Mid Sussex Triathlon

Posted by Nicky Donbavand on June 09, 2013 0 Comments

You'd be forgiven for thinking that in the last few weeks we'd turned into a triathlon shop.  But the truth is, triathlon has been a love affair nurtured over the last ten years.  Today we returned to our very first triathlon and this time we took some friends with us. 

Despite the weather forecasting otherwise, the morning was bloody freezing, windy and overcast.  Last time I had emerged from the swimming pool to a torrent of rain interspersed with thunder and lightening (very, very frightening).  At least it was an improvement on that score.

The Mid Sussex Triathlon is a low key race held at the Triangle Leisure Centre in Burgess Hill.  It has a lovely friendly informal air, perfect for first timers.  It took about 5 minutes to register and get body marked (think permanent black marker and race numbers on skin) and then we went to rack our bikes.

Today I would be on Alan's cyclo-cross, resplendent with knobbly tyres and for the first time ever, no cycle shoes/cleats combo.  Although I was ever grateful to Al for lending me his bike, it was the third choice.  Piri the race bike popped a spoke sometime in the last couple of weeks and I managed to break my cyclo-cross on a ride down to Bognor Regis yesterday.  Properly break it, that is.  The rear dérailleur snapped off the bike and jammed into the rear wheel bringing me to a very abrupt stop in the middle of a roundabout.  It was only thanks to very quick thinking by Penny (riding behind) that I didn't get squashed by the oncoming traffic.

So, since I wouldn't have to change shoes to transition from bike to run I was guaranteed a personal best in T2 anyhow.

We racked the bikes and with minimal faffage made our way to the only place we figured would be warm - pool side.  We were the first ones there by some considerable margin.  Everyone else was at the race briefing.

The swim is 400m or 16 lengths of the pool.  We all start at the same point, swim up and down the lane and then dip under the lane ropes to repeat.  When you run out of lanes, you're done :O)

The swim was uneventful but clogged.  I had to resort to breaststroke a few times to avoid crashing into people.  Slightly slower than usual I finally got to the end and headed out to T1.  Top on, shoes on, glasses, gloves and helmet on and then I was ready to go.

The bike is undulating with a tasty little hill early on.  It became apparent quite quickly that the seat was too low, making for an uncomfortable ride.  The handy cycle tool to adjust it was handily on the table back home.  Oh well. 

The plan was to welly the bike and tire my legs out as much as possible then run/walk the run to see how it felt.  The gearing on the cyclo-cross was very much designed for off road riding.  It meant I had plenty of gears to chose from going up hill (always a perk), but as soon as I hit a downhill section I quickly ran out of gears and had to resort to free wheeling.  It provided a good opportunity to have a drink and look at the countryside.  And very pretty it was too, nestling at the foot of the South Downs.

The ride is a big loop.  Turning back towards home the wind made itself very apparent.  A strong, cold headwind was our companion for about 6 miles back to the leisure centre.  Still, at least it provided the opportunity to marvel at the ability to sweat and be freezing at the same time.

I must be fitter than I thought.  After yesterdays 50 miler down to the coast and the hard ride this morning, my legs still felt relatively fresh.  The 1:1 run/walk strategy was a practice for the upcoming Outlaw iron distance triathlon.  My legs felt much better than they ought as I made my was out of transition and headed uphill on the out and back run.  Ahead I could see Alan running towards me, he looked strong and subsequently finished first across the line. 

The minutes went by quickly and enjoyably.  Plenty of people passed me, include my club mate Cliff, also looking strong.  Happily I plodded along until the last bend and a slightly quicker plod up to the finish line and a hug from Alan.  Job done.

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The Best. Run. Ever.

Posted by Nicky Donbavand on May 07, 2013 1 Comment

Every once in a while a run comes together.  Sometimes when you least expect it, mostly when you haven't been training for it and so all pressure is off.

Jean and I were on our habitual cycle to Nonsuch Park for the Dave Clarke 5k.  Jean on trusty 'Shadow', a lovely little hybrid.  I was on Florence, a flightly but beautiful to ride Fuji cyclocross. 

We were chatting through our race plan.  The normal pattern you know... 'I'm gonna take it easy tonight... Osteopath said rest my foot... 12 minute mile pace at least...we'll be last but that's ok, someone has to be'.

We have this conversation every time we go to a race.

A selective field, swollen with Collingwood Runners, was a welcoming sight.  Filled with lots of friends built up from years on the running circuit meant a lovely catch up before the race start.  I love that this race has always been relatively small.  It's friendly and low key, the complete antithesis to a noisy and troublesome London Marathon a couple of weeks ago.

With a couple of minutes to go, we started to corral outside the mansion house.  A buzz of 'good luck's' rippled through the crowd and then we were off.

We started in earnest, hanging onto the tail end of the group until we'd cornered the house and head off up the approach straight.  A gradual uphill all the way until we met Kath marshalling the far corner.  She directed us right with a cheer, and downhill behind the house.  We had two short loops of the house before heading up the 'out and back' section leading one last time back to the house and the finish line.

Despite our quick start (it's all relative), we found ourselves firmly planted at the back of the pack.  Keeping sight of those in front of us, we chatted round the first loop and managed to do so without losing too much pace. 

The Garmin beeped us through the first mile in 10.17.  Blimey.  Trying not to panic, we firmly resolved to slow down for the second lap.  We did, but only by a few seconds.  Chatting dwindled and breathing increased.  But not too much.  Not enough to start the plea bargaining from the internal voice and then some really strange things happened. 

Firstly, I realised that I was enjoying running at effort.  Secondly, the negative 'I have to stop now pleasethankyou' voice never appeared. 

I noticed that we had started to make ground on runners.  Not many or by much, but enough to realise that maybe we didn't have to be last.  It happened so gradually that I nearly missed the 'kick now' voice in my head.  To be honest, it's been so long since I've kicked anything in a race I wasn't sure if my head was joking.  But then, what was there to lose.  So I went.  The breathing I could hear behind me told me Jean had come with me. 

Well, I couldn't stop now, could I.  I counted down the time until the voice screaming 'I HAVE to stop NOW' kicked in.  But it never came either.  Instead, the void was filled with a calm rational voice.  'I know you're at effort, just keep it steady and you'll be fine.  Keep on going, not long now.  You're going to make it'. 

And you know, it was absolutely right.  I kept on going, calm in the knowledge that I would make it and proudly burst across the line feeling like a runner for the first time in a very. long. time.

Lord only knows where it came from.  But it felt amazing and I cycled home a very happy girl.




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Spring Marathon Guide #7 - The Aftermath

Posted by Nicky Donbavand on April 26, 2013 0 Comments

Congratulations, your medal is hanging up in the downstairs loo and you've taken to walking like John Wayne.  You completed your marathon, so now what?

Firstly, take time to bask in the glory of running a marathon.  Many people would never dream of even starting one, so the fact you got to the end is to be applauded.

Reflect on your race, what went well, what would you do differently next time? (Assuming there will be a next time ;O)  Don't beat yourself up if the race didn't go according to plan.  Ask yourself, how was your pacing? Did your nutritional strategy work?  What unexpected issues did you have to deal with that you can learn from for the next outing?  Write down the key points, somewhere you will remember to look for them in the future. 

Marathon fatigue varies from person to person.  The more experienced you are, the quicker you tend to recover (although obviously this is also linked into how hard you raced).  By all means take yourself out for a gentle walk/run this week.  Swimming and cycling can also aid recovery (I'm thinking gentle pootle to the pub, not 100 mile time trial).  Enjoy the rest and be ready to go again in two to four weeks.

Find another event to enter (don't panic - it doesn't have to be a marathon).  Youjust spent four months training hard and thinking of nothing other than marathon.  Once the goal has passed it's natural to feel despondent and targetless.  Finding yourself another goal will give you a renewed focus and an incentive to clamber off the couch.  You'll also have the benefit of a residual fitness that can be turned into a 10k PB or likewise.  Make sure the goal is sufficiently challenging to interest you but not so challenging it renders inertia.

Be careful about post race bingeing!  After months of abstinence, it can be easy to fall into the habit of using the calories you burned in the marathon as an excuse for that extra piece of cake.  By all means enjoy your post race fuelling but if you're still using it as an excuse two weeks later beware ;O)

We hope you've enjoyed the marathon guide updates.  If you have any questions relating to marathon training contact Nicky at nicky@runtolive.co.uk

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<Dis> ordered Eating

Posted by Nicky Donbavand on February 11, 2013 0 Comments

This article has been in the pipeline for some months.  With the advent of b-eat eating disorder awareness week, it seems an appropriate time to write it. 

Any one can suffer from an eating disorder.  It fits no profile although often occurs in young people.  Females are much more likely to suffer but more and more, men are suffering too.  The purpose of the Eating Disorder Awareness week is just as it says, to raise awareness of the prevalence of the problem.  It's also the purpose of this blog post. 

Eating disorders occur in today's society, much more than many people realise.  Rough estimates ballpark almost 1.6 million people suffering from an eating disorder in the UK.  Statistically speaking, you are very likely to know someone suffering.  There lies the  problem of awareness.  How would you ever know?  Because, of course, people who suffer from an ED hide it well.  It becomes second nature to them to hide the behaviours that would give them away.  A recent article in the Guardian online may help you to spot if a friend has an eating disorder.

A significant number of people dealing with an ED are in denial they have a problem in the first place.  This is probably even more true in the running world where the correlation between disordered eating and exercise is high.  The realisation that a problem exists is often a very big step to recovery.  It can certainly take a while for that realisation to occur.

Having an eating disorder has a huge effect on your life.  If I may, I can unfortunately share personal experience of this.  I am currently recovering from an eating disorder.  

Although it was building for a while it finally manifested itself in 1999, I was aged 26.  The trigger was a long period of deliberate weight loss that had started the previous year.  I lost 73lbs over 18 months, in a relatively slow, controlled way.  But, what started as a healthier approach to eating became a obsession of elimination.  I didn't realise how bad it had become until I got a job in the police service and started at Hendon Training School.  The stress of being away from home and a canteen that offered either 'unhealthy' food or salad became a breeding place for more control.  I was so scared of putting on weight, that before long, I would only permit myself to eat apples, tomatoes, cucumber and mushrooms.   

It helped that I had a friend who joined me.  We would weigh ourselves three or four times a day.  If  we had put weight on, we would punish ourselves by not permitting ourselves to eat.  I lost another stone during my time at Hendon.

I felt like a failure because I often couldn't control what I ate and would occasionally eat completely out of control.  Distraught, I turned to laxatives to help purge.  But before long, with a desperate longing to be like others, I regularly vomiting after eating to purge 'bad' food.  Full blown bulimia developed by 2002 when I could no longer keep any food down and I became progressively more ill.  Unable to work, or often even get out of bed, I confided in my line manager who gave me his full support and guided me through the process of asking for help. 

The first step was to go to my doctor.  A locum was on duty that week, he was fabulous.  He never questioned or doubted what I was saying and referred me to an eating disorder specialist who diagnosed bulimia.  I was then sent, as an outpatient, to the mental health clinic in Tooting.  

The biggest shock at this time was realising that an eating disorder was essentially a mental heath issue.  Although I realised all the manifestations were physical, it never occurred to me, the obsessive exercise, restricted eating, vomiting and laxatives were all controlled by my head.  I guess, it's a similar strand that controls my drive to run marathons now, but in a much healthier way. 

When I first took steps to get well, I never understood how the treatment would work, or what form it would take.  With the help of the out patients unit we decided that one to one counselling would be the best option.  The treatment was nothing to do with food, but rather, counselling to deal with my responses to stress.  With the help of a supportive employer, an amazing partner and my counsellor I slowly got better.  To this day (rather like an alcoholic), I refer to myself as recovering, not cured. 

During the years I've met many such who share my experience, all rather ordinary people in the nicest possible way.  But just recently, a rash of elite ladies including Chrissie Wellington and Hollie Avil have declaring their ED.  I suppose no one should be surprised.  Our sport, by it's very nature attracts people who are obsessive and desire the means to better themselves.  Invariably, that includes going faster. We carried out a quick poll on Facebook a few weeks ago, we asked if people were happy with the pace they run or if they wanted to go faster.  Unanimously people opted for faster.  And of course, one of the easiest ways to go faster is to lose weight. It's inevitable that one thing will lead to another. 

This is a topic that is not easy to talk about.  Indeed, this is the first time I've ever said 'I have Bulimia' out loud to someone other than close family, my doctor and my husband.   But help is available to those who are suffering and I know, support without judgement, is paramount for those who seek help.   

If you suffer from an eating disorder or know someone who does, then click here to find out about getting help and treatment available.

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Knacker Cracker Knicker Knacker - A race report

Posted by Nicky Donbavand on January 01, 2013 0 Comments


The Knacker Cracker is a long standing event in our calender.  It's also up there as one of my favourite events... like ever.

In previous years Alan and I have taken turns to either run or marshal.  This year, Al kindly volunteered to take the water station at the viewpoint while I dug my night dress and dressing gown out for another mud covering romp around the Box.

The last post from race organiser Dr Robert on the Runners World forum thread linked to the race stated: "'I met a National Trust volunteer ranger while out laying out the course yesterday afternoon: "It's the muddiest I've seen Box Hill for 30 years," says he.  Good luck everyone!"


The magic of this event is down to the bonkers genius of Dr Rob.  But most people refer to the monumental efforts by runners to create fantastic fancy dress outfits.  The camaraderie of fellow runners around the course is also fabulous.  

The route has varied over the years.  This time, we were back to the traditional route starting at the foot of Burford Slope.

The big green slope rising ahead is a daunting view.  I contemplated it while we sang a rousing rendition of 'God Save the Queen'.  The start is brutal.  Going from zero to anerobic takes about 10 seconds.  With lungs and calves burning we ascended like ants.  The general public out for a New Years Day stroll looked on in amusement as the hoards staggered past in a random assortment of fancy dress outfits and 'proper runners'.

With thanks to Duncan Irvine

It's psychologically easier to approach the Knacker Cracker as a series of climbs rather than a distance event.  Four ups followed by four downs.  I ascended Burford Slope at the rear of the runners.  As the sweep started to dismantled the course around me, I made the resolve to get away from him by overtaking the lady (with Nordic Walking Poles AKA cheat sticks :O) in front of me.  But all in good time.  

The Burford slope climb forks left at the top onto the pig track before crossing the Zig Zag road and heading into the car park.  Next comes a long gentle sweeping descent that drops into what can only be described as a hell slide down the side of the hill into Juniper Bottom.  I managed to pass the lady in front heading down the slope before watching her re-pass me as I stopped for a quick wee.  I dropped back in behind her and watched her drop off the slope like she had glue on her shoes.  The wet conditions had made the descent absolutely treacherous and I 'snow ploughed' my way down like the girl I am, listening to the heavy breathing of the sweep who had once again taken up position behind me.

Next up was the long drag up Juniper Bottom.  The hill of false crests.  I hate this hill...with passion...as it's just a complete slog.  But with a quick stop for a look at the beautiful views behind us along the Mole Valley, it seemed to go fairly quickly.  We were soon climbing over the stile at the top and into the woods for the flat(ish) muddy bit.  Overtaking 'sticks' again I headed off into the quagmire, that had already had 200 souls splodge through it.  

Slip sliding away, I adopted a run/walk approach through the mud.  Happy that I was putting distance between the sweep and myself and that Juniper top was out of the way I made good progress through the woods.  Up ahead was the Smith and Western and the notorious descent down the chute.  I stopped for a quick hug and 'Happy New Year' from a marshal I knew and headed towards the road along the wettest bit of path on the course.  The path ahead was blocked by a lake of water approximately 10 yards long.  With no option to go round I gathered up my dressing gown and opted for a high knee gallop through the middle.  Giggling and splashing my way through it was so much fun.  

Across the road and into the chute I caught up the next lady in front of me.  We would 'cat and mouse' for the rest of the route but for now it was lovely to have some company.  The chute is made up of gulleys carved into the limestone and is often covered in old leaves and rain wash debris.  It makes it difficult going so I adopted my snow ploughing again and descended carefully.  It deposits you at the bottom of the hill, directly underneath the viewpoint and leads onto the third climb of the course up the side of the hill towards the top of the steps.  Although relatively short, this climb was probably the most difficult.  With a left sloping camber and very narrow path cut into the hill I slid two steps forward, one step to the side.  Often I would resort to hanging off trees to stop from disappearing off the path and eventually popped out at the top to a sombrero decked marshal directing runners right up the path to the view point.  

This was a very exciting point.  I was about to see Alan.  

Dressed against the weather he was standing at the water station looking happy and relaxed.  I stopped for a quick hug and to stuff a couple of jelly babies in before heading off back down the slope.  Just behind me was 'sticks' and the sweep and with the most difficult part of the course coming up knew I didn't have time to dawdle.

The marshal directed me left down the steps on to the 'out and back' portion.  Being at the very back of the race I inevitably met a plethora of runners heading back up the steps.  Some of them looked absolutely awful.  Grey and weary, trudging their way back up.  I tried to say 'Happy New Year' and 'Well done' to as many as I could.  I was rewarded with lots of cheers in return although the comment most often heard was that there were Jaffa Cakes ahead.  I'd forgotten about the water station at the bottom of the steps and much cheered made my way down with a little more haste picking up a chap dressed as Santa in the process.

We made our way over the bridge across the River Mole (so recently under water) and to the turn around point.  Jaffa Cakes! (yum) and then back towards the dreaded stairs.

I've been up those bloody stairs so many times and it never gets any easier.  Though it was entertaining to watch the (by this time) very dejected Santa trudging up ahead of me and so the time passed rather quickly.  I'm kind of guessing I didn't look too hot however as I met a family coming down, one of who took one look at me and couldn't quite suppress the 'Oh' that slipped out of her mouth, before shouting an encouraging 'keep going' to my back.

Finally I weaved my way back up to the top and the glorious left hand turn heading back towards Burford Slope and the long down hill home to the finish.  I was so happy to be at the top I half expected to be met by Archangel Gabriel and a chorus of 'Hallelujah'.  Instead, I followed Santa (who had perked up a little bit) down the big green slope to the finish, got my medal and then feasted on some glorious tomato soup and cheese rolls.

Job done and nickers knackered for another year.

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