Out of the ashes

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Rehab didn’t go as smoothly as planned, with pain continuing in my right hip for weeks after the operation, and for reasons best known to itself, my brain decided to fixate on the possibility that I wouldn’t get better.  With multiple rounds of hip surgery creating gaps in my availability and making me unable to sit at a desk for hours at a time even weeks after the operations, I also struggled to find work for several months.

Lying in bed at home all day every day, banned even from going for a walk unless it was because I needed to get somewhere, gave my mind far too much time to turn in on itself.  A couple of hours watching Big Bang Theory most days cheered me up a bit, but wasn’t enough to stop me from ending up really, really sad. On bad days I cried for hours at a time, and even when I was allowed to leave the house again I often didn’t want to.

Somehow I carried on.  At the end of October, Ed and I started swimming lessons with Swim For Tri, who I can’t recommend highly enough. As well as being an excellent technical swim coach, Dan has been sympathetic and patient with my prolonged recovery time, and easily adapted the coaching focus so I could improve despite not being able to kick at first.

An extra unplanned operation at the end of November started to turn things round, and soon after that I was able to start cycling again, albeit for 5 minutes at a time, rather than 5 hours.  I built up gradually – the doctors’ definition of “gradually” this time, rather than mine – and combined with swimming and using a cross-trainer, I started to regain a little of my lost fitness.  (The doctors were great, by the way – my initial interpretation of their instructions, not so much!)

The hours and hours of physio exercises and plyometrics seem to have paid off – in January I was allowed to start running again, and although I’m building up very gradually, the times are nothing like as bad as I’d feared.

I’m currently training in Lanzarote to rebuild fitness and start working on aspects of training that aren’t practical in the UK winter, such as open water swimming and bike handling.  I’ve put the power meter back on the bike, done some timed swims and had the clock on my running.  The numbers are very pleasing, given that my last major operation was less than 4 months ago, and although I still have a lot of work to do, the only way is up!

More importantly, I feel human again, surprisingly confident in what I’m doing, and comfortable in my own skin.  The injury is behind me and I’m excited about this year’s training and racing.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t get me wet and don’t feed me after midnight

A couple of weeks ago I followed a routine I’m coming to know rather well: roll out of bed hideously early; follow a carefully prepared list of instructions, including a detailed nutrition plan and timings; go to body marking; hang around nervously waiting for everything to start…

Unfortunately this was the nutrition plan:

nutrition plan

…and this was body marking

body marking 1body marking 2

This was the final step in diagnosing the cause of ongoing excruciating hip pain I’ve been having that has stopped me from running, cycling and, at its worst, even swimming or walking without difficulty.  Following a series of scans that suggested joint issues as the probable cause, an injection into the joint under general anaesthetic was used to confirm that the pain does indeed come from the joint and, in turn, that arthroscopic hip surgery is the most appropriate treatment.

This followed a hellish couple of months of being told by various medical professionals that there was nothing really wrong, the pain would resolve by itself and it was fine to keep training on it, even when I was in agony and could barely walk.  Although the outcome was that I have to have surgery that will take me out of competition for the rest of the season, my main feeling was relief that it wasn’t psychological and was well-defined enough to be straightforwardly (if not easily) treatable.  Combined, admittedly, with mild terror…

The good news is that surgery will also treat the cause of the problem – the short story being that the shape of my femur and hip socket is such that there is impingement, which in itself causes pain and also damages tissue inside the socket.  The surgeon doesn’t just repair the tissue damage, but also remodels the shape of the bone slightly to prevent the problem recurring.  I look forward to seeing what I can achieve when I can string together more than a few months of consistent run training!

So last week I had the first (right) hip surgery. There’s a minimum of six weeks between having each hip treated in order to make rehab workable. Those of you who have met me will be astonished to learn that my second one is scheduled for six weeks to the day after the first……

My dependence on caffeine becomes apparent from my selection of items to consume upon waking. I’m also trying very hard not to look at the blood in the tube coming out of my hand

My dependence on caffeine becomes apparent from my selection of items to consume upon waking. I’m also trying very hard not to look at the blood in the tube coming out of my hand

Back on the bike, 24 hours after surgery – believe it or not, this was under doctor’s orders!

Back on the bike, 24 hours after surgery – believe it or not, this was under doctor’s orders!

Beautifully tidy stitches! BUT I CAN’T GET THEM WET, so no swimming (or having a bath) for 14 days

Beautifully tidy stitches! BUT I CAN’T GET THEM WET, so no swimming (or having a bath) for 14 days

Obviously I’m gutted to be missing out on the rest of the season, and Kona in particular.  Every night I dream that I’m training or racing – at one point I even took 85 seconds off my 5k PB, so there’s a new target for when I’m better!  Then I wake up, and I’m still on crutches, and it still hurts, and I’m still not going to be well enough even to fly to Hawaii, never mind compete.  A slightly suboptimal start to the day.

Happily the rehab process is probably the most active you could imagine for lower limb surgery – six thousand* physio exercises twice a day, plus all the upper body strengthening work I already do, and using a stationary bike with low resistance “starting with 10-15 minutes and gradually increasing the duration” twice a day.  I couldn’t possibly comment on the wattage or the duration I’m now up to…

*Ed and I will celebrate our four-year anniversary next weekend. His tendency to hyperbole may or may not be starting to rub off on me

So anyway, rehab keeps me busy, and in the low moments, or when I’m in pain, or sick from the side effects of the painkillers, I try to count my very substantial blessings…

  • Ed has been kind enough to set up and pay for private health insurance for me for the last year, so I have had and will continue to have immediate and free access to world class medical care
  • He has also come with me to every appointment, into hospital (and down to theatre while I cried and panicked – for someone who is hard as nails in other circumstances, I am very scared of medical stuff) and stayed at home to look after me in the days following surgery
  • I’ll be better pretty soon in the grand scheme of things – I should be back to full training 12 weeks or so after the second operation, with biking and swimming returning to some extent within a couple of weeks, and some running-related work (pool running, cross-trainer and anti-gravity treadmill) well before the 12-week mark
  • Once I’m better, in the medium to long term I’ll be stronger than I was to start with. As mentioned above, I should no longer grind to a halt – literally – with hip pain every few months. The physio I’m seeing as part of the process is also addressing a range of weaknesses including, but not limited to, hip stability, that may have contributed to my problems – fixing this will be a significant help in generating and transferring power efficiently when I’m running
  • In a sense this is really ideal timing – I’d more or less decided to get my pro licence next year, and having this happen a couple of years down the line could have been a lot more stressful if I’d had sponsors who expected me to race, or simply missed out on prize money I’d expected from races. As it is, I can wait and see how my return to training goes before making a decision on whether to race as an amateur or professional next year

Speaking of racing, any plans I had for 2015 remain up in the air but I’m confident that, if my recovery progresses as expected, I’ll get myself into good enough condition to race at some point during the year.  To cheer myself up, I had a look back at what I managed to achieve in the rowing season immediately following six months out of training with rib stress fractures…

Within a couple of months of returning to training my test scores were back on a par with athletes in the middle of the national squad and I’d placed fifth in the (non-squad) GB selection trials.  The following summer, I acquitted myself well racing the single scull against the best in the world at Holland Beker international regatta; won National Championships by a comprehensive margin; and represented my country in international competition in the single, double and quad sculls.

Clearly I wasn’t at the same standard in triathlon before I got injured as I was with rowing, so can’t expect quite the same results upon returning, but the above is normally enough to raise both my spirits and my motivation to complete the aforementioned plethora of physio exercises.  I’m determined to come back stronger, faster and with an even higher level of appreciation for the fact that I’m able to spend much of my life training and racing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A better way forward for pro Ironman racing

A recent article on the future of professional Ironman racing has proposed, in all seriousness, a system whereby the disparity between the number of men’s and women’s pro slots at Kona is increased.

“The pro fields would begin at 60 for the men and 40 for the women. That would mean an increase of 10 men and 5 women”.

Andrew Messick, the CEO of Ironman, describes this article on Twitter as “a positive contribution”.  Let me repeat: that’s an article that proposes a worsening of gender inequality being described by the guy who runs the show as A Good Thing.

Twitter screenshot 1

Something I find incredible is that Messick’s comments are being passed on by female pros too…

Twitter screenshot 2

The article also suggested a number of changes to how the WTC could structure its professional racing, whereby only 12 races would have prize money and qualifying slots to Kona.  At each of those races, the top three women and top five men would qualify.

Below I demonstrate that:

  • a 12-race system would make the sport significantly less interesting in many ways, as well as less fair; and
  • ironically, one step that would help the current system to work better is creating equality for male and female athletes.

Leaving this aside, any change that were to be made to the way that racing is currently structured would provide an excellent opportunity to address the current inequality in men’s and women’s slots, albeit that this could be rectified immediately by equalising the number of pros from each gender regardless of any changes to the overall structure.

 

When the WTC adds a new race to the Ironman series it’s exciting for age groupers and pros alike to see another opportunity to race.  The increasing number of races on the circuit allows athletes to select courses that play to their strengths.  It allows them to travel almost anywhere in the world, or to travel very little.  For pros a system with only 12 races a year, combined with restrictions on travel expenses and any consideration of personal strengths and weaknesses, would severely restrict this choice.

A 12-race system would be highly susceptible to gaming and could even lead to a multi-tier system within the 12 races.  The obvious strategy for the strongest athletes is to qualify early, leaving them time to rest, recover and rebuild into Kona.  Under the proposed system, the first few races of the season would become the most competitive, with later races likely to be of a demonstrably lower standard as the top-tier pros have already qualified.

For the remaining pros, tactics start to come into play.  Should I race the first qualifier of the season, knowing that x, y, z are going to be there?  Would it be better to wait until a mid- or even end-of-season qualifier when the strongest athletes have already qualified, and risk going into Kona tired?  This also increases the risk of spreading the field out in Kona itself, with July and August qualifiers potentially exhausted from multiple attempts to qualify.

There is also the issue that races, especially those of the duration and level of complexity of Ironman, don’t always go according to plan.  Under the current system, if an athlete faces an insurmountable bike mechanical issue, they can pull out of the race and enter another one a week or two later.  Undesirable, I’m sure you’ll agree, but not as undesirable as having a deserving contender missing out on Kona because of an equipment failure.

The 12-race system would make life difficult for the next generation of pros: at the moment, prize money from smaller races (and concomitant sponsorship) helps them to survive as professionals for long enough to gain the fitness and experience needed to do well at the highest level.  Without this, we might very well find that while the sport would flourish for the next 5 years, after this we would find a gap where the up-and-coming talent had simply been unable to survive financially.

There are clearly issues with the current system that are addressed in the original article, most notably the fact that current top 10 Kona finishers are not required to “qualify” in any real sense of the word for the following year, but I do not believe this is the way to solve them.

Although the existing structure sees issues with strength and depth of field given the high number of races, I believe that to an extent this will right itself, with strong athletes willing to travel where they need to get their KPR points.  Attracting more people into the sport will also help with this: with a higher ratio of professional athletes to races, every race will be closer and hence more exciting.

 

On the subject of encouraging more athletes into the sport, it makes intuitive sense that a sport that treats all its participants fairly is an attractive sport to compete in.

On a personal level, faced with a choice between a sport that I was instantly good at or one that would require far more work for me to excel, I nonetheless chose triathlon over cycling with little hesitation.  As a woman in cycling the opportunities were limited, though it was not so much the quantum as the inequality of the opportunities that put me off.

Data from the US shows that following the introduction of Title IX in 1972, participation of both men and women at both the high school and collegiate level has increased.  The following table is reproduced from this website:

Title IX impact

These numbers provide a compelling commercial as well as moral argument in favour of equality.  If women are treated fairly, more people of both genders participate in sport.  Both the men’s and women’s races thereby become more competitive, closer and more exciting to watch.

For WTC, that means more athletes, both AG and pro, participating in their events, buying their merchandise and spreading awareness of their brand.  It means an increased general level of interest in the events, which in turn leads to rights to televise the events being worth more.  It just makes sense.

The current level of strength in depth in the women’s field is remarkable given the current lower number of participants.  Quoting from trirating.com:

  • “The top 3 in a women’s race are usually closer together than the men”
  • Where there is a drop-off in the women’s field, “the women’s differences are a lot smaller than what could be expected from the “raw” number of athletes”
  • In a women’s race, we also see more changes in the lead between T2 and the finish (in the women’s races, the winner was not leading after the bike in 17 races, in the men’s the lead changed in only 12 races)

Finally, I simply find it hard to believe that in 2014 I am having to ask not to be discriminated against, not to be given the same chance as another athlete, just because they were born male and I female.  As Rachel Joyce eloquently put it, “We count for half of the world’s population.  We should want to see triathlon be an equal sport in future generations.  What message are we sending out to kids taking up the sport with this disparity?”

With Ironman recently adding several new races with AG Kona qualifying slots to the calendar, there is clearly not a capacity issue in Kona.  WTC is so, so close to providing a system that “feels fair”; why not make one small change that would allow everyone to compete on a level playing field?  There’s still plenty of time to fit another 15 bikes on the pier this October.  Give me a good reason: why not?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monster Mojo 2014

“Lost your mojo?! Come find it again with us!” the event website promised.  Exactly what the doctor ordered – stinging from a disappointing first race of the season at IM South Africa, I’d stumbled across the Mojo while looking for race practice and a bit of a confidence boost in the lead up to IM Austria.

It promised a calm and relatively warm swim for the time of year due to shallow water, a flat and potentially windy bike course and a flat off-road run, which suited my strengths and had the potential for some fast times.  Perfect.  Also affordable at £100 entry, with the chance of winning my entry fee back plus a bit more if I did well.

In race week I was so tired we nearly didn’t go.  My response to a race that I’m not pleased with has always been to batter my body with more training.  I worked flat out all day on my “rest day” from training, the Bank Holiday Monday before the race.  Three days before the race, Ed was knocked off his bike by two careless drivers in two separate incidents 14 hours apart – thankfully he is fine (and yes… so is the bike) but we were both pretty shaken by the experience.

Thankfully after two light days of training on the Friday and Saturday I was feeling almost human and so, with a little help from an ever-evolving document on my laptop imaginatively entitled “Triathlon Packing List.xls”, I quickly threw some kit in a bag on Saturday morning and we set off as planned for Peterborough…. that is, after the slightly less quick task of bundling 2 TT bikes, 2 triathletes and all my kit into a Ford Ka….

We stayed in the Quality Hotel Peterborough – much better than the name suggests!  Right next to race HQ at the rowing lake, and did us a decent breakfast at 5.30am on Sunday morning.  Once we had moved all our stuff in and built bikes we went back out to drive the course – this is well worth doing if you are racing here.  Signing was very clear, but there were a couple of tricky corners that were worth knowing about before zooming round them on a TT bike in the rain, in particular a right hand turn onto a rough track and a roundabout crossing the A47.

Race day dawned and after breakfast we skulked around in the nice warm dry hotel for as long as possible (I even did a hotel-room-based warm up and put my wetsuit on before going outside…).  At racking I realised I’d never done a triathlon where you lay out your kit next to your bike, rather than having a big bag WTC-style – you can see this in my transition times…

A quick briefing at 6.45…

We’re on the right of the picture, Ed in a blue jacket and me to his left rocking the wetsuit ‘n’ trainers look...

We’re on the right of the picture, Ed in a blue jacket and me to his left rocking the wetsuit ‘n’ trainers look…

… and we were into the lake.  I’d just about managed to wriggle my way to the front when the starting gun went and we were off!

small IMG_1855

The swim course must be one of the easiest in triathlon to sight and stay on course: straight out, across and back down a 1k rowing lake.  Despite this, having missed the front pack, I managed to head straight for the bank a few times but still came out of the water in second place with a PB.

After a ‘steady’ T1 in which I’d put on as many clothes as possible I’d dropped back to fourth but was confident I’d soon regain these places on my strongest discipline.  Out onto the bike course, there are a few roundabouts to negotiate on the way to the loop and I’d been concerned about traffic on these when we drove the course the previous day – funnily enough they were a lot quieter at 7.30 on a Sunday morning…

The loop itself is pretty flat and can be windy.  Slightly technical in places, but nothing terrible, even in the rain.  A single aid station towards the end of the loop was handing out water and nutrition, and good signing and marshalling meant it was easy not to get lost.  I knew I was in the lead and let myself relax – the course is great fun to ride so I just enjoyed it!

Not sure what my face looks like when I’m *not* enjoying it.....

Not sure what my face looks like when I’m *not* enjoying it…..

Out on the run, previously my weakness, I knew I would be trying to hold onto the lead.  In fact my hard work over the winter had paid off and I was holding the gap to second place almost exactly throughout – but I didn’t know that at the time!

Digging deep, I took my mind off the pain by chatting to everyone I passed, marshals, volunteers… and I have to say they were the friendliest bunch I’ve raced with.  Normally I get a grunt in reply at best but everyone was talkative and full of encouragement.

Both feet off the floor! Slowly slowly catchy Resemblance to a Proper Runner...

Both feet off the floor! Slowly slowly catchy Resemblance to a Proper Runner…

By the time I headed towards the finish line I knew from Ed’s shouting of splits that I had a healthy lead and reminded myself to enjoy it – my first win!

Again, everyone at the finish line was lovely – volunteers had hurried over minutes before to be ready with the finish line tape and I was sent away with food for myself and even some extra sweets for Ed, as well as a unique finish medal, some great memories and a much-needed upswing in confidence.

The feeling that makes six months of winter training worthwhile! Ed snuck into the picture too...

The feeling that makes six months of winter training worthwhile! Ed snuck into the picture too…

Unfortunately and rather embarrassingly I managed to miss the prizegiving ceremony… having disappeared back to the hotel for a very welcome hot shower and Sunday roast for lunch, I turned up at 2pm as scheduled to be informed that prizegiving had been moved earlier because everyone was standing around waiting and getting cold.  Indoors and focused (of course) on acquisition of food, I’d missed the announcements over the tannoy.

I’d recommend this race to anyone: it’s well organised and the course is straightforward, making it a good one for those moving up to middle distance.  For those improving or looking for some competition, the prize money means that although the field was small this year it is high quality, with plenty of past Kona and GB AG qualifiers in the mix.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ironman South Africa, 6 April 2014

The coach of my first Henley-winning rowing crew said to us during the lead-up to the race, “You have to be good enough that you can have a bad day on race day and still win.” For me that thought sums up my race in South Africa – not that I won anything, but I did what I needed to do by securing my place at the Ironman World Championships in Kona later this year.

It’s taken me 5 weeks and the perspective gained from a later, more successful race to be able to write a constructive report about my (under)performance in Port Elizabeth.  As in all races, there are plenty of things I did right, plenty I could have done better and many observations worth noting for the benefit of anyone planning to race IMSA in the future.

We flew to South Africa a week before the race, aiming to give ourselves time to recover from the overnight flight to Johannesburg and transfer on to PE, as well as to acclimatise to the heat a little, coming as we were from a UK winter.

PE airport

I’d be keen to travel at least this early were I to be racing again.  As well as fitting in two pre-rides of a full loop of the bike course each during the week, I was able to work effectively at our hotel; I was pleasantly surprised to find that the internet connection was virtually indistinguishable from a superfast UK broadband connection, which I need in order to work.  Working during race week isn’t for everyone, but I find it helps me relax and maintain a sense of perspective.

Training on the course – view from the helmet camera

Training on the course – view from the helmet camera

Much had been made of the new bike course (changed from a 3-loop course in 2013 to a 2-loop course to accommodate an increased number of athletes) and how hilly it was.  Having been lucky enough to spend two 2-week blocks training in Lanzarote this winter I still perceived the ~1,600m of climbing in 177km as “basically flat”.

The course was also an absolute pleasure to ride.  The roads were like polished glass compared to the potholes of Surrey, traffic was light and the surroundings beautiful.  We even spotted a pod of dolphins out to sea while stopped on the coastal road to execute the Magnum-based refuelling strategy I’d adopted during my second Lanzarote camp of the season.

(For those contemplating racing IMSA in future: each lap of the bike course can be broadly divided into two sections, with the outbound section being more uphill but also more sheltered.  As you turn and come back into town, the course becomes flatter but also potentially more windy.)

My greater concerns were a shallow beach start (run, jump, run, jump, run, jump, still not deep enough to swim…) and choppy water, as well as how I would hold up running more than twice as far as I’d run in recent training.  A few practice swims and short runs in race week didn’t provide much of an idea of what the day itself would be like.

Race number pickup, the expo and briefing were all fairly unremarkable, though it being the 10-year anniversary of IMSA we did find ourselves in possession of some rather smart backpacks!

Team FrEd backpacks

Race day came round quickly but I felt happy that I was ready.  I hadn’t raced since Kona, which itself hadn’t really been a proper race due to injury, and I was looking forward to testing the improvements I’d made over the winter.

The hotel laid on a great race day breakfast at 4am for all Ironman competitors – and on the subject of breakfast I have to mention my equal measures of amusement and dismay at seeing someone order an egg white omelette, cooked without any oil, both the day before and the day after the race.  I mean…. why would anyone want to eat the bit WITH ALL THE NUTRIENTS IN?

Ed and I walked to transition together and worked together on our bikes, making sure everything was prepared, then headed over to drop bags and warm up.  We had to say goodbye at that point – obviously in their infinite wisdom the race organisers decided that women are all slow, and should start at the back, so I had an extra 20 minutes to wait before hurling myself into the ocean.

The flip side of starting in a women-and-older-men-only wave meant that we had a slightly less aggressive jostling-for-position-on-the-start-line phase than I am used to, and I was able to start right at the front of the group, without even being pushed, shoved or kicked…  After standing on the beach for what felt like forever, the gun fired and we were off.

The swim was busy until the first turn buoy 300m from shore, but nothing like as bad as I’d been expecting.  (Another aside here for potential future IMSA competitors…. I’ve heard the first starting wave was a slightly different story!)  It was only after that that things started to get tricky, with marker buoys over 500m apart and completely invisible behind some otherwise impressive swell.  I swam quite a way off course at one point, with my Garmin clocking an extra 330m by the time I came out of the water, lost time trying to sight every few strokes and so never really found my rhythm.

Having hoped to break an hour, I was disappointed to be running back onto the beach in 63 minutes, but quickly dismissed this from my mind – the swim course was also new for 2014, so could have been short, could have been long, and in any case, what would be the point in worrying about it now?

I focused on getting myself through T1 and out onto the bike course as quickly as possible.  With all the 25-44-year-old men having started the race 20 minutes before I did, transition was rammed, with men changing on the grass outside the tents as well as in the women’s changing tent!  This didn’t bother me… but what did was the massive queue for suncream on the way out.  Something I hadn’t planned for, and which required a split-second decision of whether to lose time now, or potentially much more time later.

I’d liberally applied factor 50 before the swim.  It said “waterproof” on the bottle…. I skipped the queue and ran to my bike, quickly joining the hundreds of people already out on the road.  Overtaking from the start, I used the slower cyclists in front of me to work off, hunting down and passing one after another as wide and quickly as possible to avoid any suggestion of drafting.

It was A Really Long Way to the first aid station – I think around 25km.  Thirsty after the swim and carrying only one water bottle (and one gel bottle, plus a bento box full of goodies on the top tube), I was reliant on a plentiful supply of water from the aid stations to keep myself hydrated.  They weren’t well spaced but I drank at every opportunity and felt at the time that it was enough.

The bike leg itself was fun.  It’s hard not to enjoy yourself when you’re constantly overtaking people!  Coming back past transition before the second lap, the atmosphere was amazing.  Despite a strong wind I was flying, still passing people and the cheering gave me a welcome lift.

I passed the lead female AGer shortly after the start of the second lap – she’d put five minutes into me during the swim and wasn’t messing around on the bike.  I wasn’t sure at the time that she was leading, but I knew she’d won the 2013 amateur race and hence that I must be there or thereabouts.

I was also pleased to pass one of the pros (who’d started 30 minutes ahead of us) around the middle of the second lap, and to see only one instance of blatant drafting on the course the whole time I was out there.  There were plenty of officials on motorbikes doing their best to prevent it, although as ever this made it harder to pass.

small 0671_21541

Towards the end of the bike course the wind really picked up, making it a real grind back into town.  Despite the dent this was putting in my average speed I relished it, knowing that I was very strong and very aero (thanks, as always, to Ed here for lending me his equipment, buying me bits of mine that I couldn’t otherwise afford and spending hours making sure it is all in perfect condition to race).  I had every confidence that others would be slowed down by the wind more than I would, and the splits I saw later bore this out.

I was through T2 quickly (for me…) and out onto the run, confirming with a volunteer as I replaced my bike shoes with socks and trainers that I was indeed the first amateur woman through T2.  Now all I had to do was hold onto it… I did, however, pause for suncream this time, as I’d realised my skin was no longer the same colour it had been that morning.

I started running…. and something… just… didn’t…. work.  I’d done all my long runs off the bike back home, mainly on off-road, relatively hilly terrain.  They felt easy and sustainable and so I was expecting, on race day, on flat tarmac, to be able to hold at least the same pace I had in training.  Instead I was almost a minute a mile slower over the whole marathon.  I didn’t fade, and I didn’t walk, but found myself unable to run any faster for the duration of the run.

I’ve spent the weeks after the race trying to work out what happened.  I felt I’d paced the bike well, with a lower average HR than in any previous Ironman and no big surges (with no particularly steep climbs on the course) so the “obvious” answer probably wasn’t the right one.

In the end I put it down to heat, sunburn and possibly not getting my nutrition right on the bike, as my stomach didn’t settle down until I’d made 2 stops and reached around the half way point of the marathon.  Although I’d obsessively eaten and drunk every 20 minutes on the bike as planned, it’s possible that I had too much, or that I simply couldn’t tolerate the caffeinated gels I was using, even though I’d practised with them in training with no ill effects.

The run was otherwise unremarkable.  I was lucky that I’d built up enough of a lead on the swim and bike that only two women passed me – I gave each of them a shout of encouragement, which I don’t think either was expecting!  I also saw Ed going the other way on my second lap and although by that point I wasn’t able to respond to his shouting, I was as always hugely relieved to know he was safe.

Unable to face the thought of eating anything (including gels… in fact, especially gels) I forced down some Coke whenever I could manage, as well as water.  I was terrified that I was about to run out of sugar and slow to a walk at any moment, but this point never came – in the medical tent straight after the race they even measured my blood sugar and told me it was fine.

Possibly uniquely, water on the IMSA run course is handed out in sachets, which you tear with your teeth to get at the water. I took two at each aid station and drank / poured over my head as required

Possibly uniquely, water on the IMSA run course is handed out in sachets, which you tear with your teeth to get at the water. I took two at each aid station and drank / poured over my head as required

One slightly sad and demotivating part of the run course was the part where it rejoined the bike course. This was fine for the first two laps, but during the final lap, on my way to a 10:45 finish, I realised that anyone I saw still on the bike would be pulled from the race as soon as they reached transition, with a 10:30 cut off for finishing the bike leg.

I couldn’t dwell on this for long, though: the run course was increasingly full of people, who were now mostly walking, and I combined dodging round them with checking my Garmin and realising the run course was going to be slightly long (grrr), while also worrying about the fact that I hadn’t actually worked out the way to the finish line – I didn’t know how far behind me the next girl was, and I was in any case really very keen not to run past the line and have to retrace my steps!

Happily by this point a volunteer was directing those of us who were at the end of our third lap to the finish line.  I’d picked up the pace slightly in the last few kilometres and kept pushing all the way along the red carpet, to be greeted with “Frankie Sanjana, second in your age group, you are going to Kona!”  Exhausted and relieved, I crumpled into a heap on the other side of the finish line… only to be bundled onto a stretcher and carted off to the medical tent.  Apparently collapsing over the finish line isn’t looked upon as normal by non-ex-rowers 😉

Having been poked, prodded and stretched at least partly back into shape by some brilliant volunteer physios, I was free to go.  The athlete info tent in the finish area was excellent: they were able to show me a breakdown of all my split times, as well as telling me where Ed had last gone past a timing mat and hence roughly where he would be now.

I worked out that he’d be coming past transition about 20 minutes later, leaving me just enough time to stuff my face with as much pizza and chocolate milk as I could lay my hands on before wandering up towards the road to try and find him – I was overjoyed when I saw him and we even managed a quick hug over the fence before he headed off to walk his final lap (due to injury he’d been advised not to try to run during the race).  After taking my bike and bags home, I waddled back a couple of hours later to watch him finish.

Ed finish line

Shamefully, the next day involved much use of taxis to cover really quite a small distance – with a separate rolldown and awards ceremony, we needed to make two separate trips to race HQ – but it was definitely worth it…

lei and letter

trophy again

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Not a race report

I’d always planned to write up my first race of 2014, with Wokingham Half being an early introduction to my season designed to remind me of pre-race nerves and hopefully post a good time to prove to myself that all the training I’ve been doing to improve my running is working.  Running has previously been by far my weakest discipline, and hopefully this race would show me that the balance had been redressed at least to some extent.

A couple of days of lighter training had me feeling ready to go out and smash it by the Friday before the Sunday race.  Target times had been set and kit choices worked out, and the “twitchy” nervous feelings I experience before every race were beginning to set in.

race kit

A ping in my inbox at 4:30 on Friday afternoon announced that my weekend plans had been scuppered – the race had been cancelled as the course had gone from “slightly flooded” to “completely underwater”, with further heavy rain predicted for Saturday.

 

Since changing sport to triathlon I have always thought my pre-race feelings were a little different from how they were in the bad old days of rowing, and Friday afternoon confirmed that.  Rather than feeling secretly relieved that I didn’t have to go and fail yet again to live up to my own and others’ expectations, I was genuinely disappointed.

 

Having had the obligatory moan about not being able to race, I quickly started plotting how I could get more training benefit out of the weekend than I would have done if I’d raced.  Not having to save myself for Sunday meant better training on Saturday, and not having to travel meant more time to train on Sunday.

 

So I embarked on a weekend featuring…

Every cyclist’s favourite interval workout (go on, have a guess...)

Every cyclist’s favourite interval workout (go on, have a guess…)

Strength and conditioning (track pump optional; Swiss ball sadly not optional)

Strength and conditioning (track pump optional; Swiss ball sadly not optional)

An interval swim, during which I discovered that I only have one speed (so just as well I am racing Ironman not sprint distance)

An interval swim, during which I discovered that I only have one speed (so just as well I am racing Ironman not sprint distance)

Soaking my shoes again, err, I mean, brick training

Soaking my shoes again, err, I mean, brick training

The brick session I’d planned to replace the race was interesting – a decent turbo with a bit of strength work thrown in, followed by a 90 minute run in Richmond Park.  My terrain notes say “trail / mud / grass / up to my knees in flood water” … for some reason I didn’t hit my half marathon target split!

Another piece of the jigsaw of preparing for race day is what has been termed Working On The Bikes… this generally involves Ed more than me due to his superior bike knowledge, patience, spatial awareness and ability to not screw things up.  Something always seems to need doing and this weekend was no exception.

Previous weekends were spend identifying which components I needed to buy for Ed to bodge a TT position on my turbo bike. This weekend it’s finished and I’ve started turboing in my race position

Previous weekends were spend identifying which components I needed to buy for Ed to bodge a TT position on my turbo bike. This weekend it’s finished and I’ve started turboing in my race position

Electronic gearing allowing me to shift from the base bar as well as the aero bars is installed on the real TT bike; now I’m just waiting for the floods to recede so I can try it out...

Electronic gearing allowing me to shift from the base bar as well as the aero bars is installed on the real TT bike; now I’m just waiting for the floods to recede so I can try it out…

I’m tired and sore but pleased with a productive weekend.  This afternoon and evening has been focused on recovery, or “sitting around and eating” as it’s otherwise known, ahead of the last hard week of my training cycle before a few days of lighter training…

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in Paradise…

After starting my 2014 campaign with a couple of months of back-to-back turbo sessions and comedy running outfits…

Winter running

…I welcomed the opportunity to leave the UK for a couple of weeks and practise some other aspects of training.  Sea swimming, TT bike handling on dry, fast roads and transition practice are all next to impossible to replicate at home at this time of year, and with Ironman South Africa creeping ever closer, Ed and I planned a trip to Lanzarote for two weeks over the Christmas break to try and fill these gaps in my experience before the race.

Whenever we travel for training or racing, I spend hours researching where to stay, the cheapest (and bike-friendliest) flights, and local swim, bike and run routes.  We’d stayed at Club La Santa before and found it much more expensive than we’d expected, and being keen to fit some sea swimming in meant that staying on the south side of the island would be preferable.

Hours of searching later, I seemed to be drawing a blank but eventually stumbled across the Tri-Sports Lanzarote website.  It sounded too good to be true!   A few emails revealed that it wasn’t, and we were quickly booked in for 2 weeks in a dedicated training facility, complete with secure bike storage, a 25m pool and regular trips to swim on the Ironman Lanzarote sea swim course – perfect!

After some deliberation, we both also booked on to an organised training week that was being run out of Tri-Sports Lanzarote by professional triathletes Yvonne van Vlerken and Per Bittner.  I was more than a little worried that the camp would be entirely made up of scarily fast “elite amateur” men and that I would be far too slow, but as Ed pointed out, at least if that happened we would both be left behind together.

Nerves about whether I was fast enough were combined with my fear of descending on the bike and slight reservations about whether I was sociable enough to spend two weeks living with an ever-changing group of people who I’d never met before.  I was definitely looking forward to going, but not at all sure what to expect.

It turned out I needn’t have worried.  Being met at the airport was a great start, after the memories of our taxi’s rip-off extra fares for carrying bikes the previous year, and once we’d arrived at the villa we were introduced to the team: Daz and Debs, who have been running Tri-Sports Lanzarote for a few years now, and Nick, who helps them out – and makes the best hummus any of us have ever tasted!

After a fantastic lunch, we built our bikes and headed off for a test ride, before stretching, unpacking, an early dinner and bed – we’d woken up at 4am so were somewhat short on sleep…

The next day we set off for a ride in a small group.  It turned out that my worries about not being quick enough were unfounded and we had great fun riding up mountains, if slightly less fun on my part wearing out the brake pads on the way back down – but that was what I’d come here to practise.

The view from the top of Haria

The view from the top of Haria

 

 I think my incredulous expression is because I’ve realised that now it’s time to go all the way back down on the bike too... Daz may be looking happy for the same reason?

I think my incredulous expression is because I’ve realised that now it’s time to go all the way back down on the bike too… Daz may be looking happy for the same reason?

We spent the next few days swimming in the sea, covering plenty of miles on the bike but keeping run volumes down to avoid injury, adding in some strength work, stretching and physio sessions to support the battering our bodies were taking.

Despite my aversion to Christmas-related hype, I should also mention the best Christmas we’ve ever had!  The day started with a group trip to the beach and a few km of swimming in the glassiest conditions I’ve ever seen.  We then headed back to the villa for a delicious Christmas breakfast and in my case a few mile repeats to work up an appetite for lunch.

I have never managed to look glamorous or to cook Christmas dinner. Debs does both at the same time, and makes it look easy!

I have never managed to look glamorous or to cook Christmas dinner. Debs does both at the same time, and makes it look easy!

 

Err...... Caption competition?

Err…… Caption competition?

Christmas lunch was stunning, and a gloriously peaceful afternoon of good company and exchanging presents followed.  My highlight has to be my very own Tri-Sports Lanzarote mug – pictured here in the esteemed company of Dan Hawksworth’s and Cat Morrison’s:

TSL mugs

Yvonne and Per’s organised camp started a couple of days after Christmas, and brought with it an influx of new people staying at the villa.  Again I was worried I’d be so slow on the bike the group would be stopping to wait for me; in fact, I was embarrassed to find my natural speed was actually much too fast to ride comfortably with the others.

The camp was, in any case, cleverly structured so that different speeds wouldn’t be a problem.  On some days we split into several smaller groups, and on one day I discovered a new “fun” (read “extremely tough” session): 10km on the bike followed by 2km run.  Four times.  As fast as you can.

Before the pain... We ran an out-and-back on the trail to the left of the picture, and rode an out-and-back on the road in the background. “Transition” (aka a pile of shoes) is set up on the bottom left

Before the pain… We ran an out-and-back on the trail to the left of the picture, and rode an out-and-back on the road in the background. “Transition” (aka a pile of shoes) is set up on the bottom left

 

Still just about smiling afterwards!

Still just about smiling afterwards!

The camp as a whole was great: exceptionally well organised, and designed so that everyone got the most out of every session.  I learnt a lot from the week: some new sessions, strength exercises and effective ways of stretching, as well as plenty of technical points to keep in mind now I’m home.

My highlights were discovering that I was so much stronger than I’d thought on the bike, and coming second in a 5k running race that we all took part in on New Year’s Eve.  I’d never run a 5k before and had no idea how I would get on – it only occurred to me shortly after the turnaround that Yvonne was the only woman I’d spotted coming back past me in the other direction…

Podium place, accompanied by an irrelevantly large trophy and a €60 voucher to spend in the SPAR supermarket – a happy new year indeed

Podium place, accompanied by an irrelevantly large trophy and a €60 voucher to spend in the SPAR supermarket – a happy new year indeed

 

Prize of the day, however, goes to George, who won a ham in the raffle after the race!

Prize of the day, however, goes to George, who won a ham in the raffle after the race!

We had a couple of days left after the end of the official camp before we had to return to home and work – after a lighter day on Friday, we mustered up the energy for over 5 hours on the bike on Saturday, including some hill repeats up the Tabayesco climb, as well as the one part of the Ironman bike course I had yet to tackle…

Thanks are due to Ed for advice on and installation of climbing gears

Thanks are due to Ed for advice on and installation of climbing gears

Pretty tired by the last day, I considered taking it easy… but that wouldn’t be very “me”.  A shorter 3.5 hour ride with some intervals, bike packing and one last swim were squeezed in before heading off to the airport.

We returned home absolutely shattered but having completed a huge volume of training, addressed the various aspects of training that I couldn’t work on in the UK winter and, somehow, lost some weight.  More importantly it was the most fun training camp I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait for next time!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it? Low-carb lunacy, Nov 2013

I have had many an enjoyable rant over the past months and years concerning the idiocy of food exclusion diets in general and the low-carb fad in particular.  So why did I even contemplate giving this a go?

Looking back over the 2013 season, it’s abundantly clear that my biggest weakness was running.  This is partly due to my previous sporting background – elite rowers, especially small ones, tend to transfer very well to cycling, and the swimming lessons I’d had as a child helped more than I’d anticipated.

However, this didn’t fully explain the difference: my swim was strong, my bike was stronger and my run was mediocre at best.  For the 2014 season I need a step change in my running.

Consulting a running expert, we developed the following plan of attack:

  1. Change my running shoes to Asics – one pair for longer runs, and a lighter pair for intervals
  2. Change my run training from predominantly long, slow distance to intervals and runs off the bike
  3. Lose a lot of weight very quickly, so that the impact on my training closer to race season is minimised
I love the new shoes – bright, comfortable and most importantly fast

I love the new shoes – bright, comfortable and most importantly fast

 

Estimates vary wildly regarding the effect that losing x amount of weight will have on y marathon time, but there appears to be a consensus that, all else being equal, the less you weigh, the faster you will go.

The diet I was to follow was not one I’d heard of before: for 3-4 weeks, to achieve rapid weight loss (NOT to “convert my body to run on fat” or any other such unscientific nonsense), I was allowed meat, fish, any fruit except bananas, any veg except potatoes.  I could eat as much as I liked, but only of these foods.  Dubious but desperate, I decided to try it.

The impact on my training, my bank balance and my mood was immediate and devastating.  I was light-headed, nauseous and unable to concentrate.  My long bike ride the following Sunday was close to my slowest ever.  And it rapidly became apparent that the cost of fuelling a 20-hour training week on high quality food that doesn’t include fat or carbohydrate is astronomical.

Still, I thought, it was my first long ride since the break after Kona; never mind that I’d smashed the first few, slightly shorter rides, it must be just the lost fitness from 2 weeks of rest.  The scales still read the same, but I figured there was more fibre inside me with all the extra fruit and veg I’d been scoffing.  I stuck to it for another week.  In my defence, my brain was starved of sugar by this point!

The following Sunday’s ride was even slower.  Training felt like going through the motions and a route that had previously been well under 4 ½ hours now took over 5.  That afternoon, at Sunday lunch with friends, I watched Ed refuelling properly on a delicious roast dinner while I picked at the meat and veg, then went home and binged on salad and ratatouille.  Rage ensued.

The wok was full when I started. No amount of ratatouille is a satisfactory substitute for roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding!

The wok was full when I started. No amount of ratatouille is a satisfactory substitute for roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding!

 

The next day, after two weeks of rigorously sticking to a diet that was supposed to show drastic results within 3-4 weeks, the only thing that was any lighter was my wallet.

I floated around doing some swim drills first thing, then ran a very slow mile repeats session in a hypoglycaemic haze, focusing only on finishing the session and trying to drive myself home safely.

I’d called Ed before leaving to go running and explained how terrible I was feeling.  Some further research on his part suggested that my body had probably gone into starvation mode: whatever it had done, it was clinging onto the weight as stubbornly as I was sticking to the rules of the diet.

We therefore decided that I was “officially allowed to stop doing the stupid diet” and that the “calories in < calories out” method was, as I had previously suspected, the only sensible way to lose weight.

24 hours later, I have had some proper food, though still less than I need to maintain weight: I don’t deny that I need to shift it to optimise my performance.  The first decent turbo session for 2 weeks has been done and my post-training-tiredness is back to a manageable level.  Perhaps most importantly I have stopped bursting into tears and am now merely hungry rather than homicidal…

Pasta: saving the lives of those who come into contact with me since 1984

Pasta: saving the lives of those who come into contact with me since 1984

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Women’s cycling jersey inadequacy rage, Oct 2013

There follows what I am sure will be the first of many rants.  I do love a good rant… this particular example was induced by the simple act of trying to buy some new kit

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DOES WOMEN’S CYCLING KIT NEVER HAVE ANY FUCKING POCKETS?

I mean, what is it that men need to carry while out cycling that we don’t? Maybe because we’re only little we don’t need to eat? Do our boobs magically fill with helium as we ride, lifting us above the road so we never puncture, rendering the need to carry spare tubes obsolete? Or are women who cycle such inhuman beings that we have developed the ability to communicate telepathically and therefore have no need to carry mobile phones for safety?

OH YES, ASSOS, AND I ALWAYS WEAR FUCKING EYELINER WHEN I GO RIDING…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Kona Part 3: after the race

We were very lucky to have both scraped together enough time away from work to stay in Hawaii for an extra week after the race.  The first couple of days were spent recovering: we were both exhausted.

Two days after racing I was bored with sitting around doing nothing, and tried to go for an easy walk along the seafront in Kona.  To my great irritation, I managed about a mile before my feet had swollen up too badly to continue without inflicting further damage.  It seemed I would be mostly exploring the island from the passenger seat of the car… some highlights are below.

At the visitor information centre on Mauna Kea, an dormant volcano that you can drive up

At the visitor information centre on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that you can drive up

Ed inspects the place where lava meets road in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The road used to continue on from here until lava flowed over it!

Ed inspects the place where lava meets road in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The road used to continue on from here until lava flowed over it!

As the lava cools, the outside solidifies first, leaving empty “lava tubes” that you can walk through

As the lava cools, the outside solidifies first, leaving empty “lava tubes” that you can walk through

The excellent Bamboo Restaurant, located at the turnaround point in Hawi.  Delicious food, friendly service and great cocktails, as well as a shop and an art gallery.  We drove up for dinner on our last night in Hawaii

The excellent Bamboo Restaurant, located at the turnaround point in Hawi. Delicious food, friendly service and great cocktails, as well as a shop and an art gallery. We drove up for dinner on our last night in Hawaii

Clambering over the rocks by Rainbow Falls Lookout, just outside Hilo

Clambering over the rocks by Rainbow Falls Lookout, just outside Hilo

Halema'uma'u Crater, on a fairly well-behaved day

Halema’uma’u Crater, on a fairly well-behaved day

Obligatory beach picture: we spent our last day here, before heading to the airport in the early evening

Obligatory beach picture: we spent our last day here, before heading to the airport in the early evening

Thanks are due to everyone who has helped me along the way, but in particular to Ed, holding as he does the roles of chief coach, mechanic, chef, sports psychologist, chauffeur, training partner and most importantly long-suffering boyfriend and provider of hugs.

Onwards and upwards…

You can also see my race report here, and details of the week leading into the race here.

Posted in Race reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment