What triathlon training has taught me

I’ve just begun week 8 of my ironman training and despite having done a triathlon before this is the first time I’ve really, properly trained for one rather than just doing it as a bit of fun. Training for a multisport race is so different to just running, not least because of all the extra equipment needed, you can barely see the poolside at the triathlon club swim sessions for all the many paddles, floats, snorkels and fins. I thought therefore I’d share the top 3 things that triathlon training has taught me so far.

1 – You can’t run in bib shorts

Well you can but it isn’t very comfortable and as I found out can make for some interesting chaffing. One of my weekly sessions is a 45 minute steady turbo ride and then a quick transition to a 15 minute run. At this time of year that means sitting in your house (in the glamorous surroundings of the utility room if you’re anything like me) on the turbo with sweat dripping off your nose. You then jump off, heart racing, mop up some of the sweat, throw on a few layers plus a hat and a head torch and then head out into the freezing black night. If you do this wearing bib shorts as I did the first time it means you are at high risk of your nipples turning into bullets and the perfectly positioned bib short straps rubbing on them. Lesson very quickly and painfully learned!

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Like a pig to water

Water is not my natural habitat, I’m confident enough in the water, happy to be there, but I’m distinctly lacking in any real skill or grace. I lack the coordination needed to move 4 limbs at the same time in a way that is conducive to efficient forward movement. I’m so right side orientated that my left arm just flops over in an awkward ark before splashing into the water and attempting to perform a good pull.

all-ready-at-the-pool

There is so much to think about when you’re swimming, which is probably why I enjoy running so much. With running you can switch your brain off and just enjoy your surroundings while your body moves your legs and arms perfectly in motion. In fact you run better when you do this rather than trying to think about what you’re doing.  Which is the complete opposite of swimming where you have to focus almost 100% of the time on your stroke to stop it falling apart. Or at least I do, maybe one day it’ll become second nature but for now the conversation going on in my brain while swimming goes something like this:

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Trail running navigation

Being on gardening leave for 6 weeks has its perks, one of which is being able to spend a day in the Brecon Beacons learning all about trail running navigation and mountain running skills in general. And what a day it was, quite honestly I don’t think it’s possible to have better winter weather conditions for spending a day running around this stunning landscape. Just look at this view.

As you know I love trail running, 99% of my running is off road and while it isn’t all in such exciting places as the Brecon Beacons it is possible to find remote and interesting places to run even in Wiltshire where I live. Most of the running I do at home I know broadly where I’m going and where I am without needing to read a map, plus most of the races I do currently are on marked courses so navigation really isn’t a concern. But I want to get a bit more adventurous with my running (more of that later) and challenge myself more and one logical way to do that is to go somewhere like the Brecon Beacons to run.

Trail running navigation course

However while I’m reasonably comfortable looking at an OS map and following footpaths etc I’m not experienced enough to really read the detail of contours, or follow an unmarked route in these wilder areas. That’s where JT Expeditions come in, I found them via Twitter and duly got booked in for a day with Jake one on one to learn some trail running navigation skills and get some good advice about planning days in the hills. There really is no substitute for practical, hands on training when it comes to learning these type of skills and as it quickly became apparent Jakes huge depth of knowledge as a Mountain Leader and also mountain marathon competitor was exactly what I needed to learn.

trail running navigation

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Using the Hanson method for trail marathons

I’ve used the Hanson method for the first time to train for the Broadway marathon this weekend, clearly I need to wait and see what the result is in the race but from a training perspective it has felt awesome and really clicked for me. But it is a plan aimed at road marathons given how the pacing’s work for the various sessions so I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I’ve adapted the plan for a trail marathon.

What is the Hanson method?

If you haven’t come across the Hanson method before I do recommend buying the book on Amazon and having a read. At the very least it’ll get you thinking about your approach to training even if you don’t follow one of their plans. In essence their approach is all about building fatigue in your legs so that when it comes to your long run you are tired. The longest run you do is 16 miles but it should feel like the final 16 miles of the marathon given the running you’ve done in the days before it. There is also a big emphasis on different paces with easy runs truly being easy and then strength and tempo work done around marathon pace.

hanson method plan

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Big hairy audacious goals

I’m a structured person, I like plans, lists, goals, meeting minutes, good queuing etiquette. I’ve tried the ‘take it as it comes’ approach and honestly it makes me uncomfortable and stresses me out. I can cope with freedom within a framework as my corporate colleagues would call it, some rules and limits to guide with freedom in between but that’s it. This applies in particular to running and training, I love setting some big goals and then building a plan to try and achieve them. Just drifting along without some structure for when/how far/how fast just makes me feel I’m wasting time and not achieving anything. Sure I have periods of training where I don’t have a training plan and instead just enjoy being out running/cycling/swimming but those periods are planned and designated as ‘holiday’ periods, you see, freedom in a framework!

I’m also not a prolific racer, I like setting a big single goal and then focusing everything on that rather than flitting between races. Setting that s There is something so interesting about the process of developing your fitness in this way, trying different approaches to training to see which gets the best results and fine tuning with each iteration. I think it also helps that a big part of my motivation for training is mental health, this is my time for reflection and de-stressing, so I don’t mind the long periods of training alone.

quadzilla medal

Day 1 of the Quadzilla done

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