RUNaissance

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Back in March I got ill. The kind of ill where everything feels like a gigantic effort, where even waking up and getting out of bed in the morning felt like an unbearable challenge. I hadn’t been 100% well since last autumn, but come mid-March I felt like I could barely function – although also felt like I had to keep going (note to self: next time you’re properly ill, take time off from work and exercising, it’ll make the recovery so much easier). Thankfully things feel like they are finally back on track – I’m having to take iron medicine each day which is disruptive in other ways (can’t take it with dairy, eggs or tea…how’s that for an awful breakfasting experience?), but it has seriously improved my energy levels.

I thought that my low energy was normal, I knew I was not looking after myself as much as I should be, but always assume things will just figure themselves out without needing to be addressed properly. It turns out a little bit of medicine goes a long way. In the past month I have seen the most noticeable difference and have felt so inspired with my running once again – to the point where I didn’t want to take a day for granted so ignored the need for rest days and did a 14 day streak. And then I remembered that one of the biggest challenges I face in life is striking a balance (I’m an all of nothing kind of girl) and eventually forced myself to take that much needed rest day and was all the better for it.

And whilst it’s safe to say the first half of 2017 didn’t exactly go to plan, the second half is on the horizon and filled with exciting things. I have an aquathlon in September and may try to fit in another triathlon late summer, although if I am honest all I really want to do these days is run. I have some great running events coming up with my ASICS FrontRunner team though; we have the Ealing Half in September, the Florence Marathon in November, and lots of other fun events along the way.

I haven’t run a marathon before but am incredibly excited and, actually, it is a big goal of mine to achieve. It comes with some heightened challenges for me; firstly, the bones in my left foot are slowly deteriorating (and so my rationale is to use my feet as much as possible before I have to have surgery), and secondly, I am terrible at fuelling. Truly terrible. I eat all the right things, but I don’t eat enough and this is a problem that consistently returns and is something I need to address in order to perform in the way that I want on race day. Unfortunately I cannot run a marathon on fresh air and enthusiasm alone so there are a few hurdles to overcome here – the fact that I am at the lowest weight I’ve been for a few years isn’t exactly a good position to be in, but it has been recognised and is being worked on. Once I am back from my holiday in July I will be working with a sports nutritionist in the lead up to the marathon and I hope that this will be my opportunity to get on top of everything again – for me, having somebody else control and assign what I need to eat and when should hopefully make this journey a little easier. It will be a challenge and filled with the usual ups and downs that come with trying to gain some racing weight (and just ‘living life to the fullest’ weight), but running feels more important to me at the moment than any kind of aesthetic benefit that comes with not fuelling adequately.

So running has, once again, saved the day for me and brought back a whole lot of focus and happiness. Here’s hoping it continues!

The Gift

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‘To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.’
‘Redefine your impossible.’

I cling to inspirational quotations as a way of getting through life, and often have them scribbled over my body on race day too. Those two above are the mantras I reliably turn to year on year as a way of getting through things and keeping myself motivated. Recently though I’ve been repeating them more and more whilst my health has taken a bit of a nose dive, forcing me to pull out of a few events and making me re-evaluate where I place my ‘self’ in my list of priorities (turns out it was pretty far down on the list…which I’m sure is something we can all relate to on some level).

There have been days recently where everything has felt like a struggle, and I think when your body is at that point where it feels broken and heavy, it begins to affect your state of mind too. I could see the warning signs but chose to ignore them until I hit a wall; I’ve been travelling too much, I haven’t eaten three meals a day for longer than I can remember, I’m doing way too much in my day job, I’m getting far less than seven hours sleep each night, I’m still heavily reliant on caffeine to get myself through a day and on top of it all, up until last week, I was still trying to train just as much as usual. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to find out that once again I was low on sodium and potassium, and was suffering from anaemia. Poor life choices really do equate to poor health.

The problem with getting yourself into that kind of rut is that it’s very difficult to crawl back out of it, because generally, the other pressures don’t stop existing. It takes real effort to make positive changes to improve your health and I just haven’t really been keen to do so, or rather I felt like I couldn’t do so because in my head I still consider certain things to come before my health…I’m under this naive assumption that my body will just adapt and learn to cope with feeling like this. Because, after all, I like to think that I’m invincible and that my body really can do anything. As it happens, being forced to slow down has helped a little bit and I’m beginning to really focus on fixing these issues…because I really do love it when my body and mind feels strong. And that’s a state of being I want to be back at as soon as possible.

And so that first quotation about sacrificing the gift, that’s quite important to me at the moment because by not taking care of myself in the appropriate way I am wasting that gift of being active, effectively sabotaging myself. And self-sabotage is no good when you’ve spent years getting your body to a state where it can race well. As for redefining my impossible? Well, recently my inner self-critic has been a bit too vocal; telling me I’m not good enough or that my body is weak and rubbish and not worth the investment, telling me that life in itself is impossible. But actually, that’s just the irrational side of my brain talking, and that side of my brain can always be put back in its box…which is exactly where it’s going.

So now is the time for a bit of self-care, some good nutrition, and focussing on what I can do, rather than what I think I can’t do.

Race Report: Monaco 10K

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What was supposed to be my third race of 2017 actually ended up being my first race of the year. The Coastal Endurance race at the beginning of January ended up being cancelled due to safety concerns and I then consciously decided to pull out of the London Winter Run in February as my feet were in no fit state to put in a good race, so I wanted this to be a good debut for the year. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Monaco 10K is my favourite race that I do each year – Monaco is somewhere I spent a lot of time whilst growing up so there’s a level of comfort and familiarity with racing there, it really does feel like home. This year my uncle and cousin were planning on racing with us too, but my cousin fell down some stairs and broke her foot shortly before the race so had to pull out (Sasha – I’m convinced you did this deliberately and we will get you racing with us next year). We were blessed with really beautiful weather once again, and after spending a few days relaxing by the pool felt in pretty good condition by the time race day arrived.

Then I woke up on race morning and felt so unenthused to run – not to the point where I wanted to pull out as there really is no pressure with this race, but I didn’t feel like I was going to put in much effort. So, we went down for breakfast and whereas usually I’d be quite strict about just eating a bowl of porridge before the start of a race, I actually decided to fill up on croissants and discard any nutritional needs my body might require for a good performance. I then got dressed into my race kit and swapped my shorts out for tights, despite the fact that it was approaching 14’c outside and I knew I’d be overheating within 10 minutes of starting. Essentially it was an exercise in self-sabotage, or so I thought…

We got to the start of the race with just a few minutes to spare, heard the announcement that Seb Coe and Paula Radcliffe were running in the relay event after our race, and then set off on our way into Fontvieille to run a lap around the Stade Louis II and then back into Monaco Ville to tackle the first of the hills. Monaco is hilly, though not ‘properly hilly’, and what I refer to as hills during this post are more steep but short inclines – but there’s a lot of them during the first half of the race and you really have to dig deep to keep momentum going. I’m the type who usually struggles on hills quite a lot but I actually breezed up these ones and felt great (I’m going to credit this with the Barre classes I’ve been going to religiously since last September), I was certainly overheating though as I had predicted and then drank far too much water at the 5K mark to cool myself down…nobody really enjoys running with a full tummy of water, but I’m greedy and never learn from my past mistakes. At this point I could tell that my husband was starting to struggle with his ITB so I dropped my pace a little so that we could continue to run together. I was still feeling very strong at this point. At 6K I had another hill which really hurt my bad feet but still didn’t slow me down as the pain was just about manageable. We then took the switch back down onto Ave Princesse Grace and took the last 2.5K in our stride before crossing the finish line at the Stade Nautique Rainier III, still feeling strong.

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Despite all the consciously-made rookie mistakes I made in the lead up and during that race, I really enjoyed myself and had the strongest and most consistent race performance that I had had for years. Considering I woke up that morning not wanting to run, I was just amazed at myself for pushing through and getting the job done whilst genuinely enjoying myself…I think there’s certainly something to be said for forgetting any external pressures and racing just for yourself. Now that my feet are slowly deteriorating and I can’t get to the times I used to be able to reach I’ve had to really adjust my approach to running, and this race really helped me to see that when I forget about everything else going on, I can still be good. Not brilliant, but good. And good is good enough for me. This is also the only race my husband will run so it always feels a little fun and special to be taking it on side by side.

So what’s next? Well, I haven’t mentioned this on my blog yet as I want to do a proper post after the launch weekend, but I am now part of the UK ASICS FrontRunner team. This is a really exciting opportunity, and we’re making our debut at the Manchester Marathon on the 2nd April…so watch this space!

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Swimathon: Keeping Myself Motivated

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Do you know who I admire? Those people who can just swim length after length, for well over an hour, without feeling the need to deviate and do something else. I love swimming, really I do; I wouldn’t have signed up for Swimathon 2017 if I didn’t. But my gosh, I grow bored of lane swimming. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I’m an open water kind of girl…put me in the sea and I’ll keep myself swimming for hours. But put me in the pool and I won’t last longer than an hour.

And that is precisely why I need structured training sessions – I’m currently using one of the training plans on the Swimathon website for one of my swims each week. I work well when I have my swim broken down into sections and love having drills to do before my main set (in fact, drills are my favourite part of swimming which can probably be attributed to the fact that I’m a perfectionist)…plus following a session like this keeps me motivated and focussed when in a lane with others. For my other session each week I work with my coach who really keeps my technique in check and pushes me hard when I start coming up with excuses as to why I’m low on energy (you should hear some of my excuses…luckily she doesn’t listen to any of them and makes me do exactly what she wants me to do anyway).

So yes, I’m not one of those types who can swim up and down a lane for hours on end whilst enjoying every second. Instead I’m the type of swimmer who loses focus and grows irritable, I’m also not a graceful swimmer who makes the sport look beautiful and easy – I’m all limbs which is terrible when sharing a lane with other people, though great for reaching things in inconvenient places. But despite the struggles I have with staying focussed when in the pool, I can guarantee that after every swim I feel exhilarated and happy because a good swim really does make you feel better.

So what type of swimmer does that make me? A very normal one, actually (and also one who may have skipped a session this week…mais, c’est la vie).

 

Swimathon 2017

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After a few months of secrecy, I can finally announce that I am part of the #BlogSquad for Swimathon 2017. Swimathon is an event I really love to champion as I think it is so vital that people have the necessary skill set to be able to keep themselves as safe as possible when in or near water, and well…swimming is FUN. So I really am delighted to be on the blogsquad for the second year running.

My swimming technique has come on leaps and bounds since this time last year and I occasionally swim with my coach who keeps me on track. That being said, I still fatigue really quickly when I’m in the pool as I tend to go off too fast in my warm up (quelle surprise) leaving little energy left for when I get to my main set and drills. And, I still really struggle with getting my nutrition right for swimming. Aside from those minor problems which can all be worked on, training is going relatively well for me at the moment.

I took the autumn off from swimming whilst recovering from a busy summer of triathlon and wanting to focus more on getting out on my bike whilst the weather was still fine, and then rejoined my favourite pool in January of this year and have aimed for at least one, but sometimes two, swim sessions per week. I know that with Swimathon being only 7 weeks away I have to start getting serious about my training again so that will mean waking up at silly o’clock and being a bit more regimented with my routine…and of course, not letting silly excuses get in the way of me getting to the pool.

I’m actually looking forward to stepping up my training because I know that when I have a swim event to train for, I do put in the effort and I see improvement quite quickly. Also, my first triathlon of the year is in May so this works out really well in terms of getting me race fit.

The whole point of Swimathon is to get the nation swimming – there are pools all around the country involved in hosting Swimathon from 7th-9th April 2017, it is also a great way of raising a bit of money for a good cause by fundraising for Marie Curie simultaneously. I’ve decided to swim at the London Aquatics Centre on the Sunday of Swimathon weekend to complete my challenge so hopefully I will bump into a few of you there.

If you’re interested in taking part in Swimathon this year, visit the website to find your nearest participating pool and then just commit to it – you won’t regret it and it will give you a great spring goal to work towards!

 

 

My Non-Training Plan

IMG_2272I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I’m going to train for my races this year and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to throw all conventional ideas of training plans out of the window and just trust my intuition and do whatever I feel like. Reckless, perhaps. But I suspect more exciting.

Last year I was very lucky to work with a coach and have my weekly training plans provided to me, knowing that I didn’t have to think too much and just had to follow the instructions written down. In theory, that sounds lovely and the most straight-forward way of training…you know, trusting the professionals. However I’m stubborn and difficult and whenever someone tells me to do something (even when it’s in my best interest), I tend to take great delight in doing the complete opposite. So you can see that being coached wasn’t necessarily a good match for my personality as I tend to trust myself more than I trust others, and I definitely know my limits better than anyone else. I also started really intense training at the beginning of February which left me feeling burnt out by the time my A race arrived and I found myself keeping injuries from my coach because I didn’t want her to adjust my training. I really am a nightmare. Then add to that the fact that I had 6 training sessions per week (this turned into 7 usually because I always wanted to run on my rest day) which I felt like I had to always complete, even if it meant cancelling plans with friends because I prioritised my training over them. Bad friend, I know. Although I also put off my yearly dental checkup for an entire 8 months because I couldn’t fit it in to my training schedule, so I guess I also prioritised my training over my own wellbeing too.

This year though, it makes sense to do things my way. After a bit of a setback with some health issues which has affected the quality of what I’m currently doing, I feel comfortable in trusting my gut instinct with what I should be doing and when. Of course I’ll push myself to train when I probably should be listening to my body and sitting out, but luckily I have plenty of people around me who are more than happy to give me a lecture on that when needed. And despite tears and tantrums, they usually win.

But why else will my non-training approach work better for me? Because having fun will be the number one priority.

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Cycling probably became my one true love during last year’s training and whilst I always made sure I took my bike out after work on a Friday evening, it meant that I also had to do an indoor cycle once a week too – and I hate turbo-ing because, for me, my love of triathlon stems from the fact that I love to be outdoors. Slaving away in a gym? Not for me. But getting to the top of an almighty hill, taking a breath in and knowing you’ve cycled up it faster than usual? That feeling is exhilarating and makes me feel alive. I have big and heavy legs which have a lot of cycling potential, but I didn’t get to exploit them enough last year. So this year I want to be cycling more. As soon as the evenings are light enough I plan to cycle to and from work a few times each week – for my mental wellbeing as much as anything else as I know that will help me to feel calm, but is also a nice challenging route which I can extend on the way home and turn into a proper training ride. Why couldn’t I do that last year? Because I’d be cycling to work on days when I would be running or swimming too and then I’d get caught up in how many calories I would need to be consuming in order to sustain that volume of activity, and as someone who still struggles to fuel properly it just created more problems than it solved. Therefore I could only really cycle and run together on days when I actually had a brick session planned. And so I had to hold back on my cycling which made me a bit unhappy at times.

Swimming was also one of those activities that I absolutely loved but had the fun sucked out of it at various points during the year. For the most part, I was swimming before work which meant being in the pool at about 6.30am, saying a quick hello to the people in my lane, and then getting on with my sets. It was quite lonely. Now I tend to spend the majority of my swim sessions swimming with friends or people from my club, and whilst I’m not an overly social creature, the people I swim with are full of personality and we always have a fabulous time and are full of giggles (we do work hard too, I promise). Whilst I may not be working on my drills so much anymore, the work I am doing in the pool is benefiting me enormously and fits in with my ‘non-training’ perfectly. I also plan on doing more sea swimming this year because, again, that is something I really love and as I live at the beach it would be silly not to seize this opportunity.

Running was the area I struggled with the most whilst being coached last year though – I’ve been a runner for as long as I can remember and I don’t really know who I am without running (cue the violins, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and tears have been shed). Unfortunately my feet really started to deteriorate during the summer which meant I wasn’t hitting the times I was supposed to be hitting in my training sessions, and in one of my triathlons I even had to walk part of the run route because I was in so much pain (to be fair the night before that race my husband did have to dislocate my feet for me so I could ‘put them back together again’ so the walking was understandable…but it left me feeling like a bit of a fraud). So my feet aren’t getting any better, and I know surgery is on the horizon which means again my running will be slow this year and it’ll make me tremendously sad, but trusting my instinct and running the distances I know I can manage whilst trying to worry less about times will hopefully help to keep the fun alive and will keep me running for the entirety of the season. But you know, running whilst managing chronic pain is really not easy so I need to cut myself a bit of slack here if things don’t go to plan.

And of course, I have my new found love of Barre and am attending three classes a week. Last year I simply could not fit any exercise classes into my training plan because it was already too full. Whereas this year I know I can tailor one of my runs to run commute to Barre on a Wednesday evening, which will involve hill work on my run home too and will be great for my run fitness. I’m considering Barre to be the strength training element of my ‘non-training’ because I really do have to work hard in those classes and instantly feel the benefits, but Barre is also really useful for me to tune into my body and figure out what isn’t working in the way it should be and what needs to be stronger, which makes it the perfect accompaniment to the swim, bike and run.

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Of course, even though I’m calling this a ‘non-training plan’ I do have an idea of what days I will be doing what, and actually with all of the above my entire week is taken up with training once again. However, in my head I feel a bit more comfortable with what I have come up with because I know that now it is only me who is in control of what I’m doing; I can be flexible if I want to be and in theory I will be able to prioritise other more important things over training if I need to…because, you know, missing a swim session won’t kill me. I know I will still struggle to deviate away from the routine I have in my head, but I suspect I’ll be able to figure it out and have a very happy season.

So, here’s to 2017 and the year of non-training!

Training in Winter

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I am a child of the Mediterranean. I like warmth. I like sea swimming. And I like to spend most of my days wandering beaches barefoot in nothing more than a bikini.

I also really like sport, and as much as I would love to hibernate in the winter months and re-emerge late spring looking tanned and lovely and ready to run my races, that approach unfortunately does not bode well for a good race performance. And so, in the depths of winter, I have to continue with my training.

But here’s the thing, have you actually tried running or cycling in winter before? Because it’s fun. Really fun. Don’t get me wrong, it takes me a good 15 minutes huddled by the radiator after getting changed into my kit before I can motivate myself to brave the icy weather. But once I’m out there I have the best time. It’s just easier training in the colder months, you don’t overheat quite so much, you see the world with fresh eyes and you get to experience the magic of twilight.

Here are a few fairly standard tips to make winter training easier:

  1. Get Google Nest (or one of its competitors). My husband is a big fan of anything Google…to the extent where the majority of our home is powered by by the brand (and I’m not allowed an iPhone, sob). Nest is ingenious – at about 4pm from the comfort of my office or a meeting I reach for my phone and turn my heating on via the Nest app. This means that when I arrive home my kit is already warmed through which makes heading straight out for a run or bike ride marginally easier (and no, this post isn’t sponsored by Nest – I’m just a huge fan of anything that keeps me warm).
  2. Invest in good kit. I think top layers are extremely important to get right in the winter and if you don’t already have a running jacket, buy one immediately. I also think you can’t underestimate the power of a good pair of gloves – I tend to use the same gloves for cycling and running and they always take the chill off during the first part of my workout. Midway through gloves are a really easy layer to take off and tuck away in your pocket too. Oh, and make sure you have a decent hat to wear.
  3. Hydrate properly. Don’t think that because it’s winter you can get away with drinking less water. Training when you’re dehydrated is horrible and will have a severe impact on your performance. I also like to make sure I have a cup of tea as soon as I get back from a winter training session as I need something to warm myself up with (a sweet treat helps, too).
  4. Stay visible; see and be seen. Make sure you’re wearing appropriate reflective kit to keep you out of harm’s way, but also make sure you have a head torch or some other light so that you can clearly see the path ahead. Being visible also means you’ll receive a few more friendly greetings when you cross paths with someone – I find the people I come across whilst out on cold and dark evenings are much friendlier than those I come across in summer.
  5. Ensure you warm up and warm down properly. I’m not keen on stretching before a run but I do make sure I take the first mile at an easier pace than the subsequent miles. I also have a stretching routine that I do once I’m back home and never ever skip it.
  6. Sign up to an event! Nothing is more motivating than having something to work towards. My first event is early January which is a coastal trail run along the White Cliffs of Dover. It’ll be a challenge but hopefully a lot of fun too. There’s nothing more motivating than having a goal to work towards.

It probably won’t be easy mustering up the motivation to get outdoors, but once that work out is done and you’re safely tucked back up in the warm you will feel so much better for it.