5 years of running….

Happy New Year to you.

New Year brings resolutions and new plans and post Christmas, my attention was drawn back to the 5k pb I had been chasing.

I have been running using the 3/1 run/walk method pretty consistently for a while now, but happily I was also able to still pull a continuous 5k out of the bag from time to time (but it feels pretty hideous so I’m not keen to do it too often). I was keen to see if I could break my 5k pb time (previously 37.01 which had been in place for a few years) and really wanted to give it a go before the end of the year. When running, the “3” part of the 3/1, is actually quite fast. Occasionally, some of the pace splits even starts with a “6” (which is a speed unheard of in trundler world) but without the walk break I am unable sustain the speed but I also needed to. Basic maths followed that if I shortened the walk break, I should get a significantly faster time overall.

On the 29th December, conscious of the goal I had set myself, I put my headphones in and set off to run 5k. My plan was still to run 3 minutes but to shorten the walk break to 35 seconds. For the first 3.5k, although it felt like hard work it was manageable, but over the final 1500m I struggled. The walk breaks elongated a bit here and there to 45-50 seconds and this definitely was NOT part of the plan and so I was conscious of the time over the final 500m and had to abandon a walk break altogether to succeed but I was ecstatic to achieve a 5k pb of 36.50. It had felt like it was impossible at the beginning of last year, but I managed it. However, I  was also annoyed that I hadn’t stuck to my plan which would have undoubtably seen me run an even faster time.

The first time I ever ran was 3 January 2016 and this is my “runniversary”. It was around this time that I also started writing this blog (is this my bloggerversary too?) After the cancelled Kelston 10k, I was still determined to run a 10k on my 5 year runniversary and happily DB Max (the company that ran the triathlons I did last year) were putting on a 10k up at the Castle Combe race track. I signed up, along with Merida, my husband (who has recently started running again) and my eldest daughter, and we arrived on the 3rd January ready to run.

It was freezing, I couldn’t feel my outer thighs and bum cheeks for a good 2 hours after the race finished, and these were not the best temperatures for a PB chase, but, as we lined up (6 runners setting off every minute adhering to extremely strict covid rules) I resolved to give it my best. My plan was exactly the same as it had been for the 5k pb chase, except I was not to deviate AT ALL from the 35 second walk breaks. As usual everyone set off much quicker than I with husband and daughter disappearing into the distance with worrying speed. My daughter, whose goal had simply been to finish without walking, managed to complete the 10k in 59 minutes. She is absolutely amazing and I am very proud of her.

The 10k was 3 laps around the course and I made a simple promise to myself to focus on each 3 minute run at a time and not walk longer than the allotted 35 seconds. I had made a playlist of songs (these were permitted but I only wore one earphone so I could hear any marshall instructions) and timed it so that the “Theme from Top Gun” would be playing as I crossed the finish line – I am nothing if not theatrical. I set off and the plan worked. I REALLY wanted to look at the time as I passed the 5k marker, but didn’t in case it messed with my head – if I was going really fast, my legs might “hear” and then refuse to keep going as they would be “tired”. If I didn’t know, I couldn’t react – so kept going 3 minutes at a time. Soon it became apparent that I was the last person out on the track, which I will admit, was slightly disheartening, but when the results were posted, the chap that won ran it in 31 minutes, which is frankly ludicrous. This was a fast field and as I had been so focussed on my 3 minute runs, I hadn’t really noticed them as they have lapped me.

As I came into the final straight, I realised that the Top Gun theme wasn’t playing and so I HAD to be ahead of time. “Shouty Dave” the famous marshall (called Dave and he shouts encouragingly) was cheering me on along with Merida, husband and daughter and although I was last, I gave the final straight my all. I finally finished in 74.18 minutes. The relief flooded over me as I was given my medal (and a bottle of beer – well done DB Max) and I cannot verbalise how happy I was. My previous 10k pb was 78.56 and so I’d taken 4 minutes and 38 seconds off. I’d also further reduced my 5k pb again and so now it stood at 36.07. Let me tell you, run/walking works!

I was tired though and spent the afternoon snoozing on the sofa. It had felt good to put the effort in and finally, get a faster time….AND A MEDAL. It felt like a good solid start to the year and this year I have plans for races, covid allowing.

But now it was time to turn my thoughts to triathlon training as my base training plan which lasts for 6 weeks, before the Olympic triathlon plan starts, kicked in the following day.

The problem was, that running a fast 10k on the Sunday and then the country being placed back in national lockdown again on the Monday evening, has impacted my first training week somewhat.

I plan my overall training plan for each month and then break it down week by week, sometimes things get moved about if I have work calls/meeting that run over lunchtime/before or after work, but on the whole the weekly plan, SHOULD be set in stone. It doesn’t always work out like that though…..

This has been the last week:

MONDAY PLAN: Yoga 30 mins + spin 30 mins

MONDAY REALITY: Ate chocolate and was depressed about lockdown.

TUESDAY PLAN: Swim + run 30 mins 3/35

REALITY: Lockdown meant the swim was cancelled so managed a spin 20 mins, run 30 mins 3/1

WEDNESDAY PLAN: Weights 30 min + spin 40 min

REALITY: felt tired so 10 min spin + 25 mins of weights and over 1 session not the two that were planned.

THURSDAY PLAN: Pilates 20 mins + 40 minute run 3/1

REALITY: Was knackered after work and did nothing

FRIDAY PLAN: Planned rest day

REALITY: When I did nothing yesterday I bargained with myself that I would do yesterday’s session today and so just swap the rest days – erm…that didn’t happen. I worked all day and then did nothing – well actually I started watching Bridgerton on Netflix so it wasn’t a complete loss.  

SATURDAY PLAN: Run 40 minutes easy 3/1

REALITY: No running but went for a lovely 10k walk with the Red Lady

SUNDAY PLAN: Bike/spin/turbo 90 mins

REALITY: Wore my running kit all day (whilst watching Bridgerton – it’s very, very good) and then after procrastinating all day, finally dragged myself out for 5k just as it was getting dark.

So I did exercise, but not enough according to the “Pre-season base training triathlon” plan I am following. Obviously lockdown has put a spanner in the works as the swimming pools are now shut, but I really need to do better.

Today it’s Tuesday in the next week and my legs are already killing me as this is the plan for this week:

Monday:              Weights session 30 minutes + Spin class 45 (10 min warm up, 30 min spin, 5 min cooldown) 

Tuesday:              Run 5k 3/1 + Pilates 30 minutes

Wednesday:      Spin 40 mins (HIIT style) + Yoga 20 mins

Thursday:            30 min weights + Run (warm up, sprints, cooldown)

Friday:                  Rest

Saturday:             10k run

Sunday:                bike/spin/turbo 90 minutes                        

It’s also my birthday on Saturday so all bets are off for Sunday’s session but I will do my best. I will report back in a week or so. Stay safe out there lovely people.

2021…are we nearly there yet?

This blog post would usually be my annual round-up. But what can I say about 2020?

Well, let’s be honest, not many good things. It has felt like very, very hard work, even without races to train for. All of my pre-planned (and already paid for) races were cancelled.

In 2020, I had planned to take part in the Bristol 10k, the 51fiver (an Olympic distance triathlon) and the Great North Run (half marathon). As you know, these and almost everything generally, were cancelled.

I did complete the Bristol 10k virtually with my youngest daughter (which was brilliant fun and I gave her the medal we were sent afterwards) and then, as life sort of looked like it might be getting back to normal in August (oh how we laugh thinking about that now) I squeezed in 2 sprint triathlons. It felt good to be competing and it was good to get a couple of medals in an otherwise fruitless year.

When the pools were open, I was swimming twice a week and was also continuing with my weights and strength work. Thanks to my spin bike, I was still able to cycle regularly and my eldest daughter became quite competitive with me using the peloton spin classes on the peloton app. There are many different types of classes on there and I must confess that since we were locked down for a second time, I have chosen ones that made me smile rather than offer a specific training plan. The Bon Jovi and the Beyonce rides were absolutely brilliant – spinning, singing, headbanging and sometimes shimmying along which made me happy, laugh and kept the endorphins were flowing. I’m not sure how useful these were for “pure triathlon training” (although there are definitely classes on the app that would help with that), but without a race to train for, why worry? I needed to sweat and smile and these classes ticked the boxes. As usual, I went with the mantra of anything is better than nothing.

But let’s talk about running this year. I have ebbed and flowed with it but it has been largely consistent during the second half of the year. Following my completion of the Joe Wicks 90 day plan, I gave myself the target of getting my 5k time down and although I have succeeded in getting faster again, I haven’t beaten my PB….yet.

My eldest daughter started running quite seriously in the second lockdown (she’s a hockey player and hockey was cancelled) and we both signed up for the Kelston 10k on the 3 January 2021. This has since been cancelled. She followed a plan and recently ran a sub 30 minute 5k herself. She regularly takes our dog out for a run in the evening and will definitely run a 10k next year as a race. She is very keen to pace me for a 5k PB and so I’m going to try once more to beat my time before the end of the year.

I’ve done lots of different types of running this year and I am happy to report that I seem to have fallen back in love with it again. I love running with the dog in the mud (although I am accident prone and have fallen more than once) and this has enabled me to still see my friends whilst the second lockdown was on. Twin Mum has regularly run with me and Bruce since September and Team G, who has a withdrawn guide dog, has shown me lots of new places to take the dogs running. These have been such joyful experiences. I ran with Team G a couple of weeks ago and Bruce was off the lead for a lot of it. He is absolutely built to run and looks so powerful as he strides through the countryside. I’ve run a couple of 10ks with him in recent weeks and I’m sure he could do double this without breaking a sweat. It’s nice to run with company and this year it’s been the best way to stay in touch with friends – outside!

When the children returned to school in September, hockey was back. Training is 90 minutes and so it’s a perfect running window of opportunity. A lady I know through TMR (Hockey Mum), was keen to run and so Thursday night running became a thing. With nothing to train for and everything to gain mentally from being in the fresh air, we started trundling together. As Hockey Mum hadn’t run for a couple of months, we started running at 3/1 intervals. This is undoubtedly my favourite interval as it’s long enough that you feel like you are running but also, short enough that it is easy to conduct a conversation. We have run together, once a week (with one exception) every week since hockey resumed in September. During lockdown 2, we still met up for our Thursday evening trundle even though hockey was cancelled and it has been so very, very enjoyable.  Last weekend we ran an offroad 10k VERY MUDDY trail, which her husband devised for us and it was brilliant. It was supposed to be 10k but it was actually 13k (we got a bit lost). This was the furthest that Hockey Mum had ever run and the furthest that I had run in well over a year and it was a fitting end to our running year. Thank you to her husband – it really was brilliant. We ran the whole distance using the 3/1 method.

I think it’s important to talk about this for a moment. Running takes many forms and disguises. There is of course the race, the pb, the endurance event, but there is also, and probably most importantly, the running for pleasure. In a year, where many things have felt so mentally hard, if I had not agreed with myself before setting off, that I would allow myself to run/walk, 3/1, I am certain that more often that not, I would never have left the house and so no running would have taken place at all.  The couch to 5k programme uses the run/walk technique to get you to a place where you can run without walking. This is of course excellent if this is what you want to do. For me, I enjoy run/walking and interestingly, often my split times are faster than when I just run so who really knows. All I can tell you is that, at the moment, run/walking is what I’m doing more than I’m not and if the thought of running scares you, try the run/walk method. I have an Olympic triathlon next year and I am already considering run/walking the final 10k – and I bet the time won’t be much different than if I decide to run the whole 10k. It might even be faster.

Give it some thought and maybe give it a try?

The Olympic Triathlon from 2020 has been rescheduled for May next year – hopefully it will happen (although who knows?) but I have decided that I will train towards it regardless.

My training plan starts on the 4 January and so I will be writing more regular blogs next year as I talk you through what should be happening according to my training plan, and then the reality of what really IS happening.

Thanks for sticking with me this year. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Hug them tight.

I wish you all a Happy New Year.

Triathlon is a summer sport

In the past month I have completed 2 sprint triathlons, both at Westonbirt House and both through the running company, DB Max. They were extremely covid secure, with plenty of measures in place to keep both the competitors and marshalls safe at all times.

For the first triathlon on the August Bank Holiday Monday, I was feeling unprepared for the swim and run, but ok for the bike. I had managed to swim only twice in a pool in the run up to the race, but as the swim was 8 lengths of a pool, I wasn’t too worried about drowning. Realistically, this is less than 6 minutes and I would just get through it – which is what I did using a combination of breast stroke and front crawl. It wasn’t fast but neither the services of David Hasslehoff nor The Rock wearing red shorts were required to help me out of the pool, so I was happy.

The run from the pool to transition (I left a pair of trainers outside the pool to quickly put on) was painful as obviously there was no way to practice this beforehand and then I was off on the bike. The one thing I have consistently done during lockdown is to go out on my bike and/or at least 2 spin classes a week at home, using various fitness apps that I have. (My favourites are peloton which offers spin classes with disco music and Les Mills. Both are fairly cheap and highly effective).  I don’t need much encouragement to drop a run in favour of a biking activity and as a result as I headed out onto the bike section of the course, I was feeling excited and confident. I was fast and as I whipped around the beautiful rural 22k loop, I was averaging 27.5 kph. I felt strong and pleased with myself as I headed back in to change out of my cycling shoes and into my trainers, but then the dreaded run remained.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had been desperate to re-spark my joy for running, but it hadn’t happened, so the run was ill prepared and I gritted my teeth and ran/walked my way through it. My daughters were watching and cheering (only 1 spectator per competitor was strictly enforced to keep things covid secure and so one daughter was for me and one was for Merida – who brilliantly won a place on the podium for her age group) and this helped me to keep going but as usual, the run part was hideous. I completed the 5k in 42.24 which is not really that much slower than if I was just going out for a 5k normally which made no sense. So if I could run 5k at the end of a triathlon in that time, surely I should be able to run a normal 5k, on a day when I hadn’t swum and biked, much more quickly…shouldn’t I?

A plan began to form in my mind. I had been struggling to work out what to work on to keep me motivated over the winter months and now the answer was obvious – faster running. But how to do it? I chatted about this on an Instagram vlog straight after the race (rambling on as my daughter hilariously photobombed me from behind!) and 6 people very quickly got in touch and offered to take me to a track interval session, as it is widely known that this is the best and most successful approach to getting faster. I was extremely grateful and thankful for their kindness and was considering what to do. As I was still pondering this a couple of days later, the training plan for North Bristol Triathlon Club (of which I am a member) pinged into my inbox, and on it was a running coached session under the title of “interval sessions”. I immediately signed up.

I have been to the last 3 sessions and they seem to be working. They are tough of course as they are designed to push you out of your comfort zone but the coaches are friendly and encouraging and my team mates have offered me some good advice too. The run sessions consist of timed slots and vary from sprints, to “tempo runs” for 1-2 minutes followed by periods of recovery. I think you are supposed to “jog” these recovery minutes but honestly, it is all I can do not to collapse and so walk mine but I am gradually getting a bit faster and so I am pleased.

I have also been running more regularly and more consistently throughout the weeks averaging 3-4 runs a week (one of which is the intervals session). One of these is a lovely chatty run/walk with Hockey Mum which gives us something to do rather than stand around getting cold whilst our daughters play hockey. The Saturday morning run (which takes place after dropping my youngest daughter off at drama club – can you see a pattern forming as to when I run?!) is always as fast a 5k as I can manage with my Labrador Bruce. He is harnessed up and attached to me via a bungee lead, which means I genuinely have to run faster than I would like as he is 30 kilos of muscle and he was built to run. He loves it and I really, really enjoy these runs. We run trails and often by the river between Bath and Bristol and I genuinely find it joyful. There was a slightly worrying moment the first time I took him to the river when I thought he was going to drag me in (he loves a swim), but he’s clever and has now worked out that when I put my running belt on, he knows we are running and is more focused. I am keen to run races with him in the future – a medal over his bed would be a lovely feature in our kitchen.

My kilometre splits now often, not always but often, start with a 7 rather than an 8 and this is a very big improvement. It’s annoying of course, because it means that the intervals are working as they are not exactly enjoyable, but it’s also down to just running more regularly. I think the key to success with running is to mix it up and keep it varied. Plodding along, running the same 5k is boring, but a session of sprints, a chatty/social run/walk, a faster trail run with Bruce (@brucethefoxredlab) is keeping it interesting and importantly, I am keeping the distance down at the moment so haven’t run further than 6k meaning it doesn’t feel too “hard”.

The thing is that with more running, more swimming (I have re-joined Easton Leisure Centre now the pools are open and so I’m swimming 1000-1200m twice a week before work – working from home is very helpful when you are training!) a couple of spin classes at home still each week, means that there is less time for strength training. However, unlike before, I want to keep it up and don’t want to neglect it completely, but as always with things that you don’t “love”, more motivation is needed. I called upon my buddy The Red Lady to help. We’ve been doing a bit of running together and so I suggested that we meet once a week to do strength training together and she was keen for the same reasons and so quickly agreed. Therefore, one lunchtime a week, sometimes in my garden, sometimes via zoom if work meetings are tightly pressed around the lunch-hour, we do a Joe Wicks strength training routine together. I will be honest and say that I have taken the burpees out, but apart from that, they are hard, tough and we both sweat and ache afterwards.

The second sprint triathlon was yesterday and I was desperate to see if all the extra work meant that I would be able to run the 5k in under 40 minutes.

I felt ready and much better prepared than I had for the previous one, but I hadn’t factored in the Great British Weather. There is a reason that triathlon is a summer sport – you basically spend the duration of the race in a swimming costume (with arms and legs) but yesterday was absolutely freezing. I started my race at 7.38am which meant that I was off on the bike before 8am. The air temperature was 7c and there was an icy northerly wind blowing and it was FREEZING.

The swim started well and the water was warm (I was 11.5 seconds faster over the 200 metre swim than the previous time), but as I put my trainers on outside the pool and started to run towards transition, the wind cut straight through me. I was trying to wrap the towel around me to keep me warm. It was unsuccessful as my miserable face clearly demonstrated.

I had spent the previous 3 days stressing about what to wear for the bike section and in the end, I decided to change my top half but my bra had to remain. I could have possibly changed it as well, but getting in and out of a sports bra is not easy on a normal day in the peace and quiet of my bedroom, let alone under a towel in the middle of a triathlon transition and so the bra remained. Unfortunately big boobs require serious support, which comes in the guise of strong and thick bra material, which isn’t very fast drying. There’s nothing that can be done about it, it’s simply a fact, but it means that if a cold wind hits your damp boobs, they are going to be very cold. So with the exception of my bra, I changed my wet trisuit top and put on a thermal winter long sleeved cycling top, my winter cycling jacket (windproof) over the top, a buff to protect my neck and full cycling gloves. This all sounds very sensible and it did work meaning that my boobs, thankfully, did not snap off and I was not cold on my top half, but the same sadly cannot be said for my bottom half as I did keep my wet tri shorts on. My theory was that I would be pedalling so hard that I would warm up quickly. Unfortunately the windchill made the temperature feel like 3c and with wet shorts on I was so cold that during parts of the cycle, I felt sick and the timing chip that was fastened around my left ankle continuously dripped water into my sock during the ride also, which didn’t help.

However, it was only 22k on the bike and so I endured the cold and unwelcome headwind that arrived in the middle section, but was relieved to turn back in off the main road and in towards transition. I love cycling, but did not enjoy that cycle. I was frozen to my core and my legs didn’t really get going. As a result of this and the headwind, I was 1 minute 26 seconds slower on the bike leg than I had been 4 weeks before. I knew this, being able to see my speed on my bike computer and was feeling pretty fed up. I almost felt that I couldn’t be bothered to even run the final part, but encouraged by the fact that I might finally feel warm if I ran (this was the only thing that really motivated me to pull my trainers on), I did manage to drag myself out.

My only plan was not to run/walk and hope that the training I had been doing would take care of the rest . I did largely run without walking and only stopped quickly 4 times as my very cold legs kept needing a stretch.  I remembered to pump my arms when I wanted to go faster as the tri coaches had taught me and it did seem to work. The run is 3 laps of a mile each and I was half way around the second lap when I finally began to warm up. Upon returning from the bike, I put on a long sleeved running top (did I mention I was cold) which I had thrown in to put on after the race and certainly hadn’t planned to wear it during the race. But the thought of exposing my shoulders to the bitter wind was too much for my mind to compute and so I wore the long sleeved running top for the final part of the race. In the end, I did finally relax into the run and it felt ok. Merida had already finished (impressively earning herself a podium position for her age group again) and was cheering me on from beneath her dryrobe and before I knew it, I had finished. On August 31st I ran the 5k in 42.24 and yesterday I ran the same race in 39.12. I was very happy.

So what now? Well, Autumn is upon us and I have no triathlons booked until the Olympic distance 51fiver next May which I am going to make my “A” race for next year.  I am going to focus my efforts on running over the winter months. I am going to work on my 5k up to Christmas and then will work towards a strong 10k after Christmas. I’ll keep up my spinning, biking, strength and swimming, but the main focus will be running and I will keep it interesting. Intervals, hill sprints, trail runs, doggy runs, runs with my super speedy daughters,  maybe even some trail races too (as there are a couple of rural races beginning to pop up again)? But I am going to keep running.

Hopefully I will get faster……hopefully.

Stay safe out there lovely people.

If you’re interested in following me on instagram I am @ladyclaireabell.

Motivation

Undoubtably, the one question I am asked more than any other is, “how do you stay so motivated?” It’s a fair question as motivation is one of the most important factors in success for fitness, but also one of the most difficult to maintain. Different people have different ideas about what success looks like and for me, it’s usually to finish the race or project I have set myself. Generally, once I decide I’m going to do something, I write a plan and then I just keep going until it’s done. I’m a bit like a robot and this has been the normal state for me since January 2016 when my new life in fitness started.

But let me tell you, I am struggling at the moment. REALLY struggling to motivate myself to do ANYTHING.

I completed the Joe Wicks 90 day plan and on the whole I was pleased with the results. I lost weight (8 kilos) and lost 17.5 inches in total across my body.

Joe Wicks resultsMy jeans are now loose and I have bicep muscles. I can do a chest to floor burpee (although they are still my least favourite exercise ever) and can do 1 full press-up. Yes 90 days of HIITS, watching what I have eaten and weights and I can do 1 full press-up – full nose all the way to the floor and up again but only 1 before my arms feel like they will explode. I blame my boobs which even after losing 4 inches from them, are still significant. They must make it harder for me to push up as they weigh the top half of my body down too much…….maybe? But I can also do 30 pushups from my knees now without a break and when I started I could only do 3. So all joking aside, it’s a definite improvement.

The Joe Wicks plan for me was incredibly useful. Not only because I learned to use dumbells and finally understand the importance of and enjoyed strength training. But also because I learned so much about nutrition and what works and does not work for my body. In cycle 2, we were permitted a second carb meal on the day when we trained. I was relieved and excited and definitely looking forward to more carbs as I had been a bit hungry from time to timevon cycle 1, but the reality was that my body struggled.  I was bloated and felt very sluggish. I was also thirsty and I was drinking 3.5 litres of water on cycle 2 so I did not understand how this could be true. Cycle 2 was the hardest of all the cycles for me. Weights and not enough cardio coupled with too many carbs did not make me smile. But I kept going.

By the time cycle 3 rolled around, I knew what worked and what didn’t and so when we were allowed to choose between 1 or 2 carb refuel meals on a training day, I shocked everyone (myself included) by opting for 1 and this is largely what I will do from now on in my life I think.

The most important thing I learned however, was nothing about sport at all. I am 45 and probably perimenopausal (although that’s not been officially confirmed by anyone medical) but I have lots of the symptoms. The most difficult symptom for me to manage has been that on day 1-3 of my period I am exhausted and completely lacking in energy, which causes me to want to binge and eat chocolate.  However, the 90 day plan taught me , critically, that eating 3 healthy Joe friendly carb meals on each of these days (regardless of wether I trained or not on that day), helped with my energy levels and stopped my need to binge. Honestly, this revelation was worth the money for the plan alone.

I finished the plan a couple of weeks ago and then worried about being in limbo, signed up for a sprint triathlon which is taking place on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s a very small rural event and is also being staged as a time trial rather than a race as social distancing will be adhered to. I decided that I needed this as a motivator to kick start my running again.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that I just cannot be bothered with anything running related at all. Now I can run for 30 minutes if I have to (and I will because in the next couple of months, Covid allowing, I will start leading runs as a Run Angel for “This Mum Runs” again as they hope to get the runs up and running in the next couple of months) but usually I just can’t be bothered. I much prefer run/walking in a structured manner – 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking. It’s just so much easier and less stressful. It also doesn’t help that in my head I think that after a swim and a bike ride, it’s unlikely I can run a 5k fast anyway so why try? I know this is stupid, but like I said, at the moment, I’m seeking excuses.

TT rideI do like my bike though and so have been doing fairly regular spin classes to keep my cycling legs strong and I also completed my first ever bike TT or Time Trial a couple of weeks ago. This was a 10 mile ride where you literally cycle as fast as you can. I rarely cycle as fast as I can as a social cycle is, well social, and long rides in races are never flat out at your top speed as you’re trying to save your legs for the run part. It was exhilarating to cycle at average speed of 27 km/h with a top speed of 48.2 km/h as I literally cycled as fast as my little legs could pedal. There were some fairly professional looking characters there with skin tight outfits and pointy helmets and I’ll be honest and say that I was very nervous indeed. I think without the encouragement of the lovely “Breeder of Boys” who also was there, I may well have not bothered, but I was pleased I did. I was last of course, but everyone was very friendly and encouraging and I am hoping to go again next week. I have also been lent a couple of “pointy helmets” to try by a lovely chap from our triathlon club and I am sure that they will make all the difference to my speed…..

But then what to motivate me to train beyond the triathlon in less than a fortnight’s time? 2020 has been an absolute disaster for races. Now I am not making light of the horrifying consequences of Covid 19 and I understand that for big races, it is right that they have been cancelled. But it is very hard to remain motivated to train, day in day out, without something to aim for.

I was down to do the Great North Run in September (cancelled) and then my final race of the year was to be the Great South Run in Portsmouth in October. This was cancelled last week. This was to be my final target, the one which forced me to focus on my running and hopefully would result in me falling in love with running all over again, which has been sadly absent since I twisted my ankle in March 2019. But now it wasn’t to be.

So my dilemma is now, what do I do? And the answer is I don’t know. Some days I have enormous plans and I am highly motivated but it isn’t consistent enough and I also find that trying to be positive all the time (which is my personality type), is absolutely exhausting and this further compounds my lack of motivation. On average I am still exercising 4 days out of 7 so it’s not terrible, but I do feel rudderless and without a focus.

I have ideas of course. I could just run socially over the winter. Not focus on time at all only aim to run 3 times a week and hope that the consistency will be the reward?

I could focus on trying to make my 5k time faster. I never did this as I started running in January 2016 and went straight to the Bristol 10k in May of the same year, so perhaps this would be a useful goal?

I could also redo cycle 1 and cycle 3 of the Joe Wicks plan to try and lose more weight, which in turn will help me to be a faster runner? I also have the “Graduate Plan” ready to go (which is Joe’s follow up to the 90 day plan) so could do this also (although I’ve had a sneaky look at the workouts and they look HORRENDOUS so there’s no need to rush into this!)

I could focus on weights? I will continue to weight train anyway as I know that a good level of base strength will be critical once races return, not to mention general health and well being. But I don’t get the buzz from weights in the same way that I do from cardio so this will only ever be a warm-up for me rather than the main show.

The honest answer is I don’t know what I’ll do but I will keep going, probably with a mixture of all of the above. Who would have ever foreseen that medals and races would be so important to me and therefore so missed once I couldn’t do them.

But it’s only temporary and we need to keep reminding ourselves that the “new normal” we live in currently, will not be forever. Races will happen again and so training, in some form or another must continue. I need to keep reminding myself that forward is forward regardless of how fast or slowly I move. Perhaps it will be useful for me to simply try and enjoy the exercise rather than making it time focussed? Time will tell.

However, until, I have a proper race to train for, or unless something specific crops up that I feel I need to talk about, I am going to rest my blog for a little while.

I do post regularly on Instagram under @ladyclaireabell about my fitness exploits so do feel free to keep in touch this way if you’d like to.

Stay well and safe and thank you for reading.

Running at Burnham on Sea

Cycle 1 into Cycle 2

I have completed cycle 1 and have started cycle 2.

Here are my results.Cycle 1 results

Cycle 1 and 2 underwear

And here are the horrendous photos of me…before and after (you remember I mentioned in my last blog that I needed new underwear….well now you see why!)

I am pleased with the results. The weightloss is good, but it’s more that I’ve toned up. I have definitely noticed that my body has got “softer” over the past 12 months and it’s good to feel some muscles are lurking once again underneath my insulating layer. We might not be able to see them yet, but I know they are back.

The most important difference for me though was that mentally I have been feeling a lot better and more positive. I mean, I can’t pretend that I’ve not still had days where I’ve wanted to stay in bed all day because what’s the point of getting up when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, but there have definitely been less of these since I started the plan.

Cycle 1 focussed on getting used to the routine of HIITS (hard) as well as reducing my carbohydrate intake.

Cycle 2, which I am nearly a week into, is allowing more carbs again (hello my old friends) and has introduced weights. The HIITs do have some cardio in them still, but no-where near as much as before. They are much more focussed on strength and weight training. They are hard, but in a different way.

Although I will say, Joe Wicks does love a burpee. They are everywhere and I genuinely believe that he does them before breakfast every day, just for fun. Conversely, I absolutely hate them, but quite rightly, Joe doesn’t give two hoots about my own personal preferences towards burpees and so the burpees remain.

The interesting thing that I’ve immediately noticed as I enter cycle 2, is that I think my body prefers having less carbs. I know that this may well change over the next few weeks, but my body did struggle a bit to start with. I was a bit bloated, but this also could have been to do with the fact that the wise people at Bodycoach HQ have UPPED my daily required water limit to 3.5 litres a day. HOW? WHY? I mean, I was already drinking 3.25 litres a day? I feel the same about this, as I do about people who smoke 80 cigarettes a day – there isn’t enough TIME to complete the challenge. I have to start my day drinking a 750 ml bottle of water before I get out of bed in the morning. It’s like I’m breastfeeding again – for the male readers, when breastfeeding, you are THIRSTY akin to a hangover where you are recovering from a 2 day champagne binge…but all the time.

On the odd day when I haven’t quite hit my water levels (there has been 3 days I think, and when I say I haven’t hit it, I’ve only JUST missed it), but I have woken up thirsty….almost like I am hungover. The body is clever and gets used to things very quickly and I have learned that it likes water. The very simple fact of upping your water consumption has a very quick and palpable affect on how well you feel. Try it…

Since my last blog, quite a few people (26 at the last count) have got in touch with me to ask about the Joe Wicks 90 day plan. This isn’t an advert for the plan – just to be clear – but I thought I would summarise a few points largely around the questions I was asked, as well as some of my own observations.

  1. You will need a blitzer, blender or nutribullet type gadget. I love my nutribullet and use it at least once a day, often twice.
  2. The first shop is more expensive than usual and this can’t be escaped sadly but you may also find yourself eating things that you haven’t eaten before and subsequently discover new things you like. I wish I had embraced frozen fruit and veg more from week 1 as it saves a lot of space in the fridge (one frittata recipe uses 600g of spinach!) and is importantly much cheaper. One of my favourite recipes from cycle 1 is a smoothie with raspberries and peanut butter in it (it is absolutely delicious and importantly tastes very naughty). We were buying fresh raspberries which are expensive and don’t last very long. So I would start freezing them when they arrived, so they would last longer, and made the smoothie more “frozen”. My husband (who has a keen eye for thrift) suggested, calmly, that “perhaps we could just buy frozen raspberries?”…. we now have a freezer full of fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the cost and my husband has had the good sense not to mention that he might have been right.
  3. The HIITs on the plan are more vigorous and challenging than anything I’ve ever seen Joe put on his youtube channel previously. There is no pretending about that. BUT, he does them with you in real time (gets sweaty and out of breath too) and he is an enthusiastic and positive trainer. For each exercise, if needed, he will give you an easier option if you need one so it can be tailored. I am still doing the “easy” burpees and still doing press-ups on my knees. The idea is for you to push yourself hard, without throwing up and you see your own progression is real time.
  4. If Joe stays down on the floor after a particularly strenuous exercise and doesn’t immediately jump up ready for the next one, for goodness sakes, STAY DOWN TOO. I learned this to my peril. I dragged myself up after a set of mountain climbers and felt a little light headed and had to pause the video to recover for a few minutes. NEVER EVER EVER get up before the boss does.
  5. Workouts, as a rule, for me, must be done in the morning, otherwise procrastination can set in and before you know it, you’ve spent all day planning the workout, but not actually done it. The only exception to this is a Saturday which is pizza day in our house. Joe has a lovely pizza recipe (yes it’s on cycle 1) but you can only have it after you’ve worked out. The promise of pizza is enough to make me do the workout, even press-ups and burpees.
  6. Caffeine needs to be reduced dramatically on the plan and I’m allowed a maximum of 2 cups a day. This was one of the biggest challenges for me as our family would win a gold medal at tea drinking. Truthfully, one of the hardest things about lockdown has been, not being allowed to visit Grandma and Grandad (as I expect many of us have struggled with) but missing the cuddles aside, we’ve not been about to enjoy one of Grandma’s famous cups of tea (seriously, she makes the best tea – my daughters and I have had numerous of discussions about it over the past few weeks (along with which restaurant will we go to first when they all re-open. Nandos for me, if you’re interested). If ever I had needed a wake up call it was this. For the first week or so I had a killer headache as my body struggled to wean itself off it’s drug of choice. It was hard. I have also realised that if I’m only allowed 2 cups a day, that one of them must be coffee, and Grandma’s tea excluded, I think I prefer coffee?! Who knew!?!!
  7. I have more energy. SO MUCH MORE energy and I am sleeping better. In a global pandemic, the ability to sleep well should not be underestimated.
  8. Planning is key. There is a lot of talk about batch cooking with these types of plans, but actually, I’ve not done that much. Lots of the questions I’ve received have been around “how do I fit this in with the family?”. The answer for me, was that I cooked the reduced carb dinners for us all (with one extra portion for me to have for a lunch later in the week) and then added a carb portion in for the family. They all had their own breakfasts and sadly sandwiches are not really allowed on the plan so the extra portions were becoming my lunches. My family have LOVED the food and on cycle 2 it’s even easier as there are more carbs.

I’ll talk about this more in the next blog, but as some of the HIITs in cycle 2 are not so cardio heavy, I have started running again and I’m also cycling too. The weather is being very kind to the British in lockdown and I’ve been taking advantage.

The lake is also open, so I’m going to try and squeeze myself into my wetsuit again next week and re-awake my inner mermaid as it will be a while I think before the pools open again and I’m really missing swimming. Of course, I’ll need to be able to get into my wetsuit (and out again) unaided due to social distancing rules, which worries me a little, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Stay safe everyone.

Garden 28 may 20202

90 days…

At the end of my last blog I said I wouldn’t write another one until my training for the GNR recommended, so you may well wonder, why you are reading this. Well the honest answer is, it could be quite some time until any races happen and so, along with many other people I know, I have changed my approach to exercise during lockdown.

I was continuing to exercise and was doing something every other day, but it was without purpose, which in training, often means that it’s easy to slack off and let’s be honest, I was slacking off a bit. I was also eating more than usual and this coupled with training and running less, meant that I was gaining weight. Not a huge amount, but I was now almost a stone heavier than the weight I was when I completed the 113 triathlon last year.

Lockdown wasn’t helping my healthy eating habits and then Easter arrived. I ate 3 Easter eggs in 2 days and knew that it was going to get worse not better. I was also struggling mentally with the lack of focus and so decided I needed a plan.

One of the continuing themes of my blog is that I am slow runner. I have reconciled this and proved that it has never stopped me completing anything, but if I want to do a marathon (which at some point I do) or a branded Half Ironman triathlon which has strict cutoff times (which I DEFINITELY want to do), then the uncomfortable truth is I need to lose weight and at the same time become stronger.

But how best to achieve this? This was of course the sixty four thousand dollar question.

I decided to do more strength work so started with extra “Pump” classes. For those not familiar, it’s an exercise class (Les Mills online) where the teacher takes you through guided squats, lunges, bicep curls etc with weights and it lasted 45 minutes. After the first class I was extremely sore and certainly knew that I had worked hard for the first time in a while. But whilst the exercise had improved, my eating had not lessened.

As I was scrolling Instagram one evening (it’s been a feature of lockdown, scrolling through social media), a deal flashed up for Joe Wick’s 90 day plan and it was half price. I have toyed with the idea of doing his plan before as Fitbit Sister did it a couple of years ago and it completely transformed her body and she was STRONG so I know it gets results. I have even got as far as speaking to their team directly about it, but the HIITs cannot be substituted for long distance endurance training and there was no way that I would have been able to fit in my cycling, running and swimming along with 5 HIITs a week, so have never signed up.

But now, endurance training wasn’t happening and likely wouldn’t be happening for a while so this was no longer an obstacle. The other challenge that the 90 day plan presents is that there is a lot of cooking from scratch and it’s very time consuming. Again, all being at home and having much less to do generally meant that this was now possible.

So I signed up. I took the obligatory horrendous photos of myself in my underwear (and immediately decided that I needed new underwear), took all my measurements and weighed myself and sent the information off. The plan arrived on Friday and I decided that I would take two days to read and re-read the plan. On Saturday morning we JW Plan for the weekplanned the menu (my daughters were VERY excited and helpful) and then shopped the ingredients we needed. I carefully placed the plan on the fridge so I could see what I was doing, cooking and eating.  It was now Saturday evening and I was wondering why I had decided to wait until Monday to start… I was anxious to get going, so I started Sunday morning.

The HIITs that are on the plan, cannot be found on Joe’s usual Youtube channel. They are in a secret place and you have to have paid for the plan to get the secret link. I am no stranger to Joe Wick’s HIITs and have done several of them before over the past couple of years. I am ashamed to say that my preparation for the first HIIT was a bit half hearted as I stupidly (and incredibly arrogantly as it turned out) wasn’t really anticipating anything that I wouldn’t be able to complete. I didn’t warm up properly and I did a half hearted stretch at the end of the session but that was it.

The HIIT itself was extremely challenging. It had moves I had never seen before and I was out of breath very quickly. I did complete most of it, but was working at a very high level and I was absolutely ruined by the end of it. (you can see how spaced out I am and how bad in this horrendous photo….!)

Sweaty HIITI lay panting on my exercise mat at the end, sweat dripping in to my eyes and worrying what the next workout would bring.  I struggle with burpees, mountain climbers and press-ups the most. Let’s talk about press-ups for a moment. You do not need weights to increase your upper body strength at all. All you need to do are press-ups. They HURT. Oh my goodness they hurt and are so difficult.  I can only do them on my knees. My arms burn like a very deep needle in being inserted into my upper arm. I’ve had a pain in my bicep all week and I’m only managing about 6 in one go. It’s pathetic.

Following the HIIT, I went about my day as usual. The food on the plan is good and by and large I am not hungry and eating high protein healthy food. There is a lot of preparation involved and you have to be organised, but having more time on my hands, this is fine.

As I went to bed on the Sunday evening, my legs were starting to hurt. I recognised the signs and knew that I would be sore in the morning.

The plan recommends 4/5 HIITs a week and 2/3 rest days. What you are allowed to eat varies as to whether you are on a training day than a rest day and you can eat more if you’ve trained that day. I spoke to the people at the plan and they said I was able to substitute 2 sessions a week for a cycling HIIT or spin class and so I planned to do 3 HIITS and then 2 spin sessions.

So starting on Sunday with HIIT number 1, I was to do number 2 on Monday, a spin class on Tuesday, then rest on Wednesday. Then HIIT number 3 on Thursday, HIIT number 4 on Friday and spin on Saturday with rest on Sunday. Then picking up again the following Monday with HIIT number 5 and then so on.

When I woke up on the Monday morning, I could barely move. The pain in my legs, glutes and general bum area was worse than any exercise related pain I had ever had in my life, even the day after a race. I was tearful as I descended our stairs, breathing as though giving birth whenever I sat down on anything and generally in a bit of a state. I did complete the second HIIT but it was painful. I was so happy to have a spin session the next day as anything that involved squatting down was ever more painful on the Tuesday. I nearly cried with joy when I woke on Wednesday to discover it was a  rest day.

I was still sore when I went to bed on the Wednesday evening – 4 days after the first HIIT.

Since then, I have been much less arrogant about the whole affair and have diligently completed a 5 minute warm up and 10 minute cool down and stretch session ever since. And so far, no more pains.

I’m in the middle of the second week so far and enjoying it.  Still can’t do a proper burpee but have some building bicep muscles from the press-ups that seem to be in every single workout.

I don’t know if I’ve lost weight (am not allowed to weigh myself until the end of the first 30 days) but I can report that I am feeling fitter and much better in myself. I like and need a bit of structure to my week and it’s been helping me mentally to focus on things other than Covid 19 and work.

I guess the most important thing is that I’m enjoying it, even if the 3.25 litres of water that I have to drink a day, do feel like a full time job in itself.

Stay safe everyone.

 

All in one leotards and Covid-19

So. How is everyone? Aren’t you sick of people asking you that? I am but largely because the answer can vary so very much over even such a short timeframe, sometimes changing dramatically over even just one hour.

Some days I am fully motivated to work, exercise, cook, clean, learn a new language, teach the dog how to walk nicely on his lead (not cracked that one yet) and then other days I can barely be bothered to get out of bed or brush my hair. I know I am not alone in this as my friends tell me that they feel the same. Covid-19 certainly has been a game-changer for everyone.

In my last blog which I wrote a few months ago now, I was planning a big year of exercise but the reality was that I was barely holding anything together at all, apart from work. I was working hard and enjoying my job again which was wonderful and extremely welcome. But as for everything else, well, everything else was collapsing. I had totally lost my ability to multitask and as I am a person who often has 17 balls in the air at once, and needs to have that many balls in the air to get through each day more importantly, this was a problem. Panic attacks and random hysterical sobbing started for no apparent reason (including one in a business situation, which was a real low point) and finally, mid February, after a particularly frightening couple of days, my husband suggested that I seek some professional help.

I was so angry that I couldn’t seem to pull myself together and felt utterly defeated. I had been continuing to walk to and from work, sometimes running to try and use exercise to pep myself up, but nothing was working. So, rather reluctantly, I met with a counsellor. It took only a couple of sessions to establish that I have PTSD as a result of what happened last Summer and I am still in the process of learning how to deal with this.

In those early sessions, we discussed many things, but the most important one, was that I needed to do “less”. This was to allow my body and mind to relax, reset and rest. Of course, one of the early sessions was us discussing that although I needed to do this, it wasn’t realistically possible due to work, family life, daughter commitments, races, training and social engagements. I did however cancel some upcoming social engagements.

Then Covid-19 happened and so now I am definitely doing “less”.

Work is slow, but ticking over but everything else has completely stopped. On top of this, the Government have advised that we don’t do too much “endurance” related exercise as it depletes the body of glycogen stores and limits our ability to fight the dreaded virus should you be unlucky enough to get it.

WeightsTherefore, whilst I am not exercising as much as I was this time last year, I am definitely still ticking over and managing to do something every other day, sometimes a bit more often than that and sometimes not quite as much.  Exercise has reverted to base levels for me and I have re-visited “Step Aerobics”, although without the all in one leotard I wore when I was a teenager and have also been doing some Joe Wicks HIITs. (Give them a try if you haven’t already). I was also very lucky to win a spin bike which arrived the week before lock-down (perfect timing) and so I have been doing an online spin class twice a week too to keep my cycling ticking over. I have weights but have always been terrible at doing strength work, but I have been using this time to embrace this a bit more. So all in all, when we are finally released from this lockdown, I should still have some level of fitness. Hopefully I will also be mentally rested and recuperated also and be ready to start training again.

All of my triathlon events have been cancelled and the Bristol 10k is not happening so all pressure has gone. Again, not having pressure is good for me at the moment and so currently, the Great North Run in September is my next event.  I have plenty of time to train for this and hopefully it will be enjoyable. Running currently is very hap hazard as I am largely preserving my outdoor activities for dog walks and although I sometimes run around a field with Bruce, it’s more for him than me, meaning it’s very stop/start and not very productive for training. But at the moment, it’s enough.

Running with Bruce in Lockdown

Stay safe and I’ll write more blogs as normality returns and training for the GNR starts in earnest.

Runniversary and a new decade

2020 heralds the beginning of a new decade and a new year.

For me this is the perfect opportunity for a reset. The 3rd of January marked my runniversary (4 years since I downloaded the couch to 5k app and changed my life for ever) and I did spend quite a portion of the day mulling over the past 12 months.

It wasn’t a great year as you know and many awful things happened.

BUT, good things happened too and I need to keep reminding myself of this.

  • I learned to ride Shiny Sheena properly using all the gears. You may inwardly snigger at this, I mean, it’s just a bike isn’t it? but road bikes are complicated and you almost need to sit a test to understand how it all works. I finally understand the difference between the big ring and small ring on the gears and I’m not afraid to cycle in traffic. This last bit is HUGE as I have been terrified of this for years and as Bristol is a “cycle city” this is quite important. This culminated in completing the Tour de Bristol 100k bike ride up welsh mountains and back in April. It nearly broke me, but I did it.
  • I finally learned how to front crawl and found that I love open water swimming. I find the swimming pool quite dull now and the chlorine makes my nose itch for hours afterwards. At the swimming pool there is no-one to assist in or out of a wet suit (which happens regularly up at Mad Mike’s lake with people you may or may not know!) I love the camaraderie of the cup of tea afterwards in the club house where we all shiver and try and warm up after the swim wearing gloves, hats and Uggs in May. I even enjoy squeezing myself into my wetsuit like a sausage….I am convinced that this burns at least 100 calories before I even start the swim. My swimming bag contains small plastic bags (to go over my hands and feet which helps you to get then suit on) and lots of body glide to minimise the rubs. At least I look like I know what I am doing from the casual observer.
  • I completed a middle distance triathlon. I do need to keep reminding myself of this as it’s huge. 70.3 miles propelled forwards by my own body. Much of the run was miserable admittedly, but I still completed it and against all the odds. I am super proud of this. As my Mum was taken ill 4 days after the tri, I didn’t really have a chance to digest it at the time or even think about it really, but I need to remind myself. And often. I looked at the medal on the 3rd January and it’s a good one. It might be my favourite….but there are some other contenders there for that accolade also.
  • I ran the Great North Run, which whilst it was an emotional decision to even try it, was one of the greatest things I have ever done. I absolutely loved it and I smiled from start to finish (which was no mean feat in September, I can assure you). I am running it again this year but this year I am going to train properly for it so I can walk the next day, unlike last year. I’m also going to be officially part of “Team Brodie” and will be doing some fundraising for them throughout the year – more on this as the year goes on.
  • I met and was enormously welcomed by North Bristol Triathlon Club. What lovely people they are. It doesn’t matter that I am the slowest and least competent athletic member they have ever encountered, they only seem to care that I am trying my best. They cheered me on at the 113 and have offered advice, encouragement and care when I need it repeatedly over the past year. I even won an award at the Christmas party – the “smiling through adversity” award and it meant so much to me. (Although if there had been a “who drank the most fizz and remained upright” award, I may well have been successful in this category too although I would have faced plenty of stiff competition on the night. Triathletes certainly know how to party as my slightly dishevelled and drunken photo here demonstrates).

I had been so intimidated by a “triathlon” club in the beginning and never would have joined had Merida not encouraged me, but you would be hard pressed to find a more supportive collection of people. If you have any interest in any of the disciplines of triathlon (many members only do one or two of them so don’t let it put you off) do look them up and maybe I’ll see you at a training session soon. http://northbristoltri.co.uk/

So where to this year? And where to this decade? This are very good questions. I have some events lined up – some serious and some not so serious. I have days where I am full of enthusiasm and vigour and want to book BIG events and then some days when I struggle to do anything. But on the whole things are moving in the right direction and I am doing much more exercise than I was 6 weeks ago.

The main thing is I have started running again. The physio told me to go easy to start with and mentally I struggle anyway as running often brings the tears. It’s an emotional release (probably because I find it so incredibly hard) and so for the last 4 weeks of 2019 I ran/walked (3 minutes to 1 minute) just to try and get back into the habit of running again, often whilst crying a bit, but it has helped me enormously. Run/walking is much more enjoyable than properly running and so it’s felt more manageable. Anything “too hard” isn’t an option some days and I was of the opinion that something is better than nothing.

Minehead Dec 2019Then a week ago, I ran 35 minutes without stopping. It felt great to know it’s still in there and I can do it if I need to. I didn’t start the run planning to see if I could run without walking, it just felt ok when I started, so I decided to keep going. Before I knew it, I had run the whole journey to work (I fit many of my runs in around my work commute) and I was elated. It also means that I am once again able to lead runs for This Mum Runs as a Run Angel. I didn’t do much of this last year due to injuries, not to mention the Dark Summer, so this very good news indeed. I love it. I love running with my friends and also love running with ladies at the beginning of their running journeys. It gives me genuine joy.

My big race and my big goal this year is going to be…yes you guessed it, the Bristol 10k. My old nemesis. 2018 and 2019 were blighted by injury (even though I managed to get round) but THIS IS THE YEAR. If I can keep my old knackered body going for 8 and a half hours to complete a triathlon, then I MUST be able to run the Bristol 10k in less than 75 minutes. I have already sought out a pacer for this event and Smiler has bravely (because I can be a bit grumpy in races if I’m trying to go fast, just ask Merida) offered to pace me to whatever time I want to go for. Already I want to go sub 75, but possibly, and hopefully, I will end up going for an even faster time. We’ll see as training progresses in the coming weeks.

In addition, lots of my close friends are doing marathons this year; Merida is running Manchester, Hattie and Smiler are both running the London Marathon.  It’s very hard not to get FOMO (fear of missing out), but I know I must be patient and take time over the course of 2020 to get strong again and most importantly, get my running back up to scratch after, essentially, having had a year out from it.

I have entered a couple of triathlons too – the 51Fiver, is an Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run – which is possibly what I should have done last year, but when do I ever take the simple route?!) and I’m also entered in the Long Course Weekend in July which is a 1.9k swim on Friday in the sea (with jellyfish I discovered last night – yikes), the 90k cycle on Saturday (it’s hilly, are there any flat parts of Wales?) and a 10k run on the Sunday. This is to keep my cycling and swimming ticking over as well as providing a good cross training programme for my running – which is my priority this year. I love cycling too and so I can’t give this up – it brings me too much joy. Life is short and we must do things that make us happy.

If all goes well and things are looking ok, I might enter the Weymouth 70.3 triathlon in September. I have a hotel room booked already (which can be cancelled up until the day before the event), and as I know it rarely sells out, I can make the decision a couple of weeks beforehand. It’s niggling away at me, because I was supposed to do it last year but I need to not suffer any injuries and rebuild my body before this can even be considered.

In fact, I think my greatest goal for 2020 will be to get to the end of it in one piece and strong.

I want to do a marathon in 2021 and so 2020 will be a year of foundation work, hopefully with some fun and events thrown in for good measure. For 2021, I have my eye on a bucket list marathon (which will be as serious as it gets) as well as a wine and cheese marathon in France (which will be decidedly less serious and will involve fancy dress) so plenty to motivate me to work hard this year and onwards, into the new decade.

It’s my birthday this week and I will be 45. No-one can tell what the future holds and if I’d told myself in 2009 (or even 2016 when I first dowloaded the couch to 5k app) that I would be a member of a triathlon club on 2019, I never would have believed it. So much has changed in the past decade and I wonder where the next decade will take me.

Let’s find out.

Decade to decade photo

Injuries, jiggles and a labrador….

Since my last blog, I’ve been sidelined from running due to an injury. This has been hideously annoying as I have really needed the time alone with my thoughts, but 2019 just hasn’t been my year and so it was not to be.

Following the 10k at Westonbirt, my right hamstring started to throb. Being a runner, I carefully ignored it but as I pottered along run/walking the following week, it progressively got worse until I could pretend no longer. As I stood making a cup of tea in my kitchen, my hamstring was screaming and I knew I had to take action.

A trip to the physio confirmed that I had torn my hamstring which required total rest – my body was broken after the triathlon, the stress of the “Dark Summer” (which is how I am referring to the Summer months of this year) a half marathon with no training and then finally winging a 10k the week after (which was probably the proverbial straw and my hamstring was the camel’s back). Some of my wise friends commented that this was my body’s way of finally forcing me to rest and they might have been right, but either way, it was extremely frustrating.

However, I concede that I was shattered – physically and emotionally and so I didn’t run and tried to rest as best I could.

I was finally given the all clear to re-start GENTLY running (and yes, the physio did almost shout it at me when he finally relented) in the second week of November. I was delighted but also terrified.

2019 has been a terrible year for my running. I sprained my ankle in March which meant no running for 8 weeks meaning that I shuffled the half marathon of the 113 triathlon in June, woefully underprepared. 4 days after the triathlon, my Mother was taken ill and the Dark Summer followed. This then led to me running the Great North Run and subsequent 10k at Westonbirt with no real training either. So although I knew that I wouldn’t have to restart couch to 5k from scratch, I did need a strategy.

The other problem was nothing to do with my legs or fitness. My Mother’s death has affected every aspect of my life and I cannot handle too much stress at the moment. Having been distracted from my job over the Dark Summer meant that it now required 150% of my attention (and importantly, I was delighted to immerse myself back into the job I love) and so sport and exercise needed to fit in easily. I also needed to be careful not set myself up to fail as it doesn’t take much for the tears to start at the moment. As running is always something that I find difficult, I needed to keep it as easy and achievable as possible.

So my strategy was that I would keep to my 3/1, run/walk plan and get out 2-3 times a week. I was confident that by the beginning of December that I would be back up to 5k and then would be set for the 10k race I have in the diary for the 22 December at Westonbirt Arboretum. But it hasn’t happened that way and this morning I have officially downgraded the 10k to a 5k. Up until last week, I have managed to run twice a week it’s true, but the runs are dreadful. It’s like starting from scratch all over again. I’ve gained 4 kilos since June and whilst I couldn’t care less about the aesthetics of this, I can feel each extra kilo when I run. The heavier you are, the harder work it is to run and as I’m not in the right mental space to try and lose the weight at the moment either, so it’s going to be part of me for a while.

I’ve been re-reading the very first entries of this blog to try and help spur me on and I will keep going but it’s tough. I struggle to catch my breath, it’s really cold which means that my asthma is an issue – the asthma that pretty much disappeared when I was fit is back and it’s crippling my breathing. I’m a bit more “jiggly” than I was 6 months ago and whilst I’m not self-conscious enough about how I look in lycra to not wear it in public, I know that my legs are not as solid as they were. My left ankle aches sometimes after a run and my hamstring still grumbles a bit. So there is plenty to work on.

But I also recognise that this is not the time to do it or push myself too hard – I just need to keep moving and at some point in the future, I will feel ready to take things to the next level again – hopefully in the New Year as I have some races already booked in for 2020.

So far, I’m signed up for an Olympic triathlon in May, the Great North Run, the Great South Run and I have the Bristol 10k firmly in my sights after the last 2 have been blighted by injury.

But for now, I am pottering and trying to get my fitness back. So far, I have (unintentionally) run every day in December and whilst I don’t think my diary will allow a full “running streak” over the whole month, I’m going to try to get out for at least 1 mile as often as I can. Running helps me when I’m feeling down and it’s an effective anti-depressant. This is a very strong incentive at the moment to lace up my trainers and get out there at the moment, jiggly or not.

In April of this year, we got a puppy – a fox red Labrador called Bruce (he has his own Instagram account in case you are interested in following his adventures @brucethefoxredlab). He is now 9 months old and is a bit of a handful (this is an understatement) but we love him and I, in particular and much to my surprise, completely adore him. He has really helped me over the past couple of difficult months and whilst he is hard work, I am pleased we have him. When the family discussed getting a puppy, my only wish was that we got a dog capable of running with me on the trails at weekends. Now whilst Bruce isn’t old enough yet to start properly running with me, I have run on a couple of his dog walks (let’s be honest, I’m not that fast and I do stop and walk when I need to) and he loves running alongside me. Last weekend, we and my husband ran through Ashton Court and I got a glimpse of what a magnificent running and training buddy he will become in future years. I’ve already googled races that we can enter together and this will be something that I’ll be exploring as he gets bigger and older.

Bruce, Jeff and I Ashton Court

But for now, please let me be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you for all your support and good wishes this year.

I’ll be back with a more focussed training blog in January.

The Great North Run

This is not a blog about grief and it never will be, but it’s impossible to write this post without touching upon it a little bit. My Mother sadly passed away on the 6th August and the grief is heavy. It’s debilitating and it is physical. I am surprised by just how physical it is and I am exhausted. All of the time. Some days walking is difficult, but I have been forcing myself to run and then walk and then run a bit more as often as I can. The days when I run are really the only days when I manage to sleep at night too so there is added incentive.

The topic of the Great North Run was weighing heavy on my mind as Mum had told me to do it.

A few people messaged me to say, “don’t do, it’s a terrible idea and you have enough on your plate” and they were absolutely right of course. Also a few people messaged me to say “do it. It’s a race unlike any other, but only do it if you can enjoy it”. I had no idea what to do. I decided to leave it and believed that the right answer would present itself, one way or another.

In the weeks after my Mum leaving us, I was lucky to have the support of family and very good friends. The Red Lady was always coming to support me running the Great North Run, if I did it, but she was never going to run it with me. She wasn’t trained for it, last having run a half marathon in 2016 and only running a couple of 10ks this year. One very good friend, I won’t embarrass her by naming her, has contacts at the Great North Run and over coffee when she was checking how I was, asked me if it would help me decide if the Red Lady could get a place to run it with me? I decided it would and she worked her magic and before I could even blink, the Red Lady had a place. The conversation when I spoke to the RL went a bit like this: “so, er, if I could get you a place on the GNR, do you fancy running it with me?”……….”what? that is INSANE! and yes, definitely!”.

So we were doing it.

GNR Celebrity busesWe arrived at the hotel the night before, following a 5 hour train ride, stiff, hungry and wondering what on earth we were playing at! An early night followed, during which I slept for about 45 minutes  and then a 6.45am alarm. At breakfast I was too nervous to eat but forced down some porridge and toast and then we went to wait for the bus and meet our “Team Bodie Hodges” team mates. What an absolutely lovely bunch of people they are. Many of them had run the GNR before and they were full of tales about how incredibly awesome it is. I was excited and nervous. The bus arrived to collect us and with a severe case of “imposter syndrome”, we boarded the bus.

We were deposited around 300 metres past the start line into a VIP area which had private toilets (I need about 74 pre race wees on average so this was magnificent news) and were able to watch the elite women and wheelchair athletes warming up. It was AMAZING.

GNR Nell and Gabby Logan

Dropping my bag off, I finally got to meet Nell McAndrew. What an absolutely lovely lady she is. Completely down to earth, friendly, and chatting like she was An old pal we’d met for a drink in the pub with even though this was the first time I had ever met her. We chat a bit on Instagram but we’d never met and I was so incredibly grateful that she had arranged this whole day for me. I tried to tell myself to stay cool, but I probably wasn’t! I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

We were able to mill around near the start line and watch the elite ladies go off. Being 10 metres away from Brigit Kosgei, Mary Keitany and Charlotte Purdue was an absolute highlight and privilege . They look so strong and fast. I could have started in the front row if I’d wanted to for the main race (and a couple of the Team Bodie Hodges did!) but I’m afraid that fear of being trampled to death got the better of me and so the RL and myself bid my team mates farewell and moved about 10 rows further back.

And then we were off.

With neither of us being even close to being half marathon fit, the Red Lady and myself had devised a strategy to get us round in one piece, and hopefully without injury. This was to run the first 3k in one go (in order to stop being crushed by the masses) and then run the rest of the race strictly adhering to run 3 minutes and then walk 1 minute and to keep to the left as much as possible to try and keep out of the way of the speedier runners. However, we needn’t have worried as the start of GNR is on two sides of a road. The elites were on one side and the celebrities and charity runners were on the other side so the first couple of kilometres were fine. Not one person was trampled and we were all smiling.

All was well until the runners came through who were chasing times. It became a bit “pointy elbowed” at this point and we did our best to keep out of their way as they speeded past us. We got into a habit of tucking in tight as soon as the red pacer flags ran past knowing that this was “peak” trample period. I understand what it’s like to go for a time if you’ve trained for long weeks to achieve one, but trampling over a middle aged trundler to achieve one is not ok and runner etiquette should be considered.

I have run quite a few races in my short running career, but I have never, ever, EVER run a race that is as noisy and well supported as the Great North Run. The crowds are SO LOUD that I found myself almost begging for some peace and quiet. Every third person had a tub of jelly babies, haribo or sweets, there were motivational signs, kids demanding high fives, spectators shouting our names, offering us ice-pops, setting us their own impromptu water stations, beer stops (yes at Mile 10 there was a chap filling up cups of Newcastle Brown and handing them out – obviously I had one), handing out cups of Lucozade that they had bought themselves, getting their garden hoses out to spray us and cool us down. It was AMAZING. It was not just for the beginning and end, pretty much the entire route was like this. It was hot and Newcastle was ready to party.

There were many highlights, too many to mention, but Elvis, singing karaoke in the middle of the road at mile 11(ish) was definitely one of them. The Red Lady and I danced past him and sang a bit too.

But it wasn’t just the spectators having a great time, the runners were too. Newcastle has a lot of bridges and under passes and so everytime we went under one, it is apparently law that we all shout “Oggie oggie oggie…….”. After about 57 rounds of this, I was ready to hit the open roads.

Running over the Tyne Bridge was epic and it was then, for the first time, that I got a sense of just how many people there were running the race. We could see runners as far as the eye could see and for the first time on the race, I felt a bit emotional.

Our 3/1 strategy worked remarkably well, on the whole. We had promised each other that we would strictly stick to the gameplan, otherwise, we knew that we would end up walking more than we wanted. I kept an eye on my Garmin watch and was in charge of shouting run and walk. 3 minutes is not a long time to run and I quickly got into a routine. As we ran, by the time I first glanced at my watch, it was usually showing that we’d been running 90 seconds, then I would look again and we only had 20-30 seconds left. 60 seconds was enough time to recover and RL was very good at reigning me in when I would go off too quickly at the start of each 3 minute segment. I tried not to think about the distances only the next 3 minutes. 10k rolled around and I have to tell you that it was the best, easiest and most enjoyable 10k I have ever run (running is always more enjoyable when you don’t care how fast you are going). We didn’t chat much whilst running, but chatted plenty whilst walking, often laughing about something we had just seen. I knew that kilometres 10-16 would feel tough so just tried to focus and on the whole it was ok although clearly it wasn’t entirely comfortable.

GNR Mile 10 ALONE High Res

Around the 10-11 mile mark, I felt tearful suddenly and this threatened everything because 3/1 works because your breathing is regulated, but crying really messes up your breathing, and I could feel proper snotty, gut wrenching tears bubbling under the surface. I confided in my buddy what was happening and we decided to take a couple of longer walk breaks to get things back under control, which we did. 2 walk breaks of 2 minutes and we were back in business.

We were now into the final 3 miles and we were tired but could feel the end was close. At the end of the GNR, you see the sea, then go down a very steep hill (which hurt my knees, ankles and boobs as the bounce factor on a steep downward hill should not be underestimated) and then you turn onto the final stretch towards the finish line for the final mile. We cheered when we saw the sea. I could hardly believe that we were already nearly there, but the final mile felt long. My legs were tired and my feet were burning.

If the crowds along the route were loud, they were nothing compared with the final straight. I couldn’t hear anything that the RL was saying to me at all. They were 10 deep at the barrier and people were sat on a Grandstand clapping and cheering us in. We crossed the line and I absolutely sobbed my heart out. We completed the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 15 seconds. It was slow, but I genuinely didn’t care a jot. It was magnificent and I truly count the GNR as one of my greatest ever achievements.

GNR finishing on my own

It is now that I must pay tribute to the Red Lady. Not only for agreeing to run a race with me that she wasn’t trained for (she’s mad), but also for how incredibly happy and smiley she was throughout the entire race. As we chugged along, she practically skipped, almost dancing and grinned the whole way through the experience.

We both lost our Mums this year to cancer and so we both had moments of pain during the race but we got through it together.

After the race, being in the VIP pavilion, we had a shower (yes, a SHOWER) something to eat and then we were on a coach that was given a police escort back to the hotel afterwards (as the roads were all still closed!)

I bid my team mates farewell and we went back to the hotel to head to the airport.

It was the most enjoyable race I have ever run. More importantly, it has re-ignited my love affair with running which has been absent for many months now. The Red Lady has told me it had the same effect on her. Therefore, we are both signed up to run it again next year but have made each other the promise that the GNR will always be our “happy” race and we will never rush it. It will never be our PB course, because there are too many kids to high five and too many beers to drink en route…. I will also be running for Team Bodie Hodges next year again and intend to raise some money for them.

Fearless Westonbirt Sept 2019

For the rest of this year I have only one plan. Keep running. I’m not going to put myself under any pressure for times but I’m just going to take each day as it comes and hopefully complete a few races. Life is for living and it should be enjoyed. I ran a 10k at Westonbirt at the weekend (slowly using 3/1 again) and I also have a place for the Cardiff Half marathon at the beginning of October.

One day at a time and keep moving forward. There are times in life when training hard and pushing for fast times are right but there are also times when they are not.

I have some plans forming for next year already, but for now until Christmas, the only plan I have is to keep moving forward and try and smile as much as possible.