June 19, 2013
This Ironman business seemed fine when it was months out on the horizon, but all of a sudden reality has struck! On Sunday – in less than 4 days – I have my first “real” triathlon: the half-ironman distance Øresund Triathlon. That is 1.9 km swimming, 90 km cycling and 21.1 km running. I am actually really looking forward to the cycling/running part (apart from some underlying anxiety about the potential for punctures), but the swimming…. well, the swimming is an entirely different matter……………………………..
The swimming part takes place in the sea. And up until 2.5 weeks ago I had never swum outside…..
To get this swimming thing in perspective, you can read the background on my learn-to-swim project here. That post was written just over a year ago and at that point I was struggling just to stay afloat and was suffering major panic attacks. There has been significant progress since then, I’m glad to say! For the most part, the panic attacks are a thing of the past (unless anyone asks me to flip over in the water or such like) and I can swim crawl after a fashion at a steady pace for a while. But I’m the slowest swimmer I know. Like really slow. Like so slow that, at a mini-triathlon I did a couple of weeks ago (swimming in a pool), I was being overtaken by women doing breaststroke granny style (i.e. with their head up). That is slow!
And then there is the open water thing. I have of course known all the time that the day would have to come. It has been a recurring nightmare I’ve been trying to push to the back of my mind all winter. And while the rest of the Danish triathlete community has been bemoaning the long cold winter which has meant that open water swimming season has been delayed, I have been rejoicing.
However with 3 weeks to go until Øresund triathlon it was verging on the irresponsible to postpone the evil moment any longer……. So along with my dear friend and training partner, Isti, I signed up for a 3 week intensive Open Water swimming class. It was also his open-water baptism, and I don’t think he would argue when I say that he isn’t crazy about swimming either, but he is generally cooler, braver and a MUCH better swimmer than me. And boy, was I glad that he was there too. I honestly feel like my swimming personality is the opposite of my normal personality. Where I’m usually self-confident, willing to give anything a shot, always finding the positive in any situation, when it comes to swimming, I feel hopeless, scared, convinced that I can’t do it: very vulnerable and humble. Then it’s very nice to have a friend around, believe me!
I wish I could say I took to it like a duck to water, but I didn’t! It wasn’t as bad as I expected, which is the good thing about blowing your worries totally out of proportion! We started in a lake, Søndersø, where the temperature is marginally higher than in the sea, but where the visibility is zero. And while swimming in a wetsuit is great for those like me that have trouble staying afloat, I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it is to swim in a straight line and if you are as slow as me you don’t want to also be swimming double the distance! And the panic was back…..
So while, it wasn’t actually as bad as the horror story I had invented, I developed a new nightmare about whether I could actually manage to complete the swim on Sunday before the cut-off time (which is 1.5 hours after my start). Can you just imagine the disappointment, not to mention the humiliation, of not actually being allowed to continue with the cycling and running parts??? Ouch!
However, after a couple of days of running around totally stressed about that, I figured out that there is nothing I can do about it, except just go for it and do my best. In the meantime, my open-water swimming has improved quite a bit. The panic has receded, I’ve figured out how to swim in a more or less straight line, and while I’ll never be fast, I can swim at my own steady (slow) pace and am not in doubt that I can hold the distance. So I have been feeling a bit better about it….
At least, that was until I read a Facebook post this morning about the risk of being attacked by jelly-fish during the swim on Sunday. Hmm, attack of the Jelly Fish, oh for goodness sake, now I’m already busy with a whole new range of swimming nightmares!!
April 26, 2013
I’ve just had one of the best weeks in my life! You will never hear me say that cancer was a “gift” or a “blessing in disguise”(though I have full respect to those who are able to see it that way), but I will admit that there have been benefits and opportunities that have come my way as a result of having had cancer.
One of those is being given the chance to be one of 12 cancer survivors sponsored by La Flamme Rouge (LFR) to spend a week cycling on the beautiful island of Majorca. LFR is a charity, founded by Brian Holm, Sports Director for pro-cycling team Omega Pharma-Quick Step, to support people affected by cancer. For the second year running LFR sponsored 12 members of PACT to go on the cycling trip. PACT stands for Physical Activity After Cancer Treatment and is a sports association for people who have been affected by cancer. The goals of PACT are to support those affected by cancer to find and develop their physical, social and mental resources through physical activity and also to change public perceptions of what is possible and beneficial during and after cancer. If you know me and/or my blog you’ll know that those are issues very close to my heart!
So I was one of the lucky ones selected to take part in the trip this year. To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’m still a novice on the bike. My longest ride ever before this was 66 km and I’ve only ever cycled in flat terrain. The main goal of the trip was for us to cycle up Puig Major which is the highest mountain on Mallorca, 14 km up with an average grade of around 6%. I had no idea what that meant in real terms! Also the thought of heading off for a week with a group of almost strangers was somewhat daunting. Nonetheless it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to kick start the serious part of my cycling training towards my August Ironman.
On the surface of it the 12 of us didn’t have much in common except the fact that we’ve all had cancer. Six men and six women, the youngest was 24 and the eldest 69, with the rest of us spread between! Likewise with our levels of fitness and ambition, but common for all was a winter spent training to be ready for the trip, not easy with the long winter we have been having here in Denmark.
As well as the 12 of us, we had 4 supporters with us – two from PACT and two from LFR. Those guys were amazing! When you are outside your comfort zone it’s nice to feel you have a safety net, and those 4 were the best safety net you could imagine! We were part of a bigger group, around 70 in total I think, organised by a Copenhagen bike shop, Soigneur. The whole thing was just amazingly well organised! Running a bike shop isn’t necessarily a qualification for being good at organising cycling holidays, but the 4 guys from Soigneur are great! And any concerns I had beforehand about how they and the “civilian” participants (who had paid for the trip and presumably therefore are pretty serious about their cycling!) would react to us newbies, were put to complete shame. Not only did they not “look down on us”, but rather treated us with a huge amount of respect and went out their way to help us, give us tips, and support us when the going got tough. From day one, the trip totally exceeded my expectations! Let’s face it you would struggle to find a better backdrop than Majorca. I’d never been there before but it is beautiful! And the weather was perfect with sunshine and 25 degrees every day. From the first ascent I was totally in love with cycling up a mountain! On the other hand I was totally panic stricken by having to cycle back down the mountain again! Every day my limits were stretched – uphills, downhills, distance – so that by the end of the week I had a totally different perspective on cycling. Over the week I cycled a total of 481 km with more than 6000 m of ascent (and descent). Best of all, by the end of the week I actually was enjoying the descents too and reached a top speed of more than 57 km/h (compared to 41 km/h on the first day!).However the best thing of the whole trip was the camaraderie with my teammates – 11 totally inspiring, warm and fun people. Every single one of us was pushing our limits every day of our trip, and while sport often is related with a sense of competition, there was absolutely no competition here. Everyone supported each other and celebrated each other’s successes. I think all of us felt a unique bond at having gone through that process together.
It was an amazing week and I feel very humble and very grateful at having been given such an opportunity. I’m a very lucky girl indeed.
March 29, 2013
Cleary I have never made any effort to conceal the fact that I have had cancer! When I was in treatment, I did wonder whether my openness would have any negative effect on my professional life in the future, since many in my professional network were following my progress (and being extremely supportive) both through this blog and more directly. It didn’t turn out to have any influence though – at least not in any negative sense.
Nonetheless, I don’t actively publicise the fact that I am a cancer survivor, or a runner (or hopefully future Ironman) in my professional life. If I’m honest, I quite like having work assignments where my clients and other partners don’t know my cancer story. Even though it’s more than 2 years on, cancer is still something that preoccupies me, but having an assignment where no-one but me knows about it allows me to step out of that “cancer survivor” role for a while.
I’m in Indonesia at the moment, working on an assignment for a very large public sector organisation. I was recommended for the assignment through my network, but I was fairly sure that no-one here knew about the cancer, or the running for that matter. I was taken aback therefore when the other day, at a meeting with one of the Senior Managers, he started off the conversation by asking me if I was getting any running done while I was here in Jakarta. I had been discussing running with some of my other colleagues so I assumed someone had mentioned it to him. Then he followed up by asking my how my cancer was now which really shocked me because I knew I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone. Then he told me that he had Googled my name and found and watched my TEDx talk. It turns out that if you Google my name the TEDx Talk is the first thing that comes up – before my website or any of the other professional type references.
That wasn’t a consequence I had considered when I agreed to do TEDx! It’s every day practice to Google professional contacts (I do it myself) so suddenly I’ve had to adjust my thinking to the fact that when people want to check me out professionally they are almost certainly going to find out that I am a running, cancer survivor.
This time it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. This Manager was apparently very positively disposed to me as a result of seeing my talk. And starting off our meeting on that pretty intimate note resulted in a level of trust that normally takes much longer to achieve as a consultant (if ever). He has also told other of his colleagues about my story with the same result. In retrospect, I’m not sure it would have had the same impact if I had shared the information directly with them compared to them finding and seeing the TEDx Talk.
I’m still not planning on putting “cancer survivor” or “marathon runner” on my CV. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can no longer assume that professional contacts do not know about that part of my life and that it’s is OK!
If you’ve had cancer or are a runner do you mention that on your CV?
February 2, 2013
Recently I was in a shop and witnessed this conversation between 3 people – let’s call them A, B and C:
A: I really like this, do you have it in my size?
B (shop assistant): We only have what’s there, but we’re getting more in soon.
C: It’s a lovely quality!
B: Yes we’re getting it in grey too.
C: That sounds really nice.
B to A: You’ll need to start shaving your legs soon.
C: Do you remember when X cut their leg shaving on holiday last year and then ended up getting the other one waxed!
A, B & C: General laughter.
B: Yes, waxing is better than shaving.
A: I’m not shaving my legs.
B: You can’t wear those shorts with leg hair sticking out all over the place!!!!
No, this wasn’t a conversation between my 15 year old daughter and her friends. This was a conversation between 3 grown men in a bike shop!
Is it just me, or is there something about road cycling that brings out the feminine side in grown men?
I mean what is this with the leg shaving? I always thought it was something to do with speed or wind resistance, which didn’t really make much sense to me unless you happen to be Mark Cavendish. Is it really just so they look nice in their lycra shorts???
And in an earlier post I touched on the jersey pocket as a substitute for a handbag…..
But mainly it’s the clothes. What is it that makes men (who otherwise would be seen dead rather than be seen in public wearing anything other than very boring boy clothes), squeeze themselves into shiny, garish, extremely tight fitting lycra??
Is it because men get so few opportunities to live out their princess dreams? Quite a few little boys that I know have gone through phases of dressing up as princesses. In all cases it’s been a short lived phase. I don’t know why they stop, but maybe they quickly realise that society so far just doesn’t find it acceptable for little boys to go around in pink frilly dresses (even when accessorised with a camouflage jacket like one wee boy I know). I think it’s a shame really. As a woman it is much easier to participate in what are generally accepted to be masculine activities (like doing an ironman?) or adopting a “masculine look” (ultra-short hair?)without compromising your femininity.
So guys, go ahead and remove the hairs on your legs (I’d personally recommend waxing rather than shaving), pack as much junk as you can into your handbags, I mean pockets, and squeeze yourselves into the tightest, shiniest, brightest lycra you can find and enjoy every minute.
And when your sons dress up in their sister’s princess dresses, smile and tell them they look lovely!
January 27, 2013
For the first time ever this week I spent more than 10 hours training, actually more than 10½! It sounds like a lot, but I guess if you consider that your average person probably spends a lot more than that watching TV each week, or that many people spend more time than that commuting to work, then I don’t think it’s that bad really.
However, one thing is what I think and another is the perception on the home front, so I did a satisfaction survey this week. Well, sort of. I asked my husband if he felt my training was encroaching too much into family life. He actually looked a little surprised that I asked him, but then said “no, not at all!”. So, so far so good on that front!
Typically in a week I’m running 4 times, swimming 3 times, spinning/cycling twice and doing strength training 4 times. However being my own boss and working from home I am able to spread this out quite nicely during the week including during what is, for most people, working hours. So not only does my husband not feel that it encroaches into family life, I don’t feel it encroaches generally too much into my own life. Or at least not more than I think is manageable and fun.
What is even better though is that it doesn’t leave me totally exhausted. And that surprises me more! When I “only” ran I covered more or less the same weekly distance at the same intensity as I do now – that accounts for between 3 and 4 hours of the total training amount. So now I have added an additional 6 or 7 hours of other training and not only am I not MORE tired, I actually feel LESS stiff and sore than I did when only running!
There are probably experts out there who can explain why this is. My own feeling is that it is partly to do with the strength training which I think is helping make some of my vulnerable spots less susceptible to the stresses and strains of running. Mainly though, I think it is because that swimming and cycling on the days when I don’t run – or even on the days when I do, warms and loosens up all my muscles and joints so that they don’t get a chance to get all stiff and sore, but without stressing them more they way running does.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether the trend continues as the training increases!
January 13, 2013
I’ve got used to people telling me I’m crazy when I tell them about my Ironman plans and I even understand why people think it’s crazy. However the first time I actually have personally felt there was an element of craziness in it was on Friday: to be more specific on Friday at 5:10am.
I’ve been going to Friday early morning swimming classes on and off for a while. After the Christmas break the location for these classes had switched from a pool which is about 11 km from my home to one which is, according to Google Maps, 21 km from my home. On top of that it is now starts 15 minutes earlier so we have to be in the water at 7am.
That might not seem so bad, particularly to those of you who normally transport yourselves around by car. However, I don’t have a car so for me the choice is between public transportation or bike. Until now I’ve been cycling (except when we had a lot of snow and ice), but it is quite a difference between 11 km and 21 km (each way I might add). However when I looked at the possibilities it would take even longer by public transportation, so I decided: bike it was. And anyway, I need to get more cycling time into my training schedule. That seemed like a very sensible decision while I was sitting at my desk in my nice warm office looking at the route planner.
A complicating factor to this is that I have a truly terrible sense of direction and I had no idea where this swimming pool was. On the map it seemed to be in the midst of a rabbit warren of small paths and local streets. This was a problem because 1. It generally isn’t easy to read a map while you are cycling, particularly not in the dark which it is at 6:30 in the morning here at this time of year; 2. Even if I did have a map in front of me, I can’t see a thing without my reading glasses and 3. If you do get lost there aren’t many people around to ask for directions at that time of the morning.
So it is not an exaggerating to say that, when I headed off to bed on Thursday evening, I was feeling somewhat stressed about the whole project.
So on Friday at 5:10 am when the alarm went off my reaction was “THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY!” And when I looked out of the window and saw that it had snowed during the night my reaction was “THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY!”. And when I was pedalling through the forest in the freezing pitch blackness without another soul, bike or car in sight my reaction was “THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY!”. When I got to the pool at was taking a shower and the water was freezing my reaction was “THIS IS TOTALLY CRAZY!”.
But then we got in the pool and started the session I started thinking “this is fun!”, and by the time we finished it was starting to get light and although I had a headwind on the way home, it was still fun. And when I got home I changed into my running shoes and went for my run, and although my fingers were freezing and my legs were heavy from the swimming and the cycling, it was fun. And when I got back from my run I sat down and had a huge breakfast with delicious bread rolls and an enormous croissant and hot coffee: THAT WAS REALLY FUN!
And not only was it fun, I felt very smug and pleased with myself. And now I know: next Friday when the alarm goes off (at 5:20 rather than 5:10 because I found out it was only 17km each way and not 21 – Google Map fail) I expect that I will have a moment where I think that this project is crazy. But I also know that that it’s a passing feeling and the feeling that THIS IS FUN is the enduring one……
January 7, 2013
For the first time in many years I started 2012 without a specific running target in the form of a big race (e.g. a specific marathon). Instead I had set myself two exercise related goals:
- To see whether I could get back to my pre-cancer form in terms of running speed.
- To learn to swim crawl.
In terms of running, the result is that while I am still not as fast as I was pre-2010, I am now at peace with that fact that I probably never will run a sub-3:30 marathon and that it is completely OK. I am a lot faster in my running shoes now than I was at the start of 2012 though. However the best thing that has come out of this year is that I have somehow fallen in love with running in a different way. I used to think that I needed a “big goal” for motivation and I have now learned that is in fact not the case and by removing the pressure of a looming marathon I can run just because I love it. A quick review of the facts and figures shows that I definitely haven’t been slacking in 2012! There wasn’t a single week in the year when I didn’t run (despite a fair bit of travelling). The least I ran in a single week was 15 km and the most was 51 km. With a total distance for the year of 1913 km (compared to 1422 in 2011 when I did run a marathon) that averages 37 km per week. That’s not bad!
The last time I wrote about the swimming in April I was still struggling, but I persevered and had a breakthrough towards the end of the summer. Michael Phelps I am not, and never will be, but I am now at the stage where I can swim crawl and enjoy it (can’t believe I wrote that – I honestly never thought I’d see a day where I would enjoy swimming!). Looking back to how horrendous it was in the start, I find it hard to believe that I made myself go back time after time and kept on persevering for a whole year. From the beginning of 2012 until it “clicked” for me around the end of August I spent a total of around 40 hours of total hell in the pool! But believe me, the level of satisfaction I have at finally mastering it is completely in proportion to what I had to go through!
The subtext on learning to swim crawl was of course, that if I could do it then I would set myself the goal of doing an ironman distance triathlon in 2013 and I made that decision at the start of October. The first months of ironman training have gone well. In fact I haven’t really noticed a big difference from before. I have been spending an average of around 7 hours a week training which isn’t much more than before. My focus so far has mainly been on swimming and running, but also strength training which I do at home in front of the TV. Cycling has been on a bit of a back burner, but I’m going to start working more on that now, which will of course increase the amount of time I’m spending training. But so far so manageable!
As 2013 starts, I’m feeling excited about the year ahead. There are 222 days until my big day (Challenge Copenhagen) and I’m looking forward to every one of them!
December 9, 2012
Right now it’s blowing a snowstorm outside. And my training programme says I’m supposed to run 14 km with lots of hills today. Yesterday I was chatting about the weather forecast, specifically the predicted snowstorm, with some friends and I mentioned that I was supposed to run 14 km today and one of them said “yeah, and you’ll actually do it!”, like this was a kind of freakish behaviour! And I was like, “well yes, of course I will!” kind of taken aback that anyone would do anything else!
The thing is I really can’t imagine not going out for a run today. I’m kind of excited about it actually! Yes, as I sit here cosy in my pyjamas and look out, I realise that the first 5-10 minutes will probably be a bit yucky, but then I know that it is going to be FUN! I won’t be able to run as fast as usual, I’ll probably slip and slide around a bit, the snow will be blowing in my eyes, but it will be beautiful in the forest, it will be fun running up and down the snow covered hills and it won’t be long before I have a huge smile plastered over my face!
If I try to imagine the alternative: that I stay home in front of the fire watching a Christmas film on the TV, munching Christmas goodies, I can already start to feel a worm of bad conscience, and yes, disappointment, wriggling around in my stomach. Urgh. It’s horrible!
It makes me laugh when people say they admire my willpower to go running, no matter what. It’s got nothing to do with willpower. I do it because love it! Because the alternative is unbearable!
So I’m going to go and wrap up now and then I’m going out for my run. And when I get back I’ll have a long, warm shower and then I’ll curl up in front of the fire, maybe watch a film and munch some Christmas goodies and I’ll feel great!
What are you going to do today?
November 10, 2012
I’m usually quite a laid back kind of person, but there are certain issues that can really get me going! One of my poor friends inadvertently set me off this week by forwarding me a newsletter that he thought I might be interested in. It started with this picture.
The caption roughly translates as “there are so many things women don’t understand”. It was from a bike dealer advertising a bike maintenance course only for women. Further down it stated “neither a wig or stilettos will give access for men”.
What the heck is that about??? Don’t these guys know ANYTHING about marketing (since the clearly don’t know anything about women)?
Recently there has been quite a lot of press here in Denmark about the increasing numbers of women that are taking up cycling. It seems to me though that most bike dealers have been a bit slow on the uptake……
Granted, the bunch that sent out the newsletter above are ahead of many of their competitors in that:
- They have identified women cyclists as a potential market;
- Have recognised that women-only events are a good way into this market.
Where it goes badly wrong for them is that they apparently think that women are turned on by school-boy sexist humour…..
I came across much worse last year when I was trying to buy a racer bike. In terms of my personal economy this was a fairly strategic purchase. In my professional life I deal with procurement (purchasing) so I’m in the lucky position of having professional skills I can apply. So to start out with I defined my requirements in terms of function and performance. For me, the technical specifications were not really of interest: or only in so far as they were necessary to deliver on my performance/functional requirements. Without wanting to generalise, I suspect this would be the case for many other women. I know however that for some men (though not all by any means) the technical specifications are the interesting thing (“my gears are better than your gears” so to speak). I had an additional requirement which was to find a dealer where I felt we had a good chemistry and that I could trust them. After all, this would ideally be a long-term relationship where I could use them for ongoing service and support.
So far so good.
Then I started visiting some bike dealers to find out how far they were able to meet my requirements. This is where it started to go badly wrong! In almost all cases they were not able to answer my questions on function/performance. A simple question like “how will I be able to feel the difference on a long ride between this bike and this bike” were met by responses about the specifications of the gears or the brakes or the wheels. In the worst cases they were directly insulting, for example “someone like you won’t be able to notice the difference so you might as well buy the cheapest”.
I am not making this up, this was actually said to me!
I’m sorry guys, but if I am the customer and you are trying to sell me something and we aren’t speaking the same language then it is YOU who is speaking the wrong language – not me!
It all ended well for me. I found a bike dealer in my neighbourhood that speaks exactly my language! Une Une Cycling Universe for Women specialises in selling bikes and cycling equipment to women and also organises women only cycling events.
But not everyone is as lucky as me to have Une Une nearby and anyway, as a consumer I recognise that a bit of competition is only to my advantage.
So come on bike dealers – step up to the mark!
October 31, 2012
Well, the reaction from most people who know me when I announced that my next goal is an Ironman distance triathlon was “you’re crazy but I’m not surprised”. Apparently I’m predictable!
One comment was a little different though, “good luck to you…. and to Erik” (Erik being my husband). That stopped me up a bit, particularly since the friend who wrote it presumably knew what he was talking about since his wife trained for a half-Ironman earlier this year.
It reminded me of an article in one of the national newspapers around the time of Challenge Copenhagen this year (here for those of you who read Danish) where a wife totally slags off her husband who she feels is neglecting her and their children due to his triathlon obsession! I don’t know the couple in question, but you could wonder which the worse sin is: obsessing with triathlon or publicly criticising your husband in a national newspaper, but that’s another issue…
At any rate, I did clear my Ironman Project with my husband prior to committing and I believe gave a fairly honest picture of what was involved. And, so far at least, he is 100% on board with the project. I wouldn’t be doing it unless he was. Honest!
I also wouldn’t be doing it if I had a proper job, a commute and small children. At the moment my lifestyle provides a great deal of flexibility so, if there was to be a good time in my life to do an Ironman, that time is now.
First of all, I’m self-employed and I work at home. So I decide myself what projects I do (providing I get offered them of course), how I schedule my time, and I have my office at home so I don’t have any commuting time. I have a very relaxed attitude to planning my weeks/days. I figure out what I have to/want to do with regards to work projects, household chores, family life, friends and training and plan my time accordingly. If I feel like running in the morning then I might work a bit later in the afternoon. Or even take a whole day off work and work more on another day.
Secondly, my kids are teenagers so I have a lot more freedom/free time than I did say, 10 years ago. Mind you, it’s not that I don’t spend any time with them. Since I work at home I see them regularly as they are in and out throughout the day (more than they probably like!).
The one thing in my life that could prove to be challenging to coordinate with the training is my travel activity. I do usually try to get some training done when I am away on business trips but it is nothing like the amount I do at home. However I will take this as it comes. The peak training period will be next summer when I usually take time off anyway. Between now and then I’ll have to weigh up opportunities as they arise and figure out whether they can fit in with my training. I’m only going to do this Ironman thing once (and I mean it!) so as long as I can earn my keep between now and then, the training gets priority. Between now and the year-end I only have a one week trip scheduled so that is fine so far.
It’s going to be interesting to follow this side of things though as the training builds up. I guess the proof of the pudding will be whether you see Erik in a newspaper article next August with the headline “Frustrated Triathlon Husband: What the heck kind of wife did I end up with!”