Triathlon Training Week 3

I have absolutely loved this week. It was a hard week, with treadmill intervals, a bike time trial, and a swim time trial (due to missing last week’s swim), but it was fantastic. I loved going “fast” again! (Fast is in quotation marks because probably nobody else would call it fast, but it’s fast for me!) Getting the heart rate up above 190 and not just because I am cycling up a steep hill, dripping with sweat and panting for breath and legs that won’t stop shaking once the workout is over. It’s been fantastic. Like last week, green is for workouts I nailed, orange for ones I kind of did, and red for those I missed …. oh wait, there is no red this week (although not quite in the order suggested)! Untitled Not shown on that chart is a test swim (yep, I swam three times this week!), a yoga class and a few short strength and conditioning workouts (varying from 10 minutes to 30 minutes).


Swim 1 was the tempo swim and that was HARD. 5 x 300m of swimming hard was difficult to get my head around beforehand and I was tempted to cop out after four reps but pushed on for the last one. Swim 2 was the test swim and that was AWESOME. Another swim that it was hard to get my head around beforehand, I hate “test” workouts as it is mentally difficult to push yourself as hard as you can go outside of a race. And this was a 400m test which is quite a long way in the pool to swim as fast as possible! I was tempted to put the swim off, but knew if I did that I might never end up doing it…. The swim started with a 300m warm-up and then a progession of 4 x 50m building. That was fun, I fully sprinted the last one and managed it in 51.20 seconds – my fastest 50m yet!  Then came the dreaded 400m test….. which I finished in 7 min 55 – again, my fastest 400m on record. So I came out of that feeling pretty awesome (and exhausted). Treated myself to an onion bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, eggs and spinach for breakfast. It was delicious.


Also I texted my mum to tell her and she replied like this….


Swim 3 was just a short 1200m with various drills (single-arm, kicking, tarzan drill, shark drill….)


Run 1 was on the treadmill and it felt fantastic to be doing some intervals again. I kept my rest intervals very,very slow in an attempt to keep my heart rate as low as the plan wanted it, but basically all I have to do is jog at walking speed and my heartrate is above 120 so didn’t pay too much attention to it! I watched several Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Meghan Trainor YouTube videos and was very, very happy.

Run 2 was planned for Saturday morning but a few too many copas on Friday night put an end to that… So instead it happened Sunday afternoon. I set off on a sunny afternoon, it had been raining heavily earlier but looked as if that was over. I had planned an easy hour long run with some hills thrown in to up the heart rate, so wasn’t wearing a watch and just had strava on my phone. The run down is mainly downhill and went kind of as expected. I felt really good going down the steep hill so just let me legs fly underneath me, really enjoying myself. I crossed over the bridge into Casa de Campo and it was then I noticed a massive grey cloud………


I ran on but was feeling slightly unsure so after a minute or two decided to turn back. I’d run out for over 25 minutes and I knew the way back was uphill and therefore slower, so thought I’d still manage a full hour. I felt really strong trucking up the main hill – my speed dropped but I was still a lot faster than the last time I ran up the hill (35 whole seconds faster over 1.1km) and enjoying myself more. I started to feel a few drops of rain….. within moments the rain was torrential and the streets were flooding, water running in torrents.


I sped up. Honestly, I ran home faster than I have run in months, faster than I’ve ever run outside of park runs with my fastest split at 5.02/km. It was pretty awesome. I was soaking wet but actually still loving it because I felt super strong, and badass for being out there in that weather. I even had to slow myself slightly on the last (downhill) section as I was worried I would slip in the wet. As soon as I got in I was freezing and immediately jumped in a hot shower with all my clothes on! Planks and yoga would have to come afterwards….



Cycle 1 was the 16km time trial on a spin bike in the gym – I chose to do it on the spin bike because I hadn’t found a 16km stretch of road that would be good for a time trial and wanted to test myself properly, rather than trying to figure out where to go! And I had to do the workout before work so just figured the spin bike was the best place to go. Head down, 90-100RPM, sweat dripping off me. It was great fun but really, really difficult. So much so that at some point my breaths out were coming out as “fuuuuck”.


Anyway – 16km (10 miles) in 31 minutes. I was happy. But I wonder how that translates on the road. I’d imagine slower, as I didn’t have to contend with road surface, wind, turns. I will have to find a road at some point to repeat this on.

Cycle 2 – meant to be 2 and a half hours relatively easy spinning in zones 1 & 2. I finished work at 4pm on Friday  (Spain is great) so decided it would be a great chance to go out and explore Casa de Campo. So that is what I did. I got into the park and immediately discovered it was full of cyclists on bikes ranging from mountain bikes to super-speedy road bikes, and I followed a couple of the road-bikers at first to find my way. I ended up finding quite a nice loop with a long hill at the beginning, a couple of good descents, and then an out & back section.


I thought at first that the wind was ridiculously strong as I was going 10kph faster in one direction than the other, with my heart rate the same! Later on, looking at the gradient of the cycle, I realised that it was also on a slight slope – barely noticeable to the eye but noticeable to the legs. I went up and round the lake that I’ll be swimming in for Madrid triathlon, and completed this loop three times.

IMG_6712Something that I’m proud of this week was all those early mornings. I completely nailed getting out of bed when my alarm went off every single morning. It’s the first time ever that I’ve managed that (and I’ve already failed this week as this Monday morning my alarm went off at 7am and I reset it for 8.30!)


Something to work on – nothing really from this week. I’m really happy with how everything went and I loved it.

Something fun that was nothing to do with training:

A really good night on Friday night on Calle Ponzano in Madrid, drinking wine and eating tapas with some friends.

IMG_6716And then a weekend away in Toledo! Which was wonderful and will be the subject of a post of its own in the next week or so…. It’s incredibly beautiful.


Runners in London

Today was the London marathon. I watched last year, marvelling at the runners, wanting to take part. I entered the ballot but was unsuccessful … but it gave me the spur I needed to enter and run Barcelona marathon instead. I’m going to enter the ballot again this year.

And as a tribute to the runners of London … this video:

Posted by the Londonist, it’s a short film by Matan Rochlitz and Ivo Gormley – they took a bike and a camera onto the parks of London and asked runners questions while they were running.

The results are fascinating and transformative: a collection of honest confessions and personal stories of an existential nature that seem effortlessly captured by the filmmakers with moments of rare insight and true human empathy. It’s a terrific documentary that will make you want to get your running shoes on too.

The most touching bit for me came at around 7min 27. However, one thing struck me as odd … three women are interviewed. The first talks about wanting to get married to someone that doesn’t want to marry her, the second talks about sex (not wanting to have as much sex as her husband) and the third talks about children – not having them when she’d wanted them. It just seemed a bit … odd …

But the film itself is lovely – watch it and then let me know what you think!

The Flipbelt

What with all the holiday posts recently I’m reverting to a fitness post as that is kind of what this blog is meant to be about. Except the primary purpose of this post is just to rave and rave and rave about a specific product …. no I am not paid to do so, I am not an ambassador, I just think this is really great and may have changed my running life… yes, that serious!

Last year when I was just starting to think about longer runs (we’re talking 10ks here) I thought perhaps I should buy myself some kind of running belt so I could take water with me on runs and maybe some fuel. I was just thinking about this when I was on my weekly grocery shop in Lidl and what did I spot but lots and lots of running belts, all sold for about 5 pounds! Well, cheapskate me was sold and one was immediately added to the shopping basket.

How was it? Well how good do you expect a running belt that cheap to be? It held two small bottles of water – I had to unscrew their tops to drink out of them as it was impossible to drink out of the caps. The belt moved around as I ran and I had to keep adjusting it, especially at the beginning when the water bottles were full. It was annoying.

When I started the long runs of marathon training, it was the middle of winter and I was wearing a LOT of layers. More layers = less bouncing. And in fact most of my long runs were done with a small rucksack as I knew I’d want to take off my hat / gloves / neck warmer at some point in the run. Fast track to the last few runs in the warmth of Madrid and I quickly realised the belt was not going to work for the marathon.

I bought another one. It was pretty big, and I was only able to run with it for 2 short miles in taper week but it seemed okay….

Then I arrived at the Barcelona Marathon expo to be faced by hundreds of running belts, all in different styles, shapes and colours. I dilly-dallied (what an awesome word!), dragging my hungover sister and her boyfriend back and forth between different stalls. Just as I was about to give up, I found the FlipBelt stall.


The FlipBelt is a compression belt – “a tubular waistband” designed to be worn around the hips. You insert your gels (or whatever) into an opening in the belt and then slide it round so it can’t fall out. As the material is stretchy, you can fit a huge amount of stuff in there that you might not originally consider. It comes in several bright colours – I of course went for the bright blue. On top of that, they also gave me a free visor when I bought the belt which saved me having to wear sunglasses during the marathon!


It fit snugly around my hips (it is stretchy and comes in an array of different sizes) and didn’t move for the whole marathon. I barely even noticed it. It held my gels, my phone and my headphones. On non-marathon runs, I was able to fit a small bottle of water into the back of it, and it even has a clip to attach your keys to.


If you are looking for a running belt, I’d say this one was pretty much perfect. I am so glad I didn’t wear my old running belt while running the marathon, and I now won’t go running without the FlipBelt.


El Chorro

El Chorro is an hour or so’s drive north of Malaga, set in the hills of the Sierra de Huma and the Desfiladero de los Gitanes national park (meaning Gorge of the Gypsies). It’s a village but not one with much life other than the climbing tourists that come year round to scale the huge vertical walls of the Sierra de Huma. A few particularly intrepid climbings used to walk along the Caminito del Rey, a path halfway up the walls that was closed by the Spanish government as being too dangerous (the pictures on that blog are amazing). This incredible video shows why…. (do not watch if scared of heights!) It’s different now – the Andalucian government has invested time and money into restoring the old path and making it safe to walk on again and it is now open to the public. I am desperate to do it… no climbing skills are needed but you do need to be fit and to book ahead, and sadly, just a few days after it was opened again, it was fully booked up to the end of June! I definitely intend to book ahead and return at some point…. IMG_6433 So we weren’t doing the Caminito del Rey walk, sadly. But on one of our cycling rest days we did decide to go for a walk in the Sierra de Huma. We drove down the horrendously steep hill that had been the bane of my cycling existence and parked the car in El Chorro – basically a train station and a car park with a few run down bars and hotels. We parked up the car and walked through the “village”, after about two minutes coming out into a forested area climbing up a steep slope away from the river. It was super-windy so we were happy to be in the trees, out of the wind, but soon became slightly bored just walking up and up a wide track (cars could drive up it) with only views every few turns. IMG_6473 We came to a ridge where we could either turn left and continue walking up, go straight on around the back of the mountain, or go down the other side. A sign marked the way of a trail straight on … James looked it up on google only to find it was a walking trail all the way to Malaga over 60km away! We decided not to go that way and headed further uphill, still surrounded by pine trees. IMG_6472 Eventually we came out onto a wide, grassy, flatter section with wheat growing, before the cliffs dropped away to the El Chorro gorge. I couldn’t imagine why somebody had decided to put a wheat field all the way up here! But the views were incredible. IMG_6474 However, James had his eyes set on something else…. IMG_6480 Yep, the wall of rock to our right. I spotted what looked like it could be a way up and we made our way over to it. It was marked by cairns – small piles of stones and so we knew we were on a path. IMG_6476 We just went from cairn to cairn, taking a breather at each as we looked around for the next one. It was real scrambling up the rocks stuff but the views were just incredible. IMG_6477 IMG_6478 Absolutely stunning. But also very windy, and there were some dark clouds rolling in from the horizon. We didn’t stay up at the top for too long as we were almost being blown off. IMG_6479 We didn’t stay in El Chorro itself. As I said in my previous post on cycling in the area, we stayed at the Rocabella Villas, just up the hill from El Chorro and an easy 10 minute drive / cycle down and a horrendous cycle back up. We had a little, comfortable one bedroom apartment (they have other, bigger villas as well) with a private pool outdoors and a jacuzzi bath indoors, set up on top of the restaurant overlooking the valley. IMG_6500 We kept our bikes in the apartment and loved having our own space to cook some nice Spanish meals, eat them with a glass or two of wine as we watched the sun set over the valley, and then curl up on the sofa and listen to the wind howling around us. I’d definitely recommend staying there if you are coming to the area! IMG_6499

Marathon or triathlon?

To take a break from all of the holiday posts recently….

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Barcelona marathon since I ran it. I keep visualising parts of it, the noise getting louder as we walked down towards the start, the music and the atmosphere in the pens, how I couldn’t stop smiling the first 10 miles, pushing on through the heat and the uphill at half way, how fantastic it was to run with my mum, how angry I was the last three miles, how it felt when the finish line came into view. And that’s just a snapshot of the many, many vivid memories I keep reliving, over and over again.


It was an incredible experience, but also, it was just my experience. Nobody I was with on that day had the same experience, whether it was my wonderful support crew, or the other runners. The other runners know what it was like, obviously, but I reckon for the thousands of runners on the course, there were thousands of different experiences, thousands of different ways of remembering and reliving it.


Honestly, I can’t stop thinking about it. Not in a sad way, or a bad way, or a “I wish I….” way, but with a smile on my face and a HUGE desire to run another one. I’ve started running again now in my preparation for my triathlon at the end of June and I am loving the treadmill sprints … but missing the long slow runs. I am going to enter the ballot for London marathon but I feel like I don’t want to wait a whole year to go it again!


BUT. Then there is triathlon… with one at the end of June and a potential plan for a half ironman in October. Do I want to give up multisport and focus on long distance running? That seems stupid, as I love being out on my bike and open water swimming is one of the best things ever (honestly, it is wonderful). But can I do both? I had a fantastic 400m time trial in the pool on Tuesday, and a 16km time trial on the spin bike today, and I loved pushing myself as fast as I could, dripping sweat from the bike in a way that just doesn’t happen with marathon training.


AND. There is a nagging voice in my head saying “what about an ultra?” Because it wasn’t just the marathon itself that I loved, I actively enjoyed the long slow runs of training by myself. I never found it hard to motivate myself to go for a long run, the way I found it hard to make myself do the shorter, faster runs. I am quite good at going slow….. But could I handle all the solitude of the race itself? And what about my swimming and my bike?

Too many questions. No answers. Fantastic memories of a marathon and absolutely loving triathlon training now. #firstworldproblems – let’s be honest I’m lucky to be able to do and enjoy both! But what to do next……..

There is no point to this post. It’s a word-dump as I try to get my thoughts / feelings in order. There’s this blog link-up called Thinking out Loud which I have joined for the first time this week as I needed an excuse to write this post! So check out the links for more people’s random ramblings. And if you have any advice for me or any tips on combining triathlons and marathons, let me know!


Andalucia holidays – Semana Santa

The Spanish take Easter seriously. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are public holidays and lots of people take the whole week as holiday. Cities, towns and villages all over Spain will hold Semana Santa processions, often several, that continue for hours with more people involved than you would have thought possible.

It is a celebration of Holy Week rather than just Easter, characterised by hundreds of processions throughout Spain, arranged mainly by cofriados – church brotherhoods. The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and many of the costumes and the music is still from then. The people participating, from adults down to tiny children, wear the nazareno – a ceremonial robe with a tunic and a capriote – a conical shaped hood. When the costumes are in white, they are reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan – although the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other. My favourite thing is to look at the feet of those taking part and spot the Nike trainers peeking out from beneath the Nazareno, or spot the hermano with a cigarette in one hand as he waits for the procession to continue.


The main highlight of the processions though is not the slow moving people in their ancient costumes, it is the tronos or pasos – huge thrones carrying statutes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary – sometimes weighing as much as 5,000kg. Processions are often (but not always) accompanied by music, saetas played by drums and trumpets. It is mournful and incredible to listen to.


We watched the Thursday night parade in Frigiliana, hundreds of tiny children spilling out of the church and standing solemnly in lines, engrossed in the flame from their candles and adjusting their nazareno so that they could see out of the tiny eyeslits. The tiniest held hands with a parent, eyes wide as they gazed around them.


After about half an hour of silently taking 20 or so steps forward and then stopping and waiting, the tronos came out. These huge structures hold statutes of Christ and of Mary and are carried by young, strong men. In Frigiliana they were followed by men wearing solemn masks of the disciples. The slow moving of the procession is so that they can stop to rest the trono on the sticks they all carry. Once everyone has passed through, the people of the town join on the end of the procession.


I couldn’t believe how many people were involved, after passnig Frigiliana off as a touristy place – it took over an hour for the procession to go past and the darkness, the flickering lights of the candles and the hooded figures made it seem a very sombre, solemn occasion.

The procession in Malaga was slightly different – at midday on a Sunday with the sun shining down upon the gleaming streets of old Malaga. It was absolutely ginormous – there are thousands of participants. As an example, one trono is carried by 280 men!!! It also has music which the Frigiliana processions did not, and seating areas lining the streets for watching the procession pass.


We weren’t there to watch but rather to meet up with my sister and her boyfriend for lunch, but wherever we went in the city we kept stumbling upon it – whether streets were being cleared of pedestrians in advance of the procession, huge tronos were being carried past, or whether we were slipping over on the wax left from the thousands of candles.

Because that is a little-known fact about the aftermath of the Semana Santa processions – the wax on the cobbled streets makes them not only extremely slippy after the processions have passed through, but also, for days afterwards, car wheels and rubber-soled shoes will squeak horribly!!

We didn’t go to Andalucia over Easter in order to celebrate or see any of the Semana Santa processions, but we ended up at two of them, and I’m glad we did as they are an incredible sight and well worth seeing if you’re in the area at that time of year.

Triathlon training week 2

You might notice it’s been a few weeks since week 1 …. well I started a week early as I knew I wouldn’t be able to train properly due to my week on holiday! So this week was week 2 and I have to admit I am still easing myself into triathlon training. All that time off post-marathon has meant I don’t really have a routine and I am being very lazy about the amount of sleep I get (9 hours on a week night!).

Last week I trained for 6 hours exactly. Although due to recovering from my cycling holiday and a very hectic week at work, those six hours ALL happened from Thursday onwards.

Here’s my training plan. The green I did to plan, the orange I kind of did to plan and the red I didn’t do at all.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 21.47.07

Run 1 – Meant to be a slow run, was a very slow run. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor but just made sure I constantly felt like my pace was easy. My first kilometre took me over 8 minutes! Luckily it got easier and my speed picked up from there. Retiro Park is SO lovely to run around first thing in the morning.

Run 2 – a treadmill run despite the fact it was a beautiful day outside as it was very windy, I was hungover and I just thought it would be easier. And it was great! Again I was trying to stick to heart rate which was really hard as mine goes up above 150 doing anything but walking! Having said that, it comes back down really quickly. I am slightly struggling with this heart rate training as I just cannot run and keep my heart rate low enough. If anyone has any advice I’d love to hear it!

Swim 1 – I did actually go to the pool twice but on Sunday I arrived at 6.30 only to find the pool closed at 6.30. That will teach me to leave things to the last moment on a Sunday!

Cycle 1 – Much longer than it says on the plan – 3 hrs 17 looping around Madrid on the same route as I did a few weeks ago. It went well despite two minor diversions when I missed a turning / took the wrong turning. BUT. Do you know what I hate MOST when cycling? Pedestrians in the cycle lanes. Seriously. On a specific part of this route the cycle lane is wide and runs alongside an even wider pavement. The cycle lane is painted red, slightly lower than the pavement and has huge pictures of bikes on it. It’s pretty clear. At one point two old Spanish ladies were walking in the cycle lane, blocking the entire path so I couldn’t get past. “Perdone” I said. No response or acknowledgement that they’d heard me. “Perdone!” I said again, louder. By this point I was right beside them and they turned round to look at me. “Es una ruta cyclista” I said – relatively politely I thought. They both immediately lost it and started shouting at me, “ole! Ole!” They kept shouting so I just pedalled around them and kept going. I kind of wish I had waited to see what they were shouting as I can’t see how I was possibly in the wrong in this situation!


So I missed one swim and one cycle….. That’s the thing I’m not particularly proud of this week, all the procrastinating that led to missing the second swim. It was very annoying.

And the thing I am proud of is getting all those runs in, running fast on the treadmill again and actually enjoying it!

Something fun that was nothing to do with training: Friday night I left work at 9.30pm and joined friends for drinks. We sat down for dinner at 11pm and made it to a bar just before 1am. I didn’t get home until around 3am. That is a very Spanish Friday night! (Minus the clubbing until 6am I would have to do to be a true Madrileño). We had delicious food in a bar in Chueca including red wine and watermelon vodka cocktails which may well have been my downfall….


Then my weekend involved exploring some less-touristy and pretty cool parts of Madrid – more on that in another post!