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

Runniversary and a new decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s find out.

Decade to decade photo

Teamwork makes your dreams work….

I apologise in advance. I’m not good at brevity at the best of times, but this is going to be long. A cup of tea is probably a good idea……

When we pulled up at the lake on Saturday afternoon to register for the race, it’s fair to say that I was feeling a bit odd. I was highly emotional due to a lovely post that had gone out on “This Mum Runs” earlier in the day which told 70,000 women about my couch to triathlon journey and then hundreds of women sent me messages of support and luck via facebook and Instagram. I had no idea what was going on when my phone suddenly went bananas as I was faffing about trying to cram 7 changes of clothes into a Kitbrixx bag. I sat on my bed reading them in floods of tears. I was now not only worried about letting my daughters down if I didn’t cross the line, but also the ladies (most of whom I have never met) that were all counting on me to get around too. I felt determined yet completely terrified.

But when we arrived at the lake to register, Merida and I started bumping into people we knew who all were smiling and the briefing itself was friendly, reassuring and importantly, very inclusive. Numbers collected, cups of tea drunk and we set off for the hotel, which was a short 10 minute drive away.

Bikes

Our room was comfortable, even with Han Solo and Shiny Sheena accompanying us (triathlon attracts thieves unfortunately and so we had been strongly advised to take our bikes with us into the room with us.) An early dinner at 6pm was followed by 90 minutes of more faffing, packing and repacking kit ready for the morning. We watched an episode of Killing Eve and lights were off at 10.15pm as the hotel were putting on a triathlete’s breakfast at 4am. There was also a wedding on in the hotel and the guests were noisy and this coupled with my general nerves meant that when the alarm(s) went off at 4am, I felt about as rested as Santa Claus after a busy Christmas Eve.

I had never wanted to eat less and yet it had never been more important, so I forced down some porridge and we were off. Merida was calm and although we both felt tired, we were quite jovial as we arrived in transition and racked our bikes. I tried to look like I had a clue what I was doing, but the cat was already out of the bag with that one as after a week of faffing, I had forgotten to pack something to wear TO the event. I was the only triathlete that arrived with a pair of Levi’s on over my bikini bottoms, but I don’t think anyone noticed as everyone was busy getting their stuff ready so they could change, grab their bike and get out quickly after the swim.

I greased myself up with body glide, used plastic bags to get into my wetsuit, was zipped in, zipped others in, and then we went to watch the first wave set off. I felt sick. I felt like I would see my porridge again any minute and I had to fight tears but managed to keep it together, mainly. Breeder of Boys was there, and she is an extremely experienced triathlete who is currently training for Ironman Barcelona and she gave me a reassuring hug. It was quite chilly at 6am on Sunday and the air temp was about 7-8 degrees. My feet were cold as I waited on the banks of the lake and I was worried about how cold the lake was going to be, but it was actually much warmer than the air temp. I waited at the back of the pack of the “green hats” and as the watching crowd counted down backwards from 10, I tried to steel myself for the what I was about to do. As “go” was shouted and most of the swimmers swam off, I counted to 10, said a little prayer and then set off.

When I swam in the lake on the weekend before, it was beautiful and clear. On Sunday it was churned up and muddy. I tried to do everything that coach George had taught me, relaxed my arms, breathed deeply and just got into a routine. There were lots of fast swimmers that went off like a rocket, but there were plenty of slower swimmers too, some breast stroking, some alternating between front crawl and breaststroke and I felt happy swimming along with them. All was going well and I was trying really hard not to think about the fact that not once, had I actually swam the whole 1900m before today, when the wave that had started after us, the orange hats, caught us up. These guys were Cotswold 113 Tri – 9.6.19 – www.113events.comtaking no prisoners and were very keen to get through. Thankfully nobody swam over me or ducked me as per the horror stories that I had read and panicked about, but I did get kicked in the chest and hit on the head. This lead to some water swallowing and some coughing, but I managed to recover and before I knew it, I could see the big red arch that was at the end of the swim and I could hear Dave (legendary triathlon Marshall who is the most encouraging person you will ever meet) shouting for us to swim to him. I started to kick my legs hard to ready them for the next part of the race. I arrived at the arch and as I tried to get out, I tripped and was almost dragged out by the marshals, but I was out and was relieved.

But no time for celebration now. I ran to transition, taking my wetsuit off and arrived at my bike.

On Friday afternoon, as I was sat at my desk, stressing about the triathlon, I received a message from Merida that floored me. She said she had decided that rather than go for a time herself, she would like to complete it with me on Sunday. Almost the next step in our crazy friendship; 10k, Half Marathon and then half Ironman triathlon. (I never pretended it was a normal friendship!) After some tooing and froing which involved me checking that she was being serious, several times, I quickly agreed. We had to have a plan as there are rules in triathlon which mean, particularly on the bike, you cannot travel too close together or “draft” each other, as you will be disqualified. Drafting is where one rider sits in on the back wheel of the cyclist in front meaning they gain an unfair advantage as they are not being buffeted by the wind and so don’t have to work too hard. With this in mind, we needed to be careful.

So, the plan was that Merida and I would meet in transition after the swim as we are similarly paced (Merida completed the swim in 50 minutes and I in 53) and then we would set off together on the bike but not too closely. We agreed a pace of 15 miles per hour (we both have computers on our bikes that tell us this stuff) and I would keep Merida in my sights. This pretty much worked well over the whole cycle. Merida would be in front and at times I could just see her in the distance, other times I was closer. A couple of times I overtook her and we had a little chat on the way past and a few times we cycled side by side, but always we were careful not to draft.

Cotswold 113 Tri – 9.6.19 – www.113events.com

I found the first 10k of the bike quite tough because I was cold. I was wearing a wet triathlon top, arm warmers and had swapped my bikini bottoms for proper (and padded) cycling shorts because 90k is a long way. In the early part of the bike I struggled to warm up. The air temperature at 7am was around 10c and it felt fresh. I was worried but just dug in thinking about what Merida had given up to race with me and also my daughters who I was going to be seeing later. I remembered the words of Triathlon Mum to me who had contacted me the night before to impart her wisdom, “eat like it’s Christmas Day on the bike” and so I diligently ate protein flapjack and drank my carb drink, regularly. The problem was as I approached 40k, that drinking half the lake after being hit on the head, coupled with plentiful drinking was not good for my bladder so I cycled up to Merida and requested that we stop at the feed station which was approaching for a comfort break. Merida was also in need, so sped off to get there first to minimise queuing and I arrived shortly afterwards.

As I got off my bike, I came over a bit wobbly and lightheaded. The Marshall approached me quickly and suggested that for the next 20k, I ease back a bit as I would need my legs for the run (remember that, it’s important……!) and I agreed. A quick comfort stop in a leaning portaloo, which had liquid on the floor (don’t think about it) was akin to ice skating in bike cleats and so I was quick.

For the following 20k we did ease back a bit, but the sun was out and I was no longer cold. I kept eating and drinking, thanking each volunteer Marshall we passed for giving up their time and before I knew it, were at 80k. My back and bum were beginning to complain after nearly 4 hours on the bike and so I was beginning to look forward to the run.

As we pulled around the corner to the dismount line and then into transition, I saw eldest daughter and Fitbit sister waiting for us. They were cheering and very excited, immediately getting on the phone to tell my other family members that we were back in and would be running past them soon.

At this point I felt quite confused and angry. It’s hard to explain. I was very pleased with how the bike leg had gone and had completed it in 3 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds. This is massively under my target 4 hours with Strava giving me an average speed of 23.9 kph or 14.8 mph. If I could be bothered to work it out, I know that the first 40k would have been much faster than the average speed too, so I had no reason to be feeling negative, but I was.

If the race had ended there, I would have been elated, but of course, I now had to run a half marathon and it was quickly dawning on me that I still had at least another 3 hours ahead of me. But nonetheless, I quickly changed, picked up my electrolyte drink and off Merida and I ran. My family were cheering and although I felt tearful, the presence of my daughters made me hold it together, until we were out of their view at least…

Of course, once they couldn’t see us, I started to cry. I had a banging headache and honestly wasn’t sure I could do another 3 hours of this. Merida, in her famous gold shorts, quickly swung into action and got me going again. I can’t believe it, but with exception of a loo stop (a proper loo, it might have been the best sit down of my life) we pretty much (but not entirely) ran the whole of the first 7k loop. It was very slow and much slower than I had been hoping for, meaning that a 3 hour half marathon wasn’t going to happen, but at this point it was very clear that the goal was simply to finish.

There were 3 water and feed stations on the run which was 3 x 7k loops. The first one, next to the toilets, was for water, the second was water, flat coke and energy gels and the third was a veritable buffet; crisps, pretzels, peanuts, jelly babies, jellybeans, cake you name it, it was all there.

On the first lap, Merida used the feed stations like the proverbial carrot – “come on, run until we get the next station and then we’ll rest”, and I obediently shuffled forwards as best I could. At each station I gulped water, then flat coke, but didn’t really want anything to eat as my stomach had really begun to hurt. I forced a couple of pringles down as I knew I needed the salt and it was hot. I learned many things on Sunday, but one of the most important ones was not wear a black tri suit.

I was boiling and it wasn’t helping my headache. Also peeling myself in and out of a black, damp from sweat, tri suit to use the toilet was horrendous. I seemed to turn into some kind of contortionist as my shoulder seemed to dislocate itself as I tried to get back into it again afterwards and on one of the three visits (one of each loop), I had to  be helped back in by a confused looking lady who was queuing with her daughter to use the loo after me.

As we were finishing lap 1, I steeled myself to see my family and promised to hold it together in front of them, but sadly I couldn’t seem to. They were all cheering but I looked into the eyes of Hockey Sister and stated tearfully “this is so hard” as Merida shuffled me through again. My sister has since told me that I scared her at this point and she mentally put all her faith in Merida to get me over the line.

End of lap 2Now this is the point where I hit “The Wall”. I’ve heard about it of course. Apparently, it happens around mile 22 on a marathon when your body has used all of your glycogen supplies and effectively you are running on empty. However, for most marathon runners this is anything from 2-5 hours in and I was in the middle of hour 6 of my triathlon.

I sobbed, my head was killing me, I couldn’t catch my breath, I dry retched being sure I would vomit, but nothing came up. Everything hurt. Everything. My ankle ached and my stomach was suffering severe stabbing pains. Anything I put into it including water, made it worse. I genuinely have no idea how Merida didn’t punch me in the face during that hour as I must have been the most miserable and pathetic run buddy the world had ever seen. But somehow she managed not to. She has since told me, that there were periods of that loop where she had severe doubts that she would get us both over the line, and it is completely down to Merida and her resolve, smiling and general magnificence that she managed it.

I don’t really remember much at all about the final loop to be honest. I was still crying and dry heaving off and on and at certain points had to ask Merida which way we were supposed to be going (as I couldn’t remember) but then, finally, we were at the end. The finish line was in sight and somehow (and I have absolutely no idea how) I broke into a sprint. I could not believe that the end was there, finally, in front of us. Mike, the triathlon Marshall that had dragged me out of the lake earlier, was cheering and so were my family. I saw my daughters grinning and teared up again. Merida took my hand and we powered down the finish line to collect our medal.

Finish sprint

I love this photo. Not just because it demonstrates real friendship and support. Not just because it shows we completed it. But most importantly because if you look over my right shoulder, you can see one of my daughters watching me finish. The look on her face makes all the pain worthwhile.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was truly horrendous in parts and overall I was third from last (somehow I beat Merida in the sprint finish so was 0.5 seconds faster than her overall, of which I do have some guilt!) Lap 2 of the run was on a par with childbirth but somehow my friend got me round. Merida you really are a complete marvel. I am so grateful that you are my friend and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

ChampagneI was happy to have finished but me being me, I was also a bit disappointed with how badly the run had gone. But I shouldn’t really have been surprised because as you know, my running suffered a hefty setback this year and so I was in no way run fit and it was really only a couple of weeks ago I decided to do the whole thing. I completed the half marathon in 3 hours and 31 minutes and so my total time for the 113 triathlon was 8 hours and 31 minutes. If Sunday had been Weymouth Half Iron 70.3 (which I am doing in September) I would not have received a medal as I would have missed the cut-off by 60 seconds and this is a sobering thought.

So lots of work to do on my running to come before Weymouth, but first I’ll allow myself a few days off and a few glasses of champagne with my triathlon buddies.

 

 

The fourth discipline of triathlon is faffing…..

Faffing. It’s an official triathlon word that is used to describe the action that happens around a triathlon. Overthinking would be another word that would work well for this also.

For a triathlon, there is an enormous amount of “stuff” you need and the “kit lay” photo I will take on Saturday evening THIS WEEK, will probably need a wide zoom lens, possibly panoramic, to get it all in.  When I did the sprint triathlon last year, I wore a triathlon suit, which is like a long swimming costume that has a small chamois in it (which is the bike padding bit) that you wear for the swim, bike and run. But the distances required for the upcoming 113 triathlon render the, frankly laughably thin, chamois completely unusable for a 56 mile bike in particular and so I have spent more time stressing, faffing and overthinking the age old question of “what should I wear” to the triathlon, than for my wedding day. The professional triathletes seem to complete the whole thing in a swimming costume, but they have much less body fat than I do and their thighs don’t applaud them as they run along…so what to do?

As always, I turned to the professionals. Coach George Clack of https://bristolopenwater.co.uk/ had overheard a conversation I was having following one of the open water swimming lessons I have been having about wanting to do a practice tri (or Trytri) and offered to accompany me for the swim and the bike part of it. I accepted gladly and arrived as promised on the Wednesday afternoon.

It is very easy for faffing to take over when setting up your bike and transition area and George was very clear about not letting this rule your race. I racked my bike, got my bike and running shoes ready, socks unrolled and a towel and then got into my wetsuit. George is very calm and when you are freaking out internally, you need calm.

We got into the lake and waited to start. I am worried about the scrum that can happen at the beginning of an open water race but George put me at my ease. Let the racers go, count to 10 and then set off. Yes I’ll be behind them, but am I expecting to win the race? (I tried to keep a straight face) no, then setting off 10 seconds later to keep out of trouble, is worth the sacrifice. So I started my watch, waited 10 seconds and then swam off. I kept myself relaxed and got into a rhythm and before I knew it, I was out and running towards my bike, unzipping my wetsuit using a couple of tips that George had given me before we started.

At the bikes, I started to get a little frazzled. George’s mantra of calm, once again helped and I slowed myself down and looked at the task in hand. For a 56 mile bike ride, it’s important to be comfortable and so I was trying out putting on proper cycling shorts over my tri suit (for the extra padding) to see if this would work, and then taking them off again for the run. George’s philosophy again of taking a couple of extra minutes to ensure comfort would hopefully pay off and so before I knew it I was ready to start the bike section. Putting on shorts had taken an extra 20 seconds so after all that faffing, the difference in time for my transition was neglible.

The bike is always my favourite part and particularly so on a sunny day as this was. George coached me round offering advice on gears, seating positions, drafting and triathlon rules and as an experience triathlete and double ironman, he has plenty of real life examples and advice to share.Tri Suit by the lake

Before I knew it, we were back at the lake and I now had to complete the 5k run. George sensibly had ducked out of this part…can’t say as I blamed him…and I ran on my own. Immediately I knew I should have taken a drink with me and the training session was worth it for this alone as I will never do that again!

The afternoon was completely invaluable to me for many reasons. Mainly the confidence it gave me around transitions and the rules, but also the fact that it showed that bib shorts over a tri suit is a terrible idea and nappy cream was the only thing that seemed to soothe the problem.

George is available for one on one triathlon lessons and I fully recommend them. This is not an ad (just to be clear), just a general recommendation.

For comfort, the bike leg is the most perplexing part and important to get right. Over the past 4 weeks, since the last blog I have been on quite a few bike rides including a lovely morning over to Bath and a lovely cycle to Thornbury with some lovely Mummy Triathlon friends. Wearing cycle shorts is fine for pretty much any distance and so following the Trytri, I have decided to take a few extra seconds in transition and change into proper cycle shorts (under a very big over the head “toncho” towel) for the 113. This in turn means wearing a tri top and bikini bottoms for the swim under my wetsuit, so there isn’t too much faffing around changing in the first transition. I still wasn’t sure at this point what I would wear for the half marathon but I planned to test this.

Running as always is up and down and helpfully the weather has been hot too, which as you know, makes it harder for me, but none the less, I have been continuing to run. The problem is, that I seem to constantly go off too fast and so I seem to be dropping back into run/walk with alarming ease. I don’t have a problem with run/walk but I think in order to regulate my breathing for the race, slow but steady will be better. The other thing is that I can’t remember the last time I had a good run and this is worrying me. I’m tired and generally knackered. I’m worried about falling over again and this seems to consume every run I do. I also hadn’t managed to get a long run in and when training for a half marathon, this is always critical, but I kept putting it off because I was exhausted.

But sometimes life offers you a life line, whilst kicking you in the teeth at the same time. We’ve had some family stuff going on which has meant that apart from one run, I didn’t manage any training for a week. But this particular run was one I will never forget. I had planned to run 10 miles, but was in no emotional state to do it, but I’m a stubborn idiot (as I’m sure you’ve realised by now) so I set off. The first 2 miles were ok and then my mind took over and I started crying and I sobbed my way through miles 3 and 4 when I bumped into Smiley and her Mum. They are ladies I know through This Mum Runs. (Smiley is a London Marathoner who never stops smiling). They let me sob on them (actually, horrifyingly as I look back, I’m not sure they had any choice truth be told) and then insisted that they accompany me for the rest of the run. We managed 9 miles and I have never been more grateful to anyone in my life. I needed the run for so many reasons and without them, I am fairly sure that I would not have completed it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the running community is pretty awesome – thank you so much.

The week off training had helped me though and my legs once again felt like themselves. I felt, well not exactly rested as the week had been extremely stressful, but I was no longer “falling down” tired, as I had been for the previous weeks. The timing was good as last Saturday Merida and I went to the location of the 113 triathlon to practice and familiarise ourselves with the place (well me really, Merida completed an Olympic distance triathlon there a fortnight ago so she knows the place well). We swam in the lake (it’s nice, clear, there were shoals of tiny fish to be seen as I swam above them) and then we cycled one loop of the two loop bike course. We cycled with some members of the tri club and it was extremely enjoyable. The two ladies that joined Merida and I were lovely. Chatty, experienced, one training for Zurich ironman and both were very happy to impart their knowledge and experience to me. Now here’s the thing, the bike loop is flat. Completely flat. No hills at all. Now I know this can’t be viewed as a brilliant training opportunity for Weymouth 70.3 in September, but I don’t care. This was the confidence boost I have so sorely needed. I have been worried about the bike leg ever since the 100k uphill Tour de Bristol, but this should be fine.

Finally off the bike, Merida joined me for a 3k run around the lake, which importantly was in the shade. Hideous but manageable. I’ve done a lot of practice runs off the bike recently in preparation so I’m hoping I won’t fall over on jelly legs and embarrass myself in front of the more serious triathletes on Sunday.

So. I think I’m ready. Obviously, I could be better prepared for the run and I know the final 10k will be 100% mind over matter, but I’m confident that as long my ankle doesn’t go pop and I get enough food and liquid into my body on the bike section (I’m taking sandwiches and flapjack as well as technical nutrition stuff) I should get round.  Nutrition and hydration will be key and I still have 5 more days of faffing about that to go, but apart from this, I think I am ready.

I am mentally prepared for the fact that I will probably be last, but I am genuinely not bothered. Trundling as always will feature in the run and I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just change into my Trundler T shirt for the run leg? At least it might make me smile as I grit my teeth for the final hour. Plenty of time to faff about that over the next 5 days.

My wave starts at 6.10am on Sunday morning and I will start swimming 10 seconds after that. I hope to complete the 1.2 mile swim in around 50 minutes, the 56 mile bike in around 4 hours and then the 13 mile run is anyone’s guess. I’d be delighted with 3 hours for that, but have no expectations really. The goal is to finish and then enjoy the cold can of full fat Coke that has been promised to me by my daughters. I suspect that Merida and myself may indulge in some other fizzy type drinks later on in the day also, if all goes to plan.

My next blog post will hopefully be a post race analysis but I still have to that “20 minute easy run” to get through this week. My sister said to me yesterday “don’t fall down any holes this week”. Wise words indeed.

Couch to half ironman distance triathlon? Let’s find out. I’ve promised my daughters that I will do my very best and this is all I can do. Let’s hope it’s enough.

See you on the other side.

Suspension bridge June 2019

 

 

 

Wetsuits and open water swimming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lake May 2019

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

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