Our Coaching Editor Phil Mosley has moved to South Africa for the winter to live the dream and get some decent training done in the sun.
Back in September 2012, whilst casually browsing the internet I chanced upon a You Tube video interview featuring the British pro triathlete Tim Don. In it, he described a typical training day at his winter training base in Stellenbosch, South Africa. You should check it out, although it might make you a tiny bit jealous. He does what he calls a “Kenyan day” where he runs three times, all at different and beautiful venues. Then the next morning he swims in an outdoor pool with a mountain range in the background, and cycles along smooth roads in the sunshine.
It all seemed a tad more glamorous than the training regime I’d had in the UK for the last 15 years. This involved lots of running in the rain, swimming in a pool packed with old Grannies and cycling along muddy lanes. So in November 2012 I packed up my house, sold most of my possessions on eBay and flew to Stellenbosch for the winter. To live the dream? I hoped so.
Fast forward four months, and I’ve settled into a rather different life to the one I had in the UK. I now regularly train in the venues I’d previously seen only on You Tube, and daily sunshine seems completely normal. At swimming practice I share the pool with pro triathletes such as Tim Don, and there’s barely a breaststroking Grandma in sight. Instead of organising my training around the weather forecast, I now schedule my sessions to avoid the heat of the day, which is always between 30 and 40 degrees Celcius.
It’s not all been plain sailing though, and I’ve learnt the importance of being settled – no matter where that is. In my first six weeks in Stellenbosch I moved house four times (for various reasons) and barely trained during that period. I’ve also been ill a couple of times and missed a further three weeks of training as a result. So although I’m living the dream, I’m probably less fit than I was at this time last year whilst training in the UK. I’m not too worried though, providing I can train consistently over the next eight weeks before I fly back to the UK.
That shouldn’t be a problem here, with all the great facilities on offer. There are six 25 meter pools, and it’s only a small town. I do most of my swim training at the local boys school, in an outdoor pool with stunning views. I normally have a lane to myself and I’ve never been charged any money for training there. There are also lots of great gyms, endless off-road trails and a tartan running track that’s at the foot of a mountain.
Aside from the facilities, there’s a great vibe here that helps keep you motivated. It’s a University town, and it’s full of fit people training everywhere, for various sports. When you go running, you pass dozens of other runners and the same applies for cycling. It sure beats training on your own.
Then there are the professionals. It’s become normal for me to go cycling or swimming with sub-8-hour Ironman athletes and Olympians – the place is full of them. Ok, so I am usually the weakest of the bunch, but seeing them train is a privilege and an eye opener. There are also plenty of top track and field athletes here too. Shortly after Christmas, the GB athletics team were here for two weeks and I regularly bumped into their coach Dame Kelly Holmes, as well as 400m hurdler Dai Greene and sprinter Marlon Devonish. I was too proud to ask for their autographs, although I secretly wanted to.
As much as I enjoy Stellenbosch, I’m also looking forward to returning to the UK. The things I miss most are quiet country lanes (for cycling), take away curries, fast internet and online grocery shopping. Oh, and family and friends of course.
Once back in Europe I’ll be racing Ironman 70.3 UK and Ironman Austria, and then taking a well deserved rest before planning the rest of my season. By then I’ll know if my trip to Stellenbosch helped to make me a better athlete. I hope it will, but whatever happens it’s been a great experience that I’ll never regret. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Phil is the Coaching Editor of Triathlon Plus and coaches triathletes for www.myprocoach.net
He is sponsored by Scott, ClifBar and Bournemouth Cycleworks