Let’s be straight, everybody does it. When you pass a race photographer during a running race you immediately alter your stride. You open your hands out into that Usain Bolt sprint pose, thrust your shoulders back, target the perfectly timed pony tail flick and execute that sought after toe strike. So how is it that within an album of 108 photos on the race photography site, there isn’t one, not one that is worthy of making public? Part of the reason this blog has taken so long to publish is because out of the 108 race photos I couldn't decide which one was the least bad to purchase. Even though I'm not breathing and demonstrating a heel strike 5 miles in, I went with the one above.
Hey, maybe this is marathon running. It’s not pretty, it’s certainly not glamourous but my god is it good fun!
This isn’t a blog about my own race review, it’s not a breakdown on my km splits, how my legs felt and blah blah. This is a blog for every runner, for those who have done 2million marathons and for those who are yet to press the ‘confirm entry’ on their first running race. Any runner who searches every corner for any advice they can get to improve that notorious marathon PB, although I am in that frantic search with you, here is what I have learned from my first experience of 26.2.
Before I offer 6 tips, let me give you an insight into the 5 months leading into the race, and how I strongly believe that a good performance certainly doesn’t solely rely on perfect training and preparation. I believe that a good performance is largely down to your mental approach, not your physical ability.
PREPERATION – EMBRACE YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES & GO WITH THE FLOW
In May 2018 I found out I had made the Royal Navy Marathon Team after a performance at a local half, and that I had 5 months to train. The main hurdle was that 2 of these 5 months were going to be spent in RNR Officer Training at BRNC (Brittania Royal Naval College) in Dartmouth. The week before I left for BRNC, Tom and I were in Chamonix Mont Blanc. I ran 100km at altitude and prayed the effects would last 8 weeks, I ran my local Park Run the morning I left and kissed goodbye to running a sub 20 ever again in 2018. For 6 of the 8 weeks at BRNC I couldn’t run. The days were filled with basic military training, sleep deprivation, lectures and sea time in the fleet. The final fortnight I was beyond exhausted, but marathon panic was setting in thick and fast. I got up early and ran for 30” as fast as I could on the treadmill in the hope of keeping some turnover and speed.
I passed out from BRNC on the 6th of September and had 6 weeks of training. Great, nothing else to worry about, just sleep and running, sleep and running, sleep, running and…I was getting married on the 29th. Doh!
7 days after the wedding and I entered a local Half Marathon. I was fuelled on nothing but prosecco and wedding cake (no one said preparation had to solely be running). I aimed to run 1.25 and survive to see another Monday - thought had a big surprise and ran a PB in 1.20.12 The half really threw my legs and highlighted the lack of conditioning I had, or rather confirmed what I already knew. For 2 weeks I didn’t have one good run and my legs didn’t come back to me. I had planned 2 x 100km weeks, the reality was that I did a 60 and a 40. I wanted to hit a long run of 2hr15 on the trails, my longest was 1hr40/18km. I hadn’t even hit half distance in training. This was going to be a disaster.
Photos: Left: Life in the field - great way to shed a few lb's when training isn't an option. Right: Receiving my Officer tabs the day before pass off in September.
TRUST THE PROCESS
If you read the above you’ll know that my training wasn’t the sort that I would ever hand out to a client, in fact, if I saw that one of my clients had adopted that training approach I’d be slightly disappointed. I got away with this race, but in future (and in the past generally speaking) I have always followed a programme I trust and believe in. Many of my clients approach me not because they don’t know what they are doing, but because they want confidence in their training and lift the worry of whether what they are doing is right or wrong. As an athlete it is easy to view the session that day as the be all or end all if it goes well or not. This allows them to focus on the running, and leaves me to keep an overview of the ‘bigger picture’ and training content.
The US Marine I was running with was targeting a 2.53 which I knew if I was smart was probably possible… A good guideline someone far more seasoned than me gave me before I raced was to take your half marathon time, add on 6 minutes and double it (which made my estimate a 2.52). At halfway we were still on for 2hr48 pace. I took a risk and went with her. If I hung back and ran by myself I was bound to slow down and lose rhythm. I was pretty sure I wasn’t in 2.48 shape (shape, whatever that is I still resembled a 3 tier wedding cake) but it was a risk I took to adopt the strategy of staying with her for as long as possible, and then just survive. Lucky for me I stayed with her with 5 miles (8km) to go. She went on to run an impressive 2.48, and my average dropped from 3.58min/km to 4.02min/km when she left.
If you have a workable strategy, it probably reduces the chance of you having to adopt ‘risk’. Well I had no nutrition strategy. None. Nada. I bought 4 gels from Sports Direct that I’ve never trialled before and stuffed them down my sports bra knowing that at some point they would probably come in handy. I asked around the team tent an hour before the race for ideas on how and when to deploy gels, and decided to follow someone else’s less blassee approach. I decided to take on a gel every 40 minutes. I can’t advise any differently at this time because this appeared to work for me. I took on Gatorade at every station (every 3miles) and also took a cup of water which I would poor over my quads. I knew my quads would cramp towards the end, and the cold water just kept them supple for longer.
ANALYSE, TRIAL & LEARN
So many people approach everyrace as their A race. Let me tell you now and save you from the trial and error and heartache, it’s not possible. Especially not up at these distances. Make some races training races, target different elements and make different goals. Execute different tapers, try different nutrition, different kit and different training. I encourage my Running clients to use Park Runs as the ideal time to trial different strategies. Low key but still offering that competitive environment if you want it. Did they run better having had a day off the day before or 3 days before? Did they run better off the back of a tempo session the day before? What did they eat for breakfast, when and did it cause any problems or is it something to run with (excuse the pun)?
Have you ever not run a race that you’ve entered because you ‘don’t feel ready?’. You could have surprised yourself, or at the very least used it as a race experience and learnt from it. Something might have gone very very right in the race (or very very wrong) but you would have learnt from it thus increasing/reducing the chances that it would/wouldn’t happen again when it really matters.
There are so many simple elements that can make the largest differences. These differences don’t require hours of running, they don’t require £££ spent on the physio and massage, they are just simple changes made through simple analysis.
I have had many bad races in my 10 + years of competing. I’ve not made it to finish lines (I've not made it to start lines) and I’ve made it to finish lines in the back of an ambulance. The good comes with the bad, and the bad is often really very ugly. This is competitive sport, at whatever level, this is sport. The body works in mysterious ways and ones that even those at the top of their disciplines cannot always predict. If they could, why wouldn’t they all be executing PB’s and records at the Olympics?
Photos: The Blue Mile, the most inspirational, moving and overwhelming mile I've ever run in my life. Bottom L: Receiving 3rd place Armed Forces female. Bottom R: Team Royal Navy Royal Marines before the race.
RUN WITH YOUR EMOTIONS
One of the most astonishing things about the marathon for me was the spectrum of emotions I went through in those couple of hours…
Miles 0-5: Panic. Were my legs feeling good or bad? Bad, definitely bad. Wait, don’t panic someone important said to never trust the first mile of a run. Chill.
Miles 6-11:I took confidence knowing I have covered 13 miles so I had no excuse not to make it this far. Feeling surprised that my Garmin says the average pace is 3.55min/km, must be broken and isn’t pairing with the USA satellites. Great.
Mile 12:The Blue Mile.This mile in the race is to remember the fallen. Every few feet there was a photo of a fallen American soldier with their name and age. The pain left the legs and a whole new wave of emotion came over probably every runner on the course.
Miles 13-20:End of comfort zone. The longest I’ve ever raced is 20miles (March 2018) so this is it. As Samwise Gamgee says in the Fellowship of the Rings “if I take one more step this will be the farthest I’ve ever been away from home”. Totally with you on that one little hobbit.
Miles 21-22:Elation.Yep just 1 mile but it happened. So bloody chuffed with myself that I passed 20 miles.
Miles 22.5:The beginning of the end. My running buddy up until that point was starting to put a few paces into me round the corners and on the inclines. Words from a coach during my time training in Loughborough rang in my ears, ‘as soon as you lose their feet you’ve lost them. Sit in, sit tight’. I could see the bungee effect starting to happen and I knew that once I lost her, it would be a whole lot harder.
Mile 23:Tod time.Bungee deployed. It was hurting now, and mentally I was slipping. I wasn’t really aware of the race line, and I was just running. I knew I had lost my chance of running sub 2.50, but only just. My heart and mind was set on not letting my average slip. A few men past me and I tried to stay in their slipstream or a few strides before the gap opened.
Mile 26.2: Cramp.As soon as I crossed the line I made the error of trying to stand. As soon as I brought my body upright, my quads cramped up and my legs gave way.
N.B. Don’t try and stand up, just keep running it hurts less.
Enjoy…it’s so cheesey isn’t it, I did try and think of a better word but I couldn’t, sorry. (Enjoy Synonyms: embrace, love, relish, adore, appreciate...) I really did enjoy my marathon. I was buzzing off of it for days after, and even more so when I could walk again. It was my first marathon expo and I thought it was ace. I went to my first pasta party which was better than any actual party I’ve been too (it was a civilised affair it’s not like a foam party with pasta…) The finishers medal is the proudest one I’ve ever got and I wore it all day. The day as a whole was one of the most memorable of my year and I’m on a mission towards London to run it faster and for it to hurt less.
Minutes after the proposal on New Years Day 2018 came the surname debate. I've always said I would keep my surname. Many say that adopting a double barrelled surname is pretentious, but my reasoning is that if I let it go, the surname Synge will cease to exist (presuming my younger sister doesn't double barrel too) and that seems kinda sad... It seems only fair that the husband should have to face the administrative headache of changing a name too (that is if inflicting the endless spelling and pronunciation challenges that come with a surname like mine wasn't enough).
Whilst the ongoing heated surname debate continued in the background, wedding plans and ideas began. A date was set for May 2019 with a plan pencilled in to have a Church wedding in our Dartmoor village (where we live on the same road as the Church) and then direct 100+ guests to my parents house a few miles down the road for a marquee, countryside wedding. As a list of components and guests began to compile, the price tag increased and the stress began to outweigh the fun, we began to feel that the reasons for a marriage were being lost amongst reasons for a wedding.
The principle of inviting people who you hadn't spoken to in months, of paying £100 per head for the other halves you've never met, paying £1500 for a photographer when there would be 100 iPhones in the room and trying to compile a list of fifteen bridesmaids when you can't even name ten friends (go on, you try it) made me begin to question 'wedding traditions'.
Just a few to be questioned include;
Changes began to happen, the date moved by eight months and the guest list went from 100 to 25. Not because we stopped loving or speaking to 75 people but because to us, the meaning of a marriage (and a wedding as a result of a marriage...) means something different. All the key components will be there, the car, cake, flowers and dress, but the elements which we have prioritised are different. I didn't arrange a hen do in a spa, or a night out that ends with no memories, instead my cousin/best friend and younger sister surprised me with a day in Dartmouth where we swam in a secluded cove, ate strawberries on the rocks, had afternoon tea at a Marina and took a boat into the sea.
Having been away for two months I have not been privy to a large amount of the planning. I think the only task actually assigned to me has been to remain able to fit in my dress (fitted the week before I went away). The reality of it has been that as the original plans progressed, we realised that however much we changed the venue, the menu, date or the dress; there were 3 key components that would make up both the wedding and marriage...
...family, love and prosecco.
Something I have been meaning to write about for a while now, is the transition from elite sport into ‘normal’ life. The transition from full time training, 3 times a day, every day – has been hard to say the least. I have been struggling to find the elements that replace the part of identity I have lost. From a world where sport was everything from Monday – Sunday, 365 days of the year, to the ‘normal world’. I wouldn’t say that triathlon was my identity, by any means. It was a component of me and my life and I was very aware that it would be a chapter of life rather than my whole life, which is why my transition to the ‘real world’ has probably been far more manageable than many before me.
Being an athlete was always career for me. It wasn’t bankrolled for me by my parents and there had to be an income in order for me to compete. That meant for as long as there was sponsorship and prize money coming in, it was a viable avenue. I always had other sources of income like my blog, some modelling and the online coaching (which I still offer 😊 ) which added some variety to life as well as keeping the financial side of things safe(r). Sure, when I made a return to Loughborough after my crash in 2015, a part of the compensation I was awarded made it possible to go full time again, but it wasn’t a bottomless pot and a return on my own investment would be needed fairly promptly in order to continue.
In early 2016 I met with a mortgage advisor, who made it clear that prize money and sponsorship weren’t going to secure me a mortgage regardless of the deposit I could offer. The elements I was craving to offer security were beginning to loom over me. There was no pension scheme and no fall back if I got injured or hit by another van. Despite every positive of life as an athlete, you reach a point, you must reach a point where these rather mundane, adult factors become considerations. The reality is, I stopped in order to secure the things I craved so much. Stability, security and independence.
Life as an athlete is so organised. Every session was planned to the minute. Not getting to the land conditioning room pre-swim session 10” before was a big no-no, missing (or worse yet turning up halfway through) a session briefing made life not worth living. Training times were non-negotiable, sessions were non-negotiable and the content was non-negotiable. Race dates were set, you couldn’t move them and you couldn’t avoid them. This way of life works for some people, and it worked for me. Every day was set, the structure was there, and you knew what was coming. My responsibility as the athlete was to turn up recovered and prepared to train.
Being an athlete offers a huge spectrum of emotions. Training gives you fatigue, disappointment, elation and focus on a scale like no other. Racing offered all the above plus adrenaline and nerves. And there were goals. There was purpose to every session, and every session was a paramount step to achieving the goals. Life had a clear path and direction. What I’ve found so far, is that range of emotion isn’t needed anymore, and there’s a tendency to amble from one day to the next without a huge sense of purpose and/or placing. I for one haven’t found anything that replaces those emotions, yet. When you are an athlete, October seems like the end point – the year is jam packed until that point with camps and racing. Now, life looks so open ended. Nothing is set in stone to ‘happen’ and the weekends just roll on one to the next. There are no consequences to my races and no threats to my training (or rather real life equivalents).
Just before Christmas, about 6 months after I stopped, I realised how much I was struggling. Not just the intensity of training but the structure, routine and discipline. Emotionally I took quite a nose dive. I had lost my feeling of purpose and place and was struggling to find it. The truth is, I still am. But this is probably a void that will never be filled. Amateur racing and daily training will keep it topped up to an extent but never replace it.
I’m still running, though from leaving Loughborough in June through to November I lost a lot of fitness, lost weight and fell out of love with the sport that have given me so much purpose. I managed a 30-45” run every day but there was no goal and no quality. I needed that break, and it did me good. The New Year pushed me onto my feet as I created new goals and found new motivation. I have adopted a flexible enough approach to my training that means what I have planned in my head for the day doesn’t always transpire because ultimately my new career now takes precedence. I have been holding 65-75km weeks with at least 1 session within. I end up doing 4 bikes a week (at least 30” each) through teaching bike classes locally so I have no doubt that has assisted me in the conditioning side of things as well as my recovery.
It’s interesting comparing last year’s Training Peaks records to now. Run weeks in 2016/17 averaged out at 90-100km with two consistent sessions (track and threshold) and 1 long run (80”+). Along with 5/6 bikes a week, 3 gym sessions and drills. I had massage every week, stretched most days in the gym and the foam roller was never far away. If you asked me where my foam roller was now I couldn’t tell you and the last time I had a massage was May 2017.
So, quite a contrast you might observe but have I got slower? No, I seem to have got quicker… I ran a half marathon last week where with a fair chunk of climbing I managed a 1:20:40 off the back of a 75km run week. I had spent the Saturday before working all morning, forgot to eat lunch and then spent the afternoon surfing in sub 10 Celsius waters for 2hrs with a take-out pizza to round it off. This isn’t preparation I would endorse or have ever trialled but, it would seem there’s something said for pressure off, all-round happiness and no junk miles…
Part of me thinks well what would happen if I had tapered down, spent Saturday on my bottom resting my legs and had a pasta dish Saturday night? Truth is I already know. I’ve done it, I did it for 5 years committing every hour to full time training, recovering, nutrition and a race programme. For me it wasn’t enough, I wasn’t mentally stimulated, and I didn’t feel a purpose in the wider concept of life. Life for me is so much more and I constantly felt like I was missing out.
One thing I have done is found a new hobby. I want to learn something again and I want to improve at something. Although I devote time to my running, it will always feel like a job to me, or elements of it will anyway. I wrote a long list and a few activities were short listed. The criteria were that it would have to be outdoors, relatively low cost and accessible at any point in the week. Surfing ticked the above boxes and would be a new challenge so that’s what I picked. I’ve been body boarding since I was dinky, going every year with my Mum’s family to the Cornish surf beach of Polzeath but it’s now time to learn how to stand on my board and call people ‘dude’. So, last Monday I drove down to the Polzeath solo for my first surfing lesson. Because no one else is as barmy to enter the sea for 2hrs a week after Britain’s biggest snowfall, I was not only the only person in the lesson but also the only person in that small section of the ocean. Nonetheless, I’m keen to keep going and improve.
I have had to sit down with pen and paper and work out what I want to do. It feels bizarre, going back to square one almost like the athlete career never happened. Where do my strengths lie outside of cycling or running as fast as I can? How can I turn my strengths into a new career? Essentially, I am now working from the bottom upwards in anything I choose next.
The skills I could identify are my motivation, perseverance and desire to work hard. Elements that I am now directing into working for myself. I now work self-employed as a private Personal Trainer and coach. I offer training to clients in their own home or outside, with a running focus - an area that I am both passionate about and like to think I know more from my own trial and error experiences that one could otherwise learn from a textbook. I coach a number of Triathlon clubs locally or further afield as either a one-off or more regularly.
In addition to this, I this week begin my training as an Officer in the Royal Navy Reserves. This as far as I am concerned may well be my missing link. In my eyes, the military is a lifestyle not a career, just like that of an athlete. It will reintroduce to me the non-negotiable discipline and organisation which I have thrived off before.
There are now lots of little elements that make up my new life, rather than one huge one that bulldozes everything else. I would never take back the life I led, the places I got to go and the things that I learnt from races that went to plan, and the races that (really really) didn’t. Don’t live in the past, don’t worry about the present, but take the elements from both phases that will make the future wonderful. It is now time to carve out a new life, and boy, what an exciting adventure this will be.
The pace of life always quickens around Christmas. I find there to be a lull after the summer months, the period between September and December where there’s some awkwardly small events that some people celebrate, and some don’t. Halloween for one, and Guy Falkes is never quite as exciting in your twenties as it was in your teens. So, as the festivities begin it often leaves us with a whirlwind feeling of trying to remember what you’ve been doing all year since the last one. There is a small window of opportunity therefore, between the minor annual events finishing and Advent beginning where you can reflect upon what you may have achieved, failed and learnt in 365 days.
Personally, 2017 has been one of full-steam-ahead. On the 1st January 2017 I was in Loughborough ready to begin another year of training. However, behind this I had an application in with the Royal Navy as a Warfare Officer which had been submitted in July 2016. I had made the decision to make 2017 my last year in full time sport as there were other ventures and opportunities I wanted to explore whether it be military, business, being a homeowner and experiencing some normality on civvie street.
The process with the Royal Navy took 14 months from start to finish which involved two initial interview rounds, psychometric tests, medicals, fitness and an AIB (Admiral Interview Board) which was a 3-day interview process at HMS Sultan (which was far worse that ‘The Apprentice’). Months were spent learning current deployments, ships (not boats) and current affairs. I’m pleased to say I passed every stage of the process (and broke the female fitness record - chuffed) and was forwarded to the Selection Board which sat last month. We had been told there were 48 spaces for Warfare Officer candidates to begin military training in January 2018. However, with National budget cuts this was slashed last minute to 22 spaces, meaning my place was cut with this. 9 of those 22 were current serving soldiers going for commission, so it left ‘civilians’ a tough fight for the last few spaces.
I’ll leave a defence policy, military and political spiel for now (and forever more) but it is what it is, and one must move forwards. Passing a process like that is something I can be, and am proud of and I took a huge amount from. I’ve always said that ‘everything happens for a reason’, and even if it is not clear at the time it will become apparent in time. Which, in all fairness it is beginning to and the fog is lifting, if you like. With Tom in the Army, it would have been a tough gig being in opposing forces. Our holiday is already dictated by the British Army, with it being granted and retracted at any point we cancel plans on a weekly basis (I’ve been assured Christmas this year is going ahead). Tom has just finished a deployment and a second is already on the cards. I’ll just have to leave saving the country to him (insert sassy emoji).
The transition from being a full-time athlete to 9-5 life is one that I have greatly, greatly struggled with (that’s a blog for another day). After taking and swiftly leaving two different jobs in a four-month period I was struggling to find anything where my background, energy and experience would be utilized and understood (not to mention how nervous I was making Tom with regards to mortgage repayments). I was rapidly reaching breaking point of 9-5, accompanied by a feeling of total loss, uselessness and missing be able to throw myself full pelt into something, I quit my then current job with nothing else lined up (this situation was spun slightly differently to Mum and Dad).
I’m delighted (as is everyone within a small radius of me) that I was offered a job last month in Exeter. Much more about this soon but its not 9-5, and I love it.
The only other significant development of 2017 was hopping onto the property ladder. As we cling onto it for dear life (the first payment (which I may add is like DOUBLE the rest) coming out one month before Christmas and two weeks after quitting a job was oh SUCH bad planning), we are battling against a large renovation project. Whilst I merrily trot off to Exeter to purchase 16 cushions (this isn’t a joke), fairy lights and shatterproof baubles, Tom continues to battle with the leaking roof downstairs. Nothing better than adding a bit of POW to a relationship hey?
I was recently in Birmingham with work, and there was a business seminar at the expo about managing your working ‘time’. Something prominent that stuck with me was that we all have 168 hours in the week. As a bare minimum we would spend 40 of these working, 8 sleeping (ha, yeah) each night and say 6 in the gym, out running or playing tiddlywinks. This leaves us with 66 hours, which is effectively another working week plus some. The point he was trying to get us to think upon was could we account for those 66hours left?
Are we spending these 66hrs productively (on career, eating, family, commuting in order to reach career etc etc) or wasting them? Whilst the slant this businessman was coming from was “don’t waste hours when you could be putting it into your career” (granted) he also made a poignant point that you cannot buy back time. Worse still, no one knows when their time will run out. I won’t say Merry Christmas and leave it on that note but, it did leave one thinking “crikey”.
So, there you have it, another year summarised in 1000 words. I like to think I have written honestly about the successes, the failures and the lessons. If you can smoothly and tactically turn the failures into unheard of successes, then what a story that will be right?
At the end of October 2016 I returned to Loughborough after my end of season break which was spent on various Devon beaches and at our new family home on Dartmoor. On our altitude camp in July 2016, I made the decision to turn my focus away from ITU draft legal triathlon, and to duathlon/non-drafting racing. After three years of playing catch up in the pool and making up lost ground from a non-existent swim background, it was hard to surrender the work that had gone into my swim, which over time saw my original 5.35 400m (yeah I bet you read that twice), come down to 4.45 (what a day that was). My 4.45 standard (it might sound fast, but ITU girls are more in the 4.20 ballpark…give or take!) swim was taking up the majority of my available training hours, and subsequently compromised my bike and run training.
Leaving the swimming and ITU wasn’t a decision taken lightly, and involved extensive talks and pondering time (…and then the Liverpool National Sprint Champs which pretty much sealed the sack-off-swimming deal). It was a decision I didn’t want to announce, as a small part of me felt I had ‘given up’. Given up on persistence perhaps, and let myself down. A bigger part of me however, sees it as being realistic. “I am not a good enough swimmer” – and that’s okay. It’s okay because I have other strengths to play with. I was never, ever going to swim a 4.20, and probably not a 4.30 either. That’s not me being negative and undetermined, that’s basically a scientific fact, and it was time to face the music. I can be content looking back at what I did achieve in the pool, not what I didn't.
The lifestyle of an athlete has, like anything, its pros and cons. For me personally, the biggest con is the financial insecurity. The winter months without racing are bleak to say the least, but the financial benefits it cannot offer like a salary to then secure a mortgage, pension etc…is an element of the profession which I have found overly stressful to cope with. This rather major aspect of life played into my decision quite heavily. Going to a European Cup may cost an athlete anything upwards of £400. My 7th place finish in Estonia won me back 300Euros. A result which gave me ITU points and best international result to date, but ultimately a financial loss. I needed to construct a season race plan that worked to my strengths and races I went to meant I would not walk away at a loss. At the end of the day, this is a career not a glorified hobby.
For the remainder of the 2016 season upon our return from Italy some may have noticed but I only raced non-drafting. I had reasonable success which gave me confidence in my decision and also some far healthier pay cheques. This year I have joined a Division 1 French Grand Prix team (Metz!) which served as my season opener in late March. I finished 5th with a 5km run PB of 17.02 and some cobwebs shaken out before my 2017 A race – the Elite Duathlon Champs.
BRB whilst I point my positive pants on...
So, on Sunday I raced the British Duathlon Champs – and as some may have seen via social media, executed possibly the worst race I’ve ever had. The last 3 5km times I have posted over the past 8 weeks have dropped down as 17.32, 17.14 and 17.02. The first run at the Duathlon this weekend I was on 18.45 pace… I wish I could tell you what happened, but I have no idea. It was not a reflection of my ability or current form, and I am absolutely devastated at the overall result. I don’t even know where I finished, but I know it wasn’t the podium I had aimed for in order to qualify me for the European Championships. I had something I don’t normally have lining the start line of that race, confidence. Confidence in my ability to finish in the top 3 and a recent track record to prove I was in the shape to do so.
After 48hrs of roller coasting reflection, I now need to sit down and come up with a plan of attack and move forwards quickly and positively for the 2017 season. I may change tact completely at the end of this summer with regards to a life in performance sport, but for now I will stick to my guns, have a serious little heart to heart with my running legs and see this s@*# out!
Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing. You may disagree, but I for one think the past few months have been crammed with the latter, and hopefully in this blog, those experiences will be worth reading!
When I last blogged in June, I was two races into my season. Since then its been in and out of Europe, learning curves, average results and some surprise ones. One race to go, and I am beside myself with excitement to be spending my end of season break at our new family home in the Devon countryside. That will be a blog filled with adventures no doubt, but for now its a round up of the 2016 race season as it stands.
The big trip of 2016 however, was Italy. A three-week altitude camp put on by British Triathlon in Livigno, 1800m up - and although those photos make the trip look like one big holiday, it was actually pretty hard...! The primary purpose of the camp was for athletes heading to the Cozumel World Champs next month, and the Olympic team were across from us in St. Moritz. There are numerous changes that take place both during and after a stint at altitude. Your heart rate rockets (as did my ability to sleep and eat) meaning you can’t train by power or pace as you predominantly do at sea level, and everything is done by heart rate. We were capped to a BPM on all sessions, different segments and aspects of a session would be capped accordingly to ensure we didn’t dig ourselves to the earth’s core before the end of camp.
I felt like I took just over a week to adjust to the altitude, and as running and cycling came to me easier in time, I struggled monumentally with the swimming to the point I dropped to four swims a week and had to halve the rep distance of everyone else but keep the same turnarounds to allow my HR to come back down. It was really bizarre and painfully frustrating, to feel like I was swimming full pelt, only to have a time called out that was sometimes up to 8seconds slower than you would expect normally…over 50metres. I wasn’t alone though, some athletes felt like that running, some cycling. Altitude is massively individual due to such vast and varied physiological responses, so you just have to adapt the sessions and structure accordingly.
We flew back down just over 48hrs before Liverpool National Sprint Champs, as the general response to altitude is that you ‘peak’ for 3 days, then deteriorate for anything between 7 and 10 days before you begin to feel ‘normal’ again and start seeing the benefits. We all raced Liverpool with uncertainty as to how we would respond. I felt strong but very physically tired and a 19th place reflected it. Relieved to have a week pootling along before full training commenced, I took five days out the pool more for my own mental sanity than anything else. The week was well spent watching the Olympics and catching up with friends, family and life - it's always amazing to see new countries and race in Europe but there's no better feeling that getting home.
I've just one triathlon left in 2016, the second to last was Bala the weekend just gone. With my swim in a bit of a sorry state, I decided to do a domestic non-drafting standard distance instead of the original early plan of going to Alanya European Cup. It was nice to 'race my own race', and have a decent outcome still be possible even after Id taken my goggles off. I was delighted to hold my lead on the bike (big up the roadie!) until around 35km before I was passed, then regained my lead in the first km of the run. I was joined by old Loughborough friend Emily Whitmore around 6km and we ran together until I shuffled off soon after 9km...utterly panicked at the prospect of a sprint finish...I wouldn't put my money on me in one!
At the start of the year, I set no specific race goals or results, the aim was to get 'up and running' again post crash. Although forever and always my own biggest critic, I think I have picked up where I left off and a bit more. I sure am looking forward to 2017, where i'll have a little bit more to work with in terms of fitness and form. More than anything, its just been awesome to be back in Loughborough and back in the hype. Enjoy the rest of your seasons, days seem long yet the year flies! Enjoy every moment ❤︎
Big THANK YOU's must go to Pedal Potential, Skechers Performance Division and my team Jackpot Racing for valuable support throughout the year.
Over halfway through 2016, we’ve had first day of summer (and the last) and the triathlon race season is well underway, something that back in February seemed such a long way off… Last time I blogged in the New Year I had just returned to Loughborough after a year away from training post-crash. It doesn’t really feel like I ever left, 2015 seems like a lifetime ago, but I couldn’t be happier to be back.
Let’s get the worst bit over and done with; swimming, and I'll give some an idea of the deficit I was in in January at the start of my return to the pool after ten months out and the work that has gone in since. The minimum swim requirement for the performance squad is a sub 5” 400m, and in January upon my return I went 5.01 (at an effort level and BPM that was certainly not sustainable for a 1500m race). Standards are standards, and I was told to retrial when I was ready. Six weeks later I came back and went 4.54, six weeks after that I went 4.48 (insert an “impossible is possible” quote here). So to all those non-swim-club-‘swimmers’ like me, it can be done. I mean I wouldn’t recommend it, but just in case you too want to see how late you can leave a serious swim schedule before it really is too late, you’re looking at around 23 (though do let me know if you find out its older and I’ll take a break).
So after the time trials and a ‘re-entry’ process onto the performance squad, I have been back training with the group for a while now. The majority of our sessions are done as a squad (of around 15 athletes), which creates quite a tight knit and naturally competitive environment. Whilst there are photos a plenty of café rides and spins in the sunshine, this isn't a reflection of daily training, truth is that the majority of sessions don’t leave us looking quite so camera ready.
In March I went out to Portugal for the first European Cup of the year, punctured half way round the bike, considered a second and final retirement, then flew home. There was then a massive gap in racing which meant a solid training block before Blenheim, the first and one of the biggest domestic races in the elite calendar. I knew from training I was in good bike/run shape going into Blenheim (the swim I generally just hope for the best), but was disappointed when my run legs didn’t make an appearance and I failed somewhat to run myself into a podium spot from our chase pack. I settled for 5th which equalled my position in 2014. I was genuinely quite emotional and tearful crossing the finish line. Pathetic? Whatever! To be racing again, on a start line and over a finish line two years later was really overwhelming. Enormous work and support from a lot of people had gone into getting me there, Mum and Dad to name the biggest ones, were there watching and it meant a huge amount to have them there.
A few days after Blenheim I flew out to France for the first D2 French Grand Prix race of the year in La Rochelle with my team CRV Lyon. The race was at 7pm (PM…what is that about) on Saturday, so the daytime involved eating, napping then waking up and trying to trick myself it was breakfast time and the day was only just beginning. I biked (I say ‘I’ because no one else helped) our group of 6 up to a group of 3 girls who had a 25sec lead out the swim, then we (sorry but again ‘we’ is a term used loosely) put 1”40 into the chase pack. I had a better run off the bike than at Blenheim which was a relief, held the lead for 3km then held onto 3rd. Our team also won the race overall which was great news!
Flew home, started trying to train hard to soon and landed myself in bed for three days (yes, you’ve definitely read that on my blog before, will I ever learn though, probably not). Now I have a two week block until I back off for my next European Cup in Tartu (Estonia, its next to Russia don’t worry I had to look at a map too). This involves flying to Latvia (next to Estonia, your welcome) and a drive across the border. Thankfully Mum, Dad and little sis none of whom are as academically challenged as me are coming too so this will be a very smooth trip. THEN we fly to Italy for three weeks on a British training camp at altitude. We fly back a few days before Liverpool (British Sprint Champs) so that will definitely go one way or the other (!) depending on how we cope with oxygen again.
In non swim-bike-run news, Mum and Dad have moved house again (is this even news any more though) and my car HASN’T been vandalised recently can I get a WOOP (but I did get my first speeding ticket, eurgh this was totally unjustified).
So there you have it, the first six months back in Loughborough! I was such a planner before my crash, had a little life plan thing going on, and everything was on schedule. Its definitely made me a bit more gung ho about life, if something's out of my control a) is it possible/do I need to gain control and how, or b) sod it. This approach has definitely led to a far more chilled kinda living which I think has been a good thing! Things don't always work out the way they were meant too, or how you thought they should do. Hell most of the time it works out in ways you never even imagined, which certainly shouldn't be seen as a bad thing. Roll with it, life definitely isn't about avoiding the bruises, collect them and prove you showed up for it!
Hope everyone is enjoying the shoddy British weather; I’ve worked out that to make it rain…plan a BBQ or long cycle ride. Your welcome, here all week. X
Its so true what they say - week to week nothing changes, but when you look back over a year, everything is different! This time last year arm in sling, I was studying to become a Personal Trainer and planning a relocation down to the South Coast. Now I'm back in the 'bubble' and seven weeks back into full time training. Our six bed, all-girl athlete house in Loughborough is made up of two British badminton players, two runners, myself and Sophie (Coldwell). Never a dull moment, there is plenty of giggling, always someone in and something going on, oh, and the six of us solely fund the Cadbury crème egg business.
Training has been really consistent since the New Year, and I am doing my best to try and push all three disciplines on evenly. My gym programme (three times a week) has been of high importance to build strength back up quickly, so I can cope with the volume of training my body has had a year off doing! So far - so good and no injuries on the horizon which is ultimately, half of this game. Swimming and I picked up our love-hate relationship where we left off. Every swim I hold my breath (literally) for the first few strokes until I know if its going to be a love or hate day. Its complicated, but we're trying to work things out.
I am really excited to be on the elite Jackpot Racing Team for 2016. Please click the link to check it out :) I am hoping to kick off my 2016 season (team to be announced) in Portugal on the 2nd of April at the Quarteira European Cup. This was my first European Cup back in 2014, and, to lift some of the stresses that come with international racing, starting back on a familiar course for my first ITU race in two years seemed like a good place to resume.
One thing I did struggle with last time I was in Loughborough, was the time life as a full time athlete leaves on your hands when you aren't training. Sometimes there is nothing you need more than time to recover and refuel, but many days I felt at a loose end and unproductive. So, this month I am delighted to have begun working a few hours a week as an Events and Marketing (something I delved further into in my final year at Bath University) co-ordinator, based at Racehub (click the link). Its a great opportunity to develop my practical knowledge in an industry I'm become rather familiar with (!).
Last week I spent a couple of days at home with Mum & Dad in Bristol. It was the first time I had seen them since Christmas, and desperately just needed some home comfort lovin' to recharge the batteries. Towards the end of 2015, Mum was offered a job at Exeter University (where she and Dad met - what a journey they are having!) as an Associate Professor of Law. This is hugely exciting as the Synge family head back to the countryside after almost eight years in our city home. On Friday, Mum & Dad had their offer accepted on our next family home (no.7) on the Dartmoor National Park in Devon. As part of the visit home, Dad and I ran the Exeter Half Marathon. Amidst a normal training week I had swopped my Friday tempo run for this race. It was a really bleak day and the out and back - 3 lap, very open 21km course made it a good training session to have in the bank both physically and mentally. I feel encouraged with various splits (83" overall time) for the progression of my run training.
For day 51 of 2016, in true Synge style, I feel pretty satisfied that I'm getting as much into each day as possible. Everyone will at some point in life, experience an event, a loss or a lesson which somehow gives thereafter enables you to see possibility in everything and opportunity everywhere. The realisation, maybe, that week by week nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different - means that how we chose to spend our days, is how we chose to spend our life. Someone once said we age not by years, but by stories, so, I guess we should all strive to have at least one bestseller.
I leave you with two things...
1. Sometimes, when things seem to be falling apart, they might actually be falling into place
2. There's a lot to be said for 'coming back stronger'
"Day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different" - C.S.Lewis
This time last year my blog rounded up my 2014 in numbers - as below;
880: average km's swam since the New Year.
53: kg. race weight
40: seconds taken off 400m swim (4.58)
28: flights taken
22: age this year. one more year as an U23
12: kg dumbbell weights in gym. progression from 4 at start of year.
10: hours spent asleep in every 24
5: a.m, alarm call for swimming
4: position finished in Elite British Superseries
3: new countries visited
2: alcoholic beverage consumptions (N.B. occasions not quantity)
1: bike crash. during transition practice in Portugal.
0: injuries or illness
I finished that joyful, positive blog with "bring on 2015", haha no wait! My 2015 resembles something tragic like;
km's swam: 0.25
race weight: 100kg
seconds off 400m PB: +9849865.87
flights taken: 4
hours slept: no wait, that ones still the same
Until now, I never disclosed the details of my crash in January 2015 due to legal proceedings. The driver of the 3.5tonne Renault Master truck was having an epileptic fit behind the wheel. The wing mirror hit the back of my head, knocking me out and wiping my short term memory. I was unable to drive and five months later was still suffering with double vision meaning the only thing i could vaguely master was putting one foot (or 2?) in front of the other out running. Even having revisited the crash site, to this day I remember nothing, nor the few days prior or the New Year.
For a year now I have been living on the South Coast in Bournemouth, working as a personal trainer, which has allowed me the money and time to experience normality as most know it. A gap year, if you like. However, as the rehab processes have progressed and begun to allow a semi-respectable training load again, I've felt that my lifestyle and dreams of a professional athlete have become incompatible with this way of life.
As the end of 2015 has drawn closer, I've realised and accepted that I'm not where I belong at this stage of my life. Amongst the confusion, one thing has remained strong and clear to me, and that is that I want to be an athlete. There is a quote; "dreams have no expiration date", sadly, the dreams of a professional athlete do. Things we lose often have a way of coming back to us, if not always in a way we would expect. In January shortly after the New Year I will be returning to Loughborough to resume training full time. Normality will have to wait!
My dreams have been on hold for a year now, though often the best way to appreciate something is to be without it for a while. The decision to change was a long time coming, which eventually built up and came down to literally waking up one day and knowing I didn't, and couldn't, want to feel like this anymore. So, I changed it, just like that. I was in Spain at the time, and knowing there would never be a perfect time, I flew home early, packed up my things in Bournemouth and drove home to my parents home (aka base camp) in Bristol at 1am the same night. Making a life change is scary, but as they say what's scarier? Regret.
Whilst I sympathise with those close to me (mum and dad), who despair on a regular basis at my inability to stay in one place (wonder where thats originated?), its brought so much good to life and so many opportunities that would never arise from being in one place. Alice in Wonderland once asked the White Rabbit, "how long is forever?", he answered "sometimes only a second". Be fearless in the persuit of what you love. If the van had been a few inches further to the left, I would have gone straight underneath. Aside from this meaning I still drastically swerve whenever I hear a large vehicle behind, now making me the most incompetent group rider in history, it has also given me an ability to really live. Chances are, you cant do a great deal about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.
We must accept the end of something in order to begin to build something new. I for one am thoroughly looking forward to welcoming the New Year. To finish one of the most fantastic, educational, emotional, productive & 'year with events I would least like repeated', chapters of my life. Remember kids; “life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “holy shit…what a ride!”
Happy New Year 2016 to you all - let new adventures begin.