Category Archives: Tri/cycling

Training in a time starved life

It’s been absolutely ages since I’ve written a blog and a lot has happened since I was easing myself back into training; I’ve bought a house and am just about to move into it, I’ve finished my last ever job on medical wards and moved to A&E (more on that later!) and there’s been varying amounts of swim, bike and run thrown in.

Since my rota changed in August to become more hectic, I’ve had to be more careful than ever before to be able to fit training in, recover from it, and still do all the other things in life I need to do. Since training in a time-starved life is something most people have to deal with, I thought I’d share how I’m making it work for me.

Having a plan

I’ve been listening to the Purple Patch Podcast (which I would highly recommend), where top tri coach Matt Dixon shares his advice on how to fit training into a time starved life, and one of his key tips is to plan carefully. Specifically, he recommends planning your week’s training, and deciding in advance which sessions are key, important training sessions, and which are general supporting sessions. So in a week my key session might be my tempo run session or my long run, whereas a supporting session is something like a short easy recovery run. By doing this, I know exactly which sessions to prioritise so that I can make sure they get done, and which sessions can be scaled back or missed completely if life gets in the way- as it often does.

Prioritise quality over quantity

Last year, training for the Lakesman, I was able to clock hours and hours of training, when I wasn’t working nights or weekends. I could swim three times a week, ride up to 100 miles at a weekend and run plenty. This year’s training so far looks very different- when time starved, I’ve had to prioritise quality sessions. So long rides have been swapped quite often for sweetspot power sessions on the turbo, multiple slow drill swims have been swapped for less frequent tri club swims where a coach can watch my form and I work HARD, and I’m running 3 times a week, with a focus on quality miles as I prepare for the London Marathon in April.

Accept that some days, training just ain’t happening
Now I’ve been working for over two years, I’ve learned what shifts work for me to train around, and which ones simply don’t, and instead of trying to force it now, I plan my training to take into account my life load during the day. So if it’s a long day or a night shift, which is pretty intense, I’ll either take a rest from training, or it’ll be a short, fairly easy session. And then I save the harder or longer sessions for when I’ve got a bit less on my plate. There are days too, where work turns horrendous, or something goes wrong, where I just accept now that the extra rest will do me more good than trying to force a session.

Have a plan for nutrition
Chicken satay stir fry
I know one of the best things I can do to stay strong and healthy, and keep my immune system firing to ward off the hundreds of nasty germs I encounter every day, is to fuel myself properly. I’m a long-term fitnaturally fan, but when they launched eatnaturally for athletes it was a game changer: the plan lays out food options for before or after sessions, and rest days or meals where no training has happened nearby, and means that even if plans change, I have a good idea of what to eat to be well fuelled for my sessions and recover from them, without spending a fortune or surviving on processed gloop out of sachets.

Don’t try to do everything at once
Triathlon training at times feels like a challenge of spinning plates, and it’s quite rare all three disciplines can be going well at the same time- so this winter I’ve stopped aiming for that, and at any one time am only actively pushing to improve one or possibly two disciplines. So whilst I’m working on running for London, I’m keeping swimming and cycling more on the back burner, so after London I can dial back the running a bit, up the swimming and cycling a little and arrive at Outlaw Half in good shape for all three. Hopefully!

So these are my tips for training in a time-starved life- what are yours?

Doing downtime for once

At the end of¬†a busy race season, it’s all too easy to try to carry on a roll from where you were. To try and stretch out that streak of productivity, that feeling of being super fit, for just a bit longer.

After the Berlin Marathon, it was painfully obvious to me that I needed a break. Not just an easier ‘recovery’ week of training, but a proper, no training, end of season layoff. I ran well in Berlin, far exceeding my expectations, given the second half of my season was significantly more relaxed after the Lakesman. I trained how and when I fancied, and raced a birthday 70.3 just for the hell of it. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this season I’ve raced three half marathons, two marathons, one iron-distance tri, one 70.3 and an open water swim race!

I crossed the line in 3:52:59 in Berlin, and was happy to end my season on a high there. The rest of our time in Berlin featured beers, burgers and brunch, and was a nice way to chill for a day or two before hurtling headlong into a very busy spell of work. Work, in fact, was so busy I literally took two weeks completely off any exercise at all, before getting gently back into things with a weekend away with the other Specialized women’s ambassadors.

We spent a cracking weekend in Longleat, where with much persuading and support from the gnarly girls of the group, I had my first ever go at riding MTB, which was a huge amount of fun, despite being scary, and 100% something I want to do some more of at some point. We also went for a road ride and photoshoot, where we genuinely looked like a pro team ūüėČ

Given I also managed to break my toe on a child’s water flume at the Center Parcs we stayed at (don’t ask), my grand return to training hasn’t been quite as grand as I had planned. But sometimes that’s okay; it’s so easy to forget how much we’re asking of our bodies, to stay strong and healthy and consistently perform well, even when we heap hours and hours of training on top of a hectic work life.

So my autumn has looked a little less focused than I’d planned, but it’s been brilliant (when I’ve not been at work!). I’ve celebrated having been with James for three excellent years of adventures and cake munching. I’ve had an offer accepted on my first house. I’ve spent time with loved ones and recharged my training batteries, even if the work batteries are pretty empty at the moment. And now, after that rest, I’m really enjoying being back in semi-structured training, with turbo sessions, gentle runs through the autumn leaves and getting back in the pool to remember how to swim.

Sometimes a rest is better than a change, eh?

Life after The Lakesman

I can’t quite believe it’s been 6 weeks since The Lakesman. That boiling hot day in Keswick will be forever etched in my memory (mostly in a positive way), but moving on from something like that takes some doing.

There’s the physical recovery, which is quite something in itself. I spent two fairly busy weeks at work after the Lakesman, working all the shifts I’d had to swap to get the annual leave. That and prioritising sleep meant I didn’t do much exercise at all- exactly as I’d planned. I did exactly what I fancied when I fancied it, and the intensity was very easy- but it felt so good to move, albeit gently! I also had a lovely massage from the wonderful Dalia at Chapiteau Massage Therapy, and I honestly felt like a new woman afterwards.

However quickly I felt like I could go go go again, the past 6 weeks have been a time to be careful. I trained my little heart out since the end of November, and that kind of slog is hard mentally as well as physically- I’m proud I gave it my all and I learned an immense amount, but it takes recovery mentally too- there have been some days I simply cannot face swinging a leg over my bike or lacing up my running shoes, and that’s fine, it’s the ebb and flow of recovery.

There have been some highlights of the past few weeks though!

Spending time with my family
One of the things that fell by the wayside at times during the training was seeing my family, so I’ve enjoyed putting that to rights with some lovely visits home that didn’t feature me nipping out to squeeze in bike rides and runs around family time. I also got to see my favourite horde of hungry little monsters!

Getting my bike fitted properly
As part of my role as a Specialized ambassador, I was lucky enough to take a trip to the fit lab at the Concept Store in Harrogate for an incredibly detailed Retul bike fit. If you’ve ever wondered if a bike fit is for you, it’s so worth the investment- it will make your bike comfier for you, quicker and help with any injury problems you have. I really enjoyed the process too- and it’s turned my little bike into an absolute rocket ship!

Riding where I want, with cake if I want
A lot of Lakesman training was riding so many hours at a certain heart rate, and in Yorkshire, if my¬†heart rate has to stay low, it rules out a LOT of my favourite roads. So the past few weeks have been lovely, spinning where I want, having a crack at some big hills I’ve not ridden for ages. Happy cyclist! The return of cafe stops has also been very welcome.

Getting women on their bikes
Themed around La Course at the Tour de France, I really enjoyed leading my first Specialized ride. 7 hardy souls joined me for a tough, undulating route from Harrogate, around some beautiful Yorkshire countryside. I think they enjoyed it, though I heard some cursing up the biggest climb of the day.

Commemorating the Lakesman forever
Ever since I entered it, I was planning to commemorate finishing the Lakesman with a new tattoo. Lots of ideas flitted around my mind in the months before the race, but I finally settled on an acorn, both because I wanted something nature-themed given the race was in the Lake District, and because I like the idea that mighty oak trees grow from little acorns, just like the seed of triathlon grew into me doing an iron distance. Here it is, freshly inked by Lucy at Red Tattoo and Piercing in Leeds.

Our now annual trip to the seaside
Last year, for my first 100 mile bike ride, James accompanied me to ride to the seaside, making the most of the westerly tailwind, and getting the train home. We had a great day last year, so thought we’d make it an annual thing. This year’s edition saw me conquer a bitch of a hill that defeated me last year, beat James in 8 of our sprints for 30mph village signs (#thisgirlcan) and finish the ride on average 2mph quicker than last year. Success! Just in time for scampi and chips on the beach, the train back to Leeds (sadly at the same time as York Races were on and some drunken bloke thought it was fine to move my bike out of the bike rack. RAGE.) and a ride home from Leeds station. 120 miles in the saddle done!

All in all, a pretty fun 6 weeks, and a nice lead in to some slightly more focused training for my next couple of races!


Race recap: The Lakesman Triathlon 2017

Finally, after months of preparing, and a day of frantic list-making, packing and bike fettling, race weekend was ON. I eagerly headed up to Keswick, with everything looking perfect. Conditions forecast: cloudy with occasional sunshine, and race day temperatures peaking at 16 degrees. Lovely. And I could relax about race logistics, because the organisers of the Lakesman Triathlon are brilliant, taking care of literally everything to make racing as stress-free as possible.

Registration was quick and easy at HQ next to Derwentwater, and once it was done I could catch up with Rach over tea, and await the arrival of James who decided that driving to Keswick was far too soft, and he’d ride over to meet me (insert eye roll emoji). Friday evening was fairly uneventful, getting settled into our ace B&B, sussing out somewhere to go and guzzle carbs, and an early night watching some comedy DVDs.

Lakesman TriathlonSaturday morning dawned, already really hot and sunny, and this was my first hint of what was to come. I carried on calmly plodding through race prep though, taking my bike for one last little spin to make sure everything was working before racking, drinking ALL the fluids and electrolytes and starting the endless task of packing my transition bags.

The Lakesman Triathlon

I headed down to the briefing, and was happy to learn some of the rules were being relaxed, namely the one about outside assistance on the run, so we could be joined for laps by friends and family, and they would be allowed to pass us drinks/sunscreen/nutrition as needed. Athlete centred racing right there.

With Anna the bike all racked and ready to go, I said a begrudging goodbye, and headed off to dinner with a few of Team Bear. I loaded up on very boring pasta, even more boring mineral water, and tried to quell the rising sense of dread about the temperatures: during Saturday the forecasted temperatures just kept climbing, to 27 degrees. Not what I want for marathon running after 112 miles on the bike! Still, there was nothing I could do about it, so I did the final bits of race prep (hair braiding and number tattoos) and set a 4:15am alarm. Eek!

I slept better than expected, and awoke at 4am to an already sunny morning, calmly resigned that the day might turn out to be a bit more of a battle than I’d anticipated. Once slathered in sunscreen with my porridge pot forced down, I headed down to the start to add my bottles to my bike and my food to my bike transition bag, and before I knew it, I was wading into the shallows of Derwentwater ready to start the race.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Lake District, but Derwentwater is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes- I doubt there’s a more beautiful swim start in triathlon anywhere.

Photo borrowed from the Lakesman Triathlon Facebook page

On race morning it was mirror-smooth, warm and looking especially beautiful. I had a calm and uneventful swim, although at points had to remind myself to get a shift on and stop enjoying the views- swimming as the sun rises in such a beautiful lake, sighting off the mighty Skiddaw in the background, is something that will stay with me for a long, long time after this race. The work I’d done with Chris since November really helped, and I felt great in the water, swimming smoothly and efficiently, and even staying calm when the sun completely blinded me on the finish straight and I couldn’t sight the finish line at all. Before I knew it, I was out and running up the exit carpet, wrestling with my wetsuit zip and starting to think about the rest of the race ahead, lapping up the cheers of ‘go on girl!’ with a massive grin on my face.

The Lakesman Triathlon

With it being a hot day ahead, I took extra time in T1 to make sure I had everything I needed. Rach happened to be in there as her relay cyclist left, and she did a great job of helping me get my shit together. Jersey on, helmet on, food in pockets, socks on shoes on and awaaaaay on the bike! I didn’t top up on sunscreen though, as I thought the P20 I put on pre race would be enough. Lolz.


The Lakesman TriathlonThe bike was probably the bit of the race that I was most excited for. I had a heart rate monitor on, I had a pacing plan from Chris (strictly Zone 2 only!), and I had real hope that I could bike well. The first section out to the cost was into a direct headwind, which felt a little like riding into a hairdryer, but I tried to chill and keep on top of my food and fluids.The Lakesman Triathlon

I was already having to drink a LOT on the bike, and was very grateful for the frequent bottle stations: in total I put away 3 litres of fluid, and probably poured as much cold water on the back of my neck and down my arms to cool myself down. My Stoats bar, peanut butter sandwich and Tailwind drink plan was going down nicely, and I was making reasonable progress. There was a long, flat coastal section with a tailwind, which I LOVED, as well as a more undulating loop where I had good fun overtaking men on heavy TT bikes, whilst I nipped past on my little light road bike! I wasn’t doing a brilliant job of keeping my heart rate down, but it was what it was, and on a hot day, it was clear the race was a matter of just keeping going.

From 80 miles onwards, I was ready to just be done with the bike leg: my seatbones were starting to get a little sore on my saddle, and I was absolutely desperate for a wee in T2, as well as being kinda lonely. I think I really underestimated how lonely the bike would be, with the exception of small clusters of supporters out with signs and cowbells. I felt definite relief as I breezed down the hill into T2, especially as I hadn’t haemorrhaged as much time as I expected.

The one goal I had all the way through training for this race was a strong run, and I felt optimistic when I came off the bike. I thought I’d taken on plenty of food and fluids, and once I’d finally had a wee, I was excited to get going. I stripped off the bike jersey and helmet, put on fresh socks for the run, my favourite running shoes and the all important visor, and headed out to see this thing through!

Running out of the transition tent and onto the run route genuinely felt like running into an oven. My legs, however, felt reasonably good, and I started to chip away at getting this thing done. The first couple of miles ticked by uneventfully, until I hit the long out-and-back section of the 5 lap run course, otherwise known as the Highway to Hell- a double out-and-back on a closed road with NO tree shade whatsoever. Pretty soon into the run leg, I started having to have walk breaks, as I was feeling absolutely rubbish- low on energy, absolutely parched and far, far too hot. In the aid stations, I tried water, electrolytes and even slurps of Coke, as well as the gels I had with me, but nothing was working. I felt nauseous but thirsty simultaneously, and was really struggling to run.

I saw my sister for the first time at about 10 miles in, and burst into tears. I’d really wanted to be proudly nailing this race, and I felt angry that my body was failing me like this. Her and James did a great job of keeping me company whilst I ran and walked the rest as best as I could, but it was a long, depressing shuffle for me, as I watched the sort of times I’d wanted and any hope of a placing in my age group slip away from me. Perhaps there was an element of mentally giving up too, but I was absolutely hating it, despite the wonderful marshals and aid station volunteers, giving us encouragement, dousing in cold water and drinks. The heat was ridiculous for the Lake District though; within half a mile of dousing myself in water I was completely dry again. I could feel myself burning, and I wasn’t the only one struggling; there was real fighting spirit and camaraderie out there between all the struggling racers.

Eventually, I picked up the final lap band on my wrist, and after one more slow trip up and down the Highway to Hell, it was time to run down the finish chute. I unashamedly burst into tears, a mix of frustration at how my race had turned out, absolute exhaustion, sweet relief that it was finally over, and pride at what I’d achieved.¬†

I’m honestly still deciding how I feel about the race that played out. I know an ironman is something very few people in the population will complete, and I did so in a respectable time, but it didn’t feel like the race I trained for. I worked bloody hard in training and was determined, above all, to have a good run leg, which I didn’t manage, and I feel slightly pathetic for having not managed it. I’m proud of my mind and body for holding up throughout a long training period, and learned a lot about myself and my limits, but I’m not sure this is something I ever want to put myself through again, despite the race itself being fantastic.

Lakesman are organising a 70.3 race next year and I think that is more realistic for me to commit to; the training will be slightly less of a massive commitment, and I can experience the fantastic atmosphere of the Lakesman again. Phil and Marie, who organise the race, are probably my favourite race organisers out there, and deserve for the event to be a huge success- from registration to completion, it couldn’t be more obvious that they live and breathe this race, and I look forward to many years of the race, whether for me it’s as a 70.3 racer, a relay for the ironman or as a volunteer.

Over and out; time to be casually deliberate with all the merch I bought. Oh, this old mug? It’s just from a race I did recently.

Race times, should you be interested:
Swim 1:23:35
T1 7:48
Bike 7:04:38
T2 7:33
Run 5:30:33
Overall 14:14:07, 26th woman, 5th 25-29

Halfway to ironman & lessons learned

I always learn a lot from a race build up, but training for long-distance triathlon has been the steepest learning curve so far. I’ve been training since late November, and now find myself just 3 months out from race day. As Cathy said when ironing in her blog, by now we’re in spring marathon season, people are finishing their big miles and starting to taper; I’ve got a spring marathon in the calendar (hi Paris!), but my eyes are on the big prize in Keswick in June, so my biggest miles have yet to come. With 3 months to go though, I thought I’d share 10 things I’ve learned from ironing so far…

Early starts are your best friend
I know I’m kinda late to the party here, but whilst I have a job that allows 9am starts with a swimming pool nearby, I’ve been doing the majority of my swim sessions before work. I might land at my desk with a swishing sound in my left ear, quite impressive goggle marks and RAGING hunger, but it’s pretty satisfying having ticked off a decent training session before the day has even properly begun, and before life has got in the way. Makes those pesky 5.30am alarms worth it, even if for the first few minutes of being awake I’m cursing this sodding ironman.

There is a difference between tired legs and injured legs
I don’t think I’ve trained on properly fresh legs since November. No joke. It’s not possible to get in enough training and have fresh legs all the time, but it’s made me learn the difference between tired, achy legs, and legs that are becoming injured. 9 times out of 10, it’s not a brewing injury, it’s just my body reminding me to stretch my bloody quads and hip flexors for once, and I can train on through.

You’re not always going to want to do the training
I can think of a lot of days this winter where I’ve¬†really¬†not wanted to get out training. Yorkshire is beautiful, but when it comes to cycling, it’s frequently cold, windy and full of bastard hills, and James has had to give me a tough word to get out and get the miles done. The same goes for brick runs, and a couple of times I’ve had to have a word with myself to actually start running off the back of a long bike ride where I’m frozen to the core. When training more than you’ve ever trained before, you’re not always going to love it: sometimes it’s just a case of gritting your teeth and getting it done.

Swimming and biking help with running
Before Brighton, my half marathon PB was set when I was purely running, knocking out 40+ miles a week. I was surprised that in Brighton, on less fresh legs and with only about half the miles in my legs over 2-3 runs a week, I was able to run faster and stronger. Whilst I think part of it is learning to suffer (max heart rate tests are good for this), I do think the overall training volume has helped my running.

It’s expensive. Like, really expensive.
There is always a new expense around the corner with so much training, whether it’s broken goggles, worn out trainers, inner tubes for the bike or gels and bars to keep me powered up hills- and that’s before we even start on accidental Lululemon and Rapha purchases to motivate myself out of the door in the grimmest of conditions, race entries and travel and the sheer amount of coffee and peanut butter I’m getting through. But y’know, my social life is pretty cheap to balance it out, since I’m ALWAYS training, eating or sleeping. Oh, and working too.

Getting some help is a really good idea
A coach is by no means an essential, and if you have a regular, predictable life, a training plan from a book will probably work pretty well. For me though, with a job with fairly unpredictable hours, planning and actually sticking to it can be tough, and I end up looking at Strava, wondering if I’m doing enough or the right thing. I also find that when planning for myself, one discipline will be going well whilst the other two fall to pieces- so I enlisted the help of a coach in Chris, and it’s been a great investment. It holds me accountable, pushes me through sessions I’d never set myself, and reins me in when I’d otherwise overdo it.

You cannot put in that volume of training without fuelling properly
Almost every time I’ve felt terrible, been performing badly or been a nightmare to be around, I can trace it back to not fuelling properly. Cycling so slowly I’m practically going backwards? Probably haven’t taken on enough fuel on the bike. Mid afternoon biscuit rampages? Didn’t eat enough proper food after a tough swim. Suddenly unbelievably grumpy? Actually, just hangry. It’s impossible to train hard and perform well without feeding yourself properly. For a couple of months now, I’ve enlisted the help of fitnaturally¬†to write me a custom food plan based around my working and training and it’s been great; it’s taught me a lot about the right foods to eat and when, with no horrible gloopy shakes, faddy foods or weird stuff, just lots of wholesome, nutritious food that’s genuinely really tasty. I’d thoroughly recommend it as an investment!

Chicken satay stir fry

I’ve had to be more organised than ever before
‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ might be lame and overused but it’s kinda true for iron training. Having the right kit ready to go, swim kit and meals packed up the night before early starts, and a clear plan for when my training’s going to get done has been vital- it all cuts down on the chances of me sacking off a session because I’ve run out of time- and saying that’s why you’ve missed a session to your coach is a bit embarrassing, frankly.

Rest days are important and to be respected
When I’m not training heavily, I don’t always appreciate why rest days are actually necessary. Since upping the volume so much though, I bloody LOVE my rest day each week. On Fridays, I only set one new PB ever- time from leaving work to being horizontal on the sofa in sweatpants (I’ve got it down to 38 minutes on a good day). No sneaking in extra miles for the sake of Strava, no ‘rest day’ gym classes, nothing, nil, nada. Rest is when the body absorbs the training and the magic happens. So plant your arse and enjoy actually seeing your OH for once!

Supportive people around you are a must
Speaking of which, I can’t imagine how ironman training would go without supportive people around you. James has been a godsend during my training- not batting an eyelid at me getting up early for swims, accepting that most weekend days I’ll be out training for a lot of it, and being realistic that a clean and tidy house isn’t top of my to do list at the moment. Likewise when I go home to see my parents, they accept that at some point I’ll be off out cycling or running, and are well used to the house being strewn with Lycra and trainers/inner tubes/water bottles.

What things has a focused training period for a big goal race taught you?

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!



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!

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.


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!


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.


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.




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!



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.

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.