Monday, 16 November 2015

My triathlon challenge - what I've learned

As the end of 2015 is fast approaching, whilst many of us will be busy with Christmas preparations, it's also a time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to what the year ahead might hold.  It was about this time last year when I decided that in 2015 I would take on a challenge that was way outside my comfort zone - my first triathlon. You can read about what inspired me to take on that challenge by clicking here and here.

Well I did it and I loved it! In fact, I've since done another triathlon, an aquathlon (swim plus run) and my first ever 10k race.  If you're toying with the idea of taking on a physical challenge in 2016, my advice would be to go for it!

I'm certainly no expert, but here are some of the lessons I learned from my own triathlon challenge.

Don't underestimate yourself

Don't sell yourself short. You would be surprised what you can achieve if you put your mind to it and work hard. Before I started training, I hadn't done any proper exercise for a long time after being plagued by a knee injury for over 20 years.  I couldn't run more than a couple of hundred metres without having to stop for a breather and I had just taught myself to do a bit of front crawl (at a push). The only race I had ever won in my entire life was a three legged pub crawl at uni when I was dragged round the course by the rugby player I was attached to! But I worked hard and, little by little, I ran further and my swimming got better. When I eventually crossed the triathlon finish line, I felt a huge sense of achievement - the hours of training and all the hard work had finally paid off.

Pick something challenging but achievable

Choose a challenge that's outside your comfort zone but also be realistic about how much training is involved. There's no point signing up to an Ironman triathlon if you just don't have the time to commit to the hours and hours of training needed each week as you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. Consider your own lifestyle and other commitments, decide what time you will have available to train and choose your challenge accordingly.

Sign up for an event

Having a particular goal to aim for is a great way to focus your mind and stay motivated.  There's nothing quite like the date of an event looming to keep you motivated, whether through excitement or shear panic!

Join a club

It's easy to find reasons not to train, especially if you're mainly training on your own. Maybe it's cold or wet outside, maybe you're feeling a bit tired that day, or maybe there's a bottle of wine with your name on it. Whatever the reason for not wanting to put your trainers on, joining a club can really keep you motivated. It's great sharing your experiences with others and the camaraderie and encouragement you get will spur you on particularly if you're feeling low. Not only that, but you'll probably to make a great bunch of friends too!

Get some coaching

In January I signed up for some swimming lessons to improve my front crawl technique. At the time I thought I would probably only do a term of lessons.  Almost a year on and I'm still going! The coaching is hard but fun, I've been pushed far more than I could ever have pushed myself and I have improved enormously in both technique and endurance. I never used to like swimming much when I was younger but I have definitely been converted. 

Enjoy it!

On the day, don't worry about how fast you are or what position you come in. Try to relax, enjoy the event and cross the finish line with a big smile on your face. And don't forget to ask someone to take lots of photos!

Finally, make sure you have another goal in mind

After the initial high of completing the challenge you have worked so hard for and focussed on for so long, it's very likely that your mood will take a nosedive and you will start to feel flat shortly afterwards. This is quite common. The solution is easy - sign up for another event as soon as you can.  This happened to me and that's exactly what I did to banish the post-triathlon blues. Two weeks after my first triathlon I was doing it all over again. And you know what? It worked!

So, if you're thinking of taking on a challenge in 2016, go for it! You won't regret it! Good luck!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Charity triathlon - a big THANK YOU!

A whole week has gone by since my charity triathlon and I still can't quite believe I'm officially a triathlete!

The moment I crossed the finish line is something I will never forget. I heard my name being called out and my finisher's medal was hung around my neck. Then I saw my two children running towards me, grinning from ear to ear, to present me with my "Mummy's First Triathlon" trophy. I think that was what tipped me over the edge and I got a bit emotional at that point. I suppose that's not surprising given the amount of effort I had invested in the challenge and the relief I felt that I had actually completed it.

My first triathlon was the culmination of lots of hard work and training but I couldn't have done it on my own. There are lots of people who helped me along the way and I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who supported me or encouraged me in my training. I couldn't have done it without you!

I was overwhelmed by the lovely, positive comments I received over the last few months which really helped spur me on, particularly when my training wasn't quite going to plan. So thank you! I am very lucky to have such amazing family and friends!

I also want to thank everyone who sponsored me. I have tried to thank everyone personally (and if I haven't then I apologise) but I don't even know some people who have donated and some people have donated anonymously. So thank you! With your help I have raised over £840 including Gift Aid which is a massive amount for a small charity such as Pregnancy Sickness Support and so much more than I ever imagined I would raise.

You can read about my motivation for taking on this challenge to raise money for Pregnancy Sickness Support in my guest post on Spewing Mummy's blog here. And if you would still like to sponsor me, it's not too late. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Triathlon countdown - Getting my kit off

Now, as well as the obvious challenge of swimming, then cycling, then running one after the other, there is another aspect of my imminent triathlon that has been preying on my mind - the transitions.

The transitions are the bits in between the swim, the cycle and the run when you "transition" from one discipline to the next. Proper triathletes refer to them as the fourth discipline as speed in transition can make all the difference between first and second place.

In my case though, as a complete novice, the sole purpose of the transitions seems to be to add to my worries about what could go wrong on the day. The one that has been causing me the most concern is Transition 1, between the swim and the bike. At this point, I will need to drag myself out of the lake (feeling exhausted and possibly dizzy), run to my bike (remembering where I left it), remove my wetsuit (easier said than done) before putting on my socks, trainers, cycle helmet and finally unracking my bike.

In case you're wondering (and a few people have asked me this) I will be wearing something under my wetsuit! I have a trisuit which is a fetching all-in-one lycra suit a bit like a swimsuit with shorts, a vest-style top and a bit of padding for the bike. It's far too figure-hugging in my opinion and is definitely not the kind of thing I would normally be seen wearing in public (... or in private for that matter) but after already posting some fairly unflattering triathlon-related pictures of myself on this blog, I'm beginning to lose my inhibitions ... as well as my dignity!

If you've ever watched the Brownlees in action, you will have seen them emerge from the lake and run to their bikes whilst effortlessly stripping off their wetsuits to their waist. When they reach their bikes, they just slide their legs out of the wetsuit, grab their bikes and off they go. They make it look so easy. In actual fact, triathlon wetsuits are extremely clingy when dry and even worse when wet. Mine is very tight around the wrists and this has been causing me to have cold sweats about getting my arms stuck half in and half out of my wetsuit.

After doing a bit of research, I was pleased to discover that you can buy special lubrication for triathletes to help with wetsuit removal ("suit lube"). So, on Saturday afternoon, with two weeks to go before the big day, the time had come to practise my transitions in our back garden and to put my new suit lube to the test. My children were particularly excited as they had an important role to play in this aspect of my training.

Here's what I did.

1. Got kitted out in full triathlon gear - sports bra, trisuit, wetsuit, swimming hat and goggles, spraying myself with a liberal amount of suit lube on my lower arms and legs. This is not one of my normal Saturday afternoon activities, I hasten to add!

2. Roped in my children to throw water over me and make sure I was completely soaked. They took their challenge very seriously (obviously) and I was indeed soaked. I'm not sure what the neighbours thought about all the shrieks of laughter coming from the other side of the hedge as I endured my own ice bucket challenge!
3. Ran around the garden whilst unzipping the back of my wetsuit with the children shouting encouragement and ... the moment of truth ... pulling the sleeves over my hands. Pop! Left hand out. Pop! Right hand out. To my huge relief the suit lube worked a treat!

4. Ran to my towel, slipped my legs out of my wetsuit, again without any problems (phew!), dried my feet, put on my socks, trainers, sunglasses and helmet and ran down the path to the front of the house to cheers of "Go on Mum!" from the children.

5. Grabbed my bike and cycled off into the distance.

All in all, I was relieved that my first transition practice went to plan and this has helped put my mind at rest. At least I now know that on the day of my triathlon I should have no problem getting my kit off.

I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Triathlon countdown - An emotional roller coaster ride

When I embarked on my triathlon journey I was aware of the physical challenge that lay ahead of me, having never done anything remotely like this before. But over the last week or so the emotional side of my challenge has reared its head.

After a bit of a panic a couple of weeks ago, I started the week feeling positive. The brick sessions were now becoming easier and I was feeling good about my swimming. But by Thursday my mood had taken a nosedive and I felt thoroughly exhausted.

A couple of friends asked me how I was keeping on top of things with all my training. In all honesty, at the end of last week it felt quite the opposite. I felt as though everything was getting on top of me! The strain of juggling training with working and looking after my two young children was starting to show. On Thursday I had an epic mum fail when I had to take the children out for tea because there was absolutely nothing in the fridge... and I mean nothing! I just hadn't had time to go to the supermarket. How bad is that!

Until now, training on my own hasn't been a problem, in fact it has been a benefit as I can fit training sessions in when it suits me. But this last week or so, as the triathlon looms, I have realised that it would be quite nice to have a training buddy who is going through the same challenges as me at the same time. Sadly, I didn't manage to persuade any of my friends to do the triathlon with me (can't think why) and so I'm having to go it alone.

Anyway, I decided there was only one thing for it - to have a couple of days off training in order to get my energy levels back up. I knew that on Saturday I needed to be firing on all cylinders.

The alarm went off at 6.00 am on Saturday morning. My bags were already packed and off I went to Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming. By 7.30 am I had squeezed myself into my wetsuit and was in the lake ready to go. My goal - to swim the 500 metre course for the first time (round the three orange buoys in the photo) - a pretty daunting prospect for someone who not that long ago couldn't even swim a length of front crawl.

It looked such a long way and I was very nervous about swimming that far without being able to stop, hold the poolside or put my feet down ... but I DID IT!!! Believe it or not I actually enjoyed it and I even saw some fish (just small ones though)! Instantly, my mood was restored and I have been on a high ever since. So, with less than three weeks to go this roller coaster is riding high. Let's hope it stays that way!

I am raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Triathlon countdown - All going swimmingly

After a bit of a wobble last week, I'm pleased to say that my confidence has returned and I'm not panicking quite as much as I was about my triathlon debut in four weeks' time (... well maybe just a little).

Building bricks

The main reason for my confidence taking a knock was my first "brick" (i.e. bike plus run) session which was much harder than I had expected and caused panic to set in. I wrote about that here.

Not surprisingly, brick sessions have been my biggest priority this week and I've managed to build two more in to my training so far. It was a massive relief to find that the second was slightly easier than the first and the third was better still. I even felt relatively good during the run part of my third brick (there wasn't too much puffing and panting going on!) and could probably have run further. As it was, I cycled and ran the distance I will be doing in my triathlon and that has boosted my confidence enormously. I even made it to the top of two big hills on the bike without stopping, although I did have to use most of my gears! So I just need to add in the swim now!

All going swimmingly

Once again, I was pushed to my limit in last week's swimming session which felt like the hardest session in the history of mankind! The multiple, back-to-back individual medleys which just a few weeks ago were the toughest part of my training have now become the easy bit!

The hard part this week included such delights as swimming front crawl with clenched fists; swimming front crawl with my hands behind my back (is this starting to sound like some weird form of torture?); and my new personal favourite  - swimming back stroke with both arms in the air. Now, unless you've actually tried this, you'd be forgiven for assuming it would be quite easy. Well, you would be very wrong! As soon as you put your arms up the rest of you sinks, it's impossible to stay afloat and you end up swimming on your back with your face below the surface of the water so that you can't breathe properly and you feel as though half the pool is pouring up your nose. For some reason the word "waterboarding" comes to mind! Thankfully, I've been promised an easier session this week. Phew!

Anyway, despite all that, I'm actually really enjoying my swimming lessons which has a lot to do with the fantastic coaching by the guys at S4 South Staffordshire and all the positive feedback and encouragement I get from them. Thanks guys!

"Running up that hill"

This week's run was a long one (for me) - 9.25 km in about an hour. It felt good and is probably my fastest long run so far. Could this have had something to do with the fact that I was spurred on by Jason Donovan's eighties show - Irene Cara, Haircut 100, Duran Duran, Kate Bush and Billy Ocean to name a few! Hooray for eighties classics! Now I am showing my age!

So, with four weeks to go to the big event and three before "taper" week when I'm apparently supposed to take it easy, things are looking more positive. My next task is to crack the open water swim and to practise getting my wetsuit off in a hurry. I have some "suit lube" on order to help with that so it's all good!

I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Mum's triathlon training by James

For my latest blog post I'm handing over to my superstar son (aged 8) whose own triathlon inspired me to have a go myself. He asked if he could write something on my blog to tell everyone how well he thinks I'm doing. It made my day to have such support and encouragement from my little man. I think I might just cry!!

Over to you James ...

James says I love my Mum. I think she is doing EXTREMELY well at her triathlon training.

Her schedule;

Monday rest

Tuesday brick session

Wednesday swim ( indoor )

Thursday run

Friday rest

Sat swim (outdoor)

Sun cycle / run

I hope this shows just how hard my mum works. I  myself  know how hard it is for her for I have done a triathlon.

Well done James and thank you! I love you too!!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Triathlon latest -"Bricking it" ... in more ways than one

I was fully expecting my legs to go all wobbly but I hadn't counted on the hot flush in my cheeks or how much my heart would be racing. No, I wasn't drooling over the latest David Beckham H&M advert - I was in the middle of my first triathlon "brick" session!

A brick session is a bike ride followed immediately by a run and, as I have recently learned, is an essential part of training for any wannabe triathlete such as myself. It sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? I can ride a bike and I can run, so putting the two together couldn't be that difficult ... or could it?

After cycling for about an hour, my legs were feeling OK, if a bit tired. I wasn't out of breath and so I was feeling fairly confident about the short run I had planned. In fact, my main concern was what it would feel like running in my padded cycling leggings!

As I parked my bike up, removed my helmet and set off on the run, sure enough, the jelly-legs syndrome I had read about kicked in. It suddenly felt like there was no connection between my brain and my legs and that my legs were just chilling out and doing their own thing rather than what I actually wanted them to do. It felt very strange but eventually the feeling passed. 

What I was not prepared for was how physically challenging the run would be. It was really hard, much harder than I had expected. 

Even though it was only a 2 km run, my legs were heavy, my heart was pounding and I was wheezing like someone with a 40-a-day habit. It felt like I had regressed to the early days of my running when I could just about manage a short run around the block. What was going on? How could I be struggling so much when I comfortably run 5 or 6 km at a time and sometimes (slightly less comfortably) manage 10 km?

Panic has now set in! I've been training for my triathlon for months and, until now, I felt that my fitness levels were vastly improved. So it was a big shock that I found the run part of the brick session so tough. And with only 5 weeks to my triathlon, I'm wondering if I have left it too late. At most, I'll be able to fit in 4, possibly 5 more brick sessions ... but is this enough? Right now I could do with some reassurance that it will all be OK on the day. Only time will tell though and I won't know for sure until the big day arrives. Until then, it looks like I will be "bricking it" ... in more ways than one!

I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.