There are now just three weeks to go before I step on the warm sands of Panama City Beach to take my place on the start line at Ironman Florida (and if you’re reading this in dark, grey, rain-soaked Britain, I mean the warm golden sands, deep blue cloudless skies and balmy Caribbean waters of Panama City Beach – aha ha ha hahaha ha).
IM Florida will be my last big challenge of the year (unless you count getting out of going to see my tedious brother-in-law for the Christmas dinner from hell) and the training this time round has been hard. Maybe it’s because I’m training later in the year than usual, maybe it’s the dark nights and the colder weather, or maybe I am just getting too old for all this, but I’m knackered, grumpy and hungry – the “knackered” part of this being the only discernible difference from my usual state.
I’m especially tired this week having just returned from a weekend training camp in Wales with the lads from my cycling club. Because Florida is completely flat I felt the ideal preparation would be to do 160 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing in two days around the vowel-free villages of Snowdonia. Highlights of the weekend included riding up Horseshoe Pass in the big ring and the bunch going so fast around Lake Vyrnwy that we made some leisure cyclists scream with fright. Moments I do not wish to remember included 25% hills which were so hard I ended up with teeth marks in my handlebars. On top of slogging my way around the valleys that time forgot, I’m also trying to do something about preparing for the heat I am going to face on the warm, golden, sun-kissed etc etc sands of Florida.
Historically I do not fare well in the heat. I am British and therefore used to a predominantly overcast sky. I am also blond and therefore about as comfortable in sunlight as your average vampire. As a result, in previous races I have become so dehydrated by the heat that I’ve virtually turned into a pillar of salt. So this time, I am taking steps to avoid the advanced stages of death by doing some acclimatisation.
Finding places in the UK that are 30 degrees centigrade and 75% humidity in October is not easy, but that’s where Loughborough University Sports Science Service and the fiendish heat chamber come in. For the past couple of weeks I have been travelling to Loughborough to sit on my turbo trainer in a small room packed full of heaters, humidifiers and wallpaper steamers, and pedal like mad for an hour while resident Physiologist Beth Hanson analyses my heart-rate, temperature, rate of fluid-loss and constant bitching.
The acclimatization sessions are not only to get me used to training in the heat, but are also designed to calculate how much I need to drink during a race, when to drink, and most importantly what to drink. This involves Beth maintaining a high degree of professionalism while taking blood and urine samples from an extremely sweaty and sweary man moaning about having a numb crotch. I’ve done four sessions so far and have another six to go.
At the end of all this I not only get an impressive array of sweat rashes and a tolerance for cycling in ovens, but a drink and a drinks plan to help me survive in the heat. This combined with dragging my bike up Welsh cliffs should help me get round the warm, golden, sun-kissed etc etc sands of Florida. And after the Ironman, I have another drinking plan to concentrate on, with which I require no help whatsoever…