Trying track cycling – a velodrome taster

I RODE A BIKE WITH NO BRAKES! And I did not fall off, crash, or generally damage myself. And I sort of want to do it again. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about track cycling. I was lucky enough recently to take a trip out of the office down to Herne Hill Velodrome . Considering I lived in Tooting for two years, I am actually now quite ashamed that I never made it down. And I definitely think that if I was still in Tooting, I would go again.

My parents bought me and my sister a track experience at the Lee Valley Velodrome for Christmas. My dad went a few years ago (ironically, we bought him this as a Christmas present also…) and I had popped along to watch and remember thinking it looked fun – and he had a whale of a time. I think my mum was secretly a bit disappointed that I was giving it a go before using the voucher (and my sister is annoyed because she thinks I now have a headstart and will be better than her) but I could hardly say no.

If you’ve been to either of these velodromes – or seen a picture – you’ll know they are a little different. Herne Hill has been around for decades, and is the last remaining venue from the 1948 Olympics (where apparently, their scheduling was’t too great, meaning that the final races had to be lit with car headlights and the photo finish impossible to see!)

It has an inner circumference of 450m, maxing out around 30 degrees in steepness, whereas your typical Olympic standard velodrome is only 250m, with a max gradient of around 45 degrees. Herne Hill has had stars such as Anquetil, Coppi & Tommy Simpson (I was one of the few people fangirling when we were told this) and is an incredible place, having been maintained and saved from destruction, and is now a key part of the London cycling community. There is an incredible history and they are rightly proud of it – the recently rebuilt clubhouse is full of photos from bygone eras, and has local club jerseys adorning the walls. It’s also where Sir Bradley himself first started racing.

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If you know the people I work with, you’ll know we have several cyclists and LOTS of sporty, competitive people. But it seemed that track cycling was giving a few people the heebie jeebies before the session, and I think a lot of that was down to a) knowing there were no brakes and b) the banking. However, skipping to after – I genuinely haven’t found anyone who didn’t enjoy it. The good thing about track cycling is that there was flexibility to do what you wanted. If you wanted to keep going round at the bottom of the track at your own speed, go for it. If you want to pretend you’re in the Olympics, go for it. Just be safe, respect the rules, and listen to what you’re told.

Firstly, the bike. It has one gear, no brakes, and we were in toe cages (ugh…I felt like a child again)

Gloves, helmets, long sleeves are all key (unsuprising really) Lean your bike against the railing, get in, toe-caged rather than clipped (eek) in and hold on for balance! (Track cycling means you have to pay attention or you fall over) To start, you basically just check for traffic, use the rail to propel yourself forwards, start pedalling and off you go. AND DON’T STOP PEDALLING.

You can’t freewheel (don’t try it) and you brake by resisting against the pedals and slowing down your cadence. And then grabbing hold of the railing again, ensuring you are going slow enough to avoid pulling your arm out of its socket. This was a mildly terrifying concept to get right seeing as I had zero idea how long it would actually take me to slow down. But you suss it out pretty quickly.

The team of coaches were great, and basically gave us a selection of different tasks and activities.

  1. Getting used to the bike – cycle round in a circle, don’t fall off, get used to slowing and stopping and holding onto the rail again at a sensible speed so you don’t fling yourself around and dislocate a shoulder. MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER!
  2. Ride the lines – there are several coloured lines around the track. The aim here was simple – ride one on the white, one on the red, one on the “ghost line” (basically a faded line) and then one between the ghost line and the top of the track. It is surprisingly easy to go high up and no, you don’t slide your way back down, you don’t really feel like you’re about to topple over and yes, it is easier and less scary than it might first appear. The more you pedal, the easier it is.
  3. Make a shape – ride along the white line on the straights, before hitting the bend hard and riding up at the top. Check your line and drop back down to the white for the back straight. Repeat!
  4. Play the animal game. Basically ride in a line, with the distance of a named animal in between you and the rider in front. We started with elephants, then ended up with very dubious rabbits. There was also a lot of discussion about whether it was a labrador or a chihuahua when we were told “dog”. Riding that close together is quite hard, particularly when you are worried about the lack of brakes.
  5. Team pursuit style. One long line, and at each end, the first person peels off, goes up the bank and then drops back in at the end. This definitely challenges your ability to maintain consistent speed relative to the others in your group! It also challenges your ability to pay attention and listen to when you are told to stop (except secretly we just wanted to keep going for another lap)
  6. Pairs changeover. Ride in a line of pairs – then the front pair peel off to the top, keep riding and drop back in on the end. Again, challenging your ability to maintain speed relative to the others!

It was a great experience – we were then informed we had done our taster session and therefore would be welcome at other sessions, and then could move towards becoming accredited. I was particularly interested when i found out that they ran ladies-only sessions, as well as the ASSOSLDN women’s track league.

Seriously, give @HHVWomen a follow on Instagram, they’ve got workshops, training, ladies night and all sorts! Again, as I said, I wish I still lived in Tooting as unfortunately it’s just that bit too far for me to go.

The Women’s Race Workshops are back again this year and better than ever! Each session will focus on an event which features in that month’s @assos_ldn Women’s League, so if you’re unsure or need to brush up, they’re the perfect opportunity to learn or practice skills, techniques and tactics before each race. 🚴🏻‍♀️ The workshops will be held on Sundays during the regular 5-7pm Women’s Session (£10 for adults; £8 for Special Friends of HH; £5 for eligible youths). 🚴🏻‍♀️ Fire up your diary and get the dates locked. Even if you’re not racing they’re still great fun! 🚴🏻‍♀️ #womencycling #womeninsport #trackcycling #womenwhoride #ridelikeagirl #fixedgear #hhvwomen #thisgirlcan #velodrome #fixie #hhvwomensleague #trackbike #assos #assosldnwomensleague #bikeracing #cycling #hernehillvelodrome #hernehill #london 📸 @arpadernyesphotography

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Unfortunately, we then had to go and do some actual work. Booooooo.

But, it’s made me think more about what I want to get from cycling, including some interesting discussions now about crit racing over the summer…very much looking forwards to my trip to Lee Valley!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Easy running and HR training

So, latest running news is that I now have a coach (more about that in another post), my race today was cancelled BUT I am running THE READING HALF (which is quite soon, as the 18th March has snuck up) However, my ultimate A race is the European Duathlon Champs in October. Yes, October is quite a long way away. And yes, the word “European” is scary. Hence the coach.

Therefore, the Reading Half is in my diary, but not necessarily a goal, go for glory, set a new PB race. My current PB is an OK-ish 97 minutes, set in Watford a few years ago. If you know Watford at all, you will know that Watford is NOT FLAT. So much more to be done in comparison to the rest of my distances…

So why I hear you say, are you not going to go all out for a PB at a lovely, fairly flat (and fast) Reading?

Perfectly good question. It just isn’t my goal this year, and I didn’t really fancy a whole load of miles early in the year (this is also why I am not using my deferred marathon place this year)

My current schedule looks something like this (although clearly skiing gets in the way here!) – so we’ve got easy doubles, shorter speedwork and quite a lot of turbo. But not a huge amount of leg mileage 😬 (or any long tempo!) You’ll be happy to know that the next two weeks pre-half marathon include at least 3 double days (run and cycle), so I can’t really say I am tapering…

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I don’t know the race plan yet, but will probably just do it as a long run. Or maybe a “just go out and see how you get on” strategy (I doubt this, I think we all know this would mean I go out far too fast and blow up)

I would not advocate following my training plan/approach if you are going for a PB at the half. Nor if it’s your first half. I’ve got a fair few years of running experience and decent fitness under my belt, meaning that I know that, 99% of the time, I can get round a half even if I haven’t done a huge amount of miles. Anyway, enough of the preamble. I am currently doing a lot more easy running that I used to, and the majority of this is not dictated by pace. Instead, I have now become very good friends with my heart rate monitor (yay)

So, here are some things I have learnt about easy runs and using a heart rate monitor to actually make them easy.

1. OMG IT IS SO NICE NOT TO HAVE “THE HARD SESH” dread. I can wake up, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to run very hard or fast and just pootle along and it is lovely. And I don’t have to watch the Garmin (as much – see point 4)

2. It means you can run easy depending on how you feel that day. I have quickly learnt that your heart race can increase due to lots of things. The cold. Being hungover (oops). Being tired. Being busy at work. But if you’re trying to always hit the same pace, these can make a session pretty horrible. By using HR, it’s a slightly better representation of your fitness on that specific day.

3. You have another marker to compare progress. You know how sometimes runs just “feel easier” but you aren’t really sure if they were? Well, having your heart rate recorded means you’ve got a different metric to look at than just pace. If you’re running the exact same pace for a loop as you were 3 months ago, but your average HR is 10 BPM slower well, good stuff, you’ve probably made an improvement!

4. Uh oh, the HR screen becomes equally as compelling as the pace screen. I would love to say “using HR means you rely less on your Garmin” but that would be a lie. I watch it like a hawk and delight in making it go lower.

5. Sometimes you will swear at the heart rate screen because NO MATTER HOW SLOW YOU RUN IT WON’T GO DOWN. Especially if your interval session is based on HR. I swear my legs don’t actually move that slowly.

6. Hills will be avoided for fear of increasing the average heart race. I live at the top of a hill. In winter, I have to run down it to get to the majority of street lights. This means I have to run back up it (it’s basically nearly a mile uphill) at the end. It’s really hard to keep your HR low running up a hill.

7. You will try to get your heart rate as low as possible. It becomes a super fun challenge (debatable use of the word ‘fun’ here)

8. Deep breathing doesn’t necessarily make your heart rate any slower. Sorry. You can keep trying though!

9. I guarantee that “easy” is actually much slower than you think easy is. My own easy pace is not 8 minute miles. It’s anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30. It took time to learn that. Look at any of the elite runners and their “easy” sessions – and you’ll see what I mean! Easy means well, just that. You should feel like you could continue on forever.

10. Which leads into my main point – easy running is incredibly good for you as part of your training plan. Too much higher intensity work and impact means you don’t fully recover or get the benefit of the rest of your training – roughly 70% of your week should be easy. There are plenty of articles about the benefits and how to define easy. Google and running resources are your friend.

So there you go – I fully advocate trying out some HR training and keeping an eye on your definition of easy. And HR training isn’t just for easy running either, I’ve started using it for my speed work as well, which means I’m less worried about inclines impacting my overall pace. Monitors are generally quite inexpensive and often come part and parcel of your GPS watch. I spent a good 8 years never really using my heart rate monitor (!) and it’s now a key part of my training set up.

Unfortunately, entries are now closed for Reading so no more opportunities to get involved, but I promise you a full debrief post race. (and maybe some mid-race insta stories if I’m running it easy…)

Reading Half Marathon – the training day

So. We’re running The Reading Half.  In about 8 weeks. And a day.  As you might have seen from Kate’s last post, I coerced (read “didn’t give her much choice) her into running it – despite having never run a formal 10k race before, let alone ramping up the distance to more than double that (soz babe)

So what I first have to say is “AWESOME” – there was no long thinking, no “I don’t think I could” – she literally straight up said “OK, fine, I’ll do it – I need to give myself a decent challenge and focus for the first part of the year”

Two weeks ago, we made the trip out to Green Park Conference Centre for the Reading Half training day, along with a host of other runners and bloggers.

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A few gems here – Katherine,Anna & Tamsyn. I’ve known Katherine for a while because we run for the same club, but it was great to meet people I’ve only ever tweeted/instagrammed! Oh, and Tess was there – but behind the camera a lot of the time!

First up was a HIIT workout with The Townsend Twins which was all over Facebook Live (if you watched it, you’ll have seen me panicking about my bum being the first thing people see, and Kate discussing this quite loudly) There was lunging, there were planks, there were jump squats. Certainly got my heart rate up! This was part of Lucozade’s “Made to Move” campaign…so obviously there was Lucozade

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Next up was a session with Ali Galbraith , who heads up the pacing teams for the Reading Half and the Nottingham half and marathon. He took us through a few vital things to help you pace your race and finish feeling fresh (or alive) rather than dead (which I then proceded to fully ignore for my XC race last weekend)

Couple of top tips that we took away:

  • Always know your route – where are the hills, the flats, the water stations (and HELLO the unofficial beer station on the Reading half!) – Reading is pretty flat, particularly when you’re used to living at the top of a hill…which makes me happy
  • Don’t waste energy sprinting around people at the start – what this also means is people, go in the right pen. If you ain’t running that fast, get back to where you belong. Be realistic, not optimistic!
  • Break the race down into bitesize chunks to focus on a different tactic and make it more manageable – I’m likely to be running it as a long tempo so 1-3, 3-11 and 11-13.1 actually works quite well
  • DON’T FORGET TO SMILE!

I also learnt that Reading provides pacers in 5 minute intervals – which a lot of races don’t – this gives you a bit more flexbility in aiming for your goal. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never followed a pacer before, mainly because I trust myself to do it. However, clearly, cross country has shown me I shouldn’t be left to my own devices, so I may hunt one down on the day dependent on how I decide to run it. Find the guy or gal with a flag and stick with them – they know what they’re doing!

Judith Manson, the race director was also on hand to tell us a little bit more about the race and a couple of things that made me sit up – firstly, that they are doing water pouches (which is great for the environment and your ankles) and also, that they always ask for smaller bottles to help prevent waste, but they end up getting what they are given as such. It’s great to hear that races are trying to reduce the amount of plastic thrown around – if we can just get runners to stop throwing gel packets wherever they fancy then we’ll be on a roll…

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(Spot me in pink and Kate sorting her hair #priorities)

We then were off to put our pacing into practice after a little warm up (it was still pretty nippy outside)  We ran roughly 5k, taking in the start of the race (somewhere in Green Park) and the end (the Madjeski – except we couldn’t actually go in because Reading were playing at home, but we ran round it which I guess is the next best thing?!)

We did a little bit of hurdling to run round the car park, down some steps, then Anna & I were getting a bit ahead of ourselves despite not knowing the route, took a wrong turn and added on a handful of extra metres, but we got there in the end. Kate was pretty happy that she got round without a struggle, so think it was a decent boost ahead of her training plan.

 

It was then back to the ranch for the final bit of the day. Jim Adkins from Berkshire Physio was on hand to take us through some key pointers. We stretched, we activated, we slid, we bounced – all in the name of good muscle activation and recovery. We also discovered that you don’t need any fancy equipment – a good pair of paper plates is all you need!

(THIS IS REALLY HARD IN REAL LIFE)

My favourite stretch was the slump stretch – which does as its name suggests! You sit on a bench/bed/high chair, slump a bit, and basically swing your leg. This helps to release all down the backs of your legs, as well as ensuring the muscles in your back and shoulders get a chance to relax – perfect for all of us who spend hours sitting at a desk. It’s so easy to just get out of work, chuck your running stuff on and head out to save time, but a quick 5 minutes beforehand can work wonders for your muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Kate even bagged herself a free look at her dodgy hip at the end – and has come away with a good selection of exercises to keep her in good shape come race day, particularly as she’ll be ramping up the miles.

And then that was us done! I took Kate back to the station and headed home, full of ideas and a new motivation that I was going to do all my core and glute activation exercises that my physio has been telling me to do for 6 years. (Note – I have done them…twice. Which is better than normal)

Keep an eye out for some updates on how our training is going (and hopefully at some point I will set a race target or at least a plan of how I’m going to run it!) There are still entries open  (it’s on March 18th) – I’m a Reading newbie but have watched my dad there, and it is fast and flat, so ideal for pushing yourself for that PB. If you enter in January, there’s also a competition to win a little bit more than just your race entry.

Plus, they’ve just released their new medal design!

From clueless to qualified – my short duathlon career 

I’m currently on a two week break at the end of what feels like a pretty lengthy season. And it’s been a good one. A few highlights include wins at Hawridge and Stewartby duathlons, knocking my 5k PB down to 19.38, 2nd at the Berkhamsted 5 miler, 3rd at the Windsor 10k and I’ve nicely wrapped up my season with a qualifying spot for the European sprint duathlon champs next year (insert little cheer from me!)

Anyway, I thought it would be a nice time to look back on my potted career in the sport…and why it’s so much fun.

5 years ago, I spent my 23rd birthday up at 6am to compete in my first duathlon. Someone at my then running club had suggested the races at Box End Park, just west of Bedford – and I spotted they had an off-road duathlon. I wasn’t doing much cycling (pre buying a road bike or two) other than the odd MTB session around the Chiltern Hills at the weekend. However I was doing a fair amount of running, I’d done a 3.41 in my first crack at the marathon earlier that year and was in semi-decent run shape ahead of cross country season.

Mum and I got up at the crack of dawn, turned up and quickly realised we didn’t really have a huge idea what we were doing. Luckily, the nice man in the car next to us was very helpful (and turned out to be the winner and British #1) and quelled my fears somewhat. This was pre being comfy with cleats at all times so literally all I had to remember was helmet. I remember 3 main things about this race:

1. It was BLOODY FREEZING

2. It was BLOODY WINDY

3. I was first woman. But, there were only 7 of us.

I think (judging by my times) it was a 5k run, a something k bike and then a 5k run again at the end.


And that was that. I think I then got sent a trophy in the post! My first win – how exciting.

My next one, which I was reminded of by Timehop recently, was the Grim Challenge in Aldershot the following October – again a cross duathlon – which I did with my parents! We entered ourselves as a team and decided to do it all together. Basically what happened is we waited for my mum on the run and then for me on the bike. The main thing I remember about the bike was having to cycle through what was practically a lake of mud and getting off a couple of times to run the bike down sand/mud banks (it’s where they test the tanks which says a lot!) I think it was 5k-20k-5k. You can see from transition what the ground was like…

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We won first mixed team (LOL) although again, I think there were only two mixed teams. The prize here was a giant duffel bag each (I mean, so giant that I literally could fit into it)

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The main thing about this was spending the afternoon in A&E because mum came off her bike on a hill – and was helped up by a kind man that was not her husband. Luckily nothing broken just a super bad wrist sprain which was given a support and a significant number of painkillers.

I think by this point I may have bought myself a road bike, so 2014 came with my foray into road duathlon with the Jekyll & Hyde in Hyde Park (clearly October is the right month for duathlons for me)I also did a Women’s only duathlon at the Velopark in Stratford…and that didn’t go too badly.

img_4324My duathlon career then continued into 2015 (also the year of my first triathlon) with another J&H and ANOTHER women’s only Velopark and then in 2016 I started to do a little bit more…My running was going well, I was getting a fair amount of commute bike miles in, OH and I had bought a new aero bike that really needed some more mileage. I raced Hawridge and St Albans, getting on the podium in both and realised I was doing alright at the smaller local stuff.

Earlier this year, having spied a lot of other Clapham Chasers doing AG champs, I decided I might as well have a crack at it. Criteria is straightforwards, give intent to qualify, enter one of the qualifying races, finish top 4 in your AG. After careful studying of previous times, I decided it was doable. I chose Oulton Park and Bedford (a week apart) to give myself two cracks at it. If Oulton Park went well, Bedford was good practice and a nice end to the season, if it didn’t, I had a second opportunity.

I had some good practice over the summer, giving the Ashridge duathlon series a go, going back to Hawridge, racing Stanborough tri and being super happy that the lake at Stewartby had algae so it was turned into a duathlon!

Oulton Park meant an overnight stay in a Premier Inn but a pleasant 7.30 start. It’s not a flat course by any means and the distances are based on a lap of the track and therefore a bit off the usual distances. And this was pretty serious. This was the biggest duathlon I’ve entered and it felt it at the start. Gulp. This is qualifying territory. This is proper racing. There is a man (several of them!) checking I don’t break any rules. There are penalties if I do something wrong. AAAAAAAH.

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However, to cut a long story short, Oulton Park went exceptionally well! Finished 3rd AG (the pain of waiting in the queue for your result to print is INSANE) so rewarded myself with a fishfinger wrap, a McFlurry and then A NEW PAIR OF WHEELS! (If I’m being honest, this is probably the hardest I’ve raced all season. It really meant something and I wanted to finish strong – mainly so I didn’t lose my AG spot in the final 500m but, looking at it, I was a good 90 seconds ahead of the girl behind)


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Which therefore meant Bedford was a bit more relaxed. I could play a full game of netball the day before, I wasn’t overly stressed, I could give my new wheels a whizz, I didn’t mind getting up at 6am… In contrast to OP, Bedford is dead flat. And was windy. Which is awful if you’re trying out your new 60 deep sections, you still aren’t 100% comfy on your tri bars and your bike handling skills on 180 degree turns aren’t great…so yeah. I’ve had better bikes.

However, head down, corners conquered…set a new sprint distance PB, finished 14th F, (3rd AG so qualified again technically!) and ran the second run at the same mile splits as my first (I NEVER do this!) and crossing the line in 1:08:07 (19:47-0:46-36:05-0:43-10:44)

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So…a good end to a busy year. And a great end to 5 years of “just giving this duathlon business a go!”

A few thank yous to wrap this up – my parents, for frequently driving me when I’m too tired after a race, standing in the cold, cheering me, buying me food, listening to me run through my checklist for the nth time – specifically then my dad for fixing my bike 90% of the time, my mum for ringing a cowbell and having the loudest voice ever…my sister for literally being dragged to 75% of races despite hating running, my boyfriend for his motivational pep talks, buying me cycling presents and accepting that our life mainly revolves around me…hey DW for training with me and sometimes beating me in races …anyone at Clapham Chasers who has been a helping hand along the way…there is a lot of thanks!

And, just because I have to say it “woah I’m going to Ibiza”

I hope you all now have the Vengaboys stuck in your head. Over and out.

Let’s hear it for the girls – Windsor Women’s 10k review 

On top of the world! Still buzzing from the Windsor Women’s 10k on Saturday and for more reasons than one.


Firstly, just to say I was given a press place for this race – but my mum entered off her own back, but I am, as usual, 100% honest in my review. Pre-race info was thorough – and we left home at about quarter to 8, taking heed of the advice of avoiding Windsor town centre so coming through Datchet instead…and we arrived at 8.25, no traffic and were about the 10th car there #keen

Continue reading

What do you really need from a training plan?

I’m running the Boudavida Windsor Women’s 10k on the 23rd September, along with my mum (more on that in another post!) and thought it was time we talked about training and how it should be done (in theory) Unfortunately Kate isn’t able to join, which I know she is GUTTED about as she loves running! 😏

Whether it’s your first 10k or your 40th (I’ve just realised I haven’t raced a 10k since January 2015!) or you’re doing any distance – there are some things that really should be core part of any plan. OBVIOUSLY, you don’t have to do these all in a week because I’ve tried that and it’s really hard. If you’re pretty new to running still, you might want to give yourself more time before bringing in some of the faster paced work.

Still spaces available for the run if you fancy a blast round Windsor Great Park! (Disclaimer here in that my place is a provided press place – my mum entered all of her own accord. Continue reading

Race report – Herts summer tri, Stanborough Lakes

So, time to fess up – I actually haven’t done a triathlon in nearly two years. Not since Hever Castle. I mean, I’ve done duathlons a plenty, runs a plenty, lots of open water swimming and lots of cycling. But not so much “putting them together” – so, I decided I wanted to get a couple in this season, and the first was last weekend.

The Herts triathlon is run by Active Training World (who organise a lot of races in my local area) – it’s held at Stanborough Park in Welwyn, which was a peachy 32 minute drive from home. Which is nice when you have to leave before 6am. YAWN. Did the usual night before “frantically googling triathlon packing lists to check I don’t forget anything” and set my alarm for 5.30. Obviously then spent the drive there worrying I had forgotten something vital, plagued by stories of people who forget things like cycling shoes and helmets. Continue reading

Guest Post: Recovering from major sports injury

We’ve been doing a fair bit of yoga recently, which along with our own personal, physical niggles, has gotten us to thinking seriously about recovery, and moreover what happens when you sustain an injury that puts you out of action for an extended period of time?

Our good friend and all-round sporting badass, Stacey Coffin, recently had to deal with just that. We asked her to share her experience of  tearing her anterior cruciate ligament earlier this year,  how she’s dealing with it and what advice she has for anyone going through something similar.

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When my boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch a few days into January and began talking about our goals and resolutions for the year, tearing my right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) 4 weeks later did not fit into the plan. I play a fair amount of sport, mainly touch rugby 4-5 times per week, which is not a sport you are likely to manage without an ACL. Continue reading

5 reasons to play mixed sport this summer

I am a BIG fan of mixed sports teams, particularly of the social format. I’m currently playing mixed netball and touch rugby and to be fair, I probably actually enjoy it more when it’s mixed than if it was ladies only. Particularly netball, where, although I love the pressure and competition,  I put far too much on myself and lose the ability to enjoy it.

I can imagine some people haven’t always had the best experiences with mixed sport and it drags back to awkward PE lessons, but if you’ve got a bunch of decent people who aren’t idiots or ridiculously sexist in their thoughts about gender performance in sport (with bias in either direction), it usually makes for pleasant entertainment. So please don’t be afraid of giving it a go because of prior assumptions.

Go Mammoth, O2 Touch and Try Tag Rugby are all decent places to start – whether you have a team already, want to join as an individual, want to play something you’re good at or something you’ve never done before, you’ll find a league somewhere!

1. Less pressure. There is typically one half of your team who has not played this game at school. Sometimes, neither half has! This generally means you have a fighting chance of not being completely incompetent in comparison! There’s something about the balance between the genders as well that makes the pressure to do well still there, but it’s a bit less imposing. I can’t explain why. We’re also old enough and big enough now to not make a huge fuss about having to play sports with *shock* members of the opposite sex without being melodramatic about it and making assumptions about their capacity due to their gender. Yes, you will still see some teams who are ridiculously poor at using their women but I’ve noticed it less and less – and the more people play mixed sport, the better it’s going to get.

2. You usually get to either a) learn a new sport you haven’t played much before or b) teach others a sport you know how to play quite well. Helping others is a sure fire way to improve your game, and there are so many transferable skills between different sports that it will help you across the board. Playing touch was a key driver of my short-lived (although still active) 7s career, and that’s partly because of the encouragement I got from both females and males on my team that I had the ability to step up and do it.

3. You will laugh a lot. If you’ve ever seen a confused face as someone tries to get their head around the fact that they can’t run with the ball, you’ll know what I mean. Or a 15s player trying to understand that they can’t just hit hard lines and run straight at people who are about a foot shorter and several stones lighter than them when playing touch. Extra points for flair and style. Mixed leagues are also much more likely to be social – so although there will be an element of competition there (no matter what people say), it is much more about enjoyment and fun.

4. You’ll learn you can hold your own and it will up your game – if your opposing player is suddenly a good few inches taller than you’re used to – and probably about 5 times more accidentally physical (see point about laughing), you’ll jump higher, run faster, dodge with a bit more purpose and think more about what you’re doing. And get a sweet satisfaction when your opponent is visibility irritated about it. However, sometimes people are not that good despite obvious physical advantages…but this is the same in any sport.

5. It will probably end in the pub. And if you pick a good league (hint, O2 Touch), you often can get some free chips and nachos. Or garlic bread. Which is dreamy (#cleaneating) You’ll get a bunch of new friends with a similar interest to you, therefore always have ringers available for any other sports team you ever need and you’ll probably end up playing at least one season!

What are your thoughts on mixed sports? The way forwards or a painful reminder of PE lessons?

Planning your race calendar

I love a plan. OK, I mean like, really love a plan. Particularly for training and races and meals. I’m a control freak and the amount of notebooks I’ve filled writing what I’m doing that week is ridiculous! (Note, this definitely does not mean I always do what is in my plan. I have good intentions that are usually over ambitious and assume I can manage on about 3 hours sleep a night whilst training 17 times a week. I still haven’t quite realised that this isn’t physically possible)

Last week I sat down to try and plan my race calendar for the rest of the year and thought I would give a few tips that might help…

1. Have a vague idea of what you want to do this year. For example, I’ve gone for shorter stuff, duathlons, i’m not fussed about marathon this year, a couple of tris and MAYBE an autumn half (so not really shorter stuff, basically just not a marathon)

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2. Have a vague idea of how willing you are to travel and spend money, i.e. I don’t really want to be spending upwards of £80 on a triathlon and I really begrudge spending anything over £30 on a run-only event unless it’s a marathon or a real ‘must-do’. I might do a destination event if I see something that really piques my interest, but haven’t spotted anywhere in particular.

3. Long list the potential events. This is the fun bit! Get a piece of paper and use all means of finding races (mainly Google) and WRITE THEM ALL DOWN. Use points 1 and 2 to help or hinder your selection.

4. Read a bit about each one and then manage to find even more races that you hadn’t spotted. Add them to the long list in really small writing at the very bottom. Decide that parkrun “doesn’t really count” so you don’t need to properly plan it.

5. Do a second hash of your priorities. Age group qualifiers? PB races? Terrain? Distance from home? Just FUN? What do you want to get out of a race this year? No, what do you actually want, make a decision woman.

6. Then probably remember that you have to have a social life and do things like attend weddings, go to work and see your family so I would use this to cross out anything you definitely definitely can’t do or make your excuses to people now. (Your long list now should be suitably long with maybe couple of items crossed off) Be slightly mysterious to anyone who is trying to make plans with you for later in the year until you’ve worked this out.

7. Then realise you can’t enter 3 events on the same day. Get rid of a few more. But whilst doing this, find a few more events you weren’t aware of and add them back in as replacements. Also then decide this is the year you really want to try and time trial your way through a 3,000m but also want to do a 100m race because you miss school athletics but genuinely don’t know if you are any good at sprinting any more. Then worry that you will look a bit ridiculous and would like some moral support. Phone a friend and bribe them to enter.

Race planning goals

8. Now match your medium-long list to your priorities and realise that they’ve probably changed again. Decide on which events you actually want to do and think about entering them (basically make a “definite, maybe and definitely not” or “A race-B race-C race” type list that won’t kill you from over-training or over-racing)

9. Work out that 7 of your events have already closed for entries so you can’t do those. Feel sad because it is one of your favourite races. Switch in some other events from the maybe list. Tip – find out when each of the entries close and if they are likely to sell out so that you can stagger race costs and not have to justify it all in one go to anyone who may not understand.

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10. Actually enter the events and write them in your diary. Feel smug.

11. And a bonus #11 – then try and write/find a training plan that remotely can suit multiple events without completely killing you!

How do you plan your diary? Am I the only one who gets over-enthusiastic?