Am I A Triathlete?

Today I completed my first triathlon, it was part of the Garmin Sprint Series at Dorney Lake, the distances were 400m swim, 21.5km bike and 5km run.

Now, for anyone who has read any of my previous blogs I have had on going struggle with swimming. Me and swimming and not the happiest of bed fellows, just as I feel I am making progress something happens and I go back a couple of steps. Recently I have felt like I have made real progress, my weekly swim lesson has helped, they have simplified swimming for me, tried to take away some of the complexity and tried to basically make me believe that I am actually an ok swimmer.

Pool swimming is different to open water swimming, and I think most people accept this, I certainly did. I have had a dip in a lake previously and didn’t find it a problem, yes my swimming was worse then but I didn’t suffer any kind of adverse effect.

In the run up to today, I have been feeling stressed about the swim, I am not sure if it was the distance or just the fact it was a swim but I have certainly felt the pressure in the build up. So, come today, I put my wetsuit on, and yes I managed to tear it, and then it is into the water. Dorney Lake is a man made lake designed specifically for rowing, the water is pretty clean and clear and not too cold. I was ready for the start, and then it went, the hooter sounded and we were off, except, I didn’t go anywhere. I looked up and suddenly thought I can’t do this, and I never went anywhere. I then called to on of the canoe marshals and swam over to his canoe, he told me to take a minute, catch my breath and then move off when I was ready. I waited a bit, and then I set off, I then proceeded to swim the 400m, with the occasional veering off course, but hey what is a few extra metres!

On exiting the swim, it wasn’t quite like watching the ITU strs on TV as I walked off into transition, rather the pro sprint. I removed my wetsuit and was grateful on put on my cycle shoes and unpack my bike. Now, due to my slow swim I was a bit desperate to try and catch up on the bike, and so I hit the bike hard and I went for it full on. The bike course was 4 laps and on my first lap I was pretty much on my own and took the advantage of having free lines through the chicane and bends, I then started to catch people. It was during the bike I realised my bike computer had decided to take a day off and my Garmin also didn’t want to work, so I was riding on feel, and this meant I pushed on, hard.

By the end of the bike, I thought I must have caught a few and so it was onto the run. By now it was very hot and the heat and the effort on the bike started to take their toll. My pace felt slower than normal and I was struggling to be able to lift it, I just dug in to get it done and to the finish.

The finish line came not a moment too soon, on crossing it I realised that I was basically cooked, I had taken on a decent amount of energy drink but not enough simple water and the gel I took was repeating on me!

So, what conclusion can I take from today, well I came 385 out of 640, my bike time was faster than the 120 people who finished before me, but I had a funny moment in the water. I don’t really know what caused it, a moment of self doubt and lack of confidence for the one element I know I struggle with. The big question is what happens next, do I go on to Blenheim and take on the slightly longer swim or do I just sit back and say I have done a triathlon now? For me it will depend on the next couple of weeks swimming, if I feel better and more confident in the pool then why not, I know if I have a problem I will be rescued.

To the original question, am I a triathlete? The answer for me is currently no, I have done a triathlon but I need to do more to become what I call a triathlete.

The final part of this is to thank those who helped me get to this point, “Iron” Mike Shaw who has provided me with a great training base and put up with my moaning about swimming. Julian Nagi for the free advice on swimming and most importantly my wife, who ams swimming with me, encouraged me when I was down and has generally been the voice of reason and big support all through this process.

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Measuring Mental Progress

The progress we all make through our training is, by and large, measurable. We can see improvements in pace over certain distances, more watts held for a longer period or just the ability to to go for longer.

All of these measurements have one thing in common, they are all measurements of physical progress, and whilst this is very important in training, how do you measure mental progression?

The mental side of sport has over the last few years become a high profile topic, just ask around loads of people have read Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox, and even more have heard of Dr Peters. Who would of thought a psychologist would be so famous!

Back to the question, how do you measure mental progress, I have been thinking about this a fair amount recently and to be honest I don’t know the answer, however I do have some thoughts on it.

Firstly, confidence, if you are now feeling more confident towards a certain aspect of your sport which previously caused you anxiety, then to me that is progress. For example, I know I am far more confident in my swimming than I was, so that must be progress, even though I still have self-doubt when thinking about it. Things always seem easier when you are confident, just think back to the first time you ran or cycled a certain distance, it would have seemed a challenge but as time moves on you now know you can achieve this, and so it seems esker.

Visualisation, is your visualisation becoming more reflective of your actual performance? If it is then you must be improving, as you are now aligning your mental progress to the physical.

Belief, for me this is the big one. Do you believe you will achieve? I get plenty of people telling me you will achieve this or that, but they don’t know the internal struggle I go through in training. Yes, I really appreciate their support but sometimes I find this just applies more pressure to succeed as nobody expects anything less than completion. For me, I need to believe, trust in my ability, trust that I know what I am capable of, and then do it.

This year, I have worked on being mentally positive, the mind is a super powerful thing and needs to be used for good as it has the ability to overpower the physical and drive you on. I know that when I feel tired it doesn’t mean I need to stop, it just means I need to push that little bit harder as the point I need to stop isn’t the first sign of difficulty.

I know everyone is different and will view how to measure mental progression differently but I think there is one thing we can all agree on, and that is it is mind over matter and as someone once said “go hard or go home”.

A Bit Lapse Of Late

It is true that recently I have not written much,and frankly that is poor, what is the point of having a blog if you don’t use it?

Well it is now time to rectify this, at least for now. Recently I have seen an improvement in my swimming, it has come from a combination of things I think.

Firstly, just doing more of it, over time you should improve if you do enough of something, even swimming. Secondly, the lessons have given me the opportunity to practice basically in a lane of my own most weeks, and that is a real advantage. The third thing, and maybe it is more of a result of the others is that I am now starting to feel slightly more confident in the water.

Confidence in the water is, for me, the biggest thing. I need to feel in control and that I can safely get to the other end.

Another confidence increasing factor has been the opportunity I have had to have a few swims in an outdoor pool wearing my wetsuit. This has really helped as I can now feel the difference it makes.

I am hopeful that by the time my first race comes round I should be able to just about get through the swim, and that in turn might provide a further boost in confidence.

Before, all of that though, next weekend I am off to Lincoln to ride the Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive, apparently it finishes with a cobbled climb in the town, should be fun, and I will write a review of it next weekend.

Train or Race?

When I was out cycling today I started to wonder whether I preferred to train or to race. It is a more difficult question than I first imagined.

My initial thoughts were, race, you only train to race so I must prefer racing. However, racing comes with added complications, you get pressure when you race, you get nervous pre-race, you have other people around all of who can have either a positive or negative impact on your race. When I thought about it these factors actually do put me off racing a bit. On the other hand when you finish a race you get the satisfaction of completing the event and sometimes even the admiration of friends and family.

Training on the other hand comes with no pressure, no one else to influence your session and the added advantage of being able to do it when you want to. But, training involves pain, and you whilst you have to hurt yourself in a race in training there are often sessions where you need to push yourself harder than you want to, remove that comfort zone and see what you can do.

I really enjoy training, I don’t mind coming home from work, getting changed and going out training in whatever the weather is. I find training relaxing, a way to clear your mind from the day.

When you train for a multi sport event there are obviously sessions you prefer over others, but the key is getting through all of them and trying to enjoy them all. If you don’t enjoy it then it becomes a chore and then you start resenting it and that is the point that you probably give up and stop. Me, I enjoy it.

In conclusion I would have to say I probably enjoy training over racing, and whilst I train to be able to race, if I couldn’t race anymore I would still certainly still train.

Stick To The Plan

This week was a significantly tougher week, the intensity of the training has gone up a notch and this led to me finishing the week a lot more tired than usual.

One of the contributing factors was an additional run on Friday lunchtime, this was probably to soon after Thursday nights pain fest, and even though the run wasn’t overly hard it was long enough and fast enough to leave me tired in the evening and this led to me have two boughs of cramp whilst swimming.

Now I don’t know how others found having cramp whilst swimming, but it is tricky. Firstly I got it in the hamstring and lucky just moving my foot whilst still swimming got rid of it. But, the second time it was in my left foot, and whilst I got to the end of the length it was difficult to get rid of, it did go but wasn’t pleasant.

I think that this week I would have finished it more tired than usual but the additional run I think certainly helped, and as this run wasn’t on the plan this is where I am currently laying the blame.

This started me thinking, what if I hadn’t done the extra run, would I have been so tired? Well, this is something that I could never answer for sure, but there is one additional factor I have failed to mention so far, and that is a reasonably late night on Friday and a few beers, now this didn’t affect my swim on Friday but it certainly was a contributing factor to the overall tiredness.

What does this all mean then? Well it is simple, the plan says on this day do this, and make sure you rest, eat and sleep properly and if you don’t stick to it then there will be some impacts.

We all need to go out and have a few nights out and so I don’t feel guilty about it and so I just have to accept that if the week is a high intensity one and I have a night out in it then I will be tired. It is a hard life but if it was easy why do it!

Book Review – Bounce by Matthew Syed

This book has been around for a few years now and I think it is fair to say has certainly become a conversation piece amongst both athletes (ahem) and coaches.

The premise of the book is to explore whether elite athletes are more naturally talented or if they have done more purposeful practice, the book is centred around the belief that to become world class you need to have about 10000 hours of purposeful practice.

In my house just the purchasing of the book prompted intense discussion between me and my boy, who said it is rubbish and was sick of having it’s principals told to him constantly during his school life. He has never read the book.

I will be honest, when I am not good at a sport I am guilty of saying I am not a natural whatever, but having read the book and now understanding it more, what I should be saying is I am less practised at the sport and need to invest more time and purposeful practice to improve.

The book quotes various studies throughout it’s course and uses these to back up the principal theory and the examples obviously are designed to suit the arguments, he does offer up the counter arguments but these are not explored in as much detail.

I have to say I am not a complete convert to the theory, but the idea that purposeful practice designed to work on your weaknesses is better than practicing the things you are already good at is something I do agree with, and is something I am going to be incorporating into my swim training.

Should you read the book, yes and then make your own mind up about whether you agree with his ideas or not.

I know some coaches and school teachers who are complete converts and also I know people who are completely against the idea as they maintain the elite sportsman simply are more talented. For those of us who operate well below the elite level there is plenty in the book we can take and so I would say go read it, if nothing else it is certainly a conversation piece.

When Does Visualisation Become Reality?

In many sports you often hear coaches talking about visualising the activity or outcome, see it in your minds eye and then translate this to your physical performance.

The whole idea of visualisation is interesting, can you see yourself doing something, can you picture what it looks like in your own head? Until I started to learn to swim I had never actually been told to think about it or even try it, I was told to sit down and think about the aspects of my swim stroke and what it would look like in practice.

I am told that if you can picture it in your mind, it is easier for you to then translate this into the actual physical activity. So on this basis I have been trying to visualise my swim stroke to help my progression. I will admit it took a bit of time but in my head now I can see what my swim stroke should be, I see it from the external perspective as though watching myself swimming.

When I see my swim stroke in this way it seems to work well, but my problem is translating this into reality. I decided to do some reading on the subject of visualisation and found an interesting article from the Australian Institute of Sport, which explains the concept in clear terms. You can read the article here.

From reading this and some other articles I have started to wonder whether I spend enough time on my visualisation, I tend to picture my swim in my head and think of it for only maybe 10 seconds and then move on, I think that I need to actually visualise entire lengths and invest some quality time in this, it might lead to improved confidence and relaxation, but time will tell.

I know that not everyone will agree with the concept of visualisation and some will even suggest it is a load of hippy nonsense, but, with the mind playing such key role in sport it might be the key to unlock the hidden performance.

Tales From The Riverbank

This week my training seems to have involved water in all but one session. The only exception being my turbo session (luckily) as that was in the safety of my garage.

My other sessions, run, swim and bike all certainly had water elements in them. Lets start with the most obvious, the swim, both my swim sessions this week were not as good as I would have liked, I can’t put my finger on the reason but for whatever reason I was slightly off. However, on my Friday night swim when things were not going so well rather than stopping and getting out of the pool I dug in a bit and do some more lengths, they were not much better but it was more the mental side of pushing on even when it wasn’t all roses.

My run involved water in a slightly odd way, I was running up a hill and had just got over the top when a car came towards me, there was nowhere for me to go other than the grass verge, seemed like a good idea. Here is the but, as I put my foot on the grass it sunk and when I tried to pull it out my shoe came off, luckily it wasn’t stuck in the mud but it pinged out in front of me, and of course I put my foot, minus the shoe, down straight down in a puddle, the result being one very wet soggy sock, lovely!

You can probably guess the water involvement in my bike ride, there was so much surface water on the roads it was hard to believe that it would ever all dry up. One road in particular was flooded right across it, and it was nearly up to the depth of the bottom of my forks, luckily I didn’t have to stop else I fear I might have had to swim for it.

Overall, this week I have been feeling better, I am eating more which is helping and my cold is finally going so it could be onwards and upwards.

Lumie Bodyclock STARTER 30

I was introduced to the Lumie product range via the Joe Beer Podcast (well worth subscribing to) and decided to do some investigating into what they were supposed to do for you.

From the Lumie website it says that these products are designed to help you wake up using light therapy to help stimulate production of hormones that help us to get up and go, while suppressing those that bring on sleep.

Now for me up until last November I would never have considered one of these products as I had no problem waking up and feeling ready to go, then for some reason in November and for ho reason I can work out I just couldn’t get up in the morning, the alarm was waking me with a start and I generally didn’t want to go anywhere. At first I thought this would go, but as it carried on into January I decided I need to do something, the question was what.

Having heard of these products I did some research and as they are relatively low in cost (approx £60) I decided to give it a go, I have to say I wasn’t holding out much hope, but try it and see.

The product is dead easy to set up, I think it took about 5 minutes and so isn’t really worth going into more details, I am sure there are unboxing videos on YouTube if you want to see one.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they , so what is the product like? Well, it is designed to increase the light in the room from 30 minutes before the alarm time to simulate a sumer morning, and I can confirm it certainly does that.

But does it make you feel better when you wake up? For me I can say that after a few weeks use it is working, when my alarm goes off I am waken yup feeling relaxed and generally ready to go. This i know is not a very scientific result, it is purely subjective, I do however have a second test subject and someone who is frankly rubbish in the morning, my wife!

First things first, my wife is a definite sufferer of SAD, and she has a lamp in her office to help her through the winter, and she also likes sleeping.

So when I asked her what she felt about the light I was very surprised by her answer, I had expected her to say it didn’t help at all, but in fact it was the complete opposite, she says that it really is helping, she is waking feeling relaxed and not dreading getting up.

The big question left for me on this is, is the effect real or is it a placebo effect? For the time being I would say it is real, as time goes on I will re-asses this and see if the results continue to be positive.

In conclusion I would say that this product might help some people, it has helped me, is it worth the money? Yes, as at worse if the effect doesn’t work you get a nice bedside light with an inbuilt alarm clock. Could you replicate the effect with a timer switch on your bedroom light and have it increase the brightness over a period of time, no idea, try it and let em know the outcome.

This review is the first one for this product, as I intend to do another one in the future to see how it is progressing.

Here is the link to this actual product for those interested.

Who Do We Compete Against?

I have always admired anybody that enters an event, as this in itself is a big physical, mental and emotional commitment. Just deciding to enter an event means that you are prepared to put yourself in a position where you may or may no succeed, and this is without the impact on your family and sometimes friends.

As amateur athletes first and foremost we have to work to ensure we can have a lifestyle that allows us to take part in our chosen sports. For us there is none of this sleeping till we are ready to rise, eating and then training for the day, then resting and repeating. For us we fit our training into our day around work and family and sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day.

This means that in some respects we are actually more dedicated than the pro’s, not as talented for sure but certainly not lacking in dedication.

When it comes to our chosen events, who are we really competing with? Is it ourselves, our current self, a former self or something else? This is something that will be personal to each of us, for me it is always one of two things, I either want to test myself to see if I can do it or I purely do it for fun. I have been at the finish of events, and seen people cross the finish line and burst into tears at their achievement, I have never experienced this, I have never done something for someone else or been that desperate to complete something, maybe it’s an experience I have to come.

I accept I am never going to win a race, in fact my best ever result was 3rd in my age group in a 10k, this gave me a real buzz, but if I never repeat it I don’t mind.

The other side to our competing is how it affects our families, does your partner come to your races willingly or because you make them? IF they do something do you go and support or would you? I am lucky my wife comes to my races and always offers support and in the build up a sense of balance, and who doesn’t find an extra bit of energy when your name is called out from a group of spectators? We all love it really!

In conclusion what I am trying to say is that we should never lose sight of why we enter events, yes the training can be hard, yes it can be difficult, yes you might never be an Olympian but ask yourself, who are you competing with?

The answer to this question is probably different for each of us, and to be honest my reason is no more valid than yours we all do it for our own reasons. But there is one thing we all have in common, and is something we should not forget, we do this for FUN, the most important point and one often forgotten.