Welcome to Sufferlandria

After months of promising and distraction by other events it is finally time to talk about Sufferfest!

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I will start off today with a bit of a Meet Cute, as I first came across Sufferfest a few years ago in a magazine (Men’s Fitness  I think), where one of the reviewers was talking about an insane new program, where people rode stationary bikes whilst watching a torturous video of cyclists riding Le Tour or something similar, and trying to keep up like some sort of computer game. At the time I was doing Olympic Triathlons and whilst I had a turbo trainer, I had never even done a spin class, but was looking to try to find ways to motivate myself to go longer, so looked into buying one of the DVDs. Sadly they were a bit out of my price range, so I thought better not to not take the risk and forgot all about it, and kept trundling along on my bike in the lounge, watching endless repeats of the training montage from Rocky IV to spur me on.

Fast forward a couple of years, and thanks to Les Mills RPM and some great instructors I have turned into a spin class addict, ensuring I do at least one session per week (preferably more),  even down to the part where I have special clipless cycling shoes especially for indoor spinning (in addition to my regular tri bike shoes) and do most of my solo bike training whilst listening to bike specific RPM tracks.

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So I was pretty excited when I got back from an Easter holiday to discover my gym’s spin studio was being refurbed, and a new AV system being put in place which would allow ‘virtual’ spin classes, and specifically they had purchased a licence to run Sufferfest sessions, so obviously I had to give it a go so booked myself onto one of the launch classes. But what it is all about?

It turns out that there is more to it than just watching Bradley Wiggins on a big screen and pedalling as furiously as possible to keep up (although there are plenty of famous riders in the films); there is a whole back story / history within Sufferfest. Originating in the fantastically named fictional Kingdom of Sufferlandria, where riding is religion, suffering is a must if you want to achieve mastery. Only those who work the hardest, ride the fastest and climb the steepest hills are considered worthy. This is all made clear to you during the introductory video, which explains how the on screen instructions work, and gives you a scale of how hard you need to work. Having done a few different classes now, these are always different, and usually raise a few laughs, involving phrases such as’Ride like you are being chased by angry Sufferlandrian wilderbeasts’.

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Those involved in the videos who support you in becoming a hero cyclist are classed as Minions, whilst non riders are given the ultimate insult of eating donuts in the rival region of Couchlandria, where hard work is shirked. There are a lot of nice little touches to add some humour to what could otherwise be a pretty painful and serious experience, such as at one point during one of the films where people might otherwise be slacking off, a door appears onscreen, and a large gentleman enters the room like a door to door salesman asking if you are from Couchlandria as you are not working hard enough!

The classes being with a fantastically overblown, James Bond style title / credits sequence, where details of what you are going to be down are interspaced with animated shapes morphing across the screen, accompanied by classical music to build up some atmosphere. Whilst this is totally irrelevant to the remainder of the class, as a massive Bond fan myself, I personally enjoy this bit, plus there is the bonus that it is the few minutes of the class where you are not in pain.

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The format it actually very straightforward, with one countdown bar to show you how long you have left until the next section, one to give your cadence (pedalling speed), and one to say how hard your gear should be. This also tends to be well mapped to what you see on-screen, so when the riders start going uphill you gear up and slow down, and when they come down you can open the gas and start pushing faster. And really that is the main thing you need to go. There are other elements, such as notices to get out of the saddle for hills, and warnings that an increase is coming up (by way of an engine revving sound) but otherwise they stick to the Keep it Simple Stupid formula.

The videos / classes range from shorter 20 minute blasts, to full hour and a half marathons, and have at least a dozen different varieties, each with its own theme depending on the workout target. Examples of ones I have tried include ‘Do As You’re Told’ which involves a race where you are followed by a support vehicle who tells you to speed up or slow down during certain parts of the event depending on team tactics to practice your endurance and sprint skills, ‘Climbing Angels’, where you complete sections of the Giro d’Italia, which unsurprisingly involves a lot of hill climbs, and others with names like ‘The Wretched’, ‘Long Scream’ and ‘A Very Dark Place’ which I will leave to your imagination.

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One moment I particularly enjoyed during Do As You’re Told was when the guys in the car following received a text (from Dr von Agony) saying it did not look like you were working hard enough (with a cat meme and everything !). It was also quite a nice moment when at one point you got a virtual puncture and a few minutes rest!

As you would expect, there is music throughout the films, which all seems to be either custom-made for the videos, or at least non-mainstream, as I have not recognised any of the bands or tracks so far. This is actually good, as it means the music does not distract you too much as the tracks change every couple of minutes, so you don’t find yourself singing along. The tunes tend to be on the heavy side, either hard rock or hip hop, and whilst they do not match the pace perfectly as they do in say an RPM class where you could track your speed even with your eyes closed, they do at least fit the mood of whatever you are following on-screen, such as sprinting or powerclimbing.

There are also some interesting and even unexpected extras in the classes. Th first one I did for example had a whole separate five minute docu-film at the end, as a warmdown of sorts, about a young lad in the Lake District who was trying to ride fast enough to set off a speed camera on a quiet country road. It showed various clips of him riding and making improvements to his bike, clothing, helmet and so on, each time getting slightly faster and more aerodynamic to try to beat the camera. Totally irrelevant to the 45 minutes that preceded it, but actually fascinating as a study of speed, which most cyclists find themselves interested in at some point.

So is it any good? Well as with everything there are positives and negatives. Because it is automated it makes great use of the cycle studio at my gym, taking the number of classes from around 20 per week, to nearly 100, meaning you can get in and do some extra training almost whenever you want. Because it is all pre-programmed in and automated, the classes will also always start and finish bang on time, which is even better if you are in a rush, although it has meant that on occasions the projection screen suddenly drops down during the cooldown in my regular spin class, much to our instructor’s annoyance.

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The videos on screen are really high quality, and make the most of he fantastic locations they feature, most notably the Tour, Giro and Vuelta (in France, Italy & Spain respectively), with stunning views of mountain tops, alpine forests and seaside cliffs to motivate you. This is countered by the fact that you lose the element of imagination you can get in a spin class when imagining climbing a volcano or riding through a desert landscape (or is that just me?!) Obviously there are those who are against all indoor cycling and say ‘why not just go ride outside’ but this really does make it feel like you are taking part in these glamorous and famous races, that in reality would never actually happen to most people. On that note, when you do it in a fairly full studio it feels even more like you are in a peloton as you hear others whirring around you, although it does still work well when you are on your own and want a bit of (virtual) company for your ride.

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Although it is available to riders of all abilities, the fact it is not directly ‘coached’ does mean it is more suitable for experienced riders, who know what they are doing with gears and bike set ups, particularly as there is no stretching at the end. Also whilst the jokes and other motivation (or beating with a stick!) does encourage you along, it can’t compete with having an experienced instructor in the room who can offer advice, tailor the class to your targets, or even slow down if you are struggling (and of course speed up if you are slacking). For those who have not done any indoor riding before, I would recommend going to some normal spin classes before, to learn how to properly set up your bike to avoid injuries and ensure maximum effort, before going into something like this, but of course it is open to anyone.

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Having done most of these now, I would say if the opening few paragraphs of this piece sound like your idea of fun, you would love this kind of thing, but if Couchlandria sounds more your thing then that is understandable!

Next time, Sufferfest goes big, with the ‘National Day of Suffering’…

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Something New

Fletch, Jack Parlabane, that bloke from the Dragon Tattoo book… Some of the best literary characters I can think of are investigative reporters, and this week I felt it was only right that I did some investigating of my own.

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Given that I spend most of my time either training, or thinking about training, I thought I had come across most types of exercise, but this week I found a brand new one at the ‘Healthclub’ in the hotel I had been sheltering in for the last few weeks.

After heading down to check out the gym, I notices some strange looking bikes by the pool: kind of like spin bikes but even more stripped down, just a steel frame, handlebars and some funny looking pedals which resembled giant flip flops. Next thing I knew some guy started throwing them in the pool with the sort of abandon rock stars reserve for hotel room TVs, and I realised they were special pool bikes. Forgetting my normal workout, I spent the next half hour transfixed as a small group proceeded to go through a spin class of sorts, whilst in the water. Now my gym does plenty of aqua aerobics, aqua Zumba, etc, and whilst none of that appeals to me, this seemed to combine two of my favourite things – spinning & swimming – so had to be worth a go.

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Aqua Bike

The next day, after a slight confusion trying to explain to the boss that I wanted to join the class (seemed a reasonable request to me) I was told it was £8, which seemed a bit steep, but as a true investigative reporter I still went ahead. It eventually transpired it I could go free as a hotel guest which was even better, and could have saved me a 15 minute conversation, but there you go. So shortly after I found myself in the water and on my bike, as part of a group of six. Our poolside based coach looked slightly Eastern European, and as it later turned out may well have been schooled in water torture by the KGB…

From the outside it looked really easy, but is was a bit like watching ducks, casual on the surface but pedalling like mad underneath. It was the strangest feeling, as the harder you pedalled, the more water resistance there was so the tougher it became. Definitely no free wheeling here. It turns out to be a fantastic work out, as within minutes your legs were burning from the resistance, but cooled down by the water. The reason for the massive pedals also became obvious as this too added to the resistance and made it harder to push through the water.

The hot French fitness fad, aqua fitness, gets an upgrade with the unveiling of the Water Rider 5 Aquabike

Underwater Bike

It did not take long to realise what I was wearing was not ideal for the class, and the blame lay with my swim shorts. Now I always wear shorts when pool training, firstly as they just look better on blokes of any age, and secondly as whilst they create some extra resistance, this helps me out in wetsuit swims as I can to glide through the water more smoothly – some people actually buy special ‘drag shorts’ or even underwater parachutes to increase this effect. On the bike though they were a nightmare, with the pockets filling with air bubbles and trying to lift me off the seat, the sides slowing down my legs whilst pedalling and even the drawstring getting in the way.

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These guys know their aqua cycling shorts

Later on, whilst scouring the web for some uncopyrighted pictures to show what the whole thing looked like, I found most of the Google images seemed to involve young ladies in skimpy bikinis riding the water bikes. Now I am sure the only reason for this is to help advise what sort of outfit to wear in the classes. I will leave you to make up your own mind…

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Honestly, this was the tamest picture I could find!

Anyway, the format was just like a normal spin class, right down to some of the tracks which may have been unofficially lifted from Les Mills: Warm up; Interval Training 30 sprint / 30 rest x 3 moving to 40/30 seconds and up to 50/30 by the end. Obviously I took this bit far too seriously, trying to ride at ridiculous speeds to outpace my co-riders, all but one of whom seemed to be first timers and looked like they had also vastly underestimated the difficulty of the class, much to the apparent delight of the coach.

In between sprints we did various other stretches and the water allowed for some things that would simply not be possible (for me anyway) on the surface. Switch lunges –  the bane of Bodyattack – were a favourite alongside a variation on dips, turning the bike sideways and pushing up on the bars with straight arms, then raising your knees out of the water (a move sometimes known as windscreen wipers), or holding them straight ahead of you whilst doing a scissor type movement. In both cases, the higher you came out of the water, the harder they were to do without the buoyancy of the water, but the better for you. The coach seemed to have no such problems doing these on the side of the pool though, and trying to keep up with him bouncing away like a tigger was pretty tough.

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The class looked a bit like this.

By the end of the 45 minute class I was pretty knackered, but being in the water things did not feel too bad, until I did my usual jump out of the pool and realised my jelly legs were not quite ready to support me and nearly ended up back on the bottom! It did feel like a really good workout, particularly for the quads and core, and whilst not something I would do all the time, seems a decent addition to a training plan. I will have to share my investigative reporting with my local gym to see about adding it to our timetable…

A lo Cubano

After some spectacular (if a tad chilly at times) training in Cornwall this year, I was fortunate enough to do my next few sessions somewhere slightly more exotic: the fabulous island of Cuba.

Cuba Sea

Now bearing in mind a decent summer over here sees temperatures in the 20’s (I nearly died in the Avenger last year when we raced in the low 30’s) I had to take a bit of care here as the country was going through a heatwave, so even the locals were having a tough time as we pushed 40 degrees on a daily basis. Clearly the temptation was to sit on the beach in the sun, piña colada in one hand and the most exercise being a dip in sea, but well… this is the Chile Challenge so I felt obliged to make the most of the different training opportunities on offer. So just for you guys:

Cuba Scuba Russian Frigate

First up had to be to try out the local diving. Regular readers may be familiar with my usual exploits – braving freezing temperatures in a disused quarry in the Midlands, hoping for more than a few mitres of visibility and maybe even a couple of fish (if you are lucky!) – this was a bit different! Over the week I managed to get in 5 different dives, the highlight being the brilliant Patrol Boat 383 (thank you Google for the picture above): a Russian Frigate at 27 metres depth, with decent viz, tonnes of marine life, colourful coral and a resident puffer fish in the hold. Other great dives included seeing a nurse shark (yes a shark!) and a much-tougher-than-expected drift dive around a reef which made me glad of all those open water swims. It turns out all that hard work in the ice cold quarries was worth it though, as I could really appreciate the environment more, and was really pleased with my buoyancy skills along the way, particularly alongside most of my lightweight companions who without exception were horrified at the idea of submersing themselves in anything below 25 degrees!

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Despite belonging to a gym with tennis courts and spending anything from 5 to 10 hours per week there, I never actually get around to playing the old bat-n-ball, but we decided the hotel’s courts were too tempting and had to try them out. Given the temperature it was a bit mission-impossible, and we had to get there for 7.30 am (easier said than done after a night on the piñas!) to avoid the searing heat, and even then we only managed 45 minutes before nearly passing out. Although it had been years since last picking up a racquet, it turned out the body does not forget, and as you will see from the above pictures, Federer and Sabatini need to watch their steps!

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Our plans switched to hitting the air-conditioned gym next door, where having been out of the country for over a week, I had to get my fix of RPM tracks on the bike. I don’t think the other users were used to riders standing up on the pedals and simulating hill climbs, then suddenly dropping into sprints, but I am sure they were just jealous! The beach views were also somewhat improved, although it will take a lot to beat the one from our rooftop gym in Havana a few days earlier (top left).

Zumba

Our final fitness activity was none other than dancing. And not just one type, but salsa, Zumba, cha cha cha and who knows what else. Being a typical uncoordinated guy I was a bit terrified at the idea of this sort of thing, but it turned out having all those Les Mills classes in the last 12 months I actually had some moves! Now I am saying I was Michael Jackson, but I was able to keep to time pretty well, and compared to the handful of other blokes who joined a mainly female gang across the half dozen or so classes, I feel I can hold my head up. That said, there was a clear difference between the Europeans there and the local guys, who all seemed to have plenty of natural rhythm and put us to shame with their hip shaking routines… maybe a bit more practice in the next few months and I will be able to tear it up when I visit again next year!

Cornish Training Part II – Running Buddy

Earlier this year I wrote about a great run I did down in Newquay, making my way along the spectacular cliff tops between the town centre and Watergate Bay. Like most of my runs it was an early morning job, making the most of the peaceful surroundings and fantastic sunrise. Also, like all of my others, I did it on my own.

When I was younger I used to do loads of team sports: pretty much every weekend was taken up playing rugby, football, hockey, cricket and the like, and I always loved that team spirit that helps bring out the best in you. But as I got older, I gravitated towards more solo sports like swimming and running, with the pinnacle of these being long distance triathlons, were even those where there are loads of other competitors, you will always find yourself alone at some point, often for long periods of time. None more so for me than the Avenger, where I must have ridden for the best part of an hour towards the end of the bike leg without seeing a soul!

Although I have recently got into exercise class training such as the Les Mills stuff, most if not all of my triathlon training has always been done on my own, whether outdoor swimming (there is nothing better than having the pool to ones self!) or getting my head down on the bike or run, with headphones to drown out any distractions.

Newquay St Ives

But on visiting Cornwall for the second time this year, further along the coast in St Ives, I had a different offer: my brother-in-law asked if I wanted to go for a run with him. Now Matt is what I see as a ‘proper’ runner, who has completed a number of marathons over the years, and is definitely a lot faster than me.  This immediately made me slightly nervous that I would be left behind, despite his protestations that he was out of practice having spent the past two years up at all hours of the night with his baby daughter!

Carbis Bay Run

On a side note, this is one of the main reasons I like triathlon, as I am fully aware I am not the world’s best swimmer, rider or runner, and there are plenty of specialists around who could kick me ass around the track or pool in their sleep; however, there are fewer folk who like doing do all three in a row which tends to help me out in races. But I digress…

We agreed to go for an early run the next morning, for me a relatively early 8am (I was on holiday!) although Matt had of course been up for hours (not so much out of choice!). Like my last run down here, our route of choice was the South West Coastal Path, although we were about 30 miles further west than before.

St Ives Run

Fortunately it was just as beautiful in this part of the world, and we had a fantastic run, following the train line along the estuary, taking in lovely views of Lelant & Carbis Bay beaches, eventually reaching St Ives itself. It was what trail runners would probably call a ‘technical’ course – an off-road route designed more for hiking than running, with some overgrown parts and a lot of steps – but we were more than up to the added challenge.

Carbis Bay Run 4

One reason I had always been a bit nervous about running with someone else is now being able to run at my own pace (and not listening to music, but actually it was nice to just have the natural sounds in the background) but I soon realised that was fine. At points Matt did start to disappear into the distance, but he was a great running buddy, having done this a lot more than I, and at points casually slowed down without making a fuss to let me catch up, without making a big deal of it. To be fair I held my own pretty well, and I realised it was actually less me slowing down Matt as him motivating me to run faster and longer!

Matt & Jim 3

We reached the halfway point of St Ives station in good shape, so rather than retrace out steps back we decided on an alternate route back along the main road, which turned out to be a bit of a killer. After our tricky off-road path into town, this was a pavement job, but with a good 2 km of steady climbing on the way out-of-town. Again it was good to see we were both up to it – although it was not easy – and it did come with the old benefit that what goes up must come down, meaning the final part of our run was a nice gentle slope back to our starting point.

All in all we managed just over 11 km in not much more than an hour, which was a fantastic time for me, and it was here I realised how beneficial it is to be able to run with someone. Yes, you might feel bad about making them stop occasionally, but in the long-term you with both spur each other on and end up achieving more as a team than you would individually. Certainly food for thought for future training sessions, and thanks again Matt!

London Calling

It has been a while since I last wrote anything on here, over two months in fact, with my last update being Ironman Staffs. Whilst I have not had any races since, I have of course been doing plenty of training, making the most of the English Summer. Well, that is not strictly true, as those in this part of the world will know it has been a bit rubbish for outdoor training, but even so I have had some great training, both at home and abroad.

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First up was a couple of sessions I got in whilst on a work training course in London back in July. Of course the main reason I was there was to learn some new skills to use back in the office, but the bonus for me was the chance to explore one of the most famous cities in the world at my own pace.

When I used to spend my time in the gym purely lifting weights or swimming, I could never understand the attraction for people I knew who went on long, lonely runs, frequently in the freezing cold – for fun! But over the last few years I have managed to come around to it, and realised it is probably the best way to get to know an area, reaching parts only accessible on foot and at reasonable enough pace (i.e. slow in my case!) to take it all in.

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My hotel for the week turned out to be decent, although pretty much in the middle of nowhere by London standards, a few miles up river from Canary Wharf and on the borders of EastEnders-Land. Not that that was an issue, but it meant I had to go some distance before I actually got anywhere interesting, rather than a huge / not-currently-being-used exhibition centre and a lot of warehouses & factories. With all respect to those living nearby, it was also not in what I would call the ‘best’ area, not too much of an issue at 6am, but not one to wander at night-time. Either way, I was glad I had my trainers with me…

For my first run I was actually up well before six, and I decided to make my way to Canary Wharf where I was doing my course, to scout out the location and see what it was like before it got too busy. It turns out London-folk start work a bit earlier, and there was a surprising amount of businesspeople wandering around before 7am: most getting in extremely large coffees to wake themselves up! It was cool to run past my head office at that time though, catching the early morning sunrise against the tower.

IMG_6201Canary Wharf Run 1

After a while I came across signs to the Isle of Dogs, which sounded interesting enough to be worth checking out. Sadly, this was not a Murakami-esque fantasy land, inhabited solely by our canine companions, but more of a concrete miracle situated in the middle of the Thames. Still, it had some nice views, most notably of the Millennium Dome (I am sure it has a new name, but for many of us it will always be so called). The wharf also backs onto the famous Billinsgate Fish Market, which no doubt had been buzzing for hours by the time I got there.

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The next day I thought I would try a different route. Sadly it seemed my first choice was not possible, as I had wanted to get closer to the Dome, but due to a lack of bridges in the East end of town this would have involved going quite a few miles out-of-the-way, and I simply did not have enough time. Well I could have got up before 5, but let’s face it – that was not going to happen this week!

I decided I may as well try and get ‘Sarf’ of the river to see how close I could get to it, but again I was thwarted. It turned out, what I thought was the main river, was actually more of a marina / offshoot. Easier to explain in a picture. Basically I was staying below the ‘C’ of the BBC logo below, and during my run I only managed to get around the blue strip underneath. This was still ok for a few sights, as I managed to see the Thames Barrier for the first time ever, which – I will be honest – is not much of a looker up close, whilst the the final part of the loop took me past London City airport and a close up look at some of the flashier jets that travel there.

EastendersCanary Wharf Run 2

By the time I got near my hotel again I had only been going about 40 minutes, so I headed North towards E17 to try to see a bit more. After a little spent while getting lost on a housing estate I found my way to a combined city farm and park (a but strange but ok…) which excitingly had an adventure playground type thing. Given it was still before 7am and I had the place to myself, the temptation was obviously too much to resist, and I was soon recreating an Indiana Jones type adventure across the rope bridge. At least I hope I had it to myself…!

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After a while, it was time to head back. Navigation was reasonably easy given I could at least head for the tall buildings, although the numerous unmarked cul-de-sacs and dead ends made it significantly harder than it could have been to run in a straight line. Finally I managed to work my way back to the hotel without incident, and headed straight to the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet to refuel!

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That Difficult Second Album

Today is one of the most important days in my training calendar, as after what seems like the longest winter in ages, the clocks have finally returned to a sensible time. It is now light enough to get in some proper training in the evening after work, and with any luck should warm up a bit too which always helps with the motivation to get outside!

Spring Forward clock

That is not to say I have not been training in the last six months or so – In fact far from it, as in an effort to improve my weakest triathlon area (well the one I can improve most anyway) I have been going spinning classes at least twice a week since October, and have even thrown in some weight sessions after so much focus on distance last year. Although I have consciously decided not to track these in as much detail as before with the spreadsheet and so on, when I checked my gym account earlier today I had been 32 times so far this year, so adding on the other outdoor training I have done I am still on for a session every other day.

I have however realised that I have not written many posts, and have self-diagnosed myself with Difficult Second Album Syndrome. For those not in the know, this is the problem faced by many bands who have a fantastic debut album, and then struggle to recapture the magic in their follow-up. Last year I completed a quite frankly insane amount of training sessions, competed in five different races, covered over 4000 km and wrote 100 blog entries. On the other hand this might by my fifth post of the year on here, but I guess it is just not that exciting to talk about the same indoor bike sessions week in week out.

In fairness it is still early doors, as I have Ironman 70.3 coming up (in just 10 weeks) as well as some other fun to look forward to, so I guess the message here is that the first quarter this year has been lots of grafting to build up a fitness platform and maintain my fitness  levels. From today onwards the real training begins…

 

A Guide to Hotel Training

The other day I realised that in the last two years I have spent over ten weeks staying in various hotels, in both the UK and South America. Furthermore, given that I had been trying to accumulate as many miles as I could for the Chile Challenge, I managed to spend a fair bit of that time occupying their various gyms and training facilities, so although I am not quite yet Alan Partridge, I guess I am reasonably well versed in the game of hotel based training.

During the last fortnight I spent time in three different hotels around England for both work and leisure purposes (partly why I have not written on her in a while) and of course made sure I used the gym in each of them; however, I would not say each visit was entirely successful, partly through fault of my own but also due to other guests. So to help others avoid some of the same issues, I thought it was about time I published a quick guide to some of the Do’s and Don’ts of using a hotel’s leisure facilities:

Groundhog Alarm

Do – Make the most of the facilities. For me, having a fully equipped gym just metres from my bedroom door is like a kid having their own in-house sweet shop. Yes, my local club also opens at 6am, but realistically how often do I ever get there at that time? Exactly. But in a hotel you have fewer excuses: you are only a few minutes from the changing room, typically have extra time available in avoiding a commute, and (most importantly for a morning session) are likely to have someone making you a decent breakfast afterwards! Even better, you may be able to go more than once per day: in fact during my weeks in Chester and London last year I managed 20 visits in just 12 days, alternating between Groundhog Day 6am morning swims, followed by mid-evening gym time – Cashback!

Radison

Don’t – Expect too much from the equipment. It is always hard to guess what you are getting yourself in for when visiting a hotel gym for the first time, so be prepared for anything. Most places seem to describe themselves as ‘Healthclubs’, which can be vague and range from a five star joint with regular members and top of the range equipment to… well something a bit less exciting. Those without members which are purely designed for guests (particularly business focused hotels) tend to have the bare bones stuff they expect the average ad exec to make themselves feel better with when away from their families. Last night for example I was staying in a fairly plush place, but I have more equipment in my own shed than they had in the gym. On the upside there was a hell of a view from the top floor (note clever use of a mirror in the above photo of it), and what was there was in reasonable nick (most likely due to lack of usage). Unlike say, the one I used last week where the bar on the lat pull down machine fell on your head whenever you tried to change the weights! Also bare in mind many visitors will not train regularly so don’t know the unwritten gym rules, like not dropping weights on the floor, and putting them back in the rack after usage, and so on. So plan for the worst, and if the unexpected happens let it be a pleasant surprise!

Luggage

Do – Bring separate kit bag. Yes might feel a bit OTT turning up for a one night stay with multiple bags, like you are Prince Akeem from Coming to America, but one more bag is always worth it. Why? Drying! Having spent all that time away last year I mastered the art of drying stuff in hotel bathrooms and radiators whilst away for a week at a time, but if you are following the maximisation rule above you need to be training right up to the last morning. This is even more important for one night stands, so to speak. Assuming you have a while between checking out and getting home, the last thing you want is your damp smelly kit from that morning (or even the night before) leaching chlorine or sweat onto your suits, jumpers and whatever else you have had with you. Plastic bags just don’t work. Having a proper kit bag to put it in just works, ok.

IMG_5337IMG_5339

Don’t – Forget your kit. You might think the last point I made acts as a reasonable mitigant for this, but I had a real disaster last weekend. I had a carefully planned window between arriving at the hotel and going out for dinner to try out the hotel’s leisure facilities, but like so many best laid plans, it all went wrong. As I changed into my shorts and top I realised I had managed to bring two different right trainers. As in the right trainer from one pair, and the right trainer from a different (but fairly similar looking in a rush) set… Doh! Never one to give up on training I took a gambled that the hotel gym would be fairly quiet (see above) and went in without them. As expected there was only one other guy there, and he was a weights bro who hardly batted an eyelid at the crazy cardio kid who was just in his socks. I guess it is the sort of strange behaviour that lifters expect from us triathletes in general. Funnily enough I did actually get in quite a good session, although I would not recommend the treadmill (I went on in bare feet for extra grip) as the tread was a bit cheap and crap, and without any cushioning my ankles still ached a few days later.

Preston pool

Do – Respect other users in the pool. As I have written here before, I like to swim properly at my gym and expect others to do the same when using the lanes. As a general rule I only swim crawl, but I am conscious that in a hotel pool it is not always possible. Case in point, my hotel from last week (above), where I thought I would get in a cheeky 6am swim session. As soon as I saw the pool I realised this would not be a heavy session, given it was around 10 metres long, and had two jacuzzis at one end. I will leave it to your imagination to picture what a picture of it from above would look like. So I settled in with the other earlybirds for a gentle morning dip. But there it always one. You know the type: balding, all the gear, unnecessarily tight trunks for a hotel, first Porsche in the car park (probably), and so on. I was surprised he forgot his fins. And he decided it would be appropriate to do the splashiest front crawl right through the middle of everyone. Terrible technique, and complete disregard for other users, completely oblivious to the classic English tutting and head shaking going on around him. From a distance it sounded like he was dropping depth charges, and he could probably have located treasure at the bottom of the Pacific Trench, were the pool any more than 1 metre deep. Everyone else gradually got out to escape the waterboarding, although I managed to draw on my open water experience to outlast him, but it kind of put a downer on the session. Anyway, the point is, know your surroundings, and don’t be a selfish bastard for other users.

Starsky Towels

Don’t – Rely on the free towels. Despite the extra bag you might have with you, no one ever wants to bring their own towel to a hotel if it can be avoided, so most give you one when you get to the gym / pool. Now by all means make the most of them as they are of some use: perhaps to cover small shaving cuts or say, a face cloth for ants. I jest of course, buy they do always seem to be very small, geared more around being used to wipe down machines after use (fair enough), rather than to actually dry you off after a swim.  I am not sure if this is to save the hotel money on laundry or some sort of in-joke on me, but every time I wrap myself in it, it reminds me of the scene with the hand towels in Starsky & Hutch…

Calama Swim

Do – Get out and about. I know this is aimed at hotel gyms, but staying away from home gives you a fantastic opportunity to explore new parts of the world, specifically by going for a run. Yes, it is not always possible, and a number of my stays last year coincided with a combination of freezing cold and rainy weather with near permanent winter darkness, which is hardly conducive to exploring a new area. But when you can get out it makes it all worth it, as I showed last year with some of my blogs from places like Newquay and Bristol. That said, always take care when swimming in an outdoor pool in the desert – It might be pushing 40 degrees in the afternoon, but chances are it was negative overnight. Last time I tried that it was so cold I turned bright red and looked like I had been sunbathing too long. Or perhaps that tip is a bit too specific…