When all the puzzle pieces fall together.  Race report for Cotswolds 113, June 6 2021

Cotswold 113 Tri - 6.6.21 - www.113events.com

downloadI have just completed the Costwolds 113 Middle distance triathlon race and LOVED it. It’s very  rare that all the bits of the jigsaw fall into place and when they do it just feels amazing. This was that race.

Things had been good through training with a Covid spin off being the lack of coughs and colds around the place. Taper was relaxed, if slightly short in my eyes, at five days. For once I focused on the last few sessions and did them properly. I am always tempted to skimp these. It’s as if all the hard work is done and what difference will an extra 20 minute spin do? Lists, list and more lists with race plans, kit lists and morning routine all written out numerous times. And I knew the course, having raced it last year. A huge bonus was that my daughter was racing as well.

3.20am start, ug. Trialling new race breakfast of tinned rice pudding, ug. But if I can stomach it at 3.20 I can stomach it any time. Could have done with a rear light for a quick leg spin on the bike before racking, and would have preferred my water bottle not to leak all over my race socks in my transition bag. But being on site 2.5 hours before race start allowed me loads of time to faff and I arrived at the start relaxed after some deep breathing and internal chanting of my new race mantra – smooth (swim) speed (bike) spring (run).

7395_5997-CW_0838_63316659360be6d00cc19bSwim is in a warm pond – yeahhhhhh! Having spent all my open water practice moaning about water in Windermere at 10 degrees and unable to splash more than 800 metres landing in 19.6 degrees felt like a bath! This ‘Covid secure walk into the water one after the other’ starting lark is great. Means there are always people around to kind of suck you along. Sighting good, about every 20 strokes and I didn’t get lost, unlike last year. New mirror prescription goggles helped this! Made about 2 metres on people at the turns using corkscrew turns and leapt out happily in a time of 34:12 which is a lake swim pb for me and placed me 2nd in age group.

Remembered all the right buttons on my watch, always a challenge, and my new wetsuit literally fell off which gave me 8th out of transition amongst 222 women.

Settled on the bike. Ate, drank, considered my power. Coach and I had discussed 120 – 130 watts, watch was

Cotswold 113 Tri - 6.6.21 - www.113events.com

showing around 140. Humm, will I blow up? Then first five mile split came up and I realised I could do average speed of over 20 mph which was a long term dream. Heart rate was sustainable and RPE was fine. So it had to be worth a go. It’s a flat course, but with a very, very bumpy road surface and there was no wind.  Despite a forecast of sun it then rained and I got fairly cold. Then dried, then rained again. Passed my daughter looking like she was stopping, worried for her, until I saw her again later with a big grin. Eat, drink, check stats, keep consistent. A neck/shoulder issue I’ve been really struggling with held together just fine, what a relief. All good until Paddy was at the dismount line shouting warnings about the slippery, damp surface. Thanks to Vicki Farrington at Sports Recovery Kendal for all the strength training, it’s paid off. Landed safely in T2 with a time of 2:45:38 and an average speed of 20.1mph. How happy am I!  Third in age group. Slightly slower in T2 as I have to put socks on.

Cotswold 113 Tri - 6.6.21 - www.113events.com

The run, oh, the dreaded run. Think ‘spring’ and get on with it. I hated this run last year, almost to the point of threatening to give up racing. Considerably more practice on the bike, doing bricks, and lots of strength and mobility work has paid off. This time I could stand upright without pain! Eased into things as both hamstrings were threatening to cramp. So I finally achieved the slow start to the run my coach is always going on about and I always ignore in ‘race fever’. And, guess what, I then ran consistent splits until the end instead of tailing off. Maybe he’s got something here! My monkey and I had to have a few chats but he came to my aid. I was able to visualise him wrapped round my calf when it hurt, soothing it with a very soft tail. I now owe him a papaya. It’s on the shopping list. A solid run, and I was happy, that is a major victory. Third in age group.

Cotswold 113 Tri - 6.6.21 - www.113events.com

Delighted to finish in 5:26:21, third in age group, although with that amount of energy on the finish line I surely could have found the extra 30 seconds to take 2nd! Just to keep my feet on the ground the winner of my age group won the female category outright, leaving me behind in a cloud of dust. Huge respect, what an athlete.

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Also delighted my daughter also finished in one piece, declaring she was ‘over this tri lark’. 48 hrs later she is considering which ironman to enter! Massive thanks to my chauffeur, mount line marshal and supporter. It’s not an easy job.

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The Monkey Race

If anyone thinks racing is just about swim, bike and run think again –

The first race of my season was the Yorkshire Duathlon and I pulled my calf muscle 7 weeks before. It was only a little pull and muscles take between 4 and 6 weeks to heal so I should have been fine. Physio, exercises, stretching, blah, blah. But six weeks later, with virtually no running, it still hurt.

I suspected my Chimp, but he’s quite hard to corner.

cross monkey real

Everyone has a Chimp, it’s the part of us which is irrational, quick, often aggressive or defensive and stops us doing what our rational human brain would like. It’s primary job is to protect us from harm. My rational human brain wanted to run, my Chimp didn’t. My Chimp is male, he is also quite cunning. So it wasn’t until a physio stuck his thumbs in my calf, five days before the race, and declared it psychosomatic pain that I could nail the Chimp. (for lots more on this read The Chimp Paradox, Dr Steven Peters)

The key to this race seemed to be for me to get to grips with my Chimp. OK, so what is the issue here I ask him. Are you scared we have forgotten how to race? Don’t want to get beaten? Worried about times? The answer was that he didn’t want me to get hurt again before racing. He was saving my leg for the race. Here followed some dialogue about how bad a training strategy that was, and all the reasons why my leg had healed.  I wrote him a very polite letter.

‘Dear Chimp

Thank you for trying to protect me. I understand that wish and I am grateful for your care. I have sought help and my leg is fine. I have done the exercises. I should be able to do 20 calf raises off the stair and I can do nearly 20×3 so my leg is strong. I have stretched the neural pathways. They are the same as the other leg. I have wrapped it up with calf sleeves and compression socks. I have used a foam roller on my legs nightly. I have been back to physio. That calf is FINE. There is absolutely NO damage. I am ready to run.

I think you try to protect me so that I can race, which is lovely – BUT when you do that I race slowly because you haven’t given me space to practice. You could support me even better if you let me practice – then we could do better together. Thank you Chimp – we will race will on Sunday.

Love the rest of me.’

cute-monkey-cartoon_146562-7In the following few days we managed to run distances of up to three miles, with my form gradually getting better. 

I’m very visual so my Chimp this time is about the size of a Labrador when he is sitting down, he has a long tail moving from side to side, huge brown eyes and very soft deep chocolate coloured fur. He loves mango and I can clearly see him chewing the flesh off the stone. He remains calm and eating mango all week.

We get to race day and the sun shines. I feel good. We run, we bike and we run again. That’s what a standard duathlon involves – 6 miles running, 24 miles biking and 3 miles running. In the first run I have a completely clear image of my Chimp and I waltzing round a room singing ‘We’ve done it, we’ve done it, we can run’. Which was a kind of nice celebration, if a little strange.

Despite not running for six weeks we held even splits across both runs of about 8.45 min a  mile and came in 4th giving a qualifying performance for the European Championships next year. Not a bad start to the season really.

Great day out, really well organised and masses of lovely marshals. The sun shone and people smiled.

The Chimp Paradox Dr Stephen Peters

It’s all in your Head – Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan

https://youtu.be/gwd-wLdIHjs  and https://www.painrevolution.org/ Lorimer Moseley, Australian pain specialist

How do you plan your own training?

We can and do ride our bikes all year round, but if we wish to train to improve our performance, instead of ride purely for fun, then we need to understand the training process.  Endurance training is cyclical and is composed of periods differing in volume and intensity. Hence the term ‘periodization’ which was originally coined by the Romanian scientist Dr Tudor Bompa.

Before you start to construct your plan you need to know what you are aiming for and when you are starting. That gives you a date and a timescale. Your goal might be an event, a cycling holiday, a race or just being fitter than last year by the start of summer riding in May. It doesn’t matter. You also need to know where you are starting from, which can be hard. The best way perhaps is to look at how you were riding at your fittest this year and start by aiming to do about 60 – 70% of that in base phase.

There are at least five phases to the endurance training cycle as seen in the diagram – base, build, peak, taper, race, recovery. As it is presented here, it is circular so after recovery you start again. Similar to heart rate zone discussions you may find different terms and sub divisions used but the general principle holds good. In each of these phases what you are doing alters. Base is steady, easy stuff, general technique training, endurance rides. Build is where specificity starts to enter the picture and training increases in volume and intensity depending what your aim is. Annual strength training is maximised in Build phase. Time trials, audax events or hilly sportives will all require different approaches at this point. Peak is where the final hard work is done. Taper means everything reduces back so that you arrive at your event fresh, with good form, so that you can perform well. the length of taper will depend on the length of event. This is also true of the length of recovery which may take anything from a day to well over six weeks for a multi-day enduro event.

Continue reading “How do you plan your own training?”

The Golden Rules of Training

Training is a complicated puzzle and it is very hard to be objective about one’s own performance. Staying safe and getting the most out of our training process is a constant balancing act.  Here are some guidelines to help –

CONSISTENCY

golden rules

Consistency is key. The route to healthy, sustainable fitness is through the consistent application of the minimum amount of effort to produce the desired adaptations in our bodies. The boom and bust model so many of us find ourselves caught in does not produce long term, sustainable results. We should be aiming to see year on year improvements up to ten years after we start focused training. So if your heart rate is up a bit one morning take a couple of easy days until it balances out again. You could save yourself three weeks out with a chest infection. If you don’t have much time, or can’t be bothered, 20 minutes on the turbo spinning your legs out is better than nothing. Do that twice a week for a month and you have 2 hours forty minutes of training you wouldn’t have had otherwise. As a bonus you may find once you get on the turbo it’s not so bad and you can manage 45 minutes instead.  Just keep chipping away.

Continue reading “The Golden Rules of Training”

What is fitness?

‘I’ve gone to all this effort and I’m not even fit enough to achieve xxx’

This upset statement from one of my athletes on a downer really made me think and question ‘what is fitness?’

How do we measure it? What do we really mean when we think someone has a high level of fitness? Was it rational for the athlete to expect to achieve xxx? 

‘I want to go faster.’ Perhaps this seems a simple enough statement and is probably one of the ones we hear the most often.  But does that mean measuring and working to improve our FTP ( Functional Threshold Power) and successfully time trialling, or practicing VO2 max intervals to improve our ability to go with a break, or doing lots of endurance work to go faster over an ironman bike course. All valid aspirations, all variations on going faster and all need training for in very different ways.  Success at one will mean failure at the others….. so we need to be very clear where we are heading.

Continue reading “What is fitness?”

Race Story – Cotswolds 113 Middle Distance Race

Humm, why was I racing a middle distance race on the flatlands of the Cotswolds when my friends were doing a perfectly good standard race in Windermere? Precisely because it is flat and the Lake District isn’t. I entered when the date was in June and it was a preparation race for a flat Ironman in July. The best laid plans, ah well, me and the rest of the world. I realise I am very lucky to get any racing at all; it’s definitely a luxury in today’s world.   

I’m not sure I thought about luxury as I racked. In fact that early in the morning I’m pretty sure I didn’t think anything at all. Paddy’s marshal briefing was at 4.45am so I was the first person into transition which, luckily, had great lights. Something missing off my kit list was a head torch.

It was odd swimming in a small, shallow, WARM pond surrounded by trees. I hadn’t realised how much I look at, and appreciate, the amazing views of space and mountains when I swim at home. Weird watching weed the whole way round, I do like the patterns it makes. The staggered start (Covid safe) and the shallow warm water worked well and I came in in 36:05 which is my fastest time ever in a middle distance apart from river swims with currents. I thought that was really interesting as I haven’t done any focused swim training, or intervals, or fast work. I have purely swum around in the Lakes stopping to look at the view. How does that work then?

It was odd having neutralized transitions. 10 minutes in T1 and 5 minutes in T2. Although having decided to use the loo in T2 I still managed to be late leaving it and ended up with an eleven second penalty. I’ll revert to my normal, less pleasant, practice next time.

It was also odd, and not in such a good way, riding Paddy’s tt bike. For various reasons I have probably only ridden it a handful of times and never for long. My mistake. The bike leg went ok, covering 56 miles in 2:57, averaging approx 18.6 mph and putting out approx 150 watts. Handling could have been better, lack of practice, and the bits into a strong headwind were hard work. I’d love to say the views were good but I had my head down…. The marshals however were fantastic. Hoards of six on every junction, some stopping traffic, illegal or not, others just shouting support.

Then I tried to run….even odder …. my body is not used to being held in a cramped, tucked position for three hours and it complained by refusing to stand up properly and then refusing to pick my feet up properly. So the run was a fairly painful affair – serve me right – but the route was lovely. Three laps and my head was up enough to appreciate a very pretty run route, mostly off road, along ponds, (I guess they are little Lakes really) and through woodland. Lots of tree roots to fall over. The trend in amazing marshals continued and having our names printed on our numbers meant a lot of the support was personalised. A great help. A slow 2:07.

Followed by a slow two days as my hamstrings gradually loosened off.  This is a great, flat, middle distance race. Very well organised with the best marshalling ever. There are two dates for next year coming on line. The early one would be an ideal race for Lakesman entrants and the local Premier Inn has comfy beds and a pub next door. … Club trip?  

Ps apologies for the very poor photos, we were both too busy.

HELLvelyn Triathlon

A bucket list event held on my doorstep – so why ever not? Maybe because the swim is cold, the cycle ride goes up The Struggle which is a climb listed in ’10 of the UK’s toughest climbs’. It lasts for 4.8km and climbs over 1200ft with sections of 24%. There is a flat bit in the middle. The ‘run’ then almost summits Helvellyn – it turns right with about 50 metres of climb to go. It climbs about 3,000ft and goes up Swirral Edge scramble. No reason at all then.

Even more fun when some friends decide to do it as well, and Paddy comes as support – coffee and hugs on tap. I was ridiculously nervous. Maybe because it was the first race of the season and I’m always nervous for that one. Maybe because I haven’t fell run regularly for over ten years so it did feel like a very big challenge.

A field in rural Cumbria contrasted with the presence of a pro-field and Alsitair Brownlee turned up, having raced in Hamburg the day before. Luckily no 14 day isolation required! He went on to break the old course record, which he set when he was 19. Social distance spacing in transition looked suspiciously like a normal cramped transition and I wasn’t about to get the tape measure out. Have to say though the COVID silver lining was the presence of more toilets than normal and quantities of both gel and loo roll.

A beautiful, cold Ullswater (13 degrees) welcomed us and we were supposed to start at 5 second intervals. This rapidly turned into ‘get everyone in: any order and any spacing will do’. So apologies to those who were hoping to spectate, all our timings went straight out the window and my warm up was just a little rushed. We jumped in leaving Paddy surrounded by a big pile of gear. Flat lake, tight course, hop out, run round a buoy, hop back in again. Felt good in the water, if a trifle chilly.

On to the bike, 10% chance of rain and the sun was starting to come out. That lasted for the first ten minutes. By the time we got the the A66 it was henious. So horrible it was quite exhilerating. Poor visibility, greyness, spray, caravans. Coat on. Dunmail was easy, the Struggle wasn’t. No suprise there then. Quick hug with Paddy at the top, it was that kind of race, and an update on how the others were doing. Wet descent. I thought how nice of them to place an ambulance with flashing lights half way down to remind me to slow down. Must have been tired, it was there because someone had gone through the wall. Sluggish with some cramp issues on the bike.

Easy in transition to keep the cramp at bay; also because Alistair was being interviewed so I paused for a listen. First mile easy, settle into things gently, only eight left to go. Then the course went straight up. Postive head – ‘ thank goodness its uphill, thank goodness it’s uphill’, repeat. My legs couldn’t cope with going down at that point. The clouds were now blowing off and the fells were absolutely stunning. Thankfully I hadn’t taken my phone or I’d still be there taking photos. Luckily Stephen took some instead. The main climb finished off up Swirral Edge which was fun – wet rock and lots of people not used to scrambling. Then down, down, down.

Finally through the finish in just under six hours. I was the last of us to finish so I got the biggest welcome reception. With a touch of black humour the organisers had left us one last little Covid challenge – collect your own medal and the medal box was on the floor.

Successes of all kinds – Stephen raised over £1000 for Vision of Adventure ( a local charity supporting visually impaired athletes), he also not only survived but successfully smashed his second ever triathlon. Jack learnt loads to take forward to his ironman next year. I managed a respectable fell run having not done that for a very long time. And fun was had by all, both beforehand and on the day. In fact the crack was so good we may even contemplate doing it again.

Fuelling on the bike

People often ask me how much they should eat on the bike when on a long ride. When I tell them they usually then say – ‘HOW MUCH!!?? I can’t possibly eat or drink that.’

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So here is a guide to fuelling on the bike – all I can provide is some basic guidelines and then you have to work it out for yourself through trial and error. Nutrition is complex and very individual; what works for one person will make someone else feel ill.

RADSPORT - Oesterreich Radrundfahrt 2012

Practice is crucial. Your body needs to practice being able to absorb nutrition and it needs to work out what it likes and doesn’t like.  It is not fun discovering what it doesn’t like on the day of an event.  So long training rides are about practicing nutrition as well as developing your aerobic base. If you constantly get it wrong in training you reduce your body’s ability to recover, compromise your immune system, potentially lose too much weight, lose power production, feel cold, lose your mojo, get sick. In an event you may vomit or just bonk – that means run out of energy and feel like the guy in the photo – not the feeling you have trained for months to attain.

Back to the question of HOW MUCH?  Ingest between 40g and 90g of carbohydrate an Continue reading “Fuelling on the bike”

OK? Not OK? The margins are small

Anxiety and uncertainty – there is a lot of both around at the moment. All the way through COVID 19 everyone has been juggling uncertainty in their own ways and most people would admit to having days when things are less than OK. Our household felt a bit like standing on a plateau of molten lava, atop a volcano. lavaWe both lost our three streams of income at once, with no guarantee that they were going to return.  We went from a household of two to a household of six. Two adult children arrived home jobless, one bringing a jobless partner, and the third came back to sit online university exams with no guarantee of his third year going ahead.  Uncertainly was rife.  My husband then returned to hospital with an attack of Atrial fibrillation, a heart condition. Nothing to do with stress!? Things have since calmed down a bit, and we are one of the lucky families so far.  No bereavements and financially we are secure compared to so many.  I felt so guilty at not being able to ‘pull weight’ as I saw it. Being asthmatic I was nervous of volunteering to help, which is one of my drivers in life.

But help is given and received in many ways and mental wellbeing is not a static state, it is a shifting picture. Which is why I love the picture below.  Continue reading “OK? Not OK? The margins are small”