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

Ballot results and plans….

On the sporting front, 2018 has been a sparse medal year and a year of high highs and very low, lows.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on this during September as I was benched following my UGIDA (hemmaroids) surgery on the 5th. The operation was largely successful but unfortunately last week the doctor refused to sign me off completely due to one of the wounds “overhealing”…yes…trust me to have the most competitive bottom that wants to be the best at getting better. This means possibly some more unpleasant bottom related stuff in November, but we’re all hoping (me especially) that my body will correct itself naturally. The good news however, was last week the Doctor did give me the all clear to resume exercising.

I was delighted. Being unable to exercise when your body is used to it is tough. I have found it nearly debilitating at times. I have been uncomfortable, sore, grumpy, intolerant, sad and often tearful.  These days it’s part of who I am and so not being allowed to move was nothing short of heart breaking. I hate running, I love running, I hate running but I can’t do without it. I missed it….terribly.

Upon being given the all clear on Tuesday lunchtime, I knew instantly that I had to get straight back into my trainers. Not allowing any time for procrastination, I ran home from work that evening. I knew it would be hard and it was. It was horrendous. I could only run for 5 minutes before needing to walk a bit and my chest heaved. I struggled with breathing (as not running had meant that my asthma was back) and my insides burned, but I did it. 3.1k run and walked.  I re-read my old blog posts (from the beginning of 2016) and reminded myself that my body does know how to do it as it had done it before. It just needed to remember how to do it.

I set out again Thursday and had another lousy run. It was hard. I have gained a little bit of weight during my running hiatus and so I could almost hear my bottom applauding me as I ran down the Bath Road, but I was a tiny bit faster than the previous run and this motivated me. A win is a win after all.

Last night I ran home from work and finally my legs seemed to remember what they are supposed to do. Very slow yes, but I was able to run 2k before I needed a little walk and I took 6 minutes off my time from the previous week. I felt positive. I have been reassured by many that “muscle memory” will help and it won’t be long before I am back up to what I was able to do before. I am not patient as you know and I know it will take a couple of weeks to get there but I am determined to do it.

This week the London Marathon Ballot places are being announced. I found out yesterday that I have not been successful in the ballot and so as a result will not be running 26.2 miles next April around the streets of London. I felt not one scrap of sorrow when I saw the result. If I had have been lucky enough to get a place I would have trained and I would have completed it. But in my heart I feel that 2020 is my year for a marathon and I think it will take place overseas. 2019 is the year of the triathlon for me.

VLM Ballot result

The other reason I was relieved not to get a place is that last week I signed up for an even more ridiculous event. On the 9th June next year I will swim 1.2 miles, then cycle 56 miles and then run 13.1 miles in the Cotswold 113 middle distance triathlon. This is the same distance as a half ironman but importantly, for this triathlon there are no cut off times (very important when you are often the slowest runner on the circuit).

The London Landmarks Half marathon earlier this year, showed me that I am capable as long as I believe in myself. Unfortunately, thanks to UGIDA, I’ve not been able to test that theory since. But now, all bets are off and I really want to push myself.  What can I achieve?

However,clearly I have a long way to go over the next 8 months and so I have taken action and have already formulated a loose plan.

I have signed up for adult improvers swimming lessons (I start in November) and will learn to swim properly. I have a wetsuit on my Christmas list (this could be a challenge given that I am short and weeble like, but they must exist for the more rotund triathletes….right?) and next year I will swim in the lake more. This doesn’t sound like a hardship to me as I am lucky and I like swimming already.

I am very much looking forward to getting to know my bike better over the coming months. This was the saddest and most frustrating aspect of UGIDA for me. It struck me down when I first discovered cycling and so I was cheated out of a summer of cycling with my friends. I had to enviously stalk them on Strava (app where you log your training) as they disappeared to the coast for a cycle, quick cake stop off and then cycle home wondering if I could have kept up with them. Cake and cycling? These are two of my favourite things. I’m ready to join in this time.

Finally running. Oh running…where to begin. I know I can follow a training plan and I know I have it in me to go faster and faster. I am signed up for the Big Half in London next March so my plan until then is to get half marathon fit, whilst learning to swim and cycling as much as I can (I suspect the odd spin class will feature too).

Finally, I accept that I need to lift some weights. (I can almost feel the Unofficial Trainer’s sense of uphoria as I finally acknowledge this). Strength training will be key if I am to complete a half distance triathlon in 8 months time, so weights and I’m also considering having a go at Crossfit (but it scares me) in order to get strong.

I’m not sure how I’m going to fit it all in with a full time job and two hockey obsessed daughters that seem to have a tournament every weekend between them, but I will do my best. I want to succeed and improve and this is always half the battle.

But first, I need to get back up to a comfortable 5k and so will focus on this between now and Christmas. I will keep you updated on my progress.

Back running Oct 2018

 

*** Thank you to everyone who bought my book raising £1050 for MacMillan Cancer***

I hope that my blog shows that anything is possible if you put yourself out there and give it your best shot.  Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be re-posting the blogs that were in the book back onto the site. If you know anyone who is starting, considering or currently in the middle of couch to 5 k or even wondering if they can do it, please do point them towards it as I hope it will help them.

Sometimes it just isn’t your time….

I love cycling. I absolutely love it. I love that I can cycle fast, really fast and whilst I am not likely to win the Tour de France just yet, I feel pride that I am not terrible at it and don’t come last (something and a feeling that has so far evaded me in running,  no matter how hard I try).

According to my Garmin watch (something that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond movie), my top speed so far on my bike, Shiny Sheena, is 49 kilometres or 30 miles per hour. Admittedly this has only been once and I was going downhill, but it happened and it was exhilarating as it feels genuinely frightening cycling at this speed. Before I had my daughters, I used to own a pistachio green Vespa. Yes I was cool once! I loved it and pretended that I was riding through Rome rather than the streets of Bristol to and from work. Of course, now as I think back, I used to ride my Vespa such a short distance that the Me of today, would walk the same journey without thinking twice. But the Me of 2002-2007 never exercised and so I needed a Vespa to transport me the 2 miles to and from work. I feel sad as I think of all my past failed opportunities to exercise, but we are where we are and there is no point in looking backwards. The point I am trying to make here, is to travel the 2 miles to work on my Vespa, I used to wear heavy duty protective clothing, jacket and trousers in case I fell off, but I wasn’t even going as fast as I do on my bike, when I am only protected by comedy padded bottom shorts and a short sleeved top. I think this is what makes me slightly afraid but also why it’s so exciting and enjoyable.

Cycling outfitOver the past 12 months I have run on the Bristol to Bath Cycle path many times, but have never gone beyond Warmley. A few weeks ago, I persuaded Husband to take the day off work and accompany me to Bath on our bikes. It was a glorious day and we really, really enjoyed it. I didn’t struggle at all as we rode into Bath. We didn’t go slowly and genuinely I didn’t feel tired and was sure that I could have cycled for longer. I was actually sad when we arrived and inwardly wished that Bath was more than 13 miles from Bristol. A quick pizza lunch later and we were on the return leg of our journey, needing to be back in time for the required “school run”. Interestingly this time, Husband was struggling a bit on his clunky and heavy hybrid bike and so since then has been riding my bike and is now checking out road bikes for himself. I predict a Duathlon (Cycling and Riding) at least for him next year. It was good to do a longer ride and it showed me that my legs are strong. It is good to feel positive about things once in a while.

Swimming is something I enjoy and as regular readers of this blog will know, since Christmas I have re-learned how to swim front crawl. For the Westonbirt Tri I swam half breaststroke and half front crawl but for the upcoming Portishead Tri I planned to swim it all front crawl.

The immediate thing I learned upon completion of the Westonbirt Tri was that I LOVE triathlon and will be doing more, but most triathlons have the swim section in a lake and for this you need a wetsuit. Having bought a road bike this year, I would need to save my pennies to get a decent wetsuit and so I put all thoughts of lake swimming off until next year…or so I thought. The very hot, and wonderful summer that we have experienced so far for the past 6 weeks has meant that you do not need a wetsuit to swim in a lake. The Triathlon Training Centre is located in North Bristol and I follow their facebook page. One evening it was announced that wetsuits were banned as it was too hot and so I knew I had to go and give it a try. No need for a wetsuit and so no real excuses not to go. I contacted RubyRed to see if she wanted to accompany me and as we sat looking out at the lake, in our trisuits, on the “pontoon of procrastination” as we fondly call it, lots of thoughts raced through my mind. The most pressing was whether I would be able to even swim in a trisuit with sleeves and then there was the topic of temperature. Even with a wetsuit ban in place, the first leap into a lake is likely to be “refreshing” to say the least. As I jumped in, I couldn’t breathe for the first couple of seconds as the temperature hit me, but slowly regained my composure and we were off.

Pontoon of procrastination

The chap in charge of the lake is called Mike and he is quite a character to say the least. He is extremely suntanned and wears an enormous hat which makes him look not unlike Bristol’s answer to Crocodile Dundee. He has a terrible sense of humour but is also highly experienced in triathlon and had some very good advice for me. They also run beginner’s classes and he is very enthusiastic and encouraging. The lake is a 600m loop and you swim clockwise and between bouys. It sounds daunting but even I can touch the floor in most places at my grand height of 5 foot 3 and a half (the half is very important). When RubyRed and I finally managed to get in the water and had completed our loop, he was wildly complementary and congratulatory. Everyone needs a cheerleader like Mike. The centre also has a running track and a cycle loop so you can practice changing between the disciplines and can also complete a triathlon there if you want to practice.

I have since been back to the lake 3 times, the second time swimming two loops having met Merida there after work. 1393m is the furthest I have swum since school and most of it was front crawl which shows me that, as with most things, the thought and fear of doing something, ie swimming front crawl continuously, is much worse than the reality. Of the 1393m I would guess that at least 1000m was swam front crawl. My technique still needs work but I felt quite proud of myself as I sat back on the “pontoon of procrastination” considering my acheivement.

Running has also been happening, but not quite as often. It’s included a glorious trail run at Blaise Castle in the all important shade of the trees as well as a couple of exploring runs with Hattie. One thing I have noticed is that although I am running less (cycling and swimming more) my times are gradually increasing which shows very clearly that cross training, using different muscles, helps running immensely. On a personal level this is magnificent. If I can run less often (and when I say less often I am still running twice a week) but still manage to retain my speed or even increase it then I am a very happy person!

Unfortunately, as we edge towards the Portishead Tri, I am afraid to say that disaster has struck and I am once again under the spell of UGIDA. (Unwanted Guests in the Downstairs Area – or hemmaroids). Yes they are slightly embarrassing, but what can I tell you, they are extremely common. Lots of people have them (although they may not be as vocal about them as me) and they are quite literally a pain in the ass. But critically for me, cycling and running aggravate them enormously. They have plagued my training since April this year and my body seems to have no regard whatsoever for my fitness goals and plans for 2018.

I have surgery scheduled to have them removed on the 5th September which I am reliably informed is “quite painful” (why do people feel the need to tell you that by the way?  I mean I know what’s going to happen, it will involve a knife and I’m not an idiot, but I don’t need it spelled out for me so it induces a mild panic everytime I think about it!?) and will put me out of action for a month or so. The recovery is no driving for 10-14 days (so I will be working from home trying not to eat cake), then gentle walking and then I am allowed to start running again after 4 weeks in order to then start building up distances again. I was hoping that my body would hold it together to allow me to complete the Portishead Tri but after much soul searching I have decided to withdraw. I am very sad about it but I know it’s the right decision. Even if UGIDA subsides in the short-term to allow me to compete on the day, there is every chance that competing would cause aggravation and then I would be in pain and it would spoil our family summer holiday.

As one of the wise UberTri Mums said, “it’s times like this that it’s important to remember why we train in the first place”. For me, if I go right back to the beginning of this, it’s about my daughters and family and being fit enough to enjoy an active family life. It doesn’t really follow therefore that a medal is worth sacrificing our summer holiday for and my husband and daughters don’t like seeing me in pain anymore than I enjoy being in pain. Once I realised that, it was easy to make the decision. Also having withdrawn from the Tri means that I don’t feel under any pressure to run or cycle and so I will not be running or cycling now until October this year, post surgery.

I am signed up to the Big Half in London on Sunday March 10th 2019 and so have plenty to motivate me to get back up to speed quickly after the operation. I am also going to complete an Olympic Triathlon next year – this will be a 1.5k swim (probably in a lake) a 40k bike ride and then a 10k run. This will be a huge challenge but I’m excited for it. My Christmas list is certainly looking different for this year including a wetsuit and cleats (cycling shoes) than previous ones where it simply stated “Clarins and perfume”.

But for now, I need to be sensible and try not panic about losing all my fitness that I have spent the last 2 and half years building up. There is still plenty I can do, so I will keep swimming, using weights (gently) and today I went to my first Ashtanga Yoga class which was extremely difficult and challenging. I genuinely thought it would be a good stretch with some breathing whereas the reality is that I suspect I may not be able to lift my arms over my head tomorrow without wanting to cry. Still I need to keep challenging myself. This year has not gone the way I wanted it to – after the London Landmarks triumph I had plans of sub 75 minute 10ks and the two Triathlons with the second being faster that the first. But life does not always go the way you want it to. My body doesn’t care about my plans it seems and so there will not be any more medals for me this year.

I’ll blog again later in the year as I restart my running journey after my surgery and until then I wish you all a wonderful Summer.

 

 

Swim, bike, run, medal

2 days ago I completed a Sprint Triathlon. If I had told myself this two and a half years ago, I would have wet my pants laughing at the prospect, but there we have it. It’s true. I have the medal (and it’s my favourite medal too).

I think it’s important to remember where I started before I recount Monday’s exploits because I really and completely truly believe that if I can achieve a Sprint Triathlon, then quite literally anyone can. You can do anything you put your mind to if you want to do it enough. The fact that the idea scares you is not a reason not to try because the more the idea scares you, the greater the sense of achievement and more alive you feel because of it. Two and half years ago, the idea of running terrified me but knew that I needed to do something drastic to improve my health. I wanted to be an active, not lumpy Mum and I needed to set my daughters a better example. So I downloaded the couch to 5k app and over the past 2 and half years have persevered with what has become the most complicated relationship of my entire life. Running. I am not fast. I am not a natural runner. Most of the time I actively hate it. It makes me swear and often cry……but it has also given me more than anyone could have ever predicted. Not only a 4 stone weightloss, healthier heart, longer life expectancy (we hope), lower cholestorol, peace of mind, better sleep and the ability to eat (within reason) whatever I like as well as a haul of medals, but most importantly it has given me good friends, my squad, my tribe. I am part of a family of women who all met through running. I would not have met these people if it wasn’t for running; Hattie, Curly Sue, Merida, Miss Fonda, Ariel, Ruby Red, Captain, LA Blond, the list goes on and on. Two and half years ago I didn’t know any of them, but now count some to be part of my “inner circle” of great friends.

So if you are about to start on a couch to 5k course using whatever means you have chosen (app or running group), don’t be afraid of being afraid. Embrace it and remember that you can do it if you really want to do it…and one day it might lead you to a triathlon medal!

So enough of the mushy stuff….let’s talk triathlon. There is more to triathlon than swimming, cycling and running. There is also the complicated lesson of logistics. In order to participate in a triathlon you have to transport your bike to the venue and this requires a bike rack. Now we have a bike rack, but it comes out maybe twice a year and we always need to watch a youtube video to remember how to rack the bikes onto it. The Red Lady and I were due to start our swim at 7.41am, which meant in order to have enough time to get everything sorted out before we started we would need to set off at 5.30am. Ugh. I am not a morning person and I believe that the only reason you should ever be up at 5am is to board a plane for a holiday….but at this time of the morning we needed to be ready to go and faffing about getting the bikes on a rack wasn’t an option. Therefore the Red Lady bought her bike round on Sunday evening and thank goodness she did. After 45 minutes of trying to get the bikes onto the rack during which we all got covered in oil, we finally got the bikes on to then discover that the car would not go in the garage with the bikes  on. Needless to say, there was swearing…..so the next morning, my very lovely Husband got up with me at 5am to help rack the bikes up and at 5.30am the Red Lady and I were away and off on our adventure. (Husband and daughters were to arrive later but in time to cheer me on for the run.)

When we arrived at Westonbirt House, the location of the Sprint Triathlon, we had to go and collect our race pack which had instructions for transition (the area where you go from swim to bike and then bike to run, essentially where you leave all your kit), lots and lots of stickers (to put on your bike and helmet) and race number tattoos. As I have already said, I am not good in the morning and nerves, coupled with my general ineptitude first thing in the morning resulted in my leg looking like this when I had finished.

race-tattoo.jpg

So now as I was clearly looking professional….the Red Lady and I headed off towards the swimming pool to await instructions. The swim leg was 400m and I had been allocated “lane 2, position 1” which meant I was given a red swimming hat. The Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon is put on by a company called DB Max and they are brilliant. I don’t know if all triathlons are like this, but every single Marshall on Monday was superb. The lady in the pool explained with expert clarity that red hats would go in first and that there would 5 swimmers per lane, each wearing a different coloured hat and we would be starting in 10 second intervals. We were each in charge of counting our own number of lengths but there was also a person counting at the end of each lane who would help. If you are tapped on the feet whilst swimming, you must let the tapper overtake you at the end of the length then when you’re done you jump out and then you’re off to transition. Pretty simple. I was off first (being a red hat) and I did feel the pressure as I knew everyone would be chasing me. The Red Lady and a TMR Mum Jemima, was also in the same wave but a different starting position. Despite having practiced my front crawl religiously since January, I am ashamed to say that as I sat listening to the Marshall, surrounded by other triathletes (some of which looked fairly experienced) I lost my bottle and at the last minute changed my plan of swimming all front crawl, to swimming alternate breaststroke then front crawl. I was tapped on the foot twice but on the whole I was pleased with my swim. I had set myself the target of completing the swim in less than 12 minutes and my chip time (which you wear on a strap around your ankle) registered 11.35. I marked it up as a success.

What I hadn’t practiced however, was getting out the pool and getting to my bike in a soaking wet trisuit. I had practiced getting off the bike into a run but not the swim to bike. Westonbirt is also slightly unusual in that there is a 600-700m run from the swimming pool to the transition area (where my bike was) and I was surprised by how weird it felt. I got out the pool and ran to my towel, quickly dried my feet and put my shoes and socks on and tried to run. It wasn’t easy. My legs were wobbly and I felt strangely self conscious as there were lots of spectators walking around, getting in my way too ( “please MOVE I am doing a triathlon” – I muttered inwardly to myself, or words to that effect…) as well as swimmers in later waves walking to the pool. Everyone was offering support but as most trisuits are black, it’s impossible to see who is wet and who is dry so it was a confusing run.

The rules of the transition are plentiful but they all follow a common sense theme. You are not allowed to touch the bike until you are wearing your helmet and this follows that when you come back in from the bike leg, you are not allowed to take your helmet off until you have parked your bike. Safety, safety and safety. I didn’t rush in transition (I should have been quicker really and I will be quicker on future triathlons) but I didn’t want to break any rules. The Red Lady caught me up and we had a little chat as we prepared ourselves. I am quintessentially British and spend a lot of my life worrying about being appropriately dressed for the weather. One of the things I was most worried about on Monday (other than getting up at 5am) was whether I would be cold on the cycle. I would be wet…and hopefully travelling quite quickly so in theory could get very cold. Therefore I decided to put a Tshirt on for the cycle, somehow rationalising that this would keep me warm over a soaking wet trisuit!

There is a “line” at the edge of transition and you cannot get onto your bike until you are over it and also you are not allowed to cross the line coming back from the cycle whilst on your bike. Again safety, safety, safety. You must not ride your bike in the transition zone in case you hurt someone. The DB Max Marshalls were all positioned perfectly – as you headed out to the run the Marshall here had a loud booming voice, full of encouragement and enthusiasm, calling everyone “Runner” and telling us we could all “do it” and we were “amazing”. By contrast, the Marshall situated by the transition line entering and leaving the bike area shouted instructions at us reminiscent of a Sargeant Major but he had clearly decided that not one triathlete would forget the rule and risk disqualification on his watch, so barked at us loudly. It was a bit scary coming in as he shouted at me to “remember the line and get off your bike” but it was invaluable as I had spotted my family and was more intent on waving at them than remembering to get off the bike before the transition line.

As the Red Lady and I headed out to embark on our 24k cycle I felt excited. Now as much as I struggle with running, the opposite is true of my bike. Prior to Monday, thanks to my UGIDA, I had only managed 3 rides on my bike but I had always felt that this would be the strongest section for me and I wasn’t wrong. I quickly sped away and really began to push the cycle. For much of the ride I was on my own, surrounded my beautiful countryside and I found myself nodding to early morning dog walkers and then talking to the horses that were watching from the fields. “Good Morning Mr Horse” I shouted to them, like a crazy woman, but smiling. I felt truly happy. Also mindful of the advice of a professional contact, Mr Lapin, who had advised that I needed to “not come last and overtake a man” I made sure that I overtook the first man I saw (I don’t think he was very happy) and I was not last. I was ecstatic. I love cycling. I sped down the hills so fast that I wanted to squeal and pushed up the hills, digging in, not wanting to slow down. It’s a slippery slope though as I am already eyeing up cleats, new pedals etc but I am confident that I can be good (or at least not completely rubbish) at cycling. I mean, my enormous glute muscles must be good for something!

Westonbirt Sprint Tri – 28.5.18 – www.dbmax.co.uk

Finally, I got off the bike and almost into the arms of the enthusiastic Marshall as I set off on the run. My legs were wobbly and they felt very tired. I hadn’t been cold on the cycle as I had feared because it was warm and muggy and because I was peddling my little heart out. My average heartrate on the cycle was 150 beats per minute and I was hot when I got back. A trisuit is essentially a very large pair of spanx and it hides NOTHING. It is not an outfit for the body conscious but I think it says something about the atmosphere on Monday that in transition, I pulled my Tshirt off and ran in only my trisuit without really giving it too much thought. Westonbirt Sprint triathlon is an event for all types of athletes, all levels of fitness and all shapes and sizes, all doing their best and working towards that medal. I didn’t look out of place as I ran in my black lycra outfit. The run was nothing short of horrendous. It was here that the 5 weeks when I was unable to train properly due to UGIDA really showed. I had planned to run/walk the final 5k 3 minutes and 30 seconds, but this didn’t really happen. My legs didn’t seem to work properly at all but at the same time worked very fast. I couldn’t seem to take normal size strides…so was running in a fashion akin to someone in a Benny Hill sketch running to pat a bald man on the head with comedy music accompanying me. I was 5 minutes ahead of the Red Lady at the end of the cycle but she caught me up. We passed each other (the run was laps) before she caught me and she was clearly enjoying the run as much as I was as she shouted to me “I don’t like you very much at the moment”….. She didn’t mean it, I don’t think!!! 5 minutes later she had caught me and slowed down for a quick chat. I urged her on telling her not to wait and she was off. She was so strong on Monday and I am so proud of her.

On the final lap, I was really hurting but my cheer squad, Husband and Daughters, cheered me over the line and I was ecstatic. The finishers “high” was immense and I don’t think I have experienced a high as big since my very first 10k in 2016. I am a triathlete! I cannot believe it. I am very proud of myself.

Westonbirt Tri - RUN

There was 444 competitors on Monday and I came 380th in the swim, 385th on the bike and 434th in the run. I am always found out on the run.

Over a celebratory breakfast with Curly Sue this morning, we have formulated a plan which will hopefully help me to run faster (finally) and be stronger. I am going to redo couch to 5k but hopefully running faster and slow jogging the walking bits. I’m going to continue cycling (have I mentioned that I love it?!) and swimming but I’m also going to embark on serious strength training. I have ordered some weights and I will get strong. I want to do more triathlons and I’m also considering a wetsuit to try some lake swimming as I would like to do a longer Olympic Distance triathlon. But I don’t want my running to always undo all of the progress made by the swim and bike. I’m also entered for the Portishead Sprint Triathlon in early August so plenty to focus the mind.

So I enter a new phase….again! Get fast and get strong.  Arm wrestle anyone?….