Thursday, 28 July 2016

Triathlon; when things don't go right

It's been an interesting season out in Chamonix.  Time is finally running out, and I'm due back at work next week in the UK, after what can only be described as the best 6 months of my life so far.  Taking time off work, and coming out to Chamonix so that Tom (my husband) could focus on getting the pre-requisites for the British Mountain Guide training scheme was initially a hard decision to make; it took some persuading on Tom's behalf!

The last 6 months have been a whirlwind of skiing, climbing, training for triathlon, and generally having adventures!  I've barely written at all since being off; mostly because I've barely stopped!  I want to write a bit about my triathlon season, which I'm going to do over two posts; firstly about when things haven't gone so well, and then about my race at the weekend, which thankfully went well!

In January, before finishing work, I decided to spend a month really focussed on swimming.  I had a swim analysis session with Swim Revolution just before christmas, then spent January swimming my socks off, in the pool 4 times a week.  I then had a repeat analysis at the end of January, before jetting off to Chamonix.  I'm a reasonably strong swimmer, but no thanks to technique; purely due to the sheer force I can generate using my climbing muscles!  It's been unbelievable the improvement in my stroke, and consequently my swim times!  Since being in Chamonix I've been in the pool (or the lake now it's warmer) at least 3 times a week.  It's been good to see myself improving, and also to see Chris, one of my training buddies, go from struggling to swim 25m non-stop to being able to swim 2km without stopping.

One of the problems (is it really a problem??) with Chamonix is the snow!  It really inhibits early season running and biking.  My first race of the year was to be in late May, but my first proper run (according to Strava) wasn't until the 31st March; only 8 weeks before my first race.  As for biking, other than a bit of turbo-training (and I mean a bit, not a lot!!), I didn't start riding until early April.  In the UK I would have spent all winter racking up training miles, but suddenly I was a long way behind the line!  From previous years I know that I am better at races later in the season.  I'm always better after I've managed to fit in some mileage on a multi-day bike tour.

So anyway... that's already a lot of rambling about my poorly structured training!  (It mostly consisted of 3 swims/ 3 bikes/ 3 runs a week once the snow had gone, plus some climbing thrown in for added fun, and pilates as my 'strength & conditioning' session each week).  Time is definitely a luxury, and my training has definitely not been smart or well-structured!

My season kicked off with Grafman; a middle distance (half-ironman) race back in the UK.  I was flying home specifically for the race, as I was hoping to try and qualify for the European Middle Distance Championships in Austria in September.  Austria would be my 'A' race, and I had put a lot of pressure on myself to turn up and race well.  But it did feel like there were a lot things stacked against me; the race was early in the year, and I knew I definitely hadn't ridden enough.  Two weeks before Grafman I was in Italy, having a great trip sport-climbing.  I remember waking up on the final morning and noticing a small red mark on my shoulder, which I thought was a reaction to some tree sap from the day before.  We got in the car to drive home, and as the journey continued the mark grew, pussed, then crusted over.  "Oh cr*p, I've got impetigo," I realised!  I quickly got some fucidin from the local pharmacy, and after 48hrs (with minimal response) then started on oral antibiotics.  Only 5 days until a big race, and I'm taking oral antibiotics, and developing horrible gastritis... this is going to be fun!

Retrospect is a wonderful thing!!  Retrospectively I should never have flown home to race; I really wasn't well enough.  But I had heaped loads of pressure onto myself; I was determined to perform and qualify.  I turned up in the UK with a terrible stomach, but lined up on the start-line anyway.  I swam well and got a massive swim PB, and even the bike started well; at least until I started vomiting.  To be fair, I finished the bike in  reasonable time.  It was slower than I had hoped, but still not too bad.  But vomiting copiously on the bike (and not just little vomits, the big kind that soak your shoes...) did not set me up for a good run.  Sensibly I decided not to run; so becomes my first DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race.  A friend recently said that if you do enough races, you will have a bad one, and here was my first big example of a bad race.  I felt disappointed; especially because my hopes of going to Austria were now shattered.  But I should not have been on the start line in the first place with impetigo!  Lessons learned; sometimes a DNS (Did Not Start) is more sensible than a DNF!  My Mum and her husband were superstars that weekend, picking me up from the airport, ferrying me around all weekend, supporting etc.

After Grafman I had Ironman France at the start of June (Gulp!!).  As mentioned before, I knew I don't race well early season, but I had a couple more weeks training under my belt and felt ready anyway.  As with Grafman, the race started well, with a strong swim, and another PB (not bad given it was a sea swim!).  I headed off on the bike, and started to climb.  The IM France bike course climbs for 56 miles, before then descending.  I climbed well, obviously tiring a bit as I neared the top, before starting to descend; at this point things started to go wrong.  I was not prepared, and only had my tri-suit.  I had gone from sweating in the sun to shivering as I descended.  Then the heavens opened and the rain poured down.  I hate descending at the best of times, but descending in the rain whilst shivering and on wet roads is just plain miserable.  This was made worse because I knew the descent was supposed to be a bit technical, and that someone had died crashing on it during a previous year's race.

I asked myself that the hell I was doing, and couldn't come up with a good enough answer.  I wasn't enjoying myself, I was petrified of crashing, and I was freezing cold.  I made a decision to retire from the race, but then realised that Tom couldn't collect me, so had to cycle another 10 miles to reach a point where he could get me.  Those 10 miles were miserable; I had a bit of an identify crisis, as I struggled with my decision to quit, having two DNFs in a row.  I wondered if perhaps I should be quitting triathlon full-stop, and if that was the case, then who the hell was I?  Because up until this point I would have defined myself as a triathlete, who climbed a bit, and I felt that I was no longer going to be a triathlete, but I wasn't sure who I was going to be instead.  Tom picked me up, a shivering mess, crying and feeling very sorry for myself.  Fortunately I have a lot of wonderful, supportive friends, who sent me lovely messages, gave me massive hugs, and told me things would be ok, and that I had made the right decision at the time.

Retrospect for the ironman... I definitely made the right call stopping when I did.  I was an idiot, totally underprepared, having underestimated how cold descending gets (I've been riding around the alps, I should have known better!), and without any warm clothes.  Stopping was the right thing to do; it beats being scrapped off the road.  But I will be back to complete IM France another year.

I've definitely learnt some hard lessons this year with these two bad races.  Thankfully though, my next race (Challenge PoznaƄ) went well; I'll write about that in my next blog post.  Thing's can't all be bad hey??