A Reflection Piece…

After a very successful season comes the time to reflect. Reflection on everything that has happened; things we have achieved; what we could have done differently or better; and what the future holds and the goals will be for next year. Reflection is an important tool in life in general and something many people do not do often enough. It’s something I bark on about in my professional duties, but also one that I like to think I do myself. Hence this blog. This is one huge reflection documenting a journey into a sport I love and that gives me so much.

I know triathlon, training and racing is not the be-all and end-all. I get that. It can be a selfish sport at times – and hard to manage with everything else that goes on in life. If I had to give it up tomorrow – for whatever reason that may be, it would sadden me and I would miss it. Could I give it up? Well if my family depended on it then hell yes. I love my family dearly and how they support me in what I do, even though sometimes it means an early start for them at some race in the country! They can be as dedicated me! So to reflect just on the training and racing would be wrong. I’m looking at everything that surrounds that. My family are a big part of me being able to carry out this crazy adventure! I’m grateful to them for that.

I look back on this year as a great achievement. By concentrating purely on triathlon this season and being more focused around the goals, it has made for a successful season.

I’ve been really pleased with how my body has held up. I hate to say it, or to tempt fate, but there were no major injuries throughout the season. Why? Well you may remember me speaking about adapting some of my training methods (training slower more often), which I think has had a major impact into me staying healthy. Yes I’ve had a few niggles, mainly older injuries just playing up, but these are managed and we move on. It meant a tweak to training or easing up a little. Nothing that couldn’t be dealt with, meaning I have had the healthiest season so far. Training slower has worked for me…and do you know what? It has made me a faster athlete. My times and performance prove that this year.

Proof I hear you say? Well check the previous blog posts! I often compare my race performances against my previous efforts. My A race this year was the Outlaw half. The middle distance is my preferred event and the one I believe I hold most potential at. I’ve hit personal records/bests at all my events this year. For those I didn’t, it was because of a change of distance or a new event making it difficult to compare. The one result that stands out for me is the Outlaw Half. Previously 6hr 10mins to 5hr 34mins this year. I’m certainly hitting consistent numbers in the olympic distance as well, although I haven’t had a race where the conditions helped this year. The longer the distance though, the stronger I am. I’m no longer scared of the distance, the pain you endure or mental side of it. I’ve also made real strides in managing my nutrition during these longer events. I still think I probably need to tweak a little more on this but everything is moving in the right direction.

So even though I have made leaps and bounds in my performance, the question that always hangs over my head…’How much more can I do?’ I’m not getting any younger.

So I’m going to make a statement now…a big statement. One that takes me out of my comfort zone and one that will challenge me. So here goes:

I AM GOING TO TRY AND QUALIFY FOR THE GB AGE GROUP TEAM FOR THE MIDDLE DISTANCE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS.

There we are…off the chest! That is the goal for next year. Life is too short to not take risks. I’ve made my commitment and shared it. If I don’t succeed, it’s not the end of the world. It will give me a good indication of how close I can get and whether it is a goal I can achieve. Maybe it is out of reach, but if I don’t try, I will never know. I’ve been completing in triathlon a fair few years now and it’s time to lay down my most challenging goal to date.

What will I need to do?

Well apart from going faster, there are a few things I need to consider. Making sure I train effectively and staying injury free will be a challenge in itself, I mean it always is. There are going to be a few tweaks to my training again and I will make an effort to up my run volume this year considerably. I’ll also have the help of this:

The treadmill (or dreadmill for some) is the new weapon in my training arsenal and one to take a little bit of the impact out of my running. I’ve already had a few sessions on Zwift run, which I must say I have enjoyed. It’s going to be great for the winter runs and my brick workouts.

The training plan is already being devised. It’s not knowing what to do in my training, that bit I believe I have covered. Extensive reading, use of Training Peaks and trialling approaches have meant me being my own guinea pig and learning lots over the last few years. I have a few milestones set that I will need to hit throughout. The length of training time will be increased and I have already started after my three week break. I’m taking a much longer preparation and base period this time out and getting my body ready to train will be key. There will be an element of being a little stricter with my diet also.

What are the qualifying rules?

Hopefully I can explain this a bit clearer than British Triathlon. The idea is that you need to be within a qualifying time of the winner of your age group. This is 115% or in other words within 15% of the winners time. On calculations from the Outlaw this year, the winners time for the 40-44 age group was 4hr 22mins. To get within that qualifying time I would need to be somewhere close to 5hrs. That’s 34mins quicker than I raced this year. You see, it’s tough. 34mins is a lot, although I do believe I can get at least 20mins off just by training consistently as I have done this year. I certainly held back on the bike during the event this year.

You can probably see now why my training has started earlier than previous seasons. It will need to if I am going to reap that extra performance gain. I could do with a slice of luck on the day also. By this I mean it does depend on who turns up. If I get someone racing who is quicker than the winning time this year, then it obviously makes the qualifying time harder as I would need to go even quicker.

You see some of this is out of my hands. The only thing I can do is train hard and consistently and race the best I can on the day. If that happens and I hit my target, I can’t ask for anything more. I can be sure that a 5hr half Ironman is more than respectable and a qualification spot will be a bonus.

The funny thing is, if I do get it then I’m not even sure I will go. The cost of everything age group related isn’t cheap and I think logistically it might be a challenge. I have decided to not worry about this part though and just concentrate on getting in. If I do get in, then we worry about that. So there you have it. My reflection and my main goal next year laid out in full. I could have kept all of this under wraps, although I feel that by sharing it, it gives me added impetus and healthy added pressure.

Only time will tell if I’m aiming for something well out of my reach! There’s only one way to find out so let’s see what this rollercoaster holds in the coming year!

Guest Blog – Miia Amara

As promised to you all a few weeks ago, here is the guest blog from Miia Amara. For those who follow the blog, you may remember that Miia is the lady I have been coaching this season. She had agreed to write a final piece to this 3 part series and here it is!

If you didn’t catch the first two blogs, you can find Coaching Project Part 1 by clicking here. Part 2 is also available here. I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching Miia this season and it has been pleasing for me to trial my own coaching practices and adapt these to someone else. I’ve been asked by people in the past to help and have always been hesitant due to the time it takes. Coaching to this level requires time – time to analyse, time to plan, time to schedule, time to spend with your athlete. I was only going to do this with someone who was committed and wanting to achieve. Miia was certainly that, and I couldn’t have asked for a better student! Anyway, enough of me…enjoy her blog! It’s been one great first season and I’m looking forward to seeing what she achieves next year.

Hello all! I’m Miia and I want to share my experience and story of my debut season competing in triathlon this year. I do hope you enjoy reading my blog as much as I have enjoyed my first year racing and training.

I got into triathlon racing last summer, when my triathlete friend from Finland entered me into an Olympic distance relay.  As I have been running for a couple of years, I contributed to the running section of the race.  During the race and after observing the other competitors, I wondered how they managed do all three disciplines together, when I was struggling with just the running stage.

When I got back home, I supported my running friends in one of London’s Triathlon events and I was hooked!! The atmosphere alone got me. I decided there and then – next year I WILL BE HERE!

Soon after, I started to look for races for the following year.  After signing up to a few, I started to learn how to swim freestyle, which was new for me.  I actually looked at a few tutoring videos from YouTube, and bit-by-bit I learnt to swim freestyle. How well I was doing this was another question!

I knew Danny from our running club and his heavy involvement participating in triathlon.  He approached me and asked if I wanted to train for a triathlon.  Everything about triathlon was completely new to me. How would I ever swim in a wetsuit in open water?

We first met at the local swimming pool.  I showed him what I had learned and he worked with me teaching me the right technique with freestyle swimming.  This made a massive difference to what I thought was the correct form.  Over the months, I worked on my swimming and slowly improved. Not only did my technique improve, but also my speed. Soon after, I bought my very first road bike and I was ready to go.

Danny tested my swim, bike and run times first in December, and soon after that I was on a full training program that he had designed for me.  I had my first race in my sights for early May – a sprint distance over in Dorney.  Luckily, Danny had signed up himself for this one so he would be there to support me at the race.

When I started the training, it was completely different to what I had done before. It was pretty much two work outs daily four to five times a week around my work timetable. That sounds quite a lot, but actually it was very manageable.  It worked for me very well. After six weeks of training, he tested me again and I could already see how much I had improved. I very much liked the training program part.  My social life was getting shortened certainly, but I didn’t mind because the only thing in my mind was on those finish lines and medals from those races that I had signed up to. Triathlon can be a scary sport, with much to master, so being prepared and training well helps with any fears.

I had so many questions for Danny, especially in the beginning, but he always had an answer ready for me.  I learned how my body worked when it was fatigued and also how much rest was needed.  Plus – eating crap food made you feel crap!  Nutrition was so important. One thing I quickly realised was that there is a big difference between what training and exercise is. Training = structure and doing the correct workouts at the correct time. This is where the coaching part was so important and having someone to guide me through this process made life easy.

Learning about my heart rate zones and running in your prescribed zones was challenging.  It took me around two months to get use to it. You learn a lot about your body and what running feels like at an easy or racing pace.  This is important as looking at a watch all the time is not the most enjoyable thing! Patience is key though! Things do not happen over night.  Most Sundays when I was off from work, we started to ride outside. I was lucky because this seemed to be my strongest discipline. I could keep up with his pace and it pushed me to make improvements. We had many good rides up to 60 miles. Rainy Sundays we knocked on the head though and the stationary turbo that I bought on Danny’s recommendation came into its own. You can’t train effectively without one of these!

The first time going into open water was a bit scary for me.  I took open water training sessions as recommended by Danny.  I seemed to have a problem with dark water.  I don’t know where it came from.  I’m Finnish and I grew up next to lakes, but after a couple of times going into open water, the fear disappeared and I could swim normally.

When the first race in May came around I was nervous and excited at the same time.  Danny told me not to worry and that I was going to love it because I had put the work in through my training.  The swim went well and my overall time was quicker than I expected.   When I was on the bike, I truly enjoyed it and I knew that this was what I wanted to do.  The cycle part was faster than expected and my run was also very good, even managing to sprint in the end. I was happy for my achievement.  Now I could say that I am triathlete!

After the race and a couple of days rest I was back to training.  Training went smoothly until the Easter break until a small disaster struck! I went for a ride on my own, and had an ‘off’ from my bike. The accident was something so stupid which could have been avoided. I flew over my handlebars and landed on my shoulder and left side of my face. All because I was fiddling with my phone in its holder and grabbing my brake too hard!

I was lucky it was only bruising in my shoulder and a little crack on my cheekbone. I had to take a week off from training because my shoulder was so painful. Swimming and biking (especially outdoors) was extremely painfil. After a week, I started slowly again and it took for a while before I managed to train without pain. And eventually I was soon back to track workouts. I didn’t loose much fitness thankfully as I was following the plan fully from beginning and it gave a little enforced rest.

At the end off June I took on my first Olympic distance triathlon that I had been training for all spring.  I had a tapering week that Danny set for me and I felt so ready to race that I couldn’t wait for race day.  We went there together.  Danny’s wave was first.  It was the hottest day of the year +35c at midday when I started.  Even though it was hot and humid, I was sure I could manage.  My swim went well and I had a good bike leg. I was flying! But in the run the heat got me – I was knackered. Did I overcook the bike? I managed to the finish line and it was obvious that my run was slow. One thing I learnt though – heat affects performance so don’t be too hard on yourself.

I had another race at the end of July – The London Triathlon. I thought that this would be the one I will do a PB in.  My Training program finished at the end of June and I was on my own from then to this race.  I had the tools and workouts to do though to keep a good level of fitness.  I managed to organise my training off of those programs that Danny had planned for me.  

When the London Tri came around, the weather was not ideal. It was raining in the morning.  This was not what I wanted for race day, but the weather was a lot cooler.  By the start of my race, the rain had stopped and I was ready to go. My swim was a bit slower than in my last race, my bike was pretty much the same. The one thing I learned and took into this race was pacing better.  I managed to save energy for running and I ran faster than last time out. The cooler weather certainly helped. Overall I had PB’d by a couple minutes over 3 hours. My goal next year – sub 3 for sure!

I actually had two more races left for the season – one in Finland (Olympic distance) and The London Duathlon in Richmond.  I even changed that one from half to full distance.  Training wise, I trained less and was not as fit as earlier in the season. I have two children and they were off from school for their summer holidays. I couldn’t do my daily routines plus I started to feel mentally tired.  I finished both races, and I was happy with the timing.  Not the fastest ones but not far away.  Now I will take couple weeks rest then a couple months gym training – possibly Cross Fit for toning by body.

Before Christmas I can start to get ready for next year. I am in the ballot for the London marathon.  If I get in, that will be my first marathon – something to consider! I want to complete more endurance events and go longer, so it will be half iron man distance for me…. plus I will be in new age category turning 45 in march so hopefully I will manage to stay above 50% of the age category field. This I have managed to achieve in pretty much all my races that I completed in.  I will also take on a few shorter races but not as many as I had this year.  I didn’t mention that I did the amazing Dunamo Dunwitch (112 miles) night ride and 1500m dock to dock swim.  This on top of running PBs for half marathon and 10km in spring time. You see – a busy season! Danny says I raced too much…I have to agree!

I hope you have enjoyed my blog entry…what next season holds…let’s wait and see!