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Friday, June 12, 2015

Back Eating Packet Mix: Revisiting LighterLife 8 years on

It was strange to be back eating food prepared from a LighterLife pack. So much has changed in the past 8 years. So much is different. It feels a long time since I was in that place, eating strictly prepared food from a powder mix. A long time since I was the girl on that low calorie diet. 

But I haven’t forgotten you Other-Sarah.

8 years ago, Other-Sarah was hoping she’d been handed a magical pill, that the packs would contain a miracle. She had reached the end of her tether. Standing there in clothes too tight as she hadn’t wanted to buy clothes in the size she really was, too scared to face up to her increasing size and ballooning figure. She was full of hope, prayers, desperation. And pie. 

Smiling but unhappy
Today I was tasting the new recipes, standing in the offices of LighterLife HQ. This time aware that the packs themselves did not contain a magical pill, but that perhaps they had unlocked something that I couldn’t have accessed without them. 

I remember as part of the counselling having to write a letter to my body. It was full of hopes, apologies for blame and written with plenty of smudges and tears. But I don’t remember writing a letter with my hopes and expectations in. Now THAT is a letter I’d like to read ... and written by Sarah-of-8-years-ago, I doubt it would have involved any mention of running or triathlon and probably no mention at all of children or marriage.

My cat DID love me despite appearances ... this picture was at one of my slimmer times.
I‘d like to hold that letter and compare it to my life now. What did I want back then? Was the desire to be thin all-consuming? Did I think about exercise and nutrition and how my weight would be managed ... and whether it would be?

What made me choose LighterLife instead of the other diets was the speed of the weight loss ... but what differentiated LighterLife for me in reality was the counselling. WHY was I eating two meals in the evening? Was I attempting to self-medicate with the alcohol or was this just a leftover from the student years that I hadn’t grown out of? Sharing the stories, tears and lives of the other women in the group was heartbreaking but also cathartic. And we all had so much in common. 

I'd like it to be noted that despite being twice his size I was STILL a better shot than Simon ...
I bought recipe books that I couldn’t use but pored over the food with my eyes, eating it with my mind. And no, it’s NOT the same. No matter how many time skinny women tell you it is. It’s not. But it’s almost the same. And I realised I didn’t need to eat all the chocolate. And all the cheese. I know what cheese tastes like. It hasn’t changed. Although I still like to check every now and then. Especially with the Dorset Blue Vinny. 

I thought tasting the food packs would be awful. I remembered my time on the packs as 100 days of purgatory. But they’re fine, nice. We had trifle made up for us with the jelly and rhubarb & custard topping (delicious!) and Mediterranean risotto and bolognese. And they’re filling. It certainly makes me realise that even now I’ve probably not got a handle on my portion control. 

Portion control?? (Looking knackered after Angela's hen do)

Yesterday was like going back to my original LighterLife group. Sharing the laughter over holding our work trousers up as our weight – and dress sizes – dropped and not keeping up with the clothes shopping. And discussions on how we maintained our weight. The key seemed to be tracking. Tracking your food, not minutely and not in a controlling manner but being aware, being mindful of what you’re eating. And eating good quality food. Fresh vegetables, protein and keeping away from the processed food. On LighterLife your nutrition is managed for you. In real life? Not so much and certainly not in the processed off-the-shelf food. 

But it was the counselling, the understanding, that made the difference for me. It wasn’t the weight making me unhappy, weight was the symptom. Removing the food gave me a chance to understand the sadness and the causes and I discovered I had the means to manage this. And it wasn’t by having a full fridge and a full stomach.  

It was an interesting day. It was good to be back among people who understood the food issues that naturally slim people don’t. Having to ban certain foods from the house (or you’ll eat and eat and eat and never stop) and what it’s like not to have an off button (with food or alcohol or exercise or talking ...) and what it’s actually like to be on food packs for 100 days and probably only poo 12 times. People wonder where my poo obsession came from ... well I can confirm it started about 8 years ago in the absence of ...! 


As with the original meeting, 8 years ago I arrived with trepidation, but left with friends and a lighter heart. I wish I could reach out to Other-Sarah and let her know that everything is going to be ok.   


Other-Sarah let me write you a letter from the future. 

Let me send this back to you to arrive just as you have finished your other letter. You’re going to be happy, Very happy. You have a daughter who looks just like you and who is absolutely obsessed by Frozen and Disney princesses but who lets you plait her hair. She also ADORES cuddles. You are married to someone lovely and you all live in a small house with a garden the size of a postage stamp – but it’s full of roses. Roses that smell wonderful. I know I’m nearly home when I can smell the big white roses. And you’re obsessed with running. Yes. You read that right. You – the girl who dislikes having to walk to the shop and who smokes 20 cigarettes a day – love running. Your footsteps on the trails are the sound of freedom to you and running fast feels like flying – see you really DID learn to fly – and you make friends through it. So many wonderful friends who share this craziness! And we have wonderful adventures, running 75 miles through Essex, swimming in lakes – with massive fish!, triathlons, marathons, running laps in fields in the middle of the night. Sure, there are ups and downs but it’s all seasoning. Different flavours in this massive adventure. And it is an adventure. Life feels different now. 

Go be happy. 

Note: LighterLife haven't paid me or asked me to write this and I'm well aware that this was my journey not anyone else's. This might not work for you or for your friends but it was very personal for me and I feel that it was a big stepping stone to helping me be who I am today. I found that being able to survive for 100 days on soups made me realise that I could do so much more than I thought I could. If I could do THAT, I could do anything, right? :)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hope 24: How To Be An Amazing (*Amazingly Shite*) Support Crew

For once it wasn’t me running. It was the husband’s turn to have a go at running a 24hr race solo. I was promoted from ‘runner’ to ‘support crew’. Decided would attempt a Stepford Wife style support system but with wellies and noodles instead of heels and freshly-baked cookies.

Stepford Wife (Source)

4:30pm: As was going to be Best-Support-Crew-Wife ever I drove the car which I’d packed full of games for the hotel and snacks for the road. Even decided to allow husband to share snacks. However did give him a 2-turnarounds-max and 2-miles-from-home-radius for going back to the house to retrieve forgotten items. 

5:30pm: Drive going smoothly despite small argument over last chocolate bar and there wasn’t even any sulking (I got the chocolate bar).  

7:30pm: Discovered had somehow been conned into driving to Plymouth which is practically Cornwall and involves 145 miles on the M5. Stop at services and order husband out of car to bulk buy energy drinks. He comes back with one drink. Resist urge to sulk as am on Best-Support-Crew-Wife duty.

8:30pm: SatNav directs us to a dodgy looking housing estate in Plymouth on what appears to be an episode of Shameless. Husband gets shirty and threatens to take over driving. I get shirty and threaten to kick him out of car on dodgy looking housing estate. Compromise by locking all the car doors (to stop people getting in rather than us getting out) and navigating using map.

9:00pm: Finally get to hotel and discover have picked up wrong package and have brought parcel containing the cat’s new scratching post instead of the parcel containing the games. And the snacks are in the car.

9:01pm: Decide Best-Support-Crew-Wife doesn’t apply until race day and give up and go to bed. 

8:00am: As hotel is only 5 miles from race venue can have a lie in until it’s time to put on support kit and wellies. Perfect. Prepare Husband-Solo-Runner coffee and breakfast.

10:00am: Husband has locked himself in bathroom. Suspect is nervous. Will leave him in there and practise Supportive-wife-style-smiling for Support Crew Duties.

10:15am: Getting a bit concerned as registration closes in 45 minutes and husband is still locked in bathroom. Practise more smiling and soothing “don’t be nervous” voice.

10:30am: Forget about Stepford-wife style role and bang on bathroom door.  Is not nerves. Husband-Solo-Runner had forgotten about time and was playing computer games on phone. Smile slips somewhat and resists urge to clobber Husband-Solo-Runner around head with welly.

10:52am: Finally get to race venue after mad dash drive through Plymouth. Under speed limit of course. Park car in field after finding brilliant spot by finish arch and close enough to loos for middle of night trips but not close enough to smell them. Am natural at this support crew stuff.

10:53am: Send Husband-Solo-Runner off to register and collect race number.

10:54am: Put up tent and gazebo all on my own. Blow up air mattresses and arrange food and kit. Am obviously AMAZING support crew. Suspect will get promoted soon to Queen of Solo Support Crews.

10:55am: Husband-Solo-Runner sits in car scoffing food and playing on phone.

10:56am: I make coffee and make sure everything is perfect.

11:00am: Race briefing.  

11:55am: Husband-Solo-Runner goes and stands on start with everyone else. I go and find a spot to cheer and take photos. This will probably be the only time in 24 hour race Husband-Solo-Runner will be smiling. I don’t tell him this. 

11:59am: Husband-Solo-Runner runs up to me in a panic "I forgot to charge my Garmin and it won’t turn on..." Start to say “You complete tw-...” Then remember am supposed to be Awesome Support Crew and stop sentence and give him my brand new Suunto to use instead. Resist urge to clobber him around head with welly. 

12:30pm: Went and clapped him at the 2.5 mile point. Went and clapped him at the 4 mile point.

1:25pm: Lap 2: Went and clapped Husband-Solo-Runner at the 2.5 mile point. Went and clapped him at the 4 mile point. 

2pm: Went and got snacks on ready for Husband-solo-runner. Made coffee. Prepared fresh socks. Did whole Stepford Wife thing but in running gear and wellies. Am AMAZING at being support crew! Suspect may win trophy for being best Support Crew ever. Make a note to email race organisers about making this A Thing. 

2:15pm: Have revelation about what would improve 24 hour races even further: beer tent. Had hopeful explore of campsite. No beer tent. Make a note to email race organisers about making this Another Thing. 

2:30pm: Ran lap 3 with Husband-Solo-Runner in attempt to encourage and support up close. And to take mind off lack of beer tent. Amazingly beautiful run course. Fricking massive hills though but had excuse to walk up hills as had to make sure Husband-Solo-Runner goes slowly. Even ran down hills slowly which is just plain wrong. Ran with Husband-Solo-Runner and let him dictate speed despite wanting to run fast and enjoy hills. Am obviously amazing support crew.  

4:00pm: Husband-Solo-Runner went round on another lap so went and did some loud cheering and clapping for the Solo Runners. They looked a bit bemused. They’d only done about 15 miles at this point and had hardly made a dent in their snacks. However am sure they appreciated the effort INSIDE.

4:10pm: Throat bit sore from all the enthusiastic cheering. Had a chat to Alice of Cirencester and saw Linda and Steve of Yeovil Town Road Runners.

4:15pm: Went and had a nice sit down. I could get used to this sitting. 
Had a bit of flapjack. This is the life. Sitting, eating snacks and reading in the sunshine. Tried some of the crispy cakes.
Read a bit of book. More snacking. Bored of book.
Went on Facebook. Read ALL of Facebook. Mmmm flapjack. Mmm crispy cakes.
Went on twitter. Read ALL of twitter. Mmmm cake.
Bored. I wonder what these nuts taste like.
Will read twitter again.
Unable to find more flapjack and realise I have eaten ALL of the flapjacks (1 entire box) and ALL of the crispy cakes (1 entire box). And all of the nuts. 
Shit. Can’t feed Husband-Solo-Runner on grass and empty noodle packets. Resist urge to clobber self around head with welly.
Remember we passed a Tesco on the way to site.
Realise can’t get car out of field due to runners.
Realise mad panic is probably due to huge amounts of sugar and remember am runner so can RUN to Tesco to get snacks.
Check on husband-solo-runner. Have 35 minutes until he is due back at tent. Get a sprint on. 
Make it back to tent loaded up with food and snacks before Husband-Solo-Runner realises all food is missing. Phew. Is lucky am runner. 

5:00pm: Is only 5hrs in and Husband-Solo-Runner is already refusing food. This is going to result in dramatics later on. Luckily it also means he hasn’t spotted the missing crispy cakes. Resist urge to clobber him around head with welly.

5:10pm: A man in a clown suit keeps honking his horn at me. Is this a hallucination brought on from eating ALL the cake? 

6:00pm: As expected Husband-Solo-Runner is being all dramatic and complaining about feet. (And lack of crispy cakes). Forced Husband-Solo-Runner to eat noodles. He cheered up dramatically after eating food. Sent him out to run another lap.

6:45pm: Just had to use the line. “No. No more noodles until you’ve run another 5 miles. Here have a banana.” Am evil run crew. Decide have discovered amazing new Support Crew Distraction: Runger Games. Like the Hunger Games but with noodles and 5 mile runs.   

8:00pm: Went out and ran 2 more laps with him with a headtorch. Actually physically ran behind him and PUSHED him up all the hills. Have secured place in history as best support ever. Apart from eating all the food.

10:30pm: 45 miles done. Decided Husband-Solo-Runner deserved a dirty burger but burger van out of burgers and refusing to sell us sausage inna bun as these were for breakfast time. Hurriedly bought Husband-Solo-Runner plate of chilli as he was eyeing up the tethered dog.

10:45pm: Husband-Solo-Runner refusing to run in the dark and went to bed. Resist urge to clobber him around head with welly. Am sure 24hr races supposed to last for 24hrs ... but am not complaining as comfy sleeping bag and air mattress. Plus have stolen The Warm Blanket. Decide is a good plan to sleep until morning. Make mental note to try not to snore so as to keep up role of Awesome Support Crew. 

7:00am: Woken up by Husband-Solo-Runner leaving the tent. Waved sleepily at him from sleeping bag. Couldn’t face cheering. Too early. Too loud.

7:30am: Decided HAD to get up and be amazing support crew again. Sigh. Supporting is hard.

7:45am: Man in clown suit now dressed in chicken suit. Suspect is results of extreme sleep deprivation.




9:00am: Sugar crash. Do not want to walk up any more hills. Husband-Solo-Runner is being grumpy. Not sure why he’s being so grumpy. Not as if he has a tummy ache from all of the flapjacks he didn’t eat yesterday. Huff. 

10:00am: Husband-Solo-Runner also refusing my help pushing him up hills in daylight. Apparently “Is embarrassing and all the other solos will laugh.” Huff. I’m not the one walking like have had a brown accident in shorts. 

11:00am: Husband-Solo-Runner adamant he does not want to do 65 miles but suspect he secretly would like to do more than target. Try to get him to run down the hills but he is not keen. He had a go after I threatened to withhold noodles but his evil-disjointed-scarecrow style of having-run-60-miles is scary. Relieved when he stops running to do his usual ‘Brown Accident’ style walking. 

11:59am: The race finishing horn blows when we are about 12ft from the finishing line. The look of relief on Husband-Solo-Runner s face when he realised he wouldn’t be allowed to run another lap is somewhere between Oh-My-God-They’re-Giving-Out-Free-Beer and I’ve-Eaten-All-The-Chilli-But-I-Have-Loo-Roll. He is relieved, ecstatic to have hit 60 mile target and thankful to be allowed to stop. 

12:30pm: A successful weekend. Husband-Solo-Runner has hit his target, I got to eat all the food and we found a brilliant new event that we’ll definitely be returning to. Wonder if I can persuade Husband-Solo-Runner to push ME up all the hills next year?

About Hope 24:
Hope 24 is a 24hr event run on 5 mile loops around a country estate. Big hills, gorgeous trail route and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. £45 entry, camping is free and the money raised from the event goes to a charity so it's all for a good cause.
You can enter here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

DNF TP100: Why I Didn't Finish My 100 Mile Race

The Day The Bottom Fell Out Of My World or The Day The World Fell Out Of My Bottom 

I had no injuries, my training had gone really well and I had spent hours and hours preparing my drop bags and choosing the right kit. I taped my toes up and had lubed everywhere so thoroughly that when I went to use the portaloo before the start of the race, I’d almost slid into the hole.

Before the race with Jilly, me and Tinu
So my excuse for dropping out of the Thames Path 100 at checkpoint 1, 12 miles into the race? 

My complete inability to keep any food or water in my body. Despite already eating 6 (my complete stock for the TP100) Imodium tablets, bad things were happening. Every time I took a sip of water, I had to run and find a loo. I couldn’t get food down. This wasn’t just an upset tummy, this was a furious tummy.

I was having visions of shrivelling up like a raisin from dehydration. The face of mother Teresa, the vision of Scott Jurek but the toilet habits of a 10 week old puppy.

Mother Teresa (Source)
All that preparation and training unravelled in a moment. I couldn’t push and bully myself through 100 miles of not being able to eat or drink. But it made it an easy decision. No agonising over what to do. 

But gutted. I felt truly gutted. I knew that there was the possibility of a Did Not Finish at a race of this length but didn’t expect it to apply to me. Not arrogance, just optimism and high expectations. I didn’t expect to come into work the week after NOT having achieved a belt buckle. I run. It’s what I do. Not this day. 

To drop was an easy choice, but not an easy reconciliation. I’m going over it and over it. Could I have gone on? Yes, but not for long without being able fuel. Should I have started knowing I wasn’t well? Probably not, but sometimes it’s just nerves.

It wasn’t all bad though. I met up with old friends, made new friends and met online friends. I ran a few miles with Naomi who had done so brilliantly in the race last year and saw her as she came through CP2 and I was waiting for my lift home. She was very sympathetic at my plight and went to hug me, then remembered I’d dropped out because I was sick. So patted me on the head instead. It made me laugh and made me like her more. 

Me and Tony Bowe of Northbrook
I met Justin who had a great race ... up to mile 95 and who had to drop when his knee just refused to move like a knee should. Tinu, the inspiring and brave lady who is moving towards the 100 marathon club. Rodrigo on his way to the Grand Slam – 4 x 100 milers this year. Louise, the ultra runner and parkrun tourist extraordinaire. Tony from Northbrook who had an amazing race and who has just discovered His Distance. Ultraboy owner of the most garish footwear and singer of West End musicals. Jilly the RMR ultra runner. Cat ultra legend. Rhianon who I always seem to see part way through races and Susie and Shaun, the MdS superstars and adventurers. Leila of Aid Station 1 who has made me look forward to Giants head Marathon more through her cider tales and Donna of Centurion who – despite the risk to upholstery and vehicle – gave me a lift to CP2. I hope your shin fractures heals quickly. And of course to Boo and Ash for putting me up for 3 days and being amazing. Thank you all. It would have been a lot worse without you.

And thank you to Simon, my crew who wasn’t and Anna, my pacer who wasn’t. And Lily my 5 year old who told me she knew what was wrong: “You're just tired and need some kisses and cuddles.” 

This post has turned into a babble. The positives, I have no injury and the only damage from the TP100 was to my pride. And my arse.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Runner: I Label Myself

I saw a post recently that made me sad. It was labelling runners. A friend had said she wasn’t a marathon runner because she hadn’t run the whole way in a marathon. I don’t like labelling people. It judges them, puts them in a little box and it’s unfair. Everyone’s story is different and we don’t all fit the little boxes.

Labelling excludes people more than it includes them and running is the opposite of that. I’m not sure why it should be but it is. If you run, you’re automatically included in the community, in the pack.  

I train alone most of the time but I know that despite this, if I see a runner on the street, they’ll probably nod or wave whether they know me or not. I know that my running friends will listen to my training woes and offer helpful suggestions to problems, I know that when I fail in a race, they’ll be there to offer support. We may never all get together, we may be miles, even countries apart but we’re a community. A group. A collective of lycra clad, trainer-obsessed runners. And we’re all in it together. 

We may run for different reasons, for a new personal best time, to win a race, to do something we’ve never done before or for peace of mind or to keep the sadness away or to feel the burn of effort in our lung, our legs, our hearts ... but we’re in it together. And we all know the satisfaction of our footfalls on the paths.

Most of us in this pic hadn't met before Equinox 24

It never ceases to amaze me that we can come from such different starting points, have such different aims but be able to talk so freely. The 12 minute miler and the 6 minute miler sharing their tales of their latest parkrun personal best or the ultra runner and the club runner discussing nutrition race strategies. Even the solitary runner feels this bond, knows that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

The Boston Marathon Bombings showed the solidarity of runners. We all mourned the hurt and the felt the horror of it. Miles away, countries away, we were all shaken by what happened to normal people, running people, OUR people. And again it demonstrated our community, our inclusiveness. 

So please don’t label us. If we have finished a marathon, whether we ran the whole way, stopped for a few steps at the water station or had to walk for a mile we’re entitled to call ourselves marathon runners if we want to. Please don’t try and take our achievements away with your words. Your opinion may not matter, but why would you want to hurt someone for their amazing achievement?

So let’s agree just to give ourselves one label: runner. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finally Comfortable in Lycra

I feel quite comfortable in my lycra now. I feel at home. I don’t really care when people stare. I’ll be past them soon anyway. 

But I remember caring. I remember getting my first pair of capris. Pulling them down a bit so they covered a bit more. Are they meant to be this short? This tight? People can practically see my pants.

I didn’t start running until I was 30. It was scary. How do all these people know what to wear? Where to buy shoes? Are there running rules? And HOW does a person actually snot rocket?

It helped when I realised I have a finite number of f**ks to give. Caring about what an unimportant someone else thinks about my running is not important to me. What someone else thinks is none of my business. Me, my look, my running is none of theirs. 

But we remember the negatives, the cheap insults and forget the positives so easily. How is this right? We fight so hard to snatch an hour for a run, we worry about our goals and we struggle to take the first step towards these. 

When I’m struggling on a run, I try to remember running when I was a child. Effortless freedom. This is my chance to recapture this. To run through the puddles, to smile just for the chance to be out in the rain. I’m a runner, these things are allowed. My lycra, my license for lunacy. No limitations.

I see people running when I’m driving and I wish I could be running instead. And then I realised. When I’m running, people are envying me too. They don’t care about the red face, the jiggly bits, my unmatched kit. They see the freedom, the effort, the sweat. They see my footfalls on the trails and pavements and wish they were taking these footsteps. But they’re mine. 

Source unknown

Set the goals that scare you, that you will need every ounce of effort to achieve. Stretch and soar and you will do things you never thought you would. Or could. 

Don’t hesitate, don’t stop. My Mum always says “Look confident in what you’re doing even if you’re not and other people will assume you are!” She was right. Don’t stop, don’t falter. Don’t let the sarcastic applause the catcalls, the insults get you down. 

These people would do what you’re doing if they could. They can’t. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pretty Kit: Jimmy Design Kit Review

One of my friends, Jo made a good point recently when I was admiring her pretty kit after the Wattbike test. "I spend a lot of my time in my training kit", she said, "so I wear something pretty that makes me feel good as well".

I thought this was a great point. 

I don’t mean you have to pick pick prettiness over function, but when you get the chance of kit that offers both? Go for it. 

This picture isn't me. Wish it was. I'd be showing EVERYONE this six pack.
So when Jimmy Design contacted me to ask whether I’d like to review one of their Sports Bras. I had a quick peek and immediately said “yes please”. While women’s running kit has come a long way and now comes in a multitude of colours, MY running kit (except for my socks of course!) tends to be mainly black. It’s like I’ve regressed back to school PE kit. Except for the daps. 

I’m not harbouring a secret desire to go back to school days. I don’t want to ‘Go Emo' (I simply haven’t got the time to apply THAT much black eyeliner) and I certainly don't intend to look as though I wish to double as a pallbearer at a lycra fetishist’s funeral. (Although I DO have a secret desire to be a ninja) My kit tends to be picked mainly for function. 

So I picked the prettiest top I could see. This top is described as a yoga bra and while not being a yogi? yoga-er? it looked PERFECT for hot evenings on the turbo trainer and for running in the hot sunshine on the marathons and ultra runs I’ve got planned this Summer.

When it turned up it was softer than I’d expected which was a good thing and the colours were printed on rather than being inherent to the fabric. It has two inserts that can be removed so if you wanted to wear it as a low impact sports bra you would be able to without worrying about the thickness of the fabric. 

The fit was comfortable and flattering and it wasn’t too restrictive. Best of all I enjoyed wearing it for the warm up on the turbo and when the session got tough I FORGOT I was wearing it. Which is how tops should be for turbo sessions. 

It’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s flattering, it’s cheap. Thank you for the free top to review Jimmy Design ... I shall shortly be buying another as for £15 they're a bit of a bargain! And if you’d like one too they’re available from Amazon here

I feel feminine wearing it and it's a far cry from the monotone black kit I’m used to wearing. You wouldn’t confuse this with my usual PE-esque running kit. 

And as such it brings back none of the old fear of school and the terrifying Physical Education lessons. I was having a bit of a discussion with friends on twitter recently and how I was pretty sure I’d probably still get picked last for PE. Unless there was a team for running in straight lines in which case I am all over that. 

Coordination is just not one of my strengths. I like running because it’s not complicated. Which is another reason for wearing pretty kit. Anything that draws attention away from my flailing legs and what I’m actually doing is all good in my book. If I can get people to say “Ooh I like her pretty top” instead of “Huh? Is that supposed to be step aerobics? And has she just fallen off the step and knocked that woman off her step too?*” then I count it as a good thing.

*This has actually happened to me. And one of the twitter girls @Lilbeeloo67 actually got kicked out of step class for this sort of thing. Wonder if she got put on the Naughty Step. Fnar fnar. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Coventry Way 40 Miler: Flouting the 5 Second Rule

This race was made up of:

Flouting the 5 second rule. 
If you shout “FIVE SECOND RULE!” really loudly after you’ve dropped food, it is absolutely impossible for any germs, dirt, poo or otherwise vile things to attach themselves to it. The louder you shout it, the longer you have to retrieve your food. I suspect people could hear me picking up my jellybabies from Northampton. 

Yes I KNOW it looks like the photographer is drinking a beer ...

Kicking tree stumps.
If you don’t donate at least one toenail during an ultra then you’ve jinxed yourself for the rest of the season. It’s like a disposable bodypart offering to the Running Gods. Therefore it was entirely on purpose *cough* that I kicked that hidden tree stump at 32 miles. The swearing after kicking said tree stump was like a prayer to said Running Gods. Honest. They like it better when you use really imaginative words. 

*mutter “cockwomble” grump “badgerbollocks” whimper “stripy strumpet” mumble* 

Navigating without using the map book
The joys of actually knowing a run route! Having run the Coventry Way in the pitch black and bitter cold in December and nearly losing all the interesting parts of my body to frostbite and crying when I found the pub closed was totally worth it. Almost worth it. Worth it except for the closed pub bit. 

Also thanks to running with Mike, we didn’t get lost ONCE. Except for at the start when I took the wrong junction off the M6 and ended up in Birmingham instead of Coventry. Note: I live SIX miles from Coventry. Shhh don’t tell anyone or they’ll realise how shit my navigation is. 

Mike ran the WHOLE way like this. On one leg. 

Actually RUNNING Most of the Route
It really helped knowing the way as didn’t have to stand still bickering about which stile to climb or field of cows to brave.  Although we did stick strictly to Ultra Rules shouting “Ultra Rules!” whenever we came to a hill and refusing to run up it if gradient was steeper than a speed bump. If a marble would roll down it we were walking it. And probably eating snacks at the same time. It’s sensible planning, right? No point tiring legs out on mole hills and speed bumps. Climbing those is EXHAUSTING. *cough*

Doing Aid Stations Like Pros
Basically this consisted of a slow motion version of supermarket sweep but with picnic tables and my grubby, grabby little hands instead of a supermarket trolley. And with eating as I went along for maximum food intake. 

You know how people say they don’t lose weight during marathon training? Well in ultra marathons you can actually put on weight. 

Shortest Ultra 
Coventry Way 40 was due to be my shortest ultra marathon. I was a bit concerned about this as my legs tend to get a 2nd wind at about 50 miles ... and this race was 40 miles long. It wouldn’t be much good if my legs whisked me out of the shower about an hour after I finished and insisted on a trot down the road. And the neighbours would probably complain at soap suds on their roses. 

Overtaking the Husband
This is guaranteed to cheer me up. Saw The Mister at about mile 22 on the canal path section. I felt a bit mean about waving and leaving him behind but not ‘mean’ enough that I would slow down and run slowly with him. There’s ‘feeling mean’ and then there’s ‘cocking your race up’. I blew him a kiss as I left though. (I didn’t think shouting “Na na na na na” would have gone down very well.)

Seeing Friends On Route
There’s a lot to be said for a local race. We saw family. We saw friends. We even saw the man who I waved at in the car park thinking he was Dave. He saw me too and I couldn’t have been running fast enough as he had time to ask “Aren’t you the person who waved at me in the car park? Do I know you?” We ran behind Monika for ages although I didn’t even realise it was her until I saw a photo on Facebook. We saw Amy and Dave from Northbrook, lots of Kenilworth Runners and we made a new friend who was 72 and who did the Coventry Way every year. 

Amazing Support Crew
The aim was to stroll through the CPs doing our Food Hoover Strategy but without hanging around as we had The Amazing Sheela as Support Crew and she very kindly agreed to cart around food, kit and be Vaseline Angel. (Proffer the tub not application of said Vaseline – she’s kind not insane). Richie ran with us for the last 3 miles despite having raced an insanely hilly 7 miler and nursing an injury and Steff and Simon and Sally of Kenilworth Runners did LOUD CHEERING. 

Cider & Glory
Was very surprisingly 2nd lady! Woo!! Very pleased with that! No cup or prize, instead a massive dose of smug. And a pint of cider at the end. 

The Coventry Way is a 40 mile race which is a loop around Coventry ... but you’d never know it. It’s about 90% trails and footpaths and it’s full of stiles, pedlars bridges, farm tracks and hidden ways. You cross through the edges of villages occasionally but it feels very rural. It’s flat but interesting. You can find out a bit more about it here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wattbike Test at Inspire2tri: On Pain of Fire, Ants & Excrement

I'd stripped off in public. Something that would usually NEVER happen. Unless my clothes were a) on fire b) covered with ants c) covered in poo. And even then it would probably have to be someone else’s poo. 


However, my reason for stripping off wasn’t too do with insects, flames OR excrement. It was something much scarier. I was going to do The Wattbike Test. The equivalent pain of racing a 5k PB ... but condensed into 3 minutes. And in front of other people. 

I was going to be hotter than microwaved coffee hence the strip down to shorts and crop top but I was hoping the results would make it worth it.  

I was warming up on the turbo for 20 minutes on a structured warm up with the 10 other people in the room. The studio was filling up with the sounds of acceleration on the sprints, heavy breathing and nervous farts. Well my corner of it was, anyway.  

The Farty Corner

Coach Mary had planned it so we all started the warm up at different times. This way we’d have 20 minutes of spinning on our own bikes on the turbo and be ready to go on with the same preparation each. We had 2 Wattbikes in the centre of the room with our turbos ringed around them. A bit like a cage fight but with more pedals and farting. But about the same amount of sweat and desperation. 

The Wattbike Test is 3 minutes long and from these results I’d have accurate heart rate information which would mean I could make sure I’m training in the right zones. In other words making my training as efficient as possible. I’d know I was doing my easy rides easy enough and pushing hard enough on the REALLY horrible turbo sessions. I’d be able to judge it by my heart rate now through the readings I’d be getting on my watch via my HR monitor strap, rather than on my rather less accurate scale of ‘a bit sweaty’ to ‘legs feel wobbly now’. 

However as a result of going far too fast on the warm up due to a mixture of nerves and the adrenaline of watching other people do their tests on the Wattbike first, I was now boiling hot. I wasn’t ‘glowing’ or ‘perspiring’, I had reached ‘revoltingly sweaty’. Loz on the bike next to me and I exchanged glances. Yep. The vests were coming off. Being super organised triathletes *cough*, we’d worn cropped sports tops underneath in the event of an emergency (bee attacks, tummy button fires) and this was an emergency. A Wattbike emergency. We were in fact exposing far less skin than the average Victorian swimmer, but we were also in a roomful of athletes. Slinky, non-sweaty, buffed athletes. 

Sod it. We were BOILING. 

*Tops off*

People were just going to have to ignore any wobbly bits I was displaying. None of the INTERESTING wobbly bits, mind you but probably wobbly nonetheless.

The relief was immediate. But short lived. My turn on Wattbike of Death. 

Me being me encountered a problem. 1 minute into my 3 minute test – the point where I thought my eyeballs were boiling – Coach Mary realised that the HR displayed on the bike wasn’t mine. The perils of having 10 other people in the room also wearing HR monitors. 

So off the Wattbike, back onto my own bike for some easy spin and to let my heart rate drop back down from ‘hummingbird’ to ‘extremely nervous’. Or at least from ‘hum’ to ‘thunder’. 

But on the plus side, I’d had one go on the bike, hadn’t fallen off and it was already adjusted to fit me. I was impressed. It had taken 30 seconds to set it up (less than the average spin bike!) and through a few easy changes, it would fit both the 6ft Adam and the 5’4 me. At least I didn’t have to worry about not being able to reach the pedals.   

This isn't so bad ... (Source: Inspire2Tri)

Recovery time up and back on the bike. 3 minutes doesn’t sound long, does it? 0.5% of an exam. The length of time a crème egg lasts in my house. The time from leaving the house to realising your mobile is on the kitchen counter at home ...

But 3 minutes is a VERY long time.

And it’s very difficult to pace.

Ok ... this isn't quite so much fun now (Source: Inspire2Tri)
I knew that I would need to be trying my hardest to get the most accurate results I could, but it would be crazy to do my usual thing of flying off as hard as possible at the beginning and then dying about 45 seconds later. I’d need to go hard but try and pace myself to last the 3 minutes. And for 30 seconds it was fine. It was really fine. And then I realised I had to do that FIVE MORE TIMES.  

I really hit the all time low when Coach Mary announced I ‘only’ had two more minutes left. ONLY two minutes? That’s two minutes in which it appears my legs will simply give up on me, shrivel up, die and fall off. Two minutes in which my eyeballs appear to be forcing themselves down my nostrils. And 2 minutes in which I will simply suck all of the air from the room and die on the floor trying to fill my lungs.

And then it was over. 

I had no ideas of the figures on the display, I had been keeping my eyes purely on the cadence looking to hold the same revolutions-per-minute on the pedals. I was dimly aware that the display was flashing away, the same way I was aware of the cheers of the others as they encouraged me onwards and as I had encouraged them but it wasn’t important. The important thing had been keeping going. However now I WAS interested in the results. Wattbike users report significant gains in performance after training on a Wattbike (source), being able to keep an eye on the key variables and using the information you’re given as a tool to help efficient training are just two of the benefits. 

Max Minute Power (MMP): 274w
Max Heart rate: 176BPM
Power/Mass:                       4.72W/kg
V02 max estimate:               3.2 l/min, 55.6 ml/kg/min
MET:                                  15.9

But more importantly for me were my heart rate zones:

Training Zone HR (bpm)
Recovery            <106
Zone 1 Basic 107-114
Zone 2 Basic 115-132
Zone 3 Intensive 133-144
Zone 4 Intensive 145-157
Zone 5 Maximal 158-165
Zone 6 Maximal 166-176

Using these accurate training zones, I would be able to check I was riding at the right intensity while training. I have the terrible habit of trying to do everything at top speed, far too fast and not getting the benefit of the work I’m putting in. With this data, Coach Mary would be able to check that I was behaving myself and shout at me with terrible accuracy when I was slacking off or trying to do everything at high speed. And I would have no defence. The data would speak for itself. 

However, it would be me reaping the benefits. Rather than lots of junk miles, my training could be refined and now my sessions could be targeted. I could ensure that my training was pointing me directly at my goal. 

Now I knew what I SHOULD be doing. All that I need to do is actually to do it.