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Christmas is literally the same thing every year. I’m no bah humbug but it is dull, let’s face it. It’s the biggest widespread anti-climax known to man. Months of build up for one day, after which we all feel crap because we’ve over-indulged, over-spent and over-emphasised the fun Christmas brings in reality. Because we all know that Christmas is only fun when you’re a kid!

It is a lovely time for family and friends though, but I do feel the same about New Year’s Eve. I am historically a NYE evader. It’s an unnecessary opportunity for the vast majority of the population to get mind-numbingly inebriated, all those falsified claims for resolutions just because it’s a new day – none of it appeals to me. I always attempt to escape this. A few years ago I wild camped in the Brecon Beacons in the middle of the mountains. Amazing. Last year I wild camped on the cliff top at Beachy Head in a storm. Amazing. Create your own experiences – there is no need to chemically alter your brain in a bid to have fun! I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here, dedicated triathletes and all that…!

Anyway, this year, I wasn’t really feeling Christmas. Probably because the day after Boxing Day I was flying to Lanzarote for a five night training trip in the sun! On my own (yes, I’m a social recluse at times), but I sometimes love nothing more than getting away from it all on a long ride or a long run, immersed in the natural landscape. Plus I was looking forward to hooking up with a few contacts I had made prior to heading out there.

At this time of year, Winter in the UK just sucks. Undeniably so. I couldn’t wait to get some decent training in, and better still, in hot sunny weather. I chose Lanzarote because I came here on my own last November to race the 70.3. The island is small so I know most roads and major places, so there’s no risk of getting lost on the bike, and it’s nice to be around familiarity. I know the score here, the weather, roads and everything is just perfect training terrain so it seemed the sensible option!

Winter training in the sun, no, just spending a part of Winter in the sun, is good for your soul! Up at 3am on Saturday and after a couple of day’s over indulgence I was very ready to eat healthily again and start some serious training. My coach Rick described my training plan for while I was out here as “killer”. YES. Just what I was after!

Saturday, Arrival
I arrived around midday, picked up my hire car and made my way to my self-catering apartment. I stayed here last year so I know the (English) owners and it was nice to have familiarity around me. Out for a 1 hour run down to La Santa and back, I just got back before the rain (yes rain!!!) hammered it down and did some s&c inside. I was lucky enough to go and have a look at Tiagua 81, invited by the lovely Heidi, who does the marketing for it. I’m definitely staying here next time – stunning luxury self-catering accommodation for groups or individuals, perfectly geared up for keen triathletes! (Pool, bike room, and somewhere to wash your kit and rinse your wetsuit – no thanks hotel room!)

I also collected my bike from Markus Cycle Lanzarote. I ordered a road bike but he upgraded me to a beautiful Cannondale Slice TT bike! Thanks Markus! Shortly after we went for dinner at La Cantina in Teguise and were met with James Mitchell, resident sports photographer (check out his work, very decent stuff!). He’s also quite funny, in a sarcy kind of Northern way! I hope to be teaming up with these great guys when I’m back here, which is very exciting! Also gives me a reason to return, as if I need one….

Sunday, Day Two
I set off out on the bike early but the winds were ferocious. I kind of thought this was normal for Lanzarote and kept telling myself if would be great training. I snaked up through the Montana de Fuego (mountains of fire, the volcano region), and was loving every minute. I couldn’t work out why I was so fast, averaging 21mph, it felt simply amazing! I cycled down to El Golfo, the inland green lagoon edged with black sand, then across to Playa Blanca to do some tourist spotting. As soon as I turned around it hit me. The wind, and the realisation that the wind was going to my progress going back hellishly slow.

Hell is actually a pretty good description. It was painful – every single iota of my being was in pain trying to fight against this 40mph headwind. I felt helpless, I was hardly moving and was so far away from home I knew it would take hours. A number of scenarios came into my head, from getting a taxi, to stopping to walk, to crying helpelessly – I did none of these things but just grimly ploughed on. I also forgot to take ANY food or anything resembling energy. Massive faux pas.

I made ridiculously slow progress. On one section going uphill back into the volcanic mountains my Garmin happily bleeped to inform me that I had completed a 9+ minute mile. 9 minute mile!!!?? I can run faster than that! WTAF!?? The expletives coming out of my mouth and running through my head up this top section were probably best not repeated. I finally made it back, starving and a bit angry that the wind had put me through that!!

I chilled for a bit before heading out on a run and swim at Club La Santa 50m pool. This is paradise. Sun on your back, pretty sure it’s one of the best training pools in the world. Short run straight out of the pool and similar story regarding the wind – I could barely move in a forwards direction when going into the headwind. It was a bit like running on a very noisy treadmill!!

Monday, Day Three
As soon as I woke up I knew it was going to be a perfect day. Sun, and absolutely no wind. I was excited for my massive 5 hour ride and had planned the best route on the island for this day. I set off packed with bars, a peanut butter sandwich and some energy drink (I listened to my nutritionist this time, thanks Fitnaturally!).

The roads are like silk, the sun was up and not a cloud in the sky. Today was going to be memorable. I headed out on part of the course I knew from the 70.3 race and up this huge long climb to the top of Tabayesco hill. Down into the valley again and up a very long but stunning sea-cliff climb up to the famous Mirador del Rio viewpoint. I actually paid to get in even though I have seen it before, because I was fresh out of water and thought it would be prudent to get a coffee while here. Would be rude not to really - we all know about the obligatory mid-ride coffee stop!

I basically headed back the same way but it involved the absolutely wonderful climb up the hairpin bends, which, sadistically, I really enjoyed! (Apart from the bit when a massive coach came around the corner and I was very nearly a goner over the edge). Back after 5 hours of breathtaking cycling and out onto a short brick run.

Later on, after some much-needed sunbed time (hello tan), I went down to La Santa for a swim in the lagoon. Oh god, it was freezing. Like UK freezing. What is that all about?! It’s supposed to be the African coast! Ok, it’s the Atlantic, got it. Sure it shouldn’t be this cold though… Without a wetsuit, it was Baltic. But a very invigorating 30 mins and I’m sure it actually did my sore muscles some good…
Tuesday, Day Four (New Year’s Eve)
Today was an easier day. I had a 1 hour bike session which proved quite interesting, as I did a loop which I thought was a really good circuit near me. But then I went too far down a ridiculously long hill, and by the time I got to the bottom I realised I’d have to go ALL the way back up or go via La Santa again which also involved a big long hill, and I knew I definitely wouldn’t be back within the hour! So I thought I’d be clever and saw on Google maps that I could make a shortcut down a minor road. Genius.

Or not. Shit. It was like one of those unmade roads. Seriously, I got itchy tingly hands from the vibrations up the bars. There was no-one around, I was trying to avoid all the potholes and lumpy bits but bloody hell, this was ridiculous. I’m committed now, can’t turn back. Eventually, after what seemed like a long way, I climbed a hill and saw two cyclists ahead. Yes! I’m not the only one!

I cycled more happily towards them until I approached, realising they were on mountain bikes that they had clearly hired. Right. That makes sense. I can’t imagine how stupid I must have looked bumping away on a TT bike down that entire road…

Straight out onto a 2 hour run. The first bit was like ‘going through the motions’, you know, one of those runs where you look at your watch and are just filling time. Until I discovered a path, that is… After about an hour I looped towards the ‘Montana de Fuego’ again, and saw a trail with a sign to some mountain 2.5km away. Doing it.

So I ran down a dirt track until I got to a place where a few cars were parked. Saw a trail which started to descend straight into the lava fields, and went for it. The terrain instantly became very challenging. It was so rocky that you had to focus really hard or you’d trip right up, ad you definitely don’t want to go stacking it onto lava rocks (the surface is very rough! Kind of like a cheese grater).

It was, however, absolutely breathtaking. I was in the middle of absolutely nothing. It was like a desert. A lava desert. Sinister black rock as far as the eye could see. Eventually I reached a mountain, but it was kind of like halfway up, so on reaching it, the ground opened out before me into a massive, vast crater. The inside of a volcano. There is very little life on the island of Lanzarote but I can quite wholeheartedly say that the scenery is somehow simply stunning.
Here I was, the sun burning down, the sea glistening in the distance, the blue expanse of sky above me, and all around me, nothingness. Just rocky desert. I was quite far from civilisation but for me, these are the moments I will cherish. I will never forget this run. Ever.

Later on, after some obligatory sunbathing, another awesome swim in the Olympic pool and I went back to write my last blog of 2013 (link) and get ready for NYE. To be honest, I was quite happy to stay in on my own and get a good night’s sleep in preparation for another big training day. But I had been invited to celebrate with Heidi and some others at La Cantina in Teguise, so decided to go ahead and join them.

It was fun; a glass of wine, some music, and in Spain they have this weird thing where on the countdown from 10 on NYE you have to try and eat a grape every second. Like that’s possible. (Apparently it is but most people fail to do it). I didn’t even try, I just watched the fireworks and the Spanish dancing thinking about how I need to get back soon otherwise I’m going to find tomorrow’s training tough! I did meet someone very, very interesting that evening though, who I may be working with in the future… watch this space!
Wednesday, Day 5 (New Year’s Day)
Happy New Year! Today was strange, the first day of a new year but looming darkly in my mind was the acknowledgment that it was also my last day here. I did not want to be going home. But I’d arranged to ride out with James so was looking forward to some company for a change. I had to do 4 hours but he only wanted to do a couple after a recent accident so I said I’d meet him in Teguise in 45 mins hile I go via La Santa and Famara.

Haha, fat chance of that! Either I massively over estimated how fast I am on the bike (not at all, FYI), or I totally under estimated how long that road is. Over 1 hour and 18 miles later he was outside the cake shop being given offcuts of a chocolate wedding cake. Get in. So after a bit of fannying around (this is his terminology, not mine) we set off towards  Arriete with the plan to do Tabayesco hill.

A few nostril snorts (also known as a footballer’s spit), some deep and not so deep conversation and a bit of banter later, we took a token stop at Tabayesco for a photo opportunity. A long climb with sweat dripping into my eyes (seems like a foreign concept when immersed in the meterological pleasures of UK winter ),  and we took a coffee stop at the top. Although, I did get passed by a very determined Italian man at the top of the hill on a mountain bike who refused to get chicked! He dropped me like a hot potato actually… Fail.

Serious discussions around the consistency of a biscuit ensued and after refreshing ourselves with water top-ups and a  much-needed caffeine boost, it was going to be all about the descent. We cruised back at a pretty decent pace and I left James to do the Famara/La Santa loop again, after a 25 minute discussion at the side of the roundabout.

I had a few hours rest before another lagoon swim and run. I finished the run with a 1 mile time trial around the La Santa track, so was pleased to be clocking 7 minute miles after a big training week. I ran first, so by the time I got into the lagoon it was approaching 6pm, and I knew one thing, it would be COLD. It goes through waves, kind of like this. ARGGH @*#% THAT’S COLD!!! I’m kind of getting used to it now. Actually it’s really not so bad. Oh god I’m getting cold again. Getting seriously cold now. I need to get out soon or I might drown. Honest.

In the car, heating on full blast, and I was shivering and shaking like Elvis’s leg. I eventually managed to warm up (a hairdryer was involved after I got out the shower. Yes, that bad) and I had been invited to Heidi’s place for a drink. So I head over slightly remorseful that it was my last night here, but excited to meet all of Heidi’s children and pets, and which proved to be a lovely evening. There’s something about the hospitality on this island – maybe people have more time, maybe they’re happier being in the sun, maybe I just got lucky. But it was heart-warming.

Day 6 – Going home
Not much to say here – I had a planned swim and run so got up early, although there was a ‘mini triathlon’ in the pool so I just ran for an hour instead. Packed. Left. Drove to the airport. Went home with a very sad face. End of story.
So I don’t want to talk about the going home bit much. But this was such an amazing trip, for so many reasons. Ok, it’s glaringly obvious that the weather is an important factor! The people were wonderful, thank you so much to everyone who made it such a rewarding trip. The training, of course, was the best thing ever.

Because I love doing it, and I’m sure you can relate to that. Because it doesn’t matter if I’m on my own, it makes me happy. A 26 hour training week and I’m stil feeling good a week later.

I had experiences I will never forget, moments that will last forever. And for me, for this journey I’m on – it’s this. This is what it’s all about.

See you soon Lanzarote. x