Monday, 31 July 2017

Spectating at BIG Events (Like Ironman)

This year seems to be the year of BIG events. I did my first middle distance triathlon, we've got our biggest ever ultra coming up in a couple of weeks, and Dean tackled Bolton Ironman. This isn't a post about how he got on, those of you who follow us on social media will probably know that story already, but I thought it would be good to write about what it was like from a spectators perspective. Put me in an event or behind the scenes on set up and I know what's what but spectating and supporting is kinda new to me. Being on the sidelines was a bit odd. I got SERIOUS race envy. No matter that Ironman is rather beyond me right now, there was a little twinge in my chest as the competitors set off on that drizzly grey morning.
I loved being part of the day though. Seeing everyone competing, all shapes sizes and abilities, was so inspiring. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I learnt a lot too. So here are my tips for supporting big events.

Before The Event

  1. First rule of supporting something like Ironman - make sure your athlete forwards you all pre-race emails. It makes sense for both of you to know where you need to be and when so when they start to get "race brain" at least one of you knows the schedule. 
  2. Find out what sort of support your athlete would appreciate. Do they want some quiet time in the morning or a bit of cajoling? Do they want to see you lots of times, or just at points where it's getting harder.
  3. Check for road closures and travel restrictions. Especially on a big course, they may mean you can't get to and from vantage points very easily. Familiarise yourself with any shuttle buses, recommended car park locations relative to planned spectating points and so on. 
  4. Remember that the recommended spectating points can get busy! Is there somewhere a little further down the road that may mean you can more easily spot your athlete?
  5. Is there anything you can do to make it easier for your athlete to spot you in the crowd? Jumping up and down and waving madly sometimes doesn't work if they're in the zone. Banners, balloons, a hat, wearing a particular colour, all help.
  6. If you're staying over in a hotel the night before, check the breakfast arrangements. If they're not serving before you need to leave, ask if they'll make you up a breakfast box. Most places seem quite accommodating in this respect, even the Premier Inn type places.

The Spectator's Survival Kit

Think about what you need to be happy and comfortable on the day. There will most likely be an early start and a long day ahead of you so here are some things you might want to think about taking with you, if possible.
  • Banner, clappers or other "look at me" spectator props.
  • FOOD. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, water, thermos... depending on when you're up and about and what facilities are near by. Better to have something than be stuck without.
  • Waterproof jacket and layers - in case of bad weather. It rained in Bolton in the morning.
  • A hat/sunglasses/suncream - in case of good weather. I got sunburnt in Bolton in the afternoon.
  • A chair. I resorted to perching on garden walls quite a lot.
  • Something to occupy yourself with between seeing your athlete. You may think that you will spend 2-3 hours cheering on unknown people, and you may well do, but it can get tiring so *just* in case, a magazine or the like is a good back up.
  • Portable phone charger. If you're checking the race tracker, doing the social media thang, playing games, it drains your battery. Don't get caught out.
  • Maps! Timetables! Know where you are, where you're going and how you're going to get there.

On The Day

  • Give your athlete a big hug and a smile before they set off. You might be nervous for them but try to send out a few positive vibes.
  • Chat to other spectators and supporters, especially if you're there on your own. It'll help to pass the time, you might get some good tips on other vantage points or maybe even take it in turns to do the coffee run without losing your spot.
  • Cheer your heart out! If athletes have names on bibs or shirts, use them, refer to clubs if they're in club kit. Make it personal. If someone's flagging, cheer louder. When spectators thin out, cheer louder. CHEER!
  • If you can stay to see the last person over the line, then do. It's such a great thing.

Have you spectated at big events and got any other tips to add to this? If you compete in big events, what do you like in the way of support?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Training Non-Plan or Doing What You Can

Training. Hmmm. Yeah. Well. Since the triathlon, I don't think I could say that I've really done any focused training. I had a plan, post-triathlon, to do three runs a week, a HIIT workout, an arms session and occasional yoga. That's not really happened. A very big reason for this is that recovery from stem cell donation took waaaaaay longer than I thought it would. On the surface, after a couple of days of loafing, I felt fine. Great, I thought, let's do some of this running stuff. Ha! A four mile run knocked me for six. Everything high impact left me feeling as though I'd been put though a couple of rounds in the boxing ring.
At the end of the Yateley 10k, feeling knackered.
I tried to take it easy, but easy by my standards isn't easy by most people's. The kicker came at a 10k race that should have been a sub hour but took me an hour and seven minutes. It was a battle the entire way round and friends on the finish line were genuinely concerned. I gave in, and took to more gentle activities. Somewhat ironically, as part of the thank you package from Anthony Nolan, I was given a free membership to my local branch of Everyone Active gyms and so I decided to check it out and see what it had to offer.

First impressions were very good. Smart exterior, plenty of parking, friendly front of house staff. I got my card, promised to do (and duly did) the online induction, downloaded the app, booked my first class. Set. With running seemingly out of the picture I opted for an RPM class as my first experience, a virtual spin class, where a Les Mills video is played on a screen in the spin studio and you are trusted to follow along. This was pretty good fun, although it's easy to slack off, and there isn't a lot of guidance about what actual RPM or resistance you should be using.
I discovered that the gym boasts Watt bikes, which I hope to use in future training plans, and used the gym a few times for arm workouts. I signed up for 20 days of Yoga Studio use for £20 and tried Hot Bikram Yoga (led by fast-talking James and possibly the most exhausting yoga class I've ever done) and Hot Vinysana Flow (led by the beautiful, calm and encouraging Rian).
Seduced by the fact it was only a half hour class I tried HIIT only to discover that it was the last class before the summer break. I poked my head into the spa area with it's hot beds, sauna, steam room and theraputic shower and vowed to use it in the not too distant future (I'm yet to do that). I've booked up to try Restorative Yoga (at a regular temperature) and Body Combat. There's a kettlebell class that could be interesting as well as Dance Fitness for when I'm feeling frivolous, Group Cycling and Body Conditioning that I really would benefit from. Whilst waiting to join the HIIT class I found a stock of Balance magazines, a publication I've been wanting to get my hands on for a while, so taking a tip from the title I took half an hour out to flick through it between classes.
It's a month or so since the donation and I'm just about feeling back to normal. I'm back to running a couple of times a week at a not-too-shameful pace. My race times are heading back towards normal territory and I'm not feeling so exhausted after high impact activities. I suppose it's not the training that I'd intended, but I'm still seeing and feeling the benefit of it. It's just a case of moving the target a bit. At the beginning of August, Dean and I are heading out to Jersey for the Round The Rock ultra. I'm not at all where I want or need to be with my running but that's not going to stop me from doing the event. I might not complete it within the 10-hour window to earn a medal, but I will enjoy the scenery and the adventure.
Moral of the story? Work with what you've got. Listen to your body a bit more. Adjust the plan. Don't beat yourself up. As the Everyone Active slogan states... Feel better for it.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Event Review : Cotswold 113 Triathlon - June

I can't believe I haven't blogged about this yet! This year, just over a month ago in fact, I completed my first ever middle distance (half iron distance) triathlon, the Cotswold 113. It was a bit of a step up from the sprint distances I'd completed so far (and only three of those at that) encouraged by Dean quite soon after we started going out. I'd been dithering about what my "A" race or big goal could be for 2017 and he seemed so sure that I could do this, that I got swept up with the idea. I asked around, weighted up the merits of river vs lake swim and eventually settled on this one as being a good beginner event and well spoken of. And it just so happened that my friend Juliet was also doing it as her first as well.
Neil, Juliet and me, before the start.
So it was on the 4th of June I found myself getting up at 3:30am, struggling into a trisuit and being bundled into the car to get to the race start near Cirencester. We'd driven up to the area the day before,  staying at a Premier Inn which was just a 20 minute drive away. We'd been to the race village the day before to register, attend a briefing and suss out the swim start. I won't lie, I was really really nervous about it all. I'd had a couple of set backs in training, knocks to my confidence, and I wasn't really sure how I would fair. I was confident that I could do each discipline on it's own, but stringing together a 1.2mile swim, 56mile cycle and 13.1mile run was a different matter altogether. Juliet and I approached it as "just a bit of a swim, then maybe a bike ride if we fancy it and perhaps a jog?". The best bit of advice I got was to smile.
Carb loading the night before the big day
The hotel had very kindly made us up some breakfast boxes full of pastries and yogurt which we took with us, although I barely touched mine until after the event. Parking was a breeze and transition very empty when I arrived so I had plenty of space to sort my thing out, check and re-check everything, without being stressed. Time to eat breakfast, wriggle into my wetsuit and stare out at the lake I was soon to be swimming in. One of the nice things about this event is that swimmers are set off in waves and if you have a preference about what wave you want to be in, you can request it. I opted for wave 4, starting at 6:30am. The cut offs for the event run from the time the last swim wave sets off, which meant I had an extra half hour or so to play with.
Racking complete
Gorgeous morning. The calm before the surge of swimmers.
The organisation was superb. There were loads of marshals on hand to direct us (at some volume) and  the swim starts were brilliant. Everyone got a mini brief before the start of their wave, ten minutes to acclimatise to the water and then a count down. I hung back because I'm not strong in a mass start, and got round without panicking, albeit not all with front crawl.
Swim done!
I was hauled out of the water by several strong hands, shouted a quick hello to a Team Bear member, Kevin, who was marshalling at the event. I saw Dean as I came out of the water and headed to transition. I didn't rush too much, turns out putting on arm warmers when you're damp is rather tricky, and opening cells or bars similarly so! As I wheeled my bike out of transition I felt more the part than I've done before. I knew I'd still be slow, by most standards but I knew that I could cover the distance. The sportives had taught me a thing or two about nutrition and so my bento box was full of fig rolls and I had two gels taped to the bike as well. The plan was to have a fig roll every 4-5 miles and a gel when I fancied. Drinking whilst riding is a skill I'd still not developed so it became harder and harder to get the fig rolls down but they certainly did the trick! The course was beautiful; a two lap route through the countryside and small villages, with just a couple of slightly hilly bits, but nothing I needed to get off for. I saw my parents part way around and then again at the food stop, where I paused for a drinks break, a loo stop (crikey that was a faff!) and a brief hug. I saw them again at the turn around point, along with Dean, and then at the same two points on the second loop.
Looking the part, even if I'm slow.
Pit stop!
My backside was really aching by the time I got back into transition. A quick shoe change, removal of my cycling top, addition of a sports bra (I need a better plan for that next time), a few gels in my back pockets and I was off. My folks and Dean chatted to me in transition and cheered me on my way, as did Kevin on the way out of T2. I had the biggest grin on my face. Last stage, this was it, just three laps of running to do, no biggie!
On the run!
The run course was a lovely flat loop around the lake and some surrounding area. Lots of greenery, lots of spectators where the path allowed, and two aid stations at the points where I felt as though I was flagging. I didn't expect any great results on the run but even with stopping for drinks and some nibbles at the very well stocked aid stations, I still managed to match my recent pacing times. I found Juliet on the run course, one lap ahead of me, and just keep plugging away at it. Dad had found a bench in a play area that the route went through (he's good at finding benches) so I saw everyone there for cheers, hi-5's and a boost. I couldn't quite believe I was doing it! You pass more people on the run course, and everyone's really encouraging, whether they're over taking you or vice versa. It's one of the things that makes this event so great.

And then the finish. Wow. Oh my God. I'd had to pass it twice on the run section but the marshals knew when I was on my last lap and the loud chap who helped directing people in transition and helped drag me out of the water gave me a big shout every time, but none louder than when I came into the finish. Running down that red carpet was amazing. I was determined not to let any tiredness show but really I was on cloud nine. I hadn't stopped smiling the entire way round and I wasn't about to stop now.

I got my medal, printed out my times and found my support posse. Best. Day. Ever. Dad got me the now-traditional post-event ice cream and I found Juliet again to swap experiences. Kevin found me too and declared that he'd packed up my stuff in transition for me, bless his heart, so I only had to grab my bag and bike and go! A short trip back to the hotel for a mineral salts bath, a bite to eat and then home for fizz and a celebratory dinner.
I was, and I did!
I had the best time at this event and I looked at doing the August edition but alas, we're already committed to other things. But this will not be the end of my triathlon story. I've got my eyes on Outlaw Half and IM 70.3 in Portugal next year. I've loved the training and next time I might give it a bit more structure. I'm not ready for full IM any time soon mind you, but I'm sure I've said that about other things in the past that I've ended up doing, so who knows. It's not as if I don't have enough influences and encouragement around me.

The 113 events are really well organised. The only hiccup for the June race was the increase in on site parking prices due to new management of the land, but I've heard that will be dealt with for the august event. It's perfect for first timers and seasoned triathletes alike, indeed I saw some people from my triathlon club,  TVT there. Loads of safety boats on the water, a clear, warm, not-very-weedy lake, the best marked bike route I've ever seen and bags of support (and food) on the run. I may even do it again!

Swim: 43:02
T1: 7:33
Bike: 3:58:36
T2: 6:44
Run: 2:21:27
Overall: 7:17:23

Monday, 10 July 2017

Event Review : Starlight Swim

I'm in love with swimming this year. Possibly because I'm not getting to do as much of it as I'd like to at the moment, at least not as much open water swimming as work clashes with most times that the lakes are open. Just as with running there are quite a lot of different events to take part in as a swimmer, aquathlon, triathlon, river swims, endurance events, lake swims and night swims! This year   Barnes Fitness hosted their first Starlight Swim at Dinton Pastures and I was excited to be on the participant side of this, taking a leave of absence from usual event set up duties.
With 400m, 750m and 1500m distances on offer we decided to get maximum value for money and duly entered the longer distance. More time in the water (we weren't approaching this as a race as such), more chance of seeing stars as we swam! The start time was advertised as 9:30pm but the competitors email informed us that the start time would be somewhat "fluid" to give us the best chance of being in the water as the skies darkened.
We rocked up to Dinton Pastures Activity Centre at about 8:30pm to register and soak up the atmosphere, chat to fellow swimmers and suss out the water temperature. The activity centre boasts changing rooms, hot showers, plenty of loos, and parking galore so it was all very civilised. The water temperature was reported to be 21 degrees, there was lots of umm-ing and ah-ing about whether to wear a wetsuit or not. As I'm yet to swim in open water without a wetsuit I opted for this not to be the first occasion. I didn't over heat and so no regrets. Every swimmer was issued with a bright swim cap (colour dictated by the distance they would be swimming), as many glow sticks as we could attach to ourselves, and a balloon with an LED inside.
The race briefing introduced us to the kayakers who would be keeping us safe in the water and outlined the courses, then it was into the water. We were quite the spectacle getting into the water to acclimatise amidst the mass of weeds at the edge of the lake! Spirits were high, goggles fitted, off we went...
I lost my balloon within the first couple of hundred meters; it wasn't a helium filled one and got caught under my arm as I swam. The surface of the lake was soon strewn with orphaned balloons as the swimmers powered down the lake. The water was lovely and warm and far less weedy away from the edge. The ducks seemed completely oblivious to the swimmers, so much so that I had to adjust course a few times to avoid them! The course was a thin loop of 750m, so twice round for us. The further into the swim I got, the more comfortable I became and so although I alternated between crawl and breaststroke, the periods of crawl became longer. I was reassured that whenever I switched to breaststroke, there was a kayaker by my side checking that I was ok!
Dean finished in around 37 minutes and I came in at around 40 minutes (I forgot to start my Garmin until I was a hundred metres in or so, and forgot to stop it when I came out of the water so that's official time not Strava time). Every finisher was awarded a medal, hot chocolate was available and there were some great prizes awarded to the first male and female in each category. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and can't wait to do another, especially since having decided not to race it this time, I would like to have see what I am really capable of.
In the meantime, on Wednesday evenings until the end of September, we can swim in the lake on either the 750m swimming course or 400m circuit for just £3.50 a session (£27 for a 2 month pass). It's a fully marked course with water safety on the lake and wetsuits are available to hire.
Do you swim in open water? Are you a "skins" swimmer or wetsuit only? Fancy a night swim? Check out events at your local lake (three of ours offer night swims in season).

Monday, 3 July 2017

Event Review : May Bank Holiday Cakeathon 2017

This, as with so many of my event reviews of late, is looooong overdue. I'm desperately trying to get back into blogging after a bit of a hiatus, because I miss it! Less apologising, more content...

Last year I ran the amazing Cakeathon in Kent. I loved it, the idea of eating a bit of cake after every lap, doing as much or as little as I wanted. Well organised, huge medal, fantastic goody bag, lovely course... and wonderful support from my parents on what was a fairly bleak sort of day.
All kitted up against the elements
My mum wouldn't consider herself a runner, despite having done a couple of 10k's with me over the years and dipping in and out of park run, but was so impressed with the medal and concept that she volunteered herself to run it this year. This wasn't something I let slip under my radar and so as soon as I noticed entries open for this year I promptly booked places for me, Dean and mum.
A sample of the cake on offer
We are all very different runners. Dean is in training for Ironman but the first time we went out running together I almost broke him! These days he's faster but I've got more endurance. Mum does it for a bit of fun and to stay fit. The joy of this event is that it suits absolutely everybody. Complete just one lap and you get the medal. The more you do, the better the goody bag gets and the more chance you have of getting some additional badges to put on your ribbon. I achieved the marathon badge last year.
All together to begin with, but Dean looking rather more determined.
There are four or five Cakeathons in the Saxon, Vikings and Normans race calendar these days, as well as Beerathon, Cookieathon and Fudgeathon to name but a few. We chose the May Bank Holiday one, which took place in Samphire Hoe. The loop was to be a nice flat 3.85 mile loop taking in the sea wall but on the day the winds were too high and so we were down graded to a somewhat hillier 2.4m loop further inland. It was agreed that mum and I would stick together for as long as she wanted to run and that Dean would do his own thing. Dean and I had half a plan to achieve marathon distance and I wanted to get mum around at least 10k (although I didn't tell her this).
Hands up if you like cake!
Mum and I did three laps together, stopping for a little cake each time, walking all the uphills and having a bit of a natter. Dad amused himself by wandering back and forth between the start and the turn around point (a short stroll as the crow flies) and took some excellent photos of us. The weather was all over the place. The wind seemed to come from all directions, resulting in some unfair headwinds on the downhill sections, and it would alternate between driving rain and sunshine. All part of the fun of a coastal event I suppose!
Can you see the sea? Powering up the hill.
Dean was a lap ahead of us when mum decided enough was enough. To her credit she'd completed just over 7 miles, the furthest she's ever run! From that point Dean and I ran together. Our mileage prior to the event hadn't been what we'd have liked it to have been and it wasn't long before hips and knees started to complain, but we took it a lap at a time, which with them being so short, was easy. After 19 miles, feeling cold and a bit fed up, Dean called it a day. I reckoned I still had one more lap in my legs (which would bring me up to 19 miles too), so I went for it. It was hard, being out in the weather alone, but I got a lovely welcome back to base from mum, dad and Dean. Hot drinks, dry clothes and cake all round! Not as far as last year, but perhaps more enjoyable.
Proud finishers!
Goody bag contents!
Another excellent event by SVN. I can't recommend them highly enough. I'd love to become part of the SVN club one day, running 100 miles in their events to claim a t-shirt. I've got a very long way to go, although I do have the Tolkien Run in September to rack up some more miles. The crew at the events are always amazing, whatever the weather, and I expect I'll be doing many more of the events over the years.
True fact.