2012 – a review of my training and racing year

It’s been a good year has 2012. I started with a run on New Year’s Day – a great way to see in the Olympic year, bounding through the mud and clambering up the hills on the Town Moor. I’d see a lot of this landscape throughout the year.

Me on the Resolution Run
Resolution run on New Year’s Day 2012

But I was carrying an injury and not really doing enough about it. By the time I saw a physio and started properly managing my plantar fasciitis, running had to take a back seat and I returned to walk/run to get my feet and calves fit and strong.

I turned it to my advantage by focusing efforts on my swimming, joining in club swims and clocking up my highest swim mileage month of the year. I logged my second highest bike mileage this month too.

I continued to recover and treat my plantar fasciitis throughout February, logging my lowest monthly run distance since I started recording such things. But it was the right thing to do and I learned a lot while I was doing it.

It actually really got me thinking about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to use my accumulated knowledge of training. Talking to and getting such good treatment from my physio and sports massage girl helped push me in the direction of looking at getting some training qualifications – convincing me I could do it.

I was recovered enough to take part in arguably the year’s A race – The Olympic Park Run. On 31 March 2012 I donned a red T-shirt and smiled all the way round the five miles of the Olympic Park, touching the side of the velodrome, and eventually emerging from the long corridors underneath the stands to run on that track.

On the route of the Olympic Park Run
Running with the Olympic Velodrome in the background

I still remember the bounce, the energy, the absolute thrill of entering the bright glare of that arena. On a cold grey day, with only a few thousand spectators, I could only imagine the roars that would fill it come July.

But the whole experience of being in London, of taking part in a warm up event absolutely convinced me that we would make a wonderful job of hosting the Olympics. And didn’t we!

I took a break in April – a few days in France and my first run in continental Europe. And I finished off the month with great day in Scotland tri training with Leslely and friends, finally getting to grips with my clipless pedals.

It was good timing, as May was full of tri activities. My first triathlon of the season and a return to the scene of my first EVER tri at Ashington. With a still nigglesome foot and little focused training, I failed to improve on last year’s time, but I was off and running and my enthusiasm for crazy multi-sport events was as high as ever.

My real triathlon focus of 2012 was to be my next race, the QE2 sprint triathlon, where I’d tackle my first open water swim. So that meant open water training, and I first donned my wetsuit and got in the lake in May. Pretty scary at first, I did seriously wonder whether I’d ever be able to get myself calm enough to be able to swim proper front crawl, but little by little, session by session, I built my confidence and began to enjoy the open water experience.

And I was back north of the border again for another fabulous tri day, swimming, cycling, running and generally messing about in the sunshine on the best day off work ever with Al, Ann and Lesley. I got some serious inspiration that day. A real dose of ‘you can do anything if you believe in yourself’ magic. It works.

For those who only remember the wet summer, I can assure you we did have some super sunny days. That tri day was one, and our Fetch ladies cycling day, when me, Karen, Penny, Lisa and Lesley Anne took on part of the C2C route, was another.

me crossing the finish line at the QE2 sprint triathlon
The moment I felt like Chrissie Wellington – finishing my first open water triathlon

Which brings me to June – an absolutely action packed month, starting with my big event, the QE2 triathlon – my first time swimming 750m in open water. I was seriously nervous getting in that lake. So it felt very reassuring to have a couple of friendly faces nearby in the form of my PT, Ian and Lesley’s son Al.

The rest of that experience is blogged at length. But if I had to pick a moment of the year, it would be that one. Crossing the finish at a sprint, hearing my name over the tannoy system, race face captured on camera, falling into the arms of my very best tri buddy Lesley. Oh, and the best finish photo ever courtesy of Bob Marshall.

I’m sure it felt harder, I had more doubts, and I know I seriously asked myself what I thought I was doing going into the water. But I don’t really remember that now. I just remember the sense of achievement, the elation and the joy of finishing and being surrounded by friends and eating cake in the car park!

I’ve already mentioned the weather, and Saturday 9 June was a day of sunshine and showers in Newcastle. As I made my way down to the Bigg Market for the start of the 150th Blaydon Race, people were sitting outside the restaurants and cafes, watching the world go by, enjoying the sunshine.

But as the race started, so did the rain. And less than a mile in, the roads were rivers and we were drenched through. I’d been drier in the lake. It made for a memorable race. Still a fun one as always, but definitely my wettest yet.

As the Olympics drew closer, the torch came to town, gathering crowds and celebrations, swiftly followed by a brand new north east park run on my beloved coast. On Olympic opening day itself, I was a visitor at Ellem’s again, enjoying a swim in a lake near where she lives, a cycle and a run before heading home to wonder in delight at the opening ceremony.

I’ve spent a good few days in Scotland this year, which is always good news for me, and I returned to Edinburgh for a day at the festival in August. I threw in a parkrun for good measure and caught up with some of my other Scottish Fetchie pals too.

I logged my highest ever bike mileage this month (still no great shakes by the measures of this site, but still significant for me) helped by my longest ride to date on the Great North Bike Ride.

Me waving at the camera on the last mile of the Great North Run 2012
Enjoying the last mile of the Great North Run 2012

And so to September, which sort of marks the beginning and end of my running year with the Great North Run. My fourth year of running it (who ever thought I would be saying that?).

It was important in that, thanks yet again to my generous Fetch friends, it helped me raise over £700 for Sands in memory of my baby sister Ava. And it was important to me that I’d recovered enough from my running injury early in the year to be able to take it on.

But in terms of time, of challenge, to me, it was no longer the big thing it has been. I was overjoyed to high five a couple of Olympic heroes on the start line and very happy to have stumbled into the company of the brilliant Elvet Striders 2 hour run bus, but right from the start I knew it wasn’t my race this year.

I’d already had a magic moment crossing the finish line the day before in the company of the amazing Tony the Fridge flanked by a host of Harley Davisons and the lads from his junior football team. A real privilege to run with this guy and spend time in his company.

Lesley, me and Jane at the finish of Haddington triathlon
Lesley, me and Jane posing at Haddington triathlon

So by the time I reached 10 miles and I was still not feeling it, I let it go, released any sense of pressure of time or achievement and just ran easy. High fiving all the kids along the last mile, waving, smiling, giving thumbs up to everyone who shouted out my name on my shirt, just cruising to the finish and enjoying it.

It had been a bit much to ask to run an amazing race after opting to do a sprint tri in Scotland the weekend before. But I wouldn’t have missed Haddington triathlon for anything. Another sunny day in the company of my lovely friends; a perfectly run event; a swim that frankly astonished me, and a run that convinced me I could get back to previous form. That was another event for the scrapbook.

After all that I was ready for a break and I really enjoyed our holiday to Canada, where I still managed to run, cycle and swim and watch part of a half marathon.

My plans to come back refreshed, revitalised and ready to enjoy the off season were scuppered by a silly fall during the Newcastle Stampede which had me finishing the best part of a 10k with a sprained ankle.

But actually this injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Using what I’d learned from my physio treating my plantar fasciitis earlier in the year I rested, recovered and returned using a walk run plan to build back up. Only this time, I also revisited my running style and with the help of drills and exercises from my PT, Ian, I started to transition to a more midfoot style.

Me, Ian, Les and George the pug
The Inspire team at Newcastle Stampede 2012

It felt strange at first and I had to make sure I did a lot of stretching and foam rollering to release the built up tension in my calf muscles. But that’s made me develop more good habits and the additional stretching, running drills and warm up are now a regular part of my routine.

Not running so much also drove me back to swimming and cycling. I used some drills with the pull buoy as my ankle was recovering and they’ve helped me improve my front crawl stroke a great deal, so that I now get my hands in the water more quickly, and finish every stroke, rather than rushing through to take the next breath.

October too saw me return to support the Town Moor marathon – another race that’s become a regular on my calendar. It was great to welcome Fetchie pals Ann and Les and to cheer on a host of other runners around the course. And it was absolutely brilliant to be there for Ann’s course record breaking win. I predict more to come from this fabulous runner next year.

And so onto birthday celebrations in November, combined with a return to parkrun and each week developing confidence in my new running style and chipping away at my time.

Runners standing on the track
Fetchies do the mobot

But my biggest achievement this month was returning to the exam room for the first time in over 20 years and passing the theory papers for my Level 2 gym instructor qualification. I still have to face the practical assessment sometime early next year, but a good set of marks on the exams has given me the confidence that I can do that too. And the whole experience has fired me up to do more and to pass on some of my learning and experience in 2013.

December saw us get together for a Fetch track mile – a great chance to meet up, run a bit and eat some cake before Christmas. And I ended the year with a very wet but enjoyable 10k race at Saltwell.

Track training obviously suits me, as I returned there for a session with my PT this week and have just clocked my fastest parkrun of the year at Whitley Bay  in a time of 25:49.

Now I may not have managed to run faster or PB at any distance I’e run before this year but I have:

  • Swum over 20 miles further than in 2011 (including my first open water swims)
  • Cycled over 100 miles further than in 2011 (including my longest single cycle ride to date)
  • Ran fewer miles than I’ve ever logged in a year
  • Cross trained a little less than I did in 2011, but not by much
  • Still trained for more hours than any other year – over 270 of them 🙂

There’s still a bit of time left to go, but I doubt I’ll get much time to train.  I’m enjoying spending a bit of time off, relaxing and getting stuck into my studies again.

I have plans and goals in mind for next year already, but I think that’s fodder for another post, as this has been a long one already. It’s been great to look back at another tremendous year, to reflect on the achievements and to cherish the friends with whom I’ve enjoyed some magic moments.


Last of the season’s tri

Haddington triathlon was a great way to sign off my multi-sport season. A sunny summer’s day, racing with friends, feeling fit, in form and relaxed.

I drove up to North Berwick on Saturday afternoon, enjoying the sight of fields stacked with golden bales beneath the blue skies. A sense that summer is ending, but it’s closing with a golden glow. As always I was made to feel most welcome at Lesley’s home. In many ways it was just like turning up for one of our tri days, only this time we would be racing on her turf.

Legs marked with triathlon nubers
Marked for action!

After a lovely afternoon together, we enjoyed a pasta feast and a sensibly early night, waking early to a stunning sunrise over the hills and the welcome sight of the nearby airfield windsock hanging flat. Porridge, banana, faffing and loading the van with our bikes, we were bright and early to register at race HQ and they were still setting up as we arrived.

Even when marked up with my race number, 118, I still didn’t feel particularly hyped up or nervous. Lesley seemed to know everyone and there was a constant stream of meeting, greeting and introductions. As we went to rack our bikes outside beneath the trees, we met another Fetchie,  Jane. I enjoy reading  her cheery blogs, so it was nice to put a face to a name.

The transition area looked small, only about 150 people in this race. There were some gleaming bikes and nice kit on show though. And I liked the racking in wooden frames, rather than on scaffolding poles. It was a free for all, so we picked a good couple of slots at the end of row and set out our stuff.

An hour soon passed and we gather for the race briefing. We learn that the run course has undergone a last minute change due to the farmers getting the hay in nearby. It will be a little shorter than the advertised 7k, but when asked, the organisers admit, they don’t know how far it will be. We smile and applaud their honesty. Let’s take this one as it comes.

Lesley’s son Al arrives to cheer us on and we watch the first wave of swimmers in the pool before getting ourselves ready. Even now, I have to remind myself that I am racing. I take some deep breaths, stretch and roll down to get set for the swim.

It’s been two months since my last triathlon and I haven’t swum more than once a week since. I’ve never raced 750m in a pool before and can’t remember what time I’d entered for the swim. I’m astonished to see an optimistic 17:15 on my form and wonder where I plucked that figure from. It puts me in the second swim wave and second to go in my lane.

We applaud the last swimmers from the previous wave and then get in the pool. The swim briefing is calm, clear and concise and I have time to do a couple of sinking drills before I start. The whistle goes and I am away, smooth and calm through the water, what a relief! After the first couple of lengths, I feel my heart rate quicken and try to take my time through my strokes.

Quite early on, there’s a grab on my ankle and I let the swimmer behind go past at the end of the length. But I have been brushing the toes of the swimmer in front of me too, and on the next length he stops and lets me go ahead. There is a fair bit of order swapping and changing in our lane and it unsettles my rhythm quite a bit.

I just about manage to keep count of my lengths, but am grateful for Lesley’s poolmate watch which confirms how many I’ve done. My swim feels scrappy round the edges. I’m not making enough of the push offs; taking the chance to gulp an extra lungful of air at the ends. I’m lifting and turning my head, looking back to grab more air, rushing my strokes and occasionally breathing on every stroke. In other words, I’m thrashing, rather than gliding,

But I convince myself to go with it. To live with the rising bubble of tightness in my chest and the mess that is my head. With only 10 lengths left, I feel like I gain control, but I am unsure of making a bid to overtake the guy in front when I am still taking my time on the turns. At last the float taps me for the final 2 lengths and I give more of a kick. I cannot go full pelt as I am swimming on this guy’s toes. I really do need to work on my pool race skills.

Me on the bike leg
Spinning along on the bike leg of Haddington triathlon

I stop the watch, but don’t look at the time. I have the sensation that there aren’t many left in the pool, but I don’t look as I run out and into the short transition area. At this point, I have been so focused on the swim, I arrive at my bike on autopilot and effectively do a double take. ‘What? I have to ride a bike now? Really?’

I take my time and reset my focus with a leisurely transition, into bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses and number belt, then wheeling my bike out to the mount line and away. I realise when I am off down the road, that I never looked to see if Lesley’s bike was there, presuming she will have beaten me out of the water and be speeding off along the country lanes.

I have been reading some tri articles recently that advise easing into the bike and putting the effort into the second part of the ride. In truth, I am not a good enough cyclist for it to make much difference, but I like the sound of this strategy. As a result, I am quickly passed by three or four other riders within the first couple of miles. It never once crosses my mind that I am giving away precious time made on the swim and when I can no longer sense anyone behind me, I convince myself I must now be the last of my wave.

My bike is running beautifully. The sun is shining. The fields are green or gold as the horses look up to see me pass by. I have ridden this course with Lesley before and it’s psychologically mainly flat and then downhill all the way after the turn. This is not literally true as there’s a wee climb in the second part of the route, but it works for me as a race plan.

I make sure I slurp down some water as it’s getting hot, thank the marshals on the turns and, as I hit a nice spot of smooth and flat, I hit the drops and turn the legs over quickly, enjoying the sensation of speed and lightness.

On the next little incline, a girl called Denise rides past me. She was in my swim lane, so I know they haven’t all gone past. With a fast turn over in my legs I try to close down the gap without drafting and target her for an overtake further along the road. Suddenly I’ve found my competitive head on the bike and I’m quite enjoying it.

I put on another spurt to catch her, but it doesn’t stick for long as she’s away ahead again. But she’s made me work harder than I usually do on the bike and the finish is fast approaching.

A turn into a road marked by speed bumps and pot holes and I begin to spin through the easy gears before cruising up to the dismount line, then off over the grass and back into transition. And suddenly, there’s Lesley racking her bike alongside me. She’s been behind me all this time and just gained on me at the end. I’m shocked and inspired to get a wriggle on and out of transition.

Al runs beside me a few paces as I head out from transition, encouraging me on. But I have all the incentive I need, knowing Lesley is behind me. I keep the legs turning over, taking small steps and ignore my rising heart rate, knowing it will settle as I ease into the run. This is the bit that holds no fears. With my recent focus on half marathon training, I know this should be easy.

I’m quickly onto pleasant tracks besides the fields. My running shoes feel soft and welcoming on my feet and I manage to ease my breathing and my legs after about 1km. By now the sun is hot and high and I’m glad of the patches of shade as the route takes us through a wooded area.

Me running in the Haddington triathlon
Heading back on the run

East Lothian Triathlon club does a fantastic job of putting on this event. There are marshals at every junction or turn. Most of them on the run are youngsters, paired up for company, just hanging around on a sunny day. You might expect them to be bored or disinterested, but they are brilliant. They shout out ‘You’re doing really well, just turn down the lane, watch it’s a bit slippery at the bottom of the hill.’

With my fuzzy triathlon head on, I step out to turn onto the road we’ve cycled along at one point and the girls at that point yell loudly ‘ No, along the track!’ They’ve already told me twice and must think I’m stupid.

Over a wooden bridge and there are runners passing by in the opposite direction regularly now, shouting encouragement and well dones. I veer between cruising and pushing on, keeping my legs moving, feeling confident in my running form, even in the heat and look ahead trying to spot the turn around point.

It comes at a little side path where more young marshals are dishing out cups of water and there’s a huge wooden log which we must touch before turning back the way we came. I pass Lesley on the return leg and tell her it’s not far to the turnaround.

This time the little downhill in the woods is a few footsteps of a climb, but really most of the track is flat. As I turn into a gate, the marshal says about ‘a mile and a half to go’. I’m feeling good, strong, and happy to be out enjoying the sunshine. I turn back along the river, looking for landmarks, seeing buildings ahead and sensing that I’m close to the finish.

Lesley, me and Jane at the finish of Haddington triathlon
Lesley, me and Jane pose at the finish of the race

There’s a marshal pointing to a path up from the river and there’s the finish. A quick scramble up the grass, between the tape and over the mat with a sprint. A volunteer takes my chip and as I pause to get my breath back a team of young ladies offer me water, cereal bars and bananas and encourage me to pick up my race souvenir with a choice of a towel or socks.

Al and I soon see Lesley run in and we hang around for a while, chatting to the spectators and applauding the finishers, including a guided runner, before heading back into the sports centre for a welcome shower and clean up.

Feeling much more refreshed, we catch up with Jane and pose for pictures in between cheering on the fast finishers until the end of the race when we collect our bikes and other gubbins from transition and fill up on brownies and cake.

This really is a brilliant race. Well organised, well marshalled and played out on pretty country roads and trails. It’s gone into my top ten and is firmly my favourite pool-based triathlon so far. With the perfect script of ideal weather and a relaxed performance, it couldn’t have gone much better. Great photos from Lesley’s husband Bob will continue to furnish good memories of a great day in future too.

Stats and stuff:
Swim 750m 16:40 (pool time 16:14)
T1: 01:22
Bike 12 miles 44:31
T2: 0:57
Run 3.6 miles 32:39
Total time: 1:36:10
Smiles – too many to count :-)