“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.
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.
Life takes over sometimes and I’ve put running as well as writing on the back burner. But now it’s time to rearrange things and get back to it.
As I know, I need to sign up for something in order to keep me on track. I’ve been looking at different races for a while now, but hadn’t found one that I was ready to sign up for yet. I talked with Whitney, our friend who was with Laura and I in Buenos Aires, the other day and she was in the same boat. We spent time researching different races and finally decided on the Nashville Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. So on April 26, 2014, we’ll be running through the rolling hills of Nashville listening to country music.
That means I have to get busy getting a base under me as I haven’t been running more than twice a week for the past several months. I’ve found a training plan that is much more intense than what I’ve done in the past, but I figure it’s worth a shot. I’ll probably make a few edits as running 20+ miles multiple times and hitting 48 miles in one week seems daunting.
I’m going to take it one week at a time, but for now I need to have a base to be able to run 9 miles the first week of January. That means it’s time to hit the streets…
Firstly, apologies for my last post. Barry Manilow. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t do that to you, dear, faithful readers. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.
So, back to the point of the blog. Health, fitness, the ups and downs of life on the run. I mean, running. Last Thursday I had an appointment with a leg specialist. I finally got around to seeing her after my GP had described the inside of my leg as “a mess” after that scan I had. Great. I had been running with no pain or discomfort (honest!) and then he told me he wouldn’t run with my “war zone” leg. (Yes, this is my lovely Audrey Hepburn doctor. I don’t think even she saves him now.)
Leg Specialist Lady has ordered an x-ray to make sure there’s no fractures in my foot which are impeding and biting into my tendons. I have some tendons on the point of collapse. Actually, the other way round. I know I should be grateful that all these doctors and clinics are properly wanting to get to the root of the problem, and I can see someone, like, the next day. But all I really want is a dodgy doctor from Buenos Aires* who would make something up to make me feel better and let me run. Gently, but run none-the-less.
Anyway, I had already decided I was going to try out my local Zumba class that night. I have never done Zumba. I thought: Zumba isn’t running and if it hurts, I’ll stop.
Let me explain something here. I HATE aerobics classes. I think they are silly and boring. But, part of me wanted to check out something in my new town of Wasserbillig, test my language abilities (would the class be in Luxembourgish, German or French?) and do something to mix up my fitness.
Turns out I didn’t have to worry about the language issue. The teacher didn’t even speak. There were Chinese, Portuguese, German, Luxembourgish there (plus me), so I don’t think any one language would have worked. Instead, she cranked the music up and flung herself about the place with such gusto, we just had to follow.
Zumba was created in the 1990s by a Colombian aerobics instructor, Alberto Perez, who had forgotten his workout tapes and had to use other music he had with him, which consisted of salsa and merengue tunes. This totally worked out and people loved it. He then went to the States, hooked up with a partner, sold it to the world and (I imagine) became loaded. Good for Alberto.
And good for me. Zumba is a lot of fun. Firstly, the music is the type I prefer on a night out, and being able to listen to tunes I danced to in my favourite Cuban club in Buenos Aires is a massive bonus. Secondly, it’s not like an aerobics class. It’s more like a dance floor and doing your own thing is totally cool. I tried to follow the teacher to the step, but you know, if I didn’t move my arms in the right direction, who cares? I was moving my arms. One little lady in front of me was completely hopeless, but she kept moving the whole time, dancing on her toes and swaying her hips. So what if all her steps were the same? When we twizzled, she did too. Just the wrong way round.
Lastly, Zumba is knackering. I was wondering after 20 minutes if I was going to make the full hour without turning into a sweaty mess on the floor. But then there’s the one good thing about a class: you look around you and see older, fatter, redder people and think If they can keep going, I can too. It’s stupid aerobics pride. But it keeps you going.
I have signed up for the year. 80 Euros for a year’s worth of classes is a bargain. Those darker, longer winter nights are going to be upon us soon, and I think some fun, high tempo exercise is the tonic to that. It doesn’t mean running goes out the window, of course. You’ve got to mix it up. This way I get the Zumba beat and the running buzz. And you can’t beat that.
Zumba: Highly recommended. Good for: Everyone.
Doesn’t matter if: You have zero rhythm. Helps to: Love Latino music.
*For the record, no doctor in Buenos Aires ever did that. Unfortunately.
Every runner has them, right? Those points of weakness; niggling old injuries which can rear their ugly heads when you least expect them. I am hoping this is the case. Be it knees, hips, back, neck, heels, tendons, feet, muscles, bones… runners have a long list of niggles to choose from. Pros aren’t immune, although they do have people to help them look after themselves a lot better than your average runner Joe. Which is me.
Two days before my 16-week marathon training plan was due to start back in 2009 in Buenos Aires (Is that four years ago? Really?) I was running and from one second to the next a searing pain went up my right heel and I couldn’t stand on it. I ground to a halt. People came over. Está bien? Are you OK? No, I wasn’t. I borrowed a phone and called my boyfriend in almost tears. He met me in a taxi at the corner of our street with money to pay the driver. I run with nothing. He helped me hobble home.
So, I had pulled my Achilles and was out for three weeks. That put my 16-week training plan to a 12-week training plan. Still doable. I spent 1 entire week with my foot up, icing it every so often and being a super grumpy pain the arse. But I recovered, got back to it, completed the marathon and got on with running and running my life.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was running a regular 4-mile route in the Luxembourg sunshine. I had just got to the top of a hill and was on my way down when I felt a sharp pain in my right heel. It wasn’t like my experience four years before, but I wound down the hill gently and came to a stop. I stretched it out on the kerb for a bit. The pain subsided, so I carried on. Then going up the next hill, it came back. It got worse. I had to stop. Having had that moment of a pull those years before, I did not want a repeat of it. Plus, again, I was without a phone, this isn’t a place where taxis pass, I had no money and only my wobbly French. So I walked. It was OK, I could feel it was tight, but walking was fine. Not perfect, but fine.
Back home, I stretched my upper and lower calves and ran cold water on my heel. And continued with life. This wasn’t the same. It wasn’t four years ago. But this morning, it’s still a tight. It must be all these hills, newly built into the running schedule here as you can’t run and avoid them. Must keep stretching, and a couple more days’ rest.
Because that’s something you learn. When you have Achilles’ heels (And I have a couple of them) you learn to not ignore the pain; to listen; to do something before it gets to the point you’ve experience before – where the only solution is being a grumpy pain in the arse for a while.
They are our weak spots. But they make us stronger.
Last week it was time to dust off the racket bag and see if we could remember how to hit a ball over a net. We went to play tennis.
Having been running, doing yoga and swimming, a mix in of tennis was going to be good thing. Until we realised after a couple of rallies that a) not only we were rubbish at tennis again, having last played about 9 months ago, but b) we were not match fit.
Running for miles at a steady pace, or even a shorter route at a faster pace has totally different fitness needs to a game of tennis. I loved playing tennis when I was younger and spent all summer at the school courts and all winter at Saturday morning tennis coaching. But I’ve played less as I’ve been on my travels and living here, there and everywhere. Then Martin and I started played in Buenos Aires. It was great because although we have very different strengths on the court, we’re quite evenly matched. Sometimes I would win, sometimes he would: the game was always worth it.
Until last weekend. The score is irrelevant (oh, go on then, I won) but what was interesting was the fact were knackered and breathless after a few rallies. Having to dart around the court for a few shots left us panting more than we thought it would. The pause between points got longer as we laughed at ourselves. The short, explosive bursts required in tennis are just not what we’re used to with our long running or swimming sessions.
What to do? Well, we need some match fitness practice and especially speed work which will no doubt help our overall fitness and not leave us bent double after a few points. Here are some ideas I remember from tennis club at school. Ah, the days of those drills…
Thinking about all this, I am now marvelling at my younger self, a middle distance runner with tennis match fitness. Ah, those were the days. I wonder if, even before my time, they worried about these things? Something tells me it wasn’t a priority for tennis ladies like this one. You would be more worried about tripping over the skirts before even reaching the ball in the first place.
Got any match fitness tips? Let us know!
There’s an article on National Geographic’s news website which my husband has just forwarded to Maria and I. You can read it for yourself here.
I just read it and smiled. It’s opening paragraph was me just two days ago.
I was in London, dashing between classes and workshops in different locations. Time was tight and although I couldn’t do anything about the bumbling buses and trains, when it was me and the pavement, I ran. Then I walked a bit. Then I ran some more. Then I walked again. Then I ran, my backpack juggling around on my back and my other bags swinging from side to side. I didn’t want to be late. I hate being late.
Apparently, this walk-run scenario I’ve just described happens to us humans a lot. Knowing we are pushed for time, we don’t necessarily run the whole way. Instead, we combine walking and running to conserve energy and still get there quicker. Manoj Srinivasan, professor at Ohio State University studying this theory calls this ‘the Twilight Zone’. I love this description. It’s “where you have neither infinite time nor do you have to be there now” he explains.
And for those runners who are pushing the distance, adding the miles, it’s a great theory to incorporate. I read a couple of years ago about a runner who wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon (that’ll be a sub-3.05 please, Sir, if you’re under 34 and a 3.35, Madam, if you will) and started to train using walk-run techniques. In his short walks on the longer runs, he was able to recover, conserve energy and ended up with faster overall times.
And you don’t have to be a super runner to see the benefits of this. New runners will also use the walk-run method when they first start out. It’s daunting to say you’re going to run without stopping at first. Walking and running makes sense. As Srinivasan points out, “It’s basically an evolutionary argument” and has served us well from caves to now.
There will be purists out there who say running isn’t running if there’s walking involved. I understand that. But let’s not be pig-headed about it. I’ve had horrendously tiring runs (my 18 miles in marathon training, which I’ve mentioned here before, was one of note) and I believe that if I had just taken some steps walking in amongst the hours of running, I would have finished quicker and a lot less sore.
Yesterday I got four emails about running events, different ones around the Europe: a woodland 10km in the south-east; a hilly affair in the west; an exciting half marathon in a city best known for shopping rather than running; and a lovely little jog around a park in the capital.
They will only keep coming, I know that. The weather is no longer a danger to limbs and lungs and it now gets light before you get up, which helps. These race organisers know that now is the time to whet the competitive spirit, thrust a challenge onto the unsuspecting new runner and lay down the gauntlet to running heroes and villains. It’s the time to sort out those training plans and work out just how many weekends you can dedicate to charity runs in places where you know people. Now is the time to set a goal.
I say now, in February, because January is filled with so much pressure on doing/not doing/target-setting/changing that now all that waffle is over, you can be realistic and pick stuff that you want to do; that you’re going to do. In the fever of January (and this has happened to me before) you can sign up for all sorts and then forget about them until they come knocking one week before and you are in no way prepared physically/economically (how much?)/practically (how do you get to those woods in Wales on a Sunday morning?)
So, now the idea is making your neurons dance and legs twitch in anticipation, the dilemma is: which race? Fun and for charity? Something for a distance personal best? A route with mountains to distract you? One to combine with a holiday/city break? The choice is endless.
And once you’ve signed up, what then? The adrenalin kicks in, the planning starts, the trainers get on, maybe a new piece of kit gets bought. You work out how to get there. You let everyone know you’re doing it, so there’s no wimping out. Perhaps you get a mate or loved one involved for support and inspiration. Or maybe you go it alone: it is your challenge, your personal quest.
In life as much as in running, we need something to aim for, to look forward to; a date in the diary for something we have chosen. And when the moment comes, we soar. From the start line, up, up and away we go. We’ve worked towards it. It’s our freedom as livers and runners and we must enjoy it, remembering the joy at the click: SIGN UP HERE.
So, back to my inbox. Where do I go? How far? Who with?
Ping! And there’s another running event to put into the melting pot.
What running events are you doing this year in the UK, USA or anywhere? Let us know, tips and recommendations welcome!