Category Archives: Races

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?

Liverpool Half 2016 aka how to make a race hard work…

On Sunday, after winning a Brooks competition on Twitter, I ran the Vitality Liverpool Half Marathon in a time of 1:49:20, as an end to my absence of racing since last July. The time was good, but the race itself felt like hell on earth, so I thought I’d share my guide for how to make racing really hurt for yourself…

1. Make sure you plan the race for the end of your biggest mileage week so far, after a fortnight of night shifts.

2. Make sure everywhere you either run or hike in the week leading up to the race is either uphill or downhill whilst you’re in the Lake District. Definitely no flats.

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3. Whilst you’re away for the week, make sure you really enjoy the local food, and lots of it. Bacon every morning is mandatory.

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4. Instead of a light, nourishing dinner the night before, stay at your mum’s house, and have a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, followed by two types of pudding, so you feel optimally weighed down for the race.

5. Do a really bad job of stretching and looking after your legs in the week leading up to the race, so everything feels tight and twangy.

6. On the warmest day of 2016 to date, when you find yourself thinking your race vest and shorts look tiny and chilly, definitely add a long-sleeved baselayer so you’ll sweat LOADS and feel really hot all race.

7. Whilst we’re on kit, make sure you choose your shortest shorts with highest chance of chub rub to test out in the race.

Voila! The perfect way to make you hate what was actually a really nicely-run race. I’m definitely going back in the future with better training to try and nail a PB there!

The ups and downs of marathon training

After those first few weeks of building up regular running again, marathon training has ramped up to what I’m more used to, with tempo runs, speedwork and longer runs starting to build up. But, as ever, with my job being the way it is, I’ve had to be flexible in how I’m training, and adapt the Hansons plan as I go along (with the help of the ever-wise Simon), so here’s a bit of a run-down of how it’s been going!

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Speed work
I have a massively love-hate relationship with speedwork. When I’m fit and I’m ‘fast’ for me, I love speedwork, feeling my lungs and my legs burn as I fly around the track or along the path. Other times, like recently? If I have a target pace in mind for my reps that my legs just won’t produce, I find it really frustrating. I try to relax into the running and let it flow, but I end up angry my legs just won’t ‘fly’ like they used to!

Recovery runs
There’s no hate between me and recovery runs- unlike some runners I actually love them- the only difficulty I have is slowing down enough to actually recover on them. ‘Easy days easy, so the hard days can be hard’ is a mantra I try to follow, but if I’m enjoying the run, sometimes I can glance down at my watch and realise I’m not far off race pace!

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Tempo runs
I might not love a speedwork session, but I LOVE a tempo run. I don’t know if it’s that I know I’m directly practicing race pace for the big day, or that consistent pacing comes pretty easily to me if I know what speed I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m up to 8 miles at marathon pace now, and I’m starting to find my legs are naturally ticking along at that pace without too much stress. All good reassuring stuff this far out from the big day!

Long runs
Long runs on the whole are going okay. I’ve had to adapt one or two, and missed one completely (what can you do when you’re working 13 hours of your Sunday?!), but the ones I’ve done so far have felt controlled and strong. It’s hard on the Hansons plan sometimes not to feel like I’m really far behind those following conventional plans, but I’m trusting the process and having faith in the plan!

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Adapting the plans for difficult weeks
On standard weeks at work, fitting in training isn’t difficult. Okay, so it means I have to make reasonably quick dinners, and sacrifice a bit of time lounging on the sofa watching TV, but it’s not difficult. Long on-call shifts and night shifts make it difficult though. I was initially stressing about those weeks, because I was either missing runs completely or having to shorten runs to fit them in at 10pm after work. Simon has had a job on his hands to convince me of it, but during these weeks, I’m trying to just run if I feel good, but if the shift at work takes it out of me or I feel really tired, having no panic about just resting. One of the hardest lessons to learn!

Fuelling
When the plan was mostly short easy runs, fuelling runs didn’t take any thought, but now the runs are getting longer and more taxing, I’m paying more attention to fuelling them and recovering from them. I’ll cover it more in a separate post, but it mostly means making sure I stay well-hydrated even when I’m super busy at work (something I’m terrible at!), using my trusty favourite SiS Go Gels on runs of 10 miles or more, and if I won’t get a meal soon after the run, kick-starting recovery with either an SiS protein bar or some yummy chocolate flavoured Rego recovery drink until I get home to a proper meal. Having liked and used SiS products for a while, it’s ace to have a steady supply of them to support me, as well as trying out new ones as an SiS ambassador.

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Mobility and strength work
Again, this is one of the bits of training that I’m absolutely terrible at. When I get super busy, it’s the first thing I ‘forget’ about doing, but as part of my #LimberLent promise, I’m making sure I do some each day, whether it’s 20 minutes of Jasyoga mobility videos, some quality time with the foam roller and massage stick, some simple bodyweight exercises or even some balance work and calf stretches whilst I cook dinner (or even whilst typing discharge letters at a standing desk at work!). It’s early days yet, but I’m feeling strong on tempo runs so far- now just to rid myself of these pesky tight calves.

How’s your marathon training going so far? Are you looking forward to spring as much as I am?

Highs and lows of 2015 & my word for 2016

At the start of 2015, I wrote a post about my word for 2015; try. I was buzzing with anticipation for the year ahead, thinking about all the challenges I had pencilled in, some definite and some possibly coming up. It was to be a year of big change, sitting my final exams and starting work as a doctor, and a year of letting everything finally fall into place.

Looking back, 2015 was a pretty mixed year, with some great highs, but some fairly crashing lows too…

The highs

Passing my final exams and becoming a doctor

Degree Graduation

Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest things to happen in my life so far, let alone just in the past year. I’ve worked pretty hard since the age of 16 to hit my dream of being a doctor, and in May this year, I finished the exams, crossed my fingers and waited… Then got the news and the certificate to go with it- and got to swap Miss for Dr as a title! I never quite believed I’d achieve it or that I was capable, so this was probably one of the sweetest moments of 2016, and to celebrate it with my nearest and dearest around me meant so so much.

Moving in with James and setting up home together

JamesNew home

We started 2015 having only been dating for a month, but we took the leap in July out of convenience, and I moved into James’s flat as a trial of living together. 4 months later things had gone pretty well, so we took the plunge and rented a cottage together. Setting up home with someone supportive, kind and with a similar lifestyle to mine has been a really good idea, not to mention that he gives out excellent hugs and mixes a perfect G&T after a tough day at work. Chapeau to the boyfriend!

Getting to grips with cycling at last

Cycling

One of my main goals of 2015 was to get to grips with cycling as a sport, and I think I very much did that this year. From becoming a regular on cycling club rides, to riding my first chaingangs, sportive and TT racing, 2015 was definitely the year of becoming at home on a bike, dealing with the mansplaining and generally starting to enjoy cycling. There have been minor mishaps, like getting hit by a van in May, and needing a new bike, but I can’t wait for Bella and I to have more adventures in 2016!

Doing the things I wanted to do in my free time

Brecon

For most of 2015 before starting work, I was on a tight budget and activities had to be carefully planned, but with some lateral thinking I managed to enjoy some really nice getaways with James, including our excellent trip to the Brecon Beacons on a shoestring. Definitely something I want to do more of in 2016, for sure!

Finishing my first Olympic distance triathlon

Triathlon

After being hit by a van, sitting my finals and all of the busy times that happened in the run up to the Castle Howard triathlon, odds weren’t on for me to have a speedy race, and it certainly wasn’t a smooth ride on the day either, but I’m really proud to have finished my first Olympic distance triathlon, when I started 2014 unable to swim at all.

Joining the masses of #juniordoctors and staging a successful protest

Protests

Less relevant to this blog about sport, but I’m very proud to have been one of the masses of junior doctors involved in protesting against the changes to doctors’ contracts that Jeremy Hunt is trying to impose in his ill-informed quest for a ‘7 day NHS’, which FYI, already exists- I work in it! From the social media campaigns to the protests in cities up and down the UK, it was amazing to be part of such a huge campaign and successfully get 75% of the UK’s doctors to vote in the ballot to go on strike. Let’s see if it makes a difference now!

Doing my bit to help others at last; giving blood!

Giving blood

I’ve always been either anaemic or post-piercing/tattoo in the past and not donated before, but now I’m healthy enough (cheers, broccoli and red meat!) and haven’t been needled recently, I was really excited to start donating blood, and it’s something I’m going to try and do regularly. In my opinion, if you can, everyone should donate blood and be signed up to the Organ Donor Register. You never know when the worst might happen, and if you’d take an organ transplant or a blood transfusion, you should be willing to give them too!

The lows

Struggling hugely with work-life balance

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My first 4 month rotation as a junior doctor was through a job widely regarded as a truly awful post. It featured masses of night shifts, 12 hour days, 7 day stretches without a day off, and on the ‘standard day’ shifts, regularly working up to 3 hours of unpaid overtime each day. The post I wrote here demonstrated just how hard it can be, but over 4 months it ground me down, left me exhausted and demotivated, and my training and racing took a huge hit. From waking up too ill to even attempt racing the Sundowner Middle Triathlon, to getting hypothermia and not finishing the Snowdonia Marathon, it was a pretty bad year for racing where I’m concerned. Never before have I appreciated so much that the rest of what goes on in your life really affects your training!

The downsides of cycling

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There are only two main negative things to come out of my year becoming a cyclist. The first was being knocked off my bike by a van in May, which really dented my confidence, as well as leaving me with a nasty, niggly shoulder and neck that still aren’t back to normal yet. The charming insurance company I’m dealing with have yet to pay me a single penny in damages, so all in all I didn’t come out of the accident in great shape! Here’s to hopefully getting it sorted out soon. The other main downside is the sexist and mansplaining element of being a woman in a cycling club; my club (AlbaRosa CC) has a large and strong female contingent, but it doesn’t always stop the male contingent treating us like idiots, behaving badly on social rides and making cycling a less fun place for women on the road!

Majorly slacking off with swim training and S&C

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The two parts of training for triathlon I am really bad at are swimming and strength and conditioning. I mainly just forget about S&C, and then swimming is so at the mercy of pool timetables and opening hours, and there’s so much faffing and hair washing, it’s easy to slack off it in favour of running or riding instead. Once I’ve run the London Marathon it’s time to get organised and actually do some swimming!

2016’s word

I’m fairly happy with my word for 2015; it was both an excellent and a really tough year, but I feel like I tried my best in most areas of it, and really made progress. As always, a crisp new year awaits, with some challenges lined up, some that will go well, some that I’ll probably fail, but I’m excited for all that 2016 has to offer; my lucky first-try entry to the London Marathon and training for it the Hansons way, hopefully some more triathlons including the WTS Leeds race, and finally finding that work-life balance.

And that’s going to be my word for 2016: balance.

What’s your word for 2016 going to be? 

Mmmbop!

Just in case anyone isn’t a child of the ’90s and doesn’t get the reference, the title of this post isn’t a reference to my love of cheesy ’90s pop (although I’m fairly sure my other half has caught me singing along to the Spice Girls a few times now).

No, it’s a reference to my winter training plans this year, using the Hansons Marathon Method. Since a certain magazine with a lady dressed as a bumblebee on the front dropped onto my doormat, I’ve been trying (with varying degrees of success), to get my training back on the straight and narrow, ready for a bit more structure at the end of December.

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This year has been a varied one, but on the whole pretty far away from the race season I’d imagined, but that’s life; becoming a doctor has been my dream for far longer than being a triathlete or fast runner has, and it’s far more important to me. That said, now the first 4 months on that horrendous surgical rota are done, and I can step back a little and settle into a more well-supported, less stressful work life, I cannot WAIT to get some structure and goals back into my training.

Kalenji Elioprime shoes

 

So for the last fortnight before 18 weeks till the London Marathon arrives, it’s time to try and get over the bout of gastroenteritis (cheers for that one, job!) that’s laid me low for a few days, get my trainers back on and get my legs moving again. Four night shifts, three day shifts and one training day, and I’m free to chill with my family and James, enjoy Christmas and get some miles in before the official training period begins.

Why Hansons? Well, I’ve followed Cathy‘s adventures using Hansons for a few cycles now, and I’m honestly impressed with how well it’s worked for her. I’ve read the book cover to cover, and what grabbed me instantly is that their marathon training method is grounded in good, physiological common sense, rather than traditions borrowed from elite athletes and implemented unquestioningly into training programs for non elites. I also remember from my last marathon training cycle that I could happily run up to 50 miles a week when it was well spread out, and it was only when the weekend long run maxed out to over 18 miles that I started to struggle. I’d become so fatigued from the weekend’s exertions it would ruin the rest of the week’s training.

I won’t go into masses of details about the structure of the program, because Cathy wrote an excellent post about it here, but suffice to say, I think it fits how I respond to training best; a consistent, progressive training load, with a pattern to it, that spreads the mileage out through the week instead of piling 22 mile runs on the weekends. Hopefully now work is calming down, I should be able to fit the runs in, though I accept that it’ll take some lateral thinking- my commute to work is 15 miles, so I’m pondering a drive to 5-7 miles away for two of the easy run days during the week, then running in to work (then a bus back to collect my car in the evening). Whilst it’s still dark and wintery, speedwork might have to happen on a treadmill after work, but I enjoy a challenge, and I think having something to aim for will actually give my training a bit of purpose again. Bring it on!

Have any of you used Hansons for a marathon build up before, or are you a big fan of the huge weekend miles? Let me know!

Snowdonia: The race that wasn’t

It’s fair to say that over the past few months, my training for the Snowdonia Marathon had been somewhat sub-optimal. Some weeks I’d run four or five times, clocking up a decent number of miles, but some weeks, the long, hard 13 hour shifts would be back on the table, and running would be out of the question. The week running up to Snowdonia featured 8 days in a row at work, and a total of 86 hours- the alarm bells should have been sounding loudly, but I am nothing if not an optimist, after all.

Friday evening, James and I drove down to Wales after work, arriving at 10pm at our little B&B in Bala, after grabbing pizza for dinner before we left Leeds. We quickly settled in for the night and after loading up on toast for me and bacon for him on Saturday morning, we set off to Llanberis to register. After a minor misreading of registration instructions and panic we’d miss it, we went smoothly through registration and collected a really nice, quite sensibly-sized race shirt.

One thing concerned me though: the weather. During the last fifteen minutes of the drive to Llanberis, the heavens absolutely opened and it was really cold. I layered up a Buff to keep my ears warm, a baselayer under my Team Bear vest and full length tights, and donned my stylish plastic poncho for the walk to the start line. After a bit of a wait, and getting very soggy, we were off!

After a flat mile or so, there’s a long climb up Pen-Y-Pass to start the race, affording us some brilliant views of the valleys around us. During the climb I happened upon Jayne from Team Bear and we ran together for a while, before my incessant chattering got on her nerves and she politely sent me on my way 😉 During the climb, I was warm, wondering if I’d overdressed, but as we started the long descent off Pen-Y-Pass, down a muddy trail, I began to get cold. Really cold. And my right knee started to play up.

By 8 miles or so, my knee was really quite painful but, aware that niggles come and go during a marathon, I distracted myself and ran on, hoping it would pass. It didn’t. By the water station just after 12 miles, my knee was really starting to bother me, and after a quick chat with Jayne (she caught me up, looking super strong!), I stopped at the water station  for a drink and to ponder whether or not to continue.

Big mistake. Within a couple of minutes, my body temperature dropped fairly spectacularly, and I was shivering uncontrollably. The marshal told me my lips were blue, and I was only mumbling in response. Adding it all up now, it seems fairly obvious I had mild hypothermia, but at the time I was telling myself I should carry on; in the end it was the kind marshal who helped me decide not to. She lent me her coat, and let me sit in her warm car (Netty, you are a hero) until a kind family drove along the route to support their relative and gave me a lift most of the way back to Llanberis. I then bumped into James on his bike, waited with some lovely Army cadets who were marshalling and had a warm car, and then was given a lift in a minibus full of other blue-lipped shivering souls back to Llanberis.

With hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have lined up on that start line, but I’m glad I did in some ways; the parts of the race I did do were spectacularly beautiful and only made me want to come back and settle my score with it. I met Stacey, Marc and Cathy, Twitter pals I’ve chatted to for ages, and as I reflected on the day over a bucket full of hot chocolate at the famous Pete’s Eats with James, I realised it hadn’t been a wasted experience. It had taught me I need to re-align what is possible within my life at the moment. That perhaps the people working ‘full time’ aren’t working quite as full time as me. That maybe 60 to 70 hour weeks on this job at the moment aren’t conducive to being able to just casually knock out marathons. That cumulative fatigue doesn’t just come from the miles in your legs but the stress in your life.

All fairly obvious stuff that should have been staring me in the face, but sometimes it takes a harsh wake-up call to bring it home, and last weekend was certainly one of those. Not all was lost though; as we went for a stroll around the serenely beautiful lake at Bala, we hatched plans for where I go from here.

To go easy on myself, but try to get myself running a bit more consistently over the next month whilst I see out the end of this surgical job rotation. To go back to basics a little, and work on my strength and my running form. To hit Christmas time more rested on my nicer next job, and ready to hit proper training for the London Marathon next spring, and nail that sub 3:30 time I’ve always wanted.

Sometimes a bad experience can become a good one. And not just because you’re in a place with Welsh cakes AND bara brith! 😉

Picking your battles & DNSing

As I sit and write this post, it’s exactly a month since I started my first job as a junior doctor, on a surgical job in a huge, busy teaching hospital. I knew it was never going to be an easy ride, confirmed by the consultant saying in induction ‘we’ll work you incredibly hard, reward you well and make you into bloody good doctors’.

Most of my day-to-day work is admin-related. If it’s a daytime shift, we start with a ward round with the registrars and consultants, and I accompany them, writing in the patient’s notes for the day, and keeping a jobs list for everybody. Then, I spend the day steadily working through the jobs list, organising scans and tests, taking blood samples and inserting IV drips, and writing discharge letters to send people home. I carry a bleep as well, and I’m the first port of call if any of my patients become unwell: it’s my job to see and assess them, start some basic management and investigations, and call for senior help if I need it. I’ve also covered night shifts, where the focus is less on routine admin, and more dealing with any emergencies that crop up overnight.

This week has been like the above, only it’s been 8am-8pm, 5 days in a row. It’s been largely straightforward, but as I’m covering a team rather than a particular ward, our patients are scattered to the four winds, and I spend all day on my feet racing around the hospital to finish all the jobs- one junior wore a pedometer on call and estimated that she walked between 8 and 9 miles on one shift! Then, on Thursday evening, I dealt with my first very unwell patient. I did everything I could for her, and made the decision to pull my team out of the operating theatre to come and see her, as well as involving Intensive Care.

The details of the case are obviously not up for sharing, but it rattled me. I drove home in tears, a hundred ‘what if?’ scenarios racing around my brain, despite knowing I did everything I could, and I hardly slept for worrying about her that night. Friday morning came around, and I nervously drove back in, wondering how she was doing. The sheer relief when I saw her sitting up and eating breakfast, looking miles better, was incredible. I nearly cried again.

Today, I was due to be racing the Sundowner Middle Triathlon. I went to bed last night feeling delicate- I had a sore throat and a headache, and whether from a tough week or something more, my whole body ached. I took on plenty of water and paracetamol, went to bed and hoped for the best, but when I woke up feeling worse on race day, I think in my heart I knew the answer. James pointed out that I felt far too hot, and even the effort of making a cuppa and some toast tired me out.

On a day like that, I’d have few qualms about wrapping up warm and doing perhaps a gentle parkrun, or an easy short bike ride, but to race 70.3 miles in the water, on the road and by foot, is a different matter entirely. Yes, my race entry was expensive and I’ve trained for a long time for it, but I don’t personally think it’s sensible to toe the line for these big events any less than properly fit and prepared. My heart told me to race and to try, but my head told me that you have to pick your battles, and that this was perhaps not my day for battle. If I raced and made myself more ill by my own stupidity, I’d be letting patients and colleagues down; I’ve seen how hard the team has to work to pick up the slack if someone is absent, and it’s hardly fair to cause that by being an idiot. I could have started, but I’m not sure I could have finished, and to risk needing medical help by being an idiot isn’t something I could justify- the medics are there for emergencies, not for people being unwell by their own stupidity. Lastly, and selfishly, I know that I’m stubborn, and once I’d started, I’d all but race myself into an early grave rather than give up and DNF.

So here I am, huddled on the sofa feeling sorry for myself with a lot of tea and some crap TV, feeling like a flake, but trying to remind myself that I’m only human, and that being a doctor is new, and bound to take it out of me. When I’m friends with people I think of as real life superheroes, it can be hard not to feel like I have to match up- to complete crazy feats of endurance whilst juggling a pressured, busy job. It’s time to see out this last bit of crazy rota before it settles a little, and once I’m better, enjoy preparing for the Snowdonia Marathon in October. Did someone say hill reps?

Race recap: Castle Howard Olympic triathlon

It’d be fair to say after recent events, I was a lot less prepared than I’d have liked to be for yesterday’s triathlon- the Castle Howard Olympic triathlon. I like to respect events, and turn up adequately prepared for them, especially big, new ones like my first Olympic distance triathlon, but I didn’t feel like I was able to adequately prepare as I’d have liked to.

My plan evolved to three simple aims in the end: survive the swim without getting pulled out, enjoy the bike leg, and empty the tank with whatever I had left on the run.

Pre-race
The organisation from the Castle Triathlon Series guys was great, from entering to registration on the day. There was a detailed briefing available beforehand, as well as frequent updates on important things like water temperature. On the day, the event was well staffed, with loads of marshalls and volunteers, so registration was easy (and included a cool Speedo towel for us- nice touch!), and racking bikes and stuff was done with minimal faff. Once I’d racked my stuff in transition, prepared my ‘cockpit’ on the bike with nutrition & squeezed myself into my wetsuit, it was down to the jetty for the well-organised pre-race briefing.

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Swim- 50:45 (1500m. Ish.)
The swim was definitely the part I was least prepared for. The water, mercifully, was warm (around 18 degrees), so the worry of the cold was removed, but a lot of unknowns still lurked. I waited and set off towards the back of the pack, and apart from a few slaps from the gent I was swimming next to, the swim out to the turnaround point was quite uneventful. The return leg, however, was nightmarish. The water suddenly became very shallow, to the extent that my hands were hitting the bottom on each stroke, and was very murky and full of weeds, which repeatedly attacked my face. It sounds stupid now, that I panicked about weeds in my face, but it was very real at the time: I felt like I couldn’t see or breathe, and that my wetsuit was suddenly far too tight. I tried to keep in mind what coach Rach has taught me though, and after a little break and some breaststroke, I managed to keep going, and not get swum over too much by the speedy men of the next start wave who caught me at the end. With a helping hand out my the Speedo marshalls, I was unzipping my wetsuit and on my way for the 300m uphill run to transition- skip this videp to 1:16 or so, and you’ll see a familiar looking Team Bear trisuit and yellow swim cap skip past! I was disappointed with my swim, but I at least survived and didn’t get pulled out, which I thought was a very real possibility.

 T1- 3:32
Not much to say here. Laid all my stuff out sensibly, so it was quick to do. Cutting my wetsuit legs helped massively with getting it off quickly, and then all that remained to do was work through the pile of kit: socks on, bike shoes on, HRM strap on (took time to put on but I was relying on it to pace the bike), number belt on with number to back, shades on, helmet fastened, pick Bella up and away!

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Bike- 1:51:07 (45km)

Once the swim was out of the way, I felt like I could relax and enjoy the bike. With a heart rate monitor on, I was able to pace it properly, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Howardian Hills- the Castle Triathlon were right when they said the course is tough but well worth it.

CastleTriBike

The bike course was well marshalled, and apart from the odd incidence of drafting, uneventful. Hundreds of very nice TT bikes zoomed past me, but I just focused on the job in hand- not working too hard, taking on fuel as best I could despite feeling really sick, and tackling the climbs sensibly without going too hard. That said, we came to the last big climb that we were warned about in briefing, involving a couple of tight bends at 16%, and I couldn’t resist getting my head down and passing four blokes stood up and grinding their way slowly up the climb 😉

I really, really enjoyed the bike leg, and could really feel the progress I’ve made through winter- the only tough part was reminding myself not to ride too hard and to save some legs for the run!

T2- 5:15
You know all the tri advice tells you to remember where your stuff is in transition and you think ‘Pah, what kind of idiot would lose all their stuff in transition?’. Well, it’s easier than you think. This is possibly the only criticism I have of the race organisers- it would have made a lot more sense for racking to be done in number order, not just randomly within each wave.

Guess who wasted 5 minutes in T2 running up and down trying to find their shoes for the run? Turns out Amphibia Sport bags are popular and you shouldn’t rely on one to be a landmark for your stuff! Another moment of feeling pretty stupid. Still, my legs felt familiarly awful like they did during the winter’s brick sessions, and I was on my way to finish the race off on the run.

Run- 56:15 (trail 10km)

CastleHowardBear
I quite soon began to feel the effects of not having been able to take on all my planned nutrition on the bike, and really was suffering, but I told myself to just get on with it- the Team Bear #sufferbutNEVERsurrender motto was at the forefront of my mind. The route was an undulating off-road run, with some steep climbs, but beautiful scenery to reward us. 5km eventually arrived, and telling myself it was just a parkrun left to go, I convinced myself I could make it, despite being desperate for a wee. I emerged from the final trail section onto the finishing straight, and was immediately deafened by yells of ‘GET HIM!’ about the man in front- so I summoned up the most painful sprint finish of my life.

Overall- 3:46:53
I had hoped for a slightly faster time, but given the problems I had on the swim, the nausea and the long bike leg (45km instead of the usual 40km), I’m proud of toughing out the race, and know I have lots to work on for my next race- time to fix the last niggles from my crash, get more swimming done (especially OW), and bump up the running. Oh, and practice so I make less idiot mistakes in transition….

CastleHowardBear

Opinions on the race
Overall, the organisers put on a great race in a beautiful setting- it was very well marked and marshalled, with ample staff to ensure it ran smoothly, and plentiful well-executed aid stations. Apart from the minor issue I had in transition, I had a great first experience of Olympic distance racing, and found them to be welcoming to seasoned racers and total novices alike.

James and I did initially bristle at the £5 admission charge for adults even if they were supporting an athlete, but we couldn’t complain in the end, when it included our car parking, spectator entertainment & a ride on the Estate Manager’s boat for James to watch the swim leg at close quarters- and all this was half the price of a normal adult ticket into Castle Howard.

Castle Triathlon Series kindly provided me with a free entry so I was able to race this event, on the understanding that I would write an honest blog about my experiences. I was not paid to write this or given any content to include. Apart from the video, all photos are courtesy of boyfriend and Sherpa extraordinaire, James.

Type 2 fun: Giving TT a go

A wise woman once said to me ‘you must do the things you think you cannot do’. Since then, I’ve tried to live by that mantra, because it makes me push my boundaries, and sometimes I fail spectacularly, but more often than not, things work out just fine in the end.

When a couple of cycling pals tried to talk me into doing a 10 mile TT on my bike, I genuinely did a little snort and spat out some of the gin I was drinking (#eatclean forever, right?). If there was one thing I knew about TTs, it was that they were all about speed and aerodynamics, two things which my charming little Bella and I are missing.

Photo credit: James Ward

Photo credit: James Ward

In fact, strike that. There was one other thing I knew about TTs: they were bloody painful.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and £3 isn’t much to pay to have a go at something, so I turned up to the small pub car park in Tadcaster, handed over my pennies and pinned a number to my jersey. Trying not to be intimidated by the vast numbers of beautiful TT bikes, whizzy deep section carbon wheels and pointy aero helmets, I unpacked Bella from my car and set about the preparations to make her more aero. I say this- I took off the saddle bag and removed the bottle from the bottle cage. DONE!

After a brief warm up, I watched racers numbered 1-21 set off, and then it was my turn. I sidled up to the starter, who held the bike still whilst I clipped in both feet, and on the count of 10, gave me a push start, and I was away!

I’d prepared my Garmin screen so I could clearly see both my current and average speeds, as well as my heart rate and what zone that corresponded to, so I could gauge my effort, and cracked on. Given that I was lacking TT bars, I opted to ride on the drops of my handlebars to be as low as possible to the swirling headwind, and marvelled at the speed I was holding for the first few miles; it was tough and I was working hard, but at no point did I go too far into the red.

After a brief turn at 5 miles at a roundabout, I began to make my way back, and that was when I started to learn what TTing is all about (I think). There’s no wheel in front of you to follow, no pack to shelter in, and no easy way out. You stop trying, you slow down. It’s very honest racing, with no tactics other than pacing yourself, and I liked it. As my heart rate began creeping up towards its maximum and my quads began to sear with pain, I just kept my head down, and focused on making each pedal stroke powerful and effective.

I had no real idea going into the TT what sort of pace I could hold, having never really done one before. I knew from a 20 mile flat loop I tried a few weeks ago that I could hold at least 18mph, but thought 30 minutes for the course was well out of reach, and when I reached the turnaround in under 15 minutes, naturally assumed I’d set off far too fast.

As I bombed past the finisher’s clipboard brandished by the organiser, I slammed the ‘stop’ button on my Garmin and shifted back into the little chainring, slumping over the handlebars, desperately trying to drag enough air into my starving lungs, wiping a delightful mixture of sweat, snot and suncream from my face and trying not to be violently sick.

The result? 29:39 for 10 miles. That’s an average of 20.5mph, which is a lot quicker than I thought I could sustain. I came dead last, but the placing wasn’t important to me; I was the only woman who hadn’t raced a TT before, and certainly the only one on a £300 aluminium bike without TT bars on. What was important to me was that I put in an honest effort, and at no point backed off from the effort or the pain, because I’m trying to learn about mental toughness.

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#shutuplegs indeed.

Goals don’t come bigger or scarier

I’m a firm believer in setting a big goal. That’s not to say I don’t set small ones along the way, but it’s the big goals that get you out of bed every single day, and propel you towards your dreams. For the past 5 years, the massive goal of becoming a doctor has dragged me out of bed when I’d rather have hidden under my duvet, it’s made me stay up all night delivering babies when I should have been sleeping, and it’s made me grit my teeth through tough exams every spring. But because it’s a bloody big goal (with smaller ones to be celebrated along the way), it excites me. A smile creeps onto my face when I talk about it. My heart beats a little faster when I think about my first day as a doctor in August.

That’s how I think sporting goals should be too. Setting small, easy goals might mean that you can achieve them, but they do little to motivate you, day in, day out, to train hard and achieve. To me, the best sporting goals are the ones that creep up on you. You read a book, or someone mentions a race, and you find yourself thinking about it more and more. The entry date creeps into your diary in pencil. You find yourself googling suitable training plans, and race calculators to see how you could do it. You’re looking up past results from your age group to see how competitive you could be. Before you know it, you HAVE to do this race, be it a marathon, an ultra or something else- an epic bike race, or a triathlon perhaps.

I’m sure you can see where this is going, given the sport I’ve taken up recently, and the lady I so happened to meet this week…. The entries aren’t open yet, until after the 2015 race, but ever since I read Chrissie’s book, and started training for triathlon, I idly thought about doing an Ironman before I turned 25. So… I am.

Ironman Kalmar in Sweden in 2016 falls just before my 24th birthday, and it looks perfect. It’s a flat, fast course, and the weather is warm but not ludicrously hot, as a general rule. It’s a warm swim in the Baltic Sea, a scenic but flat bike course, and a three loop town centre marathon (so hopefully much crowd support).

When I think about doing an Ironman, the thought quite frankly terrifies me. At the moment I can comfortably complete half of all of the race distances; the 2.4 mile swim, the 112 mile bike and the 26.2 mile run. The thought of stringing it all together and doubling it into one very, very long day, is a scary one. I might well fail. But the scarier thing is thinking about being old, and regretting not having done these things whilst I have the freedom to. It’s time to set those small intermediate goals and take the leap!