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

Please, Let There Be Elephants…

Due to my poor amount of posting lately, I am going to release not one, but TWO blog posts this weekend in order to catch up! Please bear with me in busy family times to get posts up at the moment. This one is from the start of the month, when I participated in a ‘little run’ in the downs.

When planning out your training schedule for a long distance event, such as a marathon, it can be rather pleasant to incorporate running events into them, just to break up the miles. Not every week, but it’s nice to do a few throughout your training, it keeps you on your toes and stops you from running the same old boring routes all the time. Whether it’s running to an event, creating an event sandwich (running there and back), or just completing the distance on the day, there are plenty of options to keep things interesting.

One thing I did notice when signing up for this event was that when you’re training for a spring marathon, there are so many more training runs tailored for the marathons. Quite possibly because you have a lot of the big ones, and obviously London – the one everyone is trying to get in to! So, I had to look a bit harder to find some runs for my autumn marathon, which is when I discovered this little gem – Dunstable Downs Challenge.

There were three different distances available on the day: half marathon, 20 miles, and a full marathon. This particular event, organised by Dunstable Road Runners, fell perfectly into my plan, because it was the day I was due to run the first 20 mile run of my plan. Fab! I signed up! A few minutes later, I realised it was a self-navigating course… and panicked!

I knew a couple of ladies at the club who had participated in self-navigating events, and spoke to one of them who calmed my nerves about getting lost in the Downs by telling me that I would be able to load the route onto my GPS watch. What a relief! A few weeks later, I decided that I could probably find some other nutters from the running club who were willing to join me on my training run, and struck gold – 3 who would run with me, another who would also do the 20 mile, and another who would actually end up upgrading to the full marathon on the day!

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The full team before the start

The start of this race is at Creasey Park Football Club, home of Dunstable Town Football Club. The route is mostly off-road, with a couple of lanes in between footpaths and a bit of road at the start. The idea is that you have a map, printed directions, your GPS watch, or a combination of all 3, and you find your own way around the course. Some wonderful souls from Dunstable RR had so very kindly been around the course and sprayed bright orange biodegradable arrows onto the ground at any major turning points, so in theory, you couldn’t get lost. That was a godsend, because it threw any doubt out of our minds that we were lost!

Admittedly, my little group almost missed the actual start happening, because we were all too busy chatting away, but soon got the jist when everyone started jogging away from us! And we were off! The route travelled for maybe half a mile out of the football fields occupied by a youth tournament, before bottle-necking onto a loose gravel footpath. I was thankful for the escape into the countryside fairly soon. After that, there was only one main road to cross and we were climbing a big, grassy hill up to the top of the Downs.

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Dunstable Downs. What a view…

I wasn’t sure what to think of the Dunstable Downs before I ran this – I had never been, and having travelled along the motorway to get there, we hadn’t really caught a glimpse of what was in store for us. I just knew that when we got to Whipsnade, I HAD to look out for the elephants – I had been reliably informed that the elephants got walked right next to the Downs, but my source was unsure of the time. PLEASE let there be elephants! Regardless, the footpath would run along the back of one of the animal enclosures, so I was hopeful there would be some animal sightings.

When we reached the top of the steep hill, we were all struck by the amazing view and the gorgeous countryside – the view went on for miles and it was truly stunning! I can’t really complain about the route too much – there were a few hills, but nothing too scary, but my favourite part was just being out in the countryside. It was so peaceful, and despite the fact that there were other runners out on the course, we didn’t encounter that many of them.

There was some bloodshed. I was first to go down. We had passed 8 miles, and entered a field, where I am unashamed to say that there was an attempted selfie with Emily – one of my group – and a rather pretty horse, which may not have turned out that well, after all… About half a mile later, running through the middle of this field along a path that was quite rocky underfoot and covered in straw, I caught my toe on a rock and went splat. It stung, and it bled, but I got up and we carried on. We exited the field, ran a very small portion of road onto the next footpath, got almost to the top, and strike 2 in our group – Mark caught his foot on a rock and fell. Whoops! We also noticed Emily was bleeding on her leg for some reason, but she hadn’t tripped.

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The best horse / running selfie you will ever see

Number 4, and a full house didn’t come until much later in the run, maybe 14 miles in, when the last one to stumble, Jess, caught a rock in the ground. She tripped and fell hard. It wasn’t pretty and I felt for her. She had hit her knees hard, and was in a bit of shock, but she was very brave and got up when she was ready to finish the run.

What else can I say about the route? We passed through a playground, where one of our group wanted to stretch, so we stopped, some took on gels, and I went down the slide..! We passed  through school grounds, woodland, large fields, and a footpaths including one next to Whipsnade – I am sad to say no animals were spotted in the making of this blog.

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Of course someone caught my sliding on camera…!

We almost got lost twice; both times with a lady who was running in some flip-flop/sandal concoction. The first was when we exited a field into a housing estate, and we were lucky enough to have a local randomly pop out of his large shed and direct us where he had seen other runners go. The second time was going through some school grounds, when we were convinced that there should be a footpath, and just had to rely on the compass on my GPS watch in the end, which eventually, after an unnerving mile of uncertainty, brought us to an orange arrow on the ground. Hallelujah!

The checkpoints were also handy in that respect, although they never seemed to pop up when you expected them. They were well run, and if you wanted to keep running through, your numbers were being efficiently noted down (because if you missed a checkpoint you were essentially disqualified). But, the checkpoints were also well-stocked with sweets and home-made flapjacks. I’m just saying. So we may have stopped for a cup of water and a quick bite!

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The dream team!

Tiredness set in around 16 miles, I think mostly due to the terrain. Around 2.5 miles from the end, the welcome sight of the top of the Downs where we had run at the start saw Jess pull away and stretch her legs for a blast to the finish. I was happy knowing I was going to make it at that point. When we got down onto that footpath about a mile from the end, Emily took off, with her marathon also nearby, she wanted to see what was left in the tank. Mark and I opted to stick together and push for what I would like to say was an epic sprint finish! We had a high-five power boost from a young goalkeeper playing in the tournament I had mentioned at the start – he encouraged us and told us we could do it and that was it – another gear found and a race to the end.

Afterwards, we were very pleased to find out that there was tea, coffee, big baps, and cake all included in our entry fees. Some indulging in that and a catch-up with our fellow runners, one of whom had run a sub-4 hour marathon! Incredible. Everyone did really well, and we were happy to have finished on a technical course in just over 4 hours.

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The team happy and finished with all our medals!

This is an event that I must commend Dunstable Road Runners for. I would recommend it, and will definitely be revisiting this one! The medals were also great, and a nice touch that the different distances were all different colours, and had different ribbons. Thank you to all the marshals and organisers, and of course my running buddies!

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

Swim For Your Life

It’s been a little while – training and life has been keeping me busy, but I have some spare time to share a new post with you all, having just come back from physiotherapy! This one is all about open water swimming. It’s worth a read if you are a seasoned open water swimmer, triathlete, just starting out, or really just fancy having a go! It’s a nice refresher for myself as well.

I think a lot of people have a little fear of the open water, and for several different reasons. “I’m not a good swimmer”, is a common one. This is something you will have to judge yourself a tiny bit. If you can hardly swim 10 metres (I’ve been there too), then you may need a little more practise in the pool. If you can happily swim 200 metres – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow, and not necessarily front crawl the whole way, i.e. you can breast stroke until the cows come home, then I would say you can brave the lake.

“It’s cold and dirty”, is one I hear a lot. Yes, the lake is colder than the swimming pool, and yes, fish, birds and other life forms swim in it. But, on a warm summer’s day, there is nothing more refreshing that jumping into the cool lake and enjoying a swim where you don’t have to avoid “that guy (or girl)” who has arms like an octopus and won’t move out of the way, or endlessly turning at the ends of the pool to look at more tiles, or swimming in what I have heard referred to as ‘human soup’! (Definition: where people have had a wee, snot-blasted, dribbled, shedded hair balls – true story – or any other human substances in a chlorinated body of water.) Also, most open water swimmers wear wetsuits, which are designed to keep your body warm, so no excuses!

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Showing the glamorous side of neoprene wearing, and how many chins you can develop sprinting out of a lake!

Preparation. As I quickly mentioned just now, you may (probably will) want to wear a wetsuit. They keep you warm, and are quite buoyant, so they will help you float. Most lakes will also allow swimmers to go in without a wetsuit, although you might find you have to sign a ‘no-wetsuit waiver’. I recommend the wetsuit, and if you’re not sure, hire one to try it out. Generally, if you are feeling committed, it will work out cheaper to buy your own than keep renting one – remember, you don’t have to buy a top of the range one – but do go for a swimming one over a watersports one. They are more buoyant, and are built stretchier, to allow for full movement of your arms when you swim. Other than that, you will just need a brightly coloured swimming cap, so that the lifeguards can see you, which you can pick up for about £3 in Sports Direct, and a pair of goggles, which I hope you would have anyway! If not, try Sports Direct, or a similar shop again for a reasonably priced pair (£10?), and make sure you try them on to find the ones that fit your face the best. You don’t need to go out and buy some fancy, expensive open water swimming mask (generally the masks leak – I warned you, ok?).

Finding a lake. Google, ask around, contact your local triathlon club. More and more swimming lakes are popping up all over. DON’T go and find a random body of water and start swimming in it. There are plenty of safe, life-guarded lakes with courses marked out and lots of friendly people! If you are near me/Burnham, you have a choice of Bray Lake, Liquid Leisure in Datchet, Westhorpe Lake in Marlow, and Heron Lake in Wraysbury. All are great lakes, and I believe they all still only charge £5 a swim, which is cheaper than the local swimming pool! My favourite is Bray, because it’s local, and just such a lovely lake to swim in.

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Bray Lake enticing you in – go on, you know you want to swim in it!

Getting help. Find a friend who is enthusiastic and a current open water swimmer, and ask them to go in with you, if you are worried. Another great way into the sport, is to take an introduction to open water swimming course. These are fantastic, as they run you through everything from putting your goggles on so that they don’t leak, to taking you round a small loop in the lake and making sure you don’t drown.

Sighting. If you skipped the introductory session, it may be worth noting one small point. In the swimming pool, it’s well-lit, and the water is clear, so you can see to the other end of the pool. The lake is a little bit different. The water is green-y and darker, so you won’t just be able to keep your head down and swim along – you will need to check where you are going. Open water swimmers use a technique called sighting, specifically for this purpose. During front crawl, just before you turn your head to the side to breathe, lift it slightly so that your goggles clear out of the water and take a peek  – I imagine it like taking a quick photograph – then turn your head to the side to breathe as normal. It’s a quick glance, and you are looking for some big, brightly coloured buoys that mark out the course set out in the lake. If you’re still not sure, have a look on YouTube – there are some good videos that run you through the process.

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Mass swim start, team relay tri event. Spot me above the word ‘Tri’, with the blue goggles on! Open water swimming can open up opportunities like this one.

Swimming. Now to get on with the bit you have all come for – the swim! Don your swim cap, your goggles and your wetsuit (unless you are brave!), remembering that the zip goes at the back – we have all been there once – and use the pads of your fingers to pull it up. Avoid getting your fingernails dug in, as this will tear the suit. Get in the water, and allow it to get into your wetsuit and trickle up the zip. It may feel a bit cold, but take a few moments to acclimatize, letting your body adjust to the temperature. I would recommend either washing your goggles about in the water, or for the less precious of us, spitting into them and giving them a quick wash out. This stops them from fogging up, so that when you need to see where you are going, you can. Your hands and neck should go in next, and when you are ready, dunk your head under. This will all help adjust to the temperature of the water. If you’re really cold, have a wee! I’m not joking – everyone does it, and it sure warms you up. To quote something I read recently, “there are two types of people in the world; those who wee in their wetsuits, and liars.”.

Then, don’t think too much about it – swim! If you aren’t feeling too confident, start out on the shortest loop. In some lakes, this may be 400m, and others it may be 150-250m. Don’t panic – if you need to stop swimming, simply stop. Treading water is easier than you think, your wetsuit will aid in keeping you afloat, and if you want to paddle around a bit you can. You can breast stroke if you are tired of front crawl, or you can just float on your belly or your back – just be careful waving your arms around if you are on your back, or staying like it for too long, because floating on your back with your arms in the air is actually the distress signal in open water. So, unless you need rescuing, keep your arms down!

Once you are finished and satisfied with your swim, get out, have a lovely warm shower, and bask in the glory of what you have achieved. Get a hot drink if you fancy one – most lakes have a little cafe on site – and plan when your next swim will be. Most of all, enjoy it!

Some of my favourite things about lake swimming:

  • Swimming continuously without having to stop and turn around, or avoid people
  • A sense of freedom, getting close to nature, and being outdoors
  • Enjoying a sunrise, or a sunset, if you get in early, or out late
  • Training with and around some wonderful people, who are all as enthusiastic and in love with the sport as each other
  • And, with risk of sounding a bit like a hippie, feeling alive!
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Two very happy girls, having completed their first lake swim of the year – a chilly 11°C. Me and my cold swimming buddy, Helen.

Arguably, not everything is for everyone, but I think you should at least have a go or three at most things to see if they suit you. You never know, open water swimming may just be your thing. As a good friend of mine always says, “I think I’ll be really good at that, because I haven’t tried it yet.”.

Happy swimming, and thanks for reading as always,

Amanda x