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 🙂

Inspiring Women 2: Hazel Smallman

Today’s post is an interview with the inspiring masters track athlete, Hazel Smallman. I met Hazel at the Midland Masters Athletics Championships in Nuneaton this June. We were racing the same distances (400m and 800m) and shared the excitement of collecting our silver medals together!

Hazel Smallman (56) is a mum of one, wife to the long-suffering Mike and works as a  mentor and pastoral officer for apprentices at a large college. She discovered running in her fifties. After trying a half marathon she decided less was more and has moved into track. Hazel lives in Wolverhampton and is a member of  Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletics Club. She was a silver medallist for the 400m at MMAC this year.

Hazel in action – looking relaxed and focused!

1. You only took up track athletics this year. What inspired you to start? I’ve always preferred shorter distances and loved the idea of track. I’d tried it a couple of years ago but most of the groups that did track consisted of extremely speedy teenagers. Sadly, most people I ran with seemed to prefer longer distances. After missing most of last year through injury I decided that now I was able to run again, I was going to do the type of running that I wanted to do, even if it meant I did it on my own.

2. Tell me a little bit about your training regime.  Having decided to commit to track I got in touch with a friend who is a coach. He had always encouraged me to give it a go in the past so I asked him for coaching. Garry draws up a schedule for me every week and takes into account my working week and any other commitments for that week. I’m lucky because I work part time so I can find time most days to train. I usually do 2 or 3 track sessions a week together with some gentle runs. I help coach a C25K group on Saturday mornings and that is always built into my training.

I usually train alone following the sessions that we have agreed. Because Garry and I always discuss how I got on I find this gives me the discipline to push myself in the sessions. He also comes to some of the sessions and some of the races that I enter.

I also do a couple of gym sessions a week as I have found that I need to keep my legs strong to cope with the rigours of track running.

Competition preparation generally involves lots of chocolate and much soul searching about why I agreed to enter!! My lovely coach will, however, make sure that the actual sessions relate to the distance that I am running e.g. 400m or 800m.

3. What has running/competing given to you that you didn’t expect? Running has introduced me to new friends and gives me the energy and enthusiasm to enjoy life. It has taught me that I’m stronger and more focused than I realised. I don’t think I realised just how much was involved. People always say put one foot in front of the other and that’s all you need to know. However, I guess like most things, the more involved you get, the more you realise how little you know.

When I first started running 5 years ago I entered 5K and 10K races and did well at them. Track is completely different. It’s much more exposed and the other competitors are fast! I’ve had to accept that there’s a lot to learn and a lot more training before I will feel competitive enough. However, I have also learnt that I’m brave enough to enter races knowing that I will come in behind everyone else. That’s a huge thing for me, putting myself out there when I know I will struggle.

Following on from that, running has given me so much support. Every competitor genuinely respects the effort that goes into each race and respects their fellow runners.

I think I’m still working out which distance suits me best. This year is a year of learning for me and I’m happy to look at other track distances and see which I like. At the moment I’m still veering towards shorter. Sometimes, the thought of a second lap is one lap too many!!

Hazel working hard! I’d say that’s Hazel’s 800m face! (Mine is similar 😉 )

4. Are you a member of a club? Do you get coached? How many sessions a week? Are you doing a cross-country season this year? Although I am a member of a running club, this year I have mostly been training alone. I have coaching from Garry Palmer at Sportstest. We discuss how the previous week has gone, look at any races or future events and then plan a week’s training. This will usually include relevant track sessions and other runs as well. I usually run 5 times a week, probably around 20 – 25 miles a week. There’s always a complete rest day but on easier days I will do gym sessions as well.

I have tried cross country in the past but won’t be doing it this year. I tore my meniscus last year. Track and what I like to call ‘straight line’ running work well for me. I don’t particularly enjoy cross country racing and know that the terrain aggravates my knee if I run fast on that type of surface.

5. Why do you think athletics is a good sport for older women to take up? I love the fact that there is age grading. This means that you can compete against people of a similar age.  There’s good camaraderie amongst the ladies and there’s plenty of choice in the events. The support from other athletes is amazing and it’s great to challenge yourself. You can also do it at a level that suits you. It doesn’t have to be about competing with others. It can, whisper it, just be for fun too!!

I practised karate for 10 years before concentrating on running. What I like more about running is that it can be whatever you want it to be. I actually enjoy training alone and just concentrating on myself and what I need to do. However slower runs, done for pleasure with a group, give a social aspect to running. Similarly, running for a team gives support. For me I get the head space that I need when I’m doing a challenging speed session and then the social aspect I enjoy when running with a friend or a group.

6. As a woman on the other side of the menopause, how do you view your body? I can honestly say that I feel healthier, fitter and happier than before the menopause. Running has shown me that my body can perform far better than I thought it could. I’m actually lighter than I was before the menopause. I’ve learnt to nurture my body with healthy food, sleep and exercise. I definitely think that being physical helps.

I certainly respect my body more now. If I want it to perform I know that I need to give it the support that it needs to perform the way I want it to. I’m also proud of my body. It’s looked after me well and enables me to do the things that I want. I don’t take it for granted any more.

I’d like to think that I escaped the brain fog but I do find myself making endless lists to ensure that I don’t forget things. On the flip side though, if things do get forgotten or go wrong, I’m so much more relaxed about them now.

The finishing line is in sight! #FlyingFeet

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? It’s just a different stage of life. In many ways I feel more secure in my choices and way of life. I still have the lack of confidence that has always been with me but I’m gradually learning to challenge that. I definitely haven’t conquered it but I’m aware that the spotlight is no longer on me as much. In that way, yes the menopause can cause women to become invisible, but sometimes that can be liberating.

8. Are there any upsides for you about being on the other side of the menopause? Lack of periods!! Growing into my own skin. Learning from past mistakes and realising that the world didn’t end. I think also, you become aware that time is finite and that spurs you on to do the things you always meant to but never seemed to find time for. Possessions are no longer important, work will always get done in the end. You realise that it’s friendships and relationships that matter.

9. What do you have in your sights? Desperately seeking a sub-3-minute 800m. I’d also like to get below 80 seconds for my 400m. It’s a little bit like being a child in a sweet shop. There’s lots of distances to explore but at the moment I’d like to concentrate on 400 and 800.

I’m also currently doing my Level 2 Fitness Instructor qualification and will then do the Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification. I’m doing these more to have an understanding of how fitness works and how to look after my body, rather than as a career change. I still enjoy going to the gym but use it to complement my running now.

10. What’s your number one piece of advice for post-menopausal women? Love your life and your body. It’s the only one you’re going to have. Cherish and make it a good one.

I wish Hazel all the best for her track career! I have the feeling that I’ll be racing against her (probably behind her 🙂 ) next summer 🙂 .

Right then. I am 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 🙂

Don’t Dream of Winning: Train for it

I made it! After almost 7 months of training, I’m ready for the powerlifting competition on Saturday 20 July. Last week I completed my final week of heavy lifting and this week is all about the de-load 🙂 . I’m looking forward to a lighter training schedule, good food and lots of sleep.

Powerlifting has been a very big part of my life for the last 7 months and it’ll leave a big pair of shoes to fill. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue to powerlift (it’s got to the point that it’s not helping with running, rather I’m carrying extra muscle weight that gets in the way a bit), but I’ll certainly keep lifting in some form or other. Of course, I’ve learned to say ‘Never say never’, so I’ll just let things take their natural course for now and see what appears on the horizon 🙂 .

In the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to set a personal record in each of the 3 lifts:

Deadlift: 110kg
Back squat: 75kg (in spite of backing off because of pelvic floor issues)
Bench press: 47kg

For me, that’s enough to be a good outcome for this adventure – regardless of what happens in the competition on Saturday.  The main thing for me at the weekend is to get three solid opening lifts (so I get a score) and, more than that, to be completely present to the aliveness of the whole experience (yeah – I think this event is going to be brilliant on the ‘feeling completely alive’ front 😉 ). I’m going to focus on enjoying the day, enjoying meeting (and supporting) other competitors and enjoying experiencing the unique atmosphere of a powerlifting competition. If I can keep that focus, and enjoy the rewards of my training (while respecting the safety limits my body is currently communicating to me), I’ve won.

When I entered the powerlifting competition back in January, I weighed 57.1kg (bringing me – just – into the W63 M2 category). My sprinting adventure drove my weight down into the low 55s to start with, but now I’m fluctuating between 56.5kg and 57.5kg. I have until Wednesday morning to confirm my final weight category (W57 or W63) – and that’s the only thing I need to take care of right now. My kit is ‘broken in’ and ready to go. The training is done (I didn’t miss a single session, although I did get an extra de-load week to support my 400m/800m adventure). My head is in the right place.  As we say in Ballymoney (all the time🤣 ): Thunderbirds are go.  And the bonus for me is that I’m the oldest lifter in the competition! I think that’s pretty cool 😎.

In today’s video-blog, I talk about the upcoming competition. If you think my eyes look weird, it’s because I’m just out of the pool!

Right. I’ve got lots of admin to do for work today so I’m going to listen to BBC Radio 4 while I do that. There’s a programme on called ‘Worth Her Weight‘ and I think it’ll be just the thing for me because the description says  ‘ […] offers a rare glimpse into the Strong Man world: a male-dominated place that’s starting to open its doors to women.’ After that, 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 🙂

Clouds and Silver Linings

[Photo credit: Stephen Lee]

The 29 June 2019 was marked as a big day on my adventure calendar: it was to be the day I competed at the NI Masters Track & Fields Championships in Belfast – my second sortie into the world of ‘fast’. It didn’t happen. The championships happened, right enough, but I didn’t make it – and I didn’t make it due to the thing runners fear the most: injury. (You can read about my first sortie into the world of track and field at the Midland Masters T&F Championships here.)

As an endurance athlete, with a running career spanning more than 30 years, I’ve been really lucky. I had a mountaineering accident that knocked me out of action for a couple of years in the mid 90s while I waited for knee surgery (the treated knee has ended up being stronger than my untreated knee 🤣). I also had an Achilles niggle during my ultra-running training about 10 years ago (nothing that a good sports massage and careful training didn’t handle: I still managed to race without an issue). Apart from that, it’s all been good.

My racing spikes 🙂

Two weeks ago I went along to the Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club for the normal Tuesday track session. It was a toughy: 6 x 400m at 5 seconds more than best race pace. It was only the third time I’d worn a set of spikes and really I should have changed into my flats and done the speed work in those instead. But I didn’t change into them and come the end of the session, both Achilles were sore and my feet were hurting. (I don’t have the ideal biomechanics for spikes anyway: flat feet that pronate and are used to stability shoes – and used to heel-striking – have a fair bit of work to do to adapt to spikes, which offer little in the way of support and motion control!)

On the Wednesday morning I couldn’t walk. I self-massaged and dipped my feet and ankles in both hot and iced water. In the weeks since the injury I’ve kept active too, maintaining my hard-earned speed with spin classes (I love spin classes – basically, high intensity interval training on wheels – and the classes at Causeway Route-2-Fitness are super), CrossFit (taking out all jumping and running) and weight-training.  Last Friday I went to see Jonny Whiteman, a brilliant sports massage therapist who had helped me with my back a few months ago. He established that there was no rupture or bursa issue (on the upside), but that the championships were out (on the downside). 60 minutes of dry needling (which is as painful as it sounds and I was doing quite a bit of yelping, I can tell ya 🤪) and armed with a series of exercises to rehab my right tendon (the left had looked after itself), I found myself in new territory: 6 months training for this adventure under my belt but a full 400m/800m adventure ban in place.

My reaction to this situation has been of interest to me. 10 or 20 years ago, I might have seen this as a disaster. However, even though I am getting older by the day (and menopause and this so-called oldness means my tendons are less elastic and may not recover so quickly), my thoughts went straight to a new question: ‘Well, what can I do instead?’

While I’m rehabbing (could be weeks, could be months, but I can start back with short bursts of gentle running in the near future if things continue the way they are), I’m going to keep up the spin classes. They’re social, they’re tough and they’re good for my running fitness. My twice-weekly recovery swims can turn into actual training sessions, and CrossFit and weight-training are all doable (even if I have to scale the programming). Thinking about my running, all being well, I’ll get to try cross-country in the autumn, and that will be an adventure. There’s also an indoor track season as an option too – but I’ll need a plan for transitioning to spikes in a healthy way, I think.

I think that taking a winter season to allow my body to fully adapt to the demands of a track season is probably the best way to go, so I’m going to commit to that. I’m also going to get myself into good 5k and 10k shape. That’ll help with the cross-country season and I’ll also get the chance to road-race with my dad again (which I haven’t done for years). The last time I raced at 10k distance was in Coventry in the late 90s – my very first race!

So, I’ve adjusted my adventure map a little and I have to say the new territory is looking rather good 😎, although there is another cloud on the horizon. The rookie powerlifting competition is on 20 July and my legs and backside are bulking up rightly 🤣. I’ve been following the training programme to the letter and have been amazed at what my old-dog body has been able to do, but I think I’m beginning to reach my limits.

Progress on the bench press has slowed down (with my as-long-as-legs arms, this lift was always going to be a bit of a challenge!), but my deadlift and bench press have been solid in their upward trend. However (and it’s a really big however that I’m not going to ignore), my pelvic floor seems to have reached its threshold. The menopause (along with a host of other life events – like having children) can lead to a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. I’d say that mine are (or rather were) in good shape (although when skipping comes up on the CrossFit programme, I always hope for less than 100 skips … after that, well, you know 🤣). I do my pelvic floor exercises regularly, I’m not overweight and I’m physically active – but powerlifting is a whole different order of stress and my body is making it quite clear that going much further will only end in tears. Well, tears are obviously a very polite metaphor 😎.

Taking the positives from my powerlifting adventure: I’m much stronger than I was and I’d put money on my bones being super dense. It’s taught me to challenge what I believe is possible for my ectomorphic body (which, actually, doesn’t really look that ectomorphic any more!) and supported a new level of body confidence. I’ll still be competing on 20 July, but I may not be lifting to my full potential – or even the weights that I’ve been lifting recently. For back squats and deadlifts, I’ve gone back 3 weeks in the schedule to the point at which I didn’t have a problem. I hope this helps me to rebuild a bit of confidence in my pelvic flooor, gives my pelvic floor a bit of time to recover and helps me to feel competition-ready. And there’s always the demon bench press to hurl myself at – even if I just make it to 47kg, that will be something to celebrate!

So, this old dog maybe has to come to terms with the parts of her that are actually old! But there are workarounds. There are plenty of other adventures to be had. And both the 400m/800m and powerlifting adventures have opened new doors. Come the winter, I’ll be looking to integrate a track-specific weight-training programme into my run training, and I’ve absolutely no doubt that my powerlifting adventure will have built a more-than-solid F1 chassis for any future speed adventures!

Right, then. My tail’s still wagging. I may be an old dog, by I’m still a puppy at heart! 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 🙂

A Very Cool Adventure

You may remember a while back that I read a book called What Doesn’t Kill UsInspired by the stories Scott Carney shared in this book, I set about practising the Wim Hof Method, using a specific breathing technique and taking daily cold showers. (If you’re interested, I talk about how I fit this practice into my daily routine here 🙂 ).

In an ice trance!

Having mentioned the book and my new practice to fellow athletes and coaches at my CrossFit box, one of the coaches talked about the possibility of organising a local workshop run by a certified WHM instructor. Obviously, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for such an adventure!

On Sunday 23 June, Scott Riley of Causeway Living ran a ‘split venue’ workshop for a small group of local folk. We spent the morning at CrossFit Causeway learning the fundamentals of the Wim Hof Method, focusing specifically on our goals and on the breathing technique. In the afternoon we went to Coach Paul’s house in the countryside and took a wee dip in an ice bath 😉 .

Even though I had been taking daily cold showers for 6 weeks, I didn’t feel very confident about getting into a bath full of ice. I knew my body was really good at getting rid of heat (I sweat profusely when I’m training, particularly when I’m running) and I’d say that I tend to feel the cold (I’m the one who’ll be wearing a couple of fleeces and a hat inside the house, even in summer!). The showers didn’t seem to be getting any easier for me, so I thought I was heading for a major wimp moment for certain …

Scott taught us how to down-regulate the fight-or-flight response by slowing our breathing right down. As we all stood around the pool, Scott banged out a rhythm on a drum and we built up energy with our breathing. When the drum beat slowed, it was time for someone to get into the icy water.

Somehow I think the faster drumming triggered memories and well-practised useful skills for the context. I remembered breaking boards with my bare hands on countless occasions (through my NLP training work). I remembered how many times I’d walked across burning embers and done arrow-breaks at Tir na Nog . And then my body did something of its own accord: it took me into a trance – before I even got into the pool!

As soon as I felt the familiar pins-and-needles of trance starting to happen, I knew I’d be okay in the ice. When the drumming slowed for a second time, I stepped forward and lowered myself slowly into the water. I slowed my breathing right down, I let myself sink deeper into trance, and I actually enjoyed the experience 🙂 .

Here’s a wee bit of footage of me in the pool:

(You can watch more ice bath footage here.) Since doing Scott’s workshop I’ve become far more confident about exposing myself to the cold. The slow-breathing technique really works and I have no bother showering on the coldest setting: I actually enjoy it and the feeling of cold soon wears off! Afterwards I feel really relaxed and invigorated.

I also like the idea that it’s possible to generalise out this response to stress. That is, we can down-regulate our fight-or-flight response just by the simple act of breathing. And I really like how cold-showering or ice-bathing can help overcome procrastination. For me, there’s no point standing in the shower and waiting to be ready to turn the temperature right down. While it’s toasty warm, you’ll never be ‘ready’, so just turn it down and enjoy it!

You can find out more about Scott Riley and his Wim Hof Method workshops here.  He’s a super facilitator and walks his talk.

Right. I’m off for a cold shower, then I’m 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 1: Kerry Sweeney

Over the next month or so I’ll be introducing you to some inspiring women. These are women I’ve known for a while or women I’ve met through my adventures.  In all cases, they challenge what it means to be an older woman, and their achievements and life philosophies are really worth sharing. Seeing other people living their dreams can help us to generate the courage, ambition and zest to live our own 🙂 .

First up in this series is Kerry Sweeney. Kerry’s a 44-year-old mum of three, wife, paramedic team leader for the Scottish Ambulance Service, RAF reservist medic, runner, swimmer and outdoor-lover. She recently represented Great Britain at the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Championships, finishing 7th in the aquathlon.

I’ve known Kerry since 1999. When we moved to Crieff (Scotland), Kerry was a fitness instructor at the Crieff Hydro. I went along to Kerry’s aerobics classes (right up to the day my son was born) and ran with her now and again (although it was quite hard to keep up with her most of the time 😉 ). Kerry was one of the first people to welcome me into the local community.

I managed to catch up with Kerry recently and ask her about her adventurous life. Here’s what she had to say:

1. You’ve just represented GB for the first time at the ITU championships. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to competing? I had a random chat with an existing GB age group athlete that I know through social media who suggested I should look at qualifying times. I had one opportunity left in the season in Scotland to qualify and I decided that I should go for it. I raced at the Stirling aquathlon, placing 3rd overall and 1st in my age group. After that I received an email that confirmed my place. Knowing that I would be representing GB  is a feeling that it is difficult to describe: it was the biggest sporting achievement of my life. Some of my motivators were inner motivations to prove to myself that you really can do anything you want to do if you work hard enough. From an external point of view I wanted to show my children that you should chase your dreams.

My training regime was tough due to shift work and also going through the joining process to become an RAF reservist at the same time. I had to ensure that what I was eating was fuelling my body properly and that I was getting sufficient sleep around my night-shifts. I cut down on alcohol and then gave it up completely for 6 weeks which was a challenge for me. I devised my own training plan again to work around shifts but I tried to get 6/7 sessions a week in, mixing up swimming, running and strength training. Then, towards March, I started doing back-to-back swims/runs. My biggest letdown was not being able to do much outdoor swimming as it was just too cold to justify driving to Loch Earn for a few minutes swim.

Representing my country was the highest honour and pulling on the tri suit made every single session worthwhile. The support my family and friends gave me really inspired me to push to be the best I could be. As I walked into the holding pen with another 180 female athletes from all over the world I felt nervous but super excited and really privileged to have this opportunity.

2. You had a phenomenal championship! What was the race like and what impact has this achievement had on you? Throughout the race, due to how the set up was, I never knew what place I was in! The first I knew was when friends from home were messaging me. I knew I had run a 5K PB and that felt like confirmation that I had given it my all. My swim was quite difficult and I had to dig deep into mental reserves to keep pushing and this consolidated the whole feeling of being strong both mentally and physically. I sat on the roadside by myself immediately after the race with medal in my hand and I felt so overwhelmed with happiness that I had just lived my dream. All those tired, cold, hard runs were worth it. The sacrifices of going home early and monitoring weight, food, alcohol and training they were forgotten. I also realised that it’s okay not to win as long as you give it your best shot.

3. What do you have lined up next? I hope to move into representing the RAF sports teams and aim to qualify for Almere in 2020 for the world champs at aquathlon.

4. What advice would you give to women in their 40s, 50s and beyond who might really want to do something but are afraid it’s too late / they may make a fool of themselves / they’re really not cut out for whatever it is they want to do? My advice would always be give it a go. I personally don’t care if I make a fool of myself as it’s better than suffocating your dreams and I believe we are all capable of so much more than we think we are. If you don’t try, you will never know. I met some amazing American aquathletes who were in their 60s. With the uptake in women in sport I believe there is a place for everyone whether it be recreational, national or international.

5. Do you have any swimming advice for me and my upcoming butterfly adventure? Break it down and drill, drill, drill, then put it back together. For butterfly, relax and keep it smooth.

6. As you approach the menopause, how is your relationship with your body changing (if at all)? I haven’t experienced menopause symptoms, but as I get older I am growing to respect my amazing body that has not only birthed 3 wonderful babies but has carried me thousands of miles exploring hills, trails, roads and tracks. It has allowed me to lift weights, to cut through pools and lochs, and to let me live my life to the full.

7. And finally, why do you think you push yourself to achieve things in the way you do? I often ask myself why I push myself so much and quite simply it’s because I can.

If you want to keep up with Kerry’s adventures, you can follow her on Twitter @strathkerry.

Right. That’s me inspired! 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 🙂