Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I wasn't that excited about the 3 Peaks this year until I got there, until it was all going so well,  until it all went so well and now it is done and it was so perfect.  Then the imperfections in my day appear. I could have prepared better (not got a hole in my tool bag),  riden more conservatively over sharp rocks (not got a hole in my innwr tube), I might have missed the hold up where a motorcycle crashed (put a hole in my time).

At the end of the day,  I can't change those things. It is over for another year. I stand at the top of the stairs,  hands over my itching eyes, uncertain of whether it is fatigue or allergies making them itch and wonder if it's my cold or fatigue that's making my nose run. Either way,  I can't sleep. I have a hole in my life.

It's gone for another year. This time I can sense what can be achieved in a new world of free - flowing bloods.  Last year was just the beginning.  I was still taking blood thinners and ferrous sulphate which screwed with my digestion and I had no endurance base younger than 6 weeks.  

In full health and this year's conditions though, it's not the result that should matter. The day was a win for everyone racing. For nature,  for the event,  for the spectators and the organisation and volunteers.

I could spend hours (have already spent some hours) trawling hundreds of photos of the day but I still haven't found any that register the epic scene of the Lakeland fells emerging from a sea of cloud from the temperature inversion over Morecambe Bay or the clear view over the Howgills on the other side of Whernside. The heron that flew over the start line in clear blue skies.

I may need some recovery time before writing in a positive light about this beautiful 3 Peaks Cyclocross. I wasted time on prep, cut corners to save money and haemorrhaged time when I could have been up there achieving things I have only dreamt of (since 2004) and I feel I need to process that so I can do a great day justice.

I heard a lot of complaints about how hard it was on Sunday. I tried to put it out there that we were 1 in 20 years lucky. I wonder what those people thought they signed up for. What they would have said or done if it was wet or windy again?

As I sit on the sofa with my knees in the air, thinking self indulgent sorry thoughts, I am already looking forward to next year because this time I know that the best preparation for this race is getting out there and doing what I love most and that will get me somewhere,  even if it is just up there,  enjoying it with those people and dreading that moment when I realise it's all over for another year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Thoughts on Tonight's Run

It felt like the first one back since forever. It's only been 8 days but it's enough to feel a bit ropey.

My new socks were amazing. Kept my calfs warm, plenty of room in the feet and had some curious looks. Especially from motorists who managed to notice me in the fading light. The socks also made me feel taller which probably means they made me run taller.

I am motivated to run every day now... but I shouldn't because 3 Peaks resting.

I gave myself a hard time for being slow and tiredbut then remembered I have been doing some serious strength training at yoga and that more than counts.

Yoga doesn't do much to keep you accustomed to the constant pounding of running (my feet are sore again) but my new found strength does make most of my steps feel easier except the last ones which are always hard.

This was the first after-work run I have done in a while and it is already time to warrant a head torch for the end of the run.

Speed running on the road does nothing to improve your off-road handling skills on the fly but the confidence I have gained from being able to run at good speed has given me a lot of encouragement.

It is still impossible to know how ready I am for the Peaks - or not. My head is quite excited but a little tired. This has worked well for me in recent weeks.

I should have thrown out that protein shake years ago. No wonder I gagged when I drank it... but then it is protein shake (2010 if you must know).

Things I noticed:
The river is low
The leaves are falling but still mostly green
Lost £1. Almost hit by 4 falling acorns
A man running like his dog (whippet)
My toes are even closer when I am warm.
The drizzle.

5.6 miles of joy.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wakefield Cyclocross 2015

Faffed a lot at cyclo-cross today saving myself for the 3 Peaks next week. My Garmin lost both its tabs and fell off but I stopped on the next lap to pick it up. My yoga practice meant I didn't even have to get off the bike.

2 lapping riders crashed right next to me but I managed to keep upright and managed to gain a place on the last lap even though I thought I had one more to go.

Gave up playing cat and mouse with the man in front who only ever tried when I chicked him and just resorted to telling him to ride faster until a lapping rider came through and I got a tow and made enough gap to last to the end.

It bodes well for the Peaks when you still feel like you have a lap in reserve after 35 minutes of riding eyeballs-out. Not only am I looking forward to next week, I am also looking forward to returning to fast training afterwards. Endurance really isn't my thing (from the woman who used to claim that I don't go fast enough to get injured). Fingers crossed I can enter my 2x21 year with some sense of pace.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Yoga Bragging. It's all wrong.

Bragging about yoga isn't right really is it? The principles of yoga is practice and enjoyment. "Improvements" are just a progression, whether appreciated, shared or not. They are there a side effect of the journey but not a necessary result of the journey. That doesn't stop me appreciating them though.

I have been reading Yoga Girl by and about Rachel Brethen and yoga, strangely enough. Not money for old rope as such since many of her early posts online are so far in the mists of time I won't ever find them and it's good to know the history of a person and it's good to have a beautiful book to look at.

Furthermore her book brings forward many of the philosophies of yoga previously undisclosed to me by stuffy old man books and inaccessible classes. I only started practising again this year because my gym gave me the opportunity of classes without commitment. It's typical that this has been my quiet period at work and I have been consistently attending. Classes are ok but don't teach philosophies, just movement. Rachel's book brings out the yogic practice as it applies to modern life not in the eyes of Mr Iyengar and his water-snorting freaky achievements which seem so freakishly unachievable.

Somehow it seems much more achievable when I see them done by a beautiful blonde woman on a paddle board in the Caribean.

I have been over enthusiastic and rushed my yoga. I haven't hurt myself but I was uncomfortable so I reined myself in and now take great joy from small improvement and work hard until I wobble on areas where I am weak like my core, hips and hamstring flexibility.

So my achievement, quietly tucked away on my blog is that I reached my shoulder stand right back over my head today and held it for some time. I did a forward bend that finally reached my toes for the first time in years. The soles of my feet seem so much closer tonight. Finally, I spent my morning helping someone out at work. Just doing something so they didn't have to while they were away. It was great.

I am remembering a me from many years ago. I am slowly coaxing out someone who didn't judge and despair and rant and finding the helpful positive person who smiled at a day that was average and said, 'You know what? That was alright'.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Bala Triathlon 2015 European Qualifier

12 months ago after the insanity of my PE had ebbed, I asked myself, “What could I achieve if I apply the consistency of Ironman training to shorter, faster races.

Yesterday I believe I partly answered that question.  Not only because I took 11 minutes off my PB time but also because I got back from the race so exhausted that I slept for 17 hours with a short waking moment for dinner.

Registration day saw me up at 5am in Sheffield and on the road by 7.  Partly to beat the traffic and partly because I was woken by the kitten punching me in the face.  As TSK usually shuts them in the kitchen they were quite surprised by me getting up and giving them food.  They promptly went back to sleep so weren’t worried about me going away.

By the time I set my tent up in Wales and drove into Bala the sun was high in the sky and the lake was looking – and feeling – beautiful.  15 degrees was the official water temperature on the day.

I was really chuffed with my freebie towel in the race pack. I set off to the Eco CafĂ© for lunch quite happy, before getting my bike out at the campsite for a wash.  With a shiny bike I decided to take it for a spin to check for any issues.  The first being that I had brought odd shoes.  Fortunately as an only child I always bring something to do wherever I go so I spent a few minutes putting cleats on the new shoes that I had with me before heading off up the hill to discover an out of true wheel and toed-in brake block.  Back at camp I checked every bolt for tightness.

I went to bed at around 8:30pm, tired out by my day and lulled to sleep by the bloke in the next door tent singing his daughter to sleep and the stream, gurgling about 4 metres away from my head.

I woke up with the dawn, shortly before my 6:45 alarm call.  So nothing like an ironman race sleep then.  Camping in Wales in September though – even if it is just September.  Once awake I had to get up in order to get the breakfast on and get some heat in the tent.  The fog outside threatened ground frost but had only laid a thick layer of dew.

As I drove down the hill, the view over the lake showed that the icy fog was not only clinging to nooks in the valley side but also sitting ominously over the lake surface.  My ambitions for a warmer swim started to fade.

I was racked up and in transition early.  Still much faffing seemed to be required.  Walking back to the car to get my flip flops for the walk to the lake, I pittied the queue of people waiting to get into transition.  Everything was going well for me.

I finally had a proper entry into the water this year.  Every race I have been to seems to have involved the cold-shock-go! approach , or a short swim followed by a long cold wait.  This time I actually had the chance to get my face wet and swim up and down before the start in amongst the other swimmers.
It was a good swim, though as I write this I still don’t know how fast it was (33 minutes) .  I stuck with the group for the first quarter even though I swam my own stroke.  As I felt like I was being dropped, I still managed to find some feet to follow and as we went around the first turn buoy I realised there was still quite a melee of people around me.  I worked hard to stay with them.  So much so that I didn’t sight once and only realised we were at the second turn buoy when people started swimming over me at 90 degrees to my direction of travel.

I found the perfect feet to follow down to the finish of the swim.  She made me increase my pace just enough and when someone else tried to butt in I fought for those feet.

Swimming in Lynn Tegid is like swimming in beer.  It’s a dark, Peaty Brown colour but beautifully clear and the bubbles from hand and feet appear white, and sparkling from the depths.

To my delight I exited the water at the back of the group although it took quite some time to walk over the sharp stones to the temporary exit jetty which wasn’t really long enough.  I could hear my mum shouting for me and gave her a wave.

But that was all I could manage as my useless arms failed to propel me any further and my brain moved from “Ow my feet” to “You should be unzipping your wetsuit – IDIOT”.  I also missed my turning into transition, having to duck under a row of (thankfully) vacant bike racks from the men's race ahead of us.

I was straight into shoes and on the bike before I realised I bravely wasn’t wearing my gloves.  After the crash at Chester I promised not to ride without gloves again.  I did ditch the excess water bottle I didn’t need.  My only thought about riding sock-less on the whole ride was experiencing cold toes on the first few hundred metres while my feet were still wet and the breeze was blowing through the mesh of my shoes.

The bike was so painfully enjoyably fast.  It rose and fell twice – vaguely.  Not really worthy of unseating, though I did on the return leg just for a change of position, until the headwind (what there was) resumed briefly.  I blatted.  Just like I had done at the relays, but this time I made it last 1 hour.  At the turnaround I was in a mixed group of slow male swimmers (10 minutes head start on the women) and proficient female riders.  We all slotted fairly comfortably into our space then resumed a game of cat and mouse between myself, a woman from team GB named Pfab and a Felt sponsored rider.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and between the uphill, downhill, flat and absence of corners I managed to keep them all at bay until Pfab pulled away on the last climb and Felt came past whilst I was loosening my shoes on the last downhill.  I was sorry for the guy who mistook the turnaround point on the run for transition and took his feet out of his shoes and pulled in before being turned away by the marshalls.  We all rode past feeling vaguely uncomfortable whilst he put his feet in his shoes again as he tried to start the hill climb.

The final leg of the bike, alongside oncoming runners seemed to take a long time.  5km – more or less.  The road seemed endless, Bala surrounding homesteads seemed to spread far out.  Finally we seemed to round a corner and transition was there, a blaze of colours and again I was surrounded by a group of people who managed to transition without a wobble. For once my flying dismount disappeared into what the commentator called a “flurry of activity”.  Clearly I was in some sort of thick of it.

In the middle of my own personal flurry of activity I was so busy I decided that "my feet are fine, I won’t put my socks on”.  I set off running with my helmet still on my head and had to retrace to dump it by my bike.  I had remembered to take a gel and wear my sweat band on my wrist which I always miss out on in hot events.

As usual I was slow setting off on the run though I have been practising my brick runs after Claire inspired me with fast runs off the bike.  So I wasn’t as slow as I have been in the past.  When we hit the road I had a few words with the bod and made it focus on speeding the hell up.  By the time I looked at my watch again it said 7.6 mph and I was running on an uphill gradient.

Anyone reading this may think that’s not fast but it is for me. The fact that I was running my target pace on an uphill slope made me happy.  The fact that I felt comfortable doing it gave me immense hope.  The fact that so many were passing me back gave pure testament to the fact that I had been punching above my weight on the bike, potentially on the swim and in transition.

Random Welsh Mountain (not on the course)

Then mini disaster struck.  Once I had gotten over the feeling of running with something (anything) stuck in my shoes, I began to realise that my sockless feet were starting to blister in the heat.  Talcum powder was insufficient and the rubbing had started.  I still had 400m to go to the turnaround tree with 5km to get back to the finish.  I tagged the tree and the marshal with a high five (well, he held his hand up) and set off on my uncomfortable journey back. Past the family I had considered asking for a borrow of a pair of socks and onto the scorching road.  Time for a drink, whilst avoiding getting any of it on my feet.

My average speed was holding at 7.5mph as I climbed the hill.  I stopped looking at actual speed as some incentive.  In fact I stopped looking at my watch at all and searched the horizon for a distraction.

That was the problem – heading North - no mountain to look at and not really any clear view of the lake.  Just oncoming runners and runners passing me and fewer and fewer runners for me to pass.  I found few pace-setting people – they were all going too fast for me to stick with.  My average speed was down to 7.4mph.  I didn’t know exactly what my swim / bike time was but 7.4mph made a 49, maybe 50 minute 10km run possible and a PB as well, if my guestimate of 1:47 so far was correct (looked at my watch in transition).

There was no point in slowing down, I had to keep running through the pain.  I was now enjoying the sprints (in the sunshine) in between the trees (glorious shade).  It didn’t matter whether I was going up hill or down, speed was directly proportional to sunlight.  Burn a match, revcover.  At the second water station I threw all the water over my head which gave me plenty of incentive to speed up.

That got more intense when I heard the finishing tannoy for the first time.  It really was all downhill and I hit a maximum effort which really was not that fast any more but hurting.  I flew around the corner thinking it was my last only to find some arbitrary loop had been taped onto the end of the course to make up the distance.

We had been advised to go and look at this but something in the Welsh to English translation lost the sense of urgency for me.  I thought I had understood where the finish was but I was wrong.  To be honest, I didn’t expect to be this exhausted when I got there.

I had no voice left to talk to that marshall and wasn’t feeling particularly complimentary to him (even though it wasn’t his fault).

There was no sprint for the line, even though an FV50 passed me in the closing metres, my tank was empty.

I was still furious to find a massive crowd of athletes standing around queuing for water or to get into transition or something.  I have never been home before the last cyclist has come in.  I don’t know how these things work but I did need to walk, not stand around.  I skipped the queue for water and picked up a much more readily available beer (non alcoholic Erdinger).  This made me unpopular when I went to sit by the turn into the finish to wait for mum and dad and had a few envious looks from athletes on their final exhausted, baked throes for the finish line.
I took it in turns to drink the Erdinger and use it as a wasp decoy.  Mum and dad arrived back at transition and set off for their walk after a cheery morning shouting or everyone.

Results remain unofficial but 33; 1:07; 50 seems to be the conclusion with 3 minute and 1 minute transitions.  I was 23rd FV40 in a really competitive field of 32 athletes.  I finished within 113% of the winners time – potentially a qualifying time for the European champs though there are most definitely 20 athletes ahead of me in the queue, with better results or guaranteed places.
Most astonishing is knowing that given perfect racing, I could take 5 minutes off without any more effort, making 109%.

With a 5 hour long cyclocross ride (hike) and 4 hour mountain run in the week following the race, it has been difficult to remember the glory of Bala in the sun.  The dawn of September weather and the cyclocross season beginning have put paid to that.

All effort has been absorbed by 3 Peaks planning and training and it feels so good to ride a wave of consistency without the crash and burn of previous ears.

I think I am going to like it here.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Wilderness to Discharge

The lonely fatigued plains between stress and recovery where the only thing that keeps you going is a need for the last 12 weeks to not have been wasted.

Written as I sit in the waiting room for my final haematology appointment,  yawning at a screen.

These appointments have a habit of appearing just after I have experienced a good run of racing and just before a major psychological crash. Yawning at my screen again.

The run here felt good. I mean people who have life-threatening bone marrow diseases don't run to their appointments do they? The door is opening and I am next.  Yawn.

It was a mix of slow and fast running.

Testing the leg muscles that seem to have developed over night and tempering a need to get down the hill in good time with a will to keep my legs fresh for the weekend. It was a resolve that didn't need much encouragement. As soon as I committed to running slowly I was happy to walk.  This isn't the coiled spring feeling I was hoping for.

The quiet, self-righteous aura that emits positivity in the face of all oncoming challenges, knowing that a tick in the box is the key that opens the padlock which has been securely fastened around all sporting ventures to date.

Also, I have an excuse not to take Tamoxifen.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Ready to Race

I have been at the physio twice in 2 weeks.  First to see if she could determine anything wrong with my hips which causes me to irritate a tendon in my groin and then for ongoing treatment. Neither has brought me any real joy and all this from a particular nasty yoga session 2 weeks ago where the instructor complained about getting out of bed so early,  tortured us all then told us we were soft and me in particular that I would have trouble later in life if I didn't get my hips more mobile.  Knowing that I have this problem with my groin already I booked the physio appointment.

The first physio I saw suggested I leave off the yoga till my problem is sorted. Since I can control my own actions and know my own body of course I decided that was tosh although I haven't been back yet.
The second physio assessed my solas muscle to be adequate to such an extent that she used the words 'nothing lacking there'. She even countered by saying that the yoga was clearly doing me good and I should keep going.

So I went this morning and much to my surprise discovered that the class had been cancelled because they had so many complaints about the stand-in instructor that they had failed to find a replacement.  I was astonished at their incompetence to appoint another instructor but also listening to customers yielding direct action and mostly that someone else got in there and complained before me.

I feel vindicated,  a renewed sense of confidence in my body before this weekend and hope that soon the old yoga will be restored.  In the meantime though,  me and a complete stranger went to the gym together and did synchronized sun salutations and,  residual fatigue aside,  I feel ready for racing again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Recovery week hell

Worryingly I haven't felt this bad in a recovery week in over 12 months.  I have however changed my hospital appointments to check what conclusions can be reached from blood tests I had over 6 months ago.

I've been feeling rubbish since the weekend.  I didn't race too hard on Saturday but then I did race on Sunday before going to a wedding and talking loudly and drinking wine.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have passed with car journeys and working at an easy pace.

I should be starting to feel like a coiled spring but actually I feel like a damp squid.  Have I over trained?  Am I ill?  Only Sunday will tell.

I'm excited and yet, I am filled with trepidation.

I am even more excited for the doing-something-different season.