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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!

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!

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.

Celtman – The Aftermath!

The very fact that it’s been 3.5 weeks of silence since my Celtman race report tells you something about the aftermath of this race!

Of course, to start with I was a bit tired, but also very happy! Then came the post-race ‘down’ feeling. Both coach and Andy had warned me about this, but I still didn’t like it. After months of having just one main focus, suddenly it was gone from my life! And it almost didn’t feel real that it was me that had gone all that way and done all that racing.

I had a couple of days off all exercise, but getting back onto the bike to ride to work the Wednesday after the race actually felt fantastic.

To beat the blues I was told to “do summat different”. To start with I entered the SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) Leadhills event. This local-ish series has a low-key friendly feel, and as I’ve only made it to the first one so far this year (when I raced with wee Iain) it was good to go and support them again.

I’m good to Andy again!

I scrambled a last minute lift from a very kind man from Fife – thanks Craig! This was my first time on the mountain bike in TWO WHOLE MONTHS! That’s what triathlon training does to you. Luckily almost everything still worked, apart from a near disaster with a lost cleat bolt at registration – again kind people came to my rescue to help me fix it (Gary, Andy and Andy’s wife :D).

I didn’t take the race too seriously, which meant I was relatively calm as I made some map blunders (soooo out of practice) and pootled around in the drizzle. It was a 3h race and about 1h from the end I sort of woke up as I whizzed up the hill at Wanlockhead to the radar station, caught some fantastic views and raced back down again! This event had a twist – certain controls had bits of grid reference and clues on and when they were all put together we had the location of the ‘golden control’. There was just time to get that before a little race back to the finish. I won a bottle of beer (for Andy) and an Alpine Bikes gift voucher.


Wet, foggy, windy, on a hill. Have I given anything away?!

After a week of feeling very average and quite tired, I headed up onto the Pentlands for a day of “running” (I use the term very loosely) on what was possibly the wettest day in a set of very wet days. The hills are normally popular and busy at the weekend, but I only saw two other people all day. I covered 19km in 5h whilst doing a bit of course planning for the Open 5 in November. I nearly lost a shoe in a knee deep bog, missed two of my own planned control locations (it was foggy, OK?!), got so cold I had to put a thermal top on and dripped all the way home on the bus :D. It felt like quite a crazy wild adventure given I was on my doorstep in June!

Coldingham Bay. A fun day out with The Wild Ones.

Still more pottering followed, when I also managed to lose a bike, which the police recovered 3 days later (amazing), twist my dodgy ankle on a 30 min run in the woods (now armed with many physio exercises) and swim outdoors in 3 different places (Coldingham – fantastic fun waves, Threipmuir – damp and midgy, Salford Quays – really warm, flat and rectangular). By last weekend I was feeling much perkier and did two fantastic fun technical rides on the bridleways near Andy’s house in the Peak District.


Finally, a first. Sunday was the SkyRide Manchester event. On impulse I agreed that Andy could sign me up for a ‘track taster’ session at the velodrome. The thought of being on the track has always scared me a bit, and when I was finally in the arena, next to the banking, it was even worse. Honestly, it’s much steeper than it looks on TV. And because the bikes have only one gear, no brakes and you can’t free-wheel, I had serious concerns about ever stopping. I had visions of being stuck there going round and round and round until Andy could catch me :-D.

Before I’d started. This is my ‘apprehensive’ look!

The people already riding were making it look easy, but my first couple of tentative laps were so frightening! I pulled many faces and was a bit wibbly wobbly from nerves. We were clearly instructed that the faster we went, the safer it was and that we must also accelerate into the bends. I took this seriously and got progressively quicker and quicker – to the extent that I was too scared to go any slower! The first time I had to overtake I nearly had kittens. Then everyone else stopped for a rest and I took off on my own. I got braver and braver and was soon pedalling round as fast as I possibly could right at the top of the banking!! How awesome is that? I even started trying a bit of swooping down from high to low for extra speed.

Proof that I was up at the top!

When our time was up, my legs were burning but I was on a real high from the exhilaration of it. It was so simple and the track so predictable – all you had to think about was pedalling smoothly and going fast. Andy said I didn’t look too bad, but even so, I couldn’t imagine being out there in a jostling bunch. Not yet, anyway :-).

Now I’m feeling back to normal and ready to take on new challenges ….

SMBO – Pentlands

I’m a little late with this one … other training and life keep getting in the way!

The first event in the summer SMBO (Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering) 3h series was last weekend. Just like last year, the weather was lovely and sunny! I had helped out a bit with the map, but not much, so I was allowed out to compete in the ‘generation category’ with my favourite cycling 10 year old.

It's so relaxing when someone else is doing the planning!

The day started with a logistical hiccough – which meant that Iain had to cycle all the way to the event centre in Balerno. For those that don’t know Edinburgh, this is 12.5km uphill from where he lives. We helped him along a bit with some gentle pushing, so that he wouldn’t be exhausted before we even started!

Last year he rode with his dad, who insisted he should do it all himself – and that I should do the same this year. Sometimes it was hard to resist, but I tried to keep my ‘help’ to open questioning, gentle suggestions and handing out of sandwiches 🙂

This applied before the start:

“Think about making a loop”
“Look at the contours”
“What will you do if we start running out of time?”
“What difference will the control values make?”

And during:

“Is there anything to look out for that will tell you we are nearly there?”
“How far do you think it is?”
“Which way at the next junction?”

And at the very end:

“Are you really sure you don’t want to go up that big hill for just one more control?!”

Luckily, Iain had been warned about this one before the start and insisted NO – just as well, as we only got back with 4 minutes to spare! 😀

This is how it's done

Picking a line alongside Threipmuir Reservoir

I was very proud of him as he was doing a good job of the map reading and navigating, his technical biking skills are improving nicely and his fitness and stamina are really beginning to develop.

The generation class can be a funny one. There are 7 year olds competing against 15 year olds and kids who just ride competing against kids who plan their own strategy and read the map. But it is all about encouraging new people into the sport, and the good news is, numbers are going up – there were 7 in the class at this event. Hopefully they will all come back again another time!

Iain came 4th – and only just missed out on a podium spot by a few points. Not to worry, a fun time was had and he also managed to beat one or two adult teams. The proof of success was that he asked if he could go out biking again the next weekend.

Luckily, I was able to wangle this into my training plan. On the hottest day of the year so far, we did a fantastic proper hilly loop from his house, going up higher than last week and taking in some much more technical trails. He’s a star! This is my long term plan in the making – watch out for us taking the mixed pairs by storm in a few years’ time!

The things you can stop and play with when you're not in a racing hurry!

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