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When the going gets tough – speak to your coach

Written by Fiona April 09 2013

As many of you will know I have set myself a challenge this year. I am trying (I still find it hilarious to think about!) to qualify for the World Age Group Triathlon Championship. I teeter over into the next age group this year and so I thought I’d run with the old birds and try to secure one of 27 UK places in the sprint triathlon series. I also have a qualifier place for one standard distance, but it’s the sprint that I’m aiming for.

I will grin like this if I qualify!

I will grin like this if I qualify!

To qualify, I will need to be fast. At my age, speed has become more of a challenge, especially as I’ve tended to do longer distance running and cycling in recent years. But I have limited training time (mum and full-time work) so sprint and standard distance seemed a better bet. I am working with my good friend and bidding-to-be Level 3 Triathlon coach, the Mighty Begster. In fact, I am her case study as she hopes to gain this next level of coaching qualification.

While a coach does cost money I don’t think I would have the focus (especially over the winter) to stick to a training plan without a coach setting me a programme and calling on me for feedback. MB has worked the training to fit into my busy life and she understands there is only so much time I have spare for training. In any 10 day period I am usually swimming , running and cycling two or three times over different distances and with a different focus (strength, speed and endurance). I have rest days and yoga days, too.

Good winter of training

In winter I would normally simply run. I don’t like cycling in the cold – and I hate turbo training – so I usually hang up my bike for winter. I might occasionally jump in the pool if left to my own devices. But this winter I have run, cycled, turboed and swam. I have stuck with the programme pretty much to the letter and I feel like I have benefitted hugely. A  training week in the Canaries at the end of February added to my feel-good fitness.

I now have a good basis of training and fitness and these last few weeks MB has been pushing me towards sessions that take me to my lactate limits. These hurt but they will help to improve my speed in the long run. So there have been fast running reps over 500m, 1k and 5k and hill reps on my bike and tough sets on my turbo. The swimming has included lots of faster swimming, too. In between there have been longer endurance runs, bikes and swims and a few Brick sessions (bike then run).

There have been bad training days

While a coach is brilliant for keeping you on track and motivating, they are also very useful when things don’t seem to be going so well. I have had a few sessions, running and swimming, when I have felt like giving up on the whole crazy qualifying idea. After weeks of improving I have suddenly been hit with a session that feels demoralisingly slow or pathetic. I have felt like crying. I have called my coach!

MB has talked me through the bad days, encouraged me not to dwell on these but to put them down to an off-session. She has then got into the pool with me to look at my swimming technique and to give me a morale boost. It’s at these times that I truly value her friendship and professionalism. I could so easily have given up based on one or two bad training sessions but thanks to my coach I have put them to the back of my mind and focused on going forward.

Slowly getting faster

As I said, at my age I can’t hope for a miracle injection of speed. I just need to keep at the training and progress by a couple of seconds per 1km of running or one second over 50m of swimming. I prefer to focus on each session as it comes and not think too much about the main goal. The goal will arrive and I am putting my fitness to the test at the Isle of Bute Triathlon in May. The first qualifier is in Nottingham at the start of June.

I am nervous already but I know that I will have put in as much training groundwork as possible so I should race pretty well. If, on the day, I am up against former pros, a group of very fast old birds or people who have much more time on their hands to train than me then I will need to accept my fate. I’m just hoping that I somehow manage to gain a World Champs place. (If not, I have two other qualifiers to race so I have another couple of chances.)

Think of me today as I slog it out in the pool swimming thousands of metres and also run hard and fast for several kilometres. Hopefully it’ll all be worth it in the long run!

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