The Scribbler

15 June 2015

Life as a trainer

Filed under: training,writing — The Scribbler @ 11:00
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Most often when I write about training, it’s in the context of physical training for the sports that I do, but today I’m thinking about the other training that I do in business writing.

I run writing and tone of voice workshops, to help people connect with their customers with communications that sound like they come from human beings rather than nameless, faceless organisations.

As many of the people who attend are in customer support roles, these sessions are always about how we speak as well as how we write. And increasingly I’m being asked to offer advice on things like webcasts and social media platforms as the range of ways of communicating expands.

Coloured post it notes laid out  on a piece of paper

My low tech approach to workshop planning helps me structure and balance the session

I’ve had the benefit of some really excellent training throughout my working life. At the BBC it was often technical and skills based as I learned how to edit, first on tape and then digitally; how to ‘drive’ a studio desk; how to interview and construct radio packages quickly. Later I would learn digital skills, working on websites, using basic HTML, photo manipulation, and content management skills.

It was at the BBC that I started training other people. At first, it was just about passing on what I’d learned, helping someone put together a radio report, as someone had once helped me. But again, someone showed faith in me, and actually took the trouble to say “You’re good at training.”

I realised that I really enjoyed it too. I was there long enough to see people I’d trained passing on what they’d learned to others. I get a real kick out of that.

I have a little training mantra: “See one, do one, teach one.” I probably stole it from a medical drama, most likely ER. But I’ve found it really works, as you really know and have confidence that you know how to do something when you  can teach someone else.

In my last blog post, I talked about having doubts and insecurities as a writer. When I’m doing a training session or workshop, if I have any, I can’t let them show. I have to have confidence in my knowledge and ability to deliver the materials and to make them interesting.

Not every workshop is perfect. Some are better than others. But the participants will never know if I rushed through an exercise because we were short of time, or handled a question differently the next time I was asked it.

Sessions can be tricky when I’m expecting a room full and only a handful turn up. I have to mentally rejig how I’ll manage small group discussions as they take their seats and adapt as I go.

Or  when I get the sense that people have been told to come to a workshop, but don’t know why. Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian in front of a tough crowd. I just have to believe in my material and keep going, while trying to find the level of the room.

The best sessions are when people are really engaged and ask questions or challenge points I make. When they ask ‘Why?’ or say “But we have to do it like this…” I know they are taking an interest and I have a great opportunity to make that session really relevant.

Most writers are magpies. We steal inspiration, words, phrases and ideas from anywhere and everywhere, then make them our own.

I do the same with training courses. And once again, I’ve had the benefit of some excellent ones, from Dark Angels, 26, The Writer and Scarlett Abbott, to name just a few.

From classroom based to online learning – as well doing my own learning, I take notes and reflect on the content later. Was there a good ice-breaker? How was the session structured? How was the information presented? And when I can, I’ll pick the brains of other people who do training sessions. They are always very generous.

I’ve got some sessions with finance teams coming up. So right now, I’m gathering materials, thinking about aims and objectives for the sessions and looking forward to putting them together.

No one taught me how to be a trainer, or how to put together a workshop. I’ve learned by watching, listening, thinking and doing; through experience and analysis. I’m always looking for things that I can learn from, so I can improve my skills as a trainer.

What are your top tips for training?

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24 August 2014

Pacing myself on a last long run before race day

Filed under: Great North Run,run,training — The Scribbler @ 18:08
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Aside from last weekend’s tri, I’ve been focusing more on running recently, building up my long runs week my week to get ready for the Great North Run.

I didn’t run it last year, preferring to focus on triathlons instead. And for most of the summer, I didn’t miss those long runs at all. But as the event approached and I heard friends talking about doing it, and reports on the local news, and the excitement building, I did start to feel a bit left out. And when I stood on the Tyne Bridge, just after the first mile to see the elites and then everyone else come through, I did feel like there was a huge party going on, and I hadn’t replied to the invitation.

So, yes, I know, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s expensive, crowded and not pretty. But it really was my first big challenge. It’s in my home-town and yes, it means something to me. So this year, I’m back in.

I’ve found it quite hard to increase the running mileage, and often struggled to fit in the longer midweek runs, which for me, mean waking early and getting the miles in before work.

This week  I’ve made an effort to get all the weekday runs in too. I ran 12k (7.4 miles) before breakfast on Wednesday and then another 14k (8.8 miles) on Friday, and today, I managed 12 miles – which I’m very happy with.

I opted for a route I haven’t run in years. It takes in the coast, then heads inland along trails through Holywell Dene, to emerge on a long straight stretch of a former coal waggon way, before emerging out on the coast again.

Today there was no pace, just easy, easy. This was all about time on my feet after a week of long runs. I listened to music again for the first two and last two miles along the tarmac I have run so many many times before. Then I let my ears free in the woods and trails, greeting every runner and walker I passed on my way.

My feet felt tight at first, with a worrying pull in my right calf that I hoped would ease as my muscles warmed up. Easy, easy, easy I kept telling myself. You have a long way to run today. But I kept thinking of my friend Susan Lynch, doing Ironman Copenhagen today. I’m sure she’d have loved  only to have to run 12 miles!
The sun shone and I was glad of the sunglasses, that later sat atop my head as I drifted in and out of the trees’ shadows and sun drops. Some of the paths needed my full attention to keep sure footing as they undulated up and down, with a couple of styles and gates forcing changes of rhythm at regular intervals. I ran all but the last climb out of the Dene, which came at about 7 miles.

I’d made the switch to miles for distance and pace on my watch, and taken jelly babies to give me a sugar boost. I  tried to anticipate my usual dips in mood, at around 3, 6, 9 and 11 miles and they seemed to work very well.

When I hit the coast again just short of 9 miles, I knew I’d calculated the route distance well. At 10 miles, I was in unknown territory, at my furthest distance since 2012, but I felt good. Yes, my legs were aching, but my head was in a good place, and I was ready to finish a good week’s running. I pushed on a little beyond the 12 miles to reach my favourite stretching spot by a shelter overlooking the beach, and congratulated myself on having achieved what I’d set out to do.

I do still have that focus and determination that marked my early runs if I choose to apply it. And I’ve added to that both my own experiences and the collective wisdom of my running friends. Right now, I feel much readier and more confident than I expected to be.

Of course, lots could happen in the next couple of weeks. And you never really know until race day how you’re going to feel, how the weather will affect you. But I’m starting to get a bit excited, and a bit hopeful that I could have a decent race after all.

21 August 2014

Kit review – Tune Belt

Filed under: kit review,run,training — The Scribbler @ 21:29
Tags: , , , , ,

In the early days of starting running, I often used to listen to music. It helped block out the sound of my own heavy breathing as much as anything. But as I got more experienced, more confident, and started taking part in races, I stopped relying on it as a crutch to get me through a run.

Tune Belt

The Tune Belt I tested out on my run

These days, I very rarely choose to take music with me. But I’ve been having a hard time recently, increasing the mileage as I prepare for the Great North Run. As my long weekend runs get longer, I’ve reminded myself that 13.1 miles is a long way. And I’ve struggled to find both the time and motivation to fit in the midweek runs of 10k and more that are on my training plan.

So, time to shake things up a bit. And this week I received a Tune Belt to test out. The Tune Belt is basically an arm band with a pocket for your mobile phone. It has a plastic cover, so you can still see the screen and holes at the bottom where you attach your headphones.

It felt very comfortable as I adjusted the velcro strap to fit my arm. The material is soft but strong, like a very flexible neoprene. With an old running playlist lined up and my headphones in, I hit the road for an early morning run, with a target of 12k before breakfast.

Having some get-up-and-go music in my ears certainly encouraged me to head off at a good pace. And with the weather being pleasantly cool and still, I was enjoying one of my usual routes along the coast.

A couple of miles in, I decided the playlist really was a bit cheesy and I’d prefer to run without it.  I was able to stop the music by using my phone’s touch screen through the plastic cover and found I could tuck the headphones away under a little flap beneath the Tune Belt logo at the side of the pocket.

I carried enjoying a good run on towards the lighthouse, just taking in the still morning and listening to the sound of the waves. As I turned back, the early morning light was perfect for me to take a snap of the famous Spanish City Dome in Whitley Bay, where I took part in a triathlon last weekend.

I had to take the phone out of its pocket for this, but it was a great chance to capture my lovely running scenery.  I only paused for a few seconds – enough to take the picture and choose some classic Bowie as my get me home playlist.

Spanish City, Whitley Bay

Early morning at Spanish City, Whitley Bay

“We are the goon squad, and we’re coming to town…”

I bounced along  managing 12k or just short of 7.5 miles relatively comfortably before heading home for a shower, breakfast and then the rest of my day.

I like the Tune Belt. It’s neat, simple and does its job. It was very comfortable to wear. I always felt like my phone was secure in its pocket and didn’t bounce around at all, so there was no rubbing or chafing on my arm. In fact, when I didn’t have my headphones in, I could almost forget it was there.

Of course, you don’t have to use your phone to listen to music when you’re on the go. But if you want to carry a phone when you’re training, running or cycling, this could be a good way of freeing up a pocket and giving you easy access to it if you need it. Although it has a plastic cover, it’s not designed to be waterproof, so you’d be taking a risk in a heavy downpour, but otherwise it would seem to do a good job.

I was sent a Tune Belt as an accessory for my Apple iPhone 5 to test out how it would benefit my training. You can find out more here: http://www.three.co.uk/Discover/Devices/Apple/iPhone_5s

24 March 2014

Triathlon training in sunny Scotland

Saturday, sunshine, blue skies and a trip north, over the border to Scotland for the first tri day of the year, hosted excellently as ever by my fab tri buddy Lesley.

These often happen midweek, so despite it being the weekend, I still felt like I was skiving off as I put my bike in the car and drove north on a practically traffic free road, casting admiring glances at the calm blue seas off the coast. I must have had about three complete changes of outfit packed in my huge tri bag, in anticipation of any kind of weather, but it was very kind to us.

Four runners in red tops

On the run with my tri buddies (Photo Bob Marshall)

With me, Lesley, Al, Lucy and Cat  all arrived safely, we headed off for a pool swim at Haddington. With the pool shortened, it was a good chance for me to try out some of my coaching and Swim Smooth tips and to suggest drills that would help improve the efficiency of swimming strokes. It’s amazing what you can learn from watching other people swim and see all the different styles and learning techniques.

I had them doing doggy paddle, sculling, torpedo push offs and swim backs, and I did some 6-1-6 and catch up drills using a High 5 tube, which I passed from hand to hand. It worked very well, but I’d forgotten how hard those drills are. I need to make sure I spend a bit of time doing them.

I did get a bit of a swim in, but no great distance. It was just lovely to be in such a bright, airy pool. And reminds me I do need to make time for my swimming as I do enjoy it.

After a bit of a refuel with flapjack from the cafe, it was back to base and change into cycling gear for the main part of the day. Much faffage and discussion about how many layers and pumping up of tyres, but we were soon on our way out onto the quiet and largely traffic free roads around North Berwick.

Cyclists ready to roll

No one gets dropped on a tri day (Photo Bob Marshall)

The best thing about these rides is that no one gets left behind. We all enjoy a nice cycle, stop and regroup at junctions, push on and fall back when we need too. This time everyone seemed to be at a similar level of cycling and it was very pleasant just moving along, spotting swathes of yellow daffodils, passing a couple of horses and chain-ganging down a lovely smooth stretch of road.

Last time I rode this route, we got hit by a horrendous head wind in the last 3 miles, which was so bad one of our party actually got off and walked. It wasn’t quite so bad this time, but still tricky enough to slow us down and send me rattling down to my lower ring. I can still feel a flush in my cheeks and on my forehead today from the wind burn!

But we all made it back in one piece and us girls did a quick change around for a bit of a run while Bob took some great photos and Al made sure we’d have soup ready for our return. It was great all running together in our Fetch tops and we stuck together for one lap of the trail loop and did our best Runner’s World pose at the end for another photo.

How could 4pm have come round so quickly? It felt like we’d only just got started, but we were all hungry and soon devouring soup, bread, spreads and cake and flapjacks. Yum!

They say time flies when you’re having fun. It certainly did for me. Even cycling, which I usually get bored with in less than an hour, felt relatively easy and carefree. The chat flowed, the sun shone and it was all over too soon. But, as always, it was just one of the best days.

1 February 2014

Swimming with the tiddlers

Filed under: swim,training — The Scribbler @ 20:28
Tags: ,

The forecast was not favourable for Newcastle parkrun this morning. Overnight rain and freezing temperatures bring ice to the exposed moor and just after I parked up, I learned it was off. I’d arranged to meet my friend Tove for a post parkrun swim, so I walked over to the start, spreading the word to those arriving and catching up with her as she appeared on her bike.

Neither of us fancied hanging around for two hours before the nearby pool was open for public swimming, so we deferred our session for another time. I could have done a freedom run I suppose, and a good few did choose to take their chances over the slippery paths, but I decided to save my legs for a long slow run tomorrow and went to swim at my gym instead.

I fancied a long slow swim. There’s been a 1500m set sitting glaring at me from my plan this week. With the pool nice and quiet and the lane empty, it looked like a good shot.

So, slow and steady was my mantra, a few easy lengths warm up and then into the big swim. I swim in a 20m pool so 75 lengths was the order of the day. I broke it down into 3 x 20 plus 15 but I wasn’t intending to stop, just to use this as an easy way to count up the distance without it becoming overwhelming.

During my first 20 lengths, I spotted a man bringing out floats and swim noodles and other bits of kit and putting them at the side of the pool. I figured there were some kind of lessons or an aqua class about to start. So, after my first 20 I stopped and asked him if I needed to move out of the lane. He explained that it was a babies swim session, so they’d be using the swim lane and I moved into the main pool.

I started again, reasoning to myself that if it was hard going or I felt particularly achey, I could count that first 400m provided I swam the rest continuously. But I settled into a nice easy rhythm, kept it slow and steady and by the time I’d done 1000m, I knew I could manage the last 500m to make it a genuine continuous swim.

Swimming up and down to the sound of ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ and ‘Wibble wobble, jelly on a plate’ as well as baby noises from the next door lane was quite a new experience. But I just focused on my swim,  visualising a smooth blue ocean and swimming in gentle waters. I let myself really relax, which meant my form was a bit scrappy and I went back to lifting my head further than I need to, but I’m trying just to focus on one thing at once when I swim. This was about keeping going over the distance. Next time I’ll do some shorter sets and be stricter about my form.

With the additional 400m and a bit of warm up and cool down, it meant my swim overall was just over 2k in 51 mins. And the 1500m took 34:35, which I’m pretty chuffed with as that was a very comfortable effort level and I know I could increase that to go faster.

I know people who regularly run 100 miles a month and see my friend Nicki who logs 30km runs at the weekends and think, ‘how do you do that?’

But it’s all about building and training for whatever it is you’re focused on. I can still remember the achievement of running 2 miles non stop and my first continuous 400m swim which I guarantee left me more out of breath than today’s 1500m.

So today, I’m really pleased that I can get in a pool and do 1500m front crawl. That I can relax and control my breathing so that I don’t have to think about it so much. I know that not so long ago, I couldn’t do that.

So, fellow swimming tiddlers, I just want to say you can do it. I’ve been there, coughing and spluttering and clinging to the side like a fresh-landed haddock after a length or two. It takes time and practice, but if I can do it, you can too.
Each swim is a lesson and each stroke a movement forward.

2 January 2014

2013 – my training year review

Filed under: bike,Parkrun,run,swim,training,triathlon — The Scribbler @ 19:36
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It’s been another good year of training and competing in triathlons and road races for me. And it’s good to look back at what I’ve achieved as well as planning for the future.

Let’s start with the numbers:

Swim: 42.1 miles/ 36 hours – only just a bit less than last year’s swim mileage
Bike:956 miles / 86 hours – that’s the most I’ve ever cycled in one year (hours to miles don’t quite add up as there were a lots of indoor bike sessions where I logged time but not distance)
Run: 526 miles / 85 hours – not my biggest yearly run mileage, but I didn’t have a half marathon to train for
Cross training: 76 hours – including boxercise, yoga, weights and PT sessions

That’s a total of 283:48 training or racing hours in 2013. It’s the most I’ve ever trained in one year.

Races
I’ve completed 6 run races of up to 10k distance and enjoyed many more timed runs at parkrun
And I completed 6 triathlons in 2013, including my first two Olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

Qualifications
I studied for and passed two fitness related qualifications – Level 2 Gym instructor in March and Level 1 triathlon coaching in November

Highlights
My swimming improved thanks to some training sessions with my PT early on in the year as he trained for his coaching qualification. I’ve spent more hours and done more miles on my bike than any other year and enjoyed it more than I have before, especially when I’ve had the chance to go riding in Scotland with my tri chums.

I have walloped time off in my second season of triathlons, including a 10 min PB at the QE2 sprint triathlon, with improvement in all three sections. 

There was another memorable day at the Olympic Parkrun. It was an amazing experience to do it the first time, so to go back, post the Olympics, with my expectations high … well they weren’t disappointed.

And the Blaydon race is still my favourite event, particularly as I managed to go under 50 minutes this year.

I’ve enjoyed volunteering at parkrun and I know I’ve inspired a few people to dip their toes into triathlon.

With no races longer than 10k, it’s inevitable my run mileage was down on previous years, but that will change as I take on a half marathon again in 2014.

Reflections and aims for 2014
I wanted to find a better balance in my training and to give myself a season with a true tri focus. It did pay dividends as my tri times improved and I felt more confident swimming in open water and taking on the longer distance events. But, as always, there are areas for improvement.

I did miss taking part in the Great North Run in 2013. It was lovely to see all my friends and shout encouragement from the Tyne Bridge, but I did feel like I was missing out on the party, even on a cold and dreary day.

So I’ll be back in again in 2014. The challenge will be to switch from tri focus at the end of July to get myself in shape to run 13.1 miles by the beginning of September. I’ll see how I feel nearer the time as to whether or not I set myself a time goalIn 2014 I want to maintain a good balance of training hard but not putting too much pressure on myself, and most importantly to enjoy my training. I’ll pick my key races to go hard, and others I’ll do for the experience or the fun. There will be a good mix of challenges, including my first ever river swim in the Tyne.

My first race isn’t until April – and right now that seems a long way away. But it will soon come around. I’ve entered a few popular races already and I’m sure I’ll fill up my calendar with a few more as they open up for entries. I’m looking for another standard triathlon – preferably one that I can easily travel to from the North East of England, so any suggestions are welcome.

I’m also currently on 76 parkruns, so only 24 away from 100. It would be great to achieve that in 2014, but I need to balance them out against other training and races. And of course, I’ll be doing my fair share of volunteering too.

Getting fit, starting to run and then taking on the challenge of triathlon has really changed my life over the past six years. I’m sure I never imagined achieving a fraction of what I’ve done when I first stepped out onto the beach and tried to run a length of the sands. It’s taken me to some great places, given me some amazing experiences and brought me life-long friends. Oh, and made me fitter and healthier too!

So if you’re thinking you want to make some changes to your life, I can thoroughly recommend it. Just remember, start small – I couldn’t run a mile when I first started. Find something you enjoy, but that challenges you. Commit to make it a habit and go out and get moving!

1 December 2013

Eye of the tiger

Filed under: run,training — The Scribbler @ 18:31
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I’d been looking forward to it all week. The long run. Which these days, for me is 10k.

I haven’t run much over that distance all year and the last time I ran it was at the Hellhole race in October. My training volume has really dropped off. September was understandable. No half marathon to train for and a much anticipated week’s writing in Adalucia. Time to slow down, and take stock after a full-on triathlon-focused season. But the drift has continued through October and November.

No more early morning’s cycling before work. Too dark. Too dangerous. Running cut back to 30 minute easy jaunts at lunchtime out to the nature reserve to soak up some vitamin D and enjoy some running company.

Thank goodness for my Thursday PT sessions which still remind me I have the discipline to get up and get out to train in the dark and the cold before the rest of the world thinks much about waking. They are my hardest workout of the week, but leave me feeling alive, awake and achey in a good way.

So to the run. And boy, was it hard work. Even after a lie in until the light came through the window. Even after my porridge, breakfast of champions.

No need for the buff wrapped round my neck to shield my ears. No need for gloves, dropped back through my letterbox as soon as I ventured outside and realised it would be fine enough to go without them, even at a moderate pace.

And so, out onto a familiar path beside the sea. A china blue sky and no demands or expectations beyond the run. Steady to start, easy breathing, not pushing the speed, just trying to find a rhythm, warm through the muscles and set on my way. The watch worn, but I paid it no attention. I don’t even think I heard it beep.

Runners and cyclists out smiling and nodding. I’m passed by a number and admire the speedy bounce of a young lad who I regularly see out here. My mind wanders as I pick up the paths by Spanish City. This already feels like hard work. How far should I go?

The negative thoughts speak of tight knees, tight hips and plodding footfall. Remind me I have no distance this year, no running triumphs. Taunt me with ‘Good job you’re not planning a spring marathon,’ then dig the knife in reminding me how hard it will be to do half that distance come September. Because, yes, I’ve signed up for the Great North Run again.

Hello monkeys. You haven’t come out to play for a while have you? Not while I’ve kept my challenges within my comfort zone. Now I must exercise my thoughts to banish my mental restraints.

I had come prepared for this. I rarely run with music when I’m outdoors. But sometimes it’s helped break the stride of a long run. And I had my headphones tucked in a sweatband pocket. I stop at the bus stop and break them out.

I instantly remember why I don’t run with music. The cord flaps until I get it the right length. The headphones drop from my ears. Then there’s that track on my run playlist that I don’t really like and keep forgetting to take off.

But still the music is helping me pick up my feet, banishing the limiting, negative thoughts. Though now I have to pay attention to avoid the walkers on the narrow paths, approaching in silhouette, against the low sun.

I plough on. Through the full set of niggles. Right shoulder, left hip, left knee. And then my right foot sets to pins and needles and I know, without doubt, that I’ll not shake it until I stop.

This is meant to be fun. A treat anticipated since last Sunday. It doesn’t much feel like it.

I start to do deals. Run for an hour. But that 10k distance will be mere minutes more, that an hour will feel like a cop out. In truth as always, I have to get back to where I started, run or walk – so I might as well run it. I’m about to take out the headphones, the music now fuelling my irritable dissatisfaction. But the next song starts with a familiar riff. Da….da,da da…da,da,da….Da! Come on man, it’s Rocky!

I smile at the cheesiness and run to the driving beat. It makes me pick up my feet and my speed, when I thought I was just about all in. So I hit repeat and run until it finishes a second time, past the 10k mark and beyond. As it fades away I stop and breathe and stretch.

The words may be cheesy, but they strike chords today:

“Rising up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet…

Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive…

Rising up, straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I’m not going to stop…”

I finished feeling like I wanted to go on despite those earlier rumblings. Hold that thought. Take that positivity into the next run. I set myself a goal and I got there.

When I took on my first half marathon, I wasn’t running 6 miles in December. On my last standard tri, I told myself truthfully that I could run 6 miles before breakfast.  It’s a start. A first step. Let’s see where it takes me.

14 September 2013

My 2013 tri season review

So, my 2013 tri season is over. Time to take some time out and reflect on how it’s gone and ponder on what I’d like to achieve next year.

I completed 6 triathlons, including my first two standard/olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

I improved my time massively at two events I’d done the previous year, taking 10 minutes off my time for the QE2 tri which had been my first open water event in 2012.

And although you can’t really compare the two olympic distance events, I did improve on my time by 15 minutes at my second attempt.

So, I reckon that’s a win for my triathlon season. I did what I set out to achieve, stepping up to the longer distance and enjoying the events I entered. Of course, no race is ever perfect and there’s loads I want to improve on for next year.

Let’s look at each discipline:

Swim:
Oh boy, I still do have my moments when I swim in a race. There are times when I hate it, when I swear to myself I am never doing this again. And yet, I’ve finished them all and got back into the water and raced again each time.

So as one of the OW swim coaches advised me, I’m going to look at how far I’ve come and not how far I think I have to go.
And that means the swim is a big win. Each time I get better at handling the panic and the stress. And in my last race swim in the pool at Haddington I had a lovely, controlled and totally non-stressed swim.

I’ve tackled two 1500m open water swims, including one that measured closer to 1800m and survived my first sea swim (which I actually enjoyed). And in training, I have learned to enjoy open water swimming, particularly when the water has been clear and relatively warm. I’m actually sad to put my wetsuit away as I don’t expect to be able to do another open water swim this year.

I’m well on the way to logging more swim time and distance than any previous year.  And I’ve been back in the pool already, working on my technique and speed, which I’ll continue to do over the autumn/winter.

Bike:
I’ve already logged more bike mileage than in previous years, thanks to indoor sessions on the turbo or spinning classes early in the year and more miles on the road thanks to the good weather.

In the two comparable sprint races, I’ve improved my bike time and I’ve gone longer with the standard distance events. But still I’m passed more than I’m passing on the bike and this is the area where I’m most likely to make speed gains.

So the plan is to get myself a proper bike fit, look at aero bars for my road bike next year and get a cyclocross bike to ride through the winter.

The rub is that I don’t LOVE the cycle. I have glimpses of loving it sometimes in training or racing on a nice day, or on the few occasions when I’m out riding with my tri buddies.  Over the winter, I’ll hit the turbo, and spin trainer when I can’t go outside, but it’s really not my favourite session.

I’m toying with the idea of doing a long cycle challenge next year and there will be opportunities to do things like the C2C ride. But, it becomes a commitment in itself and I fear it would detract from other training. If I was out doing 60-100 miles on a bike on a Sunday, I would be expecting too much to be running a training 10k or doing a mile in the pool the following day.

Run:
Hmm… poor old running. I still love it, but it doesn’t get the love and attention it used to. And that was the deal this year. It just had to look after itself.

In comparable tris, I’ve run a little faster than last year, but last year I was coming back from injury, and I haven’t reached the potential of my best year of 2011.

I’ve managed the endurance, confident I can run a 5 or 10k off the back of a swim and cycle. But I haven’t quite got up to speed. I had a freak glimpse of form with a 25:10 run at parkrun when I was building up to my first standard distance tri, but I’ve come nowhere near that again.

But I’ve done what I needed to run for triathlon. Now, over the winter, I can do more speed work and give it a bit of focus again.

Next year, I’d really like to have a go at getting a sub 50 10k and still doing a good number of tris. So I need to think about how best to do that. One thought is to put myself in for a half marathon in the off tri season, to get the miles in and repeat the kind of training that helped me to my previous 10k PB.

But I need to avoid the temptation to take on too many different goals.

Transition:
Mixed and inconsistent – some good, some slow and this is an easy place to sneak some time. So I will aim to make this consistent and faster in 2014.

Mental focus:
I’ve got strategies to combat the race adrenaline nerves and they do work, but I need to make sure I don’t neglect these. Mentally I’ve proved I can stick at a tough long race at Allerthorpe.

Things I do want to do next year:

  • A couple of standard distance tris – it would be great to really target one of these and maybe do a big, or iconic race
  • The new Newcastle triathlon –  a new race in my home town and my first river swim
  • Blaydon Race – just love this one

Things I have to bear in mind:

  • I’ll be doing tri coaching training in September and October so  will need to make time for studying, volunteering and coaching.
  • After limiting the window for possible holiday time this year by booking races, I need to pick my events carefully
  • I can’t do everything 🙂

15 July 2013

To tri or not to tri – my top 5 reasons to do a triathlon

Are you thinking about doing a triathlon? Or is it something you think you could never do? I’ve recently been talking to a lot of people about the challenge and excitement of taking on triathlon. So here are my top 5 reasons to take up triathlon. Plus, my answers to the top 5 excuses people give to avoid it.

1) It’s a challenge.
Triathlon’s a fairly new event, that started in the 1970s in Hawaii and was first included in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. If you’re already quite sporty, it’s something a bit different from the usual marathon, half marathon or fun run. If you’re not already sporty, it’s a great challenge to train and get fit for and you might find you’re really good at it. Four time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington did her first triathlon aged 27 and went professional aged 30.

Me and my friends about to head off on a bike ride

Cycle training with friends

2) It’s fun and friendly.
Triathletes know that everyone starts somewhere and are usually keen to encourage others to give it a try. Going from swim to bike to run might seem like it involves a lot of kit and rules and regulations, but actually it’s all pretty straightforward and if it’s your first event, marshals are there to help you. I’ve had shouts of encouragement from competitors and great support from spectators and volunteers at the triathlons I’ve done, and I know I’m not alone in that.

3) It’s honest.
The only person you’re really competing with in triathlon is yourself. Whether your goal is just to get to the finish line, to beat a time limit or qualify for a World Championship race, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in triathlon. The challenge is to be the best you can be on the day. Often races have staggered start times or lapped courses, so it may not be clear who’s ahead of you. And with the distances involved, you’ll often find you’re out racing on your own. So it’s a mental as well as a physical challenge. At the elite end of the sport, triathlon is trying hard to maintain a clean, no doping image. When drugs cheat Lance Armstrong wanted to play, the authorities said no.

4) It’s great for all round fitness.
A lot of people come to triathlon after injury, particularly runners who are dispatched to the pool or bike to try and maintain fitness without putting pressure on knee and ankle joints. With triathlon, pretty much anything you do counts as training. You need physical and mental fitness, endurance, strength, speed and skill.

5) Three times the sport = three times the buzz.
For an adrenaline junkie like me, a triathlon offers three shots. Each section comes with its own triumphs. A bad swim, doesn’t mean a bad race – make it up on the bike. Tough bike section – hammer the run. And the feeling when you do cross the finish line? It’s amazing.

Excuses people give for not trying triathlon

1) I can’t swim/I only do breaststroke
If you really can’t swim, then learn. It could save your life. Seriously, swimming is a great life skill and it’s great exercise too, easy on the joints but a great workout. And yes, it can be hard to learn, but it’s well worth it. As for those of you who only do breaststroke – there’s no rule that says you have to do front crawl in a tri. Most people do front crawl because it’s faster and less work for your legs which have to cycle and run afterwards, but breaststroke is perfectly acceptable. It’s my chosen stroke if I get into a bit of a fluster in the swim.

Me on my bike at Ashington triathlon

I did my first triathlon on an ancient, heavy mountain bike

2) I don’t have a road bike
Now there are triathletes who will spend a huge amount of money on the latest go faster carbon fibre, streamlined machines that weigh less than a bag of sugar. But you don’t have to. I did my first tris on an ancient old mountain bike. It actually made it really easy for me to ride confidently and I got loads of encouragement from the racers as they sped past. I do now have a lovely road bike, but I guarantee it’ll not be the most expensive piece of kit in transition. My attitude has always been to have a decent bike, but to really put the work in on the engine.

3) It’s expensive
Triathlon can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Like all sports there’s always a new fancy bit of kit, gadget or gizmo that promises to shave seconds off your best time, but really you only need a few basics of a bike, helmet, running shoes and something that you’re comfortable to wear to swim, bike and run in. For open water swimming, you may need a wetsuit, but you can often hire these for a day, week or season. I actually hired my wetsuit for a season with an option to buy at the end.

Entries to triathlon races may cost a bit more than your local club’s 10k run, but that’s because they usually need more people and kit to deal with safety, marshals, transition, timing and sometimes even road closures. Most races are a similar price to some of the big organised run events in the UK, so pick a target event and take up the challenge.  Local clubs are always eager for volunteers to help out on race day, which can be a good way to get involved and see what goes on. You may even get free or reduced price entry to another event as a thank you.

4) I’m too fat/too unfit/ too old/ I’ll come last
If you feel fat and unfit, what better way to change that than to add some exercise to your lifestyle and start training? Having a goal or event to aim for is a great motivator to get out there. You don’t have to start with an Ironman, there are triathlons of varying distances, including novice or super sprint events that give you something to aim for, but ease you in gently.

If you’re worried about how you’ll look –  don’t. The truth is, hardly anyone looks their best  in a tri suit. But no one cares about your flabby bits. Everyone’s too focused on swim, bike, run to give it a second thought. And if you don’t fancy a tri suit, you can throw on a T-shirt and shorts before the bike.

You’re never too old to tri. The world’s oldest triathlete is Arthur Gilbert, still going strong at 91 and showing it’s a great way to stay healthy. There are often a great range of age categories at races and some will even award prizes for different age groups, so getting older doesn’t have to mean you’re at a disadvantage.

If you think you’ll be way behind the rest of the field, remember, the only person you’re really racing in triathlon is yourself. For races with staggered or wave starts, you may not even realise you’re flat last, and even if you are, I can guarantee you’ll get a bigger cheer that the racing snake who came through in first place. So give it a go, what do you have to lose?

5) I’ll ruin my hair/make up/ get dirty
In triathlon, no one cares what you look like (see point 4 above). If you’re a slave to your appearance, and never seen without your hair out of place, then maybe this isn’t the sport for you. But ask yourself this. Would you rather look great or be great? Triathlon is a great way to shape a fit and healthy body from the inside out. You can build speed, stamina and self esteem from challenging yourself to do something amazing and unforgettable.

Thanks to new and wannabe triathletes  HannahGareth and Carrie who inspired me to write this blog post.

Links:
Find out more about triathlon events and clubs in the UK

Triathlon England
Triathlon Scotland
Welsh Triathlon
Triathlon Ireland

29 June 2013

Olympic countdown begins

In just over a week’s time, I’ll be taking part in my first standard or Olympic distance triathlon. That’s a 1500m open water swim, 40k cycle followed by a 10k run. Yeah, say it quickly, it doesn’t sound too bad.

Sure, I know people out there do some amazing endurance events. I read enough blogs about ironman or ultra-running to put my efforts into a very small perspective. But still, it’s a big challenge for me.

It will take me longer than any other sporting challenge I’ve done so far. And that’s a fact. Not false modesty that I’ll disprove when I put in a great performance and finish faster than I thought possible. The distances are roughly double those that I’ve done in my sprint triathlons. Individually, none of the three elements phase me. But together they add up to a significant endurance challenge.

Training for it has gone pretty well I think. I always have ups and downs with different sessions and in my confidence levels. A couple of weeks ago in the sunshine after a great run out on my bike and an amazing swim session , I was bouncing and up for it, ready to be at the start line.

Now, I’m a little more measured, realistic. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve dropped a couple of sessions because I felt tired and needed a rest more than I needed the training. I’ve been out on a run and turned back after 10 minutes because it didn’t feel right and I wasn’t enjoying it.

At Thursday night’s open water swim, I took a while to settle into doing front crawl. I had some moments of slightly panicky breathing and had to make a tough conscious effort to keep going, keep trying to get it all together. The little monkey who whispers in my ear ‘you can’t do this, you’re no good, why do you even bother?’ made an appearance. But if I didn’t exactly drown him in the lake, I managed not to give in to his taunts.

I was boosted by some praise from the coach, and keeping his support canoe in my sights as I swam helped me calm my racing heartbeat, control the adrenaline and swim something like a decent session before a touch of cramp made me opt out of the last couple of swim sets.

It was a big difference from my last time in the lake, where I felt almost reckless with confidence and pushed myself into the melee of feet, arms and bubbles alongside the other swimmers. But every swim is different. Actually every training session is different. And there are always lessons to learn.

So, I’ve reminded myself that progress isn’t always linear. You can have a good session, then a bad one. Just as you shouldn’t let one not so good session defeat you, you shouldn’t take one good confidence boosting session for granted.

I was also reminded of something I often say to other people – ‘look how far you’ve come, not how far you think you have to go’. That’s pretty much what the coach said to me on twitter after the swim session and it’s great advice. I am a much more confident and improved OW swimmer now than I was last year.

I’ve also got a lot more bike mileage under my belt and the running’s just had to look after itself. I’m not quite at the best I was a couple a years ago, but I’m not so far away. And if I’d only focused on running this year, I’m sure I’d be closer still. But right now I know I can cover the distance I need to.

I like to have a goal for a race. It helps me focus and can direct my decisions when there’s a lot of thoughts rattling round in my head. But I don’t want to set a time goal for this tri. I have a rough idea in my head about how long it will take me, but I’m not setting myself any limits. My goal is to finish.

Actually my goal is to finish smiling. And really I’ll have no reason not to smile. I’ve trained for this. I’m as prepared as I can be. I will be racing in familiar and beautiful surroundings. And my best and loveliest tri buddy Lesley will be there.

I’m counting down the days. Please let it be sunny.

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