Resetting the bar – part 2

My second medal in two weeks, and medal and challenge #5, was the Women on Wheels ride in Bury St Edmunds. It was ‘only’ a 50-mile cycle event, which was really quite sedate compared with the rides I’d been doing of late; however, this was a ride I was doing on my own. It would be the furthest I’d ever ridden on my own, even in training.

The WoW events are female-only mass-participation cycling events which are aimed at all ages and abilities of female cyclists and take part all over Suffolk throughout the summer. I did my first WoW event in Debenham last year – a 34-mile ride – but Bury St Edmunds, which was their flagship event, was celebrating its 5th year with a party in the park afterwards, so I fancied giving that one a try.

The event took place exactly one week after the Tour Ride event. In hindsight, I think I probably did have a touch of heatstroke towards the end of the Tour Ride. I remember definitely struggling to cope with the sun and heat a little throughout the following couple of days. I am a sun worshipper so it was certainly out of character for me. I began to grow concerned that the forecast for the WoW event was meant to be even a couple of degrees warmer than it was on the Tour Ride. And would be further inland, well away from any coastal breeze. The wind would be lighter but I honestly didn’t know whether or not that was a good thing.

All I knew was that I didn’t want to have another dizzy spell or panic attack and/or be stranded somewhere in need of rescuing with no shade or no water or…the doubts went on and on.

I actually considered the 70-mile route but given the conditions I settled for 50. It was again an early start. I don’t ever think I will enjoy them or get used to them, but, as it was going to be another hot one I didn’t mind. I just wanted to get going so I could finish.

On arrival I registered and got my bike and myself ready. I wasn’t having a great morning Crohns-wise so there were one or two visits to the porta-loo which I think was nerves more than anything. I saw a couple of my ambassador colleagues who were also doing the 50 with a couple of others so I thought I might tag along with them for a while and see how it went. However, after yet another porta-loo visit, I thought I’d missed them at the start; it later transpired they had been a few groups behind me, so I didn’t get to ride with them in the end.

Off we set to yet more cowbells and cheering in a group of 20 or so, and I decided to just go along with the flow. I found myself going at a similar pace of another girl, who I later discovered was called Claire, so we naturally seemed to stick together. We eventually got chatting about cycling, running, swimming, triathlons, the endurance runs Claire had coming up, and anything and everything in between. It was a nice fast-ish pace which was a good balance between limited exertion in the soaring temperatures and getting around and finished before it got too hot.

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Trying to look like I’ve got this…but I’m busy fighting back the anxiety

We reached the first stop at about 25 miles in, and although I didn’t admit it to Claire, I was feeling nervous. I think it was the heat, lack of shade, being in the middle of unfamiliar countryside, and anything else I could think of. We only stopped for long enough to use the facilities, have a bite to eat and top up the water, and decided to get going again. I started to douse myself in water in a bid to cool my core temperature down, and just feel like I was doing something to control the heat and the impending panic attack that, in my mind at least, would inevitably follow.

Eat. Drink. Douse. Rinse and repeat.

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Finally settled in and enjoying myself under a bit of much-appreciated cloud cover

Thankfully after about 35 miles there was a little cloud cover. Not much but it helped. We approached Rattlesden and the second stop with about ten miles to go. We didn’t really need to stop as we were on a roll but decided it wouldn’t hurt to get more water. I’d doused myself about 5 minutes prior to arriving at the stop, not realising we would be stopping shortly, and on sitting down in the little village hall with the kind ladies putting on the spread for us, I began to drip. Everywhere. Profusely. The poor unsuspecting ladies must have thought I was sweating inordinate amounts, and part of me felt the need to explain that it was (mostly) water. I decided that whatever it was, it was probably quite rude to continue dripping all over their carpets and chairs so I waited outside where I could drip on the ground until we got going again.

Considering how quickly the first forty miles went, the final ten or so went very slowly. I think because I didn’t know the roads I didn’t realise how far away I still was from the finish. Around every corner I expected to see the entrance to the park. Eventually it did come and we sailed into the finish amid more cheers and bells ringing. We’d made it. Somehow. And I’d now reset the bar on my solo riding distance.

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  I think the faces say it all…relieved to be over the finish line

I was elated to find we had earned ourselves a medal. I didn’t realise prior to the event that there would be a medal – there hadn’t been one at Debenham the year before – and it was a nice one too; they’d clearly made an effort with it. Medal #5 was placed around my neck and I gave myself a pat on the back, before tucking into a hard-earned burger from the barbeque stall under the much-needed shade of a tree.

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Getting an unexpected medal

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And…relax

It was great to be part of a female-friendly atmosphere. There were lots of women who took part who wouldn’t have done so otherwise, because they didn’t need to feel self-conscious in front of male cyclists; many women who didn’t usually ride their bikes but who had made new cycling friends and who had enjoyed themselves so much that they would now get out on their bikes more often. It’s why I love the events so much. There are more still to take place in Sudbury and Debenham in September – check out their website for more info.

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Congratulating myself on a job well done

Less than a week later my bike and I were heading off to the Isle of Wight, with my other half of course, to discover what a real hill actually is…but I will save that for the next blog. The next challenge in aid of Crohns and Colitis UK will be the Crafted Classique sportive, although I still can’t decide whether it will be the 100km or the 100 mile….

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Resetting the bar

Before I begin, I must apologise that this latest blog is yet again quite overdue; it has been quite a busy time recently! So much has happened that it’s going to have to be another two-part blog!!

Without further ado, let’s get down to business…

Two medals in two weeks. Not bad going. I’m now at a tally of 5 medals and 5 challenges and officially over half way through my 6 months of challenges in aid of Crohns and Colitis UK. When I embarked upon this endeavour it felt like quite an undertaking – 6 months of doing things I’d never done before – and it still does, but I can’t quite believe how quickly it’s going.

After finishing the ‘triathlon phase’ of my challenges at the beginning of June, all my training was focused on the ‘cycling phase’, the first of which was an 80-mile sportive. Training was all about getting in increasing amounts of Time In The Saddle (the acronym was recently pointed out to me by one of my fellow This Girl Can Suffolk Ambassadors!). Before then, I wasn’t doing much more than 30-mile rides for fear of injuring myself before the triathlons, but once they were done it ramped up…40, 50, 60 miles… It would have been 70 miles had I not miscalculated the number of weeks I had left before the first event!!

As well as improving my endurance in the saddle, much of my training has been about practising eating and drinking while on the bike. And by that I don’t mean the physical act of eating and drinking while riding, although they do take some practice; but learning what types of food and drink I can get away with consuming that a) give me enough energy and b) don’t poke the Crohns bear.

That, and figuring out how frequently I need to eat and drink to keep me going, but without needing the toilet every half an hour. It turns out that it’s a really fine art.

In the main, the training rides went really well and helped to boost my confidence. I tried to make sure I was having a mouthful of food and drink every 15 minutes or so and found that I was able to cycle continuously for longer distances. Of course, being on the bike for longer periods of time had its own repercussions; it was aggravating my spinal injury and causing some sciatica and numbness (as would being in any fixed position for that length of time). Thankfully this subsided once I was off the bike.

I also found that not looking at my cycle computer to see how far I’d ridden helped a lot with the psychological battle. If I just kept eating, drinking and pedalling, I was ok.

But food was the least of my problems. Over the last few months I’ve been experiencing health-related fatigue more frequently and more intensely. My last training ride before the 80 mile event was on a really bad fatigue day. Under other circumstances I’d have given in and stayed in bed (ok, I’d have probably still gone for a ride, but just a short one), but I had an event to train for! It was a long and difficult day – the legs feel as though I’d already ridden 80 miles before I’d even got going – and it concerned me how I would cope if I felt like that on the day of the events.

The first event was the Tour Ride Sportive which started and finished in Southwold and followed some of the route took on stage 1 of the Women’s Tour. My longest ever ride had so far been 63 miles (100km) which I did last year in the Crafted Classique, so this was going to reset the bar by 17 miles. Three days before the event the organisers announced that the 80-mile route had been extended to 84 miles because of a road closure on the original route. I now had to find another 20 miles on top of the longest ever ride, and 24 miles on top of the longest training ride!

And along came the day in question. The forecast was for full sun and temperatures in the high 20s. I was quite concerned about how I would cope with the heat, especially given that we are used to worrying about whether to pack waterproofs, not sun cream and extra water. The route followed the coast southwards so we’d have the coastal breeze for the first 25 miles or so, but after that we’d be heading inland, into the heat and away from the cooler coast, as midday and the afternoon approached.

On arrival at Southwold there was a great atmosphere and air of anticipation and I noticed that there were many women of all ages, sizes and abilities taking part – it was great to see. They queued us up at the start to set off in waves and we crawled closer to the start line amid a buzz of excitement. At that point I was just hoping I wouldn’t fall off my bike when we set off in front of the crowds of spectators and fellow cyclists.

Tour-Ride_Start_JC119471-1024x684And off we went. We found ourselves in a relatively pacey group sitting at around 17mph average, so we stuck with them. Usually on rides it’s just me and Mark, my other half, so it made a nice change to be riding with others, chatting about bikes and taking our turns at the front of the group. It certainly does make a lot of difference riding in a group – the aerodynamic effect of being behind others means you certainly get more bang for your buck. I stuck to my plan of eating and drinking regularly and not looking at the miles, and before we knew it we were at the first stop in Snape, 25 miles or so in, and feeling good.southwold.png

We set off for the second leg of the ride, although by then we’d lost our group so it was just us. By the time we got to the halfway mark we were temptingly close to our house. It was a good job we’d left the house keys in the car at Southwold! We headed north towards Framlingham and to the second stop, 50 miles in. Again, it seemed to come along quickly, and I was pleased about how good I felt considering how far we’d ridden. I was feeling confident about the rest of the ride.

At the stop we’d spotted a group of ladies who looked quite strong so we planned to leave with them and tag onto their group. This helped a lot, as we were soon to turn into a soul-sucking 18 mph headwind and we were grateful for the wind-breaking effect of the group. We were now well away from the coast, in the heat of the midday sun, and despite the headwind it was getting seriously hot. We passed one group by the roadside who were waiting for paramedics for one of their party who were in the recovery position by the roadside. We didn’t know what was wrong with them but my anxiety-prone mind decided it must be heatstroke. I tried to shove the thought that it might happen to me back down and keep going.

I felt ok until we got to the last stop, at mile 75. But as soon as I’d stopped I felt a little unsteady on my feet. One of the ladies manning the stop came over and offered to take my bike for me – I think she noticed I was a little wobbly – and I heard her say to a colleague that I really ought to sit in the shade for a while. That was enough to provoke some more anxiety. I suddenly realised I really didn’t feel great. I was hot, dizzy, and suddenly felt very sick. Then I could feel my bowels twisting and cramping and realised I needed to get to a toilet pretty quickly. They were in the nearby pub a short walk away across the car park. Thankfully I made it there without falling over. Thankfully I wasn’t sick either, although it could have gone either way. I spent the next period of time (I’m not sure if we were there for 10 minutes or an hour) back and forth between the toilets and the shade where I was pouring water over myself in a bid to cool down.

I started to cry. I felt a long way from home and could feel a panic attack coming on. I didn’t think I’d be able to finish, even though we were just under 10 miles from the end, and that frustrated me. I just didn’t know how I would do it; I was convinced I’d faint on the bike and get run over by the traffic. Or be stranded on route. I couldn’t quite believe how I’d gone from feeling strong to completely useless in a matter of minutes.

I admitted to Mark that I didn’t know if I could do it. He told me there was no way he was letting me give up so close to the end and I knew I couldn’t let myself down either. I eventually started to cool down and get a handle on myself. We decided to set off but just take it very easy. I spent the next 5 miles alternating between a stubborn desire to finish and a sobbing, blubbering wreck.

But at last we reached the long road back to Southwold. It’s 3-4 miles long and very undulating, but once we’d reached that I started to feel stronger. The nausea had abated and my legs came back to me. Perhaps it was the cooler coastal breeze, or just knowing I was nearly there, but we started to pick up the pace and attack the remaining hills. We made it back to Southwold and followed the final few roads back to the cheering crowds, cowbells ringing, and awaiting photographers and medal givers.

Tour Ride.pngWe had done it. We had also now reset the bar on our longest ever ride to 83.83 miles. And I had completed challenge #4 in my 6 months of challenges.

Watch this space for part 2 and an update on medal #5 very soon!

Kid in a sweet shop

Sometimes in life it really is about who you know.

There have been two awesome opportunities in recent months that have come about because of the links I have through my roles both at work and as a This Girl Can Suffolk ambassador. They are opportunities that I certainly wouldn’t have been offered had I not been in those roles and I am incredibly grateful.

Both things relate to promoting the Women’s Tour, which starts tomorrow (13th June 2018) in Suffolk.

At the end of April, I was asked to the ride to Christchurch Park in Ipswich with the then Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor Sarah Barber. We were riding some of the route the pros will take through Ipswich and into Christchurch Park, where the the pros will ride up the hill in the park to compete for Queen of the Mountains.

On arrival we were greeted by the media who took photos and videos and sound bites for the local radio and the local paper. Councillor Barber is also a This Girl Can Suffolk ambassador and we got to not only promote the Tour, but This Girl Can Suffolk too, and talk about why we love cycling and what the campaign is all about and what having the Tour come through Ipswich and Suffolk means to us.

At the time I believed that it would be the closest I would ever come to being a pro and getting to ride my bike for work. I didn’t think it could get much better than that.

Until a couple of weeks later.

I was then asked if I wanted to take part in a media ride to promote the Womens Tour. I was sent the blurb for it so I could have a look at what it entailed. It was a 32 mile ride from Framlingham Castle, the Grand Depart for the proper Tour, to Southwold. Stage 1 of the Tour starts at Framlingham, comes through Ipswich, back to Framlingham, and then on to Southwold; so the ride would be along the second ‘leg’ of the route. The blurb explained that there would be one of the pros on the ride – Chanel Mason from Storey Racing – and there would be a Tour support car and a police escort!!

Of course, my response was “where the heck do I sign??!”.

So, off I went. We all met inside the rather stately grounds of Framlingham castle where we could all admire the Tour car, and the police motorbike (I wish I’d gotten a selfie with the policeman! He was great fun), posed for some photos and did some rides in and out of the castle for the media (while risking a puncture or a fall on the slippery gravel – it was a bit treacherous!). Then it was time for the rider briefing and then we set off in a buzz of excitement. I made sure I got right behind the pro from the start!

There were so many interesting people on the ride, from all walks of life. I got chatting to one lady who was a member of Newmarket Cycling and Triathlon Club so I got plenty of tips and advice from her along the way. And I also got chatting to Rebecca Charlton, an ITV presenter and former pro…although I had no idea at the time who she was!! We all look so different in cycling glasses and helmets. We were talking for ages about my fundraising for Crohns and Colitis UK – her brother has Ulcerative Colitis – and my involvement in This Girl Can Suffolk. So I managed to fly a few flags while out there.

The weather really was kind to us; other than having a headwind for practically the whole route, it was gloriously sunny. I’m not used to riding in a ‘peloton’ so it was great to hear the buzz of the bikes as we sailed along. It was so cool to have the police bike stopping traffic at junctions for us, to then come flying past us, blue lights flashing, to join the support car at the front and clear the way for us again. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop (so wide was the grin on my face I had bluebottle fly down my throat!). It was great to see people’s reactions as we rode along – clearly it was a sight to behold and nobody had a clue what was going on!

I was allowed to take my action camera along so I managed to get some footage for my YouTube channel and do a ‘vlog’ of the experience. Although as we turned into the last road to Southwold, the attachment broke and the camera fell off me and bounced into the hedgerow by the road and I had to stop to retrieve it. Although I was only off the bike for 30 seconds, I had to ride my heart out to catch the group again before we reached the finish line. It also meant that I couldn’t get any footage of us arriving at Southwold where they’d put out the finish line flags for us. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t important, but did ruin the plans I had for the video!

At Southwold we enjoyed a light lunch and refreshments while the media did more interviews. I managed to get a selfie with Chanel Mason and chat to her about her training and get some tips. And then it was all on a rickety old minibus to take us back to Framlingham (I bet the pros travel in much better style) to leave us pondering the amazing experience we’d all just had.

There was some good footage on ITV Anglia News and BBC Look East that evening.

It will certainly be a major highlight of my year and I will treasure the memories and experience.

And the fun hasn’t stopped there. Last week This Girl Can Suffolk was approached by British Cycling to see if there were any lady cyclists who would be able to provide some footage of us riding to promote cycling in general and the Women’s Tour. I met with a few of my ambassador colleagues and we cobbled together a montage of sorts to send to British Cycling. They’ve worked their magic on the footage and put together two videos which have now started going out over social media (and of course I made sure I got my Crohns and Colitis UK jersey in the video for more promotion 😉).

It’s all exciting stuff and I’m just enjoying the experience. While also wondering, with amazement, how on earth I have found myself in such a fortunate position to be involved in such things.

Calling myself a triathlete

I think I can now safely call myself a triathlete. It’s yet another adjective I can add to the list of words I can use to describe myself. But saying it out loud just doesn’t seem right. Nevertheless, over the last fortnight I’ve earned myself two finishers medals for triathlon, albeit it was touch and go whether I got any.

I took part in my first triathlon – Stradbroke – two weeks ago. I’d put in the training. It was nice and short (160m swim, 17km bike, 3km run). The event had two races to choose from; a Saturday evening or Sunday morning race. Typically the Crohns is worst in the mornings and my body simply takes a while to get going, so I chose the Saturday evening race. No great rush to get there, no early morning alarm. Great. Except that the butterflies (nay, anxiety) left little room for food most of the day.

Nevertheless, I rocked up to the event. I felt the buzz of excitement as we racked our bikes and (after four attempts), finally decided I was happy with my transition layout. Then it was a matter of waiting for the event to start.

I had a great race up until the run.

The swim went great. Although I probably went a little too quick. It was odd swimming in a pool I’d never swum in before too and becoming aware that the water tasted salty (it’s apparently an alternative to chlorine) – it was a weird moment.

I entered transition and suddenly realised that getting my Crohns and Colitis UK jersey on over my now wet tri suit was a little more difficult than I anticipated. And, despite my four attempts at setting out my transition area, I’d forgotten to undo my bike shoes ready for me to put them on. Seconds stupidly lost there and lesson learned.

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The bike went great too. But I went WAY too hard. I kept chasing down people I could see in the distance, feeling pleased with myself that I’d overtaken lots of people and only got overtaken once. I came into T2 feeling like a rock star, amid crowds cheering and cowbells being jangled. I racked my bike, removed my helmet and gloves, changed into my trainers, and set off to the run.

I’d been nursing a hip injury and was unsure how it would cope running. It didn’t feel great. But I can’t blame the wheels coming off on that. Because I’d hit the bike so hard, and because it was so hot, my stomach had shrivelled to the size of a pea and I had this sudden, very real urge to throw up. I felt a bit dizzy too. So I slowed to a walk and hoped it would pass shortly.

It didn’t. Each time I tried to run the nausea came back with a vengeance. So walk I did. I told myself it was only 3k and it would be over soon. But I have never had such a long 3k walk in all my life.

I almost gave up several times. I wanted to cry. I remember thinking I would never do a triathlon again as long as I lived; I hated it. But I knew how annoyed I would be if I stopped, especially after having such an awesome swim and cycle, and reminded myself I was wearing the Crohn’s & Colitis UK jersey and doing it on #worldibdday for all my fellow crohnies and everyone with IBD and that people had sponsored me for this. So I dug in really bloody deep. It certainly helped when one fellow competitor shouted “come on Crohns, you can do it!” as he ran past. Yes. Yes I can do it.

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And I did it. I even managed to run to the finish line, more out of sheer pride than anything. The photo of me with the medal (the second this year) belies just how sick and emotional I was feeling at that moment.

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The results are now up and my times were:

  • Swim (160 m) 3.05
  • T1 2.09
  • Bike (17km) 35.41 (**almost 18mph average speed – very fast by my standards!)
  • T2 0.59
  • Run (3km) 29.32
  • Total: 1hr 11 min 27 secs

I was the slowest on the run section for the whole field but I DON’T CARE… I finished. And if I’d been able to run the pace I know I am capable of I’d have been the fastest female in my age group. Something to work on and plenty of lessons learned in the process.

And today I had a second bite at the cherry – Culford. Although I seriously contemplated not doing it at all. My confidence had been knocked after Stradbroke and I wondered if I was even cut out for it. Plus my hip still wasn’t great and I didn’t really want to do it unless I could put in a reasonable performance. The event run a mini event after the main triathlon for injured competitors – just the swim and cycle for those that can’t run – which I thought about changing to. But as the day came closer, the hip started to feel marginally better so I decided I’d just go for it, for the experience.

This time around it was a morning event. With the event being an hour away, and needing to allow myself time for my body to get going, I got up at 4.55am. ON A SUNDAY. 4.55am doesn’t exist on any day of the week, much less on a bloody Sunday! I seriously questioned my sanity right there and then.

I loaded the car, feeling physically sick and in pain, and trundled off to the event. I couldn’t even appreciate the glorious sunrise – the only award for being up at such an ungodly hour – as the mist descended and turned everything into murk. In hindsight, the mist became my friend by stopping the sun from heating the already muggy atmosphere to unbearable heat. For now at least.

I arrived, registered and racked. I remembered to undo my cycle shoes this time, and managed to lay out my transition area with only one attempt. I ran through my route in and out of transition from the swim to cycle and then to run. I was clear on what I needed to do. All good.

Then it was the treacherous wait. An hour of watching everyone else start their race. An hour of fighting back the anxiety. In that hour however, I did get to talk to another competitor who has Crohns and swap war stories, and another gentleman spectator who saw I was wearing a Crohns and Colitis UK top sponsored me £10 for the event; his wife was supposed to be doing the event but was too poorly with Colitis. Wearing the top is a great conversation starter.

And finally, it was my turn. I set off for the swim and settled into it nicely. Each time I thought about people catching me up I reminded myself that I was racing my own race this time, not worrying about who I was going to catch or who was catching me. Out of the pool I hopped and then had a seemingly endless run to the transition area.

On went the jersey, much better this time, along with all my other bits, and off I went on the bike.

I resolved myself to settling in for a 15-16 mph average – I knew from training that I can comfortably run after that sort of pace – so resisted the urge to pick up the pace when I got overtaken (which happened a lot this time around) or to catch people in the distance. Run. Your. Own. Race. Repeat after me. There were moments on the course where there were nice tailwinds so I made the most of these and found myself flying along for very little perceived effort. I returned back to transition having averaged 17mph; quicker than I’d planned, but with much fresher legs than last time.

Again, into transition I went, changed shoes etc, and off I went for the run. And this time I did run. The whole thing. I was prepared to have to walk intermittently to nurse the hip around but somehow managed to keep going. It was two laps of a 2km course and I could feel the pain getting worse over the second lap, but managed to leave enough in the tank for some semblance of a strong finish.

Oh. My. God. I felt so chuffed with myself as I crossed that finish line and was handed my medal – my third of the year. I really felt like I’d earned it this time around. And now I felt like I can honestly call myself a triathlete 🙂

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The results aren’t officially up yet but I think my times were:

  • Swim (300m) 6.22
  • T1 3.50
  • Cycle (21km) 43.44
  • T2 1.50
  • Run (4km) 23.00
  • Total 1:18:46

The hip, naturally, is very sore now but I’m sure it’ll ease off soon. At least I don’t have any events coming up that involve running in the near future so I can give it a rest and give it a chance to heal. My next event in my 6 months of challenges for Crohns and Colitis UK is an 80 mile sportive – the Tour Ride on 1st July – which follows some of the route that the Womens Tour will take through Suffolk on 13th June.

And on that note, I got to do something really awesome a couple of weeks ago to promote the Women’s Tour – but I’ll save that for my next blog 🙂

It’s all getting a bit real…

I need to preface this blog with a disclaimer…this should have been published a month ago! It’s been sitting there as a draft. User error on my part. So this blog will shortly be followed by the next one. Sorry peeps!

Well my 6 months of challenges in aid of Crohns and Colitis UK has officially started!

Proceedings were kicked off by the Swimathon a few weeks ago, which was a 1km swim as part of a team 5km challenge. Although I was confident in my ability to swim the distance (I’d done the training so why shouldn’t I be?!) it turned out that on the day I was suffering from a severe case of butterflies. The event didn’t start until 3pm which I was initially pleased about (my body doesn’t cope well with early starts) but on the day it worked against me because I found I wasn’t able to eat much all day; the butterflies left little room in my stomach for much else. I think it was a combination of things: mainly having people watching me swim (and not just anyone – colleagues who were themselves competent swimmers) and worrying that I would let the team down.

After some standing around and cheering on my comrades (I was fourth to go) at last it was my turn! I went off too quickly for the first 10 lengths (although I wasn’t the only one!) and found myself having to keep a bout of anxiety under control – hyperventilating and water don’t tend to mix that well. At about halfway it began to feel like a very long way, but I kept in mind all the people who had sponsored us and all the people that our fundraising would help. And suddenly, I’d finished. Much quicker than I’d anticipated. The team finished with a good time too (2hrs 11mins – 14 minutes quicker than last year’s attempt). We were presented with our medals and left with a warm fuzzy feeling of having achieved something good.

It was only later in the day that it dawned on me…it was my first ever medal for swimming 🙂

Since then all the training has been building up to my first triathlon this weekend (note, it was actually two weeks ago now due to my schoolgirl error!). It’s a short and sweet one, ideal for newbies such as myself. My training has gone well although somewhat marred by a hip injury which has been brewing for a while and has left me being unable to run for the last month. So everything has focused on swimming and cycling, with the odd walk in place of my runs. I’m hoping adrenaline and endorphins will get me through on the day, and although I might not finish as strongly as I’d hoped, I will be pleased just to cross the finish line.

A lot of time has also been spent practising the “fourth discipline” of triathlon – the transition. The art of being able to change from swimming gear into cycling gear and then from cycling into running gear, quickly and efficiently. And setting it out in such a way that helps you get things on and off in the right order. It’s amazing how difficult it suddenly becomes when you’re trying to do it quickly. There’s even an art in being able to mount and dismount your bike quickly too – jumping on and off while you’re still moving forwards – something that hadn’t crossed my mind when I entered the race!

I’ve also now experienced ‘brick’ training sessions. These are where you cycle straight after a swim, or run straight after a cycle (or walk, in my case). These are aimed to get your body used to the changing demands being placed on it so when you come to the event itself it isn’t such a shock to the system. I don’t know why they are called brick sessions, other than that’s what my legs feel like in the process!

I have to say even for this short event, the extent and variety of training involved for a triathlon is incredible, because you have to become proficient at three disciplines and the bits in between. I for one did not appreciate just how much is involved; there is barely enough time in the week to fit it all in. Hats off to anyone who does the longer distances…I happen to know a colleague’s cycle rides alone are 6 hours long in preparation for her Iron Man Triathlon later this year.

It all got a bit real last night when the start times were announced (at 11pm as I was going to bed – queue more butterflies and too much excitement to sleep). Thankfully I start quite quickly so I won’t be having to wait around for too long. It turns out that the experience I gained in the Swimathon will hold me in good stead for standing pool-side, waiting for my turn to start, and trying to keep the butterflies under control in the process. They’re fluttering even as I write!

So not much longer to wait. I’ve had my last swim this morning and I’ve got one more gentle ride to do tomorrow just to make sure the bike (and my legs) are ticking over nicely. Then it’ll be cleaning the bike, checking and rechecking equipment, writing and re-writing lists, packing, unpacking and repacking again. I’m sure there will be several iterations of that before I leave my house on Saturday lunchtime. Fingers crossed I don’t forget anything crucial – like my bike!!

(My next, soon to be published blog, will talk about how the day went as well as how the second triathlon went – which will take place in 2 days!)

You can find out more about the challenges I am setting myself this year and why at my fundraising page.

Spoke too soon?

My last blog was full of pep and vigour and all about overcoming my health-related adversities in order to raise awareness of, and fundraise for, Crohns and Colitis UK.

I remember speaking to a colleague a few months ago about my plans and aired my concerns that I might tempt fate by doing anything for charity. Historically speaking, every time I’ve tried raising money for charity, something has ailed me and meant I’ve had to pull out, either before the event or during it.

Oh, how I hope I haven’t tempted fate again.

No later than 24 hours after the ‘big reveal’ about my fundraising plans, I was laid up in bed, off work, and not training. And that’s where I’ve been for the last two weeks.

It hasn’t exactly come out of the blue. It’s chronic sinusitis and ear infections which I’m now told are due to a combination of three factors: a structural defect in my nose/sinuses; chronic sinus inflammation (most likely an ‘extraintestinal’ symptom of crohns, i.e. an autoimmune response); and a suppressed immune system. I’ve struggled with this on and off for months, but this last bout had got a really good hold on me. The worst symptoms are dizziness, and looking and feeling like I’ve been kicked in the head by a horse.

I’m sure there are other factors at play too. The joint pain I’m currently experiencing – an autoimmune symptom – has gotten worse, and I’m experiencing fatigue – another autoimmune symptom – so every day feels like I’m dragging my body through treacle. The irony is that the infection would clear up quicker if my immune system wasn’t so busy trying to attack my body. But that’s autoimmune disease for you.

I’ve experienced various extraintestinal symptoms of Crohns before – skin inflammation, eye inflammation. But these sinus and joint issues are relatively new on me. I might as well accept that they are probably now a part of the landscape and develop ways of managing them on a daily basis. For my own sanity I need to get back to work, back to exercise, and back to life in general. Definitely easier said than done though!

But what does this all mean for my plans this year? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m now 2 weeks out from the 1K swim for the Swimathon and 5 weeks out from my first triathlon. I’ve spent the last fortnight focusing on pilates so that I can keep my joints moving and feel like I am doing something, but I’ve managed no swimming, cycling or running (and barely any walking for that matter – spontaneous dizziness isn’t conducive to moving about much!).

I’m also told that I will need surgery to rectify the structural problem in my sinuses, which will hopefully decrease the chances of recurrent infections in the future. That will put me out of action for a few weeks so, depending on when it happens, that’s potentially going to affect event plans too.

I’m so glad I made sure I included a disclaimer in my fundraising info that anything I do will be health-permitting!

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It’s so frustrating, living in a body over which you have little control and where you have no idea what it will allow you to do from one day to the next. Especially when you’ve since caught the fitness bug and are somewhat reliant on exercise for your own mental health too. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

What I do have control over though is the will to keep going. To keep getting up. To not quit, even when every fibre in me feels like it wants to. Again, easier said than done. There are often times when I want to throw my hands up and give in. But I won’t.

In a way I’m pleased this has happened. Because it highlights some of the problems that people with Crohns and other autoimmune disease have to put up with. We are in pain and feel ill pretty much all of the time; good days for us would probably be bad days for others. We never take each day for granted. We have to do what we can with what we’ve got at any given time.

So that’s what I’m going to do. If I can make it to any of the events I’ve planned, then I’m sure as hell going to give it my best shot.

Flying the Flag for my Uncooperative Colon

This month’s blog is about the challenge I’m setting myself this year, and why.

So far on my newfound sporting journey I’ve completed a 5k run and a few sportives on my bike, the longest being 100km (63 miles). But as I’ve said in previous blogs, after getting into swimming at the end of last year, I wanted to have a go at triathlon. So I entered two. A fortnight apart. Well, if I’m doing the training, I might as well put it to good use!

But I’d been thinking about what to do for the rest of the year. There are a number of two-wheeled events I’ve got my eye on, and I’d really like to tick the box for a 10k run too. So, Crohns, spine, and general health permitting, I’ve got a plan for the year which will see me swim, bike and run 520 kilometres between April and October:

  • April – Swimathon: 1 km swim as part of a team of 5 (team swim of 5k in total) – click on the link at the top of this page
  • May – Stradbroke Triathlon: 160 metre swim. 17 km (10 mile) bike ride. 3km run. All one after the other 🙂
  • June – Culford Triathlon: 300 metre swim. 21 km (13 mile) bike ride. 4km run.
  • July (1st) – Tour Ride: Following the route of the OVO Womens Tour. 80 miles on the bike.
  • July (8th) – Women on Wheels Bury St Eds Bike Ride. 50 miles on the bike.
  • August – Crafted Classique Sportive: 100km (63 miles) on the bike.
  • September – TBC
  • October – Martlesham 10 km run. I have completed a 5k but never a 10k so it may be my first!

Other than the Crafted Classique, all the other events are completely new to me. This is big for me, because my anxiety seems to be triggered by the unknown or situations I cannot control.  Plus, keeping healthy is difficult for me at the best of times; managing my crohns symptoms, or almost constantly fighting infections because of my crohns meds, or sciatica, or panic attacks, can make normal daily life a struggle. Managing these through training, let alone on the day of the events, will be a challenge in itself.

So why put myself through all this in one year? Because, of course, I want to show that This Girl Can. But also, because over the last two years I have physically achieved things I wanted to do but never thought I could. Because I know I live on borrowed time with my Crohns – it is not cured, and I know it could rear its ugly head at any time. Because, for the last four months I’ve been experiencing as-yet-undiagnosed joint pain which is looking suspiciously like Crohns-related arthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis (the latter being closely linked with Crohns).

I simply don’t know for how much longer my body will cooperate and allow me to do these things. Obviously, I hope for a good long while. But I don’t know. So I’m making hay while the sun shines (even if there are a few clouds lurking here and there).

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I’ve raised money in the past for various, worthy charities. But in all these years, I’ve never raised money for my own cause. I want to see a cure for Crohns Disease in my lifetime. But if I don’t, I want there to be one for future generations. So this time I want to raise money for Crohns and Colitis UK, who are the UK’s leading charity in the battle against Inflammatory Bowel Disease. And it’s official; the kind folks at Crohns and Colitis UK have provided me with a cycle jersey and running top so I can keep raising awareness as I ride and run along my journey.

If you would like to find out more, or can spare a few pennies, you can do so on my JustGiving fundraising page. The sponsorship would be for the sum total of the year’s efforts (including the training – why not!?). And I’m sure it goes without saying, but obviously it is all health-permitting.

I will post here, and keep my YouTube channel updated about how the training and events are going, so you can keep up with all the blood, sweat and tears. You can also follow me on Strava, if you want.

So far the training has been going well. Throughout March I:

  • – swam 14,800 metres
  • – rode 350 kilometres
  • – ran 31 kilometres

My swimming pace is now fairly consistent (if not quick), and my cycling is going well. I’ve also practised a few transitions (changing into cycle gear, then into running gear, but really quickly!). It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. There have been days when my uncooperative colon has put paid to a training session, and I’m currently nursing some sort of leg injury which has prevented me from running for the last week, so fingers crossed that won’t affect training too much.

I’ve now got 4 weeks until my Swimathon event, which kicks off the 6 months of challenges, and 6 weeks until the first triathlon (cue butterflies). I think I’ve now got enough fitness across all three disciplines to complete those events, so this month should just be about maintaining that, avoiding any further injuries, and keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t lose too many more run sessions.

Oh, and I’ll be practising my transitions…I don’t want to be that person who forgets to remove their cycle helmet before their run!!