At 6.40am, my iPhone alarm sounds. I enjoyed 8hrs sleep last night, but I could do with more. I step out of bed and test the feet and the ankles. Yes, my aches and pains are still there, the perpetual struggle of a 29-year-old triathlete. It’s time for a coffee or maybe two. I hobble around the kitchen, spilling ground coffee, thinking, ‘I’ll clean that up later’, before sitting down and massaging my feet and ankles. I can feel the session from last night.
Don’t listen to the devil
I depart at 6.55am. Autumn and winter mornings are tough – they’re dark, cold and almost always wet. The best way to get through is to avoid thinking. That just awakens the devil inside, which persuades you to stay in bed.
I arrive at the pool for Covid-19 checks. Mandatory mask, temperature check, 36.1°C – cool. Hand gel and symptom questionnaire. All clear; we can swim. Now it’s the usual poolside ritual – when you’re meant to think about activation and warm-up routines but, in reality, I just sit and stare at the water before diving in.
My fingertips break the calm surface of the water and the cold shock washes all remaining tiredness away. The first few strokes feel pretty good, which is rare. Today’s session is basic endurance and skill, as this October’s all about remembering how to swim, cycle and run again. These sessions provide a perfect time to let the mind wander…
“I’ve been back a few weeks and I’m only now beginning to feel like an athlete again. Thankfully, next season is a long time away. Start slow and easy; build in good habits and tweak the skills. I wonder what next season will look like? What races would I like to do? I’d love to go back to New Zealand and Australia but that doesn’t look likely. The ITU announced a block of Asian racing. I do love it out there – the cuisine is sensational. If I can do my points chasing and Olympic qualification in Asia, it means I can live off sushi and ramen for two months!”
Noticing my lapse in concentration, my coach offers positive reinforcement: “Keep the catch down the centre line, your right hand’s drifting out.” I acknowledge the tip and refocus on my swimming. Set today is 5,000m, the main set being 8 x 400m using a variety of pulling, paddles and drag work.
A shuffling run
After the swim session, there’s chat about where to run today and the canal’s the most popular. It’s 50 minutes easy on the cards today, as almost everyone did their first bit of fast running last night and the legs are stiff. No one wants to set the pace so there’s a hustle for the back of the pack. I take the lead, setting a very steady pace, knowing it’ll creep up –especially with Jack (Willis) and Elliot (Smales) here – but, for now, we’re all happy to shuffle.
The mood is jovial and we banter around for 10km. By the end of our run, we’ve decided Jack needs a rein as he’s the constant half-stepper (that person who always runs half a body ahead, pushing the pace on). No one minds – the run felt good, averaging 4.35min/km pace.
The ride’s arranged as we’re jogging back to the cars. I let the guys know I’ve got a decent route around 100km, three-and-a-half hours. “Is it hilly?” Elliot enquires. “Nah, not really,” I reply, but yes, it is. Rendezvous is arranged and we all head off home for some breakfast. I have 90 mins until the ride – it’s a crammed day.
Refuel, read, ride
Breakfast is baked beans, three slices of toast, cheese, a fried egg and a few mugs of tea. I’m still hungry but that’ll have to do. I also manage to sneak in a few chapters of the latest book I’m reading – an epic fantasy novel. I’m not your typical triathlete. I drink a second cup of coffee and I’m off – 3mins late as usual. No matter, Jack and Alex (Yee) are always 5mins late. Sian (Rainsley), my girlfriend and British triathlete, is rolling out with us today for the first hour. It’s raining.
The group meets. I still feel guilty about group training given the pandemic, yet we’ve been given the okay as long as there are no more than six of us each time; it’s five today. We roll out. Alex is banished to the back with no mudguards and I’m on the front with Elliot. Around 230 watts straight away; not feeling it. I find my legs on the first climb. It’s taken 40mins and two roll-throughs. I’m towards the back of the group now so 20mins to myself. I find myself thinking about what training will look like in the lead-up to the first race of the year…
“We’re into full volume now, up to 30hrs a week and the intensity’s coming along nicely. First fast run yesterday. We’ve done a bit of easy tempo running and I’ve been doing a few hill reps on the bike for strength training. I feel good and ready to push on with another month of steady base before some solid sessions in December, where we build the foundations and set ourselves up for a decent pre-season. January is the month I need to be ready for and I want to be within reach of my best by then. The first race is critical for me with those vital Olympic points. But it’s October, plenty of time to get there.”
One more run for the road
BANG! Psssssst. “Point it out lads, come on.” I’ve hit a rock in the road and got a pinch flat. No issues really, just 5mins to change it and we’re back on the road. “How long till the cafe?” Someone shouts out and I reply, “It’s in about 10mins.” Twenty-five minutes later we roll up to the cafe. Large latte and a scone for me. No one wants to leave the cafe as the heaters are on, but we need to get back.
“Anyone fancy a bit of chainy?” I ask. Groans. We start rolling through, steady away. I love this session even though I’m not supposed to do it. It’s pretty much Seiler’s zone 2 ‘no-go’ zone. [Professor Stephen Seiler popularised the idea of 80/20 training where this split of easy/hard training produced the best results. Too much mid-intensity training, like zone 2, failed to maximise efforts.] However, I feel it’s more of a pragmatic decision – keeps you warm, you get home quicker and you can race the rain if it threatens. We cruise along at 50kph on the bypass – oh yeah, it’s fun – before hitting the last climb. We’ve averaged 39kph and 295 watts for the ‘chainy’ effort. At the top we’ve averaged 310. It kicked off, but no one got dropped. We’re all happy.
On the spin home, I check if anyone is running again. “Yes”, “yes”, “not this week”, “go on then”. We meet in 15 and do the usual 40min loop –the last session of the day. Many have questioned a double run on a day such as this but, for me, it’s about mental toughness as well as physiological benefits.
The run is a death march and no one talks until we run past Greggs then food becomes the topic of conversation. This loop was designed for off-the-bike runs – steady uphill out and a cruisy downhill to finish. At a 4.40min/km pace, we forgot Jack’s rein. As we reach the end of our run the acute fatigue is obvious, as it’s been over six hours of training in grim weather, though inside everyone feels like a legend. It’s one of those days where you just feel proud of getting it done. I ask the question which is on everyone’s lips, “Pub?”
Top image by British Triathlon