End of the Season

I met Emily about a month ago at a kid’s birthday party.  That’s where we, parents, meet up these days… or during the coffee shop for morning fix. She asked if I would be okay to type an end of season blog having written my first one at the start of the season around February/March.

To be honest I’ve been trying to find the time since and now, well here goes…

 

Since February I’ve been training for the Castle Series first sprint triathlon in Gort, Co. Galway. Whoever is familiar with this, knows it is a series of triathlons based in castle grounds across Ireland, England and France. I couldn’t have picked better location! I highly recommend it and will be signing up again for the longer distance events in 2018. It wasn’t the best of weather in early May. The water was so cooold!! I was dreading the swim, and I wasn’t the only one. Plenty of lost souls threading water on the start line had that familiar ‘I am sh*tting it’ look, including yours truly. New wet suit, new goggles, new thoughts, will I manage the transitions?, will my legs feel like concrete blocks after the bike?  Then ‘BANG!’ the gun fired and we were on, heads down in the murky water, the first experience of being swam over, kicked left, right and centre.  Once you’ve come to terms with the initial shock, the next sensation is the lack of visibility, not helped by my normal eyesight running a close second to Mr. Magoo. The only saving grace was the ginormous orange inflatable course buoys. The first turn arrived and I realised my breathing had settled, my stroke lengthened and I kicked for the shore with all my might.

Out of the water, wet suit half down (careful!), run to T1, wet suit off, now hopping on one leg, helmet on, race belt on, bike shoes on, bike off the rack and I’m running to the start in 3 inches of the finest muck Ireland has to offer (see pic 1). Then back to earth, I couldn’t clip my shoes in and it was time for some foot stamping and cursing. Once I’m finally going on the bike it felt amazing. 21km passed so quickly, a quick energy gel in for that extra sugar kick and I’m cruising. T2, bugger, fell off the bike, the sweet kiss of concrete on my knee, there are children present, don’t swear. Bike racked, trainers on and now for a run off-road around the castle grounds for 4km. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good and I flew through the finish line at 1h 21min.  My first tri (new lingo!) medal, wow, I was hooked.

 

Pic 1: Muddy...

Pic 1: Muddy…

 

Since then I’ve completed a sprint tri in Kilrush, Ennis, the Hell of the West in Kilkee (full Olympic distance, I did the 41km bike and 10km hill run) and the Castleconnell sprint tri.  In meantime I’ve also done the Limerick half marathon, Tough Mudder (full 11 miles with obstacles along the way for good measure) and the Newport bike sportive 60km. Along with my road bike group we’ve completed two long rides around the lake in Killaloe. The first was in June with Group 2, averaging 22kph and more recently in September with Group 1, averaging 28kph, 8 lads and little ol’ me, the only woman!  Wonderwoman, imagine the theme tune, haha. And I did my second Dublin marathon which sucked! Running did not come easily to me this year, but another one under my belt is ok for now.

 

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Pic 2: Muddier…

 

Basically, my Summer consisted of 5-6 training days a week. Swimming in the lake or pool 3 times a week. Not running much, just twice a week while my son had his athletics but it felt like I was cycling constantly. Every Wednesday, evening sessions, 500m swim and stationary bike intervals afterwards, hill repeats.

Every Sunday morning session with the lads, 70-80-90km routes with a restorative coffee afterwards.

 

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Pic 3: Only woman of the bunch!

 

I do rowing and bike turbo sessions at home, often at 6am, before heading off to work or else at 9pm in the evening before heading to bed.

My home also seems to have turned into a mini gym. Bikes and a turbo trainer, Concept2 erg, chin-up bar, 3 sport bags always ready, one swim bag (indoor), one swim bag (wetsuits), and yet another packed specifically for each race. It’s funny but as I look around me it’s still the same now!!

 

Looking back you can get a bit rose-tinted but it wasn’t easy at all. In the middle of all the mayhem I started a new job in June, but I had to keep my old job as well, such is the modern world. So it was 2 jobs, an active 5 year old who was on ‘his’ summer holidays, entertaining, training, cooking, shopping, the lot. Don’t ask me how I did it by myself, I truly don’t know. I had my ups and downs, more than my fair share of complete meltdowns and plenty of sleepless nights.

But despite all this, or perhaps because of it, I learned to be organized like the CEO of multinational. Dinners were prepared in advance and child care always had to be planned well in advance based on my training schedule. Although food was quick I tried not to let that lower the standard of nutrition. I’m also a firm believer in organic produce and most meals consisted of meat (lamb and sirloin steak mostly), fish, tuna and lots of veg, particularly sweet potatoes and avocados. I found I was snacking constantly on nuts, dried fruit, crackers, quark (I had to look it up too), nut butters (yum!). Now when I think back, I often ended up having a second dinner around 10pm at night. It actually felt like I was eating constantly.

Despite all this, motivation for me was never an issue. Once I’d signed up for a race, that kept me going. The high I felt was amazing.  Meeting like minded people at the events or even while out training. People for whom this lifestyle is our normal, is a tremendous feeling.

 

What’s for the future? Well, next year I plan on doing my first half Ironman, and all going well the year after my first full one. In order to prepare for the step up in class I am planning on hiring a coach to help me to train more smartly and effectively.

I am also hoping Santa will be kind and I’ll find a new carbon-fibre bike under the tree this year (no I’m not demanding at all!).

By the way, I can’t let the opportunity go by without mentioning how expensive it is to exercise in Ireland?

Membership fees, race fees, decent gear… thousands upon thousands of euro… but hey, who needs high heels anyway?!?!

 

Monika 🙂

A Step Back from Sport

Just over a month ago my father-in-law was diagnosed with late stage Motor Neurone Disease (MND). For anyone who doesn’t know MND is a progressive neurological condition that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. The messages gradually stop reaching the muscles, which leads to weakness and wasting. MND can affect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe. It is terminal. Remember that Ice Bucket Challenge? Yeah, it was for this thing…

 

Cormac’s (my husband) father hasn’t been given a long time. There is a lot to get done, a lot to sort out. Finding him a nursing home, finding him a GP, sorting out his home, sorting out his legal situation, sorting out his pension and other finances, buying suitable clothing, visiting him as often as possible, reading to him, feeding him, sorting out arrangements for when he eventually passes. There is a lot to get done. And there is no one. Cormac has only one brother (and bless him he is doing all he can by phone and email) but he lives in Scotland, soon to be even further away. He can’t be here, at the front line as often as he’d like to. And Cormac’s relatives have their own lives and frankly don’t know what to do. The majority of it has been left to Cormac.

 

This is where I come in, I can’t just sit at the sidelines and watch Cormac struggle with all this. What kind of wife would that make me? What kind of friend would that make me? No, if Cormac was going to have to do this then he was not going to be doing it alone. Even if I suck at legal jargon and finances and technically have no say in what happens, I can still be there by his side. I can make burritos for our drives to Kilkenny to visit his father (which hopefully won’t be for too much longer), I can wash his dad’s laundry and feed his dad when Cormac just can’t anymore, I can chat to his dad when Cormac is trying to sort shit out with the doctors/nurses/admin staff. I am going to be there for him, I need to be be there for him.

 

Which brings me on (finally) to the topic of the post which is having to take a step back from our beloved rowing. This whole mess came at time when our crew was going through some major life changes. From ruptured discs to final year of college to getting a new job and moving away our crew has taken a blow this year. Myself and Cormac were just the icing on the cake! If you are (were) a rower you know that it just consumes your life. Consumes it! At the height of rowing season we’d be clocking up 20-25 hours at least a week (each!) and we’re not even that competitive! That’s time we just couldn’t spare anymore. Time that was going to now be taken up with phone calls, visiting hours, doctor appointments, solicitor meetings and endless, endless paperwork. We both knew we just couldn’t fit rowing in. With heavy hearts we told the rest of the crew that we had to take a step back. So that we could both take care of Cormac’s dad and still not burn out ourselves.

 

At first the idea felt novel to me. There is sometimes that niggling feeling that you’re training not because you want to but because you have to. Taking a step back freed me from that obligation. I felt the break was coming at the right time for me, that I was becoming tired of all the work involved. That I would still train when I could, I would still get out on the water but they would be on my terms. A month in and I realise now that I was wrong. I’m not training when I want to, I’m training when I can. Fitting in runs at lunch time and before breakfast when visiting my family. We said we were going to use our our nights not travelling to keep active. But actually we’ve been exhausted and fed up, just lying on the couch wishing we had the energy to train.

 

This whole thing is still really new, still so messy. Hopefully, when it begins to settle down we will have our life back a little. That we will have the time and energy (and desire) to exercise again, to train again. We miss it, so much. Rowing was such a huge part of our life. It feels odd passing over the all-in-one and watching our beautiful oars gather dust. It’s sad to press pause for now. To not feel a part of this amazing group we’ve spent nearly our whole lives in.

 

But isn’t that great thing about sport, when we’re able to go back to it we can. It will always be there for us.

 

An extra plug: I am actually running the Flora Mini Marathon this June to raise money for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association. Please if you could donate anything at all that would be so so helpful! My page is just here!

 

Towards A Better Me: Part 8

The First Race

 

This week finished with the first milestone of this journey the Castleconnell 5 k run.

 

Sunday morning, I was up early for the race. Rushing because I was supposed to be on the road at 9am as I was meeting my sisters at 11am in Castleconnell. Thankfully(?) Pierre was injured and could not run his Ballycotton 10 so I dragged him with me. We arrived there at 11:15 and texted the girls to say I was there and where were there. “Eh I’m like an hour away” replies Rhona. That’s when I double checked the text and realised we were meeting between 12 and 12:30. Oops. Better early than late, right? So I grabbed myself a hot chocolate and some cheeky sausage rolls and sat back into the car to wait. Eventually, the elder sister arrived with the nephews and we headed up to the community hall to sign in and meet Rhona. We chatted for a bit before heading down to get ready. With the boys in the buggy, we walked to start and a good bit past it to World’s End as it is called. When we walked back up, the active warm up had started and I tried do it to but I did feel very self-conscience. I have no idea why. It’s hardly any different from the warm-up in the bootcamp. Dad made it to the start line to wish us good luck before the off. We left the boys with him and Pierre and got ourselves ready.

 

 

race-2

Some very serious stretching before hand

 

 

And then we were off, slowly at first as there was a lot of people surrounding us. Eventually it spread out a bit so we could run beside each other. The first kilometre seemed to go by quickly and without too much struggle. I was falling a little behind my sisters and was not able to chat like them. After the 2km mark it started to get worse. I was struggling to get breathe in and everything started to hurt. My mood was very sour. Karen and Rhona said they were happy to take my abuse. I did also warn Karen she better move to the inside or I might throw her out on to the road. (I didn’t mean it, really, I swear!) I slowed to a walk briefly. As I approached the halfway mark, the pain really started. All on the right hand side of my body. My shoulder, torso, hip, leg and knee were very sore. But in hindsight, what was more worrying, the right side of my face drooped. I don’t know how long it lasted, I was just trying to keep going through the pain. Trying to breathe in enough air, I was very aware of my lip drooping. But I wasn’t even sure was it real. Just thought it can’t be a stroke otherwise I would not be able to keeping running. It wasn’t really until Rhona said she noticed the drooping too that my concerns started )I am going to the doctor to get it checked out and hopefully it won’t be anything.)

 

But I kept going, the 3km to 4km seemed to never end. There were moments when I just wanted to cry. I wanted to quit. I walked again briefly two more times. Karen and Rhona trying to encourage me forward but their words just annoyed me more. I revolted against the encouragement taking longer than I had planned for to get going again. The last km seemed as short as the first. Or maybe it was just that the last one was just so everlasting. I could feel the pain of a blister on my arch of my foot. It felt so uncomfortable. As we rounded the bend, I saw my mother with my eldest nephew, Conor, who then ran the last stretch with his mother (though I think he was actually dragged over the line at the end.) I just focused at the line, trying not to cry. I ran straight through the crowd at the end. I didn’t even go to get my mug and water. Just found somewhere alone and pulled the runners off of me.

 

 

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Mere seconds from the finish line

 

 

I ran it nearly entirely in 34 minutes. I had barely ran 2.5 km in interval runs. I should have been so proud of myself. But I wasn’t. I felt nothing. I felt distant. My mood was very poor. I was very grumpy. Even now, I still feel very emotionless thinking about it, which if you know me, emotional is normally my status. I really can’t explain it. Maybe, I just don’t believe that I actually did it. But the first big milestone on this journey has been passed.

 

And that’s something.

Towards A Better Me: Part 6

Back in the Saddle

 

Last week I let pain and fear throw me. But this is a new week, and it’s time to get back in the saddle. As I said before, it’s a marathon not a sprint. It is ok to fall down, it’s human. What is important is that you pick yourself back up and try again. So, I am dusting myself and getting back on this horse. And I am very much hoping it doesn’t put me through the wringer again. There is only so much debilitating pain a lass can handle! But despite the excruciating pain, I really do enjoy going to the gym. Rhona had warned me about women only gyms being a bit more judgmental than mixed gyms. But honestly, it doesn’t feel like that at the Women’s Fitness Plus gym. And what way to start the week other than having a go in the newly fitted personal training studio. It looks amazing, they have this huge multi-purpose gym monster thing, three squatting racks, and apparently, there is a lot more to come. Denise, my personal trainer, was super excited about it. She hadn’t left there all day. To be honest, I was pretty excited too, and a wee bit scared. I had seen a video on their Facebook page of one of the personal trainers testing it out. It looked awesome but she was doing shit that I could not possibly imagine doing myself.

 

First up was step-ups paired with kettlebell squats. These were done alternating as usual for 3 rounds. The first two rounds I used an 8kg kettlebell with a 6kg dumbbell for the last round. I followed that up with chest press with two 6kg dumbbells alternating with an upright row with 8kg kettlebell. The final combo was high knees and “PowerPivot” arm raises. Finishing up using the straps, leaning back and the pulling myself back almost upright or the leaning tower of flab as I called it. It was very hard going doing it all but once it’s all over I feel so pumped. I was soaked in sweat. Denise joked about her barely being able to do a pull-up on the rig. And I, stupidly, challenged her to one. Seriously, what was I thinking. I think weights make my brain fuzzy. She did two. The first seemed easy but the second was a struggle. She dropped down quite triumphant, and then it was my turn. I stood up on the bench and grabbed on to the bars. I was barely able to lift myself up by an inch or so, before my arms gave out. Pathetic I know. But if someone super fit like Denise found it tough, that brief tango with the pull up bar, is surely nothing to be sneered at.

 

I was very much relieved to find myself not in too much pain the next day. I was stiff, but nothing to write home about. And I had yoga with D to look forward to. While some poses were sore from the stiffness, it was quite enjoyable. Plus, the gossip in the car rides to and fro certainly is enjoyable. Hard to have a proper goss session if the hubbies are in tow. As I stretched to take off my bra, there was a flash of pain across my shoulders, tensed me right up. Flashbacks from last week’s agony surfaced. “Oh, don’t tell me it starting all over again.” Went to sleep, dreading what tomorrow would bring.

 

So, morning came, but the pain did not! Hurrah! No excuse not to do boot camp tonight then. Yeah!!! Denise came bouncing in, super giddy, after her body combat class. She spots me straight away and asks me “how’s the pain?” I was a bit cocky, “Yeah, no pain at all!” “So we can go harder next Monday then?” she laughs back at me. Oh no, landed myself in it. As there was twelve of us, we were paired off rather than going in groups of three or four. I was paired off with Joan who had similar fitness level to mine which suited me. Everyone else seems so much fitter and more able than me. Like with the personal training session, the exercises were done in alternating sets with 3 pairs of sets. The first set was one person sitting up against the wall (obviously not on the floor) and holding your arms out, which was a whole lot tougher than it sounds. While the other person, did high knees and trying to touch the other person hands with their knees. Again, quite tough. On the last set, I struggled to keep up on both. But I shaked it out and kept trying.

 

The next set was press ups with every time you push yourself up, you clap hands with your partner. Changing the hand each time. This was paired with mountain climbers, which for love nor money I can’t just get a handle on. Seriously why do I have so much trouble doing these, everyone else makes it look so easy. It’s the same with the elliptical I just can’t handle it; I can’t do it. The next set was one person doing ab crunches and the other standing on the first’s toes for their balance and with a kettlebell lifting it above the head. The last set, oh the last set. I did not enjoy the last set. The first person leaning against the wall did arm extensions with the kettlebell while the other is did lunges across the room and back twice. And that was the torturous part. I hate lunges so much. Lunges and burpees with equal venom. I thought I was going to collapse after the first one. I wanted to cry it hurt so much. But I kept going trailing behind everyone else. Now, I completely forgot to mention that Denise was literally dancing around while we were torturing ourselves. Which was quite funny, and dulled the pain somewhat, but not totally. So, halfway through the last round of the kettlebell extensions, Denise told us just to dance it out with her. To finish, we did intervals of jogging on the spot and sprinting. Exhausted was an understatement.

 

Both me and my husband work in the Cork city centre which is totally handy for commuting seeing as we only have the one car and Pierre has a car space at work. But the carpark is a twenty-minute walk from South Mall. This is normally not much of a problem. I just stick on the music and walk away. Anyways, I normally end up waiting for Pierre. But when it is lashing rain like Thursday was, it’s not so much fun. Even worse so, when after walking all the way within spitting distance of the carpark, (well a world record setting spit really!) some complete and utter b*****d tore around the corner, straight through a puddle drenching me from head to toe. I was as miserable as the weather. Sopping wet. All I wanted was a bath and my bed. And you are probably wondering why I’m talking about this, as opposed to my fitness journey. See on Thursday’s I have Pilates, and I was so miserable, cold and wet, I decided to skip the Pilates class this week. I just seem to be working, exercising or sleeping, and I felt a little rest was in order.

 

So, I had my weekly weigh-in on Saturday morning as usual, it was a little later than normal. Poor Pierre had to work so I dropped in him and got my gym session in first, and then into Dee for the all-important weigh-in. I was down another 2.5 pounds. I was now just shy of half stone in total. I was now half way through the Kickstarter program and was making steady progress towards my target of 10-14 pounds. I was supposed to go for a run on Sunday, but instead I cleaned my oven. My house is seriously being neglected at the moment. I need to get better organised, it’s not going to get any easier if and when there is the pitter patter of little feet.

 

Weight: 12st 8.8lbs

Run: 1km on a treadmill.

Feelings: Feeling much better this week. Mood is definitely boosted (apart for the soaking by the jerk in the white Ford Focus)

Rowing After Rio

The dust is settling on the 2016 Olympics. We wait now for another four years for the the world to be swept up again. But this year was different for me and for all Irish rowers. This year we broke down walls and built up belief.

 

Rowing is a sport that goes relatively unnoticed in Ireland. It’s not in the big leagues like GAA, hurling, rugby, football etc. We have less of a fanbase than many, many other disciplines. Basically, it’s just rowers watching rowers. And sometimes our parents (if they’re especially awesome). We’re a small, tight community of people who have all grown up together even though we’re all from different parts of the country. We gather by rivers, lakes, canals. Congregate in forests, carparks or water-logged fields. We battle in nearly all weather conditions, from bitterly cold (where condensation freezes on your leg hairs) to blisteringly hot. Strip down to very little and race backwards for two thousand meters, starting and ending the race with a sprint. There is no denying it, it’s a tough sport and because of that we respect each other. There is never any sore losers or poor winners. But we don’t make the news. Most of my rowing friends have competed for their country and nobody knows this.

 

And that’s ok. It’s how it’s always been. We happily plug away at our own sport, baffling non-rowers as to why we get up at 6am and why were kill ourselves on rowing machines and why oh why do we wear teeny tiny one-pieces (they are very comfy BTW).

 

But this year something changed. We were on everybody’s minds.

 

This year we had not one but TWO crews in the A finals for rowing at the Olympics. THE OLYMPICS, PEOPLE! That in itself is an achievement, and for one of them to be a female crew, even better. Our first crew to make it to a women’s A final of the Olympics ever! And with the other crew we did the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the ‘dare we not speak it’s name’. We only went and got ourselves a medal. A silver medal, for the first time in Irish rowing history. And the country sat up and took notice!

 

I sat there with pride as my office talked about the rowers and learned everything about them. I was beside myself when we watch the races on my colleagues computer. I cried as they received their medals and beamed as my Facebook feed filled up with love and support for the rowers. These kids in college were now household names. All of a sudden people wanted to row, give it a go and see what it’s all about. Rowing camps are over-flowing with eager young teenagers and parents with hopes for gold in their eyes. Rowing is now a sport that people wanted to partake in, to live, to breathe.

 

And for us already rowing, what did that medal mean. It meant pride. All of us are so very proud of our rowers who have battled for us on this grand stage. Proud of the sport, of the discipline, of all rowers. It meant hope for the future. Hope that the sport will continue to blossom and grow as a community in this little country of ours. Hope that our top athletes start getting a little more coverage and maybe even a little more funding. Make life easier in a sport that is 100% amateur. It meant belief. We have done it and we can do it again and again… and again. We have jumped that final hurdle and we are up there with the other top rowing countries. We can be taken seriously and we are a force to be reckoned with.

 

But most importantly for me it meant justification. As I’ve said before it is a hard sport, a lot of pain and sweat and tough hours go into it and half the time you are wondering why you are doing it all. You want to quit, go home, rest, find another sport where your hands don’t blister up and your back doesn’t ache and you don’t work until your legs are jelly. But when those boys won their medal I was consumed with this warm glow of love and appreciation for rowing. I realised I truly loved the sport, the people and what it does for me. It reminded me why I do it, day in day out.

 

And that’s enough.

 

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