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!