Poor, broken me.

Now that I had done what I previously thought would be impossible, it was time to think about next year. But before that happened, I needed to get my ankles sorted out.

Basically, it was terrible news. I went to the injury clinic where I was told that I had a selection of fresh and healed stress fractures across both feet/ ankles. I was banned from running so that they could have time to heal. He thinks it was from the first race I did, given that I went straight into a 5k with the wrong footwear, unstable park grounds, and no training. It made sense. I had done too much, too soon; exactly what I had hoped to avoid.

A couple of months without running didn’t sound too bad. I’d pick it back up again before Christmas and have a good start to the New Year. Plus, I can still cycle and swim, right? Wrong. The fractures were in such locations that, should I cycle or swim, it could stop the bones from fusing and would set back my recovery. Dammit! What am I meant to do?! Without running, cycling or swimming, I’d lose all my gains from the year! The only thing I could think of was to swim – open-water – without using my legs. So I did.
For the sake of my sanity, I won’t try and recall every swim I did or exact dates for things over the next few months so I’ll sum things up like this:
– I went back every two weeks to see the physio and after a month or so, I was given the all clear for cycling and swimming again. I still wasn’t allowed to use fins (for indoor training) and wasn’t allowed to stand or push/ pull too hard on the bike. That was fine – I didn’t care too much for the fins, anyhow. Also, by this point, we were training on turbo-trainers for the bike so I didn’t have to worry about any extra pressure/ hills if I didn’t want to.
– My ankles healed enough that I was given strengthening exercises to do with a rubber band. They were dull but I did them. There were also some single leg balancing drills which I had to do 3 times a day. I did them at my desk at work but felt pretty stupid stood there on one leg, balancing on a scrunched up towel, with my eyes closed.
– Each time I went, the range of motion in my ankle either didn’t change from the last time, or got marginally better. Either way, not enough to start running again. This meant more time off from running.
– Christmas came and I was keen to get running. I took my family up to Scotland that Christmas and Will would be there too. It would have been really nice to go and hit some snowy trails. Sadly, that was not going to be the case. My next appointment wasn’t until the first week in January so I didn’t dare run a step just in case it put me back anymore.

I had a nice Christmas break with the family then headed back down South and, later that week, went to my appointment. I was allowed to run again! However, to make sure that my ankles were strong enough, I had to take it carefully. Starting with scheduled 10 minute runs and getting longer if I felt alright. Before too long, I was back up to 40+ minute runs and feeling alright. Knowing that my motivation is helped by having an event to train for, I signed up for…

 

…Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. Hey, why not!

Bagging me that free hoodie!

A couple of weeks after the Duck ‘n’ Dash, Dean was still speaking to me, and it was time for the 3rd Sprint in the series. Free hoodie time! N.b. We all know that if you’re paying for races that things aren’t actually free – but it’s nice to think that you’re getting something for you efforts.

Will was back again for this race; however, he was doing the standard distance, instead. Same as the first race, he came to mine the day before, collected our race numbers, drove the bike route, checked our kit, ate copious amounts of spag and salmon, then headed off early the next morning. Once we had finished setting up our transition areas, we headed off to the waterside. Because he was doing the standard race, he would be starting in the swim group after mine. My group was called into the water and then set off. Claire arrived shortly afterwards, as is tradition, and watched as I came out of the water. Again, the cycle was pretty standard – except for one thing… I had been concentrating on my hill work so when the big one appeared in the middle of the lap, I was ready. I got into a lower gear during the slight incline and spun my legs out a little to make sure they were nice and loose. Before I hit the bottom, I actually went up a couple of gears. This required a decent amount of push on the pedals but was a comfortable level for me to do for a period of time. There were quite a few people on this hill so to get past them, I need some immediate power. I geared up one more time, stood up out of my saddle, and went for it. I was up that hill in no time at all! I had overtaken so many other riders and even a few with the fancy tri-bars who had whizzed past me earlier on when it was flatter. It felt awesome. At the top of the hill, I made sure not to slow down so I hit the gears up some more, tucked down onto the drops and pedaled like fury. I did this for a good 4-5 minutes before finding my race gear again and taking some ‘active recovery’. I also had a gel and a good glug of drink. A few of the tri-bar riders past me eventually but it took a fair amount of time for them to catch up.
Back at transition, I put my bike back and grabbed my running kit. Like at the Duck ‘n’ Dash, I went for the sockless option for running. It saved a bit of time and wasn’t too uncomfortable over the fairly short distance. Now I was used to running (much more than I was at the start!) I got on fairly well. Still only managed a 30 minute 5k but that’s just the pace the running gods gave me. Having said that, this was a full run – no stopping! I did feel, a few times, that I should stop and check my ankle again as it was not feeling great but I wanted to run at least one race without stopping. So I kept going. Coming down the finish line, I finished in 1:43:16. Two and a half minute off race 2; 11 and a half from race 1! I was more than happy with those numbers! Even more happy with my new hoodie!

I joined my family and we got ready for Will to come in off the bike leg. My ankle was complaining a lot so I just took off my shoes and walked around without anything on them for a while. It felt really nice having the grass on my feet. I didn’t think at the time that this could potentially be a feasible way of sorting my problems.
As Will was doing double my distances (and we were a similar speed on the bike) I knew we had a bit of time to wait. We had to wait a little longer than expected because he got a flat part way round his second lap. I’m still to have that issue (touch wood). When he eventually turned up, I got to join in with the cheering! It’s great fun. He wore his running trainers on the bike so was a speedy transition then off he went on the run. Being a runner, he completed it with ease. We watched as he passed other runners, even lapping a few.
Great celebrations at the end as we had now both done what we had come for and, to top it off, it was a lovely warm day.

Now, what did I want to do next? I know, get that ankle fixed!!

Time for the obligatory post-race photo!

Did someone say open water?

A few weeks before the race, my brother mentioned that Lidl or Aldi (I can never remember which one’s which) were doing a triathlon/ cycling sale and that they had tri-suits available for £15. Bargain! So I bought one for me and one for him then went home and eagerly tried it on. I was looking like a real professional. That is, if the professional in question was a professional pie-eater comically squeezed into a skin-tight one-piece. Nonetheless, it felt good. I wore it to swimming the next week then, halfway through a length (I was doing quite a few by now!), I made the link between open water swimming and the need of a wet-suit. I’m not sure if it was the tri-suit that triggered this thought or if the weird looks I was getting was making me want to cover up, but I knew that I needed to get one. I’m not sure why it went so long without putting 2 and 2 together. Not only did I need a wet-suit, but also I needed some experience of swimming outside of a swimming pool. To remedy this, I went on the hunt online for a wetsuit and somewhere to swim outside.

The wet-suit world is much larger than I was expecting. Also, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a surf wet-suit which is definitely not something you want to try and swim in. Swimming wet-suits are specifically designed to have thinner neoprene under the arms to allow for a wider range of motion, and they tend to have thicker neoprene in the shins so that it helps to hold your legs up, giving you a better position in the water. After a good few hours of looking online, I gave up. There were too many wetsuits to choose from and the only place I could find for outside swimming were some outdoor pools (and after the weird looks I got wearing a tri-suit in a swimming pool, I can’t imagine what it would be like to wear a full wet-suit!). What I had found, however, was a triathlon shop (Trisports) in Letchworth Garden City which was only about 15 minutes away. I immediately got up and drove there. When I got there, I explained my predicament and that I may or may not continue with triathlon past this point so I was advised to get an entry level wet-suit. I followed their advice and tried on the suit (Zone 3 Advance, perhaps? I can’t quite remember). It fit well so I went ahead and bought it, along with some nice new goggles and some lube. It sounds funny, but some form of suit-lube is crucial when it comes to swimming in a wet-suit, unless you like chafing. As I was buying the suit, I saw a flyer for the ‘Duck ‘n’ Dash’, an aquathlon organised by local triathlon group, Freedom Tri. It turns out the club have a good relationship with Trisports so I asked a few questions and found out that they do proper open water swimming in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesy. What a stroke of fate! As soon as I got home, I found their website and enquired about swimming with them.
After exchanging emails for a week or so, I was invited to join them at the Blue Lagoon to watch one of their internal aquathlons. They have various club races during the season. It gave me the chance to meet some of the club members and to see if it’s the kind of club I see myself joining. Their tagline is “Hertfordshire’s friendliest triathlon club” and they definitely lived up to it. I had a great morning! Watching everyone setting off in a mass start; swimming a lap of “the pit”, as it’s lovingly known; remove their wet-suits; run up and out of the gates and off on the 5k run. Apart from all the standard safety rules everyone has to follow, there was one particular rule which, if broken, would mean immediate disqualification. You MUST high-five everyone. If you go past a single person without a high-five, be they spectating, racing, or otherwise, you will be marked with a big fat ‘D’ on the time-sheet. It really brought a sense of fun to the race and after about 4 or 5 high-fives, I knew that this was the club for me. So I signed up and mentally prepared myself for swimming in “the pit”.
Due to insurance and liability reasons, there were certain things you had to do before going in the pit: you had to be able to swim at least 900m unaided; be a member of the club; have an induction swim with one of the swim leads; and sign a waiver. After sorting all of this, I found a swim lead who was able to take me out on my first swim. Due to my lack of planning, or failure to think about swimming outside, the first they could fit me in for my induction swim was Saturday June 6th 2015. The day before the race. I made it around, though had to stop several times (there are buoys marking the route – useful as hovering spots). I had done over 900m in the pool, once or twice, but it was very different in the open water. Even though the wet-suit gave me added buoyancy, I still felt quite uncomfortable being so far from an edge and in such deep water (apparently there’s an old double-decker bus down at the bottom for the local diving club to play around in). When I got out of the water, though, I felt great. I was comfortable in my ability to swim and really glad that I had done some open water swimming before the race. Now it was time to go home, carbo-load and get some rest.