Halfway to ironman & lessons learned

I always learn a lot from a race build up, but training for long-distance triathlon has been the steepest learning curve so far. I’ve been training since late November, and now find myself just 3 months out from race day. As Cathy said when ironing in her blog, by now we’re in spring marathon season, people are finishing their big miles and starting to taper; I’ve got a spring marathon in the calendar (hi Paris!), but my eyes are on the big prize in Keswick in June, so my biggest miles have yet to come. With 3 months to go though, I thought I’d share 10 things I’ve learned from ironing so far…

Early starts are your best friend
I know I’m kinda late to the party here, but whilst I have a job that allows 9am starts with a swimming pool nearby, I’ve been doing the majority of my swim sessions before work. I might land at my desk with a swishing sound in my left ear, quite impressive goggle marks and RAGING hunger, but it’s pretty satisfying having ticked off a decent training session before the day has even properly begun, and before life has got in the way. Makes those pesky 5.30am alarms worth it, even if for the first few minutes of being awake I’m cursing this sodding ironman.

There is a difference between tired legs and injured legs
I don’t think I’ve trained on properly fresh legs since November. No joke. It’s not possible to get in enough training and have fresh legs all the time, but it’s made me learn the difference between tired, achy legs, and legs that are becoming injured. 9 times out of 10, it’s not a brewing injury, it’s just my body reminding me to stretch my bloody quads and hip flexors for once, and I can train on through.

You’re not always going to want to do the training
I can think of a lot of days this winter where I’ve really not wanted to get out training. Yorkshire is beautiful, but when it comes to cycling, it’s frequently cold, windy and full of bastard hills, and James has had to give me a tough word to get out and get the miles done. The same goes for brick runs, and a couple of times I’ve had to have a word with myself to actually start running off the back of a long bike ride where I’m frozen to the core. When training more than you’ve ever trained before, you’re not always going to love it: sometimes it’s just a case of gritting your teeth and getting it done.

Swimming and biking help with running
Before Brighton, my half marathon PB was set when I was purely running, knocking out 40+ miles a week. I was surprised that in Brighton, on less fresh legs and with only about half the miles in my legs over 2-3 runs a week, I was able to run faster and stronger. Whilst I think part of it is learning to suffer (max heart rate tests are good for this), I do think the overall training volume has helped my running.

It’s expensive. Like, really expensive.
There is always a new expense around the corner with so much training, whether it’s broken goggles, worn out trainers, inner tubes for the bike or gels and bars to keep me powered up hills- and that’s before we even start on accidental Lululemon and Rapha purchases to motivate myself out of the door in the grimmest of conditions, race entries and travel and the sheer amount of coffee and peanut butter I’m getting through. But y’know, my social life is pretty cheap to balance it out, since I’m ALWAYS training, eating or sleeping. Oh, and working too.

Getting some help is a really good idea
A coach is by no means an essential, and if you have a regular, predictable life, a training plan from a book will probably work pretty well. For me though, with a job with fairly unpredictable hours, planning and actually sticking to it can be tough, and I end up looking at Strava, wondering if I’m doing enough or the right thing. I also find that when planning for myself, one discipline will be going well whilst the other two fall to pieces- so I enlisted the help of a coach in Chris, and it’s been a great investment. It holds me accountable, pushes me through sessions I’d never set myself, and reins me in when I’d otherwise overdo it.

You cannot put in that volume of training without fuelling properly
Almost every time I’ve felt terrible, been performing badly or been a nightmare to be around, I can trace it back to not fuelling properly. Cycling so slowly I’m practically going backwards? Probably haven’t taken on enough fuel on the bike. Mid afternoon biscuit rampages? Didn’t eat enough proper food after a tough swim. Suddenly unbelievably grumpy? Actually, just hangry. It’s impossible to train hard and perform well without feeding yourself properly. For a couple of months now, I’ve enlisted the help of fitnaturally to write me a custom food plan based around my working and training and it’s been great; it’s taught me a lot about the right foods to eat and when, with no horrible gloopy shakes, faddy foods or weird stuff, just lots of wholesome, nutritious food that’s genuinely really tasty. I’d thoroughly recommend it as an investment!

Chicken satay stir fry

I’ve had to be more organised than ever before
‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ might be lame and overused but it’s kinda true for iron training. Having the right kit ready to go, swim kit and meals packed up the night before early starts, and a clear plan for when my training’s going to get done has been vital- it all cuts down on the chances of me sacking off a session because I’ve run out of time- and saying that’s why you’ve missed a session to your coach is a bit embarrassing, frankly.

Rest days are important and to be respected
When I’m not training heavily, I don’t always appreciate why rest days are actually necessary. Since upping the volume so much though, I bloody LOVE my rest day each week. On Fridays, I only set one new PB ever- time from leaving work to being horizontal on the sofa in sweatpants (I’ve got it down to 38 minutes on a good day). No sneaking in extra miles for the sake of Strava, no ‘rest day’ gym classes, nothing, nil, nada. Rest is when the body absorbs the training and the magic happens. So plant your arse and enjoy actually seeing your OH for once!

Supportive people around you are a must
Speaking of which, I can’t imagine how ironman training would go without supportive people around you. James has been a godsend during my training- not batting an eyelid at me getting up early for swims, accepting that most weekend days I’ll be out training for a lot of it, and being realistic that a clean and tidy house isn’t top of my to do list at the moment. Likewise when I go home to see my parents, they accept that at some point I’ll be off out cycling or running, and are well used to the house being strewn with Lycra and trainers/inner tubes/water bottles.

What things has a focused training period for a big goal race taught you?

3 thoughts on “Halfway to ironman & lessons learned

  1. Margaret Robertson

    Wise advice and another great post Sarah – this is the first time I have ever followed a training plan or set such a serious goal and its been a real eye opener for me , making the switch mentally from casual social weekend warrior runner mostly to actually training for an event.
    So I have even more respect for you guys who choose to do this on a regular basis- not that I plan to join you. My marathon is my first and last 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sarah Marsden Post author

      Thanks, and thankyou for reading! You say that now (and I did too before my first half marathon… and my first marathon!) but you never know, you might just catch the bug! Certainly once you’ve done Stirling and tasted the emotions that come with conquering your first, you might be surprised to be eyeing up another!

      Reply
  2. Carl

    I agree about your point n early starts. When I can get a workout in the gym done before work, my whole day is different. I am confident, I feel a lot more highly about myself. The raging hunger is a small price to pay for that feeling 😀
    If I miss the workout in the morning, it is in my head the whole day. No matter what I do, I have that feeling in my head, that I missed something. I just can’t concentrate.
    Great pictures by the way!

    Reply

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