*Okay it’s not technically a complete secret, but for all the thought and decisions that went into this year’s triathlon season, I’ve kept fairly quiet about it until now.
A lot of us take time to reflect at the beginning of a new year but not everyone feels brave enough to broadcast their goals from the rooftops. That was certainly true for me this year. In spite of promising to share a bit more about my own fitness journey, in reality I was a little unsure about sharing my plans with the world; what if it backfired? Had bitten off more than I could chew?
Nearly halfway into the year, I don’t regret keeping my cards to myself – feeling accountable to ‘the world’ with whom you are able to share your aspirations online can add a serious amount of stress and pressure which could derail your attempts to reach them. But it’s worth sharing them with a few trusted people who can help shape those goals and set you on the right path if you want to turn a rough idea into something real.
I’ve been doing triathlons for a good few years now and having taken part in a few middle-distance races I wanted to shake things up a bit. I didn’t feel ready to take on an Ironman (in large part due to the training time needed) and looking at my underused mountain bike and having read about the experiences of other women taking on cross-triathlon races since the inaugural Xterra UK race in 2013 (including my friend Jo in her articles for the Guardian last year), not to mention some heavy doses of persuasion from my other half, I decided it was something I should take a stab at. I also recognised that it’s quite a niche discipline and although I’m not the most advanced mountain biker, my days spent bouncing around the Surrey Hills and at a few trail centres put me in a small group of people who like to swim, run and mountain-bike.
I was excited about the possibilities of taking part in a triathlon that plays to my strengths (I’m still hesitant about this phrase!), but as a triathlon coach focused on conventional road-based triathlons I was aware of how different the requirements of a cross-triathlon would be. At the same time, I was aware of how much my mental focus for writing training plans, and monitoring progress had shifted away from myself and towards my personal training clients. Thinking about what motivates people to reach out to me to help with their fitness goals, it suddenly became clear that I would need help from someone else with mine. So I got in touch with a triathlon coach who has bucket loads of experience with mountain biking and cross triathlon.
Since the end of February, I have been following the advice and training plan written to fit with my goals, fitness levels and changeable timetable. The combination of knowing that the plan has been crafted to fit with my schedule and other coaching and personal training commitments, as well as knowing that I want to get value for money from one-to-one coaching, has meant that over the last 3 months I think I have trained consistently than ever before. Counter-intuitively, I think this is because the weekly routine has changed over this period and very few of the training sessions leave me feeling totally wasted (that is reserved for races!).
Ask any coach and they will tell you that consistency in training is one of the most important factors in success. I haven’t managed to complete every session planned and conversely, there have been days when I’ve done extra running or bodyweight exercise routines as part of my work commitments which can undermine the adaptation we hope to get from a carefully periodised training plan, but I’ve been consistent enough to make some improvements that I’m really pleased with. I achieve a new half-marathon personal best in March only about 5-6 weeks into the training programme and I’ve taken 5 minutes off my best time at a local sprint-distance triathlon and I’ve also made some good improvements in my swim times since the start of the year. The race season got off to a positive start with some good placings including my first podium experience. Even though these were small races, my results at the Mud and Mayhem Duathlon in Thetford and Hole Park Off Road Duathlon were good enough to qualify to represent my age-group at the ETU Cross Triathlon European Championships.
So next month I will be suiting up in GB kit (pending a bit of a stock shortage!) and racing around Vallee de Joux in Switzerland in my first Xterra race! I don’t know what the race will hold but I’m so excited to get to this point and really pleased with my progress in training that the race result itself feels almost immaterial. When I started training for my first marathon, my mum said to me, “the training is the work and the race is the reward”. Wise words. 5 more weeks of work to go – I’m off for a run!