This is a week that made me happy for many reasons!
The clocks going forward meant that the days seemed brighter and longer, and we actually had two days which seemed like summer at an unseasonable 22deg.
But the main excitement had to be that the latest easing of Covid restrictions meant that outdoor swimming officially opened up! So instead of a 3 hour round bike ride to Teddington, I could pop down to my lovely Serpentine within an hour. It was SO good to be back and what's more the temperature was now actually just tipping into double figures too! I could hear the shared excitement as the members giggled and even sang as they got changed after their much awaited Serpie swim. That's one thing about Covid, it really makes you appreciate the simplest things in life.
Having said that, I have made some really good connections during my swims in the Thames, so I couldn't resist a Good Friday trip back there. Well worth it if even just to meet myself in dog form - this is Dash in the video below (Dash by name and by nature) endlessly diving into the river enthusiastically after his ball.
So my totals this week are looking like this, with the swimming distance now creeping up:
Swimming 3.06km (whoop!)
It also sees me reach another milestone of covering over 2,000km which is a satisfying feeling.
This would see me arriving at the town of Bagua Grande in northern Peru. Known for its agricultural trade, the economy is based on the production of very high quality rice, corn and coffee. It is affectionately referred to by the locals as Coraźon de Amazonas (Spanish for 'Heart of the Amazonas') due to its location. Set on a hillside by the river Utcubamba, means that it is warm and rainy for a good part of the year. Yet again my challenge doesn't quite match the local conditions in London where we fluctuated between a sunny 22deg one day to anticipating snow in the next few days!
However, all being well, that riverside location might just come into play next week as I (hopefully) add a fourth discipline into my challenge which for the past 3 months has definitely been more of a triathlon than pentathlon. Watch this space.....
My overriding thought about this week is "I wouldn't want to be a farmer!"
Coach Tom (along with his colleague, Javier from Be Fearsome fitness) decided that my wildcard challenge for this month should be 'farmer walks for 1 mile carrying 40kg'.
I must admit my first thought was 'One mile, that doesn't seem very far?!' Well I'm glad I let the experts decide, otherwise I dread to think how I would have got on!
I have an extra nod of authenticity to my South American challenge with this activity, as Javier, the trainer spurring me on is Argentinian. He had measured out a 50m section at Hyde Park and so I was to do 32 laps of that carrying a 20kg kettle bell in each hand.
This video shows one of my first 50m laps....you should have seen me by the end! It looks deceptively easy, but trust me, when the grips are digging into your hands (should have worn gloves!) and your arms and shoulders don't feel like your own, it takes every effort to hold onto the weights, but at the same time, every time you put them down you know it is going to be an even bigger effort to pick them up again. Javier was shouting his encouragement and reminding me to use my larger muscles (traps, lats, abs, glutes) to take the load and not to use my arms. I must admit that halfway through I was wondering if I was going to be able to pull this off. And as if that wasn't enough, to 'mix it up a bit' he also got me to do 20 x 16kg squats; 20 x 16kg deadlifts; 20 x 16kg rows and 20 x 12kg military presses. Muchas gracias Javier!
I had cleverly planned to meet up with a couple of cycling friends in Regents Park afterwards, this did involve a 10k detour, but one well worth it for a couple of lovely homemade, and I think well earned, banana muffins courtesy of Nikki.
I underestimated how much this challenge would take out of me the day or so afterwards, especially when I decided to bike over to Teddington for what I had hoped would be a recovery swim. The fact that it is a 21km ride each way is usually enough, but my god, the wind was against me at every turn. I have to question what BBC weather considers a 'moderate breeze' and likewise 'light rain showers' as I ran into an epic downpour on the way back - shouting out loud as wheelie bins careered across the main road in front of me, whilst rain lashed me in the face. To add to that, when in the river the flow was going one way and the wind the other, meaning that my tow float was bouncing around off my head and getting me generally tangled up. It also caused a bit of concern for onlookers when a large lump of driftwood bashed off my head causing me to abruptly stop and look up slightly stunned.
So whilst this week was not necessarily about the distance, I am pleased to say that having covered a total of 1886 km to date, I would now have crossed into Peru and passed the tiny town of Puerto Galilea in the Rio Santiago district. In such a remote area I could well have had to draw on my abilities to carry/push my fully laden bike through the terrain, so the 40kg challenge was definitely well timed (even though I am glad to see the back of it!)
The distances this week looked like this:
Farmers Walks with 40kg: 1.62km
For some added inspiration this week, I released my latest video conversation which I had recorded with Coach Tom. As a former Royal Marines Commando, I am always interested in how we draws on the skills he used in the military to challenge himself and others. Have a watch below for some tips on how we can all stay resilient and motivated in our everyday lives.
I was under strict instructions to scale down my distances this week as Coach Tom was concerned that I was overdoing it a bit. It's true I have become slightly obsessed with the amount I have been doing, as not only am I doing the challenge distances, but still carrying on with my strength and TRX training etc which means I have regularly been doing over 14 hours of training a week. Time to take it a bit easier this week (although I did still seem to cover 154.7km...)
The distances look like this:
It's been lovely to be in the river when the flow is calmer and the temperature is 8 degrees. I never thought this would feel 'comfortable' and it makes me happy to think about how much more I will be able to swim when the restrictions ease. Roll on the opening up of the Serpentine in Hyde Park again at the end of the month! Although that said, I have made a good friend and 'guardian lifeguard' during my Thames swims in the form of this little lady...
I also took the opportunity to scope out a new location a short distance from my partner's flat in the lovely town of Marlow. He teased me that I probably had my swimming costume on under my clothes as we went for a walk along the river...and I wish I had! Now here is a spot for the long awaited paddle boarding and kayaking too.
Meanwhile in South America, having covered a total of 1,729.4km I would currently be just past Logrońo and Sucúa in Ecuador. Sucúa is a small town with a population of just under 8,000 people, set in a humid, highly botanical region popular for jungle trips and river rafting on the Rio Upano.
As I continue south alongside the north west border with Peru, I will be travelling through the Parque Nacional Sangay. This national park contains three of Ecuador's most magnificent volcanoes. As such, had I actually been there, cycling certain elements would be very tricky and would include hiking sections and pushing or carrying the bike.
So, it must surely be time for this months challenge on that theme? And so it was set:
"Farmers walks of at least one mile in one session carrying 40kg"
For those not familiar with what 'farmers walks' are, they are also known as 'the farmers carry' and are one of the original, all round exercises for a total body workout. As you have to carry a significant weight in each hand, it challenges balance and stability, as well as working a wide range of muscles including abs, shoulders, hamstrings, quads and also grip strength. Very much replicating what it might be like to carry a fully laden hybrid bike!
Let's see how I get on next week....
After a heavy few weeks of mileage and weight challenges on the bike,I was starting to feel it, and taking some advice from a good friend, decided it was time to 'go with the flow' and listen to how my body was feeling.
That said, the 170.4km I covered were a lot harder than they should have been, as the calm sunshine on the Thames at the start of the week soon turned to 40mph gusting winds by the end of it! It's a bizarre feeling to be pedalling hard and barely going at 15km/hr one minute with the wind in your face, to then whizzing along at 35km/hr with a gust behind you.
But it's all good in terms of creating a realistic experience, as the last time I remember wind conditions like this was actually in South America in 2017 where we battled against it for the final 100km of our climb between Argentina and Chile buffeted by winds of over 40mph as this little clip confirms..
The 'lower' kms covered break down like this:
I took the opportunity to do a ride along the Grand Union Canal this week thinking (wrongly) that the flat conditions may make it easier in the wind. It's always a wonder to me how the landscape changes as you go west along this path. From the section which passes over the North Circular Road (always a bit surreal to see traffic streaming past on a dual carriageway beneath you), to the calm peaceful stretches near the Ealing parks. And yes, that is a ladybird bell on my bike - every serious athlete has one ;)
By now, with 1,575km covered in total, I would have passed the capital of Ecuador, Quito, and be traversing the Llanganates National Park. This park is famous for the 'Treasure of the Llanganates' referring to a huge amount of gold, silver, platinum and electrum artifacts supposedly hidden deep within the Llanganates mountain range of Ecuador by the Inca general Rumiñahui. The park also boasts the 4570m high peak of Cerro Hormoso (or beautiful mountain). It is the landscape here that really speaks to me as it looks nostalgically like the rugged beauty of my homeland in Scotland (albeit it very different in climate!) At the moment I am pining for any holiday, South America is the pipe dream, and Aberdeen a slightly more realistic one, surely this year I will get there??
Following the theme of listening to what my body and mind needed this week, I had been taking some tips from a two part conversation that I released with resilience coach Cath Kane on Challenges Change and Curveballs: Strategies to stay grounded despite the pandemic. Even though she was in Washington DC during the whole of 2020, she definitely kept me sane with our regular coaching calls and 'Enterprising Women' group chats. I am delighted that she is now back in London and we are hosting a webinar on Tools and Techniques for Radical Self Care later this month. Have a look at my webpage for more details and how to sign up for this FREE event!
This week brought with it many contrasts, including another dip in temperature, and some subsequent misty morning swims in the Thames. The flow rate in the river might have dropped, but equally the temperature change was making for some shivery dressing sessions on the river bank! I have to say though that these little river swims are something that I really look forward to. Seeing some friendly faces, and even inspiring one man who had been passing by and watching us with interest, to swim in open water for the first time. He's now hooked, which gives me a great sense of satisfaction to be able to pass on some of this joy to someone else.
Total distance this week is 218.45km (a new record!) which breaks down like this:
But away from the moody weather, I would currently have crossed into a new country - Ecuador! Translated as 'Republic of the Equator' this country is bordered of course by Colombia in the north, Peru in the east and south and also includes the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific, about 1,000km west of the mainland.
I would be arriving at Ibarra, a city in northern Ecuador which lies at the foot of the Imbabura Volcano, and on the left bank of the Tahuando river. Its colonial whitewashed buildings have given it the nickname La Ciudad Blanca, or The White City.
An interesting culinary fact of the area, is the the 'helados de paila' or handmade ice creams and sorbets were originally made during Incan times using the snow or ice from the nearby Imbabura volcano when it was snowbound.
Something which cast a major cloud over my week though as a Director of my own Limited company was the much anticipated budget announcement. Being part of the #ForgottenLtd group, I have been supporting their tireless campaigning over the past 12 months to get the Government to recognise the 3million plus people in the same situation as myself who have had next to no financial support during the pandemic.
I can't stress how utterly let down and disappointed I was to see that we have yet again been ignored. This clever YouTube 'advert' below sums up our Chancellor's attitude to us. If only I could have made myself a pair of headphones to drown out the Government over the past year.
BUT, onwards and upwards, and the challenge continues (in every sense!)
So it's been a week of key moments. The sun finally came out, meaning that I could at least imagine I was in South America (even if it was still only 14degrees).
It was also heartening to see that I had gone over the 1,000km mark, meaning that my distance left to travel has gone from a number starting with a 9 to one starting with a 7. Hooray!
It was also time for my monthly wildcard challenge, but more on that to come...
The distances are looking like this:
Total of 182.4km
I was delighted to see the water temperature increase slightly to 8 or 9deg which means
I managed to finally get my distance up to over 1km across two swims this week.
Likewise, my niggling achilles seems to have finally (she says touching wood) started to settle down and I managed to include some hills into my runs for the first time in about
But the biggest achievement of this week must be ticking off my second wildcard challenge. Set by Coach Tom last week, it was to cover at least 50% of my cycling distance carrying the full kit I would need for a trip like this. From experience, that was around 30kilos, and so it was time to 'pannier up'. To simulate the weight I filled my panniers with bottles of water, books and other weighty items and off I went.
Well, this turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected, especially as the first part of the week brought with it strong gusty winds. I felt like I was hardly moving!
The funniest part though must have been when I was grinding out some laps cycling around Regents Park and as I stopped at the lights a fellow cyclist looked over my loaded up bike and enquired "Where are you off to then?" I thought for a minute and replied "Erm, Ecuador?" and cycled off. I assume he either called the police or the Priory....
In fact out of the 165.5km I cycled this week, I actually did 140km on my hybrid with full panniers. All I can say is, my thighs!!
So where would I be in South America right now? Well I've made great progress through Colombia and would now be approaching the city of Pasto in the south of the country. Affectionately known as the 'Surprise City' it is probably best known for it's beautiful buildings, and even more so for the 'Carnaval de Negros y Blancos'. This lively celebration takes place between the 2nd and 7th of January and are famous for the giant figures made by local artisans walking through the streets of the city.
But the highlight of my week back here in the 'real world' must have been recording my latest video conversation. In this episode I was speaking to Shäron Brown, a good friend of mine, and full-time carer to her 21 year old daughter Jennifer, who has a very rare genetic condition.
I spoke to her about resilience, tenacity, the challenges she faces on a daily basis, and the rewards that come with that. I would urge anyone who is currently struggling at the moment to watch this one for some real insights into how to keep mentally strong and resilient.
It's been another week where the weather in my part of the hemisphere couldn't be more different from where I would literally be in South America.
So the snow and Arctic winds left us on Sunday, but only to be replaced by days of endless rain, arrrgh. Equally unpleasant for cycling and running! Whilst the river temperature rose to a 'balmy' 6deg, getting changed in pouring rain after a swim is not much fun.
But, like a true Scot, I still managed to muscle it out and achieve a distance of 204.4km
The distances look like this...
190.6 km cycling (whoop, and despite the rain, only 28k of it indoors!)
I've now covered a total distance of 958.8km which brings me past the city of Neiva and a spectacular part of Colombia - the Tatacoa desert, also known as the tropical dry desert. This part of Colombia is a real delight in terms of the contrasts in landscape. From the 330 square kms of the arid Tatacoa desert to the changing vegetation and breathtaking views of the Parque Nacional Natural Nevado del Huila. At 5,364m, the Nevado del Huila volcano is the highest in Colombia, and after lying dormant for over 500 years, caused concern for the surrounding towns and villages after erupting back in 2007 and 2008.
Not quite as dramatic as these conditions, but back in London I was pleased to see the rain clear for at least one day for a glorious bike ride to Hampton Court Palace. I have often avoided going to this tourist attraction as it is always so busy. Not this week though, I can recommend a spin round the grounds during lockdown!
In a cultural nod to where I should be, I have also managed to get hold of some bocadillos, a classic guava, and in this case guava and raspberry energy snack classically used by Colombian cyclists over the years. Forget synthetic energy gels, these little cubes of fruity wonder are natural and even wrapped in plantain leaves.
I think I will be needing them for my next wildcard challenge that Coach Tom set me for next week which is....
'To do at least 50% of my rides this week on my bike loaded up with the kit I would need for an actual trip like this'
Eeek, so the fun begins as I look out my front and rear panniers to load up with bottles of water, books and all sorts of other 'weighty stuff' to simulate this load!
In an otherwise fairly uneventful week, the highlight has to be.....getting my Covid vaccine!!
I was at first slightly aggrieved at receiving my text from the NHS citing me as 'clinically vulnerable'. I only have mild asthma, but I certainly wasn't going to argue and so headed (by bike obviously!) to get my jab.
This did make me feel nostalgic about my 'real' South American trip back in 2017 where I had my own little health passport to log my numerous jabs (mostly a series of rabies ones to protect myself from angry Argentinian dogs!).
Well they say be careful what you wish for, and I do prefer cold to rain, but THIS cold!?
The icy conditions made everything I did this week a major challenge, but the distances are still good....
Just under 192km in total, my highest distance in a week to date!
401m swimming (definitely shorter dips this week!)
I was pleased to be able to increase my running mileage this week, especially as it seemed like most of it was spent in a sort of run/skid fashion on the icy pavements, or across a wintry Hampstead Heath.
I do love it there, the feeling of space and views across the city, it is one of my favourite places in London. I often head there when I am in need of some perspective on things.
Having now covered a total of 754.4km through Colombia, this would have me approaching the city of Cali, southwest of Bogotá. Known for being the world capital of salsa, every September, salseros flock from around the world to take part in the World Salsa Festival. Ah how I would love to be there right now, dancing, drinking lulada, or dipping in the refreshing waters of the Rio Pance in the south of the city.
These waters would definitely be more balmy than the 2.5deg that I experienced in the Thames this week! So the easing off of the rain might have brought the flow rate of the river down slightly, but with ice forming near the lock, a new challenge of not getting hypothermia faced me instead. But that said, I do get a sense of pleasure when walkers on the footpath stop and take photos and gasp in awe as they see me get into the river in my costume in the falling snow, whilst they are wrapped up in Arctic-like kit against the elements. Then afterwards there is the almost comedic race to get dressed in as many layers as possible. I know that it is 'properly cold' when I have dug out my old ski gloves from circa 1990 as the they are the only things that will keep my hands warm post swim now.
Meanwhile on my run over at Hampstead Heath, I could only look longingly at the mixed pond, where swimming is still closed in the current lockdown.
I believe this challenge is definitely helping with my mental health. I think it could be quite demoralising to train for a triathlon just now in a world where mass participation events are so uncertain. As an events organiser this uncertainty over large scale events taking place has the added knock on effect of making me anxious about my business too.
There have definitely been more bad days than good this week where the thought of getting on my bike in the biting 'beast from the east' wind, with a relative air temperature of -7deg has felt like a real effort. Then I think of the legendary ice man, Wim Hof who reminds us that being too comfortable and warm all the time is not good for us, it doesn't challenge our system.
And I remind myself that I do like a challenge, and so I hope for better days, in every sense.
Speaking of tenacity, I released the second in my series of video conversations this week. Here I talk to beekeeper Tracey Carter about what we can learn from honey bees about resilience, tenacity and their unique style of communications. Even if I say so myself,
I found it very interesting!
The stats this week are looking like this:
...and a paddleboard plan in place, pending river flow being more manageable!
On that subject, it has been another week of challenging swimming as the heavy rain has caused the river flow to be over 400 (and to think that 2 weeks ago I thought 250 was fast!). As this video above shows, it really was a case of "I'm on a road to nowhere". That was definitely the song going around my head as I was giving it my all and realising that I was not moving away from the jetty. My swimming buddy's dog was looking on very concerned from the side I have to say.
To a lot of people it seems like madness to go to all that effort to swim for about 10 minutes at a time, but I have come to realise that these activities offer me a rare opportunity to see a 'real' person and speak to someone (not on screen) as much as anything else.
After sharing my recent swimming frustrations, I have been advised that I should use the calculations based on stroke rate that someone in an endless pool would use to indicate how far I would actually have swum. So there you go, averaging about 450-500m for each swim stint in 5deg water.
So with a total of 563km completed, I would now have passed through Muzo in Colombia, a town widely known as the world capital of emeralds for the mines containing the world's highest quality gems, and now be approaching Bogota, the country's capital.
It is a city of around eight million people, with cycle paths covering more than 360km of the city’s surface. Colombia’s capital pretty much invented the concept of ciclovia (cycle way). Cars are banned from 120km of city roads every Sunday morning, from 7am to 2pm, when two million city residents take to the streets to cycle, jog and roller blade. This sounds like exactly the kind of place I would love to be actually cycling in!
In honour of that fact, the closest I could come to this city experience was to be cycling around my home city, London, though which sadly even in lockdown can't quite replicate the Ciclovia experience! But it was great to be able to try being a tourist in my own city, and with a Colombian cycling friend, Giovanna being there, then I feel I gave it the cultural Latin American nod. (Though it did feel like we were playing a bizarre game of chicken as the horseguards were bearing down on our photo moment here!)
I'm pleased that I have managed to rehab my previously very niggly achilles to increase my running ever so slightly this week. At least running in the pouring rain isn't quite as miserable in cycling in it. The depressing weather has definitely been making all of this more of a challenge, but I am still trying to do as little of it indoors/on my turbo as possible, I think it is important to be 'out there'. And of course I am Scottish, so can never use the weather as an excuse really!
Then I think about two words which mean a lot to me: Tenacity and Resilience, and it is very timely that this week I launched the first in my new series of video interviews.
This is where I speak to a series of guests about what techniques they use in their professions and everyday lives to channel resilience and tenacity amongst other things.
I am passionate about the benefits that challenge can bring, and fascinated about how many areas of our lives it affects. This first interview is with my singing teacher, Matt Thompson, and there is a fascinating one coming up next week with a beekeeper!
And what better way to finish this week than to watch Scotland beat England in their Six Nations rugby game on Saturday! I think wearing my Doddie Weir top for my bike/run that day must have definitely brought some good luck!
Week 2 completed with me covering 191.4km. Only 8,620km to go!
The weather, coupled with my 'wildcard challenge' of completing 1000m of hill climbs on the bike at 6% or more meant that this week was a real test in many ways.
So, it's heavily skewed towards cycling again this week, the breakdown went like this:
183km cycling (most of it on hillls!)
Having covered a total of 386km so far, I would currently be just outside Puerto Berrio in Colombia. This is a major river port on the Magdalena, handling a lot of the famous coffee that comes out of this part of South America.
Again, the weather conditions in my part of the world couldn't be more different from my virtual one. Snow and ice in London whilst Puerto Berrio basks in 33deg!
The week got off to an interesting start after an unexpected snowfall on Sunday.
I had my mind set on a swim on Monday though, and so I tenaciously navigated my way out of a very icy street on my hybrid bike. The trip was rewarded with a VERY cold but lovely swim in the Thames, though yet again a super high flow rate of around 270 meant that what should have been a 400m swim registered as 156 as I battled against the current. Daaaah! Though as you can see, I'm still grinning like a lunatic...
But the most challenging part of my training was yet to come.....I had the hill climbs to do and neither the roads nor the weather were looking favourable. Could I do this on my turbo trainer indoors? Coach Tom said no, that was too 'easy' apparently, but advised safety first and that I could delay it until next week. But wimping out is not my style.
I did appreciate that steep downhills on skinny road bike tyres might not be the best idea though and I so decided to do them on my trusty hybrid. Now where to do the challenge? One of my favourite destinations to get the hills in is the Chilterns, but with travel of that distance out of the question just now I had to focus closer to home.
I am lucky to live in North London close to some great hilly locations. For those familiar with cycling in this area, there is a gem of a hill near Hampstead towards Highgate called Swain's Lane. Averaging at a gradient around 8% and maxing out at 20% over 900metres, it is the location of the Urban Hill Climb Race and enjoys legendary status in the London cycling community. That, coupled with some surrounding climbs and a 'nice' 12% hill near where I live, and I had my plan sorted.
Oh but the weather was grim. Rain, rain and more rain (the picture on the right was not taken in real time!). I used to do some hill reps with some of my cycling club buddies a few years ago on this circuit when...
a) it was dry
b) I was on a road bike that weighs about 7kg and
c) we did about 5 or 6 of them in a week
Contrast that with...
a) it was soaking wet
b) I was on a hybrid bike weighing about 14kg and
c) I had to do 15 reps this week
So, this circuit (8 hills) done 2 days in a row, elevation 517m each day, I think we can safely say job done!
I apologise for any motorists who witnessed me shouting and laughing manically in the rain wondering if this was some biblical event I was in the midst of....bucketing rain and plague (Covid). I found myself muttering 'is this the fine line between tenacity and madness?'
And so with very tired legs (and yet again in the rain) I had some running to do. too My second swim of the week came unstuck when not only did I get caught in a major downpour getting there, but was advised that the river flow was 'dangerously fast' so (even I) couldn't swim anyway.
But I do love a challenge, and although the week might have been grey and testing,
I did receive some bright news from my parents in Aberdeen. My dad had been for his vaccine! Although, like the past 13 months, I could only see them onscreen, I could feel his excitement that there may just be a light at the end of this very long tunnel....
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.