Looking for Rainbows and Stars – An Athlete’s Analogy

So here’s a summary of my health so far in 2016:

  • Death cold from hell
  • Eye infection
  • Mild groin pull
  • Allergic reaction to medicine
  • Bad back
  • Locked joint in foot
  • Hit by a car and knocked off my bike
  • General despondent attitude

Looking back over this, that seems like a lot in the space of 2 months. I’m just going to wait here while you all send me vast amounts of sympathy.

Waiting 3

No? Ok then.

As someone who had only taken 1 sick day in 2 1/2 years (yes, that is a humble brag. I was properly proud of that) having this start to 2016 has seriously knocked me, not just physically but mentally as well (and this was before I made friends with concrete, which only happened yesterday after I’d started writing this post).

I don’t know about you, but I use running to cope with my stress. If I’m having a bad day, a 30 minute run in my lunch break can work absolute wonders. So that fact that I haven’t been able to properly get my teeth into my training at all yet in 2016 means that my stress has been building. But I can’t run to get rid of it. I hate not being able to run. So then the stress builds some more. But I can’t run……… So round and round we go like a dog chasing its tail, except that it’s way less entertaining for those around me.

Stress 1

So what’s a girl(runninglate) to do? I can either wallow in my bad luck, or I can just accept that quite simply, this is life. Who said it would always be plain sailing? Admittedly I’ve had an abnormal run of fails, but as one awesome runner liked to say, “when it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for the stars.” I know in other circumstances this could sound like cheesy inspo you’d expect to find on Instagram, but it couldn’t be more fitting right now.

When I dropped out of the half, my brilliant friend Alice sent me a link to an article about Jessica Ennis when she had to drop out of the Beijing Olympics with a fracture in her right ankle. I imagine that making a decision like that is approximately 1000 times worse than having to drop out of a local half marathon. But look at what she has since gone on to achieve. Injury is part and parcel of being an athlete. It’s how you deal with the setbacks that shows how strong you really are.

And yes. I now consider myself an athlete. I never used to call myself that before despite the fact that Alan always has done. I just thought of myself as a runner. It was only at one of my many recent trips to Spritely Osteopathy that I called myself an athlete and Melissa picked up on it. The conversation went something like this:

“You called yourself an athlete.”

“Huh. So I did.”

“Good. You are.”

This short exchange showed a shift in the way I see myself, and it gave me a little boost during what has been a difficult time. It’s not much, but the little things count.

So I’m going to focus on how lucky I am to walk away from being hit by a car (my brother called me a double-hard bastard which is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received) and focus on the future. Anytime I can’t run I’ll work on my pull ups. If my legs need some rest I’ll go for a swim. If I need some downtime, I’ll do some yoga. Plus I’m going to dust off my Headspace app and set aside 10 minutes a day to get some more Yin in my life (because all this Yang cannot be good for me – thanks to Sigrist Acupuncture for the brilliant talk on Chinese medicine earlier this week)! There will always be options.

Enough of all this. I’m going to go and look at the stars. Bugger off clouds.

Thumbs Up

 

 

Trying a Tri and Catching a Bug

There’s nothing quite like an epic panic to start off your first ever triathlon.

So in the lead up to the Ely Sprint Tri I’d been pretty blasé about the whole thing, leaving it until six weeks before the event before practising my swimming for the first time in two years (give or take the odd spa day splash around here and there) and I didn’t open the race guidelines email until two days before. I think it was two parts denial, one part trying to resist putting too much pressure on myself. Because let’s face it, I am hyper competitive, especially with myself, and if I read too much about the race I would start looking at ways to be THE BEST I CAN POSSIBLY BE which is fine with a bit of experience but I think a little unreasonable when I don’t even know how to transition efficiently. For crying out loud, I didn’t even know what a transition MEANT until about a month before the triathlon when my friend Helen (who lent me her race belt) filled me in.

What 1

What the hell is a race belt?

Then two weeks before the triathlon, my amazing best friend Michelle piped up that she had a tri bike that had been sat in her shed for a couple of years, and that I was welcome to borrow it. She knew that the tyres were flat, but it turned out that it needed about four hours of serious TLC to get it in racing condition. But my brilliant husband worked flat out to get it race-ready, including one 90 minute period where the two of us had to both turn into The Hulk to get one of the pedals off (attempting clippy shoes was a new experience too far). On Friday it was ready, so I cycled around Ely on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon just to get used to it.

So, on to Sunday morning, and I woke up at horrid o’clock (6:50am for all you early super-keen types) and got dressed in my lovely Zoot tri shorts and a Nike top (again borrowed from Michelle). I then unlocked the garage whilst my bagel cooked, and saw THE FRONT WHEEL WAS OFF THE BIKE. At first I wondered why on earth Ian would think that would be a funny joke, but then I realised that the flipping thing was flat. It turned out that there was a flaw in the inner tube by the valve, and despite a panic twitter plea for a spare racing inner tube, I knew in my heart that with only 15 minutes before I needed to leave the house all was lost. So I took the sticker off the tri bike and stuck it on to my twice-as-heavy hybrid instead. The 20km bike ride had just become a whole lot harder.

Cycling Raccoon

This was going to be interesting.

As I cycled from my house to the start at King’s School, I was upset about the bike but more because of all of the effort Ian had put in on a bike that I wouldn’t be able to use. But looking at the bigger picture, it’s lucky I had taken the tri bike out for about 5 miles on Saturday, because if I hadn’t that flat tyre would have hit around halfway through the 20km which would have ended my triathlon. So after stomping around and whinging for a bit and getting a pep talk from both my dad and Alan, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and decided to just enjoy it and give it the best shot I could.

Because I hadn’t swum for about two years when I signed up for the tri and can’t front crawl so have to rely on my (fairly decent) breaststroke, I vastly overestimated how long it would take me to do the swim. This meant that I was one of the earliest competitors amongst slower swimmers. As it turns out I can manage 300m in around 7 minutes, so I had added more than 50% on with my 11 minute guesstimate. Luckily it didn’t have too much of an impact on my time, as (most of) the swimmers around me were really considerate and allowed me to get past them at the end of the lane, so I exited the pool at 7:33.

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As predicted my transition out of the pool was not fast as I pulled on my socks, race belt, trainers and helmet, and lifted my heavier than planned bike off the rack before running out of the gate. 1:17 had been added on to my time (the guy who finished first was out in 29 seconds!), and I started the bike ride as I meant to go on – by BELTING it.

I overtook my first road bike cyclist halfway up St Mary’s Street before the A10 roundabout, and I overtook my 2nd one just before the turn to Coveney. I was then overtaken by someone else on a road bike before overtaking another one halfway to Coveney. I went past the next one at about mile 9, careful not to draft at all after a stern warning by the Race Director during the race briefing, and then to my (competitive) joy I got past the woman who had overtaken me, and stayed ahead of her for the rest of the bike ride. To say I was pleased to only be overtaken once during my entire bike ride in a field of serious road bikes is an understatement. Ending the bike ride up Back Hill was torture and my quads were starting to question my sanity, but having Alan cheering my name and then seeing my parents grinning at me as I dismounted from my bike and ran to rack it again was just awesome.

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After failing to find my bike space for a few seconds, I got told by an amazed marshal that “I did well on that!” with a nod towards my bike, before taking a swig of water and exiting the pen for the final 5km run, cheered on by my friend Matt. That transition was 57 seconds which seemed sloth-like but actually in comparison to others wasn’t all that bad.

The run was the weirdest and hardest part of all. I’m so used to feeling strong and fast on a 5km that this came as a bit of a shock. I knew it would be difficult, but the short sharp hills on King’s School’s fields were intense and I felt like I would be lucky to come in at 25 or 26 minutes. I felt SO slow and heavy-legged, and Alan’s yells of “head up!” and “use your arms!” were met with a one-fingered salute, much to the amusement of the crowds. But I finished without ever having to slow to a walk, and managed to actually spot the photographer at the finish line before collapsing in a heap at my parents’ feet and being congratulated by my awesome friends Pete, Rach and Diane who had come out to support me.

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As it turns out I completed the run in 23:33, making me the third fastest woman in the running leg of the triathlon, just 20 seconds behind the fastest. My complete time of 1:17:44 placed me as 6th woman, 5th in my age category, and the 37th competitor in a field of 101.

I thought that I would be pleased to complete the tri but have no desire to do another one. I was completely wrong on the second count. I LOVED it and am already looking for other ones to attempt. I have fully caught the tri bug. Unless I learn to front crawl my options for races may be somewhat limited, but I can’t wait to see what I could potentially achieve with a proper racing bike and a better understanding of the details such as transitions. As for the race itself, the Ely Sprint Tri is quite a small one, but despite this there were only some minor issues such as my getting the wrong stickers in my race pack so that I had to go back to the registration site to change them. I also would much rather get a medal for competing than a t-shirt, but then I am an epic medal tart and always want to add to my little plastic box of shiny discs. I’ll just have to work harder next year to get first place (ahem).

Alan texted me afterwards to say “I think you’ve found your sport”, but I’m not sure about that just yet. One thing I know for sure is that I have never felt so exhausted after a race, so I can only assume that will get better with experience! That didn’t stop me from going on a shopping spree with my friend Elaine in Cambridge afterwards though. If I didn’t get a medal I was blooming well going to get a nice dress.

Nailing it and Bricking it – the DIY of Running

First of all, apologies for the slightly low-brow title of this blog, but it just worked too well to ignore don’t you think?

So after the shocker at Wandlebury a couple of weeks ago, Alan and I teamed up this lunchtime along with Mary for a 6 x 400m session. That number of laps is one that I find easy enough to consider in my mind without freaking out, which shows that Alan is getting extremely good at understanding my mental limitations. If he had told me 8 laps I would have started the session feeling a sense of panic and looking much like this:

Panic 1

There was a sense of foreboding over the track when I arrived thanks to an epic black cloud and a general feeling that my mojo was completely AWOL. But it’s extremely hard to be negative when you’re in the company of Alan and Mary, especially when Alan turns up in his neon green Hoohaah hoodie that he earned for doing all three of their 10ks this summer (BHA*).

After our usual long warm up (Alan is NOT a fan of rushing this) Mary and I tackled the laps with a 4 minute rest inbetween on a staggered basis with Mary shooting off first and me following when she hit the 200m mark. Thanks to Alan having an (ahem) senior moment with the tech, I don’t know how quickly I did the first lap but I managed the 2nd one in 79 seconds, and the next two in 78 seconds. I’ve never gone under 80 seconds before, and quite honestly I was gobsmacked. When Alan and I first started training together I was doing 400m in 88/89/90 seconds so to see an obvious improvement is SUCH a lift. I then got a bit of a bollocking when I said I was going to take the next one a bit easier so I could really smash out the 6th. Mary then came out with a slice of gold. Here’s how the conversation went:

Mary: Don’t think about the 6th lap, think about the one you’re doing now. Live in the moment.

Me: Really? Why?

Mary: Because you might die on the 5th one.

Seriously, I’m going to start a little notebook called Mary’s Mantras that I can refer to whenever I feel like I’m struggling with my mental toughness. She’s got a knack for saying the right thing to me at the right time (and I’m finally starting to listen).

I’m not sure what I ended up doing the 5th lap in but the last one was 80 seconds. Whilst it’s frustrating to have not managed that one in under 80 I feel like I truly gave that session everything I had and that my pacing was solid. My legs were absolutely toast, and even if the last one had come in at 85 seconds I still would have been so utterly delighted to have not let my head get the better of me this time. So whilst physically I felt like this:

Falling 1

Mentally I felt like this:

Fist Pump 2

Alan texted me afterwards and said “you’re learning to trust.” Whether me meant trusting him or trusting in my ability I’m not sure. I think probably both.

And now on to part two of the title of this blog post. I have my first ever sprint triathlon on Sunday, and today it properly hit me that it’s nearly here. Yes I cycle to work every day and can smash out a 5k in under 22 minutes, but I’ve never done them straight after the other and I certainly haven’t done a swim before either of them. As you’ll know from a previous post swimming has never been my forte but I suppose it’s a good thing that I get that bit out of the way first. And luckily, serial triathlon and duathlon warrior Mary gave me a few tips today which made me feel slightly more prepared, and my best friend Michelle is letting me borrow her insane tri bike which is equal parts awesome and terrifying.

Obviously I’ll post a blog after the event, but if you’re in Ely early on Sunday morning please come and cheer me on. I’ll be one with her number belt on backwards, wearing one trainer and looking like this:Scared 1*Before Heart Attack