This is a REALLY short blog post. More of a continuation than a post…
After unleashing Circuits Royale into the internet, I had literally twos of messages from parents requesting a kid’s version. WELL, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I set to work and transformed it into a fun activity for little people that might help pass some time during this… coronavirus hiatus.
Just like the Original Version, you can make this last as long as you want to suit you and your minis – it all depends on how many times you throw the dice.
How does it work?
Firstly, decide whether you want to include all of the columns (Let’s Pretend [pretty active], Animal Moves [also pretty active] and Body Shapes [more chill]).
Then, with the columns you’re including, decide which order you’ll do them in.
Now it’s time to roll the dice!
If you’ve decided to do all 3 columns, in the order they’re shown and you roll 4, 1, 6, 2, 2, 5 your activity will look like this:
Sailing a boat, Jump like a frog, Arrow shape, Astronaut on the moon, Walk like a bear, Make a star shape.
Alternatively, you can just do one at a time, picking a column and throwing the dice.
Basically, you can play however you like!
I’ve included a suggestion for how long to spend doing the different movements, but that’s really up to you too (and their attention spans).
You don’t need any apparatus, just a bit of space, which can be inside or outside!
That’s right! Today’s post I’m talking about periods. Sort of. I’m actually wanting to hone in on the complicated, but prevalent topic of hormonal contraceptives. “WHAT?! WHY?!” I hear you exclaim, “Last week you were talking about turbo training and training apps, and now you want me to sit here and read about PERIODS and THE PILL?”
Yes, folks, I do. And if you are a person that doesn’t have periods/take the Pill, then I hope you still carry on reading, because there’s a very high chance that people close to you do/are. I want to shed light on this topic in the context of sport and exercise, because I think we are vastly and hugely under-informed. Through no fault of our own, I might add. The science world has done a number on us over the years. Not including women in studies, essentially because it’s too awkward. Yes. The fact that women have menstrual cycles/hormonal fluctuations makes it more difficult to control study parameters, so the solution tends to be, you know, just don’t include them. FANTASTIC. However, the (sort of) good news is, in 2016 the National Institute of Health (NIH) mandated that ‘…any research money it granted must include female animals.’ Well, that’s a start, I suppose.
This post shouldn’t be too long (she says), because I can’t possibly do the subject matter justice and I don’t want to be having to write a reference list, bibliography and getting a peer review, if you know what I meannn.
The purpose is to introduce you to some of the things that blew my mind, prompted me make a pretty big decision, which I’ll tell you about, and point you towards the pieces of writing I have read (or am currently reading). I hope that you’ll go away from this post inspired to read a little more, dig a little deeper and potentially discover some things you didn’t already know.
Back in November I picked up a copy of Roar by Dr. Stacy Sims, whose mantra is ‘Women are not small men.’ Touching on the idea that you can’t study men and simply extrapolate the findings to women. [Please note, when I say Men and Women in this post, I’m referring to the chromosomal basis of gender: males (XX) and females (XY)]. Roar is the first thing you should put on your reading list, okay? Write that down. It is an extremely interesting book about how women can enhance their training by monitoring their menstrual cycle and working with it. She describes it as an ergogenic aid (broadly defined as ‘a technique or substance used for the purpose of enhancing performance’). For example, knowing that at certain times of the month, we respond better to high intensity training and at other times to endurance. It suggests how best to fuel at certain times of the month and when it’s critical to keep an eye on protein intake.
If you’re not a big reader or don’t have a lot of time, then check out this YouTube video or this Podcast (there are more, just Google her name). Whilst I was making my way studiously through this fascinating book, I came across a SHOCKING stat.
In a study of women on the Pill vs. women not on the Pill, those that were on the Pill experienced 50% less muscle gain during the same duration and type of training than the women that were not on the Pill. WHAT!? To me that was insane. I’d dedicated a LOT of my youth to competitive running and the idea that I’d potentially scuppered myself for no real reason made me pretty mad.
I had been on and off various types of Pill for years. Since I was about 17 when I got it to help bring some regularity into my life. It wasn’t a form of contraception back then (I was too busy running all the time for boyfriends), just a way for me to not get caught out (I also thought my boobs might grow, but no luck there). Also, everybody was on it, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
This is where my first issue lies. The GP I saw way back when, was quite happy to prescribe me the Pill, she told me how to take it and that I would need to come back in a few weeks to check that my blood pressure was okay. Other than that, I wasn’t given any other information. She didn’t ask me about my lifestyle or whether I was sporty etc. etc. This is NOT meant to be a slur against my GP or any GPs anywhere, I know they are under immense pressure and simply do not have the time to spend hours talking about this kind of thing. But I think the Pill has become something that women are expected to be on and, actually, we should be educated far more about it and given a lot more guidance around what might be best on an individual basis. Whether that’s in school or at a special clinic, I don’t know. But it’s a far bigger commitment than the 10-minute (if you’re lucky) appointment at the docs.
“[the contraceptive Pill is] a vast uncontrolled experiment, unparalleled in the history of medicine.”
Barbara Seaman, 1969
I had no idea that taking this tiny Pill would have such an effect on my entire body. I had no idea it would affect my sports performance (I genuinely wouldn’t have gone on it) and I certainly had no notion that if I felt like crap on it, that was normal, in fact, very probable, and I could come back and try another one. And another one. And another one… if need be, to find one that suited me better. It was just assumed (hoped) that I’d be fine and not come back.
Do you know there are 42 different types of hormonal contraceptive? No. I didn’t either. I learned that the other day in this book: This Is Your Brain on Birth Control, by Sarah Hill. This is the second book for your reading list. This one is less sports based and focuses on the numerous ways in which hormonal contraceptives addle our brains; how they influence our decision making, ability to react to stress, our capacity to retain information, who we are attracted to (and vice versa) and how we feel about our appearance, whilst also physically changing our appearance (weight, chest size, skin). Some of these things you might have experienced, and quite happily and consciously put it down to Pill taking, but some of these side-effects might be affecting you without you really knowing it…
* Jess you said you would keep this short *
Okay, yes, yes. SO. For a while I’d been feeling not quite myself. George and I had been going through a lot; moving house, changing jobs, deciding to do ridiculous cycle challenges, and I kept describing to him that I didn’t feel right. I felt fuzzy. Cloudy.
I thought I was just not coping very well with all the change, and was just waiting for it to pass once we’d settled into our life properly. I was also enduring a ‘period’ (actually a withdrawal bleed. Hormonal contraceptives suppress your genuine period) every two weeks pretty much, preceded by a week feeling physically in pain in various parts of my bod. NOT JOYOUS. Again, I just kept telling myself it would eventually pass.
But after reading that fact in Roar (the one about the 50% less muscle gain) I started to wonder whether I was feeling so odd because something tiny and shoved inside my right inner arm 18 months previously was having more power over me than I could ever have imagined. With this big TdF challenge looming ahead, I didn’t want to encumber myself in any way, especially when I was seemingly experiencing so many other downsides.
THUSLY (great word), I decided in December to have the tiny monstrosity extracted from my arm. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but the Doctor was literally digging around in there for what felt like hours until she triumphantly raised the match-sized BRAIN-FOGGER into the air.
She asked why I wanted it out and I explained that I’d done some reading and had decided I wasn’t too happy about what I thought the hormones were doing to me. That I believed I wasn’t myself whilst it was in there and, also, I wanted to get hench.
Just kidding! I will literally never be hench.
She was pretty keen for me to go back on some other type of hormonal contraceptive, but I said, ‘No thanks.’ And skedaddled. I know too much now and I’m not going to put myself through it again. Plus, there are other ways and means for, you know, stuff…and things… *awkward snuffle*.
Also, I’m intrigued to see whether I notice any differences in my performance now I’m synthetic-hormone free and having normal periods. [Check out this article about the England football team training around their menstrual cycles (nice one, Neville)].
It’s been a couple of months now and I can honestly say I feel so much better. The brain fog has lifted, I feel more alert, generally happier and my periods come just once a month (hurrah!).
I wanted to write this not to scaremonger (scaremong? Scaremongerize?) or sensationalise. I’m not saying everyone should immediately whip out/halt their hormonal contraceptive (I cannot take responsibility for lots of new born babies, although I WOULD happily cuddle each and every one of them), but I am saying make sure you’re really and truly aware of its influence on you. If you’ve been on one for years and years, it can be hard to know what normal is. If you feel like you’ve been on them all, there are probably others that are better! Keep trying.
So, if this has sparked your interest, definitely read the books and articles I’ve included in this post. Google around, there are more books and more articles, and make sure your brain and body are living their best life.
“By altering our natural hormone levels, the Pill induces in us a different biochemical and psychological stage of life we’re in and may affect our unfoldment thereafter…While it may be difficult to prove the effect that taking the Pill has on our psychological development we can see that through its profound hormonal impact the Pill may also be interfering with the fundamental chemistry of who we are and what we can become”.
I thought I’d do a blog about how I’m preparing for this summer’s trip around France! The challenge is a) keeping it short enough that you don’t fall asleep mid-way through, b) keeping it interesting enough (for the same reasons) and c) including enough info that it’s potentially useful, without giving a blow-by-blow account of every single training session – ain’t nobody got time for that.
So, I did what any Millennial would do and crowdsourced my blog post strategy from Instagram. What did my lovely followers want to know from me about my training for the TdF, if indeed, they wanted to know anything at all? So, I’ll start by responding to the questions from there and then I’ll do some more posts later down the line, filling in any gaps and providing insight on how everything is progressing.
As I type, I’ve completed 38 sessions as prescribed by coach Ken. By way of a very brief background: I spent the summer riding evening Time Trials and doing Road Races on weekends. It was great, but all the high-intensity riding, combined with travel to events and then moving from London to The North, pretty much wiped me out and I needed a gigantic rest once I’d completed my season (which culminated at Revolve24 in September). I took some planned time off, then unfortunately became ill, which lasted for an extra 3 weeks.
We then started riding, hiking and running. Gradually building up some fitness whilst exploring our new surroundings; however, I was finding everything way more difficult than I wanted to, and was becoming exasperated with my apparent lack of fitness! By this time, George and I decided to start working with Ken, who wanted to kick off our training with a baseline test. We did a Ramp Test, which you can watch our video of here. Based on the findings of that, he’s been able to formulate a strategy and create a plan to get me ready!
So, onto these questions:
Definitely interested to hear about your training: Types of training. Whether by TSS or time and the amount of training you’re doing.
This first section has been about building my endurance base, whilst getting some consistency of riding into my days. As I was completely out of the routine of regular training, part of this was getting used to fitting in riding most days.
We started with riding 5 days a week and, a couple of weeks ago, that went up to 6 days. My sessions are put into Training Peaks by Ken, and he specifies:
Warm up duration
Intervals and rest durations
Warm down duration
I have specific heart rates (HR) and power numbers to hit during the entire session
The session will have a TSS associated with it, but I don’t take notice of it pre-session
When I’m training, I use an InfoCrank power meter and a HR strap, which all connect up to my laptop/Wahoo so I can see all my numbers. If I’m indoor, I ride on a RevBox turbo trainer and stare at Zwift on my laptop!
The above graph shows the increase of planned TSS/duration over time. It’s pretty linear, gradually increasing week on week. Week 3 is a bit of an anomaly, as George and I decided to do a 100-km Audax. This racked up over 400 TSS and took almost 6 hours (lol, 2,000m elevation will do that to you) causing that spike. I’m currently in Week 8 and Week 9 is a rest week (yayyyy).
My ramp test results indicated that my ability to work hard at high intensity was pretty good (thanks to the TTs and racing), but my body was pretty confused at the lower intensity zones, producing lactic acid when I wasn’t working that hard. The goal therefore has been to improve my efficiency whilst riding at lower intensities. This has meant lots of rides of 90 mins to 3 hours trying to keep my heart rate nice and low. This has been a challenge. Living in the Peaks is ace, but a flat route doesn’t exist. So, I’ve spent a lot of the time on the turbo, as keeping it easy enough outside has proved pretty difficult. I’m not a huge fan of winter riding, as I get cold easily then stay cold, so the turbo isn’t all bad. But anything over 90 minutes feels pretty. Long. I try to turn this into a positive by considering it as brain training, which I’ll go into for the next question.
Always good to hear about the mental training, as well as the physical!
A massive part of succeeding in endurance events is overcoming your own brain. Brains are great for lots of things, e.g. engineering, solving crimes, writing haikus, but not really sports, okay.
By expecting your mind to give you a hard time, you can be prepared for it! Here are a few techniques that I’ve developed over the years:
CHUNK IT: Reduce any training session, event or race into bitesize manageable pieces. Create arbitrary mini-goals to aim for and pat yourself on the back when you nail them, then go onto the next chunk. For the TdF itself, I’ll chunk each day into two rides. A ride to lunch. And then a ride to dinner. Straight away that seems much more achievable! You can create chunks around anything and for any duration or distance. It really works.
BANK IT: Everything that happens in the run-up to the main event is experience to draw on. Have an awful day on the bike? Get so incredibly cold you can’t squeeze the brakes? Bonk so monumentally you sob your way to the next petrol station? Destroy your rear mech so you only have one gear to ride 500 miles on? Log these rides in your brain bank. These experiences make for great comparisons later down the line. The more bad experiences you save up, the more other situations will feel easy in comparison.
BLOCK IT: I wouldn’t recommend for real life, but sometimes, when it comes to sport, ignorance is bliss. If thinking about an upcoming goal gives you the jitters, don’t focus in on it too hard. Know the big picture, so you can make sure you’re preparing adequately, but don’t bog yourself down in (scary) details. This may not work for everyone, but it definitely works for me.
OWN IT: It’s easy to compare yourself to everyone else these days. You can see all the stats in the world on apps like Strava and psyche yourself out. Some of the best advice I’ve had about this was at a trail running event back in my running days, and a super, mega ultra-runner essentially said, ‘As long as you get to the start line and believe you have done everything you can do, then it is enough.’ Have confidence in your own process and don’t fret about what other people have done.
It would be great to hear about how you stay motivated through the winter months, please?
Having something to aim for definitely helps! I’ve always had something in the diary that keeps me going and, in moments where I didn’t really want to train, provides that little pang of fear. You know, ‘Shitttt. In 20-something weeks I need to get through 23 days of mountainous cycling.’ That kind of pang.
Following a plan really works too. If it’s one you’ve created, found online or had specifically created for you, just taking the decision process out of the equation removes one more barrier when your mind is not at its most positive.
Another tool in my box of motivation is essentially this:
It’s really true. You always, always feel better after getting your HR up and adrenaline pumping. Try to remind yourself of it when you’re not in the mood. The only time you should talk yourself out of training is if you’re ill or injured. In which case, get onto the sofa and snuggle down.
Definitely interested in the training. Most of my rides are Zwift these days.
Zwift is an awesome tool, and I can really see how it’d be easy to get drawn into doing a hard session every time you climb onto the turbo. At the moment, most of my training is on there, as I follow my plan and completely control my output. It also reduces the risk of getting ill (by staying out of the cold and by not overcooking any of my rides) or injured (crashing, ice, crap drivers etc. etc.)
Without knowing anything about you specifically, my general guidance for training is gradually building up the duration, then the intensity and don’t underestimate the importance of recovery rides. That’s where you grasp onto the gains you’ve pedalled towards during the harder sessions. There’s little point doing hard session after hard session after hard session. Your body can’t cope with it and you’ll soon hit a wall, which will present itself as either getting ill, injured or so fatigued your mental health takes a hit.
At the moment, two of my sessions are hard, one is medium-hard and three are super easy. Hope that helps!
Would love to get an idea of maybe how many hours you do, do you kill yourself at every session, how long are the sessions, tips to stay motivated. I hope you share the highs and lows with us, not just the highs of which I’m sure there will be many.
I’m doing between 8 and 12 hours a week on the bike at the moment. I think this will increase slightly, but not majorly. I also do a 1-hour yoga class once a week and try and add in a few rounds of 15-minute strength/stretch/mobility work (usually in front of the telly!)
The shortest ride I’ll do is 90 minutes and the longest is 3 hours. I definitely don’t kill myself every session. Almost the opposite. Everything is pretty steady or controlled threshold efforts (the point just before I create lactic acid). In a few weeks, we’re heading to Calp for warm weather training and I’m going to be doing some back to back, long days to start getting my brain and body used to that side of things.
Staying motivated is a tricky one. Some days I do NOT want to ride (e.g. on a Friday after a long work day), but I just remind myself of why I’m doing it. I tell myself that I always feel good once I’ve done it. I also pat myself on the back. Regularly.
I’ll definitely share all the ins and outs, ups and downs, so keep following the journey on here and my Instagram account.
Some Ups so far have been:
Starting to see improvements in my fitness
Coping better with spending longer on the bike
A glorious ride outside last weekend
Finding new routes around the Peaks when I have gone out
Some Downs so far:
Riding inside on some BEAUTIFUL days and staring longingly out the window
Mechanicals! So far my pedals and cranks have fallen off (you couldn’t make it up) during different rides, meaning I needed saving from the side of the road
More videos about your training and what plan you follow would be great. My biggest problem is every Zwift session is a smash fest. I need help with easy/endurance training through using a turbo / Zwift.
As far as easy/endurance rides are concerned, I completely relate. They are so hard to do on Zwift, more so mentally than physically. However, just yesterday actually, I joined a 100-km Zwift event! I popped myself in the right W/kg group to keep my HR nice and steady, and sat in a nice e-group, chatting on the app amongst ourselves and the time went by pretty quickly! I’d really recommend it.
It’s easy to get carried away on Zwift when people are whizzing by. But just stick to your guns, know your goals and pedal it out!
I’d like to know how to train to climb up hills.
The short answer to this is to just ride up hills. Often. Ride up long ones, short ones, gradual draggy ones and stabby ones. Ride them at the start of rides and at the end of rides. And ride them at your own pace. Find your rhythm, get control of your breathing and focus on each pedal stroke.
Staying in the saddle as much as possible is good strength training, but make sure you’re comfortable getting out of the saddle too. On long days, it’s important to be able to change position and derive power from a variety of sources. Speaking of which, core strength helps! Make sure you’re getting those planks done in front of the telly!
Right, that’s all for this training blog post! I’ll do another one after warm weather training camp. After what feels like a long winter already, I’m really looking forward to some sunshine and long days on the bike OUTSIDE!!
What are you training for this winter? Are you getting outside a lot or training inside? How do you stay motivated? Let me know in the comments.
As some of you might have already seen on social media; this summer, I’m riding (the route of) the Tour de France!
I’ll be part of the InternationElles team, a squad of 10 women from England, Scotland, America, South Africa and The Netherlands, who’ll be taking on each stage of the world famous race a day before the pro peloton, or should I just say, the men.
Keep an eye on the InternationElles Instagram page over the next week or so, as the team members get intro’d one-by-one. We’ll also be supported by a fantastic crew, who will be with us for the duration, driving support cars, helping us with fuel, mechanicals, logistics and general brain-based activity while we ride around France!
Arguably, one of the most well-known events in the world, regardless of whether you cycle, the TdF is an epic 23-day event, comprising 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, 8 mountain stages, 1 individual time trial (TT) and, amongst all that, just 2 rest days! The massive downside, is the distinct lack of a women’s race and the fact it clashes with the Giro Rosa; the most prestigious 10-stage race on the pro women’s calendar. In future blogs, I’ll aim to discuss in greater detail the structure of pro cycling, how it all works and the ways in which female cyclists are disadvantaged in this male-dominated sport.
With the Grand Départ of the official race starting from Nice on June 27th, our ride will begin the day before.
I’ve no idea how far we’ll ride or how high we’ll climb in total, because I haven’t worked it out yet and, to be honest, I’m not sure it’ll help my mental state if I know. From glancing at the route on the official TdF website, the average day will be around 150km, with the shortest being 122km, and the longest, 218km (not including the TT, which is 36km and therefore somewhat of a rest day for us, hurrah!). What I do know is, over the course of the 23 days, we’ll climb the 5 mountain ranges of France: The Alps, Massif Central, Pyrenees, Jura and Vosges.
I watched the InternationElles last year, following their progress predominantly on Instagram through stories and posts, noting how long the whole thing seemed to last. My lengthiest multi-day event so far has been LEL, which took just 5 days and, although I was averaging around 300km per day, it feels a far cry from 23 days on the trot with multiple mountain ranges chucked in.
However, I’m confident I can do it. It’s all in the preparation!
Speaking of which, I’ll be documenting the next 23 weeks (yikes, that doesn’t seem that long…) of training here on this blog. Sharing the ups, downs, ins and outs of my road to the start line in Nice. I’ll also be discussing the important reasons why we’re doing this challenge and what it represents.
It still doesn’t quite feel real and I expect it probably won’t until I’m stood in France, bicycle beneath me, staring at the road ahead.
I’m really lucky to be supported by the wonderful No Gods No Masters Cycling, who provides all my lovely cycling kit to keep me riding whatever the weather! Check it out here: https://nogodsnomasters.life/
I’ve been battling recently with the idea of racing or not racing my bike.
Coming from a background of competitive running, my brain quickly turns to times and rankings. Am I quicker than this person, did I go longer or higher? What power were they putting out? For a long time, I didn’t feel like this about cycling; cycling was my escape from the constant need to compare myself to others (or to myself). I think it’s because I was still running, so I could satisfy those needs there. However, when I damaged my toe a while back, it put a complete stop to my running and cycling took over.
Working in the job that I do (Communications Manager at Jam Cycling), I’ve found myself surrounded by competitive cycling: writing up race reports, seeing power data, talking about efficiency and aerodynamics, and weighing up the pros and cons of different training techniques. All the while, cycling more and more, improving bit by bit. I’d got an InfoCrank power meter (perk of the job) so was increasingly aware of what kind of effort I was putting out whilst riding around.
“Shall we do some intervals?” I asked George, my boyfriend and also cyclist, one day. He looked at me surprised. I’d never shown an interest in that side of things before. I was all about the adventure of it. Going for hours and hours, sometimes days and days, not particularly bothered about structure or purpose. We did a gross, sprinty sweaty interval session on the RevBox. It was rock hard. I loved it.
“Have you tried racing?”, “Why don’t you race?”, “You should race.” – phrases I began to hear more and more. From friends at the park, comments on Instagram, people I’d only just cycled alongside. Always people who did racing themselves. My response always being, “Oooooh no. Not for me. Too sketchy. Too many people. Also, I’m not quick enough.” I still find cycling fundamentally scary. Even after all this time. Especially when there are multiple people around. There are so many variables and, in my mind, too many things that can easily go wrong. The fear of crashing (and mainly causing other people damage) far outweighs the niggling feeling in my mind that I wanted to pit myself against other cyclists, to see how I’d fare.
Then, it was suggested to me that I try a time trial (TT). It would be on a familiar circuit (Lee Valley VeloPark), with no real spectators and, important to me, predominantly on my own. There are other people on the circuit, but every rider is set off at 1-minute intervals, so you only occasionally pass each other. PERFECT.
The event I’ve been going to is the Tuesday Tens, a weekly TT laid on by Lea Valley CC. It’s very simple: you turn up, pay the fee, get your number, wait until your turn, bosh out 10 miles as fast as you can. Go home. Results are received by email a couple of days later.
It has been a REVELATION. I love it. Ten miles of uninterrupted SLOG. I just put my head down, get into my drops and pedal until my mouth tastes like metal. Then I hold on for dear life until the end. Every week I get a little faster and it is so satisfying! I’m just on my road bike at the moment, so all the improvements are down to either fitness gains or better race lines. No crazy helmets, skinsuits or TT bikes…yet.
Attempt 1: 27.50
Attempt 2: 27.30
Attempt 3: 27.02
Attempt 4: 26.42
Goal – 26.30 (I’ve got one more at Lee Valley to try and do it!)
It’s been a great way to improve my cornering, to better understand efficient use of my gears and to develop my confidence moving at speed (I’m now happy in my drops, whereas before I hardly used them). It’s also served as a fun way to get a good solid training session done.
I was annoyed with myself for not trying it sooner, so want to encourage anyone who’s had even a slight inkling to just have a go. Do it now!! You won’t regret it.
Here’s a random array of questions you might have had about it:
Do I need a race license? No.
Where do they happen? Sometimes on a closed circuit (no cars to worry about) or on an open stretch of road (the roads won’t be closed to traffic, but there will be marshals and the route won’t be a busy one). It varies from place to place.
What distance is it? The beauty of TTs is there are so many different distances, from 10-mile to 24-hour events. You can also test your hill climbing skills in the TT format.
Do I need a special bike? Nope. Over time you might want to attach clip on TT bars to improve your position. Then when you stop getting faster again, you’ll probably want to buy AWL THE THINGS.
Do you warm up? Not reallllly, I do a few laps of the course, but then I have to wait until my turn, by which time any warm-up gains have probably disappeared… I’d need rollers to do a proper warm up, which is what some of the other cyclists do. If I ever a) get rollers and then b) learn to stay upright, it definitely would do me good to get the legs spinning and blood flowing. My first few laps are always the worst probably because my body’s not ready to go.
Let me know if you have any more questions and I’ll see what I can do!
It’s feeling pretty hard now. The miles have built up, the workouts are getting longer and my body is starting to answer back a little. I’m doing a lot of my training alone. In part because I work flexibly, so I’ll often do it at around 9am (when the marathon will start) so most other people are at work, and partly because I think it’s good mental training. If I can make myself work hard, without chasing someone down, then perhaps on the day, surrounded by people, that’ll feel like an extra boost…Maybe?
Thoughts of ‘Can I really do this?’ have been popping into my head more frequently than I’d like. ‘This run feels tough, Jess and you’ve got to hold on for 3 hours – at least – on the day’. Anyone nearby would see me physically shaking my head, trying to dislodge the negative thoughts and expel them from my brain.
My long run this weekend was 1 hour 50 at chilled pace, followed by 5 miles at marathon pace. The hour-fifty was fine, it’s just a case of getting that bit out the way. I try to think about my form and ignore the niggles, the aching feet (apparently I should get used to this). When it came to doing the final 5 miles, I lied to myself, ‘It’s not that far’.
I couldn’t stop looking at my watch. I didn’t hit marathon pace, I think I needed to fuel a bit more PLUS I had to keep turning back on myself – London was hell bent on getting in my way. Road blocks everywhere.
Nutrition has been an interesting one. I’ve only ever done chilled, long trail run adventures, and been fine with shoving flap jack and sandwiches in my face to sustain me for 6 or 7 hours… I won’t get away with that on marathon day, so I need to work out what to do about that. Sharpish. What I have found, nutrition-wise, is that I have to be really careful about what I eat the night before my longer runs. In the first couple of weeks I got some horrendous tummy aches. I quickly learnt what to avoid for dinner the night before (basically vegetables. No vegetables! Every 9-year-old’s dream).
A massive part of this training plan has been resting properly on the days between runs. Getting enough sleep, wearing compression tights, stretching (a bit). I’ve found it REALLY hard not to cycle on these rest days, I miss it a lot. A lot a lot. I’ve done some rides here and there, but I only ever pootle. Always afraid of tapping into energy stores I might need a couple of days later to do the tempo run I don’t believe I’ll be able to complete.
In the meantime, I’ve been making plans for rides to do once the marathon is over, consoling myself with thoughts of buying an adventure bike and qualifying for Paris-Brest-Paris (like LEL, but…more baguettes and hopefully less bike breaking). It’s just, when I run, I feel like I’m fighting my body, making it move in a way it doesn’t particularly like. I’m not NOT enjoying this training; every time I complete a session it feels awesome, but it’s hard work. With every week that goes by I breathe a huge sigh of relief that my shins haven’t fallen off or my calves haven’t exploded.
So onto week 6 I go. From now on I need to focus on my fuelling, I can’t get away with not anymore. I have The Big Half in two weeks, where I’ll aim to run a 1.25. If I can do that, I might start to believe I can do this 3-hour thing.
Well, actually, I decided to run the London Marathon around this time last year, and then got injury after injury and deferred my entry. So now I feel obliged to do it.
But it all comes to the same thing.
On April 22nd I’ll be toeing the start line with a load of other people who will be hoping they’ve done enough. Run enough. Eaten enough. Slept enough.
Since completing LEL at the start of August (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before…or…), I’ve been trying to transition from endurance cycling to running. For LEL, my training strategy was to just ride… ride whenever I could, until I was blue in the face. When I was tired. When I was hungry. When I was hungover. When my bike was a bit broken (one cog? Fine. This turned out to be better practice than I could have ever imagined). But, for marathoning, I need to remind my body how to move forward in the upright position, rather than whilst sat down, and to deal with the impact of running, both physically and mentally.
It’s been an interesting time.
At first I just rested. I think I did almost nothing for a week, other than sleep, walk (hobble) and eat constantly. After that, I signed up for some hot yoga classes, the idea being that I’d stretch out any tightness, start slowly building strength and get a feel for some sort of routine. I felt good for doing that.
Then I started cycling again; morning social laps with friends, which is lovely, but wouldn’t do much for my marathon dreams…so I joined a gym and added in strength and conditioning (S&C) to my week, as well as easy running. The idea was to get 6 weeks of consistent S&C in the bag before I allowed myself to do track sessions and tempo runs.
So far so good. I could feel the gym work getting easier, so I knew I was getting stronger, and my easy runs were feeling more effortless, but I was beginning to move quicker. I also wasn’t getting the usual stabby shin pains I’d become accustomed to the year before. Operation S&C was working.
Then I had The Low Weeks. I returned to the track for interval training and started doing tempo runs, and I felt slow and low. If I managed to hit a target time, it would feel like the hardest thing in the world, but I was mainly not hitting my target times. When I went out on the bike, I felt crap too. The running, which felt unsuccessful all the time, was wearing me out, so when I went to ride, I felt weak and slow. This was the least fun part of this transition! And I complained. A LOT.
Thankfully, that passed. And I give myself 13893894 character points for gritting my teeth and chipping away at the track sessions and tempo runs. *Pats self profusely on the back*. And now, we’re at now. I’m starting to feel like a runner again; I’m beginning to enjoy the track sessions and have started doing longer and longer runs (still no stabby stabby shin pains – HUZZAH!).
All of this constituted the Pre-Marathon-Training Training Plan. If I couldn’t get myself to this point (i.e. not feeling like a bag of bricks when running) then I certainly wasn’t going to be able to haul myself around 26.2 of London’s finest miles.
Given my history of running-related injuries, I’ve scoured the interwebs for a program to follow and have decided on this one:
It involves 3 sessions a week of running and then cross training (obviously, I’ll be biking…with some S&C) on the other days (plus a full rest day OF COURSE). You’ll see from the title that I’m aiming for 3 hours. I know. Bold, for a first marathon. But hey, may as well reach for the moon and all that. If I miss, I’ll fall among the stars (or onto the tarmac, depending on how much I miss by). Unlike my LEL ‘training’, just going running isn’t going to cut it, every one of the three sessions needs to be intense and ON. POINT.
I’m still trying to work out how to blog this journey in an interesting way. I’d like to document it because I’m intrigued about how this will go. The training plan is unconventional (low volume of running), I’ve never raced further than a half marathon, I’m really prone to injury, I’m probably going to want to ride my bike all the time AND I might get mid-way through training and think, LOL 3 hours is naaaaaat going to happen. Anyway, we’ll see.
Please join me on this journey! I might need your help…
So LEL has become my A-L-L and I think, after all this prep time, I’m ready to do it NOW.
I said in my initial LEL post that I’d keep blogging about the lead up to LEL. Well, guys, the lack of posting is indicative of how the lead up to LEL has been.
The last few months have been rammed full of bicycle riding, and sleeping and eating to fuel that bicycle riding. Which has been ace, and we’ve done some stonking rides; however, this last month, I’ve started to feel the strain a tiny little bit. Mainly because I’ve realised that life outside of riding my bike (…what?! This exists?!) has been put somewhat on hold.
When I heard about this ride, it sounded like an epic challenge and I imagined myself riding with friends all day, for 5 days straight, stopping only to eat and sleep. Sounds dreamy, right‽ However, I severely underestimated the impact it would have on my life in the months leading up to it and it has truly been eye opening.
Apparently, it isn’t possible to half-do LEL. You can’t just rock up on the Sunday morning and roll along happily for the next 116 hours… Well perhaps if you’re a seasoned randonneur/randonneuse you can; but, as a newbie to the world of long-distance riding, this isn’t the case.
The training, planning, purchasing and logistics involved in this adventure have been a challenge in themselves. My weekly cycling mileage has gone from around 120 miles to as high as 400 miles. To fit this in, sleep has taken a hit and I’ve averaged out at about 5.5 hours per night. Where I used to run 3-4 times a week, I’m now lucky if I get 2 short ones in. I can’t stop eating. I’ve spent massive chunks of my wage each month on bike maintenance, equipment, kit and travel for training rides (and snacks). I’ve missed friends’ birthday events and nights out (too tired/no spare cash/need to ride long the next day). I’ve cycled to Paris in 24 hours to basically eat a pastry and then get the Eurostar back.
My little finger went numb for about a week after doing an awesome weekend riding to and from Malvern. Hannah, James and I nearly cooked ourselves alive cycling to Brighton and back on the HOTTEST DAY EVER.
I now look (even more) RIDICULOUS naked (cycle tan lines are not my most bestest look, but also… I secretly love them). I’ve cried more than usual and my brain can’t process anything past August 3rd, so any plans after that date JUST HAVE TO WAIT…
With all this in mind, I am so, so glad that Hannah, James, Ellie, Ele and George decided to enter LEL that fateful day back in February. Without the WhatsApp group, sporadic organisation meetings and lovely rides together, the run up to LEL would probably have been very overwhelming and much less fun. So, I’d like to thank them all now for everything we’ve done together so far. We are all so different, and each and every member of Sixual Wheeling has brought something awesome to the table(l).
It’s going to be long, it’s going to be hard. But more than anything, it’s going to be a great adventure and I couldn’t ask for better people to ride with.
The thing is, I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of gal; whether that’s doing a sporting challenge, a piece of work … eating a large plate of food. I never half-do it. So LEL has become my A-L-L and I think, after all this prep time, I’m ready to do it NOW. I’m scared, I’m excited, and I’m really intrigued as to how it’s going to go.
I’ll be sure to let you all know.
Wish us luck. Please send positive thoughts – I’m sure there’ll be a few points where we’ll really need it!
For those interested, this is our plan of action [distance (elevation)]:
You know when you just want to be allowed to have a proper good, solid moan? It’s been building up inside for a while and, finally, you get the opportunity to let it all out. Oh my. There. I said it…But wait, what’s that? Your chosen pair of ears also has a mouth, and they’re taking your complaint, twisting it around and making a positive out of it.
NO! STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. I want to revel in my misery. Writhe around in my misfortune. BATHE in a tub of turmoil.
But they’re sort of right… actually. It’s not so bad after all. In fact, it’s quite good when you look at it like that.
Well, it turns out, you can do the same when it comes to injuries. There’s no denying that they’re a negative thing. They usually occur when you’re feeling your best, ready to go head first in pursuit of your next goal, then WHAM: Injured. And it is so incredibly frustrating.
I’ve been there time and time again, and can confirm that the initial injury realisation doesn’t lose its bite. However, with time and experience, I’ve found that there are a few pretty decent positives of being sidelined from your chosen activity:
Rethink and rebalance. Injuries force us to take a good, hard look at ourselves. When you’re confronted with the question, ‘What happened?’ you will know in your heart of hearts what caused your injury, and it often comes down to a few bad decisions and ignoring some signs.We learn best from our mistakes, so take a deep breath, reevaluate, think about shifting some of your goals and be prepared to go back to basics. The process teaches us to be patient and resilient. Two very valuable qualities.
Time. WOW! There can be so much of it. You can do those other things, which usually get binned off when you’re deciding how best to spend your spare 47 minutes in the evening before really having to get to bed. Now you have time to cook a ‘proper’ meal that isn’t boiled/poached/scrambled eggs on toast, call your mum, water your slowly-dying cactus, unpack the suitcase from that holiday…
Discover other activities! Once your injury allows you to do some cross training, you might find a new, equally joyous activity. I started cycling because of injury and now look at me, bloody obsessed! Thank you, ITB syndrome. It’s easy to become consumed in your chosen sport (guilty), and forget the massive array of other hobbies and pastimes you can put your mind to. A stint of injury serves as an important reminder of this, and helps you to develop other parts of yourself, making sure you remain a well-rounded hooman bean. Yes.
Catch up on some much needed ZzZzzZzzs. When the schedule gets hectic, with work, eating, sleeping, socialising, eating…it’s easy to decide that 5 hours sleep is definitely enough. It’s not. As it happens. Use your time off to make sure you really let your body rest.
Get stronger! My injuries are nearly always due to underlying weaknesses. If you’ve sought help from a professional, make sure you listen to their advice and do your rehab exercises. Be consistent. Be strict. It’s better to strengthen and recondition yourself fully before getting back into training, so that you can stave off any future injuries. When I‘m off running, I always quite enjoy weight training, but as soon as I’m classified as ‘not injured’ the strength work drops out of my routine and is replaced by…well, more running… Needless to say, it’s not long before the niggles start to resurface. Don’t be me. Be injury free.
New kicks! Wait…The pain miiiiight be something to do with the foam…plastic…sole thingy?… So you’re saying there’s a slight chance my trainers are the issue? Ok. You twisted my arm. I absolutely MUST buy some new ones.
And finally: The belly-fire is reignited. We are contrary beings, us humans. As soon as we can’t have something, we want it more than ever. So, in a strange twist of events, injuries can often lead to improved performance. All the things I’ve mentioned above in combination with a slowly growing desperation to get back to your normal training, result in the possibility for even greater things. Your body is rested, it’s stronger in places that were weak before and, when you’re finally allowed to go back to doing what you love, you’ll feel as excited as a hyperactive child that’s been unleashed into a playground.
I’m not telling you to be pleased about being injured. That’s not it at all. It’s very OK to be mardy for a little bit. Get that sympathy, drink it right in. But not for too long. Find the root of the problem and take decisive action to fix it, whilst also finding joy in the changes it has afforded you. You’ll reemerge better for it.
“Be Patient and Tough; Someday this Pain will be Useful to You” – Ovid
Type ‘Training tips’, ‘How to run a half marathon’, ‘How do I improve my 5k time?’ into Google, and you’ll be presented with reams and reams of information. Plans, tips, routines you can do at home or in the gym, things you can consume to make you train longer and harder, ways to make you recover faster and what gadget (or ten) you can buy to monitor your heart rate, map your sleeping patterns, record the number of steps you’ve taken… And of course all these articles and adverts will be backed up by Science.
Studies have shown these effects… Evidence indicates that this strategy is effective… Eat within this time frame, but don’t eat so and so… Work out this much… Rest that much.
And, quite frankly, it’s all a bit overwhelming.
If you read any study from start to finish, there’ll be statements describing the limitations of the experiment and the reasons why it can’t be applied to certain populations (or to humans at all). Unfortunately, the internet, being the big free-for-all that it is, allows anyone to upload anything. This post for example; I write my words, add some nice pictures, click a button and BAM now you’re reading it. It’s amazing, but it can be dangerous. People are free to pick and choose the parts of studies, the statistics, the outcomes that best demonstrate the idea they’re trying to spread, and include them on their website/blog. They might reference it, they might not. You might check that reference, chances are, you probably won’t.
You read what they have to say, you take it on board, you look around some more and there’s another website that says exactly the… opposite… Oh.
Do I stretch or not? Do I train hard on consecutive days or not? Do I wear cushioned or minimal shoes? Do I drink coffee or green tea?
BUT DO I EAT CARBS OR FATS THOUGH?!
I’m still coming to terms with the idea that I’m an age that enables me to have done something for 17 years; but, unfortunately, it’s true. I started running when I was 10, and I still am. So here are a few things I’ve learnt about getting the most out of my training, in terms of staying healthy, avoiding injuries and continuing to enjoy the sport, whilst getting some alright results.
Rate of Perceived Exhaustion is your best training measure. If you believe it to be.
Heart rate (HR) will often be touted as the optimal determinant of how hard you are working. Yet there are so many things that can affect this measure and establishing the different training zones is an expensive procedure and the data only lasts a short time until your fitness level changes. For the pros who can be tested and retested, yes, HR every time. For us muggles, it ain’t so handy.
It’s simple though; on days when you should be working hard, make sure you do. BUT THIS IS THE KEY – some days, you’re stressed out, you ate a small lunch and it’s now 8pm; some days, it’s 10am, you had a lie in and you feel full o’ beans*. Push yourself as hard as you can for that day and, at the point you feel like you want to give up, that is when it is critical to crack on(i.e. your mind will give up long before your body does). That final push is what will give you the greatest training benefit (maybe more so mentally than physically).
*Metaphorically. I wouldn’t recommend this as a pre-workout nutrition strategy.
Exercise at different times of day.
SURPRIIIIISE BODY, we’re working out nowwwwww!!
Sometimes I train at night, sometimes first thing in the morning. HECK, sometimes I’ll pop out at lunchtime. WOH. By doing this, you’re practising on fresh and tired limbs, fuelled or with an ‘empty tank’, in the dark, in the midday sun, hungover… all different ways of putting your body through the mill a bit, which is what you need to do to improve. If you’re a creature of habit, and do everything at the same time all the time, you’ll be scuppered as soon as something changes. Which leads to my next point…
Don’t be too precious about your training conditions.
This is my polite way of saying, stop making ruddy excuses. Is it windy out there? GOOD, you’ll work harder. Is it raining? AWESOME, you’ll have to grit your teeth and have your wits about you. Muddy? LOVELY, pick up those knees. Don’t retreat into the gym (or sack it off completely) unless your safety is under threat. On these less-than-ideal days, your time (or whatever measure) might be worse, but there are major benefits of getting out there on the grimmest of days:
You’ll strengthen random other muscles you didn’t even know you had
Mental toughness points PLUS TEN
The endorphin high afterwards will be through the ROOF
Listen to your body…and your friends.
We have a nasty habit of being really mean to ourselves. If you’re following some kind of regime, don’t beat yourself up about altering it or missing things. Sometimes the best thing you can do is … nothing. Think about what your end goal is and make sure you keep that at the forefront of your mind. If you’re hurting, like really hurting, do something easy or have a rest day (maybe even seek professional advice). If you feel on the verge of illness, stock up on hearty food and snuggle down. If your friends tell you to rest, they’re probably right. It’s better to take a day or two now, then a month or 6 weeks later on because you injured yourself or made yourself proper poorly.
Eat/drink ASAP after you’ve exerted yourself.
I’m no nutritionist, so I won’t stay long here, but I found that when I made a particular effort to replenish the stores within ~30 minutes of hard training, I really did feel better the next day. I’m not saying fork out loads of money on supplements, you don’t need to, but do make sure there’s protein involved. Milk is amazing (milkshakes/hot choc) and very hydrating, certain yoghurts (take a look at the protein per 100g, some provide as much as 13g), fish, eggs, nuts, turkey, quorn… Add some carbs and veg. Notice how…it’s just A MEAL?! Please, please don’t get bogged down in crazy-weird diets. If you’re exercising hard, you just need a proper, solid, balanced meal.
You earned it.
Mark Twain once said, ’Comparison is the death of joy’.
Focus on your own outcomes. Don’t worry about what other people around you are doing, it’s completely and utterly irrelevant information. Sport is a wonderfully selfish pursuit; decide what it is you want to achieve and go single-mindedly in pursuit of that goal. YOUR GOAL.
As you can see, my ‘training tips’ are in no way an exact science; they’re as random and out of control as life is. Do what you can with what you have and, as long as you’re doing it with a positive attitude, you’ll get everything out of it that you need.