Friday 20 July 2018

Back on the Bike

The weekend just passed was IRONMAN UK weekend, the Ironman branded event that takes place in Bolton. I supported Dean there last year and would have been there this year had he not deferred (right decision, but one it took a while to reach). But ten of my triathlon club mates took part and many more went up in support. I just watched from afar via updates to Facebook and the tracking app. There had been a lot of controversy around the event this year as the bike route had to be changed, and shortened, due to fires in the area. Many people said it wasn't a true IM event if it wasn't the full distance and the cutoffs should have been proportionally altered. Despite all of that, every single one of my club mates completed the event after months of training, and I am proud and inspired by them all. Almost dangerously so.
Cycling with the girls
I feel so far away from my ironman achievement these days, still just five weeks ago, which isn't long at all really. I'm still trying to hang on to that sense of exercising for the love of it, rather than because I have to but with a couple more events looming I'm finding that increasingly difficult to do. I've been out on the bike twice with friends and dabbled in a bit of pool swimming. I'm running gently once or twice a week and following a yoga DVD now and again if I can't get to a class. But gosh am I tired! Am I still recovering, or is it to do with the heatwave we've been experiencing recently? I stopped taking my iron supplement shortly after Lakesman as I ran out and didn't bother to get more, thinking I wouldn't need it as much but perhaps I do!

Whatever it is, it's frustrating. Coupled with the tendonitis I think I've developed in my left foot I'm not a very happy bunny when it comes to being active right now. But that's not to say there haven't been some lovely fun and positive things going on of late. I've learnt to crochet thanks to my friend Cathy who needed a lift to her meet up following a hip operation. There was a lazy weekend spent in my parent's garden soaking up vitamin D and eating lots of lovely laid back buffet style meals and a return visit to Thames Lido. Barnes Fitness had their annual get together in the form of a pool party, which was absolutely fantastic fun, so much so for the kids that we struggled to explain to them why we had to leave. Several books have been consumed, cakes have been baked (and shared) and long-forgotten embroidery projects are being dug out. Life is more than training now.
New hobby - crochet!
That said, in just over a weeks time I will be joining thousands of others, including many from my triathlon club, in RideLondon100. It's the penultimate in my Anthony Nolan events this year and one I'm growing more apprehensive about the closer we get. The event is a 100 mile closed road ride from London to Surrey and back again, taking in both Box and Leith hills. Working out how to get to the start in good time has been a bit of a headache but now that's sorted, having gone through four iterations, the excitement is building. Riding that sort of distance on closed roads with so many people will be an incredible experience, like nothing I've done before. And in theory I should be more than up to the task, having ridden further during Lakesman and conquered some very hilly routes in my training. But I've not ridden much since then and I'm hoping it won't hurt too much. If I keep in mind that I've done more than this before, and look out for the signs that I'm not eating enough (my usual downfall when riding long distance) then it should all be fine. I'm still raising money for the charity so please visit my JustGiving page to donate if you've not donated previously, every little helps!

My last charity event of the year will be Swim Serpentine, the two mile version. Doing an open water swim of that distance, in it's own right will be new for me too. I won't be holding back on energy for a bike ride or run afterwards and previous stand alone open water swims have only been a mile. It will be good to see what I can achieve over the two mile distance.

It's certainly been a bit of a year already yet we're already planning our events for 2019 with two already entered. Ironman may not feature for me again but I can't see myself leaving triathlon behind for some time. I've learned so much about myself in the last six or seven months, not least how important looking after myself is. So in that vein I'm off to roll my foot and start a new book.

Friday 29 June 2018

So... What Now?

In the words of Dusty Springfield, I just don't know what to do with myself. It's been almost two weeks now, since Lakesman and I've only realised this week just how much of my time it took up.

Immediately after the event, Dean and I took a three-night break at Champneys Springs, using one of our Vitality perks for a 75% discount (well we had been extremely active and earned those points after all). We thoroughly enjoyed not having to do very much at all. Aside from eating three wonderful meals a day that we didn't have to prepare (buffets are a god-send for post endurance event appetites) we lounged, had two thalassotherapy treatments, paddled around in the pool and went for a leisurely walk. I did two classes, yoga and stretch, while Dean did a couple of recovery runs on the treadmill. All very lovely.
We were both back to work on Friday, showing off our medals to anyone who showed a passing interest and my dad came up for a father-daughter luncheon. It was our weekend with the children so as well as helping out at the Twyford Kids Triathlon we took them to Junior parkrun, something I'm delighted that they seem to be enjoying. Dean held the fort so I could go out on Saturday night to see Strictly Ballroom in London with my mum during which time I developed a blister from my shoes. I get more blisters from nights out than I do from sports these days! So it was a kinda nice-but-busy weekend.
This week though, despite being back into a full teaching timetable, there's been something missing... training!! I was training between 10-14 hours a week fitting it in before, between and after classes, and now, suddenly, I'm not. It feels odd! But quite rightly my body needs time to rest and recover. Whilst it's easy to underestimate the amount of recovery time we need to take after an event there's also a fine line between taking enough rest and just never quite getting started again. I don't want to stop entirely (and indeed I can't, for reasons I'll share next time) but I'm in no hurry to go back to those sorts of volumes. So for now I now have large chunks of time that I am trying to fill.
I've done a LOT of laundry, started looking after the garden again, cleaned the bathroom and kitchen (things that got a little neglected pre-Lakesman), washed the car BY HAND, got back into reading and started listening to podcasts (Free Weekly Timed and In The Moment are my faves right now). The list of Things I've Been Meaning To Do is being whittled away. There's a strong chance that Dean and I will actually get to take that dance class, climbing course, theatre trip and scuba lesson we've been meaning to since we got married. Yoga classes, crafting, jigsaws, bubble baths and all those other things I'd been promising myself I'd make more time for will have a chance to feature and I can spend more time on building my business. The idea of being able to go for a ride with a friend because I want to, with no prescribed distance or time to adhere to, fills me with joy!
In fact it's being able to exercise for the love of it that is making me happiest at the moment. I started the Summer Series at Fit2Run this week, taking three ladies for some intervals in the forest. Joy! I went to a yoga class yesterday. Bliss! I will probably go to the lake tonight, just to swim a couple of short loops, as slow as I like, maybe just in a swimsuit if it's warm enough. Yes! I'm running two 10k's this weekend, for fun, for the bling, for the social aspect. It certainly won't be for time given the hot weather. Do I care? Do I heck!
And even food is more enjoyable now, can you believe? Worried that I'd continue to eat as though I was still training and put on weight, I consulted my tri club and have been reducing carbs, having protein based snacks and lots and lots of fruit and vegetables. Being so hot it's no hardship to be eating gorgeous salads. Humus and crudités seems to be a new favourite lunch. I'm indulging in seasonal cherries, apricots, mini cucumbers and radishes. I've had nut butter twice since Lakesman, whereas before it was a daily staple.

So life is a bit different post-Lakesman. And I'm loving it. Even if I sing Dusty Springfield lyrics more often than ever before. Now, where did I put that bath essence...?

Sunday 24 June 2018

Lakesman 2018

I am a Lakesman. I have completed an iron distance triathlon. I am an iron distance triathlete. I can't quite believe it. This journey was around 7-8 months in the making. Months of training, compromises, tiredness, overcoming all sorts of things, from lack of bike confidence to lack of self belief. I have had support from so many people; Ellie my coach, Emma my osteopath, Georgina my sports masseuse, my triathlon club 3 Counties Triathlon, my husband Dean, parents, friends and the people I teach. And now it's all over. It's taken me a while to even know how to begin writing about it and now I've started I suspect this may be a long post... bear with me!
The week before the event was a busy one. I had all the usual work, my last few training sessions plus packing to do and cover, cancellations and cat sitting to arrange. And then suddenly it was Friday lunchtime, I'd taught my last class, Dean had fixed the bikes to the roof of the car, we'd thrown last minute things into bags and we were off! It was a long drive to Keswick and we arrived much later than we'd intended but it was quite wonderful, seeing the landscape change the closer we got. The peaks grew bigger alongside our fears about the elevation for the bike route. On arriving at our guest house, our host, a friendly and modest 6-time Everest summitter, was out of the door before we were out of the car, offering help with parking and bike space in the garden. We spent the evening in a tapas bar, one of the only places still serving by the time we walked the 10 minutes into town, drinking wine, sharing nachos and talking to other holiday makers before retiring to our beautifully decorated and comfortable room, one of just four. One of the others was occupied by another couple there for the event so there was much sporting talk around the breakfast table.
After breakfast on Saturday morning we walked ten minutes to race HQ, the Theatre by the Lake to register; a quick and easy process. After that we bundled into the car as the rain started to fall, to drive the first 40 or so miles of the bike route, to prepare ourselves for what lay ahead the following day. The organisers have done a great job in minimising the elevation for the bike (and run) leg, whilst still providing an interesting route. There are hills, but nothing worse than I'd already tackled in training, and with a 40 mile section of almost flat road in the middle of the bike route to break it up. We saw some other poor souls out on a different triathlon in the pouring rain and crossed fingers that the report of dry weather for Sunday would hold true. The recce put my mind at ease and the rain (mostly) held off for racking kit and bikes later that afternoon. We went to the obligatory briefing, had a mooch around the town and ate a hearty meal at an Italian restaurant (booking is essential on a triathlon weekend) after which we relaxed in our room, winding down and dozing off early.
Four A.M... the alarm went off. Coffee, clothes, breakfast, kit bag, out the door. A slow amble down to race HQ. Check the bikes, make minor adjustments to nutrition set up, apply wet suit, look out across the lake at the hills rising up on either side. This was it. Just before six A.M. all 400 full distance competitors waded into the shallows of Derwentwater. It was about 18 degrees and crystal clear. Despite being a mass start, it was wide enough that I was spared the usual violence and was able to get space, remain calm and find a rhythm quickly. 2.4 miles is a long way and I am certain I swam the course wide. I didn't always find it easy to see the next marker buoy and occasionally got distracted by the scenery. So it was a little over an hour and a half later that I hauled myself out of the lake and stumbled towards transition.
I saw Dean coming into transition just as I was leaving to collect my bike; it was really good to see him, if only briefly, and I fully expected him to overtake me on the bike course. The first 40 miles held no surprises. The weather was dry, the road surfaces excellent and I felt equipped to deal with all the hills. There were five feed stations on the route, one of which we passed twice on "the lap", which helped to break the cycle into more manageable sections. I started eating after about 15 minutes and refreshed my carb drink at feed station two. I saw Dean on a switch back and felt good about the speed I was managing. The hills petered out as we entered an industrial section. I stopped at feed station three for a comfort break and to take on a more substantial amount of food. Next we had a lovely stretch of road along the sea front. I think there was a bit of drizzle but not enough to damped spirits. Then came the start of "the lap", one section of the route we would have to do twice, and the headwind. Miles of headwind. I started to feel fed up, a bit light headed, and my right knee was starting to ache. I decided to stop at feed station five.

As I pulled in a volunteer grabbed my bike to steady it as I clambered off and then looked a little bewildered as I promptly burst into tears. More volunteers appeared and ushered me to a chair as I tried to explain that I often get like this when tired and hungry. I was given bananas, bits of cookie and carb drink while I regained my composure. The person who had my bike even asked if I wanted him to stop my Garmin! We had a chat about how I was feeling, which was low, tired, wobbly, nervous about whether I'd make the bike cut off time and then having been fed, watered and given a pep talk about how I shouldn't waste my energy thinking about the cut off at the moment, I was sent on my way with a bento box topped up with energy bars and chews, a fresh carb drink and a promise that when I came by next time I'd get stocked up again.
The next 16 or so miles were hard. I realised that I had never started a bike ride with an energy deficit  of an hour and a half like I had that day, and so even though I'd fuelled as I had in training, it wasn't enough. I started eating every mile but still had to fight back tears as the head winds reduced my speed to single figures and my knee ached more persistently. I was so glad to see the flags of the Carlisle Tri feed station coming into view once more. Once again I pulled in, started crying and was ushered back to the same chair. A memorable moment was having a cup of coffee in one hand, a banana in another and a lady trying to feed me chocolate chip cookie! I was given pain killers for my knee and a super duper pep talk. I must have had four or five people around me at one point, looking after me, consoling me and convincing me that I could do it, would do it. As I eventually got up to set off again I got the most wonderful hug from the young daughter of one of the ladies there. I am positive that without Carlisle Tri, I would not have found the strength to complete the bike.

With the promise that it was only another 20 miles (although my Garmin said it should be 30) and that they would see me on the run course, I left Carlisle Tri with renewed determination. 20 miles ticked by and I saw the final feed station, but I didn't stop, I only had about ten miles to go. I had a couple of other people in my sights and despite seeing 4pm come and go, I tried not to fret. I had a handful of miles back to Keswick and the landscape was becoming familiar again. Finally I rolled into transition again and set about changing for the run. One of the marshals came over to check I was ok, although for a moment I thought she was going to stop me going out on the run. She offered me food and even helped pack my dirty kit away. My quads started to spasm but the knee felt fine and everything held together as I started to run, with some surprising speed.
If you had told me, explicitly, at the end of the bike section, that I had to run a marathon, or for 5 hours, even though it's my strongest discipline, I may had just thrown in the towel there and then. But as it was, I had five laps to do. Each lap was broken up with three feed stations (I religiously took some cola and crisps at each one) and lined with supporters which made it far more bearable, from a mental perspective. True to their word, the ladies who had looked after me at the feed station were towards the end of the lap and gave me an almighty cheer. Although everyone had their name on their race number, I was wearing my Anthony Nolan tops with my name in big letters so was getting more shoutouts than most, another thing I highly recommend.

On my second lap I saw Dean. I'd been pretty sure he'd have overtaken me while I was having my meltdowns so it wasn't a surprise. However I think I surprised him, not only be being behind but also by shouting abuse at him as we passed on a switchback. I did become kinder on each occasion we saw each other mind you. I only glanced at my watch to see what speed I was doing, clocking 2h23 for the half marathon distance. Once I had three laps under my belt I knew this was it, I would finish. I'd over taken Dean, who was struggling with knee and foot pain. The number of people on the course was fast dwindling but those still out were being ever more encouraging. There were extra big cheers, and a couple of hugs, from supporters on my last lap and then, finally, I turned the last corner to run down the red carpet. Hands came out to high five me and I saw a finishing tape held out under the arch. I'd done it! I'd finished! It was about 9:15pm and I'd been on the go for over 15 hours.
I didn't cry, although I'd expected to. Dean crossed the line a few minutes later, giving me time to compose myself and chat to other finishers. I got changed and we hit the catering tent. The food was wonderful but I was having a hard time eating anything; my stomach was feeling incredibly sensitive. I managed a jacket with cheese and Dean forced a few mouthfuls of Cartmel sticky toffee pudding into me (for which I am eternally grateful). The lead technical official brought me tea and cola, someone else lent me a wrap for extra warmth as I'd started to shiver. It all started to sink in. Someone had accidentally left with my kit bags (I got them back the following morning) so I only had my bike to wheel back to the guest house. We couldn't face the prosecco we'd brought for the occasion, or a shower, so I curled up on top of the bed, in my warm dry clothes and tried to sleep. I think we "rested" rather than slept; every muscle felt sore to the touch and my teeth were super sensitive from all the sugar.
Time and distance lends charm to events but I can honestly I had the most amazing day. The event is only three years old, with 2018 being the first year they've held the half distance as well, but they do so much right. It's friendly, with everyone doing as much as they can to help you finish. Had I been taking part in an IM official event, I would have been stopped from going out on the run. As it was, I was in good enough nick to carry on so they let me. Every marshal, volunteer and supporter is worth their weight in gold. The course is pretty, the feed stations well stocked, catering excellent, medal weighty and finishers shirts rather stylish. Transition could do with being a bit bigger with the half competitors there now too but I think that's the only thing I could fault. As a first event you couldn't do much better. We want to go back to do the half distance event, so that we can spend more time enjoying the area, perhaps even doing some walks while we're there.
A week on and it's still not really sunk in. I am delighted with my time and so so proud of Dean for completing it on less than adequate training but a whole heap of grit and determination. Darling, your mental strength is inspirational! The whole thing feels like a bit of a dream and I owe a huge thank you to everyone who has been part of it. THANK YOU!

Friday 15 June 2018

Preparing To Eat The Elephant

Have you ever been faced with a huge (perhaps mammoth - ahem) task, the size of which leaves you paralysed with anxiety over how on earth to even BEGIN such a thing? Has some bright spark then asked how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! The idea being that rather than look at the overall task, you focus on one little piece of it, get that done, and keep doing that until the whole thing is complete.
And that's how I'm going to approach Lakesman at the weekend. I can't quite believe it's finally here. Perhaps I'm sort of hoping it's all a mistake, a dream, that I don't actually have to put myself through it, but on the other hand I'm kinda excited about it. The past week has been a week of lists. Packing lists. Household chore lists. Class cancellation and notification lists. Race strategy. The last of the training sessions are being ticked off one by one. Most of them anyway. Last week I had a bit of a wobble with a couple that I ended up skipping. It all looked perfectly reasonable three weeks ago when it was set but I was tired, I'd run out of time and they didn't feel very "taper-y". I reasoned that any sessions I do now will do very little to improve my performance and it's the only time I've really questioned what my coach has set for me.
This week has felt like a proper taper with a pool swim plus a couple of gentle runs and bike rides. In preparation for event day I've cut out caffeine and alcohol and I'm trying to eat more fruit and veg. The meditations are still a regular feature and I booked myself in for a floatation session on Thursday. I'm reading over my race strategy each day and trying very hard not to fret about my seemingly slowing swim times. Each section of the race, and indeed the night before, morning or and night after, has it's own section in my race strategy. By reading through it regularly I hope to fix it in my mind so although I will only be thinking about the "bit of a swim" on race morning, all the other sections will come to the fore of my mind as I get to them. There's no reason why I can't complete the event but as ever there are elements I won't be able to control, like the weather, so I just have to prepare as best I can, keep a positive mental attitude, remember my training, and keep fuelled and hydrated!
We're travelling up to Keswick today where we'll check into our guest house before finding some food. Tomorrow we will register, drive the bike course, rack our kit and attend the race briefing. The evening will feature kit sorting, a pasta dinner and an early night. We'll be starting the swim at 6am (fog permitting) and trundling on through to the end.

Week beginning 4th June
Swim : 3,200m
Bike : 31 miles
Run : 13 miles

Friday 8 June 2018

Riding Three Counties and Starlight Swimming

After writing about struggling so much with my positive mental attitude last time, I'm happy to say that I'm in a much better place now. There have been a few things that have been instrumental in this change...

I was still suffering with my outlook up until Wednesday last week, when I met Cathy for lunch and a catch up. No matter what's going on in her life, she always seems to have something encouraging to say to me; I'm lucky to have people like that in my life. She also has very good ideas that really I should have thought myself but sometimes I just can't see the wood for the trees. Boredom has been a big limiting factor recently so Cathy suggested that it might be worth the effort to travel to somewhere different for some of my runs and rides. A change is as good as a rest, so they say and this proved to be excellent advice. That very day I drove to Thames Valley Park to run 5k along the canal and felt all the better for it. I have also run around the lake we swim at and returned to Bracknell parkrun for the first time in ages. It beats running around the roads of Crowthorne!
That Wednesday also featured my final appointment with my osteopath before Lakesman. We talked about the emotions I'd been feeling as physically I've been doing quite well. Some time was spent releasing my neck and shoulders, she did some cranial work and stuck needles in my shoulder again. She also suggested that I try and find time for some mindfulness or meditation, something I've done in the past but hadn't occurred to me to do recently. So I've re-subscribed to Headspace and have been working through their "motivation" pack. I've also been writing down my race strategy, my motivations and packing lists, all of which have helped me to focus and feel calmer.
All the big training sessions are now firmly ticked off! If you read my last blog you'll remember I wrote about my failed 100 mile attempt and how I was planning another attempt at the 3 Counties Cycle Ride... well I did it! Dean and I set out on Sunday morning, loaded with peanut M&M's and flapjack, to cycle to Garth College in Bracknell to ride the 54 mile loop of the event. It's a low key affair run by the Rotary Club but is always popular and well spoken of. I'd not ridden it before but had been keen to so it was a happy coincidence that it fitted with plans this year. It was a beautiful day, we saw lots of our club mates and friends there and rather enjoyed the route. Although there were some hills, it was nothing like the sportive I'd attempted the week before! All marshals on the route were great and the water stations well placed and stocked.

When we arrived back at the start we were given medals, a certificate, water and a mars bar. I spoke to the organiser to check when they would be packing up, letting slip that we were heading back out to do the short loop again. I figured out that we had enough time, knew that one water station would be closed but the other should be open long enough for us to make it there. It was a hot day and we were needing to top up bottles on the way round. So we set out on the 33 mile loop. Some early signs had been taken down but all the marshals were still in place and we were making good time. However the water station we had expected to be open had closed about an hour earlier than advertised! Luckily the first aiders were still at the stop and were kind enough to give us some water, which we were very grateful for. We certainly amazed a few people when we arrived back at the start for the second time. Our photo was taken and we were topped up with more water before a gentle trundle home again. All in all we covered about 98 miles, close enough to the 100 for me and a breakthrough in how I'm feeling about the cycle leg of Lakesman!
Breaking the distance down certainly helped, as did having the company. I was able to test my nutrition again, practice hydrating on the go and workout which devices would last the course for recording or at least keeping track of my time at Lakesman.

This week things are starting to ease off a fraction. A little voice has been suggesting that whatever I do now will make precious little difference to how I perform at lakes man, which hasn't always been helpful in getting myself out of the door. I've resorted to inviting peer pressure on days like that, posting on Facebook that I don't want to train and then hauling myself out when several people tell me to suck it up and get on with it. My favourite training sessions recently have been my swim/run days. These have been 8x400m in the lake (fast/slow) plus 2 laps running round the lake, 6x400m in the lake (fast/slow) plus 1 lap running round the lake and a couple of running laps of Black Swan Lake at Dinton Pastures followed by the 1500m Starlight Swim.
I took part in this last year and loved it. I mean what's not to like about swimming in a lake as it gets dark, the only light coming from glowsticks, helium balloons and fairy lights? These are still small events but I hope they grow. I wasn't best pleased with my performance, feeling sluggish after the run and coming in 15th out of 24 with my slowest swim in the last three weeks, only just beating a lady doing breaststroke. But it was a great experience and I've something to improve on next time.
This weekend I'll be doing the Secret Gin Run in London with my mum for some light relief before starting to make final preparations for Lakesman. Tapering will be in full effect. I will be rolling, stretching and meditating daily, reviewing my strategy, packing (not just for the event but the spa afterwards too) and looking forward to a floatation session I've booked for Thursday. I'm starting to get excited!!

Week beginning 28th May
Swim : 3,200m
Bike :133 miles
Run : 22 miles

Friday 1 June 2018

I Would Ride 100 Miles...

And I would ride 100 more, if only my head and legs would get in the game at the same time. My last big milestone before Lakesman is the 100 mile bike ride. I've done 82 miles... how hard can 100 be? Um, very, as it turns out. I had signed up to the Surrey Hills Cyclone Sportive, epic distance (102 miles) on Saturday 26th May. The benefits of this were that I would have a route planned out for me, people to ride with, aid stations along the way and a medal at the end. The downsides were that although I could plan my own route and save myself £40, I would have had to borrow a bike computer again and potentially have no one to ride with. I could have tagged on to a social ride that day, there are plenty about at the moment, and added more miles to the end but I have very poor will power when it comes to these sorts of things and usually slope off home instead.
Ready for the off!
So it was that at 7am on Saturday morning, I slipped out of the house whilst everyone else slept (even the cat) and drove down to Lingfield race course, the start of the event. Dean and I had taken part in this event last year, at the 30mile distance, which at the time I thought was pretty tough, and so I was a little apprehensive about the "hills" aspect, but nothing ventured nothing gained and I'm much stronger this year than last. If I could do this, then Lakesman should be a breeze and at the very least I would get to practice my nutrition strategy. Registration was satisfyingly easy and at 8:30am I was on my way.

There had been threats of rain so I was carrying my rain jacket in my back pocket, my arm warmers were on and I had on the bike and about my person an array of energy bars, peanut M&M's, flapjacks and cheese sandwiches in bite sized pieces, dates and energy gels. I was NOT going to "bonk". There were three feed stations on my route and I intended to make use of them all to top up on flapjack, energy drinks and tortilla chips.
I would have had more flapjack with me had the cat not taken a liking to them!
The first major hill happened at about 12 miles. It was the biggest on the course and boy was it a killer. I managed to cycle up around half of it and joined others in pushing my bike the rest of the way. A few hardy souls made it all the way up but they looked like pros. The downhill was epic! I think I got up to around 34mph without freaking out. But the hills just kept coming; a mile or two of uphill grinds at a time, which scenery just didn't help to distract from. I managed to get up all the other hills I encountered without getting off and pushing but it was energy sapping. I was doing relatively well at eating little and often but as I found I needed to pay more attention to the roads, so the frequency of my eating slowed.
Looking bright at feed station 1
I was hyperventilating my way up one hill when a fellow rider, who looked remarkably better than I did, announced it was only 3 miles to feed station two. Hurrah!! I pulled in, dismounted rather inelegantly, and promptly started sobbing into the fig rolls. A lovely chap, Jez, who was helping to man the feed station, sat me down, topped up my water bottle and had a little chat with me about how I was doing and what my options were. I hadn't realised I was feeling quite so depleted, and the thought that I was only half way filled me with despair. We talked through the elevation. I'd done the worst of it, nothing was as bad now, but I had options. I could get a lift to the finish now if I wanted, or set out to feed station 3 and call for a pick up if needed, or get "bumped" to feed station 3 and carry on from there. Reader, I could have hugged Jez.
The specs hide (some of) the emotion at feed station 2
I mentioned my poor will power earlier and I'm afraid it came into play here. I felt absolutely certain that I wouldn't make the remainder or the route under my own steam. I wasn't even sure I could ride the 30 miles to feed station 3, and the indignity of getting a lift to the finish was just unthinkable, so I opted for option 3... get a lift part of the way. At least then I could ride over that finish line and still have 70 miles in the legs, effectively the standard distance route. And that is what happened. I waited about half an hour for a lift, during which time I ate a lot of snacks and regained my composure. I crossed the line, got my medal and collapsed on the grass. I had not done 100 miles, but I had done a lot of hills, spent several hours in the saddle and learned a lot about my mind can completely sabotage things.
Another medal but not for 100 miles.
The day after my 100 mile attempt I had a review with Ellie. We talked about how I'd been feeling, physically and emotionally, what the last few weeks might have in store and my strategy for Lakesman. I explained how tired I was, how the training was a chore, how I wasn't enjoying anything much any more and I just wanted it all to be over. Apparently all perfectly normal. Next on the agenda... was I going to attempt the 100 miles again? Apparently yes... by signing up to the 3 Counties Cycle Ride, doing the 54 miles distance, then sneaking back on to the 33 miles and tagging on miles by riding to the start and home again. Although a flatter course there are some hills, but I've already done them on other rides so I know I'm capable. Dean will also be with me to haul me out of those dark moments and I also get a certificate!

Otherwise most of my sessions now are much more manageable; some swim and run brick sessions and a couple of run-as-you-feel days. I also got a whole day off on Bank Holiday Monday! I specifically asked for this so that Dean and I could spend some much needed quality time together. We did everything on our own terms, no appointments or demands. I didn't train at all but when Dean decided he wanted to swim at the lake I went with him to sit on the bank with a magazine. It was utter bliss.
Throwing in some fun things is so important. Dean and I managed to get out for a run together recently, something we've not done for goodness knows how long, and I ran 5k with my mum recently too. That along with keeping on top of my general well being (the osteopath appintments,  massages, supplements, epsom salts, diet and stretching) is just about keeping me sane.

I WILL be on the start line for Lakesman, but what the day holds, I don't know. What I do know is that this will be my one and only attempt at iron distance triathlon and even when my head has gotten in the way, I have done my best during training. Sometimes that best is a physical best, sometimes a mental, and every session has made me stronger in at least one of those areas.

Week beginning 21st May
Swim : 1,200m
Bike : 92 miles
Run : 7.14 miles

Friday 25 May 2018

The Good, The Bad and The Outlaw

As I write this it's just a little over three weeks until Lakesman, my "A" race this year, the big event, the grand finale (although there are a couple of encores in the diary). I'm perpetually tired, moody, and full of self doubt. I'm doing my best to be on form for work and telling my classes what I'm working towards when I'm not teaching them has helped a bit. The little voice in my head oscillates between "I don't want to do this anymore" and "It's only three more weeks - then you spa!" I'm constantly reminding myself of my "why" and frankly I'm a big mess. I'm sure everyone close to me will be extremely glad when it's all over!

But it's certainly not all doom and gloom. In the last few weeks there have been some amazing achievements, not least the 82mile bike ride I undertook on my own one sunny Tuesday. I borrowed a bike computer from Ellie, stitched together three routes from Strava, stuffed my pockets with food and set off. Ideally I'd have joined a ride at the weekend for at least part of the distance but work and such put pay to that so it was "now or never". I don't think I understood at the time just how much mental strength it took, especially in the latter half when I was tired, couldn't face food and passed home on my way out to the last loop. Because my posture deteriorated significantly over those 6 hours, I got a very painful knot in my right shoulder so the last few days before Outlaw Half featured lots of stretching, magnesium oil, massage and pilates.

Week beginning 7th May
Swim : 2,000m
Bike : 85.8 miles
Run : 9.73 miles
Ah, Outlaw Half, now we get to it. I'm usually nervous or excited about events but this time I felt a bit... nothing. At least in the week prior to race day. I'd completed swims, bike rides and runs far in excess of what I needed to achieve on race day. I was relatively sure I'd get a PB and I knew the location, having supported there a couple of years back. But I was tense on the drive up to Nottingham, wanting to get registered, checked in to the hotel and kit organised as quickly as possible so as to allow myself some time to relax. My shoulder was still giving me trouble which I think accounts for most of it, but also, in essence this was just another training event. It didn't feel special. Registration was well organised and straight forward. OSB Events have a reputation for being rather slick and I was not disappointed with any aspect of the event organisation.
We spent the evening with a friend who lives in the area, being offered vast amounts of quesadillas and brioche bread and butter pudding and chatting about all sorts of everything. It took my mind off how I had been feeling and I ended the evening far more relaxed and happy than I'd started. I had the sort of night's sleep I've come to realise is normal before bigger events, especially where an early start is involved, and all too soon the alarm clock sounded the 4am alert.
Attempting to quell race nerves
Kit on, sunscreen, coffee, porridge, out the door. I still felt a bit numb about it all but the sun was rising over the water as we reached Holme Pierrepont, looking absolutely glorious. A good day for a swim. Cars were swiftly directed to parking spaces, bikes decanted and novice and elite athletes alike were efficiently funnelled into the transition area for various amounts of faffing.
Kit duly laid out I pottered around, chatting to people I knew, nibbling on a bagel and eventually climbing into my wetsuit before hugging Dean and heading for transition once more. It was time. The elites set off at 6am and were heading out on their bikes before I started at 6:48am. We had 10 minutes or so to get acclimatised in the water before our start. I've only ever experienced deep water starts so thought I knew what to expect but so large was my start wave that I got a little battered and felt hemmed in until about half way round. I had to keep switching to breaststroke, just to see what the swimmers around me were doing, weaving their way down the lake. After what felt like an age I stumbled out of the water, helped by a chain gang of volunteers, one of whom ran with me towards transition, unzipping my wetsuit for me - she was an angel!
T1 took longer than I planned as I got a bit stuck in my bike jersey. I would have worn a trisuit and done away with most elements of changing were it not for the fact I wanted to wear my Anthony Nolan jersey. So after struggling into it and putting my food back into my rear pockets where it had spilled out I was off out on the bike course. I was mindful of eating and drinking regularly but I was only ten miles in when I started to get bad stomach cramps which unfortunately stayed with me for the rest of the day. The bike course is really lovely, only one real hill to speak of (12%) and extremely well marshalled. It was a sunny day and I was making good progress until after the feed station where I caught up with a couple of ambulances I'd seen go past and a large number of other competitors. A couple of cyclists had come off at different times on the same section of road which was now closed for police investigation. An air ambulance was in the neighbouring field and we were held for up to half an hour, depending on when we'd arrived, before being turned around and diverted, taking in an extra two miles. The marshals did a great job to get us diverted and on our way as quickly as they did but any hopes we'd had of achieving a time were forgotten. There was a more social atmosphere for a while and I leapfrogged with a few people almost all the way back. I joined forces with one of my 3CTri team mates towards the end and we endured the gravel, speed bumps and pot holes into transition together.
Final bit, the run! Again, I changed top, from cycling jersey to running vest but was much speedier. As I'd not managed to eat much on the second leg of the bike course due to stomach cramps, I downed a gel and wobbled my way out of transition and past Dean, who had been panicking, the spectators not having been updated about happenings out on the course. The run course is an out and back along the river then around the lake, twice. There are three well stocked feed stations which are placed so that you pass a feed station ten times on the run, no excuses for getting dehydrated! Sponges were available too, which I made use of for once, it being extremely hot by this point.
My guts were in knots. I managed to run at a very respectable speed for a few miles, sipping water and electrolyte drinks as best I could but had to slow to a walk shortly after I passed Dean for my second lap. I tried to force down some food, a jaffa cake, one crisp and two bites of banana. I couldn't face it. I also couldn't face the thought of doing Lakesman. I was not in a happy place. I stopped in the shade at a feed station where I was looked after by another angelic marshal who fed me flat coke, stuffed a gel in my race belt and promised she'd "be here when you come past again". My legs felt strong so it was frustrating to not be able to run. As one of the few people wearing charity colours I got a lot of support from other competitors which was lovely, but hard to take at the time. Eventually I reached the final straight, a mile down the lake into the finish chute. I shuffled. I ran. I smiled! I'd done it!!
My time was slower than what I'd achieved at the 113 last year, but I'd earned my medal. I collected my finishers shirt and slowly made my way to find Dean. We made our way to the food tent, previously the home to registration, where I was able to choose from three mains and two desserts for my post-race meal, included in my entry. Dean urged me to collect a couple of the pints of Erdinger Alkoholfrie that were being handed out liberally to sip on in an attempt to settle my stomach, or at least get some calories in. Eventually I felt able to eat my meal, sat in the shade and chatting to some more team mates. Once I felt steady I collected my kit from transition and even felt up to my customary post-event ice cream on the way back to the car.
Despite all the things that didn't go to plan, it was a great day. The Outlaw Half is a well-organised and friendly event. I would do it again in a heartbeat and suggest it as a reasonable choice for a first half iron-distance triathlon.

So onward... I've not suffered any aches or pains since the event, just tiredness. I'm trying my best to complete my last big training sessions, remembering why I'm doing this in the first place; to raise funds for Anthony Nolan. Please, please, if you haven't donated already, I'd be so grateful if you could, to support me in this huge challenge and to support a very worthy charity.

Week beginning 14th May
Swim : 5,600m
Bike : 140.8 miles
Run : 19.2 miles