Swim, bike, run, write.

The Tri-mas Gift Guide: Last Minute Presents for the Swim-Bike-Run Obsessed Weirdo in Your Life

Nobody panic, but this time next week we'll all be nursing our Christmas dinner food babies and falling asleep head first in the Quality Street tin. If, like me, you like to add a sense of urgency to your Christmas shopping by leaving it all to the final hour you may still be scratching your head about what to buy that triathlon-inclined human in your life. So I've popped together a last minute gift guide of things that you can (just about) get in time - perfect for when a soap on a rope or a bottle of talc just won't cut it.

The Ultimate Winter Cycling Jacket
The Stolen Goat Climb & Conquer range is the ultimate "no excuses" winter gear. The cycling jackets are wind and waterproof (which I can vouch for after a soggy morning in the Lake District back in October!) and come equipped with the cosiest fleecy lining. Add in some snazzy designs along with a highly reflective panel on the back to keep you visible out on the roads on those gloomy winter days, and you're on to a winner. Order from the Stolen Goat website before 21st December with next day delivery to earn yourself some serious gift-giving points.

Training Peaks Premium Membership
Give the gift of nerdiness and send your loved one down into the triathlon training data rabbit hole. Training Peaks is a great way to monitor progress, keep track of sessions and ensure you're training smart. Head on over to https://www.trainingpeaks.com for more info.

A Triathlon Race Entry
Okay, this is potentially on the risky side - maybe don't sign someone up for the Norseman if they've just made a few noises about maybe-someday-potentially doing a sprint triathlon. But if you know there's a race your partner in tri has been eyeing up, buying them their entry is a great gift. It shows you've been listening and it means they can go and blow the money they would have spent on the race fee on more Lycra. Winner!

Nothing spoils a bike ride like frozen feet. Banish the winter blues by treating your loved one to some new cycling overshoes. The Gore Wear C5 Windstopper Thermo Overshoes feature a thermo lining to keep those tootsies toasty, and fully-taped seams to keep the elements at bay. Order from Wiggle before 12 noon on Thursday to sneak them into Santa's sack in time.

Sports Massage Gift Vouchers
Living with a triathlete can be a bit like living with the Tin Man when he's due a top up of WD40. We like to complain about our this, that and the other aching. All the time. A sports massage is a great way to get shot of those knots. Groupon is a handy place to get vouchers online for local therapists and you can also book online using Treatwell. If you happen to be local to MK - my coach Campbell Noon from Re-Leaf MK is doing vouchers at the moment so it's worth getting in touch!

TriathlonLIVE Subscription
Help your loved one reach peak super fan status with a subscription to TriathlonLIVE - a streaming service that lets you watch all of the elite World Triathlon Series races. Yes, it's as gloriously nerdy as it sounds and I'll admit to spending way more time than is strictly necessary camped out on the couch watching the pros battle it out (when I should probably have been out training myself...)

A Bloomin' Good Bike Fit and Service
Treat the trusty steed to an end of year tune up at your local bike shop. Or go one step further and treat the tri-fiend in your life to a really good bike fit - I had one at Corley's MK earlier in the year and it made a world of difference to my comfort and efficiency on the bike.

Coffee (aka the Triathlete's Elixir of Life)
Triathlon is all fun and games until you're trying to fit 20 hours+ of Ironman training into a week whilst still vaguely doing your job and keeping some sort of decorum in other aspects of your life. Throw together early mornings and tough training sessions and you've got a whole bunch of individuals who are 90% water, 10% caffeine.* Present a triathlete with a decent batch of the good stuff and they'll be yours forever. Add a cycling twist to the grind with Stolen Goat's recently launched line of coffee - they've even got some super cute travel flasks to go with it!
(*10 points to Gryffindor if you spotted the Gilmore Girls reference)

In Case of Emergency: Buy Socks
Really stuck for ideas? Need a stocking stuffer? Between all the running and the biking, triathletes go through socks like my dog goes through supposedly indestructible dog toys. They will never turn their nose up at a new pair. I'll be here until New Years Eve if I list all the various options, but currently on my wish-list for warmth are the DeFeet Woolie Boolies; for sassy designs are the SG range; and for blister-free running the Hilly Twin Skin.

Happy shopping! Don't forget to use my code 'jenny10' if you do end up treating someone (or yourself... "one for me, one for you" is a totally legit gifting strategy) to something from Stolen Goat. Oh and Father Christmas, if you're reading this, I've been extra good this year and I really wouldn't complain if a Canyon Aeroad happened to appear under the tree!

A Stormy Off-Season

It's safe to say that off-season has been somewhat tumultuous. October saw a series of events that brought stress, grief and anxiety in equal measures. Structured training flew out of the window, running simply became a form of therapy and the focus was to just keep going. I was more or less ready to grow a beard and run off with the first circus that would have me, when November came along and brought with it an antidote to some of October's sadness. G asked me to marry him (I said yes!), we fi-na-lly sold our house, moved out within a week and had our offer accepted on a new one - 2 sleeps until we get the keys! High highs to contrast the low lows. Structure was flung aside yet again - this time for far happier reasons. Packing and lifting boxes became my strength training. Galloping up and down the stairs became my cardio. And, of course, now that things have calmed down ever so slightly my body  has decided to be mildly ill for the whole of December so far. Meaning that any training as of late has been A) slightly tentative and B) scuppered by the dreaded combo of naff weather and no turbo set up. Keep Zwift warm for me, I'll be back.

But c'est la vie. Better for life to be disruptive now than during the pointy end of training. With the last couple of months being a bit of a write off, my sights are firmly set on 2019. Ironman Zurich is on the horizon and, after a strategy meeting with my coach, Project Toblerone is officially on. Ironman Copenhagen gave me a good line in the sand, but this time I mean business. When it comes to Ironman #2, there will be no messing around (and hopefully no swimming off in the wrong direction...) Goals have been set, puke in your mouth at the sound of it sessions have been discussed and I'm ready to work harder than ever. Which means I'll be needing more chocolate milk than ever. Replenish your supplies now folks, while you've got the chance.

With a wedding to plan, a change of scenery (no, you're freaking out!) and a new house to sort out, 2019 is going to be a busy one. But life's no fun when you're not swim-bike-running by the seat of your pants - right?

5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who's Just Finished an Ironman

Best approached with caution, the post-Ironman triathlete is a fickle beast. Simultaneously exhausted,  hungry, elated, hungry, relieved and - did I mention hungry? It's a volatile combination. Play it wrong and you'll get your head bitten off, or worse - lose 5 hours of your life as they give you a viva voce race report. Read on for 5 things you should never say to someone who's just finished an Ironman...

1) "Oh it's not that far, let's just walk!"

Let's not. The day after Ironman Copenhagen, my quads were on strike, my toe nails and I were barely on speaking terms, my blisters were on the borderline of requiring their own national insurance number and the little walking I could manage made me look like a cross between the tin man when he's due an oiling and well... someone that's had an unfortunate code brown situation. For a good few days after the race, however long Google Maps says it's going to take to walk somewhere add on an extra 10 minutes and expect a soundtrack of endless leg-related complaining.

2) "Shall we share a dessert?"

That's a good way to lose a hand my friend. Along with the finisher t-shirt and a hefty medal, the post-Ironman triathlete is now the proud owner of a bottomless stomach. And with that comes a whole new level of hangry. Much like a bear that has just awoken from hibernation, coming between an Ironman finisher and their food is a dangerous situation. Shut them in a dark room and throw carbs at them until they calm down.

3) "So, tell me all about the race!"

Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so, because you're about to get a blow-by-blow account of 140.6 miles of racing that gives Paradise Lost a run for its money. Don't believe me? Check out my Ironman Copenhagen race report - reading it basically counts as an endurance event in its own right. 

4) "Did you win?"

No. No I didn't. But there are several things I lost - my dignity, the emergency gel I dropped down a portaloo and, temporarily at least, the ability to descend a flight of stairs without making a strange walrus sound. 

5) "So when's the next one?"

The trouble with this question, and the reason it should be avoided at all costs, is that it could go one of two ways. Neither of them good. Ironman finishers come in two varieties: the "never again, smash my bike up and throw my running shoes into the sea" finisher and the "pass the credit card I've got another 10 races to sign up for" loon. Encounter variety #1 and the mention of another race may or may not lead to them throwing stuff at your head. Encounter variety #2 and they'll bore you senseless with a detailed breakdown of which races they're considering and a step-by-step action plan of their next training phase. I'm most definitely variety #2 and you can bet your best underpants that I'll be booking another race and boring you all by talking about it in the very near future. I can only apologise.

Ironman Copenhagen Race Report

I lay awake in our AirBnB apartment, waiting for the alarm to go off with a whole host of emotions whizzing around my mind. Nerves, fear, excitement. 3:50am finally showed up. Rise and shine - it's race day! Everything I'd done over the previous 2 years - the hundreds of hours of training, the blood, sweat and tears. The doubts and the fears. The G&Ts and the extra glasses of prosecco I'd dutifully turned down. It all boiled down to this one day. And I was ready for it.

With our usual race day breakfast - porridge and a strong coffee - successfully gobbled down, Graham and I starting walking down to the swim start at the Amager Beach Park. With the sun rising around us and my pre-race anthem of choice - Thunderstruck by AC/DC - playing somewhat tinnily through my phone speaker, the half hour walk went by pretty quickly and soon we were arriving at T1, with almost 3000 other athletes. Bike checked, nutrition locked and loaded; it was time to lube up, suit up and head down to the beach for a quick swim warm up. Graham somehow spotted my parents amongst the hundreds of spectators who had already gathered and it was great to see them before I started. I had no idea they were coming out to Copenhagen to watch until the night before and having them there was the best surprise. Time always seems to pass much quicker on race morning and suddenly I found myself lining up at the metal gates, with my snazzy pink swim cap giving me the Triathlete Face Lift, running into the water. Go time.

We'd arrived in Copenhagen a good few days before the race and we'd been down to Amagerstrand for a quick dip already, so I was fairly confident I knew where I was going in the swim. How wrong could I go? Naturally, my famously terrible sense of direction meant I somehow ended up starting the race by swimming a fair way off-piste. What an idiot. There was a group of us who'd all done the same thing - the blind leading the blind, so at least I had company as the canoe of shame drew level with us. With a few muttered swear words, I got myself back on course and vowed that this would be my first and last muppet moment of the day. My early mistake meant that I was a lot closer to the buoys than I would have liked. This, combined with a bit of bad luck in terms of the pack I ended up in the middle of, meant I spent a lot of the swim getting the crap kicked out of me. I couldn't get any space in the water and every time I just about got into a rhythm I got smacked or swum into. It was after a hefty kick to the right eye at the turnaround point that I resigned myself to the fact that the swim, much like the portaloos we would all be encountering later on the run course, was going to be a bit of an ordeal. Suck it up princess, this is an Ironman. Swim like you mean it and get the job done. I steadied myself and focused on trying to stay calm. 1hr 18 mins later, having swum almost 4km instead of 3.8km, I made my way into T1. Graham and our two friends Franzi and Hagar, who started in different waves, all said they loved the swim and had no problems getting space in the water. So I think my slightly less fun experience was down to A) my own idiocy at the start, and B) getting myself caught up in a busy pack. Still, an okay time for me (though slower than I know I'm capable of) and I didn't drown. Cool.

The bike was where the fun really started and I had a huge smile on my face from the moment my arse hit the saddle. I absolutely loved the bike course. It took us out along the coastal road, whizzing passed locals strolling out of their houses in dressing gowns for an early morning swim, before heading into the rolling danish countryside and back down in to the city. There was a bit of a headwind but the roads were perfect for tucking down onto the tri bars and tapping away, nice and smooth. Investing in a good bike fit (shout out to Ian from Corley Cycles in MK - spot on!) definitely paid dividends here and I was really comfortable on my bike. I stuck to my power plan, ticking along consistently rather than surging and knackering my legs for later. Pacing the bike section of an Ironman takes discipline - you feel like you should and could be going harder at the time, but overcooking it will definitely catch you out by the time the run comes around. The support out there was ace, from the enthusiastic gang of mexican-wavers at the top of one of the sharp little inclines to all of the spectators lining the longer hill at the Continental Tyre hotspot. I soaked it all up and I was having so much fun that the time flew by - soon I was coming to the end of my second lap. 6hrs 11 mins later, after 180km in the saddle, I rolled down the ramp into the underground car park that was home to T2. I handed my bike over to a volunteer and grabbed my run bag. Helmet off, running shoes on, gels and jelly babies secured. I was on for a pretty quick transition until I had to queue for a portaloo on the way out - call me an amateur but I didn't really fancy peeing my pants in front of hundreds of spectators on the run course! 8 minutes after ditching my bike I headed up the ramp out of T2 and into the city centre, ready to take on those final 26.2 miles.

I'd never run a marathon before. Giving it a go for the first time after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike (which was also my longest ever ride) was always going to hurt. I knew I had the endurance, so it was just going to come down to a bit of grit and determination. The city centre was buzzing with spectators and I made a point of taking it all in and soaking up as much energy from the crowds as I could. I did my best to channel Michelle Vesterby and keep smiling! The run course was 4.5 laps, with lots of out and backs. This meant I got to see my parents, Graham's sister and her husband along with his friend Chris (who lives in Copenhagen and brought his sausage dog out on support crew duties - the best!) several times, which gave me a boost. It also meant I saw Graham, Hagar and Franzi out there - Franzi and I crossed paths quite often on the out and backs and her positive energy really spurred me on. I had a fairly intense pain in my stomach up until the 20km mark - I'm still not entirely sure why - but thankfully it disappeared and overall it didn't do too much damage to my pace.   I was determined to run the whole marathon, only allowing myself a few steps of walking whilst taking on fluids at the aid stations (and a loo break halfway round) before I got going again. I had to have some pretty stern words with myself during the last 10km - ranging from my mantras of "suck it up princess... yes you bloody well can... things get tough, you get tougher" to the slightly less articulate "come the f*ck on, Jenny." It worked. I kept running. The pain really started to get real during the last 5km. My blisters had blisters, my calves were seizing and my hip joints felt like they were filled with barbed wire. My body was asking me to stop. My mind was determined to keep running. I gave it everything I had, every bit of mental strength I could get hold of and finally - having had to run right by it 4 times on previous laps - I was making my way down that glorious red carpet to the finish. Crying, laughing and smiling all at once. Relief, excitement, happiness. With my family shouting my name from the the grandstand, I finally heard those four words I'd been dreaming of for the last 2 years: "You are an Ironman!"

12 hours 33 minutes after I'd started, 140.6 miles of swim-bike-run later, I was officially an Ironman finisher. I'd like to say I played it cool and maintained my dignity, but in reality I cried like a child for 5 minutes post-race and then discovered a little too late that my legs had stopped working and seriously contemplated just living on the toilet I was now unable to get up from for the rest of my life.   A bit of herding about from Graham (who'd been finished for hours, the jammy swine), an ice cream and a (non-alcoholic) beer from the Mikeller bar later, I was a bit more with it. I headed out to the finish line to watch Hagar and Franzi come in. This was Ironman #5 for Graham and he got himself a new PB of 10hrs 44 mins, having raced Ironman Lanzarote in May. Franzi and Hagar, who were also doing their first Ironman, both had awesome races too and it was really cool to share the experience with them. A great day in the office, which all just feels like a bit of a dream now!

So there we have it. First Ironman completed and I absolutely loved it. My goal was to go sub-13hrs so I'm really happy with a 12:33 as a first attempt. There's lots of work to be done and I feel like I'm only just getting started with this swim-bike-run madness. 4 days post-race, my blisters are yet to heal and I'm already itching to book the next one (someone hide my credit card...) It's crazy to think that 2 years ago I could barely ride a road bike. It's been one hell of a journey and I'm so excited to see what the next couple of years hold. Anyway, that's enough rambling for one day. Reading this post is turning into an endurance event in itself - if you made it this far I hope you've been fuelling and hydrating properly. If you want my suggestion - chocolate digestives make for an excellent post-long blog post recovery snack.

I'm already excited for off-season training, suggesting my transformation into a full-blown triathlon obsessed weirdo is complete. Time to plan the next adventure!

The Training Diaries: Ironman Copenhagen - The Final Countdown

"It's the final countdown! Doo doo doo, doo! Doo doo doo doo doo!"

Can you tell I'm excited? It's t-minus 5 days until I get on the start line at KMD Ironman Copenhagen. This time next week, I should be the proud owner of 1 big shiny Ironman medal, 1 finisher t-shirt and 2 very sore legs (because we all know the second day DOMs is when sh*t really gets real). The bags are just about packed, the bikes are tucked up in their boxes and soon we'll be hitting the road for endurance event number 1 - the long drive to Denmark. It's going to be an adventure.

It's all feeling a bit surreal at the moment. It feels like only a nanosecond has passed since I was stood at the finish line of Ironman Bolton in 2015 on support crew duties for G, feeling kind of incredulous that actual human beings had managed to complete 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running and were still in one piece. It seemed impossible. I wanted in. "When I grow up, I'm going to be an Ironman!" Now here I am, big girl pants firmly on and ready to go. Everything I've done over the last 2 years has been leading up to this and now it's time to put my tri suit where my mouth is and see what I can do. 

Tapering off this last week or so has been weird and it's made me realise just how much I've loved my training this year. Okay, the big 7 hour training days, the 5 hour turbo stints (thanks, Beast from the East) and the freezing early season lake swims were tough. But getting out there and getting it done, feeling my body getting stronger with every session? It's been awesome and I kind of don't want it to stop. I'm definitely happiest when I've got training to do and a goal to aim for! 

So here it goes - the culmination of 112 hours of running,  146 hours of cycling, 33 hours of swimming. 1,152 km travelled on foot, 4,193km on two wheels and 101,282m spent doing my best mermaid (aka sea cucumber) impression. Blood, sweat, blisters, tears. God knows how many fig rolls and litres of chocolate milk. Obscene amounts of time spent galloping about in fluorescent, stretchy clothing. Now, it all comes down to one day. Obviously I've got a time in mind that I'd like to achieve but the perk of this being my first Ironman is that as long as I finish it's a guaranteed PB! And "just finishing" is a huge achievement in itself. It's a long day and I know from my experience at IM 70.3 Zell am See that anything can happen. Come what may. The plan is to control the controllable, race strong, enjoy the experience and give it everything I've got. Whatever happens, as long as I can come away from it knowing I've done my best I'll be happy. I've got my mantras in my pocket - "things get tough, you get tougher", "suck it up princess", "don't be shit" - and a determined fire in my belly. Add in the promise of Danish pastries and beer once I've finished and I'm good to go. Ironman Copenhagen, I hope you're ready because this little lycra-clad weirdo is coming for you!

See you on the other side...

An Estonian Adventure: AG European Champs Race Report

The day we set off on our journey to Estonia for the ETU age group European standard distance triathlon championships began, as all good adventures do, with a notification from the Easyjet app. Our flight had been delayed. After a few hours of scampering around Gatwick airport, we eventually got up in the air and landed in Tallin just after midnight. Bikes safely retrieved - with a big sigh of relief from me as this was the first time travelling with my shiny new Canyon - we headed down to the hire car place, expecting a quick 5 minute form to fill in before we could head to the nearby hotel we'd booked. No such luck - the guy seemed to want our full life stories and the promise of our first born child before he'd hand the car over. We eventually arrived at our hotel at 2am where we had a short nap before getting up at 5.30am to drive down to Tartu in time for the team briefing. Tired, but excited, we arrived in Tartu at about 8.30am and headed to the conference centre. Despite being surrounded by fellow GB athletes, taking our team photos and getting a full run down of the ins and outs of the race details, it still hadn't sunk in that I was in Estonia, getting ready to race at the European champs.

The day flew by in a blur of rushing around, finding registration, figuring out where transition was and just about managing to catch the start of the elite women's race before heading to our Air BnB. Guess who managed to book a top floor apartment with no lift? Just about managing to avoid dissolving into a puddle of our own sweat, we dragged both bike boxes and our suitcases up 8 flights of stairs and G set about putting the bikes back together. It was soon time for us to head down to check our bikes into transition, meaning that we hadn't had time to recce any of the bike course or even really ride our bikes properly to check they were working. Lesson very much learnt for the next time we race abroad - turning up less than 24hrs before you're due to race is a really bad idea!

After another sleepless night, race morning had arrived and I still hadn't quite got my head around the fact that I was there and about to race. This was only my second ever time racing the standard distance and it was at the European championships. Less than 2 years ago, I could barely ride a road bike and now I was here in GB kit. It all just felt a bit surreal and I was still half expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask what I thought I was playing at!

With only a few weeks until Ironman Copenhagen, this race was all about making the most of the experience but coming home in one piece, ready to take on my final big block of Ironman training. With this in mind, I was having a small internal struggle with the part of me that wanted to go all guns blazing, and the part that knew I needed to race sensibly. We walked down to transition to do a few final bike checks and then walked the mile or so along the river up to the swim start. My wave were due to set off an hour before Graham's and soon it was time to say goodbye and get into the water. The swim was a deep water start and lining up at the buoys you could feel the current trying to pull you along - it was so hard to stay on the spot and wait for the customary heart-beat countdown before the gun went. Non-wetsuit definitely wasn't going to be a problem here. We swam downstream with the current pulling us along. I'd never swum in a river before - it was awesome! It was hard to gauge how fast we were being swept downstream. I spotted a guy from a previous wave up ahead, but figured that I didn't need to worry too much about him just yet. A few strokes later and the next thing I knew I'd managed to beach myself on his back like some sort of pesky river dwelling whale. Awkward. Turns out I was swimming a lot faster than I would in a regular lake. Minor beaching incident aside (sorry, man in the blue hat - at least I'm a fairly small human being!) the swim was great fun. The distance had been extended from the usual 1500m to account for the current and 24 minutes later, with my watch clocking a total of 1800m, I was making my way up the steep exit ramp to T1.

Bike time. Goggles off, helmet on, grab bike - go! The bike course was made up of two loops, taking us out on a long out and back before winding through the town right down by transition and back out again. Other than a few sharp little inclines here and there, the course was pretty flat and the conditions were ace, with very little wind. It was so tempting to go as hard as I could on the out and back, just to see what speed I could get up to! I managed to stay disciplined and stick to my planned power. Go hard, but don't break. With the Ironman in the back of my mind, I was probably a little overcautious round some of the bends in town (I was so paranoid about coming off and wrecking my bike with only weeks until the big day) and lost some time there, but overall I was happy with my bike split and I had a great time out on the course.

Soon I was rolling into T2. You'd think that, having completed two of the three disciplines, it would have sunk in by this point that I was racing at the European champs but nope. Dilly daydream over here was on autopilot. Bike racked, helmet off, trainers on. Time to run. I've been working hard on my running this year, but it's all been about the long slow stuff ready for the Ironman marathon. I knew I needed to be realistic with my pacing - clinging on for dear life works in a sprint but blowing up a few kms into the 10km run of a standard distance wouldn't be a pretty picture. I settled into my pace - go hard, don't break. I overtook a couple of people on the bridge out of town and found myself a little bit in no-man's land for the long out and back section. Usually on the run I like to go into shark mode and choose people ahead of me to try and overtake one by one, but for quite a long section of the run there was no one really around me - only people going in the opposite direction heading for the finish! As much as this was mentally a little tough, I was kind of glad for it as it was good preparation for the inevitable lonely sections that I'm sure I'll encounter during the Ironman marathon. The humidity of the day was starting to make its presence known by this point and I chucked water over my head at each aid station to keep cool. I settled into a good rhythm on the run, but it was here that I really started to feel our less than ideal preparation from the day before - the 20,000+ steps we'd walked, the numerous flights of stairs we'd slogged up and down to drag the bike boxes and suitcases up to our apartment, the major lack of sleep - I could feel the fatigue in my legs. I would have loved to have been able to negative split the run and speed up for the second half (that was the plan!) but, not today satan. I knew realistically that pushing any harder was going to be risky in terms of being able to recover enough for my big Ironman training block. I had a 5 hour bike ride and a 20 mile run to complete just a few days later. Calm your pants, keep it smooth. I held my pace, keeping it consistent until I knew that blue carpet to the finish line was near. With supporters lining the barriers, I managed something vaguely resembling a sprint finish (in reality it was probably more like a shuffle) and crossed the finish line with a new PB for the standard distance. There's still a huge amount of work to be done if I ever want to get competitive at this distance, but all things considered I was happy with how I went on the day.

It wasn't until I was back at the finish line, on the other side of the barriers now, waiting to watch Graham and our friend Chris finish that it really sunk in how cool it was just to be here. To go from 'I'd never be caught dead doing a triathlon' to qualifying for the age group European champs is a pretty big step, and I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to go and race in a really cool city and represent my country. A GB lady who was racing in the 75-79 year old age category (she was quick to point out that she's only 75!) was talking to the commentator at the finish line - this was her 21st time racing at a championship, after taking up triathlon in her 40s. That kind of sums up how special this sport is. You don't have to have been a child sporting prodigy to be able to compete at a high level. There's so much opportunity for anyone to get involved. Give it courage, commitment and maybe just a little bit of madness and triathlon will take you places.

As I type, it's exactly 1 year to the day since my qualification race last August. I've come a long way since then and I feel like I'm only just getting started. Next stop, Ironman Copenhagen - 13 days to go!

10 Things Nobody Warns You About When You Take Up Triathlon

It's Ironman UK this weekend which means it's almost 3 years to the day since I suddenly developed the urge to spend all my free time getting sweaty in Lycra and refreshing my Strava stats. Triathlon is awesome, but addictive. Before you know it what started off as a metaphorical dipping of your toes in the water  - a little running here, a little cycling there - will soon see you plunging head first into a lake at some ungodly hour surrounded by hundreds of other wetsuit clad loons, ready for yet another race with a great big smile on your face. Here's 10 things nobody warns you about when you take up triathlon:

1) You'll never do just one.
Go anywhere near an Ironman finish line and you'll probably hear a chorus of "never again!" as the athletes hobble away to collect their bikes. Give them an hour or so, they'll be planning their next race. I've said it once and I'll say it again, the thing I love about triathlon is there's no such thing as a perfect race, because there's always something you can work on - "if I can just get a little more powerful on the bike"... "if I can just speed up T2"... "next time, I will..." - this, combined with the huge hit of endorphins and the fact that it makes you feel like a total bad ass, is the reason triathlon is so addictive. There's a reason that Tim Don has put himself through an excruciating recovery process to get back on those start lines after suffering a broken neck in Hawaii last year - despite the fact that he already holds the Ironman world record. He knows he's got more to give and he's doing whatever it takes to get there. Sorry friends, family and loved ones - I'm in this triathlon thing for the long run!

2) There's always an excuse to buy more kit
You'll spend your life savings and promise to hand over your first born child in return for various bits of kit and caboodle. Time spent eyeing up new high heels, dresses and handbags has been swapped for drooling over tri shoes - "I know I don't need them, but these ones are pink!" - picking out my next race suit - "no one panic, but Stolen Goat have started doing tri suits..." and blowing my savings account on a new TT bike. Just when you think you've got enough, you'll find a new reason to add to your ever growing collection of Lycra. My word of advice? Don't download the Wiggle app. You'll slip, fall and accidentally order yourself a whole new wardrobe of kit.

3) So. Much. Laundry.
With all that kit, and all that training, comes a lot of laundry. Some people choose to decorate their homes with house plants, trendy knick-knacks or snazzy ornaments. Us? We've opted for carefully draped cycling shorts, aptly positioned jerseys and artistically arranged tri suits - all hanging up to dry ready for the next session. I'd say at least once a week I almost scream the house down thinking that there's some sort of miscreant lurking in my shower, only to realise it's just one of our wetsuits hanging up to dry. Oh, and if you're anything like me and G - once it's dry you'll probably just use your intensive training schedule as an excuse to leave the clean stuff to form a small mountain in the spare room. Who has time to fold anyway?

4) Peanut butter will become a major food group. And it will get everywhere
Shove it in a sandwich, pop it on top of your porridge, slip a spoonful inside a cut medjool date with a little sea salt to take out on the bike for your long rides. Peanut butter is life and the god of foods. I frequently accidentally leave the house with peanut butter on my face. My other half is essentially a bear in disguise, so I'm forever finding peanut butter on the light switches. Running out of the good stuff will be classed as a code red situation (only matched by running out of coffee) and the flag will be flown at half mast until another jar has been safely hunter gathered from the shops.

5) Sunday mornings will never be the same again
Sundays are all about long lie ins and breakfast in bed, right? Not if you're a swim-bike-run obsessive! Lazy mornings under the sheets will be traded for 7am lake swims, early morning bike rides and 4am alarm calls to shovel down some porridge before races. And the weirdest part? You'll absolutely love it.

6) You'll master the art of the second breakfast
I already had the whole short stature, weird feet thing down but taking up triathlon really marked my transition into full blown hobbit-hood as I discovered the glorious meal known as second breakfast. All those early starts mean you'll often get to 9.30am having already done more exercise than most people do in a week. You'll develop an appetite not dissimilar to that of an angry bear that just woke up from hibernating. Recovery food is important, and so is any excuse to have extra coffee. Viva la second breakfast!

7) There's a chance you'll lose all sense of decorum
There was a time I wouldn't even go into the shared kitchen at my uni house without make up on, let alone venture into the outside world. I used to go out running even on the hottest of days in full length leggings because I was so worried that a stranger might judge my milk-bottle white pins if I dared to wear shorts. Now? I'll quite happily hop straight out of the lake and mooch into the local supermarket with bits of lake weed accessorising my dripping wet hair, stuff fig rolls into my gob out on long bike rides without a care in the world about what passing motorists might think. And those long running tights? Safely stashed at the back of the wardrobe as soon as Spring turns up to play. It's not the most glamorous of sports, but triathlon has been amazing in helping me to loosen up a little and stop caring so damn much about what other people think. I probably should stop doing snot rockets in public, but when you're busy trying to nab a QOM on a Strava segment a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Speaking of Strava...

8) You'll turn into a Strava nerd
If you're yet to fall entirely down the rabbit hole, Strava is an app that allows you to record all your workouts, see other people's, give/receive 'kudos' and fight to the death for the top spot on the segment leader boards. Strava is a gateway drug to full blown, number-obsessed nerdiness. A quick check of your average pace and heart rate, will soon turn into scouring through your average strides per minute, your bike power output and whatever other stats you can get your cycling glove clad mits on. One of my clients made the mistake of asking how my training was going the other day and ended up with an ear full about my VO2 max and my FTP. Sorry everyone, I've turned into a numbers geek and I don't care who knows it.

9) You'll meet a whole community of equally crazy, like-minded people
I know we look a little bit weird, strolling about in skin-tight one pieces and donning bike helmets that make us look like we're off on some sort of space voyage - but I promise, triathletes are an incredibly friendly and supportive group of people. The only issue? We're all a big bunch of enablers. "Buy the new bike!" we'll cry, "Of course you should enter another race!", "One more cycling jersey won't hurt..."

10) Your perception of 'impossible' will change - and you'll discover a whole new level of self-belief
Not long ago, I thought being able to run further than 5km felt impossible. In 39 days time, I'll be doing a marathon for the first time on the streets of Copenhagen, having already completed a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride earlier in the day. Triathlon gives you the opportunity to achieve things you may never have thought you were capable of, and each little victory will make you stronger and more determined. It transfers over into everyday life too. You'll find yourself becoming a little bolder, a little braver, a little more ready for adventure. Once you've conquered your first triathlon, you'll start feeling like there's nothing you can't tackle.


The Training Diaries: Countdown to the European AG Standard Distance Championships

It's somehow July already (is it just me or did someone hit fast forward on 2018?) which means I'm officially counting down the days until I fly out to Estonia for the European Age-Group Standard Distance Championships on the 21st. Team kit has been delivered and tried on. A giddy little freak out about my actual name being on actual GB kit has been completed (it involved my finger-pointing, butt shaking dance which I'm pretty sure I'm going to do myself an injury with one of these days) and I'm currently in the midst of a short block of speed-work focused training to get race ready. This has involved a drop in volume and a ramp up of intensity - up and at 'em legs, it's rocket time!

Ironman Copenhagen is the main focus this year which means that a large proportion of my training since December has been centred around building endurance, going long and using my diesel engine. In contrast, these last few weeks have been all about cranking up the speed a little to help me cope with the more fast and furious style of racing required for the standard distance. It's safe to say that my legs weren't quite sure what was going on when I started asking them to run fast again, but it's amazing how quickly the body can adapt and over the last couple of weeks I've started seeing big improvements. I've hit my fastest ever average swim pace in the lake (I honestly think my new Zone 3 Align wetsuit might have magic powers, it's awesome!), my bike pace is moving on up and my running is feeling stronger than ever.

On Sunday, I returned to the scene of my home town sprint triathlon which gave me an opportunity to really see where I'm at under race conditions. I had a great time out on the bike course, taking my new Canyon TT out for his inaugural race. I'd decided to ride at my FTP power so I could see how my legs felt on the run - a new PB for 5km off the bike was a nice little confidence booster that I can maintain that kind of effort during the bike split and still run strong. Taking the age-group win and getting a snazzy new trophy to add to the shelf was the cherry on top of a great morning out. It was so much fun racing in my home town and seeing so many familiar faces out on the course - both racing and marshalling.

As gritty as the higher intensity speed-work has been, I've enjoyed the switch up in my training schedule. The last couple of months have seen me average between 18-20 hours of training a week, tackling several big 6-7 hour swim-bike-run days, along with a 30km run pretty much every Saturday (apologies to any Hitchin/Letchworth dwellers who may have seen me out on one of these long runs - Ironman training seems to take away any sense of decorum, so I've probably been spotted pulling my shorts out of my butt crack and blasting out snot rockets in public a few too many times). Don't get me wrong, I love the big training days. There's something special about looking at your plan, thinking 'oh crap how the hell am I going to do all of that!?' only to get home several hours later knowing you've conquered it. But it does get a bit relentless, so having a few weeks of lower volume, higher intensity training has given me that extra little bit of down time that I needed. Mind and body are feeling good and I'm excited to feel the benefits of all this speed work when I get my teeth into the last big endurance block after Estonia. 

With 11 days to go until the ETU champs, everything seems to be coming together quite nicely so that I can go out and enjoy racing a shorter distance without it being a total shock to the system! The championship will only be my second time racing the standard distance so my main aim for the race is just to get out there, push hard and see what I can do. I'm not expecting to be massively competitive up against all the experienced short distance racers, but as long as I can come away knowing I've given it my all and made the most of the opportunity I'll be happy. Tartu looks beautiful as well and I love that Triathlon is taking me there - the adventure continues!


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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