Week One, in which I…

  • Totter about on a road bike
  • Swim with a friend
  • Run my first long run with a virtual friend
  • Ride the mountains

And… We’re off! For the next 7 weeks I’ll be following a training plan for my first Triathlon, set out for me by the head coaches at Her Spirit. Here’s the truth: I’ve never followed a training plan! Will it suit me to have a routine to follow? Or will I find myself rebelling against it..? Or mentally beating myself up if I’m unable to follow it? Exercise to me has always been driven by how I feel at the time, I’ve never worked towards a specific goal in this way. What will that look like for me?

I open the first week email and take a peek – our training is all time or distance based activity, with some alternative suggestions for each. This calms me – it’s activity with more focus rather than scary drills or activity with performance focused outcomes. The distances and times all seem achievable (although I don’t remember the last time I ran for 30 minutes straight! Could be interesting…) But I’m already changing it around in my head as I mentally calculate the time I have this week. It’s going to be a busy one at work with a big design deadline on Friday and on Saturday, I’m off on holiday to Wales! It doesn’t matter if I do them in a different order, does it? Well I’m going to have to, so it will have to be ok!
Monday has been assigned for swimming, but I actually have an equipment issue to sort out first. The first person I called when I was offered the place by Her Spirit was my friend Kristen, and the second thing she said to me after telling me “Of course you should do it!” Was that I should borrow her road bike, Sylvia, for the challenge. As my previous blog details, mountain biking has been a passion of mine for a few years now but my rugged bikes with their chunky wheels and heavy frames are built for getting me up and over rocks and through rivers, not up to speed on the flat! I have never sat on a dropped bar road bike in my life,  so it was with a good deal of trepidation that I swung my leg over Kristen’s lovely and newly serviced bike. So far, so new for me! We’re the same height so it was a good physical match straight away, but wow – what a different feeling. I wobbled my way down the pavement to the park feeling like a child on their first bicycle. I couldn’t keep the dropped bars straight, my elbows felt too close to my body and my shoulders too tightly packed so the front wheel was twitching all over the place. I must look ridiculous, I thought to myself. I pressed gently on the pedals to turn them, scared the bike would take off and I would forget how to… where are the brakes again?! But I completed a couple of wobbly laps of the park under Kris’s supervision and felt satisfied I might at least get used to it. It was worth a shot anyway, and I am so grateful to Kristen – I kind of want to do her (Kristen AND Sylvia) justice! I posted on the Her Spirit app about my experience and found many of the other women have named their bikes, that was a nice revelation. I think Sylvia will fit right in!
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I didn’t get out on Tuesday, the plan designated it a rest day, but on Wednesday morning I got down to the pool with my friend Sophie. We’ve swum together a couple of times at The Oasis Sports Centre in Central London. It’s a seemingly little known outdoor pool just outside Covent Garden, opposite The Shaftesbury Theatre. Outdoor and heated I might add, and council run so not extortionate or for members only! Impossible, surely! But I’ve swum there regularly before work all through the autumn and winter, even in a light flurry of snow. My productivity in the morning at the office a short walk away accelerates when I have had a good swim and a good coffee afterwards. In the pool, I liked the way the distance drills with kicks broke up my usual swim routine, which is just counting laps until I reach a distance I am happy with, get tired, or run out of time – whichever happens first. I did take longer recovery breaks however to chat to my friend, and a longer break still for coffee and breakfast! On the Her Sprit app I discovered one of my team members is swimming her weekly Tri training at my local pool, so next week perhaps I’ll be able to connect and join her.
With my work deadline and a holiday to pack for looming, my evening time for the rest of the week was under threat and I decided to also pack my run into the Wednesday evening after my morning swim. Ignoring the intoxicating smell of risotto wafting from the kitchen, I headed out to Bushy Park for a 30 minute run. In the last couple of years the only running I have done is a couple of gentle Park Runs. Largely because I had an injury, Achilles tendinitis, in the summer of 2017 and have been resting it from running ever since. Consequently, I know I have to be very careful about how much pressure I put on it and keep a close eye in case any of the symptoms return and I need to stop. Having said that, the weekend I got the news I was on the Her Spirit Tri team I set a new PB at my local Park Run (23:21!) probably out of excitement more than anything. But It was the hottest day of the year so far, I got heat rash and my legs, ankles and hips hurt for days afterwards. I don’t do ‘go easy’ easily! And I also don’t do distance. In the next seven weeks I aim to learn to pace myself over longer distances and run more mindfully and less erratically.
I spoke to my friend who had recently completed their first 10k and they recommended Nike Run Club as a good pacer. They didn’t have a 30 minutes guided run so I decided to try the ‘My First Long Run’ guided run which was 35 minutes. I could always stop earlier, I reasoned. I turned off the distance notifiers and just tried to run at a pace I felt comfortable, where I could still talk and wasn’t breathing too heavily  In the end I ran 4.3 miles in the 35 minutes, and felt great! That’s definitely the longest run I’ve ever recorded myself running. It turned out today was also some sort of International Running Day, so I congratulated a few women on the app on their achievements that day, too. If I could enjoy running with a virtual coach, perhaps eventually I might enjoy running with a real person, too? Something to think about, even if I’m not there yet.
On Friday, I had the treat of attending the UK Coaching conference and meeting some of the Her Spirit team in person! There were two other Tri team members there as well as some of the coaches. We did a group yoga session together which was hilarious, who knew yoga could make you laugh? And learned a bit more about the ambition of Her Spirit in changing the conversation around women and sport/ exercise. Women don’t just want to shop and drink gin! One of the founding members interviewed, exclaimed. But sometimes that is what advertising aimed at and popular culture surrounding women would have us believe. We don’t have to look like the athletes that are help up to us as champions, to have a go and enjoy ourselves. Tthere were also talks given by other coaches. I found Frank Dick particularly interesting to listen to, “you never arrive” he told us. “Perfection is something moving away from us… strive for excellence… not perfection” There were lots of take-aways but in moving from sport for fun into the world of competition, that is a very important one to remember.
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After two days of working late and frantic packing on Saturday I was on my way to Wales for a weekend of mountain biking with my friend Martin! I definitely got more than the 1hr 45 mins of recommended bike time for the week in… Indeed, I got over 8 hours of riding time in! As well as a couple of short hikes. I have enjoyed the extra training activity I have done this week, but nothing compares to a few days out in the mountains. For the mental headspace, AND the exercise! The first part of week 2 will certainly be spent in recovery, I’ve covered a lot of miles!
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The time in Wales particularly reminded me that this training plan isn’t trying to hold me to something, quite the reverse. It is encouraging me to think more flexibly about how and when I build exercise into my week, and how I can combine it socially to be extra rewarding. Having the app there to reach out to and follow what the other users are up to has been interesting, but meeting the other women in person was the quickest way to get excited for what’s ahead – we’ve swapped details and chatted bikes and swimming costumes! I hope to meet more of them in the next few weeks ahead.

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