How Hard Can It Be?

Ok where do I start, that's the hardest part so I thought I would start by saying that to get me started, now what?
Why sign did I sign up for Challenge Bahrain? Good question… I really dislike swimming, swim with my head out of the water and don't swim except at events, good start. The longest tri distance I've ever done is a Sprint, how much harder can 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21km run be compared to 750/20/5? A lot, was the answer!

Anyway my dream was that this was going to be a father/daughter bonding journey. With Holly and I signed up I could see us becoming training buddies and having lots of wonderful, quality time together. Those early morning rides that I thought we would improve together while putting the world to rights… how wrong could I have been?! If you are a teenager the rides started in the middle of the night, they will be a memory that will forever haunt me. Waking up your teenage daughter at 4.45am on a Friday morning to go on a 90km ride is something you should do with caution, in fact don't do it – it bites! The dream ended more like a nightmare – only joking Holly!

Seriously though, it was great that Holly signed up to do Challenge Bahrain. Not many girls her age (I think she was the youngest) would even tri this, never mind giving up a lot of time and some weekends aswell.

Training Plan: Time to get serious:

My plan was easy, swim the distance at least once to make sure I could do it, then get a wetsuit before the event as this would half my time!

Bike every Tuesday at the F1 track (5 laps - don't want to over do it) and cycle at Al Wathba every Friday morning (using the term morning seems wrong for a 5.30 start and I'm not a teenager!) I was never really sure what I was going to do at Al Wathba, I normally decided the distance on the day or pre-planned it the night before by asking Holly what she was doing and copying her – at a safe distance!
Run most morning before work (40-50 minutes max) and a few Striders sessions at the Golf Club (thanks Kev) and intervals on a Sunday night (thanks Jillian) building up to some bike run sessions at Al Wathba.

What could go wrong??!!!!

Although it might not look like a plan you would get from 220 or the like, it was what I wanted to do and knew it would work for me. I knew if I signed up to the Russ Fraser Training Plan I wouldn't do any of the swims so I didn't want to waste his valuable time. Also knowing that he's ex RAF I thought that the training he set would be too easy for an ex Senior Serviceman!

First thing I did was get a new bike, or a second hand one. Sam gave me his Planet X…for nothing… just like that! I suppose it was mine anyway as we bought it as a Christmas present 2 years ago. Thanks Sam. A quick – if there is such a thing - visit to see Toby and I was good to go!

Then I signed up to do the 4 week Primal Transformation Programme at Haddins new gym, Masdar City in Sep/Oct. Why you ask, would someone training for a triathlon sign up to a one month group boot camp/weight loss programme. The answer, I wanted to kick start my training by getting my overall fitness up to a good level and get my weight back down. I had seen the results of the previous Primals and wanted to give it a go. It worked a treat, I lost 9kg and won 5k AED for my efforts by coming third in the Body Transformation competition! It was a really good starting point for me, I did continue my usual running and cycling but not as much. Not to worry I still had about 9 weeks until the event to work on the three disciplines.

If you want to lose some weight in the off season or have a fat partner Primal is the thing to do, Ange loved it!

So, back to the training. It was going so well and after a few weeks I started to really feel the benefits of doing Primal and following my own training plan. My running was coming on, my speed felt good and I'd done the Raha Gardens Loop a couple of times so distance-wise it was all going to plan. The interval sessions on the turbo trainer were starting to get a bit easier as I got fitter. These sessions took a lot of planning. Flick on MTV, work really hard for a song then easy for a song and on and on, working hard again during the adverts. Tens songs later plus adverts and I was finished and I mean really finished! For a change I would switch to VH1 or MTV Cribs, for the latter just change pace every time they move into a new room, job done!

Time I think, for a triathlon. I signed up for the Roy Nasr Memorial Tri at Jebil Ali, this is a great event I think everyone would really enjoy. It’s a Sprint distance in a fantastic location and really well organised, it has a great buzz about it. I beat my time from the last one by 6 minutes, a sprint distance PB. Now I just had to do nearly 4 times that distance in less than 2 months time, easy.

I was on a roll, feeling good and fast… then disaster struck! My left hamstring went whilst doing a sprint session at Sunday night Striders. I was really gutted as I felt like I was in a really good place with my fitness and race weight (my aim was 80kg for the race – from 93kg). I gave it a weeks rest then did the Kilo Marathon, which made it a lot worse surprise surprise! I had no intention of running until an hour before the race, Ange forced me!

This made me do two things both of which I don't like doing, spend money and swim – not necessarily in that order or at the same time!

I went to see Lynn Hayhoe who was fantastic and after 2 minutes told me I needed to see a Chiropractor because my hips did not line up properly. I had to do what she said because everyone knows "my hips don't lie''! I went to see Steve at the Canadian Medical centre who did his stuff........... I can honestly say that the difference was noticeable straight away, I was a lot more flexible overall, could even touch my toes for the first time in years and my hamstrings where stronger when I tested them in the gym. With Lynn working her magic I was sure I'd be able to make it to the start line. In the meantime – and probably because I did the Kilo Marathon - I had to pull out of The 5* Aquathon and Striders Half Marathon, it killed me to help out at both of these events especially the 1/2.

Swimming. I had a few lessons with Carol Goody as I'd heard good things about her. She was good and although I gave up after a few sessions (due to my lack of interest - did I mention I don’t like swimming?) I could feel that my swimming had improved. I could even swim with my head in the water – I just choose not to!

My training now consisted of bike sessions or the cross trainer, running was still too much as I needed to protect my hamstring. I also did one swim session with AD Tri Club at Al Yasmina. This was the first time I had swam in a group class since school. Of course it killed me - so I didn't go again, didn't want to peak too early.

In the final few weeks before the event I decided that I would run after the bike sessions at Al Wathba but no more than 2km, just to get my legs moving off the bike. For a change I stuck to the plan right up until the final week when I ran 8km, it felt good but very slow but still good – it gave me abit of confidence.

One week to go (bear with me!) it was time to write my race plan which ended up being more of a whole weekend plan just so everything was covered.

1. Buy new Tri kit – only downfall of losing so much weight
2. Wait for wetsuit to arrive from Wiggle
3. Take bike to Adventure HQ so they could box it for me
4. Fly Sam to Bahrain to unpack and build it
5. Take Ange to pack, unpack, make sure I had everything I need
6. Race
7. Beer
8. Get Sam to pack bike
9. Beer
10.Take bike box back to Adventure HQ so they could unpack bike and build it

The wetsuit arrived from Wiggle - too small. I tried to convince myself that it fitted like a glove – a very very small glove – but swimming involved moving and breathing... it was definitely too small! Michael On kindly gave me one to tri at my one and only sea swim in AD, at Yas Links the weekend before the race. This was the first time I'd ever worn a wetsuit and stupidly forgot to use Glide so my neck was red raw by the time I had done about 700 meters - hopefully it would be ok on the day!

Adventure HQ came to the rescue – again – with the tri suit. Great Jaggad tri kit, tried on in the shop and packed for race day.

During the week I started eating a lot more protein, not sure why but carb loading was so yesterday - for now! I had marmite and crackers for lunch each day as I was told it was good for you if you sweat a lot – I’ll believe anyone! I also cut out alcohol - this was going to be a long week!!

Time flies, it felt like years since we'd signed up for this but all of a sudden it was here. It was time to pack the car and leave, got to the airport and had a beer to calm my nerves. Ok I didn't but it's hard sat in the lounge or even being in an airport and not have a drink, this must be serious! (The event or the drink problem - not sure, yet!)

Got to Bahrain, chauffeured to the hotel by the Challenge staff all very impressive! Are all events like this (AD Tri Club take note!!) Checked in and went to bed worrying about the swim. Sam arrived in the early hours, a long way for him to travel but worth it, for him and us. He was a great help building both the bikes, I’m sure they would still be on the hotel room floor with bits left over if it had been down to me and Holly! We stayed at the Crown Plaza which was great as it was so close to T1 you could walk, one less worry on the morning of the race.

Swim practice 1: Sam had arrived with a new wetsuit for me as a surprise – thanks Sam. It was great to have him around but to be honest he was probably more excited to see all the pro's and their bikes than us. I used the new wetsuit and it felt great. Now for some serious swim training, should I swim the course, 1km, 800m…. mmm can’t decide. Then they announced ‘Welcome to Swim Practice 1, for everyone who has just arrived there is coffee and cake was being served a mere
200m swim away on a pontoon the other side of the water’ – decision made, 400m it is! It was easy, 200m out, 5 minute break and 200m back, this training was going to help on the day I could feel it.

Went to the Expo in the afternoon at the F1 Circuit, took the bike to give it a spin around the track which was really good but a bit hilly! Bought some new goggles, not sure why but I think it was because they looked fast, time will tell. We then got caught up in the Prince Nasser group doing a tour with his entourage close behind him. It was time to register, no going back now - and the bag was really nice!
Time to head back to the hotel and rest for the night.

Swim practice 2: It was time to tri out the 1 day old wetsuit again and my new goggles. They worked a treat, I could actually see what each cake was this time, the ginger ones where lovely. Another 400m cracked - this was going to be a walk in the park!

Back to T2 that night for a 5* Pasta Party and race brief. I don’t usually do race briefs as I usually just follow the crowd in front of me but stayed for this one seeing as I was taking the whole thing seriously – I had to set a good example to him, didn’t want him picking up any bad habits. The Challenge guy who gave the brief was so dull I felt like crying, never again. Ho hum, bus and bed.

Packed the transition bags, checked, checked again, got Ange to check and then check again just in case. Then it was off to rack-up. It was a great feeling seeing so many athletes we knew and also watching Sam talk to some of the Pro's like they are old friends (they are, he said!) Did what we had to do then walked around transition for 30 minutes while Sam took pictures of every bike and it’s chainset, rear derailleur, front derailleur – get the picture? Yawn yawn!

That night I felt really good, I don't get nervous (others might say different) we went out for a meal, chicken breast stuffed with dates and veg - mmm really nice. We went back to the hotel really early as we knew we would be getting up early the next day. Holly was nervous but ready and looking forward to the Challenge (did you get what I did there!). I felt nervous for her but knew she would make us proud and she did. Woke at 2am going through my race and working on my speech for the Awards Ceremony, can't believe how many people I would have to thank, this was going to be a long night.

Woke Holly up at 6.20 instead of the 6.30 she has asked for – 1st mistake of the day - 10 minutes what difference would that make! A lot it turned out, how we laugh about it now! Got to T1 at 0710 – 2nd mistake of the day - lots of time to put the drinks on the bikes and last minute checks or so we thought. T1 closed at 0700 not the 0730 we thought (I blame the dull Challenge brief guy). Nightmare, we had to ask a marshal to put the drinks on the bikes and hope our tyres etc were ok, too late to worry now - I was so worried.

We watched the Pro start, I couldn’t believe that some of them came out of the water after 20 minutes. 1.9km in 20 minutes, hopefully it was a short swim course - no such luck! Quick toilet break before mine and Holly's turn, it was good they had so much water on the floor of the toilets you could wash you feet - at least I hope it was water, too worried to worry about this!

Holly went first, a bit scared of what lay ahead, I felt really sorry for her but very proud that she had made it this far. The cannon when off and she started, it was really emotional and for the first time that day I felt like crying - but not the last. My turn next, as I was saying goodbye to Sam (who was telling me to smash it!) and Ange, Chris McCormack - my new bff – passed by on his way to T2 TV studio to do the commentary, he stopped to wish me luck and to have a good race. This was the second time I nearly cried and the last, it was so nice of him to go out of his way on such a busy day, little things mean so much.

Swim: Wore my old goggles, not sure why but I changed my mind at the last minute.

BANG - CHALLENGE BAHRAIN and I'm off like a fish, a slow injured fish but still I was moving forward which was my plan from the start no matter what pace. The swim wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, lots of space except getting to the first buoy when everyone bunched or they did at the back not sure about the front. I kept telling myself to keep swimming until the really big building was really really big then look for the buoy and turn right and right again, easy! The coffee and cake pontoon wasn’t there today which was a bit upsetting but saved me some time. The swim back was ok as I drafted behind a few people for most of it. With about 100m to go I decided it was time to kick, I always forget to use my legs for the swim and normally just drag them with me, at least this time they floated because of the wetsuit (thanks Sam).

Swim 42 minutes - PB!

T1: I was already working out my new overall time whilst looking like a beached whale triing to remove its own skin, good job the volunteers helped pull my wetsuit off. Quick drink, gel then out on the bike, onto the carpet and down the chute with cheers from the support crew, Ange and Sam. Sam was shouting encouragement and telling me my swim time, this was going to be easy, only 90km on the bike and 21km run to go, what could go wrong?

Mounted the bike like a Pro and off I went with a big smile on my face waiting for the promised 70km stretch with a strong tail wind, all I would have to do was hang on to the bike! I must have gone the wrong way because this never happened - or at least not to me. Disaster after 19km, I got cramp in my dodgy hamstring, first time ever on the bike this had happened and only the second time during a Tri (the first was at the top of Jebal Hafeet during the run part of the Beast Tri) I had to stop get off the bike and stretch for what seemed like ages but was really about 4 minutes. This happened 4 times, the last at the 80km mark when I could see the F1 circuit. I think it cost me about 15 minutes which showed in my bike and overall time. The bike course was really good, not too easy but not difficult at all, great aid stations and volunteers. I made sure I had lots to drink, water, electrolytes and a gel about every 30 minutes. It was pleasing to see the traffic queues as you cycled passed, that must have really upset them - made me smile at least.

Bike 2 hours 58 minutes 26 seconds - too slow

Off the bike, just like T1 only this time looking like a wounded hippo because of the cramps. Passed my bike over to a stranger and sprinted as only a wounded animal can to get my bag and into the tent. Quick change, new Striders hat - check, sunglasses - check, trainers on - check, gel and drink then out on to the run course in the midday sun, deep joy. Ran about 400m gave my glasses to Sam, ran 200 more and threw my new hat away (sorry Danny) as I've never ran in either before so don't know why I thought I would today. Got to the 1km mark and over took Sarah Mueller who told me I looked good and well done, keep going (or words to that effect). You'll probably go passed me at about 15km I said and guess what - she did! The run was good even though it was hot you could still find some shade in parts and the animals took your mind of it a bit. The really big chickens that ran out in front of you on the road where a bit scary! I started to feel like I was getting a blister after about 2km but that wasn't going to stop me, stopped after about 7km to take my shoe off and sort out my insole or sock which was uncomfortable. Guess what it was, you never will so I'll tell you, a salt tablet that had fallen out of the small bag I had and landed in my shoe, sorted that out and off I went. I drank at every aid station and had a banana at some of them, then some warm fizzy coke at the last few, mmmmm!

I met Holly at 11km, she looked great and was in good sprits, running really well. We spoke for a bit then both carried on with our own race plans – finish the run. The cramps started again but luckily for me not until about 18km then 20km and 21km. I had to sit on the floor next to the pit lane about 300m from the finish to stretching before going around the corner to the finish chute.

The end, what a feeling running down thea chute, I can still hear the announcer now "here comes Paul O'Shea from Iraq!! Wow! Two Paul O'Shea’s crossing the line at the same time, one from Liverpool the other Iraq, what are the chances of that! Zero, I was the Paul O'Shea from Iraq, at least it made me smile even more which looks good on the photos.

Run time 2 hours 5 minutes 38 seconds - too slow

Overall 5 hours 51 minutes 42 seconds – my plan was sub 6hrs

Presented with the biggest medal ever and a finishers puffer jacket – handy for AD! It felt great to finish even though I was a bit disappointed with my time, not because of lack of effort but the cramps, I'm sure I could knock 20 minutes at least from my time without any more effort but I'm sure everyone has excuses – next time…..

Great way to round off the event, the Awards Ceremony - didn't need my speech after all - but it was great to see all the trophies Abu Dhabi won, well done everyone. Then outside to watch the fireworks, Dire Straits and Akon with a few beers, it had been a long wait! Back to the hotel for a well earned sleep. What a great night, day, weekend, week a few months this whole journey has been.

Thank you’s:

I knew that speech would come in handy.

Ange, great supporter and helper during the months leading up to the race and the time in Bahrain. It's a bit selfish doing these long events so you need all the help you can get. Without her this would be ten times harder, although I'm not sure her forcing me to do the Kilo Marathon was a good idea!

Holly, it was great training with her (sometimes), watching her cross the finish line was fantastic. She did really well, better than she thought. She was one of the youngest competitors, I was and am really proud of her.

Sam, great advice, great wetsuit, great bike builder/ packer (very expensive though) and a great support for me and Holly, thanks mate.

Russ (Fraz), how else would I get through a day at work without one of his small emails to read (by doing this!) Didn't understand most parts but overall they really helped point me in the right direction. Thanks also for all the other bits of advice and guidance, maybe next time if I need a good coach…… can you recommend anyone!

So what next? TriYas Sprint in Feb or Challenge Dubai, Oman and Bahrain, the 1 million dollars prize money sounds good and I do need a new bike, you can never have enough bikes! Just need to work on my swim, 42 mins down to 20, then a bit faster on the bike and the run, how hard can it be?

Thank you and goodnight