Sunday, 7 December 2014

Time Passes

The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself. ~ Mary Schmich October was a bit of a random month, training-wise - a few hiccups of ill-health, a grand dose of "can't be arsed", some frustration, some generalised family chaos, and some useful gains, mostly in karate. November, despite bouts of illness, was much better.





Swimming Completed my Aspire Challenge, a bit slower than I wanted to, but I finished it in style with three short laps of Salford Quays (1200m), in skins, at 10oC. And had a nice dose of some mixture of hypothermia and hypoglycemia to show for it; thank you to my Bears for taking care of me (read: stuffing me full of sugar and coffee til I stopped giggling and shaking).

USWIM Masters is back at Manchester Aquatics, with an extra session at Shadsworth, just down the road from me. Currently I'm performing reasonably well there (and having a lot of fun, actually - it's great not to miss my swimming friends through the winter!). My stroke feels cleaner and stronger despite not a lot of practice in October - thank you to Rach for the drill suggestions at the end of summer season, it does seem to have helped. I get off-days but overall things are consistent.

Victorian Polar was amazing fun - I made four costumes in the end and we looked AWESOME. Swam 200m in costume at 8oC and had a jolly nice, if painful, time in the water followed by all of the calories in the world ever.


Happy to demonstrate what hits like a girl really means.
This has been very challenging lately and that's where the majority of my energy has been going - I've been training three times a week plus working at home trying to nail down the three katas I needed to show at my next grading (heian shodan, heian nidan and heian sandan), and all the combinations required to go from yellow belt (7th kyu) to green belt (6th kyu). Technically I was wearing an orange belt but that's from the old grading system, it just wasn't worth changing it for a couple of months. I've learned how to bring side kicks into my sparring more and that seems to have improved things significantly. I'm quite good at those, but I know I need to work on my overall control and blocking. Learning three new kata in one go is not the normal way of things and I've spent a lot of time being cross with myself over kata and kihon (basics). I do think I've neglected kumite in my head at least and aside from 6th kyu kata, I want to focus on sparring in the new year so I can go to tournament.

We had the extraordinarily exciting opportunity to train with Shinji Nagaki Sensei - a world champion and 5th dan black belt! Eldest and I had a wonderful time taking an absolute master class in the basics (Youngest is a bit too young for this sort of thing right now, sadly, but at just 4y 4mo she is working her little butt off and she'll probably join us for seminars next year) and I felt a whole lot better about heian nidan in particular afterwards.

All three of us graded on 29th Nov.  Eldest and I are now green/6th kyu and Youngest impressed everyone with her concentration (over two hours of focus is a big ask when you're four!) and of course brought her orange belt/9th kyu home. I found it particularly hard - full of a cold, something feeling badly wrong and painful in my hip and being convinced I'd failed halfway through did not help, but like the Bears, the Tigers are brilliant support and I got past the pain. Definitely earned this one. Physio visit impending.


the reason i pick this is because this quote is true. the miles just don't go away;they just wait for us to run them.
Yeah...didn't do any of that stuff. To be honest I just didn't feel like it, then I didn't want to break anything before grading, and now my legs just feel rotten - everything's tight everywhere and I need to figure out what the cause is. Hence physio. I'm getting an awful lot of cramp whilst pool swimming and it was a real problem at grading - at one point I was stretched out in the box splits and two toes on my left foot were pointing at the ceiling all by themselves. I don't know if it's the cold or what but it needs dealing with. And when it's dealt with? Well. I have my target race picked out. It's not going away any time soon and it'll be there next year if it takes me that long to sort this out.


Yoga: I have an entire post about that coming up later. I can tell you're excited.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

So...this happened.


I seem to have been adopted! I'm still a little bemused and bowled over even a week or so later, partly by the sheer enormity of the digital hug that is Team Bear, and partly from an unsubtle dose of imposter syndrome. Patrick summed it up really well recently in this piece for H2OpenAm I A Proper Swimmer?. I think it's a feeling most people run into from time to time so I'm trying not to take it too seriously. Debates about the definition of "ultraswimmer" aside*, crossing Coniston has put me in a fairly small group of distance-capable swimmers, and I'm still getting my head around the reaction of people who don't swim a great deal. It still doesn't seem that far to me when I hang out with Windermere soloists and Channellists at USWIM.

Anyway, I suddenly have a zillion new and awesome people to follow on Twitter, lots of interesting conversations to have, enormous amounts of cheerleading and Kermit flailing to do, cake recipes to swap, and hopefully folks to duck drown throw into taunt bribe with cake introduce to open water. I still think it's unlikely I'll ever do a tri - the hills and narrow roads where I live are really quite intimidating for a newbie cyclist - but I'm content to be a long-distance swimmer, amateur runner and triathlon groupie! We (see, it's the royal we, now, cos we are Team Bear) will have some participants in IronManUK in Bolton next year, so I will almost certainly be hopping over the hill to provide screaming and cake. I'm definitely talented at that bit. My kids are even talking about doing the IronKids race and asking for Team Bear "Cub Strip". All very exciting.

Speaking of being in a small minority, this also happened:

Big thank you to Carl at @hypehairdarwen for the four hours of patience it takes to put that lot in!

This is the third time I've had mermaid greens put in, this time with some blues, and I'm as delighted as ever. The green is particularly long-lasting in my hair despite - or perhaps because of - the chlorine. You very rarely see greens and it does turn a few heads, but I guess the school run folks are used to my odd taste by now. There were many admiring noises at Salford Quays on Saturday, which was fun. So sad to be near the end of the season, although there are super-amazing Winter sessions to look forward to - including a Victorian themed dip in December for which I'm making a costume (or three, depending on how easy it is and how big the bribes are) modelled after an 1880s style outfit with bloomers and all. When I start making it I'll put some progress pics on my other blog Sea and Wood. I appear to have broken all the photos on there, bear with me.

This week(ish) I have:

- Brought my Aspire Challenge total up to 7.3 miles; a combination of working on my technique and bobbling about at Quays with friends - I have a rotten neckache from all the head-up breaststroke but it's been so worth it to just play in the water with no training pressure.

- Three sessions of karate in which I have my kicking legs back! I fell off the pontoon at Quays about five weeks ago and massively bruised my left leg to the point that Coniston was in doubt for a bit. I haven't been able to spar properly in a month or so, which has sucked in terms of fun, but I think it's made me more aware of how I use my punches and how much I depend on that left leg. All very educational.

- Been out for a run twice more, trying to balance the combination of disappointment that I'm not amazing right out of the box with surprise and pleasure that actually, I can run a mile without stopping and nearly two if I take a wee break for the vicious humpbacked bridge in the middle.

- Re-committed to a regular yoga practice. I did my very own little Julyathon and practiced every day, but it wasn't so easy to do with the kids off all Summer. Now I can go back to it, but I'm not going to beat myself up if I have a day off here and there. I would really, really rate YogaGlo for a home practice. For me it's well worth the subscription fee - much as I miss Jane's classes I now have access to lots of fantastic Yin-style classes by Felicia Tomasko which have undone a lot of my troubles. I also love David Harsharda Wagner's meditation classes.

So yeah...been a pretty darn good week for sports!

* I think it means the same as for running, ie anything further than marathon distance, which for swimmers is 6 mi/10k and that's the yardstick I judge myself by - but I also think that sea swims like EC, Triple Crown, Ocean's Seven etc deserve a special category of their own because the degree of difficulty is so much higher. Certain members of Team Bear loudly argue that the definition is "a bloody long way so shut up", and I'm going to leave it at that!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Don't Stop Me Now

Yes, yes, Queen is on my MP3 player.

I'm going to run Great North Run one day.

It might not be next year. I don't know. A half-marathon run on top of a marathon swim and a whole bunch of karate might be too much, and I might not even get a place next year anyway. But it might not be too much. And I might be dead slow, and I might come in last. I don't care. I can swim more than five miles! I can do ANYTHING. I can run for ten minutes without stopping even after a break of eight months. I can definitely do something with that, yes?

Ok, I know this is post-event high still. On Tuesday I went for my supposed "recovery swim" and put the first 1.5 miles on my Aspire challenge. On Wednesday, even though my arms went like noodles at the end of class, I got my green tip at karate. Check it out:

Quick digression: the last time I was writing regularly I wasn't far off taking my 8th kyu grading; since then I've also taken my 7th kyu (as shown by the orange belt, which is the old combined Goju/Shotokan syllabus - we're now a JKS England affiliate so everything has changed and we're all working doubly hard to get our heads round the new stuff before grading again!). 6th kyu grading is now on the horizon for me and Eldest, and Youngest joined us two months ago on her 4th birthday; she'll be going for her 9th kyu as well. I also competed in the club tournament (taking silvers for both kata and kumite in my age & grade group, and a bloody nose into the bargain), and attended a really fantastic seminar on grappling techniques. I fall more in love with the discipline at every class.

Autumn at the Quays

Ok, back to the programme. I had a lovely bobble about at Salford on Saturday introducing a friend to the joys - and her first time out in open water, she went skins at 17oC! So brilliant. Absolutely perfect weather, wonderful company and another 800m on my Aspire total, so two miles altogether (or 7.25 if you count Coniston, which I'm not sure whether I'm doing or not yet). Today I ran just short of a mile, having gone out to see if I could still run for ten minutes after all this time. Turns out I can - and I have better fitness, more experience and a whole lot of support to draw on. So I just need to do that fourteen times one after the other, right?

Monday, 8 September 2014

100kms to Coniston

Who on earth is that? 
To be honest, I'm not sure... 

So, yes, hello, long time no see. Er, I have still been training, just not writing about it out of sheer laziness, really (I'll update the karate grades and medals another time!). And that picture is part of the proof - that's me (apparently - thank you to Marylyn for the snap) ready to swim the 5.25 miles/8km that is Coniston Water on Saturday morning. And I did it!

According to the Year-Long Swim Challenge on Fitocracy I've done 102km altogether this year - post title being a hat-tip to the lovely Patrick of 1000kms to Windermere, who virtually saved my swim by writing about his last Windermere crossing! I have a sneaking suspicion that's not enough training to have done it well - I have been lazy, there's no two ways about that, and I should be quicker - but it turned out to be good enough to get me all the way across without injury or death. Huzzah!

Thank you

Before I write about the swim I have the Oscar-acceptance speech thing to do - first and foremost thank you to USWIM for providing such great facilities and coaching; and the opportunity to meet other nutters, and to Chillswim for organising a fantastic event. Thank you to Marylyn, Ursula, Sarah and Hazel for being such inspirations, setting wonderful examples of just how much you can do if you try, and always being there for a hug and a laugh. Thank you to Patrick and Alex and Bear for cheering, advice and staunch support, and always having a kind word even amidst their own challenges. All of my love, cake and penguins to Rach, who I suspect will never let me quit - there are not enough words to say how much your support means. Everything I've written and erased is inadequate. To all of my non-swimming friends who let me ramble and still sweetly cheer me on even when I must be as boring as hell. And of course my amazing husband Andrew and our daughters for not only putting up with all of this but for walking me through the tough bits and sticking to their own training. 

The Swim

So, the swim itself. I singularly failed to organise the weekend well and I had to get myself up, alone, at 4.30am to drive to the Lakes. It clashed with Great North Run, which Andrew was doing with his family for the second time, and he'd taken the kids up to Newcastle on Friday. So I had no-one to boot me out of bed, but I was awake five minutes before the first of three alarms went off. The cat clearly thought I was insane to leave the warm comfy bed, but after weeks of insomnia and nightmares about hypothermia, I'd actually slept well and fairly bounced out to the car. The drive was quiet and the sun rose just as I crossed into the Lakes, gifting me with breathtaking views of low-hanging cloud over mountains, and eventually Coniston itself, flat as glass and smooth as steel. What a relief that was: I don't do well with wind-chill and I was very glad that wasn't going to be a factor.

Chillswim's organisation was phenomenal. I was a little early for registration and managed to see not only Rach, who was just leaving to crew on feed station 3, but Sarah at reception too. I had time to write my mantras on my arms (sthira sukham asanam: steady and sweet posture in Sanskrit, from the yoga sutras and panta rei: everything flows in Greek, a soundbite summary of the philosophies of Heraclitus - yes, I know, poncy but it works :P). Then I stuffed myself with flapjack and apples, which is the only thing I've found that I can hold down at that time of the morning, and coffee. Chatting with other swimmers is always easy, so I idled my way around the cafe, comparing distances, gloating about the perfect weather, soothing pre-event collywobbles, high-fiving other skins swimmers, helping with tow-floats and so on. Then Marylyn, who was in the wave behind me but on my shuttle bus, arrived and that was lovely - a bit of "Salford home" in a strange place. Transfer to the start was smooth and Marylyn made sure I didn't do anything stupid like leave my glasses on! 

Having read Patrick's sweary Windermere blog and a near-disasterous report from H2Open about hypothermia/hypoglycemia, I resolved to stop at every feed station to have a drink at least, and get the morale boost that comes from knowing there are people out there looking out for you. In addition I shoved two Torq gels under my cap and gave one to Marylyn, so I felt quite confident. The water was a delightful 17.3oC - stony and then very squelchy underfoot to get in, but absolutely no cold shock. Most of the swimmers in their cosy wetsuits zipped off fairly quickly and I had a great view of all the orange tow-floats and caps bobbling along ahead of me. Good job, because I couldn't see the first mile marker at all!

My plan for the swim was this:

  • First mile and a half: this is going to be horrible and my brain will play tricks on me. Can handle it. Got my mental music. Yes, it is stupid but I'm Not Gonna Talk About Doubts And Confusion.
  • 1.5-2.5miles: this will be ok, I will have rhythm and music and everything eases up at this point
  • 2.5-3.5miles: still ok, getting hungry and possibly tired but RACH WILL BE THERE, YAY!!
  • 3.5-4.5miles: possibly hurting but it's only a mile, get on with it
  • 4.5-5.25miles: I have no idea but I AM NOT STOPPING UNLESS I'M DYING

 First Section

I'm afraid I behaved like an absolute tourist for the first mile and a half. It was just. so. gorgeous. The sun came out and the water was completely clear - floating weed, yes, but nothing I haven't encountered before. Every so often there would be a patch of perfectly clear water with nothing but a single, turning autumn leaf below me. If I was any good at haiku I'd have written dozens that day. Surprisingly my internal Bad Voice was completely silenced by all this and I made the first mile marker at a reasonable 41 mins. That was ok, I knew I'd not trained enough lately due a ridiculous injury that left me bruised from knee to foot and it was twanging away, so I wasn't expecting to drop much below 40mins at any point. I had some difficulties navigating the island section and dropped back a little to allow another swimmer to "drive" because I couldn't see clearly. Like a doofus I'd forgotten to rinse my goggles out before setting off and my Secret Special AntiFog Solution (oh, alright, it's just baby shampoo) had got into my eye. It cleared, but it was easier to follow a tow float than try to sight through the channel.

I was towards the back of the wave, where I'd planned to be, and it was nice - I could recognise three or four other swimmers by stroke and suit and we all came into the first feed station together. 

Torq energy drinks are horrible.

"Onwards!" I shouted to my back-of-wave compatriots, and off we went in pursuit of mile 2. I didn't hit my watch for the split as I went past the marker but I remember calculating that I'd slowed a little, which I put down to stopping to clear my goggles and the feed station. At the 2.5 mile station I grabbed a handful of jelly babies and crammed them ALL into my mouth at once like a starving toddler. I felt good, not too hungry, and just wanted to crack on as the three mile marker looked closer than I'd expected.


The Horrible Bit

Three miles went by uneventfully, accompanied by a delighfully bright green-and-purple kayaker, which was very reassuring. Even being the last of our wave, we began to catch the slowest of the green-hat wave who'd gone out before us (the 50+min group). I think the guys who go out in skins in this group are actually the bravest of us all, not the speedy folks - I know my pace is just enough to keep me warm; I'm not sure I could handle being in the water for five hours at less than that. 

Like an idiot I'd forgotten the wave order, though, and I convinced myself that not only were those green hats the wave behind me catching up, but that the kayakers were annoyed and harrying on the end of my wave. Worse still, I couldn't see the 3.5mile feed station marker ANYWHERE and as tiredness was beginning to kick in, my left arm was dropping, steering me hard to the right and into the shore. I started to feel quite anxious; the lake was getting very very deep just here. I know I can see to 6m deep at the bottom of Salford Quays when it's clear; now I was swimming over weeds that went down in straight lines to far, far deeper than that. It was like a prehistoric jungle. In fact it was so deep it gave me vertigo a couple of times, a very unpleasant feeling on top of the anxiety of not seeing the marker, guilt at being so goddamn slow and the fatigue starting in my left shoulder. This is where I really needed my mantras and the promise of food and a smile from Rach. Trying to "find the sweetness", as yoga teacher Felicia Tomasko says, in every stroke was really hard but eventually we started to round the shoreline and there was the buoy. Bloody miles away still. But there was a large group of orange hats clustered about it and a few yellows starting to zip past, so I just aimed for that lot and hoped.

 The view from boat 3.5. I am waaaay back behind that lot, probably.

Even from seemingly miles away I could see Rach hanging over the side of the boat doling out bananas and I kicked hard at that point (my legs are usually pretty lazy, but at least the bruised one wasn't hurting anymore!). This may have been a mistake as it was a long stop - I hate bananas so I had to pull one of the Torq gels out of my cap and foist my rubbish onto the boat. It went down like heaven and I got some water too. This was at about 2hrs 37 if I remember rightly, already over my previous maximum swimming time, cold exposure and all on my furthest distance. I have no idea what Rach said at all, or what I said, but it helped enormously. I do remember she said she was proud of me, which completely mended my head. I tend to babble and talk claptrap at stressful times (apparently when my eldest was in NICU I would just talk and talk and talk without pausing for breath). Being able to confess how scary that last bit was settled me right down. I could feel my legs starting to cramp up, though, which was unexpected but I'd been secretly concerned about happening. I never cramp outdoors usually, only from banging my overly-tight feet off pool walls, and it was all up my feet and calves and thighs. I put on a brave face and swam away, figuring that if I couldn't work it off fast at least I was close to somewhere I could be pulled out.

Miraculously the cramp disappeared as quickly as it had come on and I was in good spirits as I hit the four mile marker. From there you can see what looks like the end of the lake - it wasn't, the marina and busy boats completely fooled me! but even though I was being overtaken by virtually everyone, I didn't care - we were all on the home stretch now and I had James' Sit Down in my head, bouncing me along.

The weeds were difficult again, but I could see the last feed station up ahead. I was feeling pretty good in the brainpan until about 400m from the boat, when my lips started to tingle like mad. Uh-oh. I knew that sensation - I'd had it once before in training, when I'd done 4.5km on no breakfast - and I knew my blood sugar must be dropping fast. I would be ok, I promised myself - not far to go and I had another gel on me regardless. I was thinking clearly, I wasn't cold, there was a kayaker very close by. I thanked Patrick in my head again for his sweary post. I swam in, sucked down a gel like a hoover and the tingling vanished within seconds. Just three-quarters of a mile to go. I could now see the 5-mile marker and beyond it, the finish proper.

The weeds got really rough here, with kayakers helping us to keep out of the worst of it. I had to do this weird modified stroke for a bit to get through it,  scooping it away from my face, and that dragged me rightwards even more - I must have looked like a boat with a broken rudder. Every so often I'd see how far off I was and shout BLOODY HELL!!! under the water. It cleared briefly at five miles and I hit the marker at exactly four hours.


This is Team Bear Tri's motto and boy, did I need it for the last quarter of a mile. It took me 14 minutes to do it and every single one of them hurt. The weeds were thick and horrible and I was swearing like a trooper because I could NOT make myself go straight. The prior injuries I'd expected to be sore were completely absent - but I had a whole new catalogue of pain to contend with and the bloody weed was so distracting. But after aeons and ice ages and galaxies forming and dying, I could hear the crowd clapping even through my earplugs, and to my complete surprise, I landed and stood up on my own two feet without falling down. No wobbles, no shakes, no shivering and completely stable, if sore. So I had suffered and NOT surrendered - and got away with it.

I virtually danced past the crowd, got my medal, slurped down some vile, lukewarm blackcurrant drink and found my bag. And my glasses! Got changed, ran into Marylyn who came in just after me, the speedy thing! Got a hug from Hazel (from a Channel soloist I can't say how much that means!) and texted Rach with my time. Wonderfully she was already back at the school and getting coffee, so we hopped on the first bus we could and settled in to eat as much cake as humanly possible. I finally managed to meet Claire, who I've known online for years, and was rather awed to be at the same table as Dan Abel, who'd done the lot in just over two hours on no feeds at all. Gobsmacking. Completely missed the awards ceremony, forgot to put my wristband in the prize draw bucket, and spent several hours basking in the joy of having completed the biggest swim of my life with my friends all around me. I was a bit itchy from the weeds but SuperRach fed me an antihistamine and all was well.

Then I drove to Newcastle. Whereupon I fell through the door, kissed my loved ones, got a shower, ate more cake and slept like a rock until the sounds of four runners getting ready for Great North Run finally woke me up.

Wood boys ready to rock the Great North Run. Perhaps I'll join them one day!

They all did really well in hot, crowded conditions, with the first back coming in at 2hrs01 and the last of them at 2hrs20, so we have had an awful lot to be proud of this weekend. And the girls put up with it all beautifully, despite being late to bed and starting school the next day. One day soon I'm sure it'll be us trekking around their sporting events!

Apparently this is how you do a "busy weekend" in our house.

I'm still processing a lot of it, but at the moment I'm recovering well - there are no obvious injuries. I'll see for sure when I go for a pootle about in the pool tomorrow. I'm starting the Aspire Challenge this week to keep me honest through Autumn, so I have 22 miles of training plans to get through and I have to pick up my speed significantly (and also fix that broken rudder). But at this point? Yes, I may well be booking again - and currently I'm talking about taking on a 6-mile/10km next year, possibly Bala or Buttermere, which is pretty much the point where you can start to call yourself a marathon swimmer (6 mile swim being equivalent to a runner's marathon). Then, who knows. 

The length of Windermere twinkles in the far, far, VERY far distance...

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

When The Stars Align

Often the Devil farts in my face, to quote Blackadder, as it did at the beginning of the year. But sometimes the stars align and you get what you've been looking for. I've always wanted to learn the slow form of Tai Chi to go alongside martial arts. We even took a few lessons when we lived in Manchester but sadly the instructor had a very heavy accent which made things difficult. I'd really love to learn the full practice with swords and everything, actually, but the opportunity isn't there right now. I've bought videos, always kept an ear out for classes, but I guess I've never been at a point in my life where I could make room for it. Practicing both yoga and karate has drawn me back into a regular meditation practice, which is really helping in the off-season for OW. I have a vile temper (just ask the kids where they get it from), but these sports and habits are helping to get back on top of it. By the time I get back to doing 4km outdoors every week I should be the most laid-back person on the planet ;-)

This morning I was walking Youngest to preschool when I spotted, in the freezing wind and incoming rain, a man practicing Tai Chi at Ashleigh Barrow (what a wonderful place to practice!). When I got home I opened an email from Amazon reminding me I'd been looking at DVDs a few weeks ago - I hadn't made a decision because the reviews were so mixed. Shrugging - I knew neither of the classes available locally were at times I could get to - I laid out my mat and pulled up a yoga programme I'd had for ten years. I didn't like it half so much as classes, which surprised me because I'd always found it reliable. It was too fast, if you can believe that; it felt like there was no time to get into the postures fully and no sense of progression. Jane's classes have wonderful flow and everything feels connected, not just isolated postures that are somehow "good for trimming the waist". Perhaps that's why I never really persisted before. I did half an hour, anyway and then turned it off, ready to lie down for savasana, when I suddenly spotted a Tai Chi DVD in my collection. I don't even remember getting it. But when you get the stars clicking into place like that, you have to give it a go, don't you! It was lovely. There's so much I recognise from karate and yoga that it all makes sense now. I can feel where my balance should be, and although the presenter has a much easier to understand voice and style of teaching, I can still hear that original teacher saying "chi up...chi down" as I practice. So I look forward to learning a new skill!

In other news karate is going fine - the blocks in my kata are still  muddled but I've time to fix that yet. Yoga is lovely but I am troubled by something Jane said last week - she came to help whilst I was working on a leg raised posture and it seems I was hyperextending my knee. So I need a lot more clarification on when I'm supposed to lock my legs out and what it feels like to not do that. It is painful and I need to be sure I'm not making a huge mistake when doing, say, box splits at karate. Youngest is loving Yogabugs still but I'm not sure where to go with her from there; there aren't any classes for kids here that I know of.

I've been skiving on swimming. I just can't face the public pool at the moment and USWIM was cancelled last week, so it's been nearly a fortnight. Still, back in the saddle on Sunday with any luck. Running can sod off. It's way too cold and wet!

Friday, 31 January 2014

Official End of Janathon

A good yoga practice this morning; some fascinating work with straps and bricks, moving towards dhanurasana or bow pose. This is a back bend and, hard as they are, I do love these sequences. I carry a lot of tightness and stress in my lower back, which eventually locks up enough to cause twisting in my hips and sometimes sciatica. Back bends go quite a long way towards releasing that - it seems counterintuitive but it seems to loosen everything up.

So, pretty much everyone who's made it this far is celebrating the end of Janathon today! Congrats to everyone who took part, especially those hardcore people who ran every day. Phew. Technically I still have a few days to go because I started late due to illness, but I won't be blogging every day. You can assume I'll go to karate, USWIM Masters and yoga over the next three days as usual! I'll probably try and do a weekly summary or something for my own records and if anyone stays around to read then...thank you :)

So what have I learned from Janathon?

This. Absolutely this. 

* We stepped up karate just before Christmas as we knew grading was impending, and that's been fantastic - Wednesday class has a different character (and characters!) from Saturday and although we see about half the same people at each class, there's always something new to learn. I feel like I've made big strides, particularly with kihon kata, but I know I still have a lot to do before grading. Blocks, footwork and kumite all need work. (7hrs)

* I couldn't stay away from twice-weekly yoga, either. The gains are coming a little slower now but mentally I'm more grounded and mindful than I've ever been. Again, still a very long path ahead of me, but I can feel I'm getting fractionally deeper into the poses each time; there's more control and more strength. Plus I understand a lot more about how anatomy works and specifically, how my anatomy works. (7hrs)

* Swimming should have taken up more hours but I've spent a lot of this month working on my form, with shorter sessions. And, well, I was not feeling great about sharing a busy public pool. I think I've improved a lot but the proof will be in the follow-up video analysis in March. Sadly all our Polar sessions have been cancelled, so unless I'm wildly lucky I won't clock any open water miles til April. This gives me a major sad. (7hrs 20mins)

* I dislike running. Or rather, I dislike running in the cold, the wet, and when I'm out of condition. I need to persist with it within reason, though, because it will build stamina. Something like that, anyway. I think I need to put my money down on an event or I won't be bothered to keep going out. (30mins or so)

* My overall fitness is on the up, without a doubt. My weight has started to go down - I have a feeling there won't be much change this week as I have been a little naughty, but I'm 4lbs down from Christmas and finding my calorie count fairly easy to stick to. 

Overall? I'm on the right track. I need to be a bit more organised and less lazy on the self-driven stuff like pull-ups and getting off my arse to swim and run by myself. So, a big thanks to the Janathon community and to Cathy for organising. I'm really pleased to have got through it and I may even do Juneathon - perhaps I'll be better at getting out for a run when it's not so cold!

Oh, and February? 

Bring it on. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014


Oh yeah. I ain't going out in that icy wind, sorry. Definitely a fair weather runner, I'm afraid. So, just a quick plank before bed to keep the spirit of Janathon alive.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


When I put my gi on tonight I suddenly noticed that I could tie the side-tapes up with no gaps. When I first started wearing it at the end of September I thought I'd made a terrible, god-awful mistake in ordering the size I did, and it was honestly embarrassing (not that I told anyone that). The pants were too tight round the waistband (as ever; I am an exceptionally stubborn apple-shape), the jacket gaped open over what I mentally refer to as either "my thundering great sports bra" or "my great white breastplate of doom". The gi was so stiff and uncomfortable - and let's not think too hard about the fact that I couldn't loop the belt twice around my waist and fasten it properly. Eldest's gi had already become soft and pliable from six months of washing, though, so I sucked in the flab and hoped mine would relax too.

I never for one moment contemplated the idea that I might shrink to fit because I know taking that mental highway does me no good. I don't have an eating disorder but my thinking about eating can become disordered, if you see what I mean. Emotional (i.e. "had a bad day, stuff face") and defiant eating (as in "how dare you tell me I can't have cake - I'm having TWO slices!") are crutches I'm working hard to be rid of. So that's why a properly-fitting gi took me by surprise tonight - I've achieved it without falling down any mental rabbit holes. I know I've lost about 4lbs over my 26 days of Janathon so far, but I don't put a lot of stock in scales. I think I can be pretty pleased, though and hope to keep it up.

There was a lot to be proud of in class tonight too. Sensei had done a demo at one of the local schools last week  - not Eldest's, but a demo is how she got started. No less than fourteen new under-tens and one as young as four showed up tonight - mostly boys but a girl here and there too; the class expanded by a third! The new kids were really well-behaved - admittedly most of them had parents sitting around the edge of the dojo, but still, it's easy to get over-excited when you're having fun and it's all new. All of the regulars were properly on their mettle tonight too - good loud responses, no slacking on the warm-ups, and all of us performing our kata together in front of an audience of new kids and parents was absolutely brilliant. We were AWESOME, I tell you. My punches felt great and my kata felt like it flowed really nicely. Sensei even did a black belt kata for us, which was a rare thing to see.

Our final bow, otagai ni rei, to the whole class felt overwhelming to me: fierce and proud of all of us. It's no wonder our club logo is a tiger.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


I'm sorry, Janathon. It's all I could handle today. I'll make up for it at karate tomorrow.

If Janathon has taught me anything, though, it's that I'm not fit enough, mentally or physically, to train daily with no rest periods. I will get there - I haven't done too badly to survive this far - but I don't get enough sleep or calories to fuel it at the moment.

In the meantime please enjoy this lovely interview with one of my swimming heroes, Hazel Killingbeck. :D

Monday, 27 January 2014

Hanumanasana: The Leap of Faith

So this is what we were working towards today

Lovely photo from - great resource!


I can't even straighten my legs properly, the hamstrings and backs of my knees are too tight. Locking them out whilst standing is out of the question. Hanumanasana or "monkey pose" is so far out of my league right now that it's not funny. I mean, I know yoga is progressive but I'm not going to get anywhere near that for a long time yet. It puts my frustration with the box splits into perspective, though - at least I'm getting somewhere with that!

Hanumanasana is called "monkey pose" not because you look like a monkey, but because it mimics the Hindu god Hanuman, who once took a giant leap from the southern tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka to rescue Sita. So it's to do with taking a leap of faith. It is an advanced posture, so none of us were even remotely close to it, but all the postures working up to the full split are very useful for someone like me, since my major aim with yoga is to unlock these dratted hamstrings of mine. And I guess you gotta have faith that you'll get there one day. It was testing and actually kind of emotional.

In other news, Jane had very kindly sorted out some postures for me to strengthen and improve the flexibility in the sides of my hips, so I need to commit to daily practice of those so that I can do kicks at karate without worrying my entire leg is going to flick out of the joint. Yay?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

How Do I Sums?

Thank you to my dear husband for that post title tonight (who is well 'ard and ran 4 miles in hail this morning). The above is a good reason I avoid being lane leader - I really hate all the counting and mental maths! Happily the coach was on the ball tonight and keeping us in touch. He really does need to learn to write bigger.

A nice little 3.8km at USWIM Masters tonight - that's 2.4 miles or an Ironman distance,152 laps of a 25m pool. Lots of drills and some tough build sets - I really don't like those as my swimming speeds are basically "go" and "go a little bit faster". I don't have "easy", "moderate", "fast" and "very fast", which is what the coach was trying to get out of us. I had a moment through the first of those sets (after almost a mile of warm-up, drills, etc - THAT'S when we're expected to sprint?!) where I had a real "What the **** am I doing? I HATE swimming!" moment. Thankfully it passed very quickly and I settled back in. The upper lanes were quite busy so I stayed in the "not as fast" lane, as Dave diplomatically puts it, but I was in position 2 of 9 and eating the lane leader's bubbles the whole time. That was a good feeling; I know I couldn't keep up with the lady who was leading the last time I swam with her. I think my stroke is getting stronger...long way to go, though. I still feel terribly slow to myself, but perhaps I'm getting more efficient.

Looking forward to yoga for a good stretch tomorrow!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Eat. Sleep. Train. Repeat.

Pretty much. Getting to the last week or so of Janathon now...I can't quite believe it's already been a week since I was last in the pool at Aquatics. This week has flown by with lots of ups and downs, both work and kid-related, and actually I'm really glad to have training as a constant in my life. Keeps me on an even keel when everything else around me is getting a bit stressy.

Karate was fun, as ever, even though I felt pretty lacklustre today. I got some good advice from a helpful Purple belt (I really need to work on my stances, that dodgy hip is causing me to leave myself too open), and worked with a new starter on her kata (she's doing better than I did!). But it was busy and noisy, and I missed one of our sempais. And I'm irritated that my box splits are getting better so slowly - the backs of my knees are just dreadfully tight still. Work in progress, I guess.

On the other hand I felt much better in my contacts today - I have yet another new combination to try on Wednesday; I'm really hoping this is the last time now because I'm sick of going into town every week. It's getting that I'm losing weight (and my goodness, it's giving me a weird shape which I don't like at all - will just have to persist til it all goes!) it's much easier to find clothes I like. I'm being strictly one-in-one-out at the moment, but I gave my wardrobe a thorough sorting when I got in and there's no more leeway. No more cute dresses til Summer at least. I ditched four or five dresses which were two sizes too big for me, and put out a call for anyone who wants maternity clothes, too. That feels like a big step - I'm making myself a promise that I'm never going back to being as unfit as I was when I fitted into those clothes. There is no leeway here, no option to dress in something looser because I've had a few bad days and eaten myself silly. Down with this sort of thing.

Friday, 24 January 2014


A lovely flowing practice today; pity I was so unfocused. We're worrying about Youngest at the moment as she appears to have some joint problems which could be hypermobility. Usually I'm pretty good at doing the research, then switching off and just dealing with these things as they come up (she has a GP appt next week) because I simply don't believe in worrying at something you can't fix, but I couldn't. It's understandable, if frustrating; we haven't had any major (hell, even minor) health issues to worry about since Eldest gave us a huge scare in NICU eight years ago. If we catch it early enough it shouldn't be limiting for her, though, and exercise is positively encouraged.. It was difficult to come out of savasana this time. I think my brain was relieved to shut up for a while! I hate being unfocused, it feels disrespectful to my teacher and to my practice.

On the bright side Youngest has fallen in love with our Yogabugs DVD, and does what she can manage and feels like doing. It helps that it's the "Under The Sea" version; she's a huge Octonauts fan.

I asked Jane for some help with hip strengthening exercises and she thinks she can help. That's one less thing to fret about, anyway!

Thursday, 23 January 2014


Nah. Not that kind of grit. I got over my "it's so cooooooooold" whining eventually, goaded by a bunch of Janathoners on Twitter, and got my butt outside in extra layers and a Buff. I had to duck the gritting lorry twice in the space of the mile. The hail that came down at 6pm, when I was rushing two chilly little girls home from swimming, had frozen in clumps along the pavement. That's enough to scare me out of any plans I might have had for increasing the distance tonight. I hate ice - I was pregnant with Youngest last time we had a really bad winter and the walk to school was terrifying. I'd rather have skipped the run and failed Janathon if it'd been any worse; I won't risk injury. I've seen the torture injured friends have been through when they can't get in the water...the thought of not being able to get in the dojo, having to miss Polar or stay off the mat gives me the shudders.

On the bright side I ran the whole way and that was a route I couldn't complete last year - the humpback railway bridge would get me every time. So either I'm fitter or more stubborn now, who knows.

Had a practice of my side-kicks today; both hips make a really ugly clunking noise each time. It is a bit of a worry.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Yellow Tip

First step on a long road, hopefully!

So yes, that's an offiical "level up" - or something like half a level up, at any rate. I knew it would come eventually because I know when grading is scheduled, but letting go of the expectation and attachment to "doing well" has been a hard piece of work for me to get through. It genuinely took me by surprise tonight and so it's all the sweeter.

In terms of the lesson we focused a lot on blocks and punches, which I've definitely improved on from last time. I really enjoy these sessions because they tap directly into my preference for watch-and-learn work, rather than trying to pick it up on the fly as it's done. I have lots more to do on kicking, not least the need for an emergency conference with Jane at yoga on Friday! Sensei had us do the kicks very slowly tonight, holding the positions and maintaining balance for a minute at least. My balance is pretty good already and I was delighted that Jane had, yet again (I think she's psychic!), done work on the exact thing I needed to know earlier in the week. She too had had the class holding poses, focusing on breathing, the "soft gaze", and the ability to observe and let go of thoughts which undermine you. What I need from her now is to help me figure out how I can improve my hip rotation outwards - it looks like side kicks are going to be a problem, particularly on the right, because I could not hold my leg out in that rotation for more than a few seconds without pain. I know the interior muscles are slacker than average - which is why I can do butterfly splits with my knees on the floor without trying - so it would suggest the opposing muscles are too tight. The hamstrings are almost certainly playing in to that too so I need to get serious about stretching those every day.

If she doesn't have any bright ideas, I have a physio appointment coming up in a couple of weeks, and I could always go back to the sports physio in Bolton. I have to say, it's really nice to be understanding my own anatomy at last - I wish I'd known this stuff when I was much younger, rather than going through many, many years of pain and avoiding even the simplest of exercise.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Youngest is having one of those "I'M REALLY REALLY THREE!!!" patches at the moment. The yelling started because she doesn't like the taste of the toothpaste we had to change to recently (gee, thanks for screwing my domestic harmony every morning, Aquafresh), and continued pretty much all day with a brief respite for preschool and Octonauts. Eldest is the in fragile pre-teen zone and has my quick temper to boot, so parts of the day were rather difficult.

By the time the two of them were tucked up in bed I was way too frazzled to deal with the adult version in the pool. I am really, really off public swim sessions at the moment...I've rapidly got used to swimming with a respectful and aware Masters group who get the hell out of each others' way when necessary. My local pool has improved lately, it must be said, but training alone held absolutely no appeal. My shoulders felt weird anyway and I'm feeling pretty fatigued - bear in mind I'm doing all this at a calorie deficit (3lbs down so far and  you can see where it's gone from!). So I took a long bath and did some pull-ups, and that was me for Tuesday night. I figure if you can get away with a single plank, pull-ups definitely qualify for Janathon.

Karate tomorrow; hoping I'll feel a bit more energetic by then.

When You Get There

I've been really busy working on other projects tonight - it's got horribly late without my realising, so I will have to skip the whole pull-ups thing and save them for after tomorrow's swim. Lovely.

Yoga today was again challenging with some poses which were really a lot harder than they usually are. I'm not sure why, something feels off down my right side - still working on that hip recovery, I suspect. I enjoyed it, even so, and there was some great work on the meditative aspects of overruling the body and mind's chatter. Overruling is the wrong word, I think - just letting the chatter float on by, which chimed with something I was reading in Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children last night. So lots to think about, rather than a physically demanding practice today.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Train Like A Slayer

Anyone who knows me will probably know I am a fan of the mighty Joss Whedon and most of his works (the earlier stuff, anyway. Not even looked at Avengers and so forth yet). It occurred to me half-way through a 2hr, 4km+ set at USWIM Masters tonight that if the zombie apocalypse ever breaks out in Venice (or the less glamorous but still beautiful Lake District), then hey, I am totally your girl for the job. That made me laugh for a whole 400m!

It was a tough set, one of the toughest I've been through, and yet...I survived. And not only survived, but got boosted up a lane; probably due to the late arrival of a batch of newbies, rather than any superior speed on my behalf, though. I was in place five of seven, but when your lane-leader is a 15yo Channel aspirant (who is both awesome and gracious), that's a position worth being proud of. In fact, after these extra coaching sessions I was even - sometimes - able to keep up with Neil, which would have been totally out of reach last year. If there are any Janathon visitors who like running stats and graphs you should definitely check out his blog. I'm quite partial to his training minutes pie charts, myself. I may even make one at the end of Janathon! My thanks to Neil for keeping me in touch with the sets (new coach needs to write bigger on the boards) and for the odd sneaky draft ;-)

So yes, I think there has been an improvement. It's by no means solid yet - as usual, I could feel my form slipping badly when sprinting or getting tired. That's probably quite normal, but the gift I have from Dave's analysis is that when I feel something going wrong, I have a checklist of things to be mindful about. Are my elbows high? Is my hand entry correct? Is my left arm crossing inwards? Is my rotation equal on both sides? Now that I know what the right thing is, I can try to bring myself back to it far more than I could before. Re-analysis is scheduled for early March, which should be interesting!

Yoga tomorrow. Aaaaaah.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Levelling Up

(I think that's a TKD pic but eh, it works)

Big day for Eldest (and for me as a parent, I guess) in the dojo this morning. We'd been sparring and the rotation eventually placed her in front of me. Neither of us go easy just because we're related - as it should be - and I blocked her punch as I would for anyone else. I must have caught a nerve on her inner elbow, unfortunately, because she immediately filled up with tears and accused me of hitting too hard. I knew she was a bit flaky because she was coming down with a cold, but we carried on for a few more exchanges until the tears really started to flow. Sensei spotted it straight away (I swear she has eyes everywhere, I don't know how she does it) and agreed that we should sit out for a bit and catch our breath.

We had a bit of a chat and a drink, and she explained she wasn't sure why she was so upset - it did hurt but she seemed surprised it had taken her so badly. Somehow I pulled a pep talk out of nowhere. I've been right where she is, feeling rotten and on the cusp of teenage hormones, crying for no real reason; and it seems that what I wanted at eight was also what she needed - proof and encouragement that she was strong and brave. We've talked about the quote above a few times this week, and I also reminded her of how difficult she'd found her 8th kyu grading. She cried through a lot of that as it was extremely noisy and unfamiliar, and that's always been something hard for her to cope with. But she sucked it up and I nearly burst with pride. Her courage, actually, is what put my own two feet in the dojo - how could I let "feeling silly" rule me when she could be so strong?

I pointed out that every single person in that dojo has been where she was today - feeling sore and awful and like they're the most rubbish karateka in the world. But every single person still there has worked through it and got better. And so had she, and so would she. Pain and fear will happen in grading and competition bouts regardless. It can be mastered, and she could do it - had already shown she could do it. And just like at grading, I watched her pull all the threads of her shattered composure back together and rebuild herself.

We both levelled up today, I think, regardless of what belts we're wearing. Karate is as much about the heart as the mind and body.

Before I spoiled her day, however, she managed to give one of the adults a good laugh - she was sparring with Simon, who's very tall and has an enormous wingspan. I find him hard work to spar with so quite how an eight year old was managing I don't know. Apparently he struck out for her head and said "Duck!". To which she, quick as anything, replied "Quack!"...and he dissolved into a fit of the giggles. That's one way to disarm your opponent!

In other news I left the dojo doing this in my head:

James Brown, I Got You (I Feel Good), 1965
(and wow, didn't Danny John-Jules model Red Dwarf's Cat on this guy!)

because I finally got my kata right :D No failed turns, but I spotted couple of glitches on the blocks and have my swimmer's swivelling hips to overcome, but it feels really good. I know where I'm going at last. Onwards!

Still no luck with the contact lenses. Went back for a retest this afternoon and I have a fourth set - one eye seems ok at -5.50 but they've had to order in a different strength for the other. I'm really tired of being blurry. If this lot doesn't work I may give in and buy a spare pair of glasses instead.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Ten Tigers

Well, I don't know about ten. But it did take me a certain amount of courage to get out there last night, and to make it to yoga this morning. My hip was agonising when I got up, and we overslept into the bargain, so there was much hobbling and grumping about (sorry, kids) first thing. I think I need to put a big "BREATHE!" sign over the bed or something.

Challenging practice this morning - not only was I working through the DOMS in my thighs and the dodgy hip but my shoulders felt quite frozen up and the twists were difficult. My hip seems lots better now, though - for a while there I was quite worried because we were doing a lot of hip openers. The usual places I can get to just felt too painful and so I used the blocks a lot at first and concentrated on breathing into the posture rather than getting there without trying like I usually can. Probably better for me, in the end, particularly since I was too busy thinking about how to get there without hurting myself to have any performance issues! But my Tree Pose (Vrksasana) felt really good - stretching in all the right places, no balance issues, nice and stable. I've always loved that one.

It's a program night so pull-ups, press-ups and planks later on. I think I am starting to make a little progress with the pull-ups - half the battle is working out how to do it. Looking forward to karate tomorrow - Sensei promised special attention to kata and kicks, which I know is an area I need to work on. And yet another review of my contact lenses in the afternoon - I've now tried three different kinds and they're still not doing the job for me. They really shouldn't be blurring so much and they feel gritty all the time they're in.


Not really, I just love this pic. I'm actually not doing too badly on the whole "no cake and sweeties" thing - still having little bits here and there and today I couldn't resist some extra Greek yoghurt and berries after tea, but I don't feel too badly about that! Keeping my calories more or less where they should be, anyway.

Anyway, I dragged myself out for a run - my self-motivated exercise has been the hardest to get to this week; it's much easier in a class or club setting. I find that really odd as I'm normally a fairly solitary and driven person. Perhaps it's just the "do it every day" of Janathon that's undermining my motivation. Or the horrendous squat DOMS from last night's karate. Ye gods, I'd forgotten how much I loathe squats. My hip is back to playing up as well, but at least I know what to do to fix that now. All hail physiotherapists.

It was an ok run, as these things go. Walk a mile up the 10% gradient hill, and run back down it. Nearly a minute faster this time, which is probably improved confidence rather than improved fitness at this stage. It was desperately painful at first but I found a stride about halfway down, got my breathing sorted out (yes - of course I was using my yoga breathing and counting paces in Japanese, how else do you run?) and by the time I was home I thought I could probably have handled another five minutes or more. So I'm going to dig out my C25K podcasts and start somewhere in the middle - if I can run for 14mins now I should be able to do 2x10mins and work up from there. It's just a case of fitting it all in; I should really be out twice a week if I'm going to improve. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


And so it goes. It was a massively tough warm-up session at karate tonight - many, many crunches (I don't do sit-ups - physio's orders), push-ups and so on, at least fifty of each and running too. Lots of sparring, which is hard on the joints as the venue is a church hall with an unsprung floor. It's much easier in the sports hall on a Saturday. Breath control was a big issue after such a brutal warm-up and I was glad we're working on that a lot at yoga at the moment as I was able to bring Jane's voice to mind - "Can you find that calm breath?" she asks us, and usually I can whilst holding a pose. It's a little more difficult mid-bout but I managed it a few times.

My kata was a lot better tonight and I got a verbal pat on the head for it from Sensei, which really helps. I didn't feel as mentally prepared for it as I should have done and a couple of the blocks caught me on the hop, but overall much improved - a real sense of knowing which way I needed to turn. Eldest's taikiyoko nidan is coming along nicely and she had a good go at seifa, one of the orange belt (7th kyu) katas, too. We practice a mixture of shotokan and goju; seifa is a goju kata. I'm afraid it makes me giggle terribly, though - it's a beautiful kata but when they shout seifa I hear the German seife. Which means "soap". Oops.

Pull-ups and all the other programs tonight. The planks are really starting to hurt - and show - now. I am trying to lose weight, sticking to about 1500-ish calories without eating back exercise cals excessively. I don't know if I am losing - probably too early to tell - but bits of me look like lumpy porridge rather than the smooth even podge I had before, and I go in and out in weird ways. I think this is supposed to be a good thing. I can at least see the shapes of muscle under there, anyway...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Terrible,Horrible, No-Good Bloody Awful Swim

Just to prove that everything isn't always sunshine and progress, that was a bloody awful swim. It really hurt. Although I suppose given that it's hurting in my traps and lats, where it's supposed to if your stroke is ok, that is sort of alright. I just felt really frustrated - the lanes were crowded and busy, I had to keep stopping for Mr Superfast to lap me (not his fault at all but it irked me about my own lack of progress), and there was just SO much to think about. Is my left arm bent properly, are my hands deep enough, are my elbows high enough, am I getting enough power, why the hell am I out of breath, why's my rotation gone shonky...just way too much going on. No relaxing into it at all.

I gave up after 1700m; irritated, bored, and knowing I had stuff to do at home. Still, a mile is a mile and practice is practice. One day the corrected stroke will get easier. It might just take a while to build those lazy back muscles, though. :(

Karate tomorrow. Yay!


I snuck an extra yoga class in this morning. It feels a little like cheating on Janathon - technically, since my usual Monday evening thing was cancelled, I should have gone for a run because the whole point of doing Janathon was supposed to get me back into running. But you know, given the choice of a) something that hurts and is cold or b) doing something I adore that actually helps me...I don't think many people would choose A!

I had a wonderful practice. It was a super-busy class - 14 altogether - but that didn't matter at all. It was great to get some hamstring work in and we all managed a really cool pose which I think is a bridge but I've forgotten what it was called. At any rate, it took me right back to my time training with the European Historical Combat Society at Leeds Armories all those years ago. We worked on a pose which requires you to be on your hands and knees with your fingers pointed back at your knees, and we used to do that to strengthen our wrists for sword work.

Anyway, it was lovely and I really want to go twice a week. There's a little cafe-van thing on the industrial estate that I walk through to get to class and the lady that runs it always says good morning, and then chuckles at me as I float back. This morning I was so loopy afterwards that I wished her "namaste" and bowed as I walked past. Seemed appropriate at the time!

Pull-ups, pushups and planks to do tonight. Yuck. Swim tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


When I was a teenager, I had a note pinned to my mirror: "If perfection could be attained, it would not be worth having." I still think that's true because if you were to become perfect at something it would be no fun any more. Half the fun is in the learning, and that's especially true when you're at the beginning of something - witness my joy at finally being able to switch neatly from a C to D and back again whilst playing Twinkle Twinkle during flute practice this evening. I played that little song LIKE A BOSS, man.

Adjusting faults when you're further down the path is harder, though. The coaching sessions with Dave have been well worth it because it's given me a clear focus on what needs fixing in my stroke - I don't need to worry overmuch about general rotation or my kick, which is nice. I do need to work hard on my hand entry, which I think is coming along ok - that was my big take-home from the session tonight, I really need to reach deeper and more sharply into the water than I have been doing. I know what that looks and feels like now, though, so I just need to stay on top of it. It's going to be weird to see how that works in a wetsuit, too.

The more difficult thing to correct will be my left arm. It is significantly less flexible in the shoulder, it seems (which is damned annoying because it's the right that got injured a few years ago), and my stroke tends to be too low at the elbow, too close to the centreline and not strong in the catch, so I'm losing power dramatically there. My right side is apparently fine, I must look hilarious moving down the pool in fits and starts. In terms of fixing it I really need to move to bilateral breathing now - I've been avoiding it long enough - and lots of drills, in particular single arm, doggy paddle and FQS. Yuck. The fact that these are the drills I absolutely hate is revealing.

It's interesting (to me, I appreciate everyone else is bored stiff) that in karate that strong right side is taking over excessively - in kumite I lead with my right leg WAY too much to the point it's a) predictable for my opponent and b) it's actually hurting my hip. So I think I need to have a chat with all my teachers and figure out how to balance myself.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Near Success

I was very frustrated when I left karate on Wednesday night. I hurt everywhere and I was annoyed with myself for not realising what I should have been doing in my kata all along. But I watched that video over and over again, got Eldest to go slowly when we practiced, studied hard, and voila - a near-correct kata this morning. I screwed up the turn in the middle again, of course, but at least I know that's my big fault and I can put extra practice in on that. Putting the downward block in where it should be has actually made all the other turns so much easier. I'm really kicking myself for not spotting it sooner, but hey, onwards and upwards. I'll be moaning about screwing up taikyoku nidan (the next kata, which Eldest is working on now) soon enough!

I had fun sparring even though my contacts were slipping and blurring all over the place again. I picked up a third type this afternoon, though, so let's hope that does the job this time.

What I love about the club we joined is that everyone is happy to help each other.There's a real feeling that we're all moving along the path in the same direction - one of my favourite things is when the whole group works through katas together, there's such a sense of unity. Competition is so good-natured - whoever wins warm-up games gets a cheer, many people also clasp or shake hands and say thanks as well as a rei (bow) at the end of sparring, teasing is warm and familiar. There's a lot of respect built-in to karate anyway and heaven knows, Sensei Nicola deserves and demands it, not only for herself but for everyone in the room. But something I've picked up from my yoga teacher, Jane, is a sense of gratitude, which she often emphasises as part of our final meditation before we say namaste. We bow three times at the beginning and end of a session of karate; to the Chief Instructor, the Sensei, and otagai ni rei - the bow to the whole class. Each time we do that I work on bringing up that feeling of gratitude. Without my teachers I could not learn - and every member of that class is my teacher, from the newest kids in their street clothes to the terrifyingly graceful upper belts. I'm grateful for clean, bright halls to practice in (even though one is noisy and one hurts my feet!); I'm grateful for the money I have to pay for lessons; the ability to provide a fresh clean gi for both of us twice a week (though I hate the ironing!); the car that gets us there through the pouring rain.

Oh dear, I've gone all interconnectedness-of-all-things. Namaste, indeed!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Inner Peace

I started yoga back in September - I got lucky, a class opened ten minutes walk from home, at a time that fitted in nicely with preschool hours. I'd been seeing a women's physiotherapist to try and sort out some of my hip problems and various other post-birth issues, and it came up that my hamstrings are - and always have been - dreadfully tight. Running and karate encourage that tightness because they're high-impact, and swimming requires you to flex your ankle pointing downwards. And so bearing in mind that other muscles around my hip joints are too loose, I thought I'd give these Radiant Heart classes a whirl.

They do seem to be helping a great deal - my hamstrings are looser, I've learned how to stretch them before karate to prevent injury, and the class definitely helps me unwind from any abuse I put myself through midweek. It also gets me ready for weekend karate plus swimming. Jane is an absolutely lovely teacher and I've been grateful to find a class which is all about the inner peace and getting right with your body. It damps down my overly-competitive nature and I've been working hard on mindfulness and meditation in everyday life, too.

When I arrived this morning I was delighted to run into a friend, but it did bring out that inner competitor and performer for a little while. My brain filled up with "Oh, hell, am I doing this right? Can I make this pose? Will I fall? Is anyone looking?". Jane, thankfully, put a lot of emphasis on following your breath this morning and my daily meditation practice, recently boosted by reading some Thicht Nhat Hanh, saved me from going loopy. The need to perform, conform and excel fell away and I had a wonderful practice. It was shoulder-focused today, for which my post-run aching legs were very grateful. And I didn't fall asleep during savasana (corpse pose, the final relaxation), which is probably a first!

Pull-ups, push-ups and planks to do before bed; gis are ironed and ready for morning and my swimming kit is already packed for Sunday. I love weekends!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Exercise Lies

It's a lie. I'm going to regret every one of those fourteen and a half minutes and one mile (plus a mile's walk to try to grind out the soreness from earlier in the week) tomorrow morning. And the planks too. But hell. Janathon comes but once a year, right? And I've got yoga in the morning to sort me out before Sensei kicks my butt again on Saturday...

...and it is kinda nice to know I can still run a mile without immediate death, even if snails go faster.