Monday, 15 June 2015

Troughs, and peaks

After the dramatic and traumatic year after Diane passed away, the 12 months that followed were a lot more settled race-wise and culminated in success at last in Rotterdam. But after that, I was conscious of not making the kind of progress I was expecting to.
I made such a huge change in my life in those first 12 months that I suppose at some point I had to get a feeling of anti-climax when the progress slowed. The weight fell off so quickly to begin with that I fell into the trap of thinking that’s how it would always be.
But my times barely improved in the second 12 months of my odyssey and that made me question myself in a way I wasn’t expecting to. The weight even started to fluctuate again and is only now really coming back under control. I look in better shape and I feel better than ever, it just doesn’t seem to be translating into performance in the way I had hoped.
It is 12 months since my first swimming lesson and I believed by now I would be open water swimming to a sufficient level to have a crack at a full distance triathlon this year. That’s unlikely to happen now. The disappointment of realising how little progress I have made hit me hard when I tried to do 500m at my first sprint triathlon in Nantwich a month ago.
I was embarrassingly hopeless and took an age to do the 16 lengths of the 30-metre outdoor brine pool. I told myself I should be better than this after 12 months and it is frustrating me that I’m not. I completed the sprint distance eventually and for the record I wasn’t the slowest on the bike for the 20k and I certainly wasn’t the slowest when it came to the 5K run to finish off but the swimming performance left me feeling a bit of an impostor, if I’m honest. I feel I had no right to be there and that stays with me for a good while after the event.
Maybe I’m just being foolish. At my age, starting from scratch after never having swum or ridden a bike and not having run for 40 years since leaving school, did I seriously think I’d be conquering full distance triathlons by now?
Well, yes is the short answer. And now I know I was being too ambitious. But I am only prepared to concede that it will take longer than I anticipated. I refuse to accept that I will not at some point reach my goals.
I need to work harder, I need to get more power in my legs and I need to improve my endurance. Bit by bit, I need to chip away at these things. I started off wanting to walk longer than a minute on the treadmill but now I have allowed myself to get carried away with everything I have achieved. I need to rein in my expectations and be more realistic. Target one is to get under an hour for a 10K, closer to 2 hours for a half marathon and inside 5 hours for a marathon.
As for swimming, I need to make a decision to concentrate less on the principle that ‘practice makes perfect’ and ease up on just doing length after length poorly in the hope that one day it might all click magically into place and start doing some drills instead.
I need to stop thinking about open water swimming. I need to master the pool first. The wetsuit is hanging in the wardrobe anxious to be tried out, but it will have to be patient. Its time will come. When I’m ready and not before.


June 6, 2015. 5.10am. No need for an alarm clock. I’m up already. Bonny and Cassie aren’t quite sure why they’re up so early but neither is complaining. An early snoop around the garden as the dawn chorus is still playing suits them fine.
As for me, I have begun the final countdown to the Bolton Hill Marathon, a ‘testing’ 26 miles-plus over the trails of the West Pennine Moors. It’s billed as a toughie and I’m ready for a long day. I’m nervous but can’t wait to get started.
Nervous in no small measure because it is seven weeks since Rotterdam and six days after the sprint triathlon disappointment in Nantwich. So while I’d been concentrating on the pool in an attempt – sadly a vain attempt – to perform OK in the pool, my running had gone by the board. I had done one 10K, one parkrun and one training run of nearly 20 miles over parts of the hill marathon course with Julie Bower. She had been focussing on the hill marathon for a lot longer than I had and she was in much better shape for it than me.
But with a generous cut-off time of 8 hours, I was determined to do it by hook or by crook. Make that by run or by walk. I would do my best to run the hills where I could but I also knew I had to respect the distance and make sure I left enough in the tank to finish. So no mad heroics early on just to see myself run out of steam before the end.
Everyone knows how tough it is but tough doesn't really come close. Certainly for a first-timer of my standard, anyway. Brutal is better, especially the sharp rise from Rivington near Horwich back up the Roman road. After 21 miles, it’s hard enough to walk up let alone run up. I could not believe anyone could run up that section, but of course lots of the front runners did. They must have robot legs, machines from the waist down. Did anyone check them for this at the end?
I make it home, though, and cross the finish line in a couple of minutes over 7 hours. My legs are complaining heavily, but I feel elated to have done it. Even though my time is four hours slower than the winner.
Strangely, it restored my faith in what I can achieve. I felt good out there. Slow, but good. I walked quite a few of the steeper hills but not all of them and I managed to run unbroken for the last two miles or so to the finish. I felt remarkably strong at the end, considering. I felt fitter. It sounds odd to say it, given I was an hour and a half slower than in Rotterdam. But this was a real demanding course – even though Steven Snape the winner dismissed it to me as “not really that tough”. He should try running it for 7 hours see how he feels then! (To be fair he did say he had huge respect for anyone who stuck it out for so long to reach the end - felt I had to balance that up)
No, as far as I was concerned, I found it tough but I handled it. And it made me feel very positive about what lies ahead. Maybe not in the pool, but certainly on the roads and trails that lie ahead of me. I am sure now that I have a lot more in my tank. A lot more potential in my running. I need another marathon. And soon.