Henley Bridge to Bridge 14k 2015

Time: 4:31:37 [RESULTS]

Medal: Yes

IMG_20150810_192657Over the past few months I’ve had to face reality when it comes to my running – I am lucky if I can manage a 5k before my knee buckles, so with a heavy heart I have finally given up on the dream of running this year’s Berlin marathon.  It will be the last running event I’ll miss, as I sensibly stopped signing up for any more when, a few months in, this injury showed no signs of miraculously disappearing.  Perhaps less sensibly, I continued signing up for events.  If I can run a marathon, why not swim one?

I stumbled upon the Henley Bridge to Bridge swim several months ago, when the distance in time between myself and the event was substantial enough to not worry about the fact that a 14k swim is considered to be equivalent to an ultra in running.  Or that I had never done any open water swimming.  I had FOREVER to train for it.  It would all be fine.  I signed up, and promptly forgot about it.

2015 started with a 6k swim on January 1st.  I was going to dominate this event!

In April, I threw out my back, and swimming was agony.  I rested, and then rested some more.

In July, I realized I had logged basically no swim training worth mentioning for several months, and the Bridge to Bridge was a matter of weeks away.  I got back into the pool, and managed my quickest pool 5k to date: 1:34:43.  My goal when I first re-took up swimming last October was to clock a sub 1:40:00 5k, so I was pretty happy with that!

By the time I was packing for my flight to London, I had tried on my wetsuit once.  In my living room.  In February.  I was prepared.

I flew to London on Saturday morning, and met an old school friend, Lisa, for what turned into a bit of a boozy lunch.  I had on open single ticket to Henley, and we kept deciding I would take ‘the next train’.  I had enough to drink that Lisa said she recognized my ‘drunk smile’.  It was glorious, and I basically need to go back so we can go clubbing at an 80’s club and endure old person hangovers.

11825913_10153584534983383_2106415099134813047_nWith a cloudy mind and a full belly, I boarded the train the Henley, and arrived before 6 to check into my B&B.  Once I had made sure I had left nothing important behind, I wandered back into the centre of Henley for a filling Italian meal to soak up the beer and give me energy for the following morning.  I struggled to finish it, and then waddles back to my B&B, falling asleep pretty quickly.

The main event

I woke up at 5:45 on Sunday morning and had a banana, some lucozade, and a sandwich made by my lovely B&B landlady.  At 6:15 I headed on foot to the Leander Club, and arrived with plenty of time to register, collecting my swim cap and timing chip, and buying one of the event hoodies (even though I didn’t want to jynx my chances by buying one before completing the event, I was afraid they would run out of stock – which they did).  I chatted to a few of the other swimmers on the grass and enjoyed the morning sunshine for a while before heading to the female changing tent to put my wetsuit on.

Source @HenleySwim

Source @HenleySwim

At about 7:45, the green wave (the slowest wave) had their safety briefing.  We split into 3 pods depending on the average speed you planned to maintain.  I joined the quickest of the slow wave, figuring I could always drop down to the slower pod at the 4k stop if I was pushing too hard.  We were told the water temperature was 18.1 degrees Celcius, and that the water quality was the best they had ever recorded.

Source:  awoladventure.com

There’s me in the middle! Source: awoladventure.com

After the introduction to our pod leaders, we were instructed to get into the water.  Despite the water temperature being relatively high, it was still cold enough to take my breath away for a couple of minutes as I adjusted.  I put on my goggles and awkwardly flapped towards our pod’s starting point. After a quick good luck, arms started windmilling, and we were off!

Source: awoladventure.com

Source: awoladventure.com

It was my first time swimming outside of a pool, and visibility in the murky water was about a metre.  It turns out that I can’t swim in a straight line when I can’t see where I’m going.  After being kicked a few times, and running into a few people, I found that my best strategy was to swim on the hip of someone about half a metre away (on my left, because I’m blind in one eye and it’s the side I can see easily).  That way I didn’t have to bother with sighting, and as long as I kept them in sight, I trusted I was going in the right direction.  This was to prove mildly disastrous later on, but we’ll get to that…

IMG_20150810_224041At 4k our pod reached Hambledon Lock.  Our target pace should have seen us reach this point at 1:20, but as I was taking in some banana and water from the feed station one of the guys wearing a watch let me know only 1:08 had passed since the start.  No wonder I was feeling like I was working!  I decided to stick with the same pod for the next section though, as it was only 3k, and after a few minutes rest we were being ushered back into the Thames.

The second leg seemed just as quick as the first, and I tried drafting off people’s feet, using the bubbles as a guide, but kept swimming off in the wrong direction, so went back to swimming at someone’s hip, keeping them in sight.  With very little to see apart from my arms and occasionally bits of leaves/plant life floating by, you were pretty much stuck with your own thoughts.  You didn’t even have the benefit of chatting/music like you do in running, just the muffled splash of your own limbs crashing through the water, and occasionally the hiss of a boat engine in the distance.  I sang a few songs in my head, and figured I should aim to sing 10 songs, all the way through, and I’d be at the halfway point.  I ended up with “Saturday Night” by Whigfield on a loop.  For half an hour.  It wasn’t great.

Source: henleyswim.com

Source: henleyswim.com

Finally, the giant orange buoy signaling the swimmers’ exit at Medmenham appeared in view, and I was glad for the rest and the clean water.  By this point I’d managed to take in a few mouthfuls of the Thames, to my dismay.  The rest was short-lived, however, as we were soon back in the water for the next 3k stretch.

After a few minutes I started to notice fatigue in my shoulders, and had a minor panic that I was only halfway and struggling.  I swam alongside one of my pod members, however my tactic of using them as a guide failed spectacularly when I failed to notice them come to an abrupt halt, and also failed to hear them shout out a warning as I continued on, straight into a tree.  In fairness, it was more of a stump with branches growing out of it, but it was definitely out of place in the middle of a river.  I’d managed to whack my right hip bone quick forcefully off a protruding branch, and the pain of that helped to distract me from the pain in my shoulders for the next ten minutes.  Just when I was really starting to struggle, I saw the orange buoy ahead (I’d started doing a bit more of my own sighting by this point!) and rejoiced.  The current must have picked up a bit in this section, because we had made it to Hurley Lock in very good time.

Thankfully the final two section are only about 2k each, so by this point we felt like we were on the home stretch.  The swim from Hurley Lock to Temple lock was much better, and I felt a lot stronger, swimming at the front of the pod for a change, instead of struggling to keep up.  I was in my comfort zone as we swam alongside moored boats, catching glimpses of family members and friends of swimmers walking along the river in support when I turned to breath.  I was actually sad to have to come out at Temple Lock as I had finally found my rhythm, but a drink and a handful of crisps was very welcome.

With renewed enthusiasm, the pod set off towards Marlow on our final stretch.  We kept a steady pace as a pod, but then more and more people drifted behind, so I just decided to continue on my own for the final kilometre at a comfortable pace with a couple of guys from the pod.  Soon, on the horizon, we could see a crown along the river bank which could only mean that the second bridge was just around the bend.

A view of the finish from where some of the spectators were standing

A view of the finish from where some of the spectators were standing

Finally, I spotted the bridge, and smiled underwater, not even caring that I was exposing my teeth to swan poop, motor oil from boats, and whatever else the Thames had to throw at me.  I was nearly finished!  I probably sped up a bit near and for the first time could hear cheering from the crowds on the bridge.  I swam underneath it, climbed up the ladder on the bank, and crossed the timing mat.  My first open water swim, my first swim in my wetsuit, and I couldn’t have chosen a better event for it!

The aftermath

As soon as I handed back the timing chip, I headed for the hot drink section and grabbed a small hot chocolate (but ended up spilling about half of it over myself).  I chatted with some of my fellow pod members, and then picked up my bag and headed for the showers.  I’m glad I didn’t hang around, as the showers became pretty packed once I had finished.

Swimmers coming into the finish

Swimmers coming into the finish

Clean and in dry clothes, I gathered my stuff and headed across the bridge to collect my medal, grab an ice-cream, and spend 20 minutes spectating in the sunshine.  Once I’d had enough, I ambled towards the shuttle bus to Henley and grabbed a seat next to one of the guys I had been swimming with.  We chatted about running, swimming, and cycling for the journey, and he gave me a lift to the centre of Henley so I could grab a celebratory pint, but I didn’t catch his name.  I stumbled upon Henley’s oldest building, handily also a pub, and settled in for a cold one.

IMG_20150810_192727I used the free wifi to ensure everyone I had not drowned, and felt pretty content after one drink, so I headed back out into the sunshine for a leisurely walk back to the B&B, via a couple of local shops.

As soon as I was back in my room, I hung my wetsuit up to dry and assumed the familiar post-event position, spending the next two hours alternating between napping and finishing my holiday read:

IMG_20150809_151732Eventually my stomach was making threatening sounds, so I managed to haul myself back into Henley for a cheeseburger and a beer at around 6pm.  By about 7pm, I was experiencing some deja vu:

Book: complete.

Book: complete.

I bet you guys are dying to know what I did next.  I’ll give you three guesses…

IMG_20150809_195343Apart from the very vivid realization that my shoulder muscles had done a hard shift every time I lifted the remote, I felt surprisingly alright after my first swim ‘marathon’.  It was a fantastic event, and now that the memory of the 7-10k section is fading, I’m even considering entering it again next year.

I think it has also been adequate training for my 5k open water swim at the end of the month.

Stonehaven Midsummer Beer Happening Inaugural Sportive

Time: 6:33:56 [Results]

Medal: No, but all finishers received free entry to the beer festival, a commemorative glass, one beer token, a t-shirt, and a goody bag.

The sun even came out at the end!

The sun even came out at the end!

About a month ago, an event popped up on Facebook that piqued my interest, but I soon forgot about it because I didn’t want to enter another event that I wouldn’t make.  I have DNS’s every single race I was entered in for in 2015 so far, and apart from the colossal waste of money, it feels like you’re missing out on something even more if you’d actually planned to take part.  I’ve stopped scrolling through pages of event listings late at night because there’s just no point.  I’ve basically become normal.


Last week, somebody posted a link to the entry page, and a group of girls I know from Fleet Feet were talking about entering and riding as a group.  The event?  A 72 mile cycle sportive starting and ending in Stonehaven, taking in the ominous Cairn o’Mount – twice.

midsummer beer happening routeBefore anything had been confirmed, I thought I’d get the ball rolling and signed up.  Having never tackled Cairn o’Mount before, I thought what better way to do so than doing it twice in a row?  Unfortunately, it soon became clear that everyone who had been talking about it was busy, so I bullied coerced Claudia into signing up, as she’s training for Ride the North and I thought it would appeal to her.  Also, she’s one of the few people crazy enough to sign up to a 72 mile sportive on a whim.

Fast forward to Saturday morning, and it was clear from the deadpan greeting, the heavy sighs, and cold, hateful glares that Claudia was ecstatic that I had convinced her this was a good idea.  This and the heavy rain lashing down around us as we secured the bikes to the rack on the back of her car couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  I wasn’t going to DNS today!!

We arrived in Stonehaven just after 9, and registered amongst very professional looking male cyclists in club gear with tan lines that told of tough days out on the bikes.  And then we saw Phil Mann, armed with whiskey miniatures, and knew that all was right in the world again.  He asked us if we’d ridden over Cairn o’Mount many times before, and we both said ‘Never’.  He just laughed at us, because he understands our kind.  This is a man who ran Amsterdam marathon last year, stopping for a pint every 10k or so.  He finished drunk.

Just before 10, we met at the start point.  Phil had some whiskey.  Claudia accepted some whiskey.  I declined the whiskey because I do not share drinking receptacles, and whiskey tastes about as good as nail polish remover smells like it would taste. I was comforted when the marshal confirmed that the sweep vehicle was not of the ‘pull-slow-riders-off-the-course’ variety, but more the ‘we-are-here-if-things-go-badly-wrong’ type.

There was a low-key countdown before our wave set off.  And up.  I think now is a relatively good time to include the elevation profile:

midsummer beer sportive elevationClaudia and I got off to a steady start, but I was already in my lowest gear leaving Stonehaven, which did not bode well.  Curse you, compact chainset!  Cresting the top of the first hill was delightful, as was the subsequent downhill section.  The second hill was fine as well, as I’ve cycled it several times before and knew what to expect.  It’s a steady, but not steep, climb to the stone circle at the top, and then a smooth descent past Knockburn Loch.  After this, however, it was into the unknown.

The roads were undulating for a while here and soon we were upon the Glen Dye AA box, where Claudia and I decided we should have a quick stop to eat something.  I had half a chia charge bar, a swig of my water, and was set to go.  It was about this time some of the faster wave riders had started to overtake us, with sickening ease.  Before long, Claudia and I were paddling in their wake.

Shortly after reaching the snow gates, Claudia told me to go on ahead as she was having issues with her gears.  I told her I would meet her at the top.  And so it began – the long, arduous task of climbing Cairn o’Mount.  There were two or three fairly steep sections requiring some out-of-the-saddle action, but overall, it was just a steady slog uphill, and I reached the summit without having to push my bike.

As it was windy and cold, and I couldn’t see Claudia on the road below anywhere, I decided to press on to the aid station and wait for her there.  The downhill section was a mixture of excitement and butt-clenching terror, reaching a top speed of 42.9mph despite liberal brake application throughout.  At one point, I squeezed on the brakes to no apparent effect, but the slop was vertical at this point, so I’m not really surprised.  Despite my life being in grave danger at this point, all I could think was Holy shit, I’m going to have to cycle back up this thing soon.

Thankfully, I survived to the bottom, only to be met by a very sharp left hand turn, and a very steep (12% I think) short hill to wake the legs up after their brief vacation.  The road continued to undulate as I looked expectantly for the aid station.  After about 10 miles, a white tent came into view.  It was surrounded by lycra-clad men and road bikes lying in the grass.  I texted Claudia to ask how she was getting on and let her know where I was, then gave myself about ten minutes to have the other half of my chia charge bar and half a banana, as well as re-fill one of my water bottles and chuck in an electrolyte tab.  There was a restaurant with facilities to use, but with no sign from Claudia, I opted to just get on with it.  I had one last big stretch, and hopped onto the bike for round 2.

From the base of Cairn o’Mount we took a circular route via Auchenblae, and the section after the refreshment stop was much flatter in the approach to the base of the climb.  It was a gentle way to re-heat the legs in preparation for the task ahead.  And then it was upon me.

From the start you are met with some fairly steep inclines, and my butt was out of the seat from the word go.  I was struggling so much I had to dismount and start walking for the few seconds it took me to realize I wasn’t actually in my lowest gear.  Dumbass.  I saddled up, clipped in, and set off again, at a crushing speed of about 4mph.  This was definitely the steeper side and even the riders in club gear looked like they were cycling through molasses.

The only saving grace was the fact that you could see the parking section near the summit, so you had a visual idea of how much farther you had to go.  There was also someone paragliding, which provided approximately 3 seconds worth of distraction from the heavy legwork.


I’m not even ashamed to admit that just before I reached the Parking area near the top I was in danger of going so slowly I would topple over, so I dismounted again and pushed the final steep section.  Thankfully, I was not alone.  At the top, I decided to take a quick photo since there was no wind, and it was actually kind of warm.


The view!

The view!

I also noticed that Claudia had replied with: On my way to Stonehaven.  I interpreted this as: I have passed the refreshment area and am on the return leg.  I gave an enthusiastic reply, and said I’d see her at the finish.  And then I enjoyed the lovely, lovely downhill section of the not-so-steep side of Cairn o’Mount.  Bliss.

The section up until Knockburn Loch is a bit of a blur, and for a moment I thought I had zoned out and missed a turn-off as I hadn’t seen any riders in ages.  But then I saw a poppy that I had noticed on the outward journey, and knew I was on track.  I stopped for a photo, and a few riders went by, so I felt a bit better.

IMG_20150620_212646The penultimate hill felt tougher than it should have.  By this point I had cycled 50+ miles, and my shoulders were starting to ache (of all things).  The penultimate descent was bittersweet; I was grateful for a bit of a rest, but also fully aware that I had the Slug road left to conquer before I could really relax.

Sure enough, the Slug road was a lot tougher than when I’ve cycled it with relatively fresh legs, and at one point I pulled over to check the map on my phone to see just how much farther I had before I reached the finish (about 7 miles, apparently).  It was at this point I noticed a message from Claudia: I’m at Stonehaven.  This wasn’t a good sign.  I let her know I was about to hit the last downhill section on the Slug road, and that I’d see her soon.

FINALLY, I hit the top, and the view of the sea in the distance meant one thing: it was all downhill from here!  I was in my heaviest gear, desperate to get to Stonehaven and enjoy a cold adult beverage.  The war memorial came into view.  I’m not even lying, I shed a tear, I was so happy.  ‘Welcome to Stonehaven’ flashed by on the left, I was in town, there were houses around me, there was the festival, nearly at the finish!  Two left hand turns to go!  One!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, done!

I stayed on my bike and cycled right to the entrance of the beer tent, floating by people queuing to get in.  I ditched my bike, handed in my number, got my glass, and – perhaps most importantly – my beer token, and headed straight for the bar.

There was a colossal range of beer on offer, and I know zero about craft beer other than I generally don’t like it.  It was busy, and one of the guys at the bar started chatting to me while we were waiting.  He asked how far I had cycled, how long it had taken me, and seemed genuinely impressed.  I told him I had just finished and was keen to spend my free beer token on a well earned, and much anticipated drink.  And then, when one of the bartenders came over to us, that son-of-a-bitch ordered himself a drink.  When a bartender finally got round to me, all I could respond with was, “I don’t care, something refreshing and cold,” when asked what I wanted.  Whatever she picked, it was a fabulous choice.  I think it was something fruity, it was definitely cold, and it was very crisp.

I found Claudia, limping, and found out that during a gear change, her chain came off and she had taken a tumble.  She was covered in bruises, swelling, and disappointment.  She told me how she had made it to the aid station, and then opted to bypass Cairn o’Mount a second time, and take a shorter, flatter route back to Stonehaven, eventually getting picked up by one of the marshals and taken to the finish with a couple of others.  She did say that there were a few people who opted to skip Cairn o’Mount for a second time by taking the more direct route back.  Having passed the sign saying ‘Stonehaven – 12′, I’ll admit I understand the temptation!

It’s now the morning after, and, to my surprise, my legs feel fine.  My shoulders and triceps are a bit stiff, and I’m working on some bitchin’ tan lines, but other than that, it looks like, despite no endurance running for months, I can still hack 6+ hours on the go without paying for it the next day, which is encouraging.

IMG_20150620_225753I might just casually peruse some event listings tonight…

Still no running, but dressing fabulously.

I can’t believe how much time has gone by since I last updated here.  I guess it feels kind of pointless to try and update a running blog regularly when you’re not running.  I’ve just accepted that whatever is wrong with my knee just needs time to heal, and there’s no point dwelling on all of the races I was desperate to run signed up for.  However, this is much easier said than done when places like Facebook are inundated with photos of friends proudly sharing their summer race photos.  I feel happy for them, but also kind of want them to break both legs.

Me. Basically every weekend.

The antidote to my venomous, jealousy-fueled rage continues to be keeping busy and throwing myself into new things.  I tried to style my hair differently for a week with varying degrees of success.  I considered getting another tattoo.  I thought about walking into a piercing studio and shouting out, “IMPALE ME!” just to see what I ended up with.  I bought red hair dye.  I looked at prices for flights to Thailand.  Basically, I’m going through a (very early) mid-life crisis.

In an attempt to hold off revisiting the rainbow hair and facial piercings of my teenage years I have continued on my fitness instructor journey and recently passed my Exercise to Music course.  I am now totally qualified to teach aerobics classes to music, and circuit classes using limited equipment.  The ETM course is also a pre-requisite for undertaking training for a variety of other classes (including all Les Mills classes) which is great, because despite what my face (and outfit) might indicate in this photo (taken today, during my assessment), aerobics is not really my thing:

11430280_842607895807792_1649805549_n(1)In order to maintain authenticity during my routine, I had created a fabulous workout mix featuring Eurythmics, Duran Duran, Vanilla Ice, and this precious gem of a human being:

Despite today’s success and celebration, it has also been a sobering day.  17 years ago, an old friend, Jennifer, fell to her death from the roof of her boarding school.  She was celebrating her 14th birthday.  If she were alive today, she would be celebrating her 31st birthday.  Every year I see her brother and some old friends share a photo or a little comment to remember her, and every year it reminds me to be grateful for what I have, and to value the friendships I have with others.

Despite becoming a bit of a hermit with my running friends, I’m trying to be a bit more social, and positive, because even though I’d rather be running with them, avoiding them isn’t going to make me any happier.



Numbers can be great motivators for runners. Tallying up weekly, monthly, and annual mileage is a great way to encourage people out of the front door. Looking at your average pace drop over the course of a training cycle helps push you through the hard workouts, knowing the effort will be worthwhile. But numbers can also be a burden. How many of you have gone for a run, only to end up back at your front door having covered something like 9.63 miles? And how many of you have then decided to jog around the block a couple of times, or up and down your street until your Garmin beeped for mile 10, even if it means passing the same person doing their gardening 12 times? We’ve all been there.

If I told you that I got to 6.12 miles on the treadmill 2 weeks ago and had to stop, that should give you an idea of just how quickly my knee pain can come on, and just how impossible it is to run through. And maybe also just how frustrated I am.

Not even THIS would help.

Not even THIS would help.

If I’m being honest with myself, I should have stopped at 5.5 miles. That’s when the creeping pain started to tighten its claws on my outer knee, and when I would have faced minor repercussions had I not been desperate to hit 10k. But I didn’t, and I was in a significant amount of pain for about a week afterward.  So what am I doing wrong?

1.) Pushing too hard, too soon.

Mentally, I’m used to running casual 20 mile runs. I am still somehow of the opinion that any run in single figures is like a side dish; a nice snack, but only satisfying when accompanied by something else (spin class, weights, hiking). I need to get out of that mind-set, and remember that I have spent 7 months doing practically no running. Although I did well to build up slowly from February to April, I should have stuck to a set distance for 2 or 3 weeks before impatiently trying to ramp it up. I should have also kept up with 1 or 2 shorter runs throughout the week, instead of viewing my ‘long run’ as the only one worthy of completing. My idea of ‘building up slowly’ is apparently not my knee’s idea of ‘building up slowly’. But hey, communication is frosty between us at the moment. We’re working on it.

2.) Doing my physio exercises less frequently once I could smell progress.

Which is probably exactly when my body was most in need of said physio exercises. I need to stop seeing these things as merely ‘curative’, but appreciate the importance of them being ‘preventative’. I have made a pact to myself to keep up my physio routine at least 3 times a week for the foreseeable future, and at least twice a week once (and if) I get back to running properly.

3.) Putting so much pressure on myself to GET BACK TO RUNNING NOW!

When you’re someone who plans vacations around running events, it is impossible to forward plan when you don’t know if there’s any point in even paying for flights to an event you might not be able to complete, let alone attempt. I’m not a ‘let’s sit on the beach all day’ kind of girl. And while I appreciate a bit of culture and history, I would be thrilled if all of my holidays could revolve around physical activity. The grim reality is, I might not have any running vacations this year. Or next. So how do I find a way of enjoying my down-time without wallowing in self-pity? The same way I dealt with quitting smoking. By replacing it with something else.

So what have I been filling my time with? Well, mainly trying to develop other areas of my life that long runs and races have forced me to sideline in the past. I’ve been a lot more structured (and varied) with my workouts, and have focused more on tweaking my diet so that it reflects the lack of calorie-busting runs during the weekends, but also works towards nourishing my body more, and aiding muscle recovery since stepping up my weights/kettlebells/spin sessions.

For some reason, cycling doesn’t aggravate my ITB, so there has been a lot of that. So much so, in fact, that I recently qualified as a spin instructor (and taught my first class last Friday!), and by mid-June should also be qualified to teach exercise classes to music.

Freshly qualified! ...And quite sweaty.

Freshly qualified! …And quite sweaty.

Despite the fact that a bit of extra money for covering classes would always be welcome, the main reason the fitness qualifications are starting to snowball is that they will all help me work towards my goal of eventually qualifying as a PE teacher. I’ve even volunteered to help for a couple of hours a week in the department at school, and so far – fingers crossed – the timetable looks like it’ll work out.

So instead of letting numbers make me feel like I am being held back by my injury, how about continuing to let them motivate me.

  • 135 days worth of teaching PE before I can officially register as a teacher in another subject.
  • Back up to squatting 25kg in Body Pump (after starting at 5kg after my injury)
  • 40 REPs (Register of Exercise Professional) points gained by then end of next month (if I pass all of my assessments)
  • Back to being able to hold a plank for 4 minutes
  • 7 weeks until the summer holidays, and (hopefully) a cycle tour of Northern Italy!


When in Texas…

So one of the perks of being a teacher is that I get decent chunks of time off work throughout the year.  Over the Easter break, I went back home to Houston to visit family and friends, and meet my new niece, Eleanor, who was born last November.  Though generally not a ‘baby person’, I have to say my niece is one of the cutest babies I have met to date.  Although she doesn’t talk or draw or do gymnastics or anything tremendously exciting, we invented a new, appropriately Texan game called ‘Bucking Baby’.  I am the current champion, having managed to balance the shoe on her head for over 8 seconds.

10995920_10155337946975234_6998126110431081380_nI also found myself unable to resist tacky impulse purchases for her:

10985451_10155353052130234_7988303610724729197_nBut playing with drooling babies was not the only thing I did in Houston.  In honour of my visit, they moved the annual Art Car Parade to the only full weekend I was around for, and I met up with my friend Zareen and her colourful boyfriend to check out some of the sights.  Below are a few of my favourites.

The Houston Skyline + Houston Skyline:

10390442_10155343517365234_3335181581025812248_nThe Trojan Horse:

11129914_10155343518930234_244399275164916609_nThe Peacock:

11130087_10155343518825234_3747716390157724230_nAnd this thing:

11147089_10155343519095234_4276915191502596658_nObviously, a visit to Texas would not be complete without shooting stuff, so my brother took me and my dad to a gun range, where I humiliated my brother with my skill and accuracy, and even managed not to accidentally shoot myself in the elbow.

10560548_10155327641925234_1263789864740640174_oThere was also a lot of looking back through old photos/high-school yearbooks, and my mom found a box of my stuff in the attic for me to look through.


Me and my friend Jen jumping off a wall.  Somewhere in Indonesia.  Sometime in the 90s.

Me and my friend Jen jumping off a wall. Somewhere in Indonesia. Sometime in the 90s.

One of my favourite finds was some of my old swimming medals/ribbons, including these bad boys:

11074363_10155386500270234_19202535711089105_nI also managed to get a temporary gym membership at my dad’s 24 Hour Fitness where I took advantage of the free classes like Body Pump and CX Worx.  I even tried out Grit Plyo and Grit Cardio for the first time, and can safely say I am a convert.  There was a 25 meter pool as well, but sadly I only managed a single 3km swim as the flight over seemed to have done something to my back that made tumble turns (and a lot of exercises) pretty painful.  This is not where the bad news ends.

The day after I arrived in Houston I was up at about 4:30am.  Thanks, jet-lag.  As I traditionally do during my visits home, I crept downstairs, had some breakfast, and did some reading until the sun started to rise.  I dusted off my Garmin and headed outside for the 3 mile track around Rice University.  My plan was to continue the trend of adding 1 mile/10 minutes to my longest run, which meant 9 miles was my goal.  That would be 3 laps of Rice.

The first mile was a sub 9 minute mile.  Not outstanding by any means, but considering I have been doing all of my recovery runs at a 10:00/mile pace, this was dumb.  But being back home, feeling the warm morning air on my skin, running outside like a normal person – it felt good.  So good that the nagging voice in my head screaming at me to cool the jets was easily ignored.

The first lap went by without incident.  The second lap was a breeze as well.  Lap 3 started well.  In fact, after about 7 miles I was starting to talk myself into going for 10 miles instead of 9.  I had visions of posting sunny selfies to Facebook triumphantly exclaiming that I finally hit my first double digit run since my injury.  I could already feel the warm afterglow of my definitive comeback run, on home soil.  I was killing it!  Until I wasn’t.

8.5 miles arrived and I began to feel that familiar twinge that was the harbinger of disappointment and frustration.  I trudged on to 9 miles, knowing that I was probably only making things worse by continuing, but there’s just that desperate need to hit that target sometimes, and this was one of them.  As soon as my watch beeped, I walked and stretched, before gingerly walking home, deflated.  9 miles at a 9:09/mile pace.  Dumb.

Throughout the next week and a half, I focused on the elliptical, weights, HIIT classes, and core work.  I tried a 10 minute stint on the treadmill to make sure I could manage a mile, and I could.  The morning of my flight home, I thought screw it.  I laced up my trainers, strapped on my Garmin, and set out aiming for 10 miles.  Maybe the last run was a blip.  Maybe if I control my pace a little more, I’ll fare better.  The first 5k felt great, but by 3.5 miles the twinge had returned.  Even stopping twice to stretch/massage, I had to pack it in before 4.5 miles, and trudge home again.

I tried to keep it together on the way back, but….

Since returning to Scotland, I have managed a 4.5 mile run on the treadmill with no consequence, and I plan to try 5.5 this week.  Hopefully I haven’t set myself back to where I was in January, but only time will tell.  My back is also still tweaked, so I haven’t managed any swimming, though I’m planning on hitting up the 90 minute endurance session tomorrow night after spin.

So I guess you could say, especially after a weekend of seeing a lot of my friends achieve their running goals at the London marathon and the Highland Fling, to name but a couple of this weekend’s events, that I am not in a positive place when it comes to running.  I have tried hard over the last 7 months to occupy myself with other activities, but that’s a lot easier to do when you can see yourself making progress.  A lot of people told me to expect setbacks, but I’m just worried that it’ll be another 2 months before I get anywhere near double digits, meaning Berlin is now a fading dream.  Which is clearly distressing.

In an attempt to remain upbeat, I have (finally) booked onto a spin instructor course next weekend.  I have also been trying out more workouts at home that focus on strengthening glutes/hip flexors which will hopefully help with my recovery as well.  I can’t say this move will feature heavily (or at all), but I couldn’t resist posting this spiffing workout gif.

I am also trying to throw myself into activities that will keep me from wallowing in self-pity at home, like going to this year’s school prom with some of the other teachers.  Although it’s pretty depressing that I looked younger at a prom I attended as a teacher than one I attended thirteen years ago as a teenager, if my Benjamin Button thing keeps up I’ll be a smokin’ 80 year old, so watch out Helen Mirren.  I’m kidding, Helen Mirren is an untouchable babe.

(Left) Prom 2002, (Right) Prom 2015

(Left) Prom 2002, (Right) Prom 2015

Injured runners of the world, unite.  And give me ideas of what I could fill my free time with that don’t include drinking alone during the day.

Aspire Channel Swim 2014

Medal:  Yes

Required distance:  22 miles

Actual distance covered:  37.4 miles

IMG_20150321_171444Ok, so this isn’t really a race, and it’s definitely not running, but it’s the first medal I’ve received since September, so cut me some slack.

A few weeks P.I. (post injury), I realized that I was going to have to make some drastic changes to my weekly workouts that were:

a.) not running, therefor possible for me to actually do; and

b.) taxing enough to burn enough calories to stop me from tormenting defenseless buttons once more:

19 year olds should not be twice the size of their moms.

19 year olds should not be twice the size of their moms.

After deciding on swimming, I became that person who gets involved in every possible forum that has to do with swimming.  This is where I stumbled upon a thread on the Fetch website dedicated to the Aspire Channel Swim challenge.  Despite already being two weeks into the 8 week challenge, I signed up, because all finishers’ were promised a medal, and I am weak.

Although not exactly challenging – you just swim a total of 22 miles in any pool, in however many sessions it takes you, at whatever pace suits you – it was still a size-able distance to swim, and I’m not sure I would have made the time to complete it if I still had running.  It did, however, create a spark of enjoyment for swimming because I was working towards something instead of just treading water with my training until I could run again.

Well, despite my complaints about swimming laps being about as interesting as watching someone in a coma attempt to knit a scarf, it turns out it ain’t half bad when you’re with other people.  And there I was thinking swimming couldn’t be a social thing.

Since the Channel Swim I’ve joined the local triathlon club that runs the lessons I’ve been going to twice a week, and I’ve started to notice some improvements in speed.  In December, my average 1000 meters would take around 20 minutes, and my fastest 5k swim was 1:42:00.  Yesterday, I swam 4k after work and was pleasantly surprised to see 1:13:39 come up as my total time.  Even if I took a full 25 minutes to swim another 1000 meters, I would have ended up with a 1:3x:xx time for my 5k.  Clear progress!

I’ve also joined a new ‘Fetch challenge’ to swim the length of the Thames – 210 miles – in 2015.  I’m at just over 65 miles so far, so definitely on track.

As concrete proof that I’ve taken swimming on as a steady mistress, Ian pulled through on his birthday promise, and my very first wetsuit arrived recently.  I’m pretty attached to it already, partly because the brand happens to be my childhood swim team’s name.  It’s totally normal to wear a wetsuit as lounge-wear, right?  Don’t answer that.

IMG_20150321_171727Anyway, the wetsuit will be necessary in a couple of months when the tri club starts outdoor swim training, which in turn will help me prepare for an open water 5k and a river 14k this summer.

Although I doubt my love for swimming will ever eclipse my love for running, I will openly admit that I am warming to it.  And speaking of eclipses, we were lucky enough in Scotland to be treated to a 94% solar eclipse yesterday morning.  I let my class out of the fire escape to soak up the experience, and managed to snap a single photo in between shouting calmly advising everyone not to look directly at the sun, despite no less that 15 reminders before we had even left the classroom…  Although my shot is very atmospheric, and caught the parking lot lights on because it was so dark, it sadly did not capture the natural beauty of this significant event.

IMG_20150321_171934Luckily, everyone took it upon themselves to upload half a million or so photos onto Facebook for my benefit.  I have no idea who took this photo, I just downloaded it because I liked it, and now I can’t find it anywhere to add a source, so if it’s yours, sorry.


Found out who took the photo: Isla Robertson

Maybe it’s about time to mount my medal rack in my new flat.

This is what progress looks like

Anyone that knows me in person, and anyone who happened to be within a 50 foot radius of me at the gym last night, will be aware that I hit a recovery milestone: my first 10k since I was injured. No, it wasn’t fast, and yes, it was on a treadmill, but it happened, and my knee didn’t crap out on me.

The fact that a 10k is no longer a distant hope is, for me, akin to being solicited by Leonardo DiCaprio (dressed as a dapper Jay Gatsby, and having recently decided he no longer gets a thrill out of banging Victoria’s Secret models), and being whisked away to live out the remainder of our days on a tropical island with people serving us cold beer and grilled halloumi every day.  Sorry Ian.

Me, basically.

As much as this thrills me, I am keen to practice some self-restraint (not of the Michael Hutchence – rest in sexy peace – variety).  I know that the only reason I am able to run that kind of distance is because I backed off of running entirely (for much longer than I thought I would have to), and I have been sensibly building back mileage s-l-o-w-l-y.  I’ve swapped over from logging all of my workouts on dailymile to fetcheveryone, and the dork inside me loves being able to analyze all of the graphs and statistics and stuff that is available, even though it is child’s play compared to Dan and his training log that is verging on obsessive.  Making sure I log all of my workouts means that it is clear when I am doing too little (never) or too much (almost always).  For the moment at least, my running is in check:

weekly run mileage up to marchThat 9 mile week last week?  Two runs.  One of them was even outdoors, like a normal person.

I can also peruse my training log, specifying a time frame if I like – so that’s neat.

Here's most of March.  Blue is swimming, red is running, black is cross training.

Here’s most of March. Blue is swimming, red is running, black is cross training.

What perhaps appeals to me the most, however, is the fact that you can compare yourself to everyone else who logs their training on the site by checking out where you stand in the ‘League’.  Obviously, I am opting to show you the swim league since my lack of running has me placed embarrassingly far behind.  And yes, that is 63+ miles I have done of swimming in a pool.

swim league marchHopefully I can now start climbing back up the running league slowly.  A month ago I honestly didn’t think that I would be anywhere near a 10k because I had pretty much lost hope with running, and the boredom of swimming lengths in a pool was getting very, very close to driving me to a state that looks pretty similar to this:

tumblr_n47cmgeUSn1ttw9tho1_500Thankfully that isn’t the case, so I’ll just keep plugging away at training and see how I go.  To everyone I ever eye-rolled when they mentioned online how ITB syndrome was stopping them from running, I apologize.  I am now a believer.

Longest run*

*Well, since September last year.

As per my plan, I had a 40 minute run, 5 minute elliptical break, and then 10 minute run on the schedule for Tuesday.  Excuses are for quitters, blah, blah, blah, but I totally have a legitimate excuse for not executing my Tuesday plan.

Well, Tuesday morning began splendidly at around 3am when I woke up in a cold sweat, heart racing, and that telltale watering mouth that indicates a violent vomiting session is nigh.  Wet-heaving ensued.

After a lengthy spell snuggling against the bathroom radiator for warmth with one arm resting on the toilet, just in case, I made it back to bed shivering.  Now, a normal person would have called in sick and spent the day recovering, but this was not just any old Tuesday.  Months ago, I had impulse bought a ticket to go and see Placebo – one of my favourite bands from my angsty teens – and I had been looking forward to reliving my reckless youth having seen them last play live when I was 16 years old.  I even had my questionable outfit set aside.  I didn’t care how wretched I felt, I was going to that gig.

(Fat) teenage me, in Belgium on a school trip.  I rarely did not wear that sweater.

(Fat) teenage me, in Belgium on a school trip. I rarely did not wear that sweater.

Speaking of my youth, I remember the rarity of school days spent at home sick.  My mother, a terrifying 5 foot woman who weighs about 80lbs., would require you to be on death’s door if you were to miss a day of school.  And if you stayed off school, you stayed off EVERYTHING for that day.  Much to my dismay, this rule has stuck with me into adulthood, and so I showered and dragged myself to school, riding the waves of nausea as they ebbed and flowed throughout the day.

Thankfully, by home time I was starting to feel marginally better, but I decided it would be sensible to bunk off my planned gym routine and head home for a power nap.  That was to be my last sensible decision of the day.

I had arranged to meet a couple of friends, Rhona, fellow runner, and Laura, famous published author, in the pub at 6 for a quick drink before we went to the venue, and I had toyed with the idea of not drinking to limit how rough I would feel the next day.  Well, the ‘quick drink’ turned into 2 pints of lager, and for someone who has a tolerance level of about 4 pints max over the course of an entire evening, this was bad news.

Luckily alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so I kind of didn’t care at this point.

We rocked up to the Music Hall at about 7:45, and headed straight for the bar, which was crawling with balding men and beer bellies.  I guess these are my people now.  The support band was on, and we heard that they’d be finishing up in about 15 minutes, which meant we had plenty of time to continue to make bad beer-related decisions.  Except it transpired that it was just me: Rhona is doing a post-grad degree and had nothing to be up for the next day, and Laura was catching a train to Skye, but did not have to work.  Thanks guys.

Shortly before Placebo came on stage, I wrestled myself in amongst the groundlings (Laura and Rhona had seated tickets), and made friends with a very outgoing Irish couple who told me they knew the set list already.  I was horrified to realize that many of their classics were not on this list, and even more horrified to learn that they had released an album in 2013, the songs of which would feature heavily.  The male half of the couple, who was obviously the bigger fan, bought me a Jack and coke to drown my disappointment, and it must have been effective as I thoroughly enjoyed throwing my hands in the air like I just didn’t care to everything they played (but mostly the songs I knew the lyrics to).

After the gig, and with limited hearing, Laura, Rhona, and I regrouped and started heading in the wrong direction, to a harbour-side pub whilst I remained in denial about having to work the following day.  We grabbed some breakfast later on in a kebab shop, and I went home to hug my mattress lovingly, though not before taking a bathroom selfie for no logical reason:

11024593_10155192090010234_4823654188428813525_nA few hours later I was showered and heading into work.  It was a long day.  For contrast, here is a bathroom selfie taken AFTER work, and before I went to spin class, and yes, I know I need to clean my bathroom mirror:

10413340_10155192122390234_7252588975435219224_nFor a band that basically took pride of place on my teenage bedroom wall, the pain was worth it, but I did not last very long after I got home from the gym that night before going to dreamland.

[Insert seamless segue back into running related news here]

Two days late, and without planning to, however, I completed my longest run since I was injured and nearly DNF’ed Crathes half marathon.  45 continuous minutes on the treadmill at 10 minute miles.  Although I would normally consider that to be barely the minimum distance to lace my trainers up for, or perhaps a quick distance to ‘squeeze in’ before some other plans, I was absolutely beaming after 40 minutes.  Add into the happiness mix the fact that I got bumped into the second fastest lane at swimming and managed to keep up, I’m counting Thursday as a massive success.

The knee has been a bit tender for the last couple of days, but to be honest, it was tender before the run.  I think my new aggressive cycling routine (which has seen the return of my Chris Hoy thighs) is aggravating one of the tendons behind my knee, so I’m trying to massage it/foam roll the muscles around it/stretch, and I may even take a second rest day for the week to allow me to try another 45 minutes on Monday.  A few more weeks of steady progress like this and I might even start browsing for hotels in Berlin!

Thanks, RG.

Thanks, RG.

A step in the right direction.

My birthday was the day before Valentine’s Day, and, embarrassingly, Ian sent me flowers at work. My colleagues bought me a chocolate rose and a fabulous feathery pen, and I also got some fancy cosmetics, so on top of the luxury box of chocolates I was stuffing into my mouth during the school day (that I bought for myself), it looked like I had a seriously dedicated admirer.

IMG_20150228_220615Tellingly, I got a lot of swimming related stuff for my birthday. From Ian, I got a wetsuit token, and I’ve already picked out the one I want. From my friend Claudia, who I regularly bully into swimming (along with her husband), I got a very colourful, but slightly skimpy, new swimsuit.   From myself (I treat myself often), I got a new swim cap. So yeah, swimming is going well, and I keep getting booted into the faster lane at triathlon club, which is a definite boost for my ego. I might even be starting to actually enjoy swimming, and even though that’s shameful for a runner, I don’t care.

IMG_20150213_193549You might think that all the swim love means bad news for my running recovery. Well, not entirely. I’ve been busy with a lot of stretching and specific exercises to strengthen the glutes/hamstrings for the past couple of months, as well as continuing with acupuncture treatments.  In the last post I mentioned that my physio wanted to do some acupuncture with an electrical current running through the needles.  Well, I managed to get through a few sessions with sweatier palms than a priest in a primary school, and while I don’t buy into the kind of hippy vibe of that kind of treatment, I’m willing to believe that aggravating the area can promote healing.  Also, I’m desperate.

Not shown: 4 inch needles in my butt cheek.

Not shown: 4 inch needles in my butt cheek.

I’ve also been doing one short run per week. My ‘recovery’ has involved only a treadmill, and has looked a little bit like this:

  • Week 1: Warm up, 10 min run, 5 min on the elliptical machine, 5 min run.
  • Week 2: WU, 20 min run, 5 min elliptical, 10 min run.
  • Week 3: WU, 30 min run, 5 min elliptical, 10 min run.
  • Week 4 (this week): WU, 40 min run, 10 min elliptical, 10 min run.

Basically, as per the physio’s instructions, I’ve been cutting the run into two sections to give my knee an easier ride. So far, I’ve managed without any real pain, but this week’s run left me with an ache in my knee for about an hour after I got home from the gym. I think I’ll stick with 40/10 for another couple of weeks to see if I can build up to a completely pain free experience. Slow and steady seems to be the sensible but boring, and at times frustrating, way to go. It’s also miles better than setting myself back to where I was a few months ago.

I think it’s probably a bit premature to call this a running comeback, but I’m a lot more positive about the fall season, primarily Berlin marathon. Although I haven’t booked flights or even looked at accommodation yet, I’m starting to consider the fact that I might have to get organized in a month or two if I keep making baby steps in the right direction.

One step at a time.

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta…

Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room, shall we?  I’m still not running.  Yes, I am annoyed about this, but after collecting all the toys I had hurled aggressively out of the pram, I have gained a little perspective.  A little.

No, I can’t run, but I should be able to at some point in the future.  I had an x-ray on my knee which came back as “satisfactory”, which I take is doctor speak for “don’t waste my time.”  I’ll admit to being more than mildly relieved, as during the wait for my x-ray results I had consulted Dr. Google and self-diagnosed myself with arthritis and a brain tumour.  I was told, however, that an x-ray would be unlikely to pick up smaller issues, which is why I have an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon next week.  Hopefully he will refer me for an MRI, which WILL pick up anything that might be wrong.

Meanwhile, I have tried out a new physio (I think this is number 4).  For the first time in my life I agreed to have acupuncture, because at this point I’d throw money at a voodoo witch doctor if there was a chance it would help my knee heal faster.  For someone terrified of needles (last time I had to have blood drawn, I was physically restrained in the chair), it wasn’t too bad.  The needles are tiny, and apart from one trigger point that sent spasms down my leg and made my foot numb for a few minutes, it was pretty painless.  Next time (next Thursday) she wants to do the same thing, but attach electrodes to the needles.

I’ve been given a ton of stretches to focus on, told to apply heat liberally, and keep up with the massage/foam rolling.  Roger that.

I’ve also been keeping up with cross-training, which means aerobics classes, core fitness classes, and spin classes, with a side of weights.  When I do get back to running I’m hoping that at least my cardio fitness will still exist, because every spin class I do, no joke, I would suck a wet fart out of someone’s asshole if it meant I could get oxygen to my legs any quicker.  Nearing puke-point is pretty much a guarantee.

The other thing I’ve been getting a little serious about is swimming.  I even went along to a triathlete swim session last week, and was told I would be bumped into the fast lane the next week.  Well, ‘next week’ was tonight, and after the session I was told to come to the later session next time, which is the ‘fast people’ session.  Excuse me while I strut triumphantly to my locker.

I knew being on a swim team when I was a kid would pay off some day!

I’ve even signed up for a 5k open water swim, and then, because why not, I signed up for the Henley Bridge to Bridge 14k swim in August.  If I can’t run ultras, I’ll swim them.

Still, I miss that runner’s high.