A Triathlon-ish Blog

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  • The South Downs Way in a day - 100 hilly miles on a mountain bike

    nice

    A couple of weeks ago on a ride with my friend, Pete, riding the South Downs Way (SDW) was mentioned. And by nightfall I’d agreed to attempt it in a day. Almost instantly I regretted the decision, as my brain flooded with worries, worries and more worries.

    The South Downs Way is not to be under-estimated. Whilst only 100 miles, it is predominantly off-road with over 3,500 m of climbing (as a gauge the Ben Nevis summit is 1,345 m). A lot of the terrain is extremely exposed and it’s rare for it not to be tremendously windy. Completing it within 10 hours is considered an achievement. And I’d just agreed to ride it with someone much, much faster, fitter and more skillful than me. I train for 1-hour flat out cross-country races…what the frig was I doing!!??

    The logistics are an additional challenge. We needed to get ourselves to the start, have sufficient food and drink available and then get home. Our plan was for Pete to drive us to the start, picking me up at 04:30 and my husband kindly agreed to meet us twice on route (at Bignor Hill and Ditchling Beacon so we could grab provisions) and then again at the end to drive us home. Pete then had the job of collecting his van the following day.

    So, on Tuesday 28 August just after 6am, Pete and I set off from Winchester and a little over 10 hours of riding later we arrived in Eastbourne like Cheshire Cats. I’d done it! And, I’d loved all of it. The scenery had been stunning, the weather was kind-hearted and the Goddess of Mechanicals had looked down on us favourably.

    Here’s a few things I did that really helped me:

    • Respect for the SDW! 10 days before, I did a 4-hour ride on the South Downs. It was meant to boost my confidence. But I rode it under-fuelled, too fast and the heat was unbearable with sweat dripping into my eyes. Afterwards I had a spaced out feeling and my confidence was anything but boosted. In hindsight this was a blessing in disguise. It meant that I needed a plan! I agreed with my coach, Jenny Copnall, to ride to heart rate and stick to 130-150bpm (my zones 3 & 4). For some of the hills it was impossible to keep this low but overall I stuck to this pacing as much as possible.
    • A working and comfortable bike. At the beginning of the year I had a bike fit at Cyclefit and I'd thoroughly recommend them. Also, just before, I got my bike serviced at Velocipede Cycles, who I race for. So, I was as confident as I could be that the bike wouldn’t be the limiting factor!
    • Nutrition. I was super worried about this as I usually have no appetite when riding. But I put together hourly bags on 50-60 grams of carbohydrate and I force fed myself the contents. I used a mixture of bananas, fig rolls, garibaldis, roast potatoes, bagels, jelly babies and fingers of fudge. For drink I had water and electrolyte tablets. 
    • An “enjoy the moment” mindset. I deliberately didn’t have distance showing on my Garmin as I didn’t want to be obsessing about that. I just had time (and heart rate). I intentionally didn’t know how many big hills there were or when they were. My approach was that I would just have to ride whatever was ahead of my front wheel.
    • Comfort. Any ride over 3 hours and my saddle becomes quite uncomfortable. This became quite a stressor for me, so I decided to switch my normally super comfy road saddle onto my mountain bike but somehow this was even worse so I switched back to my original saddle. I couldn't see how my bootie was going to last the 10-hour ordeal! At the very last minute I decided to wear two pairs of shorts. This totally went against my usual “nothing new on race day” approach but the risk luckily worked out and my bootie survived!
    • Good company. I loved riding the SDW with Pete. Not because he kindly opened 99% of the countless gates (my attempts normally accidentally inflicted pain on him); but because it feels like we share the same magic and joy of cycling.

    The experience has been a brilliant reminder for me to try to not fear failure and to pick up the dice and roll’em because outside the comfort zone is where the magic can happen!

    The Cheshire Cats in Eastbourne

    cheshirecats

    If it's not on Strava, it didn't happen!

    sdwprofile

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  • I have no words

    I have no words

    An editorial on Covid-19 for The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Summer 2020, Issue 64

    The date is 3 April 2020. Today, worldwide coronavirus cases reached 1 million. In a short space of time, the world has changed immensely. Like many, I haven't had time to stop and take stock. I am throwing myself into juggling work, parenting and teaching. I’m also trying to process that my dad is now receiving palliative care in an isolation ward, having caught Covid-19. The call I don’t want is likely to come today or tomorrow.

    It’s hard. It’s extremely hard. Most of the time I have no words.

    Only a few weeks ago, adults were still at work, children were still at school, pubs and restaurants were busy, sport was being played, I could easily get a next day supermarket delivery slot and people weren’t embarrassed at the state of their hair. Toilet roll, hand sanitiser and paracetamol were aplenty. People shook hands, hugged and kissed those they knew. With strangers, maybe a nod, a hello, eye contact, even a smile. People could exercise as much as they wanted without neighbours ringing the police.

    With barely noticeable steps, headlines about what was happening in China, Italy and other countries became applicable to the UK. Each day the number of confirmed cases crept up; most tagged with: s/he had an underlying health condition. I will pause briefly on those last five words.

    My feel is that someone high up the food-chain believed that “an underlying health condition” was a key message. It seemed a consistent message; almost a tag line. Perhaps the intention was to try and allay widespread fear and panic? My honest initial reaction when hearing or reading those words were twofold. The first (wrongfully), is that, that person’s death isn’t as much as a tragedy as someone’s without underlying health conditions. The second is that, Covid-19 isn’t relevant to me. I think if the powers that be had focused on a different key message, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen such blasé behaviour as on Mothering Sunday weekend. Parks and National Parks were packed - "social distancing" was not being adhered to. There’s a learning curve here for all of us: words matter; every sentence matters; and key messages really matter. This is perhaps something to reflect upon.

    The other issue I wish to briefly pause on is “bottom lines.” When Covid-19 is all done, there will be a total death toll number. What that number will hide is each important individual. It doesn’t do justice to the horror of Covid-19 and what “isolation” means to families affected. My family want to be with my dad. We will want to be with my mum but won’t be able to. It’s heartbreaking. So, let’s not be in a rush to get to the bottom line of our work and research and miss important aspects. Rich description is important.

    Our community has a lot to offer with regards to dealing with the undeniable impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on emotional well-being and mental health. Many people don’t cope well with enforced change. Many now have considerable financial worries. Most people’s daily routines are in chaos; interactions are minimal. Social distancing and self-isolation are hard. Not all people are in happy homes.

    All competitive sport has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Athletes, coaches and support personnel are having to reframe. For a while the summer show-piece held out, adamant that the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 would run. Lockdown in some countries made it impossible for athletes to train. The uncertainties proving increasingly difficult. With mounting pressures to postpone, the Games organisers announced it will now be held in 2021. Many people will now be busy adapting plans.

    Personally, I’ve found a few things useful in adapting to the new “normal.” A tip from Anna Glowinski (a bike rider isolating in Spain) was to “make life about something else” - she’s allowing herself only 5 minutes a day of catching up on coronavirus news. I implemented this straight away and found it helpful.

    In addition, my friend and psychologist, Dr Mark Bellamy has done a couple of nice Facebook posts. In the first, he talked about the 4 x 3 format that puts some structure into the day:

    • 3 x 20 minutes exercise or physical activity
    • 3 x 20 minutes social phone calls
    • 3 x activities that bring you joy
    • 3 x meals that truly nourish you.

    I like this and it’s working for my family. Our daily outdoor exercise is an essential part of our day. Like many, I will really struggle if this is taken away.

    Mark’s second post was a rework of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It was re-worked so that the base level basic need is “Support the NHS.” The NHS’s message is clear: Act like you have got it. Anyone can spread it. Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

    The world has changed immensely in the last few months. This pandemic is affecting everybody, everywhere. We need to remember that not all are affected equally. When things go wrong, inequalities are magnified. I sincerely hope we can emerge from it all with some aspects of life enhanced: being better global citizens; being more community-spirited; and ensuring a better work-life balance. 

    Dr Claire Hitchings FBASES - Claire is Editor of The Sport and Exercise Scientist. She is a triathlon coach and runs Claire Hitchings Coaching (www.clairehitchings.rocks). She currently lives in a messy house, juggling parenting, home-schooling, working and training. 

    This editorial will be published in The Sport and Exercise Scientist, Summer 2020, Issue 64. Published by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences – www.bases.org.uk

    RIP Dad - you had an innings to be proud of! I will miss you. xox

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  • Coping with being a bit p@nts!

    Coping with being a bit p@nts!

    Returning to training after a long lay-off is an interesting one. Part of you is chomping at the bit to get back and the other part of you is dreading it, as you know all your numbers are going to be p@nts!

    Fortunately for me, the part of me desperate to get back is definitely winning over any dwelling on poor numbers. I’m back and I’m totally loving it.

    I’ve got a slightly altered attitude to training in that the odd time it feels a bit like a chore I give myself a slap! Then I focus on being grateful to be able to get the feel-good hormones I’m addicted to; and actually, that feeling is the same whatever your wattage or pace.

    A while back, I watched an interview with Jess Ennis-Hill and her coach about her returning to training and racing after having a baby. Their strategy was to have post-baby PBs (personal bests) and not to compare to her pre-baby PBs. In a similar way, I’ve made a conscious effort to do different training sessions and ride and run new routes. Even when I felt my running was at a stage that it was worth doing some 5ks I deliberately chose a parkrun I’d never done before. Limiting opportunities for comparisons has definitely worked as I’ve loved this block of training.

    Also, there is a positive of being a bit p@nts: each session you get a little less p@nts! Gains are a bit easier than when you're flying.

    And to the person who has been Hitchings Strava QOM huntin’ during my hiatus…I’m back hon! 😉

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  • Taking little steps with big smiles

    Taking little steps with big smiles

    So, I haven’t blogged in a while. Mainly because I wanted to blog when I was feeling a bit more upbeat and also because rehabbing my collarbone (complicated by a frozen shoulder) doesn’t leave much free-time.

    I’m now 14 weeks post-op (20 weeks since the break). Pre-op, all I wanted was to be back riding my bike. Post-op, I had to quickly re-calibrate my hierarchy of needs.

    Pain and Sleep: I was totally unprepared for the level of pain. Unfortunately for me, I had really bad side-effects from all the strong painkillers I tried. So, I had to settle for ibuprofen and paracetamol. I was also totally unprepared for the lack of sleep. Anyone that knows me well, knows how much I love my sleep! 9-10 hours please! Post-op, a typical night for me has been bed at 10, then awake midnight, 3 and 5 to take painkillers, mobilise my shoulder and heat up my beddy-teddy for comfort. Then, up at 7 to face the day, bleary-eyed and spaced out. My body reacted with constant cold sores and mouth ulcers. Not the best!

    Hot tub and Love Island: Getting a hot tub has been great as I can do a daily hydrotherapy session in the privacy of my own garden (I look a total dork at the swimming pool). Hydrotherapy is physiotherapy in a pool and involves doing various weird-looking exercises. I would say this has definitely fast-tracked my rehab. Rehab exercises get very dull without distraction so, Love Island has been my guilty pleasure. Don’t knock it until you’ve watched it!

    Bike riding: I got back on the turbo at 4 weeks. Initially, riding in a (very sweaty) sling and then slowly but surely my arm had enough mobility to reach the handlebars! Yey! 10 weeks post-op, I started running (with a slightly weird asymmetrical arm swing).

    Racing: I plan to race a 2020 World Champs qualifier at the end of September - a road sprint duathlon. I’m not quite sure what form I’ll be in but I’ll have to race with what I’ve got. Bike-wise, I’m pushing nice wattage…actually really nice wattage. Running-wise, it’s all still quite ploddy…but I'm enjoying getting endorphins in the Kent countryside.

    Another operation: I need another operation to remove the hook plate, so I will be sliding quite spectacularly back to the bottom of the mountain I'm slowly climbing ☹. 

    hookplate

    The consultant reckons 18 months post-the next op to get strength and mobility back to close to normal. I can well believe it as even with all this rehab my mobility is depressingly poor and I’m currently using 2 kg weights and that’s an effort. The hazy days of bench pressing my own body weight of 50 kg are well in the past!

    So, the goalposts have changed a bit since the original diagnosis from the consultant who said 4-6 weeks full-recovery; all very straight forward!!  ???

    Anyhow, for the moment I’m enjoying taking little steps with big smiles. Onwards and upwards.

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  • The highs and (mainly) lows of breaking a collarbone

    The highs and (mainly) lows of breaking a collarbone

    I think it's fair to say this year has been a DIS-A-STER. Rehabbing from plica syndrome in my knee since November, broken ribs and now a broken collarbone. 

    I’m now at week 8 post-accident. At week 5 it was clear the collarbone wouldn’t heal on its own, so I had an operation and a plate put in. I was fairly upbeat as the consultant said 4-6 weeks to full-recovery; all very straight forward.

    Europeans in Romania…game on!

    Then, just before the op, the surgeon came in to talk me through things. The mood took a downward turn when he started talking 4 months' rehab and then another operation to remove the plate. 4 months! 4 freaking months!! I know I can be pedantic but that’s a tad different from 4-6 weeks.

    Europeans in Romania…no longer game on!

    So, the highs and lows of breaking a collarbone. Well, let's face it, the highs are non-existent, so, let’s crack on with the lows.

    1. Since the op, my collarbone hurts. It really hurts. It makes all other experiences, including two drugs-free childbirths, a walk in the park. I’m amazed this is categorised as day surgery. I was bed-ridden for 4 days. 17 days on I am still really struggling.

    2. Sleep. Oh, to be able to curl up in the foetal position. Oh, to not wake every 3 hours in pain. It turns out my traditional herbal medicinal restful night’s sleep product is utter tosh!

    3. Strong painkillers send me loopy, give me heart palpitations and make me panicky. 

    4. I'm finding a lot of people really annoying! 

    • Nosey strangers thinking I want to recall everything to them for the zillionth time. For the record, I don’t! 
    • Well-intended up-beat problem-solvers suggesting the break from training and racing will be good for me. It’s an opportunity to take up a new hobby. Let's be clear, when you're in the form of your life, you are not wanting a break; you just want to bask in that form. So, please, just hush down!
    • People with injury-stories. Just because I’m injured I don’t want to hear about other injuries. From some bloke showing off about his son being back on the bike after 2 weeks, to horror stories of recovery taking 2 years. I feel I'm having to work really hard to keep myself in a good head space. These don't help!

    I’d say the two best things that can be offered to an injured athlete are: empathy and practical help. Certainly, that's what I'm finding useful. 

    P.S. Two things I’ve found really helpful on this “journey”:

    • Form is temporary, class is permanent
    • There are always other races.

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  • Searching “Turbo training with a broken collarbone”

    Springtime! I felt my luck was changing. I was up to an hour on the turbo with some intervals - a huge improvement from 4 minutes at 100 watts. I’d even managed a family bike ride in the sunshine; it was amazing. My daily rehab and hourly icing was working. If single leg squats was a sport, I’d now be a competitive age-grouper.

    100 days to the Europeans in Romania…game on!

    I was beginning to believe my knee would hold up to riding outdoors. After 5 months off proper training, it was perhaps time to reveal my pastey legs to the world. Perhaps even shave them!

    But, now I’m searching “Turbo training with a broken collarbone”. The ‘let’s take up BMXing to improve my mountain biking’ is proving a bloomin’ disaster. Yes, I’m loads more confident on a bike, I’m more knowledgeable, my pumping's half-decent and I’ve had lots of fun, but at what a friggin’ cost!! Another crash and this time a broken collarbone. And of course, it’s in a place with an increased risk of not healing and needing surgery. Of course! 

    The consultant talked through the best-case scenario; I zoned out, waiting for the worst-case scenario, which these days feels more relevant! Flash backs to my broken finger that took 17 weeks to heal. “Fuckety-fuck!!” And as for Dartford A&E, I thought I was in a waiting room for auditions for the Jeremy Kyle show.

    I want a life without painkillers. I want to be able to wear a bra! I want a life where my husband isn’t doubling up as my carer. I want to be able to drive - have some independence. Dare I say it, I want to be able to aqua-run!

    I want my old life back!!

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