This blog post is long overdue but it’s still one I want to get up on the blog. For those who have read my previous blog about how I start in triathlon, you’ll know that it was mainly though my husband Mark who pushed me to conquer my fear of being utterly crap at swimming. However, I am very lucky to be serving in the Royal Navy and work within an organisation who actively promote sport in all shapes and sizes. This often means training opportunities, competitions and sometimes (if you’re lucky) a bit of travel too.
I applied for a place on the 2019 triathlon camp in Mallorca and despite initially being a reserve, I did manage to get a place. The camp took place in Can Picafort (just down the road from Alcudia) for 10 days with a bunch of other cracking Royal Navy and Royal Marines – my best wing woman and all-time partner in crime Nicki was also on the camp so needless to say we were all set for a brilliant camp.
After a long day of travelling, we finally landed in Mallorca and made our way to the hotel- with 15 bike boxes in tow! The hotel has a gigantic underground garage facility and is completely geared up for cyclists and triathletes so we dropped the bikes in, got unpacked and got to sleep ready for CSS testing the following morning at 0700.
My swimming (as always) is nothing to be amazed by- my primary goal in triathlon is to ‘finish the race’ second only to ‘don’t die’. My CSS times were 8:00 for 400m and 3:52 for 200m. Sat down at the bottom of the swim times compared to everyone else but quite a few of us close in that range really. The swimming pool at the hotel is heated and permanently laid out with lanes so really geared up to sports guests and triathletes. Straight to the hotel buffet afterwards to get fuelled for the day.
We had a team briefing, introducing everyone to each other, laying out or personal goals for the year and sharing our experience so far. A real mix of people in the room from seasoned triathletes of over 15 years’ experience and a few ploughing through their first year in the sport. About half the room had done up to Iron distance and the rest had done a real mix of distances and races. 2 of the group were running marathons shortly after we got back (Brighton and London) and one was even gearing up for his first ultra-marathon too (I think this is incredible but insane- 26.2 miles is more than enough for me thank you!).
The next 10 days consisted of a structured training programme with plenty of cycling miles around the island, some running drills and speed work sessions and plenty of swimming. I have to say one of my biggest anxieties of the programme was the open water sea swimming. I’ve had 2 panic attacks in my life and they were both in the ocean (so ironic that I’m in the Navy). Once when I fell off a Flying Fish inflatable that hangs off the back a speedboat (longest, most excruciating 4 minutes of my life trying not to pass out from pure fear as the speedboat came back to get me) and once trying to snorkel off a house coral reef in Egypt. My friend jumped straight into (what I can only describe as) the abyss and I stood frozen and petrified on the pontoon, unable to move and trying not to vomit. I just could not jump into that deep water!!! After some serious talking to from my friend for a good 10 minutes, I eventually got in (very slowly) and managed to calm myself down enough to paddle and snorkel in the water. In the end I found it ok (as long as I was near the reef and pontoon) and even managed a beginner’s scuba dive later that week. Some sort of progress I guess.
I’ve always vowed I will never enter a sea swim race because I’m terrified of the variables in sea states, swell, depth and conditions that I just cannot control. I honestly think I could get through a 1.9km swim for a half iron distance race but a full IM distance sea swim is a no go for me and I would only ever do it for an iconic once-in-a-lifetime race. I was really not looking forward to the first OW swim session but thankfully the sea was calm and I was also surrounded by a few others who were equally as apprehensive and felt reassured that it wasn’t just me! We cracked out 1500m and despite having to repeatedly remind myself I wasn’t going to drown or die (goal number 1) and keep my breathing steady, I held my own and felt good by the end. The second OW swim session was much choppier and immediately I was unhappy stood on the beach. Quite a few made the understandable decision not to go in. One of the triathletes said to me “it’s fine once you get past those waves- I reckon about 200m”. Nothing about that statement seemed fine by me. I didn’t want to get in let alone get past 200m of breaking waves smashing me in the face before I hit deep water heading further away from the shore. I stood in my wetsuit, arms crossed, feeling sick and frustrated watching the others get in.
The longer I stood there, the more annoyed I got and I decided I needed to conquer the fear and get in. I reasoned that anything was better than nothing and simply getting in and trying was an important step. I got a spotter on the beach as the others had all gone and focused on swimming out for 100m or so and just seeing how I felt. Anxious and trying desperately not to hyperventilate I just got in and tried to keep going. I rolled over waves, inadvertently drank some chunks of sea water and just tried to swim forward. After a few minutes, I checked my Garmin and was just shy of 150m. I rounded it up to 150m and then turned around and swam back. In hindsight I wished I’d got in with the others and swam with the assurance and safety of other people around me but I let my fears get the better of me. Ultimately, I’m still glad I did something and I really felt like I achieved a few steps forward in the sea swim battle.
The cycling we did was amazing. The first ride was to Petra to test out the bikes and ease us all in relatively gently. Split down into 3 different groups, we all followed the same route, just slightly different paces. The first major ride was though Polença and Formentor all the way to the lighthouse and back. A brilliant little stop for a coffee and cake at the Lighthouse followed by a beer and an ice cream in Port De Polença on the way home. We rode the Ironman Mallorca 70.3 bike course which was brilliant but pretty tough and I’m not sure I fancied running a half marathon off the back of it! You’re climbing pretty much from 10km to 35km although its steady and pretty good once you get into a nice rhythm. Plus, you’re surrounded by 100’s of other cyclists all doing the same thing! The descent is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and I love nothing more than getting low in your bars and just belting it all the way down. If anything on these roads, the cars get in the way of cyclists and not the other way round! I’m pretty fearless when it comes to descending although in the back of my mind I do worry that one day I’ll come off and meet my peril but until then I’ll enjoy every second of these rides!
Our toughest day was a ride to Sa Calobra. The start of this ride was a repeat of the 70.3 bike course up to the filling station at Escorca and then you carry on going up. Nice and steady, quite rolling but up. Quite a few of the team had done this iconic ride before but I hadn’t so I had no idea what to expect. We finally reached the top of the descent ready to plummet all the way down and then it dawned on me that for this particular ride you get the good bit first (the descent) and then have to face the fact that you have to climb back out afterwards! This feeling got more and more real the faster I went and the more hairpin bends I rode around. All I kept thinking was ‘how am I going to get back up this?!?!?!’. We sat at the bottom in a cafe surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists and bus tourists contemplating the ride back and then we all set off. The key was definitely to get into a rhythm and just. Keep. Going. I stopped a few times just to take in the view (and a few pics) but made it back up the 8km climb with some juice left in the legs ready to get back (thank goodness!).
I’m relatively new to this triathlon/cycling holiday stuff. We cycled from San Francisco to San Diego a few years ago (still remains one of our best holidays), I went to Club La Santa in 2018 with my mother-in-law and friend Jenny (also amazing) and then the tri camp in Mallorca. Many of my friends can’t get their heads around why we choose to do this as a ‘holiday’ but to us it’s just brilliant. Time away to do what we want, explore new destinations on two wheels, meet amazing people and continue training and moving forward in the world of Triathlon. If you ever get chance to do a tri camp or even just get abroad and cycle – I can’t recommend it enough!