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Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

Race Diary: Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

Two weekends ago I participated in my first sprint triathlon (750 m swim, 20 km cycle, 5.7 km run), the Blenheim Palace Triathlon. I don’t really remember the sequence of events that led up to this but I’m certain that it started in December of last year with a little over indulgence in the Christmas cheer.

So back in January I started on this journey. I was already a runner but I didn’t own a bike and my last memories of structured swimming were about 35 years ago when I took swimming lessons with the Red Cross over the summer school break. I had a lot of ground to cover. Luckily, I had three pretty amazing friends who had likewise succumbed to the Christmas cheer. If it weren’t for them I would never have done this. And without them I most certainly wouldn’t have been up at 7:30 am on a cool April morning to go jump in a lake. We were in this together.

I spent the night before Blenheim packing and re-packing, making sure I’d checked off everything on my gear list. Relative to my usual running events, triathlon, as you’d expect, has about three times the amount of kit required. A spreadsheet was necessary to make sure I didn’t forget anything. And as a triathlon novice, I spent time watching YouTube videos of how to set up the all important transition area, the place where you change into your cycle and running gear. I felt woefully unprepared for this “fourth discipline.”

We chose the priority start on Saturday, starting in the first wave of competitors. Despite the early start to the day, this was an excellent decision as parking and getting all of our gear into the transition area were a breeze. As we walked through the gates of Blenheim and into the main courtyard, red carpet covering the grounds greeted us. I admit it was a strange sight to see given the usual grandeur of the place.

Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

Weather on the day was stereotypically English, grey and dreary with rain. There was a light drizzle all morning and as we set up our transition areas, the rain became heavier soaking everything. Thankfully, we’d been obsessively monitoring the weather forecast beforehand and came ready with large bin bags with which to cover our stuff. The identification stickers they’d given us to affix to our cycle helmets and bikes even began to disintegrate. So the organizers recommended that we take selfies with our bikes so that we could prove they were ours when the stickers came off.

But the good news about competing in a triathlon when it’s pissing it down with rain, you’re already wet. Getting in your wetsuit and jumping in the lake is no big deal. And as my pre-race look says, I am excited about this challenge, but it is pouring rain and I am voluntarily out in public in skin-tight neoprene. So, I am also questioning my sanity.

Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

The Swim

I can swim but I’m not a swimmer. It’s my weakest discipline and was usually the bit I just wanted to finish. I spent the winter doing sessions in the pool and then, once spring arrived, started training in open water at a nearby lake. As I’m in England and not the Mediterranean, this of course required a wetsuit. Now, outside of wool turtlenecks, wetsuits are quite possibly the most uncomfortable article of “clothing” that I’ve ever worn. That is until you get in the water and they completely come into their own.

My friends and I organized a group lesson with a triathlon swim coach who helped us open water novices through the anxiety of the unknown. Annie reminded us that much of the battle in the open water is with your own mind. “The water is not cold. It’s fresh” she said recommending that we change our perspective. I repeated this mantra and then, as instructed, opened the neck of my wetsuit and let the 13.6 Celsius water rush in. It took my breath away. Annie also taught me the only triathlon swimming skill I feel I’ve mastered, the corkscrew buoy turn. In subsequent training sessions with the Oxford Tri triathlon club, we also learned how to cope with mass starts like Blenheim when people literally swim over top of you. It wasn’t until my last open water training session with them, just a week before Blenheim, that I finally felt like I was getting comfortable in the water.

Our wave gathered in a holding pen by the water’s edge until our start time. Then we all donned our green swim caps and jumped off the makeshift pier and into the water.

Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

We had to tread water for about five minutes as we waited for everyone to get to the start and then an air horn blast signalled that we were on our way. I’m somewhere in that mêlée of swimmers.

Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

It’s tough swimming in a crowd but I did find a way to get into a rhythm and just swim. Maybe because of all the rain, the water was much murkier than my earlier open water training swims and visibility was low. This made it difficult to see the other swimmers around me and it was all but impossible to avoid swimming into someone. And then after 18 short minutes (short for me) I finished my swim and climbed out of the water and onto the crazy long uphill run in my wetsuit back to the transition area, peeling off the wetsuit as I ran. Fingers crossed, all the baby oil and Body Glide I’d applied pre-race would mean that my wetsuit would peel off like greased lightning. (It didn’t.)

The Bike

At the start of this adventure, I didn’t even own a bike. Training through the winter largely meant spin classes in the gym. But I am not a fan of the gym and exercising indoors. So thankfully a spring birthday meant a new bike and plenty of new adventures learning how to ride in clipless pedals. Yep, fell over! Small country roads perfect for cycling litter the Oxfordshire countryside and I found that I really enjoyed this new way to explore and soak in the springtime scenery.

Going into the race I felt confident about the progress I’d made from ground zero on the bike and thought I’d have a strong outing on this leg. But once I extracted myself from my wetsuit and started on the bike leg, three laps around Blenheim, I realized it was going to be a tough ride. Blenheim is a hilly circuit and I’d clearly not spent enough time practicing hill climbs, my legs were burning on the ascent. Also, remember the weather? The course was super wet as it continued to rain. I had little experience riding in the wet and so my bald skinny tires and I were cautious and I didn’t go for it on the bike like I thought I would. At the end, the brake dust I laid down on some of the slippery descents covered my wheel rims. I let the conditions get the best of me. And the whole time on the bike I had this voice in my head telling me to save my legs, I still had to run.

The Run

As my strongest discipline and the one in which I had the most experience, I took running for granted. But do you know what it feels like to immediately start running after you’ve just cycled for 45+ minutes? Until I started training for Blenheim, I didn’t. It feels like your legs are made of jelly/jello (use country specific term here…) and they are screaming at you shouting “WTF are you doing? Stop!” On my first post-cycle “jelly leg run” it was all I could do to stay upright as I stumbled like a drunken sailor down the road. Training for triathlon is a different animal entirely and means including lots of “brick” sessions, a cycle followed by a run, to minimize the jelly-leg effect and get your body used to running on tired legs.

As I put my bike back on the rack in transition, I was glad to finally have the swim and the bike behind me and get into my comfort zone. I knew that even with my energy waning, I had a lot of muscle memory to call on to get me through the run. And, during the run, I was actually glad for the rain. There’s something refreshing and cleansing about running in the rain. It was a good run but nowhere near my best 5K and the official race photos tell a pretty clear story of why. My posture says I’m exhausted, I have no core strength, and my arms are working across my body and against me. My running form had fallen apart. So while I felt like I finished the run strong enough in my first triathlon, there is plenty of room to improve!

The final sprint to the finish was brilliant. Not only did I have a little group of cheerleaders, everyone in my gang of training buddies who had finished ahead of me, but also the announcers called out my name as I ran down the finish chute and across the line. Such a great touch by the organizers.

Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015

In Summary

🏊 😀 🚴 😕🏃 😐 🏆 😃

Having the endurance and know how to compete in three sporting disciplines, one after the other, is tricky stuff and, in comparison, just running now seems easy. But I loved the experience and the challenge enough to do it again. In September. Full Olympic distance. Crazytown!

And I’m excited to see if any of us made the TV broadcast. It’s on tomorrow the 27th at 6:35 AM on Channel 4 in the UK. (Recording that by the way…)


Thanks to head cheerleader J for many of the photos. Massive gold star for coming out in those conditions voluntarily.

Running is a Secret Superpower

Book Review: Up and Running

So how are those New Year’s fitness goals going? You know you’ve got them. I’ve got them. I ran a marathon a few short months ago and now I feel like I couldn’t even run 5K. There have been other priorities and then maybe a few too many chocolates and definitely a few too many glasses of wine and, well, I fell off the running wagon. Hard.

But now it’s time to get my head, my legs, and my feet back in the game. So I was grateful to read the new book by my trusted running coach Julia Jones and her partner Shauna Reid. Their book, Up and Running, is primarily targeted at those picking up running for the first time and lays out an 8-week plan to get you from zero to 5K. But the thing is, even as an “experienced” runner, a runner who needed to get her mojo back, I found this book full of wisdom.

There are any number of plans out there that will help you start running or prepare for a specific race goal. Running magazines and websites are chock full of them, plans like the popular Couch to 5K. But while these might give you guidance on a schedule of running workouts, I think they miss the big picture entirely. As I mentioned in my Circle of Running series leading up to Berlin, there is so much more to being a runner, at any distance, than just running. And following a program that doesn’t take a holistic view of how running fits into your life doesn’t help you make running a lifelong habit.

This is where I think Julia and Shauna’s book sets itself apart. Yes, there is a schedule of workouts to follow, but instead of just running, they also include the stretching, strength, and agility drills I’m well familiar with such as skipping, squats, and sprints.”If you want to improve your running style and avoid injury, you need to do more than just run.”

They also talk about how critical it is to understand your motivation for running and identify typical challenges and barriers. “Even seasoned runners can have a difficult time convincing themselves to lace up their shoes.” No shit! So there are practical suggestions on how to confront obstacles and get out of your own way. The key piece of advice that I took away is about making your health a priority and putting yourself at the top of your own to-do list. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

I was also really pleased to see that they included a section in the book about cleaning up your diet. I firmly believe that anyone who believes that some fad diet alone is going change their body and help them get fit is misguided. The same goes for anyone who thinks they can do a load of exercise yet still eat as much pizza and beer as they want. Healthy food choices and exercise together are both pieces of the puzzle. And in my previous training with Julia, especially marathon training, diet was one of the big questions on which she provided guidance. The fuel that we put in our bodies 100% impacts how we feel and how we perform mentally and physically.

I can’t run without a plan. There, I’ve admitted that to myself. I think this is why I’m constantly signing up for races. Without the next “thing” on the calendar or a plan to follow it becomes too easy to fall off the wagon and make excuses. So if you’re like me and looking for a plan to get you into running for the first time or need help getting motivated to pick it up again, Up and Running is worth a read. It will help you run for fun and enjoyment and get you to 5K and beyond.


UP AND RUNNING is an 8 week plan to go from zero to 5k and discover the life changing power of running. It’s a tried and tested and time-efficient beginners plan, suitable for everyone from manically busy mums to frazzled office workers. We’ve coached thousands of new runners across the world in our 5k e-courses (link to and discovered the winning formula for 5k success. We learned that running is a mental exercise as much as a physical one and so the program beings with a warm-up week to set your intentions, get organized, and prime your mind for the challenge ahead. This is followed by a realistic, achievable eight-week training programme (including treadmill running options) to ensure that you make it across the finish line. We finish with a Beyond The 5K chapter to help you prepare for the 10k distance.

UP AND RUNNING will get you fired up and excited about running. It will show you how to fall in love with fitness, and with your own life. It’s in stores now from CICO Books – find out more at

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book to review but my opinions and comments are completely my own.

Santas on the Run

Race Diary: Santas on the Run

I’m not even sure whether the little man still believes in Santa Claus. He’s made a couple of comments that have us wondering whether a school mate’s older sibling spilled the beans. But he’s still been excited about the holiday and he was full of smiles and laughter as we decorated the tree.

So I though what better way for us to take part in the jolly spirit of the season, then to run around the streets of Oxford dressed as the big man himself. Along with about 2000 other runners, the little man and I spent last Sunday morning “running” a 3K race in full Santa gear. It was a dreary morning, but as the sea of Santas gathered at the start, Christmas music played through the loudspeakers filling the day with festive cheer.

This was the first time that the little man has participated with me in a race. I’ve wanted to involve him in my running and this short, family event was perfect. He did tire of the running pretty quickly though and we likely walked about two-thirds of the way. But when we closed in on the finish, he did sprint with me to the end and I could see that he had a little smile on his face as the crowd cheered him on.

And to top it off, he got a medal and mince pie at the finish.

Santas on the Run

Berlin Marathon

Race Diary: Berlin Marathon 2014

Yes, it was two months ago.  But, yes, I finished!

Those of you who had followed my series leading up to the marathon knew that I was struggling those last few weeks, filled with doubts. For a number of reasons, the last three weeks of my training were just rubbish. Too much other life stress meant I struggled to find the will, the energy, and the time to go out for a run.

But as soon as I found myself in the middle of 40,000 people at the start of the marathon, all of that doubt just dissolved away. I knew I’d put in the hours of training and I knew that the excitement of the day would carry me through. Most of those running along side me likely had specific times they were looking to achieve, and, honestly, this was probably the number one question I got asked when I said I was running a marathon. How fast do you want to finish? What’s your target time? Etc. Etc. As if that’s the only measure of success. Instead, I ended up with just three simple goals for my first marathon:

  1. Finish.
  2. Finish with a smile.
  3. Finish with clean underwear.

And I can say I was successful doing just that!

The journey to Berlin didn’t have the most auspicious beginning though. Our flight from London was severely delayed and when we did finally take off, it seems they didn’t get anyone’s bags on the plane. Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will already know how I felt about British Airways at the time as my carefully packed bag of running kit still sat in Heathrow. (Yes, LESSON LEARNED. When traveling for a big race, CHECK-ON.) So, I spent most of my Saturday chasing British Airways for our bags which finally, thankfully, arrived just after mid-day.

Luggage sorted, I was then off to the race expo to collect my number. It was held at Tempelhof Airport, site of the Berlin airlift, and I quickly realized that it wouldn’t have mattered if all my running kit still sat in a hangar at Heathrow. Filled with acres of booths peddling every bit of running gear imaginable, including my same shoes, my credit card and I could have quickly rebuilt my race day kit.

Berlin Marathon

One of the things I had worried about was my pre-race meals and how I’d figure out how to eat the right stuff while travelling, likely eating out in restaurants. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. Italian restaurants dotted just about every corner of our neighbourhood, so pasta was an easy choice. I also found myself lucky to have an American diner directly across the street that specialized in pancakes. Also, our local shop had the rice cakes, peanut butter, honey, & banana that make up my usual race day breakfast. On race day morning, and in keeping with my race goal number three, I washed it all down with an Imodium. Brilliant.

With a race start just after 9AM, race day was an early start for me. We stayed in a lovely apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, formerly part of old East Berlin and so I needed to allow about an hour to get to the start area on the U-Bahn. But while the streets were mostly quiet as I left our flat, I immediately found myself meeting other runners on the same journey to the start.

Berlin U-Bahn

Because who’s on the U-Bahn at 7AM on the Sunday of the marathon? Runners, lots of runners. And a banana, who was also a runner. As we got closer to the start, the carriages became filled with runners and, in the end, the crowd resembled the London tube at rush hour, just with sneakers instead of suits.

Berlin U-Bahn

Getting off the U-Bahn, it was easy to find my way to start, I just followed the crowd. Heading to the start was the first time I’d been into the center of Berlin since we arrived and the early morning walk was a great way to experience the city. Morning sunlight was glistening over the Holocaust Memorial as I walked past and I did stop for a moment just to take in the scene and significance. The route to the start also took me through the Brandenburg Gate for the first time. Next time, I’d be running through it.

Brandenburg Gate

If I’d been able to order the day’s weather off a menu, I would have chosen exactly what Mother Nature delivered. Crystal clear blue skies, cool-ish weather. Perfect for running 26.2 miles.

Brandenburg Gate
With 40,000 runners, I was expecting crowds. And for the most part, the Germans managed this with the precision you’d expect. But I was surprised that there weren’t more loos. I thought I’d given myself plenty of time to get to the start, but by the time I’d dropped off my bag and waited in the enormous loo line, I ended up having to rush to the start. And it was pretty early in the race when I came to regret only having time for one pre-race trip to the loo.

Berlin Marathon
I started in the last wave of runners, well behind the elite and fast runners but the atmosphere was still electric. The crowds, the beautiful day, and bass from the club music pounding through the loudspeakers filled the air with excitement.

Yesterday’s #berlinmarathon start was electric. Never run with so many people.

A video posted by Katherine Lightner (@katherinelightner) on

After the start gun went off, it was easily another 10 minutes before I actually crossed the start line. Thank goodness for chip timing, right? For the first few kilometers, I took it super slow and easy. I’d let go of the pressure of getting a specific time and so just wanted to make sure I didn’t start too fast, something I’ve done plenty of times in other races and then bonked. Given the pace I’d been running in training, Coach Julia had told me to make sure I didn’t go any faster during the first 21 km than 6:30 min/km and I stuck to that slow pace (or slower). I was super conservative with speed as the most important thing was finishing and feeling good.

Berlin Marathon Start

It was at about 5 km that my bladder starting sending out warning signals. Drat that long loo line! I looked on with envy at all the men just darting off to the side of the road for a quick loo break. I hung in there as long as I could but my bladder hit the wall at around 10 km and I gave up and stopped at the port-a-loos. The queue was thankfully only a handful of people deep, but the stop probably cost me about 5 minutes.

Berlin Marathon

Because of my slow pacing, I was still feeling really good past the half-way mark. I stuck as close as I could to the blue line, the official racing line that’s painted on the streets. The blue line served as a mental checkpoint and something to keep me focused. The crowd and the atmosphere along the route were just amazing and served to keep my mind engaged and free of boredom. People lined the route everywhere cheering. And then there were the drums, drum bands everywhere. Who knew there were even so many different types of drum bands? But they were great at motivating me to keep running. As a tourist, this was truly a great way to see a new city.

Berlin Marathon Blue Line

Even though I still felt good, I did stop and walk through most of the water stations after the half way point. Plus, the water was in open top cups and that is frankly impossible to drink while running! The water stations also became a minefield with deep trenches of open road cutting a path between the mountains of discarded plastic cups. I had to be careful to navigate the clutter.

You hear about the wall, everyone talks about hitting the wall in a marathon. But I never felt like I hit the wall. By around 35 km my legs were starting to feel like jello and things were getting tough. But I never felt like I couldn’t keep going. And, as my name was on my race number, there were cheers from complete strangers urging me to keep going. Once I got past 35 km, I finally allowed myself to start believing I would finish and for those last couple of kilometers, I even picked up the pace. I didn’t bonk and I still had the energy to run to the finish.

As you’re running through the streets of Berlin, there is this magic moment when you turn a corner and then see it, the Brandenburg Gate and the finish dead ahead. All those months of training had culminated in this, a final sprint to the finish. (I felt like I was sprinting though video evidence suggests otherwise.) The experience at the finish was overwhelming. There were crowd filled grandstands, cheerleaders, and big screens. I ran through the Brandenburg Gate with my arms in the air and a big smile on my face. What an amazing life experience I’ll never forget!

Berlin Marathon

Finish time 4:53:38. And I’m over the moon with that. In my first marathon, I finished in under 5 hours, managed a negative split, and overcame the mountain of doubt I’d had before the start. In training, the furthest I ever ran was a half marathon as Julia built my plan around fartlek and threshold runs and less about the traditional long slow run. But Julia listened to my doubt and assured me that it would be ok, that I would do it, and she was right. Thanks for the encouragement Julia!

And how cool to have been in the same race when Dennis Kimetto set a new world record!

Berlin Marathon

Then it was time to collect my bag, change clothes in the middle of a field (modesty was out the window), meet up with family, and head back to the U-Bahn for the journey home. I’d packed plenty of post race recovery fuel to feed me until we got home. And then I wolfed down a nice juicy burger and fries from the American diner across street.

That night, my legs were sore and stiff and not very interested in moving around. However, an early night and a long sleep meant that I felt ok enough to go exploring around Berlin the next day. Another thing Julia was right about, the fact that I wouldn’t be sore the next day.

Training for a marathon is no easy undertaking and there were any number of sacrifices and tradeoffs that I had to make to fit in training. I’m grateful to have friends and family that supported me (and put up with me) during my months of training. But it was such an amazing adventure that I’m so glad I took on. So yes, I finished, I finished with a smile, and I finished with clean underwear (maybe).


SHANTARAM Countdown:  Finished. An excellent audiobook. Highly recommend. And, Humphrey Bower, the narrator, is freaking amazing.

1 Week Until Berlin Marathon

Berlin Marathon Training: Inspiration & Mojo

Last week I was feeling pretty crap about all of this. I was overstressed and tired and I’d run a half marathon that I didn’t feel very good about. But I’ve been amazed by the response I received, not just from friends and family but also from complete strangers offering words of encouragement. So, with only one more week to go, I’m in a better place this week. AND, I have only four more training runs to knock out between now and the 28th. ALMOST THERE.

I’ve also been thinking this week about that elusive mojo, the mental fortitude that I’ll need to get around 26.2 miles. It’s the mojo that holds this whole circle together. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the women that have inspired me on this journey, inspired me to challenge myself beyond what I ever thought was possible and to remind me that I CAN DO THIS.

Cheryl Strayed

This week, I’ve picked up Wild again.  Maybe it’s in anticipation of the movie, but I felt like I wanted to read Strayed’s words again, to walk with her along the Pacific Coast Trail, and to remember to be brave.

Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington is Britain’s other Iron Lady, a four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. I recently finished her book, A Life Without Limits and her story of winning the Ironman Championship in 2011 despite severe injuries from a cycle crash two weeks prior is a lesson in perseverance and winning the war against the desire to give up.

Our limits may not be where we think they are. And, even when we think we’ve finally reached them, the next time we go there exploring we often find that they’ve moved again.

Amy Purdy

Amy Purdy lost her legs to meningitis at the age of 19. Watch her powerful talk to hear how she dealt with this obstacle. You might need a kleenex.

Harriette Thompson

Earlier this year, Harriette Thompson recorded the fastest marathon time for a woman over the age of 90. This was her 16th marathon. But the part of her story that’s even more inspiring? She ran this marathon with her legs covered in bandages to hide the wounds from the radiation treatment she’d been undergoing for skin cancer. Just a few weeks before the marathon she’d barely been able to stand, much less run. Did I mention she’s 91?

Kathrine Switzer

If if weren’t for Kathrine Switzer, I might not even be allowed to run a marathon.  She was famously rugby tackled in her quest to become the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and to prove that women could actually run this far without their uterus falling out.

Jacqueline Millett

I discovered Jacqueline while listening to an episode of Marathon Talk on a long run.  She’d just won the Comrades Marathon (one of the biggest ultramarathon events in the world) in her age group, women over 60. That is an amazing achievement in itself. But what really inspired me was the rest of her story. How she was a “late bloomer” in running terms, how she is on her way to running 100 marathons, and how she has refused to let age become a barrier.

Julia Jones

Julia has been my muse, the woman who’s taken all these lofty ideas of running and given me the practical tools to make those dreams a reality. Her passion for running and encouraging women of all shapes and sizes to take up the sport is infectious. Recently, Julia achieved a long time goal of completing an Ironman Triathlon and more than anything else, it was this photo of her crossing the finish that truly inspired me. The look of pure joy, euphoria, and achievement on her face says it all. That all that hard work and training was worth it.

Diana Nyad

And then there is Diana. Never, ever give up. Her mantra, “Find a Way.”

There is nothing I could say about this woman and what she’s accomplished that she doesn’t say better herself.



SHANTARAM Countdown: 4 hours 45 minutes