Fitness and Lifestyle

How Running Changed My Life

I'm not one to be over dramatic (actually, I totally am), but taking up running in 2014 completely changed my life. My boyfriend, my dog, my house, my job. The fact that I spend 99.9% of my time doing something triathlon related. It all comes back to running. Which kind of freaked me out when I had a bit of a 'sliding doors' moment the other day, wondering what I'd be doing if I'd taken up some other slightly less sweaty hobby.

Time to jump back into my pink glittery time machine and time travel back to September 2014... I'd recently graduated from the University of Leeds and moved back into my childhood bedroom, armed with an English Lit degree certificate and a tower of books and anthologies. Life consisted of an endless, dreary cycle of graduate job applications and I found myself having to revise GCSE maths for marketing graduate schemes. The horror. Having moved away from all my uni friends, gone through a break up and realised that my visions of strutting straight out of my graduation ceremony into a swanky job (sporting Jimmy Choos and a Prada bag, naturally) had been over optimistic, I was a bit of a miserable little creature.

Thankfully, spotting my downward spiral into Netflix zombiehood, my Mum dragged me out of my bedroom and got me to join the Hitchin Hares running club with her. I'd done the odd bit of running before and had completed the Cambridge Race for Life 5km in just under half an hour earlier in the summer. But this was a whole new ball game. Running with other people, having to - god forbid - talk whilst running!? I was bloody terrified and I'm pretty sure my Mum was too. But we went, and we did it anyway. And it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. We kept going back each week, graduating up from the beginners group up into the big kids 1 hour run group. My fitness improved and so did my confidence - I don't think it's a coincidence that soon after joining I was able to land my first graduate PR internship. There were some rather speedy types at the running club, most of whom I only knew by the backs of their heads as they galloped off into the distance. Until one week when the speedy guy with the Very Blue Eyes decided to come and start talking to me as we made our way up one of Hitchin's pointier inclines. I don't know if you've ever tried to act cool, hold a conversation and pretend that your lungs aren't on fire at the same time, but if you have you'll understand my difficulty! Spotting that I was struggling, Mr Very Blue Eyes promised that this would be the last hill on that evening's run. This was a lie as we rounded the corner only to be faced with another incline, but that small indiscretion aside, I decided he seemed like a pretty good guy.

A few days later we met up for a drink, and Mr VBE - otherwise known as Graham - told me that he was planning to do 2 Ironman races the next year. "What's an Ironman?" I asked, envisaging him gallivanting around in some sort of Marvel costume. It turned out he was actually talking about a long distance triathlon event, comprising a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a marathon. Really, I should have realised he was an absolute loon then and turned on my heel - but instead I was kind of intrigued. Fast forward a few months and we'd bought a house, moved in, decided on a name for the metaphorical dog we didn't yet own (he's called Rizzo, he arrived in January 2016 and completely rules the roost) and I'd entered my first ever half marathon. I was really starting to enjoy this running malarkey. Fast forward another couple of months and there I was, standing by a lake in Bolton at the crack of dawn, soaked through to my undies thanks to the Great British weather, watching Graham as he made his way through the swim section of Ironman UK. Earlier in the year, I'd stood by the lake at the Bedford Middle Distance Tri and adamantly declared that I would "never be caught dead doing a triathlon". I hated cycling, and - "have you seen how disgusting that water looks?" Nope, no, not happening. Ironman UK changed all of that. I didn't want to be spectating. I wanted to be out there, Lycra-clad and kicking some arse.

The rest, as they say, is history. Later that year I did an aquathlon. The following year I did a few sprint races. I left the PR job that was slowly grinding me down and re-trained as a Personal Trainer. This gave me the flexibility I needed to really be able to commit to training. Last year I completed my first half Ironman and now I'm all set to race at the European standard distance championships and Ironman Copenhagen. That sad, shy girl with no self-belief from 2014? She's gone. I'm stronger physically and mentally than I ever have been, with a renewed sense of purpose and this determined little fire in my belly. If I'm not triathlon training, I'm triathlon daydreaming. I dream of Kona, of one day being able to call this swim-bike-run thing my job. Far-fetched and wildly unrealistic? Probably. But you've got to aim high. Triathlon has become a huge part of my life, a huge part of me and I wouldn't want it any other way. I bloody love this sport.

And really, I've got running to thank for all of this. It was the spark that lit the flame, the small change that lead to some pretty huge leaps. So - thanks Mum, for dragging me out to that first Hitchin Hares session. I may still space out in front of Netflix, but at least now it's while I'm on the turbo trainer! Thanks to the Hitchin Hares for pushing me out of my comfort zone and introducing me to my now-boyfriend and sausage dog co-parent. And thank you running, for helping me to start believing in myself and being the catalyst that would completely overhaul my life in the best kind of way.

The point of this autobiographical, self-indulgent ramble? I guess it's that I've been there on the other side of things - watching the London marathon on TV and wondering if I could ever run further than the end of the road... and taking the leap to find out has been the best thing that could ever have happened to me. So if that's you, if you've ever wondered if you could run, or take on a triathlon, or get out on a bike - you should just go for it. I can't promise that it'll bring you a boyfriend, a new house, a new job and a naughty sausage dog - but it will bring you joy, fitness and self-belief. And who knows? It could be the start of a journey you don't even know exists.

The Training Diaries: ETU Championships and Ironman Copenhagen

Okay so we're almost halfway through 2018 and I'm only just getting round to penning my first blog post of the year. The last five months have passed in a whirlwind of train, work, eat, sleep, repeat - and I'm loving it.

2017 was the year of 'actually, yes I can' as I surpassed my own expectations and tested the waters with the completion of Ironman 70.3 Zell am See. I started 2017 scared and uncertain. I finished it feeling mentally and physically stronger, having achieved more than I believed I was capable of. With that in mind, 2018 has become the year of 'how far can I go?' Of stepping things up a notch and pushing my perceived limits - one swim stroke, one turn of the pedals and one running stride at a time.

I've got my sights set on two main races this year - the European age group standard distance championships in July and Ironman Copenhagen in August. Taking on the latter has been inevitable, ever since I got bitten by the Ironman bug spectating at Ironman UK and Ironman Wales in 2015. The former, the ETU champs in Estonia, was kind of unexpected. I entered the qualification race, which took place at the beginning of August 2017, as a pre-Ironman 70.3 sharpener. I'd only ever raced sprint distances before so I wanted to have a bash at the standard distance just to experience a slightly longer race before I did my half ironman. I threw my name into the hat for qualification with zero expectations - it was more a case of 'may as well, I'm there anyway'. Fast forward a few months and there I was feeling slightly hysterical having just received an email that said I - the girl who used to run away from the ball in school P.E. lessons - was going to have the opportunity to represent the country and go up against Europe's finest age groupers after being awarded a roll down slot. While dreams of getting on the podium may be just that - pipe dreams - I'm so excited to head out to Estonia and experience racing at that level. Plus I get to wear snazzy GB kit.

Ironman (consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a marathon) is the main goal this year, so a steady build in volume and plenty of endurance work has been a big focus. Training is going really well so far. I'm running further than I've ever been able to, at a pace which less than 4 years ago was my 5km pace. The way the body can adapt and improve never ceases to amaze me and getting to go through that process is one of the things I love about triathlon. After a chilly start to the year, the open water season is finally upon us and I'm so happy to be back out in the lake again, especially now it's warmed up a touch. Sayonara chlorine and lane ropes, bonjour weeds and goose poo! The long winter turbo sessions have paid off (5hrs is my longest stint, involving several episodes of Riverdale and too many fig rolls to mention) and I've been having the best time out on the roads. New challenges justify a new bike, right!? I've been extremely naughty and treated myself to a Canyon Speedmax. I've named him 'the Beast' and we make a pretty good team. I never really thought a TT bike could be comfy, but after a great bike fit I feel stronger, more comfortable and more in control than ever on the new beast. He's speedy too - I repeated a time trial I did on my road bike in April on the new TT a couple of weeks ago and took a good chunk off my time. A good purchase - happy birthday/Christmas to me, love me, for the next 50 years...

I'm enjoying the training process so much this year. Motivation is at an all time high and every tough session ticked off feels like another link in the armour to get me race ready. 61 days until the ETU champs, 90 days until Ironman Copenhagen. But first, support crew duties for my other half at Ironman Lanzarote this weekend! I'll be the one with the annoying cowbells probably getting overly emotional at the finish because if there's one thing that makes me bawl like a baby, it's an Ironman finish line.

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