Monday, 17 April 2017

Our Weekend Triathlon

This year Dean and I are training up for triathlons. Different triathlons. His is an Ironman in July, mine, a half iron distance in June. Along the way we're doing a number of events under the guise of training, but really we just quite like doing events. In all seriousness, the events are definitely helping me to gauge my progress along the way. And so it happened that the weekend of the 8th and 9th of April saw us covering all three disciplines in separate events. A sort of "Weekend Triathlon" if you will.

Saturday morning was a parkrun morning. We've not done a parkrun in ages so it was a bit of a change for us. Our local course had changed twice since we last went, and has become slower, so no chance of a PB. Given we actually (shock, horror) had a free morning, we decided to jog the two miles up to the start as well. For me, this was a sluggish, stress-ridden run followed by a very slow parkrun. The bottlenecks on the new course didn't even bother me that much! But with 5 miles under our belts we wandered home in the sunshine feeling virtuous.

Next on the agenda was Swimathon on Saturday afternoon. This was to be my third time taking part in Swimathon, having increased my distance on each occasion from 1.5km up to 5km this year; far further than I need to be able to swim for the triathlon and a challenge in it's own right but useful nonetheless for confidence building. I'd been on BBC Radio Berkshire (listen from 41:40) the day before having a bit of a chat about it and was somewhat nervous. It was to be the first time I'd ever swum the distance, having only gone up to 4000m in training. Dean had covered the distance before but not this year. Both of us had swimming lessons as adults and Swimathon is a great motivator for keeping up with our swimming and improving our technique, I cannot recommend it enough as a life skill. Our pool was Bracknell Leisure Centre. We duly arrived at 2:30(ish) for a 3pm start and were surprised to find the car park almost empty. Previous years had been much busier and more atmospheric with music and spectators. We took to our lane with two other swimmers and started our swim finishing just a little over 2 hours later. I can't fault the staff or the facilities, but it did feel a little lack luster this year, perhaps as it was a much longer time in the pool than before. Still, medals earned and confidence boosted.

Last but by no means least was the cycle. I'm not a cyclist. I've never considered myself as one nor found an affinity with the bike before. I envy those who go out and do long rides on Sundays... and suddenly here I was, off to do a long ride on a Sunday! I'd been encouraged to sign up to a Sportive as a way to ensure I didn't duck out of the cycling. I'd done a couple of short outdoor rides early in the year and since then, steadily built up time in the saddle on gym bikes. I'd tried rollers but not managed to progress past hanging on for dear life to the back of the dining chair, and I'd stubbornly ignored Dean's attempt to get me suing cleats by fitting clip in pedals on my bike so it was only the weekend before the event that I took the plunge and actually went out for a ride using them. And I didn't fall off - result!

So Sunday rolled around and we headed down to the New Forest with both bikes stuffed in the back of the car, enough snacks to feed a small army and my nerves jangling so loudly it was a struggle to hear the radio. And it wasn't just the clip in pedals that were making me nervous. When we'd signed up the standard distance was listed as 50 miles. Two weeks prior to the event I discover it's been increased to 66 miles. But that's only 16 miles more, I hear you cry. Ah yes, but I'd only managed to get up to 40 miles in training. An extra 10 miles on top of that is quite manageable in my head but a jump of 26 miles... something quite different.
Feeling like a plonker
The Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive was a much larger event than I'd anticipated, but wonderfully well organised. No queues for loos, quick and easy registration, comprehensive briefing... and sunshine! We set off, quickly getting left behind my the bulk of our wave (waves of about 30 people were going every couple of minutes). The idea was just to ride, no expectations, no aims for speed, just get around and try to enjoy it. And I did for a while. The scenery was lovely, both out on the heathlands or through the villages. The way was really well marked (no getting lost like last time) and the first food station at 15 miles was soon in sight.
Spoilt for choice
Onwards. It was a long way to the next food stop, and I'd underestimated how much fuel I'd need to take on. I started to flag, to tire, to get frustrated that things were so hard, that Dean was pulling away from me. Dean got a puncture after a few miles and I was grateful for the rest. The energy bar I inhaled didn't seem to help much and at around 37 miles, at the top of a hill, I sat down on the side of the road and started sobbing my heart out. It was too difficult, I was too tired, I'd phone the medical team for a rescue, it was stupid to think I could do this. The numbers were too big to comprehend. It was just. So. Much. Further. Dean tried to talk some sense into me and somehow got me back on my bike and pedalling.
There are tears behind those glasses
At the next food station I downed water, sat down, inhaled many many fig rolls and found solace in conversation with others who were also finding it hard. We got to 50 miles... this should have been the end! 16 miles to go! We walked up a particularly nasty hill, but somehow I managed to cycle the remaining hills. As the miles ticked off I found reserves. 10 miles to go! We stopped again and a pony tried to eat my saddle, helmet and energy bar. It made me giggle and put me in the right frame of mind for finishing.
Greedy pony

The last six miles were fine. As we pull back on to the estate we'd started from I could feel myself welling up. I told Dean to expect tears on the finish line. It had taken me over six hours but I managed to complete the bike ride. I was a big bag of emotions. I could do this. It was further than I'd have to cycle in the triathlon but of course I'd not just done a swim nor did I have to run a half marathon right away. We collected our medals, finishers t-shirts and snacks. Once I regained the use of my legs and had finished reassuring my mum on the phone that I was ok, I got us some ice creams and my word they were the best ice creams ever! The benefit of finishing so late was that we had plenty of space to laze around in for a while and could easily find the car. Every cloud!
That weekend has been a real turning point for me in my training. It was a lot of fun, but tiring. All the events were great and I'd especially recommend the Wiggle events. The process has helped me to consolidate what I've already done and identify what I still need to work on. I've since signed up for another sportive and put some club rides in the calendar. Lake swimming season is upon us as we've plans to go together when we can. I'm still nervous for the triathlon, especially as my running seems to be consistently sluggish at the moment, but I know I've got the strength to pull through.

Do you use events as part of your training plan?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Event Review : Reading Half Marathon

Thanks to Vitality I was fortunate enough to win a place in the Reading Half Marathon this year. I knew a lot of people who were running, it's a very popular event for the local running club, but I must confess that I hadn't felt moved to enter myself. But I also never say no to a free race entry! I've made no secret of having paced at events and as a couple of people asked if I'd be willing to pace them round Reading I thought it would be a great use of my place. Rachel and Cathy joined me on the starting line with Dean, also playing unofficial pacer, on a "breezy" Sunday morning.
We'd turned up nice and early to our pre-paid parking spot in the pink car park and wandered over to the start village to meet fellow club runners and to pay a visit to the Vitality tent to claim a Team Vitality shirt (which will be worn on other runs) and to take advantage of their dedicated bag drop, much smaller and easier to get to than the main one, although I heard no horror stories there. Let's get the important things out of the way... there were enough loos from what I could tell, including some in the parking areas, and there were an array of food trucks, merchandise stalls and massage areas. The start was well sign posted and we found the Orange start with relative ease.
The race was due to start at 10:30am, much later than I'm used to, due to a family run taking place beforehand. It had proved popular, judging by the number of people heading away from the stadium area as we were arriving, and made for a good atmosphere. I believe the front wave was set off promptly but it took around 20 minutes for the orange wave to reach the start line. Thank heavens for the body heat of strangers! In all seriousness, the start was managed well, with everyone managing to set off at their own pace with little jostling and weaving. There are thousands of entrants to the Reading half so managing the start line is crucial.

The four of us stayed in sight of each other for the first few miles, keeping to a 2h15 finishing pace. We sought out supporters in the crowd, enjoyed the bands and DJs on the route, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Dean caused a moment of chaos, concern and hilarity when he tripped over whilst running backwards to point out the lab he used to work in at the University... I don't think he'll be doing that again... and then it was into the town centre proper.

Cathy and Dean started to break away a little bit and we let them. Rachel was running a strong first half of the race but recovering from illness meant this had always been a "suck it and see" goal of 2h15 and we took a pragmatic approach of adjusting the goal in the second half. The support along the route never wavered, there were plenty of jelly babies on offer from kindly folk, the water stations always seemed to be just where you needed them (the squeezy pouches worked well) and soon we were heading down the dual carriageway towards the finish at the Madejski Stadium. I ran Reading some years ago and remembered this being long, tedious and dreary. Maybe it was because I had company this time, that I was stronger, but it didn't seem so bad. Rachel, trouper that she is, saw the signs counting down the meters to go and kicked it up a gear, reaching the finish line just 30 seconds outside of her PB - a fantastic achievement!
Well deserved medal for Rachel
The finish line was just as well organised as the start, with runners encouraged to flow through the first aider area to collect a foil blanket, goody bag, t-shirt and refreshments. It wasn't crowded, easy to find those we were looking out for and similarly easy to get our bags back form the Vitality tent. The walk back to the car seemed to take twice as long as it should have done and he only thing that put a bit of a dampener on the event, for me anyway, was how long it took to get out of the car park... 45 minutes! But all in all a great event and a fun day out.
Proudly sporting our finishers t-shirts and medals!
For your £35 entry fee you got a sized cotton finishers t-shirt and a goody bag including a mars bar, meridian bar, bottle of lucozade and bottle of water. The medal was heavy and had space for an iTab should you have felt inclined to record your time. Vitality seem to have gotten the organisation of their events spot on and although large, I would recommend them. Thank you to everyone involved in the day and congratulations to all finishers, whether you achieved your "A" goal or not.

Have you had a friend pace you before, paced for someone or used an official pacer? What was your experience?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Life Lately... Mainly Triathlon Training!

There's been a dearth of what I would term "personal" posts on here lately. Quite a few race reviews as I try to clear the backlog of races I wanted to talk about last year and the odd Vik's Picks post but little else. That's not for lack of things to talk about, on the contrary there's been a heck of a lot going on and frankly when I've had some down time I've not felt like opening the laptop to write about it. Life's a bit all-or-nothing right now... with the emphasis on ALL!

This year is the year of the wedding and the year of my half iron distance triathlon amongst other things (see my side bar for full event listings). Since January I've already clocked up three official half marathons and a night run. I'm working on new classes and opportunities for my business, including gaining my CiRF (coaching) qualification and working on another older adults fitness course. I'm neck deep in decisions about gift lists, accessories, table decorations and guest lists, playing step-mum every other weekend and trying to fit in the odd social thing like an evening with Mary Berry or seeing The Mavericks play The Indigo at the O2. Add into that training that's ramping up and it's no wonder I feel a little like I'm burning the candle at both ends. A friend brought it home to me recently with a message informing my that I "looked f*cked" in an instagram photo not so long ago and that I should slow down.
Looking less than brilliant after 40 miles on the gym bike.
I've been increasing my swim distances for Swimathon 2017. I've previously done the 2.5km swim but this year I'm tackling the 5km distance. I've done 4km in training and frankly I'm counting on that to get me through. I've also been building up my cycling distances. I'm a reluctant cyclist, not yet au fait with cleats or rollers and a bit of a wuss when it comes to cycling outside. I'd signed up for the standard distance on the Wiggle Spring Sportive which was advertised at 50miles but now turns out to be 66miles. I'm up to 40miles on the gym bike with no more time to really push further before the event so am hoping that sheer will and determination will be enough (along with the support of Dean who is also taking part). So much for it being a bridge to my triathlon! Both the swim and the bike sections for the triathlon are shorter than these events so I'll be in a good place if I can maintain some of this fitness. 
Severe goggle marks after one of my longest swims.
The running is a different matter. Comfortable at half marathon distance I've not managed to hit my planned longer runs lately. When I'm pushed for time, it's the running that usually gets shelved. I *only* need to be able to run a half for the triathlon but we do have some longer distance events coming up which I want to be able to complete comfortably. I won't lie, I am getting a bit stressed out about it, but I have to be realistic. I'll be able to reduce time in the pool soon and so will have a little more time for running. It's been finding suitable blocks of time that's been the real struggle, especially ones that aren't on consecutive days.
Strength needs to feature, though it's often neglected.
On average I'm doing one swim (1.5-2hrs), one cycle (2hrs plus), and two runs a week (10k-ish and one longer)  with occasional yoga and mini strength workouts or HIIT sessions. I'm generally enjoying the training, and although I'm not seeing any changes in my body I know it's stronger and more resilient than it has been. Rest and relaxation are also part of training which is why on Thursday last week, instead of going out for a long run I took some time out. My body felt heavy and if I didn't rest I knew I may jeopardise my ability to train later. 
Yoga is part of my self-care regime.
Things don't really calm down after the triathlon... although I'll be able to drop the cycling and swimming if I so choose, I'll need to keep my long distance legs going for the honeymoon... he's only gone and signed us up for the Costa Rica marathon!! No excuse for not being in great shape on our wedding day though.

What's your "A" race or event this year? Are you suffering from training stress or taking it in your stride? 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Event Review : Oxford half

The second half of last year was a bit of a disaster in terms of training. I just didn't do enough. No excuses, I could have, but I didn't make it a priority. New relationship, building the business, getting to know the two new little people in my life... all these things were put over and above training runs, save for those I went on with my beloved, and so it was no surprise that the Vitality Oxford Half, that I'd planned as my sub-2-hour attempt, didn't go to plan.
Support crew
Billed as being a flat course, well organised, under the management of Vitality, and late in the season, Oxford seemed like the perfect half marathon attempt. It was a bright day, temperatures were good and I was feeling psyched up to give it a go. I'm not sure whether I believed I could get a sub-2hour but I thought I could have a crack at breaking my PB that has stood at 2:10 for years. My support crew of Dean and the children hurtled up the motorway to the park and ride that we'd pre-booked for £6. Hearts sank at the length of the queue to get on the bus but in fairness it moved pretty swiftly and we were soon making the walk through the town centre to the start pens. No need to go to the race village as I'd already got my race pack and left my bag with Dean.
On the start line
The start pens wound all around the city centre, hemmed in by old buildings and narrow streets. It was very picturesque. We were set off in waves according to time so I didn't start for several minutes after the gun went off but it all flowed fairly well. I do remember there being a bit of a bottleneck somewhere but I can't remember where so it really can't have been that bad. We started winding around the city with plenty of support on the side lines. As we ventured further out there were fewer people but rarely a stretch where there was no cheering. Several music acts were dotted along the route, something I always enjoy, and all in all it was very pleasant.
Medals on the start line
My legs felt good at this point and I had a good pace. I felt as though I could hang on to it and if I had, I'd have achieved my target. Dean and my parents were following me on the tracker and were rooting for me... but at about half way, despite taking my gel and staying hydrated, I started to slow. We were in the area with least support, a long out and back with some underpasses that felt like mountains to my suddenly heavy legs. I tried giving myself a stern talking to, picking up my heels, my knees, driving my arms, all the things I coach my runners to do, but to no avail... I just tried to keep moving as best I could. It was a little bit heartbreaking, not to be able to summon up any more speed but I knew I'd have to get to the finish line so left foot, right foot, the body followed. The pack hadn't really thinned out at all so I had plenty of people to wash my along and as we headed back towards the centre the support grew again.
Feeling shuffly at the end
I was run-walking in the last couple of miles and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Doing maths on my pace and time to see what could be salvaged. In the end I crossed the line in 2:11 which actually wasn't too shabby, but I know I could have had a more comfortable and quicker race had I put the training in that I had intended. Lesson learned.
Big smile after 13.1 miles... and a nice bit of bling to show for it
Over the finish line and goody bag in hand, medal around neck, I found Dean and the children for much needed hugs. They'd passed the time in the race village listening to Chico, playing and snacking. We'd worried that they'd get bored but they actually seemed to be pretty entertained and even enjoyed a bit of spectating - so a big tick for a family friendly event!

The £35 entry fee got me a t-shirt, snacks, drinks, the usual array of discount vouchers and a nice medal. We spent some time back at the race village for a picnic before finding the bus to return to the park and ride. It was all a pretty smooth operation and I would absolutely consider entering again. I don't say that too often but let's face it, there's unfinished business there now! All the Vitality events I've entered so far have been well organised, if on the large side, and I'd recommend them. As a company they promote healthy living for all the family and so are particularly good as an opportunity to get youngsters involved with some mini marathons and plenty of offers to encourage you to stay active.

Post race picnic
It's unlikely I'll attempt another half marathon PB this year as the focus is on triathlon and ultras (oh and a wedding) but 2018 might be the year... I'm starting to get people comment on how I look as though I should be faster and that there is fighting talk!

Have you taken part in a Vitality event? What are your best family-friendly event recommendations? Going for a PB attempt this year?