The unsexiness of triathlon training

It’s 6:20 in the morning. It’s still dark outside. I’ve already had my usual breakfast – porridge with raisins – and I’m leisurely drinking my tea to get my single caffeine fix of the day. Soon, I’ll be getting dressed to go to the gym where I’ll head first to the pool for an 800 meter swim and then to the gym floor where my personal trainer will pulverize my legs and get my heart pumping at supersonic speeds. Then, and this is the trick, I have to find enough energy to get through a shitload of a workday.

I love a challenge. It’s my love for challenges that drives so much of the choices I’ve made in the past eight years. Participating in a triathlon is challenging. But it comes nowhere near as challenging as the lonely, boring and tiresome months upon months of training that precede it. I don’t love the training. I do love challenging myself to become hard-core. Going out for a two-to-three hour bike ride or a one-to-two hour run in the freezing rain is hard-core. It takes a tremendous amount of mental strength to get up extra early in the morning, already tired from yesterday’s training, and jump into a cold lake or even a warm swimming pool. It takes lots of mistakes and injuries to start figuring out when your body really needs a rest or you’ll just end up hurting yourself AGAIN or if you’re just being a wimp and get your sorry ass out there and just do it!

I have tons of inner conversations. (more…)

The amateur triathlete’s support team

It all started in 2013. I was training for a hike in the Andes in Peru. Then, while on a visit back home

At the end of my last Olympic triathlon this past August, I began feeling a minor knee pain. But by golly it felt great to sprint past a young, good-looking guy to cross the finish line!

At the end of my last Olympic triathlon this past August, I began feeling a minor knee pain. But by golly it felt great to sprint past a young, good-looking guy to cross the finish line!

in Cairo, I over-enthusiastically joined a group of runners on a 16km run. That day, I got the knee pain. Not long afterwards, I went on a hike in the Sinai mountains. I came down the mountain limping.

It was shortly after that when I got back to the UK that I started visiting a physiotherapist and discovered there was a world of knowledge I was unaware of in the field of sport. Six years of medical training and several years of dabbling in a variety of workouts and sports did not mean I had a grip on what I needed to do to get fit, keep fit, prevent injuries and deal with them when they came.

That was when I first really understood what iliotibial band syndrome was. Later, as I started training earnestly for a marathon, I discovered shin splints. Not that I hadn’t had them before, mind you. I just hadn’t realized what that pain in my lower leg was before.

But it was really only after I dislocated my shoulder after a fall from my bike while touring in Belgium that I slowly began to put together my full “athlete’s support team”. (more…)

The scariness that is God-fearing America

“What do you think of America, Mom?” a young man with Down’s syndrome asked his mother, the waitress who was serving us in the now almost-empty restaurant. “I think America is in a terrible place, sweetie,” she responded. My ears perked. I wondered if she might be upset about the economy. Maybe she didn’t like one or both of the presidential candidates. Perhaps she felt America was becoming increasingly racist. “We’ve left God. ‘One nation under God’. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But now we’re just one nation.”

I felt uncomfortable. My husband and I were the only two people left in the restaurant located in a small town in Illinois with a population less than 9,000. We were blatantly foreign, my husband speaking with his Scottish accent and both of us walking around while holding iPads, kindles and a man bag. I had just asked the waitress’s daughter if the red things in the mashed potatoes were bacon bits, because if they were, I couldn’t eat it. She told me they were potato skins.

Had the mama waitress answered her son so loudly in order to make a point? Or maybe I had become hypersensitized to America’s God-speak and it was starting to get on my nerves.

It’s everywhere. The Bibles in every single hotel room, the signs in front of churches telling me I needed saving, the four older creationists sitting with big posters at the start of a trail in the Smoky Mountains, the country singers ending their show in Nashville with a gospel song, the tour guide announcing all kinds of religion existed in Nashville: Methodists, Baptists, Catholics…you name it! (more…)

Super Triathlete: Congratulations! You beat yourself!

I am SO tired.

The pictures from today's triathlon haven't come out yet, so here's one from my last triathlon.

The pictures from today’s triathlon haven’t come out yet, so here’s one from my last triathlon.

It feels GREAT.

Today I finished my 2nd Olympic triathlon (1500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) and I SMASHED it.

I only started doing triathlons last spring. I never would have even considered doing them had I not watched my husband do one the year before. Before that, I thought people who did triathlons must be MAD. When I saw my husband do one, I thought, “That looks like so much fun!” I was very anxious before my first sprint triathlon last spring (400m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run). But the moment I got out of the water (it was a pool swim), I was absolutely loving it! It was like I had finally found my sport.

I did a few sprints last spring/summer and then another sprint at the beginning of June this year. That June one was when I did my first open water (lake) swim. I cried on the way there because I was so anxious about swimming in a lake and not having a pool wall to touch every 30-50 meters (depending on the pool size). It wasn’t easy at all and I had to breaststroke through much of it. But since then I joined the local triathlon club and started going to their weekly lake swims. I hate the cold water but I’m now perfectly fine with the continuous swim. It can still be a bit of a mind-fuck. I get REALLY bored. I don’t always see the buoys. The sun sometimes blinds me and I have no idea if I’m going in the right direction. But I get it done without crying.

I did my first Olympic triathlon this past July, almost immediately after Ramadan. I only signed up for it about a week before the race. I trained throughout Ramadan despite the fasting, but not with a triathlon in mind. I was training only to maintain fitness. Luckily, the distances I was trying to maintain for swimming and running were close to Olympic triathlon distances. I was only doing half the cycle distances while fasting because more than 20km while fasting is too much of a challenge. I did everything possible to take in enough calories and fluids when I broke my fast every day. But by the end of the month, I’ll have to admit I was a bit depleted. I still did my first Olympic triathlon very shortly after. And I did really really well compared to my abilities.

But today, TODAY, dude, I completely smashed through all my own expectations. (more…)

The “mental” triathlete: understanding the craziness

I admit it’s not an easy thing to understand.

How I look is exactly how I feel here. This is just after finishing what was probably my first triathlon last year.

How I look is exactly how I feel here. This is just after finishing what was probably my first triathlon last year.

Why do it, if it causes you so much anxiety?

Why do it, if you don’t seem to enjoy it?

Why do it, if it comes with so much pain?

Yesterday, as I headed out the door to go on my weekly longish bike ride I felt like I wanted to cry. I was feeling cold and I was sick of the cold. I’m generally burnt out (I’m in desperate need of a holiday) and tired. I’d much rather just laze about under a warm blanket and watch crap TV on my comfortable couch.

This morning I forced myself out of bed, got dressed, foam-rolled my legs to try to wake them up, and instead of taking my time to say hello to the world by eating breakfast in my robe and getting some caffeine into my system, I ran out the door to do my medium-length weekly run.

When I was cycling across Europe two years ago, I blogged a lot about my daily anxieties; so much so that a friend asked, “Are you sure you should be doing this?”

The answer is yes.

I can think of a few reasons why.

Most importantly, I refuse to allow anxiety and an inner tendency towards laziness to take over my life.  (more…)

My magic-bubble treatment for PMS and anxiety

I hate what PMS does to me.

In recent years, probably over the past decade, I’ve become a more anxious person. I’ve learned coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety, but it’s an exhausting state to be in. PMS takes my base anxiety levels and shoots them through the roof.

The good thing is that I’m aware of this and that helps me mentally manage it. The bad thing is that I have to live through a state of inner turmoil caused by high-wired chemicals and hormones.

How does one explain what it’s like?

When I’m PMSing, it feels like there’s a small electric undercurrent moving through my body. I feel the slightest bit nauseous. It feels like something bad is about to happen. Since I don’t know what that bad thing might be, my brain wants to identify something bad for me so that I can put logic to the way I feel. That means my brain starts acting all stupid. It’s like a computer is turned on in my head that starts sifting through all the data of the things happening in my life and it then lights up certain data in particular, deciding these three things must be the cause of how I feel.

When I’m not feeling anxious, when I’m not PMSing, those three things won’t even catch my attention. But when I’m anxious and PMSing, they turn into huge issues that need to be dealt with and need to be resolved.

The good thing is that I’m usually conscious of all this so I do my very best to process the data and put it into its proper context. (more…)

A day in the life of a PMSing triathlete

Today, Nadia woke up with full-blown PMS. Her energy levels were below zero and her brain failed to function. Even so, she managed to make herself breakfast, drink her morning cup of tea, and write an overdue article – barely.

Nadia had much more work that needed to be done, but the overdue article turned out to be the

I'm not the most attractive when I'm triathleting.

I’m not the most attractive when I’m triathleting.

limit of her work-related ability for the day. So she slumped onto her favorite (only) couch and turned the television on to Come Dine With Me.

Nadia was certain she’d have to send her personal trainer a note, apologizing for not being able to make her 1:45pm appointment at the gym. “There’s no way that’s going to work,” she told herself.

But like a robot, at 1:15 she forced herself off the couch, up the stairs and lazily got into her gym clothes.

At exactly 1:30, she opened the house door, gym bag in hand, and was shocked to find the car wasn’t in the drive.

FUUUUUUUUUUUCK! she yelled to herself. You see, Nadia had forgotten that she herself had taken the car to the mechanic just the day before.

“I DO NOT want to have to walk to the gym on a day like today!” she proclaimed. She had no energy! She was PMSing! The whole world was conspiring against her!

She threw her duffle bag on the floor and decided, “If I’m fucking going to have to walk to the gym, I’m turning this into this week’s short run. I am not wasting all that energy for nothing!” And so it was. Nadia ended up running to the gym (it’s a short run). (more…)

Smashing the UK national three-peak challenge

Ever since I was a little girl…

…is NOT where the story of this next grand adventure begins.

In fact, I can think of only one grand adventure of mine (which happened not to be sport or activity related) that originated in my childhood. I’m constantly coming up with new dreams and new ideas for adventures.

This story actually starts here:

I'm not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let's just say it was bleak.

I’m not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let’s just say it was bleak.

Ever since about four years ago when I first heard of the UK’s national three-peaks challenge, I’ve wanted to give it a go.

I have no idea who thought of this idea or when. I’m not even going to look it up to tell you about it because to me, that part is irrelevant. The national three-peaks challenge is about hiking up the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in a period of 24 hours.

It’s not an official race. There are no official times. There aren’t marshals or registration forms. There’s no one to announce you’ve accomplished the task. There are no certificates at the end or event T-shirts. There isn’t a specific day to do it, although I hear throngs of people choose to do it on June 21, the longest day of the year.

You just go out and do it.

I’ve been nagging my husband ever since I heard of this being “a thing” that we go and do it ourselves. He had already done it twice. He wasn’t enthusiastic in any way to do it a third time. I couldn’t understand why. My husband is huge on physical activities and challenges. But after four years of nagging and an opportune relatively free summer, he obliged.

He put together a team of five. It’s better to have a few people with you because the challenge involves an incredible amount of driving. Only days before our set date, two of the five pulled out, leaving us with a small team of three: me, my husband, and one of his work colleagues who also, it just so happens, was our third team member on our grand cycle from London to Paris in three days only three years ago.

I knew the national three-peaks challenge would be challenging. It wouldn’t be called a challenge otherwise. (more…)

Inner musings on identity

I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation

Me with my contemplative look on.

Me with my contemplative look on. (Not really. In this picture I was just happy to be sitting in the sun).

with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.

I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.

I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.

But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world. (more…)

Cycling and looking the part

It’s not like I don’t do anything else in my life. But for some reason, cycling inspires me to blog. I can’t

The bike that got me places

The bike that got me places

help myself. The whole time I’m cycling I’m composing a blog post in my head. The thoughts just flow. None of them are serious thoughts. I can’t think about serious stuff when I cycle. That is one of the biggest blessings about cycling: none of the serious stuff seems serious at all when I’m on my bike.

I’ve been convinced for quite some time now that the main reason I’m not getting faster as a cyclist is that I need a faster bike. Have you seen the bikes the pros ride? Do you think they look anything like my bike besides the fact that they have two wheels, bars, a seat and a frame? Have you tried picking up a pro’s bike? You can do it with your pinkie finger! My bike isn’t the heaviest bike in the world, but it sure isn’t as light as real cyclists’ bikes.

BUT have you seen the prices of the bikes the pros ride? You could get a nice car for a similar amount of money. So buying a really really good bike is out of the question for me. I CAN save up for a bike slightly better than the one I have now, though.

Having said that, my current bike has taken me safely across Europe. It’s a GREAT bike. It’s dealt with falls, getting packed on planes, and a rider who doesn’t really know how to upkeep it.

Anyway, since I can’t currently afford to buy a new bike but I still want to become a faster cyclist, I decided the next best thing would be to buy two new wheels. (more…)