Swim, bike, run, write.

The Training Diaries: Caution, tapering triathlete - approach with carbs #IronmanZurich2019

So it turns out, if you want to make the first half of a year whizz by quicker than Lucy Charles-Barclay during an Ironman swim - you just need to move house, change jobs, plan a wedding and train for an Ironman all at once. I genuinely have no idea where the last 6 and a bit months have gone. Did I mistake them for peanut butter and eat them? Did I fall asleep and miss the entirety of June? Who knows. Time flies when you're spinning plates (or should that be gears?)

The final big push towards the Ironman Zurich 2019 start line is more or less complete. I'm checking the long-range weather forecast for Zurich more often than I check my bank balance - a wise decision when you have a tendency to throw every penny at swim-bike-run related stuff - and I'm going through hydration tablets faster than I am clean pants, which can only mean one thing: it's taper time. If those of you who have the misfortune of spending time with me ~in real life~ thought I was a pain in the arse during peak training, you are in for an absolute treat now I'm starting to taper down. Honestly? You're probably best shutting me in a dark room and just occasionally throwing some caffeine and carbs in my direction. It's safer for everyone.

Training has gone so well this year. I've been more motivated, determined and consistent than ever and I've really noticed the difference. Where last year me might have taken the slightly easier option, or given herself the benefit of the doubt, this year me has grit her teeth and got the job done. I want to get to race day knowing I've done everything in my power to be at my best. Just enough, isn't good enough. Relentlessly determined has been my 2019 vibe and I'm excited to see what I've got.

I just hope I can do myself justice on the day. Of course, being the mildly neurotic, type A, triathlon-obsessed weirdo that I am - there's also all the usual doubts and worries whirling around in my mind. I've trained harder than ever, but the regime has also been very different. Last year was all about volume - I spent countless hours plodding slowly through long runs and rides (I think I had more 20 mile runs than I did fig rolls last summer, which is saying something!) and building up a base of endurance to make sure that my body would be capable of just getting round. This year has been more about layering the intensity on top of that base endurance, finding faster and working towards getting that extra few percent so that I can achieve more. The numbers, and the change I can see and feel in my body speak volumes to the fact that it's been working. I've hit PBs for 5km, 10km, half marathon and 20 miles on the run. I'm super comfortable on the bike and hitting higher average speeds over much hillier routes than I could last year. On the one hand, I'm feeling stronger than ever in body and mind. But when you've got 140.6 miles of swim, bike and run ahead of you, it's hard not to doubt yourself. Throw in the sporadic bouts of cramp I've been plagued with in the swim, and you've got a perfect storm for me turning into a little tri-suit clad bundle of nerves.

As I gradually wind down the training hours over the next few weeks, it's going to be about staying sane and staying strong. If anyone needs me, I'll be busy applying excessive amounts of hand sanitiser, throwing evils at anyone who even dares to think about sneezing in my general direction and doing my very best not to raid the snack cupboard every 5 minutes.

The countdown is officially on: T-minus 2 weeks until Project Toblerone.

The Training Diaries: Grafman Middle Distance Race Report

You know you’re up too early when even the dog refuses to emerge from underneath his pile of blankets to greet you. There was a time in my life when I’d be up and about at 4am because I was yet to make it to bed after a night out. These days, the pre-dawn chorus alarm call can only mean one thing: race day.

I entered the Grafman middle distance as a training race for Ironman Zurich. One of my takeaways from Ironman Copenhagen last year was that I needed to get better at holding my own in a busy pack during the swim, so I’d be less bothered by all the kicking, grabbing and dunking. Grafman tends to pull a good crowd, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to get some more swim experience under my belt. Naturally then, the swim ended up being cancelled. We arrived at registration just after 6am, surrounded by a thick, slightly ominous fog. Standing in transition, you wouldn’t even have known the lake was out there. The organisers pushed the start back by an hour or so, hoping the visibility would improve, but with the clock ticking, a gaggle of triathletes shivering and the sun struggling to make its way through the clouds, the call was made to keep us all safe and cancel the swim. The race would start with the bike, setting us off time-trial style in waves based on our racking position.

Without the swim, I decided to use the race to test my bike numbers and see what power I could hold over the 56 miles without breaking myself and having to walk the half marathon. The day was all about getting a really good, tough training effort in so I wanted to make the most of the race day adrenaline and push myself a little further. Clad in my Stolen Goat Sunday best, I focused on tucking down on to the bars and tapping out a good solid effort. I found myself holding around 15-20 watts higher than I’d originally planned, and I felt good. I’ve been putting in a lot of hours on the turbo trainer recently and those Zwift sessions have definitely paid off – these legs like to pedal! The bike course at Grafman is predominantly flat, with short sharp hills to test your legs every now and then. This is my favourite kind of riding. Fun, fast and enough of a challenge to keep it interesting. Of course it wouldn’t be a Jenny race day without some sort of directions-related muppet moment and at one of the last turnarounds I got confused, very nearly zoomed off in the wrong direction whilst pushing a high gear and ended up having to stop and spin myself round to set off back on track. Shout out to the marshal for managing not to laugh too loudly at my idiocy. Soon, after losing some more time getting stuck behind a tractor, I was heading back towards Grafham Water and making my way into transition 3hrs after setting off. My average pace over the 56 miles was faster than I’d been able to hold for a sprint not that long ago so I’m really pleased with the progress there and I can’t wait to put my legs to the test on the Ironman Zurich bike course.

The run was a bit of an unknown for me on this occasion. My running had been going really well – a couple of weeks earlier I’d managed to set a brand new 10km PB (47:58) and a new half marathon PB (1:43:46, taking almost 8 mins off my previous best) in the space of a week without really meaning to and I was flying high. But such is the triathlon rollercoaster and a couple of days later I suffered a bout of plantar fasciitis that meant I had to back off and spend more time swimming, cycling and grumpily icing my left foot.  It’s more or less healed now, but the plan for Grafman was to put in a good effort on the run (the sooner you finish, the sooner you get beer – right!?), whilst staying in control and not risking any damage to my foot by overcooking it. The run course takes you on a double out and back, first heading along the dam (through a cloud of tenacious flies – I’m sure one of them is still living in my left nostril) before coming back towards transition and going on an undulating off-road loop. Thankfully, my foot was feeling okay so I just got into a rhythm, switched on my little in-built metronome and put one foot in front of the other – mainly focusing on not accidentally trampling one of the many small kids who had ventured out on civilised family bike rides and were instead faced with hundreds of tri-suit wearing weirdos, jumped up on energy gels. I felt strong all the way until the end, putting in a 1hr 53 min half marathon off the bike. It’s definitely not the time I was hoping for when I entered, but considering that I ran that time for a half marathon in 2017 and threw up for several hours afterwards from the effort, I’m pretty happy that I can comfortably do that after 56 miles on the bike these days, on a day where I’d decided not to push too hard on the run. 

4hrs 55 mins after I started, I was crossing the finish line, downing a pint of Erdinger and meeting up with Graham, my parents and the dogs – the best support crew a lycra-clad girl could have. I came home with 3rdplace in my age category, 20thfemale overall and a lovely patch of sun burn on the back of my neck – the sun finally showed up to the party on the run and this pale gal most definitely missed a spot with the sunscreen. With 8 weeks and 4 days to go until Ironman Zurich, Grafman was a nice confidence booster. It can be hard to trust the process, but I’m feeling positive about the weeks to come and I’m so excited to take on Ironman #2.

It’s a testament to the progress I’ve made, the fact that I can tow the start line of a half ironman (sans swim) and consider it as “just a training day”. That’s not to say a 56 mile bike and a half marathon is an easy feat (my aching quads three days on will vouch for that!) - but the distances don’t terrify me like they used to. Back in 2017, I trained for 9 months to “just get round” at Ironman Zell am See 70.3 and I can remember lining up at the start with doubts in the back of my mind as to whether I was capable of completing it. The last 2 years have given me confidence, trust and respect for my body. I put it through hell some days, and I’m proud of what it allows me to do. And that’s what this triathlon madness is all about for me. Taking each day as an opportunity to see what I can do, to push myself that little bit harder and to keep progressing.

The Training Diaries: Ironman Zurich 2019 - "Winter Miles for Race Day Smiles"

8 weeks down, 20 weeks to go - Ironman Zurich I am coming for you! I've got that proper end of training block feeling, of being simultaneously knackered and chomping at the bit for more. On the one hand, I'm already feeling fitter and stronger than ever before. The numbers are looking good (totally kicking last year me's arse) and I really do feel like I can step things up a notch this year, to race like I've never raced before. On the other hand, I have peanut butter in my hair right now and I just told the tumble dryer to F off because it had the audacity to you know... beep to let me know it was done. Ironman-induced mood swings are totally a thing.

It's been a really good, solid 8 week block of training. We've had everything from snow, to gale force winds, to 20 degree sunshine (in February, our poor planet) but there's been no excuses. Too icy to run on the road? Go and run in the woods (I have my fiancĂ© to thank for being my sherpa and making sure I don't get lost in Woburn forest). Too dark for an early morning bike session? Go Zwift yourself! One of the (many) things that Ironman training has taught me is that you'll always be able to find an excuse not to train - and there will be days where your excitement and motivation go off on a little holiday. Those are the days where it comes down to grit, consistency and relentless determination. This year I've found myself really embracing "the hard". It's not supposed to be easy - that's the thrill of this whole Ironman thing. If a session feels tough - well, good, it's going to be make me that bit stronger come race day.

Whenever that little voice in the back of my head (or maybe it's in my poor aching quads!?) wants to quit, or slow down, or take that shortcut home - I picture myself on the last 10km of the Ironman marathon. Am I going to quit then? Hell no. So I'm not going to quit now. Train hard, race easy. When I cross that finish line in Zurich, I want to be safe in the knowledge that I've given it everything. That I've done everything in my power to be at my very best. It's about the process as much as it is about the actual race. And honestly? I'm loving training this year. Even on the hard days. I'm so excited to crack on with Phase 2 of Project Toblerone and see what I've got. And you know what comes with big brick sessions, big rides and longer runs? More chocolate milk and more peanut butter. I am most definitely on board.

The Seven Deadly Sinners of Triathlon

^ A classic 'over-sharer', in her element. "Oh this? Just a totally candid photo of me out running..." Guilty.

With three sports to master and more training hours than I've got clean pants, triathlon provides ample opportunity to break one unspoken rule or another. Whether you're prone to turning transition into your own personal Floordrobe or you've had a case of the post-swim munchies and accidentally depleted the last of the peanut butter supplies (a code red situation if I ever saw one), it's safe to say we've all made a faux pas or two at some point during triathlon training or racing. Time for a tri-amnesty. Hands up, who's guilty?

The Seven Deadly Sinners of Triathlon

1) The Over-Sharer

If there's one thing we love more than triathlon training, it's talking about our triathlon training (hi, hello, je suis guilty). But The Over-sharer takes it to the next level. Their Strava feed looks more Paradise Lost than training log, you know everything from their FTP to the exact stench emitted by their running shoes (a bouquet of cabbage and dodgy onions) and your knowledge of their toilet/eating habits is practically encyclopaedic. Step away from Twitter, the world doesn't need to know about your mid-run poo stop.

2) The Fast-Lane Fraudster

They stride out of the changing rooms, surveying the minefield that is a local swimming pool on a weekday morning. They notice the slow lane, predominantly empty. A small mischievous grin tugs at the corners of their mouth, like someone letting out a heinous fart on a packed train, as they head towards the fast lane knowing full well that they intend to do a good 20 minutes of drills and doggy paddle before they're actually going to start swimming fast. Because, why pop into a slower lane for your warm up when you've got an ego to massage and you can get in the way of everyone else? Great fun.

3) The Billy Big Boots

They've been there, they've done it all and they've got the overpriced t-shirt in 5 different colours to prove it. Whatever race you've done, they've done it - but of course when they did it, it was much harder, there was a mid-summer blizzard, the world imploded and they still got a better time than you.  How to spot one coming? You'll hear a chorus of "you've not really done an Ironman, until you've done THIS Ironman".

4) The Swim Wrestler

Come race day, the swim can be a bit of an ordeal. It's a washing machine out there and with hundreds of neoprene-clad limbs flailing around, a knock or two is to be expected. But I'm convinced there's always a few people who have mistaken the swim for a boxing ring and are just out there for a bit of a fight. Is it really necessary to play whack-a-mole with my head?

5) The Transition Hog

Is there a greater joy than surviving the aforementioned swim whack-a-mole, only to get to transition and discover that you can't get within 10 feet of your bike thanks to someone else's floordrobe? The Transition Hog holds an exceptional talent for making an extraordinary amount of mess in a very small amount of time. Why are your goggles in my running shoes? And what on earth have you been doing with all this talcum powder?

6) The Over-Embellisher

I mean, maybe they just forgot to mention that the swim got cut or the bike course was 10 miles short as they bragged about those PBs? And "first person with hazel eyes who's name begins with an X and likes marmite" is a totally legit trophy-winning category, right? Right.

7) The Peanut Butter Bandit

The Peanut Butter Bandit. The most dastardly villain of them all. In they swoop, spoon at the ready to scoff the last of the peanut butter, leaving nothing but the sad empty jar as their despicable calling card. Have they replenished the back up, emergency peanut butter supply before their gluttony? Of course they haven't. For shame.

"Can you see my bum crack through these shorts?" and Other Triathlete Concerns

Triathletes. Complex beasts with complex concerns. If we're not obsessing over Strava stats, we're inexplicably smothering ourselves in gunk like an oversized Christmas goose and squeezing into some sort of neoprene number to go battling it out with the lake weeds. The list of (really not that dreadful) struggles is endless, but here's my favourite things to whinge about when I'm training:

The post-long run hanger
I don't know for sure, having not grown a tiny person in my body yet, but I'm 99.9% sure the food cravings you develop whilst out on a long run are almost as powerful as that of someone heavily pregnant. Which is fine, until you go to make that peanut butter toast you've been dreaming of for 20 miles only to discover that some absolute cretin (under normal circumstances known as one of your loved ones) has eaten it all. The hulk looks like a little kitten, compared to the hangry peanut butter deprived triathlete.

Death by blow-drying
The utter devastation of realising that dry-shampoo isn't going to rectify the sweaty, lake water-infused hair situation - whilst knowing that in 10 hours or less you're going to have to do it all over again. Why bother doing upper body strength workouts when you can just aim a hairdryer at your head all the live long day?

The "oh sh*t, no clean kit" laundry debacle
I know it seems like we're always buying ourselves new lycra, but honestly - we never have enough lycra. And so ensues the risky sniff test - "I can get away with wearing these shorts one more time, right?" (The answer is always no.)

The great strava upload fail
Hell hath no fury like a triathlete denied an upload. "But how will anyone know that I did a quick-little-easy-tempo-IM pace-5x20km-dog jog-WU-CD-2017229*5[1'] run?"

The mid-week lane rage
It's all fun and games until someone goes rogue and plays backstroke roulette in the fast lane at 6.15am on a Wednesday morning.

The speed vs dignity conundrum
On the one hand, I could stop and blow my nose like a civilised human being. But on the other hand I could fire off a snot rocket and keep going. Sure, the noises coming out of my mouth would probably sound less like a birthing sea lion if I slowed down a touch so I could actually breathe, but that's no fun. Who needs dignity when you've got a Strava QOM to brag about on the internet, right?

"Can you see my bum-crack through these shorts?" 
The (literal) fine line between worn in and worn out. Despite all of the aforementioned lycra purchasing, we still have our favourite bits of kit. And we will wear them until they are but a rag. On the plus side, those shorts you should probably have chucked out 2 years ago? They're an excellent deterrent for drafters.

Got something to add? Come at me: @jennifersophiee

P.s. if anyone spotted the Mindy Kaling book reference in the title, let's be friends.

The Training Diaries: Ironman Zurich 2019 - "And So It Begins..."

I've come to realise that, when a new Ironman training plan from my coach drops into my inbox, there will always be a moment where I wonder how the hell I'm going to tackle all these sessions. Shortly followed by a moment where I begin to wonder if my coach is trying to kill me. I mean,  I am pretty annoying and death by swim-bike-run would be a great way to disguise a murder plan - "she died doing what she loved..."

As scary and intimidating as the long training block ahead of me may look, this is what I love doing. And this year I even made it through the first look at my Phase 1 training plan without having a panicky "I've bitten off more than I can chew" cry - take that, anxiety and self-doubt. As much as my quads might have squealed a little at the prospect of all those tough sessions when my plan arrived two weeks ago, the excitement quickly kicked in and I was chomping at the bit (and the last of the Christmas cheese), ready to get started. Naturally, I woke up with a cold the very next day so week 1 was compromised slightly by the mountains of snot I was producing. Thankfully, I am a snot monster no longer and halfway through week 2 I'm already feeling the benefits of being back into the training groove. I've missed this.

It's a strange feeling, going in for Ironman round 2. Last year I had the rookie card at my disposal and the only real expectation on my shoulders was to finish. But this year,  I've got a bit of experience behind me and the knowledge that I can do this. Which means the pressure I'm putting on myself has doubled and I want to try to make some big improvements. I was so happy with my performance at Ironman Copenhagen last year - to go from barely being able to ride a bike and never having run long distances, to coming away with a 12 and a half hour finish time was more than I ever dreamt I could achieve when I first started out 2 or so years ago. But it also feels like I've only just started to scratch the surface. Ironman Copenhagen was all about finding out if I could do it. Ironman Zurich is about finding out what I can really do and how far I can go - because I'm hoping these pasty little lamb-chop legs of mine have got a lot more in them.

So Project Toblerone is on. I'm going to train hard, train smart and give it everything I've got. Whilst trying not to lose my marbles or deplete the entire world of its peanut butter supply in the process.

185 days to go - if you can't find me, check the turbo trainer. Pedalling for pizza.

Let me know where you're racing this year - I like to be nosy! @jennifersophiee

Taking on 2019: How to Avoid January Syndrome and Set Goals You'll Actually Achieve

Hi, hello, welcome to 2019! I was about to publish a blog post that had 'bum crack' in the title but I figured I should probably post something vaguely civilised* before I launch back in to raving on about snot, backsides and triathlon.

So January is here. That's fun. The month where all the food companies that were telling you to buy their ultra indulgent chocolate-coated, salted caramel, bacon-wrapped cupcakes a few weeks ago, are now trying to sell you overpriced detox teas and boiled kale. The month where you're pressured into setting a long list of wildly unachievable resolutions and if you're not slaying it (or whatever the kids are saying these days) within the first week you feel like a total failure. This, combined with the weird new trend I've seen on Facebook for bikinis which can only be described as fanny-hammocks, makes for a bewildering kind of month.

Fanny-hammocks aside (seriously, please let's not make those a thing), the start of a new year and the pressure to be excelling when you're still only just figuring out how to dress in something other than Christmas pyjamas can feel pretty overwhelming. The "new year, new me" frenzy makes us feel like we need to launch into a Mission Impossible-style life overhaul. We set ourselves impossible standards that we can't maintain, we pile on the pressure and we tell ourselves we need to be better. This, leads to January syndrome. That panicky feeling that you should be doing this, that and the other - all at once. That you should be bossing it, all day every day. It starts to feel like everyone else has got it all figured out. You want to get going, you want to throw yourself into the new year. But the pressure cooker that has become your brain is so set on getting it all perfect, that it makes it so hard to just start.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't have goals, aims or ambitions for the year. Goals are great - and trust me, I've got some pretty lofty ones for myself this year - but so is being kind to yourself. January is rubbish enough, without making yourself anxious and miserable by heaping on the pressure. It's okay if you need to give yourself a bit of time. You don't have to have a 15 point action plan for the year stuck on the fridge by 2nd January in order to make the year successful. It's okay if you're not 100% decided on your goals yet.  Not having it all figured out quite yet - or not feeling ready to get going right away, doesn't mean your ambitions aren't going to happen. It just means you need to step back and give yourself a little time to work out what you want and how you're going to get there.

This year, I want to get into the shape of my life for Ironman Zurich and achieve things on the swim-bike-run front that feel a teeny bit impossible right now. I want to finally find the guts to do what I need to do to turn writing into my day job. I want to finish the children's book I started writing 3 years ago. Oh and I'm getting married in less than 10 months. But the first week of January? That was spent unpacking boxes in our new house, finishing up the last of the Christmas chocolate (someone's got to eat it) and trying to remember my own postcode. As much as I felt the pressure to be one of these "at my desk by 7am on 2nd January with a green juice, wearing diamond encrusted underpants that will solve world hunger while I work" kind of girls... I needed to give myself the time to stop my head spinning and get my life in order before I could crack on. Because it's hard to boss it when you don't know where your underpants are.

From my experience working as a personal trainer, the goals that get achieved are the ones that are set with a clear mind and that come from a positive place. The ones that have been mulled over a little. The ones that are broken down into baby steps to make getting started that little bit easier.  Hasty, unattainable targets that are set in the panicky midst of January-syndrome are the ones that end up gathering dust by 1st February. Not sure where to start? I actually wrote a long post on this at the start of 2017 - click here! But, if you can't be arsed to time travel back to 2017, the key things are:

Set a goal that you genuinely believe you can achieve, and that you honestly care about
You're far more likely to actually get there if you can see yourself achieving your goal, and it's something that you're passionate about. A goal is a good one if you've got a solid answer when someone asks you why you want to do that. When motivation and will-power falter, it's that underlying excitement and determination that will get you through.

Break the end goal down into little milestones
Because it makes it so much easier to get started when the first steps are laid out in front of you. Working towards a goal is a process - "run a marathon", for example, might sound all big and scary on its own. So much so, that it might put you off getting started. But bring yourself back to the start of the process. "Contact a coach" or "get out for a 30 minute run" don't seem quite so intimidating. Off you trot.

Consistent is better than perfect
You don't have to do it all perfectly, all at once. Just do one small thing a day that's going to help you towards achieving your goal. It all adds up. And when things don't go 100% according to plan - see it as an opportunity to learn, rather than a failure.

Essentially what I'm getting at here is this: It's okay to feel a bit overwhelmed and lost at the start of the year. It's not you, it's January. It's okay if you're still finding your way out of the post-Christmas chocolate hangover. It's okay, if you need to give yourself a little breathing space to clear your head before you launch yourself into the year.

All guns blazing is useless, if you don't know what direction to blaze in. Here's to the long game. To self-care. And to not embracing the fanny-hammock bikini trend in 2019, because the world is already baffling enough.

*I've managed to use the phrase "fanny-hammock" three, nope four, times in this post so clearly the sense of decorum ended after the first sentence. New year, same weird me.
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