Snow Problem!

I was waiting for some photos from a run at the weekend, but they still haven’t surfaced, so you will have to make do with mostly just my words today! Also, huge apologies for how late this is going out – we also lost our land line briefly this week and it’s just come back so the internet has now been revived..!

This week (last week now) has been a jumble too, although that seems to be the norm at the moment! I had a swim Tuesday morning, which was a bit of hard work after the big efforts at Parkrun and cross-country, and finding out I had a lazy arse (glutes) last weekend. In fact, my legs chose my first workout of the week to tell me that they were still tired and not quite ready for swimming hard. This was in the form of a twinge in my knee that was started by pushing off the wall in the pool, but exacerbated by kicking. I used a pull buoy to combat this for a while, and then we set out on some drills.

The drill in question involved crossing your ankles over each other, and then driving hard with your arms to stay afloat. This was tricky, but not too bad with the pull buoy. Then we took that away. It was very difficult and tiring, but it focused on the raw power from your arms and shoulders to drive you forwards. We were doing 50m efforts with a couple of seconds pause at the opposite end of the pool so I didn’t have to push off too hard at all. Not pushing off the wall hard also meant that you really had to drive your arms to get any speed up. It was really interesting, and although difficult, quite fun.

I ran Tuesday evening as well, which was just an easy 5 miler along the reverse of one of our club loops with a few others. I struggled with the long hill near the end, but I knew it was just my lazy bum! I have also kept working on that all week. Since Sunday, I have been doing some “glute activation” exercises, to try and strengthen them, but also get them working properly. I went to the gym Wednesday morning and after doing some more of those exercises, I used some machines to target my quads, glutes and that kind of area to build up some strength and stability. I sandwiched all of this in between a cross trainer warm up and cool down. It was a good session, despite not wanting to drag myself out of bed in the cold for a 6am start!

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This week’s photo randomly taken from my Zwift ride…

Wednesday evening involved a revisit to the turbo trainer. I have finally cracked that out for winter training – the frost is outside and I will stay in! I use Zwift, which is a virtual training companion that talks to the speed and cadence sensors on my bike and adjusts my cycling characters’ speed accordingly. It’s great to get rid of some boredom and good motivation to go a bit quicker, or work a bit harder. I have been riding a 23km mountain/volcano loop round their created island ‘Watopia’ recently, and broke a few personal records there on Wednesday. It was also a good opportunity on trying to take the strain off the hamstrings and focus on pushing the power through my quads and glutes – I felt pretty successful at the end of it!

I didn’t actually run, or do any real excercise on Thursday! I have got involved in a December Challenge with my running club, where you have to run or walk 1 mile minimum per day, or cycle 3 miles, so I managed a mile walk at lunch time, but I was busy in the evening with a massage booked amongst other things, which was great to take the strain off those poor hammies!

Friday morning was another swim session, and this one went so much better than Tuesday’s. My swimming buddy and I did our usual 250m warm-up, then 4 x 200m efforts, which I think were all sub-3:30, so that is good progress! There was another 250m after those, because my friend can’t count, but that was at sub-3:30 pace too, so it was all good! Then we realised that the pool had cleared a lot. We had a whole lane to ourselves, so it was decided  – 50m on 1 minute. We did sets of 4 twice over, and they were all around 45 seconds (so, 15 seconds rest), and that was a positive too. So swimming was on the up by the end of the week.

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Black Park Parkrun on Saturday, turning the corner for the last straight

Saturday morning was time for Parkrun! I didn’t have work, so I happily skipped off into the FREEZING cold morning to run at Black Park. It wasn’t my best run there, but I had done well last week and I know I have a speed limiting factor, so I’m trying not to let it get me down. Results this week (not quite as good as last) stand at: my 38th parkrun, and 24th at Black Park, 205th place and 40th female out of 424 runners, where I was second in my age category. Not too bad, overall. It was super cold and my legs were heavy. I did appreciate the abuse I got just after the 4km mark, where my friend with his lovely dogs shouted, “Come on Amanda, you can dig deeper than that!” with a grin on his face. That was enough of a kick in the behind to get me moving and motivated again! Thank you for that one!

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A pair of nutters in their antlers. I did actually race in mine – dedication to the cause!

After lots of rest for my tired leggies on Saturday, I headed over to Tadley for their running club’s Christmas Cross Country – the “Xmas XC”! We awoke to panicked messages from various running friends, because the sky had laid down a couple or few inches of snow overnight. After calming those concerns that the race would not be on, it would appear that there was actually no snow in Tadley, much to our disappointment – we were quite looking forward to cross-country in the snow – we were picked up as planned by our friend in their rather convenient 4×4.

The race headquarters were at Hurst Community College, in the same location as the 10 mile event that Tadley Runners had used a couple of months ago. It was a bitterly cold morning, as can be expected, and it was also raining. This wasn’t pleasant before and after the race, but the temperature was still bearable for the classic cross-country shorts and vest top combination whilst you were running. Or at least I thought so; I’m not sure many people agreed with me!

The race start was a good 10 minutes’ walk away from race HQ, and it felt like we had already started the race, as we trekked through mud and countryside just to get to startline. We began in a big, open field, where the wind cut through you. Luckily, me and my friend had timed getting there quite well, because we were probably only in that field for a maximum of 2 minutes.

When the gun went off, all the runners hurtled towards the woods in attempts to keep warm, and to get out of the wind. After negotiating the slightly slippery field, we had a long downhill to tackle, which was becoming more of a sliding slope as every second passed, with all the trainers chomping into it. I didn’t think it through and it wasn’t until I was approaching this same hill later on that it clicked we would be climbing this muddy mound to reach the finish.

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Our little group in the warm after the XC

I have to say, this was probably my favourite cross-country race that I have ever run. It had a combination of all of the best bits (in my opinion) of what makes a great off-road event. My ultimate factor is always some root-ridden, mud-filled, leafy woodland. I adore running through the woods, under the trees, and squelching through all the fallen leaves. There was certainly plenty of that! I loved the full mix of terrain and combination of testing ups and downs. There were several moments where I was running through water and rivers that were splashing up to my knees, as well as a section where we found ourselves running alongside a horse racing track – there is probably a correct term for that, but I don’t know what it is! The twisty, turny, churny mud left me feeling full of joy and running despite the cold weather and the sprint finish in the snow made it complete! I managed to gain a place in my scramble for the finish, which was great fun, and I had  the proper lactic feeling as I was awarded with my lovely finishers’ mug.

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Finally at home in the warm, antlers dried out and intact, and finisher’s mug full of warm!

I got chatting to some guys I had been racing with at the finish, and then thought I had spotted my friend, so decided to wait and cheer her through before we scarpered out of the snow back to the warm indoors to get changed. We also indulged in some delicious home-made soup that was provided as part of the entry fee. I would like to thank Tadley Runners for a brilliant event! I wish I could make the Thames Valley Cross Country league event in January, which I believe is on the same course, but I am unable to go on that date. Such a shame, but definitely one to do if you can get there!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

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Run To The Hills

I am definitely not capable of having consistent weeks at the moment in my training. After re-joining the gym recently, I had managed to go once last week, and then I got struck with the cold of death from Tuesday night onwards, killing my plans for a Wednesday gym session and a Thursday run. In full determination to be better, I was able to run this weekend, which pleased me because I didn’t have to miss out on parkrun or the Cross Country, so maybe it struck at the right time.

Before I move on to my week, I thought I would inject Amanda’s fool-proof way to ditch a cold in 3 days!

  1. Take ibuprofen-based cold and flu tablets in the day, and Night Nurse (paracetamol-based) at bed time.
  2. Drink as many hot drinks as you can in an hour i.e. drink them when they’re really hot! And add ginger to your tea.
  3. On the day you feel the worst, have a whole day’s rest in bed, maybe even a nap or two, and for dinner have the hottest curry you can manage – I like a madras or jalfrezi!
  4. Put a teaspoon of vapour rub in a bowl of boiling hot water, then a towel/jumper over your head, and breathe it in to clear your airways.
  5. By day 4, you should be feeling better and it should mostly be at the coughing stage, so a nice short hard run like a hard effort parkrun will be the final cure to blast it our of your lungs.

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So I did manage one run this week before that cold infected its way into my body. It may have contributed slightly to the infection, because I hadn’t thought through what we would be doing that evening, and dressed for a normal chilly run, and not for standing around being coached. But we live and learn – or at least I hope I will! I also got a 2000m swim in on Tuesday morning, which was a good session, actually.

My running club had been lucky enough to be accepted onto the England Athletics Club Run initiative, and had been selected to have 3 coached sessions with one of their coaches. We had agreed as a club that we would have one session per month with this coach, and we would use it to target one of our club championship events in February – Wokingham Half Marathon. We had been allocated Rob McKim.

Our first session with Rob was focused on pacing. This was really interesting, as it highlighted a full range of running paces, and we got to practise them all. We were shown good practice for posture, how to warm up, and what that really meant. Then we moved onto the paces: recovery, easy, steady, tempo, intensive aerobic intervals, and speed endurance. It was a good lesson to understand that you need to run at your OWN pace, even when in a group, and to make sure you were judging your perceived effort correctly. I’m definitely going to be practicing this all a bit more! Unfortunately, when we were stood around listening to the coaching information, I think my body got quite chilly and that was what accelerated the infection I had suspected in the last week or so. By Wednesday I was ill.

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A screenshot taken during my Zwift ride. Climbing the mountain.

I tried to sweat it out on the turbo trainer Wednesday night with a moderate 45 minute session on Zwift, but it didn’t improve things, so I left all exercise until Saturday after that. This meant no gym, no running club on Thursday, and no Friday morning swim. This made me sad, but I was feeling a lot better by Saturday, so the rest must have done me good!

I had decided that on Saturday morning, I would attempt to run Parkrun hard, and see how fast I could go. I had finally managed to turn up to Black Park on pacer weekend, which meant that there would be volunteers out running at 1 minute increments from about 19 minutes to 34, usually. I realise now that my idea to try to beat my all-time 5km PB was a bit silly after having a cold and literally just getting over it the day before, but I went all out on the first kilometer, sticking to the 25 minute pacers, until my lungs gave me a sign (in the form of wheezing), and my legs in a sign of not keeping up, that this was in fact a terrible idea, and I should back off the pace.

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The second to last straight of Black Park parkrun, gunning for the finish

I stopped once at 3km quickly to cough my lungs up, and again at 4km because I just wasn’t getting the air in and my chest was just struggling after being ill. So I finished in a time of 26:39, I think officially on the Black Park parkrun results page. It wasn’t an entirely disappointing result, despite still not beating my 5km PB, which (slightly embarrassingly) still stands at the end of a triathlon at 25:21! I was 1st in my age category (SW20-24), 30th female, 160th out of 424 runners, and it was a new Black Park PB for me! I will take the positives from that! I have to remember that it is not an easy course to do a quick time on either.

Sunday brought the XC organised by Handy Cross Runners, and the hilliest course of the cross-country league. I brought tiredness, a belly full of beer, and tired legs along – I had got in at 1am from seeing Kasabian at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night! It was well worth it, but my night of drinking and dancing was going to cost me. I was very indecisive about what to wear. I was so hot in the morning, so turned up with my long-sleeved underlayer in my bag and a running vest and shorts on. Then I got cold, so put the underlayer back on, warmed up running up the hill, and then decided I would be too hot running in my underlayer, and had to abandon it at the bottom of the first hill near the race HQ.

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Not quite all of the Burnham Joggers team on Sunday – there were 32 of us in total!

The start of this race, as you may have gathered, is at the top of a hill, which you get to come hurtling down when the gun goes off. This makes for an exciting start, and as I think I worked out actually means that you get more downhill in the run than you do up, which in Bradenham Woods can only be a good thing! You soon meet a nice juicy climb, which turns into an even steeper climb as you enter the woods.

This particular cross-country has four main steep climbs that really get your legs burning. The in between bits are full of mud and leaves, and some great fun over a tough terrain, as well as a few brilliant downhill sections. The penultimate downhill is over a steep camber, which makes for a technical descent, and I witnessed one runner fall sideways ahead of me, although luckily he bounced up and declared he was ok. He is braver than me! After one more energy-sapping climb, and a lap round the woods – it was time for the last descent. I had decided that this would be the time to catch a runner ahead of me, and set them in my sights.

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Trotting along at the bottom of the first hill

I flung myself down the final hill and went all out – maybe slightly too early, but I was going for it now! I was gaining nicely on my target as we turned the corner for the last field. It was so muddy and slippery that I was struggling to make any ground, but with a couple of hundred metres to the finish and some encouraging shouts from my fellow club runners I managed to dig deep and overtake for the finish! It was great fun, and although I was ruined from my diseased week and hectic Saturday, it was a brilliant challenge, where I could refuel with delicious sandwiches, tea and cake.

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Getting some air time in a sprint for the finish!

Writing this the day after the race, I have made a discovery. Ignoring the alcohol consumption the evening before, I may have found the source of my struggle to gain speed and climb hills at the weekend. I had felt my hamstrings straining going up the hills at the cross-country and have definitely been finding it harder to pick up speed in a run over the last few weeks. What caught my attention today was that my hamstrings were extremely sore, but my glutes and quads were doing alright. This tells me that my glutes aren’t firing properly. I’m taking it as a positive that I discovered this now, because it’s winter for one thing, so I can build up a base during the off-season. Not only that but the challenging course at the cross-country highlighted the root of the problem, and potentially what had caused my knee injury before. So I can do some glute activation exercises and try to build up from there. I will keep you all posted!

Thank you for reading,

Amanda x

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Runners

This week has been a double whammy of off-road running. In fact, the only running I have done this week has been off-road. (I had a slightly lazy day off in London on Tuesday, although I did cycle on the velodrome!) It’s been really nice after the crazy year I’ve had of mad training and racing to have a chilled out, light week of exercise.

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Making moves onto the Olympic velodrome and loving it! Photo credit: Katie Raettig

Just quickly though, the velodrome was FANTASTIC! I had been bought a taster session on the track as a present and had finally got round to using it. My best friend came along, and we headed down in plenty of time to the Olympic Park in Stratford to see what it was all about. Around the outside of the velodrome there are BMX, mountain bike and road circuits, as well as the indoor track, which actually makes it the only place in the world that houses all of these disciplines. I had a great time racing round the velodrome, and although I was initially terrified of the 42 degree slope on the bank, I did actually make it the whole way to the top several times! I had two 10 minute blocks of track time, and I’ll be honest – that was tiring! I have full respect for those elite athletes who can race flat-out for a full hour’s time trial on there. This is definitely somewhere I would like to go back to, to try out the sport again, but also to watch some serious cyclists compete.

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All the way to the top – I didn’t think I’d make it up there! Photo credit: Katie Raettig

The trails started on Thursday night. I had spotted my friend had liked a clothing company called Ashmei on Facebook, and it had shown under that piece of information that they had an event on a week later. It was a 10km trail run that was completely free to sign up to and there was cake at the end. with the opportunity to buy some discounted running gear. I signed up and managed to persuade two of my running buddies from the club to come along and we all met up at the clothing shop in the middle of a farm estate ready to run at 7pm.

At first, it didn’t look like much, and we weren’t quite sure what we had signed up for! Soon enough the room was filled with about 20 like-minded runners, and there was a quick chat about what would be going on that evening. Then it was time to run. We ran through the farm, apparently along the edge of a golf course, and onto the trails – straight up a hill, naturally. This made a clear split in the group of the faster runners, and us novice trail ‘joggers’.

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The night-time trail crew at Ashmei headquarters

I really loved this trail run. We started in Aldbury, ran up to the top of Tring Ridgeway with fantastic views that I reckon would look even better in daylight, and then up a bit higher towards Ivinghoe Beacon. Lots of climbing in the first half meant only one thing – after a stretch of flat, we had a brilliantly fast descent from Bridgewater Monument down to the road, where there was a short tarmac jog up the hill back to HQ. The route was great – it featured my favourite part of all off-road running: some leafy woodland sections, as well as plenty of hills to sink your teeth into and enjoy the view from the top! In fact, I have just started to listen to Marathon Talk (from the very beginning, I might add – gulp! I have a lot to catch up on  – a great weekly podcast about running, for those that don’t know – and a mantra that was shared this week was, “The bigger the hill, the harder the climb, the better the view from the finishing line.”.

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Left to right: Mark (Burnham Joggers), Hannah (Burnham Joggers), myself, and Brian (Tring Running Club)

We ended the evening catching up with people we had run with and even the others that were speedier than us, enjoying some beautiful cake and a lovely warm cup of tea. We had run with a man called Brian from Tring Running Club, who was a wonderful guide along the way; as well as Stuart, the owner of Ashmei. It was great to talk to people who have a completely different experience of a club night run to us. These guys never run on the road. All year round they run off-road on trails and tracks. I think that’s so great and I will definitely be looking at entering the Tring Ridgeway Run that is organised by Brian’s club because I loved running the section of the route that we did. Also, quite handily, it’s a club championship event for us, so there will hopefully be lots of members of my running club there. A huge thank you to Ashmei and Brian from Tring Running Club for hosting us. We had a great evening.

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Fresh cross country shoes ready to get muddy! (Saucony Peregrine)

At the back-end of this week, we hurtled into cross-country, and my first XC race of the season. This Sunday was hosted by Sandhurst Joggers in a new venue, Lord Wandsworth College in Hook. This meant it was a new route, and the whole race would be new to everyone competing. I had also purchased some shiny, new, bright green cross country trainers the day before with the intent of christening them in the mud today!

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The Burnham Joggers team before the start of Sandhurst XC

There was a bitter wind this morning that was threatening to bite through my skin, so I kept my layers on for as long as possible! After a frivolous dancing warm-up with my buddies (soon to be choreographed, I’ll have you know), we were (sort of) ready to start running. I’ll be honest, none of us heard the pre-race briefing at the start line, but there were mumbles in the pack about two laps. This was confirmed a few minutes later. We ran along the field we started on, a quick few steps onto a bit of pavement where I found out that my Saucony’s really can “run anywhere” – no slipping for me – and round a track corner up a hill. The first of many, this was a long, but not too steep climb with a cheerful marshal at the top saying, “Well done! See you on the next lap”. There we have it.

At the top, it got proper cross-country. Through the woodlands – my favourite – and into lots of muddy, boggy, slippy slidy-ness! I loved hurtling down the hill after all of the sliding about. I have definitely got more confident descending this year. This helped me gain a bit of ground back that I probably lost going up the hill! Then THE hill came. Super steep mountain of a hill. I enthusiastically dug in, and I reckon I managed to run about a quarter of it; my steps getting smaller and smaller, my heart-rate getting higher and my breathing getter harder. My legs screamed at me and I decided, especially if it was a two-lap course that my legs would benefit more from me walking this climb than they would burning them out getting to the top. I was right, because I could overtake some people who had amazingly run the whole way to the top on the flat – they had burned their legs out. I flew along the flat and got ready to fling myself down the last descent of the loop.

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The view from HQ

I enjoyed the twisting downhill section, and used my confidence coming out of this onto the last stretch really helped. We crossed one solid, ploughed field that was hard and rocky underfoot, where I made up a bit more ground, then entered the last field. This one had a bit less traction in, and I had to work up the slight incline, which when you turned a right-angled corner got a bit steeper and a bit bumpier. I pushed on up to the top and enjoyed the respite of the flat. One lap would have been enough!

 

The second lap is always a bit tougher because you’ve been there before. I used something else I had heard in a Marathon Talk podcast that mental performance coach Midgie Thompson had said she uses. I told myself, “I can and I am”, i.e. I can do it. The first hill proved challenging because so many feet had crossed over this once, and in some cases twice. My legs were getting heavy towards the top, but I had been up it once, so I could do it again. All of the course was extremely slippy now, but I enjoyed the challenge of staying upright and ploughing through mud that was desperate to steal my new trainers! I’m pleased to say that they did not succeed!

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The last push for the finish line

The big mountain soon came round and with tired legs, I gave in to just walking up it. I had made good ground on the downhill section before. A fellow club runner caught up with me on the hill and we crawled to the top together. Then for the last muddy flat,  the last descent, and time to fly along the fields. I was rejoined by my friend for the last few hundred metres, where I sent her off ahead – she’s speedy and I was surprised to see she had been behind me – and it was all worth it because she overtook someone on the finish straight. I made it onto the flat, and tried to muster up some speed for a finishing sprint. Encouraged by another member of my club, I did just that and finished with that bitterly satisfying lactate-in-your-throat feeling.

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I promise these are the same trainers from the start!

It was a great cross-country event, especially for a new venue, and my shoes had been well and truly christened, along with some extremely muddy legs! I polished off some sandwiches, cake, and tea, then set off home to defrost my feet. There was a small detour to Odiham Castle on the way home, which is definitely not a conspiracy from people who make brown signs, and actually just needed finding on foot! All in all, a great week with lots of new/different things, so it makes sense my legs are tired. Monday is definitely a day of rest next week!

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The secret castle that is Odiham

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

You Are Capable Of So Much More Than You Think

I have only ever entered one team event before, and it was a bit of a peculiar layout to what you would normally expect. That one was a team relay triathlon, where A, B and C relayed within each part of the triathlon. So A would swim, then B would swim, then C would swim, followed by A cycling, then B and C cycling, then A, B and C running in succession. That was fantastic fun, and great for someone looking to try out the sport. This race, however, would be my first participation in a duathlon, and my first team one in a traditional sense, i.e. a first runner, a cyclist, and a second runner.

I was nudged by a friend at work to participate, because they really fancied it, and it took all of a few seconds for me to agree. I sourced another team-mate, my boyfriend, and we had a team of 3! Since I was the only member of our team who owned a bike (and rode it in a semi-competitive way), I would do the bike ride. Also, to be fair, I am definitely the slower runner in  the trio, so it worked out that everyone was racing to their strengths. This would be a sprint duathlon at Dorney Lake, starting and finishing with a 5km run, and a 20km bike ride in the middle.

I must admit, I hadn’t trained much on the bike in the lead up to this race. I had posted some times that I was pleased with in some triathlons before the season ended. The last of which had been mid-September, before I deemed it to be getting too cold to get my bike out on the road. I had been out on a 55km ride in the middle of a triathlon on my last ride, and I couldn’t feel my feet for the 2 and a bit hours I was riding for.

Unfortunately, due to timing, I had been training for the Dublin marathon, as you may know, and I had completed that just 3 weeks previous to this duathlon. As a general rule, after running a race, your body will take a day for every mile to recover, so I was still just inside that 26 day window of recovery. My legs had certainly been feeling it after those 26.2 miles, so I had decided it was best to let them recover, and go off the back of marathon training and the triathlon season I had just finished.

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A beautiful sunrise at Dorney Lake. My camera phone did not do it justice.

Runner 1, my boyfriend, had been improving over lots of distances in the last couple of months, including a PB time of 1:28:40 at Cardiff half marathon in October, and increasingly better times at Black Park parkrun all the way down to 20:05. He was really chasing that sub-20. Would today be the day? Black Park is a challenging course, especially if it’s been raining, and isn’t exactly flat, but Dorney Lake was pancake flat for sure.

Runner 2, my friend Jemma, had completed her first half marathon this year in a time of 1:36:43 – pretty impressive, and even more for your first half! On top of that, she smashed out a sub-20 parkrun in Rickmansworth on either her first or second run there (I couldn’t find the excited text message to check exactly). So we’re looking at two fairly evenly matched super runners, and myself on the bike.

This event was organised by F3, and I have to say, we did feel a little like they had organised the event with a team option, and then forgotten about the fact that there was a team event. But more of that later. I dug out the time trial bike, checked the tyres were pumped up and it still ran true, and that got popped into the back of the car. I have noticed as a cyclist, you definitely need more kit than a runner!

I registered at the tent, and was surprised to be handed only one race number. When I enquired, they said that was it, even though we were a team. There was also a couple of stickers for my bike. In the end, I asked an F3 employee, who agreed I wouldn’t have to wear the number with the pins on the bike, as I had a number on my front on my helmet, and on the seat post of the bike. They did explain that normally they would hand out race belts, but they hadn’t received the order for the race. No big, I guess – Chris would swap numbers with Jemma whilst I was cycling.

I managed to do a quick warm-up on my bike, which was very fortunate in the end, because the chain slipped off TWICE before I got it to settle in properly! I was lucky that didn’t happen mid-race! I think the chain had been knocked getting the bike in/out of the  car. I tucked down into position and shot up the service road, and was greeted with the beautiful sight of a deer prancing across the  tarmac and into the woods! I rode out for a mile, then headed back. There wasn’t much point in warming up too much, because I was going to have to rack my bike before the race briefing, and then stand in the cold wind waiting for Chris to speed round the 5km course.

Race briefing started slightly late, and we were a bit disappointed to find out that there was no mention of the team event at all. This was alright if you were familiar with the layout of a relay, but if you weren’t, like my team-mates, then it was slightly overwhelming. A mere few minutes later, the race had started, and Chris was off to complete his first of 2 laps along the 5km course. He was doing really well on the first lap, and was in a good position coming into transition.

We exchanged a brief conversation whilst I popped my helmet on, took the timing chip off him, attached it to myself, and grabbed my bike from the rack. “Well done!” “Thanks” “Did you PB?” “Yeah” “Sub 20?” Yeah” “AH! Well done!!”. Then it was time to run with my bike out to the mounting line. My legs were cold. I had tried to keep them moving a bit waiting for Chris to return from his run, and I had been wearing some lovely warm jogging bottoms, a coat, and a jacket. It was still going to take a little while to warm the muscles up though.

I knuckled down in the first lap, which followed around the return lake, and I knew it well. The wind was blowing hard that morning, and it was up to its usual mystical tricks at Dorney: you travel up one side of the lake into a headwind, turn 180 degrees, and cycle down the other side into a headwind… Go figure?!

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My inspiration for the morning. The one and only Chrissie Wellington.

I can’t say that I noticed the time going round the first lap, but just kept reminding myself that this was for the good of the team. The second lap ticked by nicely to the halway point, and 18 minutes had passed, so I thought I would be on for a reasonable time. I really had to focus and push coming down the home straight on each lap, because this carried the worst of that headwind. On the third lap, I decided I would be able to roughly predict the time I would finish the bike ride in, and screamed, “NINE MINUTES!” at my team-mates to give them warning for the fourth and final time I would be cycling to that point. I dug in through the last lap, and kept thinking about Chrissie Wellington, who I had met that Monday at a book signing. She had written “You are capable of so much more than you think” in my copy of her book, and I also remembered her talking about how in every race she had competed in, she had wanted to quit. I used these things as motivation to push on. I completed the bike ride in just over 36 minutes. Not quite a course PB, but it was certainly windier that day, and I was pleased with my 19mph average.

Over to Jemma for the final 5km of the morning. She shot off up the lake, so I popped on my warm clothes, and we walked over to a point on the run course where we could cheer her on. She came flying down the lake towards the end of the first lap, and I “encouraged” her. I will point out that I was instructed to cheer in this manner by Jemma herself: “Get those f***ing legs moving, Jemma! Run b***h, run!”. I saw her pick up, and move on to the second lap. I could see she was working hard. Chris stuck with the traditional, “Go Jemma! Well done!” – probably more acceptable to anyone nearby!

We headed over to the finish line, which had now deflated and blown over for the second time of the morning, and awaited Jemma’s return. Some more abuse/encouragement down the finish straight and a very strong finish indeed, then the duathlon was complete! We had done it in a time of 1:18:00 exactly. It appears on our Garmins that the run was slightly over 5km, meaning Chris’ amazing 5km PB of 19:45 doesn’t show on the results. However, they looked something like this: 20:13, 36:41, 20:24. I have actually just realised as well, that I managed to do negative splits on the bike! Over four laps, in order, I did: 09:32, 09:11, 09:08, 08:50 – FAB!

After Jemma had caught her breath, we headed over to the timing results print-out desk, and eagerly snapped up our results, to find out we were 1st in our category! We had only gone and won the team event! We were, and all still are, ecstatic! We were awarded a prize, and celebrated with a nice warm drink and a delicious baked potato.

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The dream team posing with our trophy and the Olympic rings at Dorney Lake.

It seems we may be the duathlon dream team. Bring on more team events! It really was great to participate as a team, and definitely something I will look into in the future.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Deuparth Gwaith yw ei Ddechrau

Last weekend, I was in Wales for the Cardiff half marathon. My hopes were high for a fantastic event, because my running friend had done it last year and loved it to bits. The route was said to be lovely, and I was really looking forward to it. I hoped it would not be as busy as the Great North Run, but there were 25,000 people signed up to run that weekend.

There were 4 colour divisions for pace: White (elite and speedies – where my boyfriend was), then green, red (where I was), and yellow. The start line is outside Cardiff Castle, and it did not disappoint. Just over 19,000 runners lined up that morning to complete the run, creating a sea of colours. Each wave was set off a few minutes apart, which I think did help spread everyone out on the course more – I appreciated that. The highlight of the start for me was the pyrotechnics. There were huge flames shooting into the sky every few seconds when they set each wave off – it looked incredible outside the castle.

 

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The start line, complete with castle, fire, and lots of runners!

 

I realised when I had joined my red section that I was a bit far back, but the masses were crammed in, so there was potential for a lot of overtaking. However, it was also meant to be an enjoyable, taking it easy kind of run, as I had been training hard recently and this was part of my training for Dublin marathon. So it was good in a way, because I was under strict instructions not to go hunting for a PB so close to a marathon – I hoped starting further back would hold me back a little.

The route weaved through housing and industrial sections, and then headed out towards Barrage, in Penarth, which was my favourite part of the whole run. I loved running in the middle of the sea, and although the light drizzle we had been experiencing was nice, I was still quite hot before that point. The cool, sea air was welcome. We reached 5 miles by this point, and I almost felt a little guilty, because I was running very comfortably at a reasonable pace, and I could hear a lot of others around me suffering. Still, I had been training hard, so I figured I had earned it. We ran through Cardiff Bay, along the waterfront, and past the Millenium Centre. The views were just great.

 

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Barrage, in all its glory

 

A mile and a half on, the halfway point had crept up on me, and I was shocked when my watch told me that I had completed the first half in 1 hour and 1 minute, yet I felt so good, and wasn’t pushing it! I’m not sure at what point it registered, but it dawned on me that the miles were just ticking by, and I really was just enjoying myself. It’s so nice sometimes to just relax in an event and be able to soak up the atmosphere and everything around you. It made the race so much more enjoyable for me. I thought the distance would seem longer taking a step back, but I think that staying at a pace that didn’t feel slow, yet I wasn’t panting and puffing my way round, had just helped pass the time.

Before I knew it, I was running around this huge lake in Roath Park – I thought how nice it would be to swim in, if you could (yes, I’m weird). The lake is huge, and we must have run a good 2 miles around it. It was the uppermost part of the course on the map, and I knew that when we reached the tip of the park, we would be heading back towards the finish and we would nearly be home.

This was the only part of the route where I sensed a small amount of fatigue. I had been training on all my long runs with gels for the marathon, and had cleverly left mine at home, so I was powered only by my breakfast, which I have done before and got a PB, so I know it’s completely possible. I got somewhere between 10-10.5 miles, and was running along the length of the lake, when I started to feel a little tired. I had a word with myself though, and said, “you have less than a Parkrun left, and you have felt more tired doing some of those than you do now”. So I soldiered on. It wasn’t so much of a wall that I hit, as a small hurdle or fence that I hopped over, and then I carried on – I was lucky.

It was around this point as well that I noticed two things. The first was that outside the old people’s home, they had brought a load of the residents out to cheer us on with clappers and sweets and things – that gave me a big lift. The other thing was that there was a man who was running next to me at the same pace. This was great. We used each other to push on and keep going at a reasonable pace, and I soon forgot about my tired legs. We had made a silent agreement to run and work together, staying by one another’s side, and leaving enough space every time we overtook someone for the other to get through.

I decided at 11 miles that if I was going to be tired, it might as well be for good reason. My legs had found another gear, and with my new-found running buddy, we picked up the pace a little. Before then, I had been running a pretty even pace of around 9:15 minutes per mile. I had an even bigger boost when I discovered they were handing out Lucozade Sport on the course! I gratefully accepted the bottle of orangey goodness and ran with it for about 1.5 miles until I had finished it. That certainly helped me kick it up a notch!  I found that over the last 2 miles, despite a rather nasty short, but very sharp climb, I could sustain a pace just under 9 min/miles. Success!

As the course started to descend along the last half a mile, my legs were ready, and they had been training throughout the year in triathlon for this moment. I have developed over the season a new way to finish a race, where I can find that last gear with slightly numb thighs, open my lungs up one last time, and push for the finish line. This was the point when I lost my running buddy. I think I must have taken off. I shot towards the finish line and into the finish tunnel, where I managed a little sprint finish.

I was really happy with how I had run, and so glad that I had gone for a reasonable, steady pace throughout, because it meant that I had enough in my legs to pick up the pace for the last couple of miles. It also gave me the confidence that with a finish time of 2:01:55, and a current personal best of 1:59:32, that I think I have a PB coming my way, once the marathon is done with, and I’ve had a rest! I felt fantastic, and had thoroughly enjoyed my run.

 

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Chris and I soggy at the finish, with some dragon claws in the background

 

The finish line boasted a technical t-shirt, a medal, banana, crisps, and sweets. I had a bet with my boyfriend before the race, that if he ran it in 1:28hrs or less that he would buy us cream teas. This would be a good PB for him. He ran it in 1:28:40 – an amazing achievement! So although there were no cream teas in sight, he did get his PB, and there is always another year for those!

Thank you to Cardiff University for hosting an incredible race – we will certainly be back for more in the future.

For those non-Welsh speaking among you, I have been reliably informed that the title of this post is a Welsh proverb, meaning ‘starting the work is two thirds of it’.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

Conquering The Chilterns

The triathlon season in England has drawn to a close for the year, unfortunately, and this post is about my last race of the year, organised by F3 Events: Conquer The Chilterns Triathlon.

It was a nippy morning in the Chilterns, signalling the end of the season for me, and many others. It was in fact 3°C colder in Hambleden, where the tri was than it was when we left home. The race was due to start at 8:15, and there were 3 different distances on offer: sprint plus, olympic plus, and middle distance. The ‘plus’ part meant that the bike ride was slightly longer than normal. For the sprint, it was extended to a 30km ride, instead of 20km, and for the olympic, it increased from 40km to 55km. The rest stayed the same. I had entered the Olympic Plus distance, so I was in for a 1.5km swim, a 55km bike ride and a 10km run. Every discipline was 2 laps. Easy to count!

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Bird’s eye view of the race start, courtesy of Meglio photographers

There were 2 separate transition areas for this race, which was new ground for me. The first was a field and a bit’s run from the Thames (where the swim was located), and the second was just acros the road, so that you were in position for the run. That meant I would be abandoning my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles in T1, and collecting my push bike, cycling shoes, helmet, and race belt. Then leaving all but my race belt in T2, and swapping my cycling shoes for my trainers. I did feel a bit pressured to get everything in the right place, and was a little worried that I would put something in the wrong area, but it all worked out in the end.

I have done a couple of F3 events now, and although they seem to pan out eventually, I do think that they try to do too much at one time, and it’s not always the best organised. There was also a swimming event that they were hosting in the same morning, with 2 different distances, which my friend happened to have entered. I bumped into her down at the riverside, where we had all assembled for a quick race briefing. The middle distance triathletes had started a little earlier than expected, and we had actually been called down to the river quite suddenly, as they had decided to move our start forward as well. It was a bit naughty, really, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.

A mudslide into the river, and brrrrrr! It was so cold! I opted to hang at the back of the group and was swimming out into the middle of the river and back in an attempt to warm up and also to just stay a bit warmer. It wasn’t working too well, but my face was adjusting, which was something. The start team left us in the water for a while before setting us off, which had caused a few grumbles in the pack. It wasn’t very fair considering the temperature of the water, and especially after doing Windsor Triathlon earlier in the year, and being set off within one minute of getting in the Thames – and it was 20°C that day!

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A shot of the mass swim start, courtesy of Meglio photographers

Starting further back also meant that I had a lot of people to get past in the swim leg. I spent pretty much the entire first lap overtaking people, and then it calmed down a little. It was super cold the whole way round, but still manageable. It was definitely difficult to get moving properly due to the temperature though, and I had been training in Bray Lake up until the race. I spotted my other friend out on the swim route too, at the far buoy. I completed the swim in 30:13, moving at 1:49/100yds.

The run into T1 proved slightly tricky, mostly because I discovered that my feet were either extremely cold from the swim, or they were not enjoying the barefoot run through the dew-infested grass. There was a small muddy gravel section to run through too. I wasn’t suffering as much as some people, however. There was a poor chap near me in transition whose fingers were so cold, he was struggling to get his socks on. I rubbed my feet with a towel quickly, hoping that that combined with the fresh pair of socks I put on would be enough.

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Whizzing round for a second lap (photo by boyfriend)

I was wrong. I set out on my bike for 2 laps around the Chilterns. One thing I should have thought more about when entering this one, was that it was going to be hilly. Maybe it was for the best. Having cycled around the Chilterns quite a bit with people from my running club, there were certain areas I was familiar with and I kept recognising them from either club rides, or from the 50 mile ride I had done last year. On the first lap, I started to think that the country lane I was riding down looked familiar. Then it dawned on me – it looked REALLY familiar. I was about to climb up a mountain! AKA Dolesden Lane, Turville Heath. I wasn’t pleased with the knowledge that whatever came round this time, would come around again. But I survived it twice, I’ll have you know!

The bike section of the triathlon was filled with drizzle, hills, a lot of punctures for many unfortunate riders, some lovely scenery, and a couple of fast descents, including one long one coming past Stonor Park back towards Henley. That was where I could make up my time for any slower parts of the laps, for example where I was climbing. I also found that when I had started riding, my body was pretty cold from the lake and it didn’t really want to help me out with the whole moving thing. I settled for being very happy if I managed to average 15mph over the whole course. Most of me did warm up eventually, other than my feet, I regret to say. I managed the hilly bike section in 2:04:50, averaging 16mph – ecstatic!

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Great shot on the bike from R Knight Photography!

T2 was very simple, however there was one problem – my feet were still like blocks of ice. There was nothing I could do about it except try to get on with the 2 laps of running, and hope that my feet defrosted some time soon. It was less than ideal. I attempted to run across the field onto the gravel track of the course, and it was the strangest sensation. I persevered and got three quarters of a mile before I decided that it was best for me to walk a little bit to try and get the blood flow back. I suffer with Raynaud’s phenomenon, which basically means if I get cold enough, I lose blood supply in my hands and feet. I knew if I walked on them in a certain way, I could get some feeling back in them enough to run. So I did.

Although feeling was not fully regained, my feet were no longer completely numb, so I continued up the path in more of a run. It was approximately a 1.5 mile winding climb up this track, where just over half of that was lined with tall pine trees. There are worse places to run. I kept telling myself that as long as I ran up to the end of the route, then I would be able to run straight back down it, where I did manage to claw some pace back. It was also nice, because my friend who had overtaken me on the bike was now someone who would pass me on the out-and-back route and we could high five each other for a little power-up. Trust me – it works!

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Set on the finish – the last leg of the run

The run down the hill was not only nicer because it was down, but the view over the Chilterns was lovely! It certainly lifted my spirits (until the next lap up). A testing run overall, and I managed a nice little sprint finish with my semi-numb feet. I finished the run in 1:02:55. I was a bit disappointed in the 10k time in itself, but considering I suffered with my feet and it was fairly hilly, an average of 9:54 min/miles wasn’t too bad, I suppose.

The event was good overall, with only a couple of niggles (and some of them being my body’s fault), it was an enjoyable morning in a beautiful setting.

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Champions at the finish, happy with medals!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

This is Not What Triathlon is About

Last Sunday morning, I set off with my bestest bud into East London to take part in the AJ Bell London Triathlon. I had entered a while ago, and was pleased to find out after finishing Blenheim Palace Triathlon, that the medals would literally fit together, as they had been organised by the same people. I had entered the sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run).

Getting there, I must say was absolutely fine the entire way into London, and we were even pleased to spot some signs to event parking, which disappeared without a trace every time you got near to the venue, resulting in us driving around it in circles for quite some time – not impressed! Parking was also a little on the pricey side (£20!), but I wouldn’t have been able to transport my bike on any of the nearby tube trains, so we had settled to drive.

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Sprint distance full course map

The race is set up at the ExCel centre, which is an exhibition centre (on the other side of London, for us) next to the Royal Victoria Docks. The swim, therefore would be in the Thames, the bike ride would be 2 laps on the other side of the centre, and the run another 2 laps next to the river. On a map, and set out next to the standard distance race, it looked to be a sight-seeing tour to Westminster at a close glance.

It was mad chaos when we got inside the exhibition centre. Races had been on all weekend, with 3 different distances – super sprint, sprint and olympic – meaning that there were several different wave times and a lot of bodies rushing around everywhere. I managed to locate the timing chip collection point and headed into transition (quite large!) to set myself up for the race.

I was racked up and ready to go, having familiarised myself with the ins and outs of transition and my bike position as best I could with a half-filled rack. After a few moments of time spent cheering in some other competitors from another wave, and a race briefing… It was time for the start!

 

The water was colder than I have been training in, but not as cold as it had been at the start of the season, meaning I was strangely grateful for those training sessions in 10-11°C lakes! The swim was one lap around the course, which to my delight was marked with large pig-shaped buoys. The water was salty and choppy. I have to say, as a person who enjoys swimming, and especially open water swimming, that I hated every second of the swim.

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Swimming with the piggies

During the whole race, there was a strong westerly wind that was probably an un-noticed helping hand heading east to west, however going into it was a struggle. In the water, you spent most of time swimming into it, and the waves were huge. They crashed over your head when you were trying to breathe, and my friend who was spectating said she had seen several of the girls in my wave get pulled out onto the boats because it was too much.

I was slightly pleased, although mostly grumpy, when I got out of the Thames and discovered that I had done the swim section in a little over 16 minutes, which considering I had struggled, I thought was good. I did have a little gripe that if the water had been more still, I may have broken that elusive 15 minute swim barrier, but I can always try in better conditions for it another time!

T1 was a little slower than hoped for two reasons. I was met at the swim exit with a strange prospect – in the briefing, they had asked us to remove our wetsuits almost as soon as we got out of water, and put them in these large carrier bags they had provided. I can only assume to keep the floor dry inside? There was promise of wetsuit removing helpers there, but I saw no one. Having run around with my wetsuit in a bag, I encountered the bigger obstacle, I couldn’t spot my bike straight away again. I luckily found it not too long after, kicking myself. I appear to have a problem with large transition areas!

Eager to make some time up from the start of the race, I shot out on the bike. The route, I have to say, was not very exciting at all. The Olympic distance route was the one that took you out into Westminster, however the turn for the Sprint distance was much earlier at Leamouth, just going up and down the A13. Again, that strong wind struck. I felt like a god going east to west, and then when I went back the other way, I was struck head on with a gust so powerful, I think if I stopped pedalling downhill, the bike would have just ground to a halt.

I powered on with it though, and managed to complete that section in 44:44, with some amazing support from my friend Katie, who had made me the most magnificent sign to cheer me on. She had positioned herself in a brilliant point – at the top of a hill I was climbing into a headwind, and had bribed the nearby marshals with sweets to cheer for me by name. That was a huge boost for me.

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Post-race, displaying my amazing sign, in costume of course!

T2 was a lot smoother, and I used the opportunity coming out of transition (it was a bit of a long road out) to slurp up an energy gel. The run again, I have to say, was not a very interesting route. It was nice to run next to the river a little bit, but after 0.6 miles I found myself at the turning point, concerned that it was only a two lap race. Was it going to be short? The run makes its way uphill back into the ExCel, and from there, you complete approx. half a mile inside, before heading back out. The run was done in 26:49, which I was pretty pleased with.

The finish is along a red carpet down a finish tunnel, and I soaked up the glory as much as I could. Fairly impressed with my total finish time of 01:37:43, and extremely pleased with the incredible support of my friend, who I would not have achieved this time in, I made use of the finish area.

You receive your medal and some water after the line, and have your photo taken. There were 2 igloos to go in after – the first where you could look up your times on the course, but I had my Garmin so went straight through. I received some recovery gels in the second one, and then utilised the stretching area they had laid out. It was great – there were yoga mats, foam rollers, and stretch suggestion boards. I discovered here that at some point in the day, and not to my knowledge before the race, that I had cut my foot and there was blood in my sock. I took my free pint of beer from outside the tent, found my friend and located the amazing volunteers in the medical tent, who cleaned my cut out, since I was unsure whether it had been exposed to the Thames.

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The two medals together in all their glory!

 

In summary, the medal was nice and I enjoyed the novelty of the two medals going together, however, I really felt like this was a triathlon for the sake of organising one. There are so many triathlons around the country and the world set in beautiful locations, and this was not one of them. It had no interesting qualities, and lacked a certain atmosphere that you get at any other triathlon I have entered. It seemed to me like there ‘had’ to be a London Triathlon, the docks seemed like a good enough place to do it in, and that was that. The course wasn’t well thought out to be interesting or fun, and it wasn’t for me. Box ticked, but I will not be returning to this race, I don’t think, and I completely agree with what a friend had mentioned to them: this is not what triathlon is about!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x