Triathlon tips: How a first-timer survived IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire

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Sport360°’s Chris Bailey has signed up for the challenge of his life in November – an Ironman. Follow his adventure as he prepares his body for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and a marathon to finish with the help of I Love Supersport Dubai … check out part 1, part 2, part 3part 4 and part 5 here if you haven’t already.

Dog tired, with aching muscles and lungs fit to burst, I stumbled over the line and allowed myself a brief moment of glory – before realisation slapped me across the chops. I have to do double the distance in a little more than five months.

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire was a relative success in that I wasn’t disqualified (a genuine possibility at one point) and didn’t injury myself (which I had two weeks prior by falling off my bike). Seven hours, four minutes and eight seconds after hopping into Chasewater reservoir in central England, it was finally time to stop moving, having twice brushed so close to the finish before looping around Stafford again.

I loved it, I hated it, I was elated, I was frustrated. One thing is for certain, however – the dress rehearsal was vital before the big one.

THE BUILD-UP

For the uninitiated, in most triathlons you are required to set up your stall in a transition zone, where you store your bike, running shoes and assorted accoutrements for all three legs. Depending on the layout of the course, things can get mightily confusing. At least for me.

The problem was that the first transition zone (T1), from swim to bike, was some 20 miles away from T2 for bike to run. Transition bags must be checked in the night before, which means it is crucial for the right equipment to be in the right place, particularly given the constant ferrying around (thanks mum and dad).

At 4pm on the eve of the race – an hour away from either transition zone and about half an hour to close – I’d started to flick through the race guide and it dawned on me, to my utmost horror, that my race number was supposed to be in T1. It was currently sitting in T2.

What ensued was a mass scramble to Stafford, where a volunteer took pity and ensured me that my race number could be handed to a member of staff at the reservoir in the morning and placed in my bag. It should go without saying but – if you’re anything like me – read the guide front to back, several times, well in advance of the race.

SWIM

Halfironman2size

After a rain-sodden few days (it was the English summer, after all) the clouds parted and if anything, by 7am it was getting a little toasty under the collar of our wetsuits. Some nervous chatter as we slowly filtered out into the water helped ease the flutters – especially when one person confessed he hadn’t done any training in the last two weeks – before my turn was up.

Flinging yourself into a large body of water in the UK is slightly different to the UAE. Chiefly because it’s like being engulfed by an iceberg. The shock to the system soon dissipated and I got into a rhythm, with the wetsuit adding a layer of warmth and my heart rate doing the rest.

There were a few bumps and knocks against other athletes but the field soon stretched out and I hopped from buoy, to buoy, to buoy, before my legs found earth again and I was running towards the transition tent.

BIKE

Ever tried taking off a wetsuit? When you’re in a rush it’s as if you have to pull off a Harry Houdini to extract yourself from its grasp. Off it eventually came and on my race number went … though in my haste, I put it on the wrong way round. Really not a fan of them.

The first 10 miles were twisty, hilly, pebbly, pothole-filled and hiding jutting-out branches around every corner. Every few hundred metres at one stage there were poor souls hunched over one of their wheels. As I hadn’t practised repairing punctures (more fine planning), I was just glad it wasn’t me.

With every hill or even slight rise towards the end, my thighs started to scream in protest. I’d lost the pills to replenish my salt somewhere in transition, and while that particular mineral gets bad press, it’s crucial for preventing muscle cramp.

However, there’s nothing quite like the sight of well-wishers, sitting outside their houses in the numerous villages and hamlets we wound our way through, to raise the spirits. Eventually the houses starting to become more frequent, the roads a little smoother as Stafford came into view.

RUN

The body was definitely more wobbly coming off the bike then out of the water. I thought that the slow shamble out of the transition zone would quicken with time, but in truth my run never progressed into more than a shuffle.

No matter the electrolytes, cokes and gels I’ve stuffed down, a part of my lungs felt shut off from the rest of my respiratory system. Even though my heart rate suggested I had room to spare, I couldn’t suck in enough air for whatever reason – may have been my allergy to pollen, may have been because I was shattered – but I’d hit the wall with some velocity.

There was one soul-destroying part that had to be negotiated twice – the nosebleed-inducing hill up to Stafford Castle. Not the view, nor the medieval architecture nor the happy-go-lucky volunteers dressed up as knights and maidens.

I summoned my last scrap of reserves and upgrade the shuffle to a stagger once the red carpet appeared under my feet and, having vowed to never do one again mid-run, I cast my mind to the next one within a few seconds of the finish. What a rush.

Fancy getting your first taste of triathlon? I Love Supersport Dubai are running the IRONSTAR Indoor Triathlon Dubai on August 17, involving a 10 minute swim, 30 minute bike and 20 minute run. Sign up at www.premieronline.com – hurry, places are going fast!

COACH’S CORNER

Dmitriy Firsov – ILSS coach

Chris is fine now. He’s recovering after his half-ironman in Staffordshire, where he did really well and I was surprised with his results overall. The plan was only to finish, but for now we have a certain time we have to improve.

I’m really happy with how the bike went, especially with the hilly Staffordshire course. The improvement will mainly be focused on bike and run right now, his swimming is at a decent level as it’s improved so much over the last two months.

Ironman Arizona is very soon, so we’re mainly focusing on endurance and we’ll gain a bit of speed before the race. The date is coming, but Chris is getting more and more ready.

Usually the recovery process after a race doesn’t take much time if you’re doing everything correctly. It takes one week to 10 days after the half-ironman distance if you follow a routine of massage, steamroom and sauna, easy training to recover the muscle structure and remove soreness. Another important element is stretching, which helps for muscle relief after such a hard race.

How much Chris needs to train over the next five months is hard to answer beforehand because it depends on the results, but the minimum amount I’d recommend to train each week would be 14 to 15 hours. That will guide someone to a properly decent result for an Ironman in around 12 or 13 hours.

It’s hard to train over the summer outside in Dubai, but indoors is perfectly fine – as long as you have the proper equipment or gym. In fact, I think training indoors is more effective because of the consistency of performance you can maintain, on numbers such as heart-rate, cadence and power. Outdoors you have elements such as the weather and hills, which can give you feedback in an improper way in terms of the training process. So, focus on training inside with a few rides outside during the year.

If you do want to train inside, we have our beautiful I Love Supersport Dubai triathlon training group, where we are preparing people for their different goals, where it is their first event ever or they’re doing an Ironman like Chris.

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