Tri, tri and tri again: The reality behind triathlon training, kit and racing

With my love of running and swimming it’s amazing how often people have asked if I’d be tempted to do a triathlon. The honest answer is yes, but (and there is always a but). The crux of the matter is that I’m not the most confident cyclist, and although I’m trying to build up some cycling strength through spinning, arguably pregnancy isn’t the ideal time to take on a new discipline and seriously entertain ideas of triathlon glory.

Yet while I regularly put my triathlon aspirations to bed, they are periodically reawakened, most often by the Strava stats and pictures posted on Instagram by my friend, and amazing athlete, Nicola Kaye.

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Whether it’s during her training weeks in Lanzarote, on tours across Europe and South America, or even just her workouts in London, seeing and hearing about Nicola’s training and race schedule really makes me want to brave my first race. However, rather than taking all of the pictures at face value (which make triathlon training look like a very sunny and jolly swim, bike, run in the park), I decided to dig a little deeper into the reality of triathlon training to find out how Nicola entered the world of triathlon and to discover the kind of dedication it really requires.

When did you start competing in triathlon events and what motivated you to start?

I’d always been quite a keen runner before moving to London in 2006, and when I made the move to the big smoke I took an instant dislike to tube travel. A flatmate at the time suggested I look at the ‘bike to work’ scheme, whereby some companies offer employees the opportunity to buy a bike tax free through the company. I was delighted to see that it was something my employer offered and pretty soon I was covering my daily commute by bike.

London can be pretty intimidating to a new cyclist but I soon came to love my daily bike commute – wind rain or shine! My morning commute is still a favourite part of my day over 10 years later.

It wasn’t until 2010 that a colleague at work posed the idea of a few of us entering the London Triathlon. As a runner, I’d had a pretty frustrating few years with a number of injuries (including both knee and foot surgery) so I was a little apprehensive about entering a race. My first response was ‘but I can’t swim!’ and then when I thought about it a little more rationally, I realised that technically, I could swim, just not front crawl, which is the typically chosen swim stroke of triathlon, being the quickest and most energy efficient. Furthermore, when other responses such as ‘I’ve not been on a bike since I was 10’ followed, I realised that I would be in good (or rather, similarly inexperienced) company for my first triathlon. It was a great bonding exercise with my colleagues, as we trained for our first triathlon together and we all managed to complete it, but it was a very tough first outing!

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So you were you a runner before you started competing in triathlon? 

I’ve always loved running and having my knee and foot surgery a few years ago taught me to never take it for granted. I’m always grateful to be able to get out and run but these days I tend to limit it to about three times a week since I’m still quite susceptible to injury. I love the freedom running allows you and I love that wherever you are in the world, you can just lace up your trainers and get out there.

What’s your favourite of the three disciplines, or does this vary? 

Cycling is my strongest discipline by far, and I love the sport. It’s very sociable and a great way to be able to see places, so I often do a lot of cycling while I’m travelling. I was fortunate to be able to take a year out of work and I took the opportunity to cycle in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Cycling over the Andes from Bogota to Cartagena is probably one of the toughest things I’ve done to date but the experience was incredible and everyone we met, so warm and welcoming.

Swimming continues to be my nemesis, but on a good day, I love it. Unless you were a competitive swimmer at an early age, it’s quite tough learning and indeed become good at swimming as an adult. You need to put in a lot of work for very little reward! I’m determined to get better at it though so I keep chipping away.

What does a typical week of training look like a) in the lead up to a race b) between races?

A standard week is normally 3, 3 and 3 i.e. 3 sessions of each sport, although I’m trying to improve my swimming at the moment so sometimes there’s 4 or even 5 of those sessions in a week. The weekend is reserved for the longer sessions so I’ll normally do a long bike on one of the days and a long run on the other. Around each of these core sessions, I’ll then try to fit in a couple of mobility and strength sessions and stretching/foam rolling is key! The more the better really.

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I have a coach who helps to write my programme and this has really helped to structure my training. The week before a race, sessions tend to be shorter and sharper with longer recoveries to ensure you are in the best possible shape on race day. After a race, it’s very much about listening to your body. Every race affects you differently but you need to make sure you don’t do any high intensity work too soon or you risk injury.

And what does your typical diet look like? 

I eat a lot! My colleagues at work think I eat constantly, but then I think they sometimes forget that when I show up at work in the morning, I’ve usually swum for nearly an hour and cycled 30 mins to get there, while they’ve largely rolled out of bed and onto the train.

I’m lucky in that I love good, healthy nutritious food, so there’s definitely plenty of veg, salad and lean meat and fish in my diet. To be clear though, I love cake too and that very much features every week as well!

I try to keep my diet pretty varied, but breakfast is almost always porridge. Otherwise, it’s about maintaining a good balance of fat, carbs and protein and making sure you eat at the right times around training. Easier sessions can be done fasted but you need to make sure you’re well-fuelled for any of the high-intensity work, or you render the session ineffective.

How do you manage to fit in training around work and socialising?

I’d love to tell you that I’m super organised and that I manage it perfectly. In all honesty though, it’s a struggle. It’s become a bit easier since I changed jobs last year and I now have a much better work / life balance. Prior to that, my sleep almost always suffered. The problem is, the more you train, the more sleep you need, so making sure you factor that in is incredibly important. I’ve come to realise that sometimes, a bit more time in bed will benefit me more than getting to the pool for 6.30am.

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I try to fit in my training before work and at lunchtime wherever possible, but inevitably, it doesn’t always work out. Ultimately, I’ve learnt to be flexible and accept that on some weeks, I won’t get all of my planned training sessions done. It’s not the end of the world. In the lead up to a race however, I will often prioritise training over socialising. It means missing out on stuff, but it’s a choice I make and given the time and effort that goes into my training, I want to make sure that I do myself justice in each race.

Are you training for anything at the moment?

Absolutely. It’s how I stay motivated. I’d always get out for the odd run or bike ride if I didn’t have races in the calendar but my training wouldn’t be so structured as it is currently. My 3 big races this year are 3 half-ironmans in April, August and September respectively. September’s the big race  as it’s the 70.3 World Championships in South Africa, which is a race I qualified for in Estonia last summer. I also mix the bigger races with a number of smaller events too, to take the pressure off a bit, and to ensure I retain the fun element. I’ve a few local running events planned and a couple of bike sportive both in the UK and in Europe.

Have you ever had any equipment disasters during a race?

Oh yes, several! You have to take it on the chin and make sure you learn from the mistakes where you can. It’s also why it’s good to put a few races in the diary so that if one doesn’t go to plan, you’ll have other opportunities to make up for it.

I’ve had one DNF (did not finish) due to a double puncture (I tend to carry one spare inner tube but certainly no more than that). I also forgot to put on my ankle chip timer at one race and missed the start altogether. These days, it’s one of the first things I put on!

Do you have a favourite race and race distance? 

I started triathlon racing sprint and Olympic distance (750m / 20k / 5k for sprint and 1,500m / 40k / 10k for Olympic). I think I’m more of a diesel though and better suited to the slightly longer distance. Half-Ironman (70.3) is my favourite distance which involves a 1.9km swim, a 90k bike and a 21.1k run. The swim isn’t much longer than the Olympic, which goes in my favour as a weaker swimmer, and then I can get stuck into the bike and hopefully pick off a few of the swimmers who beat me out of the water. The run is then about trying to hold my position.

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I’ve done the London Triathlon four times. It’s not a particularly scenic course, but the great thing about doing a race close to home is that it makes it easy for friends and family to support and it’s great having support out on the course.

I’ve also done the Mallorca Half-Ironman twice and it’s a race I love with a really challenging bike course.

These days, however, what makes a good race for me is doing it with friends and family. Travelling together and being able to share the experience with others makes it really memorable.

What is your greatest sporting achievement?
Representing my country as an amateur at both the European (ETU) and World (ITU) Championships in 2015 and 2016 was pretty special, particularly my first outing in Geneva where my parents came to support me.
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I think, however, that finishing my first Ironman race (a 3.8k swim, 180k bike and a 42.2k run) in 2016 is what I’m most proud of, because I know how hard I worked to get there. The last half of the marathon was a real struggle and at that point, it very much becomes a test of mental strength. Crossing the finish line is still so fresh in my mind and still brings tears to my eyes nearly 2 years later!
All of the equipment can often be intimidating to athletes thinking of going into the sport of triathlon, what advice would you offer to them?

Triathlon is still a very new sport, relative to most other sports, which means that there have been some huge technological developments over a relatively short space of time. Triathletes love kit and love spending money on new kit that they very definitely don’t need and I’m no different to that. It’s very easy to convince yourself of a ‘need’ for something new to the market.

That said, because of the rapid developments in equipment, it means you can pick up the stuff you need without spending a fortune. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, so definitely take advantage of it.

Wherever possible, you should try before you buy. If you’re going to be doing races that have an open-water swim, for example, then you’ll need a wetsuit. It’s possible to rent wetsuits for a race or even a whole season and there’s a number of outdoor lakes which will let you test out different models so you can see what works best for you.

In terms of a bike, the best advice I was given is to buy the best frame you can afford. All of the components (gears, wheels, etc.) can be upgraded at a later date as and when you can afford to spend a bit more money on it.

The internet is also a great source of information. It can be a little intimidating at first because there are many (often contrasting) opinions flying around, but it can be helpful to see what works for others and may just work for you too.

What kit do you use? 

For swimming I have a HUUB wetsuit and I swear by Zoggs Predator Flex goggles which I find comfortable, don’t steam up and are available Polarised for outdoor sunny swims. Real swimmers all use those tiny little eye-socket goggles that I find unbearably uncomfortable!

I have 2 sets of running shoes that I currently use – the Saucony Kinvara for my longer runs, which are lightweight but also really cushioned. For racing I use the Adidas Adizero. For shorter distance races, most people don’t wear socks and then you want to look for a tri-specific run shoe which tend to be seamless and ensure you don’t finish the run with feet covered in blisters. It’s also important to use elastic laces, which save a lot of time and energy in transition.

As for the bikes, there’s currently 3 in the family! I have a beautiful steel road bike from Condor on which I commute each day and do a fair number of miles on in the Winter. My second bike is a Felt aero-road bike which I love. The geometry of the bike is somewhere between a normal road bike and a time-trial (TT) bike making it a decent choice for both road cycling and triathlon. I also put aero bars on it during triathlon to get myself in a more aerodynamic position. The bike is nearly 10 years old; I bought it second hand from a friend about 5 years ago for an absolute steal! I’m not sure how many kilometres have been ridden on that bike, but I did 10,000km on it just last year!

This year I welcomed bike number 3 into the fold; I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a TT bike. Over longer distances, it can save you quite a bit of time due to the aerodynamic position it allows you to adopt. It’s a Cervelo P3 with Di2 (electronic) gearing and cost me a small fortune. I may not own my own house, but I do have a very pretty new bike!
Who are your fitspirations? 

I’m surrounded by inspirational people. I run with Serpentine Running Club which is full of talented individuals and seeing the successes of members within the club, week after week, inspires me to get out there and keep pushing myself.

I think that 2012 really inspired a nation of cyclists and I too was probably caught up in that. It’s great that as a country we’re doing so well in the sport of cycling and it’s fantastic that we have so many strong women at the top of the sport.

In triathlon, boundaries are being pushed every day and records are continually being broken. There’s so many strong women in the sport, leading the way, and what is particularly nice to see is those that are taking time out to have kids and then returning to the sport as strong as ever.

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If I need to name one person though, it’s probably my Mum. At 65, she swims with a Masters Swim Squad 3 or 4 times a week, and on a Saturday morning, heads straight to Parkrun after. She’s also a regular on the triathlon circuit and regularly wins her age-group. She often plays it down by saying she was the only one in her age group, but she always beats me out of the water so I don’t buy that! I hope I’m still going strong in 25 years!
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Back in the pool

Given that the last time I went swimming was an impromptu dip in a rather chilly Lake Como after a long walk up and down the Italian hills, and that the last time I was at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic pool I was clambering over giant inflatables in a Total Wipeout style afternoon with my waterpolo pals (don’t ask), it was really good to get in a proper swimming set at the Olympic pool last night.

My limbs were conscious of the 4 mile run I’d put in earlier in the day, as well as the fact that I haven’t been swim training much lately, but both my limbs and my soul felt good for a dip!

I don’t know how, but sometimes I forget how much I adore swimming; luckily it only takes the smell of chlorine and a length or two to remind me. What makes me all the more happy (and frightfully nostalgic) is when, as with last night, there is a swimming club training in a couple of the lanes at the same time with lots of kids going through the hours of lengths that I went through at their age (and then gossiping in the showers afterwards!).

I keep toying with the idea of re-joining a club, although I fear that I’m not as fit as I might be and will end up floundering at the end. If anyone can recommend any good masters clubs in London or fancies trying out with me, let me know.

 

In the meantime here is my set from last night:

Warm-up

200 m front crawl
4 x 100 m front crawl FLAF (full stroke, legs, arms, full)
100 m backstroke

(700m)

Main set

4 x 25 m IM (fly, back, breast, front crawl) x 4 plus 30 seconds rest between 100 m sets
150 m breathing every 3 strokes for 50 m, 5 strokes for 50 m, 7 strokes for 50  x 2 plus 30 seconds between sets
100 m front crawl kick
100 m backstroke kick
4 x 100 as 50 m backstroke 50 m breaststroke

(1,300 m)

Swim down

200 m front crawl

Total: 2,200

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100 squats a day?! Plyometric, mindful training

With my summer holiday to Corsica drawing closer (although it feels like summer has already ended in the UK) I’ve been increasingly noticing all of my squidgy bits. This week, when trying on bikinis under the rather harsh lights of the store changing room, I felt less than confident about baring my all in public.

In a last ditch attempt to tone-up pre-holiday I’m following a series of exercises from PT to the stars Dan Roberts, as featured in Women’s Health. Roberts promotes a method which encompasses plyometric training, mindfulness and martial arts, using dynamic, body weight exercises that help improve tone, stability, balance and strength.

The routine includes a daily set of 100 squats, a 3 minute half boat pose and (my least favourite) jumping split lunges. I’m using this programme in conjunction with my usual workout regime of yoga, running and circuits.

Four days into this new regimen and I’ve got that pleasant degree of muscle-ache that says something positive is happening. Today I even hit 200 squats!

I’m realistic in how much impact these exercises can have in the short term and with this in mind I bought a couple of throw-on jersey dresses to keep my stomach under wraps. But I also treated myself to a super-cute bikini, which I hope will get at least one outing during my trip.

Either way, I’m really enjoying (in a slightly sadistic way) pushing my body in a way not experienced while running, and if these exercises serve to strengthen my hamstrings, glutes and core, as the muscle ache implies that they are, then the long term benefits alone make them worthwhile.

In case you would like to join me in this rather gruelling routine the exercises are as follows with thanks from Women’s Health:

The mixed martial arts knee strike
Targets: glutes and hips; Improves: balance and fat burn

Start in a ‘fighter’s stance’ – left foot forward, knees slightly bent. Raise both arms up and to the left. Pull your hands down as you push your right knee up and out. Return to the starting position. Do 100 on each side.

The incline push-up test
Targets: upper body, core; Improves: strength, power

With palms on a chair, shoulder-width apart, get into a high plank. Keep your shoulders, hips and knees in a straight line. Bending at the elbows, lower yourself down, so your body stays in a straight line and then drive back up. Do 50 reps (rests permitted).

The mindful v-sit trial
Targets: abs and lower back; Improves: posture, focus and breathing

Sit in a half boat post – knees bent, feet lifted and thighs at a 90 degree angle with the floor. Keep your back straight and shoulders back and down. Gently place your hands on your knees and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Aim to hold for 3 minutes.

The jumping split squat
Targets: lower body and glutes; Improves: cardio endurance

Start in a lunge, front knee bent 90 degrees to the ground, and back knee bent so it is almost touching the floor. Keep your torso upright. Jump, switching your feet mid-air. Keep going for as long as you can.

The sumo squat 100
Targets: inner thighs, core and glutes; Improves: hip flexibility

Stand with legs wide, knees soft and feet turned out. Squat down as low as you can go before driving back up to the start position. Repeat, 100 times!

Trailblazer

IMG_0135This weekend I ran in my first trail race. The event was part of the Rat Race Trailblazer series, in association with Runner’s World; held in Bedgebury Forest, just outside of Tunbridge Wells, it was the perfect setting on the most beautiful, sunny day.

I entered the race with my Tough Mudder pals, Lucy and Anna. Sandra had also hoped to join us, but unfortunately she was injured and unable to run.

I was up at 6:15am and prepared with a bowl of oats, topped with cinnamon, raisins and pumpkin seeds, before getting to train to meet the others at Anna’s. Anna drove us from London to Kent and we arrived with plenty of time for pre-race preparations – collecting our numbers and race packs, dropping off our bags and warming up – before being led to the start of the race by one of the volunteers.

There were eight waves of racers and we were in wave two. Despite my usual pre-race anxiety, I felt surprisingly relaxed – I think this was primarily because this was my first trail race and I had no idea of how I’d fare on the hilly, uneven terrain. For this reason I had no targets or expectations regarding times, which really took away any pressure.The only objective I hadset for myself was to enjoy the run and my surroundings, and given the beauty of the route, this second objective wasn’t going to be hard to achieve!

We were warned at the start,that the first kilometre was up hill, so I took it easy, getting into my stride and picking up the pace on kilometres two and three.

The kilometres ticked over pretty quickly, as they are apt to do in races, and before I knew it I’d hit 6k. There was a tricky long pull up hill from 6 to 7 kilometres, during which I kept my head down and focused on keeping my legs turning over, thinking of Clay’s advice about taking lots of little steps. It was soon over and I started to let my legs out for the last few kilometres.

I’d hoped to really accelerate through the final kilometre, as I could feel I still had plenty left in the tank (probably not something to admit under race conditions!) but then we hit the final hill.

IMG_0159With no cover from the sun, which was by now beating down, the hill went on for what seemed an eternity; it was a killer to end on. My pace dropped right off and I focused on the heels of the man in front of me as I tiptoed up and up. When we reached the top we were greeted by the sight of the finish line. The very last stretch into the race ‘village’ was flat (thank goodness) and across soft grass, so I pushed a last sprint, past then guy whose heels I had followed up the hill. Spurred on by my run past him, he also sprinted, and we raced to the end!

It was such a fun experience and with no pressure to hit a particular time target I really enjoyed every minute – if anything it was over all too soon.

I met the other girls at our pre-arranged spot and we all agreed we’d definitely be doing more trail runs and would be revisiting this route next year. We also gushed over the amazing post-race packs, in which got water, coconut water, Matcha tea, a copy of Runner’s World, a Trek bar, some dried fruit and a Bounce ball, all vegan and gluten free – a rare treat for Lucy and I who could, for once, enjoy everything!

The event was so well organised and with lots of really helpful friendly volunteers, I’d strongly recommend it to anyone thinking of trying out their first trail run.

IMG_0160My glutes were suffering a bit on Sunday after those hills, but luckily, after a morning of painting and decorating, R and I had a blissfully relaxing afternoon visiting some friends of ours in Barnes.

After a heavenly weekend of good company and sunshine it’s perhaps unsurprising that I had a touch of the Monday blues (and a touch of sunburn!) so in a bid to cheer myself up, I may have entered another marathon…

Happy running

Marathon fever – Paris

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Running Expo – It’s a big world. Go run it.

Regular readers may be vaguely aware (I think I might have alluded to it once or twice?!) that on Sunday I was set to run in the Paris marathon.

After months of training, lots of new kit (all totally necessary of course), a number of practice races, miles of long Sunday runs (and post-run Sunday afternoon snoozes) and a series of physio sessions, I headed to Paris on Friday, fit, healthy and injury free.

I was there with a group of four friends and our respective families; five runners among over 40,000. With me were my running buddies and marathon veterans the Twins in Trainers, Jess and Bex, Jess’s husband Cri and R.

R and I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday and, after dropping our things off at the hotel, headed straight to the Expo at Porte de Versailles to collect our numbers. We were cutting it quite fine, getting to the Expo not long before it closed, however we managed to make it, just about. Arriving in the exhibition hall with all of the entrants’ names written up on the wall was so exciting; being at the Expo I really started to feel part of something great and it was amazing to see so many like-minded people, all of whom had been through the same months of training to be here that I had.

We collected our race packs and even had time for a brief wander around the stands, (which made me want to buy a whole host of running goodies), before it was time to leave.

photo (14)We had supper nearby, at a little restaurant just a few minutes stroll away. We were ushered in by a rather insistent but harassed waiter and sat at a table at the back of the restaurant, where we were totally ignored for a good fifteen minutes. When the food arrived it was delivered with brusque irritation and a nonchalant Gallic shrug. It was the sort of service that you kind of want in Paris – a style that would send you running elsewhere, but in France it sort of seems part of a more authentic experience, besides, the food was good and hearty.

On Saturday we spent the morning wandering around Montmartre and enjoyed a trip to the Sacre-Coeur.

The start before the start
The start before the start

After a delicious lunch of dates, avo, orange and a mixed leaf salad, we practiced the route to the start of the race, at the Arc de Triomphe, making sure we knew our way and how long it would take. We had a quick nap before supper, which we had at a nearby Italian restaurant, so that we could all stock up on carbs.

I rose early on race day (around 5:30am), had a breakfast of oats and a banana and got ready to go. We all met in the hotel reception at 7:15 am to head to the start together.

It was a glorious day, all sunshine and blue skies, but holding in it the potential to get very hot. There was a pleasant chill to the morning air however, and I think everyone was holding out hope that it would linger for a few more hours at least.

Pre-race
Pre-race

Our pre-race preparation wasn’t quite as thorough as it might have been as on arrival it wasn’t immediately apparent where the bag drop was and there was no one around to direct us. After a slight panic we eventually got some directions from another runner, sending us off a good few kilometres away from the starting pens. We made a toilet stop en route and, as is always the case at such events, were stuck in a queue for an age meaning that we arrived at the pen, having fought our way through masses of people, only just in time for the start.

It was so nice being in the pen with Jess and Bex and while we only ran together for a short distance it was so uplifting to have people to share the exciting starting experience with.
The first few miles evaporated under my feet; I could hardly believe it when I reached the 5km mark, where my parents were watching and cheering. I was feeling strong and happy and riding on the back of all of the support and cheers from the sidelines. Plus I was in Paris! In Paris and running a marathon!

I hit the half marathon point in about 2 hours 2 minutes and continued to feel pretty strong to mile 17. I wavered a bit from 17 to 18 however. It was getting really hot and as the route headed into a tunnel the air became so close and humid. Not long after the last bridge, just before the Eiffel Tower, I had a gel and some water, letting myself walk as I sipped it, and made a loo stop, before starting up again. I pushed on to 22, letting my pace drop, but crossing the 20 mile wall with the kind of euphoria you can’t imagine – I knew at this point this was the furthest I’d ever run!

I tried to convince myself to mentally reset from mile 20, telling myself that I was just running a 10k, no big deal right? Or not. My body just wasn’t going to be fooled. 22 to 24 felt long but manageable. This part of the route was through a park on the west side of Paris and it was so pretty I alternated between distracting myself with the scenery and just keeping my head down and plodding on, but I swear the distance from 24 to 26 was longer than two miles! In my head I knew it was no distance at all. Two miles, pah! I wouldn’t even have counted that as a training run at home, but now it was the longest two miles of my life. I could feel my form falling apart from 24 to 25 and let myself walk a few steps as I saw my fellow runners do the same around me. But I was adamant that I would run the final mile and hearing my name cheered from the sideline spurred me on.

We ran a marathon!
We ran a marathon!

As I crossed the 26 mile mark I almost cried with happiness and as the finish line drew closer I was totally euphoric.

You see, what I’ve never admitted here is that I’ve never been totally sure that I could run a marathon. While other people have professed faith in me, this is something that I’ve never really believed myself. Until now. While I love running, on Sunday I proved to myself that I am actually a runner.

And as soon as I crossed the finish line I knew it was something I wanted to do again.

When I started training the girls told me I’d become addicted to marathon running and I never believed them, but I was wrong.

photo 4I loved the whole experience, the event, the training, everything. I know it’s a cliché to say it’s about the journey, so I’ll try to resist, but it certainly wasn’t all about the one race. I learned how to run 9 miles comfortably, then 12, then 15, then 18, then 20, something I never thought I’d be able to do. The longer races I’ve done, (and my new 20 mile PB at 3 hours 4 minutes), would have seemed impossible only five months ago. And while the long Sunday runs have dictated my weekends for some time, they have also given them purpose and a sense of achievement.
I walked in a dazed state from the finish line to collect a medal and t shirt and picked up some banana and an apple that was on offer. I met up with Jess and Cri by some miracle, especially given the number of people around, and Bex also found the three of us.

Red wine and baguette post-race
Red wine and baguette post-race

We headed back to the hotel to shower and spent the evening sipping champagne and red wine, eating plenty and discussing how our various races had gone at an old Parisienne bistro in Montmartre.

It was a perfect conclusion to an amazing day.

Two marathons run from a hospital bed

As marathon day draws ever closer my fear is tempered with the gratefulness. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky I am that I can just get out and run. And keep running.

This weekend I completed anther 20 mile race and it felt good. I thought of Clay as I ran, heard his words in my head: take it easy kiddo, you’ve got all the time in the world. And so I took my time. And this time I hit no walls and felt no pain. My hip and knees held out and I finished the last three miles strong.

We talked about the race last night over sticky rice and veggie sushi, enjoyed from a hospital bedside table. If I complete this marathon it will be as a result of such talks and mine will not be the only marathon born out of this hospital ward. Last night Clay gave me another blog post. Enjoy: 

***

Manawatu Gorge, New Zealand
Manawatu Gorge, New Zealand

I would love to run a marathon again…I have to ask myself, am I getting too ahead of myself? Is it too soon to even think about running that kind of distance, let alone run at all?

I’m a bit of a desperate man right now, so I look for any loophole in the ‘rules’ given to me by the doctors. My train of thought is this: I’m a forefoot striker type runner and only my heels are broken, so surely I can start running once the swelling has gone down and my heels have repaired?

The question is how long will it be until I’m operational again? Can I wait the time it takes? How much damage can I do trying to run too early? Will I ever be able to run long distances again? So many questions, so many variables, how can I stay optimistic amongst all these questions and bloody emotions?!

He farts again, it smells horrific. It has a nasty bight to it that stings my nostrils. Every time my buddy Jim and I run together it’s the same: he leads I follow and he farts. My one saving grace is that we are outside and in the bush (or forest if you’re not a Kiwi) and running. It’s not a cracking pace but fast enough that I don’t pass out from the smell.

I feel good, no I feel great. Healthy, fit, alive, this is what I live for. This is my escape, my ‘me’ time, the problems of my world melt away the second I start moving through the bush. The birds sing, sometimes at a deafening volume but I love it, the ground is soft, the thick dense New Zealand bush is picturesque and serves as a wonderful shade in this 28 degree weather.

The temperature under the canopy is around 18 degrees, perfect running temperature, the track we are running on is called the Manawatu Gorge walking track; it’s a 10 kilometre track that runs west to east along the southern side of the gorge. It climbs 200 meters on one side and drops 200 meters on the other making our vertical change 400 meters, however we plan to run the track in reverse also making our vertical gain 400 meters and vertical drop 400 meters. Of course it is much more than that, this is New Zealand and if there’s one thing we know how to do here it’s hills, many hills; big, small, and everything in between. The track rarely lets up as we climb to start off, but seldom do we stop running, up and down hills, rarely is it flat enough for you to notice, this is the kind of course your after to increase muscle in your legs.

I had recently converted to barefoot or forefoot style running, it took a long time to change without injuring my feet but I feel it was worth it. I no longer have sore knees, ankles or Achilles tendon problems. I do still get problems with the stress fracture in my foot when I overdo it, but it’s much less of a problem when I run on trails.

The style of running feels good, I find I’m more upright making breathing easier, my strides are smaller so I feel like I’m more efficient when I run, particularly up hills. To start with my calves were burning when I ran but they got used to it and it stopped being a problem. The biggest change was my speed, I definitely slowed down for a few weeks but after a while the speed came back and I found I could run for longer at the same speed. This might have been due to the millage I was doing of course.

Perhaps barefoot running is the answer then, and to run trails to start with. This makes me wonder are there any good trails in England, anything I can compare to home? Or are they just hard slightly rocky farm trails over hills? They might have to do for now and it will be better than running on the road for sure. I could combine it with hiking, something I want to do for my rehab program; I could easily fit in a run at the beginning or end of a hike.

So I guess I will have to see how it goes, see how my body takes to walking first; then slowly introduce running. From there I can build up to a half marathon, then a full one.

All I can say is wish me luck and let’s hope I the have patience to see this thing through. It will be such a good feeling to be running again and such a good feeling to complete a marathon again.  Baby steps all the way.

Carpe Diem

Natural highs

beansWhile I know that ultimately results come from regular training session and plenty of hard work, I’m still not adverse to hearing about natural solutions that might help boost performance. These are particularly welcome when they include items which might ordinarily be counted as indulgences, such as coffee and dark chocolate!

Recent reading has highlighted the following as potentially beneficial to both performance and recovery:

  1. Coffee

Research has shown a link between coffee (or more specifically, the caffeine in coffee) with improved exercise performance and decreased perception of effort.

Reports from the European Food Safety Authority and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicated a link between caffeine consumption and increased endurance levels, while the EFSA study also showed that caffeine could effect the central nervous system in such a way that it reduced perception of fatigue and pain.

Coffee is also thought to encourage muscles to use fat for energy, and all of this from just two 250ml cups of coffee (totalling around 200mg caffeine) 30-60 minutes before exercise. That’s certainly reason enough for me to drink up!

  1. Peppermint oil

A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that 0.05ml of peppermint oil added to a bottle of water everyday for 10 days significantly increased participants time to exhaustion.

  1. Dark Chocolate

It is thought that epicatechin, found in cacao, has the potential to boost performance with early studies showing a link between the intake of epicatchin over a 15 day trial period and an increased number of muscle capillaries and energy-producing mitochondria.

  1. Nitrate rich foods

Spinach, beetroot, celery and rocket are rich in nitrates which oxidise in the body to form nitric oxide. This widens blood vessels and makes more oxygen available to your muscles and may increase mitochondrial efficiency.

The Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that just a 280ml glass of beetroot juice could lead to performance gains

5. Pineapple

Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, a natural painkiller, which can help reduce pain and inflammation. Blueberries and green tea are also thought to have similar anti-inflammatory properties.

Happy training!