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 four months, a few injuries, one overindulgent holiday and a large lack of motivation later and I was mentally and physically not 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 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 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 two 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 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 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.