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.