How to balance triathlon training with work – and life
It is 6am and I’m standing on the bank of the river Thames, about to jump into the dark water below. It is moments like this when you question your sanity. Why didn’t I just stay in bed? Instead, I got up at 4.30am on a Sunday to join 3,000 other triathletes for a surge of adrenalin. I am taking part in the 25th Windsor triathlon: 1,500m down the Thames, cycling 42km and running past Windsor Castle for 10km.
My journey to Windsor started six months ago, and although this is my third year of doing triathlons, this year I wanted to do things differently. Last summer, I signed up to a middle-distance (double the Olympic distances above), and felt I lost the whole summer in a haze of training sessions and early nights. Leaving parties early and not drinking left friends complaining I was boring, and my family said I was always moaning about being tired. I have a busy day job, so that means I only have a few possible training hours a week. How could I get more of a balance between work, life and Tri this year? How could I train smarter and make my time count?
I don’t have a background in sport, coming to it relatively late in life, and despite my best intentions I tend to fall into the pattern of making my easy sessions too hard and my hard sessions too easy, achieving little other than tiring myself out. Time, then, to consult some experts. Human Race, which organises the Windsor Tri, put me in touch first with sports scientist Richard Brennan at Sports Science Consultants, who seemed to know everything there is to know about exercise and biomechanics. Brennan did a body impedance test to work out my body composition for muscle and fat, as well as a VO2 max test. The outcome of the VO2 max was positive and gave me heart-rate thresholds I could train at, so I didn’t go too hard on those easy days and tire myself. The body impedance tests threw up an interesting result: muscle-wise, there is a serious imbalance between my upper and lower body. It is amazing I can even walk around! He suggested a cycling-based strength program to correct this.
Injury is the biggest fear for any athlete, so next I talked to physio Alastair Nowell from Pure Sports Medicine, who confirmed what Richard told me: I am quite flexible, but I need to be doing more strength-based stretching as well as using a foam roller. So, two experts down – but I felt even more panicked about time. Not only did I have to fit in the Swim, Bike & run disciplines, but also strength training and conditioning exercises.
My next call was therefore to Jeff Archer, a life coach and cyclist. The first thing he suggested was more time off! I began to feel that this was all going wrong. He suggested monthly time trials in each discipline, with time off before and after. It is a way to see progress and not just keep relentlessly training.
I began training with a new focus. Training smarter meant I was less tired and more focused on my goals. Using the VO2 max data meant I finished sessions feeling fresher and able to go harder on other days. Initially, it was hard to get my head around a training session that didn’t feel like hard work but was more about active recovery. Despite being relatively new to Tri, I have embraced the “triathlete guilt”. I found the addition of the strength, yoga and stretching made the guilt worse – surely I should have been triathlon training, not rollering around my living-room floor watching television? Yet somehow I was balancing work, training and downtime - it was nice not leaving early from a night out for an early-morning sessions all the time.
Fast-forward to Sunday, and despite a last-minute running injury I am ready to leap into the water. It is surprisingly warm, and I am excited by the prospect of the river swim complete with low-flying swans. Windsor is a great course and the cycle is one big, enjoyable loop through the countryside that allows plenty of opportunity for some speed. The run involves three circuits up past the castle and the crowds who have come out to cheer us on.
Despite my injury, I am convinced that my new regime of training smarter is the way forward. And with two more triathlons this year, I’d better get on with some stretching …