Well this has been a LONG time coming! I may be 28 weeks into my Latin American Pentathlon but it had been 83 weeks since I had been able to get home to see my family. Covid 19 had thwarted three attempts at a trip back home last year and I couldn't quite believe that it had been Christmas 2019 since I had seen my mum and dad. Facetime can do so much, but I knew they were feeling the passing of time as much as I was. At times it felt like they might as well have been on the other side of the world, like my virtual challenge, for how difficult it was to get there.
It was a lovely sunny day as Ian and I landed in Aberdeen and saw my dad's smiling face waiting to pick us up. I never thought I would be so excited about a 'holiday' to Aberdeen!
There are numerous highlights of our 5 days up north but here are a few..
Obviously seeing my mum and dad - finally being able to hug them and REALLY know they are safe and well.
Seeing my best friend Shirley for the first time in 19 months and hugging her and feeling quite emotional. Walking round a sunny Hazlehead Park with (and her new lockdown addition Barney the dog) finally felt like there was some normality in the world.
I managed to meet up with my brother and his family who I hadn't seen for two years which was a rare treat. Then that night it was up to see Shirley, her family and my good friend Shäron up at Shirley's house, in fact, correction, in her garden! We were so lucky with the weather in Aberdeen spending most of our time outside whilst there were thunderstorms in London. The only time we were reminded of the pandemic was getting our masks on to get a taxi back to our flat, it was bliss.
I managed to reacquaint Ian with some childhood memories he had of a school trip from Glasgow to Aberdeen (no such things as extravagant overseas trips in our day!). It always makes me laugh that the things he associates with Aberdeen are the Maze at Hazlehead Park and the statue of Rob Roy that stands amongst the trees overlooking the River Dee. I promise Aberdeen does actually have more going for it than that!
We also shared some comedy moments during our trip like accidentally locking ourselves INTO the flat we were staying in. All I am saying is I am glad we were on the ground floor when I was pushed out of the half open window to try and open the door. Then my 'jumping on the bed like a 4 year old' which shifted half of the slats so that the mattress ended up through the frame on the floor. Oops.
Then there were the things that I remember about this lovely coastline from when
I lived up here. Just along from Aberdeen is the small harbour town of Stonehaven.
I love the ruggedness of the location of Dunnotar Castle, a ruined cliff top fortress which was the home of the Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland. It's a great walk down the cliffside to this castle, and seems to also be a popular stair running location now too. If only I had thought to wear my running kit...but no, better training opportunities lay ahead...
Then what better way to finish off my trip but with a swim in the North Sea! Well, Adam Peaty had just won Team GB their first gold olympic medal that morning so it seemed only fitting that I meet my former swimming training partner Allison for a dip. I hadn't quite factored in that the tide would be coming in and also that it was a pebbly beach, which made for a comedic entry to the water a bit like Victoria Wood's channel swim sketch. We turned around to see that quite an audience had gathered on the beach front to watch us so we had to try and look a bit professional. Not that these two short clips show that, but there was a lot of swimming too once we had stopped messing about, honest.
And I have decided that the 'bravery' of that dip has counted as this month's 'wildcard challenge' ;)
Of course in amongst all this I am supposed to be doing my distance challenge, and having given myself permission to have some time off training, I have still racked up the following over the last two weeks:
This would see me having left Bolivia and entering the northern part of Argentina. In fact this is where I can share a REAL photo, as the city of Salta was where I actually started my Andes cycling adventure in 2017. Ah, fond memories
So it's been a week of nostalgia in many ways, but plans have already been made for return visits of my friends and family to come to London and that makes me happy!
It's a bit of a milestone, 26 weeks in and I have covered a total of 4,713km. That averages out at just over 180km a week, and puts me very much on track to complete my challenge by the end of the year.
After an easy post race week last week, this week I was back on form and managed to rack up the following:
I had a look back over some of the moments from the past 26 weeks and find it really validating to see that I have managed to train through all conditions.
In the first week I was cycling through snow and swimming in 3deg water. I am loving the current heatwave but still miss the post swim shivering.
This distance would now see me approaching El Palmar reserve, located in the Sudanes province of Chuquisaca. It has a surface of (595km2)with an altitude between 1,000 and 3,200 meters. The region is typically mountainous with deep canyons. In the Area there are 270 species of large plants, and 24 species of mammals - six of which are on the list of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). These are the eyeglass bear, puma, Andean cat or of scrubland or titi, mount k' uchi or mountain pig. There are a further 112 registered species of birds belonging to 30 families. The most important are the condor, mountain turkey, Ipicua, the woodpeckers (5 species) and eight species of parrots. Moreover, six species of amphibians, five of lizards and seven of snakes were identified. There are also 42 species of registered butterflies. The Area is sparsely settled by small communities of the Quechua that inhabit the valleys.
The closest I actually got to wildlife this week was being held at Richmond Park when I was cycling over to my Teddington swim on Friday. I am used to the level crossing at Mortlake, but this one was much more interesting. A group of us waited a good ten minutes whilst at the final count around 45 deer crossed the road.....just as you thought the last one had gone another group appeared and did a slow meander over. Another reminder to take the time to appreciate nature.
The heatwave lent itself nicely to an impromptu paddleboarding session on Sunday, organised by Ian as a way to put the 'Stand Up' element into SUP after his first go at this last month. And he did well, as this photo demonstrates - despite wake being caused by a speed boat that was circling past us. Only one dip in the water this time, hooray!
Well, I am on a roll this week! After a few months of intensive studying I was delighted on Friday to receive confirmation that I had passed the second part of my Ironman Coaching Certification and am now a certified coach!
In my true style I had kept the fact that I was studying for this on the low down.
So how did this all come about?
Well all credit to my cycling friend Giovanna for approaching me a few months ago to ask if I would consider coaching her in her endurance cycling pursuits (plus some running and swimming). Despite my passion for developing people as part of my nnoodl business, my initial reaction was a mix of excitement coupled with self doubt.
I recognised that I have extensive experience in endurance sports from my own years of running marathons, taking part in long distance triathlons, open water swimming competitions, and of course my Andes challenge, but the fact that I wasn't 'qualified' didn't sit easily with me. However, seeing myself as an 'aspirational coach' and with a very good understanding of the science of coaching from my own experience, we set off on our coach/athlete journey. The next person I have to give credit to is Tom Frearson, my own triathlon coach, who suggested I might like to take undertake the Ironman coaching programme to solidify my credibility. Huge thanks to Tom for being so encouraging in this area, it really made me think I could do this.
The programme is seen as the gold standard in endurance sports education. Designed and developed by best triathlon coaches in the world, it is made up of some really intensive content covering the science of coaching, the kinematics of the swim, bike and run, sports nutrition, strength and conditioning, creation of training plans and more. I felt like I was back at school! There are scenarios and questions as you go along. but the first part of the certification process was a 50 question exam which you have to get over 75% in to progress to the second part. It felt hard, but I managed to get 94% and was delighted to be able to progress. This was where the hard work really began though.
I had to review a 27 page athlete questionnaire and do an assignment which essentially planned all of the factors for her to complete a full Ironman event. This was 14 pages of setting the overall volume and intensity of training for a 25 week plan, including the finer details of sessions, nutrition, hydration and strength and training plans. Scenarios were thrown in for good measure to assess how you could adapt and communicate around your athletes changing demands. I felt like 'Jane from Texas' was a real person and found myself waking up thinking about how to change her training microcycles to accommodate her 'B' race and ensure she didn't aggravate an old running injury. It felt all consuming for a while and I procrastinated and went back and forth changing things.
For this element you have to achieve at least 80% to pass, and it is common for the assessment to be sent back to the student to make corrections. Well, can you imagine my delight to receive my 'Congratulations' email from Ironman University to say I had achieved 93% !!
I think my school days biology teacher Mr Coates would be equally surprised given that my friend Shirley and I were notorious for 'having a right carry on' in his class, leading to me not doing so well in my biology O Grade. Ah but these are changed days!
I am particularly keen to develop my knowledge around working with females and understanding how our hormonal changes affect our muscles and ligaments and all manner of other things which can affect performance. There is in fact another course on this area in progress, but that is for another blog!
All of that and I haven't even given an update on my 'Latin American Pentathlon' progress. Well, understandably after last weekend, I was on an easy week, with instruction to just 'do things I enjoyed'. It turns out that pretty much is swimming and cycling, as I still managed to rack up 125km on the bike and 4k swimming.
This would have me at the small city of Camiri in Bolivia where the 65,897 inhabitants are known as "Camireños." Camiri is situated on the banks of the Parapeti River in a small valley surrounded by rolling hills on the east, north, and south, and by the Aguarague mountain range on the west.
But for me this week, it was mostly about kicking back in the Serpentine and enjoying some downtime!
It's been quite a week, celebratory times, mixed in with some sad news.
First of all, the obligatory look at the distances, and with my 'monthly wildcard challenge' of an aquabike event planned in, I was told by Coach Tom to reduce any unnecessary mileage so that I could be well rested and sharpened ahead of my race.
Normally I would talk about my upcoming monthly challenge but I am incredibly cautious about promoting anything I have planned in the way of races ahead of time, in case things don't go as planned. I was feeling particularly apprehensive ahead of my race this time as it had been two full years since I had raced and challenged myself in this way and I really didn't know what could happen.
Anyway, more on that to follow, the distances this week are looking like this:
This distance would see me arriving at the largest city in Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which translates as 'Holy Cross of the Mountain Range'. The city was first founded in 1561 by Spanish explorer Ñuflo de Chavez about 200km east of its current location, and was moved several times until it was finally established on the Pirai River in the late 16th century. This thriving city has the largest and most diverse population in Bolivia where modernity mixes with tradition such as the beloved national drink chica. This is a milky, sour beverage, made out of fermented corn, quinoa or peanuts, Chicha can be a potent alcoholic drink or a refreshing soft drink. Having actually sampled some of South America's 'traditional drinks' I can only imagine caution should be exercised with the alcoholic version of this! But more on that when I get to Chile....
The sad news this week came in the form of hearing from my partner Ian's friends in France that their lovely dog Brodie had sadly passed away. An incredibly gentle giant of a dog, Brodie was a Leonberger who I only had the pleasure of meeting once on a trip to see them in 2019. He changed my mind about my love of small dogs (although I will always still love a westie) and I could totally see the appeal of this beautiful breed. At 12 and a half years old, he had been suffering with some health problems, but I know his sudden decline and passing still came as a big shock and huge loss to his owners Jim and Sandra. Rest in peace lovely Brodie, I hope there are lots of treats and ear rubs where you are now.
But onto happier times - although Sunday's race didn't start out that way.
It was a truly miserable morning as we arrived at the race start at 7am in Marlow, and Ian tried to optimistically tell me the rain was easing off. I got soaked as I ran just the 500m or so to the race registration and back, and then once again as I racked my bike.
We tried to joke it off with our usual "well you can only get so wet" Scottish take on the situation. But I was worried about the bike, this was a route with hills, and downhills have never been something I have been particularly confident on, let alone in the wet.
Then there was putting on a wetsuit for only the second time since 2019. I have a great suit, but I still hate the palaver of putting it on, and how it feels. A slightly surreal swim start ensued as, rather than a mass start we were allocated a 15minute window for our wave and then started off at 15 second intervals. With no race briefing on the day I ended up double checking with everyone around me where exactly in the river the swim started, and where the 1500m loop was. I was called forward over the chip timing mat, and then told to sit on the edge before being given the signal to officially start.
I dropped into the Thames and was immediately off. There were other races already in progress and so it was a case of trying to find your 'Covid friendly' space in amongst the other swimmers, whilst also keeping my ideal pace. I must admit, this is one of the first triathlon swims I can honestly say I enjoyed! It must be in large part down to my winter open water swimming practice as I didn't feel stressed and came in at 24:52, a PB over this distance of about 4 minutes! Then it was up a ladder out of the water and a run for the bike. It had bucketed down with rain all during the swim and my bike and surrounding kit were soaked, but I was on my way.
Ian was on the edge of the course trying to stay dry whilst also being in charge of those all important race shots!
We had only driven this route once in the car and I was surprised at how challenging the long climb up to the halfway point was, my lower back was feeling it, as needless to say my legs were. Then there were the unexpected temporary traffic lights - they caught me out both out and back and I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or annoyed at the 90sec+ stoppage at either side. But it didn't seem to affect me too much and I was delighted to come in with a bike time of 1:22 on this Olympic distance route. I must admit I was relieved that I had played to my strengths after achilles niggles and didn't have to add in the run at the end of the bike. I am loving aquabike events just now!
I was so happy to see Ian standing there cheering as I ran in with my bike for the final 500m. He is the best supporter - usually the tallest person in a crowd and always the most enthusiastic! I think he was as surprised as I was to see me arrive back so soon.
It wasn't until I arrived home and checked the results that I found out I was the first female, the oldest female, and came in 6th overall!
And so that called for a celebratory curry and beer :)
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.