Open 5 North Wales
The trip down to Wales was quite eventful. I was travelling with Jim, a friend from the Wild Ones (Edinburgh’s outdoor swimming group). As we approached the summit of Shap on the motorway it was snowing hard and we were driving slowly, trying not to become one more of the various cars and vans strewn around the carriageway. Jim remarked he was anxious as it was 40 years since he did his ice driving training and some time since he’d practised in a car park. I was thinking I probably couldn’t have picked my driver much better …
We arrived at our accommodation safely, a cheerful pub with a spacious room and extensive menu. As we settled down in the bar we chatted to some guys who were racing for the first time. Their ‘main man’, an Ironman veteran, had bailed at the last minute. I joked that maybe it was because there wouldn’t be enough sun or perhaps he was worried about his shorts getting muddy … In any case, after I’d given Jim his detailed tutorial, I passed on a few more tips and we left them still cheerfully partaking of beer when we went to bed! 😀
We were so close to the registration area that we shouldn’t have needed to rush in the morning. But what with a slightly more leisurely breakfast than planned, helping Jim with route ideas, needing to get to a remote transition and the new, earlier start times, Lucy and I were almost last to start for the second month in a row.
We dithered about what to wear as it was cold standing around and forecast for rain. We started straight up a hill and Lucy’s running legs had obviously returned. I had to concentrate hard to keep up and felt a bit queasy from eating so much dinner and breakfast. I was also soon boiling and wriggled out of my waterproof as we walked a steep bit.
The hills were shrouded in cloud. As we approached a high point, I spotted a couple of Santas emerging from the mists. Then another, and another! We ran for a while mingled in with all these people in another race, before we struck out to go ‘off piste’.
The map had looked daunting with lots of tightly packed contours. But I was having a surprisingly good time, despite the fact I still didn’t have enough breath to chat. What?! Quite a change from last month! Following Lucy downhill is hard enough at the best of times. The hillside was covered in heather and bracken and her movement reminded me of startled deer bounding away at high speed. I lumbered behind, feeling my ankles go a few times before deciding to take it a ‘bit more slowly’.
We were moving well but kept debating where to go to next. Out of two controls on Lucy’s ‘optional’ list, we went for one and left the other. At the time it seemed a good decision and we came back to transition after just over 2 hours. The route was interesting and I was happy that I had been pushed hard but still had fun!
After a change of tops, still anticipating rain, we set off biking. As soon as we were up on the hill proper, the going got more difficult, with variously mud, rocks and bits steep enough to have us off and walking! Over the top we went and as we flew down the other side I wondered if I should have checked the contours more carefully when I was planning. Maybe the ‘shortest’ route wasn’t the best? We also had a decision to make about control ‘number 9’ – worth plenty of points but a bit stuck out on a limb. After changing our minds twice, we went for it, out along a fast road round the bottom of the hill.
Tom and Chris (eventual winners) flew past us, so we thought it wasn’t a bad choice. Lucy had told me about her extreme lack of sleep in the last few days. As we bowled along there were mutterings of tiredness and we might have passed a coffee place, but we only had £1 on us!
As we turned off road, the mud got stickier and deeper than anything we’d encountered so far, but we were still pedalling. It was not the same story after the control though. My wheels stopped turning as they jammed up. We were pushing heavy reluctant bikes through a mud bath of doom!
We stopped to poke the mud out with a stick and I swiped vainly at my map board to try and see through the smears. I decided we ought to have turned back, lost height and gone by the road. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and now we were committed. I kept hoping it would be better just round the next corner … A kilometre later we finally got to something rideable. Never have puddles been approached with such intention – we needed big splashes to clean some mud off!
Our route choice kept changing as we bumped down a rocky track and then decided to go the long way round via another control and a road climb, rather than retracing our wheel tracks back up the difficult way. And now we were concerned about time. With several high value controls left up on the hill, we had to go up and get them.
I was very relieved to find ourselves on a rideable track, gaining height at speed. We were tempted, so tempted, to go and do an out and back to some more high points on the ridge line. But Lucy’s sane brain got the better of the situation and we pointed our wheels down a wet grassy track, onto some more slidey stuff and eventually out onto a hard packed track we’d run earlier in the day.
The last control wasn’t straightforward to ride in and out of (or to dib without standing in a river), and suddenly we seemed to be very short of time. We hooked up the tow for the last km dash back to the finish and managed to arrive 2.5 minutes late.
Not too bad, but on reflection we could definitely have been slightly smarter in our route choices … one less run control and two more bike controls in a different order perhaps. But it’s a sign of good course planning that the ‘best’ route for us wasn’t immediately obvious. At least we didn’t have any disasters! Plus, the heavy rain never did materialise.
We were good enough to win female pairs, and 10th overall. I was also pleased about how well we were moving … still some challenges to set ourselves if we can combine both smart racing and high speed at the same time 🙂
My pal Jim did brill to finish well inside the top two thirds, with a big smile on his face as well. And this from someone who still finds mountain biking scary and proudly has ’60+’ next to his name! Our friends from the pub seemed to have a harder time of it; looks like they had some ‘issues’ on the bike and only just squeezed in one run control. But if you’re reading this, I hope you still enjoyed yourselves?!
Many thanks to James and all at Open Adventure for putting on the event, James Kirby for photos and Si Enderby for course planning. Time to go and run around in the hills in between eating mince pies 😀
Open 5 Muker (Yorkshire Dales)
It’s November already, which means it is time for Open 5s!
Following the last of the summer’s antics, I spent 4 weeks feeling endlessly tired. Then ‘ping!’, like a switch had been flicked, two weeks before this race my energy came back. I felt all bouncy, even if my running legs had taken a short sabbatical. So I was looking forward to the start of the Open 5 winter series.
Lucy had warned me of various potential impediments to our performance, the most serious of which was a sore wrist. Any little niggles I had paled into insignificance next to how I felt at the first race last year (injured). So we planned to bike first, with lots of options to bail out early if it was too bumpy and Lucy couldn’t hold on any more! We were both happy to try and run as far as we needed to.
It was a scramble to get ready on time as James had ‘put the clocks forward’ half an hour and we only had until 10am to faff! It had already started raining before we set off. So we donned our waterproofs and started almost, but not quite, last. First challenge: writing control values onto wet maps. I tested out the free all-weather pen I got at Ötillö and it did the job! We did have to adjust all our routes though, because the controls we had planned to miss were high scoring 🙂 .
Straight up a hill and I was very hot, glad I hadn’t put on a warmer jersey. About an hour later on top of a wild and windswept hill, I really wished I had. We were soaked and the rain was pelting into our faces, stinging our skin as we squinted ahead. At the very top of a hill we had to search for a control ‘on a rock’ … We must have examined 20 rocks and gone back and forth a few times with two other racers without finding it. Just as we were about to fish out the phone for a photograph to prove we’d been there, the little flutter of red and white tape caught my eye. Got it!
Time to descend… slowly for Lucy’s wrist. Slowly for me it turned out too, as my front brake decided to fail. Later it came back, just as my rear brake got all sticky. Trip to the bike shop in order.
We got colder and colder as we descended to a raging stream and old mining buildings for another control. Eating had seemed too much of a hassle with wet gloves in the cold, but we both paused to get something before turning to ride back up the hill and wait for some warmth to return.
Soon we were off the hill and could hear our voices above the wind again. This was important as we hadn’t seen each other for 6 months and had some serious chat to catch up on. Lucy kept telling me we had definitely ridden up this road or track together before – apparently in the first race we ever did together! But it all looked new to me 😀 .
We completed the second circle on our figure of eight route, picking up all the higher scoring bike controls and coming into transition after 3h:20. This was actually longer than we’d normally plan for. Luckily Lucy’s wrist had held up well enough and we were happy with our route choice. We also found the benefit of having multiple watches and knowing the ‘real time’ we had set off. One of them had claimed we had gone into a time warp and had given us several extra minutes!
After we had worked out how much time we really had left and done some transition teamwork (me tying Lucy’s shoelaces whilst she ate and checked the map), we were off again. Still raining, so we kept our coats on. I wasn’t paying attention to the route but very quickly we arrived at the river we had been warned ‘might’ be difficult to cross. After a summer of swim-running a bit of water didn’t faze me, but we linked arms for extra safety and waded over. I just about escaped with a dry crotch…
We joined up with Lucy’s friend Angus, who just wanted some chat as we hauled ourselves up a near-vertical hillside. No problems providing that! I took the opportunity of the slower pace to wolf down a chia charge flapjack – always taste good. Every time I put my hands down for support, I hit a prickly baby thistle. My calves and back were burning. But then we were up, on a rocky technical path. Lucy flew ahead whilst I did my best to minimise the size of the gap. Down to a spectacular waterfall (TAKE CARE warned the control descriptions, and we certainly did), then turning to cross the hill we had previously biked over. Ideally, the return route on the other side of the river was the one to take, with higher control values, but it was also longer and we didn’t have time.
We battled a headwind before cresting the hill and flying down the other side. My big toe (which I hurt in my last race) started complaining again, but by now it didn’t matter. We could see the finish down below us and just had to zigzag down and do a couple of wiggles and we’d be there. I was up for a sprint finish, but remarkably we didn’t need one. I slowed back down and we cruised in more than 2 minutes early! We must have been feeling off colour 😉 .
Lucy’s new yellow van was right by us, so we got the boot up and hid from the rain whilst we rapidly changed. One of the advantages of running second in bad weather is that you can finish all nicely warmed up. Before long it was back to the hall for a cup of tea, some veggie chilli and prize giving. We were delighted to have won. We had a fairly low score, but so did most other people too.
It felt like we had ridden within ourselves on the bike, but we could definitely feel our legs on the run, so perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing. I thoroughly enjoyed myself getting out in the wild and catching up with Lucy. Looking forward to the rest of the series. Many thanks to the organisers, Open Adventure, all the marshals, Nav4 for the food and Mandy for giving me a lift and braving the insane weather conditions on the way home 🙂 .
Ötillö – Swimrun World Championship 2015
After months of preparation we were on the start line for Ötillö at 6am in the gloom of early morning light. We’d already had two nights of ‘feels like we hardly slept at all’, experiencing an almighty thunderstorm back in Stockholm and an early start and nerves on Sandhamn. In our 3 days in Stockholm we had eaten enough to sink two battleships, had a delightful costume-only swim in a lake, kicked back in a sauna, gone for a 5km jog, contorted ourselves on a portable foam roller and met up with friends who popped over from Finland. We had left strange piles of empty beetroot juice bottles by the bins and scribbled all over my hand paddles. We were ready.
As several mixed couples had a pre-start kiss I felt left out … so I got a cheek-to-cheek and air kiss from Izzy! Then we were off. After running in silence for a minute or two Izzy said: “Thanks for doing this with me. I thought I should say it now in case I feel differently later”. I was equally grateful to be racing with her and couldn’t believe our moment was finally here.
As we got to the beach we looked across the expanse of sea to the next island. 1.7km, just over a mile. There was a strobe light, but as soon as we got in, I lost sight of it and just aimed for a suitable looking bit of land. We had plenty of other racers around us and were overtaking those who had set off fast. I got disorientated part way over, seeing rocks on the seabed below us. How was it so shallow in the middle?! The first time I got a taste of the water I was pleasantly surprised. It was almost like a salty sports hydration drink, and did not induce the sort of sounds that we get from North Sea mouthfuls (think; cat with a fur ball in its throat).
As soon as we got out we were in for a shock. It doesn’t matter how many photos you look at, how many videos you watch or how many people you speak to who have been there before. You can’t know how the terrain really is until you experience it. Slabs of wet, slippery rock and boulders. I am not the most sure-footed and Izzy felt worse. Our practice attempts at uneven get-ins and outs were no match for this!
Team after team streamed past us. I tried to stay calm and kept moving until the next short swim, when I slipped forwards. I could feel myself going and did a ‘superman’ move to distribute the impact, bashing my knee hard and scuffing my palms. Someone helped me up and we jumped right in the water. I felt a bit shaky and my knee was sore. I imagined I had cracked my knee cap, until I realised that was probably ridiculous and I had better just get on with the job in hand.
Some time later we had just 4.5km run to get to the first checkpoint. I checked the scribbles: we were well off our target pace. But, hang on! I suddenly realised we were cutting it fine to even make the cut-off, something I had not anticipated at all. We had 35 minutes, no problem for a normal run, but we had no idea what the terrain would be like and we had already been on the move for 2.5 hours. There was no way we could allow ourselves to go out of this race, let alone at 9am.
Soon we were breathing heavily and finding it hard to talk. When I asked Izzy to check our pace on her gps watch we were under 5 minutes / km. Panic spurred us on and we fell into transition with 14 minutes to spare. Little did we know it, but we were almost at the back of the field, with only about 15 teams behind.
From that point on I kept an eagle eye on the time cut offs. I knew we had to build more of a buffer. The effort had taken a lot out of us and we were using the tow. I was worried because I knew I couldn’t pull for the long 20km run to come. Izzy later said she had been feeling low as well, demoralised by our difficulties on the rocks.
Although the first swim had felt fairly tame, things were going to get more interesting. Several of the crossings had strong crosswinds, currents and waves. I am sure if I had been on holiday and stood on the rocks looking out to sea I’d have decided it wasn’t possible (or safe) to swim. But here we were, clambering in and setting off towards another elusive strobe light.
We already knew that small-looking waves on land can seem huge when you’re in them with just your head above water. But these appeared quite big to start with! A few times I’d turn to breathe and almost roll over, getting a wave right over my mouth and missing a breath.
We also had to aim to the right of where we actually wanted to go. This was quite fun, as you could physically feel the angle of the wind and currents against you, and by keeping this angle constant go in a straight line. It almost reduced the need for sighting! Which was useful, since half the time all I saw when I lifted my head up was water …
It felt dangerous and it felt exhilarating. Most of the time we were strong and effective and knew we were passing or leaving teams behind on each swim.
I did have one aiming glitch, when we came the wrong way round a rocky outcrop and got grounded in shallow water. After one swim I felt tired, so we swapped the lead for the next – and I apologise to Izzy for my inability to follow properly!
The second cut off came and went and now we started making good time, moving at the pace we had hoped to go at from the start. We still only had 31 minutes in hand though. We tried to be efficient in feed stations, stopping to drink two or three cups of water or energy drink and picking up food to eat whilst we walked out and kept moving.
The infamous ‘pig swim’ loomed large. I almost wished no-one had told us anything about this difficult swim! But in the briefing we were informed some people might take an hour over it. Really? For 1400m? At any rate, I was determined this would not be us and set my stop watch as we got in.
We emerged smiling and triumphant on the other side after 29 minutes of swimming. My swimming mojo had returned 🙂 . We had spectators here, cheering and handing us a Twix bar. Izzy asked me something but I could only say “I’m trying to climb up these rocks, eat a Twix and do a wee all at the same time … but I will answer when at least one of those things is finished with!” We passed through the third cut off with 61 minutes to spare.
The next section of the race is a bit of a haze. I am not sure what happened, but we slowed down somewhat. My knee was sore from both the fall and the slight injury I was carrying from an adventure race in Ireland 5 weeks earlier. We were tiring of the hard conditions underfoot. We were also moving inexorably closer towards the 20km run section, which I was more afraid of than the pig swim.
Finally we were there, 55 minutes before the cut off. I was doing a lot of mental calculations about how fast we needed to move to make the final time cut. I knew it should be OK but also knew we were both tired. Our legs were sore and quads were burning. I burbled out loud to Izzy who pretended to sound interested, in much the same way as she had when I tried to describe our swims against the wind in terms of vectors of the forces acting against us relative to our direction of intended travel …
The result was that we had to run each km in at least 8 minutes. I decided to set my stopwatch and ask for a distance check every 8 minutes. All very well in theory, though by the time we were getting to 12 x 8 and beyond, the maths was making my head hurt. Not to worry; it was a great distraction.
After 8 minutes we’d done 1.3km. After 16, 2.5km. Then a tricky section where we only covered 1km in the time slot. Soon we were back on wide tracks and asphalt roads. The km ticked by and we gained 200-300m every 8 minutes.
We rewarded ourselves with a pack of Honey Stingers (pomegranate) halfway to the first feed station. We passed through someone’s back garden and a lady with a team list shouted “Go Rosemary! Rule Britannia!” – now that’s dedicated supporting! Small children sat on the verges shouting “Heja! Heja!” and our feet fell into the rhythm of their chants.
As we stuck to our own pace, we steadily passed teams. 10 of them, in fact. I’m sure I saw a snake as we tripped along, but Izzy was beyond caring (unless it ate her, in which case, she stated, she’d be pleased it had ended the run). Enthusiasm was dipping somewhat but we pushed on, maintaining an average speed of 6:09/km, which I was pretty pleased with considering we were already nearly 50km in to this race at the start of it! To Izzy’s displeasure I insisted we wriggled back into our wetsuits before the start of the next swim, on a section that had us walking anyway. And soon we were back at the sea, the final cut off, 39 minutes to spare.
After a moment where I celebrated and Izzy greeted a playful dog, we just had the final section to go. We were going to do this thing. A bit of running, a bit of swimming.
The trouble was that we no longer trusted our legs. They were wobbly on the uneven stones and refused to work as we hauled ourselves out of each swim. The transitions we’d practised so often were getting slower and more fiddly and no sooner had we got our legs working on the ‘runs’ (walks?) it was time to swim again. Finding the route, watching for the colourful marker strips in the trees that had shown the way like a dance all day. Sometimes we couldn’t see them even as they were right in front of our eyes. Our pace had dropped again. Perhaps without the focus of the cut offs our minds were less strong to will our tired bodies on.
At last we started the final 3.2km run. We forced ourselves to ignore our screaming muscles and run properly. As we looked up ahead I remarked “oh, a phalanx of teams”. We drew closer and saw that Pippa Middleton (celebrity sister of Kate Middleton, royal, in case you’re not up with these things … ) was amongst them. Our friends had urged us to make sure we beat her, and I admit we were surprised she had still been in front of us! We might have sped up somewhat as we gunned for the line. 1.5km more and we were faced with a cruel uphill finish. Then we were there.
We celebrated, we moved forwards, I collapsed onto a bench and started crying from all the emotion. We had actually made it! We had (as is my wont) under-estimated the difficulty of the undertaking. We had our highs and lows, times when we felt weary and wondered how we’d ever finish in time, and times when we were high on the craziness of what we were doing. Now we had done it. We had finished a World Championship race and we were proud.
I won’t lie. The week after has been tough … talk about post-race blues! The body and joints are tired and achey, my knee hurts and my emotional state is unpredictable at best 😉 . The thoughts of ‘we could have done better’ are creeping in, and we have moved from ‘not next year’ to ‘maybe next year, if we could get in again’. We both want to conquer those slippery rocks that drained us of so much physical and mental energy and time at the start!
Izzy is emphatic that it is the toughest thing she has ever done (despite several Ironmans and Celtman under her belt). I probably agree: multi-day adventure races are a test of sleep deprivation and endurance but the intensity is much lower.
I still keep reminding myself that only 1 in 4 people who want to do this race are selected to start. We swam 10km and ran 65km in one day. Two things I have never achieved before. I will hold onto those facts, even though they seem unreal 🙂 .
Many thanks to our sponsors and supporters for this race: Head (wetsuit and goggles) Gococo socks (blister free compression heaven) and BeetIt (nitrate power). It has been pointed out I should thank my long-suffering colleagues, friends, family and boyfriend for putting up with almost a year of Ötillö chat, trials and tribulations. Also my coach, Scott, for his sage advice. And finally, my straight-talking physio Graham, who has endless patience, a cheeky sense of humour and without whom I might not have even made it to the start line.
Now all we need to do is recover enough to do it all over again at Loch Gu Loch – a Scottish equivalent based around Loch Ness, but slightly shorter. Then I can get my bike back out and slide gracefully into winter racing.
According to the race briefing notes 🙂
“And by “I don´t have a partner” I don´t mean match making but a partner for the race. Use our FaceBook page for any last minute replacements or requests. Who knows what a new race partner will lead to though…”
This bit was easy. Izzy and I are racing at Ötillö in September and we needed to practice! We chose Borås swimrun, to the east of Gothenburg. It fitted our schedule, was relatively cheap and easy to get to and a good first race distance to try. The format was similar, but instead of swimming between and running across islands, we swam in little pools, zig-zagged across a large lake and ran up a lot of hills. Overall, 14 runs totalling 29km and 13 swims totalling 5km.
Unfortunately, Izzy got sick on Monday night before the race and didn’t eat for two days. Luckily, by Thursday she had enough energy to pack, but even at the airport on Friday she was feeling a bit unsteady. Uh oh! Saturday’s plan was to eat and eat …
“For a complete information regarding accommodation please visit http://www.borasboras.se. Yes, that´s right, TWO Borås in that web address – that´s how awesome Borås is!”
Well, we didn’t use the website because a friend at my Italian class had told us all about airbnb. I’d never heard of it before, but after a quick search, we were booked in to stay with the lovely Peter and Monica just outside town. More on their generous hosting later, but this worked out really well for us.
“And for the love of God, make sure to cut your wetsuits above the knee joint! You´ll thank me after the race…”
Almost everyone at Ötillö chops the arms and legs off their wetsuits. This makes it easier to run, reduces the risk of chaffing your bendy bits (backs of knees, insides of elbows) and means you can easily pull your wetsuit off your upper body to run if you want to.
Despite laughing when I read a race report from last year, where the competitor had chopped their wetsuit at the start line, we found ourselves with this job still to do on Saturday! One of the advantages of staying with a family was we could ask to borrow scissors. Even better, Monica works with textiles and is a designer, so we got a proper pair to use!
We spent all morning drawing lines on our suits and cutting bits off them. This was followed by some intensive dry land transition practice, which was when Peter arrived home. We hastily explained why we were running round his house, joined with a bungee cord and wearing wetsuits, pull buoys, swimming hats and goggles. He just looked slightly bemused 😀
“We won´t, however, distribute smaller race maps for you, the competitors. In our experience they don´t really serve a purpose and are never looked at. To keep track of the course we recommend you to write down all the swims and runs on your hand paddles or fore arms. Maybe even get a tattoo with it.”
We had hired a car so it was easy to drive out to the race area in the afternoon and have a look around. We went on a little walk round some of the course, and I studied the maps. It was all becoming clear what we had to do, though looking down the lake and knowing we would be right at the far end, out of sight, was a bit daunting!
I also wrote all the route stages on a small piece of paper and laminated it in an unused membership card holder. After I had done that and looked at the map many times, I had the route firmly ‘tattooed’ onto my mind!
“Weather: We will have weather”
We could feel the wind buffeting the car on the way to the start on Sunday morning. But when we arrived the lake (Öresjö) looked fairly calm. I mused that perhaps further down, it would be less sheltered and the wind would have got some waves up. I wish I’d been wrong!
The water hadn’t warmed up as much as the organisers had hoped, so the long swim at the end had been shortened. We did still have to do 5km in total, with one leg of 1.3km. The water was about 11ºC. Cold, but not unlike our training conditions. Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet swum in a wetsuit with missing bits, but there was nothing we could do about that now!
“Since we have a lot of teams on hand and a very narrow beginning of the first run, we´ll send off every category separately to avoid any unnecessary queuing. If you still end up queuing you may consider this a blessing in disguise as the first run features an ascend of 120 metres. SMART PEOPLE WALK THE START (official race slogan)”
With about 10 minutes to go we were standing in all our kit ready to go and listening to the briefing. I was looking at everyone else’s clothing and kit choices, to see what we could learn. Suddenly I noticed timing chips on people’s ankles. Argh! Where was ours?! Izzy sprinted back to the car to retrieve it just in time!
Then we were on the start line. Izzy suddenly said to me ‘Don’t go charging off at the start!’ I looked at her, surprised. ‘But I thought that’s exactly what we’d agreed to do, to avoid the queue on the hill?’. ‘I’ve changed my mind’ she said, and I could tell from the look of panic on her face that I’d better listen! So we ran to the hill at a steady pace and walked up.
It was really not a bad strategy, as for the next hour or so we just steadily caught and passed team after team. We didn’t need to ‘burn our matches’ so early in such a long race.
I was sure that we could save a lot of time just being smooth in our transitions. As we neared the top of the hill, I knew the first short swim was close. We went through the routine we’d rehearsed the day before and would repeat throughout the day:
‘zipped up?’ / ‘zipped!’
‘unlooped bungee?’ / ‘yes!’
‘goggles on?’ / ‘goggles on!’
‘paddles ready?’ / ‘ready!’
Then, right at the water’s edge: ‘pullbuoy round?’ / ‘yes!’
‘OK, in we get … ready to go?’ / ‘let’s go!!’
The middle section of the race was one of the hardest. After a number of shorter runs and swims, we had our first big crossing of Öresjö. We were swimming well, despite the waves hitting us from the right. I seemed less thirsty after the three big swims, probably due to the amount of lake I accidentally swallowed! This won’t be so convenient in the sea water of Ötillö.
We overtook a lot of people here, but at one point I started to feel cold and irrationally panicky. I reminded myself of the race briefing: ‘if you get cold, keep swimming!’. I was very relieved to make land on the other side. I think we were being filmed as I shouted ‘we made it!’. A short run round a hill and we were heading back across the lake. It didn’t seem so bad the second time.
“from reading the rules on our web site you should know that your biggest security out there will be your partner. And vice versa. Stay together!”
We were racing using a bungee tow cord. This is quite standard in adventure racing but a strange concept to many triathletes. In the water, it kept us close together. When it was busy, it meant we didn’t lose each other. When we had to cross wide expanses of open water, with the wind whipping up waves and creating white horses it was reassuring for me to know Izzy was never more than 3m away. Practically speaking, by removing the need to keep checking on where we each were meant one less thing to think about. This was significant when also trying to breathe, sight and swim fast enough to stay warm!
We did learn it was easy to get tangled up in a bungee when getting out though – something we’re already thinking about how to fix!
The second use is on land, if one of the pair is feeling stronger than the other. I was towing Izzy behind me, feeling the tug on the cord as I gave a helping hand. A race like this is all about teamwork and getting to the finish line as quickly as possible – but still together!
“All race officials will wear yellow vests with a Borås Swimrun logo on them. Be nice to them! The race officials that is. Not the vests.”
As we passed spectators and aid stations, the support was amazing. Every time, people cheered and clapped and shouted. Many things were said to us. Here’s our quick guide to conversing in Swedish during a race:
|They say||You say|
|Anything that sounds cheerful, enthusiastic or welcoming||Hej hej!|
|Anything preceding the offer of food or water, or showing the way||Tack!|
|Anything that sounds like important information||OK!|
It was funny when we’d get into the water and Izzy would ask me ‘did you get all that?’. I’d say ‘um, swim to the red flag?’ … I wondered what else there was to say. Perhaps, watch out for killer piranhas?
After running up and down another hill it was time for the longest swim, of 1.3km. The house and garden we were aiming for looked obvious when we started. But soon we seemed to lose sight of other competitors, and sometimes I couldn’t see where we had to go. Each time I sighted, I might see the house we were aiming for, or I might get a view of nondescript land or a wave instead! Halfway over I felt a bit alone and had to stop to double check we were going the right way. We were. My pullbuoy kept working its way down my leg, which was annoying.
At last we could see the landing flag clearly, but there were reeds between us and it. We tried to swim through but they were sharp and unyielding! How frustrating. We had to detour upwind to get round them. Other swimmers came in higher than us and were fine. If there’s a next time I’ll remember this!
Then we hit another patch. They looked smaller this time and we wanted this swim to be over. I could feel my buttocks shaking, whether from cold or tension, I wasn’t sure. We just barged through this time, getting scratches on face, arms and legs. Izzy, who was behind me, seemed to emerge less scathed – perhaps my paddles had hacked a path through!
“DNF (did not finish): Do not DNF.”
We were out, running, but soon back to a river. We got some more unintelligible instructions, but it turns out these ones might have been important. I just got in and started going upriver. I’d told Izzy this was a short swim, and distance-wise, it was. But the current was strong, and the water tasted funny. We kept hitting logs beneath the surface and I saw some people resting at the sides. It was taking forever to get anywhere and I was desperately looking for the exit round every bend.
Soon enough, up ahead I could see fallen trees blocking the way, and a clutch of other racers. I paused to tread water and see what was going on, but was getting dragged backwards! This was quite scary, so I powered forward and caught onto a log. It moved and I had to let go as it floated away. Then I grabbed another and hung on, feeling my legs pulling away from me downstream until Izzy was there too and we could talk. Everyone was getting out, so we followed them and made our way along the shore briefly before jumping back in for a short stretch.
Suddenly we were at an aid station and a timing mat. There were loads of people shouting and cheering. I felt dazed and slightly traumatised!!
“When running on a road, a path or a trail we won´t have as many markers. The rule follows; ”keep running forward until a sign tells you otherwise!” If you, by any chance, find yourself running on said road or trail for a very VERY long time and/or the sun sets, chances are you´ve run the wrong way. Turn back and run back the same way you came. If, on the off-chance someone actually do run the wrong way, we´ll have ice cream for you in the finish area, a free start for next year, a compass and a shoulder to cry on. DON´T RUN THE WRONG WAY!”
As we approached aid stations we’d check what we doing. Were we stopping, and what for? This way we could coordinate and move on quickly without getting annoyed with each other or wasting time. We did carry some food and water and were testing how well this worked. We learnt: soft bottles down a wetsuit leg can easily work their way out. A hard bottle in a flipbelt stays put but is slightly awkward to get in and out. Pockets on the backs of jerseys are hard to use. Pockets in the fronts of wetsuits are easy to use.
I was surprised how difficult it all was. Stuart, a former Ötillö racer, had warmed us that the constant in and out of cold water and change of activity was hard, and he was right. Throughout the race, there was so much to think about. Keeping track of the stages, knowing when a swim was coming up and preparing to transition, planning around aid stations and sighting on the swims. All this will have taken energy and added to the physical demands of constantly getting cold and having to warm up again. It was definitely not the same as swimming 5km then running 29km!
On we pressed. This is the first time Izzy and I have raced together. I was looking for clues about how she was feeling; in footfall, breathing, talking and the amount of pull on the tow rope. As we moved along the longest run sections, I could tell she was finding it hard as well.
Even so, we were still steadily catching and passing quite a few male pairs. Despite how we felt, the results show that we were strong in the section after the timing mat, making up ground on (though not catching) the team in front of us, and moving away from the team behind us.
A random short swim across a pond and back was actually a relief, despite us forgetting to zip up our suits. I knew the end was in sight from here, and kept pulling Izzy along and trying to crack jokes. I think I managed one or two laughs, though my ‘chariots of fire’ rendition near the end may have left something to be desired!
“podium placings will receive nice prizes and a lot of admiration from everyone else.”
We had absolutely no idea where we stood in the placings. It’s possible that some of the excited cheering was telling us something, but we didn’t know. Even if we’d kept track at the start it would be impossible to see who was passing who on the swims.
About an hour before the end, I thought I’d seen a girl climbing out in front of us, but wasn’t sure. I knew in any case that we were going as hard as we could, and that what seems close in the water can be much further on land. I decided to minimise potential stress and kept quiet.
As we finished, we got a hug and medal from the race director. Then he told us ‘you are 3rd female team!’. We were ecstatic and hugged each other and jumped up and down and hugged him again, even though we were wet. In fact, the 2nd placed girls had been just two minutes in front and had known we were behind, so had felt the pressure! 1st place were a long way ahead. We were 15th overall out of 80 finishers, though several teams had to withdraw due to the cold and plenty of others appeared not to start at all. Full results here. We were delighted. This was our first ever swimrun, our first race as a team and we did it off the back of a bad week for Izzy.
We also learnt so much that will help us in September. Right now the thought of doing double that distance is daunting, but at least we are prepared!
“You´ll get some delicious food served after finishing the race.”
“We’re vegetarian. Do you have anything?”.
“You like pasta, yes? You could pick the chicken out?”
Er … No thanks, maybe we’ll just go and buy a cake and drink tea out of a glass before heading into town for a giant Thai tofu curry!
We got home tired but satisfied. Peter and Monica had put the sauna on and we were soon indulging in ‘therapeutic’ heat treatment. Something we’d have never got elsewhere!
Many thanks to our sponsors and supporters. Especially Head, whose wetsuit was invaluable and designed for the job. Also BeetIt for giving us the best start and Chia Charge for on the move nutrition and post-race protein bar. Next time we should also be wearing Gococo compression socks – more on those later!
Finally, thanks to Jonas Colting for putting on a great race. I’m sorry I was concentrating too hard on everything else to admire more of the scenery. But he did the most entertaining briefing notes I’ve ever read and everything went smoothly. Prizes were running shorts from Salming and free entry for next year. Let’s see how we feel about that later! 😀
Haglöfs Open 5 – Peak District
The final of this winter’s Open 5 series was in the Peak District. Practically ‘home ground’, as Lucy grew up near here and Andy lives ‘just over the hill’. Unfortunately Andy was away working on Saturday, so I came down and stayed with Lucy and her dad instead.
I was annoyed to have forgotten to take my Feed Zone Portable snacks out of the freezer, but Lucy had some recipes and ingredients for other treats. I was also suffering from muscle complaints. A sore shin had appeared on Monday (I thought ‘what would Graham (the physio) do?’, the answer: rest, ice, gentle massage), plus an achey hip and a funny back muscle getting out of the station. I was getting paranoid, but had a happy evening chatting and constructing what were, in effect, homemade Nakd bars. Soon I had forgotten about aches and pains and it was time for bed.
Next morning I woke up and the first thing I noticed was a parched and sore throat – uh oh! We set off almost on time, but still had to park in the slightly more distant parking area. The map was interesting and we had quite a bit of discussion about it. We also debated what to wear (cold in the wind, warm in the sun, rain forecast later) and engaged in our usual faff.
We did manage to set off a little earlier than normal, but not much! We also decided to stick to ‘tradition’ and ran first. Lucy has obviously much recovered since the previous two races as we were speeding. I was back to my usual position i.e. following. But I was keeping up and enjoying the trails. We had what felt like hundreds of little gates with latches to fiddle with and stiles to clamber over. I paused to avoid Lucy’s trailing leg each time and then scampered after her.
We only had two minor hiccups. First, Lucy’s plaits fell out! This is the only time we’ve had ‘hair issues’ in a race, though I was also keeping my buff on to keep mine in place as I really need a cut! Next we made one small nav error, quickly corrected but to the puzzlement of a couple with a dog. We ended up running past them three times 😀 .
We chose to go for an ‘optional’ 10 pointer, adding about 1km to our run. Just after that we caught up with two guys on a stretch of road. One of them clearly decided to race us and picked up the pace. Lucy responded and I came up next to her. His pal was getting left behind. We did not slow. I thought: ‘you’re just leaving your partner behind, and did you know we can comfortably keep this up for another hour?’. As we crossed a stile into a field, they both disappeared behind us and we had a little chuckle about it. Sorry guys!
The hill was tough, but the ridge was fun with the wind behind us. I tripped for the second time in the race and sprawled onto the ground, my map blowing across the hill in the gale. Luckily Lucy caught it and we were off again. Down the final hill my knee was a bit sore and I became more cautious. Lucy had to wait. But when we got to the road we were pushing along to the final control.
We came in after 2h9mins. A little longer than planned, but not unreasonable and my shin had been fine :-). I’d had a few looks at the bike map on the way as I was concerned about getting caught at the end. We wanted to go round clockwise to enjoy the best descents and the easier (better surfaced) climbs. But this meant leaving a committing big hill at the end. After a quick discussion, we made a decision before we set off to drop a control early on.
On the first very steep hill, Lucy stormed up whilst I got off and pushed a bit. “Good effort!” I shouted, but Lucy responded “I’ve got other issues now!”. Put delicately, we had some severe ‘lady pains’ to deal with. Cruising and downhills were fine, but efforts were impossible. Sadly our first aid kit had no pain killers, so we are very grateful to the fellow competitor who gave us some paracetamol whilst Lucy rolled on the ground in front of a bemused photographer. A technical downhill that had me walking more than once cheered Lucy up a bit, but some more on-the-floor manoeuvres were carried out whilst we waited for a mountain biker to rummage in his bag for Ibuprofen. He couldn’t find them! So we carried on and implemented use of the tow on the uphill tracks and on the roads.
We were making fair progress now and feeling more chipper, but decided to miss an awkward control for 10 points involving extra climb and instead bombed along a road. About 10km to go, an hour left and our average speed so far was over 13km/h. Looking good!
Unfortunately, halfway up the next hill it started raining. We came out of a small valley onto an open, flat and exposed moorland just as the heavens really opened and the wind got up. We were battling straight into the gale and were staring at the tarmac under our wheels as hailstones clattered off our helmets. I knew we had to turn right when the bike computer said something-point-two km, just after some trees on the left. But we couldn’t check to see the turn off by just looking up, and we seemed to be barely inching forwards. I managed to stay upright (I’d already been blown off once, earlier on) but we were both having trouble riding in a straight line.
Eventually we got to the control in the corner of a wall. We decided to duck down and throw our coats on even though we were already soaked to the skin and ‘nearly there’. It helped, but I went from ‘OK’ to shaking with cold. Suddenly we felt we had to get back very urgently. We knew we’d now have to miss an accessible control on Mam Tor and just return as soon as we could. There wasn’t even any debate. Hands were frozen and on the next uphill headwind section Lucy couldn’t even hold the tow. I tried to push her instead but it felt like a loosing battle against the elements. Scientific studies show that swearing can make you feel better, so we turned the air uncharacteristically blue until we turned with the wind and headed downhill for the final run back to the big yellow finishing arch.
We actually came in 3:40 minutes late, despite missing a control at the end. Thank goodness we’d also chosen to be slightly conservative earlier on!. But oh how we’d wished we’d set off earlier in the morning 🙂 . The finish area was almost deserted and the marshals told us people had been bailing out early. We’d had no choice! We rushed to the car but had to ask someone else to undo our buckles to get at the keys. I haven’t been so cold all winter. After a rapid change and some hot veggie chilli I was feeling better, but excessively tired!
We won our category, came 11th overall again and won the series. Full results here. I also think we had one of our best ever runs in an Open 5 together. When I got back home I was feeling a bit ropey and by Monday morning had a full blown cold. That would explain the sore throat and some lacklustre training the week before – but I’m just grateful it didn’t arrive a day earlier!
Thanks to Haglöfs for sponsoring the series, their kit is really great for outdoor adventures. Also to Open Adventure for the events, James Kirby for photographs and all the marshals and course setters. Looking forward to the next lot already!
Haglöfs Open 5 – Yorkshire Dales
I am still slightly bemused about how well this race in the Yorkshire Dales turned out for us. In the days and hours before the start, I was getting messages from teammate Lucy such as: ‘I think I might be able to do 5 hours’, ‘this is damage control’, ‘I’m totally broken’ and ‘I wouldn’t have made it here if it was just me’. Yikes. I wasn’t feeling 100% tip-top myself, having had a funny tummy for a few days, feeling lethargic and carrying around a hip that was still grumbling from last week’s round of fun. However, I did feel fit and was able to muster up enough enthusiasm for two of us!
The weather forecast was due to be wet and cold, getting worse as the day went on. Normally, we’d run first, but this would mean getting hot and sweaty and wet in the rain (I can’t run these speeds / distances in a waterproof!), only to get on a bike and freeze. It’s much harder to generate enough heat to stay warm when you’re cycling. For this reason, we switched round and biked first. As it was, we got dry weather until just before the run started but then it got pretty bad – perfect!
At the start lots of people couldn’t decide what to wear, Lucy included. In the end we both played it safe – I wore a coat for the bike and she had on full waterproofs, top and bottom! It was a good move though. I was under no illusions about what was required today: conservative, steady and, apparently, fun! We both stayed warm all race, which psychologically and physically was what we needed.
We had drawn up a proposed route for the bike, and after we got the control values decided to tweak it only slightly and to go round in the opposite direction, collecting more higher value controls on the bigger hill first. There was more road riding than we sometimes face, but when we did go off road there were some high quality bridleways. Limestone all the way! We were particularly pleased with ourselves as we blasted down a long bumpy hill, passing people walking up and knowing we had gained most of our height on a road.
Lucy was right that she didn’t have her usual zip up the hills, but we were moving much better than last time. We didn’t even resort to using the tow. I thought it was better to conserve some energy for the run so long as we were moving smoothly. I nipped ahead at gates to hold them open and let Lucy get a head start if I needed any map checks! We were also fortunate this month that our route looped back close to the transition area and had loads of shortcuts if we needed them. We didn’t, but the knowledge was reassuring.
The instructions I was given at the start could not have been clearer: “Rosemary, you’re taking us on a 3h loop, and nothing more. NO ‘let’s just go …’ allowed!”. Consequently, as we neared the end of our loop and had the option of a 3km (total) out and back for 15 points, we let it go and carried on round.
Just under 4km from transition, Lucy cried out that her rear tyre felt bouncy. Whaaat?! A puncture! Darn. We whipped out the pump and blasted some air in, hoping it would only go down again slowly. Lucy set off, I got my kit back in the bag and chased after her. Halfway back, I could see it getting squidgy again and the extra drag was having a detrimental effect on the little rises we still faced. We really didn’t want to stop again, so I gave a push up the last hill and we gingerly slid into transition. Phew!
Somehow, even despite this minor mishap, I achieved the impossible and got us back a ‘little bit earlier than expected’, a turn of phrase which does not normally enter my vocabulary. 2h50, plus 5 minutes to transition. Time to hit the run.
We adjusted our plans due to the control values, then set off cheerfully. As we dibbed out, we told the chap who had gone out of the wrong funnel to watch us professionals to see how it’s done. Then we promptly went the wrong way, much to the amusement of the marshals. We like to entertain!
We left one optional out and back only worth 10 points, but went for the other. Lucy vetoed crossing the cool looking stepping stones; probably wise! Heading up the first hill, we were walking, which is most unusual. I felt a bit anxious that we’d need to move faster than this, but Lucy’s heart rate wouldn’t rise and there wasn’t much we could do about it except chat and keep cheerful.
There were a few interesting controls on the run. The first was at the base of an amazing waterfall, that you couldn’t see until you were right there. I admired the view whilst stopped for the longest wee EVER, while Lucy started back up the hill. Soon we were at the top, running along a short stretch of road as it started snowing! This was fun. Slight mistake going into the next control, but nothing serious and we were heading into a cave. I half expected to see James the photographer here, but he had already been and gone.
Lucy can always fly down the hills, and the reward for all that up was that we were now going down. We cruised alongside a railway to another unusual control location – inside an enormous kiln. I wish we’d had time to explore and read the info board! As we padded along next to the river I sensed that Lucy was tiring a bit. The solution was jelly babies and getting the tow out for the last hill. The second unheard of event of the day, as we hooked up the ‘wrong way round’. This is a strange sensation for me. The little tugs I could feel on the tow were hardly noticeable, but my legs were telling me that they were indeed working harder.
Now it was really snowing, we knew we had nearly finished and spirits were high. Earlier on, some people had remarked on our level of chat as we went past on an uphill, and we weren’t stopping now. Lucy was navigating as well as ever and we flew down a hill, past a control and James with his camera. We could see the event flags, but we had a little detour for one more high scoring control in a narrow tunnel under the road. By now we knew we’d be getting back early, but we kept running just in case time mattered. We came into the ‘back’ of transition and found it amusing to make sure we ran round under the big yellow arch to finish.
Third unheard of thing – we were back 7.5 minutes early! We knew we had a good score, but weren’t sure if it was because the course was a bit easier than usual or whether we had done well. We didn’t feel as if we had been ‘smashing’ it. But what really mattered today was that we had definitely met the FUN criteria. Our bikes and other transition kit was rapidly disappearing under the falling snow and it was a second race to get changed into dry warm kit before a chill set in.
Our category was the first to be announced at prize giving, so we were on edge, not having a sense of how our score compared. But we ended up winning by a clear margin of 44 points, and finishing 11th overall. We’re usually over the moon if we make it into the top 10, so we are pretty pleased with this result! And the race back to the finish meant we beat the leading female solo – who had the same points as us but came in 13 seconds later 😀 .
On reflection, our performance in this race far exceeded our expectations. I wonder whether moving at a consistent fair pace, combined with a commitment to stress free racing, helped us make better tactical choices. We might have been able to squeeze out 10 more points or so, but we made the right decisions for us at the times when we were faced with the options that would have got us those points. In any case, it all worked out. We will go into the last race as series leaders, but Sue and Louise are not far behind, so it will still be all to race for!
As we tried to leave the race HQ the snow was falling hard. The steep little hill was too much for a van and we had to wait a while for them to be pushed out and for a tractor to clear the road. My friend Kim wasn’t sure of her snow driving abilities. We all lined up along the drive as if we were in a time trial. As we approached the line nerves were running a little high. The marshal waved us through as did the spectators along the verges! Luckily we made it to the top unscathed and had a very scenic drive home.
As usual, thanks to the organisers (Open Adventure), course planner (Chris Maudsley), volunteers, photographer (James Kirby) and series sponsor (Haglöfs). Also to my mum for having a perfect dinner on the table when I got in!
Bowhill Long Duathlon
It feels like it’s been a long time since my last race. I could pretend this was because my physio had drummed into me the message that I should spend time ‘building a base’ whilst letting my hip recover and not always interrupting training with another hard race. But really it was because there had been nothing on for a month! 😉
I had been anticipating this, the last race in the Bowhill duathlon series, for a while. I had won the previous two, but knew I would still be under pressure for this one. To make me even more nervous, The Adventure Show from BBC Scotland would be there filming for their next programme. Gulp.
By the time we got to race morning, I was more than a little nervous. To compound this feeling, Glen was a bit late arriving, then we headed off down the A1 … which does not go to Bowhill! After a rapid correction including a sneaky back road that Andy knew, we got there not quite early enough for the good car park, but only just down the drive 🙂 .
No sooner had I started queuing to register, than the camera crew asked me to go over for an interview when I was ready. They had lots of questions, and I talked a lot! As soon as I walked away I started thinking ‘why didn’t I mention ….?’ Since I definitely remembered telling them that it was important to warm up for such a short race, I headed out on my bike to ride up the hill and down the last technical section, plus a bit of the start climb to keep warm. This also helped me to calm my nerves and ignore irrational thoughts about my back tyre going flat.
I always find the mass bike start tricky but soon got into a rhythm climbing the hill. I didn’t really appreciate someone riding into me sideways, but I stayed upright. Twice I jumped off and ran steep bits before going on. There were lots of muddy sections, as usual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t wet enough to have washed away or got to firmer ground underneath, and it was not cold enough for it to have frozen. So we were often riding through a sticky gloop that grabbed at my tyres and pulled me this way and that.
I felt more anxious than usual descending. I’m not sure why; perhaps it was a heightened sense of not wanting to crash out or maybe my head was just not quite in the right place. Still, I attacked the hills and passed a few guys. At the end it got technical through the woods. I walked a short section but was then riding again. At a tricky corner, I was just about to put my foot down and scoot, when someone yelled ‘well done, keep going Rosemary!’. It was just what I needed as I thought ‘I can do this’ and rode on down :-).
Into transition I knew I was first girl, but didn’t know what sort of lead I had. The film crew were there interviewing me as I tried out using a little shoe horn for the first time and got it back to front! They asked if I felt confident about the hat trick now, but I said you never know until the finish, and I meant it.
Off I went, determined to run well. Despite what it may seem, I *have* actually listened to the physio. Injuring my hip has been a good thing. It made me go back to basics and build up properly. Although I’m not totally fixed yet, I’m well on the way and I’ve had several weeks of consistently running a lot more often and a lot further than I have for many years. Our Ötillö race entry is also helping motivate me to keep going out in the dark and cold. Slow it may mostly have been, but it has really improved my running.
The course goes up and down, then up a lot more before coming back the same way. My feet kept falling into soft muddy sections, which dragged you in just when your muscles were burning from the effect of cycling! Up we went, clambering over fallen trees and picking the best lines. I didn’t walk a step, even when it got tough. I never knew whether there’d be someone behind me spying a weakness!
I collected my lollipop at the top, waved at the cameras, noted my time and started descending. The next girls I saw going the other way were Caroline and Elizabeth. From pervious form and races, my guess was that Caroline was moving up the field and had just overtaken Elizabeth, which turned out to be the case. Last year, Caroline caught me on the descent and I couldn’t respond. This year I estimated I had about a 4 minute lead. Would it be enough?
Through the trees again and a clubmate came past, nimble like the deer I had seen racing across our path earlier. I decided it was time to take a few risks and let go a bit, so I did my best to keep up with him. He was slowly pulling away, but I was actually having fun and it was enough to keep me motivated. I also got in a mini battle with a guy in red and yellow. He’d catch me on the downs only to drop back on the ups!
The final hill is the sting in the tail of this course. I allowed myself one or two glances over my shoulder to see if there were any Caroline-shaped people coming behind, but it all seemed clear. I wasn’t taking chances though and pushed on, even managing a sort of sprint finish. Hurrah!
Deziree from The Adventure Show was there for a post race interview, though there was an awkward moment where it seemed like I was supposed to talk but I hadn’t been asked a question! I just started anyway, but who knows whether I made any sense. Pretty soon Caroline came in, followed by Elizabeth. It’s always nice to have a podium of friends 🙂
I hadn’t really noticed the rain and snow when I was racing, but got cold much more quickly than normal. I dived back to the car to strip off wet things and get warm and dry, though my lips stayed purple for ages!
The post race analysis of results made happy reading. My bike time was almost the same as last year, but my run was more than 8 minutes faster. This is over a 9.6km course. Somehow I placed better (out of everyone) on the run than on the bike (by two places). This is unheard of for me! I’d like to have biked faster, but maybe I had left more in the tank to do well on the run. It can be a balancing act between the two disciplines. It’s a fabulous feeling to think maybe I could discover that inner runner again, instead of seeing it as an inherent weakness.
I’d like to thank everyone at Durty Events for putting on the series again and keeping us all happy with never-ending mud supplies. Also to Glen for taxi services and various photographers. At this race in particular, I noticed loads of people cheering me on by name, even people I didn’t recognise. Thanks to you all, as it does make a difference! A great race, lots of fun, I lived up to the pressure of expectation (my own, mostly) and I left much more chatty than when I’d arrived 😀 .
Full results for the race here and the series here.
Photos this time from Andy Kirkland, David Hogg and RM Photography.
Exciting Race News!
Have you heard of Ötillö?
People have been asking me for a few months what my plans are for this year. I’ve had to hum and ha, because I knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know if I would be able to do it.
Ötillö is the SwimRun World Championship held in the Stockholm archipelago. In a team of two, you start on one island at the top and make your way across over 20 more, swimming between them and running across them until you get to the end!
This is the 10 year anniversary. The race is hugely popular and over-subscribed. There are three ways to get in:
1. Qualify in one of four set races
2. Selection by merits
3. Random draw
After I set my heart on this race, the first challenge was finding someone willing and able to do it with me! Just two weeks before the closing date, I hooked up with Izzy. Perfect! She is in the same club as me and we are very similar ability. At Celtman we finished within 4 minutes of each other.
The next challenge was making our merit application. As well as listing our top race results from the past two years, we had 500 characters to convince the organisers to give us one of only 6 merit spots for female pairs 😕 .
Tension built in the run up to the announcements. We heard that there were more than four applicants for each space. Then we were told the merit selections would be made two days early. On Wednesday morning I was in a state of high tension as I checked down the list as soon as it was published. Would we be judged good enough? Were we the sort of team they were looking for to be a part of this race?
Past the male pairs, onto female, past race qualifying listings, onto merits. Not there, not there, then … last on the list, there were our names!! I leapt out of my chair and ran down the office making excited squeaking noises 😀 .
More about the race, why I wanted to do it and tales from our build up to come. But for now, here’s our team description:
We first met at a cold, grey lakeside. We jumped in. As the wind whipped up waves we swam another lap. In 2012 only 9 women did Celtman Extreme. We were 2nd and 3rd. Izzy took a year off and created a business inspiring others to get outside and make the most of life. One tough race wasn’t enough for Rosemary who hasn’t stopped since. UK SwimRun interest is booming. We want to experience the original and tell everyone about it! 220triathlon.com will report on our race. The journey is calling.
Haglöfs Open 5 North York Moors
It’s been a few weeks since the last Open 5. In the intervening period I have ridden my mountain bike more often than I ever have – 11 weeks in a row and counting! I’ve also been trying to get my running back on track after straining a muscle in my hip, on top of a niggly problem that’s been annoying me since June. On the physio’s orders I have been running little and often and never fast. Unfortunately, my hip is still complaining, but at least I lined up for this race knowing I could run some, which was better than last time.
Lucy warned me that she had been manic at work and was feeling tired. When we met up at the event base I knew I needed to loan a few bits of essential kit (which we have to carry one per team). I wasn’t expecting a request for cycling shorts though. Astonishingly, due partly to my indecision about what to wear, I could proffer a brand new unworn pair of thin padded pants! Perfect to go under running leggings, which Lucy did have.
So, we were all kitted up and set off running after the rain had stopped. I commented that it was nice that it wasn’t too windy. Famous last words. We trotted up a hill on the road (due to a last minute change of map plan because a crazy lady didn’t want people on the public footpath on her farm) then dived onto a path. The way was not clear and was blocked by gorse bushes. But no! Apparently this was a path and we fought our way through, sometimes ducking as the gorse closed over our heads like a tunnel, sometimes brushing through, getting prickled head to toe.
We were lucky finding the next control quickly in a slightly confusing wood, then hiked up a steep hill, taking the chance to chat and catch up on life. When we emerged at the trig point, the sun was shining and the views were glorious.
Lucy had initially planned a nice circuit, perhaps a little longer than I’d ideally like, but doable and what looked like the only sensible option. However, when we got the control values we had to change our minds as many of our chosen controls were worth zero, or just 5 or 10. So instead we were running along the top of a ridge on the Cleveland Way. I was feeling good and wondering why Lucy was dropping back on the uphills. This wasn’t right! Luckily it was just tiredness rather than anything more serious like a breathing problem. I did not think it would be wise to try and tow (just wrong!) but perhaps even mention of this gee’d Lucy up a bit as she started running in front again 🙂 .
After a while my hip was grumbling a bit but was not painful. I was also remembering why I keep fighting these niggles, as it was joyous to be moving fast out in the hills and for it not to feel like torture. My hip might not be right yet but the consistent training has brought all the rest of my running muscles back to life.
After 1h11mins we had a decision point. To do an extra 4km loop for 45 points or head back straight away. Of course we did the loop! It was worth it as we saw James, the photographer, out on course. He got a hug and we got some great photos! Reviewing it later, this was a good decision – it would have been difficult to get that many extra points in the same time on the bike. Leaving here the paths turned muddy and it started snowing. Our friends said it snowed for 10 minutes but I only noticed it for one or two. My mum had been right in forecasting this and I hadn’t believed her 🙂 .
As we trudged up a hill I took the opportunity to re-evaluate the bike plans. We were going to get back later than expected and we would need options to cut things short. My decision was to reverse our planned loop. This meant we’d have the easy road section at the start instead of the end, but it did get us through the committing bit early and gave us at least 3 short cut options when we might need them later.
It was a long run back from the last control to transition – 43 minutes, a lot of that on a sticky slidy bridleway into a biting strong wind, then down a steep road. I had to laugh; last month I had told Lucy we’d do 3.5h of biking and then led us on a merry dance of 4.5h. This time she said she’d take me on a 1h45m running loop and we were out for 2h25m – even longer than usual! Payback came quickly this time 😀 .
In transition, I switched as much kit as possible from Lucy’s bag to mine, ran through the new plan and off we went biking. Since Lucy had been feeling tired after less than an hour, she made it clear there were to be no hard efforts … I was annoyed with myself for forgetting my bike tow as it would have been perfect here, cruising along a road. I’ve carried it so often and not needed it, so Sod’s Law we needed it now. Instead, I kept a fair pace but not too hard, and we still overtook people. I was conscious that the wind was behind us though.
At one point we could choose a short route through the muddy wood we had encountered on the run, or the long route on the road. We went road and I started giving Lucy a helping hand up the hills. My hip wasn’t entirely happy about this (darn, why was the tow at home?!), but I kept switching sides and it got no worse. We had a long hike-a-bike to get on top of the moors but it was worth it for a stunning ride on a great quality path up to a trig point.
When we turned from there we got the full force of the wind in our faces. We had been warned at registration that it was ‘cold on the tops’ and they weren’t wrong! The gorse had pulled my buff off earlier, and it was now in my bag with my coat. I was getting ice cream head just riding along even though it was sunny! As we descended a horrible mud slide in the woods I was getting frozen. Lucy was flapping her hands madly and I was thinking: ‘If I feel this cold she is probably colder!’.
Maybe we should have stopped and put coats on here, but we hoped the next road would bring a nice warming hill climb, and it did. I did some vigorous pushing, but it was not only for Lucy’s benefit. The extra effort was warming my body, and my hands were getting toasty wedged between her bag and her back! We were getting good at riding very close together and only nearly came to grief as our handlebars locked once 😉 .
There was a certain control, number 9, that I wanted to go and get. It was an out and back for 10 points, an extra 1.8km in total. We just missed the turnoff though and Lucy looked like she might just sit down and refuse to go on if we went for it. She said ‘if we lose by 10 points, it’s on my head!’. Lucy’s such a fighter that I realised things must be bad and so we carried on, up and up a long hill. We kept on chatting, it’s a good way to distract from an unending road.
Soon we were we flying down the hill towards the finish. But wait, we had a little flat road detour to make for another 35 points. This was already in plan. But suddenly I realised Lucy’s hidden genius. By missing out number 9 (10 points, on what we heard later was a difficult track) we had saved enough time to go for number 3 (25 points), another 2km each way from home, but along a road and good track. She had already turned her bike to go back but somehow I persuaded her. I think it was the thought of coming in 10 minutes early that did it – it just wouldn’t be right 😀 . I said ‘if we win by 10 points, you can take the credit for it!’.
We slogged along into the wind and, as it turned out, a slight uphill. Got the control, turned back. I was pushing as hard as I could and my legs were really burning. But I needed this to pay off since it was my decision to take the slight risk. Finally we could see the last junction, we were turning and we were there. Just under 7 minutes late, 14 penalty points. Yes! Number 3 had earned us an extra 11 points.
Lucy was so cold, we had to get inside and warmed up as soon as we could. Cups of tea were drunk with shaky hands as we waited anxiously for the results. Female pairs were announced first. 3rd place had 380 … phew, back on the podium at least … 2nd place, with 400 points … woohoo! That meant we had won as we had 441. I was immediately chastised as we didn’t need those 11 points after all! But Sue and Louise (who came 2nd) are strong competitors who won last month. You never know when you’re out on the course where you are, so you have to give it everything you can, just in case.
As the other categories were announced we realised we had actually done OK and had a respectable score. Results here. It wasn’t our fastest day, but we had made good strategic decisions, worked as a team and done the very best we could.
I’ve now got 6 weeks without a race. Time for me to get on top of this running and for us to both come back fighting in February!
Thanks to the organisers, Open Adventure, to photographer, James Kirby and to race sponsors, Haglöfs.
SMBO Stirling Sting
It was the third SMBO event of the autumn and finally I was at the start line without a knee or leg problem! After a fast bike experience at the Open 5 in the Lake District, plus generally feeling good about my skills right now, I was looking forward to a fast and hard race.
The omens were in my favour at the start, as someone had taken the time to etch my initials into the pavement! It was very nippy outside though. We were all shivering when we got out of our cars and there was low lying fog that the sun was barely breaking through.
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.