2017, a round-up

As 2017 comes to a close, I’m taking this opportunity to look back at what has definitely been a year of two halves. This time last year I won a place in the London Marathon and my running year suddenly had a new focus! My training went really well and I enjoyed the challenge of taking my runs further afield, having not run a marathon since 2011, when I ran in Brighton. I trained hard, sometimes getting up early on a Saturday morning so that I could run the last 5k of my long run at Hilly Fields parkrun, the support of my fellow runners pulling me around those hard last few kilometres.

With this dedication to running taking over my life, I decided to step back to the 2.5km distance at my now annual Swimathon, realising I might struggle to fit in the training for the full 5k. Last year I had really enjoyed my swim at the Aquatic Centre, so decided to swim here again, even having a fly-by (swim-by?) from Duncan Goodhew partway round! You can read all about my experience here.

Swimathon

When April approached I felt ready, taking my place at the green start and looking forward to seeing my family and friends along the route through London. Training for and running a marathon is a long journey, with so many factors affecting your performance on the day. I ran well for the first half or so, then took an emotional and physical dip, struggling through the rest of the race. I think I realised that big races are not for me, finding it difficult to focus and riding an emotional roller coaster, whilst trying to negotiate a space for myself. After London Marathon I had serious post-marathon blues and Edward suggested running another marathon, using my training and hopefully achieving the goal I had hoped to reach in London. Five weeks later I stepped out onto the Cyclopark in Gravesend and enjoyed a calm, controlled and steady marathon, with space around to switch off and run my way to a PB. You can read a detailed account of these two events here.

My marathon

As June rolled around, so too did Endure 24. After my marathons I kept everything ticking over, running with my GoodGym groups and tackling parkrun for an extra push. Endure 24 is a 24-hour team relay, where I camped out with my friends and we aimed to have a team member on the 5 mile course throughout the 24 hours. It was an amazing experience, with my endurance training putting me in good stead to complete a total of 30 miles. Our friends had tried persuading us to participate last year, but I had been concerned about needing sleep, not wanting to run through the night. How strange (and delightful) then, to find that my favourite part of the whole event was the night-time run, where I had just the path ahead lit by my head torch and a sense of being alone in the darkness, amongst the trees, beautiful.

Team work

A quick look back over those first six months of the year and you will notice that I didn’t really stop. I barely allowed myself time to recover and went on to pay the price. My knee became painful and I found myself hobbling around and even being kept awake by the pain. Hours were spent at the physio, being given different diagnoses, from hamstring tendinopathy, to eventually finding out that my medial meniscus was not coping very well with the continued impact of all this long running. I didn’t have much choice but to continue running, since my work depends on it, but cut right back on track sessions and moved into the pool to keep my heart and lungs strong.

After taking part in the inaugural Swim Serpentine last year, I entered again, keen to have another go. Some time after entering, Swim Serpentine made an announcement about the London Classics, a new event for those who had completed the London Marathon and Ride 100. If you also completed the 2 mile Swim Serpentine, you would enter the Hall of Fame for the London Classics. I quickly got on the phone to upgrade from the 1 mile to 2 mile course and got myself down to the pool to make sure I was fit enough to take this challenge on. Some good, rough sea swimming on holiday in Cornwall was about as much as I managed in terms of open water acclimatisation, so it was a bit of a shock to the system to ease into 15 degree water in September!

London Classics

This year also saw me trying another new swimming event, the inaugural Marathon Swims. A chance to swim again at the Aquatic Centre, this time committing to the 5k distance (though there were people there swimming the full 10k!). I loved this new event, enjoying the format and the atmosphere and, of course, that amazing feeling when you pull yourself out of the pool, having achieved something great.

5k finisher!

There are just a few more days of 2017 left to go, with tomorrow being my annual birthday run, this time at my beloved Hilly Fields parkrun. With a year split between endurance running and water-based activity, it might not be a surprise to find out that I am keen to try my hand at swim run in 2018. There is so much to say about this particular challenge that I will give it its own post in the new year. Until then I will eat, drink (Alkoholfrei) and be merry.

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The inaugural Marathon Swims, 2017

After my Swim Serpentine experience back in September, I was keen to find something to keep me motivated to get to the pool over the autumn/winter. I received an email about a new event, called ‘Marathon Swims’ and my finger was very soon hovering over the ‘enter’ button. How could I not?! It was to be held at my favourite pool, the London Aquatics Centre and I would have the chance to try a brand new event, whilst pushing myself over 5k (there was also the option to swim the full marathon of 10k. No thank you!).

I used my usual Swimathon training schedule, as I find it builds up the distance nicely and the instructions are easy to follow. A break over the October half-term disrupted my training a little (though we did go to a super water park whilst on holiday, but I mostly sat in the sauna or jacuzzi. Whaaatt?!), but I got back on it in the week or so before the event. I feel I trained well, but could possibly have done a bit more…I’m still not getting any faster.

Alongside my training, I was reading a fantastic book called ‘Leap In’, by Alexandra Heminsley. It’s a beautifully written journey, following someone who has such incredible drive to swim strong(er) and describes all of those wonderful feelings that we have when we overcome a fear or challenge and the joy that comes with immersing yourself, in particular, in open water. I couldn’t put it down and had a great urge to dip into the icy depths, though sadly haven’t managed that yet.

To the pool!

On arrival at the Aquatics Centre, I was given my timing chip and wristband and went over to look down on the pool. This event was different in that you didn’t just swim up and down your allotted lane for the duration of your swim, depending on a volunteer to count your laps. The pool was set out with a timing mat at each end of the width, with swimmers stepping over this at one end and swimming up and down each lane, ducking under the divider between and using each lane (thus covering 1km) before climbing out and passing through transition. I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but actually I found it really helped not having to keep count and being able to grab a drink and have a quick stretch before getting back in, with the start of each new kilometre acting as a kind of ‘refresh’.

The swim

Before getting changed, we had a quick briefing (which I missed part of due to being mesmerised by the swimmers) and were told how to apply our triathlon-style tattoo number (these are a bugger to get off afterwards, I ended up using nail polish remover!). Each wave of people was lined up along the edge and introduced into the water over the loud speakers, nice touch! Some people took this as a chance to give their supporters a wave and dive in confidently, I stepped over gingerly and then ducked down the steps (maybe 2018 will be the year where I overcome my ‘I’m not a jumper inner’ nonsense…). There had been much talk of pool etiquette and penalties being given to those who overtake in the flagged area and so on, but my first kilometre was spent dealing with a few lane grumps, who clearly hadn’t listened to any of it. A suggestion for next year is to have a sign at the end of each lane, saying ‘If someone taps your heel, let them pass’. Please.

I had a few frustrating moments due to not managing to overtake, or being stuck behind people who refused to let me overtake, so there were stretches of time where I might have gone faster, but equally, I had stretches where I had nobody in front or behind me and felt free to go for it and really enjoy the water, bliss! Towards the end of my third kilometre and for the rest of the swim, I was plagued by hideous cramp, with my toes curling and my calf muscles seizing up. I took a ‘kick it out’ tactic, which must have looked pretty odd to any swimmers behind me! In transition, I would give it a good stretch, hoping it might go away (it didn’t).

Throughout the whole event, there was a running commentary, with the finishers of various events being congratulated and interviewed and new swimmers being welcomed into the water, which made it feel celebratory and inclusive. Alongside this was a soundtrack of upbeat tunes (though I only really heard these in transition), keeping everyone entertained. I found the whole set-up made the swim seem to go quite quickly. Of course, I had moments of tiredness, as my shoulders started to really burn, but each kilometre ticked off nicely and I was soon heading down the last lane towards the finish and my medal!

At this point, I spotted my friends Siggy and Stephen, here for Stephen to also take on the 5k swim as training towards an Ironman next year. It was nice to see some friendly faces and share the experience. Will I do it again next year? Yes, absolutely! Where do I sign up?

A big thank you to Zoggs, who sent me this rather fun package as a prize for sharing my post-swim selfie on Twitter. Lots of fun for Hector in here too πŸ™‚

Swimathon 2017, training with Duncan Goodhew

Yes, how exciting?! The other week, I was delighted to be able to pick the brain of gold medal-winning Olympian, Duncan Goodhew. I was invited along to the St Pancras Square pool, just up from King’s Cross station, along with Tamsyn, another member of the Swimathon 2017 #blogsquad. It was great to meet a fellow swimmer and to hear about how she is fitting in training alongside bringing up her gorgeous little girl – I feel lucky to be able to choose a time to swim, now my ‘little one’ is that much bigger!

First of all, Duncan asked us a bit about how our training was going and what it is we would like to focus on in the session. For me, it’s all about getting faster, I just seem to be stuck in a swimming rut, carving up and down the pool at the same pace each session.

Pre-swim chat

We were quite soon in the water and swimming up and down to warm up, with Duncan’s critical (but ever-so-supportive) eye on our swim stroke and any little quirks that might need ironing out. My stroke is OK, it seems, but I do have a habit of lifting my head up a little, thus lowering my legs (a result of swimming in usually busy lanes, maybe?), so I worked on this for a while, in the luxury of a quiet lane, following the line along the bottom of the pool.

Smiley coach

Now the revelation…to get faster, I need to train faster! Hmmmm, you would think, with my experience as a running coach, I would could have worked this out for myself, but no, it hadn’t even occurred to me! Of course I need to do sprint drills and push myself harder, but I go along to the pool each session, plod up and down and wonder why I’m so slow. Duncan had me swim some lengths with a kick-board, firing up my legs and engaging them fully so that I could drive through the water. I soon realised what an easy time I have been giving my legs, as the lactic acid built up and I felt the burn!

Kick!

This added power also saw my legs lift a little and my head dip, all good stuff if you are trying to be more streamlined! I worked on alternating the kick-board work with some flat-out sprints…which had my heart pumping and my breathing increase, something you never see me do down at my local pool! Taking a quick look at the clock during these sprints, I could see a marked improvement on time; so this is how it’s done! All it should take is incorporating this work into each session, making sure I do some sprints, really pushing myself and, over time, my speed should increase.

Time for a warm-down and some photos.

Relaxed swimming!

We only have a couple of weeks to go now so, if you haven’t already signed up, you can do so here, with distances ranging from 1.5k to 5k, with relay/team options available too.

Swimathon 2017 #blogsquad

Cast your mind back to March last year, when I swam 5k at the London Aquatics Centre. Well, I am delighted to announce that I am once again #blogsquad ambassador for Swimathon. I’m so happy to have this goal to work towards, following a bout of (proper) flu, then a chest infection in December and January, my swimming has fallen slightly by the wayside – stripping down to a swimsuit and getting into a slightly cold pool isn’t that inviting when you’re feeling under the weather!

FOCUS!

So now it’s time to focus and build up my swim strength again. After taking on the 5k challenge for the past couple of years, I have decided this time to go for the 2.5k challenge. You might wonder why I would choose a shorter distance, knowing that I can swim the 5, but I really want to get faster! I have found that, when I increase my distance, I get slower. With a summer of triathlons and swimming events lined up, I would love to build my speed and my confidence. On Monday morning I did a post-school-run swim, which felt blissful, it’s such a positive start to the week! I did feel slow though, but this swim was about finding a rhythm and enjoying the water, the pace can pick up later.

Are you signed up to swim the challenge? Why not share you stories in the comments section and tell me about your goals?

A round-up and look forward

I know, I know, it’s the middle of January and I’m only now rounding up my year, tsk! It’s been a busy time, but in a good way, with numerous volunteering opportunities, coaching and leading runs. I guess another delay to writing this post is the sheer scale of what I have to round up from 2016! It was a fantastic year, with big changes and big challenges.

Family volunteers

Family volunteers

I started my year by qualifying as a UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness and starting my role as trainer for GoodGym Lewisham, running to do good in our community, making a difference and growing our friendships and fitness at the same time. With my birthday present at the end of 2015 being a place in the Outlaw Holkham Half-Ironman, my goal for the year was pretty clear, leading to many sessions on the turbo, hours of laps at the pool and a continuation of the consistent running that happens anyway. My ongoing goal to improve my swim speed and to overcome my open-water and race panic saw me proudly swimming my 5k Swimathon at the Aquatics Centre, my favourite pool.

Medal moment

Medal moment

In September I dived straight in (or rather schlumphed heavily into the Serpentine with hundreds of other people) and went for it with the first ever Swim Serpentine. I can’t say I’ve particularly progressed much with the open water swimming, having pootled, heads-up all the way round, chatting to each and every marshal en route! There’s a lot of work to be done, so I’ll be back this year and swimming it with my head down and with determination (my favourite bits were the hot tub and sauna at the end. Ahem).

Mega medal

Mega medal

As always, my favourite sporting moments have been those shared with others and, in June, we took Hilly Fields parkrun on tour to Paris, enjoying the beautiful course, cheering on friends to super finish times and, best of all, encouraging and cajoling Hector around his first ever full 5k! What a wonderful weekend, running, eating, socialising and sightseeing!

On tour

On tour

Other highlights have been supporting and facilitating others to push themselves and reach their goals. Our wonderful parkrun and junior parkrun are growing all the time and, with the introduction of a tail-walker, we welcome runners, joggers and walkers every week, with nobody finishing last. Once again, we put together a massive team, to take charge of the baggage trucks in Greenwich Park, taking care of the belongings of the many nervous runners, about to embark on the Virgin London Marathon. One of my favourite days of the year (more on that later…).

Top team

Top team

In July I gritted my teeth and tackled my first half-ironman in the beautiful surrounds of Holkham Hall. We had an incredible family and friends weekend, enjoying camping in the grounds, playing on the beach, fuelling up with fish and chips (yup, I’m such a pro) and slipping in a couple of little sporting events for good measure.

Knackered

Knackered

The summer was an active one, with coastal runs and sea swims in beautiful Cornwall and a real family treat, a trip to Club La Santa in Lanzarote. What a dream! Massive swimming pools (often all to myself), classes on tap and group runs and rides to keep us happy…I think we’ll be going back (Hector hasn’t stopped talking about it!).

Representing

Representing

In September I returned to the excellent London Duathlon, where I had my best experience in my three years of this race (though not a PB, so close, next time!). My race report was featured in 220 Triathlon magazine, which caused my Mum to squeal in W.H.Smith πŸ˜‰

Spread

Spread

My last post was all about getting out, whatever the weather and volunteering certainly encourages that! As a family, we always try to embrace whatever the weather throws our way and our Christmas holiday involved getting out, being active and making the most of what’s on our doorstep, with a brilliant day in the Olympic Park.

Family fun

Family fun

To round off what was a great year, I realised that, if ran as much as I could at Hilly Fields parkrun in the run up to Christmas, I could reach my 100th run on New Year’s Day. With some incredible support and juggling from my fellow run directors and a few slow-paced, flu-ridden strolls, I made it – Peckham Rye parkrun AND Hilly Fields on New Year’s Day, making it to 100!

The double

The double

An epic start to 2017! In the run up to Christmas, I was in bed, totally knocked out by ‘proper’ flu, none of this ‘man’ flu, proper, can’t move a muscle flu. As I lay there, I scanned twitter to see that the London Marathon were running a competition to win a place in the 2017 race. Typing in the answer to the question, along with probably hundreds of others, I thought ‘That would be nice, but I doubt it will happen’. Weeeeeellll, I won! There’s nothing like a marathon on the horizon to focus your training! It will be my fourth marathon, but it’s been a while. When I ran previously, I wasn’t part of a running club, or part of an amazing running community, so this time will be very different. Not sure I’ll be able to work on the baggage trucks this year, but hey!

Swimathon 2016

*tick*

It was a bit weird – but nice – having a leisurely breakfast then strolling over to the DLR in my civvies, to head to Stratford for my Swimathon at the Aquatics Centre. Usually a Sunday morning ‘race’ involves anxious breakfast timing, laid out kit and a stupidly early start – I even got there early enough to have a coffee and chat to a woman who was running three miles for Sport Relief around the Olympic Park πŸ™‚ The atmosphere in the park was fantastic, very reminiscent of London 2012, with people in umpire’s seats, waving big foam hands around.

2012-esque

2012-esque

As I approached the Aquatics Centre, I got a rush of butterflies, as we entered through the big front entrance (you normally go down some side steps and through a less impressive-looking door) and saw the sweeping vista, while our bags were checked for offensive snacks.

Here it is!

Here it is!

I stood for a while and watched the previous swimmers completing their last few lengths and chatted to a family, who had popped in before going off to run a mile/three miles/six miles. I realised now, that I had better get my kit on and go down to the water’s edge! I was nervous, daunted and a little concerned that I wouldn’t cope well with how busy it might be. The changing rooms were buzzing, all of the volunteers and staff I encountered were lovely, really reassuring and I decided to stop being so daft and get my cap on ready. My *tiny* cap. We had been put into coloured teams, to help lap-counters and to encourage a sense of camaraderie – I was swimming for Team Blue and had to squeeze my head into the teeniest swimming cap ever, I didn’t hold out much hope for it staying put!

Once I was poolside, I located my lap counter and she ticked me off her extensive list – there were to be fifteen swimmers in each lane! Fifteen! As we were in lane three, there was also talk of jumping/diving in to start, no way! So I managed to convince my lovely lap-counter that, as I was second to set off, it would be OK for me to edge over from the steps, promising not to get in anyone’s way. Wuss. At this point I was pleased to bump into fellow #blogsquad member, Lucy. I hadn’t realised she was also swimming at the Aquatics Centre, so it was great to see a friendly face before we all dipped into the diving pool for a warm-up.

I usually avoid warm-ups at ‘races’, finding them a bit pointless, all that weaving from side to side when you’re about to run, but this warm-up was just what I needed. Of course, the bottom of the pool had been raised (which meant there was a pleasant bounce to it) and I had the chance to do a few widths, put my face in, steady my breathing and really get ready to swim. And yes, I did join in some of the side-to-side weaving stuff πŸ˜‰

The first swimmer in our lane hadn’t turned up, so I was told to pause and go on the second horn, so I waited patiently while Duncan Goodhew gave us some words of encouragement and sounded the horn after a countdown. At this point, I realised that the warm-up had really done the trick and I pushed off easily and confidently, starting as I meant to go on. The good thing about a 50m pool is the space you can make for yourself, so it took a while for the faster swimmers in my lane to need to overtake and we all managed to find a space throughout the time we were swimming together. There were moments though, where I had a little inward moan, there was one swimmer who was clearly much faster than everyone else and should have been in another lane. I know people are sometimes a bit inaccurate or overambitious when they put down a predicted time, but he was super speedy. Another man was all over the place, doing backstroke, weaving across the lane, not letting people pass at the end of the lane, so I was constantly having to stop and start. By now I had accepted that my time wasn’t going to be much faster than last year, so settled in to enjoy (endure?) the experience. This kind of distance really is endurance. I was constantly correcting my posture, telling myself ‘relax’ and ‘long neck’ and easing into a meditative state as I counted laps.

The atmosphere at the Aquatics Centre was brilliant, but it’s kind of lost on swimmers, who only hear the swooshing and wooshing around their ears! I would pop up at each lane end and catch a little bit of music, with David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ really giving me a little lift. Gradually, the faster swimmers and those swimming a shorter distance had got out and I was sharing the lane with two other swimmers. A big smile as I realised I only had ten lengths to go (this would be twenty in my usual pool!) and picked up the pace a tiny bit. Now only four and now two. I looked up and my lap-counter was now a man, who was shouting encouragement (I think it was encouragement, he might have been shouting ‘Stop! You’ve already finished!’), but I kept going, just in case. What a wonderful feeling to reach the end, little victory fist-in-the-air and a moment to find out how much time I had taken. Apparently I’d been in there for 2 hours and 8 minutes, surely not?! I queried this, reminding him that I had had to wait at the beginning (he had me down as first swimmer), which he said he would check. Anyway, I had swum 5k and I was happy. I climbed out somewhat creakily and went to collect my medal from a very jolly lady, who seemed to genuinely enjoy celebrating with people. I then had my photo taken and enjoyed a hot shower immensely.

Official photo

Official photo

While I was doing all this, Edward and Hector had been at junior parkrun, volunteering and running, then had leapt into the training pool, after checking how I was doing of course. I got a big wave and thumbs up, then they got dressed and joined me for a family hug.

Did it!

Did it!

We were now in the danger zone…food must be eaten! I was well and truly swammished and quickly ushered everyone out of the building so we could eat ASAP. All around us were people with various medals, all looking very hungry, but mostly very happy. We ate lots and, while we did, Hector made me a little napkin certificate…perfect πŸ™‚

Awsome

Awsome

Social Swimming

Just over a week to go until Swimathon 2016! Oh, my!

Last week, I decided I should get some practice in at the Aquatics Centre, since that’s where I’ll be taking on my 5k. I armed myself with my instructions, written down from the excellent training plans and a bottle of water, found a lane that looked nice and quiet and set about swimming 4km, the furthest I’ve swum since last year’s Swimathon. It was hard work. I do like the training plans, because they include breaks (of only twenty seconds or so, but still) and these kind of ‘refresh’ your stroke and your determination each time and break up what can be quite a tedious chunk of time. Yes, I said it, tedious! It’s not like there’s much to look at, though the Olympic pool is simply awesome and I catch my breath when I remember where I am, but the constant up and down can get a bit boring.

Awesome

Awesome

I do try to find ways of breaking the boredom, but it’s hard to daydream or drift off when you’ve got to keep count, so it becomes a kind of meditation, listening to the counting in my head, the swooshing sounds around my swimming cap and looking into the tiny bubbles that flutter towards me as my fingers pass through the water. I notice the roll of my body, readjusting as my shoulders start to tense, reminding myself that I should see the surface of the water, the lane divider and not the ceiling. I enjoy the deep, deep inhalation and the hard exhalation, the flutter of my legs and the power through my torso. I look down to the bottom of the pool, noticing lost hair bands, scrunched up plasters (urgh) and the depth that kind of hangs underneath me. I catch up with the swimmer in front and widen my stroke outwards into a slow breaststroke, secretly enjoying the little break and new view, but plotting my overtake at the lane end. All of this passes through my head during the up and down of eighty lengths of a fifty meter pool.

Today’s distraction tactic was to swim with friends. I say ‘swim with friends’, a social swim is an odd thing, with the swim itself involving us finding our own lanes and carving our solo paths, but the meeting up, travelling together and the post-swim lunch makes it all so much more fun.

Swim friends

Swim friends

…though the lunch that we inhaled at speed didn’t really ease the level of swamishness that we had reached πŸ˜‰