Week 2 completed with me covering 191.4km. Only 8,620km to go!
The weather, coupled with my 'wildcard challenge' of completing 1000m of hill climbs on the bike at 6% or more meant that this week was a real test in many ways.
So, it's heavily skewed towards cycling again this week, the breakdown went like this:
183km cycling (most of it on hillls!)
Having covered a total of 386km so far, I would currently be just outside Puerto Berrio in Colombia. This is a major river port on the Magdalena, handling a lot of the famous coffee that comes out of this part of South America.
Again, the weather conditions in my part of the world couldn't be more different from my virtual one. Snow and ice in London whilst Puerto Berrio basks in 33deg!
The week got off to an interesting start after an unexpected snowfall on Sunday.
I had my mind set on a swim on Monday though, and so I tenaciously navigated my way out of a very icy street on my hybrid bike. The trip was rewarded with a VERY cold but lovely swim in the Thames, though yet again a super high flow rate of around 270 meant that what should have been a 400m swim registered as 156 as I battled against the current. Daaaah! Though as you can see, I'm still grinning like a lunatic...
But the most challenging part of my training was yet to come.....I had the hill climbs to do and neither the roads nor the weather were looking favourable. Could I do this on my turbo trainer indoors? Coach Tom said no, that was too 'easy' apparently, but advised safety first and that I could delay it until next week. But wimping out is not my style.
I did appreciate that steep downhills on skinny road bike tyres might not be the best idea though and I so decided to do them on my trusty hybrid. Now where to do the challenge? One of my favourite destinations to get the hills in is the Chilterns, but with travel of that distance out of the question just now I had to focus closer to home.
I am lucky to live in North London close to some great hilly locations. For those familiar with cycling in this area, there is a gem of a hill near Hampstead towards Highgate called Swain's Lane. Averaging at a gradient around 8% and maxing out at 20% over 900metres, it is the location of the Urban Hill Climb Race and enjoys legendary status in the London cycling community. That, coupled with some surrounding climbs and a 'nice' 12% hill near where I live, and I had my plan sorted.
Oh but the weather was grim. Rain, rain and more rain (the picture on the right was not taken in real time!). I used to do some hill reps with some of my cycling club buddies a few years ago on this circuit when...
a) it was dry
b) I was on a road bike that weighs about 7kg and
c) we did about 5 or 6 of them in a week
Contrast that with...
a) it was soaking wet
b) I was on a hybrid bike weighing about 14kg and
c) I had to do 15 reps this week
So, this circuit (8 hills) done 2 days in a row, elevation 517m each day, I think we can safely say job done!
I apologise for any motorists who witnessed me shouting and laughing manically in the rain wondering if this was some biblical event I was in the midst of....bucketing rain and plague (Covid). I found myself muttering 'is this the fine line between tenacity and madness?'
And so with very tired legs (and yet again in the rain) I had some running to do. too My second swim of the week came unstuck when not only did I get caught in a major downpour getting there, but was advised that the river flow was 'dangerously fast' so (even I) couldn't swim anyway.
But I do love a challenge, and although the week might have been grey and testing,
I did receive some bright news from my parents in Aberdeen. My dad had been for his vaccine! Although, like the past 13 months, I could only see them onscreen, I could feel his excitement that there may just be a light at the end of this very long tunnel....
So, week one of my challenge is done and if I were actually in South America I would be halfway between Barranquilla and Barrancabermeja, just south of Aguachica (aren't these great names!)
My current mileage split is sitting like this:
The paddleboarding and kayaking elements are yet to kick in.....
It would be difficult to try and simulate conditions given that the air temperature in Colombia is currently sitting around 26deg whereas London has been fluctuating between 1 and 10deg this week. And then there was the snow!
The water conditions however, I feel I might have been able to simulate to a point. Passing through this part of Colombia, the town of Magangue sits on the Magdalena river, which possibly shares some of the features of the Thames...a bit muddy and fast flowing.
The only difference being I can't help but feel that the Magdalena would have been significantly warmer than the Thames. I felt cheated by my two swims this week. With temperature in the Thames at around 6deg, I could only really stay in for about 11 or 12mins and with the river flow creeping up by the day, where I would normally have covered around 5 or 600 metres in that time, my Garmin depressingly recorded 2 or 300metres. Who has ever trained in an endless pool? Swimming for over 2minutes if was depressing to look up and see that I had barely moved! Was I tempted to fudge my distance to account for my real efforts? Yes! But that would be wrong - what if I was actually swimming against the current in the Magdalena?
Yes, hands up, the majority of my mileage this week has been cycling. Mostly due to Covid restrictions and easing back into my running after a bit of an achilles issue. Far from the dusty, hot hills of Colombia, my cycling has revolved around essential work cycling trips (laden with panniers), laps around parks and turbo/Zwift sessions.
But I did do those 'around a volcano', does that count??
And so onto the other most important component of the week - refuelling! Well at this time of year I would be gearing up to host my legendary (even though I say so myself) Burns Supper. Eight or nine friends, great food, Burns recitals, music and the slightly controversial (but delicious) haggis lasagne. So cue a pared back version for two.
BUT what a great surprise, in the spirit of what would be a welcome addition to anyone away from home doing an an endurance challenge - a 'Scottish Care Package' arrived from my lovely training buddy Allison all the way from Aberdeen. Comprising of butteries (look them up!), haggis, neeps and tatties crisps, shortbread, fudge and Irn Bru pastilles, what more could lift your spirits? Apparently sent as a thank you for arranging our weekly TRX training sessions. Well Allison it's been a pleasure and let's do some more reps next week to offset those carbs!
What does week two hold in store? Well you might think 'more of the same'. But no, Coach Tom has pulled a wildcard challenge for this month and here is is...
‘To prepare for the long climbs and descents in the Andes, this week let's get you doing something that you love… 1000m of climbs and descents at 6% or more on the bike’
Hmmm...thanks Tom, I think the word 'love' is ironic. Some more creativity will be required to try and get those sessions in.
And for those who know me, those descents worry me more than the climbs.
But that's another story for next week...
This year, between January and December, under my own steam in the form of a 'pentathlon' (in this case, swimming, cycling, running, paddle boarding and kayaking)
I will (virtually) cover the length of South America at 9,006km. This challenge will also include an undisclosed challenge from my coach each month that will push my comfort zone to the extreme.
As someone who likes to set themselves a challenge, I found myself getting disheartened in 2020 by training for triathlon events which couldn't take place.
I know I am not alone in feeling that the constant changing environment that we are living in was impacting my mental health.
A large part of my business nnoodl is about encouraging people to get out of their comfort zone and try new things. There is evidence that the more we set ourselves even small challenges, the more resilient we become, and so are better equipped to deal with the big challenges that life throws at us. If ever there was a time to be resilient it is now!
I needed to set myself a goal, an adventure which I had some control over.
Reflecting back on an event I did in 2017 where I completed an 800mile bike ride between Argentina and Chile across the Andes, I wondered how I could 'up the ante'.
Could I travel a distance which is equivalent to the length of South America?
What about adding in some further sporting disciplines to not only challenge myself but also replicate some of the terrain I would encounter in real life?
And so I decided on my version of a pentathlon, the Latin American Pentathlon:
Who better to help me with my challenge than Tom Frearson, Head Coach and Founder of Be Fearsome? A former Royal Marines Commando, keen Triathlete and Mountaineer, Tom has been coaching me over the past two years in my triathlon pursuits. We decided that in addition to the 'pentathlon' elements, that he will set me specific goals and challenges along the way to try and replicate some of the terrain and conditions I would face in real life. I have no idea what these are.......oh dear!
I am going to caveat this from the outset for the purists out there. I know how to research and plot a 'real' route but am using a bit of artistic licence here. My main aim was to replicate the distance on this virtual challenge, and tap into elements of the conditions along the way, for example climbs and descents, off road sections, cold water etc. So with that said....
Starting at Barranquilla, the 'Golden Gate' of Colombia, my route will take me through this cycling mad country into Bogota. From there I will pass through Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and onto Lima in Peru, situated on the country's arid coast. Then it is onto not one but two of Bolivia's bustling cities, La Paz and Santa Cruz de la Sierra. We continue to stretch reality as I zig zag across the Andes southwards into Salta in Argentina and across to the small mining town of Copiapo in Chile. I know from experience what a logistical exercise it is to make even one Andes and border crossing in reality. But hey, this is my imaginary challenge so I can go to all the places I want! Continuing through Chile and the metropolis that is Santiago, then on via the Alpine-like town of Villa la Angostura Through Puerto Aysen and onto Chile Chico where the Patagonian waters will really inspire me. Continuing south and back in Argentina to the city of El Calafate on the southern border of Lago Argentino and then Puerto Natales in Chile at the gateway to the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. We are now truly in some of the most stunning parts of Patagonia, surrounded by glaciers, lakes and rivers. The last leg takes me past Puerto del Hambre until my final destination of Ushuaia, aptly nicknamed 'The End of the World'.
How it works
The main reason for choosing this amazing part of the world for my inspiration is for the contrasting terrain and conditions it offers. It is these elements that I would like to challenge myself with: cold water swims and challenging kayak and SUP sessions; endurance testing climbs on the bike and run sections. I am no stranger to training in challenging weather conditions so I hope this sets me up for the winter sessions!
9,000km as a distance to cover over the next 11 months may seem achievable to a cyclist alone, but I have set myself some parameters around this. A percentage of the pentathlon must be covered by each of the five disciplines. With current Covid restrictions in place I am faced with the added logistical challenge of getting the mileage in with some of these sports. Just how far can I swim each month in open water in winter? Along the way I will be on the lookout for areas of the UK which I can use to test myself on. Restrictions allowing, there are already plans afoot for a Scottish adventure...
I will track my progress with my Garmin, synched with 'My Virtual Challenge' and update this blog page each week. My hope is that I can also inspire people along the way who are likewise missing their challenge fix to show that there are ways in which we can adapt and not only survive, but thrive.
Bring it on!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.