5 weeks to go!

20 Jun

All of a sudden, my great big hairy-assed goal for 2014 is almost here – 5 weeks to go till raceday…

Right now, today, I’ve hit a brief, and possibly my last, pause in training before the big day.  I’ve just completed my 2 hardest training weeks (19 hours and 17 hours, respectively) and this week is an easy week, before it all ramps up again in the next few weeks (before, hopefully, tapering down again as well, coach?).  I was beginning to feel a bit smug about avoiding any illness during this training cycle when I was hit by a wave of exhaustion and a sore throat this week – pride comes before and all that.  I’m babying myself and cutting back on training this week, hoping that I can head off whatever’s brewing and be ready for what next week throws at me.

I can’t quite believe that I’m beginning to see the end goal of what has felt like an enormous personal journey.  When I set my great big hairy-assed goal out there last year and signed up for this Ironman, a number of women around me who had done Ironman themselves told me this would be a transformative experience.  I nodded along, wondering in my head how different this was going to be from marathon training.  Harder, I knew.  Longer, I knew.  But really – training is training, right?

Wrong though.  The harder and the longer make a huge difference.

  • training (and racing) goes in waves.  In marathon training I’ve had hard weeks and easy weeks.  Sometimes it flows, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But when it doesn’t flow, usually my whole workout doesn’t flow.  And when it does, my whole workout does.  In IM training I feel waves in training and in racing.  In the course of a 100 mile bikeride sometimes you feel like death warmed over.  I have cursed all the decisions that have led me to be outside, grinding out the slow miles in the pouring rain.  30 minutes and a coke and snickers bar later, I am singing my heart out, loving the landscape, the birds and life itself.
    A good moment on a long bikeride!

    A good moment on a long bikeride!

    And in racing the same has proved to be the case. I’ve had bad running races but usually they’ve started badly and finished badly – when my heart wasn’t in it, or my body was not co-operating, very little got me out there. 4 weeks ago I raced my only build-up race to the full distance, a nearly half-ironman distance tri.  The weather was shitty, the field was fast.  And I was not.  I felt comfortable and in my rhythm in the swim but as I was slugging along, I slowly became aware of fewer and fewer people around me.  It got quiet.  I sighted badly.  I went off-course, and was nudged back on again by a marshal in a canoe.  In a field of nearly 300 there were only 12 people behind me in the water.  Running the 500m through wet grass to the transition area in the pouring rain I saw that all the spectators had left.  Getting back to my bike I found my bike shoes and socks floating underneath the plastic cover I had put over them to protect them from the rain.  I felt like crying.  And then I pulled myself together.  A bad – a slow – swim does not mean a bad bike or a bad run I told myself.  I had a new bike to try out, food to eat and hey – the leg I dreaded was over.  So I got out there on the bike and just smiled.  I may have been a bit nauseating – I cheered everyone on who passed me, encouraged everyone out there who I passed.  I forced myself to be positive, to smile and to enjoy it and it worked – I was smiling by the time I came off the bike. The run course was no fun – 4 laps up a steep hill, down again and into a muddy field.  Running past the finish 3 times before being allowed through.  But I persevered, encouraging all those around me, just staying in the moment and not thinking about the 13 miles I did not feel like running.  The miles passed and I felt better, and I sprinted through the finish feeling if not strong, victorious.  The urge to quit had come up a few times but I’d ridden it out and come out the other end – something that I’ve never experienced in a running race.


    Worn out, and that smile took some doing. Boy was I glad to be done!


  • But more than this, the long and the hard of the training has forced me to really confront where I am in life.  This is, in part, because training is taking up a lot of my time – much more time than marathon training ever has. On the days where I cycle 100 miles, I struggle to do much more.  Cook / deal with family life / clean / admin – I basically want to eat, have a bath, and go to bed.  For someone who overcommits herself constantly, this has been a really tough lesson in prioritisation.  Do I want to race well and confidently in 5 weeks time?  If so, I will NOT go out, I will not go to bed late, I will make smart choices with food and I will not commit to social events.  I’ve not completely dropped out of the rest of my life, but have pared back, pulled out, and moved away from a lot.  And I’m surprised by how little I miss it.  The truly transformational aspect of training has come from this – realising that I was slightly sleepwalking into a spending a lot of my time doing things that I did not feel passionately about.  Having to constantly consider my priorities, and, certainly this last month, having to just forget about much social activity, has given me a jolt and woken me up.  My children are growing up and need me in a different way from how they used to.  I feel very much needed by them, but in a very different way.  The model that I have been living for the past 14 years or so is losing its usefulness, and I need to think about how I’m going to fill in the next phase of my life.  I have no firm plans but quite a few avenues to explore.  And of course, I’m open to suggestions and ideas…

Of course, these are the contemplations of a rest week.  Which is about to come to an end.  5 weeks on Sunday I will lining up on the shores of Lake Zurich, ready to start one of the most exciting days of my life. Yes – I am getting nervous.  Despite some really encouraging sessions in the pool, I still worry about making the swim cutoff.  My biking is getting stronger (aided, not in the least, by my fabulous new bike and the endless help and advice of Alex at La Bicicleta) and I’m not usually worried about the bike cutoffs (though trying to avoid thinking about punctures, broken chains and other things that can go wrong).  The run is the run.  I know that it will be hard, but I also know I can slug out a hard run.  I’ve done it before and will do it again.  Right now my brain will only go as far as July 27th.  I’m not sure how I will feel the day after – whether I will be signing up for another Ironman, or will vow never to do it again.  I do know that – from today’s perspective – aiming for and training for this event has been one of the most challenging and most gratifying experiences of my life.  So far..

Boston 2014! Or what it’s like to run the best race of your life.

5 May

I’ve been trying to write this post for nearly 2 weeks now and I just cannot get a handle on the angle I should be taking.  Should I tell you about all the great stuff I did with my mother?  About all the wonderful friends I saw and spent time with?  The superstars I collared for a photo?  Or just the race?

I think I have to start with the race.  Because it was a truly one-off experience for me.

April 21st was a gorgeous day, and, in Shalane Flanagan’s words, an “honest day”.  No massive tailwind, no perfect cool running weather – a race run under fair, even warm,  conditions.  Hanging around in the Athlete’s village with my friends, it had gotten warm enough to throw off my warmup clothes and by the time I made it (just in time, thanks to massive queues for the portapotties) to my starting corral, I was thinking I shouldn’t have worn my arm warmers.   Walking through Hopkinton on my way to the start (it’s a long way from the corral to the start line) I contemplated my coach’s strategy (8:20s for the first 13 miles, 8:30s for miles 13-17, 9 minute miles for 17-21 and then whatever was left in the tank) but I also knew, with real conviction, that this was a race I wanted to experience and remember.  For the past few years I’ve chased PBs in my marathons and while there is enormous satisfaction to achieving a PB you’ve worked so hard for, there’s also a relentless focus required, a constant checking of the watch, blocking out spectators and other runners, concentrating purely on getting to the finish time without the wheels coming off.  I had had a pretty discouraging running training cycle going into this race (a 20 miler which took me about 4 hours and lots of changing of insoles due to really painful plantar fasciitis and a 17 miler which was a 20 miler cut short because I completely ran out of steam) and before the race I remember telling somebody that if anything, my biking was finally turning a corner.  I knew the marathon was NOT my end goal and that took a massive amount of pressure off – I would bear the goal in mind but nothing would stop me from really enjoying the race.

And then the race began.  Bear this in mind, I’ve  run Boston before.  I have run London (twice), NYC, Berlin and Chicago (twice).  I know what big city crowds can be like.  But this – this was something else.  This was personal.  The crowds wanted you to do well, to run strong, to show the world that Boston was indeed Boston strong, that we could claim this race back from those who had tried to destroy it.  Within a mile or so of starting I was convinced that soaking up the race was the purpose of the day.  I made myself, mentally, stay within each mile. Whenever I felt myself flagging, or counting what lay ahead,  I just ran along the side and got some love from the crowd.  I high fived dozens of kids, and even a dog.  I shouted out at people who had great signs, I clapped for the crowds.  At one point a woman running next to me said “What makes you so famous?” because so many people were bellowing my name – I told her it was because I had my name on my shirt. For 26 miles I heard “Petra, you’ve got this!” and “Petra, you make us proud”.  It was utterly humbling and deeply moving.  I saw nuns cheering us on in their habits and ran to the side to wave at them – one started jumping up and down and shouting my name. At Wellesley I stopped and kissed 3 girls – this was the day for it!  I saw my coach – exactly where she said she would be! – and stopped and hugged her.  I saw my mom at mile 21 and stopped and hugged and kissed her.  I loved it.  And as I ran into Boston the crowds just got louder and crazier.  The love, the love, the love was intense and I felt completely and deeply emotional to be allowed to be part of this.  And then I turned onto Boylston street and where I’d worried I’d feel apprehension or sadness this was now impossible.  The noise and the sunshine and the cheering just drove me towards the finish line – I found myself never wanting it to end.  And then it did.  As soon as I crossed the finish line I realised I could now barely walk.

Limping along to the luggage trucks on Boston Common, I was just overwhelmed with what I had just experienced.  Because not only had I immersed myself in this incredibly emotional experience, but I had also run the whole race completely under control, exactly as the coach ordered.  And had come in at 3:44:27 – my 3rd fastest time ever and a (very tight) Boston qualifier. For once, it felt like I had done everything right.  I had walked through the water stations every few miles, drinking plenty of water and pouring some over my head to cool myself down, I had chugged down a gel every 30 minutes and hadn’t even considered whether I wanted to or not.  I had slowed down up Heartbreak Hill but had found it within myself to speed up again as soon as I crested it.  At times I had been conscious of my watch beeping but I hadn’t even registered the mile splits, or the average pace window – had only looked to see if I needed to take another gel.  Where in the past my increasingly addled brain would have been working out potential finish times and how hard I’d need to run to get to my goal, the only calculation I can recall making during this race was that I’d probably be done with the race in an hour and that I needed to really enjoy what was left of it.  So different.  So wonderful.

I’m not sure whether I managed this because it was just one of those days where everything aligned for me.  I think it helps that I am training for a different race and that Boston was never the ultimate goal for me.  I think it helped that this, of all the races I’ve run, was such an emotional race. It helped that I spent so much time with friends before and after the race.  I was so immersed in the atmosphere of this race that for once, my brain was not sitting on top of my body, second-guessing it,  and driving me along and, occasionally, sabotaging the job my body is meant to be doing.  My brain and heart were out there experiencing the race, while my body got on with the job it had to do.  I’m not sure I can ever replicate this feeling or experience but it has made me hungry to race more like this – to really experience the race, to not retreat into a pain cave or an isolation zone.  This might mean accepting slower times – though this result does not suggest that – but I am eager to try this again.

And then there’s all the other stuff.  The stuff that made me never want this week to end.  The people. Here it is – the week in photos.


Jess – my wonderful hostess upon arrival in Boston. Lovely friend, lovely family, beautiful house – first of many visits to and fro between here and Boston I hope?


Testing out Heartbreak Hill 3 days before the race. It’s a lot easier when you haven’t run 20 miles beforehand…


Boom! First brunch outside with my mother and running buddy Ben and who’s at the table next to us – Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman, only two of the most awesome women in running today!


Finally! The lovely and generous Bart Yasso! What an honour!


Finally – after years of admiring these women and their amazing blogs from afar I met up with Ana Maria and Amanda. Such gorgeous, kind and inspirational women.


Lizzie Lee and I nearly in tears after meeting up after 7 years of online friendship in a supermarket queue!

Image 5

Waiting to get on the buses with my friends Sophie and Jacquie. Sophie was interviewed for the BBC News while we were waiting and I featured briefly in my homeless person’s throwaway clothes. Nice!

Image 1

Hanging out in the athlete’s village with Lizzie Lee, Jacquie and Sophie


The lovely, speedy and beautiful Kristen. Lucky, lucky me that she made the effort to limp here after the race!

Image 2

Has a burger ever tasted this good?


Team GB after the race at the W Hotel


And last but absolutely most wonderful (in our matching Oiselle scarves) my incredible mom. Thank you for being there lovely mama!

I’m back at it, I’m back out there.  Boston was never the end goal and I’m back on the bike, in the pool and on the road.  But this race will never leave me and will forever be special in my memory – the city, the people and my friends and family.  Thank you Boston – I will never forget it.

Status update

17 Mar

I’ve started so many different versions of this post that it makes my head ache.  You know me – in the past 4 weeks I’ve been through a lifetime of emotions, most of them in the course of a single morning – but I keep starting a post on a particular tangent and then losing it.  I read it back the next day and think “really?  That’s how I want to sum up what’s going on?” and then abandon the post again.

Someone commented on my last post that “it must be time to put all the doubts & measurements away and just get on with it”.  And I guess with all my whingeing and whining and self-doubting I must give the impression that I am not doing that – that I am not getting on with it.  And that would be wrong – I am.  I just whinge, whine and doubt myself as I’m doing it.  So here’s where we are at, in each discipline:


Progress: 7/10.  Given that I am still very much a newbie swimmer I think things are okay.  I permanently hover on the edge of a shoulder injury (both shoulders now).  Some of that has been remedied a bit by changing / improving my swimming stroke with my swimming teacher but overall I think it’s still bad technique and a not very strong upper body that’s holding me back. 2  sessions a week (one, preferably with my swim club but that doesn’t always happen) mean that I’m getting a bit stronger, getting more endurance.  On the upside – I am enjoying it. There is something very zen-like about swimming, about plowing up and down the lanes.  To my surprise I even enjoy hard swimming- it’s very hard to do anything other than live in the moment when you can’t breathe and you can feel yourself on the verge of throwing up by the end of the interval.

Freakouts: 4/10.  Most of the time I think I will make it out of Lake Zurich before the cutoff.  Had a mini freakout when driving through a tunnel recently that was almost as long as the swim course is.  It took me a while to drive through the tunnel.  I don’t swim fast.  So this was a slight downer, but overall I’d describe myself as steadily, doggedly, semi confident.


Progress: 6/10.  That sounds bad, I don’t think it is but I’ve just got a long way to go.  I’m doing hard work, interval work, tempo work and some endurance work.  I’m constantly learning new stuff (last week’s lesson was about how to go up and come down hills).  I enjoy it sometimes but have to battle myself to get out there when it’s super windy (welcome to Lincolnshire – few hills but MUCH wind).  Cycling with the cycling group has made a difference but I struggle to always make the meetups.

Freakouts: 9/10.  Yeah, I know, I just had a massive one last week.  I’d been kind of spiralling down to thinking I was not making any progress and I was slow as molasses when I burst a tire out on a training ride without repair kit.  The full on drama was followed by angry tears as I replaced my inner tube and had a meltdown to my poor husband.  I do bounce back though – had a gorgeous bikeride in the Lake District last Tuesday where I just forgot about average pace and attacked the hills and really soaked up the beautiful scenery. This was followed by a ride with a friend on Thursday where he helped me to really push the pace for 3 hours, showed me the basic of bike mechanics, helped to work out what I didn’t need in the massive bag of kit I was carrying about (= most of it) and generally built up my confidence.  So ultimately all is back to normal there. I still have occasional panics about the distance (112 miles!) and the cut off (I’m going to have to go hard!) but I’m trying, generally, to keep my head down and just keep training.


How can you have freakouts on days like this?


Look! Shorts! Knobbly knees!

Just working up a bit of a glow up these hills…


No, I didn’t bring my wetsuit so I just cycled past. Another time.


And another beautiful scene. It all made the freakout go away.


Ah, and then there’s running.
Progress: 6/10.  Yup.  I know.  But note the lack of freakout below.  To my amazement I have suddenly and completely out of the blue managed to develop plantar fasciitis.  I’ve never had it before in over 10 years of running, I’m not sure what’s caused it, but I definitely have it.  I’ve been through the various stages of handling injury (denial / panic / googling endlessly) and for now am managing it by regular treatment from my osteo, stretching my calf, icing the plantar fascia and not running on consecutive days.  This morning I wore my orthotics for the first time in 3 or so years and I think that makes a difference – I am not sure I will run in them but around the house it certainly improves how my foot feels.  Where this leaves me for Boston?  It looks like it really will be a training run for Ironman Zurich. As in, I will have an opportunity to try out how to run a marathon in sub optimal circumstances.  I’m not sandbagging when I say it will be slow, and hard.  I’ve simply not done really specific marathon training so don’t have the speed or the distance in my legs.

Freakouts: 2/10.  I’ll gut it out.  I’m going to Boston with my lovely mother, spending time with my wonderful coach and a whole bunch of other friends, and I am incredibly fortunate to be able to be out there celebrating this amazing, historic marathon with 33,000 other runners in a really meaningful year.  I know when I am lucky and fortunate, and I am.  That it won’t be fast or pretty is fine by me – you don’t get a fast or pretty marathon without putting in specific work, and I haven’t done that.  So I’m okay with it.

So that’s where I am.  4 and 1/2 months away from my Ironman and my average freakout rate is 5/10 over the three disciplines.  I’d say that’s not a bad situation to be in – for me that’s manageable stress. I started on this journey because I wanted a new challenge and I’m getting it – in spades.  So far, I’m still standing.  And swimming, biking and running.  Speaking of which… it’s time to get back to training. Talk soon!

Why bother? Or why it’s harder to follow the advice on your Lululemon bag than you might like to think.

10 Feb

I’ve just returned from an amazing, invigorating, inspirational run camp. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good get-together with other runners and it was much overdue. It was great to talk to other runners about their races, their training, their experiences – I’ve come away with ideas about how to improve my training, other races to think about racing, and with plenty of inspirational stories ringing through my head.  And with two tough speed sessions on Saturday (including my first ever standalone 5k!) and a very slow and muddy and windy off-road long run on Sunday it’s reminded me of how much I love to run.


There’s me on the bottom right of the women at the front.

In my desire and need to become a better cyclist and swimmer by this summer, running has very much come in third place.  I’ve got a place in this year’s Boston marathon (and am going!) but will not be racing it.  And that’s not me sandbagging – I’m not doing enough running to race it, and I don’t want to give myself the recovery time afterwards.  I want to get back to training as soon as I get off the plane in the UK, and so Boston for me will be many many things – a get together with friends and my mother, a celebration of running, a desire to be part of the response to last year’s terrorism – to show that terrorism will not diminish us, or scare us. But it will not be a race, and I’m good with that.

Inevitably, while talking to people at the weekend, we’d talk about races, about times, about PBs, and about goals.  Some of the people on the weekend were very fast (Liz Yelling was there, who has a 2:28 and change marathon PB, and Louise Damen who is representing Great Britain with a 2:30 PB) and some were not so fast.  And one woman  in particular brought up a topic that has been swirling round in my head for the past weeks.  She told me of a moment that had occurred when she was working out with other runners where she had felt so much slower than the others that she had burst into tears.  The person leading the workout had gently pointed out to her that, while she was slower, she was working at least as hard as the others in her intervals and that all he, as the coach, was interested in was effort.  She rallied and her running (and confidence) has gone from strength to strength.  In simple terms, she came to believe that she was a runner regardless of how fast she was.  And once she had that self-belief in place, she could tackle all sorts of challenges.

I’ve recently had this conversation with Adam who’s started crossfit (I stopped after one session but more on that another time).  There was a point where he felt he was the weakest, the slowest, and the oldest person in the “box” (I just can’t deal with that word, but anyway).  He asked me whether he was just being an idiot but I said no – he was not.  But he was dealing with a tough situation – it can be hard to appreciate your own efforts when you feel they fall so short of what those around you are doing.   And of course – coming round to me – you knew I was going to get there – this is something I struggle with a lot.  I am working hard, really hard, but am still painfully slow in the pool and on the bike.  I feel like I’m surrounded by talented, fast, people, and to nobody’s surprise, I am not one of them.   I regularly have to fight my desire to give up.  Not because a workout is too hard, but because I think “why bother? Who am I kidding?”.  Right now, I would dearly like to see some progress but all I can see is that I’m running slower than I have in a long time.  My head knows that this is how it’s going to go – that the progress will come, but it will be slow, and that my running speed will suffer.  And my head is okay with it.  But my heart struggles.  So many well intentioned friends ask me about my training and share their well intentioned views “you should be cycling much further by now”, “you should be cycling must faster by now”, “you should be swimming much further by now”, “you should be swimming much faster by now”.  Honestly, the tears often brim behind my eyes.  Thank god for my coach, who’s on the receiving end of many a panicky email.  Thank god for my other training friends, who know how it feels to be so out of your depth.  Your Lululemon bag may exhort you to “do something that scares you” but I tell you – when you’re doing something that scares you it’s an extremely frightening experience.

So here I sit, with legs that are battered from this weekend’s running and a mixed-result long bikeride today. And I am going to tell you why, despite all the above, I am doing something I’m not very good at:

  • because being good is relative.  To others.  Remember when I won my age group in a marathon last year?  That was amazing.  And I could and did focus on that.  But I could also focus on the fact that it was a small race.  That there weren’t many in my age group.  And I could tell you that the woman who came in just behind me told me that she thought she would have beaten me if she hadn’t been breastfeeding.  But that day, she didn’t beat me.  This year she probably will beat me.  So all you’ve ever got – right up until Olympic level – is where you are on the day, and where the others are relative to you on that day.  I’ve said before that I want to stop comparing myself to others, because, apart from anything else, it’s such a pointless exercise.   There ARE faster people out there.  And I’ve just go to deal with that, and put it one side.  And focus on myself.
  • And related to that – why does it matter that I’m not very good at it? I’m not making a living from this.  This is my hobby.  I keep bringing myself back to this.  Pushing myself beyond my personal limits is what I like to do – what makes life interesting to me. This is what takes me on journeys, mentally and physically.  What leads me to meeting all the people – new friends – I met this weekend.  That’s why I do all of this.  To experience life to the full.
  • And the final reason I can think of why I am doing something I’m not very good at is because I’m a mother.  My kids are constantly being made to do stuff they’re not necessarily good at.  Academic work they may struggle with, social situations they have never faced before, sports they find difficult or not enjoyable.  Little of this is a choice as a child – you just have to get on with it.  As you get older, you get to choose more.  The subjects you study, the sports you do, and more and more, the social situations you are happy with.  And that’s a really good thing.  But it can also mean that you get my age – 42 – and you forget a) what it’s really like for your kids and b) just how much you are settled into your comfort zone.  Learning something new when you’re older is really hard and often precisely because you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who have been doing it for a long time and / or are very good at it (lord do I wish I had been a swimmer in my teens).  But I want to show my kids that you are not “done” at 42 – that my character and interests and limits have not been finalised yet – in the hope that they will always realise that they too have far more options available to them than might sometimes be apparent.  Especially if they can get over the part where they’re not very good at it…

So I’m back at it.  Back in the game.  I do this because I want to do it, and I do it because I love it.  The running weekend reminded me of that and for that I am truly grateful.

On getting, having and being a coach

17 Jan

As those of you who have been following my blog for a while know, 2 1/2 years ago I changed careers (again!) and qualified to be a personal trainer.  Yup, in a period of immense change and upheaval for my family, I decided I needed to add something to my already overloaded plate and live and learn in London every week.  It was tough, on me and on my family.  I never really blogged about that at the time, because I felt badly enough about that as it was and I didn’t want to dwell on it.  Let me just say it was a difficult and tiring and interesting and fun and challenging time – all at once.  I don’t seem to be able to rip myself away from making moves like that…

However, the point I was going to make, bringing this up, was that prior to this time I had no experience of a personal trainer, or really, of a coach.  I had used someone to coach me for Boston 2011, thinking it would make me run faster, but I don’t think I knew what questions to ask, or what goals to set, and so the experience, while fine at the time, didn’t leave me thinking that having (or being) a coach was something I ever wanted.  If I’m really honest, when I started my course in London I kind of thought I was onto a little wheeze: I couldn’t really understand why people needed a personal trainer (after all, I’d coached myself off the sofa and eventually to a BQ without one, and managed to lose a mass of weight in the process) but hey – it was something people would pay for, so why not?  As so often when I think the laugh is on others, this one backfired on me.  Even in training, on the course, I could see how much harder and how much more focused I would work when others were watching me.  I would do things I would never have done on my own (even going into the weights part of a gym – that had never been something I was comfortable with) and, because someone was helping me and managing what I was doing, I was willing to try things I was afraid of.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013, and after futzing around for some months with the idea of triathlon while struggling to get my own business off the ground, I decided to once again get a coach.  This time I was more focused.  I wanted my coach to understand my goal – to complete a half ironman – and to have done this herself.  She has.  But more than this, I wanted my coach to appreciate that this goal, of completing a half ironman, was completely outside of my comfort zone.  I had not done this before, and was terrified.  I wanted her to understand this.  I wanted her to understand me.  And she does.  She too comes from a background of not doing that much and then turning to endurance athletics.  She blogs brilliantly and honestly about her own training.  She is a kindred spirit.

I’ve been reflecting this week on how great it is to have a coach.  Finding a coach is a tricky thing – I know plenty of people who go through one coach after the other.  Like any other important relationship in your life you need to just click – there needs to be some kind of understanding.  Lots of my friends have coaches, or are coaches.  And I can see that all of their relationships with their coaches are different.  For me – after 18 months with the same coach – I’ve realised some truths about myself and how I like to be coached.  In a nutshell: I am needy.  High maintenance.  Not for me someone who just says “warm up, do 10 x 800 at marathon pace”.  Oh no.

  • Sometimes I’m needy because I’m not working hard enough and I whine because I want someone to let me off the hook;
  • Sometimes I’m needy because I’ve worked really hard and I want some praise;
  • Sometimes I’m needy because I’m all screwed up comparing myself to Chrissie Wellington and I find myself falling short.

So my coach basically can rely on 3 phrases:

  • HTFU – get moving girl and quit making excuses.
  • well done.  Good job.

Time these comments correctly, and coaching Petra is done.  And she does – and more.  Point is though, overall – figure out what works for you.  My coach likes lots of feedback, and I like giving lots of feedback.  She’s very detailed on what she wants me to do in each workout – and I like that detail.

Beyond the generalised therapy point (an important one for me), however, being coached has other advantages:

  • coaches design a personalised periodised training plan.  Have you ever done that?  I have.  It’s hard.  I like paying someone else to do it for me because lord knows I’d procrastinate the hell out of mine and NEVER get it done.
  • it makes you accountable.  I don’t run with a group, occasionally I cycle with a group.  The only thing I do on a regular basis with others is swim.  So having to update my workouts every day means I can’t futz around and pretend I’m doing what I’m not.
  • Coaches with experience have experience.  Duh – but it’s great.  I can ask my coach anything.  Nutrition, what to wear while doing Ironman, managing pee breaks, periods, transitions, technical stuff – there’s reams of things I have questions about and who better to ask than a woman who has qualified for and raced Kona?

And finally – there’s an element of handing over control.  Once again I am staring a big scary goal in the eyes. I can’t say that, at this point, Ironman seems any less daunting than it seemed when I first signed up.  Sure, I’ve been swimming and running and biking for the past 4 months, but good lord! – 140.2.still seems such a terrifyingly long way to go.  But this is where my coach is amazing.  I don’t know Ironman.  But she does.  She has done this.  She has trained lots of people to do this.  So if she thinks I can do this, then I can.  When you get your coach right, it gives you confidence.

Bringing you all down to earth now after singing her praises – I don’t only have a coach, I also am a coach.  It’s a little bit like being a new parent when you’ve had great parents.  The standards I set myself are sky high and my mistakes shine brightly.  Given all the above, being a coach is quite terrifying.  The trust that my clients put in me sometimes takes me aback.  But, feeling the fear and doing it anyway is how I’m rolling these days, so I’m going with it.  And, as so often happens, I’m loving it.  In this past year I have learned, to my enormous surprise, that it really is as good when your clients (who are all friends) do well in races that they’ve trained hard for as when you do well yourself.  It’s incredible to watch someone grow in ability, speed and confidence and to see them bring all that to race day.  To do, in whatever way, something they often didn’t believe possible.  So, inadequate as I sometimes feel at it, I’m going to take what I can from my coach and give it to my clients / friends – passing the good stuff all round. So apply as appropriate: “HTFU! Get moving girl / boy and stop making excuses / Well done. Good job / STOP BEING SO HARD ON YOURSELF!”.

If I were my coach I'd tell myself to stop taking selfies and get moving!

If I were my coach I’d tell myself to stop taking selfies and get moving!

A brand shiny new 2014

1 Jan

When I last updated this blog I was all excited and happy – training was going well, I felt like I was finally making some progress and all was good with me and my world.  Very little has happened since …  except that training kind of fell off a bit.  A few of you commented that I was already training kind of long hours this far away from my target race – and that threw me into a bit of a tailspin.  I know a lot of people – probably more serious ironman competitors, to be fair – who are putting at least 10 hours a week in already and whose distances covered are demoralisingly long.  But I get what you were trying to say – it’s kind of hard to keep that kind of focus and intention for a long time.  To be fair, some of the training time I was putting in were workouts with my clients.  My clients are strong and fast, and workouts with them are workouts for me.  However, they are, in most cases, not focused Ironman workouts.  Overall, my specific Ironman training load is not so heavy.  And in the past weeks, it has not been heavy at all…  Usually I’m great about keeping up marathon training in the holidays. This year?  I took my eye off the ball.  I overcommitted myself socially in a way only I seem able to manage. In general, I veer between behaving like a hermit and wanting to be the life of the party – I spent a little too much time on the far side of that equation this holiday.  I did not treat training like my job, and, of course, it promptly fell off the end of the list.  However, it is what it is and here I am on January 1st filled with determination that between now and July training is my job. The job that needs to be done first, importantly.

Which leads me into what I’m going to share with you today.  Instead of telling you about my new year’s resolutions, I am going to share the things that I know are true but which I seem to choose to sometimes forget about and pretend I don’t know are true.  This year, I’m going to try to acknowledge these truths and not waste endless time and much emotional energy rediscovering these truths every time.  And feeling like an idiot when I do.

  • I am a morning person.  I need to train first thing in the morning.  This works best for me, for my family and with my job.  So no procrastination – those of you who see me on FB first thing in the morning feel free to ask me if I’m procrastinating and need to get on my bike / out on the run / into the pool.
  • Comparing myself to others is stupid and a complete and utter waste of time. I know this.  I really know it.  But I still waste endless time feeling incompetent comparing myself to faster, better, better-looking, more disciplined others. (not just when it comes to triathlon or running but in all aspects of life).  That just has to stop.  Any tips?
  • I need to write about stuff.  Writing about stuff, whether here about my training or in my journal about life in general, helps me find more direction in my life, helps me to think about how I’m living my life and to ensure that it’s in line with my bigger goals.  When I don’t blog or write in my journal, I become very reactive.  I’ll do my training, but without considering why and often not pushing myself hard enough.  In life, I find myself caught up in endless errands and paperwork, with no clear prioritities.  In both aspects of my life I then make little progress and get even more frustrated.  5 minutes a day of figuring out what I’m intending to achieve that day, as an athlete and as a mother, wife, friend and trainer makes life feel so much more focused.

And my final word is this – I am slowly, slowly beginning to realise just how much I am able to affect my mood and overall wellbeing myself.  How much difference a change in attitude can make.  And so that is my resolution for 2014 – to remember that, when the crap hits the fan (which it inevitably does, for all of us) I always, always, can change my attitude.  Let’s see how that goes!

Changing my attitude works, even in a grim carpark on January 1st in pouring cold rain.

Changing my attitude works, even in a grim carpark on January 1st in pouring cold rain.

35 weeks to go and things are looking up!

26 Nov

I have 2 completed posts on my laptop and in my drafts folder.  Neither of them are going up – the moment has been and gone.  But here I am, 35 weeks away from IronMan Zurich and, you know what? Things are looking up for me.

Since my last post and a particularly pathetic post on FaceBook, I’ve had a bit of a mental sort out.  I was hit by the blinding insight that, for the next year, I should see training as my job.  For me that means that I’ve got to fit it in, every day. It’s a non negotiable part of every day and other stuff has to fit around it.  Yes – I know – hardly earth-shattering but it’s helped me to make it seem both important and also somehow, less daunting.  Something that just has to be done and – importantly – taken seriously.  I’m actually doing what I spent my last post wittering on about – I’m finding my focus.  One thing I don’t like about triathlon is all the kit.  It all needs to be there, all needs looking after and all needs to be repaired / replaced etc.  But instead of ignoring that because I don’t like it I’ve decided to grow up and do what has to be done.

A good example is sorting out my bike issues.  I posted a pathetic and needy post on FaceBook about hating workouts on the trainer and struggling with them.  I was overwhelmed with responses – helping hands and kicks up the ass and I needed both.  One of the top helping hands was Alex Galbraith – the man who sold me my bike and is my go-to bike and tri guru.  He told me to come to his shop and get sorted and I am so grateful to him for his time and effort.   I am physically much more comfortable now that I’ve had a bikefit (I thought I needed a longer bike so I could sit higher – instead Alex dropped my seat and my handlebars and all of a sudden I’m comfortable in aero). Doh. Another big issue was boredom while biking – I was struggling with watching TV while on the trainer because for all of my many failings, I don’t watch more than an hour of TV a week because I find most of it quite boring.  Lots of people advised podcasts and so I’ve rigged up a speaker and now listen to podcasts.  Another big doh because I love listening to podcasts while running so I really don’t understand why I didn’t listen to them while on the trainer before now.  But anyhow.


Me, loving the bike.

Another example is my swimming injury.  I had it a few times in my last training cycle and sure enough, recently my shoulder started acting up again.  But rather than just taking time off this time I’m having it treated and my swimming coach and I have worked on figuring out what’s causing it.  Improving my stroke is not that easy, but will be the way forward.

I’ve just completed my first 10 hours + training week and while I realise there’s more, much more to come, I’m pleased with getting there and making the workouts I’ve done count.

More than anything else, I’m getting a bit of a handle on my brain and my fears.  On a recent plane journey I wolfed down Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (a collection of non-fiction essays) and one of the things that really struck me was her advice to take on a project that’s a bit too hard for you.  Reading about how she pushes herself to write something she doesn’t know she will be able to do made me think about taking on my Ironman goal which definitely feels too scary for me sometimes.
As you get older it gets easier to stick to what you know, and to do what you’re good at.  There is nothing wrong with that, and I’m delighted that surgeons and oncologists and plumbers are sticking to their field and developing within it, rather than branching out.  Picking up something new in your 40s is not what most people do, and it can feel very scary.  First off, you have to face your fear of looking rubbish.  There’s nothing like standing by the side of a pool, for example, in your bathing suit (that, in itself, is facing a fear for me), learning how to swim, from scratch.  In the slowest lane, while people plough up and down beside you in the faster lanes at swimming speeds that are incomprehensible to you. Some of those people compete for Great Britain.  And you are paddling behind a board.  You have to pick up your ego and stick it in a box, believe me. Everything inside me screams “You don’t belong here!  All these people are good at what they do and you are not!  They do Ironman in 12 hours and think they’re slow!  I am going to be happy to finish!  Is it even worth doing?”.  And I’ve come to realise – absolutely.  It’s absolutely worth doing something that you may not, in the eyes of others, be very good at.  First of all because obviously, all of the results-based stuff is relative.  Good for one person is slow for the next.  But more because for crying out loud – I’m 42!  Who cares what others are doing and why on earth should that devalue what I’m doing?  10 years of running have brought me more positive personal change than I’ve ever thought possible and though I’m now much faster than when I started, I’m still no winner (apart from that one time, and yes, that photo IS and award are amongst my most treasured possessions).  But I’ve learned what it’s like to train hard and race hard and that experience has changed me. As a child and a teenager, I never really tried much that I couldn’t do well, because I hated being uncomfortable and feared the derision of others.  Along with the wrinkles and the stretchmarks and the fatty deposits, there has to be an upside to ageing and one of them, surely, is being able to name and then stare down your fears.

So yes – Ironman is maybe hard for me.  But saying “yes” to the training and the competition opens me up for learning, for development, for even getting better for Pete’s sake!  I know that by next summer I will be a stronger, fitter, faster cyclist, runner and swimmer than I am now.  And saying “yes” to one scary thing makes it easier to say “yes” to more.  In a few days I will be starting an induction to Crossfit course.  Yup – Crossfit which I maligned and railed against.  What can I say?  That what you resist, persists?  I’m curious.  I know NOTHING about weightlifting and very little about strength training.  So I’m going to learn.

In the meantime, I’m also looking to work a bit on nutrition, both during and outside of training.  Please send me links to blogs and podcasts and cookbooks and nutrition books that you’ve found useful and helpful in training.  I really struggle to read anything other than fiction, but I’m really going to try.  Any tips / tricks / advice incredibly welcome!  Got to go now – got a bike workout to get in :).


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Cotter Crunch

pro triathlete's wife, nutrition manager & fitness consultant, kombucha lover, and wannabe wino who has a joyous passion for gluten free cooking!


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