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Stop/don’t stop????

I had the privilege of sitting down with three amazing ultra-cyclists recently to talk about what keeps mad endurance athletes going when ninety percent of your head is saying STOP – quit, go home.

There were some common threads and some opposing thoughts but hopefully we have increased our pool of strategies to help keep us going for a bit longer. All these strategies can be applied to ANY event which is a challenge for you, be that a 25 km sportive or a 400m pool swim, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has their challenge level, anxieties and chimps in their heads. Although one is slightly less likely to hallucinate on shorter challenges I guess.

The company was – Jill Dawes, a client and experienced ultra rider going for GBDuro this year. That is an off road Land’s End to John O’Groats ride covering 1223 miles and 87600ft of ascent. You must finish in ten days.

Mike Pezet – Paris- Brest-Paris veteran, 1,200km with a 90 hours cut off.

Shaar Dixon – Audax rider, 1000km ride in 2021.

And myself with a slightly different take on the endurance experience with five ironman finishes.

In over an hour of discussion nobody once mentioned the pain. How did that happen? I think it’s just one of the multitudes of reasons to stop.

We all agreed we need a plan and a schedule which breaks the challenge down into manageable chunks. We then spend hours trying to work our timings out and inevitably failing but it occupies our brains. It also keeps us going. If the deal is we ride for three hours until a stop then that’s what we must do. If we must shuffle to the next feed station before a ten stride walk then that’s the deal.

Celebrate – the plan for an event has several aims. Normally one aim is to arrive at the start in a condition to take on the challenge. So, rather than bemoaning what you haven’t achieved celebrate what you have achieved, how far you have come and the obstacles you have overcome even to arrive.  Whatever you are doing it is more than the person on the sofa and you are the richer for it.

Retain the sense of awe or wonderment – this was important to everyone. Focus on the amazing flowers, the moon, that fantastic dawn at 4am that only you are seeing. Mike loves the dusk when everyone else is going home, the wind has dropped, the world feels at peace and he gets to celebrate this. Jill finds this time really difficult, she wants to go home along with everyone else. And Shaar just wishes to be in the warm houses with cups of tea and funny wallpaper. We all have a sense of the privilege it is to be able to do our sport. Acknowledge that, celebrate it and keep a child-like sense of wonderment at the world.  

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Treats were also great. After three hours riding the treat is to stop for perhaps ten minutes. Not to rest but to find a loo, refill water bottles, find food. And start again on time! Don’t lose the focus. Treats also take the form of special food such as one whole bite of a Snickers.  Offered as reward for perhaps getting up a big hill. Food in general on such rides is a necessity but not usually a pleasure and fuelling is one of the hardest disciplines to master in the ultra world.

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Re-frame – harder and harder to do the tireder you get. If you are looking in enviously at people’s homes at dusk try to reframe to how lucky you are to be on this adventure and seeing things no one else does. If the shop has the wrong sandwich reframe to ‘at least it is open and has something.’

Hallucinate – some of us do, some of us don’t. Once you have worked out what is real and what is not its ok, you just talk to them.

Ask the question – ‘What can I do right now to help myself?’ Just asking that question turns a negative state of mind into an enquiring one and then into a positive position of self-help. This can easily be used on any challenge.

SMILE! – physically smiling causes physiological changes which cause you to feel happier. Try it.

Talk to yourself – both internally and externally. We all encourage ourselves to ‘Harden the f*** up’ and get on with it.’  Some of us do this out loud, finding that verbalising things makes it more concrete and real.

NEVER quit at night – When we discussed times we had stopped it was always at night and there was always a get out – a nearby lift or hotel. Also it was possible to see the chain of events which precipitated the final decision including the loss of focus or motivation in the preceding hours. this might not be an option for most athletes doing more rational challenges!

Just keep moving – this was powerful. It didn’t matter how, riding, walking, pushing, carrying. Just MOVE inch by inch.

Break it into Small chunks when the going is tough. ‘Just twiddle for ten minutes and see what happens.’ Then another ten, and the twiddle tells the head that it’s easy, providing reassurance. An Ironman marathon is NEVER  marathon, its often four 10km jogs.  That seems far more manageable.

Other people were a divided issue. I feel that I have to keep going for those who have supported and helped me, that acts as a motivator. I know it’s not true. People only really mind if you are safe and have a good time. For others outsiders were a distraction or a threat to personal safety, the journey was a very personal one. A whatsapp group with messages of support popping up on the handlebars was helpful for one person, someone else would hate the intrusion.

With all these suggestions it is horses for courses, you have to find what works for you. But for any event mental training is as important as the physical.

Inevitably this list will not be exhaustive but if one thing resonates for a reader then it’s been worth sharing.  We all gained something from our meeting and are slightly better equipped to ‘Just keep moving’ ….to the end, wherever that may be.

An event with synergy

When is a race not a race? Or is it in fact even more than a race? Sometimes I’m not sure.

Southport Standard Tri is a European Qualifier; a fast, flat course and near home. Great choice of race. Paddy, my husband, also had an entry. It was planned to be a good day out and part of a training week for longer events.

Then, two months before, Covid made its appearance. Finally I caught it, like so many others. Ten days later and I was getting better. A few days after that I went on holiday with my daughter to Madeira and left my common sense at home. Despite knowing all the protocols and coaching clients successfully through Covid recovery I made some basic errors. They always say its very hard to coach yourself. It should have been four days of ultra running training – I refused to run and we went for easy walks instead. Miniscule compared to a normal week for someone about to run a 47 mile ultra,  but still too much. Or maybe it would have happened anyway. Came home and was floored.  Difficulty breathing, erratic heart rate and very low energy – like so many others. Needless to say no 47 mile ultra, one A race of the season out the window. But Madeira was incidentally spectacular.

Five weeks on, nursing myself with vitamin D, B12, Omega 3, iron, magnesium, sleep, rest, lots of good food. Just about well enough to go to work. Not well enough to fully work as a swim guide.

But the entry is paid and I’m a very bad supporter. How could I race?

I couldn’t.

But could I complete? Have some fun and learn something along the way?

Possibly.

Three weeks after being in out patients with a dodgy heart rate I turned up at the start line armed with some very solid goals designed to keep me safe. I felt both very lucky to be there and very anxious!

This race was momentous for us as a couple, my husband has gone through four years of atrial fibrillation, a heart condition. This race was his first after a final successful medical procedure. Important or what. It also proved to be very social with us bumping into loads of people we knew but didn’t expect to see.

Great chance to practice staying warm before the swim! Any option to reduce stress. On with the neoprene hat, old socks and plastic bags to keep my toes warm, my dry robe and a flask of warm water down my suit just before the off. Fashion never was my strong point, and I’m not winning any prizes here. Thought BREATHE on the swim, followed by long and smooth. All 150 women went off at once so it was a bit bumpy for a female wave, we are usually quite gentle with each other. Salty and murky but warmer than Windermere and I came in still able to breathe, a minute and a half off my pb – having not trained for 8 weeks, so I was delighted.

The bike is flat, flat, flat but often windy. First time at an event on my new tt bike so good chance to practice. Handling improved through the course. Heading for an aerobic bike so never out of breath, putting minimal strain on my system, good old base work but in a race context. Practice position, drinking, eating, cadence, handling. Non of it will go to waste.

The run is also flat, flat, flat and here was my big race aim – I had to nose breath the whole way. I’ve spent years struggling with nose breathing so this would be a challenge. I don’t like failing so setting this as my main race goal prevented me working too hard. Its not a race, its an event and completion not compete is the name of the game. YES – I succeeded, nose breathing all the way brought me in in 1:07, far from my fastest 10km ever but that was never the aim.

Paddy came in safe and sound in the time he wanted; we had a great time, we socialised a lot, I completed an event as an aerobic exercise, he completed his first event for a long time. So a fantastic weekend, the start of a new phase of our lives where we can race together.

Although not a race we both came in within the required 120% of winner of age group to give us qualifying times for the European Championships 2023. So it was also one tactical race with a solid aerobic base being put to good use and a gamble paying off.

So maybe this time it is a race, and quite a lot more? I still don’t know.

Almere, Netherlands, World Long Distance Triathlon Championships Sept 2021

This race was ethereal. There one minute and not the next, appearing through the swirling mists of Covid travel restrictions and then disappearing again. Would we, could we? Three weeks before race date I went to Scotland for a middle distance race in the belief it wasn’t going toPXL_20210909_055600811.MP happen.  Then, suddenly, the mists cleared and WE WERE IN! Well done the powers that be.  Well done Verity, admin at British tri, who worked her socks off to get us the right paperwork. Holland didn’t want us as the UK has high levels of the Delta variant, we are a Red country to them.  Quarantine works as a deterrent. Look at how empty that plane is – lots of space to get the legs up!  Our email says – reason for exemption from quarantine is ‘top level sport’…. that’s a first. I was SO excited.

The first aim for any race, especially long distance, is getting to the start in a condition to race, no mean feat this time. Training for an ironman distance is a big commitment when you are sure it’s going ahead, training for one you think will disappear is considerably harder and many didn’t make it, choosing to drop out of registration earlier on. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity. Continue reading “Almere, Netherlands, World Long Distance Triathlon Championships Sept 2021”

A wet and happy race

Aberfeldy middle distance triathlon, Perthshire, Scotland. 1.9km swim, 56 miles on the bike and a 13 mile run.

Two very damp nights wild camping, one very good curry, a purple and red pub, no vegetables, one banana, empty supermarket shelves, four ticks to bring home. Scotland in all its glory. Beautiful ….but

This race was maybe more of an adventure than a race. I entered late, looked at the B&B prices and decided to camp. Also decided I didn’t need a campsite. Arrived in the rain and ate a very good curry in a leaking bus shelter to avoid crowded spaces. This took me back in time. Comfortable – yes, I was dry and warm and fed. Don’t need much more than that. 236536216_352894266544576_1138584221228553411_n

I found a quiet forestry car park and had two beautiful red deer as neighbours for a while. Luxury of a different type perhaps. I had bothered to check I had tent pegs but hadn’t checked all the poles – so getting in through a collapsed porch was an extra challenge. Our tent has seen better days which meant my feet received a bath from soft Scottish rain water. Continue reading “A wet and happy race”

Eastbourne and the sea.

My husband and I, somewhat to our surprise, liked Eastbourne. Haven’t been to the seaside for ages – friendly people, good service, nice food, ice cream. Didn’t like the ten hours driving time it took to get there with broken air conditioning!

The race was Ironbourne, a full distance triathlon running for the first time.
A beautiful, traditional pier was the start, jumping from about 6ft up into the sea. It was a flat calm beautiful morning. The start of hot, hot, hot and 31 degrees forecast. Loved the swim, enjoyed adjusting for the current. Hard work up the beach against it, fun flying down again being pushed and interesting ferry gliding to make the buoys when swimming across it. No chance to get bored in the hour and a quarter it took me to cover 3.8km.  I do sometimes get bored on the swim, attention span of a gnat.

Then onto the bike, almost flat, almost empty, dual carriageway which should have felt easy but felt quite hard. It took my legs about an hour and a half to really get going. We then went on to little roads. When we drove them it felt like they would be hard and slow but they rode really well. And hats off to the marshals on the food stations, they were amazing all day. I lost my tool bag on a bump despite new Velcro and a strap and spent the second half of the race anxious about puncturing. I was also worried how my neck and shoulders would survive that long on the tt bike but they did ok, had a lot of trouble earlier this year with that. Heat management was definitely part of the game, white helmet, white top to suit and uv protection  arm sleeves. I tipped 14 bottles of water over my head and drank seven, six of solution and one water. Just for the record I drank 310g of carb and ate 4 gels, 4 boiled new potatoes, 1.5 bananas and one muesli bar. So roughly 480g carb, about 70g of carb an hour. I rode slower than I think I would normally aim to, partly due to my power meter breaking the second I put my bike in transition (despite new batteries that week), and partly because of the heat. There were two main hills right at the end, after 110 miles I was dreading them a bit. But I loved the Beachy Head climb, a bit like Dunmail, nice and steady and nearly 4km long. Also like France with poppies and butterflies.
Came into T2 feeling amazing, never managed that before on full distance. Changed into shorts and white t shirt as my tri suit feels hot to run in. Poured a 2 litre bottle of water over my head and stuck on a white run cap, kept the mirrored sun glasses and arm sleeves.  Set off, carrying water…..slow for the first two miles said my race plan. I’m not sure what happened but it sure wasn’t slow enough. Over ambitious? Over optimistic? Optimism is one of my life characteristics. Lacking respect for the race and the conditions? Arrogant? Or all of the above. Or perhaps just the heat was starting to affect my judgement. Went through first 7 miles way too quick, about a minute a mile faster than race pace.  Again the marshals were brilliant, and many of the stations had hoses. My feet were really sore for a lot of the way so I was getting them hosed to cool them off. The course was 4 laps and three laps, minimal shade, along the prom. Lots to look at – jet skis and roller blades, reggae parties and families, sailing boats, dogs. It was really pretty coastal scenery which was fairly rapidly wasted on me. One of my worst moments came when I realised that a marathon was 26 miles and not the 24 that I had in my head!  Despite to my mind totally blowing my run I was 9th female in the run, highest position out of the disciplines, so if I made a mess others made a bigger mess. Maybe running a marathon in 31 degrees is just hard!


What do you do when finishing an Ironman isn’t enough? If it’s me you get really cross with yourself that you can be so stupid and vow to finally learn a very painful lesson about pacing for next time. You forget all the things you did right which got you successfully to the end of an ironman in 13 hours 21 minutes, 18 seconds, 9th out of 26 women. I am lucky enough to  move in a world where amazing people do amazing things all the time and forget that at 57 years old that’s not so bad. Then I gradually recalibrate and celebrate a great adventure and a great few days which has left me with some blisters, probably four toe nails less than I had, a nice plaque for coming second in age group….. and a bizarre urge to do it all again.

A Good Day Out in the Cotswolds

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.

Continue reading “A Good Day Out in the Cotswolds”

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”