bench fat /bɛn(t)ʃ fat/
Unwanted weight gained by an athlete when taking a break from training as a result of injury or illness. Caused by the failure of permanom to go away and bacon to cease existing just because training has been suspended. Not to be confused with normal, healthy weight gain that occurs when an endurance athlete stops training so goddamned much she barely has time to brush her hair in the morning. Neither should it be used pejoratively. This term is reserved for athletes to vent about the frustrations caused by being unable to participate in one’s sport.
bench fat /bɛn(t)ʃ fat/
I injured my foot back in 2010. According to the person posting to Runner’s World social media at the time, what I did wasn’t possible: I’d ruptured my plantar fascia. For 9 months I was reduced to hobbling and limping. I was signed off field work – I couldn’t drive; could barely get from my desk to the staff canteen, never mind walk far enough to do my routine work. I could just about cycle, as long as it wasn’t for more than 30 minutes.
As far as I could tell, my racing career was over. And I’d just bought a TT bike. It wasn’t cheap.
Late that year, while camping, I discovered I was just fine when barefoot. In fact, I was just fine when I was wearing a pair of neoprene booties that formed part of my wetsuit. This got me to thinking, and so, although I did seek the advice of both a private podiatrist (rubbish AND expensive) and the NHS biomechanics specialist (brilliant and FREE), what I ended up with was a set of Vibram Fivefingers.
In 2013, after spending about 2 years re-learning how to run, having suffered swine flu and ended up with exercise-induced asthma (but of course), I went back to racing.
And it has been my most successful year ever.
My first race of the year saw a PB in the run. I DNSed one, because of illness, and completed four. I’ve won prizes worth 40 quid (which isn’t a lot, but is more than I’ve won in all my previous races). In my last race, I suffered a 3D failure, fell flat on my face, and fractured my wrist (which is why the blogs have been lacking in updates of late).
So imagine my surprise when Triathlon Scotland published the rankings (MS Excel spreadsheet) for 2013 and I discovered I’d come top in my age group for the North Region Sprint series. I was more surprised to discover I had the second highest points accumulation at Sprint distance in the whole of Scotland for my age group.
I am, needless to say, chuffed to bits. In 2007 I did my first race, for a bet. In 2013, after a 3 year break for injury and illness, I won my first race. And here’s the joy of triathlon: yes, the elite racers are untouchable by most of us Age Groupers, but that’s no barrier to success. You might think you could never do a tri, that it’s too hard or you’re too unfit. Give it a go. There are plenty of events aimed at beginners, nice and short to give you a taste for it. Or, indeed, any other sport. It’s never too late, you’re never too unfit to start. Everyone starts somewhere, and everyone, ultimately, is competing against themselves. Just taking part, whatever your chosen sport, means you’ve achieved something fantastic.
You never know. You might win something. It might even be a prize.
I had my last race of the season, Huntly Sprint Triathlon, on the 22nd, almost two weeks ago. Usually the last race of the season imminently precedes a blog post about how the year went, lessons learned, successes and failures, goals for the following year etc. There’s been a bit of a gap this year.
I started racing back in 2007, and I’ve been pretty lucky, in the sense that I haven’t really had much in the way of serious injury in races or training. Other than the foot injury that saw me stop racing for three years, clearly. What I mean is, I haven’t crashed.
Well, until now.
The swim was okay. Not great — I’ve been struggling a bit with asthma recently, and the chlorine can set it off, so I couldn’t turn properly. Back before I injured my foot I was on course for a 13 minute 750m; this year I have been working my way back down from over 15 minutes. It has been hard, and progress slow, not helped by lack of easy access to a gym. I used to be doing somewhere between 12 and 16 hours of training a week. These days I’m lucky to get 6, and that’s including my cycle commute. But my time at Huntly was 14:34 (plus the run to the timing mat), which is better than it was at the start of the year, so not bad considering my eye fell out halfway through and I had to stop to put it back*. There was also a ridiculous amount of cheating going on in the swim. NO OVERTAKING IN THE LANES. It’s not hard to understand. The guy in my lane who overtook three people right down the middle (reported to me by Alibarbarella afterwards — no wonder I was getting hit in the face) should have been penalised.
The bike was a bit of a disaster. The course was beautiful, and I should have taken the Stealth, but I was on the Pinarello because I didn’t know the roads and was worried about surprise descents. I pushed too hard, knowing it was between me and another woman in my age group for the series. We’d competed in the same race in Turriff, in which she was about 3 minutes slower than me in the swim, 4 minutes faster in the run, and we were evenly matched on the bike. The conditions in Turriff were dreadful, and I was sure I could outpace her on the bike leg in Huntly.
But the Turriff conditions, perversely, suited me. I can cope with freezing temperatures and wet, agricultural roads (albeit not on my TT bike). Huntly was baking hot and there was an insane wind in the back leg of the bike course. I swear it blew my eyelids inside out at one point. Despite doing my best to keep my hydration up, I found myself wishing I’d fitted the XLab Torpedo rig to the bike. There was also a fair bit of drafting going on, which is a personal hate of mine in amateur races where there is a no-draft rule. NEED MOAR DRAFTBUSTERS THANKYOU PLEASE.
When I came out of T2, not too shabbily considering I’m running in VFFs these days, my legs were dead. I’d blown my pacing. I couldn’t pick my feet up, I felt numb from the waist down, my posture had collapsed and I was close to tears. One of the things you learn when taking part in endurance sport is that your mood is very closely related to the state of your body. Anyone who thinks they are a being of pure consciousness riding around in a meat vehicle needs to do an overnight century ride or something. When you hit the wall and force yourself to keep going, your body protests by releasing a flood of chemicals in the biochemical equivalent of a temper tantrum. It affects people in different ways, but I’ve learned that my body makes me cry and tries to make me stop by insisting it’s not going to be able to get to the end and I’m going to have to quit eventually, so best get it over with early.
I’ve also learned to ignore it.
Then came the 3D fail. Being in possession of only one eye, I don’t see in stereo like people with two functional ones. This is generally no biggie, but there are some things that are difficult for me, and one of those things is seeing small changes in topography in the immediate vicinity. There was a bus stop with a slightly raised piece of pavement about 1.5km into the run. I failed to see the rise and I had dead legs. My foot caught the pavement and I went down. Hard.
After what felt like an eternity rolling around on the ground, while my body said, “Told you so,” in a cutting-off-its-nose-to-spite-its-face smug kind of way, I got up. I was disorientated, I had major road rash on my knees and I thought I’d probably broken my wrist. I’d lost sight of the people ahead of me and was confused about which way to go. I went back to the last sign to check I was going the right way, then carried on. It was slow and painful, I was bleeding, I was crying; but I was also furious and determined.
By the time I crossed the line, in serious pain and with blood streaming down my shins, I’d lost about 10 minutes. And the series.
My thanks to the lady competitor who paused her bike to check if I was okay and needed any help, and also to the lady in the car who stopped and got out to see if I needed to go to hospital. Your concern, whoever you are, was very much appreciated, although I’m not sure I was appropriately effusive with my gratitude at the time.
Next year? Better training. I can shave oodles of time off both swim and bike. Maybe get me a sperm hat. Lose some weight. More consistent winter training. Get back to the strength work. HILLS. But you know what? I did a PB in the run in Turriff this year, and what I wanted to do more than anything was find out if the permanent damage to my foot spelled the end of my ability to race. I came second in the series overall and was either 1st or 2nd in category in every race this year, including the Inverurie Sprint that was so badly flooded they had to cancel the bike section.
I’d call that a success. In 2014, I think I’m going to go even faster.
My wrist isn’t broken, thankfully. There’s serious soft tissue damage, possibly a hairline fracture in the radius and a little lump that needs further medical attention to find out if it’s a displaced fragment of cartilage or something. It’s still pretty painful, though, and makes typing hard, which is why you’ve had to wait for the race report.
Could have been a lot worse. At least I didn’t fall off the bike.
* No, really. It can happen. It’s why I have a black one for swimming. I don’t understand why it happened for the first time during a race — I’m careful with my goggle choice for races — but I’m guessing it was a straightforward case of This Was Not Meant To Be.
I am thrilled and delighted to announce that my science fiction story When Shepherds Dream of Electric Sheep will appear in the Looking Landwards anthology from Newcon Press. I am over the moon to share a table of contents with such well-known and exciting authors, and my thanks to Ian Whates for picking my story. The book launches in October at BristolCon, and is being produced in collaboration with the Institution of Agricultural Engineers to celebrate their 75th anniversary.
Thanks are also due to my British Science Fiction Association crit group, Orbiter 6, whose harsh on writing but supportive of writers attitude has helped me enormously in the time I’ve been with them.
On the 14th September, at the Douglas Hotel, Market Street, Aberdeen, we will launch the next Lemon Tree Writers chapbook, Point of Balance, containing 6 pieces of short and flash fiction from LTW members, including me. The cover is by Alibarbarella and we are looking into making it available for sale as a print (minus the text, obviously!) at the launch.
I can also report that my flash homage to Russell T Davies, Why Don’t You Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead has been picked for performance as part of the Aberdeen Literary Festival, New Words. I will be reading this piece at the Lemon Zest event at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre on Castle Street in Aberdeen. The event starts at 19:30 on the 15th September, which is the day after our chapbook launch, so it’ll be a busy weekend. Luckily I’ve no races planned!
Speaking of races, I’m feeling particularly kick arse today as, on top of all of the above, I won my first ever race, even though the bike leg was cancelled due to flooding. I will post a full report when the final times have been released, but I can say in summary that today is made of AWESOME and WIN.
More days like today please!
I love living in Scotland. I missed it terribly while I was down south and experienced a profound sense of relief when I came back. I spent the best part of twenty years in England, and the only way I can think to describe the difference is to imagine what it feels like to be on a crowded train, where you can’t move without bumping into someone. Then imagine what it’s like to be walking on a hillside with only a few other people around and none of them especially close. The difference is one of expansion, but then that might be the synaesthesia talking.
Then again, in Scotland we have places like this:
So it’s an odd thing for me to experience, as I do today, the sudden urge to pack up and go to another country. I have an itch to revisit Bavaria, or the Austrian Tyrol; to spend some time in Scandinavia or acquaint myself with the Basque country; to explore the hinterlands of Russia or hike the Caucasus. The other tell-tale and oh-so-familiar sign of restlessness is the ready distraction of my collection of recipe books, as RB2 declares dissatisfaction with everything on our current menu list and demands NEW FOOD.
I have no idea what has brought this on. It’s as sudden and unpredictable as a summer squall and, while familiar, not something that has happened in two or three years. In a couple of weeks, I’m visiting Toulouse for the wedding of a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in too long to mention, and perhaps that will satisfy the itchy feet.
Tomorrow there is Knockburn Loch sprint triathlon, and today I’m chained to my desk with deadlines glowering at me over the temporal near horizon. If that doesn’t serve to distract me, it may be time to start planning a roadtrip.
This past weekend saw me return to triathlon competition after a nearly three year hiatus. My last race was Dalkeith, May 2010, and it was in that race I ruptured my plantar fascia—a particularly painful injury that left me hobbling for 9 months.
The turning point came during a camping holiday in Wester Ross, which I spent barefoot. Lo and behold, I was able to walk again. After getting hold of some Vibram Fivefingers, and with a suitable time for recovery, I started running. Swine flu was another set-back, but after two years of re-learning how to run, adjusting my biomechanics the hard way, and careful training, I felt able to return to racing.
Turrif triathlon, a sprint, was my first since Dalkeith 2010. It was great to see some familiar faces as well as getting to know some new ones, and absolutely super to discover my absence had been noticed on the race circuit. I had really missed racing—not just the competition, or the challenge, or even the opportunity to drool over some spectacularly nice bikes, but also the camaraderie. No matter how fast or slow you are, fellow triathletes will cheer you on and congratulate you for your effort. That mutual support is one of the biggest happy-making things I know, right up there with puppies with big feet, Maru with a new box, non-Newtonian fluids and scale invariance.
I wasn’t expecting the race to be a fast one, and it wasn’t. At 1 hour 32 minutes and change, it was the slowest sprint race I’ve completed. The swim came in at around 13’45, but I can’t be sure what the time was because my HRM broke. Transition (and the timing mat) was 150m over uneven ground from the pool and we were required to put shoes on to get down there. The conditions were abysmal, the worst I’ve experienced. Serious wind, rain and hail made the cycle leg even more difficult than the steeply undulating terrain, bad road surface and flooding would have made it anyway. When I entered T2, after my slowest cycle leg ever (50 minutes is appalling) my kit was floating. I am not joking. My toes were so cold that it was a struggle to get them into soggy Spyridons, and my transition time seriously suffered— T2 should not take 1’50.
Despite all that, I managed a PB in the run and a second in class for my first ever placing.
My utter delight and sense of achievement is tempered only slightly by my sense of annoyance that the above picture is the only one in which I think I look reasonably good. Here’s another, in which I don’t think I look good:
I look at that and think, “Oh gods, I need to lose weight. My thighs look like a pair of canoodling walruses.”
This is so wrong.
In that picture I have just swum 750m in under 14 minutes and was one of the fastest in my heat, having passed everyone else in my lane bar one. I’ve struggled into my bikilas and run across the car park, down some slippery steps, and am on my way to another car park, where I will jump on my bike, ride 20km in absolute filth, then finish off with a 5k run.
Does it really matter that I weigh 67kg and have thighs that touch? What’s more important? That I don’t conform to socially-acceptable standards of beauty (thin, unblemished skin, cheekbones you could shave with, hair as thick as a bear’s), or that I can come back from injury and severe illness and still run faster than I could 7 years ago despite not having shed the relatively small amount of weight I gained during my time off? Should I devote mental energy to bemoaning the fact I can’t even contemplate running without a decent sports bra, unlike some of the more athletic ladies; or spend it considering all the ways I could shave off the paltry 2 minutes that came between me and third lady overall?
Yeah. I don’t need to spend much time thinking about that. In the grand scheme of things, and despite what Dove would have us believe, function is far more important than appearance. I’ll keep on training, and if I should end up leaner and meaner, great, but if I don’t I’m not going to hate myself for it.
My next confirmed race is St Andrews, but I’m looking for others to enter this year. I’ll probably do Inverurie at the end of July, and maybe Knockburn would be fun. Bearing in mind that I like 3-4 weeks between races and don’t want to travel too far this year, any other suggestions?
When I woke up this morning it was clear that winter is lined up in the starting blocks and has its arse in the air, ready for the off. The car was frosted white and there was that sense of sparkle I particularly associate with the first proper cold snap at the end of autumn.
The days are short up here, and the clocks have gone back, so although I rode to work (brrr! tepid!) I wanted to get out and enjoy the glorious sunshine at lunchtime.
I am currently in the base-training stage of preparing to go back to racing next year, after what will have been a two-year lay-off as a result of my foot injury. This means learning how to run again, and learning how to run differently — my foot cannot tolerate normal trainers any more, and so I am running in VFF Bikilas. This is proving remarkably successful, if my heart rate is anything to go by. I’m something of a fast-beater, and I’m used to running an easy 4km loop at an average heart rate approaching 175. As I can maintain an easy 10km/hr pace at a heart rate of 162bpm now, I can only assume the claims of greater efficiency are not exaggerated.
My new lunch run is a little over 3.5km, which is just long enough to feel worth it while not so long that it forces me to take more than a 30 minute break for lunch. Perfect. Not only is it the ideal length —when I start racing again I can always lengthen or double it— it is also the most scenic of any lunchtime excursion I have had in my working career.
Today’s session was particularly slow because the weather was so good, and the scenery so uplifting, that I kept stopping to take photographs.
While I don’t normally like the Beatles song referenced in the title, as the synaesthesia renders it yellow, which tastes horrible, I thought it most appropriate for this post. I don’t think the synaesthesia is cut-and-pasting from common depictions of the sun as Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun is a deep red, the colour of old blood, and I can think of at least one other song that is the same colour (it’s one of Frood’s Japanese pop acquisitions, but I’m not sure which one).