Week In Review – The Final Countdown!

I made it! As I write this the school year is over at long last and I’m settling into “holiday mode”. Read on for a bit more about life and training in the last week of term as I join Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL for their weekly linkup.

As usual, I followed my established routine for the week (for the most part):

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – run
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – rest

On Monday I was feeling pretty exhausted. My brain was fried from the demands of the year, especially my recent exam marking which is enjoyable but takes a lot of brain power. I was also a bit daunted by everything I had to do in order to move classroom before the end of term. Getting into the pool for some gentle lengths was exactly what I needed, and I took it fairly easily as my whole being has been screaming out for rest! My swim always makes me feel refreshed though, so it was a worthwhile visit.

Admittedly, the last thing I felt like doing on Tuesday was a set of bike reps, however I also knew that this was the last set of reps before heading away on holiday and a repeat of last week‘s set. The knowledge that it was the last one and that I had successfully completed the same workout the week before gave me enough motivation to get to the gym and work my way through the reps. Finishing felt like such an accomplishment! After hitting the mats for some stretching and mobility work, I headed to the sauna to relax and unwind for a bit.

Last week I skipped my Wednesday run partly to allow the tightness in my right leg to settle and partly because I had a prior commitment. This week my leg was much better, but it still didn’t seem like the best idea to be doing a set of hill reps. Instead, I decided on a short run, but somehow getting myself home from work and organised for a run seemed to take forever. I was definitely procrastinating, but knew a run would make me feel much better. I told myself I could either run a 2.5 mile loop or a 3.5 mile loop – one meant turning right at the bottom of the road and the other left. Of course as soon as I got to the bottom of the road I was settling into the run and turned left for the 3.5 mile loop. This left me feeling energised for the remainder of the evening.

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Thursday was the day I had been waiting for – the end of term! It was a half day and I headed into school knowing that I could get the classroom move sorted out quite quickly. I had already packed up the contents of both my classroom and the one I was moving into, so simply gathered a crack team of movers (pretty much any pupil who turned up in my classroom!) and got the whole thing done really quickly. I still have to go and sort out where I want everything, but that can wait until later in the holidays.  By the time we finished up at lunchtime I had already taken over 7000 steps just from marching up and down the stairs with boxes! I spent the afternoon getting a few things organised at home before heading to my Ashtanga yoga class. I LOVED the class this week. I don’t know if it was that end of term feeling or if it was something else, but it just felt really good. I mentioned it to my teacher who said that she had felt it too – like everything just flowed really well that night. I guess sometimes you just get classes like that. Whatever it was, it was such a nice way to begin the holidays.

On Friday morning I had intended to sleep a bit longer, but my body had other ideas, pre-programmed as it is right now to wake early. Still, being up gave me the chance to do some tidying and organise my life a bit before heading to the gym to relax in the hot tub and sauna before taking care of some pre-holiday errands. A relaxing day made that night’s meal with Steve even more enjoyable!

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Saturday was in some ways a little different. Steve headed off to Edinburgh to get organised for his Ironman 70.3 the following day, while I headed to parkrun where I was the 27 minute pacer. Once more I was a little fast, finishing in 26:46, but I know I helped some people so that was great. It was a really busy parkrun and we got a new attendance record of 295 runners!

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After getting showered and changed I walked to the hairdresser for my holiday haircut and reached my step goal on the way back home. That brings me to a full year of reaching my step goal and that makes me really happy. More about that in my forthcoming update on my 7 goals for 2017.

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I also took delivery of the medal from a virtual race I had signed up for. Wonder Woman is ALWAYS going to sell it to me!

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The rest of my day was pretty relaxing, then Steve arrived home (complete with sliced hand from a sharp rock he got up close and personal with whilst checking out the swim course!) in time to eat then he had to get the last of his gear ready for an early start on Sunday.

I declined the chance to leave with him at 4:30am (!!!), instead getting a couple more hours of sleep all snuggled in with the cat. We had worked out that there was little point in me being at the swim start as it would be so hard to actually spot Steve or work out what was going on and much more interesting to watch the bike and run. After some checking of various options, I got the first train to Edinburgh at 8:50am and walked the short distance to the finish area at Holyrood Park (where the 5k and 10k of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival take place).

I arrived just in time to see the first finisher cross the line then battled for a bit with the online tracker to try and work out where Steve might be. In the end I discovered that there were some problems with that tracker and found another one that was a bit more helpful. Having established that Steve was out on the bike course (I was afraid I might have missed his transition to the run) I watched the first female finisher as well as the podium ceremonies (I got a bit too close to the women’s one and got splashed with champagne – cue me spending the rest of the day smelling of alcohol!).

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I then made my way back over to the transition area and was able to spot Steve coming in then got some photos a few minutes later when he emerged from the transition tent.

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The run course was three laps but I sought some shelter from passing showers during Steve’s first lap then caught him on the second.

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There was then just enough time for a cup of tea (the weather had by this time completely forgotten that it’s July and I had several tops on!) before taking up my position to get a photo of his finish – a respectable 6:19:48!

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I have to say, it was a bit strange watching the event. I knew the swim had been shortened due to the weather conditions and the bike course certainly wasn’t for the fainthearted, so spent the first part of my spectating thinking NOPE, not for me. But the more I watched delighted athletes crossing the line (and of course I was watching running, a familiar discipline) the more I thought “maybe one day…” and now feel inspired to refocus on my swimming again as I feel my progress here has stalled a bit. What I’m doing complements my running well enough, but it could still be much better. Let’s see what the next few weeks bring there…

Would you ever try a 70.3 triathlon?
What sporting event scares you the most?

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Friday Finds – 19th May

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.

It’s been a funny old week in the world of running and fitness. The biggest spring marathons are naught but a distant memory, the Breaking2 experiment is still generating some comment (more on that in the promised separate post soon!) and with the (mostly) better weather people are getting their summer training schedules kickstarted. For that reason it really is a bit of a mishmash of finds this week.

I’ll start with a story from the world of triathlon. You might remember Jonny Brownlee’s dramatic finish to the World Series finale in Mexico last September when his brother Alistair carried him over the finish line. Back in action for the first time since then, he once more demonstrated his grit and determination when a crash in the bike leg rendered his bike useless. Rather than give up, Jonny picked up the bike and ran barefoot to the transition a mile away so he could still head out on the run. Despite being almost 7 minutes behind the winner, he still finished the race, saying, “I had not come all the way…not to finish.” What would you have done?

While Jonny Brownlee may not have had quite the comeback he was looking for, what about the rest of us? Taking time out of training for any reason inevitably means a lot of hard work to regain previous form, something I’ve noticed even from taking a little time off after a marathon. With that in mind, I found it really interesting to read this piece from Outside in which a number of high-profile athletes discuss their approach to a comeback and what they learned from it. Some even went on to perform better than before!

At the other end of the scale, what happens if we run too much (yes, it is possible). This is a topic I’ve come across a few times recently, both in print and on podcasts, and I think it worth highlighting. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only running because it makes us feel good, but it’s important to find a bit more balance in our workouts in order to be create the strength we need to support our running and to be a bit more resilient. Getting the balance wrong is a fast track to injury, as I’ve learned to my cost, and if I could give myself as a beginner one piece of advice then this would probably be it. In this post the writer discusses how easily our running can become an obsession, and what we should do about it if that happens.

Possibly the coolest thing I’ve come across this week comes from Nike. The sportswear giant, fresh from their Breaking2 endeavour, has created a running track shaped like a running shoe. What’s so cool about that? Let me tell you. The track is also lit by LED lights and is integrated with a sensor worn on your shoe (a bit like a timing chip) which then allows you to race against your own virtual avatar. If you’re anything like me then as soon as you’ve watched the video you’ll want to give it a go. Shame it’s so far away!

And finally, here’s one for the ladies. Posts on social media lamenting the struggles of putting on (and taking off!) a sports bra are a regular occurrence (and a struggle our male counterparts will never know). For those in the know, this tongue-in-cheek set of instructions for putting on a sports bra is sure to raise a smile:

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 16th December

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.

Oops! Some Friday festivities meant that I didn’t manage to post on time this week, but never fear, I still have some finds to share with you this week (even if they are a little late!).

The biggest news this week is that Nike announced a new project called Breaking2 which has a very straightforward aim: to break the 2 hour barrier in a marathon in the spring of 2017. It may be straightforward, but it’s not exactly simple and Nike are not alone in their quest to achieve this holy grail of marathon running as I have shared in previous posts. Unsurprisingly, an announcement like this leads to a lot of coverage, my favourite being by Ed Caesar for Wired:

And since I find the idea so fascinating, I thought I would also include a couple of other articles I’ve come across on this subject:

Moving away from the marathon, something else that caught my eye this week was another article about the cognitive benefits of running. I know I’ve shared a number of these before, but what got my attention in this one was a point that I had not considered before – that the research did not prove conclusively that it was running which led to different thinking patterns, merely that runners had those patterns. So which is the cause and which is the effect? Could other sports yield similar results? Yet again, it’s running that sparks an interest in a field that doesn’t normally excite me!

This weekend the BBC crowns its annual Sports Personality of the Year. While this accolade is likely to go to Andy Murray, I have to include this great piece by Sean Ingle in The Guardian on Alistair Brownlee and that moment in Mexico. It’s so tough to narrow down the winning sports personality in a year so jam-packed with amazing sporting moments, but I’m fond of the Brownlees and love how that moment really put triathlon on the map and reinforced the wonderful (but competitive) relationship between these two brothers as well as reminding us how down-to-earth they are.

Another great personality in the sporting world is ultra runner Scott Jurek who also featured in The Guardian this week as part of a new series looking at the morning routines of successful people. As someone who is constantly trying to make more of my mornings (not easy when I’m a natural night owl trying to exist as a morning lark!) I find it really interesting to learn about what others do to get their day off to a good start.

And finally, if you’ve been enjoying some festive indulgence of late but are a bit worried that all the chocolate might not be all that good for you, then here’s a reminder that dark chocolate can actually help your body to recover. I’m certainly a fan of a chocolate recovery drink, and this article contains a recipe to make a hot chocolate recovery drink – yum! So while a mint hot chocolate (Christmas in a cup!) might not make you feel at your most athletic, there can still be a place for a little chocolate in your life.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 9th December

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.

You’ve probably realised by now that I’m a big fan of running data. Despite somewhat questionable mathematical talent, give me some times, distances and running-related stats and I’m a happy Running Princess. So when I came across an article in a recent issue of Runner’s World about Ken Young, running’s Mr Big Data, I read with interest and was stunned to learn that so much of our data-based knowledge of running comes from his tireless work. It’s a fascinating story of one man’s passion and commitment and I recommend giving it a read.

One of the main pieces of data I’m interested right now is how much sleep I’m getting. It’s been a busy, stressful time at work and one thing I’ve learned is that I need to prioritise rest in order to protect my body from injury, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been conscious that I’ve not been getting quite as much sleep as I would like. This piece from Athletics Weekly was therefore a timely reminder of why my body needs plenty of quality sleep in order to help me be a better runner.

Moving away from data, I often find at this time of year when the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, I’m more likely to have non-running friends commenting on my sanity in continuing to run when I could be sitting in my nice cosy house with a hot cup of tea and a cuddly cat on my lap. While that can be tempting, I know that running will always make me feel more energised and that cup of tea so much more enjoyable. But explaining that to a non-runner can be tough: why do I run? That’s exactly what Martin Fritz Huber, writing for Outside online, examined in the article below. Are his reasons the same as yours?

Many people run because it makes them feel good about themselves, it gives them confidence and boosts their self-esteem. With that in mind, I love this article from The New York Times about America Ferrera (always Ugly Betty to me!) taking on a triathlon and working to silence that negative voice inside her which said she couldn’t do it. We all have that inner critic, it’s what we do to silence it and fight back that’s important. America Ferrara explains how she managed just that.

And finally, if the dark nights have you longing to curl up with a good book of an evening, you might be in need of a bit of inspiration. Why not check out this list of 100 must-read books about running and see if anything takes your fancy? I know I’ll be adding a few to my wishlist now…

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 23rd September

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.

Welcome to Friday Finds Saturday Stories. Yes, I’m late this week. I’m not going to make excuses, I just couldn’t get my act together to publish on time for a variety of reasons. I’ve never missed a week since I started this series though (although one or two have admittedly been late!) and I’m not going to start now!

First up, a piece by Phil Hewitt writing in The Guardian. This caught my attention as I read Hewitt’s previous book Keep On Running and very much enjoyed the reminder of some of my own race experiences. Now, Hewitt has a new book out, this time focusing on extraordinary running stories from around the world. Some of those stories are mentioned in the article, however I also liked the reference to this year’s Paris marathon, as Hewitt’s description chimes very much with my own experience of the race. I think I’ll definitely be adding this book to my reading list.

On the subject of extraordinary stories, I have to include the story of the week from the triathlon World Series finale in Cozumel, Mexico. I think everyone around the world has probably come across this story by now, but I was so struck by the bond between the brothers and how one was prepared to sacrifice his finish time to help the other in his moment of need. It’s inspiring stuff and if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend that you do.

Next up, another gem from Outside Online. We all have the things we’re “comfortable” with in fitness: running, cycling, lifting heavy weights. But what if we had to step out of that comfort zone and try something different? That’s what happened when Outside took six writers and had them spend time on a completely different discipline to their usual routine. There was pain, there was embarrassment and there was googling of unfamiliar terms. All of which means there was entertainment for us…

We’re getting into that time of year when I find it hard to wake up in the morning. Past the Equinox, and dark mornings make it very difficult for me to rise, a problem I don’t really have during lighter months. I’ve been considering one of those lamps which slowly wakens you with increasing light to replicate dawn, however it seems another way to go might be a yoga alarm clock. What’s that I hear you say? You’ve not heard of that? Well neither had I until I read about an app which wakens you with the voice of a yoga teacher encouraging you into some gentle asanas. Morning yoga sounds like a great way to start the day, so this may be worth investigating further.

And finally, there’s nothing better than a cold beer after a hard run, but what if  a dietary issue meant you could no longer have that celebratory cold one? That’s exactly the situation one runner found herself in when she was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. Her solution? Create her own beer! It’s a fantastic story, but sadly the beer is only available in California right now. Sounds like as good a reason as any for a trip to the golden state!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Forcing a smile for the camera

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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:

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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…

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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?

Friday Finds – 19th 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.

I always feel a little sad as the Olympics draw to a close. It’s been a fantastic fortnight of sport and I’ve really enjoyed watching the best of the best competing. I’m also really pleased to see such a strong performance from Team GB in our first post-London Games, proving that there is a continuing legacy of sport in this country. But away from the incredible performances, personal bests and world records, we’ve also seen a number of moments which really define the Olympic Spirit, and that’s the focus of this week’s post.

One of my favourites comes from the women’s 5000m. In case you missed it, two runners collided during the race. One helped the other to her feet then when they began to run again, realised that she herself was injured. This time the other runner stopped to offer encouragement. Both runners, sporting rivals (and strangers) before the race, finished and hugged in acknowledgement of that shared experience. For me that really embodies the ideals of sportsmanship that should be so important in events like this.

I also liked the story to come from the women’s marathon, however this one has had some mixed reactions. In brief, twins Anna and Lisa Hahner both represented Germany in the event. When they finished in 81st and 82nd place, they crossed the line holding hands, a gesture reminiscent of the inaugural London Marathon when Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen crossed the finish line hand in hand (we also saw this from Paula Radcliffe at the 2015 London Marathon and Meb Keflezighi at the Boston Marathon in the same year). But for the German twins, their finish line moment has been criticised on the grounds that it looks like they didn’t take the race seriously and treated it like a “fun run”. Given that they ran a 2:45 marathon on a hot Rio day, I’m not sure how much “fun” they were having (frankly if you looked at some of my finish line photos from marathons you’d think I had a fantastic time from start to finish, but I know differently!). I’ll never know what the Hahner twins’ true motivation was, some have suggested self-publicity, but I like the idea of them finishing together and sharing the moment.

Another pair of siblings to make the headlines was GB’s triathlon titans Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee. Aside from the fact that four out of the last six Olympic triathlon medals (of any colour) have been won by a member of this same family, the bond between the brothers shines through even in the face of friendly rivalry. Having successfully defended his title, Alistair slumped to the ground soon to be joined by Jonny (who upgraded his bronze in London to a silver in Rio). They clasped hands and simply said, “we did it.” They had been together through much of the race, and it was only towards the end of the run that Alistair pushed ahead to leave Jonny behind. Having watched this pair in other races, I’m certain they always wait for each other to finish, regardless of how long it takes.

Probably one of the most iconic moments of the Rio games happened between two gymnasts. In a time when tensions between many nations are fraught, gymnasts from North and South Korea, countries technically still at war, posed together for a selfie. That moment of unity quickly went viral as an unlikely friendship was forged. Like with the story of D’Agostino and Hamblin, it proves that sport can bring people together in a shared goal, even when competing against each other, much like shaking a rival’s hand at the end of a race to congratulate them on a job well done.

And finally, if all of that is making you want to go out and create your own Olympic moments, then one way to do so might be to run the marathon. Don’t worry, you don’t have to run 26.2 miles all at once, and sadly you’re not guaranteed a trip to Rio, but The Guardian‘s new interactive podcast sounds like a really cool alternative. Simply fire up the podcast on your phone, and head out. As you run, your distance and pace will determine what you hear as you are treated to an audio tour of the Olympic marathon route as well as some information about how Rio got ready for the games and a little bit of marathon-related advice. The men’s marathon takes place on Sunday, so if you have a long run to do then you could almost feel like you’re with them… in spirit anyway!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Currently…(June 2016)

Despite my best intentions, I’ve just not managed to write as many posts as I would like recently, so I thought this would be an ideal time to fill you in on what I’ve been up to lately…

Running
Since my recovery from the Paris marathon, I’ve been pretty sensible about my running. I decided to stick with the three runs per week that I was doing during my post-inury return to running, rather than the four I’ve scheduled previously. My thinking is that if I had an injury based on repetitive high-impact, then reducing that impact would be a good idea. Those three runs all have a different focus so that I can continue to build my fitness and gradually stretch my mileage a bit again (I don’t want a sudden leap in mileage as that will inevitably result in some kind of bodily breakdown). At the moment that means a tempo effort during the week, parkrun on a Saturday to get some speed in my legs and a longer, slower run on a Sunday to build endurance. I’ve probably been guilty in the past of running too fast on my long runs, so I’m really focusing on keeping that pace down and running comfortably. My parkrun times have come down and I’m almost back to where I was pre-injury; my longer runs are up to 8 miles, although I know I could easily do at least 10 and I’m generally running 4-5 miles comfortably hard during the week. In terms of racing, I ran the Great Women’s 10k in early June and have a couple of summer 5k races on the horizon, but other than that it’s been good to just run with no pressure of time or distance to constrain me.

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Training
The change from four runs per week to three was part of a complete overhaul of my training plans. When I thought about what I had been doing in the past, I realised that there was just too much impact on my body: four runs, one or two Metafit classes and a PT session which involved lots of hopping drills. There were very few days with low/no impact and that had to change. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and consulted with Steve over some of the details, to arrive at my new weekly plan:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – tempo run
Wednesday – bike intervals at the gym or a cycle
Thursday – run specific PT session plus ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest day
Saturday – parkrun plus hatha yoga
Sunday – long slow run

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted a couple of yoga sessions in there, something new to my weekly routine. Yoga didn’t feature in my goals for the year, but I’ve believed for a while that adding yoga to my training might be really beneficial to boost my flexibility (especially around my hips) as well as strength and balance. I began a weekly ashtanga class at the start of May at a local yoga studio and am absolutely loving it. I can already see some differences in my flexibility and can’t wait to see how much more I progress. Recently, a friend of mine completed her yoga teacher training and has started a Saturday morning hatha class at her studio. Since I felt that one yoga session wasn’t quite enough, I decided to go along to that as the timing is perfect to grab a quick shower and change after parkrun then head along. I’ve found the combination of parkrun followed by a really good stretch in yoga feels fantastic and helps me to recover before my Sunday run. In an ideal world I’d like to do much more yoga during my summer break from school, so fingers crossed that works out for me. So far this new training plan has felt really good. A bit of me misses that fourth run, but I also know that this is best for my body and it makes me enjoy my other runs all the more.

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Listening
Regular readers know that I’ve become a big fan of podcasts. I listen to the Tough Girl podcast on my Tuesday run and Marathon Talk on my longer Sunday run (if you see me laughing during my run, that will be why!). I also like to listen to podcasts in the car on my way home from work so am always on the lookout for something else I might like. Recently I began listening to the Runner’s Connect Run to the Top podcast hosted by elite athlete Tina Muir and have really enjoyed it so far. The interviewees are really informative and it’s been interesting to get a bit of an insight into the training of an elite along the way.

Celebrating
So many celebrations recently, ranging from a number of significant birthdays in Steve’s family to the imminent retinal of one of my colleagues. This month also sees Steve and I celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. That’s right, we’ve managed to put up with each other for six whole years filled with madcap schemes and some utter lunacy like Steve “doing a hairy” and my 4 races in one weekend adventure. We’ve not done anything truly mad in a while, preferring to be a bit middle-aged and talk about things like garden sheds, lawn mowers and watering the freshly laid lawn at our new house, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something else crazy soon!

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Planning
With the end of the school year almost within touching distance, it’s time to start thinking about the summer and all the possibilities it offers. We’re making plans for our trip to Florida, plans for the house and plans for our ongoing training. It’s not been an easy year, and I really can’t wait until I can lie on my sun lounger with the pool in front of me, sun above me and my Kindle in my hand. Bliss!

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What have you been up to lately?
Any exciting plans for the summer?

Friday Finds – 12th February

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.

A couple of weeks ago I shared the story that Adidas had ended their sponsorship deal with the IAAF and wondered whether or not any other sponsors would follow suit. This week I got my answer as Nestlé also decided to withdraw their support. Negative publicity was once more cited as the reason, with worries of the impact on Nestlé’s reputation mentioned in a statement. As this story continues to feature regularly in the news, yet again I must wonder what further fallout there will be.

A more inspiring story comes from Sport Relief and Radio 1 DJ Greg James who this week completed his Gregathlon challenge of 5 triathlons in 5 days. Joining a growing list of celebrities to have completed gruelling physical challenges for Sport Relief, Greg completed his final triathlon in Norwich today.  In just 5 days he has amassed a total of 3.6 miles of swimming, 196.7 miles on the bike and 46 miles running, raising over £750,000 so far. I know how hard it can be to persuade your body to keep going across multiple events, so to keep on going for 5 days is incredible and I am hoping to see this challenge televised around Sport Relief weekend next month.

This week also saw the publication of one of those studies that really just confirmed what we already suspected: that running is good for our brains! More specifically, sustained aerobic activity has been found to have a positive impact on the part of our brains responsible for learning. I know I do some of my best thinking whilst out for a run, so it’s good to have confirmation that my favourite activity not only keeps my body fit and healthy, but is good for my brain too!

Someone who has recently discovered the benefits of running is Michelle Thomas, writing for online magazine Standard Issue. After years of avoiding exercise and battling body issues, she now realises how going for a run is not a chore but an enjoyable way to look after herself. And in this article she recounts her journey to this particular revelation (and her running plans for the future). It would be fantastic if more of us would follow suit.

And finally, I’ve been following the news that my favourite running shoe manufacturer has launched a new running shoe specifically for women. That’s right, rather than being a “women’s version” of a man’s shoe, this one was designed with women in mind from the outset. I know from some of my reading that men and women tend to have different patterns of injury and since our bodies are different shapes, it’s hardy surprising that our running styles would differ too. I will continue to read about this shoe with interest, and may even give it a go myself some time!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 14th August

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/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.

Just about every day since June, a new story has emerged with regard to allegations of doping in athletics. I’ve featured this several times in Friday Finds, and it’s a story that is by no means over yet. But today, I want to counter all that negativity by highlighting some stories of women doing fantastic things to inspire, motivate and challenge themselves and others. After all, getting more women involved in sport is one of my passions.

Part of the inspiration for this post comes from The Independent, which earlier this week published its first power list of the 50 most influential women in sport. Running the full gamut of involvement whether as a participant or in more strategic role, it’s a pretty comprehensive list. That’s all well and good, but it’s not just those in a position of power who can influence, you only have to look at the average marathon or similar endurance event to find ordinary people pushing their limits. And sometimes, that’s even more inspiring.

The recent #ThisGirlCan campaign has done much to highlight the issue of encouraging more women to get involved in sport, and the campaign website features all kinds of articles to help inspire and keep us all on track. As has been well publicised, fear of judgement is cited time and time again as a barrier to participation, hence why it was so pleasing to see the US edition of Women’s Running feature a plus-size model on the cover recently. In a similar vein, the winner of the blog category in the 2015 Running Awards was The Fat Girl’s Guide to Running, a running resource specifically aimed at plus-size female runners, currently working in partnership with the This Girl Can campaign. And in this post featured on the website Empowering Women, the creator of the blog sets out just why we can all lace up.

Also challenging attitudes to female runners is Lindsey Swift. Heard of her? She’s the Barnsley woman whose Facebook post of an open letter to the driver who heckled her whilst out running has gone viral. Her attitude is fantastic, pointing out that everybody has to start somewhere, precisely the point that many people tend to overlook. Not everybody can be an Olympic athlete, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all better ourselves and make positive changes. I wish Swift all the best for her continued training.

But it’s not just in running that tenacious women are taking the bull by the horns, as this recent story featured on the BBC shows. 18 months ago, Alex Goodier decided it was high time she lost weight and got fitter. Before she knew it, she was signing up to the sprint distance at the Blenheim Palace triathlon, despite not having ridden a bike since she was a child and being frankly petrified of open water swimming. Undaunted, she set about training, overcoming a number of hurdles along the way to get her to race day. And despite being the last one to cross the finish line, Goodier is thrilled to have met her challenge and is a great example of the fact that it’s never too late to get involved in sport and anyone can give it a go.

I also want to draw your attention to two women I have come across who are doing fantastic things to motivate and inspire others. First up, Sophie Radcliffe whose blog Challenge Sophie has been featured on a previous Friday Finds. Adventurer Sophie is “on a mission to show that challenges in the great outdoors are accessible and achievable for everyone.” I always enjoy reading her blog posts and was particularly struck by this recent post which focuses on the power of the mind, using her participation in the recent Race to the Stones ultramarathon as as example. Proof indeed of this quotation from my favourite movie, Back to the Future: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

And on the subject of Race to the Stones, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with runner Sorrell Walsh on the Marathon Talk podcast. Last year, Walsh won the women’s event at Race to the Stones in 10 hours and 38 minutes, which I believe set a new course record. However Walsh was struck by the disparity in numbers between male and female participants, the usual split in such events being 80:20. So she did something about it. Under the banner of Wmn Run 100, which she helped found, Walsh set about recruiting a team of female runners with the aim of having a 50:50 split at this year’s event. And she came close, with a final ratio of 60:40 (and many in her team had never trained for a marathon, let alone an ultra distance event before). An amazing achievement and I for one will be following her future endeavours.

When all is said and done, there are countless inspirational  (and influential) women out there doing their bit to get more women involved, but there is still more work to do to bring female participation in line with that of males. You never know, maybe one day we’ll outnumber men, and to get us started, a recent parkrun newsletter highlighted the fact that for the first time there were more women registered on their database then men. Let’s hope this will be a continuing trend.

Happy reading
The Running Princess