Wednesday, 30 September 2009

October inspiration

So a new month dawns and we are truly headed into autumn and winter. The days will become shorter and colder and motivation will wane. I have a quote that I love that I refer to sometimes when I'd prefer to stay in under the duvet and it shows me where I need to head....

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

Andrew McKenna

I have had some fantastic news with regard to sports massage therapy support. Andrew McKenna of Northants Sports Massage will provide all my sports massage therapy during training for the Arch 2 Arc. This is an absolutely brilliant commitment from Andrew and will make an absolute world of difference to my ability to recover from the intense training I shall be undertaking.

Andrew himself is an ex-international level runner who went on to completed both a degree in human biology and a diploma in sports and remedial massage from the London School of Sports Massage. He has worked with multiple athletes in his time and I sure he will be able to provide a fantastic service. His website is www.northants-sports-massage .co.uk and contains lots more information about how much of an asset incorporating sports massage into a recovery programme can be. I hope to arrange my first session with Andrew over the next few weeks so I'll report back on how I get on - not too painful I hope!

4th is the worst place to come.....

Having taken Thursday off as I had an all day meeting and a 2hr each way commute to content with, I had had to use Friday to get my long run in. This meant I had missed Friday's speed work session and was playing catch-up. There was a local 5k running in Milton Keynes this weekend and I decided to head down to that and use it as a speed/tempo type session to replace Friday's. Having trained all the way upto the race I wasn't expecting anything fantastic just a good session and a bit of a marker to see where I am before training begins in earnest. I jogged the mile and a half down from my house as warm-up then sat in the shade watching people prepare. About 15mins from the start they began a mass aerobics warm-up which I have always avoided since I got sunstroke from bouncing around in the sun before the start of the Great North Run. So I did a few strides instead and then waited for the start.

The run follows a route around Willen Lake that I run on a regular basis so it was good to know how far I had to go etc. I ignored my watch at the first km and was pleased to find I was at 9.25 through 2kms. The km between three and four seemed very long but I was still on target to go sub-25 (my secret dream) as I passed the 4km mark in 19.09. In the last 50m a sprightly young girl zoomed past me but I had no energy to chase and finished a few moments later in 23.33. I was frankly flabbergasted at this time and it is a massive pb! I was only slightly peeved to hear them announcing as I crossed the line, .."Charlotte...17 years old....got the third woman spot....." Damn!! I know it is just a local race but I have never imagined myself to be able to actualy get placed in a race especially a running one so I was actually pretty downhearted on the walk home. I do think the course was probably 200m or so short so I can't get too carried away with my time but even so that would take me under the 25min mark which I am ecstatic with. I didn't think I had it in me to go that fast especially at this stage of the season. (And I am aware that for most of you out there, this is not 'fast' but for a plodder like me, it's thrilling!)

Monday, 28 September 2009

Mountain Biking Angels...

Last weekend Adam was on nights which I hate because I can't get anything done during the day (musn't be loud!) and then he is gone at bedtime. :( I fitted in my first cycle by myself which if you have read previous blogs you will know is big step for me as I hated cycling by myself during my build up to Ironman Germany in 2006. It always seems a faff and a big deal but last Saturday I was brave and just backed the bikes into the car and got on with it. I tried to extend our normal route a bit but ended up on the A5 - hmmmm, so had to turnaround and go back up the hill I just zoomed down. About 90mins and a happy bunny.

This week has seen some fairly consistent training despite the fact that I have had a sore back. My back is normally one of my strong areas so I was very surprised for my mid-back to feel stiff and a bit sore come Monday night. I woke up on Tuesday and it was ok but I think I exasperated it by doing Weights on Tuesday morning especially as I have moved on the higher weight, lower reps phase of training. It was sore Tuesday afternoon and I asked various forumites for advice on whether to swim or not (I think I just wanted an excuse!) - naturally responses were 50/50 so, as I know it is important to keep moving with a sore back, I eventually hit the pool. The session didn't seem to make it any worse so that was good. Hot water bottle and icing session Tuesday night relieved it slightly but I stuck to only swimming again on Wednesday and, knowing I had a meeting on Thursday, figured training could wait until Friday. The day off on Thursday probably did it good and, bar a little stiffness, we were ready to go by Friday.

I replaced my interval session on Friday morning with the long run missed on Wednesday. I did 8.5miles in 80mins and it felt very comfortable which I was really happy with - hopefully all bodes well for my first proper 'race' of the season, the Henlow 10 in October. I also got promoted at work - hurray! - so we had champagne after training and then an early departure mid-afternoon.

This weekend Adam has been on days which is by far my preference - I can get LOTS done in the day-time without him distracting me but then he is home for dinner. :) I gave the house a good clean as it was long overdue and, as last weekend, bit the bullet and headed out for a cycle. I was even braver today as I set off from home so had to navigate getting out of Milton Keynes which actually went without a hitch which, given my sense of direction, is a miracle! There is a steep-ish hill about 7miles from our house which Adam had attempted during the week to make sure he was prepared for his duathlon next weekend and he challenged me to see how I did on it. So I headed off for the hill and, whilst it was a tough, out-of-the-saddle scenario for me I managed to make it to the crest of the steepest part, lungs bursting, legs driving down against the pedal and........break my chain!! I nearly toppled off the bike as suddenly my legs started spinning and as I had no speed, had only a fraction of a second to yank my foot out before I fell off. I tried to put the chain back on and it seemed ok so I started off again the long but much more gentle climb that finished off the hill. Within a few moments the chain had come off again and I was back to a precarious, nearly-falling off scenario. This repeated a few times until I admitted defeat and decided to walk to the flat at the top to see whether, once it was on the flat, the chain would settle as there was less pressure going through it. As I was walking along I noticed that one of the links was totally squint and realised I may have more of a problem then I thought!

As I didn't bring a chain tool out I was going to be stuck. At this point, a group of mountain bikers passed me on the way to the top. Most of them offered cheery greetings, probably thinkgin I just couldn't manage the climb. Luckily, I had left the chain dangling and one of the finally noticed and asked if there was a problem. I explained the situation and the whole group stopped at the top to help. There had multiple chain tools amongst them and one very organised person even had 9-speed chain links. We managed to fix the chain by removing the broken link and I went gingerly on my way. I cut the ride short as I didn't want to put any pressure on the chain especially as Adam wasn't around to rescue me if needs be so only managed around 75mins including the stop which was disappointing as I had wanted to do over the 2hr mark. That will have to wait til next weekend now!

Anyway, a big thanks to my mountain-biking angels - it would have been a long walk home without their help!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Back in the water....

This morning saw my first foray back into the pool since the Channel relay. I am using some sessions from a different training plan than normal and it felt strange not to stick to my W'Up/Drills/Main Set/Cool Down format but it is always good to mix things up a bit and keep them fresh. Second session of the day will be in a minute - an hour tempo turbo though I do have a bit of a headache which I hope will pass before I start. I think I might have a short early evening nap tonight if I get home in time. I wish I had a job where I could have an afternoon nap between 2 and 3pm as I think it would make a massive difference to how I recover. Still, very few people have that luxury I imagine.

Friday will see another swim set and an interval session then I am going long bike and long run on Saturday and Sunday. Normally I split my long bike and run sessions as I believe otherwise the run is never done to the best of your abilities but because of being a lazy daisy in France I am now a run down so Sunday it will have to be.

Cycling will hopefully see me reach 2 hours in the saddle this weekend which will allow me to get to the stage I want to be before joining Team MK at the beginning of October. It will also allow me to get more use out of my fabulous new sunglasses provided by Colin Pickering at Bloc Systems Ltd (www.bloceyewear.com). I tried their Leopard model last weekend and really liked them. They are lightweight and provide good sun glare reduction without impacting on the clarity of vision that can occur in some models. I always find this a bit perturbing on busy roads, if I can't make out shadows and things because of the tint of the glasses but these work really well. They also have yellow and clear tints for low light and they look really good too! I may try the Stealth version this time and I'll let you know how they compare!

Basically a massive thank you to Colin for supporting the challenge. Colin also supports the Army Winter Sports programme so does a lot to help our Armed Forces and I am extremely pleased that he has chosen to support the Arch 2 Arc.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Post Swim thoughts....

My first post swim thought was, 'Thank God I signed up for the Arch 2 Arc prior to this swim coz I would NEVER sign up for it if this was my first Channel experience!' However, it has now been a week or so since the swim and all the negative thoughts have been replaced (as they always are) with positive thoughts and the belief that it wasn't really that bad! This is what my Mum says childbirth is like!

When I dredge the thoughts back I can remember that it was hard and it was cold. The swimming was never that tiring, probably coz I was so busy fighting the waves to think about it but I do remember being cold. Thus, step one is to do loads and loads of acclimitisation. As I didn't do any prior to this relay I am hoping I can take a big step forward with this. There is also mental preparation to do as I remember some of the hours going fast and others slow and being bored and counting the minutes. I need to have a very strong mental focus and positive attitude and a regime to fall back on when any of the demons start to surface. This will need as much practice as the physical training I am going to undertake.

In summary, the swim was invaluable for helping me to appreciate the complexities of Channel swimming and to help open my eyes to quite how huge the challenge really is. I know I need to do more night swims, acclimitise to the cold, learn what foods work well for me and improve my bilateral breathing. What is great is that I don't feel any of these issues are insurmountable and that completing the relay was a great little deposit in the bank of experience and will definitely help come race day in 2 years time!

Naturally I took the Tuesday off following the swim but then I was panicked about missing the first week of my Ironman schedule and it being a sign of this to come so I proceeded to train three times on the Wednesday! Naturally this caused a pretty extreme tiredness by Thursday morning so after my morning session I abandoned both the afternoon session and Friday mornings, to get a proper rest. By Friday afternoon I was ready to get some more training in and completed a nice brick session. Saturday morning saw Ad and I out on the bikes for 90minutes before a quick change and heading to the airport.

We spent a long weekend with my parents in France, returning Tuesday afternoon. I did one run session but mainly enjoyed having a few days off as now it is full steam ahead for training, pretty much for two years straight, eek! Think it is definitely going to be a case of one day at a time otherwise I can see that just thinking about the vast amount of training required will mentally swamp me!

After a thwarted session this morning where everything I wanted to do had to be abandoned because of mechanical faults, closed pools etc and a single strength session had to suffice, I am off for a nice brick to get Base 1, Week 2 finally underway!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Sprinting, Sunshine and Success!

Though I was feeling better about the swim I was still feeling desperately sea-sick and the waves didn't seem like calming anytime soon. I felt rubbish that I couldn't be on the side of the boat cheering for the other team members but I thought it was more important to do whatever I had to do to be able to swim so the boys set me up in the best sleeping area on the boat and just let me nap. As I wasn't eating or drinking I just tried to conserve energy and sleep as much as possible. It was so awful I actually began to look forward to my stints in the water as they were such a relief from the nausea.

As I was preparing for my third stint our pilot, Paul Foreman, came over and said, "Rach, we are about 2miles from the point we need to be when the tides turn in less than an hour. I need you to sprint as hard as you can for your stint. If you can push really hard you won't have to swim again but if you don't then we could be stuck for six or more hours." Hmmmmm. Wasn't sure how much energy I had for sprinting (not that I think activity lasting 60mins+ can ever be classified as a sprint!) but the fact that I could avoid us 6+hours more of swimming was a pretty huge motivator and I swopped with Mike, put my head down and did everything I could. The hour actually passed fairly quickly and thinking about sprinting distracted me from the crazy waves and the cold. Getting back on the boat, I was told that, though the tide had turned early, we had passed the point we needed to and we would probably land during Andy or Mike's next turn. Hurray!

As Chris started off on his hour the waves did finally begin to calm down as we reached the calmer, more inland waters off the coast of France. The sun came out and warmed the air which at least made the prospect of diving into a cold seas somewhat more appealing. Andy followed Chris and did a fantastic last push to get us within a mile of the coast. Mike swopped in for his turn and about 25mins into his stint, Paul said we had reached the shallow waters where the boat would stop. He allowed us to all get in the water to swim the last few hundred metres in to shore before Mike upon whose exit and clearance of the water, the official clock would stop. Finally those last few metres were upon us and we staggered triumphant out of the water on a pebbly beach frequented by a few french day-trippers who looked at us like we might be a bit mad! Celebratory hugs and the obligatory picking up of a pebble of the shore and we had finally made it. We had swum to France!!!

After a few minutes soaking up the achievement we headed back to the boat where we were congratulated by the crew and given our official time of 13.32hrs from Michelle. Handshakes and thanks all round and some posing opportunities and I could finally take off my cossie and get changed into warm dry clothes, bliss! The calmer waters meant I could also finally eat and drink which I did with gusto before curling up for the return journey home.

Luckily our boat is one of the faster ones and after 1hr 45mins we were back in Dover Marina and unpacking the remnants of our trip. Many thanks were exchanged with our wonderful boat crew, especially our boat pilot, Paul who looked after us so well despite having had no sleep as he had just returned from another successful crossing when the weather cleared enough to take us too and we just couldn't miss the opportunity. I lugged my things back to the car and got ready to set off home. The team said our goodbyes with hugs in the carpark and a promise to stay in touch . It is always so strange how shared experiences can bring you closer to people in a short space of time then you are to some people you have known for ages. I set off home praying for a clear route and was rewarded with a very fast return journey to get home just before 8pm. A quick clear up and I was all ready for a huge hug and congratulatory kiss from my lovely boy when he got home. What a day! Post-trip thoughts to come but this has already been a bit of a mega-posting!

Bye for now from your Channel swimmer! :)

Sea-sickness and Sorrow......

Andy is our strongest swimmer and set off at a strong pace whilst I'll immediately curled up on all our bags and feel asleep. I was exhausted! So I missed most of Andy's swim but woke up to watch how the hand-over to Mike was supposed to take place and then napped again for half an hour until it was my turn. I prepped my cossie, goggles and hat and attached the bright green lights to my costume and goggle strap. I applied a little vaseline to my neck and got ready to head in. Though I was somewhat unamused by the prospect of a freezing cold night swim and a bit apprehensive about how I would cope swimming next to the boat, I was also excited.

So, I can honestly say that 60mins was the hardest ever, it made me want to cry on a par with the horrific never-ending desert night trek in Libya. As everyone else breathed to the right the boat was set up so we swam with it on our right. Unfortunately I breathe to my left and whilst in the calm waters of the pool I can happily bi-lateral breathe, I had no hope in the ridiculously choppy waters. As we had missed the neap tide slot which is typically calmer we had no choice but to swim on a spring tide which is typically choppier and it was living up to expectations. It was as much as a could do to breathe at all let alone breathe to my weaker side so sighting the boat became a breathe, take stroke, swivel head in random owl-like manner to check where the boat was, swivel head back, breathe on normal side, take stroke routine that basically meant I went nowhere fast! As I had such difficulty getting into the rhythm I also got freezing cold and not knowing quite how to place myself in relation to the boat meant sometimes I was miles away (scary and not endearing to the pilot who is trying to look after you) and other times I literally thought the boat would come crashing down on me. It is so choppy that sometimes you are happily placed just a few feet to the side of the boat and then a wave will hit and it will loom up over you and you definitely feel you are about to be squashed!

After an eternity the white light signalling my turn was up came and I scurried back to the boat to swop with Chris who jumped into the water and swam past me on the takeover to his stint. Unfortunately being back on the boat was not the joy I expected it to be as, usually for me, I got sea-sick. Not enough to actually be sick but enough to make me feel awful. The problem was that anytime I moved anywhere I felt really nauseous. It was easy to manage by lying deadly still on my back but it meant I couldn't move to dry myself, get proper clothes on, make a hot drink etc. Thankfully Ad had reminded me to bring my sleeping bag and eventually after about 30mins of violent shivering it usually warmed me up enough. The biggest problem was that I couldn't force myself to either eat or drink and was in danger of dehydration and totally running out of energy.

I have done a lot of endurance events and have always felt I have the mental capacity to complete whatever I attempt no matter what. Coming out of the water in the dark was the first time I have thought I could possibly fail at something and began to appreciate the massive challenge a solo swim is. At that point I felt so low that I nearly said to the others that I didn't think I could do it (they later said they pretty much all felt the same). Luckily, doing a relay means that if you quit you ruin other people's hopes and dreams too and that was a huge motivator to keep me going. If I had just been on my own I think it may have been a little different!

Luckily the next time I woke up for my second stint the dawn had broken and I felt a lot more comfortable in the water. As I could see the boat better I didn't mind spending longer between sights and thus could get a bit more a rhythm and wasn't quite so cold. The sun was just breaking through and that time is my favourite time of the day so for the first half an hour or so I was a lot more relaxed and happier. I did start to get a little cold towards to end of the second half of the hour but things were looking more positive..........

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

When the time comes.......

On Sunday, Chris Boland, our team organiser called and said that Pace Arrow (our boat for the Channel) had been recorded headed to France on AIS (a tracking system) and we should prepare ourselves as we were next in line. He hadn't managed to get hold of Paul Foreman, our pilot, but be ready to go any that night as the next tide was around 1am. Adam was up early to go shooting with his uncle, but I declined as I wanted to be prepared in case the call came in so I stayed behind and did the cleaning and shopping! The last track on AIS showed Pace Arrow about a quarter of the way across at 6am, but there were no further updates and Chris couldn't get any news from Paul. Finally around 5pm Chris texted to say Paul was in but the weather meant a swim was unlikely. He was going home to check the weather and consult a second opinion from Mike Oram of the CS&PF and would let us know by 8pm. At 7pm the call finally came from Chris that we were to assemble in Dover by 11.30pm for a 1am start.

I must admit to having a little wibble at this stage - after all the waiting I had begun to wish it would be called off as it had taken up so much off my time and energy and I felt so unprepared when the final call came in that heading down to Dover at midnight on no sleep to swim through a forecasted rough sea in the dark didn't seem particularly appealing! After some calming words from Ad, I hit the road. I am always better once I am alone. While I am with family and people who care about me I can resort to being a bit pathetic knowing the will look after me and tell me it is ok and still care about me if I can't do something. Once I am out there on my own I get tougher, it is just me then and I have to get on with things. Especially with a team of people I haven't met whose dreams also rely on me to get it together.

I arrived in Dover around 10.45 so grabbed a quick 20mins nap in the car before meeting up with Chris and the two members of the team I hadn't yet met, Andy and Mike. We got out bags together and set off round the marina to meet up with Paul Foreman, our pilot, Graham, his mechanic and Michelle, our official observer. Paul explained the weather forecast and how the swim was going to go and we confirmed our names and order of swim with Michelle. There was one other boat due to go out with a soloist - Eddie Spelling, who I have a relay booked with next year - so we waited until they were prepared to set off together before heading out. We headed through the dark out of the harbour round the coast to Shakespeare Bay where we were due to swim from. Andy, our first swimmer, got prepared and on the approach to the bay, dove in and swam to shore ready to start. Once he was clear of the water, he raised a hand and on Michelle's signal waded back into the water to start our swim. It was 01.32am......

At least my feet are Pro! :)

On Friday I took a trip to London to meet with the team at ProFeet. Profeet is a specialist company who make customised insoles for use with running and cycling shoes and also ski boots. I met up with Jono and we spent two hours analysing my gait, foot strike, various muscle imbalances (I have one leg shorter than the other?!) and moulded the results into the perfect customised insole for my foot. ProFeet have agreed to provide a customised insole for both my running and cycling shoe aswell as provide my trainers for the challenge. As I have narrow ankles but fat feet Jono fitted me into Mizuno trainers which I have never used before but they seem very comfortable and I can't wait to get out and try them. I will try and build up in them slowly but as Jono declared my other trainers 'totally shot(!)' I may have no other choices!

It was a fantastic and very interesting experience and I want to thank the team so much for the time they took with me and also the support they have offered.

On Saturday, despite wanting to play in my new shoes, I decided I would be better off cycling as I am still trying to stay off my legs before of the last-ditch possibility of a swim this weekend. So Adam and I headed to Woburn for a 19mile cycle round some of the roads I use to commute and their tributaries. It was actually a really nice ride with not too many busy patches and I enjoyed it. I do like cycling and I think it really helps to have Ad with me as it is lovely doing something together and I feel much safer. So, as long as his enthusiasm continues I am set! Got back early evening so nothing to do but shower, eat and early to bed!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Ah...the bike....

The bike has traditionally been the bit of triathlon that I think I have the most opportunity to improve in. Having come from a rowing background I feel I probably have strong enough legs to do well in biking once I commit to long long miles, time trials and lots of drills!

Having sat around doing pretty much nothing the last week I couldn't bear it any longer and set out on Tuesday for a run. I thought I would just have a nice gentle 20mins or so just to say I was exercising again but instead ended up doing nearly 8 miles. Hmmmm. I must have been frustrated because normally wild horses can't make me enjoy running! It was very hot and windy though so by the hour mark I was definitely ready to make the turn for home as dehydration set in. I trialled a new thing for my long runs which is instead of a constant pace, which can see me 'plod' a bit and get generally slower and slower as I lose concentration, I did a 1 minute 'focused' run - probably at tempo speed - every 5mins. This helped keep my overall speed up I think. This early in the season my long runs are probably around 10min/mile pace but doing this resulted in an average pace of 9.37/mile - interesting! It also helps break up the length of the run and keep me concentrating.

So, back to the bike. Yesterday saw me out on the road for nearly 3 years! Having concentrated on marathons and ultra-running and swimming over the last few years I have totally neglected my biking and so it was a rather dusty Specialized that was dragged from hibernation in the garage yesterday. Biking is a funny one for me. Like I said I believe I have a lot of potential on the bike and I do really enjoy it (if I am not concentrating on speed anyway!) but it always seems a big deal. With running, you are never normally more than a few miles from home but with biking you can be 100miles from home at any point. This always makes me turn every ride into a mini-drama of all the things that could go wrong and involves me taking all manner of different clothing options, phone, credit cards, thousands of bike repair options, millions of inner tubes etc. It just seems a hassle sometime and I always panic about all the things that can go wrong, from being stranded with a puncture to being involved in a crash.

I have decided that they way to appraoch this is to do it more. A lot more. And to take away some of the stress involved by learning how to do basic bike maintenace (enough to get me home) and become the slickest tyre changer in the business! Hopefully this will give me more reassurance that the worst is not always going to happen and I can cope if it does! This will mean a fantastic winter doing long rides that will see me super fit and strong come spring! I guess, like with my crazy issue with inanimate objects scaring me in the water, that the more you are exposed to it the less it bothers you. In fact I am sure that's a theory somewhere.....aversion therapy anyone?!