Countdown to the Little Woody

August 23, 2010

And so Little Woody week has arrived. I’ve done my last long ride, my last long off-road run. I’ve even been to the swimming pool! And yesterday:

This happened

Uh oh


It looks like we’re camping on site the night before the race…


How to train any time, anywhere

August 18, 2010

As I might possibly have mentioned, you know, once or twice 😉 I became an Auntie for the first time on Friday. My sister lives in Kent, where we grew up, but I live a couple of hours’ drive away now. Therefore, when I got the call that my nephew was on his way, I packed the car knowing I wouldn’t be back for a few days. Babies being babies, I had no idea how long he’d take to arrive or how long I’d be needed for. (As it turns out, I was right to pack for longer than expected!) But I did know that I was going to be away, and running on a very odd schedule, during my last key training week for the Little Woody.

So what did I do? Write off a week of training? No fear. Give myself a few days off, then promise to cram all the training in when I got back? Erm, no.

I put swim, bike and run kit in the car, along with a coolbag full of necessary eats and drinks, and printed out my training schedule.

And, you know what? Being at my Dad’s for a long weekend, spending lots of time with my sister and nephew at the hospital, and keeping highly questionable hours made for some great R&R. Not rest and relaxation, silly. Running (and riding) and reminiscing.

I didn’t stick to my training plan 100%, I’ll admit. Friday’s morning swim made way for…well, for my nephew actually being born and for me getting to see him at just an hour old. But I got Friday’s evening run in, and it was a good ‘un: high on adrenalin and endorphins, I tackled the Road of Remembrance in Folkestone (it’s a hill) at a good pace. That’s how Aunties roll, you see 😉

Saturday’s long ride made way for a run, because it was pouring with rain. But it turned into one of the nicest runs I’ve done all year.

Devil's Kneading Trough, Wye

I ran from Wye (near the hospital) through beautiful little villages to a village called Stowting where I lived with my sister when we were kids. Then I ran back to Wye, using the North Downs Way byways and paths along which I used to ride my little fat horse when I was younger. Nostalgic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Sunday was blowing a gale, but I absolutely had to get my 3-hour ride (and short brick) in, so I set off from my Dad’s negotiating some hairy dual carriageway before heading into the Kent countryside and following my nose, led mostly by memories of horse-riding, relative-visiting and pub-lunching of yesteryear. I only got lost once. Hilariously, I ended up popping out at a T-junction, looking around to see where I was and realising I was about 100 yards from the hospital. My nephew must be magnetic ;)!

I missed another swim because I wanted to see my “oldest friend in the world” (we’ve known each other for 30 years…!) and meet her baby. I think that’s a good enough excuse. But, all in all, I don’t think I did too badly. I did all the key training sessions over a long weekend at the peak of my training plan.

Just setting a good example for the kids. I’m an Auntie now, after all 😉

How to stick to your training plan when you’re out of your routine:

  • pack everything you think you might need. You don’t know how long you’ll be away for
  • don’t forget things like bottles of sports drink/powder, and a multi-tool
  • don’t leave one set of kit (swim/bike/run) at home. You’ll kick yourself if you find a great local pool or gorgeous run route
  • even if you’ve only got 30 minutes, you can still get some valuable training in
  • use the time away to explore new (or old) routes, rediscover places you’ve forgotten, and see some new sights
  • see it as a challenge – my bike ride was windy, I knew the roads would be busy, and I had no idea where to go. All the more reason to feel dead chuffed once I’d actually done it
  • make it social. I had every intention of persuading my Dad to come swimming with me, had I actually made it to the pool!

PS I didn’t take any pictures, so I googled for images to illustrate this post. I found this lovely blog post about the bit of the NDW I ran on Saturday – the images are from there. Thank you, blogger!

Riding the Little Woody course (and R2 giveaway)

August 12, 2010

And the Little Woody looms closer. It’s a half-Ironman/middle distance triathlon in the Forest of Dean and I can’t remember when (or why) I signed up to it, but it’s now only a few weeks away. I’ve done a half-Ironman distance triathlon before, so it’s not a first, but I would like to get a better result than at the Vitruvian in 2005. Although, of course, it’s impossible to compare different races.

Little Woody is a 1900m lake swim, 98km bike and 21km (aka half-marathon) run. The bike is renowned for being somewhat hilly, and the run is a mixture of trails, paths and other surfaces. Good-oh!

I’ve been quietly freaking out about the bike course, despite making great improvements in my bike confidence and performance this year. (You can read some of my sportive reports here, here and here). So, this weekend, whilst we were visiting my inlaws in Wiltshire, we decided to drive over to the Forest of Dean and ride the Little Woody bike course.

I was wibbling before we even got on the bikes. I don’t know why. It was horrible, reminding me of the bad old days when I’d send myself spiralling down into a whirl of negative thought processes about road-riding even on simple sunny jaunts around my local roads. Just outside the carpark, cars were flying past on an A-road, and I remembered some of the hills our car had groaned her way up to get here. I honestly nearly said “let’s not bother”, but then I got over myself.

We set off, joining the course at what will be about the 20km point on the actual race. The busy A-road road almost immediately pitched steeply, sending me careering downhill at more than 25mph before I’d had time to settle into the ride. As a car passed too close, my bike started wobbling crazily. I skidded to a halt, shouted my husband’s name until my throat hurt, and started to walk. Surely there was something wrong with the bike? Maybe I hadn’t put the wheels on properly? That wobbling was terrifying.

Husband arrived back (having had to come all the way back up the hill) and checked my bike carefully, even riding it up and down the hill himself. No wobbles. I must have hit the rumblestrip, or…something. I don’t know. 6 minutes into the ride and I was already close to crying with nerves. So far, so 2003. I had to get on with it.

Once we were off that A-road, things got a thousand times better. A good road surface, much fewer cars and stunning scenery. I was even down on my aero-bars.

From Five Acres, near Coleford, the route took us through Park End and Bream before joining the A48 at Alvington. Then it was a long stretch of the A48, through Blakeney and Newnham, before turning off for Micheldean. I nibbled my jam sandwiches in Nibley and we were buzzed by two buzzards near Flaxley Abbey. I reached 33mph going down a hill.

We got caught in a couple of heavy rainstorms which flooded the roads and filled my shoes with water in a matter of seconds. Passing cars sent waves of water over me, one of which soaked me to the waist, and conditions got a bit hairy.

The final third of the route was a beautiful stretch along the River Wye before a cruel climb up to English Bicknor. I’d heard this was the toughest climb on the course (we have to do it twice in the race!) so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I got up it feeling great. Then I realised there was another bit to do. A sneaky sharp bit, just when you think you’ve done it all.

Just over 75kms of riding, with 841m of climbing and a max elevation of 239m.

I was really glad to have ridden (most of) the course. It wasn’t as tough as I’d imagined, and I coped well, which gave me a massive confidence boost. It’s a hard, hilly course – hardly any of it’s flat – but nothing I can’t do. I’m not sure I could have said the same a few months ago!

Of course, this being triathlon training, I couldn’t stop once I got off the bike. A quick change in the leisure centre (big up Forest Leisure for letting us use the car park and changing rooms) and then I was off on a (very short!) run. I had no idea where the Little Woody run course was so didn’t bother trying to find it. I just ran round the field for a bit, and threw in a couple of chin-ups on the school equipment just for the hell of it.

I arrived back at the car just as husband was laughing his head off at my bike wheels. The rear one had filled with water during the rainstorms and was hugely heavier than the other one. I hadn’t even noticed. I’d just assumed I was getting tired. Training with a wheel full of water: perhaps some new resistance technique that British Cycling could adopt?!

Here’s me stuffing my face after a long ride and a short run. My mother-in-law made us a breakfast cake which was perfect for after a ride (and, er, before it too). Here’s the recipe.


That bottle of drink next to me is grapefruit and orange R2. R2 is a nice choice for rehydrating because it helps replace vitamins, minerals and electrolytes as well as fluid. I wouldn’t rely on it for energy during exercise (although I have used it during pool sessions, and I have used it on the bike – one bottle of R2, one bottle of energy drink), but it’s great for afterwards. I prefer to water it down a bit (R2, please don’t now tell me I’m wrecking the electrolyte balance!), but that’s just how I roll.

The goodly folk at R2 have sent me a nice taster pack of the three R2 flavours (full size bottles, in a nice presentation box). They’re yours for the taking. Just reply in the comments, or send me a message on Twitter (@thefitwriter) using the hashtag #r2comp telling me: what’s your favourite thing to eat or drink during exercise?

Entry closes midnight UK time, Friday 13th August. I’ll number the entries and pick a winner at random. 🙂

1st place in a bike race!

July 26, 2010

I was down in Kent on Saturday, seeing family at the annual Joyce get together. It just so happened that, on the Sunday, there was a 50-mile bike sportive just a few miles away on the Romney Marsh. So I had to do it, right?

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m training for the Little Woody, a half-Ironman distance triathlon in…er…a few weeks time. So what I really need to do is some long bike rides, immediately followed by some long runs. The obvious thing to do, then, was this 50-mile sportive and then a long run, back in the direction of my Dad’s house. Easy…!

The one downside of the sportive in terms of Little Woody training is that (being on the Romney Marsh), it was dead flat (more like a 50 mile time trial really). Whereas the Little Woody course is Not Flat.

So, on Saturday, I took it upon myself to eat at least two Joyce-family-members-worth of party food, loading up on pizza, rice salad and, um, cake in readiness for a hard bike and run the next day. I even steered clear of Uncle Chris’s elderflower champagne.

Next day, husband and I drove to St Mary in the Marsh, west of Dymchurch, for the sportive. It’s a low-key affair, more of a charity ride (with a 10-mile route aimed at families), and we had no idea how many riders would have entered. I actually thought we might be the only people doing the 50 miler. But as we drove along the seafront, we saw groups of club riders all kitted out in their matching jerseys, and I actually felt a bit better knowing that I’d have some competition. Sure enough, as we went to get our numbers, a chap riding a Cervelo slipped in behind us, and the two guys in front of us were busy talking about some sportive they were doing soon near Crystal Palace. As ever at a bike event, there weren’t many women, but I did see plenty, including some riding for cycling clubs.

Me demonstrating by the power of arm-gesture how flat the surroundings are

The plan was to finish as close to 2 hours 30 minutes as possible (that’s 20mph). The course really is completely flat, but the wind out on the Romney Marsh can be brutal because the landscape is so open.

Oh – before I go on – want a laugh?

Here’s the profile of last week’s sportive (maximum elevation – 250 metres)

And here’s the profile of this one I’m on about (maximum elevation – 25 metres)

Off we went, following the circular 50-mile route which took us out towards Dymchurch, through Burmarsh and out to West Hythe, back to Newchurch and then out to Ruckinge and Ham Street. Early on in the race, a group came towards us (going the wrong way) and we stopped to ask what was wrong. They told us we were going the wrong way (we weren’t – for one thing, we were following the arrows which had numbers 1-52 on them, and for another thing, we had a map. As did they, presumably!) We carried on the way we were going, annoyed that we’d stopped at all!

It wasn’t a windy day, but even a bit of wind is a real pain out on the marsh because there’s nothing to shelter you. At points in the race, it was a bit of a slog against a headwind, but we just had to hope that it would turn into a tailwind as the circular route progressed.

We saw the group going the wrong way again – they seemed to be doing the route but backwards. I’ve no idea how they’d managed it. And they were club cyclists! (I’d hate to see them try and do an Audax!)

At a couple of points on the route, the organisers sent us over a busy A-road and insisted we got off and walked across with our bikes…bit of a shame but we had no choice.

Other than that (and stopping to talk to the backwards cyclists!), it was head down and push on like a long time trial.
Husband did a grand job of setting off in front to hold our agreed pace, look out for the route signs, tell me about oncoming traffic and point out poor road surfaces. All I had to do was ride. And I loved it! We were holding 34-35kph quite easily for long stretches and it felt great.

There was an aid station but we flew through it. I wasn’t going to waste time eating a flapjack if I was only going to be riding for about 2 1/2 hours.

The ‘hill’ was nothing, but it was noticeable, if only because I’d been in the same position (down on my aero-bars) and in the same gear for almost all of the race. So, in a way, it was a nice change of pace to actually have to change down a couple of gears, quickly get up out of the saddle and push on.

Otherwise, it was flat, flat, flat. The organisers set the riders off at intervals, and we’d overtaken a few groups who set off before us within the first 10 miles. We hadn’t seen anyone else for ages and I wondered if we were going to be the first riders home. As it turned out, there were two just ahead of us, but we rolled in in 2 hours 42 and I was told I was first lady “by a million miles!” (Enthusiastic, if not strictly accurate)

Of course, just because I was first lady home, I might not have been first lady over all. A female rider who started after me could still be quicker. But, by the time I set off on my run, no other women had finished. I was first female finisher!

I couldn’t hang around long to revel in my little victory, as I had to run. I changed my top and shoes, put my ipod on and totally forgot to have a drink (!) Then I set off, heading for the seafront, determined to keep my pace slow (and my heart-rate slower) as I know this is what I need to do if I’m going to get through the Little Woody.

And I felt fine! 50 miles of caning it on a time trial bike and my legs felt great. 5kms went by without me even noticing it, and then I was on the sea wall at Dymchurch, heading east towards Hythe, sweating my way through the chip-eating Kent holiday makers.

I passed a lovely hour trotting along at 8:30 minute miling, and then I had to get off the seawall/promenade and run along the main road into Hythe, which wasn’t so great. At this point, I started to feel not so great myself. My heart rate started shooting through the roof, and I made myself walk to get it down each time this happened. I was absolutely soaked with sweat, but my arms were goose-bumpy. I’d told husband I’d try to get “to the icecream van” (gotta have a goal!) in Seabrook, but I knew that was too far.

So I stopped, pulled out the trusty iPhone and called him. “I can’t go on!” I claimed. “Please come and get me from Hythe.”

I trotted on for a bit, and bought a lolly in a newsagents. It was only 20p but I dropped £1 into the big freezer. The newsagent man can have it for being nice and not complaining about me coming into his shop looking such a state.

That 20p lolly was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Cold, sugary, lemony. I ate a bit, ran a bit, ate a bit, ran a bit. Someone in a car laughed at me and I wondered how funny they’d find a 20p lolly if they won a 50-mile sportive then ran 9 miles. Idiot.

I just finished my lolly and then there was my knight in shining Renault, brandishing a big bottle of orange juice and water, which I put away in about 10 seconds flat. He told me I looked quite pale. “Drive me to the sea!” I wailed. “I have to jump in the sea!”

So I did, had a quick swim, and felt a lot better.

50 mile sportive, 9.5 mile run. That’s some brick!

Anthony Maynard sportive (hills and headwind!)

July 19, 2010

I’m a bit slow to get going this morning. A bit tired, you see. Yesterday husband and I rode the Anthony Maynard sportive bike event – just the “short” route of 110kms. (Got to love a sport in which 110kms is considered short. A bit like a “sprint triathlon”, which still takes me well over an hour.)

I’m ramping up my training now for the Little Woody triathlon, a half-Ironman/middle distance event with a bike leg of 95kms followed by a run leg of 21kms (ish). It’s around the Forest of Dean hilly. So I need to get some long, tough bike rides in, ideally followed by steady runs of up to two hours. Yeah. I know.

So we made a last-minute decision to ride this local sportive, which is held annually to remember Anthony, a talented young club cyclist killed whilst out training on his bike in July 2008. I knew from the profile that the route would be “lumpy”

but had never ridden any of the route, so had no idea what was in store. I didn’t really mind in any case; it’s all training which needs to be done.

So, yes, 6:30am on a Sunday morning and I was eating breakfast and wishing I’d eaten less BBQ (and drunk less rosé) at yesterday’s 40th birthday party. Oh well! We drove to Theale and – hallelujah – were able to register on the day. Met up with a workmate of husband’s (a real die-hard roadie rider) and lined up for the start.

What a popular event. It took ages to get through the start and frankly it was very touching to see so many local riders coming out so early on a Sunday morning to celebrate and remember Anthony Maynard and raise some funds for his favourite charities.

I’d somewhat randomly pinned my hopes on a silver-standard finishing time of under 4:22 for the 110kms. That would mean holding an average of 25.5kph (I think?) – not tricky. Or so I thought!

Once on our way, the route almost immediately threw us up some draggy hills. It was a really cold morning – I was wearing a stupid choice of jersey which is a bit too short, and my lower back was feeling the wind. I’d put arm-warmers in the car as a last-minute decision, and I was very glad to have them.

Husband’s work-mate, bless him, took it upon himself to be “Team Nic” (as he put it) and try to drag me up the hills by positioning himself in front of me and inviting me to stick onto his backwheel. But I just couldn’t do it – I’m not used to riding in a bunch (age-group triathletes aren’t allowed to draft, so I never get to do it), my legs were sore from yesterday’s run, and I simply don’t have the skills to stay on the wheel of another rider. If you can do it, drafting off someone else (particularly up a hill) really does work. But I just couldn’t. He was only trying to help but I found it increasingly stressful to try and stick with him as well as wake up/breathe/look at the road ahead/eat my Primula sandwiches, so I told husband and work-colleague to do their own thing and leave me to it. What can I say, I like my own company.

The first 40kms of the ride were not nice. I actually started to think that I regretted doing the event at all, and that’s saying something. There seemed to be no breaks between the hills, and the headwind was vicious. There were plenty of downhills, but the headwind made them slow and the sidewind made them risky. I was not enjoying myself.

Just after Wantage, at the 40km rest stop (amazingly well stocked, by the way, with a fantastic range of goodies!), I was ready to drop. I felt like crying. I wasn’t actually that far behind husband and work colleague (or so they said!) but I’d been grinding along at around 12kph at times and just felt demoralised. On the climb up to the rest stop, the views across the ridgeway had been spectacular but I hadn’t been able to get a good look as I was too busy hanging my head and grinding my knees (and teeth).

However, it’s amazing what a flapjack or two can do. After the rest stop, I took off like it was a new day. In fact, I managed to stay with husband and work-colleague for a decent amount of time.

The next stretch of the route went through an area near Lambourn called “Valley of the Racehorse” (because of the sheer amount of training stables in the area) and I was in my element looking at all the beautiful horses out in the fields. The wind seemed to have dropped a (tiny) bit – enough to make a difference – and the hills seemed to flatten out a little bit. It was still a tough ride, but the food station and chance to stretch my legs had given me a second wind.

Before too long, I’d reached the halfway point and, from here, the kms ticked by at a steady rate. Skirting Hungerford, we went through a lot of pretty villages and a rainshower freshened us up. The road surfaces were varied (I think recent rain had washed quite a bit of gravel into the roads) but traffic was quiet and – best of all – courteous. I didn’t encounter or see so much as a near-miss.

The second and final feed stop on this short route was west of Newbury, at a woodland burial ground near Enborne where Anthony Maynard is laid to rest. The feed stop was manned by his family and there was a great atmosphere. Not sad nor sombre, but peaceful and respectful.

From there it was under 40kms to the finish, but the course designers hadn’t finished with us yet. If the first 40kms of the course had almost constantly rolling, draggy hills, this final 40kms had a series of short, sharp climbs which really sapped any energy our legs had left. They were lowest gear, out-of-the-saddle type climbs, the type where you actually wonder if you’ll get up it or if you’ll end up coming to a halt and just toppling over, still clipped in. I tried to remember the profile map (which had hill names on it) and asked one Reading CC rider if this was the final hill. He actually laughed as he said “no” (and cycled past me up the hill). Oh well.

With about 20kms to go I fell in alongside a rider who, being a tall chap, looked to be a good windbreak. We ended up chatting about work (how?!) and he told me he does Slash’s PR. How cool! How on earth I ended up riding the final 20kms of a sportive with Slash’s PR I don’t know, but there you go. Being nosy a journalist, I’ve since googled him and he was actually hiding his light under a bushel – he’s also in a band himself. I didn’t have my autograph-book on me I’m afraid.

Slash’s PR and I bowled along the final 20kms together (it was downhill) chatting and agreeing that the course had been pretty tough. “5km to go!” I shouted when I saw the 5km-to-go sign. “…all uphill!” I added, as a joke. Surely, with just 3 miles to go, they wouldn’t throw any more hills in now? Wouldn’t they’d just let us spin our legs out?

Er, no. Rounding a corner, we faced yet another hill. Only short, but very steep. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d get up it. There were people at the top clapping and one of them said “final hill!” At last! Slash’s PR let out a loud “ouch!” as he pedalled up and I knew exactly how he felt.

From there it really was a short spin to the finish and I rolled over the line in an over all time (including feed stops) of 4:49:94 – bronze finishing standard! My bike computer says 4:29:18.

Anthony Maynard sportive
110km/68.75 miles
Elevation gain: 1,350m

Swim, bike, run

June 29, 2010

After my poor swim at Windsor, I vowed to do more swim training. Really, anything would be better than the next-to-nothing I’ve done in recent months years.

So on Saturday my bike and I got dropped off at the open-water swim venue at the Copthorne Hotel in Reading, where I met my friend Alice and her fiance Paul for a swim.

Here’s Alice. Isn’t she dinky?

Alice and I met by happy chance in 2004, when she became my neighbour. Neither of us lived in that little cul-de-sac for long but it was long enough to realise that we have tons in common and we have remained firm friends ever since. We’re both ex-swimmers who have turned to triathlon. We both used to be nervous on our bikes but have got over it now. We’re pretty much evenly matched in all three disciplines, making us ideal training partners (when we can co-ordinate our diaries!)

Alice is tapering for her first Ironman distance triathlon at the moment (an Ironman race is a long-distance triathlon organised by the WTC’s Ironman brand: like any full/long-distance triathlon it’s a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run). Alice and Paul are racing Ironman Austria this coming weekend. Good luck, guys!

The Tri20 swim centre at Copthore is really beautiful with great facilities – loads of parking (at the hotel), toilets, showers, changing, a bike rack, hot drinks and a nice big 750m loop marked out in the lovely peaceful lake. There’s even a shop on site selling tri gear and kit. Entry is a standard £5 (discount for a book of 10 tickets) and I’d say that the photos on the website don’t do it justice.

On Saturday the lake was toasty-warm and I badly wanted to ditch the neoprene and go for a lovely non-wetsuit swim, but that would somewhat defeat the object.

Alice joined me for two loops of the lake (although she was in front of me the whole time – what has happened to my swim speed? It wasn’t all that in the first place! How depressing..) and then I got out and hopped on my bike for the 16-mile ride home.

Back at home, I quickly changed shoes and nipped out for a speedy two-mile run – not far, but far enough to count as a brick session and certainly some decent training for my next triathlon (which is a sprint-distance, with a 3.1 mile run).

Swim, bike, run – that’s triathlon training.

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