Monday, 16 November 2015

My triathlon challenge - what I've learned

As the end of 2015 is fast approaching, whilst many of us will be busy with Christmas preparations, it's also a time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to what the year ahead might hold.  It was about this time last year when I decided that in 2015 I would take on a challenge that was way outside my comfort zone - my first triathlon. You can read about what inspired me to take on that challenge by clicking here and here.

Well I did it and I loved it! In fact, I've since done another triathlon, an aquathlon (swim plus run) and my first ever 10k race.  If you're toying with the idea of taking on a physical challenge in 2016, my advice would be to go for it!

I'm certainly no expert, but here are some of the lessons I learned from my own triathlon challenge.

Don't underestimate yourself

Don't sell yourself short. You would be surprised what you can achieve if you put your mind to it and work hard. Before I started training, I hadn't done any proper exercise for a long time after being plagued by a knee injury for over 20 years.  I couldn't run more than a couple of hundred metres without having to stop for a breather and I had just taught myself to do a bit of front crawl. The only race I had ever won in my entire life was a three legged pub crawl at uni when I was dragged round the course by the rugby player I was attached to! But I worked hard and, little by little, I ran further and my swimming got better. When I eventually crossed the triathlon finish line, I felt a huge sense of achievement - the hours of training and all the hard work had finally paid off.

Pick something challenging but achievable

Choose a challenge that's outside your comfort zone but also be realistic about how much training is involved. There's no point signing up to an Ironman triathlon if you just don't have the time to commit to the hours and hours of training needed each week as you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. Consider your own lifestyle and other commitments, decide what time you will have available to train and choose your challenge accordingly.

Sign up for an event

Having a particular goal to aim for is a great way to focus your mind and stay motivated.  There's nothing quite like the date of an event looming to keep you motivated, whether through excitement or shear panic!

Join a club

It's easy to find reasons not to train, especially if you're mainly training on your own. Maybe it's cold or wet outside, maybe you're feeling a bit tired that day, or maybe there's a bottle of wine with your name on it. Whatever the reason for not wanting to put your trainers on, joining a club can really keep you motivated. It's great sharing your experiences with others and the camaraderie and encouragement you get will spur you on particularly if you're feeling low. Not only that, but you'll probably make a great bunch of friends too!

Get some coaching

In January I signed up for some swimming lessons to improve my front crawl technique. At the time I thought I would probably only do a term of lessons.  Almost a year on and I'm still going! The coaching is hard but fun, I've been pushed far more than I could ever have pushed myself and I have improved enormously in both technique and endurance. I never used to like swimming much when I was younger but I have definitely been converted. 

Enjoy it!

On the day, don't worry about how fast you are or what position you come in. Try to relax, enjoy the event and cross the finish line with a big smile on your face. And don't forget to ask someone to take lots of photos!

Finally, make sure you have another goal in mind

After the initial high of completing the challenge you have worked so hard for and focussed on for so long, it's very likely that your mood will take a nosedive and you will start to feel flat shortly afterwards. This is quite common. The solution is easy - sign up for another event as soon as you can.  This happened to me and that's exactly what I did to banish the post-triathlon blues. Two weeks after my first triathlon I was doing it all over again. And you know what? It worked!

So, if you're thinking of taking on a challenge in 2016, go for it! You won't regret it! Good luck!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Charity triathlon - a big THANK YOU!

A whole week has gone by since my charity triathlon and I still can't quite believe I'm officially a triathlete!

The moment I crossed the finish line is something I will never forget. I heard my name being called out and my finisher's medal was hung around my neck. Then I saw my two children running towards me, grinning from ear to ear, to present me with my "Mummy's First Triathlon" trophy. I think that was what tipped me over the edge and I got a bit emotional at that point. I suppose that's not surprising given the amount of effort I had invested in the challenge and the relief I felt that I had actually completed it.

My first triathlon was the culmination of lots of hard work and training but I couldn't have done it on my own. There are lots of people who helped me along the way and I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who supported me or encouraged me in my training. I couldn't have done it without you!

I was overwhelmed by the lovely, positive comments I received over the last few months which really helped spur me on, particularly when my training wasn't quite going to plan. So thank you! I am very lucky to have such amazing family and friends!

I also want to thank everyone who sponsored me. I have tried to thank everyone personally (and if I haven't then I apologise) but I don't even know some people who have donated and some people have donated anonymously. So thank you! With your help I have raised over £840 including Gift Aid which is a massive amount for a small charity such as Pregnancy Sickness Support and so much more than I ever imagined I would raise.

You can read about my motivation for taking on this challenge to raise money for Pregnancy Sickness Support in my guest post on Spewing Mummy's blog here. And if you would still like to sponsor me, it's not too late. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Triathlon countdown - Getting my kit off

Now, as well as the obvious challenge of swimming, then cycling, then running one after the other, there is another aspect of my imminent triathlon that has been preying on my mind - the transitions.

The transitions are the bits in between the swim, the cycle and the run when you "transition" from one discipline to the next. Proper triathletes refer to them as the fourth discipline as speed in transition can make all the difference between first and second place.

In my case though, as a complete novice, the sole purpose of the transitions seems to be to add to my worries about what could go wrong on the day. The one that has been causing me the most concern is Transition 1, between the swim and the bike. At this point, I will need to drag myself out of the lake (feeling exhausted and possibly dizzy), run to my bike (remembering where I left it), remove my wetsuit (easier said than done) before putting on my socks, trainers, cycle helmet and finally unracking my bike.

In case you're wondering (and a few people have asked me this) I will be wearing something under my wetsuit! I have a trisuit which is a fetching all-in-one lycra suit a bit like a swimsuit with shorts, a vest-style top and a bit of padding for the bike. It's far too figure-hugging in my opinion and is definitely not the kind of thing I would normally be seen wearing in public but after already posting some fairly unflattering triathlon-related pictures of myself on this blog, I'm beginning to lose my inhibitions ... as well as my dignity!

If you've ever watched the Brownlees in action, you will have seen them emerge from the lake and run to their bikes whilst effortlessly stripping off their wetsuits to their waist. When they reach their bikes, they just slide their legs out of the wetsuit, grab their bikes and off they go. They make it look so easy. In actual fact, triathlon wetsuits are extremely clingy when dry and even worse when wet. Mine is very tight around the wrists and this has been causing me to have cold sweats about getting my arms stuck half in and half out of my wetsuit.

After doing a bit of research, I was pleased to discover that you can buy special lubrication for triathletes to help with wetsuit removal ("suit lube"). So, on Saturday afternoon, with two weeks to go before the big day, the time had come to practise my transitions in our back garden and to put my new suit lube to the test. My children were particularly excited as they had an important role to play in this aspect of my training.

Here's what I did.

1. Got kitted out in full triathlon gear - sports bra, trisuit, wetsuit, swimming hat and goggles, spraying myself with a liberal amount of suit lube on my lower arms and legs. This is not one of my normal Saturday afternoon activities, I hasten to add!

2. Roped in my children to throw water over me and make sure I was completely soaked. They took their challenge very seriously (obviously) and I was indeed soaked. I'm not sure what the neighbours thought about all the shrieks of laughter coming from the other side of the hedge as I endured my own ice bucket challenge!
3. Ran around the garden whilst unzipping the back of my wetsuit with the children shouting encouragement and ... the moment of truth ... pulling the sleeves over my hands. Pop! Left hand out. Pop! Right hand out. To my huge relief the suit lube worked a treat!

4. Ran to my towel, slipped my legs out of my wetsuit, again without any problems (phew!), dried my feet, put on my socks, trainers, sunglasses and helmet and ran down the path to the front of the house to cheers of "Go on Mum!" from the children.

5. Grabbed my bike and cycled off into the distance.

All in all, I was relieved that my first transition practice went to plan and this has helped put my mind at rest. At least I now know that on the day of my triathlon I should have no problem getting my kit off.

I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Triathlon countdown - An emotional roller coaster ride

When I embarked on my triathlon journey I was aware of the physical challenge that lay ahead of me, having never done anything remotely like this before. But over the last week or so the emotional side of my challenge has reared its head.

After a bit of a panic a couple of weeks ago, I started the week feeling positive. The brick sessions were now becoming easier and I was feeling good about my swimming. But by Thursday my mood had taken a nosedive and I felt thoroughly exhausted.

A couple of friends asked me how I was keeping on top of things with all my training. In all honesty, at the end of last week it felt quite the opposite. I felt as though everything was getting on top of me! The strain of juggling training with working and looking after my two young children was starting to show. On Thursday I had an epic mum fail when I had to take the children out for tea because there was absolutely nothing in the fridge... and I mean nothing! I just hadn't had time to go to the supermarket. How bad is that!

Until now, training on my own hasn't been a problem, in fact it has been a benefit as I can fit training sessions in when it suits me. But this last week or so, as the triathlon looms, I have realised that it would be quite nice to have a training buddy who is going through the same challenges as me at the same time. Sadly, I didn't manage to persuade any of my friends to do the triathlon with me (can't think why) and so I'm having to go it alone.

Anyway, I decided there was only one thing for it - to have a couple of days off training in order to get my energy levels back up. I knew that on Saturday I needed to be firing on all cylinders.

The alarm went off at 6.00 am on Saturday morning. My bags were already packed and off I went to Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming. By 7.30 am I had squeezed myself into my wetsuit and was in the lake ready to go. My goal - to swim the 500 metre course for the first time (round the three orange buoys in the photo) - a pretty daunting prospect for someone who not that long ago couldn't even swim a length of front crawl.

It looked such a long way and I was very nervous about swimming that far without being able to stop, hold the poolside or put my feet down ... but I DID IT!!! Believe it or not I actually enjoyed it and I even saw some fish (just small ones though)! Instantly, my mood was restored and I have been on a high ever since. So, with less than three weeks to go this roller coaster is riding high. Let's hope it stays that way!

I am raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Triathlon countdown - All going swimmingly

After a bit of a wobble last week, I'm pleased to say that my confidence has returned and I'm not panicking quite as much as I was about my triathlon debut in four weeks' time (... well maybe just a little).

Building bricks

The main reason for my confidence taking a knock was my first "brick" (i.e. bike plus run) session which was much harder than I had expected and caused panic to set in. I wrote about that here.

Not surprisingly, brick sessions have been my biggest priority this week and I've managed to build two more in to my training so far. It was a massive relief to find that the second was slightly easier than the first and the third was better still. I even felt relatively good during the run part of my third brick (there wasn't too much puffing and panting going on!) and could probably have run further. As it was, I cycled and ran the distance I will be doing in my triathlon and that has boosted my confidence enormously. I even made it to the top of two big hills on the bike without stopping, although I did have to use most of my gears! So I just need to add in the swim now!

All going swimmingly

Once again, I was pushed to my limit in last week's swimming session which felt like the hardest session in the history of mankind! The multiple, back-to-back individual medleys which just a few weeks ago were the toughest part of my training have now become the easy bit!

The hard part this week included such delights as swimming front crawl with clenched fists; swimming front crawl with my hands behind my back (is this starting to sound like some weird form of torture?); and my new personal favourite  - swimming back stroke with both arms in the air. Now, unless you've actually tried this, you'd be forgiven for assuming it would be quite easy. Well, you would be very wrong! As soon as you put your arms up the rest of you sinks, it's impossible to stay afloat and you end up swimming on your back with your face below the surface of the water so that you can't breathe properly and you feel as though half the pool is pouring up your nose. For some reason the word "waterboarding" comes to mind! Thankfully, I've been promised an easier session this week. Phew!

Anyway, despite all that, I'm actually really enjoying my swimming lessons which has a lot to do with the fantastic coaching by the guys at S4 South Staffordshire and all the positive feedback and encouragement I get from them. Thanks guys!

"Running up that hill"

This week's run was a long one (for me) - 9.25 km in about an hour. It felt good and is probably my fastest long run so far. Could this have had something to do with the fact that I was spurred on by Jason Donovan's eighties show - Irene Cara, Haircut 100, Duran Duran, Kate Bush and Billy Ocean to name a few! Hooray for eighties classics! Now I am showing my age!

So, with four weeks to go to the big event and three before "taper" week when I'm apparently supposed to take it easy, things are looking more positive. My next task is to crack the open water swim and to practise getting my wetsuit off in a hurry. I have some "suit lube" on order to help with that so it's all good!

I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Mum's triathlon training

For my latest blog post I'm handing over to my superstar son (aged 8) whose own triathlon inspired me to have a go myself. He asked if he could write something on my blog to tell everyone how well he thinks I'm doing. It made my day to have such support and encouragement from my little man. I think I might just cry!!

Over to you ...

I love my Mum. I think she is doing EXTREMELY well at her triathlon training.

Her schedule;

Monday rest

Tuesday brick session

Wednesday swim ( indoor )

Thursday run

Friday rest

Sat swim (outdoor)

Sun cycle / run

I hope this shows just how hard my mum works. I  myself  know how hard it is for her for I have done a triathlon.

Well done and thank you! I love you too!!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Triathlon latest -"Bricking it" ... in more ways than one

I was fully expecting my legs to go all wobbly but I hadn't counted on the hot flush in my cheeks or how much my heart would be racing. No, I wasn't drooling over the latest David Beckham H&M advert - I was in the middle of my first triathlon "brick" session!

A brick session is a bike ride followed immediately by a run and, as I have recently learned, is an essential part of training for any wannabe triathlete such as myself. It sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? I can ride a bike and I can run, so putting the two together couldn't be that difficult ... or could it?

After cycling for about an hour, my legs were feeling OK, if a bit tired. I wasn't out of breath and so I was feeling fairly confident about the short run I had planned. In fact, my main concern was what it would feel like running in my padded cycling leggings!

As I parked my bike up, removed my helmet and set off on the run, sure enough, the jelly-legs syndrome I had read about kicked in. It suddenly felt like there was no connection between my brain and my legs and that my legs were just chilling out and doing their own thing rather than what I actually wanted them to do. It felt very strange but eventually the feeling passed. 

What I was not prepared for was how physically challenging the run would be. It was really hard, much harder than I had expected. 

Even though it was only a 2 km run, my legs were heavy, my heart was pounding and I was wheezing like someone with a 40-a-day habit. It felt like I had regressed to the early days of my running when I could just about manage a short run around the block. What was going on? How could I be struggling so much when I comfortably run 5 or 6 km at a time and sometimes (slightly less comfortably) manage 10 km?

Panic has now set in! I've been training for my triathlon for months and, until now, I felt that my fitness levels were vastly improved. So it was a big shock that I found the run part of the brick session so tough. And with only 5 weeks to my triathlon, I'm wondering if I have left it too late. At most, I'll be able to fit in 4, possibly 5 more brick sessions ... but is this enough? Right now I could do with some reassurance that it will all be OK on the day. Only time will tell though and I won't know for sure until the big day arrives. Until then, it looks like I will be "bricking it" ... in more ways than one!

I'm raising money for Pregnancy Sickness Support. If you would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

First open water swim in five simple steps

I could feel the nerves welling up in me the night before, a bit like the feeling you get the night before an important exam, coupled with a feeling of disbelief that the following day I would be doing something I never expected to be doing in a million years - swimming in open water. The next day I would tackle my first open water swim practice for my first ever triathlon in July, which I'm doing to raise money for the charity, Pregnancy Sickness Support.

Susi and Jason at the open water swim venue, Cliff Lakes Open Water Swimming, were really helpful. Susi sorted me out with a wetsuit (£5 per hire) and Jason talked me through my first attempt at open water swimming.

Based on my very limited experience, here are my five steps to your first open water swim.

Step one. Lower yourself into the lake, checking first that it's shallow enough to stand up. I've made that mistake in the pool before now when I dropped into the water expecting my feet to hit the bottom only to discover it was the deep end and I went completely under. Not cool! I certainly didn't fancy repeating that in a freezing cold lake.

Step two. Open the neck of your wetsuit to let all that cold water flood in (brace yourself first!). I never did the ice bucket challenge but I imagine the sensation is pretty similar. Thankfully the suit did then start to warm up a bit but that only made me even more aware of how freezing my hands and feet were. Apparently, it's perfectly normal for your extremities to go numb!

Step three. Swim up and down without putting your head in the water so that your body gets used to the temperature and the feeling that your chest is being squeezed. Just imagine you're one of those ladies of a certain age you see at the swimming pool. You know, the ones who swim side by side, managing to maintain a full conversation while not letting a hair stray out of place or get wet. I've always wondered how they do that!

Step four. Start "face-in-the-water-swimming". At this point, I think my hands and feet might have warmed up a bit, although it could have been because I was distracted by the feeling of cold water sloshing about in my ears. I always get water in my ears at the pool but it never bothers me too much apart from making me a bit deaf! Presumably, it was the difference in temperature between the lake and my ears that made it much more noticeable. I might have to invest in some ear plugs. Wetsuit lubrication is also on the shopping list but that's another story!

Make sure that you watch out for obstacles. In my case it was a jetty which seemed to appear out of nowhere from the green murkiness. I lifted my head and there it was, right in front of me. Next task is to learn how to look where I'm going whilst swimming.

Step five. Emerge triumphantly from the lake. Make sure there is something or someone nearby to hold on to (fence, husband, random stranger) in case, like me, you feel a bit dizzy. Again, this is normal (apparently). On this occasion my husband was on hand to oblige but on triathlon day one of my fellow competitors might get more than they bargained for!
This has also shattered the illusion that, on exiting the triathlon swim, I will sprint Brownlee-style to my bike whilst simultaneously stripping off my wetsuit to my waist. Instead, I now have an image of me, slightly dazed, staggering to the sea of bikes in the transition area wondering where on earth I left my bike. Hmmm could be interesting!

So there you have it. My first attempt at open water swimming in five "simple" steps. Overall, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and my nerves soon disappeared once I was in the water. Just as well - I'm doing it all over again on Saturday although this time I'll not be hogging the shoreline but swimming out into the middle of the lake. Wish me luck!

If you have enjoyed reading this or are even slightly impressed by my attempt at "extreme swimming", please consider sponsoring me. My fundraising page is here. Thank you.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Triathlon challenge - 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 own 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?