Race Report: 25m Butterfly

A lot of good things have happened over the past couple of weeks! On 17 October I hopped over to England to see my folks for a few days … and while I was there I laid a few ghosts to rest 👻.

The Pingles, Nuneaton

As I was due to race (run) a very demanding 10k on the Sunday, I decided to go for a recovery swim early on the Friday before the race. This swim, however, would not be any swim. This swim would actually be in the pool where the slow-clapping incident occurred in my teenage years – when I’d been volunteered to swim in a butterfly race, even though I couldn’t swim butterfly!

The pool opened at 7am (which is a lovely time to swim and I really wish our local pools would open this early) and I was faced with a very busy ‘fast lane’. Undeterred, I managed to complete an 850m swim (front crawl) and I got a real confidence boost when I realised how fast I was going! My very last length was  25m all-out-effort butterfly: 40 years after attempting to swim a length of this stroke in this pool, I actually managed it! It felt like a defining moment.

On Sunday 20 October I ran with my dad in a hilly 10k race in the Cotswolds. There was, as promised, a very high hill content – and I can’t say I took in very much of the beautiful scenery 😆. My sortie into the world of track and field has meant that my ‘long runs’ have been at around the 3 mile mark. Couple that with no actual 10k-specific training for this event (and the race organiser’s glee as he kept mentioning the HUGE hill) and I wasn’t feeling that optimistic about getting around in a good time.

In spite of my doubts, I managed to cross the finish line in 50:36, which I was pleased with (and I reckon all that squatting and deadlifting must have kicked in #literally 😆). I was the 7th lady finisher in the 45-55 category : I was also pleased about that as normally I’d be in the 50-55 category and competing against ‘vintage’ runners closer to my own age! (You can see the start of the race here. When the video goes into slow motion, you’ll see me in my blue headband and knee-length blue socks.)

Getting ready to race.

Once the 10k was done that was me settling into my taper for the butterfly race with Samantha. The race had originally been scheduled to take place in my local pool, but the roof fell in! I’ve had to travel to the next town to train (Coleraine) and the staff (and my new fellow swimmers) have been brilliant.

I’ve been very much welcomed into the Coleraine morning swimming community, and I have to say it is quite riotous in the changing rooms in the morning. Patricia, one of the Duty Managers, at the leisure centre has been particularly helpful and made sure the race could take place on the right day at the right time.

Pre-race sportswomanship

On Tuesday 29 October at 11am, the race took place. It was lovely to see so many supporters come along. Special thanks go to my fellow CrossFit athletes who came to cheer us on (Cheryl, Janine, Marcella and Diane); to Siobhan, my Coleraine morning swim buddy, who popped in to see the race; and to Richard Lappin (one of the coaches at CrossFit Causeway) who officiated. Thanks also to the ‘Crawford Sisters’ (Coleraine swimming legends) who have given me such lovely (and kind) feedback about my butterfly; and to Sybil and Raymond at the Ballymoney pool who have kept me in order since January (and given me feet to follow in the early morning). Oh – and a BIG thanks to Samantha for coming out of her swimming retirement to race me!

I managed to complete the 25m in 25.1 seconds. I needed to get under 25.6 to reach Swim England Bronze standard, so I’m please about that. I’ll need to get an affiliated swim instructor to time and verify my speed in order to secure the award, but I’m still thrilled to have achieved that standard from a ‘standing start’ in 3 months. Samantha beat me by a good 8 seconds, and I spent most of the race chasing her feet. You can watch the whole race here:

Post-race hugs!

I’ve really enjoyed this particular adventure, and swimming is something that I’m going to keep doing, mostly because it feels so good to be in the water. I’m going to try a pool-based  aquathlon (swim and run) in December, and next year will be the year of mastering open water swimming 😱 (just a little bit worried about this) so that I can compete in an open water aquathlon. I’m also going to continue work on my fly with a view to competing in the masters championships here in Northern Ireland next summer. I’d love to knock a good 8 seconds off my 25m time. It’s a huge ask … but I’m all in 😎… I’m totally going for it … I’m going to give it my very best shot!

Patricia (Duty Mgr) and me with my silver medal!

And so my final official adventure of the year moves into focus: learning the tango. The first lesson is at the end of November – and I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’m just going outside and I may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Inspiring Women 4: Siobhán Sheils

You may remember from my last blog post that the roof has fallen in at the local pool! This means I’ve been travelling to Coleraine to swim and I’ve met lots of new people as a result of moving training venue 🙂 . The female changing area is very lively – even early in the morning. When I heard about Siobhán’s current challenge (swimming the equivalent of the Channel during the month of October to raise funds for Macmillan) I wanted to hear more about some of the other challenges she’d done. I was thrilled she agreed to be interviewed for my adventure blog, and here’s what she had to say:

In a nutshell:  ‘Siobhán is still evolving and learning on her journey to become the best human being she can.’
Age: 59 (and 6 months – isn’t just important for Adrian Mole!)
Trains at: Coleraine Leisure Centre
Work: Probation Officer. Specialises in working with those who have committed sexual, domestic violence and public protection offences

1. You’ve done several adventurous challenges over the last few years. Can you tell us what you’ve done and why you decided to take on each particular challenge? My first challenge was in 2015 and it was to climb the highest peak in each province of Ireland.  I fell into this by accident.  I’d always been interested in hill-walking but hadn’t really followed up on it during my married life.  I moved from Derry and made a New Year resolution that I would join a club and swallow any lack of confidence and ‘just go for it’,  Sod’s Law : I met a girl who has become a great friend/walking buddy and we discovered how similar our life experiences were.

Ironically she had lived a few streets away from me and we’d never met before my move out of the town.  Rhonda was uber fit and I just decided I’d just try my best.  We completed Lugnaquilla (Leinster) the last Saturday in May; Mweelrea (Connaught) – without a doubt the most arduous but most rewarding – June; Carrantouhill – highest in Ireland (Munster) July; and Slieve Donard (Ulster) Aug 2015.  Falling on your backside in front of everyone and having to run into bushes to pee is a great equaliser and a reminder we’re all alike.

My next challenge was a 2.5 km swim for Foyle Hospice.  Again, I just fell into this.  After the previous one, I liked the idea of challenging myself/setting a goal more and more.  It was for a very worthwhile cause and Foyle Hospice do incredible work for the terminally ill.  I went to the pool where lots of super strong swimmers were making it look so easy.  I completed it in 1 hour and 29 minutes.  It was funny as, at length 50, I was being clapped for achieving this.  The expression on people’s faces when I continued to the 100 lengths….  I was the last one out.

Without a doubt (in terms of camaraderie) the best challenge was walking the Dublin Marathon (October 2017).  I can’t run because of my ‘gammy’ knee, so thought I’ll try this.  It was incredible walking with others and encouraging each other on.  The laughs we had at ourselves were brilliant.  About 2 miles from the end the finishers in their shirts were out encouraging us to finish.  Brilliant.

2018 – Lap the Lough.  It was a beautiful summer and I decided to take out ‘Betsy’, my very heavy touring bike.  Each day I cycled about 25 miles before/after work.  I went with one of the guys from my spin class one Saturday and we did 40 miles in 3 hours and I didn’t get off my bike once.  Usually if I hit a big hill I get off and walk as I can’t stand up when cycling so everything is being done from seated position and that can be tough.  I thought I’ll  certainly give it a go and try my best.  On the day of the cycle it poured from the heavens and I was soaked right down to my knickers.  I did the 96 miles in under 8 hours.

2018 – Dulux London Revolution:  300 km cycle around London.  I was one of the ‘weekenders’ ( ie. we cycled 103.5 miles on the Saturday, camped overnight in Windsor Racecourse, and cycled 87 miles on the Sunday).  One of the girls in work saw this and suggested it for me.  In hindsight, while I’m happy that I did it, it was probably a bit too much in terms of my fitness levels at the time.  I spent most of the cycle on the Saturday berating myself about how silly I was etc. It was very difficult too knowing that there was more to come the next day.   After being frozen into the tent on the Saturday, listening to some man in another tent loudly singing his own praises, farting or snoring, I decided I was definitely getting on that bike and trying to finish it. It was funny I was dressed in my shorts and trainers with a bottle of Evian water on my hired road bike.  I initially felt very out of place amongst these incredible athletes who were putting on/taking off clothing in sections.  However on one particularly difficult hill at mile 85 on the Saturday a number of them were walking alongside me saying they wished they had trainers as their feet were killing them!

This year I also climbed Carrantouhill again – this time the Devil’s Ladder and descent via Heavenly Gate.  Not good for the knees!  Great achievement and a beautiful day.  To stand at the top of Ireland and be able to see all around – glorious.

I haven’t a notion what’s next.  Maybe next year (my 60th) I’ll challenge myself to no challenge!!

2. Your current challenge is a water-based one. Can you tell us all about it and let us know how you’re getting on with it? My current challenge is to swim the virtual Channel.  That’s 22 miles.  It’s in aid of MacMillan Cancer and I love the idea I don’t have to get into dirty water.  I’m completing a mile a day (I’ve cheated and have had a few days with a few extra yards in order to give myself some leeway).  At this point I’m officially at mile 13 (but in fact have 14.69 miles done).

3. Tell me a little bit about your training regime if you have one. (How often do you train? How do you balance the requirements of training with your work/life?) For most of the events that I take part in I don’t really follow a formal training regime.  For example, when walking and swimming I’m getting fitter each time – so there’s continuous improvement.    No matter what I’m doing I like to complete 15,000 steps each day.  It’s surprising how little of those are during routine things like work or housekeeping so it means adding some walks into my day.  I do this by parking my car about a mile away from work and walking back/forth – if my diary allows.  I really like mornings so I try to do something (walk, swim, cycle -not in winter).  I’m really lucky too that I own my diary, although there are a number of times when I just can’t factor in an exercise.  I no longer let that bother me.

4. What has undertaking these challenges given to you that you didn’t expect? I think my confidence as a person has grown as I’ve undertaken the challenges – not about winning but just about acknowledging my capabilities and willingness to push myself.  I try to incorporate some mindfulness into my exercise routines and feel this has improved my general sense of well-being as well as my ability to be more tolerant of myself and others.

5. I know you from the pool and I see you ploughing up and down at full force. It’s impressive and inspiring! Do you think swimming is a good sport for older women to take up? Swimming is amazing and, as you can see, I don’t do it prettily.  No Sonia O’Sullivan here lol!  I always laugh about the ways I can manoeuvre my body in the water and do moves such as lunges when sometimes I struggle with my knee holding me up.  I think swimming also improves female flexibility and is a great way of boosting confidence – not sure why the latter (maybe it’s having to fight off the men who nearly mow you down 😉 ).

6. As a woman on the other side of the menopause , how do you view your body? Who hasn’t said it?  If only I had a shred of the confidence/self-image that I have now when I was a teenager!  I think I definitely have more respect for my body – I also do a number of no alcohol challenges – September Dryathon; Sober for October; November; Dry January; Feb Fast; Lent and Summer Six-Pack Challenge.  My daughter says she’s given up trying to come home at a time I am drinking.  I think I know my limitations – and that’s not lack of confidence but because I’m aware of what I can/cannot do.

The menopause first affected me through night sweats.  At that time in my life, I lived alone and it was great!  I could throw the bedclothes off/on as I wanted without worrying about anyone else.  I also had hot flushes – generally whenever someone asked me a direct question – my face/neck went bright red as though I was lying through my teeth lol.

I think there was a period (before the challenges) when I became extremely emotional and weepy and fearful about things I hadn’t previously paid any attention to.  For instance, I would lock the car doors when driving through a town in the evening.  I had gained weight prior to starting the challenges but have since gained more muscle. I know I don’t have an athletic build and I’m not small – sometimes I laugh to myself when I see the reaction of people when I say I’ve done such and such.   I think weight is something that I will always struggle with but it doesn’t bother me too much.  I threw out scales about 7 years ago.   I’m a naturally greedy eater, although I generally try to eat unprocessed foods as much as possible.  I’m better at that during Lent – what’s that all about?!!

In terms of mental ability – I’ve never noticed any particular deficits – nothing extra anyway lol 😉 .

7. People talk about women feeling ‘invisible’ once they have gone through the menopause. What do you think about that? Is it true for you? I do think that, over a certain age, women are invisible.  I look back to when I was younger and trying to cross a road and firmly believe that as a woman gets older less cars stop.  Similarly the older I become I feel that males (swimmers) don’t see me.  However, I don’t think though that it’s a feeling that comes from menopause but I can see how if someone is feeling emotionally vulnerable they could connect events when in fact I think older women are invisible to men generally!  I don’t think women are invisible to women though!  I think most adults are invisible to teenagers!  Not sure if that makes sense.

8. Are there any upsides for you about being on the other side of the menopause?  Yes.  I’m glad the night-sweats have stopped and mostly the flushes too.  I think though that I’ve reached another stage of my life and I’m not 100% sure that’s attributable to being post-menopausal or whether I was at a stage of change anyway.  I think on reflection though the menopause is a great opportunity for reflection and moulding your world.

9. What do you have in your sights? (What will you do after your swimming challenge?) I’m not sure.  That’s what I like about this.  I just see something and think  will I/won’t I?  I like the thought/feeling though that the reason not to is not because I don’t think I am capable but rather that it doesn’t appeal to me.

10. What’s your number one piece of advice for post-menopausal women? This is not a rehearsal.  Have a blast.  Be the best you want to be.  Always remember you are incredible and all those experiences have not stopped you one jot.  Ditch the self-help books.

Siobhán’s answers certainly give a lot of food for thought! I’m just going outside to have  wee think about things – and I may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Pulling it all Together

It’s been a while since I checked in and lots has happened. The big pull-up challenge has taken place and the results are in! I’ve also had my final pre-race swim coaching session with David at Trinetic and I’m moving into the speed phase of my training, ready for the  #ClashOfTheTitans race on 29 October.

In spite of training pull-ups three times a week for six weeks, the final results don’t really reflect the promises made by most of the YouTube videos I watched. I’m glad I did it though, and I expect my butterfly will be helped by my new-found pull-up prowess 🤣🏊‍♀️.

As for my swimming, it’s still going really well and I’m completely in love with it (in spite of it being gruelling much of the time 😱). You can see how I got on at the last coaching session in the short videos below. The first is me trying for a wider hand entry with butterfly. The second is me working on my ‘roll’ for front crawl.

You might remember that Sharron Davies gave me some lovely words of advice about succeeding at butterfly a few months back. I’m thrilled to report that she took a look at my most recent swimming video and gave a little more advice: to slow down the catch and to undulate a bit more!

I talk a bit more about how my adventuring has panned out over the last couple of weeks in today’s video blog (below). I also give a few hints about the direction I’ll be heading in next year 😎.

Right. I definitely need a lie down somewhere, so I’m just going outside and may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

When you have it, you have it all over!

Elvis Presley apparently once said ‘Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it, you have it all over.’ Fortunately, I was channeling ‘The King’ last week when I went for my third coaching session with David Graham at Trinetic 🤣.

The third session marked 7 weeks of butterfly training – and that third session changed everything for me. David said ‘Just focus on the rhythm. Forget everything else. Everything else will come if the rhythm is right.’ So I did what he said and this is what happened:

The rhythm changed everything! The week before the coaching session I had been managing sets of 4 x 25m of fly, but each length was taking me a good 35 seconds. When I returned to the pool last Friday, I was managing 25m at well below 25 seconds for most repeats!

David gave me a new training programme to follow, and I have to say it’s pretty challenging – but I’m going for it! I talk about my butterfly adventure and my swim training in today’s video blog. You can find details of the book recommendations I make below the video.

Right, then. I definitely need a wee lie down, and after that I’m going outside and may be some time 😉 .

JT 🙂

Clash of the Titans

I’m 5 weeks into my butterfly adventure and I have to say that things are going rather well. I’ve progressed from being able to do not a single stroke to 4x25m of full fly over that period of time.

With my other adventures I’ve always had an end goal and that has really helped me to keep motivated. For this adventure I’ve set myself 2 goals:

1. To swim 25m full fly in a race by the end of October.
2. To swim 25m of fly fast enough to qualify for a Swim England award by the end of the year (but October would be good too!). That means swimming the distance anywhere between 23 and 25 seconds. The good news is that my swim coach, David Graham, thinks this is completely possible. I completely trust him, so I think it’s completely possible too 🙂 .

With 8 weeks to go until the end of October, I’m thrilled to announce race details! I’ll be racing against Samantha Russell-Morelli at 11am on Tuesday 29 October at my local leisure centre.

Sam has come out of retirement especially for this event 😱. Here’s her athlete profile:

1. She swam competitively in New Zealand between the ages of 11 and 17.
2. During this period she  held several regional records for freestyle, butterfly and individual medley.
3. When she was 16 she placed 3rd for the Women’s Open 100m Individual Medley (that’s out of everyone in NZ) and 8th in the Women’s Open 200m Fly.
4. She’s currently a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt and a CrossFit athlete.

So …. I’ve got 8 weeks to get my act together! At this stage, if I were you, I wouldn’t be placing any bets on me winning. If I could swim a PB, though, I’d be pleased. A sub-25 second 25m would be brilliant!

Right, then. I’m just going outside and may be some time 😉 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Pulling Another Trick Out of the Hat

This week it’s our wedding anniversary. Actually, we celebrate our anniversary on two different dates every year: one in August and one in September. That’s because we got married officially in the registry office in August (a very low-key affair with two witnesses) and then had a Celtic hand-fasting in a field on our farm in September (also low key, but there was dancing and a yurt and I was driven into the field, Boudicca-style in my wellington boots,  on the back of a Kawasaki Mule Pro DX).

As a couple, we’ve had lots of adventures together, but farming has got in the way of doing big expeditions over the last couple of years.

This year we’ve decided to do something a bit different to celebrate our years together: a pull-up challenge! On Sunday 29 September (which gives us about 6 weeks to improve our current pull-up performance 🙂 ), we’ll see who can do the most strict pull-ups in a row (completely unbroken). The one who does the most pull-ups gets to choose where’ they’d like to have dinner and the other person has to foot the bill!

At the moment I can only do 7 strict pull-ups unbroken, although I can do multiple sets of around 5. My husband is keeping his current performance standard under his hat 😉 . I’m going to aim for 20 pull-ups unbroken, which will be quite a challenge. I’m going to follow this 3-times- a -week training protocol and keep my fingers crossed/my overhand grip nice and tight 😉 :

Do feel free to join in. This particular programme works on the basis that you can already do 5 strict pull-ups in a row. If you can’t do a strict pull-up yet, there are LOADS of videos on YouTube which will help you to progress! #YouTubeIsYourFriend

I’m up for this challenge because, even if I lose, I still win 🤣. Pull-ups will help with powerlifting (yeah, I’m not done with this yet …) , CrossFit and butterfly. I can’t go wrong, really. Plus, it’ll be fun 😎. Let the games begin!

Right, then. I’m just going outside and may be some time 😉 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

It’s All Going Swimmingly!

My front crawl is improving!

I’ve just entered the 4th week of my butterfly training programme and I’m pleased to report that it’s all going rather well!

Last Wednesday, after 3 weeks of following David Graham’s programme, I went back to Trinetic HQ for a progress review. I was quietly confident that David would see a marked improvement in my front crawl and in my undulating capabilities🤣 . I’d followed his programme to the letter and upped my training from 2 sessions to 4 sessions a week. On top of that, my body was showing me that it was adapting quickly to the demands of training: my back had grown an inch and my waist had shrunk an inch. (I put the shrinkage down to the kick drills which are extremely demanding on the core  😱.)

The first part of the session with David was a review and fine-tune of my crawl. My body was sitting much better in the water, but my pull was a bit wide. I tried pulling closer to my body, my palm facing backwards, and *WOOSH* (bit of a technical swim term there 😉 ) the game changed. Everything felt a bit odd but so much easier than before: much less ‘efforting’.

Actual butterfly, folks! Actual butterfly 🦋🦋🦋

The main part of the session was dedicated to developing my butterfly stroke. This session the arms were added. I have to say that when David mentioned arms and kicking at the same time, I was a bit frightened. I had my second ‘WOOSH* of the session as I was transported back to an experience I had at a  swimming club in Mildenhall (East Anglia, England) when I was about 10. Suddenly I was being told by the swimming instructor that I had been promoted to the next group up (the second promotion in two weeks) and I knew I wasn’t ready.

In spite of my fear, I (quite literally 🤣) dived in and got on with the first new drill: single arm butterfly arms with fly kicks. I found this drill hard to do on my left-hand side – it’s going to take a bit of work to develop a better feel for the water on that side, I think. Here’s me doing the drill on the right-hand side:

The next drill was 3-4 kicks and then one full double-armed pull. I liked this a lot more than the single arm drills, I can tell ya! After this drill, I had my first go at the full stroke and here’s what it looked like:

On Thursday afternoon I received my updated training schedule from David, ready for my pool session on Friday morning.  The programme is certainly far more demanding and I have to admit that I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be up to the job. I needn’t have worried, though. Once I was in the water, I was completely in my element. The front crawl portion of the session felt like a breeze, even though repetitions for some of the sessions are now at 100m (something I couldn’t have managed 3 weeks ago). The drills were challenging but doable. My favourite drill was working the arms and legs together: it was gruelling in a good way – very physical, requiring total presence to the experience. While I was doing that drill I felt completely alive!

So, I’m on my way. I’m making progress. In 3 weeks I go back for another review and I’m feeling quite confident. Powerlifting has taught me that as long as you’re consistent and follow an intelligent training programme, you will progress. I trust David and his programme, so – all being well – progress will happen!

Here’s a short video blog about my swimming progress:

Right, I’m off to do some pull-ups. (No, I actually am because, well, there’s another wee adventure brewing, which I’ll tell you about shortly 😉 ). After that, I’m just going outside and may be some time 😉 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Inspiring Women: the Powerlifting Edition

July 20 was a big day for me: I took part in my very first powerlifting competition – the NIPF rookie comp in Coleraine. On that day I met three inspiring women and I’ve recently managed to catch up with them and interview them for my adventure blog 🙂 . Kyla Mulholland and Clare Conway are both seasoned competitors. Kyla did the weigh-ins, MC’d and refereed at the rookie comp. Clare was a guest lifter and also refereed. Both of them were extremely welcoming and supportive (and  I have to extend a special thanks to Kyla who managed to stop me from storming the platform early FOR EVERY SINGLE LIFT 🤣). Una Ferguson was the second oldest lifter (I was the oldest) in the competition and I felt a special connection to her as a fellow M2 competitor.

It’s a bit of a bumper edition but really worth the read. If these women inspire you to find out a bit more about powerlifting in Northern Ireland, hop over the the NIPF website or check out the NIPF Facebook page! You’ll find the home of British Powerlifting here and the Irish Powerlifting Federation website here.

Kyla Mulholland
Kyla is 45, married and a mum of two. She owns two after-school clubs in the Greenisland area, as well as being a national referee for NIPF (Northern Ireland Powerlifting Federation) and GB. Based in Carrickfergus, she’s a member of the NIR powerlifting team. She competes in the M1 84+ category (so that means masters category 1, which is for the 40 – 49 age range, and 84 kilos bodyweight and over).

Kyla  currently holds all the NI records in her category and for Irish M1, open bench and total. Her current records stand at:
Squat 150kg
Bench 100kg
Deadlift 162.5kg.
Equipped bench press 125kg

1. How long have you been powerlifting and how did you get into the sport? Approximately 6 years now. I started weight training with a coach, and we both realised I was reasonably strong so sourced out the NIPF. At the time when I first competed there were only around 10-12 woman in the whole federation.

2. Tell me a little bit about your training regime. I have been with my coach Marty Cummings at ReForm for nearly 3 years now. I train Monday to Friday mornings. My programme runs on a 12-week cycle. I bench and squat every training session and deadlift 2 days with accessories* thrown in. I find during the months of July and August training becomes impossible with work commitments as I work from 7am to 8pm each day. (* Accessories are literally ‘helping’ exercises, rather than the so-called main lifts.)

3. What have been the high points, so far, in your powerlifting career? I have lots of amazing high points but I think the best time was when I won 4 gold medals in South Africa at the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in 2017.

4. Have there been any low points in your powerlifting journey so far? Recently I had a very low point when I had conflict with members of the Irish PF committee after being selected for the Irish team to represent then at Worlds. This made me second- guess if I wanted to be part of our federation. Luckily I have come through this.

5. What has powerlifting/competing given to you that you didn’t expect? It has totally built my confidence and empowered me. I have made some amazing friends and met some truly amazing people all over the world. It has opened my horizons to other countries through competing.

6. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with NIPF?  I am a national referee and also Marketing Director, which means I am responsible for getting the name of the NIPF out to more people and generating sponsorship. I also help other committee members if need be in the run up to competitions.

7. Do you think powerlifting is a good sport for women to take up?  100%! It totally empowers women, and it is non-judgmental. Regardless of size, age ability everyone supports each other.

8. Do you think there are any risks for an older novice female lifter? Recovery during
training is a big one, I feel. It take me longer to recover after comps or comp prep. I also feel its harder to cut weight for comps: after I turned 40 this became difficult. Injury is more prominent also,  and YES OMG pelvic floor lol! I always joke that at a masters comp all you smell is deep heat and pee!

9. As a strong woman, how do you view your body?  When I started lifting I was a 72kg lifter.  Over time I gradually gained weight. I’ve mixed feelings about being a bigger lifter. I’m strong at this weight but not happy with my body image. Ideally I would like to be around 80kg but find it hard to motivate myself to lose weight.

10. What do you have in your sights? I’ve recently had a few injuries which have knocked my training this has made me kinda lose my mojo. I’ve decided to take the rest of the year of to recover and try and lose some weight so I can come back in 2020 with a clear mind. I would still like to compete at Europeans and Worlds, but I’m also contemplating going down the avenue of equipped bench.

11. What’s your number one piece of advice for women who want to start
powerlifting? DO IT! Contact one of the girls in the sport who have been around for a while, have a chat, maybe go and train with them. Come along to as many comps to watch. Don’t over think it. Don’t do that whole “I’m not as strong as the other girls” etc. This is your journey: no one will judge. Id love to help anyone thinking of entering the sport. We all had to start somewhere.

Clare Conway
Based in Lisburn, Clare is a 41-year-old probation officer. She’s 63kg (most of the time 😋) and a Masters 1 lifter. She’s been a member of NIPF since 2012 when a guy in her gym advised her to make contact with the Fed to put her training to good use and give her a focus for it! She helps out with both the NIPF and the Irish PF, spotting, loading, refereeing (Irish PF) and any other duties!

Clare has been selected for a number of Home Nations comps and for the Commonwealths 2 years in a row (but didn’t compete). She competes in M1 63kg category. Her current personal records are:

Squat: 105 kg
Bench: 65 kg
Deadlift: 145 kg

1. How long have you been powerlifting and how did you get into the sport? I’ve always been sporty, playing hockey, netball and gymnastics at school. When I went back to train as a social worker as a mature student I got into the gym. This started off as taking part in pump, spin and circuit classes. I found that I enjoyed lifting weights and not the cardio side if things! I started lifting in 2012 when I did my first comp (bench only) and then went on to do my first ‘3 lift’* in 2013 and have been hooked since! (In 3-lift competitions you do squat, bench press and deadlift.)

2. Tell me a little bit about your training regime. I’m a single parent so I have to plan my training days around my son. I usually train 3-4 days a week when he is at football training so, therefore, it’s important that I utilise my time efficiently. I have a coach, Sean Ryan Custom Strength, who sends me a weekly programme which is tailored to focusing on the big three (SBD), and then accessory work targeting my weaknesses. I attend group training every Saturday morning with other lifters he coaches. This is a great session which is good craic but also gives Sean the opportunity to see my lifts ‘in real life’. I also send him videos and feedback throughout the week.

My programme is based on RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion) which I found difficult to get used to initially but find beneficial as you pick weights dependent on how you are feeling on the day, taking into consideration amount of food, lack of sleep, stresses etc.

It is hard to balance life, caring for my son,  working 9-5, keeping an eye on my nutrition, having a social life and also adequate rest time. But I feel that training is beneficial for my mental health so I try to prioritise it. I like to think that my son looks at his mum and sees someone who is active and invests in their health.

3. What have been the high points, so far, in your powerlifting career? High points are that I have been selected for a number of Home Nations teams over the years, competing in a British championships in Horncastle, and holding a NI record in equipped bench (no longer hold this as of this year). Also being there at the start when female powerlifting began to take off!

4. Have there been any low points in your powerlifting journey so far? A low point has definitely been a serious injury. I had a suspected bulging disc in L5 SI over two years ago. I had complete numbness down the left-hand side of my body and I struggled to walk for weeks. I had to strip everything back and start at the beginning again with kettle bells and extremely light weights. Injury fairly makes you rethink how you train and puts you in your place! Patience is definitely required.

5. What has powerlifting/competing given to you that you didn’t expect? A sense of achievement. Every time I get a PB I feel proud that the hard work, time and effort has paid off. I have also made a lot of very good friends from powerlifting and have had the opportunity to pass my Irish ref powerlifting exam and have had the privilege of reffing at Irish nationals and other comps.  I’ve also had the opportunity to become Communications Director for the NIPF, which has allowed me develop and expand our social media to encourage new people to the sport.

6. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with NIPF?  I am an Irish PF ref and also sit on the committee for NIPD as Comms Director. I also help spot and load most comps and am responsible for arranging and organising other people to help out.

7. Do you think powerlifting is a good sport for women to take up? I think all women should lift to some degree: strong is sexy and it is a great confidence booster when you can lift heavier than you ever thought you could! Also when your body shape changes and you start to see muscles growing!   Nothing better!

8. What’s the powerlifting community like in N Ireland? It’s such a great supportive community, I’ve been at comps where lifters are shouting and cheering others on even when that person may be taking their record. My coaching group, Custom Strength, is a great environment for getting the work done and also having a laugh. Everyone is very humble and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. You also need a thick skin for all the slagging!

9. Do you think there are any risks for an older novice female lifter? I think there are risks for anyone of any age. It’s about knowing your limits, getting a good coach and working on form above anything else. Leaving the ego at the door is a good idea!

10. As a strong woman, how do you view your body? I love my body now and it took years to get to this point. I feel confident in my own skin and I put a lot of that down to lifting and the powerlifting environment. You can’t beat a strong, confident, sexy woman which a bit of muscle 😍. I do have my worries when going heavy sometimes due to my previous back injury, but I trust my coach and always try and work on my form.

11. What do you have in your sights? Hoping to compete at either British or Irish Masters. I also just focus on what I am lifting and trying to get better. I try not to compare myself to other women or what they are lifting. At the end of the day, if I’m getting better, I’m happy!

12. What’s your number one piece of advice for women who want to start powerlifting? Do it now! I wish I had started earlier! Get a good coach and focus on good form! Don’t worry about who’s looking at you in the gym because I can guarantee you that the men/women you are worried about looking at you are far too self-absorbed to be worrying about what you are doing! Pick up a barbell and get lifting, girls!

13. And what about the food side of things? Pre- comp I keep my protein intake to around 2.2g per kg body weight.  I eat a lot of chicken, bagel thins, rice. I try to limit my alcohol intake and stay away from take-aways! However, nutrition isn’t my strong point and always panic about my weight around comps! I always advise rookie lifters to never cut for their first comp and it’s better to lift in a category that you sit comfortably in.

Una Ferguson
Una is 52 years old (competing in M2 84+ category) and lives near Annacloy. Her current PRs for powerlifting are: 

Squat:  105 kg
Bench: 50 kg
Deadlift: 130 kg

1. How long have you been powerlifting? I started powerlifting in September 2018- so 10 months.

2. What inspired you to start powerlifting and what first steps did you take? I started in my current gym as I wanted to achieve a certain body shape. I have been involved in a variety of activities during my life including Irish dancing , classical Greek dancing , Shotokan Karate (1st Dan achieved before rupturing my ACL in skiing), horse riding, general gym classes with PT.

When I started in my current gym my PTs suggested I should take up powerlifting and enter competitions.  So although I have experience in a variety of activities and disciplines, powerlifting grabbed my interest early on. I became addicted.

3. Tell me a little bit about your training regime. I train 4 days a week. I train in Conor Gelston’s gym Annacloy. I train with Aaron Kelly 3 days a week and Conor Gelston  once weekly.

My PTs have a specific way of training me and preparing me for competition. I train late in the evening usually so I have time with my family. It is escapism from work as it is totally different.

4. What did you enjoy most about the NIPF rookie powerlifting competition in Coleraine this July? Competing in a sport I have grown to love. Having the back-up and support of my PTs and friends from the gym. Making new acquaintances who I will hopefully see at future competitions. Achieving personal records (PRs) and training to break them. I love a challenge.

5. What are your 3 top tips for women just starting their powerlifting journey? Enjoy, listen to your coaches, have faith in the journey they’re taking  you on.

It can be tough but the sense of achievement even after a tough session is exhilarating. I get a buzz from achieving. I love the support and encouragement I get from my coaches, other friends at the gym, my family and work colleagues.

6. What has powerlifting given to you that you didn’t expect? That’s a thought-provoking question. I didn’t start out to powerlift so I had no expectation from this at the outset. I am achieving a body shape; it is a work in progress. I have achieved satisfaction and belief in myself that, regardless of age, tough discipline and goals can be achieved. This can be carried forward into life experiences giving a renewed sense of determination to succeed.

7. Why do you think powerlifting is a good sport for women to take up? Powerlifting is one of the most physically challenging sports for anyone. It’s not going to suit everyone but, if embarked upon, I feel it can have a major positive impact on physical and mental well-being. It is inclusive regardless of age, sex, body shape and weight. That is unusual for any sporting activity.

8. What do you have in your sights? Lets see where my training takes me! I have entered for the Ulster Open September 2019  and planning to enter for the British Masters in Lincoln October 2019.

Right then! I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Off to a Flying Start!

Having a go at the first of the fly drills! It’s all about the undulating 🙂

Well, I’m certainly not one to let the grass grow under my feet! My fourth #OldDogNewTricks adventure is already well under way 🙂 : learning to swim butterfly.

On Wednesday 24 July I went to Belfast to meet David Graham of Trinetic. My first session was all about establishing where I’m at right now with the front crawl (the initial programming is very much crawl-based); making recommendations about how I can improve this particular stroke; and then learning some fly drills to support my butterfly adventure.

This goes for any kind of flying 🤣

Just to be clear: when I arrived at Trinetic I knew I did not have the requisite skills to swim any butterfly at all! To be honest, I thought this might be the adventure where I completely failed (although I knew I’d have fun trying to succeed 🤣). If you remember, I’d had a bit of a traumatic experience with this stroke as a child (there was a last place, a considerable amount of flailing about, and quite a bit of slow-clapping involved 😱) and I wasn’t quite sure why this adventure impulse had presented itself.

David Graham in action!

The session took place in David’s infinity pool. Swimming in this pool was an adventure in its own right! You basically swim in a tiny pool against a current – and the speed of that current can be varied. David took video footage of my front crawl and also of the butterfly drills he taught me, showing how I’d progressed even within the space of an hour!

David’s an excellent coach, full of good humour and brilliant at keeping things as simple as they need to be. He reckons that it’ll take about 3 months for me to be able to swim 25m of butterfly in a competent fashion. Even him saying that filled me with confidence – and even though I had arrived thinking I was likely to fail, before the session was over I was pretty certain that the 25m goal was doable!

After the session David sent me a progressive training programme to follow. Part of the programme is all about increasing the efficiency of my crawl and building up to swimming length-after-length of this stroke (at the moment, I swim alternate front crawl and breast stroke). The programme also includes 4 butterfly drills (no arms at this stage!). I’ve committed to going to the pool 3 mornings a week and in 3 weeks I’ll go back to David to see what progress I’ve made.

You can see how much work my front crawl needs here:

This is my favourite of the four butterfly drills. I love the movement!

This is the drill I find the physically toughest:

I went to my local pool on Friday morning and did my first structured session … and I completely loved it 😍. Normally I swim 1600m (I’ve been doing this twice a week since 31 December 2018) and sometimes it can get a bit boring – I feel like I just want to get the session over and done with (and get my breakfast because I’m absolutely starving!). On Friday I swam 1200m, 900m of which was front crawl. That’s the most front crawl I’ve ever done in one session in my life 😎. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. I kept my mind on the job, making sure I was kicking from the hips (before there was a whole lot of knee action going on), making sure my hands were entering the water in the right way, and making sure my rolling was symmetrical. I didn’t get bored once, I wasn’t as tired as I normally would be and I actually started to overtake other swimmers!

I’m completely going for it!

The butterfly drills were pretty tough but doable. In fact, they were my favourite part, and I had a lot of fun overtaking some breast-strokers while I was doing them! By the fourth drill I was quite tired and this tiredness caused a bit of ‘pool drift’. I’ll have to keep that in check, otherwise I’ll get myself a bit of a reputation 🤣.

So now I’m thinking about concrete goals and ways of keeping myself motivated. It’d be great if there was some kind of award that I could do for 25m fly. Swim England offers two awards, both at bronze level (here and here), which would require me to complete the distance in either 25.6 seconds or 23.20 seconds respectively. Given that Caeleb Dressel has just broken Michael Phelps’ 100m world fly record (completing the distance at an astonishing 49.50), a time of 23-25 seconds for 25m still seems rather fast! Anyway, I’m going to dig around a bit more to see if there are similar kinds of awards in Ireland. (I’m also thinking about racing someone. More on that in the future!)

Right then. It’s been a big week so I’m just going outside and may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

The Oldest Lifter in Town

Yesterday was the big day: the NIPF rookie powerlifting competition in Coleraine. (Read about my preparations here!)  After a very heavy week of serious eating I managed to clear the 57kg threshold with ease (I needed to be over this weight to compete in the 63kg category). I was well rested (I got a good night’s sleep on Friday) and was ready to go!

My lifting plan was conservative but geared towards looking after my pelvic floor 😱 . Here’s what I was aiming to do:

Squat
Lift 1: 55kg
Lift 2: 65kg
Lift 3: 75kg

Bench
Lift 1: 40kg
Lift 2: 45kg
Lift 3: 47.5kg (PR)

Deadlift
Lift 1: 90kg
Lift 2: 100kg
Lift 3: 110kg

I’m pleased to say that the plan worked like clockwork and I succeeded at every lift #WhiteLightsAllTheWay! No problem with that ol’ pelvic floor either. It’ll come as no surprise that I ‘won’ my age-weight category because I was the only one in that category 🤣. However, I am thrilled to report that I did win the silver medal in the open women’s 63kg category (ie. all women, regardless of age, in this weight category). My lifting total came in at 232.5kg.

Here’s a wee piece of video of me deadlifting 110kg. Watch right until the end and you’ll see how much hugging goes on at a powerlifting competition 🙂 .

It was a really well organised event and the support from the  spectators, officials and other lifters was absolutely brilliant. It was also the friendliest and most inclusive sporting event I’ve ever taken part in. Even though I was the oldest competitor yesterday, I didn’t feel out of place at all. It was lovely to see so many women taking part, and it was lovely to share the nervous excitement at the side of the lifting platform with them.

I talk in a bit more detail about yesterday’s competition in today’s video blog:

Before I sign off, I’d just like to thank the organisers, officials, other competitors and spectators (including my friends from CrossFit Causeway who came along to support) for making yesterday such a fabulous event. Huge shout out also to Paul Cullen (my lifting coach), to Gail Mahon (my powerlifting training buddy who won a silver medal in the 57kg category), and to all my fellow athletes at CrossFit Causeway who have been so encouraging and supportive.

I’ll leave you with one last picture which speaks volumes and shows what the powerlifting community is all about. I’ve just come off the platform, having bench-pressed 47.5kg. In the grand scheme of things that’s not a big lift, but I had to give it my absolute all to get the lift, which was also a personal record. I’m being met off the platform by Kyla Mulholland, one of the officials and a talented powerlifter in her own right. This was the first of many off-platform hugs for that lift!

Right. I think I need a wee bit of a lie-down after all that powerlifting. I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂