Monthly Archives: January 2016

4 Villages Half Marathon – a Race of 2 halves

What better way to stay focused on winter training (and hopefully not gain too much weight at Christmas!) than to enter a half marathon in January. It seemed like a good idea in October when I entered. Fast forward to December when the weather was worsening, I started a new job so had less time to train in the daylight and then to cap it all, I sustained my first ever running injury. Calf strain was not in my half marathon training plan.

Thankfully due to some advice on rest and then strengthening the calf muscles from my physio I was back on track again just before Christmas. I managed my last long run on 3rd January 2016 in the pouring rain on a deserted Wirral Way.

I was travelling from Barmouth to the race itself as I was away with my family on an activity weekend (more on that another time). This is when I realised that I should have taken the advice which I have read on several occasions: make a list of your race day kit and take it with you. I had forgotten my Run Glide (which I would pay for later) and some of my favourite pre-race snack bars (chocolate was a good substitute).

The race itself is well known in the North West and everyone who had run it previously told me it is a great race, well organised, although a bit hilly. I am here to tell you that it is all true. I used the park and ride to get to the start of the race and I couldn’t fault it. Then at the start, the baggage drop tent was well manned with friendly people. The race starts outside the club house for Helsby running club and it was packed full of people trying to stay warm.

Have I mentioned that it started to snow as I got the coach to the start? The race had been cancelled last year due to snowy conditions so the organisers must have been very worried that it was about to happen again. When I got to the start, the race organiser was making a very relieved announcement that the race was on because it had only been a flurry.

Helsby Race photo

Crazee lady race photo – the excitement was short lived…

The first mile was up an incline but it wasn’t excessive and I felt quite comfortable. This is my official race photo taken about 1 mile in which shows my excitement that perhaps the race wasn’t as hilly as feared. Surely the organisers wouldn’t be so mean as to put all the hills at the end? The answer is yes…

The first 10 km was certainly quite flat and when I looked at my Garmin, I had run this in just under 57 minutes. I was buoyed up because I thought that I might just make it under 2 hours, my half marathon goal. I didn’t bank on the hills in the second half of the race nor the blister that started on my foot and although the last 2 miles were downhill, I came in at 2 hours 1 minute and 52 seconds.

Helsby medal

No ribbon but pretty medal in a case

I met some friendly people on the way round and the locals were very supportive considering how cold it was. It was a very scenic route with plenty to see: open rolling farmland and gorgeous detached houses and Cheshire Polo Club of all things.

The medal was rather unusual with no ribbon. The goody bag was good with a useful high vis vest instead of a T shirt. The Twix was eaten on the bus back to my car and the energy gel has been saved for another day.

I’d do this race again in a heartbeat; just remind me to pack my Run Glide!



Top 10 tips for open water swimming

  1. Get a good fit on your wetsuit.

This can make or break your swim. I got mine fitted in person at Swim the Lakes in Ambleside. I recommend that you get some specialised advice on fitting especially if it is your first time open water swimming or doing a triathlon.  It needs to be snug enough to form that nice layer of water next to your skin to keep you warm. Too much and you will feel like you have the lake in your wetsuit! I have had a great experience with mine. Which leads me onto tip number…

  1. Buy the best that you can afford.

    Bala open water swim

    At the end of the open water swim at Bala

I went for a mid range suit (blueseventy Fusion) which cost around £230. You don’t necessarily need the top of the range (some of which can cost several hundred pounds) although don’t let me stop you if you fancy it! I am assuming that most people reading this will be thinking about open water swimming for the first time and will be on a relatively tight budget so buying the best you can afford means that you feel happy with the suit but haven’t spent a fortune if open water swimming is not for you. Look for features such as thinner neoprene in the arms to allow room for your arms to move while swimming.  Mine are 1.5 mm, while the body is 3 mm.  It does feel quite restricting to start with but as you break the suit in, it soon eases up.

3. Invest in good goggles

I don’t have particularly fancy goggles (Aqua Sphere Kaiman Exo) but they do have larger than average lens and side vision which is useful in the open water. I have a plain and tinted pair depending on the weather. Sadly the tinted pair don’t see as much use but they are good for those rare sunny days. I realise that this is extra expense but it does mean you have a spare pair if anything goes wrong with your main pair. Anything that takes the stress out of race day is a good idea.

4. Ear plugs and nose clip are a must (for me anyway!)

I always swim with ear plugs as do most of my tri buddies. The first few times I swam without them, the cold really got into my ears and made the swim a bit unpleasant. When you try to get out of the water, the cold can really affect your balance. It’s a bit embarrassing staggering around like a drunk at 8am in the morning! I use the Zoggs silicone ear plugs which mould to your ears although there are lots of different types so experiment to see what suits you best. I always swim with a nose clip as the chlorine in most pools irritate the lining of my nose. I tried swimming without it a few times as the irritation wasn’t going to be a problem with fresh or sea water. I found it best to have it on mainly because I was used to swimming with it. Again, experiment with what is best for you.

5. Don’t forget the lubrication…

I learned the hard way with friction burns on my neck the first few swims. After that, I have always used Run Glide (same thing as Body Glide which you can get on Wiggle) and have never had a problem since.

  1. Take off your jewellry

It is a good idea to swim without any precious jewellry. When you are cold, your fingers will be slimmer, and you don’t really want to lose your rings at the bottom of the lake. A friend of mine lost his wedding ring on a night swim!

  1. Bring a hot drink

This is really crucial for your well-being at the end of the swim. Obviously you can’t do this in a triathlon! I take an insulated cup (the type you take camping) and leave it in the car. It is absolute heaven to have a hot coffee to warm you up when you come out of the water.

  1. Swim in the open water as much as possible


    Contemplating a dip at Aberdaron

Find out about any tri club sessions near you. I went to as many organised sessions as I could before the Wirral Tri. I took my wetsuit on holiday with me wherever we went and got in the water as much as possible.  Here’s me at a bay near Aberdaron, much to the amusement of my family…

  1. Remember that it is natural to be scared

You are likely to have it ingrained in you from dire warnings as a child that swimming in lakes and rivers is unsafe. I was always told as a child not to go anywhere near the river across the road from us.  Try to recapture some of your childlike sense of adventure if the prospect of getting in the water is nerve wracking. Or remember that organised sessions have good safety cover. At Mersey Tri, we have 3 spotters on the shore and a safety canoe. Or remember that when you have completed a session, the adrenaline hit is huge!

  1. Relax and enjoy!

    West Kirby marine lake

    Sunset at West Kirby Marine Lake where I swim

Remember to look up at the sky and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of nature around you. This is my favourite part of swimming in West Kirby marine lake on a sunny day. I can look over to the hills of Wales and look up to the blue sky above. John Lennon’s quote – above us only sky – always comes into my mind.

I hope this helps if you are new to open water swimming. If you are an experienced swimmer, perhaps you could share your thoughts, other tips and experience?

As a newbie blogger, I don’t have any arrangements with any of the brands named and these are all my honest recommendations.