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Thursday 22 September 2016

Rutland Water Swim: Invasive Piggies & Hitching a Lift on a Lilo

I’m not much of a swimmer. In triathlons, it doesn’t matter how carefully I position myself I ALWAYS seem to be behind someone with wildly flailing legs. Or maybe I just have a face that begs to be kicked. Either way it’s the same result, I end up with my goggles around my ear and someone else’s piggies up one nostril. It’s not pleasant.

I’d been making an effort to enjoy swimming a bit more this year. I’d not had any terrible swims so far and I appeared to no longer be terrified at the prospect of climbing into icy water with massive fish or the intrusive feet of strangers. I’d obviously lost my senses. Or getting smacked in the head with other people’s limbs had become the swimming norm.

By far my most successful swim since I started open water swimming had been last year’s Rutland Water swim. It had been a 2 kilometre swim across Rutland Water after a lovely relaxed crossing on the ship Rutland Belle. I’d had a relaxed start and had drafted a pair of (non-nostril-invading) feet practically the whole way across, completing it in 36 minutes. A time I’ve never been able to replicate and I’m not sure I’ve had a more peaceful or beautiful swim since.

This year’s Rutland Swim didn’t start quite so well. I was up at the arse-crack of dawn to register and I don’t like mornings. I’m not a morning person in the way that Vlad the Impaler wasn’t 'a people person'. Even after 3 cups of coffee I struggle to operate and I only realised something wasn’t quite right when I tried to put my hands in my trouser pockets for the 4th time and failed.  I was wearing my trousers back to front.


Things could only get better, right?

I righted my trousers and for a while things went well. I got to registration in time. Picked up my hat and tow float and even saw the lovely Mary of Inspire2Tri. I stopped for a chatter and after a lovely catch up, Mary reminded me I only had 10 minutes to get my wetsuit on and catch the boat to the start.

10 minutes? Ages!

I started climbing into my wetsuit and then spotted some tri club friends who were doing the longer swim and stopped for a chat with them too.

Checked watch. Ok. 5 minutes. Better get a crack on. Fully rubbered up, I wandered off around the beach and over the headland ... to see the Rutland Belle crammed with people in wetsuits and nautical looking people doing boaty things like throwing ropes back onto the ship.

Now I’m not a boaty person, but even *I* know that this usually means that the boat will be going somewhere fairly shortly. Like the start of a race.


I broke into a gallop. Or what would have been a gallop if the beach wasn’t full of sharp pointy stones and shells. It was probably more aptly described as a really-fast mince. Or possibly a more flaily version of riverdance.

I had a vague impression of wetsuit clad people in the boat looking at me with what could best be described as “What the bloody hell is she doing?” expressions as the Rutland Belle pulled smoothly away from the quay and I minced at high speed along the beach.

To be fair they were probably wondering why I was doing my best Michael Flatley instead of trying to catch the boat.

Which incidentally left 2 minutes early.


I was left with 2 options. Go back to the other beach and do the 4k swim instead of the 2k swim. Or lie on the dock sulking and clutching my tow float and see if the boat came back.

4k swim? Um no. Just no. That’s almost a parkrun.

Lying on the dock it is then.

I wandered over to see if I could find a good spot for maximum sympathy and get myself into prime position for offers to be rowed over to the start by someone who understands boats. Or at the very least owned a lilo and an oar.

It turned out there were about 20 of us that missed the boat.  It was going to be a very over-subscribed lilo. Rumours were around that the boat was going to come back but no-one was sure who actually said this or to whom. It was like that bit in Children of Men but with more full-body rubber and less bombs. And no babies.

We heard the horn go as the 4k swimmers set off.  Phew. Well at least that option was definitely off of the potentials list. I also discovered that I’d forgotten my boat ticket. Well THAT would have been embarrassing had the boat stopped and come back to me.

Wandered back to kit and retrieved boat ticket and as I came back over the headland, realised that the boat was on its way back. I made an effort to walk a bit quicker. Missing the boat once was stupid. Twice ... probably not something I could blame on anyone else. And I really WASN’T keen on that lilo.

Got thankfully onto boat after NOT being asked for ticket. Or questioned about being ‘that idiot’ who sprinted around the headland dressed in rubber and started dancing on the beach. Phew.

Took a seat on the upper deck and enjoyed just sitting down and not rushing around or worrying about having to sell flip flops for a lift to the race start. As we got going, the safety announcements started on the boat. “The lifebelts are located here, here and ...”

I snickered. A chap opposite quipped: “I  don’t think I’ve EVER been better prepared for a boat to sink.” We looked around. EVERYONE was dressed in wetsuits, with goggles and swim caps on and wearing a tow float. Should the Rutland Belle go under, we’d probably all be ok. Although there would probably be lots of moaning about missing race starts and we’d be demanding medals.

I was even more prepared than usual, wearing a Garmin on each wrist. I wasn’t being extra keen – I’d just promised to lend one to a friend who was on the first trip across the water. I’d hoped she hadn’t already started the swim or she wouldn’t be very happy with me. Although the sight of me sprinting along the beach like a twat probably made up for it.

The boat arrived at the Abbey on the edge of the water. I spotted Rae and handed the Garmin over and apologised for my lateness. The race briefing went smoothly and we all headed into the water in our timed waves. The bottom was slippery but the water wasn’t as cold as I’d expected, although the clumps of weed clutching at my legs were a shock.

We got a few strokes into the water, which was gradually warming up thanks to the rapidly expelling bladders of the swimmers. It’s not unusual of to hear a wail of “Wait ... I haven’t finished yet ...” as the starter horn goes at these races.

We got swimming fairly quickly and there was the usual flailing arms and legs, however goggles stayed on and I didn’t get too bashed although I did get shoved by a couple of aggressive breaststrokers. Swim stroke description there, not molestation report.

I kept a be-goggled eye out for feet going the right speed but couldn’t find any going at a speed that I could hitch a quick lift on. The swim route went towards the tree lined promontory and then zagged across the water towards the beach the 4k swimmers had started from. My goggles quickly misted up which helped a LOT when I realised that the swimming caps were the same colour as the marking buoys.

Luckily a helpful pair of feet came swimming past and I quickly caught them and sat behind. The buoys took a long time to come past. I’d been suffering from a nasty virus recently and I could tell that it hadn’t shifted and was still with me, along for the ride like the way I was following the 10 little piggies in front.

There was a bit of a cross wind resulting in some waves coming in on the last section. I kept thinking it was another swimmer on my left but it was the splash and swell of the waves on that side. It could almost be a swim in a gentle sea except that my mouth wasn’t filled with the taste of rotting seaweed and dead sealife.

Distracted by the waves I accidentally poked the pair of feet I’d been following. They unexpectedly disappeared as the swimmer stopped, presumably to give me a mouthful of abuse for piggy-prodding after the lovely lift I’d had across Rutland Water. I shouted a quick “Sorry!” and headed on towards the beach which actually appeared to receding despite my frantic flailing and kicking.

I put my head down and just cracked on. Just think of the ice cream afterwards. Head down and windmilling my best front crawl stroke, I eventually made it into a massive clump of underwater weeds which marked the start of the beach and the beginning of the end of the swim.

Into the finish funnel, medal around my neck, chafing inspected and baggage retrieved. I got a hug from my speedy friends who had finished well before me despite swimming twice the distance and grinned for a quick photo.  

Swim  - tick!
Medal – tick!

But more importantly I didn't get kicked in the face. Or have toes up my nose. Win. 

All I needed to do now was to get my best smug morning-exercise-done expression on and choose my finishers ice cream flavour.

Winning at mornings.

Thursday 15 September 2016

My First 10 Mile Timetrial: A Bit Like ‘Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’.

I’d decided to join a Sky Breeze Ride the other week. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Sky Ride and contrary to people I’d seen on the roads on a weekend wearing Team Sky kit, I didn’t need to be a middle aged man in skin tight white lycra pedalling frantically on a ludicrously expensive bike. It was a group of ladies, all normal, all lovely and thankfully there was a distinct lack of skin tight lycra or competitive attitudes. I’d had a fabulous time, made some new friends, had a gorgeous cycle out and had cake. Loved it.

However a couple of them had mentioned that their club was holding a time trial on the Wednesday. I’d expressed a tentative interest but in a ‘it’s something I might like to do when I’m sure I won’t be an actual danger to other road users, people walking on the pavement, cows two fields away or my own bicycle’ kind of a way.

However after exchanging a couple of texts, I realised I’d accidentally agreed to come along and was going to be taking part in my first ever time trial with Coventry CC.

This could be embarrassing. For everyone. I can’t even be relied on to stay upright on a bike. I probably should have mentioned my embarrassing ‘lie-on-floor-with-bike-on-top-of-me’ moment at that major roundabout. Maybe hinted at the’ catapulting-self-into-hedge-after-riding-through-a-puddle’ moment.  Maybe I should text a quick excuse. Surely no-one wants to be the club member that invited along the girl who can’t be 100% relied upon to actually climb onto the bike the right way round every time.  

However I ran out of excuses.

You know when you watch Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on the TV and they show the pony cart races and the camera pans out to show all the cars parked up the verges? It was a bit like that but with carbon bikes instead of ponies and a lot more estate cars. I imagine the locals were all still hiding though.

I parked my car in a space on the verge and hauled out helmet, bike shoes and Evie. Without realising it, I had ALREADY managed my first bike-etiquette-fail. My top didn’t have sleeves. Apparently sleeves are mandatory when cycling. I was also wearing my finest Neapolitan ice cream style tan so no sharp tan lines either. I’m surprised I was even allowed on the verge.

However, I paid my £3 entry and had a look around. Everyone else looked SUPER professional with their time trial bikes, long sleeved race lycra and smooth helmets. And here was me in my running vest, Aldi gloves and road bike with clip on bars.  However, despite looking exactly like I was – a nervous newbie with absolutely no clue - everyone was REALLY friendly.

Julie helped me pump air into my bike tyres as apparently having  tyres at 80 psi isn’t really ideal for a time trial. Thanks Julie, but OUCH, could really feel all the bumps in the road now! Should have packed my padded padded-pants.

Judy, Julie and Tracey all introduced me to their club friends and we went off for a warm up – or in my case a wobble up – around the country lanes nearby which helped calm my nerves and reassure me that I did still know how to ride a bike without stabilisers.

My race number was 13. I was given the option of wearing this upside down as apparently this stops any bad luck from attaching itself to me. But I declined. If I fell off my bike no-one would know which way to put me back on again. Safety first, kids.

We all queued up ready for our starts a minute apart and it was here that I discovered the absolute BEST PART of time trials.

Before you start, you get a nice strong man holding onto your saddle so you can clip your feet in and THEN you get a massive SHOVE to start you off. Brilliant. No feet-waving, wobbles-into-oncoming traffic or spinning pedals as I try desperately to find the clips. I did get flashbacks to my first ever group ride (last year) where I had to get pushed up a hill, but I ignored those and concentrated on trying not to get lost, distracted or overtaken by absolutely everyone else who started behind me.

I had NO idea how to pace a 10 mile time trial so decided that I would pretend it was a running race and take it mile by mile. I secretly wanted to try and get around 30 minutes if possible (although this was a BIG ask) which meant I’d have to have an average speed of 20 mph. Eeek! I was hoping that this was an Escher style-course which was downhill ALL the way despite being a loop.

However my bank-the-laps plan was foiled when I realised I’d forgotten to set laps for the miles. I was just going to have to pedal like hell and try to keep my total average pace up. Or if that failed try and spot a nice soft verge to fall off on when I started throwing up and my eyesight failed.

I enjoyed my hefty shove off, started pedalling and then accidentally caught sight of my speed. Argh. Too fast for me! Just keep pedalling, Sarah! Try and hold on! Everyone else is starting now and you’ll be holding them all up like a fat kid on the slide.

The roads were fairly busy but the cars appeared to be taking pity on my rapidly reddening face and my rapey-sounding breathing and were keeping their distance and giving me plenty of space.  I wasn’t sure whether they were being considerate to me or safeguarding their paintwork by keeping outside the moving potential-vomit-splatter circle.

I flew down the B4453 enjoying a bit of a tailwind and shot out onto the A45 avoiding the potholes, the doddery Nissan Almera drivers and the insane dump truck drivers. The surface was fairly smooth after the slip road and it was nice to get a bit of wind in my face and enjoy the feel of nicely flattened-down roadkill under my tyres. None of this still-alive-and-moving roadkill for the A45. We’re dead posh, here.

Luckily the cars in front of me didn’t slow too much coming up to the Memorial Roundabout and there was nothing coming from the right as I approached so I was able to use my momentum off the slope to whisk over the roundabout, the number 13 pinned to my back flapping in the wind. The miles were ticking past quickly and I was at the point where I was holding my speed ... but running out of familiar road.

As anyone who has done any sort of race knows, it is at least 30% easier on familiar paths. I’m not sure why this is but it’s an irrefutable rule. I knew that once I got past the next roundabout, I was unfamiliar turf. And I had been threatened with a dragging hill somewhere in there.

One girl’s dragging hill is another girl’s misty-peaked-mountain. The cyclists had all looked a bit keen and fit and I remembered the person describing the hill setting off as though they were rocket powered. I suspected what might be a ‘dragging hill’ to them might be a vertical slope for me. I hoped I wouldn’t have to get off and push the bike. I understood that was frowned upon in time trials. Especially when you hadn’t even observed the tan-line rules.

My breathing was heavier now and my legs were reminding me that I’d cycled 8 miles flat out now. Where is this HILL?

I hadn’t seen another cyclist the whole time. Either I’d got lost or I was about to hear the voom-voom-voom of disc wheels on the road behind me any moment. I bent over my clip on tri bars and tried to force my heavy legs into greater effort. We coasted a small rise and flew down the other side. A village sign flashed past – back into familiar territory briefly, then back out again as I passed my usual turning for the Fosse Way. And there was the hill.

In the usual scheme of things it was nothing more than a rise, a small bump, a tiny climb. But with half a mile of a time trial left, my legs were crying tiny sweaty tears that rolled into my socks. With each revolution of the pedals, my legs reminded me that they’d really, really like to cramp up about now. But my heart told me that trying my best would be worth it. That each tiny moment of pain now, would be worth double with the feelings of achievement afterwards.

And is that another cyclist in front of me? It gave me an added boost and I crested the hill and soared down the other side, Evie’s tri bars singing in the cross wind. Last 5 leg pumps and I was done. Past the marshalls, past the cyclist, down the road and coming to a stop.

I’d survived. I’d not fallen off. I’d not got lost.

And there was haribo and hot tea waiting for me at the end.

10 mile time trial: 26:31 Strava

The Paper of POWER

Friday 9 September 2016

The 10 Best Reasons to Start Running by Emily of WIMI Sports & Fitness

Today's guest post was written by Emily of WIMI Sports & Fitness. Emily is one of the founders of the sports brand and passionately believes that we can all live a healthy life. I asked Emily to write a post for people looking at starting running as this can be quite daunting. 

So why should I start running? Here are the 10 Best Reasons:

A photo by Dave Fawkner at the start of one of our 5k club races

You know you should. Your doctor, your spouse, and all your friends are behind you. It'll improve your quality of life, prevent heart disease, and stabilize your mood. But no matter how you psyche yourself out, you just can't seem to get off the couch to run. What to do?

Here's the good news: starting is the hardest part. If you can get your feet to move a few steps, you'll be on your way. Here's why you ought to start running right after you finish this article.

 1. The Physical Benefits

Well, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. It still bears mentioning because new runners are constantly floored by what happens to their bodies when they commit to fitness. Running is just wonderful for your physical health.

No matter what your natural body shape is, running can bring out the best in it. You’ll feel better and more confident in your skin. If you want to lose some excess weight, this is a great way to do it. It’s also a great way to tune up your entire cardiovascular system, fend off heart disease, make your legs look awesome, and so much more. But those benefits pale in comparison to our next point.

2. Your Mental and Emotional Health

Did you know that a good run can alleviate depression and improve your entire outlook on life? I couldn’t make this up if I tried: running is like taking Prozac without the side effects. Physical exercise prompts your body to pump out endorphins, which are chemicals that tells your brain that it’s doing good. If you have depression, then these counteract the chemicals that tell your brain that it’s doing bad. With regular runs, the good guys win, and you’re all the better for it.

This is our team at Equinox 24 2014 - we'd never met before ...!

3. Meet New People

Runners are the most social people in the world. Whether you’re a new runner or experienced, you’ll almost always get a head nod or a smile from a fellow jogger as you cross paths. Serendipitous crosswalk stops have made many runners fast friends.

This camaraderie is partially because everyone is eager to talk about their routine, but mostly because runners are eager to listen to potential tips and tricks from others. You’ll never get more encouragement than when you lace up your running shoes.

4. Spend Quality Time With Your Dog

Dogs can run all day. Not only do they love it, but they tend to suffer from health problems when they sit around an apartment all day long. Just like people, they need to move around. Most dogs are default rompers with great attitudes about adventure, especially if that adventure involves being with their favorite person. If Mom or Dad is jogging, they just can’t wait to get on the road too.

5. You Love to Eat

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with enjoying a nice croissant. I’m French. You don’t have to tell me that food is delicious. You should be able to eat how you’d like and enjoy your meals. Running is a way to prevent yourself from getting overweight as a result of your indulgence.

It’s also a fine method of preventing yourself from worrying about gaining weight. Let’s be honest: you look great, and you’d look great no matter how much you weighed. But if you’re worrying about every calorie and bite of food, you’ll never be able to relax and enjoy the pleasure of fine cuisine. Run regularly and you’ll be able to let go of that fear.

6. Save Money on Gym Fees

Gyms are great. I love gyms. I can catch up on some TV, stay out of the weather, read a book, and take a shower immediately afterward. But, as I see it, there are two things wrong with gyms. First, they give you nothing that you can’t give yourself by jogging three times a week. Second, they are awfully expensive for what they give you.

Unless you’re a professional athlete training for the Olympics, you’re probably not using the gym to its full potential. You’re losing money and it’s not necessary. Run instead and spend the difference on something that matters to you.

7. Lengthen Your Life (and Your Quality of Life)

As I mentioned before, running vastly improves your cardiovascular health. That means that it enhances the health of your heart and blood vessels. A healthy heart means that the likelihood of heart disease limiting your lifespan is dramatically reduced.

But everyone knows that. What a lot of people don’t know is that regular exercise has also been linked to a lower incidence of degenerative, age-related mental disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease. Your body and your mind will just last longer if you do this one simple thing. At this point, you have to wonder why you wouldn’t run.

8. You were made to do it

What do you think is the greatest human evolutionary advantage? Is it our big brains? Our reversible thumbs? Try this: the reason that human beings are so successful as a species is that we are excellent long-distance runners.

It’s true. A strong theory of human evolution states that early humans, while not necessarily as fast as a cheetah, were so much more capable of steadily running for miles that they were able to tire out bigger prey and evade predators whose energy naturally came in bursts. You may feel like running is hard now, but once your body snaps into its groove, you’ll find that there are a couple million years of evolution behind you.

At the end of Stour Valley Marathon 2014

9. You Really Can Do It All Year

Once the snow starts to fall, (or, depending on where you are in the world, once the rain starts) you can still indulge your running habit. Treadmills are a great investment in your health and a fine way to keep running when nature doesn’t oblige. Remember, when you run, you’re healthier, and when you’re healthier, you save money on doctors’ bills. When I say that treadmills are a great investment, I mean that quite literally. They will pay you back tenfold. Absent a treadmill, look for indoor tracks and arenas where runners are welcome.

If you do run outside in cold weather, you’ll find that you stay warm quite naturally while you’re moving. You may even come to prefer running in the cold: the cooler temperatures can feel good when you’re sweating.

10. Sleep Like a Baby

If you have any kind of sleep problem, then pay extra attention to this point. Running makes you sleep better, deeper, and more dreamlessly. If you wake often in the night, especially after intense or troubling dreams, then running could be a natural, healthy alternative to prescription sleep aids.

Remember how running helps your mental health, too? Some of that mental boost trickles down to your sleep habits. If you’re a runner, your brain is less likely to be anxious. In turn, anxiety is less likely to keep you up all night. It’s a winner all around.

Don’t be fooled: running isn’t easy to start. It’s going to take perseverance and work, and it won’t always be fun. In fact, in the beginning, it’s going to be a pretty significant challenge. But once you reach a point in your physical fitness where you can glide down the road with a minimum of effort, you’ll know why so many people love to run. When you feel your everyday tasks becoming easier, your stamina increasing, and your physical fitness improving, you’ll know that it’s all because of your hard work. So what are you waiting for? Get up off that couch and start running today.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you want to hear more from Emily, head over to WIMI Sports & Fitness