Starting from the beginning

With swimming, I’ve always felt like I’ve gone from a standing start, learning to swim aged 21, straight into trying to improve my times without really having a direction. I’ve watched endless videos and read lots of swim sets and half-heartedly done drills, but without somebody directly watching me swim, it’s pretty difficult to know what drills I need to do to target my weaknesses, and how to do them properly.

EndlessPool4

Hello!

 

So we can work together on improving my swim, I went down to Tewkesbury at the weekend to the endless pool at Back in Action, to meet coach Chris, so that he could see how I swim in real time, see what’s holding my stroke back and get me doing the right drills, with feedback, to actually progress my stroke. No point in setting me long swim sets of speedwork if the technique isn’t there to be swimming efficiently!

After a while getting used to an endless pool (spoiler: you have to be able to swim straight and at the speed the pool is set to!) and an initial filming of my stroke, we got to work with the swim toys and I learned lots of kick drills to improve the weakest point in my stroke- and I also learned why which is half the battle in making me do drills!

EndlessPool1

 

We spent ages unpicking why the kick is so important, and learning how to properly do the drills to improve it, with fins as a training tool (which did leave me wanting to dance like a penguin on Planet Earth 2!). After a while, we took the fins off, and did some regular swimming again, and lo and behold, my kick had improved a fair bit and I looked better in the water.

EndlessPool3So guess what I’ll be doing this winter?

That’s right, taking my rather bright new Funkita cossies to the pool, hiding from the lifeguard whilst I use my fins and kick, kick, kicking my way to a better swim stroke. No kick boards allowed (yay!). Then, once I’m swimming more efficiently, comes the longer sets and work on getting faster. Meep.

This post is the first in a series of swimming-related posts during my training for the Lakesman Triathlon, with support from Funkita.

 

Inspiration in the age of ‘influencers’

Anyone who knows me well will know that telling me to do something means I will probably want to do the opposite. Tell me I can’t do something, and I’ll be hellbent on doing it just to prove you wrong. The same goes for inspiration in life and in sport; tell me who I should find inspiring, and I’ll likely not find them that inspiring after all.

In the culture of social media ‘influencers’, I’m finding it’s becoming increasingly more, for me, about finding my own inspiration. About looking at the women out there who are doing amazing things in their free time, and looking to them for inspiration. For me, inspiration doesn’t come from watching a full-time, heavily sponsored influencer going on ‘adventures’. It comes from looking to those with full-time jobs, or very busy lives, still managing to carve their own path and take on the challenges they want to. Who cram in early mornings and late nights on the path to achievement, when life puts endless hurdles in the way. Who don’t fill their Instagram feeds with laughably fake posed running shots, but photos of them, unfiltered and taking on massive personal challenges in all their glory.

So, I wanted to round up in this post a few women who I genuinely find inspiring, who motivate me when I’m struggling to motivate myself, and whose discipline I definitely need to catch in the run up to next year’s Lakesman iron-distance.

Cathy Drew
Whether it’s her first ironman or a speedy marathon PB, I really admire Cathy’s approach to sport; carefully, thoughtfully selecting a challenge, and then throwing herself in headfirst. She publicly commits, and shows no shame in trying and respecting the distances she races. I can’t think of anybody more disciplined or determined, and seeing her succeed over the past couple of years has really redefined what I feel like is possible for me. I challenge anyone to read her blog and not be a little bit inspired!

Photo taken from Cathy's blog.

Photo taken from Cathy’s blog.

Emily Favret
Like Cathy, Emily well and truly grabbed the bull by the horns training for her first ironman in Austria over winter, and by hard work and dedication alone, has gone from a reluctant swimmer to boss iron lady, having to overcome illness, terrible weather and seemingly a whole winter of headwind on the bike. Another iron lady I’ll be adding to my mental list of role models- and if she ever starts a blog, it’ll be top of my reading list.

Cat Simpson
It’d be hard to write a list of women who inspire me without including Cat. Her amazing running feats like the Atacama Crossing and the SDW100 are obviously hugely inspiring, but more than that, I think she’s a great role model, even for those unlikely to ever run an ultramarathon. In a world of social media that can be a bit ‘up themselves’, Cat is refreshingly honest about the ups and downs of training and racing, and ever-eager to help others through her coaching business and less formally. She’s also a great team-mate for 24 hour relay racing!

Photo taken from Cat's blog.

Photo taken from Cat’s blog.

Rhianon West
I have nothing but respect for Rhianon. After watching Cat conquer the Atacama Crossing, Rhianon signed up, after a couple of years of good running blighted by periods of injury. Even though it terrified her, she signed up a year ago, and committed everything she had to the race, despite a busy full-time job. When there weren’t enough hills in her area, she ran up and down her office stairs for hours on end before work. She ran marathons and ultras in the build up, but everything for a year was focused on Atacama. When the time came, she took herself and her dragon-emblazoned kit over to Chile and absolutely nailed it- even when it was tough, she just ploughed on to an amazing placing.

Photo from Rhianon's Twitter.

Photo from Rhianon’s Twitter.

Claire Shea-Simonds
To succeed in her sport (Ironman racing), Claire shows incredible drive and discipline. Working full-time and doing postgrad study, she also puts in a training volume that would put certain ‘influencers’ to shame, and is not afraid of the graft and the grind. She doesn’t talk herself up or overplay her abilities, and is very funny online and in person- but then goes to some of the most difficult Ironman races on the circuit, performs consistently and now has 3 Kona slots to her name. What a woman!

Photo taken from Claire's Twitter.

Photo taken from Claire’s Twitter.

At the end of the day, what somebody finds inspiring is down to their outlook on life, but I think these women are 100% more inspiring than somebody whose only responsibility is a carefully curated Instagram account and who is handed their opportunities on a plate rather than fighting them. These are the kind of women I choose to surround myself with, and I’m so much the better for it.

Race recap: West Coast Half Marathon 2016

It’s been a busy old race season compared to the previous year, and I’m kinda ready to wind down my training and enjoy some downtime before the big buildup to the Lakesman starts, but when one of my favourite race organisers, Fylde Coast Running, announced a new half marathon, I was all ears.

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The West Coast Half was unusual, in that it was a point to point race, rather than a loop, and this can only be a good thing back where I come from (near Blackpool)- though it did mean hedging my bets that the whole thing wouldn’t be into a headwind!

As with all of FCR Events’ races, this one was cheap to enter (£22), well organised, and pancake flat, heading from the start in Preston, through Freckleton and Warton, to a rather scenic finish at Fairhaven Lake in Lytham. I entered it thinking I’d either be in PB shape (unlikely) and could have a blast along the coast to a new PB, I could use it as a long tempo run and try to break 1:50 (more likely) or if all else failed, I could enjoy a scenic long run along the coast with somebody else taking care of drinks for me.

I set off not far off PB pace, inadvertently, but naturally this slowed down after the first 5 miles, where my lack of specific, consistent run training in the latter half of the year kinda showed- but the splits I did run after that were consistently between 8:20-8:30, and despite contemplating sacking it off/walking/making a few crap excuses as to why I hadn’t run well, I made it to 10 miles on target to break 1:50.

A lesson in terrible form and a pain face near the end!

A lesson in terrible form and a pain face near the end!

As I passed the windmill that marked the move onto the seafront path for the ‘only a parkrun to go’ section, I fell into step with a girl obviously finding the pace she’d kept up so far pretty tough, so we ran together, spurring each other on for a couple of miles (even if she did hate me for trying to talk to her!), and before I knew it, my gait more a death shuffle than a sprightly sprint, I picked up the pace a little and after a loop of the lake, was done, in 1:48:40.

I collected a fairly hefty medal and the obligatory big finishers’ t-shirt and felt happy: I’d approached the race with minimal drama, an A, B and C plan, and nailed the B plan with a good helping of grit and determination when things got tough. FCR Events had put on another good race (though the cycle lanes and paths next to A roads used wouldn’t hold up to much bigger numbers of runners for the first few miles!), and I’d done a bit more work on that iron will. Oh, and earned a colossal roast dinner made by Mama Marsden, of course…

Only another 127.5 miles to go on the big day now! *small vomit in mouth*

Funkita Fit review

There are two truths universally acknowledged when it comes to me and activewear: the first being that if a brand who doesn’t usually make activewear starts, I’m like OH HELL NO THIS WILL BE TERRIBLE (looking at you, Elle Sport). The second, is that if I like a piece of kit, I will literally wear it until it could get to the washer by itself.

So, when Funkita, makers of the really nice swimming costumes, got in touch to say that they were launching a range of activewear (Funkita Fit) I was, naturally, deeply sceptical. I plumped for trying the Bondage Crop Top and the Electric Runner 7/8 tights from the Funkita Fit range.

And you know what? I’m more than pleasantly surprised.

Funkita Fit

The crop top is a super comfy, medium support bra, I’d say, that I’ve been wearing for yoga, cycling and y’know, under scrubs on night shifts where comfort is the order of the day. It’s got a beautifully detailed back, and what can I say? I’ve hardly taken it off. Soft, comfy straps and no irritating seams or chafing. Not a bra to run in for me, but a firm favourite for everything else.

Funkita Fit

 

 

The tights, despite my reservations they wouldn’t be great for running in, are great. I’ve been wearing them for short runs, yoga and just about all of my chilling time around the house- they’re a handy 7/8 length, with a drop-in key pocket in a wide, soft waistband, and the fabric could not actually be softer.

Big thumbs up, Funkita!

Funkita kindly sent me the kit to try out, and these are my unbiased opinions after a period of extensive testing.

Pilates with Pink Lady Core

Strength and conditioning is something I will openly admit to being very bad at being bothered to do. When I’m short of time, I end up prioritising fitting the miles in over keeping myself strong for the miles, and tend to avoid injuries more by luck and rest than good management!

That needs to change with the Lakesman on the horizon, but I want to make sure what I’m doing is tailored to, and appropriate for me, so when Pink Lady, official apple of the London Marathon, got in touch and offered me a one-to-one Pilates class as part of their Pink Lady Core project (I love a good pun, me), I snatched their hand off.

My class was held at the swanky L1 Performance in Leeds, where I was paired up with the lovely Ria. To get the most out of my session, I filled in a questionnaire before the class, so it could be prepared personally for me, with me hoping it would be a good way to learn how to work on my postural stability and functional core strength without adding unnecessary bulk to my frame.

Pink Lady CoreAfter some initial mobility exercises so Ria could assess my body’s patterns of movement, we went through some Pilates exercises that were most likely to be relevant to me, with a focus on how they would be useful for triathlon, and focusing on performing the exercises with correct posture and muscle engagement- a focus that I’ve never had in group classes, and something I really liked about having a one-to-one class.

Pink Lady Core

I then received my ‘homework’ from Ria- a really detailed set of exercises, with personal cues for how to keep my form correct. I’m hoping that by incorporating a regular Pilates session in my routine during training, I’ll see my functional and core strength improve, as well as my posture during long days on my feet at work- I’m keen to develop better posture and protect my back, as well as develop strength for sport.

Pink Lady CoreIf you’re keen to do some Pilates for yourself that might help your running, Pink Lady Core have a Youtube channel with easy videos to do at home.

Pink Lady Core provided me with my one-to-one class with Ria free of charge and reimbursed me for my time in attending the class and writing this post. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Race recap: Sundowner Middle triathlon 2016

It’s apparently widely acknowledged in life that the two things you should try out before your race are your kit and nutrition. I inadvertently broke both of those rules for my longest tri to date, the Sundowner Middle distance on Saturday, and not only did I surprisingly survive, but this happened!IMG_4158

Swim
Owing to being a bit chubby hench for my beloved wetsuit, it sadly sustained a big rip to the shoulder. Wetsuits are bloody expensive, so I was over the moon when blogger babe Sophie pretty much saved the day by sending me her wetsuit that she no longer uses. I didn’t end up with time to swim in it before the race, but I tried to stay chilled and not worry too much about it.

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Extra lolz for when the lake mud gives you a beard.

By some bizarre happening, I got put in the fastest wave of the day for the 4 lap swim course in Allerthorpe’s dinky little lake, so the swim leg kind of felt like being beaten up in a washing machine, with one bloke deciding to pick me up by the shoulders and throw me out of the way. I tried to stay relaxed through it though, and put into practice the work I’ve done on my swim lately, and despite feeling like it was going EXTREMELY badly surrounded by speedsters, I overtook two blokes on the finishing straight and came out quicker than I did for last year’s Olympic swim leg at Castle Howard. Progress!

46:01 (although 43 minutes on my Garmin!)

T1
Putting on arm warmers, it has to be said, is not easy when you’re soaked, they’re soaked from the heavy rain, and your hands aren’t working particularly well. Neither is posting your Stoats bars for on the bike into the pockets of your trisuit. Otherwise, without incident, I was safely out onto the bike leg!

2:17

Bike
I set off really optimistic on the bike, feeling great. The course is a super flat, 2 loop course, which was well marshalled. I soon realised a few things, however:

  1. The week before your race, however nice they feel on a quick spin, is not the time for TT bars you’ve barely ridden on or a new saddle that alters the fit of your bike.
  2. A flat course in a headwind and heavy rain is one of the most miserable cycling experiences known to human kind.
  3. Stoats bars may be delicious but they are bloody hard to open when your hands are no longer working.
  4. A driver offering you a can of Coke is a kind gesture, unless he tries to pass it out of the passenger side window and nearly kills you.
  5. Blokes will take almost any excuse to draft and cheat when people aren’t there to see them.

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After a freezing, miserable grind of a ride in which I saw my vague bike target go out of the window, my shoulders seize up completely and my feet go completely numb, it was finally time to get off the bike. AT LAST.

3:19:36

T2
If I thought putting arm warmers on whilst cold and wet was difficult, I clearly hadn’t contemplated the practicalities of removing my helmet and putting on my running shoes. Much to James’s amusement, I had to get a marshall to do them for me. NOT my finest hour.

4:24

Run
Wow, I thought I’d run through wobbly legs before, but nothing quite prepared me for how they’d feel on the run leg. I staggered out of T2 and despite feeling pretty terrible, set a reasonably good pace and rhythm for the first two laps, picking off runners in front of me, and hitting my pace target.

The 3rd lap was somewhat different.

Now, I’m loathed to criticise the organisers for doing a largely brilliant job in difficult weather, BUT, on a 3 lap run course for the half marathon, with a mostly out and back route, by the 3rd lap as a slower racer of the final wave, I ended up pretty much alone, with only a handful of other runners out on the course.

Every time I passed a marshal, they were radio’ing about how the ‘last competitor had gone through’ or ‘slowest woman (!) was on the way’. How utterly demoralising. Between that and the route signs being taken down around me, it was really tough to find any motivation to keep going, and I’m ashamed to say, I pretty much gave up. The walks through the water stations got longer, the bounce went from my step and it was a death shuffle to the finish, despite the fact I was still on to break 6 hours 20.

2:05:19
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I crossed the line with mixed emotions. I’d tried so, so hard for most of the race, but missed the 6 hour target I’d secretly had in mind. That was mixed with pride at having completed my longest race to date, a strong swim and a run where I had wanted to sack it off a few times.

The best bit?
Upon crossing the line, and receiving a gorgeous medal, I printed out my results to learn that I’d come top (out of 3) in the 20-24 age group and won a trophy! Which nearly made up for the fact that despite ordering a small on entry, all the small race shirts had been taken and I was gruffly handed a medium with a shrug. Us women can dream, eh?

All in all, after seeing the saga of the Rubicon Middle unfold the following day in Yorkshire, I had a good time at the Sundowner Middle, which was well-organised, and aside from the few small niggles about morale on the last lap (don’t diss someone that’s actually busy winning a trophy guys!) and the shirt, I couldn’t be happier to have a solid 70.3 in the bank, a raft of lessons learned and things to work on over winter, and a big ol’ confidence boost ahead of the Lakesman!

The one bit of kit I was really glad I wore was my new Threo trisuit- again, not tested before the race but it was perfect (and I paid for it!). It was comfortable, and solved so many trisuit problems I’ve had before- no sausage leg, pockets for snacks, and a well-designed race belt that doesn’t constantly jiggle around. Full marks!

 

 

 

Summer adventures and Ironboy prep

My mum rightly asked me the other day if an iron-distance triathlon was an Ironman, was a 70.3 an Ironboy and shorter races Ironbabies? I still don’t fully know the answer, but since running the relay at The Lakesman, I’ve been enjoying the summer sunshine, chipping away at training for my Ironboy on September 3rd- so here’s what I’ve been up to…

Becoming an FY2

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One unavoidable part of summer as a doctor is the chaos of August changeover. For me that meant stepping up in seniority, and my August has featured two weekends at work, one on long days and one on nights. I love the new hospital I’m working in, but the step up in responsibility is a challenge, and the hospital being smaller doesn’t make it less busy on call- about 20 minutes after taking this selfie, a patient very much tried to bleed to death on me- though fortunately didn’t manage it!

Swimming
It’s no secret that swimming is by far my weakest triathlon discipline, but I feel like I’ve made huge leaps in progress with it, just by doing the work this summer. I’ve sought feedback on my stroke from coach Rach and at club swimming sessions (a special kind of arm-deadening hell), and really got comfortable in open water, with gorgeous swims at Salford Quays with pals in the sunshine, and, the highlight of swimming to date, swimming in this gorgoeous loch (Loch an Eilein) at the foot of the Cairngorms- having an entire loch to myself was pretty special!

I still might not be the fastest by a long chalk, but I’m swimming faster and more confidently than before, and feel happy in open water now, which I’m hoping will all add up to a smooth swim and a time I can be proud of in my Ironboy.

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Biking
When you live within a stone’s throw of the Yorkshire Dales, motivating yourself to go cycling is something you very rarely need to do, but I’d got all too comfortable with just going on my club’s Sunday C ride, pootling out for coffee and cake, and not really pushing myself. So this summer, I’ve done what can only be described as heat training with some short, sharp turbo sessions, gone on a fair few solo rides into the Dales, spun round the beautiful Scottish coast in the sunshine with James on holiday, and my personal favourite, ridden my first century ride, from Ilkley to Scarborough. I’ve not followed a set plan on the bike, but I’ve tried, like with swimming, to do things in training that will boost my confidence for race day and leave me feeling mentally strong- which I’m discovering is most of the battle with long-distance racing!

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Running

Of the three disciplines, this is probably the one I’ve worked on the least, but whilst I know I’m lacking in speed at the moment, I’ve got a big endurance base, and the two marathons I’ve run this year have 100% taught me how to suffer through when the going gets tough. That said, as my last brick session for the race, I did a tough turbo session into a 10 mile run with the first 5 miles of it at target race pace, and was pleasantly surprised to find that whilst I still have a suspiciously high heart rate, my running legs are very much still there!

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Holidaying

I couldn’t post up a summer recap without mentioning our gorgeous little trip to Scotland. Time off together is pretty hard come by, so we were happy to get a week off together, and not just that, a week in Scotland during a heatwave!

nevis

We kicked off the week by heading up to Fort William and after a stay at the Ben Nevis Inn bunkhouse, did the wonderfully scenic but very tough hike up Ben Nevis- an experience we both underestimated and which left our legs ruined for days! We had absolutely beautiful weather for it, so could see for miles from the top- and even got sunburnt…

From there we headed up into Moray, better known as the whisky country, and stayed in one of Braehead Glamping‘s super cute camping pods. We went for the deluxe one and it was perfect, with a proper comfy bed, an all important kettle and a TV so at the end of the day’s adventures, we could watch the Olympics action from the day.

podThe pod was a perfect base for a week’s adventures. We went cycling together around parts of the beautiful coastline, James went on the attack cycling up Cairngorm Mountain whilst I explored some of the lush running trails, and I went loch swimming whilst some of the locals pondered whether or not to try and rescue the mad English girl diving into a secluded loch.

Despite all that activity, it was a wonderfully relaxing week away. James and I are both hugely guilty of spending time glued to our phones and Strava, so staying somewhere with no 4G coverage was the dream- we actually spent proper time together and appreciated each other, away from the usual cycle at home of work-eat-train-eat-sleep-laundry that can dominate our household. We enjoyed a BBQ and toasted marshmallows over our campfire, al fresco breakfasts and a few wee drams on a tour of the Glenfiddich whisky distillery and, I think it would be fair to say, generally fell in love with Scotland just a little bit!

whiskey cycling firePhoto credits: other than those taken by myself, James took a lot of these, and I borrowed the phrase about keeping going from Oiselle.