Triathlon is a summer sport

In the past month I have completed 2 sprint triathlons, both at Westonbirt House and both through the running company, DB Max. They were extremely covid secure, with plenty of measures in place to keep both the competitors and marshalls safe at all times.

For the first triathlon on the August Bank Holiday Monday, I was feeling unprepared for the swim and run, but ok for the bike. I had managed to swim only twice in a pool in the run up to the race, but as the swim was 8 lengths of a pool, I wasn’t too worried about drowning. Realistically, this is less than 6 minutes and I would just get through it – which is what I did using a combination of breast stroke and front crawl. It wasn’t fast but neither the services of David Hasslehoff nor The Rock wearing red shorts were required to help me out of the pool, so I was happy.

The run from the pool to transition (I left a pair of trainers outside the pool to quickly put on) was painful as obviously there was no way to practice this beforehand and then I was off on the bike. The one thing I have consistently done during lockdown is to go out on my bike and/or at least 2 spin classes a week at home, using various fitness apps that I have. (My favourites are peloton which offers spin classes with disco music and Les Mills. Both are fairly cheap and highly effective).  I don’t need much encouragement to drop a run in favour of a biking activity and as a result as I headed out onto the bike section of the course, I was feeling excited and confident. I was fast and as I whipped around the beautiful rural 22k loop, I was averaging 27.5 kph. I felt strong and pleased with myself as I headed back in to change out of my cycling shoes and into my trainers, but then the dreaded run remained.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had been desperate to re-spark my joy for running, but it hadn’t happened, so the run was ill prepared and I gritted my teeth and ran/walked my way through it. My daughters were watching and cheering (only 1 spectator per competitor was strictly enforced to keep things covid secure and so one daughter was for me and one was for Merida – who brilliantly won a place on the podium for her age group) and this helped me to keep going but as usual, the run part was hideous. I completed the 5k in 42.24 which is not really that much slower than if I was just going out for a 5k normally which made no sense. So if I could run 5k at the end of a triathlon in that time, surely I should be able to run a normal 5k, on a day when I hadn’t swum and biked, much more quickly…shouldn’t I?

A plan began to form in my mind. I had been struggling to work out what to work on to keep me motivated over the winter months and now the answer was obvious – faster running. But how to do it? I chatted about this on an Instagram vlog straight after the race (rambling on as my daughter hilariously photobombed me from behind!) and 6 people very quickly got in touch and offered to take me to a track interval session, as it is widely known that this is the best and most successful approach to getting faster. I was extremely grateful and thankful for their kindness and was considering what to do. As I was still pondering this a couple of days later, the training plan for North Bristol Triathlon Club (of which I am a member) pinged into my inbox, and on it was a running coached session under the title of “interval sessions”. I immediately signed up.

I have been to the last 3 sessions and they seem to be working. They are tough of course as they are designed to push you out of your comfort zone but the coaches are friendly and encouraging and my team mates have offered me some good advice too. The run sessions consist of timed slots and vary from sprints, to “tempo runs” for 1-2 minutes followed by periods of recovery. I think you are supposed to “jog” these recovery minutes but honestly, it is all I can do not to collapse and so walk mine but I am gradually getting a bit faster and so I am pleased.

I have also been running more regularly and more consistently throughout the weeks averaging 3-4 runs a week (one of which is the intervals session). One of these is a lovely chatty run/walk with Hockey Mum which gives us something to do rather than stand around getting cold whilst our daughters play hockey. The Saturday morning run (which takes place after dropping my youngest daughter off at drama club – can you see a pattern forming as to when I run?!) is always as fast a 5k as I can manage with my Labrador Bruce. He is harnessed up and attached to me via a bungee lead, which means I genuinely have to run faster than I would like as he is 30 kilos of muscle and he was built to run. He loves it and I really, really enjoy these runs. We run trails and often by the river between Bath and Bristol and I genuinely find it joyful. There was a slightly worrying moment the first time I took him to the river when I thought he was going to drag me in (he loves a swim), but he’s clever and has now worked out that when I put my running belt on, he knows we are running and is more focused. I am keen to run races with him in the future – a medal over his bed would be a lovely feature in our kitchen.

My kilometre splits now often, not always but often, start with a 7 rather than an 8 and this is a very big improvement. It’s annoying of course, because it means that the intervals are working as they are not exactly enjoyable, but it’s also down to just running more regularly. I think the key to success with running is to mix it up and keep it varied. Plodding along, running the same 5k is boring, but a session of sprints, a chatty/social run/walk, a faster trail run with Bruce (@brucethefoxredlab) is keeping it interesting and importantly, I am keeping the distance down at the moment so haven’t run further than 6k meaning it doesn’t feel too “hard”.

The thing is that with more running, more swimming (I have re-joined Easton Leisure Centre now the pools are open and so I’m swimming 1000-1200m twice a week before work – working from home is very helpful when you are training!) a couple of spin classes at home still each week, means that there is less time for strength training. However, unlike before, I want to keep it up and don’t want to neglect it completely, but as always with things that you don’t “love”, more motivation is needed. I called upon my buddy The Red Lady to help. We’ve been doing a bit of running together and so I suggested that we meet once a week to do strength training together and she was keen for the same reasons and so quickly agreed. Therefore, one lunchtime a week, sometimes in my garden, sometimes via zoom if work meetings are tightly pressed around the lunch-hour, we do a Joe Wicks strength training routine together. I will be honest and say that I have taken the burpees out, but apart from that, they are hard, tough and we both sweat and ache afterwards.

The second sprint triathlon was yesterday and I was desperate to see if all the extra work meant that I would be able to run the 5k in under 40 minutes.

I felt ready and much better prepared than I had for the previous one, but I hadn’t factored in the Great British Weather. There is a reason that triathlon is a summer sport – you basically spend the duration of the race in a swimming costume (with arms and legs) but yesterday was absolutely freezing. I started my race at 7.38am which meant that I was off on the bike before 8am. The air temperature was 7c and there was an icy northerly wind blowing and it was FREEZING.

The swim started well and the water was warm (I was 11.5 seconds faster over the 200 metre swim than the previous time), but as I put my trainers on outside the pool and started to run towards transition, the wind cut straight through me. I was trying to wrap the towel around me to keep me warm. It was unsuccessful as my miserable face clearly demonstrated.

I had spent the previous 3 days stressing about what to wear for the bike section and in the end, I decided to change my top half but my bra had to remain. I could have possibly changed it as well, but getting in and out of a sports bra is not easy on a normal day in the peace and quiet of my bedroom, let alone under a towel in the middle of a triathlon transition and so the bra remained. Unfortunately big boobs require serious support, which comes in the guise of strong and thick bra material, which isn’t very fast drying. There’s nothing that can be done about it, it’s simply a fact, but it means that if a cold wind hits your damp boobs, they are going to be very cold. So with the exception of my bra, I changed my wet trisuit top and put on a thermal winter long sleeved cycling top, my winter cycling jacket (windproof) over the top, a buff to protect my neck and full cycling gloves. This all sounds very sensible and it did work meaning that my boobs, thankfully, did not snap off and I was not cold on my top half, but the same sadly cannot be said for my bottom half as I did keep my wet tri shorts on. My theory was that I would be pedalling so hard that I would warm up quickly. Unfortunately the windchill made the temperature feel like 3c and with wet shorts on I was so cold that during parts of the cycle, I felt sick and the timing chip that was fastened around my left ankle continuously dripped water into my sock during the ride also, which didn’t help.

However, it was only 22k on the bike and so I endured the cold and unwelcome headwind that arrived in the middle section, but was relieved to turn back in off the main road and in towards transition. I love cycling, but did not enjoy that cycle. I was frozen to my core and my legs didn’t really get going. As a result of this and the headwind, I was 1 minute 26 seconds slower on the bike leg than I had been 4 weeks before. I knew this, being able to see my speed on my bike computer and was feeling pretty fed up. I almost felt that I couldn’t be bothered to even run the final part, but encouraged by the fact that I might finally feel warm if I ran (this was the only thing that really motivated me to pull my trainers on), I did manage to drag myself out.

My only plan was not to run/walk and hope that the training I had been doing would take care of the rest . I did largely run without walking and only stopped quickly 4 times as my very cold legs kept needing a stretch.  I remembered to pump my arms when I wanted to go faster as the tri coaches had taught me and it did seem to work. The run is 3 laps of a mile each and I was half way around the second lap when I finally began to warm up. Upon returning from the bike, I put on a long sleeved running top (did I mention I was cold) which I had thrown in to put on after the race and certainly hadn’t planned to wear it during the race. But the thought of exposing my shoulders to the bitter wind was too much for my mind to compute and so I wore the long sleeved running top for the final part of the race. In the end, I did finally relax into the run and it felt ok. Merida had already finished (impressively earning herself a podium position for her age group again) and was cheering me on from beneath her dryrobe and before I knew it, I had finished. On August 31st I ran the 5k in 42.24 and yesterday I ran the same race in 39.12. I was very happy.

So what now? Well, Autumn is upon us and I have no triathlons booked until the Olympic distance 51fiver next May which I am going to make my “A” race for next year.  I am going to focus my efforts on running over the winter months. I am going to work on my 5k up to Christmas and then will work towards a strong 10k after Christmas. I’ll keep up my spinning, biking, strength and swimming, but the main focus will be running and I will keep it interesting. Intervals, hill sprints, trail runs, doggy runs, runs with my super speedy daughters,  maybe even some trail races too (as there are a couple of rural races beginning to pop up again)? But I am going to keep running.

Hopefully I will get faster……hopefully.

Stay safe out there lovely people.

If you’re interested in following me on instagram I am @ladyclaireabell.