Enduring

Once a year, my running club hold a talk about marathons early in the year, where advice and information is offered for free to any member willing to listen. It’s actually more of an endurance running talk, which we have been told can be from 3km and further, so it is suitable for all, really. There are usually 3 people who talk about various aspects of training, and it’s always very informative, and pretty fresh. There were some really interesting points that arose from it, and I scribbled down some that I thought affected me the most last week, in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get near my computer for a few days to write about it. I’m not claiming I know everything about running, and certainly not marathons, but I have a few tricks I will throw in the mix while I’m there.

One of the highlighted points at the start was about sleep. It’s so important to get enough of it, and for it to be good quality. Having been sleep deprived for 3-4 weeks recently, I could completely relate to this. I was feeling several effects it was having on my body, including training. Although that particular month in my life was a bit of an anomaly (no boiler meaning it was freezing cold, being literally woken by cats and dogs, the burglar alarm, and the steps to the loft being opened in the middle of the night…), there are some things that I find helpful to get to sleep a bit easier. For example, I know that cleaning my teeth wakes me up a little (might just be me – I think it’s the mouthwash), so I will try to do this in advance of going to bed, so I feel drowsier when I want to get to sleep. Also, I find that although I don’t really drink many caffeinated drinks, there is definitely a time of day where you need to stop drinking them, so that they don’t have an adverse effect on your sleep. I love a herbal tea, and these are great as a warm alternative.

If you have a busy mind like I do, then I actually find it hard to nod off sometimes if there’s too many things whizzing around in my brain. I combat this by keeping a journal and/or notebook next to my bed. This helps me to empty my brain before I sleep. It doesn’t matter if you never read the journal  again, it’s just somewhere to pour out all the rubbish and emotions that are floating around in your head. If it’s something I need to remember, then I will pop it in a notebook either in the form of a memo or a to-do list. You may find if you’re forgetful, that it makes you anxious you won’t remember to pick something up or do something in the morning, so this is perfect. Even if it’s just something you’re worried about getting done in the day. Alternatives are noticeboards, posters (for motivational purposes), or whiteboards. Now, I know what you’re thinking – but I have this great mobile phone or tablet that I can write these things on! Well, there has been a lot of research into the ‘blue light’ that is emitted from our electronic devices that keeps you awake for longer and stops you getting a good quality sleep, so I think it’s best to steer away from it and stick to good old pen and paper. I also enjoy reading a paperback book before bed – it really makes my eyes sleepy.

Recovery is extremely important. This obviously includes sleep, but many other things too. I wonder whether doing an active job where I am on my feet all day effects this in any way. After suffering with my foot after a long run at the weekend, I found the next morning at work very difficult, because I don’t have a job where I can literally put my feet up; I just had to power on through it. I will briefly touch on some of my favourite recovery things below.

  • I swear by a cold bath before a hot one. It’s great after a long run, but can be a little testing of your steeliness getting into it. I recommend 5-6 minutes in a purely cold water bath up to your waist, so it covers your legs and just sit really still – you soon won’t notice it. Sometimes in the dead of winter, I wear a woolly hat and have a brew in there with me, but shh… don’t tell anyone! Set a timer on your phone or stopwatch, and then leave it until it beeps – remember, a watched pot never boils! Once your time is up, add hot water to your bath and enjoy a good soak.
  • Throw some Epsom salts in your warm bath too. They’re great for you after a long run, and you can get them reasonably priced online on sites such as Amazon in bulk.
  • Wear compression tights either under your clothes if you’re out, or to bed when you sleep.
  • After a race, or a hard run, especially if you are away from home, i.e. you have travelled to a race, you still need to get some recovery food or fluid in you. I like to keep a serving of protein powder in a sports bottle, and a separate bottle of water in my bag. I pour the water in the protein powder bottle when I am done running, and try and get it down me in that precious recovery window of 20-30 minutes. I find it difficult to eat immediately after a long run, so drinking my protein works best for me. I actually dilute mine a little more than the recommendation, but that’s just a personal preference.
  • Electrolyte tablets are brilliant – I recommend them during and/or after your run – it can really help keep you hydrated, especially in warmer climates. They are also great for keeping you hydrated when giving blood, so you can get a PB for filling the bag…!
  • FOAM ROLLING. Enough said really. Great for your muscles, and it only hurts a little bit…. promise!
  • Stretch lightly after a run. You always have time – stretching should only take you 2-3 minutes after your run, and if you had time to go out for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer, then you have 2 minutes spare to stretch. Hold each one for only 12-14 seconds for maximum benefit – longer can cause more muscle tears than it will do good.
  • Eat well on rest days too. It is just as important to aid in recovery. I try to have at least one day a week where I try to rest as much as possible. This means no busying about at home and NO cross-training!
  • Roll a golf ball under your foot when you’re sat down to ease out any sore spots or tension. Or as I learned today, one of those nobbly reaction balls works great too!
  • I get a massage from a wonderful lady once every 3-4 weeks. This helps keep my body ticking over, and I can definitely feel a difference between going regularly and coping with elbows down hamstrings, compared to going irregularly and clinging to the bench screaming, whilst a thumb tickles my hamstrings! I realise it’s not financially viable for everyone, but if you can afford it, it is completely worth it!

Nutrition is also extremely important. In fact, I must admit that I am not always the best at it. If you fuel your body right, then it will carry you better throughout training and racing. There is so much out there on nutrition, so I would say if you want to get super serious about it, speak to a nutritionist. But essentially, look after yourself with what you eat, and try to make everything from scratch. Pre-prepared foods are full of hidden things. Also, remember  to train with whatever you are going to use on race day, whether that will be gels, baby food, dried fruit e.g. apricots, shot bloks, etc.

There was a good model used for training in fact. Imagine a three-legged stool, where each leg represents either training, recovery, or nutrition. If any of those legs either lengthens or shortens, then the stool will become unstable and potentially fall over. It is about keeping a good balance between all three aspects, so that your stool stays upright.

Another thing to think about is how absorbed we can become in our training, that we become blindsided to our own situation. It is a good idea to have someone around you who can be your eyes when you cannot see. A good exercise to carry out for yourself is to make a list of three things that are signs you may be overtraining or underperforming and sliding down the slippery slops of UUPS (Unexplained Under-Performing Syndrome), and give it to someone who knows you well, and will happily tell you when they think you’re doing too much. For example, my main three would probably be irritability, decreased endurance/strength, and persistent fatigue.

Listening to your body is so important too. Although it is great to pass the bat to someone to watch over you, and make sure you don’t get lost down the rabbit-hole, it is just as key to check yourself. Ask yourself honestly if everything is going right. Iron out any niggles before they become major injuries, rest where appropriate – even if it means missing a session if you don’t feel right, and don’t be afraid to adapt your plan or have a week off if you are unwell, as an example. Don’t lie to yourself!

Working with heart rate can be extremely beneficial, not just to keep you running within your capabilities and not to a goal/dream time, but also to monitor things like fatigue, overtraining, and effort. I certainly could do with training with heart rate a lot more. To figure out your heart rate zones, you should measure your resting heart rate. This is best done laying in bed when you first wake up in the morning, preferably with minimal movement. I would take an average from 5 readings.

Mental health is also important to keep you on track. Look after your psyche, and keep a positive mind and home environment where possible. There are some fantastic books out there for just this: “mind management”. A favourite of mine is the Chimp Paradox, but there are other great sporting specific ones, such as The Winner’s Bible. Remember the skills and techniques taught in them, refer back to them if you need to, and practice them. Create a good support network around you. I also find displaying achievements helps me remember how far I have come from being a complete non-runner to completing marathons, triathlons, and everything in between. I have a PB medal display, and a scrapbook with all of my racing memories in. Have a good mantra, such as “I can, and I am”; i.e. I can do it, and I am doing it now”.

Educate yourself. Listen, read, absorb, and talk. Any advice can be good help, but stay true to yourself – there can be a lot of different opinions about things out there, so don’t get lost in trying too many things out at once. Listen to podcasts such as Marathon Talk. Read books, websites, magazines, blogs, etc. Visit running shows, talks, seminars, and even take part in training courses.

Find a plan. Make it your plan. Stick to your plan, and this one plan ONLY. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just worry about doing your plan. Got it?

Keep a training log, so you can track how everything is going. It can be good to refer back to if you are having a particularly bad week or so, you can look back and see if your heart rate was increasingly high over a few days, you had poor sleep, you may have been overtraining, or maybe you have had some niggles that have developed into something worse.

I am also finding that fitting fundraisers/fundraising in around training can be tricky. This can be about planning around races you have signed up for, social commitments, etc. I like to incorporate some running events into my training, and this can mean adapting my plan for mileage, or possibly running to/from an event or before it. Sometimes due to family commitments I have found that doing my long run straight from work mid-week is an option. This means that I would finish running at a similar time compared to if I had run with my club but started 90 minutes later.

I hope some of my things help or inspire you in your training, and that you may enjoy some of the notes I took from a much vaster talk, where I condensed down the bits I considered simpler to digest and reflect on online.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

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You’re Doing a Triathlon… AFTER WORK?!

Firstly, apologies this one is so late – I have had some busy family times over the last couple of weeks. I couldn’t leave it out though – it was such a good race!

So, on Wednesday 16th August, I headed down to Dorney Lake and participated in an evening triathlon. I had never done an evening race like this, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. I had a full day of work, and I had worked through my lunch, so it could mean that my body would be exhausted, and not capable of racing hard.

The race was due to start at 7pm – I had chosen the last wave out of 3 to give myself plenty of time to get home, load the car (bag already pre-packed), get to the lake, and then sort out my transition area. Calmly doing all these things, and picking up my number & timing chip (my swim cap was orange, Emma, if you’re reading this!), I made it to the start briefing at 6:45 bang on time.

One of the nicest things about this race was that normally we race at the Boathouse end (the far end from the entrance) of Dorney Lake, but this one was held at the bottom end, and the swim was in the return lake (the smaller one that you can access under the bridge). Most of the racing was therefore following slightly different loops around the site, which made it more interesting. I actually preferred these loops, so would definitely look at doing this event again!

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A bird’s eye view of all 3 courses

We had a short swim (maybe 250m) to the start, which was a really good warm-up, I think, and got me ready to race. It really helped loosen up my arms and shoulders, and it’s the same length warm-up I would do in the pool before intervals. The water in the  return lake was really clear and blue, so I told my friend Jenny who was treading water next to me. She looked at me, stuck her face in the water to confirm, and then gave me a confused look of disgust – I don’t think she agreed!

The start gun fired, and Jenny was off! I was too, but I’m not so good at these mass starts – all the arms and legs flying everywhere, people crashing into each other and fighting for space. I pushed my hardest and tried to find myself some space, which I did after a minute or so, and then I could get my head down and knuckle down. I felt good, which I put down to the warm-up swim, and pushed the pace, over-taking quite a few swimmers, actually! Nothing felt tight or tired yet, and I was extremely pleased to see that when I exited the water, my watch was reading that I had just completed the 750m swim in 14:05 – a new PB!

Feeling super pleased with myself, I trotted into transition, which thankfully was only a few paces from the lake. My bike was easy to find along the side, and I had a reasonable transition onto the bike overall.

The bike course was 4 laps over 20km, and I hadn’t raced on the time trial bike too much, and certainly not at Dorney. I figured I would be pleased if I could push out a time somewhere around 40 minutes on the race bike. I recalled I had previously done around 45 minutes around this lake last year, and that my previous PB course at Thorpe Park had been approximately 43 minutes, so I would be happy with that. I travelled at a fairly consistent pace, as it was flat for the most part, other than a few bridges, and when I consumed my gel – I need more practice at that! In some places, I knew I was pushing out at 20 mph or slightly more, so I had figured I was on a good pace, and the legs were holding out!

I also realised on the cycling section, that I become even more terrible at maths when I am exercising, and when calculating on the bike what time I might complete the whole thing in, I was completely out in my sums. A work colleague once stuck a news article on my toolbox about long distance runners becoming 6% less intelligent the further they run, and I am starting to think that may apply to all endurance racing, and maybe sprint triathlon too!

Votwo Eton Evening Tri – 16.8.17 – www.votwo.co.uk
The reason I was excited that Charles Whitton Photography were doing the pictures for this race – I knew I could get a decent shot of me on my time trial bike!

Anyway, after much confusion, and especially after the race worrying I hadn’t done enough laps – I definitely did, by the way – I was amazed that I had come into T2 after just 35:37, an average of 19.4mph! I still felt good, and had also spotted Jenny coming off the bike and heading swiftly out just ahead of me, like the queen of transitions that she is! Time to chase her down on the last leg.

Feeling good, I set off at what felt a reasonable pace on the run, which actually turned out to be at around an 8 minute mile. With some more terrible maths, I reckoned that if I completed the 5km run in 30 minutes or less, I would be a happy bunny because that would easily be a new PB for the entire sprint triathlon. I was aware I was currently holding a new swim and bike PB on a sprint course in my back pocket as it was, so after a full day’s work, I wasn’t sure how much more I had in my legs for the run, but I pushed on!

I caught Jenny up, and we ran side by side, not saying anything at all, just breathing hard, and working together to hold the pace. The run consisted of 2 out and back laps, so it was fairly straight forward and pretty flat. Half way down the loop back on the first lap, Jenny found another gear and kicked it up a notch; she started pulling away just under 8 minute miles. I was pushing as hard as I could, and had calculated I was close to a 5km PB in general, as well as on a sprint course, so I held my ground. I didn’t want to pull away and burn out.

I had her in sight for the rest of the run, and stayed at a steady-ish pace. On the second lap heading out, my quads had gone numb, but I didn’t want to drop the pace off – I had come so far, and I could taste the PB and the finish line! I soldiered on and managed to pick it up a tiny bit at the finish, achieving a new 5km PB of 25:21 (30 seconds off my previous time), and a new sprint triathlon PB of 01:19:00! I could not believe it!

I am absolutely over the moon with this race! It was so well organised, with lovely support, and excellent photography. I had such a good race with Jenny too, who pipped me to the post by 30 seconds in the end – well deserved too!

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Jenny and I very pleased with our hard work, celebrating at the finish

A big well done to her. Revelling in our race and the fun we had, it was time for the pub! The Pineapple is just round the corner, where I enjoyed a delicious hot wrap and some chips, a well-earned celebratory pint, and a lovely catch-up with my friend. VoTwo, I will be back to this one for sure!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x