Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Wisdom of Farmers.

I hadn’t been able to do much over the weekend. Youngest had been ill so most of the time had been spent cleaning up vomit. I didn’t feel able to get out and leave him while he was unwell. So yesterday afternoon came my chance to get out. Although when I had the chance to go the rain was hammering down.

Now I am usually a total fair weather rider. A bit of damp and I would rather run, swim or stay at home. But I decided the time had come for me to head out in the rain. After all I would be sopping wet when I jumped on the bike during the London Triathlon. So really I would just be replicating the conditions of the event. It was also fairly mild so I knew I wouldn’t get cold either. My plan was to ride for roughly 90 minutes and follow that up with a run.

I headed out and was soaked through immediately. I considered going home as it really was hammering down but ‘NO!’ I thought to myself. It is the tough sessions that make you better. I was mindful of the road surfaces and as I made my way through country lanes I was careful on the down hills.

As I relaxed slightly on another downhill I came face to face with a tractor with a front loader. I jumped, braked and my wheels skidded. As I headed for the tractor I decided that I didn’t feel like taking on a huge metal object with spikes in front of it. In a split second I opted for the second worst option: the hedgerow.

I had expected just to hit the hedge and fall sideways. But instead I flipped over and somersaulted. Everything went black as I felt my neck and my back whip round. And then I was on the floor with my bike beside me. I sat up and looked down. Everything seemed okay but for a moment I thought I saw white on my shin. ‘Bone?!!’ was the next though that flashed through my mind. The farmer who had been on the tractor was standing over me trying to get me up and I mumbled something about a broken leg. Ridiculous looking back now but I really went into shock.

I felt the blood draining away from my head. The farmer insisted I would feel better if I stood up but I kept pulling myself back down to the floor. Every time he pulled me back up I pushed myself back down again, not wanting to pass out standing up. I knew he meant well but I knew where I would feel safer.

After a while I managed to get up and the farmer, who was called Phil, helped me onto the tractor where I sat beside his Welsh Collie Meggy. Phil placed my bike on his front loader and after a phone call to my husband he insisted on driving me all the way home.

As we weaved through the back lanes of the local villages Phil and I chatted. I bemoaned how daft I was and how stupid I had been for going out in the first place.

‘Shit happens Kath’, was his reply, ‘there’s nothing you could do about it. Bikes get fixed, people not so easily’.

And he was right. I have a tendency to over analyse and judge myself for my decisions when things go wrong. But Phil as right. I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was literally just ‘one of those things’. Yes I was sore and had a bruised ego but I was relatively unscathed. I needed to focus on that and be thankful rather than going over ‘what ifs’.

As we made our way through Pontyclun High Street it must have looked a sight. My bike hanging off the front loader of a tractor. He insisted on taking me all the way to my front door even though I told him to drop me by the high street and I would walk. I couldn’t thank him enough. He had been in the middle of doing his work when I had met him round the corner and I had probably added hours to his day. But again he said ‘Shit happens’.

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My body is fine although it is bruised and a bit sore today. My ego is fine because really I had done nothing untoward, I had just been cycling in a modest manner. My bike seems fine and that’s good too. Sometimes shit does happen and you just have to pick yourself up and carry on. Or get a farmer to give you a lift home. I might give myself a rest day today though. Think I deserve it.

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Panic At The Quarry

It had been weighing heavily on my mind that I had yet to take the plunge with open water swimming. With under a month to go until the London Triathlon I didn’t want to wait until the day itself to have my first experience of swimming in open water. My wet suit had been hanging on the back of the bedroom door for a few weeks so lack of kit was not an excuse. I had researched open water swimming locations in South Wales and it turns out there aren’t many lakes or rivers you can just go and dip into. But following a chat with a colleague who is a triathlete herself, she suggested Chepstow Quarry or the National Diving and Activity Centre. And after a lot of bargaining and trying to tell myself I didn’t have time to do it my husband virtually shoved me out the door this morning so I had no choice but to go.

After a bit of detour following a wrong turn through Monmouthshire I finally found the centre which is in the English side of Chepstow. I looked over the barrier and my breath was taken away by the beautiful blue pool beneath me. I started to feel more excited about jumping in and swimming. I imagined how liberating and amazing it would be.

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At the site shop I paid my £2.50 (half price this weekend!) and signed the visitor declaration.

‘It’s so if you drown you don’t sue us’, joked the very pleasant man behind the desk.

And I smiled and laughed. A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha……er what?

The changing area was basic but had everything you needed apart from maybe a few lockers to stash bags so after changing into my costume and wet suit I headed over to the path down to the quarry taking my bag with me. I stopped to ask a chap if I was going the right way and he kindly offered to drive me down to the pontoon in one of the mini buses used to ferry divers and their equipment back and forth.

A couple of divers were packing up and one asked me how far I was planning on swimming, ‘2.8 miles, 3 miles, how many laps?’. I explained I was a total novice and this was my first time in open water. ‘Well you’re doing the right thing’ he replied. They jumped into the bus and I waited until they were out of sight so I could take an obligatory selfie.

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And for a while the happy, excited me was left right there on the ramp leading back to the centre.

I walked down a little ramp into the water and was pleasantly surprised by the fact I didn’t jump with cold as I entered. I presumed my wet suit was doing its job.  I walked further in and allowed the water to flow over my neck and shoulders. I took a sharp intake of breath as I felt a little colder. I jumped forward, threw my face in and immediately pulled myself back out. There had been nothing. I could see nothing. There was only blue. Just a wall of blue right in front of me.I don’t know what I had expected but it was a shock. My pulse soared and my respiratory rate went up. I tried again.

Same thing. Shock and panic. I tried breast stroke and felt like I was gasping. I tried putting my face in for front crawl and turned round and headed back. What was wrong with me? I could feel panic crawling all over me. I started to judge myself. It was a disaster, I had driven all this way for nothing, I feel stupid, I can’t do the London Triathlon.

And so I sat in the shallow area contemplating getting out and giving up.

But I didn’t. I had a stern talk to myself. I know I’m an okay swimmer. I’m not going to drown. I can do breast stroke if I struggle. Nothing is going to get me. There is nothing in there.

I tentatively swam away from the shallow area, breast stroke first and then front crawl. I had gone half way to the first buoy. I swam back in. The next time I swam mostly front crawl three quarters of the way to the first buoy and swam back in. Gradually I got closer and closer to the first buoy and further and further away from my ‘safe zone’. I’m not sure on what attempt but I was soon swimming front crawl around the buoys, close to the perimeter of the quarry. I stuck with breathing every two strokes as I seemed to find my rhythm and I still didn’t like seeing the wall of blue and nothingness in front of me. I have been brainwashed by the black line of the swimming pool.

I practiced sighting and would occasionally swim breast stroke to get myself back on course. At times I would feel like I was getting somewhere but then I would look up and would find that I hadn’t gone that far, possibly due to the wind across the quarry. I tried my best to get to the other end of the quarry but conscious of time and not wanting to feel too far away from my ‘safe zone’ I found a rocky ledge on the edge of the quarry ‘to sort out my goggles’.

I took in the turquoise expanse in front of me. It was truly beautiful but I was also aware how alone and a little unnerved I still felt. I was almost three quarters along the far wall of the quarry. I had no idea what distance that was but I felt an urge to swim back rather than push my luck. I headed straight out across to a larger grey buoy that was straight across from me and then turned to swim back to the pontoons.

On the way back I found that I started to relax a little. I started to breath every three or every four strokes and I didn’t feel ‘as’ panicked. My sighting was all over the place but the wind helped to push me closer to where I needed to be. I thought I was on course until I realised I was almost past my turning for getting out. I scrambled in the water to change direction and found myself almost on top of a diver. Whoops!

As I walked up the ramp my legs felt like they might buckle and my arms were numb and tingly. My hands shook as I stripped the top half of my wet suit down. I had done it. My first open water swim. It hadn’t been pretty and it had been a shock to the system but it was done. It was no longer unknown.

Sitting in the cafe above the quarry I wondered if I could have done more. Probably yes and I was annoyed with myself. But on the way back in the car I started to feel emotional. This was something that really frightened me and even though I had managed to swim in open water for the first time, a lot of mental energy had gone into fighting away my fear.

There have been lots of milestones for me in exercise: the first road ride, the first time I was clipped in on my bike, the first 3 hour long run, the marathon start line and even though I have faced them with nerves and trepidation nothing has ever made me feel like I did today. I’m hoping though that by facing it head on it will be less scary the next time I do it. And let’s face it, there has to be a next time.

‘Do one thing everyday that scares you’, that famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote popped into my head as I traveled home from Chepstow. I had certainly done that today, in fact I felt like I had rolled a weeks full of scariness into one hour. But then while looking up that quote to make sure I was attributing it to the right person I came across something else she had said:

‘We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.’

I think I gained some strength and confidence from what I did today. I didn’t think I could do it but I did. Next time I’m sure it will be easier. I’m ready to go back and try again.

If you are looking for an open water swimming venue in and around South Wales then it might be worth heading over to the National Diving and Activity Centre in Chepstow, Gloucestershire. The people were friendly and putting my own fears to one side, it is great for swimming. 

In Praise of The Awkward

I am not a fan of seeing pictures of myself running. Well that’s not quite true, I don’t mind pictures of me sprinting because most pictures of anyone in full flight look impressive. But the pictures of me in any distance race always look pretty naff. In my head I run with not too bad form but in a picture my knees are really low, my arms are all over the place and I just look rubbish. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a picture of me in any race but I think that’s because I don’t need a picture of me gurning on my living room wall. And anyway, should it really matter how you look getting to the finish line?

I noticed a conversation on social media about how an individual looked in a photo shoot about running. It got a bit heated and I’m sure there was mention of a site taking the piss out of how people look when they run. That’s pretty shitty and anyway only top athletes have perfect running form good enough to be photographed right?

Wrong.

There are so many athletes with little quirks in the way they run. Priscah Jeptoo is the first example that came to mind. When she won the 2013 New York Marathon people were aghast at her knock knee style. How on earth could she be a top marathon runner with a style that we are all told is totally wrong? Well she just is. Sometimes the body will take the path of least resistance and even though it looks awkward it is obviously a winning combination with her endurance talent.

And Priscah Jeptoo is not the only example. There are many other top athletes with unconventional styles. Paula Radcliffe’s head nod. Anita Hinriksdottir and her arms which never seem to be by her side. Michael Johnson’s choppy action. And in my opinion David Rudisha’s robotic style can at times look incredibly awkward. The only runner I’ve seen with even close to ‘perfect’ style for me is Genzebe Dibaba but I’m sure some of the self appointed purists could even pick her to bits on her form. And if you look at the end of any hard fought top level marathon race form pretty much goes to hell. But when we watch these individuals we’re not mocking the way they run. In fact it is their running styles which can make these runners so memorable.

I think we’ve all got a little running trait that makes us look a little bit awkward and feel a bit ‘Phoebe from Friends’. But to pull others down on how they look while running is appalling and knocks the inclusive, friendly reputation that the running community is so well known for. So before pulling someone down for their awkward running style praise them for their efforts in getting to the start line or for getting out on that run. We should be encouraging and supporting each other while acknowledging that we’ve all got those quirks that make us a little bit ‘awkward’. But looking awkward ain’t always a bad thing. Just look at Priscah.

A Novice Triathlete

At 10pm on Sunday evening I finally flopped on the sofa. The boys had been in bed for hours and my husband, who has been really unwell with a tooth abscess had also retired. As I sat on the sofa with a glass of wine in my hand I suddenly thought to myself….

I completed a triathlon today.

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At 6am on Sunday morning I was racking my bike while at the same time thinking did I really want to do this? Could I make some excuse up to withdraw? For some reason doing a triathlon strikes massive amounts of fear inside me but here I was staring triathlon right in the face. After cycling 87 miles in the Velothon a few weeks earlier I decided I really had no decent excuses that would enable me to wimp out. This triathlon was happening.

After a race briefing in the reception of Pencoed Swimming Pool the first wave of swimmers, of which I was one, were ready for the off. When I entered this novice triathlon I firmly believed that it would take me 20 minutes to swim 16 lengths. Turns out the emphasis on swimming I’ve put on training in the last couple of weeks means that I’m a fair bit quicker than I thought. I finished the swim in 10 minutes. As I climbed out to walk along poolside (no running allowed!) I heard clapping from the viewing gallery. A smile flashed over my face as I realised that the most challenging part of the triathlon for me was already over. I could get on with cycling and running.

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Well I thought swimming was the most challenging part. I think the first transition is where I showed myself up to be a true novice. I had opted to wear a swimsuit and sports bra for the swim. This meant trying to get dry cycling shorts and dry t shirt over wet clothes. It was a bit of a fight with lycra as two of the marshalls urged me to hurry up and get going. I cursed myself for not being brave enough to go for it with my Aldi Specials trisuit but this was a learning experience and I know now what I would do differently next time: embrace the gear!

In an aside, am I the only person who loves that you get to do stuff while still being soaking wet? No one, like your mum,  is telling you off for not drying yourself properly and getting your dry things wet. It’s liberating. No, just me. Okay, moving on to the bike ride.

What struck me with the bike part of the triathlon is how you have to consciously change the way you’re breathing. Breathing for swimming is, to me, completely different to breathing on the bike or on a run. It took me a little while to settle in and find my rhythm. There were plenty of marshalls out on the route but I had to remind myself I wasn’t on closed roads and I had to abide by normal traffic rules. But at just after 7am on a Sunday in semi rural South Wales the streets were deserted and I don’t think I was passed by a car once on the 17km route. There were also no supporters so the triathletes were cheering and waving to each other.

As I racked my bike and started to get myself ready to run a marshall stood over me and shouted ‘double knot? You don’t need a double knot, get out and run’. So I did as I was told. A marshall stood on a little ramp that lead us onto a set of rugby pitches. Two laps of that field and back over the ramp and I’d be finished. As I ran past him I told him I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having.

‘You’re absolutely smashing it babes’, was his reply.

I’m not sure I was smashing it but his little compliment made me smile all the more and I picked up my cycle tired legs and ran like a banshee.

As I came into the finish someone with a microphone was calling my name so I raised my hands in the air and waved to about four spectators. My novice triathlon of 400m swim, 17km bike and 3km run had taken me 1 hour and 9 minutes. But hang on, I thought as I looked at my print out, my first transition was 12 minutes. Longer than it had taken me to swim 400m. Surely that can’t have been right? Had I really faffed for 12 minutes? It hadn’t felt like that but maybe time moves differently in triathlon world. Yesterday was not about being competitive but when I realised that if my first transition had been just a few minutes faster I would have come second in my wave instead of third I heard Dave my Competitive Shoulder Monkey shout ‘DAMMIT!’.

I had no idea what the time was. I stood around by the transition area for a bit and then realised I was actually cold and wet. And then I also realised that instead of using a locker for my dry stuff and useful things like my phone I had left them under my bike in transition. I sneaked into transition while it was quiet which resulted in a jokey but kinda’ not telling off but I was shivering and I needed a towel. I phoned home and everyone was still in bed. My husband still sounded ill and my youngest shouted hello before shouting about needing a poo. My eldest was still asleep and for a little bit I felt a bit sad that they were only up the road and my little supporters were all tucked up still.

So I threw myself into supporter mode myself and started to cheer the people coming into the transition area and whooped and clapped the runners coming into the finish. I heard someome mention ‘Elite wave’ and I did wonder how you can have an elite wave in a novice event? Can you be an elite novice?

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Eventually, as the final wave left transition on their bikes the marshall allowed us to grab our bikes and gear in small groups. On the 10 minute drive back home I cheered the triathletes out on their bike leg from my car and waved to the marshalls, even though they would probably have no idea who I was.

As I got in the door my eldest was leaving for rugby training with his dad, whose face still resembled the elephant man. I took the puppy on a long walk with our youngest. Then it was the usual business of cracking on with normal Sunday business: dinner, swimming lessons, make sure uniforms were ready and bug husband about going back to get more antibiotics as he was clearly very unwell.

When I sat down that evening with my wine I gave myself a celebratory pat on the back. I had almost made the morning’s triathlon part of my daily ritual: pop out, do a quick tri, back in time for second breakfast. I couldn’t get over how much I had enjoyed it and how I would look forward to doing Sunday’s event again. I learnt a huge amount from my first triathlon and many aspects of the event have been demystified for me. There is so much I can take away from it and I can be cheered by the fact that the swim wasn’t as awful as I thought and that I can in fact cope with doing one after the other without my legs falling off.

Then I realised that it was nearly 10.30pm, half a bottle of wine had gone down far too easily. I had been up since 5am that morning and I needed to sleep. I went to bed that night a triathlete. A novice one perhaps, but still a triathlete.

Facing Fears

We were down at Barry Island for the Cardiff Blues beach rugby event which was a fantastic event arranged by the marketing team at the Blues. The beach was transformed into two pitches and teams of men’s and women’s sides were signed up for a tournament. Our eldest boy who is 7 is absolutely rugby and Cardiff Blues mad so in exchange for him tidying his room the whole family headed to Barry Island (we would have gone anyway but I love a bit of leverage).

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We wandered up and down the promenade taking in the activities and enjoying the dry but windy weather. Then we came across the team from Land Rover who had a Rugby World Cup 2015 branded car on show. And beside that a sign promoting auditions for kids between 7 and 13 years to become a Rugby World Cup mascot. The kids had 3 choices for their audition: sing a national anthem, give advice to a rugby world cup team captain or welcoming words for a team travelling to the UK.

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I asked my son if he fancied it and the lady from Land Rover asked him if he wanted a go. He said no and became really shy which is just not like him. I tried to persuade him ‘no one was watching, nobody would laugh at him, it’s good to have a go, nothing bad will happen’ etc etc. Still the answer was no. He didn’t want to speak in front of crowds of people on camera. Fair enough I thought.

An hour of so later, as we made noises about leaving he changed his mind and asked to go back. So we turned back and found the nice lady who took her details and he stood to wait his turn.

As I looked at him I noticed how forlorn and worried he looked.

‘You really don’t have to do this. We can just go home. Nobody is making you and it’s not important’.

‘I’m just nervous and I’m trying to think of what I should say’ he replied.

When his turn came though he didn’t fall over his words and even smiled for the camera. His advice for a rugby team captain? Play well and enjoy the game. I think as advice goes in sport that’s pretty good!

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He had done it. It was a small thing to me but a huge thing for him. He had pushed his nerves to one side and auditioned.

How is this relevant to me and running/triathlon/sport?

Tomorrow I am doing my first triathlon, a novice one being held at a swimming pool. I feel very nervous and for some reason I feel a bit silly. But then I remember how as an adult I tried to persuade my son to do something he was nervous and fearful of.

No one is going to laugh at me.

People might be watching but they are there to be supportive.

No one cares if I come last.

It’s good to have a go.

Nothing bad will happen to me.

I’m so good at dishing out this advice to my kids but then I can forget about applying it to myself. I am nervous but I think those nerves are of the ‘good’ variety. I have always avoided triathlon because of my fears about it. But now I’m going to face those head on for my first tri, just like my boy did today.

Tidy.

P.S We missed out on seeing the Webb Ellis trophy this afternoon. Gutted!

Social Media, Memes and Kitchens (where apparently I should be).

I don’t think it’s any secret that I despise fitness memes. I think they scream everything that is wrong about the health and fitness industry on the internet. There are a few people I know however that love a fitness meme, plastering them all over social media. This one popped up in my Facebook feed:

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I think this meme was the final straw for me. I hate that people post them without any thought or any real idea what they’ve just posted. So I posted it in my feed and added my own rant:

‘Oh do eff off. I despise these pathetic, judgemental memes. Because what a woman does depends on how a man feels about it? Get in the sea. I may be a massive cardio fairy but I do it for me and to be honest marathon running and epic cycles are fairly tough. Maybe the woman on the treadmill is doing a 12 X 400m reps to get her faster for her next race. Just a thought. And anyone who walks into a gym or place of fitness should be applauded for trying to better themselves. And we wonder why women have massive issues about fitness.’

I expected my post to be ignored but a few people commented, the majority agreeing with me but then came a couple of really odd comments that unfortunately took my attention….

‘But the one doing squats is gonna have a better arse’

‘Lmfao. Good rant fair play. Now get back to the kitchen’

In those two comments everything that I despise about these memes was summed up. So lets strip back all the layers of this particular meme.

The sexism.

The judgement.

The assumption that women are only in the gym to impress men and make them like us more.

The assumption that if a woman doesn’t want to lift weights she is less worthy.

The ignorance about people who choose to do some of their training on the treadmill.

The implication that women ‘belong’ to men and are either to be kept or discarded at whim.

It doesn’t even offer anything helpful in terms of being fit and healthy.

As one of my friends commented, it is just tedious, sexist and pathetic. Another friend pointed out that it doesn’t matter what a woman chooses to do in the gym as long as she is doing it because she chooses to.

I don’t think any man in my life has ever told me to ‘get back in the kitchen’. Not even as a joke. Maybe I’ve just been lucky to have enlightened men around me and a husband who even refers to himself as a feminist. But it just shows the mentality that finds these memes appealing. And in continuing to post them the same old sexist ignorance about women and sport, health and fitness continues to be perpetuated.

So if you have a tendency to share these memes on social media, please can I suggest you step back, look at it, strip away the bullshit and actually reconsider. These pictures are not inspirational, they are boring, patriarchal, ignorant nonsense. Don’t do it.

Bricking It

In all sports we have to practice the elements that make up our chosen sport. Turns out practicing swimming, cycling and running isn’t enough. Specificity principles of training mean that we need to practice everything that occurs during an event s that the right adaptations can occur. And it occurred to me that even though I have been training in the three triathlon sports I haven’t actually practiced the bike to run transition. With my first novice triathlon this Sunday I really needed to know what was going to feel like when I swapped my cleats for trainers.

Yesterday I did my first brick session. I got out early on the hottest day of the year and cycled 11.6 miles. Instead of pacing myself my legs seemed to whizz round my route and when I checked later I discovered I had taken 3 minutes off the time it takes me to do that route usually. Where were those legs for Velothon? I had meant to make it a conservative effort as I was mindful that I wasn’t going to be finished after the cycle. But I felt good so I just went with it, accepting that I would probably make the running bit more difficult.

After my cycle I did my own version of transition. Unclip, helmet off, check phone, text message from school, shit are the kids alright, oh it’s just about lost property, no need to panic, sip of water, change into trainers, ugh do I really want to do this?

Yes. Yes I do.

Off I went on a loop that I knew was somewhere between 3 and 4km. The sensation in my legs was like nothing I had felt before. My legs were moving because my brain was telling them to and yet they didn’t feel like they were my legs. I felt a bit like I had been sawn in half. I felt a bit numb below the waist. Or now that I’m thinking about it I am reminded of my legs coming back to life after having a spinal block when I was in hospital having my kids. I realised that instead of battling the sensations I had to go with them and be guided by them. Worrying about form was out the window as was being concerned about pace. The priority was to keep moving even though parts of my brain were screaming at me ‘ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND’. I then thought about people who ride 112 miles on their bikes immediately followed by a marathon and decided they are definitely a bit unhinged but then that probably helps a bit. After all, it’s just physical discomfort isn’t it? I’m not bleeding, I’m not in agony. My limbs aren’t falling off. It just feels a bit weird.

As I ran I contemplated why it is called a brick session. Is it to do with building the bricks and foundations of triathlon? Is it to do with principles of training and specificity? Is it a term coined by sports scientists? I looked it up and apparently it is named after a New Zealand multi-sport champion called Matt Brick, which makes sense. I have another suggestion. Brick sessions are so called because once you start running your legs feel like they’ve been battered by a bag of bricks. True story. Next time I will be doing this will be in my first triathlon, the Pencoed Novice Triathlon on Sunday. Fingers crossed my legs remember what to do!