30. June 2015 · Comments Off on In sickness and in health – run that by me again? · Categories: Marathons, Run, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

After the absolutely amazing experience of racing the Leadville Marathon in Colorado…. I got ill.

I was ill on the plane ride back, ill upon arrival in Florida, and even ill when I wrote about the race in my last blog post, not that you would have known it.  I was in denial.  It wasn’t going to last.

It has been 10 days since I have done any running. That has taken some willpower.  To the runners out there, you know how bad that feels. Like all my hard work this past year is drifting away, like I will never run again, like I never knew how to run in the first place.  Worse yet is the fact that the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland – my next big race – is in 17 days.  And I’m still not healthy yet.  Forget about tapering.  This is just about recuperating and desperately clinging on to any semblance of fitness.  I can’t even pretend I’m laughing about it because I lost my voice 4 days ago and it hasn’t come back yet.

But this is out of my control.  And while the Laugavegur Ultra looks really hard, really tough, and really absolutely astonishingly beautiful – it is not my A-goal race this year.  It’s probably going to hurt a lot more now than it might have.  But it’s one foot in front of the other and hopefully that will get me to the finish line.

So there is my update.  Now I’m going back to bed…..

Sometimes I am in awe of the serendipity of life, of the chains of events that lead to something happening.

For example, the fact that I married my husband Tom in 2010 can be traced directly back to the fact that I was teaching at Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia in 2003. If I hadn’t done that, Tom and I never would have met. Life is weird and unexpected.

Tom and I are signed up for the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland this summer.

"Running" through the wilds of Florida

“Running” through the wilds of Florida

But as the time passes and the July 18 date nears of the ultra, and we train on these flat hot swamp trails – the fear has set in.  How are we going to handle climbing glaciers, mountains, technical terrain, when all our training is through the dead flat boggy Everglades?  Don’t get me wrong – the trail running here isn’t easy (see here!).  Our runs are still unbelievably slow as we slog through yet more wet bush and wrestle with alligators, but nonetheless, it’s flat.

 

 

So discussion ensued how to get some practice runs in with some actual elevation.  And then we saw that Beth from Shut Up + Run blog was suggesting people join her in running the Leadville Marathon and/or Heavy Half. Yes, that’s the same Leadville as the famous Leadville 100 mile race. And as detailed previously – in a matter of 12 hours, we had bought our flights and registered for the race.  Thanks Beth!

Ok, first things first – we got to meet Beth at the start line.  How cool is that?  Turns out she is a real person and there is no panel of 25 writers putting together her hilarious blogs.  Yep, the real deal, and she didn’t freak out that I was some stalker who followed her 2,105 miles across the country (didn’t think of THAT, did you, Beth, eh?).  Here is our celebrity photo shot:

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Karis of See Kay Tri on the left, Beth of Shut up and Run in the middle.

 

Don’t forget to check out those big snow-covered mountains in the background.  Now have a look back at that wild green swampy photo above, and then back at those mountains.  Then take a big gulp and imagine how we were feeling.  Oh, and did I mention that Leadville is actually the highest altitude city in North America, at 3094m (10,200 ft)?  And that the marathon took us up to 4019m (13,185 ft)?  In case we were to forget about the altitude, there was this nice big sign there to remind us:image

Yes.  So, altitude sickness was on all our minds, and shortness of breath was in all our lungs.  But we were excited!

You might have thought that the elevation profile of the race might have given us some warning as to what we had got ourselves into.  In theory. Tom claims the race was as he expected, but the rest of the Flat Florida crew just really had no idea.

So here was our elevation profile, courtesy of Strava, post-race:

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See that tall skinny peak in the middle?  That’s called Mosquito Pass and up until last week, it was entirely covered in snow.  Wonderful race volunteers actually went all the way up there to shovel it.  Yes, they actually shovelled us a path up to Mosquito Peak.  This was the photo that Leadville Race Series posted for us just a couple of days before the event:

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Maybe you’re beginning to understand some of our trepidation in getting ready to run this race!

It was a nice leisurely 8am start (races in Florida start much earlier to beat the heat) and Colorado was having a heat wave.  Although we headed to the start line in jackets, we stuffed them in our packs before the race even started.  How does Leadville start?  Just like the Leadville 100 – with a gunshot!  I jumped out of my skin…but it was ok, we were far enough back from the front that I had time to recover before we shuffled over the start line.

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As you will see from that elevation profile, we headed uphill from the moment the race started. We all ran at first, and then slowly as the lithe Colorado-bred high-altitude gazelles overtook the rest of us, we settled to a fast walk. Oh, how naive we had been. Heading to the airport on Thursday evening, I had announced to the others, “I think we need to be realistic – we will likely be walking some of this race.” Oh hahahahaa. Some? Some!?! No. We had to walk pretty much every uphill, and by uphill, I mean each massive mountain. We even lost the will to jog for the photographers.

But it was beautiful.  The mountains surrounded us, and the higher we went, the more snow appeared, much to our delight (thanks to the wonderful shovelers, though, we never had to run in it!).

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We were excited when we reached the first of the snow at around mile 4. Travis celebrates by throwing a snowball at me.

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Ben, Tom, and Travis climbing to the top of Ball Mountain, our first mountain of the day.

Although the Heavy Half (so called because it’s actually 15.5 miles, rather than the traditional 13.1) started with the Marathon, the split was very early on, so we didn’t see Karis for a good few hours until we met her again as she descended from Mosquito Pass. The rest of us stuck together pretty much until the end. There were 9 aid stations so we were well fuelled for the well over 7 hours it took us to get around this marathon. Watermelon has never tasted so good as it did atop of Ball Mountain.

Ball Mountain was a relatively gentle climb compared to what was waiting for us going up Mosquito Pass. Remember that snow? This is where it got real.

It went up, and up, and up. And it was much steeper than it look in these photos.

 

And it got steeper, and more and more snow appeared….

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And then finally, blissfully, as the winds picked up to 50 mph, we rounded the corner and there was the top of Mosquito Pass at 4019m, or 13,185 feet, with a timekeeper sitting there bundled head to toe in fleece and windproofs.  It was – unsurprisingly – glacially cold. The wind was a furious smack of ice and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Tom snapped a quick photo of me before the wind blew me away (that’s no joke) and then we headed back down the mountain.

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I found the climb up Mosquito Pass a real struggle.  In fact, Ben and Travis were about 10 minutes ahead of me by the time I reached the top. I managed to make up the time coming down the mountain to meet up with them all at the aid station at the bottom, thankfully (or else it would have been a lonely rest of the marathon). Travis took a great little video of Ben descending and running into me. I think this gives you a real idea of what the marathon was like, more than any of these still photos:

The race was out and back, so it meant that we then covered the same ground as before – back up and down Ball Mountain once we finally descended Mosquito Pass. The clock was ticking and we were worried about making the cut-off of 8.5 hours, especially since the slog back up Ball Mountain seemed even steeper than before. But we made up the time on the downhills and we even managed some sort of proper run for the last few miles back down, with Ben hitting 7 minute miles (“I got mad,” she said.  “I just wanted to be finished.”).

imageTom parted ways with us at the 21 mile mark due to ongoing issues with his foot, so Ben, Travis and I all finished together and were met at the finish line by Karis sipping a cold beer.  Oh, and her finish?

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OK, so this photo was staged the night before. I wasn’t there when she finished, but judging by how fresh she looked, I expect this was probably accurate.

All in all?

This race was one of the best I’ve ever done, and it totally kicked my ass.  Results-wise, we did terrible! (ok, if you must know – I was 109th out of 155 women!) but we had a blast. We lost around half an hour at aid stations and I am pretty sure I left half of my legs up Mosquito Pass. The altitude crushed us, the footing was technical, the ascents were brutal, the descents required goat legs, the scenery was magnificent, the company was tremendous and we had so much fun.

Bring it on, Iceland. I may well come last – but I’m gonna love it.

[Update:  Karis has now written her own race report, a most excellent one – you can read it here.]

So the London Marathon is over.  Last month’s news. It was an obsessive focal point for months and then it didn’t go as planned.  So what happens next?

FUN STUFF.

When a road race doesn’t quite work out after all that effort and work, I need to stop and think:

  • Why do I run? because I love it
  • What do I love most?  being outside. Exploring.  TRAIL RUNNING!

As I had mentioned previously, Tom and I are running the Laugevegur Ultra Marathon in Iceland in July.  It looks awesome, in the true sense of the word.  Mountains, glaciers, valleys, fording rivers, snow and ice in July – seriously breathtakingly beautiful.  The race is 55km long (34.18 miles) and covers around 2000m (6500 feet) of climbing.

The challenge is: how do we train for that here in flat hot Florida?

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The elevation profile from one of my recent long runs.

Answer:  enter another mountain race as a warm up!

We’ve been doing a lot of trail running with our friends Ben and Travis lately (they are also training for a truly epic race, the GoreTex Trans-Alpine Run, 8 days of running across the Alps through 4 countries!), and I’ve been loving it.  But there is a distinct lack of hills here and it has been a cause of concern to us all.

We were heading home from our club run the other day, which consisted of hill repeats in Okeeheelee Park – 10 times up and down the one 23m hill, and we were thinking what more can we do?  Ben’s training plan says to find a hill that takes 20 minutes to run up and down – these hill repeats were taking us 40 seconds. Then I happened to flick through Instagram and saw that one of my favourite running bloggers, Shut Up + Run, had just posted about doing a hilly mountain race in Colorado in June.  I was intrigued.

I’ve certainly been spontaneous before (flying to the Arctic Circle on standby on a whim in the middle of winter and landing there at midnight with nowhere to stay comes to mind, back in my youth…), but this still ranks up there.  By lunch time the following day the four of us had registered for the Leadville Trail Marathon, bought our plane tickets, arranged hotel rooms and a rental car. I’m still a bit in shock, and slightly terrified, but 100% excited.  Who wants to join us?

The race starts and finishes in town, with most of the race up in the mountains.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!

And in the meantime, we have been doing long runs out in the bush/jungle/scrub – whatever you want to call it. There is a great trail called the Ocean to Lake Trail (guess where it goes?).  In total it covers 62 miles. We have done roughly half of it so far.

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Don’t be fooled by that simple looking line.  Most of that trail is as wild as can be and it is very slow going despite flat terrain.  And by slow, I mean turtle slow, snail slow, molasses slow.  But it’s really fun and a great break from all the pavement pounding I was doing up until the marathon.  And it’s very pretty in a wild sort of way.

Animal tally so far:

  • 6 manatees
  • 3 alligators
  • 1 wild boar
  • maybe a dozen deer
  • 1 snake
  • many a squirrel
  • even more birds

Photo time:

1)  Riverbend to Hobe Sound (the ocean!) – 16.5 miles, took 3:15 total time!

We swam in the ocean fully clothed at the end of the run.  Can’t tell you how amazing it felt to rinse off the grime.

2)  Hungryland to Riverbend – 17 miles, took around 3:40!

3)  We’ve also been running at Apoxee Wilderness Trail, which is quite a bit easier going and good for ‘gator spotting:

Wishing you all happy trails!

*NB – if you subscribe to this blog via email, you may not be able to see the photos in galleries above – sorry about that.  You need to open the blog in your browser and then you’ll see these stunning, award-winning images of nature and incredible athleticism. Wait, maybe better you don’t look….

11. May 2015 · Comments Off on London Marathon 2015: #thanksPaula #thankskathrine · Categories: Marathons, Race Report · Tags: , ,

Did you know that up until the first woman officially ran a marathon in 1967, it was believed that – point blank – no woman could run a marathon? That all that running might damage their reproductive organs?  That those organs might even just end up falling out, mid run?

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon as K.V. Switzer, the first woman to enter any marathon race.  She had trained for it and she was ready.  But just 4 miles into the 26.2, she was attacked by a race official trying to pull her off course:

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Kathrine managed to keep running and finished the marathon, despite shouts, jeers, and the press pestering her as she ran.  She writes today on her website, reflecting on the moments following the attack:

“…how scared I felt, as well as deeply humiliated, and for just a tiny moment, I wondered if I should step off the course. I did not want to mess up this prestigious race. But the thought was only a flicker. I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston.”

I ran the 2015 London Marathon thanks to Kathrine, and others like her.  My race didn’t go to plan.  In fact, it was one of the most disheartening races I’ve ever run, where nothing seemed to go quite right.  But nobody tried to pull me off course, and the only voice screaming at me to stop running was the one inside my head.

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The start of this year’s London Marathon

Not only did I get to run the London Marathon again this year, but I had the enormous privilege of running it with Paula Radcliffe – world record holder of both the marathon and 10K (2:15:25 and 30:21), and six time world champion.  Paula is nothing short of phenomenal.  This year she ran London as her last hurrah, a goodbye to racing, and she ran it with the mere mortals rather than starting with the elites.  She has retired after so many years of willing her injured foot to cooperate, but she still managed to knock out 2:36:55 and (small wonder) placed 1st woman overall outside of the elites.  Is it worth mentioning that this was the slowest marathon she has ever run?

London Marathon Paula 2

Nobody says that women can’t run marathons anymore, and Paula only ran faster after going through pregnancy and giving birth to her children.  I say:  thank you, Kathrine.  Thank you, Paula.  You’ve shown us that ThisGirlCan.

37,584 people crossed the finish line at the London Marathon this year (if you’re interested, 38% women, 62% men) – and that doesn’t count those who started the race but didn’t finish.  I finished in 3:21:50, which was a disappointment, although still a PB.  I boiled myself over without realising it, running sub 7 minute miles early on in the game when I was meant to be doing 7:25 (let’s forget about Paula’s 5:10 min/mile here, ok?) and the rest of the run was pure drudgery, dragging myself to the finish line. It was cold, it was damp, I ran a stupid race, but – there is always next year.

London Marathon 2015 2

Sporting a 5Q tattoo, seeking gender equality in Ironman triathlon

It’s tough to train for months and then for things to go wrong.  Especially when it’s your own fault.  Last year I ran perfect splits, this year I got cocky and paid for it (from the 10 mile mark onwards!). I didn’t run the race that I wanted to run, but hey, I was only 502 spots behind Paula… on her worst day.  And on Paula’s worst day, she wore sunglasses

“to keep a lid on my emotions and they definitely hid some tears along the way.  Down the last mile I thought ‘I don’t care about the time’, I just wanted to thank as many people as I could.  I knew it would be emotional and it was so emotional. I nearly lost it at Birdcage Walk but the crowds bowled me over, I wanted it to last forever. It was so special, I’m really going to miss it. (BBC)

Despite what I was saying to myself as I ran down Birdcage Walk some 45 minutes behind Paula, this won’t be my last marathon, so I can still run the race I want to run, that I know I can run, next time.  I’m not retiring yet.

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#thankspaula #thankskathrine #thisgirlcan (and thank you also Jacob Howe of London Heathside for helping me prepare for the marathon!)

I didn’t intend to race 3 out of 4 weekends in March – it just ended up happening.

First though, let me be a proud wife and put the sportlight back on Tom!  Tom raced the HITS Ocala Half Ironman last weekend.

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Start of the race – photo courtesy of @HITSTriSeries

Tom has been recovering from plantar fasciitis since July last year and has only been back running for about a month after 7 months of no running at all.  This was a training race for Ironman so he planned to keep his heart rate relatively low and not push too hard.  He still had a stellar race, finishing 8th overall in 4:44 and was 3rd off the 56 mile bike in 2:24.

This was exceptionally good considering that he slept in the car the night before – and it was only 6 C (42 F), and no sleeping bag either:

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I was a bit sad to miss out on the half Ironman (HITS put on a great race! See my Naples report for more), but it didn’t fit in with my current marathon training (in other words, minimal cycling or swimming).  BUT, I ended up racing that weekend too.  As mentioned about a gazillion times already, I’m following Coach Jacob’s plan for London Heathside for the London Marathon, and that Sunday’s long run included racing the South of England Road Relays in Milton Keynes before continuing on for a total mileage of 16-20 miles.

I mentioned this in passing to Ben during the previous week’s long run, and she very astutely noted that I might be able to find a local race to simulate Jacob’s plan.  The SEAA relay for women is 5 km and guess what, a quick google identified the Florida Brain Cancer 5K race to be held that Sunday in Lake Worth.  Credit cards out, and Ben and I were entered.

It was fantastic.

We met a bit earlier and did a nice and easy 5km warm up, then squeezed into the front of the crowd at the start, ready to go.  And we were off!

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Photo courtesy of Alfred Clayton Photography

I hadn’t run a 5K race in nearly a year and I’ve been feeling slower on the track this year than last year, so I didn’t know what to expect.  But having spoken with some of the amazing runners with the Wellington Runners’ Club (Steve Monks – 14:30 5K?!), I decided to aim high and see what happened.  If I bonked, I bonked – it didn’t matter.

What happened was – it went great.  I felt strong from start to finish, and I ran a negative split.  I came in 1st woman and 9th overall in 19:30.1, a very happy result! (and a new PB.)

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Photo courtesy of Alfred Clayton Photography

Ben was right behind me too, finishing 2nd woman!  However, we missed the awards ceremony because we went off to run another 10 miles for a total of 16 miles on a beautiful day!

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Thanks Coach Jacob for suggesting a brilliant way to get some faster miles in, and thanks Ben for helping me stick to the training plan on the other side of the Atlantic!

Apart from being a great race, the Florida Brain Cancer 5K also raised $194,600.25 for Brain Cancer research!  Special thanks to Alfred Clayton Photography for the complimentary race photos – greatly appreciated!

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Photo courtesy of Alfred Clayton Photography

 

What do you do with your race medals? All ours go on the stair bannister!

Weekly Update

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 15.45.573 weeks until London Marathon! Yesterday’s 22 miler was pretty brutal, but thankfully Tom paced me for the middle 10 miles at marathon pace.

 

After my last post about giving myself a bit of a break, I’ve had two weekends of racing – fun and exciting!

The first race was a guaranteed PB (or PR in American speak), because it was a 1 mile relay race in Albacoa, FL in support of a children’s charity, Bella’s Angels – and I’d never raced a mile.  I’ve never raced shorter than 5k before so I went into it really having no idea of pacing. I had never done a relay, either.  Our team was only assembled the day before but we managed to find 4 strong women and we had a blast.

I ran the first mile.  Given that it was 4 x 1 mile, I had expected perhaps a straight out-and-back course – silly me!  No, it was a fun crazy course that included running around a baseball stadium and up the bleachers – yes, you read that correctly, we had to run up, and then down, STAIRS in our 1 mile race.  It deserves a photo:

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I ran my mile in 5:43.8, and as a team we ran the 4 miles in 24:46.2 and were the first placed all-females team.  It was raining all morning which helped keep it cool, and Nina, Mary Sarah and I enjoyed a sopping wet 7km “cool down” (more like “swim down”) afterwards in the rain.  April headed off for the treadmill instead; fair enough considering she was running the New York City Half Marathon the following weekend!

This past weekend Tom and I ran the Palm Beach Road Runners‘ Shamrock 10 Mile Run.  Tom has been coming back from a running injury and is still taking it easy, so he agreed to pace me for the race – whoohoo!

[Tom last paced me in the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon in 2013.  Yes, you read that right.  Women’s.  We were flying in from London for a wedding and the race was the same weekend; I wanted to do it. I emailed the race organisers to ask if men were permitted too, since I couldn’t find anything on the website to the contrary.  They replied saying that Tom was very welcome to run the race.  Race day:  1000 women, 4 men.  A huge bonus because Tom ended up staying with me and pacing me to a big PB at the time.]

The course was 10 miles around Lake Osborne in Lake Worth, FL (yes, that geography confuses me too.  A lake in a lake?).  Around 400 runners did the 10 miles, and another 600 ran the 5k race, meaning a whole lot of mock-Irish green, including some fabulous fancy dress:

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This race was a big test for me in terms of seeing how training is going and to determine what pace I should be looking to do in the London Marathon next month.  My goal was to run 6:50-7:00 min/mile (or 4:15-4:20 min/km).  It didn’t quite happen.  It was 30 degrees out, bright sunshine, and whether that’s the reason or whether I’m just not strong enough yet, I ended up with an average pace of 7:04 min/mile (or 4:22 min/km).  But I gave it my all (as my heart rate shows, and Tom can attest to my extreme breathing towards the end), so I was happy with my efforts.  You can only do what you can do!

150314 Tom Shamrock 10 Mile Race

Tom powers it home!

I finished in 1:10:41 and was 2nd woman overall, 1st in my age group, and 18th out of everyone.  The first lady and I played a good game of chase and I did catch her about 2 miles out, but she had a whole lot more left in the tank than I did in the last mile and she caught me again and finished 24 seconds ahead of me.  (As a funny coincidence, when I shook her hand at the end of the race, she ended up being English, from Manchester). All in all, a good result for me and a fun day out – once I’d forgotten the pain of those 10 miles.

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And post race?

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Refreshing!!!

 

These weeks in training:

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Not much running last week, but the Monday night group ride pretty much killed me (very windy, full of sprints, and we were 25 men and just me as the lone woman) and then it was a bit of a mini-taper for the 10 mile race. The race also meant that I got to skip my usual long run, hurrah!  Not that I don’t enjoy long runs – I do – but it’s always nice to have a bit of a change.

Doggy news (stop reading if this ain’t your thing)

1.  We took Haile to the beach again, where he learned that he really enjoys water.

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2.  I mean, he really enjoys water.

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3.  And he definitely enjoys the after effects:

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What’s your favourite race distance? I like ultra marathons the best!

 

Back in October, I went through some metabolic testing at Sportstest in London.  It was truly eye opening.

I had wanted to get myself tested because I was trying to figure out why I was such a crappy cyclist.  Yes, that’s the truth of it.  I was running and swimming generally well, but my cycling consistently never matched the other two.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was putting in the time – I did Sufferfest sessions 3-4 times a week, I did long hours on the bike, including a number of Century rides, and I rode rain or shine, snow or ice.

Palace 2 Palace, 144 km cycle:  the only sportive where I finished ahead of the others. Because they all got lost… and I didn’t. L-R: Tom, me, Jojo, Dalia

And yet I sucked on the bike.  It was exhausting and disheartening.  Why was I always so slow?  Finally, metabolic testing with Dr Garry Palmer would reveal the truth.

The Test

Pre-testing, Garry discussed my training regime with me, my bike times vs my run times, and surmised that it was likely because I was training too hard on the bike.  Pushing too hard all the time, never letting up, always going for it, exhausting me.  Could that be it?  The testing would tell.

I won’t go into great detail about metabolic testing, but you can hear more about it from Garry himself here or read my friend Karis’s recent post on the subject. Essentially, Garry was monitoring my heart rate, my oxygen uptake and my CO2 production, first on the bike, the on the run.

VO2 max

Testing time!

I was in for a shock.

It was my “off-season”, I’d just had several weeks off after an intensive year of racing, and yet my bike results were good.  Very good.  My VO2 max was in the top-trained athlete range (61.19), and my power to weight ratio was very high (4.68).  What it boiled down to:  I wasn’t trying nearly hard enough on the bike.

It was all mental.

All the times I’d struggled in the sportives to keep up, all the times I’d been dropped by my friends – it was all because I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I generally pride myself on giving 110% effort, so this really was a surprise.  I think all the years of bike commuting just meant that I didn’t know how to suffer on the bike.  I had been coasting along in the “recovery” heart rate zone (or Zone 1) the entire time. I’d learned how to push hard on the run, but not on the bike.

We then moved on to testing my run:

The run brought fewer surprises, but again Garry identified my training zones.  We did establish that my running was ahead of my cycling – but not by that much.  It also showed that I was doing my “steady” runs far too easy.

The graphs

The various tests resulted in a number of complex graphs and numbers spewing out, one example here:

Test results

Test results

These graphs show the points at which you stop burning fat and only burn carbohydrates.  As an endurance athlete, the longer you can burn fat, the longer you can keep going.  Tom and I are both believers in fat-fuelled sessions (long and slow without taking on extra fuel so your body learns to burn fat rather than “hitting the wall”, which is what happens when you are burning carbs only and your body runs out of supplies).  Turns out pretty much all my cycling had been in the fat burning zone only.  For endurance triathlon, you ideally want to be in Zone 2 – where you burn both fat and carbohydrates.

The consequences

No more excuses!

If there is one thing I’ve learned doing endurance sports over the last few years, it’s is that the mental is more important than the physical, by far. This testing really brought that home.

Since the assessment with Garry, my cycling has improved 100%.  Don’t get me wrong – I still have a long way to go, but the improvement has been palpable.  I trust the numbers he has given me and I’ve finally learned to push hard on the bike.  My Half Ironman time has dropped nearly an hour (5:58 in Norway in 2013 to 5:01 in Naples in Jan 2015), with my bike split going from 3:22 to 2:42, 40 minutes! (granted, Norway was hilly, and Naples was flat)!

It’s true that it’s pancake flat here, unlike hilly England.  So perhaps I can’t put everything down to trying harder, but I’m definitely pushing more than I ever have before, and it feels good.

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All in all, I would highly recommend getting yourself tested if you haven’t done it already.  And I am continuously amazed at how much of this sport is mental, not physical.

Have you ever has a metabolic assessment?  Did it help you?

 

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll have seen that last weekend I did the HITS Naples Half Ironman, and then three days later I signed up for the Sunshine State Palm Beach Half Marathon this past weekend.

It was awesome.

No, setting the alarm for 4:44 am Saturday morning was not awesome.  The jangling race nerves and the cold dark morning were also not awesome.  Racing one week after doing the Half Ironman was also not really very awesome.

But I had a secret weapon for this half marathon.

Secret Weapon!

Secret Weapon!

I first met Ben when she beat me in the Wellington Horse Country 10 Mile race in October.  As we stood gasping at the finish line, she told me about the Wellington Runners’ Club and their Wednesday night track sessions.  I’m a real believer in the track to sharpen up speed so I came along the very next Wednesday, and haven’t looked back since.

Ben also raced with me (and beat me again) in the Miami Man Half Ironman in November.  She is fast and she is strong.  Let’s put it this way – she has done an 11 hour Ironman!

So when I knew she was doing the Palm Beach Half, I immediately thought it would be great to run with her for pacing, if she was open to it.  She was – hurrah!

Running with someone who more or less runs a similar pace is a fantastic experience.  You never feel good throughout the whole race, but you also never feel bad the whole race – and when you’re running together, you have that little bit more of an incentive to try to keep up when you’re in a bad moment.  As it happens, Ben and I discussed afterwards that she feels at her best in the middle of the race.  I’m the exact opposite – the middle is where I struggle, and then I can usually find a bit more in the tank once I know the end is in sight.

The race started at 6:30 am so it was dark as we ran along the coast and we saw the sun rise over the ocean, still a novelty for me.  Our pacing worked beautifully.  I had my watch set to lap each kilometre, and Ben’s lapped each mile – so we had regular updates of our pace.  We agreed to start the race off about 10 seconds slower so as to prevent going into overdrive too quickly, and then we nudged it up after 2 miles.  Our splits were generally even and we ran the first half at a slightly more casual pace, then picked it up when we finally made the turn around and started heading back for home.  I had this pre-race text message in mind from Tom (who was travelling at the time) as we pushed ourselves that much harder:

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Err, I assume the missing word in there is HURT.

Neither Ben or I have been in proper speed training or half marathon training leading up to this race, but we are both running spring marathons (London for me, Boston for Ben).  I wanted to see where my fitness was at.  Ben had cheap entry via Groupon!  (Reason 1001 to enter a race?)  In any event, it felt great to run a strong steady race, a negative split, and to have a bit of a kick at the end for the last two kilometres.

We ran pretty much the entire race together and finished with a new PB for us both of 1:33 and placed 3rd and 4th woman, 17th and 19th overall (out of nearly 500 runners).

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Crossing the finish line just behind orange day-glo man

We both are aiming to get to sub 90 minutes eventually, but at this stage in the game, an even paced, negative split race feels awesome and a new PB never hurts!

What’s your strategy for races?

 

Weekly Round Up

This was obviously a bit of a strange week for me in that I was coming off the Half Ironman last Saturday, and preparing for the Half Marathon the following Saturday.  This isn’t the first time I’ve done back-to-back races so I wasn’t too worried about it, focusing on one short speed session and one longer run.  And zero cycling!

I am truly pathetic when it comes to making time for things like strength training, foam rolling, and core work (ok, so like 98% of runners out there).  So I am now logging that time onto my Garmin account as well so that I can see it from week to week.  If you don’t see it logged, I’m not doing it – please feel free to yell at me.

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Total time:  7:38

Swim:  1000 yards, 25 min

Bike: 0!

Run:  52km; 4:38

How was your week training?

 

This past weekend was the HITS Naples Triathlon.  I did the Half Ironman while Tom, still recovering from a running injury, did the Aquathon.  It was a fantastic event.

We registered and racked our bikes the evening before:

And checked out the beach where we would be swimming the next morning:

And readied our nutrition for the race…

No, we didn't actually take all of these!

No, we didn’t actually take all of these!

 

 

We had a typically sleepless night, woke at 4:44am and got ready to do battle.

It was so cold.  So so so cold.  I was so unhappy!  (12 deg C is 53 F.) It was cold, dark and windy.  It’s not supposed to be windy at 5 in the morning!  Water temperature was around 18 C / 65 F.

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I will be the first to admit it – I am a huge wuss when it comes to the cold.  I hate being cold, and I get cold extremely easily.  I don’t perform well when I’m cold, either.  My first instinct is to make myself as small as possible and not move at all, which isn’t really compatible with a half Ironman triathlon.  And c’mon, we are in Florida – it’s not supposed to be cold!

I have never come so close to backing out of an event as I did Saturday morning!  I was shivering hard while still dry and couldn’t even imagine how I would cope coming out of the water into the wind.  But as always, when the horn sounded, I forgot everything and dove in for the fight!

Swim – 1.9 km Half Ironman / 3.8 km Ironman

The chop!  The wind was up and the water was very choppy.  And I lost my timer chip off my leg as soon as I started.  Argh!  I had to stop and search for it and then when I couldn’t get it back on, I stuffed it down the front of my wetsuit and dove back into the fray.  The water had zero visibility – I couldn’t even see my arms as I swam.

I was certain that it would be my slowest swim yet due to the chip incident and the strong chop, but once I made the first turn I found my own space and a good rhythm and was surprised to come out of the water and back into transition in 32:11, my fastest half Ironman swim yet.

Tom also had a good swim, doing two laps of the course in 1:03:37, which was the exact time he swam in Ironman Lanzarote!  Although in this tri, the swim time included the run from the ocean to transition, about 400m, which means that we both had our best swims to date.

Bike – 90.1 km Half Ironman / 180.2 km Ironman

The course was flat and fast and amazingly marshalled by the local police – we had a clear run through every single stoplight, fantastic!  My feet were frozen through and my hands shortly followed suit, which made changing gears and opening shot blocs challenging.  I kept it a steady Zone 2 heart rate throughout – arguably too low, but that’s what felt right so that’s what I went with.  There was a good cross-wind on the bike which meant that we had some head wind for nearly the entire course – can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I hit the halfway turnaround point and discovered that I wasn’t getting the tailwind that I had been looking forward to the whole way out!

The course was out and back but would you believe I nonetheless managed to make a wrong turn?  I only mention this because that wrong turn cost me 2 minutes extra which then later caused me to go just over 5 hours, arghhhhhhh!  Live and learn!  Oh well, mustn’t dwell on it.

I finished the bike in 2:42:42, which was a PB by 10 minutes for me.  Very happy!

As for Tom, he crushed it!  180.2 km in 4:52.46.  I’ll do the maths for you – that’s an average speed of 37 km/h or 23 mph!  He was in second behind RW Training coach Rich Wygand until poor Rich had his tyre explode*, after which Tom got to follow the lead motorcycle around the course and was first bike back from the full Ironman distance bike leg.

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First off the bike in the full Ironman distance!

Tom won the Aquathon! Yay Tom! (And then he got to rest.  He says Ironmans are much better when you don’t have to run a marathon too.)

Run – 21.1 km

The run course was again out and back.  My feet were numb from ankles downwards for the first half hour, always a strange sensation.  I took it easy for the first half, a steady Zone 2 heart rate and a comfortable pace.  When I reached the turn around point, I knew I could survive an hour or less of suffering, so I upped the pace and pushed, ending up with a nice negative split and an overall half marathon run of 1:40:36.  Maybe I should have pushed harder earlier, but it was still a significant half Ironman PB for me so I was happy!

I finished the race in 5:01:19 – a thrilling PB, but so disappointing that I would have gone sub-5 hours if I hadn’t take that wrong turn!

I was 8th woman overall (out of around 70 women) and 49th in the whole race (around 300 people).  I was particularly pleased to see that my run was actually the 29th fastest run out of everyone.

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The best moment of every race!

 

*Rich Wygand had to wait around 45 minutes for the support vehicle to swap him a new tyre, but he somehow managed to make a storming comeback to finish sub-10 hours, 2nd overall in the full Ironman!  Legend!  Meanwhile his wife Carol Wygand won her age group in her first Half Ironman in 5:13!

 

Do you do any races in your off season?

 

Weekly Roundup

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Total time:  10:28

Swim:  3km, 53 min

Bike: 124 km, 3:55

Run:  38km, 3:10