Going Further

Going further

In running, there are certain distances you become accustomed to. 5km, 10km, 10 mile, half marathon, marathon etc. These are milestones every runner grows to know intimately – you learn to recognise how you feel at certain distances and what to expect physically and mentally at different points, the result being that you develop a kind of mental store and psychological toughness that helps you be better the next time. But when you’ve ran enough races, you also learn to know how you can expect to feel at the end of certain distances. For example, even though I haven’t run for over a year, I can remember exactly how I would feel after a 5km parkrun Vs. how my body feels after a half-marathon race Vs. after a marathon.

With Cycling, I find it a lot less clear cut. I could cycle an 80km today and be in bits tomorrow. Or I might cycle 100km today and be up for cycling another 70km tomorrow, no bother. There have been some days recently when cycling 37km to work on back to back days has just knackered my legs. But where is the sense, I ask you?

Apart from being able to draw the obvious conclusion that the harder the ride and more effort you put in, the more it will take out of your body and the slower it will be to repair and refresh. And the hillier the cycle, the tougher it is – also going to tire you out more.

But generally for cycling Vs. running, there are no milestone distances to focus on – or maybe there are and I’m just out of the loop! Oh well…

Some cyclists seem to work with time, rather than distance. You cycle for an hour a few days during the week and then go for a three hour ride at the weekend, for example. I don’t work that way. I like to map out a ride beforehand and then see how long it takes me. Next time, I try do it faster. That’s what motivates me. I’m less good with a “three hour ride” because for me that’s just a licence to sit on my ass and flooter away three hours coasting along at my ease.

So I stick with distance. Up to this year, I’d never ridden over 100km, with the longest cycle I’d have competed being around 91km. So I cracked out mapmyride and mapped a few 100km -ish cycles and worked my way up to them. Then I did a race a few weeks ago which involved a 105km spin around Carlow and over Mount Leinster. I loved it.

Today I took a spin from Naas to Kilkenny, travelling through Athy, Carlow, lovely Leighlinbridge and Bagenalstown along the way. The weather was a bit crap to be honest with dark clouds, some rain and a headwind most of the way… but I was happy out just to find I could actually make it all the way to Kilkenny. Needless to say when I arrived in Kilkenny 3 hours 41 minutes later, I was delighted with life and Kilkenny was buzzing with people, despite the rain.

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I had booked to get the train back from Kilkenny to Sallins and had a bit of time before my train was due. I knew exactly how to spend that time.

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What is cycling, if not really good coffee and cake?

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After all, it’s the worst kept secret in cycling that the only real reason cyclists actually cycle is for the coffee and cake. And it’s worth it every time 😀

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After wandering around trying to find a coffee shop that I could safely leave my bike outside without fear of it being pinched, I came across the Pantry on Kieran St., which was exactly what I was looking for. Really good coffee and a good selection of homemade baked goods, as well as soup, sandwiches and hot lunch options too. I really just wanted somewhere to sit down and rest my weary bones for an hour, while indulging in a much looked-forward to pick me up.

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Nice design and good, friendly atmosphere, you can’t go wrong.

The staff were lovely, the coffee was excellent and my cupcake was just grand. The bun could have been fresher and the icing was a bit over-sweet, but I was starvers so it tasted great anyway. Good spot and I’ll be back again.

Next Up. Now that I’ve gotten past the 100km mark, I’d like to build on that and be able for greater distances. There’s a clatter of 200km events in Ireland that look fab but I’m a long way from being able to remain upright for 200k. But it gives me something to aim for – oh, you know how it goes… citius, altius, fortius… better.

Let’s Talk About Feet (again)

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Full disclosure-these are not my feet but I love this picture. Happy feet or what?!

I’ve talked about my feet so many times on this blog that I’m starting to feel they have more of a presence than I have on here. In fairness, their drama, trips, days out, dates and life in general has been far more exciting than my own of late…

For those who don’t know (and have been saved that pedi-saga) I injured both feet in the run-up to the Paris marathon 2016, in or about March last year, which has resulted in me being benched from running for nearly 10 months now. Since then, I’ve seen numerous physiotherapists, a GP, a chiropodist and two orthopaedic surgeons who specialise in feet – all of whom have given me a different diagnosis in terms of the source of the pain in my feet. The first physio told me it was soft tissue damage, “just a battering” from all the marathon training. The second physio (from the same clinic) told me it was NOT a soft tissue injury at all, rather it was more likely a rheumatological condition, possibly rheumatoid arthritis.

On foot of what physio no.2 said, I visited my GP who ran blood tests which confirmed no inflammatory markers in my bloods. So, she ruled out the possibility that the cause of my foot pain was rheumatoidal. She referred me on to an orthopaedic specialist who specialises in foot problems on the basis that the pain could be a result of a stress fracture. On inspection of my feet, this orthopaedic surgeon was of the opinion that indeed the source of my foot pain was most likely a result of a stress fracture – 90% sure it was a stress fracture in the 5th metatarsal – to be precise.

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Went for an MRI… went back to Mr. Ortho… no stress fracture, anywhere in my feet. He then promptly informed me that he could do nothing further for me given that the problem did not appear to be a bone problem nor could he offer any opinion on what was wrong with my feet.

At this point, I cried.

It had been 9 months of different experts, with wildly different views on what is wrong with my damn feet. And here I was, after spending a chunk of money on all these guys and having not been able to go for a run in so long standing in a car park outside a hospital thinking I’m never going to be able to run again…. and not one person can tell me what is wrong with me. So I cried. With my Dad (who had kindly come with me to the appointment) looking at me like I was crazytown.

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This week I went to see another orthopaedic (foot) surgeon for a second opinion, which if nothing else, was hilarious. What my mother calls a good old-fashioned surgeon- glasses, dicky bow, abrupt, utterly unsympathetic, impatient and entirely forthright and opinionated – I loved it. After examining my feet, he took the view that I have basically bad feet. I have splayed, wide feet, with bunions, swelling in the forefoot and collapsed arches – basically, all these factors combined mean that the mechanics of my feet is all off. He told me that the custom orthotics I had made many years ago were useless on their own and that they would not be effective without accompanying exercises to make them work.

So what did he decide should be the next step? A physio! No, but not just anyone, he specifically recommended a Dublin physio who has worked with Athletics Ireland specialising in sports injuries with good experience. Given that this glowing referral came from a man who strikes me as exceptionally hard to impress, I’m expecting great things. I’m honestly very excited and feeling more positive about this than I have in months.

I have an appointment in 2 weeks time and I can’t wait. In the meantime, I also have an appointment to see a rheumatologist to investigate my Reynaud’s and just to rule out any rheumatoidal cause of my foot pain.

For the moment, I am still cycling away at weekend and early mornings before work, when I can. The mornings are slowly getting brighter earlier and the days are starting to stretch out and I can’t wait for those long Summer days… I also just joined a gym to action my new year’s resolution to get stronger this year. Strength and conditioning is an area I’ve neglected for a long time and I’m hoping if I can work on it, it might help with my feet/ knee/other injuries going forward.

Injuries suck, no doubt. I miss running massively. Word. But for the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like there’s hope that maybe some day in the near (ish) future, one of these experts will tell me it’s time to run again.

And what a wonderful day that will be. Happy running folks, enjoy!

Winter Cycling: Not For Wimps

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I’m a cycling novice, having only really committed to regular training on the bike in the last 6 months. Prior to that, it was just heading out whenever I felt like it on irregular occasions and for irregular lengths of time. No plan. Nowadays, I’m on the bike 5 days a week with structured short and long sessions for specific days. However, I have to admit that I’m still not overly fussed about being too strict about how far I should go for a cycle in any session, preferring to leave it up to how I feel on the day. I’d rather not suck all the joy out of cycling.

As a novice, winter cycling is new to me. Of course I have cycled in winter before (it would be weird if at the age of 30 I had not…) but in previous years where running has always been my priority, deciding not to bother with a recovery cycle just because the weather was horrid was not a big deal.

Not anymore.

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Got to test these overshoes out for the first time today. I was glad of them for sure!

Now that running had been put on hold for the foreseeable future (breaking my heart in the process but let’s not get morbid!) my cycling mentality has temporarily taken over my running mentality. This means if there is a session for today scheduled, then it’s get up and out, get it done. Doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, doesn’t matter if I’m “not in the mood”. Up, out, get it done.

This was tested today.

On a Sunday in Ireland, where a thick white frost covered the fields for as far as I could see, leaves on trees and bushes frozen in place like tiny statues, and a constant white fog hung in the air, there was no mistaking that winter had indeed arrived on our not-so-green-today island.

I deliberately waited to later in the morning to head out on the bike in the vain hope that temperatures might increase as the morning progressed, but in fact, they never got about 0 degrees. Cloud hung low in the sky, blocking out the sun and preventing it from shining through and creating a smidgen of heat.

I love a good, solid, unmistakably winter morning but today’s conditions were simply freezing. Armed with two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks, overshoes and solid layering on top, I was all set to test my cycling resolve!

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See how my pale Irish skin just grabs all the light in the room. Complements the flattering cycle gear, don’t you think?

I headed out in the direction of Kilcock, feeling better than I expected to and happy that I had got the whole layering thing right. Not too cold and not cooked either. After passing through Clane, I continued on the Kilcock road before turning off for Donadea, where main roads gave way to country fields on either side and an accompanying deep white fog. I quickly realised I should have equipped my bike with lights today as although it was daytime, visibility would be seriously affected by the fog.

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Deep pockets of fog on country roads, very eerie…

I then continued to Timahoe, from where I turned right for Cloughrinka, making way through bog country and farm areas, all appearing as though the White Witch had just past through turning everything she touched to winter. Bushes, trees, leaves on the ground, the grass verges… all encased in white. The fog ever-present as I pushed on, with me wherever I went. My fingers started to numb despite the two sets of gloves because even though it was dry, the moisture from the fog was such that it was starting to settle on my clothes and hands and soak in. You wouldn’t think it, but I could see the moisture drops forming on my bike and starting to roll off my helmet.

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From Cloughrinka, I made a left toward Edenderry and from there, I motored on to Clonbulloge village, on to Rathangan and then straight home to Naas. I hardly drank or ate anything on the bike today, despite the 94km distance. Partly because I was too cold to notice where I was thirsty or hungry, but mostly because my hands were too cold to pick up my bottle. It just seemed like too much effort to route around my back pockets to dig out an energy bar or wrestle with the bottle from its cage. At one point, I dropped one of my bottles on the road after losing my grip on it due to my numb fingers… and having to turn back when you’re cold and tired is a killer. I tried to drink more towards the end though.

I was happy to get in a good long cycle today and it’s always good practice to cycle in challenging conditions. I have to admit that reading George Hincapie’s biography at the moment and his stories about training in freezing conditions for hours on end is inspiring me to be a tougher cyclist. OBVIOUSLY my cycling expeditions are on a whole other level to George’s but he has really made me aware of just how hard pro riders actually train and the extent of the effort and discipline involved in the unglamorous, unforgiving daily life of a cyclist.

George was in my mind today I spun through the chilly conditions and although it was a long spin, I felt brilliant when I got home. Well, more specifically, I felt brilliant after I had defrosted, had a hot shower and changed into warm, dry clothes… and clung to a radiator for a while.

Running or cycling. I always feel brilliant afterwards. It may be winter out there, dark, cold and forbidding and oh-so-tempting to stay in your warm bed, but it’s always worth it to get outside.

So go forth folks and embrace your inner winter demon!

You can always  go back to bed then.

New Bike! Liv Envie Advanced 1

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BIG NEWS my friends…………..

NEW BIKE!!!!!

There has been some serious saving going down, serious planning and some down right serious time spent shopping around for a new two wheeler. After an acceptable amount of binging on bike window shopping, the big decision has been made.

She’s hot, she’s foxy and she’s all mine.

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Sin e… ain’t she pretty?

If I won the Lotto, the very first thing I would do is go to Base2Race – incredible triathlon shop – and buy the blingiest bike they have. I LOVE LOVE LOVE bikes – the mechanics, the designs, the different ride-feel on each bike, how everything comes together to flow beautifully… I love everything about them. Art in motion.

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Giant Speed Control brakes.

I got my first road bike about 1.5 years ago and she has served me very well indeed. The Carrera Zelos is very much an entry level road bike, consisting of an aluminium frame, a 7 speed cassette, Shimano Tiagra gears and Tektro brakes. It retails in or around 500 euro. At the time, I needed a bike for triathlon but wasn’t all that into cycling so I didn’t want to spend too much in case I decided after a few weeks that actually, I really don’t like cycling.

Cycling was initially the hardest part of triathlon for me.

I was also nervous about the swim but knowing that it’s always the shortest part of a race has always helped keep me settled.

But the bike – the bike is long so if you don’t like it or find it tough, the time can really drag. That’s exactly how the cycling leg of a triathlon was for me for the first few races but then I became determined to work on it and get better. Having people overtake you all the time can be a real inspiration to get your butt in gear and work harder.

Since being sidelined from running for the last 5 months with ongoing foot injuries, I’ve been spending way more time on the bike and I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my average speed. Where I really noticed this was in an Ironman 70.3 I did a few weeks ago. I flew the cycle, keeping my pace consistently high (by my standards – not elite standards, you understand…) and I was still overtaking people right up to the end of the 90km. From about 50km onwards, I felt really strong and thoroughly enjoyed that last 40km. This was the first time I ever felt this way during the cycle leg of a triathlon and made me realise how much I actually enjoy being on the bike.

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Shimano Ultegra drive train, gear shifts etc… finally got my mitts on these!

Cycle to Work

This time around, I bought my new bike under the Irish Cycle to Work Scheme, the beauty of which is that it allows employees to purchase a bike up to the value of 1000 euro and if you decide to spend more than that on your bike, you agree to pay it back in instalments deducted from your salary. Obviously the idea is aimed at encouraging more people to cycle to work and boost the health of the nation, which I think has been one of the few brilliant initiatives to come from the Irish government in recent years.

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Introducing the Liv Envie Advanced 1

My new bit of road bling is the Liv Envie Advanced 1 …….. which I bought from Base2Race in Ballymount Retail Park (my absolute favourite shop on the planet, highly recommend these guys for runners, wetsuits and all things bike). The Envie is priced at 2249 euro.

I had never heard of the Liv brand before so for those who likewise may not know, Liv is, in fact, Giant’s specialised female bike brand. The Liv Envie which I bought is actually the female version of this Giant bike:

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Giant Propel Advanced 1

Differences between male and female bikes aren’t massive but there are differences, such as length of reach and “women specific geometry”that can make a big difference to a long ride, including overall general comfort in the saddle after say, 60km. Crank length, stem length, the position of the saddle, the height of the handlebars… the detail may seem small but each has the ability to make or break your ride. To suffer or enjoy.

Specs

The Envie boasts a Shimano Ultegra 22 speed drivetrain and a Giant Speed Control brakeset, loaded onto an Advanced Grade composite carbon frame and fork. The saddle is a Liv Contact SL and can be adjusted to move it further forward or back, depending on your personal measurements and how you prefer to ride. The tyres, rims and hubs are all Giant.

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Aero Design

As you can see from the pictures, the Envie was designed to be more aerodynamic than a pure road bike, making it more of a triathlon bike than a road bike tailored towards endurance cycling. Giant makes claims of this being a “fast” bike, ie, that you get for the same amount of effort, you can theoretically get more speed out of it. The structure of the frame compared with my other bike, naturally has you sitting more forward on the bike and if you hunker down low onto the drop handlebars and get pedalling, I can easily see how this could have you going faster.

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Saddle is comfortable and adjustable to a more forward position for racing or time-trial position.

Stiff feel

Sitting up on the bike for the first time, one thing I immediately noticed was how much stiffer and sharper the handling at the front felt compared with my old bike. It took a few minutes to get used to it but I rather like how sharp and responsive it feels and the noticeable extra control it gives you going into corners.

Design

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The guys in the shop were all gushing about how much they each loved the design of this bike and I’d have to agree with them. This is a very nice piece of work by Giant/ Liv, from the overall look of the bike to the colour scheme they decided to run with. I’ve seen the new 2017 Envie but have to say I don’t quite like the new colours as much at all…

Another neat feature on this bike is the internal cabling which pops in and out very neatly, so much so that you hardly notice it unless you went looking. Tidies the bike up very nicely and contributes to the overall compact look of the bike. In keeping with this theme, the design team have also tailored the seat tube to the shape of the rear wheel which is a lovely touch.

Conclusions:

I’ve been the proud owner of this beaut for less than a day and have taken her for a grand total of 1 ride so it would be premature to make any grand conclusions about the Envie.

On the first cycle that I took her on today, I found it to be significantly more responsive than my Carrera Zelos, more aggressive and pretty fun to ride. I was a bit wobbly at first as it’s a much smaller frame, the handlebars are lower and much shorter and it is a much lighter bike. But taking on the advice I got today from Base2Race about posture, hand position and riding technique, I soon found I was enjoying the cycle and having fun on the new bike.

I even went a bit further than planned (in pretty windy conditions) just because I wanted to stay on the bike for a bit longer. Like the kid who doesn’t want to go in for dinner…

Thus far, I am beyond happy with the Envie and can’t wait to go exploring on this nifty bit of kit. No doubt happy times ahead 😉

I may not have won the Lotto (yet) but getting on these two wheels every morning certainly has me feeling like I am a very lucky girl indeed!

Sheep Are Like Dogs

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One of the great benefits of working a job that comprises of 12 hour shifts means that I have lots of days off and there’s nothing I enjoy doing more on days off than grabbing my bike and heading off into the countryside for a few hours. Relaxes me out no end.

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Look at that blue sky, I’ll defo have some of that, thanking you!

There have been a few times (just a few 😉 …shhh) when I’ve bitched and moaned up here about the wet, windy, temperamental, changeable and wildly unpredictable Irish weather so I thought it would be rather unfair if I didn’t also mention the days when the world decides to shine a light on the emerald green and make it glow. When the sun shines in Ireland, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. Period.

Today and yesterday were such days. Blue skies, hot as you like and a warm wind. Let me say that again just in case you didn’t catch the bold in that sentence. A WARM wind. The type of nice breeze that greets you as you step off a plane on the runway in Italy, France or Spain, to let you know that yes, you are now on your holidays. This is a big deal here guys, hence why it’s getting an entire paragraph dedicated to it 😉 We do not get warm air here, ever. Cold, freezing, wet, gales and gusts, yes – but rarely a gently warm breeze. Just lovely 😀

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A pit-stop at Starbucks for a nice coffee & binge reading Procyclist is a must.

I’m loving cycling these days and have been out every day the last few weeks that I haven’t been working. Fresh air, spinning the legs and soaking up the views, the countryside and the many sheep who I meet out and about on the roads every day. I used to think I didn’t like sheep – no personality, boring and a bit ugly to be honest. But I now think I was being very unfair to our woolly friends and I’ve come to rather love them lately.

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As I was riding by the Curragh plains in the last few weeks, there are sheep on either side of the road, unfenced and free to roam wherever. As sheep are wont to do, every now and again, one sheep will stop nibbling on the grass on the verge by the side of the road, look over (you can actually read the entire thought process as you approach them coming up the road) and decide he likes the look of the grass on the other side of the road better (so many cliches in here but it’s actually true for the poor buggers) and … off he goes wandering across the road to the other side, completely ignoring the oncoming traffic, cars, cyclists, you name it. There is no dog like sense to look left and right before crossing.

I’m sad to say that this is where sheep have failed to do their rep any favours because what happens next is ridiculous. As the adventurous sheep makes his little way across the road, his previously contented mates all stop nibbling on their patch of grass, look up to see where their friend has gone and … yep, you got it. They follow him across the road, also not paying a blind bit of attention to the mounting dangers coming either side of them.

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Ummm. Uh oh.

If I’m coming along my bike, I ring my bell to warn them so I don’t suddenly crash into them if they suddenly decide to make a break for it just as I’m passing by but it’s also to discourage any such feats, period, for their own safety. In the words of a wise man, stupid is as stupid does.

When they’re not playing the kamikaze daredevil on the roads, my sheep are lovely. This morning as I was pedalling away, most of them were lying down on the grass, eating their bit of grass (they are always, always chewing, geniuses in how to keep their metabolism up 🙂 ) heads up in the air, enjoying the breeze and the sunshine on their faces. Chilled, cool out and enjoying their day. Much like how dogs sit and enjoy the sun on a nice day. Very cute. Fancy getting a few sheep now, so I do.

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Chilling out, looking cool.

Stuff you should know – Until I can get a few sheep, I have to content myself with cycling and adventures on my bike. I’ve had my Carrera for a few years now and while it has served me very well as a beginner cyclist, I feel I’m ready to step it up a gear and make a bigger investment so I’ve been bike shopping. Just a few more Ts to cross and Is to dot and I’ll be all set to tell you all about the new 2 wheeler. CANNOT WAIT.

Speaking of spending money and bikes, I’ve also ordered a turbo trainer in advance of autumn/winter and the upcoming change of weather, as well as daylight hours. I reckon I’ll get a lot of use out of it, though I hope to still be able to do most of my cycling outdoors as much as possible. My review of the Tacx Vortex Smart will be coming up soon.

As if I haven’t spent enough money yet… I’m also shopping around for a little holiday at the moment but as ever, I want to go everywhere and cannot decide where to go. If you have any ideas, please let me know!

Happy Thursday!

Late Birthday Celebrations & Days Off

LATE BIRTHDAYCELEBRATIONS &DAYS OFF

I would be the first to confess to being overly strict when in training for a big event like a marathon or triathlon. Watching what I eat, being careful about the quality of the food going into my body and trying to keep my weight at a place where I feel comfortable running and cycling. You should know though, I’m not obsessive and I have no desires to be “skinny” – rather, I train and perform better when I feel comfortable in my own skin and for me that means feeling trim and strong.

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I’ve no elite toned body shape going on but for me this is as trim as it gets! Dont think it’s too bad for someone who used to carry an extra 2.5 stone.

I’ve come to believe though that it’s not good to be at that point all year round – to be at what some call your “racing weight”. Apart from the possibility that it might not actually be good for your body in the long run to keep your weight lower than is healthy, it also creates too much pressure and stress for your mind. It’s like trying to be perfect ALL of the time. Not sustainable and will make you go crazy.

So how do you balance these two competing issues? I’m no expert but in the last couple of years I’ve found that works for me is allowing myself to train hard and focus coming up to a big race and then celebrate and enjoy a more relaxed time for a while afterwards. That way, I feel ready to go again for the next training period.

What does that garble actually equate to in reality? It means I take a few days of doing no training except for maybe a gentle cycle or swim, lots of bubble baths and sitting around with my legs up. Then there’s all the food. Chinese takeaways, ice-cream, M&M’s, confectionery coming out my ears and a few nice lunches or dinners out with friends and family. Lots of crap, in other words. I’d generally stay away from this kind of food when I’m in training simply because while it tastes good going down, it makes my body feel gross. It’s not the type of food that makes me feel good from the inside and if I don’t feel good, I don’t perform good. Very simple.

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I eat fish at least 4 times a week, cuz yeah it’s good for me but I also just love it. Clean, environmentally friendly eating… are you loving all the goodness going on here yet?

A few days indulging in rubbish is kiddy-like fun but then I quickly have enough and find I want to get back to eating well and training again.

Ironman 70.3 Dublin last weekend was one such big event for me. The legs were useless for Monday and Tuesday and stairs were a non-runner (pardon the pun). It was also my birthday last weekend so this week was always going to be a chill-out week. A few easy cycles in the last few days helped to ease residual tightness and fatigue in my legs, readily aided by a few long bubble baths 😉

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Ironmanned and done, done, done.

Today I met my cousin and 4 year old godchild for lunch in Avoca along with my Mum and her friend. The food in Avoca is legendary and today’s offerings of confit duck salad with blood oranges, lentils, feta cheese and green beans finished with a lemon posset dessert was no exception. Scrumdiddly. I never pick confit of duck ordinarily but thought I’d live dangerously today and was so glad I did, it was very, very good.

I also picked up a few bits and bobs in the shop, as one cannot avoid doing when in Avoca…

Avocado Mix

Best Ever Granola from Avoca is something I’ve gotten really into lately. Apricots, big ass brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds all knockin around in there with an undertone of a funky orange oil… goes very well with some greek yogurt and berry compote, which has been my breakfast, supper and anytime snack really…

Cranberries, apricot, brazils, almonds, orangey goodness.

This Cake – look I honestly don’t know what it’s called but it was bloody wonderful. Maybe it’s because I eat cake all of probably twice a year that it tasted that good, but it was really very, very good. Think carrot cake meets bakewell tart. Cream cheese icing on top of a carrot cake middle, on top of a layer of jam on a pastry base. Fresh as a daisy and light as anything. C’est super.

No.1 cake spot goes to this lady here. #BeatThat
No.1 cake spot goes to this lady here. #BeatThat

White chocolate biscuit cake – Understand this is not all for me, I’m not that bad. I got this to give to other people but obviously had to taste it in the interests of reviewing it for you fine people 😉 This was disappointing to be honest. Very non-descript taste. I imagined it was going to have a strong white chocolate hit to it, given that it’s pretty much a solid lump of white chocolate with bits of biscuit, marshmallow and raspberries. Alas, it did not. Thumbs down from me.

So pretty...eh looks better than it tastes. 3/10
So pretty…eh looks better than it tastes. 3/10

Before you come to the conclusion (though I would understand if you had already gotten there!) that I am indeed a savage, I am saving the rest of my Avoca loot for another time. So you shall have to wait for my review of Avoca’s raw health food brownie and similarly raw and health foody caramel slice.

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Pancakes and Birthday Cake are on the menu for tonight’s supper, along with family time, the original Blair Witch Project, and the main event… cheering on Mo Farah in the Olympic final of the Men’s 5000m race.

On Monday, I’ll be drawing up a training plan for the next few months and cracking into good eating again. I love my down time and I love my up time. But as with any seesaw, the trick in it is not letting yourself go too far up or too far down.

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After all, you don’t wanna fall off.

Dublin Ironman 70.3: Race Report

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There is something in life that human beings crave above all else. Emotion, elation, ecstasy – teetering on the brink of an out-of-body experience that allows us mere mortals a momentarily glimpse of what heaven must be like. For some people, that’s sex. For others it’s heroin, cocaine, MDMA or other chemical formation that sets the senses alight. And for those who enjoy a bit of suffering and endurance as foreplay, that’s a marathon.

I can still remember that wave of ecstasy and joy as I ran the final mile of my first marathon in 2008 and the overwhelming bombardment of emotions as I crossed the finish line. Delighted to have completed the distance, utterly exhausted, aching all over, while bursting with pride and joy, and all I felt like doing was crying. Completely ridiculous, but there it was.

Ever since then, I’ve been chasing that same rush – that level of emotion, ecstasy and sheer satisfaction of achievement. Much like any addict, I’ve experienced similar highs since that first one, completing other marathons and triathlons of various distances, but never to the same extent. In fact, my times have come down quite a bit and I’m a much more accomplished runner/swimmer/cyclist now, but not since that first marathon have I ever experienced that same level of utter overwhelming emotion and satisfaction at the end of a race where you’ve had to dig down deep into your soul to get to that finish line.

Until yesterday.

I did it. I did IT. I DID it.

I did an Ironman 70.3 yesterday.

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Got my tats.

It might not have been pretty, it might not have been a winning time and God knows, I will NOT be buying those race photos, but I did cross the finish line, I did get a medal and yes, I now have the t-shirt.

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The race could not have had a better day. The morning started off dry and warm as the 2000 odd (in more ways than one…) triathletes assembled at the Forty Foot in Sandycove for the first leg of the race, a 1.9 km swim out into Scotsman’s Bay. The course was lined with yellow buoys, most helpful as compared with most triathlon swim courses which often only have a single buoy at each turning point. The extra buoys allowed you to keep on course more easily and thereby give more energy to the actual swim as well as avoiding being kicked or punched in the head. I actually did get quite a bash to the head at one stage but having remained conscious, I considered that a victory 😉

The conditions in the water were good, not too choppy or windy and I didn’t notice much of a current. From about 1.4 km onward (ish) I did start to tire a bit and was glad when the course turned back into the bay. On towards the giant yellow Ironman banner and we were soon out of the water and onto the bikes, after a quick dash and grab through the blue bag transition area.

I loved the bike leg. The cycle used to be the worst part of a triathlon for me. I was crap at it and it’s always the longest part, so not a winning combination. But since my foot injury and not being able to run, I’ve been cycling a lot more and as regular readers might tell you, have become a little obsessed with it. So when it came to the bike leg yesterday, I was game ball.

The roads were all closed for the race which allowed competitors a rare experience of racing through Dublin city centre in the middle of the road. It was such a treat. From Dun Laoighre, the cycle route ran straight along the Coast into Ringsend past early morning walkers and supporters (and people merrily making their way home after a night on the town…!) Across the Liffey, we then powered along the quays, securely held by watchful Gardai and more late night stragglers 😀 The course then passed along the outskirts of the Phoenix Park, up Chapelizod hill and out towards Lucan, Maynooth and Dunboyne, taking in 3 counties, before looping back to the Phoenix Park.

I felt good on the bike and despite some rain for much of the second leg, I really enjoyed it. Marking the longest distance I’ve ever cycled before, I expected to feel tired by 70/80 km but the reverse turned out to be true. After 50km I began to feel strong. My legs felt good and despite some lower back pain, I was able to push on and found myself flying the last 30km, sailing past strong, toned, young men on fancy dancy carbon bikes. Me and my entry level alloy certainly had fun in this race 😉

A final spin around the Phoenix Park and the bikes were docked and swapped for running shoes.That was where the pain began. I did not intend to do the run at all. I’ve been injured and have not ran for 4 months, apart from one moment of madness. I had decided I was going to “play it by ear” –  a phrase I’ve never really understood but you know where I’m going with it. Popped on the shoes and tottled out onto the run course, where I swiftly realised my legs were borderline useless and making it to 1km was going to be hard.

I shuffled at a rate of next-to-useless. It was not a good run and it was certainly not my strongest moment. I took it 1km at a time and decided I’d just finish the first lap and then stop. I walked a couple of times and I stopped at every feed station. But as I approached the finish area, I found myself deciding that maybe I might just do the 2nd lap and then I could stop. I still hadn’t spotted my Dad at that stage so also thought it might be no harm to go around again in case he was standing somewhere else along the course and I didn’t want to miss (or lose!) him.

On the 2nd lap I knew this was definitely DEFINITELY the last lap, legs were not working and my energy levels were zip. More water stations, stopped a couple more times to walk for a second. But as I was shuffling along, I was looking at everyone else around me, also suffering, also grimacing but nobody giving up. Then I started to ask myself – do I think I should stop because of my foot injury or do I just want to stop because this is really f-ing hard? My foot actually wasn’t hurting (very oddly) so I quickly came to the conclusion that if I did quit the race early, it would not have been justified and I’d likely go home that evening feeling guilty, that I’d wossed out and quit. And above all, I did not want that on my conscience.

Bobbing along up to the end of the 2nd lap, I’d already decided I was going to do the last lap, whether it meant walking, shuffling or crawling. I spotted my Dad, gave him a high five and told him “1 more lap!” More water stations, more walking and more shuffling. The only plus side was that every time I passed something now, I was reminded that this is my last lap and I will never be seeing that tree, person, water station, etc again and let me tell ya – for the suffering runner, that gives you an almighty boost! By the last 2 miles, everything was hurting and my legs were simply hanging.

Chesterfield Avenue, final kilometre – I found my legs. Started passing people for the first time in the entire 13 mile leg, and as the Ironman finishing gate came into view, I could feel a final sprint coming on. I rounded the corner, high-fived the race commentator and bounded toward the line with the stupidest grin on my face you could imagine. Crossing that line, I felt every bit of emotion, ecstasy and elation I felt in my very first marathon and more.

Relief, achievement, pride, joy, excitement, disbelief and absolute sheer physical exhaustion and satisfaction. An overwhelming wave of emotions washed over me and there it was- bursting to cry. It only took 6 hours 28 minutes of swimming, cycling and running, physically pouring out every drop of energy in my body into the earth, sea and air around me.

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Got the bling bling

This was an exceptionally well-organised event and fair play to Ironman who obviously know how to run a good race. The swim, the bike and the run legs were well marked and marshalled. Not all good however and I do have a few complaints, as others did too and for future events I think it’s good to bring up:

1. Finishing Area – Athletes Only. After collecting medals and white after-race bags, finishers had to cross a path and walk a short distance to a tent for t-shirt collection and food. Not a problem. The problem is that the walk across and indeed the actual tents, were open to the public too which meant a battle to physically find and get into the tent and then squeeze past people to get into the queue for food. When I arrived, there were kids all over the tent eating food that was meant for the racers. That’s not really on, to be fair.

Better thing to do – organise it like you would the end of a marathon, a long finishing chute where you have bag collection, medals, t-shirts, water and food, all in a line and closed off completely to the public. Quick, efficient and so much less hectic and messy. I was too exhausted to keep battling in the tent and fight my way over for food and ended up just leaving it. And I really wanted cake 😦 That’s a big thumbs down lads.

2. Bike and Bag Collection

Poor, poor, poor. This was shockingly bad. The bike racks were to be open from 2.30pm for athletes to come and collect their gear. When I got there just after 2.30pm, I found that the truck containing all the blue bags from the swim transition was only just arriving in the park…. a generous 6.5 hours after the last swimmer would have docked their blue bag in transition. So why did it take 6.5 hours to make a 30 minute trip (being generous here) ?

By 3pm, I was standing in the middle of an ever-growing throng of tired athletes who wanted to just get their gear and go home but now all of sudden found themselves virtually caged into a tight space waiting for the gates to open. It was like another leg of the race. Knackered, low patience, growing faint at all this body heat around me and having not had food due to tent debacle… this was a nightmare.

I made it through in one of the first waves of people they let in to collect their blue bag and bike but many after me were still not being allowed in and I can only imagine might have waited for another hour or so.

THIS WAS VERY VERY POOR ORGANISATION. I’m loathed to let something like that ruin a good race and day out but this should not have happened and really should not have been an issue for people to have to deal with at the end of a half-ironman race. It would be great if they could sort this out for next year.

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Smiling all the way home, despite the kerfuffle!

Overall, I loved it and am so glad I did it. My legs are in bits today, I can’t do stairs yet but I am smiling all the way. Now, all that’s left for me to do is decide firstly, where I’m going for a massage and more importantly … what next?

Terminal???? Probably.