Wednesday 31 October 2012

The ethical athlete

Are you an ethical athlete?  Would you change your habits, suppliers, races even at financial cost to yourself because the companies did something that was against your values?

On Monday of this week, Wiggle promoted a new cycling calendar (this one in the pictures here) on Twitter and Facebook.  You know the sort; components and bikes with ladies draped over them, not wearing a lot.  Now, even at that point you'd think "in this day and age...", but it was worse than that and got worse and Wiggle tied themselves in knots (sadly I have no screen shots, maybe someone else does?).

Not only were the ladies draped over things, but they were oiled and shiny, and very scantily clad, and jutting out boobs and bums in provocative poses.

And they were pro cyclists.

The immediate reaction on Facebook was "Er, you're kidding right? This is awfully sexist." and that was the men's comments.  The response from Wiggle was "they're pro cyclists, it's fine!".  Oh.  Dear.  After a few more comments and exchanges that can be summed up by "OK Wiggle, what you just said is; 'hey girls, it's not going to be good enough for you to be good enough at your sport, to get successful you'll have to nigh-on get your baps out'" (thanks @thegareth for those words) and that the product and attitude was damaging to the cause of promoting and improving women's cycling.

Wiggle later removed the Facebook post and Tweet.

Now... if that was something that offended you, was against your values and you were a regular shopper at Wiggle (because it's easy, convenient and you save money) what would you do?  Would you boycott?  Would you tut heavily and move on?  Would you put it down to a silly, mis-guided employee and not the view of the company so it doesn't matter?

Friday 26 October 2012

£25 voucher to be won!

Don't forget the competition to win a £25 voucher to spend at Sport Pursuit.  Just follow the three steps below:-
  1. Sign up with them, using this link here or by clicking on any of the images in this post and signing up through there.
  2. Post a comment on this post, telling me what your most favourite bit of sports-wear is; brand, function, sport and why it's your favourite.
  3. Come back to my blog on Monday 5th November to see if you've won! (I'll be choosing a winning comment on Sunday evening, so closing date for entry is 6pm GMT on Sunday 4th November 2012).

Thursday 25 October 2012

Fat to Fit to Ironman

My weight chart from June 2008 to November 2012
I was never a skinny child, apart from a 2 week period around the age of 11 or so.  And though I managed to not get too overweight at university; finishing my undergraduate course (in 1995) at the same weight I started it at around 67kg; I started to slowly gain weight during my post graduate years.  I dabbled with losing weight during my undergraduate years when I got a little chubbier and that's the only real "diet" I had been on in my lifetime.
Probably around 2004 - at Clarecraft Discworld event

By 2006 I'd really gained quite a lot until one day I went to the doctor with a rotten cough, tiredness, an aching chest and feeling really rough, to be diagnosed as having a quite nasty chest infection.  And then the doctor put a sting in the tail, by saying "you're rather overweight aren't you?".  She plopped me on the scales and I was horrified to see it saying 94kg, then took my blood pressure and said I needed to be monitored as it was quite high.

That was May 8th 2006.  Packed off with a prescription for anti-biotics and an appointment for a follow-up blood pressure appointment in a month with the nurse, I left feeling shocked, depressed but also with a switch in my head flipped.  I didn't know it at the time, but this was a huge turning point in my life and instrumental in completely changing my life.  I was also in a very unhappy relationship at the time, which gave me an extra bit of ammunition which would help me on the way for the coming months.
2006 at my peak weight of 94kg
 The day after seeing the doctor, I decided to lose weight.  And I started by examining food packaging, working out calories for the day and trying to keep it under control on a day-to-day basis.  What was tricky to get info on was the values of raw ingredients rather than prepared foods, i.e. stuff like bananas, carrots, beef mince, lettuce, peppers etc. didn't have info on the packaging for me to use to work out what I was eating.  As I did (and still do) cook and prepare almost all of my food from raw ingredients rather than prepared food, this made things difficult and I increasingly found that the nutritional data I needed was available on one particular web site - Weight Loss Resources (WLR).  So after around a month of trying to lose weight (and succeeding, losing 7kg off the bat!), I decided to join the site as a member so I could make the task of counting calories, checking fruit and veg portions etc. a lot easier.

The handy thing about WLR is that it will do all of the difficult stuff for you - you input weight, height, rate of loss desired (and it won't let you specify more than 1kg a week) and it'll calculate your daily allowances for weight loss (or gain if that's what you need/want to be doing) and weight maintenance as well as having a massive database of foods, calculating the macro-nutrient splits, counting fruit and veg portions etc.  And as I stuck to my allowances religiously, week on week I lost 1kg a week like clockwork.

What also helped me be quite so focused on weight loss was that, although I didn't realise it at the time, I was very unhappy in the relationship I was in.  The process of weight loss gave me a level of control over a part of my life that was clearly missing elsewhere and, like people who self-harm by cutting themselves, I gained a sense of ownership over myself that I clearly needed.  Yes, I was mentally ready to lose weight when I did, but I also was desperate for an outlet for the feeling of having no control over my emotional well-being.

62kg the first time around
After 3 months, I hit my first weight target of "healthy BMI" (for me that was 72kg).  OK there were a few tantrums and tears along the way, but compared with a lot of people I had a pretty easy ride with no real plateaus.  But just skimming a healthy BMI, especially being very inactive (OK I walked a lot, but that's it), didn't mean I felt (or in my opinion) looked great.  So I set a new goal of 67kg which was right in the middle of the "healthy BMI" range and reached that a couple of months later.

Over the next year, my weight stayed pretty stable and then towards the end of 2007 it started to drop again.  Sadly, at that time my relationship was falling apart and despite having reached a weight I was happy with, it still kept going down.  By January of 2008, with my relationship over and having hit rock bottom emotionally, my weight bottomed out at just under 62kg.  I looked thin (to me) and not exactly happy, despite the face showing to the world.  What did make me happy was being able to go into a normal high street shop and buy clothes without being scared there would be nothing in the shop I could get into.  And I could buy clothes because I liked them and they looked good rather than them being simply big enough for me to get into them.

Shortly after that I met a man.  And we liked each other quite a bit.  He was loving, supportive and more than a little bit sporty - cycling lots and having done a triathlon once a few years ago.  So I bought a bike to cycle to his house to see him and there was sown the seed which would later grow into something really quite incredible.
Coast to coast (in Cornwall)

We cycled a bit together and after a while I got up the courage to cycle from London to Brighton with him; which filled me with a huge sense of achievement.  And we went on holiday and hired bikes together and cycled about having fun.
So, at that point I was cycling once or twice a week, doing about 10km each return trip but exercise really didn't feature on my mental radar as something I was that interested in.  Yet.

The lovely man (MrTOTKat) and I got married early in 2009.  And secretly, shortly after the wedding, I joined a gym to see about getting some strength back (having lost a lot of muscle when I lost all that weight).  A lot of ladies on the forums of WLR did weight training and the more I read and saw about it, the more I thought it was something I wanted to do.  So I did.  I discovered when we got back from honeymoon that the bathroom scales I'd been using were broken and I was, in fact, a good 5kg heavier than I thought!  So I had a bit of an effort to get that 5kg off over the following 6 months with the help of weight training as well as my new healthy eating lifestyle.
MrTOTKat and me on honeymoon
Happy with weight training and wanting to be able to eat with a bit less calorie restriction, I decided to start walking more.  Getting off the tube on the way home a stop early, then two stops, then three.  I wanted to go further but it was starting to make my commute longer than I was happy with, so I decided to try running.

My first parkrun (after my first 10K race)
Running hurt quite a bit.  So I found the Couch-2-5K (C25K) programme to follow and picked up at week 4 as I felt I could run a bit longer than the early weeks of the programme.  Running was horrible, but it meant I got home quicker and with the confidence that weight loss and my husband gave me, I felt fine about sitting on the tube in my running gear half way home before getting off to run the rest of the way.  3 months later, in October 2009, I ran my first 10K race - one of the Clapham Common 10K race series - smashed my 1 hour target, coming in at 00:57:37 (despite light stomach upset and naff all sleep the night before) and got my first sports medal of my adult life.
In 2010, after going skiing in January, not liking it much breaking my coccyx, I re-discovered swimming and signed up to do Swimathon - a 5km swim for charity in my local swimming pool.  Although it was mind-bendingly boring and I had a chest infection (again!) at the time, I managed it in under 2 hours.

I have no idea why, but I decided that I wanted to do a triathlon.  So, after having researched ones that were near us, involved a swim in a pool (I'd read enough horror stories about open water swims and how brutal they are), I signed up to do all four Thames Turbo Triathlon Club sprint triathlons in that year.  With a busted bum, I missed the first one, but cheered MrTOTKat on on that freezing cold Easter Monday morning and looked forward (sort of) to my first one on the next bank holiday Monday of the year.

Over the next year, we did the other sprints, and then a swim in the Thames - a first wetsuit swim for me.  Thoroughly enjoying the races, getting faster and learning at each one, we had a race signing up frenzy one drunken evening at the end of 2010.  All four Thames Turbos again, plus some of the British Triathlon Super Series, joined British Triathlon, then an Olympic distance race too - the Virgin London Triathlon.

British Olympic Ball Oct 2011
I got hit by a car while cycling to work one day in March 2011 and thereafter had an iffy knee which resulted in a number of DNFs at races.  The first was a shock, but I stopped about 1km into the run with shooting pains in my knee and stopping was the right thing to do.  It was useful to learn about DNFing as I had a good few of them over the next few months.

Working with a physio my knee got better - it turned out I just couldn't run properly and I learned to run with a mid-to-forefoot strike rather than the really quite harsh heel striking I'd been doing and that resulted in a 10km running race that I completed, then the Virgin London Triathlon (which really hurt), and the last Thames Turbo in the series.  Leaving me hungry for more races I entered the HSBC Olympic triathlon and had a horrible experience.  But by then I was already bitten by the idea that I wanted to do an Ironman.

I was looking and feeling fit, slim and confident and even having trouble with the corset I got married in being a bit too big now, though it didn't stop me from using it to glam up a night out at the British Olympic Ball!

The 2011 wall of medals and race bibs
Volunteering at a race is a great way to get a feel for it.  So, as suggested in one of the books on Ironman I'd read, I volunteered to crew at Ironman Wales.  The thinking behind Wales was that it's in the UK, so costs aren't too high, and I fear heat more than hills so Wales in September was a safe bet.  And the day we got back, we signed up for Ironman Wales in 2012, plus the UK 70.3 at Exmoor as a pre-amble earlier in the year.

From November of 2011 we were planning and training for UK 70.3 and IM Wales and everything was exciting and a bit scary, but not all that scary.  Even in March of 2012 I could visualise a 70.3 distance, maybe not with monster hills, but the distance itself didn't hold any real fear already.

 Then Mr TOTKat came across this...

"Dan James, Operations Director for IRONMAN UK, explains: “After launching the Ironman Ireland and Ironman Wales events last year some people started to talk about the ultimate test of completing our four races in one season. We thought this was incredibly hard but knew we had to recognise the achievement if someone could succeed in finishing all four in the same year.”
This is no easy feat as it will require an exceptional effort to complete over 420 miles of racing inside three months. A number of athletes, like Charlie, have already put their names forward for the challenge and Ironman have responded to the idea enthusiastically. The UK organising team have agreed to provide some extra reward for athletes who are attempting the extremely difficult task." 
My first reaction was "you're crazy!".  We've not even done a 70.3 yet, have no idea about recovery times or even how we'll cope with a 70.3, never mind a full distance.  Plus, the last two are two weeks apart!  So, I suggested that coachJoe (Mr TOTKat's coach) be consulted to see just how crazy it was. The response came back pretty much as "do it!" (with a bit more about the practical and sensible bits).  So I thought about it and...

There we were; signed up for 4x Ironman events in one year, in fact in a 13 week period:-

"As a result athletes embarking upon the ‘ultimate’ will receive special race numbers and a commemorative package including t-shirt, jacket and a unique medal as part of a special awards ceremony. A ‘Wall of Fame’ will also be created online to honour the success of those who can overcome the odds to finish all four races in the same season. "
Now I was excited.  It got to its logical conclusion; there was no more we could realistically do in 2012.  It was not going to be easy, but then it never was doing "just" the two.

As I trained, the weight dropped off even more without actually trying.  Even fuelling for the training effort and slap up meals after long sessions didn't seem to stop the downwards trend that you can see in my weight chart from November 2011 to June 2012.  

With the help of new coach Rich Jones, I had a great few races at UK 70.3 and IM UK...

IM 70.3 UK 2012
Ironman UK 2012
I was an IRONMAN!  But no time to stop and smell the roses as there were two more races to get through.

And then Ireland 70.3...

IM 70.3 Ireland 2012
And this is how it ended.  I had a bad bike crash at IM 70.3 Ireland, broke my collar bone, finished the race in a respectable time (an hour quicker than UK 70.3) and got patched up.

With less than 2 weeks to IM Wales there was no way I'd be able to swim or cycle at Wales, so that was the end of the challenge for me.  4 days before IM Wales I had a titanium plate put in to pull the two ends of my collar bone and the bits in the middle back together again and straight so it will heal properly for the future.

And at IM Wales I volunteered at the finish line and handed out all 4 race medals to my husband when he crossed the line.

MrTOTKat and his full set of Ultimate Challenge finishers medals in 2012
With a haul of medals in 2012 that anyone should be proud of, I was at peace with not finishing the Ultimate challenge.  Now, I'm looking forward to 2013 and a season of shorter races...

Stowe, Blenheim, UK 70.3, UK IM and Ireland 70.3 all in 2012
6 and a half years after I decided to drop a load of weight and I'm the fittest, healthiest, lightest, slimmest and happiest I've ever been in my adult life.  Oh and I'm an Ironman.

Shortly after the end of my 2012 season, I decided that an Ultra marathon might be interesting... so I did one in February 2013 and then ended up doing 5 in 12 months around the other races.

After Country to Capital

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Feeling entitled - or why I'm entering the Kona Lottery

There's a sinister side to something like the Ironman World Championships experience at Kona and I don't like what it does to a person.

From the first day I was there right up to the last, I was surrounded by the opportunity for what is commonly called "schwag".  Free stuff from companies promoting and selling their gear at the Ironman expo.  Often in the form of t-shirts, lanyards, baseball caps, stickers etc. and sometimes just given out at a certain time, or if you wear a certain stick-on tattoo and visit their stand while they still have stuff to give out.

You get so used to getting free stuff (I ended up with 5 t-shirts [Biestmilch, 2x Cervelo, Garmin, Rudy Project], 1 Shimano baseball cap, 4 LG gels, 4 packs of Extreme Endurance, 2x Garmin 910XT coloured wrist straps and a Rudy Project wind vest) that you get miffed when you don't get something for free from a booth or stand.  You start to feel a sense of entitlement to being given stuff and I really don't like that.  And then you think you'll never need to buy a t-shirt again and you think, gosh how much money I've saved there, for a moment forgetting the actual cost of getting to Kona; the financial cost (which is really not insignificant) as well as the actual blood, sweat and tears.  But the latter is all for naught if you're just not quite fast enough on the day you're at a qualifying race, or you're just not ready to be fast enough.  You can have frittered away hundreds or even thousands of hours in training, as well as similar numbers of $/£/€ on kit, race fees, nutrition, travel and still not qualify for the big race in Kona.

Ironman have provided those of us in that position with a couple of chances to get to Kona without having achieved a qualifying position (or roll-down one) at a qualifying race.  If you've spent years trying and managed to complete 12 Ironman races, you can enter the Legacy programme.  The rules are a little complex and will probably evolve as more people hit that 12 race minimum: "In its second year, the IRONMAN Legacy Program will grant 100 loyal IRONMAN athletes an opportunity to compete in Kona at least once in their lifetime. One hundred Legacy winners will be chosen by IRONMAN and selection will be based on several criteria. To be eligible for selection through the Legacy Program, athletes must have completed a minimum of 12 full-distance IRONMAN-branded races, have never started the IRONMAN World Championship, have completed at least one full-distance IRONMAN event in each of the 2011 and 2012 seasons and be registered for a full-distance IRONMAN event in 2013."

The rest of us can throw our hats into the Lottery for 1 of 100 places on offer each year.  Though the rules for that are a little tricky: "This year, athletes will continue to have an increased opportunity to be selected for the IRONMAN Lottery based on the number of years they have entered the program. New for 2013, and moving forward, however, athletes must have consecutive entries, year-over-year, to maintain credit for entries from previous years. For example, if an athlete registered for the IRONMAN Lottery six times between 2004 and now, the athlete must enter the IRONMAN Lottery in 2013 to continue to maintain credit for the previous six entries. Should the athlete choose to not enter the IRONMAN Lottery in 2013, but reapply in 2014, the athlete would then only have credit for the one entry in 2014."

So I find myself; despite having said "no full-distance Ironman races in 2013", the fact that I've only completed one full distance Ironman to date, the oppressive heat and cruel winds on the Kona bike course, and the fact that it is bank-breakingly expensive to get there; poised to click the button to enter the Kona Lottery for next year.  Why?  Why would I do that?  Mostly because the likelihood of getting a place is very low until you accrue a few years of entering; partly because I have post-Kona blues (if you've ever been on any kind of camp music/sport/hobbies or convention, you'll know what I mean); partly because a tiny tiny bit of me would really love to be back there this time next year.  I'm not sure I like that, but I'm going along with it for the ride.

Lottery sign-up opened today at noon ET (that's 17:00 in the UK).  If you in any way want to race at Kona and aren't likely to qualify by placing at the top of your age group in a qualifying race, sign up.  You never know....

Cutting the cost of taking part (win a £25 voucher!)

Photo from
[competition at the bottom]

There's no doubt that taking part in triathlon can cost quite a bit of money, if you let it.  Things like bicycles aside (you can often get a bargain on last year's models at the end of the season) and although race fees can sometimes be eye-watering, the majority of the cost isn't actually racing itself but the nutrition and sports kit you get through while training.  Good quality sports clothing really is very expensive and you can't get away with a cotton t-shirt and old rugby shorts from 10 years ago if you're going to be doing more than a jog a week as you'll run into problems with being wet while you exercise (cotton is great at absorbing water but it doesn't wick it away from your skin into the air) and then either cold or chafed or both, plus the risk of bacteria growing in particularly sweat-prone bits of the garments.  However, if you are a bit clever and let a couple of companies keep you informed on discounts of up to 70% off swim/bike/run gear and build up a good collection of decent quality kit that will keep you warm, dry, cool and protected  from sun, wind, rain and chafing with good freedom of movement for years without breaking the bank.

One company that has been coming to the fore recently, in cutting the cost for the athlete (Yes, you! You're an athlete if you do regular sporting activity!), is Sport Pursuit.  It's a members only web site - i.e. you need to sign up and create an account with them and they'll send you email notifications of upcoming/opening sales - which has timed sales on top brand sports kit.

"We love buying sports kit.  In fact, we’ve scientifically proven it’s not possible to have too much.  But we got enormously frustrated at how difficult it was to discover great sports products at great prices; not just brands we already knew and loved but also those innovative cutting edge, hot off the pro-circuit, show off to your mates brands that no one else has.  

So, with no other option we decided to go out there and build it for ourselves, our friends and all our members.  "

"Pop-Up Sales from Winning Brands: New sales from top sports and outdoor brands start on SportPursuit every few days and typically last for 7 days. We’ll drop you a quick email to let you know when new sales are starting.
Exclusive Prices: SportPursuit gives you the chance to trial and discover great products and brands at the lowest prices anywhere - guaranteed. Our exclusive members-only site gives brands the confidence to discount, and we achieve the best prices for our members by ordering in bulk at the end of each sale."

This means that when you order, you have to wait until the sale ends before your stuff is shipped.  But it does mean that you get some pretty hefty discounts and you generally don't have to wait too long.

The range of brands is pretty impressive, with pretty much all active sports covered (not sure they have darts-wear ;o)) and there's a countdown on the main page that gives you an idea of when the sale ends...

And it's not just clothing and accessories, but there are nutrition sales as well...

When an item is sold out of the number they're planning to buy, you're not left hanging on the product listing page to click through to a product that's no longer available as they're clearly marked "sold out", which is handy.  And you can filter by gender, size and price which can really help when you have a set limit of what you can/are willing to spend on any given item.

That Polar RS300X with footpod is £55 cheaper than on Wiggle even with a Wiggle 12% Platinum discount!  So if you move quickly, you can get some really really good bargains but even if you don't, you're looking at 40%+ discounts on stuff. 

What I'm finding particularly useful, and it's the reason I first went to Wiggle years ago, is the range of women's gear.  It's great, there's loads of it with decent choice and proper sizing charts so you don't run the risk of being drastically wrong with sizes.

So, all in all they're pretty darned useful to help make life a bit less horribly expensive while enjoying the sports you love!

Now, here's the bit where you can win a £25 voucher with these guys.  All you have to do is three tiny things:-

  1. Sign up with them, using this link here or by clicking on any of the images in this post and signing up through there.
  2. Post a comment on this post, telling me what your most favourite bit of sports-wear is; brand, function, sport and why it's your favourite.
  3. Come back to my blog on Monday 5th November to see if you've won! (I'll be choosing a winning comment on Sunday evening, so closing date for entry is 6pm GMT on 4th November 2012).
So, good luck, get your thinking cap on and let's see who I can make happy with a little extra spending money for their sport habit!

Monday 22 October 2012

Champions are very nice people

I'm back from Kona, Hawaii and oh boy was it a phenomenal adventure.

From the famous Island Lava Java cafe/grill... everything, everywhere in the town being covered in Ironman associated stuff and pop-up stalls.

To volunteer shift #1, escorting athletes through transition to show them the route, help rack their bikes and point out important, er, points...

Lookit the queue that brewed - it's a tough job getting over 2,000 people through to show them the route and rack up and we ran thin on volunteers to length of athlete queue quite quickly.

 And spotted the odd elite...

Raelert brothers

The entrance hall of the race HQ - King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel - decorated with a floral m-dot...

And Ironman brand on -everything- that moves, or doesn't move.

 The place heaving with people with minimal body fat...

Dig Me Beach

And handy placement of the race week schedule on the pavement.

I did a sneaky Brit-centric chalk on the bike-out route from transition, in the hope it might make someone smile.

Didn't really get a chance to take any photos on volunteer shift #2 apart from lots of sweaty, knackered athletes in between crossing off names and handing out medals and finisher goodies.

Faris Al Sultan (5th place)

Part of my little list of athletes to give medals to (Rebecca Romero was on page 1 of my list)

Big chunk of ironwork!


Kristin Moeller
But did run into and and had a chat with elites at the cafe on the way back from my surfing lesson...

Andreas and Michael Raelert (and me inna middle)

And new world champions at the volunteer after party.

Pete Jacobs (and me)

They were more than happy to just have a chat, like a normal person and even a normal person with a sunny and cheery, sociable personality.  Triathlon is still like that and I hope it stays that way.  I do worry about it getting really popular and then the elites becoming less and less accessible and "normal".

Also met loads of other good people too, mostly the Team Freespeed guys, IronRosey and @devoniain

What struck me about a lot of people who were there that I talked to was the attitude of "well, just come and race here next year" as if it were something that you can just arrange to do with no doubt of it happening.

Maybe 2016's goal.