Category Archives: training

The Joy of Volunteering

If you read one of my last posts (it has been a while, whoops) you might remember that a new running group had been set up locally to me. I had offered my help and had started to lead a run mid week as I couldn’t make the other group runs. Following on from that though, at the requet of quite a few people, I have found myself coaching total beginners. People who have never run in their lives now want to try it and I am in the priveleged, trusted position of helping them.

For the first few sessions as a running leader I felt tremendously nervous. I would panic over whether a session was too much or not enough. Had I taken in everyone’s individual needs but also addressed the needs of the whole group? Would people feel a bit achy afterwards and not come back? Would it all just die off?

I’m glad to say that five weeks down the line people are still coming to my beginners group and the enthusiasm is still strong within my group of runners. They have been coming in rain, hail, frost and bitter cold which has surprised and amazed me. If one or two can’t come they actually seem disappointed. Last night we did our first ‘interval session’ where I got them to run a bit faster than usual and everyone was smiling. Nobody was discouraged and nobody felt they had to drop out. As we did our walk/run back to our meeting place I got them to take turns in deciding where we would walk to and where we would run from. And while they were doing this I realised I loved volunteering to help this group of non-runners on their journey to become runners. I felt proud last night and I couldn’t stop telling them how they had impressed me and how well they were doing.

I wouldn’t insult a coach with qualifications by saying I’m a coach. I’m a Running Leader volunteering to help others and it’s made me love running more than I ever have before. To see these people develop and improve in front of my eyes is fantastic and I feel humbled that they trust me to help them do it. It’s a time when it’s not about my running, it’s about helping others run and discover a like or a love for running that they didn’t think possible. I don’t want money or favours or things for doing this, I already have a job. Volunteering and helping this beginners group is purely, without a doubt for the love of running.

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Virus

Since September I have felt rough. As mentioned in previous posts I started really struggling with any exercise and ended up on a course of steroids. The steroids were successful in settling my asthma down but that didn’t seem to be the end of it. My chest was still productive despite the GP saying I didn’t need antibiotics and my head felt like it was ten times the weight it should be. I tried running but my legs were like lead and there was an unnatural crawling sweat that would cover my back and top lip. Obviously sweating is a natural side effect of exercise but this sweat was cold and accompanied by a swimming head.

So I stopped. And I rested. It has resulted in me not running for quite a few weeks. This also leads to the typical pattern of trying to fight against it: attempting running, telling myself I’m being a wimp, feeling guilty for not running or cycling and then worrying about losing all my fitness and undoing all the work I did training over the summer.

But doing all those things is an exercise in futility. Viruses have been around since the beginning of time and evolve at tremendous rates compared to the human race. Fighting against this tiny being that has millions of years of experience is pointless. So I focussed on my studies, the kids and work and allowed the healing process to take place. Trying to run while I felt so crap would either have made my chest worse again or just made me feel really down.

I haven’t been totally inactive though. I haven’t taken to bed other than making sure I have plenty of early nights. I’ve sacked off alcohol fr now to make sure I sleep better. And I have been taking the dog on long walks. I have been finding the dog walks rather healing. I am getting some exercise myself but in a way that doesn’t exacerbate everything else. Soothing, mindful dog walks have been my saviour from not being able to do anything more intense.

Yesterday my chest felt clearer and I went for a run. My confidence has depletes over the many weeks and I was worried going out. But I took it gently and even though it felt hard, my legs were no longer virally fatigued and my chest felt like it could move air through my lungs. I felt like I was finally better.

I’m not going to get those weeks back but again I have had to let myself heal. But now that I’m feeling well again I’m looking forward to some winter miles which will hopefully be filled with lots of winter smiles.

Summer Running And Rain with Helly Hansen.

A few months ago Beki from Helly Hansen contacted me to enquire as to whether I would like to review their running products. I don’t tend to do a huge number of reviews but I was intrigued to see what their products were like, especially as an alternative to the larger ‘all powerful’ brands more commonly known to runners.

I really had no idea which items to review as everything looked really attractive to be honest. The obvious pinks were there, which for some reason running brands feel obliged to include when making clothes for women, but there was a fair bit of blue, purple and the staple black too. Beki helped me pick out the items and she sent through a few items of clothing and a pair of their running shoes.

As I mentioned I’ve had these items for a few months so that I could give them a decent review.

Loke Jacket £85.00

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I live in Wales. There is a lot of rain. I’m out a great deal with the kids and the dog so I am always in need of a decent rain jacket. I have to say I was pretty pleased with the Loke Jacket. It’s light weight and attractive. It has a nice feminine fit and it didn’t drown me. The colour I was sent is called ‘Pink Glow’ but it doesn’t scream out and out pink to me. It has a bit of a red/orange glow to it.

It’s not massively warm, I would definitely layer up underneath on colder days or if you know you;re going somewhere with a lot of cross winds, like the side of a rugby pitch perhaps! The pockets are nice and deep but there are only your standard two which is fine for a basic rain jacket. If I was going further afield hiking I would like a few more pockets.

If however you end up in a torrential downpour for a fair amount of time expect the rain to start to come through. It’s fine for showers but not the valleys monsoons we sometimes have this way.

Overall though, really nice comfortable rain jacket which I have found perfect for dog walking, summer showers, beach visits and attractive enough to wear day to day. Plus at £85.00 I think it’s a reasonable price to pay for a rain jacket and really good value.

Aspire Flex Hoodie Usually £55. Heather colour now reduced to £33.00

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I LOVE this hoodie. I have practically lived in it since I got it. It’s essentially a training top but I tend to wear it for cool downs. It’s also become my go-to hoodie when I went something to throw on to head down to Porthcawl beach or with a pair of jeans on the school run. In fact I’m wearing it right now. It has become a wardrobe staple for me.

It’s made out of their X-Cool quick dry fabric which I assume means it is a wicking fabric. Whatever it’s made of, it’s soft and comfortable and I love the heather colour that I was sent. It’s also got those thumb holes that you can pop your thumbs through if you’re a bit cold or just feel like snuggling. Will be interesting to see how it fairs for training runs once the weather starts to turn a bit. It washes well and it hasn’t bobbled or become smelly (as I said I’ve worn it A LOT). No pockets though but I can forgive this particular hoodie.

Aspire Jacket Currently reduced to £54.00.

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When I first saw this jacket I wasn’t sure if I like it. It’s not your typical running jacket. The lining is a what I would describe a silver foil lace pattern and the jacket itself is not opaque. Initially I thought it was reversible but it’s not. But when you put your colorful running tops on underneath it, the appearance from the silvery lace lining against the colour is quite effective. It’s definitely a fashion item as much as it’s a running jacket, reminding me a bit of cat walk ‘sports luxe’ clothes.

I’ve had to run in this jacket a few times since summer began due to Welsh rain and I can honestly say it keeps you nice and warm. It definitely kept out a down pour at the track one session.

The drawstring gives it a nice fit but…….there are no pockets. I’m a runner that needs pockets. If you’ve got pockets in your tights or shorts then fine but if that’s not the case I need a handy pocket in my jacket for my phone and keys. That’s the only negative I have about it otherwise it’s really nice, comfortable, attractive to look at and definitely suitable for running in the wind and rain.

Wicked Pace R2 Running Shoe

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I’ve been wearing this running shoe and alternating it with my usual Saucony shoes. Helly Hansen refer to it as having stability and responsiveness. It is definitely light weight and not in the least but bulky. As stability goes I’m not so sure. I find that I get a little bit of foot pain when I’ve been wearing these for distances over 3 miles. I think that is purely down to the fact I’m used to a little bit of lateral stability in my shoes. I have used them for speed sessions though and they are light as feathers. I think if you were used to minimalist shoes then these might be good for you.They’re also not bad to look at and I’ve teamed them with jeans and summer dresses, something I wouldn’t do with my bulky running shoes, so they’re definitely versatile. However if you’re used to a little bit more support I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them. Definitely a shoe for neutral, mid to forefoot runners who are used to minimalist shoes. 

Overall I think Helly Hansen are ones to watch in terms of running gear. It is tough for any company to find a place in that market with the obvious behemoths who monopolise that section in sports wear. However if you’re looking for good quality running clothes with a great variety of colours for women, away from the standard ‘pink’, then it would be definitely be worth visiting the Helly Hansen site for a browse (the hoodie, the hoodie….who said that?)

Helly Hansen are also the extreme weather specialists so I look forward to seeing what they come up with for us runners for the Winter.

Sorry about the lack of ‘real photos’. Struggle with selfies and don’t always get the chance to get family to take pictures.

I was sent all the items above to review. I have not received payment for this review. All opinions are my own and I have been honest in my views about the products. 

Conquering The Panic At Bristol Open Water

On Tuesday we returned from our family holiday in France. I hadn’t been able to take my bike with me so cycling was out but I had managed to run almost daily. I had taken my wet suit in the hope that we might be near a water sports lake but this was not to be. Instead we went to the beach and while the boys played I had a very tentative go at sea swimming. The little old French ladies who were in their swimming cossies must have wondered what on earth I was up to as I swam in the shallows along side them, cloaked in my wet suit.

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Swimming French style at Coudeville sur mer in Normandy.

That swim in the sea though just didn’t feel like enough. And the swim in the quarry felt like such a long time ago. Before we had gone away I had planned to visit Bristol Open Water Training Centre but a bike crash and a tummy bug had put the kibosh on that. Illness and the crash had taken away a few training opportunities and I couldn’t get them back. I think my husband sensed me being all fidgety about swimming and he suggested running me down to Bristol yesterday.

I had no idea what to expect but on arrival the lake looked fantastic. Still water and plenty of buoys. I had read a little bit about the lake and knew that it was a 600m course. I also knew that many people came here from South Wales so it had to be good for people to travel that distance. As I looked out over the lake I could make out the heads and arms of figures swimming around the perimeter.

We made our way in to pay and register and met Mike, the owner of the lake. If you have a minute you have to read the history of the lake and what he did to get it up and running. But briefly ‘Mad Mike’ (now aged 76) was a wind surfer who was always on the look out for a place for his wind surfing school. In 2012 he found a farmer’s field in the village of Almondsbury and transformed it into what is now the training lake. Mike is a great person and I think he is what makes the training centre so good. He is knowledgeable about water sorts and triathlon and has a brilliantly dry sense of humour.

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Support crew were a bit eager.

After paying £6 for my swim Mike directed me to the ladies changing room. And it is just that. A room to change in. There are no showers but who needs them when you’re going swimming in an incredibly clean lake (filled with carp)? Mike gave me a bit of background about the lake, the water quality and a little advice to get me started.

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Do I have to fill my wet suit up?

The lake water is chest height so Mike said I would be able to put my feet down if I needed to. He watched me get in and made sure I filled my wet suit with water. He guided me as to which buoy I should aim for initially and then the order to sight them in order to make the 600m lap. My aim was to do 2 and a bit laps to make it up to roughly 1400-1500m.

My husband and the boys had watched me get in. The boys thought it was hilarious and my youngest kept laughing about how cold and murky the water looked and how daft mum looked in her wet suit. Mike sent them off round the path to visit the goats and I headed out for red buoy number one.

As per the quarry and the sea, the cold on my face was a shock and I gasped and shivered. I brought my head up and swam breaststroke for a bit to get my bearings, then put my head down and was off. I opted for breathing every two strokes as this seems to be what I’m happiest with right now. But as I made my way round a buoy on the furthest side of the lake I felt panic kick in again. My pulse went up and my breathing rate increased. All the negative thoughts about swimming poured into my head again and I had to go back to breaststroke for a quarter of a lap. I stood up briefly and looked around. Maybe I should just do one lap. Maybe I should pull out of Saturday. But then as quickly as the panic had set in it suddenly started to ebb.

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That’s not a seal, that’s me!

I put my head down and got going again. Eventually I found a rhythm I was comfortable with and I mentally added a drum beat to my stroke. I just repeated the drum beat over and over ‘da da daa, da da daaa’. And with the drum beat came songs which I sang along to in my head. Before I knew it I was well into my second lap and I was feeling comfortable. When I felt that moment of comfort wash over me I knew I was going to be okay. If I just kept moving to the beat of my own drum I would be okay.

At times my sighting was way off and I would very briefly have to swap to breaststroke to adjust my course. But there was no repeat of the panic earlier in the swim and I started to enjoy it. I know that you can’t see anything in the lake beyond the murk but I reasoned that if I were in a pool without goggles I would likely close my eyes with my head in. It’s a tiny bit like that.

Towards the end I felt like I was gliding through the water and even wondered if I could do a third lap. But then I reasoned that with the London Triathlon on Saturday two and a bit would be enough. What struck me was how little I had thought about the swimming pool’s black line or stopping every 50-100m or so like I do indoors. Without it being there you just don’t think about it and you literally just keep swimming because that’s all you can do.

By the end of the swim I started to feel like Saturday was on for me and now I am half looking forward to getting in the docks and swimming my little heart out. I was glad that I went along to Bristol. I felt like it was a little gremlin that I just needed to squish in order to feel that bit more prepared for Saturday.

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Feeding the carp so they don’t eat the swimmers!

When I climbed out Mike wandered over to ask how I got on and gave me a well done when I told him what I had managed. I was feeling more and more pleased with what I had done and when Mike said hope to see you again I said that he would, and I don’t think I was lying!

If you’re in the South West or South Wales and you’re looking for a clean training lake then I would highly recommend a visit to Almondsbury. Have a look at http://www.bristolopenwater.co.uk. You can also look at the Facebook page here. There is a summer swimming race series at the lake and there is also a running path around the lake and cycling routes mapped out around the area.

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!

Triathlon Dreams and Anxiety Sharks.

With the Velothon out of the way I have focused my efforts back on triathlon training. Cycling wise, after riding 140km one day, I think I’m okay with the bike element. Running I feel generally at peace with. What I feel I have neglected is swimming. So in efforts to try and make my weakest discipline a little bit more bearable I have been hitting the pool as often as I can.

I won’t lie, I am a little bit anxious about swimming and with my first novice triathlon coming up this Sunday I find myself getting a bit jittery. So much so that I have had odd dreams. One such dream involved the cycle stint of the 17km course on Sunday. In this dream I finish the out and back course to be told that I need to do it again. And again. And again. Now I know nerves are usually helpful but this dream was a bit unsettling and made me feel unprepared.

It’s weird that my dream was about the cycle section because it’s swimming that I get most worried about. And I think I’ve now made it ‘a thing’. Whenever I start swimming my arms feel like lead weights. It takes me ages to warm up into it. Then I get cross with myself because I find myself needing to stop at the end of the length. The swim at the weekend is 16 lengths and in the pool I’ve been trying to make myself swim for 16 lengths at a time without the need to break occasionally. I haven’t fared so well and so my anxiousness about it gets worse. I am my own anxiety shark.

I’ve been reading a little bit more about anxiety lately and in a weird way I’ve started to understand and accept elements of my personality. On social media you often see these articles ’10 things you didn’t know about ‘insert subject here’ and I happened to come across one about anxiety. As I share the feelings that I’ve had about swimming I recognise them as being irrational and maybe a bit daft but that is an anxiety trait. Many of my anxiety triggers are irrational and right now swimming seems to be one. I think the reason is that I feel out of control with swimming whereas with running, and to some extent cycling now, I feel very much in control. When that control goes I start to panic and the irrational thoughts begin along with a lot of sentences beginning with ‘I can’t’.

But when I beat off those irrational feelings with practical thoughts: ‘it’s okay to break, it’s okay to breath every stroke, it’s okay to not be brilliant at this’, I start to enjoy swimming, my body relaxes into it and I begin to enjoy it again.

The article I link to above does mention many negative aspects about anxiety but it also mentions aspects that may in fact be positive. Could anxiety make me more productive? And is it a survival mechanism that makes me more empathetic, more driven and aware of everything around me? Do my anxiety traits make me more determined to achieve my training goals? And is it my anxiety traits that push me and drive me forward? I have no idea if that could be true but if it puts a positive spin on the hyperventilating, the nausea, tingling hands and the crushing feeling in my chest then I’m all for that. It actually makes me feel better that there could be a positive outcome to those feelings.

After sharing so many largely negative thoughts about swimming I have to say I am looking forward to my first novice triathlon this weekend. I’m curious to see how I get on with transitions and to see how a triathlon event works. I’m also excited to be supporting a local event with the triathlon being held at a local swimming pool by Aim 2 Tri events.

I’m aware that the distances this weekend are way off what I need to achieve for London Triathlon for Team Tricurious but it will give me a small taster of what triathlon is all about. And maybe after this weekend those traits that I mentioned above will give me a little bit more drive to complete my first Olympic Distance triathlon in August.

Pride, Places and PB’s.

I’ve seen a lot of debate about whether we should train for personal bests or whether we should forget about them and embark on some kind of spiritual journey and the inner reflection that endurance exercise inevitably brings. Personally I think you can do the two and that in fact there is a great deal of cross over between both.

On Sunday I completed the Velothon and as I was well out of my comfort zone I decided that I would focus more on the challenge aspect of it then the length of time it would take me to complete. On Sunday I aimed to finish and that is what I did. I did not complete it in an amazing time and I was right at the back of the field but I was okay with that. But if I do it again of course I would like to be a bit faster and be further away from the back. I think that is for me, and for many others, a natural consequence of sport and exercise. You strive to make yourself better, not just physically but mentally too.

I understand that people get frustrated when other runners/cyclists/triathletes talk about PB’s and rankings but having come from track and field I think it washes over my head a bit. I see it as people wanting to make conversation rather than some kind of ego waving or competitive threat. I am immensely proud of my running PB’s but I think what makes me more proud of them is that I enjoyed the training and the races where I accomplished them. The PB’s were a bonus.

I don’t think you need to be a ‘legit Olympic athlete’ to care about PB’s. And actually if you look at Olympic races it’s rarely about records and PB’s, it’s about medals and winning. Not all Olympic races are won in record times so that argument is already thrown out the window for me. Plus I think it is a bit of a smack in the face for many people who enjoy training for PB’s at club/youth/amateur level. You don’t have to be ‘Olympic’ to care about your times. If that is something that motivates you to get out and exercise, then brilliant. If you enjoy the challenge that comes with aiming for a PB then more power to you. If the PB hunt is part of your journey and in finding more about yourself and what you are capable of as an individual, physically and emotionally then I think that is your right and I have no business to judge you.

I think it mainly all boils down to the saying ‘run your own race’. There is no point getting your knickers in a twist about what someone else is doing or about someone else’s times or even their pride over their times. When did it become offensive for people to be proud of what they’ve done? Instead we should congratulate those people, have a chat with them and then focus on our own goals, whether that is time, a ranking, a podium place or simply finishing. All of these things take time, effort and passion from a person and to pour scorn on people who talk about their PB’s just undermines the work they put in to get there. And that’s really not fair.

I am taking on my first novice triathlon in July and I am enjoying the fact that the pressure is off. I have no idea of how long it will take me and I have no intention of stressing about where I will come. But I am enjoying the current journey I am on and I am finding out lots about myself. I’m sure after the triathlon my journey will change direction and my focus my become a PB or improving aspects of my triathlon race. I reserve the right to alter my journey plan in sport wherever I see fit and I will plot the course to a PB or a finish if I think that is right for me. It is after all my race and I’m running it. You should all focus on your own race, your own journey and be proud.