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!

CentralLancs

 

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.

IMG_4628

 

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*

IMG_4631

 

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.

MaxTurbo

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.

TurboHR

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!

Starting from the beginning

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

EndlessPool4

Hello!

 

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

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

EndlessPool1

 

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

EndlessPool3So guess what I’ll be doing this winter?

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

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

 

Inspiration in the age of ‘influencers’

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

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

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

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

Photo taken from Cathy's blog.

Photo taken from Cathy’s blog.

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

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

Photo taken from Cat's blog.

Photo taken from Cat’s blog.

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

Photo from Rhianon's Twitter.

Photo from Rhianon’s Twitter.

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

Photo taken from Claire's Twitter.

Photo taken from Claire’s Twitter.

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

Race recap: West Coast Half Marathon 2016

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

westcoasthalf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funkita Fit review

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

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

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

Funkita Fit

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

Funkita Fit

 

 

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

Big thumbs up, Funkita!

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