Bringing the body to the party

That’s a misleading title for this entry, it sounds more like an episode of Dexter than a blog post about physical exercise. My body is on my mind, though. I’m thinking a lot about training, about my natural adoration of exercise and how it can and should slot into my life and my desires.

This is partly because I’ve been seeing my friend Jo. She’s a chartered physiotherapist, and she’s studying some very exciting new techniques and approaches in her discipline. As a result of her input, I’m starting to learn to listen to my body, and it’s a journey full of surprises.

One key Jo gave to me – perhaps unwittingly – was the remark: “People think their bodies are there to serve them.” I turned that statement over and examined it from many angles. With the holistic approach Jo takes in our sessions, it made sense. Yet how could you think any other way of your body as something to serve you, when you’re training for difficult, demanding races?

This morning in the pool I might have hit upon the answer. When you’re training, your body needs to be on board for the experience. You shouldn’t push it, you shouldn’t have to. It’s difficult to explain, but here’s my experience this morning: I aimed to do 1:45. By 1:20, my left shoulder muscle started aching – just a little bit, but I noticed. I might have noticed because I’ve been learning to listen to my body, to not only hear her when she starts screaming for attention with an injury, but to be tuned to the messages she gives me as I train. I took the sore shoulder as a message from my body that this was as far as it was prepared to go, stopped swimming and got out of the pool.

Now, this can be a dangerous way to look at things. There is a degree to which we might need to push through pain. I have no doubt that doing an endurance race, you’ll have no choice but to do so. But for now, I’m not going to set goals according to some schedule. I’m going to look at what Imy body is comfortable doing right now, plan for something about 10% higher, and swim/cycle/run until I hit that extra 10% or until my body tells me it’s gone far enough. I’ll continue aiming for that previous comfort zone + 10% until my new comfort zone includes the addition. Then it’s time to add 10% to that, and aim to bring my comfort zone up to that.

I’m not sure if this really is different from what people do already in their training. However, I think even if I don’t change much in my training programme, a big change has taken place in my mind.

I learn something new every week.


Shredded Nerves at Pink & Gold


Please note – I didn’t go to the tri intending to take photos, so what I have here was taken with my phone. Which doesn’t, as you’ll see, boast a very good camera. My apologies for the poor quality of the images.


“Marie,” I said, “is it just me, or is this thing not very well organised?”

“Not just you.” There were many things making her, Sydney (who had just completed his first Ironman the weekend before) and myself very uncomfortable. Some of the stuff happening at the Pink and Gold Sprint Triathlon in Virginia on 1 August 2010 seemed downright dangerous. Continue reading

Cycling… want!

Last night, I had the unexpected privilege of helping to marshal at the Irish Criterium Cycling Championships here in Dundalk. It was a different kind of racing altogether, and very exciting to watch. My overwhelming sentiment?

“Oh, gods, I want to do that.”

This is difficult to describe. There’s a certain joy in pedalling and feeling as you do so that your body… that it works. I know that must sound really stupid, but it’s the same kind of delight I experienced when I waited for the kids in the car one day and by chance put my hand on my upper arm. And felt muscle.  I kept poking and prodding my arm then, because this was really weird. But also really great. I’d been training and training and training and in all honesty, I find it difficult to really internalise the results in my racing. I know they’re there, but somehow it remains a distant concept for me.

When you’re at the bottom of the pack and your main aim in a race is to not be dead last, your rewards lie in the sheer joy of participating. It’s in the cold harshness of the churning swim, the muscle-singing harmony of the cycle, the peaceful challenge of the run (I know how weird that sounds. Just go with me on this one, it’s peaceful and wonderful but you’re sweating bricks).

While I’m at a performance level compared to them which makes this almost sacrilege, I could empathise with the racing cyclists as they zoomed past me. I watched Alan Bingham especially (simply because he was the only participant I actually know), and while I of course can’t be sure my impression was correct, I saw him think. I saw him watch the cyclists ahead of him, could almost feel him calculate how long to chase and when to shoot past. I watched how close thy cut past the pavement at the bend where I stood, and while it was heart-stopping, it also made that same heart cry out in recognition. They’re so in tune, body and soul, with their bikes that they have the confidence to do what’s needed.

Everything in me cried out to try the same thing. To do something where I purely focus on cycling. I don’t mean leaving triathlons behind, I mean just adding some time trial type cycling to my activities.

Ah, but. It would mean I’d have to participate in leagues on weekday nights, and doing anything on a weekday night is difficult. Micky and I live very separate lives out of necessity. He works during the day, I’m home writing and seeing to the kids’ needs. We don’t have the same interests where hobbies are concerned, so on Saturdays he climbs and on Sundays I cycle. Our few hours at night to touch base, to each be surfing the net side by side (I suppose it must look weird, we love snuggling under the blankets each with our laptop on our lap) or watch Dad’s Army, IT Crowd, Blackadder, or Black Books together are precious to us.

But maybe I can make a plan. We’ll just have to see.

First tri done

I participated in The Rock, more widely known as Setanta’s Blackrock Sprint Tri, on Saturday.  It was great fun, but I won’t bore you with the details here.  I’d aimed to do it in an hour and a half, and managed 1:21:45.  However, I was frustrated and angry with myself for being so slow on the run.  I’d done better than I’d thought I would in the swim, and while my touring cycling is very different from this kind of cycling, having covered more than 5 500km on two wheels seems to have given me some strength at least on the bike.  But oh, gods, the run.

I’d overtaken so many people on the bike who just soared past me on the run, while I could do no more than shuffle along.  This doesn’t take away from my happiness with having done my first one.  It just makes me realise I need to work on my running.

Other lessons learned:

  • Do not forget your swimming goggles and nose clip.  Really.
  • Put sunscreen on.  That one should go in bold, underlined and italics.

In other news, things are looking good for a mid-July cycling trip.  My soul thirsts for a few days of just me, Ronan, two panniers of luggage to see us through whatever might come and the open road.  I might go out of Ireland, but it would have to be somewhere I won’t need a visa (or can get one quickly, and free: not impossible when your spouse is an EU citizen) and where, preferably, I can go by ferry.  I like flying less the more I do it, and Ronan’s carrier was broken in transit on the way back from Switzerland.  I’d really rather go by ferry, there’s a kind of magic to that which I can’t wait to feel again.

Limits my options, hugely, but I’ll also be quite happy to go explore the South of Ireland.  I’ve never been that side, though I’ve grown very fond of the North, its people and its beauty.  So we’ll see how things go.

An Honest Answer

This was written around 14 March 2010.

“So,” he said, “what do you think of all this stuff?”  He gestured to the display of nutritional supplements for serious athletes.

I hesitated.  How do I put into words my neurotic, stupid, probably mistaken and likely insulting impression that the triathlon community looks at me with a slightly puzzled expression?  I think it waits for me to give up my silly notion to enter this prestigious world, and go away.  “I don’t even know where to begin with all this stuff,” I said, meaning more than the nutritional supplements, but he didn’t need to know that.

“It’s all just common sense,” he said, and I felt a tiny little bit better.

However, I was not completely fooled.  This casual statement sounded very much like the responses to my tentative questions to determine whether triathlons would be a good idea for me.  ‘Just stick a bit of swimming and running onto that and you’ll be all right,’ someone had said on the forum when I laid out my history of touring cycling.

Ha.  A bit of swimming and running.  And what, Sir, made you forget about core strength training, about swimming stroke drills (do I even call that the right thing?), about brick sessions and practicing transitions?

‘Best place to start,’ another added, ‘is to join the local triathlon club.’  So let’s look into what that means, being a member of the club: Continue reading

My thoughts are well fed now

I participated in my first race today.  A duathlon.  That means run 3km, bike 17km, run another 3km.  I didn’t do the second run leg, only the first, and the bike section.

When I arrived at the parking lot of the pub where the race started (yes, the pub, this is Ireland after all), my nerve failed me completely.  I wasn’t worried about not doing well on the race itself: I’ve only been training three weeks, the idea of participating was more to familiarise myself with the thing than to achieve any notable time.  What intimidated me was the equipment.

I was there with my little hybrid, Ronan, and I had been unable to get the carrier off.  We drove past these absolutely fantastic high-end racing bikes, being taken off these nifty bike racks by people who clearly spent a very large amount of their time training, and have done so for a number of years.  That wasn’t the worst of it, though.  They all wore really fantastic clothes.  Wonderful athlete-type clothes.  I did not.  My cycling shorts and leg warmers were in my rucsack.  But surely you don’t run in cycling shorts?  Surely everything I had there was wrong?

A very wonderful and kind ahtlete there convinced me to participate anyway, as there were many other beginners, and she’d seen a girl do a tri once on a BMX.  Now, if someone had the balls to do that, then I could find enough brass for a pair so I could do this thing with Ronan.

I changed into my cycling shorts and leg warmers.  But it was really cold, and I still felt odd and silly and wrong.  I wore my Eskimo mittens, because I knew I’d either do that or have painfully cold hands during the race.  But oh, gods, I didn’t wear a…


That’s a Dundalk thing.  ‘Well’ means ‘hello, how are you?’ especially if it’s followed by ‘How’s tings?’ (Irish people don’t do TH, they say T, it’s really sweet).

The speaker was my landlord, who also happens to be the chairman of the local triathlon club, and also happens to have among other things at least one Iron Man under his belt.

“Hi, I’m grand, I’m just… I have these… I…”  I waved my fat hands around.

He gestured to my gloves.  “Where did you get those then?”

“Outdoor Exchange in town.  I know they look ridiculous, but my hands get really cold and it’s very sore then, so I have to… I’ve been laughed at sometimes [this is true, not on the day today but in the past] but if I don’t wear them I…”

“Do they work?”


“Are your hands cold now?”


“Well?”  He shrugged.

And it dawned on me.  Here is Mister Ultra Cool, a triathlete who’s achieved things I can only hope to one day do.  And what does he think of my Eskimo gloves?  All he’s concerned with is, do they work?  And if they do, what’s the problem?

I really have to overcome my ego.  Because my worry this morning was primarily making a fool out of myself in terms of what I looked like, what I wore, what bike I rode.  But all that counts really is: Does it work?

Thanks for the lesson, Alan.  I won’t forget it anytime soon.