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Open 5 – Ampleforth

Lucy was unavailable for the last race in the Open 5 series, something to do with a hen do. It was doubtful whether I would come either until quite late, meaning my original ‘new partner’ had made other plans by the time I could confirm. Luckily, Jon (Itera and sometimes SMBO teammate) was up for it instead.

Work was still high pressure and I had managed to catch a bug the week before. Luckily, it didn’t seem to make me feel bad, but on the other hand I was coughing up gunk and lost my voice on Saturday night. My mum dropped me off and as we sat down to plan, Jon had to interpret the squeaks and grunts. The map looked … tricky! The bike had a few options, the general loop looked straightforward, but we were unsure how long it might take to weave in and out. The run looked long and difficult to fit together.

This way to your first abbey of the day

We decided to bike first, to make sure we got lots of good points without running out of time. This is something Lucy and I had decided on last month, though in retrospect it might have been better the other way round for this race. Off we went, and the pace was higher than I’m used to …

This wasn’t a bad thing, as the mixed pairs is a much more competitive category than the female pairs, and Jon and I would need a good race to get on the podium at all. It’s nice to be pushed in different ways with different people. We were debating and debating as we rode up a road about which controls, if any, to drop out, and how bad a particular bridleway up at the top of the map might be.

Poring over the big maps …

We got tangled up with a male and a mixed pair, and were riding across the flat topped hills and fields with them, concertinaing at every gate. I don’t like doing this much, it puts me under the wrong kind of pressure! At the road junction we had to make a decision, which was partially influenced by going whatever way the other teams weren’t, and partly by wanting to go and see Rievaulx Abbey (it is quite spectacular).

Unfortunately, as soon as we turned right we picked up another mixed pair, and they were fast ones! I recognised them as usually jousting for top spot. We were quite matched for speed, even as we fought along the muddy bridleway. It was more rideable than some I’ve seen, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Pushing up a hill I saw Jon turn back and grin as he stuffed in some energy bar and took the hint! Banana down in one.

No bananas for birthday boy Mark – he knows how to transition!

At the ford we again took a decision to go ‘the other way’ and turned back up the hill on our own to go and get an ‘easy out and back’. My lungs were searing from the effort. And easy it was not, as some of the map marking obscured an important detail of the bridleway junctions. We headed down a (what turned out to be the wrong) bridleway looking for a turning that didn’t exist, found ourselves pushing up a steep little valley, back onto the track we should have been on .. grr …

Back over Sutton Bank, and we were screaming down a road hill, at least we would have been if we hadn’t been stuck behind a horse box! At least this meant we didn’t shoot past our turning and soon we were descending down some of the best riding of the day, through the woods. We now got held up behind some horses not in a box. The riders politely asked us to hang back until a wider spot as the horse was jumpy, and I wasn’t going to argue! Once we were past, we whooped and swooped all the way down.

Steve gave me a lift to the station, but luckily navigation to get there was a bit easier

Only a few out and backs up sharp hills to go. My legs were feeling it now and I kept getting left behind. I didn’t seem to have any energy left and was doubtful about how I would be able to run later.

On the way into transition, we passed a lady kneeling and doing her borders. As we left again on the run we laughed with her about the number of people passing her quiet house! She was lovely and shouted encouragement at us.

As we went we mused on when it was I had actually last ‘ran’ anywhere with Jon (not counting long treks in an expedition race). Maybe the 10k round Cardiff Bay, or a long ago Open 5 on Anglesey … Anyway, Lucy must have had an effect on me as after I had coughed some sludge out of my lungs, I was keeping it ‘steady’, but hearing some notes of concern from behind! Oops.

Byland Abbey – abbey number three of the day

The run was hot. I had just popped on my normal sports glasses to race because it wasn’t raining. However, sweat was running across the lenses making it hard to see, and also stinging my eyes. When I wiped them they were smeary, and when I washed them they were streaky! I never have these problems training, I wonder what that says about my usual pace 😉

We went up and down, up and down, lots of little short sharp climbs out and back. Sometimes we seemed to run for an age between controls. Then we were navigating across farmland, having difficulty locating a path which did not match the map on the ground, and coming out on a road back to another abbey. The run had been awkward, with high value points straddling the two obvious ‘loops’. We were calculating whether we could get our final long out and back for 20 points. As we firmed up that each ‘only a kilometre’ was actually ‘a kilometre and a bit’ we realised it was a no-go.

Doing a good job of talking even when I can’t talk

Straight back to the finish, I was trying to push the pace as I know how often the mixed pairs results come down to time. Jon was lagging and I was trying to be encouraging, but it turned out he was nearly getting cramp! Remarkably, in we rolled 4 minutes EARLY. Unheard of.

We were kept in suspense at prize giving as our category was last to be announced. We knew our score was quite low, but were crossing our fingers this was due to a difficult course rather than our lack of competitiveness. Finally, we got the results – 2nd 🙂 I was pleased as I was aiming for podium, though it would have been nice to be closer to the winners (we were 29 points adrift) – wouldn’t it always! Well done to Jackie and Phil who won today. Fullr esults here. The series prize was super close and came down to time only – it went to Molly and Peter (we split them in the results for this race).

Mixed pairs podium

In the post-race analysis I did spot an extra 10 points we could have got on the run in the time we had, but after that it was probably a combination of luck and ‘not blindingly obvious’ different strategies that were needed to do better. Jackie and Phil spent more time running first, which was probably key. I think it also takes a while to get used to a different person and play to each other’s strengths, and Jon and I have rarely raced this format together.

Off with a lift to the station in glorious sunshine for me, another Open 5 series done for the year. Many thanks to James Thurlow and everyone at Open Adventure for keeping me busy and motivated all winter, and to James Kirby for photos.

After coming and going during the race, my voice disappeared and didn’t come back until Tuesday, when the bug got worse and 3 weeks on from when it started I am still fighting … Less than a week to go now until the first swimrun race of the year for Izzy and I – Costa Brava, here we come!!

Lucy and I won the series, so I had to smile for both of us!

 

Ötillö swimrun Engadin

After our adventures in the Isles of Scilly, we were off on our travels again to the Engadin valley in Switzerland for another Ötillö world series event. We entered on the basis it would give us a second chance to qualify if we hadn’t already done so (which it turns out we had). We were also told it would be beautiful and that we should do it anyway!

Prologue

Preparation for this race was less than ideal, especially for Izzy. She managed to pick up big holes in her arm and leg and a cold beforehand. By the time we set off, things were looking better though.

It didn’t take long to start worrying again! In retrospect, it may have been the effects of altitude. I had headaches for a day or two after arriving, plus sniffles. Izzy felt her cold getting worse. As a result we didn’t have any little practice runs or swims as planned – possibly a mistake. We did not know how it might feel. Instead we contented ourselves with viewing the race course from various angles: up on the mountain from the cable car, in the valley from the bus, and a short walk round some of the first run.

I had a race plan and a target time. I wasn’t sure how altitude would affect us, but thought the times were realistic, possibly slightly conservative. It would be enough to get us to about 5th place. If we had a good day we should go faster and maybe even challenge for podium.

The morning of the race. An early start, crammed onto a bus like sardines. We left on time, like all Swiss public transport that we experienced! It was hot though, and as we waited to go into the small drop off area I was feeling claustrophobic. I headed straight for the toilet queue before it could get too long. Already too late. Blokes were going in fully zipped up in their wetsuits and coming out dressed the same, even as Michael, one of the race organisers shouted increasingly urgently to make sure we got our timing chips cleared. I was checking my watch, 4 minutes per person?! Eventually I escaped as Michael had resorted to yelling “quick sh*t, quick sh*t!”.

Never follow an arrow to anywhere with the word 'forno' in its name

Never follow an arrow to anywhere with the word ‘forno’ in its name

The Start (08:00)

We had decided to run with our wetsuit up, but unzipped. It was only 6km to start with, after all. It was a much bigger race than the last one and the crowd bumped and jostled at the start. We took it slow and were soon winding up the hill in a line of competitors. Before long I could feel sweat pouring off my face. I checked my watch. We’d been going 13 minutes.

Mass crowds at the start. We're in the clappers, somewhere ...

Mass crowds at the start. We’re in the clappers, somewhere …

I was also already towing Izzy hard. Hmm, I thought, not sure I could keep this up the whole way. I tried to be sensible, stay in line and not rush to close gaps on the flatter parts – they soon closed again as we hit the ups. We started to descend and I was still towing as we struggled to pass a mixed team who were definitely flagging more than us. After an arduous time where I felt we were silently battling each other, Izzy had a minor strop and unclipped herself. I was dubious, but in fact, without having to worry about the tow as well as her footing, she flew straight off down the hill. At the bottom she was full of fight and we leapt into the beautiful cool water of the lake.

Mass start

Mass start

At the other side though, she got dizzy and fell backwards as we got out. We started the downhill run with her bumping into me. We were at a height of about 2600m.

I tried to encourage and said we’d keep the tow on a gentle tug. This was all too much and before long I was hearing the words “I just don’t think I can do this today”. “Yes you can”, I replied. Not long after, in a moment of stress as people overtook on a narrow path, I tripped and fell hard. Before I had time to think, a fellow competitor had lifted me bodily from the ground! Blood was streaming from my hand and knee. I did my best to wash the grit out with some of our water but my goggles were also full of blood and they had to wait for later. We set off again hobbling.

Izzy’s glutes then cramped up and we had to stop to stretch them out. This was followed by a forlorn “I’m sorry, I know you really wanted to do well today..” I said: “Shut up and don’t worry about that, it is now about survival and finishing this race”.

Our entire plan had to change, we had to set new goals. I have never had a DNF (‘did not finish’) and didn’t want one now. I didn’t say this at the time, but Izzy later admitted she hadn’t had one either and was thinking the same. I resisted panicking as we walked tiny rises so early in the race and carefully pondered what to say. “Izzy, you’re a Scot, right?” “Yes” “Well, you’ve paid a lot of money to enter this race, and a proud Scot would definitely make sure they got their money’s worth” … bingo! Turns out this was true 🙂 .

Izzy had felt like this race was a simple factual physical impossibility on this day. But I thought it was a mind game, and mind games you can always win. We carried on moving.

More scenery

Scenery

The Middle, Part 1 (09:40)

We had been going for less than 2h and got to the second swim behind schedule and in difficulty. The results later showed we were in 120th position out of 157 starters. The water was lovely, though Izzy said later that her arms felt dead.

In all the noise and pre-race chatter about how cold the water would be, I had been oblivious to how hot the air temperature would be (despite a mention of it race briefing). 23 degrees C! OK, not hot by continental Europe standards. But hot by Scottish standards.

Even more scenery

Even more scenery

I started to suffer a bit. I am not good in the heat, but am getting better at noticing the symptoms! I started drinking, drinking – both from my bottle and from the lakes when they were clear and fresh smelling. Despite the hassle, we agreed we had to ‘cab down’ (the term used to mean taking the wetsuit off to the waist) on every run. The wet race bib was bliss. It didn’t seem to dry very well, instead creating a constant cooling effect on our top half. Fortunately, the route dipped in and out of the woods and their delightful shade. I aimed for it at every opportunity, and doused my head from a pipe spilling out cold water on the hillside.

At one point we passed some horses. I am normally wary of them, but these ignored us. We discussed hijacking a couple to take us down the hill, with the string of switchbacks on a tight path. I promise we left them alone though …

Shall we borrow a horse?

Shall we borrow a horse?

I was keeping an eye on my watch. I had memorised the route and had it broken down into sections in my head. I knew we were losing 5-10 minutes per section against plan, which itself only gave us 40 minutes to spare at the first cut off – which was way off at 13:45. I was worried and mentioned this briefly near the start but it had only caused despair, so I kept quiet until the final short swim and long run before the cut off.

The Middle, Part 2 (12:08)

“OK Izzy, we have 97 minutes to do this section. And at current pace, it will likely take us 85-90 minutes. But the second cut off is also very tight, so any minutes to spare, we need”. I thought we could realistically do this now, we just had to keep moving in the same way.

Lovely shady path zig-zagging down the hill

Lovely shady path zig-zagging down the hill

We set off walking up a very steep hill. We knew it was coming, which made it easier. I was towing firmly, but trying to keep exertion below the level which had nearly killed us off earlier. It was as if at altitude, you could go so hard, but no harder without it tipping you over an edge. Little swarms of flies kept appearing round our heads and we batted them away with our hand paddles.

I knew we had to go up the valley alongside a river, then cross over and back down the other side for a flattish run in. Sooner than anticipated, I could see the course turning left. I promised we could walk to the river and that then I thought it was downhill and so maybe we could ‘jog-a-log’? Izzy had coined this phrase earlier and we now used it for any running part. Time to jog-a-log again?

Some shots of the scenery, which we managed to appreciate at least a little bit ...

We did manage to appreciate the views at least a little bit …

Thankfully I was right. Our mood was lifting and there was even some happy chitchat. The sound of cowbells drifted across a field and we imagined they were our rapturous supporters cheering us on.

The sight of kite surfers on the lake near the cut off were welcome. Suddenly we were on the valley floor again, running in the sun. I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe it. A shiver ran through me that normally only comes near the end of epic races. We were going to make it to the end. No doubt about that now. We got to transition with 35 minutes to spare. Not only had we made the cut off, but we had caught up on our schedule by a huge amount. What had happened?

Swimmers and kite surfers (in different lakes!)

Swimmers and kite surfers (in different lakes!)

So now we faced a section we were more than confident about. We were also at ‘only’ 1800m and I think the effect was noticeable. Michael said we had plenty of time, but we leapt straight in the water for the first of two long swims. Remarkably, we were overtaking a string of teams. I wasn’t entirely sure where to aim for, except ‘the end of the lake’. After I had passed everyone we were following, I headed for what looked like a female competitor taking ages to get out. It turned out to be a large orange buoy. Not an enormous lady.

Big orange buoy. Definitely not a girl.

Big orange buoy. Definitely not a girl.

As had been the case throughout the race, we passed a lot of teams at transition despite our occasional clumsiness managing the bibs and equipment as we cabbed up and down on the approach. We were also quick at feed stations as we stopped only to drink, refill bottles and grab bits of bananas or a gel to eat on the move.

Suddenly, it felt like we were ‘in the race’. Previously, it had felt like we were trailing at the back. Whether this was just mental, or also physical I am not sure. But the cheers seemed louder, the smiles of the marshals more confident, and there were more competitors around us. People yelled at us in various languages, some we understood and some we didn’t. Most yelled ‘bravo!’ or ‘super!’ or, even better, ‘super bravo!’ 😀

Who wouldn't want to run around here?

Who wouldn’t want to run around here?

We ran with a group of mixed pairs, then in for another long swim. They had vanished and we were now with some male pairs. A very short run, then we were at the final swim in a warm peaty lake, though I shivered getting in. Maybe my body was going into meltdown. It was short though and we were soon out the other side.

Spectator point with a view

Spectator point with a view

The End (14:45)

Just 8.3km run, 400m swim, 2.7km run to go. We were on my race plan times, even under them! We adopted ‘ultra-running’ style. Walk every hill. Run the flats and downhills. In this way we passed a few more male teams. My legs ached. My left knee hurt from the fall and my right from the downhill impacts. But I switched off my brain and kept the same pace. Just jog-a-log. I was still towing on and off, but much more moderately now, something I could sustain.

We saw Michael again at the final cut off, we had loads of time to spare. “How are you doing?” He asked. “OK!”, we grinned. “In fact, so much better than we were before!” Kids on bikes kept riding past and shouting in French. A group of girls got to us twice and surrounded us on the path cheering more enthusiastically than anyone. Every encouragement gave us a little lift.

The only picture I found of us actually racing! Yes, it us, about to overtake that team, I believe ...

The only picture I found of us actually racing! Yes, it us, about to overtake that team, I believe …

We were confused seeing swimmers in the final lake, but only because I had got muddled up about where the last swim went. We suddenly saw a female pair in front. I reassured Izzy: “Do not stress, I will stick exactly to what we’ve been doing”. She did not want to get into a battle. But we overtook on the swim and out the other side I was true to my word. We ran along the lake and walked up the smallest of inclines.

At a bend I glanced over my shoulder but we were well clear. Final push to the finish.

Now I was pulling hard again. Every muscle was screaming at me but I blanked out my mind. It was not that far. Round the corner, up a small hill, we ran this one, and into the finish arena.

You can stop running now!

You can stop running now!

The Finish (16:12)

We crossed the line and we were 4 mins ahead of original plan! Mats came to give us a hug, but Izzy sort of fell over in his arms and he took her to the shade of the tent. She lay curled up whilst I worried and gave her a pat. Relief and smiles when she sat up!

We placed 4th females, 52nd overall. Results here. That meant we made up 68 positions from our lowest point in the race. We had been to a very difficult place and come back. Not only that, we found ourselves competing again. We had worked together and kept each other going. It is good to have these experiences, if only to know you can do it and come out the other side fighting. Never give up. The free cake and tea at the hotel stops at 17:00 and is not to be missed.

More than a marathon of trail running (47.5km), more than the height of Ben Nevis in ascent (1500m), at altitude, in the heat. 6km of swimming, all beautiful, we’d have loved more!

Finished, and both managing to sit up in the shade!

Finished, and both managing to sit up in the shade!

Thanks to everyone who has helped us – including Head / sportextreme for wetsuits, Gococo for socks and Icebug for shoes. To the organisers Michael and Mats for putting on such a crazy race. To the wonderful people at Conrad’s Mountain Lodge for feeding us early on race day and greeting us like long-lost friends every morning. Also special thanks to Helen, my massage therapist at Physis, who somehow put me back together after the last race and expertly avoids various scrapes, bruises and wetsuit rashes.

SMBO Stirling Sting

It was the third SMBO event of the autumn and finally I was at the start line without a knee or leg problem! After a fast bike experience at the Open 5 in the Lake District, plus generally feeling good about my skills right now, I was looking forward to a fast and hard race.

The omens were in my favour at the start, as someone had taken the time to etch my initials into the pavement! It was very nippy outside though. We were all shivering when we got out of our cars and there was low lying fog that the sun was barely breaking through.

Permanent initials! (Thanks to Heili for the photo)

Permanent initials! (Thanks to Heili for the photo)

We could only view a map of the general area at the start, so no advance route planning was possible. The map seemed small and there were two wooded areas that looked complicated to navigate in. One of them even came with warnings about the number of paths and detail (or lack of) in the mapping.

After taking off several layers of clothes I was ready to start. I got the map and decided to hastily highlight a possible route. A few hundred metres up the road I mentally reorganised it a bit, deciding to take a long fast route round the edge of the map. This meant straightforward looking navigation, picking up a few controls just on and off the minor roads, then heading up a big hill for the highest scoring control of the day. This suited my mood better than complex navigation and slow / very technical riding. I left the tricky forests for ‘if I had time’ at the end.

Everything went quite well for a while. I did not get zapped by any killer gorse. I got a little bit lucky at the first difficult bit of navigation, trusting my bike computer distances to find the right turn and luckily spotting another rider taking my next (slightly obscure) junction! I soon got muddy feet 🙂 . Crossing a rough bumpy field I was pleased that I actually rode it all and did not fall off.

Next up was the big climb up a hill. It was a long way but it was high scoring. Another bonus was that it took me out of the cold, damp cloud and into glorious bright sunshine. Looking across the valley I could see the Wallace Monument floating in a sea of fog and had to stop and take a picture. On the way down I met three friends going the other way – Marc, Paul and Glen. Marc told me tales of a twitchy horse in a field. He must have missed my pre-race tales of horse problems in the exact same place on a ride several years ago! Luckily I wasn’t going that way, else I’d have been worried.

Beautiful views across the valley

Beautiful views across the valley

Just after this I narrowly escaped a herd of cows funnelling at speed into the same small space as me. Then I made a mistake, matching a ‘small path’ on the map to a small path on the ground and finding myself not on a path any more, in the woods and perched high above a river I needed to cross further down. Rather than risking my life on a cliff, I backtracked and found the right (large path) just a couple of hundred metres further along. Two out and backs done, fixing the improvised caribiner gate closure in both directions (why were people leaving it untied?). Then a bit of luck navigating back out to the road, as the map and ground didn’t seem to match too closely. A bit of ‘trusting my instinct’ for that one and heading down the big track to some houses.

I now only had a short while left to ride. I devised a route skirting the difficult forest and nipping in for a ‘quick’ loop in the easier one. Even before I started this I hesitated – did I have time? The first control was on a narrow, muddy, rooty path. Then it started climbing and even after the control continued up. Maybe I should have just backtracked – but there were two more controls this way! I was now over time but thought it was still worth it by this stage if I got back under 15 minutes late.

Unfortunately, I then made a silly error. I checked the map and thought ‘turn right on the main track and you’ll be right by the road bridge’. I turned right, then got to another, bigger junction. I thought, ‘oh, this must have been it’ and turned right again. Something felt wrong … and 500m later I realised I should have gone left at the second junction. Garrrgh! This cost me 3 minutes.

As I dibbed at the end, my watch read 15:57 late. In fact, when I downloaded the dibbers must have been out of sync, as it said 16:03 late (and yes, I started and stopped my watch before and after start / finish dibbing respectively). As penalties get higher and higher per minute the longer you’re late back, those 3 minutes cost me an extra 25 to 30 penalties!! I was docked 60 points in total.

Clean new shoes

Clean new shoes

Dirty new shoes!

Dirty new shoes!

But at least my new shoes had been christened, performed admirably and did not fall apart! 😀 I was also lucky to get away with it this time and won the ladies category (although it was a small field). I then didn’t mind so much, as the extra hard workout had been fun – though it was still frustrating to have such a costly silly error so near to the end! Hearing tales of confusion in the woods I think my strategy had been good in principle.

That’s all for SMBO events until the spring. Between now and then it will be Open 5s and Bowhill duathlons, so I really need to re-find my running legs.

Open 5 Lake District Windermere

If you’ve been keeping up with my previous race reports, you’ll know that I’ve been busy falling off my bike, limping around and generally wreaking havoc on my legs. This has meant no running of any consequence in the last six weeks, although I have been biking more-or-less merrily.

It was time for the first Open 5 in the winter series. With only five races this year, Lucy and I decided to give this one a go, even though I came with a health warning. I hadn’t run at all in 3.5 weeks and had no idea what would happen when I tried it. We had seen the entry list and knew there was some strong competition. With some good strategy and fast bike riding we thought we might still be in with a chance though.

We had a plan: do a long bike (about 3.5h) and a short run / jog / walk or whatever I could manage (about 1.5h). Unfortunately, when we got the map, it wasn’t easy to string together a nice short high scoring run loop like it normally is. You had to run a fair way to get to most of the controls. I think this may have encouraged us to stretch a bit too far on the bike.

Anxious look!

Anxious look!

At first it was all going well. We were moving at speed. In fact, Lucy was going so fast I was working very hard to keep up at all! We collected a 10 point control down a steep single-track, but the climb back up was so long I questioned whether it had been worth it. Lucy had enjoyed the descent though. Myself less so, as I did the worst possible thing on one section – starting then changing my mind, braking and going over the handlebars. Remember, commit or walk!

Apart from that tumble I was really pleased with the way I was riding some of the technical stuff. I found myself thinking ‘this is mental’ as I tried to keep up on the descents, and was amazed at how my tyres stuck to slippery looking wet rocks.

We sped over to Coniston Water and blasted along the road by the lake. Everything still felt like it was going well and we were making good time. In hindsight I think we had under-estimated how long the second part would take. It feels like you’re ‘almost back’ to Windermere when you’re in Grizedale, but there is still a big hill in the way.

There were some fantastic views and it didn't rain!

There were some fantastic views and it didn’t rain!

This problem was compounded as we spotted a better way to join up a control we had initially decided to miss. It was only worth 10 points but in the end really wasn’t worth it as on the way we hit a rough bridleway climb that had us walking and climbing round fallen trees.

It didn’t end there though! I noticed that the sole of my shoe was flapping off at the heel. No worries, I thought, it’s fine when riding. Next I knew, I tried to unclip when on a road, my cleat just twisted in the shoe and I fell sideways onto the tarmac. Ow!! One of my newly-healed knee scars had torn open again and my hip was bruised. More to the point, we had to fix this shoe. Zip ties at the ready and Lucy tied my shoe back on for me. I felt like I was being treated by a medic!

Shoe evidence

Shoe evidence

We set off again and the repair was 100% effective. But not long after Lucy got a puncture. She had a tubeless tyre and there was lots of new sealant in it. But re-seal it would not, despite us pumping it up and spinning it round a lot. We resorted to putting a new tube in. Unfortunately, this means removing the tubeless valve from the rim. It did not want to come out. Lucy talked of running back but it was miles and I was determined that this would not beat us. We sacrificed an important looking rubber bit on the valve and yanked it out with a pair of pliers. Tube in, pumped up and we were on our way.

At this point I switched from practically having to ask Lucy to slow down …

“I thought you said you hadn’t been biking much?” “I haven’t, I’ve been running” “Well, that running is doing a lot for your biking”
(I sent a banana and a choc chip and blueberry coconut rice cake down the hatch to see if my legs would magically stop burning)

 … to being full of adrenaline and feeling like nothing could stop me now.

Meanwhile Lucy was feeling the effects of not having had a transition banana an hour before. I didn’t realise until we’d finished how bad it was, else I’d have made more of an effort to pass over a rice cake and hook up the tow.

The two incidents took 20 minutes in total to sort out, which was 20 minutes we could not afford to lose, considering our over-reach! Our plan might not have been all that bad if we had not added the extra control in or had the shoe and puncture to deal with but, as it was, we sprinted into transition with (as Lucy was at pains to point out later), only 29 minutes to run.

So, we ran. Three out and backs from transition. It wasn’t particularly interesting but I didn’t care as I was dying! My hip held up, but I definitely knew all about that 4.5h of hard biking and the total lack of recent running practice. I struggled to keep up and breathe and ignore my mind telling me to stop. On the way back from the last control I hooked onto the tow – we should have done it earlier as it was like magic.

The finishing pictures clearly show me in a worse state!

In the end we came 4th (results). Even with my hip problem we could have done better, though we had a mix of bad strategy and bad luck out on the course. We missed the podium by 2 points (and had 12 penalties!). However, I did truly enjoy the biking and am full of confidence despite the couple of tumbles. It was also a relief that my hip held out. Time to start a few regular runs so that I can be in better shape for next time. I am sure Lucy will be plotting payback with a killer run before the series is over!

Fresh cooked wood-fired pizza went down a treat at the end 🙂 .

Also, hello to James who was doing his first Open 5 and recognised me from this blog! Hope to see you again at the next one!

Hallocross 2014

This was my third Hallocross. A night time cyclocross race on Halloween with fancy dress strongly encouraged. After my friend Elizabeth put me to shame last year with her bumblebee outfit, I made more of an effort this time. Various parts of my fancy dress arrived the week before so that I could line up resplendent as a ladybird! In an effort to get my legs ready I had also done two spin classes. Teaching my legs that not every ride will go on for the next 5 hours or more is hard work.

I don’t normally do cyclocross, but this one is local and in the dark and there are lots of silly costumes, so it is worth going! Although I got there in plenty of time, it still seemed a bit rushed. I couldn’t find anyone I knew so had to ask for help for my numbers and left my bag full of warm dry clothes in the easy up. There was just enough time for a steady practice lap with Elizabeth, who had emerged from somewhere out of the darkness!

The only evidence of my outfit I can find, despite seeing photographers all night! Me in the food queue afterwards ...

The only evidence of my outfit I can find, despite seeing photographers all night! Me in the food queue afterwards …

At the start I managed to squeeze in not too far from the front. We all charged for the first lap. Suddenly everyone was jumping off and I wasn’t sure why as I hadn’t remembered there being a log here. Turned out it was just a load of mud, but with everyone slowing through it was easier to jump off and run too.

For the first couple of laps people were occasionally passing me. But then I started to pick up and pass other people. On lap 3 I also got enough courage to ride up the two steps, which turned out to be fairly easy on my big wheeled mountain bike! I kept thinking I should try and get over the logs too, but I didn’t want to risk falling tonight. The course was pretty straightforward and less technical than last year. As I warmed up and got used to the best lines I was enjoying myself.

On the last few laps I started catching people at the back of the field. I was definitely one of the middling people – being lapped by the leaders but lapping others myself. I noticed after a while that there was someone holding a board up as we went through each lap, telling us how many more to go. After “2” I went a bit faster. If the leaders lapped me again I’d have to stop! Everyone stops after the winners have finished their last lap, regardless of how many they’ve done themselves.

I got through before them though, so had one more lap to do. It was fun as I caught a couple of people who had passed me on the earlier laps. It was no surprise when the results came out to see that my last two laps were easily my fastest, and my first three the slowest – with a difference of over 30 seconds per lap 🙂 . Full lap times below.

I had almost got to the end of the lap when I passed a rider in a skeleton jersey. I shouted ‘on your left!’ and, as I passed, I heard back ‘hello Rosemary!’. It was Paul, Itera team mate. Last year we were almost the same pace. At the Singletrack Stramash he’d out-ridden me and he also likes to start fast. So I assumed I had caught him up after he’d been in front. Turned out I had just lapped him though, which I enjoyed ha ha! Maybe my fast cycling legs are starting to come back.

There was a strong field there, and I hardly practice for this sort of thing, so I was more than happy to find I’d finished 4th (again).

Next up, the first Open 5 of the winter series. To say I am nervous about the run part of the race would be an understatement. 70 minutes of running in 6 weeks, and an injured and slowly recovering hip for the last three and half. The start of the run will be a step into the unknown! But at least I can be fairly confident in the strength of my bike leg if nothing else 🙂

Fancy dress competition winner - well deserved!

Fancy dress competition winner – well deserved!

Lap

Lap time Difference with last lap Difference with best lap Speed
1 06:09.828 00.000 44.237

14.115

2

06:03.930 -05.898 38.339 14.343

3

06:00.586 -03.344 34.995 14.476
4 05:48.045 -12.541 22.454

14.998

5

05:55.857 07.812 30.266

14.669

6 05:47.974 -07.883 22.383

15.001

7

05:53.319 05.345 27.728 14.774
8 05:52.758 -00.561 27.167

14.798

9

05:32.797 -19.961 07.206

15.685

10 05:25.591 -07.206 00.000

16.032

Abernethy DARE 2014

Finishing the race

Finishing the race

I feel like I have been in the wars a bit. After just getting round the Innerleithen event with my scabby knees, I was confident I’d be raring to go 2 weeks later at the Abernethy DARE 3h event. I had limped one way for a week due to my injuries, but then felt ready to do a short run. Straight away I hurt my other leg with some sort of nerve pain. So I switched limping sides for another week before trying to run again. 27 minutes in I got a sudden sharp pain in my hip and was forced to stop. This was on Wednesday; I was able to see a physiotherapist on Friday. Although it was painful enough to feel scarily serious, it had improved a fair bit by then.

The verdict was a strained tensor fascia lata. Of course, we all know this muscle attaches to a sensitive bone, which makes it feel worse than it is. With instructions for stretches and progressive exercises I was told no running or excessive walking for minimum 2 weeks. Cycling would be OK, providing I didn’t go crazy and do any big hills. This wasn’t my usual physio, so I kept quiet, agreed, and convinced myself that the Abernethy DARE wasn’t really too hilly, I could always use my gears and most of it was rideable so minimal walking needed.

So instead of setting off in speed mode, I set off cautiously and in some discomfort, especially on mounts and dismounts! After about 30 minutes something whipped at my shins causing an intense pain. I feared it was some dangerous plant or creature and that the poison would slowly be making its way to my heart. When I pedalled it hurt, but I couldn’t see any swelling. Obviously a silent and deadly killer. After another half hour nothing worse had happened, so I decided I wasn’t going to collapse just yet.

I was still having trouble with the concept of fast riding. I saw another girl a few times, who looked out of breath and like she was making an effort. This reminded me that in contrast I was just trundling along… I think this is an unfortunate Itera side effect. Getting some short distance speed back is something I’d have to work on!

The course was pleasant. I took a route round in the opposite direction to last year. Sadly, the dark tunnel controls didn’t fit nicely into a loop, needing long distance out and backs. I ignored them. It was funny when I met my friend Glen near a point where a few controls could be collected in a circle. He went one way and I went the other, waving as we passed and coming together again at the same place we started! This is where he whizzed off and I proceeded more cautiously, keeping my eyes peeled for a turning I thought might not be obvious. I found it, he missed it 😀

In the final part of the race I spotted an unexpected track contouring round the hill to an extra control and set off enthusiastically. Time was running short and this was the spur I needed to put some effort in and go a bit faster. After that it was a blast down the hill to collect some more points on the flat tracks in the river valley.

I got back a few minutes late but nothing too bad. A reasonable score and first female, but nothing spectacular. I had made at least two navigation errors, one costing me quite a few minutes, plus there were the speed and leg/hip problems. A bottle of wine won for the person who gave me a lift and 3 bottles of beer for the boyfriend fund.

And when I cleaned the mud off to inspect the leg wound, we found a centimetre long gorse thorn embedded straight in. Ouch!

Singletrack Stramash

One week after the Brutal Half I had a 5h mountain bike orienteering event pencilled into my calendar. It was nattily titled ‘Singletrack Stramash’. One day after my ‘little tumble’ though, I was having trouble getting dressed, standing up and walking around. I was sore all over and my knee was especially painful. Taking the dressings off was something I would not like to repeat in a hurry! As the holes scabbed over I spent a whole week wearing a skirt to work, catching the bus / tram everywhere and generally hobbling around.

The race was on Saturday. My friends were divided between advising me to sit it out and suggesting it would be the perfect route to recovery. So on Friday night I took my mountain bike for a spin round the park. When I say ‘park’ I mean a square of grass and trees. I was out for less than 5 minutes. My knee was now bending enough to cause mere discomfort rather than pain. Good news! I texted Ewan to say I would like that 06:30 pickup please, and went to bed with a hot sore knee.

Next morning I was still uncertain, but by now I had committed. So off we went in the chill morning air to Innerleithen. One of the big persuading factors in doing this race was that lots of people I knew would be there. This meant plenty of chat was required before starting and despite my best intentions, I still left at the last possible moment.

I started off gently, as each pedal stroke was pulling gently at my scabs. After the first couple of controls I peered down and was reassured that everything still seemed intact. Ascending the first big climb Paul (Itera teammate) rode away from me, which was slightly unexpected! 😉 . As we contoured round the hill on a narrow track bordered by heather, my fear of falling was much more acute than normal. Unfortunately, this was making me ride timidly, which on a mountain bike normally means you’re only more likely to fall. The big views from the top were amazing though.

As well as my heightened anxieties, on the descent I realised my other slight issue. It turns out that running up and down Snowdon after a nice long bike ride can wear your legs out. They had stopped aching on Friday, but my quads were burning as I held my position on the downhill.

At a short technical section I was ‘riding’ very badly. In fact, I had given up riding and was running down. Shame I hadn’t spotted the fast, easy alternative. Anyway, at the next slightly tricky section I gave myself a stern talking to and rode, which felt much better!

I had polished off the biggest hill first (Cardrona Forest / Gypsy Glen), then a small but distant one (Cademuir plantation). I was now heading for Glentress. I felt a bit lightheaded and unwell, I wasn’t sure why. So I implemented my usual first cure in these cases, which is to drink and eat some more! After collecting a couple of controls, I had three choices to get back down: direct red route, fast fire road, indirect blue. Somehow I ended up on blue before remembering it wasn’t the shortest or fastest – but at least it was fun!

By this point I had been riding for over 3h. I think this was just about long enough for my legs to have warmed up and I started to feel like I could actually ride hard 🙂 . I came back along the valley happy, collecting a checkpoint at the top of an old quarry via some careful forest navigation up from the road. Then it was off to climb another hill at the Innerleithen trail area. A cunning shortcut along a track through a field turned out to be slower than I had hoped as there was a herd of cows sitting all over the path! We didn’t go all the way to the top of Minch Moor this time, but still went quite high.

I had been running through mental calculations about how long I needed for various options and how long I had left. Eventually I decided one more control in the valley was out of reach. In retrospect it was debatable whether it might have been quicker to exit fast along the fire road, collect it and blast back along the road, but who knows! Instead I chose the descent of Cadon Bank, a technical red graded trail, twisting and turning its way down the steep hill.

Luckily by now I was actually riding my bike more like my usual self and tackled the rock features without mishap. The descent seemed to take an age as my time was running out and I still had to bag a 30 pointer on top of a little hill by a radio mast! Really, I should have got this on the way out, but had the idea about 3 minutes too late, right at the start of the race. So as I went through town with 5 minutes to spare, I turned left instead of right and was on my way up.

A lung busting effort saw me top the league table for an obscure Strava segment before my time ran out just before I made it to the control. After that it was a blast back to the finish to minimise my losses as much as possible! 7 minutes and 23 seconds late meant 11 penalty points, which wasn’t too bad. Although there was quite a small field, it was still nice to finish 1st lady and 4th overall … Paul pipped me to third by collecting an extra control and coming back on time! Here are the results.

If I did it again I’d only change one thing about my strategy and a few small refinements to exact track choices, but I made no navigational errors. Although the soup was all gone when I got in (disadvantage of going last) I still got a nice piece of cake. After a quick (free) calf massage there was time to wander into town to get an ice cream before heading home. Even better, my knee seemed no worse, so the risk paid off as I had a lovely time with friends, riding my bike, looking at a map and enjoying the sunshine 🙂 .

Thanks to the organisers for all their hard work in putting on a successful event.

Until next time!

Itera Build Up

Rosemary, Paul, Sam, Jon

Rosemary, Paul, Sam, Jon

As regular readers of my blog might have noticed, I have been getting ready to do my biggest race of the year; the Itera. This is a 5 day adventure race going from top to bottom of Wales in a team of 4. We’ll be kayaking, “running” (more likely, trekking!), mountain biking and probably a few other exciting things along the way. Maximum total distance is 660km with 18,000m of ascent. There are short course options though, which we’re likely to end up taking one or two of. We are called ‘team tentel’. Tentel are a new start up telecommunications company run by cool people who like adventure racing! They sponsored us to get some matching kit, for which we also got a discount from Outside Edge  in Oban.

In the winter, the race seemed a long way away. I found, and wholeheartedly adopted, a great method of taking my mind of what was coming up. This was to enter lots of other races, as I can only concentrate on the next thing coming up and not much further! Some people have asked me if I have done anything different with my training. Well, I changed the type of races I entered (almost no short, fast stuff) and did less interval work and more longer distance things. But I also distracted myself with longer triathlons and the open water swim a couple of weeks ago. If you’re busy thinking ‘when and where can I swim outside again next?’ then you don’t worry so much about ‘how will I last more than 24 hours, let alone 5 days?’.

April and May were good months for mountain biking, when I deliberately entered events such as the Selkirk MTB marathon and three of us got together for an overnight mountain bike / bivvy ride. In the last few months I have panicked slightly about my lack of time spent on foot in the hills. But over June and July I did get out for 5 longer sessions (3 were races!). I don’t normally spend any time kayaking. This isn’t because I don’t like it, but for more practical reasons. Like, where would I keep a kayak? And how would I get it anywhere? I like to tell myself that doing plenty of swimming is good substitute training, as it’s sort of the same arm action … who knows if this is true, but I have a good time all the same! And I have generally done remarkably well on kayak sections in races. All things considered.

My team mates for this race are Paul McGreal, Jon Ellis and Sam Rose. I raced with Paul in a similar event (the Terrex) two years ago. We were still talking to each other at the end of it and he enjoyed himself enough to want to do it again. With a team of two we set about persuading Jon that he really wanted to race with us. I have competed with Jon a couple of times before, but many years ago when we didn’t really know each other. We’ve kept in touch and met up quite a few times since then though. He has loads of expedition event experience and did very well at the Terrex last year with his ‘last minute’ team. When he finally gave in to our pestering, we were three and only needed one more.

Luck would have it that at this point Sam emailed Jon asking if he knew any teams she could join. With a mutual friend’s endorsement (thanks Elizabeth!) we thought she’d be a good match. As soon as we said ‘join us’, she hesitated! Having spent 8 months off work travelling the world, she seemed unsure of her fitness. However, having heard tales such as these, I am feeling confident of her ability and suitability for our team. In fact, she may well be the one waiting for all of us!

“I raced for two days on a broken ankle last time”

“We hunted out Koh Si Chang Island’s only kayak yesterday, which was a 100 year old sit on top and paddled it round the bay for a couple of hours until it sunk”

“I’ve spent the day being kicked to condition my muscles and crawling down steep stone steps head first on hands and feet”

“This week was three days kayaking in the Marlborough sounds and yesterday I biked the queen Charlotte track”

“I’m currently cycling back from Italy to try and get miles in my legs”

Emails are all I’ve had to get to know Sam, as we won’t meet until Friday evening before the race begins. However, this hasn’t been my biggest concern at all! In fact, much more stressful has been trying to organise and coordinate kit requirements, social media and logistics. All made much more difficult by the fact that I lost internet access at a critical time and have been offline for over a week! Many thanks to the various friends who have let me squat at their houses using their facilities (Robert, Hayley, Vicky, Glen). Apart from all that, this week’s training has mostly revolved around getting plenty of sleep and eating good food – kale pizza saved for my last night at home!

I am confident that once we start, I will enjoy it. Before that we have a prologue to do on Saturday (10km run round Cardiff bay, with a white water boating thing in the middle) and much planning and kit re-packing and organising once we get the route maps at registration. Then we will be ‘whisked’ up to Caernarfon on Sunday for an 8am start on Saturday. When I say whisked, I mean we will crawl up north on a 5 hour coach journey with the promise of selected DVDs to entertain us. Hmm!

My dad lives just 20 minutes drive from the start, but won’t be there to wave us off! (he’s away for the weekend). However, it does mean I’m relatively familiar with the area I expect we’ll be in for the first couple of days. We’ve been given an idea of how many stages there are and their length and height gain, but no other clues as to where we’re going. I love to play ‘guess the route’, even if it is only speculation and probably a waste of energy. For me though, it’s part of the fun! I have something in mind for the first 5 ½ stages, but then my knowledge of Wales gets a bit too hazy! One of the pictures in the montage gives you an idea just for the record, but only if I’m right. If I’m wrong, then it’s just a pretty picture. I have made sure to maximise the number of castles en route, so it’s a good one even if it’s not the right one 🙂 .

What seems fairly certain is that we will spend some time paddling round the north coast of Wales, go on a big mountain trek in Snowdonia, paddle again and do a long bike ride across the middle of Wales to get us back down south for some fun on the Brecon Beacons. I might spend half the week saying ‘oh, I’ve been here before’ as we cross and join either the routes from the Trans Wales event I did a few years ago, or my Cardiff-Holyhead Sustrans cycle tour from even further back.

I expect to be providing some blog updates as the race progresses. They won’t be posted here, but on the live race website here. This is also the place where you can track our progress against other teams or leave messages of support. If you’re on facebook you can also like our public team page here. We’re hoping to be able to publish a few updates about how we are. Since we are not allowed access to things like phones, these will come from our supporters interpreting the maps and reading between the blog lines for you, and from my boyfriend, who is working as a volunteer / marshal for the week.

The field for the race is truly international. This is fantastic. It does mean we don’t really have a clue how well we might do. Out of 36 teams I have estimated that top 20 would be an achievement, anything higher a bonus. Before that though, even finishing together still smiling and full of tall tales of derring-do and adventure will make it all worthwhile.

See you all on the other side!

Let's play "guess the route"!

Let’s play “guess the route”!

Abbiamo fatto le vacanze in Sicilia!

{We went on holiday to Sicily!}

It’s been two … now five (!) … weeks since we got back from Italy, but I am still excited about our holiday there. I’m not feeling ‘as if I never went away’!

Part of my excitement was due to the fact that I hadn’t been abroad or on a plane for about 4 years before this trip. I had chosen something both Andy and I would enjoy: a hiking trip on some of the volcanoes in Sicily.

This was an organised tour, so we didn’t have to worry about too much, other than making sure we got on the right plane at the right time 🙂 .

I am not naturally very brave with strangers, but I wanted to try out some of my Italian on holiday so I could experience talking with people other than my classmates and teacher! I decided to start the holiday as I would go on, and marched into the Hilton at Euston to ask if we could leave our bags as we were staying at Hilton Gatwick that evening. It worked! So we were free in London for a few hours, which was the one bit of holiday planning I left to Andy. This meant we ended up going for good coffee on Store Street, visiting a photography gallery and having an excellent meal at Mildred’s.

The rest of the journey to Sicily was uneventful. Once we got there, highlights included:

Walking up Vulcano and hearing and smelling sulphur steam huffing from the yellowed rocks. Did you know Vulcano is the original volcano? Named after Vulcan the god of fire, all other volcanoes are mere imitations.

Sulphur fumaroles on Vulcano

Sulphur fumaroles on Vulcano

Swimming in super clear seas (only warm enough for 20 minutes at a time though!) including a fun trip from the beach to our boat. This garnered much admiration from our holiday pals, who were easier to impress than our triathlon pals 🙂

Clear seas from above on one of our walks

Clear seas from above on one of our walks

Snorkelling for the first time. Saw all sorts of fish, a few jellyfish, a possible seahorse, luminous orange things on the rocks, spiny anemones and big sluggy things. No, I am not a marine biologist!

Speaking Italian: translating menus, ordering food, checking veggie status, translating snorkelling instructions, chatting with a random shopkeeper about Scottish whisky and even Making a Phone Call to a restaurant.

Seeing the lava flows on Etna that looked like industrial wasteland. The trip up Etna got rather more ‘exciting’ than planned. One misstep would have seen us sliding off the edge of a cliff and into an enormous caldera. Luckily we survived to tell the tale 😀 .

The 'lower' slopes of Etna

The ‘lower’ slopes of Etna

Making new friends.

A group shot of most of us on Etna

A group shot of most of us on Etna

The scents that hung in the air as we brushed past spring herbs and flowers in bloom.

Flowers

Flowers

Food highlights included cake for breakfast, ice cream, Colomba cake, pistachio pesto, hot chocolate you eat with a spoon and the paccheri alla norma on our last night.

Andy was also happy taking in the views, discovering a new-found interest in geology and putting his camera to good use. He also seemed to become a bit of a group joker … most of the time! (Just don’t ask about Etna).

I had a relaxing time whilst still staying active. Because it was a group tour, there was always someone to chat to and people to go with in smaller groups during free time.

One of the biggest things for me was the confidence I found in speaking to people in Italian. I wasn’t saying anything too complex or probably any more difficult than last time I was there, but the intervening years of study meant I could handle situations better. Only once or twice did I fail to understand what people were saying to me, and I still coped!

I’ve come back enthused about returning and plotting future trips 🙂 .

Here’s a few pics, courtesy of Andy and Anna.

Selkirk mountain bike weekend: Part 1 = MTB marathon

On Wednesday the week before the Selkirk MTB marathon I fell into a metaphorical hole. My ride to work felt laboured and the easy lunchtime run might as well have been a hard race. Thursday was no better; I missed out the end of our running intervals session and wrote ‘felt bad’ in my training log – two things that never normally happen!

I took emergency measures. I went to bed early on Thursday night, took Friday off work and spent the morning packing for the weekend, cooking up snacks and generally getting on top of a few things. Marc and Ewan picked me up at lunchtime and we headed down.

Although we didn’t need to arrive so early, it meant we got our pick of the camping spots and I had a wonderfully relaxed lead in to the event.  30 seconds of high speed racing on the rollers against Paul (organiser and Itera teammate) straight after I had eaten probably wasn’t wise, but I got over it!

I think I might be sick!

I think I might be sick!

The Selkirk MTB marathon incorporates the British MTB championships, as well as offering a sportive version of the full course and two shorter options as well. I had only entered the sportive, as I didn’t want to pay extra to upgrade my British Cycling membership and buy a race licence just for this one event. However, I was keen to get into a good position at the front of the rest of the riders as we rolled out of the town centre. The ‘racers’ get a short headstart and were already out of sight as we turned into Bowhill estate, off the roads and onto the first climb.

The route for this is course is amazing and I really recommend it! Almost all of it is off road, there are 4.5 big climbs and there is a mix of fire roads, moorland paths, built singletrack and muddy natural stuff. 75km of riding, 2100m of ascent. I dibbed in and out for the timed enduro sections, but I’m not sure why as I really didn’t enjoy them and fell off on the first one, quite badly bruising my inner thigh and knocking my confidence a bit. On the second one I decided it was quicker and safer just of get off and run down!

Caroline and I trying to push in at the front ...

Caroline and I trying to push in at the front …

After 35km and two climbs I was beginning to feel a bit weary. Goodness me – we weren’t even halfway! Luckily, I caught up with my friend Caroline here and we rode along chatting for a bit. She needed to stop and stretch, but just after that I hit a singetrack switchback climb through the forests, which I really enjoyed.

During the ride / race my plan was to work at a hard but sustainable effort throughout and to play it smart. This meant out of the 4 feed stations I only stopped at the third (to refill my empty Camelbak bladder, eat a banana and reorganise my remaining snacks). That took 7 minutes and my gps showed I was stationary for 15 in total. My guess is some of those were when I was reduced to pushing up one of the steepest hills too slowly, or when I was busy falling off! I overtook a lot of people at the first two feed stations, most of whom didn’t catch me back up.

I was also testing out some more feedzone portables. For the whole race I only ate these and a banana and drunk water. I think it was a successful combination! This weekend’s portables were: banana and walnut almond milk pastry mini pies (slightly under-done, but tasted good nonetheless), spinach and courgette frittatas (a well-tested favourite) and peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiched between layers of sticky rice. These last were new to me and I was unconvinced at first. However, during the race they were fantastic! Salty and sweet, sticky and easy to eat. The also didn’t need an oven to cook, so were quick to prepare.

Just finished - tired or happy?

Just finished – tired or happy?

Although my descending is passable (compared, say, to a roadie ha ha!), it is by no means up to the standard of most of the girls there. This meant I caught people on the climbs and was passed on the downhills. By the time we got to Innerleithen at the bottom of the last big climb, we had done 51km and I was beginning to feel a revival.

As I’ve said before in this blog, the climb up to the top of Minch Moor is one of my favourites. I started with a few other people and as we powered up I lost all but one of them, and caught a couple of others. They paused to take in the views at the top (and they are worth taking in), but I was on a mission.

My legs were feeling good now and with the incentive not to get caught, I sped along the Southern Upland Way until the final descent, which I’m sure I took faster than I normally would! Zooming under the finishing arch in top gear, I was all smiles 🙂 .

Definitely smiling now!

Definitely smiling now!

This event wasn’t one of my targets and was more of a test / training run for Itera in August. After the way I felt Weds and Thurs I was actually pretty pleased with how I rode and how the eating plan went. Out of a combined total of about 30 girls who did the long course (race or sportive) I was firmly middle of the field with the winner nearly 2 hours quicker than me! A reminder that there’s always plenty of faster people.

One final note. Marc and Ewan were the best support crew ever. They were there to organise the SMBO event on Sunday. As well as driving me down on Friday, they: adjusted my suspension forks (rebound and sag), helped check my brake pads, let me sit in the van while it rained, gave wise advice on clothing choices (short sleeve jersey and gilet, despite the forecast rain), lent me a big down jacket to ride up to the start in and throw back at them just before we left, were there as a welcoming party at the finish to say well done and take photos and, finally, stood in the slow moving queue to get my bike washed whilst I showered and changed. Awesome!

After an early dinner it was off to sleep ready for the next event – 3 hours of mountain bike score orienteering.

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