate an event and not to overestimate your fitness and it certainly showed me how much weight I have to lose, how much fitness I have to gain and that I need to do serious brick training before July. All in all a useful day that I will be repeating in a few weeks and I guess if you like road running and cycling you would love this.

Lessons learnt

  1. Get used to running boring laps before a race, find ways of keeping yourself entertained without music.
  2. Do not set off quickly with everyone else. Road running is a different game to OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) and trail runs. These people will outrun me every time. Learn to pace, forget everyone else and focus on yourself.
  3. Warm up, always warm up and stretch, especially if you are going to sprint off with people from the start.
  4. Pace yourself the entire race. Consistency is more important than a burst of speed to look good.
  5. Who cares if you look like Susan Boyle with sunstroke when cycling?
  6. Do not perv on men when cycling, they may have very hairy bottoms peeking through their thin lycra suits.
  7. Do not underestimate block training or running after you have spent a while on the bike, your legs will leave you in body and spirit for a while.
  8. Gels for finding your legs again are a life saver. Even if they have the texture of vomit.

The Role Of Excuses

The Role Of Excuses In Our Fitness Demise… Acknowledge And Conquer.

We all need a rest or a break that is no secret. However, when does a few days R and R digress into the realms of laziness and bad habits? When do we start to make excuses and invent reasons as to why we are not exercising? How do we get off this slippery slope into obesity?

OK, maybe I am exaggerating on the obesity front after all that takes months to years of neglecting your body. However, it is easy to feel like you have gained masses of weight after a few weeks of no exercise and that in itself can be demoralizing. You begin to think “what is the point I’ve not been to the gym for a few weeks now, I’m already fat and unhealthy I might as well wait until such and such a date to try again” THIS is the slope. The date never arrives.

The past 7 weeks I have been falling towards this slope rather quickly and am having a bit of a tricky time stopping myself snowballing towards sofa life featuring Jaffa Cakes and pizza. So, what causes it? What are the signs? What are the excuses? How do we get out of this excuse rut? How do we refocus our mind? Let us explore the past few weeks…

Causes of falling off the exercise wagon:

There are many reasons for falling off the exercise wagon or having a bit of a longer break than necessary.

  • Work commitments
  • New relationship
  • Relocation
  • New hobbies
  • Family problems
  • Other problems in life that raise their head and need attention
  • A new found love of alcohol and fast food
  • Holiday
  • Falling out with your PT or someone in your gym/club
  • General feelings of depression through not seeing results and thinking “what is the   bloody point”
  • Summer pub evenings
  • Winter sofa snuggles
  • Buying a new pet
  • Having children
  • Ageing and slow metabolisms
  • Minor Injury
  • Major Injury
  • Headaches, periods, general colds

The list of excuses really is endless, if people do not want to do something there will be an excuse.

The lead up to Christmas. The biggest excuse of all. The time of year when it is deemed acceptable to put on some weight. “Chub up for winter” and “winter bulking” are all common themes from October onwards in the fitness world and indeed I have used them in the past as a humorous way of comforting friends if they gain any weight.

“Ah I’ve gained a bit of weight I need to lose it” says a friend

“Oh, don’t worry its chub up for winter now we all gain a few pounds to keep warm!” I reply

*friend feels comforted and doesn’t spiral into depression. *

We justify weight gain during winter and to an extent this is OK, but maybe it gives us an unhealthy outlook on weight gain and paints excessive weight gain in a positive light. Indeed, it did with me this winter and I am now suffering the consequences of being blasé and jovial with “chub up for winter”.

My excuses 2017:

I have had a few minor injuries over the past half a year as previously mentioned. Being advised to “rest” I did just that and did nothing. Alas, rest does not always mean do nothing! You can find alternative exercises, stretch, roll, do rehab work. However, being unfamiliar with injuries and rest days I took “rest” literally. This led to huge falls in fitness and as a result demotivation, which is the biggest killer of exercising I find.

After breaking a finger at the end of November I slightly lost the plot, I could not pole, kickbox, lift weights or swim. Cycling and running were of course still doable. But in the negative mindset of focusing on all the things I could not do I forgot to think about the disciplines I could and just stopped everything.

“My finger is broken so I won’t be able to go hard so what is the point, it is also Christmas so I need to focus on friends and seeing people. Exercise can wait until holiday when I can concentrate and my finger is not so sore”

The excuses came thick and fast. Therefore, December was a month of fun, alcohol, late nights and rubbish foods. The reality was I could have gone for a half an hour jog a day or sat on the bike in the gym for a bit despite the above, but subconsciously I just did not want to. It was no longer a priority.

An example of not giving into excuses:

I have a friend Monika (many people reading this from my Facebook profile will know her) in 2015 Monika fell off an obstacle smashing her knee in half. She was uncertain if she would ever run or walk again. However, she did not make excuses, she kept on exercising sensibly, went to rehab and did not stop. She fought on, she WANTED to exercise and carry on being awesome. Now she is back to running as the elite athlete she was previous to her accident. To an extent, this marks any excuse from anyone for not exercising now as a cop out now in my eyes. “Oh, I have children” Monika could not walk. “Oh, I have a headache” Monika could not walk. It puts everything into perspective and demonstrates that if humans want to do something they will.

However, Monika is an exceptional person and most of the human population are not born with the same grit and determination. Therefore, maybe it is unrealistic to expect people to rise above excuses, maybe most are born to succumb to excuses every now and again.

Things in life happen, balance is a fine art, excuses will crop up. Whether we chose to use them is up to us…

What are the signs of falling off the wagon?

So how do you denote if you are falling/have come off the exercise wagon? Is there a day you will wake up and go “oh no I am no longer an exercise mad human”? Unfortunately, not, it is little habits that build up over time and you begin to notice you are changing rather than a huge epiphany one morning.

  • Excuses: You will find yourself making more and more of them. Write a list out of things to do each day, if exercise appears at the bottom all the time you are making excuses not to do it! It is no longer deemed a priority in your eyes.
  • Weight gain: An inevitable result of not exercising. You will begin to notice after a few weeks that your jeans are tight, not around the butt cheeks from having a pert behind but rather around the new-found muffin top you are sporting.
  • Tiredness: You will no longer bounce out of bed in the mornings. Afternoons will drag out. You will want to lay around on the sofa in the evenings. You will become sluggish and resemble a sloth (minus the algae and hair)
  • Comments: People will begin to comment on your appearance. Yes, some folk are brave and some have your best interests at heart. Cruel to be kind is a thing!
  • Mocking people being active: You may begin to mock people out running out of a jealous spite. Trying to convince yourself you are better off being sat in the pub… you know you are not.
  • Happiness with sudden guilt: You will be happy whilst doing things with friends but will be met with a stab of guilt when you realise you have bailed yet again on exercise in favour of laying around in their bedroom listening to music all day.
  • Plans not actions: you get very excited about the thought of exercise, you make plans, you do not follow them through.

How do we get out of this rut?

Sometimes it is a simple nasty comment from someone to shock us out of a rut. Other times it takes a long time and self-realisation.

In December, I went on holiday with my family on a cruise. In my mind, my December gluttony did not matter as the cruise ship had all you can eat 24/7 buffets of fish and salad and a gym. I could eat healthy for 3 weeks and exercise every day. It was here I decided I would get back on track. Three weeks of boot camp. This did not pan out quite as I had planned…

There was a lot going on, silent discos, bars, shows, clubs, the destinations and the spa. The gym got a slight look in but not much. It was a classic showboating gym. All the latest treadmills and leg press machines with air weights, padded seating and a man who would come around and squirt you with a water bottle of mist. I was not impressed. I asked where the free weights were, he pointed to a set of dumb bells, not quite what I meant. I asked for flat plate weights there were none. Pull up bar, no. Skipping ropes, no. Ski erg, no. Wall ladder, no. GHD or incline sit up bench, no. It was a gym equipped for people wanting to do a bit of minor exercise to keep mobile on holiday, I missed my weight lifting meathead, Bob Prowse.

However, despite the lack of useful equipment I made the best of a bad situation where I could. This was maybe once every other day and I began to feel a bit better. However, the food buffets were a nightmare. Yes, there was fish and salad, but there was also unlimited pizza all night. Ice cream, cakes, macaroons, profiteroles, curries, pies, hamburgers, hot dogs, kebabs…. every food under the sun 24/7. I am a pig, I eat a lot at home and I was not doing the exercises I usually do when at Bob’s so, of course, gained weight. “I am on holiday I can treat myself”…another excuse.

It was on the plane home when I noticed the damage I had done. I got out of breath walking up some stairs…this has not happened since I was about 12. I also have ample rolls when I sit down and my big jeans are no longer big and spacious. I have indeed put on rather a lot of weight and become rather unfit. Just what you need 6 months before Iron Man!

How to refocus the mind:

So, after 4 weeks of excuses leading up to Christmas and 3 weeks of excuses on holiday I am very much in a bit of a mess fitness wise. The rolls and stairs have shocked me back to reality and out of excuses. I have thus come up with a list of ways to refocus if struggling with getting off the sofa after Christmas, or any other time of year that has resulted in personal gluttony and sloth antics.

  1. Get so fat that you shock yourself into action (not the best idea but it worked for me, avoid if possible!)
  2. Give yourself a time frame of working your way back into it all over three days (max). Use the first day to clear your head and make a to-do list. The second day to make a plan of action/talk to a PT or trainer re fitness strategies, or make your own if you are up to speed. The third day get everything sorted, eat healthy, prep meals, get your gym gear out ready for the next day, get an early night. You can do this all in one day really so if you can, do.
  3. Plan your weeks. Make a plan every Sunday evening about what you want to achieve each week with a big tick box underneath for when you do achieve it. Do not make goals too hard! Make them simple like: drink more water, stretch for half an hour every other night or take a class twice a week. Little steps!
  4. Reward yourself within reason with little treats. Have a day you eat bread if you have given it up. Go on a night out on a Friday. But do not overdo it! We all need downtime.
  5. Do not wait for a Monday to make changes: Just do not.
  6. Support system: Explain to friends and family your intentions and how they can help. I have mentioned to friends that I will be dropping off the radar for a while and have sent them a race schedule so they can see me around races and training. If they are true friends they will support your goals.
  7. Put up pictures of your goals around the house. If you want to look like J Lo, pin her on your fridge, hell Photoshop your face onto her body if it helps! Out of sight is out of mind, make your goals the forefront of every day.
  8. Tick diary: If you go a day completing your goal of exercising every day, or not eating sweets then put a big happy tick in a calendar box on your wall. The more ticks you have the more it will spur you on. Do not put negative red crosses on days you do not achieve what you wanted this will not promote positive mindset and will make you think you are failing, which you are not. It is just a slight set back, we all have off days!
  9. Instagram: Motivational posts and quotes if that sort of thing works for you.
  10. Force yourself to make habits: Force yourself to get into a routine and tell people about it for support. Humans are creatures of habit. Once we have a set routine we find it easier to stick to. You can get others to encourage these new habits. This eliminates the potential for excuses. I have my Mum currently telling me to ignore bread and chocolate if I am gazing into the fridge longingly. Yes, I can eat it anyway but this will be met with disapproving looks and judgment which makes excuses a hassle. They no longer are easy self-contained escape goats. They become drawn out justifications of our actions to another, which for the most part I cannot be bothered with. As a result, I force myself to eat something else to avoid having to explain myself. Over time going to the fridge for a chicken wrap rather than a KitKat should become a habit. Equally with morning workouts before work. I have to force myself out of bed currently, with help from Mum, but over time it will become the norm. Force is temporary until a habit is formed.

Finally, the notion of priorities. Everything in life is ordered into our life in a hierarchy of importance. It is how we decide what to spend our time on and what to address first. Asking yourself if your goal is a priority might just make you realise how far down the ladder it has fallen and refocus the mind.

So now I stand the day before recapturing my old exercise obsessed self. My morning gym kit is laid out, my food all bought and all other areas of my life sorted that can be. In theory, I am ready. So, we will see if any of the above actually work.

Ultimately the past few months may be a warning from my body that it needed a rest, after all, I have been running around like a woman possessed for 3 years now without any extensive time off. This may well be the cause of falling off the wagon full stop… we need a rest from it all. However, if the lag in motivation is going on for weeks or months then it may be that we are making new habits that need to be broken. We are getting into a lull and becoming comfy, forgetting how we used to feel and how much energy we used to have.

So, are excuses the reason we may fall off the wagon? Yes, I believe so. Life gets hectic and we fall back into these safety nets of socially acceptable reassurances. We all use them, just some more than others. Acknowledging that you are using them too much and overcoming the addiction to flippantly throwing one out is the challenge. I have been using them every day for the past 2 months. Now it is time for a slight mental rejig and excuse rehab!