Interview: Emily is not playing

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a series of interviews on this blog… 

Meet: Emily J Macaulay

When I thought of/shared the idea of doing interviews, Emily is the first person that sprang to mind. We’re twitter associates, and haven’t yet met in real life. In Emily’s words, we ‘connected through a mutual friend talking about triathlon training and then discovered we both love Stella Duffy too’. Which is, frankly, a solid basis for a twittery friendship if ever there was one.

Over the course of our acquaintance, it’s become clear she is one of those rare people who puts her money (and body, and mind) where her mouth is. I’ve just realised that that sentence conjures up an odd picture, but the point is, she gets things done. And by things, I mean she has received an MBE for her services to equality and diversity, and she’s raised over £20,000 (actually, I think at least over £23,000 as of today) for the Jane Tomlinson Appeal by doing a properly challenging challenge almost every year. The Jane Tomlinson Appeal raises funds for childrens and cancer charities – Emily has cancer. She also works in a management position at Exeter Library, a job she moved to after nine years working in the criminal justice system, making use of a postgrad level degree in Criminology and Sociology.  Continue reading

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Running and writing: why doing one helps with the other

I think quite a lot of writers run, and there’s reasons for that. I’ve been meaning for a while to write an entry about how getting into and training for triathlon and long-distance races in the past few years has influenced my ability to start writing again. Sport and writing, as pastimes, aren’t such strange bedfellows. Everything that is essential for getting through a training plan and completing a long race is something that can be picked up and applied to writing.  Continue reading

There’s no title because there’s no subject

This is not the post you were supposed to be getting this weekend. I had the whole thing planned – but I left important pictures on the wrong computer (YES I have dropbox. YES I have an external hard drive. NO I didn’t have the wherewithal to move the pictures before the weekend. It’s been a long week, all right, and excitement about meeting up with a couple of favourite people on Friday evening trumped the organising of computer files). Continue reading

2014 – already muddier than 2013.

“Procrastination has become its own solution – a tool I can use to push myself so close to disaster that I become terrified and flee toward success.”

So says Allie Brosh, author and artist behind the brilliant Hyperbole and a Half (expect more quotes; I got the book  for Christmas this year) – and she’s right. She’s talking about herself, obviously, but I can strongly identify with this approach. Even more so today, when I’m not actually in my own flat yet, and so I can’t fall back on my usual procrastination pyramid to avoid working on the Problem Story First Draft that I still need to finish. But the deadline is too far away for me to panic up a work of astounding genius (nothing less will do). Continue reading

Stomp

Another Sunday already. We’ve reached that time of year that involves a lot of blankets and wearing gloves to type.  All the running in the world isn’t going to increase my circulation to the point of warmth now we’ve hit November. On the upside, I don’t really need to paint my nails because they’re almost permanently an attractive violet-blue sort of colour. Continue reading

I think I can, I think I can

It’s the end of Week 1 of both half-marathon training and NaNoWriMo. On both counts, I think I can do this. Yes, that seems obvious. How tough can it be to fit in a few runs a week and about an hour and a half of writing per day? Really difficult, actually, to do that and work and not neglect housework and loved ones . Even as I wrote ‘I think I can do this’, I know that technically I’m about 4,000 words behind the word target for today, because both Thursday and Friday were no-shows on the typing front. That’s a lot of writing to catch up on, and pulling the words out of your head can be really tough and really slow-going.  And I know that I am going to be shuffling my training plan to fit the busy days (still covering all the miles though). Continue reading

The week that is

Today has very much been a day of writing (also of walking the dog and of looking up half-marathon training plans – but mostly writing). Between this morning’s blogging, getting my NaNoWriMo words in, emails, and now sorting out this week’s official blogging, I’ve definitely typed a lot more than I’ve actually spoken out loud today.

November is a very wordy time of year. I’ve been attempting NaNoWriMo for about four years now (my profile says six, but I signed up and attempted nothing for the first two years). I completed the challenge in 2009 – which is also this laptop’s birthday and explains why it’s slowly but inevitably heading towards a meltdown. In 2010, 11 and 12 I started writing and then got sidetracked with other things like, um, sport, actually. Obviously. Now that I think about it.

So, this November, with that in mind, I am hammering away at a novel idea that, in a shocking departure from my usual ‘just wing it’ style, has a semblance of a plot outline, and I’ll also be attempting to fit in the first month of a half-marathon training plan. But this year, I feel as though I’ve trained for NaNoWriMo (see earlier entry comment about consistently blogging). And I think I can fit the first (and easiest) few weeks of training round it.

No, I'm not going all Murakami and write a novel about my running. This is a really good read, though, if that's what you're in the mood for...

No, I’m not going all Murakami and write a novel about my running. This is a really good read, though.

Yes, once again, I’ve signed up for a running event. Honestly, after this year, I’d been entirely burnt out on the sport front. After having to drop out of the half ironman, the buzz I usually get from events and having something to work towards took a major hit. I did the Hyde Park sprint, but I ditched pretty much all other events, because I just didn’t love it anymore.  I couldn’t be bothered to train and when I looked at 2014 I couldn’t begin to choose what I wanted to do.

But then my new tri buddy got a place in the London Marathon via Amnesty International (and he’ll be aiming for a Boston qualifying time) and when he was discussing his training plan, I got that little sport-talk thrill. And when he talked about needing a half-marathon to do, I pushed the idea of the Tunbridge Wells half, which has changed dates and start time in 2014 (which will make it more difficult to get to, actually) but is a brilliant race. And when he said he was signing up, I realised I wanted to, too. I’ve done the race twice. I improved significantly the second time. I want to do it again. So I signed up and did a bit of half-marathon training research and realised that, actually, I can’t wait to get going on this again.

I love winter running. I like running when the air is cold and crisp, and the ground is a bit squishy, or the rain is hitting you in the face until you can barely see. I love hooking up my run harness to my dog and dodging the tree roots and getting pulled through puddles. I’m possibly a bit unique in my love of this (by contrast, I really hate running in summer).

I think part of the enthusiasm is because I realised I’ve never trained specifically for a half marathon before. It’s a distance that I’ve run during training for something else (or after another race). I shaved ten minutes off my time for the Tunbridge Wells half this year because I  had been training for the half ironman – which obviously helped. But I think most triathletes would agree that training for a half ironman is not the same as training just for a half marathon. So I’m curious to see if I can PB again this time round.

Finding a plan was kind of a novelty. When I first started out doing tri, I followed a couch-to-5k running plan, had swimming lessons, and just pedalled the distance on the bike at the gym. For the marathon, I had a full training plan, but that was back in 2011. For the half ironman, I had a plan provided by TrainingPeaks, which had a coach attached who I could email with questions. It’s been a while since I looked up a plain running plan.

When I first googled ‘half marathon training plan’ google threw up quite a lot of ‘Women’s Running’ type training plans. I love sites that boost women in sport (check out Sport Sister for an example of one of the best ones out there) but I have limited tolerance for training plans that attempt to inspire runners with chirpy ‘advice’ like:

“Better still, our easy-to-follow 12-week training plan will also help you burn off at least 1,250 calories a week, and up to a very impressive 2,400 as your training heats up. Which means you could shed about 7lb through the 12 weeks of training, without even having to diet!”

(That’s a straight-up copy-and-paste from a women’s sport magazine’s website by, the way. No editing.)

Now, I started doing sport to get in shape, but I sort of feel as though by the time you get to doing a half marathon, you’re doing it for the love of the run rather than to lose weight. And when magazines start spouting about losing a possible 7lbs whilst training for 13 solid miles of running, it’s easy for readers lose track of the fact that you need to eat properly in order to run that distance at all. You need to replace those calories. Double annoying – this sort of shit doesn’t tend to show up in the unisex and men’s magazines.

Anyway, I signed up with Asics and have a training plan sorted out that is specific enough to have finishing time in mind, and which should fit around work and writing. The site also has charts and stats and counters and all the other things that I obsess about when training, which makes me a happy little bunny.

Right now I’m excited about both training for the half (not even the actual race – just the training) and writing my NaNo Novel. So let’s see how this month goes.

Back in the saddle

This morning I have been mostly casually strolling around in my new trisuit, just chilling out, having brekkie, that sort of thing. Trisuits are the new onesies.

Ok, not strictly true – I’ve been casually strolling around and jumping up and down a bit to get a check on the strength of the in-built sports bra (my genetics have been generous in certain areas, and this has made the bra issue one of great importance), and sitting on my bike to see if the padding in that area is adequate. I have only just realised that my old trisuit really did not fit me properly.

Yep, now that I’m back doing my thang I’ve done what all good triathletes do and bought a bunch of stuff and nonsense to keep me happy. I’m not counting a new suit as actual nonsense, though. My old suit (the make of which I don’t remember, and I can’t be bothered to go and check) was unisex and zipped up at the back, so I had to wear a sports bra with it (uncomfortable amount of layering) and getting it done up involved a certain amount of contortionist ability that I just don’t have.

I tell you, there’s no better way to bond with people at a race than to emerge from the bathroom and have to ask them to finish zipping you up. Not. So my front-zipping, boob-accommodating new suit (Speedo Triathelite) is currently the new love of my sporting life. Also it’s a bit prettier than the old one. Also bought – funky new poser sunglasses for running and cycling, and a pair of shorts. And chocolate. Thank you, Decathlon summer sale.

So, now I have two trisuits, does that make me a proper triathlete? When do you start calling yourself that? I feel like a total fraud about 98% of the time on this front. I don’t feel like an athlete, I don’t look like an athlete, and for about four months I just walked kind of quickly and a lot. But I suspect, even now I’m back to training, I still won’t be trotting around feeling like an athletic type.

I’m not sure when you, if ever, decide on the ‘type’ of person you are, but I never thought sporty would be a word for me. I’ve done four triathlons over two and a half years (more would be nice, but then so would the more money for that), missed two these past four months, taken part in umpteen runs, and done a lot of training. But I’m still slow and I still struggle and I still feel like a faker because I have to work pretty hard to be below average at this stuff, let alone average. ‘Good’ feels out of reach – but then I never went into this wanting to be good.

This was taken right after I finished the ITU/Dextro London sprint tri in 2011. See that grin? That's addiction to triathlon kicking in, right there. (Yes, this is what I look like.)

This was taken right after I finished the ITU/Dextro London sprint tri in 2011. See that grin? That’s addiction to triathlon kicking in, right there. (Yes, this is what I look like.)

(Admittedly, it makes me grind my teeth a bit (sorry, teeth) when someone waltzes into a race for their first time and gets 10k in 56 minutes, and I STILL cannot break an hour (see? Slow). That’s not really a problem, though, except for when there are cut-off times. And I’ve made a deal with myself to work harder on the speed thing this time round.)

I’m taking my break as a fresh start, you see. It kind of has to be, although yesterday’s run felt good, if painful, for the first time since going back to it. I have sworn to work harder at the bane of my life that is cycling. Swimming … well, swimming, I just love. I took back to it like a duck to water (ha!) and am already back to where I was, if not a bit quicker. I suspect the extra padding I’m currently carrying around my waist might be helping slightly with keeping me afloat, but that’s not the point.

I would like all my training to be swimming at the moment. I have to remind myself to do the other stuff, too, because I’m not following a strict training plan at the moment. Just a ‘do everything at least twice a week’ approach to get through the UTI sprint tri in September. That’s my little A race this year (see, back to the drawing board. I’ll take a deep breath and look at a half ironman again in a while – just let me get through this one first. My confidence is severely shaken at the moment). Then there is a half marathon in October. And we’ll see how things go from there.

What I am grateful for is the number of people around me now interested in and attempting triathlon. Partly this is the Brownlee effect; partly I nagged a lot. Anyway, it’s helping to keep my enthusiasm levels up at a time when I’m getting annoyed with myself for not being as enthusiastic (now the practicalities of actually doing stuff have kicked in) about going back to training as I thought I would be when I couldn’t do it. <- runaway sentence alert.

I have a training partner of sorts (not really, but at least someone to swim with occasionally and talk over the ITU race with since we’ll be in the same wave). I also just loaned my wetsuit out to another friend who was the swimmer for a relay team at the London Triathlon and we will be meeting for further swimming.

I used to go running with both these people at work. It was difficult – I would struggle along behind them and curse them and be thankful for them at the same time. Someone once told me that if you want to improve at something, do it with people who are better at it than you. The trick is finding people who are patient and pushy and nice about it, and lucky for me, these people are.

We don’t go running anymore, but it’s nice not to feel alone in this weird hobby that I never thought I would have. I did my first triathlon completely alone – travelled to Dorney Lake by myself, knew no one there. People were welcoming and kind, but I would have killed for a friend to be at the race (even though I kept the fact I was doing it a secret from everyone). I hope this is a new, more sociable era.