Sunday, 24 May 2015

8 weeks to go ...

In exactly 8 weeks' time I will be waking up with that strange mixture of excitement, apprehension and dread in my stomach that can mean only one thing - that it's the day of my first ever triathlon. Sunday 19 July is a big day for me and it's beginning to get scarily close. It doesn't seem very long since I had 16 weeks to go and now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, that has been slashed in half.

Serious triathlon training began in January and I've been training hard since then with at least 3 training sessions per week and 4 if I can fit an extra one in. I've certainly come a long way since the beginning so here I am with a very overdue training update, some highlights and what I'm planning next.

The Swim

I've always considered myself to be a fairly rubbish swimmer and have never particularly enjoyed it. (I blogged about my swimming here.) When I decided to do a triathlon I knew I would need to put a lot of work into the swim even though it's the shortest section of the triathlon. So in January I signed up for lessons with S4 Swim School - South Staffordshire and I've been amazed not just by how much my swimming has improved but also by how much I'm enjoying my lessons. The coaching has been fantastic and has certainly pushed me far more than I could ever have pushed myself. My technique is now so much better than it was and I'm swimming a lot further too.

Even though I've only ever done butterfly a few times before, a couple of weeks ago my instructor had me doing 4 back-to-back individual medleys (fly, backstroke, breaststroke, front crawl)! OK, I doubt the butterfly looked pretty (more like drowning than swimming I expect) but I did it!

Last week's session was even tougher with lots of sprinting, not much rest in between and then my personal favourite, anaerobic swimming! Basically that's swimming whilst being starved of oxygen and involves swimming lengths whilst limiting the number of times I take a breath. Yep, it's about as much fun as it sounds!!

I expect the next session will be tougher still but that's exactly what I need. I'd much rather be working hard than being given an easy ride as that's the only way I'll improve. I've already improved a huge amount since my first lesson and with 8 weeks still to go there's scope to make even more progress.

Highlight: Swimming a total of 1250 metres in my lesson last week - that's about double what I was doing a few weeks ago and is only a couple of hundred metres short of a mile! Believe me, it felt like it too!

Next steps: I'm going for my first ever open water swim tomorrow (eek) at Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming Centre!! I'm very nervous so my aim is just to get in the water and potter about a bit ... and then go and enjoy a bacon butty. Now there's an incentive! I've also booked on to a beginners' session on 6 June. That still gives me a few weeks to fit in some more open swims before the triathlon. 

The Run

When I joined the Boldmere Bullets Running Collective and their Couch to 5km programme back in January, I could just about manage to jog 5km with a bit of walking. I ran a Race for Life 5km last year but training had lapsed over the winter and I really needed to get back into it. A week or two later I ran the whole 5km but it was hard work. I've run with the "Bullets" nearly every Sunday since then in all weathers as well as doing a mid-week run if I can squeeze it in.

A very wet Sunday morning run

Running as part of a group is a great motivator, making it so much easier to get up and out of the house at 7.30am on a Sunday morning. It's a really friendly atmosphere and everyone supports and encourages each other. We also go for coffee afterwards which helps (obviously) and I have recently discovered that the Bullets' favourite haunt does refillable coffees! I managed 3 cups this morning ... or was it 4!?

I've sometimes felt a bit disheartened that I always seem to be at the back of my group. But a couple of weeks ago I surprised myself on one of my solo mid-week runs. Feeling good when I got to the end of my normal route, I decided to keep going. When I got home and checked the distance it turned out I'd done 9.5km - the longest run of my entire life!! The following week I went one better and broke the 10km barrier for the very first time!

This morning's Bullets run was tough with a new, partly cross country route involving a a nasty hill. On the plus side, I saw a part of Sutton Park I've never seen before so it was worth it.

Highlight: First ever 10km run.

Next steps: Speed sessions/hill reps to try and get the old legs to run a bit faster. Sign up for a 10km race (although I think I'll get my triathlon out of the way first!)

The Bike

Highlight: Overtaking two blokes on bikes going up a hill.

Low point: Nearly colliding with a dog with a death wish as it came careering towards me. At least I now know my brakes work!

Next steps: Some longer rides and brick sessions (i.e. bike followed immediately by a run). Apparently, it's really hard as your legs feel like jelly when you start to run after being on the bike.

I'm doing the triathlon to raise money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, I would really appreciate your support. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A positive and inspiring day ... but there is still work to be done

Monday was an exciting day for me and many others involved with the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support as it was the day of our annual Healthcare Professionals' Conference. This year's central theme was Developing Services and Improving Care for Hyperemesis Gravidarum and we were joined by a fantastic line-up of speakers with some great topics for discussion. Many of the speakers are pioneers in their field who are leading the way in improving the care that HG sufferers receive in hospitals and the community.

We heard from Miss Manjeet Shemar, consultant at Birmingham Women's hospital, who set up an IV day unit and a treatment pathway which we hope will be emulated by hospitals across the country. Women in the Birmingham area are lucky to now have this service available to them but, sadly, it is not the same story elsewhere, with many women being denied appropriate treatments and admitted to hospital for lengthy periods when this could be avoided by swift rehydration and effective medication in a day unit similar to the one at Birmingham Women's. We are hoping that through collaboration we will encourage other NHS Hospital Trusts to take up the Birmingham Women's Hospital model.

We also listened  to Emma Moxham on developing her award winning IV at home service.  This is another vital service for HG sufferers, particularly those who are too ill to leave their house or who live a long way from the nearest hospital, and we would like to see this type of service rolled out nationwide, particularly in rural areas.

Miss Shilpa Deb and Dr Rosalind King then spoke about developing GP guidelines and establishing collaboration between primary and secondary care.  Unfortunately, the tragic events from 60 years ago continue to prey on the minds of many GPs who are still nervous of prescribing medication to pregnant women, particularly in their first trimester. Whilst their concerns are understandable, medicine has moved on a long way since then and we cannot, and should not, continue to be haunted by the ghost of thalidomide so many years later. A set of agreed GP guidelines will help to allay the fears of those GPs and this will enable many more women to access the treatments they desperately need.

These were just three of the many excellent speeches. Details of the full programme can be found here and copies of all the presentations will shortly be available on the charity's website.

But why is it so important that HG services and care are improved?

Just a few weeks ago Pregnancy Sickness Support published the  results of a study carried out in conjunction with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. This highlighted the shocking reality that many women suffering from HG are not offered the full range of available medical treatments but are expected to just put up with the condition. Sadly, a large proportion of women in the study felt, such are the devastating consequences of HG, that they had no choice but to terminate their much wanted pregnancy. This is an extremely sad and unacceptable state of affairs when safe and effective treatments are available and it shows that significant improvements need to be made in all the areas of healthcare we discussed at the conference.

But the good news is that change is slowly starting to happen. The very fact that we had several distinguished medical experts speaking about HG day units, IV at home services, GP guidelines etc. shows that the people who can make a real difference to HG sufferers' experiences are now beginning to implement change themselves. Our role as a charity is to facilitate this, to encourage collaboration, to provide assistance and guidance where needed and to ensure that we keep up the momentum for change.

The overwhelming feeling I had as I left the conference was one of positivity. I felt inspired and encouraged to see so many people in the room united by a common goal - to ensure that women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum receive the treatment and care they deserve.

If you would also like to get involved you can contact Pregnancy Sickness Support by clicking here.

Monday, 11 May 2015

This girl can ... can you?

If you haven't seen it already on social media, This Girl Can is a fantastic campaign run by Sport England to celebrate real women doing sport and to inspire more women and girls to take part, regardless of their age, size, ability or experience.

I am very proud to have been featured by their sister organisation, Triathlon England, in their own #ThisGirlCan campaign!! 

I am a mum of two, on the wrong side of forty, venturing into the world of triathlon for the very first time after years of doing hardly anything sporty. It's a pretty daunting prospect but I am determined to do it. I believe that if I can then you can too! So what are you waiting for? 

You can read my profile here.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Triathlon training - staying on track

This might be an odd thing to say about a sport that involves training for three separate disciplines but triathlon seems to be the ideal sport to fit around a busy lifestyle.

The huge advantage of training for a triathlon, rather than taking part in a team game or even playing a sport such as tennis or badminton, is that I can arrange my training to suit me and to fit around my other commitments. If I don't get out of the house to go to the gym until gone 8pm it doesn't matter. And if I have to cancel a training session unexpectedly, then I'm not letting anyone else down. I'm the only person affected and it's no big deal - I can just rearrange it for the next day or the day after.

But it's a double-edged sword. The flexibility that comes with training on my own brings with it challenges too, the obvious one being the challenge of self- motivation. Lonely sessions at the gym, in the pool or pounding the pavements can be difficult when the only person you're answerable to is yourself. So what if you don't feel like putting your running gear on and braving the rain? So what if you're feeling a bit under the weather and the last thing you want to do is head to the pool? So what if you just can't be bothered today and would rather sit in front of the TV with a glass of wine or a box of chocolates?

Let's face it, it's very easy to find reasons not to train. The real challenge is to keep the momentum going and to keep ourselves motivated. Two of the things that have really helped keep my training on track are joining a running group and raising money for a charity close to my own heart.

In January, I started running with the Boldmere Bullets Running Collective. The "Bullets" meet every Sunday in a local park at 7.40am for a warm up followed by a run at 8am.  There are different groups for different abilities ranging from the walkers to the speedy 8 minute milers. I fall somewhere in the middle in the "social group" which generally completes a 5 km route in about 35 minutes. The Bullets are non-competitive and there are no official timings. The ethos is to run together as a group and not to leave anyone behind.
The Bullets Social Group

I have found running with the Bullets has really helped me stick at my running. By signing up to the event on Facebook each week I feel I have committed to going and it's amazing how much this motivates me to set my alarm and get out of bed.  But more importantly the Bullets are a great bunch of people and it really is a pleasure to run with them - it must be for me to get up so early on a Sunday morning! In fact, I haven't missed a session since January, I gave up my Mother's Day lie in and didn't even miss this week's run despite the wind and rain and losing an hour's sleep because of the clocks going forward. I love the positive feeling I get from completing a 5 km run before 9am and the fact that I still have the rest of the day ahead of me.

So if you're struggling to stay motivated, why not see if there are any similar running groups near you, or maybe just find a running buddy, so that you can encourage each other to keep going. It's amazing what a bit of camaraderie can do - this week our group ran at sub 11 minute mile pace for the very first time!

Of course, the fact that I have decided to complete my first triathlon for charity is also helping to keep me motivated. I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support, a charity providing support and information to women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum* (HG) and aiming to improve the care and treatment they receive. So in a way I am answerable to others - the sufferers and their families who desperately need the support of the charity as well as all the amazing volunteers who work tirelessly to support those sufferers. If I don't put the training in, if I don't complete my challenge, then I will be letting them down as well as myself.

You can also help to keep my motivation up by sponsoring me and I would be immensely grateful for any donations no matter what size. If you would like to spur me on with my training, here's the link to my fundraising page. Thank you so much.

* Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a severe form of pregnancy sickness involving constant and unrelenting nausea and vomiting. Women lose a considerable amount of weight (in some cases this can be as much as 10% of the woman's pre-pregnancy weight), they become dehydrated and frequently require IV fluids in hospital. HG renders sufferers too ill to carry out simple daily tasks and they are often bed- or house-bound for months on end. This leads to an overwhelming feeling of isolation which can result in antenatal and postnatal depression. It is mentally and physically debilitating and can leave sufferers with post traumatic stress disorder.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Conquering the dreaded swim

I've always admired, envied even, the people you see at the pool powering effortlessly up and down the lanes. Sadly, I've never been one of them.

Even though the swim will be the smallest part of the triathlon, it's the part I'm dreading the most. It's fair to say that I am not, and have never been, a good swimmer. In my younger days (a long time ago!), although I played in school netball, rounders and hockey teams, I was never, ever picked for swimming.  In fact, the only time I was chosen for anything swimming-related was for neat breaststroke in the inter-house competition ... and obviously that doesn't count!
The open water venue on a February morning ... brrrrrrrr

At the beginning of last year I started to teach myself front crawl. Until then I couldn't even manage a few metres without coughing and spluttering. However, knee surgery to fix a torn ACL meant I wasn't allowed to do breaststroke for a while so off I went to the pool armed with a kickboard borrowed from my seven year old and a strategy to copy some of the drills I'd seen him do in his swimming lessons. Sure enough, as the weeks and months went on, my front crawl technique began to improve and my breathing started to get a bit easier. It's taken a while but I'm quite proud of the fact that I can now swim front crawl. I'm not brilliant at it, but it's a start.

I have now decided to take it to the next level and have started coaching sessions with S4 Swim School to improve my technique and stamina. I've had three sessions so far and (I never thought I would ever say this) I'm actually really enjoying them! It's £12 for an hour-long session which is definitely money well spent. The sessions are tailored to each person's individual needs and goals and there have never been more than two swimmers to one instructor so it's pretty much like having private coaching!

In my third lesson I did a timed challenge to see how far I could swim in five minutes. I was exhausted at the end of it but I managed 200 meters. It might not sound much but I was happy with it and it gives me a benchmark to work from. The aim is to double this to 400 metres in five minutes by the end of the course. Ha ha! Perhaps a little ambitious but it's something to work towards!

So far so good, but there is one drawback - my triathlon swim won't be in a pool but in a lake, a whole different, scary ball game. The thought of being surrounded by other swimmers (and their thrashing arms and legs) and not being able to touch or even see the bottom fills me with apprehension. What if I panic? What if I can't get my breath? What if the water's choppy? What if I get kicked or hit? These are just some of the questions preying on my mind about the open water swim. And that's not to mention the added complication of wearing a wetsuit and worrying about whether I will be able to get it off or not!

Some open water practice sessions in the Spring will hopefully help dispel some of my worries but I will need all the encouragement I can get to conquer my fears. Please consider sponsoring me to give me a boost - click here to go to my fundraising page. Thank you.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

My triathlon challenge for Pregnancy Sickness Support

The challenge

In July I will take part in the City of Birmingham Triathlon, my first ever triathlon, to raise money for the charity of which I'm a trustee, Pregnancy Sickness Support.

This is a BIG challenge for me and it's way out of my comfort zone. You see, I have never been a swimmer, a runner, or a cyclist.

At the beginning of last year I couldn't swim front crawl at all and even now I am pretty mediocre. I have never swum in open water and, to be quite frank, the thought of swimming in a cold lake without the security of a lane rope to grab terrifies me. I haven't been on a bike much in the last few years and as for running, well, at the beginning of last year I could only jog for a couple of hundred meters at a time.

My embarrassingly low level of fitness is the result of a knee injury which has plagued me for over 20 years. However, after surgery to reconstruct my anterior cruciate ligament, I began a programme of physio in 2014. Gradually, I started to run a bit (gingerly), swim a bit (slowly) and ride a bike a bit (in the gym). Little did I know it at the time but this was the start of my triathlon journey.

Inspired by my wonderful son, who completed his first triathlon last year at the age of 7, I have decided that 2015 will be the year that I complete my first triathlon. I will do this to raise much-needed funds for a charity close to my heart.

The charity

Although a nation-wide charity, Pregnancy Sickness Support receives no external funding and relies entirely on donations from kind individuals. It is desperately in need of funds to carry on providing support and information to women suffering from the relatively unknown condition, hyperemesis gravidarum, and to improve the medical care they receive. I have suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum twice and so I understand only too well the devastating impact of the condition.

How you can help

I can't quite believe that I am planning on doing my first triathlon at the age of 42, particularly having been inactive and unfit for so long. I have been working hard over the last year but I know there is also a lot of training ahead of me.  I know that I will be spending many lonely hours over the next few months in the gym, in the pool, running or cycling and I will need all the encouragement I can get to keep me going.

You can keep up to date with my progress by following this blog.

If you would like to support me in my efforts, you can sponsor me by clicking here. Thank you.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Swim, Bike, Run for Pregnancy Sickness Support - Give it a TRI!

I have set myself a challenge for 2015 and I need your help.

The challenge

I am going to take part in my first ever triathlon to raise money for Pregnancy Sickness Support.  It's a cause that means a lot to me as I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) during both my pregnancies and I am now privileged to be a trustee of the charity.

So why a triathlon?

I wanted to do something outside my comfort zone and, believe me, a triathlon is definitely that!

It also seems fitting that, after suffering from HG for three very long and tough trimesters, I will be putting myself through three gruelling disciplines as part of a triathlon. But if my body can survive HG (twice) then I figure I can cope with an hour or two of pain in the triathlon!

I have never been a swimmer, a cyclist or a runner and so this is going to be a BIG challenge for me.

How can you help?

I do not want to do it alone. I want a team of amazing HG survivors (and anyone else who wants to) to join me in doing their own Swim, Bike, Run for PSS.

It's not as daunting as it sounds.

Many events have a shorter distance fun or super sprint event for people like me who have never done a triathlon before.

Lots of events have a pool-based swim so there's no need to worry about swimming in a lake if you don't want to.

It doesn't matter if you have never mastered front crawl  - breaststroke is absolutely fine.

If you really don't fancy doing one of the disciplines then there are many duathlons (bike and run) or aquathlons (swim and run) you could do.

You can even enter some events as a team with one person completing each leg.

Check out the Go Tri website which is aimed specifically at novices wanting to have a go at a triathlon and which has details of some shorter events.

So, what do you say? Will you give it a TRI and join the Swim, Bike, Run for PSS?