Last summer, I gave up triathlon.
Sitting by the roadside in the London Triathlon, having sunk like a stone in the swim coupled with an impressive demonstration in complete lack of ability on the bike, I decided I didn't like this game any more. There was no emotional drama that came with this decision. It was simple. Don't like it? Time to do something else!
Or perhaps, not that simple.
Burnout happens in the head as well as the body. I should have learned my lesson as it's not the first time, but I reckon we've mastered it now. I had a couple of small setbacks in Spring last year. I then tried forcing my way back to fitness and blitzed a couple of weeks here and there only to find myself performing at first averagely, and then not at all. I wasn't ill. I wasn't injured. So I must just be rubbish. Oh well!
After a bad race is not the time to make decisive retirement calls, however. A couple of days later I went to visit new Coach Mark, who must have wondered quite what he'd taken on! After witnessing me unable to swim 3*200 at tempo pace and get dropped in a bike session after 5 minutes, he pulled me out of the triathlon equation for 1 month. World champs, forget it. August instead became 1 month of rest. A hard reset. This proved to be the best thing I could have done. Thanks, team and sponsors, for sticking in there!
I finished 2017 with a couple of low key races and did my first ultra marathon for 5 years and that was great: I really enjoyed the process of a run-focussed month. The volume was not much compared to tri training so I was able to keep healthy and found I got very lean very quickly without trying: bonus!
Mark also banned me from 5.30 a.m starts at the swimming club: something I've found has made a HUGE difference for me. OK, I have to be self-motivated now and navigate public lanes, but people tend to be very cooperative round here in Windsor, I have sussed the optimal times, and it's working well. Other coaches have always suggested or questioned the need for club swimming but Mark was pretty vocal about this being detrimental if you have the option to sleep more and train in the day time. With his focused drills and specific sessions, and almost halving the volume (only about 16k a week max) my swimming has gone up a level. I'm far less tired. I was out of the Israman swim in 25 minutes this weekend which is great for me. Mark is of the mindset that we do as little training as we can get away with - or perhaps to make it sound less lazy - smart training that gives you the most 'bang for your buck'. This is quite the opposite of the 'smashfest-tastic' mindset of the typical triathlete and I love it. This approach takes confidence and belief in the program, as yes, you could be doing more, but having had a good six months of feeling healthy, and now the feeling I had in Israman, it's definitely working for me.
I absolutely love this race. I arrived for my third time to be greeted by the race organisers: "Alice, welcome home".
The race is extreme. For the half irondistance we swim 1.9km in beautiful calm water (ok - that bit is not extreme at all!) before hoofing up a 12km climb on the bike at which point you begin the lap. It's a bit of a mind game when you look down to see you've covered 20km and you've been racing for almost 2 hours already :D
Once up the mountain, the cycling stays on the ridge which is exposed and undulating: and at that point the course profile matches the only type of bike course I excel on - rolling and rhythmical.
What I am not sure about is how I manged to navigate the wind so well. Apparently people got really spooked and were being blown all over the place. Maybe it's something to do with the Cervelo P5 or maybe I am too dim to register such things, but I didn't even notice and kept on my bars moreorless the entire time, and no braking either. I was just trying to focus on keeping tucked and aero as usually I'm far too upright, so I guess having the wind as feedback made that easier to focus on. Massive thanks here to the guys at the expo for letting me borrow a 505 Bontrager front wheel to replace my Zipp 808: I was advised not to race with that beast on the front!
Regardless, the bike took a while - 3 hrs came and went, and I realised I was a few minutes behind schedule for my sub 5 hr record attempt. I'd need a 1.13 half marathon to do it! No problem :D
The beauty of Israman is that T2 is at the top of the mountain, so you get to run down what you rode up. 2.55 km pace in patches - Yayyyyyy. Weeeee. Wooooo..... OWWWWW. If not prepared, it shatters your legs, and then you have 9km at the bottom to limp through to the finish line. Israman is hilarious the day after the race - I've never seen such a collection of zombie-looking-walkers!
As in 2016, I practiced my downhill running before the race. Every week for a month I'd include some fast reps - starting at 4*2.5 mins in a longer run, and progressing to 20 mins as either one single effort (Tenerife allowed us this) or in reps where I would run down, and Darren would be out in the car ready to drive me back up to minimise the time between reps. Come race day, you have around 30 mins total downhill, broken up by some trail sections and a few 'false flats'!
Preparation had all gone well until two weeks before, where I thought "my legs are feeling good whenever I run downhill, let's try a lighter pair of shoes for ultimate gainz". OMG. My calves were crippled. At least I knew before the race. When doing a long or extreme run, I'd most definitely advise to stick with comfort over lightweight. For Israman I built my perfect race shoe: using my hefty Nike Pegasus and my trusty Currex insoles, and my feet were the most comfortable body part come the finish! If you don't wear socks, the pounding on the downhill almost guarantees bad blisters, so they're a must too. Another point for the downhill: do your laces up quite tight or your feet slip and your toes get crushed. All this combined meant I got to the bottom in good form and without too much damage, and I was able to hold just shy of 4 min k pace for the entire final section to finish with a 1.18.30 half marathon: 4 minutes quicker than I've ever been on that course and 2nd fastest from everyone. Very pleased with that.
About to start the run
Finishing in 5.03.58 was not disappointing whatsoever. I came close to sub 5 in 2014 (5.00.38) but we didn't realise then how perfect the conditions were (it being our first time). Israman always throws a good dose of mother nature your way, so I'll just have to try again on a kind day :)
Thanks again to all the organisers of Israman and the athletes who I met so many of. It's a fantastic event, beautifully organsied in a beautiful place with quality sponsors and mementos, and I can only strongly suggest that anyone reading this adds it to their bucket list!
Photos: Darren Wheeler (That Camera Man) and Nir Amos