Wednesday, 27 June 2012

I am here

I haven't written a blog post for a long time, mostly because I've been more introspective and also spending more time with real people. Which isn't to say that the twitter running community aren't real, I'm just very lucky to know the best of them offline too.
There has been a lot going on of late. I quit my "dream job" because of the stress, I found a new but very different job and I left my partner of three years. I tried to start my ironman training. I tried to find a new house to live in. In the spaces in between, I hurt for various reasons, because sometimes change smarts, and it's easy to feel like a failure. But I kept moving, training, volunteering, being active with charities, socialising - to keep that hurt at bay. Anyone who has tried to do that will know it catches up on you eventually and for me it manifested itself in my physical health.
In the last few weeks, I've had more fevers than I care to remember (including one that the NHS dramatically feared was from malaria!), had more infections than I might have had ever, and now as a result of this illness smorgasbord, find myself underweight, exhausted, emotional, in a lot of pain, unable to walk more than 100m and desperately hoping the doctors find out how to treat the symptoms of my current infection while dealing with a way to booster my weakened immune system. 
I've made a few decisions in the last 24 hours that I am not able to share yet - until I've reached everyone they affect. I know these are the best decisions for me and I will get better and stronger. There will be other marathons, other lakes and seas to swim in, other hills to climb and ride. I'm not giving up on my ironman dream, but the first and most important thing I can do for any training is to get better. I won't be thinking swim bike or run for four weeks; I want to see if I can do sleep, eat and smile instead. 
My lovely father - who is as goal driven as myself - told me of his pain when last year with chronic health issues, he had to pull out of Everest base camp after telling everyone he was going to do it. It felt awful for him to rearrange his life and plans and face up to what he couldn't do, when his belief system is built on 'anything is possible'. But as he pointed out, Everest is still there, and most importantly so is he. 

I'll be back

Thanks tremendously to the person who has most nursed me through all this illness and change in my life, though I hope I never have to repay the favour, I gladly would. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Vicarious ironman

Today I was meant to have my cycle training lessons as provided by Brent Council - they who can no longer afford libraries, rubbish collection and heath care. It was a four hour session where I guess I would ride through cones.

Then I was meant to visit an old friend, the indefatigable David Bousfield, who has cycled substantial amounts of Brasil and India.

Instead I ended up in A and E in chronic pain and a healthy dose of some internal bleeding. Nice.

So I lived through my coach, the inspiring and amazing Jonathon Acott who was doing Ironman Nice for team Livestrong, being a two times cancer survivor himself. Jonathan made Ironman look easy. With the Ironman live system you can track a runner's split times - and if you are lucky see them on tv. For the swim split, I was at hospital but fellow Ironman Lanzarote aspirant Sharky sent the time through. Fist in air, albeit feebly.

For the bike, Sharky again sent the first split and then I was told to go home and rest, which meant peering at the laptop from the horizontal position. Last bike split done - air in fist again - this time clutching antibiotics. That meant Jonathan was home - pretty much. Ironman Nice is a bit nasty in that in addition to the swim bike run cut offs they have cut offs all along the route through the bike and the run. So if you've got only one hour left to finish but you're 10km away from the marathon end, they don't let you finish. So French.

Anyway Jonathan started the run and a bunch of friends and strangers on twitter started getting suspensitis. Halfway through, then 15km, then 11km to go until there was 5+ kms to go. I've never hit the refresh button so many times.

And there it was Jonathon Acott, you are an ironman!
Here's the statsporn:
Overall time 15:03:21 
Overall position 1911 
Swim 01:21:06 
Swim position 360 1725 - nope don't know what that means
T1 00:10:01 
Bike 07:42:51 
Bike position 410 2064 
T2 00:09:22 
Run 05:39:59 
Run position 367 1890

I didn't get to turn the pedals myself this weekend but I feel very privileged to have such a great coach - who has taken me from being a breaststroker who couldn't swim 4 lengths of crawl to being a steady 750m open water swimmer in six lessons. If you want a great coach you can get him through twitter

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Running between borders

In between feeling sick, I sometimes have these great moments. So even though Friday I had fever ache I decided to try and do my scheduled 14 mile run the next day. The starting point was a place called Greenfield, which sounds really nice but actually appears to be a giant Tesco. But the spot was chosen as it allowed Jon to get up to his Dovestone Devil on Horseback Diamond Calf Killing trail while he sent me on the long and industrial but flat road to Manchester.

Jon was doing a 20 mile run ahead of Coniston trail marathon so he was off like the hare while I plodded gently behind, forgetting his first direction to Manchester Rd the moment he was out of sight. Also telling a Londoner things like, turn at the big roundabout, is only useful if you both have the same definition of big. Anyway in what will soon be a tradition, I ignored what he said and ducked into a Bridleway. I'm not sure if people who aren't brides are allowed to be a Bridleway but everyone was very friendly - all that top of the morning business. I scampered around the Bridleways for a bit and then found they spat me back out at the Tesco, so I followed the river Tame along a route I had run with Jon last time I was coming down from a fever. The canal path was pretty muddy but I run through puddles and there's nothing like the cling of a cold damp merino sock to make you feel like a runner.

The canal path peters out fairly quickly so I ran back along it and kept going and found the Oldham Way, a great little path in the mud, past some old industrial looking chimney stacks (really exciting for a foreigner like me) and stone buildings marked "cooperative". Some locals started talking to me and I could sort of understand what they were saying but not:
Me: [admiring ducklings]
Man with beard: They be garrrrn darrrn
Woman: Itsurn
Me: I'm not from these parts.

I also came across a long tunnel - which turned out to be Scout Tunnel - as discovered by Jon Crooks, not me, sadly - thought unlike him I didn't run through it. Cmon being alone in Yorkshire Lancashire Oldham Metrropolitan borders is scary enough for a city girl. You can't trust a place that can't work out what shire it's in...

Running back to the start I passed Jon - who was on his 17th mile (I was on about my 17th km) and we high fived. I thought he looked annoyingly strong - but it turns out that he made good of that chance encounter. I went to complete my 23km goal by going back to the Bridalway trails. My ITB had been hurting from 10km so I was often taking a moment to stretch out the surrounding muscles which helped a lot (and let me take photos). But at 21km the ligament alongside my knee relaxed too much and my patella shifted (I laterally displaced my patella a lot as a kid so I know about this!) and the pain was pretty mega. A man had to cover the ears of his small child as they walked past. I pretty much ran on one leg to the end with enough time to stretch, eat and be talked at by more locals before the boy emerged, triumphantly having done 22+ miles (such a boy thing) and needing four cheeseburgers.

A good morning all round.

More pics

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The great big tri report

It's funny how you can do tonnes of blogs about a single race. One to say; "I did it, thanks everyone" and then one to get into complete detail for people who come to your site googling "bodyglide vs baby oil" and then once you have had some reflection.

So this is the big long one with waaaay too much information to serve as an aide memoire for when I have forgotten I did such things as my youth.

Entering the tri was a whim, I wanted to just get the first one over and done with without thinking it. I had seen that Lakeside hosted a tri which was very affordable and easy to get to, the latter being quite a problem as I don't have a car or a driver's license.

I had been training with coach Jonathan to learn how to swim crawl and I had done one 750m open water swim so the tri seemed perfect: 750m lake swim, 20km ride and 5km run. And it was in about two weeks time.

I put a training plan together where I would build confidence on the bike (I'd rarely ridden and didn't have any handling skills), keep my swimming where it was and hopefully my marathon training would take care of the run. However I got a bit sick in this short two week period, I can't recall because I keep getting sick but I know that four days before the race I collapsed with nervous exhaustion so it was never going to be a massive speed event.

I took the bike on the overground Saturday morning which meant I only had to ride from my house to Brondsebury Park (safely done) then keep taking the overground and overland till I got to Lakeside, so I didn't have to cycle the dozens of miles there. Instead I had to carry my bike up and down a lot of stairs which I don't have much practice doing. I then pootled off from Lakeside to the hotel I was staying at but found the traffic a bit scary so hopped onto the footpath on a roundabout. Bad mistake as I don't really have cornering skills and the bike went into some bushes. I had hoped that the triathlon events team who were having breakfast directly opposite my crash site didn't see, but I gave them a chance when I walked into the hotel lobby wheeling my bike, with plants in her spokes and crashed it into a door. Look out Lance Armstrong.

The next day I wasn't having any such issues as Jon kindly offered to walk my bike down the road to registration while I had the arms full of kit. Tri is like sport for planners, it's all about having the kit. There were some lovely bikes at registration, and lots of people with big plastic crates. I don't know why, it doesn't seem like a very ergonomic thing to carry around but there you.

We were given armbands instead of body marks (disappointing) especially when the woman doing them says your wrist is smaller than her granddaughters. I wanted to say, "does you granddaughter have triceps like this" but I don't have any triceps. Then it was a hurried rush to transition zone, dump stuff in, come out again, get stuff off Jon, come in again, panic, until it was time to get into the wetsuit. Then run into transition, leave glasses, run out while wearing prescription goggles and dressed like Bertie Bassett's licorice wife (black rubber, pink swim cap). Some bloke went around kindly fixing everyone's wetsuit - there were mostly men who were either lean as spaghetti or looked unfortunately inappropriate for wetsuits. The women's wave was at the same time as the relay wave (I ask you!) and there wasn't a lot of us and there were a few women in surfsuits (not me!) I got in the water pretty quickly and let it into my wetsuit. It was quite nice, warmer than Eton and maybe 15C.

The start was a bit hard to work out with an imaginary line on an angle for a floating start. There was a bit of knocking but as they were mostly women it was pretty gentle. I realised at this point how bloody tired I was and was amazed when I did get to the first buoy. After that it was just about swimming down the lake. I overtook the people doing backstroke and breaststroke and found myself a bit on my own - I'm not fast enough to be fast nor slow enough to be slow! As a result of being alone I got my own kayak! I asked if I was on course, and they said I was great so I just kept at it. I also realised the buoys were held down by cables so I followed the cables underwater. I was delighted to find my stroke was straight (thanks Jonathan). The next buoys were all dandy until it got to the finish and I realised I didn't quite understand the reference to the paddle steamer in the briefing or where the briefing was. I lost a bit of time sighting. When you finish there is a load of rope and you crawl up that and get dragged out. I told the draggers I wasn't ready but they quickly had me up before I could muster the strength in my arms and I floundered on the jetty like a little eel! I was pleased to know I wasn't last and in fact had passed the stragglers on the previous start wave who must have had at least 5-10mins head start)

It seemed a long run back to transition especially with goggles on, so I walked a bit, saw Jon and then broke into a run when my head was on. I wasn't out of breath so I was pleased. In T1 was a girl who in the registration queue had told me she was going to swim last. Pah - she did just fine. The camraderie was excellent with everyone congratulating each other as they came in and left. I plonked my butt down, got some shoes on, through on the world's lumpiest bike pants and helmet and was wheeling my bike off like a pro (in my head ok). There were two guys in front of me (remember they had a head start) and I told them I hoped they knew what they were doing as I was following them. They said they didn't so I headed off and they must have passed me a bit later when they had sorted their clipless pedals out. There's a lot to be said for keeping it simple.

The race briefing for the ride was confusingly humorous but the marshalls were great; so great I tried to thank all of them. The course is open to traffic which was a little scary but I found I was more competitive than scared! I passed two guys on hills (in my head: "you've been chicked"). I really didn't know how to corner especially after a downhill so I slowed down a lot (especially after one big wobble on a roundabout with cars). This was the only time I was passed by girls and the numbers I passed vs numbers that passed me were pretty even.

Had a chat to a guy I kept swapping places with who was an on awesome bike - I kept competing with him (why?) and he said he was pretty new to all this. I pointed out his awesome bike and I think he might have got a bit ashamed of hanging out with my hybrid and put some welly in it! I really enjoyed the rights: I had found out how to take the hills and that my weight worked an advantage on these. I had a gel at the start of the ride (once I felt comfortable) and on the second loop of the course, on a safe stretch of massive dual carriageway. Thank goodness it was 8am by this point and traffic was minimal except for scary trucks. There was an event van picking people up who had broken their bike and a motorbike just checking on us all. The worst bit of the bike was the speedbumps in the shopping centre coming back into transition. Madness.

Unfortunately being so competitive on the bike meant I was pooped coming in for the run. My arms were a little wobbly and while I wheeled my bike intro transition the announcer called out that he didn't know who I was as my race number was all twisted. I went to correct it and my bike came crashing down bringing some shin skin and my dignity with it. The commentator saw it all so it was a nice laugh for everyone. Call me the entertainer.

I couldn't get my lungs and heart rate where I wanted for the run start. It was laps of the car park so it was lined with spectators and Jon. My legs were just lead. When I got around the corner for my first armband I took some energy drink and water, walked and then plodded off. When I ran past Jon I always made an effort but I couldn't sustain it when I was out of sight. It felt really really hard and I didn't want to make eye contact. But you know eventually you have enough of the arm bands and support from fellow competitors, still on the track, ahead of you or who had finished, was great. The announcer remembered me as the girl who tipped her bike over as I crossed the finish line and I was really pleased to have made it to the end  given my poor health and training preparation.

A great triathlon, perfect for first timers but with a strong enough field to make it competitive. Just don't go by train.

Monday, 18 June 2012

What I learned on my first tri

For absolute complete newbies who decided to enter a tri in a whim, don't want to spend a lot of money but want to have fun!
  • Don't be intimidated by everyone looking pro and having crates for all their stuff. And triceps. 
  • A race belt is easier than safety pins but your number will flap
  • Wear your sports bra under your bathers. This might seem really obvious but as I had been reading so much about long distance events, you have a slow transition where you might change clothes! Not so the sprint.
  • You can never lube your neck enough. Use Body glide not baby oil if you want to keep your wetsuit.
  • Be one of the first girls / people in your wave to test the water, go down and put some in your suit. Get used to it much earlier esp your feet and hands. I found this gave me confidence. 
  • A towel to stand on is useful but sitting down to put on socks and shoes is quicker! Get tri / lock laces and older (open) comfy socks.
  • Take a moment to walk not run if you get out of the swim a bit dizzy.
  • Use a distinct bit of material tied to the rack to help you find your bike or spot.
  • Never be in a high gear when you might come off your bike; impossible to get it going again!
  • Tackle hills like a runner: head down, low gears, high cadence, sit down and pedal pedal pedal. You will beat any big muscly or fat guy!
  • Don't worry about your bike too much. I rode on a hybrid and was constantly swapping places with a guy on the most beautiful machine ever. And he would have had at least a 10 minute head start on me
  • Get your heart rate down on the last bit of the bike so you can be ready to run when you get off.
  • Decathlon do great cheapish bike shorts with padding. I swam in boy short all-in-one swimmers from sports direct, threw the bike shorts on top then ripped them off. I used the same shoes for bike and run, low profile and minimalist kinvara, normal running shoes were too chunky.
  • Get your bike set up perfect, almost so you can't touch the floor with your toes to avoid sore knees when running.
  • The running will feel like the hardest 5km ever!
  • Don't try and do anything one handed when wheeling your bike into transition. You may be wobblier than you think!
  • Don't freak if you can't understand the race briefing. the marshalls are great. I thanked every one I passed. 
  • Enjoy it!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

I did a triathlon

How very exciting for me. I thought it was a bit nonsense to have entered an Ironman having never done a triathlon (actually they are almost incomparable events, a sprint tri vs an endurance tri) but anyway I wanted to say I was a triathlete so I did one.

Here are the stats:
Swim: 20:25  
T1 3:40    
Bike: 54:57     
T2 1:08    
Run: 27:49  
Total 1:47:57

I'll do a more detailed report but essentially here's the key things I wrote to my coach about afterwards:

I was very tired. I was so out of it on Weds that I collapsed (I know I know) so while I felt better on Sunday morning I think I actually felt better compared to rock bottom not actually better.

I took the swim really easy. I realised on the way to the first buoy that I was tired so I swam for fun. Good news is that I was dead straight [I used to veer to the right]. I found the finish hard to sight as the map was hard to follow, you couldn't see it from the start and the briefing describing it was so bad we all laughed. It was a dog leg around  a paddle steamer so not typical...

T1 was fine - walked a bit to get my head straight then long run in prescription goggles to bike.

Loved the bike. Hadn't ridden 20k before except holiday wine tasting! Only realised that I had gears on the left hand side too the previous day! Rode the hills in low gears with high cadence and went up ok - stayed in the saddle and chicked three guys all up. Got passed by three girls all up - only on the downhills. I passed two girls myself on the uphills. I had less confidence on downhills and cornering - and there was a bit of fast downhills into roundabouts. Was just too slow into these and had a wobble on one when I went fast. Got too competitive and started racing some guy on the flats! Totally loved it even though I had no ever done anything like that before.

Unfortunately my heart rate was too high coming into the run (trying to race on the bike at last minute). I struggled initally - walked when no one was looking. Brain just wasnt talking to legs. Jon came to watch which helped but when he wasn't looking I shuffled and limped. My time was not that bad (only one min off a 5k PB  though I dont really race 5ks).

Overall given the state I was in I am really pleased. I got a lot of confidence, thought it was fun (except the run!) and nutrition plan kept my head on!

And here's more pics

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Learning to ride

I went out cycling today to Gladstone Park and round the hills and corners to get some handling practice and to work out what gears were for. I figured if I stayed in a really high gear then my legs had to push harder so this would be good training. Uh no. I ended up with really sore knees later in the day.

Thanks Pasty Pistons for correcting me on that and pointing out that hills are best conquered with a low gear and high cadence.

This time round Gladstone Park I made it up all the hills (no slowing right down, veering sideways then coming off) and managed to coast down some hills without too much tight gripping of the brakes. I did audibly talk to myself the whole way down "you're doing great Rowena, well done". Thankfully there are few people there at 7am!

Bring on more confidence and I might just like this biking thing.

My bike: It doesn't have the bag carrier on the back anymore. Or the drink holder. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mermaid ahoy

It's very remiss of me to blog about something so exciting as my first swim race in Open Water but you know, there was a lot going on that month. 

There's a fabulous blog post by Diminutive Runner who did the 1500m swim along with Becs Owen Gardner - both on twitter and worth following - so I shall keep this short. 

Can you spot me?!

I'd really recommend doing it if you're nervous about swimming. I was only a little nervous about being in my first open water swim race but not of the water. I'd spent a considerable amount of a previous weekend in a dingy lake and in the wrong kind of wetsuit! 

I rushed down a bit late, threw my stuff at someone very obliging (hint for wearers of glasses, bring a case) and jumped in, swimming around gently while waiting for the delayed start. 

I used the cables connecting the buoys underwater to help sight and off I went. 

I was amazed not to come last at all and in fact finish in 17 minutes which I was very pleased with given that I had only had six lessons in front crawl!

My new wetsuit - hired from Hire A Wetsuit - was comfy, I got a medal and a swim cap - what wasn't to love?!