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!

Windsor Triathlon 2019 and Guest Blog – Dean Saunders

‘I’m the King of the Castle’

Well not exactly, although a small conquering in my performance did happen and one I can be mostly pleased about. I will of course update you all on that in a different blog post planned for next week. However, for this blog entry I am delighted to present to you another guest blog. Although my blog documents my journey, I like to connect people through similar experiences and share the wonders that happen in triathlon. Everyone’s race is different and we all have a story to tell!

Dean is my cousin and a newbie to triathlon. Not a newbie to endurance sports, he is sub 3:30 marathon runner and he is a fit individual looking for new challenges. Windsor was only his second triathlon event. He also writes a regular blog called Mars and Peace. Do check it out and read about his new exploits into triathlon and other things in his world! Be prepared to chuckle and enjoy this one, and I think you’ll all agree with me, it’s a fantastic blog entry.

WINDSOR – RICKSHAW REDEMPTION

ONWARD AND UPWARDS

With my first triathlon (Thorpe Park sprint) under my belt, I wake up on Monday morning exhausted – but elated – even with that horrible bike leg! You can read all about that on my personal blog.

I keep telling myself, “you’ve done one now…what’s next?”

By Tuesday morning I’m back in the gym for an hour on the stationary bike (20.92 miles…once again…Sunday? WFT?!? 1 hr 8 mins to ride 13 miles!?!)

That same day I put my bike in the car and bring it to work for a colleague to have a look at. Before I put it in the boot, I give the front wheel a spin – and of course, it’s like a perpetual motion machine, defying the laws of physics! Will it ever stop? No rubbing, no noise. Like a trip to the GP where the ailment has vanished by the time the doctor sees you, I’m starting to doubt whether this is a reasonable explanation for my poor cycling performance at Thorpe Park.

Then I get the bike out of the car at work, and as I wheel it into my office…. fssss…fssss…fssss…the brakes are rubbing again. It’s hard to believe that such a small amount of friction had such a negative impact on my ride – but it was definitely a factor.

After speaking to Danny (tri-to-be-iron), I’m informed that completing my 750 m swim using primarily breaststroke probably didn’t do my legs any favours either! So maybe it was a combination of the two things?

When my colleague sees the bike, he systematically scans it and says, “well, THAT can go…and THOSE!” pointing at my seat cushion, frame bag and lights. I’m told I can also get rid of my bell and puncture repair kit as well, as I’ll just be putting on a new inner tube which I can store in the pockets of my tri suit.

To prevent any drama with taking off my front wheel and knocking everything out of alignment again, I order a bike rack for the car. I don’t feel guilty about this additional expense as I can put both of the kids’ bikes on it when we go camping later this year – two birds, one stone (or one score in this case – God bless Ebay)!

I take it easy this week training-wise as work is crazy and family commitments prevent me from getting to Hadleigh for an open water swim. I do prove my resolve to work on this discipline however by ordering the Great Swim Local wrist band – although without a triathlon to train for, let’s see what happens!

The end of the week is double-busy, with work, then band rehearsals on Friday evening. Packing on Saturday morning, driving 70 miles to Windsor to rack up the bike, meet some family and drop Laura and the kids off at the hotel in Slough. Then driving back to Hornchurch for the band’s “last” gig (more on this next week), and then once the final song was played, driving another 70 miles back to Windsor to get 4 hours sleep before the race. Yes, that could have been planned a bit better…but the universe was conspiring against me on this occasion (perhaps)?!

That said, parked next to us was a friendly gent who began speaking to me the moment he got out of the car. After chatting for a while, about this being his first triathlon and my second, and how he had already signed up for an Ironman in Wales (really hard due to the hilly bike ride), he reveals that he’s from Hornchurch in Essex! We’ve both travelled 70 miles to an event where we’re parked next to someone from down the road! (Lee, I hope Windsor went well for you!). A man after my own heart, he has set himself that long-term goal that will keep him training and achieving smaller goals along the way – knowing that right now, there’s no way he could complete an Ironman. Very inspiring – so maybe the universe knew what it was doing after all?!

I did this journey three times in one day…I asked Laura to drive home after the event.

RACE DAY

So despite going to bed around 1 am and setting my alarm for 5:45 am, I find myself wide awake at 5 am. I really could use the extra 45 minutes sleep, but I’m not risking going back to sleep and waking up groggy. Or worse – waking up LATE!!! I manage a banana and some coffee, but not the granola I brought with me for my pre-race meal. I’m still full from the last minute tuna and pasta I uncharacteristically ate 5 minutes before bed last night (which was 4 hours ago, and which didn’t keep me up because I was so cream crackered).

I had the common sense to pack my bags and lay out my suits the night before, so when the taxi arrives, I’m good to go – fairly confident that I’ve got everything. Laura and Robyn wish me well on my way out – Ralph is still in the fetal position, catching the ZZZZZs I’m craving.

I arrive at 6:30 am on the dot, and with my bike already racked up it all seems stress-free. I say my hellos to the two competitors I know, Danny and a work colleague (same one who fixed my bike). I lay out my towel, my flip flops, cycle shoes and trainers, my swimming hat, earplugs and goggles. I’ve arrived with my tri-suit on, so the wetsuit goes on next – still without lubricant. I need to get this for the next race – it goes on easily enough, but getting it off in transition 1 would be easier I imagine, with a bit of grease.

I notice several competitors with the exact same tri-suit and wet suit (Decathlon….you’re up there with Ebay)! There are also some pretty chunky bikes, which I start to think my basic road bike will fare better than during the race…but those thoughts are quickly hushed by the memories of last week’s cycling performance. The athletes themselves are all shapes and sizes, and just like the bikes, and I’ve already seen that this is no indicator of how they’ll perform. I mean, I look quite fit (more “Canvey Island” than “Love Island” than I’d like maybe), and yet…!

My wave isn’t until 7:45 am, but I’m zipped up in my wet suit and ready to go by 7 am. I decide to have a walk over to the coach station’s toilet block outside the transition area, and luckily everything has been timed just right. My body’s a little too keen if anything, thanks to the morning coffee…which increases the urgency for me to remove my wet suit and tri-suit. I make it. Just.

SWIM

The swim start is a fair walk away from the transition point, and as I make my way over with Danny, I notice his white hotel slippers! I’m trying to figure out the athletic advantage to such footwear but it’s later revealed that his choice comes down to them being disposable. I don’t know it yet, but this is the last time I’ll see my flip flops – they had a good innings. (Note to whoever picked these up: Please do not wear these. I am wracked with guilt about what your feet may be about to go through if you do so. My most athletic body part, my feet, have been fermenting in these flip flops for years. Dispose of carefully.)

I don’t believe that it’s so cold and yet my teeth are chattering and I notice the uncontrollable shaking of limbs. Danny reckons it’s nerves…I’m sceptical, as I feel quite positive about what’s to come, excited even. But I guess physiologically speaking, anxiety and excitement are similar, it’s just the mental reframe that’s saving me from throwing up or pulling out!

After a quick briefing, which I try to look focused throughout, but I’m too excited now, I just want to get started. I don’t hear most of the instructions, or if I do my brain isn’t retaining them as they pass through one ear and out of the other. I ease myself off of the pontoon into the Thames and my first thoughts are, “F*** it’s cold…I need a thicker wetsuit…” followed by, “acclimatise…blow bubbles…” and lastly, “where am I? Holy s*** I’m at the front of the pack, I’m gonna get pummelled!!!”

At which point I hear, “15 SECONDS!!!”, have the presence of mind to start my watch, and we’re off!

I take a few shots to my sides and my legs, but it’s nothing malicious. I keep touching someone’s foot and think about Mark Allen doing this to Dave Scott to wind him up. My tickling this person in front may or may not have wound them up – I’ll never know, as they sped up and left me in their wake quite quickly.

I manage to do a lot more frontcrawl this time and the water stays out of my nose, but I swallow a fair amount of the Thames as my breaths seem to come when sudden waves hit my open mouth.

The smell of hotdogs and onions and ketchup as I am swimming and during my first breastroke break I jokingly ask the kayak volunteer if he can get me one. He’s not impressed, or he didn’t hear me. Either way, no hot dog – and I suddenly feel ready for that granola I missed out on this morning.

I manage some more front crawl, but at one point, having closed my eyes, I punch a kayak which has cut straight across me in its mission to help a struggling swimmer. Later on another kayaker is looking at me like I’m in trouble, which worries me as I feel fine. I give him the thumbs up and prove I’m fine by getting back on with some more front crawl.

I don’t stop swimming. Front crawl and breast stroke the whole time, and even so I suddenly see the next wave of coloured hats over-taking me. “I’m going to get pummelled for sure this time,” but again, apart from a few taps, no one’s dunking me and it even gives me a bit of a push to swim a bit harder. Not as much as seeing the exit does though!

I crawl out, the most ungraceful sea lion you’ll ever see, and run for the transition. I struggle a bit with my wetsuit but get there eventually and notice that Danny is already there in transition (meaning he overtook me on the swim despite starting later).

It’s a long run out of transition, especially in cycling shoes, but 400m and 7 minutes later I’m off on the bike ride and compared to last week, I’m loving it. I feel like greased lightning!

CYCLE

Suddenly I need to concern myself with overtaking and drafting! A clear sign that things are going well.

The rain starts soon after the start of the ride and I try not to think about how thin my tyres are or how I’d rather be on a mountain bike in this weather.

The one piece of advice I had gone against, was keeping my cycle frame bag on. I’ve got my spare inner tubes, CO2 and cliff blocks inside and until I get myself a seat bag, this will work fine.

I find riding a bit monotonous, unlike running, and I hate the feeling of my thighs burning, as the lactic acid builds up – this lasts for hours after a ride for me.

Danny had told me that the course was flat, so rather than suggest he is mistaken, I keep telling myself, “bloody hell, he doesn’t even consider these hills…I must be crap on the bike.” It turns out the course has changed since last year!

I get into a rhythm though, wolfing down Cliff blocks and water so that I don’t have to think about fuelling on the run.

Towards the end, a steward annoyingly turns his back on the riders giving me no indication of which way to turn off at the roundabout. So I go left, and have to turn back suddenly as a more awake steward catches me going the wrong way.

At the end of the ride I unclip my shoes and jump off the bike while it’s still going too fast. I skate the first 5 m of the transition, earning a small round of applause for staying on my feet and not dropping the bike.

RUN

As I put on my trainers I make a mental note to purchase some speedy laces – and to find out what “speedy laces” are actually called!

I throw my glasses down by a tree on the way out (some kind person puts these on a bike rack for me to find at the end).

The incline on the run is agony for me…I hate hills…like cycling with any sort of power, they make my thighs burn!!!

There is a lovely stretch on the run, through the grounds as you go away from the castle and then back again. I look forward to seeing the professional photos for this part.

I run straight past my family near the end of my first lap, so go back on myself, almost crashing into two other runners (sorry lads) to give high fives to Robyn and Ralph. I don’t want to disappoint them after waiting so long for me!

Stupidly, I start heading towards the finish line after just one lap and have to turn around – once again, against the current of runners – and get the other two laps done!!!

Three laps is almost too much – especially when you know what’s coming. I’m not a fan of laps. I want novelty. Anyway, I keep going…never stopping (except right at the start to redo my shoelace)…never walking.

I manage to cheer on other runners I know, although my face is numb from the bike ride, and when I go to cheer on the first person I recognise, I can’t say their name properly and I’m sure my face looks like Rocky Balboa’s. I raise both arms, smile and raise my eyebrows – just to check I haven’t had some kind of stroke.

During the last lap I really focus on my own race. I have my secret mantra while running, which helps me keep the rhythm of my breathing and cadence going.

As I approach the finish line, I have nothing left for a sprint finish which is just as well as I spot Laura and the kids. She is holding Ralph up and lifting him over the gate, so he can cross the finish line with me. So holding his hand, he whizzes ahead and beats me across the line before I hold him up for a cuddle. A very special moment for the Saunders boys!

I ask the steward to put my medal on him, and she not only does so, she also kindly gives me a second medal – which is fantastic as both Robyn and Ralph get one now!

RESULTS

I aimed for sub 3 and achieved that goal…but I’ve been put off by a half ironman for now!

I’m really happy with my time, but my form is sloppy as hell and the run up to race day was less than perfect. I’m sure I can do better and I’ve got no intention to quit now. I probably won’t race again until next season…probably…instead I have a lot of learning to be getting on with, and not just with triathlon.

Ralph, Danny and me

Massive THANK YOU to the family once again! It really was a Father’s Day to remember, and I’ve definitely redeemed myself on the bike!!!

Great cards and presents this year…but best of all was them being at the triathlon cheering me on.

Thank you also to Danny for inviting me to write a guest blog for Tri.To.Be. Iron

Guest Blog – Christopher Lomax

To all the regular readers, I bring you something a little different in which my blog is opened up to a series of guest blogs from close friends and training partners. Although I love writing and recording my races and experiences, I want to share some from others who share similar passions and take on their challenges in the world of sport – whatever that may be.

The first blog is from a very close friend, Christopher Lomax, who I have known since I was two-years old. Chris ran the entire London Marathon me and kept me company throughout that wonderful experience and he has many others to share. He is a pure runner. It is part of him and will be for the rest of his life I have no doubt. In this blog he shares not only some wonderful experiences but also gives us an insight into why he does it. I am sure you are going to like this! ENJOY!

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HAS ANYONE EVER RAN THE A-Z OF MARATHONS???

I have considered myself a runner now for too many years to remember and I absolutely love it. I still get the same rush of adrenalin completing an event today as I did when I ran my first half marathon in Reading in 2003. I have, so far, successfully completed numerous events at a multitude of distances. Each event has its own story to tell and a medal proudly displayed in a shoe box somewhere under my bed.

I do participate in Parkrun every Saturday. I can’t speak highly enough of what this type of event brings to the local community and the opportunity to meet up with a wonderful array of like-minded people. For those reasons I have taken on the position as one of the run directors at my local Parkrun in Mile End.

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The amazing Mile-End Parkrun crew

When it comes to running, and specifically racing, the half marathon is my favourite distance, yet it’s the marathon distance that most people show interest in and keen to talk about – and yes I have also been asked if my next marathon is the same distance as London!

I recently completed the Stockholm Marathon which now takes my marathon tally up to 18. I’m not sure how many more I will eventually do. In the short term I have set myself a target of completing an A-Z of marathons, entering events in cities around the world starting with each letter of the alphabet. I thought that this would be a good way of keeping motivated as well as seeing new places. The perfect excuse for a family getaway. Sometimes I find myself scouring the internet looking out for races away from the more traditional tourist hotspots, at offbeat locations. I am still looking for a Marathon starting with an X. Do you know of any?

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K is for a freezing cold Kiel Marathon!

The toughest of my marathons so far has to be my first, Berlin. I thought I was prepared and until the half way stage I felt really good, waving to my wife as I sped by. Ten miles later I was a complete mess but I persevered and completed it saying “never again!” Luxembourg stands out as one of my favourites. This event is run in the evening and you cross the line once the sun has set to a candle lit finish line. You can spend the rest of the evening enjoying a hot dog and a beer (or two).

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The Luxembourg Marathon finish line at night
My main aim when competing in a marathon is to get around and to still feel good enough that I could spend the next few days sightseeing (if travelling) without feeling too lousy. My training routine is to get out for a run 4-5 times a week with the traditional LSR on a Sunday. I cycle to work and also do some strength and conditioning in the gym once or twice a week. Is it all worth it? I certainly like to think so. It’s important that you set yourself goals and be ambitious with things you care about in life. Yes, my long runs take me away from spending Sunday mornings with my family but that is soon made up with our adventures travelling to new cities around the globe and exploring the sights and sounds they have to offer.

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Authentic meatballs in Stockholm
My question for those who are considering running a marathon but have not quite got round to do so is what are you waiting for? It’s true, you do have to give a fair level of commitment towards the training but I truly believe that everyone has one marathon in them. Proof of this is when race day comes and you see people of all ages, shapes and sizes coming together at the start line ready to push their bodies to the limit. Yeah, sure, at the end, all you may get is a medal and a banana but it’s an experience that will remain with you for a lifetime. And something for you to talk about at the staff Christmas party for the tenth year in a row!

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The all-important finisher’s medal

Thanks for reading and I do hope you enjoyed it. You can find Chris on Twitter @lomax_chris

Look out for another guest blog very soon!