6 days – One Week From Now.

Hannah's timetable for race day, which starts at 3am - wake up

This time next week I will have been racing for 11 hours, if things are going well, I’ll probably only have most of a marathon to do, another 3 hours or so.

I’m one week from competition day, and honestly, I’m fine with that.

If you’d spoken to me 6 weeks, or 8 weeks ago, my smile would have become brittle and I would have have wished I didn’t have to think about it, to try and answer your questions about how training is going without saying that training was terrifying because every time I did it it built into my day another moment where I thought ‘this is hard now, and this isn’t half as much as what I’ll attempt on the 26th’.

If you asked me 6 weeks, or 8 weeks ago, how I was feeling about it, the smile would have left my eyes and my mind would have ushered the flickers of thought swiftly away while I muttered something about ‘you know, it’s just a thing I have to do’, far enough in the future.

But right now, I’m one week from competition day, and honestly, I’m fine with that. Something has shifted. It’s close now, and I’m not going to pretend that my heart doesn’t swoop sometimes when I think of it. But also I feel OK. One big reason why is that 3 weeks ago I wrote a race strategy. I read through all of the race briefing, and I planned the week, the day before, the morning of the race, the race itself.

Suddenly it’s not 3.8km + 184km + 42km. It’s around 28 half hour segments. It’s a swim, and yes I’ve never started in a throng of 1250 people before, but I’ll be better than around 800 of them. I do swimming, I’m not scared of breathing in a bit of water, I’m a swimmer, I’ll find room, and I’ll find a rhythm, and by then I’ll be turning around the buoy, then I’ll be back in, climbing out of the water, fighting a little against the dizziness, then I’ll be in the change tent putting on my helmet.

It’s a ride, sure, a long one, but I know I can do 170km in 7 hours in the high 35kmph+ winds of Lincolnshire, and I’ll have 8.5 hours before the cutoff. It’ll just be a case of turning the pedals. That’s it. Watch the scenery, check in with my cadence, my pace, try and hit 26kmph average, eat half an energy bar or a gel every 25 minutes, drink, get new bottles at the feed stations. Find out if when it comes to it I’m able to wee on the bike (coach and internet says this is What People Do.). Just turn the pedals. Soon I’ll be repeating the first loop for the final time, soon I’ll have Holme Pierrepoint on my Garmin map. Soon I’ll be handing my bike to a marshall and walking (albeit unsteadily, in spds on shaky legs) back to the change tent. I’ll pick up the T2 bag with my number on it. The helmet will come off. Visor on, shorts, run top, trainers.

And then into the run. Before the past couple of weeks I could always see myself to that bit. I felt, 6 months ago, that push come to shove I could get through the swim and to the end of the ride no problem. But then, run a marathon? 26.2 miles? 42km?

Except it’s not 42km. It’s just 8 and a bit 5kms. I run 5kms all the time. Every long ride I’ve done I’ve run 5km afterwards. By the end of 5km it’s just starting to feel good. By the end of 5km I usually want to run another 5km just to be in the rhythm of it. So really it’s 6 and a bit 5km. And really, the last bit – 2km, something really awful would have to happen to stop me limping to the end of it. So it’s just 6 x 5km. And I have a plan for each of them. I’m going to walk through aid stations – around 500m – 1km, depending how I’m feeling. That’s about choosing when to walk, rather than your body forcing you. I’m going to think about cadence, and efficiency. I’m going to spend one half hour trying to remember all of the songs that I actually know the words of (Bugsy Malone is depressingly over-represented), another half hour will be spent counting, turning the world around me into algebra. Then there’s a daydreaming half hour. One small half hour where I get to dream about saving the world and falling madly in love and starting the revolution. Another half hour is the half hour of breathing. Measuring breath to step, and listening carefully to all the sounds around me. The last two 5kms are going to be hard. There’s nothing to help that. But it’s only one hour of my life. And saving severe illness or injury, an hour worth spending on being able to say “I finished”.

Oh and the finish line. Which even now I daren’t imagine fully. Like the beginning of a relationship when you daren’t daydream too far into everything perfect it could be in case you break your own heart before they have chance to. But the finish line. Which has my mum, and my brother, somewhere. Waiting to hold me up.

I am afraid when I think of the day before. I am afraid of trying to get to sleep. Of a fretful few hours, of waking at 3am. Of the 3 hours before, checking my gear, getting to the centre, checking my tyre pressure, putting on my wetsuit, crossing the start line, wading into the water. That is terrifying. The bit just before is genuinely horrible. Nothing’s going to stop that. But then it just becomes something to do. Something I’m doing, for 28 half hours. Something I have trained for, and because I trust my coach (what a luxury to have someone else to trust outside myself!) I know it’s something my body is in the best position for. So, it’s just some time I have, to settle down with my mind, and deal with this moment, the one I’m in, just this, for 28 half hours. Or so.

And finally, I’m beginning to see past a week today, to a week tomorrow. I don’t really think I believed that time existed. But it does, I have a day to get home and then a week in Camden People’s Theatre finishing this show (come see it!). Working out what the story of it is, having gone through The Outlaw.

I’m beginning to think about the things I will miss.

I’ll miss my body, this one, this slightly firmer, 6kg lighter, strong fucking thing I’ve cultivated. It feels hard and exciting.

I’ll miss the training, I’ll miss days where my job was to turn pedals for 6 hours in the countryside of South East England, the grit and the sweat and the pollen and the pollution thick on my skin.

I’ll miss having a coach. I can’t afford him normally (the show budget paid for him since February), I love so much having sessions set for me, have someone see the wood for the trees, finally returning to swim workouts that give me new-old ways to train like I remember from my club days, always, always pushing harder.

But I’ll be rewarded with sleep, and time, friends, and loved ones. With the pride of my coach, and my mum, and my brother. With a new part to my story. With guilty pleasures, with 30 years of my life lived, and hopefully, an achievement that to me stands next to my PhD as ‘things I have decided that matter’. In lieu of house ownership, a car, marriage, a Career Path, a measurement I have decided is important to me. A milestone of my own.

I hope, I hope, I hope.

77 Days – 12 week training programme

an image from a ride from the intensive week - a sunny day, the road winds away into the distance

77 days to go, under 12 weeks now. I’m so busy with other work fitting around training I mostly don’t have the time to think about doing the Outlaw in July. Lots to do in the meantime so it seems a long way away. But I know I’ll soon be looking at the other end of June and beginning to feel butterflies every other thought. Probably at least once every couple of days I get them at the moment.

I was talking to my coach on the phone, a bit worried about being away for 5 of the next 8 week, and fitting in training, and how hard it was in the tough 20 hour training week I did 2 weeks ago to ride 2 hours and run 1, when the Outlaw is going to be at least 4x that. And he explained that I’ll be rested and psychologically prepared, and that we’d sit down and work out all my availability from now until July, and fit the training and taper around it, that “there are going to be a lot of people less prepared than you”. A ‘taper’ is where you bring training down, after building fitness and endurance, so that you’re really really well rested before the event. That’ll mean no training and generally staying off my feet and eating well for at least 2-3 days before the event. I’m travelling up to Nottingham 2 days early too so I can get used to the bed I’ll be sleeping in, and getting up as early as I’ll need to be up.

Prepared. I like being prepared. It’s the Crystal Palace Triathlon tomorrow – it’s less than 10 minutes from my house, and only a sprint distance, so it shouldn’t take much more than an hour and a half. Last night I wrote out my kit because I was worried I might forget my race belt – a small cheap but vital bit of kit so you can wear your race number easily/properly between disciplines. It’s not a usual bit of kit, so easy to forget. I wrote down what I thought was everything, and then proceeded to have anxiety dreams all night about not being on time or having the right gear to do the event, particularly in the dream I realised I left off ‘sports bra’ on the list. I woke up thinking that.

As if I’d go out having forgotten to put one on.

I like being prepared. Except proper prepared is really ‘having done this before’. Which I won’t have. I can’t really do anything but deal with that.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the general shape of my next few weeks with you.


Type of training week



Moderate week

Maintain fitness levels


Recovery week

Recovery from previous weeks and prepare for next big weeks


Big week

Lots of endurance work

Key sessions are 

long ride (5-6hrs), long run 2 1/2 hrs, long swim >4k


Moderate week

Less training focussing on higher intensity to help you through a busy week


Recovery week

Recovery from previous weeks and prepare for next big weeks. Also helps you with a busy period of work


Big week

Lots of endurance work

Key sessions are 

long ride (5-6hrs), long run 2 1/2 hrs, long swim >4k


Big week

Lots of endurance work

Key sessions are 

long ride (5-6hrs), long run 2 1/2 hrs, long swim >4k


Recovery week

Start of Taper. Unload fatigue from previous weeks


Moderate week

Aim to maintain fitness without adding fatigue. No more really long workouts

Max Ride = 4hrs

Max Run = 2hrs

Max swim = 4k


Moderate week

Aim to maintain fitness without adding fatigue. No more really long workouts

Max Ride = 3hrs

Max Run = 90 mins

Max swim = 3k


Race week

Minimal training. Some higher intensity but only to maintain top end.

Key goal is to remove remaining fatigue and mentally prepare for the event

102 Days – Ramp test

crystal palace pool

Today I did a ‘ramp test’ as part of my regular training. Coach Simon just got back from completing the Marathon Des Sables, and set me this to do today. These are his instructions, and my results. Note that I didn’t ask a friend to time me (I kind of thought that would be super annoying to most friends, who are all at work anyway), but I used my Garmin – which is able to count strokes for me, and time if I hit the ‘interval’ button at the end and beginning of every ramp test length. So there will be a couple where I fumbled a bit, but this is probably roughly right. The Garmin 910xt counts 1 stroke for both your arms, so I doubled them to the normal stroke count which is one per arm.

Below are the instructions I was given, and the results. FYI a tempo trainer is a little yellow thing you put under your hat you can set to beep on different settings – strokes per minute, time per lap etc., allowing you to set pace. One of the features of the device is ‘now comes with changeable battery’. That made me laugh.

50m Stroke Rate Ramp Test

“The Stroke Rate Ramp Test is a series of 50m swims with a short break in between. The stroke rate during each 50m is controlled by the Tempo Trainer and gradually increases. Take whatever rest is necessary between the 50m swims to change the stroke rate on the Tempo Trainer.”

“If you have been using your Tempo Trainer regularly you will be aware of your strokes per minute for steady paced swimming. Start the ramp test about ten strokes per minute below this natural rate and increase it by three strokes per minute for each 50m swim. You can keep going as high as you like but normally 15-25 beats above your natural rate is enough to experience your full stroke spectrum.

“Ask a friend or colleague to time each 50m with a stopwatch, count your strokes taken (counting both arms) and record how that stroke rate felt to you in terms of effort. It’s a good idea to use a scale of 1 to 10 to record your effort level where 1 is no effort at all and 10 is eyeballs out!”

Stroke Rate

Set by Tempo Trainer

Strokes per length 50m Time RPE (1-10) Comments
50 42 53.4 3/10 Had to concentrate to go this steady
53 44 53.8 4/10
56 46 54.8 5/10
59 46 51.8 6/10
62 48 51.0 7/10 This felt like hard work but ok
65 50 50.4 7/10
68 48 47.6 8/10 This felt surprisingly fast
71 48 46.5 8/10
74 50 46.6 8/10 Began to lose the rhythm
77 52 46.7 9/10 I could do it for 25m but not the full 50
80 50 44.8 9/10 I could do it for 25m but not the full 50

“To keep the test as unbiased as possible don’t try and assess the results or analyse things as you go along. Simply perform the set of 50m swims at the given stroke rate and record how each felt.”





137 Days – Training update

Training Peaks Simon Ward

Argh life is hard to fit together at the moment. I have a bunch of things to write up – about the science I learnt in Newcastle, the feedback from the showings, the physio assessment I had last week. I’ll get up to speed soon. In the meantime, this is why I’m struggling to fit things in. The image on this post is my training for this week. SPORT. This week’s training looks like this, it’s in Training Peaks, a system which my coach updates every 3 weeks when I let him know where I am and how much I’m available/what I can access (am I away and therefore without a bike, e.g.). A slight step up every week so far. I’m really really enjoying having drills and intervals set for me. You should see how silly I look in the park doing running drills though. More on the drills in a later blog post.

I’ve got a day with Simon Ward (my coach! That’s still exciting to say) on Friday where he’s going to fit my new bike to me, teach me about aerobars, and go over some technique on the bike and in running. Then on the Saturday a chance to get in the pool with his Masters session, which is both exciting and terrifying. Exciting and terrifying are, I’ve always found, very similar feelings. I often try and re-configure terrifying into excitement. Sometimes it works. Sometimes.


172 Days – Yesterday I Crashed My Bike

cycling along the Tyne hannah nicklin ironman

172 days until the event. My coach Simon is travelling to run a training camp in Lanzarote right now, and he’s writing me a training plan on the flight over. And I’m in day two of the 10 days at Northern Stage (for Title Pending 2014) for the first bit of research, making the show. Over these days I’ll be spending 5 days with Alex Kelly as dramaturg/designer generating stuff to go in the show, I’ll have 3 days with sport scientists at the University of Northumbria, spend a day with filmmaker Niall Coffey working out how we’re going to work together, and do two work in progress showings at the end of next week. Phew! (Plus also I’ll be swimming, running or cycling every day).

Here’s a bit of writing I did today.

Yesterday I crashed my bike.

I crashed my bike into a shrub.

Yesterday I got up at 7am and went out for what should have been a short 50km ride – 2 hours. I was late heading out because I was tired and because I was scared. Like it’s genuinely quite scary cycling on roads you have no clue about around rush hour – all of these roads seem to be huge 3 lane carriageways or bridges or roundabouts. London has its share of those too, but I learned London in bits, Newcastle/Gateshead was a bigger challenge, attempted in one go. The night before, I decided to take a cycle path out along the Tyne – it’s on all the maps – planned a route with my Garmin. Yesterday I attempted it. It takes me a while to get to that point – actually riding out – because I am tired and scared quite often on my bike.

I crashed my bike on the way back.

I managed all of the difficult bits, had gone up a slightly challenging climb near a place called Wylam

I’m calming down, back on the cycle path, know where I am, no cars around, nearly back.

The thing about these cycle paths is that (like all British cycle paths) they put in some really stupid bits; a lamppost directly in the middle of it, that kind of thing. This is why usually I don’t use cycle paths, just deal with roads, but I’m too scared of around here, so I’m on Hadrian’s Cycle Route 72. The stupid thing Hadrian’s Cycle Route 72 likes to do is right angles. Right angles next to a big old river. The Tyne, in fact.

It was a cold day yesterday – I think the coldest weather I’ve ridden in, colder than the snow in Lincolnshire over Christmas, I think maybe I didn’t quite notice how cold because scared was all I had room for. Cold enough that the gutters were frozen solid even a few hours after sunrise. Cold enough that some kind of coffee or tea dropped on the cycle path in-between me passing by on my way out, and coming back, had frozen solid. At the bottom of a small hill, just before a right angle turn, right in front of the river.

In that moment I’m not scared. I’m just dealing with it.

I know I can’t brake, I know that if I hold my front brake I won’t stop in time and I’ll go head first into the Tyne. I know that if I hold my front and back brake my rear wheel will likely slip from under me and I’ll shoot right, under the – it now occurs to me – frankly insubstantial railings and into the river. So I steer into a plant border and pitch, left side of my body first, into some squat hibernating shrubs.

The shrubs are short and sharp and 10 minutes later I’ll think of the Casualty episode where the tree goes through his neck and I’ll rub where a branch dug into mine. The shrubs did fine. I guess I’m thankful for them, they helped me out, but also they were sharp and stabby and as I unclip my still clipped in left foot in order to get up and pick my bike up I feel their imprint on my left hand and throat.

30 minutes later I’m home and I think I’m fine.

I text my boyfriend, apologise that I forgot about his job interview (forgot to say ‘good luck’ before he left, I’m terrible). Mention the crash hoping a little bit it will demonstrate my state of mind.

Shower, get ready to leave, and my left upper arm is beginning to feel sore.

It’s 2 hours later, I’m getting off the Metro, and the soreness is sort of concentrating. I hadn’t even noticed impact on my arm there, but it feels like I’ve been stabbed, bluntly, deeply, in my bicep.

It’s 3 hours after impact and I have been buying materials for making the show. Post its, big pieces of paper, scissors, tape, blu tac, and a track pump with a gauge because I forgot to pack one. If you look at me in Argos you will see me anxiously kneading my arm, it is uncomfortable to hold a carrier bag for very long.

It’s 5 hours after impact and I’m in Stage 2 at Northern Stage with Alex, who has hurt his back, and I joke that between us we make one person useful enough to get his suitcase and my bags home, because I can’t hold anything in my left hand without it giving out.

There’s a timeline when you get injured. Slightly different between a crash type injury and a strain, but in both cases, in the same way, the injury grows inside you.

Injuries blossom, they bloom inside you.

Last year I tore my right hamstring (it was a minor, level 3 tear) trying to beat my ex boyfriend’s time over a hill in South London. He’d unfollowed me on Strava by that point – I wasn’t doing it so he would see, it was more a thing for me, a way to climb out of the stuff that I was feeling. I equalled his time. I hurt my leg.

After that ride around Richmond Park I travelled to Sheffield and back for a meeting. It was only really by the time I was on the train to Sheffield that my muscles started to feel tight. It was only really on the bus back from St. Pancras 12 hours later that it began to hurt.

Injuries grow, they bloom in your body, and it’s after the first sleep that you know the measure of them.

Today, I woke up and moved my arm, and it was sore all over, but not to a point. It’s that point, that acuteness, the sharpness is how you know. Instead it was duller, I was all over sleepy relief and the second part of the crash-type injury – the ripple of the impact as it moves through your body. It takes a couple of days; fans out. As I type this my whole upper body aches, like it might before you get a cold, radiating from my left side through to my right. But it’s not that sharp hurt, it’s a shadow.

At the time I am writing this I have 3 recovering major injuries, 2 historical critical injuries, and one set of very recent ones.

Yesterday I crashed my bike.