What I did this summer

Last week I wrote up my Vitruvian half Ironman race report. This week, I’m going to give you an idea of how I got myself back into reasonable (4.37) shape in 5 weeks.

To give you some back story – I’ve taken time off from training this spring, and fully intended to have a season off from competing and structured training. The death of my father-in-law, launching a new business, and (most importantly,) impending fatherhood meant that something had to give. I love training, preparing and competing, but something had to give – and removing the scheduling pressure of training-to-compete allowed me to channel my energy towards my family and new business.

I kept up with running a few times a week, which is my go-to stress relief, but aside from that, I didn’t ride or swim from February half term until the end of July. By the time the start of the school summer holidays rolled around, I was 12lbs over weight and it was time to get back in shape!

First ride back was the 1st August, and it wasn’t pretty. 2 hours easy on the road bike ended with me seeing stars with a low blood sugar bonk! The next day I did the same, only made sure I had some cereal bars with me. Day three I managed 3 hours with my Dad, but there was a lengthy stop for coffee and cake in there at half way. Still, on the return leg I was actually starting to feel pretty good on the bike, and was starting to remember what being a bike rider felt like. That was it for the first week, as I went off for a week surfing in Cornwall and didn’t run or ride. I did, however, manage to complete the Big Cornwall Swim, a mile in open water from one port to another round the headland (and in some pretty meaty seas!) This was really encouraging for me – as a guy who came to swimming late in life and improved rapidly, I was pleased that I could swim a mile at tempo in rough open water and hold my own against 300 other swimmers.

The second week back was similar to the first in terms of bike rides, except now I was feeling a bit more human, I headed out on the TT bike for one of the rides. It felt awesome to be back on the P2 – we rode pretty solid the whole ride, and included a couple of 8 min efforts at what was supposed to be HIM pace, but for me was pretty much a max effort to try to hold the wheel! Still, something fired up in me during that ride – powering along on the aerobars, I knew I was going to have to find a race before the summer was out! I managed three steady runs this week, longest was an hour, but no swims.

Week three – it was time to hit the i-magic. A quality session of 2 x 10 mile TT separated by a 5 min recovery. The numbers weren’t going to scare Lance but they were OK, and my endurance was there. Two other rides, 5 steady runs (including a long run of 90 mins) and another open water swim of 5 x 400m during which I felt I was going OK.

Week four – three runs, longest was 2 hours. I was really pleased to get this under my belt as it was great for the confidence going into the Vit – at least I knew that I wouldn’t have to walk the last lap! I hit the TT bike again for a couple of 90 min sessions, including some solid big gear intervals, one of my favourites. Legs were feeling strong by this point, and I was beginning to think I had a decent ride in me. One open water swim, this time, 3 x 800m. My endurance was improving but I was still a little concerned how I’d hold out over 1900m.

Week five – race week. Back to work, so I scheduled very little – two steady 30 minute runs and a 60 min turbo, including a 10 TT. One of the runs I included my standard 3 mile aerobic run test, and was hitting 7.30 min/mile at 150bpm, which was pretty pleasing. The 10 mile TT came in at 22.50 and a 280 watt average, so I knew I was back in decent bike shape. (Best ever 21.58 and 311W.) I also hopped into the pool for a tune-up on Thursday night, working through the classic body rotation/catch drills and some sprints, by the end of which I was hitting 100s in under 1.30.

The best part of this, for me, was really enjoying the process of getting back in shape. On my August 1st weigh in, I was 161 lbs, and by race day that was down to 155lbs – since then I’m back down to 150lbs, which is pretty much where I’ll stay. I didn’t make a specific effort to diet, but the process of training everyday makes me naturally eat better – I went back to eating more real whole food, which didn’t include bread or alcohol. I’m certainly happier with the way I look at 150 than 160!

Turning out a 4.37 Half Ironman off such limited training was a surprise, but a very pleasant one, and to finish just outside the top 20 at the national championships was a pleasing result. I’m inspired to go back there next year and see what I can do over that course off a full season’s preparation – maybe sneak under 4.20?


Some tips for getting back in shape after a break:

Get out of the door and train every day. Even if you only manage a 30 minute session, the benefits of consistency trump intensity regarding aerobic development and maintenance.

Use intensity sparingly, but when you do, make it count. Most of my training was easy or steady, but when I went hard on the bike, it was really hard – threshold and above. 10 mile best effort TT’s are great preparation. I didn’t do any hard/fast running at all.

Eat well and your body will find its own way. I eat like a horse every day, and don’t like to think in terms of ‘denying’ myself, or ‘cutting out’ foods. Instead, I make a different choice. However, when I’m stressed or super-busy, making the best choices becomes more challenging. Ultimately, my body composition is a reflection of the food choices I make – so I chose bananas over toast at breakfast, and lime and soda over beer if I went out.

Build some space into your life to remember what’s important. I couldn’t see the wood for the trees for a while, with everything going on with the family, work, coaching etc. It only took a short break for me to remember what I was missing, and get back into training.

Sort out your schedule. Despite it being the summer holidays, I think I was more busy than I would have been back at school! We had building and decorating work done, and some days it was very challenging to find the time to train. By planning out the week, writing a training plan, and sticking to my training plan, I knew what I had going on day by day. If you don’t have time or don’t know how to write a training plan, get yourself a coach J