It seems so common for us to compare ourselves to others in pretty much everything that we do. But the thing is, you don't know other people's journeys and what got them to the places they are right now. And that doesn't matter. What does matter is that you're on your own journey and your goal is to be better today than you were yesterday.
Last Saturday was the first cross country race of the season and my first pure running race since my ankle injury. It was great to be back with the Striders, working as a team and having a bit of fun whilst getting muddy! No I wasn't that fast, but that doesn't matter at this stage - I had such a good time and it has set a great baseline to work from and improve over the winter months - I cannot wait for more muddy fun coming up! (Plus Striders always have amazing cakes at our cross country meets - what's not to love!
So just remember, your journey is going to look completely different to someone else's. Letting yourself compare yourself to others will only make you feel like you're not good enough and potentially hinder your abilities to push forwards. Focus on what will make you better tomorrow than you were yesterday.
We spend so many months of the year working hard towards our 'A races', putting our bodies through both mental and physical stress - you do need a break! Something that most sporting people will say is easier said than done, we just can't seem to stop ourselves!
So, since coming back from my ankle injury I have had no training plan and just 'trained' when I've wanted to - for the pure enjoyment of being able to get out and do what I love, but whilst having that life balance too and spending precious time with family and friends. If I wanted to go out for a run I did (often with the pooch!), but if I wanted to dress as Minnie Mouse and have drinks to celebrate my besties 30th birthday resulting in a written off Sunday - I also did. Off season is all about that balance!
So, Warwickshire Triathlon last Sunday was my final triathlon of the season - it was an opportunity to just go out and enjoy it with no pressure on times/paces/power. I really do recommend doing at least one race a season with the sole aim of soaking up the atmosphere and having a bit of fun!
It wasn't just my last triathlon of the season, it was also my super mum's too - who deserves a shout out. Having only very recently started doing triathlons, she absolutely smashed this one getting a PB on the swim and bike and finishing 5th in her competitive age category, only a few minutes behind the winner - proud is an understatement! I can't wait to see what is in store for her in 2020! (maybe branching out to open water swimming...hint hint)
With regards to my race, I had an ace time and was surprised to finish 2nd in my age cat! Frustratingly though I found out that the 'faster' swimmers had been set off first thing in the morning so were racing on clear roads. Everyone else was then set off from slowest to fastest as per normal for pool based triathlons, resulting in me being one of the last to go when Stratford traffic was probably at its peak... Out on the bike course I therefore got caught behind a bus that was stuck behind a slow cyclist on one of the main descents on the course where you could make up time - gutted! Note to self - have more confidence in my abilities and put a faster swim time down if I do this race again (I beat my predicted entry time by over 30 seconds, oops!)
So that brings a close to the 2019 season - now bring on the mud fest that is cross country season! Big thanks to everyone who supported me this year. It has certainly had its ups and downs but I've got my fingers crossed for a slightly more consistent injury free 2020!
In the words of my wonderful mum 'sport can be about winning and losing; the excuses the what if's and if only's. But sometimes it is about accepting your current limitations and with a mixture of positive thinking, grit and determination; still achieving a result to be really proud of'.
6 weeks ago I badly sprained my ankle, and having previously suffered with a similar injury I knew how long the recovery times can be, so had pretty much ruled myself out of any further races this season - including Brighton and Hove Triathlon, which frustratingly had been my 'A-race' post Pontevedra World Duathlon Champs in April - to finally give ETU Triathlon Champs qualification a go.
However, me being fairly competitive (OK, I am very competitive... lol), I was determined to recover as quickly, but as safely as I could. Working with a physio through work, I gradually built up my strength - going from none weight bearing, to mild strength exercises over a few weeks - plus a lot of icing, elevating and rest! Within 5 weeks, to my absolute surprise, I was able to swim, cycle (without cleats) and do short slow runs on soft surfaces such as on grass or the running track. I had missed the deferral/refund date for Brighton, so with the support of my physio, we thought I could possibly give it a go if I was really careful - it is a multi-lap course, so I had the option to easily pull out at any point if I began to feel the slightest bit of pain or discomfort - the worst thing would be to make it worse and prolong my recovery time.
Aside from the horrendous M25 car park on the way there and back, it was such a great weekend. We were extremely lucky to have beautiful weather and little Ellie, chief supporter, loved her first splash in the sea! Me and my mum traveled down to Brighton on Saturday as registration and bike racking had to be done the day before, which meant we could wander around, soak up the glorious sunshine, and generally have a relaxed pre-race day. (Relaxing that is, until I stupidly decided to try and put on my race tattoo without taking the plastic backing off, resulting in it just sticking to the plastic and not my arm.. But clever mum to the rescue who used a hairdryer to reattach the number to some cardboard and then reapply to my arm - genius!)
Come race day itself, I had a pretty relaxed morning too with a start time of 11:15 - a lie in (usually unheard of in the triathlon race world)! Frustratingly, the sea was pancake flat first thing in the morning when we initially got to the start to watch the sprint race. But by the time my wave was due to start it had become fairly choppy, but at least no where near as bad as at Redcar was last month! Following an enforced hug with fellow competitors, and a 3,2,1 we were off... and the initial few hundred metres to the first buoy, I have to say, were not enjoyable at all... I got kicked in the face and so had to rearrange my goggles having got a load of seawater in my eyes! Once it had all calmed down a bit, I managed to get into a rhythm and relax. And then by the final buoy all I could think about was drinking some water as my throat was so dry from the salt water! I definitely prefer lake swims that is for sure!
Surviving the swim, I then ran up the beach into transition and onto bike leg. It was my first time in cleats since my ankle incident as I knew I could rely on a flying dismount, so I was hopeful to try and push for a decent-ish bike time. The bike course was an 8 lap out and back flat course, with closed roads, so it was fast but I have to admit I did get bored. Queue tactic to keep myself occupied - singing baby shark to myself... it got me to the end anyway! Overall, my power was down by about 10%, but considering my time off, I was fairly pleased with that and my bike split was actually faster than my AG winner!
Then onto the run - the bit I was the most worried about. I hadn't run further than 2km on tarmac or 7km on a track surface post injury. All of which were pain-free, but it was still an unknown as to whether my ankle would be OK over this distance. As it was 4 laps, I knew I could easily stop if it did become at all painful, so set off at an easy pace and adopted the run-walk strategy (I did 4 mins running, 1 min walking), to be mindful not to set myself back with any additional stress to the injury. Baby shark returned and the laps were slowly ticked off, all the way to the finish line!
Never in a million years did I think I would be racing at Brighton, but the human body is a wonderful thing. It was possibly my slowest ever 10k, maybe even slower than a turtle in peanut butter, but I couldn't be any happier that I got to race and finish, which is the most amazing feeling having initially thought I would be sitting this one out only a few weeks ago!
The time did not matter on this occasion - for once it was the taking part, enjoyment and finishing that mattered! And I did just that!
A big thank you to my amazing mum who acting as top supporter, dog looker after, taxi driver and general awesome helper over the weekend!
Leading up to the race
It was a slightly challenging journey leading up to this race. My official training plan started the second week in January to allow time off to enjoy Christmas and New Year before getting stuck back in again (needless to say I still sneaked in a couple of races during the festive period, both of which involved fancy dress - of course!)
Training did start off really well. I had a good solid month of training and felt as though it was all coming together, with my running pace and bike power improving.
However, at the end of Jan I caught the Norovirus and was pretty much in bed for a week, eating very little, and then needing a further week to slowly bring myself back into training again. A couple of weeks later and I was fortunately well enough to race Anglian Water mid Feb and was 3rd AG, with the fastest bike split in my cat, and qualifying for the 2020 World Duathlon Champs - phew!
I then had a very wet and windy (40mph headwinds) Bedford Duathlon, where I felt super strong and finished 5th lady and 3rd in AG, qualifying me for the 2020 European Duathlon Champs – things looked promising for Pontevedra!
Unfortunately, it all then went a little pear shaped and I started suffering from calf cramp and shin splints, resulting in significant time off from running totally. Nightmare… However, I continued to work on the bike and was happy to see my average power improve throughout the new TT season. If I can't run, at least I could try and get my bike as strong as I could!
“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. So, when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming”.
Onto the big race itself...
And what a race it was. I knew I wasn’t overly ‘run fit’, so tried to play it safe on the first run and run my own race, keeping to a steady pace. This more or less happened, although it still felt tough! As always, the atmosphere was absolutely incredible, with GB supporters lining the streets and shouting your name – nothing can beat that feeling!
Then it was onto the bike, and it was the most brutal bike leg I have ever done during a duathlon and that is not an exaggeration! It had lots of steep climbs and technical descents, resulting in me hitting my best ever top speed of 65kph! But it was also one of the most beautiful, as we weaved through the Spanish countryside - I am so lucky to be able to do race in such amazing locations. Knowing I didn’t have the run legs, I tried to push and make up some time on my stronger discipline.
Then onto the final run and frustratingly, my recent injury returned resulting in painful cramps only a km or so in. So much so, they stopped me in my tracks and I did at one point wonder if I would even make it to the finish line as I could barely bend my legs, let alone run! With the awesome support of the crowd I did complete, and it did make the blue carpet finish even more of a relief than normal that is for sure!
Post race reflections
When people ask you how you got on at your 'A' race, it is so easy to go straight to the negatives - which is exactly what I began doing after this race. I was disappointed with my performance and felt I could have done so much better.
Unlike my race in Ibiza for the European Duathlon Champs last October were I spent far too long dwelling on 'what could have been', it wasn't long until I saw a little bit of sense this time around thanks to my awesome friends and family! Yes we need to identify areas of improvement and learn from them - it is healthy to analyse and pick things out otherwise you won’t remain competitive. But why dwell on them – particularly those aspects that might be out of your control and probably couldn’t prepare for. I (and probably many others) really need to stop being so hard on ourselves. What you often forget is the bigger picture, and end up focusing only on how the race itself went.
In my case, within the 4 weeks leading up to the World Champs, I had run a total of 9.4k due to my injury… and I wonder why I didn’t race well as I potentially could have. So really, getting to the start line and completing the 2019 World Championships is an achievement in itself...
Things don’t always go to plan, and what is really important is how you respond to that. How you adapt, both physically and mentally, and make the best of the situation. As long as you did your best on the day and under the circumstances, that is all you can ask for!
Remember, focus on the controllables! And in the words of my coach ‘Sport is a journey, not a destination’ - there will be many other opportunities, so make the most of every single one and
"What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other. There is always going to be suffering. It's how you look at your suffering, how you deal with it, that will define you". Mark Twain
Just under 2 weeks ago I was out running with the pooch and about 2km down a bridleway I rolled by ankle on some uneven ground. The sound it made was pretty horrific and I instantly could not put any weight on it. Fortunately I had my phone with me so my partner could come and help me get back home. I instantly burst into tears - tears as a result of the pain, but also tears as realisation hit - what impact is this going to have...
Following a slightly unsuccessful race at the ITU World Duathlon Championships in Pontevedra in April (I will do a blog post on this one soon) as a result of injury in the lead up to it, my aim for the rest of the 2019 season was to qualify for the 2020 ETU European Standard Distance Triathlon Championships at Brighton Triathlon at the end of September. My swimming and cycling had been going well, and was just building back my running fitness after my time out with shin splints.
So to roll my ankle on an 'easy' run was pretty frustrating to say the least. For the first few days I think I was hoping it was just a mild sprain and I'd be back on my feet (literally) in a few days. However, 10 days passed and I was still hobbling around with a black and blue puffed up ankle and so I finally succumb to friends advice and went to get it checked by my GP. They looked at it and sent me straight for an x-ray. Fortunately, it wasn't broken but when I asked if I'd be racing in a few weeks time they just looked at me... (silly athlete I am sure they were thinking).
Obviously I was immediately disappointed - a natural reaction to adversity I suppose. However, I'm very lucky to have a great support network, so having spoken to a few close friends, rather than mope (which I and many other people could have easily have done, and I have done in the past), I soon realised that you can take a positive out of your 'suffering', and focus on what you can control and do rather than what is out of you hands.
Extra time when I cannot currently train, meant I can finally start this blog! I can still swim (with a pull bouy) so I am going to try get that nailed, and I can also try to improve my core and upper body whilst I am unable to cycle and run.
Ultimately acceptance of what is your situation, no matter how bad, is the first step. Thinking about what you can positively do in your situation and acting on these thoughts is next (easier said than done, I agree). Nothing really can be achieved with the alternative - dwelling negatively on your situation for long periods of time and feeling sorry for yourself can be counterproductive and harmful.
Focus on the controllable.
PS arnica gel works wonders on bruises!!