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10 Things Nobody Warns You About When You Take Up Triathlon

It's Ironman UK this weekend which means it's almost 3 years to the day since I suddenly developed the urge to spend all my free time getting sweaty in Lycra and refreshing my Strava stats. Triathlon is awesome, but addictive. Before you know it what started off as a metaphorical dipping of your toes in the water  - a little running here, a little cycling there - will soon see you plunging head first into a lake at some ungodly hour surrounded by hundreds of other wetsuit clad loons, ready for yet another race with a great big smile on your face. Here's 10 things nobody warns you about when you take up triathlon:

1) You'll never do just one.
Go anywhere near an Ironman finish line and you'll probably hear a chorus of "never again!" as the athletes hobble away to collect their bikes. Give them an hour or so, they'll be planning their next race. I've said it once and I'll say it again, the thing I love about triathlon is there's no such thing as a perfect race, because there's always something you can work on - "if I can just get a little more powerful on the bike"... "if I can just speed up T2"... "next time, I will..." - this, combined with the huge hit of endorphins and the fact that it makes you feel like a total bad ass, is the reason triathlon is so addictive. There's a reason that Tim Don has put himself through an excruciating recovery process to get back on those start lines after suffering a broken neck in Hawaii last year - despite the fact that he already holds the Ironman world record. He knows he's got more to give and he's doing whatever it takes to get there. Sorry friends, family and loved ones - I'm in this triathlon thing for the long run!

2) There's always an excuse to buy more kit
You'll spend your life savings and promise to hand over your first born child in return for various bits of kit and caboodle. Time spent eyeing up new high heels, dresses and handbags has been swapped for drooling over tri shoes - "I know I don't need them, but these ones are pink!" - picking out my next race suit - "no one panic, but Stolen Goat have started doing tri suits..." and blowing my savings account on a new TT bike. Just when you think you've got enough, you'll find a new reason to add to your ever growing collection of Lycra. My word of advice? Don't download the Wiggle app. You'll slip, fall and accidentally order yourself a whole new wardrobe of kit.

3) So. Much. Laundry.
With all that kit, and all that training, comes a lot of laundry. Some people choose to decorate their homes with house plants, trendy knick-knacks or snazzy ornaments. Us? We've opted for carefully draped cycling shorts, aptly positioned jerseys and artistically arranged tri suits - all hanging up to dry ready for the next session. I'd say at least once a week I almost scream the house down thinking that there's some sort of miscreant lurking in my shower, only to realise it's just one of our wetsuits hanging up to dry. Oh, and if you're anything like me and G - once it's dry you'll probably just use your intensive training schedule as an excuse to leave the clean stuff to form a small mountain in the spare room. Who has time to fold anyway?

4) Peanut butter will become a major food group. And it will get everywhere
Shove it in a sandwich, pop it on top of your porridge, slip a spoonful inside a cut medjool date with a little sea salt to take out on the bike for your long rides. Peanut butter is life and the god of foods. I frequently accidentally leave the house with peanut butter on my face. My other half is essentially a bear in disguise, so I'm forever finding peanut butter on the light switches. Running out of the good stuff will be classed as a code red situation (only matched by running out of coffee) and the flag will be flown at half mast until another jar has been safely hunter gathered from the shops.

5) Sunday mornings will never be the same again
Sundays are all about long lie ins and breakfast in bed, right? Not if you're a swim-bike-run obsessive! Lazy mornings under the sheets will be traded for 7am lake swims, early morning bike rides and 4am alarm calls to shovel down some porridge before races. And the weirdest part? You'll absolutely love it.

6) You'll master the art of the second breakfast
I already had the whole short stature, weird feet thing down but taking up triathlon really marked my transition into full blown hobbit-hood as I discovered the glorious meal known as second breakfast. All those early starts mean you'll often get to 9.30am having already done more exercise than most people do in a week. You'll develop an appetite not dissimilar to that of an angry bear that just woke up from hibernating. Recovery food is important, and so is any excuse to have extra coffee. Viva la second breakfast!

7) There's a chance you'll lose all sense of decorum
There was a time I wouldn't even go into the shared kitchen at my uni house without make up on, let alone venture into the outside world. I used to go out running even on the hottest of days in full length leggings because I was so worried that a stranger might judge my milk-bottle white pins if I dared to wear shorts. Now? I'll quite happily hop straight out of the lake and mooch into the local supermarket with bits of lake weed accessorising my dripping wet hair, stuff fig rolls into my gob out on long bike rides without a care in the world about what passing motorists might think. And those long running tights? Safely stashed at the back of the wardrobe as soon as Spring turns up to play. It's not the most glamorous of sports, but triathlon has been amazing in helping me to loosen up a little and stop caring so damn much about what other people think. I probably should stop doing snot rockets in public, but when you're busy trying to nab a QOM on a Strava segment a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Speaking of Strava...

8) You'll turn into a Strava nerd
If you're yet to fall entirely down the rabbit hole, Strava is an app that allows you to record all your workouts, see other people's, give/receive 'kudos' and fight to the death for the top spot on the segment leader boards. Strava is a gateway drug to full blown, number-obsessed nerdiness. A quick check of your average pace and heart rate, will soon turn into scouring through your average strides per minute, your bike power output and whatever other stats you can get your cycling glove clad mits on. One of my clients made the mistake of asking how my training was going the other day and ended up with an ear full about my VO2 max and my FTP. Sorry everyone, I've turned into a numbers geek and I don't care who knows it.

9) You'll meet a whole community of equally crazy, like-minded people
I know we look a little bit weird, strolling about in skin-tight one pieces and donning bike helmets that make us look like we're off on some sort of space voyage - but I promise, triathletes are an incredibly friendly and supportive group of people. The only issue? We're all a big bunch of enablers. "Buy the new bike!" we'll cry, "Of course you should enter another race!", "One more cycling jersey won't hurt..."

10) Your perception of 'impossible' will change - and you'll discover a whole new level of self-belief
Not long ago, I thought being able to run further than 5km felt impossible. In 39 days time, I'll be doing a marathon for the first time on the streets of Copenhagen, having already completed a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride earlier in the day. Triathlon gives you the opportunity to achieve things you may never have thought you were capable of, and each little victory will make you stronger and more determined. It transfers over into everyday life too. You'll find yourself becoming a little bolder, a little braver, a little more ready for adventure. Once you've conquered your first triathlon, you'll start feeling like there's nothing you can't tackle.


The Training Diaries: Countdown to the European AG Standard Distance Championships

It's somehow July already (is it just me or did someone hit fast forward on 2018?) which means I'm officially counting down the days until I fly out to Estonia for the European Age-Group Standard Distance Championships on the 21st. Team kit has been delivered and tried on. A giddy little freak out about my actual name being on actual GB kit has been completed (it involved my finger-pointing, butt shaking dance which I'm pretty sure I'm going to do myself an injury with one of these days) and I'm currently in the midst of a short block of speed-work focused training to get race ready. This has involved a drop in volume and a ramp up of intensity - up and at 'em legs, it's rocket time!

Ironman Copenhagen is the main focus this year which means that a large proportion of my training since December has been centred around building endurance, going long and using my diesel engine. In contrast, these last few weeks have been all about cranking up the speed a little to help me cope with the more fast and furious style of racing required for the standard distance. It's safe to say that my legs weren't quite sure what was going on when I started asking them to run fast again, but it's amazing how quickly the body can adapt and over the last couple of weeks I've started seeing big improvements. I've hit my fastest ever average swim pace in the lake (I honestly think my new Zone 3 Align wetsuit might have magic powers, it's awesome!), my bike pace is moving on up and my running is feeling stronger than ever.

On Sunday, I returned to the scene of my home town sprint triathlon which gave me an opportunity to really see where I'm at under race conditions. I had a great time out on the bike course, taking my new Canyon TT out for his inaugural race. I'd decided to ride at my FTP power so I could see how my legs felt on the run - a new PB for 5km off the bike was a nice little confidence booster that I can maintain that kind of effort during the bike split and still run strong. Taking the age-group win and getting a snazzy new trophy to add to the shelf was the cherry on top of a great morning out. It was so much fun racing in my home town and seeing so many familiar faces out on the course - both racing and marshalling.

As gritty as the higher intensity speed-work has been, I've enjoyed the switch up in my training schedule. The last couple of months have seen me average between 18-20 hours of training a week, tackling several big 6-7 hour swim-bike-run days, along with a 30km run pretty much every Saturday (apologies to any Hitchin/Letchworth dwellers who may have seen me out on one of these long runs - Ironman training seems to take away any sense of decorum, so I've probably been spotted pulling my shorts out of my butt crack and blasting out snot rockets in public a few too many times). Don't get me wrong, I love the big training days. There's something special about looking at your plan, thinking 'oh crap how the hell am I going to do all of that!?' only to get home several hours later knowing you've conquered it. But it does get a bit relentless, so having a few weeks of lower volume, higher intensity training has given me that extra little bit of down time that I needed. Mind and body are feeling good and I'm excited to feel the benefits of all this speed work when I get my teeth into the last big endurance block after Estonia. 

With 11 days to go until the ETU champs, everything seems to be coming together quite nicely so that I can go out and enjoy racing a shorter distance without it being a total shock to the system! The championship will only be my second time racing the standard distance so my main aim for the race is just to get out there, push hard and see what I can do. I'm not expecting to be massively competitive up against all the experienced short distance racers, but as long as I can come away knowing I've given it my all and made the most of the opportunity I'll be happy. Tartu looks beautiful as well and I love that Triathlon is taking me there - the adventure continues!

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