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

How To Conquer Triathlon

Blenheim Palace Triathlon is looming this weekend for myself and many others, so to help a few with some details, I have put together this post to try and calm friends and strangers alike. It certainly doesn’t cover everything – I could write a book on it, and several people have – but it covers the main points.

So, you’re having a meltdown because you have signed up for a triathlon and now it’s only a few days away! I am going to impart as much wisdom as my brain has, and hopefully it will help any budding triathletes, out of practice athletes, or anyone who has a brain like a sieve like I do and needs to check their kit bag 30 times before they leave for an event! This is based mostly on a shorter distance triathlon, but can be applied to longer distances if required.

If the race is coming this weekend, then I won’t need to give you any training advice – you should have done that part already! If you feel under-trained, then my advice would be to consider if you have done at least enough to get you round, otherwise you could be risking yourself and potentially risk others on the course. But, hopefully you have done some training and you’re good to go. If you are still worried, there is no point trying to cram training in this week – it should be a gentle week for training; just keep yourself ticking over.

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The beautiful transition area at Blenheim Palace

Next step: whether you have trained hard or not, I would recommend some time invested over the next few days in training your brain. A lot of things are controlled by your mental state, and I like to use some time in the run up to events telling myself that it is possible, I will make it round, and I can do this! It doesn’t always matter how quickly you do it, it’s all about finishing, and gaining experience. PB’s are a bonus!

I think it goes without saying to get plenty of rest and not to overdo it this week. Gentle exercise – certainly nothing at race pace, and a good amount of sleep. If you’re going a distance, a couple of days of carb-loading won’t go amiss! Don’t eat a huge mountain of carbs in one sitting, go for smaller portions in every meal. This will help load your muscles slowly with the energy they need to perform.

Now you’re loaded up, you’re probably going to start looking at your kit bag. Below is a list of essentials, and then I will follow it up with “luxury items” that you may want to include. Just remember, you don’t need to pack the kitchen sink – ask yourself, “do you really need this?”. The worst thing you can do is put too much in your transition area, and give yourself too many choices when you get there in the race. You will spend too long dithering and deciding: socks or no socks… these gloves or those, sun visor or cap? etc. Spend the time now making those decisions and pack ONE!

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Bare necessities:

  • Tri suit, or shorts and top – what you will wear for the whole race, and under your wetsuit
  • Sports bra (if you are a female)
  • Socks – if you have chosen to wear them for the bike/run sections
  • Wetsuit – unless you are brave enough to go in without?!
  • Goggles
  • Towel (for drying your feet off after the swim)
  • Trainers – for running, and cycling if you don’t clip in
  • Cycling shoes – if you do clip in
  • Helmet – a must for riding your bike!
  • Swimming cap (just in case, but generally you will be supplied one for the race)
  • Push bike
  • Fuel and hydration – I will come to that in a bit
  • The contents of your race pack – numbers, stickers, timing chip, safety pins…

That should be all you need to get round, with maybe a couple of extra bits if you are a minimalist! Another decision you should make now – what you are going to put it all in. I remember my first triathlon, where I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend carry my things from one end of Dorney Lake to the other with me, in about 3 different small bags. I saw loads of people wobbling about trying to balance big plastic boxes on their bikes walking along. It seemed to be the norm. I have always wondered if these people have ever heard of rucksacks, or bags, which you can put on your back and then have your hands free to steer your bike to transition. I was fortunate enough to be spoiled with the gift of a transition rucksack, which is a little large, but will be able to carry my wetsuit (with a special compartment of its own for when it’s wet), and everything else I need! I would recommend the rucksack approach.

Luxury items you may wish to bring – the basics, although certainly by no means limited to:

  • GPS watch (probably the most popular item)
  • Bike repair kit (inner tubes, pump – mine is always bolted to my bike, tyre levers, etc.)
  • Sun glasses
  • Sun visor or cap (remember, choose one and take one only with you!)
  • A pair of old flip flops to abandon lake side
  • Race belt – used by many to attach numbers to your body for the cycle and run. For the bike portion you will need a number on your back, and the run a number on your front. You can just spin it round and it saves either re-pinning a number if you are only given one, or wearing one front and back.
  • Lube! This will help your wetsuit slide off like Bruce Almighty’s clothing (if you have ever watched the film). Everyone has their favourite. I prefer a concoction of baby oil and Vaseline – I don’t believe the myths that Vaseline destroys your wetsuit; I have found no physical or scientific evidence of this – but there are other good products like Body Glide. I even read in an entertaining book I once, that there is a lady out there that swears by Durex Play!
  • Sun cream – the waterproof variety
  • Something comfortable to wear afterwards, if you are fortuitous to be racing somewhere stunning that you can look round post-race, such as Blenheim Palace, or you have a celebration after. Also, bear in mind whether there will be somewhere to change, although there is nothing wrong with getting changed in the loo, and wiping yourself down with baby wipes!
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Swim start lining up at Blenheim

Nutrition. My main point here would be the golden rule of all racing events: Never try anything new on race day! You might do it once, and then you will never do it again, after one bad experience. Use what you have been training with, and what your stomach and body is used to. If you can stomach gels and you have been using them, that’s what to go for. As a side note, if you want something similar to gels, but can’t get on with them, energy chews such as Clif Shot Bloks are a good alternative. Jelly babies, Haribo, fig rolls, dried fruit (I like apricots)… Whatever your poison is, that’s what you take. Be sensible – you don’t need enough to survive a week in the jungle – take enough, and a little bit extra in case you struggle, to get you round.

The great thing about a lot of tri gear is that it has places to put things. If you wear a tri suit, it may have pockets in the back, a bit like a cycling jersey. If you have a race belt, you might have purchased one with gel holders in, so you can fix them in before the race. Make it accessible to yourself. It’s easy to take on nutrition on the bike, and if it’s a short distance, you may get away with running without anything. Plan what you are going to eat and when, and stick to it.

Hydration wise, I tend to put a bottle on my bike for a short ride and load it with 2 for a longer one. You won’t be out on the bike for that long in a sprint triathlon, so carrying an extra bottle of water will just be more weight on the bike. You can leave another drink in the transition area if you are worried and drink it when you get off the bike. Water is fine, or you can pop hydration tablets in, if that’s your thing, or simply some squash for a bit of flavour.

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Aerial shot of the beautiful grounds

RACE DAY

  • Make sure you have had plenty of sleep the night before and you are well rested. Don’t fret going to sleep – everything will be fine and all that positive thinking you have been doing will pay off. Check your bag has everything in it before you go to bed, if that puts your mind at rest.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to eat breakfast, get to the event early enough to get parked, set up your transition area before it closes to competitors, and to absorb the atmosphere.
  • Breakfast should be nutritious, and something you are used to. I have inherited my favourite pre-race breakfast from a running buddy, which is porridge with blueberries. He says, “If it’s good enough for Bradley Wiggins, then it’s good enough for me.”. Then, around 30-40 minutes before the race, I will have a banana to top up my energy levels.
  • Practice the day before how you want your transition area laid out, and even practice transition, if you think that will help. Or just spend the time organising in the morning when you are there, making it easy for you to grab what you need fast, and continue your race. Learn from your mistakes. I used to put all my things on top of my towel, and then realised when I got out of the lake and wanted to dry my feet, everything was on top of it, which was no good! It will also make a difference how you lay things out depending on if you have a single transition area, or two separate areas, more commonly known as T1 and T2. Find out what is there on the day and plan around it.
  • Give yourself some extra time to get lubed up, into your wetsuit, and ready to swim.
  • You’re ready to race! Don’t forget all your race numbers, head down to the water, take some deep breaths and go for it!

Do your best, and most importantly, enjoy yourself. If you aren’t enjoying it, and it’s not down to bad luck, I always ask myself, “why am I doing this?”. Push yourself as hard  as you can, and achieve what you want to achieve. You have got this!

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Thanks for reading, and good luck to those of you racing this weekend!

Amanda x

I Should Have Run Alone

Before you form an opinion of this post, or dismiss it, purely because of the title, I would ask you to read a little further. Here are my disclaimers, if you will. What I am about to explain does not reflect on anyone I have run with, currently run with or might ever run with in the future – this is me and my brain, not any of you. I want to make that clear. Secondly, I need to explain something from a book I have read that I use a lot in my life to explain and control (if that is the right word?) my feelings and sometimes my actions. That book is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.

My extremely brief explanation I need to give for you to understand the rest of the post, although I highly recommend you read the book anyway, is this. Your brain has 3 primary psychological areas: the parietal (the computer), the frontal (the human), and the limbic (the chimp). The computer stores and remembers information for you to use again, the human is you, and the chimp is your emotional part, who likes to be the first to react. He (or she) is the one I want to emphasise on at this point – he is your knee-jerk reaction, your first impression, and most predominantly for those of us who exercise, the one who puts those negative thoughts in our heads that make us want to stop.

Now I can rewind a little. I had been off work sick the day before, where I was run down with a cold. I hadn’t been able to run or attend a pilates session at the club. Still feeling the effects of the cold to an extent, I felt a little snotty and tired, but as I explained to everyone – I tried getting rid of it with a curry, so it must need a run to blast it out! I wanted to keep my legs ticking over, as it was now a week and a half until the marathon – eek! So, off I went, running a beautiful route through footpaths and down by the river.

That’s when it started. “I should have run alone.” It was The Chimp, he had climbed out of his box and was trying to get the better of me. I said to him, “No, I’m running a lovely route, enjoying nature, blasting the last of this cold out, and I’m tapering for the marathon.”. The Chimp went on to tell me that I was holding the others back, that I wasn’t good enough to be  running with them, and in an effort to make me grumpy, he screeched, “You should have run alone!”. Those words hit me hard.

I am sure – no, I know – that every runner, or any athlete for that matter, experiences at some point in their training that negative voice that says, “You can’t do this. You’re rubbish and you should just stop!”. I urge you all to ignore it. When the going gets tough, The Chimp gets scared and anxious, and thinks he is protecting you by letting you admit defeat. Don’t listen to him.

I have developed my own way of dealing with my chimp when I need to ignore what he says. Whether you are running, cycling, swimming, surfing, skiing, playing tennis…. whatever your sport is, this is relevant to you! I put him in his box, he can screech away all he likes, and I might hear him, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to him and give in.

At first, you are required to look into the past. Use your computer in your brain and look at what you have achieved. More often that not, you will have completed the distance you are trying to achieve when you start to struggle, so there is no need to listen to that negativity. ‘But this is the first time I am running 10 miles’, I hear you say. ‘I have got to 9 miles and this is as far as I have gone before, and I’m struggling, so I should give up’. To which I would say, “Can you run a mile?”. The answer is yes. You can run a mile. Tell your body (and your chimp) that although you have run 9 miles, it is only one more, and you know you can do that. I deploy this technique when completing longer training runs too. When you need to squeeze a 20 mile run out, I find the best way for me is to get to halfway and try and tell my body that actually, I haven’t just run 10 miles, I’m just heading out on tired legs from the week – it’s almost like a little reset button.

You are also required to look into the future. Alright, I haven’t taken my crazy pills this morning – make all the jokes you like – but I know what I mean. In this instance, on that particular evening where The Chimp has said that I should have run alone, I know that I need to look into the future and see how I think I will feel after the run. Obviously the future is not definite, so there will always be several possibilities ahead. Here, we have the first option, which is where The Chimp wins, tells me to stop and I have to drag myself slowly back to the club alone, in the dark. This will be a miserable experience for me and one I would regret. Option two – I continue running with the people I set out with, pushing hard to keep up, but listening to the chimp moan that it’s too hard and it’s going to ruin the marathon (he loves to be a drama queen!). Or, I can choose the third option. This is my favourite and the one that I was lucky enough to know to select that night. I continued running at a pace I found more comfortable, allowed myself to drop back a little and let the others go on ahead a bit. We are all aware I am tapering, no one is offended or upset by it, and in fact, later on I would be of use on “poo watch” down the trails where it has got a bit darker!

The final part to silencing the negative voice is hindsight. Now you have completed the run, The Chimp has calmed down, realised no one has died, and has been returned to his box, you can reflect on the possibilities of how the evening could have unfolded. So maybe I didn’t run with the club and I had headed out by myself. The Chimp is still grumpy because of the cold that is blocking up my airways and instead of flipping out about running with other people, he now gets the hump about running altogether. I end up run-walking the distance I wanted to complete, possibly even cutting it short and I feel unsatisfied and disheartened by the whole experience. Those few moments of doubt in this case, were managed and pushed away, and I could complete my run comfortably and in good company.

So, my point to all of this, is that if you can apply this reasoning to the negative ideas that appear in your head during any training, then you will hopefully find things going a lot more smoothly on the mental side of things. Training with another person, or with more people, can give you the support that you need to reach an end goal. Yes, you may be able to achieve it alone, but I wonder whether it would be with the same mental stability as if you were training with a group or in a pair. When I train in the pool with my friend, The Chimp might screech to slow down because you’re blowing and it’s difficult, but having that other person there stops you from ‘wimping out’, and forces you to push on. There is a certain amount of bravado about soldiering on when you are suffering, because you don’t want to look weak, or let the others down. You can use that to your advantage – harness it and use it to silence your chimp.

Although  I was almost afraid to admit it the other week (until a friend pointed it out to me), I started to get tired 17 miles into a 20 mile training run. He said, “you get tired like normal people”, and he was right. It didn’t matter if I was tired, as long as I finished it. I knew I had to just keep going, not only because I needed the run for my training, but also because everyone around me was counting on it. I didn’t want to stop, but I went quiet because I was tired. I was looking forward to the end and a drink of water. I pushed on, I completed the mileage, and I didn’t die. Proof to the negative thoughts that they were wrong yet again. I took that one, and logged it in a little box in my brain for another day when I would need to fight the good fight again.

Just remember – everyone gets tired, everyone can get negative, but everyone can come out clean the other side. And do you know what? I shouldn’t have run alone.

Thank you for reading as always!

Amanda x

P.S. All rights to The Chimp idea are obviously to Steve Peters. I hope he doesn’t mind me explaining a bit and how I use it!