Friday Finds – 11th August

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Have you been watching the World Championships Athletics from London this week? I’ve been loving watching world class competition every evening and there have been some thrilling performances to watch – the men’s 10,000m, the women’s marathon and the legend that is Usain Bolt to name a few. There have also been some more “controversial” moments – continuing discussion of Caster Semenya, Makwala not being allowed to race due to illness and the reception of Justin Gatlin spring to mind. All of these have been covered extensively in my news feeds this week, but rather than go over old ground I thought I would bring you a few articles I had already saved…

I’m going to start with this piece by Running Like a Girl author Alexandra Heminsley. Considering the brilliant This Girl Can campaign from Sport England, Heminsley reflects on some of the barriers we create for ourselves which hold us back from participation. I have often heard people make comments like, “I’m not a real runner,” or say that they can’t take up a particular sport or go to a particular gym class until they lose weight/get fitter/become more flexible – some of the very things that activity would help with. Heminsley herself recognises that these moments mirror her own thinking before finding sport and once upon a time I felt the same. A great reminder that whether it’s running, swimming or something else entirely, nobody is born a fully-formed expert, but participation is all it takes to be able to call yourself part of the tribe.

This next article has raised some very interesting debate. Is it more impressive to run a super fast mile or to complete a marathon (or ultra)? It seems to me that every distance presents its own unique challenges, but that doesn’t necessarily make one better than another. In the mile, you’ve got a few minutes of lung-busting, heart-thumping effort (possibly ending with a bit of “pavement pizza” if you’ve really pushed it) whereas in the marathon and beyond there are the challenges of time on your feet, aching limbs, blisters and keeping your body fuelled. Different distance, different challenge. Is running a 4 minute mile impressive? Of course it is. What about completing a marathon? Apparently only 1% of the population will ever do so, so I’d say that’s another yes. What makes a challenge impressive is the possibility of failure rather than what that challenge actually is. For me, a sub-4 hour marathon is waaaaaay more likely (and appealing!) than a sub-4 minute mile. Both would present their own challenges. What are your thoughts?

If maintaining motivation is your issue, then perhaps this next article will help. A number of running bloggers were asked for their top tips to stay motivated. Most of the suggestions are probably fairly familiar, but it can still be useful to see it written down and read about another’s experiences. Perhaps you’ll find something in this extensive list useful. Do you have any to add?

Now to some cycling. Although I’ve been completing a bike workout every week in the gym for months now, it’s been some time since I’ve been on my trusty steed Trixie. I’m lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of cycling options, but I know that for many this is not possible which can be off-putting, and am conscious that many cities on the continent are much better equipped for cyclists than we are here. But what would an ideal cycling city look like? That’s exactly what Steven Fleming considers in his new publication Velotopia. Would you want to live there?

And finally, I’ll leave you with this poem by Nat Runs Far published on Women’s Running. There is a certain poetry to getting into the groove of a long run on a sunny day, and this really captures that moment.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Advertisements

Tunes on Tuesday – Could it be Magic

Many studies have shown that working out to music can have a number of positive effects and help us to push ourselves further. Music is also strongly linked to personal memories and hearing certain tracks can transport us to a particular moment in time. In this occasional series of posts, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite tracks from my workout playlist and share some of the memories they have given me.

Could it be Magic – Take That

It was only a matter of time before a Take That track made its way into Tunes on Tuesday. There are actually a few in my playlist, but I’ve picked this track today because I do have a story to tell around it.

For my readers not in the UK, Take That is a pop group formed waaaay back in 1990. I guess you could say they were one of the 90s “boy bands” and were created out of a desire to emulate groups like New Kids on the Block in the US. The band split in early 1996 while I was in my final year of high school and teenagers around the country were bereft – there was even a telephone helpline set up to help fans deal with the announcement! 10 years later, in 2006, the band reformed for a reunion tour and have continued to produce new material (and tour) ever since. To date, they are the most successful “boy band” (more of a “man band” now lol!) in UK chart history.

Basically, I’m old enough to to have loved Take That the first time around, but never got a chance to see them live until 2009 when Steve surprised me with concert tickets. In fact, the video above is taken from that tour. If you had told my teenage self that one day the band would get back together and I’d still be getting to see them live at my age then I’d have laughed in your face!

The song I’ve picked today is their cover of the Barry Manilow classic Could It Be Magic, the track which gave them their first big success. Not only is it a great song, but it has gained its place here thanks to the last time I saw then tour back in 2015.

The day after the concert, perhaps not feeling my most rested, I took part in the Tayside Challenge, a cycle event which I was using as a warm up for the Etape Caledonia the following week. My head was, unsurprisingly, still full of Take That songs so it was a bit like having my own playlist as I pedalled, but without the inconvenience of earphones (something I never use when cycling as I’m so conscious of safety). I was cycling with a friend, but at one point I was alone on a downhill stretch. We had been talking about the concert so as I swept down the hill, enjoying the sense of freedom, I began singing away to myself. Loudly. The song I picked? Could It Be Magic. I was having a great time, so it was only marginally embarrassing when another cyclist overtook me, no doubt having heard me singing to myself like an absolute madwoman! Oops!

The song itself featured on Take That’s first album which was released in 1992 (yes, I am that old!) so this year they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. The original lineup of 5 may now be reduced to 3, but my favourite (Gary Barlow) is still there and what better way could they have found to celebrate than to go out on tour? So on Friday of this week I’ll be heading through to Glasgow to see my “boys” performing live for the 4th time. Frankly, I can’t wait!

Please note that under UK Athletics rules, racing with headphones whilst on open roads is banned. If you choose to train with headphones, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Feel free to share your favourite workout tracks in the comments below…

Week in Review – Fight the Temptation!

In many ways the second week of my post-marathon recovery is the hardest. I know I need that time to make sure my body is fully ready to return to running, but at the same time everything feels ok and I start getting a bit itchy to get out there again – not helped by it being both the Boston and London marathons this week! Being back at work meant everything else felt “normal” so not having all my usual training made things seem a bit odd. It was a week of fighting the temptation for the greater good! I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share a roundup of my recovery week.

Having spent last week limiting myself to nothing more strenuous than walking and yoga, this week I began to reintroduce my usual training rhythm by including some light cross training. Here’s how my week ended up:

Monday – swim
Tuesdaygentle cycle walk
Wednesday – walk gentle cycle
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – walk
Saturday – Parkrun volunteer plus afternoon walk
Sunday – walk (after watching the London Marathon!)

Monday was the first day of term which is always a bit of a shock. These days I fall into “holiday mode” quite quickly and get so bound up in my “real life” that it can be a bit of a wrench to be back in the classroom. I was at least cheered by my calendar – even Gary Barlow is getting into the marathon spirit this month!

IMG_1511Since I would normally swim on a Monday, going for a swim after work helped to remind me of my own routine. It was nice to be back in the water, and despite a gap of a couple of weeks since my last swim, I felt I swam quite well. I took it nice and easy since this was technically a recovery workout and although I felt a little more tired than usual at the end, I knew that was the after effects of the marathon and length of time since my last swim so nothing to worry about.

However Monday may have been a bit much for me as I awoke on Tuesday with a scratchy throat and aches that didn’t lift all day. My eyes felt heavy and I didn’t feel like doing anything more than going to my bed. Since Tuesdays had previously been bike intervals, I had planned a gentle half hour cycle to get my legs turning over again, but decided instead to just have a walk in the fresh air then relax at home with some hot food and a nice bath before an early night. One thing that did cheer me up was the arrival of my April challenge medal from Virtual Runner. I had entered a cumulative challenge involving running the marathon distance across the month. I, of course, had decided it would be fun to do the whole thing in one go haha!

IMG_1512
IMG_1513By Wednesday the aches had gone but my throat remained scratchy first thing in the morning for the rest of the week. This meant I felt well enough for the cycle I had missed the day before. It felt good to get my heart rate up a little again, and I enjoyed sitting in the hot tub and steam room afterwards. On this day I was also cheered by the replacements for my end of term “casualties”:

IMG_1514I’ve not yet made a return to my PT sessions so Thursday was simply my Ashtanga yoga class. It was another great class for me and I could feel my legs becoming even more “my own” with every posture. I left feeling relaxed and better than I had done all week.

Ordinarily Friday is my rest day, however I’ve not exactly been over-exerting myself lately! The weather was nice when I got home so I went for a walk for 20 minutes or so to enjoy the extra daylight then waited for Steve to arrive home so we could head out to eat. After returning to work and fighting off what was likely a bug, I was more than ready for my Friday night beer and curry!

IMG_1519Saturday is parkrunday but my two weeks off running were not quite up yet so I was on the volunteer roster once more. This week I was on finish tokens which meant I had to check through them before the run started, but was held up in traffic, so enjoyed a bonus run from the car to get to the start! It felt really good to be running, albeit briefly, and I would have loved a bit more, but at least I know that the enjoyment will be there next week when I do run again.

IMG_1521Since Steve was away at a race further north and Hatha yoga hasn’t restarted yet, I decided to head out in the afternoon for a walk. I had a few errands but didn’t need to go into town so instead walked to the retail park, got a coffee then picked up the bits and pieces I needed before taking a different route home. I was probably out for a couple of hours but it was still a productive day.

IMG_1524

Sunday was London Marathon day and since it was also my last day “off” when it came to running, I had grand plans for a morning on the sofa watching the coverage. I love watching all the races from the elite to the runners in crazy costumes. It’s so inspiring and always makes me want to run another marathon! I spent the whole weekend feeling rather envious of those in London soaking up the atmosphere both at the expo and at the race, so would definitely love to get back there again some day. True to form the combination of the theme tune and inspiring stories had me in tears and keen to get back to running again. There’s just something about the London marathon that makes people lace up and get out there!

When the TV coverage finished I realised that I really should move so walked into town for a coffee and to do a little work for the blog.

IMG_1529Thanks to the time out I’m now itching to get running and target my next challenge. My recovery strategy is one week completely off, one week of light cross training then a week where I re-introduce some easy running so long as there are no issues such as injury or tight muscles picked up in the marathon. Right now my legs feel good and I’m looking forward to a couple of easy runs in the week ahead. I know to expect a slower pace, but I also know that I’ll soon feel like I have my own legs under me again.

How long do you take off running after a marathon or goal race?
Are you training for anything in particular right now?

Friday Finds – 21st April

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

At this time year there are always loads of running-related articles around: from coverage of the Boston and London marathons (as well as the countless other spring marathons taking place around the world) to advice on how to get started/run your first race/get faster that come hand in hand with the improving weather. As a result, there are plenty of articles and stories for me to share with you today, covering a wide range of topics…

I’m going to begin with some positive news surrounding parkrun. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you may remember my outrage when Little Stoke parkrun closed after the parish council wanted to charge for the use of the park every week, a move which flew in the face of parkrun’s message of being free forever. But last weekend it emerged that the government is to consult on proposed legislation which would ban councils in England from charging volunteer communities (such as parkrun, a not-for-profit organisation) offering free weekly events in public parks. Parkrun is a fantastic community doing great things to motivate more and more people to exercise regularly, so I for one will be pleased to see such legislation put in place.

For those who enjoy cycling (something I really should do more often as I always love it when I do) then the results of a University of Glasgow study published this week provide some good news. The five year study suggests that those who cycle to work cut their risk of death from causes such as cancer and heart disease by over 40%. Great news for those with an active commute, but as ever the downside to this is that the infrastructure for cyclists in this country needs to be improved in order to tempt more people away from 4 wheels and on to 2!

Also published this week were the results of an interesting study into how “contagious” our exercise habits are. Factoring in our propensity to befriend those who are like us, the study looked instead at a network of worldwide participants and analysed a wealth of data to show that, when it comes to running, friends do influence each other. This seemed particularly pronounced when there was a degree of competitiveness involved, and gender differences were noted too. The article mentions that the researchers now plan to look at how this applies to other forms of exercise, and I think it would be really interesting to compare the results.

Something I’m becoming more interested in is the mental side of training and how a strong mind can help improve performance. Part of my preparation for a race, particularly a marathon, is visualising how I want to finish and using long runs to develop strategies to overcome negative thinking. This next article explains a little more about why building mental strength is important, and how we might begin to do that.

And finally, you may remember back in November I included an article about Harry Potter yoga…well now there’s some video! I think my favourite thing about the whole concept is the “Downward Dumbledore” and now I really want to have a go at this. Any takers?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

2016 Goals – The Final Verdict!

It hardly seems a minute since I first published my 2016 goals, yet here we are at the end of 2016, looking back over what has, in many ways, been a most strange year. I’ve checked in with my goals throughout the year (in March, June and September) so now it’s time to round things off with one final post to sum up my progress.

pexels-photo

  1. Overcome injury and return to running
    Overall, this went well. When I wrote my goals I was unable to run thanks to a stress fracture in my foot (I promise to stop going on about that now!) and was worried about being able to train for the Paris Marathon in the spring. But with a sensible return to running and some adjusted goals, I was still able to take part in the marathon and had a blast. I continued to run well through the summer and although I hit a little obstacle in the path in the autumn thanks to an irritation in my hip, backing off for a couple of weeks and taking my time over reintroducing running has meant that I could finish the year strongly. I even sneaked in a sub-24 parkrun a couple of weeks ago, which is always an indication of being in good form.
    Another reason for this goal was that I felt I missed out on a lot at the end of 2015, but have since laid those demons to rest with my participation in this year’s Santa Dash and continued presence at parkrun. Given how things were this time last year, I am thrilled with everything I have achieved. Result – goal achievedIMG_6510
  2. Work on learning the front crawl
    I’ve been a bit up and down on this one. The positive is that I have been to the pool almost every week and worked on my stroke. The negative is that the one time I had an opportunity to test out my progress, I panicked in the pool and had a terrible time. I did make a point of getting back in the water within a couple of days (otherwise I might never have returned!) and I do feel that the experience taught me a valuable lesson about keeping calm in the water, but I’m not convinced I’ve made as much progress as I would like. Realistically, swimming was not, in the end, as much of a priority as I first thought, and I know there is still some work to do here. In recent weeks I have felt a bit more comfortable in the water and have felt like I’m establishing more of a rhythm, so this goal will likely be continued into 2017. Result – working towards goalimage
  3. Get out on my bike more
    I’m not sure I ever really got to grips with this one. Yes, I did get out on my trusty steed Trixie a few times, but heading out on my bike just never became a habit this year as I always prioritised my running or other workouts that would benefit my running. It’s a shame as I actually do enjoy riding my bike, but I know I’m very much a fair weather cyclist and given the choice of going for a run or going for a cycle, I’ll always choose the run. Perhaps another goal to continue into 2017? Result – working towards goal
    img_9349
  4. Be more organised
    This has been an interesting one. Moving house early in the year made me feel anything but organised as I regularly forgot where I had put things and had to establish new routines. By the summer, things were much improved and I was able to get a bit of a handle on life, but staying on top of things outside of work as the term goes on continues to be a problem, resulting in the first couple of days of any break from school being a flurry of sorting and organising. That said, I do think there have been many improvements such as planning our meals for the week (since we no longer live across the road from a supermarket!), planning not just my workouts but also how to achieve my step goal every day and finding some time to write one or two blog posts in advance. Since this is the kind of goal where improvement rather than perfection is the aim, then I’d say I was successful. Result – goal achieved
    image
  5. Read more books
    Of all my 2016 goals, this may be the one I feel the most proud of. This time last year I was conscious that while I read news articles, blog posts and pupil work every single day, my time spent actually sitting down with a book was getting more and more curtailed, to the point that I actually had no idea how many books I could read in a year. It was time to publicly declare a goal that would make me more accountable and, with improvements in my time management, find more time to work my way through the ever-increasing pile of books to be read. To help, I set up an account on Goodreads and joined their 2016 reading challenge with a target of 15 books (I based this on managing one per month plus some extras on holiday in July) and by the time I got back from my holiday, I had already achieved my target. So to keep me focused, I turned my attention to the sub-goal of a reading challenge I had saved at the beginning of the year, and in my last update I had embarked on the final book of the challenge – a book that intimidates you. For sheer intimidation in size, I opted for War and Peace and worried that I might not finish it on time, however with some post-Christmas free time I was able to spend a bit more time with this literary behemoth, finishing it with a few days to spare. I’m now reading something much lighter (both in physical weight and content!) and will likely have one more completed book to add to my tally before the year is over. Definitely a massive success! Result – goal achieved
    screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-14-49-43image
    And for anyone interested, the books I read for this this part of the challenge were:
    *A book published this year – Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
    *A book you can finish in a day – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan
    *A book you’ve been meaning to read – Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
    *A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
    *A book you should have read in school – Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    *A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF – Start with Why by Simon Sinek
    *A book published before you were born – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    *A book that was banned at some point – The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    *A book you previously abandoned – One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
    *A book you own but have never read – Last Bus to Coffeeville by J. Paul Henderson
    *A book that intimidates you – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    *A book you’ve already read at least once – Persuasion by Jane Austen

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcomes of my goals this year. Yes, there is room for improvement, but if they were all things I could easily achieve then there wouldn’t have been much point in setting them as goals. To me, a goal should be something that presents a degree of challenge and may take time to achieve. I have made clear progress in each goal I set and have definitely moved forwards in the past year. I wonder what 2017 will bring…?

How did you get on with your goals in 2016?
What has this year taught you?

2016 Goals – Third Quarter Check-In

I can hardly believe today is the first of October! I awoke to a crisp, autumnal morning, the current school term is very nearly over and summer is becoming a somewhat distant memory (good thing we got our flights sorted out for next year earlier this week!). Nine months have passed since I set my goals for the year, so it’s time for another check-in to see how I’m getting on. (You can read my previous updates here and here).

pexels-photo

1. Overcome injury and return to running
For the most part, this has continued to go well. In my mid-year update I had just run my first sub-24 minute parkrun since coming back from my stress fracture at the end of last year, and was seeing both my pace and my distance improving. Of course I have since confessed that I was secretly marathon training, and although I suffered a bit of a blip in terms of an issue with my hip which prevented me running that marathon, I still feel pleased with how things have gone. In late August I ran my fastest parkrun of the year (which was also my second fastest time ever) and was happy with how my training was going in general. An irritated hip has been less than ideal, but I take solace in the fact that it’s not arisen from overuse or a particular training mistake, but from changes in my body due to increasing my flexibility. It should be easy to address, indeed in just the past week I have noticed a significant improvement, and I’m feeling confident that I can return to running very soon with the strength and endurance of a training cycle in my legs ready to see me through to my spring marathon. At the moment, I’m enjoying a couple of weeks off running to let me work on this, but if I had run in Loch Ness I would have had that same downtime so feel OK with this situation since I never planned to be running right now. With a bit of luck, that’s all the time out I’ll need then onwards to the next goal! Progress – Temporary setback

IMG_8991

2. Work on learning the front crawl
I’ve probably neglected this one a bit, by which I mean I’ve become complacent with it. I’m continuing to swim once a week, and have been experimenting with going first thing in the morning when the gym opens, which I do quite like even with the early start. Following my relay triathlon misadventure, my confidence in the pool was knocked a bit so I’m trying to focus on relaxing in the water and getting into a rhythm with my breath. I also know I need to be less reliant on stopping at the ends of the pool and swimming more continuously. I’m thinking another lesson will be in order soon, as well as using my pull buoy and kick board for some drills to improve my stroke. This one has been a bit of a long journey, but I’ll get there in the end. Progress – Must try harder!

IMG_7031

3. Get out on my bike more
Finally some positive progress on this one. My bike Trixie got some much-needed TLC ahead of the relay triathlon and I recently enjoyed a nice Sunday cycle while I was giving my hip a break from running. I’m really hoping for some nice weather during my school October break so I can get out on her a few more times as I know that once we reach late October my chances of getting out are much slimmer. I’m not good at heading out when it’s wet or slippy as I’m too scared of falling off. I also know that I’ll use the end of the year to build a good base for my marathon training so running will take priority then. Still, having enjoyed getting back in the saddle I think this will remain a goal into 2017. Progress – Much improved!

img_9358

4. Be more organised
The summer definitely gave me a chance to get my life a bit more sorted out and I have established better routines in my life. The reality, however, is that during the school term my time is so pinched that I do start to lose a bit of my grip on my “real” life as school takes over. That said, I have definitely kept my blog more up to date and don’t feel as behind in life as I did before the summer. A few more improvements could be made now that I’ve experienced a term with our new timetable structure, so I’ll be giving that some thought during my October break. Progress – Still improving

image

5. Read more books
I think this is where I’ve enjoyed the greatest success. Thanks to my summer holiday and making some more time to read, I’ve competed the challenge I set on Goodreads to read 15 books this year. In fact, right now I’m reading book number 26! I’ve also made fantastic progress with the sub-challenge I mentioned in my mid-year update and am on my final book – one that intimidates me. I am a little concerned that I’ve left that one a bit late in the year, but hopefully I do have enough time left to finish War and Peace (not kidding, that’s my final choice!). At some points during the year I’ve had more than one book on the go at the same time, so if I focus solely on this one then hopefully all will be fine. I’m reading it on my Kindle to reduce the intimidation of this doorstopper tome, but the percentage read seems to be just crawling by. Still, I’ve wanted to read this book since my second year of university (last century – eek!) when I came over all pretentious and took a one year course called Russian Literature in Translation which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I’ve finally found my chance. Wish me luck! Progress – Superb!

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-20-46-01

image

I know things can’t go smoothly all the time, but overall I’m pleased with my progress to date. Now just four months of the year left to make further improvements. If I can finish that book I’ll be ecstatic!

How are you getting on with your 2016 goals?
What book intimidates you and why?

A Forgotten Joy

A couple of Sundays ago, I couldn’t run. I had the time and I had the inclination, however my body was mounting a bit of a protest with something niggling a little in my hip/glute so I knew it was time to back off and book a physio appointment. But sitting at home while Steve headed out for a run just wasn’t appealing, so I decided this was the ideal opportunity to spend some quality time reacquainting myself with my trusty steed Trixie.

img_9213

After the Etape Caledonia last year I felt Trixie and I needed a break. I had hoped to spend some time cycling during that summer, but Mother Nature had other ideas and presented less than ideal cycling weather, so poor Trixie stayed largely neglected until a few weeks ago when I treated her to a little maintenance ahead of the Relay Wild Triathlon. Although that event wasn’t a shining success for me, it did remind me that I quite enjoy cycling (not as much as running, but I do enjoy it) and I realised I should try to do it a bit more. Now here was my chance.

Not one for doing things by halves, I decided to head out for about 30 miles. My long runs recently have been in the 14-16 mile region, so I figured I would have the fitness, and since I’ve been using the bike in the gym for some interval work, my backside has had some saddle time so it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to my tender posterior! So I stuck a couple of water bottles on my frame, packed a couple of gels, and headed off on a route I’ve not been on for over a year as it’s just a little too far from home for a run.

And I loved it.

There was something so nice about going somewhere different, rather than the familiar routes I run on. It was good to feel my legs working and my heart rate rising, while the wind whistled by. And it was nice to exchange a few pleasantries with other cyclists, runners and walkers as I meandered my way around.

img_9343

img_9349

img_9352

Although that’s not to say my mini-adventure was all plain sailing. My first issue was that my Garmin wasn’t sufficiently charged and so it gave up after about 10.5 miles. That may not have stopped me cycling, but everyone knows if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count (besides, I did actually want to record my distance and time to see how I was getting on) so I had to make a quick pit stop and switch to the Strava smartphone app instead. I’ve never actually used the app to record anything so had no idea if I’d set it up correctly, but it seemed to work fine and recorded 19.5 miles so I definitely did 30!

img_9348

Next, while trying to pull up alongside someone with intriguing looking panniers and other luggage suggestive of a real bicycle adventure, my chain slipped off so I had to stop and carry out some roadside repairs. Fortunately, this is one aspect of bike maintenance I can handle, and was on a traffic-free cycle and pedestrian path so was able to stop safely, propTrixie against a lamppost and fix the chain fairly easily. Phew!

My final incident was one from the “you know you’re in the countryside when…” department. I was cycling around a stretch of road I often incorporate into my longer runs, but in the opposite direction to my preferred running route. As I neared the crest of a hill I was aware of a car, which I could not yet see, with the driver repeatedly sounding the horn. Approaching with caution, I soon realised the issue: sheep. That’s right, a sheep in the middle of the road. The car horn had managed to encourage it to the side of the road, but as soon as the vehicle had passed by, the sheep began to wander around in front of me. I stopped and began to edge slowly forward, but every time I thought I might be able to pass by, it changed direction again and I knew I would be putting myself (and possibly the sheep!) in danger if there was further traffic on the road. The sheep was by now running down the hill in front of me and as I rounded a bend it met up with two more woolly pals nibbling on the grass at the side of the road. Brilliant. Held up by sheep. This would be a far more exciting story if it was something like a huge cow or a bull, but I got sheep! Eventually I was able to pass and continue my ride, but I did miss out on a rather nice descent while I edged along behind those pesky blighters bleaters!

img_9353

Arriving home with no further incidents, I got a couple of photos “avec bike” before tucking Trixie in for a rest. It may not have been a terribly speedy ride, but it was enjoyable. The object was not to set any blistering records (although I did pick up a couple of Strava PRs!) but to get back in the saddle and see what I had. It’s a real testament to my running fitness that I was able to jump on my bike and knock out 30 miles fairly easily given how little cycling I’ve done outside the gym in the last year or so. Now I just have to remember this and maybe take Trixie out a couple more times before the weather becomes too miserable!

img_9358

img_9359

Do you enjoy cycling? If so, how often do you ride?
What would be your ideal way to spend a Sunday morning?
Any interesting animal encounters?

Race Report – Relay Wild Triathlon 2016

Disaster! I don’t mean the event, it’s well-organised and slick, I mean myself. I was an absolute disaster and made a pretty poor show of being a triathlete. Let me explain…

It all started innocuously enough. Steve entered a mixed team in this event, and having enjoyed it in 2014 I agreed to be part of the team. Back in 2014 I was only just learning the front crawl, was still riding a mountain bike (with road tyres) and had been off running due to an injury. I figured that with more pool time in the bank, a zippy road bike and some decent running form at the moment I should be able to perform better. My pride was about to take an almighty fall!

The event is straightforward enough. Each member of the team completes a short triathlon course (200m pool swim, 6km road cycle and 1.2km cross country run) before tagging the next member of the team and so on until all four have competed. The order was to be female, male, female, male and I was third after Ella and John, before handing over to Steve for the anchor leg. There was some thinking behind this: Ella was our strongest swimmer (Steve does a fine doggy paddle and I still swim single lengths!), John is a great cyclist and duathlete, while Steve was our faster runner. I may have just been making up the numbers haha!

I really didn’t think about it too much in the days before as I knew we weren’t looking to be competitive, rather to have fun and complete the course. Having taken part before and spectated the year before that, I felt quite comfortable that I knew what was going to happen.

IMG_9207

The event didn’t start until lunchtime so I had plenty of time to lay out my kit and pack it into a backpack as Steve and I had decided to cycle there (it’s only about 6 miles). This would give me a chance to get used to my bike, Trixie, again as to my shame I’ve not been out with her for a year and only just got her serviced in the week before the event. I really needed to ride and get used to the gears again so I would be happy on the bike leg, so cycling to the venue seemed the ideal solution.

IMG_9213

It was a nice cycle out and on arrival we met Ella, then Steve went to register the team. Next it was time to get our arms and legs marked with our race numbers and get ourselves set up in transition. This bit caused me a lot of stress last time, and although still a bit jangly, I was definitely better this year!

After a race briefing which mainly served to remind us of the rules regarding passing in the pool (only at the ends) and keeping a distance on the bike (no drafting!) Ella headed off ready to start. We cheered her on each time she came into transition and when John set off I got myself ready.

So far so good, but this was where it all changed.

To conserve energy on the swim, I knew I would have to be slow. I fully expected to be passed and was ok with this as I knew I had to stick to my own race plan. Having collected the timing chip from John, I slid into the water and set off on the first of my 8 lengths. I believed I was going slowly and hoped to settle into a rhythm quickly. The pool was about 5 metres longer than the one at my gym, but I figured that was really only one or two more breaths in each length. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

About halfway through that first length I felt the firm tap on my foot that alerted me someone wanted to pass at the end. No problem, I told myself, just keep going as you are and stop at the end. But from that point on I kept feeling the person behind me grabbing at my feet and it really freaked me out. I felt like I couldn’t kick properly, I lost all sense of rhythm and completely lost my breathing. I don’t know if they thought I hadn’t felt the first tap and kept doing it, or if they were just swimming too close and kept catching against me with each stroke, but it felt horrible. It was like someone constantly pulling at me and with my lack of swimming experience, it really started to cause a problem.

It seemed to take ages to reach the end of the pool. I stopped to let the other swimmer pass and realised I felt out of breath. My heart was pounding and I felt unsettled. Almost as soon as I set off again for the second length, I felt like I couldn’t do it. I was struggling to catch my breath and just couldn’t put my face in the water so switched to  heads up breast stroke, but even that felt practically impossible. At the end of the length I stopped and clearly didn’t look good as the swim marshal tapped on the head to ask if I was ok. I said yes, but in all honesty I wasn’t. In that moment I just wanted to cry. I wanted to get out of the pool and say I couldn’t do it. I felt scared because I couldn’t breathe and my limbs felt heavy through the lack of oxygen. I was probably as close to an all-out panic attack as I’ve ever been. And alongside all of that I felt so angry and ashamed that I was struggling to swim just 200m, something I should have been able to do relatively easily. The only thing that stopped me quitting was the knowledge that two other people had already completed the course and I couldn’t let my team down.

So I finished the swim. A further 6 slow, breast stroke lengths. I did try to start the front crawl again, but every time I put my face in the water, I panicked. Every time I saw another swimmer behind me I freaked out all over again that they were going to grab at my feet and I was stopping at the ends to let people pass. It was one of the most awful experiences of my life. Each length felt like a mammoth undertaking with the water seemingly stretching out for miles ahead of me. I hardly seemed to be moving, yet my body was exhausted. I’ve never been so pleased to see the pool steps before!

As I emerged from the pool Steve and Ella were waiting to give me a cheer, but all I could do was pant, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t swim.” At that point I really wasn’t sure what had happened, but it had already affected my mental state for the two disciplines to come. Even as I made my way towards my bike I felt overwhelmed with the noise. I felt like people were shouting things at me, but had no idea what. Were they giving me encouragement? Shouting advice? Telling me I was doing something wrong? I had no idea. There was just a swirl of noise and me walking mechanically towards my bike.

Somehow in my brain fog I remembered to put my bike helmet on first. I pulled on the socks I had sprinkled with talc earlier and slipped on my pre-laced Ultra Boosts before taking my bike off the rack and wheeling it to the mount line. I was so stressed that I couldn’t get my foot into my pedal properly, and the more the marshals shouted about other cyclists coming up behind me, the more I struggled. Eventually, I set off, heart already hammering, and followed the path down to the main road where I found myself cycling straight into a headwind.

I just couldn’t settle throughout the cycle. I felt on edge, my heart rate was probably too high and I was cycling into a wind. It was only towards the end that I started to feel a bit better and as I made my way back up the path towards transition, I was trying to turn my attention to the run, the bit that I should be best at, and willing my legs to carry me round the short course without incident.

Back in transition I racked my bike, grabbed a quick drink and removed my helmet before heading off to run. Despite knowing I had to turn my belt round so my number would be on my front, I still managed to forget and a nice marshal had to remind me, but at least my legs didn’t feel too shaky.

Ella had warned me that she just about went head over heels down a hill at the start of the run, so I set out carefully. I wasn’t using a Garmin so had no idea of the pace I was running, but it felt pretty hard. There was another runner alongside me so I just tried to get into some kind of rhythm and keep on going. The hardest part was coming back up that hill again, but at least the run was over quickly and I was able to cross the line and transfer our chip to Steve. It was over. I still want to cry, but it was over.

IMG_9208

IMG_9209 IMG_9210

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I collected my goody bag then found Ella and John who wanted to know how I’d done. I told them the swim was awful, but I don’t think anyone on the team realised just how hard a time I’d had. I was really disappointed in myself as I felt like I’d let everyone down and had been wasting my time going to the pool every week if that going to be the result, and just couldn’t shake that awful feeling for the rest of the day. All I wanted was to grab my bike and go home, but transition didn’t open until the last competitor was done so I had to stay and put a brave face on it until I could get my stuff. Ordinarily I would have taken loads of photos, but didn’t even manage to really do that.

IMG_9212

Forcing a smile for the camera

IMG_9218

IMG_9215 IMG_9216

Eventually, the buffet was eaten (I barely touched it), the prizes were awarded, and it was time to head home. Another 6 miles on the bike when all I wanted was to curl up into a little ball and feel sorry for myself, but I made it home and sat quietly for the rest of the day.

It took another 24 hours before I could reflect on the event more sensibly and realise that it was nothing to so with my swimming ability and everything to do with how I coped in that situation when my legs were being constantly “attacked”. I may be disappointed in the times I posted, but the fact that I managed to finish, despite every fibre of my being wanting to quit, is what I need to focus on instead. I even went for a swim the following day as I knew that if I didn’t get back in the water straight away, I probably never would again. I had no problems at all and swam 20 lengths perfectly comfortably. I know my swimming still needs a lot of work, but that one session has given me back a bit of the confidence I lost that Sunday afternoon as I panicked in the pool.

I was actually in two minds about whether or not I wanted to write this post at all, but then when I read this post by Hels Bels, I knew I had to. Helen’s post reminded me that things don’t always go perfectly, and knowing that someone else experienced something similar made me feel better. I’m sad that this happened to her as I know how dreadful I felt, but I think we both learned something about ourselves from it. It also reminded me that it’s easy to gloss over the tough stuff in a blog post or on social media, to paint a rosy picture of life and make every event sound like a success. Life isn’t like that, and races certainly aren’t. There are always tough moments and some days things just don’t go your way. The more people share those moments, the more we can help others to realise that they are not alone when those things happen to them. And so my post, this very post you’re reading, was written after all.

And those times? Hard to say. There are no transition times listed so I can only assume they’re included in some of the other sections. That means I have no idea how it compares to last time. I think the bike was a bit quicker as I had a Garmin set up on the handlebars and the time I recorded is a minute or two faster than the time listed, so I’m guessing transition is included. The run looks slightly slower than last time, but I have no idea how long I was in transition so if a that time is included there, then it was probably a faster run too. At least there was some improvement! In the name of honesty (and embarrassing myself online), here they are:

IMG_9217

I can’t help but wonder how things might have gone if the swim had been more successful, but there’s no point dwelling on that now. It happened, I survived and now I’m motivated to get back in the pool and keep working on my swimming.

Would I do it again? Who knows. At the time, it was a definite no. I decided that triathlon wasn’t for me and vowed to stick to running and the odd cycle. A week further on, I’m less firm in my resolve, but know that I would need to do A LOT of work on my swimming before I felt able to have another go. Let’s see what the next year brings…

IMG_9214

Have you ever had a bad race experience? How did you handle it?
Any advice to help me improve my swimming and feel more confident?

2016 Goals: A Mid-Year Report

Goodness! It’s the end of June, school is breaking up for the summer and we’re mid-way through 2016! The first half of the year seems to have been one stress after another for me, so I’m looking forward to my summer break to re-group, relax and re-energise ready for the new school year.

This also seems like a great time to check in once more with my 2016 goals and see how I’m progressing.

pexels-photo1.Overcome injury and return to running
In my March update I was really pleased with my progress here. I was gradually getting some consistency back and making a gradual increase in mileage but my pace was still quite slow. Since then, of course, things have moved on even more. In April I ran the Paris Marathon, I made sure to take proper time off to recover afterwards and I have overhauled my training routine in order to move on and try to avoid any new injuries. As a result, my pace has been improving again and I set myself a mini-goal of running a sub-24 minute parkrun before my holiday in July. I chose this time as this was what I was running at my absolute best pre-injury, so felt that this would be a good way to know when my 5k running was back to where I wanted to be (my “comeback” parkrun in February was a personal worst at 27:16 so things have already improved significantly). I have been edging closer and closer (tantalisingly close with a 24:05 a couple of weeks ago) but this past weekend was the last parkrun I would run before my holiday due to other commitments the following Saturday. I decided I was going to have to go for it, run hard and see what happened. If I crawled over the line then at least I would know I tried rather than wondering “what if”.

And what happened? I did it, that’s what happened. My official time was 23:55, comfortably under the 24 minute mark, and I was thrilled! My new mini-goal for July is now to clock faster 5k times on holiday than I did last year. My pre-holiday parkrun times are faster, so anything is possible…  Progress – Excellent

image2. Work on learning the front crawl
At the beginning of the year I was swimming twice a week as I was unable to run. Now that I’m running again, my swimming has been scaled back to one session per week. My stroke is feeling ok, although my “water fitness” could still do with improving so I might have to consider booking another lesson over the summer just to see if anything else could be tweaked. Still, I am keeping it up and am feeling much more comforable in the water than I used to. I’m finding the swim a great recovery session and look forward to getting in the pool on a Monday evening. Progress – Satisfactory

image3.Get out on my bike more
This is the goal I’m really failing on so far. There’s actually nowhere to keep my bike at our new house (we’re in the process of sorting out a shed) so I’ve not yet moved it here from the flat. Not only is my bike not to hand, but it will also need a service before I’ll be happy to ride. I’m tentatively hoping that once I’m back from my summer holiday I’ll be able to get this sorted out and that the weather will be good enough to get out for a few rides after last summer’s disappointing washout. Progress – must try harder!

IMG_35964.Be more organised
In my last update, I said that my organisation had been affected by the genreal craziness of moving house and one of the busiest points in my working year, which seemed to collude to prevent me establishing an effective routine. I do feel that I’m in more of a routine now, particularly as far as training is concerned, but it’s perhaps not always as effective as it could be. At this point in the year I tend to feel a bit like I’m playing catch-up in my own life, so I’m looking forward to really getting a handle on things over the summer and working out how I can best use my time. Progress – improving

image5.Read more books
One of the main ways I feel I’m suffering by not having the most effective routine is in finding time for reading. This goal started brilliantly and at the end of March I was ahead of the game with 50% of my target of 15 books read. Since then, my reading has slowed a bit but I am on my 12th book of the year now so I know I can easily overtake this particular target, especially with some quality reading time by the pool in July! There are loads of books I’d love to read over the summer, some of which I’ll review on here if I do manage to read them. I’ll also have to do a bit of work on my sub-goal of the reading challenge I undertook. So while I’m not doing quite as well with this one right now, overall this goal has been successful so far. Progress – Very Good

image

Some definite progress, but still some areas where I could work a bit harder. I have high hopes that the summer will really help me make significant progress, so my next update will hopefully reflect that. Meanwhile, I really just need my holiday!

Are you making progress with your 2016 goals?
Got any thoughts on how I might make more progress with mine?

Book Review – Eat, Sleep, Cycle

511+LWKGmrL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

For Anna, a cycling enthusiast, the decision to ride 4,000 miles solo around the coast of the UK wasn’t that hard. But after epic highs, incredible lows, unforgettable scenery and unpronounceable place names, her simple idea turns into a compelling journey of self-discovery, and an eye-opening insight into what makes the island where she lives so special.

Back in the early part of this year, almost 6 whole months ago, I found myself in a frustrating situation: I had a stress fracture of the second metatarsal in my right foot and running was out of the question for a good 6 weeks, meaning I needed to find another way to keep up my fitness. My solution was to substitute running for cycling, however since the weather was so bad this meant the exercise bike at the gym rather than my trusty steed. Now staring at the gym walls for any length of time was incredibly dull, so to get a head start on my 2016 goal of reading more, I decided to prop my Kindle on the front of the bike and read during my bike sessions. A book about cycling seemed just the thing…

And so as I spun the pedals of that bike, I was able to ignore the digital readout in front of me and rather than watching the time crawl by painfully slowly, I imagined myself cycling along with Anna Hughes as she embarked on her challenge of cycling around the coast of Britain. It was a trip that took 72 days and Hughes documents something from every day, from the pitfalls of bike maintenance to the pleasure of fish and chips by the coast, with a cast of interesting characters joining her at various points along the way.

The book itself is divided into 5 parts, mirroring 5 sections of the journey: the east coast of England (11 days), eastern Scotland (12 days), the Highlands & Islands (13 days), north west England (18 days) and southern England (18 days), starting and finishing on Tower Bridge in London. The journey would take her 4000 miles around the coast and she would learn a great deal about herself along the way.

I was struck immediately by how Hughes was not going to make every moment sound idyllic. Even on the first day, when the excitement of departure waned and Hughes found herself 7 hours later feeling hot and grimy, but barely even 50 miles in. She was exhausted, her spirits were low, and the whole adventure still stretched out before her. It would have been easy to give up, but she didn’t. Instead, she gritted her teeth, kept on pedalling and finished the first day. She was going to do it.

“It’s about the expectation: you go as far as you’ve set yourself up to go.”

The reader joins Hughes as she recounts tales from each day, ranging from descriptions of the landscape (often stunning, sometimes brutal), conversations with the generous hosts who offered her a bed for the night, and personal thoughts as she rode the rollercoaster of emotions that is part and parcel of any endurance challenge. It was an easy book to pick up and put down, and perfect for me as I pedalled away on that exercise bike as it gave me something I could focus on, but without the need for deep thought. In places, I felt there could have been more description of the landscapes, but I suppose this wasn’t the real focus of the book. This was a book about the journey, in all senses of the word, not a travel book; it was an account of a challenge to complete, not a sightseeing guide.

“It’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey”

By the end, I felt that the challenge had changed Hughes, given her greater confidence and determination to carry on in the face of adversity. It was by no means easy, but she did it and that success inspired her to further challenges. What began with a less than perfect day became a lifestyle and in 72 days Hughes established a routine that took over from that of a “conventional” life, a life that she became reluctant to return to:

“Home. I no longer wanted to reach home. Because this was what I did now. Each day I would pack my bags and ride to the next place. Each day I would look at the water and think, this is where I live, on the road, by the coast. I had jumped off the treadmill, that expected path that society pushes us along: school, university, job, mortgage. I was simply a cyclist – my bike was all I had. We were inseparable, dependant on each other. This was starting to be true in a physical sense, too: I was much more comfortable hunched over the handlebars spinning the pedals than I was upright with both feet on the ground.”

One of the main things I liked about this book was that Hughes seemed “real”. I know she is real, but what I mean is that it felt like she was cycling beside me telling her story. Her words flowed naturally and I could feel a connection with her through her prose. She was relatable and felt like a friend baring their soul as we pedalled on. Unsurprisingly, I was quite sad to finish.

So if you like the idea of adventure, this book shows you that adventure can be had without having to travel too far afield. It shows us that the journey itself is often much more important than the destination. And it shows us that sometimes we have to step off the treadmill of life and take our time rather than rushing through everything. We’d all do well to remember that.

You can learn more about the journey here.
You can follow Hughes’ further adventures here.