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. 

 

SKINS RY400 compression review

With any degree of training hard, comes the need to recover and repair; after all, what’s the point of training hard if you don’t look after your body well enough to benefit from it?

When SKINS got in touch with me in the autumn to see if I wanted to try out some of their compression wear, I jumped at the chance, given the winter training I had planned. The jury’s still out in terms of the science of it, but if there’s something relatively affordable that might help my muscles recover well, I’m down with that. Plus triathlon types love obscenely tight Lycra, right?SKINS RY400 compression

Since then, I’ve been wearing a pair of SKINS RY400 compression recovery tights after most of my sessions, and the matching long sleeved top as a layer when I’m desperately trying to get warm after chilly winter sessions. They’re panelled tights designed to support and compress key muscles like the quads, which has been proving pretty handy during some big cycling miles and hard turbo sessions- they feel like a cosy hug for my legs when they’re tired and sore.

SKINS RY400 compression

They’re lightweight, thin tights that are really comfortable, and easy to layer up under sweatpants when it’s really chilly, or equally to wear as PJ bottoms if the training has really been heavy that day. The thinking is that the gradient compression helps your muscles to recover by delivering more oxygen to them and helping reduce waste products like lactic acid that sit in your muscles, making them sore. Whether or not this is grounded in hard fact, I struggle to comment on, but what I do know is that alongside other recovery focused ideas like eating properly and doing mobility work, my legs are standing up well to a pretty big training volume at the moment.

As you might expect, given I’ve been wearing them a LOT since I got them, I’ve been washing them a lot too, and my only slight flaw I’ve found is that the fabric they’re made of develops small bobbles over time, particularly on areas like the knees and inner thighs. They’re also not the most opaque of tights- but then no compression tights on the market are, and it is what it is- for me the benefits of them far outweigh that minor downside.

Fresher legs for big training sessions just by lounging about? Cheers to that!

SKINS RY400 compression

If you fancy recovering in your own SKINS gear, they’ve given me a code for you all to get 20% off their new collection for two weeks- enter GOLDRUN20 at the till!

I was sent a set of the SKINS RY400 compression garments in the autumn to try out, and these are my opinions after a decent period of heavy usage.

Running through winter

I’m not going to lie, winter is when I’m at my best as a runner. I work better in chilly temperatures on the run, and it’s no coincidence all of my PBs have been set in the autumn or winter.

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Doesn’t mean it’s when I enjoy it the most though. Don’t get me wrong, on a day like the one in these photos, gadding about in crisp, chilly snow or frost, with gorgeous scenery is no hardship, but these days are in the minority.

Grey. Cloudy. Drizzly. Windy. Dark. Always dark.

I could go on. There’s a lot of things that can make it harder for even the most seasoned runner to keep going through winter, and I’m no stranger to sofa inertia in winter myself. Cosy blankets, lots of tea and winter TV are infinitely more appealing sometimes, I won’t lie. Runners like Cat Simpson and Susie Chan inspire me hugely to get my head down and get on with it, but the other thing that helps me hugely?

The right kit. Keeping myself warm enough, seen by other road users and able to carry essentials like keys, my phone and snacks if I’m going a little longer are all vital to me enjoying winter training as much as possible in the perpetual gloom of British winter.

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One of my favourite bits of kit I’ve acquired this winter is these tights from Tribesports, as part of their new Elite collection. I’ve been running in them for a few months now and can honestly say I love them. They’re a true, deep opaque black, with really distinctive silver stripes around the lower legs, that are reflective. They have everything I look for- a big zip pocket, a deep, comfy waistband and even a one-piece drawcord- such a simple touch but one I really like from other kit I have with it. A firm thumbs up from me! They’ve also been through the wash umpteen times now with no mishaps, and run bang on true to size.

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The other piece of kit I’ve been testing for the past few months is the Hipster from running brand Nathan. It’s a soft, wide, slip-on waistband, with zip-free pockets for all your valuables and bits you’d like to take out running. When Nathan offered me one to try, I was deeply sceptical, but if it’d leave me somewhere to keep gels, keys and my phone for opportunistic selfies and podcasts, I was game.

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Happily, I was surprised. I’ve regularly loaded  up the belt, and for the first time ever, I haven’t had annoying jiggling or jangling of keys. The belt is tight enough to hold items still and secure despite the lack of zips, but because it’s stretchy, it can fit absolutely loads in. With it being slip on it has no scratchy Velcro, so it’s super comfy- just like another waistband on your tights or shorts. It’s definitely a good option if you see some tights you HAVE to get, but they don’t have pockets. It can take a few miles to find where the Hipster naturally sits on your, well, hips or waist, but once it settles it stays pretty still. Just like the tights, this has been washed at least once a week through the winter, and is as good as new!

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This winter, I’ve also got into running with headphones in for the first time. Unless I’m doing a hard session and the power playlist of chart pop cheese, jangly indie and some angry rock needs to come out, I’m really loving podcasts this winter, as a way to keep myself amused on long runs, either laugh a lot (looking at you, My Dad Wrote a Porno), learning about ironman training (The OxygenAddict Tri podcast) or chuckling at Laura Fountain’s funny running podcast

Do you run with music or podcasts regularly? I’m new to the podcast world, so if you have any good suggestions, leave me a comment!

The Tribesports tights and Nathan Hipster were both sent to me in the autumn to test out, and these are my honest opinions after a few months of heavy usage.

Photos courtesy of James at Pedals and Pain for the price of a lot of moaning about the cold and a coffee to say thankyou. Taken at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales.

Adaptability and ironing

After my last blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was on a one way ticket to supreme fitness and surely a PB at my first race of the season, the Central Lancashire Half Marathon last weekend. I’d got in some decent runs and my legs were feeling pretty strong from cycling, but alas it was not to be.

A few days after my Christmas century ride, I became steadily more ill with what turned out to be a chest infection, and even though doctors make terrible patients, even I knew running was out of the question. So I did nothing. I took a week off, diligently took my antibiotics and focused all my energy on getting better. When I could breathe again without coughing and was feeling much better, I headed out to test the waters, but not with a full pelt launch back into training- with a steady run with a Buff over my face (top tip to warm and humidify chilly air before it hits your chest and makes you cough).

Happily, it went fine, but rather than attempting a full gas half marathon effort just a few days later, I adapted the plan. Instead of racing, I joined a friend nursing sciatica round for a steadier run, chatting the whole way round and enjoying a leg stretch, though still finishing in a respectable 1.52 and scooping a MASSIVE first race medal of the season. A PB effort can wait until Brighton Half in February!

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At first, I was gutted to miss an opportunity to get a PB I’d secretly been hoping for, but until June, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture- wise words from Drewbies definitely spring to mind about how whilst you’re training for it, the iron distance tri needs to be your priority. Other races are fun to do as B goals along the way, but they’re just that- small goals to help motivate training, not to race at all costs and cause you setbacks.

So, happily, after a steady run around that half, a mahoosive medal to start the year’s collection and an easy week to get going with training again, I am positively raring to go. There’s ironing to be done!

Festive training: an update

A wise woman once said to me, ‘you must do the things you think you cannot do’, and it’s only reasonably recently that this has been ringing true. Coming into the festive season, my training plan didn’t back off, but instead led into Christmas with a big swimming block followed by a big week of running and biking before having a taper week in early January to race a half marathon.

I’ll be honest, during those two weeks, there have been a lot of days where after dragging myself up the stairs to bed, I’ve checked the training plan for the next day and simply thought ‘FUCK. OFF. No way can I do that.’ Swim sets with what felt like improbably fast target paces. Bike rides that I knew would be long and tough in the windy, wintery weather Yorkshire has been blessed with recently. Run sessions I’d only usually tackle well-rested and on fresh legs, but where I knew I wouldn’t have that luxury. You get the picture.

The good thing about having a coach is, that you don’t want to give up on a session before you’ve even started it, for no good reason other than a lack of self belief. So this is how even after thinking ‘no way!’ to several sessions, early alarms have been set, carbs have been guzzled and the miles have been ticked off.

Funkita kitOne of the things I really didn’t think I’d a) complete or b) enjoy, was 4 consecutive swim days in a row- some easy drills, some strength work with paddles and a pull buoy, and some flat out speedwork. This also meant 4 alarms on the wrong side of 6am in a row, which is never tremendously fun in anyone’s world. But still- coffee exists for a reason, and this increased swim volume is working already, in that my stroke feels much smoother and stronger. I’m told the next step is a Tempo Trainer which seems to be a beeping instrument of torture which goes under my cap. Yay!

I’m very lucky, too, that at weekends and most recently Christmas, I have a very understanding family and a mostly patient partner in James. He’s been kind enough to join me for my last two long rides, a flat 86 miler in Yorkshire to our favourite cafe in Easingwold with a few club pals, and a century ride through the Trough of Bowland just after Boxing Day, despite the fact he is much faster than me, and far better at hill climbing (as most people with any quads are).

IMG_4608On both of these long rides, there’s been points where I’ve paced it badly, not eaten enough or just been generally fed up of riding uphill with no respite, and have been miserable and grumpy. But when there’s someone there to have a laugh with, to stop you being a diva and help you see that the world might not be ending, you might just be hungry, things never seem quite so bad. I’m well aware in time, these long rides will need to be solo and with a pace focus, but for now, whatever gets me out of the door onto cold, filthy roads to get the miles in will have to do!IMG_4632

 

A particular highlight was our century ride. It was chilly, and thanks to James’s route planning, certainly hilly in the middle section, but after a few days of Christmas excess, family bickering and too much TV, nothing could have been better than testing myself against some serious climbs (by my standards), whizzing over the tops onto the moors and enjoying the glorious descent down the Trough of Bowland.

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Well, not having a 10 minute brick run to do off the back of 100 miles would probably be better, but nobody said ironing was going to be easy, hey? Especially not when your long run in the same week includes threshold mile reps *vom*

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So other than in need of a serious afternoon on my yoga mat and a long. hot soak in the bath, my December has tried me and tested me, but also left me stronger, more determined, and (importantly) once I’ve eased up and absorbed the training, hopefully a bit faster!

What’s your Christmas looked like training? Supportive family and lots of Lycra time, or resting up, entering races and plotting for your 2017? Let me know!

All cycling photos in this post taken by James over at Pedals and Pain.

 

 

Ironing: in the beginning

Four weeks out of six months is a pretty small proportion, so it’s probably pretty premature to be writing about how training for The Lakesman is going, but I feel like a great deal has happened already, and most of it for the better.

As I talked about here, I’ve enlisted the help of Chris to structure my training for me, and make sure I’m doing enough but not too much, hold me accountable and properly structure my training to get me where I need to be. Number one on the agenda was to go and have my stroke analysed by him, so I could do the appropriate drills.

EndlessPool4After almost a month of hammering out my drills, plodding patiently up and down the pool with my fins on, I can already see the benefit: doing sessions tailored to me, and doing sessions consistently, have left me swimming a bit quicker for less effort than I was before, which is really encouraging for those 6am starts in the pool and endless hair tangles.

Next on my list was setting training zones/paces for all of the disciplines, something I’d been secretly dreading ever since Chris explained how we’d set training paces for swim, bike and run: for swim, some CSS (Critical Swim Speed tests); for bike, maximum heart rate tests on the turbo; and for run, a flat out parkrun. Gulp. I can always plod at a sensible pace for hours and hours, but the thing I have always struggled with is flogging myself at my limits of pace, so I was NOT looking forward to these sessions.

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Happily though, I’m writing from the other side of them.

CSS tests, it turns out, aren’t a whole barrel of fun. After warming up, they involve swimming 400m as fast as you can, resting a bit, and then smashing out a 200m as fast as you can. That pace is then used to generate your training speeds for different swim reps, to develop speed for racing. All I will say is that when your lane buddy knows you’re doing a CSS test purely by the look on your face, you know you’ve worked hard! One down….

My favourite of the tests was, as you’d expect, the running pace test. I chose to do it at my favourite parkrun, where handily, there were pacers on. I secretly wanted to try for a PB (sub 22:51), so planned to set off with the 23 minute pacer and leave him at about 4K to sneak under the time. What happened in reality was that I got excited, set off like a bat out of hell, overtook the pacer 200m in and then had to cling on for grim death. My instructions were to try as hard as I could, so I was really proud when on the finishing straight I felt like Jonny Brownlee staggering in the Mexican heat, and arrived at a new PB of 22:31. Job done!

Finally?

A max heart rate test on the turbo, involving 5 and 20 minute efforts, deliberately designed to push my heart to its maximum capacity and keep it there. It was, quite possibly, the longest 20 minutes of my life. But by the time I’d accumulated a large puddle of sweat on the bike room floor, ruined mascara and no breath to do anything but gasp, I was done- with one very neat heart rate graph to show for it.

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So aside from a very unattractive selfie, the point of this post was that the first few weeks of Lakesman training have reinforced more strongly than ever that there are no shortcuts to achieving what I want to: just a LOT of hard work, and having the faith that I can push through sessions I think I can’t. Now to keep the momentum going and use those zones to put in the hard yards through the rest of winter!