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Challenge Barcelona 2013 (part 2)

Nicki Combarro’s second installment in her blog series on training for an endurance triathlon. She is participating in a study at the University of Hertfordshire investigating the effects of training for an ironman distance triathlon.

Nicki on treadmill

So the weeks are ticking by and I am almost half way through my challenge of a lifetime!

Over the past few months I’ve been completing what’s called ‘base’ training – which ensures you have a good grounding in all 3 disciplines before the harder training starts!

My base training is going well, despite my having to spend 3 hours on the turbo trainer (static bike) in my dining room as the road conditions were too dangerous for me to attempt a road session.

After another batch of testing I was really pleased to see that the hard work is paying off; my skin folds and body weight were down and my lactate threshold had increased. (Your lactate threshold is the value your heart rate reaches before your body starts anaerobic respiration… this is a point of no return and cannot be sustained for long, so the aim of our training was to try and delay this point as much as possible).

The excitement of being a guinea pig continued in March and I was subjected to a Dexabody scan – this is (thankfully) a painless full body bone density scan and involves laying on a slab in your pants whilst a machine scans you. The only effort was getting to Middlesex University with 6 inches of snow on the roads! In addition to bone density, the scan was able to give accurate information on body composition – fat and muscle mass. This is something that is going to be redone later in the study to see what improvements have been made!

Nicki on the DEXA scanner (in her pants!)

Over the past month I’ve overcome my irrational fear of cleats and have actually managed to get my road bike on the road! Unfortunately I haven’t yet mastered the ability to take my hands off the handle bars without wiggling in the road terribly, so as a result my hydration and nutritional strategy on the bike is not going so well. I must also apologise to the other road users as my hand signals are not very confident and I tend to hog country lanes – but I am sure with more practice this will improve!

I’ve fixed my first puncture (although it took 3 of us to muster the strength to pull the tyre leavers!) and upgraded my saddle to something a little more comfortable! If only I could transfer my power generation from the turbo trainer onto the road – I would be awesome!

Nicki sharing her expertise in the field of puncture repair

Current training is now in 3 week blocks with the weeks being medium, hard and then a recovery week. After a bit of guidance from Nick Juba, coach at Hatfield Swimming Club, my swimming is also going pretty well and I can now comfortably manage to swim 3km in 1hr10. My technique is still not the best but after being told that the swim part of an ironman requires 9000-10000kj of energy and with you only retaining 3000kj in your body normally, I’m trying to work on energy preservation so that I can get out of the water and still have something left in my legs for the bike and run!

With all this hard graft I’m starting to notice little niggles, especially in my knees as a result of my tight ITB’s. I’ve made friends with a foam roller and now spend many a night rolling around on it in my living room – often with tears rolling down my cheeks! I even had my first ever Sports Massage session with one of the Bodybalance massage therapists; an experience that I’ll never forget!

So what ‘s next…?

Basically, the distances start getting longer over the next few months:

  • Swimming increasing from 3km – 3.8km with the additional excitement of open water and another irrational fear I need to conquer….. JAWS!
  • Bike increasing from 80km (4hrs) to 150km (6-7hrs)
  • Run increasing from 15km to 30km.

Challenge Barcelona 2013 (part 1)

Nicki Combarro has signed up to take part in a research project to investigate the effects of training for an endurance triathlon. Here is the first installment of her experience.

Challenge Barcelona 2013

The count down has begun…..

With 7 days left before I start the biggest challenge of my life, I am beginning to ask myself why?

Why, when I am a working mum with 2 young kids, did I think it would be a good idea to take on the challenge of an endurance triathlon? I have moderate fitness and am a competent swimmer however the challenge of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles had obviously not sunk in when I volunteered to be part of the Challenge Barcelona research study at the University of Hertfordshire. Why?

When I first heard about the research project of Sport, Health and Exercise Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire, I was genuinely very interested. Lead by Dr Justin Roberts, the group are conducting numerous studies on a volunteer group of 80 amateur athletes training for an endurance event (the Challenge Barcelona endurance triathlon). The project will put the participants though a specially designed training program and will investigate the training effects, nutritional impact, immunological changes and incidence of injury in the cohort.

My husband had already signed up for the challenge and my interest was growing the more he talked about it. But do I have the physical ability to cope with the training? Will I have the mental strength to complete all the training? Will I be able to manage my body and stay injury free? I’ve worked with elite athletes for years, but how will it feel to be the athlete for once?

So, in a moment of weakness I signed on the dotted line and sold my soul in the name of scientific research!

Nicki on treadmill

With the start date of the training program being 21st Jan, I spent 4 hours last week in the physiology testing lab at Hertfordshire University having my baseline measurements taken. In summary this involved fasting overnight prior to having some blood samples taken and a resting ECG to check that my heart was up to the challenge, followed by skin fold testing. (Having your skin folds tested and measured 3 weeks after an indulgent Christmas, was not a pleasant experience).

My morning continued with functional screening, tests to look at my jumping ability and strength and then some running analysis on a treadmill looking at my oxygen uptake during exercise.  I thought this was going to be quite easy, however it involved running with a face mask on and that proved to be harder than I had anticipated. Due to the mask and the enforced mouth breathing, my mouth went from really dry and uncomfortable to sweaty and uncomfortable, feeling like the mask was going to slide off my face at any time. Just when I thought the testing couldn’t get any worse I was put onto a static road bike, given a facemask again, then asked to pedal hard while little pin prick blood samples were taken to look at the lactic acid in my blood. I am not sure what hurt most….my legs, lungs or fingers!

To top it all off, I was then put through a VO2 max test on the bike (again with the facemask). Needless to say, I didn’t last very long before my legs gave up!

Nicki Combarro - VO2 max baseline testing on bike

Feeling a little disheartened at my morning’s performance, it was pointed out to me that this was baseline testing and therefore any result was good and will only get better with all my training! Loving this positive spin on my efforts, I left the lab feeling quite upbeat and looking forward to the challenge ahead.

Having completed my psychology profile questionnaire and a current injury questionnaire, I am now eagerly awaiting my first months training plan that starts on the 21st Jan… but first I’m off to Sydney for the Australian Youth Olympics Festival….some sunshine before the hard work commences!