Sunday, 31 March 2013

How far?

The very observant Fran pointed out that when you start telling someone you are doing a half ironman the distance becomes meaningless to mere mortals, like when you start talking of trillions of debt or billions of corporate tax avoidance. Ahem. I recently heard Ironholgs talk to an audience in Manchester explaining that his full iron swim would take him from here to say the Trafford Centre, his bike would take him to Dumfries, or something scary like that. It mightily impressed me so I thought I would try the same in my fundraising emails.

I was a bit disappointed that the swim distances seemed to small - it felt like I was swimming around the world. But the bike distances made me want to crawl into bed!

For the folk at work, the swim was from our offices to Old Trafford, then a ride to Lancaster and a run to the edge of the Lake District. For the Londoners, it was swimming from Swiss Cottage station to Lords Cricket ground, cycling to Brighton then running to Worthing. And in Perth, swimming from the WACA to Forrest Chase, then cycling to Pinjarra (not many towns to choose from to be fair!) and then running almost as far as Dwellingup...


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Fundraising goes global

On the 23rd March my marvellous mother hosted a fundraiser for Freedom from Torture. She lives in Perth, Western Australia - about as far away from Manchester as you can get. Perth is a pretty hard core tough mining town and quite right-wing, so for my mum to raise $600AUD for Freedom from Torture was no small feat. I am so proud of her. I couldn't be there but thanks to skype and social media, I had video and photos and joined them for a live skype link up while I was in the snow.

The fundraiser came together because my proud mum (bless her) is always talking about me! She sells a lot of stuff at flea markets and uses the money to support the expensive sport of triathlon. While talking about it one market day she bumped into a man with a band who happened to be from... Manchester. He offered to play at her bbq and a sausage sizzle was borne! I am truly touched by everyone's generosity.

To get involved yourself, visit - and if you would love to host your own global fundraiser please get in touch for ideas and help!

Mum's garden - it's pretty impressive!
 Look at the barbie! Look at the sausages! And look at that blue sky!
 Nett and the Repeaters -originally from Manchester!
 Hope the FFT team can spot themselves on the other side of the world!

 Mum's boyfriend Jon in a Team Rowena shirt ;)
 Who doesn't love a raffle?!
 That's mum in the Team Rowena shirt!
 I wonder if my fave Aussie bikkies are inside?!
 Mum in her Team Rowena shirt!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Training for a Spring triathlon

"try to make your training environment as similar as possible to your race environment... "

 Above:  Mallorca run. Below my local MTB route... 

Below: Mallorca run.
And my local run on Sunday: 
The swim start in Mallorca

and in Salford: 

To reward or encourage my insanity visit or read about Why I Do this.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

My local ride

When I first came Oop North, I stayed with Jon on a wee holiday and he took me across to Holmfirth. It was summer, a nice drive out, and the area looked stunning. We are Last of the Summer Wine sandwiches and drank Last of the Summer Wine coffee. When I moved to Mossley itself, just across the moors from Holmfirth, I started mapping out my local rides. The most obvious was to turn left out of the house and head for Holmfirth. For several weeks and then months, getting up that road has been a bit of an obstacle. It's often closed to traffic because of the weather, so getting my hybrid up there proved an adventure and Red the Road Bike was positively skittish even in the winter dry. And let's not forget that I am a cyclist whose thighs are made of marshmallow. 

I was really lucky that one of the local Team Glows organised a ride out there coming back on some of the other nearby but smaller hills so I first got to conquer the ride out with the company and support of others. The first hill out to Holmfirth didn't seem so bad - the final descent into town was hairy but the smaller succession of hills (some with a headwind) did cause me to actually stop once before riding them all. I thought that as this was my local route, that conquering would put me in great stead for Mallorca, without having to go very far. Unfortunately the winter has been icy and my cycling fraught with bad luck (rashes, infections, antibiotic reactions etc) so I'd barely tackled the first 3 miles up hill (to Dove Stone Reservoir) let alone the 10 miles to Holmfirth. So I decided to take a day off work to put that to rights. 

The snow had stopped the day before, and the sun was out. It should have been perfect cycling weather. Instead it ended up being the coldest I had ever been - and I have been out in sub zero for several hours in the night. The Saddleworth Moors, apart from being a haunt of serial killers, seems to have its own microclimate, to match the lunar landscape and the eeriness of the place. I found the first hill very hard and had to stop a lot, which I later realise was down to overheating (bizarrely) due to an early morning cycle, low blood pressure and too quick a rise in heart rate. This meant I took a lot of my clothes off and then couldn't regulate temperature. Not to mention losing a glove so I only had a liner for my brake hand, so I cut the descent short. All in all, 20 miles there and back - mentally tough. Not just because I had to keep stopping on the hills but the Moors are so bleak, with little features, icy winds, the scare from the trucks sending you cross the road, and that bumpy surface from riding over peat bogs. Still makes good training and I want to keep repeating it and the original longer ride until Mallorca time to get confidence. 

If anyone wants to do the longer cycle with me and use the spare room you are very welcome - it's definitely one for company and there are some great Last of the Summer Wine cafes! There is a short version (26 miles to Holmfirth and back) or the longer version here which I did with Team Glow. 

 Above: wooshing past the Moors. Endless and cold. And bouncy. And there be ghosts. 
 Above: the way up. With blue skies, who'd have thought the Moors Murk lies ahead
 Above: only eight miles! But they are testing eight miles. 
 Lost: one glove. 
 Our local: Dove Stone Reservoir, only a few miles from home.
Alpine descent. Still no glove... 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sharing the load

As a novice runner I'd watched Spirit of the Marathon too many times. I'd confused Deena Castor's husband for her osteo, such was his dedication to her hamstrings. I admired the way he stood on desolate roads with a drink bottle in his hand as she went charging past at sub 3 pace with more swig and slurp than thank you.

I liked the idea of someone being that close to my training. Or indeed sharing my obsession. I am lucky in that Beardy likes running a long way so there's some commonality in our DNA. When I met him, he had just started off-road running and had yet to run a marathon. I'd like to think I encouraged and inspired him to his first 26.2 but in reality I probably just proved that any old idiot can do it, but at least the idiots on twitter are a supportive bunch.

When I started tri training up north I had romantic notions of hours of running alongside Beardy while he read out my split times and I struggled to keep my kidneys in place. I imagined fluffy towels by the side of the Salford Quays. I did not bank on so much cold and snow! In reality, sharing life with a fellow athlete is a delicate balance. There is not room for the dual obsession, selfishness, ruthlessness and drive in a cohabiting working household with a child. It may look like it on the surface but watch carefully and there is a power dynamic and ebb and flow of obsession that has to move between you. Or on a practical level like my tri racing family role models the Charltons, you have a year each to compete - a sensible idea which I like very much.

So how does my ego cope with the idea that my other half doesn't recognise my dodgy front crawl from the shore line? On one level, you think your sport is so fascinating that you are a bit perplexed how people can't be interested in your swimset, cadence or wattage.  But in reality you know it matters not. Half iron distance as a slow poke tips you into the category of Long Lonely Day racing. No one is going to chalk my name on Spanish tarmac, there won't be Pirate flags and I may be accompanied the persistent Last Female Competitor moped.

This is why I've taken to talking to myself on tough stretches: audibly coaching myself on how to take a tricky descent and congratulating myself when it goes well. You have to believe in your ability to get yourself around especially when you have given the voice in your head a volume control - you must be able to trust it.

I get my geek fix online. I know there's a bloke urging on his swim for Mallorca (and I think you're doing great!). I know there is a girl I've not met who is tackling the toughest 70.3 in the country and like me, has bleak days that no one will understand. There's another whose training is more fierce than her personality and that is saying something, so to watch her sometimes miss her high targets I feel her immense pain. I have the comfort of learning of inspiring women who have had races that didn't go to plan and who rose again so valiantly that I would feel a fraud not to have their bravery. I know a man who tweets his ironman swim sets because like me, he simply can't believe that he can now swim that far.

The vulnerabilty that these people show alongside their strength gives me intimacy and companionship. Never mind that I have only met two of these people in real life. We're united by that shared struggle of balancing life - four disciplines, an impenetrable sub culture of lycra, and a mutual love of suffering.

It's this last point that I think that matters most. There is some suffering in middle and long distance tri that you love to endure but you need some brow stroking for, even though it is self induced. While a runner might have a post race beer, as a triathlete; you're thinking of your 6am swim set the next morning. You walk funny because you're intimately chafed. You feel guilty because you spent your child's education savings on a bike part. You contemplate mortality when you hit the tarmac on a 40mph descent. You don't have energy for your kids and loved ones and yet equally you wish they would leave you alone for three months. You miss your friends: you wish they would take up cycling. You suffer the guilt and torment of trying to juggle it all with your massive competitive urge to be the best you can and the dreams you have of being an age grouper at 70. In short, you physically and mentally suffer. 

All that matters is that someone understands that, and at the finish line or indeed the DNF point, someone can hug you knowing that you are more than just that day: you are every mouthful of bile on a swimset, every brick session cramp, and every saddle sore. It doesn't matter who gives you that hug or that brow stroke. It could be a new friend, your best friend, or a stranger on the finish line. Indeed it could even be Deena Castor's husband himself. And if it's me that finds you on a finish line get ready for a big ol' hearty cry!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Trying to swim: with Swim for Tri

On the shore, through my salt lined goggles I can make out the wetsuited figures of the race finishers. I'm still at least 500m away. Five hundred metres never seems so long until you have to swim it. I'm treading water, taking a breather and then heading in for the final leg of my swim. Breathe, catch, paddle, kick, breathe, catch, paddle, kick. Again and again, with flashes of blue sky, sun, scorched lava rock, breaking my horizon with every break from the clear sea water. Small fish chase smaller fish, who race me and wiggle ahead to my nearest competitor until the water thins, sand comes into sight, then breathe, catch sand - and burst out of the water! I've never been so happy to finish last!

It's my first sea swim race and while it's a friendly between others on my Swim for Tri swim camp at Lanzarote, we have been joined by some fearsome Otters from a UK swim club to make up numbers and who between them create a lot of speed. I started the course an absolute novice with only 1600m of open water swimming under my belt. I ended the course still a novice, but with seven days of dedicated training, I'm a novice who knows what I don't know, can withstand three swims a day across seven days, knows her wetsuit doesn't fit, can act like a pro and has the confidence to tackle what lies ahead!

Swim for Tri run an incredibly affordable swim camp twice a year in Lanzarote - amongst other things. I went solo in September 2012, finding the flights to Lanza also affordable and the only significant cost was the Club La Santa apartments. I opted to share my apartment and receive a discount, getting a bonus when I was allocated no one to share with. The course opens with an introduction from Dan Bullock, the founder of Swim for Tri and man of notable swimming achievement. He was able to introduce everyone on the course from prior knowledge, either reputation or from London based coaching. There was an ironman, a former rugby player, a European champion, a masters regular and then me. Me who has just been able to swim their first 1600m. I thought I was going to be totally intimidated in their company, but everyone was very friendly and supportive and I really basked being in the company of such encouraging swimmers. A big shout out to Lorraine, who must have held the most experience of the group - but always had a kind word.

Days were divided into morning swims focussing on open water technique in the pool, midday sessions focussing on technique and afternoon sessions in the big blue sea itself. In the pool, we lined up in lanes according to speed and while I was slow, I wasn't always the slowest nor the only one to flag or drop a set in tiredness so again I never felt like everyone was waiting for me.  The relentless sessions meant that even the strongest swimmers were working hard and people dropped in and out of what they could handle. The sessions were a great mix of drills, games, races, solo swimming, exercises and demonstrations, not to mention the cringeworthy sessions of being filmed from various angles and then watching yourself on the big screen as an evening dinner treat. As awful as it is to watch yourself (I still cover my eyes horror movie style when I watch the footage) it was invaluable and made the course excellent value for money to have this included.

Dan was a great instructor with just as much time for the tadpoles like me as the pros. I couldn't often understand him, which became a brilliant running joke - something was often lost in translation between this Australian and his swimming terminology and I was often still holding onto the end of the pool confused while everyone swam off. If you're also like me and learn through doing rather than hearing, as long as you have a sense of humour, you'll be alright!
The camp included a visit to the Ironman swim course on the other side of the island for the stop at the German bakery afterwards alone. There's sessions on dryland exercises, wetsuit fitting, race starts, sighting, drafting and race contact - it really does pack a lot in. So much so, that if you do think you're going to make use of the other facilities included in your Club La Santa stay, you might want to temper your enthusiasm; I spent a lot of time afternoon napping in between swim sets and eating - but I did manage to include running, cycling and pilates before collapsing with exhaustion at the end of the week. La Santa is a great venue, I wished I had brought the kids and family, you're isolated from the mass tourists so you can pretend you're a pro, the bar food delicious, the supermarket decent and the staff superb.

I thoroughly recommend the course to swimmers at all levels. The pros on the course learned a lot and gained a lot by their own admissions. I learned that what I lack in technique and talent, I made up for in determination and a total lack of fear of open water. You'll pick up loads of tiny tips that you'd only get by spending so much time in close company with a diverse range of athletes. You'll get a superb back tan, become totally enthused about open water swimming, make a lot of swimming contacts and - if you're really lucky - you may win a Swim for Tri hoodie.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Cycling for female beginners

Here’s some things that no one will tell you girls but if you’re completely new to cycling this is what you need to know. And I’ve learned it all the hard way!

  • Apparently you don’t wear pants under your cycle shorts. This in itself tells you that you will need more than one pair!
  • There is such a thing as female specific bike shorts. And yes it does feel different.
  • Chamois cream is a cream you put on your bits to aide with friction. It doesn’t matter if you have a chamois or not, or that it’s not a leather chamois any more. It’s called chamois cream!
  • You can also get a repair cream for afterwards. I’m testing brands of chamois and repair now and will report back in coded language!
  • If you’re swimming and biking a lot, and prone to dehydration, KY jelly may be your best friend. Just don’t buy a tonne of it on Valentine’s Day like I did…
  • Haemorrhoid cream is good for inflammation anywhere. Apparently. Reported to me by a cyclist in the know.
  • Assos chamois cream has mintiness in it. Oh yes, menthol bits.
  • Your cycle shorts are supposed to be really really really tight. All sizing will go out the window.
  • Apparently you should not wax and then go straight into a cycle or other hot sweaty activity. Again, this one was reported to me.
  • You can get a women’s bike fit; we are different shaped!
  •  You can never pay too much for comfort - get the decent bike shorts. 
  • Wearing bib shorts you will feel a bit like a page three girl. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Just like old times...

My training plan said run for 1hr 30 minutes today. It probably said a lot of other things about tempo and heart rate but hey I'm coming out of an infection so the time itself was enough to remember.
I trotted out initially with Jon in the cold. My foot hurt a bit from last night; I'd done a little more running recently to compensate for dropping miles on the bike and the niggles were starting to show. We parted after three miles and I would return home and take satisfaction of a 6 mile attempt and call it a day, rather than let a swollen foot continue to move it's way across my leg - the tendon inflammation had moved from arch to knee as we said goodbyes.

I took adavantage of our parting to give the leg a quick massage but had to move home even quicker. Despite the blue sky and sunshine it was below zero and we had both commented that it was deceptively colded. I plodded home, noticing only had cold my right arm was (exacerbated by some ulna nerve damage).

As Jon can tell you, I often run home quicker than I run out, and this was no exception! By the time I neared home I dared to think "well I could actually keep going and do  my whole training duration". I reached the start point 5 minutes quicker than the way out and plodded a path in a direction Jon and I don't usually take.

Suddenly it felt like everything I was doing was a bonus. I was pushing through pain and illness and running solo - something that winter nights had denied me after the idiot trying to grab me incident. I could see where I was going. I could notice that the ducks still had their beaks tucked into their wings. I could marvel at how parts of the canal were smoother than a mirror and others frozen like chocolate slabs. I felt like a runner again. I slipped through mud puddles, crunched through frozen turf, made choices between different trails, ended up on the wrong side of the canal and generally had fun. It was nice to feel like a runner again.