I walked out towards the ocean. We had pumped our tyres and filled our water bottles in transition in the dark, scurried to the transition bags to put our last-minute items away while the loudspeakers brayed with a countdown to head to the beach for the swim start. I reluctantly took off my sweatshirt, my flip flops, and awaited a shiver in my tri shorts and sports bra, all that I was going to be wearing for the swim. But the air was already hot.  Somehow you don’t notice the moment between dark and light when you’re occupied with a thousand thoughts. We had gone from the harsh glow of head lamps flashing in our eyes to a calm and underwhelming sunrise.

The ocean had its own surprises. Yesterday it has been a tranquil dozing beast. Today it had shaken off its stupor and the surf was crashing down, lashing out in mock fury at the nearly 3000 swimmers lined up on the beach. And it was a non-wetsuit swim due to the unusually warm sea temperatures.

Tom, Will and I ran into the waves for a quick wetting and warm-up before the official start. The ocean wasn’t playing nice. I fought my way out for less than a minute before heading back to shore. The swim is normally my best discipline of the three. I knew today’s swim wasn’t going to be good. It also didn’t help that I hadn’t done any swimming since the morning of the hit & run three weeks earlier. Never mind. It wasn’t the moment for doubts. I had had ample reason and opportunity to pull out of this Ironman, but by now I knew I was doing it, whatever the day would bring.

We squeezed our way into the starting queue. We were immediately absorbed by over a thousand hot bodies, naked skin against skin, smooth skulls in bathing caps and goggles hanging around necks, people anxiously glancing at their watches counting down until the start, the whole lot squeezing, pulsing, moving towards the start. At 6:15, the crush burst over the timing mats and we threw ourselves into the sea.

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With thanks to Kris Swarthout and Nick Morales for this photo of Ironman Florida 2015 swim start

And so Ironman Florida began.

I think it’s fair to say that Ironman training had begun once we had completed Iceland’s Laugavegur Ultra Marathon on 17 July (best race I’ve ever done, by the way – see here for some spectacular photos). We had a week off after the ultra, and I had 3 weeks off after my crash, so that left 15 weeks of training for the Ironman. In that time, I:

  • swam for 26 hours – 70 km / 44 miles in the pool and/or ocean
  • cycled for over 76 hours – 2187 km / 1359 miles
  • ran for over 48 hours – 471 km / 293 miles

Many people will have done a whole lot more to prepare, but nonetheless it was a significant time commitment and effort, and originally I had hopes for a good race. Then, stuff happened:

  1. I got hit by a car. Yeah yeah, you’re sick of me saying that by now. 3 weeks off pre-race and nursing injuries and wounds is not really ideal, though.
  2. It was too bloody hot so it was a non-wetsuit swim. For any non-triathletes reading this, wetsuits are like body-sized life preservers. They give you free buoyancy, free glide, free speed.  Most swimmers are significantly faster in a wetsuit than without one. No, it’s not cheating because in most triathlons, wetsuits are mandatory so every single person has that same advantage.
  3. And…. I got completely decked by the surf going in for my second lap and I lost my goggles.  Yes, lost my goggles!

Swim: 3.8 km / 2.4 miles – 1:26

My first lap was uneventful. There was the usual scrum of bodies kicking, hitting, punching, and trying to get through the surf took a while and lots of diving under the big waves, and then once we were out there was a pretty strong current dragging us off course if we weren’t sighting the buoys consistently. But overall I just kept it steady and made my way around and didn’t really worry. Swimming is normally my thing.

As I came out onto the beach after my first lap, I heard our friend Dave the announcer saying that huge numbers of people were losing goggles. I thought to myself as I ran back into the sea, what would I do if that happened?

Ironman Florida 2015

A swimmer heads back out for the second lap, with thanks to Nick Morales

It was even rougher heading into lap 2. I had made my way out maybe some 300m, diving under the big waves, when I saw a huge one coming. I am comfortable in the sea, I am a strong swimmer, waves don’t scare me. I dived underneath, but it was no use – it slammed me to the ground, tumbled me upside down, dragged me to the side. For the moment, the race was forgotten and it was just the moment of staying calm and not fighting the drag until I could make my way to the surface. And then I came up sputtering, feeling for my head, knowing already that my goggles were gone. I saw a glimpse of them in the swirl of the opaque water but as I lunged for them, another swimmer thrashed over top of them and then both the swimmer and the goggles were gone.  I felt around blindly. I was being dragged further out to the side into the bigger and bigger surf and I knew I couldn’t do another whole lap without goggles.  For a brief moment, I wondered whether this race was just not to be. I could end it now. Swim to shore, walk to transition and turn in my chip. It was just too much after everything else that had happened.

But I knew I wouldn’t do that.

I fought my way out of the water. The big surf kept dragging me back every time the waves rolled in, and so it took me ages to get back to the beach. I ran along shouting “goggles!” and – bless her, bless her, bless her – a woman reached into her bag and threw a pair in my direction. I have a terrible time getting goggles to fit my face at the best of times so I made these as tight as they would go and crashed back out into the water for my second lap. While I was utterly grateful to this unknown woman for allowing me to continue the race, these new goggles were terrible. They were tiny and dark and foggy and they pinched and hurt. I couldn’t see a swimmer next to me until they thwacked me and I definitely couldn’t see the buoys to sight properly. But don’t mistake this for a complaint, because those goggles got me around when I would have been a DNF (“Did Not Finish”).

I finished the swim in 1:26. In absolutely ideal conditions (never count on those!) – that is, no accident, wetsuit swim, calm waters – I would have hoped for 1:00 to 1:05. This was the slowest swim I’d ever done in any triathlon. Oh well. I reckon I lost 10 minutes to the goggles incident. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I was 36th out of the water in my age group out of 126. I reckon if I hadn’t lost my goggles, I would have been top 10. Tant pis.

T1: 12:14

I’m slow in transition at the best of times. This was the worst of times. We had a long run up from the beach (600m according to Tom’s Garmin, or nearly half a mile) and into a hotel ballroom. The volunteers were excellent. One grabbed me and proceeded to help me – yes, don’t laugh – wash the salt out of my wounds, clean them up, cover them in vaseline (she barked as she dabbed her fingers into a giant tub – “you don’t have any blood born illnesses, do you?” – and then she wrapped me up with my assortment of sticky burn windows and bandages. Then she helped me get my compression sleeves over the wounds (important to keep the bandages on, the wounds clean and the sun off of everything), calf sleeves on my legs for yet more sun protection, my sleeved-top over it all, sprayed the remaining showing skin with sunscreen and filled my pockets with my food for the bike. She was superb. I wouldn’t mind having her dress me every day. Without her, I expect my 12 minute transition time could have been closer to 20.

Bike: 180.2 km / 112 miles – 6:22

IMG_0529The bike remains my weakest discipline of the 3. Unlike my first Ironman, Ironman Lanzarote, this time I didn’t have any fears about actually making it around the course, but this almost entirely flat course had some of its own challenges.  The wind is always an issue in Florida, because it is so flat – there is nothing to stop it as it comes blowing in, whistling through the flat land and giant clear-cut roads. The forecast that morning showed that we would start with a headwind, and then end with one too, because the wind would change direction during the course of the day, so that was fun – a headwind for most of the ride. That said, it wasn’t a terribly strong wind so it really could have been much worse. The course is, quite frankly, dull. There was one wooded section early on that looked like it had some nice trails, and I thought, ooh, trail running, that sounds like much more fun. Otherwise it was black or grey tarmac ahead, white lines, avoiding cars, avoiding cyclists, eat, drink, pedal pedal, don’t think about the painful hip, don’t think about the painful elbow and hands, just pedal. For over six hours.

My one major criticism of Ironman Florida was that much of the bike course was on open roads. That is to say, roads fully open to cars, trucks, motorbikes etc. Every other triathlon I have ever done has been mostly closed roads, with just the occasional local vehicle going by. No, this was full on heavy traffic and given that I was hit by a car for no good reason at all 3 weeks previously, that did make me nervous. Especially since the shoulder was full of cyclists in race mode, overtaking while big trucks thundered by. I emphatically did not enjoy those big roads in any way.

My ride was uneventful. The road lay ahead, long straight sections. It was hot but overcast. We had 5 minutes of rain late into the ride.  I tried hard to eat on schedule, as per all the long training rides I’d done – alternating between Clif bars and Honey Stinger Waffles every hour, and drinking my bottles of Scratch Labs. I stopped at a couple of aid stations for water and bananas, I stopped three times to pee, had to queue once for the loo, and otherwise I plugged away for 112 miles. The puncture wound on my elbow made going into aero position very painful so I mostly stayed upright the whole time, very uncomfortable on a tri bike. I reckon I got down into aero maybe 30% of the time. Enough for one photographer to snap a photo, at least.

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Pre-crash, my goal for the bike was around 5:50-6:00.  I still had pain in my left hip when I pedalled, aero position meant full weight on an open puncture wound, and I’d had nearly 3 weeks of no cycling.  I was not unhappy with 6:22.  I came off the bike 42nd in my age group.

T2: 8:45

Another painfully slow transition. I changed socks. I re-applied sunscreen. I swapped out uneaten food for gels. I took 2 ibuprofen for my hip. I ate a gel. I blow dried my hair. Ok, not quite.

Run: 42.2 km / 26.2 miles – 4:32

IMG_0442I didn’t know how well my hip would hold up for the run. I also think it hurt me a lot to have essentially 3 weeks off running prior to the race. But it was what it was, and I was going to make the best of it, at whatever pace I could manage. My plan was to walk the aid stations for no more than 30 seconds, and otherwise to maintain a steady if not fast run. And that actually worked out pretty well. The only time I didn’t run outside of an aid station was just before mile 19 when I stopped to vomit 5 times. Yeah, that wasn’t so good.  My stomach was happy on the bike and for the first 10K running, but I am generally not great with gels and despite practicing with them, my stomach still started rebelling after the first hour. I stopped for the loo a few times but nothing helped… the stomach was just getting worse and worse until finally I vomited, when I then felt much better, and decided I would have to continue from that point onwards taking on no more nutrition. Just water and a little bit of coke (in retrospect, I should have had a lot more coke). And here is a dirty secret. Not long after the vomiting episode, I came to an aid station where they were offering chicken broth. I’ve been vegetarian for around 3 years but at that moment I needed to get something down me, something salty, not sweet.  I took that paper cup and I downed it in three gulps and it was absolutely delicious.

It was unseasonably hot. But it was a cloudy day and that helped enormously. I put ice in my cap at every aid station, poured ice water over myself, and stuffed sponges down my front and back in an effort to keep cool. It seemed to work – I never suffered from heart rate drift like I so often did on the super hot long brick days I did in training. This was not my best day running, by any means, but I kept moving, was consistent, and I overtook 598 people on the run course.  Pre-accident, I was looking to run 3:45 to 4:00 for the marathon; on the day, I ran 4:32. Again, I wasn’t unhappy with my result considering the circumstances.

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The run course is two laps, and it gets dark very early in Panama City – sunset was 5:15, I believe, which meant that you had to finish within 11 hours to finish in daylight. Once the sun had gone, the course was dark, as in properly dark, couldn’t see where you were putting your feet type dark, which I hadn’t expected. But I’ve done a lot of very early morning training runs before sunrise so I’m not unused to running semi-blind, and at plodding speed you don’t risk tripping up quite so much. Before long I was on the home stretch, stomach still in a bloated knot, legs barely lifting but still running until the end. The red mats of the finish line stretch came up sooner than I had expected (who says that in an Ironman?!) and then it was all over. As I crossed the finish line, the loudspeakers boomed with announcer Dave’s voice,

You are an Ironman, Julia. Major car accident, hit on her bike 3 or 4 weeks ago. Way to go Julia. Brain power trumps body power.

Total time: 12:41:57

I finished 27th in my age group, 125th woman and 670th overall out of around 2980.

This was my second Ironman. I’m not in love with the distance, but I haven’t decided whether I’m done with it yet or not. I also have had major bike crashes weeks out from both Ironmans. It would be kind of nice to see what I could do if I weren’t nursing injuries or forced to take time off to convalesce.  My original goal for this Ironman was 11:10-11:45, and I reckon it was not unreasonable if things had gone right. But I’m not sure I need to chase that goal any further – does a number really matter? Maybe I will move on to new and different challenges. I’m still taking it a day a  time.  It’s two weeks post-Ironman right now and my hip still hurts to walk or run, so I have been focusing on yoga and having a harsh reminder that being fit to swim/bike/run means nothing once you enter a yoga studio!

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This was Part II of my Race Report. You can read Part I here.

After being hit by a car while out cycling just 3 weeks out from Ironman Florida, I didn’t expect to be able to race Ironman Florida. I was thankful to be alive, to be mostly in one piece, but I was also extremely bruised, swollen, and bloodied.  I could barely walk – surely it was ridiculous to put any more thoughts towards the Ironman.

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But I am stubborn, and I didn’t want to give up yet. I said I would take it day by day and make no decisions until the day, and that’s what I did.  After 4 days of complete rest, I started seeing an excellent physio, Hillary Hamer, herself a strong triathlete and ultra runner so she knew where I was coming from and she didn’t flinch when I said that I still had hopes of making it to the start line.

Instead, Hillary put me to work, forcing me raise my left arm above my head – a move that I had tried to avoid since the crash, due to road rash all over my shoulder and a deep puncture wound on my elbow, and just general hurt.  She made me do hip and glute strengthening exercises despite the massive bruising (or rather, because of it), she made me use all the things that were hurting rather than continuing to baby them, and she ultrasounded, massaged, iced and taped all my bruised and swollen bits.  My bum – where I was hit directly by the car – was just a black and purple mess of bruising.

The irony was that I had gone through all this last year – when I crashed my bike just four weeks out from Ironman Lanzarote.  This time I had one week fewer and more serious injuries (last year I had severe bruising but no road rash or open wounds), but it seems I’ve got the recovery routine down pretty well – unfortunately! After a week of rest, icing, and phyio, Tom set up my bike in the living room on the turbo trainer and on I climbed for my first 30 minutes of cardio.  My bruised hip/glute hurt with every pedal stroke. But I was told that as long as the pain was not intolerable, it wasn’t a bad thing.

imageThe next day I did an hour on the turbo trainer, just easy spinning.  Same pain, no worse, no better. I thought to myself – I can handle this. What was more worrying was the puncture wound on my elbow, which was directly where I would put my full weight onto the aero bars in a race.  But again, take it a day at a time, make no decisions.  10 days after the crash, I rode my bike outside again for the first time, with my friend Nancy.  Nancy had also suffered a terrible bike crash this summer, and after extensive surgery and physio it was also her first time back on the bike outside. We were a sorry pair and a great team.  My bruised hip/bum still hurt, but no worse than before.

And then it was time to run. It didn’t matter at all if I could cycle if I couldn’t run.  And so after nearly 2 weeks of convalescence, I did my first 30 min jog.  Same old story – it was painful but it was manageable. And although it looked nasty and was very sore to the touch, my bruised ankle didn’t seem to mind jogging.

And so the week of Ironman was upon us.  I had done a couple of gentle rides and a few short trots.  No swimming, so that my wounds could continue to heal. My friend Will had flown all the way from London with his fiancée Malgosia to race with Tom and me. We had been planning for over a year to race this Ironman together.

My options:

  1. Do Ironman Florida, knowing it would be a sub-par race, given injury and extended time off.
  2. Skip Ironman Florida, and do Ironman Cozumel instead (3 weeks later).
  3. Forget about Ironman this year.

I discussed these options with Tom and friends ad nauseam (sorry guys).  And although really options 2 and 3 were the more logical choices, I was still keen on doing Ironman Florida, providing I wasn’t going to do any long-term damage to my body.  The visible bruising was gone, but I was still very sore and with limited range of movement. I didn’t mind if my time was slower than I had originally been training for. I wanted to do the Ironman.  To do, not to race.

IMG_0385We made the 8 hour drive up to Panama City on Wednesday. I packed as if I were racing, although I still wasn’t certain I would be. Every day counted as another day for my injuries to heal. We bought yet more expensive bandages for my wounds for the race. We went to the expo.  And as I stood in line to register, I thought, that’s it – once I pick up my bib packet, it looks like I’m doing it. I still hadn’t made a definitive decision, although “yes” was the likely answer. Despite injury and nearly 3 weeks off everything… I wanted to swim, to bike, to run.

Nancy texted me that night, asking how I was feeling. I told her – nervous and unsure. She told me to do a headstand to drain the boogiemen out of my brain. I liked her way of thought, so I did what she said.  She was right. It helped.

We racked our bikes the next day. My bike, racked. This race was looking pretty likely. But until my timing chip on my ankle passed over the starting line, I could still pull out. Meanwhile, we were hearing more and more mutterings that the swim was going to be non-wetsuit legal, something which made my situation even more complicated with a slew of bandages to put on my still-open wounds in transition.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. Was I being foolish to race – or melodramatic not to race? Was I being too hard on myself – or at risk of being too easy on myself?

 

My Race Report is continued HERE.

The cooking theme continues!

This past weekend was another massive brick session, and I needed to be sure to power up for it appropriately.  It dawned on me to try two of my own foolproof recipes.  These ones are guaranteed delicious.

Banana Muffins or Banana Breadimage

I have made this banana bread for years, but this time I made the same recipe into muffins in order to have portable food for the bike, and it worked perfectly.  The original recipe comes from A Little Bird with the omission of the booze and sultanas. I save old bananas by popping them into the freezer, and when I have enough I thaw them out and bake ’em.  I should add that the quantities set out below are for one cake or one pan of muffins…. I nearly always double that batch and either freeze the second loaf or give it away, ‘cuz that’s how delicious it is.

175g plain flour (=1 1/2 cups)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

125g unsalted butter (melted, or not – I’ve done both. I also frequently use salted butter. = just over 1/2 cup)

150g sugar  (=2/3 cup)

2 large eggs

around 4 very ripe bananas

30g chopped walnuts (walnuts aren’t my favourite nut, but they work well in this recipe. I’ve also used pistachios in a pinch. = a handful)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170°C / Gas Mark 3 / 338°F.  Grease up your loaf tin or muffin tin. I’ve used butter for this or olive oil spray.

Spread the walnuts out onto a baking sheet and place them high up in the oven so they toast.  Keep an eye on them; it only takes 4-6 minutes and you don’t want them to burn.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl.  Melted or room-temperature butter makes this much easier.  Add in the eggs and the bananas and mash it all up.

Slowly mix in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt. Don’t over stir.  Add in the vanilla then stir in the walnuts.  Boom, you’re done.

Pour the mixture into your tin(s) and bake.  If you’re making a loaf, it will take around an hour.  A big loaf may take more time (put a knife into it when you think it might be done. If it comes out clean, you’re good.  Messy, bake some more).  I’ve found that it’s hard to overbake these babies.

If you’re making muffins, around 40 minutes should be enough.

Cool and enjoy.

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This recipe does seem to be pretty idiot-proof. I’ve not managed to mess it up yet. However, see those chocolate cookies on the right in the above photo? Don’t they look delicious? Want a closer look?

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Don’t be fooled. They were disgusting.  My attempt at gluten free chocolate cookies. Tom and I shared one freshly baked, both made faces and the rest went straight into the bin. Yuck. Epic fail. No, I’m not giving you the recipe.

But I was on a cooking binge. That same evening I also whipped up most delicious carb-loaded trick of all: tortilla española. I learned to make tortilla years ago when I was living in Ireland, taught by my Irish boyfriend Des who had in turn been taught by his Spanish ex-girlfriend.  Thank you, Des – this recipe has proved to be the gift that keeps on giving!

 

Tortilla Españolaimage

Tortilla to Spaniards is like PB&J to Americans or tea to the Brits – as commonplace as it comes, but always welcome, always delicious. But to be boringly healthy, I’ve changed the oil from the gallons of vegetable oil to much less coconut oil. It makes the tortilla just as moist and you can use way less.

3-5 potatoes, depending on how big you want it to be. If you’re making your first one or if you have a small pan, smaller is definitely more manageable.  I try to make them as big as possible!

a hearty tablespoon of refined coconut oil

around half a cup of frozen peas (other veg can be used too)

4-6 eggs, depending on how much potato you’re working with.

1/2 chopped onion (I buy frozen chopped onion and it’s a great shortcut)

Get the onions gently cooking in the coconut oil in a large frying pan.image

Cut the potatoes into very thin slices. Think dauphinoise type slices. As you cut them up, add them to the onions frying away, until all the potatoes are in the pan.  Keep the heat low and stir occasionally so the bottom potatoes don’t burn and so that the top potatoes get their turn on the hot bottom too.  If you have a lid to your frying pan, putting that on in between stirrings will cook the potatoes through even faster.  You want the potatoes to be cooked through so they are really really soft. This normally takes 15-25 minutes depending on how many potatoes you’ve used.  If at any point you notice the pan going too dry, add a little bit more coconut oil.

If you are using a fresh vegetable, like chopped up asparagus or peppers, add them in with the potatoes to cook. If you’re using the extremely convenient and very tasty frozen peas option, add them in at the end. I find that the peas give a really satisfying pop of moisture and sweetness.image

Crack open your eggs into a large bowl and beat them.  Add a bit of salt and pepper, but don’t overdo it (you can always add more to the cooked product, but you can’t remove it!).  Add in the cooked potato, onion, and miscellaneous veg and stir it up. You can mash it up a bit too with your wooden spoon.  Then pour it all back into your frying pan, still on low heat on your stove top.  Let the mixture settle into the bottom and pat it on top until smooth and press the spoon around the sides to try to bring the mixture into a vague cake-shape.  Leave cooking for maybe 15 minutes or so. I watch for little bubbles appearing at the sides of the tortilla – usually a sign that it’s ready to be flipped.

Flipping sounds scary, but it isn’t. Just place a large plate on top of the tortilla, hold it in place and flip the pan so the tortilla ends up on the plate. Then gently slide it back into the pan to let the other side cook. This side takes less time – maybe 5-10 minutes.

Then stick a plate back on the tortilla and flip it out of the pan again. Presto!  A perfect looking potato “cake”, absolutely delicious and full carbs and protein. I cut a few squares, wrapped them in cling film and stuck them in my jersey pocket for the ride. Delicious. As a main meal, it looks impressive to guests and is a vegetarian (although not vegan) meal.

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These foods kept me going strong for the day – a 1 hour swim, 6 hour bike ride, and 50 minute run. Best of all, my friend Molly surprised me by showing up for the run, meeting me at my house, no less. With our chit chat, the run flew by and suddenly I was done for the day – relief! 12 hours later I was back out running at 5:20 am, 2h45 minutes with the Wellington Runners’ Club and feeling surprisingly good. Which I put down to being adequately fuelled from the day before.

This Saturday is my very last mega swim-bike-run session and I’m also racing the Wellington Horse Country 10 Miler on Sunday.  I’m using the term “race” here very loosely as I don’t expect to have much oomph left!

3 weeks 1 day until Ironman Florida! 

What are you training for?

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My friend Zoe took this photo of graffiti on the Parkland Walk, an amazingly beautiful and somewhat hidden away woodland trail in north London, minutes from our house. It was one of my absolute favourite places to run, with or without Zoe. I remember running by this graffiti and the words sticking in my head.  What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

Zoe posted this photo 115 weeks ago, some 2 years 3 months – around the time that I raced my very first half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Haugesund, in Norway. That was already a huge leap for me. When I contemplated doing a full Ironman, I thought to myself, it’s not fear holding me back – it’s just common sense. I can’t do an Ironman. That’s not fear, that’s just being rational.

But it stuck in my head. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

I’ve talked about Kathrine Switzer before, the first woman in the world to race a marathon, in my Thanks Paula, Thanks Kathrine post about running the London Marathon this year. Kathrine talks about the fear she felt when the race officials attacked her mid-race, trying to drag her off course:

That was 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.

Kathrine finished that race, and many more since (in blistering times!), and most recently started up 261 Fearless, an organisation to promote women in sport. The organisation’s describes itself as “a global community of women, be she a walker, jogger, runner, or front of the pack racer, who have found strength, power and fearlessness from putting one foot in front of the other.”

There is no doubt that sport empowers us. A run in the rain is one of the best cures for a bad day at work, in my opinion – allowing you some ownership over your day. Some people take baby steps – I did. I started with a sprint triathlon, then an Olympic, then a half Ironman, and just when I thought I could go no further, I signed up for my first ultramarathon and my first Ironman.  My friend Karis didn’t need baby steps. She went from sprint tri to Ironman in one fell swoop. Some people will never do more than a 5K. The distance doesn’t matter. It’s learning to believe that you can do whatever you decide you want to do that does matter. And you learn this just one step at a time, one run at a time.

I’m not one for inspirational quotes and rah rah cheering. I like to get on with things and get the job done. But I do believe that every single person out there can do it if they believe they can do it, and for that reason I was honoured to be asked to be an ambassador for 261 Fearless to promote women in sport, to empower women through sport.

I now have a couple of ultramarathons under my belt and I’m currently training for my second full Ironman, which takes place in just 5 weeks. Training is really tough. I’m beginning to realise that I just don’t like being out on the bike for so long. Whether I race another Ironman distance after this one or not, however, I will know that the decision is based entirely on choice rather than fear.

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Pre-dawn swims, but the pool is much warmer here than in London!

 

As we crossed over the state line heading into Georgia from Florida, I received a text from my sister: “Going into hospital at 5pm to be induced.”

….

Laura was 39 weeks pregnant. We had booked Ironman 70.3 Augusta back before she was even pregnant, in November last year as part of the Ironman race package with Ironman Florida. We only realised the race was a week before her due date a month ago. But first babies are always late, right? And hey, there was no reason why she also couldn’t look after our dog while we were away….

We did arrange alternative dog-sitting, but we still didn’t really think the baby was going to come early. But Laura had had a tough pregnancy, with extreme back pain, nausea, and more recently was presenting with a dangerously high heart rate – 157 bpm while sitting down in the doctor’s office. Considering that’s nearing my Zone 4 heart rate on the bike… that wasn’t good.  Doctor said it was time to induce.

In a flurry of texts, we continued to drive (that is, Tom drove, I flurried the texts). Concerned friends were asking whether we were going to turn imagearound. Laura said keep going, there was nothing we could do. But another text said:  “I’m scared.”  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t there for her. But her husband Zach was going into hospital with her and she didn’t need more people taking up space while she laboured. And I needed the time on the drive to finish my baby quilt. Yes, I reckon out of the nearly 3000 athletes racing Ironman 70.3 Augusta, I was the only one frantically sewing the binding on a quilt on the way to the race. (Also yes, I have really nerdy hobbies.)

But what better way to take my mind off of the race? I always get bad pre-race nerves. To the point that every single time, I wonder why I put myself through so many races. (Because as much as I hate races before the start, I love them just as much after I finish. It’s a complicated twisted mindset.) On we drove to Augusta, Georgia.

Pre-race

Ironman Florida is our main goal this year, so we intended to treat this half as somewhat of a training race. We arrived early enough to get to to the Ironman Village to register and pick up our race packets, ate some dinner and went to bed for a night of no sleep, filled with anxiety for my poor sister in the throes of labour and me with the usual pre-race nerves.

imageSaturday morning we met up with my old friend Emily who lives in Augusta (my sister jokes that I know someone in every city everywhere in the world), enjoyed meeting her husband Andrew and her two kids that they had miraculously popped out since I last saw her 5 years ago, whilst also being an amazing trauma surgeon (yes, I feel intimidated!), and had a little walk along the Savannah River – the same river we would be swimming down the following morning.

 

A little bike ride to check out the bike course and a short run in the afternoon and we headed to the Bike Transition area to rack our bikes.  Ready to race!

But still no baby. The flurry of texts with Laura and Zach continued, mostly saying things weren’t going well and it looked like they might have to do a C-Section. Tom and I went to bed early and worried, but for once I wasn’t thinking about racing.image

Race Day

Our alarm was set for 5am so we could head to transition to pump our tyres and lay out our final gear for the race. But first things first. I woke up, looked at the phone, only to see some 52 messages from my family. Kylie Isabella Phillips had arrived safely during the night, a natural birth and a healthy baby girl. Well, if Laura could manage to deliver a baby naturally after 25 hours of labour, surely I could squeeze out a measly half Ironman? Time to race!

 

The Swim

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I had heard great things about the swim at this race – swimming with the current in a straight line down river, sounded good to me! It was a wave start and Tom’s wave was right before mine so we headed to the start together. It was very well organised. Wave by wave, we headed out onto a large pier and jumped into the water to swim 1900m downriver.

Photo thanks to http://www.pingjeffgreene.com

Photo thanks to http://www.pingjeffgreene.com

There were 220 in my age group, but we were well spread out across the pier and as soon as the horn sounded, I shot off to try to avoid any carnage. I needn’t have worried, as I was very quickly by myself, a few others within sight but nowhere near fighting distance. I knew this swim was going to be nice and short so I didn’t mind exerting a bit more effort than I might normally for 1900m. The current was ever-so-obliging and it wasn’t long before I was getting stuck into the pack of Tom’s orange-capped men ahead of me, trying to swim around them without wasting time.

I exited the water in 25:09, definitely a PB half Ironman swim for me but of course somewhat of an artificial time with that wonderful current. My swim had me 11th in my age group.

Bike

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Photo thanks to Podium Performance

It was drizzling gently as I headed off on the bike – hurrah! Training in Florida has been harsh with the extreme heat and humidity so I was really praying for a cooler day in Georgia. Although I couldn’t see out of my glasses for most of the ride, it was worth it for the lovely cooling effect.

The bike has always been my hardest/worst leg, and this race was no exception. The last half Ironman I did was HITS Naples back in January, where I had a massive PB of 5:01 with a 2:42 bike split (spoiler: I did not PB at Augusta). But that was on a dead flat course. While Augusta wasn’t crazy hilly when compared to some of the cycling I’d been doing in 2014 at Ironman Lanzarote, Yorkshire, and the Alps, including various Tour de France routes – it still had around 540m of climbing, which was a lot compared to the big fat ZERO of climbing I’ve been doing in Florida.

Let’s compare.

Ironman 70.3 Augusta bike:imageVs. HITS Naples Half Ironman bike:

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That Naples bike course is typical for most of my training rides in Florida, save for the occasional bridge. But I digress.  The Augusta bike course was great. We crossed the Savannah River downstream from where we had been swimming and set off into the South Carolina countryside and into the rolling hills. I love cycling on closed roads and the volunteers and police did a great job of keeping us riding safe and fast. I couldn’t see much through my wet glasses but I focused on keeping my heart rate in check, climbing steadily and descending safely. I had enough nutrition and drink on my bike to keep me going without needing to top up at any aid stations and I worked on picking off the men in front of me one by one. Of course, plenty of people were overtaking me too – including many of the fast women. Best of all was the weather. After the sweltering heat of Florida, the relatively cool temperatures (20°C / 68°F) and the drizzle meant I never felt hot on the bike. Amazing. Bliss.

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Julia bike

I arrived back at transition in 2:56:05, very pleased to have done sub-3 hours over the hilly course, with an average speed of 30.7 kph / 19.08 mph, with my bike leg placing me 24th in my age group.

Run

The race doesn’t really start until the run, does it – but uh oh, my legs were dead. This is going to be a disaster, I thought to myself, as I trudged up the (only) hill from the river to the city streets. Tom and I have been doing a lot of volume in the recent weeks and we didn’t taper for this race, and I could feel it in my legs. I had felt strong coming off the bike, but suddenly I felt like I had nothing left in me. Surely this triathlon business was pretty silly, wasn’t it? Did I really need to bother with this run?

But then I remembered Laura, 25 hours in labour, 25 hours of pain without knowing how or when it would stop… and I thought, I can do this. What’s a measly half marathon compared to what Laura went through? It’s amazing what a little perspective does for you. So I kept on plodding, trot trot trot, and when my watch beeped at the first mile and I saw that it was 8:12 (5:05 min/km), I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I let myself walk the aid stations, which meant that I knew I never had to run for too long, keeping the walks to a maximum of 30 seconds.  The run course was two loops around downtown Augusta, with every single citizen out on the streets cheering for us by name – it was fabulous. I took a gel every half hour, I kept on trotting, and when I reached the halfway mark I told myself it was time to get a bit more serious and I upped the pace just that little bit more.

I soon noticed that I was overtaking the people who had dropped me back at the beginning when I had first started walking the aid stations. I wasn’t running fast, but I was running consistently and it slowly gained me ground as many of the others started to slow down. One of the great advantages of being a better runner than a cyclist is that you then get to overtake people in the run, and that’s what my run was from start to finish, just picking people off one by one.  I finished the race strong, with my last mile at 7:03 (4:22 min/km). In fact, in the overall rankings, I moved up 458 spots on the run.

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Julia run

I finished the run in 1:45:40, with an average pace of 8:03 min/mile / 5:00 min/km. Again, not my fastest run split (I did 1:40 at Naples) but I felt like I ran the best I could given the mileage in my legs and after those hills, and Tom was waiting for me at the finish line with a sweaty kiss.

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I placed 17th out of 220 in my age group, 67th woman and 432nd overall out of 2645 athletes, and most importantly, number one Auntie to Kylie.Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.55.09

Let’s talk food! Sadly I don’t mean pizza and beer, but rather the much less appetising notion of energy food, food on the go, sport food.  I hate it all. It has taken me years to be able to choke down a gel and even still I’m rubbish at it.  If I wouldn’t eat it while sitting at my desk at work (when I am always ravenous!), why would I want to eat it on the bike when food is the last thing on my mind?

Last year my good friend Karis (who incidentally thinks gels are scrumptious, damn her) gave me a copy of Feed Zone Portables when she came to visit us in London. She gave it to me right before we both did Ironman Lanzarote, and then I took some time off of mega long bike rides after that, so I didn’t get around to testing out any of the recipes.  And then suddenly we were moving to the US, and everything in our lives was upside down, and half our kitchen equipment was shipped around the world while we were in limbo.  Then the move happened, and everything was in boxes…. ok, enough excuses.  The point is, now that I am back doing long rides and gagging on jacked up pouches of gelatinous sugar, I finally remembered the book, dug it out and made something.

The authors of the book have cooked up food for riders for the Tour de France and pro Iroman athletes, so they know what they’re doing, and it gives a really detailed breakdown of the nutrition, carbs, protein, etc., so you know exactly what you are consuming on the bike.  The idea behind it is that unlike gels and bars, you actually can eat real food all day long, and even enjoy it rather than forcing it down.

I ended up adapting their recipe for Potato & Sweet Ginger Baked Rice Balls – it called for crystallised ginger, which I didn’t have, so I went with leek and potato instead (always a winning combo, right?).  In retrospect I should have gone for something a little less healthy in order to pack a bigger calorie punch, but going by the information they set out in the book, I would estimate that each ball I made had about 200 calories – not too bad.

Potato & Leek Baked Rice Balls

1 cup uncooked sticky rice (they recommend Calrose rice, which I used)

1 1/2 cups water

2 small potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed (~1 1/2 cups)

1 chopped leek

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cook the rice in a rice cooker if you have one, or just in a pot if you don’t, adding a dash of salt.

Boil the potatoes until they are soft.

Sauté the chopped leek and minced garlic in the oil.

Combine the potatoes and the leek and garlic and mince in a food processor to get a uniform finish (or if you’ve chopped the leeks fine enough, then just mash it all together by hand), then thoroughly with the cooked rice.

imagePlace clingfilm into a small bowl and then pack the rice mixture into the bowl.  With a little tug of the clingfilm, your ball will pop out in a perfectly uniform shape, beautiful!  Repeat until you’ve used up all the rice mixture, then bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

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Once you take them out of the oven, wrap them individually in cling film, tinfoil, or parchment paper, and they’re ready to go into your jersey pocket on the bike.

 

Verdict?

The rice is pretty dense, so there is no fear of them falling apart.  They were relatively easy to eat on the bike in terms of reaching into my pocket and grabbing one, and obviously with no packaging to tear open, they were easier to get into.  I would add more salt next time, as really, salt on a long sweaty bike ride is only a good thing, and the balls were slightly bland without it. Were they scrumptious? No, but they weren’t bad, and there are lots of other baked rice ball recipe choices in the book (date & almond; lemon ricotta; honey banana; peaches & coconut cream; BBQ chicken; sweet & sour chicken; curry pumpkin date; spicy black bean; sweet potato & bacon).  Let us not forget that I also messed with their original recipe of potato & ginger.

Baked rice balls are just one type of portable food suggested by the book – it has a gazillion others, from two-bite pies to baked cakes and cookies, baked eggs, waffles and pancakes, and many more.  So I will try again and see if I can find something that truly is delicious, both on and off the bike – but my initial reaction is generally positive.

Nutrition info: for the entire rice mixture, so divide between however many balls you make

Energy (calories): 940  Fat: 1  Sodium: 465  Carbs (g): 220  Fiber (g): 6  Protein (g): 17  Water (%): 57

On a side note, the good people behind Feed Zone Portables also make Skratch Labs electrolytes, which I only just discovered while out running the Leadville Marathon this summer. They are the tastiest electrolytes I have found to date (with about 40 calories per bottle) and I truly recommend them.  Yes, these I even would drink while sitting at my desk!

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In the lead up to Ironman Florida (6 weeks away!), I’m now doing big brick sessions every Saturday, getting progressively longer each week.  Last weekend was a 50 min swim, a 4:45 bike ride, and a 50 minute run. Just to give you an idea of when I’m munching on the rice balls – all during the bike ride (sadly still doing the gels thing on the run). We get to the ocean at first light, and my favourite part of the whole brick is seeing the sunrise over the ocean in the morning.  Moments like that remind me why I’m in Florida.

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Heading into the ocean at sunrise

Last weekend, my friends Ben and Molly came along for part of the swim and bike portion – not because they needed the training, but mostly because they were worried about me swimming all alone in the semi-dark and being eaten by sharks.  I am pleased to report that not one of us was eaten or even tasted, but we did have a few brushes with jellyfish and sea lice.  All part of ocean swimming. But seriously, I’ve been living here for less than a year and I’ve already met people who are willing to be eaten by sharks with me.  How awesome is that?

A long day in the hot sun isn’t complete without a puncture either.  Did you know that frozen CO2 cartridges will stick to your clothing if you try to use them to cool off?  Try it, then you can get a really cool photo like this one:

imageIt was so hot out there that I drank 8 bottles of water and electrolytes. Apparently it was 100°F/ 38°C with the sun. Turns out there is a secret spot in West Palm Beach that has a cold water fountain rather than the molten lava that spurts from the other fountains all along the A1A beach road. Info like this from friends on a scorching day is worth its weight in ice.image

Happy cooking, happy eating, happy riding!  We are racing Ironman 70.3 Augusta this weekend in Georgia and praying for rain!

What do you eat on long rides and runs?

We have escaped the heat! That’s a laughable concept when we were living in the UK (where summer begrudgingly arrives for a week or two at best), but Florida is bloody hot and the humidity is strangling. Running an ultramarathon in Iceland was a wonderful way to cool off but it wasn’t long before we were drowning in pools of sweat again.

Evidence that on occasion, we don't wear lycra.

Evidence that on occasion, we don’t wear lycra.

So what did we do, but get in the minivan, loaded up with two TT bikes, a windsurfing board, 2 wetsuits, a duffel bag filled with water bottles, cycling helmets and shoes, and lycra galore, and most importantly of all – our whippet, Haile. And we drove 24 hours north to Canada. The drive really wasn’t that bad. Haile slept in my lap the whole way there, and we listened to Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, Unbroken (it was excellent).

imageThe premise for the trip was to attend an old friend’s wedding in Toronto (hey Alan and Amy, you looked amazing, thanks for having us!). The morning after the nuptials we headed up to my parents’ place on Georgian Bay, namely, The Cottage, otherwise known as Paradise.

The Cottage is where I grew up cross-country skiing in the winter, swimming in the summer; where our first dog is buried; where Tom and I got engaged; where we honeymooned with 20 friends and family after our wedding.  The Cottage is nothing but good memories both in the past and future.

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Normally at this time of year, The Cottage should be hot and sunny, but at the moment Georgian Bay is having a little autumnal practice session. We don’t mind. It’s been around 16°C (60°F) during the day and much colder at night, but really that is absolutely ideal running weather. I did my first intervals session of the year yesterday where I was actually able to get to my real 5K pace (something I haven’t seen in a long, long time). I jumped in the lake afterwards and that sweet fresh water felt amazing (and yes, I screamed as I dived in. It’s cold).

Ironman training continues. Thanks to the wonderful invention of wetsuits, we’ve also been able to do some proper open water swimming, and the newly resurfaced Twelve Mile Bay road is perfect for cycling intervals – even if we have to hike out to the paved road before we can get going!

It’s supposed to get warmer over the next few days, but it doesn’t really matter if it does. The Cottage is perfect no matter the weather.

It’s hard to follow up with another post about mundane life after the Leanda Cave tri camp earlier this month.  But this is what has been going on:

1.  Marathon training.

In a big way.  I’m following London Heathside‘s amazing coach Jacob’s plan, and it’s not for the faint-hearted.  While I’m not following it to the letter, it still makes for big mileage, fierce tempo runs and really really long long runs.  Jacob has produced countless sub-3 hour marathoners; he knows what he’s doing.  I certainly don’t have any aspirations to join that club yet, but I’m still trying my best.  Last weekend’s long run was 22 miles (35.5 km) and the distance is still growing.  Worse yet, soon it instructs us to do the middle 6-10 miles at marathon pace.  I managed it last year running with London Heathside’s fast group – I’m not sure how I will manage to do it this year by myself.  I’m hoping Tom will be in full running form by then and can at least pace me for the faster segments.  The tempo runs are also pure agony!

Ben, who is willing to share the pain with me!  22 miles on trails last weekend.

Ben and me after 22 miles on trails last weekend.  Can you smell us?

2.  Old friends!

My best friend from schooldays, Alex, was visiting for a week with her 7 month old baby, Will.  I swear, he didn’t cry once (at least within our earshot) the entire time he was here.  He made best friends with Haile and was pretty much the star attraction for the whole week (oh, it was good to see Alex too!).  We went to the beach, we walked through gator-ridden trails and bird sanctuaries, we did baby yoga.  Amazing.

Does it get any cuter than this?

Does it get any cuter than this?

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The dog beach was a revelation in itself.  Haile loved it.  We will be back.

3.  Winter came, then left

We had a few days of relatively cold weather.  Yes, it even got down to freezing for 2 nights.  We had to bundle up in jackets for our dog walk and wear gloves when we went running.  I forgot how to dress for cold runs.  I get so hot that I don’t actually need to wear that much, especially when the sun is out.

We got hot.

It was cold.  We got hot.  Those are my gloves sticking out of my waistband.

The cold was actually a true blessing for running.  It’s a whole lot easier to run when you’re not sweating 3 pints’ worth the moment you press start on your Garmin.

And when the cold left and the heat returned, well, we had to celebrate with a nice cycle to the beach:

4.  I cantered down memory lane

Horse sport was my original passion, once upon a time.  It was pretty much all I lived and breathed up until my 20s, and I spent a great summer working as a rider/groom in Ireland.  When I was in law school in the UK, we somehow managed to get funding for a polo club and I got to play heavily subsidised polo for 2 years – so much fun.  And then after that, zilch.  I used to get the occasional pony ride when visiting family, but I hadn’t jumped in probably around a decade or so.  Well, my sister wasn’t feeling well this week so she asked me to exercise her mare Zoey for her.  Next thing I knew, she was setting some jumps and I got to relive my youth.  Zoey took good care of me.

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I rode her again the next day and then went to a track session.  I tell you, doesn’t matter how much sport you do – do something different, using different muscles, and wow, you’ll be in pain after!  Or is that just me?!

We also discovered that fearless Haile thinks it’s great fun to chase the horses’ tails as they canter along.  Thankfully Zoey is super good-natured.

5.  Haile, Ballon. Enough said.

I keep sharing puppy photos, but did you know I also have the most beautiful cat in the entire world?  Her name is Ballon and she is International Feline of Mystery.  She is originally from Ireland.  She had a very serious accident there that resulted in 2 broken back legs.  She was flown to the UK for surgery by the wonderful charity Cats Protection.  3 major surgeries and a year later, she found a home with us in our London flat.  She walks a bit crooked and can’t jump, but that doesn’t stop her.  Now she lives with us in Florida and enjoys sunbathing and getting Haile in trouble.

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Ballon actually had an incredibly intense fear of dogs, but Haile seems to be winning her over (when he isn’t chasing her).

6. And finally, training in general

There have been some laments that I haven’t posted my normal weekly training updates – but I don’t want to bore you.  For those that are interested, I’ve put the usual weekly calendars below.  I had to take a disheartening chunk of time off due to some really seriously bad asthma issues, quite scary actually – but I’m pretty much back to normal now.

The week of the Leanda Cave tri campScreen Shot 2015-02-26 at 21.41.33

And the 2 weeks since the camp:

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Have you noticed I’ve not been foam rolling?  Why aren’t you yelling at me? Seriously!

 

16. February 2015 · Comments Off on Training with a World Champion: Tri Camp with Leanda Cave! · Categories: embrace the bike, Run, Swim, Triathlon · Tags: , ,

Back in November when I competed in Miami Man Half Ironman, Tom and I met 4 x World Champion Leanda Cave and heard that she was holding her first triathlon training camp in February.  We held a quick conference over our pre-race pasta binge at the Olive Garden and decided that this was an opportunity to learn from the best and we couldn’t miss it.

It was this past weekend in Port Saint Lucy, Florida, and it was absolutely fantastic.  Amazing.  A brilliant weekend – fun, enjoyable, a nice small group and we learned so much.

It was three days of sport, with swim/bike/run each day, plus extra sessions like strength & conditioning, nutrition talks, and swim video analysis. Leanda’s sister Mel Cave (also a prolific competitive endurance swimmer) and USAT coach Kris Swarthout were working with Leanda which meant that we had continuous feedback in all disciplines.

I can’t possibly tell you everything we did, but I’ll break it down to the key things Tom and I took away from the weekend.

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With Leanda before our brick ride

SWIM

We had a video analysis in the pool, drills sessions and an open water swim.

Leanda getting ready to spy on us from underwater!

Leanda getting ready to spy on us from underwater!

Tom and I had a swim video analysis done back in December 2013 so it was really interesting to see what we had managed to correct since then and where we still needed to improve.  If you’ve never had yourself videoed, I can’t recommend it enough.  You really have no idea what you are doing right and wrong in the water until you can see yourself – you will be surprised!

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Leanda and Mel teaching. Tom, Sam and me in the water.

If you care to watch our videos, here they are.  First, my video:

With additional commentary here.

And Tom’s video:

With additional commentary here.

I learned that my body balance and roll and positioning are good, but that I am lacking in power because I have no catch and am failing to lead with my elbows (or EVF for the technical term – “early vertical forearm”).  I now have very specific drills to knock this on the head, and hopefully after that I should have much more power (= speed!).  I’m hoping that if I can get this sorted out, maybe a sub-1 hour Ironman swim could be possible.

Technique is one thing, but open water swimming is another, so we had a session where we practiced sighting, turning around buoys, and beach starts and exits.  All things we never practice but have to do every single triathlon!  I had never realised there was special technique to swim over top of the masses at the swim turns (involving a single backstroke roll-over) and I can’t say that I’ve ever raced into the water properly before.

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Leanda and Mel demonstrate proper EVF

The Blue Seventy crowd: me, Leanda, Ken, Tom, and Adam!

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Leanda also told us she would like to see us swimming 5 times a week.  Eep – some room for improvement there!

wetsuits2BIKE

bikeshot

The bike is my weakest of the three disciplines and Tom’s strongest.  We had three bike sessions, the first focusing on bike skills, the second a group brick ride along the coast, and the third a time trial session.

We worked on cornering, pacelines, and transition skills (I’ll look at the transition work separately).  The bike ride along the coast was fantastic – it’s not every day you get to draft off a world champion!

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Ready to ride!

The most exciting photo of the whole weekend:

Leanda and I leading the pack

Leanda and I leading the ride

My cornering skills definitely improved – hurrah!

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Tom’s cornering didn’t really need much work…

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While we were cycling, Leanda’s right-hand man Lou Cantin was busy snapping photos of us all, which he sent to us later – how cool is that?

 

TRANSITIONS

Again, like some of the open water swimming skills we did – transitions happen every race, yet how often do we practice the actual skills?  I do brick runs but it never occurred to me that I might be able to bring it to the next level.

Leanda showed us how she jumps on the bike in transition:

While I wasn’t quite ready to try this, Tom was, with great success!  For me it was a major coup to learn to get my shoes on whilst cycling off:

Tom also mastered the moving dismount:

RUN

The run sessions were broken into a drills & technique session, a brick run, and a track session.  Leanda is an advocate of the Pose method, where you lean slightly forward and “catch’ yourself before you fall by placing your foot underneath you, with a high cadence.

We also practiced injury-prevention drills, some familiar, some not.

On Saturday we did a brick session – 36 mile ride along the beach followed by a 30 minute run.  We were to do 5 min easy, followed by intervals of 90 seconds hard, 3 min easy.  I ran with Leanda’s training partner Guido and the “easy” sections were definitely using that term loosely!  We ran just over 4 miles.

Post-brick smiles with Sam and Jen!

Post-brick smiles with Sam and Jen!

Sunday saw us at the track, which I love/hate (I love it because it makes you fast; I hate it because it hurts so much!).  I do track every week so it’s a familiar pain, but it was a different sort of workout from what I’m used to:

4*(100m hard, 100m jog); 4*(400m hard, 200m jog); 2*(800m hard, 400m jog); 2*(400m hard, 200m jog)

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Giving the boys a run for their money!

Leanda and Chris recommended doing track workouts at 8 weeks out to the Ironman to sharpen up speed.

STRENGTH & CONDITIONING

We all know we should do it, but how often do we do it?  I am going to start…this time I mean it!  I’ve just invested in some swim cords and a bosu ball.

THE REST

We spent a fair bit of time just listening and learning – both during the training sessions and in the education sessions:

Group meals helped us get to know each other while wearing a bit more clothing, and at the very end Leanda drew names out of a hat (or energy drink tin, rather) to win prizes kindly donated by her sponsors. Tom and I won matching Santini trisuits!  Thank you Santini!

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group

Such a small group meant that we got plenty of coaching attention

And a final picture of the great coaches and organisers of the camp:

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Leanda, Kris, Lou, Guido, Mel

All in all?

It was really remarkable to be learning from a world champion. That’s not something you can replicate. Having such high level coaching from the whole team and Leanda as real inspiration has given new life to both Tom’s and my training.

I now know exactly what drills will correct my swim technique and improve my speed.  The bike skills we learned will make a tangible difference to my times, and the strength training will improve my run.  I’ve come out of the camp knowing exactly what I need to work on to make me faster and stronger.  Above all for me, though, was getting the opportunity to work one-on-one with Leanda.  As a woman in triathlon – still a minority – it was incredible to be working alongside one of the best female athletes in the world.

Have any questions about the camp?  Let me know!

23. January 2015 · Comments Off on Where it all began: a sort-of love story · Categories: Triathlon · Tags:

I’ve been asked how I got into triathlon and endurance running, especially since originally I hated running.  Truth is, there were a lot of factors, including a lot of people who really inspired me, but I will save that for another day.

I guess the very beginning starts with my trusty London commuter bike.  A heavy GT Palomar step-through steel frame I picked up secondhand for £199.  Which saw me through a decade of commuting to work in the London streets, various attempts at road cycling and even, back in 2004, my very first (and only) mountain bike race:

June 2004, Hampshire, with Tom.  I entered the 30km race.  He did the longer one - no idea what that was.

June 2004, Hampshire, with Tom. I entered the 30km race. He did the longer one, whatever that was!

I had no idea what I was doing.  I fell off, I was covered in mud, I got sunburned, and I absolutely loved it.  Don’t ask me how long I took – I have no clue.

(I think racing was maybe a bit more fun before I started caring about times….)

I commuted to work by bike, I rode my clunker for some shorter road rides, and even the occasional off-road adventure with friends.

Obviously a true mountain biker wouldn't have had to get off the bike! - borrowing Tom's MTB for a day out cycling

Obviously a true mountain biker wouldn’t have had to get off the bike! – borrowing Tom’s MTB for a day out cycling

Tom did his first triathlon not long after I did that first race (on that same mountain bike!).  It took me another 8 years before I tried one too.  After years of talking about buying a road bike, but not being willing to part with the cash, I finally bought a Pearson Pave in summer 2011.

I started running because I wanted to get fitter for the bike (ironic, because now I prefer running).  I was always a decent swimmer, so once I was comfortably running 5km, it occurred to me… why not try this crazy triathlon stuff that Tom does?  Spring 2012:  Human Race Sprint Tri at Dorney Lake!

But I wasn’t brave enough to venture into the unknown alone.  No, I recruited my amazingly game-for-anything friend Jojo to do the tri with me (you can read her write-up on it here, with more photos).  Doing it with Jojo made it that much less scary.  I was so thankful to have her with me on the start line, even if she decided ultimately that tri wasn’t for her.

Trying on our rental wetsuits at Cycle Surgery

(Jojo went on to run two excellent half marathons since that triathlon. And yes, we ran our first half marathon race together, too, which she enjoyed much more than the tri, and have done a gazillion cycle rides and sportives together and she kicks my ass on the bike every time.)

DSC_6482 My first triathlon

My first triathlon, the Nuffield Health Tri Challenge, sprint distance, 2012

DSC_6764

Jojo finding her kick for a sprint finish!

We had perfect weather for it, hot and sunny (not exactly the norm in the UK).  I absolutely loved the race, but at the same time I couldn’t possibly conceive how it was humanly possible to go any further than the 750m swim, 22km bike and 5km run.

Since that day, while I’m still a relative newbie, I’ve gone on to do Ironman and Half Ironman, marathons and ultras.  But I’m not sure I was ever as proud of myself as the day I did my very first sprint triathlon!

And that very first bike?  Any Londoners reading this will know that it’s pretty exceptional that I rode it daily for a decade in London and it was never once stolen (OK – nobody else wanted it).  And it lived outside, too.  When we left this autumn, it went to my friend Malgosia who I hope will continue to love it for me.