7 Life Lessons from Endurance Women

Endurance training and racing is a great metaphor for a successful and happy work and home life and applying the principles of endurance can teach us many key life lessons.

Endurance Women are…

1. Consistent

We do the same thing week in week out. Training can be boring, it can be hard, it’s not rocket science and one of the key things is just doing it. Once you’ve made a commitment to it, it’s a case of doing it day after day, week in, week out. Any elite athlete will tell you consistency is one of the key components of success. The same can be said of going to work and repeating daily tasks, doing the housework, the food shopping, getting the kids to school. The buzz, the excitement, of gold medals, promotion and great exam results, won’t happen without the doing!

2. Focussed

Endurance women set a goal, whether it be a race, or training session goal and they stick to it. Taking part in events for running, triathlon, open water swimming, cycling gives you a linear path to follow. The goal is crossing the finish line, whether it’s 5K or a 500-mile trek across Asia. Big or small, goals are simply the end point, and help set you on the path of doing. Goal-setting works in life, as the famous Harvard business school study showed when students who wrote down their goals were found to be the achievers 35 years on.

3. Patient

In 2002 before setting up my own residential running courses and doing my first marathon, I joined a training group run by Keith Anderson. He taught me the importance of patience when it comes to marathon running. As they say it’s a marathon not a sprint. Longer events take longer to prepare for. There are no quick fixes. Similarly, if you’re starting your own business, working on a marriage, raising children, you have to take the rough with the smooth, work at it, be patient, keep doing, be consistent, persistent and positive.

4. Positive

A positive mindset means you look at what we’ve achieved not what you haven’t. Endurance Women celebrate success, and yes, we have learnt the right to brag on social media; if you want to wear your meal after a race, go ahead! The very action of doing endurance sport, makes a person more positive, as the blood flows and you’re body moves, getting outside in the fresh air, being sociable makes it easier to look on the bright side. Saying yes to life, being positive is one of the keys to a successful and happy life.

5. Boundary-free

Endurance Women live life to the full. They never say never. They have what Carol Dweck calls a ‘ growth mindset’, open to challenges, open to ideas, open to opportunities. This doesn’t mean pushing too hard in SAS style, it does mean not giving up. This is about stretching yourself and seeing where you can go in a relaxed and meaningful way. We live in a world of opportunity with more doors open than ever before, see where you can go, but remember there’s no pressure.

6. In the Moment

Endurance Women learn to stay in the moment. Ultra runners like Jo Kilkenny, recent winner of Deadwater, a 235 mile run over six days, who I interviewed for EW Stories, tells me that  you have to take each step as it comes, and break the distance down. Looking at the bigger picture is overwhelming. Whatever your goal, or dream is, break it down into manageable chunks, and enjoy where you are. It’s the core message of time-management books, of mindfulness, of self-improvement tomes and as the saying goes, ‘every journey starts with a single step’. Just thinking about the step you’re in is a good way to live.

7. Resilient/Persistent

Two qualities of Endurance Women that feed into one. Endurance training and racing teaches you to be resilient. A puncture on a bike ride, a cramp on a long run, a panic in a swim, to endure all of this requires you stay in the moment, to not panic and as you do this, you build your resilience. Being resilient allows you to persist with your dreams and goals. The more times you don’t let a knock-back set you back, the better you become at learning to handle failure, the further you will go.

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Six weeks to go: Endurance, Cyclists’ Hand Palsy, lost Garmin and other fun!

End of the summer (but not the sun – or the endurance)… Monday 27th August–Tuesday 4th September (& that’s taken me into the final countdown!)

The week:
Six weeks to go and with the shoulder healed, I’ve been able to train properly – and that’s meant, I’ve been knackered as I continue to test my endurance, and my mettle!
On Bank Holiday Monday I was at my sister’s house and nipped out pre-party for a 3.1K in the local pool.  I hadn’t planned the session, so decided to try and work on breathing on my left side. Not only is this my now slightly less mobile side, it’s also a side I don’t use when breathing! So I made myself do a length of breathing on the left, a length on the right, and then mixed up the breathing (every three, four, five, six, and seven strokes), and then tried kicking hard on every fourth length. It helped pass the time.
On Tuesday I was supposed to ride two hours easy outside, but got too into work (after four days off) and opted for the Turbo at 8pm! I managed 1’20 on Zwift.
On Wednesday I felt tired but made myself go through the motions on the turbo (inside as it was raining), then a bric run with some ‘fartlek’, 10 laps lasting between 34 seconds and three minutes! I managed 45 seconds at 6 min mile pace – a short-term goal is to get back under six for those shorter reps.
By Thursday with a Turbo session and long two-hour bric run planned, I had to dig in mentally. I decided not to get up super-early. Being self-employed, I can structure my day how I like, and work later in the day – which I did, and stayed awake! Friday was a lovely long sea swim of 2.1K,  by myself, and then Saturday was the big bike ride…

The Big Bike Ride

The plan was a big endurance session, 4.5 to 5 hours on the  bike a 20-30 min bric run and I had hoped to do a swim too, (but ran out of time for that).  I was tense from the off, still feeling nervous (visions of being flung over the handlebars) about the TT bike and long rides, as well as tired. But I decided to grin and bear it, and just do it.
One thing that was bothering was the time it takes to do a long ride. I’m very inpatient and hate wasting time. I’m also a slow cyclist and the idea of being out all day didn’t feel me with glee, especially as I had to drive to Watford for a big family do straight after. As Marianne reminded me after, ‘if you are tense and rigid on the bike it is really hard to pedal fluidly and efficiently. ‘
Early into the ride, as we headed out of Brighton I looked down to check my pace, I was feeling more relaxed and pedalling well at this point. No Garmin Edge! I rode to catch up Chris and we spent the next half hour looking in vain for the missing gadget.
This was a 50th birthday present from my family. Losing it, and time, sent me into a negative spiral. A meltdown of industrial-sized freezer with door left open all night proportions kicked in. I told Chris, ‘I f**kin hate cycling and I’m not doing the Ironman.’  He suggested going back and trying out the turbo, and then when I started to calm down reminded me it’s called Ironman for a reason. I pulled myself together and off we went at a reasonable pace.
In gritting my teeth and just doing it I think I’d tensed up my entire upper body. On the downhills I kept my right hand held onto the bars and my left arm in TT tuck position. I’m quick to recover from bad moods and broken bones, but I hadn’t noticed that I was still holding the tension in my body!
After the ride I managed a 2.5 mile bric (how am I going to do a marathon?) and more searching for the lost Garmin, then I was in and out and on the M25 for a long car journey up to London.  A brilliant family do with dancing followed and I got to bed at 3am. It wasn’t difficult to take Sunday off!

Five weeks to go

At the start of this week I was understandably tired. Sleep-deprived I still woke up at 5am and got on with Monday. Training was good, a 4.1K swim, followed by an hour on the Watt bike. However, I noticed in the pool that my right hand which had been feeling a bit numb and tingly now had a renegade little finger, which wouldn’t move back and join the rest of the hand, making my swim interesting.
A bit of googling and I found exactly what I had – cycling hand palsy. It can be down to bad set up of the bike, but as I had a professional fit, I believe it’s because of bad posture and positioning due to my tension. I said to coach Marianne that I think the wavy finger is symbolic – reminding me that I need to stay tuned in and listen to my own mantra, relaxed, controlled, smooth and fast… As I was cycling on Saturday I had realised that the negative spiral was all about fear and it was up to me to control that, not the bike.
Triathlon has forced me out of a decade long comfort zone of identifying as a marathon runner, I even made my work as a content & communications specialist reflect all of this (She Runs She Writes, Running PR, The Running Ed). But change is growth and sometimes a bit uncomfortable, with unexpected hurdles (broken bones and stray fingers). I love trying new things, and I have fallen for triathlon, but I’m reminded that commitment is the bit that counts. A quote from a  programme on Radio 4 on Monday morning (Morality in the 21st Century) stood out for me:

‘My favourite definition of commitment is falling in love with something and then building a structure of behaviour around it for the moment when love falters.’ Training, eating well, staying positive, and sticking with it!

P.S. Tuesday was another unplanned day off and so now I’m swapping my training around. This was partly due to a disjointed day including a chunk of time out to go to the hospital for my X-Ray. Check out the before and after pics: no wonder it hurt.

20 week countdown: week two, 18 weeks to go. Race Season!

Monday June 3rd to Sunday June 10th – ending with the Eastbourne Triathlon (sprint)

When I train for marathons I think in 20-week blocks. This is it, I’m in the block, which means being consistent and disciplined about sticking to the training. But it’s Rae Season – which is great for racing yourself fit, but can play havoc with endurance training as it’s tiring! As  my friend Julia says it’s no good pulling up the potatoes to see if they’ve grown. There’s been highs and lows in the recent races I’ve taken part in, but good or bad, they are not my main goal, and as this week ends, I’m reminded that I must keep the bigger goal in mind.

The last three weeks have been enjoyable but jumping into race season may have caused me to fall off my training bandwagon, with less hours in the bank and two weeks where I had three days off – and I only trained four days. I have completed three races in the last month, a middle distance triathlon, The South Downs Relay, and a sprint triathlon. I’ve also been out of my routine by having a holiday. That should mean I’m rested but I always find holidays and training don’t work (not saying I’m going to stop going on holiday!).

No booze – I lose?

Back to the week that’s just gone (I’m writing this on Monday). So the week started with a migraine on Monday (another one), and finished with cold sores at the weekend. I’ve been a little run down. Ironically, I did stick to my no alcohol pledge from June 1st – and felt worse than ever. I felt extremely tired, headachey and lacking in motivation and took Monday and Tuesday off training.

Back to it

On Wednesday I was back on it, and started the day well with a ‘refreshing’ (i.e. quite cold) swim in the sea. Myself and Rachael managed two loops of the bouys and around 1250M. After meeting coach Dave at lunchtime, I made myself get on the bike and went for a solo pootle up to the Downs and on the seafront, clocking up 20 miles on the bike in the evening. Having two days off had been necessary as I hadn’t been feeling great, but it does play havoc with your weekly hour log!

On Thursday I did a very easy seafront 11-miler, and on Friday at 645am I went to My Ride, the Bri Tri Watt Bike session. Simon didn’t push us too hard and most of us there were taking part in the Eastbourne Tri on Sunday. On Saturday I had to leave my house early to get to a family christening London, and drove for around five hours there and back, leaving at 830ish and getting home for 9pm. I was exhausted when I got home and seriously doubting the chances of getting myself ready for and getting up early enough to do the Eastbourne Tri.

But I had to do it. Chris had been and got my number and registered for me. Sally from Bri Tri had taken the time to drop off her tri suit to me. I hate letting people down (top tip to avoid missing training/racing, make sure you have promised somebody you’ll be there. It makes wriggling out of it much harder). On top of that my week’s training had been pathetic, and hello, I reminded myself, you are doing an Ironman. And racing, well, I love racing!

Here’s my race report. As I said I was happy to have a great race, but now it’s time to get my potatoes back in the ground and get them to grow. I need to say in double figures when it comes to hours until taper time – so that’s 14 weeks of 10 hours as the baseline. It is written now! It must come to pass.

I’ll be telling you about Driven Woman soon…. Coming to Brighton soon!





Story of an Age Group Triathlete

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

When Michaela Stringer, 44, from Eastbourne divorced in 2010, she decided it was time to try out Triathlon. Three years later she’d qualified as an age group triathlete.

‘Becoming an age group triathlete has been a life long journey. I’ve swum since I was four-years-old, and running competitively since I was nine. My dad was a runner and one of the pioneer triathletes in the 1980s.  Both my parents were team managers for the Brighton and Hove Athletics Club and as a child, we spent our weekends travelling to races around Sussex competing in cross-country and track and field events.  I was also an active member of the Brighton Dolphin Swimming Club.  When I was 14 years old I took my first step into the world of triathlon.  I took part in the Epsom and Ewell triathlon – it was early days for the sport and I remember going into a cubicle to get dry and completely changed after the swim, before carrying on to the rest of the race!

‘I continued with sport whilst at University, doing Martial Arts, but the usual combination of beer and boys kept me away from my athletic roots. By the 1990s, I’d got into aerobics and step classes and continued to keep fit but no more than a couple of times a week. I went on to marry and have my daughter, Kitty, now 14. Then in 2006 my marriage broke down.

Love Running

‘I felt a little directionless, and my self-confidence had taken a battering. I was in a dark place – depressed, isolated and overweight but I knew that running would help. When I tied up my running shoes and stepped outside for a run, I felt back in control of my body and myself. Running is my first love, so my first step to where I am today, was joining my local running club, Run Wednesdays, run by Eastbourne’s well-known personal trainer and running coach Danny Garbett. I credit Danny with re-igniting my love for running and re-introducing me to the running family.  I felt I belonged somewhere again.

‘Swimming soon followed and as I got fitter, the idea of competing again started to take hold. I started with an Aquathlon – a swim followed by a run – the two things I loved to do. By 2011, triathlon followed, but I had no idea what to do when it came to cycling. I hadn’t been on a bike since my sixth form college days.

The Journey To Age Group Qualification

‘A cyclist friend came with me to help me get the right bike and I started training. I had my sights set on entering my first triathlon.  Shortly after however, I injured my Achilles.  Rather than give up, I focused on improving my swim and bike and although my running was still slow, I entered and completed the Bexhill Triathlon. Although I wasn’t particularly quick, I absolutely loved the occasion and I was hooked.  Soon after I met David, who’s now my husband. He was really encouraging and found that the 2012 British Aquathlon Age Group Championships were being held in Birmingham. He was really knowledgeable about the sport, the training and what I needed to qualify. I entered the race and to my delight, I finished in third place and took home a bronze medal.  This sparked the dream of working towards qualifying for the European Sprint Triathlon Championships taking place in Alanya, Turkey in 2013.  I entered the qualifying race and won my age group. The dream had become a reality.

‘I was lucky to have support from some great local athletes at the Bodyworks Triathlon Club and now that I had earned my GB strip, I started to secure some great local sponsors and was lucky enough to be selected as an ambassador for the wetsuit company Huub. I raced for my life at the championships and came home with a bronze medal. Also later in 2013, by placing third at the British Sprint Championships in Nottingham, I was also lucky enough to earn a place at the ITU World Championships held in Hyde Park, London the following summer.  I finished in 12th place, racing the best of the best. What an amazing experience that was.

‘Through sheer grit and determination and a refusal to give up when times get hard, it had taken just three years to qualify as an age grouper and as a competitive athlete for Team GB. I’ve travelled to great places such as Turkey, Austria and Italy. I’m proud to have represented Great Britain on a National and International Level in Aquathlon and Sprint Triathlon. As I am always looking for the next challenge, in 2014 I switched distance to 70.3 and qualified to represent GBR in the 2015 ETU Middle Distance European Championships in Italy. I completed the qualifying rounds to do so again in Denmark 2017, but unfortunately injury meant I had to pull out a couple of weeks before the event.  This was a massive disappointment as I had worked so hard and was quite possibly in the best shape I had ever been in.  However, injury brings with it other opportunities.  I could still swim and ride and get to the gym. So by focussing on what I could do, I began to see vast improvements in my bike strength, which was my weakest discipline.  I also deferred entry to the Denmark 70.3, so although I won’t be representing my country, I will be settling some unfinished business there in June 2018. If I do well enough, then it could qualify me for the ETU 70.3 champs in 2019, if that is what I choose to do. Injury is your body’s way of telling you to stop, recover and re-assess. It’s so important to listen to that message and re-evaluate your goals. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Love Triathlon

‘Triathlon has added so much to my life. With three sports to master, it’s a true leveler for athletes. I’m really passionate about promoting sport for all and have recently qualified as a Level 3 Nutritional Advisor and Personal Trainer.  I do understand how difficult it is to manage training with family life, as when I started I was a single mum with a seven-year old. For me it’s really important to have a routine and to attend regular sessions with like-minded people. I’m also the co-founder of local triathlon club Tri Tempo with local run shop entrepreneur Wes Mechen. I really value the support I get from training with friends at those sessions. I have met some truly amazing and inspiring people at all levels of the sport on my journey.

Age Grouper Training

‘At peak training I’ll do between 10 and 14 hours a week, but off-peak, during the winter, I’ll probably do between eight and 10 hours per week. My weekly schedule at peak is usually made up of three swims (two coached and one with a team-mate),  two to three cycles – a combination of long group rides and shorter interval based turbo sessions and three runs which are a long, a speed and a tempo or brick session (i.e. a bike followed by a run).  I also go to the gym twice a week. It’s a lot so I also make sure I include rest, usually one clear day a week, and then every three weeks I’ll ease off training.

‘To make sure I’m on track with the gym, I also try to see a personal trainer periodically to help me measure my progress and plan strength and conditioning work. This has made a big difference to my performance on the bike and I hope will help to keep further injury at bay.

‘I keep motivated by continually re-setting goals.  It’s so important to know what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. And although I have a long-term goal, I also take small steps. And of course, it’s great to keep trying new things. Next year I’m making my debut in the world of OTILLO swim/run on the Gower peninsula. It’s tough, but exciting and a whole new event for me. I always love a challenge.’