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Tour de Helvellyn


I decided that it was time for me to do my first ultra. A longer than marathon length run, without any extra sports mixed in to break it up. My theory was that winter would be a good time. It would be clear of swimrun training / racing, I could put my feet up for a break over Christmas and with a bit of luck we’d get some epic weather!

After a lot of searching for events that met my criteria, I settled on the Tour de Helvellyn. Run by Joe Faulkner / Nav4, who I know from adventure racing, it’s 60km over hills in the Lake District, with no route marking plus limited and not guaranteed feed stations. Perfect!

I spent a lot of time preparing for this one as it was my main target for the winter.

  1. Quickly realised I’d need a bigger race vest bag to carry all the kit. Impulse bought one when spending a voucher on something else.
  2. Tested bag and all kit on a long run round the city when the sun was still shining and I could wear shorts and t-shirt. You never know when you might need a survival bag and heavy duty waterproof.
  3. Got zip fixed on my primaloft jacket after over a year, so I could take and use it as an emergency layer.
  4. Read a lot of other people’s blogs!
  5. Bought two new pairs of possible shoes and got them broken in, after discovering the upper was about to part company with the sole on my both my old pairs.
  6. Weekend trip to recce the lollipop part of the route with Izzy and Elizabeth. This also served as one of a couple of long days out on my feet.
  7. Found out my compass didn’t point north any more. Fixed it by waving it at a strong magnet.
  8. Designed a version of the map that got the whole route onto two A3 sides at 1:25k and arranged to get it printed onto a single sheet of waterproof paper. Thanks Paul!
  9. Every good race deserves a spreadsheet. On this one I calculated slow, likely and fast paces, working out when it was best to start to make the most of the daylight, arrive at the first checkpoint within the specified time window and not miss the final cut off.
  10. Decided last minute to recce ‘stick’ part of route on mountain bike the week before. Investigated the footpath/ road shortcut option which is reputedly possibly maybe faster than going round the bridleway.
  11. For the first time in ages, cooked two types of feed zone portable, after thinking about the fact I couldn’t last 9+h on flapjacks and honey stingers.

All that was left was to negotiate the work Christmas lunch, a very busy train and possibly icy roads to get to the start / community hall in good time on Friday night.

The Start

It was a little bit daunting to arrive at the hall and not really know very many people. However, I soon found I was sleeping two along from someone I had met at a swimrun and then Steve who is a friend of mine from Open 5s popped up! I felt better already. I set up the old-skool campbed that Izzy had lent me, feeling a bit daft in amongst all the high tech kit. However, I did not feel so daft after a comfortable nights’ sleep!

We were advised it was ‘lights on’ at 6am, so I was duly awakened and served porridge, toast and … I hesitated over the tea then declined, knowing it would cause frequent pee stops if I did! The most difficult decision of the morning was which shoes to wear … Inov8s that are good on wet muddy stuff, or my Icebugs which I thought would be better on ice but have little by way of cushioning and can give me sore feet on stony surfaces. Reports were of ice aplenty, so I went with the latter.

I was warned there could be queues for kit check, but maybe they had more people on it this year, as there were none at all. I stuck to my plan and headed in to get looked over a few minutes before 7:45. They were very good and it wasn’t too difficult to wiggle everything back into the bag again afterwards.

Headtorch on and off I went. It was snowing. This wasn’t in the forecast! After about 10 minutes I realised it was light enough not to need my torch and switched it off. There were not many people around as I headed up the hill and onto the moors. I think the ground was more frozen solid than the previous week when I had recced this part, but there was less sheet ice. I was confident in my route to the Cockpit, then headed down across the hillside towards Ullswater.

The Cockpit to Side Farm – outward ‘stick’ – everything under control

A few people overtook me on the moors, including a lady running with another chap. It turned out we were going almost the same speed. I said hello but they weren’t much for talking, even as we passed and re-passed each other a few times over the next 10km or so.

I took what I had decided was definitely the shorter route on a footpath down to the lake and up the road. A number of people around me did the same, although looking up to the hillside on our left I could see crowds who had stuck to the bridleway. I was in good spirits at Martindale church, the first checkpoint, as I made sure to eat something and kept a good pace on the road section.

Soon enough I was at the ascent to Boredale Hause. I kept running here for as long as I could, and when forced to walk I ate some more and powered my way to the top. There were lots of people around now, as everyone was converging on the next checkpoint which had a fixed opening time. At the top, everyone headed a different way to the one I had checked out with Izzy. I debated what to do but in the end followed them. It looked more direct – and it was.

We re-joined the bridleway I was expecting, where several people skipped down the rough descent, overtaking me with ease. I tried to stay cool. When Nicky Spinks glided past, I was trying to copy her style! Soon at Side Farm, first food checkpoint. It opened at 9:30 and I got there at 9:35 – perfect! I grabbed some crisps, malt loaf and satsuma and headed straight out again. Along through Glenridding and Nicky and her friend were still in sight for quite a while.

Wow – views at Swart Beck (Hilary Barber)

Side Farm up and over to the other valley – first half of lollipop – what a lot of snow / wish I could descend more proficiently

Up the hill past the YHA and I knew I had run most of this with Izzy on legs more tired than these, so I kept running! As we reached the end of the road, there were plenty of people around carrying skis. I mean, there was a bit of snow, but I was astonished they thought they could ski on this? When we had run here earlier in the year, Elizabeth asked if in the race I would do the zig zags or cut the corners. I had answered that it probably depended what everyone else was doing. They were cutting the corners.

It didn’t look too bad so I followed. At one point I wasn’t sure if the path went left or right (it was covered in snow), but everyone was going right. I went with them, but was soon wondering why, as other racers were on the main path above us and we were scrambling up a snow-covered boulder-strewn hillside. I concentrated on putting my feet in the same places the person in front had marked out and tried not to dwell on the fact that I wished I had gone the other way! It was with some relief that we re-joined the path.

Swart Beck footbridge came quickly, a picture perfect winter scene of white snow. Now I understood the skis! I was very glad I was not the first to come through, because it meant I could follow the trodden path in front and avoid any very deep snowdrifts! A few more passed me, including a very fast and cheerful girl in a running skirt. I couldn’t stay with them at all and just tried to hold my own pace. I realised I was well down the women’s field and decided this meant I could find time to take a couple of pictures to capture the experience!

Over Sticks Pass it was cold and white with a dense fog. Not windy though, so it could have been worse! The long descent was nothing like the recce. This time it was a race through soft snow. Others were still braver than me, even though I told myself any fall would have a soft landing. Emerging from the fog and dipping below the snowline, we were on one of the steepest parts. I cursed as I fell several times, once almost attempting the splits. Streams of people came past me and it was rather demoralising. I thought this was just everyone I had managed to overtake earlier on the hills, but in retrospect a large portion were probably faster runners who had started later than me and were catching up.

I was relieved to get to the fingerpost at the bottom in one piece and turned left to make my way along the valley. This path was rough and stony. We had pondered race tactics here before and noted that it would be easy to expend a lot of energy trying to go fast. I kept a lid on it and concentrated on not having an unpleasant fall. There was someone behind me who decided to do the same. It was actually quite good to have their footsteps urging me on a little, but agreeing that their toes kept catching and tripping on things too!

Approaching the Swirls car park after a cautious section making sure I didn’t trip (Jim Tinnion)

Swirls car park to Side Farm – second half of lollipop – I am in love with ultra-running

Arriving at the car park I was disappointed that the toilets were shut (though this was one of the few chances to nip behind something) and surprised to find a feed station. I stocked up on handfuls of food again and walked the first hilly parts of the fireroad eating and drinking whilst it was easy to do so. I also tucked into some of my own savoury snacks. Then it was time to run. I made good time along here once my legs got going and before I knew it, I was at the waterfall and ready to start the next climb.

Here there was another route choice – to cut across open hillside or follow the path along to the river then turn left. I stuck to my plan and smiled to myself as the two other runners who had stopped to think about it also followed me. We could see someone cutting across, but I decided this time I was not going to be influenced. I was glad of it, as it was easy running on the path, the river was straightforward to cross at the bottom and I was soon on the path heading up the other side of Raise Beck.

At this stage I was feeling fantastic. I spotted Santa up ahead taking photos and I was leading a group of people who had passed me in the woods earlier on. At the top I tried to pick up the main path instead of landing up in bog around Grisedale Tarn. However, I soon got confused and found myself romping across fresh snow, in the right general direction, but certainly not on a footpath! Suddenly I felt my left leg sink … right up the full length of it, with my foot at the bottom in something very cold and wet! Eek! A runner called out if I was OK … I was and managed to hoik myself out. “Are you on the path?!” I yelled. He was, and I hastily made my way up there.

I took the next descent down Grisedale a little carefully due to ice, but again was spurred on by someone else who was running just behind me. I recognised the places we had stopped and chatted on our recce and was thinking about how much I LOVED this ultra-running thing. I planned to eat again when we hit the wide easy track at the bottom. Despite finding myself on some little path with the main one below me (how was it possible to drift off it? I have no idea) I soon dropped back down and got munching and into a good rhythm.

In my head I was thinking ‘two more checkpoints, two more small-ish hills. That’s all, and you’ve just passed marathon distance!’ I kept up running all the way into the return checkpoint at Side Farm, avoiding looking at the short but steep climb to Boredale Hause ahead. More snacks taken and I decided to top up my water a bit too. I had probably only drunk about a litre and still had some left but thought it worth the precaution, especially once I had gone to the trouble of fishing my drinks bladder out to check.

Side Farm to Cockpit – return ‘stick’ – body in meltdown

I was feeling chirpy as I headed out and up the hill, despite being overtaken by a handful of faster runners. I followed the same plan as before, walking and eating and choking on a stray grain of rice … then halfway up something bad happened. I don’t know what. I just felt weak, so tired. I was at about 45.5km. I thought it would be fine after the hill. As we crested the top my head told me to start running again, the gradient was easy, but my body refused. We got to the descent and my legs felt like jelly and not entirely under my control. It was tricky and I slipped and fell. I had to let two guys go away as I tip-toed down. Soon enough it flattened a little and became grassy.

I did a quick self-assessment. I felt too hot, my legs hurt, I wasn’t quite with it. I took action in the only ways I know how! A buff was snatched off my head. I ate a gel and a packet of honey stingers (reasoning that I had run low on energy coming over the last big hill and that the food at Side Farm wasn’t sugary enough to have kicked in yet). I slowed down a touch to let my body recover. I drank (I didn’t think I would be dehydrated in this weather, but knowing me, it was entirely possible). As another couple of people passed I exchanged a few words. “How are you?” they asked. “I’m in a dip” I answered. Off they ran. We had a long road section and I worked hard to keep moving and keep the gaps from widening. We got to Martindale and I was on the home stretch. ‘Only’ an hour or so from here! “Are we nearly there yet?” I joked with the marshals, hmm, I’m sure they heard that one a hundred times that day!

Reflections in Ullswater as the sun sets. Taking my mind off the discomfort in my legs…

Cutting across the zigzags of the road, I paused to admire the view. It was quite stunning, with the sky pinkish from the low sun, and the hills reflected in the still waters of the lake. At the bottom I ran along the road feeling heavy. I had words with myself. If I ran like I felt, I would feel like that and worse. I tried to make myself run ‘properly’, nice and tall with some zing, in the hope it would lift my mood!

Up the footpath and back onto the bridleway. Now I started the mind games. 8km to go. Just like a lunchtime run at work with Neil and Jonah. I imagined what we’d be talking about; parkruns and races or gender identity and workplace confidence (!). 5km to go, just a parkrun. 3.5km to go, just the final run at Ötillö with Izzy by my side. 2.5km to go, just a run along the esplanade at Silverknowes. I made myself run the sections I knew I had ridden up the previous week. I ticked off the landmarks and promised myself more Honey Stingers at various points. I drank and drank, glad I had topped up after all. Somewhere near the top, I recovered…

The Cockpit to Askham – yippee!!

Suddenly I felt alive again! There was no one in sight in front or behind but I was happy in my own world again. I was running along familiar ground, and it was still light. I knew I would make it back well inside my target time despite the wobble. I took a slightly delirious selfie and charged down the hill and into the village. I realised I hadn’t checked which door the finish was at, but guessed correctly that it was the same one I had come out of. I ran round the corner. I tripped on the steps and crashed into a shut door. Joe opened it, looking bemused, and directed me to the table inside so that my number could be scanned for the final time. That was it! I had finished!

Final 2km to go … the route back to Askham (hidden in a cloud inversion). Feeling better now, but very happy to be nearly ‘home’!!

I wandered into the hall in a daze. The hall was hot and packed with runners, all doing their own thing, tucking into food and oblivious to me. I missed the feeling of finishing with a friend who has shared the same experience. I felt a few tears well up in my eyes, all emotional from the effort, but blinked them back and texted my coach and boyfriend instead. I could hardly move my legs, let alone climb the steps to the stage to retrieve my change of clothes. Luckily I had been organised and was able to get my stuff with minimum faff, shower, change and sit down. What bliss! Sitting down!

I chatted with a few people and settled down to wait for Steve. At some point tables were cleared and I was able to set up my camp bed. My sleeping bag was so soft and snuggly. I nearly fell asleep at 19:30 (utterly unheard of for me). Just after 20:30 in came Steve, to a big cheer as part of the last group to make it and not get cut off. Hurrah!

Lots of steps and ‘floors climbed’ recorded today

I finished in 8h24, inside my target of 9h. I was 9th female, 50th overall. Results here. I pondered if I had got my pacing wrong at the start, but I know I’m usually so good at this, and you’ve got to learn sometime! My split placings were fairly consistent. I don’t regret setting off with conviction as I did, even if I was slower coming back. I did also recover the situation when I blew up. Despite being mindful of eating frequently, it seems I should do it even more, as well as drinking more too. All in all, I decided I hadn’t done too bad for my ‘first ultra without any handy swimming breaks’. Post-race damage seems to be limited to general exhaustion (caught the bus to work for a week), sore legs, the skin off one heal and one bruised toenail. But I’ll wait to see how quick I properly recover before fully committing to another!

Many thanks to Joe and team at Nav4 for the race, to all the photographers (donation made to Patterdale Mountain rescue), to Steve for taking me back to the station and my fellow racers John and Hisayo for company for 3h as we waited for the first trains out of Penrith!


Open 5 Coniston 2017

Race 4 of the winter was the first Open 5 of the season, based in Coniston. On Saturday, I took advantage of the location to recce the part of the Tour De Helvellyn I hadn’t visited recently (the race I’m doing next). It was snowy, icy and cold and progress was slow, even on my bike! I nearly ran out of time to get fed at the café, but luckily just made it.

A view of the run area – who wouldn’t want to play here?

Lucy had been properly ill with pneumonia and wasn’t sure if she would race. We arrived together on Sunday morning still undecided! I thought she would go with me … she asked ‘what if we had to finish after 3h?’ I admitted I was happy to go slow, but wanted to be out for most of the time. She decided to go solo and I last minute paired up with Jon instead. I joked that she had better not beat us …

So after planning, Jon and I set off on the run, hoping the ice would melt a bit ready for the bike whilst we were out. Straight up a hill towards the coppermines, catching a few teams and soon hitting the snow line. I thought I’d run quicker than Jon, but he was running easily as I breathed heavily. Just warming up, I told myself.

The rock face on the route to a control was totally covered in icicles!

We could see Phil and Jackie up in front and we were catching them. After a delightful snowy track traversing the hillside we got to a decision point: straight across and risk getting caught in a quarry, or round the paths? We went round and soon met them coming the other way – wrong choice for us – we were 4 minutes slower!

Running along I was opening my legs out when just in front Jon skidded and thumped onto the floor. That’ll be ice beneath us then. Bit of hopping across semi frozen bogs, reeds and long grass and it was my turn to fall forwards. It was a soft landing in heather and snow, but surprisingly cold!

My tummy was rumbling, which is quite unusual mid race and suggested I really should eat. A full flapjack went down the hatch. Now we were heading off the hill and I thought it was time to go fast. I pushed myself to keep speed on the techier bits, using the sound of Jon’s footsteps just behind to spur me on. I loved running through the woods. We got to the lake and dashed back along the shore, suddenly popping out in a campsite I recognised from a race where I had totally overheated! Very different now.

A winter scene

I sensed Jon was dropping a little, so I backed off the pace and started looking at the bike route. It was tricky to decide which way to go round. We spent some time in transition discussing. What with that and having to take my gloves off to undo shoelaces, my fingers were frozen by the time we left.

We headed off up a road which soon became a long hill. Jon was really pushing the pace and I was working hard to keep up. Just what I needed to get the blood back in my fingers! The first half of the bike went well, nipping in and out to controls and making good progress. I was trying hard not to look at the map and to let Jon get with it instead of getting left behind. We had a slight altercation with a lady who didn’t want us on her drive (turned out this was due to a hitch in communications). I felt sorry that someone would get so emotional all day just for a few riders coming past.

Beautiful view of the tarn on the bike course

We got to a control where the route to the next one was up a hill. It was a long push-up slog, through mud and ice and rocks and roots. We spent over 20 minutes getting to the control at the top of the hill and it somehow robbed our momentum. The sign on the gate saying ‘warning cattle grazing’ was true – as we came across the strange sight of some ‘panda’ cows grazing in the woods … The descent was very icy and we came down cautiously, though mostly on two wheels rather than two feet. Somehow that was another 30 minutes gone, though at least it made me ride some really rough bumpy stuff, just because I was so grateful whenever I saw an ice-free patch!

The road we had to descend in a hurry

I was worrying about time, Jon less so. But then we went wrong in the quarry, mistaking the path for a river, wasting about 5 minutes. We needed to smash it, but as soon as we got to the road there was yet more ice. Oh no… This was so different to what we’d found in the first half of the ride. We had to forfeit a 30 point control near the end and still came in just over 8 mins late / 18 point penalty.

A typical scene, but the wrong way round. Post-race we compare strategies!

Somehow I felt a bit flat. Just when I’d wanted to let rip, we’d had to ride cautiously and it seemed we could have done better. Looking at Lucy’s score, we only got 12 points more! This despite running much further, getting wet feet and riding almost the same route backwards half an hour faster! Ach well, it was all good training, and I had a lovely day out in good company 😀 And we still did enough to get 3rd in mixed pairs. Results here.

Joe – who organises Tour de Helvellyn. My next race!

Lucy won female solo with a score that would have won is female pairs as well. I felt sad that she didn’t feel she could have raced like that if we had been together. Though as she pointed out, a lot of the pressure comes from the self not wanting to let the other down, even if they say they’re happy to bimble. For Lucy not to race with me, I knew it must have been serious as we have got through a lot of events together ‘sub-par’!

And then we were off on the long drive home. I can recommend the services at Rheged for good food! Many thanks to all involved as always – Open Adventure (event), James Kirby (photos), Nav4 (food), Lucy, Jon and Andrea (assorted accommodation, lifts and racing with me!).

Mixed pairs podium

Open 5 Lake District – Threlkeld

It was nearly time for the first Open 5 of the year and I had not done enough mountain biking! Swimrunning all year had left me out of practice, and a couple of planned rides did not happen. I had arranged to go for a long test ride with Elizabeth, after the ‘rope across bike path incident’. That went well enough and I only fell off once despite the snow patches … so maybe I was ready?!

Low sun

Low sun

I had travelled light to the event and as we sat in the car in the early morning gloom I saw the dashboard thermometer read -3oC and by the time we got to the event start it said -6oC. Hmm. I might have chosen a different jersey if I had known that! However, the forecast was for sunshine and warming up so I stayed resolute. Well, I had no choice. On went the arm warmers, gilet and lobster gloves at least!

Looking at the maps at the start we knew we had to bike first. There was a big, obvious and committing loop winking at us. We wouldn’t want to run first and then find we had run out of time to do it. This was a slight shame as we’d have to ride before it warmed up! In fact just getting to the start was slightly traumatic, as Lucy’s fingers stopped working and we didn’t have the luxury of fully warming them up before we were hustled through the start. We had 3 minutes to spare though, no problem.

Looking at the control values, we had a change of heart. We shouldn’t do the loop, but some funny zig zagging to get all the high value ones to the south. Off we went in the opposite direction to our original plan. One glitch when we paused. ‘Maybe the control is on that fingerpost?’ ‘Let’s carry on and check the next one’ ‘Oh, it was the first one’ – duh! A little time lost, but not a lot.

I was doing OK riding the uphills and wide tracks but was freaking out a bit at the icy patches, downhills and techy bits. Think this was a combination of lack of practice and additional fear about falling on my only partly mended shoulder. I was feeling a bit sick from the fear of it and struggling to keep up, so I just let Lucy lead the way. At the bottom of a long holey section I found her considering the map. ‘We’d be best going round!’ she said. I was more than happy to trust she had figured it out right, so on we went following our original plan, but in reverse!

The downhill was cool and shady, but long, fast and easy-ish. As we saw others labouring up the other way I was pleased to be going in this direction. Another wee error as we turned right at the ‘road’ only to find it was a ‘track’ looking very road like. About-turn and straight on to the next mistake, getting lured by an easy looking bridleway shortcut, only to find it rapidly deteriorating into a mud and gate fest. WHY? We should have just whizzed round the road, don’t know what got into us. Must have been enjoying being off road again after all. 😀

We were joined by a male pair who followed us through a village and another overshoot. We must have been chatting and not paying attention as this control was very obvious – we just didn’t have our eyes out for it! There followed a slightly uncomfortable busy road stretch with the low sun in our eyes, but before long we had one last mega climb to burn our lungs and legs.

Bike map

Bike map

The descent was fun, I was pushing myself a bit more, spurred on by not wanting to get caught by any of the riders we’d seen tailing us into the previous out and back control. A spin down a road closed due to subsidence and now covered in leaves and free of traffic was a delight. We nipped through the outskirts of Keswick taking care with the map. I was tempted to start smashing it, but was very conscious of the run ahead so kept it reigned in 🙂 We were soon rolling back into transition.

We got a control here, I never even saw the stone circle!

We got a control here, I never even saw the stone circle!

It was the right decision to bike first as we now only had 1.5h for our run. I’m not used to racing this way round and probably hadn’t eaten enough, so got some extra food down in transition. We hared off at high speed despite having ‘just-off-a-bike’ legs. I quickly shoved the map in my bag as there was no way I had time to look at it. In fact, I was working so hard at keeping up I never even noticed a fine stone circle in the same field as a control!

Our pace was pretty high, even with rough ground and gates and stiles. I was feeling uncomfortable and my right leg was hurting in all sorts of places. I tried to relax and decided more food and drink was needed. I even resorted to a gel, which was like manna from heaven, so it must have been bad.

Snow capped hills

Snow capped hills

We marched up a rather steep hill, walk, run, walk, run. When we could see the sun, it was blinding. When we couldn’t, the side of the hill was in shadow and was dark and cold, with the grass frozen hard. At the summit we struggled to find the control. ‘’Thread’ 7m east of summit’. Was the summit the top looking bit, or the cairn? What was a ‘ thread’? We were circling the top, taking paces, checking the compass. Lucy was about to get me to take photo proof, when we found it on a little outcrop, only visible from below.

Frozen way up the hill

Frozen way up the hill

Right, decision time. We pondered a longer route getting an extra two controls, but decided to be conservative, taking a route that we should have ‘loads of time to do’. I slid on my bum coming down the steep bank, but then we were off again.

Lucy put me on the tow (no debate) and I was getting pulled along, not being able to see for both the sun and Lucy’s legs two feet in front of me. It was quite funny, but she was relentless even on the rough downhilly bits! I was feeling better, the food must have finally got into my bloodstream. Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the finish up a hill in front of us. Other racers were returning to download along the road and shouted encouragement. Into the field and one last uphill slog, the tow now slack as we were both at our limits.

The sun was much in evidence

The sun was much in evidence

I wasn’t sure how close we were, but as we charged over the line we had 2 minutes to spare. Wow! Well, it was a good job we didn’t go wandering off at the top of the hill. Slightly annoying that we had made a few mistakes on the bike that cost time we could have used well later. Never mind, no race like this is perfect and we were pretty pleased with our score and performance 🙂

Back to download before the cold sunk in and I even had time to wolf down a bowl of Nav4 veggie chilli. James T was very obliging in hurrying along the prize giving. I had a train to catch! We won our category and were 14th overall (same score as 12th and 13th but slightly later back). That top 10 still eludes us, but this was a great start to the season!

Podium smiles

Podium smiles

Looking forward to the next one, which isn’t until February. At least by then I might have remembered how to ride a bike, especially an off road one, and maybe we’ll get to bike second so I am not so broken on the run 😀

Thanks to all involved in organising and to James Kirby for the photos.

KMF 3km open water swim

After exhausting myself in the trail race the day before, it was all I could do to eat, drag myself back to the campsite and collapse into my tent for the night. Luckily when morning came, the night time showers had passed and I had plenty of time to get ready. I made the trip back through the woods and over the hill to the festival village one last time, lugging all my gear with me.

The swim was two laps out to and around Derwent Isle. The water was reportedly 11 degrees, and when I got in it was definitely warmer than my recent acclimatisation swims. There wasn’t much jostling for the start line so I thought perhaps it would be very civilised. No chance! When the hooter went, everyone  pushed and shoved a bit until we got our order sorted out.

Twice round the island

Twice round the island

Once we left the muddy shallow waters, it was beautifully clear. I could see random things on the bed of the lake, like an old umbrella and some railway track. Sighting as we went round the island was hardly necessary – keeping the bank a constant distance to my right was enough, plus staying in water just deep enough to avoid the occasional rock that loomed up.

I had a slight panic wondering where we were supposed to head towards the shore before going back out for the second circumnavigation. I had images of going round and round the island indefinitely … but the mass of white tents of the festival village came into view, along with a buoy marking the ‘turn’ point.

I was still feeling good and enjoying the cool water. I was also starting to close the gap on a group of swimmers in front, which is my usual style when swimming (I’m a slow burner!). As we rounded the top for the second time I felt good, and was swimming near another person. I caught a few glimpses and was fairly sure it was a girl. I kept trying to come past, but every time I drew level, she pulled away again. I was running out of juice! As we approached the shore, she and another swimmer took a different line. I hesitated but decided to be confident about what I was aiming for.

Then I was near the finish pontoon and the other two swimmers suddenly appeared just in front of me! I had been keeping it in mind that the time didn’t stop until we crossed the timing mat; which was up the shore and onto the grass. I swam all the way in whilst a man stood up and walked in unsteadily on the uneven stones. I sort of launched out onto the plastic blocks like a creature on a David Attenborough show.

I had been right – there was the guy I had just passed and the other person was a girl. Time to switch from amphibian to cheetah! I sprinted up the matting and had to make a split second decision to go onto the little stones in my bare feet to be able to overtake. I threw myself over the timing mat just in front. Paul, the race organiser, just shook his head laughing at me 😀 .

We were both given the same time, but I finished ahead, placing 3rd female / 11th overall. I felt a bit bad doing that, but sometimes racing does get tactical and I was pleased to get on the podium in both races at the weekend. Though I did have to wait until prize giving to find out!

In contrast to yesterday, I measured the course a little shorter than advertised, at 2.5km.  This time I don’t think I’d have minded doing another lap though 😀

Next up I’ll be back to multisport at the Isles of Scilly swimrun.

KMF 25km trail run

After the last Open 5, I was feeling a bit grumpy and demotivated with no races in the calendar until the Isles of Scilly swimrun. So as well as the mountain bike event last week (which was just for fun), I searched around and found the Keswick Mountain Festival (KMF) had a whole selection of races. It was also well placed in my race calendar. So I entered the 25km trail race on Saturday and the 3km swim on Sunday. Might as well make a weekend of it!

I travelled by train and bus to be greeted by spits of rain. It was an uphill walk to the campsite as the rain got progressively heavier. It was a test of speed to get my tent up without the inside getting wet and before all my kit got completely soaked sitting on the grass next to it. I crawled inside and listened to the drumming on the walls whilst I put off getting all my waterproofs on to go for a final wee.

All night the wind blew hard and the rain fell. But next morning it was drier and I walked to and from registration without getting wet! No such luck for the start of the race. At the last minute I decided to carry my waterproof after all, even though I was wearing a windproof because it was really chilly. I needn’t have done. Within half an hour of starting, the sun was out and I was stripping off on the move, stuffing my jacket into my bag.


Festival view – run went round the lake, via some bumps

I knew the start was quite tight and there was a road crossing with a narrow gap in the wall. I got myself near the front to make sure I wasn’t held up. Past the campsite we went again and over undulating terrain, with a generally upwards trend! I was feeling good, powering over the tops of rises. But then the track got technical. There were roots and rocks and steps. I could hear people behind me and sensed the footsteps hot on my heels. This pushed me to run harder, to concentrate on keeping moving over the obstacles. Although one or two guys came past me, there weren’t many, which was pleasing.

Unfortunately, this effort was also taking it out of me and I realised I was overcooking things a bit. I was feeling a bit woozy and tired and we had only done about 5km! I slowed a fraction and made sure I was drinking.

Just after that a girl overtook me. I was pretty sure there were only two ahead of us, so that meant I had just moved from 3rd to 4th. At the feed station she stopped, whereas I ran straight through. Presently she caught and overtook me again. I kept her in sight and the gap wasn’t widening significantly, but I couldn’t close it. Up and over what I knew was the last big climb, and I had to work hard on the descent. Now people really were coming past!

We finally got to the road and a spectator confirmed I was in 4th – ‘but 3rd is just in front’ he encouraged me. I was pretty sure this is how it would stay, especially when the gap remained after the next feed station. However, the track was now easier and flatter, so I got into a rhythm and my own pace and soon I realised I was catching back up. I was feeling good again and even managed a cheery joke with a marshal about stopping at the tearoom. When I made contact I fell into the speed of the little group and ate a gel. Some more technical bits followed. I managed to trip over my own foot (to be fair, I sometimes do this on a tarmac pavement too) but after a while I felt I was ready to move on.

Looking bedraggled, rather hot and only 5km in!

Looking bedraggled, rather hot and only 5km in!

Nice little surprise in wait at this point as the route tipped upwards again. In my head this half of the race was more or less ‘flat’! I kept working, occasionally glancing back and seeing the gap was not much. My water was running low, and at the final feed station I stopped for an electrolyte drink. I was feeling parched and it was much needed, despite my initial scorn at why a station was needed so close to the end!

In Manesty Woods we all went the wrong way. I had peered at a junction, but with no arrow or flag in sight, carried on the main track. I was starting to worry about the lack of flags, but 400m later, the route popped out again on our left. It turns out we went the ‘long way’ round anyway. Looking at Strava flybys later, we clearly weren’t the only ones! This was the only route mistake though, as it was well signed with little red flags dancing in front of us the whole way.

‘Just’ a few km to go, but the vigour of an hour ago had left me and now it was beginning to hurt. All I could muster for the marshals was a grunt and half a wave. I promised myself the last remaining gulp of water I had left after the next km. I kept thinking, ‘less than a parkrun to go’. In some trees we turned off the main track and uphill again. The scent of flowers was heady in the air. We were twisting and turning a bit now, which was to my advantage as I would be hidden round the corners. Now when I glanced back, I could not see my rival. I dare not let up though, even though I could feel my body was flagging.

Please, can I stop running yet?

Please, can I stop running yet?

We got to some streets and had to be close to the end of the lake. Round we went, almost there. My watched beeped 24km. I had plotted the route on a map beforehand and suspected it measured long, but I kept hoping I was wrong. This was hurting so much! We seemed to wiggle and turn, avoiding every direct route back to the finish. Finally I could see some flags, but even then there was a zigzag to get to the finish arch! I was grimacing and collapsed on the floor. My watch read 26km.

After a bit of recovery (=lying on the floor groaning) I couldn’t quite believe it. This was a big race with over 200 women entered, and about 170 finishers. I had aimed for top 20, would have been more than happy with top 10, had believed at one point I’d finish 4th, and then had made it to 3rd. In fact, it turned out that another girl had been closing the gap and slipped in between myself and the person I had been racing. I had needed to keep pushing! I was 45th overall out of 421. My time was slower than expected, but I had based my target on my experiences at the Hardmoors White Horse course, which had less climb and was much less technical.

I was starting to get a bit emotional after all the effort, when I spotted my teammate Paul and got a hug off him. I never quite trust results until they have been announced and I’m on the podium.  This despite everyone round the course confirming what I knew and it being on the tannoi as I crossed the line.

Post race food. Thanks Green Canteen!

Post race food. Thanks Green Canteen!

Happy days, just time to eat and do my best to recover before the next race! (the awesome Gococo socks went straight on).

Many thanks to race sponsors Salomon and for my cool race belt prize. Also to Paul Wildman Mitchell photography for a couple of race snaps and course director Charlie Sproson of Mountain Run. Great race this one, loads going on over the weekend for supporters / other racers, and the entry fee included porridge, pasta and a T-shirt as well.

Open 5 – Askham (Lake District)

Pre-race preparation was perfect, with a café stop, a wander round an outdoor shop, a photography exhibition (tweed making in the Hebrides) and a pub dinner. Shame about the early start, but we successfully navigated round all the closed bridges and got a space in the village not too far from registration.

Whilst waiting for Lucy to arrive I got chatting with a few people about the routes. The bike looked fairly straightforward – with the main decision being two controls stuck up on a fell. The advantage of them was that they were on the Roman road (High Street), so visiting them would make my dad happy.

When Lucy appeared we got ready remarkably quickly and headed up to the start. But then some last minute gear fettling threatened to eat up all that spare time we had. Luckily the right screw was twiddled in the right direction first time, and we were ready to go!

Run first as usual, and we set off at pace, soon hitting a long road stretch. My shins were complaining but I just ignored them. We had to leave an out and back fairly early on – as it turned out that might have been our best chance at more points but it just didn’t seem worth it at this stage. We were soon enough heading up onto the hill and I was enjoying the softer ground, even if we had to leap over tussocky stuff.

There was a choice to be made between a straight off-track line to the furthest out controls, or a route on tracks that we decided would be faster. We also got to check out a section of bridleway we’d potentially be riding up later. Even better, we got there with a mountain biker and were able to see that a) he was riding but b) only a little bit faster than we were running.

Descending a steep bank I was left behind (as expected) but generally I was feeling good. Lucy had raced the day before as well and was only just back from the tooth infection that had done for her last month. I was keeping up without dying, which only tempted me to look at the map, which wasn’t too helpful. We stopped at a control, ‘ignored’ it, ran downstream, then back up. A mistake from a combination of the paths on ground looking a bit different to the map (which fooled me) and me distracting Lucy (who wouldn’t otherwise have been fooled by that).

She was getting a bit tetchy as we were running out of time. I hadn’t noticed, but she was right. 1h55mins gone already, and there was no way we’d be back in 5 minutes! Nothing for it though but to stick at it. I looked at the bike map to check our route still made sense in the light of reduced time and to make some comparisons between different point collections.

We flew down into the finish. The longest run time-wise in a while and I think our longest distance Open 5 run ever! Close to 20km. Off on the bikes and it was an ‘easy’ road loop to start with. The sun came out and the lanes were pretty even if they went up a hill. We feared this would be a repeat of the Forest of Bowland, where the optimal points route was short run and long bike.

Not the 'Cat Stane' (which is at Edinburgh airport!) but the 'Cop Stone'

Not the ‘Cat Stane’ (which is at Edinburgh airport!) but the ‘Cop Stone’

However, as I pondered I wasn’t so sure. I still thought we could get round all but two controls, and maybe even out and back to one more. It was tempting as it was the one on the Roman road. We calculated 30 minutes to get 15 points, an hour to get 55. As we rode we debated and thought it would be close for the 15 pointer. We thought about other combinations – would cutting it short on another loop on the way back be worth the offset? Sadly, no, we decided it would be nuts to try and we should play it safe. Then I think we relaxed slightly, alarmed at the prospect of getting back 20 minutes early.

Debating strategy!

Debating strategy!

Realising what was happening, we changed gear again and hurried up a bit. Lucy led the way down a fun, fast rocky descent towards the shoreline of Ullswater. It was impossible to read the map at that speed with those bumps, but we pulled up just before the bridge with the control. The furthest one out was up a sharp little kick to a church. We tackled it off road, deciding it was shorter and better graded than the road – and we were right.

Typically, having gone from thinking we had loads of time we now realised we had to get a proper move on. We estimated 14km and we had 40 minutes.

Pushing the pace along the lakeside I wondered if Lucy would need a tow, but she was safely tucked in my slipstream and that was enough. Good thing too, as I didn’t have it in me to go any faster and felt slightly queasy! It wasn’t until we turned up the final hill some time later that I gave a short helping hand. There was No Way we could get back late on this one after all our earlier debates!

Glorious Ullswater

Glorious Ullswater

I didn’t dare think we were safe until we hit the final bit of bridleway, screeched down the hill, faffed with a gate and hammered into the finish. 5 minutes early! Brilliant.

We decided it hadn’t been so crazy to do a long run today after all, even if it had been slightly unintentional. It had been a race with much thinking and strategizing on the move. After so many previous events where high scores had been the norm all round, we hoped that our high score this time would be a little more out of the ordinary.

At prize giving when the scores were read out, we were mentally counting the number of people ahead of us. Gargh, missed top 10 by one place – 11th! But we had much improved and won our category, so we were happy. Results here. One more go at it this season!

Thanks to Open Adventure (event), James Kirby (official photos), Andy Kirkland (personal photos) and everyone who made the event possible.

Open 5 Lake District Windermere

If you’ve been keeping up with my previous race reports, you’ll know that I’ve been busy falling off my bike, limping around and generally wreaking havoc on my legs. This has meant no running of any consequence in the last six weeks, although I have been biking more-or-less merrily.

It was time for the first Open 5 in the winter series. With only five races this year, Lucy and I decided to give this one a go, even though I came with a health warning. I hadn’t run at all in 3.5 weeks and had no idea what would happen when I tried it. We had seen the entry list and knew there was some strong competition. With some good strategy and fast bike riding we thought we might still be in with a chance though.

We had a plan: do a long bike (about 3.5h) and a short run / jog / walk or whatever I could manage (about 1.5h). Unfortunately, when we got the map, it wasn’t easy to string together a nice short high scoring run loop like it normally is. You had to run a fair way to get to most of the controls. I think this may have encouraged us to stretch a bit too far on the bike.

Anxious look!

Anxious look!

At first it was all going well. We were moving at speed. In fact, Lucy was going so fast I was working very hard to keep up at all! We collected a 10 point control down a steep single-track, but the climb back up was so long I questioned whether it had been worth it. Lucy had enjoyed the descent though. Myself less so, as I did the worst possible thing on one section – starting then changing my mind, braking and going over the handlebars. Remember, commit or walk!

Apart from that tumble I was really pleased with the way I was riding some of the technical stuff. I found myself thinking ‘this is mental’ as I tried to keep up on the descents, and was amazed at how my tyres stuck to slippery looking wet rocks.

We sped over to Coniston Water and blasted along the road by the lake. Everything still felt like it was going well and we were making good time. In hindsight I think we had under-estimated how long the second part would take. It feels like you’re ‘almost back’ to Windermere when you’re in Grizedale, but there is still a big hill in the way.

There were some fantastic views and it didn't rain!

There were some fantastic views and it didn’t rain!

This problem was compounded as we spotted a better way to join up a control we had initially decided to miss. It was only worth 10 points but in the end really wasn’t worth it as on the way we hit a rough bridleway climb that had us walking and climbing round fallen trees.

It didn’t end there though! I noticed that the sole of my shoe was flapping off at the heel. No worries, I thought, it’s fine when riding. Next I knew, I tried to unclip when on a road, my cleat just twisted in the shoe and I fell sideways onto the tarmac. Ow!! One of my newly-healed knee scars had torn open again and my hip was bruised. More to the point, we had to fix this shoe. Zip ties at the ready and Lucy tied my shoe back on for me. I felt like I was being treated by a medic!

Shoe evidence

Shoe evidence

We set off again and the repair was 100% effective. But not long after Lucy got a puncture. She had a tubeless tyre and there was lots of new sealant in it. But re-seal it would not, despite us pumping it up and spinning it round a lot. We resorted to putting a new tube in. Unfortunately, this means removing the tubeless valve from the rim. It did not want to come out. Lucy talked of running back but it was miles and I was determined that this would not beat us. We sacrificed an important looking rubber bit on the valve and yanked it out with a pair of pliers. Tube in, pumped up and we were on our way.

At this point I switched from practically having to ask Lucy to slow down …

“I thought you said you hadn’t been biking much?” “I haven’t, I’ve been running” “Well, that running is doing a lot for your biking”
(I sent a banana and a choc chip and blueberry coconut rice cake down the hatch to see if my legs would magically stop burning)

 … to being full of adrenaline and feeling like nothing could stop me now.

Meanwhile Lucy was feeling the effects of not having had a transition banana an hour before. I didn’t realise until we’d finished how bad it was, else I’d have made more of an effort to pass over a rice cake and hook up the tow.

The two incidents took 20 minutes in total to sort out, which was 20 minutes we could not afford to lose, considering our over-reach! Our plan might not have been all that bad if we had not added the extra control in or had the shoe and puncture to deal with but, as it was, we sprinted into transition with (as Lucy was at pains to point out later), only 29 minutes to run.

So, we ran. Three out and backs from transition. It wasn’t particularly interesting but I didn’t care as I was dying! My hip held up, but I definitely knew all about that 4.5h of hard biking and the total lack of recent running practice. I struggled to keep up and breathe and ignore my mind telling me to stop. On the way back from the last control I hooked onto the tow – we should have done it earlier as it was like magic.

The finishing pictures clearly show me in a worse state!

In the end we came 4th (results). Even with my hip problem we could have done better, though we had a mix of bad strategy and bad luck out on the course. We missed the podium by 2 points (and had 12 penalties!). However, I did truly enjoy the biking and am full of confidence despite the couple of tumbles. It was also a relief that my hip held out. Time to start a few regular runs so that I can be in better shape for next time. I am sure Lucy will be plotting payback with a killer run before the series is over!

Fresh cooked wood-fired pizza went down a treat at the end 🙂 .

Also, hello to James who was doing his first Open 5 and recognised me from this blog! Hope to see you again at the next one!

Dark & White Mini Mountain Marathon

With Itera looming, I was feeling like I hadn’t been out in the hills on foot enough. At first this race was penciled in to do with teammate Paul, but he was otherwise occupied being ‘official’ at the Commonwealth Games. I called a friend, who said yes! I was all set for 4 hours of running off road, whilst navigating to controls to maximise our score.

So Marie (this year’s super speedy Celtman champ) and I headed down to the Lake District on a Friday night in her van. We parked up just along the road from the start and after talking half the night away it was time to snuggle down in the back. Luxurious accommodation for me compared to a tent. We had set an early alarm as there was a suggestion that it would stay dry until later in the day. However, when we woke up the rain was pounding on the roof. I wasn’t keen on a pointless early start, so we promptly went back to sleep for another half an hour!

I was slightly anxious. I haven’t done a run-only event like this before, and we were going to be using a Harveys map, which I’m unfamiliar with. At the hall we asked plenty of daft questions about what various symbols meant before we decided to bite the bullet and get going.

We started off straight up a impossibly steep hill which made my calves scream. Marie was happy as she was bilberry hunting on the way up. We passed many sheep tracks, all going the wrong way. After gaining the ridge we briefly enjoyed a run along a path before diving back off the hill and finding a way through the head high ferns. We were convinced that here and there ‘we were following a path’, or that ‘someone else had definitely been this way’ … but these could have been figments of our over-active imaginations! 

Our route with the control locations marked.

Our route with the control locations marked.

The pattern was set for the rest of the day as we (successfully) contoured round trackless terrain and went up and over ridges. We pondered whether the sheep would show us the way, how a guide dog might lead us to controls, that the skull in the grass was a sign (of what, I’m still not sure) and how we could do with a bionic extending arm to reach out and dib from afar. As we ran round a cliff top my foot slipped and a gasp from Marie made me look to my right – to see a vertiginous drop! As I concentrated on route finding, Marie concentrated on making up a song about slidy rocks.

Past a stinking dead sheep we thought we might be sick. Unfortunately, this was the only out-and-back we did, so ‘nose nav’ was called into play as the mists came down on the way back. The second last control was an easy one on top of a hill. All we had to do was follow a bearing and run out along ‘The Tongue’. This was where we made our only serious navigational mistake. It was really foggy (not for the first time that day) and as we ran, it didn’t feel right. We tried to correct, but I couldn’t match the small patch of ground we could see to the map. A fortuitous combination of a family materialising from the mists and telling us that we were indeed where we thought we might be, and the clouds parting for a second to reveal a ridge got us back on track. 

The last bearing we took, so I could check it was right! It was, but our track (map above) shows us veering off further north.

The last bearing we took, so I could check it was right! It was, but our track (map above) shows us veering off further north.

We discovered what one of the funny map symbols meant (peat hags), nabbed the last control and made for the finish. Only a steep downhill bum slide and more ferns to stop us! By avoiding the temptation of going up Blencathra (just because it looked fun), we had timed it perfectly. But we had not timed for our late mistake. We ended up sprinting for the end, trying to keep ourselves less than 10 minutes late, which would mean losing a LOT of points! We nearly took out someone photographing with a phone that we thought was the dibber box! We made it with just seconds to spare.

Looking at the results and checking with some wizened fell runner types in the hall afterwards, it transpired we had not taken the popular route. My plan to do the hard stuff first had back fired slightly, as we only did hard stuff and ran out of time for the easier parts. Everyone else ran around the slightly less steep northern side of the map, where apparently the ground was ‘very runnable’. Oops!

Never mind, we had a whole load of fun. It rained but we weren’t cold and it was great to be out in the hills feeling mildly competent about accurate navigation, even if our strategy left something to be desired 🙂 .

After the run we filled up on delicious pea and mint soup, hunks of bread, tea and cake. The organisers were really friendly and it was a good race. We topped off the day by heading to Ullswater for a gorgeous 1 hour swim before heading back up the road.

I’ll be doing the Itera expedition race in a team with three other people from the 9th August. If you want to read a bit about us and keep up to date with our progress, you can ‘like’ our facebook page here.

A Day in the Lakes

Have I ever mentioned how much I like cycling?

Have I ever mentioned how much I like cycling?

A month ago I raced the Coniston Old Man triathlon and did not have a good time. When an adventure race I was supposed to be doing a month later was cancelled, I looked again at a Day in the Lakes. On the surface, it is a similar race; middle distance, hilly bike, fell run and in the Lake District. However, this one seemed to be more suited to my strengths. Hills, yes, but not so steep I might fall off or over going up or down them!

It was also easier to get to. After a mere 10km pedal from Penrith train station, I was at the campsite sorting my kit and waiting for Andy with the tent. Although we had a relaxed evening in the company of Andy’s pal Ollie, by race morning my usual nerves had kicked in.

The swim buoys were 500m apart and difficult to see, even though they were huge and yellow! I think this is becoming a common theme for me. I just followed everyone else. I tried to start aggressively, and it was working. That is, until my eye was bashed, my goggle filled with water and I had to sort of edge my way to the side of the pack to empty it. Other than that, the swim was more or less uneventful. I think a few people cut a corner at the top; they probably just missed seeing the marker as there were two close together there. I also tried to land on the wrong bit of beach, but then was out and running to transition. I hadn’t felt bad, but was further down the pack than I expected.

Out on the bike I was feeling strong. Yippee! What a change from four weeks ago. I climbed the first hill without any problems, alternating between standing and sitting to vary my position – at least I had a choice this time. There had been a crash on the descent, which looked nasty but we were told later that the rider was OK. It made me a little more cautious, and soon a girl I had caught on the climb flew past. When I got back up to her again we exchanged a few words and swapped places once or twice more.

On the way up the second big hill, I met Mr Pink Socks from C.O.L.T. (these guys seem to get everywhere). In general, this race had been pretty good with regards to drafting. But at this point we could see two guys working together up front! We both agreed that if we caught them we’d have words, but it was impossible to get close.

I didn’t think I knew this course at all, but when I studied the map the night before I realised it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. I had been over Kirkstone Pass in a car a few years ago, although all I can remember is having to make the driver stop so I could ‘get some fresh air’. Andy and I had ridden a few km of the middle section on a weekend visit earlier this year. And on my way to the Coniston race, we drove over the A6 and I had remarked what a fantastic road it would be to cycle. It was here I now found myself, on my own and riding into a headwind on a long, long descent.

Soon after, I was caught by a couple of people. I was in the awkward situation of yo-yoing with one of them, but I always dropped back when I was overtaken. In an attempt to get past and away I put in a hard effort, but I could see someone out of the corner of my eye sitting on my wheel. I wanted to say ‘are you going to pass, or drop back?’, but for some reason I didn’t. In these events, drafting is not only against the rules but also gives considerable gain. For all my ranting, I find it hard to address the issue mid-race. I had caught and passed Pink Socks again so he was behind me at this point. He told me later that my passenger had sometimes been freewheeling in my slipstream!

In the end, I slowed and let them go. I wanted to ride my own race but not kill my legs before the run trying to prove a point. I chatted to a very successful athlete once who had this attitude: ‘They can draft, but I don’t do it. I ride hard at the front and still beat them’. This is the kind of unruffled approach that I aspire to. Then I just need the strength and speed to execute it 😀 .

Anyway, back to the race. I was very pleased with how my legs had felt on the bike and it was fantastic riding through the campsite into transition. There were loads of people cheering, including an expected shout from my friend Lucy!

As I started the run, I saw about 5 girls also just finishing the bike. I haven’t really worked on my ‘brick sessions’ (practicing that awkward bike / run transition that legs dislike so much) and we were soon heading upwards. I stuck at it, glad that I was also carrying some water in my new running belt.

It took 45 minutes for a girl to catch me, and she was moving well. After the drinks station the second hill began and it was a tough one! Beautiful, but steep and hot. Everyone was reduced to walking. I kept drinking and took the opportunity to eat a couple of snacks, and get some cold stream water over my head. On the descent, Pink Socks came past again! We exchanged names this time, so I knew I was racing with Andy. Back past the drinks station and we faced 5.5km on an undulating road. To me, this was torture. I had an idea how long it would take, but couldn’t find the oomph to close the gap to Andy, even after a sneaky emergency gel.

We passed a few campsites that weren’t ‘ours’ and as another one came into view I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. But this time we were nearly there and I stuck at it. It was more like maintaining my pace than a sprint finish, but compared to Coniston, it was a very definite RUN!

I was tired at the finish, but very happy. I had achieved my goal, which was to race well and feel fit. Although I only came 6th, I was still satisfied. There was strong competition, including athletes with international experience and medals. I had an average swim but a good bike. As usual, my run was relatively slow and I lost time, but I only conceded one place. I really enjoyed this race and it was very well organised. I think it could be one I’ll revisit in the future!

All that remained was to pack up and get back to Penrith. This was quite a trial, as much for (my) Andy as for me. He had decided to do the run course just for fun and was feeling weary! Within 5 minutes of getting on the train I was fast asleep 🙂 .

Coniston Old Man Triathlon

This was a race where my legs rebelled against my requests!

When I first considered this race, I was going to make it a ‘B’ race. This means it would only be of moderate importance. However, there was a race I wanted to use to train for Itera on the same weekend as my preferred race, so I changed this to an ‘A’ race. This meant I was targeting it. I generally only have two A races a year (coach’s instructions).

Everything had gone to plan in the lead up to the race. I had been doing run training on a consistent basis and managed not to catch any bugs. 10 days before the race I went down on the train to ride the bike course. What a shock to the system! It was definitely tough. It was good to know what was coming up though, and it spurred me into resting well and saving every gram I could to make those climbs easier.

Fast forward to race day and I had done a lot of prep. All the extra kit I had for the recce was left in the tent (multi-tool, mudguard, mini lock, phone, coat etc). I had even bought a smaller, lighter seat pack and had a haircut on Friday! In total I think I was ready to start the race carrying nearly 2.5kg less 🙂 .

Swim – 2km in Coniston Water

Target 35 mins
Actual: 32 mins, 7th out of water, 1st female (just!)

This was my favourite and most successful part of the race. The water was pretty warm compared to my last open water swim at Portobello (which is in the North Sea and generally colder than English lakes 😀 ). I was striking out alone after the first 400m or so as the people I was drafting dropped off the pace and I couldn’t catch the lead group by that point. We had to do two big laps. On the return leg of each I had trouble sighting anything as the marker was so far away and I couldn’t see the swimmers in front. I felt I might be veering wildly off course, but by sighting off a small headland, soon enough the buoy came into view.

Transition 1 – run across a field and up a hill!

Target: 8 mins
Actual: 7:23

I even managed to eat a banana on my way up! Other than that, the transition was unremarkable.

Bike – 71.5km, 1500m ascent

Targets: Really good <3h, Realistic 3:02, “OK” 3:08
Actual 3:09, 29th overall, 4th female

There is a lot of climbing on this course. I generally like climbs, but here two of the hills are very steep (up to 30% in places) and are not much to my liking. I wobbled up Wrynose and completely missed Chris Boardman, who was apparently giving everyone a little cheer!

Warning! Steep hills await you.

Warning! Steep hills await you.

Hardknott pass, winding up to the horizon

Hardknott pass, winding up to the horizon

My target times were based on a 70km course and I also got held up at a red traffic light for a little while.  So my time was actually OK compared to target, but my legs did not feel ‘zippy’ like they do when they are good. This is hard to explain, but when everything comes together and I ask my legs to do something hard, they just respond and I feel great. On this day, right from the first proper hill I could feel that things weren’t like that!

I had to fight and had low moments when I even thought ‘what if I just stopped?’ (Of course, I never would!). On the plus side, I rode my own race and didn’t respond when both Sally and Bonnie came past (I expected these two girls to be contending). I also ate well, snacking on the feast of various treats I had prepared on Thursday night.

Riding up Wrynose

Riding up Wrynose

However, by the end of the ride I had slight stomach stitches and my back was very sore. I think this was from riding such steep hills out of the saddle, which I’m just not used to. I had kept stretching out on the bike, but it’s not so easy to do this effectively when you’re on the move!

Transition 2

Target: <1:30
Actual: 1:45

Run – 18km off-road hill run

Targets: Really good <2:30, Realistic 2:35, “OK” 2:50, Bad >3h
Actual: 2:57, 26th overall, 5th female

View of what we had to run up and round

View of what we had to run up and round

My plan was to finish the bike in my target time feeling like I had something left for the run. Unfortunately, given the ‘disobedient leg’ situation, I started the run feeling pretty tired! I set off anyway, and soon got hot, really hot. Luckily, I recognised the signs from the 2 day in Wales last year, when I got a sort of heat stroke or heat exhaustion from running too hard in hot sun. At the first stream I could easily reach, I stopped and scooped cold water all over my head and neck and face and arms. I also started drinking a lot. As I reached higher ground there was a wind and it was a bit cooler. I was very grateful for this!

Starting the run, still looks like 'running' here

Starting the run, still looks like ‘running’ here

Apart from my problems with the heat, the uphill was as hard to get up as the ones on the bike. I felt like it was Wrynose all over again! My legs were burning, but I was accompanied by a couple of guys who kept me motivated to carry on pushing. As we reached the ridge, a few people caught up and I stumbled and nearly fell hard, only just saving myself. This happened twice, then I realised that my brain was probably addled due to lack of glycogen. I hadn’t been eating for a while due to the slight cramps coming of the bike. These had now gone away so I munched some more snacks.

I had been in 3rd place for several hours, but on the descent of Coniston a girl just flew past me. She cheerily asked “is your ankle OK?!” I thought, er no … this is just how I always run down hills! There was nothing I could do to respond. I wanted to stop trying then, but didn’t!

Hardly 'running' any more

Hardly running anymore

I've got nothing left in the tank!

I’ve got nothing left in the tank!

I felt the run had been a bit of a failure, as I was well off my target time. But the girl was the only person to pass me on the tricky part of the course, and the results later showed that my relative placing for the run stage overall was actually better than for the bike. This is very rare for me and suggests I was either having a really bad bike, or a better run than it felt!

As I got back to lower ground, I started cooking again, but I had no water left and there were no handy streams so I had to just tough it out. I was determined to run all the way, including the uphill finish which is a sting in the tail! As I crossed the line, my legs crumpled underneath me and I am rarely so relieved to be able to stop.


Targets: Really good 6:10, Realistic 6:22, “OK” 6:35, Bad >7h
Actual: 6:48, 25th overall, 4th female

I was left feeling a bit flat after this race, as I put so much in but didn’t really enjoy it and didn’t feel I had performed to my potential. I also can’t pinpoint any clear reason for this. These things seem to matter more when you’ve decided a race is important! However, my coach said “you only fail if you fail to try”. I certainly wasn’t falling short in the effort I put in. Afterwards I had sore legs right up until the next weekend. This is certainly one race that you don’t bounce back from two days later!

Big well done to top adventure racer Sally Ozanne, who smashed the race to finish first lady and 4th overall.

Finally, don’t worry as my next post will be all about a race where I had a lot more fun :D.

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