In the run up to the World Championships, Rhalou takes on an Ironman 70.3 relay in Austria’s Zell Am See.

Originally posted on Triathlete’s World

 Ironman Austria

A sucker for a challenge, when I received a call from the Austrian tourist commission asking me to participate in a triathlon relay, I immediately said yes. Their cyclist had dropped out at the last minute and they needed a stand-in. The only catch was I had one week to prepare. The promise of a fancy bike loan and a long weekend in Austria sounded like fun. Feeling fit from marathon training, I figured I could wing it. But then they mentioned the fateful word ‘Ironman’ and I had to sit down for a minute.

The Holy Grail of the events world, the fabled Ironman is whispered in hushed tones amongst the fitness community. The name alone sounds like serious business. And we’ve all seen that YouTube video of two women wobbling across the finish line in Hawaii.

Luckily this was a 70.3 distance, but with 90K of alpine mountain to conquer, there was still a strong chance I was going to die, and I’d only signed up for one third of the challenge. Lord knows how the triathletes soon to undertake the whole distance would be feeling. I invested in some extra strength chamois cream and developed a last minute relationship with God.

Set to host the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2015, the weekend was something of a trial run for the new course before next year’s event, which will be the first time the World Championships are held outside North America. Upon arrival, it was easy to see why the Ironman machine chose Zell Am See for the event. Nestled in the Austrian Alps roughly an hour’s drive from Salzberg, with its crystal clear lake, picturesque mountains and penchant for nude saunas; the little town is the perfect location for a triathlon.

After our race briefing I was relieved to discover my fellow teammates were journalists as opposed to hardened athletes, so we agreed to focus on simply getting round the course alive. With my performance directly affecting our runner’s chance of participation, the pressure was still on. But with 100 qualifying spots for the World Championships up for grabs, the atmosphere amongst the serious contenders was considerably more intense.

On Sunday morning we jostled amongst the anxious masses to watch the swimmers descend upon the sun-dappled lake. Located just a kilometre outside of town, the swim start and transition were all at the same place, which eased the logistical nightmare often associated with triathlons. Fortunately for me our superfast swimmer came in at 39 minutes, which gave me extra time to tackle the bike ride. Surely I could complete a 90K course in less than 4.5 hours? Following a tense time-chip swap in the relay tent, I set off feeling confident.

I spent the first hour trying to keep my cool while countless eager traithletes whizzed past me. More and more cyclists overtook me as we gradually climbed higher into the mountains and I started to feel giddy. I concentrated on grinning inanely at the spectators, who could sense my ineptitude and rewarded me with the loudest cheers. But their encouraging ‘Up up up’ chants coincided with the elevation and as we began the 1292 metre climb, my confidence began to wane.

Several cyclists dismounted on the final monster hill and I felt smug for the first time all day. But then the mountains decided to show me whose boss, so I was forced to get off too. To add insult to injury, the heavens chose this moment to open and several billion tons of mountain fresh Austrian rainwater hammered down upon my weary head. And then I discovered that cycling downhill in the pouring rain is actually really, really hard. Cold, tired and a little bit scared, if it had just been me, I might have quit at this point. But the thought of letting my teammates down spurred me on and against the odds I kept going.

My persistence was finally rewarded and, as the roads began to level off, the clouds parted to reveal a stunning panorama of snow-capped mountains. I put my foot down and, whizzing through fairy tale Austrian towns with unpronounceable names, I started to enjoy myself.

Aside from a deceptive out-and-back section in the last 20K, the final stretch was great fun and I thanked the tri Gods I had stuck with it. I even picked off a few cyclists, feeling immense relief mixed with respect and awe for all the crazy triathletes undertaking the full distance.

As I sped round the final corner I spotted our PR girl Martina waving maniacally at me. ‘You’ve got one minute,’ she shouted across the sea of exhausted cyclists preparing to run. I dropped my bike off and sprinted through transition faster than I’ve ever run in my entire life, nearly knocking my runner Stephen over as he grappled for our timing chip. He set off for the run with literally one minute to spare, leaving me to drown in a pool of relief.

Shaking with adrenaline, I dragged my feet to the finish line to devour a huge plate of pretzels while waiting for our runner to come through. 1:50 later Stephen careered across the finish line with a huge smile on his face and I felt so immensely proud of our makeshift relay team that if I hadn’t been so dehydrated, I would have started to cry.

Although a relay team is by no means a match for the full Ironman distance, taking on just one of the disciplines (having not trained sufficiently) was a real challenge and a nice little taster of what’s in store. Being part of a team was also a huge incentive to keep going and quadrupled the post race celebrations. But will I brave the full race distance and join the ranks of bona fide Iron-men next year? It’s one challenge I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of winging at the last minute. But I’ve got cosiderably more time to train and some unfinished business to attend to, so if I get the call again, I suspect I will be saying yes.

Last Sunday Rhalou joined over 1,000 eager ladies at Eton Dorney Lake for her first triathlon.

 Rhalou and Susie Chan

Designed with women of all abilities in mind, The Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon was a friendly, fun and accessible event and the perfect setting for beginner triathletes like me.

My friend Susie and I entered the Super Sprint on a whim earlier in the year and when race day rolled around, admittedly I had my doubts. As a runner, I’m used to throwing on my trainers and dashing out the door. The idea of changing kit twice in one event seemed like a massive faff. Despite booking several coaching sessions with, I also had reservations about my ability to stay afloat.

Come race day my fears were swiftly allayed. With triathlons of all distances, the waves were well underway by the time we arrived. But despite the obvious determination of our fellow competitors, due in part to the female only field (sorry boys) the event had a noticeably relaxed atmosphere and everyone appeared to be taking it in their stride.

In the race village, the marshals were friendly and informative and not in the least bit fazed by my barrage of inane questions. Everyone was supportive and encouraging and despite the size of the event, we also didn’t once have to queue, which added to the laid back ambiance. After collecting my race number, dropping my bike off in the transition zone and waving goodbye to Susie who was in the next wave, it was time to hit the water.


As expected, I panicked after submerging my face in the murky lake and struggled with the swim. Having decided to go with just a tri suit, I also lost the buoyancy that a wetsuit would have provided and spent most of it convinced I was going to drown. After settling for a semi doggy paddle, I was pleased not to be last out of the water, but my confidence had taken a beating and I finished the 400m swim in 12:29.


Next up was the bike section. After spending too much time in transition (guess which rookie forgot to bring a towel) I set off and my confidence instantly returned. Many of my fellow competitors had much fancier bikes, but they were no match for my determination. I may have been riding a rickety hybrid, but I circumnavigated the lake four times in 56:55 with relative ease and quickly felt like I made up for the shoddy swim.


For the final stretch I finally found my feet and loved every minute of the 5K run. I even got the chance to high five my friends and watch Susie sprint past me to claim her spot as seventh overall, which was a great boost. At 28:55 my run wasn’t a PB, but a respectable time considering the heat and the perfect end to a great day out. I highly recommend the The Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon for novice triathletes, PB chasers or girls looking for a fun day out.


Beginner triathlete Rhalou returns to pool school in preparation for the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon

By Rhalou Allerhand

Originally posted on Triathlete’s World


Triathlon swim training

A friend recently suggested we enter a triathlon together. As an impulsive person who loves a challenge and secretly hankers after a hot tri body, I immediately said yes. I love running. I’m a demon on the spin bike. Swimming sounds like fun. What could possibly go wrong?

I conveniently forgot my breaststroke was slower than a hamster and I don’t own a bicycle. But why let such trifling matters get in the way of a good race? So we signed up to the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlondetermined to succeed.

The following week I began my baby tri training in earnest. By this I mean I ran to the leisure centre, swam two lengths and lay by the poolside gasping for air like a fish out of water, before riding my imaginary bicycle home and collapsing into bed. Evidently triathlon training wasn’t quite as easy as I first thought.

I called my friend and, between sobs, told her I didn’t think I was cut out for tri life. ‘But you love running,’ she said. ‘And you’re great at spinning? So just learn to swim!’ She had a point. Swimming was definitely my weakest link. But I didn’t have a clue where to start.

Pool school

Too busy smoking fags behind the bike sheds to pay attention in PE, I failed to master swimming at school and had no idea how to approach it in my thirties. A quick Twitter session revealed that adult swimming lessons are perfectly normal and lots of wannabe triathletes return to pool school. Galvanized by my Twitter friends I called Swim for Tri and booked a lesson.

My swim teacher Keeley was firm over email and insisted I bring goggles and a swim cap for my first lesson. Did I really need all these fancy accoutrements to learn the front crawl? I felt like I was going back to school, and there was a reason I didn’t concentrate the first time round. Authority figures bring out my inner rebel.

Fortunately in real life Keeley favoured the positive reinforcement approach and upon arrival I was instantly put at ease. Held at the Market Sports Health Club in Shoreditch, the pool is reassuringly shallow, which significantly reduced my fear of drowning.

Technique is key

Although I can manage breaststroke, front crawl is beyond me and I didn’t want to look like a total loser come race day, so we started my swim training from scratch. Step one, Keeley made me swim a length holding a float, practicing breathing out underwater as I kicked my legs behind me.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but one of the main reasons I’m not a great swimmer is because I don’t like getting my face wet. Not because I’m scared of water, I just don’t like ruining my makeup. There goes my hardcore adventure girl reputation. But as soon as I’d overcome this rather pathetic obstacle I was breathing out underwater with ease. The swim cap and goggles were also an absolute godsend.

Stage two, float still in hand, I practiced using one arm to propel myself down the pool, and then the other, alternating while still relying on the security of the float. This sounds incredibly simple, but learning how to swim properly is exhausting. Not only do you have to learn to breathe, but if your aerobic capacity has yet to increase, half the time you’re out of breath because you mistakenly swallow a pint of water, and the other half you’re just not fit enough to pull your body weight along for a whole length. But after each interval I felt a little bit stronger and Keeley’s endless encouragement definitely helped.

Swim success

After several experimental lengths, to finish off my first lesson Keeley urged me to ditch the float. Fairly convinced I was going to end my days in a shallow pool in Shoreditch, I embarked upon my first float-free front crawl with fear. But thanks to Keeley’s expert tutelage, suddenly I found I was swimming front crawl, all by myself, and I wasn’t dead. Within the space of one hour Keeley had gently coached me from hamster to little fish and I was delighted.

Admittedly when I tried to recreate the magic in the grown up pool the following day it was a different story. It took me several goes to get the hang of swimming without crying because I couldn’t touch the bottom. But the great thing about swimming is, much like running, with the right technique and the right attitude it doesn’t take long to see results.

Six weeks later and, while I might not be the fastest swimmer in the pool, I am pleased to say I can manage 20 lengths of front crawl. The key is repetition and not being afraid to utilise the humble float as a handy training tool. It’s worth practising in open water before your first tri though. Despite all my hard work, when race day rolled around I struggled with adapting to lake swimming. Check out my race report here. But thanks to my newfound love of swimming, I’ll definitely be back for more.