Triathlon: learning from races and looking ahead to a big race

My last blog was back in 2012 so it’s been a while. This isn’t because I didn’t enjoy writing them or hearing your thoughts (which was the best bit), but simply because time has been the enemy. It was in a series of off-hand discussions with friends, work colleagues and training partners that they suggested I should re-start the blog, using my racing and training experiences as the basis for them. So I’m still going to try to give you some sport psychology insights but I’ll also tell you about my racing and training for the brilliant sport of triathlon. First a bit of background as to how I’ve ended up as a ‘triathlete’…

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Photo courtesy of Imac Images (2014)

 

After a season of training and racing as a cyclist for one of the local Edinburgh cycling teams in 2012, I got bored of one sport and decided to take up three! The race season was over, I was getting married later that summer so I decided to stay in shape by going swimming. I’ve never been a particularly good swimmer despite the best efforts of a very patient coach when I was at school. But I was competent, didn’t feel like I was drowning very often, so I got started. Within a few weeks I had built up the distance a bit and was starting to do some timed distances. (The racer in me WILL never die it seems!). While not exactly blasting up and down the pool, I had now moved from the slow lane to the medium lane and could occasionally hold my own in the fast lane at the swimming pool which meant I was probably a bit better than I reckoned! As the wedding beckoned, my time to train vanished so I gave it a break but not before I made the commitment to take up triathlon when I got back from my honeymoon in September. I’d even found a coach who wanted to work with me…

He set me a programme to sort out my running technique, gain some swimming fitness and trusted me to keep the bike ticking over. By January 2013 I was ready to do my first mock triathlon and on a very cold day I completed my first sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run). Again I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire but I felt I was getting there. By April, I was ready for my first race and entered East Fife sprint triathlon in Cupar. A cracking event, brilliantly organised and very welcoming to novices (and idiots like me). I survived the swim, braved the very windy and hilly bike course and hung on through the run to complete my first ever triathlon. I now felt I could call myself a ‘triathlete’ and was ready to kick on with the rest of my season. The next race was a novice race (super short distances) which I entered because the main sprint race was full and which I accidentally won! Despite being embarrassed and a little guilty about this, I was encouraged that I was making progress and got ready for my first ‘standard’ or ‘olympic’ distance races…

These races are twice the distance of a sprint (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) and as it turned out; not for me! It probably didn’t help that I did them one week apart immediately after a holiday but it was the definition of a ‘sufferfest’ for me. Despite these experiences, I persisted as by now I had two more races to go in 2013. Both were sprint distance races and the first in Newbiggin was also a qualifier for the 2014 european triathlon championships which my coach had convinced me to enter for experience. The second was the open race which ran alongside the world championships in London. This was to be on the same course that was used for the Olympic triathlon in Hyde park in 2012 so was an opportunity not to be missed. I didn’t have a great day in Newbiggin in tricky conditions but fought my way round and this set me up for a great race in London where I finished 19th in my age group. It was fantastic to be racing on the Olympic course and was great to be able to share it with some of my family who came along to watch. This was the end of the season and I felt energised and ready to give the next season a really good go now that I’d got the bug for triathlon…

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Still very surprised to have one of these!

Fast forward a few months and I was busily training and looking forward to the start of the race season when I received an unexpected email from the British Triathlon Federation. Having got within the minimum performance standard at Newbiggin last summer, I was offered a place in the GB team for the European triathlon championships in Kitzbuhel in June. I replied with: “are you sure?!” Once I’d got over the shock I accepted my place and got busy organising myself for what was now the focal point of my season. The whole thing feels very surreal and I still consider it all to be very accidental – after all I’d only started all this as a way to stay in shape before my wedding. Anyway, onto this season…

I’ve done two races so far this and while not exactly setting the world alight, I was pretty pleased with the progress from last season. I again returned to the fantastic East Fife sprint triathlon which was again mega windy. [Top tip: if you ever want to do this race in nice conditions, just do it whenever I’m not racing!] I was amazed at how in control it all felt after the manic feel of the previous year. Not that I’m exactly a triathlon veteran after 1 season but I felt much more in control of my emotions and more focused. The second race was a duathlon in Stockton. I’d never done a duathlon before (run-bike-run) but I really enjoyed it and was pleased with how well my run had progressed over the winter. I had been really disappointed with my run in my first season so it had been a major project through the winter that was now starting to come good. My first 5k run of this race had been just over 19 minutes (6:14/mile pace) which was a PB and my swim at East Fife had also been the same (12:06; 1:37/100m pace) so I definitely feel I’m heading in the right direction and I’ll keep you posted…

So what have been the ‘psych’ lessons so far? Two big ones: 1) Plan very carefully at the start of the season and set very specific goals, both for races and for training. Being able to watch my swim and run times fall throughout the winter training has been very satisfying and definitely helped me to stay focused and motivated. 2) Controlled relaxation. This has really been about learning to control my thoughts and emotions before and during a race. I very quickly learned that you need to have your wits about you in a triathlon because there are so many things happening throughout the race. I now have a pre-race mantra/quote that I say to myself before I begin and this has really helped to get my mind in the right place consistently. There are probably lots of other things but that’s more than enough for now. Until next time!

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