For the last seven years I have spent a lot of time focusing on long distance running and in recent years I have added cycling into the mix. During the summer of 2018, I was thinking of a challenge to complete in 2019. I fell in love with cycling while training for a London to Paris bike ride, and with a background in running, it was time to combine the two sports. I decided to add a third element to my challenge and signed up to complete Austria’s 70.3 Ironman.
A 70.3 IM is half the distance of a full Ironman and consists of a 1.2 mile (1.9km) swim, a 56 mile (90km) bike ride and it finishes with running a half marathon (13 miles/21 km). At the time of signing up I was confident that I could complete the bike and run distances, but I was unsure if I could add another discipline and complete all three back to back.
Application forms sent off, fees paid and coach found (Riak.fitness) it was time to start training. The slight issue was that, apart from messing around on a lilo while on holiday I hadn’t swam in a pool for years. This was a challenge in itself.
As a child, I swam for a local swimming club a couple of times a week, but as I got older this became less and less. In more recent times, two years prior to signing up to the IM I was a member of a gym with a pool and did not use it once.
So to say I was worried about the swimming element of the task ahead of me was an understatement. I wasn’t afraid, and never have been, afraid of being in the water or my ability to swim, but I was afraid of my motivation to go to the pool week after week for the next 8 months.
In September 2018 I took the plunge! And went for my first “proper” swim. I thought I had a good level of fitness but swimming takes a lot more out of you than running and cycling. After completing a few drills I then attempted to do 2 x 400m. This was tough – I managed to complete the first 400m unbroken but during the second one, my lungs were burning, my breathing had no rhythm and I could feel the lactic acid build up in my arms! I had to stop after 200m and have a long rest. After getting out of the pool I felt severely light headed and quite dizzy… I was not feeling positive about the training sessions to come.
As time went on I could feel my technique improving and I could see my times quickening, albeit very slightly. However the one thing that remained constant was that, unlike getting out on my bike for a ride around Richmond Park, I was never excited about going swimming.
As my training progressed, my programme started to include two swimming sessions a week. I definitely missed a fair few, but I tried my hardest to stick to the programme. I have thought about what kept me going to the pool week after week. I was exhausted, fed up with carrying around numerous bags of training kit and honestly just couldn’t be bothered.
However the main thing that kept me going was the fear of failure. This fear is often something that stops people achieving their potential. And it is definitely something that has held me back from trying new things in the past. But in this instance I was already committed. I had to keep going. I didn’t want to not complete any part of my IM, especially the first and shortest part.
How did I keep up the training?
Every time I went swimming, it was one less training session I had to do in the future. I even wrote out the number of sessions left in the last few months and started striking them off every completed session. This worked for me for me for a couple of reasons.
- I could see it – it made it real and as the number got smaller I felt better
- The physical action of striking something off a list, along with accomplishing something hard, was a good feeling
In February/March time, there were three weeks when I didn’t do any swimming; I just couldn’t find the motivation to get to the pool. After finally getting back in the water, the first sessions were incredibly tough and I immediately regretted my decision to have a few weeks off. With only a few months to go until the event I vowed to swim at least once a week until race day.
When I was struggling for motivation I stopped thinking about the training and started to think about what my end goal was and why was I taking part in this challenge.
- I wanted to do something different
- I wanted to push myself and see what I could achieve
- I wanted a 70.3 IM medal!!
Thinking about my end goal regularly helped me pinpoint what I needed to do to get there. I wanted to make the race day as easy as possible and to do that I knew that I needed to nail my preparation and get my training in.
One question I kept asking myself was:
- Is what I’m doing now going to help me in the future?
What can you do now to help you achieve your goals quicker or make your final goal easier? This can be applied to anything in life – personal, working life, fitness etc…
I was so glad I persevered with my swimming training, although I found the swim tough during race day, I am confident it was a whole lot easier than it would have been if I hadn’t done as much training.
Moral of the story – perseverance and consistency pays off. Keep pushing and you will get to where you want to be. When you are struggling to get up early for the gym, or get changed after work, just think, if you put it off time and time again how much longer will it take you to get to your goals?
If I can do something I hate more than 100 times in 8 months then you can too… using ‘the fear’ to help push you out of your comfort zone will enable you to achieve great things.