Sometimes I find the biggest challenge in life is getting to the start line of something, and not actually doing said something. I was mulling over this one cold November day last year – in the sense of I’ve been really enjoying my training over the last few years with the club but only ever completed a few Bishopbriggs sprints and one Strathclyde park sprint. So decided I should sign up to something there and then I thought I could not do and see what happens – the Edinburgh 70.3 Half Ironman. Yikes.
Once I’d signed up I thought I’d better get a few races organised pre 70.3 as a lead up so off went a few entries into the first sprints of the year I could make – Tranent, Bishopbriggs and then up the distance to a Standard / Olympic distance at Lochardman prior to 1st of July Edinburgh.
Then started considering my training. Having a 4 / 2 year old and a third due in December (never mind the wife) and a daily Edinburgh commute from Kirkintilloch training time really is a luxury and is something I really enjoy, not a slog that has to be ticked off. Up until then I was focusing on swimming with the club – entirely based on the Sunday evening Allander classes & then some lunchtime 5k runs avoiding work. So erm lots of improvement potential. My bike skills were shocking – having ridden motorbikes since childhood the act of having to actually pedal on two wheels to get to 25kph was anathema. So that was my starting point.
So for the bike started attending the wed night Fusion turbo session which was for me great. I was looking for a starting point to understand how far off my bike fitness was and frankly the first few weeks of this I got more out of watching others in the club and trying to copy their form & function and trying to keep up. I surprised myself after a few weeks as I started really enjoying being on the thing – next on the list was get a regular route on the bike, get a baseline, and just repeat as much as possible. That baseline for me was a 65k commute to Edinburgh from Kirkintilloch. So on Fri 22nd Dec last year I decided I’d start riding over to work – 6am off, down to Cumbernauld, up a big stretch of duel carriageway to Airdrie, left over Caldercruix, Armadale, Bathgate and down past Edinburgh airport. This was grim. Leaving Kirkintilloch in 0 degrees, and the last streetlight behind for 40K, the first rough patch of road flicked my front light off. Some frantic wiggling in the dark turned it back on however this continued for the next 2 and a bit hours. There was a point that first morning between Hillend Reservoir and Blackridge where I hadn’t seen a car for 20 minutes and could only see 6 feet in front of me I thought, I like this. Did this route a few times over the next few months (but really should have done this more in hindsight) and it helped a lot.
Running wise I’d been doing 5k twice a week at work so was doing a 22:30 5k on a hilly route – the fusion Thursday run sessions out of Scotstoun were great – there’s something magical about a bunch of people from a broad spectrum of life & ability all putting effort in and encouraging each other round the same 1k loop of tarmac. For me I took inspiration from watching the younger bunch batter round far faster than me with perfect form and a smile – I thought if I can get half as good as them that would be great. Swimming wise I continued to get along to the Allander sessions when I could and also to the Tuesday morning Scotstoun sessions. Can’t say how much of a luxury it is going swimming in the morning, so much fun! (Apart from those ankle ties. jezzo)
Anyhoo – the sprints I had signed up to came and went with a sprint PB gained at Tranent along the way – sadly the Lochardman was cancelled a month prior due concerns about water temps so I ended up going from Bishopbriggs sprint into the IM70.3. Got myself a new snazzy road bike too, having had various KTM motorbikes I went for one of their road bikes and managed to get it via the UK KTM race team boss direct from factory at a much less than advertised price, and then added a set of power pedals and some aero tri bars. A few practice runs at the IM70.3 bike route later and bosh let’s do it.
So the week of the race arrived, relaxed any training and decided to do a couple of 1900m swims in the pool in prep for Sunday. Had a little wobble on the Friday having woken up after some kind of heat reaction from the day before – red blotches all over, eyes completely puffed up and flu like symptoms came and went fri/sat but still had me sun glasses on at registration to avoid questions about the black eyes. Registered on the Friday afternoon and went to the briefing. First thoughts on arriving was OMG this is a big event – listening to the accents in the registration queue was enlightening. Reality hit when on the Sat afternoon heading to T1 at Prestonpans to set up bike (T1 at Prestonpans, T2 located at Holyrood) – I don’t mind swimming in the sea, nor doing 1900m in a pool but seeing the buoys laid out looked a lot longer than my pool 1900m swim !! argh ! Back to the hotel for the evening at Holyrood and to get my kit laid out for the next morning – glad I did this as I then realised I’d packed my fusion cycling bib shorts instead of the fusion tri suit – that would have been fun. Quick drive back to Glasgow fixed this followed by pizza and bed.
Up at 3am the next morning decided to get the first bus from Edinburgh centre down to swim start to just get organised and chill out. Family were coming to see the run segment only so I was on my tod. Set the bike up with nutrition for the day and had a meander or two past the rack with the pros bikes – blimey! Into the wet suit and figured out the queuing for the start of the swim – these events everyone just lines up staggered (and self-selected) from 30mins – 1hr swim times in a big queue up the beach with the pros in a separate group at the front. Little bit of stupidity set in there – thinking I was doing 36 min 1900m in the pool not killing myself I thought I’d prob go faster in a wetsuit so plumped for about 33 min queue point. This was largely at the front and noticed most of the people there stood just eyeing each other up and thought hmmmmmm this is a bad idea. Too late the pros were off and we started getting funnelled down to the shore.
We were let off in groups of 3 at 6 second intervals, before I knew it was my turn and we had a 6 metre sprint off the carpet down the stones to the water. Got to just over my knees and dived in. OH MY GODDDDDDDD. OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD. I had realised it was going to be cold, I was thinking about this as I ran towards the water but deary me! Went into a bit of a cold shock and some fight or flight set in – heart rate jumped, breathing went off the scale and I couldn’t get my head under (also due to the fact I couldn’t actually see a thing in the water it was so murky – maybe should have thought of this). Proceeded to water polo swim for about 50-100 metres out towards the first buoy. About 100 metres out I still couldn’t get my head under and thought there’s no way I can swim 1900m like this – so I either give up or force my head under. Did the latter and all the Allander swim work started appearing in my head – zip drill, placing your hands at corners of the board and just breathing simply and efficiently to one side after each stroke. Before long the cold shock had gone and I was off. Took another 50 or so metres and I was bi laterally breathing and starting to enjoy it. The swim course was a bit L shape out from the beach – 500 odd metres straight out, turn left and a 750 metres straight followed by a similar return. Rest of the swim was straight forward, didn’t see any jelly fish, and thought I’m in for 6-7 hours here so better cruise along as efficiently as possible.
T1 was relatively straight forward bar the fact I struggled to get the Velcro on my wetsuit off – so up the beach and off to the change tent. For the IM70.3 events when you exit there’s a two stage T1 really – run into a tent and get your wetsuit off – place it in a prepositioned bag at your race number collecting shoes / anything else you fancy and make your way out the racking with yer bike. Picked the bike out and off I went on my merry way. I had ridden most of the bike course a couple of times prior so knew mostly what to expect – fast smooth first 3rd with a few ramps and then a loop around some small single carriageway roads with the final 3rd back into Edinburgh via some horrendous housing estates / speed humps. First 3rd went fine, problems started at the end of the middle section about 60k in – both quads cramped to the extent I couldn’t stand up on the peddles. At this point I realised I hadn’t really followed my nutrition plan (three bottles on the bike and 5 gels. The gels take one every 30 mins and drink as required) – had been taking the gels but had only gotten 3/4 way through first bottle. Then onwards it was a case of going as fast as I could but there were a few painful ramps – the worst being the last climb in Holyrood Park – there was no option of sitting peddling – I just had to stand up and peddle through cramp in both quads until the top. This was very sore.
Sooooo dumped the bike in T2 racks, ran through the tent firing my trainers on and out onto the run course. This when it really hit home how big this event was – 3 laps around a closed Arthur seat and there were hundreds of people everywhere. Caught my first Fusioner, Ian McDougall, on the exit of T2 and a high five was massively motivating. The 3 lap / 7k per lap route totalled about 400m climbing & had a short straight followed by a long climb up to a further 500m straight followed by a dead turn and back at which point you went down a steep path with switch backs to a tunnel – along the tunnel and back must have totalled about 1k, and then it was back up the switch backs and back down to the first mentioned long climb to the start point. Sadly the cramp in the quads returned each and every time I went near a hill and was followed with some hamstring issues but at this point I didn’t care I was finishing this thing – this time I followed my run nutrition plan, stopping at every feed station, taking on one cup of water, one over the head and a cup of coke on the exit. Counted down the run in stages – telling myself one lap done, therefore I can do another and just focused on this and then having down 2 laps it was a case of – last time on this hill, last time in the tunnel etc until I got to the end. Finish line was great – pushed into the finish tent afterwards it was a hilarious sight of people lying about broken everywhere and tables upon tables of pies / cake / drinks. Bizarre sight.
So went home and recovered for a few days and considered the experience – this was one of the best, most challenging things I’d done but couldn’t help but think I could/should have gone faster. So there was some unfinished business. Tuesday after the race I signed up to the Aberfeldy Middle distance – 7 weeks later. Enough time I thought to consider what went wrong, make some changes, and try again. I summarised these into two key areas 1) Swim – struggled with temperature, wetsuit swimming & generally open water swimming & 2) Cycle – lack of structured training & just not enough miles. The 6 weeks pre aberfedly I attended the wed pinkston swim with Pro Endurance – first session there I had similar issues getting my head under but gradually over the space of a few weeks it improved and it was oddly satisfying swimming outdoors at 6:30am. With the bike it just so happened the Bellahouston cycle track sessions started so got into these on a weekly basis – it is sooooooo much fun chasing people around that track – especially the small people who are super fast !! In addition I started riding to the Allander swim session and back on a Sunday (16k each way) and got myself a wee time trial on the go every week.
Aberfeldy came soon enough and found myself stood in wetsuit staring at a 1900m swim course again that again looked a lot longer than 1900 in a pool. It was also raining. Hmmmm swim was different this time with a group start in the water. Got the instruction to head down the slip and in and I must admit to being somewhat nervous of the cold shock / mild panic from IM70.3 but just had to go for it. What a difference this time – slipped into the water and swam out a bit – no reaction, within 2 mins I was head under warming up feeling fine. Stopped out near the start point and just floated about on my back thinking this is great. Before I knew it the horn went and I was still on my back so quick turnaround and off I went – this time I could actually see my hands in the water and about 8-9 feet so this swim compared to the last one was so much more relaxed & comfortable. A quick 1900m later in a triangle and I was back out and up the ramp to T1. Rain got worse during the swim and had decided as I was finishing I’d slip on my fusion top over my tri suit and grab some gloves.
Out on the bike course I considered my sole aim of the day – do not blow up on the bike. Having not had time to recce the course I did know there was a big climb at the beginning, a loop round Loch Rannoch and then back over the same climb from the other side to T2. I’d had a set power tap pedals on the bike during IM70.3 more gathering data than directing the ride, and had been on each ride between races working out how to use them and gathering data. So by the time Aberfedly came I had set some targets for max power on climbs and what to aim at on the flats. So on the first climb I sat at a max 250 watts all the way up and for the rest tried to average 190-200. This time I felt so much better and got to the 70k mark in what felt as no time at all. Up the final climb and down to T2 I arrived without cramp. YAY.
Given all the effort and focus on the swim and run for Aberfedly I had deliberately put the run section to the back of my mind and result of that was obvious half way round – but then I had achieved the goals I had set myself with 3-4 mins quicker on the swim and 20 mins quicker on the bike than the IM70.3 6 weeks prior & none of the issues encountered.
All of the above would not have been possible not being part of Fusion, and getting along to as much of the weekly training as I can. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you embrace the weekly training grind and do so in the fun and friendly environment created by this great club.
So …. I now have lots of things I can work on with my running…
posted by Paul Anderson on