In 15 day’s time, I will be entering a sea loch at the start of the epic Braveheart Triathlon, writes Malcolm Bradbrook.
All being well, sometime later that day I will cross the finish line having swum 1.9km, biked a 90km around the north of Scotland and run 21.1km to the top of Ben Nevis and back.
I’m feeling quite well tuned – not perfect you understand – but good enough at the moment. Some of that is to do with the expert advice I sought along the way. 2019 marks my first attempts at extreme triathlon and I needed help to get going.
Training for mountains is seriously challenging for some athletes because of their home geography. Oxfordshire, my home county, is notoriously flat but hills can be found by heading to the Chilterns, the Ridgeway or The Cotswolds.
Nathan Blake is a Level 2 Triathlon Coach with plenty of experience in the field of tough triathlons. The 47-Year-old from Thame came to the sport later than most after decades of mountain biking – a background which explains his penchant for gruelling hills, beautiful views and white-knuckle descents.
No easy ‘get out’
His first foray into tough triathlon was the Inferno in Switzerland in 2013, an event that boasts 5,500m of ascent. It opens with a 3.1km swim and contains two bike legs, a 97km road bike and 30km mountain bike, and is completed with a 25km run.
“There’s no easy way around it,” Nathan says. “If you want to do hilly events, you need to train on hills and, in flatter areas, that means repetitions of the same hill to make sure.
“Hour-long conditioning sets on the turbo will help but you need the realism of bike handling on steep hills and with low cadence.”
So, I’ve done just that. Dragon Hill in Oxfordshire is one of the steepest around and offers great views of Uffington White Horse Hill. It takes me about 40minutes to bike to it and do as many reps as I can fit in before dashing home for work or whatever fun adventures I have planned with my family.
Sometimes I can’t make it out there so have to use lesser slopes closer to home like the multiple small ramps behind Elms Parade in Botley, Oxford.
Stay in control
The important thing for me is that I learn how to climb these hills in a controlled way, spinning the gears round while staying seated for as long as possible. It’s vital to remember that the race doesn’t finish at the top of the climb and that I need a lot of leg strength for the tough half-marathon at the end.
I’ve been doing this for a few months now after some top advice from Nathan as he stressed the importance of making changes to training gradual.
“You might feel the need to get stuck in straight away but putting too much stress on an unprepared body can really set you back,” he explains.
Nathan also ‘prescribed’ a series of exercises to build hill-climbing strength. Little and often is his mantra.
He said: “You don’t need to set aside a specific set of an hour a few times a week. I just mix 15-minute sets into daily life and often just stop when I’m out running and do some squats or plank.”
Stand on one leg, with your hips over knees, and knees over ankles. Hold your arms out straight in front so they are parallel with the ground. Lower your bottom towards the floor while keeping your back and chest upright, when you reach your lowest point raise back up again. Repeat on the other leg.
Get into the classic push-up position and, in turn, bring one leg forward. As get more used to the exercise you can go faster.
Plant your hands directly under the shoulders as if you’re about to do a push-up. Ground the toes into the floor and squeeze the glutes to stabilise the body. Your head should be in line with your back. As you get more comfortable with the move, hold your plank for as long as possible without wobbling or gasping.