Making the most of the sunshine

Here in Surrey, it’s been glorious sunshine (except for a couple of thunderstorms) for a good couple of weeks now. Usually, it’s hottest during the week whilst we’re all at work, and cloudier/cooler over the weekend, but this time we’ve been lucky – it hit about 28 degrees today, and has been bright and sunny with a cool breeze. Lovely!

Yesterday evening, my boyfriend and I decided to go for a little wander to explore the area around our building. We headed out of town to one of the nearby footpaths, where we found the ruins of a medieval church at the top of the hill. It looked stunning at sunset:

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I think sunset is my favourite time of day during the summer – I love the orange glow.

In other, more training-related news, I had planned a morning run with a couple of friends for today. The idea was to head out this morning to Woking for ice cream sundaes, which we spent the entire run thinking about in a sort of ‘this hurts and I’m definitely melting and don’t think I can go on but if I don’t carry on I won’t get ice cream’ kind of way. Unfortunately, when we got there the ice cream place had shut down so we didn’t get our sundaes anyway! This was more than a little disappointing after running 7 miles for them, but as we’d finished the run by the time we found out, it had at least served its purpose as the proverbial dangling carrot. Whilst the heat meant that we went much slower than some of our recent runs, it was nice to get out and give it a go regardless, and we definitely felt better for it.

As usual, I did the first mile solo, mostly along the river path:

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I even got to break out the sunglasses, yay! Though I now have a rather fetching tan line across my nose. And 2 sets of racer-back tan lines from my sports bra and running top. But hey, can’t complain!

The rest of the run was basically our usual route to work (with a slight adjustment for the last mile to get to the town centre), which was good as we had actually missed this week’s run commute. Whoops! As expected, we didn’t improve our time this week – but it was nice to do the route without the pressure of getting to the office for a particular time (or in this case, at all!)

Once we discovered that the ice cream place had shut down, we had a bit of a mini adventure. We headed back to Guildford on the train as planned, and the next THREE places we tried to get either ice cream or a milkshake from were shut or closed down. What is with you, Surrey!? We finally ended up at Neros, where we all got awesome frappes. I had the mocha one, with a ton of cream and chocolate sprinkles on top. Definitely worth the hassle.

But I’ll tell you one thing ice cream’s good for – coffee floats! We discovered these when our neighbour invited us over one evening. All it takes is iced coffee, a few ice cubes, and a huge scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream. If you’re feeling adventurous, I would recommend adding Amaretto. Sooo good.

I’ll admit that I did end up getting my ice cream today after all. After meeting up with my boyfriend and his friend, we first trekked up the LONGEST HILL OF MY LIFE, before plonking ourselves down to enjoy the view across the Surrey hills at the top (this might have resulted in a few more tan lines).

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When we headed back down to the river, we found an ice cream stall, and of course had to get one with a flake, because no ice cream cone is complete without one! 🙂 It was wonderful to sit on the grass under a tree and enjoy the cool breeze.

river1In hindsight, a hilly walk might not have been the best plan the evening before my first ever spin class. Tomorrow morning is going to be interesting, to say the least!

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First ever weights workout!

I have puny arms. Like really, really puny arms. My legs, on the other hand, are solid. They can carry me for miles, and thanks to my quads and calves I generally have a serious issue getting into skinny jeans – but my arms? They even start to ache if I take too long to blowdry my hair.

I decided that this needed to be fixed. I’ve nailed the running (well, the doing it part) and the cross training (again, getting there!) but I’ve definitely neglected any form of strength training. Mainly because the weights area in the gym is full of really big people making funny noises, and I find it slightly intimidating.

Luckily, my boyfriend has a ton of weights at home, as well as all of the other bits and pieces to go with them:

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I quite liked the gloves, though they were a bit big and my fingers kind of disappeared once I relaxed my hand.

My boyfriend kindly went through his usual routine with me, and guided me through either the same, or an equivalent exercise (obviously at a MUCH lower weight!) Through the session, we covered:

Pressups as a warmup. I managed .. Erm .. One and a half? (Baby steps ..)

Bicep curls I started with a tiny 1kg weight on the bar, which still felt pretty heavy – these exercises look so easy, but flipping heck, keeping your form over an entire set is HARD. In a word, I sucked at this – I couldn’t for the life of me keep my upper body still. I definitely need to work on this one.

Tricep extensions I did these seated, as I didn’t really trust myself with a big metal bar next to my head with my lack of arm strength. I stayed at a 1kg weight, and just focused on my form more than anything else (my elbows kept moving all over the place). I still felt it though!

Tricep Kickbacks This one I quite enjoyed, though instead of isolating the triceps I kept accidentally using my shoulder muscles; but by the second set (and with my boyfriend keeping my arm in the right place) I got the hang of it and managed to up the weight a bit to 2kg.

Hammer curls Again, I found these quite hard. I couldn’t isolate my upper arms, and found it hard to target the biceps – but I’m sure this one will get easier with practise.

Bent over row‘ I really liked this one, and managed to up the weight to 2.5kg. I guess my triceps and back are stronger than my (non-existent) biceps! My arms were definitely aching by this point.

In the end I managed 2 sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise, which I was pretty happy with for my first try 🙂 And we even finished things off with a plank session! I lasted 30 seconds. Again, I definitely need to do this more often.

Not sure how happy my muscles will be when I get to the pool tomorrow morning, but that’s another story! Maybe I’ll just swim without using my arms ..

Getting back on track

I’m learning now, more than ever that time and perseverance are the only things that will get me comfortably to the start line of Paris Marathon next April. In previous years, my training has been quite erratic – I’d do the odd short mid-week run one week, and four medium runs the next, back-to-backing them in order to make up for missed sessions and completely neglecting any cross training at all.

This year, I’ve been trying to ease back into my training by simply making myself exercise regularly. I’m not stressing about miles, or formal training plans as yet (though with my next half marathon just under 5 weeks away, that should probably happen sooner rather than later). I’m just working on getting my running and cross training into my regular routine, and trying my best to be consistent.

So far, it seems to have worked. I’ve been running 5k (ish) during my Monday lunchtimes, running 7 miles to work on a Thursday, and swimming for 40 minutes on a Friday before work. Whilst cycling has taken a bit of a back seat since Brighton, I’ve still been trying to cycle to work once a week – and boy, is it tough being out of shape!

My friend and I ran to work for the first time after an extended break 5 weeks ago, and whilst the first week was awful – slow, painful, and with tons of walking breaks – we’ve continued to drag ourselves out of bed at 6h30 every Thursday and into our running gear to give it another go. I genuinely thought for the first couple of weeks that I wouldn’t ever get back to my old fitness level – but during one of my early morning grumbles, my friend turned to me with a bright smile and exclaimed:

But our fitness .. We’re chasing it down right now! And each run we do, we’re catching it up!

That was exactly what I needed to hear. Running with someone so positive has had a big impression on my own motivation – and when you’re plodding along at 7am on the way to work, half asleep, aching and wondering how on earth you ran a marathon just a few months ago … Having a friend beside you who whoops, cheers and punches the sky every time you pass another runner (in the opposite direction, of course) is a fab way to snap yourself out of all of the negative thinking. No, it doesn’t make the run hurt less – but a smile can do wonders!

And, as it turns out, so can stubbornly heading out every week to try and try and try. Our average pace has gone from 12:32, to 11:32, to 11:20, to 11:14, to 10:57. The early mornings are paying off, and we’re finally sneaking back down to our old pace. It feels AWESOME. And it’s nice to see my own times go down, too – I run a solo mile to her house before heading on towards the office, and that mile has gone from 11:50, to 11:11, to 10:50, to 10:35, to 10:05. Not particularly speedy by most people’s standards, but brilliant for me – and I’m the only person I’m currently racing 🙂

On top of it all, today was our best lunchtime 5k since the marathon, with an average pace of 10:09 and a best mile of 9:50!

I think that’s worth giving up a lie-in or two.

My first attempt at bike maintenance

I haven’t cycled to work in over a month.

There, I said it. I’m slacking in a major way – but it wasn’t all down to laziness. My bike tyres were extremely worn, and definitely due for an upgrade. And, being a bit (!) of a novice when it comes to bike maintenance, I only had a pump, alan key, multitool and tyre levers in my tool kit. I thought that was pretty good, but then I realised that the multitool was a bit useless when it came to removing the wheels on my bike (especially as my bike isn’t the quick-release kind – something I discovered after watching half a dozen ‘how-to’ videos on replacing tyres that went something along the lines of ‘pull this magic lever and your wheel will just fall off without any effort on your part.’)

Turns out that my bike wasn’t quite so simple.

My first job was to figure out exactly what tools I needed. After Googling things like ‘how to remove a really stubborn bike tyre that has no quick-release thingy but I’m not sure what the word is for the bolty thing that I can’t budge’, and scrolling through forums that I’m pretty sure were only half in English, I worked out that I needed a spanner. The size? Absolutely no clue. I almost gave up at this point, but luckily stumbled across an amazing spanner that was literally a dozen sizes in one – thanks, Halfords!

Then came the fun bit. What, exactly, was I supposed to do with the spanner thing and the tyre levers?

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The front wheel was actually quite straight forward. After loosening the brakes so that they weren’t against the wheel (I apparently did this the stupid way, but still haven’t figured out the quick and easy way), the spanner went on the bolt – turns out there were actually 2 bolts, with 1 on each side of the wheel – and I loosened them just enough to allow the wheel to lift off. Ta da!

The rear wheel was a bit trickier, because of all of the gears and chain nonsense – but ignoring that, it was the same as the front. The only difference this time was that I had to move the chain onto the lowest cog, to create some slack, before I could lift the wheel out.

Removing the old tyres, and putting the new tyres on was actually more difficult (for me) than the wheels bit. Google pretty much just said ‘use the tyre levers and some common sense and the tyres will basically remove and then reattach themselves in like, 2 seconds. Duh. Why are you even looking this up?’

After a bit of prodding and twisting and pensive frowning, I realised that it would probably be easier to remove the tyre once it’s been deflated. (Apparently this was the common sense part. I told you I’m a novice). After letting the air out, it was fairly easy to push the tyre away from the wheel rim – though with the second wheel I had to employ some man-strength (read: boyfriend) to lift the tyre out over the rim, as it was a bit tight.

I’d never seen an inner tube before this. I’d always assumed it was kind of like the tyre; a sort of flat seal that goes along the inside of the wheel. Turns out it was actually a tube (no kidding). Putting it into the new tyres was pretty straight forward, but getting the tyres back onto the wheels required another struggle with the tyre levers:

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I had black smudges all over the place by this point. I’m not sure how I got so much on my face though! And my nails are still distinctly grey …

It turns out that putting the tyre onto the wheel is a whole lot easier when you’re not using the tyre lever backwards. (Just saying). That is, to make sure that the curved edge is against the wheel rather than hooking it under the tyre and trying to pull it on. Whoops. Online guides suggested using 2 tyre levers at once, but this seemed a bit advanced so I stuck to 1 – and it worked!

The next step, once the wheels were back on was to fix the brakes. Firstly, they were ridiculously loose. Secondly, the calipers were out of alignment. Thirdly, the cable kept sticking. I probably should have done something about one or more of those issues before now ..

Luckily, I found a video online that showed me how to tighten the cables whilst preventing the calipers from rubbing (yknow, assuming the calipers weren’t out of alignment). And it was really simple! Firstly, I loosened the little twisty bit next to the brake lever (below left). Then, I tightened the cable by the calipers (below right – I accidentally pulled the stopper off the end of mine. See ‘loosened the brakes the stupid way’, above) until the calipers were juuust touching the wheel rim. Once the cable was tightened, all I had to do was tighten the little twisty bit back up, which pulled the brake pads away from the wheel and stopped the rubbing. As a result, the front brake worked beautifully – it gripped the front tyre nice and tightly, with the brake lever 2 fingers’ width away from the handle. Apparently this is the recommended distance – I probably should have fixed them before, as by this point they were pulling right the way back to the handles whilst still not feeling particularly tight.

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Unfortunately the rear calipers were still rubbing slightly. Given that loosening the cable (above right) made the brakes too slack, this required a bit of Googling, which uncovered a cool little screw on each side of the calipers – by adjusting each side slightly, we were able to realign the brakes and stop them rubbing. Result! I’m not going to pretend that I know the names of any of these bits, but I got my boyfriend to point them out for me:

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So I guess it wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be. All it took was an alan key, spanner, pump, tyre lever(s), and a screwdriver. Additional extras include a pair of someone else’s strong hands, and a pack of face wipes if you’re as messy as I am.

Ironically, I still don’t know how to fix a puncture. But according to Google, all I need is a couple of tyre levers, some patches and a bit of common sense. How hard can it be?