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  • Writer's pictureMark

IRONMAN Hamburg 2021 - Dan's journey to his first ever triathlon!

Early this year a mutual friend put us in touch, and in February we arranged a telephone chat. My approach was to provide some guidance, as I really thought Dan was mad.

IRONMAN Frankfurt was booked, only 21 weeks away, the pools were closed due to Covid and this would be Dan’s first triathlon and Marathon. Oh, and during the conversation it was disclosed that both knees were painful, due to running the previous few days.

However, as the conversation progressed it became clear how passionate and committed Dan was in achieving his dream of becoming an IRONMAN. He had already considered how training could be fitted into his already busy life. As the boss of his own company, working hours could be flexed for the coming months. The other bosses, his family, had also bought into Dan’s dream and supported his journey. Time was not on our side, but time available to train was good. By the end of the conversation I was sold and we agreed to start the journey.

First priority was to diagnose the knee pain. This was swiftly achieved by a visit to my local physiotherapist, an overuse injury due to the previous week’s runs. A gait analysis identified a low cadence and prominent heel strike. Rehab exercises were prescribed along with a ban on running until the pain settled.

A Garmin watch, a smart trainer and Zwift subscription were purchased, TrainingPeaks setup and the journey began. Daily rehab exercises and easy Zwift rides made up the first two weeks of training before introducing treadmill walk/run sessions.

The treadmill sessions gradually increased in frequency and duration until we were at a stage to increase intensity. During this time we worked on increasing Dan’s cadence for a given pace, to reduce stride length and heel strike and reducing the stress on his knees. The knees were still not happy, especially with speed work, however hill efforts seemed to be more agreeable.

It became apparent that the knees were going to be the limiting factor and required training to be structured to provide appropriate recovery, but also enough conditioning for the Marathon.

Zwift was a great training aid, especially in the cold and dark winter / spring months. Dan got out in the real World as much as possible and rode with a supportive group of friends on his longer rides, although they seemed to stop for coffee every time the distance got beyond 90km!

Zwift provided the focussed sessions to improve functional threshold power and muscular endurance, and real World rides provided the motivation to keep going when all you feel like doing is stopping and developed Dan’s aerobic endurance.

As the pools were closed due to Covid, strength and conditioning exercises were scheduled to prepare Dan’s body for the demands of swimming as soon as the pools opened. The doors opened mid-April, 10 weeks before the event, and Dan hit the water. Dan’s swimming style was very much all or nothing and as soon as the pace was slowed, technical weaknesses become apparent.

As with the running, video provided the ability to remotely analyse, feedback and develop training sessions to address the key issues, primarily breathing and body position. Over the coming weeks progress was made. A wetsuit was purchased and at the beginning of May Dan ventured out for his first ever open water swim. I’ll let Dan’s TrainingPeaks activity comments tell the story.

“You’re going to laugh at this, I had a brainwave to go swimming at Chipstead Lake when it was very windy and boy oh boy it was cold. I swam a full lap which they had marked out with buoys then exited the water sharpish. It was toooooooo cold and way tooooooooo windy.”

Thankfully things improved as the weeks went by, but little did we know it was good training for the event!

Relaxing and slowing stroke rate down remained our focus, and the wetsuit did a great job at correcting Dan’s body position. In June we met for the first time and went for a swim at The SHAC, near Reigate. This is a great lake to coach as it’s shallow around most of the lap. It was a lovely sunny day and we spent 45 mins focussing on relaxing, breathing and gradually increasing the distance covered before needing to stop. I left before Dan, who wanted to spend more time practising. I watched Dan swim two complete laps without stopping (c. 800m) and left with a big smile on my face. The swim had fallen into place.

Soon after Dan successfully completed the Dartford Bridge Standard Distance triathlon as a test event.

With just a few weeks to go to Frankfurt, Covid and travel logistics threw a spanner in the works. With the training journey all but complete, an alternative event needed to be found. Hamburg was identified and the entry was transferred. This gave us an additional two training blocks and reduced the pressure and concern about the knees. The plan was revised and a less steep ramp to the maximum distance created. One of the additional weeks created by the change of event was lost due to illness, but this forced a week’s worth of recovery for the knees, there’s always a positive!

The rest of the training plan went well. Nutrition for the long sessions had been sorted. A kit list created of what to take to Germany. The strategy for the event was agreed. The courses had been reviewed, along with the schedule of administration ahead of the event.

All went to plan on the journey over and soon there was nothing to do other than get a good night’s sleep and then swim 3.9km, ride 180km and run 42.2km. At around 7.30am Dan was off. The weather was cool, wet and windy and the water temperature a rather cool 14c. It took a while to acclimatise, but Dan soon got into a rhythm and completed the swim in 1h23. Transition one included a long 500m run and then the bike leg started. The wind and rain made it a very demanding both physically and mentally. Each of the three laps drew on all of Dan’s strength to keep going, but also save enough for the run, and with this being Dan’s first long course triathlon there was no way of knowing how much to leave in the tank. There was relief at the end of the final bike lap and after a little over 6h Dan entered transition for the final time. A change into dry clothes and on with the running shoes. Dan had saved enough in the tank, as each of the four laps were covered in an increasingly shorter time. Finally, the last lap was completed, and Dan crossed the finish line in a great time of 12h17m. Goal achieved!

Congratulations Dan you are an IRONMAN. An amazing achievement through your dedication and determination. Not a single training session missed due to lack of commitment.

I’m so please we agreed to complete the journey together, as it’s been a real pleasure to support you achieve your dream.

Stats (for those that are interested!)

Training Hours: 320 (mid Feb – August)

Total training distance: swim 80km, bike 4000km, run 650km.

Longest: swim 3600m, bike 174km, run 31km

75% of all workouts at a low intensity.

Training timing breakdown by discipline: swim 15%, bike 50%, run 25% and the remainder S&C.

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