Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pretending to be a professional triathlete for a week

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We’ve all dreamt about it at one time another; the chance to give up the day job and follow our dreams as a professional triathlete.  Granted, it’s not something I’ve wasted too much time dreaming about (too old, too slow, too well-paid to give it all up!), but it’s always fun to wonder what it might be like.

For most of us, the nearest we get to ‘living the dream’ is a triathlon camp.  This week just gone, I got to attend my first organized camp, courtesy of Racetime Events and the Shea-Simonds duo of Duncan and Claire.   That the camp was set on my favourite training destination island of Mallorca only added to the attraction.

And so on Saturday, after a pretty crappy training week (too much work to be done before I set off!) I arrived at Terminal Five, dropped off the bike box and luggage (the joys of a British Airways gold card) and boarded the plane to Palma.

A few hours later and I arrived at the villa just outside Pollenca to meet Claire, Duncan, a couple of camp mates and (perhaps most importantly!) our host and chef, Janet (aka Duncan’s mum).  The rest of the guys would arrive the next morning, so we had a nice easy evening and headed down to the port for dinner.

The camp proper began on Sunday morning…

Sunday

Before the rest of the guys arrived, we had a quick swim in the sea by the port, a great opportunity to get used to open water swimming again. Having not swum much lately, it wasn’t much of a surprise that some of the speed had gone, but I couldn’t complain at the water temperature, which must have been in the mid-to-high teens.

After a lovely breakfast at Tolo’s (yes, it’s a tourist trap, but the food is excellent), I ran the 12km back to the villa so I could at least log some run training for the week!

The rest of the gang joined us around lunchtime, built up bikes and we headed out as a large 17-person group for a steady ride.   It felt great to be out on the Mallorcan roads again and we bimbled along happily until we got to the Coll de sa Batalla climb up to Lluc, where I let loose a little and, from starting at the back of the group, made it to near the front by the top.  A good sign, the legs still worked!

We then enjoyed the blast down from Lluc back to Pollenca – one of my favourite descents of all time.  I thought I was going fast, but there was no keeping with Duncan as he sliced through corners (he’d already been on the island a week, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!).  I was pleasantly surprised with how good the braking on my new Spin Industries 50mm carbon clinchers was – no noticeable fade as I braked for corners in rapid succession (later in the week I’d work up the courage to use the brakes less).

We regrouped at the bottom of the descent and took a steady ride back along the flat to Pollenca.

In the evening, we had the first of many super meals cooked by Janet.

Training log for the day:

Swim:  2,000m

Bike: 46km / 1,000m climbed

Run: 12km

Total active training time for the day:  4hrs

Monday

Monday morning saw another pre-breakfast swim in the sea, this time alternating between 400m laps at different intensities.  Again, the conditions were near-perfect.

After porridge and a cooked breakfast(!) at the villa, we split into two groups (for argument’s sake, the ‘fast’ and the ‘steady’ groups) and I headed out with the fast group (just Duncan, Johnny Nicol and I) for a ride, this time heading up to Lluc from Pollenca (the climb anyone that’s done the Mallorca 70.3 race will know all-too-well!).  Again, I let loose a little on the climb and while it wasn’t a PB, it was a solid effort.  Johnny and Dunc re-joined me at the top and we headed over to climb the ‘short’ side of Puig Major before another bloody fantastic descent down into Soller. Then it was up Coll de Soller, over the top and over to Bunyola for a cake stop before the final big climb of the day up to Orient and then a nice flattish ride home.

The evening saw us doing a run drills session, bookmarked by two easy warm up and cool down runs.  The drills were new to me, but something I really intend to make part of my weekly run regime.  I definitely noticed some weaknesses to work on.  And as Claire and Duncan explain – focusing on drills is basically a way to ‘free’ speed on the run (let’s hope!).

The day was rounded off with another home-cooked meal.

Training log for the day:

Swim: 1.5km

Bike: 124.6km / 2,409m climbed

Run:  5km (exc drills)

Total active training time: 5hrs 45min

Tuesday

Tuesday started with the now-familiar sea swim, this time with some added drills to practice porpoising. If I’m honest, my swim muscles were aching – I wasn’t used to this much swimming in such a short space of time!  I was also trying a new smaller size of wetsuit, which perhaps was a little too tight across the chest (might go back to my previous size to compare).

Then we learned that what was billed as a ‘long trail run’ was, in fact, only about 4km each way (8km total).  But the sting in the tail was that there was 450m of climbing from sea level to the top of Talaia D’Alcudia before a short rest and then the return leg.  I won’t lie. Some parts were too steep (for me) to run, so it was a combination run and hike.  Not too far in, one of our ‘fast’ group, Steve Pascale-Jones went over on his ankle on a rock and it started swelling badly.  To his credit(?!), Steve soldiered on and made it to the top, where we enjoyed some fabulous views of the bay between Alcudia and Pollenca.

Heading back down was even slower in places than the climb. I just didn’t have the confidence to run over the rocks, but the sweat stinging my eyes told me I was still working hard!

Tuesday afternoon saw a more steady ride, ending up with a much-enjoyed ice cream stop in Port de Pollenca (double-scoop oreo and mint-choc-chip, in case you’re wondering!).

Training log for the day:

Swim: 1.5km with drills

Bike: 28.6km

Run: 8.5km / 450m climbing

Total active training time: 2hrs 30mins

Wednesday

Wednesday was billed as the ‘big’ ride day, so we skipped the pre-breakfast swim and headed out on the bike, starting with a flat ride from Pollenca across to the start of the climb to Valdemossa.  We met the ‘steady’ group at Valdemossa before then heading to Port de Soller via Deia (a route I became very familiar with last year!).  After a brief stop in Port de Soller, we headed off up the ‘long’ side of Puig Major.  I ended up in a pair with Claire, with her on front.  I was working hard just staying on her wheel (I’m not sure how much drafting benefit you get at 15kmh on a 7% climb?!).

I tried to take the lead position a few times, or at least pull alongside to prove I wasn’t just wheel-sucking, but each time I did, Claire put on a spurt (some might have called it an ‘attack’! ;) ) and so I dropped back into my second-wheel position, enduring the stares of all whom we passed on the climb!

Make no mistake, I was working hard to chase Claire up the hill. We completed the climb in around 52 minutes. A new PB for me and enough to put Claire well up the QOM leaderboard on Strava.  Being a self-nominated camp photographer, after I got my breath back I headed back down the Puig to get some photos of the others guys climbing. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment!

At the top of the Puig, Duncan, Johnny, Steven Gibson and I opted to ‘do’ Sa Calobra, one of the most celebrated climbs on the island, on the way back to Lluc.  The descent was, as always, exhilarating.  This time, Johnny gave Dunc a run for his money in the daredevil stakes and I confess I didn’t have the balls to go with them.  Some of the cars didn’t take kindly to being overtaken by a bunch of bikes, but there’s no escaping the fact that bikes are simply faster going down Sa Calobra (coming up is a different matter!).

I caught Dunc and Johnny towards the bottom, where we waited for Steve and then headed back up the 10km climb. I started a bit later than Steve and Johnny, so that I could get some photos on the way up, and then a couple of Dunc before he powered on up to the top.  After the effort on Puig Major, I was pretty surprised to learn later in the day that I’d also PB’d Sa Calobra.

After the slog back to the top of Lluc, we had another fantastic descent (again Johnny and Dunc being complete loons on the corners!) and headed back to the villa for another fantastic home-cooked meal.

Training log for the day:

Swim: none

Bike: 165.1km / 2,998m climbing

Run: none

Total active training time: 6hrs 20min

Thursday

Another swim to start the morning (my muscles were grateful for the previous day off, although I was feeling the bike miles in my neck!) and we did a steady set.

After the now-obligatory porridge and cooked breakfast, we headed out en masse for a flat ride towards Sineu for a cake stop (not for me, forgot my money, doh!) and then a ‘tempo’ ride back to Port de Pollenca via Alcudia.  The Tempo part of the ride started fine and I was happily tucked into Dunc’s wheel when one of our group (who shall remain nameless!) attacked and Dunc sprung onto his wheel, leaving me firmly behind.  The attacker soon died an early death, but by then I was 100 metres down on Duncan, Claire and Johnny (who had all reacted faster than me) and try as I might, I couldn’t close them to bridge over.  And so I spent the best part of the next hour seething quietly (or maybe not so quietly!) to myself as I basically solo time-trialled my way to Pollenca, getting a brief respite at the traffic lights near Alcudia old town.

By the time I arrived at the ice cream stop in Pollenca, I’d had a serious sense of humour failure and rode around the town a little to cool myself down (in both senses). I was angry with myself for missing the jump and also angry my afternoon had been compromised ahead of the next day’s ‘racing’.

In the evening, we did a run intervals session which would have been really good (and I intend to try it again), had I not completely ballsed-up the rest intervals and given myself 30 seconds for all ten intervals, rather than building to 90 seconds… Still, it was a great workout.

Training log for the day:

Swim: 1.3km

Bike: 81km / 521m climbing

Run: 10km

Total active training time: 4hrs 10min

Friday

Friday morning saw the ‘Camp Aquathlon’, based on a handicap timing system using everyone’s predicted times for the 400m swim and 3km run.  Somehow, this saw me setting off alongside Claire (she sandbagged for sure!), with just Steve Gibson and Johnny behind us.   Setting off, Claire and I were practically side-by-side to the first buoy, but I could see I was being forced left of the first turn buoy.  Not wanting to be disqualified, I tried to correct our course, but got a good whacking and an elbow in my face for my efforts. So I ended up having to give way to Claire at the first buoy and lost all my momentum.  Maybe a good lesson to be learned there: be tougher on the swim!

I came out of the water about 10 seconds down on Claire, but I was already pretty fed up. I ambled up to the ‘transition’ area and made a right faff of getting my wetsuit off before heading out on the run along the beachfront.  It wasn’t long before Steve Gibson powered past me (another sandbagger!) and then Duncan.  I felt shite and my run legs were doing their usual disappearance act.

I crossed the line last (albeit fourth on time) and again took myself off to a quiet place to calm down.  I was angry with both the swim and run.  My camp mates wisely gave me a wide berth for a little while!

After breakfast, it was time to ride out as a large group to the start of the ‘Mountain TT’ – basically a re-run of the Coll de sa Batalla 7.9km climb up to Lluc. Having chased Claire up Puig Major earlier in the week, I knew she was on good form, so it was far from music to my ears to hear I’d be off second-to-last with Claire one minute behind me (Dunc went off first to be the official finish-line time keeper)!

After trying to get photos of everyone else setting off and then doing a little warm up, it was my time to line up behind Steve Gibson and get ready for the off.  I had an idea that I would just hold a particular 50 Watt-wide power band for the entire climb, allowing myself to work harder if the climb called for it and similarly get some relief on the brief downhill section towards the end.

I started well and caught Steve G within a few minutes, working my way to picking off my camp mates as I continued to climb. I felt surprisingly strong (for me!) and was really enjoying putting myself to the test and, unlike the aquathlon earlier, feeling like I was doing myself justice.  I still had a little bit of fear of Claire storming past me though!

I knew the climb was 8km long, so I did a fair impression of Chris Froome as I stared intently at the bar-mounted Garmin for most of the climb, watching my power, cadence and distance.  By the time I reached the last corner, I think I’d caught and passed everyone bar Duncan.  Timing would later suggest a time of 23:27, a definite PB for me and good enough for second place behind Duncan. For a change, I wasn’t in a bad mood ;)

After a cake stop (much needed!), we split into a couple of groups and a bunch of us headed back over to Sa Calobra.  Another fantastic descent was marred slightly by a brown shorts moment with a bus, but luckily both the driver and cyclsts reacted quickly and disaster was averted (he was on the wrong side of the road trying to make a corner).

And then it was time to head back up! Again! After the TT, I wasn’t even going to entertain the idea of chasing a PB but made a good fist of getting up the hill before heading back down to get some more photos of the others climbing.  A last little blast over to Lluc and down to Pollenca and that was it, officially the training was over!

We might have indulged in a little more red wine than normal that evening…

Training log for the day:

Swim: 400m

Bike: 100km / 2,172m climbing

Run: 3km

Total active training time: 4hrs 45min

Saturday

Thanks to a late flight home, while the others packed bikes and departed early on Saturday morning, I was able to take one last ride before heading to the airport.  I chose to take advantage of the newly-resurfaced road out to the Cap Formentor lighthouse.  Another 55km in the bag!

Then it was off to Palma with Steve P-J and a cheeky watch of Vicky Holland winning the triathlon in Cape Town while we taxied out to the runway!

Training Log for the day:

Bike 55.2km / 960m climbing

Total active training time: 2hrs

Sunday

OK, so I was back home.  But I still had a programmed long run to do! It was supposed to be a 21km progressive run, but I ran out of steam a little (went off too hard again) at 18km so just jogged the rest.  Still, a pretty good week all-round.

I then fell asleep during the bike leg of the men’s race at Cape Town.  Only partly due to being knackered. I should say thank you to CurraNZ for providing us all with a sample pack of their anti-oxidant rich capsules for the week - I'm already a fan of these and have no doubt they played a part in keeping us going day after day.

Training log for the day:

Run: 24km

Total active training time: 1hr 55min

So that’s it, my week of pretending to be a professional triathlete is over and I’m back to earth with a bump and a visit to our Stockholm office today.  Quite happy to take a rest day, if I’m honest!  Still, I'm happy with 600+km of cycling and nearly 10,000m of climbing. Including the two Sundays, it was a 30-hour training week.  Still not quite in Alistair Brownlee's league, but nearly three times what I normally manage!

Many thanks to my camp mates from last week, especially roomie Johnny Nicol.  Apologies for being in a bad mood occasionally.  Finally, thank you to the Shea-Simonds clan for being great hosts.

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Matt Fisher runs TriathletesDiary.com - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a 2014 qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs

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