Relay recap: The Lakesman Triathlon 2016

If you know me at all, you’re probably familiar with the fact by now that if you promise me endurance sport somewhere pretty, with good company, I’ll be there like a shot. So when Team Bear pal Rach needed a pair of running legs for her relay team for The Lakesman Triathlon (Keswick’s brand new iron-distance triathlon), I snatched her hand off for a place.

Before the race
Unlike from WTS Leeds last weekend, the communication from the Lakesman organisers couldn’t have been better in the run up to the event. From the small participant numbers (limited so they could get it right for the first year) to their engagement with social media and answering athletes’ questions, the overall impression was that this was an event team who really cared.

My iron weekend began on the Saturday morning, when I packed up my little car and headed off to Keswick, via Skipton parkrun for a little leg loosening jog since it was en-route. I checked in nice and early (top marks) to my lovely B&B Skiddaw Croft in Portinscale, which I was very happy to discover a) had a room for me with an incredible view of Derwentwater and b) was practically on the run route and only a short walk from Keswick. Perfect!

I then met up with Team Bear, donned my wetsuit and went for a little dip in Derwentwater, which has to be one of the nicest lakes I’ve swum in- clean, warm and calm. Run done, splash in the lake done, and later on that evening, carbing up with a yummy pizza done, time to set a very early alarm to be able to watch Rach out of the swim onto the bike, and head to bed!

Race day
Being in an iron relay is a strange experience; you wake up super early and excited, but still know if you’re doing the run that you have a long day ahead of you. Still, I excitedly got down to the lakeside to watch the first swimmers emerge, with Rach heading out of the water well-placed in the women with a 1:09 swim.

After giddily cheering on just about everybody onto the bike (I LOVE iron cheerleading), I headed off to Wetherspoons for a classy and expensive pre-race brunch of £2.47 Nutella toast and coffee, and before I knew it, it was time to head back down to transition and be ready for Rach arriving. Our plan was for me to take the timing chip and Rach join me for lap 1 of 5, as a brick run for her. However, as my favourite ball of ginger magic arrived in T2, her hips didn’t want to play, so I grabbed the timing chip and skipped out onto the run to wrap up this Team Bear relay- and beat the other Bear relay team!

A lapped run course was never going to be easy, much less given that I hadn’t run over 6 miles since London, but that’s not to say it wasn’t fun. It’s impossible to be out on the run course of an ironman like the Lakesman and not be inspired; from regularly seeing the male leader to briefly running with the female leader on her last lap (both incredibly gracious, lovely athletes), to seeing people battle their toughest demons to drag themselves to the finish, there’s a lot of inspiration to be had.

My race got chewy at about 18 miles, as I’d expected it to, and I no longer bounced through the aid stations; I walked through, taking the chance to guzzle much-needed sugar to keep me going. It was tough, especially mentally, but I take great pride in finding my limits and overcoming them, so I did just that.Lakesman

As I ran down the slip road towards the lake one last time, past the last aid station, I grabbed Rach by the hand and before I knew it, we were running down the red carpet towards that magical archway, hands reaching for the finishers’ tape the marshals were holding across for us (an excellent touch that makes us all feel pretty pro), and nailing that 11:49:34 finish.

Lakesman

 

Post-finish

Lakesman

I thought I’d been well looked-after at the finish of a race before but this was nothing compared to the Lakesman. We were immediately ushered into a marquee filled with tables and chairs and a veritable banquet of food to go at, from a yummy giant cheeseboard, to proper baked potatoes with chilli or curry, Lancashire hotpot (I knew this was the better side of the Pennines for a reason) and endless supplies of hot drinks to warm us up after the rainy run.

The marshals and volunteers were incredible too. No sooner had I wondered if my legs would work to go get pudding, than a bowl of Cartmel sticky toffee pud (the Lakes’ best secret) was delivered to me! Northern hospitality doesn’t get better than that…

Sure, there are bits of feedback we’ll all be giving the organisers, but they’re minor blips in a fantastic race, run by athletes, for athletes- the thing that shone through all day was how much the organisers had lived and breathed the race for years, and wanted their baby to be a much-deserved success!

The aftermath

As I sit and write this, my body is in Yorkshire, after a dreary day back at work. My heart is still in Keswick though, and my brain is full of dreams, after watching both teammates and complete strangers push themselves past limits I never even thought were possible.

So, if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m pretty impressionable. One of the reasons I went along to the Lakesman was to find something to put me off racing; a rough swim, or horribly hilly bike leg, or terrible organisation… But I’m sure you can tell I didn’t. Not one thing to put me off.

So…. I’m in. Let 2017 be the year I become a Lakeswoman. *insert terrified emoji here*

NB: I have fully thought through the decision to do this race, unlike previously where I’ve entered on a whim, failed to fit in the training properly and DNS’d/DNF’d/had a really shit race. Cathy wrote a really good blog this week about how you have to respect the distance. No winging it. No half measures. The time in your life has to be right- like where I’m on a GP job for 4 months of the training build to the Lakesman, where I’ll have no evening, weekend or night shifts to get in the way of training- and importantly, resting and recovering from training too. I’m committed to giving it my all, and I have a few months before the build starts to get my swimming in a better place, fix up my run technique and get a good base of endurance on the bike- as well as racing some shorter triathlons as practice.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

 

Race recap: World Triathlon Leeds

When Leeds was announced as the race venue for the UK leg of this year’s World Triathlon Series, I was beyond excited. Hopefully seeing the Brownlees rip up the race in my home city would be beyond exciting! And then they announced an amateur race on the same weekend…. Sign me up!

The good

IMG_3813

After a less than stellar race at last year’s triathlon at Castle Howard, I felt I really had something to prove to myself this time around. Fortunately, I had what was (for me) a fantastic swim- no pauses for breaststroke/treading water/absolute panic; just smooth, controlled front crawl, sighting properly and not coming out of the water feeling like I’d had a massive trauma. Goal number one, nailed!

And onto the bike. It was SO much fun to race on roads I’ve lived and commuted on, but traffic free- Lizzie and I had masses of fun chicking men on the downhills AND the climbs, whizzing about and flying around corners pretending to be pro. HAPPY FACE!

The run? Never the most fun part of a triathlon, but with crowds starting to gather for the elite race, I felt like an absolute rockstar as I ran the couple of laps around the city centre, soaking up the cheers before crossing the famous blue archway.

Overall time: 1:43. 19th in AG and 182nd woman… By no means stellar, but an absolute breakthrough for me, and a massive confidence boost to go away and put in the work to race faster now.

The bad

Where do I start? I think I was spoiled by Ilkley Triathlon and Castle Triathlon Series for my past races, in that they excelled at the communication pre, during and post race, and really cared about their athletes, not just making money out of them.

Pre-race, the communication from WTS Leeds was bad. Like, had to find out your information from other athletes on social media bad. The information was sparse, emailed out pretty late and lacking in detail- I had no idea until race day what route I was supposed to be following! We also never received the athlete backpack promised to us in the pre-race info, with no explanation.

When I arrived on Saturday to rack my bike and set up T2 (in separate locations), I was horrified. The run from the lake to T1 (only partially carpeted) was a good 400m, followed by about half a mile down a slippery tarmac slope (not carpeted) either in bare feet or bike cleats, carrying a bag containing wetsuit to the bike mount line- and time penalties for any kit left in T1- a bizarre and completely made up new rule? Great!

FullSizeRender (3)

Bike mount done (at the bottom of a short sharp hill no less… Great planning leading to several men crashing in front of me when trying to pedal off in too big a gear) and on to the bike course, which was narrow and over-crowded but surprisingly passed without incident for me… Unlike T2!

A long run from the dismount line into the shambles that was T2… An un-carpeted building site filled with mud, gravel and broken glass… Just where I want to rack my pride and joy and be running through barefoot!

I then got out onto the run, where there was huge confusion about lap counting, leading some Standard distance competitors to receive a DNF on their precious, once-in-a-lifetime race. Not cool! I however managed to complete the course correctly, and then finished.

Ah, the finish. Where to begin. Cold and shivery, I was ushered through and given a medal, but no mention of a goody bag or finishers’ t-shirt- a surprise at nearly £100 for a sprint tri! The food I was ushered through was slices of orange and banana, stale halved bread rolls and bottled water, and free Erdinger Alkoholfrei- not exactly what a starving triathlete needs!

As number 5584, I was told my bags of wet swim kit and my dry bag containing phone, money and dry kit were on their way from Roundhay… So I waited, and checked, and waited, and checked…. And watched the whole women’s elite race, since I couldn’t find my friend and my Grandstand ticket with no phone, and waited a bit more. Finally, after 7 checks on where my bag was, I was told by a marshal that it wasn’t being brought from Roundhay and needed collecting. No announcement from WTS or explanation. Just no bags, and a shuttle I could get on to collect it- but by then I had my bike back and couldn’t take it on a bus.

By this point I was shivering in my still damp trisuit, starving hungry having not eaten for 9 hours, and seriously pissed off. I had to miss the elite men’s race, and miss the Brownlees racing on home turf, to cycle to Roundhay carrying my running shoes, to collect my kit.

At no point did WTS apologise or explain any of this, and when I got to Roundhay, bags were lying in piles with no security whatsoever- so I’m amazed my stuff was still there.

IMG_3815

All in all, I have never been made to feel more like a cash cow to fund an elite race. WTS Leeds clearly did not care about the logistics of the amateur race, and despite charging almost £100 per competitor for us, didn’t see fit to make it safe or enjoyable for us, or to see that we were looked after post-race. They also failed to provide the stated services (bag transport) or resources (athlete backpack, finishers’ t-shirt)… An absolute disgrace!

Weight vs wellness

I’ve got something deeply uncool to admit.

As a fitness blogger, we’re not supposed to openly care about weight, are we?

‘Wellness’ is what we’re supposed to care about; that vague word that conjures up images of (conveniently) willowy-thin girls with long, shiny hair in Lululemon leggings, who like to drink green juices and do headstands all the time. Openly talking about weight, even if it’s what ‘wellness’ often boils down to, is uncool, and admitting you care about your own is even less cool- we’re supposed to live off spiralised emptiness to make us more well not more thin, right?

The thing is, I do care and I do want to lose weight.

Like most other FY1 doctors that I work with, I’ve accumulated the ‘FY1 fourteen’ since I started work last August; the stone or so of extra weight that creeps on when you’re always busy, always tired, usually comfort eating because you’re stressed, and sometimes, when you’ve lost your grasp on proper portion sizes because you live with a perpetually ravenous cyclist.

IMG_3530

I was never more aware of this weight than training for the London Marathon through this winter. Compared to when I trained for the Yorkshire Marathon in 2013, the extra pounds weighed heavy; my legs would be niggly, and I’d feel slow and sluggish- just not myself. I’ve wanted to do something about it for a while, but always made just one more excuse about how I ‘need’ cake because James is having it, or that I’m on nights so I deserve a massive pile of carbs to keep me going. My race photos came back and confirmed what I already knew; I’m not fat, but I’m big for me.

Marathon

Admitting I care about my weight might be deeply uncool, but it’s helping me to do something about it, by taking a big step. I’ve briefly followed a nutrition plan from fitnaturally before, and really enjoyed it but for one reason or another went back to doing my own thing. I’ve since re-enrolled and am using their plans to help structure what I eat, with great results so far.

And the best bit? No cutting out massive food groups. No fads or the need for everything to be gluten free. Just proper food, how it should be (full fat dairy ftw!), but in the right sort of proportions for me and what I’m doing at the moment, helping me re-align my appetite with what I actually need to eat. It’s thinking that maybe just because I’m on a social bike ride, maybe I don’t need a giant scone at the cafe stop, maybe a coffee and a banana would actually make me ride better. If I’m willing to spend money on my new baby below (say hi to Lizzie) to help me go faster, it makes sense to make myself more aero as well as the bike ;)

Lizzie

Marathon recovery

Recovery is a very personal thing; that much is obvious to anyone who does endurance sport. Whether it’s the recovery needed between reps on a track, or recovery after an A race, it’s a very personal thing.

After running the London Marathon two weeks ago, I was in massive need of some good recovery time. I raced carrying an illness (FYI, not something I would ever advocate as a doctor, but we do make the worst patients), and had a really tough time of it. Afterwards, my cough came back with a vengeance, I was utterly knackered and absolutely everything hurt.

Fairly soon, my Strava filled up with people going for ‘recovery runs’ with their clubs barely slower than their marathon race pace only days earlier. My Twitter and Instagram was filled with selfies of runners out showing off their race tshirts. Have they all recovered spectacularly quickly?! Are they clearly a lot fitter than me?! These were the thoughts I initially had.

On reflection though, I remembered that recovery is far more important than most people give it credit for, so I focused on doing my own thing. On not running a single step until my body felt ready and I really wanted to; something I think is very underestimated but pretty important in recovery from a big race- not starting training again until you feel the need to train coming back. Until you feel ready.
recovery

So what have the past two weeks involved for me? A full week initially where other than work, I did nothing taxing. I had plenty of hot baths (Radox Muscle Therapy, you are a bath soak of dreams), and gave my legs, particularly my battered quads, some gentle massage. I did some of the easiest Jasyoga videos and really focused on how my body felt during them. I ate well, focusing on balanced meals, with plenty of protein and carbs, and the odd treat in there, because 4 months of training and a marathon is a long slog. I also watched a LOT of TV. Hello new Game of Thrones! As far as I can when working, I prioritised sleep too.

recoveryrecovery

This week, I was itching to get moving again, but I made sure I did it gently. An easy spin on the bike out to my favourite cafe for lunch with James. A 20 minute easy jog around my village, focusing on just enjoying it. A welcome return to my favourite club ride out to Bolton Abbey for coffee. All things I wanted to do (especially with a new bike begging for a test ride), and none of them with any pressure on pace, or distance, or anything but fresh air and enjoyment. And you know what? It’s made me hungry to get out there and back into proper training now.
recovery

All these things are underrated, but reading more into recovery and how elite athletes do it, these are the small things that add up, and keep the fire for training and self-improvement burning, rather than burning out halfway through every season because the athletes have completely overdone it. It’s how other than odd niggles that have required a bit of rest and extra attention, I haven’t had a proper injury for over two years now.

There’s a lot to be said for recovery, and I think it’s an underrated art.

London Marathon 2016

The week I had leading up to the London Marathon on Sunday was not an easy one. Taper flu reared it’s ugly head on Monday with a sore throat, and despite me resting hard and praying I’d be better, on my last day at work on Thursday I had a hacking cough and my consultant was threatening to put a ‘danger of infection’ label on my forehead. Not ideal marathon prep.

Knowing that the London Marathon organisers allow a generous cutoff for deferrals (8pm the night before the race), I headed down to London to collect my number anyway, figuring I’d either be well enough to run, or could defer, catch up with friends and have fun cheering on the runners. I caught up with wonderful Rebecca who I hadn’t seen in AGES, ate lots of carbs and tried to remain positive.

London Marathon

I went for a short test run on Saturday afternoon and barring a lot of snot rockets, felt okay- my chest had cleared pretty well, I was hardly coughing, and running felt relatively easy. 7pm came and my head was still a swirling conflict of ‘respect the distance; only idiots race ill’ and ‘this is the race you’ve always wanted to do; just adapt your goals and try to enjoy it’. As 7:59pm came and went, I made up my mind: to run the race, aiming for 9 minute mile or so pace, 40 seconds per mile slower than I’d trained for, but would still see me round in sub-4 hours.
London Marathon

I won’t drone on with a mile-by-mile recap, but for the first 16 miles or so, I felt great, running an average pace of 8:40min/mile or so without issue, and really enjoying the massive crowds and iconic route. I briefly ran with super strong Cathy before she headed off to bag herself another stellar time, and then things started to get hard, with my legs starting to seize up and my cough making a re-appearance. I knew Steph was planning to be at mile 21, so focused all my attention on getting there, telling myself if I made it to her it would all be okay.

Mile 21 came and went, and through the dense, wonderful, cheering crowds, I sadly never spotted her. It became harder and harder to keep going now that carrot dangling in front of me had gone, with searing pain in both quads, and sharp pains in my chest whenever I coughed or took a deep breath. It’d have been oh-so-easy to pull out at that point, but with the ghosts of Snowdonia Marathon fresh in my mind, I stuck it out, having a disciplined walking break at the next few mile markers, but forcing myself to run in between, buoyed by brilliant encouragement from the crowds. After an age, mile 25 appeared, shortly followed by James, and I held my head high, determined to run and enjoy every last agonising step of my victory lap to the finish.

I rounded the last corner, saw the finishing line and promptly burst into tears, partly at the sheer relief that I could stop running, and partly with emotion at having overcome a few of the demons that have taken residence in my mind since last summer and the start of a disastrous run of races.
London Marathon
4:01:01 is a bittersweet time when I was aiming for sub-3:40 all the way through training, but I’m proud to have stuck it out, I mostly had a blast, and I will 100% be back to conquer that brilliant course in the future. London, it was a pleasure! In the meantime, I *may* or may not have entered Paris as next spring’s project. One to crack on with when I can walk down stairs without a handrail and looks of alarm from fellow hospital staff, perhaps….

London Marathon

PS. James and I stayed with the wonderful Sarrah and Chris via Airbnb for the race, and I can’t think of a more welcoming, obliging pair of hosts for a weekend. If you’re racing in London, I would highly recommend staying with them- details here.

I’m a woman & the Government thinks I’m collateral damage

‘You’re bossing it, as a woman in medicine and a woman in sport’.

‘You’re holding down a tough job, a relationship and demanding training at the same time.’

‘You’re a superhero.’

All things that have been said to me reasonably recently, by friends, colleagues and blog readers. On the surface, I’m doing well, but I’ve definitely been pretending to myself and everyone else that everything in the garden is rosy.

IMG_3595

Being a young female doctor, and trying to hold down a house, relationship and some kind of training regime, feels overwhelming almost all of the time. The only way I can try to describe it is feeling like I have many, many plates spinning at the same time, and to keep them all spinning takes divided attention and never giving any of them my full focus.

If I focus on one properly, I hear the sound of several others crashing to the floor. In a society that buzzes from being busy, and a workplace culture where long, stressful hours are the norm, it’s taboo to say you’re struggling.

As a doctor, you are the problem solver. You come on shift, and a pager is attached to your person. Whenever it bleeps, you’re obliged to answer, whether it’s the first hour of the shift or your twelfth. Whether you’re free or whether you’re so overwhelmed with jobs to do that you feel like screaming. Now, now, now, everybody’s demands flow in. This discharge note needs writing NOW, the man in Bed 6 needs a new IV line for his 6pm meds NOW, this patient is becoming unwell and needs you NOW, this electronic system needs updating NOW so we don’t fail our audit, come NOW because your alcoholic patient is having a withdrawal seizure. A calm, polite manner is expected at all times as you race from ward to ward to get things done.

Everybody is busy and everybody is overworked, but we do it because we want to care for our patients. We have a brief cry shut in a bathroom or linen cupboard, and then we carry on. We ignore our failing kidneys and aching, hungry stomachs because patients need us. We work past our shift finishing times, because if you’re walking out and a relative needs to speak to a doctor about their loved one, or somebody stops breathing, it’s a vocation not a job, and you can’t just leave. Goodwill oils the wheels of the NHS to keep turning in the face of ever-increasing demand and decreasing funding.

Almost as soon as I started my career last August, it became clear that the Government’s contract reforms were bad news. We took to the streets in our thousands up and down the country to protest against fundamentally unsafe new contracts for doctors. When they didn’t listen, 98% of us voted to take industrial action to make them take note, and next week, the fourth 48 hour doctors strike is set to go ahead. In spite of all this, the Government is imposing these contracts on us anyway. An Equality Impact Assessment was carried out after concerns were raised about the unfair nature of the new contract, and the report this week was released, with repetitive use of an absolutely staggering phrase.

‘In summary, whilst there are features of the new contract that impact disproportionately against women, of which we expect some to be advantageous and others disadvantageous, we do not consider that this would amount to direct discrimination as the impacts can be comfortably justified… Any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’

That’s right. Because I am female and a doctor, I am viewed as collateral damage to the greater good by the Government in their mission to reform doctors contracts to make us cover more hours for less pay.

Since last August, I have been becoming steadily more disillusioned. I have worked up to 90 hour weeks on occasion, sacrificing sleep, mealtimes and social contact to keep patients safe on grossly understaffed rotas. I have missed family occasions, seeing friends, and keeping myself fit and healthy because I was on an inflexible, unfair rota. I am now at a point where my enthusiasm and goodwill has gone. My motivation to do the extra things required of doctors in their free time, such as keeping a professional portfolio, carrying out audit work and attending courses and seminars has gone. 8 months into this job, and I’m considering leaving, as a direct result of the new contract; I’m already stretched to my limit, and have nothing more to give.

Last night, for the first time, all of this overwhelmed me so much, I sat and cried. Cried for the future career that’s shrouded in uncertainty, the not knowing where I will live or work at the end of this year, or whether I will even be a doctor any more.

At 23, I have dealt with more terrifying, emotionally demanding, horrendous situations than any of the Tory ministers imposing this new contract on me, but that counts for nothing. It counts for nothing to them, because I was unfortunate to be born with a pair of ovaries and not a pair of testicles. Because if I want to be a parent, it’s me that will need to take maternity leave, and God forbid, if I become a single parent, it’s me who will need to look after my child. The light at the end of the tunnel was a stable, financially secure job at the end of medical school and my first couple of years in medicine, and that light is going out, as thousands of doctors make the necessary arrangements to leave England if these contracts come in, me included.

I’m Sarah, I’m 23 and I’m a junior doctor; and I don’t think I can do this any more.

10 things the Hansons Marathon Method has taught me

After 14 weeks of mostly following the Hansons Marathon Method training for the London Marathon, I thought I’d share a few important lessons it’s taught me so far, that I can definitely take into the marathon I’m planning next year- a sunny jaunt to Barcelona!

  1. If you’re going to run more a la Hansons, you really do need to slow right down. There’s a world of difference, if you’re going to run up to 50 miles a week, between a 9 minute mile and a 10 minute mile, even if they don’t feel that much different in terms of effort, and you need to do the easy miles truly easy to reap the rewards.Hansons
  2. In the same vein, recovery runs should feel almost comically slow, like an exaggerated version of slow running. Only that way, do your legs feel better at the end than they did at the start. World record holding marathoners racing at sub-5 minute miles will do recovery runs at 8 minute miles, so if they slow down that much there’s probably a lesson in there for all of us to put our ego to one side and go for a granny jog.
  3. Spreading mileage more consistently through the week really works, as opposed to some traditional plans that have you running 20 of your weekly 35 miles on a Sunday. Spread the miles, spread the injury risk, and trust me, you still get used to running on very tired legs!Hansons
  4. You don’t have to follow a plan to the letter to use its training methods. I learned very quickly that the best way for me to recover is to skip the Monday recovery run that Hansons schedule in, and use the evening for a really good stretching and foam roller session. Just because a session is on the plan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what your legs need that day!
  5. The little things for recovery that you can do really add up when you’re clocking up pretty big mileage. Stretching, massage, getting plenty of sleep, eating enough carbs before/during training and plenty of protein after- all boring, and nothing groundbreaking, but they really do add up, and when I look in my training diary at the weeks that I haven’t run well, I can ALWAYS trace it back to slacking off the little things, being super busy at work or overdoing things. My personal favourite new recovery boost is after a tough session in the evening, instead of dessert, I make a proper hot chocolate with full-fat milk just before bed to top me up with goodness overnight. Yummy and good for sleep!Hansons
  6. Speedwork for a marathon doesn’t have to mean absolutely smashing yourself so you can’t walk the next day. Each session should stretch you a little, and the progress comes from being fit to do them, at a consistent pace, week in week out- not nailing them once and being unable to move the rest of the week!
  7. Sundays don’t have to mean massive long runs of 20 miles or more that ruin me for the day any more. A strongly paced 16 miles is more than enough training benefit, and actually, is a far bigger confidence boost than dragging myself round a terrible 22 miles!
  8. The best confidence boost for trying to race a marathon PB, it turns out, is getting out and running the miles at marathon pace. A 12 mile run with 10 at race pace on a weekday might feel like an overhead, but that time teaching your legs to tick over at a set pace is really, really confidence boosting!
  9. Strava is not everything. If you’re going to train the Hansons way, you really have to let go of segment chasing. Though you do top the distance leaderboards without too much hassle ;)
  10. And to end  on a lighthearted note, Hansons has taught me that if you buy nice enough kit (I’m looking at you, Lululemon), it doesn’t need washing after every run. You generate enough laundry on this plan without fresh kit for every run!

If you’ve trained the Hansons way, what did it teach you? And if you haven’t, would you consider it?