Running a new town – San Diego

run this townWe blagged a 5 day expedition to SD a couple of weeks ago. My sister was going already for 3 days for her real work but I tagged along and we extended and got to spend a couple of days on the beach.

Going to the US is expensive at the moment, the exchange rate is shocking and La Jolla where we stayed for the non-work part even more so. I don’t think we managed a meal under £50 include breakfast and don’t get started on the price of a glass of wine. We resorted to storing gin and tonic and snack things in our hotel room fridge and ate a lot of Cheetos – so orange, so fake and so good.

The best bit of the trip away (and I can’t actually believe I’m writing this and the “me of 10 years ago” is face palming and making an eejit face at the “me with 2 kids today” for being such an exercise dork) was being able to exercise every day without having to worry about who was going to look after the toddler terrorists and all the associated guilt that comes with.

So we ran, we swam, we went to the hotel gym, sometimes all on the same day. It was amazing (we also ate a lot of orange crisps and drank a lot of gin, we’re not completely crazy).

Without doubt the absolute best bits were the 2 early morning runs we did at the very beginning of the week, first day heading south and the second heading north following the coast from our beach side hotel in La Jolla.

Neither of us are good jet lag dealers so we were up stupid early both days.

Day 1 was foggy and a bit chilly and we couldn’t get to the coast south bound unless we ran along an enormous Californian highway for the first mile but when we got on the coast path a weird fishy smell and a quick peer over the cliffs rewarded us with Sea lions, then Pelicans and then Seals, we jigged about with happiness for a bit and took terrible photos – see end.

Day 2 took us North to try and get to the more remote surfer beaches, this involved an enormous hill to start along with the obligatory 4 lane highway, then one of those decisions every runner has faced….do or die. Do we run down this unsigned roadway that looks like it might end up at beach? Or do we turn around and run back down the miserable road? We took the risk, it was a very long way down, increasing trepidation that we were going to have to run back up again (and it was a long way) but then were reassured halfway by the sight of one a SD surfers trudging up the enormous hill and importantly still slightly damp. The beach was beautiful, the waves enormous, the surfers awesome. And an only mediumly terrifying scramble across the rocks at high tide gave us a good couple of k back along the beach (how and why is beach running sooo hard?)

It was amazing to see how busy the beaches in La Jolla were even on a slightly chilly day, there were Surfers, Stand-up paddleboarders, open water swimmers, scuba divers, kayakers, people playing Frisbee, joggers, dog walkers, people doing Yoga…..mental

Running in a strange city must be one of the best ways to get off the beaten track and see bits of it mere non-running mortals never get to. Totally recommend it.

Other random things we learnt

  • Sleepy tablets on a night flight are a good thing
  • Californian brunches are a good thing – although everything comes with fruit. Even savoury dishes….
  • Swimming outdoors is ace
  • American running machines work in miles/hour not km/hour. There was one terrifying moment when I thought I’d lost all my running mojo then realised I was trying to run at 10mph rather than 10km an hour.
  • Lavender margaritas are not a good thing

Go in hard, come out wet – Open Water Swimming Part 2

Go in hard

(This isn’t where we swam but it’s pretty though right? Sorry about the rude quote but it made me laugh quite a lot)

The strangest part of Open Water Swimming was getting out. Part of me didn’t want to get out, I wanted to keep practising. But the other (sensible) part of me wanted very badly to be warm and to be able to feel my cheeks again.

I found out if you take your wetsuit off straight away while it is still wet, it is actually fairly easy, but there are tricks to it (roll down then pull over the extremity in one go) and it is definitely going to need practice (i.e. transition, blah blah blah). Once we were out and free of the neoprene though, we all felt weirdly flat and subdued. Not exhilarated like I thought we would. A bit spacy and weird.

After negotiating the tiny changing rooms with about 8 thousand other equally cold women (whose advice was not to shower straight away as it does not help to warm you core it just warms your skin) and rueing my decision to wear skinny jeans (cold damp legs do not an easy-jean-putting-on experience make – note: bring tracksuit bottoms next time), we then all started to feel nauseous, headachy and slightly sea sick.

A big fry up didn’t fix it and it was a good couple of hours and some ginger nut biscuits before I started to feel normal again.

Some research uncovered that this is a pretty normal, something to do with cold water in your inner ear affecting your balance. Suggestions include wearing neoprene swim caps (sometimes 2 if it’s really cold), wearing earplugs, eating ginger (aka ginger nuts) or just plain pharmaceutical support. Nothing about the weird subdued feeling though, perhaps anti-climax?

We’re doing an Open Water Swim Seminar at Eton Dorney this weekend so it will be interesting to find out more.

I’ve now bought a wetsuit and some swim socks (leaving the neoprene cap for now) and also am interested to find out how swimming in a sports bra is going to be…….

The more I’ve thought about the experience, it has felt equivalent to running outside compared to running on a treadmill or cycling outside compared to a stationary bike. Swimming in a normal pool is going to feel just a little bit tame from now on.

Oxygen is overrated – Open Water Swimming Part 1

Oxygen is overrated

Oxygen is overrated….and so is being warm. Learning to swim was all very well but then the realisation hit that I was actually going to have to swim outside. In the sea. Or a lake. Somewhere where you can’t see the bottom and there are other things in there with you. And it’s not heated.

We arranged the date and picked a location (no wild swimming for us, but then who even knew that was even a thing?) an official open water swimming place in a lake about 40mins away. They had wetsuits for hire or buy and were very enthusiastic about us just showing up and getting in.

It didn’t even occur to me to be apprehensive until we were stood in the booking office. Then when I saw people in wetsuits walking up from the lake and leaving the changing rooms about to go out, I started to get very, very, very scared.

The sizing of wetsuits appears to be a mostly arbitrary thing (probably not really given some time and a lack of fear), they have size charts which correlate to height, weight and sometimes waist measurement but the brackets of measurement are sometimes large, sometimes overlap, it’s very confusing. Especially at 8am on a cold Saturday morning with cold dread fear in your stomach. In the end it was easily resolved because they only had 3 of the larger sized wetsuits left so we took those and they all fit fine. It wasn’t as hard to get it on as I thought. There is some pulling and shimmying but it’s not impossible.

Wet suited up, feeling a bit silly but then realising no-one was pointing and laughing at us, we were escorted by a friendly staff member down to the swim-off point (i.e. a pontoon) and given a bit of advice. Some of that advice even remained in my head , I’m sure there was more than these, sorry:

  • Wait for a bit in the water by the pontoon before swimming off and practice breathing out under water until you can breathe normally
  • Purposefully let some water in your wetsuit as soon as possible so your body heat starts to warm it up
  • Don’t worry about distance on your first try just get used to the sensation of swimming with a wetsuit on

There was a choice of going in via the steps or just sliding in off the edge of the pontoon. I chose the latter – I knew once my feet felt the cold they were going to go on strike and there was no way I was getting in otherwise. And before I could give myself the chance to say WTF am I doing here, I got in.

I lost all ability to swim, breathe, speak (apart from some hissed swearing) for a good few seconds. The cold is a physical shock! Then I gradually warmed up, the advice surfaced in my brain and I hyperventilated into the water for a while until I could semi-normally breathe again. My bare feet – Oh Lord. And my ears! Thankfully my hands didn’t feel too bad.

After a few minutes and some giggling, we set off for a buoy, part doggy paddling, part breast stroke, and something that resembled front crawl for very short bursts. The hardest thing with front crawl was persuading myself to put my already very cold face in the water and that the wetsuit makes you so buoyant your bottom keeps boinging up into the air which pushes your face in the water or you have to force your torso to go slightly banana shaped to keep your face out.

And – worse – putting my face in the water meant I got glimpses at what was under the water. It was incredibly clear so you could see all the lake weed and whatnot that was below you (and which occasionally, shudder, also brushed against your bare feet). Every time that happened, I am ashamed to admit I completely forgot how to swim again and doggy paddled/panicked/hyperventilated for a bit until I calmed down.

We swam (or an approximation of) back and forth for a bit then struck out around the lake loop that is marked out. Eventually I got into a rhythm of front crawl for 10 or 15 strokes, then breast stroke for the same. My breathing got more controlled, I decided to close my eyes when I put my face under the water to minimise the “weed-fear” and I remembered how to swim again. I even swam past a moorhen, which was surreal for both of us.

This is definitely going to take some practice. The water was 14 degrees apparently and presumably as its still only Spring, it will only get warmer and easier. Here’s hoping.

Runderful! Getting running…..

Runderful

How is it that I find myself up to my knees in a freezing cold Welsh estuary water trying to find submerged stepping stones with bemused sheep and swans looking on?

I think we decided to do this triathlon thing because we want to capture that youthful feeling of delight that you get when running through beautiful countryside or plummeting down a hill on your bike or carving through crystal clear waters.

I am the Tri-Sista that did not run. It was my kryptonite – I used to run and I gave it up after my hip was replaced. I can swim and bike well but I needed to get back to running to stand a chance keeping up with the other two (both long legged gazelles with mile-eating strides). So I went to the library and got a book on how to run. Old school.

It was a Runner’s World book and it suggested that I do the 30-30 Getting Started plan. This involved 30 runs of 30 minutes over 30 days. You walk for the first 10 minutes, then alternate 30 seconds running with 30 seconds of walking for 15 minutes, and then walk for the last 5 minutes. This seemed just what I was after – a slow gentle way to get moving.

So I did the first few runs in the area around my home and things went well. But when I had to go to South Wales on business for a week the fun really began. I have run along cliffs dotted with sheep at dawn, along the beach with the sun warming my face, puffed up sand dunes and scrambled over castle ruins – all before breakfast. It has been brilliant.

On my last evening I decide to run along the estuary to the castle ruins of Ogmore. I parked my car and puffed along the grass track to the castle. The river, which ran close to the castle, had about 25 big stepping stones leading to a little village I could just see in the distance. Well it seemed like a good idea.

I hopped from one stone to another and thanked my lucky stars that they were not wet and slippy. Laughing at my intrepid behaviour I run/walked on to the village and made friends with a couple of horses and read the information boards along the way. Finally I decided to head back. Now I really should have known that a tidal estuary will tend to flood (being a graduate of a coastal management course and all) but it took me totally by surprise that there were no stepping stones to be seen across the river. Nothing. Nada.

I checked the map. The nearest bridge was about 3 miles away and then I would have to walk back another 3 miles to the car. I stood there dithering. Should I walk or try to cross? There was not a soul in sight – just me and the swans. Panic set in. I will have to cross.

So tucking my car keys in my knickers, I took the plunge. I could just about see the stepping stones and the water came up to my knees. I had to take little leaps from one to another and tried to avoid falling into the waist deep water either side. It was about half way across that the absurdity of my situation hit me and I started giggling. This was adventure. I was having a ball.

Back at the car after an hour of running, soaking wet and feeling massively pleased with myself, all I could think about was how can I get my kit dry so that I can do it again tomorrow?