As well as treating patients who take part in sports events, we ourselves have a competitive nature. Some of us can be spotted on a track, trying to outrun rivals; or in a previous life, have proudly represented a nation as part of a martial arts team. In the case of Hannah Bridger, she was preparing for the Chatsworth Triathlon and needed expert attention.
Hannah required care in the lead up to the event and was placed in the hands of Fiona and Will, who himself had taken part in a triathlon. Using first-hand knowledge, proves we understand your injuries and can provide the best possible advice.
Growing up in New Zealand, I was always in close proximity to a warm surfing spot. But since moving to Manchester, warm seas aren’t as common as they are back at home and so, with a little peer pressure from a colleague, I decided to take up a new hobby – Triathlons.
Not only would the training help me to become familiar with my new Mancunian surroundings, but it would also be a challenge to compete in three very different sports: swimming, cycling, and running.
I can now say, from first-hand experience, it was a lot harder than I expected.
I have always been involved in outdoor sport, playing a bit of touch rugby, competing in Downhill Mountain biking and when I was a young buck, I used to play a bit of water polo. That all seems a life time ago, so to secure a fighting chance in finishing the triathlon, I had to get up to speed if I wanted to get anywhere with the competition!
Running wise, I have done a few half marathons in the past, so that box is ticked. I’ve biked until the cows have come home (although not a lot recently). However, I was a little anxious with the swimming, as I haven’t had as much practice compared to the other challenges of a triathlon.
During the event, participants need to be able to swim 750m without stopping in open water. Swimming 750m in a pool is hard enough, but if you grow tired you can rest midway; whereas in the open water, there are no opportunities to stop and take a breather.
With that in mind, I thought I would focus on my weakest link; I bought a pair of goggles and speedos and headed for the pool. I swam 50m front crawl and was completely out of breath; repeating this seven times, my shoulders soon started to feel sore and having swam a total of 350m, I decided to stop. Not a great start, I needed to find help.
There is a great advantage to working in a physio clinic; with being able to find advice by asking my colleagues, it became clear that I needed a balanced training program if I was to swim the 750m in a decent time. I first started with a bit of research on YouTube and swimming just 25m practicing only my technique; I did this before I sought out a bit of coaching, so that I had a basic stroke that only needed to be tweaked. I approached a few of the swimming coaches at Total Fitness Wilmslow for a few tips. They identified I was not rotating my trunk (from the hip to the neck) enough and was wearing my shoulders out unnecessarily, as well as a couple of other simple changes. The coaching helped immensely with the fine tuning and after focusing on my technique for a couple of weeks, I was ready to start on my training program.
I structured my regime to swimming three days a week, splitting the time between focussing on endurance, speed and my technique. The former is a longer swim at a steady state, whereas the speed session would be a shorter distance but much more intense. I then planned to swim with Uswim Openwater, which has the perfect triathlon training conditions with swimming in the Salford Quays Docks in a wetsuit and getting used to the cold water.
Two days of the week was spent running, one of which was at the local running track in Altrincham where I would do interval training; beneficial for building speed and tolerance to lactic acid. The other day would be a long distance run, which I progressed slowly each week. I cycled twice a week, fitting in a long ride during the weekends.
The weeks ticked by and after 5 weeks (half way through the training program) I started to develop an Achilles pain in the mornings; by this stage, I was running 14km on the weekends. One of the physios in the Wilmslow clinic identified it as tight and weak calf muscles. They prescribed a strict stretching program, replacing running with physio sessions and after 2 weeks off from my strict schedule, I was able to run pain free and recommence progressing on my run.
By this time the triathlon was looming and I was becoming quite proficient with swimming, being able to swim 1.5km during a session. I had a wetsuit from my surfing days, although it isn’t the best for swimming. Swimming outdoors is much harder than I anticipated, the cold takes your breath away and the wetsuit restricts your movement. I would definitely suggest buying a proper tri wetsuit for when you compete.
After a lengthy training regimen the triathlon day arrived, anticipation had been building and I barely slept the night before.
To set the scene, it was a cool, misty summer morning and the sun was coming through the clouds. The streets were clear due to the early start time and since it was my first triathlon, I made sure I arrived early to warm up. It was exhilarating watching the other participants and volunteers rush around. Everyone was there, ready to race.
I lined up at 9.10am and off we went, straight into the bitterly, cold water. Initially the shock of the water takes your breath away, but you have to overcome that in order to out-swim your rivals. The adrenaline quickly wears off and you have to find your rhythm, but soon enough you are running out of the water and into the changing area for the bike.
The cycling is the longest part. Fortunately the course wasn’t too hilly, therefore it was more about trying to keep a consistent speed I could maintain, finding that extra bit of energy to pedal on. The hardest part was getting off the bike and onto the run, as my legs were knackered and full of lactic acid. Despite the weight of my legs, I did it and smashed the goal after all that training!
The whole experience was really enjoyable, it’s a fulfilling accomplishment and swimming in open water, I now have a skill for life! What I take home, is that whilst the open water swimming can at first be quite daunting, doing your research well and taking the right advice from the experts like USwim, is the only way to go. This extends from specialist technical aspects such as stroke correction, right through to the less obvious, for instance, how to acclimatise to the water when it’s cooler!
I am positive that when someone decides to accomplish a triathlon, as with me, the swimming part is what puts most people off from entering. I am now a triathlete because there is help out there to assist with this process and it helps make a lofty goal like this eminently achievable. Equally with physiotherapy and the knowledge of a sports specialist clinic, all other aspects of the training process can be looked after and made to run smoothly.
Appreciation is owed due to the help I received from my colleagues in the clinic and the swimming coaches. The whole process from initial curiosity, right through to crossing the line has been a fantastic experience for me.
I am fit, I am a triathlete and I proved that anyone can do it. I am waiting to get my energy back, before signing up for the next one!!