Five years ago I had never swum more than 400 metres, barely cycled on a road-bike and had completed a marathon after which I vowed I would never run further than 10k again! This year, on 16th July, I will attempt to complete the UK Ironman Triathlon - that's 2.4 miles swimming, followed by 112 miles cycling and then a full 26.2 mile marathon running. It is a long way, and a little further than 10k! This blog charts my progress towards becoming fully made of Iron.
15th Jan 2017
Partly it is a ridiculously difficult goal, and seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, that I feel there must be such growth in its completion, physical, mental and emotional. Indeed, although the body must be ready with sufficient strength and stamina, it is as much the mind that will dictate whether I can finish the race. The cut-off before the organisers close the course is 17 hours, which I am confident of being able to beat, aiming around 14-15 hours.
My chosen race is the UK Ironman in Bolton. It's a challenging course, especially on the bike with two major hills on route: Sheephouse Lane and Hunters Hill. And we have to cycle both of those hills twice! The swim is in a lake called Pennington Flash, created by mining-related subsidence and concealing a submerged railway line. The run starts at the Bolton Wanderers football ground and brings us to a finish in the city centre, taking in a few uphill gradients on the way.
I have some previous with this Bolton event, having entered last year and failing to finish. In fact, I failed even to start. My partner was 8 months pregnant at the time and we had a careful plan for her to support me while conserving her energy. All the preparations were going well and on the evening before the race, we settled down for a very early night as the alarm was set for 3am the next day - race-day.
This was the moment, my son Jacob decided we would come and meet the world. He was born in the Royal Bolton Hospital, less than 7 hours before the triathlon was due to start. Impeccable timing! A most happy occasion, although it took some effort to accept I wouldn't be starting the triathlon. I left the hospital at 2am and made my way around the various venues in Bolton where my equipment had been deposited - running shoes waiting at the end of the bike course, bike waiting just near the swimming lake. As I wheeled my bike out of the transition area, moving against the tide of nervous-looking, wet-suited athletes, it must have looked like I was a complete chicken and too scared to start. I didn't mind though, life had taken a new perspective - such is the sacrifice I made for little Jacob (and he will be hearing this story every birthday from now on!)
So, in 2017, we plan to return to his birthplace, on his birthday to finally complete the Ironman challenge. My training plan started in earnest from the 1st January, although I had been keeping the fitness ticking over in the post-season and during Christmas. The never-ending cold that has been doing the rounds in late autumn plus a persistent calf injury picked up at Huntingdon Parkrun in September (and possibly the odd mince pie or two) leaves me coming into the year in worse shape than I would have liked, however.
A useful blog article on the excellent running website Fetch (www.fetcheveryone.com), has analysed the training plans of hundreds of Ironman triathletes and given me a good rule of thumb in terms of training load between now and July. From this I have calculated my monthly target of 3-5 hours swimming, 12-20 hours biking and 10-16 hours. This works out on average to be roughly an hour of something every day. How can I fit this in around my daily life, clinical duties and my new role as a father? I'm not sure...
So far, so good though. The painful calf is beginning to settle down, thanks to some extra attention with cold baths (not fun at this time of year), self-massage and targeted strength training. Running is still much slower than usual but I will soon be able to add some faster intervals to the long plodding runs I have been doing. Both types of running are necessary for improvement as this trains both the aerobic (burning oxygen) and anaerobic (not burning oxygen) energy systems (maybe more on that in a future post).
Biking consists of hour-long sessions in the garage on the "turbo-trainer", a fixed resistance wheel for my road bike. Having invested in a good online service which gives a set training plan and closely monitored intervals based on the power output (wattage), this is not as dull as it could be. It is also helped by regular visits from young Jacob and his Mum, and my iPad stocked up with interesting shows and podcasts to entertain and educate me as I cycle.
Things are on track, 6 months to go!