Wow! What an amazing Saturday that was. This post celebrates two extraordinary achievements by two long term ZigZag clients - and shares a little of my own story from the same day.
South Downs Century
Let’s start with the longest as it involved setting off very early in the morning and finishing some twelve hours later, so best to get underway as soon as we can.
Last year duathlete Darren tried his hand at some off-road events in our quest to mix things up and bring back some joy into his sport. A stubborn running injury dampened down any ambitions this year for early season run and sprint duathlon events, yet spurred him on to look for a big mountain bike challenge. And they don’t come much bigger than the South Downs Way.
I drew up a plan to gradually build up the total volume, distances and climbs, taking us to a decision point some six weeks out. The choice was whether to go for the 100km or full 100 mile challenge. Coming from a sprint duathlon background, the 100km would have been an exceptional step up in itself.
With many weeks of solid, consistent training behind him, Darren opted for the full Winchester to Eastbourne ride, with over 12,000 feet of climbing. The last weeks of training upped everything again, including some creative use of commuting to and from work with extra lumps thrown in and the last set of back-to-back long weekend rides. Darren meticulously tested out everything.
I think one of the biggest challenges in preparing for such an extraordinary endurance event is to avoid getting into a downward spiral of fatigue as the miles and hours necessarily increase, taking you beyond what you might have thought possible at the outset.
Hats off to Darren who went into the event as well prepared as anyone could be – albeit I know carrying some doubts about whether the cautious balance and mix of training I’d prescribed would really see him all the way through.
And yes it did and more! When we spoke in our weekly FaceTime Coaching Call he was looking suitably tired and grinning from ear to ear. I’ll leave him to tell his own story. For me though, one aspect is worth briefly retelling here.
A week or so before, we met to talk through what to do when it gets hard (as we knew it most definitely would!). One of these was the practice of switching our focus when we feel overwhelmed by external features such as the sheer distance to be covered or the steep climbs ahead. Switching to more internal, narrow focus points can help you keep pedalling and get through the worst. Interestingly Darren told me that, although ready to do so, at no point did he find himself needing to use this device. Instead for the whole way he drew energy from the wonderful views, from being out there on the constantly winding path through the Downs. How brilliant.
And on to our second intrepid athlete and another stunning location.
Ros came to me for coaching around three years ago, wanting to learn to swim to get into triathlons. Swimming didn’t come easily yet she persevered, at times struggling with the frustrations of seemingly slow progress, of being one of the last out of the water in triathlons. Yet she still put herself forward for events – last year a 1.5km Swim the Lake and this year she’d already doubled up to 3km.
Her big target this year, though, was the Bantham Swoosh – a wonderful 6km swim in Devon, organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society. So a pretty significant step up from anything she’d done before and a big challenge for someone still relatively new to swimming. You can read an Endurance Training Guide I wrote, originally designed for Ros and several other clients new to long open water swims, that is up on the OSS site.
Getting in the long swims for the step up in distance was not going to be easy. The sea is not particularly inviting for a lean marathon runner at the best of times and often too rough to be able to get into a steady rhythm. So we planned most of her long swims in the lovely, spring water fed Pells Pool lido. And I also provided some shorter pool based sessions that worked on extra strength, technique and rhythm.
Again I’ll leave Ros to tell her own story, but there’s another connection to the natural environment that’s worth pointing to. Ros had been pleased to have done that 3km lake swim but also a little deflated at being the final finisher (I don’t use the L word). “How am I going to be able to do twice that distance?” she asked me, “I’m sure to be last.”
However just ten days or so before the Swoosh, Ros went on a swim and hiking break to Snowdonia. This seemed to shift her away from a concern with times and positions and instead connect with the magical wonder of nature (even at its most icy cold).
And, wow, did she do well at the Swoosh! My partner Anne and I waited on the beach to see her in – a dazed grin and look of disbelief at what she’d done. It was also lovely to see her family there, proud, maybe a little taken aback at her extraordinary feat.
And my story
As for me – well I just went for it! At the start they called the elite swimmers to go in first and I held back, joining the wave of still pretty fast swimmers to file our way into the river. Once we were past the first narrow channel and the river opened up I got into a steady rhythm and surprised myself by gradually overtaking one swimmer after another. And so it went on – spotting swimmers ahead and stealthily moving up, drafting, passing, on to the next yellow cap and set of feet.
On and on. 6kms is a long way, you know. As I began to tire I remembered something I’d shared with Ros earlier in the year and that I’d written about in a post on motivation for the Confidence Centred Coaching site: of finding the very best swimmer or runner in ourselves, measured not in times or positions but in the fluency of movement, form and effort all in sync. Keep going with that stroke Mike.
As I looked down into the beautifully clear waters I saw crabs scuttling below, deep green swathes of seaweed swaying in the current; a glimpse to the side to the dense forested banks, the occasional colourful boats; up ahead a splash of feet and yellow caps waiting to be caught. My sighting was a bit rubbish as I got too mesmerised by all around.
And what of times and positions? I have to say I’m still feeling rather chuffed: all that effort and attention to being the best I could be in the moment brought me in just ten minutes behind the fastest swimmer, second in my age group and well inside the top ten per cent – not too bad for an old Grandpa.
On which point, another highlight of a glorious day for me was my son, daughter-in-law and six month old granddaughter showing up unexpectedly. I’m not sure she’ll remember the day but I certainly will! We also met up with Antarctica-bound friend Kat for a campsite barbecue and a long, lazy chat about albatrosses and life in general.
So big congratulations all round to Darren and his support crew, to Ros and her family and, at the risk of immodesty, to me on such a special Saturday.
And of course very big thanks to the wonderful OSS team, to Kate and Kari, to Ian at Level Water and to lovely Anne, Jenni, Tom and Chloe and to ultra-everything Kat for all being there.