Training for a half ironman

The saying goes “write about what you know”, so, having completed a 20 week training programme for a middle distance (half Ironman) triathlon, I’m comfortable telling you about it.

Before you roll your eyes, I promise it will not be a forensically detailed training and triathlon race report. There are plenty of those out there packed with way too much information.

I also promise it will not be a ‘me-fest’. There is nothing extra-ordinary about my triathlon journey, I have overcome no adversities, nor was I doing it for a charity, or for a sick family member or friend.

So that leads neatly to the big question: why do it? Well, some people choose exercise to exorcise their demons. I am one of them, and I chose a triathlon.

After selecting a suitably challenging event – the Loch lo Man middle distance triathlon on May 22 2016 – lots of Amazon deliveries started appearing with regularity at my front door. But I did not go triathlon daft (my wife might read this so I have to say that).

My kit is all entry-level stuff (my wife might read this so I have to say that). Joking aside, I raced in a pair of £6 cycling shorts from Decathlon and ran in a pair of £60 running shoes.

I also found a great free programme for triathlon beginners here and got started first week in January. Totally free and easy to follow!

Unfortunately, I was fuelling the training with indiscriminate sugar and carb-loading and by the end of March I was fitter, but I was also a lot fatter. I needed structure in my diet and I got that here from Holly at It’s nutrition.

I then continued to work my way through the training. It was not easy, but not unpleasant – maybe a bit lonely at times. But while it is true that endurance training can be lonely, that doesn’t mean we are working entirely under our own steam.

It is worth remembering that we are also pushed along by friends, fellow athletes, groups and clubs who give us confidence, advice, and support. And then there are those close to us who let us get on with it. If we are very lucky, they might even come along on race day.

You will have guessed by now, my training and support paid off and I had a good race at Loch lo Man, my first Half Iron distance triathlon.

Yeah, I did say ‘first’

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My first wild water swim

With just over six weeks to my half ironman race, the fear has started to set in. Not so much about the whole half-iron thing, more the swimming in the open water thing.

Sure, I’ve been hitting the pool pretty hard the past few months. But my wetsuit hadn’t been, ahem, wet yet. And Loch Lomond is very different from a six lane indoor swimming pool.

So, last week I joined a Facebook page for wild swimming and latched on with a hardy bunch that swims in Loch Lomond most Wednesday evenings. I pitched up loch side at 7pm to find a fellow already in full wetsuit and neoprene headpiece, and three girls wearing swimming ponchos and crocks, ready to hit the water.

Being slightly late arriving was a good thing – no time to think second thoughts. A quick bit of wetsuit wrestling, and off we went.

Minutes later I discovered that having no gloves or socks turned out to be a bad move – it was quite painful. More painful was watching the girls remove their ponchos to reveal bathing costumes. Yes, bathing costumes. No wetsuits, no neoprene. Nada. In 7.1 degree water. Hardcore!

So I decided not to whine about my lack of gloves or socks.

The swimmers kept me right and over the next 15 minutes I started to relax and wonder if I could really do this for say 45-50 minutes. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure if I can.

So I’ll go back each week and try to build my confidence and time in the open water. But next time, with neoprene gloves and socks as well as full thermal wetsuit.

Thanks to Karen for taking the photo!

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A good time for a 10k race?

What is a good time for a for a 10k road race? How fast should I be for my age category/weight/height/gender?

If you are asking this question, expect a lot of opinions and lots of factors. But I reckon there’s only one factor. And it’s got nothing to do with bio-mechanics or body shape.

When I did my very first 10k race, I finished comfortably and got in line to collect my tote bag of rewards. After waiting days to find out how I had faired, the spreadsheet of results arrived in my email inbox.

I judged a respectable placing, by law of averages, must be bang in the middle of the 10-page list of finishers. I was on page 6, quite far down the page.

Since then, running a 10k in under 50 mins has been my benchmark for what constitutes a reasonable time for me.

Why 50 minutes or less? It is the time it takes me to run a 10k at RPE 10 (my maximum Rate of Perceived Exertion). It’s the “hold nothing back” effort.

And that’s the only factor required to produce a good 10k finishing time. Just bring your RPE 10 on race day.

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Halfway to half ironman

I’m now past the halfway point in my training schedule, and am just about to finish the 12th week of a total of 20 weeks training. Every fourth week is a recovery week with minimum efforts across the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. And this week is one of those weeks. I hate them.

Why? Because I feel like I can do more, and the lack of training sessions is making me feel bored and restless. I know I need to stick to the plan, and for good reason. My calf muscles are very twitchy, my hips have been hurting, my shoulders are sore all the time, and my elbows are swollen.

Today, I could barely lift my copy of Joe Friel’s ‘The Triathlete’s Training Bible’ off the table with one hand. I think the muscles in my forearms are shot from trying to get the hang of the ‘high elbow catch’.

But let’s not go there with the ‘high elbow catch’ malarky! That’s a whole blog post on its own.

The point is, the training takes its toll. Aches and pains are just the body’s way of telling you to ease up a bit. Because under the skin, things are changing. They really are!

I used to be a card carrying insomniac. Not any more. Bed at 10pm, happily sleep to 7.30am if allowed.

And here’s why: every night my body is working hard to repair and strengthen my body. For that it needs some quiet time. And in return I’m gaining muscle in places there weren’t muscles, and making encouraging gains in speed and stamina.

But it’s not all good news. Not so welcome is the constant battle with sweat rashes, athletes foot, and my skin reacting badly to the chlorine in the pool. The worst thing though is my diet.

It is out of control. While I’m burning thousands of calories every day, I am consuming many thousands more.

For goodness sakes, I ate a slice of homemade lasagne at 11am today.

That’s a lie, it was 10.30am.

So that’s the reason I looked up Joe Freil’s weighty triathlete manual today. To read up on nutrition and find how best I eat for triathlon training while ditching those unwanted empty calories.

Throughout the detailed section on nutrition, Joe makes a case for living the Paleo diet. And I am a big fan of the Paleo concept.

It boils down to eating and drinking like we used to, before modern farming and big food corporations fucked up our food. Like any diet, you can live it like you are a zealot in some kind of foodie cult. I need looser reigns than that, especially with a diet plan that calls for wild game, and seasonal nuts & berries!

So, I am going to cut out processed carbs and cut back on refined sugars (with the exception of my weekly rest day, also known as ‘beer and ice-cream’ day). Hopefully that will see my intake of healthy greens and fruit & veg increase and wipe a bundle of unwanted calories off the plate.

And I’m going to buy a steamer. Right after I eat this last slice of lasagne.

Waste not want not 😉

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A beginner’s guide to wetsuits for Triathlon

If you found this page from a web search, then you are probably on the brink of, or have just taken, the plunge into open water swimming. I did exactly the same thing after signing myself up for a Triathlon and spent a bit of time doing desk research & getting advice from various swimmers and triathletes.

So let me share what I found out – here’s a quick rundown of what you might want to consider with your first wetsuit purchase…

  1. How good a suit do you need? This is your first wetsuit purchase and you may or may not use it long-term. You might suck at swimming, so turning up at your first triathlon in a wetsuit that costs more than most people’s tri-bikes, and then finishing last is not going to gain much kudos. Match your price point to your level. Are you an entry level triathlete/swimmer? If yes, start out with an entry level wetsuit.
  2. What does that cost? Prices start around £40, although at that price, I’d be worried about the quality on the neoprene. Something around the £100 mark will produce a decent enough suit for training and/or your first race.
  3. Rent or buy? There’s not much in it really. Rented suits start around £50-80 for a season, and then you pay an additional sum if you want to keep it. Most are rented brand new so you are not renting someone else’s sweaty swimwear. Rented wetsuits which ARE returned can sometimes be purchased much less than the original retail price – if you want a £300 wetsuit for £120, get in touch with the rental website.
  4. Sizing? I am not a standard size, what size do I need? Trust in the brand’s own sizing charts, not the retailer. Phrases like “small/tall” can be confusing – stay calm! Measure your height and weight and chest size (run a measuring tape around you chest with your arms outstretched. The tape should be just under your armpits. Check again with your arms relaxed – somewhere in between is your actual chest measurement). Visit the brand website for the wetsuit you think you might like and check which size of suit fits your build. Find a sizing which matches your weight and chest size, don’t sweat it on the height – it’s no great shakes to be a few inches too tall or short. All will be fine.
  5. Try on a few. If you can find a store which will let you, go for it – different brands have different cuts and shapes which may better suit your body shape. Remember neoprene is stretchy, and will relax a little in the water. I’d rather have a tighter fit myself.
  6. Choose a wetsuit for your intended sport. If it doesn’t say “suitable for open water swimming/triathlon” then it probably isn’t.
  7. Got one? Get help putting it on, and wear gloves and socks to protect the neoprene.
  8. Going to try it out in the open water? Don’t go solo – take a swim buddy. And a towel.
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Best foot forward and all that

My training schedule was looking nigh impossible. Six days-worth of training to cram into four, due to a work-related trip to a Hebridean island which wouldn’t allow for any swimming or cycling.

After numerous attempts to re-arrange swims and bike rides, there was only one option; cut back the planned activity.

It was the right thing to do. I was tired, and a long weekend away might just be the right thing for it. However, the weather report was forecasting snow, hazardous driving conditions and 80mph winds.

On arrival, I was shooed to the front door of the house by the gathering storm. All I wanted was peace and quiet, but it was not to be – each night, the wind and hail lashed the house allowing eff all sleep.

And yet, my mood was improving each day.

Everything takes time in remote places, so you are forced to accept the pace at which things can happen. For me, some simple pleasures were rediscovered and I began to feel quite upbeat. I seem to remember reading that ‘a spell in outdoors’ was once prescribed as a treatment for depression – there might be something in that.

When it was almost time to leave, I ventured out with the running shoes on. It was time to take on the island’s roller-coaster single track roads and I was quite sure I’d be walking it out the steep bits.

It was a messy run, with a few stops and a fair amount of panting. But when the hills came I heard my feet tapping away at the gradient and thought “Look at that! The ground is coming up to meet your feet.” Much better than my usual “Shut up, legs, you whining bastards!”


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