Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Is that you Mr Consistency...?

For the last two weeks I have managed to train consistently which is something of a miracle! Better let than never eh? Nothing massive, session wise but just training 6 days a week is making me feel better and stopping me turning into a total porker from all the food! :) Strength and Conditioning session on Monday plus a 10k tempo run today which I really enjoyed. It is the same session as I did last Tuesday and it's really good. Can't wait to get the fast stuff going again when all this is over!! Work is busy, I am working on a specific project at the moment, but I am managing to fit everything in just about. Really looking forward to my birthday weekend which has a scheduled break from training pencilled in and a visit from my sis to look forward to! :)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Role Reversal....

So after Ad's fabulous support yesterday, it was my turn today to be chief crew. Adam was playing in his golf club's annual Club Championships and I had the job of making him a little picnic after the first 18 holes. It was nice to be able to look after him for a change and I have just finished cleaning the house, sorting the washing, ironing him a work shirt for tomorrow and preparing our lunches!! I feel I've in some way repayed the help and support he gave me yesterday! :) I think this is the only difficulty in being a worker, partner, friend etc aswell as trying to do the challenge in that, life still goes on. Whereas a professional athlete gets time off after big sessions to sleep, eat correctly and generally not give themselves any stress, I have to work, clean, look after the dog, be a partner to Adam, not totally neglect my friends and family, cook meals, do the shopping etc etc. It is something I must be totally mindful of in the final sessions before the A2A. The house can wait for a few weeks, I need to relax and get focused for the challenge ahead!

Make or Break....

So after a disappointing swim in Weymouth last weekend I felt I had to try to redeem myself with at least 6 hours this weekend. It is funny as I feel I can do it already, both physically and mentally but only because I know I peak mentally for the big occasion. I'm not as strong when it comes to intermediary targets. So I felt I had to get a big swim in this weekend more for everyone else than for myself I suppose; though on the flipside I know that every bit of training I can get done gives me an improved chance of making it across the Channel.

I also get nervous after I have put a target out there as I always worry about not making it. I am such a dichotomy I suppose, I totally feel that, on the day, I can swim for as long as it takes - I know I can dig that deep, and yet, I worry constantly about not having the mental focus to make training targets. I don't know really what that means, I suppose at this stage I should get a sports psychologist involved!! I just guess I feel a lot of the time that I can't be bothered with the training - I feel I can harness everything I need to to be able to get the challenge done and I almost feel that using mental strength to get through training sessions is a waste I guess. I don't know!!

Anyway, the wonderful Robert and Hannah had rallied the Anderby crew and a lot of people were coming down to support me which was fabulous as I think otherwise Ad and I probably would've stayed curled up in bed! After a bit of a late start, which we excused by saying the weather was better later in the day but was really because we were being lazy, we finally set off on the road around 9am. The promised sun was just about breaking through the clouds when we arrived at Anderby and Adam jogged down to the beach to check conditions as I did my usual dash to the loo after a last minute attempt to fully hydrate during the drive. Conditions were A-Ok so there was no excuse not to suit up and head down to the beach. I have to help carry the kayak and supplies down the boardwalk and across the sand to the beach and I secretly always resent it as I get a bit psychosomatic and start to imagine all the detriment it is causing to my arms and how tired they will be before I even get in the water!

We are trying a new feeding system using a maltodextrin complex carbohydrate drink with a little added protein to try and give me more sustained energy. I love my H30 Pro but, as it is purely isotonic, I have found I just can't rely on it solely during the swims. I tried to use it last weekend and get my carbs from proper food (which is what I do on the run - H30 Pro for hydration and salts and normal food for energy) but I just couldn't get enough food down me during the short feeds plus it is a lot harder to eat solid food during the swim.

At 10.45am I set off through the breakers to start the 6hr swim. The water felt a lot colder than last weekend in Weymouth but a lot warmer than it has been early in the season! I set off parallel to the shoreline and after a few moments Ad pulled up alongside me in the kayak. I love having Ad beside me during these swims, it settles me and gives me a good focus plus I can feel him willing me on and it makes me stronger to feel his support. We are trying a routine of feeing after 45mins then 90mins and then every half an hour after that. In Weymouth the first 45mins flew by so I expected this to be the same. However, it seemed to drag a lot more this time and I had constant doubts about whether I could push through the swim. Around the first feed, Hannah and Robert arrived at the beach and Ad left me for a short while to go and say Hi. Though I feel much more comfortable in Anderby now I still didn't like him not being near me, I find it much more comforting to have him there. It's not because I am scared of the open water, I am feeling more and more at home in that, but because I feel that with Ad by my side I can do anything. It sounds a bit corny but it's true. I know he won't let me fail and that is a great comfort.

Hannah and Robert walked the beach for a while and Ad reported that they were going to wait for a short while until the rest of the crew arrived. I was happy with that, the longer is took them to get in the water, the longer I would definitely swim for as I couldn't get out when they were all expecting me to be able to swim the 6hrs. So I knew that the I was guaranteed to swim for at least an hour post them getting in so I counted down to the next feed and waitied. The next feed came slowly but finally I got to the 90mins and Hannah and Robert still weren't in the water which was great news and it meant I would definitely get to three hours, an hour with them and then I could definitely push it for 30minutes more myself. I was justifying to myself that 3hours was still a good session and that not to worry that I wouldn't do the six. Excuses excuses!! I was still feeling cold at this point. Not like worryingly cold just cold enough that it was uncomfortable and your mind starts to question 'What's the point? It's uncomfortable, why put yourself through this hardship. If this was the Channel, you could do it but you've got nothing to prove now. Three hours is a good swim, be pleased with that and go home, have a nice weekend with your fiance...' etc etc. The two hour feed came and despite being happy they weren't in the water, I was also starting to resent the fact they hadn't got in yet thinking that the more they faffed the longer I was actually going to have to swim for. The thoughts kept coming and I kept trying to bat them away, understanding deep down that, having got out early last weekend, it was important to make the six hours. I am always cold around the 2hour point and I was not feeling the love for swimming, but I kept my arms turning, head down and plugged away.

Adam kept me amused by relaying the events of the shore. It seemed something akin to Glastonbury was being erected and more and more people seemed to be arriving. Just before the 2.5hr mark, two other bods appeared in the water. One was a young guy whom I took to be a guy called Sam that Hannah has told me about who has aspirations to swim the Channel in the future and also another lady. They swam over and asked how it was going, I told them I was bit cold which seemed churlish considering they were only in their cossies! Unfortunately a cold North sea isn't the ideal place for introductions or polite conversation so I hoped they wouldn't think I was too rude when I put my head back down and continued swimming. Sam kept pace and I was happy for a while as I knew he was a good swimmer and I appeared to be keeping up with him though he appeared to be swimming head up front crawl. I wondered if he was practicing sighting or something and after a while he put his head down and began to swim properly. Ha, all fantasies that I was swimming ok were then shattered as he easily pulled away! In fairness I felt like I was swimming ok, my stroke was still consistent but he was obviously just very strong through the water. It was lovely having someone else undergoing the same mad caper as me and I felt cheered. The only issue I had was that Sam had obviously noted the fact that I only breathe to my left so had positioned himself between me and the shore so I could see him as we swam along. This was really helpful except it placed him between me and Ad. It was really strange but I felt a strong sense of needing to be near Ad and was almost resentful of Sam being closer to him than me and I really wanted to get back close to him. I put up with it as we swam down the shoreline as I can sight reasonably well heading that way. On the return leg however where I end up sighting out to see I quickly slowed up in order to nip behind Sam so I could get close to Ad again. When I think about it now, it was such an odd feeling to have and I apologise to Sam if I seemed to be weaving around and generally acting a bit strange but I genuinely had a desire to be near Ad. Not least as foolishly by not being near him I felt worried I might swim off line and therefore spend more time heading in one direction, which is crazy as it didn't matter in the slightest, all I needed to do was spend time in the water!!

Anyway, Sam got me through the 2.5hour feed which I was happy to note meant that by the time Han and Robert got in the water I would definitely make it to four hours. I had NO idea what they were upto, after all they'd be here for about three hours at this point but I was starting to feel grateful again that they still weren't in the water and they could definitely chaperone through to match last week's total of four hours. They finally got in the water, I think around the 3hr mark, though it was hard to tell as I think I got a somewhat delayed feed at that point as Ad had got distracted talking to the beach crew! After the first bottle was finished at 90minutes, Ad kayaked into the shore before each feed to collect a new bottle, pre-labelled with feed, top it up with hot water and head back out to feed me. I had two feeds per bottle which meant the first one was always lovely and warm and the second always a bit lukewarm. Still anything remotely warmer than the cold seawater was a bonus at that stage!!

Having Robert and Hannah in the water with me gave me a HUGE boost! It felt like we were back training at Whisby and we surged along like a little pod of dolphins. I started to feel much stronger and the cold feeling that I hadn't been able to shake since I started finally left. The only weird that that was distracting me in the water now was what felt like every so often whacking my hand into a semi-filled water-balloon. Hannah let out a squeak on a few occasions which confirmed that she too had felt them. It was weird, I think they must have been jellyfish from the feel but they definitely weren't stinging which was a relief. I did think I saw a few outlines of white transparent type umbrella structures floating along but the water is so murky in Anderby that it could have just been my eyes playing tricks! I settled down to enjoy swimming with them, knowing I was in for at least four hours which was great. We stopped at every end of the bay to have a quick chat and enjoy the swim. They said I was doing brilliantly and still looked good, which boosted me no end and I loved swimming along with them. I finally started to enjoy the swim and felt the best I ever have on one of these long swims. It was great! I felt fresh and strong and warm and the fight I had had to make to get through the first 3hours or so seemed to disappear. We swam along companionly (hmm, not sure what word I mean here but it's too late so that'll have to do, you know what I mean!) and when we stopped at one end we even saw a grey seal pop its head up nearby. It was amazing - it was so huge and close. Ad had mentioned it earlier when I stopped him as he was grinning away at something. I asked him what it was and he said there was a big grey seal and it reminded him of Heidi and was making him smile! Our dog is just so gorgeous and sometimes she does just look like a big black seal or otter! Hannah and Robert had said they'd seen it numerous times from the beach all throughout the swim and it was obviously keeping an eye out for me. Oh, my own guardian angel seal, nothing beats it!

On the last lap Robert headed out to get a thermometer to do a temp check. I optimistically (or pessimistically in terms of today but optimistically in terms of relatively for the Channel) plumped for 14 degrees, Hannah went for 16 and Robert sitting in the middle at 15. It terms out in was 16 degrees which I was a bit disappointed with as it means we're not that much off Channel temperature. Though actually after the first three hours I didn't feel at all cold so I shouldn't worry too much. After a few laps of the bay, it was time for Robert and Hannah to head in and leave me to finish off. I knew they had been hoping to swim for an hour so I guessed I had around 2hours to go so I was chuffed to bits when Robert said it was nearly quarter past 3 which meant I only had 90mins. I had worried that when they went in I would lose focus and start to feel down again and cold but actually I didn't. I continued to feel warm (relatively!) and felt confident and strong. I knew the six hours was in the bag. Don't get me wrong, knowing it was in the bag and still having to swim out those 90mins are two different things but I never wavered and just kept on. I felt great when we started counting down the last hour and soon it was my final feed. Actually Ad decided to mess with my head a little on the final feed by stopping me early with around 35minutes to go just because we had enough feed left to 'squeeze some more feeds in'!! I refrained from telling him I could manage perfectly well now to get to the end with no more feeds and stop making me think I had less to go than I had, and just carried on feeling triumphant as I headed off for the last lap! A few extra small loops later, just to make up time, and I was counting down the final few minutes. I felt absolutely great, still warm and still strong and brimming with confidence. I had no aches and pains bar a little pain in my right shoulder and a stiff lower back. I fully felt like if I had had to continue swimming for 8, 10 or even 16 hours I definitely could have done. If today had been Channel day, I could have made it, I am sure. It was a fabulous feeling and I have never felt so good at the end of a long swim. What a relief!! It is going to be ok!

I headed in to shore, clumsily body-surfing the waves and met the wonderful little group headed towards me who had been spectating and supporting all day. I met Jacqui and her husband and two boys and she spend no time at all getting me a cup of hot chocolate. Ad helped me strip off and plonked on my lovely wooly hat and wrapped me up in a towel. I felt great, really strong and not tired so I think the feeding has worked well. I was absolutely amazed that there people, who are total strangers by the way, we only met today, would come and spend their day on the beach and look after me and encourage and support me. I was flooded with gratitude. I also couldn't have done it without Robert and Hannah. After I was snuggled up in the sun, they passed me some cake to munch on. It turns out this was birthday cake. Yup, it was Robert's birthday and instead of living it up somewhere celebrating here they were helping me out by swimming around in the freezing sea. They downplayed their part in it all assuring me I would have done it without them. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't. I felt sure that the outcome might not have been as successful as it was without them , and even if I had managed it definitely wouldn't have been as easy as they helped make it to be.

Finally I need to say a big thank you to Ad. He is such a massive support on these big sessions. Not only does he sort all the logistics out and look after me and make sure I am fed and warm but just having him there gives me the confidence that it will be ok and that I can do it and that speaks volumes. He also kayaked alongside me for 6 straight hours so he got a bit of a workout in himself plus some very sunburned arms!!

It was turning into a wonderful warm evening but we had a pooch to get back to so we said our goodbyes and very heartfelt thank yous and headed home. Despite many offers of help from Christopher and Sam which were greatly appreciated, I think it was testament to how good I felt that I managed to drag the fully laden down kayak back to the car!!

First Open Water Swim!! (10th April 2011)

So in advance of my first proper open water swim, Adam and I decided to go and do
a recce over at Anderby Creek. The coast is about 50miles away so we enjoyed a nice
drive through some of the lovely Lincolnshire countryside. There are some lovely
villages en route and we did a bit of fantasy house-hunting to pass the time. The run
up to Anderby Creek was lined with campsites but on arrival it had a bit of a ‘League
of Gentleman’ Royston Vasey feel! We parked up and headed over the boardwalk
to have a look at the beach. It was a lovely remote stretch of sand though the water
looked a bit chilly!!

Open water swim phase

Ah, the time has come to start open water swimming! Much as I would love to keep
putting it off as I am well aware that the sea in general and the North Sea in particular
is freezing at the moment, the time has come to get rubbered up and dive in! I have
met up with a local couple called Hannah and Robert who have much experience in
this area – Robert is a Channel Swimmer himself and Hannah is Chief Crew – who
have advised me of the best places to swim. Lincoln triathlon club don’t start their
open water sessions in the lake until the beginning of May so I am going to have to
brave the open water off the coast until then. Hannah and Robert have recommended
a place called Anderby Creek so happily I am going to spend my next few weekends
pootling about there. My father and mother-in-law to be are going to come over and
accompany Adam and I to the coast as Mike will come and kayak for me while Adam
and Ellen walk the shore. I have no idea how cold it will be but I have decided not to
bother investing in a neoprene hat or booties etc as I am not going to use them during
the A2A so I may aswell start getting used to the cold now!!

Caythorpe Canter (2nd April 2011)

I met up with my good friend Becki on a pleasant spring morning for the Caythorpe
Canter, a trail marathon near where I live in Lincolnshire. I had warned Becki that
it might be a bit of a slow one given that I am now solely in run/walk mode but it
is her first marathon so she was willing to go with whatever speed I wanted. The
atmosphere at these events is great, very informal and welcoming and I was very
much looking forward to out day. Becki has done a few events with me before and it
is always fab to run with her and have a good catch up. She is totally selfless about
it and always lets me run at my pace and walk when I want and I am always grateful
to her for helping me out. We estimated around 5.30-6hrs given stops for homemade
cake etc! Happily the Canter starts at the civilised time of 9am so after registering
we made our way calmly to the start line. At the start line I saw my friend Anthony
Gerundi who won the Double Ironman 2010 and was looking to post around 3.30
today. Given that that was the only time I was likely to see him today (!) I wished
him good luck for the race and wandered off a bit closer to the back of the group!

The gun went and off we went. The first few miles are all on roads, pretty much until
the first checkpoint at around 6miles so we had decided we would run pretty much
all of that unless there were any major hills. About 3miles in we were confused to
see the fastest runners heading back towards us. Knowing there was no out and back
section to the course we stopped and waited to see what was going on. Turns out they
had taken a wrong turn and like lemmings we had all followed! Anthony was leading
and if had known that I would have relied more heavily on my own navigation skills
as he has somewhat of a reputation for getting lost! Thankfully being near the back
we had only gone half a mile or so out of our way unlike the front runners who had
probably gone over a mile before the realised they were wrong and had had to double
back to the rest of us! To think at one point therefore we were almost in the lead!
J With the extra distance it was probably 75minutes before we reached the first
check point and I think Becki and I were wishing we had decided to carry our own
water. Becki had sensibly brought a camelback to run with but not so sensibly had be
swayed by my insistence that we’d be ok between checkpoints! It was a pretty sunny
day and we definitely felt thirsty which was not a great sign. Still we were happy to
reach our first marker and have a couple of glasses of squash and a bit of fruit cake.

During the race there were quite a few off road sections on trail and through fields
and it was beautiful scenery. The first have passed reasonably quickly and both of us
felt comfortable. The longest Becki had run prior to this was 18miles and we were
both excited about reaching that point and celebrating her new longest run! However,
around 15miles, Becki’s knee was really starting to give her some problems. I think
probably all the running in fields where the ground can be quite uneven and the path
was often so narrow that your feet fell at different heights as you tried to follow the
established path, was probably putting a strain around the knee joint. We decided to
walk more and only run where the path was flat and wide. This reduced our speed
but was a chance for us to have a nice chat. Becki kept apologising for having to
walk but I told her that walking was as valid as piece of training for me as running
and anyway, I was hardly begging to be able to run, I was pretty tired! I think not
fuelling properly was probably also beginning to take its toll and we were starting to
feel it as we made the last check point in a local school. The 18-mile point had come
and gone and we took a moment to toast Becki’s longest run! We took the chance to
have a little sit down and refuel on Penguin biscuits though we were cautious not to
sit down for too long as the chairs we made for little people and it was pretty hard to
get back up especially with seizing knees!! We were warned that the last challenge
was just around the corner, a particularly infamous hill but, once we had made it over,
it was a nice steady run into the finish.

We set off on the last leg and, upon reaching amoderate hill, I enquired of Becki whether this was the hill everyone had been talking about as she has cycled up it before. She looked at me with amusement and we headed round the next corner where I was faced with something altogether more Himalayan. I may have had a little curse but we had no real choice except to get on with it. We slowed right down and I spent a lot of the following minutes adopting a
bent over position using my hands to push off my knees with every step just to make
forward progress!! We finally crested the top of the hill and were relieved that there
were only a few miles left to face. We walked and jogged those last few miles, the
highlight of which was me managing to do a comedy fall as I tripped over a tree root
and narrowly avoided landing on a dead blackbird, and finally crossed the finish line
together a few minutes over the 6hr mark. It was great to get a long run done –
probably somewhere between 27-28miles with the detour and, as always, it had been
a pleasure to spend the day with Bec. We had a happy time refuelling with some
fabulous sandwiches and homemade cake before setting off to our respective abodes
for a welcome bath!

Training Update (March 2011)

Training Update (March 2011)

So training seems to have been a bit piecemeal for the last couple of weeks. Despite feeling remotivated on the return from Lanzarote I haven’t really got any key sessions in. I have had some consistency and trained most days but it’s only been a few miles in the pool or an hour or so running at a time. Adam’s 30th birthday came round on the 17th March and a few days were taken up with some great celebrations including a return to Northcote in Lancashire, the restaurant of Nigel Haworth, North-West representative and main course winner on the Great British Menu. We ate there two years ago for my birthday and ate Nigel’s exact Great British Menu menu which was fabulous and it didn’t disappoint on our return!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

RAF Triathlon Camp (March 2011)

My aim for our time in Lanzarote was basically to get some biking miles done. I think Eddie was a bit perturbed during the Ultra when I informed him I hadn't done any biking at all since the Double Ironman in August but I just don't seem to be able to find the time or motivation to manage all three of these sports and I figure the biking is the least important. I know that, come these warm weather camps in Lanzarote and Cyprus later in the year, I do need to knuckle down though and use them as a way to solidify the endurance base I will have built on the bike for the Double. I knew that I probably wasn't going to want to do much running because of the 45miler a few days previously so swimming and biking was in!
It was great to meet everyone coming off the plane and, as I am the Tour Manager, my first job had nothing to do with any actual training but everything to do with the admin faff that accompanies 22 people travelling internationally! Thankfully most people's bikes had arrived safely so that was one less worry to deal with. I collected all thekeys and got everyone checked in and we arrange to meet about 90minutes later for an acclimitisation run. We do this run every year just so people understand the lay of the land, have a little shake down after the long flight and start to find the people of the same ability to train with during the week. It does definitely help to have other people to train with and I was feeling very positive about the week. After the run we all met up again in the bar for me to chat through the plan for the week, introduce the coaches and get the Det Cdr to lay down the rules!! Normally I have no problem with taking triathletes abroad, I think we're generally quite a boring lot! Unlike the swim team when it is almost always absolute carnage!!
I settled into my room with my buddies Penny and Laura and we began to plan a timetable. Outside of the coached sessions, La Santa is a great place to be as it also runs a comprehensive fitness programme. I ran their half-marathon last year and the Stretch & Relax and Core Stability classes are always popular ways of supplementing training. The coaching programme was similar most days, usually a morning swim in the fabulous open-air 50m pool followed by breakfast (the food at La Santa is fab!) and then splitting into our bike groups for a long ride of 3-4hours. After a quick soak of our legs in the pool post-ride and maybe an hour or so relaxing in the sun if we're lucky it's back for more great food at dinner. The evening is usually a coached run drills sessions or another technical aspect including some lectures on nutrition and bike maintenance. It is a fabulous camp and a really good way to inject some professionalism into our Interservices team and get everyone bonding properly.
The camp passed quickly and covered all the aspects I had wanted. As I got stung by the jellyfish during the Ultra attempt and had such a bad allergic reaction, and because of the 45miler I stayed away for running but covered a good 250miles of hilly and windy biking in the Lanzarote sun which was ideal. It was great to hang out with old friends and make some new ones and I embraced the week with an enthusiasm for training that I have been missing somewhat over the last few months. I really think the sun makes everything so much easier and being able to dedicate your whole time to training, thinking about training, recovering from training without worrying about the stresses of everyday normal life, is paramount. I flew home at the end of the week feeling refreshed and invigorated and ready to start the final phase of training before the A2A.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Lanza - Post-mortem

Ad and I spent a few days post-event with Eddie and Lynn and finally it felt like a bit of a holiday! The day after the event I awoke without too much muscle soreness which I always think is astonishing. I suffer much much more from doing a stand-alone marathon than I ever have from a distance triathlon event. I don't know whether it is because the intensity is lower or because you are using all the muscle groups but I always feel reasonably ok afterwards. We spent a few days doing touristy things like visiting the Timafaya National Park and heading down to the beach at Playa Blanca. Typically despite being beautiful weather during the challenge, it was a bit overcast when we finally managed to have some time to spend on the beach. We also managed to ruin the poor Endurovan! On our first day, Ad opened the door into the wind and it nearly wrenched it off its hinges! And when we were in the National Park, someone helpfully drove into it in the car park and has dented the door. So the poor van is a bit bashed up but Eddie has been very generous about its misfortune saying it adds character!! It was wonderful to spend some time away with Ad and Eddie and Lynn continued to be the most wonderful hosts. We all went out for a meal on our last night and it was great to be with them and chew the fat and absorb all of their advice and experience ahead of the A2A. Finally Thursday came and Ad had to head back to the UK while I headed to the North of the island to Club La Santa to join the RAF Triathlon Training Camp who were flying out that day. Lynn and Eddie gave me a wonderful gift to celebrate the Lanzarote Ultra, some fabulous local wine made on the island and a pair of beautiful silver and peridot earrings which I will always wear to compete in now for good luck!

Now I can reflect on the event, I don't think it could have gone much better. Yes, I certainly had points during the swim where I wanted to give up but I didn't even get to the point of vocalising those thoughts so they can't have been that major and more importantly, I managed to work through them which is a great confidence builder for the A2A. The run went really well and I got through the cycle on no training so it shows what can be achieved if you put your mind to it! I just need to stay positive now ahead of the A2A, prepare as best I can and focus on building the mental strength required to get through the challenge!