Category Archives: cross training

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.

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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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The New Bike: Part Two

For well over a year we’ve been trying to get my youngest son interested in riding his bike. Since he was three he would quite happily jump on a scooter and dash up and down our street with confidence. But with the bike there’s been a bit of a block. I think he assumed he would just hop on, like he’d seen his brother do so many times, and be away. What he didn’t seem to realise was that big brother had been through the same difficulties in learning but the key was to practice, practice, practice……. and to get right back on if you fell off.

On Easter Monday of this year’s Easter break he did it. It had taken a lot of cajoling. There had been a lot of good cop/bad cop. There had been tantrums and tears. I had threatened to throw the bike Santa had brought in the bin. I had been soothing and encouraging and yet still nothing.

And then suddenly on that Easter Monday, when it was just the two of us,  that new motor pathway in his brain caused new synapses to open up and his nerves and muscles produced all the components he needed to ride a bike without stabilisers. But then he fell off. He cried and cried and his elbow was bleeding. I thought he would throw the bike down and give up, but he didn’t. The discovery of something as fantastic as riding a bike was far more important than a stinging elbow and hurt pride. The tears slowed, I wiped them away and he rode away squealing with glee at his new found ability.

Fast forward to Monday of this week and I found myself lying in a hedge having fallen off my new bike.

I was taking a much needed break from writing an essay and it had been all I could do to focus on that instead of taking the new bike for a ride. I was biting the bullet and going out clipped in for the first time. I managed to clip in no problems and I cycled my familiar route. As I came up the lane to a different village the road started to narrow. Then almost too late I realised that the cars in front were reversing towards me to let a big truck through. I panicked, unclipped my right foot and for some reason tried to put my left foot, which was still clipped in, down to the floor. Sideways I went into the hedge.

I threw my arms up in exasperation, feeling a bit silly. The truck driver slowed down, looking a bit startled.

‘Are you okay love? I saw you fall and it looked like it was a heavy one. Are you sure you’re okay?’

‘Yes thank you’, I replied ‘Just didn’t, couldn’t *mumble mumble nervous laugh*.

Relieved that I obviously wasn’t injured the truck driver gave me a thumbs up and drove off.

As I got myself up I contemplated going home. I was a little bit shaken. I was concerned that being on my own I might fall again and if I really hurt myself what would I do? And then I realised I was being ridiculous, especially after all my youngest had been through to learn to ride. Every time he had fallen or wobbled I encouraged him to get back on and carry on and yet here was I, the adult, quite prepared to wimp out at the first opportunity. I wasn’t even hurt apart from a bruised ego. So after a few stern words with myself and deciding to be a bit more mindful about unclipping and deciding which foot I was actually going to put down, I continued on my first ride on the brand new bike.

I can’t quite believe the difference a new, lighter bike and being clipped in actually made. I had been told by a friend that I would be able to push and pull which meant more power, speed and better control. I have to admit he was right. The local hills felt far easier to climb and my bike actually picked up speed on the down hill. I was interested to see if Strava had picked up the difference, and it had. I was riding 2 km faster than I would have on old Paula and I completed the ride 5 minutes faster than the last time I had cycled that route. Plus it was a joy to cycle rather than the awkward, rattling, laborious chore it had become. The clipped in aspect seemed to work itself out as my own brain eventually forged new motor pathways the same way my son’s brain had developed new pathways to ride his own bike.

As I cycled from village to village I ruminated over new names for the bike. I still fancied calling her Dibaba after Tirunesh Dibaba ‘the Baby Faced Destroyer’, although my husband said it was daft to name a bike after a runner. I also wondered how big my Thunder Thighs would get riding my awesome new wheels. Then I decided Thunder Thighs would be an awesome name for a cycling super hero or even the title of a comic: The Adventures of Thunder Thighs and The Baby Faced Destroyer. Next adventure, hopefully attempting a ride over forty miles while being clipped in on The New Bike. Will I have fall number 2? Stay tuned!

The New Bike: Part One

On Saturday I headed out on Paula, my old faithful eBay bike, for my second group ride. I call her old but I’ve only had her for about seven months. She was my starter bike last year when I was injured, unable to run and desperately looking for some way to train. Saturday was my 35th birthday and I wanted to get out and do something epic in activity terms to mark my becoming almost middle aged. What better way than to be a Middle Aged Woman In Lycra? Just before 9am on a crisp spring April morning I found myself at a roundabout waiting for my cycling buddies, wondering again if I was wearing enough clothes for the ride.

I had always been pretty much convinced that I didn’t need a fancy bike to get me round. I had a road bike. I had legs to pedal. It would surely do the job? Well maybe my eBay special purchase was up to one long ride. She wasn’t really up to a second.

We had picked one of the windiest days to go out on Saturday. The ride to Llantwit Major via Cowbridge wasn’t too bad. Hills plus wind are always going to make things difficult but thoughts of warming tea and a slice of cake at Cafe Velo kept me going. After stopping for far too long we started out on our way out to St Bride’s Major. My bike rattled as I changed gear and groaned on all the down hills. ‘I’m hearing things’ I thought to myself but my mind wandered back to the conversation I had had at my local bike shop, Ride Bike Wales, the day before.

I had gone in to look into cycling shoes and just so happened to have Paula with me. She was a good starter bike, I was told as I was advised on various shoes, pedals and cleats. I must have had a totally blank look at one point because I’m sure the first chap I spoke to started speaking to me slower and louder to try to get me to understand, a bit like a Brit abroad shouting in English to try and order more beers. It’s not that I’m a complete idiot, it’s just that at that point I couldn’t understand why it all needed to be so technical. The most technical I had been with a bike to this point was putting on and taking off stabilizers. My son’s stabilizers I should add, not mine.

While at the shop Stuart who runs Ride Bike Wales eyed up Paula and then lifted her. Heaviest road bike he had ever lifted he commented. Probably a good bike for getting about town, but not ideal for longer distances if that’s what you’re hoping to do. No doubt a bit heavy and slow on the downhills too. Oh and it was definitely too big for me. No way? I was sure I had measured myself up correctly. But then Stuart appeared with a model of bike he had sold to a woman the same height as me. This bike was a fair bit smaller, too small I thought, but then I have been getting neck, shoulder and back pain after riding Paula……..

As I tried to make my way around the Vale of Glamorgan I suddenly felt very aware of how Paula really wasn’t handling things very well. I kept losing my cycling group on every downhill. Everyone else free wheeled away from me while I failed to make up any significant ground. My friends kept making suggestions around my gears but any changes made little difference to ease or effort. My neck hurt, my wrists hurt and shoulders hurt. I was fed up.

By the time we hit Southerndown and Ogmore on the coast (stunning by the way) I was ready to go home. I had been lapped by a man in Ironman brand shorts, presumably doing hundreds of miles, about three times. I was despondent. The wind was churning the sea beneath the road I was travelling on and I’m sure at one point I was going backwards on an uphill or at the very least came to a complete stop. I was on the verge of phoning my husband and asking him to pick me up and take me home.

But I didn’t. Paula and I carried on and rattled and creaked all the way home. I was glad I had completed another 37 miles on my second long ride out but they were not enjoyable. And I was looking at Paula with new eyes. She was all well and good on relatively flat terrain up to about 10 miles but I was getting the feeling that regular 30 plus mile rides were probably a bit of an ask for my eBay bargain.

And so on Saturday, my birthday, I ended up with a brand new Cannondale bike. She’s a bottom of the range model which might make a difference to bike experts but what I do know is that I can lift her with one hand while Paula takes both hands and a bit of effort to lift off the ground. It dawned on me that I have probably been doing some bizarre kind of resistance training on Paula, dragging her heavy frame up Welsh hills. Surely for fitness that can’t be a bad thing?

The new bike just felt like it came at the right time with Velothon Wales coming up in June. I don’t think my current bike would be able to manage any more long rides. I have a picture in my mind of bits and pieces falling off in a comedic way as I would eventually find myself mid air holding just the handlebars. Plus the new bike has been fitted to me by someone who knows what they are doing. Fingers crossed no more odd aches and pains as I try to make myself fit something that is not sized up for me. I’m grateful to Paula for introducing me to road cycling but it’s time for a new era of bike. Now what to name her……

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37 Miles

Nearly two weeks ago I ventured on my first long cycle ride with other people. I faced it with great trepidation. There were so many questions: Would I manage after the first eleven miles? The longest ride I had managed to date was only just over eleven miles. Would my £175 Ebay bike be up to the job? I’m still under the impression that more money equals better cycling. Would I keep up with the group? Would they leave me behind? Would I make it home?

I’m amazed that I did go out with all these questions speeding through my head. But after a dad from the school kindly offered to take me out with a couple of other people I couldn’t flake out. I was about to do something that quite frankly terrified me.

I am an incredibly nervous cyclist. I squeal to myself if I feel like a car is too close. I yelp every time I hit a rough bit of road or go over a cattle grid. And if I go down a really big hill I almost feel like closing my eyes until it’s over (I don’t, I’m not completely stupid). This is how stressful cycling had been for me up until that point. The longest I had been out on the road had been just over an hour and now I was going to be out for well over 3 or maybe even 4 hours. As I cycled over to the rugby club to meet my fellow Sunday cyclists I trembled with anticipation and a tiny bit of fear.

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I can honestly say now that I had one of the best sporting experiences of my life on that windy Sunday afternoon. I met two other nice people who are also training for the Velothon. No one intimidated me or made me feel uneasy. The school dad made sure I wasn’t left behind. I discovered that even though I’m slow and steady on the flat and nervous on the downhills I actually take a perverse pleasure in going uphill. My good old running thunder thighs took me past my new found cycling friends and at the top of a couple of hills I would find myself waiting for them.

We cycled through some beautiful villages in South Wales: Pontyclun, Cowbridge and over to Llantwit Major by the sea. We stopped for a hot chocolate and a chat and then got on our way again back through St Bride’s Major and the back of Bridgend. As the sun started to become a bit lower in the sky I realised that Spring in South Wales isn’t particularly warm on a bike by the coast. I found myself wishing for home for a while but decided that was futile as I still had a fair way to go. I focused on the scenery, making a mental list of all the lovely houses that I fancied moving into when I win the lottery.

The ride reminded me what a beautiful part of the world I live in. In the car I wouldn’t have taken any notice of the undulations and the way I could see ships bobbing just off the coast. I wouldn’t have taken notice of the horses and cows in the fields. Running also wouldn’t have enabled me to get near the roads I was on and I was thrilled that I now had another way to experience my local area. The ride was breathtaking and I felt proud of myself for taking on something that I had been so scared of.

The end of the ride was tough for me and I had to finish it on my own after the other three riders turned off towards their homes. But I took my time and almost used the last few miles as a cool down. When I walked into the house I could hardly feel my legs, I was shivering and my lips were blue. But these things were overshadowed by the sense of achievement I felt and by the fact that I had enjoyed every minute of my ride.

The only regret I have from that Sunday is that I didn’t take more pictures of the sea from the road but I fully intend to go out on more rides to explore the stunning countryside around the place where I live. 37 miles is a huge distance just off the back of hardly any cycling for me but I hope that over the next few months I can clock up even more miles because I think this runner finally ‘gets’ what this cycling lark is all about.

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My Tips For Getting Over Injury

Seeing as I’ve had a little bit of experience of a chronic injury over the last year (possibly more) I thought a post about how I dealt with the issues I faced and how I managed being injured without going totally crazy might be of use. When I’m talking about tips for injury I don’t mean those little pulls and scrapes that resolve within a couple of weeks. I’m talking about injuries that are with you for the long haul. Below are things that I believe helped me. Read them, take them with a pinch of salt, slag them off but you never know they might help someone.

Acceptance

For ages I think I was in denial that I did have Achilles tendinopathy. This meant that I continued to run or do things that were only helping to worsen the problem. I think the moment that I accepted that I had an injury and that I needed to do something about it was the moment I started to improve my chances of resolving it.

Rest

Rest is a dirty word to runners. When my Achilles started to niggle I carried on training, mainly because I was training for London but also because I was being a bit stubborn. Lets face it deferring wouldn’t have been the end of the world! In this Running Times article John Ball talks about there being ‘a bit of OCD with runners’. I wondered about that comment but then decided, as we’re all on a spectrum of sorts with our behaviours, maybe it’s very true. The need and the drive to run, despite being a Physio who should know better, was so overwhelming that I had to keep training.

In the end I definitely made things a lot worse and my tendinopathy became very deeply entrenched. I needed to rest, to let things settle and allow myself to put strategies in place to get over the injury. It is frustrating but to get back to running sometimes it is best to do no running at all.

Seek Help: Physiotherapy, Rehabilitation and Treatment

All treatment and therapy interactions are leaps of faith. You have to believe in the person you are speaking to. You also have to trust that they have the knowledge to help you. A lot of runners will see one clinician and because they don’t hear what they want to hear i.e. you’ll be fine keep running, they declare the therapist as clinician rubbish and seek treatment elsewhere. If that is the case then I think you may have to revisit tip one again.

What you will find if you do go shopping around is that Physiotherapists pretty much give out similar advice. Healing times do not change depending on the clinic that you visit. Neither do the physiological effects of exercise alter depending on who you see. This may sound harsh but sometimes you have to get on board with what the health professional is telling you.

In the early stages of injury I didn’t even listen to myself and trust my own knowledge as a Physiotherapist. That running OCD kicked in and I didn’t do any of my rehabilitation. But then after giving myself a stern talking to, accepting my problem, chatting with colleagues and reading the evidence about tendinopathy I embarked on a programme to target my tendinopathy. And guess what? After three months it’s worked.

Three months sounds like forever in running terms but I told myself it was better than knocking running on the head altogether. I’m not out of the woods yet but I am getting there. So my main point for tip three is to do your exercises and do not expect an over night miracle. Stick with it. Exercises take time and patience.

Embrace Cross Training

As runners we like to think, or I certainly did, that running is the best thing in the world and nothing else can compare. So when you are forced to do something else it can feel like a poor replacement for our first love. I had to get over that deluded ideal when I realised I faced months of no running at all. I was desperate to keep my fitness up and so I purchased my first road bike. And I discovered how awesome cycling is. Now that I can run again I can credit cycling with maintaining my base level fitness because it hasn’t been a total shock to the system during the first few runs. So embrace cross training, whether it is cycling, swimming, aqua jogging or walking. It will be your running saving grace.

Do Other Things

Use the time you would have been running to do or try other things. It doesn’t have to be fitness related. You could try something crafty if you are so inclined (I did try knitting) or you could be as extreme as me and sign up to a post graduate course. Admittedly a tad more expensive but the mind is as important as the body!

Talk About It

Find people who you know won’t think you’re crazy for missing running. Blog about it, tweet about it, just don’t bottle it up. When you’re used to doing something almost daily, something that feeds your body and your soul (runners know what I mean) and then you can’t do it at all it can feel a bit like a loss. I know that it seems extreme to talk about it in those terms but it can feel like you need to grieve a bit or have a little bit of a cry. I know I did but I just think that shows how much running means to me.

So there we have it. A very non-scientific list of tips in how to get over and survive a running injury. I am aware that as Physiotherapist I could have been a bit more in depth about aspects of my injury but this is a running blog not a Physio blog. Hopefully you’re not injured as I have been but if you are unlucky to have a chronic injury maybe there’s something here that can help you a little bit. Here’s to lots of amazing running in 2015. Happy New Year!

 

 

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Getting Over It

After months of months of no running and feeling like my injury woes were never ending, I seem to have had a rather lovely surprise for Christmas. Over the last two weeks my Achilles on one side and my calf on the other seem to be very gradually settling and allowing me to get out on some tentative runs. I think I refused to believe it the first few times. Up until maybe two or three weeks ago I was still ready to concede defeat and forget about running. But after the last couple of runs I am really starting to believe I might be winning this battle against my own body.

After the London Marathon there was very little I could do without my Achilles flaring up and being really painful. And then when I would think that I could manage a small ten minute run my other calf would tighten up and cause me to limp. At one point even getting on the turbo trainer was enough to flare both sides up. When things were like that I was almost distraught. I know distraught is a total hyperbole to describe it but for someone who has been battling anxiety for the past year that is how I was when I felt like running was done for good.

Somewhere along the line I made a decision to stop running and rest. Somehow I developed the patience to not force myself out running and make myself worse. And back in September I made myself set two key goals and somehow I decided to stick with them:

No running until after Christmas or even into the New Year.

Get rehabilitating properly (I’d fart arsed around it but I hadn’t rehabbed properly and given it a chance to work).

I spoke to Physiotherapy colleagues and did my own research via journal articles and books. And then I embarked on the strictest regime of rehabilitation that I could handle.

It hasn’t been easy. There were more flare ups. There were days I didn’t believe anything was going to work and feeling like it was all futile. There were times I wondered if running was even worth all this effort. And then I would remember that I love running and that I have been a runner since I was 11 years old and 34 is far to young to throw in the towel. I took inspiration from all sorts of places: Jo Pavey, the Twitter running community, my Physiotherapy colleagues and patients who I had successfully helped in returning them to their hobbies. And I don’t know when the transition from feeling too injured to run to feeling able to have a little jog occurred but I’m now on my fourth or fifth run of thirty minutes. This would have been inconceivable back in September but looking back at my goals my timing has almost been spot on.

I’m still hedging my bets about things. I am leaving a day between runs and I continue to cross train to enable me to get in some strength work and some longer cardio sessions. I am incredibly fearful that I will relapse and won’t be able to run again. The fear of failure is still rather strong. I won’t book in any races or join a club yet because I want to be running consistently and they might be long term goals for 2015. But with some hope, and a little bit of light beckoning me towards the end of the tunnel, I feel like I could be getting somewhere. And hopefully in the New Year I’ll be able to do more of this:

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