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 ๐Ÿ‘ป.

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 wasย  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 ๐Ÿ˜†. 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 ๐Ÿ˜†). 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-basedย  aquathlon (swim and run) in December, and next year will be the year of mastering open water swimming ๐Ÿ˜ฑ (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 ๐Ÿ˜Ž… 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ . (By the way, if youโ€™re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks projectย here.)

JT ๐Ÿ™‚

White Lights

One of the biggest challenges of my #OldDogNewTricks year of adventure is project management! For the first three adventures, I’ve had to prepare for each simultaneously: I started preparing for my musical theatre adventure, my track adventure (400m/800m) and powerlifting adventure in January.

Whilst my musical theatre adventure was done and dusted in April, my first track adventure takes place this weekend (9 June). All well and good, you might think ๐Ÿ˜‰ .However, the small spanner in the works is that I’m less than 7 weeks out from the rookie powerlifting competition. This has meant that getting ready for my upcoming track races (including the NI Masters Champs at the end of June) is clashing head on with an increasingly heavy (literally ๐Ÿ˜‚) powerlifting training load.

Result? I’m whacked. To be more precise, I’m REALLY whacked during the first week of every new powerlifting mesocycle. (Each mesocycle is a 4-week schedule with a very heavy first week, a moderate second week, a heavy third week , and a light fourth or de-load week). I’ve just come to the end of the first week of a new cycle, so I’m definitely feeling it a bit. With my first track races this weekend, I’m getting in as much recovery as I can. Basically, this means as much sleep as I can take (which is about 10 hours at the moment: 9 hours at night and 30-60 minutes kip late afternoon if I’m working from home). It also means as much food as I can take (which is 4000 – 5000 calories a day at the moment); and it means a strategic lightening of the training load (which means that I’ve front-loaded my moderate powerlifting week so all my lifts will be done by tomorrow lunchtime. It also means a slightly lighter run load).

On top of the physical training load is the psychological training load. Last week I learned how to get out of the blocks and got some track experience in my spikes to build a little racing confidence. This took a huge psychological weight off my mind. On Sunday, I’ll be focusing on enjoying the experience and getting a feel for what an athletics meet is really like: all useful for ‘peaking’ at the NI Masters Championships at the end of June ๐Ÿ˜Ž. (Listen, if you’re reading this and you’re competing at the Masters T&F Championships in Belfast at the end of June, don’t worry. My peak will be nothing like your peak: I just want to get off that track alive ๐Ÿคฃ ! And without getting disqualified ๐Ÿ˜ฑ)

Psychological preparations have also started for the rookie powerlifting competition. Paul Cullen, my powerlifting coach (who holds two current weightlifting world records: behind- the- head military press and push press from the rack), ran an evening seminar for CrossFit Causeway lifters competing in the July competition. During this session, the five of us who are going to compete learned all about platform etiquette, how to work out what to go for for the three attempts at each lift, what the commands are for each lift, warm-up etiquette, weigh-in protocols and how you know whether you ‘got’ the lift. There’ll be three judges on the platform and what competitors will be hoping for is three white lights (and a minimum of two).

Knowing how things will work on the day helps me to stop worrying about all the things I don’t know (because I have a better sense of those things now) and put all that energy into training. Being prepared suits me ๐Ÿ™‚ . Being inspired also helps me with my preparations. And last Friday Gail (my powerlifting training buddy) and I got a surprise mega-dose of inspiration after our CrossFit workout.

Ricky (L) and Eugene (R)

Gail and I take our training very seriously ๐Ÿ˜‰

Northern Irish powerlifting legends Ricky Mullan and Eugene Currie popped into the box to train. Gail and I were thrilled when they took a bit of time out and had a chat with us. Gail got some top tips about tightening her belt and her wrist wraps (and, let me tell you, those things aren’t comfortable! My belt bruises my ribs every time I wear it ๐Ÿ˜ฑ). When Ricky said I was probably a good deadlifter, it was really lovely to feel a sense of ‘belonging’ to the powerlifting community. To look at me, you might not take me for a powerlifter at all – and yet here was a great powerlifter ‘seeing’ the powerlifter in me. His words really helped to make me start to take myself more seriously as a lifter – and to feel more possibility too.ย  (I have pretty long everything, which isn’t that great for bench-pressing or back-squatting. Here’s an interesting wee factoid: my arms are actually as long as Gail’s legs! My old-lady back squats are improving, thanks to my knee sleeves which really help my old-lady knees ๐Ÿ˜‰ But my super-long arms and super-long back are just perfect for deadlifting. )

So, here I am with 5 months of training under my belt. I’m running faster. I’m lifting heavier, and – most importantly of all – I’m feeling more connected to the world, and more alive, than ever before. If the world were watching me, I reckon I’d be getting 3 white lights right now!

Right. I think I need a little lie down, so I’m just going outside and may be some time ๐Ÿ˜‰ . (By the way, if youโ€™re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks projectย here.)

JT ๐Ÿ™‚

Final Preparations for my First Track Adventure!

Tuesday was a very big day in the #OldDogNewTricks adventure house! With my first track races (400m and 800m) taking place in Nuneaton at the West Midlands Masters Track & Field Championships on Sunday 9 June, the nerves are starting to kick in.

Whenever I get anxious about anything, I find one of the best ways to feel more confident is to prepare as best I can.

I started training for these events on 1 January 2019. In the grand scheme of things, 5 months may not be very long to prepare for the demands of the 400m and 800m. However, it is long enough to have a good go at the distances! 5 months in and the training is beginning to pay off, and I’m realising that, given another 5 months, I’ll probably have a much better feel for my potential at these (and other) distances. In other words, I’m not going to stop training for the track once my track adventures are over ๐Ÿ™‚ .

With less than two weeks until my first races, my current worries are around the starting blocks (setting them up and getting out of them) and running on a track in spikes.

With the aim of being as prepared as I can be, I went along to CrossFit Causeway at lunchtime on Tuesday of this week to get some experience with the blocks.

During a 45-minute intensive lunchtime session,ย  Richard Lappin (a member of my ‘adventure support crew‘) showed me how to adjust the blocks. He then put me through my ‘block paces’ by getting me to practise ‘falling’ out of the blocks. I had to learn how to get out of the blocks while resisting the urge to stand up (this is much tougher than it sounds). By the end of the session I was feeling a lot more confident about the blocks – and I still have a bit of time to fine-tune.

On Tuesday evening I headed over to Antrim to join Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club for a training session on the track. This would be my chance to get some experience of running in spikes – and I have to say I was a little bit nervous about going along.

I needn’t have been nervous at all: I had a lovely warm welcome and learned a great deal from the session. I was very well looked after by the coach (Pauline) and athletes (thanks in particular to Emma, Katie, Sophie and Rhonda). It was my very first time running on a track and I completely loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I’m going to join the club. I’m pretty certain that my running will improve no end by training with other runners – and I’m pretty certain that I’m going to really enjoy getting to know the other athletes. I talk in full detail about my blocks and track experience in today’s video-blog (and I get a bit of a major insight too ๐Ÿ™‚ ):

Right. I am just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if youโ€™re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks projectย here.)

JT

Back in the (Human) Race

At the Purple Ladies 5K on 24 April 2019

I’m about 6 weeks away from my first track meet (for my 400m/800m sprinting adventures) and training is going well: I’m injury-free and still enjoying it – and I’ve no problems motivating myself to get out of the door and onto the road.

To spice up my training, I decided to enter a local 5K race. I’ve never raced at this distance before (the shortest I’ve raced is 10K – and the last time I raced at that distance was 1995 in Coventry). One of my current weekly runs is a speed-endurance session and I thought I’d hop along to this local 5K event and run a pacey 2K and jog the rest (which is all I needed to do to keep on track with my schedule).

Just before starting the Mourne Way Ultra in 2010

The last time I raced was in 2010: the Mourne Way Ultra in County Down, Northern Ireland. After that I went rogue and did all of my running on my own (or, when I was working towards a very tight writing deadline, not at all!). Turning up at the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre in Ballymoney to pick up my race number for the Purple Ladies 5Kย  this Wednesday evening was a bit of a shock to the system after such a long time ‘off the circuit’.

The registration hall was a sea of club colours and I felt a bit intimidated and out of place. My nerves were calmed by the brilliant organisation of the host running club (Springwell). All competitors were given a very warm welcome and a lovely pep talk at the start line.

The man with the starter gun encouraged those aiming for a 20-minute finish time to move to the front. I thought I’d shadow the front runners as best I could for the first 2K and then ease off the pedal. I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of keeping up, but I knew that even if I could only see those front runners as specks on the horizon, just having them in my sights would keep me pushing on.

I don’t run with a wrist watch (I’m allergic to most straps and buckles), so I usually carry a stopwatch. Unfortunately, I’d left my stopwatch in the car, so I’d just have to rely on the faster runners to keep me going at a demanding pace for 2K and not worry too much about the time.

I stood back and let a layer of runners move up to the start line. The gun went and we were off! I’d warmed up really well and couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying the pace. During the first kilometre I was actually worried that something was terribly wrong. I kept asking myself ‘Why aren’t they running faster?’ and ‘Why isn’t anyone overtaking me?’ and ‘Was there actually a false start?’

After the first kilometre I thought I’d try having a wee chat with the runners next to me. (Having BIG chats is the norm in marathons and ultras, by the way.) The chatting didn’t work (as in, no one seemed that keen to chat back) so, in the end, I settled into (relatively) quiet running. (Okay. Okay. I did randomly chat every now and again. I’m a chatter, okay ? ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s what I do: chat.)

Shelagh (in the top picture) and I ran together for about the first 3K. In the absence of chatting, I focused on the rhythm of my own breathing – and I realised that Shelagh and I were breathing synchronously. In the moment of recognising how our breathing was harmonised, I felt a lovely connection with my fellow runner. The synchronous breathing was the equivalent of chatting. We were telling each other how hard we were working, how we were doing, that we were ‘fully in the game’, that we were in this together. And in that moment I suddenly felt ‘back in the race’.

I’d say I’ve been ‘out of the race’ for the last couple of years. The human race, that is. As a writer, it’s easy to feel ‘cut off’. It’s easy to move into a different world and stay there until the job is done. It’s easy to get so used to being by yourself, that being with others feels odd. Running this 5K race, alongside Shelagh, I suddenly felt part of things again. Part of something bigger. Part of something more joyful. Part of something wildly alive.

Unfortunately, Shelagh dropped behind a little. I decided to push on and get the job done (with a sprinkling of light chat ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). I missed the 2K sign and just kept at a comfortable pace, crossing the finish line without knowing how long the 5K had taken. Shelagh came in just behind me and reckoned we’d done it in 22-something, which I was quite pleased with.

While there was very little in the way of in-race chatting, there was plenty of post-race chatting. It was lovely to talk to other runners and share congratulations. It was lovely to clap other runners across the line. I was really enjoying the whole experience! (I now realise the absence of chatting was due to the hard work being done!)

I decided to stay for the refreshments (the spread was AMAZING) and prize giving (something I’d usually avoid in my running past). I was enjoying the feeling of connection and of community – and I really wanted to stay and clap the prize winners too.

You can imagine my surprise when my name was called out as the second lady finisher in the 50+ category! I’d actually managed to clock a time of 22:26 – I was delighted ๐Ÿ™‚ . And I’d managed to finish 17th in a field of 258 runners ๐Ÿ™‚ .

I’ll tell you something for free: that old dog was wagging her tail rightly ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

I’m sure something changed for me as I crossed that finish line on Wednesday. I’m not exactly sure what it is yet. I feel more open to connecting with other people, that’s for sure. I feel there is less of a gap between me and the outside world. I feel closer to the surface of myself, while still being deeply rooted somewhere inside. And there’s something else … an urge to reach out, I think (I even thought about joining the local running club … and I haven’t been a club runner for about 15 years!). Something big is on the move, anyway. I’ll let you know what it is when it shows itself ๐Ÿ™‚ .

In the meantime, I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if youโ€™re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks projectย here.)

JT ๐Ÿ™‚