It's been a mixed week. Mostly highs, I mean what is not to love about this sight that greeted me at the Serpentine earlier this week! It's also been a welcome relief not to have any events to run for another two weeks. Much as I expected to feel on top form after the past frenetic spell though, unfortunately my hormones had other ideas and I felt a bit, well....odd. Fuzzy headed, bloated, a bit off my food. As Ian pointed out, he had never seen me not able to finish my dinner in the three years he has known me! But I recognised these symptoms from about a year ago, and armed with that knowledge and thankful for the research I have been doing into this area, I knew it was just 'one of those weeks'. In true form I muscled it out, quite literally (more on that in a minute) and cracked on with getting some more mileage done. The distances this week are looking like this:
Note to self that this time of year - as the temperature starts to drop is one to really pay attention to when open water swimming. I found last year that a rough rule of thumb for me was that I could stay in the water for about 2mins for every degree. It's amazing the difference it can make, and will catch you out if you outstay your welcome here.
I hadn't really been noting the temperature in the Serpentine for the past week, and I found out it was now hovering between 12 and 13deg. It explains why I had to frantically do star jumps to get the feeling back in my feet after a 28 minute swim the other day!
This distance would see me on track completing 83% of my goal in 80% of the time available. I would now be arriving at El Bolsón - a town situated in the southwest of Río Negro Province, Argentina, at the foot of the Piltriquitron Mountain. Due to a series of valleys through the mountains of Chile to the Pacific Ocean, El Bolsón has an unusually mild climate for its southern location. El Bolsón area's first non-indigenous inhabitants were German immigrants that arrived to the valley from Chile as an offshoot of of the colonization of Llanquihue. In the 1970s hippies from Buenos Aires migrated to the town, which continues to be a popular destination for Argentinian students, and gives the town a bohemian feel. Known for its artisanal food products and for its abundance of outdoor activities in proximity, there is something for everyone in this charming town and its environs. I feel a certain affinity with this quirky place. For those who know me well, I was very much a hippy between the ages of about 13 and 16 - Afghan coat, CND pendant, leg warmers, the whole lot. I have to admire my younger self for standing out so much in my style at that age - when everyone else was adopting the New Romantic look I was definitely an individual! Now where are those photos I wonder.......?
I'm glad I was starting to feel more on form as the week wore on as there was an opportunity for not one, but two dinners out with cycling friends. On Friday Nikki, Giovanna and I had a really good catch up over a lovely Turkish meal. It was a chance to have a proper chat, without having to think about keeping your eye on the road when out cycling at the same time.
Wednesday night saw me meeting up with Joe, the man behind the actual Andes trip four years ago. As an events specialist, like me he has been reinventing himself over the past difficult 18 months and he and his family have now relocated to Catalonia, prime cycling territory! He was telling me about the new bike model they have launched -the Rakaposhi. A titanium frame with ERA forks and a Reverb dropper weighing in at just 13.64kg, yes I would be very happy to come and visit your Spanish pad and give this a spin Joe!We also discussed some female focussed retreats along with his wife Laura, which really excites me. It's always great to spend time with like minded entrepreneurs, talking through ideas, and it's one of the things I have missed most over the past couple of years. Sometimes a Zoom call just doesn't cut it.
But back in the virtual world, I was delighted to round the week off being invited to talk on a panel at a webinar for a private members club to give my insights on maximising your sports performance during the peri and menopausal years. I am looking to deliver some of my own panel events on this early next year, so watch this space...
And that, as they say, is a wrap. I can't quite believe I have delivered four events in eight days, something I would never imagine doing in the 'real world'. Yet, as I have said before, I have realised that online events are in actual fact more time intensive, and anxiety inducing than in person ones. This week's event for Carers UK was their Members Conference, a chance for some 300 carers to connect, albeit virtually, and hear from the CEO and other team members on the developments that are in process, and being campaigned for on behalf of unpaid carers. There was so much content for this event, not only the main 'stage' sessions, but also some networking or 'Care for a Cuppa' rooms, and activities aimed to support carers in looking after themselves. As ever, it was emotive and inspiring to hear from a panel of carers from across the UK as they shared their individual stories, especially given that we only just emerging from a pandemic. Then totally heartwarming to see the supporters who delivered some 'Keeping Well in Your Caring Role' sessions such as yoga, book readings, orchestral music, and my favourite, latin dance with Mauricio! As ever there were those heart stopping technical moments, frantic reshuffling of content and speakers, and times that I was glad I wasn't there in person so people couldn't see the expression of panic on my face. But in the end, the long hours and moments of stress have been worth it to hear the feedback from carers who posted their appreciation to be able to get together in this way. Not to mention a personal shout out from the CEO of the charity which was lovely.
But amongst all of this of course, there is still just over 2,000km of my challenge to be completed, so training can't stop for that! I think there is something twisted in my DNA that means I almost relish beasting myself on every level. I'm not sure that watching back to back episodes of 'Squid Game' this week was helpful given my state of anxiety over work, but I comforted myself in knowing that if anything went wrong that I wouldn't get shot? Hopefully!
I am very much into my new training regime focussing on high intensity intervals complemented by strength training. I was also pleased to see (frantically touching wood) that my achilles niggles haven't been flaring up now for a while and I am getting my running back on track. Interval runs had started to be my nemesis for a while, but I was pleased to be able to do these at a pace of around 5.15km pace which is heartening. The distances this week are looking like this:
This would now see me arriving at San Carlos de Bariloche (commonly called Bariloche) - a town in Argentina’s Patagonia region. It borders Nahuel Huapi, a large glacial lake surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Bariloche is known for its Swiss alpine-style architecture and its chocolate, sold in shops lining Calle Mitre, the main street. It's also a popular base for hiking and skiing the nearby mountains and exploring the surrounding Lake District.
Chocolate did you say? Well funnily enough I had been holding onto a bar of Turkish delight chocolate that Ian had discovered, and was focussing on that as a wee treat after my event. So Thursday night saw me doing my regular (and by now much needed) Yin Yoga session online with Dawn, by light of the 'Night Swimming' candle, followed by some of the Eastern promise - perfect. Friday was a long awaited trip back to Teddington to see Nerina and some other swimming chums for a river swim. This was a double whammy, an opportunity for a 50km round trip bike ride, and an awesome swim in the Thames. Saturday was an opportunity to meet up with Giovanna after a Serpentine swim and clock up another 40km. By that night I was ready to really let my hair down as we headed out to the lovely Sushi Masa restaurant in Willesden Green with friends. This little Japanese restaurant is one of the first places I went out to eat when I moved to London 17 years ago, and is a firm favourite.
Of course no blog post would be complete without a dog photo, and so here are two of Mira, our 'Lifeguard on Doody' as she watched over us doing our Thames swim..
Well I am glad I am feeling better this week as I have needed all of my stamina to get through the delivery of three large scale virtual events for Carers Scotland, and continue prep for another couple of upcoming events. It has been a week of 10-12 hour working days but I have to reflect back and see that is has been such a worthwhile experience. Being able to be so instrumental in delivering two days of discussions with unpaid carers and then putting their questions to the Ministers of Social Security and Mental Health and Wellbeing in Scotland on the third day made me feel very grateful. When I think of the time I put in to my work, I then put it into perspective to see how some of these people even have time to come online and make their voices heard given the commitments they have on a day to day basis. Let's just hope that these conversations can facilitate change. More of this to come in next week's event with Carers UK.
Meanwhile, feeling physically better, it was back into clocking up the mileage for my challenge. With the constraints of time, I am sad to say that the turbo trainer became my cycling friend this week as I know this is always an effective way of clocking up some quality training and miles when time is tight. I did manage to get a few swims in though at my beloved Serpentine too. Water temperature fluctuated between 12.9 and 14deg this week, having taken quite a tumble in the recent week or so - even Duncan Goodhew had his neoprene cap on! Not me though, I need to acclimatise for my monthly challenge which starts in November...more info on that nearer the time. As the picture above shows though, at the end of the week I was relishing in this lovely environment and not putting myself under the pressure of race training.
The distances this week are looking like this:
This would now see me around the city of Los Ángeles in Chile (not to be confused with California). This is is the capital of the province of Bío Bío in the commune of the same name. It is located between the Laia and Biobío rivers, and has the highest absolute population of any Chilean municipality. To the north of the city is Salto del Laja (Laja Falls), one of the great tourist attractions for travellers to the south of Chile. Then roughly 100km to the east is the 2,979m high Antuco volcano in the Andes mountain range. The city is a gateway for tourists visiting the nearby Laguna del Laja National Park, the location of the volcano. This turbulent environment is reminding me of my week!
But then to try and balance things off, I made sure I was able to take out little Pushkin for some walks, now without his head cone, his paw healing nicely. We also had an unexpected meeting with Yana, the lovely labradoodle guidedog who I walked every day for about five months during lockdown last year for my neighbour. It was so nice to see that she hadn't forgotten me and was keen for some ear rubs! Then the week rounded off with a trip to see friends for a leisurely lunch (actually over 7 hours long!). We realised we hadn't been to their house for two years, in which time their lovely golden retriever Honey had grown a bit, and so another canine interaction brought the week to a close. More long days ahead next week....
Yes, much as I hate to admit it, apparently, like my little friend Pushkin here, I am not titanium and am also open to illness or injury. Pushkin is the miniature Schnauzer who lives downstairs who I take for walks most days. He is a funny little thing, barks at nothing, can be scared of a carrier bag being carried away in the wind, but is a loveable character really. I was sad to hear at the end of last week that he had to have something removed from his paw and so was wearing the cone of shame. It broke my heart to see how he reacted to this, not even barking at delivery drivers, generally feeling a bit confused by it all. Whilst he was getting better, I was also missing my afternoon walks with him which make me take a much needed break from work.
So as if in sympathy with my furry friend, earlier this week I started to feel really under par, sore throat, constant headache, shivery and a bit achey. Could it be Covid?? I tested negative so that was a relief. More likely the recent weeks of high intensity everything had caught up with me and I was being told to slow down. I can't remember the last time I was ill (well actually I can, but more on that in a minute). I usually manage to carry on through anything, and training never makes me sick. But the past while has been pretty stressful, particularly as I try and make up for lost work and I have been overdoing it. Having my own business, there is no phoning in sick to work, so that carried on and my training had to take a back seat. So this week it is a rather pitiful:
42km walking (had to get the miles in somewhere!)
5km running (quite a good one too, just before I got sick)
Yes I had been missing my swimming most of all this week, but on what was supposed to be a bike ride in Hyde Park I couldn't help but go for a little dip in the Serpentine. As my good friends know, I am always prepared with my swimming cossie under what I am wearing (well, not ALL of the time!)
So not too much to write home about in terms of where I would be in South America this week, hopefully more of a landmark by next week when I make up some ground!
But that additional time gave me the opportunity to keep on top of my Spanish, reaching a milestone 500 day streak with Duolingo (there's a lockdown habit that I have kept up and will come in handy when I actually DO get to go back to South America).
I think I beat myself up about how well I do in things, especially with work, and striving for perfection can be exhausting. I added up that I spent more than 40 hours rehearsing and tech checking more than 50 speakers for upcoming events over the past week and a half, so it's no wonder I was finding it stressful trying to squeeze the rest of my work in! This little board at Willesden Green tube station the other day was a reminder that whilst I might be beating myself up about how well I am doing with work etc, hopefully it is being appreciated somewhere!
But the highlight of the week was celebrating three years that Ian and I have been together. It is funny to think that half of that time has been during the pandemic, so I think we can survive anything! We usually celebrate this anniversary by going back to where it all started, Baker Street station and then to the Prince Regent in Marylebone for a pre dinner drink. In fact, reflecting back on the last time I was ill, it was actually the day before our first date three years ago when I had a bad cold and thought I might not be able to meet Ian. But, much like this weekend, I had definitely perked up and really enjoyed our nostalgic night out, followed by a lovely Greek dinner at Ousia in Charlotte Street.
Now steeling myself for the week ahead, three events for Carers Scotland's 'Scottish Carers Parliament'....
Well it has been quite a couple of weeks! I think the above image sums it up, if I was keen to do more HIIT type activities, then I got that in spades in the past 14 days.
I have been juggling the demands of possibly now too much work, with my usual training, and then the addition of a visit from my parents, down from Aberdeen for the first time since August 2019.
I am embracing the fact that the Serpentine is back open again now after the blue green algae closure and oh my it feels wonderful. I love this time of year, the water feels lovely and calm and there is just the start of a chill in the air. The GoPro I am sure will be making a return next week to capture some of those early morning sunrise swims.
The calm of the water has been contrasted with some HIIT intervals in my cycling. Again, pulling on the knowledge I have picked up from my Menopause for Athletes course, I have been concentrating on some hard, short intervals of 30 secs to 1 minute. But of course still trying to keep my distances up to complete my challenge by the end of the year. The past 2 weeks are looking like this:
With a total distance of just under 6,800km covered, I would now just have passed Santiago in Chile. The thought of that makes me very nostalgic as it is where I completed my actual Andes challenge in 2017. We managed to have two days in this bustling city and certainly celebrated our efforts! Well having navigated not only the scariest winding downhill I have ever witnessed, the last ride into the city took us for about 60km on a major road that I kept hoping the police would stop us from cycling on. It was little wonder we jumped at the chance to indulge in a 'Terremoto' cocktail or three when we arrived to calm our jangled nerves. As the locals explained, the name translates literally as 'earthquake' apparently because of the effect it has on your legs. Oh yes, thankfully there was no cycling the next day...
Continuing the social theme, I believe I may have broken my parents with five days of full on activity that included a trip to Bletchley Park, a tour of Shakespeare's Globe, a boat trip to Greenwich and a fun night at the Comedy Store, not to mention plenty of meals and socialising. I think I sometimes forget my parents are in their lates seventies and eighties, especially as they seemed fair game for a ten hour day out on the Sunday.
They are now back in Aberdeen building up their reserves for the next trip in 12 months.
I must admit I found Bletchley Park fascinating, especially as my mum and dad's neighbour was one of the codebreakers there during the war. Sadly passed now, she was a fascinating woman who was obviously sworn to secrecy at the time so that even her husband didn't know what she did.
And for the rare couple of hours when my folks had a relax back at their hotel, Ian and I had an opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing ourselves and soak up the autumn sun in St James Park. Then it was back into full on mode again as the next week saw a night out with some cycling friends I haven't seem for ages, and then a trip to our favourite Gordon's Wine Bar when my best friend Shirley come down from Aberdeen for a few days with her mum. This was a trip that likewise they usually do every year but had missed in 2020. Some lovely, long awaited moments of normality!
It's been a week of switching things up and starting to change the way I am training a bit following on from the learnings of my 'Menopause for Athletes' course. Contrary to what public expectations might be of that, perhaps along the lines of "oh, getting older, better ease things off a bit" Well far from it, what I have been learning most of all is that during this time we really should be training for power, not endurance. Apparently women over the age of 40 inherently have the ability for endurance, whereas we start to lose our power and ability to build muscle mass. I briefed Javier on what I would like to achieve from a 'heavy lifting session' at Hyde Park and he took me at my word! We were doing sets of no more than 5 reps at a time of squats, deadlifts followed by farmer carries, rows and then single handed overhead presses with a kettlebell whilst seated on the floor. These shots are certainly anything but flattering, but they give a sense of the effort. I didn't include the seated overhead press as it truly is a grimace - I had no idea how much stability we put through our legs and feet when we do these standing up. The seated version is a real challenge of balance and core activation. I could feel the DOMS setting in even early that evening, but definitely felt the benefit of this session.
Its very appropriate that I was doing a power session with Argentinian Javier this week as I would now be in the Cordón de la Ramada region running between Argentina and Chile. This area boasts boasts five peaks over 6000m, including the mammoth Cerro Mercedario, which tops out at 6770m. I would be needing to pull on all of my muscular resources to get through these climbs! The distances this week are looking like this:
Another couple of glimpses of normality came this week, firstly in the form of a site visit for a potential event I may be managing in December. YES an actual meeting with people in London at a REAL in person event. It was a breath of fresh air after being stuck to my two Mac screens running virtual events for such a long time. It also gave me the opportunity to see my great production colleague Duncan in person after working with him via a screen for over 18months.
Then the week rounded off perfectly with another singing opportunity. Singing teacher Matt Thompson had tried to keep our choir going via Zoom for the first few months of lockdown, but it just hadn't been the same with varying wifi strengths and we had stopped even these virtual meet ups around August last year. A close group though, we had kept in touch via a WhatsApp group and were delighted when Matt suggested a get together at a bar in Camden for a singalong around the piano. Apparently it had been requested by the bar owner and we jumped at the opportunity! It was quite emotional to actually see these people in the flesh again after almost 20 months and we embraced the following 2.5 hours of singing. It seemed bizarre after the restrictions to think we could not only be in such close proximity in a bar without a mask but also singing heartily into each others faces. I won't subject you to the video footage but the highlights had to be the renditions of 'Sweet Caroline', 'Living on a Prayer' and to see the whole bar na na na naaaa-ing to 'Hey Jude' at the end of the night. It truly was a night of joy and hopefully a monthly fixture. So make your way to the Lord Stanley in Camden next month to be part of the fun :)
It's been a much needed lower volume week after my long hilly race last weekend.
My swimming was also reduced due to the presence of blue green algae at the Serpentine, shutting the lido down until it clears. Although this initially caused me panic to think of how I felt during Covid closures, it then afforded me the opportunity to return to my initial open water swimming location in London, the mixed ponds at Hampstead Heath. This is a lovely oasis of calm a short bike ride away from my flat. I can see why there has been such a furore that the City of London have doubled the entrance fee to swim here, however, which takes away from its accessibility for so many people. I feel very lucky to have my £20 Serpentine membership which allows me to swim any morning I like (blue green algae aside of course!) Once in the water though, with only another half a dozen swimmers around me I was embracing this change of scenery for my swim.
I also used this week as an opportunity to get some more paddleboarding in with some paddling along the Grand Union Canal. There was another glimpse of nature in action here as I could see the effect the warm weather we did a few weeks back has had on the water - a multiplying of duckweed on the surface. It's a bizarre feeling as you go through this bright green carpet lying on the canal. Apparently back in 2016 the Canal River Trust removed over 70 tonnes of the stuff which deprives wildlife of oxygen.
So the reduced distances look like this:
This distance would now find me at La Serena in Chile. Founded in 1544, it is the second-oldest city after Santiago and the thriving capital of the Coquimbo Region. Blessed with both beautiful architecture and a long golden shoreline, the city absorbs hoards of Chilean holidaymakers in January and February, though it is fairly peaceful outside the summer rush. Sauntering through downtown La Serena reveals dignified stone churches, tree-shaded avenues and some pretty plazas. Some of the city's architecture is from the colonial era, but most is actually neocolonial – the product of Serena-born president Gabriel González Videla's 'Plan Serena' of the late 1940s.
I also completed my 'Menopause for Athletes' course this week.
Delivered by Stacy T. Sims, Ph.D., this course gives the science-based knowledge and research needed to understand the changes happening to your body and give the strategies needed to optimise your performance and health. Prior to her life as a key researcher and author in this area, Stacy served as an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist at Stanford University where she specialised in sex differences with environmental and nutritional considerations for recovery and performance, specialising in women's health and performance.
There were 57 chapters of enlightening content in this course, covering the science behind these hormonal changes, and how to adapt nutrition and training to work with your body, not against it. I am very much realising that most research on training and nutrition has been created for men and simply scaled down for women. As Stacy sums it up 'Women are not small men'. I will be putting this knowledge into practice not only for my own training, but for women I coach.
On the subject of certification, I stumbled upon this other little gem below 'awarded' to me by my creative friend Moz, after he and Dawn were my support boat crew in one of my loch swims in Scotland back in 2001. As I sent a shot of it to him he mused "nothing much changes, does it?"
This week also saw the welcome return of some activities that had been affected by Covid restrictions. I had my first sports massage in over 6 months, which was heaven after last week. Not only Covid, but mostly financial resources had prevented me from having regular massages, and I definitely felt the benefit after this one. It was made all the sweeter by the fact that my lovely friend Martin had surprised me by booking in two credits for me for massages after my recent race. Cheers Martin!
But the highlight of my week had to be my first face to face singing lesson in over 18 months. Prior to that I had been going to singing teacher Matt Thompson at least twice a month, and to his choir every week. My friend Tracey and I went to Matt to indulge our love of singing and managed a duet of 'Everybody's Talking' within the hour. And oh it felt wonderful! There is also a choir get together and singalong planned for next week and I can't wait. I have such fond memories of when we performed some songs as part of my 50th party back in 2018. As someone commented looking at this photo recently "Wow, look how close together we are there!" Bring it on!
This was a monthly wildcard challenge and a half! Putting my strong cycling and swimming training to good use I entered a middle distance aquabike event called 'Conquer the Chilterns'. This event was certainly to live up to it's hilly name, which is all very fitting given the nature of my virtual challenge this year.
Difficult though the 6am arrival at the start at Henley felt, we were rewarded with some rather lovely, misty landscapes to take my mind off the task ahead. This mist was to prove a bit troublesome for the race organisers though who had to delay the start of the swim as it was making it too difficult to see the turning buoy further up the river Thames. All this hanging about just escalates the anxiety levels so I was glad to get in and get started. This was the first race in 'Covid times' that I have been in where they did a mass swim start and it was as frenetic as I remembered, people clambering over each other for position. Something I didn't do particularly well as I found myself veered off course too far to the right and having to work hard to track back in at the first turn. My watch in fact recorded 2.1km rather than the 1.9km we were supposed to do, so I was pretty happy to get complete it in just under 38mins.
It was a significant run up to the bike transition and then I was out on the road. It took me a while to get into my stride here as I wasn't familiar with the short loop that had been added into the start and was just thinking about the hills ahead that I knew about from my mountain bike outings. Although the first 15 minutes of the hill climb section is quite steady, it actually felt like more of a slog than the final 10 minute steep section that I had been practicing. It felt energy sapping on my thighs on this first lap...and there were two more repeats of this to come! By the top of this first 300m climb though I was happy to see that the downhill wasn't as scary as I had anticipated and in fact was quite short. Pros and cons to that though, it meant that I had to get into 'speed mode' to try and push for the next 30 minutes until the second climb was upon me. By this time the people who were doing the shorter versions of this race (the standard and sprint distances) were starting to join the pack, but I was pleased to see that I was still able to pass people on the final climb, by which point some people were actually even walking! Oh wow though my lower back was screaming as there seemed to be no let up in the effort with such a short downhill respite, and I found myself doing a sort of back stretch with funny hip movement whilst I cycled every now and then to try and ease it.
I had a finish time in mind on the bike of around 3:20 having looked at previous results and the profile of the 78km course and so had been frantically calculating in my head as I completed each lap to see if I was on track for this. As I reached the top of the third climb I felt like I could do a lot better than this and so started to do my usual internal mantra of "15km to go, that's only 3 laps of Regents Park....10km to go, that's only 2 laps..." and so on. By the time I was at 5km to the end I was shouting "push, push" to myself in my head and was averaging about 35-36km per hour on the flat section. I was SO pleased to see Ian waving at me at the end of the bike course and shouting at me which way to go. Yes, you may think this would be obvious, but the thing about Aquabike events is that it never seems to be completely clear where your finish line will be. In fact at the start of the race one of the marshals was trying to do a shout out to tell us that she had changed her mind about where the clock would stop for our race. So as I arrived at the bike finish line bang on 3 hours, it was a bit disheartening to see that I still had to run about 500m with my bike uphill to actually finish. All taken in good spirits though with Ian shouting "keep running, don't you dare start walking" at me. Ah, he is the best support crew, and as we joke 'Officer in Charge of Photography'. He did a great job on both counts.
Having had a total race goal of just over 4 hours in my head I was delighted to complete it in 3:46 and to be first female in my age group.
And of course all of this adds into my overall challenge goal for this year with the distances looking like this for the week (balancing tapering with distance!):
With just over 5,650km completed to date I would now be at the small town of Copiapó in Chile. This is a location that had been on the original route of my actual South American adventure in 2017, but extreme conditions in the Atacama Desert had meant we had to reroute, which is a shame as it was a location that I, like many people had an interest in.
Copiapó lies about 800km north of Santiago by the Copiapó River, in the valley of the same name. In the early 21st century, the river has dried up in response to climate change and more severe droughts. The town is surrounded by the Atacama Desert and receives just 12 mm of rain per year.
What most of us remember this location for though is that on 5 August 2010, the San José Copper Mine collapsed, trapping 33 miners underground. The mine was about 45km north of the city. The miners were 700 meters deep and 5km from the mine's entrance via spiralling underground ramps. Private, local, national and international resources cooperated in their rescue. The miners survived underground for 69 days until all were brought to the surface on 13 October 2010, a record period of time. I still vividly remember this news story as it captured the hearts of nations across the world who collectively held their breath hoping for a successful outcome.
And so here is to a celebratory week personally, and remembering successes from the past.
It might have been a 'download week' for training, but it certainly hasn't been a quiet one in terms of work!
After a challenging 18 months with little in the way of events contracts coming in I certainly can't complain that I now have three large events to deliver in two months. This is something I wouldn't have thought would be feasible in the pre pandemic world, but it is definitely a case of making hay whilst the sun shines at the moment, and I am sure I can make anything work.
Although clients are still erring on the side of caution and keeping things virtual, I have learned over the past year that this certainly doesn't make things easier for events! I find myself constantly learning new skills and platforms to try and offer extra functionality like one-to-one networking and other nice interaction experiences to make what I offer more attractive than run of the mill virtual events. The platform I am working with at the moment can be branded so uniquely to each client that the 95 layers of 'deep branding' available have driven me to distraction at times.
This week I ran what was supposed to be a 'small demo' for a team of five people which turned into a full blown event in itself. But I have always been complimented on my ability to keep calm under pressure and boy have I been harnessing that swan like persona this week! Yes these serene Serpentine swimming sessions like the one above are part of my morning ritual that keep me sane for the rest of the day.
So, onto the (shorter) distances this week...
I am still just keeping the running ticking over whilst I focus on swimming and cycling for the next week or two, but I can't wait to get back to the paddleboard and kayak!
Having now covered a distance of 5,486km to date would find me at the tiny village of Antofalla in north western Argentina, close to the border of Chile. So small in fact that this village only has around 45 residents. Its most famous claim to fame is the nearby volcano, part of the volcanic segment of the Andes in Argentina. With the grit roads and remote location, this is an area that I definitely haven't been to on my real South American trip, but I am intrigued!
Back in the real world, I might have been reducing my distance this week, but I have still been trying to keep the hill training up. Very poignant given that I would now be in the Andes region of Argentina. My hills aren't quite up to that standard, but being in the heart of the Chilterns on my weekends at Ian's place, I decided to do some hill reps. Turns out there are some cracking climbs just a two minute ride from his flat. One thing I realised about signage is that you only get warning of steep descents, not ascents on roads as I glanced back at this 20% one which explained why I my thighs felt like Chris Hoys' by the end of this session! Kudos again to the 'old jalopy' (weekend) mountain bike.
As I come towards the end of my course on 'Menopause for Athletes' I am also learning the importance of balancing out the hard training with recovery, or to put it more accurately, to ensure that there is sufficient time spent in the parasympathetic state to balance off the cortisol that is triggered in high intensity training. I have been so grateful to my friend Dawn for her weekly online Yin Yoga sessions which have done me the world of good in the absence of the sports massages that I used to have the luxury of affording most weeks. This week I also finally signed up to the Headspace app and am really feeling the benefit of the many practices and features they offer, from early morning wake ups and breathing exercises, to meditations, playlists, and my personal favourite, the sleepcasts.
Another thing I am trying to do more of is taking the time to notice things around me, and to not just rush around. This meant that on my way through Wembley Park on Saturday I was rewarded with seeing such a lovely, inspirational wall of poetry. Apparently at the start of the year Wembley Park and, coincidentally again, the children's mental health charity Place2Be ran an art competition to raise awareness of Children's Mental Health Awareness Week. Children in Place2Be schools in Brent were invited to submit poetry along with an illustration under the theme of Bravery. This is a word that I really find very emotive and I found myself reading around 25 of the submissions that were pinned along the wall. I could see many people hurrying past, but others, like me stood quite taken aback by some of the wonderful poems and illustrations by these children.
With a total of just over 5,400km now completed in my virtual challenge, I would be continuing my path through northern Argentina and once again covering ground that my trusty hybrid bike and I have actually been across.
The distances this week split down like this:
This would have me arriving at the town of Cafayate, an important tourist centre for exploring the Calchaquíes valleys, and renowned for the quality and originality of the wines produced in the area. I remember the bike ride across this arid region well for the searing heat and challenging hills, but also the stunning landscape with features like La Garganta del Diablo (Devils Throat).
In fact this region is so passionate about it's wine production that I remember taking this photo on the left below almost in disbelief that in the middle of nowhere (and desperately thirsty) the only refreshments available from this little outlet was yes, you guessed it, wine! Probably one of the few times in my life I have turned down a glass of red...
Unlike back in the real world where I felt it was only fitting that I have a steak and glass of Malbec to celebrate my entry to Argentina! (Ok, most of the plate seems on reflection to be taken over by chips and onion rings, but there was actually a big bike ride ahead of me the next day, honest).
Speaking of food (never far from my mind). Ian introduced me this week to what might become one of my favourite breakfasts. Both being fans of overnight oats and porridge, he had ordered some oats from a new company who had a range of naturally flavoured oats with themes like Maple and Pecan, or Cinnamon Bun. The breakfast choice for this day was Cherry Bakewell flavour and the manufacturers also suggest a baked oats recipe. Something I hadn't tried before but it involved soaking the oats in yoghurt and an egg and then baking in the oven. Sounded healthy! Ian pimped it up with some flaked almonds and a spoon of cherry conserve.....mmmm...possibly now slightly resembling a dessert but definitely fuelled me up for a hilly ride in the Chilterns!
And just to prove it, see below for a snippet of a certain Cat 4 hill that I have been practicing on Ian's 'old jalopy' mountain bike ahead of an event I am going to do. This you will be glad to hear is just over a minute of the footage of the 15min climb that features three times on the event course, eek. But I still attempt to channel a bit of
M People. Oh and the angle is because the GoPro is on my wrist, I am not actually falling off the bike...
It was timely then that one of the people I am coaching just now asked me this week "How do you stay so strong, you never seem to have a bad day?" It might seem that way, but I definitely do have days when I feel like it takes me all my effort to do a session. But mainly I remind myself how good I will feel afterwards, and think about a goal I am working towards. My latest session was a good example - tasked with doing a 2km swim followed immediately afterwards by a three and a half hour interval bike ride I was wondering how to logistically do this in central London. Of course my swim would be in the Serpentine, but the bike, how to do that without traffic interfering with it? Well after my swim it seemed obvious, I am no stranger to Regents Park laps, so why not do similar around Hyde Park? There were many combinations there and the added challenge of some more inclines and headwinds, but seeing my favourite lido on the way round definitely kept me going. It's funny the other things that keep you going like "Well I can have a drink in another 15 minutes time...and then a little snack 15 minutes after that". It's the simple things.
Something else that definitely keeps me going is music, I love a power song and some go-to favourite artists have to be the likes of Sia or Pink. But I also remembered a great musical moment from a few years ago that I have shared with a few people this week. This was when I was delivering an awards event for the children's mental health charity Place2Be (in the presence of the Duchess of Cambridge, excuse the major name drop!) They like to have a school choir at their events, but logistically that was going to be difficult at the venue. Enter a suggestion from a school outside Edinburgh, who had been working on a song called 'Stronger'. I challenge you not to be won over by this little troupe - a great message and a definite ear worm! Keep an eye out especially for the wee boy on the far right in the glasses who melts my heart. Over 23,000 YouTube views can't be wrong...
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.