Liverpool Rock and Roll Half Marathon


This weekend was a rare weekend that Jenni and I actually spent together. After a swim on Saturday morning in a local lake (Tri Farm) I headed up to Liverpool on the train as we were both taking part in the Rock and Roll Half Marathon on Sunday.

For Jenni it was her first running only event of the year and for me it was my first event post ankle operation, I’m not actually back to running properly yet so I had said I would go along and run/walk with a friend who had entered it as her first half marathon as it sounded like a lot of fun. 


Sunday morning arrived and we headed to the Echo Arena and joined a mamouth queue for bag drop, I understand bags need to be searched, but 4 people searching thousands of bags and one extremely long queue does not seem the most effective way of doing this? It was cold outside and windy and all in all not the best way to prepare for the race ahead. 

Once through the bag check in (40mins later) we headed out to find our start corral, these were grouped from 1-20 depending on your expected finish time… We were supposed to be in 20, except that didn’t exist, after about corral 15 there were no barriers, then there were signs up to 19, but no 20, and everyone from 15 onwards was just stood around in a muddled group… 

9am start time came and went… no announcements to explain the delay, just cold confused athletes standing around… eventually the race got going and we crossed the start line at approx 9.40am. The start had no atmosphere, no warm up, no music or mc, no announcements, it was dull and lacked atmosphere. 

Then we were off, past the stadium and onto the streets of Liverpool, the course was gently rolling up and down hills and we were walking the ups and jogging the downs, about 3km we were caught by the back marker but then we made an extra effort to get moving and ensure we remained in front of him as we didn’t want to miss the cut offs and be removed from the course. 

Successfully in front of the back marker and with quite a few competitors behind us it should have been a pleasant experience however at about 4-5miles we found ourselves being chased by 2 small road sweepers, I understand they need to keep the event tidy but we weren’t at the back, they were driving quite dangerously close to us and as they swept up the bottles the caps were bursting off and could easily have caused an injury! They also overtook us, this was not a pleasant experience. 


There were apparently lucozade aid stations on the course, these were all closed by the time we got to them, bottles strewn all over the road were the only sign that they had been there…

There were also some bands and music stations along the course, some of these were fab and fun and encouraging, others weren’t playing, hadn’t set up yet (presume only bothered about the marathon runners?) or were just testing their systems, as far as rock and roll goes that wasn’t the experience I got… 

Hey ho, it is what it is, we were in good spirits and continued on, the route then went through some lovely parks and it truly was very pretty. Then in a section between some parks 2 full sized road sweepers were at work, one had managed to get caught in the barrier tape so it was unclear as to where we should go, they were driving pretty fast, again bottle lids exploding off as they swept up the bottles and this was an unpleasant experience, we were not at the back, we were still on the course, they shouldn’t have been driving around us and they could potentially have injured us. If a race has a cut off point and a back marker then all competitors in front of that should get the same experience, this was certainly not the case.

Still, on we went, back into some more gorgeous park land with lots of gentle down hills, some lovely charity supporters offering bananas and then we were over halfway, spotting other runners in the distance and catching up with them became great motivation. Then with 4 miles to go the course turns alongside the Mersey and runs in a straight line for almost the last 4 miles, by now a number of marathon runners (very fast marathon runners – sub 3hrs) were starting to run through so we cheered and encouraged them as they passed and they were very encouraging in return… 10miles, 11 miles done, we were going to make it and not a back marker in sight! Yay!!!! 


The support of the crowds as we entered the final section was incredible! The finish was loud and exciting and gave us the encouragement to make the final run down to the finish! 13.1miles done, and another medal earned! It was an amazing medal as well! 


All in all I enjoyed the course and I imagine for the masses the experience would have been very different, however for a race that says it caters for runners and walkers and has a walking back marker I firmly believe that more should be done to ensure the runners at the back of the field have a good time, know where they are going, have access to the same aid stations and motivational support as the faster runners. Closing sports drink stations and sweeping the course whilst people are trying to continue their race is poor form! 

Jenni here – Helen and I had very different race experiences on the day. For me the actual race was great with tonnes of support and a fab atmosphere in my home town. Loads of people turned out to cheer us on and hand out jelly babies. I also really enjoyed the music at each mile marker, particularly those with a nod to the Beatles classics such as Penny Lane played on penny lane. Running past some iconic music venues such as the Cavern Club, through the stunning Sefton park and to the Albert Dock was amazing. I had only run 6 miles to date so just wanted to plod and get through the distance as this was going to be my longest run before Staffs so I’m really pleased with a steady time of 2:22. Not fast but it was quite easy and a confidence builder. The highlights were the concert at the end and beer tokens. I’m a big fan of a beer post race! So great race for me but I would agree with Helen, if advertised as catering for those walking the distance it’s a shame the support wasn’t there for those that actually deserve it more than most. 

My first triathlon – Southport Tri (Olympic Distance)  

 In October 2015 I secured a charity place for the VLM and started running. Then exactly a year ago today I bought a bike and started cycling and a couple of months later, in August we signed up to do IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire so the only thing left to do was swim which I started doing in Feb this year. I had booked a Sprint distance Triathlon as my first event in April, however, at the time had (unknowingly) entered a super speedy time for the swim and the thought of being chased and having my feet tickled in the pool was enough to cause a huge confidence crisis resulting in me dropping out! So fast forward to yesterday and my first ever Triathlon, an Olympic distance consisting of a 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10k run.

 

I’ve done hardly any running since Chicago marathon due to injury yet knew mentally I could cover the distance and I’m a fairly strong cyclist so hadn’t been too concerned about that, it was all about the open water swimming. So two weekends ago I went to the Lake District and swam for the first time in Rydal Water, which was beautiful. I noticed that the buoyancy from the wetsuit made me much more streamline and , therefore, more efficient in the water. I then attended the Endurance Store’s Open water swim time trial event to get used to swimming amongst other people as I was terrified of the washing machine effect. 


And finally a last minute swim clinic with Jo Jackson the day before the event for some useful hints and tips. Key learnings which I found very helpful including reaching forwards as if you were stretching over a barrel and having your fingers enter the water with your palm facing towards. Also rotating from the hip and keeping a continuous steady kicking motion and finally positioning the water line at your temple with nose perpendicular to the floor.

 

For me a triathlon is a logistical nightmare requiring a lot of thought into kit, transitions, fuelling, where to put all the stickers and tattoo placement! After a few phone calls I had prepped everything, including gels tapped to the bike, which if you haven’t tried is a fantastic and efficient way of fuelling on the bike. 

Other top tips include taking your wetsuit off when it’s soaked, therefore, easier to remove and having a fizzy drink in transition one to stop the dizziness and take away the taste of the lake! I had a big bowl of pasta in a last ditch attempt to carb load and went to bed early.


5:30 alarm and trying desperately to eat porridge and drink loads of water and electrolytes when your stomach is doing somersaults is most tricky but I donned my tri-suit and drove the short distance to the event. Racked my bike, laid out all equipment and then wrestled to get into my wetsuit, which I have to say I think is the hardest thing about a triathlon. We then gathered for our wave race briefing at which point I was desperate for a wee but couldn’t face trying to get in and out of the wetsuit so put it down to nerves and danced about instead. I got talking to some of the other girls of which for many it was their first Olympic distance and some were even training for Staffordshire which was great to see. We made our way into the water and I positioned myself at the back knowing I would rather have the space than a good time. 


And we were off! At first I really struggled to regulate my breathing as the water was very cold but soon got into a rhythm. I then started getting cramp in my arm and was freaking out that so many people were ahead of me. We had to loop an island twice and after the firs loop I was thinking this was a big ask but just tried to stay calm and keep pushing forwards and 41 mins later I was done. Quick jog to transition, gulp of coke, dry the feet off and I was on the bike, relived to be back in my comfort zone.

 

The bike route was flat but exposed so quite windy at points. I was overtaken by so many people on the most amazing bikes I have ever seen and felt as if I wasn’t moving but was actually doing about 17mph which given the wind I was quite happy with. The bike portion was the opportunity to hydrate and refuel. I’m not great at doing this but made a conscious effort to drink/eat every 9 miles ready for the run. The only thing I found with the cycle was not being as comfortable in a tri suit as I’m used to having lots of padding in bib shorts and there’s next to nothing in the suits so I was shifting my weight around trying to get comfortable.

 

Cycle done, quick change of shoes and I was off on the run. This is where it all went wrong. I have never done any brick training (big mistake)! I felt like a drunken octopus with zero control of my feet and legs. I had numb feet and literally couldn’t get them to do what I wanted them to. I was also running too fast. I even tried to walk at one point and had even less control then. It took 3 miles to feel normal by which point I was hungry and noting the lack of running training. Also, I was being overtaken by all the University teams who were tonnes faster and mentally I felt a bit tired. But I shuffled along and finally made the turn and ran over the finish line to be awarded with a massive medal by Jo Jackson which was very nice. Total time 3:29:11! I had three friends also competing and they got great times so a fab day for all. Awesome experience and really well organised event. 

 

 

Body confidence, a barrier to sport? 

We are currently designing new kit and received some samples from 2XU to try for size. I was perplexed when the large cycle jersey was very snug and yet I was a small tri suit. Standing looking at myself in skin tight lycra I suddenly felt very self-conscious and hyper aware of how alien my curves were vs a typical triathletes slender toned body. I have my first ever triathlon in 2 weeks and rather than the obvious concerns, namely the fact I have never swum in open water or currently due to slow return from injury am only averaging 4 mile runs my main concern is actually about how fat I feel and uncomfortable in my body (in skin tight lycra).


I noticed at the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire last weekend that I hardly saw any women cycling. In fact, looking at the results for the 100km there were only 150 women vs 2350 men! It’s very rare I see many females at any of the cycle sportive I enter. It got me thinking about the barriers to entry for this sport amongst others. Is it the initial outlay of cash, the fear of mechanical failure or body image in a male dominated sport? 


Helen and I recently applied to be ambassadors for Specialized to encourage more women to cycle as it’s a fantastic social sport but unfortunately were unsuccessful, which is a shame as it’s something we are both very passionate about but we wish the chosen ambassadors the best of luck and will do everything we can to support them. It’s good to see the bike manufacturers are recognising a whole demographic that are not currently involved in cycling and making an effort to get engagement. Giant Liv have been particularly good at this but it’s still slow to gain traction.

Swimming is another minefield. Ladies Are under the perception they have to be waxed within an inch of their life and then they have to make the walk into the pool under fluorescent lights highlighting every flaw. This takes some confidence! 

So it got me thinking about my goals and how they conflict. In order to achieve the perfect body from an aesthetic perspective the focus would be on HIIT training and weights and having tried this approach in the past I know it delivers fantastic results. However, when training for an Ironman, the focus is predominantly on the cardio and long distance at that. Of course cross training is important including strength and conditioning exercises, however, given the already huge time commitment one would always prioritise practicing one of the three disciplines over the aforementioned strength training.

Actually, in the gym this is very evident. I know from my own experience I would shy away from the free weight area. I remember being perfectly happy there with my PT and then when following his plan on the days I was alone I would skip bits in favour of the cardio machines where I felt more comfortable. Weights are integral to a fitness program and yet you find mostly women on cardio machines and men doing weights, is this again due to confidence?

So we end up in a chicken and egg situation. With hindsight I would have trained to achieve the body I want and then started training for the endurance events but as it stands I’m out of time with only 6 weeks until the Ironman 70.3 event and with several challenging endurance events before this. It’s daunting feeling underprepared and then having body image concerns. I wonder how many women feel the same and are reluctant to enter these events because they don’t feel comfortable donning a wetsuit and skimpy tri suit surrounded by tonnes of super fit men with single digit body fat %? Is this down to stereotypes and societies expectation for women to always look beautiful and glamorous?

Helen here now – Following on from Jenni’s thoughts above I felt this was a good time to add something that has recently been highlighted in a number of ways – women’s appearance or expected appearance whilst taking part in sport. 

There was a recent article in the Evening Standard with tips for acing the London Marathon! Great right, everyone needs some advice in the lead up to a big event? Except some of this advice was exactly the opposite of helpful and in fact probably added fuel to many women’s fears. The article states “𝕐𝕠𝕦𝕐𝕠you might have a finish line to cross but you do not want to look like a troll doing so. You need sweat proof make up” ummmm really? If I can run a marathon I’m damn proud, regardless of whether I look like a troll… and hang on a minute are we seriously comparing makeup less women to trolls?? 

To be fair I have made this comparison between myself and a troll previously…


But this was in 2015, and I hadn’t just run a marathon, I had just woken up with crazy hair and despite ‘looking like a troll’ I didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed. 

Anyway, I like to think women and sport are moving on from the whole picture perfect perception, surely the Evening Standard article is an exception? After all, campaigns such as This Girl Can are working hard to persuade all women regardless of background, body shape or body confidence to get involved in sport. Their adverts showcase a fantastic array of women demonstrating sport in its raw realistic sweaty form. So this must be having an effect right? 

Apparently not, imagine my dismay when attending an event recently that was supposed to be about encouraging women in sport when one of the workshops was a hair and make up demonstration?? Oh dear… Perhaps these campaigns aren’t working? The session began with a lady saying you might want some tips for make up to use straight after a gym session, fair enough, but went on and suggested that no woman should be without concealer, stating that whilst everyone has dark circles under their eyes using concealer will make you feel better?! Ummmmm nope… I feel just fine without concealer thanks, it doesn’t affect my performance in sport or outside of it… Some days I chose to wear make up, I get up in the morning, have time to apply it and chose to do so, or maybe I’m going out for the evening and want to ‘glam up’ a bit, but I certainly don’t feel like I need to wear it?! The session went on to explain that eyeliner is good for making your eyes look better but it can be hard to apply?! 


At this point I took a selfie of my eyes and sent it to another lady I knew in the workshop, just as the conversation moved on to contouring, then I left… 

I had attended this event under the assumption that as we were supposed to be working towards addressing the barriers that women in sport face there wouldn’t be any of this sort of stereotypical ‘women must look good at all times’ promotion, as surely that’s exactly the sort of thing we are working to evict? Women don’t need to feel like they must look immaculate every minute of every day, people aren’t immaculate, that’s unrealistic. Dark circles under my eyes and non prominent cheekbones are natural, and are the last thing I think about when working out. I wish every woman could feel the same.

I respect people’s decision to wear or not to wear make up, whilst working out or not working out, what I dislike is the perception that if we don’t wear it we won’t ‘feel good’ or we will look like a ‘troll’. 

Girls out there, if you love your sweat proof make up that’s brilliant, we love seeing your inspiring gym pics, but if one day you don’t want to wear it you should feel like that’s ok. Girls working out taking realistic sweaty selfies, you are fab! Well done for being confident enough to do so. Girls scared to work out because of how you look either without make up or in your gym kit, we are here for you, and so are thousands of other women! You can do it!!! Regardless of shape, skin tone, eyeliner, go out there and show yourself how awesome you are, the rest of the world will soon see too!