Tag Archives: triathlon

Troy…. meet granny.

This is Troy, my little red bike. (The seat is a lot higher now, this was when I was still a bit nervous last year)


Troy was only given his name this time last year, but I’ve had him for 15 years this year. He was built and given to me by my dad so I could get some vital rehab done after my climbing accident in March 1998. At the time, cycling was easier than walking and also proved excellent for rebuilding the strength in my wasted right leg.

In his previous life, he sported some very smart star-spangled banner handlebar tape, Lance Armstrong style. After I moved away from Manchester though, my poor bike sat outside ignored in the garage until early last year, when he was called back into service for Nightrider 2012.

This time, he was given back to me with blue handlebar tape. By this time, the doubts were well-known about the integrity of said Mr Armstrong, although the full story hadn’t come out. By the time it did, I was very glad to have new handlebar tape (choice of colours – blue, blue or blue).

He’s named Troy after Troy Bayliss, all-round super Ducati rider.

I was already besotted with him, a lovely smile and beautiful blue eyes and gutsy riding was enough for that. I knew he was a big cycling fan, but when he won the WSB championship in 2006 he wore a set of customised rainbow jersey leathers with a matching helmet. That was me, head over heels… although I did slightly go off him after I saw how scrawny his bum was after he showed the TV cameras his recent bike crash scars on the MotoGP coverage at Assen in 2007.

So when I started riding again, I decided Troy would be named Troy. His only performance-enhancing mod has been the addition of two lucky turtle stickers. When I raced motorbikes, I decided that since Valentino Rossi had turtles for luck, so would I. Before my first triathlon, I figured I needed all the luck I could get, and had two stickers left in my toolbox.


Depending on your opinion, they either brought me no luck at all as I didn’t do very well, or they were very lucky indeed as I survived a big panic in the sea thanks to the RNLI at Clacton.


I’ve been running lots recently, but I hadn’t ridden since New Year’s Day when I did the triathlon in Edinburgh. Just as when I haven’t ridden my motorbike for a while, I get awfully nervous and jumpy about going out and so I tend to wait and wait for the right moment.

Cycling is in my blood, thanks to my dad. He is a hard as nails road cyclist, as thin as a whippet, and he has been riding for over 50 years now. My childhood was spent watching him race across the south east of England, and every July we would gather round the TV at 6pm every day for the Tour highlights on Channel 4.

Words such as peloton, tete de la course, maillot jaune, King of the Mountains, maillot vert, Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Champs Elysees are as much a part of my vocabulary as the Italian musical terms that come from my mother’s influence.

On weekends when my mum was away playing in concerts, we went to see the Milk Race and the Tour of Britain.

One year he took me to watch the Paris Six Day races at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. I’d never seen track cycling before and it was quite a spectacle. There was a crazy accordion player in the centre of the velodrome, and when a sprint was on, the siren would go to signal the start and he would play and dance faster and faster with his band until it was over. I saw the Men’s Pursuit Final from the Beijing Olympics, and of course as much of the London Olympics as possible, and they were very exciting but nothing has quite matched up to Paris for me. I couldn’t speak a word of French and only recognised a couple of rider names – Tony Doyle and Laurent Fignon being the two I remember, but I loved every second. And of course, I am a daddy’s girl so the fact that I saw all this with my dad made it extra special.

So when I get out on a bike, I feel like I can’t just get on and have a little trundle about. It’s the same as music for me, yes it’s fun but it’s also so much more than ‘just’ getting on your bike or playing your instrument. It’s part of who I am and I take it terribly seriously.

I now live in very serious cycling country, where you cannot escape hills wherever you go. No slogging up Tenpenny Hill (in Essex) and being done with any more.

The cyclists I’ve met on my rides have generally proved to be much more friendly than the runners I’ve met. When I’ve been passed, it’s always been with a bit of a chat. I know no-one bats an eyelid how fast I’m going, but I really really care and it really bothers me that I’m not very fast and I’m frightened of the inevitable falling off process that comes with wearing proper shoes, so I’m still wearing my trainers despite being on quite a tasty bike.

Today the perfect moment finally came, I finally managed to shut my head up, and I had a good spin around the roads near my house. Nothing terrible happened, unless you were the poor Asda lorry driver that had to wait an eternity for me to climb the hill into Bardowie.

In fact I really enjoyed my ride today. As in many other areas of life recently, I’ve relaxed a lot and calmed right down. I like hills. I like the fact that there is only one way to beat them. I like that if you stop, it’s harder to get going again so you might as well just keep going. I find them agonising but in a sick way, I really enjoy them. Today I stayed relaxed on the climbs and it felt brilliant. I wouldn’t say I breezed up them, but they felt so much easier than the last time I’d been up them.

A few of months ago, I entered a competition to win a place in the Etape du Tour on 7th July. This is an amateur cycle event that is basically a stage of the Tour de France, before the main event occurs. It would have meant some serious training, but I was up for the challenge and I live in the perfect area to give it my best shot.

Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I had hoped to take part in the Rapha Women’s 100 on the same day as the Etape du Tour. This is a worldwide event aimed at getting female cyclists out on the road all on the same day and completing the same distance – 100km. I’ve ridden this far before, on last year’s Nightrider event. My procrastination was making this look unlikely, but today went well and so I have decided to definitely do it (unless it is honking down with rain). I missed out on my half marathon in March because of my knee injury, and suddenly the thought of another big target is very appealing.

And so, over the next couple of weeks I will be making a more concerted effort to get out and do some proper hills. Granny gears or not. At least I have a good excuse for riding like a girl.

I’m also finally going to have my first go up the Crow Road. It’s not the same one as my favourite Iain Banks book, but it seems like as good a time as any.

Happy Hogmanay!

Finally the new year is here. My first in Scotland.

For the first time in many years, I was not awake to see it in. Conscious of what I had planned for New Year’s Day, once my eyes started to feel heavy, I went off to bed.

A few weeks ago, along with one of my friends, I entered the Edinburgh New Year’s Day Triathlon – a 400m pool swim, followed by 3 laps (11ish miles) of Arthur’s Seat on the bike, and a 1 lap (3.5 ish miles) run. My previous triathlon attempt didn’t quite go to plan, but I was looking forward to this one and both of us needed something to focus on through the winter!

We were blessed with fabulous weather – a rare sunny day, which was almost unbelievable given the amount of rain before and since! It was very cold, and extremely windy in places, but we were just grateful for the lack of rain.

My race didn’t quite go to plan, unfortunately I ended up doing an extra bike lap which meant by the time I came to run, I was absolutely cream crackered. The climb was steep but not impossibly so, and the challenge came from how long we climbed for rather than the gradient itself. I was glad to survive the swim without needing RNLI assistance, but I have to admit I was disappointed with my bike and run times.

New Years Day

(And yes, I look knackered in the picture as this was at the top of the first climb! The second, third and fourth times were easier)

My friend did brilliantly, and surprised himself I think, but he has worked immensely hard on his fitness and deserved his very fine results.

So. Now it’s over. I felt very flat (and incredibly tired!) afterwards, but knew that I wanted to get another event on the calendar to keep me moving forward with my running and cycling.

I needed something that was fitness-orientated, and nearby, and cheap to enter. A quick tootle on the internet has turned up a half marathon around the shores of Loch Katrine which is about 20 miles away. The furthest I’ve run is 8 miles, but I find that while it takes me a good few ks to warm up, once I’m going it’s boredom/time commitments/bad weather that stops me going further.

I’m not sure I could face the training for a marathon, but a half seems like a reasonable target now I’m comfortable running 10k. I’m not fast by any means, but I’m getting quicker, and most importantly for me, I’m really enjoying running.

It’s in about 8 weeks, on 10th March and I am looking forward to heading out tomorrow to start working towards this. It’s taken a couple of days to feel ready to get back out after the triathlon but I’m raring to go now.

The whole of 2013 lies before me. 2012 was a year of huge change for me, but really it was only the start of the journey that I’m on now.

The last few months have been very unsettling, but after a long Christmas break, I feel very relaxed physically, and this led to a successful and very enjoyable practice session today. My left shoulder stayed where it should stay, and as soon as I felt the tension starting to build in my arms, I was able to stop playing and prevent it building any further. Learning to manage this consistently will be a long process, but I now feel very confident that I will be able to do it.

I’ve had a couple of long term dreams and plans rattling around my head for a little while, but just over the last few days, with some time and space to really think, these have started to make some noise and I have decided to start exploring these over the coming year.

I am a huge admirer of Richard Branson, and enjoyed reading his guide to making lists which I read on his blog today. Number 7 in particular has stirred me into action…


Happy New Year!

Brave? or Stupid?

It has taken a long, long time to feel ready to write this. But I’ve had a good day today, so I’m going for it. It will be quite long.

My triathlon was almost a month ago. 4 weeks tomorrow. I was so excited about it, but in the end it didn’t quite go to plan.

In my last post, I referred to a cold. I didn’t realise at the time, but this was more than a cold. It took a long time to get over, I had 2 days off work and went back before I was ready as I wasn’t getting paid to be at home sleeping it off.

I had almost 2 weeks off training – my body needed it, but in terms of the triathlon it wasn’t great. I missed an open water swim training session, the only one I could have attended due to work commitments, because I was just too ill, and this turned out to cost me very dearly.

I eventually got back to training just 4 days before the big day. I went for a bike ride, and it was unbelievably depressing. My chest felt OK but my legs wouldn’t work on the bike. I took a different route, with different (but no bigger) ‘hills’ to what I was used to. (Inverted commas as I have now moved to Scotland and hills up here are a somewhat different concept). I felt awful, and was really down as I knew this wasn’t going well. I decided to carry on and do a short run, just for practice running on tired bike legs, and also to try out triathlon suit number 3, and the run was a bit better. I’ve found running after a bike ride is much easier as I’m already warmed up.

Friday 7th, 2 days before the race, was my birthday and I wanted to go to the Creek to watch the sunset for possibly the last time from this location. I also wanted to run there, as the last one had gone so badly. This was to be the furthest I had ever run, and while I hadn’t expected to spend my birthday alone yet again, let alone running, I really enjoyed it. The sunset didn’t disappoint and I felt very peaceful despite all that was going on at the time.

The day before the race had been the usual faffing and panicking as to whether I had everything I needed and whether I was really fit enough to take part. I worked out what time I would need to get up, shuddered, and decided to try and take things as easy as I could on the Saturday. This didn’t entirely go to plan, as I was renovating my house, moving out, packing, leaving my job etc, but I managed to leave enough time for a little recce trip to the seaside in the evening, to see where I was going on the morning of the race. I looked at the sea, and felt a rush of nerves, excitement and panic all in one. I drove round the bike course and started to relax – no big hills thank goodness.

In my drive to force myself to sit down and rest up the night before (on my dad’s advice), I’d painted my nails a cheerful shade of minty green (to match my motorbike) and to make me smile when I got nervous and looked down. Nail painting happens rarely, but it does slow me down as I have to sit calmly so I don’t smudge anything and then wait for it to dry.

Race day came. I dragged myself out of bed, and my dogs barely stirred as I loaded everything into the car. Their lack of activity was a sign of just how early it was, as we are normally up and out for a walk at 5.45am on weekdays.
It was foggy outside, and I couldn’t see the bottom of the garden or the fields next to it. Driving to the start, I had to really wake up and switch on as the fog was so thick – almost the worst I have driven in. As I got nearer to Clacton, I saw a couple of cars with bikes on the roof, and the butterflies really started up.
The details before the race aren’t that exciting, I flapped lots and didn’t have a clue what to do in what order, but getting my race number inked on was quite fun and I was pleased with my race number – 5. This was one less than my bike racing number 6, and given I’d raced with either 56 or 65 when 6 wasn’t available, 5 was good for me. It’s also Colin Edwards’ race number and he’s a great guy so I was happy about that.
Walking to the swim start took a while, and I chatted to a couple of people about the sea swim element, and triathlons/training in general. One chap I spoke to was celebrating his 50th birthday this year, and he had already done a marathon and was now doing the triathlon. We talked about how we’d enjoyed the training, in particular not doing the same thing all the time. It was a LONG walk and this didn’t exactly calm the nerves.
Finally the time came, and we picked our way over the rocks and dropped into the water. It was surprisingly warm, and considerably less brown than I’d expected. There were about 30 in our wave (the first to go) and I was relieved about this as I had been concerned about getting kicked (see previous blog post), dunked or swum over.

The first part of the swim was to be slightly against the tide, but once round the buoy, we would be tide-assisted. We were encouraged to splash about to get warmed up, which was fine. I got my head in the water, assessed the visibility which was nothing as expected, but the difficulty started when we had to swim back again to start the race. This stirred up the water, and created a bit of confusion as to whether we were in the right place and if we had had started or not.

My heart was pounding, and I was very flustered. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get out of a standing position and get myself onto my front. I flapped my arms, kicked my legs, tried to push myself forward but nothing was happening. Nothing was letting me put my face in the water, but I tried to at least do a few breast stroke movements. Still nothing. Another swimmer, Pauline, had already said hello to the police jetski and let them know we were first timers. She stayed with me for a little bit, but I told her to go as I knew I was struggling and didn’t want her to miss out.

The policeman stayed with me, continually asking if I was OK and reassuring me that there were people around if I needed them.

How are you doing? I’m OK, just struggling a bit and it’s my first time. I have asthma and I can feel myself starting to panic.
Are you OK? Yes. Do you want to come out? No. Do you have your inhaler? (I almost laughed as it’s not like my wetsuit had pockets) No.


I thought about getting out, but didn’t want to give up.

Are you OK? Yes. Do you want to come out? No.


Again, I thought about coming out, but realised my race would be over and all my training would have been for nothing. However, I wasn’t getting anywhere and could feel my wetsuit constricting around my neck and arms.

Then for the last time. Are you OK? No. Do you want to come out? Yes.

In no time at all, he helped me up onto the back of the jetski and before I knew it, the RNLI rib was over and I was being pulled into it (all very undignified but I didn’t care!).

By this time I was in a proper panic, in floods of tears and devastated I’d had to call it quits so early on. The RNLI guys were brilliant, very reassuring and trying to make me smile and calm me down. Most of all, I was incredibly embarrassed that I had been so stupid and badly prepared. They told me not to be so daft, said that was why they were there and to try and breathe easy.

My wetsuit was still choking me (this was psychological rather than actual) and I asked them to get me out of it. This got some chuckles and at last I started to relax. They told me their names although I can’t remember them now. One of them asked if I was single! I started to laugh, and huffed and puffed that yes I was, but I was moving to Scotland in a week. The non-single one laughed, it seemed the single one didn’t have much luck. I knew the feeling. In the end the whole wetsuit had to come off and then I was able to start to breathe more steadily and relax.

Before I knew it, I was back at the shore, and passed into the care of the race marshals and medical support team. One of the volunteers very kindly went back to the transition area to get my inhaler, although I knew it wouldn’t help very much. It was panic rather than asthma, although the former definitely started off the latter. I had a few puffs from my inhaler, but it did nothing.

I couldn’t stop crying, and thought back to when I broke my thumb racing at Cadwell – a kind marshal had put her arm round me while I had a big sob because it hurt so much and a few people had gathered to see what was going on and I didn’t want them to see me crying like a girl, even though I was a girl! One of the medics asked how my asthma was, I told him about the cold and he said that explained everything. I felt even more careless and stupid, but then he told me that he thought what we were doing was way harder than the Olympics! Full marks for trying to make me feel better, and I understood what he was saying, but I had to point out that I hadn’t done the swim. I could have kissed him when he said he admired people that tried.

I walked slowly back to the transition area, utterly distraught. I was exhausted and had stopped crying by this point. The race director came over and asked what had gone wrong, I told him and he asked if I wanted to do the bike and run. I was so relieved that it wasn’t all in vain after all, even though of course I wouldn’t show as a finisher.

I had a few minutes to get myself together, and headed over to get my bike. Once I was away on the bike, I felt a bit better. I smiled for the photographer, but shortly after this, I realised how hard this was going to be. Everything was burning, my chest was ready to burst and I had to work hard to calm myself down again. I had an idea of times I wanted to achieve, but early on I decided I just wanted to finish no matter what.

I was incredibly tense, and I think this was down to all the adrenaline going through my body after the ‘swim’. I had really bad pins and needles in my right hand, to the point where I couldn’t feel my fingers to change gear or use my brakes, but remembered from my previous racing life that this was probably because my glove was on too tight. I undid the strap completely, and gradually, the feeling came back. My chest was fine by this point, but my legs had nothing in them and even the flattest sections of the course felt very hard.

The first time I heard the howl of a bike with a disc wheel come past me, I wondered what on earth was going on. Soon after this, I noticed a beautiful Fireblade in HRC colours with a For Sale sign on, and this nearly sent me straight into the back of a parked car. I pulled over a couple of times as I am comically unable to get my drink bottle out from the cage without wobbling dangerously. Another marshal asked me how this was possible as surely I could multitask as a woman. I told him that breathing and cycling at the same time were hard enough today and we shared a laugh.

Riders who came past me shouted encouragement, which helped although it did make me feel very pathetic as I really was very slow.

The second lap was harder, but as the end of the bike leg came into sight, I was able to relax and begin thinking about the run. As I came onto the first bit of the ride to the transition area, I saw a blue and white jersey and a shape that looked suspiciously like my Dad. I didn’t recognise the bike, but then my Dad has more bikes than my mum has shoes and handbags so this wasn’t a surprise. I was so glad to see him, but embarrassed as I knew I would have to tell him what had happened. I managed to shout that the swim had been a disaster but that was all.

I got into the transition area, and as there was no pressure to get a result, I could take my time and not rush. I had another drink, and a couple of biscuits, and then headed out to start my run. I debated whether to wear my yellow running vest, but in the end I’m glad I did.

The start of the run was awful. I’d practiced the bike/run thing before, although the distances weren’t quite the same. But my legs felt so sore. My calves were so tight, and though logically I knew this wouldn’t last, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to complete the run. I also knew that the furthest I’d ever run was 4 miles, 2 days before the race. It was also unbelievably hot, and all in all it was not looking good.

Shortly after the start of the run, I saw a guy running just ahead of me, at a similar pace. I remember speaking to him briefly although I can’t remember what we said to each other. He started walking fairly soon, so did I. I decided to try running on my toes for a little bit, in an attempt to change how I was running, hoping this might help stretch things out. Gradually things eased and I settled into some vague running/walking routine. I ran as long as I could, then walked a couple of lamp posts and then ran again. I saw my Dad a couple of times, he was encouraging although I continued to feel rather daft.

Again, lots of people shouted encouragement as they came past which was great. Lots of shouts of “Come on number 5” and “Keep going number 5” – I shouted back “still alive” in a feeble voice when I could. People clapped in between eating their ice-creams and enjoying their beach huts. I was grateful to reach the halfway point of the pier. It was getting really hard, but somehow I felt confident I would make it to the end.

Soon after the half way point, I started to focus on the shadow that the railings cast on the path, just for something to concentrate on. This was dead straight and followed the edge of the path all the way along the promenade. If I looked away from this, I started to lose the plot a bit, and started to lose control of my breathing. On the return stretch of the run (to the pier then back), Lee came up to me with some encouraging words – he headed off and it took me a while to get myself back together again. Back to looking at the shadow…

We got near the end, and more and more people shouted nice things as they came past me. I saw the 2k to go marker and started to think about why I was running – not for long as the breathing started to go again, but it was very emotional. It was made more so by a guy coming past me who shouted ” A fine charity – keep going! ” and I felt very proud (and glad I had worn my vest!).

The end was in sight and I was determined to run the last stretch. I crossed the line. (Photo by Neil Williams)

All I wanted to do was go and hide in the toilet for a year, but my Dad had ridden a long way to come and get me. He has been there to help me through some very hard days, and I know that he wouldn’t have minded if I had collapsed in a little heap of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But I felt I wanted to leave that in the past.

I didn’t want to look at my times. I had a rough idea of how slow I’d gone, and didn’t want to face any more disappointment. We got home, and while I tried to stay awake while my parents did various DIY bits on my house, in the end I had to give in and go to bed for a while. I think this was partly due to the sun, and of course when adrenaline leaves the body, there is always a tremendous crash in energy levels.

It has taken the best part of a month to write this. My colleagues at work asked what had happened, but I had deliberately posted a summary on Facebook so I wouldn’t have to tell the whole story. Just giving a brief version to my new boss proved almost impossible.

I raised a terrific amount of money for the Lymphoma Association, and I am proud of that. I am sad that I didn’t complete the whole event. Mostly I am angry that I got so ill so near the race.

The next day I woke up and my chest felt awful. I went straight to the doctors and was given steroids to try and settle my asthma down. This is only the second course of Prednisolone in more than 15 years, and I was devastated. It’s easy to use the virus as an excuse, and I really didn’t want to do that.

In hindsight, should I have pulled my entry? Absolutely. Am I glad I went ahead? Yes.

Would I do it again? I’m not sure. I have a long, long way to go with my swimming before I will feel confident enough to try in open water again. I hope to give triathlon another go next year, but with a lot more practice next time.

But I have loved the running and the cycling, and the whole focus of the training. It took me outside my day-to-day life at an incredibly stressful time, when I really needed something else to thing about. I met some amazing people and (cliche ahoy) learnt so much about myself along the way.

Yes the asthma thing is a huge thing to tackle, but really, living such a sedentary lifestyle (working in an office, long commuting to my day job, sitting down to play the harp for hours at a time on background gigs and driving to and from those) was not sustainable so I needed to face it at some point. I now live close to some amazing scenery and I hope to enjoy this on my bike and in my running shoes.

I will be making a donation to the RNLI.

If you would like to donate to the Lymphoma Association, my Virgin Money Giving page is here.


Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to here!

It started with a kick…

I was face down in the swimming pool, fighting for breath enough just managing to co-ordinate my arms and lungs before it came. Thump. A sharp kick, a man’s hefty heel made contact with the outside of my right ankle. A glancing blow that caught half of the metalwork in my leg, and left me struggling to understand what just happened.

Physically what just happened was an unfortunate, unlucky blow to my leg, seemingly a regular occurrence on this particular swimming session. It briefly winded me. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to cry out because of the pain and the shock of it all, but my head was about to come out of the water which meant I needed to concentrate on breathing in. I wasn’t far from the shallow end, and managed to get myself to the safety of the end of the pool while I pulled myself back together. Mental note to self, it’s impossible to swim and cry at the same time.

Emotionally it was so much worse. Next Tuesday would have been my second wedding anniversary. A racing friend is off to fulfil a long held ambition of mine and race at the Manx GP this year. I am in the process of moving my entire life from one of a wage slave to one of a girl who follows her dreams. There is so much going on for me at the moment that until last night, I didn’t dare contemplate the extent of it because, frankly, it was all a bit much.

Somehow I managed to keep swimming (see, there goes Dory again!). But in the car on the way home it was a different story and I couldn’t hold it in. I rang a very dear friend when I got back to my house, and was grateful when she picked up.

I got home from work today and a running vest had arrived in the post, sent from the charity I am fundraising for. I was excited as my triathlon kit is frankly a bit substandard, and had expected it to be purple as this is the Lymphoma Association‘s main colour. The vest had purple flowers on, but was bright, lemon yellow. My ex fiance was obsessed with yellow and during our relationship, yellow had gradually taken over my house. I have tried to avoid it as a colour, not consciously because of any hatred towards him, but just because it was his choice not mine. I love sunny, neon, acid bright colours, just not yellow.

Time to reclaim yellow as a colour I think….

Kitting out

The wetsuit has landed. The first time I tried it on was after a 20 mile cycle ride, and was not a pleasant experience. I really felt this should be an Olympic sport in its own right. The second time, with a few top tips, it was much easier. I am keen to try swimming in it, but ever-so-slightly petrified too.

Since I started my training for Nightrider, and therefore by default, for my Triathlon, my kit has been on the shabby side.

I have a good pair of running shoes (purchased on my honeymoon for one – see other blog for explanation).

My running/cycling top cost me £2 from Matalan last winter.

My sports bra was 5 years old (although not worn much).

My cycling/running tights cost me £15 in the YHA Manchester sale about 14 years ago.

A couple of weeks back, I bought a new sports bra, courtesy of a Tesco clubcard deal with Figleaves. Ended up free.

This week I shelled out for a very blingy triathlon suit – an all in one lycra number intended to go under your wetsuit so that once out of it, you don’t have to get changed again. I agonised for ages over it, and only went for it because it was a) in the sale and b) my Olympic Gamesmaker friend gave me some money towards the housekeeping when he stayed. I was so excited, but it arrived and I was distinctly underwhelmed. It cost as much as my running shoes, and was delivered with a mark and a hole in it. It also didn’t fit so is going back.

In the post today, I received a freebie running vest from the Lymphoma Association, the main reason for all this triathlon business in the first place.

It’s yellow. This is about the worst colour for me, but I’m just going to have to get over it.

Since my last post, the news has been filled with stories of the worst hayfever season in 20 years. This makes my head feel a little better, if not my lungs….

Just keep swimming

Swimming remains my biggest challenge on the triathlon front.

Running is hard work, and my asthma has been dreadful the last week. I’ve really struggled with the recent damp weather but did drag myself out for a run last Thursday morning. It was a while since I’d been (because of the ear infection) and I really felt it. However, I felt it in my chest rather than my legs, and this was a new sensation. No matter how many puffs I had from the magic blue inhaler, it wasn’t enough and I had to take it really easy. I walked. Lots. But my legs wanted to run.

Last Friday night I had some help with my swimming, from Lee at Tri and Tri Again . This was my first swim coaching since I was 12.

I enjoyed swimming when I was younger, but hated school swimming lessons. The pool was freezing, both in and out of the water. I hated communal changing, even though I was at an all girls school. To this day I hate being in a swimsuit even around people I know.

Swimming lessons back then consisted of queuing up, piling into the pool and swimming a length of whatever stroke it was. I had joined the school later than lots of the other girls who had been there since they left primary school, so I hadn’t had the same instruction and really didn’t know what I was doing. I was dog slow compared to everyone else, and got put in the “lacking confidence in the water” group. Which meant we spent our time in the shallow end, splashing about and diving to retrieve bricks from the bottom. Not great for actually helping my swimming but the sixth form volunteers were lovely so it was enjoyable enough. I did learn to dive properly though, as no one had done that before so when we learnt as a class, I was in on it from the beginning.

I never really lacked confidence in the water thanks to my dad taking me and my brother swimming regularly, I just wasn’t a very strong swimmer and lack of practice led to complete lack of inclination. A friend’s mum was a coach at a local leisure centre, and a swim party one year resulted in a hugely enjoyable game of water polo which, surprisingly, I really enjoyed. I wasn’t focussing on the swimming, I was concentrating on the game and I loved it.

My most recent experience of regular swimming was when I was recovering from a couple of nasty breaks – a completely shattered ankle in 1997 following a fall while rock climbing, and a shattered trapezium (tiny bone at the bottom of your thumb) in 2007 resulting from a crash while racing my motorbike.

The pool I used in 1997 was in a gorgeous gym in central Manchester, in a stunning 1920s office block across the road from the climbing shop where I worked. The pool looked up to the sky and was generally empty at the time when I used to go, just before work each morning. Then the Aquatics Centre opened in Manchester, just ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2000, not far from where I used to live, and I used to go there when I could. I really was spoilt for nice pools when I lived up north!

In 2007 I went to Deep Water Aerobics – not really swimming, but lots of waving around in the water which really helped me build up the strength in my hand again. This was in the rather less luxurious setting of Colchester Leisureworld.

But. I digress. Lee was incredibly patient – I explained I couldn’t manage more than half a length of front crawl. My breaststroke is OK, but front crawl is preferable as it’s much quicker. Plus, it’s a challenge and I want to crack front crawl. We went right back to basics, and he was really supportive as I continued to panic and struggled to breathe in the right place. It was an incredibly useful session, and I was determined to practice last night on my normal Monday night swim.

Last night was a disaster though, initially anyway. As mentioned above, my asthma has been dire since last week, and I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to do. I forced myself to go (the looming triathlon was the main motivation!). I really wanted to practice what I’d learnt on Friday, but after 2 lengths of breaststroke to warm up, I nearly got out. Halfway down the very first length, I had a complete panic. Something about the blue of the water as I looked down at the bottom of the pool took me back to school days, and it was all I could do to stay afloat. I did a second length to get back to the shallow end. A stern talking to and I kept going, having decided tonight was probably not the night to push it on new stuff.

I got up to 20 lengths, and again almost gave up. My chest was pounding. I had another little talk to myself and figured when September comes, I will be even more scared in the water, so I’d better get used to keeping going when I didn’t want to. This is something I do on the harp all the time, when things go wrong, so it shouldn’t have been difficult. It then became an exercise in mind over matter, and I managed a further 20 lengths. After a little while, I settled down and began to feel the glide I’d felt last week. 40 lengths is the most I have ever done so I am really pleased. This is my 4th swimming session (5th if you include the time spent with Lee) and I have gone from 20 at the first up to 40 last night.

Just Keep Swimming is a well known line from Finding Nemo – everyone takes the mickey out of poor Dory for being forgetful and silly, but in the end, when it gets difficult later in the film, Nemo relies on Dory’s words to keep him safe. It’s appropriate for my swimming challenge, but I’ve used it for a long time to keep going when things are tough, and Finding Nemo is one of my favourite films.

I didn’t realise until recently, but my uncle used Just Keep Swimming as his mantra for when things were getting particularly unpleasant during his chemo treatment. He still uses it now. It’s a good one as when you say it, you can see a daft blue fish with a silly voice being really annoying in her insistence that everything will be alright. Cliched perhaps for actual swimming, but in the context of life in general, who can argue?

Today I’ve finally felt my asthma starting to ease off a little, so am hopeful that the next swimming session will be the one to get some proper practice in.

I’m away celebrating a friend’s birthday this coming weekend, and can you believe after she booked the hotel, one of my first thoughts was.. I wonder if it has a pool.

I’m really enjoying the new-found focus that the big day in September has brought to my life. I had a big solo harp concert in June and wasn’t sure how I’d feel once that was out of the way, but the triathlon training has been just what I needed.

Tomorrow… another run.


Some weeks ago, I started to really get hooked on the (harp-related) blog of Deborah Henson-Conant, a harpist with a difference.

Here Gliding onto Stage she talks about the difference between effort and glide. The easiest way I can think of this, is when you see kids that are just starting out on rollerskates. Their skates are strapped to their feet, and they are certainly moving on their skates, but they might as well be walking for all the actual skating they are doing. Then, gradually, they work out that there is an extra step, and they start to feel the thrill of the glide. This is the difference between rehearsing and performing, and in particular when your performance is going really well. Some people refer to it as being in the zone, but I like the Glide concept as I can relate to this physically.

Last night I went swimming. It was the first time I’d been in 2 weeks, and the first training session of any kind for 9 days due to a nasty ear infection and unpleasant side effects from the antibiotics – I was pretty much wasted for most of last week. I was worried that all the fitness that I’d started to develop would have evaporated. (On the plus side, I lost 3lbs which I was pretty pleased about!)

Instead, I felt pretty good. Not technically good at swimming or anything like that, but I definitely found it less of an effort than previously, and I had shorter pauses between lengths.

My first session 4 weeks ago, I managed about 20 lengths (a LOT for me) with lots of rest in between. My second session, I managed 30, still with lots of breaks.

Last night, I did somewhere between 30 and 36 (kept losing count). I’m doing 2 lengths at a time without stopping now. Gradually, I started to feel the glide – I stopped focussing on everything around me, and noticed how much quicker the lengths were going and how I felt as I swam.

This isn’t anything marvellous on the Olympic scale, but in terms of my own fitness, I’m feeling a huge improvement each time.

For the triathlon in September, I have to swim 1500m, about 60 lengths of my local pool. Except I have to do it in open water, in the sea in my case. I’d underestimated what this would involve, and my first swimming session really scared me. I realised I wouldn’t be able to see as well in seawater. It will be salty, it will taste horrible, and given how much I swallow in the pool, it’s not going to be pleasant at all.

Not only do I have a set distance to complete, I have to do it within a cut off period of 50 minutes, otherwise I can’t continue onto the next 2 legs of the race. I’m not too worried about the bike ride, and the run, well if I’m too tired I can walk (lots if required!).

Rather than dreading it however, I am really excited about it now – I’m really up for the challenge, especially on the back of how I felt after finishing my Nightrider adventure Nightrider blog post. I am starting to feel the improvement that is coming just from the small amount of training I have managed to do, and this is really spurring me on.

Still a long way to go, especially my first run in a while which is coming up tomorrow…