Stylist Challenge 2012: Lauren Smith - Fitness - Stylist Magazine

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My next challenge: London Triathlon

Our online assistant trains for a triathlon

August 14

After my triathlon triumph (of sorts) in Blenheim – I have news – I am doing another one! But first, here’s what I’ve been up to fitness wise...

The Olympics

Firstly, a quick word about London 2012, and our amazing triathlon team. I am sure, like me, you were similarly gripped watching the Olympics, and may have seen Alistair and Johnny Brownlee smash it in the men's triathlon. They were incredible, and judging by the amount of people tweeting about how they really enjoyed watching it and wanted to get involved themselves, I think it definitely helped raise awareness of the sport.

But I also wanted to mention Helen Jenkins, the Team GB medal hope who came in fifth place. I met her when she was filming her triathlon training guide for Tripledry - she was absolutely lovely, inspiring and SO down to earth. She told me how she painted her nails before every race as a good luck charm (pink was a favourite at the time), and how she couldn't wear flat sandals and flip flops any more in case she got injured when I moaned about my shin splints.

My heart went out to her when I saw her nearly break down in tears being interviewed after the race - she'd had a really severe injury picked up at the Triathlon World Series in San Diego and not told anyone about it, which meant her run slowed her down. Coming fifth after what she described as "the most difficult few weeks of my career" was an incredible achievement, and she made sure her fellow team mates Vicky Holland and Lucy Hall also got recognition in her interview with the BBC. Whilst it's important to honour all the women who made Team GB proud with medals, I think inspiring women like Helen should also get recognition - she and Chrissie Wellington really inspired me with my challenge, and I hope they inspire more women to get into the sport.

Watch me make a fool of myself/Triathlon Stretches on Film

Did you see the Blippar issue of Stylist? Where all of the team’s challenge successes and failures were captured in all of their glorious detail? And where I found out I’d actually put on weight (but my biceps had increased) and my body fat had reduced marginally? I wasn’t too blue about my final stats (especially when I was measured after a month of pigging out and no exercise) but I wish I’d have been able to see more accurately how training for a triathlon had really changed my body – my lung capacity has definitely increased, as I’m no longer out of breath when I climb the stairs at Russell Square Tube station. So even if I am bigger, I'm more muscly and much fitter, which is a good reason to take it up!

If you read the above, you may have seen the Blippar video in the magazine as well, where I demonstrate some triathlon stretches with my trusty foam roller (a career in Fitness Videos DOES NOT beckon) – if you don’t have an iPhone or Android phone, here’s the video in all its glory:

My next Triathlon

I signed up to do the Virgin London Triathlon at the end of September. I am a little bit concerned about swimming in the Thames (especially as the water in Blenheim made me sick), but it’s nice to have another event to train for now I’ve caught the triathlon bug. My physio Louise kindly did me another timetable (I want to do a better time than 1.32 so it’s a bit more intense) – here’s what August looks like:

Zumba Toning

I’ve been having problems with my lower back/groin/glutes area (a weird slightly painful sensation that keep coming back!) and I think it all boils down to not having a strong enough core. So I thought I’d give new fitness craze Zumba Toning a go. Designed to be just like Zumba Toning class, (pumping latin beats, lots of whooping and clapping, gyrating every part of your hips) but with toning sticks you hold whilst dancing (a bit like maracas) to help build muscle and tone and well as get a cardio workout.

DISCLAIMER: That picture isn't me

I was absolutely knackered after 45 minutes, and dripping in sweat, although I’d recommend the heavier purple sticks than the green ones (they aren’t heavy really and you get a better workout). It was so much fun (I even got into the whooping by the end) I’d definitely recommend it – it’s a good class to break up my training.

A workout in a hotel room

Yep, you read that correctly – I did a workout class in a hotel room. And not just any hotel room – the very swish 45 Park Lane, home of the amazing Wolfgang Puck Cut restaurant. They’ve teamed up with personal trainer to the stars Matt Roberts, who also owns several high end gyms across London, to offer complimentary in-room fitness programmes for all guests.

The concept is aimed at time-pressed guests who need to squeeze in a workout and don’t want to find a gym or go outside. Each room (which is massive, so there’s enough room for your workout) has a dedicated fitness channel on the TV, where you can watch and do five different workouts designed, demonstrated and narrated by Matt Roberts, using furniture from around the hotel room and targeting different parts of the body. I got to try one out with Matt himself (we went for the legs as the Core work looked a bit scary), and even though it only took about 15 minutes to do, I really felt the burn throughout.

I thought it would be a little bit sweaty, but the room was airy enough for it to work, and it’s a clever programme in that you don’t get bored with the different routines and they are just about tricky enough. Each guest also gets a booklet with all the exercises written down on them to take away – kind of like a fitness souvenir! I think it’s a great idea – especially as it teaches you how to work out in a small chunk of time or in a small space – I could even do the core workout in my far less glamorous Haringey flat.

July 17

It’s been more than a month since I completed my triathlon – so it’s about bloody time I told you about it!

Sorry guys – I’ve been lounging around on a sun lounger in Italy, eating pizza, pasta and ice cream, then went on two press trips, so haven’t had a chance to update you. But with the final article on my challenge and some filming completed for Stylist’s interactive issue during London 2012, I thought I should probably change this page before it came out.

So how did it go? Well, I did it! In 1.32! And unlike the marathon, I didn’t almost pass out when I completed it, and spend the next few days hunched over attempting stairs with dread. In fact, I aced the swim, doing it in around 14 minutes, the bike was much slower at about 46 minutes, and the run was a slight-slower-than-my-normal-pace 26 minutes. But I was elated with my time, having pretty much no idea about what time I was going to do, and feeling absolutely TERRIFIED in the drive up to Blenheim. Here’s what happened on the day.

The night before, my boyfriend’s Dad, Alan came up, as he was going to help drive me, Andy and the bike of dreams up to Blenheim for the race. I wasn’t racing until 2.45pm (not ideal as it meant a whole day of waiting), and there was no way I was taking that £1000 beauty on public transport.

I’ve told you all about the night before, but on the actual day I was really excited, constantly checking twitter to see what people were saying about Blenheim. The Brownlee brothers, our Triathlon Olympic hopefuls were competing in the morning, so I engrossed myself in their race updates during the car journey up there. I had a breakfast of porridge with protein powder and a strong coffee, but my stomach felt really dodgy all morning – waiting around for my race to start only amplified the nerves!

After an hour and a half drive, we arrived at Blenheim in glorious sunshine (although with a few specks of rain here and there), and my first impressions were a) How busy it was (there were so many cars!) and b) How much it felt like a festival. The grounds are beautiful, and there were loads of stalls for food, bikes, Triathlon stash and Gatorade, and so many families milling around on the grass, clustering round the race course cheering people on, it felt a bit like a festival. The atmosphere was really chilled out compared to the marathon, although it got a bit more hectic once you got into the transition area to rack your bike.

There was a strict competitor only policy, and clear instructions about where you should rack your bike and how – as I was there waaaay too early, I left mine in a row meant for earlier racers, because mine hadn’t been put up yet! I also realised once I got in there that I was wearing my trainers, which would need to be left in the transition area to slip on after the swim, so had to hobble back to the car barefoot to fetch my Converse! I spent ages carefully laying out my kit in the right order, so shoes, helmet, bike rack correctly, towel underneath and water bottle on my bike, plus a tub of Vaseline in case I couldn’t get out of my wetsuit, and some gels in case I got hungry, and a t-shirt in case I got cold.

I then headed back to meet Andy and his dad, Alan to have some lunch on the grass before I put on my wetsuit – but my tummy was feeling so dodgy I found it hard to keep my pasta and powerade down!

It was nice, however, to watch all the waves before me do their race – some looked ok, but quite a few were struggling – especially on the bike leg – luckily the swim was hidden from view in the lake, because I was absolutely s****ng myself about the swim at this point.

When 2.00pm came (the time I had to head to the lake for my race), I quickly pulled on my wetsuit, and wandered down with Alan and Andy, trying not to freak out. When we got to the lake, the sight of hundreds of swimmers getting into the lake before me completely freaked me out, and I almost starting crying and sais to Andy “I don’t want to do this anymore!”. He thought it would be a great time for a photo opportunity. As you can see I look pained. I think it might have been because I was feeling drained and my stomach was still queasy, but I haven’t been this nervous since my Cambridge interview!

When it was time to go, I went and stood with a group of about 100 other woman, all with our regulation green caps and in our wetsuits, at the edge of the lake. There was a big jetty we had to board before jumping in, and it looked particularly ominous. And the distance from the start to the first luminous buoy we had to swim around, and the other buoy at the end looked faaaar – and what were those men in kayaks there for?! In case we passed out?

Whilst I was mentally freaking out, I took this chance to try and chat nervously to my neighbours – luckily quite a few had never done a tri before either, so we chatted about how we were going to stay at the back and felt like we hadn’t done enough open water swimming training. It calmed me down somewhat, but what calmed me down even more was the excellent man who talked as through the safety guidelines (including DON’T SWALLOW THE WATER –which I did) . He was Welsh, and absolutely hilarious, saying exactly the right things to make us all feel better, cracking jokes and making everyone laugh. It made the descent into the freezing water slightly less painful, and I bobbed around in my wetsuit trying to get used to the temperature and to position myself right at the back so I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.

What a mistake that was! As soon as the gun went off, I realised I had underestimated the power of all my training – and that everyone found the swim pretty tricky. I found myself overtaking loads of people, and it was a complete bumfight – we crashed into each other, I got kicked in the face, and swallowed my own weight in water, and it was near impossible to swim front crawl as there were so many people in the way. So I did a load of very quick breaststroke to get ahead, and then really pegged it with the front crawl until the buoy – and it really didn’t seem as long as I thought it would be! By the time I saw the jetty to leave, I knew I could do it and felt elated, really pulling myself along and popping up onto dry land.

I then slowly jogged all the way from the lake to the transition area, taking off my wetsuit whilst it was still wet for ease and running in my tri suit. I saw Andy and Alan which gave me a boost , and although I felt a bit giddy after swallowing all the water, the worst bit was over.

I found my bike pretty easily, and pegged it to the cycling track. This is where it started to go wrong. I had practiced cycling on my super fancy bike – but clearly not enough, as I had a bit of a freak out with the brakes when I was cycling up a hill. Now, I was told by countless people that Blenheim was not very hilly. That was a lie. After the second quite steep hill, I realised I hadn’t done enough practice with the gears, as I wasn’t going down the hill quickly enough, and the brakes got jammed when I was going up – cue my bike stopping, me having to get off and pull over, and lots of grumbling from lots of scary whippet thin triathlete women gunning for a great time (I apologised so many times, but I think they would have run me over if they could).

Then once I got back on the bike and got into my gear groove for the second lap of the track (you have to do three laps of the bike course, and two of the running course), but then disaster struck again – my elastic laces were not tucked in to my trainers properly and got caught in the spokes of my front wheel. So I had to stop again! Realising I wasn’t going to do a great time on the bike leg, I actually relaxed a little bit and just tried to finish the course without mucking up again – and managed to see Andy a few times on the cycle round!

Once I pulled in to the transition area again, I knew I was on the home stretch, although I didn’t really know what time I was doing (typical me, just like the marathon!). I was quite relieved to get off the bike to be honest, but I felt really light headed afterwards – the blood had rushed to so many different places with the different disciplines, it was no wonder! I didn’t have time to down any water when I racked my bike, but luckily they were handing out Gatorade and water on the route, and some Maxifuel gels which were much needed, as I was surprisingly hungry after my nausea earlier.

I felt dizzy and had a massive stitch for the first lap (so I had to stop, again!), and I wasn’t use to that sensation when running, I probably didn’t push myself as hard as I could, because I was worried I might pass out or faint! But the course was quite scenic and through the woods – and not as hilly as the bike thankfully. One thing I noticed whilst running, was how differently shaped all the competitors were – aside from the lean triathlete machines that had shouted at me earlier, there were plenty of women of all shapes and sizes – tall, short, slim, muscly, curvy taking part – and it gave me a bit of a warm glow about how inclusive the sport felt.

When I came to the end of the final lap, I tried to speed up and overtake a woman in a Serpentine Running Club vest – I thought she would be a good swimmer so I would feel I was doing well if I beat her. I just about managed to catch her up, and then gunned it all fires blazing as the finish line approach – I was finally at the end of my challenge! As I crossed the finish line, I felt amazing – not the completely broken, desperate euphoria I felt after the marathon , but joy as I was tired, but not too knackered , and the announcer called my name and time as I’d finished my race. 1.32 meant nothing to me at the time, so I just hobbled over to collect my goodie bag and find Andy and Alan for some big hugs!

Andy made my stand up and take a picture on this podium (bit cringe, but hey), telling me I had done an amazing time – but it wasn’t until I asked a bloke in the queue to pick up my bike whether I had done a good time or not, and he said “for your first, tri, I’d be bloody happy with that!” that I felt chuffed.

As soon as I had my gear, I bought myself a peanut butter flapjack – I was starving after all, and deserved it – and the woman buying a super-sized brownie before me agreed. Then, feeling tired by happy, we went to the pub. What surprised me was although I had to eat a pretty substantial meal to make sure I didn’t pass out, was how ok I was after the triathlon. I went out and partied in Oxford, whereas after the marathon, I had to go home and eat pizza!

So now I’ve done my challenge, what’s next? Well the Monday after I did Blenheim, I got a stomach bug from swallowing all the water (fun times, spending my birthday on the sofa comatose whilst Andy watched the football), and then I went to Italy for a week of pigging out and NO exercise.

After the holiday I slowly got back into doing a bit of exercise – a run here, a spin class here, but several press trips and no training regime meant when I got my health/fitness stats measured again by Fitness First one month after Blenheim, I started to regret those endless ice creams and pizzas, and got annoyed because my true fitness levels won’t have been recorded! I haven’t got them back from the trainer yet, so I am praying I am not a) Less Muscly and b) Have more body fat than when I started – I certainly feel so much fitter, even after these four weeks of sloth-like behaviour!

But hey. The main thing is I have discovered a true love for endurance sport – and have signed up for the London Triathlon in September to do a better time, and keep my fitness levels up – I would hate to lose them now! I hope to keep recording my efforts on my blog – after all, I’ve really enjoyed recording all my fitness endeavors even if you haven’t enjoyed reading them! So stay tuned!

Lauren x

June 8

What I’m now calling ‘T Day’(or maybe ‘B Day’ – as it’s Blenheim triathlon after all) is tomorrow! And I’m absolutely s***ing myself.

This is how I’m coping – by stuffing my face with the birthday cake my kindly Stylist colleagues bestowed on me (my birthday is on Monday but I’ll be on holiday in Italy!).

I can’t believe the triathlon is already here and I’ve been endurance training for SIX MONTHS (well, only about seven weeks for the actual triathlon). I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself and to forget that all I’ve been building up to since January is this (well, and my holiday, too), because otherwise I think I might refuse to get in the car to Blenheim tomorrow. Instead, I’ve been trying to listen to everyone (my trainer, my boyfriend, some fellow triathlete twitter chums) who keep saying I’m going to be fine. After all, I’m not looking to do a spectacular time – just get round it without passing out! And hopefully I can do that (although I am feeling a bit less fit and quite knackered this week – in no thanks to a boozy all-day Jubilee party on the Monday).

Pond Life

I gradually wound down my training this week, but made sure I got a few more open water swims in at Hampstead Ponds –one over the long Jubilee weekend when it WASN’T raining, and yesterday morning at the crack of dawn with my very dutiful boyfriend when it was (hey, he’s a teacher and he was on half term!).

I also cycled to Hampstead and back on my flash new bike to get some saddle time in. My butt cheeks are slowly hardening to the saddle, so hopefully it won’t hurt too much tomorrow.

Everyone says the open water swim is the hardest part of the training as it’s like a completely different to pool swimming, and I really wish I’d had a little bit more courage to get in the ponds earlier on – now I’ve overcome my fear of sticking my head in green gooey water (my tip – close your eyes because you can’t see anything anyway), I actually find pond swimming quite pleasant. You don’t get the boredom of countless lengths, and you have to concentrate on where you’re going which means the time goes past much quicker.

But it is bloody tiring. There’s no push off or stopping you get in a lido or pool, so it’s teaching me to go a lot slower than I was – I was haring up and down the pool at a speed that was completely unsuitable for a 750m distance. I was comforted by the lovely bloke at Hampstead Ponds (literally the nicest and chattiest people ever – they are really helpful and give you tips about where to swim) who told me doing three laps of the pond was almost like swimming 750m – which is why I felt knackered after haring round one lap!

The key, I think, is to calm down and take it slow – rather than zoom off at the start and the doggy paddle to the end. I’ll also hopefully avoid the insane scrum at the start of the race if I stay at the back! And to think that 750m is just doing 30 lengths of a 25m pool – which I used to do with my Dad every Sunday before I moved to London.

Squats and Wattbikes

My trainer Tom was kinder than normal to me in our session – in that we did a hell of a lot of squats, but not so much weight training, lots of stretches and exercises to get me moving and increase flexibility, and some serious rollering on my muscles to loosen everything up. He also advised me on what to eat, as my race start time or “wave” as it’s called in tri speak is at 2:45pm. He suggested my usual porridge at about 8am, and then a carb dense meal with some white protein three hours before the race – something like pasta with chicken that’s easy to digest, no salad or red meat as I could get indigestion. I am not sure if I’ll need gels as the race won’t be as long as the marathon, but I am packing some in my kit bag just in case, and a bottle of the MaxiFuel Viper Active drink, which is like a nicer tasting Lucozade.

I also had a training session with the Wattbike team at the new Virgin Active gym at Aldersgate (basically the most pimped out gym I have EVER seen – with climbing walls and that crazy yoga which you do hanging from the ceiling – as seen in Made in Chelsea(!)).

Here I am looking incredibly attractive on the bike.

I met Matt at the triathlon show back in March, and after sweating it out on one of hisbikes in a pair of jeans, he agreed to see me to look at my techniques in appropriate kit, after the marathon. The Wattbike is basically a really advanced bike that is as good, if not better than training on a real bike outdoors. It analyses your technique whilst you pedal and you can do all sorts of fancy computerized programmes to train yourself (their website explains it much better then me) – like looking at cadence (repetitions of the pedals per minute).

But the thing I was most interested in was that teaches you how to pedal MORE EFFICIENTLY - so you go faster and use less energy. It’s all about pushing your heels down on the pedal in a certain way so you use the back of your legs as well as the front, and there is this handy graph on a screen that shows you when you are pedalling correctly. If you do get a chance to try one (they have them at the Virgin Active at Aldersgate, and some more will be rolled out soon), it’s all about getting the graph to resemble a fat peanut. This picture of my technique, and an elite cyclist shows how far I have to go.

ABOVE: Me

ABOVE: The Elite Triathlete

The guys from Wattbike were very helpful, and it’s such a useful bit of kit – I really want one in my front room!

The Race

I thought it was high time I looked at Blenheim’s course and what it was going to be like (disorganized to the end), and the layout is amazing. The ‘transition area’ (where I change each time from swim, to bike, to run) is right in front of Blenheim Palace, and the cycle and run track goes around some really lovely woodland and scenery. So at least the view will be nice if I am in insufferable pain. The 20k cycle involves lapping the course three times, and the 5k run twice, so I’m also going to have to make sure I actually count each lap (I am terrible in the gym with my trainer).

That brings me on to – the transitions. Now I am supposed to have practiced the process of changing out of my wetsuit, getting out of the water quickly and getting used to that dizzy feeling, running straight after cycling and dealing with ‘jelly legs’ – and my brick training sessions have helped with that. Every time I swam, I leapt out of the water and tried to pull of my wetsuit really quickly – it wasn’t the most graceful thing I’ve ever done, but my method kind of works.

I also got a great tip from an Ironman triathlete at the Wattbike training session – to fill my wetsuit with water at the end of the swim, so it’s easier to slip off as soon as I leave the lake. He also suggested me taking of my wetsuit straight away, then carrying it up the steep hill I will have to run up to get to the transition area to speed things up a bit.

To give you an idea of the madness of the transition area – here’s a picture of the sea of bikes.

I am going to have to find my bike somewhere in this melee – and you aren’t allowed to put anything on your bike to help you find it (so no ribbons or anything). So I am hoping my boyfriend’s Arsenal towel will be eye-catching enough for me to see. On the towel I will lay out all my kit in the order of each transition like this – time for some w***nky triathlon speak…

T1 (Swim): Wetsuit, Hat, Goggles (I’ll be wearing the tri suit underneath)

T2: (Bike): Helmet (placed upside down so I can chuck it on), trainers with elastic laces (so I can pull them on quickly). Bottle (strapped to bike)

T3: (Run): A gel in case I am losing energy, water bottle. I’ll already have my trainers on, as I’m not wearing those crazy clip in bike shoes.

So all in all, I think I could be better prepared for tomorrow if I hadn’t focused all my energy on the marathon (I’m a runner at heart), tried to cram most of the triathlon prep into seven weeks and done so much training in the gym, but as it’s my first one and apparently Blenheim is beginner’s central (Approximately 50% of participants that enter the GE Blenheim Triathlon are first time Triathletes), I’m trying not to worry too much. If I love it and want to do another triathlon, the folks at Virgin Active have somewhat presumptuously offered me a place to do the London Triathlon in September – so I could always use this summer to do lots of outdoor training and get a better time.

Another reason I am slightly comforted are the average stage completion times.

Sprint Distance

Swim (750m) – 14-22 mins

Bike (20k) – 40/45 mins

Run (5k) – 25/35 mins

So if I assume I am going to be at the slower end of the scale, the whole thing is going to take me about 1 hour and 45 minutes – a relief after the 3 hour 45 marathon!

So tonight, I will be enjoying a huge tuna pasta bake with my boyfriend and his dad, who is kindly driving us to Blenheim, laying out all my gear, and trying to get some sleep before tomorrow. I’ll be blogging about the race afterwards – well maybe a few days afterwards as I’ll be partying on Oxford with my mates from Uni on Saturday night. Wish me luck!

- Lauren

May 28th

Phew, what a busy two weeks it’s been (hence my lack of blog posts). I’ve gained a bike and a wetsuit, been for my first open water swim, had some swimming coaching and run the Bupa 10km. Get ready for one mega update...

The last few weeks of training

With less than two weeks until Blenheim, I’m cramming in quite a few training sessions before my taper in the week running up to the race. Luckily, with a Jubilee weekend coming up, there’s be lots of chances to train (save Monday when I’ll be quaffing Pimms and cucumber sandwiches at a friend’s Jubilee Garden Party). But here’s what my training plans look like until race day:

My Gear

As I mentioned before, I hadn’t done a huge amount of training outside the gym (aside from running, of course). So I was overjoyed when a brand spanking new tri bike turned up (on loan, and courtesy of Evans).

Isn’t she a beaut? Now I know little to nothing about bikes and how they work (I am a terrible triathlete, I know), but this bike is so comfortable to ride on as a novice – it moves really quickly and is light, but not so much so that I slip and slide all over the place. I haven’t been on that many rides with it yet, other than the trip home, mainly because I’m scared of it getting nicked. But from now on all my bike training is going to be on this bad boy – even if it’s just laps around Finsbury Park.

Next up was a delivery from Speedo, prompting me to get my ass into gear and do an open water swim on one of the hottest weekends in the year. Check out my tri suit and wetsuit. I’m hardly Keri-Anne Payne, but I feel much more confident in this swish gear.

They also sent some goggles, a rather fancy hat and some weird fin gloves – which I guess are to help propel me through the water.

Hitting the Open Water

All kitted out, I headed to the Ladies pond on Hampstead Heath on Saturday to test my open water skills.

Having not even been in a Lido, this was a brave move, but I thought I might as well go the whole hog. I practiced putting on my wetsuit (it takes ages and so will require lots of practice) on and off before we went so it wasn’t too embarrassing at the ponds – but it was still a bit of a mission. I’d actually never been to the Ladies Ponds before, and with 28 degree heat and women sunbathing on the banks all around, it was quite an idyllic scene.

My descent into the water wasn’t so idyllic – everyone else was in bikinis which meant multiple stares at my wetsuit, and it was bloody freezing! I also found the sensation of swimming in a wetsuit pretty odd – I couldn’t breathe at first so kept adjusting the zip, letting a whole load of icy water in! But after a few wobbly strokes I managed a 20 minute blast (breaststroke, mind) before deciding I’d had enough. So it wasn’t the most impressive start to an open water swimming career, but I am forcing myself to do some more sessions outside before the 10th, whether it’s in the Hampstead Heath Lido or Ponds.

Back in the Pool

I did make a temporary return to the pool today for a swimming technique session with Ray Gibbs, coach at Swim Canary Wharf. Ray took up swimming in his mid-twenties when he started competing in triathlons, and set up the coaching school after finding a lack of information on improving long distance swimming techniques (he’s also won some triathlon coaching awards – check out the website for more info).

Swim Canary Wharf is basically a room with a swimming version of a treadmill – a mini pool with a current to simulate open water, which you swim against. There’s mirrors on the bottom so you can watch yourself and try and stay in one place against the tide, and cameras in the pool so after you have swam for a bit Ray shows a playback video and looks at your technique.

It’s fascinating stuff, although a bit weird watching yourself on camera in a pool straight after swimming. Turns out because I used to be part of a swimming club and we had technique lessons as well as haring up and down the pool, my basic technique is ok, save a few niggles (I push down my arm when breathing and throw my head up too high, which is slowing me down, apparently). My ballet training also helped with my arm movements. But the bad news is I am swimming much too fast, or throwing my arms around like a sprint swimmer, when I want to glide along and use as little energy as possible. Ray showed me videos of elite swimmers so I could see how they did it – and they really do glide like dancers through the water.

Ray didn’t want to change too much with only two weeks to go, so we did a couple of training drills to try and rectify my main problems – pushing my arms down, a rolling head, and kicking my feet too fast, and Ray also made a DVD for me to take home with loads of tips and footage for me to try and copy. We also did some open water swimming training – ‘sighting’, where you practice bobbing your head out of the water so you’re actually looking where you’re going. Otherwise I’ll end up swimming the wrong way across the lake! Because I breathe bilaterally when I swim (three strokes and then a breathe, changing sides each time) I need to do something called the ‘Bilateral Bob’, where I stick my head out above the water shortly after taking a breath. I couldn’t quite get the hang of it, so will need to do some more practice!

It was such a good session and I came away feeling more confident about my swimming, but also really keen to try and improve my technique. Am watching the DVD tonight which should be interesting viewing...

Open Water Training Tips

A while ago, I was sent these Open Water Swimming Tips from distance swimming legend Keri-Anne Payne. They may seem quite basic but are actually really useful for first time open water swimmers. I wish I had a buddy to do number 1 with!

  • If you have decided to do an open water swim or a triathlon why not get a friend involved too? It makes training so much easier if you have someone to do it with and it will be a great achievement for you both do it together!
  • Wetsuits - make sure you have the right size wetsuit and that you have tried it out in training before you do your open water race
  • The night before a race can be a bit of a nerve racking time and it may be easy to skip your dinner but DO NOT do this, try your best to get something down, even if it's your favourite cereal or a couple slices of toast. A carb heavy meal isn't always necessary. On the morning of the race, again you may not want to eat but the worst thing you can do is miss breakfast! That will ruin all your hard work and training because you will have no energy for the race. Stay away from milk at this time and stick to toast. If you really are struggling to eat then you can empty a carbohydrate gel pack into your drinks bottle and keep sipping away at it until your race. This is not a substitute to food I would always recommend food over this but it is a help!
  • If you are racing in cold water, make sure you get in the water before you race and fully submerge yourself. This is very important because it gives your body time to acclimatise to the temperature and it also gives your wetsuit time to do its job which is keep your body warm! I would recommend doing this about 5 minutes before your race if you can
  • At the start of an open water race or triathlon there is usually a water start. If you are a novice and slightly apprehensive about the start I would recommend that you stick to the sides or the back of the pack for the start. You will soon find your rhythm and be in the swing of it without a black eye!
  • If you are an expert then go straight to the front of the pack and get into your 'start' position as soon as you can (sculling with your feet just breaking the surface of the water) other people are less likely to push and shove if your feet are in their face!

The Bupa 10km

Finally (this post is over soon, I promise), on Sunday I completed the Bupa 10km run in place of Lisa, Stylist’s Editor, who sadly couldn’t do the race because of her injured hip. I was happy to take the place because it would be a good warm up for Blenheim (although I only need to run 5km) and I did it last year, slightly hung over after a dinner party (I know, what was I thinking!), so I was keen to try and trump my time of 48 minutes.

Although I had absolutely NO DRINKS the night before, I didn’t feel great at the start of the race. It was so hot the organizers had pulled the race forward to start at 10am, but it was still boiling. I had sunburnt my shoulders yesterday after my foray into Hampstead Heath ponds, so had to wear a t-shirt, and even with a cap on I was already sweaty before the race started. The queue for the toilets was also massive and I had to run to get to my starting point in the race.

After the marathon it felt great to run a shorter distance race, but I have to admit I didn’t find it easy. My legs were really tired and achy because I hadn’t had many rest days this week (I KNOW I should have listened to my boyfriend), and there were only two water stops on the course, and one feeble shower. So I spent 90% of the time thinking “I am boiling, ehen will this hell end” – which was a shame, as it’s a lovely course and the one they’ll probably use in the Olympics. Mo Farah was also there and it’s a huge race, so there’s a lot of atmosphere. One huge bonus was that at the end of the race I felt absolutely fine, unlike the marathon, and was happily chatting away to fellow runners at the Children with Cancer stand until my boyfriend and brother found me.

I then went along to the BUPA Boost Zone afterwards for a much-needed massage (it’s free, so I highly recommend anyone getting one after that race), and skipped the physio to go and scoff the jelly babies they were handing out, because my legs were ok if a little knackered. Bupa also have a running page on Facebook if you want to get involved with the race next year or are looking for expert running tips.

The race was good because it was another confidence boost – my final time was 45 minutes, which I was SO pleased with! I did the first 5km in 22 minutes, which I doubt I’ll be able to manage after a swim and cycle, but it’s proved that I definitely am fitter than I was this time last year.

So it’s goodbye for now, but I’ll be back soon with more updates – maybe I’ll finally tell you about my meet-ups with Chrissie Wellington and Helen Jenkins!

Lauren xx

May 13th

It’s been nearly a month since the marathon – and after four days of rest after that fateful Sunday (and an evening wearing these recovery leggings – which, although they may have cut circulation off to my legs, did leave my legs feeling less sore), it was full steam ahead with my triathlon training regime.

I didn’t want to lose fitness or momentum after the marathon (and I actually found it really hard to sit on my arse, despite the stiffness in my legs!), so after a core session with Tom, my personal trainer, I threw myself back into Louise’s excellent schedule. Here’s what May looks like for me:

With less than a month to go until my triathlon, I am more than a little nervous about whether I am going to be able to get round – bearing in mind I haven’t yet swum outdoors (too cold) or been on a bike outside the gym. Well, save my racing bike road test, soon to be featured in Stylist!

On yer Bike

I won’t spoil the feature by saying exactly what I thought of it, but I got to test out a very fancy racing bike courtesy of Selfridges. It was so flash it elicited a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” from the bike addicts at work (there are quite a few) , and I felt like a bit of a fraud as I have never even sat on a racing bike let alone tested one until now. But I did to do a few laps around Finsbury Park and one rather eventful cycle to work – my first ever in London.

Now, I used to cycle all the time in Cambridge, so I am quietly confident on a road bike. But obviously cycling in London is a different beast – and riding a racing bike it completely unlike any other cycling experience I have had. You are completely hunched over, your bum kills, and people assume you are really fast – which on the road, I wasn’t.

So because I didn’t really know the route to work (I kept stopping to look at the map on my phone), and the slightest movement meant my bike turned quite sharply the other way – I kind of zig-zagged across Islington, pissing off a lot of seasoned cyclists, and probably a few pedestrians. My back was also killing me from all the hunching over, and even though I thought ballet pumps, red jeans and a blue raincoat were appropriate cycling attire in the rain – they really, really weren’t. I was the classic, idiot girl on a bike getting eye rolls from the experienced riders. Everyone from be-suited business men on Boris Bikes, to mothers with their kids on their back, and quite a few sniggering schoolchildren sped past me as I cautiously tried to navigate the cycle route without falling off/crashing into a car/slipping over (it was tipping down with rain). It took me about an hour to get to work in the end – not an ideal time!

My mum was terrified I had cycled to work (she told me I “wasn’t allowed” to cycle in London because I am so clumsy), even though I made it in injury free *and* wore a helmet. Sorry Mum, but after my first, slightly wobbly attempt, I am keen to get back on a bike and improve my road cycling – so my best friend’s boyfriend is kindly going to fix up an old bike for me so I have something to practice on, other than spin classes and furious pedalling in the gym.

Despite my road cycling shame, I am pleased with my gym cycling time – I am doing around 20km (my tri distance) in about 35 minutes – on the “Hill Plus” setting to make it a bit more like Blenheim’s route (which apparently has a big f*** off hill in the middle). It was better than when I started cycling – it used to take me about 45 minutes. So I am hoping that a bit more road practice, and a session with Matt from Wattbike (a guy I met at the Triathlon show back in March) will improve my technique, and make me a bit speedier on two wheels!

In hot water

After a hiatus from the swimming during my marathon taper, I got back in the pool, and have started doing front crawl only to try and get my pool fitness up. And it’s been going well, apart from the terrible moment when I flashed half of Highbury Fitness first swimming pool (my swimsuit has the unfortunate tendency to slip down after a vigorous few laps – I did wonder why the man next to be was staring).

It turns out Speedo sent me the wrong size swimsuit (I am not the size of a medium male, it turns out), so until a new one arrives, I have had an excuse not to get in the water outdoors. But I am very aware that I need to practice open water swimming before the big day! A few open water swimmers have said it’s too cold to swim outside at the moment (especially with the awful weather we’ve had), so I’m hoping it brightens up in the next few weeks – when I’ll be trying to fit in an outdoor swimming coaching session, thanks to the lovely Claire from the Triathlon show. Will keep you all updated with how I get on!

Aside from the mild terror of the actually race( I am definitely not gunning for an impressive time, like I did with the marathon), I am really enjoying this part of my training schedule, and the chance to try and master three disciplines has left me feeling really fit – although I am totally knackered at bedtime. I had a horrid moment when I thought that in less than a month, all this will be over – and as it has sort of taken over my life for the past six months, I will be really sad (and missing the personal training sessions – which have done wonders for my abs ). I will have to find a new challenge – until then, on with the training!

Lauren x

PS: Now my marathon training is behind me, in the next few posts I’ll also be sharing the great triathlon-related stuff I have done in the last few months and not had a chance to share with you yet – like meeting Helen Jenkins (an amazing Olympic hopeful triathlete), swimming tips from Kerri Anne Payne, and meeting, and then reading the autobiography of Iron Women extraordinaire Chrissie Wellington at the Triathlon show – she is currently my idol, and I am trying to think “what would Chrissie do” when I really can’t be arsed to go for a swim.

April 23

I did it! I ran the marathon! In 3 hours and 45 minutes! And it's only starting to sink in now.

It's taken two days after the event to truly realise that I ran my first marathon in a pretty good time - and that I completely underestimated how much it destroys your body!

Pre-race nerves

So, where to begin? I actually managed to sleep pretty well the night before - must be all the carbs I ate at dinner (the biggest plate of spaghetti I have ever consumed) that helped with my 11pm slump. But when I rose bright and early at 6:30am the next day, the nerves began to kick in. Andy very kindly prepared a plate of three slices of toast with peanut butter, some tea and a huge glass of water for me whilst I packed all my kit up, put on my very bright running outfit and vest, laced my chip into my trainers (to track my time), and pinned my number to my vest.

ABOVE: I asked the Stylist Twitter/Facebook fans to help pick the vest slogan - and I am very glad I did!

After pulling a pair of old joggers and a very swish London Marathon zip up top (a last minute present from Andy!), we hopped on the tube for London Bridge, then joined hundreds of other runners on the train to Greenwich.

The train was packed with other runners of all shapes and sizes, chatting about the times (we chuckled at a guy in a polo shirt and very short shorts saying he was going to "nail 3:30"), and downing water and last minute energy drinks. I was checking the London Marathon twitter feed for the weather (much sunnier than forecast) and reading all the lovely good luck messages on twitter and facebook from my friends and family. Andy was trying to calm me down, whilst organising the support party made up of my mum, dad, brother, aunt from America, cousin and his partner and three kids, plus all my friends that were planning on stopping by for drinks afterwards (he's a saint)!

Once we stepped off the train, we began the slowest walk ever to Greenwich park for the start point. Signs all over the street told everyone not to "pee in other people's gardens" (happens a lot at the marathon, as I was soon to find out). Once we got there, Andy was told it was runners only, so I stuffed a banana down my throat, said goodbye and joined the huge queue for the loo, all the time panicking that I had forgotten to shave my legs (my shorts were quite short too).

Joining the runners on the Blue start point in area 6, I got chatting to another woman running her first marathon, who was wearing old clothes to "keep warm and discard at the start of the race". This, along with bin liners, banana skins, and water bottles, was just some of the debris you have to contend with when you start running - I really didn't want to fall over five minutes in!

We're off!

As soon as we started, I was amused/shocked at the amount of men peeling off immediately to wee on the sidelines - we'd only just started! I needed the loo pretty early on (all that water I drank was the culprit), but decided to clench and avoid the portaloos on the course, as I didn't want to mess up my time.

Aah, my time. I had decided I wanted to run the marathon in under 4 hours, and having run the half marathon in such a good time, I thought it would be fine, and I could maybe do 3:45, or 3:30 on a good day. I had the pacing wrist bands which tell you what time you are headed for if you reach each mile at a certain point, but no timer or accurate way of working out my pace. This was my downfall!

The Wall

I ran the first part quite quickly but managed to hold back as the atmosphere (London is amazing - so many people cheer you on!) and sheer amount of people meant you can't go too crazy. I high-fived every kid on the sideline with glee. I took off my headphones to bop along to the gospel choir/steel pans/DJ/whatever music was put on for the runners. I also slowed to talk to a guy dressed as Mr Tickle, running for the same charity as me. But at the halfway point (it must have been the euphoria at getting halfway) I was running way too fast (I did half the marathon in 1:54!). Which meant by about mile 16, I was starting to ache A LOT. And I mean things that were never usually a problem became the bane of my life. I had a huge wedgie in my shorts, my fuel belt had swivelled round and was rubbing my back, and my knees and left ankle were killing. By about 18 miles I was losing the will to live, desperately changing my music, eating the gels, taking in water and running through the showers on the course to try and revive myself. It wasn't looking great. I had hit my wall. I even reached for the Lucozade - which I normally hate.

The Finish Line

Then, just before hitting Canary Wharf, I spotted a group of Children with Cancer supporters. Then, I saw my cousin and his two adorable kids. Seeing them cheer me on, and hearing people I had never met calling my name in support forced me to dig deep and carry on, even when every mile hurt.

By the time I got to mile 22 (where my boyfriend and family were waiting), I knew I could make it round - but it would be the most unpleasant run of my life. I barely saw Andy (who was chatting to his mate), didn't see my Mum, or any of the friends who had come to watch me. But I somehow kept plodding away, forcing myself NOT to start walking, shaking out my legs and running like a bit of an idiot instead.

The hardest part was the last four miles - and the signs saying "This is your mini marathon" are no joke. The run along the embankment has the biggest crowds, and you need them because by that point, my legs were searing in pain, and I was so hot I was pouring water bottles over my head. Not a great look.

But when I finally crossed the finish line - I wasn't euphoric, hungry, and happy with my time, like I thought I'd be. was more in shock. Exhausted, shock. My stomach felt nauseous, and I still had to walk a long way to meet my parents on the grass.

ABOVE: Me, resembling an old lady after the Marathon.

Sadly, my dreams of a slap-up meal and a post-marathon drink were short-lived. After lying on the glass wrapped in my foil blanket, while the kind charity workers tried to force me to eat jelly beans (the only time, apart my Cambridge interview, when I have refused food), my family arrived, and my Dad tried to take pictures of me, while I tried not to throw up on my cousins.

Eventually poor Andy had to lead me to the Children with Cancer after-party, where they have an amazing team of Doctors and Sports Massage Therapists as well as a slap up meal for runners and their families. I sat on a bed being force fed more jelly beans for 45 minutes, and eventually my face stopped looking puce and I was allowed upstairs! I had pushed my body to the limit, further than it had ever gone!

ABOVE: Me, returned to a human state, with my Mum and my medal

After hugging everyone in sight and slowly eating mini Mars bars (for some reason my appetite had gone!), we had tom cancel drinks and I went home for some much needed rest - stuffing my face with a Papa Johns Pizza, a McDonalds Milkshake, a bag of crisps, and some M&S chocolate biscuits in front of Made in Chelsea. I bloody deserved it.

ABOVE: My Sweet Reward

The after-math

Well, the day after, I was completely shattered, and had to work from home, with my laptop propped on my lap. I could barely walk, and shuffling to the bathroom and the kitchen to eat copious amounts of toast and recovery shakes was all I could manage.

I saved all my day's energy to walk to Manor House tube for the journey to my massage with the amazing sports massage therapist Jarod Chapman It took double the time and I got a lot of weird looks on the tube! But Jarod worked his magic with some amazing Arnica oils from Neal's Yard, and although bits were a little painful (my quads took a pummelling), he sorted my legs out massively, getting rid of all the crap and tension that had built up in the muscles. I will really miss him as this was our last session, and I had enjoyed our massage/chats - so strongly urge anyone who needs a massage or trainer to visit him - such a lovely guy!

I am currently still hobbling, with completely seized up knees, quads and glutes - walking down steps is agony, I have a blood blister under my toe and the fuel belt I was wearing rubbed so hard against my back I now have a bruise - but when I went to work and everyone was so lovely and told me how well I had done, it was all worth it. I just can't believe I have run 26 miles in under 4 hours - if you had asked me three years ago or even a year ago if I could have done it, I would have laughed in your face. It just goes to show what determination (and amazing support) can do! Plus I beat the guy from Shortlist running the marathon on my time - so girl power!

But most importantly of all, I have now raised about £2000 for charity - and there's still time to sponsor me if you want to!

Lauren x

I also want to mention how truly sorry I was to hear of the death of Claire Squires, a 30 year-old, fit and healthy woman ( she had run the marathon before, and climbed Kilimanjaro for charity) who collapsed on Birdcage walk, just a mile away from the finish line. Since learning of her death on Sunday night, donations to her charity page (she was running for the Samaritans) have shot up to around £500,000, the only positive thing to have come out of such a tragic loss. I will be adding to the total myself and support a truly amazing cause, and an inspirational woman.

April 21

The marathon is tomorrow! And I am a tad nervous.

Today, I am in enforced relaxation mode, finishing off The Hunger Games trilogy, slowly sipping from a huge jug of fruit squash, and grazing on carbs - after a breakfast of boiled egg and two slices of toast, I had this yummy Bagel from The Happening Beigel Bake in Finsury Park for lunch.

Tonight I'll be eating a huge bowl of spaghetti bolognese prepared by my boyfriend, and will also snack on one of the MaxiFuel energy bars (it's got loads of carbs and caffeine in it - which is supposed to help enhance performance) and an apple. Plus some squares of Lindt sea salt and caramel dark chocolate - my new favourite treat.

I am also getting my kit for tomorrow in order.

It's got my sports bra, top, shorts, trainers and socks, waterproof jacket (we might have showers after the race), fuel belt with four gels, water bottles and ipod with headphones.

Then there's all the stuff I need for the race - red shoelaces, chip to tie to laces, race number to pin to my top, and wristbands for the massage station and pasta party Children with Cancer kindly put on at Banqueting House after the race.

Here's my vest which I am going to write my name on - the more people that can cheer me on the better!

Last night I went along to the Marathon Expo to pick up my number. Held way out at Custom House at the ExCel Centre, it's a lot crazier if you go on a Saturday, apparently, but on a Friday evening things were a lot more chilled out (much needed, as the last thing I wanted was to start freaking out about the race). After picking up my number, everything became a bit more real - and it finally dawned on me what a massive thing a marathon is to do. Sounds idiotic, I know, but seeing all those people wandering around the stands (occupied by charities, food/fuel companies like Lucozade, and various sports clothing companies) all clutching their red marathon goodie bags (which bizarrely, contained a bag of rice, a nutri-grain bar and a can of beer) I felt part of something quite special.

Andy and I avoided the Fuller's Beer tent and the kit stores (now is NOT the time to pick up new trainers or a Garmin watch), and headed over to the Children with Cancer stall, where the lovely Ben and Caroline gave me much needed words of encouragement and some ponchos, flags and caps for my family who are all coming up en masse tomorrow. I would truly recommend running the charity with these guys - they give you so much support before and after the race!

ABOVE: Messages of support for the Children with Cancer runners.

We walked past the infamous 'Pasta Party', where scores of runners queued up to carb load for £8 a head, and someone was giving a pep talk.

But I couldn't think of anything worse than thinking about technique, pacing etc so close to the race, so Andy and I escaped to a lovely Italian restaurant in Covent Garden, where I had garlic bread and some amazing sausage papardelle (Italian is the perfect runner's cuisine).

A bit exhausted after the adrenaline of the expo (and a bit scared by all the men/women who turn up to the thing in their running gear - I mean, are you actually going to break out into a run so close to the race?!), I collapsed into bed at 10pm and had a long lie in this morning - handy because I doubt I'll be able to sleep tonight!

Anyway, I better go - now is time to watch The Voice, eat pasta and try to relax, as well as looking at the route with Andy, and find a pub to meet all my friends at afterwards. If you are coming tomorrow - please look out for me and shout hello - I will try to smile and wave! And if you would like to sponsor me, please do - I have raised about £500 so far, which I am really pleased with (thanks, Stylist colleagues!). Here's the link.

Wish me luck!

Lauren x

April 16

It’s less than one week to go until the Marathon! So I thought it was about time to explain why I decided to run the marathon and the triathlon (aside from the slightly mad, competitive streak in my personality).

I am running/swimming/cycling for a charity that’s very close to my heart – Children with Cancer. My boyfriend Andy, who I have mentioned a few times in this blog, has run marathons for the charity for several years (he even ran the length of the country for them) because they gave him a huge amount of help when he was diagnosed with Leukaemia at the age of 18, after finishing his A-Levels.

Andy was given a marrow transplant and made an amazing recovery – going on to run the London Marathon that same year. But sadly, his mother Sandy was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer at the same time, and she died shortly after Andy recovered. Children with Cancer gave an enormous amount of support to Andy and his family during this difficult time, and I want to do everything I can to help the charity that made his, and the lives of so many others possible.

ABOVE: Andy and I running in costumes at the end of his John O Groats to Land's End challenge

I have set up a Just Giving page for my fund-raising, so readers, if you do have any pennies to spare (I know there are a lot of people running the marathon asking for sponsorship right now) please do donate anything you can here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=LaurenSmith2012

Injured, again

But enough about that – here’s how I am getting on with less than a week to go until marathon-gate.

By now I should be well into my taper (slowly decreasing the amount of running to give my body enough time to rest). I read a ridiculous article in a Sunday paper a few weeks ago that suggested doing quite a long run the weekend before the marathon and several runs during the week – now I am sure that might work for some people, but that sounds like a ridiculous idea to me! Everyone I have spoken to, from my physio to my trainer to my new sports massage therapist Jarod (more on him, later) has said it’s all about doing maybe 1 or two three mile runs max this week, eating a lot of pasta from Wednesday onwards, and trying to chill out before the big day.

But I ended up tapering a lot more than intended last week. After a long run on Easter Saturday (an 11 miler along the Cuckoo trail in East Sussex near my family home - lovely, but I hadn’t eaten enough and so ran very slowly!), and a 5 mile run on the Monday, my leg (the other one this time) started to feel very tight, and my heel was a little sore. Not wanting another attack of the shin slints, I popped the ibuprofen, iced and stretched like crazy, and avoided running all week but kept up my spinning and PT sessions.

But after two friend’s birthdays this week and two consecutive nights of dancing like a lunatic in brogues (when will I learn?) my heel was in agony on Sunday – and hoping to get one more 8 mile run in, I started freaking out about having one week to go and not being fit enough to finish the marathon. I imagined a fracture, a torn Achilles, even a broken heel (I have no medical knowledge and a very wild imagination), so I frantically emailed Louise, my physio at Tatami health and booked in an appointment today.

Thankfully Louise calmed me down – it turns out I had just bruised my heel, and my ankle and leg was swollen from trying to support it. So after taping my foot up, I’ve been prescribed another round of ibuprofen (I think I keep the Holborn Superdrug in business), and to wear trainers to work all week – so I look delightfully dorky right now.

Pre-Marathon Massage

Another big part of my pre-marathon prep has been sports massage. My calves have been getting very tight from all the running and my back has been hurting a bit too, so I was very, very lucky when twitter led me to a Jarod Chapman, a personal trainer and massage therapist who works from the Gym Down Under in Earls Court.

He very kindly offered me a few sessions to help prepare my muscles for the marathon and after – and as he’s worked for Tina Turner on tour, he knows how to look after people’s legs! I have had two massages so far after work, and they’ve both been amazing – so good I almost fell asleep on the Piccadilly line on the way home. I am a bit of a massage phobic (I almost passed out once because I felt so squeamish) but Jarod is brilliant – he worked a lot on my back which was particularly tense (the cracking shocked me a little bit – shows what being hunched over at a desk is doing to me!) and really went for it on my legs, so I now don’t have horribly sore calves.

I have also been using one of these babies at home to help loosen the muscles after a run.

It’s called the Grid Foam roller, and though it looks like an instrument of torture, by lifting yourself onto your hands and rolling your calves, ITB and hamstrings over it, it really gets all the tension out (but it is unpleasant at first). My trainer taught me how to use mine, but there are loads of tutorials online – and best of all, I can do it in front of the TV at home.

I haven’t started the full-on carb-loading yet, so I will do a post on that this week (including the happy moment that a nutritionist for Maxifuel told me that I definitely wasn’t eating enough carbs) – plus my pre-marathon nerves and trip to the marathon expo!

Until next time!

Lauren x

April 2

What a few weeks it’s been! With my marathon training in full swing, I have spent the last two weekend doing my longest runs, and now am tapering in time for my marathon in (gulp) less than three weeks time. I was absolutely terrified about the looming date (circled about fifteen times in red marker on my calendar), but getting those long runs out of the way, injury free, have given me a bit of a confidence boost (plus, my squats are now “amazing” in my PT training sessions apparently, which I am weirdly proud of).

The 20 miler

Last Saturday we had absolutely gorgeous weather – but instead of sitting in a pub garden or sunning myself in the park, I was gearing up for a 20 mile run in Bournemouth (where my boyfriend’s father lives). Hoping to improve the daunting prospect of this epic run with some beautiful beach scenery (and to spot an amazing giant deckchair Pimms have set up on Bournemouth beach) I prepared by wolfing down a huge, delicious Thai meal the night before (and ahem, a few glasses of wine). After being told I need to eat more carbs (more on that happy news, later) by a nutritionist, I fuelled up the morning of the run with lots of water and a cup of tea, scrambled eggs and three slices of toast.

The idea of this long run is to practice your race day routine, so I ate a bit more than I normally would, (and did feel a little bloated), but with bags of energy to take on the distance. Some runners tend to do more than 20 miles before the race, but after over-training and injuring myself, I was sticking to Louise’s schedule and not getting carried away.

Andy my boyfriend very kindly agreed to run with me (I think he’s missing not doing the marathon this year), so after he helped work out a route along the beachfront and through the Chimes (really pretty park areas), I packed a backpack with some gels, an energy drink, water and an ipod with Cream Club Anthems (again, cheesy club music is the only thing that motivates me) and we set off.

At first, Andy told me I was going WAY too fast (I am rubbish at keeping pace, because I tend to run to the music and don’t have a fancy running watch or iPhone app), but after about 5 miles I settled into a safe speed, and enjoyed the amazing weather and sea views. About halfway through I stopped to look at the AMAZING giant deckchair and to sip some energy drink and a gel (that huge breakfast gets used up very quickly!). Here I am!

I really enjoyed the run until about mile 18 (the distance I had run the previous weekend) when my knees and calf muscles were really hurting, and I was losing the will to live. I guess I hit what they call “the wall” in marathon speak – my soundtrack had run out and I had to switch to the more relaxing Metronomy The English Riviera, so I was ready to wind down, and all I could see was a seemingly endless stretch of seafront. But then I suddenly had a second wind and ran like crazy for the last half a mile – probably because I could see the cafe we decided to finish at! Then we went to Swanage for a huge plate of fish and chips on the beach and a Mr Whippy – a well deserved treat after all those miles! I was so proud I finished without shin splints, and just very sore muscles, but I don’t quite know how I’m going to manage another 6 miles on marathon day – more gels and some rousing from the crowd will be needed!

Time to Taper

After that 20 miler, it was time to taper, but I needed to get some longer race practice in. So I signed up for the Paddock Wood Half Marathon (near my family home in Sussex), amusingly on April Fool’s Day. I was supposed to run it with Louise, my physio, but she had to pull out at the last minute – so good old Andy stepped up to take her place.

My parents kindly drove us to the race, which takes place up and down some beautiful country lanes in the heart of Kent. As it’s not a well known half like Reading or Run to the Beat, a lot of running clubs and hardcore runners take part, meaning I was bloody petrified at the start. All these runners were doing crazy stretches, and in their impressive matching team t-shirts, they all looked so professional. The women were all so, lean (my body has NOT taken that shape yet!) and everyone was happily chatting about their pace and PBs, necking carb gels and jelly beans and strapping water bottles to their hips.

Even though I had been sent the amazing Marathon kit from adidas (the leggings do wonders to my bum), I felt like a true novice - I hadn’t even brought safety pins to fasten my chip and number to my chest, and had dutifully left my iPod at home like the race letter told me (all the other runners had ignored it). I was so nervous I didn’t want to stretch, and I needed a wee. Not a great start.

But once we got going, apart from being a bit freaked out about the sheer number of people running and getting in the way, my competitive spirit kicked in. Trying not to set off too fast and keep up with the speedy runners (we were in the 1.40-2.00 start group), I lost Andy right at the beginning, so my pace-keeper was gone. It was up to me to try and pace myself, without an iPod and my calves had immediately started aching.

But I soldiered on, running so I wasn’t out of breath but not plodding, and listening to other runners chatting to keep my mind occupied. I heard some very amusing chat up lines (“at the rate you’re going, you could totally do a 1.32” “Do you run these often?”) and was a bit grossed out by the habits of other runners ( loud burping, and SPITTING! If you spit in front of me it blows in my face!).

The weather was sunny but not too hot, and the course was great – every village we ran through, a new group of locals cheered us on! But it was much hillier than I expected (this is where all that squatting came in handy), and I found it really hard at around mile 10 - I had a gel to keep me going, and started speeding up as I knew there wasn’t long to go...

...all this time I had no idea where I was in the race, but I had caught up a load of people that passed me earlier, and I was keeping pace with some men in triathlon t-shirts. At the end of the race you run through some streets of houses, where the locals cheer you on (I managed to grin through gritted teeth) – and then up a beast of a winding hill – but I was so desperate to finish I just pelted it. But you can imagine my surprise when I saw my parents excitedly shouting at me at the finish line – and I looked at the time – it was 11.40, so it must have taken me about 1 hour 40 minutes to finish the race!

My official time was 1.38, and I just wanted to run it sub two hours, so I was absolutely delighted – and celebrated with a slap up lunch with my parents. I certainly won’t be running the marathon that fast – the thought of doing any more miles after that race was NOT appealing – but I am so pleased to have some (successful) race experience under my belt!

After that, here’s what my schedule looks like now until the marathon:

March 14

It’s time to talk food, glorious food! As you can imagine, one of the hardest things for me during training has been knowing what to eat, how much and when – so my trainer Tom came up with a handy food plan for me.

NB. Since I last blogged, so much has happened much to update you all on – I met two triathletes (one on Olympic hopeful), went to the Triathlete show and read an inspiring book by a woman who won 13 Iron Man triathlons. But I haven’t got time for all that today (so many hastily scribbled notes to rewrite!) so I’ll focus on my diet.

After looking at my existing eating habits, Tom decided that although I was eating enough food, and not too much junk, the timings were all off and some meals could definitely be improved to maximise the amount of nutrients I am getting each day. So after factoring in what I typically like to eat, what my weaknesses are (sweet cravings!) and all those nutritional products Maxifuel have sent me to help with my training, here’s what a typical food plan looks like:

Example Non Training day:

30 mins after waking:

  • Multivitamin: Maxifuel Sports Vitamin
  • 3 Maxifuel Ache Free capsules
  • 1000mg Fish Oils
  • 25 ug Vitamin D

9am:

  • Omelette, with 1 egg, 2 egg whites, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes

12pm:

  • Meat and Salad
  • 80g chicken
  • avocado
  • cashew nuts
  • apple
  • romaine lettuce
  • tomato
  • pepper
  • olive oil

3pm:

  • Protein Shake
  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 1 handful almonds
  • mixed berries

6pm:

Beef and Vegetable Hot Pot

  • 100g Beef
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Green Beans

9pm:

Healthy Snack 1

  • 2 Tablespoons Nut Butter
  • ½ cup mixed berries

OR:

Healthy Snack 2

  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • ½ cup mixed berries

Example Training Day (Early Session)

20 mins pre training:

  • Multivitamin: Maxifuel Sports Vitamin
  • 1000mg Fish Oils
  • 25 ug Vitamin D
  • 3 Maxifuel Ache Free capsules
  • 1 serving Viper Active Drink

9am:

Protein Porridge

  • 1 scoop Maxifuel Recovermax
  • 60g porridge oats
  • ½ cup mixed berries
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseeds

12pm:

Chilli con carne

  • Chilli
  • 60g (cooked) Bulgur wheat / similar carb

3pm:

Protein Shake

  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 1 handful almonds
  • mixed berries

6pm:

Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

  • Mixed Vegetables
  • 80g Chicken Breast

9pm:

Healthy Snack

  • Mixed Nuts
  • Piece of fruit

Example Training Day (Late Session)

30 mins after waking:

  • Multivitamin: Maxifuel Sports Vitamin
  • 3 MaxifuelAche Free capsules
  • 1000mg Fish Oils
  • 25 ug Vitamin D

9am:

Omelette

  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • spinach
  • mushrooms
  • tomatoes

12pm:

Meat and Salad

  • 1 tin tuna
  • avocado
  • spinach
  • tomato
  • balsamic vinegar
  • romaine lettuce
  • cucumber

3pm:

  • Protein Shake
  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 3 oatcakes
  • mixed berries

5pm:

  • Training session

6pm:

  • 1 Maxifuel Recovermax

8pm:

Dinner

  • Roast Chicken
  • Vegetables
  • Potatoes

Obviously I wouldn’t eat the same thing every day, but this gives you a rough idea of the amount of food I need to eat and when – so no carbs on a no training day, just lots of protein and veg, carbs directly after a morning session, and lots of little snacks to stop me getting an energy slump. We haven’t gone through drinks yet, other than drinking lots of water except at mealtimes (apparently it affects digestion!).

Some of the food may sound a bit odd - the Protein porridge in particular - but I made it the other day and it was actually delicious - kind of orangey and fruity, and very filling.

Tom has told me to follow this 80% of the time (so I don’t go crazy) and that we can alter it as I go along if the timings don’t work for me. I’ve been trying this diet for a week or so now, and I do have heaps more energy – but I am finding the ‘dinner at 6’ mealtime never happens, and has to be swapped with my 9pm snack because I am either at work or out!

The discovery of nut butter (almond or cashew) and frozen berries as a snack has been amazing at satisfying my sweet cravings, and luckily I am blessed with a huge Sainsbury’s opposite my house (thank you Haringey) so I have been able to get ingredients quite easily. The only time I have found it slightly difficult was on a press trip to Miami, where although there are a lot of health conscious people there (getting a protein shake is easy with a giant Whole Foods or smoothie bar on every corner), and I felt no shame in ordering an egg white omelette, I found it hard to resist dessert, the odd cocktail or the bread basket. But it was only for four days, and I ran every day on the beach, so am trying not to beat myself up about it.

One word of advice though – never wear flipflops (which provide absolutely no support) when recovering from Shin Splints and decide to walk around Miami for hours on end – I am now frantically icing and ibuprofening my leg to prevent them coming back, as my legs are very sore!

March 1

So yesterday I did a more unusual work-out session than normal - right at the top of the London Eye!

So how did I end up squatting and lunging with a lovely view of Big Ben and the Thames? It’s all thanks to Nike. To mark the Leap Year, they took over the EDF Energy London Eye to host a series of Nike Training Club classes, inspiring women to ‘Make It Count’ with an extra day to reach their fitness goals. They asked us to host our own pod for a special fitness class for Stylist readers – and within a few minutes of putting it out on Twitter and Facebook I had seven keen training partners to join me in the Eye.

I also had a more selfish reason to want to go – I have never been on the Eye (have you seen the queues in the summer?) so thought what better way to get a view of the London Skyline? Admittedly, I’d rather be less sweaty and out of breath, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I also had a personal training session with Tom an hour before my 8pm London Eye workout – and when he warned me I needed “lots of energy” for this one, he wasn’t joking. After last week’s rounds of press ups, planks and kettlebell lunges, I was hobbling around like a crone at work the next day. And this week we did even more work on my feeble arms (I am probably the worst person at press ups, ever) and lots of variations on the plank (or as I like to call it, stomach pain hell). So I was a little tired when I rocked up to the London Eye.

Luckily, the enthusiasm of my lovely team of Stylist readers pepped me up right away – and we had the amazing Joslyn Thompson (follow her @fitgirltweets), our Nike trainer to get us in the mood – she was almost more excited than us about boarding the Eye. Once inside, we did an energetic 40 minute workout that involved a lot of squats, lunges, high-knee jogging and tricep dips – making use of the bench in the middle of the pod for those! With incredible views of the lit up skyline (and other pods full of fellow exercise groups), and a banging soundtrack, it was one of the most unusual, but fun workouts I have ever done - and I was seriously impressed by how fit our readers are – I was left huffing and puffing right at the end! I was also surpised at how many of us could fit into one pod without knocking each other out (although I did shame myself by tripping over my own water bottle and banging into the window), and that the pod didn’t shake with all of us jumping up and down.

After the wheel had gone round once, our workout was over (it goes a hell of a lot faster than 40 minutes in the gym), and we were ushered to County Hall for a kind of surreal fitness party, with music, a bar (never have I enjoyed a post-workout beer before) and amazing food –I devoured a white bean burger within minutes.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and so great to meet Stylist readers in person – even if it was in a rather sweaty state! Nike do a lot of other (free!!) training events across London (although not usually in the London Eye!) – I met an open water swimmer who had done some sessions in the Niketown store. This was my first, but I enjoyed it so much I am going to try and join in with some more – especially the running clubs.

February 27

Once again, it’s been a looong time since I blogged – but I had an excuse – London Fashion Week mania meant bikes, running and the pool were the last thing on my mind (although I did go to some shows with a rather fetching bandage which betrayed my new hobby).

But I’m back – and have lots to update you all with!

Back in the game

So first, some good news – I am finally (just about) running again. With just under 2 months until the Marathon, I needed to get out of my injury rut and back on the treadmill, so, with my physio Louise’s help, I have been slowly introducing running back into my training schedule. To be honest, it was as much a psychological thing as a physical – every time I felt a twinge of pain, I panicked and wanted to stop running, when actually my shin splints had actually pretty much healed, I just needed to build up strength in my leg again. So I started with one longer run a week, about 45 minutes long.

That run (a few weeks ago now :-/) was supposed to be a sprightly early morning jog around Richmond Park – but alas a Murder Mystery evening the night before (and a few too many glasses of red wine – well, it was my day off!) slightly jeopardised my plans – and I found myself hung over, on the train, with a late afternoon run to get out of the way. Needless to say, I won’t be drinking the day before a long run again (and would NOT advise it), but my hangover actually kind of helped. Focusing on my sore head meant I didn’t think about my injury, and I made it around Richmond Park problem free.

I also learnt three things – 1) That it’s ok to take ibuprofen when you’re injured (it reduces the swelling, and gave me the mental boost to make it round) 2) that all this pilates and core work was actually helping – I must have subconsciously been tensing my stomach and using my bum muscles to power around the park because I was SORE the next day. 3) For some reason, running outside (even though it’s much more impact on your joints) was much easier for me than running on a treadmill during recovery.

On a treadmill, all I could think about was every little pain and twinge, and I stopped, and probably ran a bit weirdly to try and compensate. Outside, I just focused on the route, took longer strides, and could run for a lot longer as a result.

My leg probably still isn’t tip top – the shin pain moved down to my lower ankle, and then the arch of my foot (it felt a bit like getting cramp in your foot 24/7), and once those pains went away, my leg muscles are taking the impact (good progress according to Louise) – and were super-sore the next day.

But Louise has been an absolute life saver, seeing me twice a week (before work on a Tuesday, and Saturday mornings), and stretching, massaging and doing stuff to my leg that has helped it get back into shape. Including this rather fetching tape.

The tape gives my ankle support so my left foot won’t roll in and cause the shin splints to recur on my long runs, and whilst it doesn’t look the prettiest it was a godsend when I did my hour long run last weekend – that and some ibuprofen, and I was practically sprinting around Alexandra Park. It also helped when I was hobbling around the cobblestones of Somerset House in flatforms during Fashion Week – luckily there were far wackier get-ups around so no-one noticed! So now it’s full-steam ahead with the running (with stretching and ice afterwards, of course) and Louise very kindly redrew my schedule – so here’s what it looks like until the Marathon.

My running distances go up quite quickly to get the mileage in before the big race (much quicker than I’d like, but hey!), and I’ve signed up for a half marathon at the beginning of April to give me at least some race experience!

Food, Glorious Food

So, as I might have mentioned before, Protein Powder scares me. And when I got sent THIS massive box from Maxifuel, I thought it was time to find out if/how these could help me train effectively.

So when I met up with my trainer Tom last Wednesday, we talked food. I had already sent him a food diary (two training days – a Sunday and a Thursday, and my Monday off), so we sat down to go through it. I was pretty shamed when he announced that “Normally, most people don’t eat enough, and are surprised they need to eat more. But you...clearly like food”.

So I am basically a massive pig (I was brutally honest in my food diary), but luckily, being super active means I am relatively slim. But there were still loads of ways to improve my diet so I have loads of energy (and avoid sugary treats at work, which are useless when I am training) – starting with protein for breakfast, carbs at lunch but little to no carbs on my non-training day, and lots of healthy snacks like oatcakes and nuts to halt my sweet cravings (I have SUCH a sweet truth). Obvious stuff, it may seem, but the timing is also super-important – Tom wants me to eat about every three hours, which I think I’m going to find quite hard! Bran flakes are also banned (full of sugar – which explains why I get hungry at 11:30am after a bowl for breakfast). I am getting a food diary this week, so will share it on the blog then – plus how to use all that Maxifuel stuff.

February 9

Sorry I haven't blogged in so long! There's much to catch up on, so here goes.

Time to get strong

Everyone (including me) thinks training for a marathon or triathlon requires a lot of cardio, and that endless running and sweating it out on a bike is the key. And, it kind of is. But equally important is all the core exercises and muscle training that will help me complete my challenge without falling to pieces/developing a serious injury. This is what my shin splints (which sadly, are still there) and physio sessions with Louise and Ellis at Tatami have taught me.

All the Pilates training we've been doing has been strengthening my glutes (bum) and belt (that's how I like to think of it) of core muscles around my middle, which will help me run more efficiently. And whilst I haven't been running too much to stop those Shin Splints coming back, it has completely transformed my posture at work . Working online, I tend to spend about 90% of my day hunched over a keyboard, tensely scanning my screen, typing, tweeting and very rarely getting up except to get water (I drink like a fish). Now I feel like I want to sit upright, and although I probably look a bit odd with my rod-like back and clenched bum, it's a big improvement from sitting slumped in a chair.

Pumping Iron

Aside from good posture, I need to get strong to prevent any more injury - which is where my personal trainer sessions with Tom come in. Tom is the Fitness First trainer who measured all our body fat and fitness at the start of our challenge, and he very kindly offered to help me with all my core and muscle work once a week.

Now most girls I know are afraid of doing weights in case they bulk up (or because like me, they're afraid of all the humungous men posturing over by the dumb bells), but used correctly, they will help me build strength whilst staying long and lean - I won't be able to run too far if I look like a body builder/Jodie Marsh!

Tom was brilliant at explaining how each exercise will help me with my running, and how to use the equipment in the gym properly, so I ended up feeling like I'd been lunging with kettlebells and pulling heavy strap things with my arms all my life. Whilst I was knackered the next day (and my Spin Class felt more tiring than ever), after the session I felt really proud of myself and really strong - now I can understand why people hang around in the weights section of the gym!

In my session with Tom today we did a mix-up of different exercises - cross-training, floor and weight work, including one that taught me how to use my back and shoulder muscles - and I NEVER knew I had muscles there. Apparently I am not very flexible (which doesn't surprise me) and afraid of squatting - probably because I tried to squat in the gym once and fell over, banging my bum! So my 'homework' is to squat around the house - so my boyfriend's in for a treat.

Food, glorious Food

Tom is also going to help me with a food diary - something I need LOADS of assistance with, because at the moment I am hungry all the time, and finding it really hard to resist the constant stream of cupcakes, biscuits and sweets that flood the Stylist office on a daily basis (see above). I need healthy but filling fuel, and protein powder scares me. I have also just found out I am allergic to cows milk (devastating news to the girl who used to down pints of milk after a run, and is addicted to Ben & Jerrys) so any diet advice will hopefully ensure I have enough energy to do all this training without feeling knackered at work. The first step is to record everything I eat for two days - but I'm crossing today off my list because I've just polished off a fish finger sandwich and a Gu Brownie. Hoping Tom doesn't see this...

Back on the Booze...or not

Like most of the population, I gave up alcohol for January, thinking it would be even harder to kick start a training programme if I was hung over every weekend. And I did feel great and have loads more energy, especially at the weekends when I am more likely to have a drink (and supposed to do my longest day of training). But as soon as February hit, it took one mid-week Fashion Party and a mojito for my resolve to slip - and I found myself doing a 7:30am spin class with a raging hangover (why did I go, was I still drunk?). Two leaving parties over the weekend also meant I went from cold turkey to a horrible three day hangover (much, much worse when you're doing a lot of exercise, and hungry all the time anyway), and I had to sack off a big Sunday training session for a 20 minute run. The lesson learnt? That whilst it's ok to have a drink whilst training (I can't have no fun for six months) , I need to pick my nights out wisely - and no amount of late night McDonalds will make the next day of exercise any easier.

Tried and Tested

Since announcing my challenge, I've been lucky enough to have been sent lots of cool training products to test out - including a Speedo Westsuit (which I'll model in my next blog post...maybe) goggles and hat.

It's not quite cold enough to wear these yet, and I look pretty goofy - but here you go.

More on these when I actually swim outside - until then, just laugh at my photo.

I also got sent this Sport's Bra to test out.

I want to give it a bit longer to try before I give a verdict - I only managed a 25 minute run on Sunday - but it was pretty comfortable, and kept everything 'strapped in'.

Another slightly unusual, but still intriguing running product I got sent were these feet shoes.

I've seen quite a few runners in these before - and although I am quite dubious, apparently they teach you to run in a different way that can help prevent shin splints and other injuries in the long run. My injury hasn't healed yet, so I won't be running in these just yet, but I tried them on for size anyway - and they felt WEIRD! Like the first time you wear a pair of flip flops and it feels like there's too much going on around your toes. But I'm sure I would used to them, and am looking forward to experimenting at some point. If you've tried these shoes yourself - let me know!

Anyway I have rambled on for soooo long now (must write shorter, more frequent blog posts) so I'll sign off. Until next time!

Lauren xx

January 31

Since my last blog post I finally went for a swim, discovered I still have shin splints, and was stretched out on a Pilates reformer.

Quite a lot to cover (I blame my lack of weekend blogging on sheer exhaustion from all the training/a vintage fair I had to attend on my day off) so I will break it down into three chunks, so you can read/skip as appropriate!

Attack of the Shin Splints 2: My nemesis returns

In my last blog, you may recall that I got back in my trainers and successfully lapped Finsbury Park twice, without any pain from injury last Sunday. Egged on by my lack of shin splintage, and with the go-ahead from my Physio, I did interval training on Tuesday for 25 minutes (3 minutes running at a steady pace (10 on a treadmill for me), 1.5 minutes super fast (14 on the treadmill) with 5 minutes recovery each side. This felt pretty good, and it actually was more comfortable going quicker than slowly. After a core gym session on Wednesday (where I attempted, rather feebly, to lift weights and kettlebells, and was laughed at by the beefcakes of Manor House Fitness First), and the dreaded spin class on Thursday (note to self - eating a banana beforehand is an error, and will cause cramps), I attempted a 7km run on Friday morning as a ‘warm up’ for my 12km run on Sunday. And this was my downfall.

When I started running at my normal pace of 12.5 on the treadmill, my legs felt fine, if a little stiff, and I pounded away for the whole 7km problem-free. Feeling triumphant to be back to my old speed, and with some delightfully trashy murder/hospital/morgue-related US drama on ITV2, I was on a serious running high. Sat at my desk all day, I felt no pain at all and chuckled to myself, "This shin splints thing is OVER”. Oh, how wrong I was.

Come Friday night, settled down in front of New Girl with a Gu brownie (my only vice until I’m back on the booze 1 February), my shin started seizing up with pain again, even when horizontal on the sofa. My worst fears were confirmed by Louise at Physio the next morning – the shin is still taking a while to recover, and so will hurt a lot if I try to put pressure on it. So it’s hello stretching, copious amounts of ice and ibuprofen, and goodbye running, unless I feel NO pain at all in my shin.

Time for a swim

So, with my long Sunday run out of the window, but a need to keep my heart rate up, I was left with no choice but to get in the pool. I don’t know why I’ve been so reluctant to swim yet –perhaps it’s because I hadn’t quite recovered from my rather militant swimming club days (when 50 lengths was a “casual warm up”, and I’d leave every session with either a verucka , a stitch, or fetching goggle marks around my eyes), or maybe it’s because the only costume I had in my wardrobe was a vintage 1950s style number with a belt and shorts (not quite triathlon appropriate, but very s/s 12).

So I headed over to Highbury Fitness First, which is possibly the most pimped out gym I have ever seen (There’s a latte machine! They play MTV! It’s in the old Arsenal ground, which excited my boyfriend!) for my inaugural swimming session.

And two things from my swimming days came flooding back to me. Firstly, even in a highly inappropriate swimsuit that caused some major chafing, and sans goggles, I am quite quick at breaststroke. This will mean nothing when I am caught up in the mad rush across Blenheim lake in the triathlon, but hey! Secondly, Lane Etiquette.

My fellow swimmers here will know the rules of Lane Etiquette. Number 1: One must follow the swimming direction of the lane, be it clockwise or anti-clockwise. No stopping, unless the water goes down the wrong hole and you start choking. Number 2: One must choose one’s lane wisely – do NOT think you’re really quite quick and then hold up the mental front crawlers in the fast lane with your graceful breaststroke, and don't come over all modest and annoy the less speedy swimmers by charging up and down the slow lane. Number 3: One must try not to overtake, and if you do, don't make a big deal about it, and splash loudly past - just wait on the side until there's a nice gap to complete your lengths. Number 4: One must refrain from moments of pool PDA when the lanes are out.

Now, I know it's a nice gym, and there's a steam room and sauna, but couples, do you really find a gym pool romantic? On a Sunday afternoon there was not one, but two couples canoodling in one of the lanes, literally astride each other in a passionate embrace, and forcing the other half of the pool into two lanes. I am no prude, I just found the whole thing slightly bizarre, and kind of amusing, especially as everyone else in the pool was making loud grunting noises.

Anyway, rant over. Despite feeling really out of breath after the first 5 minutes, and having to crane my head above the water to avoid getting water in my eyes, I managed a good half an hour session, which I was really pleased with as I'd done about 40 minutes of cycling and cross-training before. For some reason, the post swim-euphoria is even greater than after a run or bike ride (I think it's because you're all warm and cosy and dried off), and even though I felt knackered on Sunday evening, and fell asleep 5 minutes in to Birdsong (not even Eddie Redmayne could keep me awake), it's definitely inspired me to hit the pool again this week. I'll just pack goggles and a decent swimsuit next time...

And finally...

One other thing I tried on Saturday morning in my physio session - the Pilates reformer. It involves doing Pilates exercises on what looks like a rack/torture device, and is in fact meant to help increase resistance and help you stretch/improve your core muscles. I'm sure Pilates pros will know all about these, but it was all new to me, and despite being a tad freaked out by the thing at first, I really enjoyed it once I got going, and really felt it in my bum/tum area - maybe this is something I can keep up after my tri-training is over...

Anyway, that's enough from me, will keep you updated on my progress v soon - hopefully the next time I blog I will have actually run somewhere!

Lauren x

January 23

I can run! At last!

I had my Forrest Gump moment yesterday when, after two weeks of resting my legs due to shin splints, I hit the park for a slow and steady jog. After physio on Saturday (where I did a lot of balancing exercises, and managed not to fall over so much - all signs I'm improving my 'core' muscles) Louise said I could test my legs with a gentle 3 mile run around Finsbury Park. So, in an unexpectedly excited mood at around 3pm, I laced up my new Asics and cautiously ran two laps of the park.

If, dear readers, you do run, do you have a particular running style? My boyfriend has a technique he calls "the shuffle" to prevent injury - it looks like he's barely moving his legs, and although he does slightly resemble an OAP, he manages to push himself round the park with minimum effort. I'm more of a pound the pavement, arms flailing kind of a girl, but I was determined to run efficiently and avoid injury at all costs. So when I say 'ran', I actually 'shuffled' very slowly, whilst trying to engage my core (more lessons from physio) and pulling in my bum/tummy. I looked, well stupid, and was overtaken twice by a man and his dog. But I finished the route with no injury, and despite a bit of discomfort/niggling feeling that my leg wasn't quite right, no pain during or after my run.

I felt like whooping, jumping in the air and adopting a Forrest-Gump esque twang to announce my victory to the occupants of Finsbury Park. Because having an injury really got to me, and much more than I thought it would. I was filled with despair, frustrated I couldn't run and felt powerless when I couldn't glide across the pavement as quickly as before. If I hadn't had my new spin class and the challenge of cycling to try, I would have been quite down last week.

But yesterday's run has proved that I am on the road to recovery, and as long as I take it slow, I'll be running again (carefully) in no time. Louise wants to see me for more physio tomorrow (to check my shins are still ok), and then hopefully I can keep on running - after all, I've got a marathon to think about as well as the triathlon!

Lauren x

PS. I warmed down/did core exercises in Finsbury Park on one of these outdoor gyms - can't believe I had never noticed this before! Has anyone used one? At first I didn't think it was that good, but after using the arm lift thing (where you life YOUR OWN WEIGHT) I feel pretty well-exercised this morning. This pic of Jess Ennis working out looks NOTHING like me - but you'll get the general idea:

January 22

My incredible physio Louise has drawn up a schedule for me, taking into account all my marathon and triathlon training. Although it was a little scary at first to have the next six months of my life planned out, seeing all my potential training session planned in was surprisingly reassuring. This could all be subject to change if my shin splints don't heal/if I start doing more spin classes/core sessions with Fitness First, but here's what the rest of January looks like for me.

All the running distance are marked in miles, and there isn't too much swimming/cycling yet. Louise says it's very important to have rest days, so I have one schedule either side of my long run on a Sunday, that way I can indulge on a Friday night, and I won't be too knackered on the first day back at work!

Think it looks manageable?

Lauren x

January 20

I did my first spin class yesterday. I'M STILL HURTING.

Here's a stock image version of what my class looked like (thank you, Rex Features), except I was nowhere near as cool, calm or composed as this. Think a Heinz tomato soup complexion, dripping with sweat, and a face of pain - the instructor kept telling my not to "look afraid". I knew what spin classes where all about (lots of cycling, lots of shouting, lots of pumping music, and can burn around 1000 calories an hour if you're good), but this was my first. And I was terrified.

With a running ban for a week, my triathlon trainer Tom out of action with a stomach bug, and no desire to get in the pool, I decided there was one thing for it - I needed to get on my bike asap.

I had read somewhere online that if you're doing a Sprint triathlon like me (750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run), you should be able to cycle comfortably for around 20 minutes before you begin training. Now I don't know how legit this is, but it was a good place to start.

So I hit the gym and cycled 10 km in just under 20 minutes, trying to concentrate on keeping my heart rate up whilst watching Daybreak on the TV (harder than it sounds). It was tough at first, mainly because I haven't cycled much since uni, and because I started to get competitive with the man next to me, who swanned in in his lycras and started pedalling furiously, all whilst letting out the LOUDEST breaths I have ever heard (for the record, he won, and I could barely walk later on). But with some cheesy house music in my headphones (don't judge me), and Dan Lobb/Kate Garraway's face egging me on (or so I thought), I managed to keep this up for three days running quite comfortably.

So how did I end up in a spin class? My physio Louise recommended I do one out as an alternative to running, and as my Fitness First gives free classes (albeit at 7:30 AM!), I thought I'd try it out.

Firstly, I didn't know how to assemble the bikes. Then the lights went out, and I lost my water bottle. Then I didn't know what the instructor meant when she asked us to 'load it up'. And I locked the bikes gears by mistake.

Eventually I grasped what was going on, thanks to a patient instructor. But boy, is that a work out. I thought I was quite fit, but by the 15th hill climb I did wonder if I might just jack in this triathlon thing altogether and feign injury for the next six months. It took a disco version of Britney's latest album, and the thought of the peanut butter kit kat on my desk to keep me going. But although I was knackered, I did feel amazing (if not immediately) afterwards. My legs felt stretched, my bottom felt sore, but toned, and when I got on the bike this morning, 20 minutes felt like a walk in the park.

So I think I'll give this spin class another go next week - but I'll keep hold of my bottle of water this time.

Tomorrow I'm seeing my physio again to check on my injury, and of course, I'll keep you guys updated with the results. I am also hoping to start running on Sunday again - here's hoping I can do it!

Lauren x

January 16

Well, it's been a dramatic weekend for me on the training front. It turns out I have an injury, and can't run for a week! So it's time to take it easy on the treadmill, and finally hit the pool and a bike.

I was up bright and early on Saturday morning, not to train, but to meet Louise at Tatami Health for my first physio session. I was a little nervous (mainly because I didn't want to find out I had some terrible injury and could never run again), but she put my mind at ease - especially as she had run several triathlons and marathons herself!

After standing in a pair of shorts, having my core muscles measured on a machine (which felt a bit like having a scan for a baby), and a slightly painful, but amazing massage session (who knew my foot muscles were so tense!), it turns out I have shin splints on my left leg, caused by over-training (turns out going on the treadmill five times a week isn't a good idea), slightly rolling my left foot in when I run (called 'pronation' in running terms), a collapsed arch in my foot, and a knackered pair of trainers. Apparently, you are supposed to replace your trainers every 500 miles, and mine were well past this!

A strong core is also key to preventing injury, and that rolling on my left foot, so Louise taught me some balancing exercises to strengthen my foot arch and core muscles (a lot of balancing on one leg and 'clenching' muscles whilst taking short breaths), and prescribed a week off running, applying ice to my shin every day to reduce swelling, some stretching exercises, and to "buy a new pair of trainers immediately".

I was a little disheartened to have injured myself already, so am really going to try to take it easy and not push myself too hard - especially as there is six months to go until Blenheim.

So after my session, it was off to Sweatshop in Holloway to replace my old Asics with a new pair. I went to Sweatshop about six months ago to get fitted for my first 'serious' pair of running shoes, because they actually know what they're talking about - they make you do things like run on a treadmill to measure your gait, most of the shop assistants are hardcore runners, and can tell just by looking at your foot what kind of shoe you'll need. They also won't push you to buy a new pair unless you really need them, which is a relief, as trainers are pretty expensive! I parted around £100 for this pair of shoes (in the sale, mind) but they are incredibly padded and should ease the pressure on my legs once the shin splints have healed. When it's your own legs you're protecting, I think of it as a worthy investment.

Pretty, aren't they? I got a little too excited about these when I got them out of the box - think I am turning into a bit of a running geek. I just hope wearing these will prevent any further injury - and apparently now is a good time to buy new shoes, as there's enough time for me to get used to running in them before the Marathon in April. Louise also said I don't have to give up high heels at work (as they support my ankle), so despite being annoyed at myself for getting an injury so early on, I am a happy camper.

Louise also said shin splints won't slow down my training too much, as I'll need to start doing other exercises this week (cycling, swimming, strengthening training) that won't put pressure on my shins. She added that a lot of marathon runners make the mistake of over-training, when all you really need (when you have a lot of time to train) is 1-2 long runs a week, plus other exercise to keep your cardio fitness up in the meantime. So this week I'll need to hit the pool for the first time, and get cycling - all of which I'll save for my next blog.

Have you ever had an injury when training? How did you cope with it? Let me know by commenting below...would be good to share stories!

Lauren x

January 13

Sorry readers (if you're out there!), its been a few days since my last blog-fession. But there isn't too much to report.

I am meeting my Fitness First trainer Tom next week to work out my schedule (he's promised me a 'week off' every four weeks - unfortunately that just means a little bit less cardio!), and tomorrow I have my first Physio appointment with Louise at Tatami Health .

Why haven't I got cracking as soon as we announced the challenge? Because - eek- I think I might already have an injury.

As I am also doing the marathon in April, I've been doing quite a lot of running (two longer runs plus 6km in the gym three times a week), and although I had a break off over Christmas, my leg started to twinge a little bit this past week. It's not quite shin splints, but the lower part of my left leg hurts whenever I put pressure on it - not good when I haven't even started my triathlon training yet!

So I am hoping Louise can put my mind at ease and sort out my leg pains tomorrow - hopefully introducing swimming and cycling into my workout will ease the pressure off my legs! If any of you have tips for sorting out leg pains, please do share them in the comments - I'd be eternally grateful.

In the meantime, here's what I did manage to do before my leg decided to give up...

On Sunday I went for a lovely run around Richmond Park. My boyfriend's Dad lives close by, so we did a lap of the whole park (around 15km), before settling down to a (healthy) English Breakfast (grilled bacon, and with lots of tomatoes and mushrooms!). There are some hardcore runners around the park, so I was a bit nervous about strutting my stuff, but luckily I had my fancy new Nike gear to strike a pose in. A whippet-thin woman in a baseball cap and full-on running suit gave me the nod, so I must have looked ok, right? It's all a bit neon, which pleased my family no end as they keep thinking I'm going to get hit by a car when running. I try to stick to parks, in full daylight, so this doesn't happen!

I haven't decided on a nutrition plan with Tom yet, but I imagine it will involve lots of healthy, wholesome food, and hopefully plenty of carbs! In the meantime, I'm trying to do the best I can by not drinking alcohol (for January, anyway) and sipping on these instead.

January 4

With bad co-ordination and no competitive streak whatsoever, I was never much of an athlete at school (to give you an idea of how bad I was, I once hit myself in the face with a rounders’ bat).

But I caught the running bug at University and although my ‘style’ left much to be desired (my friends still laugh about my flailing arms), it was a great stress-buster – and I finally found a sport I was good at.

Fast-forward a few years and my running-obsessed boyfriend suggested I signed up for the London marathon this year. It’s always been my goal to complete one, so I was first to apply, but as soon as I heard about this Sporting Challenge, I felt I should do something bigger.

If I’m truly honest, I’ve got slightly selfish intentions too – my boyfriend ran the length of the country for charity, and finds marathons a breeze, so it would be nice to be better than him at something (guess I do have that competitive streak after all)!

So in a moment of slightly hung-over naivety on New Year’s Day, I decided to sign up for a triathlon – (somewhat foolishly) thinking if Pippa Middleton can do it, surely I’ll survive? Whilst my boyfriend was supportive, my parents were dubious, flashing me pitiful “yes darling, but it’s a TRIATHLON” looks as soon as I broke the news. My friends were more blunt, with one telling me “you might die”. Great!

I can see why they’re nervous. Whilst I feel at home pounding the pavement, the furthest I’ve swum was in a gala at school, and my student bike is lying rusting in my parent’s garage. Typing ‘triathlete’ into Google, I am greeted, and terrified, by words like ‘Turbo-Training’ and ‘Garmin Forerunners’, and pictures of ultra-toned women, dipped in skin-tight lycra, with a fierce, slightly deranged look in their eyes (plus some epic calf muscles). Am I really tough enough to join this world?

But with my place in the Blenheim triathlon secured, I’m determined to go through with it. So I’ll be donning a wetsuit and resurrecting my bike, whilst keeping up my marathon training. Wish me luck! I’m going to need it…

I wasn't a massive coconut water fan, but these flavoured ones taste quite nice, and could almost be considered a cocktail. They are supposed to hydrate you more than water - so I sip them after a long run. Whether they work or not, they are far tastier than Lucozade, which I don't like - waaay too much sugar.

If you have any other tasty sports drinks you could recommend - let me know! Sometimes I want something different to water...

I am yet to board my bike and hit the pool yet, but as soon as I do, I'll let you know!

Until next time,

Lauren x

Tags: health and fitness

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