An expedition to climb Mount Everest starts with an eight-day slog during which you climb to about 18,000 feet. Three of those days are used to acclimatise to avoid altitude sickness. When you finish the eight days of hard work, all you have done is reach Base Camp; the place from which you start the ascent of Everest. Eight days of hard labour just get you to the starting point.
My training feels a bit like that at the moment. On 1 March I plan to start a 20-week Ironman training program and right now all I am doing is training to start training. The concept seems absurd but I have had a sneaky look at some of the later stages of Ironman training and it is quite heavy duty. My aim is to get to 1 March feeling comfortable swimming 1,500m, cycling 50-60 miles and running a half-marathon. Then the volume training starts!!! The coaches call what I am doing “base training”. I have several other names for it.
By far the biggest challenge in my base training hasn’t been the increasing volume but the weather. Wednesday was a 6-mile tempo run; 2 x 2.5miles at 8.00 min/mile pace with a half a mile at resting pace between them. There was no chance of avoiding the rain on Wednesday so I donned a hideous waterproof running jacket that the organisers of the London Marathon gave me instead of a ballot place in 2012 and got rained on.
Thursday was a 2km swim set so a break from the elements if not from the water. On Friday I spent the day watching the weather. It wasn’t a case of finding a window in which I could run 8.5 miles without getting wet, it was a more about finding the 90 minute period in which I was going to get least drenched. I took my chances at about 4.00pm and only got completely soaked.
On Saturday I went out on a club bike ride (in fact I joined two club rides together) of about 60 miles. Just two of us turned up for the 8.30am ride – my club mate Judit and me. Guess why? Early on we were being blown sideways across the road, and then sandblasted with horizontal hail driven by 30 mph winds. For the first time ever I genuinely thought I was going to be blown off my bike. We returned, a little windswept, in time for the later 10.15am ride which took us down a flooded Bourne Valley in 6-8 inches of water. Did I mention that we got soaked by frequent downpours? Not your average morning of cycling – four hours, sixty miles and four seasons!
The weather makes training much harder. By the end of the bike ride my cold and wet limbs were much more tired than usual. Two long, hard, cold sessions in two days had trashed my legs and so I took an impromptu rest day on Sunday where I did nothing more strenuous than bacon sandwiches and slopestyle (wathcing!). How great a sport is that – and those commentators, brilliant. Can they do Wimbledon please?
On Monday I was back on my feet for a club track session. This week was a challenging pyramid session – 400m, 600m, 800m, 600m, 400m at about 6.30 mins/mile pace with a walking 200m rest between each. But by some miracle it didn’t rain – in fact there was a clear sky, which meant temperatures were soon below zero.
You get the picture. I am training quite hard and it is being made much harder by the weather. And when I get to the end of February, hopefully in good shape, all I have qualified to do is to start training harder. Hopefully the weather will be more understanding by then.
With two and a half weeks to go, I am already tired. But I am really enjoying it and still very excited by what is to come in the summer.