Finding Our Personal Best. Team Mel C vs Team Pendleton: The Human Race Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon

Driving along the M4 on the way to the Human Race Women Only Shock Absorber Triathlon at Eaton Dorney, my butterflies were dancing. Race day had arrived much sooner than I thought.

Tweets of support were pouring in for Team Mel C and it began to dawn on me quite how significant this was. Oh, and that we were racing Britain’s most successful female Olympic athlete. Ever.

TeamMelC

Kelly (bike) , Mel (run) and Alice (swim): Team Mel C. Photo: Matt Alexander

I love swimming, but I don’t consider myself a speedy swimmer and naturally feel more at home without a wetsuit, going at my own pace and travelling longer distances in the open water.

A 400m wetsuit, super sprint triathlon swim is unfamiliar territory and I found myself sitting quietly at the back of the car, trying to ignore the little voice in my head.

“What if you panic at the start and inhale loads of water and have to be rescued by a David Hassellhoff in a kayak and then Team Mel C are disqualified?”

We are our thoughts, and our body does what the mind tells it to. Thankfully I had the sense to metaphorically take myself to one side for a chat.

I thought about my lovely new Speedo wetsuit that’s got go faster stripes over the shoulders and did my best to channel a Keri Anne Payne/Jennifer Lawrence ‘Catching Fire’ mix…

Keri Anne Payne

Keri Anne Payne

Jennifer Lawrence getting ready for her swim in Catching Fire.

Jennifer Lawrence

Alice Gartland

Alice Gartland

And then, as if by swim coach telepathic magic, a tweet popped up from Dan Bullock :

@MelanieCmusic @HumanRaceEvents @AliceGartland @kellyKoya Best of Luck, go @AliceGartland be fast #openwater

Two words: Be Fast.

I hadn’t ever thought those words could apply to me, but what if they did? It flipped a switch. So what if I had been managing a back and shoulder injury. So what if I didn’t know how ‘well’ I was swimming. Today I would see where all the hard work had got me. Today I would see how fast I could be. Today I would find out what my personal best is!

The adrenalin that was rushing around my body switched from being vomit inducing, to all encompassing, girl power, excitement.

“I’m swimming for Team Mel C – we’re racing Victoria Pendleton – what a privilege – this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done – WICKED!!!!”

I’d never participated in an all female sports event like this before and there was definitely a different vibe, which also helped me relax a lot. Elite to beginner, families, little kids on tricycles, groups of friends, all coming together for a sporty day out.

Everyone was focused, but not in an intimidating way. Their concern was to put in the best performance they could on that day; to achieve a personal best. That brought with it a lovely atmosphere of mutual respect.

In fact I’ve never heard such positive chat at an event before. I loved it and it’s what this women only triathlon is all about: investing in yourself, in your well being, health and fitness; about feeling and being the best you can be.

For me, it was going to be a bit of an experiment. I have not worn a watch in swim training for many months as I’ve just wanted to focus on developing my swim technique so didn’t have a time to aim for. I was just going to swim, listen to my body and discover what I was capable of.

My main concern was getting fitted into my wetsuit properly, so I was as comfortable and streamlined as possible. Thankfully my team captain helped with that and once zipped in I had plenty of time to head down to the pontoon, flush my suit and warm up a little bit.

Mel C helping me with my wetsuit. Photo: Matt Alexander

Mel C helping me with my wetsuit. Photo: Matt Alexander

Everyone was smiling and laughing. Helen and I were bobbing around with excitement and Mel and Victoria came down to cheer everyone off.

Alice and Helen at the start. Photo: Matt Alexander

Alice and Helen at the start. Photo: Matt Alexander

Victoria and Mel cheer us off. Photo: Matt Alexander

Victoria and Mel cheer us off. Photo: Matt Alexander

For the first time ever I positioned myself at the front of the pack. Without thinking I even stretched my right arm out in front, like I have seen speedy people do. I’ve not done that before and it felt nice, purposeful and positive. I was so excited….The horn sounded… We were off!

Swim start

The Start!

We're off! Photo: Matt Alexander

We’re off! Photo: Matt Alexander

I didn’t sight the first buoy very well and was tense, breathing every two strokes and I was indeed a little bit panicked. Also I was aware that having started at the front of the pack, I had remained amongst the front of the pack – new territory and I tried to switch off the pressure I felt and relax into the swim.

Unfortunately just after halfway my right arm started to weaken and I felt really tired. And then that little voice came back: “You’ve never swum like this before, are you sure you’ve got enough left in the tank? Shouldn’t you slow down?” And I did slow down and I felt a swimmer go past.

Thankfully my optimist kicked back in: “When are you going to get to swim this wonderful race again? Never. Enjoy it. Make it count” and so I did.

My body found it’s rhythm in the water and I swam my heart out until I hit the ramp, and, whilst feeling incredibly dizzy, remembered that I was in a race and managed to run in a relatively straight line over to my teammates for the transition.

Out of the water and running in a relatively straight line!

Out of the water and running in a relatively straight line! (Note the Speedo go faster stripes)

Kelly flew off on her cycle lap, with Ingrid in hot pursuit and Helen and I cheered them both on with Victoria and Mel.

Team Mel C in transition. Just realised I'm third out the water. Photo: Matt Alexander

Team Mel C in transition. Just realised I’m third out the water. Photo: Matt Alexander

It was pretty special to hang out with such a great bunch of sporty women. And yes, Mel and Victoria are as friendly and as inspiring as you hope they are going to be!

Having fun with Helen and Victoria

Having fun with Helen and Victoria

From nutrition, leggings vs shorts, race nerves, swim training and cycle confidence to weight and muscle tone, swim technique, cycle helmets and tri bars, we covered it all.

And what’s particularly lovely is that those conversations have turned into action.

I was inspired and I am back cycling after my road accident, Kelly has started swimming lessons and Helen has just smashed her first 3.8km swim.

Welcoming Kelly back into transition. Photo: Matt Alexander

Welcoming Kelly back into transition. Photo: Matt Alexander

Team Mel C were just ahead going into the run, but despite an incredibly speedy performance by Mel, Victoria sneaked past – pesky gold medal winning Olympians!

We each crossed the finish line with our teams and I think its fair to say we were all buzzing from the experience. We each had our individual goals, our own personal bests we were aiming for that day; and we all exceeded them.

Team Pendleton and Team Mel C : An inspiring group of women

Team Pendleton and Team Mel C : An inspiring group of women

The event has also changed my view on a couple of things. I  had previously questioned the value of women only events, but I am now a convert. This triathlon has a wonderful vibe to it (forget traditional triathlon stereotypes) and people should not be mistaken in thinking that ‘women-only’ translates to somehow a softer or less focused approach to the sport being undertaken. It doesn’t.

But what it does brilliantly is marry that athleticism and passion for sport with the female spirit, making it accessible to all and a great place to discover your personal best.

See you next year!

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Breasts, Girl Power and Sport: Becoming Team Mel C!

A few months ago I got referred for a scan on my right breast. I had been experiencing some severe pain in that area for a while and there had been some tissue change, so it was a sensible precautionary measure.

Whilst rationally I knew there could be a number of explanations, breast cancer has been, and is, a reality for a number of women in my peer group and I challenge anyone to go through that process and not let their mind wander…I burst into tears when they told me the scan was clear and walked out of the treatment room in a daze and with a strong sense of allegiance with the other women in the waiting room.

Once again, life was put in perspective.

It turns out spending a lot of time with your face down, horizontal in water in a swimming costume and running along mountain trails does make you fitter.

Face down and horizontal in water

Face down and horizontal in water

It also turns out that when you have assets of a certain measurement, without the right support, all that activity can put the muscular tissue around the breast under a lot of strain; and that was a contributing factor in the pain I had been experiencing.

Having the right support is essential. I got re-measured for a bra immediately and Shock Absorber is now my new best friend.

At the start of the Mont Blanc Cross Half Marathon last weekend and fully supported by Shock Absorber!

At the start of the Mont Blanc Cross Half Marathon last weekend and fully supported by Shock Absorber!

Not long after all that, I saw the email from Human Race about the Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon with Breast Cancer Care at Eaton Dorney.

Unsurprisingly, it resonated with me, and when I saw the competition to be part of team Melanie C’s triathlon relay team, it was too good an opportunity to miss!

I have never won a competition before (unless you count the can of shandy I won on a scratch card back in 1986), so it was extra specially exciting to get the call from Human Race, letting me know I had been successful.

To say I am proud to have been chosen as the swimmer for team Melanie C is an understatement.

She is a Spice Girl, which is mind-blowing, but more than that I love her strength and positive attitude. She’s also not just ‘sporty’, but an accomplished athlete.

A couple of weeks ago, on what rates as one of the most surreal days of my life, I was introduced to Melanie C for the first time live on the One Show. I also got to meet Kelly Koya who is the lovely cyclist on our team.

The One Show: Team Mel C meets for the first time!

 

I read recently that 1/3 of young girls believe exercise is socially unacceptable.

Talking to Kelly and Melanie about how exciting and rewarding sport can be, it’s really sad to read statistics like that. But it’s a reality and one that has to change – women’s health and well-being depends on it.

Team Mel C triathlon training with Kelly Koya

Team Mel C triathlon training with Kelly Koya

One of the reasons for such statistics, is that young girls and women can feel self-conscious and nervous about doing sport.

On The One Show, Melanie C talked about that and how the women only triathlon is an opportunity for women of all ages, shapes and sizes to experience sport in a fun and social environment. I am so proud to be part of that!

Sport empowers, but it’s very true that getting started (then re-started and restarted again in my case…) can be intimidating.

When I exercise, my face goes bright red, and I sweat – a lot – and sometimes when I am trail running snot runs from my nose (it has been known to happen when swimming too…)

Post swim: messy hair, puffy eyes and feeling great!

Post swim: messy hair, puffy eyes and feeling great!

Many years ago I had a pretty athletic figure and whilst it’s in the process of making a comeback, I felt incredibly awkward when I started exercising again: Unable to jog for 10 minutes and so very conscious of the cushioning I had acquired shifting over my natural frame, my thoughts raced across a spectrum of insecurity and frustration at how I had ‘let myself go’, through to pride and excitement at being on a healthier path and feeling just a little bit like Jessica Ennis…

It’s funny in a way that the self-conscious me back then developed such a passion for open water swimming, but as I wrote on the South East London Ladies Swimming Club blog, one of the things I love most about open water swimming, is that, “for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant.” – I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume!

Swimming - it makes you happy!

Swimming – it makes you happy!

Sport, and in particular open water swimming, has changed my life and helped me meet some big challenges in the last few years. Being on Team Mel C is a wonderfully positive part of that journey and I am sure I am going to learn a lot from the experience.

I am incredibly proud to have the opportunity to race alongside Kelly, Melanie C, Team Pendleton and all the other participants on July 13th and celebrate women in sport.

From beginner to elite, whether you’re swimming, cycling, running or simply jumping up and down and shouting in support of participants –  it’s going to be a great day – I can’t wait!

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!