Whatever your training goals, whether your first 5km or your 20th full Ironman, you might be tempted to wing it and train your own way. I certainly thought I could. Now I look back at the way I used to train and cringe a little at myself. Simply put – I wish I knew then what I know now!
When I think back to my first sprint triathlons, it’s pretty funny to think of all the ridiculous mistakes I made along the way. For an 800m swim, 26km bike and 5km run, I probably had enough energy gels for a full Ironman. I also couldn’t straighten my legs when I got off the bike, because I had never heard of a brick session (running straight after a bike) or practised any transitions.
Fast forward to my first Ironman 70.3 and my training plan was simple – just swim, bike and run regularly. So for 4 months, I swam 2km a couple of times a week, I cycled 20 minutes to and from work and I usually did a long ride at the weekends. Running was my main focus – the furthest I had done before was probably 10km on a treadmill. My plan was to just increase my running distance each week. So once a week I ran 8km, at first, then built up each week until I could manage 21km. Of course, I increased too quickly and ended up with plantar fasciitis. I had no nutrition plan – I planned to eat Nakd bars as that was the food that I had used successfully at Ride London 100 cycling sportive. On race day, however, I realised I couldn’t handle any solid food so my nutrition plan was immediately thrown out the window. I ended up just eating and drinking whatever I could get my hands on at the aid stations. (This caused major stomach cramps on the run and I nearly didn’t gave up!)
Speaking of aid stations, I honestly thought they would be like Ride London – parking spots where you got off the bike, used the portaloo and had a quick break, snack and drink. I was shocked on race day when I realised you just had to grab the bottles and snacks from volunteers on the go (a bike handling and balancing skill in its own right!)
I did cross the finish line of my first Ironman 70.3 in Zell Am See (not without stomach cramps, a horrendous run and many other avoidable mistakes). However, if I had known back then everything that I know now, I would definitely have done things differently. I even tapered wrong – I thought it meant taking 2 weeks of complete rest before the race and eating lots of carbs so I would have loads of energy on race day. I really had no idea.
Fast forward 6 years and training is so completely different now. I cannot explain how amazing it is to have a coach and an understanding of how training actually works. There is something incredible about having somebody to create your training plan, hold you accountable, pick you up when you are down, and explain the reason behind each workout (if you want to know). A coach is somebody who can use data to track your progress for you and encourage you that your training is all worthwhile. It’s nice to know that someone is looking out for you and can tell if something is not right – whether you are overtraining, ill, stressed or fatigued- and encourage you to rest and recover. A coach can help you with injury prevention and make sure you are tracking when to get new running shoes, for example. It feels like a weight off your shoulders that somebody with extensive knowledge is there to guide you and equally wants your success.
Now I look back and realise how much a good coach brings to the table – structured training, injury prevention, nutritional guidance, accountability, race day tactics. I can’t really believe I tried to wing it on my own from the start. Just 4 months of coaching and I won my age group at Xiamen 70.3 and qualified for Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Having the right coach makes the world of difference – for me it was the difference between winging it and winning it!
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