Speedo Dive In session with Cassie Patten 

Having only returned from Chicago this week it was a quiet week exercise wise for me (Helen).

On Sunday I headed to The Greenwich Centre for a Speedo Dive In session.

Speedo UK are offering 10,000 free adult swimming lessons as part of their ‘Dive In’ initiative. These sessions are taking place nationwide, coached by qualified instructors and professional swimmers they help participants to improve their front crawl technique by breaking down the stroke and working on a number of elements: head positioning, kick, and  catch and pull technique.

The closest centre to me was the Greenwich Centre and I had booked a place for 10.30am on Sunday, Adam had also booked onto a session so we headed there together.

We arrived about 20minutes before the session, filled in a quick registration form and headed to the poolside. There were about 35people taking part in the session and after a quick explanation as to the format of the session we were asked to get into a suitable lane: beginner, intermediate or advanced. This caused a few moments of people hovering at the poolside not wanting to categorise themselves incorrectly but Adam and I popped into the advanced lane and soon we were doing a gentle warm up whilst the coaches assessed our swim technique.

The first thing we worked on was the catch technique. After a few lengths of working on general arm entry position We were given some tiny finger paddles, iv never used these before. At this point Olympic Bronze Medalist Cassie Patten came over to instruct our group and offer some advice as to how to use them. She explained that the paddles provide a lot of feedback as to arm entry position and suggested we should imagine we were posting our fingers into a letterbox as we entered the water, this keeps the fingers flat and sets you up for the catch. This is a bit different to the rotated thumb entry technique I was taught when I was younger but makes a lot of sense as then your hand is positioned correctly to pull straight back in the catch. We then worked briefly with some larger hand paddles before moving on to working on the kick.

It’s been a long time since i have swum with a float!! But kick board in hand we did a few lengths working on keeping legs long and relaxed using the full length of your legs to kick rather than splashing from the knee.

Soon it was time to add all the techniques together and swim a few lengths of using on all the different elements. It definitely felt smoother!

I would highly recommend taking part in a Speedo Dive In session regardless of your level of swimming competency. The instructors were all friendly and knowledgable with most being current or ex international swimmers, and of course the chance to chat to an Olympic swimmer was pretty cool too!

Cassie was lovely and hung around after the session to answer questions and take pictures, even letting people hold the bronze medal she won in Beijing!

Due to a shoulder injury Cassie is now retired from international swimming but she offers swimming coaching sessions and her website also has lots of helpful tips. Thanks to Speedo UK and Cassie I now have lots of things to work on in the pool, then I just need to try and transfer those skills to the open water ready for the next triathlon season! Easier said than done I think?


Chicago Marathon

This weekend we embarked on a short adventure to complete one of the Abbott 6 Marathon Majors. It is one of our aims to complete all 6 of these incredible marathons, London, Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Boston and Chicago. We have both been lucky enough to have already completed London, so earlier on in the year we made the decision to travel to Chicago for our 2nd marathon major.

On Friday we both awoke at some awful hour, Jenni had the worst of it needing to be awake before 2am to drive from Southport to London and we both needed to be at Heathrow at about 6am!!! Yuk! But getting up this early to go on holiday is always still a little bit exciting!

We had booked our trip via Sports Tours International and they had arranged flights and hotels. We flew out on a Virgin Atlantic flight and we were lucky enough to be seated in a row of 3 seats with only the 2 of us so it meant the outbound flight was quite pleasant and spacious! Good news as we didn’t wish to arrive in Chicago stiff and cramped.

We landed in Chicago on time and then waited for our group to gather and board the transfer bus, which seemingly had a slow puncture causing us to half the journey halfway towards the city and await a new bus! Not the smoothest start to our trip to say the least! Eventually we arrived at our hotel – The Virgin Hotel Chicago. Checked into our room, had some lunch and travelled to the expo to register for the race.

Numbers collected and expo briefly explored we travelled back to the hotel and had a very early night as we were both truly exhausted after our early morning and a long day of travelling.

The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel along with another lady called Rosie whom we had met the day before she had also arrived with the same tour company. We were all a little nervous and compared stories of previous races and injuries, it’s safe to say at this point none of us were brimming with confidence!

After breakfast Jenni and I headed back to the expo. We have both had the misfortune to be plagued with injury recently and a Kinsologey tape company called KT Tape were at the expo helping strap up runners injuries so in an attempt to help stem the problems our injuries would cause we headed back to be taped.

Taping done we headed out to explore the city, after taking advantage of a few photo opportunities of course!

We were only going to be in Chicago for a few days so made the most of our exploring time on the Saturday, walking through the park district, visited Navy Pier, the Bean statue and Oak Street Beach. A lot of walking later we were questioning if we should have been taking it easier the day before a major marathon, but the weather was amazing and we both really enjoyed our sightseeing day.

That evening we went to an Italian restaurant not far from the hotel, seemingly every other runner visiting the city had had the same plan so the restaurant was a bit chaotic but we were soon fed (we enjoy the carb loading far more than the racing) and headed back for an early night as we would be up at 5am!

Another early morning for us as we were up before the sun, we had breakfast in the hotel coffee bar along with Rosie and many other runners then headed along to the start which luckily for us was only a very short walk from the hotel. As we arrived in the park to start the sun was just beginning to rise.

An obligatory queue for the portaloos, quick stop to check in a bag and we headed to the start pens, soon enough we were walking towards the start line, about to begin the Chicago Marathon! It still didn’t quite seem real!

Then we were off, us and 45,000 other runners, all hoping to complete 26.2miles before the 6hr 30min cut off time that applies to the Chicago Marathon course.

The course took runners through the city, across bridges, past parks, through many neighbourhoods and through some amazing crowds. It is often said that the crowds are great at marathons and at Chicago they truly were, I wish I had stopped to take some photos of the crowds, and their endless enthusiastic cheering and amusing signs. Some of my favourites were ‘I’d run with you but then who would hold this sign’ ‘you’ve obviously got stamina, I’m single, call me?’ ‘This seems like a lot of work for a free banana’ and lots of others that made me smile along the way!

My marathon experience was very much a game of 2 halves. I had a hip operation 10months ago and I haven’t done a huge amount of running this year. Mostly short 5km distances and in the few weeks before the marathon I had done 2 x 14mile runs. I started out quite happily, trying to keep a steady easy pace that hopefully I would be able to hold the majority of the time. I was settled in behind a 4hr 10min pacing group, a little faster than the time I was aiming for as I kind of wanted to be done in 4hrs 30mins but they were running at a nice pace although they often slowed to take water from the many stations along the course which would mean I lost them temporarily, then at 5miles I needed to pee so I stopped to use the toilets that were along the course and lost the group I was with. I felt quite good once I was back on the course, except for an annoying pain in one foot as my big toe and 2nd toe seemed to have decided they weren’t friends but I ignored this and kept troggling along, looking at the sights, smiling at the awesome crowd and generally quite enjoying my run.

The first half passed quickly enough and I rewarded myself with a gel (I needed a brief walk to swallow it) and some water at the halfway mark, telling myself my next gel could be at mile 19 and then the race would be almost done. However I was starting to lose willpower by about mile 16, my hips had become stiff and instead of rolling round nicely I feltlike I was shuffling a bit with not much bounce, from mile 17, i decided I would walk a minute at each mile marker and give myself that minute to stretch out a bit and recover, mile 19 arrived and this strategy was working reasonably well, another gel, only 7 miles to go… By mile 20 I was very stiff, possibly all my own fault through lack of training but it’s a fine balance between training and protecting injuries at the moment… I paused to try and stretch out my hip flexors and glutes only to discover I couldn’t bend my leg across my body to do so, ah well, best get on with the marathon then in my shuffling penguin fashion… By now my walking breaks were a little more frequent than each mile marker, but walking hurt my ankle (I have a quite badly sprained ankle at the moment) and getting back into a running rhythm post walk was tougher each time… The distance between 24-25miles felt like a number of miles squashed together! I passed a lady with a sign offering motivational hugs who gave me a quick hug and made me run again… Lots of signs saying ‘go random stranger, I believe in you’ also made me smile and added some motivation…

Eventually the last mile arrived, now at this point the crowds and volunteers are excited for you, keen to highlight you are nearly there, but this last mile is often the hardest of a race, so near but so far away… 800mtrs to go, I still wasn’t believing I would make it, a flyover at 400mtrs to go gave me an excuse to walk up the incline to the 300mtr sign, then a short shuffle to the finish line and my run was over. I hoped Jenni’s soon would be too.

As we ran separately I (Jenni) will add a brief account of my experience also…

Two weeks ago on my longest training run I tore my calf muscle and then spent the last couple of weeks on crutches with physio appointments every other day unsure as to whether I would be able to run at all. The first six miles went well at a very conservative pace but everything felt good. The aforementioned crowd were amazing and weather beautiful. My favourite sign was “if Trump can run so can you” certainly made me chuckle. Mile 6 and bang it went again, pretty painful but endorphins were present and I adopted a shuffle/walk pace for the remainder of the race calling in every aid station to cover my leg in bio-freeze and taking as many anti inflammatory pills as safe to do so. At such a slow pace I pretty much ate my way through the marathon, taking advantage of the Gatorade stops and the lovely crowd handing out bananas, sweets and beers (managed to resist alcohol until post race though). At one point a lovely guy even piggy backed me for half a kilometre as I must have looked like a geriatric and in need of some assistance. My race was slow and honestly very painful but I had the best experiences with beautiful scenery and an amazing crowd. Finished to a cold beer and my name announced over the tannoy and couldn’t be happier given the circumstances.

After the race we hobbled back to our hotel, stopping in a Nandos on the way for a much needed lunch!! Then back to the hotel for a shower and a few hours well deserved rest.

Then we dragged ourselves up and out that evening to a jazz club called Andys not far from the hotel and we were so glad we did! The music and food were absolutely amazing, and a fantastic end to our day!

On Monday we went on an architectural river cruise and got to see some of the city’s incredible buildings from a fantastic viewpoint on the river. The tour guide was incredible and this trip really rounded off our time in the city amazingly.

All in all we would highly recommend the Chicago marathon. A great city, fantastically organised race, brilliant crowds and one step further on the marathon majors journey! We actually saw someone board the flight to go home with a marathon majors medal! We are really looking forward to the day we complete our 6th major and earn our amazing medal!

As I write this we are on the plane on the way home. We should be asleep as its a night flight but short term travelling plays havoc with sleep patterns! But soon we will be home! Back to training and working towards the next challenges.

Girls get muddy! 

I think one of the most fun ways of getting a weekends exercise in is to take part in an obstacle course race (OCR).

I found OCR in 2013, when I took part in a Tough Mudder with a group of equally crazy friends and family! Mud, water, obstacles, running around all day with friends having fun, what’s not to like? I remember being about 4miles into the 12mile course, turning round to the team I was with and saying ‘I dunno about you guys but I’d do this again’! It felt like being a big child and having tons of fun, carefree, I loved it, I was hooked!

2014, I was back, a bigger crazier group of friends Tough Mudder again, with a spa hotel booked to treat ourselves the nights after and the following day! This was the way to do it! Or was it? There was a super scary massive slide, I don’t look like I’m having fun? Electrocution wires?! A very panicked little sis having got stuck in the electroshock therapy obstacle… But still we loved it! And in 2015 we went back again!!!

My face coming out of Artic Enema! Remind me why we call these things fun? A massive container filled with ice and freezing water… Of course it’s fun right?! Then in 2015 I discovered we weren’t the only people who did this craziness, there is a whole following, lots of people get muddy at the weekends, throw themselves in cold water and climb ginormous obstacles for fun! Who knew?! There are loads of us!!!

So in 2015 I discovered lots of other OCR events, Bear Grylls, Nuclear, Rat Race Survival of the Fittest… There are too many races to be able to try them all but I was doing my best!!

The great thing about OCR is the help and supportiveness that comes from other participants and marshals… Especially in times of great need, pic above, bottom right corner, yep that’s my butt being helpfully hauled unceremoniously up the half pipe by an obliging assistant!!

Talking of supportiveness, in 2015 I became a Mudd Queen! These are an incredible community of ladies who love to run, or Marshall muddy races in their spare time! They are incredibly supportive, understand the need to get muddy, the difficulties in training and overcoming fears and love supporting people to achieve their goals, be it run 5km or complete a marathon, these ladies are awesome! And it gives me an excuse to buy really awesome merchandise to wear at races!! Love shopping!!!

I have more merchandise than that but I don’t wanna bore you guys with all the pictures!

2016 and despite having mountains to climb, marathons to run and triathlons to train for I have done my best to keep up with the obstacle racing! Iv taken part in Zeus Races, I have a Nuclear Races season pass (1 race left to go this season) and have done these races with amazing teams of people! Look how happy and muddy we are!

I have marshalled at Diablo and Nuclear, and I have earned my Spartan Race Trifetca along with 2 amazing ladies and very awesome friends Stacey and Lisa!

Obstacle racing is tough, muddy, physically demanding… It makes you face your fears, do things you never imagined you would ever attempt… Push harder than you knew was possible. But it also brings you a huge sense of achievement, joins you up with a fantastic sporting community, makes you meet new friends, set new boundaries (only to break through them at the next race) and causes the washing machine a lot of hell! But overall it’s fab! I love it, I highly recommend for everyone to try one race, but be warned, they are highly addictive and before you know it you’ll be earning trifetcas, purchasing season passes and considering neoprene layers so you can keep racing through cold muddy water even in the depths of winter…

But in the words of Kung Fu Panda – if you never do more than you can, you will never be more than you are!

Happy muddy racing everyone! We love it!