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Learning to swim.. again

When I try to recall my first memories of swimming, I think of joyful summer holidays by the beach and hours spent splashing around until my fingers were as wrinkly as prunes.

It’s at school when it takes a more serious turn. The earliest memory that springs to mind is taking a water survival class which entailed wearing a whole outfit including heavy trainers and attempting to rescue each other – I remember it mostly because I hated it!

After that, the teenager years kicked in and not being terribly gifted with naturally sleek hair and falling victim to the 80’s big fringe trend (I still haven’t forgiven my mum for this!) I remember it being such an awful ordeal to have a midday swimming class. Terrible hair, goggle marks and prancing around in front of boys on a cold winters day was never outweighed by a love to swim!

I wouldn’t say I ever disliked swimming, it was just the effort, and the thought of it that always put me off practicing and learning how to get very good at it.

As an adult, I am quite partial to a few breast strokes in the spa, nattering to a friend or choosing it almost as a ‘rest day’ activity but until last year I hadn’t really thought about taking it any further.

I supposed it was inevitable that I would eventually want to take part in a triathlon. I love to run – marathons, half marathons, corporate 5k fun runs, I’m up for all of it. And I just love the way I feel after I’ve spent some time to myself pounding my stresses on the road behind me.

I soon became intrigued by cycling, a bike ride to Brighton turned into a 100 miler around London and Surrey for the PruRide London, and then a cycle to Paris. I really enjoyed it but I still loved to run and wanted to keep up with both. The triathlon idea just evolved from there..

My previous blog posts mentions my first attempt at the sprint triathlon in London last year. I massively underestimated the most technical part of it – the swim. I was so unaware of how emotional and overwhelming it would be. I was completely terrified.

This year I wanted to challenge myself and overcome some of the fears I have with open water swimming. I’ve signed up to the Olympic distance triathlon which involves a 1.5km swim!

It’s difficult to swim outdoors until the weather warms up, so mid May I took myself back to the lake! I could not believe how terrifying it was that first time and how different I feel now. I wanted to share the journey for everyone who has felt overwhelmed by swimming in the past, or for anything in life that feels impossible at the start.

To start I wanted to share my top places to swim in London (Greater London):

Tooting Bec Lido

It’s 90 meters long  which makes it the largest swimming pool in the area, and I love that it’s lined with cute Art Deco changing huts. There’s a great communal spirit here, and its such a welcoming place, not in the least bit intimidating. It is not heated however but incredibly refreshing. The Swim Fit gang on a Saturday morning are great – and I think it was here that something clicked and made me feel at ease in the water.

London Fields Lido

This one is a 50 meter pool so shorter but still a great size for training. It has the benefit of being heated and a similar decor to Tooting. I love London Fields and Broadway market which makes a trip here also an awesome opportunity for a stroll around East London.

Shepperton Open Water Lake

There comes to a point where a swimming pool isn’t going to cut it. On triathlon day I knew I was going to be thrown into the Thames and it couldn’t be the first time I’d swam in murky, petrifying open water. (Yes – the Thames!!) I researched where to try and Shepperton is a super popular choice for South Londoners. They have a fantastic set up. Newbies are given a a briefing and heir swimming is supervised before they can venture too far into the lake. It’s scary! That I cannot deny but at least this option tries to ease some of those fears. Look out for my next blog post which talks about overcoming fear.

Stratford Olympic Swimming Pool

It’s another East London choice – the iconic Olympic swimming pool. There’s something about being here that creates a buzz. And again it’s 50 meters so a great chance to fit in the distance without having to do a thousand lengths (how it feels for me at the tiny gym pool!).

It’s also good to point out that these options are all very affordable, offer changing and shower facilities. There is decent parking at Tooting and Shepperton and the cutest cafes at Tooting and London Fields. I hope you feel a little more inspired to give it a try..

Look out for more posts on my attempts to overcome the fear of the open water.. And how I get on at Windsor triathlon!

Enjoy, CityGirl

XX

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Reykjavik Travel guide

Now I’m not self proclaiming that I’m worthy of hipster status but I can appreciate an 80’s bomber jacket, graffiti as art and smashed avocado as a brunch staple so I think I can offer a thing or two about Reykjavik and what it has to offer.

It’s a cool place (excuse the pun!) that isn’t trying too hard. That’s hipster in itself right?!

Pretty streets, cool shopping boutiques and cafes in abundance, it’s a great place to stroll around and not doesn’t have to be a stopping point en route to the wider country. Here are some top tips for your stay..

View Point…

The Church of Hallgrimur is the icon of this city. Walking towards it along the vibrant streets will take some time as you will want to stop for lots of pics! You can head inside and walk to the top tower to see beautiful views of Reykjavik’s colourful rooftops and further out to sea. The design was intended to resemble the natural landscape or Iceland with its ice caps, volcanoes and basalt columns. It’s a must see landmark in the city.

Insta Shot…

This was an easy decision and it just has to be the Harpa, the striking Concert Hall and Conference centre and recipient of the prestigious Mies Van Der Rohe award for architecture. It is situated in the heart of the city and features stunning views of snowy mountains and across the Ocean. Wander inside and take a good look at the different light that the centre draws to it. There are shops that offer Nordic designed crafts and gifts. We didn’t watch a concert but I’d love to check out the listings if I was heading back.

Something different…

For a population of just 320,000 people, Iceland has produce chart topping music from well known, respected artists Björk, Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men to name just a few. Reykjavík feels like the beat of the country and is home to a buzzing live music scene. Café Rosenberg was our favourite evening choice playing live jazz and some of Iceland’s breakthrough bands. An awesome stop during the daytime has to be Kaffe Vinyl, a new bar/cafe and record store. It wouldn’t look too out of place in Dalston and also hosts live performances in the evening.

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Something active..

So Iceland is renowned for its hot water springs but what about its cold water swimming! Not to be put off by ‘ice’ being the former syllable in the country’s name and being quite used to a cold lake or sea swim training for triathlons in UK’s great excuse for a summer I was quite up to the challenge. Close to Reykjavík town is the Nauthólsvík geothermal beach, where the sea temperature can reach minus 2 degrees in the winter. After a very short swim attempt, when actually deemed a terrible time of year to try it we committed ourselves to the hot springs close by. All year round, people enjoy the use of the geothermal beach’s hot-tubs, steam-bath, changing facilities and showers, even when the water drops below freezing. Whichever you choice it’s a great addition to a stay in Reykjavík.

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Something to eat…

So when we think of a hipster, what culinary choice often comes to mind is street food, or pop-up style, cheap and inventive food in a minimal setting. This could not be a better choice for a pricey country. We tried Icelandic Street Food, considered the first fast food concept in Iceland with traditional Icelandic food. It is a family owned business with recipes made from the owner’s Grandmother. He was in attendance on the evening we visited and pointed out that his Grandmother had made the cakes, which meant we just had to try them! I tried the seafood soup, and ordered a can of beer. This came to less than £20 so still expensive but much more reasonable than other options, and a lot more tasty than an overpriced spaghetti Bolognese.

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Something to drink…

Named after two Icelandic words for birch, Birkir (birch schnapps) and Björk (birch liqueur) are a fantastic showcase of native Icelandic ingredients.

Birkir, the stronger of the two at 35%, has a boozy and earthy aroma and mixes well with soda water or tonic for an easygoing cocktail. We bought some at the airport to take advantage of cheaper prices. Most of the rest of the team we enjoyed a beer or two!

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Something interesting…

I’d recommend a city tour with I Heart Reykjavik. They take you to their own favourite places in the city centre and teach you a few words of Icelandic. This is a great tour to get an overview and introduction to the city. I was amazed to see so much awesome graffiti art dotted around!

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My next post will share some of my favourite stops along the Golden Circle.

Have a great weekend all.

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CityGirl x

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Ice Cold in Iceland

Iceland – Tips for a Golden Circle adventure

Flying over Iceland felt like arriving on the moon. We were told there had been a ‘dump’ of snow overnight, yet the flight landed without a glitch. Heaps of snow were simply pushed to the sides of the runway. We are not in the UK anymore, in Iceland – it snows and they know how to handle it. We visited in March so not deemed the height of Winter, so if you’re reading this and planning a trip At any colder month – these tips will be useful.

IMG_1653Here are some ways to help you plan an awesome adventure:

  • Take some loose change for some toilets and parking – sometimes it can be unavoidable to miss the spots that charge and we fell into the trap at our first stop – The Thingvellir National Park.
  • Pack gloves that you can use while using your phone. It is too cold to take photos without them on – especially waiting for an exploding geyser!
  • Pack a lunch – it is very expensive on the trail. We chose to hire a car which also meant we avoided crowds. We could take our time and stop for longer at our favourite places. The supermarkets are also a little pricey but we had some gorgeous tuna sandwiches and snacks on the go at much cheaper prices than the tourist centres.
  • Wait for a Geyser – The Strokkur geyser at Haukadalur erupts every 15 minutes or so!!
  • Layer on and layer off – The coldest place on the trip was the breathtaking Gullfoss waterfall and you will want to spend some time exploring.

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  • Just stop to take photos whenever you can. Although there are some obvious highlights on the trail, the views are breathtaking so take it in turns to drive, admire this beautiful country and just stop along the way.
  • If you’re lucky enough (like me!) to not be a designated driver, a tipple of a traditional Icelandic vodka is quite nice to keep you warmed up. We bought a few mini bottles at the airport and also some wine to enjoy in the apartment in the evening – a much cheaper option.

I’ll be sharing my top tips and information guide to the Golden Circle and Reykjavik soon.

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Enjoy, CityGirl

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Four things I’ve learned from my first triathlon

A triathlon is such a great way to get fit. It is also so easy to train on holiday. I love swimming in the ocean, running across the mountains and exploring a city by bike. I’m so proud and happy to have completed my first tri taking part in the sprint challenge in London. Here are some tips if you’re thinking of signing up..

The swim is a different kind of beast

 

As runner and a cyclist the swim was always going to be my toughest challenge. It differs to the other disciplines because to me it felt like a real test of mental strength, me against the elements, the beast of the open water. And technique is absolutely crucial for efficiency! I realise now that I should’ve got to the lake more for training as there really is no other way to get to grips with the murky waters, the claustrophobic rubbery wetsuit, the crowded free for all and the lack of any ledges to catch your breath.

 

It’s really difficult to hydrate 

 

After the swim, I struggled out of my wetsuit feeling lightheaded and flustered. There’s a lot to think about and it’s hard to adjust your mindset. I find it difficult to grab my water bottle on the bike and it’s difficult to hydrate sufficiently during those manic transitions. I already want to sign up to another one so I intend to spend a day on my bike with the sole purpose to practice a cycle – grab water bottle – drink – put water bottle back routine

 

The run feels kind of strange..

 

It’s something every expert warns you about but it’s really easy to underestimate how different your run is compared to a normal training run. The cycle can lead you into a false sense of security. You’ve got your rhythm and just the run left to tackle. After dropping off your bike you notice a feeling of slow motion, it’s takes a while for your legs to respond, like running through treacle, slow and sluggish. I noticed that my muscles eventually got back into the swing of things and I could’ve tested the waters a little earlier! I intend to try a spin class next week and run home afterwards to get used to the sensation and to know my limits.

 

And one last tip for us ladies.. 

 

After spending the day amongst a range of ladies of different ages, shapes and levels of fitness I noticed a pattern when it came to hair style. There were a lot of plaits! Let’s be honest it’s really not an attractive look, the rubbery wetsuit that you can never quite get on properly, the butt padding, the goggle marks (say goodbye to waterproof mascara in these conditions!) and the compulsory helmet! How are we supposed to feel feminine and confident. It was great to see so many ladies with different styles of plaited hair. It’s very versatile for a post swim and it doesn’t interfere with head gear. I now feel like I’ve ‘got the note’ regarding triathlon uniform and will be embracing this feminine touch. After all, we should all be very proud to be female triathletes

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