Home » Uncategorized » Cotswolds 226 Iron distance triathlon (June 25th 2017) – By Shaun Dowling

Cotswolds 226 Iron distance triathlon (June 25th 2017) – By Shaun Dowling


Slightly different ‘race report’ from me for two reasons. Firstly, if memory serves, Lin wrote a really good report on this event last year; secondly, this was the last running of this 226 event so there is little point in promoting its merits.  They are still continuing with their very popular 113 races but the long distance is not viable for them.


So I thought I would approach this ‘race report’ from a slightly different perspective. I have the title of ‘Head Coach’ for the club.  As such, I have a role in supporting our coaches and helping to shape the support which the club can offer its members. Being a coach in the club, I am often approached for advice or suggestions. If I can help, I will, just as many people in the club helped me when I started out 9 years ago. I also read widely about triathlon and do try to put the principles of training, nutrition, psychology etc into practice for myself. Some knowledge about the sport is one thing; being any good at it yourself is a whole other matter!


Anyone who has raced me locally will testify that I would rank as no better than “OK’ as a triathlete. I wouldn’t make a top 5 team in my age group in the club.  It is a competitive age group, but whilst I can pretty much hold my own on the run, my vastly improved swim remains far too slow and the progress which I am proud of having made on the bike still leaves me in the wake of stronger athletes. I train hard. I like to think that I train smart. I have kept records of my training and progress for five years. I plan methodically. I set myself goals and break those down into objectives which my training needs to focus on. Yet I am still only an ‘OK’ triathlete.


Yet I can now proudly say that I am an Ironman.


How can only an ‘OK’ triathlete achieve this significant test of endurance and mental toughness?  We’re going to run a workshop on this for club members later in the year, but ahead of that here are some reasons why it is an achievable ambition for anyone prepared to commit to their training:


  1. I always swore I would not do anything with ‘iron’ in the title. My swimming was just too weak and my early experiences of asthmatic cold OW swims had put me off. Nicky and Lin convinced me to try the half distance in 2015. They assured and encouraged me that I could overcome my nervousness about the swim and a year of purposeful training could get me to the start line. They were spot on! Having other people believe in you and getting you to commit to something can be a powerful influence on behaviour.
  2. I changed my mindset to the swim. It is my weakness. Pool swims were slow. Steve helped a lot with my technique and confidence, but something more radical had to change. Listening to an elite skier talk about her broken leg becoming her ‘hero leg’ was the trigger I needed. From then on, I told myself that the swim was my favourite part; that swim sessions were something I would look forward to; that swimming was where I was making the most progress – it was, in effect, my hero leg. From struggling to get to the first white buoy at Westhampnet without my mind telling me to stop, I made myself drive to lakes near the M25 when they first opened. “It can’t be this cold when I race”. “If I can swim now, it will feel great/warm in a month’s time”. “I’m getting in now when it is 12/13 degrees; others won’t – this is giving me an advantage”. Yes, I improved my technique and structured my sets better, using the Finis tempo timer and an App that motivated me to swim the channel, the Irish sea etc, but without a change in mindset I don’t think I would have made as much progress.
  3. I enjoyed the half distance!. Perhaps, genetically, I am better suited to the longer distance? The make-up of my muscle fibres has always led me to be stronger on endurance than speed, but then I had always thought that a standard distance triathlon was endurance! However, I still finished saying “I just cannot imagine doing all of that again” (i.e. go long). I was pleased with the achievement (and here’s where I can highly recommend the Cotswolds 113 events) but had no thought of going longer. Instead I set myself the target of seeing how far off GB AG qualification I was (19.76% it turned out) and entering bigger-scale triathlons (Leeds and Liverpool) in 2016. Enter Nicky and Lin again! It was these inspirational ladies again who sowed the seed that the full distance was possible for me. More people at the club, normal people like me with normal jobs and commitments (albeit I don’t have children so that is a massive influence on available time and disposable income!) as well as others at the gym I use were doing Ironman events. Nothing is impossible. These are not superhuman people, but friends with an ambition and a determination to achieve it. I can do that. It is do-able. Being surrounded by inspirational people significantly influences behaviour. It did it for me. Commit – enter – prepare. Break the challenge down into manageable chunks and commit to training consistently. It is possible.
  4. We are all different. Some good friends in the club smash every training session. Some don’t work to a plan. Others soak up every bit of information they can and methodically apply them to a periodised training schedule. It suited me and my erratic work diary to plan I bought a cheap online training plan from a reputable coach through Training Peaks and sought advice from Dave DT as to how best to use the website and its data. I read Joe Friel’s Training Bible, taking copious notes and improving my knowledge about training zones and power outputs. In short, I undertook the adventure as a learning journey as much as a physical challenge. This helped me. It wouldn’t suit everyone, but for me it helped to know that I could get through the marathon if I managed my power output to around 170-180W through the 6 hours or so on the bike.
  5. Train hard; race easy” is one of the numerous mottos that helped me. I did most of my run training on the South Downs. Hills before 6am. Wet and muddy. All the time I was telling myself that race day would be flat. Probably dry. Much easier than this, anyway. Again, I was getting good strength training into my legs but also strength training my mind. On race day, as it turns out, having crashed on the bike I needed every ounce of this mental fortitude. To get enough time in for the bike and to practice riding for hours on flat roads on my tri bars I had to sacrifice the Sunday club ride. I have been a regular attendee for a few years now and it has helped my cycling massively. However, I needed to be on my tri bars. I needed to manage my power output. And I needed to be out for 4-5 hours withoiut it taking up all day and costing me my marriage! So early starts it was. New routes down to Witterings and Hayling Isalnd (thanks Lizzie), passing Luke, Will, Jason and Mike going the other way to join the club ride. Lonely. Long. Boring for sure at times. But necessary choices.
  6. Finally, on the day itself, I was blessed with incredible support. My long-suffering wife who has been incredible throughout this endured a mammoth day on her feet, leaving the hotel at 3.30am and not returning until after 8pm. We do think that she was actually the more tired of us the next day! However, the support did not stop with her. Adam, Nicky, Megs, Josh, Lin, Jules and Gracie sacrificed their weekends to come and get me through it. They were simply incredible. They used their bikes to get around the run course (Gracie followed behind me for half of one lap keeping my mind off the pain) and just filled me with encouragement and positive thoughts. I was struggling – every single right footstep (around 20,000 of them) due to the crash, and all sorts of muscle cramps over the last 12km. Yet they all kept me going and carried me on their proverbial shoulders around the marathon. I was determined not to walk a step unless through the feed stations and knowing that there was no hiding place certainly helped with that!


In short, if this ‘OK’ triathlete can get round the long distance, you can too. I struggled with swimming. I was the slowest on the Sunday rides for about a year. I’m no Mo! But I did. You can.