The Turning of the Seasons

As the seasons turn and Spring, slowly but inexorably, becomes Summer (or, as we like to call it in Britain, “Summer”), I gradually expose more and more flesh (with a very definite upper limit) to the elements.

This week, for the first time this year, not only were my arms exposed up past the elbow but there was also a good nine inches of leg on display from the hems of my cropped running leggings to the tops of my short riding socks as I turned my own wheels inexorably towards work.

Palpable changes include worrying more about sunburn than frostbite and faster changing times at the end of the day.  I don’t dislike cycling in bad weather but it does come with complications which melt away in the heat of sunny summer days.

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Swimming Against the Tide

I don’t think it’s a great secret that, out of the three triathlon disciplines, I have most trouble with swimming.

I have come to dread Monday evenings, when the arrival of the babysitter initiates a mad flurry of kit bags, towels, bottles of electrolytic drinks and car keys.  Ten minutes of smooth, confident swimming followed by fifty minutes of panicked thrashing, then ten minutes of standing in the cold, with everyone else in the club finishing at the same time, waiting for a free shower.

Last week, still riding the high of Friday’s 10k run.  I could do anything!  Set a PB at next Saturday’s 10k; finish the Prudential Ride London Surrey 100; swim 100m without stopping to get my breath back at each end of the pool!  Even high (no drugs involved) my goals are modest and achievable – apart from the last one, evidently.

After a quick comfort break around forty minutes in to the session I found I just couldn’t face getting back into the pool.  Chatting things through with the coach after the session she suggested that my technique is good, but if that’s the case, why am I still so slow and exhausted all the time?  She suggested that, before I take the decision to give up on swimming, I should make arrangements so that for a month I go to both the Monday and Wednesday swim sessions run by the club.  I would notice the difference.  She also suggested I go swimming at a normal time too, so I could compare myself with “normal” swimmers rather than a group of triathletes.

I’m thinking it wouldn’t be fair on myself to give up swimming without giving the best shot I can so, after discussing it at length with my boyfriend, we agreed this is what I would do.

So last night I found myself at the open air Hampton pool, shivering my way across the paving slabs to the mercifully (if erratically) heated water.  While the pool doesn’t look substantially bigger from my vantage point, hanging onto the edge, fiddling with the lap timer on my Pebble smart watch, its 33m (over Monday’s Kingfisher pool at 25m) becomes painfully evident at around 26m into each length.

So, how did I do?

There were five of us in the slow lane, four men and me.  The whole evening was sparsely populated due to a sunny overseas Ironman, understandably popular with the club members, so there was plenty of space in our double-width lane (I guess they think us less competent swimmers need the extra space for flailing around).  The lengths were long but the taskmaster was understanding and lenient (or possibly just distracted by being the only coach across all five (maybe six?) lanes.  There were various elements of warm up at different levels of exertion (“don’t try to swim faster, just put in more effort; push harder and longer”), then into the main set.

Pairs of 100m sets, so we always finished at the same end of the pool.  First two sets were one length fast; one length easy; one length fast.  Repeat.  The next set was the one which crippled me; fins on!  Two thirds of a length of sideways drills (twelve kicks on one side, swap sides, twelve kicks on the other side) followed by a cry of pain, removal of fins and vague flapping to the side of the pool and creeping back to the end where the coach was.

I managed to get through the rest of the evening, although my usual poor (according to me) techniques was further compromised.

Saying that, I do remember one of the lengths near to the end, when we were doing half a length of sideways drills (no fins) followed by the rest of the way swimming normally.  I was doing OK with the sideways drill, in fact by this point of the evening the men were all indicating for me to go first, as I seemed to be the fastest swimmer in the lane (!!!) then I reached the halfway mark, switched to a full front crawl and powered my way through the water, feeling the thrill of unexpected speed in a hostile environment; the rush of muscles doing exactly what they are supposed to.  The next length was a little anticlimactic.  The following one I got cramp.

This is so nearly the end of the post except for one thing.  Normally I spend the drive home from swimming sneezing, my body rejecting the chlorine which has found its way into my stomach; lungs and skin, but the water in the Hampton pool is saline.  I spent the drive home feeling worn and tired but not one sneeze!

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Days Like These

Do you ever have times when everything just seems to go right?  They always take me by surprise.

I have a 10K run coming up this weekend; the Women’s Running 10K at River Lee Country Park.  It had been preying on my mind last week that I have not yet run 10K this year, that any time I go out for a run I barely break 4.5K including my warm up and cool down!  Even the tri club coached sessions only had me running around 7.5K!!!

Then I started thinking that, while the coached sessions were leaving me pretty tired by the time I got home, I was also cycling 3 miles each way to get to them and was feeling pretty smug and good about myself rather than completely wiped out.  Plus these sessions weren’t just a gentle jog, they were proper training sessions: intervals; pyramid sessions (ok, I admit I’ve only been to two of them).

So if I can cycle 9 kilometers and run 7.5, half of which at a faster pace, is running 10 kilometers at a steady pace not going to be easier than that?  I settled down with a laptop and a mapping site, planned out my 10k from the end of my warm up stretch to the start of my cool down, printed it off and put it in a waterproof (sweatproof) pocket.

So I had my route, guaranteeing 10km of running if I followed it.  I had my positive mental attitude.  I had my wonderful, supportive boyfriend babysitting my boys.  I had 9% charge on my phone…  Half an hour later I had my favourite running shoes, my Yurbuds and 35% charge.

Time to line up those zombies and knock them down!

The first five minutes felt, as it always does, like I had the wrong number of legs, not all of which were wired to my brain, but once I got past that I managed to find a rhythm I hadn’t realised I had.  Wow!  This must be my 10K pace!  I trotted along very happily for the most part.  I had decided to go backwards along the route I had plotted so as to tackle the unfamiliar part first, running across parks before the daylight faded and leaving me with a reassuring familiarity of a route well traveled on my way back.

If you’re going to be really pedantic (and I feel I’m in no position to criticise you for that) I did slow down to a walk, even a stop, a few times but as it was only for checking the map, crossing roads and, for around 50 frustratingly slow yards, trying to get Siri to text my boyfriend that I was around five minutes from home, so I’m not going to count them.  In fact, apart from Sirigate, I actually decided to speed up at the end as I felt I had more in reserve than I needed, also making a little last-minute diversion so I could listen to the end of the track.

My boyfriend was just finishing up tea when I got in (I am a seriously lucky girl to have him!) and casually threw out the “how was the run?” question.  He then nearly fell over at my chirpy, enthusiastic “it was really great, thanks!” while stretching out my quads (or possibly hamstrings, or something; muscle names is not one of my strong points).  It’s nice to be positive for a change.


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Tri-ing so hard!

I love riding.  I wouldn’t have adopted the Girl on a Road Bike persona otherwise.

I also run, although I’m less sure how I feel about that.

My boyfriend decided a couple of years ago that he was going to start swimming in order to help ease the stiffness in his neck and shoulders caused by so much desk work so, given his existing love of cycling, he joined a triathlon club last year, not least of all to take advantage of their excellent coached swimming sessions.  This, obviously, prompted him to take up running.

So I joined the triathlon club too, to take advantage of their coached running sessions in the build up to last years London Duathlon, but I resisted the swim sessions as I had no triathlon plans at the time, putting them off by saying 2014 would be The Year of The Swim.

So now it’s 2014.  The Year of The Swim.  I didn’t really give myself any choice, did I?

We found some lovely young ladies who have started a babysitting service and have been going together to the Monday evening sessions nearly every Monday evening this year (we’ve missed a few…).  Going together has made it easier to motivate each other to go and booking a babysitter has made it harder to miss sessions as it’s just so much hassle cancelling the sitter, and we feel guilty that it’s our fault they can’t afford whatever it is young ladies spend their money on these days.  Plus we have to try to remember who’s turn it was to babysit so we know who to contact.

For the swimming sessions, the pools (one in Kingston where the Monday evening session is held; one in Hampton where the Wednesday session is held) are divided into 6 lanes: the fastest swimmers in lane 1; the slowest in lane 6.  I am firmly and securely in lane 6.  Most weeks I am the slowest in lane 6, occasionally I am merely one of the slowest.  The frustrating part is that I listen to the coaches; I take on board their comments; I put into practice their tips but I don’t get any faster.  The coaches comment that I have a good technique, how about I try doing *this*?  I do *that*, my stroke feels smoother, the water fights me less, I receive praise from the coaches and from my boyfriend in lane 5 but I don’t get any faster!

Swimming has never been a favourite pastime of mine.  For a few years I was almost hydrophobic, the mere thought of having a bath leading to a perceptible rise in stress levels.  I’m past that now but still the chlorine stings my eyes; the water gets up my nose and I swallow and breathe so much of it that on the way out of the pool staff tend to stop me and ask me to return some.  My boyfriend tries to enthuse me on the way home, telling me what improvements he’s seen as I sneeze from the chlorine in my sinuses but I’m really starting to resent the whole process now.  I try so hard but it is just so difficult!  For a while I managed to get out for a second swimming session in a week but that is becoming increasingly difficult, not least of all because of my growing aversion to the sport.

I really need some inspiration; maybe a new take on things.  Can someone recommend a good magazine or book?  If something doesn’t change I am likely to give up on the swimming, then surely the running will follow…

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Grumpy Girl

In which I rant at a motorist who (probably) didn’t deserve it

I had had a bad morning.  My boys had been difficult that morning and it was the culmination of a week of frustrations and mild depression.  Everything anyone did was annoying me and I was just poised, waiting for my moment to strike!

There is a fairly narrow road at one point on my route which is almost invariably thick with traffic.  Some cyclists just ride down the pavement but I try to avoid doing this so I ride down the centre of the road.  The traffic to my left is mostly stationary and there’s generally enough room between it and the oncoming traffic for a bike with 40cm handlebars to get through, as long as the stationary traffic isn’t too far out into the middle of the road.

Mostly the traffic was fairly tucked in but one car was quite far out by the white lines so that, with the oncoming traffic, I was unable to get past.  That was the trigger I had been waiting for and I let rip.  The air around me turned blue as I hurled half a dozen colourful insults from the rear wing of the car, arms waving in gesticulation.

I had thought that my rant had been semi-private, just a pressure valve for me, not actually hurting anyone – the driver was in his cocoon, isolated from my tirade.  It was only as the traffic eased from the other direction and I pulled out past the car that I inferred (from the look on his face) that while he may not have heard me he had certainly seen the wild waving of my arms.

Of course, this plunges me back into a cycle of self-recrimination which keeps me in a foul mood all morning to the point where, having gone for a run out in the fabulous weather at lunchtime, all I can say on my return is that the sun was in my eyes.

I got better.

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Because I’m sticky!

Clap along if like me you’ve just been for a run

Because I’m sticky!

Clap along if you feel like that one wasn’t fun

Because I’m sticky!

Clap along if you know what running means to you

Because I’m sticky!

Clap along if you think it’s something that you have to do


Sticky sticky sticky sticky

Sticky sticky sticky sticky

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Weekend of Plans

My wonderful Mother has been looking after my boys for me.  They have had a lovely little holiday with Nanny and Granddad since last Wednesday and are being returned to me this evening, having had an inset day today.

We had such plans, my boyfriend and I!  On Thursday evening we could go to the club Turbo Trainer session together; Friday evening we could go out for a meal; there was a running workshop on Saturday morning; we could swim together Saturday afternoon; Sunday would be devoted to the club bike ride in the morning and recovering from it in the afternoon.

Thursday morning came with a crick in the neck.  The most painful one I’ve ever had.  I made it to work and spent the day fielding pitying looks from my boss every time I turned my head and gasped out in pain.  I didn’t manage the full day, leaving early to take the bus to my Chiropractor and beg for an earlier appointment than the after work one I’d booked.

The Turbo session was not far from the Chiropractor so my boyfriend picked my up with a car full of cycling equipment but it was clear at this point that mine would remain unused, having been advised that my position on a bike would have me back at the Chiropractor sooner than I’d like.  Turbo Training is not a spectator sport.

Friday came with a slight reduction to the screaming pain.  The work day was a blur but I remember all too many details of running to catch the train into town.  Dinner with my brother; his girlfriend and my boyfriend was facilitated by my new best friend, Ibuprofen gel, in association with systemic ibuprofen and paracetamol.  The main topic of conversation was sports injuries.

Saturday just didn’t happen.  We slept in very late, having woken briefly, decided the running workshop wasn’t happening, texting my apologies and falling asleep again.  Swimming was replaced with a haircut and some gentle shopping and the run planned by my boyfriend to compensate for the other lost activities became a movie.

On Sunday the inactivity became too much for him so my boyfriend went out on the club ride without me (after checking that I was ok with it).  Honestly, having looked at the route on Runkeeper afterwards, I’m not sure I could have managed it at my peak of fitness (duathlon time) last September.  I walked to the shops as we were low on coffee.

So this morning I was determined.  I could climb out of bed with relatively little pain so I kitted up in Lycra, coated the back of my neck (and the collar of my top) with ibuprofen gel and clipped in.  The sun was out, the wind was fresh and I wasn’t running late.  It’s not my fastest ride in but I’m sitting here at lunchtime sporting a sense of achievement and a barnet reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday.  I shall ride home again this evening, welcome my boys back and try to work out how wise it is to go swimming with the club.

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