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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!

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