The Butterfly Within

A Triathlete’s race against a brain tumour by Rachel Bown

9781910878439

She’s an unordained vicar who uses sport to reach her audience and her personality to reach out to her online parish. Rachel is a daughter/sister/partner/friend, but she’s something more than this – a triumviarate of sporting personalities that gets unleashed in that hardy multi-discipline sport, triathlon. And she’s pretty good at what she does.

When Rachel finds out she has a brain tumour it can mean only one thing – the battle to survive surgery becomes another race that has to be taken on, endured, and survived. Her brain tumour becomes Rachel’s most difficult opponent she has ever faced.

This isn’t just a story about survival, and one woman’s battle against the tumour that is growing in her brain. There’s another ‘battle’. One where the ‘evil’ is depression and the sufferer is Rachel’s mum, who is fighting her own devils in her life, alongside Rachel, and how dramatically this impacts Rachel’s journey through her own illness.

Alongside the swirling doubts that Rachel fights to keep out of her mind, there’s a desperately sad story in the background of a family rallying to help their mum cope with her own disease. So often hidden behind closed doors, Rachel refuses to pretend that her mum wasn’t facing as much of a battle as she was. Instead of dealing with a physical symptom, that ultimately could be overcome, Rachel’s journey back to health is paralleled by her mum’s battle with her own mental health illness. As if facing surgery on a brain tumour, and rebuilding her life after, wasn’t a big enough challenge, Rachel couldn’t turn to her mum for the support she desperately needed. Other family members had to cope with both women fighting their own battles. And they did.

Rachel’s is a powerful story of resilience, positivity and also a good dose of bloody-mindedness. Everything Rachel takes on in life she does with 100 per cent commitment. And so the journey to defy her tumour is exactly the same. There’s little self-pity, even though there’s some moments of sadness and confusion. Maybe more than anything Rachel’s personal journey is testament to how sport, and living a life where you purposefully go out to be the person you know you can be, meaning you strive to achieve your goals and commit yourself, means that you can bring an inner conviction to your ability to survive. And beat a physical condition that could mean the end of your life. Rachel approaches tackling her tumour as a race, and talks us through the preparation, execution and recovery of her ‘race’ against her tumour.

It’s like most races though… how many go exactly to plan? How often have you run a PB when you felt there was no way you could, or have you thought you were perfectly prepared for a spring marathon then an unexpected event in the race shattered your hopes and plan? After her initial operation, and as she is recovering, Rachel suffers an infection in her brain and finds herself much more poorly than she had thought possible, or planned.

Though at times consumed with feelings of being scared, worried and frustrated Rachel always holds on to her hope. Rachel’s body fights the secondary infection, but as a consequence of post-operation complications, Rachel is left visually impaired.

Does this mean her career as an athlete is over? Of course not; it means that Rachel has even more determination to return to health and fitness – so much that she defies her doctors in her rapid recovery. It’s not long before Rachel is competing at triathlon (and that means competing not completing, representing Team GB in the age group category) and last year she set a world record at the London Marathon, running in fancy dress. Even when we are faced with an unthinkable challenge Rachel shows that we can all be the creators of our own destiny.

Buy this book here

Rating: ****

The 401 Challenge marathon #392

You know how the water in a sink will swirl one way down the plug hole in the northern hemisphere and the opposite way in the southern hemisphere, but it doesn’t really matter which way the water travels; gravity always wins. That’s how it is running with Ben Smith from the 401 Challenge. When you run with Ben on one of his 401 marathons, wherever you run in the pack, you just want to swish yourself this way or that, so you can be near him. Ben draws people to him. His force is strong. You want a little bit of him to rub off on you, which is selfish as running hundreds of marathons back to back has got to be quite tiring. I mean, how many people have you met who have run (just about) 401 marathons in consecutive days?

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Ben – in picking running as his massive challenge – made a canny choice. He’s a clever man. Every village, town and city in the country has a running group of some sort, and have you noticed how a lot of people in these groups are, mmmmmmm… how do you say it, slightly *different* (…crazy/bonkers/sometimes out of the ordinarily, unbelievably mad…) in that once you draw them in then you’ve got them for life. I mean, have you seen this group of mad people in the winter? Are we at home getting our Christmas presents wrapped early just before we brush a wet cloth over the blinds/radiators/skirting boards so that we can go on to clearing out the garage, raking away the winter leaves and checking we have enough loo rolls/packets of pasta and tinned rice pudding in case of a national emergency? Before we hoover the car.

Love Laura's face, whatever...

Love Laura’s face, whatever…

No, we’re up at the crack of dawn driving with droopy eyelids to some wood or forest or other place in the middle of God knows where to run around a muddy, frozen track for about five miles and then after, after we stand in a large space (usually quite chilly and definitely not toasty) and talk about how wonderful the whole experience was as our fingers slowly defrost at the same time as the mud on our legs claggily dries so that we know even after the first shower when we get home it won’t come off. These are not average human beings. It’s a tribe; all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ages, but with a strange and steely obsession about getting from one line to another and low and behold anything or anyone who prevents them from doing so (and don’t muck with our GPS signals either as there’s this really crucially unbelievably important element of time from one line to the other that can lead people to do crazed things). We are family. We look after each other.

We are DIFFERENT. Be proud as being normal is over-rated. Then one rises above the rest. He’s got a REALLY big beard. He looks kinda cool in a bandana. He’s obviously not only been born with the ACT1 gene (no, that doesn’t mean he’s good at drama, it’s what makes you an endurance king), he was also delivered in to our world with an extra something tucked away in his soul. He wouldn’t have known it was there. I’m sure his mum and dad had no idea (or maybe they did). Life gave him a few knocks – and he had choices, some very tough. He made them and this shaped who he became. Then a flicker of an idea must have grown, as these things do, probably silently at first, just thoughts starting to stick together like the ends of sellotape do, when you don’t want them. They created their own glue that held the thoughts together so they could become something greater, and a challenge was born. Did Ben create the 401 Challenge, or did it create him? His life was probably hurtling to the moment, in about one week’s time, when he finishes his 401th marathon, right from the first breath, whether he wanted it to or not.

Some of the Gosport Road Runners contingent

Some of the lovely Gosport Road Runners ladies

When you’re a runner a marathon is a BIG challenge, whoever you are, however fast, thin, fat, tall, short… there is no easy marathon. Who would ever think of running 401 on 401 consecutive days? No one of course. Because it’s madness. What a ridiculously large challenge to ask of one body, its 700-odd muscles and 206 bones. Your Neanderthal grandmother and grandpa had already genetically evolved to run about 10K (that’s six miles) a day to fetch food. Why would they have added an extra 20 miles on top when they had Stone Age chores to do like sweeping the cave and hanging out the newly laundered bear skins?

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

We’re not meant to do these miles every day. It’s not just worrying about dodgy knees and a tight ITB band, either. How do you get the brain and heart, the physical and emotional engines, to keep driving those muscles and bodies day-in, day-out, over and over and over and over? You don’t. I don’t. Ben does.

The Fareham Crusaders

The Fareham Crusaders

He can’t say ‘I just can’t do this today. I’m ill. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m just fed up. I don’t want to run any more. What was I thinking when I thought I could do this? I want to go and sit on the beach all day long with my mates. I want to pull on my compression tights, pour a massive glass of wine and just spend all afternoon cosied up with Mr or Mrs Netflix. I just can’t be bothered today.’

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

Ben has to turn up and smile at a big bunch of people who just gaze at him with a slightly dumb look on their face when they say ‘Wow, you’re really amaaaaaazing,’ like silly love-struck teenagers with their first girl/boy crush. He’s got so much better at dealing with that since I ran with him a year ago.

The Boss... this man bravely guided us along new trails

The Boss… Tony from Portsmouth Joggers bravely guided us along the trails

We know that when our excuses create our daily boundaries, we’re not really living, we’re existing. If you stand at the end of any race and you see…feel…taste that life doesn’t happen in our comfort zone. Force yourself out of it and, like an explosion of magic dust before our eyes we see sharply how beautiful life can be (and painful, but it’s always a good pain, right?). Then we realize we can share this beauty. We can do something that somehow helps someone else see it, and their lives are then changed forever. This is what Ben has done for us all. He shares this life-love. Surely we should all be giving him money just for this as we say: ‘Thanks. You made me realise there is so much more than just me in my life.’

Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

The gorgeous Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

All of us can bring that brightness into other’s lives; we can sharpen the focus so that new paths become clearer, and other choices can be made. We live in the age of empathy, and the only way through is to respond. Each of us may be but a grain of sand on the beach. Ben – and pioneers like him – they are the moon that can help us turn the tide. People… if we let these challenges sweep us together, between us we can be deeply powerful. Raising massive amounts of money together, by donating just a few precious pounds individually, can help build a beautiful palace, free for all to live in.

I cant even run two marathons in a row so I’ve no idea what it can feel like to run more, again, again. Again. Ben has though. He doesn’t complain. He listens. In fact, no one could have been more inclusive and supportive for those who were struggling to carry on yesterday. No jaded looks shine from his eyes. Coach/mentor/motivator/life shaper/life changer.

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Just a quick note for Ben’s support crew. I’ve figured out a way Ben can double his quarter million to a half. It’s easy! Do the 401 Challenge all over again, and make people pay a fine (£5, £10?) for being privileged enough to join in one of the runs. It’s got to be a winner.

The school run and normality called us back… but we escaped for a whole five hours

Come on, you’ve done 401 marathons Ben, you can’t tell me this isn’t possible…And I’ve also figured out a way I can do this with you, without feeling let down by my inferior, slightly smaller very less hairy body. Yes, I’ll not have a bath for 401 days. It will be tough, but it’s the least I can do to support you.

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He’s nearly there! You can help Ben in his final push to raise the last thousands he needs to make his £250K total by taking part in the 401’s virtual challenge, either 10K, half marathon or marathon, which you can run on your own, any time, any place. The closing date is 8th October. Enter here

Support Ben by donating here

Buy a 401 sweatshirt/tee shirt here (I quite like the blue…)

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Get ready for your autumn running with my kit preview

In our house we have a sweepstake to guess the date when we will clean out the woodburner for lighting the first fire of the autumn. My money is on October 5th, although I would love it to be much later than this date! The sun is still shining and hopefully we’re going to get many more warm days before we have to think about digging out our baselayers and throwing on a rain jacket. With a few canny investments in just a couple of key autumn wardrobe staples you will be pounding the trails and paths whenever the weather deteriorates (and we both know it will…!). Here’s my preview of the newest, loveliest and best running kit that’s in the shops and online this autumn.

LEGGINGS
Xinx Caribbean leggings
xinx.co.uk, £80
Sports luxe at its best, you can tackle any activity with these eye-catching Caribbean leggings. You get a deep , soft waistband, they don’t wrinkle as you run and there’s no bunching at the ankle. Flat-locked seams ensure maximum comfort, however hard you push yourself. You’ll want to wear these all the time, even when you’re not active.

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Manuka Life star stirrup legging
£45, manukalife.com
Slip into these luxury leggings with stirrups to make your feet feel extra toasty. Your legs will also thank you as the heritage cotton fabric wraps around them. And if you fancy an autumn run along the trails the star print is sure to get into the mood.

There's no way your feet are going to be cold this winter!

There’s no way your feet are going to be cold this winter!

Zaazee Eve leggings
£70, zaazee.co.uk
How can you not feel like a million pounds in these premium two-tone leggings? Their figure hugging SUPPLEX fabric will make you feel amazing as you relax into your day and a wide waistband means comfort 24/7. They are very distinctive with a bold stripe – and very flattering!

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Threo London Fields leggings
threo.co.uk, £55
Versatile leggings for any activity, you’ll love how easy you can roll them up or take them off due to the bright ankle zips. There’s a flattering high cut waist and the two-way stretch fabric feels supportive as well as stretchy. A double lining at the back prevents transparency and the long rear pocket is also nifty as it fits a Smart phone. You get a lot for your money!

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New Balance impact premium tights
newbalance.co.uk £51
The design of these latest leggings from New Balance is distinctive. They’re not too dark, have long reflective strips, mesh, ankle zips and silicone grippers. This is premium kit but not ridiculously expensive.

Shewhodaresruns short-sleeve technical tee
£18,
swdrshop.com
This ladies cut tee blends modern fabrics with a perfect fit and old-school looks. You get a flattering fit, the fabric is very soft against your skin and it’s 100% breathable – make a statement now!

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Howies light merino s/s baselayer
howies.co.uk, £45
When you don’t want your kit to bunch up throw on this slim-fitting Merino top that will keep you warm, and dry, until winter. The flat-locked seams won’t irritate and it stays put due to shaped armholes; you can’t tell you’re wearing this top. It’s breathable and odour resistant.

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Manuka Life pullover love hoodie
£65, manukalife.com
The softest, most comfy kit I’ve reviewed this autumn so far. As you snuggle up inside this beautiful oversized hoodie you can relax and reflect on just how far your running has come. Tuck your hands into the front pocket and let the super soft, brushed cotton, and the Love graphic, help you drift off as you focus on love: love for all things running of course!

My fav piece of kit at the moment

My fav piece of kit at the moment

JACKETS
New Balance Newbury Jacket
£60, newbalance.co.uk
A fashion jacket with a cute, cropped fit and a touch of cool-girl faux leather on the inner arms and sides. You’ll love the high neck, boxy fit and luxe, stretchy faux leather accents. Wear it to your workout then keep it on for your warm up – the thick ribbed fabric flaunts sweat-wicking NB Dry technology.

Howies Shewaddywaddy jacket
howies.co.uk, £79
The perfect jacket for the cooler evenings, or to pack down and stash in your backpack all year round. It’s unbelievably lightweight and has the bonus of a windproof ripstop outer. The slim line Primaloft front panels will battle the wind and I love the high collar plus elasticated cuffs and waist for cosiness. Protection from Mother Nature without bulk or feeling restricted.

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Ultimate Direction Ultra jacket
betaclimbingdesigns.com, £130
If you’re not sure whether to pack a wind or rain jacket, worry no more – this jacket is both waterproof and as light as most windbreakers. There’s a nifty internal chest pocket so you’re phone will never get wet. There are also mittens at the end of the arms for extra protection plus vents under the arms and in the hood (which has a stiffened peak for optimum visibility). A superior jacket for ultimate protection.

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BRAS
Shock Absorber active multi sports support bra
figleaves.com, £33
Rock your crop with whatever challenge you face in this Shock Absorber sports bra that gives extreme internal, cup-sized support. The mesh back allows you to stay cool and we loved the thick, padded straps, which we found easy to adjust. It’s not just comfortable; the vibrant colourways are perfect for layering so you stay stylish as you sweat.

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Odlo padded sports bra
£40, odlo.com/uk
It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to yoga or taking in a gentle run, this versatile bra, with wide, adjustable and stretchy straps, will support you. Removal pads provide extra support and coverage. There’s also a comfy under-bust strap; I think you won’t even notice you’re wearing this, it’s so soft.

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TECH
WATCHES
Suunto Spartan Ultra
suunto.com, £509-£559
This watch is a lot of money, there’s no denying that! But for the dedicated sportswomen out there you can use if for running, all-day activity tracking and 80 other activities like skiing and triathlon (as well as in-sport options such as interval/obstacle race and treadmill for running). You get a colour touch screen and lots of nifty add-ons such as guided route navigation. What’s the battery life? 26 hours in training mode. Pay a little more you can get a heart-rate monitor version. It’s an impressive piece of tech.

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Kavson Besiter Eclipse
amazon.co.uk, £9.99
A brilliant gadget for when you’re out and about, the Eclipse has one of the most powerful batteries available, which means your phone need never lose charge again! Tablets will charge incredibly fast and it can also be used as a torch. Ideal for off-roaders and ultra runners.

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Accessories
Ultimate Direction’s The Clutch
betaclimbingdesigns.com, £30
This is a sleek, easy to carry handheld bottle. Designed by women for women it features soft breathable mesh straps that won’t chafe. I love the small, secure pocket for valuables, and there are plenty of reflective accents for visibility.

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BAGS
Under Armour The Works tote
£38, underarmour.co.uk
Let the rain begin – with Storm technology this bag will repel water and protect your kit until you’re home. With a removable laundry bag your dirty kit can be kept separate, and there’s heaps of space for your winter kit and jacket. Being lightweight and spacious – with subtle style – you’ll find this bag perfect for races, the gym, weekends away or work.

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Ron hill commuter xero 5L/10L
ronhill.com, £80
This is a fantastic multi-purpose kit bag that can be used for anything, but it’s especially geared up for your run commute. The waistcoat attached to the bag consists of soft, thick mesh for cushioning. There’s a substantial internal zipped pocket at the top and separate section at the bottom to discreetly hold dirty clothes, and it features a rear light for safety. There are numerous pockets for storage on the waistcoat, including two large zipped ones.

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New Balance Vazee Breathe
£80, newbalance.co.uk
Technically these were launched as summer trainers, due to the cooling open-air mesh throughout the upper that let’s the air weave over your feet. I’ve starting running in them over the last few weeks and am loving them, and will be wearing them through the autumn. Why? They feel like a slipper yet inject energy into your running; they give you a cushioned ride without feeling bulky/heavy/clumsy. If you do find yourself running through a heatwave, the Heat Foil surface underneath the shoe will reflect road surface heat away from your foot. All in all, I think they’re the cleverest shoe on the block, and will really boost your running.

May your autumn running be full of beautiful paths and trails, and some PBs along the way!

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AR Summer 5K Series – a small race with a big heart

Reeling from a not-so-successful London Marathon at the end of April I got stuck in that place we go when we feel nothing’s going right for us, while everything is going right for ‘them’ (whoever they may be). The first few days after a marathon are such an emotional rollercoaster, even when you’ve run OK. Feeling a bit low I entered a local 5K race series, as it’s the only way I know to cope…create a new goal.

The last race of the series was run under a beautiful moon

The last race of the series was run under a beautiful moon

This series was a perfect match: extremely close, exceptional value (I caught the early bird price) very friendly and well run. It’s been going for a few years and I’d only heard good things about it. I also wanted to support the race organiser, local runner and owner of the award-winning Absolute Running shop in Gosport as he is a top bloke. Last year I had every race of the series on my calendar and didn’t make one of them. A mid-week evening 5K race can be tricky if you have kids and accompanying taxi duties. But doing a short race series over the summer can show you how your fitness is improving, so I really wanted to make it this year. It’s also a welcome break from your winter long, slow runs.

GRR turning out in force to support the last race

GRR turning out in force to support the last race

Then the first one came, and it went. Nope, I didn’t make it. It just happened that both my mum and my partner were away and so on that night it was only me home alone with three girls and too many car trips to fit in any sort of run. I was proper grumpy. This really fired me up and I was going to make the next four, no matter what.

Me and Karen, second lady

Me and Karen, second lady

Boy I had the wind taken out of my sails on the next race, the second of the series. One thing I hadn’t factored into my race plan was the hideous wind you get along the south coast, which, whatever direction you run in seems to swirl against you.

We all flew for the first mile (wind-assisted), did our two laps of the top field then had to put our heads down on the way back to the finish. The same for races three and four. In fact, on the day of the July 5K I really didn’t want to run. It wasn’t windy, it was hurricane weather – well it felt like it was all the way back into the finish. My third mile split was nearly a minute slower than the first two. I think I was proper grumpy again after that race. But we all know you never regret a run…

I won wine!

I won wine!

By the August 5K I was expecting balmy conditions, a perfect, still summer evening where I may even get within touching distance of my 5K PB. Well, the weather had other plans for us runners and yet again we had to battle 25-30mph winds coming into the final third of the race. Can’t say I was ebullient after that one! Then something amazing happened on the final race, on Tuesday night.

Presentations for the overall series winners

Presentations for the overall series winners

It was incredibly warm – maybe even too warm – for racing a 5K and the wind that was building gently during the day dropped to a whisper. You’ve never seen a couple of hundred runners so uplifted. When I arrived to pick up my race number we were all rejoicing – no wind! It was going to be a breeze (sorry…). We all gathered for the pre-race photo and there was such a good vibe. If you’re looking for your running tribe this is the place to come and find the best. Nick is the perfect ambassador for running and the running life. He’s probably one of the most authentic people you could hope to meet, pretty important when you’re looking for new trainers that you know are probably going to cost you at least £100. You can trust his opinion and pick his brain on anything – the fact that Absolute Running has won awards two-years running, at the Running Awards, shows the depth of community behind him, and how much they trust and respect him.

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He has made some powerful differences to the community he lives in, both through the 5K summer series and the Gosport Golden Mile race, which has become a big hit with local school children. As Nick says: ‘It’s all about the youth.’

Perfect running conditions

Perfect running conditions

I was really chuffed for Nick that so many of the local run club, Gosport Road Runners, were out to support him in the last race of the series. I know most of them only live down the road, literally, but it would be easy not to bother – all of us have busy lives. After the race I spoke to three separate people who told me how they had dashed, hell for leather, from work to make the last event. And at a coaching event earlier in the year held in the other side of the county runners from Surrey told me they were hoping to come down to one of the races.

ethangeephotography.co.uk

ethangeephotography.co.uk

Every year the numbers taking part in this series are growing impressively, and will continue to grow not just because good news travels quickly, but, if the wind is calm, it’s a completely flat and potentially fast course. There’s a kids 1K race before the adult race each month, so you can take your youngsters for a dash along the prom. All finishers get a medal, plus there are prizes in each race through the age categories, as well as a substantial prize to the overall male and female winners of the series. There’s also chip timing. All this is just by-the-by though, as it’s the welcoming, all-inclusive and friendly atmosphere that you will remember. Presentations only take place when the last runner is in and the marshals are fantastic. Plus there’s the perfect opportunity to take your family down for a fish and chip supper after the race. On Tuesday it was nearly dark by the time the last runner finished, the moon was out and it was a beautiful evening. It was lovely to sit on the beach after the race with my youngest, rather than dash home.

The lovely Nick and Kim Carter - thank you for a great race series!

The lovely Nick and Kim Carter – thank you for a great race series!

I am so chuffed that I finally made this race. Yes I moaned and grumped along the way; we all want perfect conditions for every race, but this rarely happens. Maybe if every race in the series had been calm it wouldn’t have been such an achievement to persevere to the end, or the last one wouldn’t have felt so magical.

You can enter next year’s Gosport Golden Mile here

Freejumping fun!

Oxygen Freejumping (Southampton)

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Three humanoids, the girl variety. Can be tetchy, moody, irritable… explosive. Six weeks of a loooong, hot summer (well, OK not always hot but sometimes), where the days stretched forever and an hour could pass as slowly as the UK leaving the European Union.

Taking action
What do you do with the young creatures… you’ve done the beach, the shops, the library, the pool, dropping off with relatives, the forest, the beach again, and again… There comes a time in every mother’s summer holidays that you need… something else. Something more. When your children have so much natural energy that 16 hours of gymnastics, and five nights of dancing doesn’t reduce them to sleepy, passive snuggle-bugs that you can look at and think: “Awwwww, they’re just so cute…”

Amelie on the jumping wall

Amelie on the jumping wall

That despite of their activities they still rampage through your day/week/month as if they are trolls on 24-an-hour-day energy drinks. That’s when it’s time to stop. Think. Drive… drive as far as you have to… and take them to a trampoline park. We have these dotted all over the south, and there are now four, yes FOUR beautiful destinations in our locale where you can simply hand over your hard-earned dosh and let your children bounce until they can bounce no more. Though now it’s called freejumping.

Oxygen in Southampton reached out to me – yes, they knew. They knew my children’s natural birth defect is hyperactivity. Who told them? I don’t know. But there’s an uncanny way that people and places come into your life. It’s a supernatural divination… you find them, they find you. You like them and they like you. Destiny’s child am I, and if more than one person recommends something to me (a book, a Netflix orgininal, a country) I hear fate knocking at my door and I let it in. So we found ourselves on our way to Oxygen.

Let’s go back a year to the first exposure we had to the full-grown trampoline temples that we were to visit. As a family we were never going to be by-passed by this latest craze. Two dancers and one gymnast meant that as soon as any random child at one of the clubs/dance schools had tested out a trampoline park it wouldn’t take long for one of my girls to be nagging me to give it a go. We drove for nearly an hour to get to one the first time… yep, if energy has to be burnt sometimes you have to go a long way to do it. It was fun, exciting – sweaty – and really worthwhile, but, hey, can we have one of these places built a lot closer to home please trampoline business entrepreneurs?

And then about six months later another one appeared in the next city due east. Yes! Forget about the girls, I was so excited… a new place to take them and their need to burn energy every single day. Would they have coffee and wifi? We didn’t go on the opening day, we waited until the next day so that there wouldn’t be any queues. “What did you think?” I asked #2 and #3 on that day. Would it be good enough to pass their high level of expectation? “Pretty good,” #3 replied.

“I still want to try Oxygen in Southampton,” #2 said. What, another one? I rushed home, googled it and knew we had a purpose in life – another trampoline park to try, and this one even closer to our house. Only 20 minutes in the car. Bonus. Then everything else got in the way and it didn’t quite happen as soon as I thought it would, and then the summer holidays started. It was on my mental list of things to do. Like every summer holiday we’ve had together, I never quite managed to fit in everything I planned, so we headed over to Oxygen in the last week. It was our summer finale.

Amelie trying the back jumping wall… it was harder than it looked.


Do any children not like bouncing? I’m sure somewhere in the world there is a child who doesn’t but I don’t think we should take one out of billions as proof that your little bundle of love isn’t going to have a good time at Oxygen, or any other trampoline park near you.

I didn’t see anyone stropping, grizzling, whining or crying – and there were quite a few adults also having fun. I was offered the choice of bouncing too, but just giggled… the manager on duty had no idea how inflexible my back is, or how niggly my knees are. The last time I tried ice-skating my knees ached for weeks. No I had the pleasure of taking myself off for a lovely coffee and reading my book in the café while my girls burnt zillions of energy atoms to a crisp.
The only criticism the girls had at the end was not being allowed to do backflicks. There were signs on every wall saying this was not allowed. For them this was a shame as the other trampoline parks don’t enforce this rule. As they are gymnasts doing backflicks is second nature, so being on long strips of bouncy material and not being able to do them was annoying for them. You can explain it’s a safety issue, but at their age they just want to flip out (front flips are OK).

But I’ll let them speak for themselves…


It’s really easy to book your session online at Oxygen, they host birthday parties, there’s wifi if you want it, and if you’re little ones are under 5 there’s a Little O’s session just for them. Families with both under and over 5s can jump together during Family Bounce. And if your kids want more there’s a freerunning academy and school of trampolining to help them progress their skills. If it’s your fist time it’s a good idea to get your kids to wear shorts and t-shirts, too, as it doesn’t take long for them to overheat!

Freejumping makes children happy!

Freejumping makes children happy!

Will we be going back? I’m sure we will be making many, many trips to this uber-modern temple of fun.

Oxygenfreejumping.co.uk

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Travelling to the land of ice

It’s the stuff of every runner’s dreams –  running a midnight half marathon at the summer solstice in Iceland, where the sun never sets in the sky. I couldn’t wait to try the Midnight Sun Half Marathon in Reykjavik!

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Ancient myth has it that, afraid their enemies may pursue them, the original Norwegian Vikings who settled in Iceland sent back word to Norway that their island was actually an ice-land – but that another island, was inhabitable: green-land. Hence the green island became Iceland and the icy island became Greenland.

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The land of ice: 66 degrees North of earth’s equator, where magical elves live (apparently), geothermal and renewable resources supply 85 per cent of the country’s energy and the surrounding seas are abundant with many sea mammals and birds. And in the winter you have a chance of viewing the elusive Northern Lights. Travelling to run in this mythical land, at a magical time of the year is probably one of the most exciting and alternative running events you can do.

Fuelling up Icelandic style

Fuelling up Icelandic style

This trip was planned for over a year – you don’t just swan off to run a half marathon in Iceland on the longest day of the year! Especially not when you have three school-age children in the UK. You need to plan ahead for an extra-special trip like this, although we had a great tour company that organised our tour itinery, All-Iceland. Once we left Gatwick for our 2.5 hour flight north, the excitement flooded in.

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Our hosts, All Iceland, are experts in knowing exactly what runners want from a sports tour – so our trip was packed full of adventure, history, the natural world and fantastic hospitality. This was massively helped by, just as we arrived at our hotel, Iceland scoring their second, and winning goal, against Austria – taking them through to their next round match against England in Euro 2016. This nation was partying for the whole of our stay!

The crepes were divine, but they sat heavy on my tummy during the race - did I have one too many?

The crepes were divine, but they sat heavy on my tummy during the race – did I have one too many?

The drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik is hypnotising. Travelling in an almost lunar landscape, through ancient lava fields broken by purple veins of wild Alaskan lupines, against a backdrop of mountains, still covered in snow, is captivating. Did we carbo-load? Of course! As our hotel, Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, had a rooftop restaurant, we dumped our bags then dined on an incredible feast of freshly caught fish. We were ready! On the day of the race we popped along to Kria Cycles, whose owner, JR, just happened to be a childhood friend of my partner David. JR (aka David Robertson) is also a truly gifted runner – he is still ranked in the top 10 UK fastest juniors over 1500m. We had lunch with JR at the Coocoo Nest, a snug and cosy cafe tucked away on a backstreet. When it came to the race JR decided he would support rather than participate, and he popped up on his bike, with his son Elias, along the route.

Slightly crazed at finishing and managing to stay up past 10pm

Slightly crazed at finishing and managing to stay up past 10pm

The Suzuki Midnight Sun Half Marathon is a truly international race. There are several race distances available; 5K, 10K and the half. As I mingled in the evening with the other runners it was clear than many had come in groups, some tackling the shorter distances, a few propping open their eyes to brave the longer.

I had lots of these for my post-race breakfast

I had lots of these for my post-race breakfast

In the crowd, by the start line, runners, speaking over 50 different languages, switched on their GPS watches. The gun went off and everyone settled into their stride as we slowly made our way out and up along paths bordered by a beautiful river that bubbled away along the first part of the route.

Mysterious clouds over the Blue Lagoon

Mysterious clouds over the Blue Lagoon

How can you not relax and enjoy each stride, and mile, when you are running alongside miniature waterfalls, surrounded by a thick carpet of lupines? It was a quiet journey upwards through Elliðaárdalur valley, one of Reykjavik’s most popular outdoor areas, as we took in a 600foot climb. We weaved through a golf course set in a lava field (with absolutely stunning views across Reykjavik that you just had to stop and breathe in) and around Lake Rauðavatn. It wasn’t a dense field – but there was always someone to run alongside or to hang on to.

An unearthly place on earth

An unearthly place on earth

At one stage I looked out across the fields to the horizon where a herd of wild horses were galloping away from the front runners – this wasn’t your usual race. After about seven miles the uphill evened out, but considerable damage to my legs had already been done! By this stage it was past my usual bedtime, and with travelling I was starting to feel a little … ‘weird’. It was if my eyes were trying to close even though I knew I had to keep running.

Well I had run a half!

Well I had run a half!

I had looked at the course profile before travelling and knew from half way it was a gradual downhill trek to the finish. I started thinking how surreal it was; it was getting closer to midnight yet fully light, and I was running a half marathon in Iceland. It was the strangest, most amazing, yet calming, feeling.

Bike porn at Kria Cycles

Bike porn at Kria Cycles

The marshals around the course all shouted encouragement though I had no idea what they were saying! Eventually we merged with the 5K and 10K runners – the organisers had cleverly set us all off at the right time so that the last few miles were crowded and busy. It really lifted me and definitely helped me keep going. By this time I was cold and feeling tired. I also had really awful stomach cramps for most of the race (be prepared for this if you are new to midnight running) but when we chatted to the other runners in the field they had experienced this, too.

Emil at Kria

Emil and me at Kria Cycles, one cool bike shop

I tried taking one gel on the course but felt so sick I thought I would have to walk. I also really, really needed the loo in the second half of the race – but there were none in sight! Or if they were, I was so delirious that I just didn’t notice them! The last few miles I felt weary, but there was a real gem awaiting us.

Moody moonscape

Moody moonscape

All runners were given free access into the Laugardalslaug geothermal pool, within walking distance from the finish, which meant 2,640 finishers relaxing together in beautifully warm waters. You had to literally run from the change area into the outside pool areas as it was so chilly, but once you dipped down into the warm water, with just your head bobbing above, it was the most amazing feeling. I didn’t want to leave, even though it was 1am, I was tired and very, very hungry.

Unfortunately we had to make our way back to the hotel, walking back in the daylight… it’s just so surreal and why so many are drawn to this race from all over the world.

Pic credit: www.hlaup.is

Some of the amazing scenery we ran though (pic credit: www.hlaup.is)

What’s the perfect way to relax the day after your race? For us it was one of the 25 wonders of the world, the Blue Lagoon. I loved being on the bus in Iceland, looking out at the other-worldly landscape, as the weather changed so quickly around us. On our visit to the lagoon, a lake of geothermal seawater with healing properties for the skin, the clouds were at ground level. It was raining, making for another dreamlike experience. The air was cold (about 9 degrees Celsius), but the waters were so hot it was divine. You can make your way to small huts in the lagoon to get silica mud and algae face masks. As you swam in the lagoon you felt like you were on the moon, or some other planet. It was extraordinary and somewhere I would love to return to.

JR also took us to another uber cool bar, Kex, again, tucked away from the main centre behind a nondescript door. It sold some interesting drinks…

Not seen this one before

I’m not saying anything

We were also blessed to share some amazing home-cooked Iceland food back at JR’s house, with his family – this really made the trip. Everything about Iceland is chic and stylish and just uber cool (more so in the winter I guess).

I knew that I couldn’t leave Iceland without trying to see the puffins on Lundey, a small island in Reykjavik bay, so we took a boat out there on our last day. Watching these little birds fish, then return to their barrows, was a truly magical encounter with nature. We also saw guillemots, fulmars, cormorants, eider ducks and black-backed gulls, and our guide, Tena, a naturalist working for Elding gave us so much insight and information about the wildlife in the area – she was so passionate about her job.

The trip felt like the best geography lesson I’ve ever had. It’s a trip of a lifetime, and a race you’ll never forget. If you, too, venture to the land of ice don’t forget your winter coat. Even on a summer trip!

Plan your trip!
Who to contact: All Iceland ( all-iceland.co.uk) organise a range of sport tours and packages throughout Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and will put together your dream itinerary, whatever your chosen sport or race. Call the team on 01904 621614 or email info@all-iceland.co.uk for more information.

How to get there: Iceland Air (book.icelandair.is) or WOW air (wowair.co.uk) offer return flights from London to Keflavik for around £100. Just get organised and book in advance

Where to stay: For your Reykjavik city centre break choose the stylish Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, just off Ingólfsstræti 1 (centrehotels.com/arnarhvoll)

Essential trips: Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) and Elding Puffin Watching (elding.is or elding@elding.is)

What? It was the closest we were going to get!

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The 2016 Purbrook Ladies 5

This is one of those real gems of a race… I absolutely love everything about it (well, maybe the rolling hills aren’t completely loveable!). It’s a must on the annual running calendar if you live my way, down here on the sunny south coast.

It’s at that time of year when spring suddenly explodes into summer (sometimes literally overnight). If you enter early (and you have to as this race fills up quickly), ensconced in the drab and chill of winter you would probably think, right, this is a race at the end of May/beginning of June, it’s going to be hot. With our ever-changing climate this can be true. Or untrue. This year, following our unseasonably cooler spring, I started to think this wasn’t going to be one of those scorching hot runs, where the returning sun zaps your energy as it tops up your tan. Every time I’ve run this race felt way too hot to be running down undulating country lanes, away from the sea breeze. Would Mother Nature be looking down on us favourably?

Getting our numbers

Getting our numbers

No. Despite a chillier week, on race morning the sun was out and the temperature had hit 20 degrees Celsius before we headed off in the car. I set off with my friend Paula, who had had a bad night as one of her daughters had been ill. I had also been feeling a bit out of sorts all week. As all of us gathered at the start we were throwing out the statements (excuses). ‘It’s going to be hard in this heat so I’m not expecting too much,’ I, and many others, said. You’ve got to, haven’t you?!

Hosted by Portsmouth Joggers Club , it’s an ideal location; the start and finish on Purbrook Heath (three miles north of Portsmouth) is safe for children to run around while your out on the roads and there’s a pavilion for showers/bag drops/refreshments/toilets. There’s ample parking, too. It’s a truly beautiful location.

Feisty Paulos came in 8th with a PB!

It’s a single lap course on quiet country lanes, and, at five miles, it’s a great distance for beginners and those honing their training for summer 10Ks. Usually it attracts some of the fastest ladies in the region. And, as an added bonus, Portsmouth Joggers put on training runs along the route once the clocks go forward and the lighter evenings return. There’s no reason for not knowing your terrain in this race.

But… we all know the best races are the ones that offer the best cake, and I have to admit, this is one of the big draws for me each year. Yes, there’s lots of gorgeous, homemade cake at the end! Portsmouth Joggers make this such a relaxed and friendly event that, along with the substantial medal and great cake, you find yourself entering it as soon as you can every year just in case you miss out on a place. And the cake.

It's all about the bling!

It’s all about the bling!

There’s also that other big difference… yes, there is no testosterone in this race. So the atmosphere is just different to your normal mixed sex race. Everyone is very civilised, and the leaders pull away gently at the beginning, rather than thundering off. It’s a rare chance for women to come together and try their best in an incredibly relaxed and supportive environment. I mean, I crossed the line and the race organiser, Claire Fleming came over and gave me a hug. You just don’t get this sort of attention in nearly every other race in the country!

Pic: Mark Beresford

Pic: Mark Beresford

The price is £13. What incredible value! Make sure you enter early though. It was sold out by the beginning of March this year. I’m sure every lady who finished it would agree there’s no better way to spend your Sunday morning.

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10 deadly sins of marathon training

Here are my 10 deadly sins I committed in marathon training, which I will never, ever do again… (I promise)

  1. I didn’t start my long runs soon enough – I needed to start much earlier, like two months! You can never start your long runs too soon.
  2.  I didn’t do enough strength training. Yes I did squats and forward lunges, calf raises and the plank. But I didn’t add any weights to these and I didn’t do enough. And I know it… I was trying to get away with the minimum. Yep, I was cheating on myself.
  3. I didn’t ensure I was completely happy with my race day shoes. I should have bought two pairs of the trainers I planned to run in. When I finally decided the shoes I wanted to run in (way too late, what was I doing?) I was sent a pair that was half a size too small, and didn’t receive the right size until two days before race day. It was too late to break them in. Schoolgirl error.
  4. I didn’t experiment with homemade nutrition like I planned to. I hardly had gels on my long runs then had one about every 45 minutes in the race and had terrible nausea by mile 20. Little balls of Amelie’s homemade flapjack, wrapped up in clingfilm, would have been perfect.
  5. I did a long commute on public transport on race day morning, which went smoothly but took way longer than I planned and involved a few miles on my feet –  next time I’m taking a taxi (I’ve already stashed away a couple of tenners in my race day fund).
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The Green Start seemed to be miles away from the tube!

6. I ran oh-so-proudly in my club vest, you know, the one with your name written on it in the massive-ist thickest, boldest font you could order. But when I started to walk about mile 20 there were thousands of people cheering me on to start running again, by name. I felt like a failure to each and every one of them. Awkward. Eventually I put in my headphones. Next time I’m wearing the other club vest, you know, the one that allows you to remain wonderfully anonymous.
7. I can’t believe I did this, as I packed it and it was in my bag, but I forgot to put on my bin liner before I checked in my bag. It was cold, really chilly, but that’s not what I  needed it for (I had two tops from my local charity shop for that). The queues to the portaloos were hundreds deep when I arrived… if only I’d had my bin liner on I could have had a secret wee by just bending down…

Next time I'm not going to be me...

Next time I’m not going to be me…

8. I didn’t actually do one long run in one continuous hit, so had no idea my left leg niggles were going to hit on race day. I missed several vital weeks of long run training, then, with only three weeks to go I squeezed in two 20-milers, but both were split into a  morning and evening run (hey, it was the Easter school holidays!). So I had no idea of my endurance weakness (though at the time I had been so pleasantly surprised at how fast I had done the evening 14-milers, despite a morning six-mile run). The body – it’s a trickster!
9. I tried to keep up with the runner dressed up in the Frozen outfit, even though I knew they were stronger than me by half way. I should have let it go, let it go…
10. Did I say I didn’t start my long runs early enough? Oh I did. But it’s so important that it’s worth saying again!

PicCollage 5

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Why you should try a tri… Fareham Triathlon

Due to an injury I couldn’t do Fareham Triathlon… well, that’s what I thought after I ran London Marathon three weeks before. Then I thought, why not just do the swim and bike. The run part of this triathlon is about 3.3 miles (just over the standard 5K of your average sprint triathlon), which in itself isn’t too long to run, even when recovering from an injury.

David and Simon abstained from a drink before the triathlon, why oh why oh why didn't I?

David and Simon abstained from drink before the triathlon, why oh why oh why didn’t I?

I did this race last year and loved it. Partly because it’s just about as local as you can possibly get for me – I cycle up to, and swim at, the leisure centre it’s held at most weeks. So why wouldn’t I want to do it? Most races we go to involve getting up early and travelling. There’s only a few that are usually close enough to just stroll up to. This is one for me.

The open nature and fun aspect of the event also appeals, especially last year when it was my first ‘proper’ triathlon (I had done a few events before, but the distance of 400m swim, 20K bike and 5K run was my official first). Anything goes in this race – not just any level of participant, but you can rock up with whatever bike you have and do the race at whatever level you like. All you need is a swimsuit, bike and pair of trainers.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some extremely competitive athletes who do the race every year – there are, and some of the times in the three disciplines are amazing! And check out some of the equipment. It’s stunning too! If you love triathlon you are probably going to invest in better equipment each year, and some of the bikes racked up at the start were expensive. Phew! Some weren’t though; there were plenty of mountain bikes and other, more standard bikes.

That's me in the pink hat, with my hand dangerously cutting across my midline

That’s me in the pink hat, with my hand dangerously cutting across my midline (Pic: Soul Perception)

This year the registration time was much less civilised – 6.30-8am. What’s that all about! Well, it’s about the event maturing each year and becoming more streamlined. Established triathlons have earlier start times. And this year there was a kids’ triathlon after the adult event.

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I was still horrified (I don’t think I’ve had a lie in for over four weeks). I couldn’t just breeze in at 7.45 either, as I had a clash with my parental responsibilities and had to drop my middle girl, Amelie, to another mum in the opposite direction before 8am for a dance competition she was going to in Worthing. Life is never easy! It’s never ideal preparation, is it, when you are racing around before an event getting children ready and to another location before you can head to your own. It felt a bit stressful, but I turned up with at least two minutes to spare before the race. I’ve left it later!

Thought I'd fiddle with my peddles for a bit before I got going

Thought I’d fiddle with my pedals for a bit before I got going

Everyone Active is quite relaxed with registration, and I knew Luke, the organiser, so I already had my pleading head on in case I missed the 8am deadline. I ran my bike over to the racking zone, ran into the registration hall to have my numbers written on my arm and leg (all good warm up), ran back to get my kit then, as the slower swimmers started their race, I had at least 15 minutes to de-stress before my turn. I had forgotten to get out a protein bar before I left my car so by the time it was my turn to enter the pool I was famished.

Pic: Soul Perception

Tiny Chantrey on her tiny bike (Pic: Soul Perception)

I knew my swim wouldn’t be better than last year as I haven’t done much. I worked out I hadn’t swum since before my taper for the marathon about six weeks before. Oh dear. The same went for my bike; I did quite a bit over the winter, but again, in the last seven weeks I only got out twice. It’s been a bit soul-destroying feeling all my fitness just ebbing away, but the first few weeks after my marathon I’ve had to rest, as my left leg is injured in several places.

Not going off too fast in the swim is essential when you’re not a good swimmer, and so I didn’t race off, but my breathing isn’t great and I tend to snatch at my in-breath. So pretty much all the way through the swim it felt as if I wasn’t getting enough air in. And I was starving! I find swimming so incredibly hard, as my asthmatic lungs don’t like the different type of breathing required for swimming – but I love doing it. And I want to get better. I’m not a relaxed or efficient swimmer, so I just do my best. My swim time was the same as last year, to the second.

What has happened to my gait - no wonder I had backache the next day, I'm all over the place!

What has happened to my gait – no wonder I had backache the next day, I’m all over the place! (Pic: Soul Perception)

Transition is where you can lose time, and I fiddled with my cycling shoes, didn’t get them on tight and squelched around the bike in them, but overall I really enjoyed the bike. There’s a steep hill where I always keep my brakes on as I’m petrified when I go fast, but on the second descent I didn’t use them and, just for a second, almost enjoyed myself (while at the same time imagining how horrific it would be if I came off). I didn’t have a spectacular bike but it went OK. I stuffed down two gels, but felt like I was lacking in energy (breakfast seemed so long ago) and there was no power in my left leg.

Into transition again, and this is where I planned to either not run, or try one mile then walk back if my foot was too painful. I made a big fluff of getting my trainers on as my feet were still wet, which scrunched up my insoles, and somehow my arch supports underneath these moved forwards so it felt like I had a few cocktail sausages rolling around in my trainers. There was no way I was going to stop and sort them out though. Luckily the first part of the run is slightly uphill (though it feels like a mountain after the bike), which seemed to help the insoles reverse back down my shoes a bit.

David came 2nd, Simon 5th, me, er...89th

David came 2nd, Simon 5th, me, er…89th

I was trying out my new adidas ultra boosts for the first time and I loved them. The knitted upper fits brilliantly, and these are a great trainer for triathlons as the design means you don’t need to tighten your laces. I already had mine double knotted before I put them on, which was incredibly easy, even with soggy feet. I loved running in them.

I wasn’t expecting much from my legs due to the marathon and lack of training for three weeks, plus the pain I’ve had in my leg and foot. So I was chuffed that I finished the whole run and wasn’t too uncomfortable. My feet felt quite numb from being cold and wet for so long, which I think really helped. The 5K run is lovely as you eventually head away from paths and into a forest route. I love running off the bike, and if I could spend some time practicing (that means doing something, anything, before next year’s event!) this is the place where I can make up time. As it was I did a bit faster than last year’s run, which I was chuffed with considering I can’t actually train or run at the moment.

I was so chuffed to participate and not spectate

I was so chuffed to participate and not spectate and got first in my age group

There was no need to walk, even though after the race and this week I’ve had a little pain in the problem areas. I think running anything further than three miles would have been foolish – it was just lovely to actually be able to use my legs!

Overall I beat last year’s time by a few minutes, which was a surprise as I didn’t think I was in the right physical shape to do this, and I enjoyed rather than raced round the three disciplines – it shows us all that it’s better to turn up and participate, and see what happens, rather than write ourselves off just because not everything is going to plan. I was certainly pleased I did the race, rather than sit at home feeling miserable.

Amelie came home with a couple of trophies so she was chuffed

Amelie came home with a couple of trophies so she was chuffed

There were lots of friends and fellow club mates also taking part, and most of them aren’t triathletes either. We’re all trying to learn something new, and trying to do our best at something that doesn’t come naturally to us, and I think everyone I spoke to improved on last year, or exceeded their expectations. Few train seriously, most just don’t have the time to fit in three disciplines, so the results overall were so impressive. I thought every one of these guys was amazing.

My award for best blog arrived, thank you if you voted for me!

My award for (second) best blog arrived, thank you if you voted for me!

Just giving an event like this a go, and getting the first one out of the way, allows you to go away for a year and prepare the next one. Everyone Active at Fareham organise my local triathlon brilliantly – the stress is on fun and participation by all. So go on, look on the British Triathlon website for an event near you. It will be a fun and amazing experience!

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