Monday, 18 September 2017

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

It's been two weeks since I started my new training plan that Ellie has designed for me and I'm loving it! It still never ceases to amaze me, just how much difference it makes being accountable to someone. It's also great not to have to think too much about what to do in my sessions, just the occasionally bit of route planning, and trying to figure out where I'm going to find a hill that takes 2 minutes to run up!

I'm building a fitness base for my events next year, upping mileage for the honeymoon marathon and working on my swim and cycling techniques. Ellie is using Training Peaks to deliver my training plan, which I've used before and get on well with. I've linked it to my Garmin Connect account so whenever I sync my Garmin to my phone, it uploads them to Vitality, Strava and Training Peaks - no fuss. I get an email every day with the current day's session and the next day's, so I'm not constantly logging in to see what's next. I'm also getting in the habit of leaving post workout comments about how it felt, what was good/bad/different. 
My first session in the week is a swim session that Ellie sets out for me. This is new for me as whenever I go to the pool I usually just swim for distance so trying to alter my speeds and do drills alone has felt odd, not least because I didn't feel as though I *could* swim at different speeds! So I squeeze that in before work and do a second swim session on a Friday evening with the tri club. The Friday sessions are coached so I get more feedback and can chat with other swimmers about the session, whether that be whinging or joking. I could have gone to these before but I always made the excuse that it was too late in the evening or I was going out, or we had the kids... any number of things. So even though Ellie doesn't set the session I still have to prove I went, so I go. Guilt - it's a powerful thing.
New swim suit for new season
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are run days. It's an Ellie-set on Tuesday, working on hills or pace at the moment, and running club track session on Wednesdays, another session I would make excuses not to go to. It turns out I can get there in time after work, know plenty of people and Dean meets me there so again, no more excuses. Track is both wonderful and horrible. In my first week I was put into Group A (I was expecting Group B) which is the sub-24 minute 5k group... i.e. MUCH faster than my PB (at the moment - maybe this training will change that). This was supposedly so that coach could see how I ran on my own (Groups B & C were working in pairs) and in fairness the set was such that I wasn't able to compare myself to others very much although I did find my fast pace wasn't my quicker than some people's slow pace. I felt as though I'd disappointed coach but I know it's all for the greater good. I nailed the stretching though!

Tuesdays are a bit of a double run/triple training day at the moment as I lead my Fit2Run group on some trail runs in the evening which I can't weave my training into, leaving me more tired that I should be for track. I'm also doing a SUPfit class in the morning, which I LOVE and ticks the box for cross training/strength and conditioning, but it's only for a couple more weeks. If my Tuesday run training doesn't involve a hill I can do it before SUPfit, which gets it out of the way nice and early and I get to run around the lake which is so lovely.
Post run, pre SUPfit!
Thursday are rest days and I try very hard to take the advice. It's a quite work day too so I can properly chill out. The weekend is hosting my longer training sessions for cycling, running or brick (cycling followed by running). This was a bit of a disaster in my first week. I was due to cycling for an hour and run for 30 minutes on Saturday and between teaching in the morning, our pre-wedding photos and an evening out with friends I barely had enough time to fit it in. Then when I did get to it, I felt as though I was running on empty, getting slower and slower on the bike, with shaky legs and feeling sick so I abandoned after 40 minutes on the bike and went home to be fed tea and biscuits by Dean. The only reason for it I can think of is that I was full of nerves for the photo shoot and the adrenalin left me feeling washed out.
One of my faves from our photo shoot
The week ends with a long run on Sunday. If we don't have the children in tow then I'm trying to do this with Dean for some moral support and company, but I've no qualms about heading out on my own when I have to. This week I'm actually swapping my track session and long run around as I'm doing the Tolkien run on Wednesday so I'll replicate track on my own on Sunday. I've also got what looks to be a rather long/tiring swim set today which will certainly earn me my breakfast! Feels good to have structure again and I'm feeling better for it already!


Monday, 11 September 2017

Berkshire Fitness Scene : SUPfit

Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP, has become rather popular in recent years and it's not uncommon to find local lakes offering paddle boarding sessions as well as swimming or water skiing. I first tried SUP back in 2015 but despite enjoying it, made little effort to go back to it. However, my increased interest in lake swimming this year led me to discover that Dinton Pastures were running SUPfit courses throughout the summer.
SUPfit combines paddle boarding with yoga moves, stretching and strengthening exercises. The classes last an hour and a half and improve your balance, strength and all-round fitness. Moves that you wouldn't think twice about on dry land suddenly become rather more challenging on the water. I'm two weeks into a five week course (shortened from 6 weeks due to the time of year) and am really enjoying it. At 9:30am on a Tuesday morning, I join the instructor and rest of the class to paddle out onto the lake and do a work out. The boards are quite wide and fairly stable but it feels very exposed standing on them. I've been given extra guidance on how to paddle efficiently, which is a workout in itself with the wind and the weed!

We're working on a strength and stretching programme which combines some yoga moves with other exercises like squats and lunges (which are SO hard on the board) and quite a lot of planks! It's not what I would call strenuous, but I certainly feel like I've moved well afterwards. Plus being out on the lake with the swans, herons and ducks is really lovely; it's difficult not to have a sense of well being after that. One of the most challenging things about the workout is not drifting away from the group on the board as every move affects the board and we aren't always able to tether to something.
You don't need to have any SUP experience to take part in the classes, nor do you need to be proficient at yoga. You don't need any special kit either; I wear clothes that I would do a gym class in, but with bare feet and a long sleeved layer if it's breezy. I'm yet to fall in but I'm sure I will before the end of the five weeks. My course is the last to run this season but I really hope they bring it back next year. With pre-work, morning and evening classes there's a time to suit most people and although it could be seen as gimmicky, it certainly compliments my other training at the moment.

Have you done SUP or a class on SUP boards? What other water based exercise classes have you come across?

Monday, 4 September 2017

Mindful Chef

On August Bank Holiday Saturday, Dean, Mum and I spent the day at The Big Feastival, a food and music festival on Alex James' (he of Blur fame) farm in Oxfordshire. Mum and I went last year and enjoyed it so much that we got early bird tickets for this year and we're hoping to go for two days in 2018. It's a family-friendly event where you can attend cookery classes, watch top chefs in action, listen to great bands and DJs, buy from local producers and sample all sorts of delicious goodies.
Amongst the producers showing off their wares were Mindful Chef, a health-focused food box company set up by school friends Giles, Myles and Rob and funded by Sir Andy Murray and Victoria Pendleton CBE. They've been around since 2015 and have shipped over 500,000 healthy recipes from small farms in Devon where they grew up. Their USP is reducing your intake of refined carbs, so their boxes and recipes will never contain pasta, bread or white rice - instead all their recipes are based on innovative uses of fresh vegetables.
I was initially drawn to their stall because they were giving out free samples of two vegetarian recipes, a chilli and a smoky lentil and mushroom dish. Both were outstanding and I must confess to having more than one sample during the course of the day. We grabbed a few recipe cards and resolved to head back a bit later to sign up.

One of the smaller tents in the foodie area was hosting some Table Sessions, where some of the top chefs and producers put on some tasters, talks and demos, and I was delighted to see that Mindful Chef was doing one. We managed to get a spot near the demo counter for Myles' engaging talk about their origins whilst Giles whipped up one of their recipes. They claim that every recipe in their food boxes has 10 ingredients or fewer and should take no more than 30 minutes to prepare - the time element of that was certainly proven at the Table Session!
Myles, me and Giles
During the Table Session, Dean had snuck off to sign us up for a box containing two vegetarian meals for two, taking advantage of their 25% off two boxes plus free cookbook deal, which Myles and Giles and they very kindly signed after the demo. The book has sections about gut health, eating for training, stress and sleep as well as a stack of enticing recipes and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in to it!

Myles and Giles came across as really nice chaps, very engaging, passionate about what they do and with a genuine interest in helping people to have a healthier diet. I found out that Giles used to be a Personal Trainer and we talked about the virtues of different PT and Nutrition courses. We also met Louisa, their chef who develops all the recipes and walked away with yet more recipe cards.
There are lots of different meal box solutions around these days, from vegetable boxes, to spice packs and boxes containing all the ingredients you need to cook a meal for 2, 3 or 4 people. I've tried several in the past and they all have their merits. So what appealed about this one, apart from the delicious samples and the offer? Being able to talk to the producers definitely played a part. Finding out that there is a PT/Nutritionist approach to the recipes is also a draw. Half of their recipes are vegan and there appears to be a much bigger selection than many other companies, where I would come across the same meals too often for my liking. They are not the cheapest around, and certainly not as cheap as buying the ingredients yourself, but there's no temptation to impulse shop and there certainly won't be any food waste. It'll be perfect for when I'm working or training late and Dean is on dinner duty!

Keep your eyes pealed for a post in the next couple of weeks where we'll let you know how we get on with the boxes and a Mindful Chef competition.

Have you tried meal boxes? Which ones and what did you think of them? Do you think they are an indulgence or have they saved you money?

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Got My Mojo Working

About a month ago I wrote about my training going to pot and thought it was about time I gave a bit of an update on life and training. Life has been busy. I'm planning new classes, keeping on top of my current ones, had a bunch of social engagements and have been starting to stress about the little bits and pieces still to do for our wedding. Basically I've been the little things get on top of me. And training is still not really happening. Or rather I know what I want to do and how to get there, but not really finding the motivation to get up and do something about it.

We've not got many events left in the diary this year, only three to speak of which are the Tolkien Run (6 hour time challenge), the Eden Project Half Marathon and of course the Costa Rica Marathon. Following Jersey I'm confident I've got a marathon in my legs, provided I still drag myself out for a run every now and again and I've not got any definitive goals other than completing these which doesn't help with motivating me to get out and run. It's been all too easy to put training to the bottom of the To Do pile. But it's now just 10 weeks until the wedding, and I'd like to feel a bit better about myself but even that occasion hasn't resulted in me doing a Metafit at home or going out for a run with Dean of an evening. I've been running with my run group, doing a weights session, Body Balance and Body Combat once a week but it's not enough.
Out for a run with the girls in the forest
So I had a conversation with Ellie of Barnes Fitness about some coaching. Primarily this is for next year's events but we're going to start with a plan from September to keep me on track for this year's events and build the solid base from which to start in January. When we met we talked about what my goals were, where I am at the moment and what time I realistically had for training. We sketched out a rough schedule which includes going to track sessions on a Wednesday and swim sessions on a Friday. I could be going to these already but I don't for no other reason than I can't be bothered. But with someone telling me to go, I know I will. It's it funny, how the mind works. Being accountable to someone else, having someone gee me along, is going to make such a big difference and frankly I can't wait to get started and focus my mind again.
During a short-lived phase when I had some focus
Next year I'm going to be running the Brighton Marathon with Dean and my goal is to run it in 4h30 (previous time 4h42). Dean entered me into the Outlaw Half Triathlon next year as a birthday gift and I'd like to improve on my 113 Triathlon time from this year, hopefully completing in 6h30. I also have a larger project in mind, for completion, which I'm keeping under wraps for the moment. But I intend to dedicate all of these events to the Anthony Nolan charity and raise some money for them. I should have my charity vest arriving soon which will get it's first outing at Eden, with any luck!
Coaching is something I've had before, with good results. Although I'm perfectly capable of putting together a training plan for myself, I'm not a triathlon coach and as I'm also struggling to find the motivation to follow a plan at the moment, this seems to be the solution. I may finally have found a way to get my mojo working. I'll let you know how I get on!

Have you had coaching before? Do you think it's worth the money? Or are you very self motivated? Have you had occasions where you felt you should have been more motivated but weren't?

Monday, 21 August 2017

Kit Review : Lucy Locket Loves Leggings

I'm a sucker for some funky lycra and given what I do for a living I can often find a way to justify buying another pair of leggings. I noticed a post on twitter a while back from Lucy Locket launching a range of bright leggings. It caught my eye because I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a pair of black leggings, so prolific seem to be the Tikiboo, Sweaty Betty, Fabletics, USA Pro and other ranges of patterned items.

But I looked at the designs and really liked them, lots of patterns I'd not seen the like of before. Also they claimed to be squat-proof, cut for women and very very comfy. Sounds like a win to me! I ordered a pair of Pretty Polly leggings which arrived just as I was leaving for Jersey a couple of weeks ago, along with a free tote bag!

First impressions were that I absolutely LOVEd the look and feel of the fabric. They seemed really well made and the pattern was just as bold and bright as I had hoped. They were the first leggings I reached for on returning to work on Monday, because everyone needs brightness on a Monday right? I teamed them with a blue vest and my own branded hoody in red, to pick out the colours in the leggings. They were a big hit! Some prints stretch to show the white fabric, something I loathe, not these. Yes they are squat-proof, no visible pants thank you. They came up a little shorter than I expected (7/8 length rather than full) and felt a little low at the back but I'm 178cm tall with hips and curves so might not feel that way on everyone. They were as comfy as promised and stood up to outdoor classes, indoor classes and sofa lounging.
I also treated myself to a vest top from the ever-expanding collection. The Girl Power vest in aqua ticked my boxes for being a colour I don't own much of, a motivational slogan and not too bold (I can only cope with bold legs or bold top, not both). These tanks aren't technical fabric, but are cut really well (no chafing, not too low in the neck, lovely and long in the torso) and again, have been a big hit with my classes.
I'm keeping my eye on a few other vests for the future, namely Maybe It's Caffeine, If Found on Ground and Always hungry!
If you're looking for something a little different, something to get you noticed, or just a bit of kit as a reward for your latest achievement, do look at Locket Loves for vests, leggings and more. Leggings are £30 and vests £22 but I've got an exclusive discount code for all my readers that will give you 20% off of everything in store! Just enter VIKKI20 at the checkout.

Follow Lucy on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest designs and additions, and please tag pictures of you on social media in your kit with #locketloves so we can see how bold you dare to go!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Round (Half) The Rock

It's around half past seven on Friday evening when Dean and I encounter a hotel lobby suspiciously full of Datchet Dasher runners in St Helier, Jersey. We've missed the race briefing for the Round the Rock ultra that we're taking part in the next day, thanks in part to someone on our flight not being able to last 45 minutes without a cigarette. The briefing room is empty save for the organisers, rows of chairs and a stash of cardboard boxes. We make our apologies, claim our race numbers, event t-shirts and the highlights from the briefing.
St Helier
Round the Rock is a rather small and exclusive-feeling event consisting of circumnavigating 48miles around the island in under 12 hours. No mean feat when you consider that much of the route takes in the coastal path. You can choose to do it solo, as we had, or as a relay team. All in all there were around 100 runners taking part, making this perhaps the smallest event I'd ever participated in. The only events I could compare this to, in my experience, were Tiree (35 miles around an island) and the Ultra12 (12 hours to do as many laps as you can - I covered 40 miles), neither of which ended up coming anywhere close to the experience I had on Jersey.
Pre-race dinner at Pizza Express. Thanks Nectar points!
We'd gone straight to the briefing from the airport so after satisfying ourselves that we knew where the start was and having a cheap eat at Pizza Express we finally checked into our hotel at about 9pm. An hour or so was spent organising race kit and negotiating an early breakfast with reception then it was alarms set for 4:30am and an attempt at some sleep. Neither of us slept that well, full of apprehension and excitement, but none the less we were fairly chirpy on Saturday morning as we had some food and walked to the Steam Clock in the wind and drizzle under brightening sky. Thankfully the rain didn't last and we set off at 6am on the dot.
Starting at the Steam Clock
The first part of the course is all on road and flat. We went out anticlockwise around the island and quickly found ourselves at the back of the pack. I was determined not to set off too quickly, knowing we had so many miles to go. It was a beautiful morning, and so warm that jackets and arm warmers were shed within two miles. We nattered, admired the houses, enjoyed a bit of Fleetwood Mac being played on loudspeaker by another pair of runners and started to see some views.
One of many biews
The first check point was at around 10 miles. We both felt fine and after a quick drink and a snack, we were off into the second leg. I know we were at the back still, but I wasn't worried. As Dean said, finish lines not finish times. We'd been working on the basis that as long as we managed a 4 mile an hour average we would be fine. We'd banked some time in the first ten miles and Dean was constantly doing the maths on how long we had to make it to the halfway point to be on track. What we'd failed to take into account were the checkpoint cut off times. I wasn't nearly as prepared for this event in terms of logistics as I usually am. I'd only given a cursory glance to the race instructions and not registered that although there was no cut off for CP1 and an overall cut off of 12 hours, there were cut offs at all the other check points. I'd over heard someone mentioning them at CP1 so took a moment to look it up. We had to make it to CP2 by 10:30am. That seemed ok.
Coming up to CP1, when things were still fun.
Then we hit the coastal footpath. Things changed very quickly. The path became narrow trail. We started to encounter steps. Not just any steps, big uneven steps made of sleepers with pins in to provide more traction. Up and down. Dean is more powerful than I am by virtue of a) being a man and b) having done a lot more cycling than me. I started to slow up on the uphills a lot. What was frustrating was that I couldn't even make up much time on the downhills, usually my forte, as there were also steps down, and sometimes the path was so narrow, rocky and close to a drop that I was terrified of losing my footing.
The views were second to none. Vast expanses of blue green sea, swathes of purple heather, butterflies everywhere, bright sky, sunshine galore. It was hard to see much of the route ahead, as it twisted and turned, dropped down and ascended steeply, but every now and then we caught a glimpse of runners ahead and made it our mission to keep them in sight. This often made it only too obvious what we had awaiting us around the corner in terms of ascent, which was quickly becoming soul destroying for me. Dean was motoring on and I was just trying to keep up. Handfuls of M&M's were administered, I finished my electrolytes, gels sucked down, sweat dripped off our noses and down our backs. Our pace had plummeted. The course was brutal.

We passed a pair of girls who were having to retire due to a twisted ankle, we found some marshals and spectators for a few encouraging words. My toes were sore from hitting the fronts of my trainers on the descents. I'd narrowly missed twisting an ankle, got a mini panic attack on an ascent, stumbled a few times. Despite the scenery, despite the fact I was doing this with Dean, who I love running with, I was not having fun. I by-passed the "power sob" phase that I end up in when things get tough and went straight to the "lost all hope" phase. Dean was still fixated on making the half way point by a particular time but I knew we'd missed the CP2 cut off. I think that was part of my undoing.
As we got closer to CP2 and found some road I tried to run again but the hills had sapped everything from my legs. Dean kept waiting for me and I knew that whatever I was doing wasn't quite enough. At the checkpoint we were told that although we'd technically missed cut off, we could carry on if we wanted to. I desperately wanted to be able to continue for his sake but deep down I didn't want to carry on. I doubted I'd make it to CP3 on the remaining coastal path. I was afraid of what would happen if I was between checkpoints and unable to continue. Knowing that Dean wouldn't carry on without me, knowing I was letting him down, having had some proper food, rest and more fluids at CP2 I made the call. I wasn't going to carry on. 21 miles in just under 5 hours. My first DNF. I promptly burst into tears on the poor checkpoint volunteers shoulder.

I normally only have to make these decisions for myself, but knowing I was impacting someone else race with my decision made it so much harder. I do think, now, with some perspective, I made the right decision but I spent the rest of the day beating myself up about it, trying to justify it, feeling like a failure and getting angry that I'd not managed it despite the things I've achieved before. Even the next day, when my legs didn't feel too atrocious, I struggled with my decision, thinking that if I could move today, maybe I didn't push myself enough.

The elevation map
We got a lift back to our hotel from the volunteer with the wet shoulder, in a mini van along with some lovely ladies who benefit from the charity that the race supports. We got cleaned up and wandered over to the race finish and back along the race route to support those coming in. It was bittersweet. We saw the medal and were relived that it wasn't a super duper spangly thing to be coveted. One of the finishers told us how she fell over three times on the route, had to call her mum for a pep talk and that the third leg was still really brutal.
Post run refuelling.
We enjoyed the rest of our afternoon exploring the town. Pasties were consumed, beers supped and we fell asleep in front of the athletics on telly. The next day we played tourists as our flights weren't until the evening, visiting Elizabeth Island and meandering along to St Aubin. In the event it felt as though we had a really great holiday. We talked about whether, given what we know now, we would return to try and complete the race another time. I would only do it if I felt prepared, if my legs were stronger and if the weather was fine. I can't contemplate attempting the route in the rain. It may have been folly to even begin the race and it's taken me some time to come to terms with what happened, but it's onward, preferably not too much upwards, and use this to learn from and fuel my determination to be better. Jersey was tough, but I will become tougher because of it.

Have you ever made the decision to DNF? Was it difficult? Did it affect someone else?

Monday, 7 August 2017

How to Choose a Triathlon Club

The best way to progress in any hobby is usually to join a club, be that knitting, stamp collecting or triathlon. That's the theory. But choosing the right club for you plays a BIG part in how much it will help you, if at all. Case in point; I'm currently a member of THREE triathlon clubs. There appears to be no rule about how many you can be a member of (I wait to be corrected), unlike with running where you can have a first and second claim club but it gets a bit complicated. I don't intend to stay a member of all three clubs, and I joined each with the best of intentions, but it's taken me a while to work out what I want from a club and therefore which suits me best. Here are my tips to help you get it right first time!

Do you want to be able to benefit from training and coaching sessions? Some people might just want the social side and support, but most people looking to join a try club will be looking to do so to get some affordable training. Which begs the questions, do they train when you can train? There's no point joining a club whose sessions start at 6pm when you don't get home until 7pm.

Where do they train? Two of the clubs I'm a member of have swim training on a Friday night, around 8:30pm. One is a 20 minute drive away, the other is a 3 minute drive away. Guess which one I'm going to favour on a winter's night!
If you're a beginner, are there bridging or introductory groups? I've found that some of the sessions, particularly the bike ones, tend to be a little beyond me, which is why the Cake Rides are so great as it's all abilities and very social. But any good club will try to ensure there's a way to progress you from one group to the next, or to help you get started in the first place.

How active are the members outside of the set training sessions? The first club I became a member of has a monthly Ladies only Cake Ride which I LOVE. I've found that another club has a few members that organise weekday morning ride outs because of shift work, which will suit me well.
Thames Valley Triathletes
What's the social scene like? I don't just mean beers and cake, although if that's important to you, find out whether there are regular social events or if people hang out after sessions. If you're a social media user, take a peek at their accounts. How active are they? Does it seem supportive or elitist (yet to find one like that). How do people respond to "silly questions"? Are there lots of good luck wishes for events and rallying interest for others? Does this fit with what you'd like? In a nutshell, are they likeminded people?

Is there a tradition of turning out to support events? This can be really motivating. The first two clubs I became a member of in particular have a strong tradition of tracking fellow members at events and being on the sidelines as well. Seeing it in action is very powerful.

Are they affiliated to Triathlon England? If so you will be able to get a discount on membership to Triathlon England and events, plus you won't have to pay for a day membership for events you sign up to.

Do you like the kit? Really superficial one this but I have to admit, this does play a bit of a part for me. I won't be likely to wear team colours and make myself known at events (thereby missing out on support) if I don't like the way it looks. Sorry, folks, but it that's the way it goes.
3 Counties Tri
There are elements from each club that I really like, and while I'll be sorry to let memberships lapse, I think I've decided which one is going to be best for me, and which one I can be a proud and active member of.

Have you fallen in and out of love with a club or struggled to find your "home"? Any other things you would look for in a club?