A recap of the last and major triathlon events of the year: my story
I know that I've been pretty quite this year on my blog. If you see the new posts uploaded during 2013 you will notice that you can count them in the fingers of your one hand. Well, there are many reasons for this, mainly because I've been too busy with my full-time job and on top of this I've been dedicating almost my entire free time towards a potential job hunt all across Europe (applications, interviews, travelling, CVs, calls..).
It's the first time after many years that I realise my active participation into sports is at its minimum. In 2013, after 4 successful years into indoor rowing and systematic training, I decided to shift into triathlon. I have changed many sports in the past from basketball, into windsurfing, into rowing and now into triathlon, I like trying new things! However, for 2013 it was only during May-June and September-October when I managed to follow a rough training schedule - and still during those more active periods I didn't perform athletically in a structured manner. So, all in all, 2013 was a kind of 'time off-sports' for me as I had to sacrifice my sports for the things I mentioned above.
(shown on the left: Jan.2013, London from London-eye tourist attraction)
However, sports, training and racing has always been something inseparable from my life. I believe that sports must be integrated within everyone's routine, regardless how busy or free time you have available. Sports have always helped me to organise my mind and put things of life into an order.
In May 2013, after 4 months of complete absence from any real training due to an intense preparation of an important business trip to Ireland, I signed up for 2 Sprint distances and 1 Olympic distance triathlon races, which were to take place within a 5-week period! This sounds crazy, as everyone knows that triathlon in particular requires significant training in terms of volume and intensity. I will never forget my first ever tri-race in 2010, which left me with a huge surprise as to the amount of effort and pressure it is required to complete even a sprint triathlon race. But, for some unusual reason, this time I felt it was possible to go through this time-squeezed 3 race schedule - probably I've missed racing for triathlon and I felt that I was full of energy (mainly mentally) to accept the challenge.
I don't want to go into great details as to what happened during these 3 tri-races within a 5-week period. Probably, I received a nice shock realising that I've recorded the worst ever finish times!! The Olympic distance in particular saw me in pieces at the finish line, cramping heavily even after the end of the race with serious stomach problems: very embarrassing, but what else could I expect with no training at all? I've enjoyed though travelling to the triathlon events, seeing the spirit of the atmosphere there, meeting other athletes and I felt that I did well to avoid a DNF for any of these races! Anyway, I am not a pro or sponsored, I race for fun and fitness.
Then I had another 2 months absence from training (July-August) for preparing heavily another important business trip (again for Ireland).
(shown on the left: flying above Alps toward Paris and then Dublin, April 2013)
Finally, I was back in sports-action only during September. I had 2 main races (both Olympic distances) ahead of me before the 2013 tri-calendar comes to an end.
For some reason, I felt again that it would be possible to race both of them at a more respectable level, so I started training (or perhaps this is what I believed I did!) as if the time was adequate to build up my strength.
The first of those races was in September 2013. I had about one month of training under my belt. I don't think I can call this training, is more of like a warming up. I like to be fair with myself, so I knew this was not enough. And if that surprises you, I didn't do any run training whatsoever! Only swim and bike! However, I was still convinced that it would be possible to achieve some good results compared to my previous races. However, only a very average result was achieved and my run part was the worst ever 10km I run in my life!! Hot temperatures melted me in the run part and a very poor hydration plan destroyed my race pace completely. Swim and bike was ok though, lol.
(left: river side hotel view at night, Dublin, Ireland, August 2013)
Again, I wasn't expecting some miracles to happen there, BUT... end of October was a good date for me! Why? Temperature drops and I like racing in 'cooler' conditions as I am generally a very sweaty person. Staying cool is so important in long races and retaining a nice core temperature helps body to keep going. Ok, so I had one alliance next to me already to start with!
As I knew that my training pattern was random and insufficient, the next available option for me to pick up in order to improve my race time was to do this: Study TACTICS and organise PACING. I broke down the Olympic distance race into 3 parts (1 for each discipline) and applied those two concepts for each part in a calculated manner:
- Swim: During every race I was choosing to swim nearly after everyone goes on the water. This assures that I swim non-distracted with my own pace and space. I am a pace-like person and I can tolerate long races as soon as I keep a constant rhythm There are athletes who don't consider the presence of others and create problems (kicking, elbowing, pushing..) to other swimmers around them without concern. This time I wanted to take the risk: Swim with the front group and try to stick (draft) together with a group that fits my pace.
- Bike: This is my strongest section. It reassembles rowing a lot, as it requires strong legs and it's gravity free (meaning you don't have to carry your weight) for flat sections as were on the race day. I planned to race at minimum 34km/hour average speed for the entire 40km section. This would cut about 5min off my previous bike time. Maybe it does not sound a lot, but the idea here is to eliminate many small time pieces across the race, which when added all together would create a significant improvement. In addition to this average speed target, I thought to consider NEGATIVE splitting into my 4x10km bike sections. Well, you might be wondering what's this. The concept is simple, although many athletes underestimate it or ignore it: You race the various sections of a race with an improved speed/intensity at each section to avoid early muscular burning sensation. You can start with an effort of say 90%, then give a push to 95% and finish with an effort of 100%. Would it work for me at this race? I wasn't sure, but I was going to try it..
- Run: The run part. There is only one word for me here: NIGHTMARE. For some reason, running is the only discipline that has improved the least since I started triathlon about 3 years ago, despite the effort I was putting into training. So much, that I left the run training on the side! What's the point to train for it if I have no improvement? I feel I've reached a dead end and hit the ceiling with this section. I better save this time to train for the other 2 sports! Well, I know, this is a very pathetic approach to express, but I am promising that I will change this soon: My coach will now give me a proper running plan to follow for this winter. However, for this race I had to think how to tackle the run part. Was there any solution at all? Again: Negative splitting and keeping a run pace close to 10km/hour would be good I thought. This would save me about 12 minutes off my previous run time. And something else: Hydration. I made sure that I had my own electrolyte/carbo drinks available at the end of T2 and I didn't have to rely on the race organiser for them. In the previous race I realised that the water stations were very few and the heat,humidity made my run part a real nightmare! No more stupid mistakes.
It's race day! Temperature was cool (my favourite!). I had an excellent night's sleep (early bed at 9pm). I was feeling great. I tried to replace anxiety with fun. I was there to have fun first and enjoy the last triathlon race of the year.
Few minutes before the race, I went briefly into my 3 layer strategies inside my head as I mentioned above. At the hit of the gun I swam 50 strong strokes: During the first 200m I realised that this was not fast enough...oh no...swimming alone again. I tried not to panic. I noticed that plenty of the athletes in front of me were swimming like a shark was trying to bite them. I thought they would blow up!!! And later on some of them did!! At about the 800m point I managed to catch many of them again and I STICK with them. Nice I thought! My plan worked. First time swimming with others, how easy it was to follow a pace that others had to control. It was still fast for me, but I was in full control of my energy expenditure. Fast, but not very fast. I realised the guys couldn't perhaps go faster, so I felt safe. In that instance I was together with the 2nd main swim group. I felt great.
Coming out of the water I noticed that I was about 2-3 minutes better off my previous swim time. Did I spent too much energy already? I grabbed my bike and there I went: Negative splitting I thought. I was too excited to go faster, but I took the risk to keep a more conservative pace. Would this work?? I knew that bike is my strongest discipline. It's my only chance to save time and gain positions. If I don't go fast now then it would be too late to do this in the run part. But, I again tried to keep myself in control "..negative splits..". I completed the first 10km (out of 40km) just below my target pace (32km/h from the target 34km/hour). I was feeling great though. My legs were still fresh and so far it looked like a warm up for me! Good news! I picked up the pace on the 2nd and 3rd 10km sections to exceed the average speed plan. And I stayed within it during the mid-part of the bike. I was nearly just above the 34km/hour average speed and at 30th km and I was still feeling comfy: Negative splitting was working! I decided to give everything on the last 10km! I entered T2 with about 35 km/hour.I am within my race plan!
When I exited T2, my race cloak was showing an elapsed time of 1h and 49 minutes. Good news, as I was normally above the 2 hours block in previous Olympic races at this stage. So, I had another 10km to run and I wanted to achieve a sub 3-hour finish time. Was this possible? I had to run a 10km section under 70 minutes. I know this sounds awful, but I've never did a single run training this year! Negative splitting I thought again! It worked in the swim and bike part, so why not in the run part? Or, was I very ambitious?
A kind of de-javu was spinning around my head that moment. For some reason body shuts down on the run part and I end up walking instead of running. I tried to kick this voice from my head. I looked down my legs, and muscles were feeling well - I brought up positive thoughts, thinking that it was possible to go for a sub 3-hour race. The first 2.5km were difficult to control, as the transition from the bike into the run section requires sometime for the blood to circulate well into the legs and keep going, but I was watering myself to stay cool. Luckily, inside the 3km distance I was keeping a constant and good pace that would take me to the end well, I thought.
At the 5th km mark, I was about 2h and 18minutes inside the race. Nice I thought - if I keep this pace I can achieve my goal. However, DISASTER hits at this moment: Both knees got suddenly so soar and stiff. I started to WALK. Panic came to my head again. How should I get rid of this soreness? My knees were in pain. I tried to run again. Then WALKED! Oh, no...I was still holding a cold bottle of water on my hand from the 5th km mark water-station. When I am cycling I sometimes get a similar feeling on my legs. Cooling them down helps me during cycling. So, I thought to try the same during the run: So I put cold water on both knees and quickly stretched the legs. I felt better and started to RUN again and at good pace. Fortunately, I managed to cover another 2km without walking. But later on I started cramping in my stomach. I was consuming too many fluids I realised and couldn't digest them. I started WALKING again. Looked the clock, I was about 2h 35min into the race with less than 3km to go. This is where it became mental: Knee soarness didn't want to leave me, cold water couldn't help and stomach cramp wanted to keep me busy as well.. I took a big breath and I said to myself: Run now for the finish line, forget the pain and get this d%$# race out of the way!
The last 500m were one of the most painful run finishes I've ever done. I made the last right turn to the finish line and I could hear the event's music playing on the background, I am there I said! Watch was showing something like 2h 47min, I was making it!
I crossed the finish line in 2h 50minutes and 33 seconds !!! OMG!! Was it real?! I wasn't expecting it. Happy to break the 3hours goal and achieve a new PB! Saved nearly 18minutes off my previous race and I was astonished to realise afterwards that I crossed the finish line at 4th place on my age-group, missing a 3rd place podium finish by 2min 30 seconds :o .
These were the race's actual distances: 1700m swim, 41km bike, 10.4km run.(all sections above the standard Olympic distance).
The experience I've learned from this race is that racing both physically AND mentally can make a huge difference. Considering my 2 months limited training I was so happy to cross this finish time with a PB. Tactics and pacing was also important. I didn't carry out the training I wanted prior to this race, but I learned the other side of the race game too, the invisible laws of racing.
I've enjoyed this year a lot as I had the chance to race in 5 triathlon events and I felt that I performed well for the amount of training I managed to put into order. I am hoping that I can use the experience from the races to organise my training for next season and perform better when I race again.
See you all in the trainings! :D
My special thanks go to:
Makis, my greatest coach ever. I know that I didn't have the time to follow fully his schedule, but despite this he has always been next to me supporting, pushing and giving me courage to train and race at better level. He has been my rowing coach since 2012 (leading me to the 2012 Open European Indoor Rowing Championship in UK and a podium finish with a PB in 2012 at the Greek Indoor Rowing Championship) and now as a running/triathlon coach. (Feel free to contact Makis, by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel (mob): +30 6936996758)
Also, I would like to pass my special thanks to Katerina, my massager! She has helped me so much to improve my pre-race condition with her amazing deep Thai sports massage. She knows the way for it, and I must admit she is the best massager I've ever tried in my life. All my races have been a full joy because of her perfect sports massage. (Katerina can be contacted here: http://kinisikaitherapia.gr/ or https://www.facebook.com/kinisikaitherapia )
(above: Olympic triathlon race, Sept. 2013)