Swim, bike, run, write.

Ironman Zurich 2019 race report


I lay there staring at the ceiling of our hotel room in Zurich, the thoughts of all the possible outcomes of race day only drowned out by the sound of my heart beat - elevated by nerves and anticipation. You’d think my body and mind would have got the hang of handling pre-race nerves by now. It felt like I’d been asleep all of five minutes when the alarm went off. 3.25am. Race morning was here.

After my usual race day ritual of porridge, coffee, a bottle of High5 Zero and obsessively going through my check-list one last time, Graham and I headed down to the race start - chauffeured by my Dad through the torrential rain that had decided to come along and liven things up a tad. First on the agenda was final bike checks, loading my bottles and nutrition on to my trusty Canyon steed. I put my second bottle in the rear cage only for it to slide straight through: the bottom bracket snapped off. Oh good. I’d checked my bike over meticulously before I racked it the day before (and when I say “I”, of course I mean Graham checked it while I stood watch - he is both my fiancĂ© and live-in bike mechanic!) Brakes, gears, tyres, all the nuts and bolts. Everything, except the bottle cages. A lesson most definitely learnt. Graham quickly fashioned a make-shift contraption out of elastic bands to help hold the bottle in place. Sorted - or so we hoped.

As always, time seemed to be on fast-forward. After a thorough warm-up - with my usual pre-race anthem (“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC) playing through my headphones - it was time to grease myself up with Bodyglide like a Christmas goose, don the wetsuit and line up for the swim start. After one final glance at the messages I’d written on my hands - “never give up” and “give it everything” - I ran in to Lake Zurich. Although, knowing me, it probably looked less like running and more like a T-rex trying to get into a paddling pool. Regardless, Ironman #2 was officially underway and it was time to put the hundreds of hours of training into practice.

Swim

Lake Zurich is stunning. My swim? Not so much. I’d go as far as calling it a little bit crap on this occasion. On the plus side, the water was lovely and for the most part I didn’t really have any issues finding space - meaning I took far less of a battering compared to the water-based whack-a-mole that I experienced at Ironman Copenhagen last year. I got to the second buoy and had just about settled in when I started to feel sick, with that horrible acidic feeling at the back of my throat. It’s happened before (I once threw up in my mouth a little bit while swimming on a particularly bouncy day at Box End and had to swallow it!) so I assumed that I’d just swallowed a bit of water and it would pass. Unfortunately, that slightly queasy feeling would stay with me all day - only clearing off for the last 5km of the run. C’est la vie.

I’ve been having issues with cramp all year and it’s something I was really quite worried about going into the swim. I’ve been trying to sort it out for ages - nutrition, hydration, salt intake, magnesium spray and a diligent mobility and stretching routine every evening for several months. And yet, pretty much every time I’ve swum in my wetsuit I’ve been haunted by that horrible twitchy feeling that my calves are about to cramp - meaning I’m terrified to kick properly in case they go. Answers on a postcard if anyone has any ideas - I’m thinking my next step will be to get my swim style looked at and maybe try a different wetsuit.

Anyway. The swim was really just a case of trying to get through it safely, without getting cramp or a black eye. For me, the race would truly start once I got my backside on my bike saddle. With hundreds of wetsuit-clad limbs flailing around me I made it down the back straight and round the penultimate buoy. The torrential rain, which had teased us all by easing off just before the start, had returned with a vengeance. As always in Ironman, the swim seemed to simultaneously take forever and pass by in a flash. I had transition in my sights. I’d just started to let myself think “thank the triathlon Gods, no cramp” when I got that familiar twitchy sensation. Not now legs, please not now. I just about made it to the swim exit, putting my feet down on the lake bed to stand up, when both calves seized into excruciating cramp. My natural instinct would be to roll around on the ground, swearing loudly until it passed. But this was race day and faffing around most certainly wasn’t on the plan, so it was time for my first “suck it up princess” moment of the day. I was going to have to just crack on and hope that getting on dry land would stave off the cramp. I ran up and over the bridge to T1, and thankfully the movement forced my pesky calves into submission. Not today boys, we’ve got a race to complete.

It was quite possibly the slowest swim I’ve ever done in a race - coming in at 1 hour 20 mins with my watch clocking almost 4km (again, need to learn to swim straight!) - but I was out and in one piece. Wetsuit off, helmet on. Now we race.

Bike

The lashings of rain Zurich had treated us to had made the roads soggy to say the least. We’d ridden some of the course along the lake earlier in the week so I knew there would be a fair few drain covers to look out for - but as long as I used my common sense I would be fine. The heat of the day was on its way and the roads would soon dry out. I focused on tucking down on to the aero bars, getting some hydration on board and settling in to my target power. 

Soon, we reached the first “no aero bars” zone, after the first short climb of the day. Having made it through the slightly technical descent and round the corner, the road flattened out and straightened out. Instinctively, I went to get back down on the bars. It’s just how I like to ride - down on the bars unless it’s not safe or sensible to do so. The moment my elbows hit the pads I realised what I was doing - we hadn’t got to the sign that said we were allowed to be back down on the bars yet - and instantly hopped back up on to the bull horns. Idiot. It was a momentary lapse of concentration and a typical race-day muppet moment which, of course, happened right in front of a referee. I saw him note down my number and instantly panicked that I might have just got myself DQ’d. I had two choices - freak out and throw the race away before anything was confirmed, or carry on working hard and wait to see what happened. It’s not over, until it’s over.

It was another hour before a referee on a motorbike finally pulled up alongside me. He fumbled with his penalty cards, and my heart very nearly exploded when I thought he was about to pull out a red disqualification card. Thankfully, it was only a yellow. “Jennifer Lucas? You have a 1 minute penalty for being down on the aero bars in a no bars zone - you need to look out next time!” I was both annoyed - at my own idiocy - and relieved that my race wasn’t over. It’s frustrating to get a penalty - especially when there were other people out there up to all manner of mischief and going unpunished - sucking wheels, crossing the white lines on the road (one guy did this to overtake a referee on a motorbike!) - but ultimately, I cocked up.  And on the plus side, it distracted me for the majority of the first long uphill drag towards Egg which incorporated the infamous climb entitled “the beast”. 

They say bad things come in threes, so I figured after the bottle cage breaking, the leg cramp and the penalty that would be the mishaps over and done with. Then I looked down and noticed my rear bottle cage was swinging precariously from side to side. The elastic bands had broken. I made an executive decision to only drink out of my front bottle (which had my Torq energy solution in it) and hope that the rear bottle - which contained water and a High5 zero salt tab would stay aboard until I could ditch the front bottle and move that one forward. This meant having to grab water bottles at the aid stations to rinse my mouth out every so often, which slowed me down a touch as usually I cruise straight through. The back bottle clung on until about the 70km mark I think, at which point the entire cage snapped off and went flying down the road. Auf wiedersehen my friend! Luckily, the first half of the bike hadn’t been that hot so I could make do with the Saltstick tablets I had in my snack box for electrolytes and do without the bottle.

The climbing didn’t feel that bad on the first lap, and before I knew it I was making my way up Heartbreak Hill with the cries of “Hopp, hopp, hopp! Allez, allez, allez!” and “Ja, super frau!” ringing in my ears. It was so much fun - people really aren’t joking when they say this part of the course is like riding in the Tour de France. My parents along with my future mother-in-law and sister-in-law were waiting for me at the top, and it gave me such a boost to see them. After the stress of all the mishaps, I finally started to enjoy myself. No more muppet moments, from now on I meant business. 

Zurich really turned up the heat on the second lap, making the long drag of climbing towards Egg feel that little bit more arduous, but I kept focused and made sure to strike the balance between working hard but leaving enough for the run. You see so many people grinding away on the climbs, surging up only to have to roll along at the top because they’ve exhausted themselves. It’s easy to get carried away with trying to get an impressive sounding bike split, forgetting to give the awaiting marathon the respect it deserves - which ultimately will make you way slower overall. I knew that I wanted to run a strong marathon so I kept it controlled, letting those who wanted to cat and mouse with me have their fun while I stuck to my own plan. Blinkers on - other than to occasionally appreciate the views.

Soon I was making my way along the lake again, ready for one more wiggle up Heartbreak Hill before heading back towards transition. 6 hours 19 minutes later, I was getting off the bike. There’s still work to be done, but I’m really happy to have posted a bike split that was only a few minutes slower than my time at Copenhagen despite Zurich having almost double the climbing and way higher temperatures to contend with. Take that, last year me.

Run

I ditched my bike and grabbed my run bag, taking the time to quickly spray on some extra factor 50 - which turned out to be a total waste of time because I would soon soak it all off at the aid stations and end up looking like a drumstick lolly by the end of the day. Pale girl problems.

The advantage of this being my second Ironman was that I knew I was capable of running the marathon. I forced yet another energy gel down, ignoring the queasy feeling in my stomach, and headed out on to the course. I was feeling strong and my pace was faster than I expected. I knew my legs had it in them, so it was all going to come down to my head - could I grit my teeth and hold the pace until the end?

It was really hot by this point. Naturally, I’d been monitoring the Zurich weather forecast for weeks prior to race day so I’d done as much prep for the heat as possible - completing my longest brick training session at the hottest time of day during the UK heatwave a few weeks back and spending time in the sauna in the run up to race day to get my body used to high temperatures. It paid off, as despite the sun glaring down on my pasty skin, I felt pretty good. I focused on keeping my core temperature down by running through the cold showers at each aid station and shoving cups of ice down my sports bra at every opportunity. I was still feeling pretty sick, meaning I couldn’t take on as much nutrition as I’d planned - but thankfully all of those early morning pre-breakfast long runs had done the trick and I still felt strong. I might have looked like a drowned rat, but at least I wasn’t running like one.

I hit the 20km mark and was still running faster than I thought I’d be able to. 22km to go: keep pushing, keep running. The support out on the course was great - my Stolen Goat race suit made me easy to spot and soon people were recognising me each time I came back round, shouting my name as I approached. My family were still out on support crew duties (an endurance event in itself) and it kept me motivated, knowing I was going to get to see them shortly before the end of each lap.

10km to go. The last lap is a complete blur. Each time I looked at my watch to check my pace, the message from myself to “never give up” was right there waiting for me. As much as it might have felt nice to slow down a touch, I was determined to give it everything. I focused on nothing but turning my legs over, counting to 100 over and over again to keep my head in the game. While still smiling and giving out the odd high five to the kids out supporting - because it’s amazing what a power up the positive energy of the crowds can give you.

5km to go. I checked my overall race time and realised that, if I could keep my pace up, I had a shot at coming in under 12 hours. It was time to really push myself. My heart felt like it was fluttering out of my chest, my legs were starting to tighten up, but my head was 100% ready to go all in and empty the tank.

Finally, I was collecting my final lap band with just 1km to go. I could taste the finish line and the tears of joy and relief started to bubble up - but it wasn’t over yet and there was no way I was going to slow down at all and risk coming in at 12:00:01. My final kilometre was only 4 seconds slower than my first kilometre. A testament to how far my running has come this year. It hurt like hell, but I pushed right until the end which was what I came here to do.

I rounded the last corner and made my way up that glorious red carpet to the finish, not entirely sure if I was crying, laughing or both. I crossed the finish line, body and mind a little bit broken but ecstatic with what I’d achieved. No matter how much it hurts, how many challenges you face along the way - it’s always, always worth it. I’d done it. Ironman #2, completed in 11 hours, 58 minutes, 11 seconds.

I posted a 4 hour 3 minute marathon: the second fastest marathon time in my age group, and the 30th fastest run split out of all the women in the race. Not bad for the girl that used to run like she was sitting on an invisible chair!

Done

I can’t really remember much after I crossed the finish line. A volunteer took my timing chip off and placed a medal round my neck. I stumbled around in a daze - I really thought I’d be able to keep some sort of dignity this year, but of course I cried like a child again and had to be shepherded to the athlete area but another kind volunteer.

I found Graham - who was there to “just get round” in order to validate the Kona world championships slot he’d won in the Kona Dreaming 40th anniversary draw earlier in the year - and spent about 10 minutes just trying to string a sentence together. It’s funny how Ironman racing makes you feel superhuman and like a blithering idiot all at once. Some pasta and a few sips of beer later, I was just about ready to hobble out and reunite with the Lucas-Hill support crew.

So there we have it - Ironman #2 completed and as ever, I’m thrilled, exhausted and hungry for more. I finished an hour behind the girl that won my category, and 38 minutes behind third place. I’m still so new to the sport and I’ve come such a long way from the girl that could barely ride a road bike without falling off in 2016. I feel like I’ve got so much more in me, it’s just a case of working hard and staying determined. 

I’m already thinking about the next adventure and I’m quite excited to pester my coach, Campbell Noon, once I get back to the UK to start piecing together our next battle plan. But for now, I’m off to have a beer. I feel like I might have just earned one.

If you made it through this long, self-indulgent post - I don’t have a medal for you but I do have a thank you. The online triathlon community has been so supportive and encouraging - I’m never short of someone to provide inspiration, motivation or a “don’t be shit” when I need it, and for that I’m so grateful.


Ironman Zurich 2019: The pre-race jitters



It feels like it's only been a hot minute since I was typing out my pre-Ironman Copenhagen blog post last year. And yet, here I am. Sat in a hotel room in Zurich, with an Ironman Switzerland athlete wristband adorning my right arm and an M-dot shaped cookie cutter on my bedside table because we had a moment of madness in the expo and decided that we needed one. Race day is finally upon us. Nervous, excited, raring to go - but also a little bit scared. It's all part of the emotional pre-race weather.

I've committed fully, and surrendered myself entirely to training this year - which means my sense of self feels irrevocably tied up in triathlon. And that scares me. What if I fail? How will I cope? I feel so wrapped up in triathlon, I'm worried it's going to chew me up and spit me out this time. I'm trying to remember that no matter what happens on race day, the work I've put in and the hours I've trained - the sacrifices, the highs and the lows - are the real story. This is just the final sentence in a long, sweaty, chlorine-soaked novel. And nothing can take that away. It's cheesier than slightly off feta that's been left out in the sun, but I really do feel like this is the year I've let myself become an Ironman.

Whatever happens tomorrow, I can be proud of the progress I've made. I've come along way since being the scared, tearful girl who could barely ride a bike back in 2016.

But enough sap, let's talk race day.

The Ironman tagline is that "anything is possible." It's certainly true in the sense that you can get out on that course and achieve things that you hardly dared to even dream of. But it's also an incredibly long day - and that means that anything really is possible. There's so much that can go wrong, some of it in your control and some of it that's entirely down to chance. All that I can do is control the controllable and do my best to tackle whatever else the day throws at me with strength and tenacity - 'never give up' and 'give it everything' will be written on my hands in permanent marker as a reminder to me, from me, to just keep pushing in those moments where my body wants a lie down and my mind starts to wonder if I'd be better off nipping into one of the bars to have a nice cold beer instead.

With this being my second Ironman, I'm definitely feeling the pressure a lot more. And it's coming entirely from my own mind. I won't be satisfied with "just" finishing (though that is an achievement and a half, without a doubt) - I want to kick last year me's butt and I want to get everything out of myself. I know that it's a foolish game to chase a particular time in Ironman racing. And it would be silly to try and compare Ironman Zurich with the faster, flatter course at Ironman Copenhagen - where we were blessed last year with almost perfect conditions (temps in the low 20s, slightly overcast and breezy - the dream). You could race the exact same course twice over and end up with entirely different results depending on what the day, the weather and mechanical luck brings. With the race day forecast involving thunderstorms, with temperatures set to be in excess of 30 degrees Celsius by the time we hit the marathon, and with a slightly altered bike course which, naturally, adds extra climbing into the mix on top of "the beast" and "heartbreak hill" - Ironman Zurich is going to be a very different day out to Copenhagen last year. I have an idea of what I should be capable of tomorrow - in theory - but in practice it's just about racing strong and being able to come away knowing I gave it my absolute all.

So the plan. Stay calm and in control during the swim (and try not to get the crap kicked out of me again). Work hard and do my training justice on the bike, while leaving enough in the tank for the run. Stay strong on the marathon and push until the end. No dawdling. Do myself, my family, my coach and all the people who have had to put up with me rambling about Ironman training proud.

And as always - Don't. Be. Shit.

See you on the other side!


7 things I've learned while training for Ironman #2



Training for my first Ironman last year gave me a schooling. From the importance of taking enough water out with you when there's a heatwave and you've got a 20 mile run to do (I came dangerously close to drinking out of a very questionable stream) to the restorative properties of chocolate milk. Ironman training is more of a learning rollercoaster, than a learning curve, and the lessons have most definitely continued while I've been putting my body through its paces for Ironman number 2.

7 things I've learned while training for Ironman #2

1) There's no such thing as too much chamois creme
It's all fun and games until you're walking like a cowgirl who's soiled her chaps. When you're riding a time trial bike with a saddle that's unforgiving (at best) the chafe situation is real. If you think you've applied too much chamois creme, get your paws back into that Assos pre-ride tub my friend - you probably need just a touch more.

2) Ironman mood swings are like PMS on steroids
I've trainer harder than ever this year. Which has meant that one minute I'm feeling good: I'm fit, I'm strong, I've got this. The next minute I'm trying not to have a little weep in the supermarket because I can't decide what I want for dinner and my legs aren't quite up to the effort required to push a trolley after whatever torture - I mean training - I've inflicted on them that morning. With countless hours of training to balance alongside showing up to work, keeping the house vaguely clean and remembering your own name, it's a balancing act and sometimes it'll all get a bit much. My advice? Have a cup of tea, a sit down and remember why you signed up in the first place. It will all be worth it. Oh, and if you're like me with an incredibly patient significant other - apologise for your grumpiness once in a while. It's not you, it's Ironman training.

3) Never underestimate the power of a snack - especially on a long, solo bike ride
Feeling tired? Have a snack. Need to break up the long hours of cycling ahead of you? Schedule your snack breaks: "20 minutes until my next bit of flapjack" is great motivation to keep going. When you're out on the road for hours, on your own and trying to get your brain to stop repeating baby shark for the millionth time, you can find yourself getting into a bit of dark place. Don't despair. Sit up, have a fig roll and crack on. Chances are you're just in need of a sugar rush.

4) You'll end up having to remortgage to keep up with all the nutrition purchasing
Speaking of snacks... you'll end up single-handedly funding the sports nutrition industry. Your bank statement will just be a long string of Wiggle orders and no matter how often you purchase them, you will always, always be running low on hydration tablets.

5) You'll start to give Carol from BBC news a run for her money on the weather-watching front
Never mind that you're yet to develop the required Jedi mind powers to control the weather - when you've got training sessions to complete, obsessive forecast checking becomes a daily ritual. Wind speed, air temperature, water temperature. You know the lot. Throw in an upcoming race and you may as well be working for the Met office.

6) Just when you think you've found your body's limits, it'll show you it's got more
I've lost count of the number of times I've gone into a training session with a little seed of doubt in the back of my mind as to whether I'm actually going to be able to do it. Throughout this training cycle, my body has kept surprising me. From the time I went out on a pre-breakfast 10km tempo run only to return with a new PB, to taking a good 8 minutes off my previous best half-marathon time, to my most recent ride with my coach where I finally managed to stick with him up my least favourite hill and held an overall average pace I could only dream about not so long ago. Look after it well, give it a chance and your body will show you what it's capable of and then some.

7) Ironman is transformative
Training for an Ironman challenges you and changes you in the best possible way. It's more than just sturdier quads, slightly broader shoulders and semi-permanent goggle marks. It's strength and resilience beyond the workouts. I've written about the ways that triathlon has benefitted my mindset, and why I even tri in the first place, before. But this year in particular, I've found myself ready and willing to challenge myself outside of swim-bike-run. Suddenly, I'm not so afraid to speak up - to put myself forward. And I owe it not just to Ironman (because as I often tell myself - if I can cope with 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running, I can sure as hell cope with a gloomy Monday morning) but to triathlon as a whole. The community, the challenge, the spirit.

Oh, and 7.1) Never, ever leave your swim kit to fester in your backpack
You will realise 5 minutes before you need to leave the house for your morning swim session, when there's no time to rectify the situation, and you will have to go through the trauma of putting on a soggy cossie with eau de mildew on a Wednesday morning at the ungodly hour I like to call pre-coffee 'o clock. Not cool.

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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