Serious donation thanks to: Ann, who could be literally any one of a dozen and I have no clue; Mel, my oldest brother Sean’s arty and charming missus; and Joe Spraggins, who some of you may remember from my misadventures at Deva middle distance. 2016 being the year of Ironman graduations in our south London ranks, Joe finished Ironman Switzerland today in a ludicrously fast time of 10:39:23. If we’re working on the basis that Joe and I are fairly evenly matched, he’s just thrown down a fucking great gauntlet and I’m not sure if that’s just a step too far for me to follow. Incredible stuff.
Monday: Rest day where I mostly ached and whined
Tuesday: 1 hr 50 mins running
Wednesday: 1 hr swimming
Thursday: 45 mins cycling
Friday: 2 hrs turbo
Saturday: 50 mins cycling, 1 hr 20 mins swimming, 2 hrs 50 mins running
Sunday: 4 hours 35 mins cycling, 40 mins running
That said, it’s not like I’m throwing the towel in, and going all Froomy on the ride and start chucking back a Swedish beer mid-race. I have a set out a 10:30 goal time, and a 10:30 race strategy, and goddammit that’s what I’m sticking to. It’s getting closer and closer: I’m now into my final month of prep. Nearly a year since I first signed on, and I’m within reach of an act of such spectacular, narcissistic, rampant masochism.
It’s not time to get sentimental yet, though (that comes during taper week). Before then, I have three – now two – brutal weeks to get through. This week, well, the week itself wasn’t too bad. And then came the weekend, where I’ve actually done over Ironman distance in all three disciplines, and now my body feels like I’ve been trampled by a particularly irate stampede of moose. Who needs long course weekend? I’m wearing so much compression gear right now, because I’m slightly worried that if I will take it off, like a biker’s outfit after a really nasty crash, my various appendages will actually just drop off.
The highlight of the week has no doubt been yesterday morning’s excursion down to Bournemouth. A handful of Chasers, led by smiley Gemma (who you may also remember from Deva), decided that as we all have races coming up with sea-based swims, we should probably do a little bit of actual sea-based swimming in advance. This was my original plan when I was booking my key training races, but unfortunately there were no sea swim races that fitted in my calendar, so I had to nix the idea, and went with the Big Fish swim instead.
Finally, one of the few remaining itches I had has been scratched. Being a Cornish lad, I grew up with the sea on my doorstep – not the pristine sandy stretches of Bournemouth, which are a little manicured for my liking, but the rugged and windswept coves of North Cornwall. Admittedly, I never took to the sea much; probably largely because I never really took to sport, or indeed any kind of physical activity, much. It’s true that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing: I’ve been fully aware of the potential hazards and dangers of a Swedish sea swim, but not really had the knowledge or confidence in how to overcome these.
Well, I still have neither. Kind of. Under the watchful eyes of the Durley Sea Swimmers, we plunged into a sea that was… like glass, for the most part. There were a few water wobbles, which made for a good intro to sea swimming, but no ferocious six foot breakers. Probably for the best, to be honest. No matter; it was enough that I’m now happy enough to go plunging into the Baltic abyss. I think.
It was also a nice little perspective check – you know how this Ironman thingy is hard? Well, before we were let loose on the great vast ocean, the guy in charge for the day came around asking us how long we were all intending to swim. A couple of my accomplices said one hour. Being the big man, I tentatively went with one and a half hours. I thought this was a fair jaunt. I was told that I would not need feeding, then, which royally confused me – until I looked down at the paper he was holding, where a who list of people were listed as aiming to swim- just as a casual practise – for seven hours. One guy was going for eight. None of these people wore wetsuits. I feel like triathlon’s insistence on wetsuits has made me the swimming equivalent of a domesticated housecat, and on Saturday I was thrust into the world of back-alley one-eared fight-for-your-tuna scrappers. They are insane, in a fantastic way.
After some breakfast – hooray for being up so early that you drive two hours to Bournemouth, faff a bit and get lost on a flat beach, put in a solid workout, faff some more and it’s still early enough to get served breakfast, hooray for not being an eight hour swimmer – and a very scintillating car journey back where we discussed, among other things, my tactics for pulling a Swedish cheerleader whilst covered in my own sweat/urine/vomit/blood – I then set off on the weekend’s next ludicrous task: a two and three quarter hour run. Not too outlandish, in itself.
Well, it sucked. It sucked hard, and it hurt. Twenty eight degrees? What fresh hell is this? Idiots who try and argue against global warming can kiss my taut pale glutes. I’m British, I’m not built to withstand twenty eight degrees. It’s not that I’d usually complain, either; usually a massive fan of things being warm (I’m fine with rain, I just hate the cold). However, my hydration bladder decided that it would pick yesterday of all days to spring a leak. Ah.
I passed it off for the first hour of the run as just the usual overly-sweaty back from wearing a backpack whilst running, and then I suddenly discovered about an hour and a half in that I had no water left, because the best part of two litres of the stuff had instead decided to migrate south to where my month-old phone resided at the bottom of my bag. My month-old phone, which now resides at the bottom of a tub of rice, in a likely futile attempt to revive it. Bugger.
I ended up running the hour plus home in a state of not severe but certainly uncomfortable dehydration, with my mouth so dry it felt like I’d been chewing chalk. It was all I could do to cling to my 7:46 per mile target pace – which should, with water stops THAT I COULDN’T BLOODY TAKE, net me somewhere on the good side of a three and a half hour marathon in Kalmar. I think that there’s some value to training through adversity, because it toughens the mind, and a tough mind is pretty vital for endurance sports. Sometimes though, training through adversity is just really unpleasant. I may have collapsed against the wall as I came back through the front door. Y’know, just a little.
There’s no rest for the wicked, though, and by that metric I might have been Pol Pot in a past life. An evening on shaky legs and about four hour’s sleep, and out I was again this morning for a long ride/brick. I’d already spent two hours on the turbo on Friday night – longest turbo session to date – which was so sweaty that by the end, I’d had to stop using my sweat towel because it was fully saturated, and I wasn’t cleaning myself so much as I was just smearing my own salty water weight back around my face.
After this, and Saturday afternoon’s traumatic run, I really didn’t fancy the idea of a five hour bike (with brick run) much at all. It was pretty horrible: my legs were stiff, hips aching, and I felt like I just couldn’t generate any power. Things got unpleasant. All of the nasty thoughts that I expected during the Chiltern 100 bike ride came out; I’m not sure if it was due to the fatigue or what, but I had to stop for a brief few minutes (around about the time sane people would be getting woken up by their kids, and also the time I took the above sexy photo). All of which is a little weird, because despite feeling like crap, Strava tells me I was moving pretty fast. And Strava never lies. It’s like the self-authored bible for runners/cyclists/triathletes.
So here I am: about one and a bit hours in the sea, seven hours on the saddle and three and a half running. An entire weekend spent training, or preparing to train, or recovering from training (and, of course, writing about it). One big weekend down. Two more to go. Hopefully that highlights what an effort this whole thing is. I like to remind myself sometimes, it gives me that proud little fuzzy feeling when I know think about the amount I’ve put into this task.
Oh, and if you’re interested, I got featured in a piece about Truestart Coffee on the Wiggle blog! Somehow I forgot to mention this. Anyway, I’m on the Wiggle blog now, which basically means I’m an endurance athlete superstar or something. And yes, I do like their coffee that damn much.
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!