Race Recap: Outlaw Half 2018

My goals going into this year’s Outlaw Half were fairly simple. To enjoy the race, to make friends with triathlon again after last year’s boiling hot disappointment with myself at The Lakesman, and to execute a race I could be proud of. To me, that didn’t mean necessarily the fastest race, but one where I swam smoothly and calmly, a bike leg where I didn’t have any muppet moments (shout out to me for riding 56 miles with my back wheel rubbing on my frame at last year’s Monster Middle and wondering why I rode terribly), and a run where I ran consistently, even if the weather was hot.

My winter of training had been pretty variable; working in A&E since February has meant an unholy amount of antisocial hours at work, and at times being absolutely exhausted, both physically and mentally, but I knew my run was in reasonable shape from marathon training, I’d had some good power numbers on the turbo over the winter and was feeling strong and the swim… Well, I’d been in the water a few times in 2018. Not quite the 10K a week I was swimming this time last year! But these things meant I was fairly chilled about Outlaw Half- I was just determined to enjoy the race, to make friends with triathlon again, and get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth left by last year’s races. Process goals instead of outcome ones this time!

After a lovely relaxed day before the race, with a local parkrun to shake the legs out, some sprint tri spectating and a belly full of Pizza Express’s finest carbs, we hit the hay early, and sure enough, that 4:30am alarm rolled around pretty quickly. Porridge downed, it was a case of quickly getting everything organised, to be in transition by 5:30am. All very efficient on the part of the organisers, and I even managed to catch a glimpse of tri girl crush Lucy Charles in transition as she headed out to tear up the elite wave start.

Enjoying a rather more leisurely 6:48am start, the lake for the swim was calm, warm and unfortunately, illuminated blindingly by bright sunshine. Still, I managed to relax and swim happily out to the turn, perhaps held up slightly by poor sighting in the sun, but overall not bad. Relaxed and happy, even if not quick. The return leg was easier to see, though mostly just the same woman who kept trying to overtake me and zigzagging into my path, stopping and breaststroking and then trying to overtake me again. Yawn. Not as quick a swim as I’d hoped, but probably a fair reflection of the work I’d (not) put into swimming this winter.
Swim: 48:02

Out onto the bike, and this was where the fun began. I hadn’t got myself organised in time to be fitted and ready to ride my TT bike that I’ve recently converted, so I was on my favourite little Specialized Amira, and we had the BEST time on the bike leg. Compared to my training playground in Yorkshire, it was so, so flat. There’s one climb around 25 miles in, but as I got to the crest of it, I found myself thinking ‘was that it?’- a lot of fuss was made over what was really a very easy climb! We had a great time overtaking men up the climb, and generally riding past people sitting up on TT bikes- breaks my brain to see people riding a TT rig with a disc wheel sitting upright like a granny on a Pashley, but they’re good fun to chick… Aside from the last 2 miles which were a gravelly, potholed nightmare surface, the bike course was bloody good fun and I biked a 7 minute PB over the distance. Happy days. You can see it on my face!
Bike: 3:12:02

The run. My nemesis in hot races, and Outlaw was no different: the bike leg hadn’t felt too warm, but it was pretty toasty out onto the run. I was determined to run as much as I could, and not end up walking vast amounts like at The Lakesman, and I’m pleased with how I did. The out and back sections along the River Trent were good, as they were a chance to see some Twitter pals who were racing, and see that everybody was suffering, not just me, and the sections around the lake were a good chance to make up a bit of run pace and wave to James. I walked through some of the water stations to take on fluid and squeeze cold water from sponges over my head to cool down, but was delighted to manage a sub 2 hour run split, at last- by the skin of my teeth though- I think this finish chute photo says it all!
Run: 1:59:47

Overall, my time was 6:08:10 (a 9 minute PB), and whilst I know deep down I should be well clear of the 6 hour benchmark by now, I’m honestly just proud that my mind and body have held out well enough through my A&E job to even be lining up on start lines- I’d entered the events last year, but was aware there was a real possibility I’d have to defer. Any day I’m healthy enough to line up, race 70.3 self-propelled miles and enjoy it is a good day in my book! I was also pretty chuffed to come 9th in my age group.

Now, roll on The Lakesman Half, which I am planning to purely enjoy, as despite my race last year, it’s still one of my favourite races and one I want to be involved with for many years yet as it goes from strength to strength. And after that, it’s onwards to August, which marks the start of my proper training as an anaesthetist, a much more sociable rota, and plenty of sunny run miles for a crack at a PB at this year’s Yorkshire Marathon. Bring it on. And possibly, just possibly, I’m friends enough with triathlon to do a bit more of it next year. But more on that later.

Race recap: London Marathon 2018

I think it’s fair to say I went into this year’s London Marathon with a very different mindset to 2016. I wasn’t ill, I was enjoying a very rare week off work, and with a few more marathons under my belt, I was less stressed about the run, and excited to be back at such a well supported race.

I headed down a few days early for London, and spent a lovely couple of days with the delightful Steph. We relaxed in the sunshine, went for a couple of shakeout runs and a divine sunny lido swim, and generally caught up on life, which was just the tonic after a few tough weeks in A&E. We also went for a picnic in Richmond with the wonderful Rhianon. Sunshine, snacks and ultra babes- the best combination!

So by the time I headed over to Cat’s for a couple of days I was just where I needed to be: relaxed and starting to tan, with rested legs and a belly full of carbs. I got to catch up on ultra star Cat‘s latest running adventures, and navigate my way across London for a speedy expo visit. In, number collected, freebies from my faves at West Lab Salts, some new shorts aaaaand out. No hanging about!

I also got to finally visit Franco Manca in Putney for carb loading, and it did NOT disappoint. Worth running 26.2 miles for!

Race day eventually dawned, and rather than nerves, I felt pretty calm. I knew it was going to be a warm one, so I planned to set off at PB pace and see how it went (after all, I ran a PB in fairly hot weather in Paris last April), but was prepared to reassess at 10K. Bag drop, pre race loo stop and sunscreen all sorted, I even managed a chill and a chat with the lovely Drewbies in the green start.

I set off, and after meeting Insta pal Sarah in the start pen, I cruised through to 10K at PB pace, on target for sub 3:40. I could tell though, that it wasn’t sustainable. My whole head felt like it was on fire, but my body felt strangely cold, and my quads were already starting to feel pretty heavy. So nothing ventured, nothing gained- I tried PB pace on for size but I wasn’t ready for it in the warm weather after a cold winter. No shame in that.

So I eased my foot off the gas, and enjoyed the rest of the race. The sunny weather brought out seemingly everyone in London cheering, and the crowd support was superb. It carried me over Tower Bridge to halfway in 1:50, and I think my face says it all!

The second half felt much harder than the first, but with my eye off the clock, I really didn’t mind slowing down, but still wanted to finish in under 4 hours. At mile 19, I had a walk through the water station, some electrolytes and water, and a wee, and then trucked on and got it done.

3:54:58 on the clock, damage limitation complete and a sunny run through the best marathon crowds in the world. Job done. Now time for a bit of triathlon, and then marathon PB, I’m coming for you in the autumn. #BQorbust?

Training in a time starved life

It’s been absolutely ages since I’ve written a blog and a lot has happened since I was easing myself back into training; I’ve bought a house and am just about to move into it, I’ve finished my last ever job on medical wards and moved to A&E (more on that later!) and there’s been varying amounts of swim, bike and run thrown in.

Since my rota changed in August to become more hectic, I’ve had to be more careful than ever before to be able to fit training in, recover from it, and still do all the other things in life I need to do. Since training in a time-starved life is something most people have to deal with, I thought I’d share how I’m making it work for me.

Having a plan

I’ve been listening to the Purple Patch Podcast (which I would highly recommend), where top tri coach Matt Dixon shares his advice on how to fit training into a time starved life, and one of his key tips is to plan carefully. Specifically, he recommends planning your week’s training, and deciding in advance which sessions are key, important training sessions, and which are general supporting sessions. So in a week my key session might be my tempo run session or my long run, whereas a supporting session is something like a short easy recovery run. By doing this, I know exactly which sessions to prioritise so that I can make sure they get done, and which sessions can be scaled back or missed completely if life gets in the way- as it often does.

Prioritise quality over quantity

Last year, training for the Lakesman, I was able to clock hours and hours of training, when I wasn’t working nights or weekends. I could swim three times a week, ride up to 100 miles at a weekend and run plenty. This year’s training so far looks very different- when time starved, I’ve had to prioritise quality sessions. So long rides have been swapped quite often for sweetspot power sessions on the turbo, multiple slow drill swims have been swapped for less frequent tri club swims where a coach can watch my form and I work HARD, and I’m running 3 times a week, with a focus on quality miles as I prepare for the London Marathon in April.

Accept that some days, training just ain’t happening
Now I’ve been working for over two years, I’ve learned what shifts work for me to train around, and which ones simply don’t, and instead of trying to force it now, I plan my training to take into account my life load during the day. So if it’s a long day or a night shift, which is pretty intense, I’ll either take a rest from training, or it’ll be a short, fairly easy session. And then I save the harder or longer sessions for when I’ve got a bit less on my plate. There are days too, where work turns horrendous, or something goes wrong, where I just accept now that the extra rest will do me more good than trying to force a session.

Have a plan for nutrition
Chicken satay stir fry
I know one of the best things I can do to stay strong and healthy, and keep my immune system firing to ward off the hundreds of nasty germs I encounter every day, is to fuel myself properly. I’m a long-term fitnaturally fan, but when they launched eatnaturally for athletes it was a game changer: the plan lays out food options for before or after sessions, and rest days or meals where no training has happened nearby, and means that even if plans change, I have a good idea of what to eat to be well fuelled for my sessions and recover from them, without spending a fortune or surviving on processed gloop out of sachets.

Don’t try to do everything at once
Triathlon training at times feels like a challenge of spinning plates, and it’s quite rare all three disciplines can be going well at the same time- so this winter I’ve stopped aiming for that, and at any one time am only actively pushing to improve one or possibly two disciplines. So whilst I’m working on running for London, I’m keeping swimming and cycling more on the back burner, so after London I can dial back the running a bit, up the swimming and cycling a little and arrive at Outlaw Half in good shape for all three. Hopefully!

So these are my tips for training in a time-starved life- what are yours?

Doing downtime for once

At the end of a busy race season, it’s all too easy to try to carry on a roll from where you were. To try and stretch out that streak of productivity, that feeling of being super fit, for just a bit longer.

After the Berlin Marathon, it was painfully obvious to me that I needed a break. Not just an easier ‘recovery’ week of training, but a proper, no training, end of season layoff. I ran well in Berlin, far exceeding my expectations, given the second half of my season was significantly more relaxed after the Lakesman. I trained how and when I fancied, and raced a birthday 70.3 just for the hell of it. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this season I’ve raced three half marathons, two marathons, one iron-distance tri, one 70.3 and an open water swim race!

I crossed the line in 3:52:59 in Berlin, and was happy to end my season on a high there. The rest of our time in Berlin featured beers, burgers and brunch, and was a nice way to chill for a day or two before hurtling headlong into a very busy spell of work. Work, in fact, was so busy I literally took two weeks completely off any exercise at all, before getting gently back into things with a weekend away with the other Specialized women’s ambassadors.

We spent a cracking weekend in Longleat, where with much persuading and support from the gnarly girls of the group, I had my first ever go at riding MTB, which was a huge amount of fun, despite being scary, and 100% something I want to do some more of at some point. We also went for a road ride and photoshoot, where we genuinely looked like a pro team 😉

Given I also managed to break my toe on a child’s water flume at the Center Parcs we stayed at (don’t ask), my grand return to training hasn’t been quite as grand as I had planned. But sometimes that’s okay; it’s so easy to forget how much we’re asking of our bodies, to stay strong and healthy and consistently perform well, even when we heap hours and hours of training on top of a hectic work life.

So my autumn has looked a little less focused than I’d planned, but it’s been brilliant (when I’ve not been at work!). I’ve celebrated having been with James for three excellent years of adventures and cake munching. I’ve had an offer accepted on my first house. I’ve spent time with loved ones and recharged my training batteries, even if the work batteries are pretty empty at the moment. And now, after that rest, I’m really enjoying being back in semi-structured training, with turbo sessions, gentle runs through the autumn leaves and getting back in the pool to remember how to swim.

Sometimes a rest is better than a change, eh?

Life after The Lakesman

I can’t quite believe it’s been 6 weeks since The Lakesman. That boiling hot day in Keswick will be forever etched in my memory (mostly in a positive way), but moving on from something like that takes some doing.

There’s the physical recovery, which is quite something in itself. I spent two fairly busy weeks at work after the Lakesman, working all the shifts I’d had to swap to get the annual leave. That and prioritising sleep meant I didn’t do much exercise at all- exactly as I’d planned. I did exactly what I fancied when I fancied it, and the intensity was very easy- but it felt so good to move, albeit gently! I also had a lovely massage from the wonderful Dalia at Chapiteau Massage Therapy, and I honestly felt like a new woman afterwards.

However quickly I felt like I could go go go again, the past 6 weeks have been a time to be careful. I trained my little heart out since the end of November, and that kind of slog is hard mentally as well as physically- I’m proud I gave it my all and I learned an immense amount, but it takes recovery mentally too- there have been some days I simply cannot face swinging a leg over my bike or lacing up my running shoes, and that’s fine, it’s the ebb and flow of recovery.

There have been some highlights of the past few weeks though!

Spending time with my family
One of the things that fell by the wayside at times during the training was seeing my family, so I’ve enjoyed putting that to rights with some lovely visits home that didn’t feature me nipping out to squeeze in bike rides and runs around family time. I also got to see my favourite horde of hungry little monsters!

Getting my bike fitted properly
As part of my role as a Specialized ambassador, I was lucky enough to take a trip to the fit lab at the Concept Store in Harrogate for an incredibly detailed Retul bike fit. If you’ve ever wondered if a bike fit is for you, it’s so worth the investment- it will make your bike comfier for you, quicker and help with any injury problems you have. I really enjoyed the process too- and it’s turned my little bike into an absolute rocket ship!

Riding where I want, with cake if I want
A lot of Lakesman training was riding so many hours at a certain heart rate, and in Yorkshire, if my heart rate has to stay low, it rules out a LOT of my favourite roads. So the past few weeks have been lovely, spinning where I want, having a crack at some big hills I’ve not ridden for ages. Happy cyclist! The return of cafe stops has also been very welcome.

Getting women on their bikes
Themed around La Course at the Tour de France, I really enjoyed leading my first Specialized ride. 7 hardy souls joined me for a tough, undulating route from Harrogate, around some beautiful Yorkshire countryside. I think they enjoyed it, though I heard some cursing up the biggest climb of the day.

Commemorating the Lakesman forever
Ever since I entered it, I was planning to commemorate finishing the Lakesman with a new tattoo. Lots of ideas flitted around my mind in the months before the race, but I finally settled on an acorn, both because I wanted something nature-themed given the race was in the Lake District, and because I like the idea that mighty oak trees grow from little acorns, just like the seed of triathlon grew into me doing an iron distance. Here it is, freshly inked by Lucy at Red Tattoo and Piercing in Leeds.

Our now annual trip to the seaside
Last year, for my first 100 mile bike ride, James accompanied me to ride to the seaside, making the most of the westerly tailwind, and getting the train home. We had a great day last year, so thought we’d make it an annual thing. This year’s edition saw me conquer a bitch of a hill that defeated me last year, beat James in 8 of our sprints for 30mph village signs (#thisgirlcan) and finish the ride on average 2mph quicker than last year. Success! Just in time for scampi and chips on the beach, the train back to Leeds (sadly at the same time as York Races were on and some drunken bloke thought it was fine to move my bike out of the bike rack. RAGE.) and a ride home from Leeds station. 120 miles in the saddle done!

All in all, a pretty fun 6 weeks, and a nice lead in to some slightly more focused training for my next couple of races!

 

Race recap: The Lakesman Triathlon 2017

Finally, after months of preparing, and a day of frantic list-making, packing and bike fettling, race weekend was ON. I eagerly headed up to Keswick, with everything looking perfect. Conditions forecast: cloudy with occasional sunshine, and race day temperatures peaking at 16 degrees. Lovely. And I could relax about race logistics, because the organisers of the Lakesman Triathlon are brilliant, taking care of literally everything to make racing as stress-free as possible.

Registration was quick and easy at HQ next to Derwentwater, and once it was done I could catch up with Rach over tea, and await the arrival of James who decided that driving to Keswick was far too soft, and he’d ride over to meet me (insert eye roll emoji). Friday evening was fairly uneventful, getting settled into our ace B&B, sussing out somewhere to go and guzzle carbs, and an early night watching some comedy DVDs.

Lakesman TriathlonSaturday morning dawned, already really hot and sunny, and this was my first hint of what was to come. I carried on calmly plodding through race prep though, taking my bike for one last little spin to make sure everything was working before racking, drinking ALL the fluids and electrolytes and starting the endless task of packing my transition bags.

The Lakesman Triathlon

I headed down to the briefing, and was happy to learn some of the rules were being relaxed, namely the one about outside assistance on the run, so we could be joined for laps by friends and family, and they would be allowed to pass us drinks/sunscreen/nutrition as needed. Athlete centred racing right there.

With Anna the bike all racked and ready to go, I said a begrudging goodbye, and headed off to dinner with a few of Team Bear. I loaded up on very boring pasta, even more boring mineral water, and tried to quell the rising sense of dread about the temperatures: during Saturday the forecasted temperatures just kept climbing, to 27 degrees. Not what I want for marathon running after 112 miles on the bike! Still, there was nothing I could do about it, so I did the final bits of race prep (hair braiding and number tattoos) and set a 4:15am alarm. Eek!

I slept better than expected, and awoke at 4am to an already sunny morning, calmly resigned that the day might turn out to be a bit more of a battle than I’d anticipated. Once slathered in sunscreen with my porridge pot forced down, I headed down to the start to add my bottles to my bike and my food to my bike transition bag, and before I knew it, I was wading into the shallows of Derwentwater ready to start the race.

Swim
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Lake District, but Derwentwater is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes- I doubt there’s a more beautiful swim start in triathlon anywhere.

Photo borrowed from the Lakesman Triathlon Facebook page

On race morning it was mirror-smooth, warm and looking especially beautiful. I had a calm and uneventful swim, although at points had to remind myself to get a shift on and stop enjoying the views- swimming as the sun rises in such a beautiful lake, sighting off the mighty Skiddaw in the background, is something that will stay with me for a long, long time after this race. The work I’d done with Chris since November really helped, and I felt great in the water, swimming smoothly and efficiently, and even staying calm when the sun completely blinded me on the finish straight and I couldn’t sight the finish line at all. Before I knew it, I was out and running up the exit carpet, wrestling with my wetsuit zip and starting to think about the rest of the race ahead, lapping up the cheers of ‘go on girl!’ with a massive grin on my face.

The Lakesman Triathlon

T1
With it being a hot day ahead, I took extra time in T1 to make sure I had everything I needed. Rach happened to be in there as her relay cyclist left, and she did a great job of helping me get my shit together. Jersey on, helmet on, food in pockets, socks on shoes on and awaaaaay on the bike! I didn’t top up on sunscreen though, as I thought the P20 I put on pre race would be enough. Lolz.

Bike

The Lakesman TriathlonThe bike was probably the bit of the race that I was most excited for. I had a heart rate monitor on, I had a pacing plan from Chris (strictly Zone 2 only!), and I had real hope that I could bike well. The first section out to the cost was into a direct headwind, which felt a little like riding into a hairdryer, but I tried to chill and keep on top of my food and fluids.The Lakesman Triathlon

I was already having to drink a LOT on the bike, and was very grateful for the frequent bottle stations: in total I put away 3 litres of fluid, and probably poured as much cold water on the back of my neck and down my arms to cool myself down. My Stoats bar, peanut butter sandwich and Tailwind drink plan was going down nicely, and I was making reasonable progress. There was a long, flat coastal section with a tailwind, which I LOVED, as well as a more undulating loop where I had good fun overtaking men on heavy TT bikes, whilst I nipped past on my little light road bike! I wasn’t doing a brilliant job of keeping my heart rate down, but it was what it was, and on a hot day, it was clear the race was a matter of just keeping going.

From 80 miles onwards, I was ready to just be done with the bike leg: my seatbones were starting to get a little sore on my saddle, and I was absolutely desperate for a wee in T2, as well as being kinda lonely. I think I really underestimated how lonely the bike would be, with the exception of small clusters of supporters out with signs and cowbells. I felt definite relief as I breezed down the hill into T2, especially as I hadn’t haemorrhaged as much time as I expected.

T2
The one goal I had all the way through training for this race was a strong run, and I felt optimistic when I came off the bike. I thought I’d taken on plenty of food and fluids, and once I’d finally had a wee, I was excited to get going. I stripped off the bike jersey and helmet, put on fresh socks for the run, my favourite running shoes and the all important visor, and headed out to see this thing through!

Run
Running out of the transition tent and onto the run route genuinely felt like running into an oven. My legs, however, felt reasonably good, and I started to chip away at getting this thing done. The first couple of miles ticked by uneventfully, until I hit the long out-and-back section of the 5 lap run course, otherwise known as the Highway to Hell- a double out-and-back on a closed road with NO tree shade whatsoever. Pretty soon into the run leg, I started having to have walk breaks, as I was feeling absolutely rubbish- low on energy, absolutely parched and far, far too hot. In the aid stations, I tried water, electrolytes and even slurps of Coke, as well as the gels I had with me, but nothing was working. I felt nauseous but thirsty simultaneously, and was really struggling to run.

I saw my sister for the first time at about 10 miles in, and burst into tears. I’d really wanted to be proudly nailing this race, and I felt angry that my body was failing me like this. Her and James did a great job of keeping me company whilst I ran and walked the rest as best as I could, but it was a long, depressing shuffle for me, as I watched the sort of times I’d wanted and any hope of a placing in my age group slip away from me. Perhaps there was an element of mentally giving up too, but I was absolutely hating it, despite the wonderful marshals and aid station volunteers, giving us encouragement, dousing in cold water and drinks. The heat was ridiculous for the Lake District though; within half a mile of dousing myself in water I was completely dry again. I could feel myself burning, and I wasn’t the only one struggling; there was real fighting spirit and camaraderie out there between all the struggling racers.

Eventually, I picked up the final lap band on my wrist, and after one more slow trip up and down the Highway to Hell, it was time to run down the finish chute. I unashamedly burst into tears, a mix of frustration at how my race had turned out, absolute exhaustion, sweet relief that it was finally over, and pride at what I’d achieved. 

I’m honestly still deciding how I feel about the race that played out. I know an ironman is something very few people in the population will complete, and I did so in a respectable time, but it didn’t feel like the race I trained for. I worked bloody hard in training and was determined, above all, to have a good run leg, which I didn’t manage, and I feel slightly pathetic for having not managed it. I’m proud of my mind and body for holding up throughout a long training period, and learned a lot about myself and my limits, but I’m not sure this is something I ever want to put myself through again, despite the race itself being fantastic.

Lakesman are organising a 70.3 race next year and I think that is more realistic for me to commit to; the training will be slightly less of a massive commitment, and I can experience the fantastic atmosphere of the Lakesman again. Phil and Marie, who organise the race, are probably my favourite race organisers out there, and deserve for the event to be a huge success- from registration to completion, it couldn’t be more obvious that they live and breathe this race, and I look forward to many years of the race, whether for me it’s as a 70.3 racer, a relay for the ironman or as a volunteer.

Over and out; time to be casually deliberate with all the merch I bought. Oh, this old mug? It’s just from a race I did recently.

Race times, should you be interested:
Swim 1:23:35
T1 7:48
Bike 7:04:38
T2 7:33
Run 5:30:33
Overall 14:14:07, 26th woman, 5th 25-29

T-2 weeks to The Lakesman

It really doesn’t feel more than a few minutes since I ran Paris Marathon. Then, I had a good few weeks left to go before the Lakesman, and a fair few big sessions left to do. Fast forward a few weeks of hospital work and lots of shifts, a few more hard weeks of training, and all of a sudden, I’m tapering for my first 140.6! So, I thought I’d put together a little recap of what I’ve been up to lately.

Running
Rather than the usual few weeks of no or minimal running post marathon, I had to crack back on after Paris, albeit sensibly and without hammering my legs to the point of injury. I left it 5 days, and was pleasantly surprised to find my running legs in good shape for a final few long runs and brick sessions- mostly in my favourite new tshirt…

Exciting news and a new bike

After putting an application in and promptly forgetting about it, I was delighted when, after a quick phone interview, I was selected as one of ten UK ambassadors for Specialized, joining a global community of women promoting women’s cycling and encouraging women out on the road. Not going to lie, whilst I am excited about developing rides to get more women confidently riding their bikes, the trip to Specialized HQ to collect Anna, my swish new women’s specific road bike, was a VERY exciting day.

Getting in those last few big bike rides
We’ve put in a LOT of big rides this winter, but I still need to keep the miles in my legs leading up to Lakesman, so I’ve been putting in the last few miles testing out my race kit, nutrition plan and pacing plan (namely, keep a lid on it on the bike so I have a fighting chance of running well in the marathon) for the big day, as well as testing how my lovely new bike rides. Safe to say, I think it’s love for us!

Race specific swimming
I’ve been slogging myself up and down the pool all winter working on my stroke, but now the water has warmed up a bit, it’s time to get outside and get ready for race day. After an interesting first lake swim of the year involving horrendous wetsuit chafe, some duck poo and a bit of an altercation with a swan, I popped up to the Lake District to do the Epic Lakes Swim series Ullswater event. A chilly, slightly choppy 3.8k distance was a perfect tune-up practice race, and a good time in it (1:23) has left me confident I can manage the Lakesman swim in warmer, calmer Derwentwater, just fine.

Eating well
There’s always a fine line to tread between eating enough to fuel sessions properly and recover from them, and guzzling far too many carbs and getting chubby, but I think I’ve just about started to get it right, with some help from the ever-amusing fitnaturally. I’ve not lost a load of weight during training, but I am noticeably leaner and stronger, but have been robust enough to withstand a consistently high training volume whilst working full time- a sign to me that I must be in pretty good health!


(The best recovery food after hot, hard sessions- Greek yoghurt, frozen fruit, granola and honey. YUM!)

Getting my head together
The taper is always a time of panic. Have I done enough? Should I have done more? Should I suddenly invest £2959 in some whizzy gadget I’ve seen on Twitter that promises I’ll be 4mph faster on the bike? The answer to most of these is just to relax, and have faith in the work I’ve done, and my body’s ability to absorb it with a nice rest. I saw this meme on Twitter the other day, and really liked it- a good reminder that there are no magic bullets, and hard work plus sensible preparation should see me at 6am on June 18th, stood in Derwentwater, ready to give it my best shot. That and some mental preparation for how much it’s going to hurt- but I know I’ve already been to some fairly dark places in training and got through it!

Race recap: Paris Marathon 2017

Long before I entered The Lakesman, I had entered Paris Marathon this spring, with the original aim of a sub 3:30 run. Obviously, since entering it, circumstances have changed considerably, and the winter has been a heavy one of swimming, biking, and less running than I’ve done before but on much more tired legs. Based on the training I’d been doing, I was cautiously optimistic that a PB might be possible on fresh legs, and coach Chris agreed I could go for it.

Game on!

I ventured to Paris on the Friday with James, and after registering and picking up my number, resisting the temptation to buy ALL the kit at the expo, and learning how the Metro works (it’s essentially the Tube but with a lot more stairs), we settled down in our Airbnb in Montmartre, which whilst cheap, was a nice cosy studio flat handily located near two Metro stations.

Saturday rolled around, and it was time for the customary Paris Breakfast Run, which was like parkrun, but bigger and following a tiny pickup truck blasting cheesy pop around the streets of Paris to the Eiffel Tower. Jolly good fun all round, and a nice gentle shake out of the legs after a few hours cooped up on the train to London and then the Eurostar the day beforehand.

Paris Marathon

The Breakfast Run was already super hot, and that was starting to worry me, because I prefer racing in cold weather, but I’ve been working on trying to suck it up since I started training for the Lakesman, so I tried to relax, soak up the sunshine in the Jardin des Tuileries (an excellent place to sunbathe, even if James does now resemble a stripy lobster) and focus on the task in hand- eating my own bodyweight in French patisserie et boulangerie. Definitely the best way to spend a sunny Parisian afternoon!

Paris Marathon

After a giant bowl of pasta in a local Italian, relaxing over a Batman movie and some Milka cookies, and sorting out my kit and how the hell to get to the race start on the Champs-Elysees, I had an early night and tried to chill out despite the rising temperatures. Easier said than done!

Paris Marathon

Race day dawned cool and sunny, but the kind of cool where you know the moment the sun comes up properly it will be bloody boiling. Porridge shovelled down and kit bag packed, we headed down to the finish to hand in my bag, and then down to the Champs-Elysees to get in my starting pen- what a mess! Despite leaving loads of time, the pen entry was pretty chaotic and we ended up late in, but fortunately the race didn’t start without me…

As usual, I’d set a range of goals the week before the race:
A- between 3:35 and 3:40
B- sub 3:45 for a London GFA and decent PB
C- survive the race hopefully with a sub-4

Once the race started, the first few miles were pretty steady, but coming out at a comfortable 8:30min/mile pace, but it was clear that running much faster probably wasn’t going to happen, so I decided pretty early to shoot for my B goal, rather than put the hammer down, completely overdo it and end up DNFing or completely missing a PB. As the race wound through some of the tourist attractions of Paris, I was enjoying myself, despite the rising temperatures and absolute carnage of the water stations. I was smothered in sunscreen with a visor on, and my tactic of taking on water and pouring some over my head at each water station was keeping me feeling relatively alright. I hit halfway at 1:50-1:51, so bang on target and pretty happy with things.

Paris Marathon

The second half was a bit less scenic, with the famous tunnels proving a bit demotivating, runners starting to walk everywhere (not tidily to one side, but ON the green racing line, grr!) and some even starting to collapse, I suspect from overheating. The second half wasn’t pretty for me, but it wasn’t as ugly as it could have been: Paris kept the beautiful sights coming sporadically, especially passing the Eiffel Tower at mile 18. That said, each mile was feeling tougher, and the water stations seemed to be getting further apart, with more co-ordination needed to dodge the mountains of bottle caps, discarded bottles and orange peels contributing to the slippery danger, and I’ll be honest, I thought about binning a PB effort quite a few times.

 

Strangely, it was a Pink song stuck in my head for the latter few miles that got me through- lyrics about how ‘just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die; you’ve got to get up and try, try, try’ seemed pretty apt in my dead-legged state! That and having a firm word with myself, followed by ‘it’s just a parkrun left now Marsden, don’t you dare fucking start walking’.

Eventually, the endless parks section finished, and once I was into the 26th mile, I knew as long as I kept running, I had my Good for Age time and a decent PB in the bag. My eyes began to sting, and only partly because they were full of salty sweat. I’d done it; I felt like shit, but it was over, I’d toughed it out, and I hadn’t just written the race off because the conditions didn’t suit me. I crossed the line wobbly and nauseous, and pretty quickly remembered why- I’d done a great job with gels and water, but had I taken any electrolytes? Had I hell as like. I felt like Jonny Brownlee with no Alastair to save me. Fortunately I managed to stagger through the finish funnel, collecting my (properly sized!) race shirt, medal and a few bottles of water, as well as my bag, and settled in on a kerb to take on some electrolytes.

Paris Marathon

Once I located James, we shuffled off to the nearest McDonalds to speedily replace my lost sodium, and noodled back off to Gare du Nord to await the train home. Where I promptly learned that I wasn’t appearing on any of the race trackers or results, despite the results for the race numbers adjacent to mine being online.

To cut a long story short, I don’t know yet if this story has a happy ending: I know I ran my GFA time, as my creaking hamstrings and agonisingly painful quads will attest to, but at the moment the organisers seem spectacularly disinterested in fixing my time for me. In fact, until I contacted them, they weren’t going to admit that my result is missing because my timing chip didn’t work on the starting line. Never mind that as organisers they promised accurate race timing when relieving me of the best part of £100 for my race entry.

Paris Marathon

So, I look on Paris for now with mixed feelings, the champagne bottle firmly still sealed in the fridge, the medal solemnly hanging on the nail with my others, and the race tshirt stashed in a drawer somewhere, but a head full of lessons learned and confidence in my own ability to tough it out when the conditions aren’t my favourite. To be continued…

Halfway to ironman & lessons learned

I always learn a lot from a race build up, but training for long-distance triathlon has been the steepest learning curve so far. I’ve been training since late November, and now find myself just 3 months out from race day. As Cathy said when ironing in her blog, by now we’re in spring marathon season, people are finishing their big miles and starting to taper; I’ve got a spring marathon in the calendar (hi Paris!), but my eyes are on the big prize in Keswick in June, so my biggest miles have yet to come. With 3 months to go though, I thought I’d share 10 things I’ve learned from ironing so far…

Early starts are your best friend
I know I’m kinda late to the party here, but whilst I have a job that allows 9am starts with a swimming pool nearby, I’ve been doing the majority of my swim sessions before work. I might land at my desk with a swishing sound in my left ear, quite impressive goggle marks and RAGING hunger, but it’s pretty satisfying having ticked off a decent training session before the day has even properly begun, and before life has got in the way. Makes those pesky 5.30am alarms worth it, even if for the first few minutes of being awake I’m cursing this sodding ironman.

There is a difference between tired legs and injured legs
I don’t think I’ve trained on properly fresh legs since November. No joke. It’s not possible to get in enough training and have fresh legs all the time, but it’s made me learn the difference between tired, achy legs, and legs that are becoming injured. 9 times out of 10, it’s not a brewing injury, it’s just my body reminding me to stretch my bloody quads and hip flexors for once, and I can train on through.

You’re not always going to want to do the training
I can think of a lot of days this winter where I’ve really not wanted to get out training. Yorkshire is beautiful, but when it comes to cycling, it’s frequently cold, windy and full of bastard hills, and James has had to give me a tough word to get out and get the miles done. The same goes for brick runs, and a couple of times I’ve had to have a word with myself to actually start running off the back of a long bike ride where I’m frozen to the core. When training more than you’ve ever trained before, you’re not always going to love it: sometimes it’s just a case of gritting your teeth and getting it done.

Swimming and biking help with running
Before Brighton, my half marathon PB was set when I was purely running, knocking out 40+ miles a week. I was surprised that in Brighton, on less fresh legs and with only about half the miles in my legs over 2-3 runs a week, I was able to run faster and stronger. Whilst I think part of it is learning to suffer (max heart rate tests are good for this), I do think the overall training volume has helped my running.

It’s expensive. Like, really expensive.
There is always a new expense around the corner with so much training, whether it’s broken goggles, worn out trainers, inner tubes for the bike or gels and bars to keep me powered up hills- and that’s before we even start on accidental Lululemon and Rapha purchases to motivate myself out of the door in the grimmest of conditions, race entries and travel and the sheer amount of coffee and peanut butter I’m getting through. But y’know, my social life is pretty cheap to balance it out, since I’m ALWAYS training, eating or sleeping. Oh, and working too.

Getting some help is a really good idea
A coach is by no means an essential, and if you have a regular, predictable life, a training plan from a book will probably work pretty well. For me though, with a job with fairly unpredictable hours, planning and actually sticking to it can be tough, and I end up looking at Strava, wondering if I’m doing enough or the right thing. I also find that when planning for myself, one discipline will be going well whilst the other two fall to pieces- so I enlisted the help of a coach in Chris, and it’s been a great investment. It holds me accountable, pushes me through sessions I’d never set myself, and reins me in when I’d otherwise overdo it.

You cannot put in that volume of training without fuelling properly
Almost every time I’ve felt terrible, been performing badly or been a nightmare to be around, I can trace it back to not fuelling properly. Cycling so slowly I’m practically going backwards? Probably haven’t taken on enough fuel on the bike. Mid afternoon biscuit rampages? Didn’t eat enough proper food after a tough swim. Suddenly unbelievably grumpy? Actually, just hangry. It’s impossible to train hard and perform well without feeding yourself properly. For a couple of months now, I’ve enlisted the help of fitnaturally to write me a custom food plan based around my working and training and it’s been great; it’s taught me a lot about the right foods to eat and when, with no horrible gloopy shakes, faddy foods or weird stuff, just lots of wholesome, nutritious food that’s genuinely really tasty. I’d thoroughly recommend it as an investment!

Chicken satay stir fry

I’ve had to be more organised than ever before
‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ might be lame and overused but it’s kinda true for iron training. Having the right kit ready to go, swim kit and meals packed up the night before early starts, and a clear plan for when my training’s going to get done has been vital- it all cuts down on the chances of me sacking off a session because I’ve run out of time- and saying that’s why you’ve missed a session to your coach is a bit embarrassing, frankly.

Rest days are important and to be respected
When I’m not training heavily, I don’t always appreciate why rest days are actually necessary. Since upping the volume so much though, I bloody LOVE my rest day each week. On Fridays, I only set one new PB ever- time from leaving work to being horizontal on the sofa in sweatpants (I’ve got it down to 38 minutes on a good day). No sneaking in extra miles for the sake of Strava, no ‘rest day’ gym classes, nothing, nil, nada. Rest is when the body absorbs the training and the magic happens. So plant your arse and enjoy actually seeing your OH for once!

Supportive people around you are a must
Speaking of which, I can’t imagine how ironman training would go without supportive people around you. James has been a godsend during my training- not batting an eyelid at me getting up early for swims, accepting that most weekend days I’ll be out training for a lot of it, and being realistic that a clean and tidy house isn’t top of my to do list at the moment. Likewise when I go home to see my parents, they accept that at some point I’ll be off out cycling or running, and are well used to the house being strewn with Lycra and trainers/inner tubes/water bottles.

What things has a focused training period for a big goal race taught you?

Race recap: Brighton Half Marathon 2017

After a while as a runner, you find you’ve raced most of your local races, especially the flat, fast courses, and sometimes, just need to shake things up a bit. I love local racing, but equally I love going on a bit of an adventure to a new race, which was how I landed in Brighton for the Vitality Brighton Half Marathon yesterday.

After a less than stellar taper week involving hormonal chocolate grazing, a couple of missed sessions and some very achy quads, I wouldn’t have been expecting a great performance, but decided to roll with it anyway. Things aren’t always going to go perfectly anyway, right?

After 3 trains and a quick trip on the Underground on Saturday, I landed in Brighton, and after a mooch around some shops, met up with the lovely Tess for coffee and a giant piece of carrot cake. After hatching our plans for the race (me, a full-gas PB effort and for Tess, a strong, controlled marathon paced confidence booster), I headed off to my accommodation, a lovely little airbnb in Preston Park, close to where the Brighton Marathon starts and easy walking distance from Madeira Drive where Brighton Half Marathon starts. Once I’d done a little shakeout run (needed after a full day cramped up in train seats) and scarfed down some pasta via Deliveroo, I caught an early night.

I was looking forward to Brighton’s lovely, sunny weather at the seaside for the half, but sadly it didn’t play that way, and race day dawned grey, a bit damp and pretty windy, but I was still determined to put in a hard racing effort, see where my legs were at, and hopefully shed my old PB from 3 years ago of 1:43:57. As I was in the media tent, I had the luxury of a nice cosy tent to get changed in, a quiet bag drop right next to the start line and a Portaloo with no queue. Bliss!

Brighton Half MarathonThe race itself got underway, and for the first 4 miles I was flying, well inside goal pace and banking time, but knowing at mile 4, I would turn into a headwind that would last until mile 10. But, the turn came, and it never felt as bad as I was expecting- with the wind coming from the front left of me, I ran on the right shoulders of some big blokes, and shielded myself from the worst- cycling has definitely taught me the benefits of drafting! I kept up the splits under goal pace until about mile 9-10, where it seemed I’d been running into a headwind forever- that and a slight uphill made me have a little mental wobble. But I shouted at myself a bit about how the Lakesman will hurt too, shoved a gel down and decided to woman up.

And once I was out of the headwind, running next to a rainbow of beach huts down the flat run in to the finish, lined by cheering crowds, it didn’t seem so bad any more: my tired, painful quads were easier to ignore, knowing it was ‘only a parkrun to go’, and that all I had to do was hold my pace to run a decent PB. I won’t share any of the photos of my gurning, pained face as I crossed the line (frankly, they are not worth the purchase price), but I was made up with a new PB of 1:42:32.
Brighton Half MarathonThe media tent was a godsend, in that I could get my bag back super quickly, and get changed into some warm, dry clothes and have a cup of tea, and then cheer Tess through the finish before we headed off to refuel over a pub lunch and a cheeky IPA or two with her running club- a lovely, welcoming bunch.

Brighton Half Marathon

Photo nabbed from Tess

For a training block that’s been swim and bike heavy, I was made up that I could run a PB at the Brighton Half yesterday, when it wasn’t an A race or my target at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s a reflection of being fitter, or being able to suffer more, but either way, I’ll take it- Brighton, you were glorious, and I’ll be back!

My run can be found on Strava here: https://www.strava.com/activities/880172628

Massive thanks to Brighton Half Marathon for my free media race place, in exchange for writing about the race.