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