7 weeks to go: Back on the bike (baptism of fire)

This week I finally got the bike out on the road – with me on it! I’m going to say it: I hate the bike! I really do not enjoy cycling – most of the time. But it’s teaching me a lot about endurance and about overcoming anxiety and fear.

2 days off… but look at the big circle

I’ll start this week’s entry with the bike story. And story it is. I’ve started to enjoy Zwift and training on the turbo. I also realised I was in my comfort zone. I’ve learnt that one element of endurance training is not allowing myself to get too comfortable. There comes a time when I have to step out of that comfort zone.

That’s not to say I should be enjoying pain and suffering. It’s not some kind of sackcloth and ashes story. It’s recognising that to move on, sometimes you have to switch off the thinking and just do it. And so getting on the bike was all about that.

Unfortunately for me I have an overactive mind, and vivid imagination and the thinking bit never stops (probably why I do enjoy doing endurance sport). So after an accident on the bike, reigning in the fears and the thoughts and the feeling of foreboding is key. I have to remind myself not to confuse my gut feeling with anxiety.

The planned bike ride was on Friday, a trip to the Isle of Wight to go round the island. Chris had done it before and assured me it was mainly flat and traffic-free and a good place for me to get back on the bike. Warning! It’s not flat – or traffic-free, but it is a good place to get back on the bike.

It was as I said on Strava a Baptism of Fire. We emerged from the ferry to traffic and wound are way up some good climbs out of Ryde. I felt nervous being back on the road, and also on the time trial bike. But told myself to concentrate – and relax at the same time.

Most of the first 30 miles I cursed cycling. I was not in a positive mindset at all and repeatedly told myself I hate cycling. ‘I’m stopping this after the Ironman and going to concentrate on Swim Run’. I tried to rationalise what it was I didn’t like, and all I could come up with was cars/road/uncertainty. After cake and tea, and chats in a nice shop/bar/cafe, I took note of the nicer side to cycling. Exploring, meeting new people and going further than you can with running.

As we climbed up the steeper hill on the coast, I started to really enjoy it. Cycling into a headwind, having to focus on working to get up the hill sharpened my senses and put me into a good mindset. I like working hard enough to feel I’m being pushed – but I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to speed.

I realise as I type this, I will look back in a few years and think what was I going on about? When I first did a sprint triathlon I was completely freaked out by the open water – now I don’t think about it and can’t recognise that frightened person. (I also didn’t have any idea what gears to use, or even when to change them then, but for some reason I didn’t worry about the bike). But for now, I’m here, and I have to be patient with myself. Back to the ride.

The rain started when we stopped for lunch. But stopped again after and there as a very lovely purple patch of cycling on empty smooth roads, picking up the pace, feeling comfortable as I had settled into my mantra of ‘relaxed, in control, fast’. As we got nearer to the finish, Chris who’d been waiting for me at points along the way, went on and headed to Ryde. Meanwhile, I was behind him religiously following the signs for the bike route (we’d been successfully following them all day) and for anyone contemplating the ride, note, they are very clear and will get you round the course without GPS. There is a but! Don’t do what I did and start the route again.

Hitting some serious traffic in heavy rain, I was starting to feel emotional. I was cold, wet and realised it had been too long since I’d seen Chris and I’d gone wrong. But I carried on following the signs. As I started to climb hill after hill (away from the sea) and saw a bus going the opposite way with Ryde on the front, I knew the signs were taking me back onto the course. I rang Chris, who was at the ferry. And so began my attempt to find my way back. I headed to Ryde but realised I needed to check where the ferry was, so typed it into maps. Luckily, I could hear the sat nav and followed the instructions – but when I hit another hill (away from the sea) I had to double check again. I rang Chris, he rang me. He said be sure you’re not going to Fishguard (he meant Fishoburne) but the  maps said, Ferry Port Ryde, so on I went with this journey. The sat nav took me into town, up hills, and out of town, then along a wooded path for about a mile. By this time I was cold, wet and getting a bit worried, but I could see I was heading to a ferry so told myself there was nothing to worry about. Just follow each step. I finally emerged from the path (amazingly puncture-free) to the ferry port. It was the wrong ferry port.

It turned out the ferry was however going to Portsmouth, so I decided to get it. There were more hiccups (missed the first ferry, went to the wrong car park in Portsmouth, waited at the bus station not the train station, lips were going blue etc). But Chris and I finally were reunited (he’d got the right ferry) and were so relieved we’d got back to the car before the car park closed that we just laughed a lot and enjoyed the heated seats!

By Saturday with a planned two hour ride, a run, a swim, we both felt tired. And I felt close to meltdown on what we changed to a 10-mile spin. We stopped at Devil’s Dyke and watched the hang-gliders. As I saw them set off on and up into the sky in what looked like a very precarious set up I realised that fear and risk-taking is all relative and got over my irrational thought process (brought on by being a bit tired I think!). A 5K run after the short ride was relaxed but not easy and I reminded myself that this is what IM training is about – getting out and moving when you’re tired.

As for the rest of the week. I’d had two days off training which did throw me off a little. Work had got busy and life’s demands were more demanding. I was disappointed to only manage one swim, but it was a reasonable distance at 2.5K the longest with my dodgy shoulder, and I had a great brick session on the turbo and fartlek running on Wednesday. I finished off the week with another endurance test, a long run on the Downs in wind and rain. Starting tired I had wondered if I would get around, then reminded myself I’ve run this Eastbourne run (The Friston loop) at least 300 times and must have had that thought process 280 times! The wind and rain battered us, but we did have the wind behind us on a few key hills, we ran through a field with a huge cow and her babies – and a bull in it. I rejected the option of a shorter route down, and we hit the top of the Downs and I felt totally exhilarated by the crazy conditions (I imagined my dad ‘yahooing’ along with me and laughing along with his nutty daughter)  and I also remembered this is living and this is me – and this is what I love to do. And so another week of training is done.

 

 

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The Eastbourne Triahtlon

On  Sunday morning, I opened my eyes and quickly closed them again. I was feeling emotional – am I still exhausted I wondered? Do I  really need to get up and race the Eastbourne Triathlon? I need sleep. I’m tired.

When I got home on Saturday night, and when that alarm had gone off on Sunday morning, every bit of me did not want to race.  Coach Dave has got me to record my heart rate variability using the app, HRV4 Training when I wake up in the morning. On Sunday I was so tired that I went into a deep sleep for the minute the HR recorded (for the record 43), and woke with a start when it finished.

But after letting the snooze button ‘snooze me’ for 30 minutes and battling with myself I finally got up at 515am and got out. And guess what – it wasn’t that bad – in fact it was good. It turned out that it was residual tiredness. The dregs of a tired week. I’m very glad I didn’t listen to the negative, emotional me, because once I was up and driving on the empty roads, I felt completely fine. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day – and I was so glad not to be missing this part of the day.

No Nerves

I wasn’t at all nervous as I’ve been performing very averagely recently so had zero expectations, and it was just a sprint. Note, in 2013 when I was a much fitter and faster marathon runner, I did my first sprint triathlon and I remember finding it very, very challenging – Note to self, this is progress.

I arrived in Eastbourne before 630am and when we got to the start it was fantastic to see so many old friends and familiar faces, from my two old clubs, Bodyworks XTC and Tri Tempo in what until August last year was my home town for 13 years.

The Swim

I met Gill, a fellow Bri Tri member at the start. Excitement kicked in as we gathered at the water’s edge. Gill and I ran/walked into the water together and for a minute were swimming along side each other. I could see we were heading in the same direction and I decided rather than swim over Gill (which it felt like I was going to)  I’d move away. That was the last I saw of Gill on the swim (she swam 19 and I was 20 minutes). We’d been warned that the current was going to be strong and Chris who had practised the day before, and been to Gary’s session (channel swimmer and all-round swimming king), showed me the best route to the take. I think I took it! But of course I hadn’t switched on my watch so I don’t know what pace I went at, or what distance I covered. However, I did find my ‘off to the left and then back to the bouy route’ (avoiding fighting the current) had somehow got me back in the group who had got ahead of me at the start. The sea was reasonably choppy and a bit unpredictable, but when I saw the sun shining on the water I had one of those moments, when I thought, I just love this!

As I got out of the water I was reassured to see not unhealthy, reasonably fit looking men around me which was a sign I wasn’t totally useless! I also noticed the watch wasn’t on and decided to tell Gary (guru Gary) who probably wondered what the hell I was saying . I ran to transition and wasn’t super slow (but still need to get faster). Then it was time to put the watch on and get onto the bike route.

The Bike

The bike route is a familiar one for me, from running and cycling in Eastbourne. But I think my recent climbs up Ditchling Beacon combined with my pimped up bike (now sporting Chris’s gears/brakes, flash new wheels and seat) meant that what I had always thought was a killer hill, didn’t feel hard at all! In fact at one point I had to look up to double check I was still on the hill. Again, note to self, progress.

The short ride felt good, again I loved the surroundings (I’ll never get bored of the South Downs): the white cliffs, the green fields, and the Sunday morning stillness. I didn’t look at my watch once. I loved the downhills and nearly hit 40 miles per hour as I hurtled down the empty road to East Dean (for me that’s fast).  It was great to see Scott, fellow comms officer from Bri Tri marshalling in the lonely spot (I’d also spotted Rachael, Mark and Grace – good turn out on the volunteer and racing from from my new club). As we headed back up the loop towards Beachy Head and the seafront we had a little headwind, but nothing too taxing. I enjoyed the bike and was pleased to cycle this challenging route five minutes faster than last year (okay I had just come back from a fracture – but still progress).

The Run

Being a sprint I was back in transition quickly and off on the run. The run takes you up to the top of the South Downs again – with a rather lovely climb up the side of Jubilee Hill. I’m not fast on the hills but the run didn’t phase me at all. It was getting hotter now, and feeling a little humid. At the top, I did have to have a word with myself as I realised I had slowed down way too much, and reminded myself, this event is short, to concentrate and I think I said out loud ‘pull your finger out’. So I worked hard on the downhill and though not particularly fast, it was a satisfactory run and I felt good at the finish, and as Dale shouted out 100m to go, I decided to have a little sprint (the glory bit).

I love a podium

It was a real bonus and a lift to my spirits to get second place vet and sixth woman in the ‘normal’ race, or 9th if you count the top three vets. But what lifted me more was how I felt good, I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel pressure, and I remembered why I do this. When I  left Eastbourne  last year, it was with some sadness and on Sunday I was reminded what a jewel it is – and the race somehow personified Eastbourne’s best bits, a fantastic backdrop for anyone wanting to challenge themselves as an endurance woman.

I recognised that my unintended taper for the previous three weeks were partly the reason for feeling refreshed and physically good, but I needed a kick-start to my Ironman training because in the middle of last week, I was not feeling the Ironman love.  But thanks to rest, friends and of course, Eastbourne, I’m back in love with this thing and ready for a summer of IM loving!

20 week countdown: week one

May 28th to Sunday June 2nd: ending with The South Downs Relay

I started this training blog with a 52-week countdown, then 40 and here I am with 20 weeks to go. This feels real! I’m writing this retrospectively, but week one of 20 started on the UK Bank Holiday, and my holiday in Portugal with my kids and friend from school, Celia (she’s lived in the US for half her life now but we’re still as connected now as we were from seven to 25 when she left). The focus for the end of the week was the South Downs Relay.

Fiona and Celia – endurance women 50 going on 5

Cycling was not really going to be an option on holiday so I’d already decided to relax about this and focus on the run and swim.

I didn’t achieve my goal of 4K in the sea, but did manage 2.3K which was fantastic. I loved the clear water with the fish swimming beneath me. I was pleased to get two 10-mile runs on beautiful coastal routes completed over the holiday, as well as some easier, shorter runs.

When people thought the world was flat,  Sagres, which is the last stop before America, was once though to be the end point of the world. If it were, it would have been a good spot to finish. It’s an ideal spot for triathlon training too, and even though I didn’t cycle, I appreciated the long, quiet stretches of road and if I’d had running company I might have ventured a it further along the trails weaving their way through the national park.

Homeward Bound

On Thursday morning I had one last lovely run in Portugal and we flew home late afternoon. So on Friday morning I was back home and woke up early, and decided to go to My Ride. With the South Downs Relay, a 100 mile run across the Downs, as part of a team of six, meant I kept the pace and heart rate low and was pleased to see just eight hours recovery on my Garmin.

The South Downs Relay

With a 530am start looming on Saturday I went to bed early on Friday, but woke up, wide awake at 230am! I decided it wouldn’t affect me as I’ve raced tired lots of times before.

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It did affect me! I was knackered and one minute a mile slower than I’d hoped/expected. However, as I type this on Tuesday June 5th feeling slightly ill, I think might have been harbouring a few bugs. But this was a team event, and my under performance didn’t deter from what was really a fantastic day of running, as part of a great team from Brighton Triathlon Club. This unique, invitation-only event, is very special to me. I’ve taken part five times now (in the past I ran with Hailsham Harriers) and it felt so good to see so many familiar faces – and to be inspired by older runners still able to record super fast time (most notably my running club, Arena 80’s Women’s team, all over 40 and won in super fast time).

For me the South Downs Relay marked the end of my messing about on the bike period and it’s time to really focus on the bike from now on! My road bike has been ‘pimped up’ by the guys at the Tri Store, Eastbourne, with new saddle, gears and bakes, courtesy of Chris and I’ve been measured for a Time Trial bike. I can’t avoid it any more. On your bike Fiona, on your bike!

The end of week 20: Swashbuckler Middle Distance Ironman

The last post in my training log was written in the middle of week 20 – in the run up to the Swashbuckler, my first half Ironman of 2018 –  and only my second middle distance race (here’s my first one). Here’s my race report.

In that post I said;

“I don’t have great expectations timewise on Sunday. I’m guessing the swim could be anywhere between 2.00 and 2.15 per 100m, I’m expecting to the bike to be between 13 and 15 mph and the run between 8.00 and 8.45 min mile pace. Transition is not a strong point. On that basis I’ll be aiming for around 6.5 hours plus.”

The swim which turned out be 350M short of Middle distance was in fact slower than my prediction at 2.20 per 100M (36.29). The bike was a bit faster, at 16.4 mph for 53 miles (3.14)  but a much easier course than I’d expected and relative to the rest of the field, slow! The run thankfully was at my optimistic end at exactly 8.00 min mile pace for 13.85 miles in a time of 1.50.53. Transitions were slow! The finish time was 5.50.

How early?

Overall, I was very happy with the result as it put me where I thought I was and I was very pleased to get a middle distance race done 20 weeks out. Racing, particularly in triathlon, not only gives you an injection of fitness, but it also is a learning arena. In triathlon there are more variables to consider than in the single sport and therefore always lessons to learn.

Swim

The positives for me were the 330am alarm and 515am start wasn’t as bad as I feared. Swimming at 515am may have accounted for my slower swim, but also I have to admit I’ve done very little swimming in the last six months (even before breaking my collar-bone). I was in the wrong position at the start – too near the front so had to endure lots of kicks in the face and large bodies trying to swim over mine! I looked up at one point and it seemed to be a frenzy of arms and splashing water in the mist and it reminded me of a brilliant photograph from a tri magazine – but I wasn’t sure it was that brilliant being in it! However, I managed to avoid panicking – unusual for me in this sort of chaotic swim.

Transition

I was very slow in transition one – a total of 6’13. I hadn’t mentally rehearsed transition or allowed myself to think about what I should do. And for transition two I hadn’t managed to sort out laces in my new running shoes. I had decided for this middle distance race doing it was more important than the fine-tuning, but I will pay attention in my next race (The Tribesman in Galway in July).

Bike

On the bike I realised that my cold hands were going to get colder. I had a thin bike jacket, but hadn’t put in arm warmers or gloves – a mistake, particularly with such an early start. I couldn’t change into the bigger gear and was only able to move through the easier gears. I couldn’t grab my bottle for fuel but I reasoned to myself that it would probably be an hour of coldness and I could cope with that. After an hour I attempted my bottle. I had to slow down almost to a stop and managed to a few good gulps of TailWind. I also ate  half a Clifbar. The second time I tried, the bottle felt out of my hands and I decided I needed fuel so got off the bike and ran back to where it had rolled off the side of the road. The next time I dropped it, I let it go! But I finished the bar. I felt I had enough fuel for today.

So far so good. I was enjoying the ride through the insanely scenic New Forest, where cows and donkeys roam freely on the quiet roads and a heathery backdrop made for a peaceful early morning setting. Cycling into the finish I became aware how much work on the bike I’ll need to do as I saw more and more runners streaming past and guessed I was in the bottom third. I knew even with a good run I wouldn’t be making it up though the ranks of the women, but I decided the run was my chance to feel a bit better about my peformance.

Run

The run started well and as I comfortably passed people, most of whom were on their second lap, I did let them know I was on my first. I didn’t want them to feel despondent. Passing through people is a great psychological boost and the 7.45 wish pace felt easy, feeling I was holding back I thought I’d go faster on the second lap and pick it up to 7.30. This was not to be! With hardly anyone left on the course my pace dropped off on round two, not shockingly so and I didn’t physically feel bad. I knew I was on for my goal of 8 min mile pace and sub six hours, so felt happy. I also felt relieved not to have bonked at all and reassured that I’m fit, even if I’m not super fast.

A good day

After the race I spoke to my coach about my slight disappointment with being so far down the field after the swim and the bike. Not surprisingly he reminded me that I need to do more of both. I’m also hoping that a time trial bike will help me to race faster, but I’m very aware that all the gear… well it won’t get me far if I haven’t put the miles in. Roll on the summer….