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We’ve had our eyes on the Mad Hatters races after hearing great reviews and meeting the organisers at other events, so when we saw a new long course being proposed we signed up! This was so many months / years ago though that it kind of crept up on us 😮 Luckily, we had actually done some fun swimrun adventures and a local event a few weeks before to get in the mood. We also combined it with a holiday in Cornwall exploring the coastal path and attractions at a more leisurely pace to make the trip definitely worthwhile.
The course was a linear one, starting at Portscatho and winding its way 35km along to Mevagissey.
By the time we got off the coach to the start, we were already late and were ushered to the line without ceremony and waved off! Izzy was straight out of the blocks as we dodged round a few people to get to the water and start swimming. Neither of us has done ‘enough’ swim training lately – though Izzy has done more than me and has even made it to a swimming pool! The effect of this is that we are even more closely matched than usual with Izzy definitely having a faster start, so she led off.
The race route took us in and out (and shook us all about) at some ‘interesting’ spots, including places where we had to scramble up the rocks, or use a rope to get safely down the steep slope! On one swim exit we got shouted at to go around even though we were aiming for a perfectly good looking lump of rock 😉 Another entry had a stunning little exit through a rock channel before we were out into open sea.
On the first runs, Izzy was off like a hare, showing the benefits of her interval training, so I concentrated on just keeping up and heavy breathing, no ability to chat at this stage! After the first couple of swims we started alternating, just to give the other a break, though the one behind was always getting cold as much as resting. We then kept whichever order we emerged from the water in on the run as we wound our way along the cliffs through the bracken, grass and wildflowers. It felt like a race where we really worked as a team to keep us moving through at a good speed.
As we had discovered on our mini recce trip of one small part of the course, the runs were best described as ‘undulating’ … which is to say they kept going up and down a lot: I recorded 1300m in 27km of running for the day. However, none were too long and only one had us so hot when the sun peeped out that we were grateful to get back into the water, my squealing at the shock causing some consternation 😀
My watch had a meltdown after the last event, so I had taken the opportunity to upgrade and was loving the mapping feature, helping us stay vaguely on course when there was any confusion, although it did bleep a lot to tell us to take obvious path turns.
Several of the swims involved swimming out and round a point. At the briefing we had been told that the sea was going to be very calm and perfect conditions. As it was, there was quite a swell pushing and pulling us around, which had me thinking this Cornwall lot were hard as nails describing this as ‘calm’ – they did admit later the predictions had been slightly out!
At one moment, I was leading and definitely aiming for the yellow flag. I couldn’t understand why the marshal had put it on the ground and wandered off, but was trying not to faff. Eventually realised after Izzy yelled at me that I was aiming for a lovely patch of yellow lichen on a rock instead! Likewise on another swim, I had to practically tug the cord to get Izzy to pause and agree to turn left 😀
The long 2km swim at the end had the following navigation instructions: ‘Swim out to the paddle boarder, turn left, don’t go too far out because of boats, and not too far in because of rocks. Follow the coastline until you see a beach with a flag’. We were chugging along, no beach in sight, no idea what we were aiming for but keeping the coast on our left and looking for a beach … after about 1500m we found a kayaker, who proceeded to try and educate us about currents and the tide, where to aim and the fact that he ‘didn’t think us two would make it’. This had the effect of me slightly tersely asking him to just tell us where we were supposed to be going, at which point we shot off noticeably faster 😀 . Apparently, if you’re local, you just know to aim for the colourful house on the cliff when you round the corner 🤨 !
I was still shivering after this epic when we got to run through tourist throngs in Mevagissey, swim to a small beach and ascend a very long flight of steps and up a steep road to the finish line.
Delighted to finish 5th overall and first female pair behind 4 male pairs. Even more delighted to find at the end that the sun came out, stone baked pizzas and amazing brownies from the Parent-Teacher Association were on offer and we could all lounge around outside meeting old friends and making new ones (including a large white dog that took a shine to Izzy for a while!). Many thanks to the race organisers, all the marshals and safety crew and everyone else including competitors who made it such a great day.
I really recommend this race if you want stunning scenery, a challenge and a taste of an Ötillö World Series type race in terms of length and difficulty. I also recommend that you do a proper amount of swim training in preparation else, like me, you will have difficulty putting a jumper on the next day 😀
Photo credits to James Street / Mad Hatter Sports Events – or me, if marked as such!
This was my first actual, in person race since … March 2nd 2020! Izzy originally signed up to do this with Andy, it didn’t run last year due to sea conditions. And so this year it came round, and I was the substitute partner, and it was so much fun 🙂
I actually was quite nervous beforehand, being totally out of practice with the whole process of preparing for a race day. We have a bigger (longer, larger field) race coming up, so it was actually perfect timing. It was also so good to be doing a swimrun race on our local patch in East Lothian. We do a lot of training there and it has so much potential.
The route for this event was largely an out and back, with a long swim to start with and an ascent of North Berwick Law at the far end.
With an easterly wind, the sea was quite rough. Despite doing a number of swimrun training sessions already this year, we hadn’t done anywhere near 2km in one go and we were both cold enough for the bum shake by the time we eventually got out 😀 Was fun to do such a challenging loop out to Fidra and back though.
The run and short swim to North Berwick was uneventful. The next part was unmarked, but I had gone through the route on Google street view, so we made a beeline to the bottom of the Law. Here we got mixed up in some other ultra event, but we zoomed to the top, with me doing my very best to keep up with Izzy.
It came sooner than expected, we turned around and raced back down! The final swim before the finish line was only half the length of the initial one, but we were chasing down a male pair who had just overtaken us, and also trying to make it back before risking getting swamped by the line of amassed swimmers doing the aquathlon.
We stormed out and back and made the final sprint for the line, delighted to be back racing again 🙂
Whatever way you look at we were on the ‘podium’; 3rd overall, 2nd females, 1st pair!
Thanks to Peter for putting on our first local event, which all went smoothly, to Andy for taking some photographs to record the occasion and to Izzy for being my swimrun buddy! Next stop, Cornwall!
It has all been very quiet on my blog since September! I am still here and after an arduous winter am hopefully re-emerging!
After Bantham swimun, Izzy and I went off to Cannes for the inaugural Ötillö event there. My hamstring was still a concern and sitting in the airport, I felt a bug coming on. Not to worry I thought, it was warm and sunny! We cheered Andy on as a solo in the experience race, and he came back with tales of a terrible technical descent…
On our race day I was still not feeling the best as we got on the ferry, despite several trips to the bakery / almond croissant emporium since we had arrived. We were there to have fun though, and we set off at a steady pace which we kept up all race. The start was lovely – all around wooded trails on islands off the coast. We enjoyed the long swim back to the coast, benefiting from some spotting at the start of where to go. The route from there was varied – one minute we were along the promenade dodging tourists and running past the famous cinema. Then we were up into a park above town and winding back down the steps and alleys of the old part of the city before going straight up an old tramway and down the technical chute of death (as Andy would have it called). We found this OK, but got stuck behind a much slower team. There was a queue building behind and they showed no sign of letting us past. In a different race I would have shouted at them earlier, but this time we were in no rush and just persisted until a gap appeared. Later we ran past a group of proud nudists at a swim entry / feed stop (!) before winding our way back around the coast to the finish.
The hamstring was no worse, and we celebrated with ice-creams before we went off home for some deserved rest.
It had been a couple of months packed with racing, travelling and other life stressors. In the weeks and months that followed, I was plagued with a succession of worsening viruses and a general malaise that knocked me out of kilter and at one point landed me in bed and off work. I had a disaster of a trail race, couldn’t really train, wasn’t getting outside and doing the things I loved. I got scared to go out and do anything in case it tipped me into another illness and I didn’t know what was causing it. I resorted to reconnecting the x-box for amusement and am grateful to the friends who helped me out with messages, lifts and visits and generally tried to keep me grounded.
In amongst all that we had the one and only 18/19 Open 5 event in the Lake District. I was determined not to miss it and headed down to go out with Lucy, with warnings about my maximum run ability / speed (thanks to hamstring) and general effort levels (thanks to illness). Things didn’t go quite to plan as we headed up the big hill on foot (“but that’s where all the high value controls were!”) and over-cooked the bike (“because it makes a ghost shape on the map!”). We ended up sprinting back late and I was quite emotional at the finish. Luckily, our total score was enough to get me to 10,001 series points – 1 second later and it would have taken another year! I got ill again after this race so was mightily annoyed, but took comfort from the fact that my legs had seemed to work on the bike (much-neglected of late) and my hamstring did not react to our hilly run. Really, it was also a race of true Rosemary-Lucy style…
Eventually, I went to see a specialist sports doctor / consultant, whose letter finally persuaded the GP practice to test my iron levels – ferritin (iron stores) and total iron were very low despite my haemoglobin being normal. This is a known issue for athletes and can affect performance, recovery and subsequently immune function. A bit frustrating, since I had asked for this back in November! Anyway, two weeks after starting to take iron supplements, I felt like a new person. Even when I got ill again I was over it quickly and maintained a positive mood. The Dr also gave me some great general advice (‘do all this and you will be on the same regime as Mo Farah’) – i.e. one total rest day a week (really?!), check vitamin D levels (seemed OK), sleep more than 7h a night more than 6 days a week (only 7?), eat lots of fruit and veg (have you seen our veg box?) and treat a cold with zinc lozenges.
I also went on two amazing holidays. One to the Maldives for a Swimtrek – where the sea was as warm as a pool and it was like swimming in a tropical aquarium with all the fish and other sealife. Andy loved the place and cried when he left – we also had a great group of folk to share the boat and adventure with. I had hoped the sunshine would see off the bugs, but it didn’t.
Later on I decided to cheer myself up by learning to XC ski in Norway. Some of the swimming holidays pals had egged me on to do it, and I have always fancied it (I have never done any kind of skiing before). Turns out it’s a bit harder to do then I expected, and involved a great deal of falling over! However, by the end of the week I was just getting the hang of it and wished I could stay on to consolidate … already planning my trip back next year 🙂
As spring wears on and the iron works its magic, my mood and general wellbeing is taking a sharp upwards turn. Sadly I had to withdraw from UTS50 😦 on the advice of my physio because my hamstring is still not right and I am not at all trained to do it. A tendinopathy is a real pain to sort out. ‘High maintenance’ we called it – needing to be put under strain, but not too much strain … I am now back up to my ‘normal’ weekly running distance but only just adding in any big hills. 80km / 5000m ascent is not the recipe for success at this point. There are other events I need to be in good shape for in the summer, namely an alpine trail running camp in July and Itera in August!
Instead of racing at Otillo Hvar (due to bugs, hamstring and Izzy also picking up what for her is a very rare injury), I headed to my dad’s for a sunny weekend. There I met up with Chloe (of LoveSwimRun), got some great climbing tips and actually made it up and down a mountain! I paid for it with sore legs later, but was so happy to be able to start considering such runs again, albeit still slow and with some twinges (strain, but not too much!). Really lovely to make a new friend with plenty of ideas for future adventures. Also managed to repeat the mountain thing in Italy on a mini break for one of the several 50th birthdays that seem to be happening this year, accompanied by much ice cream and pizza 😮
I’ve also been conscious I need to start biking again – swimrun training does nothing for your expedition / adventure racing pedalling legs, which are key. So I’m consciously heading to work on my mountain bike and taking the scenic route home. I no longer need lights and won’t be spooking myself in the dark or getting caught out in hailstorms!
Stay tuned for more Itera news as we head for an expedition adventure in Scotland!
Following some time off after Ötillö, the plan was to do some fun bits and pieces before launching into a winter of trail running. Unfortunately, a minor hamstring niggle I’ve had for over a year flared up – a parkrun was the last overload straw. But I had already entered this event and was booked to go and see my dad and for Andy to do his first ever swimrun, so off we went!
A week of rest and I lined up at the start slightly anxiously. The first run was straight down a hill, the sun was shining, the sea was blue and the views were great. My legs seemed fine too, which was a relief!
I have done a few coastal swimruns before and I do love them. This one is a great length for beginners as well as more experienced people, and some of the swims were a bit ‘exciting’ even for me! We swam out between towering cliffs, round rocky headlands and weaved our way through buoys and across bays. The running was mostly along the coastal paths.
Homemade flapjack at the feed station spurred me on as I tried to hold off the male and mixed pairs (I had a 5 minute head start) whilst catching as many male solos (who set off 5 mins early) as possible! I met Andy just before the second swim and even got a quick kiss! I was pleased to see he was looking cheerful.
On one of the long runs, my hamstring started telling me it wasn’t better after all, but I did my best and battered on. For so late in the year, it was actually quite warm and the final climb up the hill on the road to the finish line had me huffing and puffing. My dad cheered me in and then we did the same for Andy.
A perfect day then for lounging around, catching with people and eating the wood fired pizza that came out of the van 🙂
I was 1st female, 9th overall. Results here – but you have to filter out the people who just ran all the way – yes, it was official, as they were doing the ‘Holy Trail’ race on at the same time! Andy did well too, as he was almost inside the top third and I may have even heard him say ‘it was better than a triathlon’ !! 😉
Many thanks to Jonny and Chloe at Loveswimrun for putting on another super race. Highly recommended! And you can even extend your trip and enjoy some of the other delights that North wales has to offer. Also to photographers wildmanmitchell and SportpicturesCymru.
(for a taste of the race here is the official video. We star, for maybe 1 or 2 seconds near the end!)
Our fourth, and possibly final, Ötillö world champs was preceded by a relaxed few days in Stockholm, enjoying the scenery, eating and sleeping. We needed it as due to new race logistics, on race day we had to get out of bed when the night had barely started. It didn’t make a lot of difference, 03:30 is as bad as 04:30.
Our goal was to go faster than last year. We had a plan, which suggested sub-11h was realistic. Part one of this plan was a strong first swim to get in a good position on the rocks in case there was crowding (more teams in the race than ever before). At the last minute on the start line, I wonder if we were too far back. In fact, we were right at the back! But it was too late, the gun went and we were off.
We followed the long line of paced runners to the beach and as we swam across strongly, passing teams, I kept thinking about how much further up we might have been! But there was plenty of time to go.
We had discussed the need to ‘claim our space’ on the rocks, to let teams work their own way past. However, we moved well and were actually holding our position. On review, we made up a lot of time here compared to last year, helped perhaps by the dry rocks, but I think also our mindset.
On the first longer run it was time to pick up the pace. At the feed station we were 10 mins up on the plan. We were going so fast, so well, but at end I felt the tow suddenly go tight. I willed Izzy to hang on in there, promising a ‘rest’ very soon … and then we were back swimming and short runs through the woods and over logs.
At the next long swim we paused and could see everyone bow to the left. I aimed off to the right and we held a lovely direct line (as revealed by checking our gps trace later). At the time we could only ponder if we had been genius or insane as we approached the shore a very different way to our fellow competitors.
In and out we went until the next longer run. I was going to consult on strategy but Izzy beat me to it and asked me to take it back half a percent. She was still positive though, and I was happy. We held a fair speed and at the next check we were still ahead of plan by 10 minutes.
I break the race into chunks I can remember and next up is ‘more in and out and two longer swims’.
Part of the plan was to do the swims a little bit faster. This was generally the case, but the pig swim was slower. Compared to some other years, it was like a mill pond and not pig-like in the slightest. I can only imagine we had a wind or current in our favour last year!
At the next long one there was lots of discussion with a marshal about where to aim. I didn’t understand as the flag seemed clear. We jumped in, I checked for something to aim for on land above the flag and we set off. The flag did not appear to be coming into view and we stopped to check. It had vanished. That would be because it was attached to a boat … Izzy said ‘there’s the landing flag, just to the right of the gap!’. Ah yes the gap, that is what I was aiming for … Lesson in this … We meant very different things by ‘gap’! Eventually I corrected but it was not our finest line. The team to our left did much worse though… Not sure flags on boats criss-crossing the line of sight to the landing flag are all that helpful!
Just before the short swim to Ornö we met Josefine at the feed station, who was giving out hugs of encouragement – much appreciated to help us brace for the final big test!
We landed and I knew we had been losing time but only our 10 minute ‘buffer’ – we were now on plan and I said so. Izzy is surprised. This is when we needed to push on. I set off like a rabbit, but the tow immediately went tight. It was so hard. I knew I couldn’t maintain anything like this and my head needed to calm down and be sensible. Maybe we were paying for our earlier pace. I had worried about this, but if you want to achieve a time you have to commit.
The track was intermittently stony and we had to ease off. Then we got onto easier roads. We had cabbed down our wetsuits but I was so, so hot. I was not happy at all and ‘may’ have said rude things about this particular leg of the race, but Izzy did a great job of encouraging me and motivating us. It was so good for lifting my mood.
At the feed station I checked progress. We were now down on our plan, but there had been some slack in it. I say I think if we can just match last year’s speed from here, we can still do 11h. Objectively we were still doing well, it was better than it felt, we were catching a few teams and not getting caught. Mentally I was boosted, but physically the heat was still a battle and I felt nauseous. I am a bad weather girl!
Later our stats tell us we were slower over Ornö, not faster as planned. My dreams of a sub 11 or even better had faded. But we jumped into the sea with friends Christophe and Emmanuel and we all four whooped with delight and were so happy to be in the cool water 🙂
Here last year, the short swims were hell but now they were so still and easy. We tried to focus, though the technical terrain was now testing both mind and body.
Eventually we got out for the final run. Izzy said to me ‘clear these rocks then you can pull as hard as you like and I will just get on with it and whimper behind’. I check my watch. 10h40 with about 3.5km to go including some rocks and at least one hill. I say ‘we cannot break 11h but we will beat last year’. Then I go for it. I always like a sprint finish regardless 😉
(check this out – from 11:09:21)
We passed a couple of teams but stuck to our own thing. Izzy asked me how far to go. 2km. She managed to scoff an emergency gel without breaking stride! We were filmed for the live webcast for our last 4 mins … up that hill, on and on, both giving it everything we had. We crossed the line. I stopped my watch. I glanced down and questioned myself, knowing I had accidentally paused it at some point in the race. I looked up at gantry but it was true – 10:58:54! We smashed the last run and we were both so happy. There were big hugs, then tears of emotion from me. I couldn’t even breathe!
We sat and drank coke and got a shower. Everyone was so fast this year, our position felt disappointing. But we cannot control the competition or the weather. So we enjoyed the vibe and catching up with friends. And then we were on the boat heading to the airport for an early flight the next day.
We met our target, but in a slightly different way from the plan. I’ve got mixed feelings about this, but in the end we got it done and it is so good to get a time to our names starting 10 something … in 4 years we have taken 2h off our time, and that is not to be sniffed at.
The dream team will still do some other races together though – maybe even another one this year!
Many thanks to our supporters and this year especially to Matt at Improve My Running … I was trying my best to maintain form!
I also want to dedicate this report to our dear friend Jim, who died a week after the race. He was an outdoorsy sort who loved wild swimming. He was always up for an adventure and pushing his boundaries and had come with me to some MTB / run races. He followed our progress avidly and helped us with various training sessions. We’ll all miss his companionship and unique take on life. X
This one was the race I should have done when The Beast came and dumped snow on us instead. Fortunately, I was still able to make the new date and Damien stepped in to get me there when it turned out my lift couldn’t! We even managed to safely negotiate the clock change and arrive in very good time, if still a little bleary-eyed.
For my warm up I went and investigated the tricky singletrack section at the end of the bike leg, which I remembered from last time I did this race. Hmm, I did not do a great job, though I did see which bits I was likely to have to jump off and run down!
The start of the race was a bit of a jostle and I felt like hoards of people just whizzed away from me up the hill, which affected my confidence. All I could do was keep working at it and keep Caroline (my series rival!) in sight. Sure enough, I eventually came past her as the hill went up and up.
A flattish, bumpy and wet puddly section followed, and I hesitated as a guy came through and cut me up. I was trying to keep pedalling hard when Caroline retook the lead! More hills followed – she pulled away as I had to walk, I caught up as she walked … We entered the top of the singletrack together, which I knew was not to my advantage 😀
As she disappeared I walked / ran / scooted and sometimes even pedalled, although I also fell sideways at one point. My best moment on this part was actually riding the final corner and tree roots after working out the best line in warm up. I nearly skidded on my cleat at the dismount line and transition seemed to take forever as I fumbled into my running shoes.
I thought Caroline would be long gone, and indeed she had gained over a minute on that tricky bike section. Skills pay off! However, we were wearing matching coloured tops and I caught fleeting glimpses of her through the trees up ahead. I was trying to go fast but my shins started screaming at me. I wanted to sort of relax my legs but it was impossible, going uphill and working hard over the terrain!
The run route on this race is an out and back. We turned into the twisting uphill section through the trees and I could see no one. But when we popped out, there she was again. I think I even started gaining just a little bit to the turn and back down …
But then returning to the trees she knew where her strengths lay (on foot, as on bike!) and when we emerged she was well out of sight. I think she must have hurdled the logs I clambered over! I only saw her once more, far in the distance, so instead I focused on beating the guy I’d been going back and forth with for a while!
2nd female and 2nd in the series to Caroline, who played it smart and was better on the technical terrain than I!
I had a jolly time and was pleased to have entered again this year. Now just an Open 5 to go before all focus turns to my first big race of the year – my second ultra – 80km up and down mountains in Snowdonia. Can’t wait!
Race 4 of the winter was the first Open 5 of the season, based in Coniston. On Saturday, I took advantage of the location to recce the part of the Tour De Helvellyn I hadn’t visited recently (the race I’m doing next). It was snowy, icy and cold and progress was slow, even on my bike! I nearly ran out of time to get fed at the café, but luckily just made it.
Lucy had been properly ill with pneumonia and wasn’t sure if she would race. We arrived together on Sunday morning still undecided! I thought she would go with me … she asked ‘what if we had to finish after 3h?’ I admitted I was happy to go slow, but wanted to be out for most of the time. She decided to go solo and I last minute paired up with Jon instead. I joked that she had better not beat us …
So after planning, Jon and I set off on the run, hoping the ice would melt a bit ready for the bike whilst we were out. Straight up a hill towards the coppermines, catching a few teams and soon hitting the snow line. I thought I’d run quicker than Jon, but he was running easily as I breathed heavily. Just warming up, I told myself.
We could see Phil and Jackie up in front and we were catching them. After a delightful snowy track traversing the hillside we got to a decision point: straight across and risk getting caught in a quarry, or round the paths? We went round and soon met them coming the other way – wrong choice for us – we were 4 minutes slower!
Running along I was opening my legs out when just in front Jon skidded and thumped onto the floor. That’ll be ice beneath us then. Bit of hopping across semi frozen bogs, reeds and long grass and it was my turn to fall forwards. It was a soft landing in heather and snow, but surprisingly cold!
My tummy was rumbling, which is quite unusual mid race and suggested I really should eat. A full flapjack went down the hatch. Now we were heading off the hill and I thought it was time to go fast. I pushed myself to keep speed on the techier bits, using the sound of Jon’s footsteps just behind to spur me on. I loved running through the woods. We got to the lake and dashed back along the shore, suddenly popping out in a campsite I recognised from a race where I had totally overheated! Very different now.
I sensed Jon was dropping a little, so I backed off the pace and started looking at the bike route. It was tricky to decide which way to go round. We spent some time in transition discussing. What with that and having to take my gloves off to undo shoelaces, my fingers were frozen by the time we left.
We headed off up a road which soon became a long hill. Jon was really pushing the pace and I was working hard to keep up. Just what I needed to get the blood back in my fingers! The first half of the bike went well, nipping in and out to controls and making good progress. I was trying hard not to look at the map and to let Jon get with it instead of getting left behind. We had a slight altercation with a lady who didn’t want us on her drive (turned out this was due to a hitch in communications). I felt sorry that someone would get so emotional all day just for a few riders coming past.
We got to a control where the route to the next one was up a hill. It was a long push-up slog, through mud and ice and rocks and roots. We spent over 20 minutes getting to the control at the top of the hill and it somehow robbed our momentum. The sign on the gate saying ‘warning cattle grazing’ was true – as we came across the strange sight of some ‘panda’ cows grazing in the woods … The descent was very icy and we came down cautiously, though mostly on two wheels rather than two feet. Somehow that was another 30 minutes gone, though at least it made me ride some really rough bumpy stuff, just because I was so grateful whenever I saw an ice-free patch!
I was worrying about time, Jon less so. But then we went wrong in the quarry, mistaking the path for a river, wasting about 5 minutes. We needed to smash it, but as soon as we got to the road there was yet more ice. Oh no… This was so different to what we’d found in the first half of the ride. We had to forfeit a 30 point control near the end and still came in just over 8 mins late / 18 point penalty.
Somehow I felt a bit flat. Just when I’d wanted to let rip, we’d had to ride cautiously and it seemed we could have done better. Looking at Lucy’s score, we only got 12 points more! This despite running much further, getting wet feet and riding almost the same route backwards half an hour faster! Ach well, it was all good training, and I had a lovely day out in good company 😀 And we still did enough to get 3rd in mixed pairs. Results here.
Lucy won female solo with a score that would have won is female pairs as well. I felt sad that she didn’t feel she could have raced like that if we had been together. Though as she pointed out, a lot of the pressure comes from the self not wanting to let the other down, even if they say they’re happy to bimble. For Lucy not to race with me, I knew it must have been serious as we have got through a lot of events together ‘sub-par’!
And then we were off on the long drive home. I can recommend the services at Rheged for good food! Many thanks to all involved as always – Open Adventure (event), James Kirby (photos), Nav4 (food), Lucy, Jon and Andrea (assorted accommodation, lifts and racing with me!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!!
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!
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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?
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?
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.
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!’ 😀
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.