Training journal | Week 28 | A tale of two storms

I could feel the walls of the house rattling. The house sighed as though tired at the effort of trying to ignore the wind. I looked outside and noticed the early crocus lying on their sides. I wasn’t sure if they had given in or we’re just lying low until the worst has passed. The trees in the distance were dancing as if participating in their own silent disco. Except the world wasn’t silent, it was howling. A personification of the Christmas Carol ‘In the bleak mid winter’. The sound was raw, guttural and I could put it off no longer, I had to go out in it.

After stepping out of the world last week, it was time to step back into it. The closer I get to the race, the less I can afford the luxury of wallowing in self pity. To have a realistic chance of getting to the start line, I have to get my big girl pants on. The plan this week was to start the sessions. Even if I didn’t execute them perfectly, I could at least try.

I stepped out of the front door, locked it and set my course decisively towards the sea. Storm Ciara made her presence known immediately. The wind whirled and swirled around me, pushing me in the back and playfully taking my feet out from under me.

I put my head down determinedly and shortened my stride to try and negate the effects of the wind. Each time I tried to take a breath it was tantalisingly wafted and then whipped away from me. Making it much harder to pick up any kind of speed and often I was reduced to walking just to try and catch a breath.

My hat was also whipped from my head, along with my headphones. The fastest I moved all session was chasing the hat down the street, much to the amusement of a family driving past.

I turned away from the more sheltered residential area towards the coast proper and into the direction of the storm. it was like trying to run into a brick wall. I adopted a position akin to someone trying to push a car up a hill for a few minutes until I gave in and turned around to try another avenue.

This happened every time I tried to turn back to the South. Moving in ever decreasing circles until I eventually ended back at the front door. I was windswept, boiling, knackered and unfulfilled, but at least I’d done it.

The forecast for the next day was much better. So it proved to be, with a good brick bike into run session. A lessened breeze made progress easier and this time the run felt like a run. The better weather continued and I managed to stack up a good weights session outdoors and time on the bike indoors.

The rumours of a further storm turned into reality into Saturday. G and I planned once again to head over to Woolacombe dunes, not entirely sure what would greet us. A friend had posted pictures earlier in the week showing the devastation Ciara had caused. The eroded dunes and deposited flotsam across the whole beach was extensive.

Many parkruns had already fallen foul of storm Dennis but the organisation team at Woolacombe had vowed never to cancel the event as long as they were runners willing to run. The volunteers are bloody marvellous and had already inspected the course prior to us leaving for the 30 minute drive. ‘It’s on’ they declared, so we got in the car and made our way there, making sure we’d packed a full change of clothes for afterwards.

Runs like these always have the potential to be epic. The kind you talk about for years afterwards until take on myth status. So it was with a few nerves but also massive excitement we pulled onto the car park on the side of the cliff above the beach. It was raining quite hard and blowing a hooly. But not quite as bad as I’d expected.

It was unseasonably warm, so short sleeves and capri tights were enough, but I borrowed G’s beanie as there was no way in hell I’d keep a baseball cap on my head and I certainly didn’t fancy fartlek training chasing it around the dunes.

I set off for a mile or two warm up before parkrun. It was tough going into the wind and I had to resort to walking through some of the stronger gusts. It was going to be a re-run of earlier in the week, only this time with better scenery.

Well, I loved it. The wind pushed and pulled, sometimes accelerator often brick wall. The National Trust had been proactive in rebuilding the sand path down to the beach, a wonderful touch to allow the run to carry on.

All around sand was dancing. Often into the back of my calves which felt a bit like getting a pat off a pin cushion. It stung a lot, and stopped prolonged dilly dallying. Nevertheless, I did stop and stand in the wind. It was invigorating and made me feel alive.

The tide was heading in and I heeded the advice of the marshal to get across the beach before high tide. I didn’t quite manage to keep my feet dry, getting caught out by a sneaky wave driven inland by the wind. The approach to the dune climb was slightly different due to the proximity to the sea. Here the worst of the rubbish collected. It was heartbreaking to see so much plastic. I noticed the marshal had a half filled carrier bag so I stopped to pick up as much as I could hold and deposited it with her. She told me she had picked up a bag per day that week and hadn’t even dented it.

I climbed the dune and turned back into the wind, this time accompanied by driving rain. But I didn’t care, I was alive and in the moment and sometimes in life that is all you can ask for.

G was waiting for me at the finish, pleased with his own run despite ongoing knee issues. We headed back to the car, happy for the prospect of dry clothes and hot coffee.

Training journal | Week 26 to 27 | Running from the Black Dog

A friend contacted me yesterday. ‘Alright you – how’s it all going’ he asked. It is a reasonable question and I didn’t really want to answer it truthfully. We danced around the subject, being a little more polite than we would normally be. It was lovely to hear from him and I cherished that he had taken the time to get in touch.

I didn’t want to answer the question truthfully because to do so, would be to admit the return of the black dog. I can’t believe we’re back here again but then again, I would extremely naive to expect it to be any different. I do find it difficult to talk about, but I think it’s important to do so. I’m worried that people are bored of hearing about it in the same way I’m bored of my own internal monologue. Although, I guess you have the option to stop reading. I can tell you it’s as bad as it’s been for a long while. But I’m grateful this time I’m more prepared to deal with it.

I’ve tried the usual distraction techniques; music, denial, reading (although that becomes much more difficult during an episode – trying to read through fog makes the words all blurry!) In the end sometimes it’s just tears and a kind soul to hold my hand that helps to make things better. Kindness is a corrector of many ills. Deploy it at will if it is your power to do so, you have no idea how much it can make a difference.

The one distraction I have no shortage of at the moment is exercise. The structure of the plan helps, although it does add more stress to the whole proceedings too. I have fourteen weeks left of the programme. It’s sufficiently close to help focus a fuzzy mind. Tricky too though. The fibromyalgia is closely linked to mental health. The deterioration of one invariably drags the other with it, screaming and kicking. The ticking clock does help me to get back up of the metaphorical floor and try again, day after day. With varying degrees of success but at least the fight is there. In times past I would sink into a stupor for months and then have to start again from scratch.

Week 26 was a great week. It started with ‘Defender’ and finished with a fun Mountain Bike exploring a world beyond Torrington on the Tarka Trail. ‘Defender’ was a turbo session, rescheduled to take in account a trip to Surrey for work later that week. It plays around the Functional Power thresholds but since I don’t have any fancy equipment and my heart rate monitor is a tad temperamental these days, it was effected using mostly guess work.

It was a good start to the week and led nicely into a mostly rubbish Tuesday run and a mostly strong Wednesday brick session. Thursday, G and I headed to Ashtead and then onto Banstead pool after work which was gloriously cool and empty. We compounded the swimming on Friday at a boiling Leatherhead pool and then shunned Woolacombe in return for a ‘home’ trip to parkrun Mole Valley on the Saturday.

Saturday was long run day. I intended to run to parkrun but got waylaid by a dodgy looking bloke in the car park. It’s a long story, that basically resulted in a slight rain check until I got to Denbies where I planned to hot foot it up the North Downs Way for a bit before coming back down for the run. I had barely got to the old Bed and Breakfast when was accosted by another dodgy looking bloke in the shape of Andy Fay. This waylaid my plans again for the second time. We had a lovely catch up while walking up the hill to accommodate Andy’s dodgy ankle and a run back down again where it didn’t seem to bother him too much and I had to sprint to keep up with his warm up pace.

We then headed back to the run start just in time for the off. I changed my shoes for trail shoes as the course has the potential to be a bit muddy. But, the recent rain rendered it almost not runable. At times I could barely stay upright. G fell over at the top of the hill and reduced his effort to mostly a walk. It was not our finest hour, not particularly enjoyable either. I could barely contain my desire for sand.

The combined effort of a weeks solid training and a trip to Surrey pretty much finished me off for the start of the next week. I was exhausted and reduced to living in five minute segments, just to get through the day. I lost co-ordination and tripped over a chair trying to get out of it, hurting my leg in the process. I didn’t trust myself going out for a run so went out for a walk instead. I abridged the weights session to prevent more fatigue but goodness, lifting those weights made a great different, injecting energy and helping to light the spark of recovery.

On Saturday and going slightly stir crazy for being indoors most of the week, G and I headed back to Woolacombe. We got there early, deliberately so I could head out for a leg stretch while G sat in the car with his book and a beautiful view of the Atlantic. It was one of those runs that felt faster than it was, but the legs were strong and the heart was willing and for a while I was free.

The following day, Storm Ciara hit. It was too windy to keep the garage door open and I couldn’t face sitting in a dark garage with the door closed for over two hours so I opted to sit that session out. Focusing instead on self care which I felt would yield better results. Like the sun shining through the cracks of cloud after a storm, the fog is lifting and I’m hoping to be back to proper training soon.

Inspiration

Back in 1988 I was studying English Language. Part of the syllabus of the newly formed GCSE’s included an option for ‘Oral’ English. This was essentially a presentation to the rest of class on a topic of your choice. Some of the topics were eclectic and on occasion even fictional. My friend Terry Holdcroft chose to tell a tale of demise involving a pigeon and a steam roller (although this, like his story, may not be the complete truth. Memory is fickle, especially after all these years).

I chose to talk about Daley Thompson. At the time I was a budding field eventist in athletics and had a reasonable aptitude for them. Well, shot and discus at least. I was too terrified of planting the javelin in the back of my head to do anything really tasty with that. The mastery of two events – essentially following the same technique – was tough. I could barely imagine how decathletes found the time and inclination for ten events.

Thompson was my inspiration. I adored him. As I took my place in front of the class, I did so with pride. Although many in the class described their allotted time as hellish and very long. Mine was quite the opposite. I loved being in the limelight talking about a man I idolised.

I still love Daley Thompson. I’m still greedy for information on him. Often mining social media and my friend Google to see what he’s up to these days. When I do, something strange happens. Those feelings I used to get competing in an event I was actually good at come back to me. I get the urge to pick up a shot and go back to the field. The urge is strong enough for me to check out the results for my age group these days – I reckon I stand a really good chance of winning stuff – but not enough to actually get me out of the chair and do anything about it. Then the dream fades for another day and I go back to living my life of mediocrity.

When we think about inspiration we often think about people. We idolise people we would like to be, use them as a template in the hope it will prize us off the couch. To be fair, it’s a reasonable assumption. Inspiration is defined as ‘someone or something that provides an idea’.

I’ve been curious about inspiration (the initial idea) and motivation (enthusiasm to put the idea into action) for some time. Throughout my time in the running shop, we talked many times about the ‘magic’ ingredient. I’ve often wondered why, when we desperately want something to happen, that desire on its own is not strong enough.

What do we need in order to turn desire into results? In relation to losing weight, or training more or getting faster or running longer or learning that new skill or whatever it happened to be. I figured that if I could just find the secret and write a book about it I’d be famous. Well it turns out that someone did and it wasn’t the answer any of us were expecting.

The problem was, we were expecting inspiration to become something more than a catalyst. For it to morph into motivation and then action. In the way that I would see Daley Thompson and then hope I would leap off the couch to throw a competition winning throw. It was enough to inspire me to check the results but did not contain enough energy to overthrow the inertia that consumed me. We use the same logic when we enter a race in the hope it will spur us into action. We would witness it even on the beginners run groups where we would have a 5% drop off on the night of the course which magnified 10 fold by the time we got to six weeks in. Anthony Moore refers to exactly this phenomenon in his excellent article, ‘If you’re relying on inspiration, you’re doing it wrong’ published on Medium.

The author referred to above who opened my eyes to the reality of inspiration is James Clear and his book, I was convinced would make me a millionaire is called ‘Atomic Habits‘. Clear argues that passive inspiration is all well and good for creating a spark but in order for it to yield the results you want, that initial inspiration needs to be active not passive. In other words, Nike had it absolutely spot on… Just do it!

It seems obvious now that action – as the opposite of inaction – would be the solution. Waiting for inspiration to hit me in the face would just result in more waiting. The right time almost never comes along on it’s own and there will always be barriers to achieving the goals I want to achieve.

In ‘Atomic Habits’, Clear explains that the secret of over riding inertia and building motivation is to take action in small steps while at the same time removing barriers to change and growth.

It’s important to say here that no one expects you to be perfect or nail it at the first attempt. You just have to keep showing up. No one is expecting it to be easy but consistency is key.

As Mark Manson says, ‘Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for‘.

Training journal | Week 25| The Eden Project

Exploring new spaces was one of the goals G and I set ourselves at the start of the year. We’re relatively new to Devon and still laying down favourite paths and mapping out new routes. So, the pinnacle of this weeks training would be a trip to the Eden Project near St Ausell in Cornwall. The site, originally a china clay quarry was developed over the end of the last Millenium and opened in 2001. Designed as a charity and social enterprise with its feet firmly in the environment, it opened to great acclaim. I had been desperate to visit it for years.

But first, at the start of another week to excel, I had training to do. I had missed a running session the previous week and started the week with good intentions to nudge the session to the rest day on Monday. I’m sure it’s not the best way to plan training (my plan, certainly not Jon’s) and I’m sure I’ve read that Fink would advise to let the session go. In any respect it was a moot point. I was still sore from the previous weeks efforts and couldn’t bring myself to get dressed, never mind complete a session. Tuesday we were back in the pool and still trying to find the best time to go. We opted for after work – G met me there and we were delighted to find a rather empty pool.

It was an unstructured hour swim, my favourite! For some reason I could not get my arms and legs to work in rhythm, so it ended up being rather a slog. I was happy to get it done nonetheless. It’s no secret that I’m desperate to get in the sea. Open water is much more refreshing and invigorating. And therefore more satisfying. But as Hollywood pointed out, I may be waiting a while for it to warm it!

The weather in the first part of the week was gorgeous and I was a little envious of people posting outdoor training sessions while I was looking at the sunshine from my desk. I snuck outdoors for a weights session during the week which I loved. I love the freedom of riding my bike or exploring new places on foot but nothing generates exhilaration than lifting heavy weights over my head. But, it was with some relief I headed outdoors for a rescheduled run and first of the week on Thursday.

It was only forty five minutes long, so not enough to head for trail on the South West Coast path (at least not the bits that are still firm enough to make progress on). So I opted for a gentle loop around the peninsula through Appledore and back up the hill to Northam. It was one of those runs! The good ones where you felt liberated and like you could run forever. I was aware of fresh air and space around me. I felt like I could finally breathe deeply. Which is rather fortuitous considering what I was doing! After being cooped up all week, it was delicious.

On Saturday I woke just before the alarm with a sense of excitement not normally experienced by this 47 year old. We were off to Eden. G and I got dressed, filled the travel mugs with coffee, picked up packed bags and headed off on the two hour journey into Cornwall.

It was dark and at times foggy. Despite that, we made good progress, not hampered by too much traffic on the roads and arrived just after 8am. My scheduled run was longer than the time it would take to do parkrun so I headed out on one of the cycle trails into the hills behind the park. The trail was (ahem) undulating and would have made for a very exciting ride. But for running it was perfect.

The trail climbed steadily over a variety of surfaces. Occasionally swinging sharp left or right through a gate until I was properly up and away from Eden. I plodded steadily, feeling the effort of yesterdays run in tired thighs. I was keen not to get lost, so stuck to the path and planned an ‘out and back’. The up was more up than I thought and so I made much better progress on the way back, falling short of the extra half an hour by five minutes or so.

Even so, I reached the new runners briefing just as they finished (some would say perfect timing) and looped round the car park a couple of times to try and makeup the lost time.

As you would expect, the run attracts a lot of tourists and I estimated numbers of around 300. The start was a gentle climb out of the car park, over the lip and down what I assume is a service road into the park proper. It offered an unencumbered view of the whole site. And it was exactly how I had imagined with steep sides, geometric biomes mushrooming out of the ground and lots of structured areas for planting. My legs felt tired but strong enough not to collapse under me so I pushed the pace slightly down the hill. I made up a reasonable amount of ground and despite starting at the back, I was certainly not last as we entered the park.

The route was described as two and a half laps of the venue. It became clear that this was actually almost three. It was wonderful seeing runners looped around all of the paths and I stopped a couple of times to take photos and just take it all in. Then to the business of running. I was surprised, that despite the loops the climbs were relatively short and steep and the descents were long and steady. A much faster course than I had originally imagined. The course was narrow in places and once the faster runners started to lap back markers, it got a tad congested. Here I was happy enough plodding along and looking at all of the plants until the paths opened up again and I was able to push on.

G was back running after a persistent knee problem. Taking it easy but still faster than my efforts. At times he was walking faster than I was running! But despite this, we finished together strongly and I was overjoyed with a time of just a smidge over 36 minutes.

We popped for a quick coffee before heading back up to the car to get changed. Then headed back to the project for a good look around.

I paid for the effort and particularly the downhill the day after. My quads keep locking and I couldn’t bend my leg . Not really conducive to a two hour cycle so I opted for a gentle walk to aid recovery and start getting things moving again. Not he perfect end to the week but a week where I feel like I’ve made progress nonetheless.

Training journal | Week 22 to 24 | The Waste Lands

A quick look on Strava tells me I have completed sixteen activities this month. A glance at Training Peaks tells me I have 17 weeks to Lanza. Neither are quite enough but better than I was expecting.

The fibromyalgia has been a bit of a beast in the last few weeks. Probably a consequence of the stress of the election in the build up to Christmas and some poor food choices during the holiday period. The fatigue has been a cloak of fog, slowing my brain and making it much harder to execute even simple tasks.  I have dropped a lot of stuff and then struggled to pick it up again. Manual dexterity at the moment is definitely not my forte. It’s not helped by the physical manifestations which, among the general aches and pains, has settled in my hands, making the slightest activity painful.

Because my brain is so slow at the moment, I’ve not even been able to write, crochet or do any of the normal out of hours activities I normally do for relaxation. Save picking up the wonderful Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater and savouring the days on his countdown to Christmas. I must save all my energy to be able to concentrate on getting through the working day without the boss realising how unwell I’ve been.

Adapt and overcome has been required. The intensity of the Ironman training has been too much and I’ve missed a few of the session set. Or in certain circumstances have not completed the whole session. Movement is definitely the way to recovery. I learned that lesson the hard way a few years ago, and so no matter how uncomfortable it is, I know the importance of keeping going. 

That’s not to say I haven’t thought about quitting. Several times. Jon has been kind and has revamped the program to make it more accessible. Slowly I’m getting better and managing to maintain the fitness I’m fighting so hard to gain.

I’ve realised that habit is crucial to getting the sessions in. I have to fight to start each session but that fight is much easier where the groundwork has been done. Parkrun is still a stalwart. Knowing that being outdoors and just putting one foot in front of another on the route generates a peace that makes it much easier to get to the start line. The hills are certainly enough to silence the voices for a time while I just focus on breathing and taking in the beautiful views.

Swimming has been much more difficult. The hot water making my joints throb for hours after I’ve got out. I must confess I have been looking for excuses to miss the sessions. It’s a task made much easier by the leisure centre and it’s social opening hours. I long for warmer weather and more open water swimming. Hopefully, it shouldn’t be too long.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’ve built some confidence getting on the spin bike and hitting the HR sessions. They are fun, psychologically easier than the rest of the activities and I love the feeling of nailing a session in the garage. During Storm Brendon, sick to death of getting soaked while running, I took the easy route and went to the gym. It worked really well as I had a conditioning session to complete too and was working in Surrey, well away from the weights and my garden. 

The gym was a real surprise. I loved being around folk who were clearly into their sessions and having a good time. The mood was catching and I finished the set completely energised. I do wonder if I spend too much time training on my own?

I have a rest day today, and time to pull myself together to get ready for the bigger efforts that I know are coming. Taking one day at a time is the plan. 

Training journal | Week 19 to 21| building greenhouses

A few weeks ago G and I started building a greenhouse.

To own a greenhouse again was a dream come true. It means a healthy lifestyle, outdoors, fresh air and possibilities.

It’s been a labour of love. When we moved into new home, the perfect spot for a greenhouse was occupied by a huge camellia. We had to wait until the nesting period was over (we’re blessed with lots of birds in the garden). Then dig out the camellia before preparing the ground to lay the concrete base. I’ll be honest, that bit took quite a long time too. The weather had closed in by then. Storm followed storm turning the ground into a quagmire. We were distracted by other projects until eventually we went to the garden centre and bought the bloody greenhouse. That move sharpened the focus. With the help of our (wonderful) next door neighbour and his cement mixer we got the based laid.

We took delivery of the greenhouse. It was in a million pieces and the most complicated set of instructions I’d seen in a while. But we found a dry(ish) day and set to work.

I remembered the last time I’d built a greenhouse. It was time consuming; painful (those window clips); and took way longer than I’d expected. This experience was not dis-similar.

We started to build. We threaded screws (hacksaw rescues), put bits in back to front, nearly stood on the fragile (but strong) aluminium several times. And swore a LOT. But with perseverance, we got the frame finished just as the sun was going down and the frosty air rendered our hands numb and unusable.

And then the rains got worse.

Over three weeks later we finally married a quiet weather window with time off. (It was called Christmas). We invested another three days. Building windows and doors. Threading glass lining on the frame and finally, gloriously fixed the toughened glasses and pinned everything down (hopefully to survive the glorious Devon weather).

Despite the frustrating moments, it was worth it to see the finished product.

This is the story of building a greenhouse. But it could just as easily be a story about training for an Ironman.

The weather, the apparent lack of progress, the joy when a little part goes well and mostly the time it takes to get anywhere (much longer than you think!)

I have a regular run route I’ve been repeating for my 45 minute recovery run. Apart from parkrun, it’s one of the few sessions that is measurable and consistent. A little while ago I noticed I was getting further round the route in the allocated time. Last week I managed to get to the top of the hill and beyond for the first time ever. I was excited and curious and so I checked my results over the same course going back eight months:

Blimey! Well it was a shock to see such a clear line of progress. And very confidence building.

I took that confidence into parkrun later that week and buoyed ran a stonker of a pb, taking another 45 ish seconds off my time. So, I checked my results there too… since May this year I’ve achieved four PB and chipped 4 minutes and 16 seconds off my original time. Happy days. 😊

I’m half way through my coached sessions with Jon and while progress has been slow, it is there. I’ve laid the foundations, it’s now time to start building the greenhouse.

Happy New Year!

Training journal | week 13 | Bideford 10

The picture above sums up my feelings entirely on crossing the finish line at the Bideford 10 last Sunday. Tired, slightly red of cheek and supremely happy.

This weeks training has gone well. With little time allocated to ‘recovery’, it was business as usual in the early part of the week. On Wednesday I decided to mix it up with the weights. I’ve been doing the same routine for the last few weeks so a change was due.

Out went my much loved and traditional powerlifting routine and in came a more ‘core’ focused routine. The new set was based on a routine I used to do with PT Pete. It yields tremendous results in improved strength and posture – something that I felt was lacking in the later stages at Beachy Head last week. As well as clean and press, it incorporates squats, lunges and the dreaded ab wheel.

I finished the session a quivering wreck, even sticking to light weights.

Oh crumbs.

It’s one thing for your PT to give you DOMS but another altogether to inflict it on yourself.

A steady turbo consolidated the effort and left me slightly broken going into an easy run the next day. I was clearly looking a bit rough as I was approached by a lady on route who flagged me down to ask if I was completing ‘couch to 5k’. That was a boost to the confidence and I called it a day soon after.

I’m still struggling with feeling rough, temperature control and a recurring problem that involves not being able to swallow either food or drink. Friday saw a trip to the doctors to have some tests to rule out anything sinister. I’m still awaiting results but in the meantime I’ve been told no swimming, gentle run/walking and cycling only and live every day life in moderation.

Training journal | Week 16 + 17 | Rest and recovery

If you read any autobiography of an elite athlete – involved in a sport that requires a lot of cardiovascular effort – you’ll know there is a fine line between peak fitness and injury. Paula Radcliffe spent a lot of her time seeking painful treatment. Dame Kelly Holmes was almost always injured, until she finally bagged double gold in London in 2012.

I’m not suggesting I’ve reached elite athlete status (the very thought haha)! What I do know however, is that even at my level, it’s tricky to balance sufficient effort to gain results and not overcook it so much that you end up injured. Especially considering the widely held belief that lots of cardiovascular based exercise is bad for humans. Google ‘chronic cardio’ and you’ll get a myriad of articles attesting to the evil of it.

My point? Living with fibromyalgia means I know roughly where my limits are. Although my body will constantly surprise me by mostly delivering what I ask it to. I also know when it’s had enough, it’s time to rest before fatigue becomes injury. So, at the start of week 16 I made the conscious decision to take some time off. It was bloody amazing.

Training for an Ironman is hard. It’s also time consuming. Suddenly G and I had time to go for leisurely walks along the beach again. Get fresh air without an agenda and start to pick up other hobbies that have been left by the wayside while training builds. I had a wonderful week and after a couple of days of feeling really rotten and washed out, started to look forward to proper sessions again.

On Saturday, G and I once again headed to Woolacombe parkrun for our weekly dose of sand. This would be a test to see how recovery had gone with an hour run written on the schedule. We arrived a little later than we normally would and so didn’t have time to warm up first. We would just have to throw ourselves straight into it. The first few hundred metres made my legs go wobbly. I think it was shock! After a few days off they’d acclimatised to not doing anything. But soon, they recovered and felt ok. The purpose of this run was to take it easy and just get used to activity again. So, I was really happy to cross the line in a new PB. Eight seconds quicker than my previous record. It looks like the rest was a success.

The following week started positively again. This was a week where speed work had more than a walk on part and so I was apprehensive and really excited to get going. Saturday had boosted my confidence. 

The week started off gently with a recovery trot to meet G for coffee in Bideford. These jaunts out are really important. I work from home and so have little opportunity to escape the confines of the four walls until the weekend. Often I can go for days without seeing another person other than G. It can be quite debilitating. 

The next day was a double bag of a swim followed by a session I’d been looking forward to for a while. ‘Defender’ is essentially an inverse ramp. Start high and then reduce either speed or resistance over a set period of time to lower the heart rate. The idea being, you’re working around threshold but because it’s getting easier, psychologically it helps with ‘perfection of effort management’. I loved it.

The next day G and I headed to the Tarka Trail for run reps. This session was a true measure of progress made. It was the same location as the miserable 400m reps in week 7. This time, the trail was dark and although we’d donned head torches, it was still difficult to get a real sense of pace. Despite that, I felt more in control. Able to concentrate and focus on form. It was world away from the last effort here. 

The idea was 3 x 1k reps, each a little faster than the last and then 1 x 3k rep in zone three. The reps successfully done, we headed back on a reasonably protected route to get the 3k section in. Because I’m lugging around so much timber, its a real challenge to keep the heart rate down. So the final rep was slightly easier than my general running pace. I focused on holding a strong core and good posture and completed the session with ease. Phew!

A thankfully relatively quiet lunchtime swim the next day set me up nicely to do the second challenging bike session of the week. 4 x 5 minute efforts followed by 5 x 1 min efforts. The minute sprints were killers but it was a fun session.

The last two sessions of the week (a long run and long bike) were interspersed by building a greenhouse. Although G and I only got the frame done before darkness fell and we had to stop building and get on the turbo instead. My legs were tired, but it was a good tired and a great end to a more consistent training block.

Training journal | weeks 14 and 15 | Drogo 10

Since Beachy Head the weather has turned colder and much more unpredictable. It’s impossible to know what to wear. I’ve spent lots of time either freezing or boiling.

I’ve got wet. A lot.

My new running shoes unveiled a few weeks ago have never come back from a session dry. They’ve enjoyed more newspaper in the last few weeks than I have the entire year. Frankly, I’m getting a little weary of rain.

Happily, G and I enjoyed a break in training and weather to head north to Ayr to see our wonderful friends Lee and Penny. All three are Scorpios and celebrate birthdays within a few days of each other. As a result, it had become a bit of a tradition to get together for a birthday dinner. Since Pen was celebrating a special birthday, it was a priority to get a chance to celebrate.

We drove to Ayr on Friday with plans for a weekend stopover before heading to the Lakes for a couple of nights to extend the weekend into a proper break.

I didn’t have access to a bike or pool while up north, but could still run. So on the Saturday we headed to Ayr parkrun for a little fresh air and exercise. The park was quite close to Lee’s residence, so we ran up and met the ladies there. The parkrun was beautiful. Wooded and undulating enough to make it interesting on made paths and woodland trails covered in leaves and littered with roots. It was vibrant with the aroma of decaying leaf mulch and vegetation. Deliciously earthly and a pleasure to run through.

It was a lot more technical that we were expecting. As a result, we were a lot slower than we expected. The times, not much off what we would run at Woolacombe. I tried not to be disappointed and just relish the chance to run somewhere different.

The lakes are hiking country and we had come prepared to spend a day outdoors exploring the terrain surrounding our B&B. We had deliberately chosen somewhere slightly off the beaten track for that reason. The inevitable rain was tempestuous but waiting for it to blow over was futile. So, we dressed in waterproofs and headed out to make the best of it.

To the rear of our accommodation was a byway heading steeply uphill to a tarn signposted about two miles away. That was our first destination.

We huffed and puffed our way up the hill. The wind was now howling and the rain driving and we pulled down hoods to protect our eyes from the weather. We met a farmer on a quad bike coming downhill towards us. He muttered something that we didn’t quite catch but could have been ‘you’ll get wet feet if you carry on’. As the weather howled around us those words developed via our own personal Chinese whispers into ‘you’ll die if you carry on this path’.

This was the somewhat dispelled when we bumped into a family coming down the hill with two children who could not have been more then two years old and toddling down the hill quite happily and certainly unmoved but the worsening weather. What a reality check!

We laughed at our own folly and carried on until we reached Hawkshead, where we enjoyed a hot coffee and a drip dry in the local cafe.

Later that week I travelled to Surrey for work. It presented an opportunity to head to the relatively new leisure centre for a swim. It was really impressive. Deliciously cool and quiet. I had a lane to myself for 15 minutes before another swimmer got in. I loved it. Definitely the best swimming experience for quite some time.

After a couple of days in Surrey and a very sleepless night in the van due to the cold, I arrived home feeling a little jaded around the edges. But there was no time for tiredness, as a race I was really looking forward to was finally here.

The Drogo 10 is a hilly, off road ten miler hosted by the National Trust at Castle Drogo in Drewsteignton, South Devon. It’s organised by South West Road Runners, strangely as there is barely a stitch of road in the whole thing.

The race director in the briefing promised mud and hills, beautiful trail routes and flat bits along by the river. This race was right up our street. We did the usual registration admin and then lined up in our usual spot at the back ready to go.

With absolutely no idea what was coming, I decided to start conservatively. The first few hundred metres were up the gently sloping (upwards) drive. We then forked right and onto a narrow trail through the woods. The trail led to some traditionally national trust steps (think uneven and muddy) before turning right back onto a trail that traversed the ridge at the top of the gorge. The picture at the top, shows the view from the bottom of the steps.

I knew we headed down the gorge to the bottom because the course description mentioned running alongside the river below. The path down was gentle in gradient but hard on the feet as the path was covered in loose flint and other stones. It was narrow in places and I was astonished at how much progress the leaders were making as we watched them descend.

The gap between ourselves and the rest of the field grew very quickly. At this point I didn’t panic, as a few of the back markers often start too quickly and we catch them in the later stages. Sure enough, as we reached a narrow bridge over the river leading to a stone stile, a queue of runners were waiting patiently to cross.

Over we went, then turned left down a rutted unmade road. Once again the field moved away, easily putting in distance between us.

We never saw them again.

The path in front was undulating – in the true sense of the word. My legs screamed on the uphills. Even though they were gentle in comparison with what was to come. In fact, this section of the route is described as flat. Although in Devon we’re quickly learning the concept of flat is ‘relative’.

Eventually we reached the water station. I tried to sound perky but the truth was, I was struggling. This was despite the romps around the Devon coast and our trip to Beachy Head a couple of weeks ago.

Once we left the water station the route turned right and steeply uphill. I struggled. I had to keep stopping. I couldn’t breath and started to panic. Then I started to cry. I just felt so dreadful. G was so patient and kind, with nice encouraging words and no judgment at all.

I debated turning back. I was rendered inert by panicking about being last and the gap that was inevitably growing. I worried about the poor marshals stood waiting for us. I worried about the judgment those marshals would inevitably throw at me. ‘What was she thinking doing a race like this’. I worried about the burden of Ironman Lanzarote. I wondered what I was thinking.

And then I pulled myself together and formed a plan. If, when we got back to the water station we were indeed last, we would formally withdraw from the race and find our own way back (I had an OS Map on me).

The route climbed and dropped for the next few miles. The NT were in the process of tree management in the area (although no work was happening at that point). The works gave me the feeling of being in the middle of a sawmill. Piles of logs everywhere.

It felt remote, stunning and normally I would have loved every second of it. But at least now I was less miserable. Although still shaking and weak, my legs were strong enough to trot down the hills.

We made progress and eventually, after eight miles we returned to the water station again. Enquiries revealed that in fact we were not last, there was one chap behind us. It felt churlish to remove numbers and ourselves from the race at this point. Especially after the marshals had waited so patiently for us. So, we carried on.

The next mile was a brutal climb on a narrow path which led back to the top of the gorge. I had to resort to counting steps to keep going. Taking frequent rest breaks to get my breath back. The views were stunning. Enough to lift your heart for a week. We crawled up and enjoyed the views and chatted to those coming down towards us. Until, we were back at the bottom of the original steps once again and Castle Drogo was in view, just over the crest.

We crossed the (now dismantled) finish line. Very relieved it was over but vowing to come back the following year and give it some justice.

Training journal | week 12 | Beachy head marathon


Back in 2012 just after the most uplifting and momentous three weeks of sport in London, I had a sort of momentous event of my own. I had an entry to the Berlin marathon.

Iconic, fast, flat and with entry easily secured in the days before ballots. Berlin was a wonderful weekend in a wonderful city. I could have happily moved out there. The marathon itself was everything you would expect from a world major. Seamless organisation, iconic route, weighty medal and wonderful marshals. It also turned out to be one of the most dramatic marathons I’ve ever done.

The race advertises a 6 hour 15 minute cut off. At the time, I was semi-trained, but a busy summer had put pay to a ‘perfect’ build up. In any respect, 6.15 was comfortably do-able and I arrived at the start with a plan and a happy countenance.

Berlin is a fast course, which invariably attracts fast runners. It was telling when the start pens were allocated in 15 minute sections between 2 hours 30 and 3 hours 30. Everyone running 4 hours plus were collated into the last pen. Which inevitably meant a starting position at the back of the race. I had also assumed the cut off related to chip time (ie the clock started when you crossed the start line). Wrong again, it was gun time and would occur at a specific time of day. 3.15pm to be precise.

The happy countenance slipped slightly. 

It took almost half an hour to cross the start line. Rather than 6 hours 15 minutes, I now had 5 hours 45 minutes to complete the route. A much more challenging proposal. I tried not to panic, sticking to the plan to run for 2 minutes, then walk for 1 minute – my traditional ‘blag it’ marathon approach. It worked beautifully for the half and I hit half way around 2 hours, 50 minutes. Still feeling good and very, very aware I had no ‘slippage’ room I kept going. It started to get uncomfortable around 16 miles, painful by 18 and around 22 miles in I was hanging and just wanted the whole thing to stop. 

I wondered what happened at the cut off. Would they adopt the Comrades Marathon approach and turn their backs while firing a gun to indicate the finish (unlikely). Or, would they be more Ironman, stop the clock and remove medals and finishers t-shirts from the finish (more likely). Would there be a chance to sneak in or would marshals stand across the line and resolutely prevent people from crossing the line. This was Germany, and Germans are renown for efficiency and discipline. I imagined there would be almost no chance to sneak past. 

So, I had no choice but to carry on and bury myself. Weeping gently as I made my way through the city centre. I watched folks who had already finished displaying their medal, chatting, laughing and drinking beer.

Bastards, the lot of them.  

Finally, gloriously, I turned the final left hand corner and stared up the wide avenue to the Brandenburg gate. It was a depressingly long run way.

It was going to be close.

I noticed marshals lining the approach with tape in their hands. They looked menacing and I feared the worst. I was now close enough to see the clock, I had less than 30 seconds to cross the line. I used every last ounce of strength I had and picked up the pace, crossing the line in 6 hours 14 minutes and 57 secs (chip time 5.48.37). 

I had made it. 

Approximately four weeks later I stood at the foot of Beachy Head for the start of the marathon. I stared up at the sharp climb from Bede’s Prep School, the race HQ. I had done this race before and knew what was coming and yet, the happy countenance was back. There were no impending cut offs in this event. At least none that would threaten a happy demeanour. The weather was good, visibility was clear and I had all bloody day to finish the race.

That race was one of the easiest races I’ve ever participated in. I embraced every hill, took in the amazing views and loved every single step.

Last Sunday G and I lined up again for what would hopefully be my seventh Beachy Head marathon finish. After nailing six finishes quite comfortably, the seventh has been a challenge.  For the last three years, illness, injury and plain old lack of bravado has meant we’ve transferred our marathon entries to the 10k. So, in truth, even starting at the start line donning a marathon number was a win.

We had no goal other than to enjoy ourselves and run for as long as we could. We were delighted to get to tea and buns at Mile 17 before getting the bus home. Although I was disappointed not to get to the end, this race is not the most important battle right now. Next year when we return for their 40th anniversary, we’ll get the job done.

My Beachy Head marathon 2012 experience always comes to mind when I line up at the start line of any race. A positive affirmation that even the hardest race can feel easy, depending on perspective and goal. That whole experience marries up quite nicely with the views of Matt Fitzgerald in his book, ‘How bad do you want it – mastering the psychology of mind over muscle’. In which he argues, that ease of perceived exertion is very strongly linked to success. Especially when athletes perform at a level higher than thought possible for their physiology.

We’re now a quarter of the way into the training. Most traditional Ironman training plans start around 30 weeks out. After a great 10 week training base, things are starting to feel easier and with that, we’re winning the war if not each individual battle. With 30 weeks to go, the real hard work starts now.