Sunday, 15 September 2013

2013; A transition to triathlon...

Cordially; I apologise for it having been so long since my last blog post. In honesty; I've been busy and I doubt you've been missing me that much!

I'm writing this having just returned from the PruHealth London Triathlon World Championships in Hyde
Park. In fact I'm sat watching the Brownlee brothers and men's world final as I write this. As I'm sure is evident from my blog and those who know me, my life's obsession has been sports and exercise, but until this year triathlon had never really featured...until now.

The back-story...
Doing a triathlon on the Olympic course in front of London
crowds was amazing!
However, everything seemed to have changed since the London 2012 Paralympic games last year. Not least of all because I met my girlfriend/soul-mate there, but also because it seemed to represent the start of the end of my time coaching with GB wheelchair basketball. As a back story I was a swimmer from a young age (not amazing; but respectable) and exchanged this for basketball when I was in my early teenage years. Admittedly I was not as good at basketball but it has been my absolute life’s passion, even after exchanging playing for coaching, and even giving the wheelchair game a go for a few seasons with some great friends.

I don’t believe in ‘cardio’...
Now then...I was co-author (with James Steele) on a publication last year “Resistance training toMomentary Muscular Failure improves cardiovascular fitness in humans” (click for pdf) which discussed the acute responses and chronic adaptations of exactly what the title suggests. As a result of this, and since I was never overly committed to traditional cardiovascular exercise anyway this fitted with a general philosophy that “I don’t believe in cardio”...e.g. lift weights hard and that gives you the fitness that you need. (As a side-note to this we discuss within the article that this would NOT give you the skill to run, bike, swim or whatever, but seems to help the cardiovascular system to adapt).

How tough?
Over the last few years few work colleagues and I had talked about doing ‘Tough Mudder’ or the like but this never came to fruition. By chance this seemed to be the year that everything changed....as I said; I met my girlfriend at the games last year and she just happens to be a VERY good triathlete (competing at the European Championships in Alanya, Turkey and the World Championships here in London as a GB athlete!). This meant that by circumstance I began to spend time around triathlon as a sport as well as triathletes as a group of people, coinciding handily with me acquiring more time as my basketball life seemed to come to an end. I bought a road bike in the New Year and started to do more cycling. I started going to a local pool and doing a bit of ‘proper’ swimming again as well. And I finally entered and completed ‘Tough Mudder’ in the summer. (Tough Mudder is a 12 mile run with I think 20+ obstacles. And when I say obstacles I mean ridiculous obstacles, including complete submersion and swims in ice bins, 20ft jumps in to muddy water, and 2 obstacles which pretty much guarantee electrocution!!!!). I also conceded to the seeming eventuality that I would have a go at triathlon... (sigh)...

Try and Tri again...
My first was a super sprint (400m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) starting in a swimming pool and heading around relatively hilly Winchester. I really enjoyed the event and while I started as a triathlon virgin I confess that I got some great tips from experienced people around me. My second was another super sprint following a triathlon training holiday in Les Stables, France, where I gained huge quantities of experience from the coaches, athletes and volume/quality of training. (Including learning that swimming in a lake/river/sea is VERY different from a pool). I did a small aquathlon in the lake of the triathlon a week beforehand to rekey the route and felt that I improved on my previous performance.

Then there’s been a bit of a lay-off from competition and here I was in London on Saturday; goofing around with a wetsuit around my waist, hanging from tree branches and acting like it was all just for giggles. But the truth is, whether its age, or wisdom or experience or something, I came to realise in basketball that sport is about more than winning. You can play well and lose, and you can play poorly and win. I realised, for me at least the profoundness of performance and drive and competition with myself. And triathlon plays to that SO well. I like to win. I like to do well. I want to do good times. And it would be nice to think I might win one. But in reality, I love to challenge myself doing something different, and doing something that I genuinely enjoy.

London...
We were all ushered along the pontoon and instructed to sit and then climb into the water. It felt cold. I tried to slow my breathing, and I had a few moments to wonder what the heck I was doing climbing in to the Serpentine sober. I was deliberately to the right of the pack to avoid the ensuing melee as the horn sounded. I stayed right and started well, had time for an argument with a man in a kayak who was convinced I was heading in the wrong direction. I rounded the buoys and eventually found a comfortable rhythm. I was breathing to my right so I didn’t see where I was in the field, but as I rounded the second from last buoy I kicked harder and felt confident about a respectable swim. Out of the water, wetsuit unzipped and pulled half-way down, goggles up, over the timing mat (14m 34s). I heard a big cheer from the entourage and waved back in response and then up the muddy field in to T1.

Transition was a wet, slippery muddy field. But of course, I had no problem with this. I knew where my bike was and I got there smoothly. The guys either side of my bike arrived at about the same time which made it a little awkward but wetsuit off, glasses on, helmet on, grabbed bike and ran towards ‘bike out’. I’d practiced the mount a few times and felt confident; jumped on and away (T1 3m 25s – it was a long transition run).

I quite happily attacked the bike
course, and even had a smiley
face for any cameras!
The bike went well, and aside from comments the previous day that people seemed to be slowing down a lot on wet, slippery corners which I immediately regretted, it went without event. The crowd were awesome, and I basked in hearing my girlfriend, her family, her coach and some amazing friends cheering me on. I confess I sped up as I went past but I don’t know whether that was them giving me a boost or me wanting to look quicker to them!! I had a great battle with the guy next to me on the bike rack and we spoke a few times about the support and the event, and about our respective 5km run times. I finished the final bike lap and headed down the long straight back to transition. I had made plenty of space around me and feet out of pedals easily and jumped off the bike in to a comfortable stride. I crossed the timing mat (40m 15s) and headed in to transition.

I caught a slower guy with a mountain bike who seemed to be struggling to control his bike I moved to his right and ushered his bike to my left so that I could pass him without event. Up the field again to my aisle, down the field to my spot, bike racked, helmet off, socks and trainers on. (Yes I went with socks for this race as my feet blistered in the last and it hurt my time more than adding socks would). Down the field and out of transition - (T2 3m 09s).

I’m not a runner. Not at the best of times. But the last few months have been pretty rubbish with my Achilles constantly causing a lot of pain. At this stage I should clarify that my girlfriend is a physiotherapist and is basically the sole reason that I can walk without pain. She does treatments pretty much every day without complaint and is, in honesty, the sole reason I was able to finish the event. Thanks Faith! All of that said, the run went relatively well for me, I took the first lap steady, high-fived as many people as I could, smiled like I was loving it and soaked up the event. The second lap felt better and I strided out for the first time thinking about my overall time. I’d set a goal of within 1h 30m before arriving in London, but watching my girlfriend Faith the previous day I figured on being 5-10m slower than that.

I rounded the final few corners and saw the timer hanging under the finish gantry and smiled a little to myself. I heard the crowd in the stands and saw Faith and our friends and her family and smiled a lot more. I think I put my hands to my ear as if to say “I can’t hear you”. I might have jogged sideways a little waving my arms, I don’t really recall. I wasn’t shy about loving it. I turned and finished the last 50m with everything I had in me, and crossed the line. 1:24:13. Done. Awesome. Medal. Horrendous banana flavoured carbohydrate bar and a cup of water and it’s all over. All in all it was a great day, the after party saw bowling, and a lot of Italian food, a few beers, big smiles, and a lot of laughter. 

Thanks to everyone who was there. It was amazing.

And thanks to anyone who has bothered reading this all the way.

(I still don’t believe in cardio).

Be well (and challenge yourself)


JF