Monthly Archives: May 2015

Motorway Mishap

As I watched my bike rack and the two bikes attached to it fly away from my car and onto the middle lane of the M4 near Newport, all the expletives that I know spewed out of my mouth like the girl in the Exorcist. My eldest was sat in the front passenger seat and looked at me sternly as I pulled over to the hard shoulder in bank holiday Monday traffic.

When I think about it now it’s almost in slow motion and the bikes leaving the back of my car remind me of a huge object being pulled out into space in a sci-fi movie. As I looked back in the mirror I could see three lanes of the M4 grinding to a halt as they pulled round the rack and the bikes. I immediately phoned the police to tell them what happened, almost forgetting my own name as my hands shook and my voice quivered with fright. The police said they would send someone out to clear the highway but as I looked back again, some brave soul had exited their car and removed the bikes from the tarmac. The M4 started to flow once more.

I have no idea what happened but I am choosing now to take the positives from the events of Monday:

The kids are fine and not mentally disturbed by their mother’s ability to speak in tongues.

The rack didn’t fly into the windscreen of the car behind. No one was injured and by the grace of God I did not cause a pile up.

It was not human error that caused the rack to come off.. In fact the bikes were still very much attached to the rack. It seems my car wasn’t really up to holding a bike rack and I discovered I am missing part of the top of my car.

My son’s bike is fine.

My bike needs a new tyre, new gears, new brake lever and a new pedal but the frame is miraculously untouched.

The kindness of strangers revealed itself to me. A man stopped and helped me, put high viz jackets on the three of us, retrieved the bikes and rack, put them in the back of his 4×4 and we drove in convoy to the next junction where he deposited us to wait for my other half.

I discovered at 35 years of age that my parents will do anything for me and they drove down the motorway from London to check that we were all okay.

By Tuesday we were all over it and the boys and I have made it up to London to enjoy the rest of our half term. It was a frightening thing to happen and I’m just relieved that it wasn’t a whole lot worse. The only down side is that I have no bike to practice on now for the London Triathlon. Enforced emphasis on running and swimming until further notice!

 

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Things I’ve Tried: Salomon X-Scream 3D

I think it’s two years since I went along to the Salomon CITYTRAIL event. If you haven’t heard about Salomon or indeed their CITYTRAIL events you can read more about my experience here. I remember thinking what a great idea it was, to get runners along to a local event where they could try on shoes, have a play around with accessories and enjoy a run through local city trails. If you fancy joining Salomon for a CITYTRAIL run then you can keep a look out for their Community Runs (http://citytrail.salomonrunning.com/en/register-community-run) which pop up in cities around the UK.

Since then I have been very lucky that from time to time Salomon have asked me to try out their products as part of their Insider Project. I have tried the S-Lab which is essentially a minimalist trail shoe. Not being a minimalist/barefoot runner I wasn’t overly keen on it. I found it far too wide which I know was the intention of the designers but it really didn’t float my boat.  However last year I got to try a pair of the X-Scream shoes, a sort of hybrid road/trail shoe. I really liked them and was pleasantly surprised by its lack of bulk. I have run in them many times and cross trained in them and they have been fantastic. So I was very fortunate to be able to try this year’s model, the X-Scream 3D.

I wasn’t sure how they could improve on last year’s model but in comparison it seems lighter and a bit sleeker than its predecessor. I would say it is probably more suitable for neutral runners, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of build up medially or laterally. They have retained the quick lace mechanism which is probably my favourite feature of this shoe and therefore might make it a front runner to consider as my go to triathlon shoe for my upcoming challenges later this year.

I’ve tried it on a variety of surfaces: beach, road, grass and trail. So far so good on different terrains. I have however kept my distance in them fairly short, I’m always a bit wary of taking a new shoe too far too soon and it remains to be seen if they withstand higher mileage.

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Salomon describe a variety of features including Sensift and Molded Eva but I think what they’re getting at is that the shoe aims to cushion your foot and to be a secure fit. As fit goes they run pretty true to size. I tend to be a 3.5 in trainers and the X-Scream 3.5 fits really comfortably. I would say their sizing might be typical of Nike and Saucony, so if you were thinking that you needed to go up a whole size you might not have to with the X-Scream. Obviously though this is dependent on the individual and how you feel most comfortable running.

If you’re looking for this to be a trail shoe I think you might need to reconsider. I really do think it is best suited for road to some gravelly trails or some grass. I don’t think it is intended to be a pure trail/mountain shoe and that is evident in its lack of grip. It would definitely be suited to what Salomon refer to as a ‘diverse urban landscape’.

The X-Scream 3D is retailing at £110.00 on their website which is more than I would tend to pay for a running shoe myself. I’m possibly a bit stingy that way, but if you are keen to try a Salomon shoe then maybe find a Community Run or City Trail run to try them out first. This shoe is good and does what it sets out to do which has actually surprised me. I’m usually prepared to dislike trainers that aren’t my usual favoured brands.

Overall Salomon are a great brand. I love their outdoor ethos and the fact that they cover sports from running to hiking to skiing and mountaineering so it’s great that they are becoming a bit more mainstream. If you’re not sure about trail running or trail shoes then it’s possible that this shoe may be a way to ease you in.

Disclosure: I was sent the Salomon X-Scream 3D to review by the Salomon Insider Project. All words and opinions are my own and I have not been paid to write this review. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Training and Contentment

Yesterday evening I went for a slow half hour run. I had no watch on and the idea behind going for this run was to perk me up. There was no training agenda or pressure behind it. As I ran alongside the river I pondered over my week of exercise:

Exactly one week earlier I had made a 70 mile round trip to the Mumbles on my bike with some friends.

Tuesday I had gone swimming for an hour. It was surprisingly tough but I think that was because I was still recovering from Sunday’s mammoth effort.

Wednesday I ran for roughly 50 minutes and just under six miles. This was the longest and furthest I have run for many months. I had expected my legs to feel like lead after Sunday’s ride but they carried me with no real problems.

Friday I went out for a 36 mile bike ride with my local club, the Pontyclun Flyers. This was the fastest ride I had ever been on and even though I was usually found bringing up the rear I managed to maintain contact and didn’t find myself adrift.

Saturday I did a fast 3 and a bit miles. I hadn’t intended for it to be quick but I felt so good that I just let myself fall into a natural rhythm.

And then yesterday’s run. A run to get rid of a hangover to be truthful.

I haven’t managed to train like this for nearly two years and I can’t quite believe I managed it. What has struck me about the past week is that none of it has felt like a chore. Each session I have done has been because I wanted to, not because I felt compelled to or under pressure. The weekend has also seen me run on consecutive days. I haven’t achieved that for a long, long time.

I definitely credit the bike for keeping my fitness up and swimming is giving me the opportunity to work on different muscle groups. Running continues to be my default ‘favourite’ activity and I think it always will be but thanks to the other activities I have been doing, I find myself far more content with running and in a way that I haven’t been for ages. It feels like it has been a long time coming but it feels worth all the pain and angst of not running to finally feel like I’m back ‘there’ again.

I’m not going to rush into anything race wise for running. I’m enjoying the lack of pressure and right now I think it would be more sensible for me to ‘train to train’ again. I don’t even feel myself inclined yet to go to a Parkrun, because I know I can just walk outside my front door and run 5km around my locality.

I think that the other reason I feel more content with running right now is because I’m enjoying it and the other modes of training I am doing. I am enjoying getting out on the bike for long stints with friends and I am getting a satisfaction from getting my head down in the pool for length upon length of front crawl. I am also enjoying the lack of pressure from a PB point of view. Triathlon is new ground for me so I have no idea what to expect. I’m just hoping to have a great experience at a great event. I’m not bothered about how fast I go and that is a great thing to feel. I get to enjoy all of it: swimming, cycling and running.

Next month sees me attempt Velothon Wales on a course that includes the infamous Tumble climb, which I’m nervous about but also excited to take on. I hope to get in a couple more long, hilly rides before then. I thought this would be the end of cycling sportives for me but the Pontyclun Flyers are joining in with the Women’s Rapha 100 on the 26th July and I’m quite tempted to sign up. I also have my eye on a local novice pool triathlon in July as a way to ease me in to the world of multi sports and transitions.

I can honestly say that right now I feel excited about my upcoming challenges and that I look forward to my time on the bike, in the pool or pounding the pavements. I’m not looking to break records or PB’s and I don’t even feel I’m doing all these things for the medal I might get at the end. I’m doing it all for me and I am content with that. And right now that feels like a really nice place to be.

Leading

It’s been a year since I took my Leadership in Running Fitness course with Welsh Athletics. After I completed it I had lots of ideas to get a group of my own started but in the end nothing came to fruition. I don’t know if it was laziness, no time, lack of confidence or just having no idea how to approach people abut starting a group. It looked like I had taken the course for no good reason whatsoever.

But then before Christmas a friend of mine approached me. She works for a charity in South Wales which helps support adults caring for other adults or children with disabilities or additional needs. I immediately said yes, but then it all went a bit quiet and I didn’t think anything of it.

Fast forward to last month and my friend contacted me again to ask if I was still up for it and could we start the group in May. Well obviously again I said yes but then had a mini freak out as I wondered if I had forgotten everything I had learned from last year’s course. A wee bit of reading up again to reassure myself that I knew what I was doing did help but I was still a bag of nerves as I drove to the meeting place yesterday morning.

I really don’t know why I was being so nervous. Looking back now I feel like my nerves were a bit self indulgent because the two women who turned up yesterday were probably more nervous than me. I already know how to run and what this running lark is all about. These two women were starting from scratch. One had never done any running before and the other hadn’t run for seventeen years. We all had a good chat before hand while they filled in the PAR-Q forms and. We talked about fears about running, what they looked forward to about running, their expectations and any goals that they had in mind.

After our warm up I decided on a run/walk session of 5 x 2 minutes round the track with 2 minutes walking. I cannot express enough how impressed I was by how these two women, non runners, with so many other stresses in their lives, took the bull by the horns and ran. They both ran all of the two minute blocks and when I suggested a bonus two minutes they both said yes. By the end they had exercised for a total of twenty minutes. I couldn’t have been more pleased for them.

After the warm down and stretches one of the women approached me and apologised for not running ‘properly’. I reassured her that she had in fact run for the whole of the 2 minutes each time and that she had been absolutely brilliant for a total beginner.

Afterwards we talked about a few things to bear in mind. I advised them that they would likely be very achy after the session but that this would be normal and expected. I also advised both ladies about purchasing a sports bra as both were wearing normal bras. Both ladies expressed an interest in running outside near home but have been put off by the thought of people shouting at them. It was grounding for me, as a runner who takes running for granted at times, to hear the fears and concerns of new runners. We forget sometimes how far we have come. Putting a sports bra on comes as second nature and we can tune out the donuts that scream out of their car windows. But that’s not the case for the complete beginner, there are still lots of things for them to contend with when it comes to running and it may not be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

After that hour with my small group I was bouncing with how good I felt. I had given my time voluntarily to teach others about something I love and it was nothing short of rewarding. I learned that I do know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about and that I can talk about it with confidence. All I want is for the people who come to my group to learn something and above all enjoy it. And yesterday both ladies said they did (thankfully). They said they would come back next week. Hopefully we can all learn some more about running and maybe a little bit about ourselves. Me included.

Saith Deg (70)

I’m sat typing this blog post right now and it’s quiet. The boys have gone to school and I should be getting myself ready for work. But instead I’m mulling over Sunday’s bike ride and how even though bits of me are still aching I feel like I really could take on anything I put my mind to now.

When my friend Simon asked me last week if I fancied a trip out on the bike I assumed we would take on one of the usual routes, some where between 30-40 miles. I know that the Velothon was looming next month but I’d heard that on the day you can downgrade on the day from 140 km to 55 km. I just didn’t see me completing the long course and had images of being swept up by the bus. But then Simon said we would be going to The Mumbles. In other words we would be cycling to Swansea from where we live, which is just outside Cardiff.

Well of course I said yes. And then gulped as I worked out how far that would actually be. To get from our village to Mumbles would be over 30 miles. 37 is the longest I have cycled to date. And now I would be doubling that in one foul sweep. It was a do or die scenario and I decided to risk it for a biscuit, or in this case the nice bit of cake that I was promised. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have the jitters before hand and was seriously wondering if I would make it, but it was too late to back out and I definitely didn’t want to be a jibber.

This post isn’t really a route or ride report though. It’s more a ‘things that I contemplated’ as I cycled through Bridgend, the Vale, alongside the M4 and the steel works and along the sea front in Swansea. As we passed through Briton Ferry I remembered that Twin Town was filmed there, a famous Welsh film about two brothers, drugs, corrupt coppers and absolutely nothing to do with cycling. I did recall that at the end of the film a male voice choir sing the beautiful Welsh ballad Myfanwy on a pier. Was it Mumbles pier I wondered to myself? And then brought myself back to reality as I needed to clip out at lights.

We passed Port Talbot and I couldn’t take my eyes off the thick wall of smoke that billowed from the huge chimneys, filling the air with putrid smells. The sight of it was such a contrast with the rest of the green landscape. It reminded me of Mordor in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, all grey and black and gloomy.

20 miles in and Simon declared break time. A quick pit stop for snacks and I devoured all three of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in one pack and half a flapjack. There is definitely one thing that I love about cycling and that is the snacks and treats that I get to pack into my pockets. Fueled up and raring to go I was assured that we weren’t that far from our destination. In fact we were more than ten miles out and one of our group decided to take us through a market place with ‘NO CYCLING’ signs everywhere so we could avoid the busy main road.

As we cycled on again I remembered that Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas have a house in Mumbles. My day dreaming brain went into over drive. Wouldn’t it be funny if as we were cycling along the cycle path into Mumbles, I almost topple and Michael Douglas, who happens to be walking along the pedestrian path, catches me and invites us all back to his house for a cuppa with CZJ? Woah roundabout, must stop drifting off.

As I wondered all these random things and more I found myself looking out to the sea beyond Swansea and in the distance I could see The Mumbles pier. Cake and a cuppa’ were calling. What struck me was how good I felt. I had cycled 33 miles and I hadn’t once felt like grumbling or complaining. This amazed me as I was sure I was going to struggle with just the distance going out there. But I hadn’t even considered phoning my husband to come to Swansea and pick me up. For me this was a huge mental boost.

A quick pit stop at Verdi’s and we got back on the road, conscious that at 4.30 pm, we all felt rather far away from home. There is no doubt that the way back was much harder. I always question whether we stop a bit too long for coffee because my legs always feel so stiff once we get going again. What is the optimum break for coffee time? You don’t want it too short and you want time to have a coffee but you don’t want to start lingering and getting stagnant for the homeward leg.

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The wind had decided it was going to be in front of us for the ride home and this dampened my spirits slightly. Our group started to split and I decided to hang back so one of the girls behind had me in her sights as she caught up. I then lost sight of people in front which ended up in three of us stood by the side of a road near Port Talbot wondering if the rest of the group had taken the same exit as us. Fortunately we all found each other again and I ate some more Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Honestly, these cups are my fuel injection.

The ride back through the Vale seemed to have more hills than I remembered on the way out, but tired legs were starting to feel every little bump and wobble. People were talking about how many miles we had done but I didn’t want to know, I had my eyes set on home.

Gradually other riders started to drop off as they went off in the direction for home. I would be the last stop of the ride. I could have phoned my husband to pick me up at the meeting point where I had joined the ride but I decided there was no point. I would be roughly five miles from home. I would just tell my legs to shut up and keep moving.

As I walked in to the house I noticed that I was doing just that, walking. I didn’t feel totally physically battered as I had expected to. There was no wincing or limping. I looked at the clock in the kitchen and had a bit of a shock. It was half past eight. I had started out at half past twelve. I had been out for eight hours.

I had no real idea about how far I had cycled. I hadn’t put Strava on because everyone else had it on their phones (and I wanted to save my battery, just in case!). I hadn’t really wanted to think about miles at the time because I wondered if that would have a negative effect on me mentally. I think the result of this was that I enjoyed the ride much more. It was fun instead of just a task to get training miles in.

But obviously I would be daft not to try and work out how far I had cycled. With the group I had cycled 66 miles. With the added 5 odd miles home I was hitting over 70 miles. I couldn’t quite believe it. 70 miles is 112 km. If Velothon is 140 km then I’m not too far off. I know that there are more hills in the Velothon route but as an inexperienced rider, to hit that kind of distance I am thrilled. Mentally this takes a huge weight off my mind. Yes, I didn’t sleep that well on Sunday night because I ached so much but I know that during the ride I was fine. The Velothon is on June 14th and with a month to go I think I might be able to keep just ahead of the sweeper van and for the first time I’m thinking I won’t have to downgrade the distance. After 70 (saith deg in Welsh) miles on Sunday I feel like anything is possible, as long as I have friends and some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!

In At The Deep End

I am not a regular swimmer. For a long time my main swimming activity has involved getting the boys confident in the water: diving for toys, blowing bubbles and jumping in. We have two types of swimming in this house. There is fun swimming where we go for a splash around and a laugh and there is sensible swimming, where the boys swim nicely for their brilliant teacher Hanna. Once I signed up for Team Tricurious though I realised that I had to start doing some sensible swimming of my own.

I am lucky in a way that from a very young age I was involved with a swimming club. I even used to compete. I was usually disqualified for my appalling breaststroke leg technique, but up until the age of eleven I was a regular gala swimmer. So if I’m asked to swim I don’t feel too panicked. However that is where leisure centre pools are concerned. I have no idea how I feel yet about swimming in open water. Water where I won’t be able to see the floor beneath me genuinely scares me.

When I was nine or ten our swimming club used a local centre that had two pools. It had a 25m standard pool and it had an old fashioned diving pool. Because there were so many of us at club we used to be divided into groups. I used to stand around looking at the tiles on poolside, trying to avoid the gaze of the coach that would indicate that I was going into the diving pool. I wanted to stay in the 25m pool that was light and blue. I did not want to jump into the murky, dark diving pool but my fate was usually sealed.

For the next hour I would be mostly face down in the water, staring towards a floor that I couldn’t quite make out. I would imagine sharks and crocodiles and monsters swimming up at me from the depths. There was a boom that separated the diving pool from the main pool and I used to imagine that I would get sucked under it. Other kids in the pool used to talk about a man who tried to swim under the boom to get from the main pool, to the diving pool, got stuck and drowned. My sessions in this pool would see me scrambling through my widths to get to the side. Back stroke would give me a respite from staring into the chlorine abyss but then what if something came up at me when I wasn’t looking? My imagination knew no bounds. But guess what? I’m still here. Jaws didn’t carry me off and eat me and the club moved to another leisure center that had more room. A couple of years later I discovered athletics and I haven’t trained in a swimming pool since, unless it’s to aqua jog.

The only open water swimming I have experienced has been in the Outer Hebrides (very cold, you’re never really in long enough for imaginary sharks to get you) and Malta. In Malta I went swimming with my brother and we were a fair way off shore in beautiful crystal clear water when he started humming the Jaws theme. I didn’t go back in the water for the rest of the holiday. So you can see there are some deeply entrenched feelings regarding water, swimming and films by Steven Spielberg. I am aware that I am bordering on ridiculous and I would no doubt tell me children not to be so daft if they told me this was how they felt about swimming. The only thing to do was to face swimming head on.

Last Wednesday night I went to the public swimming session at my pool. There were no lanes so it was probably great practice for a triathlon swim. I had to veer from side to side to avoid people swimming widths or dodge out the way at the end for people looking like they wanted to jump on my head. I swam for a mile, breaking it up into 8 x 200m chunks to make the distance seem more achievable. I almost punched the air like Rebecca Adlington at the end of a race when I had finished. Swimming that mile, even though I split it up, made the London Triathlon swim seem more likely. My stroke technique definitely needs work and I would like some different types of sessions to try so I don’t get bored. But I got in that pool and no imaginary sharks or monsters ate me. I think I can go back in the water for more. Next goal will be to find an open water venue so I can really shake those sharks off.

Thank you to Team Bear Tri on Twitter for this great picture.

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