Inspiring Women 6: Angie Fisher

It’s been quiet for a while on my blog, but the lack of posts doesn’t mean I’ve not been doing anything. 2020 is going to be a big year for me: I’ve two new books due to be published and a fair few aquathlon and swimming adventures planned! I’ve been busy writing and training, but I’ve come up for air to share this lovely interview with talented triathlete and super-coach, Angie Fisher.

If you remember back to last December, I did my first aquathlon at Halesowen in England. Angie Fisher, head coach at Nuneaton Triathlon Club, gave me a lift to the event – and gave me lots of top tips too. On the way back from the event, Angie shared a little about how she got into triathlon. Her story is so interesting that I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for my adventure blog – and she said yes!

Angie ‘in a Nutshell’
Angie is 63, lives in Nuneaton and trains with Nuneaton Triathlon Club. She’s a retired police officer and has 2 grown-up kids and a dog. She used to be known as Angie Fisher the Swimmer when she was at work. (She  was World Police and European Open Water Swimming Champion!) Now she’s known as Angie Fisher Head Coach (of Nuneaton Triathlon Club) and ‘Ironlady’.

The Interview
1. It really inspired me to hear that you only got into triathlon in your mid-50s. Can you tell me about how you got into triathlon and about your triathlon journey so far?
I retired from the Police Force aged 55 after 36years (I drove the fast response car) and wanted a bit of a challenge. Someone at work was talking about doing a triathlon and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve always been a bit sporty: I swam at quite a high standard and had run a bit (at school!), so off I went to the bike shop and got a bike, having never ridden a racing bike in my life.

My first triathlon was a bit mad really, now I think about it. I couldn’t find my bike in transition and had to walk most of the 5k run, but I was hooked and just wanted to go back and do it better.

Around this time, a small group of masters swimmers started running on a Saturday morning at our local track so we got together and formed a triathlon club. All because I bought a bike!

We only had one coach, and he knew nothing about swimming, so I thought ‘well I could do that’ and went and did my coaching courses. Now I have people to help me with different aspects and I mainly take the swimming sessions and oversee the club’s training programme.

Having done a sprint triathlon, I wanted to do more. That meant doing an Olympic, and then a half Ironman. And then, of course, a full Ironman. I’ve done 2 Ironmen so far (Austria and Barcelona), plus the Long Course weekend in Wales.

I have qualified for the GB Age-Group Team a couple of times at Aquathlon and Middle Distance tri but only took up a place for the first time last year (its very expensive). I would like to go again. It is a good experience.

2. What are you training for at the moment? I have entered the Swimathon in March (5k), a marathon at Stratford in April and an Olympic distance triathlon in Majorca in May. I’m a bit of a fair-weather cyclist to be honest, so I’m doing most of my cycling on a turbo. I spend the winter running and swimming and use events like the Swimathon and the marathon to set me up for the race season.

3. Tell me a little bit about your training regime.  I train nearly every day for an hour or 2, with a longer bike ride at the weekend in the summer. I do have a plan but I like to keep it quite flexible. I prefer to train with other people and take a day off when I feel I need to. On average I do 3 swims a week, 3 runs a week, 3 bike/turbo rides and 1 strength and conditioning, mixing up the length/intensity/variation of each session. Sounds really boring but I love it.

4. What has the sport of triathlon given to you that you didn’t expect? I get so much pleasure coaching and seeing other people achieve something that they never believed they could do.

5. What’s the best thing about triathlon? The people. The social aspect. Its all about the people.

6. What’s the hardest thing about triathlon? Being Injured. It can be tough. I had a really bad accident 2 ½ years ago and came off my bike. I hit some electrical covers in the road and must have gone over the handlebars, I don’t really remember as I was knocked unconscious. I was air lifted to hospital with a broken neck, wrist, collar bone, 4 ribs, couple of fingers and a fractured cheekbone. I never even thought about giving up. I did Ironman Austria 12 months later although I still wasn’t fully recovered.

There are elements of triathlon that carry risks and lots of athletes do get injured. At least I’m in a position to be able to emphathise with them and encourage them to dig deep. And as a coach I can help them minimise the risks.

7. Do you think triathlon is a good sport for older women to take up? I’m fit. I’m healthy and I’m happy. All because I do triathlon. I get to travel – a lot; meet people – a lot; and have fun. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to do it. Age doesn’t really come into it. Its good for everyone.

Angie (far right) with fellow Nuneaton Tri Club athletes!

8. What advice would you give to someone thinking about giving their first triathlon a go? You can do it. All you have to do is finish. Do it for yourself. Do it for fun. Do it and enjoy it.

9. As a woman on the other side of the menopause, how do you view your body? I got the hot flushes and I put a bit of weight on. I think I always had cotton wool for brains, so I’m not sure about that one! Now I’m the same weight as when I was 18. I think I’m a bit more conscious of eating for energy, staying hydrated etc. although I can more or less eat what I like. That’s all down to the exercise. I feel so much fitter. I have virtually given up alcohol though, I don’t like the after effects of being tired and lethargic. It affects my training.

10. People talk about women feeling ‘invisible’ once they have gone through the menopause. What do you think about that? Is it true for you? Invisible? Me? 🙂

11. Are there any upsides for you about being on the other side of the menopause? I feel wonderful. I used to get debilitating migraines every month which have now stopped. I no longer care what people think and feel happy in my own skin.

12. What do you have in your sights triathlon-wise for 2020? I’m still waiting for confirmation that I’ve qualified for the World Aquathlon Championships in Holland in September. I will make that my A race this year if I have. I qualified last year and went to Spain (I was 8th in my age group) but was in the middle of training for Ironman Barcelona at the time and think I could have done better.

13. What’s your number one piece of advice for post-menopausal women? It’s a new chapter in your life. Make the most of it while you can.

I’m looking forward to catching up with Angie again in April (we’re both competing in the Air3 aquathlon at Warwick University), by which time I hope she’ll see an improvement in my swimming!  In the meantime,  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.)

Last Adventure Reports of the Year!

It’s been a while since I last checked in and I’ve had a fair few adventures in the interim! As I’ve decided that 2020 will be my  #InForTheSwim year (obviously this was not by any means a rational decision, I just found myself on the British Triathlon Federation website and the rest, as they say, is history 🤣), I thought I’d better get the training underway. The aim is to do a few aquathlons (swim-run races, including open water events). I’m going for the sprint distance (750m swim and 5k run) and I’m going for something else …. *wait for it* ….  😱…. I’m going for an age-grouper (50-55) qualifying time for either GB or Ireland. This means I have to swim 750m in under 15 minutes and run 5k in under 23 minutes.

I’m not worried about the run. I am worried about the swim 🤣. After years out of the pool, I got back in on December 31 2018, swimming twice a week (as a recovery from 400m/800m track training and powerlifting). I was a 100% breaststroke girl. Total frog. Never deviated from it. And that’s because I couldn’t deviate from it. After a length of crawl I was completely done in. I didn’t even try backstroke. And as for butterfly … well that was for another adventure!

After the powerlifting competition in July things changed. I started my swim coaching sessions with David Graham of Trinetic, the aim being to swim a length of butterfly in respectable style by the end of October. The good news is I did it (you can watch me doing it here). And, more curiously, the unintended consquence of me learning to swim fly was that I had to improve my front crawl (you can’t do training sessions of only fly: it’s a power stroke and you’d never get out of a fly-only session alive!)

Honestly? My front crawl was in bad shape: kicking from the knees (it’s a running thing, apparently), arms crossing over in front of my head, thumbs in first, core not engaged, head too high, no rotation ….. I could go on 😳 David helped me make some initial fixes so I could get through the sessions and focus on fly.

After the butterfly race I was hooked on swimming. I’d built up to 4-5 sessions a week, and I loved being in the water, and I loved the gruelling aspect of the training: it really reminded me of the work I was doing for 400m/800m running. So, this is what I said to David: ‘Let’s keep going. Let’s see how far I can go with this swimming thing.’ And so, since the end of October, I’ve been working on my crawl with the aquathlons in mind …. and I’ve been keeping that there undulating going too because I’m going to give the NI Masters Swimming Championships a whirl next May too … and my chosen stroke will be : FLY 🤣 Yep. I’m a complete nutter. Tell me something I don’t know 🤣.

Davagh Forest 10k Results: Alice Got Me Home In Good Time!

First time out in my Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club vest!

#InForTheSwim means that I’m having to get back to running longer distances again. I threw myself in ‘at the deep end’ and ran in the Davagh Forest 10K trail race on 9 November (organised by the Sperrins Harriers). Conditions were grim to say the least (lashing rain, sludgy ice, frozen-feet cold) but I did manage to be 1st female finisher (in the F50-59 category) and the 4th female home overall . This was completely accidental because I’d started running next to another female runner, Alice, pretty early on in the race. Like me, she was a chatter (you don’t get many of those in the shorter, faster races) and I thought it was my best chance of getting around the course without losing the will to live (10K is a long way after racing at 400m/800m, I tell ya!) It was probably a good job hadn’t asked Alice how old she was at the start of our running partnership. If I’d realised she was a good 20 years younger than me, I probably would’ve never tried to keep up with her: I was suffering in the last 100 metres (she had a furious finish in those fast legs of hers and I didn’t stand a chance)!

November saw the close of the CrossFit Open 20.1, a 5-week challenge where athletes take part in a specified (pretty horrific 🤣😱)workout once a week. People from all over the world take part and it’s quite a thing. And quite hard. And quite helpful for the mental aspect of training. I surprised myself by topping the leader board in the UK for my division (female masters, 50-55, scaled). It was super to undertake this challenge with fellow CrossFitters from Team Causeway: big shout-outs to Gillian, Pete and Ivor. I did a fair bit of whinging over that 5 weeks (and used a fair bit of chalk too 🤣) and it reminded me of something that’ll help me with #InForTheSwim: the suffering is always transient and always (all-ways) worth it! (It also taught me that pull-ups come in handy now and again 🤣).

And that brings me to the last race of the year and my first aquathlon! It was a pool-based aquathlon organised by Halesowen Tri Club : 400m ‘snake swim’ and 5k run. I contacted the friendly folk at Nuneaton Triathlon Club to see if I could get a lift (I’d be in England without transport to Halesowen) and at 06:30 on Sunday 15 December, Head Coach Angie Fisher picked me up from my parents’ house and drove me to the event.

Angie Fisher: triathlon is a very serious business!

Angie gave me some top tips on race day (especially about breathing – oh yeah, and I learned that a hole punch is an important piece of tri kit!) and helped dispel pre-race nerves. She showed me the ropes (literally 🤣) at the pool and even cheered me on during the swim.

I was due to be in the water at 08:32 so reported to the poolside team just after 08:15. Phil Hall (Triathlon Redditch) kept me good company and also helped me to calm down a bit! (He did the run segment dressed as the Grinch!).

The event was marshalled brilliantly. I was invited into the water at my allocated time and given a clear countdown. I swam as hard as I could because I thought I’d get in Phil’s way. Turns out I swam so hard I caught up the swimmer in front of me 🤣. You can see me being non-plussed by the situation  in this video. I’m in lane 3 at the start of the film (dark blue tri suit and royal blue hat). When it comes to the turning point in lane 4, I’ve caught up the swimmer in front. I stop and wait and have a wee think about what to do before setting off again!

I managed my swim in 08:41. Transition was slow at 01:52 (and I really should have practised it, and I really should’ve toughed it out and not bothered with struggling to get my windproof on. Anyway, I don’t really wanna talk about it. Enough about transitions already. No one mention the T word, okay? 🤣). The run was also quite slow at 24:17 (I’d done a ‘dry’ run of the full event at home in lashing rain and strong headwinds earlier in the week and managed the run at 23:03) but conditions under foot were tricky: it was very icy indeed and there were sections that were barely runnable. I’ve made peace with my run time so it’s all good!

My overall finishing time was 35:50 and I was the second FSV 50-59 across the finishing line. The first female across the line in my category was only 15 seconds faster (no .. do NOT mention the T word .. don’t even THINK about it 🤣). It felt good to get it done!

After the event it was lovely to talk to other competitors and to other Nuneaton triathletes. It strikes me that this sport is very friendly and inclusive.

We stayed for the award ceremony and Angie won her category! On the way home Angie told me that she’d only started competing in triathlons in her 50s: this was good for me to hear 🙂 . Angie’s story is very inspiring – in fact, it’s so inspiring that I’m going to interview her for a separate post. (I’ll just say GB age-grouper vest, okay? 🙂 ).

Right then. I’m off to email Santa to see if he could manage a last-minute hole punch order. After that 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 🙂