24.7km trek / 8h55 / finish time 15:55 Thursday
A bit of a false start to this stage as we set off down the road the wrong way – transition wasn’t marked on the map in quite the right place!! That’s our story anyway, and we’re sticking to it.
We finally set off up the right path, with me still munching my breakfast and Chloe managing a lot of ankle pain. At transition we had been given information that teams were taking 3h to get to the rafting from the start of the kayak. Andrea and Jon had calculated that if we could just motor this trek, taking opportunities to jog the flats and downhills, we had a chance of making it after all.
We got into a rhythm, being smoother and helping each other with snacks and drinks and kit adjustments to minimise stopping time. Although this was the stage we had targeted for doing the long course over the Five Sisters of Kintail, we were again short course, but the route here did not lack spectacular views. The path was easy going and we made good time.
As we had to head off-piste it got harder, but I was on fire. I powered up past the waterfall with Andrea and was springing ahead on the downhill to find the best path for Chloe and Jon, whose ankle was also now sore. I thought we might make the rafting after all, and expected the second half to be easier.
As we crossed the road past the Cluanie Inn it felt we passed into a different stage. Andrea and Chloe were able to speed walk whilst Jon lagged behind and me somewhere in between. I tried everything I thought I could to get us back together and moving at a better pace. Near the first ‘top’ Chloe needed to stop and change her socks before she got blisters from the accumulating grit inside. She wanted us to go ahead and she would catch us, but we refused.
I was hopping about on the inside, worrying about the time and sensing it just slipping through our fingers. But I did not want to snap or stress anyone out. Andrea took some of Jon’s kit and we got moving again. But now we had to either go the long way up a bit more hill and further on a path, or cut across.
We followed a team taking the direct line, through peat hags and rough ground, down to a river that proved too deep to wade. As we walked along a bit we were about to decide to stuff it and swim, when the other team found a spot to wade only up to mid thigh level 🙂
The path when we re-joined it was good. The weather had turned glorious. I wanted to run down the other side but could not cajole this out of everyone. As we got to the road, we walked when we needed to run. Chloe’s partner appeared on his motorbike to say hello. It was emotional for her.
It was just before 16:00. The guy in transition told us people were making it to the rafting from kayak put-in in about 3.5h and we might just do it. We got out fairly quickly, though not as fast as the team that arrived with us. We walked down to the river when we perhaps could have jogged. We faffed about getting in and setting off.
2.8km total portage / 1h35
6.2km walk / 2h15
26.5km total kayak / 5h / finish 04:20 Friday
Although we were going down a river now, this part wasn’t straightforward either. There were some mini rapids – we nearly came out on the first set but got a lot better at coordinating and steering through the second! Unfortunately there was some more portage where Andrea and I were working our hardest to get through whilst the tendons in my wrist complained loudly and Jon and Chloe struggled.
Back on the water I was asking Andrea “where is the urgency in the other boat?”. She had no answer. We decided to offer a tow, but it was refused; ‘we are keeping up fine’. On the roller coaster of emotions I was now dejected as I knew we would not make it, our speed was just not there. We soft paddled and kept together as we made our way along Loch Garry, with Chloe and Jon falling asleep and hitting each other with their paddles.
As we neared the end of the loch everyone was hallucinating as it got gloomy. The trees formed strange animals and carvings and it was hard to keep our eyes open. I’m not sure we had warned Chloe enough about this!!
Jon suddenly came alive saying we might just make it, but we couldn’t. We arrived at 20:26 – 26 minutes too late.
Later, on the way home, I spoke to Chloe about this. It turned out she wasn’t aware of the urgency – she thought we were home and dry and there was no rush. She also believed they were keeping up, not realising we were waiting. Clearly something had gone wrong with communications and I went over this a thousand times after the race. I take responsibility for not getting us there in time. You could lose 26 minutes anywhere – the nav error on the bike for one. But I also felt I should have understood what was happening better and either found a way to keep everyone motivated and focused or established a shared agreement to give up on it. Learn and move on!
Missing the rafting prompted a slight hypothermic meltdown in Chloe. This was caused by a combination of being wet, tired, not moving, the disappointment of missing the rafting and then being told we had to walk 5km and wait until 90 minutes were up before we could continue. It was all too much and she ended up inside the bivvy bag with Jon, putting on every item of dry clothing she had. Whilst Jon and Andrea looked after Chloe, I shivered and got the kayaks ready for transport. Thanks to the marshals here for helping, and the team who provided some hot water.
Finally we set off, trudging into the dark in search of food in Invergarry. Unfortunately, Invergarry is not a hot bed of food options and by the time we arrived just after 22:00 and stumbled into the pub, we were greeted by a barman who declared he could give us tea and crisps, but he was shutting up in 20 minutes just in case we thought we might fall asleep in the corner. A team arriving after us were given equally short thrift as they had takeaway teas shoved in their hands and were told to leave.
We made the most of what we had, then decided we had to sleep. As luck would have it, we found a road bridge over the path where it was dry with a smoothish surface. We got into pairs into two bivvy bags, set the alarms for 20 minutes (or not) and went to sleep.
As I spooned Chloe I was violently shaking with cold. I was still in my shorty wetsuit, still damp. I became aware of Jon and Andrea talking about it being time to get up. This was just about my worst moment of the race. I really had no notion of whether I was asleep or awake, and kept looking at my watch, unable to decipher what it was telling me. I got my bag back together and trailed behind in a daze as we made our way back to the water.
It turned out later that Andrea’s watch had misted up so she couldn’t see it properly setting the alarm, and I had managed to set the timer for 20h instead of 20 minutes 😮 . We had slept for an hour and a half.
The rest of the kayak was an uneventful paddle down to and along the Caledonian Canal. Chloe taught us some crazy round involving fish and chips and vinegar, dustbins and bottles of beer, which we executed very badly. After a couple of ‘easy’ exits and portage round the locks, we arrived in Fort Augustus and gladly abandoned the kayaks for the last time!
In transition we had a nice corner spot. I found my second of three ticks of the race attached near my eye … and we assembled our bikes ready to go. It was late in the race and despite any rules, people seemed to be sleeping where they fell on the paths outside the door.
Episode 4 – Official Film
61.7km / biking / 6h25 / finish 13:50 Thursday
Despite faffing with lights, the darkness had lifted by the time we got away. This stage was actually the best mountain biking we had done all race and one of my favourite legs.
I was keeping an eye on navigation in the woods as we followed the ‘Great Glen Way’. At some point we ended up on the high walker’s route, which added a climb and some technicality. On a normal day it would be my preferred option, but I’m not sure it was what we needed at that moment!
I think at this point we were all a bit tired and fractious and were not riding harmoniously. We stopped for 30 minutes of kip somewhere, and again for our first café 30km from the end. The wasps were out in force and we did not hang around, thanks to some speedy service.
The final descent was one to savour, swooping down from high ground it went on and on and was a delight to ride. It landed us in the centre of Inverness, where we negotiated the crowds through the final few hundred metres on a section we had checked out before we left. I’m glad we did as we could weave our way directly to the finish line.
We were greeted by race directors with medals and miniature whisky from Glenmorangie. Jonny was there to do some facebook live videos and make sure we got some pictures! We all made our way over to eat pizza and relax over a meal for the first time in five days…
Episode 5 – Official Film
On reflection, this race was not as straightforward ‘fun’ as the one I did in Wales. The rafting deadline loomed large all race and we were under pressure to make the short course, with no room to correct for any miscalculations. It was so disappointing to miss it anyway after all that focus! To play to my own strengths and favoured sports I’d have loved more mountain biking and less portaging 😉
Team dynamics were also very different, with somewhat more conflict and less cohesion. However, racing with that little sleep under such difficult conditions isn’t exactly conducive to harmonious socialising. Everyone laboured under different hardships ranging from sore throats, diarrhoea all race (!), swollen ankles, blistered mouths and feet and who knows what else.
Having said all that, we resolved any issues and made it to the finish line together. We did really well, finishing 12th overall thanks in large part to our early strategic decisions. I learnt a lot and we achieved a lot, though it is still hard to take it all in! Some of the places on the trek stages were incredible and it is amazing to think how crazy some of the race was and what we went through with those kayaks. An unforgettable experience!
For my own part I was delighted to escape with ‘normal’ 5 day race swelling, a single blister and sore tendons in one wrist. All subsided quickly. Worse, was picking up a probable flu virus a week after finishing, which I still haven’t been able to completely shake! The race reminded me how much I do like adventure racing after several years of swimrun focus. Maybe I should look for another one to do … 😉
Many thanks to John Ovenden and support from Lochland Runner, to our live social media updaters Andy and Jonny, everyone who sent us motivational trail mail, the race organisers under Open Adventure banner James, Tom and Paul plus a special one from me to my physio Graham who over the last 10 months somehow helped me rehab my hamstring tendon sufficiently to take part with no pain.
Finally, thanks to my teammates Jon, Andrea and Chloe for being up for going on such an epic journey!
If you like numbers, this is how our race shaped up in totals – distances, times – yes, there is a spreadsheet! You can see our route here, just select our team on the right.
13km trek / 8h45
26km trek / 10h36 / finish stage 16:50 Wednesday
And so we set off up our first big mountain. Everyone was tackling An Teallach. I haven’t been there before, but it turns out it is big, scrambly and has vertiginously steep sides! We were keen to make the most of remaining daylight. As we ascended it got windier and colder. Soon I was wearing all of my clothes save one emergency thermal jacket, including my waterproof trousers. I also had my first ‘moment’ as I felt woozy and incapable of climbing a mountain. This time handing over some kit to packhorse Andrea and taking a couple of gels worked wonders.
It got dark and then Chloe had her ‘moment’, finding the exposure bringing back some difficult memories. We pulled together and made slow but steady progress until we were onto the boulder field, clambering down to the track to the bothy everyone had spotted on the map earlier. We hadn’t slept for about 45h by this point and tempers frayed a bit as we all badly needed some rest. I was worried we would find the place full, but there was only one way to find out.
It was indeed busy, but we found space on the wooden floor and crashed out for 2h, with Chloe opting to brave any midges in the more spacious outside quarters 😀 .
Up we got and we decided to go for at least one of the long course controls. It wasn’t significant extra distance, though it was significant extra climb. It was also intriguingly named ‘tennis court’ and I am a sucker for funny place names.
We were all somewhat muted to start. I was slow as we ascended and also stopped to put protective gaffer tape on hot spots developing on my feet. I wasn’t up for blisters like those I experienced during UTS… There was some ‘debate’ about which way to get to the top, slightly confused by some hints we got at a briefing. In the end, Andrea took off up a gully, with Jon chasing after to check it out and Chloe and I gingerly bringing up the rear. I was afraid of scree or scrambling at the top, and as it was we were holding onto grass as we climbed. Not the most secure, but it was OK in the end.
As you will see later, going for this control was possibly a strategic mistake in terms of race position. However, it was also one of the most memorable and amazing parts of the course that we did – so this time I am happy that we got to experience this regardless. The ridge walk was incredible, and the ‘tennis court’ itself looked like someone had just come and sliced the top off the mountain.
On the descent I came alive a bit and even ran. Or maybe jogged. Further down the views of the river cutting through Gleann Bianasdail creating swirling rock formations with waterfalls and pools looked very inviting. I’d like to go back to that and explore. The beauty was only marred as my ‘usual blister’ underneath my little toe burst causing every step to be agony for a while.
After negotiating ‘paths not on the map’ and a slightly sarcastic comment to another team about my ability to identify a graveyard (sorry), we finally arrived in Kinlochewe.
This was the first time we had access to our tent at a vaguely sensible time for sleeping, and we had to put it up and stay in it for 20 minutes anyway. We got ourselves ready for the next stage then all clambered in for a couple of hours kip. I wondered if we should have more, or less? But it was too complicated to think. As the rain hammered on the roof, and a French team swore at the midges outside, we drifted off. Not the best sleep, but we needed it.
Episode 2 – Official Film
69.3km / biking / 7h40 / finish 05:10 Thursday
We set off just after 21:30 in the dark. It was now obligatory for us to short course this stage. Before we started we had hoped to do more than this here, sketching out a couple of different options. But course changes and our slow speed meant it wouldn’t have been sensible anyway.
After leaving all the map reading to Chloe and Jon on the foot stage, it was my turn again. I confidently took the first turning, with Andrea stopping to check the map. As we waited for her to catch back up she appeared, a bit shaken from a fall as she had tried to adjust her lights. We were all tired.
Peering at the map, I had in mind ‘just follow the double track alongside the loch for about 5km’. I was trying to prove myself by navigating swiftly and keep us moving. Mistake. We passed a junction and hesitated. ‘It says cycle trails this way’ someone said … and I pushed on as that was just a footpath and we wanted the track, right? We were going up and up in a forest and it didn’t feel right. But I stubbornly carried on, not wanting to faff about. As the distance came up, we emerged from the forest. I looked properly at the map and immediately realised my error. We should have taken the path ARGH.
Jon went to investigate a possible joining path and we dithered, eventually turning back on ourselves. I thought it would be quicker just to descend at high speed to the junction, but the team were lagging behind. My adrenaline and drive to fix this was not matched! As I agitated I was annoyed with myself – not a mistake I’d have made in the daylight, and quite costly, maybe half an hour.
It was slow going along the path and I was now doubting myself about where to look for the right turn. Then there came a horrible noise from my bike. Clank! Clank! I stopped, turned the pedals. Clank! Clank! I spun the wheel without the pedals. Clank! Clank! It seemed to come from my bottom bracket but the wheel was the only bit turning. Chloe and Jon came to help – concluding it must be a disaster with my hub. Then we suddenly spotted an extremely large nail embedded in my tyre and hitting the chainstay on every revolution …
We got it out, and Chloe put her thumb on the hissing hole. By the time Jon produced a magic bung gun it had sealed, but we whopped it in anyway. With much relief we were on our way.
Nav was tricky and now I was very careful. There were many paths not marked on the map but once we got onto the Coulin Pass it was straightforward and easy going. I had run this in the opposite direction many years ago on Celtman! But remembered little!
At some point it started raining. And then it was like riding under a shower head. We were on a road by now, and my new coat did an admirable job of keeping me dry, but it was still a bit epic. Near Strathcarron we happened upon a pub with umbrellas outside. We stopped to get extra layers on, but the lady who ran it waved us inside. She had already closed and hadn’t heard about the race before a team stopped to talk to her, but was encouraging us all to make use of the toilets and the back room to warm up and change. What a lovely lady!
Shortly, we were back ascending on a fire road before going over a high point on a rough track. I was feeling optimistic because it was all downhill back to a road from here, and despite being rocky and muddy it was mostly rideable. We went in pairs; Jon and I going ahead a bit, then watching the lights of Chloe and Andrea catching us before we set off again.
The riding came to an abrupt end however, as the path got narrower and harder going. We were forced to walk again, tripping and stumbling as we pushed our bikes on through the dark.
We had made a calculation of how much time we needed from the end of the next trek to get to the rafting on time. We thought a generous 5-6h, and by calculating backwards as we stood on that dark wet hillside, I knew we needed to be starting the next trek right about now…
When we emerged on the road all somewhat the worse for wear, we felt the need for a team hug before we could get moving again. About 10 seconds later Chloe’s light went flat (she was having a nightmare with batteries all race!) but we swapped things around to get us all legal and going again.
More road, pausing at Eilean Donan castle and quickly locating the control by looking closely at the map and reading the description instead of heading straight to the castle (we had seen a team searching there for a long time…)
Next transition was difficult. It was now light, but raining, and we weren’t allowed indoors with our kit bags. We dismantled the bikes outside first. I found a seat clamp on the floor and asked the team if it was one of ours. “No!” said everyone. I wasn’t so sure. Jon and I checked – it fitted Chloe’s bike perfectly, it was next to her box … we quietly put it back on and headed indoors.
Teams were getting crotchety with each other as bags were moved and they rummaged around in them. I had to go back and forth for things I forgot first time, and despite instructions I am sure some people were using the showers in the toilets as I queued for an age just to relieve myself.
Before long though, we were ready to set off again on foot for the final trek.
Episode 3 – official film
It has taken me a while to start this report – to let the race sink in and to get over the dreaded lurgy sufficiently to have energy to write!
We were number 26, Team Lochland Runner – Andrea, Chloe, Jon and myself. We started the week well by managing to arrive in Inverness only 5 minutes apart. I had come up with Chloe and we had chatted the whole way, making wild guesses about what the course might hold in store.
The weekend was spent registering, getting maps, going to briefings, planning, sorting out kit and most importantly – eating! Pizza! Tensions did rise a bit as we fully grasped the scale of the kayaking element relative to everything else (though we had been warned) and there was a bit of drama when all our buoyancy aids failed the ‘test’. Luckily, we were 4 of many and plans were put in place to hire some out to us.
As we pored over the maps and route book a couple of key things became apparent. There were time cut offs for both a canyoning stage on Tuesday afternoon and a rafting stage at 8pm on Thursday. Both carried significant time penalties and we wanted to make them both. The rest of the race was planned around this, using the information given about likely leg times and our own experience to estimate what we thought we could do. Our plan was always to short course, but we did hope to do some of the long course options such as extra biking near Applecross and the Five Sisters trek.
After an early alarm on Monday morning, we all found ourselves on coaches heading for Dunrobin castle. It was a slightly midgey and cool wait with some confusion over the actual start time. Oh, just me? OK then!!
Episode 0 – official film
Run and kayak stage:
5.1km run / 35 minutes / finish 09:05 Monday
19.4km paddle / 3h25 / finish 12:45 Monday
The 5km run through beautiful woods and a gorge got us nicely warmed up before we jumped in the kayaks for our first taste of the sea – this time on the east coast. We were headed for Glenmorangie Distillery. The journey was fairly uneventful, apart from our first experiences with the right-veering kayaks. I developed some sort of combination of right sweep strokes and missing left strokes to keep us vaguely on course.
77.7km / 4h35 / finish 18:10 Monday
We had decided right from the beginning to do all of this leg short course. The only temptation to go longer was the fact that this would mean we were riding on roads most of the way to the next transition. Pleasant, quiet, low traffic roads; but tarmac all the same. Our rationale was that we needed time in hand to get through the next kayak stage and make it to the canyoning before the cut off.
We shot off like hares, and Chloe had to get us back on track at a more sensible pace.
Transition was a bit chaotic as we had arrived earlier than expected and the marshals hadn’t quite got a system sorted. We had beaten the first long course team in, but they were gone before you could say ‘that was fast’. As it was, I got a shock to the system as Andrea whipped us all into transition shape and we were in and out a lot faster than I had experienced in similar races. She’s raced with some top teams though, and deemed us too slow! We had a lot of information to take in before we could leave, with course changes to the kayaking adding in more distance and extra portage in order to keep us nearer the mainland in forecast strong winds.
18km total portage / 9h
46.1km total kayak / 11h10 / finish 15:55 Tuesday
We paddled off on a loch heading west into a glorious sunset. The scenery was magnificent. Although adventure racing novice Chloe was pondering whether she liked ‘AR’ yet due to the lack of adventurous biking so far, she did have to admit that as we stopped for the first portage in the dark and rain, that this wasn’t an experience she’d have had otherwise…
The changes meant this leg was going to take longer than planned. There was an optional run up Suilven which we had originally considered, but we decided now it was best to press on and make use of any time saved later in the race. Doing this plus the short course bike turned out to be a kayak-leg saver, though we didn’t know it at the time.
The first portage was only a taster of what was to come. A we inched towards the coast, we lugged a pair of 30kg kayaks, plus portage trolleys and kit over rough rocky ground in the dark and rain. We were being careful not to drag them. At times we were ferrying the kit separately in relay, with all four of us coming back to carry each boat the next section and trying not to twist our ankles on boulders or to disappear thigh deep in bog as we staggered blindly forward. When we could, we used leashes attached to the front, Andrea and I pulling our boat like shire horses over the heather. As some of the long course teams overtook us we took note of their technique …
When we reached the road it was bliss to put the kayaks on their trolleys and roll them along. In no time it seemed we were getting back in. We had half hoped for a sleep but we were wet and the two of us without dry suits got cold very quickly as soon as we stopped moving (and this was despite me wearing a shorty wetsuit). We got back in, quite literally for me as I lost my footing and was dunked, seeing my paddle nearly disappear down the river.
Finally we were back on the sea, now all the way across the country and on the west coast. This was near the Summer Isles; apparently a mecca for paddlers, but we couldn’t see anything except the dark hulks of land mass and the occasional shooting star.
Taking the risk of heading to the spot where the strobe light of a team in front had disappeared, we landed safely at the next headland, only to be greeted by a new form of portage hell. We couldn’t make progress over the bushes, so opted for the river. As it we ascended it progressed from merely rocky to mini rapids that I wouldn’t want to walk up, even without a kayak in tow. We had to anchor ourselves on rocks and haul them up in stages. We eventually gave up, clambered out on the other side and were lucky to find a path where the going was ‘easier’ before hitting the road at Achnahaird, scene of some of my childhood holidays.
It was not over yet though!
Another long sea crossing awaited. Although we could now see the various islands, we were being battered by the wind and waves. The boast continuously turned right, which was getting tedious. Our instructions were to head to within 100m of Isle Martin where a boat might indicate the turning point. I was facing a mutiny as the team got cold and fed up seeing us paddle past the place we were heading to on the other shore before we could turn and go back up.
Crossing the ferry line at our best estimate of a right angle, we neared the far shore and turned straight into the wind and tide. I was only focused on our landing spot when Andrea announced we weren’t moving anywhere. “It’s just perspective”, I said. I was wrong. We decided after another 15 minutes of fruitless paddling to head straight into the shore and see if we could walk along. Even getting there took an humongous effort and I started to panic. When we arrived we were faced with large unwalkable boulders. We considered taking a penalty if needed and getting the boats straight onto the bottom of the track marked on the map. We were desperate. But the wind suddenly dropped, the white horses disappeared and we leapt back in to paddle round the shoreline and say hello to some waiting cows.
Only to face even worse portage hell!! We must have only been in purgatory before! Where did they find this stuff? This time there were rocks, it was steep and it took all 4 of us to climb the first section. Then it was heather and uneven ground up a hill, as we dragged and swore. I practically threw ours over the fence at the top. Well, ‘threw’ is an exaggeration. We bumped down the other side for what should have been an easy downwind paddle to transition, but was a race against time to get to the new canyoning cut off (though it had subsequently been extended). It didn’t feel easy. And I still couldn’t steer us in a straight line.
After some face pulling and head shaking at Paul, a hug from James stopped some close tears from me and we were so glad to abandon those boats…
Many of the following teams got stuck close to where we did and were transported by coach from Ullapool incurring a hefty time penalty. Our choice to short course early and get through the kayaking combined with a bit of weather luck had bumped us up the standings.
We all wriggled into full wetsuits and headed up the hill for a fun interlude of canyoning, including a jump which had preyed on Andrea’s mind, an abseil down a waterfall and another where we dropped into a pool off the bottom of a rope and something I forget the name of but involved not quite whizzing down a wire and having to pull yourself over with the danger of getting your hands munched! I battered myself here and there on the way down but it was refreshing.
The transition was the best of the whole race – a great big barn with loads of space and places to sit 🙂
We had to be out before the time cut off if we wanted to consider any of the long course. As it turned out it might have been better race-wise if we had had this choice imposed on us, but we didn’t and I am not renowned for my cautiousness!
And so we set off on foot into the dying embers of day 2 (Tuesday).
If you want to go straight to part 2 – it’s here!
Episode 1 – official film
For the last in this year’s short series, we were in Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales. My mum gave me a lift over and spent the time pottering around the village, going for a walk in the nature reserve(not yet in flower due to long winter) and watching a team practising a rescue in the falls.
Meanwhile, I was off on the usual 5h of MTBing and running. Sadly, Lucy still did not feel confident enough to race with me, so we both went solo. I felt a bit stressed looking at the MTB map, but as I walked back to the start I formulated a definite plan and felt better.
Off I went, confidence high. However, I soon was riding along and saw what looked like a control on a post. I hesitated but knew it wasn’t the right place and assumed it was a run control. On I went to the right place – no tape, no little box! I dithered, took a photo*, dithered some more, realised what I had seen couldn’t be a run control (wrong bit of map), wondered about going back, thought what would Tom Gibbs do (certainly wouldn’t have still been standing there), and eventually left up the hill.
Now I was anxious and when I saw a public footpath signed that didn’t seem to be on my map I worried further that I was somewhere totally wrong! I also seemed to be slogging up a very long climb off road, and wasn’t seeing any other racers. Hmm. That should have told me something 😉 Over the top and I was definitely in the right place and carried on directly to a control the other side.
The rest of the route seemed to go quite well, but I left a short road out and back and later on another longer loop to leave time for some running and to ‘be sensible’.
My mum cheered me through transition, telling me she had done the same for Lucy! The run was actually pretty good. I was keeping a close eye on the map to avoid making mistakes. I did not cheat at the all-too-easy shortcut across a field where you could see the control tape fluttering and not even a fence across, but was not a right of way or open access.
One small overshoot on the road then up into the woods. I was very careful here as it was a maze of paths, but I was dead accurate, if a little slow. Up onto open ground I realised I had a lot more time than expected and could do a larger loop. At this point I heard a shout: ‘I could do with a tow now please!’ It was Lucy coming up behind! We chatted briefly, but I was moving faster up the hill.
On I went, past James for a photo and into an old house to find a control on a roof beam upstairs. The dead sheep by the stairwell gave me a right old fright though … Then it was downhill return to the village. Again I was checking the route carefully- maybe too much. At the bottom I debated one final out and back and Lucy caught me up – she had flown down a LOT faster. I decided against and we jogged back in. I was 6 minutes early!
On review, it turned out my bike route choice was really quite daft. Everyone else went the other way round, got 50 points I left out climbing a road with a fast descent back down, and then leaving an out-of-the-way control, ascending the other way on tarmac where I had faffed around on the moors. I also missed a couple of spots where I could have used that time to get at least one more control, despite my odd route choice. Hey ho, I think I took ‘the MTB day out route’ … which meant I was thoroughly beaten by Lucy and many others! I know I can make really good strategic decisions (like in Edale a couple of months ago), but sometimes one iffy decision near the start can throw it all way off.
I was a bit disgruntled about my poor choices, but I had enjoyed the day out anyway 🙂 I was also super-fast in transition! Back to my mum’s with a fine piece of fruit cake in hand before a trip to Wales for a recce of a large portion of the UTS50. It’s my next race and has been my main focus for a few months!
As always, thanks to everyone involved for more great racing this winter.
* I think is what you’re supposed to do, and don’t worry – I was credited with these points later!
Lucy had to choose between Open 5 and a holiday (skiing) and picked the holiday. Hmm, I wondered who I might persuade to race with me. I asked Elizabeth who agreed! Hurrah, we were off, but due to other commitments, only for the day, checking in at a nearby BnB for the night and stuffing our faces in one of the many nearby pubs the night before.
As we went to sleep, the wind rattled the windows. On waking, snow was falling from the sky and it looked wild outside. Dinner had been massive so I wasn’t really hungry at breakfast, which is unusual. Off to the start and we were almost last into the car park that was free, but which came with a walk to the hall. We wisely took all our stuff with us.
Time seemed to fly by between registering and it being time to go. We had decided on the long drive down that it was better to bike first. This was Elizabeth’s forte and we would favour more of that and less of a run. Plus, if it was going to get cold and snowy we’d be warmer starting dry and the paths might be less obstructed. By the time we had come up with a vague plan, left the coziness of the hall, dusted the snow off our saddles and made it to transition we had 1 min to go until latest start.
An easy beginning along the road before we turned off uphill on the rough stuff. I slowed to check for features and when / where to look for the control, and looked up to see Elizabeth already powering away. Despite recently coming off worse in van vs Elizabeth, you know that someone who can finish the Highland Trail 550 will be a biking force to be reckoned with. I worked really hard to catch up. It was properly snowy and fun over the top, then slippery on a descent where I lost contact and had to shout ahead to make sure we didn’t miss a control. A descent followed that I’d not be able to ride on a good day, but I remembered it from a previous event and was ready to walk.
Then we were off along an easy track and all was going well. Into a small settlement and I was pondering our original route choice. We were making good time but checking the distance, realistically, that 15 pointer in Bradwell wasn’t worth it after all. Decision made without debate, we moved on quickly, heading straight through Hope and up the other side of the valley.
We passed some 4×4 cars coming off road the other way, with one woman behind the wheel with a smile as broad as her face! Then we caught up Ali and Barbara. This surprised me, but I hardly had breath to explain that I had to keep up before the next control!! From there it got very snowy. It was hard to tell the difference between the track and the road, both covered in snow. I cursed not checking on the start line whether we could use the road and cut onto the path further up, so we took the path and were soon walking.
Then we passed the cut through, easy to use, bother! Maybe cost us 5 mins at most though. It was slightly uphill and the wind was blasting us so hard that even when it looked vaguely rideable, it wasn’t, as the wind would push us off line and into a drift. Last race here I’d been just as cold, but with sleet instead of snow and we were at least riding then. As it flattened off and after what had seemed an age, we finally got back on. It was only now that we finally left behind a man out for a walk who we’d first caught up with about 5km earlier! Soon we were out on what was theoretically tarmac under the snow, and at the top of the broken road.
There was a 35 points down the hill. When we got there we were both frozen and my teeth were chattering. We talked about putting an extra layer on but decided to see if the climb back up would be enough to warm us up. I was looking at another 30 point control and debating the bike / run balance, but then decided no, not worth it. I warned Elizabeth we had a long fast road descent which would almost certainly be unpleasant and not in the slightest bit ‘warming’.
As we crested the top in silence, the blood was coming back into my hands and I was groaning with the pain. I think it was as nothing to what Elizabeth felt as we came into transition. With a recently healed broken collarbone and a still not happy broken finger, her whole arm was going through some sort of torture. We grabbed our stuff, got out of the field and dived into the hall. I heard later that we were not the only ones to nip inside!
I couldn’t help with the pain so got on with sorting out the run map, where all the score markings had washed off. The most important thing when we went out would be to keep moving, so this was time well spent nailing down where to go. After a toilet trip (me) and half a cup of hot water (both of us), we were ready to go back outside. Bizarrely, I still wasn’t really hungry and I think I only ate a couple of bananas all race.
Within 20 mins of the run, the gloves were off and sleeves rolled up. Running is really a magic body warmer-upper! The first part was an easy, if sometimes muddy, run in the valley. The map had a slightly awkward distribution of scores, but we had agreed before that going up worked better for us than running fast on the flat. So we committed to up, taking the fast route on the road we had so recently descended.
Onto the ridge and we had met my calculated ‘cut off’ for diving over the top for a sneaky bonus control at a small quarry worth 15. Back up to the ridge and after we had cleared the slippery steps to the trig point, the running was glorious. We had snow and views and were making great progress. Although it seemed a long way to the next control, it was totally worth it as we dropped down, searching for the right tree.
Then it was a cruise back to the road and a couple more controls before heading with a little sprint into the finish chute. Less than 4 mins late, 8 penalty points, the 15 had been worth it!
Having started last, we also got back last and had barely downloaded and grabbed some chilli and hot tea before it was prize-giving time. As some of the other classes were called out before ours, we realised we had a good score. We won the female pairs, but also came 9th overall, a rare feat! Results here.
It only reinforced my belief that ‘bad’ weather races favour me 😉 Biking first was definitely the right choice, especially when trail conditions unexpectedly deteriorated, as we were able to cut short without over-running our planned time too much. The art of keeping moving and not letting our pace drop after map checks was good discipline. We probably also took fewer risks … which paid off this time!
We regretted our laidback departure, as upon leaving the snow was coming down again. We couldn’t get out over either of the passes towards Manchester and ended up diverting via Sheffield and Leeds … Um .. Not the plan. We did discover though, that you can get a good curry and rice at Wetherby services, and I introduced another person to the pleasure that is Rheged services, just off the motorway at Penrith and easily overlooked. I just missed a train in Glasgow and had the joy of waiting on the platform with the other assorted 23:30 passengers before finally making it home just before 1am. Think that is a record!
So much seems to have happened since we went down to Bowhill for the second in the series, but it was only two weeks ago! With many (fun!) races in succession and a lot of travel for both work and leisure, I’m feeling the load in life and falling behind on reports, so will keep it brief!
As I got everything ready the night before, I decided it would be best to change my front brake pads. Andy criticised me for doing so only the day before a race, I countered that this was me being organised and that in the car park on race morning would be the wrong time. In the car park on race morning, I contemplated my flat tyre, inflated less than two hours before…
Hmm, on the advice of all the engineers surrounding me, we chucked in a bottle of sealant, gave it a shoogle and hoped for the best. I decided to ignore the laughs and ‘helpful suggestions’ about the lack of bite in my front brake and the state of my jockey wheels, and set off for a warm up spin up the first hill.
Back I came, covered in mud and water splashes and I was ready to go! Paul was away, and the race was ably started instead by Diane, who gave us the usual patter, instructions and safety briefing as we all jostled on the line. Setting off up the road, the front of the pack seemed bigger than previous years and took a while to string out. Round the first bend and I was being bumped from both sides and my wheel was buzzed from behind! I got assertive, stuck my elbows out and made some comment or other which did the trick as I soon got a place in the line.
I was climbing well, and thought I was first lady for now. I could still see Jon up in front of me too. We turned onto the slidy, muddy track and I stuck to the unlikely-looking but better line that I had sussed out during my warm up. Then I got stuck behind someone slower and it was impossible to overtake! I bade my time and came round him later. A few big puddles, then the turn down a big descent.
I was taking it carefully, as mud flew into my eyes and my bike seemed to be bending beneath me. It wasn’t of course, it just felt like it! Caroline flew past and I did my best to keep her in sight as we did some twists and turns through the woods. A sharp turn up a steep bank and I heard what I thought was a female voice shouting ‘on your right!’. I moved over to the nasty rough line just as they stumbled and stopped. Somehow I managed to power up and chase after Caroline again.
I was gaining along the road, then we turned onto some more singletrack. Every tricky bit she pulled away, every easy bit I pushed hard to close the gap back up again. As we approached the house I knew we were nearly there. One last oomph to get onto the road, and I took the lead as we went into transition.
Now I was in the position I don’t normally like … running scared! I shot out of there like a frightened rabbit and started racing up the hill. Somehow though, the legs felt better than they had on the cross country the day before. It might have all been relative as this time I was passing other people instead of hanging on for grim life! I had no idea how close anyone was to me, so I just went for it.
Down the big descent and one or two people passed me. However as soon as it got easier again I overtook again. We crossed the road, tantalising close to the finish, then headed off onto a never ending fire track, seemingly in the wrong direction.
Before long though, we popped out at the lake. I could hear footsteps behind me gaining fast – luckily it was a bloke. I enjoyed this part of the run, feeling strong as we wound our way in and out of the trees. Final time up the bank and into the finish.
Woohoo, a win this time albeit falling off the first page in the overall standings! Caroline came in 2nd, not feeling her best after a bout of flu. We’re now evens in the series so it will be a head-to-head in the final race in a few weeks time!
Thanks to Marc for a lift, Marc, Ewan and Jon for bike critique 😉 and Durty Events for another smashing afternoon out!
Race 4 of the winter was the first Open 5 of the season, based in Coniston. On Saturday, I took advantage of the location to recce the part of the Tour De Helvellyn I hadn’t visited recently (the race I’m doing next). It was snowy, icy and cold and progress was slow, even on my bike! I nearly ran out of time to get fed at the café, but luckily just made it.
Lucy had been properly ill with pneumonia and wasn’t sure if she would race. We arrived together on Sunday morning still undecided! I thought she would go with me … she asked ‘what if we had to finish after 3h?’ I admitted I was happy to go slow, but wanted to be out for most of the time. She decided to go solo and I last minute paired up with Jon instead. I joked that she had better not beat us …
So after planning, Jon and I set off on the run, hoping the ice would melt a bit ready for the bike whilst we were out. Straight up a hill towards the coppermines, catching a few teams and soon hitting the snow line. I thought I’d run quicker than Jon, but he was running easily as I breathed heavily. Just warming up, I told myself.
We could see Phil and Jackie up in front and we were catching them. After a delightful snowy track traversing the hillside we got to a decision point: straight across and risk getting caught in a quarry, or round the paths? We went round and soon met them coming the other way – wrong choice for us – we were 4 minutes slower!
Running along I was opening my legs out when just in front Jon skidded and thumped onto the floor. That’ll be ice beneath us then. Bit of hopping across semi frozen bogs, reeds and long grass and it was my turn to fall forwards. It was a soft landing in heather and snow, but surprisingly cold!
My tummy was rumbling, which is quite unusual mid race and suggested I really should eat. A full flapjack went down the hatch. Now we were heading off the hill and I thought it was time to go fast. I pushed myself to keep speed on the techier bits, using the sound of Jon’s footsteps just behind to spur me on. I loved running through the woods. We got to the lake and dashed back along the shore, suddenly popping out in a campsite I recognised from a race where I had totally overheated! Very different now.
I sensed Jon was dropping a little, so I backed off the pace and started looking at the bike route. It was tricky to decide which way to go round. We spent some time in transition discussing. What with that and having to take my gloves off to undo shoelaces, my fingers were frozen by the time we left.
We headed off up a road which soon became a long hill. Jon was really pushing the pace and I was working hard to keep up. Just what I needed to get the blood back in my fingers! The first half of the bike went well, nipping in and out to controls and making good progress. I was trying hard not to look at the map and to let Jon get with it instead of getting left behind. We had a slight altercation with a lady who didn’t want us on her drive (turned out this was due to a hitch in communications). I felt sorry that someone would get so emotional all day just for a few riders coming past.
We got to a control where the route to the next one was up a hill. It was a long push-up slog, through mud and ice and rocks and roots. We spent over 20 minutes getting to the control at the top of the hill and it somehow robbed our momentum. The sign on the gate saying ‘warning cattle grazing’ was true – as we came across the strange sight of some ‘panda’ cows grazing in the woods … The descent was very icy and we came down cautiously, though mostly on two wheels rather than two feet. Somehow that was another 30 minutes gone, though at least it made me ride some really rough bumpy stuff, just because I was so grateful whenever I saw an ice-free patch!
I was worrying about time, Jon less so. But then we went wrong in the quarry, mistaking the path for a river, wasting about 5 minutes. We needed to smash it, but as soon as we got to the road there was yet more ice. Oh no… This was so different to what we’d found in the first half of the ride. We had to forfeit a 30 point control near the end and still came in just over 8 mins late / 18 point penalty.
Somehow I felt a bit flat. Just when I’d wanted to let rip, we’d had to ride cautiously and it seemed we could have done better. Looking at Lucy’s score, we only got 12 points more! This despite running much further, getting wet feet and riding almost the same route backwards half an hour faster! Ach well, it was all good training, and I had a lovely day out in good company 😀 And we still did enough to get 3rd in mixed pairs. Results here.
Lucy won female solo with a score that would have won is female pairs as well. I felt sad that she didn’t feel she could have raced like that if we had been together. Though as she pointed out, a lot of the pressure comes from the self not wanting to let the other down, even if they say they’re happy to bimble. For Lucy not to race with me, I knew it must have been serious as we have got through a lot of events together ‘sub-par’!
And then we were off on the long drive home. I can recommend the services at Rheged for good food! Many thanks to all involved as always – Open Adventure (event), James Kirby (photos), Nav4 (food), Lucy, Jon and Andrea (assorted accommodation, lifts and racing with me!).
I was surprised to find it was 2014 when I last did this race, but when we arrived it was like I’d never been away. Four of us went over in one car; three racers and one supporter / photographer! We were nice and early, which suited me as we got parked near the start and I had time to go out and ride my bike.
Even though this race starts with a run, I decided my time was better spent riding round the bike course. My heart would get going and my brain would get in tune with the course. I was glad I did as it was quite technical, especially in the first half. Knowing what was coming up and that I could ride it gave me more confidence later.
We all gathered at the start line, the hooter went and we all shot off up the hill. I was breathing hard but moved from 5th to 2nd girl. 1st was Isla, out of sight and never to be seen again until prize giving! After that effort, I was overtaken on the up and on the down so I was back to 4th! This route goes straight up a hill and straight down a hill, with plenty of gloopy muddy bits. I was slightly out of control on the downhill, but was really trying to do my best to stay in contact.
I think I was a bit slow trying to sort my bike gloves out, and by the time I left transition there was no sight of the other girls. I powered on anyway. People were flying past me, but then a train of us got stuck behind a slightly slower rider. I kept my cool and concentrated on using the saved energy to work hard on the uphills. This was the pattern: technical down: get overtaken. Straightforward up: overtake some of them back again.
First Jon came flying past with a shout, then Marc, who didn’t recognise me. I was keeping up with him, though he got away at the end. I fell on a very slidey bit, but landed on my feet and narrowly avoided causing a pile up behind me. I unexpectedly caught one of the girls, Sarah, who was dressed incognito in black (just like me!). This meant I didn’t realise it was her until I was alongside. I said hello and worked hard as I passed.
There was no sign at all of Caroline ahead in her turquoise top. Coming up the last hill, rounding the lake and preparing myself for the final steep sting in the tail, I thought I had 3rd, but worked it to the finish line. Turns out Caroline had taken significant time on me on the bike!
I couldn’t have worked any harder though, so I was satisfied. I’m not tuned up for this sort of crazy fast racing! 3.7km run, 6.4km bike and it was all over 😀 3rd female, 2nd vet, 1 box of chocolates and 1 bottle of beer.
Thanks to Paul / Durty Events for a seamless race with an amazing friendly vibe, Ewan for driving us over and Andy for most of the photos. Results here.
This was the first of four racing weekends in a row before Christmas! Next up: Foxtrail Nighttime 6h Ultra (Relay with the Dream Team).
Throughout the year, events pop up which catch my eye. I put them in the calendar as a reminder ‘just in case’ I get the opportunity to do one of them! So when we started discussing going to see my dad in November, I noticed ‘Coed y Brenin off-road duathlon‘ pencilled in…
It was decided, the visit planned and the race entered. It was organised by Always Aim High, whose triathlons I had a habit of doing a few years ago. They’ve grown a lot since then. This event was a new one and I thought it might be low key as a result. In fact, it nearly sold out!
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve made the effort to get out on my mountain bike, riding a few tricky trails on the way to work. I usually struggle finding my MTB groove for the winter, but was pleased to discover I was enjoying it straight away! After pondering over the maps in a bit more detail I realised that a lot of the bike course seemed to be on fire roads. I couldn’t decide if this was good as I wouldn’t have to stress about my riding skills, or bad because I would have to rely on some bike fitness and not just skills!
On race morning my tummy was churning with nerves. On the plus side, I had sorted out a rapidly deflating rear tyre just by tightening the valve core! After sorting out kit and racking my bike, the technical officials came over and asked if my handlebars came with the bar ends. No, I added them. Then they pronounced that they were ‘clip ons’, might skewer someone if there was a crash, and therefore not allowed. Panic! I’ve never touched them before, but grabbed my multitool from the seat pack and figured out how to get them off.
I was sure I had read the relevant rule beforehand and thought it didn’t apply. Numbers were being read out on the tannoy calling other offenders. I nipped back up to registration where I’d noticed the rule posted up earlier on. ‘No clip ons (aerobars) allowed, but standard bar ends authorised’. I ran back, queried the ruling, had a discussion and we concluded I could fit them back on again … After all that stress it was basically time to throw off my jacket and line up!
I looked over dressed compared to many athletes, with a long sleeved windproof and a little race pack. However, it kept raining, there was a northerly wind, and I wanted to stay hydrated and fuelled for a 3h race, not just a 9km run. After a friendly chat with a fast looking girl (who turned out to be the eventual winner) we were off; up, up and up! This was my first ever run-bike-run duathlon and I had Andy’s voice in my head telling me not to go too hard on the first run. I tried to keep a steady pace, even as I kept swapping places with the same guy.
There was a techy grassy wet downhill bit where I wished I had on Inov8s instead of Icebugs, a bouncy bridge, and more climbing to a feed station that I ignored, having sipped water all along and taken a gel on a climb. Another muddy rocky descent and then transition appeared sooner than I had expected. I raced in, stuffed down a banana, changed my bag along with my shoes and got out of there.
The bike was mostly straightforward. Annoyingly, one of my bar ends was now at the wrong angle, but I put it out of my mind. One guy elbowed past me on a narrow section at the start but then it was wide fire roads. My friend from the run came by with words of encouragement and onwards we climbed. I did spot a good view or two as well 🙂 . At one point we turned off, rode through some big puddles and up the first ‘technical’ section – a bit narrower and rocky. I enjoyed the power climb!
It was very quiet out on the bike, and I was pleased only a handful of other people came past. I must have hung on to some bike speed after all. The descents were fast and into the headwind; I was glad of that jacket now. I had got off at the entrance to the short section of trail centre singletrack, and as I rode out of it had to stop to straighten my mudguard. At this point a girl came alongside and we chatted a little as we climbed the steepest fireroad. At the top a guy was fumbling with a broken rear mech. She stopped to help and I hesitated, surprised. I thought I was in about 4th and she could have been racing for podium. I’d stop to help someone seriously injured or unwell, but take the view that you should be self sufficient for mechanicals. I pushed on.
Rounding the end of lap 1 and as I munched another banana, I caught someone I’d been drawing in on for a while and was surprised to find it was another girl! So now I thought I might be 3rd. Knowing what was coming up gave me more confidence and I powered away. I enjoyed some of the fast descents, really starting to get used to the bike and riding. I thought there might be issues passing lapped riders or people on the sprint course, but only met a few others.
Coming out of the singletrack, the same girl from before caught me in exactly the same place!! This time she said nothing and pulled away quickly. I kept my cool, rode hard and held the gap. Down the final descents and into another rocky section, I was catching back up. Just before the turn onto the final narrow section I was on her wheel. We were caught behind two slower sprint racers with another guy who had screeched in between us, but we all rode in line until the track widened up into transition. I dismounted and jogged up to my shoes, seeing everyone else walking. I had drunk well on the bike and didn’t need my bag for the final 5.3km run.
As I ran out, I heard announcements over the speakers welcoming back the full course leaders and several sprint racers. My laces were flapping and I paused to try and tuck them back in, decided it was a waste of time and ran on. I thought I had a running advantage over the girl who was near me, but didn’t want to take chances. Behind me I could hear steps and breathing. I was not alone. However, I was determined not to look back. I was going to run strong and fast out of every steep bit. I ate my gel and stayed calm. Someone was right on my shoulder, they were going to pass … but didn’t. Were those footsteps light enough to be a girl’s? I heard a cough and thought it could be … I still didn’t look back. At the feed station they stopped and I ran through. Just one long descent, skip over the stones and roots and run like I had done with someone breathing down my neck the first time. I sensed I had got a gap and I was going to hold it.
The final bend came into sight and we had to sprint up one more incline to the finish arch. Andy had made it back from his trip to a gold mine on time and informed me that I did not look strong and tall at that moment!! Cheeky, but the photos do not lie. I was still not sure of my place, but as we wandered off to the car I was called back to find out I was 3rd overall! Yay … It had indeed been a girl behind me – finishing with an 18s deficit in the end. I felt bad as she may have been on podium if she hadn’t stopped, though that was her decision and I had been able to react when she did come past. Full results here.
After 5 or 6 weeks off, this was a great start to winter racing! Very well organised with super friendly marshals. I’m not used to racing on my own and was glad to exchange a bit of banter with them on the way round! Tasty Welsh Jones Crisps, a Wild Trail bar and a slate coaster on the finish line (I can never have too many coasters). Hot showers and changing at the end, and some more chat with other racers. I was happy spending my Odlo prize voucher on a pair of fancy arm warmers. Even better, we had plenty of time to get back to Caffi Gwynant for a splendid meal, including the most amazing lemon posset …
Roll on the rest of pre-Christmas races – 4 more in the next 5 weeks!
What we did on Saturday:
The news was announced at a long-forgotten time back in the winter. Ironman was coming to Scotland for the first time, and the race would be a 70.3 in Edinburgh. 70.3 denotes the total distance in miles, also known as ‘middle distance’: 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21km run.
I was immediately tempted because I knew it would be big, I like doing ‘firsts’ and I knew one of the organisers. On the other hand, I normally go for wilder races than this! After some short deliberation, I entered. If it had been a full Ironman (twice the distance) I’d have had to think harder, but as it was I thought I could fit it in.
During the winter and spring I tried to ride my bike more. I did two ‘warm up’ races, a sprint and a standard distance. On both I was disappointed with my bike speed and with only 6 weeks to go I knew I had to make up ground! Turns out it’s harder to fit in all this extra bike riding into my already full swim / run schedule than I imagined. However, fitness was not really the issue. The biggest problem was learning to be comfortable on my time trial bike.
As race day approached, the forum was going into a frenzy with people talking about the race and asking hundreds of questions. I had a lot to do at work and felt a bit stressed by everything! Although the race was on Sunday, it all started on Friday with registering and getting all my kit together. Saturday was spent leaving bags of kit in various places and attending the compulsory briefing.
On my last ride, one of my tri bars had moved a bit when I hit a pothole. Andy wanted me to get it fixed by the mechanic, but the queue at the bike drop just wasn’t moving. I got more and more anxious until I abandoned it and racked anyway; I thought it would be fine. This meant a less meticulous preview of the transition area than I’d have liked, then off to do the practice swim. I was only doing this to try the course for real, but the buoys were in random places in a loop that was very much not 1.9km. Fun waves, but there was already talk of a shortened course.
Race day dawned with near perfect conditions for me – strong winds to make it a bit tougher, but no rain to upset my bike handling! Izzy picked up myself, my mum and Glen at the crack of dawn and off we went. Straight into the toilet queue where we learnt that yes, we would only swim 950m. Time dragged on until I did a short warm up and went to get in the right pen. Where was the right pen? In fact, where were the pens?! I am very much unused to such large race fields. There were about 1600 starters.
I found someone else in the club who swims at a similar speed to me and we decided to push our way through. That was, until someone stopped us saying: ‘I’m not letting you through, we’re all trying to get to the same place’. We ducked under the barrier instead and found a gap to get back through further down. There was plenty of room here and people planning to go at our pace.
As it turns out, I am glad we did this. Others further back had tales of swimmers in front of them doing breaststroke, throwing up and clinging onto kayaks. As it was for me, it was a fairly smooth start straight out to the first buoy. Left turn and I was swallowing a lot of water. Slightly off track, but I corrected, turned and turned again. Now the sun was blinding me and I was still swallowing water. Rather too late, I decided to only breathe to one side (away from the waves) which was a vast improvement. I couldn’t see the final orange turn buoy so I followed feet until I got there and came ashore.
There has been a lot of discussion about the swim. Personally, I loved it and would happily have done a second lap. I gained chunks of time on my competitors and it was disappointing that I did not have the fullest opportunity to exploit my strength. However, I understand the decision made and it was right for the competitors and the conditions at the time. I do think there are some inherent issues with the sport where the swim is often seen to be survived, rather than fully integral. If I am a weak on hills or struggle when it’s hot, is it fair to put in hills, or keep a full course when it’s sunny? Yes, of course it is! But safety considerations do come into play more on the swim. I wonder if some compromise could be made with a time-out on lap one, splitting people into short- and long- course options so that most people could take part safely, but allowing the best to race the full distance.
Anyway, it was what it was and I wasn’t troubling myself about it during the race. I was out and into transition, stuffing in a banana, waving at my mum and carefully mounting. Andy shouted out that Louise, a clubmate, was just ahead, but she didn’t appear immediately and I knew she was a strong biker. It was fabby to ride on closed roads and not have to worry about traffic! I had plenty of space and only saw a couple of instances of blatant drafting all the way round.
Part of the route is a loop that goes out and back on the same road for a while. I was just in time to see the pros coming through before I was off up the hilly loop myself. I rode this well and was remembering to eat and drink, and kept an eye on my average speed as a way to stay concentrated. As I returned I saw how it looked further down the field – big crowds of riders out for a long day. I felt privileged to be where I was.
A note on support round the course – it was great! I think I saw three young people playing their bagpipes, residents out clapping us as we passed, and a chap away out near Garvald with flags, hollering and whooping with me as I went by. I tried to thank them all, when I had the breath to!
After about halfway, I started overtaking people who had passed me in the early stages. It was a good feeling. We had a headwind now, but I didn’t pay it any attention, tucked down on my bars. I did catch up with Louise finally, on the approach to Cousland, and we exchanged a few words. The final part of the course wiggles through town and I might have flagged a bit here, but before long I was over Arthur’s Seat and into transition just in time to hear the first male pro finishing his race!
I had been debating whether to avail myself of the portaloos here and eventually decided I would. I ran into one, skidded in my cleats and nearly came a cropper! However, it was worth it as I left relieved and was soon out running with another banana going down nicely.
I had a positive mindset and started at a good pace. Up the hill, down the other side, turn, back up, down, into tunnel, up it and down it, disco party, up …. ohhh that hill was excruciating, along, up, down, down .. weave past other racers in the narrow bits, try and guess who was ahead or behind, who was fresh or just faster… You get the idea.
I turned not far off my target time but now it was lap two and I was in trouble. I had supporters and people shouting my name at all sorts of unexpected places on the run course, but I could only grimace at them as I laboured past. I was nauseous, I wanted to stop and I was shivering. I have been here before and knew what it meant – dehydration. I needed a plan, and fast. I’d get to the next feed station and instead of racing through I’d walk. I’d get water, electrolytes, coke, more water. Then repeat at every station, knowing there were three on the lap. All I had to do was get to the next one, up the hill! Somehow I made it, did what I planned and carried on. After doing this three times I was feeling so very much better …
Lap 3 and I almost felt normal again. I smiled at a few people and felt strong. This was my final circuit and I had rescued myself! Up a final drag, turn left, SPRINT!! Collapse on chair.
What a race! The run was brutal but I had got round. Finishing in 5:31, I had just tipped over 5.5h. Looking at the results, my bike leg was still off the pace of the others, but I had achieved my target speed and was faster over double the distance than I had been in my last race. My swim was great, my run was reasonable. I was 6th in my age group, which seemed to have a lot of strength in depth! 25th girl and 234th overall, keeping me in top 15%, which I was pleased about. Full details here.
I must thank my mum, Andy, Izzy and all the other people I know who cheered, supported and took photos!
I had mixed feelings about the result. I did achieve most of my goals and given my main focus is swimrun I probably did as well as I could. A little part of me would have loved to get on the age group podium, but I can’t control the competition and I did my best! I also seemed to recover well. Not too much muscle soreness and after a week I was bouncing up and down hills like my normal self. Which was lucky really, because next up (two weeks later) I had a bonus race in my calendar, and it didn’t look easy!