Sunday, 24 August 2008


What an amazing few weeks.... with the Beijing games over, Team GB are set for a triumphant return having done us all extremely proud with the biggest medal haul in many many years. With my athletic endeavours having been put on hold for the last seven days (see last week's post) today's thoughts were always going to centre around our Olympic heroes and with stunning success in such a wide range of sports we can look forward with great confidence and excitement to 2012. I really hope that Team GB don't suffer from the same fate that the England Rugby team did after winning the world cup or the Cricket team following their amazing Ashes victory... complacency is a dangerous thing and you can be sure that the Aussies and Germans, to name just two of our closest sporting rivals, will be training with renewed vigour with the aim of finishing higher in the medal table come four years time. Following Wimbledon this year I heard a great quote about Raphael Nadal... apparently his 'mantra' is that no matter how successful he becomes he will always remain 'hungry and humble'... lets hope our future Olympians follow the same path...

So what does it mean to be an Olympian, and how can we as working athletes apply the same thoughts and actions in our own athletic and also non-athletic lives? With so many wonderful performances it's difficult to single out specific individuals, although it is rather hard to look past the mens coxless four (rowing) or the team pursuit lads (cycling) for examples of true personal excellence. However, being an Olympian has little to do with winning medals... it is much more to do with a certain attitude....

What do I mean by this? Perennial under performer Phillips Idowu may have won silver but listening to an interview with him afterwards on Five Live he said that he'd "had to work harder than he would have liked" to which Steve Backley (2 x Olympic Silver Medallist) commented that this was the wrong attitude and that he should have been looking back on a hypothetical gold medal saying "that was easier than I expected".... both of course are incorrect... neither of these are demonstrating Olympic thinking. Despite crashing out in the final of the BMX, Shanaze Reade on the other hand at only 19 years of age, could give either of these medallists a lesson in true Olympism. Coming in to the event as world champion her 'gold or nothing' attitude was rightly justified and with a silver medal in the bank she risked it all to achieve her one and only goal, commenting afterwards that "I put everything in to this and couldn't have given any more" continuing, "I've fallen off and got back up, fallen off and got back up. I gave it my heart and everything"... a true Olympian.

Helen and I are lucky enough to be able to count two other 'true' Olympians as friends and although neither came away from Beijing with a medal they both inspired and motivated me more than I could ever hope to convey in a simple blog. Both gave it their absolute everything... In the women's marathon, having gone through half-way in the lead pack Liz Yelling suffered a terrible fall and ended up running a large part of the race with a broken rib yet still never gave up. You can only play the cards you're dealt in life and to finish so well amongst the greatest distance runners in the world with such a painful injury is the definition of 'Olympic'! Two days later it was Alistair Brownlee's turn in the men's triathlon and just like Liz, Alistair is never interested in just 'making up the numbers'... despite having the odds stacked against him he attacked the greatest triathletes in the world from the start of the race, leading through 5k on the run. Sadly he wasn't able to hold on and his twelfth placed finish, great as it is, does nothing to explain the impact he had on the race... possibly costing pre-race favourite (Javier Gomez) the gold medal by setting such a blistering pace from the start of the run that Gomez was unable to run away from the field.

True personal excellence then is not about talent but rather about desire and hard work... we can all achieve the same levels of these that Al and Liz demonstrate and although unlikely to represent Team GB we too can become Olympians in terms of our personal journeys through life. If I cross the finish line in Lanzarote next May having given it 'my heart and everything' then the result will be irrelevant!


Two weeks from now I'll be posting my race report from the final A race of the season, the Vitruvian triathlon. If you've read my most recent entries you'll know that my cycling legs have been on holiday recently! Apart from Friday's 6k swim set with H, where I too felt super comfortable all the way through the 10 x 300s, I've had a really easy week and have avoided challenging my legs in any way. Tomorrow and Tuesday will also be relatively easy before Wednesday evening will see a return to the Pool Triangle and a chance to see if the reduced load on my legs combined with the increase in refined sugars in my diet will see me able to produce the kind of power output required to achieve my top 15 goal on the 6th of September.... watch this space ;)


That's about it for now,

see you in seven,


My name's Helen & I'm...

...a recovering negative thinker.

And already I'm seeing the differences that it can make. Of course the natural doubter in me wonders if that's because my training has gone well and that's where the improvements have come from but now I've started this process I also wonder if it is down to trying to change my thought process'. A few people posted comments after I lay my bad side down into the public arena and it seems I'm not alone. I guess everyone has their own demons and how we deal with them is a very personal thing. It also makes us who we are. A great comment was that I actually don't need to change, I just need to change the way I think and I've hung on to this all week.

I started Monday morning in the pool as usual, ready to swim 5km with Tom, oh and my newly laid plans of positivity. I think we lasted about 3.5km before we had a huge debate and I disappeared off in to the back of my mind to find my comfy negative behaviour, firmly collected it all up from it's abandoned corner and threw it all out into the open. Well, I never said this was going to be easy! The thing is I can't expect to change overnight and as Tom and I discussed what was happening I could see what it was that I was getting wrong. Nothing to do with the swimming, more to do with how I need to see the differences between the 'active' and 'state' oriented athlete. I'm used to doing sessions irrespective of how I tired or slow I feel. I finish things (a good attribute to have especially in endurance sport.) The problem I have as a 'state oriented' athlete is that I will never change the session even when i'm too tired or aren't hitting my targets for that particular session. I'm so used to putting it down to being slower than I should be that I'm happy to weigh through the session and moan about it afterwards. Where I need to get myself to is a point where I can prescribe my session but be able to change it if I'm too tired, or the pool is too hot or my times are way off mark. But as this process is in it's infancy I'll have to bare with myself while I work it all out.

Why has my new thinking helped? Well, this week I've had two major break throughs. The first was at the Pool Triangle on Wednesday where if you remember I said in last weeks post I would love to break 35mins before it ends, my PB being 35.09. I gave my all out on that course on Wednesday, knowing I had it in me to go faster than I had before. Being passed by fellow LBT'er Jonathan MacVicker was the start and I was determined to not let him gain too much ground on me once he'd passed.

In the past when I've been overtaken my head can go down and I let my effort drop and I think about how nice it must feel to be able to go that fast. That's a typical 'state' athlete attitude. Such a passive attitude, thinking that I'd never be able to go fast and therefore accepting that I'm slow...wrong, wrong, wrong... oh the light it's there pulling me to the end of the tunnel and I can't tell you how wonderful it is, it's like being able to open your eyes for the first time. How am I ever going to get faster no matter how hard I train if every time someone passes me I turn it into a negative.

So, with Jonathan forging his way ahead of me and making comfortable ground in front I just kept digging and I worked hard to get back to him and passed him on the hill. We had a little game of cat and mouse for the rest of the ride but I never let my head drop and I never gave in. I knew Jonathan had beaten me by at least a minute (he started exactly a minute behind me) but the great thing about my ride had nothing to do with who was going to win or lose it had much more to do with how hard I could go and still use Jonathan to keep me motivated. I was very conscious about draughting, I didn't want this to be the reason for a PB. However, I'm sure I would have had the benefit of a few seconds especially when I was pushing to get past him. I ran two miles off the bike straight away and hadn't had a chance to look at my watch exactly as I passed the TT finish line but as I ran off into the first mile of the run and saw 34.15 on my watch I knew I'd not only broken 35mins but I'd smashed it. I couldn't believe my ears when I got back to discover I'd ridden 33.58!!! Wuhooo!!! The proof is in being able to step up to the plate and do something similar this week! It could have been one of those magic nights and like I say having someone to race against spurred me on but come this Wednesday I'll be out there trying to regain last weeks steps.

My next break-through came on Friday in the pool. I'd had a hard week of training, had done a weights session on Thursday and had swam every day since the race last weekend (so five days, Friday being the sixth.) Our plan was to swim 6km so we could make our weekly total up to 20km (our debate in the pool on Monday meant we only swm 3.5km instead of 5km.) The session was to swim 500 warm up, then do 2.5km technique set and finish it with 10 x 300's off 5.30. Definitely the best I've ever swam and in fact the longest but I could have kept on going. I was so relaxed and in control and could really feel the water, it was fantastic. When we got toe 300's I wondered how I was going to cope with them. Lately I've been finding it hard to get them under 5mins (which I'm easily capable of.) Each one was easy, never pushed it, never out of breath, never had to motivate myself, and wonderful to be hitting 4.50 somethings so comfortably. The best swim set I've ever done.

So, if that's what positive thinking does then it's bloody marvellous. I'm sure I'm not fixed, in fact I know I'm not fixed, it's easy to be positive when things are going well, the test is when I'm not performing how I'd like to. But I feel like I'm on the right path and I'm consciously aware that I have to keep thinking about it all until it becomes a natural process and eventually the negative thoughts get eradicted and in their place are much better and nicer positive ones.

I must go now, Tom and I are in Suffolk with his mum & Ray and it's Tom's turn to write his blog (I've been on the computer for ages.) It's so peaceful here and we're having a fantastic Bank Holiday, early nights and lovely company and food, lovely!

I found a great quote in one of the books I'm reading called 'The Psychology of Winning-Ten Qualities of a Total Winner.' It says...

'Don't downgrade the product just because you haven't used it properly and effectively.'

I'm learning...

H. x

P.s Huge and massive well dones to Lizzy Lou Lou Yelling who ran a brilliant marathon in Beijing, thwarted by her jostling competitors when she fell cracking her ribs and generally being scraped along the ground. You're my hero girl. x

And of course to Alistair Brownlee who showed the big boys that he's not scared of them (and if I ever need a lesson in positive thinking that was a huge show of it) fantastic race, truly impressed and inspired Al. x

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Can I change?...

Warning... I'm not sure where this post is going to take me!!!!

All of the time that I've been training for something (whether that be table-tennis as a junior, a running race or a triathlon of varying distances) one major problem I've had is my attitude. I've always been a bad loser since I was a kid. My brother could out do me on every game of Monopoly, ludo, bingo, chess, draughts etc that we ever played and basically I rarely won a thing when I was a kid. I hated it, I hated losing and I hated Jonny for winning because of how it made me feel. It's something that's formed me to be who I am but it's a nasty little sting in my personality that over the years I've just accepted because I thought that was just the way I was made. However, as my training has progressed and with it has come natural improvement one thing that has also followed me is this attitude. I'm only just starting to learn that it's actually inhibiting my progression as an athlete and no doubt as a person.

I've always known that mentally Tom and I are completely different creatures, but I've always put that down to Tom being better than me in most things. I used to really struggle when we did similar sessions and he would always beat me in the pool or look stronger on a run or even enjoy his achievements. It's taken a long, long time to accept he's naturally stronger and of course comparing him directly with me he's going to be better but actually in races looking at our positions against the rest of the field we're fairly evenly matched, thankfully now I have the odd moment where I can see the wood and the trees! Most of the time though this attitude of mine creeps out in my sessions and holds me back. In a recent talk that Tom was on he came home with some great notes and information that could help me.

Basically we can separate athletes into two forms... 'action-oriented' and 'state-oriented'. The 'action-oriented' athlete approaches the action with a positive attitude and will remain focused on the action. The 'state-oriented' athlete has less control over intrusive thoughts while pursuing a goal, concerning themselves with earlier failures which hinders the efficient tackling of a new goal. The 'action' athlete is Tom and the 'state' athlete describes me to a 'T'!

I've got two choices of course. I mean I'm not doing too badly in this triathlon malarky and I do enjoy it, but I do feel like my attitude on occassions hinders me quite a lot. I've always known what I've been like but along with this is also the fact that I've been happy to accept that I'm like that. Actually what Tom is showing me is that I don't have to accept anything, all I have to do is change. But that's the problem... because it's so ingrained and so natural for me to have thought process's which hinder my improvement how do I change? Will it make me a better person in general or just a better athlete? And how on earth do you tackle changing the thoughts that come so naturally that they pop into your head before you even think you're thinking them? It's common knowledge that negative or dysfunctional thinking tends to produce negative or dysfunctional results and although I do okay in races I definitely hold myself back when I'm training because of my tendency to accept that I'm crap when actually I'm either just off form or making a training session worse than it needs to be with my negativity.

Thankfully I am getting better than I was. I no longer fear competition so much in races and have started looking forward to racing athletes who are that little bit better than me instead of dreading it and naturally assuming I'd NEVER be as good as them, instead I use them to compare how I'm improving in a bid to eventually over-take them. But I'm far from changing my thought patterns, it's really, really hard. In moments of positivity, when I've had a good race, a good training session or I'm just in good spirits I tell myself I won't be so negative or 'bad loser' like but all it takes is a bad session or race and I'm back to square one and the natural way I express this is to go on about how bad I am, how slow I am, woe is me and the word is going to end!

I guess I'm querying whether I really can change this deep, deep routed thought pattern and I plan to read up about how you go about this. I need to learn to overcome self-doubt and set backs and learn the process's of change. I don't think it's going to be easy but the first step is not to accept the 'what if I can't' and replace it with 'what do I need to do right now.' And what I need to do right now is to learn how to start thinking more functionally. The first step of this being to set goals, define the action steps and establish a plan. So today Sunday, 17th August 2008 I will set myself the goal of being more positive in my swim training (the cycling and running will hopefully follow)... the action steps to do this will be to banish negative thoughts as soon as they pop in my head and my plan for this week coming is to behave differently in my swim sessions (especially when I don't produce splits that I think I should be doing.) I need to look at my long term Ironman swim goal and break it down into the various swim sessions that I do and take control of what times I need to be able to produce in order to achieve the goal. I read an article called 'The seven habits of highly effective athletes' and one of the main points is 'Concentration and focus.' Rule 1 says 'Try for every ball', Rule 2 says 'If it's too far away to reach see Rule 1' and this is what I'm going to aim for.

I can accept how I am and never change or I can take control and make change, I'm up for trying but I don't think it'll be easy. I'll keep you posted!

I've had a good week of training and racing this week with a pb in the Pool Triangle on Wednesday eve - 35.09 (I would love a sub 35min before the season ends (only 2 races left!) and I'd need a fast night with the wind on my side but I'm riding well at the moment so I'm going to cross my fingers. Today I did Allerthorpe Olympic and felt really strong in all three disciplines and came in 3rd girl.

With only three weeks to The Vitruvian I'm feeling positive (must be the cathartic process of writing about it working already!) and am hoping for a good consistent race where I ride as well as I'm capable, matching my swim and my run.

Time to go me thinks, I've got my first test in the pool tomorrow and that's not a physical one, it's a mental one!!!

"If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. " Mary Engelbreit

H. x

Ups and downs....

Having taken a pop at my mile swim pb on Monday, raced the Pool Triangle on Wednesday and competed in an Olympic distance triathlon this morning, today's post will be focused mostly on my training and preparation for the final 'A' race of our season in just under three weeks time.

Lets start on Monday morning... I wrote last Sunday that I was feeling good in the pool and with a solid couple of swim weeks in the bank I was thinking about having a crack at my mile pb. Sometimes the pool at Virgin can be ridiculously hot and/or really busy and as either of these conditions makes going for a pb swim impossible I'd have to wait till the morning before deciding. Fortunately it was neither of the above, in fact probably the coolest it's bee for a long time, so following a couple of easy 400m reps to warm up it was game on. I always like to find my pace prior to a mile and having wanted to break 24 minutes for the 64 lengths since the beginning of the year I knew that sub-45 second 50s would be the order of the day. Four consecutive 50 metre efforts, each in 43 seconds, later and it was game on... Although it probably costs me the odd second I like to glance at my watch at 400, 800 and 1200 metres so that I can accurately monitor my pace during and reflect on my pace following the effort. Going through 400 in 5:53 I was feeling great and knew that if I could relax through the middle 800 without losing too much time it would be mine for the taking with 400 to go... 800 and 1200 followed in 5:56 and 5:57 respectively and at 14 seconds ahead of schedule I was feeling both relaxed and strong. Having saved a little (only a little) for the final 16 lengths I managed to come home in 5:52 (despite rapidly failing technique) to clock 23:38 for a new pb by 45 seconds and finally break 24 minutes for the mile... a great start to the week ;)

Unfortunately, as well as my swimming is going, my cycling is suffering... in fact I'd actually go further than that and say my bike legs have well and truly broken! I'd had a really good week of training last week clocking 21.25 hours, 20k swimming, 150m biking and 32m running... all capped off with a total rest day whilst taking in the London Triathlon. The one downer of the week had been the LBT club time trial championships where unable to produce the required power from my legs and despite giving it everything I had I'd been unable to match the previous week's performance where I'd pb'd at the Pool Triangle. In the process I went significantly slower than last year for the same course and took a jolly good kicking from my good friend and training partner Ben G. Having done a couple of hard rides in the days leading up to the club ten I just put it down to general tiredness and didn't think much more about it. In fact all four of my rides that followed later in the week, albeit none of which required much effort, seemed ok... Fast forward to this Wednesday (13th August) and I found myself on the start line of the Pool Triangle confident of a solid performance, having gone 30:30 two weeks previously I was looking to edge a little closer to my season goal of a 'long 29'...

Frustratingly, 32 minutes and 51 seconds later (on a reasonably if not amazingly fast night) I'd chalked up both a season and lifetime personal worst! Right from the start of the hilly 20k test I'd been unable to produce anything like my normal power with my legs refusing to raise my heart rate out of the 140s, some 20 beats per minute lower than normal! For those of you who are interested in the numbers here's a table showing my heart rate and times for the four 'sectors' of the ride where I take split times, both for my pb ride two weeks ago and my 'pw' ride this week...
The key figure is the average heart rate where during my pb effort I started at 155 and increased by five beats every split, compared to this week where I only managed 141 for the first 4.9 miles and not much more for the remaining three sectors... both were 'max' efforts!

Moving forward another four days to this morning's race in Allerthorpe (in an attempt to sort things out I'd taken two complete leg rest days on Thursday and Friday and only done an easy run and ride yesterday) I was hoping that normal service would resume... unfortunately having just managed to hit 150 after about 15 minutes of the bike my still empty legs were struggling. As I worked my way through the 40k ride I was unable to stop the gradual decline in heart rate and by the end couldn't even hit the high 130's!

Cutting to the chase.... why do I think this is happening?.... and what can I do to change things round in the next 20 days?

If you've been following this blog over recent weeks you'll know that I'd decided to experiment with removing all refined sugar from my diet. Having read several articles on the associated problems of high sugar consumption and with no Ironman style 100 mile rides or 20 mile runs in the pipeline I figured now was as good a time as any to see how it would affect both my lifestyle and athletic performance. It seems however that this lack of sugar in combination with up to three hard training sessions per day has left my cycling muscles seriously depleted of glycogen (which is the form of carbohydrate they use for fuel, see here and here). Even though I'd seriously upped my intake of complex carbs (pasta, rice, bread etc) it seems that without the rapid release simple carbs (i.e. the sugar present in energy drinks, gels and bars) my muscles were unable to keep up and over the 14 days have gradually become more and more depleted in their vital fuel stores.

I could of course just be knackered after a long hard period of training but if this was the case my swimming and running would probably also be suffering but I feel strong in both and have also pb'd in training sessions on the treadmill and in the pool (see above) in the last seven days. On top of this, as Helen and I follow a similar training schedule and nutritional intake we normally perform fairly similarly... she has continued to include refined sugars in her diet however and has ridden pb's in the last two pool triangles, won the LBT club ten in a massive pb and today her strong bike helped her to third overall in Allerthorpe.

My thoughts at this moment then are that my bike problems are associated to a cumulative depletion of glycogen, specifically in my cycling related muscles... so what to do?

I had originally committed to a five week 'trial' leading up to the Vit but it is such a focus for me that I've decided to reintroduce simple sugars to my diet immediately, particularly around training and racing. In fact, I made this decision within about 30 seconds of crossing today's finish line and dived straight into a couple of cups of coke (along with 1.5 bananas, two slices of melon and a cous cous and chicken pita) swiftly followed by a large homemade flapjack. On top of this I'll take a complete leg rest day tomorrow and remove all hard bike sessions from the next nine days of my training schedule.

Hopefully this reduction in the energy demands on my cycling muscles combined with an increase in the availability of fast acting simple sugars will see my legs recover over next week or so. Obviously I won't therefore be riding in the coming week's Pool Triangle but I will be back for the final race of the season on the 27th of August to see if my theory is right.... if not then we'll have to resort to plan B... although I don't know what that is yet ;)


By way of an extremely short race report from today's 1.5k/40k/10k effort... a tough swim where I had my goggles kicked off in the first 50 metres, a shocking T1, the aforementioned bike, a good T2 and a pretty decent run saw me finish in 2.05 and 6th place overall. Even though I think the swim and bike were a little (only a little) short I'm really pleased despite to post a decent time having struggled so much on the ride.

If I can sort my legs out by the 6th of September I'm still confident of posting a pb at Rutland Water ;)


Finally to today's picture which ties in nicely with today's quote....

"the British are coming"

Aren't the Olympics great :)

See you soon,


Sunday, 10 August 2008


Sitting here at 9pm on Sunday night I'm in the nice position of looking back on a great seven days of training, eating and sleeping :)

Last week I committed to achieving two goals (which I have never before managed) over the five weeks (now four) leading up to the national long distance triathlon championships at Rutland Water on the 6th of September.... I'm happy to report that with one week down my dream is still alive :)

My first goal is to get 56 hours sleep per week and having not managed even two of these during the initial 50 weeks to Kona (although I was very close a lot of the time)... as of this morning I'm currently tied with my 'pb'! By last night I was on 49.5 hours, however with our alarm set for 4:15am in order to get down to today's London Triathlon (I'll come to that in a bit) I found myself staring at the clock wishing myself to sleep like a child on Christmas Eve! Fortunately I nodded off around 9:30 and avoided falling at the first hurdle....

talking of the first hurdle... my other goal is to abstain from refined sugar for the entire five week period and with a Sainsbury's organic granary bap wedged in my mouth on Monday morning I nearly managed to blow it in the first 24 hours... fortunately a last minute check of the ingredients saved the day! A bit like Bill Clinton in his student days .... I tried an organic granary bap but didn't 'inhale' and won't be trying one again ;)

If I remember, I'll come back to my reasons behind those two goals during next week's blog entry but with the alarm now due to rudely wake me up in just over seven hours, and therefore see me start the week at least an hour down, I'll move swiftly to today's events...

H and I made our annual trek down to the Excel exhibition centre in London where a load of our friends were competing in what (I think) is the largest triathlon in the world. To cut a long story short everyone did really well and plenty of swim, bike and run pb's were set. Regular readers of this site will know however that it isn't super fast split or finish times which motivate or inspire either of us... what really gets us fired up is seeing people step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves to achieve something which, even on the start line, they don't believe is entirely possible. Giving our Team Southerns (more details of this will follow in the coming weeks) team mate Andrea KJ a good luck hug prior to her first ever Olympic distance triathlon this lunchtime brought back vivid memories of 'our' first attempt at the same distance. Three years ago at the same venue with neither H or I having ever done a triathlon Helen had become a last minute 'volunteer' for the swim leg of a Leukaemia Research relay team. I remember looking at the swim and thinking it seemed more like 600 lengths of a pool than 60, along with 'rather you than me'! Today, just like H did three years ago, Andrea stepped up to the plate in style and 1.5k of swimming, 40k of riding and 10k of running later she carried 'The Religion' over the finish line to the cheers and whistles of friends and family.... reminding us all exactly why we do it... and once again I can't wait to dive in to the pool at 6am tomorrow ;)

Finally, talking of the pool... I managed 20k this week, and feeling good may well have a crack at my mile in the morning. It'll depend on how hot/busy the pool is and how I feel in the warm up but with my current mark set at 24:19 I'm confident I can get close to holding six minutes per 400m for the 64 lenghts... watch this space ;)

See you next week,


The Olympics...I love it....

Two days into the Olympic coverage and already I don't want to leave the house, sleep or train. How amazing it must be to be talented enough to be representing your country in a sport that you love and excel in and to top it all you're surrounded by the rest of the world's best athletes. The lure of the medals... the possibilities of winning Gold, to be able to say you were there, that you're an Olympian, it's amazing, just amazing. We've got two friends competing in Beijing. Liz Yelling the marathon runner and Alistair Brownlee the triathlete. Just before Liz went out to the holding camp in Macau I rang her up to wish her luck and asked her how it felt to be able to be out there because she was one of the best in the world in her sport. Amazingly she said she hadn't really thought about it in that way. I guess when you train so hard and your regime is mostly done in your own backyard you can forget how good you actually are. Even in highly acclaimed races the best aren't always there to compete. However, when you go to the Olympics it's because you are one of the best, and the Olympics brings out the best and the worst in athlete's performances. I love it, I love seeing excellence and and I love seeing people give it their all.

Today we watched our friend Andrea give her all when we went to the London Triathlon to support her. It was Andrea's first olympic distance triathlon. It's such a scary thought when you look at how far the swim is in those smelly dirty Thames but Andrea's been fantastic. With her mad keen sister-in-law Jo and now with AKJ and Flapps also on board this crazy triathlon train Andrea has conquered her fear of swimming, got out on her bike and gradually increased her running. Out of all three of the Team Southern's clan I never ever thought that Andrea would be interested in doing a triathlon and so to watch her racing today smiling all of the way through (even with oily hands) and carry the well travelled Leeds flag over the line and then burst into tears when she finished was a huge moment. Today Andrea was no different to the Olympian who in their main race pushes themselves further than they thought possible and finishes completely spent. Andrea was every bit our Olympian today - her London Triathlon medal may not be made of gold, silver or bronze but I'm sure it means just as much to her because it represents every ounce of hard work that she's put in over the last year. Well done Andrea, we're so proud of you. x

So, what have I been up to in training this week? I'm thoroughly enjoying the change in pace in training at the moment. I'm concentrating on trying to find some speed in the old legs which Ironman training seems to have stolen and that has been a big shock to the system. My heart has felt like it might burst out of my ribcage on one or more ocassions and my legs moan when I try and turn them over any faster than my usual Ironman shuffle pace but I'm loving it. We're swimming, running and cycling much harder but shorter more intense sessions and I'm having to remember to stay switched on for the whole session instead of allowing my endurance to tick over while I wonder what to make for dinner. On Tuesday we had our club Ten Mile Time Trial. The bike has been my weakest link since I started this game and I still have many demons to contend with as I learn and grow as a cyclist but I have started to learn how to hurt and how to push myself on the bike so I went into Tuesdays race wanting that exact feeling. Irrespective of the outcome or time I just wanted to feel like I had pushed myself as hard as possible for those ten measly miles. Not quite what I felt like at exactly 7.15miles I tell you. I had the devil telling me to just back it off for a little bit and as I saw my heart rate drop I nearly gave in to my legs telling my brain they were tired, they had had enough and wanted to just spin home thank you very much. Thankfully I only allowed this dip to be temporary, because there is no room in such a short race for backing it off so on I pushed hoping that I could just give a little more until I saw that chequered board when all the pain can come to an end. And on that typical gritty Yorkshire day I managed 26.06 knocking a whole minute off last years time and becoming LBT's ladies club time trial champion.

A great week of hard, intense work and three more to follow before The Vitruvian on the 6th September. I'm really looking forward to it. Time now to get to bed though as we were up at 4am this morning to drive to London and only got back about an hour ago. Up at 5am for the usual swim so sleep I must have.

Well done again to Team Southern's, you're all fab. AKJ, your turn next ;) And also a huge well done to our friends from the gym Khara, Alison, Hannah, Nathan and Alan who all raced in London today too.

Night night.

H. x

Sunday, 3 August 2008

What a weekend....

What can I say? For the first time since we inadvertently stumbled across the world of triathlon (via the Lanzarote Ironman in 2005) I have been truly blown away. Last night Helen and I marshaled at Double Iron UK from midnight to 6am and were fortunate enough to witness one of the most inspirational and pioneering sporting events this country's likely to have seen in a very long time.

Rewinding a few hours... we arrived in Nottingham at 8am on Saturday morning as part of a large Leeds & Bradford Triathlon Club contingent taking part in the National Team Relay Championships. We had 11 teams of four with each person taking it in turns to swim 500m, bike 15k and run 5k... although that may sound easy, the fact that the distances are so short and you have a decent rest between each (1st person swims, 2nd person swims, 3rd person swims then 4th person swims before moving on to the bike) means that 'absolutely flat out with a total disregard for pacing' is the order of the day... just ask Ben G at the end of the run ;) As a club we had a fantastic day with all the teams doing well and a perfectly positioned tent / illegal BBQ allowing us to relax and eat in the sun / rain whilst cheering on our club mates. In fact, I had planned to spend most of today's entry chatting about yesterday... until the events of last night knocked everything for six...

Arriving at the Friary Grange Leisure Centre at about 8.30 last night it wasn't much different to rocking up at a fairly low key local triathlon. Our friends Steve and Lucy Haywood were organising the event, we knew a couple of the competitors and seeing as we were 'in the area' we'd offered our services as marshals.... within a few minutes though the enormity of the challenge faced by these athletes was all too apparent. The first swim wave had gone off at 6am yesterday morning (it's probably worth pointing out that as I write this at 6pm the following day some people may still have four hours to go!!) so by the time we arrived they'd been going for over 14 hours... but with a 4.8 mile swim and over a hundred cycling miles behind them the majority would still be riding through the night before embarking on not one but two marathons!!! For the first couple of hours or so we hung out with our mate Pauly P who was acting as part of the support crew for his fellow Oxford Tri member Hanno Nickau. Pretty much every athlete had their own dedicated crew made up of friends and family, who would be ready and waiting at the end of each 14 mile bike lap or 2k run lap with a predetermined spread of food and drink. I'd hazard a guess that an event like this would require 15-20,000 calories to complete, it isn't therefore a case of legging it through aid stations grabbing a quick gel and a couple of twiglets...

At midnight Helen (see today's pic) and I were sent to the turn around point of the 2k run loop, tasked with taking down numbers in order to help count laps (42 x 2k) and to offer encouragement through the long dark night... the athletes were responsible for all their own lighting etc as they made their way along the narrow forest path in the pitch black conditions and every few minutes we'd see a bright white light winding its way through the darkness before calling out a race number and disappearing off for another 10-20 minutes. There really is no way in which I could adequately describe our experience, the only way to understand would have been to actually be there but over the next five or six hours we got to know each individual torch and voice as if they were family, without ever being able to make out faces or even bodies... just a light and a voice... Sometimes athletes would have stopped at the race HQ for a rest/feed and would take longer than normal to return but sooner or later we'd recognise the bobbing of a light or certain accent and we'd tick off another lap and offer some encouragement before once more being returned to darkness.

By 6am (24 hours in to the race) and having been up at 5am the previous day we were both really struggling to keep our eyes open so with 16 hours of racing left for the athletes and a long drive ahead of us we decided reluctantly to call it a day and head back to Leeds. I can't think of a way to describe how attached we'd become to all the competitors, with the sun coming up and faces being added to the names & numbers we knew so well leaving them all was one of the hardest things either of us have done in a long while. In the course of a few dark hours these pioneering individuals had inspired us more than I could ever describe... as we headed north and shouted a final few words of encouragement out of the car window I was moved to tears by their wonderful human spirit.

Sitting back at my desk in Leeds I have a renewed feeling of deep motivation to in some way challenge myself... inspired greatly by the 47 individuals and one relay team who stepped up to the double ironman plate this weekend. I imagine the results will be available sometime this week via the Enduroman website but this event was so much more than a set of split times it was all about a group of athletes facing a challenge which, a bit like Ironman 30 years ago, truly was a step in to the unknown... amazing!


Just to briefly touch on where I'm currently at training wise... with five weeks to go until my final 'A' race of the year (The Vitruvian - National Long Distance Triathlon Championships) I'm keen to finish the season with a bang. Last year I placed 20th out of about 700 finishers and 6th in my age category with a time of 4:16:46. My target this year is therefore to get closer to 4.10, inside the top 15 overall and with any luck sneak in to the top five 30-34 men. I pb'd at the Pool Triangle (20k hilly bike TT) last Wednesday with 30:31 and felt good on Saturday so feel like training is on track but there are two goals of my athletic lifestyle that I consistently missed during the initial 50 weeks to Kona... 1. to get 56 hours sleep per week and 2. to give up refined sugar.

I'll talk more about them next week but will use tonight's post to commit to achieving both those goals every single week from now until the race.


See you in seven,


What a day of true inspiration...

What a day or rather 25hrs we've had from getting up at 5am yesterday (Sat) morning to getting to bed at 830am this morning (Sun.)

We kicked off with the National Team Relays held in Nottingham. It's got to be one of the most chaotic yet well organised team events I've ever been to. How it all works I'll never know because it just looks like pandemonium but like clockwork it went and our club Leeds Bradford Tri Club had a brilliant turn out. My team of four girls (see pic - L-R) were Louis Rosindale, Louise Hanley, me and Donna Edmondson Booker. We had about 11 teams in total of all girls, all boys and mixed and everyone put their everything into it. In between scoffing from the BBQ, chatting, catching up, meeting new club members, cheering mates on, laughing at Francis who had forgotten his trishorts (a sight to behold) we were also obviously racing. It's such a great thing for a club to do as a unit and one that this year I think we did particularly well. The racing is almost irrelevant. Everyone gives their all and the result is irrespective. It gives a relaxed no pressure feel to racing and also makes you push yourself that little bit harder as you know you're doing it for three others not just yourself. Yesterday LBT was awash with true team spirit and I feel incredibly proud to be part of that. We did really well in the girls race coming a very respectable 6th out of 57. The icing being that the top three are more-or-less elite so a big pat on the back girls, you were awesome.

After I'd eaten more than an elephant could consume Tom and I left to drive to Lichfield (Birmingham) where at 6am that same morning 50 competitors embarked on Double Ironman UK. Oh yes, you heard that right, DOUBLE Ironman. Double the swim (4.8miles), double the ride (224miles) and double the run (52.4miles.) Holy cow, it makes my legs hurt and my body ache at the very thought of it.

Now I thought that Ironman was hard. And of course it's as hard as you make it. But let me paint you a comparison...

In Ironman you swim in a lake or the sea, usually in beautiful surroundings with thousands of spectators, horns honking, whistles blowing, clackers clacking, DJ giving a full commentary etc etc. Yesterday the swim was in a swimming pool (wetsuits allowed) with none of the above glitz...

In Ironman the ride is usually on closed roads with feed stations every 20km, enough spectators to line major parts of the course two or three deep and you finish in daylight. Yesterday the competitors (or super heroes) took to a 14 mile loop ( x 16!!!!) on un-closed roads and rode through the morning, the afternoon and well into the evening, some into the morning again today. The only contact with supporters was normally at the turn around in a brilliant set up in a leisure centre car park where their own support crew would be there to give their super hero whatever they needed, food and drink being taken on board in vital quantities. Steve and Lucy Haywood (the organisers of the event put on by Enduroman Events) were fantastic. Lucy was constantly co-ordinating the marshalls out on the course and Steve kept an eye on the competitors, checking they were lucid and fit to go out on the roads in the dark.

In Ironman the run is lined from end to end with people, feed stations, music, thousands of other competitors, family, friends, DJ's, and at the end the pull of the finishing chute complete with red carpet, thick with people eager to share your joy, a huge medal and a food tent that would make Marks and Sparks look shoddy. Yesterday having already completed 228.8miles the super heroes took to a 2km loop which they had to run 42 times. 42 times up through the pitch black woods and out onto the desolate lonely road that led back to the leisure centre where they turned around and started a new loop.

Last night Tom and I arrived at 8.30pm and we watched in awe and amazement as these guys and girls turned around on their bikes to leave the safety and the companionship of the leisure centre car park and go off into the distance, full lights blinking away on their bikes and helmets to complete another loop. I imagine riding all through the day is hard enough, but at least you know other people are up and about going about their daily business too. However, when the night falls and living room lights start to shine their cosy glow onto the quiet streets, and people start to settle for the evening and you're still out there cycling that loop for what feels like the gazillionth time, that's when you know you're doing it. That's when you know you're made of different stuff to everybody else, that's when you're challenging yourself, facing demons and the desire to stop and that's why I think these people are amazing, just something else. As they went off on the first loop of the 52mile run I can't imagine what must have been going through some peoples minds. How do you have such mental strength to go through such desolation, pain and utter loneliness? That's the challenge, right there, it's all in the head.

Ironman's easy compared to this and I know that sounds so obvious but actually I'm not really talking about the distance, of course that's a challenge but it's the ability to keep going when you know you've got nothing to prove except you want it, you want to do it and you don't need a red carpet lined with cheer-leaders, ticker tape, fireworks and spectators screaming in your ear. There was such a calm, quiet respectful atmosphere out there last night, it told a completely different story. When I trained for my first Ironman the thing that got me through some of the hard training sessions and then the hardest part of the race was the expectation of what the finishers chute was going to feel like. I wanted to feel like I'd won irrespective of my position and that's what Ironman is geared up for. The love you get all day is in abundance, and it makes the pain so much more bearable. We sat marshalling in the pitch black woods from midnight last night until 6.30am this morning marking off the laps using a little head torch to see what we were doing. We couldn't make out anything other than the sound of breaking twigs under a runners foot and the bobbing head torch as they approached us in better spirits than I could ever have imagined. They called their race number out to us and as the night went on we began to feel attached to these lonely runners ticking off each lap in their own consistent way.
The above pic is the lap sheet which we marked every time an athlete came past.

I know I haven't got the mental capacity to undertake such an endurance event. It's impressive on so many levels. I'm inspired by a lot of things and people and actions... but last night I was truly blown away by this amazing feat of mind over matter. To some who look in on things like this and just think 'why?' me being one of them before last night, I can see it now, I really can. It's the mother of all tests, it's sleep deprivation, loneliness, darkness, day time, night time physical fatigue and hunger but of course it's pushed on by the urge and desire to finish rolled into the biggest mental test of all times.

To each and every competitor who started and finished (some still going now while I write this!) I bow at your feet at your very strength, congratulations, you're a Double Ironman and that sentence contains facets of your strength, places you had to go to deep inside of your souls to get to the finish line that no-one can possibly know.

Hanno (number 31) great to meet you, we've heard an awful lot about you from our mate Paul, fantastic result for you. Sorry we couldn't stay to see you finish, you were brilliant.

Towel (number 25) super human, super fast and super strong, impressed doesn't even scratch the surface.

Toyota Crown (number 35) Steve Howes (number 32), Daz (number 27), Monique (number 23) all from the Triathlon community of TriTalk, well bloody done, honoured to have been able to witness part of your journey out there in those lonely dark woods.

It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself. Mahummad Ali

You all believed... happy recovery.

H. x

P.s A huge well done to the speedy Eekster (our mate Emma-Kate) and Ozzer who raced in Antwerp 70.3, can't wait to hear all about it guys.