As hard as I looked at the schedule for week 7 of my training for the Blenheim Triathlon, I couldn’t see any mention of drinking cold beer, lying by a swimming pool and over eating. But that seemed to be what was heading my way.
This week was the half-term break in English schools and we had arranged to go away with our great friends Miles and Nikki to the Greek island of Corfu. With three kids between us ranging in age from 5-11, a week in the sun next to a swimming pool was just what the doctor ordered….if you were ten. But it wasn’t quite what I had in mind two weeks out from my first triathlon of the season. By the time we departed from Gatwick Airport I had reconciled myself to just the odd run with a hangover. Things couldn’t have been more different and our Greek odyssey turned out to be a mini triathlon camp without any coercion from me.
Miles had been my running partner 20 years ago when both lived in London. We were part of a loose collective of running enthusiasts that went by the grand and slightly misleading name of “The Fulham Flyers” (the Fulham part was true!). Unfortunately a gruesome knee injury had brought Miles to a halt. Since then he has tried other ways of keeping fit, but like me his first love is running. Little did I know that he had been trying out his leg on a running machine recently and so the chance to get the running shoes on in the sun was exactly what he wanted.
Miles’s wife Nikki is a lifelong swimmer. When I first suggested an open water swim in the sea, I could tell by the look on her face that it wasn’t on her bucket list. The word that she had intended to come out of her mouth was “no”, but in a curious vocal mix up, the word that actually came out was “yes”! So with my exercise partners roped in, it was game on.
Our first outing was on the very first day and was a road run. Miles and I had no idea where we were going when we set off – we were just going for a run. We were working our way through a warm up routine, part of which is 30 seconds of skipping, when we passed an old matriarch, dressed all in black, sitting in front of her house watching the world go by. The look on her face was priceless as we skipped past. We laughed imagining her telling her family about these two mad Englishman who wait until the hottest part of the day and then go out for a skip!
We eventually found a loop that brought us back to our villa – almost exactly 5 miles from start to finish. However we discovered the only drawback of having a villa high on a hillside with great views – the hill. Our run had taken us right down to sea level which was fine but it meant the run finished with a solid 1-mile climb up a 10% incline. Pace went out of the window – the challenge became doing it without stopping.
Striking while the iron was hot, we all went to the beach later in the day to a quiet little bay where the sea was flat and calm. Cate can’t run on her knee after an operation last year, the result of a horse riding accident, but even she got the bug and decided to walk to the beach rather than come in the car. While the kids splashed about Nikki and I designed a swim course. It wasn’t complicated – it was to the far jetty and back! Before I had a chance to say ready, steady….Nikki was off. Swimming with a partner is fantastic. No room for being complacent. Afterwards we both claimed that we weren’t racing – both our noses grew longer.
According to my watch our swim course was about 600 metres. Before we had a chance to say we couldn’t possibly do that again, we were off for another lap. By the time we had finished our second lap the kids wanted to be part of it too – so we spent some time all swimming out to a nearby buoy.
1.2km of sea-swim on top of a 5-mile run and everybody bitten by the exercise bug – not a bad first day. If Carlsberg did holidays….!
Miles and I ran the same route together three more times during the week, getting a little faster each time and Miles confirmed his comeback by venturing out once alone. The hardest of our runs was the last one which we did on Saturday in the full glare of the midday sun – probably not our smartest decision. We had to stop half way round and beg a local shopkeeper to give us two bottles of water if we promised to come back later and pay him.
Nikki and I swam every day except the last day averaging about 1.25km a day. The highlight of our swimming was on the last Friday when we rented a small speed boat and all went bay-hopping down the Corfu coast. We ended up swimming between two bays round the rocky headland that separated them. The water was crystal-clear and we were treated to spectacular underwater rock formations and schools of fish darting around beneath us as we swam. A serious swim called for a serious recovery which we did by all having an ice-cream sitting on the wall of the beachside taverna!
The holiday was a real success in every respect. Miles is back into running, Nikki rekindled her love of swimming, Cate gave her leg some serious rehab, the kids all got loads of exercise and for me it was a great week of training; nine sessions in six days. The only confession is that the nutrition program may have deviated slightly from the coaching manual. But a holiday in Corfu isn’t the same without that delicious thirst-quenching cold beer at 6 o’clock and the yummy freshly caught seafood wouldn’t taste the same without a glass of chilled local wine to help it down. We could have done without the free liqueur shot that seemed to appear at the end of each meal in a restaurant – but we didn’t.
Our week away was one of the most unconventional but enjoyable weeks of training I have done. Sadly it is followed by a very conventional light-training week back at home before the Blenheim Tri on Sunday. Is it too much to expect beautiful rock formations and schools of fish in the lake at Blenheim Palace?