Monday, February 29, 2016

Ironman Training Week 4 - Lakeland Classics

I was looking forward to this week - not for training but for work.  It was to involve 2 nights in the same hotel.  Pure. Unadulterated. Bliss.  All the perks of being away (hotel spa, free good food prepared by someone else, no washing up, clean and tidy room) without the panic of daily check in / check out.  A place to get used to.  I sorted out a bunch of swim / bike and run options including the location of the local pool and some bike and run routes both flat and hilly.

We did our site survey on Monday then I headed out for a run up and down Morecambe promenade.  I was given the (I think unreasonable) time of 7:00 to aim for dinner.  They wouldn't hear arguments through till 7:30 so I had an hour in which to run 5 miles and get ready for dinner.  I was already feeling sluggish and after 5 minutes running it wasn't looking like I was going to get to the shower so I sped up.

At the turnaround point, I found myself running into a roaring head wind until I saw a young man in an enduro teeshirt running back the other way ahead of me.  A quick sprint saw me catch him up and I followed him as silently as possible so as not to make him run faster.  It worked until I had to start breathing again at which point I made him jump and his adrenaline surge eventually left me for dead.

I arrived back at the hotel 10 minutes early and even had time to dry my hair before dinner.  I went down with the intention of not drinking and I would have held my own if it had just been us but there was a chap there from the customer's organisation so we all had a beer or two to fit in and then I had to keep drinking to drone out the monotony of football conversation which inevitably filtered into the evening.  Really, I can not try when it comes to football chat.

As I sank my last cocktail (thankfully filled to the brim with ice), I feared the night ahead.  Sure enough - a full moon, by the ocean, drunk... I hardly slept a wink.  I didn't feel particularly bad as I carefully rehydrated and ate more food to protect my blood sugar levels but I was restless as hell as the body rejected the alcohol throughout the night.  I tried reducing the room temperature by opening a window and sleeping on my yoga mat for a few hours which seemed to work until I woke up stiff and moved back to the bed.  Comforting but not comfortable for more than a few hours.  I woke up snuggled in bed in a cold room at 5am, turned off the swim alarm and went back to sleep.  Listening to the body.

I came out of my Tuesday meeting to discover that the Wednesday meeting had been cancelled in favour of a Thursday - Classic rude behaviour.  The hotel was booked and I was all up for saying but dilligence said we had to try to get out money back and that we did so my grad and I dutifully checked out and he drove the 4 hours back to Sheffield.  To be fair, if I'd been on my own I would have stayed but two more nights, two more meals seems to be taking the piss.  I also might have stayed away somewhere else and gone for a lovely bike ride for I had my lovely bike with me but since I had a boy to get home to his mates, I lolled in the passenger seat, did some work and then looked on it as being thankful to be home... at 7pm with a full day of work ahead of me the next day.

At last though, the opportunity to ride to work.  It's 40 minutes each way so I count a ride to work and back as two of my weekly rides at this point.  It's not really valid but on a week filled with compulsory driving I am glad of the excuse.

On Thursday it was back to the lakes for the rescheduled meeting.  I packed my swim stuff and rather than swim at home then head North I decided to make sure I made the meeting and drove first, scheduling a swim in my head at Whitehaven pool before the meeting.  I lazed in bed for an extra 10 minutes, faffed at breakfast and eventually only hit the road at 7.  Having fought my way over to the M1, it all went to shit so I fought my way back on to the Woodhead and went around the M62 which was blissfully flowing but then got stuck behind all manner of tractor / digger / trailer / land rover combinations on the twisty lakeland roads including the most sluggish and inexperienced HGV delivery driver known to man.

I rocked up at Whitehaven just in time to get a sandwich from Tesco and inhale it before the meeting which is a relief because the organisers of a 12:00 meeting did not provide any food or even coffee.  The height of rudeness in my book.

Three hours later and I was released to pursue life.  A swim in a strange pool in the middle of the day wasn't appealing (what if it's all kids swimming lessons) so I got a jump on the traffic and made my way across the Northern side of the Lakes.  By 5pm I was at Braithwaite, looking longingly at Lane Foot Campsite.  I turned off with the plan of parking in Braithwaite and running up the road for simplicity's sake.

However, I missed the parking and turned instead down the Newlands valley which I pursued until I found a layby with convenient footpath looking up on to the fells.

The time flew by.  30 minutes of up followed by 20 minutes of down.  I forgot my windproof so did lots of running to stay warm and a little photography.  I fancied running further but decided to stick to my training plan at the top and head down the valley before over stretching myself, getting lost, it getting dark (no head torch and no safety gear) and the world ending.

I forgot how hard it is running down hill and was blissfully thankful that I had cut things short (spot on).  I changed my top and shoes, threw on a warm layer and set off for home sated.  The Lakes made me extremely happy.  I spent the rest of the journey toying with the idea of moving there.

So Friday, I really had to do my swim come hell or high water.  No risks, I took the car to work and stopped at the pool on the way.  Given a full 4 days of rest from the water, I was on fire.  I kept up with the fast girls (well, for a length anyway) and I churned through 1200m with 10 x 33m sprints, no problem.  Well, I say no problem, I couldn't have done anymore and the shower was a full-blown blessing.

At lunchtime at work, instead of going to the pub I rolled out my yoga mat in my secret place and indulged in a good 45 minutes of practice without a single person realising I was there.  I finished my work and went home.  The week was a success.  I felt ready to take on the world and planned to go out with Norton Wheelers on Saturday morning.

Riding with Norton is a bold move and something I only usually undertake when on top form so as not to leave them waiting for me at every turn.  I spent the evening (yes the whole evening) fitting road tyres and inner tubes to my cyclo-cross bike to give it its first on-road outing.  In the process I punctured 4 inner-tubes and gave myself a blood blister.  The wheels are an absolute nightmare but there you go.  It's the price of elite racing nowadays that you have tyres you can't get off in a month of Sundays.

After the road tyres I spent the rest of the evening cleaning hydraulic oil off the rotor on the front wheel of the mountain bike.  The shop tried to pursuade me that having fixed the leak, my rotor was contaminated and needed to be replaced.  Bless them, I like to think (they are friends of TSK's) that they have my best interests at heart and aren't just trying to sell me shit but when a female engineer is set a problem to solve that involves cleaning and solvents I can't resist.  I spent Friday evening with Muck'off degreaser and nail polish remover, cleaning the rotor.

On Saturday morning I was less confident of my road riding abilities so I had a relative lie in and mess-about before committing to going out with TSK on our mountain bikes.  Since we're doing a long distance ride together this summer it seems only right.  Better try out those brakes before my race at Grizedale too.

So we started hard on the local trails then miandered up the Rivelin valley on a combination of A57 and Wyming Brook before popping over the top and descending onto Cuthroat Bridge and climbing back alongside Derwent Reservoir.  A drop down to the cafe at the end then back onto the North path to the head of the valley.  We left the reservoir behind along with a bunch of lads who had come the wrong way and were busy reluctantly climbing out of the valley again and we climbed on to the moors, skirting Margery Hill and setting out towards Langsett reservoir.  The climb was brutal, involving pushing the bike up steep ruts for around 100m

It was some of the most challenging riding I've done on EmVee.  I wasn't racing so I was trying to keep my feet dry as I knew it was going to be a long day and it was oh so cold.  Mercifully most of the bogs were still frozen but we did go to a lot of effort to skirt around those that weren't frozen.

The path streaked out across an off-camber hillside which was slithery and muddy with semi-defrosted clay before degrading into a loose rocky descent with boulders released by the freeze/thaw cycles of the winter.  EmVee took it all in my stride and I bounced across things well aware that I'd have walked the lot on a 26er.

Reaching Langsett was a relief.  We skirted the reservoir to the North then crossed the main Woodhead road to access the Trans-Pennine trail through Penistone where we stopped for a cup of tea and the most massive piece of lemon cake I have ever been served.  The whole lot cost £5 and came with two hobnobs on the side - each.  When a colleague from work walked in the door I wasn't surprised as he lives nearby and regularly uses the trail to get some exercise on the weekend.  We had a great chat and went our separate ways to finish our weekends in different states I am sure.

We had another 13 miles to do before dark so put a bit of a rush on although the up and down nature of the trail through Warncliffe Woods made it almost impossible to rush tired legs.  We were in the heart of downhill mountainbiker country with wild trails spewing out onto the main path left and right.  I have serious respect for some of those riders.  There are some mental cases riding in Sheffield.

We worked our way around lads playing on the path with remote controlled cars before wobbling our way down the last descent to Oughtibridge and jawbone hill then the pedal home down the road where I got clipped by a lady in a car.  I'd had such a good day out that I couldn't even summons any anger to direct at her terrified little face.  I gently scolded her by giving her calm advice about passing cyclists and learned one thing about myself.  I need to stop saying, "it's OK" when things aren't really OK.  What I mean is, "I forgive you."

It feels like an odd thing to say nowadays, as though it's somehow a religious blessing.  Is that me?  I find myself saying it a lot, "It's OK".  No.  Nearly knocking me off my bike isn't OK.  Being hurtful, stealing my personal time.  It's not OK.  But I do forgive and I'm proud of that.  It sounds condescending I think but it's a gift.  One I intend to give more frequently.

I planned to ride short and credit myslef the long, planned 30 mile ride that I had scheduled on the road.

In the end I rode longer than 30 miles (in fact, 45 miles) and it was mostly off road, hard and demanding work, a lot of it pushing or carrying a mountain bike.  On Sunday I felt like I'd been hit by a truck so I gave myself an easy day, chosing to credit the 5 mile planned run to the time spent on my feet on Saturday.  That only left me 1200m of swimming to do.

If you haven't got the hang of it yet, I love my new pool (it's been new for 14 months now).  I still haven't memorised the timetable but I looked up the opening hours and was overjoyed to find that lane swimming is from 8am till 3pm at the weekend.  A big change from my previous pool which (as an international arena for swimming competitions) is closed most weekends for events.

It was blissfully quiet with only 2 men slower than me and 2 kids who were swimming fast 1 lap reps.  My 100m (3 length sets) didn't interfere with either of them.  After my warmup laps my arms were screaming for mercy.  It seems mountain biking is not conducive to swim training.  Still, there was work to be done.  The pool is old and the gutter at the end is shallow so there's really nowhere to rest tired arms at the deep end so on my deep-end rests I had to flop myself over the stairs and hope that no-one wanted to get out of the pool that end.  Thankfully no-one disturbed me.  I eventually got into the pace of 100m sprints - about 55 strokes per minute saw me through.  I toyed with the idea of dropping the last laps from my schedule but there were only 15 lengths left to do.  7 touches of the end.  I set my bipper to 55 strokes per minute and churned them out.  I could have carried on but it would've been torture so I receded to the shower instead and sensibly walked home instead of going into town to spend money.

 Instead I bought healthy local food and set about sleeping at home, renewing my tri club membership, entering a race and booking our SHAFF tickets before loading the slow cooker with the perfect chilli.

Despite my afternoon nap I was knackered at bed time and finally have slouched into the full force of the Ironman training plan - that is, Monday morning feels like the resolute rest day that it should be, exhausted by what has gone before.  Next week the swim moves uncompromisingly into 1500m sessions which are going to challenge me to new levels... and I have to do all of the swimming and biking around a trip to Scotland.  This week there will be no faltering - no alcohol, no late nights.  It's time to get committed and what a better time than week 5?

Bring it.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

"The End of Training Week 3" - add your own punctuation because this works on many levels

Week 1 of my training plan was spent recovering from the virus that struck down most people over the Christmas period and tailed with me through to the end of January.

Week 2 was accidentally spent gadding about in Italy on planks.  For me it was the perfect start to a training plan.  It was the break I didn't really have between the 'cross nationals and triathlon training starting and it was a week of high altitude training over various distances and intensities coupled with fine food and plenty a relaxing good wine.

Week 3 started really well with a pool session.  I didn't know how far I was supposed to go as I haven't yet got into the habit of checking the training plan to see (must work on that) so I swam a mile to see how I did.  After all, if I get that call for Portugal in May, I'm damn well going to go. 37 minutes - not so bad for a first attempt of the year but it turns out I only really should have done 1200m.  I was careful to only do my 45 minutes cycling in the evening on the comfort of my rollers, in the kitchen.

On Tuesday I opted for the run to work - 6 miles run.  Day two training in the bag.  Except I got to the tram stop at the staduim and realised I'd done my 6 miles.  There were still 2 to go to get to work and I couldn't be bothered waiting around the tram stop in the cold so I ran the last two miles too.  Oh well, that would substitute for my Saturday run, surely.

On Wednesday, I knew I was going away so I decided to capitalise on the opportunity for a free swim in my own pool instead of hunting out a strange pool with different opening times which costs money and (if it's Guildford), keeps the £1 locker fee... annoying when you're a forgetful lump.

Finally, I stick to the plan and swim only 1200m although the 8 x 3 lap sets are tough and I find it difficult to get through the last steady 10.  The shower is very welcome.  The drive to Surrey that afternoon is less than easy and although I turn to go out on my bike in the rain for 45 minutes after my 10pm after-dinner, I find that I don't have the key to the bike lock that's securing Phoenix in the back of the gojimobile.

I have to haul ass out of bed in the morning and run on those tired legs.

It was grey and when I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm, so was my mood.  All I could find to photograph was this barn and some soggy ponies. It was the kind of run that is only good for justifying the shower afterwards and that was soooo good.

As the day went on I sank deeper and deeper into flu symptoms so while I am unhappy to be unwell again, at least there was a reason for my crapness and I had a kind grad student to drive me home.

As I hadn't had a rest day this week, it left me Friday to do nothing.  Sweet sweet bliss - and well timed.  I had to make time for the Yorkshire Cyclo-cross prize presentation.

Would I have been ill if I'd listened to the training plan on Monday - potentially.  With all the stuff going on at work I didn't need the extra stress of extra training but it's done now and I know I can deal with the plan's contents for now - so long as I get back to it recovered in a reasonable length of time.

Just another week to get through next week... then 17 more to go.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Santa up.

Plans for our much-anticipated day of uphill skiing were hatched over dinner last night when our dining room neighbours informed us that the Refugio at the chapel Santa Croce was serving impeccable food.  Those plans were sealed when all of our dining room neighbours refused to believe we would do such a thing as walk from the bottom of the hill to the top - never mind make it in time to eat our lunch there.

We took a short hike/slide down the riverside path to take the very short drag lift up to a level where we could put skins on away from the maddening crowd / onlookers.  Skinning up the slopes is forbidden, although I'm not sure where else we could go given the chronic lack of off-piste snow.

We had a little debate about where to set off from but settled on with just getting on with it.  I was still faffing with stuff and gear when TSK set off across the sparsely snow-covered hillside declaring his new skins to be witchcraft.  I think he was enjoying himself defying gravity.
Most things verbotten.

I on the other hand was struggling.  For the first time all week my skis and boots felt heavy on my legs and I doubted whether my knees would last the distance as my right one twitched with every step.  My downhill skiing has been fine because my cycling muscles are healthy but without any fell running behind me, TSK was - quite frankly wooping my ass at my own game.

No one particularly seemed to mind us trudging up the slope as we went close to the edges and generally walked the line few people would be using.  One father had to tell his boy to look out as he slid to a stop in front of us and we took the occasional wide lines around hillocks so that oncoming ski traffic could see us.

Our first mountain stop was in bright sunshine.  It was so warm, TSK was in a tee-shirt and I had to stop to do up some of the velcro on my unzipped trouser legs to make sure my knickers weren't showing any more.  I know, it's carnival in Italy today but we were, however, on hallowed turf (almost literally on the turf front) and I'm not sure you're supposed to show your knickers to celebrate lent.

We stopped to worship with coffee and slap on sunscreen.

TSK Striding out on the Pilgrim's path.
 Eventually we found the pilgrim's path to the chapel which skirted the slope 10 metres away from the side of the piste with an incredibly comfortable strip of trees between us and the tourists zooming by at 70 miles per hour on the other side.  Thankfully the pilgrim's path was covered in snow and convenient depictions of the crucifixion gave us a somewhat graphic countdown to the arrival of our lunch.  I started noticing them at VII and hoped they would only count up to XII or even better, X.

At IX I lost count.  I was so incontinently hungry I had to eat something.  An opened TORQ bar (from god knows when) was the perfect victim.  I would have eaten three mouths full of anything.  I was still starving when we topped out after 2 hours 30 minutes of hiking up hill at the top of the lift.  A large group of people were removing and racking their skis by the slope ready to take a final hike up the steep path to the restaurant.  We walked on our skis with them giving me a chance to catch up to Andrew and instruct him to proceed direct to base camp and obtain a table at the restaurant without stopping to breathe! - GO!.

I left him to rack skis and entered the restaurant with a group of 6 Americans.  I had passed most other people as they fought with ice, wind and ski boots.  The skins were holding their own today.

The Americans were told to wait 20 minutes for a table.  Keen not be considered a part of their group I cornered a waitress and begged for space for two people.  As I was shown to a shared table, my back bristled with wrath from the Americans who scurried in behind me to pile onto their table, still being vacated by its present occupants.  I was happily packed into a sweaty corner of the incredibly popular place alongside an Iti/German couple and a pair of Austrian skiers.  I vented my trousers further.  Verging on the indecent this.

We ate a very satisfying meal and passed on our knowledge of the hidden valley to the couple who were on a walking holiday whilst their son was skiing.

Unlike TSK, I had the energy left for more climbing but agreed that saving myself for the rest of the week was a good idea so, after a run back to the base of Ste. Croce, we walked the 10 minutes back to the hotel and relaxed with day dreaming, sleeping and an inappropriately long game of pool on a billiards table.

Back at the hotel we retold our tales of daring do to the other couples sitting with us at dinner.  Flavia was suitably inspired to walk down the valley the next day with Victoria and Gillia proudly announced that she was going to take a ski lesson instead of staying meek and declaring herself a lost cause.  My work there feels done.

Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Hidden Valley Uncovered *Warning - risk of Clichés and Overstatement*

A tantalisingly small quantity of snow fell last night.  Still, it was nice to see snow in the trees.  We grasped the opportunity to ride up to la Villa in the van with Pietre.  We scooted up to the tops, dropping down to Armentarola with a little diversion via the wrong piste (which was very pleasant).

After wrestling with the bus stop, we paid our 6 Euros each to the taxi driver to ride 25 minutes to Lagazzuoi cable car from where we embarked on the ski run of my life.  (no dramatisations here).

The view starting to appear from the fog.

We started out in thick fog - a kind of snow mizzle.  After around 200 metres we stopped with everyone else that had stepped out of our cable car... only a limited 25-30 people.

We all stood in awe and gawped at the magnificent scenery and laughed amongst ourselves in sharing a moment, luck, virtue, something more pure than a snap on Instagram.
Deep seated shared joy and incredulity.
I waited until everyone had left and set of with my arms outstretched.  Namaste, mother nature, Namaste.

At every turn in terrain the view tumbled away in frosted turrets of pink granite on both sides of the valley.

Tiny mountain huts, chapels, shelters and animal sheds nestled amongst the rocky outcrops.

At times we caught up with our cable car neighbours and at times we let them float ahead and enjoyed the silence.  Crows soared overhead.

Conifers and Ponderosa pines clung to the sides of the valley.

Wisps of cloud filtered through the towers on the crags like the ghosts of soldiers in castles fought for and lost.

The icy fingers of time clutched to rock one moment then slid away to be caressed by the sunshine and blue skies.

A number of flat sections of piste gave away why this route is reserved for experienced skiers only.  Speed is needed to cross flats and rises and with no obvious ski patrol a high-speed crash would be risky.

Some stopped at the refuge part-way down.  Others (including ourselves) continued to the base refuge for coffee where we were mostly entertained by the Newfoundland dog mooching about on the flat roof of the café.

We momentarily made new friends with the Italians on the next table as the waitress grouped our bills together. The first time this week I have not been mistaken for being German.

Taking inspiration from mountain textiles and colours.
It was all over too soon.  I didn't want to leave this beautiful and heavenly place.  I felt like I could have spent my life there - chopping wood or waiting tables.

I was spoilt by the prospect of hiking back up or of moving on to other areas to enjoy the good snow.  TSK didn't feel like he wanted to learn to skin up hill on something so (recently in his mind) steep and intimidating so we set off down the trail to base to practice on something more blue.

The way we just came.
The long ride out of the valley is often (for mere normals) via a horse-tow whereby 2 slightly overweight ponies trot 30-40 people dangling on a rope-tow along a trail of around 1 km.  We had been told that there is one point where the horses have to canter to stay ahead of the ski train and also to get enough momentum to get up an impending slope.

We had visions of a long and steep up hill tow which, to be honest, would make good skinning practice for TSK.   Even though we both fancied the horse tow - I mean who wouldn't? Right?

Sid and Juniper wait to pull some colour
However, when we saw the brightly coloured train of 50 or so skiers and boarders hanging onto the back of the receding horse cart, we quickly decided we fancied neither the thrill or the company of the horse-tow and our somewhat romantic image of gently slaloming behind a stallion with the wind in our hair disappeared.

We were happy to hold on to 3 Euros and ski-glide out.  It was in actual fact quite flat and a bit of an anti-climax so we headed for the nearest blue where we could dig out a pair of skins and give TSK the opportunity to practice on something a little bit challenging.

Unfortunately he forgot his skins.

We set about making the most of the rest of the day by ski-ing a large portion of the Corvara slopes, excepting the ones we will ski later on the Sella Ronde.
Slightly alarming mini golf on offer.
Calling it quits about 3 pm we started to make our way back dropping down to la Villa base after the last lift down to near our hotel.  We had already planned to walk home along the river and passed Frosty about 5:30 on his way to his next appointment as we rocked into our hotel to claim the last two cakes at tea time then hit the sauna.

TSK cooked himself and I threw some yoga shapes in the solarium above the pool.  The perfect end to the perfect day.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Step away from the desk and into the light.

Before going on holiday I had the most stressful week at work.  Forget everything I've told you about stressful weeks over the last 2 years.  This was the worst and left me clenching my jaw again and the resulting chronic toothache.  Thursday and Friday eased off but I was balancing handing things over to the grad, getting my essentials done and empowering my boss to do the rest.

Friday night was as uncomfortable as it can be for two large people in a 3/4 size bed and every time I lay on my front to put my teeth under gravity and stop them clenching, a knee or an elbow fell out of bed or abused my husband.  I felt like I had been asleep for 20 minutes when the alarm went off but it was holibobs so I leapt out of bed.

Father was not so speedy so we arrived at the airport stressed, late and without a seat together on the plane which was, at least, on time.  4 hours later we were dropped off at our luxury hotel and all of the stress fell away like shattered glass in the opalescent blue sky of a mountain resort.

Skis were stashed, our suitcases were wheeled into the building on a golden trolley by a man wearing a suit and cummerbund and our balcony looked out onto nothing but pine trees, snow and the crags at the head of the valley.  W.E.P.!

We passed the day in the valley, sorting out forgotten ski kit and sat down with the rep in the evening to pick his brains.  We were really impressed with Neilsen Italy's rep Richard Frost aka "Frosty" who, rather than laughing at our uphill skis and excessive kit, gave us some really tantalising pointers for great days out.  He genuinely seemed to appreciate that we were out there to hunt for nature and escapism, not thrills, queues and over-priced excesses.

We went to dinner inspired and in return for our investment, the dinner was inspirational.

There were no surprises about the view from the window in the morning except that the promised snow had not arrived.  Flurries fell as we ate our breakfast.

The ski-ing was a little faltering as Andrew realised his bindings had not been set correctly by the vendor in Germany so we wobbled down the hill to the shop who gleefully and helpfully fixed the problem on the first set of touring skis they had ever seen.  We then quickly lifted up to the top of Stanta Croce before stomping over to and around the church and Refugio.

The weather was already taking on a biblical feel and we soon skitterred back down across wind slabbed ice and mud to the safety of the blue runs for an easier warm-up.

We had coffee before heading to Corvara resort proper to ski the longer runs and have a play on the blue slopes.  Andrew lost a bit of boot so I skied the black before being reunited with both Andrew and the bit of his boot.  The tastiest veggie pizza I've ever eaten was lunch before one more trip down the black then ski-ing the riverside path from Corvara all the way back to the hotel.  Mostly downhill but enough flats and rises to give Andrew the opportunity to learn to walk with skis on.

We called it  a day around 3pm.  I was resolutely satisfied that although my downhill muscles had a burn on, my ascending wasn't bad at all and in fact, my endurance seems OK after my weeks off with the lurgy.