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Training with Lance Armstrong

Mark Daly meets Lance Armstrong

Mark Daly, 34, is BBC Scotland's Investigations Correspondent. This year he is taking up the Barcelona Challenge - Ironman distance triathlon.

Here he brings us the latest news from his preparations, and an insight into an unlikely brush with a cycling deity.

Mark Daly
By Mark Daly

My phone hardly ever rings at 7.30am. And when it does I know it's usually work related and/or serious. This phone call would prove to be both. Kind of.

"You're never going to believe this", said Mark McGivern, my friend and training partner. He was right. I didn't. "It must be a hoax," I scoffed, and hung up.

Four hours later, I'm Mark Daly, reporter/cyclist-extraordinaire, on my bike with a camera crew, ready to bring to the nation news of the one of greatest days in Scottish cycling history.

Okay, Sir Chris Hoy's third gold in Beijing was special too, but this is Lance Armstrong! And he's coming to Paisley to go out on his bike!

As part of my training schedule for Barcelona, Tuesday had been marked down as 'rest day'. Well, stuff that! I had the chance to train with Lance.

And so the seven times Tour de France champion rolled into town, minus huge entourage, and got his bike out of the boot.

It could have been a scene from any cyclist preparing for a ride. Except, of course, for the whole of Scotland's media pack. Oh, and the 300 or so grown men on bikes, close to weeping at the prospect of shaking the great man by the hand.

He genuinely seemed a bit bemused by the whole experience.

Seven times Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong
Armstrong announced his Paisley ride on Twitter

His Twitter updates had suggested a group ride to pass the time before he took in the U2 gig at Hampden that night. He later said that he expected a dozen or so riders and not the huge peloton that had gathered to pay homage.

Well, I decided to take my once-in-a-lifetime chance and strike up a conversation. My barnstorming, intelligent and not at all hero-worshipping interview will remain on tape forever, a constant reminder of how I went to pieces in front of the world's most successful cyclist.

And so we rode for about 25 miles around the rolling hills of Renfrewshire. No police entourage, just us and Lance. He was happy to make cycling small talk with anybody riding beside him and for us amateur riders (many of whom, including me, who should have been doing some proper work) it was a dream come true.

I finished in the main Armstrong group (doesn't that sound cool?) which spontaneously broke into applause in appreciation of the Texan's gesture. And with that, he was off; likely never to be seen in these parts again.

When the alarm went off the next morning, my experience had had clearly no impact on my enthusiasm for morning swimming training, since I switched the alarm off and promptly fell back asleep. As usual.

I hate morning sessions. But with only six weeks to go before my ironman event, I need to start getting more in as the 2.4-mile sea swim is becoming ever more daunting. Not to mention the 112-mile bike leg. Or for that matter the marathon. But that's what I signed up for, and on 4 October I will line up with around 2,000 other (probably much fitter) maniacs for the inaugural Barcelona Challenge.

A key indicator of my progress (or otherwise) would be the Aberfeldy middle distance triathlon, which took place last Saturday. It's about half the ironman distance: 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run.

Around 230 people dived in to the icy Loch Tay, which race organiser Richard Pearson had cheerily told us was a balmy 15 degrees. But I soon realised it wasn't the temperature that was going to be the problem, but the waves.

BBC Scotland's Mark Daly
Mark was pleased with his performance in Aberfeldy

It felt like swimming against a wave machine. I must have swallowed half the loch, not to mention a couple of small fish. But I struggled through in 31 minutes and raced out to get my bike, stuffing a banana down my neck as I went.

The bike was more up my street as my riding has been steadily improving thanks to being put through my paces by the guys at Glasgow United Cycling Club.

It's mainly down to teasing about my hairy legs that I eventually relented and shaved them. Has it made a difference to my performance? Actually, no. All it's done is get me into trouble with my wife.

Anyway, after I had my usual first 10 miles of heavy legs off the back of the swim (Please drop me an e-mail if anybody has any tips about how I can work on this), I got it together and started moving up the field.

We climbed the Schiehallion taking in some stunning scenery along the way. I finished the bike leg strongly in 2 hours and 49 minutes, a full 15 minutes faster than last year. My mate and Daily Record reporter Mark McGivern wasn't so lucky. He came off his bike in a 25 mph crash, writing off his forks - and part of his backside - and was forced to abandon.

Funnily enough his injuries seemed to disappear on Tuesday morning when a certain Texan rode into town.

The half marathon was a predictable slog on an undulating course. I got my nutrition all wrong, I think, as I was plagued with painful stitches most of the way, but I limped home in 1 hour 39 minutes. That gave me an overall time of 5 hours 5 minutes, and 19th place in my senior male category, which I was delighted with, as it was 21 minutes faster than last year.

Could I have run another 13 miles? No way. Which means I have a load of work still to do, and only six weeks to do it in.

Next up, is the Vitruvian half ironman distance race on 5 September at Rutland Water in Leicestershire. It's been voted the best triathlon in Britain and sells out fast every year. That will be my last race before I start tapering down for the big one.

My one big fear is that something will go wrong on the day or I'll get injured and all this training and fuss will have been for nothing, so any tips are gratefully received.

A certain Mr Armstrong started out as a triathlete, so maybe there's hope for me yet.

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see also
Armstrong's Paisley peloton
18 Aug 09 |  Cycling
Hundreds on Armstrong Tweet ride
18 Aug 09 |  Glasgow and West
In for the long haul
19 Jul 09 |  Athletics
Gearing up for triathlon test
27 Apr 09 |  Athletics
Athletics on the BBC
21 Apr 11 |  Athletics

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