I blame my sister for all this. If she hadn’t done the Glasgow marathon in the early 1980’s when I was an impressionable teenager, I may not be in this situation.  I remember running some of the last few miles with her. Heck, I even remember her Hi Tec Silver Shadow trainers! For years, I have looked at her finisher’s photo sitting in her hall and said to myself, I’m going to do a marathon one day. I’m not sure why I waited until the ripe old age of 47 to do it other than it is a VERY HARD THING TO DO. Only 1% of the population has done a marathon.

As you read this post, I’ll ask you to bear in mind that I have been lucky in the last 3 years and have been relatively injury free. The problem seems to stem from the fact that Asics have changed their Cumulus 18 (my preferred trainer) slightly. The toe box is much narrower which caused me problems at the beginning of the marathon training plan.  A cold on week 1 of the plan didn’t help. Neither did blisters at Wrexham Half marathon (did you know I got blisters at that race??)  A calf tear at around week 4 of the plan and I began to despair that I would ever get started on the training “proper.”

I wasn’t feeling the marathon love and wondered if I had taken on too much. It didn’t help that I was extremely busy at work. I didn’t actually realise how much I wanted to do the marathon until that point. I thought that it was just something for my bucket list, to tick off the endurance athlete’s list. But my sister’s photo was always there at the back of my mind and it slowly began to dawn on me that I wanted to do the marathon very badly. I find that, when you want to do something badly, the fear of failing at it can be strong. I had never grown up wanting to do a triathlon so never really thought too much about it! I resolved to “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Photo of Garmin 920 XT

Longest ever run (until the following week when I managed 32 km!)

Finally the calf tear healed and I was able to start building up the mileage towards the end of March. Into April and three consecutive weeks of following the plan and building up the long runs through 16 miles (26 km), then 18 (29 km) and finally the hallowed grail of a 20 mile (32km) training run, the last one done on my own in 3 hours 28 minutes. Woo hoo! The roller coaster was in the ascendant.

I had been very careful about my recovery from the long runs too. Stretching as soon as I got in; eating within 30 minutes; a nice hot shower; compression leggings on after and even some afternoon naps! I really thought I was on course to complete the training without further problems.

I had reverted to my old trainers for long runs, using my new ones for Short Runs during the week. This week I succumbed to buying a new pair of Asics Dinaflyte, not for wearing in the marathon, but for the shorter runs. I was absolutely gutted in their first outing that I suffered calf pain.

Photo of Asics Dynaflyte

New kicks – in Mersey tri colours!

Another trip to the sports massage therapist told me that I had strained my tibilas posterior muscle. i don’t have much pain in normal everyday life but it hurts a lot when I try to run. Cycling and swimming are fine. I will have to go back for more treatment this week and to have it strapped up.

I am calm at the moment as I still have 3 weeks and 6 days to go to the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon. On the other hand, I am able to say, I am doing my first marathon this month! I am due to do one more 20 mile run before the race but it’s unclear if I will get that in.

Like life itself, in marathon training, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Patience is needed in abundance (a muscle of mine that needs more exercise!) And you just have to hope for the best otherwise what’s the point? Hopefully I will be able to display my finisher’s photo in the hall at the end of May…Wish me luck!

Any advice from seasoned marathoners? How is everyone else’s training going?

 

A new race on my doorstep? On a route on which I regularly train? Flat course? Loads of my running friends doing it too? Sounded good to me. Which explains why on a Friday night at the end of September I found myself signing up for the inaugural Wirral Way Half Marathon on 8 January 2017 and joining in on lots of excited chatter on social media.

I have done a January half marathon before – see my related blog post below for my review of the 4 Villages half marathon last year which I loved doing. I felt I couldn’t do both (although I wish I had now!) so I thought to myself that the Wirral Way Half Marathon had better be pretty special. I signed up to an ASICS plan (you can find them online) which tailors the training to your goals and time available and I started training at the end of October (once I had recovered from the Metric Marathon).

Photo of Loch Creran

Scotland – a place where the scenery is good for the soul

Training was going pretty well until the week before Christmas when I came down with a cold. Luckily it wasn’t a truly nasty cold. I was able to carry on with the preparations for Christmas and I “only” lost a week’s training. We also went to Scotland for Christmas and Storms Barbara and Connor meant that I lost a little bit more time. On the plus side, I enjoyed a long run on the Oban to Fort William cycle path. There’s nothing like running in very picturesque surroundings to boost the spirit.

Back home to the Wirral to the pre-race information or in my case, the lack of it. I had to rely on my parkrun buddies to forward it to me. As other people noted, it didn’t fill me with confidence because it was full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (so I had better make sure this blog post is perfect on both fronts!).  The race organisers weren’t able to secure closure of the roads at the crossing points so that meant that these were being manned by marshals and we may have to stop. I wouldn’t have put my safety over a PB but I really wanted that sub 2 hour half marathon.

Photo of AM and parkrun buddies

Parkrun buddies Brian and Gemma looking good at the start of the race

Surprisingly the race day weather was good. Very little wind, about 6 degrees and only very light rain was forecast.  The absence of wind was a decisive factor in my decision on the morning of the race to push for the PB even with the road crossings.

The nice thing about racing locally is knowing a lot of people also doing the race. So there were lots of familiar faces in the car park at Hooton station where the race was to start. The difference with this race was that the start times were staggered as the start of the course was very narrow. There were quite a few people I knew in my 9.30am wave start so was happy to chat to them as we waited to start. I did get hemmed in at the beginning so that my first kilometre was 6.26 minutes but after that I managed to get clear and started to pass people. Much more satisfying to pick people off in a race than being passed anyway.

Photo of AM at Wirral Way HM

4 miles in and feeling good…(photo credit to Paul Avison)

The “southern” parts of the Wirral way were not entirely unknown to me as I have been on every part of it before at some point. However, I haven’t been on them for a long time so they were “fresh” to me and I enjoyed this element of the race. At 4 miles in, I was feeling pretty good, doing a reasonable pace and felt that I could run all day.

The light rain started soon after and I regretted my decision not to wear my peaked cap. But it was quite cooling so I pushed on. I thought that I might struggle going past the finish at around 9-10 miles but as there were loads of friends out supporting, it was quite a boost. Only 3 miles to go and still on course for sub 2 hours!

Just one and half miles later, I nearly lost the plot at Cubbins Green. I thought we were just turning round there but staying on the path. So when we had to run down onto the Green itself with its bumpy grass and muddy climb up back to the path, I lost precious time and my inner critic (my chimp!) told me that it was no good and to abandon all hope of a sub 2 hour finish.  I really had to pull it together and told that little voice to shut up, that we were doing this or else! Sheer determination got me to the finish in 1 hour 59 minutes and 38 seconds. Finally achieved the goal, and it felt good.

Photo of medal from Wirral way Half Marathon

First bling of 2017

Great to see so many people at the finish and I was able to share out my yummy cupcakes I had arranged for my birthday (it was the day before). Most people were tucking into the hog roast laid on at the finish but I stuck to cake. The medal was pretty ,if a little small, and the red T shirt made a nice change although my only small gripe with this was that it didn’t refer specifically to the Wirral Way so please take note race organisers if you read this! Otherwise I thought this was a great race which surpassed initial expectations. Most of my friends had a positive experience too.

The great thing about the running community is how supportive it is and this race was no exception. Thanks to my Mersey Tri friends Collette and Sue for picking me up and taking me to the start, thanks to my parkrun buddies for support before the race, thanks to my running group friends for their support on the course and, most of all, thanks to my family, who would rather be doing other stuff than coming out on cold January morning to support a mad woman who is obsessed with running 13.1 miles in under 2 hours!

Photo of AM and family

At the finish with Adventurous Son and Daughter – “Euuw mummy you’re all wet!”

 

 

 

 

 

Despite it being almost December, (how did that happen so quickly?) I am still very much in catch up mode with all my races so wanted to round up all the running I did in September and early October in one handy blog post.

I started September by having one of those “you know you’re a runner when” moments. In this case “you know you’re a runner when you get on a plane to do a race!” Probably something that lots of people do all the time but it was a new experience for me. I combined it with seeing my extended family most of whom live in Donegal, Ireland (where my parents came from) but some in Derry/Londonderry (I’m just going to call it Derry from here on in) where I was going to run the half marathon. As my cousins pointed out I didn’t need to do a half marathon to come and see them but it sounded a great route so why not do both?

Photo of AM in Derry

About to start the race with the Peace Bridge behind me

One of the benefits of doing a race away from home is that I could take it relatively easy the date before the race. My sister and niece came with me and we spent most of Saturday sat around catching up with our cousins!

Race day was the usual Irish weather, sunshine and showers but not too much wind. The start of the race was delayed by 1 hour though because there had been a fatal accident on the route the night before and the police were still conducting their investigations. The announcements kept putting the race off by 15 minutes so we couldn’t head off anywhere. I did wonder about fuelling up. I had brought an extra cereal bar so I managed to get that in me but I hadn’t brought anything else to eat en route and you will see later that this was a fateful decision.

Just before the start at 11am, the heavens opened and continued to rain until I had finished the first mile when, in typical Irish fashion, the sun came out and a rainbow appeared.

Photo of AM with Guinness

The Guinness was the best I’d ever had!

The route took us over the Foyle Bridge, a steep murderous ascent which seemed to go on for a very long time. I kept running (no walking) but was very grateful to see the downhill stretch. From there, the rest of route was flat so I tried to pick up the pace again to try to break my elusive sub 2 hours for a half marathon. I was still on track at 10 miles but  (you knew there was a but on its way), at this point, you could see the faster runners who had nearly completed the race head over the Peace Bridge towards the finish on the other side of the river. I found it soul destroying that I still had 3 miles to go and, on top of that, those 3 miles seemed to take forever! I think the delayed start and my lack of fuelling was having an effect as I really did start to slow down. Another runner saw me struggling and offered me some jelly beans which were a life saver allowing me to push on. Possibly only a psychological effect but it worked so I didn’t care what it was!

Finally I got back to the bridge and to the finish line in 2 hours and 6 minutes and 26 seconds…still chasing that sub 2 hour finish time…one of these days! I enjoyed the race overall with its stunning route but enjoyed my post run Sunday lunch with Guinness and the craic with my cousins even more.

The very next weekend, I was doing a race closer to home , the Wirral 10K allegedly helping my cousin who was doing her first 10k with her pacing. I say allegedly because my own Garmin decided to “die” about 1 km into the race. I am not sure what happened as I had charged it the night before. Possibly I had overcharged it?

Anyway, my cousin had her own watch so we ended up relying on it and I just kept chatting the whole way round as a distraction technique. It certainly worked for me because it seemed to take no time at all to get to New Brighton and the finish line. My cousin did amazingly well for her first 10k coming in at 56:33 (with me a second behind at 56:34) and we were 8th and 9th in our age category. I think she must have enjoyed it as she has entered 2 more 10Ks since then and is even to be heard muttering about the Liverpool Rock n Roll half marathon!

And finally, possibly my favourite race of the year, the Chester Metric Marathon on 2 October. What is a metric marathon I hear you ask. 26.2km or about 16.3 miles. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the country that does this distance. It seemed to me to be a nice step up from a half marathon to test myself to see if I was capable of stepping up to a marathon distance.

Things got a little bit complicated when I won the Chester marathon’s competition for an overnight stay in a local hotel the night before the race but was told Adventurous Twins couldn’t come. As Adventurous Daughter was running in the Mini marathon, this was a bit disappointing. Even more frustrating was checking in and being told that we had a family room after all! We had arranged for two of my wonderful friends to have the twins to stay and one of them even brought my daughter to the hotel in the morning to meet us.

Photo of AM and Tamsin

I know my place…

It was a gorgeous sunny morning and we decided to get a taxi to get us as close as possible to the Chester racecourse where the start was. Loads of toilets meant that the queue was not quite as nervy as usual. Having learnt my lesson from Derry, my pockets were stuffed with jelly beans and a Soreen bar!

There were lots of elements to make this a great race. Adventurous Daughter enjoyed her mile race and got the same size medal as me in a different colour so she rated the race too! The weather probably helped a lot to colour it as a great race because the sunshine was glorious and yet it wasn’t too hot. I drank a lot of water to be on the safe side. The course itself took us round most of the sights in Chester and out into the nearby country lanes for an out and back course with a loop round a very picturesque village called Aldford. The residents were out in force to support and all jelly babies were gratefully received.

Photo of AM and Tamsin

All smiles as Adventurous Daughter joins me for the finish

I hooked up with a lady from another running club (I honestly can’t remember if it was Blackburn or Burnley but it was in that general area!) and we must have run together for about 5 or 6 miles. We talked a little but actually  we were quite happy running alongside each other. When we reached the 13 mile mark, she looked at her watch and said that she had beaten her previous PB for the half marathon so she was really happy. Another kilometre after that, after she had been kind enough to get some more jelly babies and pass them onto me, I decided that I had a bit more speed in me so I told her that it had been a pleasure to run with her and I pushed on.  I managed up the last hill at a reasonable pace and finally it was a slight downhill into town, back to the racecourse and onto the track. I had a lovely surprise as my daughter was waiting for me and was allowed to run down the finish chute with me!  A lovely chunky piece of bling around my neck and I was even happier.

Photo of AM at finish of Chester

Bling! Really nice solid medal.

I finished the race in 2 hour 38 minutes and 31 seconds. I managed an average pace of 6.01 minute kilometres and I was happy that I managed to drop below that for the last 5-6 kilometres.  Overall my pace was reasonably consistent over the full 26.2 kilometres. I am hoping that this will stand in me in good stead for my big challenge of 2017 – the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon – the full 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometres)!

That’s all my races for 2016 done (apart from the West Kirby Santa Dash this weekend!). I look forward to the challenges that 2017 will bring.

What plans have you made for 2017? What was your favourite race of 2016?

 

I have tried to write this blog post several times.  I went on holiday to Scotland shortly after Liverpool Tri and I had every good intention of writing a post. However, the technical problems of uploading photos to the blog continued to plague me and the lure of the outdoor life in Bonnie Scotland scuppered all my plans.

I then started to write this post several times in the last week or so and have been wondering if anyone wants to read about the ancient history that is Liverpool Tri on 14th August? Heck,  can I even remember the details of the day?  But because it was a great race , I can remember. So here we are, a quick recap of Liverpool Tri.

Despite being my local Tri, this was my first time in the race. I was super excited about the transition being right inside the Echo Arena (I am always seeking the elite treatment), less excited about the swim in the docks and relieved to know that the bike and runs courses were pretty flat.

Echo Arena

Liverpool Echo Arena as you’ve never seen it before

Events kicked off on Saturday 13 August as we had to rack our bikes the day before in the Echo Arena. Although it can be stressful leaving your bike behind, having done the majority of the preparation the night before does take the stress out of race morning. I wasn’t sure how much to leave and ended up leaving most of my kit there with a view to just bringing my water bottles in the morning with fresh electrolytes. Some of my friends just left their bikes.

On race morning, the weather was looking good in Triathlon terms: cool, dry, not much wind (always a bonus on the bike, especially near the coast) with the prospect of sun towards the end. I took our trusty camper van over to Liverpool early and had breakfast in the van. Then I made my way up to the Echo Arena to finish off the transition preparations and meet some Mersey Tri Friends. We had quite a walk from the arena to where the swim would start so I was glad of my flip flops. Sadly that was the last I saw of them because I forgot to go back and retrieve them at the end of the race!

When I went in the water, I took a moment to lie on my back and look up at the sky and, corny as it sounds, I was grateful for being in the position to be able to do this triathlon. I was healthy, financially secure enough to afford it and free to do it, not something to take for granted when so many women across the world don’t have the basic freedoms we have here in Britain.

Stepping off my metaphorical soap box, and back in the race, the swim was fairly uneventful; it just seemed to go on forever! When I got out, I realised why, it had taken me 37 minutes and 3 seconds! I had managed 32 minutes in the Midsummer Dock Swim so must confess to being a little disappointed with that time after the race. At the time, I was too busy trying to get my wetsuit off over my Garmin and failing miserably to be worried about a slow swim. You were not allowed to run into the Echo Arena with your wetsuit on; it had to be in a plastic bag provided by the marshals. The concrete floor was slippy enough!

Liverpool Tri - bike

Support from Adventurous Daughter (on the right)

Be prepared for a long transition they said. Well, it was long, but not as long as Leeds so it was a piece of cake for me. We had to run in one side of the Echo Arena and out the other. Out on the bike, this was the most fun I had ever had on a bike in a triathlon! Nice flat fast course along the front. The 4 laps meant that there was always someone around and support from fellow Mersey Tri buddies was great.  I have always said that the bike is sadly one of my weakest areas so I was pleased to come in at 1 hour 32 minutes 47 seconds.

Photo of AM at Liverpool Tri

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

The downside to giving a good effort on the bike was that my quads were burning as I set off on the 10km run. Triathletes are all familiar with that feeling and I am reasonably experienced to know that it usually subsides after 3-4 km. On this occasion, it never really went away. I spent most of the run cursing and swearing that I was never doing triathlon again! I was even berating myself for daring to think that I could do a half Ironman! Luckily the run was also 2 flat loops of the Albert Dock and finally I got over the line after 55 minutes 51 seconds for the run and 3 hours 15 minutes 54 seconds in total. Not a fast time, but a whole 9 minutes off my previous PB over Olympic distance. Of course, the minute that I was over the line and someone put a medal round my neck, the pain subsided and I was wondering why I had made such a fuss (although I found it difficult to walk for the next few days!).

Photo of AM at Liverpool tri

My quads beg me never ever to do that again!

My verdict on the race is that it is definitely a good one for PB hunters even with the long transitions in and out of the Echo Arena. The support from the people on the course was great. I especially enjoyed the support from my Mersey Tri buddies. I am not sure if I will do the race again simply because I am thinking about different challenges next year. But, unlike Leeds Tri, I would not rule it out because it is a well organised race on a great course in a fabulous city.

Did you take part in Liverpool Tri?  What did you think of the race?

Zoe is one of the swim coaches at Mersey Tri and a simply awesome swimmer. So I asked her to write a post about swim sets. I hadn’t had any swim coaching prior to joining Mersey Tri, so the coaching sessions were fantastic but some of the terminology was baffling! Over to Zoe…

Photo of Zoe Brunton

Zoe after swimming the Mersey (very brave!)

Triathlon has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, and 14 years later it is safe to say I love it! I have competed in junior and youth races, and now continue to race in university and adult competitions. At 16, I completed my Level 1 coaching course and this autumn I will progress to Level 2. For me, coaching is a fantastic thing to do, and I would love to take it further as I have now graduated from university and am stepping into adult life! Some of my races (swims in particular) to note, include Windermere End to End, Henley Skins vs Suits and the Across Mersey Swim.

Writing swim sets is something I have come to do bizarrely frequently. I write them for Mersey Tri, for my own training sessions, for my parents, for friends who ask me for help with their programmes and I have also written them for the Uni Triathlon Team.

There are a few important aspects to consider. Who is it for? What is their ability and what is their goal? What does the session need to work on? All of these elements contribute to the set in terms of focus, distance and difficulty.

If we take Mersey Tri as an example, the sets need to cater for a wide range of abilities and they need to be very varied as some members will swim at our sessions twice a week, week in week out. For a regular session such as this, it is important to consider the annual progression with relation to the off-season, pre-season and race season, and how the athletes need to progress. For example, it is pointless to have them peak in January, when no one is racing! But as an opposing example, when I write sets for myself, because I know exactly where I am in the season in terms of fitness and progress, as well as what I need to target, the sets can be a lot more specific. Sometimes, for this reason I prefer writing a programme of swim sets for one athlete rather than a group training session due to the ability to be able to hone in on individual goals, progression, and their training as a whole. That said, I absolutely love the opportunity that group training sessions provide to try out new drills, swim ideas and, of course, the fact that there’s a group of people all doing the same thing alongside one another, pushing and helping each other. The atmosphere of club sessions is one of the best things that sport offers.

A lot of people have a tendency to go to the pool, and hammer out (or cruise through!) a certain number of lengths, or a certain time slot. Whilst this does benefit their aerobic fitness, it also leads to a plateau in training, and isn’t the ideal race prep. Swim sets are a key way of getting out of the same old routine in the swimming pool, they make sessions fun, different and challenging!

Photo of Zoe swimming

Zoe swimming the Henley Mile

Triathletes in particular, spend outrageous amounts of money on the best, newest, nicest looking, lightest, sought after, or whatever it may be, kit! Such as bikes, running shoes, Garmin’s, without even giving a second thought to the minutes they could save on their swim time – its all about shaving seconds off their bike, transition or run, and ‘just getting through’ the swim. Swim technique, and training, could get you out of the water a lot higher up in your age category than a Garmin will get you out of transition!

One to one coaching is the final aspect I will touch on, as it is one of the most rewarding things I do. It gives me as much buzz as the athlete themselves, to see the rapid progression, whether it be technique, confidence or times wise. The smile on their face makes it all worth it! And that is true of all of the coaching I do, swim sets are just the starting point.

Here’s an example swim set:

This swim set would be a set to do during the pre season, as it focuses on technique and pacing.

Warm up 

200m front crawl
50 backstroke
100m front crawl
50 fast

The warm up should be easy swimming, across a range of strokes, to warm up all muscles and increase heart rate. I like to include a bit of pace work at the end of the set to really ensure that the swimmers are warm and ready for the main set!

Main set

4 x 100 as 25 metres drill (see below for the drill) 75 metres swim 

  1. doggy paddle
  2. fists
  3. catch up
  4. thumb to thigh

400m
300m
200m
100m

+20 seconds rest at the end of each set

Race pace swims (consistent pacing)
4×50 as 25 hard/25 easy

Technique work at the start of the main set allows swimmers to break down their stroke at a steady pace and concentrate on any weak areas before taking this through to their normal/race pace work.

This main set is 1km long; the challenge here is to maintain a consistent race pace. This means that swimmers can go into a race and feel confident of what pace they should swim at and be sure that they can maintain it throughout the race.

The last part is a bit of speedwork. I like to include this so they they know they have worked hard! It is also great to know that you can handle a sprint finish.

Cool down

50 scull
50 back

The cool down is again a super easy pace to flush out any lactic acid and decrease the heart and breathing rates.I prefer swimmers to avoid the front crawl in cool down. Backstroke is great to stretch out the swimming muscles ans sculling helps increase your feel for the water. Breaststroke is great for cool down too. Happy Swimming!

If you want to contact Zoe for more info on her swim coaching, her email address is swimwithzoe@gmail.com.

Delightful Dee Mile

I promised myself that I wouldn’t enter any events between Leeds Tri and Liverpool Tri so as to focus on my training for the standard distance Tri that I did Liverpool on 14 August (another blog post to follow). The lack of organisation at Leeds Tri had put me off a little, if I am honest.

As time went on though, I missed the thrill having a race to go to (the words adrenaline junkie spring to mind!). I really wanted to do the Dee Mile but I was also hesitant because a few Mersey Tri buddies had done the Deva Triathlon on 11th June and had fallen ill after swimming in the Dee. The really nice weather and dry spell in May, followed by heavy rain at the beginning of June led to the bacteria that had accumulated on the ground being swept into the river. Hence the GI distress suffered by many.

As the race drew nearer, some other friends entered it, and I noted that we hadn’t had any really nasty weather so I told myself that the Dee Mile was just a training opportunity to improve my swim times before Liverpool Tri. I have never swum in a river before (not as a race) so a new experience box was also ticked and I found myself in front of the computer screen, with a credit card entering the 2km race.

My family were away in Scotland so I was doing this on my own. However it was a really nice event for families to come and watch. The car parking was in the Meadows in Chester. The weather was kind and lots of people had brought picnics and chairs and were settling down for a nice afternoon.

Photo of goody bag

Goody bag from the race. I liked the handgels and wipes for preventing norovirus.

Registration was quick and easy, I picked up a very nice goody bag and wandered off to the Selkie stall for a look around. Eventually I succumbed and bought a dry bag/inflatable tow for wild swimming which I later used on my holiday in Scotland.

The race briefing undertaken at 5pm, it was time to start the walk to the start. The race was going downstream with the current which was a relief. However it  took about 20 minutes to walk upstream to the start. I had flipflops for this but they were taken off me quite early for transporting back to the start so I had another 10 mins to walk over rough ground in my bare feet. Top tip: take someone with you to carry your shoes!

Also it wasn’t ideal for me as I had to leave my hearing aids at the beginning to be transported to the finish. It was very hard to have conversations with friends without them (sorry guys for having to repeat yourselves so much!). I got very hot at this point too as the sun had come out so it was a relief to reach the start and jump in off a very nicely placed pontoon.

Lining up for the start, I had to keep pushing back against the current not to go over the start line. The usual washing machine start ensued and whilst I tried my best to stay with the pack, I quickly found myself lagging behind. On the plus side, I found I got into my stroke (stride?) quite quickly once I got some clear water. I couldn’t remember the advice I was given before hand whether to get close to the bank or not but it didn’t seem to matter because I seemed to be pushed over to the middle of the river.

AM after Dee Mile Swim

Well earned hot chocolate in my special Dee Mile Swim Mug after the race

I was glad I had checked the forecast and placed my faith in it because the sun was splitting the sky and I had chosen to wear my tinted goggles.  It was simply a glorious evening for a swim.

The finish was at the suspension bridge so when I saw that coming up, I put a final spurt on. We had been told that we needed to place our chips on the timing block at the finish. On crossing under the gantry, there were some confused swimmers, trying to reach what looked like the timing blocks which were high up but it turned out we didn’t need to do this. My time registered at 39 minutes and 36 seconds; a time with which I was very happy.  Even with the assistance from the current, that was one of my fastest ever times and much faster than I had done in training.

One of my friends who did the 1km option said that the start there was a bit more chaotic. It seemed to put off some of the novice swimmers in that race especially when the fast swimmers from the next wave came up behind them because when I arrived at the finish, there were quite a few swimmers holding onto the support canoes. Perhaps the organisers could allow slightly longer between the waves next time?

All in all, even with the uncomfortable walk to the start, I really enjoyed this race. the added bonus was that I was not ill afterwards! Hopefully one for my calendar next year…

My blog is feeling a little neglected these days.  It’s been a busy old time with Adventurous Twins’ birthday, some overtime at work, a few more visits to the doctors for the rest of the family and I have been stepping up my training again.  Although becoming a distant memory, it’s time to go back to Leeds Tri on 12 June and share that experience with you.

You may remember that I had a chest infection and sinusitis and had to pull out of Edinburgh Half Marathon. Leeds Tri was 2 weeks after that and, while I had managed a few runs and swims, I hadn’t really trained as much as I had planned or would have liked. I still felt a bit tired and under par. Thankfully I was “only” doing the sprint distance as I had calculated previously that it would be too tricky to train for a triathlon after a Half marathon.

I had entered this race last August though and I was determined to share the stage (well, the same race route with the elites!) I was promised a pontoon start for the swim, a blue carpet finish and the chance to watch the elites in action. I suppose 2 out of 3 isn’t bad but the chance to watch the elites was denied to many for reasons you will see later in this post.

Adventurous twins were not keen to come so my sister said she would look after them. Adventurous Dad came with me and I was glad of his support. The arrangements for setting up were complicated! We arrived in Leeds at 4pm on the Saturday before the race and had to register in one of the University buildings. No quibbles there; some very nice volunteers trying hard to find out for me if there was a goody bag and a race T shirt (the answer was a disappointing no). Then, as this was a split transition, we headed first to Transition 2 (T2) in the city centre. This was on some rough waste ground not far from the law courts. I was fortunate enough to be allocated a spot near the entrance so didn’t have far to run in my bike shoes. I didn’t envy anyone who was going to leave their bike shoes attached and try to run in bare feet…

Photo of T1 at leeds

The world’s largest transition area ever?

Then off to Roundhay Park to the north of Leeds where Transition 1 (T1) was. By this time it was nearly 6pm so parking was relatively easy. This transition was huge! Easily the largest I have ever seen (not all that surprising as this is the largest triathlon I have ever taken part in). I felt nervous about leaving my bike overnight but then I realised thieves would be more interested in the shiny carbon fibre bikes than my trusty steel bike!
Finally, I got all set up by 7pm, 3 hours after arriving in Leeds. I was a bit late for dinner with friends who were not best pleased. (Yummy food though so I am eternally grateful!) I felt a bit drained just setting up. The nerves were beginning to kick in so I struggled to get to sleep; tired but wired describes it best.

Swim Start Leeds Tri

Pontoon Swim start – I am the one waving!

On race day, the weather was pretty good for a triathlon. Overcast, not too cold, not too warm. I had a later start at 10.04am. I was really looking forward to the swim on the pontoon. We were not allowed to dive in but it did mean that we were all spaced out nicely and there was none of the usual scrum at the beginning of the race. One of the problems with being hard of hearing was not being able to hear the klaxon on this occasion (not normally a problem for me) and losing a few seconds relying on watching for others setting off.  The lake was beautifully clear. I had a reasonable swim but my time was much the same as previous swims over this distance. I also felt dizzy when I got out so had to take a minute to recover.

Then I had to face the world’s longest ever transition! The run from the lake to entrance of T1 was 400 metres. I then had to retrieve my bike, make sure my wetsuit kit was in the special T1 bag and run out of transition with my bike and the kit bag. The kit bag was to be handed to the marshals at the mount line. By this time, I had run nearly a kilometre. I am almost embarrassed to publish my transition time of 10 minutes and 18 seconds but I really didn’t hang around; it was the sheer size of the transition, honest! I must have run a fair distance in my bike shoes because my cleats were wrecked at the end of the race.

Photo of AM on bike

This lady is for turning…

The mount line was at the bottom of a hill but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it looked and I was soon away on one of my fastest ever bike legs at 52 minutes 38 seconds. I will admit that a lot of it was downhill but it was also a test of my bike skills to embrace the speed! I like some of the photos from this leg especially this one as I performed the U turn.

Thankfully my run shoes were still were I left them in the wasteland that was T2.  There were a lot of crowds gathering by this time ready for the elite race so the support was great as we ran round Leeds City Centre. The pre race info suggested that it was 2 laps for my 5km run but when I got to the blue carpet, this was the start of my first lap and then it said I had to pass through 2 more times. It was a bit confusing and I couldn’t get it straight in my head so I relied on my Garmin to tell me I had done 5km when approaching the finish. I believe it was even more confusing if you were running 10km and a lot of competitors didn’t do the correct distance and ended up with the dreaded DNF…

I was finally over the line and got my blue carpet finish 1 hour 51 minutes 38 seconds after starting. I felt a mixture of relief that it was over and that, although I hadn’t put in my best time, I seemed to be over the worst of my illness. I choked back some tears of relief, smiled for the camera and soon had some shiny race bling round my neck.

AM at finish of Leeds

Blue carpet finish… at last!

If I had thought that the pre race set up was a palaver, it was nothing as to what was to come next. I queued to pick up my T1 bag but as the queue was quite long we decided to go and get lunch and retrieve my bike from T2. Luckily I had Adventurous Dad with me as he had my warm clothes, money and phone. Suitably refuelled, we returned to get my bag to find the bag drop in chaos. There were lots of angry people who had been in the earlier waves who still hadn’t got their bags. Some had been racing alone so were relying on their kit being transported to the finish. I read later on Twitter, that some people reported waiting for up to 7 hours for their bags. Some people had no phone to contact loved ones to say why they were going to be late and someone said their ticket for the grandstand to watch the elites was in their bag and they missed it all. We had planned not to stay for the elites race as we had to get back to our twins.
In the end, we probably only waited about 30 mins to be told that we had best get to Roundhay Park and get our stuff from there. As our van was there, it was not a disaster, merely an inconvenience. We jumped on our bikes (Adventurous Dad had brought his Brompton which drew a few stares!) and made it to the park. It was a bit chaotic there too but I found my bag and all’s well that ended well for me anyway.

I thought my assessment of the race might have changed with the passage of time but it remains the same, the race itself was great with the swim pontoon and nice swim, exciting bike ride and a city centre run was quite special. The organisation let it all down. The split transition was maybe too challenging for an open race of this size or maybe there was too much emphasis on the elites race.

This race going ahead again next year in Leeds but I won’t be back. I felt I earned my medal more for dealing with the problems with the race! I hope the race directors learn from their mistakes and put on a truly magnificent race next year. They have a lot of triathletes to win over.

Photo of race number

DNS

Photo of race number

My EMF race number that will not see any action😔

This is my race number for Edinburgh half marathon which I am not now going to be pinning to my Mersey Tri top and not lining up with a host of other runners on Regent Road in Edinburgh. After much soul searching and time spent trying to make a decision whether to run or not, I have concluded that I am just not well enough nor am I race ready with all the demands that the race will bring.

So how did we end up here? If you remember my post about Liverpool Half Marathon, I was keen to put my woes at not going under 2 hours behind me and focus on Edinburgh half marathon where I thought I had a good chance of finally attaining the sub 2 hours that has eluded me in 4 half marathons to date. Missing out on that time by 4 seconds at Wirral half marathon last September was particularly disappointing.

At Chirk Tri, I had some low level virus which affected my performance. I then had a period of about 3 weeks where I felt back on form and running felt free and easy; like running with the  brakes off. I picked up the mileage in preparation for the half marathon. Just as I was building up to my last long run of 12-13 miles before Edinburgh, I developed a cold. No matter, I thought, I will skip this run so as not to make the cold worse. The cold went on to develop into a right nasty stinker without any help from me!

Next thing I develop a nasty cough (which I don’t have very often) but also some of the signs of sinusitis (which I am prone to). The doctor gave me  antibiotics to help with clearing both. I had a few days where I felt dreadful and could barely go to work. By this time, I hadn’t exercised for nearly 2 weeks and was getting a bit anxious about losing fitness but I told myself to be patient and it would all be ok. I got my hopes up on Thursday afternoon as I definitely felt a lot better.

This morning I put on my running gear for the first time in 2 weeks and went for a gentle 3.5 km run to see how it would feel. While running I didn’t feel too bad but I knew I wasn’t on best form. Since then I have had a terrible headache. The sun is now shining in Edinburgh so we went out for a walk. I saw a few people with their finishers T shirts and medals from the 5k and 10k races earlier today and I felt a real stab of jealousy and then a wobbly chin.

I entered this race a long time ago and it was part of my challenge to myself to do a half marathon in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I may have to rethink my challenge. So the disappointment is high and feels worse because I feel so unwell.

So to look on the positive, in hopefully getting some more rest, I will be fit and ready to take on Leeds Triathlon in 2 weeks. I really want to do a pontoon swim start and run on the same blue carpet at the finish as the elites do!

So I will curl up In front of the TV tonight, have a long lie tomorrow and chalk this one up to experience: my first ever Did Not Start.

Music to my ears

When Phil and I were discussing the possibility that he might do a blog post for me, he mentioned that there are two types of runner; one who responds to external stimuli and takes their cue from the world around them and the other who retreats within themselves to get through the run. Phil is obviously the first type as he likes to run with others and chat with them. I am very much the second type as I prefer to run alone, plugged into my headphones, lost in thought (usually planning my next blog post or thinking about what to eat for dinner!). That’s not to say that I don’t look around me; I like spotting wildlife and looking at nice views. I reckon it’s a 70:30 split for me internal/external.

Photo of AM at Worral 10k

No headphones at Wirral 10k in 2014 – note both feet in the air!

I don’t wear headphones when I am racing as most races don’t permit it for safety reasons (you need to be able to hear the marshals and not all races are on closed roads). When it comes to a race, I like soaking up the race atmosphere.  That’s when it is useful to at least be partly an external runner and perhaps do some training runs without headphones.

With my hearing loss, I do have a great pair of headphones. They hook round my ear and when I put my hearing aids to the T setting (the loop system that you often see in theatres), I can hear the music right in my hearing aid. It’s much safer as I can hear some background noise such as cars and people talking to me. The miracle is that there is no sound for others to hear, it seems to be right inside my hearing aid.

 

photo of ipod

My old skool ipod and miraculous headphones

So, definitely for me, one of life’s little pleasures is going for a run with your favourite music. I have always loved my pop music, from buying Smash Hits (I am giving my age away now!) to going to HMV to buy the latest 12 inch single. My taste is fairly mainstream but it is at the pop and rock end of the spectrum. So my running playlist simply has up tempo songs from my favourite bands.  Songs like Dog Days by Florence and the Machine, Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen and Beautiful Day by U2 are fairly obvious choices for running but I also have Take On Me by A-ha, Wages Day by Deacon Blue and The Way I Tend To Be by Frank Turner. I have just added Magnetised by Tom Odell, Payphone by Maroon 5 and Ghost by Ella Henderson.

Keep your head up by Ben Howard is another less obvious choice but it was out around the time I was going for my black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I was told repeatedly to look up by my instructor so I downloaded this song to remind me! I love the lyrics which are a good mantra for life; “keep your head up, keep your heart strong.” I always think of my weekend in Bristol grading for my black belt when I hear it.

Interestingly, after I wrote the first draft of this post, I forgot to take my Ipod on a run, and I noted that despite the lack of music, I am still mainly an internal runner as I focused on my breathing and I still retreated into my thoughts (what’s for dinner? and I need to amend that blog post now!)

I’d love to broaden my running playlist so if you have any tracks you like running to please share them in the comments below or we could start a conversation on my Facebook page. What do you run to?

Marine Lakes and Mountain Tops

I have a relatively quiet month in May, “just”  the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 29th May. I am building back up my running mileage in preparation for that. As my race number recently arrived, it is becoming reality.

So we will have to be content with some mini-adventures and what better than the start of the open water swimming season!

Photo of AM at Marine Liake

Dryrobe: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…with apologies to Shakespeare…

Bear in mind that the previous session of open water swimming was cancelled over the bank holiday weekend because of high winds and low temperatures. So the fact that the swimming took place at all was a minor miracle (as was the fact that the weather went from Arctic to tropical in the blink in an eye).  I was convinced that I would simply get in the water and it would be so painful that I would simply dash out again!

I kitted up as much as possible: neoprene socks and cap and took my dry robe to stay warm pre and post swim (bought at the Tri expo). I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get in without too much pain. I then tried to put my face in the water and whoa! Instant ice cream head! I pulled my cap further down my forehead and that seemed to do the trick. I managed a kilometre before I lost the feeling in my hands. Note to self: take gloves next time! I still loved it, looking up to the sky and across the broad expanse of sea (well, across the marine lake at West Kirby where we train.)

I felt inexplicably happy all day after that and I can only put this down to the open water swimming. Probably down to the adrenaline rush that open water swimming brings!

Not normally one for looking back, I thought I would also reflect on my climb up Goatfell on Arran during our Easter holiday. I wrote a brief Facebook post about reaching the top but thought I’d expand on it slightly as not everyone reading this blog follows my page on Facebook.

Arran is a wonderful island off the west coast of Scotland, reached by ferry from Ardrossan. It’s where my husband’s late father came from and where my husband spent his childhood holidays. It holds a very special place in his heart and I have fallen in love with it too. None of the family are left on the island but we go back every 2 years or so.

When we went to Arran, back in the days before we had the children, we always stayed with Adventurous Husband’s Aunt Flora who was a wonderful character and had great stories about island life. On one of these visits, we decided to climb Goatfell, the highest mountain on Arran, standing at 2,866 ft. Not quite a Munro (a mountain over 3,000 ft), but as the climb starts at sea level, a fair hike. We took a long route in from Brodick Castle. By the time we got to near the top,  I felt exhausted and felt unable to scramble up the rocks to the top. I recall that I was a bit overweight and had had back problems on and off during this time but I think the biggest problem was simply a lack of confidence about scrambling over rocks. Adventurous Husband went on to the top without me.

I thought about that day quite a lot over the years. When we climbed Scafell Pike, there was some scrambling to do, I remember being apprehensive but in a better place for fitness levels and managing it no problem.

AM and AD on Goatfell

Me, mini me and Teddy on our way up Goatfell

Now that children are older, we are trying to encourage them to do some more hill walking with us so we hatched a plan that we would all walk it. We had access to some guide books that recommended that we start the walk at Corrie, a shorter route overall.

On the day, we had nice sunny weather although in some places it was quite windy. Unfortunately Adventurous Daughter said that she did not feel 100%  about just over half way up so they went back down. I carried on with my sister in law and niece Meagan.

Photo of AM at the top of Goatfell

Finally at the top of Goatfell

And we made it! It really wasn’t that hard a scramble after all but it is amazing the difference that the level of fitness makes to confidence. On the way back down, I kept vowing to myself never to get unfit again.

Top of Goatfell

I could almost reach up and touch the clouds; the view from the top of Goatfell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking and open water swimming are two of my favourite mini adventures you can have all the time and are relatively inexpensive. Being close to nature is supposed to be one of the best tonics for our busy plugged in lives so I urge you to try one or both!

Have you had any hiking or swimming adventures to share?