Thursday, 28 July 2016

Triathlon; when things don't go right

It's been an interesting season out in Chamonix.  Time is finally running out, and I'm due back at work next week in the UK, after what can only be described as the best 6 months of my life so far.  Taking time off work, and coming out to Chamonix so that Tom (my husband) could focus on getting the pre-requisites for the British Mountain Guide training scheme was initially a hard decision to make; it took some persuading on Tom's behalf!

The last 6 months have been a whirlwind of skiing, climbing, training for triathlon, and generally having adventures!  I've barely written at all since being off; mostly because I've barely stopped!  I want to write a bit about my triathlon season, which I'm going to do over two posts; firstly about when things haven't gone so well, and then about my race at the weekend, which thankfully went well!

In January, before finishing work, I decided to spend a month really focussed on swimming.  I had a swim analysis session with Swim Revolution just before christmas, then spent January swimming my socks off, in the pool 4 times a week.  I then had a repeat analysis at the end of January, before jetting off to Chamonix.  I'm a reasonably strong swimmer, but no thanks to technique; purely due to the sheer force I can generate using my climbing muscles!  It's been unbelievable the improvement in my stroke, and consequently my swim times!  Since being in Chamonix I've been in the pool (or the lake now it's warmer) at least 3 times a week.  It's been good to see myself improving, and also to see Chris, one of my training buddies, go from struggling to swim 25m non-stop to being able to swim 2km without stopping.

One of the problems (is it really a problem??) with Chamonix is the snow!  It really inhibits early season running and biking.  My first race of the year was to be in late May, but my first proper run (according to Strava) wasn't until the 31st March; only 8 weeks before my first race.  As for biking, other than a bit of turbo-training (and I mean a bit, not a lot!!), I didn't start riding until early April.  In the UK I would have spent all winter racking up training miles, but suddenly I was a long way behind the line!  From previous years I know that I am better at races later in the season.  I'm always better after I've managed to fit in some mileage on a multi-day bike tour.

So anyway... that's already a lot of rambling about my poorly structured training!  (It mostly consisted of 3 swims/ 3 bikes/ 3 runs a week once the snow had gone, plus some climbing thrown in for added fun, and pilates as my 'strength & conditioning' session each week).  Time is definitely a luxury, and my training has definitely not been smart or well-structured!

My season kicked off with Grafman; a middle distance (half-ironman) race back in the UK.  I was flying home specifically for the race, as I was hoping to try and qualify for the European Middle Distance Championships in Austria in September.  Austria would be my 'A' race, and I had put a lot of pressure on myself to turn up and race well.  But it did feel like there were a lot things stacked against me; the race was early in the year, and I knew I definitely hadn't ridden enough.  Two weeks before Grafman I was in Italy, having a great trip sport-climbing.  I remember waking up on the final morning and noticing a small red mark on my shoulder, which I thought was a reaction to some tree sap from the day before.  We got in the car to drive home, and as the journey continued the mark grew, pussed, then crusted over.  "Oh cr*p, I've got impetigo," I realised!  I quickly got some fucidin from the local pharmacy, and after 48hrs (with minimal response) then started on oral antibiotics.  Only 5 days until a big race, and I'm taking oral antibiotics, and developing horrible gastritis... this is going to be fun!

Retrospect is a wonderful thing!!  Retrospectively I should never have flown home to race; I really wasn't well enough.  But I had heaped loads of pressure onto myself; I was determined to perform and qualify.  I turned up in the UK with a terrible stomach, but lined up on the start-line anyway.  I swam well and got a massive swim PB, and even the bike started well; at least until I started vomiting.  To be fair, I finished the bike in  reasonable time.  It was slower than I had hoped, but still not too bad.  But vomiting copiously on the bike (and not just little vomits, the big kind that soak your shoes...) did not set me up for a good run.  Sensibly I decided not to run; so becomes my first DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race.  A friend recently said that if you do enough races, you will have a bad one, and here was my first big example of a bad race.  I felt disappointed; especially because my hopes of going to Austria were now shattered.  But I should not have been on the start line in the first place with impetigo!  Lessons learned; sometimes a DNS (Did Not Start) is more sensible than a DNF!  My Mum and her husband were superstars that weekend, picking me up from the airport, ferrying me around all weekend, supporting etc.

After Grafman I had Ironman France at the start of June (Gulp!!).  As mentioned before, I knew I don't race well early season, but I had a couple more weeks training under my belt and felt ready anyway.  As with Grafman, the race started well, with a strong swim, and another PB (not bad given it was a sea swim!).  I headed off on the bike, and started to climb.  The IM France bike course climbs for 56 miles, before then descending.  I climbed well, obviously tiring a bit as I neared the top, before starting to descend; at this point things started to go wrong.  I was not prepared, and only had my tri-suit.  I had gone from sweating in the sun to shivering as I descended.  Then the heavens opened and the rain poured down.  I hate descending at the best of times, but descending in the rain whilst shivering and on wet roads is just plain miserable.  This was made worse because I knew the descent was supposed to be a bit technical, and that someone had died crashing on it during a previous year's race.

I asked myself that the hell I was doing, and couldn't come up with a good enough answer.  I wasn't enjoying myself, I was petrified of crashing, and I was freezing cold.  I made a decision to retire from the race, but then realised that Tom couldn't collect me, so had to cycle another 10 miles to reach a point where he could get me.  Those 10 miles were miserable; I had a bit of an identify crisis, as I struggled with my decision to quit, having two DNFs in a row.  I wondered if perhaps I should be quitting triathlon full-stop, and if that was the case, then who the hell was I?  Because up until this point I would have defined myself as a triathlete, who climbed a bit, and I felt that I was no longer going to be a triathlete, but I wasn't sure who I was going to be instead.  Tom picked me up, a shivering mess, crying and feeling very sorry for myself.  Fortunately I have a lot of wonderful, supportive friends, who sent me lovely messages, gave me massive hugs, and told me things would be ok, and that I had made the right decision at the time.

Retrospect for the ironman... I definitely made the right call stopping when I did.  I was an idiot, totally underprepared, having underestimated how cold descending gets (I've been riding around the alps, I should have known better!), and without any warm clothes.  Stopping was the right thing to do; it beats being scrapped off the road.  But I will be back to complete IM France another year.

I've definitely learnt some hard lessons this year with these two bad races.  Thankfully though, my next race (Challenge Poznań) went well; I'll write about that in my next blog post.  Thing's can't all be bad hey??

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Chamonix Ramblings

At some point I need to work out how to update my blog page, because this has stopped being about my 'year of suffering', and will now just be random ramblings about current adventures/ climbing/ triathlon...  Anyway...

It’s being an interesting first month in Chamonix; a very stark contrast to the 60-70hr weeks I’ve been working in Paeds A&E over the last 6 months.  I’ve always been very career-orientated, and after what seems like a constant treadmill of GCSEs > A-levels > Med School > Foundation training > Specialty training, I finally felt that I needed to take some time out.  I’m almost halfway through my Emergency Medicine training, and am very fortunate to have been allowed to take 6 months off and have a job to return to in August.

This couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with the stress of junior doctor contract imposition; the imposition was announced the day after we arrived in Chamonix; I sat in the corridor (the only place we can connect to Wi-Fi) and cried.  Who knows what the contract really means, especially for people like me on time-out from training, but for now I’m focussed on enjoying this time out, and will deal with the consequences when I get back.

Clearly I’ve been enjoying Chamonix too much, because I’m now poorly with laryngitis; I suspect 24 days in a row of playing in the snow (plus swimming and turbo-training) has pushed me too far; I really will learn the importance of rest one day soon!!

Car loaded and ready to roll...
So we arrived in Chamonix to heavy rain, and doubts about winter; the valley looked very black!  Fortunately though, we woke in the morning to fresh snow.  The morning was spent moving into our apartment after a night on Heather’s sofa, before quickly getting out to play with an afternoon of snow at Les Houches.  This included my first foray into off-piste, complete with tree-crashes!

We’ve quickly settled into Chamonix-life, with an incredibly social group of ex-pats.   Since arriving my skiing has improved no-end (although I am by no-means a good skier, and am scared by anything remotely steep!).  You just can’t beat a day of blue skis and powder!  With a head for numbers and rotas, my last rota continues to roll through my head; “you’d be working nights now if you were still in the UK…” Certainly I know where I’d rather be!

Italian coffee in Courmayeur... Mmmmm!
Highlights since being out here include a day ski-touring with Heather and Rosie, doing the Col du Cicle, and finally plucking up the courage to ski the Vallee Blanche and realising I shouldn’t have been so scared (I do have a rather irrational fear of crevasses and the snow arête down from the Midi).

Skiing with the parent-in-laws (Mel & Ian)
Girls go tour! (Photo- H Flo)

Nervous on the snow arete :S

Loving some powder on the VB

So that's what I've been so scared about... meh!
I also found out in mid-February that I have qualified for the British age-group team for the long-distance European Championships this summer in Poland (eeek!).  I just scrapped onto the team with a qualifying time of 118% (the cut-off is 120%).  Fortunately I’ve joined the swimming pool, and am managing to swim 3-4 times a week, as well as getting on my turbo 2-3 times a week until the snow goes.  I figure skinning up-hill with have to do instead of running for now.  My main aim in Poland is not to finish last in my age group!  Thankfully, I have Grafman in May (middle-distance), followed by Ironman France in June to help me feel a bit more race-ready, before flying off to Poland in July for the biggie!

Beautiful sunset colours.

Today is day 3.5 of rest for me (the few ski runs I attempted on Monday had me spluttering and crying in pain), and I’m finally starting to feel a bit better.  Outside the skies are blue, the sun is shining, and I can see para-gliders drifting down to land.  I'm dying to be better and be back outside playing!  I haven’t yet gotten bored of walking around the valley with my head angled upwards, gazing up at the surrounding mountains.  I feel very privileged to be able to call the valley my home, for now at least!  What a relief to have finally stepped off the medical treadmill for a while!

Friday, 1 January 2016

One complete year of suffering! (A photo summary!)

It's fair to say it has been a rather epic year!  After Dad's good news in January, I decided to raise some money for Orchid, a male cancer charity.  I never imagined I would raise almost £3000; thank you so much to everyone who has sponsored me!!  I really am grateful!!

(If you've been meaning to, but never got round to it, it isn't too late!  You can still sponsor me at for a few weeks more.)

Flicking back through photos from 2015, it's hard to believe I have done quite so much!  I think I've only had about 2 or 3 weekends at home doing nothing all year.  I've either been away having adventures, racing, or at work!

January started with an incredible trip to climb Mount Kenya

S. W. Ridge on Neilion, Mount Kenya

The summit of Mount Kenya!

February included 2 awesome weekends of winter climbing in Scotland with Tom!  Crowberry Gully on the Buchaille, and then Route Major on Carn Etchachan

Scotland in sunshine (it's not the Alps, I promise!)

Crowberry Gully, Buchaille.

Route Major, Carn Etchachan

Back at the car with one BIG grin!

March came along with my first 'challenge'; the Island Race, a half marathon on Anglesey.
Nikki & Nicky!  Post-race... looking good :s

April started with a long weekend in the North West of Scotland (unfortunately winter evaded us...), before a quick trip to Paris for my first marathon.  Slower than hoped, but still good fun!

Easter weekend hit to Ullapool

Mandatory sight-seeing.

The only photo Tom managed to get of me...

May had me racing Slateman (challenge number three...) in rather disappointing form!  At the end of May we had a road-trip to the Orkney Islands to climb the Old Man of Hoy (challenge number four). Hoy was stunning, and I was fortunate enough to return again in September!

Getting ready to start Slateman.

Heather and the Old Man!

Disappearing into a sandy chimney... eurgh!

TEAM!  (Me, Tom, Heather & Johnny)

A speedy descent before darkness encroached.

My idea of heaven.  The bothy at Rackwick, Hoy.

June was when the suffering really began!  I cycled most of (less 50 miles) Land's End to John O'Groats over 7 days (after a set of night shifts! Challenge number five).  Unfortunately I stopped 50 miles before the end due to bad D&V.  Two weeks later, fully recovered and recharged I got back on my bike to Everest Froggatt! (challenge number six)

Day 1...

Day 2; still clean and happy.

Day 4; the father-in-law joined in for a few miles too!

Day 6; company appreciated! (a.k.a a wind-break!)

Day 8; back to Sheffield, broken!

Everesting, early on, still smiling.

Sunrise the next morning. Yawn...

I did it!  Hahahah! (Cue euphoria and bouncing around on pedals)

July saw me completing another ironman-distance triathlon (the Cotswold 226), and knocking a whole 2 hours off the previous year's time! This was challenge number seven.  Challenge number eight should have seen me climbing the matterhorn, but a warm summer meant it was closed due to rock fall.  We did a few other routes instead (and I had a rest!!)

A wet bike through the Cotswolds on the 226

Post-race with my rather proud Dad!

The Allalinhorn, my first alpine 4000m mountain (having faced my crevasse fear...)

The Jeginhorn, Switzerland.

August was a relatively quiet month, as I rotated jobs (away from a nice easy rota, to a rather more full-on one!), but I did do my first race in orange with TnT, a tri club I've trained with a bit over the last 2 years, and won my age group in the standard distance race; a first for me!

The Orange Army!!

September, and despite the new rota, the challenges continued!  Challenge number nine was the Inch-by-Inch swim-run race in Loch Lomond; certainly an interesting experience.  Whilst in Scotland I used the opportunity to re-do the last day of LEJOG from Inverness to John O'Groats (phew!!), then spent a few days of pure bliss exploring Orkney and Hoy on my bike.

Swim-running... We finished, that's something!!

Relieved to have finished the job! @ John O'Groats!

October; a bit late in the year for a 9 mile lake swim maybe??  Nah!!!!  I swam the length of Ullswater for challenge number ten.  It was a great day, with good weather and beautiful surroundings!

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Tired?  Just a bit!

November saw me try one of my more foolish ideas; running 7 marathons along the Thames path over 7 days.  Unfortunately my legs said no, and I stopped after 4 days with a bad calf strain.  Still great fun with Pippa, Bee and Duncan!  Challenge number eleven... not so successful!

The source of the Thames, in Kemble.

December, and challenge number twelve was equally frustrating!  I tried to run my first ultra; a hilly 38 miles in the Lake District.  I messed up on eating, and retired from the race at a disappointing 19 miles.  I enjoyed the half that I had run, and have certainly learnt a lot!

So, a rather crazy year!!!  Which would not have been possible without the support from all of my family and friends.  In particular, my husband Tom has been great at supporting me (especially when it's been nice weather and he could have been climbing instead!) throughout all of my challenges.  I have met lots of new and interesting people, and made some really good friends in the process!

2016 won't be about crazy challenges!  I'm sure I'll still be doing lots of similarly challenging things, but hopefully on a slightly less insane scale.  We're moving to Chamonix in February for 6 months, and I'm really looking forward to relaxing, skiing, and trying to focus my triathlon training a bit more!