Sunday, 25 November 2012

Distance or Speed? Speed or Distance?

If I am not careful this will become a running blog!  But run I do, and so....

It is now 9 weeks since I started running.  I am running 6km with relative ease.  My frequency of runs has dropped off a bit, as I do not want to cause injury, although the time of year and weather conditions have not helped with this.

Had a few revelations in the last few weeks, since I last blogged - as a new runner things are changing so fast I cannot keep up! (Running away with me.... !!)

A few weekends ago I went running with a couple of local friends, Ang and Lucy.  Both are much more experienced runners than I, and used to longer distances.  I was a little daunted by the idea of running with people who I might hold up, and I worried about silly things, like 'Will my breathing sound loud and irregular? Will I be able to talk when I am running?  Will I be able to run whilst NOT concentrating on my footfall and my breathing and everything else because I will be with others (and not inside my own little bubble!)?'  Self-consciousness - take a running JUMP!

But my fears were unfounded.  We found we could run at a similar pace (though I guess I found it more difficult - it seems my natural pace is to push myself!) and for the most part I CAN talk when I am running which was a huge surprise!  My breathing (which I have not heard before, because I usually wear earphones!) was loud but regular and I did not feel self conscious and although I did not concentrate on what I was doing, it was actually quite liberating to just RUN and chat!  We also ran off-road on a beautiful local route around water, and across farmland.  It was muddy and there was a little jumping about, which I haven't done before.  I could really feel it in my foot muscles the next day and it made me realise I need to get off the road more.  It felt nice under-foot though and it prompted me to think about road running verses trail running.  But then I guess I am cross referencing with my cycling preferences (road)... who says you need to stick to one type of running anyway; we are lucky enough to have some decent off road routes near us, as well as road routes.

We covered just short of 6km that morning and there is so much more to running than I had thought.  Part of its appeal was the solitary nature and the music which I would otherwise be plugged into, but I CAN enjoyed a social run just as much.  It also made me realise how far I had come already.  I can go out there and run with more experienced runners and not feel like I was the newbie.  Although at the same time it was great to draw on their experience and I felt very well supported.  I hope Andy won't mine me stealing his picture... this is the beautiful place we ran that day:

Frosty Sunday morning at Allerton Bywater (thanks Andy!)

Me running (thanks Lucy!)

And so, distance?  Or speed? I completed the C25K a few weeks ago.  I would HUGELY recommend it to anyone who is new to running, or who would like to run but does not know how/thinks they cannot.  I wondered if I would feel a bit lost when I got to the end of the programme, but at the same time I was looking forward to running to my own music and setting my own goals.  I couldn't decide what to focus on now:  stick to 5km and work to improve my speed (there are few apps out there which focus on interval/speed training) or continue to plod on to increase my distance?  I did hope they might go hand in hand,but I needed a focus.  It has taken me a few weeks to make the decision, but I have decided distance is a more important focus at the moment, and perhaps my run(s) with other people have helped me decide this.  And perhaps this was the right decision as looking back my speed hasn't really increased in the last few weeks.  Maybe I will always be a plodder.  But as with cycling, I do like to amble; I like to take in the world around me as I pass through it and admire nature, passing cars, other runners, the clouds - anything really!

The furthest I have run so far is 6.5 km and I do feel I am a my limit for now.  My feet/calves are starting to feel fatigued by the end of the distance and the next day I feel stiff.  I don't want to push myself to an injury and I have read a lot about runners taking on too much too soon.  I can see this could be easy to do.

So I think my next goal is to gradually and slowly increase my distance to 7km by Christmas (just over 4 weeks away).  I plan to do one 5km run per week and one slightly longer one.  Depending on the weather conditions (or rather how saturated the ground is underfoot!), I am hoping to run once on road and once off road each week.  My shoes are the equivalent to 'slick' road tyres and have very little grip for muddy, slippery conditions, so I am at the mercy of weather conditions whilst choosing my routes. 

I also experienced a very wet run this week with Ang.  It really was torrential and there was a lot of ground water about.  We had arranged to meet at my house and I did wonder if Ang might cancel when I saw the weather, as I thought about calling it off myself.  But I didn't want to let her down and it turns out she didn't me.  Had we not committed to a run-date, I suspect neither of us would have run that morning... another advantage to running with friends!  We got soaked to the skin, but in fact it didn't feel too wet/cold uncomfortable (at least not until we got back into the house!) and so another FIRST on my running journey.  A complete soaking, it was great!

My feet are aching today and the muscles that run under the arches of my feet feel a little crampy.  I shall be taking a few days off, in the meantime I am checking my technique again and reading up Barefoot Ted's blog which is fabulous. 

Addicted to running.  Absolutely loving it.  Oh and if you haven't run to Faithless's 'God is a DJ' yet, you really must. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A week of distance PBs!

On Saturday I swam in the brilliantly organised (thanks Kev!) Lengths4Leeds, which was a sponsored swim at the inspiring Aquatics Centre in Leeds.  We were raising money for three charities, Shelter, Lineham Farm and Forget-Me-Not.  In all there were about 18 swimmers and we ranged in age from 4 to 48!

We were joined by 2012 Olympic swimmer, Rebecca Turner, who was absolutely charming and a very positive role model for young aspiring swimmers. 

I had pledged to swim 1 mile (64 lengths) with a plan to increase this distance to 2km (80 lengths) if I felt good during the swim.  I actually swam 2.5km (100 lengths) and would have swam a little further had my 7 year old son, who was lap-counting, hadn't got bored!  I am really pleased with this, I never thought I was capable of swimming this kind of distance and it has made me seriously consider enering a two mile distance event in 2013....

My 8 year old daughter did an excellent job too, managing to swim 40 lengths, with Dylan!  She raised more in sponsorship than I did, as most people sponsored her per length (and I expected her to swim 6-10 lengths!)

The Aquatics Centre at Leeds

Rebeccca Turner signing swimming hats
Rebecca Turner and a couple of younger swimmers
Isla with her signed hat

Rebecca Turner

The British Gas Team with Rebecca Turner


Transitioning to running update!  It is now 6 weeks and 1 day since I started running, following the couch to 5km running plan.  Today I reached my target and ran continously to 5km!  I am overjoyed, as I really never saw myself running, and I have loved every second of it.  My 5km time was a very respectable 34 minutes and 10 seconds. 

What next?  Not sure.  I found 5km hard going, so I have no plans to increase my distance again for a while.  I have neglected my bike and I need to find some time to get back into the saddle, so I shall be reducing the number of runs per week to free up a bit more time. 

I was trying to decide the other day how to compare cycling and running and the difference beween the two, in terms of how they make you feel and the enjoyment factor.  It has surprised me how much I have enjoyed running, yet there is none of the adrenalin-big-grin-wahoooooo-feeling you get when you blast along a smooth bit of tarmac on your slicks, chasing 30mph!  Cycling doesn't hurt my legs and doesn't make me have to think about my breathing, and I can get pretty far (escapism?!) in a short space of time.  I hate doing the same route over and over and absolutely, never do out and back routes.  This is pretty much the opposite of how I feel about running in every sense, yet I still love it and have very much chosen it over cycling in recent weeks.  I don't like cycling in the cold, dark, wet... and I am very much a fair weather cyclist.  I LOVE ambling along on a sunny evening, along the farm roads, watching the wildlife and the farmers tend to their crops.  I love seeing the rabbits scurrying away as I approach and there is something so very enjoyable about being out on the road, by myself, on my bike. 

I wonder if I will enjoy running as much when Summer approaches and it becomes hot, thirsty work.  I haven't reached a conclusion on these musings, but I hope I can find a comfortable way to enjoy both at the same time(well, within the same week!) so my dream of doing a triathlon, can become a reality. 

Then there is swimming.  Doesn't really fall into comparison with cycling and running.  Swimming allows you freedom in water, allows you to relax and mend aching muscles and it challenges you, every time you go for a new PB in either distance or speed.  Swimming is my default. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

5 weeks and 5 days of Running

It is six weeks since Dylan took part in the Leeds Triathlon at Roundhay Park.  Five weeks and five days since I decided to start running using the couch to 5km (c25k) plan.

I have gone from being very vocal about how the idea of running would never (ever!) be for me, to running 4km+ ever other day and LOVING it.  What a turn around!

I am currently running with the week 8 podcast, which means I run for 28 minutes without stopping.  The final week is within reach (week 9) and I have a few niggling thoughts.

The plan promises 0-5km in 9 weeks.  It is aimed a non-runners, who are perhaps completely unfit.  I was a non-runner before I started, but I wasn't too unfit.  I looks doubtful I will manage 5km within the 30 minute run I do next week, during the week 9 podcast.  My current distance is 4.2km within 28 minutes which is an average of about 6.4km/hour.  Adding another two minutes to my running time will not allow me to get to 5km.

I had wondered if my pace is way off, but looking at other runners who are new to running and who run 5km or less, my pace is pretty similar.

Like I said, a niggle.  I have no doubt now that I AM capable of running 5km, though I guess it will take me  about 35-40 minutes.

Also, what do I do when I have finished the plan?  There are a number of options:

  • Improve my speed over 5km

  • Improve my distance up to ? km

  • Both of the above (hmm sounds good, but *how*?)

There are a number of podcasts aimed at c25k graduates, but I think I want to run without coaching for a while, with my own playlist and my own agenda BUT I am a little worried that I won't push myself enough doing this though.  Still looking forward to pounding the tarmac to my own music, rather than the drivel which accompanies the c25k!

My local running club runs courses for beginners (they define a 'beginner' as someone who has yet to run 5 miles), and this appeals to me.  This won't be until April though, which is when the courses run.

I don't have any real desire to enter any running races at the moment (having decided against the Bonfire Night 5k in York - too expensive!), though I am almost certain my long term goal is to enter the Leeds Triathlon a Roundhay Park in Sept 2013, and do the sprint distance.  There, I said it out loud :-)  Goal for Summer 2013 - TRIATHLON! 

So this morning's run saw me up and out of the house by 8am. It was cold and extremely foggy; too foggy for my dark glasses, which are part of my disguise ;-)  It was nice being out in the fresh air, with no one else up and about yet.  I ran through and our village where the streetlights and pavements end.  The fog gathered on my eye lashes and dribbled down my cheeks.  It also collected on the spiders' webs which were picking up the early morning sunlight as it battled to shine through the fog.  (It never won that battle!)  Wished I had my camera....

I use Endomundo to track my run via GPS on my phone, (which also plays my podcasts).  I gives me an update every kilometre, of my total time so far, and my lap time for that kilometre.  I worked out that to do 5km in 30 minutes, I need to be running a 6 minute kilometre.  I am getting closer, sometimes I am close to 6 minutes 20 seconds now, other times I am closer to 7 minutes.  I don't feel as though I can physically make my legs go any faster at the moment.  My breathing is fine, so I assume my fitness/cardiovascular levels are coping.  My legs just can't physically do more though.  I was starting to feel a cramping pain up the inside of one calf today, about 15 minutes into my run.  So, I have decided to have a few days rest.  I am running every other day at the moment, but I shall put a few days now between today's run and the next time I go out.  I think my legs are telling me to ease off a little now.  Especially as the distances are growing and there is no respite of any walking anymore!

But it was a lovely run and a nice, peaceful way to spend a Sunday morning, before the world woke up!

I shall be doing the sponsored swim next weekend (Lengths4Leeds) which has been arranged by my employer.  I am very proud that my 8 year old daughter is swimming with me.  Hoping to swim between 64 and 80 lengths, while raising some money for charity.

After this event, I am going to take a step back from the pool and aim to swim once per fortnight instead.  I think it is time to use the time to get back on my bike and get some miles out of my road tyres before the winter truly sets in!

Have I mentioned that my brother and his fiance run too?  They are doing the Run to the Beat half marathon in London which seems to be half run, half music event,  next weekend and looks pretty cool.  I might have said to him that I will run a half marathon with him one day!  Arrgh, me and my big mouth!  But, hell why not?  I have achieved loads in 5 weeks. :-)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

My Kit (and video!)

Inspired by the lovely Sarah, over at Christie Clan Diaries, I thought I would blog a little about my kit and what I use. 

It was my birthday this week and my Dyan took me out shopping.  He bought me some running leggings, as I really hate feeling flapping clothing when I am running, and Lidl had some for £7.  They are actually really good, so we felt pretty pleased at the bargain!

You can also see my minimalist running shoes, which I blogged about here  
We then went to showroom in York for Rat Race, who stock all things running, swimming and cycling!  Dylan bought me a Ronhill running top, which is BRIGHT!  But should mean cars will see mem when I run on darker evenings!  I discovered my phone can switch the camera lens towards me, so here's a cheesey and BRIGHT picture of my lovely new top!

As you can see I also wear a hat, this started out as a disguise, lol.. but as the sun is getting lower, it is proving quite useful!  (I also wear cycling sunglasses, which are pretty well suited for running as they don't move around on your face.  No pictures, but they really aren't all that exciting!)

I use an armband to hold my phone when I run which was an absolute bargain off Amazon... it cost me £1.32, including delivery, and holds my phone (for the podcast and GPS software) and my door key. 

I was also lucky enough to receive a waterproof MP3 player for my birthday, from my parents.  This is going to make a huge difference to me in the pool as I do struggle with the monotony of swimming lengths for 30-40 minutes at a time, and I tried it out this week and it worked fabulously!  I perhaps need to think about my playlist though.  I put Jimi Hendrix on, and found I swam with good glides and stretches... brilliant for enforcing the prinicples of Shaw Method swimming style, but I think I need something a little more up-tempo!  (Though I confess, swimming along with 'Hey Joe' made me smile!)  It really is quite clever, no wires, great sound, AND it stayed in my ears as I pushed off (wearing the white 'wire' around the back of my head and under my swimming hat!).

My Merlin waterproof MP3 player

In case you are wondering, I swim with Aquasphere Kayenne, small fit goggles, with a dark lens.  I spray them with anti fog every week and they are the best goggles I ever tried.  I swim in a Zoggs legsuit and I wear a silicone swimming hat.  And I now swim plugged into my MP3!

I ran with Dylan this week which is the first time I have run with anyone else.  It was a little unnerving as I struggled to concentrate, but he did take a really useful video of me running, which has given me confidence and allowed me to check my foot strike and posture.  He has a slightly longer one I shall post when editing allows....


You can see my armband in action, the rathe unexciting glasses and that I also carry a small water bottle (about £3 from Wiggle!)

I have completed week 5, run two of the Couch to 5km plan today.  This involved running for two 8 minute strtches, seperated by a 5 minute walk.  The next session involves a 20 minute run.  I am really not sure I can do this, I guess it will be make or break time.....

I haven't been out on my bike for a few weeks now, but I shall update my blog with cyclingstuff another time :-)

Sunday, 30 September 2012

An Autumnal Swimming Goal (and Running Update)

On the 27th October, I will be taking part in a sponsored swim, Lengths4Leeds.  This has been organised by my employer and will take part at the Aquatics Centre, in Leeds (my usual training pool!).  I have pledged to swim one mile, although I have promised to aim for 2km (which is 80 lengths of a 25m pool), if I can get £50 pledged in sponsorship.  I have never swam as far as this, so it should be a challenge! If anyone wants to help and wishes to sponsor me, please get in touch (there is no Just Giving page or similar, just a old fashioned paper sponsorship form!)  The charities I am swimming for are Shelter, Lineham Farm and Forget-me-not.

On a personal level, I am pleased to have a goal.  It is hard for me to stay interested in swimming every week now that my outdoor events for 2012 are finished, and I tend to stop swimming so much at this time of year , at least until next year's events are announced and I get motivated again!

I am still running every other day.  I have just completed week 4 of the couch to 5km plan.  This involved running for 5 minute stints, with shorter walks in between, and a couple of 3 minute runs.  Over the 30 minute podcast, there is 16 minutes of running, so I am definitely running more than I am walking over the half hour workout now.  Week 5 looks difficult.  There are 3 different workouts in week 5, and the third one, which I will complete next Saturday if training goes to plan, involves running for 20 minutes without stopping.  I really can't see me being able to do this in 6 days time.  But I shall place my faith in the training plan; it seems to work well for lots of people. 

Have learnt a few things about running this week:

  • Not to brush my teeth just before a run.  It makes my mouth claggy and therefore harder to breath.  
  • To tie double knots in my laces as they WILL come un-done otherwise. 
  • Not to wear thermal cycling tights in September.  Too hot.  
  • I need more than one sports bra, or laundry issues will mean running without one (not good).
  • Running in the rain will mean my in-ear earphones will fall out of my ears.
I am toying with the idea of entering a 5km race in November.  I hadn't planned to...I am not sure I will be able to run 5km by then.  But I saw the event and thought it sounded fabulous.... a 5km run through York, on Bonfire Night!  It is in the dark, with a pyrotechnic display along the route, and then a fireworks party at the end.  Plus a bonfire!  This has been organised by Rat Race, whose events are pretty spectacular, and if I were to ever consider a 10km race, it would no doubt be a Rat Race as they look like loads of fun!    

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Amazing Energy Bars!

Having easy to grab, high energy snacks can be an expensive business, but is something Dylan and I probably spend a lot of money on between us (for example, today, Dylan will be cycling home from work, between Sheffield and Leeds, approximately 25 miles.  It will be close to teatime, he will have done the same commute this morning, and he will be hungry!  I know it is likely he will eat something before he leaves, such as a cereal bar, or some nuts......)

One of our favourite brands of energy bar is Nakd.  They aren't overly processed, don't contain sugar, or wheat for that matter and taste delicious!  You can expect to pay about 75p for a small bar.  They are SO worth every penny, but like many people we have to watch every penny. 

I was very excited when a friend posted a recipe online to make your own bars at home. 

Not Nakd Bars:

250g dates
50g raisins
50g cashews
50g almonds
50g walnuts
70g cocoa powder (Green&Blacks preferably!)
zest of 1 orange

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until it comes together as a ball.  You might need to add a little water to help it do this. 

Press into a tin (I used a square 'flapjack' tin), which is lined with parchment or foil.  Put into the freezer to set.  Once set, cut into bars and store in the fridge. 

Not Nakd Energy Bars
It is worth pointing out that these are vegan, grain-free, sugar-free, raw and just awesome!  I think they would be nice with a hint of mint too, so I may experiment next time, and omit the orange and add some mint.....

Thank you Claire for the recipe.

I am still running every other day.  Just done the 3rd outing of C25K, Week 2.  Moving onto Week 3 on Friday!!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Running (and Swimming)

So today I went swimming at Pugney's lake in Wakefield.  The Wakefield Triathlon Club train there, every weekend, and they allow non-members to swim with them.  They have a course marked out (500m) and spotters to make sure you are safe.  I did the 500m course twice and appreciated the 'safe' environment in which to have a nice Sunday morning swim.  Vaguely/lazily day-dreamed about joining a triathlon club next year.....  This will almost certainly be my last wetsuited swim this season (though I thought Loch Ness was my last!) and it was nice to experience open water in a relaxed environment, which was also safe.  Not quite Wild Swimming, but no pressure of competing an 'event'.  Just a little swim.   (Amongst the geese and the swans!)

Let's transition to running :-)  I received my minimalist running shoes this week, which should allow me to run with better posture and run as if I were wearing no shoes (will come to the 'whys' later!).  

They have a very thin sole, designed to make you feel like you are not wearing footwear, yet they protect your feet from stones etc You can see here, how thin and flexible they are.
My Inov8 'barefoot' running shoes
I moved onto week 2 of the couch to 5km training plan, which mostly involved running for 90 seconds, then walking for 2 minutes.  As before, I aimed to strike the ground with my fore-foot/mid-foot, hitting first, avoiding striking with my heel first.  This was MUCH easier in my new running shoes.  I experienced some ankle/foot discomfort, but I believe this was simply down to new muscles being used (I wouldn't normally be bouncing around on my toes!) and I was pleased to find my breathing an general fitness, coped just fine!

So this barefootedness - what's it all about?!  Take a moment to try this out for yourself.  Take your shoes off.  Go for a little run, up the lawn perhaps?  Don't think about it, just do it.  Now do it again.  Notice how your foot hits the floor.  What strikes the ground first?  Your heel?  No.. probably not.

Now try it again with shoes/trainers on.  Does your heel strike first?

We are designed (dare I say, evolved?!) to run barefoot.  Of course in this day and age, this simply is not practical and we wear shoes.  If we are runners, we wear running shoes.  But if we take off our shoes, we naturally strike the ground with out fore/mid-foot, not our heels. We have LEARNT to run with our heels striking the ground first, because our trainers provide enough cushioning for us to do this.  60-80% of all runners experience injury at some point as a result of running.  No one can argue that running is a high impact sport and therefore injury is a risk.  But, we were designed to run, we evolved to run, so why do we find we can get injured so easily?  Could the way we have learnt to run, with our heels hitting the ground first, be to blame?  Many people believe this to be the case, although I understand there is still no absolute proof (yet).  However, I am convinced.  As are many.  

Being a stickler for an 'alternative' path for all things in life, I am buying into this.  Dylan has been sold on the idea of barefoot running for a while and has re-learnt to run, avoiding heel striking and trying to hit the ground with the front of his foot.  Dylan does a lot of running and has attempted to barefoot, though has found minimalist shoes work well for avoiding damage to the skin from sharp stones etc.  You can read about his experiences here, in one of his very rare blog posts!

Many of you will know that I have been trying to re-learn my swimming technique, following the Shaw Method, which is based on the Alexander Technique.  Although this has been fantastic and enabling, I would like to NOT have to re-learn how to run and learn the barefoot technique from the start.  I intend to get it absolutely right from the beginning, even if I am slower to begin with.  My aim is to run without risk of injury, in the way we evolved to run, in a natural state.  I intend to maintain good posture and I have no real distance or speed goals, though I suspect this may change in time. 

I have had a lot of support and decent information about this as I already know a few barefoot runners.  Thanks especially to Ang, who sent a load of links my way.

If you can spare the time, have a look at these links which describe/show how to run.  They also show/describe why heel striking isn't such a great idea.....

This link shows the 100-up, which is demonstrated by Chrisopher Mcdougall, author of 'Born To Run'.  Brilliant demonstation of why not to heel strike.

This is a good written description about barefoot running and the role minimalist footwear can play.

This is a great video, showing a running having an analysis done on his (heel-sriking) running technique.  It shows him being taught how to strike with his fore/mid-foot and gives a good description about why to do this.  It also also addresses posture when running and shows what not to do, and gives exercises for how to improve posture.  This is a longer video, but is well worth a watch. 

And this is another good article, which includes a great video side-by-side comparison of what barefoot running looks like, compared to heel striking.

Interestingly, my Couch to 5km podcast has very different views to me.  There was a 'tip' during week two.  This advised against hitting the ground with anything other than your heel first, as this would 'significantly increase' your risk of injury.  Hmm, interesting.  There is much written about barefoot running in order to avoid injury.  Yet there is plenty of disclaimers, saying that as yet there is no documented proof.  To me, this proof isn't needed, it makes perfect sense.  Nowhere have I seen written that striking with your fore/mid-foot DOES CAUSE INJURY.  Not anywhere.  I wonder where this pearl of wisdom has come from.  Then I remember that my podcast is the NHS Choices version.  (There are a few different versions of C25k/couch to 5km).  I have learnt in several other areas of my life to take NHS advice with a pinch of salt.  Once bit of advice does NOT fit all, and it is usually to protect those few that might be considered higher risk, at the expense of the lower risk people.  Because if you are lower risk then the chance are you will be just fine whichever way you choose.  And injury is just part of running right?

Well, no it's not.  We were designed to run.  Humans were born to run barefoot.  So why would we not?!

So, I am not a real runner yet.  But I am absolutely enjoying getting out there and doing it.  I suspect over the winter I WILL get to run 5km, and probably further.  I just need to remember to cycle and swim too!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


Jo Swims.  Jo Cycles.  Jo Runs.  WHAAAAT?!!   Jo RUNS?  No Jo does not run!!

Ah but I do!

I shall keep this post short and to the point (ish).  I went to the Leeds triathlon at the weekend, to support Dylan.  He did brilliantly and came 13th in his age group and 72nd overall (out of approximately 400 athletes). 

I was very very very envious and wanted to be in the lake swimming with him.  I decided that next year, I want to enter.  I can cycle and I can swim.  I need to learn to run.

So today, I downloaded the couch to 5k app, and I read up on 'safe' or injury avoiding running (barefoot running - now that is another post - which I will indulge in when I am not feeling so brief.....) and off I went!

I did week 1 of C25k, which involved 8 minutes of running over half an hour with plenty of walking rests.

It was acually OK and striking the ground with the ball of my foot took a conscious effort and felt like a brand new thing I had never ever done before, so was actually quite exciting!  Fitness-wise, I felt OK.  I shall be doing it twice more before moving onto week 2.  Need to go barefoot shoe shopping.....

Jo certainly DOES run....

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Spectacular! (Monster swim 2012)

At 7am on Saturday 18th August, we left our lovely campsite at Cannich, in Glen Affric, Scotland and drove South to Loch Ness.  We drove around to Dores Beach, in convoy with my friends Sarah and Linz (plus all of our husbands and children!) where we parked up for what was, for me, the most highly anticipated swimming event of my life!

We had experienced a few days of loveliness, camping together in the wilds of Scotland (beautiful, sparsely populated, midge infested and utterly amazing), and our young families had a wonderful camping experience together.  We cycled, threw water bombs, toasted marshmallows, played Lego, shared midge spray, drank wine and laughed and laughed.  Now arriving at Loch Ness to swim with my lovely ladies was the pinnacle of our trip. 

The Loch Ness Fog
It was foggy as we arrived and we couldn't see the loch.  The children played in one of the loch's tributaries and we waited around as the other 400 swimmers arrived, swatting at midges.  At around 8:45am, the mist magically rolled off the loch and receded.  The sun shone through and revealed the most beautiful sight a swimmer might ever see.  The water was calm and blue and it mirrored the mountains that rose out of it perfectly.  The mountains shimmered purple from the heather and the sky was so blue, I couldn't possibly make it any bluer when I later came to edit my photos!

 This would be my fourth open water swimming event (or fifth time I have worn a wetsuit and swam in open water), and it was the first time I would be swimming without Dylan alongside me.  He would be supporting me from the shore, with our children and their new friends.  I was nervous.  I was plagued with fearful thoughts during my previous open water experiences, despite being a confident and able pool swimmer.  I can't pinpoint the reason for my fear.  I sometimes believe it to be the cold.  Or the wetsuit.  Or the lack of sides to kick off from.  Or the fear of seeing something I don't want to, under the water.  Or the lack of seeing NOTHING under the water.  I am not scared of drowning, I am confident in the water.  But open water swimming frightens me and I have always, until now, relied upon Dylan to get me to the end.  Despite this, I am pulled along with the excitement of such an event and had thought nothing about the fear so far, and felt only excitement when anticipating the swim. 

I acclimatised in the water, with Sar and Linz.  The water was 10.5 degrees.  After the Salford swim (16.5 degrees) it felt cold, but not unbearable.  I felt a huge bubble of happiness and excitement inside when we bobbed about in the shallows, looking up at the sky and the mountains and the huge expanse of water around us.

The start whistle blew, and we held back to the back of the pack, allowing the majority of swimmers to go before us.  Linz and Sar hadn't had the opportunity to train too often due to having demanding younger toddlers, and Sar had an injured arm.  They both offered me nothing but support and calmed me as we walked to the water.  We agreed to swim together and enjoy the view and drink in the whole balmy experience!  Just as we started, a rainbow appeared in the sky, against the mountain on the opposite side of the loch.  A cliche to end all cliches, perhaps, but it was a perfectly timed indication, that this was going to be an amazing swim!
The beautiful rainbow

As we started swimming, I felt so happy.  I felt none of the usual constricting fear grabbing me.  I was swimming, with Sar and Linz and I was grinning and LOVING it.  The sun shone down on us, often blinding us, but sending the most spectacular rays of light beneath the water and lighting up the murkiness.  We left the crowds on the shore and the swimmers thinned out. 

We sang silly songs as we swam and we laughed.  I realised I was managing without Dylan and I had started to pull ahead from Linz and Sar.  I think by this point Sar was experiencing discomfort due to her injury.  They both encouraged me to go on ahead, so I did.  I managed to swim some crawl, though it was hard to maintain for longer periods as it was hard to stay on course.  Unlike the course at Salford Quays, there were no 'sides' or walls to swim along.  It was just a huge expanse of water, and a whole load of sunshine in your eyes!  In the middle of the course there was a noticeable swell in the water and the kayaks of the safety crews bobbed up and down out of sight.  I realised I was alone, in the loch, swimming, in the sunshine, without worry, without my wetsuit constricting me, without feeling tired, without feeling the cold steal my breath.  There were a handful of swimmers within shouting distance, but it otherwise felt like a rather nice dream!  I couldn't help but grin and grin and grin to myself.


As I reached the final course-marking buoy, I felt elated.  I saw Dylan and our children playing on the beach and they spotted me and waved.  I climbed out, my legs like jelly and could NOT stop smiling.  I couldn't get many words out for quite some time, but I managed to tell Dylan I was happy!  Sar and Linz swam in behind me and we hugged, both of them with tremendous grins on their faces too.  Biggest respect to Sar, who was in pain from her arm for the second half of the swim.  Equal respect to Linz who helped Sar through to the end. 

I got a huge hug from my eldest daughter as I came back to the beach.  The sun was still shining and we had done it!

We stripped off out wetsuits and plunged into the water in our swimsuits.  10.5 degrees was amazingly welcoming after a long, hot, wetsuit-ed swim!  (The only thing we were missing was a glass of fizz at that moment...)

Happy swimmers

We went for a pint at the pub at the beach.  We noticed the water had changed considerably since we had finished and there was now quite a lot of waves and white water choppiness, apparent.  I was relieved the calm waters had waited until we had finished out swim, before disappearing.  Not that a few waves would have stopped me!!

 My official time was 47 minutes.  This was slower than my previous swim at Salford, but given the opportunities there were to go off course and the slight swell, I was very pleased with my time.  Especially when I think of the amount of time I spent marvelling at the scenery!

It was a long way to travel to this event.  (400 miles, which took us 10 hours, with stops and four bored children, and one bout of travel sickness!)  The midges were truly unbelievable at the campsite.  These downsides can't take anything away from what was the most memorable trip and the best swim I have ever had. 

There is no doubt in my mind that I want to do this again in 2013. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

Monster Swim draws near... and don't forget the cycling!

I thought it was time for an August update!  In a few days time we leave for our mini holiday in Loch Ness, where we will be staying for just short of a week, and on Saturday 15th August I will be swimming in Loch Ness.  *Wibble*.    Have yet to decide how to deal with my nerves as the time draws closer.... I guess the distraction of being on holiday, in a beautiful place, with friends and their families will help.  We are staying on a lovely campsite with our family, and I am very much looking forward to being in a beautiful place with lovely friends and family.

(Am also a little distracted by the 400 mile journey, with my four children, in the car.  That in itself going to be a challenge and a half....)

My training for the swim has been going well, and I have been regularly swimming the distance in the pool and my stroke has become longer and stronger, though I still struggle to do the distance (1 mile) in less than 45 minutes.  I had hoped by now that would be achievable, but I do know my swim time at Loch Ness is likely to be a little quicker due to the wetsuit advantage. 

I watched Keri-Ann Payne swim the 10km Olympic swim yesterday.  Just HOW anyone can swim that distance is completely beyond me - and it took her TWO hours!  Amazing, inspiring.  I do vaguely keep having thoughts about training up to swimming two miles over the winter and entering a longer distance next year.  Just need to find a way to keep boredom at bay.  Thoughts about a waterproof MP3 player are popping into my head again....

And cycling - I really cannot remember when I last blogged about my wheels!  I have had no goals this year, no events entered.  I just see my bike as my way to escape on my own into the coutryside for a while and if I happen to boost my fitness levels along the way, then that is a bonus!  However, I finally seem to have found my cycling legs and I am now covering distances which seemed waaay to epic for me to consider regularly before now. 

I covered 27 miles last weekend and did a lovely circular route around the country lanes in North Yorkshire and the Selby area.  I have started taking note of my average speed (using both a manual bike odometer and Endomundo GPS tracking) and my aim a few week ago was to maintain more than 13mph, although both my recent rides have seen me maintaining 13.7mph over distances of 20miles+. In fact on my last ride I could see that after I had covered 16 miles, I was averaging 15mph so far.  There are several ways back into my village depending on my route... unfortunately they are all hilly and I often lose masses of average speed by ascents at the end of my ride when my legs are tired!  I am hoping to clock an average of 14mph+ over at least 20 miles before too long.

It took me two hours to cycle the 27 miles and it was a relatively flat route.  The biggest downside I encountered was stiffness/aching across my arms and shoulders.  I believe this is simply from being in the cycling position for that amount of time (I don't stop to drink anymore as I finally found the confidence to drink while I ride - only took me two years!). 

I have a vague cycling goal for 2013.  Dylan and I plan to cycle a circular route around the Isle of Angelsey.  It is 58 miles.  We planned it over two days.  But if things continue to go well, I wonder if doing it in a day might actually be achievable....

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Great Manchester Swim 2012

After huge amounts of disappointment in the previous week, when the Great North Swim was cancelled for us, due to adverse weather conditions, I looked forward to the Great Manchester Swim (GMS) at Salford Quays, much more than I thought I would.  This was my first open water swim last year and it was tough.  I knew going back there was going to remind me of the fear and I really wanted to enjoy it this year, not least because I was swimming with two good friends and my husband.

The weather was similar to 2011; grey, drizzly, wet.  We were swimming at 12.35pm, just after the men's elite race.  At 9am, after a rather heavy night on the wine (NOT recommended!), Dylan and I watched the first wave of the event start.  The feeling I had inside was at first pure excitement and it was all I could do to not jump up and down.  (Actually, I think I DID jump up and down!)  But then as I watched the swimmers complete the first straight which is approximately 500 metres, my stomach started turning and my breath felt short.  Huge emotion bubbled inside of me and I thought that if I tried to speak, I might cry.  It was petrifying to think of swimming down that long straight again, remembering how I was unable to breathe, or keep my head above water.  We took a walk around the Quays.  I calmed down and we later watched other waves set off, and I started to feel a little better.

As the commentator kept reminding us, this was the coldest swim of the series last year, and this year it was (so far) the warmest, at well over 16 degrees.  This made me feel much better and as we got into the acclimatisation zone, it truly did feel like getting into a bath!  I realised I would have far fewer issues this year, because of this alone.

So at 12:35pm, I entered the water, at the back of the purple wave, alongside my lovely friends Sar, Linz and hubby, Dylan.  I felt fine at first, although we seemed to be swimming amongst a large crowd, which I never did quite shake off all the way round.  I soon lost sight of Linz, though Dylan remained within touching distance for most of the way.  I realised Sar was just ahead too, and both of them kept checking on me, giving me a grin every now and then!  I wish I could have smiled back, but the truth is, I was fighting fear again.  I can't pinpoint what it was, my breathing was fine, I felt OK putting my head in the water.  I attempted to swim crawl, as I had trained to do half the distance swimming crawl, but my arms felt really heavy and my wetsuit felt tight on my neck.   When we passed the half way buoy and entered the Mariner's Canal, Steve Parry, who was hosting for Channel 4 TV, tried to speak to me, but I simply couldn't speak.  I just kept going.  I caught up with Sar who was grinning like you would no believe and clearly having a ball (this made me grin inside too!), yet I STILL couldn't speak, I had no way of making words, I was fighting a huge battle with anxiety.

We reached the finishing straight and I had lost Dylan, but I followed Sar into the finish, suddenly realising that although it had been tough, I had found it easier overall, compared to last year and allowed myself and grin too.  As I climbed out just behind Sar, I found a massively happy Linz just behind me, and we clambered out hand in hand, which made me feel pretty happy!  The four of us had finished and we posed for a picture taken by one of my work colleagues and then for the official GMS picture.

I was unable to share in the huge feelings of accomplishment that most people feel post-swim as I was feeling a little frustrated for letting my fears once again get the better of me.  But on the journey home, I discovered my time was 43 minutes, which had beaten the target I had set myself of 45 minutes and well over 10 minutes faster than my 2011 time!  I finally started to feel the elation and realised that it had indeed been a GREAT swim. 

I have since had feelings come and go about what to do from here about future events.  I LOVE swimming and I have achieved so much in the last 12 months in my training in the pool.  But I struggle to get this to translate into decent open water swimming.  The truth is, it doesn't suit me and it scares me.  I had a few vague thoughts about pulling out of Monster Swim, at Loch Ness in August.  But I know if we went along to support Linz, Sar and a few others do Monster Swim, I would WANT to be in there with them.  I love the excitement and build up and I honestly can't imagine never doing another open water swim.  The ideal solution for me would be to train more in open water, but with lack of time to do this and nowhere very near to train at, it's not a solution I can bring about.  So, I shall continue to swim at the local pool and hope I can make the best of swimming in Loch Ness in August. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Great North Swim 2012 CANCELLED

Oh, gutted.  So SO disappointed.  It is less than 24 hour to the time our 2:30pm wave was meant to start.  We received our yellow hats and confirmation hats earlier this week and all plans were in place to meet with friends and celebrate, post-swim. 

But earlier today, we got the news that the Friday waves had been post-poned due to weather conditions.  It made me feel uneasy all day.  Yet, I carried on preparing, made sandwiches for tomorrow, packed the post-swim alcohol (organised the important parts ;-) )  At about 5pm, Great Swim announced their decision to cancel the Saturday waves too. 

There is still time for the weather to change, but I can understand why this decision was taken at this time - there would otherwise be lots of people with wasted trips tomorrow, ourselves included. 

Unfortunately we had booked into a Youth Hostel, which meant we had paid in full... and their refund policy means no refund if you cancel within 24 hours, which we were inside of.  So seriously out of pocket there.. although Great Swim will refund our entry fee. 

So, I understand why and appreciate them putting our safety first.  Many swimmers for these events are inexperienced in open water (like me) or novice swimmers.  Choppy currents and torrential rain, just not ideal.  But it doesn't stop the disappointment.  Been planning this for 12 months.... been getting excited since entry in November.  Devastated would come close!

I managed to swim the mile, in the pool in 45 minutes, several times in fact.  So I met this goal.....And so now, time to keep up the training, and look forward to the Great Manchester Swim, in Salford Quays next weekend.  Not *as* was a difficult swim for me last year and the scenery could never compete with Windermere, and no post-swim wine/cheese session!  But still, a chance to put the training into practise and see a few friendly faces in the water! 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Triathlons and Training

Well it is now May and my swimming training is coming along rather swimmingly!  I have completed several 1 mile distances, which is several more than I managed last year, prior to the events.  My freestyle/crawl continues to improve and I am finding it gradually more natural to breathe to the right, as well as to the left.  I read somewhere that it is worthwhile persisting with bi-lateral breathing, and yes, it most certainly is.  (It used to come naturally to me when I swam crawl in short, sharp bursts, but things are slightly different now I have slowed my stroke down and do it over longer distances.)

I have been keeping a closer check on the clock and I have completed the 1 mile distance in 47 minutes, twice in the last fortnight.  So close to my goal of 45 minutes - frustratingly so!  I have been swimming at the Aquatics centre in Leeds and this allows me to swim 50 metre lengths, rather than 25 metres, which is much more satisfying.  I have been swimming 5 lengths of breaststroke, 5 lengths of crawl, so doing 3 sets of this, with an additional 2 lengths at the end to take me to 32 lengths, or the 1 mile distance.  

I have noticed my breaststroke settles into quite a powerful, consistent stroke almost immediately, but I struggle with my breathing on the first set of crawl lengths.  By the time I do the second set of crawl (by which time I have swam approximately 750 metres) I feel stronger and focused and can swim crawl without too much of a struggle.  I assume this is down to me warming up and into the stroke, but I could do with this happening a little earlier!  But overall I feel things are gradually improving and I felt like I could have continued today and done a few more lengths.  I am contemplating setting myself a distance goal of 2km, just because I feel like I could, but also because I have never swam that far before.  But I want to focus on increasing my speed over the mile, and I am not sure swimming further will necessarily help with this. 

In other news, Dylan competed in his first triathlon of the season last weekend.  He took part in the Tadcaster triathlon, which is a sprint distance tri (500 metre indoor swim, 14 km bike, 7km run).  He did really well and finished it 6 minutes faster than last year.  I was there, taking a few photos:

 Dylan came 51st out of 310.... HOW AMAZING???  Very proud!  It actually inspired me to start thinking about entering a triathlon, but I can't get passed the fact that there is running involved.  I don't want to run, thank you very much.  BUT.. BUT... big BUT!!  I will hopefully be involved this year in one of my favourite triathlons;  the Leeds triathlon allows you to enter a relay team, where three people compete in the three different disciplines.  There is a 1 mile open water swim, and after that the baton is passed to a cyclist and later a runner.  I have started to put a team together with a couple of friends, and hopefully this will become a reality in Leeds, in September :-) 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Spring Swimming Update

We are now into April and I have continued a steady swimming training schedule over the last couple of months; swimming 1-2 times per week. For a while, I continued to swim for a pre-determined amount of time, rather than counting lengths, to try to avoid the boredom I used to feel as the laps added up and also to try to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the number of lengths still left to swim.

I have been aiming to swim for at least 30 minutes per session for a few weeks now. I also changed my strategy slightly, for avoiding the length-counting boredom (because I can't avoid the fact that I have to be able to swim 64 lengths!) and aimed to swim 10 lengths of breaststroke and then change to freestyle for as long as I can manage, before switching back to another 10 lengths of breaststroke. It was this that pushed me to slow down my freestyle and think about the principles of the Shaw Method.

About 4 weeks ago I realised I could swim 10 consecutive lengths of freestyle (with a few breathers in between lengths!) if I really slowed it down and concentrated on hip rotation and keeping the leading arm in the water to stabilise my body while I breathe. Over more recent weeks I have aimed to swim 10 lengths breaststroke, 10 lengths freestyle, 10 lengths breaststroke, 10 lengths freestyle etc..... and this has worked REALLY well. No boredom (small goals), no fatigue (s-l-o-w-e-d down the stroke) and I am swimming more freestyle than I ever dared hope I could.

I had an amazing swim last night at the Aquatics centre in Leeds. I swam my 10 lengths per stroke, until I had swam 60 lengths, then I added 4 lengths in breaststroke at the end to cool down. 64 lengths of a 25m pool = 1 mile! I swam 1 mile :-D First time I have done the distance since the GNS last June. And even better than that, 30 lengths of this were using freestyle....AND I enjoyed it!

I swam the distance in approximately 50 minutes (must keep a closer eye on the clock!) and had a few rests (never more than about 15 seconds). I maintained bi-lateral breathing during freestyle and noticed I am slightly weaker when breathing on the right (possibly because I am right-handed and using my left hand to stabilise while I breathe is harder)... so I will be working on this until I feel completely comfortable on both sides.

So my goals now are to keep this up, twice per week until the GNS, and hopefully I will get faster and my rest breaks will lessen. I may start dropping the breaststroke reps to 8 lengths and increasing freestyle to 12 lengths, though this might take a while to achieve.

I have decided to review the goals I set myself in my blog in September:

  • To complete the Great Salford Swim
  • To complete the Great North Swim
  • To complete the Monster Swim at Loch Ness
  • To complete the Great Scottish Swim
  • To finish all of the above in a time of 45 minutes or less.
  • To swim all of the above events using front crawl/freestyle for at least half of the distances.
  • Enter the 2.5k Swimathon in April

I have entered the Great Salford Swim (re-named this year, Great Manchester Swim - I bet the people of Salford are not too pleased about this!) and will take part in this on the 1st July.

I will be swimming in the Great North Swim in Windermere on 23rd June (11 weeks - eeeep!)

I have entered and will be swimming in the Monster Swim at Loch Ness on 18th August.

Unfortunately I won't be entering the Great Scottish Swim. It is taking part one week after the Monster Swim and travelling back up to Scotland for a second weekend just isn't practically possible. NEXT year perhaps :-)

And to swim them all in under 45 minutes? Absolutely! I am still up for this challenge, in fact I secretly want to complete one of them in less than 40 minutes....!

As for swimming half the distance in freestyle....bring it on! I am pretty much *there* in the pool. I am capable of doing the distance using freestyle, I just need to adapt this to the open water. I am under no illusions - I know this will be hard because I won't be able to see where I am going as easily, and freestyle in open water is disorienting, but it feels achievable - dare I even think that I might swim the majority of the distance using freestyle?

And Swimathon. Hmmm. Would like to do Swimathon, but it is in 2 weeks at my local pool and we already have plans for the day (which could be altered). I don't feel a huge pull to do Swimathon his year. Last year it was a good mini-goal in my training, ensuring I could manage the distance in a pool. I have already achieved this, this year. So, unsure of this. I did set the goal to do the 2.5k, not the 1.5k..... but still. Swimathon remains a maybe.

Monday, 16 January 2012

2012 swims in.

Well it's January again and new year, new plans (though they haven't changed drastically).

I have entered three swimming events so far which I am VERY excited about at this stage:

Great North Swim - 1 mile - Windermere

Great Manchester Swim - 1 mile - Salford Quays

The Monster Swim - 1 mile - Loch Ness

I am hugely excited about swimming in the Monster Swim as I first read about this in the Spring/Summer of 2011, but it simply wasn't possible for me to enter last year. Have been waiting for them to open entry and announce 2012's events and it finally happened last week. I am also really pleased that I have four friends (and possibly a few more TBC) who have also entered and who I will be swimming with. The only downside is that my husband won't be able to swim alongside me; we will be staying at Loch Ness for a few days with our four children and he will be looking after them while I swim. At least I will have a good support squad on the shores, just hoping they shout loud enough to keep Nessie away!

I am really pleased to have a few more friends who have caught the outdoor swimming bug this year, it's going to be a great year for swimming!

In September I blogged about Total Immersion and their interpretation of swimming, through a slightly different approach to strokes and technique. Since then, I came across the Shaw Method, which is another company, run by Steven Shaw who offer a similar, though slightly different approach. The Shaw Method is based on the Alexander Technique which I have never practised, but I can empathise with from my Pilates background. It is much more accessible for me as the courses, books and DVDs cost less, and they are based in the UK (Total Immersion is from the USA), which makes it all the better!

I have bought Steven Shaw's book, 'The Art of Swimming' and then the DVD 'Learn to Crawl Again'. Both of these have helped me improve my stroke no end and I am hoping to attend a workshop about front crawl, in April.

I returned to the pool after a 5-6 week break, last night and I concentrated on my stroke and time in the water, rather than the number of lengths completed. I read recently that you need to swim for 20 minutes to feel any cardio-vasucular benefit, so I aimed for 20 minutes in the pool as a starting point for 2012's training. I swam breaststroke, concentrating on my glide and long pull, ensuring that my head was leading and eyes were down at the bottom of the pool. It felt nice to have a relaxing swim and I naturally felt myself warm up (about 10 lengths), and feel strong/peak/pull hard about 10 lengths later. I finished with four lengths of crawl, which I am struggling to adapt to the Shaw Method. The hardest thing is to let your arms to the work and relax the feet and slow the kick right down. There are lots of little things I need to do to adapt my stroke and I am concentrating on the feet at the moment, plus losing the windmill-style arms. In Shaw Method, you rotate the hips with each stroke and keep the leading arm out in front of you until the moving arm is coming back over your head and re-entering the water. So for my last four lengths, I crawled, but slowed it right down.

Things are improving though. Another swimmer stopped me in the pool and commented on what a graceful swimmer I am and how she hadn't seen anyone swim with such a gracefu stroke before, like I was just gliding through the water. So, nice positive feedback from the pool. I often think it would be nice to get someone to video me swimming (something which happens when you attend a Shaw course) so I could see where I could improve on my stroke.

And Swimathon 2012 is back in April, which is an indoor event where you can choose to swim various distances for charity. I haven't yet entered, but I intend to enter the 2.5km swim, which I believe is 100 lengths of a 25m pool.

I am still cycling too. I don't usually go out at all over winter, but the weather has been mild and I have been getting out on my road bike a few times recently and doing around 15 miles. I had intended on going out yesterday but as the temperature reached 0c at its peak, I decided to pass as I don't have a very reliable range on sub-zero cycling gear and didn't fancy getting numb toes.