When two of my friends suggested I try an Extraordinary Active Holiday, involving a weeklong Triathlon-based endurance programme at the Almyra Hotel in Cyprus, I considered it to be rather an odd concept. My idea of a holiday is to be inactive, to relax, and certainly doesn’t involving mastering three fitness disciplines. But since both friends have recently taken up weekend cycling and swimming, and lost a considerable amount of weight, I was keen to get in on the act.
But before I could fully appreciate just how extreme the physical endurance I had naively signed up for was going to be, my flight was booked and my bags packed.
Day 1, 3pm
I arrive at Almyra, a five-star reincarnation of the Paphos Beach Hotel, the island’s first beachfront destination. It has 189 sea- and garden-view rooms and suites, four restaurants and four freshwater pools. The architecture is modern, the interiors sleek. And with the sun shining and the sea twinkling, I almost forget what I have come for – but any hedonistic holiday fantasies are soon dashed when I arrive at my suite to find the mini bar stocked with energy bars. There’s not a miniature in sight.
I check in for the Extraordinary Active Holiday. My introductory session begins with a body-composition evaluation and a nutritional consultation with Stella Kakouri, Cyprus’s leading nutrition expert. She takes my weight and height as well as the unappealingly named “skin fold” measurements, where my body fat is pinched with a pair of callipers and the reading taken with a tape measure. She tells me that in collaboration with exercise physiologist Kypros Nicolaou she will formulate a bespoke programme – centred around the triathlon disciplines of running, cycling and swimming – for me to follow throughout the week. Although we are a group of seven, we will all have our own goal-oriented schedule and diet.
We are each issued with an off-road bike with thick, durable tyres to cope with the challenging Cypriot terrain, and measured for the “greyhound of bicycles” – super-slim racers with drop handlebars. We are kitted out with with goggles and glasses, and our running shoes are checked – we’ll be off road a lot, so they need to be up to scratch.
“Triathlon training is a perfect way to work all the major muscle groups as well as to improve endurance and cardio strength,” explains Stella, adding that although we all subconsciously favour one of the three disciplines, the rotation between them will keep us alert and prevent us from growing complacent. “By the end of the week you'll be noticeably stronger in the discipline you’re currently weakest in, and you’ll also see improvements where you are already of a good standard.” I confess that my swimming routine typically involves a few lazy laps of breaststroke in the slow lane. The prospect of improving my technique, let alone speed, is certainly encouraging. I bid farewell to the team and head to Eauzone, the hotel’s poolside restaurant. Filled with newfound ambition, I order a dinner of grilled sea bass with mango salsa, soba noodles, quinoa, almond salad and local orzo pasta – prepared under the watchful eye of executive chef Ashley Goddard. I head back to my stunning room that overlooks the sea – I am feeling excited and confident, and retire to bed early with a cup of green tea. Day 2 The sunshine wakes me early. With my back to the infinity pool and its tempting lounge beds, I wolf down breakfast: a fresh smoothie, blanched nuts, dried fruit cereal and a herbal tea. The slow-release ingredients are spot on for the morning’s activity – a three-hour, 65km bike ride, taking in the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, Archimandrita and the Asprokremmos Dam, 10 miles east of the city of Paphos. This classic road race will test stamina and fitness.
I get off to a strong start and envision myself as Lizzie Armitstead tailing Marianne Vos in my own version of a nail-biting Olympic final. The scenery is breathtaking and I hit the 45km mark before I start to fully notice the burn in my thighs. My guide sweetly pretends not to notice that I’m setting my gears lower and lower with each passing kilometre. We arrive back at the hotel and I am a sweaty mess. My groin is numb. What’s more worrying is the fact that this is just the morning activity – an afternoon of drills in the pool lies ahead. Normally, this ride alone would leave me in the foetal position for three days straight, so the thought of doing anything more strenuous than lifting up a book makes my heart sink a little. Yesterday’s bravado is starting to fade.
I wobble into the restaurant, perch on a soft pillow and glug down an energising homemade lemonade infused with pomegranate. I then tuck into a lunch of grilled tuna, greens and buckwheat noodles. Promising myself a reviving massage as a reward, I vow to train hard in my weakest discipline – swimming. We start with a 45-minute session to warm up, both in the pool and open water. We spend time analysing how to extend our arms during a front-crawl drill – an incomplete pull-through in the underwater phase of the stroke will lead to a loss of speed, so it’s important to perfect the move. Next we focus on breathing correctly; I stand in the pool moving my head from side to side, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. “As we will be swimming in open water I have to be sure that you are confident in the basic skills,” says my instructor.
We move on to practicing the strokes; for 90 minutes I kick and splash my way through each one. It’s even more exhausting than the cycle ride and I climb out of the pool feeling like I have swum across the English Channel – in a ball gown.
I enter the gargantuan spa with its indoor pool, outdoor infinity pool, yoga deck, saunas, steam rooms, Vichy showers, six treatment rooms and three spa suites offering organic, marine-based therapies. I have what feels like the best 80-minute sports massage of my life, performed by a Cyrpriot physiotherapist. It is brutal, but soothes my muscles a treat.
Dinner is lean beef, steamed greens and handmade ravioli at the hotel’s Notios restaurant.
My head hits the pillow and I fall asleep in record time. If only sleeping were a triathlon discipline…
Today’s gruelling swim drills are tomorrow’s crack-of-dawn warm-up. Check back on Tuesday December 11.