My Weekend with Simon Lessing

It’s true that I have not trained as much this winter as I had hoped I would. I would even say that the past couple of months I have been in a negative rut, physically, emotionally, and mentally… all very closely related of course. Last week I decided at the last-minute that I was going to sign up for a clinic that the local triathlon club has organized. It was a little out of my budget, but I decided that I could cut back on other things to make it work for me financially. So I spent my weekend with 5-time world triathlon champion, Simon Lessing and runner Darren de Reuck.

On Saturday morning I got up bright and early to be in the pool for 7:45am. Even my training buddies were surprised that I was on time! We jumped right into the swim workout and Simon quickly started correcting my/our hand entry into the water. Apparently I/most of us were entering the water, stretching our hands out straight, and dropping our elbow and shoulder. I spent the whole workout concentrating on keeping my elbow up and entering my hand at a 70-degree angle. This induces a strong catch at the top of the pull. He also stressed the importance of kicking. In triathlon, it is often thought that our kick is not very important because we need to “save” our legs for the bike and run. We also wear wetsuits making our legs more buoyant. However, Simon strongly disagrees with this sentiment and got us to think about our kick. In our acceleration drills, we propelled ourselves faster by kicking faster. It’s all about tempo. This resonated with me, as a fairly strong kicker, and I worked hard to keep my kick strong and will continue to do so throughout my training.

After the swim, we got a few hours to eat and listen to Simon and Darren, who are both originally from South Africa, talk about running, coaching, nutrition, and workouts. It was really informative and I took some good notes. We also got a feel for their great sense of humour. Both Simon and Darren are funny guys and obviously like to have fun and enjoy themselves. They also take their sports very seriously. It was a great mix! We then got our running gear out and headed to the track for a lesson in plyometrics, stretching, and running. It became hurt-so-bad clear to me that I have not been running enough. This did not come as a surprise to me, it was more of a kick-in-the-butt moment. We did some fairly fast 800s, which I am not used to at all. I’ve been doing more slow runs and less runs of anything remotely resembling tempo runs. However, to be honest, I haven’t done a lot of long, slow runs lately, either. It was good for me to realize this. Very good, indeed. Also, I discovered that my shoulders tense up quite a bit when doing tempo work and on Saturday it triggered my never-ending struggle with my neck. Luckily, I stopped doing the intervals before it got too bad. I’m going to try to do some strengthening exercises to see if I can work out the scholiosis so that it doesn’t affect me so much.

We almost immediately hopped on our bikes to do a grueling bike session using  all of our gears and some good intervals. It was really hard, but having 6’2″ Simon walking back and forth getting us to work harder was great motivation. I got home at around 5:30, feeling completely wiped and inspired. However, the evening of triathlon was not over.

The Saskatoon club’s local organizer of the weekend had us all over for a bit of a social. Simon told us a bit about his career and how he made his decision to retire last fall. He has had so many amazing accomplishments in his career and it became painfully obvious to me how difficult it is to be a pro in this sport. I’m sure it is difficult in any sport, but in triathlon the pros train all the time in THREE SPORTS. Also, in the early years of triathlon (in the 1980s and 1990s), it did not sound very pleasant to be a pro. There was even the struggle to find the races to compete in. I have a new-found respect for the pros – I used to think it would be so great to be a pro. Simon’s story also showed how dedicated he has been to the sport. Even in order for him to compete in international competitions, he had to leave South Africa because of the ban of international competitions during the apartheid, which is basically the separation of a group of people based on race. He spent a lot of time in France and somehow ended up on Boulder, Colorado. It was a great social event… I don’t know how the other triathletes were drinking beer and wine. I carefully sipped on my water, thankyouverymuch!

On Sunday, I didn’t feel too bad. A little fatigued, but I was pretty happy to get in the water. That was the case until we actually started the workout! The workout on Sunday wasn’t as hard as on Saturday, but it wasn’t easy. We did quite a bit of kicking, which is good. Simon reiterated (again and again) the importance of kicking and the 70 degree angle of the hand-entry to keep the elbow up. We got done the workout a little early… so we had a relay race. I guess most of the other girls went to do their hair because it was just me and one other woman to be involved in the relay. It was great to have a little race! Also, Simon hopped in the water to school the clinic organizer (a great guy with a great sense of humour) in the art of great swimming. He was so fast!

The run was more about technique and plyometrics than about running – thank goodness for me! Darren did some gait analysis, which was good. He reminded me to relax my shoulders. I really need to work on that. By this point, we had gotten to know Darren and Simon pretty well… I guess well enough for Simon to moon us on the warm-up! That’s right… I was mooned by Simon Lessing, triathlon legend!

After the run and a lesson in stretch band strength training, we headed up to the bike room to set up for our last session of the weekend. We did a similar workout as the day before with some variation. Simon reminded us to keep our shoulders relaxed, our pedal strokes smooth, and our heads up.

All-in-all, it was a great weekend! It was great to re-connect with some local triathletes, meet some new ones, and just be immersed in the sport for the weekend. It has been a while since I’ve been this inspired to train. After last season being such a rough one (my coach calls it “character-building”), it is nice to feel this renewed! Thanks go out to the local organizers and to Simon and Darren for making it a great weekend!

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