Category Archives: Race Reports

Open 5 – Church Stretton

It was touch and go whether Lucy and I would race together at this one. Logistics, health and work for both of us getting in the way a bit! Anyway, by the Sunday morning we were both present and correct and admiring the fresh dump of snow on the Long Mynd 🙂

A bleak start. No-one looks in a hurry to set up transition!

We had decided last month that we were going to break with (our) convention and bike first, to try and get all the good points on offer even if it took more than 3 hours, then trim our run accordingly. I was under strict instructions though – no smashing it allowed – Lucy had a big race the following weekend. My coach had said: “may we be blessed with no navigation mistakes and fabby route choices, smooth n silky….”

It was working out like that on the bike at least 😀 After a quick out and back along the road, we set off clockwise, doing the big climb all the way on the road, with the snow rapidly clearing. A horse trotted across the road across us, which was most unexpected. On the way, we figured out a slightly smoother way to get to the controls we were now after, having seen the values (we’d ditched a couple far off on one side of the map). Smooth n silky!

The first big descent was extremely wet. My saddle has a cutaway section and the icy cold water was spraying up right through from underneath … ugh! Then we hit a road in disguise. I got a clod of mud right in the eye and it took some time before it stopped feeling as if someone was sandpapering my eyeball. We were cruising along with a delightful tailwind. I imagined what Andy would have said if I’d planned a road ride along this mud encrusted tarmac 😀

Steep sides…

Although on some of the hills I was dropping Lucy, it was only because my gears don’t go as low as hers – I was happy to let her pull back again. We were making good progress and only really ground to a walk on the final climb back up the Mynd, on a track with deep tractor ruts. It would probably have been ridable if the wind hadn’t been blowing us sideways so hard it was impossible to stay riding on a narrow enough line.

We flew *down* here when it was just soggy grass

Popping back out at the top it was all downhill from here. We laughed as we passed Jon slogging up the wet grassy hill as we flew down! Lucy took a tumble on a short section of boardwalk just as I was thinking it might be slippy. I could tell it was a hard one as she didn’t bounce back up immediately, but little was said and on we went. We both got super cold on this descent, not enough pedalling going on. But soon enough we were back for a slow transition whilst we fumbled the changeovers and rammed our unfeeling feet into running shoes. We were so fuddled we both ran off with our bike helmets still on!

Transition – biking done

As we made our way along the road, my little toe felt as if it was broken under the others! The bike had been good, but now we needed to adjust our run to the shorter time we had left (1h42). The points allocation and our remaining time was making it tricky to decided a good route. I let Lucy consider whilst I did my second wee stop of the day. Most unusual, I must have drink too much tea! Ha. Unfortunately we got disorientated near the start, following a path not on the map and losing the map detail under various other markings.

We righted ourselves and were soon moving at a reasonable and maintainable speed. A chap going the other way warned us it was slippery (?!). We did a hard right and the path headed uphill. One control was cheekily placed on the other side of a stream, forcing us to get wet feet. As we ascended a valley with steep sides I realised this was where Lucy said we’d have to escape from at some point … she was kind, as we carried on up quite a while before cutting cross country up the sides.

Hills for running around

We came out on top and I was worried about time. Half an hour left, the finish seemed a long way off and what was this, why were we running uphill again?! It was an out and back to the top and then we really were descending, with more urgency now. The final control at the reservoir was misplaced vs the map, meaning we lost a little time before turning down a large tourist path back to the town. This was no longer ‘steady’, nothing like it … but we minimised our losses and were only 4 minutes late.

Sprint finish!

Enough to win female pairs and secure the series (which we wanted to do as Lucy really can’t come to the last one), and still tantalisingly close, but not ahead of, the mixed pairs 😉 15th overall. Results. This area is a great place to bike and run in all weathers.

Been finished a few seconds now, must be time to review the map and route choices!!

Thanks to Open Adventure for organising, James Kirby for photos, all the volunteers and to Jon and Andrea for a lift home with inbuilt small child entertainment in the back (just don’t get me started on the female representation in ‘Adventure Stories’…).

Glentress Trail half marathon

I signed up for my second trail half marathon in two weeks, mainly because Izzy was going too! This one had a totally different character though. It was run by High Terrain Events and based at Glentress forest. The route profile was definitely lumpy!

I went through the usual debates beforehand about which shoes to wear, and decided with the stony trails and potential for wet and mud, I’d go with my Inov8 X-Talons. It had been snowing the day before but due to warm up considerably.

There was some kerfuffle with parking when we arrived, as the earmarked field was waterlogged. We got a space on a fire road and luckily had plenty of time to go and register before returning to the car to faff a little bit. This mainly revolved around ‘what to wear on top’. It was damp, warm, but potentially exposed higher up.

You can see from the pictures I decided a thin long sleeve T-shirt was enough, despite being surrounded by people in wind- and water- proofs (I had mine in my pack). From the off, one girl shot out in front, then there were four of us kept swapping positions behind her. I felt OK, but it was tough going straight up hill with no lead in!

Earlier on in the race ..

I was running on feel and not checking my splits. Unfortunately, after about 4km my feeling was not good! All the girls around me overtook and disappeared round the corners. I couldn’t lift my pace or stay with them, and I became a bit disheartened. I played mental games with myself. Imagine if this was in a race like Engadin? Just keep going. Have new goals, run every step. Wait for Izzy and have a sociable run? No, keep pushing, who knows what might happen. I eased off a touch and lost another couple of places on the way up. I knew I was sitting in 8th but by backing off slightly and taking a couple of gels I was feeling much better. Stay in the top 10, I thought!

After a few fire roads and walker’s paths, the route ascends on the Glentress black mountain bike route. It’s one I know fairly well, and I was glad of my shoes with slightly more cushioning in the sole compared to my Icebugs (which are great for slippery rocks but you know about it when it’s stony!). I ploughed through the puddles uncaring, and as we reached an exposed section and a final uphill sting in the tail, it started sleeting as the wind blew us sideways. Perfect conditions for me!

The marathon racers were doing two laps of the same course and had set off ahead of us. I was now catching them up in a steady stream. I tried to be patient in over-taking, but it must have been difficult for them to be continually passed by speedier runners, especially as the path was very narrow and they often had to step aside.

As we descended off the main trail, the path pointed downwards and became steep and muddy. Surprisingly, I was flying (compared to those around me!). The shoes were perfect for this, as the knobbly bits gripped the mud and I ran thinking, ‘how would Lucy do this?’. Sadly for Izzy, she took a slide here in her not-so-grippy trail shoes and did great to make it back down under her own steam (just before I started properly panicking…). I thought I even caught up and overtook a couple of the girls, though I was only sure about one, who had a distinctive rucksack and had stopped to take something in or out.

Right near the end – I promise I was moving faster than it looks!

I kept pushing on, actually enjoying it, finally! This was despite a couple of short sharp climbs that had me walking after all. A guy was hot on my heels down the last descent and finally overtook me, but I was happy to fall over the finish line, literally crashing into one of the marshals, who knew my name! 6th female, which wasn’t too bad given what a dodgy start I had. 44th overall, out of nearly 400 runners. Results. As if to underline the difference compared to the flat race I did two weeks ago, my time was more than 23 minutes slower!

The sun came out and we headed off via a minor detour to get a tasty lunch at the cafe at Whitmuir.

Covering these sorts of distances on foot seems to be becoming a habit, but the next race on the agenda was another Open 5 … report to follow.

Foxtrail Harvest Moon Trail Half Marathon

I had been looking forward to this event, as compared to the 10km, the distance was more to my liking! By Friday night, torrential rain and gale force winds were forecast, I still had DOMS a week after the Open 5, work was nuts so I was tired and the effects of my cold lingered on. On the plus side I had an enormous pizza for dinner, which I thought might cancel everything else out!

Another early start and Izzy and I were heading over towards Tyninghame, where we had done some fabulous swimrun training last year. Leaving the car, it was indeed wet and windy. After registering we were back to sit in the car and put off getting out again. Soon enough we decided it was time for a warm up. I needed the toilet though and queues were such that my ‘warm up’ was done on the spot!

Looking around at the other competitors at the briefing in the marquee I felt slightly over dressed in my knee length socks, 3/4 length tights, long sleeved technical windproof and a buff and gloves! I knew I also looked like I had gone overboard wearing my Camelbak race vest. However, the previous week I had felt very dry throated from the lurgy and I wanted to be able to sip whenever I fancied. So I was carrying a modest amount of water plus a couple of snacks. I resisted using the space to add any unnecessary other gear and assured myself I could stow away any bits and bobs I wanted to take off.

Out in the cold and there was some delay as we shivered waiting to start. Then we were off, and within minutes I was feeling too warm! I soon settled down though as the sweat / wind chill balance evened out. The course was 4 loops of different lengths and shapes, all passing back through the start / finish area. This was great for spectator support. I was worried it would be complex to follow, but the organisation and course markings were excellent. Given my state, I had decided to run entirely on feel and ignore my watch, just doing my best.

I loved the route! A total mix of twisting, turning fire roads, woodland trails, mud, stones, narrow paths on rocky outcrops and a generous helping of beach near the end. No getting bored here. The field thinned out over time and a mini group I had been following disappeared into the distance. I was catching one or two people who were fading though, and soon had a man in a blue gilet to target. Kilometre after kilometre he remained just out of reach.

About halfway round it registered in my mind that it was really only spitting and not raining hard at all. I was vaguely disappointed as I love a tough weather race and had dressed to be wet! However, it was still pretty windy and as we hit the coastal sections we felt the full force of it. The waves looked amazing and I wished we had brought our wetsuits for later after all. Izzy on the other hand said that at the same points she was very relieved not to have them, as she was getting brain freeze just running!

Along the beach, blue gilet man was getting closer. There was also a short out and back section, so I got to see where the next women in front and behind were (we were all spread out). For one moment I was sure I had lost my race number and slowed as I tried to find it. How could it blow off attached to a race belt? In fact, where was the race belt? Eventually I located it tucked under my chest, with the number flapping halfway up my back.

Another racer absolutely flew past and it spurred me on to finally pass and leave behind the person who had been in view for so long! I powered up the final climb and into the finish, where the ‘warmth’ of the marquee set off a coughing fit. I ambled back out, cup of tea in hand, to watch Izzy finish. But she had had a harder time than me, falling twice and losing the will to race as a result!

In the final results, I was 5th female, 25th overall and a time just dipping under 1:42. Pretty pleased with that. I was catching 4th but needed a few more kilometres to do it, and 3rd was well ahead! On checking my watch I found that every km had been under 5 minutes and remarkably consistent until kilometres 17-20 …. If I had known that, maybe I’d have stayed more focused and pushed myself like I did in the 16km event to keep under and save myself a minute or so … Or maybe if I had seen my speed at the start I might have panicked and self-restricted thinking it was too fast. So all in all, a good race!

As for the series, it’s best 4 out of 6 and I’m racing elsewhere on the final weekend. It’s a bit of guesswork looking at the leaderboard, but I think I’m going to finish somewhere between 2nd and 7th – will have to wait and see who races next time and how fast they go 😀

We stuck it out to applaud the podium places before scuttling back to the car, changing in double quick time with no modesty and driving round the corner to the secret café with a fire, soup and cake …

Here’s a wee taster video of the event even featuring ‘blue gilet man’ (aka Paul Barry, the results tell me) – looking forward to seeing the full thing.

In two weeks after this race, I’m doing another trail half marathon but one of a very different nature – up a hill the winding way and back down again more directly, with 750m total ascent compared to the 100m of this event!! I’m intrigued to see how I find it in comparison.

Oh, and we didn’t miss out on the big waves for the weekend after all. With an easterly wind still blowing strong on Sunday, we went down to Portobello for some unusually large waves and super fun times on our doorsteps instead 🙂

Open 5 Reeth

I was beginning to believe it, but apparently I am not invincible after all and despite escaping several rounds of illness at work and at home, last week I succumbed to my first cold of the winter. I couldn’t even see who to blame it on, so it could only be ‘someone on a bus’ 😉 . I’d also had a particularly tough week at work and despite a fantastic ability normally to switch off, I needed something strong this weekend to help me forget it all! Friday and Saturday nights I was getting interrupted sleep with one of those annoying scratchy coughs, but by Sunday I was feeling more human and up for the Open 5. Lucy had done a 20 mile fell race the day before, so I was hoping we might even out.

We prepped and after a couple of puffs on my inhaler my lungs even felt in moderate working order. Off we ran and the pace was OK. Then we turned uphill. I was getting too hot, I could feel the blood thumping in my head, and if I paused to think about it I came over all dizzy. Up and up, stumbling over a stile, dodging round the bases of crags and sweat dripping into my eyes.

I ate as much as I could and kept going. Confusion arose at the cave, which we approached from the top. We were looking for it and Lucy pointed shouting ‘here’, except I did not hear her and thought she meant ‘I’ll look this way and you that’. After going round in a circle down and uphill, there she was standing waiting …

Let's just pop up there ...

Let’s just pop up there …

More running, taking the flatter path instead of the lumpy road. There was a ‘rabbit control’ van parked up, but I hadn’t seen much evidence of control, as I’d spent half the run making sure they didn’t get a bonanza of whole human leg falling into their burrow for dinner.

We caught another female pair, then set off in the wrong direction on an unmarked path. The high point that had a ‘null control’ marked on it winked at us, and I kept repeating to myself ‘at least we’re not going up there’. As Lucy announced we needed to backtrack, I was ready to pass out and decided taking my windproof off might improve matters. It did, but my legs still wobbled beneath me. Come to think of it, I pondered, have I really done much uphill running lately?

Bouncy suspension bridge on the run.

Bouncy suspension bridge on the run.

We dropped down to a river and contemplated a wet crossing and another control. Normally I’d have said yes, but I was cream crackered and wanted to get on the bikes. We ran off, picking up speed as a male pair tried to keep up, breathing hard down my neck. I thought they’d overtake but they never quite did and Lucy was having none of it…

Transition came at 1:58, which was spot on what we had aimed for. A slow changeover as I transferred some kit and tried to eat some more. Then we were off, avoiding a silly mistake and heading straight up the hill. I kept pedalling for quite a while until I was reduced to pushing. ‘Noooo’, my legs screamed! Eventually as I stumbled, Lucy took over with a double bike push, instructing me to eat more, right now. I was forever grateful for fast and easy riding over the top, an easier uphill and a fun descent, even if I should have been less chicken on it.

Ohhh please not up there, I just want to pedal!

Ohhh please not up there, I just want to pedal!

That was more or less all the mountain biking, as the rest of our controls were on the roads. Rolling up and down we still seemed to be pedalling uphill a lot of the time. We debated a few options, eventually plumping for one last hill that had 900m of off road push before a long, long tarmac descent on an empty road. In hindsight with the benefit of other people’s choices, we could have made a different decision here, and earned about 13 more points. Maybe it was worth it though, as on the way we passed Crackpot … if we’re going to make mistakes best to do it passing amusingly named places 😀

One of the many steep roads. Reeth 3 miles ... but we did not go that way!

One of the many steep roads. Reeth 3 miles … but we did not go that way!

We lost time checking the wrong side of an arched bridge for a control, and could still see the hidden cave from the run, mocking us in full and plain sight on the other side of the valley. Other than that and my throat, tummy and generally whole body complaining at me, it was an uneventful and super speedy return to Reeth.

Just under 6 minutes left and we had the transition team laughing and shouting at us to hurry up as we dived off for one more out and back up a small hill on the road. I had estimated this would take 10 minutes. The rain was falling now, but we got there in 7, turned around and got back in 3. For once I had been vaguely accurate, as I had almost been with my ’20km to go’ pronouncement 22km from the end!

We just ticked over 5 mins late, which meant 12 penalty points, but it was worth it for a 25 point control. It turned out it was true that James T wanted to do prize giving at 15.15. We stumbled in to the hall at 15:07 then carried on racing to get changed at the van and back again just in time for the start of the day’s results.

First female pair, 19th overall and a respectable, if not dazzling score. My throat and lungs were burning and I felt weebly, but had survived! Good job Lucy can race 20 miles one day and still keep pushing us along and make sure we have a good race the next. The March Open 5 is in Church Stretton in Shropshire, where I have enjoyed racing a couple of times before.

Podium

Podium

Many thanks to Open Adventure for the race, James Kirby for photos, Lucy for the lifts and my mum for pre-race accommodation!

Dales scenery. We saw a lot of this hill, both from it and looking across at it.

Dales scenery. We saw a lot of this hill, both from it and looking across at it.

Foxtrail 10km Balgone Estate

Frost and early morning mists on the race course (Sandy Wallace)

Frost and early morning mists on the race course (Sandy Wallace)

Having entered three of the other races in this series, I thought I’d get a fourth to qualify for a series result and because, well, why not? Unfortunately, the next 13km clashes with another race and I’d already missed the first one, so it was the 10km or nothing!

North Berwick Law poking up on a perfect morning

North Berwick Law poking up on a perfect morning (Andy Kirkland)

I was lucky to get a waiting list place, as did Izzy. So it was alarm set for 6am (no, no, no) and another early Saturday morning start. The weather was beautiful – mists and sun with a very light breeze and temperatures hovering around zero. We got slightly confused on the way there, but were still fifth to arrive and register. Plenty of time to use the portaloos, listen to the cows’ loud moo-ing and the dogs’ incessant barking, huddle under the heater, watch the mouse and debate going for a warm up!

"Warm" up (Andy Kirkland)

“Warm” up (Andy Kirkland)

After the warm up I could feel a small stone irritating my foot. I decided I had better sort it out now rather than be in pain in the race. I fiddled with the triple knotted laces, gave the shoe a good shoogle and got my hand inside for good measure. Shoe back on. Walk a bit. Darn! Still there! Maybe it is in my sock. Shoe off again, sock off and inside out. Everything shaken and back on. Still there! What a mystery …

Hello! (Andy Kirkland)

Hello! (Andy Kirkland)

We were ready to start in the huge grain store, but it was a bit delayed – cue some jumping up and down and arm waving before the official arm waving warm up.

Then the hooter went and we were off! I flew through the first km, which was on a good surface and downhill. I was aiming for top 10 and had counted at least 7 or 8 girls in front of me. I was going well. The stone irritated my foot as I hit the hard ground. I started wondering if it was something to do with the actual shoe itself…

On a farm track, the puddles can be deceptive as the wheels often cut down to firm ground underneath. I gained ground on people by just going through the edges when others hopped around in the mud on either side. I couldn’t feel the thing in my shoe on the soft ground and soon forgot about it.

This was the easy bit! (Sandy Wallace)

This was the easy bit! (Sandy Wallace)

After 3km something hit me … not literally! The trail got more technical and the group I was with ran away. Then it was up a hill. I mean, the course could hardly by described as ‘hilly’. But it was lumpy enough to feel like hard work. Out of the trees and the sun was dazzling me, which was nice. I kept losing sight of anyone in front as we twisted and turned, but the course was perfectly marked.

Back through some trees and over rough ground, my vision was blurry with sweat and I almost tripped. I knew I was fatigued already and we had barely gone half way. Next followed some tracks round the edges of fields, rough and lumpy and hard to get a rhythm on. My concentration drifted slightly as I found myself musing what would happen next in the audio book I’ve currently got on the go …

In the forest (Andy Kirkland)

In the forest (Andy Kirkland)

I snapped back to attention and told myself to keep working. After 8 km two girls came past me in quick succession. Unfortunately, there was not a thing I could do about it. I kept them in sight and we were all closing on a chap who had appeared in front from nowhere and seemed to be labouring. I was almost on them when we got to the steep downhill. It was short, but I was tentative as I knew I was tired and didn’t want to fall. They all got away! Darn. One final uphill to go. The girls were gone but I was gaining again on the man. Sadly, I ran out of time!

Here are the km by km time splits and blow by blow account:

1) 3:44 (um! it was downhill?)
2) 4:19 (still easy track)
3) 4:31 (getting harder)
4) 4:50 (maybe I went out too hard)
5) 5:14 (small hill, kill me now)
6) 5:10 (vision blurry, stumble in the woods)
7) 4:46 (don’t know where that came from)
8) 5:10 (up and down)
9) 5:13 (overtaken)
10) 5:16 (steep descents)
Extra 230m) 1:04 (why, why?!)

Andy took a photo and I fell over the finish line, heading for the podium blocks just for a sit down to breathe and control the nausea! Shortly after Izzy appeared, and with a cup of tea and a biscuit (custard cream for me), I was feeling a bit better.

Final hill (Sandy Wallace)

Final hill (Sandy Wallace)

It was a wait for the results, but when they came out I saw I had just sneaked into 10th position … yay! (29th overall) . 4 and a bit minutes behind the winner, who got 9th overall. Doesn’t sound that great for me, but this series attracts serious runners, and I’m deciding that 10km is definitely Too Short 😀 Really looking forward to the 21km in February! Many thanks to the race organisers and to Sandy and Andy for photos.

What a morning to go running (Andy Kirkland)

What a morning to go running (Andy Kirkland)

When I got home I gave my shoes a good wash and wondered about that stone. I started inspecting the sole for some structural damage and found a massive thorn poking right through. I could only get it out with my tick removers!! No wonder I didn’t shift it at the race, but good job it was sorted before the next time 🙂

Foxtrail 16km trail run

There was time for one more race before the year was out and it was back to Foxlake for the Foxtrail 16km trail race. It was in the same series as the 10km night run a few weeks ago, though getting closer to a distance I like! Friends Mitch and Berit had informed me they would cycle there (rather them than me!), but Izzy got a waiting list place so I hauled myself out of bed and was on a bus into town to meet her at 7am. On a Saturday. Whose idea was this?

The drive over was quicker than Google had suggested, so we arrived in plenty of time. Meaning, almost first. We registered, walked a bit of the course, chatted, changed. I dealt with an exploding gel and decided I wouldn’t need one mid race anyway. It felt strange to be ready for a race with no kit other than what I was wearing … We did a jog warm up and headed to the start. Mitch and Berit had set off at 7:30, raced over and practically ran to the start line, nicely warmed up.

It felt strange to be there with Izzy but to contemplate racing all alone … no one to talk to or share with?! I suddenly felt apprehensive! After a funny mass warm up, it was time to go and off we raced. My watch buzzed 1km and it was fast, but I decided to keep running on feel. I heard a voice behind saying “ah, it is you!” – Glenn ‘from the internet’* passed, resplendent in a Christmas jumper running vest. Superb. He was flying, so I ‘let’ him go!

Me running near the start. No kit!

Me running near the start. No kit!

My pace was actually holding up well, I was with it enough to chuckle at the decorated Christmas tree, and soon we got to the beach section. I was stuck with a big gap to the runners in front and seemingly a big one behind as well. I didn’t mind the sand, though it was tough going where it had been left rippled by the water. It was 3km long and the hardest part was staying focused. The view was an endless horizon. I’d find my concentration slipping and have to have words with myself to speed back up again.

Eventually we reached the bridge and two other sets of steps up and down, all conveniently bunched into the same km on my watch, so that was the slow one! I was feeling weebly and banged my shin on one when I tried to take them fast. Ouch!

Glenn - check out that running vest!

Glenn – check out that running vest!

We turned and now faced a headwind. I was determined to keep under 5 mins / km, which I think was the only thing that kept me going. A chap in front kept having walking breaks, but when I eventually caught him I couldn’t use him as a wind break because he seemed defeated and stopped again! On we battered and at last I turned into the final winding woodland section.

Keep pushing, keep pushing and remember this trail is awesome. I glanced over my shoulder on the bends but couldn’t see anyone too close. The final lap round the lake was tough but there were cheers .. I fell over the line feeling sick – and was shortly after given a handshake by someone who had been trying to chase me down and was closing fast!

Oooh, flying, and this was quite near the end!

Oooh, flying, and this was quite near the end!

I was pleased to come 5th female / 28th overall / 1h15 (my goal was top 10 females / 1h20) (results here). Izzy was buzzing as she crossed the line knowing she had kept the effort up all the way, and was raring to do more of the series. After a cup of free tea we headed back into town where she looked forward to cat cuddles and relaxation, whilst I faced Christmas shopping before allowing myself to be drawn inexorably to the sofa.

Next up in this series, a 10k, but I am most looking forward to the half marathon in February! These are well organised events almost on our doorstep and lots of fun despite the lack of hills (!) – thanks to all involved and to Bob Marshall for photos.

* I do know two sporty Glen(n)s, and in fact the other one was meant to be here, before they realised they were in Australia … so I have to distinguish between them somehow 😀

Open 5 Lake District – Threlkeld

It was nearly time for the first Open 5 of the year and I had not done enough mountain biking! Swimrunning all year had left me out of practice, and a couple of planned rides did not happen. I had arranged to go for a long test ride with Elizabeth, after the ‘rope across bike path incident’. That went well enough and I only fell off once despite the snow patches … so maybe I was ready?!

Low sun

Low sun

I had travelled light to the event and as we sat in the car in the early morning gloom I saw the dashboard thermometer read -3oC and by the time we got to the event start it said -6oC. Hmm. I might have chosen a different jersey if I had known that! However, the forecast was for sunshine and warming up so I stayed resolute. Well, I had no choice. On went the arm warmers, gilet and lobster gloves at least!

Looking at the maps at the start we knew we had to bike first. There was a big, obvious and committing loop winking at us. We wouldn’t want to run first and then find we had run out of time to do it. This was a slight shame as we’d have to ride before it warmed up! In fact just getting to the start was slightly traumatic, as Lucy’s fingers stopped working and we didn’t have the luxury of fully warming them up before we were hustled through the start. We had 3 minutes to spare though, no problem.

Looking at the control values, we had a change of heart. We shouldn’t do the loop, but some funny zig zagging to get all the high value ones to the south. Off we went in the opposite direction to our original plan. One glitch when we paused. ‘Maybe the control is on that fingerpost?’ ‘Let’s carry on and check the next one’ ‘Oh, it was the first one’ – duh! A little time lost, but not a lot.

I was doing OK riding the uphills and wide tracks but was freaking out a bit at the icy patches, downhills and techy bits. Think this was a combination of lack of practice and additional fear about falling on my only partly mended shoulder. I was feeling a bit sick from the fear of it and struggling to keep up, so I just let Lucy lead the way. At the bottom of a long holey section I found her considering the map. ‘We’d be best going round!’ she said. I was more than happy to trust she had figured it out right, so on we went following our original plan, but in reverse!

The downhill was cool and shady, but long, fast and easy-ish. As we saw others labouring up the other way I was pleased to be going in this direction. Another wee error as we turned right at the ‘road’ only to find it was a ‘track’ looking very road like. About-turn and straight on to the next mistake, getting lured by an easy looking bridleway shortcut, only to find it rapidly deteriorating into a mud and gate fest. WHY? We should have just whizzed round the road, don’t know what got into us. Must have been enjoying being off road again after all. 😀

We were joined by a male pair who followed us through a village and another overshoot. We must have been chatting and not paying attention as this control was very obvious – we just didn’t have our eyes out for it! There followed a slightly uncomfortable busy road stretch with the low sun in our eyes, but before long we had one last mega climb to burn our lungs and legs.

Bike map

Bike map

The descent was fun, I was pushing myself a bit more, spurred on by not wanting to get caught by any of the riders we’d seen tailing us into the previous out and back control. A spin down a road closed due to subsidence and now covered in leaves and free of traffic was a delight. We nipped through the outskirts of Keswick taking care with the map. I was tempted to start smashing it, but was very conscious of the run ahead so kept it reigned in 🙂 We were soon rolling back into transition.

We got a control here, I never even saw the stone circle!

We got a control here, I never even saw the stone circle!

It was the right decision to bike first as we now only had 1.5h for our run. I’m not used to racing this way round and probably hadn’t eaten enough, so got some extra food down in transition. We hared off at high speed despite having ‘just-off-a-bike’ legs. I quickly shoved the map in my bag as there was no way I had time to look at it. In fact, I was working so hard at keeping up I never even noticed a fine stone circle in the same field as a control!

Our pace was pretty high, even with rough ground and gates and stiles. I was feeling uncomfortable and my right leg was hurting in all sorts of places. I tried to relax and decided more food and drink was needed. I even resorted to a gel, which was like manna from heaven, so it must have been bad.

Snow capped hills

Snow capped hills

We marched up a rather steep hill, walk, run, walk, run. When we could see the sun, it was blinding. When we couldn’t, the side of the hill was in shadow and was dark and cold, with the grass frozen hard. At the summit we struggled to find the control. ‘’Thread’ 7m east of summit’. Was the summit the top looking bit, or the cairn? What was a ‘ thread’? We were circling the top, taking paces, checking the compass. Lucy was about to get me to take photo proof, when we found it on a little outcrop, only visible from below.

Frozen way up the hill

Frozen way up the hill

Right, decision time. We pondered a longer route getting an extra two controls, but decided to be conservative, taking a route that we should have ‘loads of time to do’. I slid on my bum coming down the steep bank, but then we were off again.

Lucy put me on the tow (no debate) and I was getting pulled along, not being able to see for both the sun and Lucy’s legs two feet in front of me. It was quite funny, but she was relentless even on the rough downhilly bits! I was feeling better, the food must have finally got into my bloodstream. Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the finish up a hill in front of us. Other racers were returning to download along the road and shouted encouragement. Into the field and one last uphill slog, the tow now slack as we were both at our limits.

The sun was much in evidence

The sun was much in evidence

I wasn’t sure how close we were, but as we charged over the line we had 2 minutes to spare. Wow! Well, it was a good job we didn’t go wandering off at the top of the hill. Slightly annoying that we had made a few mistakes on the bike that cost time we could have used well later. Never mind, no race like this is perfect and we were pretty pleased with our score and performance 🙂

Back to download before the cold sunk in and I even had time to wolf down a bowl of Nav4 veggie chilli. James T was very obliging in hurrying along the prize giving. I had a train to catch! We won our category and were 14th overall (same score as 12th and 13th but slightly later back). That top 10 still eludes us, but this was a great start to the season!

Podium smiles

Podium smiles

Looking forward to the next one, which isn’t until February. At least by then I might have remembered how to ride a bike, especially an off road one, and maybe we’ll get to bike second so I am not so broken on the run 😀

Thanks to all involved in organising and to James Kirby for the photos.

Foxtrail 10 km night run

Doing my best to be Saltire-coloured ...

Doing my best to be Saltire-coloured …

Standing on the start line at 20:00 waiting anxiously for the gun to go and not sure how ready I was.

Rewind exactly one week and I was about to ride straight into a trap set on the cyclepath on the way home from work. Someone had tied a rope across at wheel height, which I went straight into, causing the bike to flip over and me to somersault through the air, landing hard on my shoulder.

It could have been worse, much worse. But the physio cleared me to run, carefully, with the proviso that I must not fall over.

The race briefing came through by email:

The terrain will be challenging, please expect; wet slippery conditions with heavy mud in areas. There is also a number of sections with low hanging branches, tree stumps and trip hazards. The route also contains soft mud, rock and some minor drop offs.

Hmm, I’d better be careful! I had been out of sorts all week and preparation was not as I had hoped. I had trouble getting jumpers off and tying my shoelaces, but my legs were working, so all was not lost!

I was distracted by the young piper and then without warning there was a loud horn and the crowd surged forwards out of the large heated marquee. I had positioned myself about right as there weren’t too many people pushing past me or vice versa. In no time at all we were into the woods, lit like a fantasy grotto. I was pleased I had checked this part out as a warm up, because I was concentrating too hard on the ground to admire it much in the race!

On we went, onto a track and a road, looking out for ice (no mud after all). Everything was frozen and the farm tracks had big ruts in them. I was searching for the smoothest lines along the sides and feeling good. The end of the first lap plunged us into the lights and noise of the finish marquee before we headed out into the dark again.

It turned out I was holding my pace quite well, and only a few people changed positions around me. A girl came past, but she was a little stronger or more determined than I was. Despite turning her ankle (meaning I went back past her), she was soon up on me again and powering ahead – well deserved. I was just happy to be here on this occasion!

I loved the final part of the trail, winding on a small path through the trees, twisting and turning until we emerged next to the lake. My foot slipped and I almost went over! Just saved … and on to the finish 🙂 I tried to count the girls already milling around and decided I was probably at least top 10 – and I was, finishing 9th. Lots of proper runners here 😀 Results.

Loads of fun, plenty of signage, free glowstick and cheery marshals. Thanks to the organisers! And to Chris for giving me a lift over and avoiding the need for a mad train dash. Hopefully I’ll have a bit more fighting spirit and speed in my legs by the time we get to the next race in the series in December 🙂

And here’s a funky wee video from the night:

SMBO: Falkirk on Fire!

With our last swimrun race done for the year, my thoughts turned to mountain biking. Open 5s were coming up soon and my bike was almost gathering actual dust! It was a last minute decision, but I decided to enter the SMBO event in Falkirk. Scanning the entry list, I spotted Jon and hastily messaged him to see if he fancied pairing up. Affirmative. We were on!

The format was similar to one held earlier in the year: 90 minutes in the daylight, a rest for tea and homemade chocolate coconut brownies, then 90 minutes in the dark with the same map and controls but different values.

It was pretty chilly so we hid in the car to come up with two alternative plans, depending on the control values. The maps were 1:50k OS on one side and openstreetmap on the other. On the move, Jon read off the OS and me off the openstreet map. Sometimes one was easier to use and sometimes the other.

Jon started super fast and I was soon working hard to stay in contact. Some spot on Jon-nav helped us find a control in the woods without error. I was glad just to follow and to remember how to ride this bike!

90 minutes is not very long at all and before we knew it we had to start finalising our plans! Up a hill, looking down on the town before flying down and facing a sprint up another hill … Where did they all come from? The low sun shone through the trees, still golden in autumn colours as we crunched through the leaves.

At the last minute we decided to dive into the woods for an extra control or two on some single-track before racing back to the finish. Perfect timing, 2 minutes late. We finished this stage 3rd overall.

Suitably refilled and it was time for take 2. We now knew both the map and the control values, so were able to plan exactly what we wanted to do. Although there was some overlap, we did visit a different area. All around us fireworks were going off (it was Bonfire night), but I had to keep my eyes on where we were going! Jon started counting down; that’s only 45 minutes left. Whaaaat?! How was it even possible?

It all went to plan though, and we even had time to sail past the finish whooping and yelling whilst we did an optional extra little loop and finished … 2 minutes late again!

Final result and we had the highest score on the night stage and finished 2nd overall. I felt sorry for Davie who ripped his tyre on just about the furthest point on the map and had to run back. After admiring some more fireworks and the bonfire we trundled off (and I had the excitement of catching a tram with my bike for the first time).

Many thanks to Marc for organising an event with a bit of spice, Amelie for efficient sign on and Helen for the great soup and cake! A family affair 🙂

At the results ceremony, you can spot me hiding next to Jon in green!

At the results ceremony, you can spot me hiding next to Jon in green!

Ötillö Swimrun World Series: 1000 Lakes

We were enticed by the sound of a final swimrun race in October. Our German friends were encouraging us to sign up to the 1000 Lakes – a new Ötillö world series race. It had lots of swimming and not too much running. It was long enough since the world championships to have recovered, and short enough not to take us out for another month afterwards.

So we carried on training, mixing in a few freshwater sessions along with trips to the beach. The water was getting colder by the week, 9 – 11 oC. We had been promised warmer for the race.

We flew to Berlin and drove to the town of Rheinsberg in the area called 1000 Lakes. We took good notice of the signs telling us not to drive into the trees lining the sides of the road. When we arrived we found that no-one spoke English and even my very rusty German was needed. I did find a lovely Italian lady in the pizzeria though, and had a chat telling her all about the race and what we were doing!

Was this a foretelling of what would come? We will sing like mermaids as we emerge from the lakes ...

Was this a foretelling of what would come? We will sing like mermaids as we emerge from the lakes …

We thought Rheinsberg was quiet, but the day before the race we also went to look at the start in Wesenberg and found out what a sleepy town really is – Saturday morning, nothing open and not a soul in sight.

Izzy had a new swimrun suit, the Head Aero, designed for greater comfort and speed when running. She had worn it a few times but had not yet cut the arms and legs. I was entrusted with this nerve-wracking task, then we went off to try out some of the final run, the last swim and the run up to the square. We were gaped at like curiosities!

I was feeling fairly relaxed. We had done the big race of the year. This was for fun, with the opportunity to qualify early for Ötillö next year. But if we didn’t make it there were still other options, so we didn’t pile on the pressure. We thought the long swims would suit us, but I wasn’t so sure about the fast running. I irritated some knee cartilage during Ötillö which enforced some weeks of rest / very easy running. It might have been good for me though, as I was feeling lively and full of energy!

The people of Wesenberg seeing us off in style

The people of Wesenberg seeing us off in style

We had now been warned that the water temperatures were lower than normal, in fact, rather like home. Our test swim confirmed this. OK, we were ready for it. I had also taken careful note of the race schedule and knew there were a couple of sections with long swims and only very short runs in between. It was unlikely we’d warm up on these, so we mentally prepared ourselves to be cold and knew how long it would last and when we’d be able to warm back up.

Race day and it was an early start on coaches in the dark. Wesenberg had woken up and there were many locals out to support and cheer us on. I loved the effort made with traditional dress and the man playing a music box. It took away some nerves! It was funny to meet a couple from Cornwall enthusiastically saying they hoped not to see us on course, as they were the ‘sweepers’ following at the back on their bikes and clearing up trail markers.

The start line. The tops of our heads are visible, but Sebastian and Frank are doing a good job of obscuring us ...

The start line. The tops of our heads are visible in front of yellow paddles man, but Sebastian and Frank are doing a good job of obscuring us …

As we set off through the narrow, cobbled streets, someone gave Izzy a nudge off the main path. ‘How rude’, she thought. She didn’t react as she was focused on the task in hand, but then it happened again! As she turned to speak her mind, she saw it was our friend François being cheeky – he had a lucky escape!

It was a fast start, as we knew it would be. We were ready to get in line for a narrow section. ‘Firm, but strong’ said Izzy, and we did not panic or stress. The pair in front let a gap open and people started overtaking. Eventually we went round too. But other teams still pushed past us, very energetically. We knew to save it, there was still plenty of racing to do.

Early morning mist rising from the water

Early morning mist rising from the water

In the woods, we got to a turn and were heading straight on. Everyone else was streaming left. In hindsight we could tell it was not right. We were familiar with the course marking style and the arrow position was wrong and there was a piece of oddly placed tape.  We also knew this was not the way we had run yesterday – but maybe there had been a last minute course change? We followed.

But markings soon ran out and we saw Maja, a very good racer, running back the other way. We quickly and decisively corrected and lost less than 2.5 mins. Many others waited longer, not being able to decide who to go with, or running on and hoping to re-join the course later.

The first swim was like being in a triathlon. We were still bunched together and faster people who had gone the wrong way were catching up slower teams who had gone the right way. We saw a women’s team in orange speed past.

Serene waters and golden trees

Serene waters and golden trees

Izzy said the second run felt like a cross country, and she was right. I had decided it was short enough not to unzip my suit, but this meant it was hard to breathe easily and we were moving fast. It felt like other teams were swarming all around us and I had no idea how far back we were placed. I found it stressful!

Very soon it was time for the second swim. It was a long one (1.3km) and I was beginning to feel the cold as we neared the end. I saw a women’s team divert to the side to get out early. From the exit we had to run straight up a flight of steps. I could feel the tow rope go tight and Izzy said her calves were cramping but to just carry on. So we did! We saw one of the race directors, Michael, looking distracted on the phone. We smiled and pushed onwards.

The second swim

The second swim

Our German friends ran past and one of them had no shoes! He said later it was a deliberate strategy to keep them off on the short runs so he could kick when swimming and save time changing. We wondered what havoc it would play with his socks! The  support all along the course so far was fantastic, with many spectators to cheer us on.

I felt a bit disorientated. My face had gone numb. But Izzy was unusually talkative (for a race) and ran alongside me, keeping me going and making me feel better. Getting in to swims she was always pushing me to hurry, and on exits was ready to go when I was.

Us getting into a swim!

Us getting into a swim!

For one of the swims, we approached on a slippery boardwalk. We had been warned! We took it easy as a guy played skids in front of us. Then we were into a river, murky, with a lot of vegetation. As we neared the exit, my face was in the water and it was dark and silent, then I would look up to sight and there was noise and light, then down back into the darkness …

I had revived, and we were pushing on. I had memorised the course and knew it was another short run before a long swim and then a chance to properly warm up on the longest run section of the race. As we got to a junction we were met by an organiser. The next long swim was cancelled! At the time we felt a bit disappointed, but we just dealt with it and kept moving. Later we heard it was because so many teams had dropped out due to the cold after the second swim.

Awesome supporters!

Awesome supporters!

We were unsure of what the total length of our run would now be. At first we were told 11km – but was this total or only from when they saw us? Then we got to a feed station and a chap said ‘4km to go!’ Which was confusing, but it turned out he meant until the next feed station. And then there was still another 4km to the swim! Of course, we were nice and toasty by now, I even had sweat running out from under my swim hat.

Atmospheric swims

Atmospheric swims

The further we went the harder and harder it felt. But my watch was beeping every km and I knew from this that our pace was consistent. We even overtook a couple of men’s teams. Someone had said we were second, but we knew there at least 4 fast teams had started and I’d felt so surrounded earlier on, I wasn’t sure whether to believe them. It didn’t change what we were doing anyway. We kept running on and I suddenly took a few seconds to look up and notice how beautiful the woods around us were.

Swimmers from above

Swimmers from above

At one swim entry, a female team suddenly appeared from the other direction. This was strange and threw us into more confusion, especially when they sped off so fast on the swim! It turns out they were the lead team, who had missed a turn and just come back. We also saw François again here, and said hello – though he later accused us of not stopping for a chat. This was a race though?! No wonder we beat him … 😀

A good thing about this event was that there were so many feed stations and they seemed to come up very fast. I was variously taking energy drink, coke, bananas and chocolate biscuit bars. I lugged some water and food around all day for emergencies but wished I hadn’t bothered with so much!

Lakeside huts

Lakeside huts

With three swims to go, my shoulder started hurting. It was a long swim, right across a lake which smelled a bit of boat fuel and was busier than some of the others. I experimented and managed to find a way to alter my stroke and keep going. Maybe it was a good job that earlier swim was cancelled after all.

Later we looked at our speed, and we had slowed down a lot. I don’t think it was just my shoulder, or the fact we almost swam into two guys who suddenly stopped in front of us mid-swim! Maybe we had some fatigue from the cold or our arms were tired from the paddles, which we had hardly used since September.

Obelisk with golden helmets and shields!

Obelisk with golden helmets and shields!

On the runs we were both having calf problems now. They were cramping up when we got out, making us walk / run all bandy-legged. It wasn’t easing off either and they were staying sore as we ran. The surface was packed sand, tarmac and cobbles which were tough on the legs.

The second last swim felt warmer and cleaner and I took a drink. The sun might have come out, because I couldn’t see where I was going. Despite how it felt, my watch says all swims were either 10 or 11 oC.

Final swim towards the castle

Final swim towards the castle

Before we knew it we were on the final section we had already checked. We went past an obelisk with golden shields and down to the lakeside. I was trying to be speedy in transition, got my goggles on early, and nearly tripped over …. but as the supporters’ arms went out to catch me, I just about managed to stay upright. Success!

We swam straight across the lake towards the castle and up a little ramp to exit. We felt like celebrities. There were cheering crowds lining the route and some friends ran alongside, urging us on. We got into the finishing funnel to more cheers and congratulations, the news that we were second placed females and a quick interview.

As vegetarians we weren’t looking for the bratwurst, but our apartment was perfectly situated 100m up the street. We stumbled in, got the hot shower going and tucked into milkshake, tea, crisps and chocolate. My lips were still blue for a while though 😮 .

We were really pleased with how the race had gone. It had been hard work at times but we always knew we would finish. Transitions had a new urgency and we were positive throughout. My knee held up just fine and even after accounting for changes to the swim sections we were 35 mins faster than planned (all gained on the runs).

150 teams started, 101 teams finished. Many had to pull out early due to the cold conditions. I was just glad we had taken our recent cake eating training so seriously …

Otillo 2017 qualifiers

Otillo 2017 qualifiers

At prize giving, Michael commented how we just keep turning up! We met loads of friendly people, so despite the descending chill in the tent, we were having fun. As well as 2nd place females / 30th overall, we also qualified for Ötillö World Championships! So no need to chase it all summer next year. We were asked if it was the toughest race we’d ever done. Ha ha! No. But it goes to show how different people find different things tough. It all depends on circumstances and mental battles as much as the physical conditions.

Podium

Podium

Full results here and a short video here (we flash past at least 3 times!).

I highly recommend this race as a season finisher – it’s fast, not too long, the swims are not technical and the trees are a riot of colour. It’s also cheap. Despite the unfavourable £ / € exchange rate, the total cost was still 40% less than other races we did this year. Check it out!

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