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.

 

 

9 weeks to go: Turbo, long run, and a proper sea swim

I’ve adapted my plan and with the help of the Turbo and Zwift, I’m still keeping the Ironman goal in mind.

I’m trying to focus on what I am doing – and not what I’m not doing/or haven’t done. The positives are plenty this week.  I’m really glad to be back swimming properly, albeit slowly.  I’ve also managed some running sling-free but had to keep the sling on for a long off-road run, and I’m covering some ground on the Turbo, ticking off eight sweaty spin hours this week.

The week has gone very quickly and today’s post is a shorter one. I last blogged midway through this week, having already completed Monday and Tuesday’s turbo sessions using Zwift and I’d got back in the pool and sort of swum for 750M.

On Wednesday morning I got straight on the bike and did Marianne’s session, switching between the heavier gear and 65RPM and easier gear and 85RPM. This was followed by the prescribed brick run, which was 10K easy, moderate, harder in 10 minute blocks (roughly). I finished the last block with a sub 7.30 mile, which felt like progress with my sling (I was in and out of the sling). Thursday was a day off, but Ciara and I went for a late session at the pool, and I did fit in an easy swim and managed 600M full crawl stroke and another 600 or so of drills.

Getting Turbo Tough

By Friday I was ready to go again and did my planned long bike ride (I’d swapped from long run to long bike due to the weather), followed by an hour brick run. The ride was on the turbo and was broken up as one  hour continous, then 10 minutes on a Zwift route which I abandoned as I found it very dull, followed finally by an uninterrupted 2’10 sweet spot training session with long bouts in the tuck position on my TT bike.

Innsbruck, a tiny corner of my living room… who cares it’s a workout!

On Saturday, I was back on the bike again! See below… Trying to convince myself it was fun. After the ride I went for a sea swim, and it was blissful to be able to swim continuously for 1500M. I didn’t have a wetsuit because the logistics of getting it on and off, well, I didn’t want to go there, so I was in my Zone 3 two-piece. After 35 minutes I was feeling cold, but, it was a double celebration as I had wanted to see what I could do without (well almost without) a wetsuit. After Saturday’s training I had a lovely lunch at the Hospital Club with my very old friend, Sarah (i.e. we’ve been friends a long time, she’s not a pensioner). My shoulder ached a lot as I made my way though the crowds of Covent Garden, and I was happy to have an early night on Saturday.

Sunday was long run day! And it was a slow start. The good thing is I had my sister and niece coming to visit, so I had a deadline. But I did manage a good hour of procrastination.

Procrastination… Guilty, but reading Eat that Frog (check it out)

The Long Run

The run was hard work. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone long, or off-road, and it’s true with running, if you do’t use it, you lose it! My shoulder was achy so sling-free wasn’t really an option. I’d decided to go off-road, and hadn’t really thought about the one-armed affect when negotiating flint paths, and hills. In the woods, I was looking down at branches and potential trip hazards and as I hadn’t seen where I was going, I got properly lost. The map looked like one you’d see on Bear Grill’s The Island, when the contestants take completely the wrong route in search of the sea!

 

We’re going on a bear hunt!

I also did a cow-avoidance diversion (regular for me on long runs). They were assembled in the middle of a path in the field to Ditchling. Some mountain bikers ahead had gone right through them, so I braced myself. I stopped running as I got close and I even said hello! But one of them was ‘staring me out’ and I decided to say goodbye and then take the longer, steeper route in the field. I need to deal with my cow phobia. The run continued on the South Downs Way, the lovely bit between Ditchling Beacon and Devil’s Dyke. However, on reaching the A23 path, and the hills to take me the Dyke, I decided to take the flatter path to home as my shoulder was fed up wit the hills. So the last five miles of my run were alongside a motorway – I genuinely wouldn’t have been surprised if someone reported mad woman seen alongside motorway with sling on the news. However, I reminded myself that the mentally challenging sessions (turob, motorway runs) are all good mind-training for the day long IM coming up in eight weeks time!

Losing my marbles (and Tri accessories)

I’m writing this at the start of Week eight. Virtually every day I have to spend 20 minutes searching for some missing piece of equipment (goggles, floats, cossie, heart rate monitor, watch etc.). Today, the missing piece is the long bit that attaches the Chill Swim bag to me! And so another week starts….

 

Week six and seven of 40: End of five-week spin block and this week being ‘ski fit’

Monday 5th February to Sunday 18th February: Ski Fit

Week six started the day after my first half marathon for two years. The good news is that I felt no fatigue at all from the race, no aches, no tiredness. The week started with an early morning My Ride Spin session and I was pleased to complete another week of three sessions, bringing to close a consistent block of five weeks of three times a week spinning classes since the accident.  Running was made up of three runs, two long slow runs and one treadmill session with steady intervals.

 

Getting Ski Fit

On Saturday 10th February I travelled and on Sunday I went skiing. I wore my Garmin but didn’t really give an exact record of what I did as I was too cold to run it on when we started! I did however record 25 miles worth of skiing and found my heart rate averaged 81 and maxed at 116pm – so for me it seemed it’s not an aerobic activity. (It’s worth noting it was day one and I  was skiing cautiously because of my recent collar-bone break), However, exercising at altitude, being outside all day, working out in the cold leaves me feeling, well, knackered. And according to Harvard Medical School, a  person who weighs 155 pounds burns 223 calories in half an hour of downhill skiing.  And three days in I’m feeling ski fit! I’ve noticed  the burn in the quads after a long day, and the satisfying tiredness from being cold and active at altitude. I did wonder if five weeks of spinning had helped me ski better, but I’ve read that quads are not worked eccentrically on a bike, as they are when you ski.

Strength, balance, agility

However, from my experience over the last few says I feel my body being challenged to be strong, to be flexible and to balance and be agile. I’ve focused on using my core muscles and am aware as I twist and turn downhill I’m working my legs as if I were doing repetitive squats at the gym. And once again I’ve been reminded that I must stay flexible as I get older (I want to be able to get up when I fall on or off the ski slopes!).

I’ve also hit very, very cold points (including getting so cold today I was reduced to tears)  and I’ve had some serious shivering episodes. However, I’m reassured that my shivering means I can scoff more tonight. As Outside Magazine reports, ‘A 2010 review of studies on shivering, published in Frontiers in Bioscience, found that 75-to-80 percent of the calories consumed by shivering came from muscle glycogen stores. So if you find your teeth chattering, you’ll want to increase your carb load’.  And as I know from experience of preparing to swim in cold temperatures for the Ben Nevis Braveheart Triathlon, brown fat activation happens when you’re cold for an added calorie burn boost.

 

 

 

Bigging up the bag lady look

Week five of 40: My first half marathon for two years!

Monday 29th January to Sunday 4th Feburary

Back to racing is a joy – especially when there’s no pressure…

I’m so pleased that I’ve managed to get back out there and run a half marathon again. Last year was the first year in at least 10 that I hadn’t completed a half marathon. My dad died in January and when I lost him, I lost my running way, fracturing my ankle 45 seconds after the start of my only half marathon attempt at Paddock Wood.

Two years ago I was very disappointed to run 1.37 for the half marathon at Watford (I went on to run 1.35 at Worthing a few weeks later), but yesterday I felt delighted to finish the race in 1.39. Having no expectations and feeling totally relaxed helped. And with no pressure to run a time, I loved the experience: being on the start line; hearing the pounding feet as we headed off on the first fast mile (something I also noticed the first time I ran Watford, which was also my first half marathon ever, in February 2002) and enjoying the miles ticking by, the hills and the camaraderie of running.

It was a perfect running day, cold weather, but sun shining. As I ran along with the group I realised I’m lucky. I can run a  half marathon on a Sunday morning because I have the time, the resources, the fitness. I also noticed that being at the slightly slower end of my average half marathon time, there were more people around me.

I think, not thinking, is on my mind (I know the irony of that), as I’ve just completed my second meditation and mindfulness session and have started to fit in meditation. Running is the perfect partner to meditation and mindfulness what my friend Julia Chi Taylor calls Meditation on the Move.

Relaxed & Mindful Running

So as I raced a half marathon yesterday without focussing on numbers and a time, the experience felt more mindful. I did look at my watch to get a rough guide to where I was, but I wasn’t trying to stick to an end time. I  was guiding myself by what I felt in the here and now, not where I wanted to be at the end of the race. I left looking at the watch until I was three miles in as I knew that I’d kick off fast and would take a few miles to settle into a pace. So I played around with sub 7.30 as a guide, then as the hills arrived aimed not to go over 8. I didn’t go over 8 and I ran an average pace of 7.38.

I didn’t think about what overall time I was aiming for until around seven miles when the sub 1.40 pacer appeared, then I thought, okay, put your foot down, and don’t go over 1.40.

The Week’s Training

As for the week’s training. I once again managed to do three spin classes and ran more miles than I had for a several weeks, a total of 46.4. To get these miles ran, I had to fit in a 16 mile run on Wednesday. I looked back and discovered that it was my first long run in 11 weeks, but I ran at an easy 9.25 minute mile pace, and took myself off on a magical mystery tour, running up the hills to the Downs and back down again heading towards  the sea! The rest of the week’s running was easy apart from a treadmill session on Monday when I had a go at intervals because I can’t do anything else on a treadmill, managing 2 x 800 at 6.50 pace; 1 x 800 at 6.59; 1 x 1 Mile at 7.15 off 90 second recoveries.

Core Runs

 Whether you’re an elite athlete, or an absolute beginner, these core runs are the running ingredients you need to create the perfect menu of success.

From beginner to elite level you can apply the guidance below to your microcycle of training (a week to 10-day block).

The only thing that changes as you progress is the volume (how far) and the intensity (how fast) of your running. 

LONG RUN 

Build endurance and aerobic fitness by running (or for beginners walk/running) a slow easy long run every week, from 30 minutes for 5K to three hours for a marathon.

Benefits
Boosts your aerobic endurance by improving V02 max (maximum oxygen uptake).

Intensity: Run at six to seven out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

TEMPO RUN

Run (power-walk for beginners) for up to 20 minutes to an hour at a pace that feels comfortably hard to get used to running faster for longer. Optimal training is progressive, so this is a good one to measure if you can cover more ground in the same amount of time (week three and week six). Tempo or threshold running is great race practise and you can easily fit it in by doing a parkrun, with 10 to 20 minutes warm up and cool down either side (go longer either side if you’re marathon training or feel you need to build your endurance). The definition of this longer sustained pace running can also describe threshold marathon training runs of up to 10 miles at marathon pace, or even longer tempo intervals of such as 3 x 2 miles.

Benefits
This type of running raises your lactate threshold. This is the top end of your aerobic zone, the point before you go into anaerobic (i.e. without oxygen, sprint zone). The higher your threshold, the longer you can sustain race pace.

Intensity: Run at seven to eight out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

INTERVALS

Anything from power walking hard/easy between lampposts 10 times to dedicated track sets fall into this category. Intervals are usually based on short bursts of time, or repetitions around a 400m track, such as 6 x 800M with one minute recovery (which could be 6 x 3-4 minutes for the intermediate runner). The best way to include interval or speed training into your schedule is to join a running club track or road session.

Benefits
Short, sharper, faster high intensity intervals will help you run faster and boost your overall fitness. Speed work will increase the number of type-two muscle fibres (the ones that help you run fast); strengthen quads and improve the strength of the breathing muscles.

Intensity: Run at eight plus out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

RECOVERY

Easy runs run at a conversational pace will help boost your overall aerobic fitness and the more you add in the fitter you will become, particularly for longer distance races. However, don’t just do recovery for the sake of it, make sure you plan these easier runs into your training package.

Intensity: Run at five to six out of 10 on the Running Intensity Scale.

OPTIONAL SESSIONS TO SWAP WITH INTERVALS OR TEMPO RUNS

CIRCUIT RUN

Do this run on the track or on grass. Warm up for 20 minutes. In this run you will combine short, fast bursts of running in a circuit to increase leg turnover/cadence, muscle reactivity and strength endurance, and improve running form and economy and race speed. Between each circuit you will recover for six to seven minutes, because there of lactate build-up.

Aim to do three circuits of six to eight exercises, such as below (as recommended to me by running coach Martin Cox).

  • 30m fast
  • 10 jumps from the ankles
  • 30m fast
  • 10 skips
  • 30m fast
  • 10 side skips with arm circles
  • 30m fast
  • 30m butt kicks
  • 30m fast
  • 30m high knees
  • 30m fast
  • 30m hopping
  • 30m fast
  • 10 squat jumps on the spot

Jog for six minutes and repeat the circuit three times.

HILL SPRINTS

When: During an easy run 

The aim of hill sprints is to improve leg strength, foot speed and muscle elasticity, and develop the capacity of the nervous system. Hill training also improves stride length and stride frequency. During easy running you recruit only 30 per cent of muscle fibres, and always the same 30 per cent – the others are ‘resting’. So hill sprints will remove deficiencies within, and improve the basic overall quality of your muscles (by recruiting the highest possible percentage of muscle fibres including the hard to activate fast-twitch fibres). The steeper the hill, the shorter the sprint. Run easier grades of 10 to 15 per cent sprint for 12 to 15 seconds; and with very steep hills of 20 to 30 per cent, sprint for only eight to 10 seconds.

  • Stretch before you start and do the first two sprints a little slower than the rest to warm into them.
  • Jog on flat ground to start.
  • When you reach the hill it is important to run explosively but not so hard that you sacrifice good form.
  • Keep your body upright, drive with your arms, and try to think about high knees and a high frequency of leg turnover.
  • Allow two to three minutes to walk or jog back down to the start of the hill. Don’t start the next sprint until you feel totally ready to go again (this is not endurance training, it is strength training). Repeat six to eight times.

STRIDES

You can include 20 second strides after a 45 minute steady run and some stretches to flush out residual lactic acid and boost your running economy and mechanics. These short strides include plenty of recovery (around two minutes) and require you to run hard, but not flat out, focussing on form: be relaxed, land on your midfoot, make sure you have good posture. In their book, Advanced Marathoning Pfitzinger and Daiels recommend marathon runners include 8-10 stride reps of around 100m  as part of medium distances runs at least twice a week.

Cross Training: It’s great if you can include weight training, swimming, cycling, walking in addition to running. Don’t be tempted to try to combine running training with super hard circuit classes – choose yoga, stretching and maintenance weight training.

AND DON’T FORGET TO PLAN IN REST & stretch

A great long run is a series of small steps.

Doing the long session as part of your weekly training is what endurance is all about. I do love the long session. For me that’s generally a long run, but very soon will be a long bike ride, and a long swim too.

When it comes to running, the first step is the thing that makes it a great long run. Getting out of bed, putting on your trainers, and getting out the door.

Setting out on a long run can be a way to discover new places and can be a voyage of exploration on new paths, twists and turns. Yesterday we were checking out the route from Brighton to Eastbourne. The plan had been to run to Eastbourne and get the train home, but Storm Brian had meant the trains weren’t running so well. So instead, the plan was to run 10 miles out and 10 miles back.

I tripped on a very slight rise in the path on the prom just three miles into the 20-mile run. I whacked my shoulder and hip, but got up and was able to carry on. I felt good on the way out as the wind blew us along, along the undercliff path from the Marina in Brighton and then up to the top towards Peacehaven and a little beyond. It was, to coin a pahrase, a breeze. But the ease at which we were striding along the unknown path was an ominous warning of what was to come. And as expected the route back was tough, running 10 miles into a headwind, I have to confess I did get a bit grumpy as the jelly baby sugar rush dropped low, and I shouted out, ‘I’m not enjoying this anymore’.

Sea runThe path on the way back changed, too. The tide had come in and so the undercliff path was flooded and the waves crashed over the wall. At first I was scared. Thoughts of that one freak wave flooded my imagination as I splashed through the watery path. There really would be no way to escape it, if it had come in. But soon I was invigorated again by the huge waves. Getting closer to the wall so I could get splashed like a child on a water coaster.

The bull in the field, or the cow with her heifers, the odd-looking lone man, border line hypothermia in snow and rain, punctures, crazy currents and waves. The endurance athlete’s weekly event of ‘going long’  is like a mini life story with all sorts of emotions, obstacles, and terrains to cross, and very often a range of feelings from exhiliaration to  F**k this! Too much of the latter can lead to the whole thing being a negative experience, the long run being a drag, and in the long term damage gets done to our muscles and joints. It’s how we look at each long run we do that matters.

Yesterday, I pulled myself back together. And towards the end I was in the rhythm of the run, concentrating without thinking, in the flow, feeling tired, but knowing I could keep going. I also knew stopping was going to mean geting going was going to be hard work. Momentum mattered.

Going long is just a series of steps. At a very inspring talk set up by Virgin last week, the founder of the successful Conker Gin, Rupert Holloway said that business is just a series of decisions. There’s no big secret formula you need to discover to succeed. Take that next step or stop. Turn this way or that. Run up the hill or take the flat route today. Go out in the stormy weather, or stay in bed.  Buy or sell, be kind or unkind, happy or unhappy.

We live in an era where many of us will be in it for the long run. As medicine has advanced to keep us alive, it’s important to make a decision to live well now, not just live long. Diana Gould, is a 105 and was featured on this morning’s BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She lives well and it’s clear that her secret to a long and healthy life comes from those minute by minute decisions, and how she looks at her age. “I’ve got a lot of years, but I’m not an old woman,” she says. She says she’s kept moving, she’s kept social, she’s kept her brain active, and she enjoys life and things she loves. She loves chocolate and makes the daily decision to keep it in the fridge, that way she has to walk to go and get it – and that little step, that small bit of daily exercise contributes to making her live well in this long life of hers.

Listen to Diana Gould: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099v2py#play