Author Archives: Laura Alonso
“If you don’t try, you don’t know.”
This quote was said to me by my GCSE chemistry teacher. Chemistry was not my strong point, but in telling me this Mrs Bradshaw did have a point. How do you know if you will fail terribly, love something, understand something new, do well or even fly if you don’t even have a go? In this spirit I did my first triathlon yesterday.
It was a sprint distance triathlon in my home town of Hunstanton. It consisted of a 200m pool swim, followed by 18kms on the bike and finished off with a 3.5km run. When I noticed the flyer, these numbers didn’t daunt me and hence I spontaneously signed up with the belief that I could do that.
And I did. Yesterday was a test physically of course, but it was also a dive into the unknown. That’s what had me nervous the night before. Before, the word ‘transition’ to me was something between yoga poses, or perhaps a concept to manage when changing careers or schools. Putting out my cycling gear next to my bike before the race I realised I was in a ‘transition’ myself: between being someone who could run and swim OK to being someone who was putting three sports together into a whole new sport. Laying out my t-shirt and shorts, reality hit that I was truly testing myself for the first time in a long time. And while it felt daunting, it also felt exhilarating.
The race was organised by King’s Lynn Triathlon Club (see https://www.kltri.co.uk for more information). They did a fantastic job. Everyone was really friendly, helpful and supportive at every stage of the event. It was brilliantly organised; the pre-race briefing garnered a warm spirit between the 106 competitors. The marshals all cheered us on at every turn and section; though at the same time they took the safety and integrity of the race seriously.
I was in the pool fairly early as my swim time was 4 minutes. I was the only one in a regular swimsuit. We went in to do the 8 lengths at 30-second intervals. Again, excellently organised. I’ve swam these lengths in training many times and usually do it in 3:40-3:50. After 3 lengths yesterday I was knackered, my legs felt like they had weights on them. I powered on, conscious of not being overtook. When I got to the end I could hardly pull myself over the (very shallow) pool wall! Luckily, on dry land my legs returned to functioning mode and it was out the door into the bike transition. My swim was 4:10.
“For those of you who are doing their first triathlon, it is not normal to have a transition on a skating rink.” This we were told in the briefing to giggles in the audience. Somehow, however, they did manage to fit the 106 bikes into the roller skating rink outside the local pool. But because of the floor, we were told to only walk during transition. In my mind this wasn’t a moment to be rushing like a mad woman. I needed to stay calm in my nerves and not forget stuff (helmet, bike…) I got to my bike, dried myself a bit, almost fell a couple of times trying to get my socks on, laughed with my neighbour, got told to leave my phone and therefore music behind, and somehow got my bike off the rack and out the gate. It felt like 20 seconds. It turned out to be nearly 3 minutes! To give you some idea, the winner got out the pool and out onto his bike in 33 seconds. So, something to learn there for me.
The fog had descended on Hunstanton yesterday morning, but luckily the wind had dropped. Off I went “powering” those pedals as fast as I could. I enjoyed it; I truly had a smile on my face even on the hills. The three loops of the town went quicker than they had in training and on each one I had my support team cheering me on (and passing me a banana as I needed some fuel!) It didn’t take me long to realise the difference that would push me down the results table: the bike. It’s remarkable what a difference it must make. But, I signed up with the only bike I had available and so I powered on, having fun regardless. Riders passed me even when I was going at full pelt and they seemed to be doing very little. But everyone supported as they overtook and eventually my three loops were done and I turned back to the rollerskating rink. I had completed the bike ride in 48 minutes 45 seconds, hitting an average of 14mph. It was a little under my training average, but not by much at all. Happy days.
Legs were wobbly, but miraculously still worked as I headed out for the run. The route took us along the promenade, up the path to the top of the cliffs, along the cliffs to the light house and back again to the green in front of the prom. I actually enjoyed the run too. I took it a bit easier than I probably could have done because I kept half expecting to crash and burn at any moment. But in the end I surprisingly ran 8-minute miles, so after the swim and bike I was pretty pleased with that. Martin, the kids and my parents were at the end cheering me on and crossing that finish line was just the most fantastic feeling. I had completed my first triathlon!
My total time was 1 hour 14 minutes 32 seconds. My final place was 74. But these are just numbers, numbers, numbers. What I take away from my first tri is the enjoyment, not just of the event but of the training too. I have impressed myself with accomplishing the three disciplines in one go. I have learnt that there is room for improvement, especially regarding gear and transitions. And most importantly I understand a spark has been lighted… watch this space!
Celebrating with an English breakfast afterwards and a Chinese takeaway later on!
Don’t faint. I’ve just realised it’s been YEARS since anyone wrote here. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. It’s all OK. Maria and I are great and still adventuring around, and there’s some running involved in our lives as well. Somehow, there always is. We are the M&M Running Club, after all. No matter where in the world, how far apart – that never changes.
So, some quick updates needed. I am currently writing this in in my home town, Hunstanton, England. After our second daughter was born in Luxembourg in December 2016, we moved to Miami, Florida (The sweatfest that is running in south Florida will surely be the subject of another post!) We lived there for two years and are now on a hiatus between places, enjoying some time with family and friends in England. In the mean time, Maria got married in Mexico and spent an incredible year traveling through southern and eastern Africa with her new husband. You can read about their adventures on their blog: https://www.roamtodiscover.com/ She is now back in Austin, Texas and has set up her own business working as a registered dietician.
Right, back to the plot. Six weeks ago I signed up for a mini triathlon in my home town. Hunstanton sits on the east coast of England, overlooking the Wash. It’s beautiful because it faces west and we still get stunning sunsets over the sea. We have cliffs and wide sandy beaches. And wind. Way too much wind! In the spirit of “having something to focus on” while being back here on life’s pause, I decided to go for it. My main driver was that it was a pool swim and therefore I wouldn’t need to buy anything special in order to do it (the Wash does not particularly appeal to me, in a swimsuit, in a chilly May). I haven’t followed any special training schedule; I’ve just made sure I’ve mixed up all three disciplines each week and also done “brick” workouts. These, I have learned, is combining the disciplines in one workout, therefore practising what happens in a triathlon.
This is a “mini” triathlon. For me, at this moment in my life, it’s the perfect taster of the sport. I signed up determined not to buy anything in order to do it. I am borrowing my dad’s bike, a fairly heavy road bike bought second hand for 20 quid, but with gears that work like a dream. I am also borrowing my mum’s cycle helmet and my husband’s day glow gear. The rest of anything I might need is made up of my Apple music playlists and the trainers I wore when I left Miami. Done!
The swim is very short, just 200m. This will be followed by the cycling – 18km, which is a loop three times of the whole town. There’s a nice long burn of a hill at the start of each loop (hoping for a non-head wind on that one!) This is topped off with a 3.5km run along the seafront and cliff top to the lighthouse and back. So, the distances aren’t vast, I thought. Totally doable!
The first thing I have loved about training for this triathlon is the variety. As as life long runner, it has actually quite surprised me how much I have enjoyed biking one day, swimming the next and not always just pounding the streets and country lanes in my trainers.
The second surprising part about this triathlon journey is the cycling part. I am not a cyclist, though I have always had a bike and gone on bikes rides. My commute to work in Miami was on my bike (sweating) through the shady streets of Coral Gables. In my youth I spent summers in the Netherlands with a tent strapped to my bike, camping and cycling around the country with a friend. However, my cycling history has been one of enjoyment and meandering, not one of peddling to get there as fast as possible. Sometimes during training rides I have to remind myself not to lazily gawp at the fields and birds and instead focus on making those wheels go round! But my average speed has gone up over this six weeks, so the day dreaming has obviously been getting less as I ride!
The triathlon is this Sunday. Last week I had chicken pox which put the whole event in doubt for me as I wasn’t sure they would allow me in the pool. I felt terrible for a week and obviously didn’t train. But yesterday I came out the other side of it, learnt I could take part, and went out for a run. I’m weakened, but still strong, so am going to go for it and enjoy it.
After all, how do you know if you don’t try?
Wish me luck!
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I’ve been using an app and taking photos on my most of my training rides and runs. Here are a few.
If you think the title of the post will bring you to a write up of my incredible training schedule or a mental run I’ve just completed, you would be wrong. I haven’t run since March.
The last run I had was with my brother-in-law Nacho, around the neighbourhood where my in-laws have a house in Tigre, near Buenos Aires. It was the morning and not too hot and sweaty out yet and we did a nice 5km route chatting all the while.
And then a few days later, I found out I was pregnant again. Fortunately, this time, everything is going well and we are currently 11 weeks out from the due date. But, as mentioned, I haven’t run since. I felt that my running was a bit haphazard prior to getting pregnant, and so I wasn’t comfortable continuing with it. So I’ve been back to power-walking and swimming. I also started a prenatal yoga class this week which was fabulous for both body, mind and spirit. I will definitely keep that up until our daughter is knocking on the door to come out!
And yet I am a still a runner. Why? Because every time I see a runner go past my window, or I drive past a couple of girls out on a run, or my husband comes back from one, I get a small pang of I wish that was me. It’s not resentment of them, I just miss it. I miss the feeling of being in total control of my body in that way and the happiness rush when I finish. I miss the sweat and stretching on my doorstep watching the boats, I miss my running t-shirts and vests that no longer fit over my bump.
But when all is said and done, I am still a runner. And later, after this hiatus, I will return. Goodbye is not forever. Knowing you’ll be back is always a wonderful feeling.
Writing and running are very similar. Sometimes you go slowly, painfully slowly. All you want to do is stop and do something else. Other times you are flying. There is no stopping you and you sail through 10 miles/2000 words feeling energetic.
Both of these activities bring me happiness. I know this. And yet I sometimes let them both slide although I know that as soon as I write even one sentence, or run even 100 metres the happiness chemicals kick in and I immediately feel incredible. Both are always good reminders of who I am and what it means to Be Laura.
A lot has happened since I last posted here (which admittedly was way too long ago): Last September Maria and I took a 9-day trip around Iceland with Nahuel. It was the most amazing experience and I think I can use the royal ‘we’ when I say we definitely recommend visiting, and spending as much time there as you can to get around and see the country. The landscapes will astound you. Nahuel turned one with a big party at home at the end of September which was fantastic. He’s 17 months today and just a fabulous little boy. We travelled to spend Christmas with family in the UK and then had 12 days in Denmark over New Year. This was all wonderful.
But on top of that, in early December, I had a miscarriage. It was heart-breaking and painful and sad. We received a lot of support from friends and family here in Luxembourg around the world and we got through it. But while it was happening and in order to help me deal with it there were two things I had to do: write and run.
Writing a post on my other blog (which you can read HERE) really helped me deal with what was happening and express my feelings. It was extremely cathartic.
And then there was the run I will never forget. It was the Sunday evening of the worst weekend ever. I was in some pain and I decided to go for a run. I laced up, bundled up and set out along the river. My iPod chose which songs to stream into my ears and I just tried to focus on my body, the water drifting by next to me and any feelings which cropped up. There were a lot of emotions as I ran. One surprising one was gratitude. The last kilometre a song came on which just seemed to speak straight to me (I forget what it was now) and I pumped my arms and filled my lungs and pounded forwards. My body still worked! It could still do powerful things, despite not working with nature to keep the child we had made. I could still rely on it in so many ways. Thank you! Twilight descended. I sprinted towards home racing to the ‘finish line’ barely able to breathe and tears streaming down my face.
I stayed outside for a long while, letting out my sadness but also being grateful. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control everything. Writing and running helped me deal with that, and that just felt so good.
Oh how the title of this post applies to so many things. I haven’t written in months. Better late than never. My training could have started before it did. Better late than never. I finished my recent half marathon in my slowest time ever for that distance. But: Better late than never!
Last Saturday night was my first official race in two years. TWO YEARS! Long time coming. Injuries and having a baby will do that I guess. There’s so many running stories between last November, when I started running again after Nahuel’s birth, and now that I want to share, but for now they will have to wait. This post is simply going to be about Saturday’s race.
The ING marathon and half marathon in Luxembourg is a great big running event. The sort with helicopters, hot air balloons, DJs, an assortment of free stuff for the crowd to shake, rattle and wave, tonnes of people lining the streets in support and a route which takes in the delights of the city. Martin ran the full marathon last year and the route is famous for its inclines in the second half of both courses. He was a supporter this year, along with Nahuel.
I was nervous. The previous weekend I had run 10.3 miles along the ups and downs of the vineyards around the Moselle valley, where we live. It had been hot and tiring, but I had felt great. I had reserves and could have kept going. On that starting line a week later, my nerves led to doubts. Would I make it? I have never experienced that before. “I’m nervous,” I said to my friend who was also running. “Me too,” she replied. It was her first half marathon. It seemed to me she had the right to be nervous and I didn’t. Perhaps I just needed to start and I’d feel fine.
And then start we did. We kicked off at lightening speed. There were lots of people so you had the usual first couple of kilometres skipping past people and dodging around others. But we did it quickly, at just under 5 minute per km. This was not my half marathon running pace. But it felt good. So I carried on that way.
I got to the 12 km marker in an hour. Way too fast, knowing the up-hills that were coming on the way back. The crowd were brilliant, shouting and cheering your name at every part of the course. In the city centre, there was no way you could stop. The route was narrow and lined both sides with cheering and clapping. I felt like I shuffled the cobbled streets of Luxembourg city at that point on the wave of the semi-drunken audience with bubbly in their hands.
But after that euphoria, the roads widened again. There was space and a breeze and the setting sun behind me on the way back to Kirchberg. I had nothing in the tank. I had to walk. So I walked and ran the last part, hoping I had done enough to come in under 2 hours. I tried to buddy up with a couple of people who also seemed to be suffering, egging them on to get the same support back. But I ended up leaving them and their blisters and woes behind.
At kilometre 18.5, a friend shouted out from the void. “LAURA! Come on Bird!” There was a world out there beyond the pain and exhaustion! I ran up to her and got a kiss, some energy to get me through the last couple of kilometres. It worked.
Martin and Nahuel were also there, on the final bend before the finishing line. And so I made it. Not elegantly, or fearlessly or strongly, but I finished. My watch said 2 hours and 9 seconds. Oh well. Better late than never.
Congrats to all the runners of Saturday’s half and full marathon! And to my friend Kris, who finished her first half in 1 hour 54 minutes. Great job!
Those stories about women going to the toilet and giving birth now have me in stitches (actually, I am in stitches, real ones) because my perspective on this whole labour thing comes from a place far removed from that fart-out-a-baby experience. Still, lucky them, I say!
Nahuel joined us on 25 September after 21 hours of announcing he was on his way. Yep, obviously a little man who takes his time on a journey and enjoys the process. It’s not always about the destination, how many times do we say that to ourselves?! Anyway, I’ve decided to share the experience on this blog because it was a test of endurance and mental and physical strength. And because it was a marathon.
24/09/14, 17:30h – The Warm Up: I go with my mum to the hospital. Been losing some liquids and you can’t start a marathon that way. Martin meets us there. Doctor wants to keep me in over night and check my status in the morning again before the starting line.
24/09/14, 23h – The Starting Line: The marathon as been brought forward, luckily I am already there with my number on, just in case. First contractions start. Getting pumped and also worrying if I’ve done enough training.
25/09/14, 06:50h – Mile 5: The first part of any run is always the worst for me until I find my groove. On no sleep due to contractions I call the nurses and they send me to the delivery ward. This is much better, will get into my rhythm.
25/09/14, 08h – Mile 7: The midwife breaks my waters and that groove I was looking for suddenly hits. Managing the contractions with breathing, feeling a good pace. Doctor comes and tells me Plum will arrive today. Glad to hear the finishing line is today!
25/09/14, 10:20h – Mile 10: Happy to have made it to double figures, but feeling weary of the course. Get up to walk around and immediately vomit. Am hungry, but no food stops allowed on this route.
25/09/14, 12h – Mile 13: Pace has slowed and am feeling the pain as contractions come faster and harder and I can no longer deal with them. Have an epidural and the relief is immediate. Get back into my groove.
25/09/14, 12:38h – Mile 14: Massive uphill. Epidural stops working. Midwife tries top-ups. Pumping arms, working legs, breathing, but this slope seems effing vertical!
25/09/14, 14:45h – Mile 17: Trying some music to distract me from overwhelming exhaustion, pain and a general feeling that the finishing line is still a very, very long way off. Is that The Wall I see in front of me?
25/09/14, 15:20h – Mile 18.5: At last, the drug man comes back and gets the epidural right! I feel weightless and in control of my race again. A bit. But realise I am totally not. Support team are brilliant.
25/09/14, 17:50h – Mile 22: Pushing for the finishing line like my life depends on it. Feel like I am running through mud. Starting to think the race organisers have changed what a marathon means and I’ll be here forever. Try to chill in between bursts of speed.
25/09/14, 19:35h – Mile 24: The mud is getting thicker and I’m running through fog. This race will never end.
25/09/14, 20:10h – Mile 25: I see the one-mile-to-go marker when the doctor comes and announces we’ll use some forceps to get over the line. Still don’t believe there’s a measly mile to go. I think it’s a precursor to the home straight and don’t let myself get too excited.
25/09/14, 20:40h – Mile 26: The midwife is shouting that the finishing line is close. I cannot believe her. I still think she’s just motivating me. I can’t see it through all the mud and fog.
25/09/14, 20:42h – Mile 26.2: Suddenly there is a massive cry from the sidelines and I am over the line! Pure joy and relief sweep over me as I am handed my prize: a big, beautiful baby boy.
I’m in (hopefully) the last 2-3 weeks of my pregnancy. I feel at times like a balloon; you could hang a basket off my feet, gas me up and I could take you on a lovely trip over the Moselle valley in Luxembourg and Germany. Other times I feel like a walrus, struggling to turn over in bed or get out of the bath; cumbersome and heavy. I have put on roughly 13kg during this pregnancy and I seriously can’t understand how people permanently live with this kind of extra weight, and more.
The most important thing to me during this time is that, as well as getting enough rest, I have also kept active. Don’t get me wrong, there are some afternoons where I don’t feel guilty at all about two hours on the couch watching BBC iPlayer. But I also need to move and do things and stretch.
My main activity has been power-walking. I’ve had some great company on many of these walks from a pregnant friend who lives just down the river – another runner like me. She’s due this week, so has paused the power-walking, but I am still heading out every other day. It helps me sleep better, keeps my appetite up, allows ‘Plum’ and I to enjoy the remaining days of summer. I also think it has contributed to the fact that my legs haven’t swollen and my ankles haven’t disappeared.
Last week I also did some yoga, which I hadn’t done for a while. I followed a 20-minute routine from my book. It felt slow compared to swimming and power-walking, but it was calming and relaxing, opening out my body in a way that my other forms of exercise don’t. “I am connected to the circle of life.” As Plum continues to kick his/her way out, I can only agree with that!
Some of you runners and/or Guardian readers might already have come across this, but it’s worth a share if you haven’t. Claire Wyckoff, a runner based in San Francisco, makes her runs all the more inviting, motivating and special by using her Nike+ to map out interesting routes. What’s new about this? you might ask.
Her routes are penises, dogs and generally cool shapes. Space invaders, anyone? I can imagine there’s nothing like knowing you’re rounding the curve of a penis to push you that bit further and get to the sweaty balls to finish your run.
Some of us invest time in searching for new kit, new gadgets, new training programmes. Isn’t this just plain silliness, mapping out weird and wonderful shapes? I would disagree. While the latest scarily pink head band might get some out there exercising, this gets Claire out there. Fun and fitness in one fell swoop, with a little bit of gadgetry art thrown in for good measure. I’m all for it. Go plan a penis.
Picture from Claire Wyckoff – see more of Claire’s running art work on her website: http://clairewyckoff.com/Running-Drawing
Or read the full Guardian article here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/06/runner-nike-san-francisco-penis
As regular readers will know, I am no longer running. At 32 weeks pregnant my power-walking might even be described as the strange shuffle of a person that looks like she’s smuggling a beer keg along the river. Sigh, but I still get out there and I love it.
Today is my first official day of maternity leave and I am a little loss of what to do. The sun is shining, summer holidays here in Luxembourg are in full bloom, my to-do list has nothing with a deadline like when I was working. My husband left this morning with the words “Take it easy” ringing through the house before he shut the door. OK. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Help!
I’ve been swimming a lot recently. Being heavier than usual, the water is heavenly. I can still float! Brilliant! I do a mixture of breast-stroke and front-crawl, and on my last two trips to the pool, I realised something.
You know the feeling. There’s someone who is lapping just that bit quicker than you. Whether it’s running round the local park, or pushing through the pool. And you want to beat them, to get level. You know you can. You pump that bit faster. You kick that bit harder. You get level, you push further, you get past them.
Ha! Did it! Now I’ve got to stay there. Your running/swimming groove is now that little bit quicker. You’ve got a sweat-on. But you need to stay there, just ahead. You’re not quite sure what you’re proving, and who to, but you feel in these minutes of round-and-round the park or up-and-down the pool that there’s some other inherent reason than pure exercise you’re doing this.
You are competitive. That’s why you run with a watch/GPS. That’s why you swim and check the clock. That’s why you get your finger tips to the wall before the person next to you. Or you try to. If you don’t, next time you will.
I finished my swim and sat on the side rehydrating. The man I had lapped in the pool finished up and got out. He noticed my belly, pointed at it and said something in Luxembourgish I didn’t understand. We smiled and he gave me the thumbs up.
Plum, we’re back in the race.
Excuses could flow from me for not posting for so long as much as they can flow from ‘runners’ who don’t run. It’s been a couple of busy months with lots of travelling and visitors, for which I am not complaining at all. It has just meant sitting down to write about my fitness during pregnancy has not been possible. Until now.
As you can also imagine, with all the trips and visitors my pregnancy fitness regime also took a back seat. In my second trimester I actually had a lot of energy, especially in the mornings. Once I was awake, I had to get up. And, although I faded by about 11pm, the days were full and I didn’t feel beat.
Things are a bit different now, which is why, this week, it has been important for me to get back to some kind of exercise routine. My bump has grown A LOT, wildly it feels. On one hand, I love the thought of our son or daughter growing inside there and forming into a healthy, tiny human being. On the other hand, the complete lack of control I have over my body is frustrating and bewildering. I hate sitting down and feeling my belly on the very top of my legs; not being able to see ‘down there’; having to bend with my legs apart to the side. And then I realise, there are people who live this way (and worse) for a lot of their lives. I don’t understand it. I’m not a model size 6 in my non-pregnant life and I don’t conform, nor agree, with the pressure that exists to be stick thin. However, being bigger and carrying more weight that I normally do, albeit not a grand difference, has shown me just how uncomfortable it is.
So, now into my third trimester and with life returning to normal this week, I was really happy to get back to exercise. Monday was a 40-minute power-walk, arms-a-pumping, music blasting. Although, as it was the day after the World Cup Final, I couldn’t bring myself to take a route through Germany (I got half way over the bridge and turned back) it felt amazing. I stretched afterwards in the sun by the river, watching the ferry glide back and forth.
Yesterday after classes I got back to the pool. Now, don’t get me wrong, with my recent trips to Greece and Texas, there has of course been lots of bathing time, just not of the swimming for exercise variety. It was more wallowing in the pool with a (non-alcoholic) beer, or bobbing in the sea looking at fish. When I did muster 120 lengths of my friend’s pool, it didn’t feel like a workout as it’s not a very long pool. Though it was something. So, it was brilliant to get into Olympic-sized pool we have here in Luxembourg and swim a kilometre non-stop, mixing up breast stroke and front crawl.
Now this morning, I wake up and I can feel the ache in my shoulders and back. But it’s not a horrible feeling. It’s an ache that tells me those muscles are working for me when I need them. After a pause, it’s good to know they are still there. With all that’s coming in the next couple of months and beyond, I’m going to need them.