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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Conquering The Chilterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whizzing round for a second lap (photo by boyfriend)

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

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

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Great shot on the bike from R Knight Photography!

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

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

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Set on the finish – the last leg of the run

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

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

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Champions at the finish, happy with medals!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

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

Sprinting to the Olympics

Unfortunately, the title of this isn’t my announcement that I have a place in Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, or that I have qualified for the World Championships in Rotterdam, but maybe one day! I have in fact combined my first 2 triathlons of the season into one post, as they fell within 2 weeks of each other. As the title suggests, the events were different distances – Sprint and Olympic.

Race 1: Blenheim Palace Triathlon – Sprint Distance

The stunning setting of Blenheim Palace is a great way to set off the season. Covering a weekend, there are various short distances you can sign up for: Super Sprint (400m, 13km, 3km), Sprint (750m, 20km, 5.8km), a team relay, and a ‘Weekend Warrior’ challenge where participants attempt to complete as many sprint distance triathlons as they can over the entire weekend. The grounds offer a swim in the Great Lake, a cycle following a wider loop of the Great Lake, and finishing with a run round the outside of the Queen Pool.

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View of lake, bike out, transition and some of the course

Race packs were sent out a few weeks before the race, and entry to the grounds was discounted for spectators by a considerable amount. My boyfriend was kind enough to deliver me to the race, and spectate. We met with my friend, who had brought her team of supporters with her, also. The Palace is an amazing venue to host this event, and it certainly was made to feel like a big thing to be a part of.

Transition is a royal affair, here. The Palace courtyard was covered in a huge red mat, or carpet if you will, and a ridiculous amount of bikes were racked up – row upon row of tightly crammed push bikes of all shapes and sizes lined up with one purpose: to race.

There were loads of stalls around with the latest gear, charities including the main event charity Bloodwise, and even a stall with some freebies courtesy of Science in Sport. Lots of gels and recovery powders to stock up on.

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My wave jumping into the lake

The race starts with a briefing just behind the pontoon in the lake, a good 10 minute walk from transition. Here we received our green swim caps, and a run through of what to expect. In the background, you could see the mighty Weekend Warrior triathletes coming round for another triathlon, and the total racking up on a big board. It was very inspiring to watch. Then, a jump into the lake, a paddle to the start line and it was time to go.

I was actually really pleased with the swim section. Previously, I have found the mass starts quite stressful and panicked a little, almost forgetting how to swim, which is always silly, in hindsight. After a lot more practise this year, getting used to swimming close to other people, and although I didn’t necessarily practise swimming in a group, I just felt more confident in the whole affair. I completed it in 15:53, a time I was pleased with, and even got right in the mix, surrounded by lots of swimmers most of the way through. Box ticked!

T1 (Transition 1 from swim to bike) was where it all went wrong. I knew this wasn’t a PB course by any stretch – it’s a hilly route, the bike course, I was told, was tough for handling, and the transition runs were long and tough. I had heard others speak of the T1 run, which was a 400-600m uphill climb straight out of the lake, and up to the palace. I survived, just about, found my row in transition, and then must have run up and down past my bike a couple of times, because I just couldn’t spot it! It is against the rules to put a flag or anything up, and I just went bike blind – I could not see wood for trees. After a minute or so panicking, I located my bike, and tried to finish transition as quick as possible afterwards, but I think it was nearing 8 minutes by the time I had got through transition from hell!

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One of 3 laps on the bike

The bike went alright. I was on my cyclocross, as I had not quite got used to my new TT bike and I had been advised that I should be comfortable on that if I was going to ride it on this course. I took the more sensible option and stuck it out on the cyclocross. It was a tough, hilly route that you covered 3 times. The grounds of the palace truly are stunning and I tried to absorb the beauty of them, whilst pushing myself to go that little bit quicker each time. My only real mistake was grabbing the brake instead of switching gear going up the one of the hills, but I recovered that, and somehow stayed upright and pushed on to the top of the climb.

T2 went pretty smoothly and I was happy with my new Xtenex laces, which allowed me to slide my feet into my trainers and head off sharp-ish! The run was 2 laps of a slightly less hilly course, but undulating all the same. My only upset on the run was on the second lap, when a large group of people wandered onto the course in single file and blocked the whole route, despite there being a marshalled ‘official crossing point’ about 10 metres away, who did not move when I said excuse me, and caused me to almost grind to a halt. I gratefully accepted some water on the route, after going through a little bit of anger management, as it had been a warm day, and pushed through for a sprint finish down the last straight to finish in a time of 1:46:07. Mission accomplished!

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Happy finishers

Race 2: Royal Windsor Triathlon – Standard/Olympic Distance

Two weeks later, I found myself at sparrow fart listening to another race briefing, this time with an orange swim cap on, waiting to take the plunge into the River Thames. This would be my first ever Olympic distance triathlon and my first river swim. The water temperature had been measured the day before at 20°C, and it had been a warm day, so I knew we were in for a scorcher. In a way, I was glad of the 6:28am start!

Racking for this event is done the day before, unless you have paid a premium. My bike had been dropped off in transition on Saturday with my helmet, and I had tried to familiarise myself with all the ins and outs for the different disciplines. Race numbers are picked up on the Saturday as well, attached onto bikes, helmets and the like. All that was left to do on race day was to bring yourself and the rest of your kit along to swim 1500m, cycle 41km and run 10km. (There was a sprint distance available as well.)

No sooner had I really jumped into the Thames in my wetsuit for a predictably warm swim (and stubbed my toe on the bottom in true style), than the race had started – there really wasn’t long at all to familiarise yourself with the water. I ended up in the middle of the pack, with my goggles fogging up, swimming into the sun towards Eton Bridge, hoping that I was following the right people, and not the ones doing the sprint distance. The vision issues caused me a couple of diversions off-course, and some confusion when I got to the turn-around point and there were people in kayaks yelling at me to swim under the rope that was in front of me, but I was soon swimming the last third or so of the route upstream towards transition. I survived the swim in a time of 30:19 minutes.

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I’m too tight to buy the official race pictures, but here’s the Roo for you all to admire

T1 was good. It was again a long one, but thankfully flat. I ran into the entrance at halfway, where you then run up to the top, then all the way back down to the exit where my bike was (which I found no problem this time – wahoo!). I had a smooth change-over and then ran the long exit out the other side. The bike was my favourite part of this triathlon. I was riding the TT bike for the first time in a race – my Quintana Roo, and I was hungry for pace. The bike route is a 2 lap course, where you cover the top section of the route a second time before you head back towards Windsor. It’s mostly on country roads, and certainly a lot flatter than Blenheim. I really enjoy being on the road on two wheels and this race was no exception. I covered the 41km distance in 1:22:01, averaging 18.6mph, which I was very pleased with.

It was starting to get warm, even at 8:30am, as I racked my bike, ran the loop out of T2, and began the 3 lap run I had left to finish the race. The run route takes you from Alexandra Gardens next to the river, up past the castle, and onto the Long Walk, before turning around and running back on yourself, and completing it again. It was a tough end to a race: the sun was beating down and there wasn’t a whole lot of shade, it was going to be mentally tough to complete 3 out-and-back loops, and my body was getting a little tired by the third go.

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New shoelaces ready for action!

It was nice if you were racing someone else, as I was able to high-five and offer encouragement to my friend who was also doing the standard distance race that day, but it was still a tricky time. There is a fine line between over- and under-hydrating, and at first I was concerned about over-doing it, but I soon found myself needing to hydrate at almost every water station with little cups of water. I was determined not to let the heat get to me, and I hadn’t set myself a goal time, just to make sure I finished.

I had a nice surprise on the second lap, when I spotted some friends who had come out by the castle on the nasty climb and offered some support for me to crawl up the hill. That really gave me a boost, and they had moved down to the finish straight to cheer me through to the finish. I decided I could push myself to break the hour for the run, and just came through with a time of 59:47 for the run, and a total triathlon time of 03:03:16. Not bad for a first go! I have signed up for next year already(!) to try to break the 3 hour mark now. Bring it on!

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Super happy, proud, first-time Olympic distance finishers!

I would say, that despite the heat, I enjoyed the longer distance more, and would definitely choose a standard distance event in the future over a sprint, if the opportunity is there. Eventually I would like to build up to longer distances, but I’m in no rush, as I am enjoying it. My next race is a sprint distance that I already had booked for the 23rd July in London, so I will try to bring my time down there (once I have got over the cold I am nursing this week).

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!

transition-funnt

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!

finsihing-pain

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

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!