Embrace Sports Algarve Triathlon Holiday – Day 6

Day 6 schedule
Day 6 schedule

After the previous day’s failure, I hoped that I’d be able to pull myself together for the triathlon, but I knew that it would be a challenge – I was the slowest runner in the group and one of the weakest swimmers. Because I was worried, I asked Graeme who my partner would be. He told me that I would be partnered with Stu, which had pros and cons. I know that Stu is one of the stronger swimmers and runners, but I felt sad that he had to be saddled with me just because I am his wife. I told him that, but he said he didn’t mind… however, I know that he is competitive at heart.

I dithered about whether I should do the aquathlon, or whether I would be better off joining the runners for a session at the track, so I spoke to Graeme about my doubts. Another of my fears was that I don’t like running in glasses. I’ve only done it twice: at an aquathlon in Eastleigh and at an aquathlon in Penzance – both times it felt odd and I felt queasy. Graeme agreed that if I would be happier putting in contact lenses in transition, then that’s what I should do. (I’ve been considering having laser eye surgery, but I save my thoughts on that for another post!)

Before the aquathlon
Before the aquathlon © Embrace Sports

We went to the beach and the route was explained. We set up our transition area on the deck of a cafe, and Graeme drew out a box to show the handover point for each team.

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Stu swam first for us and made a fairly speedy transition from the sea swim to the run.

Stu's transition
Stu’s transition

I managed to take quite a few photographs of the first wave of swimmers coming into transition.

Peet's transition
Peet’s transition

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Jenny 2
Jenny at the aquathlon
Jenny at the aquathlon

After I finished taking photos, I thought I should have a quick dip in the sea to get acclimatised, but as I got to the water’s edge, I realised that Stu was heading back down the cliff path, so I had to dash back up to the transition box. I then ran back down to the sea and threw myself in. Unfortunately, the water was much colder than I was expecting it to be, so I found it difficult to swim. One of the best tips that I was given by my running/tri coach was to spend some time floating face down when getting into open water, as this helps me to acclimatise quickly, but there was no time for that. I realised that I was breathing raggedly, but I didn’t want to let Stu down, so I pressed on.

When I got near to the edge, I started to unzip my wetsuit, so that I could flood it with water to make it easier to take off. I then ran up the beach with my hat and goggles still on. In transition, I put in my contact lenses, removed my wetsuit and hat and put on my trainers. I then started on the run.

I knew that I would be breathless, as I’ve struggled to run after swimming in the other aquathlons that I’ve done, but this was compounded by having to run up the cliff path. Hills are not my friend. There was a brief respite before another longer hill. the path then flattened a bit, but it was a gradual uphill until the turnaround point. All of the time, I was struggling to breathe and then I looked at my watch and saw just how slowly I was running. I felt such a sense of shame and disappointment that yet again, I was doing about 8 minutes per km. I never run that slowly at home and I had hoped that I would be doing much better. This made me feel upset and my ragged breathing got worse when I couldn’t stop myself from bursting into tears. That annoyed me even more as I had no real reason to cry, but I couldn’t stop myself. I finally reached the turnaround point and the run started to get better, but it still felt bad. I then made it back to the steps by the cliff and knew that Stu would be waiting for me on the beach.

After I tagged Stu, I spoke to Kat and said that I wasn’t sure that I could do another lap. She suggested that Alan could swim for me, but it wasn’t the swim that had bothered me. We agreed that I would swim with Alan and that he would then do the run. This made me feel slightly better, although I was still very angry with myself for being so useless. I had a think about my options and decided that perhaps if Alan were able to ‘run’ with me then perhaps I would be able to hold myself together a bit better and it wouldn’t be as bad. I then approached Graeme and suggested my new plan to him. He agreed that it would be OK, so I felt a bit better, although I was still annoyed with myself that I wasn’t mentally strong enough to run a few kilometres without someone else.

One of the lessons that I learned at the aquathlon is that getting a wet (and slightly sandy) wetsuit on is not an easy task. It took almost all of the time that Stu was swimming and running for me to reclothe myself! I then went down onto the beach in a slightly happier frame of mind. It wasn’t long before I had to set off on my swim. the water temperature seemed warmer and I was more relaxed, so it felt good… however, there were other swimmers who started quite a long time after me and almost all of them finished before me.YlJW6ghIZJXs2iVpsrHFVrMrcH-LGzTauOAmieSafws

My transition was much slower than it had been the previous time, but I was focussing on calming my breathing down, so that the run would not feel so bad. Alan was ready and waiting by the time I had my contact lenses in, and we set off up the cliff path together. It felt easier the second time and my Garmin showed that I was moving at a much better pace. By the time we got to the top of the hill, I was managing 5-something per kilometre, which made me feel much happier and I felt able to maintain the pace. Although Alan was ‘pacing’ me, he didn’t really have to say or do too much – I just felt so much more relaxed.

In the end, I was the last person to finish the aquathlon, so team Smith was last overall, but I was proud that I managed to pull myself together to finish the event. My run splits show that I did the second 3km almost 3 minutes faster than the first one, so it was a negative split to be proud of.

First run of the aquathlon: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/402161312

First run of the aquathlon
First run of the aquathlon

Second run of the aquathlon: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/402161323

Second run of the aquathlon
Second run of the aquathlon

In the afternoon, we went to a beautiful 50m outdoor pool for a swimming technique session. I’ve never seen a 50m pool before, let alone swum in one, so I was quite excited. As November is most definitely the off-season in the Algarve, the entire complex was deserted, which gave it quite an eerie and abandoned feel.


We all got into the pool, which was surprisingly cold. It always seems strange to me that the sea can be so much colder than a small still body of water. Our first drill was to practise sighting, using a technique called ‘crocodile eyes’. Coach Ant taught me to sight by looking forwards after taking a breath and before putting my head back in the water, so I found this really difficult to do. I usually breathe every three strokes and if I’m not going too fast then every 5 strokes, but I found it difficult to raise my head without taking a breath, so I don’t think I managed the drill very successfully. I should probably have asked what the timing should have been with sighting and breathing, but I didn’t think of that until much later!

Graeme explaining the session
Graeme explaining the session © Embrace Sports

We then practised drafting, which required people to get into their swimming pace groups. I was partnered up with Andy and Jennie, but it didn’t work very well as we all swim at different speeds. We had to practice drafting off someone’s feet first of all, before practising drafting off someone’s hip. It felt quite intrusive swimming so close to someone’s side and I’m not sure that I could feel the benefit, so I think that I would be more likely to try to draft off someone’s feet… if there’s ever anyone swimming at about the right speed for me!!!

Next, Graeme got out an inflatable buoy to get Andy to demonstrate how to turn. unfortunately, the buoy had other plans, so in the end, Andy moved it out of the way and demonstrated the technique without it. It involved swimming up to the point and then rolling onto your back for a second before moving off again at a right angle. At the time, I thought I’d got it, but thinking about it now, I’m not sure that it’s fully lodged in my brain. I’ll have to get Stuart to practise it with me in the pool.

It was then my turn to be filmed swimming by Kat. She said that I could do half a length and turn around, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could swim 50m with a reasonable stroke. I realised that I started too quickly, but pushed on and finished the first length. On the way back, I tried to slow down and think about all of the things that Chris (my swimming instructor) has told me about not raising my head  when breathing, as well as remembering to use my legs, rather than just letting them trail behind me. I thought I’d done OK, but now I’ve seen the video, I can really see where I need to work on my technique.

When I returned to the others, they were involved in some handicapped races. I was the first to set off in the second wave, and I was quite pleased that I wasn’t last to finish, until I realised that this meant that I would have to go again. We did a couple more until there were just three of us left: Claire, Peet and I. Graeme came over and spoke to me and told me to swim a few strokes and then get out. I was a bit confused, but agreed to do so. I set off with Claire and Peet starting after me. When I went to get out, I realised that the side of the pool was quite high, so Graeme had to pull me out and I was then told to run to the other end of the pool and get in again. I got in a little bit too far from the end and had to swim very hard to ensure that I wasn’t beaten by Peet. Meanwhile, Claire had done the same on the other side. Peet had been swimming in the centre of the pool so he didn’t notice a thing and thought that he had been beaten fairly. It wasn’t until our evening meal that he was told what had happened! It was so funny!

Kiwi BBQ
Kiwi BBQ © Embrace Sports

The evening’s meal was a Kiwi BBQ, prepared by Graeme and Kat. The runners had had a talk/Q&A session about planning the training, which I had intended to go along to, but I was busy prepping veg and I think the rest did me good. As an alternative, the triathletes got to ‘Grill Graeme whilst grilling’. It was a relatively informal chat in the twilight by the barbeque where Graeme gave honest answers to anything we threw at him. I took notes as I thought it would be helpful for me to be able to refer back to Graeme’s pearls of wisdom:

  • Snack little and often.
  • Porridge is a good low GI carb for breakfast.
  • White bread, banana and honey is a good combination if you need to eat something, but are running late for training.
  • If doing a 40-50k ride + brick, avoid high heart rate zones and just have water and salt tablets. This will help to train your body to burn fat.
  • Ensure chocolate milk might be easier calories for you to absorb, if you have digestive problems whilst running.
  • Plan your food 10 days out from an event. Graeme finds it best to avoid fruit for three days before a race. It can be helpful to stock up on salt tablets before an event and ensure that you don’t over hydrate.
  • Malt loaf is good as a snack.
  • Brown rice is ideal the night before race. Suitable vegetables are peas and carrots. A salad made of  tomatoes, avocado and feta with good quality olive oil is also a good option. It is sensible to eat early the day before a big event.
  • Most people consume 250-350 calories per hour on the run, so it is important to replenish your supplies.
  • Remember to do speed work, intervals, hills, tempo etc for all disciplines.
  • The ideal training base is 9 sessions a week: 3 each of speed, strength and endurance – one for each discipline
  • If you plan well, it is possible to do two sessions a day, and this can be especially good training as you will get used to performing well when tired.
  • If training for a marathon as well as triathlons, it is essential to continue with speed work and long runs, but it is possible to get benefits from other sports, so some workouts can be adapted or dropped.
  • Alan also shared some advice about how he improved his cycling by using a power meter. A lot of people use too much energy in the cycle leg of a triathlon and then struggle during the run. Alan works at 70-75% of power for an ironman, with 80% being OK for a 70.3.
  • It is also important to work out your training speed according to your heart rate.
Graeme recommended one book as being a useful companion: Triathlon Science edited by Joe Friel and Jim Vance.
I found it a really informative session, although I’m sure that many more questions will come up as I start to train more and more and gain experience.


2 Responses

  1. Girl – there were tears for me on the Monchique mountain ride. It’s all part of the training and acclimating your body to the rigors you’re putting it through. Kudos to you for sticking it out.

    • Thanks, Heather. I think I need to accept that if I’m going to get myself back to where my running was 18 months ago, I’m going to push hard in every training session and not accept second best. I’ve joined the local tri club this week and am determined to go back and beat that bloody mountain!!!

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