Wetsuits and open water swimming

Outdoor swimming is a curious thing. Generally, people who decide to enter the foray of triathlon have a strong background in running or cycling and often swimming is their biggest challenge. Open water swimming in particular, can make even the burliest triathlete squeak in fear as they take their first steps into a lake or the sea.

My background in running is fairly well documented (*coughs*) and I am a recently converted cyclist. But I have swum for many years off and on and although I have had to re-learn how to do front crawl properly, I do not fear the water and actually I prefer open water swimming to the swimming pool. I think this comes from the fact that I am a confident breaststroker and so if everything went wrong whilst I was swimming, I know I wouldn’t drown and would be able to get myself safely back to terra firma.

However, I am not a strong front crawler and although my lessons have now concluded, I have been continuing to swim lengths in the pool. But I seem to have got worse in recent weeks not better. Swimming in a pool is fairly dull. Even if you go with a friend, as I do sometimes, you can’t chat whilst you swim as you can with running or cycling. Death follows swiftly if you try and chat as you attempt to bi-laterally breathe (on both sides) as you swim up and down. Water in your lungs does not help with buoyancy. Apparently you can get headphones that work in the water via Bluetooth and so in theory I could listen to Take That as I swam back and forth, but apart from the fact that I have faithfully promised my husband that I won’t spend any more money on anything triathlon related, swim dancing is not really a thing in triathlon so that’s not really an option either.

Merida has shown me quite a few swim drills which do alleviate the boredom a bit eg 100m focussing on your arm technique, 100m focussing on your kick, 100m wearing little shovels on your hands which help you with your hand placement and “pull” through the water but even this wears a bit thin after a while. I find my mind wondering and not concentrating on the job in hand and then becoming fixated on the plaster I can see at the bottom of the pool at the 20m mark and then wondering what other hideousness I am swimming in. *shudders*.

With my swim confidence at an all time low, I booked a swimming lesson with John Wood who has been swimming nationally and internationally for 25 years and is also a “Good for Age” GB triathlete. He has coached some swim sessions for my tri club and is also Merida’s triathlon coach. He knows what he is talking about and is also a really nice guy, which always helps.

https://www.tri-coaching.co.uk/about-us/meet-the-coach/

I arrived for the lesson feeling quite low and extremely nervous, but the 45 minutes was possibly one of the best investments I have ever made.  The most important thing I took from the lesson is that I am not a terrible swimmer and when you are lacking in confidence and approaching the business end of your training plan, this is important to hear. I do have a tendency not to look down at the floor enough whilst swimming, which in turn leads to my legs sinking and I am told this is quite a common problem. However, given that I have been working on this now for over 4 months, it’s a bit irritating. But John gave me some drills to practice and I was feeling much better about life.

#notanad but I really recommend John if you’re thinking of perfecting your swim technique.

Pool swimming has been a staple in my weekly training plan now for some months, but, both of my triathlons are in open water this year and both at the distance of 1.9k and so I knew I needed to get out of the pool, and in England, this means buying a wetsuit.

I’ve worn wetsuits before to the beach as our family is a regular visitor to Woolacombe each Summer but a triathlon and swimming wetsuit is very different.

Firstly, even with substantial weightloss, I do not look like most triathletes. My boobs are a 34FF (I was a 42FF), I am only 5ft 3.5 (the half an inch is very important when you’re short like me) and I weigh 90 kilos. Now this is a massive reduction from the 117 kilos I was when I started running, but even so, I am much heavier than your average triathlete.

Wetsuit size charts are incredibly complicated as they work on weight, chest size and height. I didn’t care what the wetsuit looked like on as long as it fitted, but I really didn’t want to buy a man’s one as having had to buy men’s clothes for years due to my size, I didn’t want to go back there.

Unfortunately, my weight meant that I probably would end up having to get a man’s wetsuit but I was determined to try female versions first of all. I ordered from Wiggle (online store, very good and importantly free returns) so I could try them on at home. The box arrived and sat in the corner of my bedroom for over a week. I was dreading trying them on and so was putting it off. But I had also booked myself in (well Merida had booked us in actually as she knew I needed the push) for an Open Water Swimming lesson at the Triathlon Centre in North Bristol on the Wednesday evening with an experienced Ironman triathlete called George Clack, and so I had to try them on.

The first thing to be aware of is that getting into a wetsuit is exhausting. They have to be tight, very tight and they are quite grippy and stick to your skin. If you have long fingernails, file them off as it’s very easy to put a finger nail through a wetsuit which immediately renders them less helpful.

I’d had PT at lunchtime on this day and had done cycle sprints and weights and I think getting into and out of 3 wetsuits was even more exhausting. I’d ordered 3, a cheap, middle and more expensive one and I started with the most costly: dhb Aeron Lab. I couldn’t even get this past my hips. I was gutted and had a sinking sensation about the other two. Zone3 Women’s Advance was next and it took 10 minutes to get into it with the assistance of my long suffering husband. Although it was tight (understatement – he almost had his knee in my back at one point trying to get it done up) once it was zipped up, it felt ok. I could breathe, it wasn’t too tight on the neck and I felt ok. It was like wearing SUPER spandex. I finally tried the last and cheapest on: Zone 3 Women’s Azure.  WetsuitThis was by far the easiest to get on as it seemed to be the most stretchy…..but once in it, I couldn’t really move my arms (much like the time I had to be cut out of a Boyzone T-shirt that I had bought stupidly thinking that “skinny fit would be ok…it wasn’t) so sadly that one was a no. But finally, I had a wetsuit, and I was delighted. I look a bit like an Avenger (if you squint really hard and almost cover your eyes) and I feel like a superhero in it.

So now, just to get in the lake. The following evening rolled around and I arrived at the lake with 20 minutes to spare. I have swum in the lake previously last year, but this was in the midst of a heatwave and so I didn’t need a wetsuit at all. One this evening, it was freezing cold and the sky was grey. I dragged myself off to get changed and was relieved to find a lady in the changing room who I knew from running. She helped to zip me into my wetsuit and I did the same for her. Anyone that wears a wetsuit needs help and I have discovered that people are not afraid to ask for it. On my past two visits to the lake I have zipped and unzipped 3 complete strangers, men and women into their suits. Merida arrived and we set off the side of the lake where George the coach, and 4 other people were waiting for us.

What I have learned from two open water swimming lessons so far with George are as follows:

  • No matter what the temperature is officially, the water hits you like a brick when you first get in and it’s hard to breathe. You have to take time splashing the water on your face and onto the back of your neck and try not to scream out loud as the water seaps in naturally through the zip. Do NOT, as I did, open the neck and allow a flood of water to seap in quickly. On Wednesday the temperature in the lake was 12.5c. When an Ironman Triathlete coach says “it’s cold tonight. There will be no shame if you decide to get out early. You will never have to compete in temperatures that are this cold”, you know it’s going to be a bit fresh.
  • It’s most important to swim as slowly as you can to start with, almost in slow motion. Also, and bear in mind that I have spent the last 4 months learning how to breathe on both sides after 3 and 4 strokes, in open water swimming, you breathe on the same side and after every two strokes. HALLELUJAH. I find bi-lateral breathing hard and so this is brilliant news.
  • Even better, you float in a wetsuit. Completely. This means that your legs float too so no more sinky legs for me. Hoorah. I still need to keep my core tight and be mindful of my legs, but it’s MUCH easier in a wetsuit. Swimming is easier in a wetsuit, full stop.
  • When the lake is cold (and it’s cold, make no mistake) my googles steam up. My teeth are also affected as when I open my mouth to breathe, some cold water comes in (which I spit out as I breathe out under water) but before long, my teeth go numb. It’s a very weird sensation.
  • Whilst my body gets, eventually, warm in the wetsuit, my feet, hands and face are not. You hardly kick whilst swimming in a wetsuit (important to save legs for the cycle and run so this is good news) but this means that your feet are essentially just suspended in very cold water. Arthritis in my bad ankle is affected enormously by the cold and so I’m going to get some “wetsuit material” socks to try and keep my feet warm.
  • When you leave the lake, you are cold. Much colder than when you initially got in. You need to rinse your wetsuit and so have to take it off, in the fresh air. This is a whole new level of cold. Getting changed after swimming is a challenge as I started shivering so much I couldn’t do my bra up or do my laces up on my shoes. Ugg boots are the answer and probably elastic laces for the tri. Thermal vests are important and I don’t need a hairbrush as I towel my hair off and then put a woolly hat on.
  • A post swim cup of tea is absolutely essential, as is a warm bath when you get home afterwards.

But all in all, I love open water swimming. The start waves have been published for the 113 triathlon and there are 6 waves, all setting off at 10 minute intervals. I am in wave 2, starting at 6.10am (I’m trying not to think about what time I’ll need to get up at the moment). My biggest fear isn’t that I can’t complete the swim, it’s that faster swimmers from the following waves will catch me up and swim over me or I’ll get punched in the head during the swim. I need to also work on swimming with lots of people around me. I’m booked in for more open water lessons and I know we’ll be working on this I the coming weeks. But for now, I still haven’t swum the entire 1.9k required of the tri, but I’m going to the lake after work tonight and this is what I’m intending to do.

Practice and consistency in the lake will be key over the next 4 weeks….oh and sunshine. Please keep your fingers crossed that it warms up a bit as whilst it’s just about tolerable at 12.5c, it’s always more enjoyable if it’s warmer and my teeth don’t go numb….and even more important if you’ve immediately got to jump on a bike straight afterwards. But that’s a worry for another day.

The Lake May 2019

The Triathlon Centre run lessons every Wednesday and I heartily recommend them -suitable for experienced and inexperienced swimmers and triathletes.

Details can be found on the website: https://bristolopenwater.co.uk/   #notanad

 

“Have a crack at it and see what happens…..”

So much has happened in the last month that I really should blog more regularly but my training plan is full (understatement) and I also have to work as well as be a Mum and Wife so I genuinely struggle for time. But a lot HAS happened and so I’ve decided to split this into more than one blog, otherwise, you’ll need to take a break whilst reading it!

This post will focus on running.

As you know, I have been unable to run following the fall 2 days before the Big Half in London. I have been seeing a physio (who has been magnificent, even though he clearly thinks I am barking mad) who has gradually put me back together in the weeks since the fall. I’ve been a good student and have diligently completed all of my daily exercises, calf raises on the stairs, balancing on one foot, pushing my knee forward until it touches the wall to increase the ankle’s mobility amongst other things until, quite honestly, I was sick and tired of it. Dr Crane has played his part also as each PT session has also included some ankle rehab. I don’t know what it’s called, but in the gym there is a piece of equipment that is essentially half a large beach ball on a tray. I have stood on it to balance and then rocked my ankle back and forward (making it ache, but not hurt) and we have focused on weights that strengthened my ankles whilst not twisting them in any way. One thing I didn’t know, and may be useful for you if you ever become injured in a similar way, is that any machine in the gym which has yellow around it’s bottom is a “rehab” machine. It seems to be gentler so as not to irritate any injuries and I have spent a fair chunk of time on the rehab cross trainer in the gym as I have desperately tried to preserve my running fitness.

Finally, nearly 3 weeks ago and exactly 6 weeks after my fall, the physio said I could start run/walking on the foot. Apparently, although it was weak, at this point the only real way to strengthen it properly was to run on it, but CAREFULLY, he stressed.

The following Wednesday (17th April) was the first opportunity I had to try and I completed 30 minutes at 1 minute run and 1 minute walk. The first 5 minutes were quite uncomfortable and I was feeling a bit desperate and wondering whether I should stop, when suddenly it loosened and the pain subsided.  I was able to run fairly freely and it was as though my ankle had needed a very thorough warm-up but now it was ready for action. I managed 3.5k in 30 minutes even with 15 minutes of walking and I was pleased. Analysis of my stats showed that when I was running, I was running very fast. I had no idea whether this was residual fitness or pent up excitement at finally being able to run again, but whatever it was, I just knew that I felt happy. The Bristol 10k was fast approaching and long suffering readers of this blog will know that I have a bit of a history with this race. I was desperate to run it, even if I was only to run/walk it as a training run for the 113 triathlon (which has a half marathon at the end of it) and I wanted that medal. This year even more important as my youngest sister Queenie had signed up for it for the first time and I had promised to run it with her, so all the more of an incentive to get my knackered ankle moving.

The weekend after was Easter and I was away with almost all of my family (immediate and extendedElizabeth and I at Butlins) for a 4 days and 3 nights of absolute chaos at Butlins. The weather was hot and we all had a brilliant time. Queenie and I managed to sneak away for a 5k as I was keen to test my ankle over a greater distance whilst still keeping to the run/walking strategy and although I could feel the extra 1500m in my ankle later in the day, I managed it. Queenie was feeling happy as she didn’t want to run the Bristol 10k on her own and I finally felt positive about my running.

As always though, these things never follow a straight line and the next run was absolute pants. I only managed 1600m and my ankle hurt the entire time. As I was due to be out on a cycle later that same day, I decided to call it a day at just under a mile for fear of damaging myself and my mood was dark again and my confidence plummeted. But I knew I needed to keep trying and so I decided that company on the run might help distract me and so I reached out to the mighty network of “This Mum Runs” lovely runners and asked if anyone fancied a slow run/walk the following Friday. One lovely Mum, Scottie, did and we chatted away as we ran/walked and before we knew it we had run for an hour. Once again, I was riding high. On the Sunday, my eldest daughter (inspired by watching the London Marathon on the TV earlier that morning) came with me for 7.6k of run 2 mins walk 1 minute and again my ankle seemed to be ok. It was also my daughter’s longest ever run as she has never run more than 5k before, so this was an added bonus as she was also feeling full of confidence and achievement.

On Monday, at PT I was relaying all of my runs to Dr Crane who then deftly demonstrated that he is absolutely the right PT for me. I had carefully been telling him that I was going to run the 10k which was the following Sunday, but was promising to be careful and only run/walk it, when he said that as long as the physio was happy (and I was seeing the physio later that week) that I shouldn’t plan to run/walk it, I should “have a crack” at it and see how I get on. He said that I would “be surprised at how much running I would be able to do”. I was elated and felt like I had been given permission to run! Physio duly signed me off a couple of days later, although strapped my ankle up with magic tape (kinesiology tape) as a precaution, but I was ready.

As usual, at this point, all sorts of plans and ambitions started to flood my mind. Could I run the whole thing? Could I keep up with my younger sister? Could I even get a PB? Should I try for a PB? And as much as I tried to ignore them, they kept nagging at me.

The Bristol 10k is a big race. 13000 people run it each year. It’s very well supported and you are cheered pretty much from the moment you set off until you cross the finish line. I love it, but my youngest sister is not a fan of crowds and so I needed to take this into account and I was a bit unsure how to manage this. Then the Tequila Queen, who has been injured recently, messaged me to ask if I would like her to run with me and my sister and what times were we hoping for? This was brilliant news. This Mum Runs were providing the pacers for 75, 80 and 90 minutes and Queenie wanted to get under 80 minutes and this is what I had promised her that I would help her achieve. But the 80 minute pacer (who I know and is an absolute legend by the way) would be in the throng of the crowds, which Queenie would not enjoy. So the Tequila Queen and I quickly made a plan that we would set off on the run at the very back of the pink wave (or party wave as I like to call it) and TQ would be in charge of the pacing. The race is chip timed so it doesn’t matter what time you start, but starting at the back meant that there wouldn’t be 2000 people snapping at our heels which would hopefully help my sister and not put extra pressure on her in her first ever big race. My good friend Twin Mum was also running and kindly said she’d run with us too.

As we set off, I inwardly grumbled about the hot sun beating down on us. I had been checking the weather all week and it was supposed to be cloudy and cool – it most certainly was not. If anyone reading this has just got engaged, I strongly recommend that you choose the day of the Bristol 10k to get married as it is always ridiculously sunny and hot.

Things were going ok, Queenie was flying and I knew we were well on target for even my PB and so tried to relax into the run. The problem was that my ankle wasn’t comfortable. The day before I had been to the birthday party of SwimDad and I had got quite cold as we had sat in the garden. As I now know from the X-ray that was taken of my ankle when I initially fell, I have arthritis in both ankles and it seems that it is aggravated by the cold. My ankle wasn’t happy the morning of the 10k and at 4k I made the difficult, but ultimately sensible decision to not chase my PB. There was some hasty discussions between the Tequila Queen and myself when I asked her to keep running with Queenie so she could get her time. I didn’t want to compromise my ankle and I felt that if I kept running at the speed we were running at, I would be jeopardising not only this race, but ultimately the triathlon. I also wasn’t sure I could keep the same speed up, if I’m being honest,  as 4 run/walks in 8 weeks isn’t the best preparation for a 10k and my run fitness certainly was not where I would have liked it to have been. Queenie didn’t want to leave me and was quite tearful, but I urged her on and I knew she was in very safe hands with the Tequila Queen. Finally they ran ahead and Twin Mum and I relaxed a little.

We dropped the pace a little, only by about 10-15 seconds per kilometre, but it made a difference to my ankle and we were able to carry on. We walked twice I think (possibly 3 times) over the whole race and on the whole I am happy with how the race went. TwinMum usually runs 10k in about an hour and so she chatted to me easily as we made our way up Cumberland Road, which is definitely the most unpleasant part of the course. Lots of people were cheering and shouting to us and as we approached 9k I saw my family, all screaming at us.

Me running at Bristol 10k

Suddenly I became emotional. I have no idea why, but tears were pouring down my face, but we pushed on as I waved promising to see them at the end. By this point, I’d had enough and just wanted the race over with. I went into a sprint finish by the Hippodrome, which is much too early and I really paid the price. By the time I crossed the finish line I was close to being sick and then hugged TwinMum and had a little cry. I really didn’t think that I would have been running that race when I fell and so suddenly the emotions were strong. I ran the Bristol 10k in 80 minute and 56 seconds. This is my third fastest time for ANY 10k ever and only 2 minutes off my all time PB so all in all I’m pretty happy with it. Queenie smashed her time and took 5 minutes off her 10k time coming in well under 80 minutes. She was so strong and determined and I was very proud to call her my sister on Sunday. Enormous thanks to the Tequila Queen for selflessly pacing my sister. Tequila’s will be on me as a thank you (but after the triathlon!!) TwinMum was a legend. It’s lovely when you run with your friends. We had a good old catch up during the run and she was wonderful, keeping me going and also carrying my water bottle over the final 3k of the race. Thank you.

Jo and I medals

So we are now at 4 and half weeks to the Triathlon and (touch wood) my ankle seems fine. The 10k seemed to do it the world of good and it is definitely stronger which is a huge relief. I now just have the small task of getting back up to being able to run 13 miles in the next 4 weeks. It’s a big ask, but as you have probably guessed by now, unless something goes horribly wrong in the next month, it is no longer my intention to just complete the swim and the bike in June as a training exercise for the Weymouth 70.3 in September, I am intending to complete the entire triathlon in June as well. My training plan over the next 4 weeks is intense and has lots of running in it including a couple of long runs, which I intend to complete by way of a trusty Parkrun Sandwich to and from Eastville Parkrun. Maybe I’ll see you there?

I’ll keep you informed and will blog more regularly, I promise, over the next 4 weeks as panic sets in as we get closer to the 9th June.

Let the countdown commence……

Can we talk about hills?….

It’s 4 and a bit weeks since I rolled over on my ankle and happily, it no longer hurts.

I have diligently been doing my exercises and seeing the Physio every Friday as he helps me strengthen my ankle and get it back up to “running readiness”. I suspect that the Physio thinks I am a little bit bonkers (he is probably right, let’s be honest), but he assures me that his job is to facilitate my madness. However, he will not send me back out to run until I am safe and my foot is ready and he’s said this more than once. In the meantime, I was to focus on swimming and cycling.

Swimming now happens on a Tuesday morning (every week without fail) and then usually on a Thursday also. My swimming lessons have now finished and so from this week I am rejoining the tri-club swimming sessions on a Thursday evening. I’m nervous and excited at the same time but it will be important to get used to swimming with lots of people due to “mass start” at the beginning of open water swims. I have read horror stories about people swimming over the top of others in the sea/lake and people getting shoved and hit in the throng of 200 swimmers all starting at the same time. *note to self, need to fit in some boxing*. Merida has booked myself and her onto an open water swimming course at “Mad Mike’s” lake in North Bristol and this starts early May. I still don’t have a wetsuit, but as the lake is around 11c…..I am motivated to get one soon.

But my main focus since falling, has been my bike. Keeping Triathlon Mum’s words “train for the cycle and you will complete the triathlon” at the forefront of my mind, I was keen to get some miles in. Luckily Dr Crane is a keen cyclist and so 2 of my recent PT sessions have been out on the bike for a loop around Bristol including some hills. Going up hills is hideous and let’s not pretend otherwise, but I do spend a lot of time working on my leg strength and as I learn more about my bike, and how the gears work it is easier. Dr Crane is very patient and has been helping me with the technical understanding bits as well as the general terror I feel at being around cars on the road and I am slowly getting more confident. Going downhill is terrifying. I (almost) close my eyes (*I don’t obviously*) and say out loud for the entirety of the descent “I AM GOING TO DIE”. It is very scary but Dr Crane is adamant that I try not to brake (as long as it’s safe of course) in order to utilise the speed.

I love being on my bike but it isn’t comfortable. 2 weekends ago Merida and I, accompanied by our friend the Tequila Queen, cycled out to Clevedon for a coffee and some cake (this is apparently law within the cycling community. Triathletes and cyclists are not fuelled by protein shakes as people assume, they are fuelled by coffee and cake).

Clevedon

The route was quiet (cycle paths and country lanes – no busy main roads at all much to my relief) and although there were a couple of hills, I coped ok and was awarded a sunburnt nose for my efforts. It was my longest cycle ever at 60k and this was important as the 100k bike ride was looming very close now. It was also a long ride “clipped” into the pedals by my cleats but I didn’t fall and they really do make a difference to your overall power.

Unfortunately, my shoulders hurt so much the week after that swimming was tortuous and so I booked to have, what is called a “bike fit” to improve the comfort on the bike. Whilst it is never going to like sitting on a sofa, it should be bearable and this is what the bike fit would solve.

I cannot recommend 73 Degrees in Keynsham enough. My “bike fit” took 3 and a half hours in total and when I left I knew that my cycling position was correct. It started with me laying down on a physio bed whilst Jon rotated my hips to see how flexible I was and then assessed my back strength and overall flexibility. The idea was to understand if my body could withstand the most aggressive bike position which would give me the most speed (apparently my body could, which was a genuine shock to us all) but as this position has you leaning forward and your back quite flat (to make your body aerodynamic) unfortunately, my boobs are less helpful or understanding about being fast, As I cycled in this position, my knees kept knocking into my boobs which was not so good. Bruised boobs are not something I’m keen on and so we compromised. A tweak of the saddle to lift it,  the handlebars being brought closer to me by 3 centimetres, a new saddle (oh hallelujah), adding washers to the pedals to make my leg rotate more efficiently, nothing was left to chance. It was a bit like an eye test where after a while, I didn’t really know if the “red or green” was clearer, but Jon said it would be obvious when it was too high/far and it was. I left 73 degrees extremely happy and feeling much more confident about the 100k Tour de Bristol which was the following Saturday.

Here is the web-link for 73 Degrees. https://www.73degreesbicycleshop.com/

I cannot recommend them enough. I like to judge people on how they manage my never-ending stream of stupid questions and Jon was fantastic. (Not an ad by the way).

The day of the 100k arrived and I collected Merida in the car to make the drive up to UWE. I have history in signing up for events (mainly running so far, as you know), I train hard for them, but rarely (ie never) read the information that the race organisers send me beforehand. Just ask Hattie! I rock up and ask “what is it today?!” and then set off. I have learned that cycling is quite different however.

If there is a hill in a running race, whilst it might make you swear a bit, you can walk if you choose to but they are rarely that long or steep. Saturday taught me that this is absolutely NOT the case with cycling and it makes sense to look at the route before you set off. But if I had looked at it, I may well have not signed up for it at all.

The first 20k was fantastic. Quiet roads and glorious weather. It was my first taste of riding in a big group too as there were about 50 or so cyclists that set off at the same time and it took a good 10-15k for us to spread out a bit. All the cyclists were lovely. All enjoying themselves and excited about what the day would bring. We cycled over the old Severn Bridge. This is something I have always wanted to do and it didn’t disappoint. I loved it.

Bikes on bridge

We passed into Wales and then the hills started. Kilometres 20-50 were savage. We went up, and then up, then down a little bit and then up again. It got to the point that I could no longer allow myself to enjoy the downhill for fear about what hill would be waiting for me at the bottom of it. Merida is a very experienced cyclist and she had promised to get me round the course (as has become tradition over the years of our friendship!)

Elevation 100k

When you weigh more than the average triathlete, gravity is your friend when you go down the hills (my top speed on Saturday was 36 miles per hour which feels extremely fast on a pushbike!) and I was faster than Merida, who is so slight I feel a strong gust would flip her over! But on the uphill, there is absolutely no advantage to being overweight and I could feel every extra pound I carry. Going uphill was hard but I didn’t stop. I used my gears (correctly most of the time) and kept going to the top of the hill but everyone passed me. We were all struggling. You’d get into a little routine of passing and then being passed by the same bunch of people. One such lady passed me on the uphill almost crying as she said to me “when will it stop going up?!” and I wondered the same. My thighs were burning and I was wondering what on earth I was doing there but then we arrived at the 50k point where there was a food station. A cup of tea, a couple of mini mars bars, a toilet stop including some reapplication of some cream to my undercarriage and I was feeling better. I asked Merida if there were more hills in a slightly terrified voice but was very happy to hear that the bulk of the elevation was behind us. As we left the 50k point, the following 10-15k was all downhill. Oh how glorious it was. The rest of the ride was good although I was tired, but the sun had come out and we were enjoying ourselves. The hill into Chepstow, that I’d been warned about was more of a “hump” compared with the mountains that we had already climbed earlier that day, but the hill at 93k nearly finished me off. I was shattered and there was nothing in my legs. I am ashamed to tell you that I got off my bike and walked the final 100 yards up that hill but I was spent.

Paula and me at 50k

Nonetheless, we got back to UWE and I received a medal, my first of the year. I was sobbing and enjoyed a tearful hug with Merida, RubyRed and the Baron who had also finished. It felt like a massive achievement. But it has showed me that I have lots of work to do still. Not only on hills, but I do need to keep losing weight. I have lost 16 pounds since Christmas but Saturday showed me that the more I lose, the faster I will climb the hills. Learning from Saturday, I have since looked up the route for Weymouth and it is hilly. Not quite as hilly as last weekend, but not far off. I need to take off 1 hour and 20 minutes from my time to make the cutoff in September, which is no small feat, and I know that losing weight will help this.

I also need to learn to eat on the bike. I did eat quite a bit on Saturday and drank plenty, but I burned 4438 calories on the ride and 6387 over the course of the day. I had a terrible headache until 9pm on Saturday night and couldn’t get my hydration back to what it should be. Now this is alarming as for both triathlons, I need to get straight off the bike and then run/walk 13 miles. If I can’t get the nutrition sorted, I will keel over. So lots to think about and practice but for now, I will enjoy my first medal of 2019 and try not to worry about the rest.

100k medal

Plans? They’re more like guidelines…..

So as weeks go, it’s been a bit plop.

Last Friday night I was in tears, bashed up and in lots of pain. I didn’t feel up to travelling to London to support my husband in the Big Half and things were looking very desperate indeed. But, as always, things seem better after a good night’s sleep and I woke up on Saturday morning feeling dejected but determined to get to London and assume my role as “Cheer Squad”. I took plenty of painkillers, pulled on my sturdy walking boots and gritted my teeth for the train and subsequent tube rides. The hotel we had booked was a 10 minute walk from the start line and Tower Bridge and so although I wasn’t able to dart about London to spot and cheer my husband on at multiple points of the 13 mile route, I was able to stand on Tower Bridge and cheer him at seven and a half miles.

On Tower Bridge

I will say that the gale force winds and a freezing cold downpour of rain in the 30 minutes running up to the start was helping to ease my disappointment a bit, but I was choking back the tears as I waved both Husband and, then a bit later, Hattie off. I made my way to Tower Bridge. I had chosen my triathlon club hat to wear as it’s bright orange and the first rule of supporting someone in a race is that you must be easy to see. I watched thousands of runners go past me last Sunday and spotted very few familiar faces, even though lots were there. But because Husband and Hattie knew where I would be and that I had a hat on which was so bright you could see me from space, this meant that they both saw me before I saw them. For anyone who is ever going to support people in a race, this is important to remember.

I was also very lucky to witness the Majesty of Sir Mo Farrah as he glided past me, not even looking like he was sweating. I cheered enthusiastically and shouted “you’ve got this Mo” as he ran within 1 metre of me. I think he realised that he was doing ok as he completed 21.2 k in the same time it takes me to complete 7.5 to 8k, but it never hurts to be reminded!

Husband got a very respectable time considering the 45 mile per hour winds that the runners had to endure and came in a few minutes under 2 hours and Hattie smashed her time by 15 minutes. All in all it was a good day for the runners, despite of the challenging conditions.

Magic Tape

Monday morning rolled around and I decided to seek a professional opinion. I booked a physio appointment for Tuesday morning as I am someone who needs to know the facts. Even if the facts are not what I want them to be, once I know I can move forwards. The Physio was brilliant. Encouraging and understanding but careful not to over-promise anything. My foot was black, blue, yellow and green by Tuesday morning and he examined as best he could but essentially massaged the swelling away and patched me up with some “magic tape”. I was told to walk as normally as I could on it, aided by painkillers, was given exercises and asked to return on Friday.

On Wednesday morning the swelling had reduced so dramatically on my foot that it almost looked normal. This encouraged me no end. I did every last one of the exercises, multiple times and began to hope. This was dangerous of course, but in a week of emotions both high and low, I couldn’t stop myself.

Thursday morning came and I was able to walk normally. My foot ached but it didn’t hurt. This further fanned the flames of hope. On Friday morning I virtually skipped to the physio appointment. My foot had almost returned to something resembling normality and so the Physio was able to examine it thoroughly. The basic facts are that I have ripped something complicated sounding on both sides of my foot, by the ankle and the outer foot and the upshot of it is no running for 8-10 weeks. I didn’t hear the next couple of minutes worth of explanation as I was desperately trying not to cry and process this information. But then I started asking questions.

I might be able to run in 4 weeks’ time, and it might be fine. But the emphasis is heavily on “might”. After you have sprained your ankle severely it is very weak and if you roll it again, apparently this could end up with a very long break from running (as a best case scenario) or surgery (worst case scenario). Therefore, to be able to run “safely” (and that’s a direct quote from the physio) it’s an 8 week break.

But, I can swim and I can cycle. Cycling needs to be gentle at first with little or no resistance for a couple of weeks but after that, there are no limits. The Physio was also on my side about how far can I “push” my body through exercise also. An aching foot is fine but a painful foot is not. The foot will need to ache as it rebuilds itself and I test it out, but pain is clearly not good and if this happens I need to stop immediately.

The triathlon is 12 weeks away, which means that I would be running a 13 mile final leg of the competition not having trained for it, which simply put means that the triathlon is not happening. I was devastated and was not looking forward to my PT appointment with Dr Crane at all. I had thought about cancelling it, but Dr Crane assured me that there was lots we could do that wouldn’t involve the foot. So fearfully anticipating 60 minutes of bicep curls, I set off.

It turned out that going to PT was the best thing I could have done. Dr Crane immediately understood what I was going through, gracefully ignored my tears and had some practical ideas. I’ve made massive progress working with him and much of my panic is not wanting the progress to slide. He knows this and so made some very good suggestions.

  • Try to get a deferral for next year or refund for the 113 triathlon. It will be frustrating if I try and complete it not having been able to train properly and these races are expensive.
  • Getting my ankle back up to speed will take time and the pressure of “maybe I will make it to the start, or maybe I won’t” is not helpful and is distracting – PLUS I don’t want to be rushed into running sooner than I should­. (his words, not mine you realise!)
  • Find an alternative race in September/October time. Keep training and make this the goal.

I left PT (after 30 minutes of arm weights, my shoulders feel reassuringly sore today)  feeling much brighter as I had a new plan.

I am very lucky in that I have many ladies and friends that are in touch with me and offer support, experience and guidance. One of these ladies, Triathlon Mum (yes I have named her this) messaged me last night with a suggestion that I would not have thought of in a million years. I contacted the 113 to request a refund as per Dr Crane’s suggestion, but as I hadn’t taken out cancellation insurance (Note to self – ALWAYS TAKE THE INSURANCE) I was only eligible for a small refund. These races are not cheap and although the fault is entirely mine, it was disappointing. Triathlon Mum suggested to me that as I can still swim and cycle, why not still compete in the 113 anyway? Do the swim, then the cycle and then stop. Do not take part in the run and plan for it this way – apparently some people do this. I wouldn’t be eligible for a medal but it would be strong training for whatever event I chose to go for later in the year. She competed in the 113 last year and as she has lots of small children and so doesn’t have lots of time to train, had focussed all her training on the cycle and had barely run at all. It can be done (although I suspect she is a much better runner than I am!) She also contacted me earlier in the week when I originally fell, to reassure me that as long as I could cycle, all was not lost. In her words “train for the cycle and you will complete the triathlon, train for the run if you want to WIN the triathlon, because you can always walk on the run”. Very wise words and words I needed to hear.

Quickly a plan began to form. I could do this. I would do the swim and the cycle. It would also keep my training on track which, in a week when I had been stress eating chocolate quicker than a 6 year old on Easter Day, was important.

So now the only question to answer was, what race for my “A” race? Merida is competing in the Weymouth 70.3. It’s the official Half Ironman race, fully branded with cut-off times. She and I had discussed it previously on a run, but I am a bit scared of a sea swim and the cut off times so had dismissed it in favour of the friendlier 113. But that was then and this is now and so as of 25 minutes ago, I am registered for the Weymouth Half Iron Man on the 22 September.

I better get back in the swimming pool and onto my bike next week.

Plans are more like guidelines anyway……..

HIIT Happens

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Thank you for reading.

20 minute run – easy pace

Over the past 3 years I have learned that running is an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. Much like the Grand Old Duke of York, you are either up, up, up or down, down, down and the past 2 weeks have demonstrated this in ways that even Nostradamus would have had no inkling to forsee.

I needed to do one more long run in order to feel confident that I would be able to get round the Big Half comfortably and had planned to do another park run sandwich but this time with a lady who I met when I spoke at “Run Fest” when I was invited to speak at it last year. If you’re interested in running, then do check out “RunFest” as it’s a buffet of interesting and motivating individuals who speak passionately about running. It’s inspiring and you also pick up lots of tips. (I suspect that people were a bit short changed in the “tips” department the night that I spoke!) @Sarahgetsfitandhealthy has an instafeed packed full of witticisms, mental health advice and observations and of course running and we have stayed in touch. She recently moved house and now lives locally and so we made a plan to run to parkrun together. Unfortunately, with life being what it is, at the last minute I had to bail due to a fairly serious family emergency. @sarah understood of course but we still haven’t run together yet. But we will.

This meant that in order to get the long run in, I had to bunk off work on the following Wednesday for a couple of hours in the morning.  It was a truly glorious day and the sceptical Brit in me wonders if we might have already had our Summer, but regardless, I was happy to take advantage of the sunshine. I needed an eleven mile route would end at my office near Temple Meads station and so being unsure, sought the advice of the “This Mum Runs” community who delivered fantastically. On the Wednesday morning, in the penultimate week before the Big Half, I set off on a journey that took me from my house to Ashton Court and then down Whiteladies Road back into town. It was wonderful. Every so often, and as you know from reading this blog that they are rare for me, but every so often I have a run that is perfect. I am sure the weather helped (I should have taken my sunglasses with me) but I felt strong. Everything was clicking. My breathing was right (I have been working on this with Dr Crane), I was hydrated properly, I had eaten and I was fast… *fast for me*… and was definitely well on track for a sub 3 hour half (which is my minimum requirement) but more than likely heading for quite a big PB. And I’m talking 7-9 minutes off my last half marathon time.

Suspension Bridge photo Feb 2019

I spend a lot of time training and most of the time I do it blind, trying to keep the faith that everything I do, under the careful instruction of Dr Crane, will get me to my ultimate goal of crossing the finish line of the triathlon in June in one piece. I complete every piece of training and give it my best, but often feel like I’m not really getting better and it’s hard to assess whether there is any improvement as I’m usually knackered from training so much and life in general. This is why a perfect run is so important to re-ignite the belief once in a while. It gives me the reason to keep going. You can feel the improvements and enjoy the experience (apart from running up Ashton Court hill – that will never be enjoyable).

I arrived at work and felt amazing. Those endorphins are powerful. Life was good and I was looking forward to racing Sir Mo around London at the Big Half.

Although I wasn’t really tapering, apart from a couple of light and “easy” runs, the focus switched immediately to cycling as apart from the Big Half, the next event on the radar is the 100k “Tour de Bristol” on my bike in early April. On Monday’s PT session Dr Crane and I went for a cycle around Bristol, in my cleats (which clip your shoes to the bike). It was quite windy and made my ears feel a bit unbalanced for the remainder of the afternoon afterwards, but it was enjoyable. Dr Crane is schooling me on “cadence” which is how many times you can spin the pedals in a minute (my watch has been set up to show me this….well now it has. It wasn’t straight forward at all and I did consider throwing the whole thing in the bin for a time, but now it’s sorted). The higher the cadence, the more times you pedal, which sounds like it is going to make you more tired, but in fact the reverse happens. We cycled up a couple of big hills and I managed to complete them. I was pleased and was feeling quite accomplished as we cycled back into town. Dr Crane is currently in possession of my bike as it needed some TLC (oil and stuff….) I do need to learn about bike maintenance before the tri as each time Dr Crane asked me a question, I looked blank and he could tell I knew NOTHING. He kindly offered to fix some bits for me and as this week was about running and I wouldn’t be cycling, it seemed like a good idea and I gratefully took him up on his kind offer.

The final remaining parts of the training plan prior to the Big Half, were two short and light runs. At this point, you are either ready, or you’re not. You can’t add to your fitness as it’s really too late, so it’s about keeping the body loose and not getting injured. Yesterday morning I had the final run on the plan – 20 minutes, run easy.

It was sunny and I decided that I would run to work, not care about the time, and would run “easy”. I set off and again, everything was feeling good. Breathing was good, legs were feeling good, arm swing was feeling strong. I was in a very positive mental place. My watch buzzed at 1 kilometre and told me that I had run it in 6.32 seconds. This is supersonic for me, but more importantly, it didn’t feel like I was going that fast and so was comfortable. As I crossed onto the Bath Road, I then started the usual mental conversation……”well if I’m running this fast, maybe I should try and run 5k just to see what I can do…….no don’t do that. You have a half marathon on Sunday. Don’t be an idiot”. You get the picture. But I was smiling.

The traffic on the Bath Road was stationary as it was rush hour and there were plenty of people around. In a heartbeat my week changed. Somehow, as I was running, I turned my ankle in a small pothole and fell very heavily onto the pavement. I fell forward onto my knees (which were scraped, I don’t know how my running leggings were not ripped), then onto my elbow (scraped) and finally caught my face in my hands, which were bashed up and bleeding across the knuckles. It could have been so much more devastating had I not managed to save my face with my hands.

I am 1 pound away from losing a stone since New Year’s Day, but I still weigh 14 stone and so I fell hard. Now I am ashamed to admit to you, that I am one of those awful people who finds it funny when people fall over. When they trip and are embarrassed I think it’s hilarious, but obviously hilarity turns to horror pretty quickly if the person turns out then to be really hurt. I am not a complete monster.

I imagine this is what it must have been like for the people in their cars. I fell and it would have looked hilarious to the onlooker but I immediately knew I was in trouble. It hurt. It bloody hurt. I burst into hysterical tears and was wailing and rolling around the pavement. I don’t really know what happened next but suddenly there were two cyclists with me. Both lovely, kind and friendly chaps, who were trying to console and help me although I couldn’t pick either of them out of a line-up today if my life depended on it. I wish I could thank them properly, now, in a slightly less hysterical state. At least I gave them an interesting story to tell their friends this weekend. One was lifting my, rapidly swelling, ankle and foot and the other trying to comfort me. I was hysterical. As I look back now, I must have looked like a crazy woman. I kept saying over and over again that “I am only running for 20 minutes as I have a Half Marathon on Sunday”…but of course, now I don’t.

My Good Samaritans were relieved of their duties as a runner and friend I knew approached. He quickly took stock and calmed me down and then accompanied me home. He was fantastic and very calm and understanding. He is also a man of the cloth and so blessed my ankle before he left, which is never a bad thing! I was hobbling and although I went to minor injuries and had an x-ray to rule out any broken bones (none thankfully), I knew I wasn’t running in the Big Half anymore. Diagnosis was bad sprain with no running for 3-4 weeks. When I burst into tears again (seriously, this is why runners need to be hydrated!) the nurse gave me a tiny ray of sunshine in that after a week or so of rest I can cycle and swim. Just no running.

I was devastated. In the most part I am a positive and determined person but yesterday was a dark day. I was devastated. I spent most of the day in tears and *might* have eaten a bit too much chocolate.

(*might = definitely did*)

I was going to give it everything I had to give on Sunday but now I’ll never know if I would have been able to.

Being a blogger, I posted some pictures through my facebook page as well as in the “This Mum Runs” community page and was overwhelmed to receive over 300 messages yesterday (both private and public) from people wishing me well. Empathising, sympathising, offering advice and comfort. Each one making me cry and determined to keep going. (I am crying as I type this). I am so grateful and this cannot be said enough. Thank you. It really, really helped me yesterday.

So I allowed myself one day of chocolate and self -loathing and then today have pulled myself together and administered a mental slap.

One lady, the Cornish Cakemaster, told me I can’t give up because I am like Mr Miyagi, which made me laugh so much I spat my tea out. But although I’m not very good at karate, this is a team effort. I’m not working towards a half marathon (although it will be a while before I can laugh about yesterday’s events) I am working towards a triathlon and this must remain the goal. Although not being able to run is a nightmare, (there is no way to pretend it’s not a disaster) it does give me the opportunity to focus on swimming and cycling for a while. Dr Crane sent me some wise words yesterday as I kept him up to speed with developments.  “Stay calm, stay positive and press on. That’s what champions to in times of adversity”.

I’m sure he’s right. For me, it’s a bit more simple….stop moaning and put your big girl pants on.

I’m currently on a train to London, with a heavily strapped up foot preparing to cheer my husband on as he is also running the Big Half. Tomorrow I will be a supporter. Hopefully, it won’t be long before I am competing again.

Ashton Court Photo Feb 2019

 

 

They are always watching….

The half marathon is now two weeks away on Sunday and I’m into the last phase before the brain scambling taper starts. Of course this time, for the first time ever, I’m not really tapering properly (because the HM is just a training run for the triathlon) but nonetheless on the training plan the week before the HM looks light.

I say this, because the plan as a whole is NOT light. In fact heavy and bulging at the seams is more accurate. Dr Crane has the plan building over a 3 week period incrementally and then the fourth week is lighter and recovery driven. This fourth week is the week before the Big Half (it’s almost like he planned it that way….!)

But as I enter into the final weeks before the half marathon it means the return of the long run, or more accurately, long, slow run.

Previously Hattie and I have always completed our long runs together and this has helped enormously with the difficult mental challenge of how to complete a big distance, as well as being practical. Chatting helps take away the tedium of listening to your feet hit the floor monotonously a few thousand times during the course of the run and talking takes your brain away from this.  The problem is that over the past 6 months my training has changed due to incorporating all three disciplines, running, swimming and cycling, as well as strength training into my plan. Hattie also had to run alone for much of last year whilst I was benched in the run up to and post-surgery. During this time she has managed to take minutes from her times by adapting her running to a system called “jeffing”. This is where you plan to run/walk the distance from the very beginning and it’s extremely successful. Plenty of people run very fast marathon times using this method and if you like to sprint (like Hattie does) it’s a gift. Using this method Hattie is now faster and stronger and this coupled with the fact that I am working on my endurance (ie trying not to walk) means that sadly, we are no longer the perfect training companions for each other. We reconciled this over an emotional coffee together and so although we still run together regularly over shorter distances, we are not doing our long runs together.

Since my last blog I have completed 2 long runs and although I was now to be running them alone, I decided to be a little creative. On the first Saturday, my daughters were at an orienteering event in Leigh Woods and so I spoke to Merida to see if she fancied meeting for a run. My rationale was that although I needed to run 14k, I could do this as a run of two parts. For the first 6k I ran with Merida and her lovely Labrador Lily through the mud and trails of Leigh Woods. This required lots of organisation (when doesn’t it?!)  When I met Merida, I left my road running shoes, spare buff (head warmer) and dry socks in her car. We then departed on the run which was beautiful as we were running in the woods, slow in places because the mud was pretty thick after a week of rain and glorious and it provided Merida and I with the perfect opportunity for a catch up. An hour or so later, we were back at the car. I quickly changed into my dry shoes and clothes, leaving Merida with my muddy wet ones (I collected these from her later in the week, which she had freshly laundered – thank you Merida!) and we parted ways.  I was then running from Leigh Woods to meet Husband and daughters at the in-laws in Horfield. I set off and for the first time in a long time, I ran listening to music.

Leigh woods in the rain

It was surprisingly ok. I walked a little bit more than I liked over the final 2k but all in all, I was pleased. My legs were tired after negotiating all the mud in the woods and this impacted the final part of the run. But, I wasn’t too worried as trail running, although a bit slower, is an excellent workout for the legs and undoubtedly would have helped with overall strengthening. Dr Crane is always trying to encourage me away from concrete as it’s widely known to be better for your knees and is a more all over body workout.

The following week was the same round of swimming, PT with Dr Crane, more running and a spin session on my bike using the indoor trainer.

When last Saturday rolled around, my plan had a 10 mile run required so ,once again, I called on my triathlon team to assist in the break-up of the run. RubyRed is possibly the busiest woman I have ever met. Her schedule is a dizzying list of 7am trains to London, flights to continental Europe, chairing committees and a myriad of other commitments including being on several Executive Boards and running her own business. I think I am busy and she makes me look I spend most of the day drinking cups of tea whilst filing my nails. In the midst of this crazy schedule, RubyRed has also allowed herself to be talked into signing up (by me!) to do the 113 triathlon with Merida and myself. (We are calling ourselves Team Fearless…..although I can think of some more appropriate team names truth be told!) Recently, RubyRed has an annoying leg niggle which has been threatening to preclude her from completing an upcoming half marathon and so wanted to test out her leg. So with a 16k/10 mile run on the agenda, she suggested that she meet me at Eastville Parkrun, with both of us running there to meet each other. For me this was perfect as being a runner, I mentally know where 5k is in pretty much every direction from my front door, and as luck would have it, Eastville Parkrun is exactly 5k from my house.

So I got up at 6.30am and ate a hearty breakfast of porridge and peanut butter and then at 8.15am I set off. The route to ParkRun is quite hilly and so it has the added excitement of whether I might get there on time as Parkrun starts at 9am. But assisted my headphones and a music mix that included a hefty dose of Madonna, Queen, the Beatles, Bonnie Tyler and Sister Sledge, I arrived and met RubyRed and we ran the Parkrun together. Now not to keep going on about it, although I am getting faster and stronger, I am still not a fast runner. But this worked well for Ruby Red who had been warned by the physio that speed was not her friend and so she needed to keep the pace down. Now finally, here is an area that I can help with! Ruby Red and I ran and chatted our way round and for the first time ever, I ran up the whole of the dreaded long hill without stopping. This has never happened before I was elated. Ruby had no pains and I had enjoyed a lovely catch up and was now two thirds of the way into my run. We parted ways and then I ran home. It felt ok. I felt strong and the times demonstrate that I am on track for a sub 3 half at The Big Half and as long as I don’t go off too fast. I could also beat my time at Landmarks Half of last year. I have received my starter pack for the Big Half in 2 weeks time and I notice that there is a 2 hour 45 minute pacer. Of course, I realise that this is a training run and I’m not supposed to be racing it, but I wonder how long I could keep up with that pacer? (of course, this all depends on whether I can find the pacer on the day anyway, but it might happen).

I’m tempted to test the timings on my long run tomorrow morning, which will be another version of last week – a parkrun sandwich but running home via a slightly different route. I will let you know how I get on.

Finally a word on strength and conditioning. My eldest daughter plays a lot of hockey and as she grows, she has developed a couple of little niggles here and there. I know how important it is for her to be strong as well as fit, so we have started taking Pilates classes together. She is 12 and it’s been quite a struggle to find a teacher willing to teach a 12 year old, but I’m glad I was patient and waited for the right one as the teacher we have found is excellent. We had a session this morning and I genuinely feel more stretched and loose than even after I have had a sports massage (it’s less painful too as the teacher doesn’t grind his elbow into my buttocks!) My daughter was initially sceptical but as soon as she heard that the England Hockey team all do Pilates, coupled with the fact that she also feels amazing after the sessions means that we will definitely keep this up.

Strength is so important but as always it’s important that the little ones see what you are doing as they will try to imitate it and as much as possible, I want fitness, health and strength to be seen as the norm. There’s a very poignant phrase of “they’re always watching”. My daughters know that it takes work to get a strong body and they know I am strong and certainly stronger than I was – it’s a work in progress obviously. My youngest daughter poked me in the stomach yesterday and we were both shocked to discover that underneath my “insulating layer” my stomach is quite hard. There are definitely muscles under there that I wasn’t aware of. We both giggled in shock when she did it and we had a chat about being strong and how important it is.

My Mum had her birthday this week and two of my sisters came to visit her on the special day. As soon as my 3 year old nephew spotted my bike on the indoor trainer he wanted to go on it and when I showed (and demonstrated) for him the shoes and cleats, he was fascinated. I can’t think of anything that demonstrates the “they’re always watching” phrase better than my 3 year old nephew. This morning I FaceTimed him and he spent quite a while telling me that he now has “special magic” cycling shoes “like Aunty Claire” but they don’t click like mine do! Obviously, I’ll be buying him a tri-suit for his birthday now but we must remember that they are always watching and so we must keep working.

To cleat, or not to cleat…

In January I ran 51k, cycled 80k, swam 2825m and attended 6 PT sessions.

I’ve had to drop my trained sessions with Dr Crane down to one a week as I was struggling to fit everything in around home and work and so now only attend PT on a Monday. The half marathon is now only 4 weeks away this coming weekend and so the long runs are back with 10k becoming frequent and a 14k run planned for this weekend.

Watch 1500m swimSwimming is ongoing and some swims are good, and some are not. Some weeks I can’t remember all that Triton has taught me and it’s a bit hap hazard, but my distance is improving even if my technique leaves a lot to be desired. This week I swam 1500m which is the furthest I have swum since I was at school.

The largest part of any triathlon is always the cycling and as I have documented previously, I love cycling. I love my bike, Shiny Sheena, and I’m learning to love the padded shorts and cycling clothes that accompany the activity. However, what I don’t enjoy about cycling is how technical it is and how complicated and baffling it is to a beginner.

I am someone that will always research anything new that I am undertaking and I also enjoy the research process. This is true of anything I do– we are currently are researching Labrador breeders as we hope to add to our family later this year with a puppy. I dream of running through the woods and fields with my dog running beside me, off lead, in the vein of the Dalmation Mamas that I stalk on Instagram. They have magnificently combined the activity of walking their dogs whilst running and it looks glorious – beautiful scenery, fresh air and enormous blue skies. I want some of that in my life. One of these ladies have even set up a business doing this. If you want your dog walked whilst she runs with them, send me a message and I’ll put you in touch. (I’m not on commission by the way, I just think they are fabulous).

So back to cycling. When you decide to cycle, you think you will jump on the bike and start peddling. You then quickly, reconcile yourself to the fact that your bottom will never like you again and may well never recover from being made to sit on such an uncomfortable saddle, but apart from this it’s fairly straight forward.

Then, someone suggests padded shorts as they will help your bottom – so you get some and it does help, but still you experience discomfort.

Chafing.

Now I have experienced chafing before whilst running on a few occasions. The friction that is caused by material (often damp from the sweat) moving rhythmically hundreds and thousands of times, often tiny little movements which causes the skin to rub away. You are usually unaware of it until you get in the shower and experience a scene not unlike Hitchcock’s Psycho where you scream so loudly the cat falls off the windowsill and your daughters storm into the bathroom with fear etched across their faces terrified at what they might find.

But cycling chafing is a whole new ballgame of horror. It’s also not something anyone ever warns you about either (unless you know them very well) as it’s a bit embarrassing. Luckily for you, I don’t care about being embarrassed so I am here to share my wisdom and experience with you.

When you cycle for an hour, even with a padded bottom (do not wear underwear, this is critical), the movement of your legs rotating around on the peddles causes friction in your nether regions. Obviously, I can’t comment on what the situation is like for men, but for women, it is staggering. There is a lot of skin and erm…flesh down there, right in the hot spot of all the action, and it rubs. It rubs a lot.  The thing is, you’re not aware of it when it happens the first time. Basically, your whole bottom hurts from the saddle so the specifics of chafing are unknown……. until you need to use the toilet. I sat on the loo and waited for the comforting trickle to start unware of what was about to happen.

Oh, my goodness. The horror. The burning sensation. It felt as though the urine was physically burning a hole into my…. bits. Imagine a soldering iron……ARGH. I was in a public toilet when this first happened to me and I had to bite my hand to stop myself from screaming. The cat falling off the windowsill would have been the least of my worries if members of the public had heard my toe curling screams of agony. And the worst of it was, that this was the half way stop point and I then had to cycle home again. I won’t dwell on this further, but it was not nice and unlike anything that I had ever experienced before, and I had had no warning. I asked Merida what I could do to alleviate the pain (I didn’t go into details as an accomplished cyclist herself, I knew that she would understand what I was asking about) and she did. You can buy creams and lotions to put “down there” – liberally is my advice – and it definitely does help to mitigate the unpleasantness.

When husband and I cycled to Bath on my birthday mid-January, I took a little “travel pot” of cream and re-applied it for the journey home. One of my largest concerns about the triathlon is how I am going to apply this cream to my nether regions in the transition phase, after a swim in a lake and getting out of a wetsuit, without anyone seeing anything that they shouldn’t. Should I ask my Mum to make me a “modesty robe” so I can get changed in public without showing my wares to all and sundry, or should I adapt the philosophy that nobody will care what I am doing as they’ll all be worrying about their own stuff anyway? More on this in months to come I am sure.

So apart from comfort, the other technical bit about cycling is power. For a 56 mile cycle, I want to get it completed as quickly as possible and therefore want to have as much power going through my feet as possible which will in turn, rotate the wheels quicker. This means cycling shoes. I have seen people wearing these before and frankly they look weird. The shoes have “cleats” which are bits of plastic that are screwed into the bottom of the shoe, which you push into the pedals resulting in a pleasing “click” noise. You are then secured in and become part of the bike. This increases your power as you not only push down when you pedal, but you pull up too – which doesn’t happen when you pedal in trainers.

I received cycling shoes, cleats and pedals for Christmas but up until a few days ago, they had remained in their box. Dr Crane is very enthusiastic about cleats and as I am training with him to keep my cadence (technical word for how many times I rotate the pedals in a minute) to 80-90 a minute (fast!) cycling shoes and cleats will help this.

Shoes and cleats

Upon opening the box, there were no instructions as to what to do or how to assemble them. They are a reputable brand and again this was annoying. Once you’re in the cycling club, you’re in. But finding this stuff out at the beginning is hard. Merida came to my assistance once again and now the pedals and cleats are ready to go. I’m too scared to try them out on the open road just yet as if you don’t clip your feet out quickly enough when you need to put your foot down, you fall over sideways, usually a road junction. So, for the time being, my bike is attached to the indoor trainer and I will spend the next couple of weeks practicing clipping in and out as I cycle in my back room.

I have also bought a gadget called a cadence sensor, but already exhausted from the cleats fiasco, I haven’t had the enthusiasm to open the box yet. I’ll report back next time. I need to practice with cleats as Team Fearless (myself, Merida and RubyRed) accompanied by the Baron are planning a 75k cycling in 3 weeks’ time. 75k?! I will need the power, the cream, the padded shorts and probably an ambulance, but we’ll see what happens.

Runing in the Forest of Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January and phase two….

eliz and me boxing dayChristmas has been and gone in a wink of an eye. It was predictably busy and mince pie filled but I somehow managed to keep my training on track with PT and as many runs as I could fit in. A “little and often” was the mantra and this included a lovely Boxing Day trot with my sister Queenie who has really caught the running bug since last Summer. She’s entered the Bristol 10k and I think we will be racing…!

I had very determined plans to run Eastville Parkrun on New Year’s Day and get my 2019 off to a positive start, but alas I was still fast asleep at 10.30am following a 3am bedtime and epic kitchen disco the night before.

Unfortunately it got worse and shortly afterwards, I came down with a hideous cold that lasted the rest of the week and meant that I didn’t manage any other runs, cycles or swims. Back to work followed on the Wednesday and I was a bit frustrated at the, not exactly, flying start to the year.

At my first PT session with Dr Crane, the following week, I was presented with the next phase of my training plan. It had ramped up a notch or two and now included swimming and cycling and I was relieved to see them both on the plan. In addition to the two PT sessions, the plan now had a swim, a longer cycle and a longer run but the runs were only increasing by 5 minutes and for January the longest run was to be only 70 minutes. I could feel the panic set in as I read it as in order to complete 21.2k on the 10 March (the Big Half) I would need to be at least be running up to 14k by the end of January, as this is what my previous plans have entailed. 70 minutes probably wouldn’t even get me to 10k (although I am ever hopeful..)  Dr Crane explained calmly that although I am running the Big Half, I need to decide what I’m actually training for here. I didn’t quite understand what he was asking me until the penny dropped. I’m training for a half Ironman distance triathlon, NOT a half marathon. Essentially, the half marathon is going to be a training run as part of the triathlon programme. With this in mind, I won’t be tapering in the run up to the half in the same way that I have previously and I also shouldn’t race it…..(well no promises there obviously!)

For this week, this has been the plan:

MONDAY: PT – weights and cycling
TUESDAY: Swimming 1200m Run – 30 minutes
WEDNESDAY: Rest
THURSDAY: Swimming lesson
FRIDAY: PT – cycling and weights
SATURDAY: Run 60 minutes
SUNDAY: Orienteering Cycle for 60 minutes

We tweaked it a bit and added in one extra short run as I like to run with my friend Lady J whilst our daughters play hockey on a Tuesday evening and this is just a sensible use of time, but apart from having to flex the days here and there for work stuff, the first week has largely been ok.

The sections in italics were not initially on the plan I was given by Dr Crane but I have added them in. My swimming lesson on a Thursday needs to keep happening and my swimming bock of lessons I have paid for doesn’t finish until March. The lessons aren’t strenuous at all though as they are largely technique driven meaning that all swimming is doubly slow as Triton encourages me and my 4 classmates to slow the entire movement down to perfect it and learn it properly. I am constantly told I am going too fast as believe it or not, it’s hard to swim front crawl as though you are in slow motion. The point is that the swimming lesson is not strenuous.

Now the plan is quite full and busy as you can see, but I am committed. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things though. My youngest daughter was 11 last week and apart from her birthday presents, the thing she was most looking forward to was running parkrun solo. As I had to run 60 minutes according to the plan, it would have made much more sense to have just taken myself off for a plod on Saturday morning alone, but as well as being a trainee triathlete, I am also, and more importantly, a Mum. So I was going to parkrun too. We got there early and I started running straightaway around the park. I was able to get to the start just as everyone else (647 of them on Saturday morning) were setting off and so as my usual parkrun time is 38-40 ish minutes, this would leave me with only 5-10 minutes to run at the end which would make a lovely cool down. This was all fine and worked pretty well. My daughters completed their Parkruns in respectable 30.32 and 31.45 and husband was sub 30 as usual.

lois and i parkrun

I felt ok but I did push myself over the final lap and so knew I needed to stretch properly afterwards. All would have been well if I hadn’t promised my daughters that I would take them to town in the afternoon as they were keen to spend the rest of their Christmas and birthday money. Despite a shower and a good stretch, I could feel my entire body start to physically seize up over the course of the afternoon and I was practically begging them at 6pm to go home and not just because I had spent 45 minutes in the Primark changing rooms. I did 25000 steps on Saturday and I was exhausted.

The next day, Sunday, Daughters and I were orienteering at Ashton Court at 10am. I absolutely love orienteering. If you’ve never done it, please try it. You don’t have to run and plenty of people walk it. I spent the most glorious 55 minutes running around woodland in beautiful countryside and for the first time ever, I completed the course without getting lost.  Now orienteering was NOT on the plan, but I love it so did it anyway. To my mind, balance comes in different forms doesn’t it? Straight after orienteering we had a mad dash to get Eldest daughter to a hockey match up in Failand. Sandwiches were eaten in the car and then I had a 60 minute cycle on my plan and 3 changes of clothes packed to make the day work. My husband is very supportive of my exercise endeavours and I know that I am lucky in this respect. He cycled my bike up to Failand to watch the hockey and then we swapped. He drove the car and daughters home and I then cycled to meet RubyRed’s husband, the Baron, who had very kindly volunteered to meet me and join me on a cycle ride. I am not that confident on roads and I’m still struggling a bit with the gears so I was grateful to have an experienced rider in charge.

We cycled out towards Barrow Gurney and he shouted helpful instructions about gears, how to manage climbs and I absolutely loved every single second of it. I learned that cycling down steep hills is terrifying and I was shouting to myself “I’m going to die” as we descended at speed. As we sped past the airport we peaked at 51 kph. That is REALLY fast and I haven’t even got my special cycling shoes and pedals on yet. THe Baron and I went our separate ways not far from Temple Meads and when I rang our doorbell, husband opened the door and looked visibly shocked to see me. “You were fast?” he said. I replied, “I KNOW” with a big grin on my face. Big thanks to the Baron for Sunday and to my amazing friend RubyRed too.

So as you can see, it was a busy week and exhaustion has been quite a feature of the evenings. Training in December, when work is quiet is one thing, but training in January which is one of the busiest months of the year when you work in recruitment is something quite different. I haven’t barely managed to catch a breath. School run, work, PT, family birthdays and training commitments have made for a very tired Claire indeed. I have also lost 11 pounds since New Year’s Day which whilst I am pleased about it, does seem to be quite a lot. I am eating well and focussing on protein for muscle recovery but the weight is dropping off quickly and this again is making me tired.

When I arrived for PT yesterday, Dr Crane asked how I was and I was honest and said that although I wasn’t sore (30 minutes of tortuous foam rolling had taken the edge off that on Sunday night) I did feel a bit weary. I wear a Garmin watch which gives me millions of statistics (most of which I don’t understand) but one thing I do take note of is my “resting heartrate”. This is how many times your heart beats in a minute when you are asleep and is a fairly good indicator or overall health. Mine is usually 51-54, but on Sunday night it was registering at 61. I started on the treadmill for the session of scheduled sprints which started with a 5 minute jogging warm up but my legs were not playing ball at all and my heartrate was through the roof. I felt dreadful. Sweat was pouring from me and it just wasn’t happening. Very quickly Dr Crane came the conclusion that sprints were not happening (even if I had wanted to do them) and we went and did weights instead. He also sent me some poignant reading material about how rest is important! Today I have rested and worked from home and have spent most of the day eating protein as I was hungry. This is a new and challenging process for me and I know now that I am going to have to listen to my body and rest when I need to rest. Orienteering on Sunday probably wasn’t the best idea from a training point of view and it is almost certainly what pushed me over the edge, but I loved it. So if I need to rest today in order to do something I really enjoyed off the plan, then so be it. I know Dr Crane is supportive of this but this is new for me. Not going at 100% all the time is going to be essential if I am going to complete the triathlon in one piece.

It’s my birthday tomorrow and I will be 44. To celebrate (and the plan has been tweaked to allow for this) I’m taking a day off work (or at the least a few hours) and Husband and I are going to cycle to Bath for lunch and then cycle back. I hope it won’t rain, but even if it does I don’t care. This training is hard work and I’m going to have to dig deep to get through it, therefore doing things I really enjoy is going to be important if I am to survive the next 6 months at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart rates and red wine

December is very busy isn’t it? I’ve not done any Christmas shopping yet and I’m starting to stress out a bit. Work is all over the place due to the Brexit saga, meaning it is busy but unproductive and there are numerous nights out which when you are trying to watch what you eat and drink can be challenging.

I’ve taken the approach this year that on these nights out (School Parents, Friends, Triathlon Club etc) that whilst I have tried to regulate my drinking and stuck mainly to fizz (it’s amazingly calorie efficient) I have pretty much eaten what I wanted. I’ve not skimped on anything but have tried to stop eating when I was full. I’ve also made sure to have done some form on exercise on the same day I have been going out. It seems to have worked as since the beginning of November I have lost 7 pounds.  Now this may sound like a lot and make no mistake, I am pleased about it, but I am exercising so much that I feel it should be more.

Going out, being busy at work and doing A LOT of exercise makes for a very tired person.

Over the past couple of weeks I have run 3 times, had 2 personal training sessions of an hour each, had a swimming lesson as the bare minimum and then in addition, have been swimming or been on my turbo trainer on my bike as well. I am struggling to stay awake past 9.30pm most nights and simply put, I am shattered. It’s been quite a learning curve though as I understand just how important sleep is going to be for me over the next 7 months.

I continue to work with Dr Crane twice a week and I am really enjoying the sessions. We try to schedule them for a Monday and Friday lunchtime as it feels like a strong start and end to the working week and additionally, I rarely have to travel for work on these days and so it just works.

We do a combination of weights, strength and sprinting cardio style. Dr Crane is technically thorough and always explains exactly which muscle we are working and then why it is important for triathlon, which I appreciate. I am someone who needs to know the “whys” and I also need to know “how many” or for “how long” I will be doing of each exercise, which was something he worked out quickly. I promised that I would do whatever he asked me to do, to the best of my ability, but I would be more likely to give 100% if I know in advance what is required. If I don’t know then simply put, I don’t try my best as I am worried about running out of steam and so it’s a waste of time. I also like even numbers and my daughters are used to seeing me run up and down outside our house as I wait for my running watch to click from 4.95k to a friendly and more mentally pleasing 5k!

Dr Crane has very quickly identified in our short time of working together that most of my challenges are mental and that simply put I am afraid to run faster in case I run out of puff. This is something that we have specifically been working on and I’ve been sprinting on the treadmill for predetermined periods of time and these have been increasing. The other things we have been working on are squats and lunges (often with weights) and press-ups. Press-ups are hard and I really struggle to do them but I keep trying. There was a session last week where I had to perform a series of stretching to the ceiling, crawling forward to do a press-up and then bringing my feet back to my hands and stretching up again. The gym on Friday lunchtime was quite full and I could see people were watching me as I tried my best to look graceful. Although, I clearly did not look graceful. I have no upper body strength at all (although it’s already improving) and by the third repetition I collapsed as I tried to do a press-up, falling onto my face. I felt pretty stupid but tried again and managed a very small one. This is exactly the sort of situation that could put you off, but Dr Crane was very encouraging, talking me through the technique and keeping me going. I have to say, he didn’t allow me to stop doing them though and the sweat pouring off me was making a fairly unpleasant puddle on the floor, but I got it done. This morning I lifted 35kg. The most I have ever lifted previously is 10kg so I am feeling delighted. When you are working hard, it’s important to see improvements.

Stretch in the gym

For running, I am only allowed to run within my “heartrate zones” which means that if my heartrate goes above 156 beats per minute I have to slow down. Other than discovering that having a bottle of red wine coursing through my veins from the night before (thank you December nights out) makes my heart rate higher than normal, it is ok but makes me very slow. I mean REALLY slow. As slow as I was at the beginning of couch to 5k, but it has rekindled my love of running (and I use the word love here loosely!) probably because it doesn’t feel too hard. It’s making social running challenging but the ladies I run with (a glorious harbour loop with the Captain and Lady J of the “Hockey Mums Running Club” – guess what our daughters are doing whilst we run?….)have been extremely understanding. This type of training will continue to the end of the month when I am hoping to be given permission to test myself and see if the sprints, strength and weightloss have improved my speed at all soon. Fingers crossed.

Swimming lessons continue and I know I am improving my technique. My shoulder rotation now exists (it didn’t before) but frustratingly, I continue to flex my feet when I kick. Triton has advised that I spend some time swimming lengths with a float just kicking my pointed toes. I need to buy myself a float or some flippers as apparently these will also work. I have seen a “Wonder Woman” float at the swimming pool that is for a child and I’m wondering if I could get away with it for my super serious triathlon training? I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, I have only managed to get on my bike once. This brings me back to my original point at the start of the blog. I can’t seem to fit it in. I am shattered and my muscles are sore most of the time. I use a foam roller, I stretch in the kitchen whilst waiting for the kettle to boil but my body is a little bit shocked about everything it’s being asked to do. I know that this is another reason for the heartrate training to keep things slow as I adjust, but I feel a little bit anxious.

I do know however, that I need to trust the experts and hopefully everything will fall into place.

NBTC Hat

Rome wasn’t built in a day and big goals take patience and effort to achieve. This is a half Iron Man distance triathlon so I will need to summon every inch of determination to complete it. Smaller goals would be easier and (let’s face it) probably more sensible, but where is the fun and challenge in that?

In case I do not blog again this year, may I take this opportunity to thank you all for continuing to read my ramblings and wish you a Merry Christmas.

 

Back in the saddle….

Getting back into exercise isn’t that difficult in theory; a couple of runs a week, a swimming session, a spin class and it’s easy to feel accomplished. My heart beats fast and I sweat…a lot. But is it enough?

It is certainly enough for most people and definitely adequate if your only goal is to get fit and keep healthy, but probably not if you are training for a big event. Additionally, I find it easy to do the bits that I enjoy, but I am also a gold medal winner at “avoiding” or “not having enough time” to fit in the stuff I don’t enjoy as much. For me this is strength training.

The middle distance triathlon is 29 weeks away but slightly more alarmingly, the Big Half (13.1 miles) is only 16 weeks away. Most half marathon training plans are 12 weeks long and so with this in mind, I knew I had to get cracking.

I am a firm believer in seeking advice. If I don’t know the answer to something, I am not proud and will seek the counsel of someone who knows more than me. In this particular instance, this happened to be a personal trainer. I have never worked with a personal trainer before, ever and I was slightly nervous. I felt like it was very important that I was able to implicitly trust whoever was in charge of my physical health and it was critical that they understood who I was, where I had come from and most importantly where I was going.  But where to start? If you google “Personal Trainer”, there are literally tens of hundreds of names that pop up. In addition to this, I didn’t have any idea what sort of skills were important. So I did the only thing that I could, I met some.

The first lady was very nice indeed. I was welcomed with a green tea (no caffeine at her gym) and we had a good chat about my goals. She was very honest about not being able to help me with running and cycling but she was confident that she could make me strong. Unfortunately she was too expensive.

Learning from my mistakes (not finding out the cost before I met with the trainer) I then spoke to a couple on the telephone, with similar negative results. Both seemed to have a pre-planned programme that they applied to “clients like you” and apparently it worked well but I didn’t like the approach. Whilst I recognise that most runners and trainee triathletes are all seeking the same outcome (ie to finish and not collapse) we are all completely unique. We have different histories and motivations. I wasn’t happy and was genuinely about to give up hope when I found Dr Crane. He listened. He is also an ultra runner and keen cyclist himself, extremely patient and most importantly “gets” me.

He’s formulated a plan in 3 parts. Between now and Christmas we are working (very hard I might mention) to get my fitness back to what it was when I finished London Landmarks Half earlier this year. In my heart, I know that this was the fittest I have ever been and this is why this year has been so frustrating. I will be that fit again and we are also working on my strength (he’s slightly obsessed, in a good way I hasten to add, with press-ups….which I can’t do). In addition, and I know this goes against everything I have ever said before, I am actively trying to lose body fat.

I’m quite conflicted about this, not least because as you know from my previous blogs, I am not someone who likes to diet or restrict what I eat, largely because it’s so miserable and a larger body can be fit and strong – I think I have proved this several times over the past couple of years. I’m not really bothered what I look like. I am fit, strong and healthy. I am able to buy clothes in all high street shops and I once again own a pair of Levi jeans (you have no idea of the excitement levels when they arrived).

Unfortunately, the triathlon I have entered is an endurance event and whilst I have not yet worked out exactly how long I anticipate it will take me, I am guessing it will be in the region of 7-8 hours. If I am to complete this without injury and hopefully improve all my times, I do need to be lighter. I respected Dr Crane’s honesty and he almost apologised when he broached the delicate subject, but he is right. I knew before he said it that I needed to try and get lighter to lessen the impact on my ankles. I was not keen to simply restrict calories though as I am absolutely starving, constantly, when I am consumed by training for an event. So again I sought advice from Dr Crane. I am keeping my calories within a limit, but I am trying to eat more protein. Protein fills you up and so you are not hungry. It’s a work in progress however, as I am a natural lover of carbs. Of course, we are also into Mince Pie and Party season, so it will be an enormous challenge. Some days are better than others but I’m trying my best.

So with my physical well-being in good hands (as well as my running getting back to a regular, all be it slow, pattern) I turned my attention to swimming as I started my swimming lessons last week.

I arrived with plenty of time and sat on the side waiting to be collected by the teacher. It was fairly chaotic as there was only a handful of adult students as the vast majority were under the age of 10, wearing a rainbow of different colour swimming hats to make it easy to identify each ability class.  When Mr Triton, my swimming teacher, appeared he was friendly, Italian and extremely enthusiastic.  I was asked to swim a couple of lengths so he could observe and assess. I felt nervous but I was careful to breathe out underwater and tried not to swallow any when I breathed in. I turned to give him my best smile and waited for his assessment. Between you and I, I felt the swim had gone well and was quietly optimistic. However, whilst Mr Triton’s verdict was delivered with a smile, it wasn’t good news; “you’re breathing is good, but everything else is wrong so you’ll have to unlearn the wrong things and relearn again. It will be harder for you, than the rest of the class as they are just learning front crawl never having done it before.”

He then asked why I was in the class and what I was wanting to achieve. When I told him I had to complete a 1.2mile swim next June, he laughed. Then realised I was being serious….and quickly told me that I would be fine. I have to be honest, his reaction scared me, but I know that if it all goes wrong I could swim the distance breaststroke and I could do that now. But I am committed to learning properly.

He then proceedSwimmered to direct me to do length after length of “drills”. The first of which was swimming with my arms above my head (like Superman), my face pointing directly down at the floor (so I am swimming blind) and pointing my feet and kicking so my feet break the surface of the water. Apparently my body position isn’t high enough and my swimming isn’t “efficient” and this will help. But this is all I did for the rest of the lesson….it’s going to be a tough process this learning to swim properly. But I was reassured by Mr Triton that it would work. It might take a few weeks but he would have me swimming around that lake next June doing the front crawl. I will keep you informed.

Running is happening and I’m managing to fit it in a random times across the week. I haven’t yet managed to run 5k without a walk break, but I’m close.

Finally cycling. I’m not going to lie. I am struggling to fit everything in at the moment; running, swimming, work, family and daughter commitments and cycling seems to be the one that is missing out. I’ve managed a couple of spin classes but that’s it, so I have finally got around to setting up the turbo trainer that the “Unofficial Trainer” has lent me. It’s an ingenious device that turns your own road bike into an exercise bike. It is brilliant. I’ve only used it twice but I have it set up in the back room in front of the TV and I’m ploughing my way through “House of Cards”. Apart from the obvious fitness benefits of using the trainer, it has the even better benefit of allowing me to get to know my own road bike better. I have worked out that I have ridden it less than 12 times since I got it in April and I’m still not that confident with the gears. Riding the bike on the trainer and practicing with the gears, cleats and cycling shoes when I get them (please Father Christmas) will help me enormously when I emerge back out on the roads next Spring.

Therefore, at the moment, I’m feeling ok (or as OK as I ever do) about the running and cycling but slightly panicking about the swimming.

This is not the normal state of affairs for me, but let’s be honest – nothing about any of this is normal.

Over the next couple of weeks there will be more social events as the Christmas season kicks in and I am going to have to be more disciplined than usual. I’m motivated to improve, but I also love a gin and tonic and a mince pie. It’s a constant battle, but it’s a marathon not a sprint.

I want to be fearless, like my new training top, but at the moment, I’m feeling a bit fearful….hopefully that will change.fearless.jpg