2016, where did you go?!?

So, the end of December is typically time to look back at the year, what has happened, what ridiculous resolutions or goals I will set myself for 2017 etc etc. Rather than going at it month by month…I’m going to dip around a bit between sports just to confuse you all!

TLDR – fewer miles, more PBs, less frantic exercising because I felt I had to, more rest days, few niggles, still don’t like swimming, must go cycling more.

Swimming

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Swimming was basically a necessary evil this year. I did the Henley Swim Club to Pub in July and that is basically the only reason I did any swim training at all. However, I did it in just over 30 minutes, dropping 4 off my time at Hever 9 months previously. They gave me a beer 10 seconds after I exited the water and that was brilliant.  I did quite a lot of open water practice with my boyfriend (we also ate a lot of cake) and can safely say, my confidence has improved massively, as has my breathing and ability to not have to stop and tread water. I’m probably going to enter at least one swim and one triathlon this year, so it makes sense to keep it on my agenda. But I don’t think it will ever be “the one”

There is a lot of talk about doing the Henley Marathon next summer in the office, but quite frankly, I think 14km is probably a bit too far when I don’t even really like swimming that much. I swam in a lake in the Pyrenees where I survived some super weedy patches (I basically didn’t bother with the swimming area and just hopped in, leaving some bemused looking fishermen…but it got a good photo). A year previously, I would never have even considered doing this – and the weeds would have probably drowned me in panic (and don’t even mention what creatures probably lived in there)

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Cycling

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No real big rides this year at all actually. To be brutally honest with myself, 90% of my bike miles were commuting, which isn’t great. But this was partially planned when I realised that to do my marathon training justice, I needed to drop back on the extra miles I was putting in my legs elsewhere. I tailed off my commuting at the end of 2015, and there was a noticeable change – I PB’d at pretty much every distance –  as well as jumping up around 100 places in my usual Surrey XC league standings. So as much as I hate to admit it, cycling all the time and a “running + cross-training = OK” formula doesn’t always work.

A few noticeable exceptions – my trip to Brighton in November and an un-Garminned 2k stretch as part of the RBC V Series but to be quite honest, A VERY BORING YEAR ON THE BIKE. Must do better. Must do more MTB.

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Running

I look back to 2012 and 2013 and wonder WTF I was doing with 180 mile months. This year I managed to run a much more consistent pattern over the first 4 months of the year, and as you can see, there have been no zero miles months so far this year.

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This year was a year for PBs and most of them came just from a byproduct of more miles.  I started with the Winter Run in April – which, unfortunately as a non UKA licensed course, doesn’t quite count…but it was a 10k PB anyway (41:32), especially in horrendous rain and being the day after a cross-country mudbath at Parliament Hill.

Another PB came about at the Watford Half the following weekend which was totally unexpected. If you’ve run Watford, you will know it ain’t flat. I think my half PB is currently pretty soft, and to be perfectly honest, the last time I trained for a half itself that wasn’t during a marathon block was Maidenhead in 2012…which is flat. In an ideal world, I reckon I should be running around a 1:31/1:32. So maybe one for this year.

I would love to say that VLM was dreamy, but it wasn’t. It was a cold hard slog for the last 6 miles, and the reason for that is well…I never really did much over 20. So I don’t know what I expected. But, I broke the magical 3.30, got another GFA & BQ and all in all, happy days.

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Had a week off and then decided to just “see how it went” at a local 5 miler the following Bank Holiday weekend, and it went swimmingly.  I placed 2nd at my first duathlon of the season…and 1st at my second. I won a 2 mile ran in Battersea Park (and I won a mango!) and my team placed 3rd ladies in the 3 x 1 mile relay. We won the cross country league. I spent 4 days running and napping by the pool in the Pyrenees (altitude training and cheese for the win)

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I ran along the beach on the Basque coast. We came 2nd in the Great Team Relay (I got to finish in the Olympic Stadium) I ran up the Madeloc…again. I got another trophy for a 2nd place in a 10k trail race. I ran over the Millau Bridge in May with my parents & uncles. It was spectacular (and breezy as anything!)

I did a few more parkruns – and was 1st woman 4 times out of 4 at Colchester #humblebrag. Tooting Common became an easy “1 mile run to the start line” option. I amassed many, many contributions to the “ugly running photos” album.

I took a bit of a break from running in November because of a niggly Achilles – I’m still not 100% “in the zone” but I’m getting there. More rest days, more chill out time, more sleep and a few more reality checks from the important people in my life have contributed to a bit more balance and mental stability…and I’ve learnt a lot about myself, my attitude and what my body and mind respond best to. I understand why people say peak years come during your 30s – a solid base and appreciation of training, focus and what makes you tick only come with time, so don’t rush it.

…and all the other stuff

I got back down to City Strongman classes at The Foundry (which, if you haven’t been to, you need to) I played in 2 7s tournaments this summer, getting tries AND scoring a conversion (highlight of the year). I practised line-outs in the back garden.

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I went skiing twice. I’ve been back playing netball – and we won our league. I’ve been doing a hell of a lot more lifting and I don’t know the last time I went to a class at the gym or used a treadmill, spin bike or cross-trainer. I realised I like hanging upside down on rings and ropes. I feel pretty happy in my body right now (well, not after 7 days of solid Christmas eating and wine) but this year has finally seen me settle down in myself and relax a bit more. I know what my happy weight is and where it is easy to maintain it without setting restrictions. My clothes still fit me. I’m still breaking belt loops on jeans because they aren’t designed for quads and glutes that match my waist size. I’ve bought 3 pairs of trainers and I don’t want to count how many pairs of leggings and new tops I acquired without throwing anything out :/

I don’t know what 2017 is going to bring and I haven’t really set my goals yet. I’ve got a rough idea, but I would prefer to see how January goes before making any big claims. But you’ll hear about them…

And with that, over and out 2016! Have a good one!!

 

#YourGoTri – The time Kate was finally convinced to try Triathlon

It’s been a super summer of sport and between the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Brownlee’s demonstration of sporting brotherly love at the Triathlon World Series in Mexico a couple of weeks ago, “triathlon” hasn’t been far from anyone’s lips.

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The Brownlee Brothers (courtesy of mirror.co.uk)

If you’ve been reading or following us for a while, you’ll know that it is Katie F, not me, who is the triathlete of the pair of us. I hate running with a burning passion, and despite being a reasonable cyclist and a not-terrible swimmer, the running alone has always been enough to put me off even considering doing a triathlon. So when British Triathlon contacted us to say that they were running a campaign called #YourGoTri to encourage new people into the sport by pointing out how easy it is to factor all three disciplines into your weekly fitness routine, Katie gave me a look that said “now you really don’t have an excuse”.

I guess now I really don’t. Continue reading

Open Water Swimming for Beginners – Hints & Tips

As I have previously testified, swimming is not one of my favourite activities, HOWEVER, sensible me decided giving into peer pressure at work to take part in the Henley Swim Club to Pub in July was a good idea.

Which meant one thing…I had to get back in the water. For me, swimming in a pool is a bit like running on a treadmill – boredom factor 100. Plus, the event is in the Thames, which is not a pool…therefore, I should not do all my training in the pool. Go figure.

Initial reservations about open water swimming often include “it’s not that easy to get to”, “it’s more difficult” and “it’s less safe than a pool”…and I can imagine “open water swimming for beginners” is a heavily Googled term! So, this post is here to quash some of those fears and streamline your introduction – it was written with the help of Henley Swim who have years of experience in this sort of thing, unlike my relative newbiness.

  1. Find a good location for your ability

There are a large number of lakes that run managed open water swimming sessions. These are safe places to start your open water career, and learn the basic skills, before becoming more adventurous and heading off into the rivers and sea. This list on 220 seems fairly up to date, but lakes have a tendency to open and close (!) so make sure you check the website before turning up.

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Shepperton (above) is convenient if you are in SW London but it is also often very busy and can be full of people who seem very fast – but one of best things about OW is how friendly and willing to help people are. The majority of reputable lakes will give a full safety briefing before allowing you to swim, as well as making you do a small demonstration that you won’t drown (typically a short swim, plus that you are able to perform the safety signal.

It’s often better to find somewhere that is fully focused on swimming (rather than also offering wakeboarding etc), simply because it means there are less obstacles (e.g. buoys) to worry about when you are on your swim, and you’re more likely to get dedicated attention. If you can’t get to a lake, you could always start with a lido – Tooting Bec (one of my despised locations) is 90m long. So it’s practically the same as being in a lake (feels like it anyway) but you don’t have to go as far.

NB Make sure you take into account whether they have cake. I would highly recommend the Victoria sponge at Trifarm.

  1. Never open water swim alone

This applies to both lake swimming (i.e. go during supervised sessions and flag if you are new/less confident) as well as when you are braving it in the more wild locations. There are a number of elements outside your control. Even the most experienced of swimmers can get into trouble, and being on your own can quickly make a bad situation worse.

These days there a large number of open water clubs springing up who can help new open water swimmers and offer coaching sessions which will help you build both your confidence and technique. Most lakes will link to sessions they hold on their websites or social accounts.

  1. Prepare for your open water swim – before and after

Standard kit would include wetsuit, goggles, high visibility swim hat, flip flops, towel, changing mat, and (waterproof!) watch.

After your swim the important thing is to get dry and warm as quickly as possible. A good post swim routine is key, for example: 1 – wetsuit off (and rinse it), 2 – flip flops on, 3 – get dry, 4 – layers on (hats are very welcome early in the season), 5 – hot drink. All fairly self-explanatory, but it’s amazing how many people get it wrong. If you have driven to your swim; get the heating on full blast on your feet (lovely!!)

As mentioned previously, also look for cake (but make sure you wash your hands…) Coke is good for killing pond bugs (true fact – that I don’t have a reference for) and bin-bags are handy to pop your wetsuit in until you can actually dry it out, just don’t leave it in there to go mouldy…Also, embrace pond hair. Gives it nice waves.

  1. Be ready for the temperature

Often, the biggest barrier is the temperature. It’s colder, pure and simple! Most swimming pools have a temperature of between 27-31 degrees centigrade. The warmest water you could hope to swim in (in the UK) would be about 20 degrees, so there is a big difference. When you first experience cold water your body will have a mild shock response and you will gasp. Gradually your body will adapt and you will become more comfortable – but it’s therefore advisable not to start your open water career in March. Most lakes will post the temperature on their website; 15 degrees is generally a good starting point.

Specially designed swimming wetsuits are readily available and not only keep you warm but also afford swimmers greater buoyancy, allowing you to achieve a better position in the water and have a faster and more comfortable swim.

You don’t need to buy a wetsuit to get started – most places allow you to hire them for a fee. Obviously, if you get into it, that fee per session generally warrants buying your own, but it isn’t a necessity. The best thing about wetsuits is the buoyancy – I’m wondering if I can use this as a technique to float 1100m downstream (although I might not finish within the hour unless the Severn Bore transplants itself to the Thames at that specific time)

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Spot Katie (I am the green hat on the left…trying not to drown)

  1. Remember that a lake is not a pool

There are no sides to push off, no steps to get in (well, in most cases!) and you can’t always feel the bottom. Or see it. Or see anything.

Go in prepared for this – don’t suddenly act surprised that a lake is murky. Some lakes will flag themselves as ‘not having weeds’, which is often something people don’t like, but rest assured, there isn’t much in a lake in the UK that you really need to be afraid of – it’s not Florida! Man up and get in! Supervised lakes will have a lifeguard and/or rescue boat (often a kayak), so you won’t be totally left to your own devices, but this is why it’s key to learn the safety sign. And practice treading water; often, the panic is quickly alleviated with some deep breaths. But this is why you should swim with others and not over-estimate your ability, which moves nicely on to…

  1. Don’t push yourself too early

Always have a plan of what you will be doing, and make sure that it is safe and within your capabilities. Getting tired, cold and cramping are not pleasant if you still have a long swim back to safety.  Most lakes will have both short (200-400m) and long (750+) loops to cater for all, so you don’t have to push further than you are willing – no-one else is counting how far or how long you swim for!

  1. Practise sighting

One of the (if not the) most important skills in open water swimming is sighting (seeing where you are going). Forgetting to regularly check and correct your course can add considerable distance to your swim. This is isn’t just a racing issue, where athletes need to swim the shortest possible distance, but also a safety issue, as it is important to ensure you know where you are and that you are swimming in a safe section of water. A good rule of thumb is to sight your course every 8 strokes. Poor visibility in the lake is also a common initial fear – but rest assured, you aren’t going to come across anything in a lake in the UK that will cause you that much fear.

(NB Sighting is equally important for staying on course and not crashing into buoys as it is for avoiding swans and ducks. Watch out – you have been warned!)

Be aware of who you are sharing the water with if you choose to swim outside supervised lakes (rowers and swimmers do not mix well) Joining a club or contacting the environment agency is a good place to start.

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  1. Relax and enjoy it!

For the first few sessions you will probably be quite tense; for this reason try and keep these sessions short (or even get out and get back in again, a few times). Once you are in, focus on getting a good breathing cycle going. Generally if your breathing is working well, your body will relax.

One of my favourite things about being in the lake is having the sun scatter through the water – or the feeling of being rained on whilst being wet already, such is the weather. For me, it’s like trail running – I can totally tune out and enjoy being outside rather than focusing on hitting times and distances and proving something to myself. Also, you don’t smell of chlorine afterwards…just…nature.

If you’re keen to get involved in an open water event without having to cycle and run afterwards, then Henley Swim offer a multitude of distances, as well as having many resources available like these training plans to help you prepare. (I should probably now start actually preparing as opposed to ‘making up swim sets each time I go’)

And with that, I’m off to don my new goggles and hope they don’t leak!

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The big one – Hever Castle Olympic Triathlon – RACE REPORT!

Soooooo because I am a really stupid person, straight after my first foray into the world of triathlon at Thames Turbo at the end of May, I had a bit of a ‘two days post race haze of euphoria’ which lead to me deciding that joining the rest of the Chasers at Hever (being used as our Club Champs race) was a sensible idea (and not only just doing another, but jumping up to the Olympic distance from a ‘sprint but with a short swim which is good because I really hate swimming’) and I, er, signed up.

And then realised about two days later what I had actually done. Yeah, so 1500m is a lot for someone who is not a fan of swimming. And puts off swimming. And spends 30 minutes on the phone trying to convince people to tell me that it is OK for me not to go swimming and have a night off from ALL the swimming I do…(you know who you are)

So, without further ado – here is my Hever Castle Triathlon race review! (10/10 for rhyming)

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Race Report – Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon

My answer now to the question ‘have you done a triathlon?’ can now officially change from ‘no because I hate swimming’ to ‘yes, I still hate swimming but the fun of the rest of it made it alright really’ . And by alright I mean quite fun. And by quite fun I mean I will probably do another one…

I picked Thames Turbo on the sole reason that my club was running a novice programme where this was the end goal.I also had several glasses of wine when I agreed to it. If I am honest, I basically ignored most of the training sessions and made up my own thing because a) marathon training took up a vast proportion of my time and b) I moved back home at the start of April and away from club sessions. Oh and c) I really don’t enjoy swimming in case you didn’t know that already.

Basically, there was a bit of googling and some laid back assumptions that I would get by. Actually, my training was pretty much useless if you want to think about dedicated triathlon training. I think I swam about once a fortnight on average and I just relied on my base running and cycling to get me by. I went to about one spin class and heavily relied on the fact that my commuting and every-other-weekend (ish) cycle legs would get me through (except for the fact that I stopped cycle commuting about 6 weeks ago). Oh and my first ‘proper’ brick in this block was two days before the race where I did a hilly parkrun and bashed around some Chiltern Hills for fun. I did no transition practice (but having done duathlons, not completely blind to it) and tested out my tri top on race day.

So, a potential disaster I hear you say?

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The real reason I don’t like swimming…

After much pondering, moaning, vowing to get better and broken promises, I’ve figured out the real reason I don’t like swimming.

I am not very good at it. Well, probably average. (Also it is boring)

I ADMITTED IT. I, Katie Ferguson, person who wants to be good at everything, quite frankly, think I suck at it. I mean actually, I don’t know if I really suck 100% because I actually haven’t timed myself. So I might not actually suck as much as I think but it sure feels pretty sucky. I hate feeling like I can’t breathe, I hate accidentally swallowing water, I hate that feeling when your goggles aren’t on properly and you get them gradually filling up, I HATE having to be in the slow lane.

PS I just told my sister I was writing this as a topic and her response was ‘you are such a knob’. So soz up front for that. But this is talking about me and how I deal with my own performance. People have different attitudes, different drivers and different barriers, just like they have different skills, talents and ambitions. And we work to our own standards. These are mine.

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10 questions I have for people who actually know things about triathlon

As I am sure I have mentioned before, I will be participating in my first triathlon on the 25th May (if any of you are at Thames Turbo, come say hi, I’ll be the one floundering around in the swimming pool and forgetting where they put their bike)

I’m no stranger to duathlons now and have learnt a lot along the way but the swimming part does add an extra element of complication to the matter. Which is why about 9 of the questions are related to swimming. Note here that I am also doing a pool swim, so I have avoided the other 1000 questions I have regarding open water, people kicking you in the face and how to actually put a wetsuit on. I could (and will) google these questions and ask people in my club, but it actually has helped me to write them down… Continue reading