May 2011

Farewell My Carbon Friend

There has been some dismay this week as we bid farewell to the black panther who is off to pastures new. I have been umming and ahhing for weeks, no months, about my sporting future, what to do.

My sport, triathlon has taught me patience, its taught me dedication, motivation, to dig deeper than I ever thought possible. It has shown me what you can achieve if you put your mind to something and believe.

I love the multi sport element, the challenge of always improving, the millions of options of training sessions and the fact that after five years I still cant b*****y swim!! I have met some of my best friends through the sport,  had some of the biggest highs and biggest lows. Dodgy tan lines, chaffing in places a girl shouldn’t have chaffing and buckets of sweat have gone into my love of this sport, not to mention thousands of pounds and a very unfortunate bus drive back from Ironman Austria which involved my then not husband and his shorts!! Recently I have felt too guilty that a great lump of carbon is sitting in our hallway not being used, when it could be funding my sons enormous appetite and being ridden by another aspiring athlete.

And so the black panther, who taught me everything I know about cycling  is off to a new home.
She has been such a companion these past 4 years, what a journey we have been on.

And with the money I have brought her replacement……christened black panther 2….

And so where does that leave me now… be honest, I am just not motivated to compete at the moment. I know if I said to husband I wanted to compete again he would support me, but I just feel its not the right time. These early few months have been so precious as our little family have settled into its new rhythms and the relief of not worrying about a race or missed training has been immense.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel bereft at the loss of this part of my life. But if I want to stay at home and bring up my baby I cannot afford financially (or emotionally) to be that committed to training. I am excited at trying my hand at some ultra running, and now I have done a 40 miler 7 months post baby I reckon a 100miler 12 months post baby is not impossible?! Don’t worry all you triathlon friends, I know I’ll be back, mile 20ish, just out of the energy lab is still calling my name….

Come Join The Club

Out running most mornings with my pram I get one of two looks from other mums already out and about.

There are only ever two looks and they go like this:

1. You are MAD, what the HELL are you doing, WHY would you be out running at this time in the morning, you TERRIBLE mother!
2. GOOD on you, you go CRAZY woman!

I always smile, a little on the outside, a lot on the inside. I love my running time with baby. He has already been up for a couple of hours and is ready for a nap. I settle him in and he happily watches the world whizz by. Bang on 1 mile he is asleep and I am free! I know I have about 40-50minutes to get some exercise in before he wakes, I put on my ipod, turn up the volume and go for it. Sometimes its fast, sometimes its slow, sometimes I stop and just listen to the birds and enjoy as much peace as a park in London can offer. As we head home, baby normally awakes and asks how my session went (OK, he doesn’t actually ask, but I tell him) and then we are done. The rest of the day is free to completely devote to baby. I feel refreshed, energised and so much better about myself and my job as a mum.

And that is the beauty of running. Whatever doctors, trainer manufacturers, physios like to tell us, we are meant to move our bodies. It is part of our natural flight or fight defence. It is what makes us feel alive and powerful. It is like anything in life worth having, hard work at the start, but so worth the effort.

And when two runners pass each other nearly always there is an acknowledgement, a nod, a grimace or a smile, more often than not a brief hello. We are part of a secret club, there are millions of members, we are an easy to please bunch, anyone is welcome, you only need a pair of trainers. Come on join in!

Rolling with the changes

After a heavy few years of Ironman training and full time working I had promised my husband to slow down, give him some quality time and hopefully start a family. After a fantastic trip to Kona I was very lucky to fall pregnant almost straight away.
Pregnancy hit me like a sledgehammer, I was exhausted, sick and hardly able to drag myself into work let alone carry on training. The midwife advised me to keep exercising  `as normal,` I didn’t even bother explaining that perhaps 25-30hrs of training were not what she recommended!
 I found the lack of any conclusive studies on exercising when pregnant frustrating and nothing from any former ironwomen. Most of the studies completed are on rats (!), obviously women are not particularly keen to be subjected to tests while pregnant, however the majority of women I met while pregnant were keen to continuing exercise or start exercising as they focus on providing the best shelter for their baby. 
I was determined from the onset to listen to my body and do my best for the baby with my only goal being to be as ‘pregnancy’ fit as I could be for labour and the recovery (this was to prove invaluable after a very long labour and an emergency c section).
The first trimester I was nervous about hurting the baby in some way or overdoing it. One of the hardest parts was changing from the mindset of hard core triathlon training when you drag yourself through training session after training session and smashed legs are a daily occurrence to exercising just to keep lightly conditioned and even walk at some points! My husband had decided to embark on marathon training so I joined him for the end of his long runs and sometimes a few reps of interval training. Morning sickness ruled though for the first 12 weeks and after vomiting sometimes 40 times a day it wasn’t hard to let training take a back seat.
After 12 weeks I felt better almost overnight and decided to try and train a little more. I was advised to wear a heart rate monitor and not to exceed 150bpm which I followed.  I found personally ‘listening to your body’ approach the best method. I knew sometimes I overdid it and would find myself sitting half way up a hill I used to pound up after a 100 mile ride unable to even jog slowly. I knew that it was important for my baby to slow down, but I did find it hard watching my fitness (and my abdominals!) slip away. I was overjoyed to be pregnant, but changing my mindset from an athlete to a ‘mum’ took me a while.
Funnily as the weeks progressed, you naturally slow down as you become heavier, your muscles and tendons loosen and the drive to exercise diminishes. I ran till 30 weeks (and this I say to all my pregnant friends when I say ran by 28 weeks it was a 2 mile shuffle listening to some tunes and walking up any slight inclines). My husband loved it, he was as fit as a fiddle ready to do a 3hr 15 marathon debut (all my coaching!!) and could at last run circles around me – After years of me dropping him at every opportunity! At 30 weeks I made the executive decision that for the last ten weeks it was all about swimming and I enjoyed making up ‘pregnancy’ sets. I didn’t use the pace clock apart from to time recovery;  I am an athlete born and bred and even if I was only hitting 2 minutes for 100m I would start challenging myself to beat it each time! I loved swimming, though tumble turning was a no go after leaving me feeling travel sick for the rest of the day (poor baby!).
After a quick house move at 37 weeks I took to walking everywhere to reacquaint myself with all my old London haunts. I walked for an hour or so each day gradually getting slower and slower and with more tea breaks! By the end of 40 weeks I was longing to meet my baby, get out of my maternity clothes, back into lycra and to see my feet again!
I was looking forward to labour, I was intrigued how I would cope with the pain and whether years of firstly 8oom running training then ironman training would have me laughing all the way through! Lets just say it was the hardest training session I have ever completed, but the prize was the best ever!
I had images post baby of getting back into training and possibly an ironman at the end of the year. Well after a c section everything took a backseat for 6 weeks as I nursed my baby and my battered body. Spot on 6 weeks and with the all clear from the Doctor I excitedly laced on the trainers and headed out. I managed 2 minutes of running, my body felt like it was detached from my legs- what was that wobbling round my waist-oh my stomach! Husband gave me a strict talking to on my return as in floods of tears I moaned I would never be in Kona shape again. I’m no quitter and within 2 weeks was back to jogging 2 miles, challenging myself each time to a little further, walking when needed, smashing my legs when I felt strong and just enjoying having half an hour to myself. My general rule has been adding on a running mile for every month post baby, which has worked out well and allowed me not to overdo it or be too tired should I be required to do an unexpected ‘teething’ nightshift!
5 months on and my body is getting back to shape. As I wanted to feed my baby, timing of runs, swims and bikes have been a military operation, often completed late at night, turboing next to the cot as baby naps or a quick car park pit stop mid ride/run! I never thought I would appreciate exercise so much, the bliss of heading out the door for a quick spin or even better the joy of coming home to a delighted baby! With no time for the junk miles I used to love, every session now has to be quality and with more recovery time in between I am able to work consistently harder.  I’ve had my ups and downs –long days with a crying baby are exhausting, the frustration of not being able to train while all your friends are out getting fitter and fitter . The baby has taught me to slow down and appreciate the small things in life (and my amazing husband!). I contemplated just giving up as the road back to fitness has been so tough, but determination is something ironwomen are not short of, now I am not motivated by winning or course records, but seeing my son cheering me on and carrying him over the finish line and making my little family proud.
I would recommend other pregnant triathletes out there to listen to their body very carefully when exercising, but don’t be afraid to carry on gently SBRunning!  You know your body better than anyone. Look after your nutrition as well as you can, try to do a little activity everyday, but don’t feel guilty if you don’t and invest in a good quality maternity swimsuit!  Mostly, if you are anything like me, enjoy the free time! Enjoy not following a training programme and exercising for how long or how little you feel like! Instead of long runs take you partner out for long walks (with compulsory tea stops!), slow down, appreciate having time to do all the chores you always have meant to do and go to the cinema….believe you me life will never be the same again!!
Since writing this now almost 8 months post baby I am back into good shape and finished my first race last weekend! Nothing like a challenge…a 40 mile off road run! Well why do a marathon, I’ve done loads of those! I enjoyed this race more than any other I think I have ever done. The feeling of a ‘competition’ again, the pre race nerves, the targeting a runner ahead and pushing my body through the pain. The pit stop at 20 miles to feed the baby and wait for husband (ha ha ha back smashing him again!!) was a surprise. Watching others run by would have infuriated me before baby. Now I just thought, ah well I cant wait to run past you all again in a minute! I loved the ultra, loved the feeling of the last 8 miles as we ran over the most beautiful British countryside with legs that would hardly bend, but felt strangely stronger by the mile.
At the finish line was my husband and baby cheering me on, I felt like I could have run forever….but I didn’t want to, I had tea and love to give to my new little family.