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 🙂

Swimming: what I’ve learned so far

A few weeks ago I injured my knee. Not in a terrible, life altering way; but in a sort of way that got me thinking about other forms of exercise. I couldn’t run, rowing is a bit difficult for everyday and I couldn’t just do cycling (’cause that shit hurts my bum!) so I decided to give swimming a go. It was something I loved to do as a kid. I was called a water baby from the age of 2. I just loved being in it. A pool, the sea, a puddle, the bath… you name it and I tried to swim in it.

 

But I had never really swam for fitness purposes. It’s always been about splashing, dunking, diving, bombing and lying at the bottom of the pool/ocean. So when it came to knowing what to do I was a little stumped. But 1 month in here’s what I’ve learned…

 

1: Like all other sports, proper gear is essential

Being a former leisurely swimmer, you know whilst on my holibobs and such, all my swim gear was frilly bikinis and fifties style skirted swimsuits! Gorgeous for a day of tanning oneself with a few minor dips in the pool to cool down but completely useless for actual rigorous work. I naively thought that I would not need Speedos. I was wrong. Having to fix myself every 5 mins was time consuming aaaaand having my boobs pushed up created ridiculous drag, those puppies needed to be pinned down! I also owned no goggles and after an hour of swimming you REALLY wished you owned some. Chlorine is a bitch and you sorta need to see where you’re going, especially with small kiddos not looking around. Tis best to dodge them!

 

2: Breathe as often as you want/can

Honestly, this one feels like it should be a no-brainer but so many people (myself included) do this! Holding your breath while swimming. Taking one maybe two gasps per length. WHY?!?!? You wouldn’t hold your breath doing any other sport! Imagine trying to run laps over and over again like that. BREATHE! (I’m looking at you Coriel). Swimming is an all body workout, constantly moving, pushing through water, heart rate raising. It’s proper cardio. You need that air. So take it! I always thought that I hadn’t mastered the special breathing needed for swimming, like there is some trick that I was missing. I would do a few laps and my chest would be tired. When I finally gave in and breathed every time my head was out of the water it all changed. I could swim for longer and I wasn’t getting worn out as quickly. There is no special secret, there is no trick.

 

3: Swimming is deceptively tiring

I think this surprised me the most. I am a sweaty person, particularly when I’m training. Perspiring all of the God damn place! And I used to associate sweating and red hot cheeks with how hard my workout was. Obviously, it’s really hard to perspire in water. So when I started swimming for training purposes I was concerned I wasn’t going to get a proper workout from it. I was constantly adding with something. Running and a swim, cycling and a swim, weights and a swim. Then one day I decided to swim the equivalent of 2k in the pool, (112 lengths). I was like this should be graaaaaaaaaand. I was so wrong. Ver wrong. By the end I was so tired I could even bring myself to sit in the sauna. Or to sit in the jacuzzi. I just wanted to lie down. I felt like I had ran for days but I was not sweaty and I was not hot; I was just tired and so weak. Swimming is no joke, no picnic.

 

4: It’s really fucking good for you

Coincidentally, TIME magazine had a whole thing about exercise in one of their latest issues (the one with Leo Varadkar on the cover I think). Aerobic exercises (such as swimming and running) seem to be best for our brain’s health. All due to having to pump more blood to the brain, our biggest user of oxygen (again peeps, breathe!) It helps increase “brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” this protects AND repairs brain cells. Aerobic exercises also can help to lower the chances of memory loss and Alzheimer’s, even if the person has a parent with Alzheimer’s or if a person is carrying the gene for it. Such a good reason to get the budgie smugglers on!

 

5: Swimming is making me a more confident swimmer

Ok this one sounds stupid, but go with it. When I was a kid, our school organised swimming lessons for PE for like 3 years. We learned everything. And from starting to swim regularly again I’ve realised that these classes have massively benefited me. Until now I just assumed everyone could swim with ease. Not so… I’m watching women and men in their fifties learning how to swim. And I’m impressed, it must be so scary after all that time. It’s something that comes naturally to me, easily to me. It’s a skill everyone should have. And I think it’s easier to learn that shit when you’re young. So peeps with kids, get them in the pool and teach them to swim. And if you’re all grown up and can’t swim, learn, now. It’s so lovely and worth learning.  You never know when it’ll come in handy

 

Oh and speedos are not flattering.

North Sea Swimming

So! Rhona asked me if I wanted to talk about my new-found love for open water swimming, and I totally do! I’ve been rowing for 13 years now and although I am still completely in love with the sport, I felt I wanted to try something else.

 

Last September, my rowing pair’s partner told me about this race that is just open water swimming and some running in-between. Beautiful Loch Lomond in early September. Ideal. We entered, and then the reality of the situation hit me: shit, I need to learn how to open water swim. I started to swim 3 times a week, building up distance and endurance, and throwing in some drills. Winter turned to spring, which turned to late spring and I started looking for some open water swimming clubs; the pool was boring me and the race was starting to get a bit too close for comfort. I found two clubs, one a little far away (at the time I didn’t have a car) and one where you don’t wear a wetsuit. I’d like to point out, I live in Dundee and it’s the NORTH SEA. Nonetheless I decided to give it a go. The members were extremely welcoming and super super helpful. This however, did not stop me from getting hypothermia.

 

The first time I made it 5 minutes. I couldn’t move my arms, and stayed near the ladder the entire time. The second time, I swam about 100m in total, and stayed less than 10mins. I decided that open water swimming, in Scotland and without a wetsuit was not for me.

 

This didn’t put me off though. In fact, quite the opposite, so I donned my wetsuit, grabbed my obliging fiancé and went to the beach.

 

First swim in a wetsuit – read if you want a giggle:

Format: Buoyed swimming area about 50m wide, 100m long. Myself, my fiancé Eoin and our friend Chris who is training for a triathlon. Equipment needed: a wetsuit, some goggles and a swimming cap.

 

Wading in – “Ah this isn’t so bad, I mean it’s a lot warmer with a wetsuit.” “Hmmm it’s at my knees, okay this is manageable.” Up to the torso. “Still ok….” Mid back “Breach! Breach! Breach! Curse you, zip!! My hands are quite numb…. Hmmm didn’t think this through”. Neck “oh my goodness, it’s like ice!! Move. Move. Keep moving! Why is it so cold! It’s JUNE! I’m in a WETSUIT. Okay, keep moving, doggy paddle, front crawl, anything!!” Putting face in “oh my goodness, holy c*** I have brain freeze! WHY on earth do I have brain freeze!?!?!”

 

Swimming – “I’m breathing, I’m swimming, this is good. It’s quite nice actually. ARGGGG SOMETHING TOUCHED MY HAND! Oh, it’s seaweed ok, that’s fine. Keep cool (haha I’m so cold), keep swimming.”

 

Breathing – “okay let’s breathe every five. One, two, three, four, five” -breath- “good that wasn’t so bad, one, two, three, four, five” -breath- cough, splutter, inhale sea water “f***ing waves!! Right I should be aware of waves, good to know. So I’ll breathe every four, then”.

 

“My legs are useless and floaty but that’s ok. Arms are feeling strong. AHHHH SOMETHING TOUCHED MY FACE, WHY ARE THERE ALL OF A SUDDEN SO MANY JELLYFISH?!?!” Panic over, check the watch; 100m. “Is that it??? I’m supposed to be swimming 2k. Errrr, this is hard. Ok, let’s aim for 500m and then have a rest. Where on earth has Eoin gone?!?! And Chris? OOH I’m ahead of them. Nice, I’m winning! This is cool”.

 

Turning – “Oooh, there’s quite a current and tide this way. This is really hard. Let’s push a little harder, Clo. Just treat this as resistance training. Yeah this feels good, right look up and sight where you are……have I moved??? Barely. Ok, let’s push this. I’m knackered. Shut up, just get to the buoy and you can have a break. COME ONE. I’m so tired. DONE! Okay, I’ll do another loop and see how I feel”.

 

Finished session – “THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!” “I’ve swallowed so much sea water but I’m buzzing. Now where can I get my hands on some food…”

 

Stuff I’ve learned:

  • Keep an eye out on how far you are going. It’s so so easy to get swept out.
  • Know where the waves are coming from, and adjust your breathing.
  • Only go as far as you are comfortable with. Better to swim shorter laps than being too far out when you get tired. Swimming parallel to the shore is a good idea.
  • Wear a bright coloured swimming hat, or take an inflatable buoy with you – it helps to be seen.
  • Don’t have a hot drink or a shower straight after. Warm up slowly with layers.
  • DON’T GO OUT ON YOUR OWN.
  • Please please please if you are considering trying open water swimming, find a club, or at least a training buddy. Being a confident pool swimmer helps, too.
  • Being scared of open water doesn’t mean you can’t have a go!
    • I’m scared of open water, I don’t enjoy not seeing the bottom. What I try to do is ignore myself and then when it gets too bad, turn around and head back to shore. Another person is quite handy as a distraction/ to support you. I know I can train a lot harder and better if I have someone that I do not want to let down.
  • Stay safe
    • Tell people where you’re going, what you’re doing and how long you expect to be there.
    • Know the water that you are swimming in. If you don’t, ask someone who does.
    • Rip currents and tides are dangerous, so understand how to deal with them. You never know when you’ll get caught in one (speaking from experience, here!)
  • Training buddies rock. It’s nice to have someone else there. I have a Stand Up Paddle board which my friend Helen uses to keep me company. It’s a nice safety net and it’s really fun to have a race. (I lose EVERY time). Put a plea out on facebook, you’ll be surprised who gets back to you.
    • The importance of having a buddy is also, if god forbid you get into trouble, there is someone there with you.

 

I hope this helps you get out there if you are toying with the idea. It’s one of my favourite discoveries, being able to swim for as long as you want, not have to worry about overtaking slow people, or being in the way is very liberating and you don’t notice the mileage you’re putting in. It’s not a chore at this level, but a genuine pleasure.

 

Thanks so much to our guest blogger Clo for this great post- Let’s hope we can pursuade her to come back for more 🙂

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