The training programme I’m following involves a series of swim drills, most of which make it look like I’m either fighting a losing battle against drowning or against insanity.
There’s the one where you swim with one arm. The one where you swim with closed fists. And, best of all, the one where you swim on one side, do a few kicks with flippers on, and then roll onto the other side. People tend to watch with the same expression they’d use if I emerged from the changing room with no trunks on.
It should probably make me feel vaguely ridiculous, but it turns out the drills actually work. (And, let’s face it, as the sort of person who regularly goes out in public wearing a tri-suit, feeling vaguely ridiculous was never going to be a new experience for me anyway.) In fact, I’ve really started to notice progress as my training has ramped up over the past month, although you wouldn't notice it from this video…
Having begun in December doing seven-eight hours a week, I’m now managing 15-16. And while repeating the same drills – and the same punishing cycle and run intervals – can feel unrewardingly repetitive, the creeping, silent changes, looked at in terms of months rather than days, are becoming a major source of motivation.
The strange drills have helped my stroke change considerably, and I’ve gone from needing to swim 2,000m in four chunks of 500m to swimming 4,000m without too much bother, and in a time that would’ve seemed unimaginable when I started.
While I’ll never be the quickest cyclist, my times and my endurance on the bike are slowly improving – helped along by some fairly brutal turbo sessions and by a couple of 120km+ sportives, including the one in the picture that featured a very satisfying haul up the 25% cobbles of the hill from the Hovis ad.
And while my running times are nowhere near what they have been – endurance, rather than speed, being the main focus at the moment – I’m comfortably pushing the distances up even as I put my legs through more training than they’ve ever done before.
And I say all this not to give myself a big pat on the back, but to focus on a theme I’ve always noticed when training for distance events – that you need to be patient to see progress, but that it does happen, almost without you noticing.
With marathon training, for instance, your first 12-miler feels exhausting. But six weeks later, when you’ve done 14, 16 and 18-mile runs, 12 miles is just a small step towards something much bigger.
I remember feeling slightly insulted when, after I’d completed my first ever half-marathon, my father-in-law to-be told me that a half-marathon would soon be just another training run. But he was right – because as you progress, so do your perceptions.
And while the full iron-distance at the Outlaw in July still seems a very long way off, I know I’m a lot closer to it than I was when I began. This is week 20 out of 30, so I’m about to begin the ‘peak’ phase of training. And I very much hope that, all being well, the distances I’m doing now will soon seem like stepping stones, too.
They’re achievements in their own right, for sure, but ultimately they’re part of a much bigger picture. And it pays to keep that picture in mind, not least when you roll onto your side one more time, only for the lifeguard to stop to check once again that you really aren’t just about to sink.
Matt is racing the Outlaw for the charity Mind. Head to www.justgiving.com/ironkurton to sponsor him.