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.

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