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.

 

All in one leotards and Covid-19

So. How is everyone? Aren’t you sick of people asking you that? I am but largely because the answer can vary so very much over even such a short timeframe, sometimes changing dramatically over even just one hour.

Some days I am fully motivated to work, exercise, cook, clean, learn a new language, teach the dog how to walk nicely on his lead (not cracked that one yet) and then other days I can barely be bothered to get out of bed or brush my hair. I know I am not alone in this as my friends tell me that they feel the same. Covid-19 certainly has been a game-changer for everyone.

In my last blog which I wrote a few months ago now, I was planning a big year of exercise but the reality was that I was barely holding anything together at all, apart from work. I was working hard and enjoying my job again which was wonderful and extremely welcome. But as for everything else, well, everything else was collapsing. I had totally lost my ability to multitask and as I am a person who often has 17 balls in the air at once, and needs to have that many balls in the air to get through each day more importantly, this was a problem. Panic attacks and random hysterical sobbing started for no apparent reason (including one in a business situation, which was a real low point) and finally, mid February, after a particularly frightening couple of days, my husband suggested that I seek some professional help.

I was so angry that I couldn’t seem to pull myself together and felt utterly defeated. I had been continuing to walk to and from work, sometimes running to try and use exercise to pep myself up, but nothing was working. So, rather reluctantly, I met with a counsellor. It took only a couple of sessions to establish that I have PTSD as a result of what happened last Summer and I am still in the process of learning how to deal with this.

In those early sessions, we discussed many things, but the most important one, was that I needed to do “less”. This was to allow my body and mind to relax, reset and rest. Of course, one of the early sessions was us discussing that although I needed to do this, it wasn’t realistically possible due to work, family life, daughter commitments, races, training and social engagements. I did however cancel some upcoming social engagements.

Then Covid-19 happened and so now I am definitely doing “less”.

Work is slow, but ticking over but everything else has completely stopped. On top of this, the Government have advised that we don’t do too much “endurance” related exercise as it depletes the body of glycogen stores and limits our ability to fight the dreaded virus should you be unlucky enough to get it.

WeightsTherefore, whilst I am not exercising as much as I was this time last year, I am definitely still ticking over and managing to do something every other day, sometimes a bit more often than that and sometimes not quite as much.  Exercise has reverted to base levels for me and I have re-visited “Step Aerobics”, although without the all in one leotard I wore when I was a teenager and have also been doing some Joe Wicks HIITs. (Give them a try if you haven’t already). I was also very lucky to win a spin bike which arrived the week before lock-down (perfect timing) and so I have been doing an online spin class twice a week too to keep my cycling ticking over. I have weights but have always been terrible at doing strength work, but I have been using this time to embrace this a bit more. So all in all, when we are finally released from this lockdown, I should still have some level of fitness. Hopefully I will also be mentally rested and recuperated also and be ready to start training again.

All of my triathlon events have been cancelled and the Bristol 10k is not happening so all pressure has gone. Again, not having pressure is good for me at the moment and so currently, the Great North Run in September is my next event.  I have plenty of time to train for this and hopefully it will be enjoyable. Running currently is very hap hazard as I am largely preserving my outdoor activities for dog walks and although I sometimes run around a field with Bruce, it’s more for him than me, meaning it’s very stop/start and not very productive for training. But at the moment, it’s enough.

Running with Bruce in Lockdown

Stay safe and I’ll write more blogs as normality returns and training for the GNR starts in earnest.

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

Injuries, jiggles and a labrador….

Since my last blog, I’ve been sidelined from running due to an injury. This has been hideously annoying as I have really needed the time alone with my thoughts, but 2019 just hasn’t been my year and so it was not to be.

Following the 10k at Westonbirt, my right hamstring started to throb. Being a runner, I carefully ignored it but as I pottered along run/walking the following week, it progressively got worse until I could pretend no longer. As I stood making a cup of tea in my kitchen, my hamstring was screaming and I knew I had to take action.

A trip to the physio confirmed that I had torn my hamstring which required total rest – my body was broken after the triathlon, the stress of the “Dark Summer” (which is how I am referring to the Summer months of this year) a half marathon with no training and then finally winging a 10k the week after (which was probably the proverbial straw and my hamstring was the camel’s back). Some of my wise friends commented that this was my body’s way of finally forcing me to rest and they might have been right, but either way, it was extremely frustrating.

However, I concede that I was shattered – physically and emotionally and so I didn’t run and tried to rest as best I could.

I was finally given the all clear to re-start GENTLY running (and yes, the physio did almost shout it at me when he finally relented) in the second week of November. I was delighted but also terrified.

2019 has been a terrible year for my running. I sprained my ankle in March which meant no running for 8 weeks meaning that I shuffled the half marathon of the 113 triathlon in June, woefully underprepared. 4 days after the triathlon, my Mother was taken ill and the Dark Summer followed. This then led to me running the Great North Run and subsequent 10k at Westonbirt with no real training either. So although I knew that I wouldn’t have to restart couch to 5k from scratch, I did need a strategy.

The other problem was nothing to do with my legs or fitness. My Mother’s death has affected every aspect of my life and I cannot handle too much stress at the moment. Having been distracted from my job over the Dark Summer meant that it now required 150% of my attention (and importantly, I was delighted to immerse myself back into the job I love) and so sport and exercise needed to fit in easily. I also needed to be careful not set myself up to fail as it doesn’t take much for the tears to start at the moment. As running is always something that I find difficult, I needed to keep it as easy and achievable as possible.

So my strategy was that I would keep to my 3/1, run/walk plan and get out 2-3 times a week. I was confident that by the beginning of December that I would be back up to 5k and then would be set for the 10k race I have in the diary for the 22 December at Westonbirt Arboretum. But it hasn’t happened that way and this morning I have officially downgraded the 10k to a 5k. Up until last week, I have managed to run twice a week it’s true, but the runs are dreadful. It’s like starting from scratch all over again. I’ve gained 4 kilos since June and whilst I couldn’t care less about the aesthetics of this, I can feel each extra kilo when I run. The heavier you are, the harder work it is to run and as I’m not in the right mental space to try and lose the weight at the moment either, so it’s going to be part of me for a while.

I’ve been re-reading the very first entries of this blog to try and help spur me on and I will keep going but it’s tough. I struggle to catch my breath, it’s really cold which means that my asthma is an issue – the asthma that pretty much disappeared when I was fit is back and it’s crippling my breathing. I’m a bit more “jiggly” than I was 6 months ago and whilst I’m not self-conscious enough about how I look in lycra to not wear it in public, I know that my legs are not as solid as they were. My left ankle aches sometimes after a run and my hamstring still grumbles a bit. So there is plenty to work on.

But I also recognise that this is not the time to do it or push myself too hard – I just need to keep moving and at some point in the future, I will feel ready to take things to the next level again – hopefully in the New Year as I have some races already booked in for 2020.

So far, I’m signed up for an Olympic triathlon in May, the Great North Run, the Great South Run and I have the Bristol 10k firmly in my sights after the last 2 have been blighted by injury.

But for now, I am pottering and trying to get my fitness back. So far, I have (unintentionally) run every day in December and whilst I don’t think my diary will allow a full “running streak” over the whole month, I’m going to try to get out for at least 1 mile as often as I can. Running helps me when I’m feeling down and it’s an effective anti-depressant. This is a very strong incentive at the moment to lace up my trainers and get out there at the moment, jiggly or not.

In April of this year, we got a puppy – a fox red Labrador called Bruce (he has his own Instagram account in case you are interested in following his adventures @brucethefoxredlab). He is now 9 months old and is a bit of a handful (this is an understatement) but we love him and I, in particular and much to my surprise, completely adore him. He has really helped me over the past couple of difficult months and whilst he is hard work, I am pleased we have him. When the family discussed getting a puppy, my only wish was that we got a dog capable of running with me on the trails at weekends. Now whilst Bruce isn’t old enough yet to start properly running with me, I have run on a couple of his dog walks (let’s be honest, I’m not that fast and I do stop and walk when I need to) and he loves running alongside me. Last weekend, we and my husband ran through Ashton Court and I got a glimpse of what a magnificent running and training buddy he will become in future years. I’ve already googled races that we can enter together and this will be something that I’ll be exploring as he gets bigger and older.

Bruce, Jeff and I Ashton Court

But for now, please let me be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you for all your support and good wishes this year.

I’ll be back with a more focussed training blog in January.

The Great North Run

This is not a blog about grief and it never will be, but it’s impossible to write this post without touching upon it a little bit. My Mother sadly passed away on the 6th August and the grief is heavy. It’s debilitating and it is physical. I am surprised by just how physical it is and I am exhausted. All of the time. Some days walking is difficult, but I have been forcing myself to run and then walk and then run a bit more as often as I can. The days when I run are really the only days when I manage to sleep at night too so there is added incentive.

The topic of the Great North Run was weighing heavy on my mind as Mum had told me to do it.

A few people messaged me to say, “don’t do, it’s a terrible idea and you have enough on your plate” and they were absolutely right of course. Also a few people messaged me to say “do it. It’s a race unlike any other, but only do it if you can enjoy it”. I had no idea what to do. I decided to leave it and believed that the right answer would present itself, one way or another.

In the weeks after my Mum leaving us, I was lucky to have the support of family and very good friends. The Red Lady was always coming to support me running the Great North Run, if I did it, but she was never going to run it with me. She wasn’t trained for it, last having run a half marathon in 2016 and only running a couple of 10ks this year. One very good friend, I won’t embarrass her by naming her, has contacts at the Great North Run and over coffee when she was checking how I was, asked me if it would help me decide if the Red Lady could get a place to run it with me? I decided it would and she worked her magic and before I could even blink, the Red Lady had a place. The conversation when I spoke to the RL went a bit like this: “so, er, if I could get you a place on the GNR, do you fancy running it with me?”……….”what? that is INSANE! and yes, definitely!”.

So we were doing it.

GNR Celebrity busesWe arrived at the hotel the night before, following a 5 hour train ride, stiff, hungry and wondering what on earth we were playing at! An early night followed, during which I slept for about 45 minutes  and then a 6.45am alarm. At breakfast I was too nervous to eat but forced down some porridge and toast and then we went to wait for the bus and meet our “Team Bodie Hodges” team mates. What an absolutely lovely bunch of people they are. Many of them had run the GNR before and they were full of tales about how incredibly awesome it is. I was excited and nervous. The bus arrived to collect us and with a severe case of “imposter syndrome”, we boarded the bus.

We were deposited around 300 metres past the start line into a VIP area which had private toilets (I need about 74 pre race wees on average so this was magnificent news) and were able to watch the elite women and wheelchair athletes warming up. It was AMAZING.

GNR Nell and Gabby Logan

Dropping my bag off, I finally got to meet Nell McAndrew. What an absolutely lovely lady she is. Completely down to earth, friendly, and chatting like she was An old pal we’d met for a drink in the pub with even though this was the first time I had ever met her. We chat a bit on Instagram but we’d never met and I was so incredibly grateful that she had arranged this whole day for me. I tried to tell myself to stay cool, but I probably wasn’t! I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

We were able to mill around near the start line and watch the elite ladies go off. Being 10 metres away from Brigit Kosgei, Mary Keitany and Charlotte Purdue was an absolute highlight and privilege . They look so strong and fast. I could have started in the front row if I’d wanted to for the main race (and a couple of the Team Bodie Hodges did!) but I’m afraid that fear of being trampled to death got the better of me and so the RL and myself bid my team mates farewell and moved about 10 rows further back.

And then we were off.

With neither of us being even close to being half marathon fit, the Red Lady and myself had devised a strategy to get us round in one piece, and hopefully without injury. This was to run the first 3k in one go (in order to stop being crushed by the masses) and then run the rest of the race strictly adhering to run 3 minutes and then walk 1 minute and to keep to the left as much as possible to try and keep out of the way of the speedier runners. However, we needn’t have worried as the start of GNR is on two sides of a road. The elites were on one side and the celebrities and charity runners were on the other side so the first couple of kilometres were fine. Not one person was trampled and we were all smiling.

All was well until the runners came through who were chasing times. It became a bit “pointy elbowed” at this point and we did our best to keep out of their way as they speeded past us. We got into a habit of tucking in tight as soon as the red pacer flags ran past knowing that this was “peak” trample period. I understand what it’s like to go for a time if you’ve trained for long weeks to achieve one, but trampling over a middle aged trundler to achieve one is not ok and runner etiquette should be considered.

I have run quite a few races in my short running career, but I have never, ever, EVER run a race that is as noisy and well supported as the Great North Run. The crowds are SO LOUD that I found myself almost begging for some peace and quiet. Every third person had a tub of jelly babies, haribo or sweets, there were motivational signs, kids demanding high fives, spectators shouting our names, offering us ice-pops, setting us their own impromptu water stations, beer stops (yes at Mile 10 there was a chap filling up cups of Newcastle Brown and handing them out – obviously I had one), handing out cups of Lucozade that they had bought themselves, getting their garden hoses out to spray us and cool us down. It was AMAZING. It was not just for the beginning and end, pretty much the entire route was like this. It was hot and Newcastle was ready to party.

There were many highlights, too many to mention, but Elvis, singing karaoke in the middle of the road at mile 11(ish) was definitely one of them. The Red Lady and I danced past him and sang a bit too.

But it wasn’t just the spectators having a great time, the runners were too. Newcastle has a lot of bridges and under passes and so everytime we went under one, it is apparently law that we all shout “Oggie oggie oggie…….”. After about 57 rounds of this, I was ready to hit the open roads.

Running over the Tyne Bridge was epic and it was then, for the first time, that I got a sense of just how many people there were running the race. We could see runners as far as the eye could see and for the first time on the race, I felt a bit emotional.

Our 3/1 strategy worked remarkably well, on the whole. We had promised each other that we would strictly stick to the gameplan, otherwise, we knew that we would end up walking more than we wanted. I kept an eye on my Garmin watch and was in charge of shouting run and walk. 3 minutes is not a long time to run and I quickly got into a routine. As we ran, by the time I first glanced at my watch, it was usually showing that we’d been running 90 seconds, then I would look again and we only had 20-30 seconds left. 60 seconds was enough time to recover and RL was very good at reigning me in when I would go off too quickly at the start of each 3 minute segment. I tried not to think about the distances only the next 3 minutes. 10k rolled around and I have to tell you that it was the best, easiest and most enjoyable 10k I have ever run (running is always more enjoyable when you don’t care how fast you are going). We didn’t chat much whilst running, but chatted plenty whilst walking, often laughing about something we had just seen. I knew that kilometres 10-16 would feel tough so just tried to focus and on the whole it was ok although clearly it wasn’t entirely comfortable.

GNR Mile 10 ALONE High Res

Around the 10-11 mile mark, I felt tearful suddenly and this threatened everything because 3/1 works because your breathing is regulated, but crying really messes up your breathing, and I could feel proper snotty, gut wrenching tears bubbling under the surface. I confided in my buddy what was happening and we decided to take a couple of longer walk breaks to get things back under control, which we did. 2 walk breaks of 2 minutes and we were back in business.

We were now into the final 3 miles and we were tired but could feel the end was close. At the end of the GNR, you see the sea, then go down a very steep hill (which hurt my knees, ankles and boobs as the bounce factor on a steep downward hill should not be underestimated) and then you turn onto the final stretch towards the finish line for the final mile. We cheered when we saw the sea. I could hardly believe that we were already nearly there, but the final mile felt long. My legs were tired and my feet were burning.

If the crowds along the route were loud, they were nothing compared with the final straight. I couldn’t hear anything that the RL was saying to me at all. They were 10 deep at the barrier and people were sat on a Grandstand clapping and cheering us in. We crossed the line and I absolutely sobbed my heart out. We completed the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 15 seconds. It was slow, but I genuinely didn’t care a jot. It was magnificent and I truly count the GNR as one of my greatest ever achievements.

GNR finishing on my own

It is now that I must pay tribute to the Red Lady. Not only for agreeing to run a race with me that she wasn’t trained for (she’s mad), but also for how incredibly happy and smiley she was throughout the entire race. As we chugged along, she practically skipped, almost dancing and grinned the whole way through the experience.

We both lost our Mums this year to cancer and so we both had moments of pain during the race but we got through it together.

After the race, being in the VIP pavilion, we had a shower (yes, a SHOWER) something to eat and then we were on a coach that was given a police escort back to the hotel afterwards (as the roads were all still closed!)

I bid my team mates farewell and we went back to the hotel to head to the airport.

It was the most enjoyable race I have ever run. More importantly, it has re-ignited my love affair with running which has been absent for many months now. The Red Lady has told me it had the same effect on her. Therefore, we are both signed up to run it again next year but have made each other the promise that the GNR will always be our “happy” race and we will never rush it. It will never be our PB course, because there are too many kids to high five and too many beers to drink en route…. I will also be running for Team Bodie Hodges next year again and intend to raise some money for them.

Fearless Westonbirt Sept 2019

For the rest of this year I have only one plan. Keep running. I’m not going to put myself under any pressure for times but I’m just going to take each day as it comes and hopefully complete a few races. Life is for living and it should be enjoyed. I ran a 10k at Westonbirt at the weekend (slowly using 3/1 again) and I also have a place for the Cardiff Half marathon at the beginning of October.

One day at a time and keep moving forward. There are times in life when training hard and pushing for fast times are right but there are also times when they are not.

I have some plans forming for next year already, but for now until Christmas, the only plan I have is to keep moving forward and try and smile as much as possible.

 

A curveball…..and a new opportunity

Following the 113 triathlon, I had planned to allow myself a full week off, then a week of swimming, stretching and gentle running before the relentless training kicked off again for the official Half IronMan at Weymouth in September.

Life however, as we know, doesn’t care about training plans.

On the Thursday after the triathlon (4 days afterwards) my Mother was taken ill. (I have her full blessing to share this by the way and have read this whole blogpost to her before it was posted).

I am not going to go into specific details, but it is serious. My Mother has had 2 big operations and 3 spells in intensive care over the past 5 weeks. We feared the worst (and were prepared for the worst by the doctors) numerous times. My Mother, however, is one of the strongest women I have ever known and she continues to surprise and inspire us with her tenacity and strength as she completely disregards the rule book in terms what she is expected to do. Against all of the odds, she is still with us and last week she moved to a lovely nursing home where she will see out whatever time we have left together.

The past few weeks have been extremely traumatic and as you can imagine, training has not been high on my agenda.

Therefore, I have decided to withdraw from Weymouth HIM. I cannot dedicate myself to the training adequately enough to complete it and it’s not something I can expect to complete without 100% pure dedication. It will keep. I will do it at some point in the future, but 2019 will not be the time. I am hoping to be able to still attend it to support Merida and other members of the triathlon club as they complete Weymouth and hope to attend to support and cheer, but I will not be a competitor.

I have struggled with many things over the past weeks, but one I was not expecting was that I have struggled with not exercising. I went from training 8-12 hours a week to absolutely nothing and I found it tough. I needed the headspace enormously, but this has not been a priority in recent weeks.

But then, in the midst of all the chaos, I was offered a place via the magnificent Nell McAndrew, on the Great North Run in connection with the charity Bodie Hodges www.bodiehodgesfoundation.co.uk.

Nell was extremely sympathetic following my anklegate situation earlier in the year and we started chatting on Instagram. She offered to try and secure me a place on the Great North Run as a consolation for missing the Big Half earlier in the year. During the second week of my mother being in hospital and definitely during the most traumatic period, I received a message from Nell to say she had got me a place on this bucket list race. I honestly didn’t know what to do and just shoved it to the back of my mind.

As things have calmed down over the past few days, I have discussed this incredible opportunity with my Mum and she has told me to do the race and bring the medal to show her afterwards.

I have promised to do all I can to get the medal and she has promised to be here to see it.

There are many things that might prevent this from happening, but for the moment, I am training for the Great North Run on the 9th September.

Thank you so much to Nell and Bodie Hodges for this opportunity at a difficult time. I’m very grateful indeed.

I’ve started back running and it was predictably horrendous and difficult but I’m back. There is still some residual fitness lurking from the months of training and I’m doing my best to bring it back to life. I need to train smart in order to make the best use of my spare time (which is limited) and so I’ll be running on a commute, between home and visiting Mum, just as I did when I first started running three and half years ago. I also have more knowledge around training and strength work as well and although I have had to cancel quite a few sessions with Dr Crane over this difficult period, I will be working with him again over the summer.

I’m not going for a PB or a time in Newcastle so I’m immediately removing that type of pressure from my shoulders. I may end up walking some of it, but my goal is to get round and then bring the medal to show my Mum.

Plans are there to be adjusted and this is my new one.

Fearless Vest July 2019

I’ll blog as often as I can to let you know how I’m getting on.

If you would like to make a donation to the Bodie Hodges charity, you are able to do this here:

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1012802&stop_mobi=yes

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