Doing the work

The few triathlons I’ve done so far, and in fact, races in general, have taught me that knowing the theory of how they should work isn’t enough. Endless time spent poring over footage of elite athletes, reading endless articles and blogs, and spending money on lovely new kit and gadgets are all very well, but they won’t necessarily make me perform better.

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There’s a lot of talk around how we should only do exercise and training sessions that we actually want to do. To an extent, I agree. The thing is though, I really love the feeling of swimming quickly, gliding smoothly through the water. Without putting in the work though, it doesn’t happen and I’m left aimlessly windmilling my arms, tiring myself out and going absolutely nowhere. If I relied purely on motivation to improve my performance in sport, I wouldn’t get very far: I’m only human, and motivation waxes and wanes like the weather varies throughout a British summer.

So what’s more reliable than motivation? Discipline.

The friends I have who succeed in sport (looking at you, Cat and Cathy) aren’t necessarily the most motivated ones: they’re the most disciplined ones. Whether or not they want to do the session that day, they are disciplined enough to know that it’s necessary to produce the performance they’d like.

So that’s how I’m working on my swimming at the moment. I want to be gliding smoothly and quickly through the water in my next race. I currently do swim like an arthritic frog with panicky arms. So I’m being disciplined and doing the things I don’t always want to- doing the work.

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I assumed swimming club sessions wouldn’t be for me, that I’d be laughed out of there, but I’ve been to two now, amongst a lot of solo sets to work on my weaknesses and I’ve loved them; they’ve been jovial and welcoming, but seriously hard work, with technically challenging drills, all-out sprints and long sets to push me right out of my comfort zone. And you know what? It works. I’ve made bigger leaps in the past month with my swimming than I have done in a couple of years, and it’s not down to reading about technique or buying new kit.

It’s about consistently doing the work. Food for thought there.

 

Running legs & Iffley Road shorts

I’ve written about it before here, but I don’t think marathon recovery is something to be rushed; I think the impact on both your legs and body can’t be overestimated, and recovery looks different to everybody. Before The Lakesman relay, I received some Iffley Road shorts to test, and it took great patience not to run a marathon in them despite some promising test runs, and then not to rush my recovery just so I could run in them!Iffley Road Shorts

Once my running legs came back to me, I’ve carried on testing the Holly shorts from Iffley Road in Gravel Black, and despite them being pretty far from what I normally choose in shorts, I actually kinda like them! My norm is tight-fitting, stretchy, slightly longer cycling-style shorts, so these short, looser-fit shorts are a little bit different. Designed in Britain, they’re made from technical fabric in a flat-fronted, quite minimalist style- quite traditional in design. Iffley Road Shorts

I tested a size small, and found them to be really comfortable for my shorter runs, though those prone to the chub rub may want to give them a miss, as the looser fit and short length could make these a chafe-prone short. They stayed lovely and cool to run in though, even in the warmer weather, and I barely noticed them, apart from a quiet ‘swish’ to the fabric which even James noticed! The design is subtle but classy, and compared to the more garish Lycra in my wardrobe, I really like them for a more subtle piece of kit.Iffley Road shorts

So what’s next for these running legs now I’m all recovered from the Lakesman and I have new kit to play in? I spent a very interesting session with Tom at Trimechanics this week, where after getting over the horror of watching myself run in slow motion, I learned a few things about the way I run and why I get tired when I do, and get the niggles I do, and most importantly, picked up some homework for before my runs. This mainly revolves around’switching on’ the right muscles before my runs, and harnessing good natural posture to run in the most efficient way possible- got to be pretty handy with an ironman coming up!

Disclaimer: Iffley Road sent me the Holly shorts to run in and try out in exchange for my honest opinions about them after a decent period of testing. 

Stepping stones to your dreams

As I alluded to in my last post, I’ve set myself a fairly lofty goal for next June- to race the iron-distance Lakesman triathlon. At the moment, it’s in equal measures terrifying and exciting, because I know I’m a long way from where I’ll need to be, and I have a lot of hard work to do to make sure I not only complete the race, but actually enjoy doing it.

Lakesman

Laura Fountain wrote a piece recently on base building for marathon training, which really chimed with me- I’m guilty of thinking the shiny training plan stuck to the wall will take care of everything for my goal race, and not always putting in the prep to hit the ground running, so to speak.

Training for the Lakesman is going to require a lot of good habits, and they aren’t going to magically embed themselves by January, so here’s a little of what I’m planning as the stepping stones to my A goal. The B goals along the way that will motivate me, give me confidence and allow me to learn the craft before I dive straight in.

Stepping stone races

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A couple of pals of mine recently raced  iron-distance triathlons as their first triathlons, and both absolutely nailed them, but I know diving straight in the deep end isn’t the thing that would give me confidence. 140.6 miles of swim, bike, run is a big, big question mark for me, so stepping stones in the form of Olympic distance triathlons at Allerthorpe Classic and Jorvik Olympic and a 70.3 at the Rubicon will build my confidence at longer triathlons.  To keep me interested in running I’ve also got a couple of local half marathons and the Paris marathon pencilled in for 2017. I might even chuck a swim race in to make all those lengths worth it. Smaller goals to break up a long slog of training.

Getting some helpWharfeSwim
I’m very, very aware that in particular my swim, but also my bike and run have technique flaws that need addressing to be efficient over that distance of race, so I’ll be calling upon people much more learned than me to help me. I’m off to see Tom at Trimechanics this week to start working on making my running form more efficient and ditching the big clunky stability running shoes, will be calling on Mother Mermaid Rach to help sort out my inefficient swim stroke over the summer, and nearer the time, will find a coach to help me write a training plan well-suited to my life, my goals and where I’m at now.

Being realistic
One of the ways I spent a fair bit of the Lakesman last weekend was grilling both athletes and their nearest and dearest that I knew, about how much training they’d had to do, how they’d managed it around life commitments, and how their races worked out for them off the training they’d put in, before I signed up- I wanted to be confident I could put in the work that would be needed.

Fuelling it properly
I’ve been quietly chipping away at getting my body composition in a better place for endurance sport with the help of fitnaturally, and am making reasonable progress. Learning to think about what I’m eating and why, and how much of it, has helped me to shave off over 3kg of unnecessary ballast, so I’ll be keeping going whilst I get ready for ironman training, because that training volume will need me healthy, and with a strong engine in a light body, not carrying around lots of extra cake weight ;)

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.