Staying afloat

It’s been a very long time since I last wrote anything here, with good reason though, I haven’t been slacking you know! Previous posts have covered the various injuries I have dealt with and my  decreased participation in running (and subsequent increase in water-based activity!). Around a year-and-a-half ago I found out I have arthritis and that I would need to undergo surgery to ease the pressure through my knee. In July I had this surgery, major surgery, to preserve my knee joint.

I didn’t exactly have a summer of fun, with the heatwave being spent hobbling between the sofa, bed and the bathroom, it was really, really tough. Ten weeks on crutches, visits to the physio, slow (very slow) strolls to the park and I was eventually able to get back in the pool. I was more nervous about getting in and out of the water, abandoning my crutches at the side and tackling the steps of the pool (it was fine). Initially I swam with a pull-buoy, using only my arms, as my leg muscles have wasted considerably (this is where the physio comes in).

IMG_8722_Original

Now, at fifteen weeks post-surgery, I am mixing up my swim sessions, building in more lengths using my legs as well (I’m getting there!).

The week of my surgery I was incredibly frustrated by the fact the newly reinstated lake at Beckenham Place Park was opening (I had watched the progress of this project, eagerly awaiting the opening, which had been delayed from the initial date in May). Edward and Hector represented though, heading down to join in the ‘first swim’. A few weeks ago I felt ready to get in myself.

There have been a lot of teething problems with this lake, but the people running it are working hard to create a space where swimmers can enjoy this new resource. I got there early and had the lake all to myself, the sun came out as I swam and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. Now the challenge is deciding whether I think I can carry on through the winter! I’ve never had the opportunity before, so I feel I should take the plunge, but I’m also a little apprehensive! My winter swimming induction is booked for tomorrow morning, when I will decide whether or not to invest in the winter membership…

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 🙂

Swimathon 2017

When I took on Swimathon in 2015 and 2016, I made sure my time slot was nice and early. I do like to tackle my activities first thing, finding my energy levels are good and I can then float around in a fuzz of endorphins for the rest of the day. This year my Swimathon wasn’t until 3pm, so I was up on Hilly Fields, Run Directing junior parkrun and cheering on eager 4-14 year-olds around our 2k course. Once we had cajoled, hi-fived, timed and applauded our runners, I was free to head up to the Olympic Park with Edward and Hector, to enjoy a pre-swim lunch in the sunshine and to soak up the Swimathon atmosphere.

Like last year, I was swimming at the Aquatics Centre, my favourite pool and, when I arrived, it was tantalisingly empty!

Dreamy

I was signed in, handed a swimming cap (bright yellow) and wristband and asked to get changed and be ready at the poolside for the 3pm start. I had my usual numerous visits to the loo (totally unnecessary, but nerve-induced) and gathered at the edge with the rest of the swimmers. I was in lane 8, so made my way over to meet my lap-counter. Not all pools provide a lap-counter, so it’s best to check before you head over (in my first year, I was very lucky to have my friends Emma and Susan counting my 5k swim). I met the other swimmers in my lane, a mixture of 5k and relay groups, with my 2.5k seeming a little cheeky! As I mentioned previously, I had decided to ease back to the 2.5k this year due to the commitments of training for the London Marathon, which I think was a good decision, given that so much of time has been spent on the road, pounding the pavements!

As we chatted, Duncan Goodhew appeared and made his way round, shaking hands, being in selfies and giving people last-minute pep-talks. He wished me luck and we were soon gearing up to jump in. Yes, JUMP IN. Those of you who read my blog regularly will probably have gathered that I’m not a natural jumper-inner and certainly not a diver. My lap-counting assistant told me I was first in and, no, you’re not allowed to climb down the steps and duck under the lane divider. Oh dear. I surveyed the drop and considered the depth of the pool, stepped from one foot to the other and, at the last minute announced ‘I can’t jump in!’ He wasn’t impressed, but didn’t have much choice, as I skipped over to the steps, climbed in and ducked under. I know, I know, what a rebel! So, maybe there’s my next challenge, right there, get over my fear of the jump! Any advice/help/encouragement most welcome.

One good sign is that I wasn’t too flapped by my unconventional and slightly stressful start and quickly got into it, finding a nice rhythm, as my fellow swimmers caught up and overtook. The great thing about doing your Swimathon in a 50m pool is the space, you very quickly make your own path and everyone has enough room to stretch out and enjoy the water. I was definitely the slowest in my lane, with the others swimming at a very similar pace – this resulted in them bunching up and, every so often, catching up and overtaking me en masse! In previous years, I have been very methodical about my swim, breaking it up into manageable chunks, pausing every twenty lengths to take a sip of water. This time I just got on with it, reasoning that ‘it’s only 2.5k’. It certainly felt easier, swimming half the distance, but I still had to focus, readjust my form and think about my breathing.

At one point I lost count a bit, so it was great to know that my lap-counter (I’m sorry, I didn’t get his name) would be giving me a ‘two lap warning’. As I neared this point, I sensed a slick swimmer gliding through the water and up popped Duncan, giving me a few words of encouragement – there’s nothing like an Olympic swimmer easing up alongside you to make you kick your legs a little harder! One more length and I had finished! As my fellow swimmers continued, I felt a bit ‘lightweight’ climbing out at what was their halfway point! I think I will go back to the 5k distance next year, a real challenge for me. I picked up my lovely medal, gave others a cheer and got dressed, before meeting the boys, who were swimming in the training pool. I will definitely be back next year, with Swimathon now a big part of my training calendar, motivating me to get in the pool through the winter and try and beat my time. Don’t forget to read about the experiences of the other #blogsquad members too and maybe sign up next year…:)

Medal!

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?

Get outside and fight the winter blues!

I’m finding it very, very tempting right now to ignore my planned sessions, being pulled back inside by the call of the sofa, a cosy blanket and a mug of steaming tea. I know though, that if I don’t get outside, get some fresh air and have a change of scenery, I could start to succumb to the winter blues. Some days it doesn’t feel like the sun will ever emerge…

Where's the park gone?!

Where’s the park gone?!

My strategy for coping with the colder, darker months is to get outside each day, rain or shine. I like to try and do this early on, so I don’t have a chance to talk myself out of it! A good way for me to fit it all in, is to do a ‘School Run Run’, which usually involves heading up and down some hills…

Hilly (Fields) Hills

Hilly (Fields) Hills

Two of my weekly runs happen in the evening, not my favourite time to run (I find it difficult to fuel evening activity) but, as I lead the GoodGym Lewisham group run on a Monday evening, I have to be there, perfect, no excuses! I can also guarantee that, after running with a friendly group, chatting as we go, then making sure everyone is engaged with the task, I come home feeling a warm glow and with a big smile on my face. My other evening run is on a Tuesday with my running club. Again, I have to be there to coach the girls’ group first of all, but I have been known to slope off before my own session starts (gasp!), but the pressure to stay is strong and this doesn’t happen very often. It seems sticking to a run is much easier if you ‘make an appointment’, put it in your diary and, even better, do it with friends – you won’t want to let them down.

Another weekly ‘appointment’ is at parkrun, either running or volunteering. I’m coming up to my 100th run and, if I stick to it over the next few weeks, it will coincide with our New Year’s Day run at Hilly Fields 🙂 I hate missing my parkrun and it’s about way more than running 5k, if I miss the bit in the cafe afterwards, I feel very out of sorts! Sundays often involve some volunteering at junior parkrun, so encouraging little ones to take part and getting out in the park to blow the cobwebs away.

It doesn’t have to be an outside activity either, a brisk walk (or ride) to the swimming pool for a quick swim does the trick too – I started the week with a Monday morning swim and felt much better for it (it helped that there was only one other person in the lane though!). And, if you can’t get out to run/ride/swim, a walk will definitely do the trick. At half-term, we jumped on a train and had a day out at the beach and had it pretty much to ourselves. As you can see, the ever adventurous Hector is immune to the cold and took his body board, trunks and enthusiasm to make the most of what turned out to be a beautiful day.

Enjoying an October paddle

Enjoying an October paddle

What do you do to arm yourself against the pull of the sofa?

Everyone Active – The Castle Centre

I’ve been enjoying making use of the recently reopened Castle Centre in Elephant and Castle, run by Everyone Active. It’s not my closest leisure centre, but is the nearest Everyone Active venue. My bike ride there takes me alongside leafy Peckham Rye and I ride through Burgess Park to the recently redesigned Elephant and Castle roundabout. This whole area seems to be undergoing a huge level of redevelopment, with flats popping up all over the place and an enticing-looking ‘Elephant Park’ being constructed. These changes are gradually bringing in chains such as Pret a Manger – just by The Castle – and the area feels very different!

Castle entrance

Castle entrance

The Castle is easy to spot as you cross the busy road, with its bright neon sign and contemporary style. The foyer is big and welcoming, with desks straight ahead, to join, book classes or pay your entry fee. A quick wander through the automatic gates and you enter an open area, with seating and a small soft-play area for younger children. From here, you can see the swimming pool and, upstairs, the gym and studios. Navigating the centre is easy, with big, clear signage and I found the changing areas clean and well-stocked with lockers (which take a returnable £1 coin).

Changing area

Changing area

So far, I have used the swimming pool, which I have always been lucky enough to find quiet, so didn’t have any problems negotiating a space for myself. I was very pleased to see a pool-side sauna and steam room, which are quite small, but new and clean and they get nice and hot, perfect after a swim or training session (I *love* a sauna!). There are plenty of showers, with two next to the pool, with adjustable settings, so you can get it really cold post-sauna, one of these showers has a seat and is accessible. There are also showers outside the changing rooms and private cubicles in the ladies changing area (I assume this is the same in the men’s) – the good thing about these is the shower adjustment, you can get it to the right temperature and switch it off when you’re ready, none of that having to press the button every few seconds!

As well as the pool, I have also used the gym. This is really well equipped, with two areas, both with the same cardio machines, so no need to queue. There are treadmills, stationary bikes, Nordic ski machines, rowers and step machines. There is also a great range of resistance training machines, with fixed weights and a really good free-weights area. In the free-weights area there are also kettle bells and weighted bags, a TRX and various other things I’ve never seen before! I decided I should book an induction, to make sure I made good use of everything and didn’t miss out! This was a group induction, so we were shown around the whole gym, looking at all of the equipment to see how it works (it’s all very simple and there is always a fitness instructor on hand to help if you need it). After the induction, I got stuck in, warming up on the rower and heading over to the free-weights. I didn’t find it intimidating and saw that there were actually more women than men in this space.

I am yet to try any classes, because they don’t really fit in with my schedule; it would be good to have more classes in the daytime, I’m sure they would be popular.

Studio

Studio

If you want to try The Castle, the opening hours are Monday–Friday: 06:30 – 22:00, Saturday: 07:00–18:00 and Sunday: 07:00–22:00. Check the prices here and the timetables here.

I am a Half-Ironman!

(or rather woman)

Yes, I did it! Like last year, when I requested an Olympic Distance Triathlon for my birthday, I found myself in Norfolk last weekend, ‘enjoying’ my half-iron birthday treat. We picked up Hector from school on the Friday afternoon, filled a hire car with camping gear and my bike and headed off towards Holkham. It was very exciting as we drove through the area, spotting arrows and signs – we were on the bike course! Driving up into Holkham Estate, we were directed towards our patch of land and set to putting up our tent…we were very lucky at this point, getting the thing up just before there was a very sudden downpour…followed by beautiful double rainbows.

Our spot

Our spot

We had thought of staying in a cottage, but it seemed to make perfect sense to be right there on site, with just a stroll down to registration, transition and the briefing on the Saturday. Hector enjoyed the lovely playground with Edward while I picked up my number and stickers, racked my bike and listened very carefully to the quite entertaining pre-race briefing. It was interesting – and reassuring – to hear how much care is taken in testing the water before committing to holding an event. Apparently the lake we were to swim in was very clean and, due to be under-fished, we might see some very big fish on our swim. Eek! At this point, Edward had to nip off to take part in the 10k that had been organised (alongside a 2.5k race) in addition to the triathlon, so Hector joined me at the briefing, ‘Boring!’ Edward did really well in his first 10k in years, finishing just outside the top ten and getting himself a PB on a tough course.

Post-race (non-alcoholic) beer!

Post-race (non-alcoholic) beer!

The rest of our day was spent on the beach, enjoying the dunes, trekking to the water, dodging incredible thunder storms (by huddling under our picnic blanket) and burying a child. Of course.

Has to be done.

Has to be done.

We were also trying to keep in touch with our friends Siggy and Stephen, who had persuaded me to do this thing in the first place. Staying in a tent in a rural area leads to flat batteries and no signal, so slightly snatched conversations! We explored the tiny little shopping street at Wells-Next-the-Sea, picking up a new bucket and spade and marvelling at the superbly stocked sweetie shop.

If you have followed my blog regularly, you know that I try hard to find the right fuel in the run up to a race and also during the event itself, trying my best to avoid cramping and stomach issues. I hadn’t really thought ahead to my pre-race dinner and, as we were travelling light, we decided to go out to eat. Following the snaking line of thriathletes, we were led to the most wonderful fish and chip shop, where I shared this with Hector:

Top fuel.

Top fuel.

Ahem.

A relaxed evening was spent lounging around in our pyjamas, the boys drawing and me frantically rereading Chrissie Wellington’s excellent autobiography for inspiration (it never fails to inspire). I was anxious to get to sleep early as I had an early start. Hmmm, I did get to sleep fairly early, but found myself awake at 1am, then pretty much every hour after until I decided to just get up at 5am and traipse to the loo. Amazingly, I managed to get dressed, faff about, make porridge and tea on the stove, faff some more and leave without disturbing the boys. I was very nervous.

I had had difficulty finding my transition spot the day before and still took some time working out where my stuff was (and it was obviously now full of gear and people!). I laid out my belongings, doing a little run-through in my head, making sure everything was in order. I then spotted Siggy and Stephen, so had a little nervous hug and excited chat about what they’d got us into. Time ticked away quite quickly, so I decided to put my wetsuit on and put my very stylish Orla Kiely Tesco shopping bag in the baggage area with all the posh tri-bags. Time to leave transition and wait by the water.

Big nerves.

This is the point where I really start to panic. The water looked calm and I knew it wasn’t terribly deep (in fact we were able to stand at first), so this reassured me, but I looked around nervously at the other women in my wave (about 250 of them) and listened carefully as we were given some last-minute instructions. More hugs and we were heading down the ramp. The water was pleasant, but I still had that seeping-in-through-the-zip moment and wasn’t sure if I liked the feeling of my toes – and then my legs – sinking into the deep, blancmange-like silt! I kept back and to the side, allowing other, more confident women to move forward. A countdown and some cheering and we were off! I had given myself a good talking to in the previous days, telling myself to stop being such an utter wuss and not doing breaststroke for the whole thing. I did breaststroke. I looked to the side, where people were walking along the river bank, calling encouragement to their athletes. I smiled at marshals, who asked if I was OK. I noticed another woman turning around and going back after just a few hundred meters and I watched as pretty much everyone else peeled away in a surge of strong, front-crawling arms and legs.

Gradually, I put my chin in the water, gently blowing bubbles to regulate my breathing. I looked ahead and wondered where the island was. I chatted to some more marshals (a sure sign that your swim isn’t going as planned) and I avoided the fallen tree that bent over the water (and apparently looks like a crocodile if you have your face in the water, which I didn’t). I approached the island and swum round it, head up. I turned and looked hard to see how many buoys were left. I kicked my legs a little harder as I saw the last wave (of men) coming though now and hoped they didn’t catch me up and push me under. This, for some reason, gave me enough incentive to try front crawl. Here, I glided easily, overtaking, reaching buoys quickly. I ticked swimmers off then had another brief panic, going back to breaststroke and getting overtaken again. Men caught up but didn’t duck me. I tried again, thinking I could see the finish, where we were due to climb out – surely not?! I saw Siggy, I had caught her up! Overtaking, I shouted ‘Go Siggy!’ and made my way towards the last buoy, where we would make a sharp turn left. Me and all the other swimmers now crowding the area. The water became unsteady, a wave hitting me in the face and going down my throat. I choked and tried hard to breathe, a kind woman ahead calling out to see if I was OK. I was, I was just freaking out.

What a relief to be pulled out and to make my way up the ramp, undoing my zip and peeling off my wetsuit. Transition. Time to put on my cycle kit. Off I went, happy now. In the briefing we were told to have our bikes in the right gear for a hill start, I pedalled on. We rode up a long, straight road, a beautiful start to a bike leg and out through the gates of the estate. These were open roads, so we had to ride carefully, looking out for other road users. Junctions were marshalled and some had cones to guide us away from busy traffic. I had put two drinks bottles on my bike and had also invested in a little bento bag for my cross bar. Once I had settled in to the ride, I took a few gulps and a salt tablet (I wasn’t going to be beaten by cramp this time). The organisation of this event was excellent, the attention to detail impressive. I really appreciated the bright orange spray that had marked any potholes and drains, making it so much easier to just ride! We soon encountered our first hill, where I overtook a fair few people. One man, who I went on to meet at every hill, commented that these hills were hard work – he should try the North Downs sometime! Here I realised that all the hours spent on the turbo trainer had made up for any lack of actual road riding and I felt comfortable, strong and happy. I nibbled on chunks of bars that I had carefully wrapped in foil, guzzling drinks to wash them down (I need to work on this skill).

The first part of the ride was gorgeous, through quiet villages, on more or less empty roads and with little to challenge us. Later though, we were directed towards an A-road, where I put my head down and pedalled hard; I didn’t like this bit. The road was busy and fast and I had a little scream as two motorbikes sped past at top speed. Feeling a bit shaken by this and the bit of a traffic jam that we met at a junction, I pulled over at the next aid station to compose myself and have a chat with the lovely marshals. On your race number is your name so, as I pulled away, the team of people shouted ‘Go Adele!’, giving me a little boost to pick up the pace and catch up with anyone who had overtaken me on my break. This last bit went quickly and we were very soon turning the incredibly sharp bend that would take us back towards the hall. I was pedalling fast, feeling that I might make good time on the bike, but suddenly felt something hit my leg, ‘What’s that?!’ My bottle cage had come loose (I had been wondering what that rattling noise was!) and was falling off. Quickly, I jumped off and decided to just tighten it enough with my finger to get back to transition, fiddly! Back on I jumped and tried to catch up again. Along the long, long road and down the hill to transition where I attempted to find my space again. Off with the helmet, on with the running shoes and off in the wrong direction towards bike out. Doh. Eventually I found the way out and was greeted by a great big cheer of ‘Go Adele/Mum!’ and got myself a lovely big hug from the boys.

By now it was getting hotter. The hill that I had ridden with ease and enthusiasm was steep and long on the run, with tired legs and numb toes. The half-marathon was a three-lap run, taking on this hill three times. I ran the first lap, slow and steady, determined not to walk. I took some liquids at the feed station, feeling boosted for the lovely section under the shade of the trees, towards our campsite. At the lap marker, we were given wristbands to wear, signifying how many laps we had done (what a great idea!). I ignored the finish funnel to my right and kept going towards the feed station, where I sucked on a gel, urgh! The long road stretched ahead and I found myself slowing down to a walk. I wish I hadn’t, I wish I had kept a steady but slower pace, but I had done it now and felt like I had given myself permission to stroll and chat! I ran chunks of it ‘To the drinks’, ‘To the gate’, ‘To that marshal’, but walked great chunks too. Lap three and I saw numerous athletes pushing their bikes out of transition, medals around their necks. Keep going! Another gloopy gel, yuck and a loo stop!

Only one more lap to go and I would be a half-ironman! The long road stretched out in front and I walked again, but heard a familiar foot-fall behind me, it was Siggy! ‘Come on Adele’, she said, ‘We’re going to do this!’ ‘I’ve had enough Siggy’, ‘Come on!’ On we went, jogging steadily to the next drinks station, the last. Siggy chatted constantly, keeping me going, distracting me. My knee hurt, but I didn’t want to moan because she was so upbeat! We made it through the trees and out to where the tents were, people sitting in deckchairs, cheering, encouraging. Only a few hundred meters to go! We saw Stephen, who had finished a while before us and turned to run up the red carpet! The tape was out, like we were the winners and we held hands to cross the line, hands in the air! We had talked about doing this, but didn’t really imagine we would finish at the same time. Medals were put around our necks and Stephen was there to meet us. I had a little cry, then pulled myself together to hug Siggy and thank her for getting me round the run. It turned out Edward and Hector were at the beach (!) so we went into the food tent and tried to force down some of the delicious food on offer, along with a couple of pints of alcohol-free Erdinger (I love that stuff!). We debriefed, sharing our highs and lows and were soon joined by the boys, who gave us lots of cheers and high-fives 🙂

Half-Ironman

Half-Ironman

I’m not sure if I will do this race again next year, but only because I like to try different events. It was brilliantly organised, one of the best I’ve been to, with great attention to detail, incredibly friendly marshals, who seemed to appear just as you needed them to point you in the right direction. The venue and course were beautiful, the on-site camping was spot-on and I would heartily recommend this race the anyone thinking of giving it a go. What next? I’m not sure yet, but not an Ironman, stop asking me that question, people!

CapitalTri Splash and Dash 2016

I have a *little* race coming round very, very quickly and I am starting to panic slightly. I have only been on one big bike ride (though I have done lots of turbo training in the stuffy confines comfort of my own room), lots of swimming, but not the open-water variety and plenty of running, but nowhere near half-marathon distance. Eek! Regular readers will know that I am a strong swimmer, not especially fast, but strong but, when I venture into the open-water environment, all that work on technique flies out of the window and I become a jibbering (ship) wreck. I definitely need to get more cold water practice in before my half-ironman in just under three weeks’ time, so I decided to enter my first aquathlon at the weekend.

I’ve done triathlon (sprint and olympic) and duathlon, but never an aquathlon. I had a little ponder beforehand about what I should wear: the reservoir swim would need a wetsuit, but then I would be running and, as I didn’t really need the padded trisuit, what would be the best outfit for this event? I then looked at Sunday morning transport and realised that the only way I could get there for the 7:55 start was to cycle, so padded trisuit it was. I looked at my Citymapper app, I looked at GoogleMaps and they both had me cycling in to town from South East London, over Tower Bridge and up Kingsland Road. So I totally ignored this and went towards the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and up through the Isle of Dogs. I know a bit of this area (mostly from running/supporting at the London Marathon), but I get a little lost beyond the, erm, top bit of the river. Mr GoogleMaps was shouting from my pocket every so often: ‘Take a right turn towards the Blackwall Tunnel Approach!’ ‘Bugger off!’ I shouted back as I pedalled really fast along a horribly busy road.

After a while, I decided to step away from the main road and wend my way towards Mile End Park and work it out from there. Time was ticking away. The sky was turning grey. I was getting a bit stressed. When you are someone who experiences panic in a water-based race, a calm journey is vital, so this was not the best preparation for jumping into a dark pool. Through Hackney I whizzed, down Dalston I dashed and up towards Stoke Newington I rushed. I knew I wasn’t going to make it on time though, so wasn’t entirely sure I’d be taking part! At 7:53 I skidded up to the entrance to West Reservoir and asked a man in hi-viz if I was too late, he very kindly said: ‘Don’t worry, we can probably put you in the next wave’. What a lovely man! I calmed down, took a deep breath and locked my bike up, before heading in to register.

West Reservoir

West Reservoir

After I had picked up my number, swimming cap and timing chip I went outside to have a look at what I’d got myself into. My (original) wave was about to start and I looked on as people jumped in, yes, jumped in. I’m not a jumper inner. I hate jumping in. First pang of nerves. I decided to find the loo and get myself ready. The facilities here are great, there’s a cafe (though I didn’t make use of this, so can’t vouch for its niceness), plenty of loos and there are even hot showers (none of this ‘You’re swimming in cold water, toughen up!’ nonsense here). In the changing room, I got chatting to another swim/runner, who was also a bit nervous and it turned out she had been here before and had lots of good things to say about the experience. Now to find somewhere to store my stuff. Most lockers were locked, but some were open, but with stuff in them, so I ended up just leaving my bag in the changing room, reasoning that these were nice people who wouldn’t be interested in nicking my purse, my phone, my warm clothing and my bike lock key. Gulp. More lockers or a bag store please!

Time to go! There was a very relaxed pre-race briefing by the nice man I had met when I arrived, then it was down to the jump-in jetty. At the end of the jetty was a very jolly woman with a big camera, saying ‘Now, do your most dramatic jump in for me, go on!’ Nope. I’ll just sit here and dangle my feet in thanks, then slowly schlumph in in my own time. Thank you very much. The water was lovely, really pleasant and I didn’t gasp once – this didn’t mean I had any plans to put my face in just yet though. The sky was getting greyer and the water stretching out in front of me seemed even darker. Aaaaahnd, off we went! As always, I let the big men get over themselves and splash off into the distance, before I did a little timid breaststroke towards the first buoy. The lap at West Reservoir is 750m, so I would be swimming two laps, for now though, I would just get to the first buoy.

Not long ago I did the 5km Swimathon at the London Aquatics Centre, I trained hard, working on my technique and really powered along with a strong front crawl. Here I was doing a feeble breaststroke as others peeled away confidently. I really do need to sort my head out about this 😦 ‘OK’, I thought ‘I’ll try a little front crawl now’. ‘Oooh, no! It’s dark and cold!’, back to breaststroke. Jeez, I make it into a big old ordeal for myself, I even got a bit bored at one point. Lap one done and another to go. ‘Right, I’ll definitely do front crawl now!’ and yes, I did for a bit, overtaking people, sighting really well, reaching the buoy quickly and efficiently, then back to breaststroke and slowly pootling along again.

As I neared the end of my second lap, I saw something dark splashing about in the water, a leg or arm reaching upwards. I wondered why the marshal wasn’t acting on this and going to this person’s aid. As I got nearer I could see clearly that this was not a wetsuit-clad limb, but a bloody great big black fish leaping in and out of the water! You should have seen me move! Woo-hoo! Sharks! I watched with interest as those ahead of me negotiated the water exit and wondered what the score was, would there be a shallow bit to stand up in, would there be a grippy mat thing? No, there was a wooden ramp with green slime on it, so I oh so elegantly schlumphed back out and attempted to stand up as cramp set in. There’s probably a photo.

Into transition, which was soggy and grey, it had been raining while I was in the water and I hadn’t noticed. I peeled off my wetsuit and wrestled with my damp socks and running shoes, not really managing to adjust my elasticated laces properly, which made for some really uncomfortable numb-toe running as time went on. Finger on my Garmin, I looked around for the run-start timing mat, but there wasn’t one, the mat was in the entrance to transition, so all that faffing about had counted towards my run! Damn it! The 10k run was an eight lap course around the reservoir. This was on grass, with a narrow groove carved out by earlier runners. It skirted a river to one side and was overlooked by new developments and a path frequented by dog walkers and runners, what a lovely place to live! The field was small in this race and, as I had started in one of the last waves (and made such a pig’s ear of the swim), I often felt like I was on my own. Now, I like this, I enjoy being able to concentrate and just focus on my form, so this suited me. Even though there were eight laps to keep track of, I managed to do so – though I was doubtful after a friendly chap spoke to me on the fourth lap and I briefly lost concentration! A few more laps – each one with a little smile and nod to the photographer – and it was time to head to the finish and a banana, a bottle of water and a Topic, yes a Topic, nice!

I gathered my wet things from transition, chatted to a man who was training for an Ironman in Bolton, thanked the marshal who gave me encouragement every time I passed him and went to grab my stuff to go home. I’d quite like to do one of these events again, now I know how to get there 😉 I might enter a shorter distance though and see if I can speed up a bit. Now to look forward and build myself up for Holkham Half-Ironman, it’s not going to be easy, but it will be so much nicer if I can get on with the swim and do front crawl!

Aquathlete!

Aquathlete!

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 🙂 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 😉

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 🙂

Awsome

Awsome