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Scurry to the Sea

Andy and I were seeking inspiration for our Sunday long run. Izzy did Scurry to the Sea last year and I liked the idea of it, but it looked sold out. However, as people cancelled and told the organiser, he released spaces … so at about 2030 on Saturday night we grabbed two spaces to do the race early Sunday morning!

Scurry Bag

This set off a flurry of activity, checking logistics and working out a route. The race has 3 checkpoints and free route choice in between. I mainly based my decisions on the route the top people took last year (via Strava stalking). Then I also had to help Andy learn how to use the route following function on his gps, as he had a minor panic about knowing the way.

And so very early on Sunday we were up, cycling over to Musselburgh to register and get a coach up to the ski centre. The route is straight up to the top of one of the hills in the Pentlands (Allermuir), then back via two prescribed points to Musselburgh at the sea, finishing with some obligatory beach running torture.

High tech start line!

The field seemed to be largely made up of Portobello Running Club people! No one wanted to stand on the start line so I edged forward … At the starting signal off we all went, soon power walking the steep bits. I was in 5th place out of the girls and as we turned at the top, I could see there was a bit of a gap to the next. Down we went, and as the terrain got easier and less steep I could see Andy’s friend Sarah up in front. Grace, another friend, had vanished.

As I went along, my watched beeped every km and it looked alarmingly fast. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to keep this up, but it was downhill … I thought I could catch Sarah and was slowly making ground. As we got to some traffic lights and she hesitated over the route I caught up and showed the way. Out of the feed station I was slightly ahead until the next lights, and so on!

Start line

At the second feed station she accelerated away and opened a gap, which I was holding but making no impression on. She had two teammates with her too! At this point my pace dropped somewhat, though it was more of a step change and stabilise than a terminal nosedive.

All the way along the main feature had been the HEAT. I was boiling and shade seeking. Despite two drinks stops I had some of the water I was carrying ‘for emergencies’. I probably should have had a gel as well, but by the time I decided that, I just wanted to concentrate on getting this thing finished!

Straight up the hill in a sea of Porty vests!

A familiar voice behind on a cycle path cheered me up as a cyclist I know came past yelling encouragement (thanks Sandra!). As I slowed to scale the bridge over the railway I felt quite dizzy and the only option was to keep running or slump to the ground! I gave up on catching Sarah at this point and concentrated on getting to the finish line.

As we turned onto the beach, there it was. But it took a long while to come … as I fell over the line I headed straight for the nearest shade and lay down, squirting water on my face and drinking. 20 minutes later I was feeling alive enough to get up in time to cheer Andy in.

The face says it all …

A great little event, much more taxing than it looked on paper, as I had DOMS for a week afterwards! I was pleased to finish 5th female and 1st vet (14th overall), for which I got an Active Root bottle and sachet and a bottle of something more bubbly! Grace and Sarah were in 3rd and 4th respectively. Well done all 🙂

First vet!

Full results here. Thanks to everyone involved, all the volunteers, the organiser Peter Ness and Kate Freedman who took the photos. After some post-race analysis I am tempted to do it again if I am free next year, if only because I have spotted about 5 places to take a fractionally faster route 😀

Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh

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.

Pre-race pose … don’t want anyone to miss me on the course!

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.

Great view from the swim start – the finish is over there!

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.

Running out

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.

Swim exit. Neoprene socks allowed, so I wore my Gococo compression socks under my suit!

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.

Leaving transition – still a lot of bikes there!

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!

Post race snacks and literal ‘chilling’ !

Pentland Solstice Triathlon

For a few years I’ve had the Solstice Triathlon on my radar, but the day or date have never been suitable until this year. Opening of entries was delayed due to issues with landowner permission. But Twitter told me it was suddenly available and I jumped in – it was sold out within a day or two. The race didn’t have anything to do with my swimrun or other racing plans, but I knew it would be fun!

This is an off-road triathlon in the Pentland Hills, just outside Edinburgh, where I train a lot. The week before, a group of us went up to ride the course, led by Andreas who is also in my club. We got a good look at some of the best lines and I went home satisfied I had done some prep. Next week we got an email saying the bike route had changed! Oops. Oh well, at least I had made sure everything was working on my mountain bike 🙂

Jo Thom has won this race since it started and I was looking forward to a close battle with her. Sadly, with an on-the-mend injury she had to make the decision to play it safe and withdraw. I think resisting the urge to join in and defend her trophy was the harder thing to do.

Getting ready. Plenty of people to chat to.

Getting ready. Plenty of people to chat to

I got a lift up from work with Andreas. I could tell there was some tension – this was his first triathlon for 6.5 years! It was colder than I expected and there was a strong wind. We shuttled back and forth between the car and registration, with Andreas picking up a puncture from a massive thorn! Better then than before the race, though now I was paranoid about my own rear tyre which had been slowly deflating in previous days. I hoped the extra slug of sealant the night before would keep it up.

The briefing. Feeling pretty chilly for standing around.

The briefing. Feeling pretty chilly for standing around

Before the briefing I got right into my wetsuit, jumped up and down and swung my arms around to keep warm. It felt weird to be in a full length swimming wetsuit again. We got into the water and people were oohing and ahhing about how cold it was. ‘I think it’s about 10 degrees!’ someone exclaimed. I said ‘nah, about 13’ … who knows for sure, but it was definitely warmer than 10 😉 .

I must be somewhere near the front-ish

I must be somewhere near the front-ish

Off we went, heading towards an invisible buoy. I started off trying to sight but soon gave up and followed everyone else. I did my usual and got into no-man’s land in a gap between two groups. As we neared the finish I just about caught up with the lead group, but really I should have been trying to draft them all the way. Another lap and I’d have been right past 😀 . These 750m swims seem short these days.

How do I get this thing off?

How do I get this thing off?

My transition felt slow but I was methodical. I was soon off on my mountain bike with the wind at my tail, racing off to the first hill. Andreas passed me here, powering past and away. My glasses had steamed up which was extremely irritating. I had lenses in, so considering stuffing them into my trisuit pocket, but wasn’t sure they’d be secure. Down the other side and I still couldn’t see; not ideal! The next turn was a sharp hairpin straight into the next hill. My calf almost cramped so I eased off for a minute or two. Up this side I was glad it had been very dry recently, as it is rutted and would be hard going when wet. As it was, I still picked the wrong line once or twice and had to jump off. At least I could see again now.

Heading out

Heading out

A fast descent on a deep loose stony surface followed. A couple of guys flew past, but I wasn’t taking any risks. I don’t need an injury now! I also slowed for the water bars to make sure I didn’t hit them too hard or at the wrong angle. I think a few people punctured coming down here, but I was soon through and firing on again.

Compared to the old course, this route was more technical and harder going. The climbing isn’t over after the first two hills. There are couple more ‘stings in the tail’ to come. I actually started feeling really good on the last one, which was fortunate as then we turned into the headwind towards transition. I was in a little world of my own, as there were very few other riders about. As I rounded the corner, I was met by loud cheers and clapping and the hustle and bustle of transition. I was a bit taken aback!

Into the headwind now, final leg

Into the headwind now, final leg

Bike times on the new course were 10-15 minutes slower than last year. The run had been shortened to make sure everyone could get home in time for bed. So it was just a 3.5km blast round Harlaw reservoir to finish. This route is really familiar to me as I’ve trained here many times with Izzy, ‘finely honing’ (ahem) our swimrun technique. I felt pretty good. I ran not knowing how close the next lady might be and soon was over the finish line and sat in a little heap.

Favourite running photo ever so far!

Favourite running photo ever so far!

Final results were that I had won and was 6.5 minutes clear of 2nd place. I was 9th overall. Andreas had smashed it round the bike course 2 minutes faster than anyone else and held on to win the men’s race. An Edinburgh RC win-win! It was suggested we drive home shaking our splendid trophies out of the window and shouting …

A great wee race, well organised and complete with free transition towel, banana, hot food, water and waffle. I’ll keep an eye out for it again next year!

Many thanks to Pentland Triathletes for organising the race, Andreas for giving me lifts, Bob Marshall and Hamish MacDonald for the photos (the labelled and unlabelled ones respectively) and to everyone who cheered, held open gates and helped make it a great event.

Now, back to swimrunning and other endurance adventures …

ps rear tyre has stayed more inflated than it has been for months!

Haglöfs Open 5 Innerleithen

My return to racing after a ‘rest’ period!

Before the Open 5 … Where have I been for a month?!

Well, after the Snowman race, I was due a break and really needed it. I was a bit tired of racing and spent the week at my dad’s relaxing. OK, so I included a couple of long bike rides and a ‘romp’ up and down a mountain in that time, but I also had nothing else to do except cook, eat, sleep and laze around!

A short break at the top of a Welsh hill road, with views out to sea

A short break at the top of a Welsh hill road, with views out to sea

That was fun. The next couple of weeks I rode my bike to work and did the minimum of running to keep things ticking over. That included a couple of 5km Parkruns – still chasing that elusive 20 minute barrier though!


On Thursday 31st October, I marked the end of recovering by heading out for a local Halloween special. A cyclocross race in the dark in fancy dress! It was a whole lot of fun and I had an excellent battle with my friend Elizabeth – though she got the better of me in the end and accused me of cornering like a roadie … oops. She came an excellent 2nd. I was a bit frustrated to come 4th. I was beaten by 3rd place by less time (18 secs) than I gave away at the start (74 secs) by not being assertive and waiting near the front of the mass of riders. Hey hum, it wasn’t a serious race and it got my legs working at a speed I’m not used to! It also forced me to abandon my fear of slidy mud riding, at least temporarily.

Ghostly Hallocross riders: thanks to Addy Pope for the picture

Ghostly Hallocross riders: thanks to Addy Pope for the picture


Haglöfs Open 5 Innerleithen

I missed the first race in the Open 5 series because of the Snowman. I wasn’t going to do the same for the next, especially as it was almost on my doorstep. At least, it was at my local trail centre, 45km away. I raced with Lucy all of last year, but she couldn’t make it for this one. Not to worry, Caroline lives just a few hundred metres from the event centre and agreed to race with me. I was excited, as we have been trying to get together for a few times now, and this was the first time it had worked out. The fact that after she had agreed to it, she asked ‘oh, is there running in it too?’ didn’t faze me – she was in now, no going back 😀

A happy prize giving!

A happy prize giving!

I wanted to ride over the day before, but the weather was rubbish. I settled for an afternoon and evening catching up with jobs before heading out for a lift from the bypass the next morning. Halfway through town, a car with bikes on the back came past, pulled over and offered me a lift. Many thanks to Anna and Chris!

Because I had been at home the night before, I didn’t really feel in race mode. But once I arrived and got the map, I was soon right back into it! We struggled to decide what we might do for the bike, though I knew from experience that it was a good idea to study the contours in the forest very carefully.

At the start we got the control values and set off confidently straight up the hill on the run. We had a nice circuit ready for this. At one point we considered crossing a pathless felled area. I pondered that ‘Lucy would make us go that way’, but we decided not to. That is, until a few hundred metres later an easier opening appeared and we took off! Caroline was good at finding a route through the tricky bits and confidently led us back down hill next to a stream. At a sheepfold we debated whether to go up again before we went back … going back was the right decision as we arrived in transition after almost exactly 2h. The last couple of km had been tough for me – nothing new there then!

Views from near the top of Minch Moor

Views from near the top of Minch Moor

Onto the bikes and we were straight back up the same hill we had started on the run. We nearly made it before we spun out and then were soon on a singletrack leading to the top of Minch Moor. I love that hill! Steady gradient, rocky and a fabulous power climb with huge panoramic views at the top. We didn’t stop long to admire them though, as we headed for a muddy out and back on the Southern Upland Way. Apparently at the control we bumped into my friend Andy, but I totally ignored him … I mean … failed to notice him! On the other hand, we unwittingly gave him a ‘good tip’ as we confidently stated out loud that it was definitely not worth going out further to the next control along. Tales back at race HQ confirmed it!

The ride had plenty of technical challenge. As well as the rocky climb, we now had a muddy ascent, where you had to search for firmer ground, feeling whether your wheels would grip and constantly adjusting position and scanning ahead. Next we were screeching downhill again on the man-made trail, and I was working hard to keep up as Caroline demonstrated her superior descending prowess!

The points allocation for the bike leg made it hard to come up with an ‘elegant’ route. We had to do a few out and backs. Later, back at home, I spotted a potentially better route, but I am not sure we would have had time to execute it anyway. As the race drew to a close we did one last long out and back. I wanted to collect at least two, maybe three controls out there, but the clock was ticking and we were slowing. I faced one of those difficult decisions as we stood at the track / road junction and Caroline said ‘you decide’. I was feeling good, but I could see she was not, and we had 9km into a headwind to go.

Drafting. Not far to go now!

Drafting. Not far to go now!

I decided to just turn back and faced the final technical challenge! We didn’t have a tow line, but the headwind was strong. We decided Caroline would draft me, so I had to find the right pace and then use my internal power meter to keep a consistent effort back to the finish. 😀 Another good decision for the day, we got in with 3 minutes to spare. How unlike me!

At prizegiving we found out we had won our category and come 7th overall. So despite the pain, we had achieved a respectable score and it was safe to ask Caroline if she had enjoyed the experience :-). She said she did, and we certainly appreciated the lovely Haglofs gilet we both got as a prize. I don’t know if I will persuade Caroline out again now that she really knows what she’s letting herself in for, but in any case we had a great time out in the autumn sunshine!

Innerleithen autumn

Many thanks to Open Adventure for putting on the race and to James Kirby for the Open 5 photos.

Gullane Beach Triathlon

A bonus race with a bonus result!

After Craggy Island I had three weeks in my plan to get my calf sorted and get well before the next race. It seemed feasible.  At the race, Marie had mentioned she was doing the Gullane Beach Tri, which is almost my most local event, and asked if I was too. I wasn’t, but it made me think maybe I could, and I checked the website. Sold out and too late for the entry list.

I mentioned it to my coach, Scott, then forgot about it. A few days later I got an email.

Turn up on the day early – organiser says you will race.

Sure enough, this is also what the website suggested. Suddenly I was interested again! There was a risk to my calf though … so I waited until my first interval training since the half marathon, to see how it went. I was ‘controlled’ with my efforts, and all was well.

Ten perfectly paced intervals, with a special effort on number 9, just to see if I still could!

Ten perfectly paced intervals, with a special effort on number 9, just to see if I still could!

Next mission – getting a lift to the start early enough to get on-the-line entry. Marie offered to pick me up at 7 … too late I thought. I could camp the night before – but left work far too late on Friday to get sorted and get the train over.  Scott was going the night before to set up the swim course. Friday evening I texted Glen … and got the reply … we can pick you up at 6:30!!

I was (hopefully) going to race!

This coincided with my first full week of feeling well, so on race day I was high as a kite and bouncing off the walls.

A beautiful beach

A beautiful beach

After a high speed dash along the coast, we got there very early, I got a spot no problem, and a great position in transition at the end of a row. It was chilly, but I was confident it would warm up when the sun came out.

Hey! They're all following me!

Hey! They’re all following me!

The swim was really tough! I think I always say that, but this time I really mean it :-D. The waves looked tiny from the beach and there was only a bit of a breeze. This was my first ever beach start – we ran into the sea and it was wall to wall bodies. Then we headed into the wind toward the first buoy and I realised how wavy it really was. It made sighting tricky as it was luck whether I got a view of the orange marker, or the side of a wave. It was even harder on the way back as it was quite a long way between the buoys. I was drinking far too much sea water and completely failing to draft, as always! The course was two laps, and we had to run out, round a flagpole and back in again. I was shocked that I could hardly breathe when I launched myself into lap two.


Heading in for more

Heading in for more

Blackberry-lined transition run

Blackberry-lined transition run

Still, it was soon done and I was running up the sand dune and along a path back to transition. I was tempted to stop for a few juicy blackberries, but resisted.

The bike course takes in some of the country lanes of East Lothian. I passed teammate Louise, who was the fastest female swimmer. Then I was riding up the hill. I concentrated on keeping my speed up and trying to chase down someone in blue up ahead. He turned out to be a great carrot for me – as he’d get away a bit, I’d re-focus, pull him back a bit – until I finally caught him with just a few km to go.

My favourite bit was overtaking a man on a proper time trial bike with a big disc wheel on lap 2. You can have a fancy bike, but you’ve still got to pedal fast and no free wheeling!!


Transition carnage!

Transition carnage!

I hadn’t seen any other girls, but didn’t know what my position was until I started the run. This is when some of the marshals told me I was leading! Yay! My plan had been to have a hard swim and bike, and keep it steady on the run, if I could. This would be a good test of my calf without pushing it too hard. So I kept a decent pace, but took time to thank all the very friendly marshals. I was too out of breath to say much though, so little hand waves had to do.

The course was two laps, with an out and back at one end. I saw the other girls behind. Only one looked close enough to catch me. I kept going and was still in the lead as I set off on the out and back again. There was a little loop in some trees at the far end and as I emerged I couldn’t see ‘the girl in black’ going the other way. Uh-oh, I thought, she’s probably closing in and already on that loop! As I approached the last few hundred metres I looked over my shoulder and could see two people in black approaching. Things were no more defined than that! So I picked the pace up and pushed hard to the end. Good job I did, as Megan Mowbray had a storming run and flew in just 7 seconds behind!

You've been chicked!

You’ve been chicked!

A very exciting finish and a fantastic race for me. Fellow Celtman competitor, Laura Sarkis was third. Full results here. The prize was more than I expected – a £100 voucher for the Tri Centre. The free post race food even included a decent veggie option and I picked up another bottle of speciality beer for Andy.

Lots of the club were out racing and supporting and there was a great atmosphere. Thanks for all the cheers! Whilst we’re on the thanks, Lesley Marshall took some great pictures, Scott always gives good advice, whilst Kirsty works her magic on my legs when I keep abusing them. Finally a special word for Glen and Heili for picking me up so early. Couldn’t have done it without you guys :-).

Hilly time trial and new mountain bike trails

April’s turning out to be a busy month for me. Somehow I seem to have lined up a race every weekend 5 weeks in a row :-). Of course, not all of these are target races, some of them are training in aid of the bigger goals. The last two are in this category.

Because the Tranent triathlon was cancelled I hadn’t even been out on my road bike since the New Year’s Day triathlon. I was also worrying that with a greater focus on running I might be losing speed on my bike. So I entered a hilly 40km road time trial organised by my club. I’ve done this one a few times before. But this year it was also the Scottish Championships.

It was only a week after the last Open 5, which was a tough one. I was lucky to have just about recovered in time :D.

The forecast wasn’t great (to put it mildly), so Andy arranged a lift to the start. Meanwhile, I rode over in a raging headwind and intermittent downpours … someone actually stopped and offered me a lift when I was partway there. I declined thinking I felt OK, but just after that I was at an exposed moor section and it all got a lot harder.

The Meldons are very scenic in good weather when you're not racing! © Copyright Jim Barton

The Meldons are very scenic in good weather when you’re not racing!
© Copyright Jim Barton.

On the plus side, I only got to the sign-on about 30 minutes before my start time. I decided I had done plenty of ‘warming up’, got changed and didn’t go back outside in the cold until it was time to go. I ignored the weather and just got on with the job in hand. After the first hill, we turned into a headwind that I knew would last for at least 12km. It was actually longer, as we turned another bend and the wind still bore down on us. The final turn up and over the Meldons was the exhilarating payback. I have never ridden up the hill so fast!

I was set off first and somehow wasn’t caught up, so had the enjoyment of crossing the line first. That was as good as it got … I was almost dead last and only beat someone recovering from being ill and someone coming down with a bug! Mind you, that was out of the people who; signed up, turned up, started and finished. I think there were dropouts at every stage ;-). One of them was Andy – his tale is here, but don’t worry, some good home cooking cheered him up!

I cruised home 50 minutes faster than it took me to get there, and it felt good to have had a fast, hard ride. My average speed was fractionally faster than last year over a longer course in significantly tougher conditions.

Jess marshalling in the wind and rain (thanks to all the marshals!)

Jess marshalling in the wind and rain (thanks to all the marshals!)

The next week I decided at the last minute to enter a local SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) score event in Mugdock Park, which is just on the outskirts of Glasgow. I got a lift over very early in the morning. Too early, considering I was out late watching an Italian film the night before.

This event was very low key, with only three female solo competitors. I was pretty relaxed about the race which is unusual for me. And the result was just a second place – I wasn’t concentrating or working hard enough and one of the other girls was strong! The map was challenging, with intricate detail I’m not used to for mountain bike navigation. There were also many controls seemingly placed ‘on a tree, in a wood’. They weren’t joking at the start when they said the descriptions would give you a ‘clue’ as to the location …!

Never mind, I had a good time riding my bike in new places out in the sunshine and won a few things from Alpine Bikes. I then took the opportunity to meet up with a friend in Glasgow and spend a lazy day eating noodles, chatting, sleeping and eating brunch.

Next up … a sprint triathlon in Kendal. No slacking on this one. Despite it not being a target race, it’s important for me as my only actual triathlon before the Slateman in a month’s time. I want to get everything right and have my own goals in mind!

Being published, cancelled race, Parkrun and snow riding

It seems a long time ago now, but back in January I did an off-road duathlon at Bowhill estate. I didn’t blog about it because I was writing an article for 220 triathlon magazine. This is now in print! I was pretty excited about it, and rushed out to buy a copy as soon as I could. It hasn’t generated quite as many comments as my Celtman TV appearance last year, but one or two people have said they saw me in the magazine :-). Even better, my submitted copy was reprinted with only minor edits – I can write to a brief and am good enough for a national publication! Awesome.

You can read this article in the March edition of 220 Triathlon!

You can read this article in the March edition of 220 Triathlon!

This weekend I was due to be racing in a sprint triathlon in Tranent. This was my first preparation race (of two) for the Slateman in May. On Friday we had an email at 14:30 saying the roads were clear of snow and ice and were well-gritted. The race was on. By 17:00 the organiser had had second thoughts and sent out a message cancelling the event due to cold conditions and high winds. I was gutted. I even cried a bit … but realised how ridiculous that sounded when I told my friends! It was just a disappointment after being psyched up and ready to go. But the organisers have to make their own assessments and I’m sure it was a hard decision for them. It was a shame.

Instead, I made my way down to the local Parkrun on Saturday morning. I have only just discovered these events, but they run every Saturday at venues up and down the UK. They’re a totally free, timed 5km run (not a race). Our course is down on the seafront and is as flat as you’ll ever get off a running track. The only downside is that it can be exposed to strong winds, and this week they were gusting at 40mph!


This is how I look making a final effort for the line 😀

I think I was still a bit fed up about the race cancellation and channelled my energy into running fast and tactically, sticking with a group for wind protection on the outward leg and gliding back at the end. I was unsurprised to have a negative split, but surprised to get a new PB … it’s dropping fast! Everyone is really friendly at these events. After chatting a bit to some people I recognised from my group at Edinburgh Athletics club, I rode back with a random cyclist, attempting conversation in a howling gale as we rapidly dropped down though the gears.

Obligatory 'bikes in snow' photo

Obligatory ‘bikes in snow’ photo

To top off the weekend I thought if snow / bad weather would call off my race I was jolly well going to go out and play in it. A last minute hopeful text to my friend and clubmate Glen resulted in an arrangement to ride on the Pentlands on Sunday morning. What fun we had! The snow wasn’t as packed and easy to ride as last time, and there was a lot of ice. But we battled the wind, smiled at the walkers and runners, and kept moving before we froze to death! It was amazing how suddenly you could be out of the snow with the loss of height. We fitted in a loop round the barracks before heading back into the white stuff for a last whoop, cutting fresh tracks through the trees by the reservoirs.

A good weekend in the end. I’m already looking forward to the Easter break and the next Open 5 in the Lake District!

New Year’s Day Triathlon

The first race of 2013 was on the first day of the year and was the first in my new “shorter, faster” plan!

The initial challenge was getting to the start line in one piece. I had my training for the weeks leading up to the race all planned out. I even went and did the Christmas day ParkRun to keep my legs turning over nice and fast. And then I got a chest infection and was knocked out for a week!

By New Year’s Day I was feeling human again, though nerves were getting the better of me at breakfast and I felt a little queasy. This is usually a good sign, though it felt worse than usual. A short pedal up to the Commonwealth Pool (the Commie) to register and get set up. How nice to race without a long train journey first!

I was worried my kit would blow away in transition, I fretted I might get a puncture, I couldn’t decide how much water to carry. One thing I wasn’t worried about which everyone else seemed to be – the cold! Lots of winter racing means this weather looked balmy to me … dry, sunny and only a little bit windy :D.

Faffing about setting up transition

Faffing about setting up transition

It was great to be able to get a proper warm up in the diving pool. Then before I knew it, I was off. The heat was 50 people following each other at 5 second intervals up and down each of eight 50m lanes, ducking under the lane rope at each end. The first 3 or 4 lengths were fairly orderly, with slower people on one side and overtakers the other. Then it turned into a melee as we all bunched up and it was a free for all! Lucky I am more used to open water swims, so I claimed my patch of water, swam hard and tried to maintain position.

The swim before it got a bit crazy!

The swim before it got a bit crazy!

It was a bit chilly on the feet running outside to transition and I struggled into my fleecy top. Once I was off on the bike I felt great though. Because the faster swimmers went last, and it was a three lap course of Arthur’s Seat on the bike, we were soon passing slower riders. I followed my plan and worked hard off the top of the hill and into the wind before screaming down the hill the other side :-).

Feeling good, enjoying the sunshine!

Feeling good, enjoying the sunshine!

After the bike I wasn’t looking forward to running but it had to be done! I surprised myself as I set off feeling quite sprightly. Maybe it was the effect of my brand new, unworn, lightweight shoes with sparkly bits, though they were rubbing my dodgy ankle by the time I got back! Up the hill for the final time I told myself it wasn’t really that long and I would have to run up far more hills on Sunday (at the Open 5). I can play a lot of mind games when I’m racing. I even tried to follow a couple of runners who came past me but they were going just a little bit too fast.

Over the top and I relaxed into the downhill before attacking the final little climb back to the pool for a sprint finish.

My determined face ...

My determined face …

That’s when the coughing fit that lasted about an hour started. I had been fine in the race though. I was worried I hadn’t worked hard enough, but I soon felt wibbly wobbly and needed a little sit down. 😀 I had a target time of 1:15:30 and got 1:15:15. My transitions were very slow compared to other people, the swim was OK, my bike was ace (fastest female!) and my run was ‘not bad considering’ and 3 minutes faster than I planned.

Tired now!

Tired now!

Final result – 2nd female. A good start to the year, in my first short fast one!

The race was followed by some great grub in the congenial company of clubmates before dragging ourselves back onto the bikes for a slightly wobbly ride home! Only joking – my mulled wine intake was moderated :D.

Results here.
Andy’s take on the day here.

Triathlete’s swimming gala

When I got the email sent round the club’s triathlon section advertising a fun swimming gala, I thought “why not?”. It was at the newly refurbished Commonwealth Pool, with loads of races to choose from. Only triathlon clubs were invited, and I reckoned my swimming could stand up to the competition. It couldn’t be as bad as trying to swim in a lane next to those 15 year olds at their club sessions. When I arrived it was all a bit chaotic, which lead to a logistical boo-boo on my part! More on that later …

I was already signed up for the 200m freestyle and got myself into one of the club’s 4x100m relay teams. I like everything except backstroke, but my favourite is breaststroke. So I decided to also do the 100m breaststroke, the 4x25m IM (Individual Medley –one length of everything) and the butterfly leg of a 4x50m relay.

In preparation for the race, I had dug out a tight fitting non-saggy costume. The only one I could find was from way back when I was at Bristol University for a year, but it was the best I had! I also had the shiny brand new goggles I won at the Snowman. I was ready.

Warm up:
We had about 5 minutes. I tried diving from the wall. All went well, goggles stayed on. Then I contemplated the diving blocks. Wow, they looked high! I gave it a go and got a major adrenaline rush! Goggles still on, me still in one piece. The only difficulty was judging my depth as we were in the diving bay – deep enough for a 10m high board!

Race 1: 200m freestyle
Won my wave in a time of 2:39:00. Awesome! Didn’t know I could still go that fast!

Race 2: 4x100m freestyle relay
I was on last leg. There was a girl just ahead in the next lane. I wanted to beat her. I was catching up. My style was out of control. I nearly killed myself. She just held it on the touch. I was very wibbly wobbly and had trouble breathing and walking.

Race 3: 100m breaststroke
Should have been my best race but I was not feeling recovered from the last one. Did a time of 1:34:26. Well off my pb from 15 years ago, but not too bad!

Race 4: 100m Individual Medley (IM)
Oops! I was out of the water from the breaststroke and straight back onto the blocks for the IM! No rest at all, except what I could muster from dawdling out of the water. I did actually realise this mistake before we started, but Chris wouldn’t let me change. He said as a Celtman veteran, this should be easy peasy for me. Afterwards someone said my lips were the same colour as my hat (blue). I was a bit tingly. 1:26:21.

Race 5: 4x50m Medley relay – Butterfly leg
I just tried to hold my own, I can’t even remember where we finished!

Race 6: 4x50m T-shirt relay
Yes, we had to swim in a t-shirt. There was only one per team. Changeovers between team members were done on the poolside at high speed. We had a system. We won!

And then it was off to Hemma for a buffet, chat and celebrations. ERC won the gala by sheer weight of numbers, but I think a good time was had by all!

Haglöfs Open5 Series – Pentland Hills (Course Planner!)

The first round in the Haglöfs Open 5 series for 2012/2013 was on my home ground in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. For once I was not competing, but had spent 11 months planning the event.

The Pentland Hills, looking good

I was delighted last year to be invited to plan the first Open 5 course north of the border in Scotland. I was excited but also knew I had standards to maintain – expectations from competitors and Open Adventure would be high! The part of event planning I really wanted to do was the maps. By the time the event morning dawned bright and crisp, they were burnt onto my brain! The Pentland Hills have an amazing network of paths and tracks. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t shown on the Ordnance Survey maps, and even the 1:50k and 1:25k versions are not consistent. So one big job was to get out onto the hills and get gps traces ready for uploading. This translated into a lot of late nights fine tuning the map. I was really getting into the detail, but knew it was needed.

Spot Tom approaching a control by a difficult route!

Something I really enjoyed was getting out on foot much more than I would normally. The planner guidelines instructed me to be adventurous with control placements on the run, so I was busy exploring off-piste options; I had fun finding a little tree in a gully, a stake on a rather steep hill at the base of a crag, and a dilapidated stile in a wooded valley with an innocent looking little bog of doom at the top (I know this caught at least one person out!).


On Saturday we had to place all the controls. Luckily we got a sunny day for the job. I was a little surprised to be sent out on foot – though at least I had come prepared with my trainers! My ‘little’ loop took longer than expected as I dawdled a bit enjoying the views, making sure the controls were really firmly attached and triple-checking I had put the right one in the right location… Then there was a short but surprisingly muddy bike loop, and a second run to double check a couple of placements. We moved both of them a few metres, so it was worth it! I felt reassured that the trio who went out on their bikes and did a route including the ‘infamous’ number 20 (only visited by two teams in the race) said they had a fantastic ride. All that was left to do was wait. The maps were printed, the control descriptions were ready and 31 little boxes were sitting out on the hills…

It was a VERY early start! We went up to Bonaly Primary School to get set up. I had sore legs from the previous day’s exertions (though that dodgy knee was OK). How odd to be there starting a race day like that!

Eek, they’re all looking at my course!

As people started arriving I was getting nervous. Looking round the room there were so many top racers who had made the trip up, and I couldn’t believe they were all going out on my course … would it be up to scratch? One of the challenges in planning an event like this is to design something that is almost (but not quite) clearable by the very best, but still fun with plenty of route options for total beginners and everyone in between.
Other considerations include making sure that the course is still interesting with good options in bad weather, it uses interesting trails, it is off-road as much as possible and that control placement and values and mapping of tracks discourages use of the boggier routes. The sort of strategic challenge I enjoy!

I had a flurry of questions about the map (the favourite was one about whether a certain ‘footpath’ was out of bounds – yes, because it was actually a power line!). I also loved seeing so many new people who looked excited at the prospect of heading out in the sunshine.

The girder control, views across Edinburgh and the Forth.

Once the last racers had left the hall to get started, I wandered outside to cheer people off and chat to the marshals. We had to make a late decision to use the school playground as the start / finish / transition area. Not the normal scenic field, but it was quite funky and people liked it being close and not muddy! The hopscotch funnel into the transition / finish area was an optional challenge (sadly worth zero extra points).

Waiting for the first people into transition was more exciting than I expected. Seeing competitors come and go with various tales (spoken and unspoken!) of fun, mud, exertion and adventure was rewarding. I was anxiously waiting for the racers we thought would be at the top end of the field to come in. I was under no illusions that if I had got it right, no-one should clear the course! Had I made it hard enough? They started coming in from the running after 1h45m – I thought that would be enough that they wouldn’t clear the bike course and started to relax a bit.

Later, I was looking after the finishing control box, with Lisa giving me ‘feedback’ when I forgot my lines 😀 (“Well done, did you enjoy it? Please download in the hall as soon as you can!”). I got a bit over-excited and nearly tripped over the gantry several times, narrowly avoiding injury.

Even round-the-world cyclists can look a bit tired at the end of an Open 5

In the final analysis, the highest scorer (Kim Collison) got 570 out of a total 600 – perfect! I also got some fantastic positive feedback on the course design and the weather (for which I take all personal credit).

I was proud that people who had travelled to compete had been treated to a great showcase of what my area can offer. Plenty of local people also turned out – some experienced adventure racers, some new to the whole thing.

Special mention to Anna Sloan who topped the female solos after losing her partner at the last minute. Also to our celebrity, Mark Beaumont who was 3rd in Male pairs!

On reflection, all the hard work was worth it. Next time round I will be back to racing though!


Full results are here.

Andy was supporting and dog-sitting. Here’s his blip.
And here’s a view from a competitor – Dawn’s blog.

Official ones from James Kirby.
And some from Andy Kirkland.

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