Training journal | week 3/41

Westward Ho! has a sea pool. We had viewed it from afar but never ventured in. It looks cold and a bit uninviting to be honest and a little bit sad in comparison to the beauty of a sea pool we visited over in Bude a couple of weeks ago. The problem with Bude of course, is that is in Cornwall and we are in Devon, over 30 miles away.

However, after just two weeks fighting in the over heated swimming pool at Northam, Westward Ho! suddenly start to look a lot more attractive.

After a welcome rest day on Monday, our schedule for Tuesday was for a steady run and swim. G and I (after enjoying an extra hour in bed) decided we would combine both and headed off to the South West coast path for a run, finishing at the salt water pool to cool off.

The pool was blissfully quiet. One older chap swimming widths in his wetsuit and a couple of kids playing on inflatables. The pool is trapezoid in shape, the longest ‘length’ is diagonally across. But that would have interfered with all the other users so we opted to copy the old gent and swim widths.

After the hot and humid run, the pool was deliciously cold. We’d worn tri kit and relied on the salt water for buoyancy rather than a wetsuit. The salt didn’t protect us from the cold though and after half an hour we got out and moved over to the sea which was surprisingly warmer. We are lucky to have all of these swimming options.

Wednesday was a shortish heart rate zone 1 ride. G and I thought we’d combine it with a few shopping chores rather than drive into town. I got a bit of a bollocking for that one. ‘ Try and do it all in one go’ Jon said, ‘especially the shorter sessions’. Point taken.

The following day was a skills swim and for this we had no choice but to head back to the indoor pool. It was unfortunate that I managed to punch a bloke in the head during the fist drills. He wasn’t even in my lane. It was a good metaphor for how I feel about being in public pools. I did hit the session for the first time in my swim sets so it wasn’t all bad.

Later that day G and I headed to the park in Bideford for run speed work. 3 lots of 1km reps followed by one 3km run with a suitable warm up and cool down. The laps we though would be around a kilometre turned out to be much shorter. As I watched G pass the start point again and disappear off into the distance, I lost heart and stopped where I was. The psychological equivalent of a refusal.

Being fat and reasonably unfit I figured that k reps were probably beyond me right now and so completed them as 800m’s instead. To be honest, out of all the training this week, this was the day I’d feared the most. ‘You should have told me’ said John, I could have amended it’. But if I allowed fear to rule my life, I probably wouldn’t have achieved half of the things I’d set out to do. So, I declined and said that I’d attempt the schedule as set. ‘That’s the spirit’, Jon replied.

Friday’s spin was also a speed work of sorts. Five times five minute efforts followed by five minute recoveries. Much more up my street and although tired, I completed them comfortably.

On Saturday G and I headed back to Woolacombe for the parkrun. We got there early and took the opportunity to head off for a couple of warm up miles before the run. We met a lady picking blackberries from the bushes along the path. Although it was still relatively early, she held a carrier bag almost half full, a great haul. We also met several runners and cyclists heading along the South West Coast path towards a Woolacombe. The bank holiday combined with beautiful weather swelled the parkrun numbers to a record amount.

I’ve written at length about Woolacombe parkrun. The goal for today was to enjoy it and work hard on the flat action across the beach. Aiming for consistency of pace and significant reduce the amount of walk breaks required. Both goals were met and although the run itself was on the slow side, I reckon it was probably my best run there to date. A little bit pleased for myself and on a high, G and I headed down to the beach for another sea swim, this time focusing on bi lateral breathing.

The water was clear and cold (we were too hot and sticky and knackered to think about getting wet suits on). We acclimatised quickly though and soon got on with the swimming. The sea was beautiful and we relished being in there. Swimming felt easy and relaxing. I felt at one with the ocean underneath me. It was a bit of an epiphany really. I felt safe rather than scared, even in the growing waves.

After a while though we started to get cold and headed out to dry off and make our way back up the dunes to the Porthole cafe where our van was parked.

Sunday’s long ride ended in a broken spoke. So much for our quest for hills. Fortunately for me, we were only a couple of hundred yards from the front door. So we headed home and into the garage for a very sweaty hour and a half on the spin bikes.

By the end, my quads were cramping and really grumpy. I ploughed on through, contemplating that I should have lied to Jon about the amount of time I have available for training. But we did it, G is faithfully accompanying me on all sessions at the moment, bless him. Week 3 finished, tired and happy and heading into an easier taper week next week.

Training journal | the start

I still remember the first few classes of A Level Human Biology. It was before the start of the 90’s (just) and our descent into The Smiths driven angst. I was fresh faced and eager to learn.

Teachers at our Comprehensive School had warned us that the gap between the newly launched GCSE’s and A Levels was like leaping a crevasse in a glacier. ‘Be in no doubt’, they told us, ‘you’ll need to work’.

With that in mind, I turned up for my first class with excitement and a hint of nerves. The teacher was a doctor and his name was Dr Kerr. He was a tall, imposing man, instantly commanding the respect of his classes.

He reiterated what our comprehensive teachers told us, added classes were to be referred to as lectures and clearly stated there would be no ‘spoon feeding’. Spoon feeding included writing things down on the board and handouts. We would be responsible for taking our own notes.

After the preliminaries, he started our first lecture about setting slides for the microscope and dictated the instructions which we were required to write down. Even though I’d aced GCSE Biology, the gap became obvious rather quickly. I had little frame of reference for some of the terminology introduced by Dr Kerr that day. Several times he referred to a substance called epoxy resin. I’d never heard of the term and so I wrote down the only thing I could think it was. It wasn’t until I got my notes back with that part underlined twice in red and noted in the margin that I realised my mistake.

I’d written “a poxy resin”.

I still howl with laughter when I think about that day. It flits in and out of my mind every now and again (mostly when I need cheering up). It popped into my head again earlier this week when I was running k’s.

It occurred to me that there are similarities between those first few days of college and my first few days under Jon’s tutelage. I still have a hint of nerves and I feel the burden of responsibility to get things right and earn Jon’s respect. It’s also self imposed and with luck will help build knowledge and experience and will lead to better things as yet undefined. I’ve managed to not write ‘a poxy’ in my notes to him yet, but trust me there may be a time when it’s appropriate to use it 😉

It also occurs to me that, since we’re still at the start, having just completed the preliminaries, that it may be good to write all of this down. It means you can share the experience without the physical pain and I have notes to refer back to later.

You probably need a little more background for it all to make sense. I’ll keep it brief. My entry to Lanza kick started all of this off. To be honest, I’ve had numerous entries to Lanza over the years but never had the balls to start it. At Lanza this year, many of our friends were raving about the coaching of another friend Jon, who had just set up a company called 4 Performance with three colleagues. You can see what they do here.

In the interest of doing this differently this time, I hired Jon’s services. We’re three weeks in. I want to make it clear, that it’s a monumental task. To give myself the slightest chance I’ll need to lose several stone as well as complete the training. But finishing the event is not the point of all of this. My goal is just to get to the start with chance of getting to the finish.

Consistency

One of the best parts of owning a running shop was having so much opportunity to talk about running. People from all different walks of life, with varying goals and a vast array of experience, would approach us for advice and guidance as well as getting a shoe fitting or sourcing the latest bit of kit.

When people came in searching for the answer to improvement, I would talk to them about consistency.  

It didn’t matter what their starting point was, whether they were a beginner or experienced runner or a three hour versus a ‘just wanting to get round’ marathoner. The key to running longer or faster or even on some occasions both, is consistency.

It feels a bit phoney to write about rediscovering consistency for myself. After all, as a personal trainer and having owned a running shop for ten years, it’s almost engraved on my soul. I believe in the concept wholeheartedly. I’ve rattled on about it more than I care to mention, but since my fibromyalgia diagnosis, had forgotten what consistency looked and felt like.  

It’s been just under three weeks since I’ve been following a training plan under my coaches beady eye. A bit like PT Pete, Jon isn’t emotionally affected by the fibromyalgia. He doesn’t judge it or accept ‘excuses’ (not that I’ve tried). I respect his experience and his fairness too much to play that card. 

At the moment the whole point of the training is to instil habit via consistency. A message Jon has reiterated throughout our communications so far. It’s an important message to receive and gives me confidence that what I’m doing is worthwhile. He summed it up rather nicely the other day. ‘All we want to achieve at the moment is routine… hit the session as best you can then before you know it, fitness, pace, power, strength, recovery and weight loss all follows.’

The repeated message helps to reduce the barriers to achieving a consistent behaviour. Forgetting the ‘why’ for example or getting distracted in a session by combining it with other tasks. Cycling and shopping anyone? (Actually I did that one and got a little rap on the knuckles for it).

I understand why. Training needs to be specific and focused. Unless I plan to go shopping in Lanza while cycling around the island, stopping to shop does not represent specific, focused training. Consistency also helps to stymie excuses; ‘the pool is too hot or the wind is too strong’. There’s a reason why my triathlon group’s mantra is ‘just f**ing do it’.

Consistency is important. It allows you the space to focus on what you want to achieve and more importantly it takes away the need for perfection. If you don’t hit your session today, well don’t worry – you’ll get another chance tomorrow.

It helps develop routine and builds momentum. It offers a way to measure. It generates accountability via reporting mechanisms, either to Jon directly or to friends via my Strava account or event to follows on Instagram – there’s always a training photo opportunity.

Consistency also offers reassurance. Against the fear of starting or inertia or the goal being too big, or too looming. After all, little steps are much easier than big steps, especially when you have a metaphorical hill in front of you that needs climbing. 

I’ve surprised myself, that by taking the pressure off, I’ve been able to start every session I’ve been set. And if I start, my likelihood of hitting the session improves tremendously.

I’ve also surprised myself by enjoying the routine and discipline of consistency. I’ll still be singing its praises, but now with a little more understanding.

Investment

About 25 years ago I bought a pair of bowls from a department store in London. They were fine bowls, ceramic, cream coloured with dimpled squares on the outside. I was looking for bowls for soup. The hearty kind, full of meat and vegetables. I ate a lot of soup in those days – a by product of a weight watchers diet where vegetables were ‘free’. The bowls were tactile, looked great and the perfect size for a hungry girl. They made me look forward to eating soup.

I hadn’t noticed the bowls were made by Wedgwood until I got to the checkout when the assistant asked me for £32.  Thirty two quid was a lot of money in those days and a whole lot more than I would ordinarily have been willing to pay for two bowls. But, by then I was in the queue and rather than cause a scene, I paid the money and took them.

Those bowls are one of the best things I’ve ever owned. I’m glad now that I hadn’t checked the price before I bought them, as undoubtedly I’d have put them back on the shelf.  Twenty five years later – they’re still going strong – and still look as good as the day I bought them.  

What an investment they turned out to be.

I often think about investment when I look at the bowls. The initial purchase was a luxury, born out of a desire to be healthier. I had joined weight watchers and had committed to it heart and soul. Those bowls were an integral part of that commitment. An enabler, physically and psychologically to be able to eat the soup that was in my mind, fundamental to success. I was successful in the weight loss, attaining a healthy weight and the confidence to be able to join the police service.  

Those bowls indirectly changed my life. All for £32.

I’m convinced that if I had known the price before purchase, I would have hesitated. Probably put them back and looked for other, lesser (and cheaper) crockery. It makes me wonder, in a world where we are constantly prioritising, why do we always put our health and wellbeing bottom of the pile?

I’ve started working from home. It’s primarily a desk job for a company who are based in Surrey. I’m so grateful they allowed me to bring the job to Devon and work from home. That gratitude makes me feel like I need to spend almost every minute of my working day at the desk… well working. I’m invested in the job, at the moment more than I’m invested in myself. I know that not moving from the desk is bad for physical health, concentration even performance.  And yet I don’t move, often for hours at a time.  Even though it causes me physical discomfort.

G and I have been talking a lot about physical and mental wellbeing in the last few weeks. Even today, G quoted the ‘Supple Leopard’ by Kelly Starrett at me. Starrett states that in order to practice good posture, it is essential to move from the desk every 15 minutes.  Structural muscles, responsible for good posture, fatigue in that time and need a break to rest and reset. In essence, being sat at the desk is muscular endurance. And we expect those muscles to perform for several hours at a time without a break. It’s no surprise that desk work is bad for our health!

I’m conscious that, as I get older, investment in self is much more important that it used to be. Sleep, mindfulness, saying no to things that do not positively contribute to your life, eating well, moving more and all of the day to day stuff that’s easy to ignore but does add up.

It feels – almost selfish – to put oneself first.  But I’m getting to age now where if I don’t start, I never will. Or if I do, it will be too late to make a real difference.    

Actually, G and I are much better at it than we give ourselves credit for. We left situations that were bad for our mental health, gave up careers that were asking too much for little return, relocated to a different county with a much bigger focus on being outdoors and have started to change our lifestyle to incorporate more self care.  

But now I need to ask for help.  

So, I’ve enlisted the help of a coach to focus on fitness (and weight loss) for a period of nine months. Actually this is my very clumsy way of telling you I’ve entered Ironman Lanzarote (again) and this time I’m going to get to the start line. As bizarre as it sounds, I genuinely don’t care if I finish it. I’m focussing on the process of getting to the start line in one piece (which as we know from previous experience is the hard bit). What I’m actually doing, in the same way I bought those bowls, is investing in a way to facilitate change.  

So my advice? Go and seek those metaphorical bowls and start prioritising yourself. In hindsight, it will be worth it.

Woolacombe revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I told you I had shelved the idea of trying to better my time at Woolacombe parkrun and volunteered to be tail walker instead. That way, I could contribute a little and still get some quality activity in. I’d been dabbling with the idea of adopting the Maffatone method to help improve my running anyway. So, I would carry on wearing the heart rate monitor to register effect. Even without it, I was certain it would still be a work out.

I turned up the following week, slightly apprehensive but looking forward to a different challenge.  It was overcast and humid as we waited for the start.  I donned my fluorescent bib and took up a place at the back of the pack and introduced myself to my fellow sweeper ‘Chris’.  It turned out Chris and I had a lot in common.  Interest in multiple sports, an extensive history in running and a previous life in Surrey.  He had even run the Tempest 10 at Dunsfold back in the day.

As we stood there, I overheard a couple of ladies chatting. This would be the first parkrun for one of them and she intended to walk the whole way.  ‘Whoop’ I thought.  There’s nothing more demoralising than sweeping and not being able to keep up with the back runner.  So, hopefully all would be good there.  

Five minutes later I realised there was something more demoralising than sweeping and not being able to keep up with the back runner. Our newbie walkers were so quick, we had to run to keep up with them. At least Chris salvaged a bit of my dignity by having to run too. These ladies were fast – and worse, consistent no matter what the terrain. So where I would normally gain on the downs and have to work harder on the ups. Here, I lost all my advantage on the downhills and had to work even harder to keep up with them on the dunes.

I didn’t need my heart rate monitor to tell me what my heart was doing.  I could hear it thudding in my ears! Fortunately, it had rained a lot during the week and the sand was hard packed for most of the route.  Ironically, it made it much faster and I almost regretted my decision to sweep. But volunteering is a pretty cool thing to do and I was enjoying myself. Although I did manage to set a strava PB on the dune, how I laughed.

Once we had got beyond the big dune, we started to pick up dismissed marshals. They joined us to walk back to the finish. We fell into conversation naturally as we walked. About running and parkrun and our various experiences, including the course we were now walking.

‘Of course’, he said as we made our way up the final dune back to the road, ‘you know the attraction of this one?’ I said yes, hills are friends and yadda, yadda, yadda. ‘More than that’ he said, as his eyes gleamed with mischief, ‘this course suits no one’.

He asked me to think about it in the context of a 5k specialist, fell runner, road runner, hill specialist. Because of the medium (mostly sand which changed week by week) and the percentage of hills and flat, the profile truly suited no one. He also told me that when we first started running the parkrun, he ran to be competitive. For the first three weeks as he learned the course he improved his time slightly, then started to get slower and slower. Often up to a minute behind his PB. And that was the beauty of this course. You can’t beat it, but you can learn a lot about yourself. He also said that comparing times to monitor improvement should be done over months, not week by week as I had been. And suddenly I felt much better.

When I got back, I volunteered to sweep again the following week. It was only fair having made a commitment to myself to volunteer for the next few weeks and anyway, I enjoyed it. But in some respects, it was job done. I was looking forward to getting back on the dunes in anger, and I knew next time I would be kinder to myself.