Thommo's top tips for 10K success
OK, you have survived the assault on your senses that is a swim in cold, dark water whilst being slapped around by strangers wearing black rubber. And you have completed the lung-burning, energy-sapping laps of a 40km bike ride.
Surely it is time for a shower, supportive hug and slap-up pub lunch, isn't it? Not if you're a triathlete, it isn't. Your work is far from done. Get off your bike (as athletically as possible), lose the helmet, swap shoes and start running...your legs might take some convincing, though.
The reason for this is a chemical compound called lactic acid. This is not the time/place to say much more about this cocktail of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen apart from pointing out that it is an inevitable consequence of strenuous activity and it makes you feel like you are running in wet jeans and ski boots.
The secret to triathlon's final leg is learning how to deal with "milk acid". For advice on how to do this, and other running-related wisdom, I called British long-distance runner Chris Thompson.
First, let's get the fundamentals right.
"When I've got a big race I like to put on everything that I'm running in very early and then work backwards from there," Thompson told me over the phone from Font Romeu, the high-altitude training base in the Pyrenees made famous by Paula Radcliffe.
"So that's the vest, the number, my shorts, everything I absolutely must have to perform, and then I worry about what goes in the bag and if I've got my keys and phone and so on. Essentials first."
If this sounds a little bit obsessive, compulsive even, Thompson has good reason.
His breakthrough performance at last summer's European Championships, when he followed Mo Farah home to complete an unprecedented British one-two in the 10,000m, looked very unlikely two years before as the likeable Thompson was left to reflect on another injury-ruined season.
Farah was too quick for him in Barcelona last year but a silver meant Thompson was back to his best. Photo: AFP
A successful junior, the Cumbria-born athlete appeared to be making a smooth transition into the seniors when he beat Farah to the European U23 5,000m title in 2003. But what should have been a stepping stone became an insurmountable boulder in the road as injury followed injury.
By the end of the 2008 season, Thompson was wondering if his athletics career was over before it had ever really started. But he didn't give up.
In fact, he went west and joined the Oregon Track Club in the US. Based there with his girlfriend Jemma Simpson, the British middle-distance runner, the injuries healed and the belief returned. Two years later, seven years after his last European medal, Thompson was back amongst the elite.
I would love to tell you "Thommo" has got half a dozen other painless nuggets of advice for you but he hasn't, he just runs a lot. There are no shortcuts.
"My typical weeks are pretty high volume: three key sessions that I supplement with recovery in between," the 30-year-old explained. "So I do Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with the days in between being all about getting ready for the next big session."
And what is a "big session" for a distance runner with Olympic ambitions?
"There are three different types - aerobic base, race pace and strength, which could be hill-running - and I start the season with a lot of aerobic work, adding more speed as I get closer to a race.
"So it could be something like 10 times 1km at five seconds above race pace with 90 seconds recovery, building towards 10x1km at race pace with 90 seconds rest and then 12x1km and then...."
He didn't need to say anymore. I could already tell my 45-minute blasts around the block aren't cutting the mustard.
"My usual race plan is to try to relax for the first 5km and then manage the fatigue from there," he continued.
"I keep my upper body as relaxed as possible, take deep breathes and almost sigh to let the lactic acid out - I imagine the lactic being flushed from my legs. And then it's just a case of thinking calm thoughts until genuine fatigue sets in."
The problem with triathlon, however, is you are "managing fatigue" from the first meter, not after 5,000.
Thompson has trained with top triathletes before and he remembers them doing lactic-heavy sessions of 20x400m with only 20 seconds rest. Ouch.
If you are minded to put in training sessions like this you will need to cherish your recovery, which is everything and anything that gets you ready for the next session: stretching, ice bathes and lots of food.
The basic guide here is a good mix of carbohydrates and protein (more protein after a speed session, more carbs after an aerobic sesh). Thompson swears by egg and cress sandwiches, ham and cheese rolls and yoghurt with fruit. He likes a sports drink as soon as he has finished and then a meal within the hour.
If you are training in hot conditions - it happens - Thompson suggests drinking a lot of water before you attempt to refuel, as you will be low on electrolytes, making rehydration difficult. Another tip is protein at breakfast: your muscles will appreciate the amino acids, apparently.
So that's how to dress, how to train and what to eat: the rest is up to you. If, like me, you are taking on the Hyde Park Triathlon you've got a fortnight to get ready. If you are doing the London Triathlon, it's time to taper. You can rest while you read Keri-Anne Payne's swimming guide (well done, Keri-Anne!) and Michael Hutchinson's cycling advice.
But for Thompson, this is just the beginning.
"The European Championships convinced me the hard work was worth it and it meant everything to me," said Thompson. "I just hope it's the start and not the end."
That is something I guarantee no triathlete will ever say after their 10,000m run.