A long time ago… in a galaxy far away (I know.. I’m committing the cardinal sin of mixing a Star TREK related blog title with a Star WARS related opening line)… I was a gym-bunny.
And I don’t mean; someone who would go to the gym on a Saturday morning… I mean a proper, bona-fide, “go as often as I could”, paid up member of the gym-bunny community.
I think, at one point, I used to go pretty much daily and I even put together a fairly well equipped gym at home… you know… because just going once in a day is never enough.
All of that was really before I re-discovered the joys of triathlon which, for me at least , generally involves training either outdoors, in a pool or at home on a turbo trainer. The gym doesn’t really figure in that equation.
But now that I’ve started to allow myself to think about Ironman Hamburg, in July, I also needed to think about how I wanted to approach my training for it.
It’s a conversation I’ve had with myself through the pages of this blog before (I’m assuming that no-one else reads it, of course)… Do I simply repeat 2014 and my Ironman Sweden training approach?
Or do I try something different?
We all know the saying; “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.
Well I think that’s relevant here.
I actually don’t WANT to get the same result that I got in Sweden… my natural competitiveness with myself urges me to try to better my first result… whether I can or not is besides the point.. I’m 4 years older now, don’t forget.
But – it’s clear that if I want a different result, I need to do different things.
The most straightforward route to an improved Ironman time for me, let’s not forget, is to be a better runner.
The run leg of Ironman Sweden took me the biggest part of 7 hours and that was wholly down to the fact that, all year, I’d barely run more than 25 miles combined… so asking myself to run 26 in one go… after a long swim and bike… was “ambitious”.
I did it… but it was painful, as many of you will know.
These days, the fear of injuring my artificial hip (which held me back from doing any real running training ahead of Sweden) has diminished for some reason (and I genuinely can’t explain that) although I’m still not keen on repeatedly running distances in excess of 3 miles so I need to do something to make the 26 on the day a little more palatable.
I also wonder whether a generally physically stronger version of me might be able to drag myself around an Iron-distance a little quicker than I did on that sunny August day in 2014. Previously, my cardiovascular fitness has been wholly responsible for my having reached the finish line of any event in which I’m entered… that and my ability to “endure”.
And it’s this desire to improve my running and general strength that has re-ignited my interest in the gym.
On Tuesday evening, then, I turned up at the leisure centre where I generally head for the swimming pool – all bright eyed and bushy tailed – and found myself following the people wearing their nice new gym-attire.
I’ve no doubt that, to the regulars there, I looked like another “New Year’s Resolutioner” whom they’d see for a few weeks… but no more.
I started by pointing myself towards the cardio machines – and one particular unit stood out… almost like a cross trainer, but not quite – this piece of equipment seems to mimic the action of running without the impact that tends to come with slapping one foot repeatedly in front of the other for mile after mile.
The forwards/backwards motion of your legs is almost entirely free – rather than “fixed” as would be the case on a cross-trainer. So it’s your muscles that are engaged in making sure that your back leg ends up in front of you, repeatedly – as opposed to the concept that sheer mechanical momentum will force your legs to keep swapping places
It’s also your muscles that dictate how high you raise your legs on each “step”, how far forward you stretch out your front leg and how close your heel gets to your backside as you flick it at the end of the “stride”.
All of this, though, is done with your feet planted firmly on the “pedals” so there’s no impact whatsoever.
That sounds ideal for someone who wants to run but doesn’t want to damage anything!
I got on and, after a minute or two spent looking like a baby deer trying to take its first steps, got into my stride. It’s a clever “gadget” – the screen in front of you continually shows a real-time trace of the “shape” that your feet are making (as if viewed from the side) and so encourages you to not only make sure that each leg is doing the same thing (which mine tend not to!) but also makes you consciously raise your knees a bit more rather than just lolloping (yes – it IS a word) along.
Elsewhere in the gym, I huffed and puffed my way through various upper-body weight routines… training all major muscle groups… as well as various leg weights exercises (at which I discovered myself to be surprisingly weak).
Whilst, from a weight’s perspective, I think I’d intended on going in there and “finding my feet” – not necessarily pushing myself too hard at this first visit – I quickly remembered what it was all about and was selecting challenging weights pretty much from the off.
Realistically, I have the opportunity to visit the gym once or twice a week – any more than that and my other training activities would need to start reducing, which I’m not really keen to do – and I’m genuinely not sure whether a gym visit or two will make the kind of difference that I want it to… one thing is for sure, though… it can’t harm to try.
And what about the most important aspect of anyone’s training; enjoyment?
Did I enjoy it?
Well, before I answer that question, I’ll point out my own observation that some of those who prefer the great outdoors (which, I should add, I still do) can be found almost sneering at those who frequent the gym instead – almost as if there is some kind of superiority thing about breathing fresh-air while you train.
I’ve never been one to subscribe to that notion, to be honest… I’ve always felt that, as long as you’re enjoying your training, it makes little difference to me whether you do it in a gym or outside.
And, yes… I did enjoy my training in the gym.
I enjoyed it quite a lot, if truth be told… I could sense the improvements to be had and I find that hugely motivational.
Sure – for me – if I had to choose between the gym and, say, cycling outdoors, the gym wouldn’t get a look-in but, thankfully, I don’t have to choose… I thoroughly enjoyed the change in direction and have no intention of stopping.