Choose one: career or sport. Not both

We all have our things we do might makes you – ‘you’, and me – ‘me’.

Without sport I wouldn’t be ‘me’.

It’s a good 50/40/10 split respective of work, sport and a tiny bit left for social beer drinking.

Returning to sport after a break, feels like coming back after an injury. Trying to get into the swing of things again, and formulate some kind of new routine in my new city. This feeling is heightened with added frustration when it happens over and over again.

More often than not, injuries occur when you’re close to your peak fitness, so the last memories you have – the last performance markers you have – are of elite performance. David Millar

Taking up triathlon and endurance sport was a big lifestyle change from horse riding and team sports. Not only in terms of physical changes: exercising more and changes in body shape, but change in mindset too which transpires towards everything else in one’s life.

Endurance sports give you the understanding that to succeed in anything one has to be dedicated to the cause and committed enough to overcome the hurdles in order to achieve the goal. Whether that’s in a race, in the workplace, or as a general rule in life. Good things come to those who work for it.

Yet, this attitude is rare, and many people give up too easily. In fitness, it can be a bad day at work which results in a missed run or a missed gym session. For some, that’s a one off; but for many it spirals out of control and in order to get back ‘on the wagon’ one must be seriously motivated.

Often my friends ask how I have the motivation to train after work. The answer is it’s mostly just a mindset and a lifestyle, and many people have the same mindset and lifestyle – if I didn’t train I would feel like something was missing.

I love my industry, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. However my frustrations come from starting over and over again when there is an interruption, whether that be injury or career. Injuries (which are non-self inflicted – in that they weren’t planned) and tend to appear when training is going well and the peak phase is about to begin.

New jobs are good in every other reason of your life, except the sport part, and every single time I’ve had one it knocks me out of the running for peak performance.

It’s certainly true that the 9-5 kills all hopes and dreams, but if one can endure the pain to go to a session regardless of a long or bad day at work, there is a genuine guarantee that exercise will turn those bad feelings into good ones. Nobody ever regrets a workout.

Last chainy on the road tonight before we move to the race track for winter and I finished with an epic ride! Just feeling on it today, and it showed. #stronglegs 💪🏻 •• Only done a few chaingangs this year as I was a bit late to the party, but I've met some lovely folk, and the social side is what makes it fun! • • • • #strongnotskinny #cycling #bellainsella #italianstripes #strava #stravacycling #stravaproveit #lhcbs #cyclist #lovecycling #lancashire #visitlancashire #cyclinglife #bikes #stravaphoto #felt #ColdDarkNorth #leavehomecomebackstronger #fitness #fitnessmotivation #healthylifestyle #otefuelled #bikestagram #bike #bikelife #bicycle #otefuelled #feltbikes #suunto #rapha

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Don’t stop training

When an athlete stops training abruptly, the effects aren’t just mental with the stress of knowing it is going to be harder to get back to the performance state you were in , but physical too. Their body goes through an array of changes from weight gain and water retention over short periods, to muscle atrophy, a drop in metabolic rate and a loss of fitness for longer periods.

In addition to all of that, for me: my muscles ache, my sleep becomes disrupted, my eating habits change because my body stops telling me what it requires as fuel and I become extremely grouchy and even more short tempered than usual.

So not training isn’t as simple as missing sessions and relaxing instead – when all of that is going on in the background.

Love-hate are the strongest relationships

Fitness and exercise is something I dedicate so much time and energy towards. I wholeheartedly love it; but there are things I hate about it too. There are times when I wish my life could be ‘normal’ and didn’t revolve around exercise and nutrition.

Sometimes, I don’t like that 40 percent of my life is sport related, and I wish the majority of that 40 percent could be socialising, or just hanging out and not doing a lot, what it feels like the rest of the world does.

My way of switching off is suffering on the turbo or a weights session in the gym. Not relaxing in its most popular form. But, the burning of the body often means relaxation for the mind.

I would like to learn the art of doing nothing. For once be one of those people who after getting home after work, is happy vegetating on the couch.

That is the ultimate luxury for an athlete, especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside. It is a luxury I hardly get to experience, but it never feels like such a treat as the when the feeling of guilt and disappointment sets in, the realisation arrives that one could spend their time more wisely by training and not lounging around, then outcomes the time management diary and the vicious circle starts again. Looks like I can slot in aimlessly browsing the internet, talking bollocks to friends, and watching trash TV three weeks on Thursday after the gym.

Moving jobs and moving cities isn’t easy for the average person. It’s even more difficult when new gyms, /running/cycling/triathlon clubs are added into the mix. On the bright side, exploring new routes is a good way to get to know the new local area, but since I came from one of the best swim/bike/run/gym locations in the country, the bar is set and as much as I love the city, my new found sport routine will never compare to the old one. Besides, I don’t even know where the nearest swimming pool is.

#strongnotskinny •• I get loads of comments on my #thunderthighs. Often at time trials folk will say "you've got powerful legs" which I'm never sure is a compliment or an insult. 😳 However, despite looking a bit odd in shorts I wouldn't have achieved any of my finest moments if they were half the size. •• They can squat almost 100kg, carried me around 4x half ironmans (one of which got me a European silver medal) I've scaled a massive proportion of Lake District peaks either walking or running, they can put out a load of #watts and do well in time trials, as well as countless other physical challenges; so they might be #thunderthighs but they're functional and bloody powerful 😏🍑🙌🏻 • • • • #hatersgonnahate #fitisthenewskinny #stronglegs #strongisthenewskinny #strongissexy #strengthtraining #strength #endurance #legs #pins #gym #health #fitness #fitnessmotivation #squat #peachy #squatbum #leanin15 #strongwomen #healthybodyhealthymind #cycling #cyclist #tri #triathlon #trife #athletelife

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New beginnings

Which brings me to my main frustration.

Eight weeks ago I was in the best shape of my life. I was healthiest I’ve ever been with a resting heart rate of 47bpm and the leanest I’ve ever looked. I had some good results constantly coming through on the bike, with my power output steadily growing, and my time trial results getting quicker.

I wasn’t the strongest I have been in terms of kg lifted, (earlier on in the year, I claimed a 97.5kg squat) but I had more all round body strength.

I spent the end of the summer stripping back my weight workouts to focus on technique, stronger individual muscle groups mastering body weight strength, and working on weak points before I wanted to lift heavy again. My body was very much being fine tuned to being a good cyclist, runner, and strong and functional.

I had the balance of nutrition down to a tee because when you focus on the food vs fuel concept, your body eventually tells you what it needs and you feed it, simple as that.

Since I came back from a long break in April I was very happy, and full of mojo to have a successful season, and to really be able to peak.

But, at the ripe age of 22, I decided it was time to take my career a little bit more seriously and got a new job – in other words, eventually I had to listen to my mother.

Here we are now

My 50 percent is happy and has significantly increased to take the majority, but my 40 percent has shrivelled into a measly 25-30 percent, while the social beer drinking has increased slightly.

All of those physical and mental effects took over. And as I’m in the biggest city in the North of England, I spend a lot of my training time stuck in the car.

I reluctantly said bye bye to my low resting heart rate and my bike which now lives further up North. I watched the power in my legs flitter away as my strength and leanness faded. Anytime I get back on the WattBike I look despairingly at my new low FTP, and wonder how we got here.

Now, I now sit in the traffic envious of the runner/cyclist commuters.

At the beginning, I was happy to take two weeks off to adjust to my new job, and the short period of rest would do my body some good, before starting to wind down into winter training.

But my days were too long, the commute to far, and eventually I had to move to a different city which resulted in a shift in everything. Finding a new gym, finding a running club, finding routes to run and trying to find time to cycle is impossible.

I love my work, it was an excellent risk and decision to I needed to make, and it means I have new projects to focus on. Despite it being no more hours than before, it is more mentally taxing, and the commute takes the most time.

I certainly still bat for the shift workers. The dreaded 9-5 makes one feel totally lazy. It drains the life out of you along with the motivation to do any exercise. Eight hours minus lunch never seems to provide enough time to be productive – the day is over before it has began, the weekend comes and goes, and Monday is spent waiting for Friday. Then there is the lack of movement while hunched over at a desk staring at a computer screen.

The dreadful effects of eight weeks off is a sad reality of sport and fitness. One cannot expect to stop training and still be lean and lift one-and-a-half times their body weight. Achieving the goal, as well as maintaining that physical shape takes hard work, and hard work I am willing to put in every time.

Again and again and again

David Millar’s description of coming back after an injury is the most accurate. Although this isn’t an injury, the last eight weeks have felt like some form of rehab:

“Returning from an injury is hard, though that’s not really due to the injury itself, but more to do with your head coping with the total inability it has to make the body do what once came easily.

“More often than not, injuries occur when you’re close to your peak fitness, so the last memories you have – the last performance markers you have – are of elite performance. Comebacks are at the opposite end of the scale, which is humbling for a professional athlete, but also it makes coming back an interesting and affirming experience.”

I’m all for change and new beginnings, I realise I’m in a fortunate position to be able to change jobs and re-locate as easily as this; but my frustrations lie in the drastic amount set backs and multiple times starting over and over. Every time, I will stand up and go back to it because it’s my 40 percent, my non-negotiable and I would be very different without it.

Every time I will build back up to where I was and more, but every time it makes me feel less enthusiastic and more exhausted to achieve something I once loved. Set backs make us stronger, but stronger for what?

The most upsetting part is in seven years of training, I have never managed to reach peak performance and reach my true potential in triathlon, cycling or power lifting. Something has always had to give, whether it be opportunities or injuries, they come along and wipe me off my feet like a game of snakes and ladders. And in every stretch, I drive to reach my potential in any given sport… until an opportunity comes along and the last tier to peak performance fades away.

I often wish there were more hours in the day, longer days would mean I wouldn’t have to choose between sport or career. I want to see a time where I can have both, not one or the other.

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Back to basics in the anti-cycling war

The country has gone mad on taking a side in the cycling vs drivers war. Since the death of Kim Briggs, the pedestrian who was tragically killed by the cyclist Charlie Alliston last year.

In 2016, there were 400 pedestrians killed in traffic related accidents – one of which was due to a cyclist.

Alliston has been cleared of charges of manslaughter, and charged with “wanton or furious driving”. An offence which many people have never heard of. The archaic conviction was common in the nineteenth century with causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving of non-motorised vehicles such as carriages, and bicycles.

Vehicles of course, follow different rules. Bikes aren’t vehicles, and as cases of cyclists killing pedestrians are extremely rare, the law has never been updated to include cycling in the Road Traffic Act. That is a point to remember, that these cases are extremely rare, unfortunate and could have been prevented.

The tragic accident began with a collision which happens daily in London. Foolhardy cyclists senseless enough to weave in and out of moving traffic in a busy city, and pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phones. Yet, on this occasion the unsuccessful efforts of both parties to avert a collision, led to Mrs Briggs dying of a brain injury in hospital.

 

Both parties are at fault in this situation. However Alliston is undoubtedly more so, as even without the intention of causing an accident, he was knowingly: riding a fixed gear bike without a front brake on the roads in a busy city, endangering himself and others, and not obeying the highway code.

To do that on any road is a recipe for disaster, let alone in the busiest city in the country.

Fixed-gear bikes are becoming more popular on the road. However, they belong on the track and not in busy city centres where as long as the wheels are moving, so are the pedals and the legs attached to them. Which makes it extremely difficult to brake, without considering braking to prevent a collision.

In his campaign to introduce new legislation into the Road Traffic Act, the husband of Mrs Briggs’ says: “With the fixed-wheel bike without the front brake the only means of braking is reverse pedalling… That’s totally inadequate and we’ve seen that with my wife’s death.”

The problem with this story is how much media attention it has drawn and how many opinions it has attracted. The cyclist vs driver war has been fuelled by hateful comments towards cyclists as a result of this story. But why?

Mrs Briggs’ husband is campaigning for a change in the law so it is fair for everybody. Allowing for: cycling to be incorporated into the Road Traffic Act, death by dangerous cycling, and death by careless cycling to be included.  The simple fact the crown prosecution service have charged Alliston with an archaic offence shows there is a gap in what can be charged for these rare situations; and as Briggs’ says: “It’s not so much a new law as just bringing the current law up to date”.

I can confidently say that many cyclists would agree to this legislation to be introduced. As most of cyclists climb aboard their bikes with the intention of keeping themselves and others safe.

Briggs, a London cyclist himself said his campaign for a change in the law was not “witch-hunt against cyclists”, but dealing with the specific issue of “reckless cyclists and those people who choose to ride fixed-wheel bikes without the additional front brake” he added.

When I saw this video of a cycling courier in London, I was horrified that anybody could ride that dangerously. Not only endangering themselves but everybody else on the road with no second thought.

On the one hand, videos like this can be found all over the internet. With reckless cyclists happily riding dangerously, cutting up other road users, riding through red lights and on the wrong side of the road, simply without following any of the highway code.

On the other hand, so can videos with footage shaming drivers by passing too close, cutting up cyclists, overtaking on corners and double white lines. Yet, as I have written before, cyclists will never win the collision war because the only people defending cyclists, are cyclists.

The only media outlets I have seen offering a balanced argument is the cycling publications. The Sunday Times, mocked the government for investing money in cycling. Journalist Adam Boulton, led his column last Sunday with the headline: “At last the wheels are coming off our senseless worship of bicycles” and accused Cycling UK of “cherry picking their facts” in relation to statistics of cycling related injuries; despite claiming on Twitter he is a cyclist himself.

 

 

The London Standard used the insensitive phrase of “Dangerous cyclist mowed down pedestrian”. The Guardian, accused of double standards, went with the unbalanced view that cyclists can get away with such an offence but a motorist would not. In other stories, the newspaper led with ‘cyclist accused of killing woman shouted at her after collision’.

While Cycling Weekly attempted to neutralise the debate and explain to the anti-cyclist media, that no cyclist is applauding or condoning what happened. There are cyclists who are just as horrified at the videos like the one above; and who immediately said Alliston was in the wrong for riding a fixie without brakes – the facts remain the same.

Lets go back to basics here.  Statistics by the Department for Transport show that over 3,000 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the year up to June 2016.

How many were reported on the same level as the Alliston case by the national media?

In regards to these reported cases involving drivers at fault: how many drivers have sided with the dead or injured cyclist?

In situations more locally, how many drivers have apologised to a cyclist for passing too close, overtaking in unsafe places, or pulling out of/ pulling into junctions without consideration for anyone on the road?

The irritation throughout this case comes from the anti-cycling supporters firing up the flame balls ready to toss at the cyclists, after one accident. It says a lot about the attitudes of road users in the UK and the reforms which need to be made.

 

Cyclists will never win the collision war

Whether it is an accident with a car, a bus, or a pedestrian, cyclists will never win the collision war, even if it is not their fault.

Recently, while out riding with my cyclist friend–who works as a collision investigator for the police–we were discussing collisions with buses and bikes. He had reported three incidents to our local Stagecoach branch about near misses between the drivers and himself.

The first happened in winter while riding at night: “lit up like a Christmas tree” (in the words of the Stagecoach boss after seeing the CCTV footage), the driver did not see my fellow cyclist, and even after the Stagecoach boss described to the driver where the accident occurred, worryingly the driver does not recall seeing a cyclist.

The second occasion involved going through the one-way system in Lancaster when a bus driver didn’t look in his mirror before pulling out in front of him. And during the final incident, he was a spectator watching a similar thing happen to another cyclist in front of him. On this occasion, if it wasn’t for the way the pavement split into a verge, the cyclist in front would have been squashed by the bus, and the driver of the big metal box would probably have been none the wiser.

On the final occasion, which happened minutes before I met him for a bike ride, we began with a trip to the bus station to report the incident, which was subsequently dealt with and passed on appropriately. On the other occasions, the bus drivers were sent on a driving course and apparently have since changed their attitude towards cyclists and of course, will thoroughly check their mirrors before pulling out.

Later on that week, I recalled the incident to my grandfather who is a retired bus driver for Stagecoach, and before I had even finished the description of the incident he replied with: “bloody cyclists, it is their own fault.”

Which brought me to the conclusion that despite having many cyclists in the family, the said person still has that attitude. If I can’t change his opinion on cyclists (I asked him if he would still have that attitude if it was me and my bike that was nearly squashed by a bus), then no amount of campaigning for cycle safety is going to change attitudes towards cyclists.

A few days after the ride when we discussed the incidents, I had my own bike accident.

Setting off on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was riding down Morecambe promenade on my own when, without looking, two young children ran across the path and straight into me. I flew straight over the handlebars and hit the floor hard without really knowing how I got there.

I could hear the screams of two young children crying their eyes out as they lay on the floor next to me, and then the pain of my possible broken elbow hit me. The mother of the children ran over to them, while another lady ran over to help my bike and I up off the floor and rang an ambulance.

At first, I was calm as I inspected myself to see if my limbs were all in the places they should be; then the shock set in of what just happened. Meanwhile, I received a tirade of abuse from the kid’s family and a group of people on the prom, who did not see the accident but decided to divulge all of their hatred towards cyclists towards me.

According to them: I did it on purpose, I should know better because they are children. Cyclists are stupid. Cyclists shouldn’t be on the cycle path. I’m delusional. I was going too fast, and I deserve to have died because I purposely rode into the children.

Shaking and furious with emotions running high, I turned the abuse back on them and almost started a fight to stand up for myself. I couldn’t believe they had just said I deserve to have died in that incident, and in-case they didn’t notice, I came out worse than the children with my arm beginning to swell and a broken bike–while the kids escaped with little more than a bump on the head and some grazes. Two women came over to offer some help, and told me to ignore the idiots who just launched a fireball of verbal abuse towards me, because they did not see what just happened, and automatically took the attitude it was the cyclists fault. They gave me their details and said they would act as a witness to prove it was not my fault if anything ever came of it.

As I explained to the mother, of course I didn’t hit them on bloody purpose, as soon as I saw them running I swerved to try and miss them and shouted “woah watch out!” Also, after looking at my ride data afterwards up until the point of the collision, there is no proof I was riding “too fast” as my speed on that particular segment was low.

The ambulance crew arrived, and called for back-up to assist me. After being checked over they took me to hospital for an X-ray on my arm; and after things calmed down they discussed with the family that I had every right to be riding on the path. As kids will be kids and not look where they are going, it was an accident, nothing more.

The paramedic crew were exceptional, and of course understood the whole situation. An accident is an accident whether it is a pedestrian or a bus or a car, and nobody can ever say straight away it was the cyclists fault without looking at the whole incident first.

I don’t endeavour to defend all cyclists. I could name a collection of times when people have been cycling drunk, and veered into the path of a fast moving car, or hit a lamp post, tree, and other non-moving objects while under the influence.

I can even name the times when cyclists have gone through red lights, not stopped at crossings, or descending down windy roads dangerously. There are times when cyclists are the cause of the incident; in the same way drivers using their phones cause incidents, or driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. As well as pedestrians not looking where they are going–again the list goes on and neither party is exempt from blame.

But what has been proved is that cyclists make better motorists, because we are weary of what is going on around us, as well as the correct distance for overtaking: which is another cars width.

My point here is that despite the legacies created by the Olympics, the Tour de France (in Yorkshire), and British Cycling’s success, it has not altered the negative attitude towards the people on two wheels.

Cyclists are seen as the villains, but actually we are the vulnerable ones. We are only protected by a thin piece of stretchy clothing and a polystyrene and plastic helmet which absorbs shock if your head hits the floor, it does not prevent deaths or serious brain injuries. Unlike drivers we are not protected by a huge metal box around us, we are not wrapped in bubble wrap and we do not bounce when we hit the ground.

Cities in the UK are designed for cars only. The cycling revolution was an afterthought poorly implemented with a section of the already small roads taken away and covered with coloured tarmac to indicate a cycle lane. That does not stop people driving in the cycle lane through city centres, and it does not encourage them to look in the mirrors and check their blind spot before turning or manoeuvring.

Cycle tracks were a good investment, but they are limited as many come from disused railway lines, and of course you can’t have a cycle track leading in every direction. In addition to this, a separate war has broken out between pedestrians and cyclists on cycle paths more recently; as both tend to stray from the designated pedestrian-cyclist lane, or take up the whole of the path.

What will it take for the general public’s attitude to change towards cyclists? The bus drivers discussed above had to redo their driving course for their attitude to change. When I learned to drive four years ago, courses were only then being adapted to include cycle safety. All of these adults who have been driving for years haven’t adapted to drive in areas with an increased amount of cyclists.

According to a 2014 figure by Cycling UK only 18 percent of registered AA drivers are cyclists. Which means many don’t understand what it is like to be passed by a car so close you can feel it brush past your skin, or accelerate so quickly to overtake you that it is unsafe for all other drivers on the road let alone the cyclist in question. But also, they have no idea what it is like to be involved in an accident and hit the ground so hard and so fast you injure yourself and you don’t understand what just happened.

All of my cyclist friends have been involved in an incident at any one time. And every time the driver has said the rider was “going too fast”. It is a poor excuse used when firstly, the driver hasn’t taken any responsibility for their actions. Secondly, most of the time it is a 30mph zone and the rider is doing around 20mph. And finally: how did they possibly measure the cyclists speed? The police and paramedics question how can somebody on a bike be going “too fast” compared to somebody in a car?

Thankfully, most of them came out with little more than a battered and bruised body. But some of them recall waking up in an ambulance not knowing how they got there. One friend, despite wearing a helmet, suffered a serious brain injury which he will have for the rest of his life as a result of the collision.

The sporting legacies from our cycling success has encouraged a new wave of people to get on a bike which is a positive result. But what it hasn’t done is changed the view of cyclists from a motorists point of view. It also has not adapted our roads, and cities to be cycling friendly, and it takes a sharp increase in cyclist deaths for something to change.

In 2013 the Department for Transport reported that there are an average of two cycling related deaths every week and 60 serious injuries. That is a worrying increase of 40 percent in the last five years.

Yet, what these figures don’t encourage is more funding and better implementation of cycling in the UK. Many other countries, and most affluent countries in Europe have less incidents with cyclists, because their motorists have different attitudes. This is due to the roads being wider, less potholes, less congested roads, and most importantly more rules in EU law which allow every party involved to take road collisions seriously.

Until roads and city centres in the UK are properly adapted, the attitude towards cyclists will never change.

What makes our greatest athletes?

Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr
Chris Froome became the first person to ride through the channel tunnel. Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr

Where does the grit come from at the very beginning of an athletes career? The grit which is the very reason they have won a gold medal at the Olympics, became a world champion, and won the yellow jersey.

The same grit, that shoehorned them into the sport, to put their focus into something positive. Channel the energy into something constructive; causes blood, sweat, tears and shows where they have come from, and where they are going.

Teams at the Olympics are handpicked. With a vast amount of reasons for competing in their chosen sport. Many, because they were told they would never be good enough, they don’t have the mental capacity, their body is not the body of an Olympian, or they fear the very sport they compete in.

Continue reading “What makes our greatest athletes?”

The dark side of athlete injury

Day 25 of having a broken foot. I wondered how long it would take for me to feel like this. Personally, I thought it would happen sooner, so I’m impressed I made it this far, that’s a sign of improvement, right? But this is where I feel it all spiralling downhill…

All athletes go through this with injuries, and only other athletes can sympathise. It becomes less about not being able to do your sport and more about turning your life upside down. Exercise is not just my hobby and interest, it is my escape from the world, my focus, my coping mechanism, the thing that makes me feel happy and it keeps me the person I am.

Continue reading “The dark side of athlete injury”

Lakes in a Day

Fell and ultra running as we know it. Lakes in a Day is a 50 mile ultra marathon from Caldbeck in North Cumbria to Cartmel in South Cumbria. The route requires running up and traversing across the ridges of the famous lakeland fells before beginning the final leg of the race down the side of Windermere. With twenty-four hours to complete this race, many of the athletes will be running in the dark through the woods into the early hours of the crisp autumn morning.

With over 4,000m of ascent, this event attracts long-distance veterans and has been described by one competitor as “tears, sweat and achievement”, and by another as a “grand day out”… 

A whistle stop tour of some of the most spectacular parts of the Lake District with astounding views from the top of the famous lakeland fells: Blencathra, Clough Head, Great Dodd, and Helvellyn, before descending down Fairfield Horseshoe to Ambleside, just over half way. The final leg of the race runs down the western side of the largest natural lake in England, finishing in the small picturesque village of Cartmel.

Now in its second year, the race attracted more interest with over 300 people on the start-list.

This year, records were broken as Kim Collison arrived in Cartmel still in daylight in a brisk 9:12:07, breaking the men’s record. Likewise, in the women’s race Helen Leigh arrived at dusk breaking the women’s record with a time of 11:00:10, both receiving the ÂŁ500 cash prize.

Cumbria is renowned for its few-and-far-between rays of sunshine, and rain so regular it keeps the vast array of lakes and tarns topped up; but race day surprised many athletes, with the tranquil breeze on the peaks, and the cool temperature in daylight hours. What started off calm for some, ended up as a long and lonely day out for others.

During daylight hours, nearly all of the runners seemed in good spirits, some running alone, others forming in groups. The miles and the peaks started to tick off; the feed stations became an all you can eat buffet with a selection of sandwiches, sweet items, and pastries for breakfast in Threlkeld. Well-deserved pizza and pasta in Ambleside. And soup, sandwiches and warm winter food served in Finsthwaite before the final section home through the trees and under the moonlight.

Crowds gathered in Ambleside clapping the runners as they came through the town centre. Support runners got their head torches ready for the last 20 miles when the afternoon merged into the evening.

The day got cooler, the evening got quieter and soon it was 8pm in Finsthwaite watching the runners come in, one by one, and two by two to the last feed station: identified as the only building for miles with light pouring out of the windows.

Walking through the field to meet the runners, dark figures appeared, getting closer and closer… Pausing to see what it was as it stepped closer towards me, I put out my hand and found the horse’s nose nudge me for attention. Panic over.

In the distance, specks of light shone through the trees, the bright ones lighting up the path in front as a group of runners passed through the gate and experienced the same thing I just did heading for the light of the next feed station.

The bulk of the field had spread out in the last 10 miles, some with fifteen and twenty minutes between each runner, alone in the dark with only arrows to follow to the end.

Bottles were filled, soup was slurred, and food was eaten to allow the runners to continue through the forest and the fields to Cartmel to the finish.

The last point of attraction was Newby Bridge, with around four miles to go the support from the cheering guests was welcomed. Where one path meets The Swan, and crosses the A590 on a windy path, peaking to a grand view of Grange-Over-Sands all lit up.

Civilization at last.

“Follow the lights and you’ll soon be home” were the words that were echoing at this point. Followed by the instructions from the race director:

“When you reach the Cartmel Pudding shop, veer around the corner, past the pub where you will see the finishing gantry, and you are home.

 

 

 

 

Peaks practice

The Yorkshire three peaks is a challenge that has stood for centuries and not to be underestimated. As Yorkshire provides one of the most interesting and beautiful areas of outstanding natural beauty, it can be one of the most rewarding challenges yet.

Walking, or running, it is spectacular route in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, and seems to be one very close to people’s hearts. The route is busy with hundreds of people every weekend, whether they are running or walking one peak or all three, it is a surprisingly busy area of the Yorkshire Dales.

The nearest area of civilization is Horton-in-Ribblesdale, often associated with the start and finish of the annual fell race. Other than that, it’s a long walk up the valley to Hawes, or at the southern end to Ingleton.

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Speculation about which direction is harder is often a topic debated among many runners and walkers; but with 24 miles and around 4,700ft of ascent, most accept that just completing it is a challenge in its own right.

Traditionally, the route would start and finish in Horton-in-Ribblesdale in an anti-clockwise fashion up the scramble of Pen-y-Ghent alongside every man and his dog and child. It is surprising how many children make it up there, loading their parents up like packhorses with a picnic.

The route generally follows the notion of looking directly at one of the three peaks, find a footpath–or what resembles a footpath–that corresponds. In recent years, some parts of the route have been updated with ‘The Three Peaks’ footpath thankfully sign posted, but it’s good practice to take a map for the times when the sign for Whernside summit is pointing in the opposite direction. More significantly, parts of the route can vary depending on which source it came from. For example… the dangerous, but more direct, cross-country route up Whernside can be taken like on the fell race. Reaching the summit eventually, and usually in one-piece, it is easy to look around and see there was an easier and less dramatic route.

Tackling Ingleborough first is a good tip, as descending down from Whernside to know that it completes the three, and the car is waiting along the road, without having the short sharpness of the middle peak, and the long multi-terrain trek back to Horton-In-Ribblesdale to finish off your already-tired body is a reassuring feeling, and a good excuse to fist-pump the air.

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It’s difficult to estimate how long it will take to complete the route, the course record for the fell race is an astonishing 2:51:42 by Ricky Lightfoot, but if you want to take in some of the scenery, allow four to five hours to run it, and anywhere between nine and eleven hours to walk it.

 

There are plenty of places to stop along the route from the odd random bench to sit down at, on the long flat trundle between Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside. Or there is the butty van (typical Yorkshire phrase) at Ribblehead viaduct. Alternatively, depending on where you start from, the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe in Horton-In-Ribblesdale is a good choice for a bacon sandwich and cup of coffee before ascending the busiest peak in Yorkshire.

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Whernside is renowned as the highest mountain in Yorkshire, (with Ingleborugh following close behind) and from experience, has the best view. On a clear day, Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent, and the Ribblehead viaduct can be seen all in one photograph, which makes for a good summary. But don’t spend too long up there, when the sun is setting. The leisurely descent from the summit is deceiving looking at where the road is, but even if darkness has set in, it is all signposted back to the Hill Inn–a good place to stop for a pint and a Sunday roast to sum up the day’s efforts.

Need inspiration?

Sometimes, inspiration is closer than you think. When you have lost your mojo, finding it is difficult; but following someone else’s journey onto a path (literally) into a world of new terrain, can do just the trick.

Continue reading “Need inspiration?”

Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See-Kaprun race report

imageIf I’d have been writing this yesterday it would be a very bitter race report, but having slept on it and today seeing my official results on the website, I care a little bit less.

Continue reading “Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See-Kaprun race report”

First fell running experience

1484558_10205453085423752_297812801050133093_nTo my own surprise, last year after a glass of vino I declared I wanted to go fell running to see what all of the fuss was about. Many people around me do it and have been trying to get me to try the trails and fells for a while… A certain someone even gave me a box to which I opened and said: “but I don’t trail run!” to which he replied: “well, you should.”

So, one morning before the sun had risen, the seasoned fell runner Jack took me to Ingleborough. “Don’t bother starting easy” he said…

Now, road and fell runners are completely different. Road runners roll out of bed into their shoes, start their watch and off they go down the road. Fell runners get to the bottom of the hill look up and say “bring it on.”

10929002_10205453088503829_1947066154328665532_nSo to a road runner… driving to the bottom of Ingleborough at the Hill Inn and looking up at the steep face of Ingleborough thinking “shit, do I really have to run up that?” is a little scary.

10410974_10205453084703734_3474890223008691702_nBut to cut a long story short, I did it–in not such a bad time either. We ran 6.5 miles in total that day along the top looking over at Whernside, the Ribblehead Viaduct and watching the sunrise as we began to descend back to the car. Fell running is freedom.

So after that little piece of enjoyment early on a Sunday morning, my next step was a fell race. Averaging about ÂŁ3-5 for a short one and a lot of mud and pain, you get your monies worth.

The next step was the first of the Kendal Winter League: Scout Scar near Kendal.

I was instructed five miles, on a freezing day with over 200 other runners; my plan was not to come last, not to lose a shoe, and not to fall over. To my surprise I finished quicker than I, Jack, and my parents thought, I enjoyed it, and I beat the ladies I tried to fend off behind me.

One thing I did learn that day is that fell running is once again completely different to road running. In a road race you can hang on to people for 10km or whatever the distance, you can pick people off, and most people are seriously competitive racing for a sprint finish. In fell running it’s about enjoyment, suppressing pain, looking after each other and encouraging each other. I give my thanks to the lady behind me in the last half mile of Scout Scar; a runner from Helm Hill who came up from nowhere and pushed me that little bit further. Perhaps she could see that I was new to the fells and wanted some encouragement, but she encouraged me and I finished with a sprint and a smile.

So here’s to this season… trying out some more fell runs, getting stronger, getting myself a pair of Walsh’s, and hopefully one day, I’ll get to encourage a newbie and push them a little bit harder.

Successful year triathloning

Inglebrough sunrise
Ingleborough sunrise – *spark inspiration*

There is no doubt you’ve heard it already, what a great year your Facebook friends have had, plastered all over your homepage; so you should! It’s the one time of the year that we get to evaluate ourselves, our lives and the things we do.

So here’s my evaluation:

I thought 2013 was the best year I could have in sport, but this year has topped it. 2013 was perfect. Progression from thinking 30 miles on the bike was far, to doing 100 milers with out thinking twice. I did my first half marathon, hated it, and have done many more since. Every race result was an epic one in that year, and although it didn’t turn out that way this year, it was so much better.

So as you’ve heard in my other posts… I completed my first half ironman and won my age-group, which got me slightly addicted into doing another one-and-a-half (see below) which then led me to qualify for GB age-group U20 and race in Mallorca.

This year I learnt some confidence, and not to be nervous both in and out of sport. If it was the start of an exam or the start of a race I would just calmly wait for it all to commence and get on with it.

Standing on the beach in Mallorca was a surreal feeling. Stood there in my tri-suit with my name, sponsors and ‘GBR’ on my chest next to a load of other women ready to start the biggest race of my life, in the warm salty waters of one of the Balearic Island with not a worry in the world, and confident that I would be having a good day.

Things didn’t turn out the way I planned to that day, but it seemed the field had been ambushed as it quickly became the hardest, hilliest and hottest race our lives. Despite this–and the photo of me looking at my feet for some words of wisdom in the last leg of the race–it was still a fantastic day where I got to stand on the podium in the evening waving my Union Jack with pride with people getting my name wrong, but clapping me and saying “well done” in all different languages. That was the highlight of my year.

The other “half” you might be wondering about is Aberfeldy Middle Distance Tri. My first and only DNF after getting mild hypothermia somewhere around Loch Rannoch on the bike. The race that I wanted to enjoy on my birthday turned into the worst day of my life.

Out in Mallorca, thinking about Aberfeldy was hard, and debating whether or not I would finish, in a long race so much can go wrong, your race can be turned upside down in a second: a crash on the bike, a fall, an injury… But, Mallorca was the complete opposite: sunny, hot, and warm water, and I suppose I could almost stretch to ‘enjoying it’, as oppose to cold, windy, rainy, miserable Scotland.

However, after experiencing a DNF and the mental trauma that goes with it afterwards, if I had to crawl to the finish line on the promenade in Pageura, I would do so.

Away from triathlon, my running has improved, working with a couple of coaches I now enjoy running and can be consistent.

My cycling and time trialing has improved massively with achieving a 25:48 for a 10 mile TT in my first season this year.

I’ve learned more academically and I’m closer to being a journalist than I was last year.

I found the lid to my pan and spend our one year anniversary together last night on New Year’s eve. It was him who taught me confidence and not to be nervous…

I feel 100 times older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than last year, and so much can change within a year.

My goals for this year are to swim the length of Coniston, do a fell race, enjoy a fell race, go on holiday more, eat less chocolate, and get down to race weight!

So here’s to 2015. May there be many more special memories, good races, improvement and progression, and fun!

Good luck and make the best of your year.

European champs: Challenge Paguera race report

10730905_10152801801128656_8938323613375215012_nMy first ever European champs representing Great Britain’s U20 team, and it’s up there as one of the hardest races I’ve ever done; more for the ‘new experience’ rather than the race.

After myself, my dad and many others from the British team trained for a flat and fast course, we were in for a surprise. I’m not sure of the exact elevation of the bike and run courses, but I’m certain that they weren’t “flat” like advertised!

SWIM

During the week leading up to the race it was bordering being a wetsuit banned swim, and at 24 degrees C on race day, it certainly was! However, the race was in the sea and despite the salt, it was fairly pleasant to swim in. The surfer waves we were paddling in on Friday afternoon had disappeared by Saturday lunch time when the race started, and I was on for an open water PB, despite my Garmin saying afterwards I had done 1.6 miles instead of 1.2!

Disappointingly, my dad was out of the water just before me, but transition isn’t his strong point and I was in and out before him in no time.

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BIKE

Onto the bike, and the first of the two lap course goes through the town center scattered with supporters, until you begin to climb the 151m climb up to the turn around point and the first aid station. The roads get narrower as you climb higher and reach the first town making it difficult to overtake and not to be seen drafting!

After the turnaround point my dad left me for dead on his road bike and I didn’t see him again until the run. After the biggest climb at the beginning of the laps, the course was littered with slight inclines that damaged your average speed and required a little more power–enough to make it harder than you had planned and expected.

Cycling on closed roads was a brilliant experience, it was well managed by the police, and despite the hills, the course was scenic. The support through the Magaluf strip was brilliant with people sat in bars drinking all afternoon and shouting “go GB!” And I can now say I’ve been to Magaluf twice…

10001483_10152808694503656_2865468149819653921_nThe descents were fast and technical, and if you had good handling skills, that’s where you could make up your average speed. I flew through my first lap and got considerably slower on my second after losing a bottle and having back and neck ache, probably due to having to re-build my bike after the flight.

It was a very hot day, something around 31 degrees C, and with no clouds in the sky and direct sunlight on you all afternoon, staying hydrated was incredibly important. The race got harder as I was getting dehydrated after decanting a bottle from the cages on my seat a couple of miles after the last aid station, but soon enough 56 miles came along and T2 was waiting.

RUN

Transition was huge, with three racks of bikes that went on for a good few 100m, we had to run to the end and back before we could collect our run bags, so there was no chance of a quick T2.

The run course was an undulating four laps of the town center with the main hill getting steeper each time you went up it; or at least it seemed that way.

My first run lap was difficult with little energy left in my legs and being thirsty for water, I took on everything: water, Pepsi, and isotonic drink and soon enough, my pace picked up and I felt better.

With it being late afternoon it was still very hot, but much of the run course was shaded, and with sponges and bottles of water being thrown over us by spectators the heat wasn’t a problem, and it was pleasant being out. Except squelching shoes as I plodded on for 13 miles dripping wet.

The ‘new experience’ was meeting Peter Whent on the second or third lap when I was beginning to get delusional and zone out, when he introduced himself and I muttered some tangled words before asking if it’s acceptable to wet yourself during the run (we all know that’s a yes on the bike) and as he said yes, I grabbed a few bottles of water at the aid station, and it is one of the hardest and strangest things I’ve ever tried to do. I didn’t fail, but I didn’t entirely succeed and I came to realise that when you are really trying to wet yourself while shuffling down the  prom in Mallorca, and pouring water all over you, you really do have problems.

CHPH1574-20x30The support at the finish line and the start of each lap was incredible, with spectators handing out a Union Jack flag as you were about to cross the line, and throughout the whole of the run I planned my finish line face, when actually I sprinted across the line with my arms half in the air and a look of bewilderment because I had just come second in Europe for U20 middle distance, and it was difficult to take in the electric atmosphere.

But the best feeling of the day wasn’t standing on the podium waving my flag like a lost child, or receiving a silver medal. It was watching the last two women cross the finish line a minute or so apart and seeing the entire place light up and cheer them on to congratulate them on a very tough and in some parts, a lonely day out.

For one of them it was her second ever triathlon, and to see that almost everyone in the town was there cheering them both on is what makes this sport so fantastic.

My first ever European Champs

FOUR days till I race, THREE days till I fly, and FIVE days till the end of the season!

The excitement is starting, the training has been done–admittedly interrupted with attempting to be in three places at once most days–but I’ve ticked over and stayed fit from the summer, added in some distance work and a little bit (probably not enough) of high intensity, and here we are now. After a bad fall last week when my chain snapped on my race bike, I was lucky to escape with no broken bones and no broken bike. Just a sore elbow that should be as good as new by the time race day arrives.

Challenge Paguera will be my first ever international race, my first ever race representing my country and age-group, my first ever gold or silver medal (providing I start, and finish), my second ever half ironman, and my fourth triathlon this year.

This being my third attempt at a half ironman, one which went brilliantly by winning my age-group, and another which didn’t see me come in off the bike, Mallorca will be the conclusion as to whether I was just lucky at Outlaw Half, and this isn’t my distance, if I perform better in warmer weather, and whether half of me really is made of iron.

I enjoyed every minute of Outlaw Half, and I cannot explain crossing the finish line to complete my first ever half ironman at the age of 18, in a respectable time AND be told that I had just won my age-group.

To beat that, I’ll be wearing my GBR kit, with my name on my suit, and what better feeling is there than representing your country? Apart from the feeling of no early morning and the race starting at noon…

My race day plan is to get through the swim, as my swimming has got strangely worse this year and with my elbow I’ll be lucky to have a stroke, it’s also likely to be non-wetsuit which I’m not too worried about, and should make it interesting!

So… get out of the swim in a reasonable time, nail the bike, hammer the run, finish strong and feel on top of the world; and drink as many beers as possible to celebrate the end of the season.

Too much to ask for?

We shall see.

4 days to go.

Yippeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

Fussing over nothing

Following yesterday’s accident during my last training ride before next weekend’s race in Mallorca for the ETU Middle Distance tri Champs, one could describe it as split second feeling of relief.

A freak incident that was perhaps due to my over-sized quads and just happened without explanation. I fell off my bike and damaged my elbow.

Why did I fall off? I couldn’t answer that until I got home and investigated the bike. One second I was standing up pedaling up the slight incline some would call a hill, and half a second later I was sat on the floor in agony and unable to move. It was something that couldn’t be avoided or saved in any way because it happened too fast with a cry of pain and bewilderment as to how I got on the floor; consolidated my wet eyes all the way home.

My chain snapped as I was pedaling up the hill, there was a wagon and a couple of cars behind me on the windy country lane that were waiting to get passed, so I sped up to let them past and was either riding with a weak chain, or I put too much power through the pedals and before I had got to the top, ended up with a sore elbow.

It sounds more spectacular than it was, there was no damage to the bike except it needing a new chain and there was no damage to me except a severely bruised elbow and some other cuts and bruises.

My elbow was the first thing to hit the ground and when you are as heavy as I am that’s a lot of force! My first instinct was to pick myself and the bike up before the wagon that was behind ran me over, but all of a sudden I couldn’t move and getting up wasn’t possible, I was in excruciating pain with my left elbow and suddenly became panic stricken that no.1: I was in the middle of a busy road ready to be run over, and no. 2: there was nothing I could do about it because I was in so much pain.

A man in a car coming the other way saw me hit the deck, and the wagon driver stopped and got out to help me up and make sure I was ok. I was certain I must have broken or at least fractured something, a bang or bruise on the arm doesn’t hurt this much!

The two guys picked up my bike and the things that had fallen out of my pocket and were asking me some questions, and I tried to pause the panic for a second or two to reply to them.

As I was out on my own I said that I would ring somebody to come and pick me up as there was nothing I could do about a snapped chain without any tools on me, and there was no chance I could cycle home anyway. One man insisted on taking me and the bike home because he lived near-by so I agreed, looking him up and down to make sure he didn’t look dodgy.

The wagon driver helped him put the bike in the car and I turned around and now felt slightly guilty that there was a small cue of traffic sat behind the wagon, that from their point of view, looked like he had ran me over!

I said my thanks to both the men and we headed home, my arm still stiff and throbbing, with patches of blood all over me on body parts which didn’t touch the floor or take a beating!?

I had left the state of shock at this point and was returning to my (cough) calm self as the fellow cyclist was making conversation in the car. I began to be able to move my arm which indicated it thankfully wasn’t broken.

When I got home I rang my dad whose reaction I wasn’t sure about. It was his bike and to fall off a week before the race isn’t good preparation, but aside from the chain it had a soft landing! He sounded concerned which isn’t usual (probably because his dreams of having a sprint finish against his daughter may have been cloudy).

I text the other people I thought should know, Jack, and my coach Chris and they advised going to get an X-ray. By this point I attempted to do a front crawl action to see if I could swim, it was stiff and weak, it felt like a possible small fracture but nothing that could make my swimming any worse!

I decided to get an X-ray anyway to be on the safe side and once again, thankfully they said it wasn’t broken, it has just taken a mighty bashing and is severely bruised. They dressed the road rash and send me home.

So by now you are thinking stop being a baby!

Yes, me too! A wasted afternoon I suppose. But aside from thinking “how did I get here?” whilst sat on the floor after being flung off my bike, my second thought was “I FEEL PAIN, I CAN’T RACE, what will I tell everyone?”, and then my third thought: “I HAVE TO RACE, with one arm!”

My thoughts, and point of writing this, while sat in the waiting room at the hospital were: why did I immediately assume I couldn’t race? Was I really going to give in that easily? I want to race, and I’m quite looking forward to it as long as everything goes well on the day. Most of you can relate to feeling heroic when you are racing and feeling good, but why was that my instant reaction?

I realise that my training for this race hasn’t been as focused as previous, or as much as other people. Especially from the beginning; life gets in the way and you can only do as much as you have time for. But even mentally, I’m looking forward to the well earned rest and no compulsory swim/bike/run for a bit. Knowing that I’m racing in a warm climate with sunshine and possibly a wetsuit banned swim doesn’t make me want to go out cycling in the wind, rain and cold for three hours. That happened in Aberfeldy and look how that turned out: cold, wind and rain clearly doesn’t work for me and after this continuous season that has consistently been 10 months of training… I’m bored now and I need to do something different.

I’m looking forward to this race next weekend and I cannot wait to swim, cycle and run representing GBR with my name on my tri-suit, but I’m also looking forward to having a happy ending to what’s been an undulating year; full of ups and downs, my first (and let’s hope last) DNF–an emotional race that consumed me for 40 miles, and days afterwards, ruined my birthday, and left me all cried out in the middle of Scotland fed up, freezing cold, and soaking wet.

So if there is one thing I can work on over the winter aside from physical performance, it is mental performance. Throughout my many years horse riding and being flung off a horse, and then trod on by it, brushing myself off and getting back on; I should be used to it by now. I had the determination and the fearlessness to carry on and test the boundaries. The same with hockey, I had the fight in me that gave me the courage to hit the ball as hard as I could and play on even though it was a frozen pitch and I was wearing a skort!

I lost the determination this year, which is possibly the key to where my training has wandered off to. That and getting a bit fed up of training when I didn’t want to. A bit of over training syndrome perhaps? Training for an age-grouper shouldn’t be punishment, that’s when  you lose it and bad things happen.

I believe I lost the will power around the time I left the gym and stopped doing spinning classes and being shouted at by Sally. My determination came from spinning and pushing for that extra little bit of power for those last seconds… and everything I did after that that required grit and determination came from picturing myself on a spin bike and going hard for those last seconds. It’s so easy to give up, and with Sally shouting at you, giving up was never an option.

So that’s the plan for winter. Rest, get back to spinning and find some determination to come back next year and have a blast.

The Clue is in The Title

IMG_1252.JPGChallenge Mallorca.

My next task/ challenge/ race/ chapter of my addiction, whatever you want to call it.

Challenge Mallorca – 1.2 miles / 56 miles / 13.1 miles

My year started off great, I completed Outlaw Half, won my age-group and qualified for GB age-group under 20 in middle distance triathlon.

I completed the Great North Swim 5km, one of my long distance swimming challenges I wanted to complete this year, and sporting wise it seems to have gone downhill from there. Alas! It’s not all bad.

(Wait until after Challenge Mallorca for a full review of the year so far… but in a nutshell here it is)

Last year I achieved everything I set out to do. This year I almost have, but I’ve had a couple of setbacks along the way. This year hasn’t been as smooth and as perfect as last year was but you only have your best season once…

The difference is, last year I improved massively in a short period. Possibly because I was new to it all, but at the same time my endurance on the bike was incredible.

Last year my swimming was faster, my cycling was slower but longer, I was better on hills and rubbish on the flat, and my running was worse.

This year my swimming is slower–but more endurance based, my cycling is faster but doesn’t really have a need for rides over 60 miles, I am rubbish on the hills but pretty damn good on the flat! And my running is better and more pace controlled.

Another bonus for this year is that I have qualified for GB age-group something I didn’t think I could do last year, or even knew existed.

So, I may have had a DNF, my first three ‘offs’ on the bike, and another few setbacks this year, and not be as strong as last year. But ultimately, I am superior this year; this will show in Challenge Mallorca.

So Challenge Mallorca… my next ‘Challenge’, my first GB age-group race and my first international race. I’m quite excited as I now have a coach, I have a GB tri-suit that is soon to have my name on and gives me pleasure to show off, and I’m excited to race somewhere warm and flat after my last adventure in Scotland.

This race will be able to tell me whether middle distance is my distance… or whether Outlaw Half was a fluke and I should just stick to standard distance.

Training will be difficult as it is coming towards the end of open water season, the weather is now becoming cold and grim (I know it is August) but hopefully my new coach will be able to shout at me, even if it is via email.

After this race I will have almost ticked off everything from my new year’s resolution list:

5km swim – done

Outlaw Half – done

Qualify for GB age-group – done

Time trial – always wanted to do one and this year I plucked up the courage after some people said “you’d be good at it” do I did and it turns out I’m not to bad on the track. And now I love the TT bike even more. – done

Sub two-hour half marathon – almost done

Do an international race – almost done

50 min 10km – done in training but not in a race! – almost done

So keep an eye out for my training diary and for a new list of things to complete for next year.

Chao!

 

High5 Product Review

I was lucky enough to be sent a few goodies–High5 sports nutrition products by TFN to try and review, so here goes!

Energy Source, Energy Source Plus, and Energy Source Xtreme.

Easy on the stomach, tastes more like fruit cordial more than an energy drink which makes it a lot easier to drink on a bike ride and doesn’t just taste like pure sugar like some other products. This became particularly important after my last triathlon which had a very choppy swim and made it difficult to stomach food, drink or gels on the bike due to all of these products tasting so sugary and sickly!

It comes with a money back guarantee if you don’t like it so the chances are… you will.

High5 Xtreme has added caffeine for when you need a kick.

High5 Zero Tabs

http://www.tfn.uk.com/high-5-zero-hydration-tablets-tube-citrus

The citrus have to be (in my opinion) the best flavor, and the best thing about these are that they are zero calories! (Berry and pink grapefruit also come pretty close). So if you are doing a long session and aiming to burn fat rather than consume sugar and calories while you do it, these are your best option. Or rather a short session and need something in between water and energy these are also your best option. Zero calories to maximise fat burn while replenishing electrolytes, salt to avoid cramping and minerals you cannot retrieve from water.

Berry Zero tabs also come with added caffeine which seems odd for hydro tabs but another good use is for throughout the day if you begin to fall asleep at your desk, drop one into a bottle of water to make water a little more interesting as well as staying hydrated throughout the day. Also to be used to rehydrate after a long workout to quench your thirst!

High5 Energy Gel, ISO Gel

http://www.tfn.uk.com/high-5-energy-gel-summer-fruits-box-20

http://www.tfn.uk.com/high-5-isogel-citrus-with-caffeine-box-25

Several flavours and personally I haven’t had any problems with any of them. ISO Gels come with added caffeine which is welcomed after a long time in the saddle! I was a bit sceptical of the Energy Gels at first as in the packet they feel quite watery unlike some other brands which are very ‘gloopy’, however the watery the better! Hence, you don’t have to consume water straight afterwards which makes it easier when you don’t have a water bottle to hand. They are easy to swallow, and easy on the stomach. Packed with 23g of carbs, if they don’t give you a boost, you probably should stop and sit down, or seek medical attention.

High5 ISO Gels are more like a concentrated energy drink for an extra boost with 24g of carbs and are again very easy to consume, much like drinking fruit juice.

High5 Protein

http://www.tfn.uk.com/nutrition/post-training-nutrition

Banana is my favorite, and out of the many proteins I have had, some taste like milkshake, and others taste like I don’t know what. So again I was quite apprehensive about this one, but felt pleasantly surprised afterwards. It does just taste like banana milkshake!

Conveniently you can buy it in sachets which save all the measuring and mess making, or if you prefer in a 1.6kg tub.

Almost all of these products come in cheaper than other brands. If you would like to test these products, enter a race they sponsor… Outlaw Half had nine feed stations in total, with everything you could imagine from bananas, coke, to all the energy substances you could ever want.

One downside I would like to point out is that the packaging is very dull and boring. Yes, bright colours and large writing makes it simple and to the point, and yes, we care more about what’s inside the packet than outside, but when you have a basket full of energy gels, bars, and drink powder from all different brands, the design of the packaging can make a product look much more desirable–or the opposite.

One last thing is that out of all the nutrition brands I have tried, High5 have the best bottles.

Aberfeldy Half-ironman Race Report

The worst weather conditions to race in, in my life. [So far]

Looking at the size of the waves on Loch Tay the day before, we were certain that the swim would be shortened, and in the race briefing, the organisers were still deciding whether to shorten it or not on Saturday night.

The day started some time just before 5am, waking up to the words “happy birthday” from Jack. We went down to Kenmore where the race started and I set up transition. It was just becoming light when we arrived and the weather didn’t look promising. The forecast was for showers all day and for plenty of wind… My wave was off at 7am, despite the water being choppy, I was in good spirits, and didn’t feel nervous at all*. I’m a confident swimmer, have swam in all different temperatures, so to swim in a loch renowned for being cold, it wasn’t too bad.

*Ever since Christmas, my confidence has increased significantly. I have learned to have confidence in my own ability, and this showed through my exams this year, and also in all of the races I have done since.

We heard the sound of bagpipes and we were off. The course was a simple inverted triangle with the first leg swimming directly across the loch, then directly into the current making it impossible to get any closer to the buoy, and then back to the marina.

The longer we were in the water the harder it was, as the next two waves set off in around 20 minutes later the wind picked up and the waves got bigger…

More than anything it was frustrating to be swimming and not moving anywhere.

Getting out of the swim I heard Jack and my dad shout for me, and I saw the dogs feet. Afterwards, they said I didn’t look very well, the waves made me feel sick and having a sip of some sugar on the bike didn’t make me feel any better. But I started to climb and it started to rain. The weather was getting worse the higher we got, and as the day went on. We descended down Schiehallion and not long after, arrived at the bottom of Loch Rannoch for the flat section. As I sought comfort in the aero position, it was clear that it was going to be a long day. The wind got stronger and the rain got harder, it was cold; and not very nice conditions to be out in. As I got further around the loch, the sickness had passed, but now my hands were too cold to eat any food. Physically I was going well, I had only drank half a bottle and had one gel and didn’t feel the need for any extra energy.

My motivation for doing the race was that the scenery is beautiful–and it was, I’d have appreciated it more on a sunny day–and I wanted to enjoy it on my birthday! As I got further and further into the bike course it took me 40 miles to decide to pull out, as I got colder and colder, I was not enjoying any of it, and it was possibly turning into the worst birthday ever. The reason why we do triathlons is because we enjoy them; I wasn’t enjoying it so what’s the point? It became a question of health vs the pride of the finish line and the achievement.

If I had continued I would have been ill and not in a good state, I understood that after I stopped. I found some marshalls and they wrapped me in coats and blankets and put me in the car with the heater on. It took me well over an hour to warm up, and when I did feel warm, I was still shivering. I felt like the Mitchellin Man with the amount of clothes I was wearing, I was in tears due to giving in and it being my first DNF, I felt like wuss giving in even though my legs and energy levels were ok. I thought that when I got back everyone else would have finished and I would be the only one that didn’t.

On the way back somebody was being airlifted after falling off their bike, so I didn’t feel like the only one not to finish. Then we saw runners heading back to Aberfeldy to finish their race. It was like a stab in the chest thinking “that should be me!”

As many of you may know, I struggle to make decisions, this is probably why it took me 40 miles to decide! I wanted to stop because I was too cold, and wasn’t enjoying it, but then I thought about what my dad would say if I had a DNF… Annette Quarry still managed to complete Ironman UK even though she had a stomach bug, Chris Lawson completed Ironman Lanzarote even though “he had a foot like spam” as Andy Holgate referred to it in his book. Determination wasn’t really part of the decision. I’m determined at the best of times but this wasn’t due to tiredness. I thought about what John Knapp would say… just keep turning the pedals… and one foot in front of the other… but again it wasn’t tiredness so it didn’t apply.

I fought hard against having a DNF, but then as Jack always says look at the bigger picture. It’s my birthday and why should I put myself through this when I don’t have to? It wasn’t the course that was the problem, it was just the weather. Shit happens.

I have my GB age-group race in October and currently my options are: make myself ill to complete this, making training for Mallorca harder… or stop now, and focus on the more important race, and everything else between now and then.

I’m not a professional, so my life doesn’t revolve around triathlon. One DNF in my life isn’t the end of the world; in the end, nobody else cares but me.

There was my answer. I continued until I found a point where I could stop, they gave me coats and and put the heater on in the car and took me back to Aberfeldy where my parents and Jack informed me that around 25 people were pulled out of the swim or told my a doctor on the edge of the marina not to continue. After that I remembered that at the beginning of the bike leg, some people had turned around and gone back.

And talking to a couple back in the hotel who looked like serious triathletes, one said it was the worst thing he has ever done and the other said she is a long distance runner and refused to run after arriving in T2.

The organisers of the race had a few too many problems on their hands when the swim should have been shortened, the marshals sent the first person on the bike the wrong way, and when Fraser Cartmell got into T2, they lost his transition bag and he ran off with two different shoes that spectators had thrown at him after he was shouting “I’m a size nine!”

Another tale at the finish line was that one of the top five males crossed the line… the organiser said “well done Doug, brilliant effort” and he replied: “F**k you Richard, that was ridiculous!”

So after hearing these tales, I felt better that the decision to stop was the right one, and it was a wild day for everyone else as well.

But it wasn’t a ruined day. We headed back to the hotel, I got warm and showered and Jack and I went out for an early Sunday roast and to celebrate the rest of my birthday. We were heading for a film in bed before an early night when Graeme and Dianne our hosts called us into the conservatory on the way back and the evening was spent drinking wine and whisky in good company until the late hours when it really was time for bed.

The day may have started off rubbish, but it soon got better and in the end, the triathlon didn’t even matter, because I had one of the best weekends with the best people in a long time. And that’s the bigger picture.

 

 

Aberfeldy Half Ironman Triathlon: The Night Before

It’s Aberfeldy half ironman tomorrow. This race has been on my mind ever since I saw it advertised in 220 Triathlon magazine at the end of last year thinking: “that looks good” and under the impression that middle distance is for the more serious ones, and oblivious to the fact that this would be my second middle distance race.

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but lost my mojo a few weeks after Outlaw Half back in June and the Great North Swim 5km. I couldn’t rest completely after Outlaw Half because I had the swim to train for and complete, then I debated whether I was definitely doing it or not. I knew I could do it, I just had trouble clicking the submit icon on the computer. After this I went through a transition period of, I have my next race… Do I:
A) rest completely and take in what I’ve completed in the last few weeks, and then begin another training plan structured to prepare me from about seven weeks before.
Or do I B) continue to do a bit, stay fit, and just tick over until the race comes and rest after that.

I sought advice from a coach in a pub. He’s not fond of “rest” anyway… in a nutshell said “go hard or go home”. So I did the opposite and continued to swim, bike and run, (well, not so much of the running), stayed fit, and just ticked over covering the mileage and some of the intensity that would be experienced on race day. I took on the hills on the bike, and tried to find routes similar to the race route. I did minimal speed work, the main sessions being some 10 mile time trials, and a couple swimming. Run sessions were few and far between mainly due to other commitments, but that isn’t really an excuse.

The last week or so I’ve been worried about the bike course. I don’t know why; cycling is my strongest discipline. I am much more comfortable time trailing and holding speed for a while on the flat since it was my training ground for Outlaw Half. But I’m not bad at hills, in the end: it’s only a hill.

I am comfortable swimming in any body of water, if there is water, I probably will swim in it whether it has been tested to be safe to swim in or not. A choppy or cold swim doesn’t bother me as much as it would some people; I just see it as another challenge and part of the process. Loch Tay is cold, and last year it was 13 degrees. After seeing the loch today it looks like the swim may be shortened due to the wind and the water being so choppy creating a current. But the show must go on!

The run I am not worried about it’s an out and back and usually in T2, I acquire some sort of magical powers that make me run well off the bike. I don’t know what it is, but it makes me be able to hold a pace comfortably which frankly, is a miracle.

So it’s time. The race briefing has been attended, they said the swim is 15 degrees, the warmest they have ever had for this event. There is a contingency plan in place for bad weather conditions on the loch the swim will be moved slightly and shortened to 1km. Anyone riding with a disk wheel was advised not to, and lastly to enjoy it because the scenery is beautiful.

So here goes. A race on my birthday, which will see more cake if I come back with a trophy. (Said the hotel manager)

So the time I’ve spent worrying about the wind on the bike course hasn’t taken time to comprehend the rest of the day or the finish line drinking Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

I’m quite excited to let the day unravel, and once I get into T1 before the swim start to jump up and down and shout: “BRING IT ON!”

Ironman Zurich 2014

IMG_7014Every time I watch the video of the start of Ironman Zurich 2014 it gives me goosebumps. I don’t know why, I didn’t even race; perhaps it was understanding what those 2550 athletes were thinking and knowing exactly what is going through their heads.

“This is going to be a long day.”

“Come on, I can do this.”

“I am Ironman.”

“If I finish in 13 hours, I can make it before the take-away closes.”

The day started at 4am. My dad and Jon both quieter than usual–as you would expect before the biggest race of their lives so far. There wasn’t much conversing in the car except what they needed to do before the swim start and discussing how their day will go. I went down for the swim start to watch how the day would unfold, and also to give them some moral support. This was my third Ironman as a spectator, yet my first to see the whole process unravel over the weekend, instead of just irritating the non-ironman enthusiastic residents of Babylon Lane at Ironman UK.

One of the things I enjoy when spectating at triathlons, is how other people prepare themselves, from sprint to ironman the principles are the same, the facial expressions are the same, and the way you see people eyeing up and comparing themselves to the rest of the field is the same.

Watching intently, you see some of the first-timers with a look of absolute terror on their face; dreaming of the finish line and planning to take the day as it comes.

Then you see the confident multiple ironmen (and women) that have a plan, the ones that ride the Cervelo P5’s with a carbon disk wheel, they know and truly believe they are better than you. They don’t give away any body language because that’s weakness, and an ironman is just a typical Sunday for them. Next there are the ones also don’t give away any body language–Jon–you can’t tell what they are thinking except they are running through the day in their head, the processes, transition, nutrition plan, their average pace and so on. And last but not least there are the ones like my dad. The one that buys a long sleeve top the day before, because he wasn’t sure what the weather would be like and didn’t want to get cold on the bike–but then left it in his hotel room anyway. He starts preparing for the swim start and realises he also left his swimming hat in the hotel. But aside from that he is quietly confident, he’s done the training and in the end, time is irrelevant, it’s just another triathlon that has a badass name.

As the swimmers stand on the beach waiting for the gun to sound and enter the lake, the music begins and the commentators attempt to remind the athletes why we do triathlons. Enjoyment comes at a price (entry fee) and aside from the professionals, we do this for pleasure, for a challenge and to do something different. The beginning of races are stressful, with around 2500 triathletes sweating twice as much as they should in their wetsuits, apprehensive about how brutal the swim will be. It is a huge juxtaposition between stress, emotion, and lashings of testosterone as people swim over you. All for that moment of glory holding your arms and head up high, closing your eyes and embracing the feeling of relief as you cross the finish line. We do it for the medal being hung around our necks as our token of achievement and memorabilia to keep forever more, for the tattoo on the back of the legs and for the look of respect when people ask “have you done an ironman?” When your name and your time flashes up on the finishing gantry, that’s evidence that you did it. And all of this is why hearing music, the cheering and commentators voices as the gun goes off and you enter the water at the beginning of any race, is important to remember why we do it*.

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I made my way back to transition to hang up our COLT flag near their bikes and met the rest of our family and friends for a second breakfast for our long day ahead–after watching them in T1 and out onto the bike, of course.  We headed to “heartbreak hill” as it is known in Ironman terms to watch them pass from there. “Wild” is the only way to describe it. Think Le Tour De France up Buttertubs Pass in Yorkshire. There was about a metre and a half gap for the cyclists to pass as locals and supporters lined the hill. The most dangerous thing was family and friends swapping bottles of their soon-to-be Ironmen and women in the tiny space and then running alongside them. (Despite there being an aid station 200yrds further on…)

The atmosphere was amazing as supporters made their voices hoarse all day and had sore hands from clapping by the time they finished–much like COLT alley.  We headed down to the event area and managed to get a spot watching all of the cyclists and runners pass on their laps. As the day went on and more and more people were coming into T2 to start the marathon, my mother and I sat and shouted people’s names to cheer them on. (Only the British ones, and the ones that we’re walking.) There is a flag and first names on the athletes race numbers which happen to hang around the crotch area. In addition to this, 85% of the field were men.  It was entertaining for both us and them, as most people said “thanks” and others gave you funny looks. Some which expressed “yes mum?” And others: “how do you know my name?”

My dad and Jon seemed to be doing well and smiled each time we saw them. My mother was shouting in transition at guess who… “what’s he walking for!” We measured the time gap between them and had estimated times of their arrival at specific points so that we knew if the day was going to plan. There was eight minutes between them in the swim which remained at eight minutes half way through the bike and they were ahead of their schedule. After T2, an outfit change and what we thought was a cup of tea and biscuits, my dad had dropped back to 15 minutes behind but seemed to be running strong. As it was four 10km laps on the run, we worked out that we would see one of them around every half an hour if they held their pace.

On his third lap we began to get worried about my dad, he was behind our estimated time of when he will pass us and we heard when he did pass that he had been in the sin bin for 6 minutes! He never mentioned what for so we discussed what it was likely to be: peeing in the wrong place at the wrong time, detouring from the routes to pee in the wrong place at the wrong time, or nipping into transition while on the run to get a quick slice of his beloved Soreen.

IMG_7114On his last lap, we saw that Jon had a storming run completing the marathon in 4:01hrs, and finishing in 11:30. My dad had kept his pace, but with a couple of mishaps like being in the sin bin, and slowing down on the last lap finishing in 12:30.  All in all, a short day for an ironman! Helped along by our double breakfast, homemade sandwiches, and some pizza stolen from the finishers tent afterwards. A fantastic day for the newly crowned Ironmen, and what finished with wine and beers on the balcony to celebrate.

 

*”we” meaning a collective group of triathletes, using Ironman as an example, not excluding shorter distance athletes.

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