Advent Running 2016

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For those who have been following this blog for a while now, and indeed those that know me in real life, you will know that I cannot have a conversation about running without mentioning Advent Running. Last year, Advent Running was quite possibly the running highlight of my entire year – sure, it was challenging and exhausting, but it was also incredibly rewarding and made the lead up to Christmas all the more fun.

The aim of Advent Running is to get as many people as possible running, or doing some kind of activity, for 30 minutes a day for 25 days from 1st December. Last year I ran every day of Advent Running and made a whole new group of friends along the way. This year, I have already decided that I don’t have to run on the days that I swim, as activity is all about enjoying yourself rather than pushing yourself to fit in as much as possible, but I will run on those days I do barre or body pump. That being said, I know I get caught up in the Advent Running hysteria so who knows if I will actually be able to resist on swim days.

But the best thing about Advent Running (aside from super inspiring founders Claudia and James), is the online community that goes with it. If you want to give Advent Running a go this year make sure you join their Facebook group, and make sure you post photos along the way. Thirty minutes of activity is not a huge burden to fit in each day, although during the festive season it becomes a lot more challenging than other times of the year (we were fitting in our runs at 11pm some nights last year!), but come Christmas Day when you complete that final run you will feel incredibly proud of yourself…and you’ll probably find that you want to continue your run streak into the New Year.

Happy running!

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Triathlon: Team SFQ

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On Friday evening I received quite possibly the best email ever…I have been selected to race for Team SFQ in 2017. For anyone who doesn’t know Smashfest Queen, it’s the US brand behind the really fabulous kit I spent 2016 racing in. As I am sure you can imagine, I feel incredibly privileged that this somewhat mediocre (but enthusiastic) triathlete will be training and racing in their kit as part of their team. Not to mention upholding the positive energy of the team. It really does feel like a huge honour and one that I am already ridiculously excited about.

What makes it even more special is the fact that towards the end of 2017 I will be having surgery on my feet to fuse some bones together, which means 2018 can probably be written off right now as I will be facing a 6 month recovery. So 2017 has to count, and has to be fantastic.

Let’s smash this!

The Off-Season

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The past few weeks have been deliciously relaxing; I really slowed down and forgot about having a proper training routine for a while. I cycled a handful of times, ran a few times more and forgot about swimming completely. I also started going to a barre class which I really love and has inspired me to incorporate a bit more strength training and pilates-based exercises into my training.

But the lazy times have to come to an end. My first race of 2017 is a coastal endurance trail race at the beginning of January, and although they call it a 10K it’s actually 7.7 miles and is a race that requires a decent amount of training. I had intended to start my new training plan last week but unfortunately succumbed to freshers’ flu (from the university my lovely husband works at, thanks for that…I had successfully managed to avoid the freshers’ flu from my university rather well until he brought the germs home!) so other than a barre class and a bike ride, I was pretty much wiped out for the week.

And so I shall restart my training plan this week, which won’t be easy as I’m working a few long days in Brussels during the first part of this week and then working in Rome in a fortnight, but once those commitments are out of the way there should be few interruptions to my training leading me into the new year.

So, what’s my plan? Well, running will be my main focus and will involve three sessions per week (short, tempo and long). My Bianchi will be on the turbo and I’ll aim to fit in two sessions, although will allow myself to drop down to one if I’m having a ‘can’t be bothered’ moment – if I head outdoors for cycling it’ll most likely be on my MTB. I will aim to swim once a fortnight, and will have two strength training sessions per week – one of which will be my barre class and the other will be a home workout with weights.

That’s seven decent sessions a week which is more than enough to keep my base fitness levels up throughout the winter with the intention of starting my focussed triathlon training at the beginning of April. I also want to make sure that I’m not sacrificing my social life and other opportunities in favour of my training though so will hopefully be able to drop a session here and there without feeling guilty as and when the need arises.  This year I started my triathlon training at the beginning of February which was just far too early considering my last race (which was also my A race) was at the end of September, so April feels like it will be a better time for me especially as I will have completed all of the shorter running races that I’m signed up to during the first part of the year by then.

I have to admit though, I really have enjoyed being lazy recently and know I will have lost a lot of fitness that I now need to regain which won’t be particularly easy. But everyone needs a bit of indulgence after such a busy season (oh, and I also used that ‘lazy time’ productively at work which resulted in a new position as Faculty Director of Recruitment…so it’s not like I completely dropped the ball).

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Triathlon: Things I’ve Learnt

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So here I am having finished my last race of the year. I’ve competed in more 10Ks than I can count on my hands, one aquathlon and four triathlons throughout 2016 and I have survived them all. But, what have I learnt?

I love triathlon

For the first half of my training all I did was moan about how I couldn’t wait for 2017 to arrive so that I could have ‘just a running year’. Well, it turns out 2017 isn’t going to be ‘just a running year’ because I have discovered that I love swimming, I love cycling and I love running. I love everything about triathlon and don’t want to trade it in.

Being coached isn’t for everyone

Despite the aforementioned love of triathlon, I didn’t enjoy being coached. I’m not entirely sure what my approach is going to be next year but it will probably be quite unstructured. I can’t foresee 2017 being the year where I take triathlon super seriously and focus on times but I can envisage it being a year where I develop a solid base of knowing what works well for me in training and what gives me the results I want and need.

Triathlon takes hunger to a whole new level

I have always had a somewhat challenging relationship with food, but triathlon has forced me to overcome a lot of those issues because nobody wants to underperform on race day simply because they’re worried about calories (totally happened to me in the 2010 London Triathlon). When I started my training I was under-fuelling myself and my performance suffered…I was just walking around in this perma-miserable state of exhaustion. It wasn’t pretty. Luckily I took the right steps to fix this, figured out what macros and micro nutrients I needed to perform the way that I wanted to and gave myself a stern talking to. I also discovered that if you’re having a really bad day and just cannot be bothered with consciously thinking about fuelling then bagels become your best friend. I frequently default to bagels with the Pip & Nut Coconut Almond Butter (you really should try this, it’s heaven in a jar…and the best part is that my husband is allergic to almonds so I have the jar all to myself!) to get me through an evening of training.

Your body changes a lot 

This year I gained 8lbs…that’s over half a stone and it was a conscious decision. I am still a way off my goal racing weight, but I figured that the extra 8lbs is better than nothing and I did feel physically healthier for it towards the end of my season. I have mixed feelings about my triathlon body; sometimes I’ll see nice definition and think ‘yeh, I’m rocking this extra weight’, other times I’ll just hate that weight and will moan to anyone who will listen. My poor husband is generally the one on the receiving end of my complaints about my legs being too fat, my bottom too big, or just feeling generally heavy. Luckily he takes it well and tells me to stop being silly…although we do both agree that my legs are ridiculously heavy for my body. This year was probably the first year in a very long time that I felt confident in a bikini on a beach though, so that’s progress.

It doesn’t matter if you’re slow

Unless you’re aiming for a spot on Team GB, it really doesn’t matter if you’re slow as long as you are enjoying yourself. I’m not a fast swimmer (lack of biceps), or a fast cyclist (weak quads), and running has quite frankly been a disaster after being diagnosed with hyperextension in my feet earlier this year. However I have enough in me to get through training and to enjoy a race, and it’s the enjoyment factor that is most important. Generally most people will come to triathlon with at least one strong discipline, but with impressive determination to work on their weaker disciplines – and that is what’s so magical about triathlon. All elements of the race are technically challenging (and don’t even get me started on transitions…) but none of the elements are insurmountable. All it takes is a little bit of time, effort and dedication and you will easily be able to complete the race. This winter I will be focussing on getting stronger though, I want to have power behind me so I can have a fast season next year.

You’ll crave make-up and accessorising 

Okay, so this is one for the girls. I know there are female triathletes out there who manage to balance looking lovely and immaculate with being a total badass in triathlon (in fact I’m following plenty on Instagram). However I am not that kind of triathlete and tend to look like a swamp monster most of the time. I have never really been one for wearing mascara or accessorising with jewellery anyway, but when you realise that in order to get to work on time after a morning in the pool you have no choice but to discard such frivolities, well, that’s when you really want to wear make-up and a nice necklace and bracelet. Perhaps this will be what I work on during next year’s racing season. That being said, I am now racing in the most vivid pink tri suit possible, and as someone who avoids wearing colour in everyday life, I find it somewhat amusing that I am leaning towards a colour that I would usually shudder at.

Mental strength is the most important ingredient

Despite all the hours of training I put in, the one thing that actually got me through my races was a positive mental attitude. Unfortunately it took me half a year to figure this out and as a consequence I severely underperformed in all of my races up until about June. Luckily something magical happened from July onwards and I was able to relax and enjoy myself whilst finishing off the season with an abundance of enthusiasm and passion towards the sport.

Don’t overfill your race schedule 

After having a year of very minimal racing (whilst finishing my Masters, working full-time, planning our wedding and completely renovating the house we had bought that year…), when registration for the 2016 races started opening I may have been a little over-enthusiastic about what I could physically take on. Take March for example…I had a race every weekend, including a destination race and one weekend where I had to take part in Swimathon (as I was one of the official bloggers for it) plus a 10K race the very next day. This was also at a time when fuelling was a major issue for me…poor nutrition plus 5 races to get through during my busiest month at work is essentially a recipe for disaster. Plus it was still winter and cold and I was just miserable. I still don’t know how I survived March. My last race of the season was towards the end of September at Hever Castle and although this was my all-time favourite triathlon, I probably won’t sign up for it next year. September just felt a little too late to be ending the season – I could quite happily have completed the Oysterman at the end of August and been satisfied. I’m still trying to figure out my race schedule for next year but will learn from my mistakes (I say, knowing full well that I have already booked onto 4 events for 2017 already…).

So, here’s to next year – another year of triathlon!

 

Race Report: Hever Castle Triathlon

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In terms of picturesque triathlon locations, it doesn’t get much better than Hever Castle. I had been booked onto this race for an entire year and knew that this was the one I wanted to take part in to close my season. Aside from the fact that it is extremely pretty, it is also the most challenging course I did all year.

Whilst the swim was not particularly challenging, the lake is rather grim underfoot. Our wave was due to start at 9.15am so by 9 we were at the side of the lake being briefed by the course director on what to expect throughout the race. The day beforehand we received an email with the good news that the water temperature was 17’C and therefore wetsuits were non-compulsory. I did have a brief moment where I contemplated discarding my wetsuit in favour of a faster transition, but was glad I dismissed such a silly idea before racing. I sat on the side of the pontoon and dipped my toes in the water and thought that the water felt ok, however when I slid off and submerged my whole body I realised just how cold things actually were. Lakes always feel colder than the sea to me which is why I prefer sea swims in events. The good thing about Hever is that the lake is shallow enough to stand up at the start, however underfoot is so squishy and grim that you really don’t feel inclined to put your feet down for fear of what it is you are actually standing on.

Somehow I ended up at the front of the start line which was not my original plan – I had wanted to hang back to avoid getting kicked in the torso whilst swimming as I had some bruised ribs which were pretty painful, but clearly racing mentality took over. Soon enough we were off on the swim and heading out towards the turnaround buoy. The water soon warmed up whilst swimming and unfortunately I ended up swallowing a fair bit of it too as there was so much splashing up front – this was something I desperately wanted to avoid as the water looks horrid (I drank a lot of coke after the race so hopefully won’t get too sick from this). Eventually we were on the homestretch and were being pulled out of the water by the very helpful marshals (it’s quite steep climbing out of the lake so you need a hand) and then running up hill into transition. I heard a lot of people moaning about how steep the 100m run out of the lake and into transition was, but it wasn’t anything like the Oysterman slope so this didn’t cause any concern for me.

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Getting through the swim felt easy, and mentally I was telling myself that I was a third of the way through the race and could easily do the other two disciplines (in reality in terms of distance, completing the swim is nowhere near a third of the way through the race but it helps me to visualise it this way). I tried not to faff around too much in transition and before I knew it was heading out of transition and onto the bike route. Just as I made it to the mount line I realised there was something wrong with my pedal so had to spend a minute sorting that out, but once I was on the bike I felt comfortable and confident…initially. Now, I know the Hever bike route is hilly, but I think I had forgotten just how hilly it was. The first 2Km of the cycle was a climb and I secretly hoped that that would be the worst of it…oh how naive I was. It was climb after climb after climb after climb. And I really hate hills. Also, as it was undulating country lanes a lot of the route was shaded from trees, which may have looked pretty, but also meant I was suffering from the cold a bit whilst not drying off fully. There were some great bits to the bike though; every KM was marked which helped me to tick off the distance mentally and break it down into manageable sections, when some of the super speedy men overtook me on a climb they would shout words of encouragement to me, one of my fellow coached triathletes was out cheering in one of the villages, and I received two comments from ladies complimenting me on my trisuit. There were also some very nasty bike crashes I saw and a few punctures too…I was most worried about the bike section and just kept willing myself to get through it unscathed and without any mechanical issues. Because of this I didn’t push myself as hard as I perhaps should have, although certainly wasn’t just coasting my way through it.

Eventually I was on the last climb with only 2KM to go and knew I could make it back safely. By this point my whole torso was aching from being hunched over on my bike and I really felt like I needed a good run to shake things out.

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Heading back into transition I quickly had a sachet of baby food and a drink of water, put some lipbalm and my Advent Running hat on, moved my race number to the front and then out I went. By this point the sun was really warm and I was so excited to have my run and knew the finish was in sight. At the start of the run you have to climb a bridge to clear yourself of the bike route, and that was enough to make me keel over in pain (as evidenced in the above photo!) before managing to compose myself once again and giving the run all I could. The run is essentially a trail run but my shoes seem to be ok coping with all kinds of terrain, of course though, the first third of the route was pretty much all up hill again – I was certainly starting to feel the burn in my legs. Eventually things levelled out and I was at the next water station where I stopped for a few seconds to drink properly rather than run and drink, this was such a welcome break as the water felt ice cold and really left me feeling refreshed and ready to attack the rest of the run. After a bit more running I could feel the end was near and after one last gentle incline I could start to see and hear the crowds cheering us on. I didn’t quite give my usual sprint finish but I did have a consistent and well-paced run from start to finish which left me feeling incredibly happy.

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And so, there I was having finished my season of triathlon, feeling exhausted but proud of all that I had accomplished over the course of the year and ready to grow stronger throughout the winter so that I am racing fit for 2017. My little biceps are starting to grown (well, on my right arm…not so much on the left) and I feel as though I have really trained my mind to be able to take on anything that is thrown at me. Whilst I have found the training exhausting and draining at times, that feeling of accomplishment on race day more than makes up for it. I really do love the sport of triathlon.

 

Review: Suunto Spartan Ultra Watch

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Back in August, Suunto approached me to see if I would be interested in testing their new Spartan Ultra watch which was being launched imminently. This happened to be quite timely as my last GPS watch was at the bottom of the ocean after a bit too much fun. When Suunto got in touch I was already considering buying their Ambit 3 as I had heard great things about the brand and more and more friends were switching to Suunto. And so the love affair begins…

Style

 On first impression when opening the box, I was immediately struck by how large the watch was and worried that it would grow dirty quite quickly as I had been sent the white version. I needn’t have worried though as the watch strap still looks pristine even after testing it for a full month. The screen is prone to fingermarks but these wipe off easily and I guess is to be expected from a device which has the functionality of touch screen. I actually really love the fact that the Spartan Ultra has incorporated touch screen into the device as it feels quite intuitive when scrolling back from the main menus. As someone with relatively small wrists I thought the size of the watch would irritate me but actually I have grown to love the size and large round face…it feels much lighter than my previous GPS too. Whilst I have grown to love the large size of the watch in training, I know that it will cause me a few issues when racing in a triathlon as I will need to take it off my wrist and put it back on again in transition 1 in order to get my wetsuit off. That’s just an incentive to be speedier on the bike though.

Multi-Sport

If there is one thing this watch can do, it’s track every sport imaginable. For me, this is probably the best technical feature of the watch. So far I have used it for running, cycling, kayaking, sailing, pool swimming and open water swimming. There is also the functionality to track a triathlon race which I will be doing at Hever Castle Triathlon. In addition to the sports I have already used it for, a few other examples of activities you can track include circuit training, skiing (cross country or alpine), rowing, hiking, and can even differentiate between trail, road and track running, in addition to many more. As someone who epitomises the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ this watch really is fabulous…I just love being able to track every single sport I have an interest in.

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GPS Locator 

This is a very mundane feature to mention but one I really do feel is worth a dedicated section to. You know how annoying it is when you’re waiting for your watch to pick up a signal? This isn’t a problem with the Suunto Spartan Ultra. With previous watches there have been times where I could have run my first mile in the time I had to wait for satellites to be located (I’m really not joking), and so it is incredibly refreshing to hit start and have things ready to go in a matter of seconds.

Battery Life

Another slightly dull technical feature to mention as something I love however anyone who takes part in endurance sports will understand the struggle of your watch dying at a critical moment. I tend to train 6 days a week at about 1-2 hours duration on each day and I have only had to recharge my watch once per week, and even then it still had a decent percentage of battery life left in it. Although I’m not a marathon or ultra runner, I suspect this watch would be a dream for you (in fact, my ultra-running uncle uses a different model in the Suunto range and he thinks his watch is brilliant too).

Display Screen

The display on the watch is also pretty impressive, it has a sapphire glass colour display which feels really durable. The screen is incredibly easy to read, even in bright light which was something I struggled with when trying to read my previous GPS. Another benefit of the large screen is that the information displayed when tracking a sport is big and bold so you don’t need to spend ages looking at your wrist to get a general idea of where you’re at. It also feels like a bit of a treat having a colour display – I don’t know why this should make a difference, but it just feels that little bit more sophisticated and like it’s ahead of its competitors in this respect. Whilst the default screen is a clock (very handy!) it is really easy to navigate up and down to get to where you want to be within the menu, it also has a rather aesthetically pleased tally and colour-coded breakdown of all the activity you have done in that particular week.

Movescount

Suunto uses a platform called Movescount to keep track of your activity, and as well as the web platform there is also an app which is really easy to download and use. At first I was a little apprehensive – I’ve always been a Strava lover and moving to Movescount would mean I would lose my followers and wouldn’t be earning any Queen of the Mountains (fellow Strava-lovers will appreciate the importance of this…). Well, it turns out I love Movescount. I could of course export my files and reupload them to Strava to get 100% stat-tracking satisfaction, but actually I am perfectly happy with what Movescount provides.Within the app I can create videos of my routes (which you will have seen if you follow me on Twitter)…I personally love this feature and wish I was an ultra runner so my videos could be that much cooler. But still, I created a video from running in Paris and from sailing out to the Maunsell Forts so have had my fair share of fun. I’m planning to create a video of my triathlon too and am really keen to see how that turns out. I also love the heat maps within the web platform and how stylish and clean the site is.

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General Fitness Tracker

I have never really been into the whole ‘wear a fitness tracker in daily life’ trend and subsequently have not bought one of these, however I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Suunto Spartan Ultra could also double up as a fitness tracker and could tell me how many steps a day I was taking. I only tried this for one day, because, if I’m honest I really don’t feel the need to track my steps because I know that I am far more physically active than most people and also because a sports watch doesn’t really fit in with the clothes I would wear to work. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many steps I took on an average day in a sedentary office based job and take comfort in the fact that if for some reason I had to stop exercising, I would still be a relatively healthy and active human being.

Negatives

I would really like the Suunto Spartan Ultra to autopause when I stop during a workout. As a blogger (and I am sure many of you can relate to this) I occasionally stop to take a photo whilst out and about, and whilst it isn’t a huge issue having to stop the watch each time it would be helpful if the watch could pause itself when no movement is detected. I am yet to find a device that does this but it really would be something that would convince me to invest in a product…the same issue also applies to waiting at traffic lights too. And don’t even get me started on the distress of forgetting to restart your watch.  The other slight issue I had was just before heading out sailing; I had lined the watch up ready to start tracking that particular activity but didn’t want to press start as I was still rigging my boat. But low and behold, it started automatically after a minute or so of waiting for me to get moving which meant I then had to restart the watch when I realised upon launching and had a workout that I needed to delete once home and uploaded onto Movescount. Again, this isn’t a huge issue but was a slight inconvenience at the time as I hadn’t deleted a workout at that point and was worried it would mess up my stats. I am also an Android user so haven’t been able to pair my phone directly with my device, although apparently a software update is being released at the end of this month which will fix this issue.

Would I recommend? 

Oh, wholeheartedly YES! I absolutely adore this watch and feel like it has become quite a trusted friend throughout this month of training. At the moment the positives of the watch far outweigh the very few negatives and I feel like it would be a great watch for someone who enjoys taking part in multiple sports.

The watch I have retails at £519 which I feel would be prohibitive for people who just like to go for an occasional run and would not recommend it as an entry-level device, but if you are a serious endurance athlete then this is certainly a model you should consider.

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Strava: Strive

Longtime no post, whoops.

After the Oysterman Triathlon I sort of lost my motivation for all things triathlon…I still absolutely adore the sport and am completing my training religiously, but I have definitely reached that stage of mental and physical fatigue and am looking forward to a bit of a break. Hever Castle Triathlon is this weekend so my training for the week is a little lighter than usual, this is also my last race of the year and whilst it has been an interesting year where I have learnt to push myself through barriers I didn’t even know existed, I really am looking forward to a few months without racing (my next race is 5th Feburary 2017!).

A big part of this loss of motivation is because I’m ridiculously injured so training and racing physically hurts, but I’m hoping these injuries will clear up over the autumn and winter with reduced training and a bit of bio-mechanical work. The other part is that I crammed my race schedule with too much and that took some of the fun away – lesson learnt for next year. I have also felt far less inclined to document my training on social media because even I get sick of that world sometimes.

Whilst I’ve been in this little funk, I have been following the Strava Strive videos and slowly but surely have felt better about myself and the effort I’m putting in. The concept behind this initiative, in Strava’s words: ‘Being an athlete is simple – all you have to do is strive‘, essentially just you, doing your own thing, at your own pace, is enough to be an athlete. Being an athlete, at any level and with any distance, requires courage, determination, enthusiasm and a general bonne humeur, and these videos really do highlight that attitude.

So if you ever have moments of self-doubt whilst on your journey as an athlete, watch one of their videos and take pride in how far you’ve come and how much is still ahead. Also, the videos are beautifully shot and really do help to remind you that being an athlete should be fun (even when deep in the pain cave).