Protein (grilling a chicken breast doesn’t make me happy)

It is often said that diet is 80% of reaching your fitness goals, and whilst I’m not sure it’s that high (getting enough sleep plays a big role too) it’s certainly more key to achieving the results I want to achieve than I have been prepared to admit before now.

The good news is that the kind of diet (by which I mean ‘eating regime’, not ‘reduction in intake or calories’) that best suits weightlifting-oriented goals is fairly straightforward and easy to manage – it’s mostly lean protein and green/salad vegetables, with some complex carbs at different amounts and times of day, depending on what works for you.

And that’s the problem I have.

I love to cook (I also love to eat, and at 30 I’m still tied as to which one I prefer, but that’s another thing) and the simplicity of the clean eating diet that goes with my weightlifting goals just isn’t scratching the itch I have to get in the kitchen and cook something more involved than putting some chicken under the grill, and steaming some veggies.

So, yesterday I did a workshop with Anna Sward of Protein Pow. Anna is a protein powder masterchef, finding ways and means to turn all varieties of protein powders into delicious foodstuffs. My thoughts on the day are for another post, but I am hoping that my adventures in cooking with protein will scratch that itch, without derailing my diet too much.

[A side note about protein-oriented diets: I got some feedback on social media yesterday, asking why you would bother to pay for protein powders etc when you could just eat more protein at mealtimes. There are a few responses to that – firstly, I eat five meals a day, some of which are protein shakes, so the traditional idea of ‘mealtimes’ doesn’t really work for me; secondly, eating grilled chicken five times a day is something I find soul-destroyingly boring. But mostly, I choose to supplement my diet with natural protein powders because it helps my achieve my goals and stay on track.]

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Being stronger

About four months ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to lift weights – proper, big weights. I’ve been training twice – three times per week since then, and I’m loving it.

When I tell people, I get one of two reactions: some people nod along and smile, but some seem concerned. “What, like one of those awful female bodybuilders, with the gravy-granule colouring and tiny pink bikini?”. Ha! Not for me, thanks – I prefer my gravy over a roast.

reebok barbellI also get two reactions from guys in the gym (and, let’s be honest, it’s almost solely guys in the weights room) – some look skeptical, but most have given me approving nods when they clock that I’m working on building strength, and they’re pretty supportive.

I also have a brilliant trainer, who doesn’t let me wimp out. This has been crucial to my training.

Given the growing interest in women lifting weights, I thought I might start jotting down my thoughts on it, and tracking my development, in case anyone else out there is thinking of doing the same…

Do it. It’s freaking brilliant!

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Being prepared

Before I changed jobs a few months ago, I used to do a lot of presenting on front of groups of people.  When I first started doing it, I would take hours to prepare my presentation material, and go over how I was going to present it.  After several years of this, though, I know the content inside out, and sometimes I wouldn’t prepare with the same diligence.  I could still pull off a fairly convincing performance, but the moment I stood up in front of an audience, I knew when I hadn’t properly prepared.

Over the last year, I’ve been studying as well as working, which has been hard to balance.  Most of my exams have been fine – but again, on those occasions where I knew I could have done more, I could have stayed in a few more nights and applied myself, I know as soon as I read through the exam paper that I’m not as prepared as I could be*.

I don’t want to feel like that next weekend.

The fear of feeling like that has kept me training.  It’s forced me out of bed at 6.30am, sometimes earlier, to run around or jump into a very cold pond, to get my trainers on after a hard cycle home.  I don’t want to stand in front of the dock, wetsuit and goggles on, thinking, ‘shit, I should have done more’.

At this stage, I have some confidence that that won’t happen.  But to be as sure as possible, I did a walk-through last weekend with a friend who is doing the Sprint distance, which went well.  This morning was the big one – a proper run-through, with race-style transition and everything.

I really surprised myself.  Having set out a target time of 1 hour 10 (15min swim, 25min bike, 20min run, 2 x 5min transition), I came in at a startling 1hr 1min 15!  I couldn’t believe it!

Best of all, though, I know I can do it.  I know the run is going to hurt, and that my arms post-swim are going to hurt on the bike, but I know I’ll be able to do it.

Second-best of all – this was waiting for me when I got back:

Thank you darling ❤

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On lessons learned

Training for this triathlon has taught me a number of things about myself – primarily, that I’m crap at blogging – but also about what I can do when I set my mind to it.

Here’s an example: when I first got into a pool in my wetsuit, in July, (which, by the by, I wasn’t even wearing right, well done me – it’s not meant to reach your wrists/ankles!) I couldn’t even co-ordinate my breathing and submersion. Not smart when you’re trying to breathe underwater.

Fast forward two weeks from that point, and I can do a length in the pool (in a swimsuit, indoors) but my arms are pretty shattered.  Three weeks ago I first got in to Hampstead Ponds, in my wetsuit (on right this time) and I could manage 50m without stopping.

Yesterday, I jumped in and did 500m (including a warm-up 100m), straight off the bat.  I’ve been open-water swimming every other day for three weeks, and the difference is amazing.  I’m so pleased I kept up with it.

The story with the running is less positive.  I can knock out 3k on a treadmill at 9kmph without stopping – but that’s easy when someone is moving the floor for you, and there’s no wind resistance/traffic/people to manage.  My road running has not been so great – I’m currently training 3min run/1min walk, and taking just under 18 minutes to do 2.5k. My speed has improved, and I’m doing better than when I started road running three weeks ago (2min run/1min walk was killing me!), but I’m still not running non-stop – and, perhaps more importantly, I won’t have my phone with me on the day to help my time my minutes.  Going to have to think carefully about that.

Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty chipper.  The triathlon is in 11 days, and I’m not freaking out; I’ll definitely be able to finish, although the run might be slower than I wanted.

So my current thinking on my own personal goals is as follows. I want to complete:

– the swim in about 15 minutes (current time for 600m is about 17 minutes, which includes a slower starting 100m as I acclimatise to the water temperature – on the day I’ll have 5 mins to do this before the start)

– the bike in about 25 minutes (I’m managing 8k to work in the morning in 25 minutes, and that’s with plenty of stopping for traffic, junctions etc)

– the run in 20 minutes (based on a current pace of 18 with a cycle or swim before).

Add in two lots of transition at five minutes each, and that makes a finishing time of about 1 hour 10 mins.  If I can do that, I’ll be happy.


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Holy crap, everything hurts

Guess that means I need to do a lot more work 😉

Aiming to get my training plan sorted by the end of today – watch this space.

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VLT Training Day

So, today I attended the Virgin London Triathlon Training Day – and survived. Victory is mine!

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was a bit concerned that the coaches would be pushing us to go harder, faster… which wasn’t what I needed after this week’s hiccup.  I’m also acutely aware that I need to work harder on my weaknesses – swimming and running – and I didn’t need to be pressured in areas I know I need to progress.

I couldn’t have been more wrong – it was a great day (and amazing value at £42 – I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of taking part).

The attendees were divided into four, and my group (of about 20) started with the seminar.  First, we had a talk from someone at Challenger World, who introduced us to the sport, some information about the day (what is and isn’t allowed); then a chat from a Virgin Active personal trainer; then a sports nutritionist from MaxiFuel; and finally from a triathlon personal trainer.  Really interesting stuff, loads of info about kit, nutrition, training, plans, on the day etc.

Next was the swimming.  I was dreading this, having had a bad experience earlier this week.  Once in the water, everyone started to swim – but with my issues with front crawl (more of which later) I did the first drill but with breast stroke.  I spoke to the lady running the session, and she directed my towards a trainer called Simon.  Simon spent half an hour with me, talking me through various elements, and explained that actually, my front crawl technique isn’t bad at all – I just need to sort out my confidence and breathing.  He was excellent, and I am grateful to him – he really helped me.

Out of the wetsuits, then, and on to lunch – a very much needed ham roll and as much Gatorade as you could get down yer neck (are we spotting the sponsors yet?).

Next, the bike.  Sadly, most of the group didn’t bring bikes, but we got loads of info about set-up, kit, training, some brilliant insights and a dollop of humour to boot. Then outside, and those of us with bikes practiced racking and unracking, and running with our bikes before mounting at the mount point (you can’t get on your bike as soon as you take it off the rack – you’d run everyone else in transition over – you have to run with it to the mount point outside of transition, and then get on).  This was a bit odd but I’m glad I tried it – will definitely practice this in the next few weeks.

Finally, on to the run.  Wasn’t looking forward to this, but the trainer was excellent – she taught us how we’re all running pretty badly, and how to improve our technique.  By the end of the session I’d learned a lot, and didn’t feel like a tit because my running isn’t great right now.

Overall, my major learnings from the day were:

  • I need a training plan, STAT, and I *need* to stick to it.  It will focus on my weaknesses, and taper on the week before the race
  • There is time to get up to speed. It’s going to be fine
  • Making the most of your training time is better than training all the time
  • No-one thinks you look silly or are doing it badly because NO ONE ELSE CARES. They’re all too busy worrying about themselves
  • Getting in open water in my wetsuit and swimming at least four times before I participate on the day will give me a huge advantage

I’m really glad I went.  Apparently, the VLT is the biggest Tri event in the world, with nearly 13,000 people taking part this year; it’s also where most beginners do their first triathlon.  I am, therefore, in great company.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rest my weary limbs…

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On success

Success is an interest concept.

It’s easy to think of success in terms of specific, measurable goals; the achievement of things that can be photographed, or documented; for example, the completion of a triathlon, or passing an exam – both very current themes in my life at the moment.

More recently I’ve been considering the idea of success in a more abstract way – the achievement of things I perhaps didn’t even realise were goals, or that were implied in some of the more concrete goals I set for myself.

An example: I’ve taken a number of exams in the last 12 months, and I’ve (so far – more results to come on Friday…) managed to get pretty good grades.  But what I don’t always give myself credit for is the success I’ve achieved in studying the course at all; in making time and balancing priorities to achieve this not-insignificant aim of completing the course and getting my qualification.

I spent some time thinking about this concept as I cycled back from a lovely lunch with my coursemates this evening.  We’ve all done incredibly well to get where we are, and I don’t think we should neglect to pat ourselves on the back for these small, hidden victories.

Why is this relevant to my triathlon?  Mostly, it’s tied up in the idea of failure, of which there is a longer post to come shortly – I wanted to get this out first, because my attitude towards failure and success most recently has been markedly different to how I’ve approached them before, in a positive way.  But it’s also about considering what my measure of success will be.

Finishing the triathlon in a good time will obviously be a success – as will finishing it at all, even if I place last.  It’s also important for me to remember that entering it at all, and training for it, is worthy of some credit.  In just the last few months, my fitness and stamina have improved, and the attitude to physical activity has become less begrudging and more – dare I say it – enthusiastic about moving about and ‘doing quick’.

The training has also taught me more about myself – my motivation and how it works (and fails); what I enjoy and what I really don’t (running!); what my body can do and what it needs to be happy.  ‘Learning more about myself’ wasn’t a goal I had in mind when I applied for the triathlon (goodness only know what was, frankly, but there you go), but it is nevertheless a hidden purpose of my participation, and something in which I have achieved some success.

I think my biggest take-away from this process will be that I am ‘not shit’ at sport-related things.  I am not going to be the best – but that’s fine, I’ll leave that to the Olympians and Paralympians – but I can be ‘alright’, and maybe even ‘good’.  For someone picked last in games, I’d say that’s a pretty successful outcome.

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