Sunday, 29 April 2018

Swimathon, Sportive, Slumps

The last two weeks have been a bit of a mixed bag. The euphoria of Brighton carried me through a few days. Training was meant to recommence on the Tuesday but I felt I needed an extra rest day, so I took it, sacrificing a track/interval session, and felt no remorse. Instead I got pummelled by the lovely Georgina under the guise of a sports massage. My poor thighs!
Wings for my trainers! A celebratory gift from the lovely Cathy.
I actually enjoyed doing a few big swims and I even got out on the roads for a 40 mile bike ride on a sunny Friday afternoon, meeting a friend at Dinton Pastures for some of it.  It felt like a bit of a breakthrough session. Being the slightly more confident of the two of us somehow made me step up a bit so together with being familiar with the route and not having to navigate many junctions, it was a delight. The ice cream at half way probably also helped!
Halfway ice cream at Dinton Pastures
Week beginning 16th April 
Swim : 7,650m
Bike : 73.43 miles
Run : 2.08 miles

It seemed as though I had more time in my days. I was able to read, to go to the cinema and meet friends for breakfast as well as do my training. I was feeling more energetic and investing time in looking after myself. Iron supplements and magnesium spray now feature in my daily routine. There was another visit to the osteopath which was all very positive too. Saturday saw Dean and I take part in Swimathon for the fourth year in a row. It was my second attempt at the 5km distance and I was aiming to improve on my 2017 time of 2:08:11. Under two hours was the aim and I was delighted to complete the distance this year in 1:54:17! Another PB! Training looked to be paying off and I can only thank Ellie Gosling for that.
So where are the negative parts? Well I suppose there are only two dark spots in the last two weeks, one of which has only come to pass this afternoon. The first was on Friday. Ellie had uploaded my next four weeks of training plan into Training Peaks on Thursday night and asked me to take a look. There were some big numbers in there... 75, 90, 100 mile bike rides, and all cycling to be completed on the roads from now on. One swim a week will now be in the lake and I saw many days swallowed up with training. I wasn't wholly unprepared for this, I know what I need to be building up to, but I wasn't prepared for how much this played on my mind all through Thursday night, leaving me tired and overwhelmed on Friday. I tried and tried to turn it around. In the end a sob, a big bowl of pasta, a glass of wine and a resolution to only think a few days ahead seemed to work.
Wise words from Des'ree
The second dark spot has crept up on me this afternoon. Following on from Swimathon yesterday Dean and I were both signed up to an Evans Cycles RIDE IT event today. We'd booked the medium distance or 60 miles to fit in with my training plan and dutifully landed bikes into the car and set off for Pangbourne just after 8am. It was cold and the skies threatened rain that came to pass quite early on. We got to around 10 miles with numb toes, rain covered glasses and an intense desire to go home. We'd layered up but it wasn't enough against the headwinds and side winds (no tailwinds of course). A niggle in my arms picked up on the swim the day before was making itself known too. At the feed stop at 19 miles we decided to drop down to the short route of 34 miles. Not what I'd set out to achieve but I reasoned with myself that it was still time in the saddle, I'd been stronger on the hills, better with gears and fuelling and so not all was wasted. In those last 15 miles I got panicked in slow moving traffic, almost came off my bike on a hill, was less than sensible at junctions just to avoid having to stop and unclip to the point where Dean has threatened to swap my cleats back to toe cage pedals. And so I got back to the car feeling it had been the right thing to do. I'd made my peace with not completing 60 miles.
The route map. 
Then we reviewed our training diaries from 2017. This time last year Dean and I had done parkrun *and* Swimathon on the Saturday followed by a 65 mile sportive in the New Forest on the Sunday. Suddenly I felt as though I was so far behind where I was a year ago, wondering whether I should be giving up on Lakesman. But my overall training volumes are bigger. My times have improved left right and centre. And I remember how different it felt on the bike in the sun just last week, to in the rain and wind today. The weather makes such a huge difference, not only to effort involved but mental state. So I will be resting for the remainder of the day and carrying on tomorrow. New day, new achievements. I've been very honest about how I'm feeling in this post, but there's no point hiding it. This is what Ironman training is like, ups and downs, doubts and euphoria, and it has to be just one step at a time.
A medal. Not wholly earned?
Week beginning 23rd April
Swim : 8,000m
Bike : 59.63 miles
Run : 5.2 miles

I've raised a total of £592.48 so far - thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. There's still a way to go but I appreciate all the support for me and Anthony Nolan.I'm lucky to be able to do what I do, not everyone can.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Event Review : Brighton Marathon 2018

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside! We (my parents, Dean and I) arrived in Brighton on Friday afternoon. It was sunny and we had plenty of time after checking into our hotel to wander to the race village by the front to collect our race packs. It was happening. Dean and I were running the Brighton Marathon, him for the first time, me for the second and with a time goal in mind. I was feeling oddly relaxed, but I may have been the only one.
Friday afternoon seemed a good time to be at the race village. It was in the same area as the finish would be so it gave us a chance to check out the food trucks, massage tent and merchandise stands before collecting our packs at the far end. Numbers were allocated as you arrived, allowing you to choose your start pen based on how your training had actually gone, not how you had hoped it would go. We also got commemorative timing chips (which we got to keep) and a "competitors" t-shirt, rather than a finishers one, which I rather liked even if it was a tad short. This t-shirt was supplemented with some additional purchases on my part (and some treats from mum - thank you!). 
All the important things done, we took some time to sit on the beach before making a start on our carb loading at The Geese, a pub specialising in sausage and mash... it was divine! 
Mushroom and garlic sausages, colcannon, mushroom and Guinness gravy and cauliflower cheese
It was an utter joy to wake up on Saturday morning knowing I had no appointments or demands on my time. We had a lazy but filling breakfast and determined to make the walk to Preston Park, where the race would start, to check how long it would take and to see what was going on. About 35 minutes later, after a slow amble in the sunshine, we arrived to see the mini mile races taking place; lots of enthusiastic children wearing matching t-shirts and hefty medals accompanied by proud parents. We found our own start line and examined the course map with mum and dad over a cuppa to decide on their spectator spots. 
We took another amble back via race village so Dean could get a last minute massage for neck and shoulders, where I bumped into a host of FaceBook acquaintances (many selfies and group photos followed) and then headed back to our hotel. A bit of good luck meant we managed to get a table in the sun on the restaurant terrace for shakes and nachos. A chance to rest up properly!
The vast majority of people arrived on the Saturday including our friends Cathy and Barry who were staying around the corner and joined us for a bevy in the last dregs of the sunshine. We compared notes on the race village, emotions, how legs were feeling and game plans for the following day. Us runners agreed to meet in the morning to wander to the start together, leaving my parents to have a more relaxed start to their day. Dinner was at the marina... macaroni cheese and sweet potato chips for me! Tensions started to rise as I laid out my kit for the following morning. Alarms were double checked and we both tried to get some sleep. The nerves continued to build.
Then it was here. Race day! The hotel puts on a runners breakfast each year of porridge, yogurt, toast, cereals and fruit before their regular breakfast starts to allow us to get something inside us before heading to the start. I managed to eat fairly heartily but Dean struggled with toast. Where as when we walked to the start on Saturday I'd been using my phone to guide us, there was no need for that on Sunday. A steady stream of runners lead us to Preston Park. Lots of nervous chatter, arms around shoulders and revised agreements of race plans. Once at the start we did the usual loo queues, meeting up with friends and the bag drop. Cathy had a bottle of fizz in her bag for after and amazingly it survived intact! The weather wasn't anywhere near as nice as the previous two days and I was glad on my bin bag to help keep me warm. Huddling in the start pens helped too. There was a big countdown and... we stayed where we were... faster pens being set of sooner. It took us 20 minutes to get over the line.
Bin bag chic
The marathon distance itself seemed to go by in a bit of a blur. That sounds a bit silly but you are completely in the moment, digging deep the closer to the end you get, and there's a lot to entertain you. I commented to Cathy at one stage that there was so much I wanted to remember but that by the end my addled brain was liable to forget it all so we made a pact to prompt each other with as many of these moments as possible at the end. 

These moments included a DJ in someone's front garden and a lady doing "mum dancing" on the pavement, a little boy shouting "GO RACERS" at the top of his voice to everyone, the most enthusiastic shouting I've ever heard from our friend Zena and my parents popping up all along the route with a big red foam finger. There were people in fancy dress, notably a telephone, a stormtrooper, the Moana ladies and Elvis, who I was running with for about 4 miles until it all got a bit too much and I had to push ahead to leave him behind. 
The four of us all had our names on our vests and from the start we were tallying who got the most shouts. Undeniably it was Barry, to the point I considered pretending I was also called Barry. We stuck together until about 8 miles in, as we turned back from the marina, when Dean stopped to eat something. Barry, Cathy and I carried on together for a few more miles, Cathy reining us in around the half way mile where, the crowd being a little subdued at this point, got whipped up by Barry shouting "go crowd!" at them. We started speeding up with the adrenaline. I laughed a lot. There were lots of signs and banners on the course and my two favourites were "May the course be with you" and "I have crabs, no CARBS, I have carbs!". 
We played spot-the-club, shouting out to fellow club members, other local clubs we knew and groups like RMR or RIOT. You could spot the pacers by the big coloured balloons, plastered with their target time, bobbing through the runners. We caught up to the 4:30 pacers who had started ahead of us and I resolved to stick with them for as long as I could. I didn't realise that this lead to me pulling away from Cathy and Barry around mile 14. There was still masses of support up until mile 18 or so, where we headed out to the industrial estate. This is always the hardest part of the course. You've 8 miles still to go, you're getting tired, the support wanes and there's not much to look at. There also a great deal of speed bumps that seem to creep up on you. I'd pulled away from the pacers and missed seeing Cathy and Barry as we switched back in the town but I saw them and Dean on the switchback in the industrial estate which made my heart sing. They were still there! They were doing well but how on earth was I keeping my pace up?
Coming out of the industrial estate, on to the seafront, I started to get more and more cheers from the crowd. I spotted my parents as I got to the last mile. First Dad (I almost cried) and then Mum, waving like a loon. The last mile. I can run a mile. The crowd spurred me on. I saw the Anthony Nolan support group who gave an almighty roar. I passed under the pedestrian bridges and tried to whip the crowd up as Barry had. Most obliged and their shouts carried me the last 800m, 400m, over the line! 
I'd finished! And in under 4 and a half hours! In 4 hours 23 minutes to be precise, a 19 minute PB. The tears I'd held back when I saw Dad didn't burst forth. I collected my medal, pint of Erdinger (I only managed half), goody bag and kit bag. It was cold so I got changed as quickly as I could, just in time to see first Barry, then Cathy. Dean was a few minutes behind. I was immensely proud of everyone. There was much hugging, a few tears, and an intense desire to get back to the warmth of the hotel for celebrations. 
There was some well-deserved fizz and proper analysis of the race, salt baths, stretches, clean clothes and a hearty meal. The race organisation was really good, in my opinion, although I think , given that the founder of parkrun started the race, they missed a trick by not having a "one park run to go" sign at the appropriate spot on the course. A few days later and my legs have been pummelled by my sports masseuse and I'm feeling fairly recovered. I'm already back into training, with a focus on swimming and cycling, preparing for Swimathon on the 28th and the events beyond. I'm trying to look after myself with lots of good food, extra iron supplements and resting when I can.
You can still donate to the cause via Just Giving, either for efforts thus far or for the upcoming Swimathon, half or full iron triathlons. Good luck to everyone running London this weekend. It's going to be a hot one but oh so wonderful.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Week Before Brighton

On Sunday 15th April I will finally be running the Brighton Marathon. It's been a real rollercoaster of a few weeks not only in terms of what I've achieved (or not) with training but emotionally and mentally. Let's have a bit of a recap...
Week of March 12th
Swim: 1,600m
Bike: 51 miles
Run: 8 miles

It feels like lifetime ago that I walked the Sam Run course in the snow with Jackie, the race organiser, and Amy, one of the other ambassadors. I've organised some training runs in the lead up to the event which you can find out about here, and it just so happens that until April 19th you can get a discount on race entries! Just enter code Discount5 or Discount10 at the check out for the 5km or 10km race respectively. It was also the week I went out for a friend's birthday and to see Bill Bailey with Dean and my parents. It was a great week and one of my highest mileage weeks on the bike (all indoors though).
Post-floatation tea and sorbet
Week of March 19th
Swim: 4,200m
Bike: 41 miles
Run: 30 miles

Along the canal
A busy week of trying to look after myself with a floatation session mixed in with a social run, helping out at the first Barnes Fitness event of the year (see their website for more events - I particularly recommend to Dinton Series and Starlight Swims) and some long ol' distances across the disciplines! I tackled my longest run in this training cycle to date, 20.7 miles along the canal from Newbury to Reading. It was a lovely if somewhat muddy route (and I didn't have my trail shoes on) but it gave me a chance to practice my nutrition strategy (aka what I will eat and when). I also got out on actual roads on my bike! Shock horror! Only a few heart palpitations at junctions and aside from not eating anything on the 27 miles ride and almost collapsing from hunger and adrenaline at the end it went well.
A much needed snickers bar!
Week of March 26th
Swim: 1,850m
Bike: 49 miles
Run: 10 miles

Another big mileage week on the bike, although it was all on the turbo trainer where I wussed out because of the weather or on a spin bike. I had a free Monday evening which enabled me to get to one of the 3CTri spin classes, which I find so beneficial. Continuing the theme of looking after myself I had both a massage and an osteopath appointment and am seeing improvements in my posture and knotted muscles.
On Good Friday I ran the Maidenhead 10 at a pace I didn't think I was capable of. I don't run many 10 mile events but it was a huge 10 minute PB for me and a massive confidence boost to boot! If I wasn't sure before, it's shown me in no uncertain terms that training is paying off. The rest of the weekend was spent running the kids around outside between rain showers and grinding out miles on the turbo trainer whilst working my way through 4 Rocky films.
Week of April 2nd
Swim: 5,500m
Bike: 24.5 miles
Run: 16.5 miles

Which brings us almost up to date... Last week I hit my biggest swims of the year with a 2,500m and 3,000m swim. The latter was at Thames Lido where I spent a happy Thursday afternoon with Cathy for swimming and tapas with recovery in the hot tub and saunas. I've never swum a lido before but I can't wait to go back!
I'd squeezed in a brick session (2 hours on the bike plus a 45 minute run), track and the other swim earlier in the week and a 7 mile run first thing in the morning prior to the lido on Thursday and frankly I was good for nothing the rest of the week. I'd only done one thing differently to what was in my plan (7 mile run was meant to be on Saturday) but I was so much more tired than I felt I should have been. Not only was I fatigued but emotional, dithering about the simplest of decisions, falling asleep stupidly early and getting upset at teeny things. I took the rest of the week off (with the exception of a Zumba Gold course on Sunday afternoon) and felt much better come Monday.
My swimming is still ramping up this week but the bike and running is tapering off in preparation for Brighton. I'm really excited to see what I'm capable of and will of course report back!

In the mean time if you'd like to donate or simply remind yourself why I'm putting myself through this, please go to my Just Giving page. I'm so grateful to everyone who has sponsored me so far. I still have Swimathon, Outlaw and Lakesman to go!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Flotation Therapy : My Next Adventure In Self Care

As training and work take up ever more of my time and energy, I'm seeing changes in my energy levels, recovery, sleep patterns and moods, not always positive. If I'm at home I struggle to sit still and relax (there always seems to be housework) and sleep has evaded me more frequently in recent weeks than it used to so I was looking for something to try alongside my vitamin supplements, dietary changes and regular massages for a bit of self care.

My swim coach suggested that I try Flotation Therapy to help with relaxation and muscle recovery. Flotation therapy is the practice of floating in a pod or tank, buoyed up by a 25cm deep Epsom-salt solution heated to 35.5 degrees C. The salts are rich in magnesium which is know for it's muscle rejuvinating properties and is also linked to improving sleep. The temperature of the water is roughly the same as your skin temperature which is meant to help you relax and floating helps to realign your body as well as hopefully inducing a meditative state to revive you. Some people reported that it made their skin very itchy, others that it felt claustrophobic in the tank, so I went with the expectation that anything might happen.
The pod!
I booked an hours session at The Floating Point in Pangbourne to see if it would do anything for me. The Floating Point has two float rooms, each containing a pod and shower facilities. You have the room to yourself so after your briefing you can lock the door and have total privacy. On arrival I was offered water and the process was explained. I chose a piece of music from the playlist to have played at the start and end of my float session, to help me relax and then bring me back round again. Vaseline is provided to cover any small cuts as they will sting in the water and you're given towels and toiletries as well. Once in my float room I disrobed and showered before putting in ear plugs provided and getting into the pod and closing the lid. The room is fitted with a motion sensor so one it senses you're not moving around, it is assumed you are in the pod and the music and timer starts. You bob around a little bit before settling and it really is quite comfortable. 
Inside the pod, disco lights optional
I wondered if I might get claustrophobic but the pod is fitted with lights (which you can turn off) and actually when you've got your eyes closed I find it makes little difference. It took me some time to physically relax but I didn't get my mind to switch off entirely. Ironically I kept wondering if I'd manage to relax before the music restarted to mark the end of my session. The hour went neither quickly nor slowly. I didn't really want to get out but I had an evening of classes to teach so needs must! Once out and showered I was shown to the relaxation room and served water, herbal tea and sorbet.
I stayed there for sometime, enjoying a peaceful feeling and slowly "coming round" before re-entering the world outside. Had I felt inclined I could have read a book or done some colouring that was thoughtfully provided.
How did I feel afterwards? Peaceful, physically lighter, as though my posture was improved, a bit more focused. My sleep has been better since then but I don't think I can attribute it all to the floating. I really enjoyed the session, the enforced time of total relaxation. I'm sure there are other ways to achieve it but with the added mineral and postural benefits this was a hit for me. The centre recommend weekly floats but that's not feasible for me (in terms of time or budget) but I would consider it on a monthly or after-event basis, or even just ad hoc when things are getting on top of me.
Floating seems to be quite popular with sports people, with some teams being booked in regularly as part of their training regime. I haven't booked in a return visit yet but I fully intend to; hopefully it will help me to train, recover and live a little better.

Have you tried floating? What was your experience? Is it something you've considered? What other forms of recovery and self care do you partake in?