One of the things they say is that triathlon is as much about the journey as it is the destination. At each stage of training, you learn new things, discover more about yourself, try new things out, and see how these make you feel. Then you do a race, see how all the training has paid off, and learn some more. And then you do it all over again.
It has been two weeks since I did the Blenheim Triathlon. Blenheim for me was a race to see how I am doing, and to make some adjustments. It is a key part of my “train – do – reassess – do again” process.
So what have I learned and changed coming out of Blenheim?
First of all, I have learned a very important thing. If you have a coach, never have a hidden goal or agenda for a race.
You take on a coach as they have the experience, understanding, and will learn about you and your challenges to help you to set realistic goals and expectations, plans and approaches, and strategies. Having a coach is as much about having someone to help with the training as it is about having someone to talk through things with, to fine tune approaches – like a supervisor of a PhD who can guide the approach to a thesis, or like a conductor for an orchestra who can manage the build and crescendo of a piece. To work with a coach requires open honest communication.
I went into Blenheim with a “secret” goal related to time – I didn’t discuss this with my coach. I thought my goal was realistic, but I didn’t have anyone to sense check it with. So when Coach T and I set my goals for Blenheim and I hit each one of those goals, he just couldn’t understand why I seemed low. Well, it was the secret goal.
Lesson #1: No secrets.
Next, I came out of Blenheim knowing that I needed to think about how I was going to take on board nutrition while doing longer distances. In retrospect, I should have come out of my 100km ride in May thinking about this. But better late than never. I know that it is going to take me a while to do an Olympic distance triathlon – simply because the run will take me forever. This means I have to get some form of energy into me when I am out on the course.
What to do?
Well, until now I have managed the sprint distance with Nuun tablets and maybe a handful of Sports Beans. But at Blenheim, the beans weren’t cutting it. Hard to get down and didn’t sit well on the run.
I have decided to start training with Hammergels. I first learned about Hammer in 2009 at the RUSH Triathlon in Idaho – they were a sponsor company and we were given tons of samples. I liked the Hammer philosophy – all natural ingredients – so have decided to give them a spin.
So far so good.
New Product #1: Hammergels
Another thing that I learned coming out of Blenheim – it takes me a LONG TIME to feel genuinely good again after a triathlon. Even a small distance like a sprint (750m swim – 20km bike – 5km run) means that I feel tired for about 2 weeks. I finally feel like normal again – and the race was 2 weeks ago!
I learned that I probably didn’t go into Blenheim well enough rested – I had a typical “short” taper for a short distance race. And I started training again on the Tuesday after the Sunday race – again, with only one full day off it was probably too short for me. My body needs time. When your nerves don’t fire right, it takes a lot of energy to get through a race – and consequently a lot of time to recover.
So we are making some changes. In the run up to London, in addition to the typical pre-race tail off of activity, I will have blank days. Days purely off. I will not interpret this to mean those are days off that I can go out to dinner with friends. (Oops – yes I did this before Blenheim – bad me!) Taper does not mean socialise. After a race we will do two full days off before starting the active recovery cycle (save for stretching of course).
Lesson #2: More time off, taper and recovery.
How have I felt since Blenheim? Honestly? I have been having a lot of cramping happen since Blenheim. I am not sure why – tired muscles? Out of kilter nutrition? What has caused this sudden onset of cramps? Regardless, I don’t like it. At. All.
So what are we doing?
In the pool from now on, rather than jumping out once I feel cramps, I am going to stop kicking / stop using my legs by adding the pull buoy, looking for the signs and doing this before cramps set in. That way I don’t cut my sets short, and still get the upper body and cardio benefit of the sets. I did that this past weekend, it was killer. I had 30 sets of 50m hard sprints on my plan, but my legs felt really shredded before starting. Grabbed the pull buoy for 26 of the 30 sprints. Mega hard. But a great set without any cramps.
Lesson #3: Use the pull buoy
And moving onto one of my favourite topics which thankfully is as much a part of triathlon as the training and racing are – food (and eating)… Or, more specifically, what to do to find out and fill the gaps in my nutrition?
First, to figure the gaps out, I have taken the step and committed to a six month process of reflection about how I am approaching my nutrition. I have been a huge fan of Christine Lynch’s blog and twitter feed for over a year, and an advocate of the #i8this movement where you document and are accountable for your food choices. So I set up a call with Christine to test the waters and to see if I felt I could benefit from the approach she takes to food and nutritional counselling. I decided I could, so am devoting time energy and thought to how to improve my overall nutrition – without jumping into a “set plan”. No shopping list approach, thanks but that won’t work for me. Just Q&A, awareness, reflection and learning. Hopefully figuring out the things that help me to function better. And trying out some new things along the way. I am really looking forward to this journey with the ‘guru.
Lesson #4: Pay attention to food (again)
Next, I need to get back into the supplement habit, particularly magnesium. Last year I started to take magnesium when I had cramps, and after about 2 weeks of continuous doses the cramps really diminished. My doctors were unsure if this was a placebo effect or not, but regardless they advised me to take the magnesium. So here we go again.
Product #2: Back to supplements – magnesium (and more not pictured…)
I learned that too much of a good thing can bring you close to the edge. To the burn out zone.
I knew something was not right when I jumped into the pool the Saturday after Blenheim and HATED it. Maybe it was because I was in my wetsuit. Maybe it was because the pool was cold. I am not sure why, but for the first time in I think EVER I found myself thinking “God, swimming sucks”. It pains me to write that. Yes, me the one who loves swimming was at the verge of having too much of a good thing…
So I backed off. And due to Transport for London, I had to miss a coached swim set at the Lido. I knew missing one set wouldn’t kill me. And then I decided to hit the heated outdoor pool to swim in a place that makes me happy (not cold) last weekend.
Parliament Hill Lido – scene of our cold swim wetsuit training
It worked. Giving myself just a little break, backing off just a bit, fine tuning where I was training to how I was feeling. I felt great and in love with swimming again on Saturday.
Lesson #5: Backing off to avoid burnout is no bad thing
With this I enter into the next 7 weeks of training before London.
There are many things floating around in my head. I am still wondering how I will get to 10k comfortably. I need to balance my training and my desire to hit it hard with two upcoming trips. I have to get the balance right – between training, work, and my personal life.
7 weeks until I complete my first Olympic distance triathlon.
With all the lessons learned, and many more to come, I have finally come back to life…
Just in time it seems, to take a deep breath and jump right in…
(maybe this week back into the cold lido…)