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



06:03.930 -05.898 38.339 14.343


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



05:55.857 07.812 30.266


6 05:47.974 -07.883 22.383



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



05:32.797 -19.961 07.206


10 05:25.591 -07.206 00.000


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.



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.

Where did the year go?

2013 in numbers






2013 in words

Best triathlon overall

***Trident Tri, Ripon***
Why? For great organisation, reasonable entry fee, free camping and entry to the fancy house and gardens, equitable treatment of the women’s race, fast course, cash prizes, post-race cool-off paddling pool. What more could you ask for?!

Most fun triathlon

***Craggy Island Tri, Kerrara***
Why? You get to swim to an island with no roads, race round an interesting off-road course with captive spectators and run over a hill with stunning views.

Biggest disappointment

***Slateman triathlon***
I had made this race one of my two target races for the year, but felt I under-performed compared to my capability. I learnt from it though!

Biggest achievements


  • Aberfeldy Middle Distance Tri. My second target race of the year. Despite being ill, I gave it all I could. Couldn’t have been prouder of my Scottish Championship bronze!
  • 220 triathlon magazine article published.
  • Shropshire Open 5. The series final racing with Lucy. We had been gradually improving and this was where it all came together in a fantastic performance.

Best new experience

***Dundee half marathon***
Well, I have done a half marathon before, but it was very many years ago! I entered this one at short notice and surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it and how well I did. I even squeaked into the top 10 of a proper running race with a large field!

Top 3 gripes

  • Split female waves in open-water races
  • Drafting in non-drafting races
  • Quality of veggie food options at races! (special mention to Wild Rover Food though)

Best and worst aspects of training

🙂 Mini adventures
😦 5:15am alarms to go swimming

Most under-rated form of training for triathlon

***Adventure Racing!***
I don’t know how I’d keep fit and motivated all winter if I didn’t have an Open 5 to look forward to every month 🙂

Thoughts on prizes

I really like purple Haglöfs carry-alls, snugly bodywarmers, Tricentre vouchers, buffs and beer for Andy and excuses to spend cash prizes at the women’s specific triathlon store tent. I am not so keen on free entry to a race in 5 days time, 236km from where I live.

Big Thank Yous

For coaching:

For fixing my creaking body:
Kirsty, Graham, Ola

For spectating supporters:
Andy K, mum, dad, Chris, Heili, the Weetman clan, Laure

For lifts to and from races in order of first appearance:
Tom, Ian, Glen, dad, Pete, Andy B, Andy M, Lucy, mum, Jon, Stuart, Peter, Chris, Jo, Elizabeth, Chris & Anna, Marc

2013 in pictures

East Kilbride Summertime Classic

A few years ago I dabbled in road racing but found it impossible to stay with the bunch in men’s races. There weren’t a lot of women’s only races, and you might as well enter a time trial if you’re just going to get dropped in the first kilometre!

But now there are a few more women’s races in Scotland and I wanted to support at least one of them this year. If you don’t use them, you lose them! The opportunity came last weekend, squeezed between the Celtman and the Sting. My dad was visiting and agreed to drive me over to Fenwick in Ayrshire.

14 riders started on what had promised to be a very wet day but turned into a showery day, with one little burst of hailstones. I had swotted up on road race tactics by watching the Tour de France ;-). I also expect Andy to be an expert in absolutely anything bike related, so I gave him a good grilling beforehand!

I had only entered for fun and had nothing to lose, but I still wanted a good ride. So I got in position in the bunch on about second or third wheel and stayed alert to any moves. I was nervous when I found myself in the middle of the group so stuck to the outside edge. This wasn’t so good though when I kept getting squeezed out into the road. I should have sharpened those elbows a bit better!

At the start of the second lap everyone was rolling round chatting. It didn’t feel like a race at all. So despite my resolution not to work at the front I went forward to pick up the pace a bit. People stopped talking but the group sped up and stayed together. It carried on like this every time anyone made an effort. There was a tail wind on the long straight section, a strong headwind on the hilly twisty section and no teams with enough people to keep driving the pace. This meant no break was going to get away, the strongest riders weren’t getting tired out and very few people got dropped. It was a bit frustrating as there was never going to be any other finish than a sprint at the end. I haven’t done any training for sprints!

I was feeling good on the final hills but got slightly boxed in when I might have liked to push ahead a bit. Suddenly a move went and I was in my small chainring spinning down a little dip! My legs went like a whisk and I had just got back on when they went again! I wasn’t ready! So they all whizzed away up the hill finish and I was left trailing. I caught two on the way up though, as now my chainring choice was just right :D.

Afterwards I pondered if I should have been more reckless, pushed it harder or tried a jump … even though it probably wouldn’t have been sensible. I wanted to try again and see what different tactics might work to shake things up a bit. In some ways, I wish it was a computer game where I could keep hitting replay!

I finished 6th, enjoyed myself and stayed safe. I also got a chance to chat to Elizabeth and meet some new friends, so all round it was a good day out :-).

Commuter Bike Crisis!

For many years I have commuted on my beloved Dawes Galaxy. When I first moved to Edinburgh I rode to work on a road bike, the first one I ever bought. After sitting unused for many years, that bike was finally donated to the BikeStation for recycling. There was one winter when I defected to a mountain bike, and one year when I rode ‘The Tank’. More on that later.

I had bought the Dawes in 2000 for doing a tour in Wales – the Sustrans national route 8 from Cardiff to Holyhead. Here you can see me modelling it! Since then it had done one other small scale tour in Fife. But it proved the most versatile I bike I owned for carrying all my luggage round town, being relatively fast, and withstanding everything me and the weather threw at it on a daily basis.

Me and the Dawes, leaving a campsite in Merthyr Tydfil

The highest point on the Taff Trail

Sometime last year, it started making funny noises. I sort of ignored it. Then I turned it upside down to fix a puncture and noticed the paint was peeling. Eek! A couple of months later I decided it really was time for a trip to the bike shop for some TLC. But first it needed a really good clean. That’s when I noticed this:

Frame damage 😦

Very bad news! The frame has cracked and has more than one hole in it. It does not seem safe to ride any more. A new downtube might cost £100. Not so bad, until you add in the cost of labour to strip the frame and then put all the parts back on again, the new bits it needed anyway, possible frame re-spray and getting the frame to someone to do the job. A new bike might cost about the same. But I didn’t intend to buy a new bike this year and I am sentimentally attached, however much Andy might say ‘the geometry isn’t right’!

In the meantime, I had to get a bike sorted to ride to work on. I need to be able to carry Italian books and recorders and work clothes and running kit and my lunch. I briefly glanced at my winter road bike, but with all that stuff on my back and on dropped handlebars, it didn’t seem too sensible. Then my eyes alighted on a (literally) very dusty bike in the corner. The Tank.

Gazelle Impala aka The Tank


Equipped with a rack for panniers, dynamo front light, mudguards, chainguard, hub gears and integrated lock. The ultimate in Dutch practicality. You’ll note I rode this for a year before. Why did I stop? Well, it needed a bit of work doing on it and it has one massive downside. It is really, really heavy! I can hardly get it up and down the stairs.


Anyway, needs must, so the Bicycleworks got the basics sorted out, fitted some tubes with normal valves and I was on my way. Something’s still up with the dynamo as it won’t work in the rain, and there is a new funny rattle coming from the front. But it is getting me to work and the shops and carrying my gear. I cruise around like I own the street. And I expect to have legs of steel by the time I decide what to do in the long-term!

* Incidentally – the rear panniers in the first two photos also got heavy use and were only just outlasted by the bike. This is why the new ones being modelled by The Tank are the same make – Carradice.

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