Andree Walkin – Transvulcania 2018 Half Marathon Race Report
I’m sure we all have a friend or friends who rope you into interesting things at particularly vulnerable moments in your life right? Well, I’m glad to say I’ve got a few of these types of friends. On a car journey following an epic Art O’ Neill 2018 event my buddy and our go-tri adventure founder and guru Paul Tierney mentioned about a group travelling out to Transvulcania Ultra race in Spain in May.
At that point in time, with my feet still feeling like blocks of ice I could think of nothing better than some sunshine on my bones and a run up a volcano! So I thought, ‘yes why not? I’ll tag along, support you guys and maybe do the half distance while I’m out there.’
Definitely a little bit delirious from the long night in the hills I really couldn’t think of anything nicer than running up a volcano on a sunny day! Hmmm note to self don’t agree to anything when you’ve been out running in hail, wind and sleet for the night.
The run-up to May involved a lot of broken training sessions. I did get some quality snow days in the hills with the other Go Tri Adventure loonies but not much consistency, however, I decided to head out, get a taste for the race, soak up the atmosphere and some sun and see what the legs could do on the day.
Four of us travelled in the end. Our travel agent Alan Webb managed to sort flights for the four of us in and out of Shannon which was just ideal. So off we went early Thursday morning from Shannon. After a nice flight to Tenerife and then joining forces with some other Irish guys we hopped on another short flight to the beautiful little volcanic island of La Palma. I immediately liked the feel of the island. Very Spanish and not at all touristy. After a few detours and tight street car manoeuvres, excellently performed by Loren, we eventually found our way to our air bnb home for the weekend and then hit on to watch the first big event of the weekend – the vertical KM. This was a fun event to see but let’s just say we were happier to watch and cheer for this one – I’m not sure the plane legs would have tackled that climb!
The lead up to race day was very relaxed. For our usual pre-race routine on Friday morning we went for a little trot to stretch and loosen the legs followed by a nice stretching/yoga session on the pier. Our short run ended up being a little longer due to a slight Tierney exploration but it was so much fun and I got to see some of the gorge route which I wouldn’t get to run and wow it was pretty spectacular. I then took the lads through some improvised yoga moves overlooking the water which they were very open tnd I think I may have converted them:)
A relaxing day was followed by an early night.
At 3am I stuck my sleepy head out the door to wish the boys well and then back to snoozey land for another hour for this chica. Then at 5am Loren my lovely chauffeur arrived to take me to the bus station. I felt pretty good considering the early hour and I even ended up snoozing again a little on the way to the start line (yes over the years I have learned to take every available opportunity to sleep and luckily I am particularly prone to sleeping on buses) So 50 mins or so later still in darkness we arrived at a very windy Faro de Fuencaliente. A few moans and groans before the bus was vacated and we all made our way to the spectacular Fuencaliente lighthouse.
I could feel the buzz of the Ultra which kicked off an hour prior still in the air. The usual pre-race milling around took place but I managed to just enjoy the atmosphere and find a nice spot inside the lighthouse to stay warm and stay off my feet for an hour. Then before I knew it was time to hit the start line. The feeling was simply electric there with music pumping and everyone dancing and jumping up and down most likely to keep warm as there was still a crisp chill in the air. So exactly on time at 7.30am off the hooter went and we began the first climb up the volcanic sand of Malpais.
After a good slog on volcanic sand the first aid station was 7k in and I think this was my most favourite experience of the . What seemed like the entire population of Fuencaliente had come out at this early hour of the morning and lined the streets to cheer on the runners up the hill to the aid stations. I couldn’t help but think of the Tour de France as people were so close they almost were touching me. It was some feeling. I think the shouts of “Vamos” and “Go Chica” will stay with me forever. It certainly carried me onwards – that and the friendly cola bottle guy I met at 15k☺ Before I knew it I was at the highest point Las Desedas and the views! Well I just had to stop for a pic or two. Again the aid station was perfectly placed and manned and the marshals were so helpful. So onwards again to the final stage and the forest area which reminded me of my local run at Ballycuggaran, every twist and turn was manned with friendly marshals or first aid people and I have to say it was so nice to see their smiling faces. Before I knew it I was descending (for once) into the finish straight and the area of El Pilar and that was it – my first half marathon-up-a-volcano done! I really can’t recommend this race highly enough.
Thanks to everyone for the support especially my travel companions, Ultra men and support crew Paul, Alan and Loren. Now all I can say is roll on Transvulcania 2019, though maybe with a little extra training and added distance;) Oh and hopefully a few more brave Irish soles/souls☺ to join in the fun!
Course details: 24.28 km 2,097 meters of positive cumulative gain and 689 meters of negative cumulative gain
A rambling post about a half marathon, back injuries and turning 40.
OK, so long story short. I haven’t posted on BitchMittens for a REALLY long time.
Partly it was because I hurt my back while weightlifting, and after that, I was so whacked out on nerve blockers and lurching from one cortisone injection to another to be inclined to talk about the uplifting and inspirational value of sport. I’d also set up my own business, and found myself working days, nights and weekends without pause. So that’s basically where I’ve been for the past 12 months. In case anyone wondered!
SPOILER – Working too hard, stressing too much and not sleeping enough, will compound a serious injury and prevent your body from healing.
So that only took me a year to figure it out!
What a dope.
By the time I had copped on to myself, I’d spent a year off the water, and quite a lot of time when not working bonkers hours, feeling sorry for myself. Rowing is an addiction. Being on the water is a type of therapy. I think it’s especially appropriate therapy for certain nervous energy types. Being off the water took away a type of medicine. I tried a bunch of other things, (clinical pilates, bikes, swimming) but they all felt like exercise, and holy god stationary bikes are just tush-torture. Plain and simple.
To make matters worse, I turned 39. Which meant (ominous music) that 40 loomed.
They’re funny things, milestone years. Marketing studies have shown that people in the run-up to these (30, 40, 50 birthdays) behave differently than the rest. Interestingly, this errant behaviour is in the lead up to the milestone, and not after the fact, as I might have assumed. (Richard Shotton covers this, and how advertisers target those people, in his fascinating book on behavioural bias The Choice Factory)
So, you see – it’s official. This year is supposed to feel strange.
I woke up one morning and realised that I was middle-aged. And boy, was that a shock! I have no fears about getting older, I relish the idea of being a wise old owl. I just don’t want to groan when I sit down, or forget what my toes look like! But also it kicked me into gear. You only get one life, right? And I only had one back. And I wanted to feel like I did when this header picture was taken, the night after the Irish rowing champs, where I was physically fit, feeling strong, and totally fabulous.
I needed to do everything I could to get better. So I went back to basics. I slept. I drank water. I stopped lugging a huge handbag stuffed full of technology and knickers and bought a thing on wheels. I swapped my office chair for an ergonomic kneeling thing. I invested in a standing desk. I kept going back for more MRIs, kept chipping away at the exercises, at the doctors’ appointments. I weaned myself off the nerve blockers and despite my doubts, went for a small operation that would help cope with the nerve pain signals, perhaps for long enough to let me get better.
And then, after all that… I slowly began to get better!
I emerged from the mist, older, wiser and very much soggier about the middle. So then I set myself a challenge. This year, I would get ‘FIT 4 FORTY’. I would set myself a series of small challenges, while I am able to move – to help me find my way back to full fitness, before I begin the wild downhill ride of my later years.
Randomly I decided I would aim for the following things:
- Complete a half marathon
- PB a 5K run (My PB was 3 years, at about 24 minutes)
- PB a 2K erg test (The absolute definition of hell on earth, and even thinking about trying this makes me want to puke)
- Be able to do five chin ups (even at my very fittest, I could only do 3!)
- Be able to do a backwards crab (I did it in my twenties, so could I get this back??)
So I have very slowly set to training, and I have about 6 months to get there. I started about three months ago by walking, then running on sand. I did that for about a month. Then I started running longer distances. Checking the whole time that I wasn’t doing damage. And then last week, I completed a half marathon. I put one foot in front of the other. My only goal was to run the whole thing, and I did! I was hoping to do it in under 2 and half hours. My finish time was a respectable 2.14. I texted my spinal surgeon to say thanks, and had a little cry at the finish line.
Now I don’t want to do anything stupid, as I was injured for such a long time, but I also think having goals is a good thing. And so, with help and support from suitably medically qualified poeple I’m going to work towards a few more of these challenges. I’ll try and blog about them too!
I want to be #Fit4Forty.
Wish me luck!!
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To many avid fitness enthusiasts (myself included) walking just seems like a non-thing. It’s not exercise, it’s a mode of transport. A way to get from A to B. How could you possibly work up a sweat from that?!
Well, what if I told you that it’s not all about sweating it out.
I honestly used to think walking was the average lazy joe’s method of staying active. Cruel, I know but I had spent 3 years running my butt off to get in better shape and then another 2 years competing in a highly active sport. If you weren’t dead from training it simply wasn’t enough. And with my husband around the only walking I ever did was uphill (in the rain, backwards, barefoot). Aaaaand I live in a little town in the west of Ireland so walking around was just how I got around. So it never felt like a proper way to stay active (though come on, that’s how they did it in the fifties).
But over the last few months I’ve had a few Sunday afternoons to myself and the weather wasn’t being a dickhead (when, you’re asking but trust me). And instead of doing some intense shit and then vegging on the couch (and also trying desperately to avoid packing – we’ve just moved by the way) I decided to stick on a podcast (My Favourite Murder anyone?) and just head out into the countryside. Either up a little hill, through some woodlands or down by the lake. I would head out for an hour or two and comeback feel fresh and alive and happy. (That’s me out walking in the snow up above BTW)
And it got me thinking about what are the benefits of walking. So I did a little digging…
Sometimes it may not seem like it but heading out for a stroll is doing wonders for your body. Walking does way more for you than just reducing fat. It increases heart and lung fitness (always good) and it reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes. How about strengthening your bones and improving your balance? Yes it does that. Or helping to manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes? Absolutely!
As Elle Woods once said in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives your endorphins, endorphins make you happy, Happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” This ring true for all forms of exercise, including walking. A brisk 30 minute walk elevate your mood no end. From your chemical makeup changing in your brain to make you less irritable, to exposing yourself to natural sunlight helping to reduce the effect of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It also can be a wonderful social activity, killing two birds with one stone. Yay for friends and endorphins!
Good for the mind
I found this quite true for me. If you go for a walk by yourself (be it with headphones or without) your mind does wander. You think, you understand, you plan, you solve There’s no judgement, no friends or family to distract you, no deadlines and certainly no PBs. Just the breeze and a world of endless possibilities. There’s nothing else to do out there but move forward. Creativity flows from it. I have found it a great way to get out of myhead and then back into it again.
So if you’re like me and always felt that exercise needed to be this sweaty, red ball of grit and energy and constantly ppfft at the concept of going for a walk, try stretching those legs the next time we get a good day. It doesn’t have to be somewhere beautiful, it doesn’t have to be some big Sunday outing, it doesn’t have to be insta worthy. It doesn’t even have to be for very long. You might be surprised what you get out of it.
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.
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.
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.
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?!?!