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!

IRONMAN Vichy 70.3 – Part 1

Welcome to part 1 of the Ironman Vichy 70.3 two part series I promised. I write this as I sit here in my kitchen in France looking out over my garden waiting in anticipation for the deer to make an appearance. I find this a great place to sit, enjoy a coffee and write as everyone else is sleeping. It’s one of my favourite times of the day. I also have the camera by my side eager to capture a few pictures of the two deer that seem to be living in our garden. What with red squirrels, umpteen types of birds and bats, it’s like our own Springwatch. Anyway enough of the wildlife!

I go into this race knowing that it isn’t a race. For one, I am not as fit as I have been this year. I’ve succumbed to the fact that it really is one race two many for me and completely the wrong time of the season. My summer holidays are not conducive to me racing at this point of the year. It was a struggle in Jamaica keeping the fitness (blog here) and it has continued to be a struggle in France. That doesn’t mean to say I couldn’t be fit and willing to do it in the future; it just makes it extremely difficult being away and training and eating consistently. It’s just too damn hard in your holidays! There’s a constant battle in your head on enjoying yourself and not worrying about what you eat or do VS ‘oh if I eat this’ or ‘ if don’t do that’ it’s going to affect me in my race.

Ironman Vichy is going to be about the experience and enjoyment. I mentioned I hate shuffling around courses in a previous blog, and although I’m not as fit as I was earlier in the season, I’m fit enough to complete the race without it being too much of a physical battle. My training peaks numbers show a good level of fitness, but not the level where I could race the way I would like. Sometimes that is a good thing. Pressure is off and when I look back I can confidently say that I have had a great season. You never know, I may pull off some great race, although I doubt it! Yes I’m still watching (a little) what I eat and drink but I’ve totally given into the fact that I can’t be super strict with myself. Jamaica saw me put on 4kgs of weight which I managed to quickly strip 3kgs of that. God knows what effect France has had on me. I’m not bothering to check although I know I’m no where near race weight!

Being in France has allowed me to ride my bike and run. I haven’t ventured into the lake to swim. I probably could have been out a little more although to be honest, I’ve been just too darn tired what with the DIY work I have been doing – some may say a different type of training maybe? Not quite sure how I equate TSS numbers to that although it’s been pretty physical.

I’m really enjoying the riding so far. It isn’t flat by any means! Undulating to say the least but I have enjoyed getting to know all the local lanes and roads close to our house. I’m certainly developing a good local mind map of the area, and being in a national park it is great riding through forests startling deer (and me) as I whizz past.

RACE PLAN

There is one major difference to all my races so far this season. I will be riding my road bike instead of the Tri-bike. Why? Well the Vichy course will be hilly. I’ve put on my race wheels and elected to be a little more comfortable (and climb a little quicker) with the road bike. It will be the first time I’ve completed a triathlon of this distance using it as my weapon of choice. I’m actually looking forward to the bike section. Who knows what that will do to my legs though for the run. That question…to be answered…

My nutrition and hydration plan will be the same as I have followed earlier in the season, which you can read about on my Outlaw blog. I intend to drink a little more what with the heat as race day plans to be around 30c so hydration and salts will be important. We are travelling down on Thursday and this race poses to be a lot less stressful in terms of registration and racking compared to when I did Staffordshire. The logistics there were a nightmare (blog here), but Vichy has one transition zone meaning it should be a lot simpler. This is certainly one of the things I look at now when I book a race!

My goals and ambitions for next season are already starting to become clear. I’ll speak of these in a future blog, but I find that these are now stepping up a level considering that each year the improvement is continuing. Some keep asking me – When the full Ironman? My answer…still not yet. Mastering distances and racing to my best is what triathlon is about for me and when I feel I have achieved this, then the time will be right to step up and that I feel is still 1 or 2 seasons off.

I head to Vichy this Thursday (about 3 hours from our house) with my wife and daughter and will meet some additional family (aunt and uncle) who are coming out also. We are there until Saturday and will leave to head back to spend the last week in France straight after the race. I’ll probably spend two days being unable to walk but that will be the conclusion of my triathlon season. Look out for the race report in the next blog!

Isabel loves our drone…although flying the thing is bleeding stressful!

The Season Continues…

Winning doesn’t always mean being first place; it means getting the best out of yourself.

What a season so far!!!

I write this as I have just finished my 5th race of the season – Box End Triathlon in Bedford. This was unplanned and added into my schedule only three weeks ago. I also recently completed the Banana Triathlon at Dorney lake on a scorching hot day a few weeks back.

So why the extra race? Well I am just about to go on my summer holidays – that’s about 6 weeks off from the day job and a visit for two weeks to Jamaica, before we spend the rest of it France. I’m certainly not complaining about that! However, it does throw up the problem of how I keep my fitness over summer, especially considering I have Ironman Vichy 70.3 in the last week of August! What with all the delicious food and drink on offer – how will I cope?

I decided on the ‘extra’ race in order to keep the training momentum going and also so I could head to Jamaica feeling fairly fit and knowing a few days off with a lighter schedule for a week or so out there would do no harm.

“IF IT IS TO BE, IT’S UP TO ME.”

Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae, professional triathlete, former world champion

I certainly know from experience that completing a 70.3 when unfit is a slog. Ironman Staffordshire taught me that when it was 32c and I had no run fitness due to getting over an injury. I DO NOT ENJOY COMPETING WHEN UNFIT! So if I want to enjoy Vichy, it’s up to me to put the work in! The quote above is my mantra leading up to this final race and the challenges of staying fit over the summer. Shuffling around a course for me is no fun. It hurts way too much, especially over that sort of distance.

Banana Triathlon

Bleeding hell it was hot! 32c hot. I competed here last year where I raced with Jecks which you can read about here. I like racing at Dorney and it also meant I got to race with Miia again (Coaching Project) with her doing her first olympic distance event. It would be interesting to see how she faired – especially with the heat. Jecks and Nick were also racing here and I believe just made the start of the race after a mad dash and number of M25 crashes holding them up in the morning.

To be honest, heat like that day makes it impossible for fast times which was disappointing really. I somehow pulled out 2:45 and finished 13th in my age group. Nothing really to write home about, although the run and bike were slightly long. I swam the event again without a wetsuit like last year and it is so refreshing doing it. I didn’t feel like I had a great swim though, although after seeing the time, it wasn’t too bad at 28mins.

Miia on the other hand really enjoyed her race and finished in 3:12 I believe. She now has a time to shoot for as she heads into the London triathlon – her last race of the season.

I on the other hand, decided on one other race – the Bedford Box End. It’s not the closest to home, so I decided to get a hotel for the night before. This made race morning much more manageable.

I was hoping for a lot cooler weather – which I got, and it was fairly pleasant at around 23c. It was an opportunity to try and lay down a good time even though I would be going into this slightly cooked. I’d just had two weeks of quite intense training! Whether I could do that would be all down to how I felt on the day.

It’s also fair to say that I had been managing a slight niggle with my adductor in my leg so had a little less running volume leading up to this. Saying that though, I seemed to have caught it and managed to get in a 5 mile mid-week race at the Newman Hilly as part of the Elvis series. I actually ran fairly well there and felt great, even though I made the mistake of starting at the back, meaning it was a right slog trying to navigate through everyone on narrow paths. Hey ho…we live and learn!

A Vlog by Paul Suett of the race will be going live soon, which will give you a feel for that race. Paul does capture the essence of the race through his filming. In-fact Paul does a great job of capturing a lot of local races and is a GB Age Group Duathlete. His channel can be found here.

One thing I have been experimenting with though is my bike workouts. I decided to purchase a subscription to TrainerRoad. I deliberated for weeks on whether to go with this or Zwift, and came to the conclusion that the structure was much more important for me. I will probably write a post on this in the winter as this is when I plan on using it properly. I’m too far into my season to really start at the base and I’ve just been following the sweet spot workouts. First impressions are good – I am pleased with what I have experienced so far.

Bedford Triathlon – So how did it pan out?

I was looking forward to experiencing a new race. Another one I can say ‘ I have done’ and conquered. After traveling up on Saturday afternoon and catching some dinner in the hotel, I settled in for a early night wanting to wake the next morning feeling refreshed. This was the plan anyway, and as they say, plans don’t always pan out like you want them to. My room was far too hot! I had two fans blasting away and an aircon unit in the room that didn’t work! The teasing of this staring at me made me get my tool bag and fiddle with it! No luck though. I also managed to find some stream for the boxing and watched that in the evening so an early night went out the window once I was engrossed in that.

Dinner was great – a Thai residency in house which I couldn’t turn down. I ate so much though…and…wondered if this would come back to haunt me. Stay tuned.

The hotel was only 2 miles or so from the race start. I woke the next morning and consumed my usual porridge breakfast – well a few mouthfuls of it. I couldn’t eat it…hmmm heavens knows why I wondered? I proceeded to the race HQ around 5:45am

The Bedford Box End Triathlon is a fairly small race and it is really nice to do these smaller events from time to time. The competition is usually tougher though as many of the local clubs use it as their championship.

An empty transition – the calm before the storm.

It was a rather nice morning and an optional wetsuit swim with the water being 21c. I chose to swim with the wetsuit this time and watch the first sprint wave from the bank take on the lake.

Eventually it was my turn. One thing about the lake I found out – it was bloody weedy! A lovely swim and really clear though. You could see the bottom in places. My swim went well actually and I completed the 1500m in 24:57. This got me 21st place and 9th in my age group, so certainly a decent start!

The bike was the bit of the race I was actually looking forward to. I’ve enjoyed riding the tri-bike leg this year but today took a while to get going. My stomach was not playing ball – could it be from all that food last night? It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was burning and it took me 6 to 7 miles or so to shake that feeling. Almost like I wanted to vomit at times. I then had stitch, yes a stitch on a bleeding bike! This was just the start of that. To be honest the rest of the ride went ok and was pretty much in line with my other rides this year so even with the discomfort I still managed to pull out a 1:17 split. I think the TrainerRoad workouts have made a big impact though as I had sustained my highest power output for 20mins and still managed that time with the stomach issues I had experienced.

The other weird thing on the bike…this:

Ok Ok…it doesn’t look like much, I get that. Somehow I cut my finger – really deeply! How? Well I have no idea but I tell you now…it bled…and bled….and bled….a lot. I noticed it as my hand was really sticky – yes there was blood all over my hand, and at first I though I was having a nose bleed. It’s fine now though and safely plastered up you’ll be pleased to know!

Once I got back to transition I managed to open the cut up again as I went out on my run. As I started my run, I felt ok and this is one area I have carried my strength across and have been running off the bike well this season. Not today though! Remember that stitch?…well it was back after about 5k – and this time with a vengeance! I have had stitch before and just run through to it be honest. It hasn’t really bothered me, bu this stitch I think was another symptom of my stomach issues. It was like a stabbing knife and I honestly slowed down to 6:30 per km at one point. No stopping though! It was exacerbated by drinking water on course which I worked out after the second go. Somehow I managed to get through it, which took nearly 3k, and I finished strong. The race was more or less over by then though.

My overall time was 2hr 40min and 54 secs which was a surprise really. I finished 46th overall and 12th in my age category (32 competitors). I was a little cooked going into this race and knew the fatigue and form numbers were not ideal, although I had just completed two large weeks of training. My aim was to use this race as part of that training and end the block with it which I have done. It’s strange though, as knowing what I know now, there was a result there for the taking today if it weren’t for my stomach issues. I blame it on the pigging out the night before but who really knows if that was the cause. Two gels ingested on the bike didn’t help and I think now I’m going to knock doing that on the head – especially for the Olympic distance. I’m not convinced I need them with the sort of length of time I’m racing.

Do stay tuned over the summer as there are three blogs I have planned and I’m going to experiment with a vlog type effort. I have a two part series for Ironman Vichy 70.3 and will show the French house and reveal some training camp plans. Enjoy the summer everyone, and please like, share and comment.