In January 2017 in an unpublished and hidden blog, I wrote, ‘Just for the record, I’m not a triathlete’. I’m still not convinced I am but over the subsequent 6 months in 2017 I worked hard on my non-existent swim technique, during which I discovered I was sensitive to chlorine, which induced unbearable head itching and 12 hour sneezing bouts. This was all elegantly overcome with some stunning swimming hats and nose clips. I overcame an all-consuming, almost show-stopping fear of open water and that was just one discipline. Having never had a road bike or experienced being clipped in, I regularly fell off my bike as I collided with unmovable road items; kerbs being my favourite. I shed countless tears on climbs and I clung on for my survival during the coldest, bleakest rides during winter. I had the warmest kit Wiggle had to offer and I was still desperately cold and unhappy on the bike. Thank goodness for the run! Aside from working hard to stay injury free, the running went well. Quite frankly I felt I was owed an easy time on one of the disciplines.
After all of that, I can say that in June 2017 I became an Ironman 70.3 Finisher. Phew! The day of the triathlon was brutally hot and, much like many runners at Virgin London Marathon this year and many others since, goals and expectations had to be adjusted to reflect the heat. Safety came first but working hard towards a goal and knowing what you are capable of, for it then to be whisked away from you by an uncontrollable like the weather, does funny things to our brain leaving a nagging residue of unfinished business.
So, of course, worn down by the ‘what if’ syndrome, my husband and I signed up again.
This year’s training has been very different for me as Manchester Marathon was my ‘A’ race, which I trained for and completed to the best of my ability. This left me with no hunger for the 70.3, which I didn’t see coming. After the marathon, I found myself in a weird limbo where I was so happy with my performance that day, but I was mentally spent and I couldn’t find my ‘why’ to keep training. The drama in my head began. Endurance sports are a constant mental battle; the deals and trade-offs you make with yourself are all part of maintaining a robust mental framework. I had been mentally strong during my marathon training and on the day but now had an empty tank. My body recovered but wasn’t on board with the 5.30am starts to fit in my swimming; my mental resilience was at its lowest ebb.
So, whilst I was waiting for my ‘why’ to put in an appearance, I started where I was and did what I could and kept chipping away at all those training sessions. I haven’t enjoyed all of them but actually a nice sunny day was enough motivation to get me out. I’ve maintained a good level perspective which I really needed and could afford. I’m not an elite athlete. I’m not going to win; I want to do my best but not at the expense of an odd glass of wine with friends I haven’t seen for a while or a weekend away with my family.
My swimming is better than last year. I am slightly faster, but I am still just as nervous of open water. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I do it, my brain is still as bewildered as my body to find us there again. Mental strength is a huge asset here; I have to keep telling myself to stay calm, keep my head, keep swimming and keep the demons out. The drama is in my head again and I have to rein it in.
Like my swim, my bike is stronger too. This year we invested in a smart trainer and I did all of my winter cycling indoors. All of it! And I couldn’t have been happier. I didn’t go out on the road until April. No more suffering in the cold. I just sat there looking at my very tanned Zwift avatar whilst she whizzed around London or up and down volcanos in Watopia. She wasn’t worried about falling off, punctures or getting lost (I am a terrible navigator). She was there loving the ‘ride ons’, winning jerseys for sprints, feeling like a bad ass whilst she averaged 34km/hr. Sadly, I am not that fast outdoors and I discovered Zwift Volcano Flat didn’t actually help me in the Shropshire Hills but I have definitely improved and I am able to sustain a faster pace for longer outside so it’s all good.
I’m confident in my running. My mileage and inclination to run naturally tailed off after the marathon and hasn’t picked up hugely if I’m honest but I have felt strong running off the bike and the jelly, bambi-like legs that accompany a run from a hard bike are reminiscent of the last couple miles of the marathon so it feels familiar and I know I can get through it. To rekindle my love of running I’ve headed out to the hills a few times, which is a tough run but without the pressures of pace or time; it’s just hard work running up a big hill! Incredibly good for the soul in all that country air surrounded by stunning scenery and I will definitely be doing more of that!
The last few months haven’t been easy, but it was worth it as I’m now in race week and I’m ready. My ‘triathlete’ head (or the closest thing I have to one) has been firmly and happily on for about 3-4 weeks now after suffering from a merciless cold that I suspect was symptomatic of being ever so slightly over trained and in need of a break. The washing basket has been continuously overflowing with lycra garments from endless cycling, running or swimming sessions and we have had wet suits hanging in unexpected places, casting shadowy reminders of the work to do and what is to come.
I am hurtling at full tilt towards race day with a very different approach to last year. Last year was all about finishing. This year I have times to beat and a drive to justify my training that I found so hard. I need to keep a check of any drama unfolding in my head on the day. After all I’m just swimming, cycling and running.