What do you mean it’s a pandemic?

Life has a way of slapping you in the face just as you feel you are getting somewhere and this has always been my experience with running. I always find it hard, even after 6 years, but just when I’m getting somewhere and beginning to feel (dare I say it) strong, I fall down a pothole 2 days before a half marathon or twist my ankle.

I had carefully procured a place for Cardiff Half for the end of March and was beginning to feel good about it. Would this be the half marathon where I would be fit and run a proper race?

ENTER COVID…….and so errrrrr no.

I’ve had a good run (if you’ll pardon the pun) avoiding covid so far, but it’s a pandemic after all and so eventually my luck ran out. Myself and my eldest daughter tested positive first, followed by my youngest daughter two days later and then 5 days later my husband came down with it too. This meant, for the main part, I was isolating with teenagers. So if anyone has any questions about Tom Holland or Harry Styles, I can definitely help you. I’m also quite good at TikTok dances now and we did watch quite a lot of TV, paint our nails, do facepacks and tested new hairstyles quite a lot, but aside from that (which was actually quite joyful), the covid itself was horrible. I have asthma, I’m also triple jabbed and apparently Omicrom is less severe than previous strains, but I was quite poorly. My temperature spiked up and down and my breathing was awful. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind at all that had I caught covid before being jabbed that I would have almost certainly ended up in hospital.

Even after I finally tested negative, I was still feeling awful and not well. The exhaustion was brutal and I was napping constantly. My body felt ravaged. Mentally I was struggling too as I was also feeling very sad and anxious about the Cardiff Half.

The other thing that had happened whilst I had covid was that my left leg had locked up. It was painful and walking was not easy. Running was absolutely not possible at all and so I could feel desperation start to swallow me up. I had to make a decision and this is where M came in.

I am programmed to want to complete everything I enter. I sign up, I train and then do the race but Cardiff Half is not really what I’m training for this year. Yes 2 out of the 3 triathlons I’m doing have a half marathon at the end but I’m training for the triathlons, not the half marathon. So, the decision was made to not run the Half meaning that my first race of the year is now an Olympic distance triathlon mid May (I am also signed up for the Tour de Bristol which is a 100k bike ride in April, but this is not a race).

Deciding not to run Cardiff immediately took all the pressure away. I was able to build back up after covid with gentle training and no running for a further couple of weeks to allow my chest (which was still sounding like a bag of spanners) to recover properly. It was a total gamechanger and a much better and more sensible plan.

Therefore, since having had covid the emphasis has switched firmly to cycling and I’m doing 3 bike sessions a week. A 30 minute endurance ride, an interval session and a longer ride at the weekend.

I tend to fit these in around my daughters playing hockey and do my interval session on a watt bike at the gym whilst they train. The wattbike is an excellent piece of kit, but it seems to have the most uncomfortable saddle I have ever encountered. Goodness alone knows what the “serious looking gym boys” think when I arrive in my cycling padded shorts, with a padded saddle cover and sit there watching the TV on my phone (to distract me from my pain) and diligently following my plan. Last week, I somehow seemed to get into a pretend race with one of them as each time my interval (the fast bit) kicked in for 8 minutes, he pedalled even faster on his separate, not linked to mine at all, bike…..I don’t know who won but I looked like I’d just got out of the shower when I’d finished. Somewhat annoyingly, he didn’t even seem out of breath.

The bike section of the triathlon is the longest bit and if I am to have any chance of getting round Weymouth, I need to gain as much time as possible on the bike leg, to allow me to survive the run. So intensive bike training is going to continue. Luckily it’s my favourite bit, so I don’t mind the training so much.

I’ve also managed a few outside bike rides with my friends. I cannot tell you how much joy this aspect of training gives me. I’ve cycled to and from Bath a couple of times along the cycle path with the Auditor and this week Merida and I cycled to Clevedon for cake (it was very, VERY cold).

Since covid, I have run three times. Once as a 20 minute test (it wasn’t too bad) and then on Saturday I went to Chipping Sodbury parkrun with my eldest daughter and Merida. We met M and the Auditor there too – a flat parkrun is always a good idea! Merida got first in her age group and was delighted and I somehow managed to get a PB for Chipping Sodbury. I was pleased but very shocked. I guess it shows that all the base training is helping and working. Of course, M had already finished his 5k as I came round the corner for my final lap and so he offered to run with me. That kept the mind focussed I can tell you – running with the boss?!! But I suspect if I’d run the final lap alone, that I might have walked more and so wouldn’t had got a PB. So although I felt like I was dying on that final lap and desperately wanting to walk, but my pride now allowing me to, it lead to a good result.

The “covid recovery” weeks are now over in the training plan and so now it’s back to normal. Sleep and nutrition will once again be critical but we’re now 4 weeks out from the 100k bike ride (up mountains….I’ve looked at the route and frankly, what was I thinking?) and so we need to ramp things back up again.

Coooeeeee…it’s 2022

Well hello there?! It’s been a little while.

The last time I wrote a blog, it was before the Great North Run in September 2021 and I never wrote a race report. Where have I been? Why didn’t I write the race report?

These are very good questions.

Like many, many (if not all) people, I sort of ran out of steam last year. In fact, from a pandemic point of view, I found last year harder than 2020. Things were normal enough that we could do things, but it never felt easy and it never felt without risk. I was COMPLETELY exhausted by it all. I finished the Great North Run and as I travelled up and ran it alone, I felt very proud of myself and so on many levels it was a triumph. But it was also the slowest half marathon I’d ever run and so it left me feeling very flat. I needed some time away. I needed to re-group and I needed a new plan.

Incidentally, if you would like to see what happened at the Great North Run, I live vlogged it via my Instagram page @ladyclaireabell and it’s all saved in my highlights (the circles under my name when you look at my page. To be honest, it’s me rambling along before, during and after the race, but it does cover what my blog was supposed to, but didn’t.)

2019 was supposed to be my big race year. I did complete the 113 Middle Distance Triathlon, (albeit with a knackered ankle) which was supposed to be the trial run for the big event: Weymouth Half Ironman. But as you know, the Dark Summer meant that I never raced it. The aftermath of the Dark Summer took us into Covid and now here we are.

I’d become complacent. I still ran, I still lifted a few weights, but it was a bit half hearted with no real races to train for coupled with the never-ending anxiety about Covid and when would it ever end? I’d slowly gained a stone in weight (which other than my jeans feeling a little big snug around the middle), I don’t think you can really see, but it annoyed me. An extra stone when you’re cycling up hills isn’t helpful. Of course, it’s easy to try and ignore too when due to the pandemic, I largely exist now in clothes with an elasticated middle….

I was run/walking. Now again, run/walking is excellent. It’s a great way to run. It’s been very successful for me. My fastest 5k and 10k times ever are both thanks to a run/walk and you are less likely to get injured. These are all magnificent reasons to run/walk, but I want to be able to race. And fast. Not all the time, but at least once. To be fit and in good shape and to race. I’ve only ever managed a sub 3 hour half marathon once, and I was paced. I want to do it again. To race and know that I was fit and gave it my best and my all. 

Goals. I needed goals. I needed a plan and big race to motivate me.

So basically, 2022 is a re-run of 2019 (the race bits anyway).

I’ve signed up for the 113 again (lake swim 1.9k, Flattish bike 90k, flat run 21.2k) and this is early June. But this is the trial race, the test, the entrée. The main course is…again…Weymouth which is the same distances but the swim is in the sea, the bike is very hilly and the run is flat and along the seafront. Weymouth is in September.

I want to do it properly. I will almost certainly be one of the slowest over the finish line, but Weymouth has timing cutoffs and if you are too slow, they don’t let you start the bike, stop you half way round the bike course, don’t let you start the run. If you don’t finish in 8 hours 30 minutes, you don’t get a medal. The stakes are high (just how I like them) so I needed a proper plan. I needed a coach.

So I have a coach. We’ll call him “M”. If this makes me Bond, then I’m definitely more of a Daniel Craig (knackered knees, drinks slightly too much) than a smooth and efficient Sean Connery, but I’m Bond nonetheless.

M is in charge. He writes the plan, monitors my progress. Is tough when he needs to be and also knows when I’m knackered and need a little rest.

We started base training in October and spent the weeks before Christmas learning to run without walking again. Obviously there was some cycling and swimming each week, as well as my continued PT sessions with Fitbit Sister and Sara, but the main focus was running.

By Christmas I was back running 30 minutes without walking, relatively comfortably. I doubt it will ever be effortless as I’m not that kind of runner, but I shocked myself how quickly it came back.

Since Christmas, it’s fair to say that the training has ramped up quite a bit and I’m currently 7 weeks away from competing in Cardiff Half Marathon. We started the plan initially with a “3 weeks on and 1 week off” ie recovery week, but it didn’t take long to realise that it was too much. I started falling asleep in my dinner, needing lunchtime naps and usually by the beginning of the third week the wheels were coming off, so we changed it to 2 weeks on and 1 week recovery. This is MUCH better. I’m still tired, but knowing that a rest week isn’t too far away really helps psychologically.  I’m also a Mum to two teenage daughters, a wife and I run my own business. There isn’t a lot of free time and I’m fitting the training in before work, lunchtimes and after work.

A typical week (and I’ll talk more about this in future blogs) consists of:

3 runs (1 of which is intervals and 1 being a long run)

2 bikes (interval and a long ride)

2 swims (drills and a swim)

2 strength sessions (1 of which is PT)

And I have 1 rest day a week.

It is challenging and I’m struggling to work out what to eat and when as I’m ALWAYS hungry – it’s a work in progress and some days I get it right and some days I wake up at 3am because I’m starving. But I’m getting better at it.

So this is where I am and as you look at the training plan you’ll understand why I haven’t written too many blogs of late! I am very time poor but I will try and write more regularly now. Especially as we approach the first big race of the year.

BRING IT ON INDEED

Edit: the week after I wrote this blog, I caught covid. Prepare for everything to change……..

Operation “let’s run everywhere”…

It’s been 2 weeks since my last blog and Operation “let’s run everywhere” is in full swing.

The first week we were on holiday in beautiful Dorset. Glorious, hot, picturesque and…hilly. Oh my days….the hills! But I committed to 4 runs and so I completed 4 runs.

The first two runs of the week were with my friend, the Barefoot runner and these were idyllic. We ran, we walked, we chatted, we laughed and we did get a bit lost. But we had nowhere to be at any particular time and so just ambled our way out and back. The hills were horrible however and our speeds were slow, but importantly they were enjoyable. It was very hot and so sweat was a feature and I regretted not packing my hydration vest. I need to remember that in future.

For our second run, all of our daughters (we have 4 between us) and our husbands (who are regular running partners anyway) all went and I couldn’t help but giggle as we set off from our tents, running in a big group (at the beginning anyway!)  We had become the families that I used to look at in disbelief as they would set off running whilst on holiday. I mean, what kind of crazy people do that, I used to think? Well…erm…us. We are now those people. I am bemused about this, yet also proud.

The third run of the week was on my own (so instantly less enjoyable) and this was just sprints backwards and forwards down a lane for 30 minutes (including a warm up and cool down). Functional, sweaty but necessary. The final run of the week (yes 4 runs whilst I was on holiday – I am as shocked as you are) was parkrun! Yes, my first parkrun post covid and I am not ashamed to say that I bribed my entire family with a cooked breakfast post run to attend along with me.

As we arrived in the car park on the Saturday morning, I felt that old prickle of excitement that you get at the beginning of a race that had been absent for so long now – yes I know that Parkrun is not a race, before I get lots of angry messages, but it is a large group of people running together and it’s GLORIOUS.

We attended the “new timers” briefing and then we were off. Husband shot off as fast as ever and was quickly followed by eldest daughter (who has signed up for the Bristol 10k, so is in training and she’s fast) and then my youngest daughter went too. I’m so proud of my youngest daughter as she finds running tedious and challenging and so I empathise enormously with her but she keeps showing up and doing her best. She is of course, still faster than me as she runs and I run/walk but we all got round in one piece and in respectable times. I was grinning as I thanked each marshall for their time (I have been a marshall and I always appreciate it when people say this to me and so we must pay it forward). I can also report that the cooked breakfast was magnificent.

So that was the first week and I had completed 4 runs. This is the most I have run in well over a year and a good start. Not all the runs were feeling terrible and although they were painfully slow, I wasn’t hating it. However, I needed to be consistent and so I needed to replicate this in the following week.

But of course, being back at work and life returning to normal would mean that it would be easy to skip some runs, which is not ideal 5 weeks from a half marathon and so I needed a plan. I like running with other people and although I don’t mind running alone sometimes, I have deduced in recent weeks that to get through this training phase, I need company, and so I reached out to my network of running buddies.

I did and do feel anxious about doing this, as running 90/30 is not ideal for everyone, but I decided to be honest with the people I contacted and give them a pass to say no, especially if it didn’t fit in with their training plans. Transparency is key in these situations and I also knew that I would be happy to run with others if the tables were turned.

So last week I ran with Smiler for a short 2 mile burst before she then joined the “This Mum Runs” Wednesday social run afterwards and on Thursday I joined the Seamstress on a lovely lunchtime run between Eastville Park and Snuff Mills. The temperatures at the moment are not great for running and seem to be a constant reminder as to why I decided never to train for a half marathon over the summer again, but the conversation helps so much. Not only because these people are my friends and so it’s lovely to catch up with them, but also because it makes the runs enjoyable, and I need all the help I can get with that!

On Saturday it was “long run day” and so as I have in the past, I decided to utilise parkrun. I met with the lovely Catherine after 5k and we ran/walked the final 8.24k to, and including, parkrun making it 13.24k in total. I don’t mind telling you that afterwards I was shattered. The heat is hard to run in, as well as getting up with a 5 in the hour to ensure that I had eaten enough to cope with the distance, this coupled with the distance, meant that I was wiped out. I’m out of practice and you forget quickly how hard these bigger distances are on the body. I had also completely forgotten about chafing….but a sweaty 13k run will very soon remind you of that. I had sore bits and sudocrem was my friend in the days immediately after.

I met husband and youngest daughter at the end of parkrun (they had run it too) and we went home – Catherine ran home as she is training for a virtal marathon – legend. I was shattered, but for the first time in a long time, I began to believe that I would be able to run the distance.

My running buddy for the Great North Run, the Red Lady, is injured and so cannot run with me on the day itself and so this is daunting, but I am determined to do it. I am not going for a time. The aim is to simply get round in one piece, uninjured.

I was supposed to run yesterday, a recovery run, following my epic Saturday run, but I was too tired and so didn’t. Bt I did go out for a dog walk and leg stretch and this evening, I have done some strength work. Tomorrow I am already booked in for another run with Smiler and this time her lovely Mum which I am looking forward to. I also have 10 miles planned for next Saturday, using Eastville Parkrun again as part of the run.

I running the Great North Run for charity as you know, so if you are able to, please consider sponsoring me.

If everyone who reads this blog sponsored me for £1, I would hit my target and it would mean so much to me. I would be so happy to be able to give back to the charity that helped me when I most needed it.

Here is my Just Giving page details: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/claire-tiley

This week marks 4 weeks to go and my goal is to complete another 4 runs. Wish me luck.

Guess who’s back…

You will have no doubt noticed that it’s been nearly 6 months since my last blog and I’m sorry about this. It’s been a difficult six months (for all of us) including another sodding lockdown but for me it also included an injury. At the end of January (the weekend when it snowed) I set off to take part in the “Me-versus-me” challenge as set by my tri club. The idea is that you pick a 10k route and race the same stretch once a month, all year. The results would be recorded as a percentage increase or decrease only and then prizes would be given out at the end of the year.

Bolstered by my 10k time in the January race, and determined to do well in this challenge, I set off and completed the 10k in a respectable 75 minute or so time. The problem was it was so cold that something went pop and as a result I pulled my groin.

And my god, it was painful. I ended up in A and E and spent a week on some very interesting painkillers that meant I spent the week in bed as high as a kite to be able to manage the pain. There was no running for 8 weeks and if I’m being honest, it isn’t 100% perfect now.

This coupled with the third lockdown meant that I struggled during the first few months of this year from a fitness perspective and have also gained a bit of weight. Not a huge amount (and kind friends tell me they can’t really see it, but it’s enough that I feel it when I run and it’s slowing me down again). I ended up pulling out of the Olympic triathlon completely.

Since April though, I have at least been exercising a bit, but just not at the intensity that my body had gotten used to, and it has been a bit intermittent. One week I would do 3 spins on my bike, 2 runs, a swim and some weights and the following week only 1 run and a weights session. It’s been enough to keep my mental health ticking over, but not enough to get back to proper full fitness.

One positive point though is that I have restarted PT. Since April, I have been going with Fitbit sister to Silverthorne Fitness and this has been a consistent once a week fixture. Strength and weights are now fully ticked off and as the groin strain was so incredibly painful and debilitating, I am very keen that it not happen again. EVER. Sara (PT) is an excellent trainer and even if the rest of my training week has been a bit less than it should have been, it counts as a restart point each week. I have seen huge progress and am now lifting much heavier than when we started. Fitbit Sister and I are naturally competitive with each other too which helps and Sara definitely uses this fact in the sessions too. I love them and they have really helped me this year. We have a couple of weeks break coming up for holidays, but this is something I can see continuing indefinitely.

But running. Oh running. As always, when things are not great for me, it’s the one thing that stops. Honestly, I have been so worried about injuring my groin again, that for a long time I was too scared to re-start running and opted to swim and cycle instead. Regular readers of this blog will not necessarily be surprised by this but it doesn’t help when the Great North Run is now 7 weeks away and it’s 13.1 miles.

I have been so annoyed by the injury also that I have struggled to recover. At the beginning of the year, I was finally, FINALLY, getting my running to a point where I was making progress. I am a slow runner, but I would like to be faster and all that I was doing was beginning to work. To have been stopped, literally, in my tracks by an injury was frustrating on a whole new level. I try so hard and train so diligently, that it just isn’t fair and for a long time this year I was pretty pissed off about it all.
Work has also been very busy and so it’s been easy to not do as much as I need to. Of course, work has been busy in the past and I’ve managed to fit my training by running before or after work, but I was using it as an excuse and wasn’t committed in the way that I have been in the past.  

BUT….I’m pleased to say that I seem to finally be finding my way back.

I have been running a bit more over the past few weeks and as I write this, I am 7 weeks away from the Great North Run – 13.1 miles. I think this has also been part of my apathy, as we really didn’t know if the race would go ahead, and it’s difficult to find the effort to train for a race that might not even happen but now it seems to be confirmed.

I am delighted to be running this event for charity and will be part of the Bodie Hodges Foundation charity team.

These guys were amazing and offered me a place to run with them after my Mum passed away nearly two years ago and I have always been grateful to them for that. Therefore (for the first time ever I add), I am running the race for charity. Please consider sponsoring me and my efforts as they offer such a wonderful services to the bereaved families of children as well as raising awareness of organ donation. https://www.bodiehodgesfoundation.co.uk/

I would be really grateful if you could sponsor me a few quid.

Here is my Just Giving page details: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/claire-tiley

So with this in mind, and the pressure now being well and truly on,  I really do need to get my act together.

Tomorrow I am going to run 7 miles; run/walking obviously, there’s no reason to go mad, but it’s happening. This blog is my call to arms and has always in the past, acted first and foremost as an accountability post for myself. 3 runs a week and 7 weeks to go.

I’ve done it before, but this time it feels like it almost feels like starting over. Let’s do this.

5 years of running….

Happy New Year to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been the last week:

MONDAY PLAN: Yoga 30 mins + spin 30 mins

MONDAY REALITY: Ate chocolate and was depressed about lockdown.

TUESDAY PLAN: Swim + run 30 mins 3/35

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

WEDNESDAY PLAN: Weights 30 min + spin 40 min

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

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

REALITY: Was knackered after work and did nothing

FRIDAY PLAN: Planned rest day

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

SATURDAY PLAN: Run 40 minutes easy 3/1

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

SUNDAY PLAN: Bike/spin/turbo 90 mins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday:                  Rest

Saturday:             10k run

Sunday:                bike/spin/turbo 90 minutes                        

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

2021…are we nearly there yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give it some thought and maybe give it a try?

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

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

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

I wish you all a Happy New Year.

Triathlon is a summer sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully I will get faster……hopefully.

Stay safe out there lovely people.

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

Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay well and safe and thank you for reading.

Running at Burnham on Sea

Cycle 1 into Cycle 2

I have completed cycle 1 and have started cycle 2.

Here are my results.Cycle 1 results

Cycle 1 and 2 underwear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe everyone.

Garden 28 may 20202

90 days…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe everyone.