Friday, 22 November 2013

The Vitruvian Part 3: the Bike and the run

The Vitruvian Triathlon 2013

1900m swim (1.2 miles)

85 km bike (52.8 miles)

21 km run (13 miles)

The Bike

So off I set on the bike leg. I felt fresher than I expected. The course leads uphill out of the entrance to Rutland Water then uphill slightly on the main road. I used this as an excuse to go slow, catch my breath from making the change from swimming to cycling and get into a rhythm. I knew a steep downhill was coming leading to the roundabout at Oakham. I tried getting my head around this. I do get the fear on steep downhills! I get more confident the longer I am on the bike. Anyway, I held back a little on the first lap. I had done the route before, on a practice run and at the Dambuster, so I knew what was coming, but my brain tends to remember bits instead of full routes, and I struggle to put the pieces together in the right order. This meant that as soon as I took the left at the Oakham roundabout, I expected to pretty much straight away hit the Rutland Ripple (the big double down then up section that is not very nice on the uphills!). This wasn’t the case, by probably at least a mile if not two, so I had a massive build up of anticipation whilst I got to it. It wasn’t the uphill I was bothered about. I knew I could make it up, even if I hit my super slow any slower and I’ll stop speed in my last possible gear, I knew I could hold that for as long as I needed.  Again, it was the downhill that bothered me. I tried to let it go and people were rushing past me much faster than I was going, but I just couldn’t let it go. I held off until I was partway down, then let go of the brake. I think if I had a closed road I would feel safer, because if I came off I had no chance of then also being hit by a a car. To me this was the difference between gravel rash and, at worst, a broken bone compared to potentially ending up dead (such a drama queen). Whatever. As I had already learned, my head had much more influence over my performance than my body. I was working on this and there wasn’t much more I could do right then. Clearly holding back on the downhill made the uphill more difficult than it needed to be because I had less momentum, so I slogged myself up the other side and found I had developed an internal mantra: “Not as bad as Bigby, not as bad as Bigby” which is a super-steep evil curving hill that Chris had built into our training route to prep for these hills. It was true, it wasn’t as bad as Bigby, for steepness, but it seemed to last forever! Whereas Bigby was more of a short sharp shock. Anyway, that seemed to help!

The Vitruvian Cycle Route (do twice)

There were a few more landmarks, but the scenery, as much as it was beautiful, all started to look the same. It was only when I got through Ketton, turning a sharp left, I felt that I was on the home straight. It hadn’t felt like it had taken as long as I had expected, even though the journey had been filled with the usual messing with your own head issues such as “If I deliberately stack my bike I won’t have to finish, I could just stop” type thoughts. That and praying for a flat. This is when you end up with time to think about how far you have come, how far you have left overall, and how long it is all taking. Not helpful, but then what else are you gonna think about on the bike leg of a triathlon?! This would alternate to thoughts of “thank god I haven’t got a flat, I just need to get the bike leg done then I know I can plod the run” and “I’m doing it! I’m gonna actually finish!” Unfortunately, the event photographer appears to have caught me in one of my unhappier moments!
Not looking too chuffed...

Nothing particularly eventful happened on the bike leg. I remember feeling properly in sync with my bike and being really happy about it, like “this is TOTALLY the right bike for me! She’s AMAZING!” and feeling like everything was pretty smooth. I had a mental counting thing going on that was helping me keep my cadence up and make sure I was in the right gear to maintain my cadence. I’d gone past a speed camera feeling pretty comfortable and it had clocked me at 20mph, so I counted whilst pumping my legs “twen-ty, twen-ty”. The things you do on a long repetitive road ride!

I came in after the first lap thinking “crap I never practised bottle pick up!” just as I was headed at a load of people holding out high 5 bottles. I lobbed mine at a guy gesturing frantically at me and shouted “high 5” twice before one of the bottle guys went “up ahead”. The first guys were giving out water only but I knew I needed the electrolytes because I can get cramp in my calves. As much as I preferred water because I just find it more refreshing and pleasant to drink, I knew I needed the extra content the high 5 would give me. Turned out it was a pretty tasty and not syrupy one anyway, which was good. I managed to grab a bottle without fumbling about, but I was going pretty slowly just to make sure I got it. I couldn’t get round again without it as I could feel it was getting warm by this point.

 I headed out for the second lap surprised to find myself feeling good. I was over halfway through the bike leg, though I had expected to feel more like “Oh no not again!”. I was more confident now I had warmed up and spent some time on the bike, so I let rip on the hill down to the roundabout. I came up to the roundabout with some momentum, and realised I was rapidly gaining on a woman ahead, who was slowing to deal with the roundabout and was alongside a car. There was nowhere for me to go and both cyclist and driver looked like they were going to stop... at an empty roundabout. I wasn’t about to slow down to unclipping pace, so I said “Come on go go go!”. The woman jumped and got a shift on. I apologised as I rode past, but felt I shouldn’t have had to say it anyway really! (She overtook me back later!)
I still held back for the ripple! It was just too big! I went into a kind of plodding get through it headspace for the rest of the time. Just finish it! I felt excited coming in from the bike. The end felt properly in sight! The run was going to feel short relative to the bike. I gave Fran a thumbs up coming in from the bike. I was elated. Next, run!

The Run

I got into transition again feeling better than expected. I quickly changed shoes and started heading out when someone let me know I was still wearing my bike helmet! I shed that and hit the run. I didn’t feel tired at this point. More over the moon! I headed out, which again was slightly uphill. My expectation of struggling with this straight off the bike wasn’t realised, which boosted my confidence. I could hear the guy on the tannoy announcing finishers, but instead of thinking “Crikey I’ve got the whole run to do yet” I just thought “That will be me soon!” and buzzed off the happy atmosphere. I think I was almost in denial about the amount of time I had left to do, which was at least 2 hours!

The first bit of “urgh” was just where the run skirted the lake, at about half a mile out, when there’s a short, steep uphill which is just what you need! I never for one second thought about the run as a half marathon. I think that would have done me in. It was 4 5km runs. The run route was two laps of an out and back. So 5km out, 5km back, 5k out again, and 5km back. This rings a bell to when I was marshalling the Outlaw, which is ironman full distance so finishes with a marathon. I cannot remember who said it, but one of the guys doing it was saying they were seeing it as 4 10km runs and explained how he had broken it into sections. Perhaps this had settled in my head, but all I could think afterwards was how detrimental to my state of mind it would have been to even think half marathon when I was starting the run. So I’m buzzing totally. I can hear the music from the finish for some of the run, and I’m back in a group of competitors rather than being in the middle of nowhere on my todd on the bike leg. It felt a lot different.

 I got over the dam, about halfway through the first “out” when I clocked my friend Nick heading towards me having already hit the turn around point. I gave him a shout. He had clearly been working very hard as it took him a second to recognise and acknowledge me. He seemed a bit dazed. To me, this was a massive boost.  I had had it in my head that the guys’ would have finished by the time I got on the run (they had been in earlier swim waves and were generally MUCH faster than me at everything!). Only a few yards further on I clocked another friend, Aidy, and gave him a shout. He just looked at me and shook his head. He didn’t look very happy at all so I let him be. Another few hundred yards and I spotted Jonny. Now I was really confused and wondering what lap everyone was on as Jonny was more in line with my speed than Aidy and Nick’s so I shouted to ask what lap he was on and he replied “one” and we did a high five. This made sense. Aidy and Nick must have been on the home straight. I was still boosted by seeing them all and my first lap felt great. I was feeling really hot though. It was now lunchtime and the sun was fully up. I was taking water at every feed station. I was sick to the back teeth of high five now and hoped I wouldn’t start cramping. I necked half a banana on my way out on the first lap, which seemed to go down fine. On my first “back” I stopped at the portaloo. I was pretty impressed with myself at not having needed the loo already! I came back in and picked up a gel from the marshalls before turning to head out again. This was when I started flagging. I just seemed to slump! I knew I’d slowed a bit, but I think I had finally hit that “given all I’ve got” stage. I felt like I’d run out of resources. I just kept going. I knew I wasn’t doing bad for time. At the final turning point (5km to go) I stopped for a second to drink some water and asked for the time. My legs were giving me a load of grief in the muscle over the knee, in both legs. I gave them a seconds rest. The lady said 1.30pm. At the time, my head couldn’t even compute what that meant. I knew I had been thinking 2pm would be good but I couldn’t figure out the time. I just remember I knew 1.30pm was good and I felt chuffed anyway! I grabbed another half banana just for the home straight and plodded my way back through. We were few and far between now, and I acknowledged the people behind me as I passed them. We’d done this bit together!

I came down to the finish line making sure my number was visible. I wanted to hear my name called out and those magic words “You are a Vitruvian!” I was so happy! I waved my arms in the air coming down to the finish line. I crossed it and all I could think about was getting back in the lake. I’d had this image in my head at several points on the bike and run. I sat down in a chair immediately. I’d felt nauseous stopping at the end of the Dambuster and wanted to check I wasn’t going to feel that way again. I felt ok. Voices popped up behind me and there were hands on my shoulders. The A team had come to congratulate me! I couldn’t even think, I just wanted to get my t-shirt (proof I’d done it!) and get my ass in that lake! I asked a marshall if it was ok to go in and he said “Put it this way, that’s what all the elites did as soon as they finished”. I needed no further encouragement. I headed in aiming to get at least thigh deep. I ended up laid in it with only my head out. It felt brilliant!


Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Vitruvian Part Two: Race Morning and the Swim

The Vitruvian Triathlon 2013
1900m swim (1.2 miles)
85 km bike (52.8 miles)
21 km run (13 miles)

The Pimp

Just a little aside to introduce The Pimp as I haven’t blogged since I got her. She’s the best bike I’ve ever been able to afford. Still aluminium, with carbon forks. Even the cheapest carbon bike is waaaaaaay out of my price range. Anyway, here she is:

She loves it... gagging for a race she was
I got her at the end of July finally after messing about with the bike to work scheme which saves you about 30% overall (totally worth it!). I remember on our first ride out telling Chris “I am scared of how fast I know this bike can go”. I have no idea how people riding carbon deal with the speed. It scares the bejesus out of me! The wind is the main issue (I find) on the bike. On that first ride it was only a little blowy, but every field gateway or gap in the hedge and I knew about it. The bike felt so light compared to my old one (a few years old Boardman hybrid) that I felt it tugging underneath me as if potentially the bike could be blown out from under me. It turned out this was just getting used to it. It occasionally makes me jump now when it catches me off guard, and it does need correcting, but I’m used to it.

As for the name, she’s such a smooth ride I had an image pop in my head of a pimp in a velvet bell bottom suit, wide hat with feather etc and then I thought “Well, she does like making me ride, she’s clearly my pimp” so the name The Pimp was born.

Race Day

Just a little mention to the lovely young lady on reception at the Travelodge I stayed at who moved me rooms when I asked because I could hear a crying baby really loudly next door and I really needed a good night’s sleep! She put me in a room that appeared to be between two cupboards. How nice was that?! I slept pretty well for the night before a race. As I said before, the “prep” races had ended up making me kick myself up the bum and get training proper. I actually feel I’ve never felt more ready for a race. The distance didn’t intimidate me as I had already done the bike/run full distance brick session, and I wasn’t tired because I had tapered properly, which I don’t think I’d done before. I was sort of comfortable, but THAT was a little disconcerting. It was almost like the tapering was such an agonising wait, I was glad to just be getting on with it. Anyway, however I try and describe it, it felt a little different. I kept having the thought that this time last year I had been marshalling the event (and think the participants were all mad/amazing), not taking part, and how had it come about that I had moved from one to the other? I was a little worried about queuing to get back into Rutland Water but I was early enough to just miss the rush (It was about 5am and still dark). I had transition set up in no time (such a veteran!) and then just hung about waiting for other people to pop up. I found the boys in transition, then the A team down by the water. I thought I’d watch the first couple of waves set off then go and get suited and booted seeing as the first wave went 45 minutes before mine did. It turned out the A team had made support T-shirts which were awesome!

A team - run section
A team - bike section

The 'A' team: most amazing and committed support team ever

 It was such a beautiful morning. The sun was just rising in front of where the swimmers were heading in, and the water temperature was so good that in the race briefing they announced wetsuits were optional (though I didn’t see anyone take that ‘option’ as it was borderline!)
Photos don't do this place justice

 I began to feel a bit wobbly in the stomach as the first waves went off. I interpreted it as borderline worry/excitement. I was looking forward to it, but the swim looked really far (it had for the Dambuster) and there was a “run out round and back in” bit between swim laps that was new to me. My blood pressure is a little on the low side (not enough to prompt any cause for concern) but standing up suddenly from swimming can cause you to feel pretty light headed, and I had previously had problems with this. I was also thinking about the run back in because it was a nasty stony entry. I went off to get wetsuited and thought I may as well get in the portaloo queue whilst I was at it. Overhearing a conversation between the two people next to me prompted me to leg it for transition, which was closing, to grab my wetsuit. (This had not been in the race instructions, just that it would be closed for racking bikes from 6 as this could potentially get in the way of competitors coming off the swim). I got back in the loo queue and hit that “no sense of time” zone that comes from having no phone/watch for reference. The only way I knew I was ok for time was that there were other wetsuited ladies also in the queue for the loo (we were so few in number that they only needed to do one swim wave for us).

The Swim

I headed back down to the water ready to start. There was now a continuous stream of people around the swim route where all the prior waves had gone, spread out, and hit their second lap. As soon as the wave before mine went I was in the water trying to get the blood flowing swimming up and down and running my legs treading water. I do take some warming up and hate a cold start. I hung back for the start. I knew I was one of the slowest swimmers and there was no point being swum over and freaking out from the get go to set myself up for a bad race. I ended up in a busy spot anyway somehow and it got a bit lairy. It didn’t freak me out as it has done in the past though. I was kind of cool with it in a “this is normal” kind of way. I just made sure I kept one hand/arm in front all the time to save getting my goggles booted off in case I caught up with someone (which I did seem to be doing with some. Don’t get me wrong, eventually I ended up in the last few!). My sighting had been crap for the Dambuster, mainly because I hadn’t practised enough to get the breathing right. It threw me off rhythm. I had since made a point of practising in both open water and pool drills and it was paying off. I had a new rhythm which involved sighting every eighth stroke, whichever side I was breathing to (which I tried to alternate as my left arm is weaker and aches, but still need to build it up). I had sighting nailed, but actually seeing the first buoy was difficult, because the sun was coming up and reflecting off the water right into your eyes.
Sun in my eyes and the world at my feet :-)

 It was easier to see the second buoy once turning round the first, even though it looked miiiilllllllles away. I felt a bit robbed really as there had been some extra fluorescent buoys out for the Dambuster but they hadn’t put them out for the Vit. Anyway, cue lots of plodding swimming, trying to push a little but not get wiped out. I dropped off the back of the pack with a few stragglers, as expected, and overtook a couple of people from earlier waves who were slowing due to being on their second lap. The exit was rounding the Rutland Belle (a tourist boat) and coming in the last 25m to a sloping exit. I don’t really use my feet all that much swimming. I’m working on it but I run out of breath. Approaching the end of the boat for the exit turn, I began to kick as hard as I could. I knew from swim training that this was the only way I could make sure my blood pressure would be high enough to combat the wobbles on exiting the water. It worked. I was still disorientated and slow over the stones (I grabbed a marshall for support, but that’s what they were there for) but I didn’t have that crazy dizziness I had experienced previously where it felt I couldn’t stop my eyes flicking sideways and back for about half a minute. (Like if you spin around a lot and then stop, but it feels like your eyes are still trying to spin. It’s the best way I can describe it!) I actually managed to semi-run round to get back in.
I have to run round this? and then swim more?

A couple of other women were making a meal of it so I lobbed myself into the water past them and headed out again. Another woman seemed to be trying to swim over me, which was completely unnecessary now we weren’t in a crowd, so I tried to bump off her and get some space. She ended up slightly ahead of me, then because her sighting was rubbish she began to swim diagonally across in front of me. I was annoyed by then, so I grabbed her legs and shoved her to the side she was heading for to get her out of my way. She seemed to want to draft off me after this, but I was too conscious of her being a potential danger having got in my way twice already, so I deliberately headed slightly off course to get some space between us. From then on it was steady plodding again, until just before the second buoy where I felt my hand hit something quite hard at the end of my pull. I looked back and another swimmer was treading water looking a bit stunned. I’d clearly just clocked her in the face by accident. I asked if she was ok and she nodded so I apologised and turned to carry on. I felt bad but I couldn’t really do anything. She wasn’t bleeding that I could see, and there were plenty of canoe safety crew about it she got stuck. I think it was more the shock! She carried on anyway. I kicked like hell on the exit again and managed to get out pretty well. I asked the marshall to start my wetsuit zip off as I can never do it myself (this is allowed!) and managed to tap up to transition. I was walking by the time I got to my bike. My body felt really heavy from the swim. I shed the wetsuit and did my best to dry my feet on my talcum powder covered towel. I wasn’t gasping for breath but I didn’t want to be. It was all about lasting, finishing, not sprinting. It was too far for that. Putting my socks on I thought about how temperamental my feet are (they get upset easily and demonstrate this through ridiculous levels of blistering). I was aware that I needed to be careful putting my two-layer socks on because I could end up in a world of limpy pain on the run. I’d had situations before when I’d got them “wrong” before and ended up suffering for it. I didn’t have too long to think about it and just thought I’d have to sort them out later if I had to. I ran for the exit (not the easiest in bike shoes. I’ve never tried the rubber band-put your feet in your shoes whilst riding angle. I find it hard enough taking my bottle out for a drink). I had to stop at the mount line because I’d got my shoe strap folded wrongly somehow in the rush. I sorted that out, clipped one shoe in and pedalled like billy-o to get the pimp up the little incline to get out on the bike course (she was well ready for it)...

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Vitruvian Part One: Prep

The Vitruvian Triathlon 2013
1900m swim (1.2 miles)
85 km bike (52.8 miles)
21 km run (13 miles)

Sorry! There was so much to say I've had to cut it in half! Suddenly I've been thinking and writing for so long I have to call it a day or I'll spend all day tomorrow asleep at work!

So... where to start? I’ve missed some bits recently, like Woodhall Spa’s nostalgia triathlon. We’ll have to come back to that. I need to get this down before it goes. I hate to lose the experience, and it’s already slipping away...

The Vitruvian (or The Vit) *flashback to lots of “are you hitting the Vit?” facebook comments flying around particularly between the madogaylords* started for me at last year’s event. My friend Aidy completed it and I was marshalling (and didn’t everyone crossing the bike mount line, either way, know about it). I remember once everyone was in on the bike moving over to marshall a crossing point on the run, and determinedly waiting for the last competitor to come in (a very tired looking man who was quite a way behind everyone else, but he made it!). I remember being in awe of everyone taking part. The distance seemed crazy! I was still doing sprints (with pool swims) at this point and it just seemed off the chart. I was so chuffed and proud for Aidy, especially as it was a really hot day and his time was amazing! (The sun does seem to come out for him, as it did on the Outlaw this year. Heat is not necessarily the best weather for triathlon!) Cue Aidy telling me I could do it, and me getting caught up in the excitement of it all deciding to sign up for it. This made sense last September, when it still wasn’t real. “I’ve got a year, easy” I told myself. And so it began...

Fast forward to conquering front crawl, getting my head around open water, speeding up on the run, and investing time in the cycling which I hated with a passion, especially after Lincoln Sportive (see 6th June Update). Most of these have been/will be documented... let’s get up to speed (fnar fnar). So Rother Valley (first open water race) and the Dambuster (at the same place as the Vit, doing the same bike & run routes just one lap) were my “prep” to build up from sprint to half iron distance. Well, let’s face it, I papped my pants! I’d been kind of training, but clearly nowhere near the intensity and distance I needed to. After the Dambuster I had a massive “What the chuff have I done?” fit and even tried to cancel and get a refund on my Vitruvian place. I was told all I could claim back was a 50% credit not. You can imagine my snort of derision at that. It cost £120! My Yorkshire tightwadness then made the call... I was going to hit the Vit! At this point, I realised I had 8 weeks to pull my finger out and get training PROPERLY. I hadn’t been doing nothing, but I needed to get structured and do more workouts each week. I spoke to Aidy as I knew he’d followed a properly structured plan and he sent me a couple of links for webpages. There were plenty of ready made plans, it was all about organisation (not my strongest point) and some good old determination. I also ended up with the “A” team for support and I honestly do not know what would have happened to my training if it hadn’t been for them. The “A” team are made up of Fran and Chris Allison. Fran loves running and has been my running buddy for at least 2.5 years now, and Chris had been getting back into his cycling on and off and had recently treated himself to a new road bike. I explained to Fran how I was worried about getting ready for the Vit, and the next thing I had her and Chris as well commited training buddies 2-3 times a week each. They were amazing! I let them know at the beginning of the week what workouts I needed to fit in that week, what distances/times/intensity etc and between us we co-ordinated them. This included brick sessions (covering 2 disciplines e.g practising bike to run transition) which involved everyone! They really put as much time and effort in as I did, and we got into a great routine with it. They invested so much of themselves in it that they decided to come down on the day and cheer me on. Fran plays it down, but I don’t think I would have trained half as well without them. It makes all the difference having someone to train with. It’s easier to bin it off on a tired day or cut a ride short when you are on your own (who is going to know, right?)

The 8 weeks flew by... Sorry, the 6 weeks flew by. We fit the training in as best we could, occasionally missing one or two training sessions a week purely due to time restrictions, but still we worked bloody hard. The distances progressed really fluidly and it all felt great. I had a period where I wasn’t feeling great so had to have a quiet week, but it didn’t seem to matter. At the start, 8 weeks hadn’t felt nearly long enough, but by the time weeks 7 & 8 came (the tapering weeks where you do very little to make sure you have recovered from your training fully in time for the race) I felt ready! We hadn’t rushed or skipped up massive distances, and yet at the end of 6 weeks we finished by doing a brick session of both the full bike and full run distance. To be fair, it was pushing it a little by week 6, because we did the bike, then the run the day after, then 4 days later did the full distance brick. This was purely because a) I was away that weekend so couldn’t leave it until the weekend to do the brick which would’ve given me about a week to recover and b) I had to get the full brick done before tapering started because I knew psychologically that I needed to KNOW that I could do it. And the only way to do that, was to do it. So we did...

Tapering was agony! I was gagging to get some exercise and my goodness did everyone know about it! I did very very little in the last two weeks, mainly due to time limitations, and birthdays, but I felt completely ready for it, and very impatient. I didn’t want to wait any more. Now that I knew I COULD to it, I really wanted to get on with it! Frustration is not a big enough word to describe it! My tolerance level dropped massively, and in my head most people around me were dead several times over for crimes as minor as dropping a pen. It really was agony!

Then it finally came... (to be continued)

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Dambuster! My first olympic distance triathlon

Dambuster ... Where to start?! So many bits to it...

I booked the Friday off so I could get ready at a leisurely pace. I felt quite nervous when I woke up. In hindsight, it appears this was more about possibly forgetting something vital rather than nerves about the event itself. I packed up and hit the road. When I got to Rutland Water, I was feeling good. The place itself is beautiful you can’t help but feel really chilled out there. I impressed myself putting two tents up and got chatting to my neighbours, a couple from Essex. Cue much reminiscing about past races, conversations about strengths and weaknesses and expectations for the race. I never got their names, but the guy was talking about them adjusting the swim course because of the wind when he did the Vitruvian in the same place a couple of years before. He said once you got out of the lagoon it was surprising what impact the wind had on the water. I didn’t pay this much heed at the time. I went for a mooch down to registration and looked at the swim course which was already marked out. The first buoy looked miles away. So did the distance from the first to second buoys. I told myself I had already swum 2km, and no matter how far it looked this was only 1.5.
Camping was rubbish! The rain that had been forecast turned up in the middle of the night. This was preferable to when I was putting the tents up, but still, it was really loud and I was struggling to sleep as it was so I woke up in a foul mood. I ate a banana and a high 5 energy bar and walked my bike down to transition. I set up gradually, having time to get most of my camping stuff back in the car. The early start is purely to get some proper breakfast in plenty of time to avoid indigestion in the race. I know from experience that I need to eat a couple of hours in advance or it will hurt. This seems to be true for other people too. I spent the rest of the time hanging out on the beach or running for a last minute wee (I had six loo visits before the start!) which got annoying once I’d got my wetsuit on. On the morning itself, I felt pretty excited and eager to have a go!

During the race brief, there was an announcement that the swim had been adjusted to reduce the amount of time in the main lake. This had reduced the swim to 1400m instead of 1500m. The swim was a beach start, as opposed to the deep water start at Rother Valley, so that was a new experience. “Beach” was a pretty generous description. “Stony as chuff” would have been my preferred choice. It was an ”ooo ahh bugger” tentative getting in process. We had a few minutes to get wet and cold before the wave started before we were told to only be in “ankle deep” which clearly loosely meant “knee deep”. I stayed to one side, not wanting to get caught up in the washing machine that is a group start, and when the start blower went I gingerly took a couple of steps and then threw myself as far forward as I could. I got going, the main group heading off and leaving me behind with a couple of slower people (fine by me. Preferable to getting booted in the face). All of a sudden, I felt I was rocking side to side. Imagine laying on your front, and rocking from left to right. We had come past the mini-headland and were into the main lake. The impact of the wind was completely unexpected. I had no frame of reference for it. It was worse than the uniform, slower feeling of waves in the sea. It was all over the shop! I had to stop for a second to let it register. Luckily, in swimming, I am ambidextrous! I resolved to breath to my left only, as the choppiness was hitting from the right and trying to breath that side could end up still feeling like your face was underwater as the ’wave’ washed over your head and left you with a mouth full of water. Weirdly, stopping never entered my mind. I was thrown and confused, but it was just something to deal with, though when I spoke to my friend and my Essex neighbour after the race, they both said their first thought had been to bail after hitting the choppy water, so I felt quite chuffed about how I had handled it. Anyway, so there I am, breathing to my left until hitting the first buoy. The other thing was, waves push you, so I was having to correct constantly to make sure I was going to go around the first buoy correctly. It felt like a proper battle and was very tiring. After the first buoy, you start coming back on yourself, so of course I began to breath to my right, still keeping my face away from the choppiness and being glad that I would be out of it sooner rather than later. It really did throw you off your stroke! I was sighting as best I could and heading in the right general direction, but because I was breathing to my right had no idea what was going on to my left. One of the safety guys in a canoe said to me that I needed to be more to the left so, risking a face full of water, I finally looked in that direction. Lo and behold, a line of people who are much better a sighting than me, and much faster at swimming, from the wave starting after mine, were filing past! I had been pushed off course again, quite severely, and had probably done about 50m on top of what I should have. I soldiered on, sighting the next big orange buoy. It didn’t seem too far away. The water got calmer again, when suddenly I was caught up in a second group of people from the wave behind me, and no matter which side I breathed I was facing body parts churning up the water. I faltered for a second, choosing to let them get ahead a little, then carried on, realising that the buoy I thought was the turning point actually wasn’t, and there was more to go before turning back towards the beach. I thought it was probably a good thing that this had happened, because the alternative was recognising just how far it was from the first to the second buoys which could have been disheartening. Finally, after what felt like forever, I was coming out of the swim. As much as I was kicking like hell to get the blood flowing, I still felt that weird drunken feeling that changing blood pressure brings. This was aggravated by the stones on exit again. Essex neighbour had discussed being really disorientated after the swim, but I only realised what he meant when I was already out on the bike. I’d totally forgotten to put my calf compressors on!

The bike was good overall! For a change. All that work I’ve been trying to put in has been paying off. It was a long route around the whole of Rutland Water. Within five minutes of setting off I realised I needed the loo! I wasted time pulling off on a hill to dive in some bushes (potentially a penalty!) before realising they were too nettley! Then diving off again to sort myself out. Then I plugged away. The downhills didn’t phase me like they do in practice. I milked them for all they were worth! I started with three gels on my bike but only managed to have one, the other two disappearing somewhere along the way (more potential penalties) so more secure taping to my bike next time. In spite of this, I never felt completely knackered. I felt able to plug away. I felt I was managing the gears better than I have before. I’ve always been able to get up bonkers hills without bailing and walking, but the whole thing had a smoothness too it which felt a lot better. I was worried about cramping calves, but they were fine. The only twinginess I got was the odd feeling in the backs of my thighs, which I felt was the result of gradually adapting how I cycle. There were a few people pulled over with flats, and several ambulances/police went past with sirens going. When I was on the home stretch (having done a dummy run a few weeks earlier, which I thoroughly recommend for any course) I felt good, knowing I had the legs for the run. I knew I was running low on energy, but I also knew I could plod indefinitely if need be.

The run was a straightforward out and back partway round the lake. I hit T2 and really felt like just sitting and taking 5! I got my trainers on and plodded out. It always feels a bit rubbish seeing other people packing up just as you head out on the run! You can hear the announcer on the loudspeaker when you are around the finish line and I could have sworn I heard them saying the time was three hours fifteen, which meant I was screwed for my 4 hour deadline, as I knew the run would be at least an hour. I sucked it up and set off. Just after one km I saw my friend Jonny heading back in and gave him a high five in passing. This was a boost as I had calculated that he would have finished before I got out on the run. I was already messing about with motivating numbers in my head... When I hit the next marker, I’ll be 1/5th of the way through, just after that, I’ll be ¼ of the way through etc. At 2km I had a mental word with my feet. They were feeling quite hot, and I told them that whether they blistered or not, I was running on them anyway, so they could just shut up. I distracted myself by trying to breath out a mild/moderate stitch that was persisting (and did throughout the run). The dam crossing was rubbish, as it was exposed and came with a gusting side wind, so it got you on the way over, and on the way back. I managed to take in some scenery (I can’t say enough how totally beautiful it is). At about 4km I realised I could look across the lake to the finish, and it seemed a lot further back round than 5km, but reflected it didn’t feel like it had taken that long to get here, and it wasn’t going to make any difference to how I was going to deal with it. The turning point came with a feeling of elation, as they usually do on runs like that: “I’ve broken it’s back”, “I’m on the home straight” etc. Strangely, at 6km, I suddenly was hungrier than ever before! If the cutest kid in the world was eating his favourite sweets with relish I would happily have stolen them at that point! That went within a couple of minutes. I made my way back and down towards the finish. When I saw it, I couldn’t help but smile.  One of the marshalls who had been filming all day was videoing and shouted “sprint finish?!” Well I couldn’t argue with that, so I got a spurt on for the last bit. The tannoy guy was announcing finishers names and as he gave me a shout I waved my arms and crossed the line. He clearly liked that, and asked if I was going to take a bow, which I did. I immediately felt nauseous, to the point of wondering if I was actually going to be sick, but the lovely ladies at the finish sat me down and it passed. My friend came and gave me a big hug. I had a couple of occasions shortly after finishing where I nearly welled up as it was quite overwhelming. Ultimately, I felt awesome! I was so chuffed with the time as well. I came in the last handful of people, but I did it!

Now for some serious training for the Vitruvian!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Rother Valley Sprint Triathlon

Hoorah! First open water swim triathlon under my belt :-) To be honest, it was really nerve wracking. I was worried about getting eaten alive in the carnage of the swim start, so I stayed well back. By well back I mean at least a foot back from the whole group! Luckily it wasn't a big wave, or it didn't seem it. When I started I still ended up seemingly surrounded, which I suspect was due to the people in front being too closely packed together so I set off when some of them were still waiting to start. I didn't get kicked in the head, thankfully, but had a couple of sideways crashes where we just seemed to bounce off each other! Then most people got ahead and I got into plodding rhythm, only disturbed by my crap sighting which threw me off balance. It was a simple triangle swim: Straight out, left, straight on, left, back in. I'm glad I had some open water practice, and I knew I could do the distance, so after the start was out of the way (the only bit I wasn't familiar with) I felt I could plod round, which I did. It felt like it took forever! I was really surprised it was under twenty minutes. I wasn't last in my wave but I was overtaken by a few people from the wave after. Still, I did it! The funny thing was it has taken me ages to faff about with my wetsuit when I've been for a swim, but I whipped it straight off in T1! 

On a separate note, turns out my cycling sucks to high heaven. I feel my run is fine (thanks running buddy), and even my swim is coming along. The swim is known for being technical and there are lots of bits to learn with it, but the bike? What can I do? I asked my friend and excellent triathlete, and his advice was "more hills"! 

Anyway, you learn something every race. Well chuffed with it. Hope there's some event pics somewhere!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Update: 6th June 2013

So, what have you missed? I'll try and keep it in chronological order. I still find the most fascinating aspect of all this is how my HEAD deals with it. My body is straightforward... It's either working or it isn't, but my HEAD is a temperamental beast, though I'm beginning to see a pattern. It would appear that I am getting better at preparing, but in more insightful moments I see it as keeping the bugger quiet. It's a case of learning how to do this. Hopefully, summarising my recent sporting efforts will give you more of an idea of what I mean...

4th May 2013: Scunthorpe Half Marathon. Pleasure rating 10/10. Pain rating 2/10.
This was awesome. No doubt about it. I knew my body could do it, having been broken severely by Sleaford Half in February. There's something about "I know I can do that because I have already" that does wonders for your headspace. I went in thinking if anything was going to let me down it was my body as I was having recurrent blister issues on all my long runs. Lo and behold, I did have to stop twice to try and sort my left little toe out, finally compeeding it and running it numb, but it did the job! My running buddy and I thrashed our Sleaford time and both felt sore but great! Job done.

11th May 2013: Lincoln Sportive - 10/55/75/100 mile bike. I chose 55. Pleasure rating 3/10. Pain rating 8/10.
I'm loath to score it 10/10 for pain as that conjures images of ambulances or at least a hospital visit in the car.  This was an unfamiliar beast and I TOTALLY underestimated it. As a result, it bit me firmly in the arse and rightly so. I wasn't taking it seriously, thinking I could just mooch through it. WRONG. Mainly due to head reasons again. Firstly, it was about my third time out on my clip in bike shoes and my confidence was pretty much zero. To compound this, the route started with a right turn onto a main road, immediately followed by going straight over a busy roundabout. I felt panicky taking the right turn, then went into shut down on seeing the roundabout immediately afterwards. I pulled off onto the pavement, unclipping, and started to shake. Then I had a mini-cry. I was completely terrified and my head was full of visions of me flipping over someone's car bonnet. I pictured myself walking the bike back to the car, packing up and texting my friend (who was somewhere ahead) to let him know I had to bail. I was completely in that moment and reacting with it. After a few deep breaths I managed to think about the bigger picture. I HAD to get over this. I had triathlons coming up which would be much easier if I could get used to the clip in shoes. I couldn't go back to normal shoes now as it would feel like a step backwards. Also, I knew that 55 miles couldn't all be in such a built up area. We'd be out in the countryside soon, I just had to get that far and I knew I'd feel more comfortable. I challenged my all or nothing thinking: If I set off again, I could still bail if it didn't get any easier. I could stop whenever I wanted. This internal tussle happened pretty quickly. I blew my nose, walked my bike across the pedestrian island to cross the roundabout, and got back in the saddle. I found a group to tag on the back of and followed their lead until we got out of town, which was within 10 minutes. I sighed relief and began to enjoy the countryside. Soon after, I met three lovely guys who were going just a smidge faster than my comfortable pace and passed the time chatting with them until we hit the 25 mile feed station. It had taken an hour and forty-five minutes and the route had been fine. I set off again without the guys because I felt they'd been going a little slow just for me and didn't like the idea I was holding them back. From here on in, everything went wrong. My front gears began to falter and I was really having to mess with them to get them to change. This was a right pain because there was some massive ups and downs on the first section of the second half, as well as later at Scampton. Slipping gears aren't what you need on hills, especially clipped in, so eventually I gave up and just sucked up the fact that I would have to creep up the hills super slowly, legs screaming, on the hardest cog. The weather changed, turning into a nasty head wind along with icy rain which seemed to never stop. I became aware that my feet were sodden and I couldn't feel the front half of both of them, no matter how much toe-wiggling I did. My right achilles began to hurt on and off. This began to happen with at least 20 miles left, and all I could do was keep riding. I had no frame of reference for where I was and just kept telling myself the end couldn't be far off. I had my phone as a clock. I'd been riding for two hours so kept telling myself I must be nearly there considering how long the first half had taken... How wrong I was! I didn't know at the time but I had at least another hour to go. The weather and change in route difficulty slowed me right down. My achilles pain was so bad at points that I was riding and crying. I had loads of people overtaking me which didn't help where my head was. I got to the end and should have gone down a steep hill to come back up a steep cobbled street, as is the sportive's tradition. I had been telling myself that this route would be shut due to the rain, as per the race instructions, and that the alternative flatter route would be being used. This wasn't the case. I took the shorter route anyway. By this point, I was just satisfied (I was going to type happy, but that is definitely not the right word) to have got through it. I crossed the line and immediately headed for the car. I was wet, cold, miserable, in pain, exhausted and really pissed off with myself for my own stupidity at how easy I had expected it to be. When I got to the car I packed up on autopilot, got changed in the passenger seat and then cried hysterically. Like big heaving sobbing gasping for breath crying. I felt like I needed to get all that frustration and unhappiness about the ride out, so I just let myself go for it. After about ten minutes I stopped, wiped my face with a face wipe and felt better. I could start putting it to bed now. In hindsight, I am glad I broke it's back, because I need to do that distance in a triathlon later in the year, but I won't underestimate the distance again... No fear! However, my head now says "I know I can do that, even though it was really hard" and that is a good thing. I am hoping it will be my cycling equivalent of Sleaford Half Marathon, which was horrid, and my next 55 mile bike ride will be much better. 

19th May 2013: Race for Life Cleethorpes 5km. Pleasure rating 10/10. Pain rating 0/10.
This was a trip down memory lane for my running buddy and I. We did the RFL in 2011 and wanted to see how far we had come since then. We had a right laugh all day! We set a target for 28 minutes and did it in 25.23 and found it easy! Like we could have pushed a bit further! It was a good lesson in pacing too. Head wise, no issue at all.

2nd June 2013: Dambuster bike route. Pleasure rating 8/10 Pain rating 2/10.
My friend and I went for a camping trial at Rutland Water and whilst there did the Dambuster bike route.I didn't understand what an awesome idea this was until after we'd done it. The route is lovely. Couple of frapping hills at the start and end, but otherwise nice roads, straightforward route, happy days! I can already imagine that this will make it feel a little easier to deal with on the 22nd of June when I am waiting to start the swim. Taking the mystery out of it and knowing what to expect does wonders for your head: "I know I can do that". Though my achilles was twitching towards the end! Need some more long ride practice. 

5th June 2013: Swimming the lake. Pleasure rating 8/10. Pain rating 0/10.    
After seeing it three weeks on the bounce doing the open water swim course with 100% swimming at activities away, I finally swam the 800m lake. It had been taunting me for ages. It looked SO BIG and the end was so far away people appeared tiny. There was that thing in my head saying "what if you get in trouble down there?" I had to pop my lake cherry! I was due to go down there with a friend, but he bailed last minute for completely valid reasons so I was on my own. I was nervous getting in the water, then I just got on with it. Turns out I was too distracted by how utterly crap my sighting was to worry about how far away from help I was! It was nice to get 800m under my belt before my first open water sprint at Rother Valley this weekend. And I can chalk it up as another "I know I can do that, I've done it before" experience. This is clearly the way forward for me!

The power of the brain... It seems to me that all these events have been impacted far more by where my head has been than what state my body is in. My body does what I tell it. My head decides to accept or ignore pain, or fear, or choose to stop, or carry on. I'm amazed by this. All those references to being "psychologically ready" for events that are made in books and magazines make sense now. You can blag your way through a sprint, or a 5km run, but this big stuff is literally a head mashing experience. I like learning journeys though... so I'll crack on!

Till next time...


Monday, 22 April 2013

The Psychology of Running

"Running isn't just a physical sport. Mental and psychological training is also needed to run your best. There are many aspects of the psychology of running. Your brain is a powerful organ. It is responsible for controlling all of the functions of your body, including muscle movements. You brain even plays an important role in running fatigue. Psychological training involves improving your brains resistance to fatigue as well as motivational techniques such as visualization, positive thinking and disassociation."

Take your pick. I googled the psychology of running and it came up with 29,300,00 results in 0.21 seconds. This was just the first hit. The wonder of the web! Anyway, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Take someone who has always had an interest in psychology, add running, bound to get complicated! 

Take tonight for example. I left my running buddy as she'd already done her long run in preparation for Sunday's half marathon. I realised I hadn't run outside alone for a while, mainly because I wouldn't run straight out of my house as it's in a built up area. I resolved to make an effort to get down to the sea front more. I hit a nice rhythm, not exhausting but making me breath a little harder. Nice endurance pace. I was really enjoying myself. What interested me about this was that at the same time, I wasn't entirely comfortable. I had some burning type of feeling giving me a little bit of discomfort in my abdomen. My head went "Aha! I know why that is" and immediately blamed the naughty and very fatty lunch I had eaten (Ramsden's homemade quiche and chips!) a few hours earlier. This was something manageable. In my experience, eating at the wrong time, or eating the wrong thing, occasionally gave me a bit of belly jip, and it could impact how fast I could run, possibly leading to a stitch (which it did) but it was get-through-able. Like stitches in fact. My running remained the same and my mood was just as good as it had been before. Happy days.

 I had a lovely little nostalgic lift as I plodded round my old stomping ground. I thought about how much the 4 mile loop had given me so much grief and was such a challenge when I started running, but now I had that "infinite plod" feeling that made me feel like I was bounding round it in comparison! And the 4 miles were just a section of my current run. That was a boost!

So everything is going super, and if I had been able to see my face I would probably have been sporting a little smug grin, when DISASTER STRIKES! 5.8 miles in, 'the toe' starts playing up (I need a nickname for it I make reference to it that much). The impact of this on my head state could not be MORE different from that of the food/stitch situation. My head goes back to the last time I had a problem with my toe (my last proper run before this one) where it ended up causing a limp and stopping play. I do what I can with it (basically stop and prat around with re-arranging my sock) then try to continue. A second attempt at sock shifting and it's still there. I'm proper narked. I'm already seeing me having to bail out of the half marathon without even making halfway. Apart from that, I'm still a minimum of two miles from the car and walking all that way (getting cold from clammy sweat) is not an option. I find myself deliberately trying to overpronate to keep the pressure off it. I imagine that I'm making the whole thing worse, it's blistering up again, it might drop off. My head is NOT being my friend! Then I realise my rhythm has gone, the run has become a struggle, a chore. Where are my whales and dolphins?! Heartbroken, mourning the loss of my awesome run, I struggle on. I do have an internal chuckle at the idea that I am running more now so that I have less to walk later. I end up walking the last half mile back to the car. 

Talk about highs and lows! I just wonder how much each problem was aggravated, or not, by how my head dealt with it. We know there is evidence that a person's experience of pain is aggravated by how they choose to approach it. I guess the associations I had with each issue were different and so I was impacted positively for the first (I can deal with this) and negatively for the second (this is a real problem that could get worse and I am powerless to stop it). It was like CBT in action! Physical, thought, mood, behaviour... that order.

NOW, how about the possibility that if I think really positively about it, and visualise a super-healthy toe, perhaps that will make it happen?! Ok, that's a bit outside 'evidence-based' for me, but it's a nice thought! I'd certainly like to investigate the psychology of running more though. I bet there's loads of tips I could use in training.

Til next time!