THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF BEING A NOVICE TRI-ATHLETE

Please take time to read Steve English’s blog i’m really proud of this guy and think his story should be shared and he has earned his place on the OTCF Race Team. Keep the Journey going Mr English

So I am stood in transition with a box full of equipment (most of which I would later learn I do not need) thinking ‘what the f*** do I do now’ and less than half an hour later I was starting the swim in my first ever triathlon. I have now done eight triathlons and hit rock bottom; several times; but also had some high points too.

steve eng swim

I first got into triathlon when I began working at VUE who held the Emergency Services Triathlon Championships in Nottingham and after watching the race in 2012 I decided I would enter the triathlon the following year in order to try and lose weight. At my heaviest I weighed in at over 26 and a half stone and so I joined a gym and started training.

The first time I ran I managed to do 300m on the treadmill before feeling so sick and dizzy I could barely walk. I was too fat to swim at that stage and I didn’t own a bike. I got a PT who told me after most sessions there is no way on earth I would be able to do a triathlon in 12 months. My training was unorganised and sporadic as expected really as I conflicted with my PT who told me to forget triathlon and concentrate on kettle bells when I felt I should be learning to run. My running slowly improved and 6 months before the triathlon I went swimming for the first time since primary school. I only managed to swim 40m (badly), I was in trouble but I kept going with it and eventually borrowed a bike to train on.

As the date loomed closer I became very anxious about the triathlon, particularly what to do in transitions and I feared embarrassing myself. Steve Clark at that point suggested I should do Grantham Triathlon as a practice and to help calm my nerves ahead of the main event. I also joined a different gym, ditched the PT and joined the gym’s triathlon club less than two months before my triathlon.


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The triathlon club holds various mini triathlons throughout the year and I decided to give it a go see what I was letting myself in for and I was outclassed, finishing in last position. It was a wake up call.

The morning came for the Grantham Triathlon and I was sh**ing myself. I remember standing in transition with half a suitcase in my box bewildered. I was shown how to lay my stuff out and as I was in the first wave (being a slow git) I was soon racing ready or not. I finished the race in 1:35:15 which I was happy with; lets face it I finished my first triathlon and I learned so much. I felt much more prepared for the Emergency Services Triathlon.

Then the big day came. Wake up call number two was looming and I didn’t even see it coming. I was completely outclassed; as I came out my first open water swim into T1 I could barely stand up to the point the marshall almost pulled me out the race but I had not trained all year to be pulled out so early so I was helped on my bike by two marshalls and with a helping push of I went. I knew a lot of people in the race and got a lot of encouragement around the course. As I started my last bike lap it became apparent that I was in last position and I was devestated. I hit rock bottom on that last lap round. I eventually got into T2 and my cramp was even worse I couldn’t walk. I then saw Steve Clark (who had finished) and as I limped out of T2 I saw another cyclist. It meant I wasn’t last and I ran through the pain. I was eventually caught just as the finish line came into sight; I was devastated, I was the last person to finish the course with a time of 1:44:39 and I was more than a little embarrassed. I then watched Steve Clark on the podium and I asked him about his triathlon coaching; it was time to go home or get serious as I did not ever want to finish last again and soon I began training with Off That Couch Fitness www.offthatcouchfitness.co.uk.

This was a turning point. I had a structured plan that I agreed with and it felt right which combined with my new found tri club meant I also had some weekly group sessions so I was no longer just training by myself. I began seeing instant improvements in my times and performance over my next few triathlons Salford Triathlon (1:37:02) and North West Triathlon (1:26:02) and I began climbing through the ranks within the tri club and I was no longer the slowest.

My last triathlon of the season was the South Manchester Triathlon and I expected nothing too different. Everything felt fine, I was first out the swim in my wave and everything was well. Then on the bike I came across Mt Everest, the hill beat me and I ended up walking up the hill, despite this I came off the bike into T2 only a little past my target time and everything was still achievable until on the run course I saw something I was not wanting to see; a hill. The hill finished me off; I ended up with a very poor time. It was another blow and I finished my season off on a low point.

This year (2014) started on a high when I completed the Grantham Sprint Distance Triathlon over 20 minutes faster than when I completed the course last year way ahead of expectations. This was my first real opportunity to compare my times and progress since I began training with Off That Couch Fitness so it was important that I had a good race. In addition it was my first race in the team colours and ‘didn’t let the team down’ especially on home soil and in front of the man himself. Luckily I had a great race and my swim was on target and despite the rain and a horrendous T1 section I managed to get off the bike ahead of my target time. As I came out of T2 Steve Clark gave me a motivational shout and I felt great and just ran like my life depended on it finishing with a time of 1:14:53 which was 20:22 faster than my 2013 time. I was expecting to be faster but not that much faster, to say I was delighted would be an understatement and I felt that perhaps by next year I could be knocking on the door of respectable times by next year.

I then went on to do Nottingham and I was very confident going into the race where I was humiliated the year before. The swim started well and I began using another competitor as a pace maker as I was swimming well with my head in the water pulling ahead then I was panicking in turn messing up my+ breathing then falling behind until I composed myself then catching up only to repeat the process. In the end I just swam without my head in the water and soon left my pace maker behind for good. The bike in Nottingham is completely flat which is ideal for me and I managed to hit a PB putting me in a good position for the run. As I came off the bike cramp hit me badly in the legs which slowed me down massively for the first section over the hill but as soon as I got onto the flat the cramp disappeared like magic and I run like the wind and recovered my race. As I came close to the finish I miss read the clock to read 1:21:00 something and as I got closer I realised I actually read it right. It was fantastic and I finished in 1:22:11 which was 22:28 faster than last year.

I had also finished the triathlon club mini triathlon in 4th place (out of 20) after finishing last exactly 1 year ago. At this stage I was on fire and everything seemed to be slotting into place.

Next up was the big one. Llandudno Sea Triathlon, a number of firsts for me, first full distance, first sea swim, first mountain ride. Who knows what I was thinking.. I thought I was prepared for it and ready to take it on, the distance didn’t worry me but the mountain did. Still being a fat git I had the disaster of the South Manchester Triathlon in the back of my mind and I knew this race was always going to be the toughest yet.

The week started badly with an overnight stay in hospital with severe dehydration just 6 days before the race. This prompted everyone who knew me to instruct me not to race. This changed the game for me as the race changed from ‘my big race’ to a ‘guilty secret’ and I only told a select few people I was intending to still race. I began losing weight in the week running up to the race losing 14lbs in 5 days but I felt I had to race.

The sea swim was tough, I drank far too much water and I began to physically heave in the water. My words to my entourage in T1 was ‘never again’ as I jumped on my bike. My first lap over the Great Orme was hard and slow but not unachievable doing my first lap in 24 minutes; the downhill was purely about guts and on my first lap I was lacking some. My second lap effectively ended my race when my rear wheel seized up and 3 of my rear wheel spokes snapped causing my rear wheel to wobble like crazy. A marshall helped me botch up my bike so I could limp back to transition and save me a walk. The bike was hard to ride and took a huge amount of pedalling just to move but as I came in towards transition I couldn’t stand the thought of forfeiting the race and carried on round the course. It became a very slow and hard process but I wanted to finish. I made it up the Orme a third time (although it was much harder this time) as my bike was getting progressively worse but I went for it. The Orme then beat me on the 4th and final lap and I had to walk part way up I limped back round to T2 with a bike time of 2:02:47 and in last place.

I was shattered at this stage from the tough bike ride but something made me run out of T2, I had to finish the race but I simply could not find the pace I needed. I managed to finish the course in last place with a very disappointing time of 4:10:30 which was very embarrassing. I thought my days of coming last were behind me, but it was yet another humiliation. To make things worse the paramedics wouldn’t leave me alone as I was vomiting and showing symptoms of dehydration again. I didn’t deserve to be wearing the team colours. I let everyone down.

I sent a text saying the words ‘My mid life crisis is dead. over. finished. kaput. It was embarrassing. Never again.’

Maybe that was a little premature. Triathlon has undoubtedly changed my life for the better, I now weigh under 17 stone for the first time in a long time (over 9 and a half stone lighter than my heaviest point). In all I have lost over 33.5cm (13.2 inches) off my ‘belly button’ waist measurement and over 16cm (6.3 inches) from my chest measurement and I have gone from a 4XL down to an XL. So perhaps another bad race shouldn’t put me off.

I would certainly still recommend triathlon to other people who wanted to lose weight, but it is important to get the training routine right otherwise you are going to progress very slowly and for me Off That Couch Fitness works.

by Steve English

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