Getting back into exercise isn’t that difficult in theory; a couple of runs a week, a swimming session, a spin class and it’s easy to feel accomplished. My heart beats fast and I sweat…a lot. But is it enough?
It is certainly enough for most people and definitely adequate if your only goal is to get fit and keep healthy, but probably not if you are training for a big event. Additionally, I find it easy to do the bits that I enjoy, but I am also a gold medal winner at “avoiding” or “not having enough time” to fit in the stuff I don’t enjoy as much. For me this is strength training.
The middle distance triathlon is 29 weeks away but slightly more alarmingly, the Big Half (13.1 miles) is only 16 weeks away. Most half marathon training plans are 12 weeks long and so with this in mind, I knew I had to get cracking.
I am a firm believer in seeking advice. If I don’t know the answer to something, I am not proud and will seek the counsel of someone who knows more than me. In this particular instance, this happened to be a personal trainer. I have never worked with a personal trainer before, ever and I was slightly nervous. I felt like it was very important that I was able to implicitly trust whoever was in charge of my physical health and it was critical that they understood who I was, where I had come from and most importantly where I was going. But where to start? If you google “Personal Trainer”, there are literally tens of hundreds of names that pop up. In addition to this, I didn’t have any idea what sort of skills were important. So I did the only thing that I could, I met some.
The first lady was very nice indeed. I was welcomed with a green tea (no caffeine at her gym) and we had a good chat about my goals. She was very honest about not being able to help me with running and cycling but she was confident that she could make me strong. Unfortunately she was too expensive.
Learning from my mistakes (not finding out the cost before I met with the trainer) I then spoke to a couple on the telephone, with similar negative results. Both seemed to have a pre-planned programme that they applied to “clients like you” and apparently it worked well but I didn’t like the approach. Whilst I recognise that most runners and trainee triathletes are all seeking the same outcome (ie to finish and not collapse) we are all completely unique. We have different histories and motivations. I wasn’t happy and was genuinely about to give up hope when I found Dr Crane. He listened. He is also an ultra runner and keen cyclist himself, extremely patient and most importantly “gets” me.
He’s formulated a plan in 3 parts. Between now and Christmas we are working (very hard I might mention) to get my fitness back to what it was when I finished London Landmarks Half earlier this year. In my heart, I know that this was the fittest I have ever been and this is why this year has been so frustrating. I will be that fit again and we are also working on my strength (he’s slightly obsessed, in a good way I hasten to add, with press-ups….which I can’t do). In addition, and I know this goes against everything I have ever said before, I am actively trying to lose body fat.
I’m quite conflicted about this, not least because as you know from my previous blogs, I am not someone who likes to diet or restrict what I eat, largely because it’s so miserable and a larger body can be fit and strong – I think I have proved this several times over the past couple of years. I’m not really bothered what I look like. I am fit, strong and healthy. I am able to buy clothes in all high street shops and I once again own a pair of Levi jeans (you have no idea of the excitement levels when they arrived).
Unfortunately, the triathlon I have entered is an endurance event and whilst I have not yet worked out exactly how long I anticipate it will take me, I am guessing it will be in the region of 7-8 hours. If I am to complete this without injury and hopefully improve all my times, I do need to be lighter. I respected Dr Crane’s honesty and he almost apologised when he broached the delicate subject, but he is right. I knew before he said it that I needed to try and get lighter to lessen the impact on my ankles. I was not keen to simply restrict calories though as I am absolutely starving, constantly, when I am consumed by training for an event. So again I sought advice from Dr Crane. I am keeping my calories within a limit, but I am trying to eat more protein. Protein fills you up and so you are not hungry. It’s a work in progress however, as I am a natural lover of carbs. Of course, we are also into Mince Pie and Party season, so it will be an enormous challenge. Some days are better than others but I’m trying my best.
So with my physical well-being in good hands (as well as my running getting back to a regular, all be it slow, pattern) I turned my attention to swimming as I started my swimming lessons last week.
I arrived with plenty of time and sat on the side waiting to be collected by the teacher. It was fairly chaotic as there was only a handful of adult students as the vast majority were under the age of 10, wearing a rainbow of different colour swimming hats to make it easy to identify each ability class. When Mr Triton, my swimming teacher, appeared he was friendly, Italian and extremely enthusiastic. I was asked to swim a couple of lengths so he could observe and assess. I felt nervous but I was careful to breathe out underwater and tried not to swallow any when I breathed in. I turned to give him my best smile and waited for his assessment. Between you and I, I felt the swim had gone well and was quietly optimistic. However, whilst Mr Triton’s verdict was delivered with a smile, it wasn’t good news; “you’re breathing is good, but everything else is wrong so you’ll have to unlearn the wrong things and relearn again. It will be harder for you, than the rest of the class as they are just learning front crawl never having done it before.”
He then asked why I was in the class and what I was wanting to achieve. When I told him I had to complete a 1.2mile swim next June, he laughed. Then realised I was being serious….and quickly told me that I would be fine. I have to be honest, his reaction scared me, but I know that if it all goes wrong I could swim the distance breaststroke and I could do that now. But I am committed to learning properly.
He then proceeded to direct me to do length after length of “drills”. The first of which was swimming with my arms above my head (like Superman), my face pointing directly down at the floor (so I am swimming blind) and pointing my feet and kicking so my feet break the surface of the water. Apparently my body position isn’t high enough and my swimming isn’t “efficient” and this will help. But this is all I did for the rest of the lesson….it’s going to be a tough process this learning to swim properly. But I was reassured by Mr Triton that it would work. It might take a few weeks but he would have me swimming around that lake next June doing the front crawl. I will keep you informed.
Running is happening and I’m managing to fit it in a random times across the week. I haven’t yet managed to run 5k without a walk break, but I’m close.
Finally cycling. I’m not going to lie. I am struggling to fit everything in at the moment; running, swimming, work, family and daughter commitments and cycling seems to be the one that is missing out. I’ve managed a couple of spin classes but that’s it, so I have finally got around to setting up the turbo trainer that the “Unofficial Trainer” has lent me. It’s an ingenious device that turns your own road bike into an exercise bike. It is brilliant. I’ve only used it twice but I have it set up in the back room in front of the TV and I’m ploughing my way through “House of Cards”. Apart from the obvious fitness benefits of using the trainer, it has the even better benefit of allowing me to get to know my own road bike better. I have worked out that I have ridden it less than 12 times since I got it in April and I’m still not that confident with the gears. Riding the bike on the trainer and practicing with the gears, cleats and cycling shoes when I get them (please Father Christmas) will help me enormously when I emerge back out on the roads next Spring.
Therefore, at the moment, I’m feeling ok (or as OK as I ever do) about the running and cycling but slightly panicking about the swimming.
This is not the normal state of affairs for me, but let’s be honest – nothing about any of this is normal.
Over the next couple of weeks there will be more social events as the Christmas season kicks in and I am going to have to be more disciplined than usual. I’m motivated to improve, but I also love a gin and tonic and a mince pie. It’s a constant battle, but it’s a marathon not a sprint.
I want to be fearless, like my new training top, but at the moment, I’m feeling a bit fearful….hopefully that will change.