Sunday, 19 April 2015

5k Swimathon

Feeling proud with my medal ~ Look at my little chubby face!!
Bump and I did it!!! 5k of swimming (actually 204 lengths of swimming as Chris lost count!!!) That's like swimming the distance of your local park run! And at 3 stone heavier than normal with a baby on board I've got to admit I found the challenge hard!!!

It's always nice giving something back.  Especially to a charity like Marie Curie which has touched my family's heart first hand.  I've seen friends who have kicked cancer's arse – more than once, friends who have been petrified and astoundingly courageous both at the same time, friends who have talked passionately about the work Marie Curie do. So I didn't think twice about entering this swimathon back in January.  I didn't even think twice about the distance (the 1k and 2.5k didn't seem like an option - every ounce of my competitiveness wanted to do the 5k!).  Now; it's not like I forgot that I would be 30 weeks pregnant by the time the swimathon came round, I just sort of....errr....massively underestimated it!  

There were many reasons why back in January I shouldn't have entered this swimathon:

Firstly - My chlorine allergy!!! This has meant I had to limit my swimming to a maximum of twice a week - and in hindsight I'm not sure my 2k swimming sessions quite equipped me for 5k all in one go! 

Secondly - My swimming costume didn't fit!  My shabangers kept bursting out! I did borrow mums but that didn't quite fit either so on the day of the event I just had to tuck in my excess flab!!

Thirdly - In training I needed to stop  for a wee every ten lengths whilst the baby jumped around on my bladder! How can you possibly need a wee 60 seconds after just going for one?

Fourthly - I had slowed.....dramatically! My target time of 1 hour 15 changed to "finish before the pool closes at 8pm!"  Oh and tumble turns were also out the window after getting stuck half way through one a few weeks ago - this bump has a lot to answer for!

Finally - (as if there needed to be any more reasons) I am completely unfit. I never realised that just walking up the stairs would be so tiring!

But me, being me, saw the challenge and started to work out all the reasons why I should do it.  I remembered everything I'd heard about Marie Curie and did some more research on their fantastic work by clicking here  and that was all the motivation I needed;  swimming 200 lengths was the least I could do to raise some funds and awareness for this wonderful charity. 

This carefully cropped photo doesn't show my enormous bum - just a beautifully tidy 30 week bump! I couldn't bring myself to post any full length pics in my cosutme!
So at 3 stone heavier than normal, with a baby bump measuring larger than a football and a waddle that even a penguin would be jealous off, Bump and I set off to take on this 5k swim.  I opted to break the swim up into sections. I swam 60 lengths on my own with friends Caroline and Lenka in the lane next to me so I had other swimmers for company! At 45 lengths I had to jump out and waddle off for a quick loo break. At 60 lengths Jacqui jumped into my lane and we did another 60 lengths together (when I say together, I sat on her feet!). I jumped out for another loo break and then had a chat to Chris and his Mum and Dad who had come to cheer. Then I did another 40 lengths with Jacqui which seemed really hard and I had a bit of doubt set in as to whether I'd be able to finish or not!!!

"Just keep swimming"

Jacqui then jumped out and I just had 40 lengths to go (just!?!) I set off again on my own keeping Lenka and/or Caroline in sight in the other lane for company. With 18 lengths to go I had the most awful cramp in my toe and the arch of my foot (how do you stretch that out???!). So decided to just swim as quickly as I could and get the last few lengths done.  Everyone was cheering from the side, really rooting for me.  My arms felt like lead and my face was literally purple with the heat so when I finally finished I actually felt emotional!

Just finished my final length!!! YAY!!!

Messages from friends and family have just been fantastic.  It's been great to raise nearly £600 for a fantastic cause.  It's also been great to find a 'piece of me' again.  I've found the pregnancy really tough emotionally with my whole routine being completely changed, so to be able to still have a goal to aim for and feel like I'd achieved something really did give me a lift - thanks Mum for persuading me to do it and Chris for really believing I'd succeed!!!

I was lucky enough to be given two I'll make sure I present the other one to the baby upon the baby's arrival!  Thanks so much to everyone who's helped and supported me. I'm looking forward to another sporting challenge in the future; although I think that will be a while off yet!!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Yummy Mummies in Triathlon

My sister Helen and I after the
 'Kenilworth Killer 10k' in 2010.
After my sister Helen had her son George, she started to beat me in local running races.  In fact, I lost my title of Allesley Fun Run champion to her when she was making her 'comeback to fitness' post birth.  It wasn't that I had got slower – she had got quicker! I put her new founded super-human powers down to the benefits of having a baby, which were backed up with some research that I found:

"Almost throughout the entire pregnancy there will be an increase in red blood cells and blood volume which has fantastic performance-boosting changes to a woman's body".

In fact, did you know at the 2012 Olympic Games, the High Jump field boasted four mothers and was won by Russia's Anna Chicherova who gave birth in just 2011!!! 

And Alysia MontaƱo proved that you could keep up your exercise throughout your pregnancy when she competed in the 800m at 36 weeks pregnant, totally working her bump and looking amazing! (You can read more about her here).
So the sub-conscious decision made in my head nearly 10 years ago was that pregnancy will be fantastic, I'll be an active yummy-mummy to be and I'll make the most incredible come back the world has ever seen post-baby! After all, Paula Radcliffe and Katharine Merry were renowned for continuing to run in pregnancy; and Jessica Ennis who is also expecting, continued to do the same routine and training she had always done during the start of her pregnancy.
Except I totally didn't realise that your boobs would kill, you would have a permanent hangover for the first 3 months (without the joys of drinking), your back would ache, your ankles would swell up and when your pregnancy app says "you may have now put on 2kg" you think what a load of rubbish as it's closer to 2 stone! 

My grand plan fell apart before it even started.  Training has pretty much grinded to a halt and I have become one of those "sedentary mums" that health advisers warn against! So I've enlisted the help of 3 recent yummy mummies in the triathlon world to give me an insight into what to expect:

  • Christa had done triathlon for 2 years before giving birth to Josh (who weighed 8lbs 11ozs).  She trained 6 days a week.
  • Ellen had done triathlon for 5 years before giving birth to Eddie (who weighed 6lbs 14ozs and arrived 4 weeks early!).  She trained 10-15 hours a week pre-Eddie.
  • Ellie had done triathlon for 2 years before giving birth to Max (who weighed 7lbs 15 ozs).  She trained twice a day (60-90 minutes), 6 days a week.  
The girls have also helped to show me that despite the upheaval of my disciplined world (that used to thrive on repetition and routine), there are still some similarities between being pregnant and being an athlete, such as:  

You're amazed at your progress

Sometimes in sport you do things you think would never be possible. You run that sub 1 hour 30 half marathon, or you cycle that sub 23 minute 10 mile time trial and you think, WOW - that's progress. And in the same way each week you can read up on the progress your tiny little lodger is making "this week he has fingerprints" or "this week your baby can sense light if you shine a flashlight at your tummy".  So exciting!

You appreciate your sleep
Got in from a long run? Then there's nothing more you want to do than lie on the sofa with a brew. Got in from a 4 hour ride? You'll sleep well tonight. Pregnant and got in from a 10 minute walk, blimey - put your feet up!! I'm glad I'm not alone in feeling so exhausted... Ellie said "I didn't feel guilty about not training at all - I honestly enjoyed the lie ins.  I did however become frustrated towards the end of pregnancy as it was tiring to even walk; an abnormal feeling!" I suppose I better make the most of the rest while I can!

You have all the gear, no idea
Some (not all) triathletes really do have all the gear no idea. The power meters, the aero helmets, the cadence sensors - with no idea of how to use them.  Well everyone's got to start somewhere! Just like us as we read up on breast pumps, ipotties (designed to entertain toddlers during toilet training - seriously??) and baby poop alarms....that does exactly what it says on the tin! In fact, if this kind of thing floats your boat - find our more about crazy baby gadgets here.

You have an optimum weight:
Running on the left in 2007, and running on
the right at ''race weight' in 2009
It's true that for racing you have an optimum weight....the weight that you get to (or try to get to!) for your racing.  Well in preparation for birth you also get to an optimum weight when Mother Nature does her thing and pretty much makes you look as big and frumpy as she can.  After asking my recent yummy-mummy friends if they got bigger everywhere, most of them said it was all boobs and bump! Unfortunately for me I'm bigger all over; bum, thighs, calves....but I take comfort in the fact that Ellie is now lighter than she was pre-pregnancy just 7 months down the line!  Maybe in 2016 I will be at that racing weight again (although right now I'm enjoying eating for 2....."baby needs it!") 

You wear strange Clothes:
I have simply ditched the lycra for a onesie. Just as comfy, just as comforting, but not quite as flattering! It's about the only thing that fits (see previous paragraph!!)

You're stuck in the early morning routine:

So as opposed to being up and out to swim by the crack of dawn I am now up before 6am every day either needing to empty my bladder or with terrible wind!!! At least that is keeping some sort of routine for me!

Swimming continues to be the thing you "ought to do" rather than the thing you "want to do"

Of the girls I chatted to Ellie was the one who was able to keep her running and cycling up the longest, doing a time trial at 5 months pregnant (which she really didn't enjoy) and a Park Run at 6 months pregnant before stopping on the course due to discomfort. Christa and Ellen packed up their run and bike kit long before then and instead swam as much as possible, right up until the day their boys were born.  Ellen said she felt comfortable swimming and it was the one sport where she didn't get "overtaken by 90 year olds".  I've taken a leaf out of her book and entered a swimathon (5k) that I'll be doing at 7 and a bit months pregnant. You can sponsor me here.

You have a competitive nature:
So I may not look like an athlete right now, but I still think like one! When pregnant friends ask me how many weeks I am and I say "17 weeks" and they say "ahhh, I'm 21 weeks" I can't help but feel they are winning the race and leading the way.  And when friends post scan photos of their babies my competitive mind is "oooh ours is definitely the best looking!" (Apart from your's Bear and your's Zoe!!!) I think a competitive mindset will be with you whether you compete or not!  And interestingly, all the girls I spoke to for this blog have returned to racing post pregnancy.  I asked them "how long was it until you competed in a race again?"

Ellie:  10 weeks post birth – Reading Sprint Distance Triathlon which I won!
Christa: It was Coventry Triathlon for the club champs which I surprisingly won (not the race the Amazing Sam won that - I was too slow to win the race but won the club champs).  This was probably about 5 months after Josh was born.
Ellen:  I did a triathlon 3 months after giving birth. It was only a short Cotswold sprint one – 750m swim/20k bike/ 2.5k run but I was desperate to regain a bit of me and see if I could still do it. It went pretty well considering.

You're still in training with a big goal in sight: 

So maybe not for a race. But for the biggest challenge of your life! Training is like putting together lots of little bricks, building a foundation on which your season will be based.. Training goals have just been swapped for shopping lists, to do tasks and ticklists. The cupboard under the stairs has been converted to Dad's Den and we feel ready for our new arrival, hard can it be!?  Well to be fair Ellie said during labour "I would rather do an Ironman", Christa said "giving birth is way more painful than any triathlon," and Ellen said "It was like doing 10 tri's in a row" - so I'm guessing it's pretty god damn horrific!

So with the girls all back competing, there seems to be more of a sense of enjoyment for racing post-birth.  "It's more of  a feeling of being grateful that I can still do it and a renewed love of the sport," said Christa and Ellen added "I was not as nervous at the start or anxious for my result because I feel there is more to life and triathlon should be a fun, stress relief".

And I'm sure you'll agree that their prizes of their little boys is greater than any medal possible"

Friday, 28 November 2014

It's been a busy month!

Wow time flies when you're having fun! It's been over 80 days since I last raced.  That also means 80 days since I swam and 80 days of doing a whole lot of nothing! In that time I've found myself experiencing new things and taking on new ventures, some of which still involve triathlon – some don't.  So the month of November has gone a little something like this:

N is for Nurturing friendships – Now it's the off season I've had time to catch up with friends who have so much patience with me in the summer! I went up to Bradford to see my best friend there and celebrate her 30th, and even had the opportunity to see some wonderful people who I hadn't seen for 4 years.  It turns out if you're the best of friends you really can pick up where you left off….and it's also never too late to say sorry! I can be a stubborn character and it's been fab to be given a second chance to make new memories with old friends.

Catching up with Hayley and her little one

80's girls

Enjoying Sunday Lunch

O is for Otillo Race  – It's mandatory to enter a crazy type of race each year (or at least try to!) Last year my partner in crime Ali and I entered the tandem triathlon.  The fact that we didn't have a tandem (and Ali had never ridden one before) didn't bother us.  This year we have applied for OtillO.  It's essentially a race between islands north of Sweden which involves continuously swimming to and running over the islands.  Sounds fun? I managed to persuade Ali, totally missing out the part that it totalled 10k of swimming and 65 miles of running! We're either absolutely brilliant, or absolutely mad! We find out January if we have a place or not!

Running over the islands in the Otillo Race

Ali and I in winter training

V is for Velodrome  – Last weekend I went up to the Velodrome in Manchester for the first time with my tri club TRiKS.  I ended up not riding (it looked rather steep and knowing my bike handling skills it was a broken collar bone waiting to happen!) but I enjoyed watching and like to think I'll give it a go at some point.  I had the very important job of timing the flying lap!

Enjoying tea and cake whilst the others work hard!

E is for Exercising  - my new favourite training is the stretch and relax class that I take on a Wednesday night.  The best part about taking the class is if you're struggling to hold the plank for a minute, when it gets to 50 seconds you can say "that's the minute up" and no-one will ever know! Haha! I'm also a huge believer (based on past experience) in pacing yourself through the winter and concentrating on a good core, to build a good base for the season ahead.  Races aren't won in November, so enjoy something new and keep things nice and sociable.   

"Your glutes should be squozen"

Downward dog!

M is for M.I Racing awards dinner  – I had a brilliant time celebrating at our annual M.I.Racing Awards Dinner.  This year the prizes were presented by Anna Turney, a Para-Olympian, so that was super inspiring! I was also presented with Triathlete of the Year Award which I'm not sure I deserved but it was a lovely surprise all the same.  It was nice catching up with all the girls and taking part in the auction that happens at the end of the night – Chris bought a random poster of a random man, god knows where that's going to go up in the house!

I still don't quite understand the award I presented

M.I.Racing Team

B is for Boosting my immune system – Post race season I saw a couple of specialists on the NHS.  Firstly the throat specialist who shoved a camera up my nose and down my throat….nice!  His investigation revealed an infection caused by too many antibiotics (typical!) so I was treated for that! I was then passed on to the Infection and Disease Specialist, which makes me sound like I should be quarantined or something!   I also tried to proactively boost my immune system and ordered 3 products that athletes swear by – Neovite (Colostrum), Nordic Oil and Cherry Active.  So far so good….this is the longest spell all year I have had of being healthy so let's hope it continues!

Getting healthy.....and staying healthy

E is for Energetic Kids  – Since leaving the teaching profession a few years ago I had forgotten just how funny kids are! I had been trying to set up my own Kids Tri Club since March but the paperwork and checks and all the background work takes so long that it wasn't until September that it actually got up and running. But it was definitely worth the wait!!! The kids are just brilliant. I coach every Monday night with my friend Jacqui and we are fortunate enough to have use of a 1 mile cycle track that is closed to traffic and last week we even had a guest coach come all the way from Swim Station so it's been absolutely brilliant. Whether I'm coaching the next Brownlees or not doesn't matter, what matters is seeing the smiles on their faces each week as they meet new friends, get fitter and grow in confidence!

These kids are amazing!

In our 'uniforms' (mine needs ironing already!)

R is for Remembering Snowy - Our little white rabbit Snowy was cruelly murdered by a fox at the start of the month.  His head had been ripped off and the remainder of his body had been buried.  The lovely little old lady who had found him had phoned the Council who told her to wrap his body up and throw him in the bin,  and so that's what she did.  After 29 years on this earth you’d think I'd be better at handling the death of a pet but actually, death is difficult to deal with at any age, and I think I cried constantly for about a fortnight! He was my little partner in crime and I used to be in hysterics watching Chris run round the garden trying to catch him – and after 15 minutes of complete desperation I would just waltz out and pick him up straight away (Snowy that is, not Chris!)!  Our family won't be the same without him but I'm thankful for the happy times he brought us.

Miss him xxx

I certainly feel like I've been making the most of the off-season and I'm looking forward to seeing what December will bring. Until then, enjoy your winter whether you'll mostly be found training, partying or Christmas Shopping, have fun and remember....

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A little help from my friends - Part 2

So following on from the tips and inspiration from the last blog (if you missed it you can read it here), the input from my fellow female friends in the triathlon world continues and in this (the part 2 of 2 blog), you can read their words of wisdom.  This is a really timely blog as if you're just starting to think about your 2015 season, you may want to hear what these ladies have to say!  So this is the time of year when most people are starting to plan their busy race schedule for the following year.  But with so many races out there and so much to choose from, how on earth do you decide what to do? A smart word or two from my friend Suzie Richards, might give you a helping hand:
Suzie Richards - World Age Group Duathlon Champion & Aim High Series Winner
"You create your own opportunities": I am currently reading Iris Murdoch's novel 'Henry and Cato'.  Why? Despite officially having some qualifications, I often feel completely uneducated when I realise how little I have read in terms of 'classic' books or those by esteemed authors.  So here I am ploughing through, reading about Cato and Henry, who are both deviating widely from the life paths their parents would prefer them to be on.  It's an easier read than my previous furore into attempting a classic, dear god, "Anne of Green Gables" was just a painful experience.  Do you do what you want to do? What you should do? What you think you should do? What you know you should or shouldn't do? Or just do and see what evolves? The choices are endless, in both reading material and race choice and triathlon journey.  These questions may or may not have helped decision making in regard to leading my own triathlon journey:
Do what you want to do?:  Personally this comes down to doing what I enjoy which ultimately is what are my strengths? In a previous life, not too long ago when I wore a suit and pretended to do proper work I was asked to read Buckingham and Clifton's "Now discover your strengths" book which contained the Clifton strength finder quiz.  The authors proclaim that individuals possess 5 key personal attribute strengths and to develop as an individual, to the best of your ability one should focus on developing these strengths.  So many decisions I take along the triathlon journey are based on developing my strengths.  The problematic area being, do I know my triathlon strengths!
Do what you should do?: Some races for 2015 have already sold out in minutes. Why? Reputation? Is there a race hierarchy? I competed in 3 out of the 4 British Elite superseries races this year. In my mind, these are the premier domestic races in the UK for sprint/standard distance triathlon. Some double up as British elite championships, doing well here, leads to other race selections. I personally believe I should race against the best competition possible, I would rather be last in a high quality field than 1st out of a weak field.  Did they play to my strengths? Not at all, draft legal favours the stronger swimmers, but I felt I should test myself and I shouldn't be afriad to race the best.
Just do and see what evolves?: This summaries my participation in the Always Aim High North Wales series The Slateman, Sandman and Snowman along with competing in the World Duathlon Championship. They all looked fun and exciting from the outset, I didn't really know what would happen and what was involved, but they turned out great. Living on the fly, that's what I love best.
My previous job, the one with the suit that i mentioned, well that contained the word Leadership in it's job title. The word still mystifies me, but maybe it relates to some of the above questions. Who knows? But one thing I do know for me, if I enjoy it I will seek out more of it; if I dislike it, I will do less of it.
It's therefore important to pick the races that are right for you.  Don't feel like you have to follow suit, be adventurous and take a few risks! I admire how Suzie set about her own plan and although I thought she was completely nuts for entering some of the hardest races I had heard of, it was clear that she had a sense of purpose, drive and motivation! Which mirrors the qualities of Sam McClary who may inspire you to take on a completely new challenge for 2015.  You may remember her as the numpty who missed the start of the European Triathlon back in 2013 as she was busy having a splash and a sunbathe, but in 2014 she absolutely found something to test her limits.  I asked Sam to share with us just what exactly 'The Challenge' was:
Sam McClary - The Challenge Extraordinare 
"Easy is boring, challenge yourself": If I'm honest I have always been middle of the pack. I've never been anything special. Never stood out. And that was okay. Until I started to test myself. I know I'm never going to be the fastest,  I may never make it to the top of the podium but that doesn't mean I can't be my best. It doesn't mean I can't go beyond what people, what I, think possible. And so The Challenge was born.  It just kind of tumbled out of my mouth. I could run and ride my way around the UK, covering 1,100 (it turned out to be 1,200) miles in 15 days. Couldn't I?  It turns out, I could.  Training for The Challenge went well. I gradually increased mileage. I got stronger and stronger. I escaped injury. I was confident.  Then it started. The nerves kicked in the night before. What the buggerybollocks am I doing?  I'm just Sam. Just a normal girl. I'm not exceptional. Erm. But I am stubborn. Let's do this. And so I did.  The Challenge started well. Apart from the obvious pain that comes with running 46 miles, day one went well. I was happy. This was hard but I could do it.  Then day two happened. This was the longest day. The day a niggle started and the day I first lost my head. I did not expect that. Well I did, but not that early. But it meant I learned a lesson very early on in this adventure.
Instead of boring you with the full story of the challenge, I'll direct you to my blog over at  but the lovely Sam asked me to share what I'd learned; So this is what I think it takes to go beyond and achieve.
1) Don't be afraid to to say I can't.  I can't doesn't mean you won't.  It just means you need some help and there is no shame in that. Strength comes from admitting weakness. We only get stronger when we know our weaknesses.
2) Dream big. Focus. Do the work. Believe. Achieve. Whatever we want to achieve or be in life is possible. It is inside all of us. People achieve great things every day. Why shouldn't you?
3) Smile. I cried a lot during The Challenge. An alien experience for me. But I mainly smiled. Why? Because nothing tells you you are more alive than being in the open air using your own steam to move forward and to explore.
My motivation to take on The Challenge was simple. I wanted to test myself and see what I was capable of (I am arrogant enough to think that I am capable of most things!) and I want to make a difference, even if it was just to one person, be it through the amount of money I have raised for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award or through inspiring one person to get out there and try something new. To do something hard.
So many people told me they could "never do" what I've done. I don't believe that. I refuse to. If I can inspire one person to think that way then every second of pain, every soggy day, every tear and every evil ice bath will have been worth it.
As you plan 2015, it's not just the end goal or end product that should drive you, but as Sam said, the challenge, the milestones, journey and laughter (even tears!) along the way.  One person who absolutely has the ability to laugh and create fun memories along the way is Hannah Johnston.  I first met Hannah when she exited the water first overall at the European Champs in Turkey last year and did this crazy sort of dance as the crowds keeled over with laughter! Here she shares her thoughts on laughter being the best medicine.
Hannah Johnston - World Age Group Triathlon Runner Up 2014
"Life is better when you're laughing": I was chosen to write a few words on how to keep smiling when it often feels like it is all going wrong. In all honesty, I’m touched that I have been recognised to write on this subject as this is pretty much my mantra for life, so its great that somebody outside has acknowledged this. I’ve never been one to take myself seriously, even on race morning when competitors are locking themselves inside portaloos (sorry Claire, your secret is out), I’ll be the one laughing and joking around, all the way up to the start line. My mum is always so nervous on race morning that she can’t eat (and will not eat until I’ve finished the race. Good job I don’t race Ironman, hey mum!) whereas I am next to her biting the heads/arms/legs off jellybabies in the line up to the swim start. In my opinion, you will perform best - not just in triathlon but in other aspects of life too, such as work, home and relationships – when you are able to laugh at yourself. So here goes my 10-step guide on how to be an easygoing triathlete:
Make an entrance: It’s a deep water start and everyone is gliding gracefully into the water from the bank. Some of the more brave ones are diving off a ledge. Some nervous triathletes are dipping their toes in at the shore. My advice to you? Bomb in.

Mount your bike with guts: If you are looking for some giggles on triathlon race day, spectators, I’ll give you one tip: stand at the bike mount line…

…And if I am racing, stand as far away from the mount line as possible! I am very talented at sending my bike in all directions on mounting. 

Use triathlon as an excuse to see the world: When I say ‘see the world’, what I really mean is travel around the world and see the local swimming pools, gyms and running tracks. And if you’re me, you’ll also get to whizz down a few local lanes in an ambulance and a view of a hospital ceiling for a few hours. You’ll be stung in the arse by the BTF’s Age Group policy to hop around the most expensive cities in the world. But you will have an incredible time partaking in an international Chopper Watch (like people watching but so much better).

Hannah's tips on using laughter as the best medicine doesn't end here, I just couldn't fit them all into this blog! So I'd definitely encourage you to take a look at the rest of this post that can be found here: Now we all know that it's not always fun and games and if you're 2014 season didn't go to plan, it can be quite tricky to keep a smile up and convince yourself that 2015 will.  In the photo above, Hannah is pictured with fellow triathlete Laura Fidler, someone who I have sought a lot of advice from this year as my health has been way under par and I didn't feel like a 'comeback' time and time again was in me.  If you're in the same boat, if you're 2014 season hasn't gone to plan, do you really have to call it a day and write off the next one?

Laura Fidler - Great Britain Age Group Triathlete
"Don't ever let set backs keep you from making an incredible comeback"Sam asked me to talk about dealing with adversities and getting back to form... Which thankfully is a subject close to my heart... I certainly can't claim to be an expert but I know what helped me when I was unwell with shingles and I think a lot of what got me better can be applied to any illness or injury.
 Firstly, you have to understand how you got there! Nothing happens through pure chance, sometimes we don't have a lot of choice but there are often warning signs and steps can be taken yo manage out lifestyles better.  Your health is effected and stressed by every physical, mental and emotional thing we do to it.  And these things accumulate over days, weeks and months.  I realised that I wasn't giving my body or mind enough time out.  Time to relax and do nothing...I know this is something we all struggle with but we have to learn to do it!  Without this precious "time out" stress hormones rise and eventually we will break down. 
Secondly, you have to accept it and let it go! We are all sooo hard on ourselves, we beat ourselves up when every time thing doesn't quite go to plan so what happens when something bigger happens... we beat ourselves up even more! I felt emotional and overwhelmed by everything, the fact that I felt tired the whole time, the fact I couldn't train and I couldn't see how I would EVER get back to anywhere near what I had already achieved.  Sounds silly but I even questioned what I had already achieved....was it a fluke? And guess didn't help! The longer you remain in a negative emotional cycle, the longer it will take to get out of it! So take a deep breath, recognise the mistakes you have made, stop dwelling on them and start to plan your return to greatness!
Seek can't do this alone! Whether it be a physio, a doctor or a coach or all of the above! Ask questions, see a specialist and for god sake....follow their advice! I know we all think we know better but we rarely do! It's hard to be objective and fair when you inwardly reflect but a specialist will be able to isolate and highlight the underlying problems and most importantly, give you the tools you need to help.
Finally...believe! Remember that nothing worth bothering with is easy to achieve.  Life is tricky and it sometimes throws us an unexpected swerve ball but if you want something badly enough, you can have it! You just have to work hard, plan sensibly and follow your dreams. Never give up!

I think this is absolutely brilliant advice and something I can only reiterate having struggled this season.  To add to that I would also say don't be afraid to have some time out.  I wanted to introduce you to my concept of being on the triathlon age group treadmill; the treadmill where your season is mapped out with qualifying races and age group championships and more qualifying races and before you've even raced at the championship, you're looking at next year's because hopefully by then you'll be faster, or less injured, or stronger.  I know many friends who have jumped on this triathlon treadmill, and then can't jump off.   Am I failing if I do something different? If I have some time out is that seen as quitting? Is it a shame not to go if I've already qualified? I was interested to hear from my old friend Emily Whitmore on her thoughts of taking some time out from the sport, and jumping on a different kind of treadmill:

Emily Whitmore - British Duathlon Age Group Champion

"Sometimes you just need to take some time out"I had been doing triathlon for around 5 years and made some memories and met some incredible people along the way. However at the end of last year I started full time work after qualifying as a sports and remedial therapist, which after being a student for 4 years, was a real shock to the system! Suddenly I didn’t have the motivation to get up at crazy o’clock to swim, or go out in the freezing cold on the bike. This was so unknown to me as triathlon had become such a massive part of my life, but suddenly I was doing it because I felt like I had to, rather than because I wanted to. So 2014 saw me take a cheeky ‘sabbatical’ so to speak, from triathlon. I slept in past 9 on a weekend, drank far too much on a Friday night without thinking I had to ride or run in the morning, and focused on one of my new passions, my work. Giving yourself a little break from something isn't quitting, it isn’t giving up, sometimes it’s just well needed to give your brain and body a break and find that motivation you had lost along the way. However after seeing all my friends achieve some amazing things over the summer and going to watch some of the races, it’s safe to say I have well and truly got my mojo back! I actually don’t mind getting up at 5 to swim (so far anyway) and am so excited to race again. I always worried so much what other people thought of my performance and would work myself up so much before a race, but if my break has taught me anything, it’s to just enjoy it. I can’t wait to start up my triathlon journey again, see you on the start line ladies.

So despite all the quotes out there that say "better never stops" actually, maybe "better" can just have some time out for a while.  Or if not time out altogether, then maybe time doing something different.  Longevity in a sport is something that's important to me, I want to be able to do some form of sport when I'm 90 and still get happiness from it.  That got me thinking about who do I know who has been in the sport for a long time? Who rocks up year after year and consistently gives it everything they've got and enjoys it along the way? What keeps them coming back for more? Cue my friend Sue Pugh,  an extremely popular member of the triathlon scene:

Sue Pugh - Great Britain Age Group Triathlete
"Be in it for the long run"I originally got into triathlons as I needed something else to challenge me, something to motivate me to train, give me a kick up the backside, a goal and purpose. So off I set in my quest to try to gain qualification for GB.  I suppose I do have a slightly addictive personality so if I decide to do something I'm going to commit to it; this goes the same for my job, I decided to join the RAF as a Physical Training Instructor, then deciding to specialise as an Exercise Remedial Instructor, as if this wasn't enough I decided to study for an MSc in Strength & Conditioning to further challenge myself and push my limits.   So where does this take me - well my time carefully crafted between training, racing & studying. Why do I do this? Well several reasons; 
1. I have always strived to be the best I can in whatever I do, constantly challenging myself, trying to do better. 
2. Triathlons have given me a fitness focus & further goal to strive for. At each race I enter, I wonder & push myself to try to challenge for the top spots, knowing I am by far inferior to many of the girls in my age group - you only have to look at some of the girls I have raced against over the last few years -Amy Forshaw now pro ironman, Anna Turvey represented Scotland in CWG14 in track cycling & TT events, Lou Fox now pro xterra athlete, Laura Siddall now pro70.3 & obviously Sami racing in Super Series, - to name but a few. 
3. I don't come from any of the disciplines background - I used to play tennis to a high level until I found this wasn't challenging me enough. I suppose in some respects this is what spurs me on, knowing I am the underdog, that I have to really work at it, I am a stubborn cow & won't give in!
4. Over the last few years racing I had found I simply wasn't fast enough for the standard distance racing, my swim & bike would put me in contention but my run would let me down& I would end up running scared. Now this wasn't giving up on this not at all, just that I needed to refocus. I love racing but it is expensive as the majority of us know, but I wasn't prepared to waste my money if I wasn't going to be in contention. So working with a coach & close friend, I decided that my focus should be half and full distance for this year. 
5. Now anyone that knows me knows I am not your typical triathlete, I am not skinny & lean, if anything my body type does not suit endurance sports, again I wanted to prove this wrong.
 Its now the end of my season: possibly one of my more successful seasons too, the first at concentrating on middle & long distance races. So what keeps me going? Well the majority of the above, striving to achieve & be a better athlete, but also to pay back those who have supported through my sporting endeavours over the years: my parents for driving me around as a child & more recently coming to support me at various European or World championship events, some of my very close friends who have given me guidance, knowledge & advise to help me achieve the results I have, my grandparents love to hear how I get on & in a way I think this helps give them another focus, unfortunately it is only my grandad who is still with us, but knowing how much my Nan's loved hearing stories, this motivates me too knowing they are keeping an eye on me from a far. 

Being competitive has its benefits for racing: as much as I love racing with the other GB girls, admire them for their hard work & determination, I would love to be able to beat them to the top of the podium, but also this competitiveness can be detrimental. We as athletes are particularly hard in ourselves for not achieving the result we want or hoped for, which can spur us on for training & racing but sometimes we can be particularly hard on ourselves causing negativity & self induced pressure for the next race, we can sometimes get too embroiled in our racing, we forget about life's simple things -the majority of us work, we forget about seeing friends & family, missing functions as you need to get up early the following morning, or can't be out later than 10pm as we need to get to bed & that normally follows an evening session whereby you can't get there until 8pm!!! Sometimes we can get carried away. 

Sometimes we may need to take a took at what we are doing, what affect it is having on others around us, but most of all does what we do with our racing & commitment to triathlon make us truly happy? Well for me, the answer is simple, yes it does. I have met some wonderful friends, true friends, been to some wonderful destinations to race which I would probably have never thought about going to & most of all, I'm having great fun! 

Like Sue, I know my friends and family have got a lot of joy from coming to watch races and hearing about tales and I'll keep referring back to Sue's advice to keep me going 10, 20 and 50 years from now!  It's been absolutely brilliant to have so much input from these lovely ladies I've met along the way.  I guess the reason I wrote this post (and the part 1 post), was to show we can learn so much from the people around us.  Everyone has their own strengths, their own challenges that they are succeeding in - as do you! And it's important to remember that! I wanted to write a comprehensive blog that would provide advice, tips and give friendly nudges in the right direction as you approach next season.  The final contributor to this post, friend and tremendous triathlete Nikki Bartlett, couldn't have summed everything up any better than she has done in the paragraphs below.  Some of the points reiterate earlier ones (which probably mean they're the important bits that we should take on board!)  I'll leave you with her food for thought and wish you all a fun and exciting time planning your new adventures for 2015!

Nikki Bartlett - Middle Distance European Age Group Champion 2014 - now turning Pro
"A successful 2015 can be yours": I feel privileged to have been asked to write about ‘what makes a successful season’. Sam asked me to write a section about this, but I’m struggling to ‘pick’ some of the key parts, so I thought, why not just jot down what’s helped me through my favorite, and arguably my most successful, season as an athlete to date.

Before somehow structuring this article (so many factors to consider), I feel it’s important to highlight my very novice triathlon status before starting out in the sport properly in 2012.

·         Swim: I could stay afloat and save myself ultimately if someone placed me in the middle of the ocean. So by no means was I taught how to swim properly. I learnt from my dad, but other than that – I didn’t really set foot into a pool until I was 23/24 years old (I’m 27 now).

·         Bike: This strength came from my rowing background

·         Run: I used to be a track ‘athlete’; I probably concentrated more on boozing than an athletic career. I specialized in 400/800m and would complain about a 2xlap warm up, or our ‘long run’ of 20 minutes.  I started to pick up more ‘endurance’ running in my 2nd year at Uni, this slipped off when I started to row row.

What I’m trying to get at here, is that I’m not especially ‘talented’, I work bloody hard, and channel all of my drive, energy and belief into my training. If you have a dream, have inner belief and self-drive, then you can have a successful season.
I must highlight that I’m no expert on this, yet I’m reflecting on lessons I’ve learnt and picked up along my athletic career in all sports to date (in no particular order of importance):

1.Belief: If I had to highlight one of the ‘more important’ points to this feature, inner self belief has to be right up there. Having the belief in yourself and to achieve your goals is half of the battle.

2. In following on from ‘belief’; dare to dream and aim high!
If you saw me 2-3 years ago, where I could hardly make 6 x100m (total swim session) in the pool, you would have laughed at me when my aspirations were to become a Pro triathlete.

However, I would like to highlight this: set realistic short-term goals. Don’t just see the bigger picture, but break it down into small sections on how to get there. I have a ‘plan’ for the next 5 years, plus. However, so many processes need to take place from now – I’m 35ish. I’m trying to take ‘baby steps’ in getting there, rather than going in full steam, and mostly probably blowing out of steam/getting seriously injured if I was to jump in straight for where I want to be in the next 5 years.

3. Happiness: Sounds simple right?! But it’s so commonly seen that you set winter goals, get sucked in and forget to share the process and enjoy it along the way! Make sure you’re enjoying the process towards your goals, don’t feel like you have to cut off from family and friends. Engage them in the process. Happiness is vital to achieve your goals and aims.

4. Mental toughness: This section is huge! However it’s one area that is just as important to train. For me – I do sessions to make me as mentally strong as possible. For instance I shut myself in an enclosed space on my turbo, for hours on end – shutting the curtains, and not allowing myself to watch/listen to anything.
You can most certainly train your mindset, so make sure you prepare for all eventualities you may face in a race/the race you’re aiming for.

5. Patience: Building blocks – don’t jump any of the development blocks and processes otherwise it will catch up with you

6: It’s not just about the ‘swim, bike and run’: Rest, nutrition and S & C are three obvious parts of the process, but can often neglected. Rest-plan it, but also listen to your body, you might need more/schedule in more rest than planned. Nutrition-make sure you focus on this, for me health and nutrition is vital. I just fell short of being illness free for a year. Highly recommend Nordic Oil. S & C – look to incorporate this 2-3 times per week.

7: Consistency is key: Consistency in your training is key. So in the winter set out a programme that has clear progression integrated through the year. Don’t be unrealistic in what you can fit into your day/week and end up burning out. Fitting in 7-10 hours a week, consistently over the year is more effective than cramming in ‘junk miles’ and burning out.
Learn to listen to your own body, and know when you might need to schedule in more rest days. A training programme is important, but it’s not set in stone. Learn to train within yourself; from listening to your own footsteps and how you’re feeling. Step away from using gadgets 24/7!
I will openly admit that I might need to use more gadgets in my training this year. However, it might open some eyes to say I probably used a watch/proper gadget in my bike/runs about once every two weeks. I found that this way, I could really understand and tune into my body.

8. Sticking to your plan! Let’s be honest we’ve all looked at other athletes training programmes, or sessions – whether that’s Pro’s – top Ager’s – athletes surrounded by you. However it’s important to focus on your plan, goals, and what training/structure suits you! For instance, right now, I’m on complete rest from training/competing – the very beginning of my off season. However, it’s evident that every athlete approaches this differently. For me, rest = complete rest. Not ‘I’ve just done a 2hour bike’. Nothing. Which my laundry basket is appreciating. For me – I need this mentally and physically and I think know when I slowly build back up – I’m fresh and full of new motivation.

It’s easy to question what you do, when others have different training concepts and programmes to you, however there’s no ‘one method suits all’, or that ‘x’ athlete is going to perform doing their training programme.
If you don’t have a coach, let others in to support and guide you. Over the past two years I’ve been ‘self-coached’, which essential meant that I firmed most decisions, and set my own programme. However I did have help and influence from those around me.

9. Preparation: Preparation is key when training and gearing towards a race. You need to be prepared for all eventualities - whether that’s strong head winds, cold and wet conditions, or hot conditions. You need to gain confidence in training, what you might face in a race, and have the mental capacity and knowledge that you can deal with these conditions. Always remember, everyone is in the same boat, it comes down to who’s mentally strong enough to battle through the given conditions. You cannot control the conditions, yet you can do your best to overcome them.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A little help from my friends - Part 1

Wow! The response to my last blog was absolutely over-whelming and I wasn't sure that I should ever blog again! And to be honest I don't have any exciting training sessions or races to blog about as I have done absolutely nothing for 6 weeks apart from get a stitch when walking from my car to the office each day! So for a different approach to this blog, I have clubbed together with my friends for a little help!

I have had the joy of meeting some incredible girls through this sport, many of whom I admire and seek inspiration from. And it got me thinking; what makes a successful female athlete? What can I learn from them? How did they get so fabulous and how do they stay that way? What key qualities do they have that make them succeed, or enable them to bounce back, or help them to love what they do?  So I called in a few favours and asked a few questions and have got totally inspired by their words of wisdom which I wanted to share with you.

First up is Sian Rainsley who I first met when she was a little whippersnapper running for Coventry Godiva Harriers.  Her rise to the top has been inspiring, and with a real drive and motivation, there's no stopping her!

Sian Rainsley - Junior Elite Triathlete and Youth Olympic Games Superstar

"The sky’s the limit": "What better motivation is there in sport than the dream to become the best; to be able to stand out from the ordinary? It's days when the alarm clock goes off at 4.20am on a horrible winter’s day and all you want to do is stay hidden under the duvet when this dream really kicks in... Any advantage over the competitors can enable you to take the step closer to making it all a reality. The excitement you feel when watching the likes of Jodie Stimpson winning her Commonwealth Title and thinking maybe one day that could be me, no motivation is like it (not even chocolate!), and the belief it gives you to think they were once stood in the same position I am and look where they are now. Admittedly the whole idea can be rather daunting, all the possible 'what ifs' and the anxiety of failing to complete this dream. However the saying goes “Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” and there is no better way of looking at it. Aim for the best, set yourself a challenging goal, people such as Jodie Stimpson will only have done the same…"

And it's not just Sian who has that dedication and motivation to get to where she wants to be.  Professional Ironman Amy Forshaw has managed to keep her eyes on her dreams, despite numerous set-backs, an ongoing problem in suffering from cramp during races and numerous set backs.  Her perseverance paid off this year when she won Ironman Wales in incredible style.  I asked Amy for a few tips on how you keep picking yourself up, when everything seems against you:

Amy Forshaw -  Professional Triathlete

"Sometimes you have to pick yourself up and carry on": "Before Ironman Wales I knew that if I was to encounter the cramp/ muscle spasms then I would be questioning if I am to carry on racing or racing as a pro. This might sound weak but if you knew the scale of it, ie the number of times it's happened, the amount of Physio, osetopath, chiropractors, radiologists, sports injury doctors appointments & the list goes on, obviously these did not come free and the upset & disappointment caused when going into a race feeling amazing but then to have to pull out or deliver a sub par performance then I think over the last four years we have been pretty patient. What has kept us striving to find a solution is that when it doesn't happen and my body is working well I deliver really good performances, so we know it's there, that's the most frustrating part. Rob says my body is like an Italian sports car - You never know what you are going to get, it might not want to start properly and then other days it bursts in to life and just wants to go fast! After winning Wales, I look back I feel like we are on the right road with the most recent diagnosis. All the bad races have made up for this really good one and it just shows if you really persevere and believe in something or someone you make it happen even though it may take a little while."

It's so nice to see Amy on top of the podium; had she not persevered she would not have realised that she was so close to her breakthrough race. And perhaps on a similar note, fellow athlete Natalie Seymour has also suffered set-backs this year, after breaking her collar bone in one of the elite British Super Series races. Destined for great things, she had to reassess her season, reevaluate her goals and come up with Plan B. Yet despite the disappointment, you never saw a negative tweet or a defeatist approach. Like Amy, I asked her to share her thoughts on how to perservere when all is not going to plan:

Natalie Seymour - Triathlete

"Courage doesn't always roar, sometimes it's the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying I will try again tomorrow": "Coming back from injury has been very up and down.  I have had many times when I have been fed up and wondering if I will ever make progress. I have also had many 'mini triumphs' and times that remind me of the buzz you get from training and making improvements.
In terms of of things that have helped, this is my top 5 list.  I wouldn't say I remembered and followed my own advise everyday, but when I did these things it made a real difference.   

1) Accept that you are going to find it hard and it is ok to feel fed up at times. By accepting it, it makes it easier to deal with, and you are less likely to give yourself a hard time.
2) Use your support network. My friends, family, team mates, physio and coach have been amazing and I would not have made as much progress without them.
3) Make a plan. Keep training structured and planned. At first I even had a walk in my plan! Whilst this may not seem like training, it made me do it, and when I did I felt better. Each week I could see I had more things in my training programme, so it was evidence of progress I was making.
4) Enjoy and appreciate what you can do and try not to be jealous and worried about what you can't do. This is really hard when you see others training and racing, but really important to try and do. It is hard to focus on what you are doing, but I think it is crucial to success.
5) Don't let the set backs or successes make you stop looking ahead. If you have made progress, you can make more. If you have a knock back, it doesn't mean you are back to square one, it is just something to learn from.
I have learnt a great deal since being injured and been reminded how fortunate I am to do sport and be fit and healthy. I am going to try and remember this and take the feeling forward into next season. I have set new goals and I am excited about what 2015 has to bring!"

Like Amy & Natalie, I have also suffered set-backs this year.  They are incredibly frustrating and you begin to question if it's all really worth it.  Yes it's a hobby, and yes it's for fun but it can really drain you and become a source of worry.  Just when I thought I was down and out I made a new buddy on the tri-scene in the form of Claire Shea-Simonds. She is a real diamond! Her support and encouragement towards me, and towards many other athletes, is absolutely wonderful.  She embodies what good sportsmanship is all about.  And although extremely successful in her own right, she is never too busy to spend time enabling others.  I asked her how she got to be just so inspiring!

Claire Shea-Simonds - All round triathlon super-star and Kona Finisher
"There is nothing greater than empowering others": 
"I started doing triathlons in 1997 and there have been lots of people who were very encouraging and supportive towards me along the way, particularly in the last couple of years as I have focused my efforts on Kona qualification.  The support of other female athletes is particularly important and my experience has taught me that low confidence is particularly prevalent among female athlete peers.  Having someone to look up to, particularly a female role model, can be really powerful.  There are no shortage of amazing female role models in our sport fotunatenly but somethings those role models are much more accessible and closer to home.  When I first joined my local triathlon club, aged 20, I met and befriended one of the most respected and successful athletes in our club, Chris Mawer.  Chris is a multiple age group medallist in both national and international competition and Kona qualifier and was to become a close friend and mentor,  I like to think that Chris recgonised something of herself in me; my work ethic and positive attitude and maybe some of the mental and phsycial attirbutes necessary to have some success in the sport.  Chris was (is) always there to encourage me and believe in me even when I was struggling to believe in me!  Chris retired from triathlon about 8 years ago now but actually travelled to Kona with me in 2013.  It was Chris with whom I shared an extremely emotional moment on Alli Drive as I became a Kona finisher fo rht first time, she is one of the few people who truly understood what that moment menat to me.  I am not sure Chris realises what an inspiration and source of unwavering support she has been to me in my triathlon career and I hope one day I can provide the same selfless support to young female triathletes who might look up to me in the way that I looked up to Chris all those years ago as a novice triathlete."

I'm sure I'm not alone in telling Claire her encouragement and support means so much. It costs nothing to give a smile, to say a well done, to give a pat on the back and Claire has taught me that good and bad races come and go, but your own integrity and character are always with you.  As much as everyone can do with that friendly boost, it's also nice to particularly encourage those who are new to the sport, like my next blog contributor Natalie Thomas.  As we start to think about next season, I'm starting to wonder about branching out into different things, but it's always scary to leave that comfort zone.  So I called on Natalie for a bit of advice

Natalie Thomas - European Aquathlon Champion 2014

"The expert in anything was once the beginner":     "I was doing Modern Pentathlon and Biathle which is a continuous run/swim/run event but after having a go at a Triathlon in 2012 and an excellent coaching opportunity I decided to make the switch to Triathlon.  It was tough to begin with and I found taking up cycling was a huge challenge, I am still weak at this part but it's great to see it improving all the time.  I have loved the challenge though and really enjoyed working hard in the three disciplines as well as the racing, it is so much fun the race atmosphere and getting to meet new people.  It's not always easy though, there are moments when training feels so hard and I struggle through a session but this is soon forgotten when I have a good session and worth every minute especially when races go well.  All I can say is, I love triathlon, I love training (most of the time) and making the switch is one of the best things I have ever done!"

The interesting thing is, whether you're new to the sport like Natalie, or whether you're an old-time pro, self-doubt and nerves can more often than not rear it's ugly head.  It's taken me some time to master nerves, but even then it only takes one bad race to set my mindset back to square one.  We quite often forget that we're human not robots (!!!) and we quite often forget that actually, we're pretty damn ace!  So I asked team-mate Ali Moult if she also had the same thoughts and what she did to combat them.

Ali Moult - GB Age Group Athlete & Tandem Triathlon Winner (my partner in crime!)

"You're a little more than what I call amazing!":  "If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about triathlon it’s that there is so much to learn. So much to get much to get wrong (or often in my case even screw it up completely).  Personally, I am one big fat worrier….
“Was that training session hard/long enough?”  “When am I going to find the time to get another set in?”  “How the hell does anyone look good in a tri-suit??”   …and have a total love/hate relationship with seeing what others are doing with their training and racing.  Love it when I think I can beat someone, hate it when I think I can’t.  It’s usually the latter.  The thing is, those worries come with me to race day, and can end up doing more harm than good. Everyone who knows me knows that the swim isn’t, let’s say, my strongest discipline (!) something that I can get really worked up about when your nerves are at the highest at the start of the race!  One race in particular comes to mind; it was my first ever beach start and within minutes I’d managed to have a panic attack in the water. Ahh! Every was swimming by, and for me the race (and I thought at the time my life) was over. I finally got myself together and convinced myself to carry on, took the frustration out on the bike and just got through the run, plagued the whole time with how embarrassing my time must have been dreading looking at the clock at the end.   Unbeknown to be, while I was distracted with kicking myself whilst I was down, I’d managed to claw myself back up into a decent position, and even get on the podium in a pretty respectable overall time. Didn’t see that one coming!   I learnt a valuable lesson that day; not only to always double check that your water bottle fits in it’s cage on a really hot day (!!)…. But the importance of not giving up. Especially when actually it’s nowhere nearly as bad as you thought it was - those other amazing girls you work yourself up about may also have had a bad day.  Stop worrying, race your own race, and if nothing else just keep going…. You are doing just great."
And ultimately, it's about enjoying it every step of the way! As expensive as the sport can be, as time consuming and phsyically draining, it's about loving what you do.  One athlete who absolutely loves it (as does her number one fan - her Mum - who can be found with the GB flag, cow bells and loud cheers), is Lauren Bradshaw.  I met Lauren in Horst, Holland 2 years ago, her enthusiasm is infectious.

Lauren Bradshaw - World Duathlon Bronze Medallist

"Do what you love, Love what you do!": "Often people comment on me being mad for the amount of training I do and the fact that the majority of my weekends are spent racing. You may ask why I get up at 4.30 on a Saturday morning to throw myself into a cold lake, get bashed and kicked in the face for 30 minutes after which spend 3 hours on a bike in a TT position that isn’t so comfortable on my lady bits and then finish off with a sweaty half marathon. Often I ask myself the very same question and the answer is I just love the feeling of competing and that extremely satisfying feeling of crossing the finish line.

Over the past few years I have devoted more of my time into my development as a Physiotherapist within the Elite Sporting World, however since moving to Cambridge in September last year I must say my priorities have changed somewhat. I love my job but I love competing more and if I were to choose between being an athlete or a physio – it’s a no brainer. After not fulfilling my potential in my previous sport as an Ice Dancer I have taken it upon myself to develop into a triantelope and basically see how good I can get.  It is difficult to not love what I do in both life and sport. I am surrounded by on a daily basis within my club some exceptional world-class talent that is truly inspiring. Not to mention my boyfriend Tom who I must say has driven and helped me towards much of my success this season.

All in all I think it pays to mix up your sessions week by week – so sometimes I will attend Cambridge Tri Club sessions or Cambridge Cycling Club rides. Often I will train alone or individually with Tom or groups of friends. I try to keep training quite social too – so Steak night Thursday’s has become a bit of a theme post run session! I also think it is good to change up your race distances – so combinations of sprints, standards and half’s along with Duathlons. In the Winter I like to race off road so sign up to off road duathlons, XC run events and obstacle courses! It’s a great way to train in the off-season and makes riding in the cold miserable weather a lot more fun. It is also a time to focus on strength and conditioning so attend circuit classes and do home work outs using the TRX.

If training/racing is starting to feel monotonous/tiresome just remember this can be resolved. Maybe take a few days off or have a go at something a little bit different. But just remember we are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and we should embrace it."

So I guess this blog is a thank you to all those people who I have met along the way, and a thank you to all the things they have taught me.  Their strengths in perseverance, aiming high, empowering others and making a change  aren't just skills for triathlon, but for all areas of life.  It's impossible to embody all of these things all at once, all of the time, but perhaps keeping one or two of these things at the forefront of your mind moving forward is a good way to start.  I'd like to say a huge thanks to all the girls for their input.

In fact, the input has been so insightful and valued that I'm currently drafting a "part 2" that I couldn't quite fit into this post without it being a mini novel! So watch this space...