So I finally took the plunge (pun intended) and had my first swimming lesson! I've been really putting it off as I know running and cycling inside out, but swimming is a complete unknown for me. Like many people, I never learnt to do the front crawl when I was younger and so whenever I go swimming (which is extremely rarely) I just do breaststroke. I was lucky enough to grow up with unlimited access to a pool and the sea so I am very confident in water and learnt to swim at a very young age, just not properly. I could happily float and bob in the sea on holiday for hours, or do some light breaststroke in a hotel pool, but swimming competitively with proper technique is something completely different. This meant I needed proper swimming lessons from someone who really knows what they're talking about, so I went to Tri N Swim Well which is run by Gill and Dawn and is local to me.
Gill and Dawn have a private teaching pool which is kitted out with cameras and mirrors so that you can analyse your technique and really train properly. They are both ex-triathletes and swimmers and it's clear from the start that they really know what they're talking about! I had my one-hour private lesson with Gill, and after that hour was done I was over the moon! I can do front crawl! Well, we learnt the basics to get started, but still, I was going through the motions and it felt amazing.
Just like when learning to ride a road bike, there are so many things you just don't consider when you first start. For example, whenever I have been swimming before I breathe out of my mouth and wear a nose plug to stop water shooting through my sinuses (very painful, would not recommend.) Gill told me straight away we wouldn't be using the nose plug and we practice breathing out through my nose with just my head in the water. What a revelation! It's so much easier! I just never knew that's how you do it because I'd never been taught.
Being able to watch back my technique in real-time on the screen was amazing, too. This is a fantastic feature and benefit of getting private lessons with Gill and Dawn as it means you don't pick up any bad habits and you can tweak any things you have maybe misunderstood or perhaps things you thought you were doing right but actually weren't working as you thought. I'm so glad I went to Tri N Swim well and not to a generic swimming class and I think I would've picked up some bad habits and it wouldn't have been tailored to my specific needs.
I had an absolute blast and really enjoyed the lesson. I'd been putting it off for so long and almost dreading it, but swimming is great! Well, when you do it properly! It's amazing how different it is to learn to swim with proper technique like an athlete for a sport rather than flailing around just to stay afloat. Front crawl is incredibly simple in reality and if you're knackered after a few lengths, it definitely means you're doing it wrong.
I've got my drills from Gill to practice in my local pool and then I'll be back for my next lesson to learn some more. I'm really confident about the swimming element now which means I've got a great chance of having a successful triathlon!
In the diary next I'm doing a 10-mile race at Lee Valley VeloPark on Saturday and then I have my second duathlon in November so stay tuned to find out how I get on at both of those!
Read the next instalment - Couch To Triathlon (13) - Looking Ahead To 2018
What is an Ironman Triathlon? How is it different from any other triathlon? We look into the massively popular endurance sport.
Ironman is a trademarked brand and is a specific family of triathlon events that take place all over the globe. Many people mistake the term Ironman for a specific triathlon distance, but not all full distance triathlons are Ironman events.
There are several different triathlon organisations across the globe. British Triathlon is the main governing body in the UK and oversees triathlon races from local to world qualifying races. ITU Triathlon is the International Triathlon Union and is the international governing body for many different multi-sport events from triathlon and duathlons to aquathlons and other non-standard multi-sport variations.
On the other hand, Ironman is a privately owned brand and only incorporates the standard swim-bike-run triathlon in two distances: the full Ironman and the half Ironman (also known as the 70.3). A triathlon of this distance that isn't organised by the Ironman brand is known as a middle distance triathlon.
Finally, the other main family of triathlon organisers is the Challenge Family whose biggest race is Challenge Roth in Germany. This is also a full distance triathlon, but as it is not organised by Ironman, it would not be called an Ironman triathlon.
400m swim - 10km bike - 2.5km run
750m swim - 20km bike - 5km run
Standard Distance (also known as Olympic Distance)
1500m swim - 40km bike - 10km run
Middle Distance (also known as Half Ironman, also known as 70.3)
2.5km swim - 80km bike - half marathon run
Full Distance (also known as Full Ironman, also known as 140.6)
3.8km swim - 180km bike - full marathon run
Half Ironman events are a great way to get into the sport without making such a huge step up from standard distance triathlons. This is probably the most common event for novices and amateur athletes to enter, and can still count towards points for the Full Ironman World Championships. There are many big 70.3 races across the globe.
This 70.3 race is always very popular with British athletes as it is in a convenient location and provides stunning backdrops and great weather for racing. Several Sundried ambassadors have competed in Lanzarote and it also provides a training camp for amateur athletes who want to improve in the sport.
A new race has recently begun in Tenby, Wales and offers a few different distance options. There is the Tenby Long Course weekend in which athletes complete the full Iron distance but over three days, completing the swim on the first day, the bike on the second, and the marathon on the third. This is a great way to break down the tough sport and give more athletes a chance of completing the full event before tackling all three disciplines on the same day.
Ironman WeymouthIronman Weymouth is one of the most popular 70.3 locations in the UK as it is easily accessible and is a great way to transition from shorter triathlons into the bigger ones.
Full Ironman Events
This is the location of Ironman UK, the biggest Ironman event in the country and the main British qualifier for the Ironman World Championships.
Ironman Kona (Hawaii)
The Ironman World Championships are held annually in Kona, Hawaii. This is the biggest Ironman event in the world and is the ultimate goal of many triathletes. Chrissie Wellington is an English triathlete who has won the Ironman World Championships four times and is therefore one of the most prominent names in the world of multi-sport.
Harrison is a bright, intelligent, promising young athlete who already has some impressive titles under his belt. After winning the Sundried Southend Triathlon, we had to invite him on board the team. He tells us more.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes, it has been a key part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I mainly ran and played rugby, dabbling unsuccessfully in football and golf before choosing to focus on triathlon in year 10 (age 15).
What made you decide to enter triathlon?
I went down to the local triathlon club (East Essex Tri) initially just to improve my running. However, after they encouraged me to try swimming and I’d got to the point where I could swim 400m without drowning, I borrowed my dad’s bike and entered my first triathlon.
What’s been your best race to date?
I won the World Duathlon Championships for the Under 20 age group in 2016; the race went perfectly, a rare occurrence in multisport.
And your proudest achievement?
Probably winning the recent Sundried Southend Triathlon; there’s nothing quite like winning your home race by over two minutes in front of a huge crowd.
Have you ever had any racing disasters / your toughest race yet?
A couple of years ago I won the Great Notley Duathlon... at least I thought I won the Great Notley Duathlon until I crossed the line to find I’d been disqualified for improper racking.
How do you overcome setbacks?
By returning to Great Notley the next year and winning it by the biggest ever margin.
What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?
To get my swimming stroke sorted before I started doing regular swimming sessions; it took Gill and Dawn at Tri ‘n’ Swim Well months to fix all the bad habits I had developed.
What are your goals for 2017?
2017 has, so far, had to be painstakingly quiet because I’m doing my A-level exams. That said, I have already achieved a few of my targets; I won the European Duathlon Championships and captained the Essex Cross Country team at the English Schools, both targets of mine for a couple of years now. I want to test myself over an Olympic distance triathlon at some point, break the 1-hour mark for a 25-mile time trial, run a sub-4 minute 1500m and swim a sub-4 minute 400m.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
Jan Frodeno, Alistair Brownlee, and my grandfather, who, at 82, still cycles every day.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I really like the fact that a brand so local to me is so radical and progressive in its vision. My favourite bit of kit is the Olperer t-shirt; it looks great, fits perfectly, and – because it’s made from coffee it stops you from overheating on your long summer runs.
I've really been enjoying my training the past few weeks, although the heatwave has made it pretty tough! I've been getting up early to run before work in the hopes it'll be a little cooler but I've really been struggling with the humidity and haven't been able to push myself very hard before I overheat. Still, it's good to keep it ticking over and if I were to give up then my progress would only go backwards, so at this point, a bad run is still better than no run at all!
I've been trying to get creative with my cycling training as cycling round my town is an absolute nightmare. I love going on adventures anyway and discovering new places so I searched for a good cycle trail to follow. I came across The Cuckoo Trail which starts in Heathfield in East Sussex and takes you all the way down to Eastbourne (well, it finishes a few miles shy of Eastbourne but we continued along the National Cycle Network all the way to the seafront.) It was a 30-mile round trip with lunch on Eastbourne seafront in the middle to refuel which was great! It's the farthest I've ever cycled and was actually the first time I've made proper use of my road bike by using the lower handles to get my head down and sprint. I was only able to do this because the trail is secluded so there's no traffic and very few pedestrians to get in your way. It was a slight decline all the way to Eastbourne so we absolutely flew on the way there and struggled quite a bit on the way back! But I was really pleased to be able to cycle uninterrupted and not worry about dogs running in front of me or cars pulling out on me like I have here at home.
The Cuckoo Trail follows a now disused Victorian railway so it's a stunning route which passes through ghost stations (pictured) which I absolutely loved. What was not so great was that the council have built various housing estates along the old line so you have to interrupt your ride by getting off and walking down a narrow path between houses before you can get back onto the trail. We also randomly popped out into a carpark at one point with no idea which way to go next! But we followed some other people who were also following the trail and managed to find our way. I'd definitely recommend this trail for anyone looking for a fun new cycling adventure, and even though the photo makes it look off-road, it's actually all paved so it's more than suitable for a road bike.
My next big cycling challenge will be the London to Southend Bike Ride which is in 3 weeks time and is a 45-55 mile route so not too much farther than I have already cycled. I'm really looking forward to it! I'm also interested in entering the Prudential RideLondon 100 which is a 100-mile cycle from London to Surrey and back again. The route is on closed roads and takes you from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London into the beautiful Surrey countryside which is an absolute dream route. The route is inspired by the London 2012 Olympic Games and finishes on the famous Mall where the London Marathon finishes. Definitely something to work towards as I'd love to take part!
I have also finally enquired about swimming lessons. I can get lessons at my local pool with unlimited public swims included (so no excuse not to train in between lessons) all for a fairly decent price (it works out at £5.75 per lesson.) I won't be starting that just yet as I'm going to wait until I've completed training and the race for the duathlon, so I'll be starting the swimming lessons in October.
My 12-week training plan for the duathlon kicks off in a couple of weeks and I'm pretty excited! I love having a solid goal to work towards; training sessions always have more meaning when you know what you're working towards and have something to aim for. I'll be sharing my training plan in a blog post later on so keep an eye out!
Read the next instalment - Couch To Triathlon (9) - Duathlon Training Begins
Last weekend Sundried hosted the inaugural Southend Triathlon at which I was swim director! It was my job to stay on the beach and count all the athletes as they safely exited the water. It was an incredible day and the atmosphere was amazing. It was my first time experiencing a triathlon and it really was very special. I've taken part in numerous 10ks and half marathons, which always have a great buzz, but this something entirely different and we had nearly 3000 spectators out to watch and cheer people on! It has really inspired and motivated me to up my game with my training for my triathlon and I am looking to enter one sooner than I thought!
After editing the content for all the events that Sundried will be sponsoring this year, I came across the Louth Triathlon in Lincolnshire. It is a beginner-friendly event with a 400m pool swim and easy bike and run course. I must say I'm really tempted to enter! It takes place on Sunday the 3rd of September which is only 2 months way. Will I be ready by then?
I think that my fitness is certainly up to finishing a triathlon at this point, especially a shortened course featuring a pool swim, but I still need to have swimming lessons! I haven't even attempted the front crawl since I was 10 years old. Eek! I also need to step up my cycle training, but I am being left frustrated as it's so hard to get up any speed in Southend due to pedestrians walking out in front of me on the cycle path and angry motorists interrupting any cycling I do on the roads. I shall power on though.
My running is going amazingly though, and with my new Garmin Forerunner 735XT watch I did a lactate threshold test and have also determined my VO2 max (which is pretty good if I do say so myself!) I'm hoping to achieve a new 5k PB soon, although now that I'm finding running easier I need to make sure I don't sprint off too quick and burn out after a mile!
I'm hoping to make up my mind about entering the Louth Triathlon soon, with the only thing being it would come before the duathlon I have entered, which was supposed to be a toe-dip into the world of multi-sport competing and give me an idea of how it feels. However, at this point I do feel like I don't really need to ease myself in too much and that I'd manage it okay. That's another feeling of confidence that came from watching all the competitors at the Sundried Southend Triathlon, as we had racers from all walks of life from professional triathletes to people who had never done one before and turned up on a mountain bike!
I'm guilty of having 'yolo' moments so chances are I will end up entering the triathlon in September, in which case things are about to get intense! Stay tuned for more, it may be time to get the swimsuit out of retirement!
Read the next instalment - Couch To Triathlon (8) - Training Adventures