Monday, 27 December 2010

'Tis the Season...

I am loving this holiday! I am really enjoying having some down time. It does feel like it is the first real holiday in over a year. This time last year my dad was around, but our Christmas was so bitter sweet and fraught with fears for what was to come, as well as the bitter realisation that it was our last Christmas with my dad.

This year I finally feel that I have emerged from a tunnel and I am enjoying life again. I have loved having the luxury of time to do all the things that I love: to write and read, to swim and run, to walk the dogs and chat with Duncan about nothing and everything. To cook and bake, to go for coffee with friends... Oh the luxury of time!

Things I have really enjoyed:

1. Having my morning coffee/tea brought to me in bed, and staying in said bed, reading and writing until I feel ready to get up (which is usually around 9.30)

2. Having some time to finally tidy up the house and sort out my study/spare room. It is currently housing a lovely dog we are looking after while her family are in the States, but once her box is gone, my study will be tidier and an even better space to work from.

3. Having time to write this blog, but also to start my other (work-related blog). Check it out here:

4. Earl Grey

5. Leisurely walks with the dogs, without worrying about daylight. Usually the dogs have to be walked/exercised after work, which makes a tight turn-around. At the moment we can walk them anytime... even in the middle of the day. Very pleased with that!

6. Seeing friends and people I have not seen/spoken to in ages.

7. Swimming during the daytime. Which, in essence, means not having to fight for a lane or a shower with 20 7year olds.

8. Catching up with essential (and "purely for enjoyment") reading.

9. Making some nice food.

10. Eating some nice food.

Hope you are all enjoying the festive season. From the B household: Happy Holidays!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Something to live by...

My new something-to-live-by is this: "You can do anything you want, but you cannot do everything." Simple and succinct, as truth usually is.
I blatantly stole the phrase from Karnazes' book 50/50 ( it spoke to me so loudly at the time when I read it and its relevance on my own life has been proven pretty much every day since.

Few of us have the luxury of time. I know that both D and I try to cram so much into our day that often other things suffer. In the last few months I repeatedly started the day with a to-do list of 10+ items, only to have achieved 5 by the end of it. The problem is, and it is obvious, we cannot do everything. There are only 24 hours in a day and, if like me you love your bed, 8 of those are spent in bed. And, if like me you have a full time job, the other 8 you are at work. I won't go into the mathematics of time management - I am sure there are people out there (yes, you with children, jobs and training for IM's) who are far better qualified to give you the low down on how to juggle. No, this post is about the realisation that oftentimes, less is more.

I had a long hard think about it and I did put down my priorities. When you write it down in black and white, it is so much clearer. And life is now less stressful. Occasionally, and to some, my existence might seem ascetic, but it is just the way I like it! I prefer to take the dogs out for a run, than to go out for coffee. I would rather spend my Saturday morning writing, than ironing. And if not drying my hair with a hair dryer gives me 20 mins more in the pool... easy choice!

New member of the family Hardy (remember the puppies from the mountain -she is the sole survivor!) enjoying a well-earned rest after her first ever run on the mountain with the big boys, pictured below.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Here we go again!

I have been reading Dean Karnazes' book 50/50, about him running 50 marathons in 50 days. Not the best written book, but all the same has some good info for first time runners and made very pleasant reading on the plane and while back in Greece. If nothing else
it has inspired me to put a race on the calendar.

I have been running consistently for the last several months, but mostly with dogs and just for fun. I have also been trying new footwear (the Vibram Five Fingers, more on that later) and have been trying to take it easy, not running more than 20 to 30 mins on them, to let my feet (and I guess rest of body) adapt. The other reason for the changes in my running is that I now run with the dogs every time I go for a run. As D is away and the dogs
still need to be exercised, every run I do, 3 or 4 times a week, the dogs come with me. That means I cannot always do what I want to do, intervals, hills, track etc, but I have to be flexible to the wishes (and needs) of my furry running companions. That, of course, includes several peeing breaks on the runs and plenty of time sniffing bushes. Oh... and picking up bits of dead sheep and carrying them for the duration of each run. A couple of weeks ago I found a scapula on the back of the car, courtesy of Spencer. Not to mention the vertebrae he now carries with him on each and every run.

Needless to say, planned and structured training has given way to a mo
re relaxed approach to running (though I still
use my stopwatch on every run!)
It has been good for me, I have been focusing on the pleasure of being out there, on the mountain, the companionship of running with dogs, the sensations underfoot (not always good, as my bruised feet will attest to) and a more mindful way of running.

However, and after reading Karnazes' book I decided it might be time to enter another race. To put another target on the calendar and start working towards it. At first I had the crazy thought of running a marathon (the original route) on my 30th birthday. Just go out the door and run from Marathon to Athens. Ok... maybe not just go out the door, it would take a but of planning and support. And although I still toy with the idea, especially as the 30th looms (1 month to go!) I realised that if I were to do it, I would probably end up injured and out for the season. So, as a wiser, less impulsive, soon-to-be 30 year old runner I decided to enter a 10k. Target time? N
ot sure. But I know that I will go out and enjoy it! It will also be two days after D gets back, so it will be a nice way to celebrate his coming home.

It is not the only race I will be doing this winter. I have also been training for a 4.5km open water swim on 5th December. I had not been in the pool for a while, but I needed a reason to get back in and focus on something... and here it is. Hope it doesn't get to
o cold between now and then and the water temp remains reasonable - as much as I enjoy hardship, 4.5 km is a long way to be freezing for.
Fifi and I on the mountain this morning. Ran 7.5 km and we both felt it by the end! Spencer, younger and fitter, was still full of energy at the end of it.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

More thoughts on dogs

It's been a good couple of weeks. Last time I wrote, I concentrated on the joys of having dogs in my life. Well, here is a list of the not so positives:

1. I will never get a line-in again. Spencer thinks 6.30 is a good time to get up even on weekends. Hmm...

2. I will never have a clean house. Even 10 mins after cleaning the floors, the usual piles of black hair and occasional slobber spots appear.

3. I will never be able to go on holiday/go running/go to the beach etc without the dogs, without intense pangs of guilt. Especially when they start crying as I drive/run/walk away.

4. I will never own a house with white furniture.

5. I will occasionally have to clean up what seems like tons of feathers from the back garden after the dogs have "attacked" and "killed" the pillow they were meant to be sleeping on.

6. I will never be able to pass another stray dog on the road, without feeling sad.

Still... wouldn't change them for the world!

We went running again this evening on the mountain. The dogs have learned to run next to each other and really enjoy the freedom of the mountain. As do I, of course.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

"My goal in life... to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am." quote by Unknown.

The biggest blessing from our new life in Greece has certainly been our dogs. It has been a big life change, a great challenge and continues to be one of the biggest sources of pleasure, every single day.
It is strange how D and I have now ended up with 3 dogs (and if all goes to plan there will be another one added to the bunch soon).

A few weeks after my dad died D and I had gone mtb riding on the mountain with a friend. On the way back D found Spencer (and his littermates). Spencer came home two days later and has become a course of joy, pleasure and occasionally frustration ever since.
He has grown to be a beautiful dog, kind and thoughtful, maybe a bit of a mummy's boy - he follows me around the house all the time and his favourite activity is lying on my while we watch TV, as well as running on the mountain. I cannot imagine my life without him now.

What we hadn't quite planned on was the other two dogs that have come into our lives. Fifi was my dad's dog. My dad saved him from a life on the streets about 5 years ago and he has also grown to be a big and strong dog. He had been missing my dad's company and ever since we moved into my family house last June he has been a much happier dog. Spencer's company has proven quite a tonic - Fifi turns into a small puppy whenever he is around Spencer. He loves walks on the mountain; he really is a mountain dog. He is big, yet I am sure perceives himself to be a puppy still - he has a tendency to try and jump into your lap, all 50 kg of him!

On top of that we also inherited my mum's dog, Rhoda. She was found, when she was a tiny pup, small enough to sleep in my brother's shoe, behind the wheel (rhoda, in Greek) of a bus. My mum took her and gave her a home. Rhoda is a very insecure dog and was never socialised, yet she is coping just fine with the addition of the other two dogs into her territory. She is a very nervous dog who will happily forgo food in favour of a cuddle.

As if three dogs were not enough, two weeks ago and while running up on the mountain with the two boy dogs, Fifi went crazy. He ran down a steep ravine and would not come back up. D followed him down there (despite my worried cries) and found a bag of 6 puppies. Someone had thrown the bag over the side of the mountain, no doubt hoping that they would die. Two of them had, unfortunately, been killed by the impact but the other four were still alive and crying out for help. D picked them up in the bag, which stank of decomposing flesh, and we took them back to the car. We drove home trying not to be sick, while the little tykes wriggled around by my feet.

The four pups were tiny, stank of death and were obviously very hungry and cold. We called the vet for advice and she suggested that the only option we had, seeing as they were less than a week old, was to put them to sleep. Of course D would not hear of it. We called again after a while, asking for practical advice, what should they eat, how much, can we wash them (the stink was sickening) etc. After a wash and a feed with syringes left from when my dad was still at home, they settled into a deep sleep in their basket, cuddling a hot water bottle and each other.r. Not for a moment did we think we had any other choice.

That night we drove out trying to find a late night pharmacy and bought bottles and dummies. The next day D bought formula and we took turns feeding them every four hours (though, truth be told most of the hard work was done by D who did not have to go to school the next day.) The next couple of days went by and a bit of a daze, as the pups took pretty much most of our time and energy. They would sleep for 3 or 4 hours, then wake up, demanding milk. They were totally reliant, even needing 'manual stimulation' in order to pee and poo. It was becoming obvious that in two days, when D would leave, I would not be able to look after them, as I would be at work for 9 hours every day. We were not sure what to do...

After asking for advice at school and asking colleagues and parents about what to do, we were coming to the difficult decision that we could not look after them and we would have to put them to sleep, otherwise they would starve to death. D could not take them with him to SA, I could not possibly take them to work to feed them several times a day, no shelter would take them as they were too young and we could not think of anyone who could undertake such a full time project. Thursday night was sad, as we contemplated taking them to the vet on Saturday morning.

Enter a friend, who came to our house to pick up my bike. She saw the little pups, then listened to the story. "There is no way you should put them down" she said and she proceeded to think about possible homes for them. Half an hour later we had a possible "foster home." A dear friend of hers had agreed to take the pups for a few weeks, until they would be a bit bigger and ready to be rehomed. The sense of relief was overwhelming and I spent the next day hoping and praying that K would not change her mind.

The puppies have now opened their eyes. They are happy and healthy. They are still being bottle fed, are able to walk and (apparently) are making more noise than ever! Unfortunately the runt of the litter (the small brown one from the pic above) did not make it and died couple of days ago. Still, she died in better conditions than in a bag on the mountain.

We are most likely keeping one of the little tykes, and we seem to have found homes for the other two as well.

I never thought I would be so happy to have some many dogs in my life, but as Ben Williams (?) said: "There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face."

Sunday, 3 October 2010

On Silence

I have been enjoying the silence this week. D is away, he will be in SA for a couple of months, doing his practical training as part of his postgraduate course. I had been dreading the time, not having been alone for a very long time.

It has been such a surprise, loving this silence. I have enjoyed getting home to a quiet house, especially after the constant noise of the primary classroom. I have enjoyed doing little, reading on the sofa, going to bed early, waking up even earlier. So much so that it got me thinking: Am I the sort of person who is better alone?

The truth is it has been an enlightening period, yet D is still with me even when he is not. I sleep in his shirt at night, as I find his smell comforting. I still, even after a week, wake up in the night thinking he is close to me. I feel his love every time I take the compost out - he has put little stepping stones on the earth so that I can walk to the compost bin without getting muddy feet.

I am enjoying my time of silence, yet at the same time feel so lucky that I have someone to share my life with. Life is so much more fulfilling when you share it. As for training, it is no fun on my own (especially the swimming!) Can't wait for D to get back.

Monday, 13 September 2010


I've been on a see-saw lately. Like a toddler, unstable, yet gripping on tight, while on the other side a load of weight has been piled on. Out of my control. The good news is: I am still on!

I feel like I am back to being balanced, after a month of uncertainty about the future, about where we want to be, where we need to be, what we want to do and what we need to do. Decisions have been made and both Duncan and I seem to be re-adjusting to the new reality, taking it into our stride and starting to enjoy it.

Any of you who follow will know that I was due to race my first IM distance race this August in Copenhagen. Most of you also know that I didn't. It was a decision not taken lightly, but I had to take into account so many different things that it did take a while to take. For both health and financial reasons both Duncan and I decided it was not wise (not to say it was not possible) to pursue it and so we both withdrew with a week to go.

Do I regret it? No.
Do I wish it could have been different? Oh yes!

But for the last year or so life has been such a challenge, getting out of bed, paying the bills, holding it together alone has taken all this effort, that training and racing has been a luxury we just could not afford.

The problem with when you strike a balance is that it always feels so fragile. It is teetering on the edge of tipping and, more often than not, you have little control over which way it's going to go.

I am striving to stay sane, but I am making no promises....

Monday, 9 August 2010

Looking from the outside in

I have been away. On holiday, I say to friends and family, but most look at me like I am crazy. On holiday? In England? What kind of crazy are you? No beaches, no bars, no sunshine...

But yes, this is part holiday, part retreat. It is where I have come to relax. To not deal with the phone bills, the tax office, the long list of things that need doing in the house and everybody else's needs. To be able to sleep and eat and run and write where and when I want.

I have enjoyed the cool green vastness of the English countryside, the subtlety of the English sunshine. The polite greeting of the cashier at the supermarket, the orderly rows of houses. I have enjoyed being cold enough to wear a jumper during the day. I have loved walking everywhere. And I have absolutely relished having 24 hours every day to do what I want.

Selfish, I know, and oh so indulgent!

When you're IN a problematic situation, whatever that situation might be, it is very hard to see out of it. Very hard to find a solution to it, to even think that you can come out of it. Greece (not just the country, but my own personal situation too) has trapped me, not physically, but trapped my thinking. I have been thinking so narrowly, looking for solution in front of me, yet not around me. This trip has changed this, my perspective has become more global again and my problems have become solvable again. I am looking from the outside in.

This trip has shown me the possibilities. Yet vast choice does not make us happy, and that too has become apparent. D and I have been talking about our future and we both feel powerful again. It feels like we have been through so much the last couple of years, yet we have also taken some very brave steps towards change.

And yes, it has left us in an unenviable situation of having no savings and sharing a house with my mother, but all with the goal of making big changes. We have taken risks that others don't, we have left behind a life we did not feel fullfilled us to build a life with more time for each other, more meaning in our employment, our engagement, more quality, less quantity.

Transitions are hard and we have been feeling that. We might be foolish in our outlook, only time wil tell, but we are brave. Most of the time.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The prize of failure

success and satisfaction.
Even failure has its prize:
From the one who's on his way out,
To the one on her way in."

My dad wrote this to me, on the cover of a book he sent me after I moved to England in '96. I was only 15 and I honestly did not remember these words until I found the book again, with the recent move. I did not remember them, yet I have lived every day of my life by them. He is with me in everything I do, in my spirit, in my values, in my way of thinking.

I have felt like I have been letting him down lately. I have felt very low and every day, robbed of pleasures, has become a struggle. The pact I made with myself (and Duncan) when my dad died, to live every day to the full, to take "fishing days", sounds hollow now. Yesterday I had trouble getting out of bed or getting motivated to perform even small tasks like eating. That was yesterday...

Today I am back. I am refocusing. I am drawing up new goals, or looking again at the old ones in a new light. As in a race, when something goes wrong, but also in training and in life, to refocus is to start afresh. To not worry about what has been but to ask of yourself: "How can I best go forward from now on?". Here is an interesting article on it from the Podium Sports Journal. It is more about refocusing on the spot, during competition, but it should be clear how it transfers to other down-time too.

I am doing this, as of now. I am concentrating on good quality workouts to get me back on track, eating well (which seems to be much easier in the summer - is it the abundance of fresh produce, or is it the abundance of time to prepare healthy meals?), revisiting Pilates systematically, spending a little less time on miles and a little more on balance, technique, stability. And trying to start enjoying it again. Finding new trails for running, catching up with old episodes of my favourite series on the trainer, listening to IMtalk ( and getting out on the mountain bike are all helping me keep it fun.

Behind each difficulty there is a prize, even if it's just the knowledge that you have the skills to overcome difficulties, refocus and go on.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The luxury of sport

The journey is long. Longer than I thought. And full of potholes! And it feels like I lost my map quite a while ago.

I haven't written in a while. Life has got in the way. It feels like a struggle at the moment and I am sad to say there is little enjoyment in our everyday tasks. I don't know if it is a delayed reaction to our loss, as a family, though every day that goes past it feels like the gap my dad left is getting bigger, not smaller. Or maybe just tiredness, after a very long, very difficult year. Either way I have been feeling deflated and just so so tired.

We have had to move out of our lovely little house and into my family home. It was a decision made mainly for financial reasons and it has been harder than any of us thought. Physically, emotionally and financially it has taken a huge toll and we are at the end of our third week of moving, with a lot of our stuff still in boxes, having to make some decisions. Our IM training has taken a huge hit - we have done no structured training since racing 3 and bit weeks ago. We have to decide whether racing in Copenhagen is prudent, or in fact even possible.

I was reading a very old issue of Inside magazine the other day, an interview with Dean Karnazes (if you don't know who Karnazes is, he is worth a google!) This is what he says:

Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we'd be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we're so comfortable we're miserable. There's no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I've found is that I'm never more alive than when I'm pushing and I'm in pain, and I'm struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there's a magic. (for the full interview

It definitely struck a chord with me. It gave me insight into why I do endurance sport... but also into the huge cultural differences there are between Greece and Western culture, namely what I know of Western culture, the UK. OK, it also gave me an excuse, a way out, a reason for my inability to concentrate on training or anything tri related.

Sport, especially endurance sport with its pain and suffering, is a luxury. A luxury for when your every day life is not a struggle. I am not under the illusion that everyone who does endurance sport leads perfect lives, but in the last three weeks it has felt like both D and I have expended massive amounts of energy to get through every day that we had none to throw into our training.

When we moved from London it took us 20 minutes to cancel our bills, on the phone and online. Here in Greece it took me several days of queueing, arguing, submitting useless sheets of paper and a little bit of begging. In London I did the weekly shop in the half hour it took me to log into Sainsbury's online and choose the products I wanted delivered to my house. In Greece it takes me several hours a week, dealing with unsmiling cashiers and having to fight my way to vegetable weighing as no one knows how to queue I know... hardly a tragedy - there are people in the world who don't have the luxury of the super market or indeed have very little food. It sounds so petty when I type it, but nothing is easy here. And it seems that the little things have been accumulating. They have been eating away at our energy, to leave us empty, bitter and deflated. (It was helpfully all topped up when our new neighbour, who got annoyed with us asking him not to throw his rubble in our skip and stuck four nails, one on each of our tyres for fun. Welcome to the neighbourhood!)

We have been trying to refocus. To look at the positives. We are getting back into a routine that will allow us to train, play and have fun. We love triathlon and, most of the time, it relieves the problems of our every day life. So we are plotting our return...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Are we having fun yet? (Astroman Race Report)

How come the tougher the race, the more satisfaction one gets? Are we all really, deep inside, just a different kind of masochist or is the relief of finishing that brings such great gratification?

I have been asking myself again and again if, knowing how hard the race was, I would do it again. I still have no answer, but let me explain myself first.

The race was simply wonderful - a very scenic, well planned and faultlessly organised race. My third half IM distance race, I went into it feeling quite calm and excited, fazed only by the heat which was predicted to be getting worse. Race day was predicted to be around 37 degrees Celsius (that's in the shade...) with little wind and rising humidity of around 60%. I was concerned, but everyone reassured me that I would be fine. I started hydrating on the Thursday, downing several bottles of Gatorade, (what felt like) tons of water and munching on saltsticks. Possibly the wisest move in preparation that I made.

Driving down on Saturday was not the wisest move D and I made, but we found the spot easily and we assembled bikes, got race numbers and generally got ready fairly quickly and easily. The hotel was as no-frills as they come (one sliver of soap between four of us, cutbacks you say?) but it seemed clean enough and far away from the road, so we hoped it'd be quiet.

After a fun, yet short pasta party, we headed to our room for a last minute equipment check, putting numbers on belts, threading shoe laces and other things I had neglected to do over a very busy week at school. I also spent plenty of time choosing race nutrition and packing it diligently. In the meantime I worried aloud to D, who very stoicly calmed me down every few minutes telling me that if I got too hot all I had to do was slow down... Little did he know....

Our sleep the night before the race was from the "how-not-to-do-it" handbook again. At around 12 o'clock most of the guests of the hotel started returning from what we found out later was a wedding and kept on coming, through the gravel driveway, into the hotel with wafer thin walls and preceded to have showers, which sounded like someone was showering in our own bathroom all the way to 4 o'clock... This combined with a broken aircon unit which would not turn down and kept pumping chilled air into our room, the lack of sheets (more cutbacks?) and an old Russian fridge that "woke up" to a rusty murmur every 20 minutes or so meant that D and I got very little sleep... Still, the alarm went in the morning and we both felt race ready! Bring it on!

We made the short drive to transition to be met by many nervous smiles - excitement was tangible. The sea was dead calm and I looked forward to a good swim. Last things checked in, tyre pressure checked, frozen water bottles left in transition ready and a quick race briefing brought us very near to 8 o'clock. The sea was warm enough to go wetsuit-less but both D and I decided it'd be nice to have the advantage of the wetsuit and so zipped ourselves up ready for the race.

I did not place myself well and felt I lost valuable time having to swim over everyone and their granny... I guess my confidence was a bit shaken after being beaten last time and thought that placing myself further back would mean less struggle. I am not sure if that was true - I found myself unable to overtake quite a few people, despite the fact that I was blatantly faster. Even after the first 300 meters or so, at the first buoy I was still overtaking slower swimmers easily. After the first lap I realised that I was leading a group of about 15 swimmers spaced out behind me, while the next swimmer up ahead was at least 50 meters up. So much for drafting!
At 39 minutes the swim was the slowest half IM swim I have ever done, but was done at IM pace - I felt like I oculd keep up the same pace for another two laps (if it weren't for the wetsuit, which by the beginning of the second lap had become a sweatsuit.) It brought me out 39th out of 110 starters, and with a smile on my face. T1 was 1:30 odd, but felt like an eternity...

Onto the bike, where it was all going to be HR effort. A furtive check showed my heart rate at a racing 151 bpm out of T1. "Settle," I told myself, quite possibly loudly... And I did. I sat at 135-137 bpm, a bit over my target of sub 130, for the first 15 kms or so, before I hit the hills. On the hills I struggled to keep the HR down, and quickly readjusted my target again to sub 145 (and readjusted again after I hit the toughest part of the +1200 elevation course in granny gear). All in all the first lap was wonderful, the views amazing, I did not lose much ground once on the hilly part and enjoyed myself. Nutrition was in check, one GU gel per half hour downed with plenty of water and a couple of GU chomps.

I began the second lap feeling strong. The ascents were easier than I had expected and the descents, which had worried me the day before in the car, had given me no trouble at all. I was taking in calories (still) and was drinking plenty. In fact I was drinking more than I had planned and was also throwing a lot of cold water on myself in an effort to cool down, making it necessary to take on board about 2 x 750 ml every 22.5 km. No problem, the volunteers were helpful, the aid stations well stocked and I was cruising.

Until I hit the last 10 kms... It was already past noon and the heat was relentless. The last 13kms of the course were on a very nice gradual downhill and I should have been able to hammer it, without the heart rate creeping up, but I was struggling to hit 30km/h, while my HR was on the up. "It is impossible," I thought to myself, yet my HR monitor was not lying, I was struggling to keep it under 145 in the downhills. I had also ran out of water to throw on myself and the white sunsuit I was wearing was feeling asphyxiatingly hot. A draft buster/volunteer passed me for what felt like a hundredth time and asked me if all was good - he was possibly wondering how someone could be so red... I asked for water, and miracle of miracles he had some on his motorbike!! Cold, crystal clear water! I was delighted. He passed it to me and I threw it on myself (which might have made him wonder... I guess he expected me to drink it). It felt heavenly - water on my head and through my helmet and on my hot shoulders and face.

The end of the ride came, in 3:43, more than half an hour longer than either of my past 70.3 efforts, yet true to my goal of pacing by HR. I dismounted, had another speedy transition (in blissful shade) and headed out... into the oven.

The first kilometre felt OK, but brought with it two realisations. First, it was H-O-T. Secondly, my stomach had shut down for business for the day. I had a suspicion on the bike, after the fourth gel, which kept repeating on me. I had tried a few more chomps, which seemed to have gone down OK, but were they going to stay there? Was anything being absorbed? It felt like it wasn't. I knew it wasn't the pace, I was not going fast at all. But could it be the heat? With little experience in such conditions (thank you, England) I kept going, hoping for things to settle and trying to stick to my nutritional strategy of taking something (anything!!) on between running spells, in my walking breaks. 2 and a bit kms in it was pretty obvious that nothing was going in. It was also pretty obvious that my body was working pretty darn hard trying to keep me from frying, my HR was over 155 even when walking (slowly!!)

Temperatures were reaching 40+ degrees in the middle part of the course, a windless little road which weaved in and out of olive groves, but with no shade anywhere. I decided I could no longer keep the sun suit on, as I was not able to wet it enough to keep me cool, it took about 40 secs to get dry again. I took it off and left it with some volunteers and started dreaming of also taking my fuel belt off- I could not have what was in it, so no point carrying it. By this stage I was more than half way through the first lap and the thought hit me "I might not be able to finish this!". It wasn't a wish, the thought of giving up - I was not going to stop moving. But I had a feeling that my body might not be able to take me all the way through to the finish line.

I pushed all such thoughts aside when I caught up with another competitor who was walking and was visibly in trouble. "Keep going" I whispered "I promise you will feel better in 20 minutes," as much to her as to myself. After the first 5 kms the plan had been revised further. As long as I keep moving forward I am good! I was sticking to a 2mins run, 2 mins walk ratio, but the walk was not much slower than the run and it seemed as if I was keeping up with those around me. So I kept going... After my first 7km, the first lap, I was pretty certain I was going to finish.

Everything started blurring after that. First lap, second or third lap I am not sure any more. I know that the following happened.
  • a friend helped me rid myself of my fuel belt, and I was very grateful
  • I had some coke which stayed down and made me feel a little better
  • I met a German guy called Axel who helped me through a tough part of the course
  • I was helped several times by the best volunteers I have ever seen in a race, showered with ice, given water, helped to fill my flasks with coke, ice cubes etc
  • I met D, who after his own finish came on the bike to help me out
  • I asked D to leave me alone as I was trying to "focus"
  • I started feeling pins and needles in my feet and hands
  • I forgot to take on coke at one aid station and started debating going back 200 meters to get some, luckily another athlete offered me the second half of his glass
  • I was cheered on by people at cafes, on the beech and in cars, some sincerely and some mockingly
  • I started counting steps
On my last lap I was so confused that I thought the 5km marked on the hot tarmac was 5k to go... I was so sad, totally disheartened and very close to tears, when a volunteer told me I was actually only 2 kms away. Smile on and continued.

I finished the half marathon in 2:46 but at that stage this and everything else was irrelevant. I was sunburnt, felt dizzy and weak and all I wanted to do was hug D and lie down. I put myself around Duncan's neck and lifted myself on my tiptoes, only to feel my calves cramping. I sat down in the shade, took it all in and cried silent tears for all the things that kept me going. My dad, my husband, myself.

I didn't learn much that can be transferred to Denmark in August, unless Copenhagen gets a freak heat wave and grows mountains. I did learn that a plan is only as good as its flexibility. I also learnt that no matter what happens, as long as I keep moving forward, I am in the race!

Thanks to the organisers, Marie and Leo. To the volunteers, Christina and Stelios, Thomas and Hara and all the other guys who stood there for 8 hours only to help us reach our goals (and keep us from being hospitalised)

p.s. I didn't pee for another 24 hours from the start of the race. The next day all I could eat was Pringles... A week on I feel like I am recovered!
Relief, happiness and exhaustion all in one picture!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Turn the heat up!

Two weeks ago - loved racing again!

I often play this game of "this time next week" or "this time last month". It puts moments into perspective and things into a bigger context. It makes you see the big picture.

So here goes:

This time 3 years ago I had just finished my second half Ironman where Duncan and I met. Exactly 3 years ago to the day we were on our first date. He later mentioned as a pretty bad first date - half way through, returning from the loo, he even thought I had walked out on him. To his relief (?!) I was only at the next table, hidden by a well placed pot plant. I later described the same date, as the "best first date ever" to my good friend H, and my housemate at the time. Go figure...

It can't have been all that bad, as this time last year, we got married. What a wonderful night that was! Two days later, my dad went into hospital for what we thought at the time would be a life-saving 11 hour operation.
This time 3 months ago, I lost my father. I still miss him every day. The pain has softened, but the gap is still so big and cannot be filled by any amount of training, work, time with friends or family. He taught me much of what I know and gave me much of what I am, and in that sense he is always very close to me.

This time 6 months ago, I could not run more than 15 minutes. I could ride my bike for maybe 30... I was in pain and could not even imagine that 6 months down the line I would be training for an Ironman...

In 10 weeks if all goes well, I will be lined up with another 2000 people at the start line, in Copenhagen. That's the dream. But as the last year has taught me, dreams don't always come true. You still have to fight for them, though, with all your might.

So... this time next week, I will be lining up for another starting gun - the one for the inaugural Astroman. With the company of another 110 athletes we will all be trying to get ourselves to the finish line. I have been very excited about the race. Yet, this week I have been nervous, primarily for two reasons.

The one is intrinsic, and I guess it's very controllable. I am worried about pacing. I am worried because I am meant to be using this race as an IM dress rehearsal, going at IM pace, using my IM nutrition, gear etc and seeing how my body reacts to it all. However, I know myself and I know that it will not be hard for me to get caught up in the racing. I also have the fear of being last... The guys who are racing here (oh ok... and the 4 women) are all seasoned athletes, this is not the country of mass participation sport (yet) and so it is very likely (in my head at least) that they will be packing up the finishing chute while I am at km 20 of the run.

I have, therefore, decided to race with my HR monitor - it will be my first half IM and only my second ever race where I will do that. That should keep my excitement in check and give me some honest feedback, aside from feel, on how fast/slow I should be going. I hereby declare that I will not ignore the beeping!

The second, and more serious of the two worries, is the weather. Extrinsic, and therefore not controllable. The weather forecast is for a scorcher (not an English scorcher of 26 degrees C) a real scorcher of 35++ in the shade, which means that the hottest part of the day will definitely coincide with the hardest part of my race, in the least shaded part of the course: the run!

Now all my racing experience has involved ice cold bodies of water, rain and a maximum of 17 degrees Celsius. I have done some training in hot weather, including last week's 4 hour ride in 34 degrees heat, plus humidity, and I can tell you I do not respond well. On top of that I have been reading this month's Triathlete magazine, with a great article written by ex Danish pro Torbjorn Sindballe on dealing with the heat and it strikes me how unprepared I am! (here is a much shorter version of the article

Sindballe covers the all the bases and what I can take away from it is that there is a direct correlation between heart rate (and therefore pace) and overheating, and also both of those combined and ability to take in calories. The only good news is that I do have a small advantage, being smaller than more of the other athletes who will race on the day, at 52kg.

So, after reading the article, it makes it even more important for me to stick to a slow pace. It will be important to stay in fat burning zone, as I will be able to ingest only minimal amounts of calories (and absorb them). I know my body and I have troubles taking food in even at more normal temperatures. Secondly I need to keep my core temperature down, mainly by keeping the heart rate low again.

In conclusion... if the heat is up, I will be going s l o w l y. Let the fun begin!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The more you sweat in practice the less you bleed in battle

Quote by unknown. I am not sure how true it is, but I am trying to live by it at the moment. The training has been good. It has taught me a lot this week. Biggest week so far and hoping to have an even bigger next week, before we head off to Astros for a half Iron distance race. It's the first ever event of its kind in Greece and if it is anything like all the other races these guys organise it will be awesome!

Since coming back to tri and especially as my return and recovery was a long time coming, yet sudden, I have found a new respect for my body and a new pleasure in training, and of course racing. I get giddy with excitement, thinking about lining up on the start line and even now, 3 months away from my main event, I get butterflies in my tummy every time I think about it!

I have been looking at sport quotes and, gosh there are a lot out there! I read somewhere that sport is human life in microcosm. Sure. Sport can teach us a lot about life. But, with all due respect, there are some major differences. The biggest one, the biggest antithesis I have felt between sport and life, is that in life you can very rarely be ready!

In sport we have the luxury of preparation. We have a fairly good idea of what to expect, and even with the unexpected we can have a plan of how to react. Life is not like that. I have learned that the hard way - but I have also heard it from people around me - I know it's true! There are certain things in life you can never be totally prepared for.

When my dad was told his cancer had metastasised and we were told there was no cure, I reacted like an athlete. I started preparing. On a daily basis I thought about it, I cried myself to sleep over it, I slept and I woke with the thought that I was losing my father. I was devastated. I was preparing for the loss, thinking that the more crying I did, the more I lived with it, the more prepared I would be when the day came.

Other people around me reacted differently, but I have been an athlete most of my life and that was the way I was dealing with it. And so the time came. I lost my dad and I was hit hard - harder than I expected, harder than I could ever have imagined. My preparation was nothing, for I was not even sure what I was preparing for - the loss, the pain... it was all so new and so... unexpected, despite the fact that I had known for the best part of a year.

But it's not just death. I hear that the same goes for children, you think you are prepared and when the bundle of joy arrives it totally knocks you off your feet!

Life can kick our asses in many ways. The key in life is not in preparation or anticipation, but in response. And back to sport, where both preparation and response have a rightful place. This week I feel I put the time, the miles and the quantity in. I swam well, rode hard, ran long and boy did I sweat! So... this week I sweated in practice, but will I bleed less in battle?
I know race day will be hard, but I also know I need to be prepared. Maybe it is not so much that we hurt less, maybe it's just that we get used to hurting...

Monday, 24 May 2010

Big Gear Racing

Yesterday was my first race in 2.5 years and I did something I had not done since my training started 6 weeks ago... I changed into my big ring! Racing a sprint was a shock to the system all round and, although I enjoyed the experience, I think my body spent most of the time wondering what was going on...

The swim started well, not without much head bashing and at least one good elbow in face (as well as someone try to pull me back by my leg, but I soon put stop to that with a very vigorous kick). It is something I mentioned to Duncan last time we did our 3km open water swim, that it takes me about a km to warm up... Well in this race I didn't manage to. By the time I had started feeling like I had a rhythm and started moving it was time to get out of the water!

Transitions were fine - they were well planned and I stuck to them, apart from an quick on-the-spot decision to leave my top there - I would cycle in my bra top as temperatures were warm enough and I had no intention to start faffing with zips. First mistake on the bike: I thought (with my long-distance racing logic) that I should take the first 10 mins to settle from transition, have a sip and get comfortable. In the meantime I was overtaken and lost precious time, which in a sprint cannot be made up.

I was surprised by some fellow competitors, both in positive and negative ways. To me racing is a social experience as much as a personal one. I enjoy being out there with people who have the same goals, the same interest and are going through the same experience. For that reason I like to wave, smile or generally acknowledge others, be it when I am overtaken or when I overtake. I was surprised (and not in a good way) by the response I got and by the lack of camaraderie. I was also surprised (and annoyed) several times by people overtaking at inappropriate spots (let me say here the race was on open roads) or in an inappropriate, and for inappropriate read unsafe, manner. On the other hand I loved the support I got from other athletes, especially on the run, but also on the bike. The smiles, the nods, the few words of encouragement. That to me is as part of racing as going fast (especially as going fast was not happening for me) and I will not give it up. I guess I will have plenty of time to nod, smile and wave during my IM race.

T2 was swift and my run started with my legs wondering where the pedals went. After 14 minutes (note: turnaround point) they realised that it was time to run now and I managed to negative split the run, albeit at a slower pace than any self respecting sprint athlete would care to mention. Still... the forest we ran through was full of yellow butterflies, which seemed to follow the runners and the whole experience was just magical. I finished with lungs and legs burning - my body was wondering where all the lactate came from.

Did I enjoy it? I did, but I felt totally unprepared. I knew that I had no top speed, which is all that is required in a sprint. Saying that I also knew that my sprint P.B. is from the week before my first HIM, after 6 months of HIM training. Of course my HIM training was not HR based, it was long yes, but it was not anywhere near as slow (should I be saying "steady" here?) as my IM training. So my question to those of you out there in the know: Should I be training faster for my IM or should I be sticking to purely aerobic training for the next 12 weeks as I have already been doing? Keep in mind that I only have 6 weeks of proper training behind me. I don't have the luxury of trial and error with this one guys - so any tips much welcome!

Sunday, 16 May 2010


I was happy, but my stomach wasn't...

The mountain I run on my long runs in the beauty of the early evening light

It has been a quiet week, with Duncan being away on a school trip and only Spencer and me at home. I was determined to catch up on reading, spend some quality time with the puppy (and start his training) and of course get some good hours in, especially after last week's reality check on the bike.

I was mostly successful, though this week really highlighted for me just how much more fun things are when you share them. Spencer and I got into a good routine, getting up before 6, playing/walking and running outside then having breakfast. He would then spend many hours on his own at home, while I was at work. The evenings were similar, we would walk, run and play, then eat and collapse in a heap at the end of the day. Living a dog's life is simple and almost meditative. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I managed to fit in 10:30 hours of training this week - unfortunately a few hours less than my training programme ordered, yet on reflection every single session was very focused - quality miles if I may say so. Swimming hours suffered again this week, but hopefully I will be able to make that up this week.

A wave of tiredness hit me by Wednesday and I felt unable to do my long run. After a lot of to and fro-ing and some very good advice from Jack, a successful IM athlete and coach, I took the day off and rested and then did my ride and long run the next day, fresh and happier. Still... the run didn't go as planned: the energy drink that I had chosen caused me to feel pretty sick from about 40 mins on and my stomach felt bloated and a little bit too full of liquid to make the run enjoyable. I should, on reflection, have known as the same energy drink had caused me to feel pretty bad on Tuesday at the pool, but I thought that diluting would have been enough of a solution. I was proven wrong and will not be touching that flavour and brand again. Even so, I finished the run and didn't feel all that bad afterwards or in fact the day after - apart from an overriding desire to eat everything that came in sight (and a lot of things that didn't).

I have been reading a lot about learning lately, as well as going to a conference and today, during my 4 hour ride a had a mini-epiphany. In life (and it applies to all things, from school, to relationships to IM training) learning does not come merely from practice, but from reflection of that practice. What I mean is, mindlessly putting in miles, or in a school context doing long division, will not give you the skills. The skills come from reflection on the practice, and more conscious learning. I discussed this with Duncan and he brought up the example of his swimming, which has improved a lot this year, and how constant reflection has been the moving force.

And some I move forward, to Challenge -12 weeks. Today's brick is starting to give me the confidence that I will be able to do the training I need. My 1 hour run off the bike felt very good, the pace was solid and my feet felt light (especially after the first 30 mins). In the same time I managed to go 2 extra kms than I did a month ago on one of my long runs! Don't you just love improvement!

Reflecting on my improvement, I spent some time reading my blog entries from last year. It's like a different person writing! I am pain free and training in a way that I honestly thought was impossible a year ago. I feel strong again, in body and in mind.

Next week I have a triathlon race coming up, my first in nearly 2 years. I am excited beyond belief and despite the fact that it is a sprint (and I have no top speed in my legs at all...) I am looking forward to getting out there and putting myself on that start line. That will be my win!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

When things are bad... keep going!

Duncan and I in front of the temple of Poseidon, half way through the ride.

When I was younger I used to get so angry at my body when it failed me. Not just disappointed, but outright angry. I felt my body was a tool - a well oiled machine, that could, and of course should, unfailingly deal with all that I presented it, from not eating enough, to training excessively, to staying up or not resting enough. In my old and wise age (of nearly 30) I am still learning to respect my body - to give it time and nourishment and days off.

I have seen what a failing body looks like, I have felt it, hugged it and lifted it. In the last few months of his life my father's body truly failed him. He became small and frail, a mere 37 kgs of bones and skin. I could lift him with little help. Yet he had faith in his body - to the last minute he believed that he would walk, he would go fishing again.

Maybe I am just mellowing out - I am definitely less strict with my training, yet I enjoy it a lot more. I expect less from my body, yet it does more. It has taken to training like a fish to water, and considering that I had such a long time off, it is getting back to form beautifully. A chronic injury also teaches you not to take things for granted; the fact that I am up and walking today means my body has not failed me.

My prescribed training today consisted of a 3 hour ride followed by a 45 min run. A tough session, especially as I have not ridden that long in almost three years. The ride was hard from the beginning possibly as I have been unwell lately - took two days off Thursday and Friday for tonsillitis, possibly as an remnant of a 90 min ride the day before (and a 3km swim...) or maybe just because my legs are just not used to riding as much as they ha in the past. It was also a group ride, which is both good and bad. The good is that you have friends to ride with, you can chat and you are also more visible. The bad is that you have to go at a pace that may or may not suit you. I was trying to stick to my IM pace (by heart rate) and that proved hard, as the group would surge up hills then level out on the flat. It was clear from the beginning that the pace was not ideal for me. It also became clear pretty early on that there was no chance my ride would be 3 hours, but would more likely end up being 4. Still, something that 4 years ago would have worried me, didn't. Sure, that's what I can do now, this is as fast as I can go at this heart rate and my legs feel heavy. Maybe it is a reality check - but at a good time, still 13 weeks to go. I enjoyed the ride, all the while trying to make it as useful to me as possible, gauging perceived effort to heart rate to speed relationships, making mental notes on how comfortable my position/equipment felt (possibly time for a bigger pair of shoes) and keeping hydrated and blood sugar up.

3hr 48 mins later I came off the bike pretty tired. And felt ready to run - my legs wanted to do something other than go round and round. Of course 10 mins into the run they also wanted to do something completely different, like lie down, but the run felt light and, if not easy, bearable. Pierre, a fast and always fit Frenchman who was training with us, pushed the pace a bit and I found myself being well over my pace/prescribed heart rate, but at least I finished the run standing.

Today was another lesson that I should take with me on the journey to Challenge in August. In fact it was several lessons. 1) When things get bad... keep going. They almost always get better (especially after some food) 2) For runs off the bike especially (actually... and long runs) run alone, at my own pace 3) Ride more!

Total hours this week: 11 (with two days off for sickness). 13 weeks to go!

Sunday, 2 May 2010


View from our Monday night running spot

New addition to the family, the cutest and sweetest puppy ever, Spencer.

I often make analogies between life and sport, so much so that it gets boring. But after this week, my rest week, I have come out with a deeper understanding of life... and sport.

I never used to like rest weeks, a lot of athletes don't. Routines get disturbed and there is more time, less sweating, more sitting around... I entered the rest week quite tired from my first 4week cycle of ironman training. The hours had been done, heart rate had been measured, everything had been recorded and having ended the week with a tough 2 hour turbo/ 40 min run brick I felt ready to enter into a week where sleeping and eating had a priority over rushing to the pool after work. It started off well, with Monday's swim and weights being omitted and the run cut down from 45 to 30 easy minutes. A nap in the afternoon, with little Spencer (the new addition to our family) sleeping happily next to me, rounded the perfect rest day off!

The week continued in a similar fashion, the two/three hours of training were reduced to 1 per day, lots of technique and when dog allowed, yoga. Only instead of finding myself feeling refreshed and rested I started feeling more tired. The old me would have given in, adding sessions here and there to feel better. The new me thought... how could this be?

In sport, as in life on reflection, the recovery and rest that follow a period of stress (and, let's be honest, what is ironman training if not stressful for the body!) can be the toughest ones. When the adrenaline wanes and the acute pain subsides, you get a deeper ache and a fatigue.

Before my father died, and while he battled the disease so bravely with us on his side, I managed to live with little sleep, not a lot of food and with acute emotions. I also thought that when it was all over, things would go back to normal, like we were before. What I found was a deep ache, a big gap and a heavy tiredness remaining. Nothing was/is back to normal. Or rather we are all getting used to a new type of reality and normality.

I am striving to give my soul what it needs to recover. I am giving myself time and focusing on the good things in life. I miss him like crazy, more so when I am happy, like today. But I know that I will recover and I will be stronger for it.


Sport has given me so much in my life. When I try to think of the biggest life lessons, most of them have come from sport. Before I failed to make the lightweight Blue Boat at Oxford, in my third year as an undergraduate, I had never failed at anything. What a lesson that was!
Not just lessons of course! Sport has given me some of my closest friends. Friends who have seen me cry in pain and in joy, who have helped me "needle" my blisters, who have raced with me and supported me. And of course sport gave me my husband! A man so loving and caring, yet like me disciplined and driven (and far wiser than I will ever be!)

Sport is helping me recover. In practical terms it has helped me to get back into a routine, helped me sleeping and my eating patterns, both of which were very disturbed after my dad's passing. It is helping me look into the future: when some days seem too hard I have a goal to focus on. And it is helping me see beauty around me again! I am back on the bike, literally... and figuratively.

Recovery week over. I am ready for another 4 week cycle!