Sunday, 23 February 2014

Challenge 2: 8 pieces of advice I should give you...

Before I begin dispensing advice, I should probably advise anyone reading that I didn't manage to complete the duathlon I took part in. I set out on the run but turned back after one km because it was too hard and I knew I wouldn't make it. However, I've learned a lot in the process of attempting to complete this duathlon and thus, I am a wise font of knowledge and in such a position, I feel obligated to pass on this information. So here are the things you should consider before taking part in an off road duathlon.

1. It's a good idea to have ridden a bike in the last three years.

I brought my bike through to Edinburgh in 2011 with great plans to cycle to work. This lasted all of one week because I absolutely detest cycling in traffic (or at all, if I'm being honest) and as a result, my little bike has stood, looking lonely, chained to the railings outside my flat door since then. It got so dusty at one point that one of my neighbours kindly drew a willy in the dust on the seat. The dust willy didn't last long however, because my next door neighbour dusted and cleaned my bike for me, presumably because it was such an eyesore that she felt obliged to do something about it.

Finally, it had been so long since I'd freed my bike from it's chains, that I forgot the code to my combination lock and spent about 3 hours last Sunday perfecting my criminal skills, attempting to break into the lock.

2. It's an even better idea to have done some hill training on said bike.

Apparently mountain biking involves a lot of climbing up hills. I didn't plan for this. I did train. I did. However, 10-20k on a stationary bike, set at level two isn't really sufficient practice for biking up the side of the mountain, which is what I did (or attempted to do) today. I've always been particularly fond of riding down hills on bikes, and particularly detest cycling up hills. I really should have understood that one doesn't come without the other.

3. You should probably ride a bike designed for an adult.

I've had my current bike since I was 13 and despite the fact I haven't grown a whole lot since then, it still probably isn't the best fit for a 26 year old at the best of times, never mind in a timed competition, up and down hills, through mud and over gnarly ground. I learned today that riding a bike which is too small for you, makes it doubly hard for your legs to pedal efficiently and it hurts your back reaching down to hold the handlebars. There is also another aspect to riding a bike that you've had for 13 years which is that the bike is old. And HEAVY.

This is not the actual course, hence why I'm so happy and clean.

5. It's a good idea to conduct some bike maintenance 

I mentioned that I haven't ridden my bike in three years. Obviously I realised that it wasn't acceptable to turn up to an event in this position so I took my bike out for a spin on Friday night. When I was back home, I mentioned to Ryan how nervous I was that I hadn't done enough training because lots of people were cycling past me, going much faster than I was. He went outside, squashed my tires with one hand and announced that I'd go an awful lot faster if I pumped my tyres up. I believe this is useful information for any keen cyclists. Don't say that I'm not good to you.

6. It's always handy to have a bike with brakes that work when mountain biking.

I mentioned that despite my hatred of cycling up hill, I love a good spin down a hill. I'm pretty brave too, and I don't mind going fast. After the uphill slog, I saw the hills leading back down the finish and I started to feel a little excited. This was the fun part. This was why people came back time and again to do things like this. The first downhill wasn't that steep but as I picked up speed, I touched on my front brake, just to slow down a little. Nothing happened. I used my back brake but nothing happened when I used that either. I managed to slow down a little using my feet, and then by riding into a tree trunk. I probably should have put this as the first piece of advice. It really is important.

This is not the point when my brakes failed. Unfortunately, because this was before the race had even started so I could have sacked it off

7. Running after you've been cycling is not just like running on it's own

I didn't finish the duathlon, although I did attempt the run despite being dead last back from the cycling part. I think I ran about 1km before I asked the steward whether anyone had ran in the direction I was going in the past twenty minutes. She responded in the negative and so I turned around and ran back the way I had just came. Helpfully, the full run was a run out and back the same way, so I was able to join in with those exceptionally fit people who were finishing the full run, and cross the finish line looking like I'd just breezed it.

For your information, running after cycling feels like running wearing brick shoes. To add difficulty, the mud I was running through was up to my calves. I was not built for that.

8. Finally, always, ALWAYS listen to your parents when they tell you that you're being ridiculous.

They're right.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

A post about running?

I wasn't looking forward to this morning's run because I had set myself a target of running a full 10k which I normally don't do. It's not that I'm not physically capable of running this distance, but my mind rebels at repetition and at around the 5k mark my brain often decides to dig it's little heels in and convince me to take the shortcut home.

When I started off running this morning I struggled to get my legs to move in a rhythmic fashion, my breaths were shallow and within a couple of minutes I was gasping for breath, willing myself to control my breathing pattern and breathe THROUGH MY FRICKING NOSE!! However after only about five minutes my legs started to respond to what I was asking them to do, moving in a somewhat regular motion and my breathing became much easier. At this point I realised that I was no longer thinking about my breathing so much but was instead focusing my energy on controlling the movement of my legs instead of trying to regulate something that happens regardless of my own efforts.

The route I had chosen today was a combination of a few of my regular runs and so there were three points at which I could have taken a different turn and ended up home a few kilometres earlier. About 6km into the run I came to one of these forks in the road and I paused to have a look at both options. I glanced at the road which would lead me to my door in about 1km. As far as I could see it was flat and straight and I knew that quickly the road led to a gentle downhill slope. I glanced in the other direction. The road ahead of me this way was hilly and it twisted sharply around the corner so that the rest of the road was hidden from my view from where I was standing. In a split second decision I made my way up the second road.

Image via Pinterest

The run up this hill was steep and after only a few steps I regretted my decision, thinking that I should probably just turn back and make my way along the first road. It wouldn't cut too much off of my distance, probably only about 3k and I could come out tomorrow and do the full distance because today just didn't feel like my day. The hill really was steep and my legs were starting to feel heavy with the effort. I stopped and turned as if to go back the opposite direction. But then I had an idea. What if I just slowed down a little going up the hill? I would still get to where I was going, and surely slowly was better than not at all. I didn't stand still for too long which was good because if I did I'm sure that I  would have ended up going back the way I came. After catching my breath I set off again. Slowly.

Strangely, once I'd made it to the top of the hill my legs felt stronger after their climb and I powered my way along the flat road, faster than I felt like I'd been running before. It wasn't long before I realised that I was running downhill, my legs picking up speed on their own and at this point I felt light and the running felt effortless. A sense of childish joy came through me as I flew down the hill. In this moment I conceded that perhaps the arduous climb up the hill had been worthwhile after all.

As I got to the final kilometre I saw two men leaning against the wall at a bus stop. I had my eyes set on the finish line by this point, and as is often the case when the end is looming in sight, I had picked up my pace. I was powering along quite quickly and as I ran past the men, one of them stuck out his foot as if to trip me up. I bounced quickly to the side in an effort to avoid his outstretched foot and shot him a sharp glance. I considered breaking out of my run, which at this point was powering along quite nicely, to have a go at him but I thought better of it and simply kept running, picking my pace back up again quickly and shaking off the meanness of this stranger.

I kept a steady pace for the final kilometre and was soon back at my flat where I'd started. I checked my iPod running app and realised that because I hadn't mapped out my run before I left, I was in fact still 1km short of my 10km goal.

Oh well, there's always tomorrow...

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Some February adventures...

As the first physical challenge draws ever closer (23rd February), I've been trying to up the training a little bit and have pushed the distances so now I'm running about 7k and cycling 20k when I have the time. It's difficult in the mornings as I'm pushed for time and then by the time it gets to the weekend, all I want to do is laze around and drink numerous cups of tea. I've been training on the stationary bike  in the gym and haven't actually been out on a real bike for years, which is an epic fail and now time seems to be flying past and I've only two weekends to go until the event. Not nervous at all...........

This month, I also started training for the Ben Nevis challenge in July and have been out walking quite a lot. This blog consists mainly of photographs from the walks I've been on this month and I apologise because I'm better with words than photography, so they're pretty amateurish.

The photos below were taken on a 12 mile walk from Slateford to Balerno via the Water of Leith.

And this was the state of my feet by the time I finished. You know you've worked hard when you've got holey socks!

I tried to keep the walking habits up throughout the month and I was over in Brussels with work so went for a lengthy walk around the city. Although I've been over once before I've never really explored it properly.

And finally back in Scotland I attended a conference at the lovely Loch Leven's Larder yesterday. On my way back to Edinburgh, I discovered a little trail which led to Loch Leven and decided to take a little walk. You'll see from the photos that it was a perfect day for it, although it was a little colder than it looks!

Oh yes and it's no longer dry January. I'm happy about  that!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Reasons I probably shouldn't be doing a Triathlon

When I was a young girl I had a near death experience* whilst I was at my regular swimming lesson. At this point I was quite good at swimming although it is important to note that I was still wearing armbands to help with the crucial aspect of flotation.
(*I have a tendency towards extreme exaggeration)

Midway through the swimming lesson, I realised that I needed to go to the bathroom so I got out of the pool and trotted over to my mum who was sitting in the viewing area at the side. She took my armbands off so that I could easily wriggle out of my swimming costume. Off I popped, did what I had to and came running back through to the pool, beaming at my mum, waving and shouting 'Look Mum!! Mum!!...CANNONBALL!!' and proceeded to launch myself into the pool. 

It wasn't until I looked up at the surface of the water under which I was submerged that I realised I didn't have my armbands on. My precious, crucial armbands without which I couldn't float! I could make a big deal about how my head felt like it was being pressed within a vice, or how I kicked and kicked frantically but the surface didn't seem to get any closer or about how my heart felt like it was about to burst with panic, but that would be extravagant because really what happened was that about five seconds after I splashed through the surface of the water, my swimming teacher dived under and helped drag me to the surface, completely unharmed. 

Despite the relatively undramatic conclusion to my story, the experience didn't leave me completely unscarred and to this day, I've a funny relationship with water, I'm not scared of it per se, but I don't like it. I don't even stand underneath the shower, instead holding the shower head clutched to my chest like it's my first born child because I don't like the water on my face. And I swim like this....

Image by Klaus Wiese (Chin Up)

But it's not just my relationship with the water that's broken. The second memory comes from my teenage years where I was forced to swim in P.E at high school and had to don a skin tight swimming costume in front of the whole class, boys included. Now let's just say that I wasn't a particularly svelte 12 year old and I can remember vividly the fear of showing off my wobbly thighs and protruding belly to the whole class. Still to this day, the thought of donning a swimming costume isn't one that fills me with glee and on countless holidays I've thrown an absolute strop about having to get into a bikini, instead choosing to sit at the side of the pool in shorts and a t-shirt, looking like a miserable git.

Image found on Pinterest

So with this backdrop, you perhaps wonder why someone who has a mortal fear of wearing a swimming costume and won't even put her face under the shower would ever sign up for a Triathlon. Which is a valid question. 

The reason I signed up for the Triathlon isn't that it will be one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken (although it will be), but because I'd entered Tough Mudder and was getting a bit nervous about the water obstacles and so I thought, well if I do a Triathlon before that, those obstacles won't seem so bad. Solid logic if you ask me.