Some things are beyond control…

So this weekend I (Helen) set out to do the Action Challenge Ride24hr Newcastle to London cycle…

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Having completed the event before I thought I knew what to expect. This year I was going with a group of 3 other amazing ladies: Lisa, Laura and Katherine. We had trained hard and we were both excited and nervous about the challenge.

I took Friday off work to travel up to Newcastle. I was booked on the 1pm train from Kings Cross and was pleased when I arrived at the station and the trains were running on time as last year I had a nightmare of a journey travelling up to the start.

When I arrived in Newcastle it was raining quite hard so I waited for a taxi and soon met another cyclist who was booked into the same hotel (Holiday Inn Jesmond) so we decided to share a taxi. At check in there were lots of other cyclists also arriving ahead of the event so plenty of people to talk to and a number of us arranged to go for dinner that evening in a local Italian restaurant. That evening a few of us met in the lobby and headed down to meet the others in Pani’s cafe. A number of cyclists had had problems with traffic driving to Newcastle so we arrived in stages but it was so nice to meet some of the other cyclists, have a chat about the ride and loosely prepare a strategy for surviving the 315mile challenge…

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Morning arrived on Saturday, I had breakfast with Katherine, and we headed to the start to register and met Laura and Lisa there.

The first plan to fail was my clothing strategy… As it hadn’t been cold in the few days preceding the ride I had opted for a short sleeved jersey and normal bib shorts, standing at the start we realised it was substantially cooler than we had thought it would be so there was a last minute change to add a long sleeved baselayer under my jersey. Race briefing took place then we were off… Well, attempting to be anyway.

The forecast for the ride was horrendous, 40mph headwinds and heavy rain storms, but the forecast is so often wrong and so much weather reporting appears to turn into unnecessary scaremongering so I had tried to not pay too much attention to the ever changing forecast.

Then the predictions came true in epic style, no sooner had we started than the wind arrived, and it appeared intent on ensuring we did not leave Newcastle, it was strong and it meant we were battling a lot harder to try to move forward against it. Then came the rain, sharp heavy rain that soaked us instantly, made the roads slippery and brakes on the bike less effective. August in the UK, 15 degrees, 40mph wind and pouring rain… Of course, British Summertime at its most hospitable!

We plodded on… Plodding being the operative word, I often refer to myself as a turtle in sporting activities, I feel slow and steady, this weekend just slow… I was far from steady as the wind was blowing me about like a bin bag caught on a thorn, it was relentless and the first stage of the ride was not flat so hills combined with wind and rain was more than a bit tough. As the conditions were so difficult it became hard to stick as a group as everyone was having their own challenges eventually we arrived at the first rest stop all within minutes of each other but all drained from the first stage and struggling more than we would have anticipated, 45miles had taken just over 3hrs so we were a little slower than plan but resolved to stick closer together through the next stage and try to shield each other from the wind as much as possible.

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We set out on stage 2 as a group with each rider doing a 10min stint on the front then changing places so it meant you only had to peddle at maximum effort for 10mins of every 40, this have everybody some respite and worked well, however as the wind picked up we were reducing the time on the front of the pack as 10minutes was proving tough, but we were all together and the terrain was easier than stage 1 even though the weather was determined to add to the challenge.

Then we had a disaster, at 75miles the wind managed to blow Lisa off her bike. I will let her tell you the story, but it was an unpleasant experience and left us all feeling quite emotionally shaken. Once Lisa was safely under the care of medics we continued, now about 1hr 40mins behind our planned schedule. We managed to continue to work as a group heading towards York and met Alex another cyclist I knew from previous events so he joined us.

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By York I was mentally and physically exhausted, the last 95miles had taken everything I had. But we stopped at York, had some hot food, I cried, I had had enough, but pulled myself together and Brett swapped my wheels for Lisa’s as mine were too deep and a definite hindrance in the ridiculous wind. The next stage was flatter and shorter at 40miles so it should have been an easier ride although it was now dark and I had cycled this stage in the daylight the year before so was very aware of how far behind schedule we were. This stage was tough for me, I didn’t want to be on my bike, my legs were slowly going through the motions but my brain didn’t want to help me out, I didn’t want to ride anymore, I had lost all enthusiasm and did not want to be there. I got slower and slower and more and more grumpy and by the time I eventually arrived in Scunthorpe 135 miles into the ride I was having a real argument with myself, my mind had given up.

My boyfriend Adam and our friend Steve had driven up to Scunthorpe to support us and Adam had bought my other bike with him so I could swap onto a smaller frame with different wheels in the hope that this would give me some respite against the conditions. In the rest stop I went to see a physio as my neck and shoulders were in an awful lot of pain from the way I had been bracing myself against the wind, so she tried to massage out the knots that had formed and recommended I visit a physio at every stop along the route to keep the pain minimal. Alex wasn’t feeling well at this stage so we decided that we would recover for a few moments and do the next stage just the 2 of us therefore the Kat and Laura went on ahead and my friend Steve rode with Alex and I from Scunthorpe.

Back on my bike it was dark, and windy and hilly and by this point all enthusiasm had left me. Adam drove with us as closely as the roads would permit, offering encouragement and carrying all our saddle bags etc so we had less weight on our bikes, but even so I couldn’t find it in me to continue, I didn’t want to do it, I had no motivation to continue, this wasn’t how I had planned it to be. About 20 miles into this stage I was done, I knew we were miles behind schedule and at this speed I couldn’t face another 20hours of torture when I had already been trying my hardest for 10hrs and felt like I was getting no where. Alex had brightened up by now so I told him I would travel in the car with Adam for the rest of this stage whilst he rode with Steve and I and meet him at the next stop to continue the rest of the ride. Unfortunately this was not to be as when Alex arrived at Sleaford he was exhausted, he had an accident involving a kerb as he arrived in the rest stop and it was clear and the ride was over for him as well. My Ride24hr 2016 challenge well and truly ended here. It had been my idea for us to do this ride, I thought it would be a fun challenge to do together, I had done it before and really enjoyed it, now the girls were going through a torturous challenge and I wasn’t even going to do it with them.

So from here on in I travelled in the car with Adam, useless as a cyclist, attempting to do a better job as a supporter. We drove 5 miles at a time, stopping to cheer on the girls as they came past, then going ahead again, making sure we had everything they needed, food, water etc. changes of clothes etc and trying to be as encouraging as possible. The next stop was Peterborough with only 95miles left to cycle, riders here looked decidedly jaded with the effect the ride was having on them clear to see. Here the organisers told us that any cyclists that had not left this stop by 8.30am would not be allowed to proceed. We chose not to tell the girls this, we sat with them and encouraged them to eat and rest and once they felt ready they were on their way. The next stage was a long one so we bought croissants and stopped approximately 30miles into the stage so they could have a breakfast break. We also stopped frequently to help other cyclists, offering food, water, gels, coffee, jelly babies and anything else they might need, even pumping up a tyre for a cyclist who had a puncture.

The final stop was Buntingford and after a gruelling stage the effort all the riders had been through was showing but there were only 40miles left to cycle. The organisers told us that they would be closing the finish line in London at 4pm, but once again we chose not to mention this to Laura and Kat and just tried to help them get ready to leave as soon as they were able.

From here we drove into London, cheering on cyclists that we passed on route, trying to be upbeat and encouraging. We arrived at the finish line approximately 3.40pm. There was a steady flow of cyclists still finishing just over 29hrs later and we cheered as loudly as we could whilst Brett tried to capture some finish line photographs. 3.50pm, the girls weren’t here yet, we were getting incredibly anxious. By about 4.10pm Lisa and I were in floods of tears waiting for them to be finished, anxious for them and devastated that our own challenge had not ended the way we would have hoped, but we did not want to be crying when they arrived. We pulled ourselves together and at approximately 4.25pm they had made it!!! There was a lot of emotion on that finish line including plenty of hugs and a lot of tears. Almost 30hrs after our adventure had stated it was finally over and Laura and Kat had completed this incredible challenge.

Girls – well done! I could not be prouder of you, your determination was incredible. I am so so sorry I was not with you at your sides as I should have been whilst you went through this challenge.

I am devastated and ridiculously disappointed with myself, this morning I was in floods of tears on my way home from the horses. I am struggling to come to terms with my challenge ending in the manner it did. I set out to cycle from Newcastle to London, I failed.

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They say you can achieve as long as your mind believes. On this occasion my mind did not believe. If I am looking for excuses I probably have some, too many events in the weeks preceding this challenge including the 24hr relay run, being ill after the London Tri, but I will try not to dwell on this as it wont change anything. It wont take me back and put me on the road in Lincolnshire to finish my challenge, it wont allow me to go back in time and amend my decisions, so as I sit here on the train to work crying my eyes out (luckily London commuters don’t pay any attention to others) I am gutted and I have cried out one of my contact lenses so I will be half blind for the rest of the day.

Now to try and pick myself up, learn my lessons and train for the next challenge. If anyone is travelling from Newcastle to Sleaford in the not to distant future and finds my mojo along the way can you please send it to me? I need it back.

 

Marathon Training at the Spitfire Scramble

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So one of our many events this year is the Chicago Marathon, this is one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors of which we are both aiming to complete all 6.

Marathon training is hard, it takes up a lot of time, running is pretty tough on your body and for me very taxing on the mind, its always my head that gives up before my body, I end up telling myself ‘you can’t run any more, you don’t want to run, you would be quicker walking’ and its a battle to make myself carry on, this doesn’t just happen on marathon type distances, I quite regularly get a few km into a 5 or 10km run and feel like I don’t want to or can’t run the full distance. I also can not do as much running training as I would like. I had a pretty major hip operation at the end of November 2015 and am still having physiotherapy treatment on my hip so the impact of running is not ideal for me, therefore between events I try to keep my running to a minimum and keep the distances short and the intensity light.

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It was then quite a shock to both my body and my mind when I joined a team this weekend to participate in a 24hr relay run called the Spitfire Scramble, they even had an actual Spitfire plane do a flyover of the event! I was part of a team of 8 fabulous ladies and we ran 6 mile laps on rotation with the aim being for the team to complete as many laps as possible in the 24hr period. There had to be a runner on the course at all times and this meant that we ran day and night!

Over the weekend I ran 4 laps – 24 miles. The course was in Hornchurch Country Park, very close to my house which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing as I could pop home to shower between laps and pick up anything we had discovered we were missing, and a curse as I knew the trails… This means I knew there were hills (I’m not good at hills), I knew the terrain would be varied (I am much better running on the road). The varied ground meant the run was more taxing for me as I was incredibly conscious of the uneven footing and having to concentrate hard on every step to ensure I didn’t fall over! Especially in the dark stages (Very dark – see below pic) when we ran through woods, over bridges, over stiles! When you are running a stile becomes a full on obstacle… I found myself pausing in front of them hauling myself over and struggling to regain my striding on the other side! Apparently some awesome runners were just leaping them like they were hurdles… I am not bouncy, had I attempted this I would have probably ended up rolling around in a ditch feeling sorry for myself and hoping somebody found me.

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Another challenge of a 24hr trail race is the sleep deprivation! We had set up a pretty cosy campsite on the start field but despite this I did not really sleep in the night, I spent a couple of hours sat down wrapped in my Dryrobe (for anyone who doesn’t have one they are amazing and snuggly and waterproof and awesome) trying to keep warm and not get eaten alive by the millions of midges and mosquitos but no actual sleep. I also cycled a lap in the dark with my friend Lisa (read her blog about the event here) as she ran to give her some company and some extra light from the bike as the trails were pitch black. So all in all time for sleep was scarce! I did however pop home at around 7am after I had run a lap at dawn and made the mistake of having a nap for about 90mins, this meant I woke up stiff, achy, and feeling hungover! I wasn’t hungover as I hadn’t drunk, but that feeling of being dehydrated, disorientated and a bit out of sorts was not pleasant. Back to the park and as a team we were balancing somewhere between 3rd and 4th place, an amazing achievement. We agreed as it was close we would do our best to aim for 3rd and I agreed to run another lap. I wasn’t sure my legs had another 6 miles in them after stiffening up so much in the few hours since my dawn lap, but I made an effort to stretch out, walk round and try to bring them back to life whilst our super speedy team mate Danielle ran her 4th lap. She had expected to be a bit steadier on her last lap, so it was a shock less than 40mins later to look up from where I was stretching and realise she was already approaching the finish, I had to sprint to the start line to be there for the handover!

I survived lap 4, it was not my finest lap but I made it, having run 24miles in 24hours I am hoping I am well on the way to being prepared for the Chicago Marathon (8 weeks to go). My legs are still not thanking me for this intense training though, the trouble with running then taking a break and running again is there is time for the muscles to stiffen up and lactic acid to build up. I did say to the girls that I think I would rather have run the 4 laps back to back than run and stopped and run and stopped, however the experience was incredible and I have decided that next year I will try to train by running multiple laps over a weekend to prepare my body for the event. Yes… We are going back again… Despite the pain, the dark, the stiles, the mosquitos, we had an amazing time and are already planning our strategy for next year… Team Scrambled Legs will be back to defend their 3rd place trophy… Yep – I hadn’t mentioned that, our efforts paid off and we were 3rd in the female teams of 6-8 runners! It was all so worth it when we got our trophies! Roll on Spitfire Scramble 2017!

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The Mighty Marathon 

I signed up to the VLM with a charity place in October after raising £6,000 for the same charity climbing Kilimanjaro. Up until this point I had run 1-2 miles at a time as part of a general health and fitness program. I have never been able to run and always thought it looked wonderful for those that effortlessly run along the beach seemingly enjoying this activity. So, I started a frantic Google of training plans and signed up to the various running Apps onmy phone. I certainly had sufficient time to get training but all plans recommended not even attempting a marathon unless you were putting in >30 miles per week!

Anyway, ever the optimist I visited a running store to have my gait analysed and spent a small fortune on various running attire, GPS watch etc and off I went. I made the rookie error of doing too much too soon, the first run was 6miles and then I couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards! I soon got into a regular routine aiming to run 4-5 times per week (and only ever managing 2-3). I joined a running club which was really great and the members were all incredibly supportive. That said, it’s brutal getting up super early through the winter and braving the elements to get your runs in before work. A good friend of mine was also running the VLM and it was great sharing training tips and keeping each other updated on progress. I certainly think having a training buddy or even posting on Strava can help considerably!

I even entered my first ever race, a 10K at the London Olympic Park that my friend Matt kindly agreed to run with me as Helen unfortunately couldn’t run post hip surgery. I was so happy getting my first ever running medal!

So things were going ok, I was really slow but getting up to about 8mi when disaster struck and I got a tendon injury and sciatica over xmas. I was seeing a Physio and was told not to run at all. This was horrendous news and really frustrating. Over Christmas I found a training facility with a hypoxic chamber which simulates altitude and went to visit the trainer there. We ended up working together doing lots of strength and conditioning work, almost a deconstructed approach to running, strengthening those muscles without the impact. This also served as great preparation for Kilimanjaro which we were due to climb in March. I owe a huge amount to Dave and Barry at Sportesse-PT and Emma the fantastic Physio who without which neither challenge would have been possible.

So February came around and I had already entered a half marathon in Blackpool (the Great North West Half Marathon) so despite having done very little running and nothing near that distance I went along with my fantastic friend Charlie as support team. It was incredibly windy, so much so you could hardly walk, let alone run. I was surprised how running in a crowd made it feel easier despite battling the wind. Half way around and several gels and jelly babies later I made it. Legs were in agony and stiffening as soon as I stopped running but I felt euphoric having completed my first ever half! Certainly couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards evidencing my lack of running training but I didn’t care.

Shortly afterwards we were flying to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. What I hadn’t realised was the effect altitude can have on your joints, causing incredible pain. We knew lots of athletes trained at altitude so expected to come home running a 6min/mi but that wasn’t the case! Our bodies were incredibly fatigued post Kili and that meant a further delay to training!In a panicked state two weeks before the Marathon I attempted my longest run to date, 18 miles. I knew this would be the last opportunity before tapering and my favourite part of endurance running (carb loading) would begin! Typically I was incredibly ill that weekend with flu and chest infection so could hardly breath being stationary yet felt weirdly determined to get this long run under my belt. Thanks to my fab friend Charlie accompanying me en route (on a bike) providing snacks, hydration and story telling I made it. Feet covered in blisters and exhausted but I did it. That was a bitter sweet experience as the thought of running an additional eight miles in a fortnight felt impossible.

Fast forward to marathon day and my friend Nick and I had visited the expo to collect our numbers and pick up last minute compression socks and gels. We had a big pasta meal and tried to have an early night. Of course, hardly slept due to a mix of excitement, fear and anxiety. The following morning we nervously made our way to Greenwich, the atmosphere was electric and it felt surreal to be taking part in this world famous event. I had raised an additional £3,000 for my charity and felt so happy about the good that money would do. So the race begins and I soon realise that my rather unrealistic predicted time had put me in a wave with much faster runners. I kept telling myself just run your own race, take your time but I got carried away using the downhill sections in particular to increase pace. The crowd were sensational and really made such a difference but I struggled to see some friends I knew were waiting at markers to cheer me on, frantically scanning the crowds for familiar faces. You can’t underestimate how wonderful it is seeing your friends in the crowd, it makes all the difference!

The half way point over Tower Bridge did not feel as euphoric as I had imagined. I was tired and knew I just wasn’t having a good run that day. So much of running is mental and I’ve always struggled with my running demons. I certainly feel that the body is capable of so much more than sometimes your mind allows. I even visited a hypnotist before the marathon because this worried me so much. At mile 18 I saw a few of my great friends, Helen included and that was lovely, especially as that was the furthest distance I had ever run. The last few miles were torture, my legs felt like concrete had been injected into them, I felt sick from too many gels and not enough proper food and had torn a muscle in my thigh which made me limp badly. Embankment arrived and I knew it was almost over, the relief I felt crossing the finish line was intense!

My friend Nick had finished an hour before me and had already started seizing up so we hobbled back to the hotel before heading out for celebratory steak and champagne. I vowed I would never run again and here we are with only a few weeks to go before Chicago. History is repeating itself as I’m not getting the miles in at all. Time to up my game for sure!!

London Triathlon 


I did it! I completed the London Triathlon! Probably not a big deal for most people but for some reason the thought of this event petrified me… I’ve always wanted to do it, I have even entered it the last 2 years running but changed my mind and bottled out at the last minute! Not this year!

This year I have a lot of thank yous to make, firstly to my boyfriend Adam for giving up a day we had earmarked to spend together so I could participate whilst he assumed the role of supporter and photographer, thank you to my good friend Brett for the effort he put in to swimming with me prior to the event hoping to ease my concerns about the day, putting up with my endless questions and worries, then after participating in the morning he still stayed around to watch me start in the afternoon, check I made it out of the swim alive and watch me finish.


Thank you to Laura who also competed in the morning and hung around all day to support me, along with her other half James, my amazing friend Lisa for telling me I’m ugly when I cry whilst I had a mini meltdown pre-swim (and also supporting me) and Janet for driving back from Southampton early to also support me! All in all I had the best, loudest and super dedicated support team and I love them all for being there for me!

So when people first read our blog and aspirations it would be easy to assume that we are already established triathletes, runners, cyclists, mountain climbers etc, this is not the case! We are very much starting this as a journey and learning as we go. For some reason despite knowing I can swim and swim the distance with no problems I was petrified of the swim for this event… Convinced I would surely drown, someone would swim over the top of me, I’d be last out of the water, I’d go the wrong way etc… I trained both at the TriFarm in Essex and in the actual dock that the triathlon would be held in but I was still panicking and in tears before I had even put my wetsuit on… It got easier after that, once I was actually in the water (I got in very slowly- see pic below person on right sliding in nervously).


I started near the back anxious to not be in the washing machine effect at the front, but soon found a rhythm and managed to swim up the group a bit, no where near as panicked as I thought I would be! In reality I even ended up with some space around me!


33mins later and it was all over, all that worry for no reason! Now the real challenge of getting out of my wetsuit!


Off into transition where I took my time, dried my feet properly, put socks on, made sure I had everything I needed then off out onto the bike. I have to admit I had expected to find the bike stage easy as I have been doing a lot of cycling recently, the weather had other ideas… The first half of each loop had a really strong headwind, initially I was finding it a struggle to keep my front wheel on the road and straight as the gusts blew but I accepted the fact it wouldn’t be my quickest ride ever and took advantage of any moments when the wind dropped or changed direction. 1hr 14mins later it was back into transition again, trainers on and off out for the run. I had quite been looking forward to the run as whilst I haven’t done a huge amount of running recently the ones I have done have felt happy and bouncy. Not this one… Started strongly enough, I look like I’m flying coming out of transition here.


But believe me that didn’t last, whilst I kept smiling as I past my support team I was aware that my pace was a lot slower than normal, I walked to drink a cup of water a few times, struggled with running into the headwind as we ran along the docks and generally muddled my way through the run, finishing a respectable hour later.


Still smiling as I ran, it’s all a front, I’m sure I wasn’t enjoying it as much as that!

But I made it! Right up until about 30mins before my start time I was still debating not doing it, turning round and going home… But this year that wasn’t the ending! 1st Olympic distance triathlon well and truly conquered, and I get the feeling it won’t be my last!!!

Training – Helen

With all the events we have planned and a number of others that I have entered solo my training programme is somewhat intense. This weekend, along with some friends I participated in the Prudential Ride London – a 100mile ride that heads out of London, through the Surrey Hills and then back into Central London, it was a fab event, really well organised, closed roads, lovely route and lots of cyclists all joined together to enjoy the sport they love, although I didn’t love getting up at 3.30am to get to the start… That made me quite miserable! In the week prior to this event I had already cycled 150miles, so this event and the ride home brought my total cycling miles for the week to 268!!

The rest of my training was a little more varied, I ran once (yes I know I need to do better than that but there is so little time!), went to the gym for a couple of classes and did 3 swimming sessions (twice open water and once in a pool), my boyfriend trudged round the lake on one of these sessions and took numerous pictures of me. This is how I felt about training on Saturday morning!

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I was not impressed to say the least, but I felt a bit better once I got in the water and got on with it! Although I am sure I am made of potato, I feel like I am subject to osmosis, being part potato could be true as I eat a lot of it… I always get out of the water feeling like my body has doubled in size and absorbed the water! Yuk!

Saturday afternoon I attended Nuclear Races Summer Party, which was fab, it gave people a chance to play on the obstacles without the pressure of being in a race or having to cover a specific distance! I have to admit I was fairly tame and didn’t do too much, I have been very tired and didn’t want to injure myself ahead of all my events, but I played on the zip line, climbed a few walls, traversed some muddy water and had great fun!

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Then last night, having had a jam packed weekend and ended it feeling exhausted I had KFC – treat to myself for all my hard work training over the last week (that and we were feeling too tired and lazy to cook) and I was then in bed by 8pm… Yep – 8pm. But I had been up since 3.30am and cycled 118miles so that makes it ok I think??

Aiming for a slightly easier week this week to re-energise and prepare for next weeks event – The London Triathlon!! Scary Stuff!!! Eeeeekkkkk!!!