New year’s resolutions

Even though the beginning of a new calendar year shouldn’t mean anything, I do like making new year’s resolutions. And yes, it’s beyond twelfth night but better late than never…

  1. Read more!

Last year I read 14 books, which is disappointing. I used to read voraciously

  1. Run more!

In 2016 I ran 1,203 km (747 miles), despite spraining my ankle twice and losing all motivation. This year I’d like to run more than that, though I’m not too fussed about the actual distance. To kick it off, I’m going to run every day in January, like I did last year.

  1. Run better!

I didn’t improve on any of my PBs in 2016, so they’re still as follows: 5k 25:52, 10k 57:01, half marathon 2:05:13, marathon 5:08:00. I’d like to improve on at least one of these.

  1. Work more sensible hours!

I get paid to work 9-5, yet I’m frequently in the office at 7pm. It’s not good for me, and makes me more stressed as I keep piling work up on myself. I’ve only got 8 full weeks left at work, and I’m going to try to keep to 9-5.30 (being realistic – I’m never going to be able to leave at 5 as although working late is discouraged out loud, culturally, it’s very difficult to leave on time). Once I start my new job in China, I’m going to try to keep to my hours, though I hear that can be difficult as teachers are often pressured to work longer hours than they get paid for.

  1. Study Chinese more!

I’m doing HSK2 next month and by the end of the year would like to have done HSK3 as well as improving my spoken Chinese, and confidence using it.

  1. Don’t be so hard on myself!

It’s been mentioned by a few people that maybe I’m a little hard on myself. So I’m going to try to be a bit nicer to myself, maybe like myself a bit more. I’m not really sure how to do this without sacrificing standards, but I’ll give it a go.

Post-DNF

After spending the last 13 weeks training for a marathon that I didn’t complete, I feel a bit empty.

Apparently it’s quite normal to feel a bit flat after a marathon. But I’m pretty sure this is when you’ve actually finished it, and all your hard work has paid off and you don’t have a goal to aim for any more.

So, what happens if you DNF? I ran 18.4km on Sunday (which is 43% of a full marathon, stats fans). As a result, my legs haven’t really felt tired all week, and although my ankle has been sore, I – for obvious reasons – don’t feel like I ran a marathon. I don’t feel like I trained enough (partly due to injury, but also because I didn’t quite make the long runs) but I still feel like I trained and that the training has somewhat gone to waste.

The first day or so after Halstead, I looked up upcoming marathons and wanted to book something as soon as possible. I thought about doing a half marathon this coming weekend but I think I realised (deep down, at least) that this was a silly idea.

By Tuesday or Wednesday I’d decided that while I do want to have something to train for, it might be sensible to recover fully first and try and enjoy myself a bit before launching straight into another marathon.

I’ve decided that my plans for the next few months are as follows:

  • Let my ankle get better
  • Start eating better instead of snacking so much
  • Ride my bike more – I’ve barely ridden this year and I miss it
  • Focus on shorter distances until the end of summer, like:
    • Parkruns
    • Some 10k races
    • Maybe a half marathon, depending on dates
  • Triathlon! An olympic in June/July and a middle in August
  • An autumn marathon

It seems silly to say that I put a lot of pressure on myself as my times don’t really back that up. But I’m not very kind to myself for not being fast enough. I would love to find a balance where I’m training enough that I’m okay with my times in races, rather than always feeling that I could have pushed harder and not been defeated so easily – if I just felt that I had done my best I think I’d be happier with my times, whatever they were. I’m not sure when this was last the case… The Kevin Henry 5k last summer, maybe, as I kept pushing the whole way round. Maybe the Regents Park 10k last winter, as although I was slow and plodded around, I kept going instead of thinking about stopping or slowing down. I took a random day off work early last year and ran around in Regents Park and surprised myself by not doing any of my normal silly mind games. I need more runs like that… instead of always feeling such a let down…

Cotswold113 Middle Distance Triathlon 2015

I’ve previously done 2 pool-based sprint triathlons and decided to venture into middle distance. My brother recommended the Cotswold113, as he’d previously done the Cotswold Classic, and we entered together. Our mum kindly drove us to the Cotswolds on Friday afternoon and we spent a rainy day hanging out eating desserts, driving about in a white van and getting ready for race day.

Swim: 1.9km

It was my second time swimming in open water (and the first time I’d been freaked out by a fish) and I was anxious. My brother (Chris) and I were in the 4th wave, which meant a 6:30am start – we’d been there since 4am. Just before the start I spotted an internet friend, Ewan, and he gave me a few words of encouragement.

Chris and I had a last minute hug and got in the water. We skulled about acclimatising and I could see mum on the edge of the water so goofed about for photos. I was nervous as hell.

The countdown went and we swam off. I felt okay initially and then started panicking. I felt myself hyperventilating and making little progress. Two women in front stopped and a canoe arrived to check on them. I became paranoid that the canoeists were laughing at me, and this gave me the impetus to sort myself out and I settled into a steady stroke, not fast but not exerting myself. I’d never swum 1.9km before so my plan was centred on not drowning.

The swim course was one lap around the lake with a diversion into the middle to make up the distance. I’d miscounted how many buoys there were before this diversion, convincing myself for a while that we didn’t have to do it. I was overtaken by fast swimmers from the wave behind and decided to push on and see whether I could speed up. Turns out I could keep up with the front-of-middle swimmers and for a second in the last 500 metres I felt almost fishlike.

I swam to the jetty where volunteers were pulling people out. Using my arms to drag myself up as high as I could, I looked up to see Loudmouth Dave, one of the most vocal marshals. I put my hand up and he shouted words of encouragement while hauling me out of the water. This is the best thing about triathlon: a strong man pulling you out of a lake.

Time: 00:47:20 – genuinely shocked, I was expecting an hour after such a shaky start

“How do I undo this again?”

T1

I’d forgotten to let water into my wetsuit before getting out but didn’t struggle too much extricating myself. I walked briskly to my bike, concentrating hard on remembering to take off my goggles. I wrestled with a jacket and dropped my helmet putting it on. Socks on, shoes on, mitts on and I trotted through transition to the bike mount line, letting out a substantial burp on the way.

Time: 00:04:34

Bike: 90km

My legs felt fine as I got on the bike, a little tired but I figured they’d warm up. The course was two laps, an out and back with a large loop as the turnaround halfway through each lap, on reasonably quiet roads including some pretty lanes. It was narrow in places, making it difficult to overtake – especially when I came across a man riding in the middle of the road in the other direction, who I may or may not have called a dickhead.

I found it hard to keep my speed up and there didn’t seem to be a reason for it. It wasn’t windy and the course was predominantly flat. I was riding a bike that I normally ride a lot faster when laden with a heavy saddle bag. It was disheartening.

On the loop there was a hill – “the hill” – just after Hanningford. It wasn’t too bad but after descending there were another two rollers. The first was fine, but on the second I was overtaken in a pincer movement by two men, who came to a standstill directly in front of me. I screamed at them to move but I was boxed in. They must have known they didn’t have the momentum to go up the hill so why pass me only to stop, blocking my path? I can only assume they are London bus drivers.

From here I rode back to the start line. My mum was marshalling here and so it was good to see her. I don’t think she spotted the chap who rode into my rear wheel as I slowed to pull back out onto the main road and begrudgingly began my second lap.

By this point I’d eaten 2 bites of a PowerBar Ride bar (a chocolate and peanut concoction) but my hands were numb so I couldn’t eat anything else as I couldn’t pick it up. In the end I stopped to shake some life back into my hands and ate the rest of the bar, which annoyingly let lots of people past me.

One part of the course had subsidence due to a badger sett, and a marshal was positioned here to warn cyclists/scare away badgers. I didn’t see any badgers here BUT later on I saw a dead badger by the side of the road – hopefully there hadn’t been a cyclist-badger incident. My mum saw one rider come down and not get back up, so I hope he was alright. My brother also spoke to a chap who’d ridden into a ditch and cut his face.

My second lap was slow and rubbish. I struggled for power, motivation, speed and confidence. Nothing hurt but nothing felt great. I’d been hoping for 3 hours on the bike and felt very disappointed when this slipped by, but couldn’t do a lot about it.

Time: 03:12:25

113 Cotswold Middle Distance Tri –- Harriet Lamb

T2

I ran to where I’d racked, where the label clearly had my name and number… and could only see other people’s stuff. There were towels and clothes strewn on the floor but none of my belongings. Hmm, I thought, I must have been moved elsewhere. I set off to have a look around before realising this was absurd and looked under the pile of stuff – there were my shoes! I had to rearrange all the bikes to get mine in and root around to find my shoes.

Time: 00:04:01

Run: 21.1km

I planned to walk the first 100m of each kilometre and run the rest. As I set off, a woman on her 2nd lap passed me and commented “it feels like you’re running in bike shoes at first, doesn’t it?!” – I had to check I wasn’t running in my bike shoes. I ducked into a field as I needed the loo, and had cramp in my foot that wouldn’t go away until I took my shoe off to rub my toes.

There was a concentration of cheerers at 3km, where the run crossed the bike course, and I saw mum again (as well as Ewan, well on the way to the finish). At 4km there was an aid station with an array of goodies – I had water, a jaffa cake and a handful of jelly beans, which melted and left brightly coloured sticky streaks on my palm.

I wasn’t feeling great and passing through the finish area to start my second lap (of three!) was depressing. There were people finishing and others with medals around necks.

I felt worse and worse and at 9km I spotted some public toilets so popped in. I wished I hadn’t as I saw my reflection in the mirror – I was deathly white. I stayed there for a few minutes but knew I had to carry on.

Soon afterwards I saw mum and she walked alongside me for a minute, telling me I was doing well. I felt terrible. I asked how Chris was doing and she said she didn’t know. I saw a man on the ground being treated by paramedics and the temptation to climb into their car was enormous.

I passed the aid station and had 2 small cups of coke and more jelly beans. A man grabbed some ginger cake, which I thought was an interesting thing to eat while running. Finally I felt a little better and when I passed through the finish area again I gave Chris a wave.

By this point I’d picked up a new friend, a Welsh girl who was also having a tough time. We stuck together for a while before I headed off, still trying to adhere to my 100m-900m walk-run ratio (although sneaking in extra walks). The lakeside path was quiet as there weren’t many competitors left and I was embarrassed to still be trudging around.

At 17km I saw mum again, this time with Chris. I felt immeasurably better than the last lap and posed for photos. I asked Chris how he’d done and he said he’d tell me later. I wanted to know but there was no point arguing. I set my sights on the aid station: what would I have this time? The answer was, yet again, jelly beans.

With a kilometre to go I polished off the last jelly beans, overtaking people and patting them on the back, saying inane things like “come on champ!”. I turned onto the finishing straight and heard my mum and brother shouting my name – I took off my cap, smiled and sprinted for the line.

Time: 02:40:33

Cotswold113 Harriet Lamb

Total time: 06:48:55

Meanwhile, another story had been unfolding. My brother, the Iron Lamb, had had a reasonable swim and set off on the bike only to hit a pothole about 6km in and pinch flat his front wheel. His race was over in less than an hour. Cotswold 113 Middle Distance Tri - 14.6.15 - Harriet LambAs he waited for race support to pick him up, he hid so that I didn’t see him – he knew I’d be behind him on the bike and that if I’d seen him I would have stopped to try to help. My mum and Chris kept it a secret until I’d finished, as I’d looked so grim halfway through the run and they knew I already felt bad at keeping them waiting. I am impressed at how philosophical my brother has been about it.

I’ve held off writing this as I was waiting for my feelings to settle down. At first I was happy to have finished (especially the swim!). But this turned into guilt: I wished I’d had the mechanical and not Chris, and that I’d been able to put on a better performance for my mum, who’d given up her weekend. And remorse: for not training enough, for not prioritising running over the last few months. And shame: for being so slow – I didn’t come last but I was 152nd out of 171 women. I’m still waiting for self-acceptance (I’m always waiting for this).

I’ve learnt a lot: I need to eat more in races; I need to dedicate more time to running and run better when I do run; I need to keep calm swimming and I need more confidence on the bike. So now, another race?

Decisions

I made a decision. I had been feeling fed up of my life and the monotony of cycling to work amidst homicidal maniacs and working with people who hated me, living in a house where my rent covered my landlord’s mortgage, but, mysteriously, not the boiler repairs.

I ran under a big sky and I wanted more of that.

image

And then once the decision was made, I wasn’t sure anymore. Surely I could deal with lorries on the South Circular? And did it matter that I was unhappy at work, really, in the grand scheme of things? Did I really want to leave all my friends and run away to something that I could almost guarantee wouldn’t be the success I wanted it to be?

I told people I was excited but inside I felt stupid.

Now it is done. The unhappy job is gone and the keys to the miserable house have been handed back. And I’m still me, but I’m worse, because I’ve got no roots and I’ve got no grounding. I feel like I’ve been thrown into the wind but I’m caught in a downdraft.

image

I saw a boat, cut adrift on the River Lea, with an icon of London, the Olympic Park,  as the background. I bet the owner of the boat hates London now as it’s the place he lost his boat. But it’s nothing to do with London, really, the problem is the boat and that he didn’t take good care of it.

I bet the boat owner’s friends are sick of him talking about the boat and how it floated away, because to them the solution is really easy. Just tie your boat up properly and don’t go on the water if you can’t swim. But the boat owner is inconsolable.

I feel like I’m drowning and there isn’t a boat any more.

On Track

The promised legacy of London 2012 was world-class sporting facilities for the city, including, most excitingly, an indoor velodrome.

I ride, every day, a fixed gear bicycle. I am one of those people. It shouldn’t be hard for me to ride on a velodrome.

One of the things I am most ashamed of is my fear of riding on the track.

The first time I rode at Herne Hill Velodrome I turned up with boots full of swagger, bravado plastered over my face to disguise my inner terror – and I did it. Once I chose to do a track session on my birthday as I wanted it to mean something. I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday because I wanted to be the only one who understood why it mattered. I thought I’d cracked it.

I often got shouted at for not following the wheel in front closely enough and I always made excuses about the person in front being sketchy, when in reality I was too scared.

Then a day at Lea Valley Velodrome was arranged. I’d been before, as a spectator, so I knew what to expect.

I had a bad feeling about it, riding through the torrential rain on the way over to east London. I got there late and was pleased to miss the early session. I got moved to the second session and pretended to be happy about it.

I was cajoled into getting on a bike and doing a lap of the infield. I rode around, slowly, feeling like my internal organs were being crushed by a self-fulfilling sense of failure. My friends were standing about, eating cereal bars and chatting. I tried to convince myself everything was fine.

The safety briefing with Rob was a blur. Everyone else knew what they were doing. I felt sick. People peeled off and soon were passing at head height. I got on. Deep breath. Clipped in, holding the rail. Breathe.

I let go, rolled forward exactly one rotation and and grabbed the rail again. Breathe. Oh god. My eyes filled with tears and I looked away from the track, as if this would stop anyone noticing.

“You alright?” asked Rob. “Take your time. You’ve got all the time you want.”

The tears escaped and I had to unclip so I could let go of the handrail and wipe my face with my mitts. It was futile, they just coming from this well of insecurity and doubt.

I’d done a training session with Rob before, road racing, and I remembered what now felt like embarrassing bravado at Hog Hill. I’d thought I was so cool. And now I was crying by the side of the track, dissolving with every minute.

I tried to reason with myself. I knew the others in my group had more track experience and so someone would end up shouting at me to get out of the way at some point. I really didn’t want to be shouted at in this strange weatherless room with its perfect wooden floors.

I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t do it well, and I couldn’t do it well because I was afraid to make a move, afraid of failure.

The other riders regrouped and David told me that if I wasn’t going to ride then I had to leave.

I handed the bike back, handed the shoes back. I went over to my bag and sat in the middle of this cavernous space and cried. This was the home of such great triumphs – the Olympics, the day I met Chris Hoy, the Bespoked show – and here I was sullying it.

I could see my friend’s kid, waiting patiently while mum rode, eyeing me warily. I blanked an acquaintance who was keen to find out all the soap opera details, to let everyone know how I’d bottled it at the track.

I went to the changing room. I could sense all the people who’d changed there. Champions, kids, coaches; the excitement, the tension, the thrill of riding around the top of the banking at the best venue to come out of the whole Olympic legacy. I curled up, letting the tears fall down my face, off the wooden bench and onto the lino floor unchecked, staying as still as possible so the motion detector lights would go out.


Usually I can keep in mind that situations are transient and that no matter what it is, I’ll get over it.

But sometimes something cuts too deep and I know with a sickening certainty that I’m permanently branded.

One year alkoholfrei

Just over a year ago I went on a night out with some ex-colleagues. We drank wine on the Southbank, starting out so civilised and ending up a mess. The next morning I felt terrible, in my body and soul. I decided to take a break from drinking. And that break has turned from a pause to a stop, from a temporary hiatus to a different way of life.

I don’t miss alcohol at all. If I did, I’d drink. There’s no medical or other reason why I couldn’t and this isn’t something puritanical. But I choose not to.

I do miss being able to go out for the evening without other people commenting on my decision. It’s been fascinating but ultimately extremely tedious listening to other people’s views on me not drinking.

Sometimes I get asked if I’m boring because I don’t drink. I’m not, I never have been and it says more about the person asking the question.

I get asked what I do when (or if!!) I go to the pub. Chat to my friends, have a laugh, what everyone else does, what kind of a question is this?

I get asked if I’m judging other people for them drinking, and while I really don’t mind what other people choose to do, I have to say that not drinking has given me a different perspective on alcohol. It’s not for me to tell anyone else what to do but my personal opinion is that people drink too much. Of course, not drinking means you lose the right to comment on anyone else’s drinking, so I sip my blackcurrant and soda while another person asks me why I don’t drink and that they’d love to see me drunk, and I wonder why it’s such a big deal to other people and what that says about them.

The least hostility I faced was when I was training for the London Marathon. This was deemed an “acceptable” reason for not drinking.

The most hostility I faced was when, on a night out, someone put vodka in my drink. I lost a lot of respect for humankind through that, and even more so when other people didn’t think it was a big deal. For the record, that’s an affront and an assault. It’s shocking how little respect people can show for other people’s decisions, just because they’re different to theirs.

Luckily for me, I don’t care what other people think, or at least, I can pretend not to. Sometimes it’s lonely not drinking.

And luckily, not drinking is really awesome. I feel great, look good, have more free time (no hangovers!), don’t worry that I’ve been a dick the night before, have more money and feel infinitely happier.

I may decide at some point that I want to drink alcohol again. But I may not, and it would be lovely if my decision was respected, either way.

Don’t stop believing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychology of racing, or simply participating in sport. It won’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows me to hear that I’m a perfectionist. I set myself goals that I want to hit (for example, I want a sub-2 hour half marathon time) but then I don’t train properly for it, because part of me believes that I won’t be able to do it anyway. By not training enough I give myself an “excuse” not to have achieved the goal, rather than not hitting the goal because of some other, deeper failing of mine.

This is, as you can imagine, hugely unhelpful and damaging to my self-esteem, as I constantly feel disappointed and frustrated.

I oscillate between two scenarios:

  • If I tell myself I don’t care (and then don’t train/prepare), I run the risk of not doing well and then feel annoyed with myself for letting myself down.
  • If I do care, I become paralysed by the enormity of the situation and become convinced that I can’t do it – which, of course, means that I then can’t.

Friends tell me they’re proud of my achievements, but I can’t think of a single sporting achievement that I’m genuinely proud of (except perhaps getting a Merit in Grade 8 Ballet, because that was so ridiculously against the odds and took so much hard work).

It’s taking that first step. Believing you can do something, then working towards it, and dealing with the fallout of what happens if you don’t quite make it. Written down, that sounds so simple.

Like a moth with a light bulb, I keep throwing myself into futile situations where I can only expect to see the same old outcomes. Friends say I’m brave for trying new things (marathon, cyclocross, track, triathlon) but being brave would be putting myself on the line and seeing whether I can really do it, not making a web of excuses for myself to fall back into when I lose my nerve once again.

I cannot go on like this.