Thank you Alix! Alix is the author of Lexie Runs, which deals with a lot of the same issues I write about in an equally eloquent (though usually a bit more concise) manner. I spend a lot of my time on Twitter trying to persuade her to go to Goodgym, and she spends a lot of time on Twitter liking spreadsheets and being weird.
My room sits on the first floor of the house I live in. For the past few days, I’ve been watching this squirrel through my bedroom window as it bounces up and down branches of the big tree in our garden that I can’t identify, going from leafy twig to leafy twig, snapping them off and nibbling away until all the greenery’s fallen to the ground – and eyeballing me every damn second as it does so. Daily, despite the onset of spring, the tree is becoming more barren. There’s an Aesop in there somewhere. I’m just not sure what it is.
Monday: Rest day, I went to bed at about half seven ‘cos I’m hardcore
Tuesday: 1 hr 40 mins running
Wednesday: 20 mins turbo, 10 mins swimming, 5 mins having a minor meltdown at poolside
Thursday: 40 mins cycling, 40 mins swimming, 45 mins running
Friday: 40 mins swimming
Saturday: 3 hrs 30 mins cycling
Sunday: 10 mins swimming/35 mins running Kingfisher Aquathlon plus 40 mins each way cycling there and back, 1 hr running
Training’s going through another dip, and certainly for the most part of the week, motivation was a real problem. Monday was the warning sign that something wicked was this way coming; I can’t remember the last time I needed to hide from life quite so much. But I managed to make it through to Wednesday with a grimace before things started going really sideways. Scrambling home from work, I hopped on the turbo trainer, determined to put last week’s failures behind me – and promptly, er, ‘decommissioned’ the racket causing nuisance with a screwdriver. And a mallet. I just did not have the patience to tolerate it any more – stereo system on full volume, and I still couldn’t hear anything but the rattle of the flywheel. I couldn’t stick another hour like that.
A panicked email to Coach Dan later, and I hopped off down to the pool to at least complete one of the day’s sets. Nope. Not a chance. I meandered through about 400m of the warmup for the set before I just couldn’t bring myself to continue. I must have sat at the end of the lane, legs dangling at the water, as the other two swimmers in the lane kept a wide berth. No excuses, I told myself for five minutes. I left with no excuses, nor any real explanation why – I just couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t have the mental strength to push myself through it, and that felt far worse than missing split times or whatever other crap I usually worry about. Try again tomorrow, that was the plan.
Tomorrow didn’t go a lot better. Lane buggery, I’ll call it. I was happily zipping up and down the fast lane (in a different local pool, I couldn’t face my usual one again) until they decided the fast lane would be sacrificed so an aquatic-aerobics class or whatever they’re called could spread to two thirds of the pool. This left a hellish choice – one lane which had, at my count, eight people trying to use it. Or a second lane, which had one guy floating about. I chose the second one. It was not a good choice.
I try not to hold anything against overweight people, I really do. Not my body, so I don’t think I have much say in the matter. This guy, though… it wasn’t that he was the size of a zeppelin, it’s that he swam like a zeppelin. Specifically, the fucking Hindenburg. Christ. It wasn’t even swimming, he just kind of… lolled there in the water, kinda rolling around. He’d push off the side, and just kind of sink to the bottom of the pool, and stop moving; then he’d just float to the surface and stick his arms out to either side, and just float. In the middle of the lane. I’m not a big guy – someone this week described me as ‘svelte’ (yes, she is a real person; no, she’s way too old for me) – but I struggled to find the space to squeeze past this guy. I did my warm down and skipped the second part of the set. As I was having a shower, I saw them putting the lane rope back for the fast line, the aerobics class retreating back to their half of the pool. By then I’d lost all interest.
With horror, I’ve realised that I’m now sitting just four months out from Ironman Kalmar. I’m halfway through my training plan. Ignoring the little things – my oven is bust and my usually prompt landlady has been dragging her heels on getting it repaired, so my diet, which I have been putting real effort into improving, has gone to shit; the Little Stoke Parkrun decision, which really earned my ire on Tuesday to the point where I spent all night tweeting a series of sarky comments about it (I cannot explain quite how against this decision I am without turning this into a two-part post, it’s going to run well over as it is); the first gigs I wanted to go to but am sacrificing ticket costs for sports costs have started being a thing – ignoring those, I think I’ve hit the point in training where it starts to become a real mental grind. The motivation I started the year with has been exhausted, and I need to be looking at new ways to replenish it that don’t just involve a lot of teeth-gritting.
Taking a leaf out of my own book/guest blog which has inexplicably not yet been published (probably need to follow that one up, although the company’s had their own big news to shout about recently so that’s likely why), I decided to sack off organised training for the weekend and just do fun things. Of course, my idea of fun happens to be a little squiffy.
That water had been about fourteen degrees Celsius in the middle of the day. This was mid-evening, so it had probably cooled down a bit from those lofty temperatures. But hey, I finally got to swim in my new Xterra wetsuit that I bought in my Christmas spending spree! Not only did I fit into it (probably the lack of Easter Eggs this year), for an entirely online purchase, the fit seems spot on – no rubbing or chafing at all. Also I forgot how much faster you swim in a wetsuit when you usually have sinky legs. I was beating my pool times without even trying. A jolly, if somewhat chilly, time was had by all the Chasers involved, and this might become a regular Friday night thing.
Saturday started at 5am. Doing stuff for other people from time to time is good for my mental game, so I resolved to do my scheduled TT-training ride early doors, before sacking off the brick run and going to Dorney Lake to watch some club mates (including my partner in Ironman-crime Emma, above, who won her age group without even trying, like she does) competing in a duathlon in what can only be described as some of the most miserable conditions I’ve seen. The sleet was practically horizontal at times. Things I learnt from this experience: 1 – If you’re going to spectate a race post-training ride, make sure you bring some warm clothes so you’re not stood around in a couple thin layers of damp lycra for a very cold and wet morning. 2 – Don’t fucking trust Google Maps to get you anywhere if you’re on a bike. Riding along a dual carriageway in aero tuck, atop a very fragile three thousand quids’ worth of bike that is your most prized wordly possession, as eighteen-wheelers roar past is a very terrifying experience. I have crossed it off the bucket list and will never, ever do it again.
Sunday was the clincher that, I hope, turned my week around. The false start of the cancelled Thames Turbo a few weeks ago is no longer relevant; race season has begun in earnest. I will analyse my times in a minute, but first I’m just going to gush for a few lines. I never thought, at any point in my life, that I would ever be the Captain of any kind of active sports club other than maybe, like, a prison chess team or something (if things went really south in my late teens). Still somewhat emotionally stilted, I can’t properly express what it meant for an inexperienced, often taciturn and always shy guy like me to lead such a bunch of absolute legends into a league fixture. I was so damn proud it even undid the usual pre-race nerves I was expecting – either that, or the four months of intense training I’ve already clocked has mentally focused me as well. Either way, I felt unusually calm getting into the pool, completely devoid of the histrionics that marked the earlier half of the week.
The swim went fine. Good, in fact. My swim time was recorded as 8:31, which was about what I expected (I’d registered as aiming for 8:20, plus a few seconds to get out of the pool and over the timing mat into transition). I overtook one guy, got overtaken by another, and held my own. More importantly, I was about ten seconds faster per length that I would have been about half a year ago – and that is a massively significant improvement. I’m still the slowest swimmer in the top forty finishers (barring one result which says a guy took eighteen minutes to do a 400m swim, and then ran a twenty-seven minute 9k, which seems a bit odd), but I am clearly getting much better in the water, and that’s cool.
Having turned up to the race with some seriously heavy calves, I’d spent the entire pre-race saying that I was just going to take the run easy and not push myself too hard. Fat fucking chance. No-one who says that ever sticks to it. Once those trainers were on, I was off like a shot. The Captain must lead by example. Including transition, I clocked a 35:45 9k hilly off-road run, including probably the most intense sprint finish I’ve managed since I nearly took some poor kid’s arm off at Hever Castle last September. I even managed to post negative splits, a first for me, showing that my shiny expensive sports watch is definitely paying off. To say it felt good to be flying at race-pace again would be an understatement. The worrying (and arrogant) thing is that I think I can go faster than that still.
The takeaway from this, for me, can be summed up in a couple of conversations that went on at the sidelines of the race after I’d finished, when we were discussing the training value of the club’s Saturday long rides to anyone who isn’t training for an Ironman or something else suitably lengthy. In my view, even if I weren’t doing an Ironman, I’d still be keen to knock out these eighty mile rides every Saturday morning – maybe not because they’re what the body needs, but because they’re one of the highlights of the week for me and I enjoy them, and certainly at the moment it seems like my mental game is suffering far more than my physical one. You still need to enjoy what you’re doing, and I wonder if I lost sight of this a bit recently.
Things are looking up (I say this tentatively, but I’m hopeful). Coach Dan has pulled through in a big way and is lending me his turbo for the immediate future so I shouldn’t miss any more sets, which handily frees up space in his house for his new project: raising a kid. This also has the added bonus of hindering his own training, so when we inevitably and finally go head to head I will be well prepared. Kinda like a Sith apprentice. I’m feeling much happier writing this today for having got a race out of my system, I’ve got more coaching to do tomorrow at Goodgym, and I now feel like I can finally move on to the next bit of this blog thing which is slowly and surely starting to publicise the whole fundraising thing a bit more – a prospect that is as daunting as it is exciting, but hey. Maybe this’ll all turn to sand again by next weekend, but for right now, I’m good with things. Now I just to to buy my own swimming pool, or at least privatise a lane…
Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!