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SMBO: Falkirk on Fire!

With our last swimrun race done for the year, my thoughts turned to mountain biking. Open 5s were coming up soon and my bike was almost gathering actual dust! It was a last minute decision, but I decided to enter the SMBO event in Falkirk. Scanning the entry list, I spotted Jon and hastily messaged him to see if he fancied pairing up. Affirmative. We were on!

The format was similar to one held earlier in the year: 90 minutes in the daylight, a rest for tea and homemade chocolate coconut brownies, then 90 minutes in the dark with the same map and controls but different values.

It was pretty chilly so we hid in the car to come up with two alternative plans, depending on the control values. The maps were 1:50k OS on one side and openstreetmap on the other. On the move, Jon read off the OS and me off the openstreet map. Sometimes one was easier to use and sometimes the other.

Jon started super fast and I was soon working hard to stay in contact. Some spot on Jon-nav helped us find a control in the woods without error. I was glad just to follow and to remember how to ride this bike!

90 minutes is not very long at all and before we knew it we had to start finalising our plans! Up a hill, looking down on the town before flying down and facing a sprint up another hill … Where did they all come from? The low sun shone through the trees, still golden in autumn colours as we crunched through the leaves.

At the last minute we decided to dive into the woods for an extra control or two on some single-track before racing back to the finish. Perfect timing, 2 minutes late. We finished this stage 3rd overall.

Suitably refilled and it was time for take 2. We now knew both the map and the control values, so were able to plan exactly what we wanted to do. Although there was some overlap, we did visit a different area. All around us fireworks were going off (it was Bonfire night), but I had to keep my eyes on where we were going! Jon started counting down; that’s only 45 minutes left. Whaaaat?! How was it even possible?

It all went to plan though, and we even had time to sail past the finish whooping and yelling whilst we did an optional extra little loop and finished … 2 minutes late again!

Final result and we had the highest score on the night stage and finished 2nd overall. I felt sorry for Davie who ripped his tyre on just about the furthest point on the map and had to run back. After admiring some more fireworks and the bonfire we trundled off (and I had the excitement of catching a tram with my bike for the first time).

Many thanks to Marc for organising an event with a bit of spice, Amelie for efficient sign on and Helen for the great soup and cake! A family affair 🙂

At the results ceremony, you can spot me hiding next to Jon in green!

At the results ceremony, you can spot me hiding next to Jon in green!

SMBO Fife Foray

After being involved in organising the last Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering (SMBO) event, I was looking forward to getting back on the other side of things. Despite my best efforts to get along with Iain again, I was thwarted by a need ‘to revise’. What are the youth coming to?!

I was only going along to keep my legs spinning as my main races this year are swimrun again. I didn’t fancy the seriousness of racing solo. After a quick message to Jon (who I’ve raced with before, Itera teammate), I had found myself a friend to go round with instead 🙂

The weather turned out glorious and the promise of cloud never materialised. After a trip over the rail bridge and a short spin, I was in Fife and at the event centre by Lochore. We took our time getting ready and even did a bit of general planning from the master maps (without controls).

Then we were off! No debating to start with and we scooped up our first few controls and negotiated our first set of gates and clouds of flies in quick time before pausing to debate our route through the woods. We had planned to go there first as the nav looked tricky and we weren’t sure how long it would take. But we needed to agree the precise order before we set off again. It felt like it took too long, but we didn’t stop again for a while.

Alarmingly, I could feel myself riding in the ‘final push for the finish’ position after only about half an hour. And the hills were nipping my legs. It was fun to be chasing and have Jon metaphorically pushing me hard though! The woods were a blast. We would ride along a wide track, then suddenly dive off onto a little singletrack before popping back out somewhere else. I didn’t even regret the slow rooty option we took at one point instead of the faster but longer route.

After the tricky woodland section I managed to convince Jon to go for an out and back along the road for 10 points. ‘only be 3 minutes!’ I said, cheerfully. More like 6 he said … So I timed it and it was and a bit 🙂 We also got time to say hello to fellow teammate Paul going in the other direction.

Loch Gow had a difficult bit of singletrack that I was pleased to ride a lot of before we were walking again, over a fence and pushing up soft stuff that would definitely be rideable down. Finally we flew down a hill on tarmac and paused again. We wondered whether this meant there was a massive hill back to the finish as we didn’t remember going up one. Looking at our profile later, we had been gradually climbing since the start! (you can see where we went here). Knowing that the forest nav turned out OK, it might have been better for speed to have gone the other way round.

I was feeling a bit stressed about how far from the finish we were, but we polished off a handful of road kilometres in no time at all. At ‘the steps’ we found a number of abandoned bikes at the bottom … But we were on our way somewhere else, so I hoisted the bike onto my shoulders in the way that Elizabeth had taught me and up we went. Before the top we could ride again and we soon flying down in ‘finishing stages’ mode.

Unfortunately,  leaving some urban streets we rode straight past an easy control. I was too busy looking out for a building that I had noted as a landmark … But it had didn’t exist any more. We were slow to correct our mistake, costing a few minutes. We would definitely be late now! The final descent had me squealing as it was steep and dusty (!) and there were walkers to negotiate.

We flew into the finish, 8 minutes late. Good enough to win the mixed pairs but missed out on 3rd overall by just 1 point. Darn that error!

I had a jolly time though, just the thing to blow away a few cobwebs, get out in the sun and enjoy the company of friends. I can also add another spot to my list of places I can easily go mountain biking car free within an hour of Edinburgh! Thanks to organiser Campbell for a great day out. Full results here.

Open 5 Todmorden (South Pennines)

It’s more than a bit late for this report. Life seems to have been getting in the way of write ups!

I stayed at my mum’s with my friend Jim the night before. It was an early start, driving through temperature inversions that meant we alternated between bright sunshine and fog. The race venue was still more in the latter state and there was mention of snow on higher ground. I was more confident for sun!

I was racing with Lucy again and we did debate whether to bike first, but stuck to ‘what normally works’ and ran first instead. By the end I was wishing we hadn’t, though unlike the last time this happened, it was less a strategy miscalculation and more of a ‘might have saved ourselves’ option.

Off we went, almost, but not quite last out. Straight up a hill and back down again for the first control. Lucy had the end of a cold in her lungs, but I wouldn’t have known it as we were flying along and I was breathing hard trying to keep up. Navigation in the town was tricky and we ended up the wrong side of the canal and unable to get on the bridge. I later found out there was a route through a beer garden, but we never spotted that! We lost about 5 minutes here, take note.

Onwards and up onto the hills, where navigation was a bit easier. We found a control on a footpath / stream crossing, where I’d say the ‘footpath’ was only barely hanging on to its status. We were up high and scooting along a ridge with great views. Stoodly Pike (with a great big tower) was like a siren, with a 30 point control on it.

We got another control then paused to contemplate our options. I had roughly estimated the bike length at 32km. We needed to allow 3h. Though sometimes, depending on terrain, we’d do it quicker than that. How long left for the run? 7-8km at 6-7 minutes per km. Just over 40 minutes then (see what I did there?). Lucy really wanted to go to the tower. Well, we had won the series already and it looked fun, she said. I was more anxious but, yes, the tower did look inviting, it seemed it was almost as long to take the direct route home and if we weren’t going we should have decided a control ago … so off we went.

Darn, we ran round the tower looking for a balcony, before realising it we had to go inside, up a spiral staircase in the pitch dark, no lights. This was slow!! A couple more minutes lost.

Running back down, Lucy had to wait for me, though I found my legs again on the flatter road section. It was along drag back along the canals and through Todmorden. We came in 49 minutes after our deliberations, with only 2h40 left for the bike.

As previously ascertained, there really was no other option for the bike leg but to go all the way round the big loop. I couldn’t see any other sensible alternatives, so off we went. Maybe we both already had a sinking feeling about this, as I’m not sure our usual ‘drive’ was in evidence.

We're sure there should be a control here somewhere

We’re sure there should be a control here somewhere

I navigated well through town, only for us to promptly get confused and take the wrong bridleway, ending up pushing in hot sunshine. Studying the map very carefully afterwards, I can see the bridleway we took was on the map – I just couldn’t see it at the time. It was tricky to read due to the hundreds of paths, contours and ‘stuff’. Yes, it was hilly. We turned too early, which I kicked myself about, as usually I have an eye on the distance as well as the junctions. This cost us about 7 minutes – are you keeping a tally?

Once on the right track it was a ride / hike mixture until we hit a road at the top and flew like maniacs with a tailwind. This felt better, maybe we had enough time after all, our average speed was going up. Off road again onto a fun track to a reservoir. We were heading for a ‘permissive bridleway’ – sometimes these indicate high use paths and are better quality, but sadly, not the case today. I briefly considered going the long way round, but we didn’t – others reported doing this and having a much better time.

So forlooorn ...

So forlooorn …

Anyway, after another km of pushing we finally made it to a decent track. 40 minutes left, we had to go fast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t towing territory. And besides, my stomach was not feeling great, I was queasy. Maybe I hadn’t been drinking enough in the unaccustomed sunshine! We got to the control that was missing (luckily we’d heard someone shout something about it), so we took a photo to prove we’d been there and headed off again.

We're finishing quite late

We’re finishing quite late

We were nearing the end and got to a section with loads of gates. We were doing ‘gate relay’ – one of us go through, ride ahead to the next one, whilst the other shut the first and caught up, to switch over again. We were nearing a farmhouse and it was my turn to hold the gate. I shouted “200m past the farm, then turn left!” Unfortunately, the message didn’t land, as Lucy turned at the farmhouse and I was chasing her down the road shouting “um, I don’t think this is right!” whilst desperately trying to work out how this way went (it was a sort of square). Eventually Lucy stopped, we had overshot the alternative junction and had to turn back. Another 2 minutes gone.

Things were getting pretty bad by now, chat was rather minimal. We both just wanted to be home. It should have been ‘all downhill’, but it wasn’t. The final turning had a ‘Road Closed’ sign. “Do you want to find out why?” asked Lucy. “Yes!” I said emphatically. We really didn’t have time to faff about. I was encouraged when a group of motorcyclists roared past and when we got to the point, it was only half the single lane road dug up, so we had no problems getting through. There was a possible shortcut through town but we weren’t certain of it, so we stuck to the main road and finally drew into transition.

19 minutes late. The sad sight of only our shoes and bags sitting forlornly in transition by themselves.

This was a disappointing end to the series. Despite the lovely countryside and demanding course, I think we weren’t quite on it. Even so – frustratingly, if we had eliminated the nav errors we’d have only been about 5 minutes late – and have had an excellent score – which goes to show that it wasn’t our planning that was out as such, just our execution of it!

We came 2nd female pairs, only 5 points behind 1st (penalties go up at 5 points per minute after 10 minutes). Results here. Although this wasn’t the end I’d hoped for, we had already done enough to win the series. I had a pleasant train journey direct back to my mum’s and a hot dinner waiting for me!

Here and here a couple of reports from other friends at the race, who weren’t so busy getting back so late 😉

Many thanks to Open Adventure, James Kirby for photos and all the course organisers and other volunteers.

Until next winter …

SMBO Falkirk Day / Night

Falkirk Canal Tunnel

Falkirk Canal Tunnel

  © Copyright Rob Burke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

A couple of weekends ago, it was the first SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) event of the year. I wasn’t sure about entering because of my dodgy knee. It was complaining about cycling so racing didn’t seem too wise. However, I then persuaded Iain (14) and, more importantly his dad, that this would be an ideal event for him to come and do with me.

And so it was that I turned up at Iain’s house 5 minutes late, and we scuttled off to get the train to Falkirk. Pedalling to the venue from the station was more uphill than down, but we arrived in one piece. Lots of people I knew were there, including Jon, bearing a spare map board for us to borrow.

The twist in this event was that it was a day / night. Clue in the name. The total race time was 3 hours, but it was split into two. 1.5h to ride in the day time, then all the control values changed and we had 1.5h to ride again once it got dark!

Iain is great on a bike, but he doesn’t get much practice. He is also more than competent with a map, so we set off on the day stage with him navigating and setting the pace. There were two versions of the map – an OS one (which Iain had) and an openstreetmap one (which I had). This was handy as sometimes one had better information than the other. We wound round some fun singletrack and blasted down a hill to the canal. We were moving fast! A detour into some woods, where there were some grumbles about a ‘hill’, then back onto the canal and to the long tunnel that looked a bit dark and spooky!

We went another way, aiming for a ‘fast’ route on some tarmac, missing the turning, riding across some grass and getting tangled up in the Scottish Cross County Championships. That part might have been my fault. Iain did spot a bit of the Antonine Wall on the way though. Then off to a mausoleum. We were looking for the gate and were at the perimeter wall, when we realised we had gone the wrong way round. “Shall we backtrack on the path, or just go straight up through the woods?”, I mused. Up we went, and then down, which was a bit of a laugh, as when we got to the gate we’d gone round about two thirds instead of one third, which Iain was only too quick to point out to me.

1.5h doesn’t last very long and suddenly, when we were as far away as it was possible to be from the finish, we found we had only 24 minutes left. Unfortunately, this was also the point that the trail got really technical, then disappeared under a pile of felled trees and branches. We had to bash through to the main path then escape onto a road. Time to race to the finish! Hey, but maybe we can get that control on the other end of the canal tunnel? We started off to it, before realising it was in a deep cutaway and it was a long way round if weren’t prepared for a vertical jump.

We had already started off to it but turned around and pedalled like crazy for home. It was a good time to teach Iain the adventure racing art of being towed. His lesson took 5 seconds: ‘hold this with your hand, let go straight away if anything goes wrong, pay attention to what I’m doing!’ and off we went! Turns out he was a master at it.

We got back over 7 minutes late, which was disappointing as it meant we lost 20 points. Luckily, we still had 155 left! This is another thing I like to teach; you should always get best value for money by riding longer than you really should. ‘Oooo, my legs are all wobbly’ Iain said, as we queued to download!

It got cold quickly as darkness fell. We ate soup and cake. And a bit more cake. And maybe another piece. With our lights all set up I asked Iain if he had ever ridden at night before. No. Well, a race is as good a time as any to learn! We still had the map from earlier, but no control values. We had a guess at where the good scoring ones might be as we knew they would swap around from the day stage. We also planned two possible loops that were a bit more conservative than our first attempt! I measured them, counting as I moved my finger along the route. ‘What distance is each thing?’ ‘A thingy’ ‘What’s a thingy?’ ‘It doesn’t matter! This afternoon we rode 25 thingies, and this loop is only 22 of them!’ 🙂

Off we went, pedalling hard to warm up. Back down to the canal again the direct way, and we moved as fast as we had in the day on the first part, which was a repeat. Iain remarked that this time, his legs didn’t feel like they had only just started, and his bum was sore! The ‘hill’ in the woods put in another appearance, to more groans.

Then we approached the tunnel again. Now, at night, the inside looked less spooky than the outside! We rode along it, admiring how it is hewn out of the rock, dodging the big drips of water and trying to concentrate enough not to fall in.

We were now on unfamiliar territory but were following Iain’s dad’s signs for the John Muir Way. Round an estate and across a pond, up a hill with views out to the lights of Falkirk. The ground was getting frosty and we rode through a few Slush Puppy puddles. I was doing more navigation this time, with Iain keeping an eye on things. Once I told him to go ahead and get the control so I wasn’t ‘taking over’ all the fun bits, and he rode straight past it!

We used the tow a little bit, but Iain was feeling good again. We got back near the start and were on a road when I heard a clatter behind me, then silence! Alarmed, I stopped, expecting to see Iain in a heap, but in fact he was still riding along. ‘What happened?!’ I asked. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I was just looking at Orion, swerved to the side a bit and hit this plastic thing in the road!’ … panic over.

We actually had a few minutes left, so although we were almost back, we popped into the woods to get two more controls we had saved up. They were tricky to get in and out of, as there was a little maze of forest tracks and mountain bike trails. We debated a bit which way to go to get out, but ultimately the answer was ‘towards all those lights!’.

We got back just 38 secs late, which was much better than stage one. In fact, our night performance was better all round, as we scored 224 points!

We were cheered by the tales from other people – who had got back as late as we had in the day, or gone the wrong way, or got lost. It just goes to show it can happen to the best, even my Itera team mates! 😀

Points tallied, and we finished 3rd generation pair (adult with an under 18). Excellent work. This category was the second biggest on the day, with 10 entrants! Great to see so many families out. We missed out on the lights prize for being back closest to time on the night stage by 37 seconds … Never mind. Results are all here.

Time to cruise back down the hill and catch a train. At that time on a Saturday the passengers tend to be quite merry, and it turns out there were already bikes in both bike carriages. We comically ran along the platform twice before choosing our spot, jumping on, and wriggling into two spare seats.

By the time we got back to Edinburgh it was 21:30 and we were pretty peckish. Luckily Papa John’s was perfect as we could wheel our bikes right inside and sit in the warm to wait for our order. The only deficiency was that their pizza sizes were measured in slices (‘since when has a slice between a unit of measurement?’). We ran up the hill giggling, with hot smells wafting out of our boxes. Before long, we were camped in the living room, telling our tales, eating pizza and swigging coke (despite parental disapproval)!

I can’t ride the next event in April, because I’m organising it.  But Iain already wants to come, so his dad will have to do the honours instead!

Many thanks to Marc and his team of helpers (young and old-er!) for putting on such a fun and accessible event.

Open 5 – Blanchland (North Pennines)

It was time to head down for another Open 5, and this month I was going with Glen, another newbie who I’d convinced this would be a good idea! Due to snowy conditions, we headed for the coastal route. Numerous signs announced the presence of coffee chops, but it took a couple of detours and a double stop at a level crossing to find one open and willing to serve us. We continued the theme once we arrived in the Pennines, as we visited three pubs before getting to one that a) could serve us and b) had something I wanted to eat.

Snowy hills greeted us in the morning

Snowy hills greeted us in the morning

Lucy had texted me halfway down to say she wouldn’t be able to make it 😦 . It was not entirely unexpected as she had warned me of a bad tooth infection and was somewhat drug-addled and exhausted. She often gives me warnings about things, but this is the first time I’ve known something to actually stop her, so it must have been really bad.

After a noisy night in the youth hostel (why did the beds creak with every turn?!), it was a rush in the morning as time slipped away. Solos have to be away earlier than pairs, but our plans to set off promptly were scuppered as we had to defrost the car enough to open the doors and scrape all the frozen snow off the windows.

I haven’t done an Open 5 solo since April 2012, so it was almost a novelty and I was a little anxious. I felt under pressure as I looked at the map and tried to figure out something sensible. Bike looked OK, but that’s the one I’m used to planning for! I kept staring blankly at the run map waiting for inspiration to hit. Jon (Itera team mate) appeared and I felt better after we chatted a bit. He sort of offered to team up as a mixed pair – but by that time I had psyched myself up for solo and registered and … but on reflection, I think I’d say yes if there was a next time!

I headed out with Glen after making sure he was all sorted and was remonstrated with for letting him pin his number on sideways. But we both set off at almost the same time, with the snowy whiteness and bright sunshine making my map highlighting stand out brilliantly. Makes a change from rain washing it all straight off again 🙂

I had decided to run first, since that’s what I normally do. It would also mean I got the part I was less confident about done, and I hoped that the sun and traffic would clear some of the roads by the time I got to biking.

In actual fact, most of the run went OK. My only strategic error was at the start, as I did a long wiggle to get a 10-pointer. For the same extra distance I could have got 20 points later on instead. Luckily, I didn’t realise this at the time, so it wasn’t on my mind! Instead, I was enjoying being the first person to make tracks in some of the deep snow. Even the cross-country romp across heathery moorland was fun.

Off the hill and down to a river crossing, searching for a control on a tree 2m downstream. I followed footprints but could not find it anywhere. Super fast Tom Gibbs arrived looking in the same place me, and then someone else I had previously overtaken joined us. All 3 of us milling around … Just as Tom said, “maybe they meant upstream”, Glen appeared from the other (upstream) direction and we spotted it behind him!

The engine house

The engine house

On the move again, and I was pretty pleased with how it went. I didn’t panic in the woods following one lone set of old footprints through the snow (it would have been impossible to find the path without them) and managed to eat a whole chia charge flapjack on a run down a road. Crossing the river and heading up a steep hill, a car came past me before skidding to a halt and sliding down again backwards. I kept out of the way and headed for a final small loop via an old engine house which I’d like to have explored a bit!

15.5km done in 2h4 mins, dropping 4 controls worth 50 points. I did wonder how much I was missing the ‘Lucy effect’ though. Normally she navigates as fast as I can run, and pushes the pace in between as well. This time I was having to keep an eye on the map, and mentally kept asking myself ‘if Lucy were here, would I be running faster now?’.

I did a quick transition and was back out on the bike, up a road I had checked was clear of ice as I had run in. Two easy controls on the long climb up to the woods. Here I was very careful to stay on the rights of way (byways), though there were faster routes on the fire roads. Clearly there had been some frozen puddles earlier in the day, which were now pools of water filled with shards of broken ice. I just went through the middle of most of them, getting a shock when they were deeper than expected!

Controls peeking out from the snow

Controls peeking out from the snow

There was a muddy slog up a hill. I was with another team and a solo, who stopped to check our direction. I said: “If anything we’re heading east instead of southeast, which would take us directly to the control”. I continued on and came out at a junction with a big track in front of me that I wasn’t expecting. ‘Hmm, funny’, I thought, ‘but this is the byway’, so I turned left for an out and back. Suddenly it occurred to me – was that the junction with the control? That I had been heading for? That was where a big track led off? I shouted to the others to ask if they had checked – they said no, it definitely wasn’t there. We rode the distance I expected, but the trees were now too close, and there was no control on the posts. Darn! Now I was convinced it was back where we had come from. Yes, the map was wrong, but if I had engaged my brain and not got distracted I probably wouldn’t have made the mistake!

Blanchland bike 2

It had cost me about 9 minutes, and I was determined to make up time by pushing on. Fortunately, the riding here was amazing. In contrast to the roads of last month, this time we were up on the moors. What might normally have been straightforward wide tracks were made fun by snow. I even had a chance to notice some of the amazing views, briefly! There followed a twisting, winding bridleway, where I was relieved that others had marked the way before me – I wouldn’t have wanted to be the first, trying to work out where it went.

As I popped out near the start, I allowed myself a minute or two to work out where to go on a second loop. I could definitely get all but one remote control on the moor. But as I calculated things, I realised I would definitely be back about 15 minutes early if I did that. I hedged my bets, going round the controls in such a way as to leave the decision to the end. Yes, it turned out I had to go out and back to the trig point hidden on a hill in the clouds. Tom went past me again, and gave some words of encouragement. It was actually a nice section to finish with, even if I did fall off on my way back down!

Happy days

Happy days

As I hit the road, I was short of time. There were a final 15 points on offer on a route that was no further but was off road. I simply didn’t have time. I shot off down the tarmac, just as a hailstorm whipped up and combined with a headwind. It pelted my face and felt like hundreds of stinging needles. I shielded my face with my arm, and peered out from one slitted eyelid, hoping nothing would come the other way … Finally, I got back to the finish, narrowly avoiding a car which turned without indicating. What a stressful end! I dibbed, 1 second over 3 minutes late – ouch! 8 penalty points, not too bad.

I got changed rapidly as the descent and hail had chilled me. It was a strange experience having to queue to download and not having to queue for food. That’s what leaving half an hour earlier does! I had got a high score but, like last month, realised so had many other people.

Podium

Podium

When results were announced, I had won the female solos, but it was close. Overall I was just outside the top 20. Despite having done some amazing fun running and biking, I felt a little flat. I know there were a couple of minor changes I’d make, but no race is ever perfect. Maybe I am out of practice, or maybe pairs suit me better, but I definitely missed having someone to push me on, to chat to on the way round and to share the ups and downs with! At least next time I’d know to say yes to Jon. And get better soon Lucy! 😀

Snowstorm!

Snowstorm!

Glen had a good time too, didn’t get too lost, and finished in time. I think he’ll be back 🙂 . It only remained for us to drive home by the scenic route, watching a beautiful sunset over the snowy moors, before descending into darkness and more falling snow.

Thanks to Open Adventure for putting on the race, Joe and friends at Nav4 for food, and James Kirby for photos.

Still looking at the map ...

Still looking at the map …

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.

Did I mention it was wet?

Did I mention it was wet?

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.

Catching up with Terrex teammates

Catching up with Terrex teammates

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.

Both descending carefully!

Both descending carefully!

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 😀 .

Think we cycled up here, but this track was nice and wide for easy chatting

Think we cycled up here, but this track was nice and wide for easy chatting, so I wasn’t paying full attention …

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…

Fording the river (hi Eddie!)

Fording the river (hi Eddie!)

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.

TAKE CARE!

TAKE CARE!

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.

I love an exciting waterfall

I love an exciting waterfall

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 🙂 .

Prizegiving. Still wearing *that* jumper

Prizegiving. Still wearing *that* jumper

Isoman Triathlon

Isoman is described as ‘triathlon evolved’. The principle is that each discipline takes about the same amount of elapsed time and therefore, theoretically, each has equal importance. Back in my university days (when I only swam and ran) I might have agreed, but now I’m not so sure!

In any case, Izzy and I entered this race because it fitted well with our Ötillö swimrun training plans. I also like doing new things. There was a full distance event at 11km swimming, 90km biking and 42km running. Despite flirting with that idea, we had both sensibly gone for the half distance instead.

Anyone who knows anything about triathletes will know that many of them dislike the swim and see it as something to get out of the way. In contrast, this event was a swimmer’s race. Despite a very accessible 45km bike leg, and a tough but achievable half marathon run, entrants to the half still had to be up for a 5.6km swim!

Preparation for the race had been far from ideal. Although I had done most of my training, work had been more manic than it has been for years. Lots of late nights, shortened sleeps and extra stress. I also did not target this race and my taper, such as it was, was merely an easy week beforehand. I arrived at the race fit, but not exactly zingy!

And so we found on a sunny morning in Redditch that we were lining up for a four lap, star-shaped swim of the lake in Arrow Valley Country Park. The water was green and murky, which makes a change from the brown and murky that I’m used to. It was also really warm. Although the swim was much longer than usual, the pattern of racing was the same. Some people shot off, I started at a sensible pace, found myself bridging groups and gradually overtaking towards the end. I got into a kind of metronomic state, with my arms swinging over as I counted strokes and sighted every 12th. It was calm and the banks were close, so it was quite easy to swim in straight lines. I saw Izzy as we went under the timing mat for the last lap.

My time was much slower than for the similar length swim race in Manchester, but I had been acutely aware of making sure I could still stand and safely ride a bike afterwards. My last road triathlon had involved a heavy crash off the bike out of transition and I didn’t fancy a repeat! Still, I was more than happy with the consistency of my lap times (24:16, 24:46, 24:46, 25:12).

One unique aspect of this event is that the transitions are timed out for up to 7 minutes (T1) and 5 minutes (T2). So I took my time to go through smoothly and even say hello to Izzy as she came in just after me!

Trying not to suffer too much on the run

Trying not to suffer too much on the run

Out onto the bike leg. I was riding my new time trial bike for the first time in a race. In fact, it was only about the fourth time I had ridden it all, and certainly the furthest I had ever been on it! The first part of the ride was on a dual carriageway. The traffic was very light, but I was too afraid of excessive wobbles to check over my shoulders for cars and was mostly concerned with staying upright! Once we got onto the county lanes I settled down a lot and my next concern was how to drink. I had forgotten to practice this bit … It was wobbly, but I managed it by dint of slowing down. After a while I even found that I was enjoying myself. My average speed was just under 30km/h. I’d be happy with that over double the distance on my road bike, but I’m sure there’s room for improvement there!

A perfectly timed 5 minute transition and I was out on the run. I had really been looking forward to this part. It was to be a test of how much I’ve improved recently. However, after about 5 minutes my shins started screaming at me. They were really painful. I decided the best cure would be to tell them to shut up and keep on running 🙂 It felt like I had to slow to a jog though. Sure enough, after about half an hour whatever the problem was resolved itself and I felt fantastic.

About 10 minutes later I started to melt … The sun was beating down, far more than I am used to ‘up North’. It must have been at least hitting the heady heights of 25 degrees. I took a cup of fluid at every aid station but the tell-tale signs of heat exhaustion / dehydration were kicking in. Shivers, wooziness, swollen hands. I gritted my teeth and kept plugging away, knowing the end was near. As soon as I fell over the line I crawled into the shade of a bouncy castle to drink and cool down.

Izzy at the finish

Izzy at the finish

The facts do not lie, my two times were only 18secs apart. Which is strange as they didn’t feel the same! I was disappointed with my run time (which was 10-15 minutes slower than I had hoped for), but knew I couldn’t have done any more on the day. The race was much harder than I expected. Which is back to this business of being equalised … Compared to a middle distance triathlon, we had basically swapped an hour and a bit of biking for the same of swimming. And I’m fairly sure that biking hard is less tiring than swimming hard. A bit of results analysis also shows that for over two thirds of the field, final positions didn’t vary by more than 5 places from when they exited the water.

Eventually after various revisions of results, I was confirmed as 3rd female / 10th overall. It was a shame podium positions were only given to winners, but it doesn’t change the result. An interesting touch is an award for ‘most equal’ athlete based on time. I placed 6th in this competition and wonder what could have been if I hadn’t been so knocked out on the run! Izzy was 4th / 16th, so it was a good day out.

Overall I had enjoyed the race, despite my body reeling for a couple of days afterwards from the effects of the heat! It was well organised and the marshals were friendly. There was every opportunity for people to take part, with a quarter distance race and options to enter single discipline races as well, which Andy happily availed himself of (beating my half marathon time by 5 minutes!).

isoman 3

Andy found it hot as well!

Next up is the Beast of Ballyhoura, a 72h team adventure race in Ireland, which happens to be the European Championships and somehow slipped into my diary in a moment of inattention 😉

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.

Little puddle!

Little puddle!

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.

At the start of the hill

At the start of the hill

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!

 
 

Lollipop. Proof I went to the lollipop handout point.

Lollipop. Proof I went to the lollipop handout point.

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!

Sprint finish, with Andy hiding by a tree!

Sprint finish, with Andy hiding by a tree!

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 🙂

Deziree

Deziree

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!

Caroline, myself, Elizabeth

Caroline, myself, Elizabeth

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.

The Brutal Half

It’s been oh so quiet … Since Itera I have not been doing much. I learnt my lessons after the last expedition race I did (the Terrex in 2010) and this time I wasn’t getting back into anything too quickly. So I spent 3 whole weeks eating, sleeping, pottering to work on my bike and not much else.

When I did my event planning for the year, I thought perhaps I could combine Itera training with iron-distance triathlon training. So I kept my eye on an event near my dad’s house in Llanberis 5 weeks after Itera, which I could enter at the last minute providing I had recovered well and was feeling fit.

As it turns out, I did recover well, and managed a good strong week of training after my 3 weeks of recovery. But the event I had in mind (the Brutal) wasn’t just normal iron-distance; the run had large chunks off road and finished with a run up and down Snowdon with a buddy. To be honest, I didn’t have the motivation to race that hard for that long and face another few weeks of tiredness. I hadn’t done any specific training and was feeling pretty satisfied with the year from a ‘big race’ perspective. I was also starting to feel good again and had my eye on quite a few events for the rest of the year!

Is it me, or is it still quite dark?!

Is it me, or is it still quite dark?!

So instead I entered the ‘half’. Half the distance, half the laps (I’m not a big fan of laps), half the price and I could run Snowdon at the end by myself. I innocently thought I could just bash this one out, feel good for the rest of the weekend and carry on uninterrupted 🙂 .

On Friday we ended up walking down through the woods to town twice, once to register and once for the briefing and to set up kit in the transition marquee. I managed to get a lift back up the hill twice though, despite my dad’s poorly leg!

The first ‘brutal’ part of the event was the start time. I set off from my dad’s house to pedal down the hill at 05:25. Urgghh! It was still dark and the road was twisty and gravelly. I stayed safe though and had plenty of time to find a space to rack my bike (it was pick your own spot, I went for last rack, second frog from the end) and double check all was still as I left it in the tent. We each had our own chair – very unusual! But this event not only had people out doing the full distance, but also some doing double that again, and not finishing until late on Sunday. OK, I admit, as well as debating between full and half I did also consider the double … but sense got the better of me.

The lake wasn’t cold for the swim, about 16ºC. My main problem was not having worn a wetsuit since my last triathlon on 29th June and having done just three swim sessions since the end of July, 8 weeks before. My arms felt constricted and a bit heavy, but I got on with it. We were confused at the first turn by all the orange buoys – which one was ours?! I swam a bendy line but got back on track. Two laps later and just 2 minutes slower than I had planned I was running across the field into transition.

Getting in. Last time I did this here it was midday, sunny and I was not in a wetsuit!

Getting in. Last time I did this here it was midday, sunny and I was not in a wetsuit!

Me going round the buoy at the end of lap 1 - halfway there

Me going round the buoy at the end of lap 1 – halfway there

A quick changeover and I set off on the bike, with Andy cheering. About 200m later I was still feeling a bit weebly wobbly from the swim, was worrying about whether I should have tucked my jersey under my race belt and noticing I could see the lake on my right and thinking I might be able to glimpse long course swimmers. Next thing, I looked up to see I was heading towards the kerb at high speed. There was a wobble, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I knew I was going down. Smash! I catapulted head first onto the pavement. My immediate thought was ‘I’ve hit my head, I’ll have to stop’, immediately followed by things such as: Is my new jersey ripped? Are my shorts OK? I’ve dropped a bar. There’s blood. No broken bones. Lucky I wore gloves else my hand would be full of holes. I’m not unconscious. Is the bike working?

Transitioning out of the high class event marquee

Transitioning out of the high class marquee

Pretty quickly I was astride my bike, tucking my jersey in (didn’t need that thought distracting me again) and cautiously pedalling along the course, away from transition. My tri bars were a bit askance, but usable. My arm hurt to rest on them, but was bearable. My elbow and knee were bleeding, but moving. There were no holes in my clothes. The brakes and gears were working. I carried on. The next 25 minutes were slightly hesitant. I ate and drank and monitored myself, especially when I saw a few stars. But then I decided, if I’m still doing this, I need to get on with it. I started to watch my speed and keep the power up.

Each lap had a flat bit, a short sharp up and down then a long ride along the beautiful valley from Waunfawr to Beddgelert. Then there followed a long steady climb. As my dad has told me, it was graded for a horse and carriage, so you can ride a lot of it on your tri bars in something other than your lowest gear. Over the top and it’s a fast, twisty descent back to the start. I had to do 2 laps.

At the start of the first long climb I had just caught another girl. I ate a bit and planned to ride past on the climb. But she pulled away!! I lost her somewhere over the descent, but she must have paused as she went round for lap 2, perhaps to pick up a bottle, because she popped out just in front of me again. I came past and opened a gap but then there were traffic lights on red. She caught up and went by on the hill. I decided to just work at my own pace along the valley and keep her in sight. Although the gap between us varied a bit, it was never more than about 100m.

I assumed she would go again on the climb, but I think she had worked harder knowing I was there this time and was perhaps a bit more tired. In fact, the results say we both went faster the second time around! I was holding the distance between us, and then somehow managed to catch her. We exchanged a few amicable words, then I passed and came into transition with a slender 1:20 lead.

Still riding, and upright this time

Still riding, and upright now

The first part of the run was round the lake. It was flat on the first side, then up a steep road and into the woods, with variable gradients and surfaces. Andy jogged next to me for a couple of minutes, which was nice.  I was in a lot of pain as I’d had stomach cramps since the end of the swim. Sometimes this happens and I don’t know why. It wasn’t because I’d eaten gels and bars either! I’d had two bananas, a big square of sticky rice cake, a porridge bite, a mouthful of a bread thing and water and Nuun (electrolyte solution). I could hardly stand upright but eventually it eased as I ran along the lake shore. As I slowed to go through a gate I realised I was quite dizzy … I had another porridge bite and then a bit later a gel. I was gasping for water but expected the feed station as we turned off the road.

The girl I had overtaken on the bike caught me up on the road hill. She was looking bouncy and I was dying! I know running is not my forte, so had expected to be caught given how well she climbed on a bike. I had no choice but to let her go. At the feed station I gulped 2 cups of water and 1 of squash and felt better. Running back to the transition field I was actually feeling OK!

The easy way up, explicitly forbidden at race briefing

The easy way up, explicitly forbidden at race briefing

To go up on the mountain, we had to carry compulsory kit and pass a medical check. As I ran in, I was asked ‘do you need to see the medic?’ I assumed this meant, ‘are you ready to go up the hill?’. I looked confused and said ‘but don’t I need to get my mountain bag first?’ (as this also got a quick check). Back came the reply ‘you’re bleeding!!’. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. But the blood had mostly dried up by now and I was on a mission. I got my bag and went for my official check. The medic asked me more than once … are you sure you don’t want it treated? … But I said no, it had been like that for 4.5 hours already, it could wait a couple more. I was allowed to go!

Tired and bloodied!

Tired and bloodied!

On the lower slopes I was sweating profusely and very glad it was an overcast day. Andy appeared again for a bit and gave me some encouraging words. After he had gone, Kev (another racer) caught up with me and very kindly accompanied me to the top. He had done this event last year and could give me pointers on what was coming up and how fast to expect to do it. He also kept me motivated to move when I felt like stopping (as I didn’t want to slow him down) and checked I was alright in woozy moments. I felt a bit sick but also realised that tripping over my feet and the dizziness when I paused were due to lack of food, so I made myself eat some more.

We overtook crowds of tourists, including someone in a onesie. Really? There were cigarette butts on the floor, and Kev remarked he wasn’t sure if he was impressed or horrified. People kept asking me if I was alright and I kept thinking I must look dreadful, until I remembered the blood all over my leg. We didn’t run for long as it got pretty steep and my legs were tired. My calves were also threatening to cramp and I was extremely grateful that I had taken my poles with me! Given how I felt when I stopped using them to eat I definitely know they were helping.

Ascending into the mists

Ascending into the mists

Because you come back the same way you go up, you can see where everyone else is. After we saw the leading lady going down, it took us 6 minutes to get to the top. It was quite cold and wet, as the cloud and fog were heavy. I told Kev to go down at his own pace. I know my descending isn’t great. I wasn’t giving up though, as visions of being caught in the Coniston race played on my mind and Andy had told me off earlier and said not to settle for ‘third is OK’. 3 minutes after I’d turned, I saw the next lady going up. We said hello, and I wondered how much faster going down was than up!

Now I knew I had to go for it. This was one of my aims for the race. I wanted to remember how it felt running off the Brecon Beacons on a tow behind Sam at Itera. If I could do it then on day 5 with blisters, I could do it now for sure! Off I went and actually kept Kev in sight all the way. I passed the halfway house. I almost got calf cramp again, several times. I almost face-planted, but didn’t. I reached the road. Still only one person had come by.

I allowed myself to check over my shoulder and could see ‘someone’ about 200m behind. I was determined not to give in, and my poles click-clacked on the steep road. We reached the first row of houses and it was maybe only 300m to go. I nearly got cramp again! So I had to moderate my speed and try and work out how to land and pick up my foot not to set it off. Then there was the finish archway, and I was under and I was second. Yay!

Flat out

Flat out

Compared to my target times I had done alright. A couple of minutes down on the swim (due to lack of specific training), and a few more on the bike (due to crash, cramps, lack of ‘fast’ riding recently and fighting a bug the previous week, I think). My lake run lap was spot on target. My mountain run was much slower – but I had underestimated the difficulty! It didn’t stop me being proud of my descent and of holding my time compared to 3rd. Interestingly, my overall placing for the mountain was lower than for the rest of the race, but 10 minutes would have lifted my place for ‘Snowdon only’ by 16 spots. People’s times on this section were close together. My race against 1st was lost on the run, but my race against 3rd was won on the swim.

Everything hurts

Everything hurts

Now I only had the matter of getting up off the floor and seeing the medic. ‘Pouch’ did a fantastic job of checking for broken bones then patiently cleaning and bandaging my wounds before I hobbled home. The next day I could hardly move. This was a combination of all the bumps and bruises (road rash, holes and scratches on my left shin, knee, hip, arm and shoulder and right arm and elbow), stiff tummy muscles from the cramps on the bike and all the usual soreness from running up and down a big mountain! Never has getting dressed and standing up and down been so difficult. Lesson learnt: pay attention to where you’re going on a bike and don’t underestimate the difficulty of a 7.5h long event called ‘Brutal’, even if it is only ‘half’ of something! 😀

Thanks Pouch!

Thanks Pouch!

Many thanks to Brutal Events for putting on an event with such a great atmosphere. Also to Andy Kirkland for the photographs (click on the link for a gory knee close up shot)!

Foxlake Triathlon

❗ Warning: too much fun alert!

After the disappointment of the weekend before in Coniston, I had had a slightly gloomy week. By Friday night my legs were still hurting and I feared for my left quad which was verging on painful. However, I had signed up for the Foxlake Tri event – relay and solo.

There was not a lot to suggest this race would suit my strengths – as each full triathlon lasted less than 20 minutes and I’m an endurance athlete! However, there were some twists. And it was organised by Durty Events, which meant there would probably be some mud involved.

Discussing the route and correct dibber usage with Jo

Discussing the route and correct dibber usage with Jo

The first event was a relay in the same format as the Commonwealth Games. Four athletes per team, and you all do the whole race once. The second event was a solo race with multiple rounds.

To prepare, there were a few things I had to do. Firstly, my rear mountain bike tyre was not holding air. A facebook plea produced an explanation, a remedy and an offer of a tutorial on how to fix it (sealant supplied). Huge thanks to Ewan for this, it was easy peasy and I am no longer scared of this job!

Secondly, this race was so short that time in transition needed to be minimised. This meant wearing the same shoes for the bike and run. But I had no decent mountain bike flat pedals! Glen helped me out here, loaning me a set of pedals from his own bike. I collected them from his girlfriend on Friday night and decided the pot of grease also laid out was a hint that I’d better not let them get jammed on! (as if 😉 ).

Other modifications to my usual routine included no socks and no gloves. Fortunately the recent weather and the small size of lake meant the water was lovely and warm, and wetsuits were optional (I opted out)!

Our club (ERC) had targeted this race for the relay teams, all ably organised and coordinated by Alistair. In the end we had 5 teams of 4; 20 people all creating a sea of red around the briefing area. I am not convinced the club trisuit is the most flattering design on me and my women’s specific black number is more comfy, but I wore it anyway to make sure I was identified in the right tribe!

Getting everyone together to register was a bit like herding cats, as we all set off at different times to ride round the bike course and see what it was like. We registered with not much time left before the start – and I was going first! Luckily, with a minimal transition and no wetsuit, there wasn’t a lot to get ready. In the water and I was only just checking my goggles were on properly and wasn’t even at the line when Paul shouted “GO!!!”. Yikes! I quickly got going but had missed the front group!

Getting in (I'm in the red suit)

Getting in (I’m in the red suit)

Not to worry, I was soon out of the water, avoiding falling in the special hole just before the bank, and was through transition and onto my bike. The course was a lot of fun. A fast part by the lake, then a windy bit of singletrack through some trees, with lush green fronds brushing at your legs. Then a very fast double track section with a few big muddy puddles to catch your wheels! Finally, a zigzag up and down a bank 3 times with some technical little bits to watch out for – a tree stump, some loose ground, gravel and a slidy bit on the final turn back into the field. I had overtaken Alistair and Andrew from ERC, and another man I didn’t recognise. One of our guys was claiming ‘he had a mechanical’; to be fair, I did see him off the bike doing something with his chain!

Leading the relay at the end of the bike leg

Leading the relay at the end of the bike leg

I just about remembered to take my helmet off and was soon running. All worries about my legs had been forgotten as I wound through the woods and heard the announcer shouting “you can see the lead person flitting through the trees over there!”. I waved, thinking: are they talking about me?!

Before I knew it, I had tagged my next team mate and was under the finishing arch!

There followed a whole lot of fun cheering and watching the battle between ‘ERC men A” and “ERC ladies 1”. I passed over to Erin, who came back covered in mud from a fall only witnessed by her boyfriend in the other team (we suspected foul play!). Next up was Elise who battled it out with Mitch the whole way despite some navigational mishaps. Finally, we handed over to Andrea who got cold shock but was still gaining fast on Chris as she swam a mix of backstroke and breaststroke – and then overtook him as she took the long route round!

This format was really good for spectating; you hardly had to wait to see people between disciplines. It was also sunny at this point, which made life easier. We were neck and neck until the 4th leg, when sadly the men pulled away. But still, our girls team was 2nd overall and 1st ladies! Awesome. ERC also got 1, 2, 3 and crowded out the podium … cool.

Fastest girls team

Fastest girls team

ERC mob the podium!

ERC mob the podium!

Something I didn’t anticipate was how cold I’d be even after putting a load of clothes on. Mary lent me a jumper for the day even though she was heading off after the relay. “You’re about the same size as me” she said, as I looked at it, dubious that I’d even get it on. Well, turns out I am actually a bit too large for a “Gap Kids” hoody, but I could just about wriggle in and it kept me warm nonetheless! 😀

Onto the solo race after a longer than anticipated wait (should have gone and got food instead of just a snack after all). I think Paul (the organiser) was sort of making this up as he went along. Round 1 was 4 random heats and I was in heat 3. We sploshed into the lake from a pontoon this time and I raced round with a chap called Alan. I just beat him to it, winning the heat.

Swim exit, round 1

Swim exit, round 1

Round 2 (3 heats) and everyone was petitioning to only have 3 rounds instead of 4 (the original email said 5 or 6!). I wasn’t too fussed either way, but rain was forecast, it was all taking quite a long time and people were dropping like flies, so it seemed a sensible option. We set off and I was in a heat with Alan again. This time he just beat me to the line.

Smile for the camera!

Smile for the camera!

Round 3 was the final one and we were sorted into an ‘A’ and ‘B’ final. I was in ‘A’. Alan had promised he was going to really go for it on the swim this time and I should try and draft him. I hastily got into position at the start, and I did try … but then he was off without me! I wonder if I could have hit it harder, but I’m not sure. Anyway, 4 men including Andrew from our club were in front of me as we started biking. By now it was pouring with rain and the course was a bit slipperier. I was annoyed at myself for dabbing on one corner, but it was no big deal. In the end I cruised into the finish a comfortable 4th place, and 1st female.

Since I am a numbers sort of person, I was pleased to see this evidence from the day:

Foxake splits

After all these shenanigans we finished 2 hours early and I was even able to get a lift back to town with Andrew, which meant I could fit in a long-overdue visit to my pals for dinner. It was worth it even though I had already paid for my train ticket back. I can only apologise to his wife for all the mud that went into a pristine looking car …

Full results here (relay) and here (solo) and many thanks to Louise Smith and Andy Upton for the photos.

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