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Open 5 – Church Stretton

It was touch and go whether Lucy and I would race together at this one. Logistics, health and work for both of us getting in the way a bit! Anyway, by the Sunday morning we were both present and correct and admiring the fresh dump of snow on the Long Mynd 🙂

A bleak start. No-one looks in a hurry to set up transition!

We had decided last month that we were going to break with (our) convention and bike first, to try and get all the good points on offer even if it took more than 3 hours, then trim our run accordingly. I was under strict instructions though – no smashing it allowed – Lucy had a big race the following weekend. My coach had said: “may we be blessed with no navigation mistakes and fabby route choices, smooth n silky….”

It was working out like that on the bike at least 😀 After a quick out and back along the road, we set off clockwise, doing the big climb all the way on the road, with the snow rapidly clearing. A horse trotted across the road across us, which was most unexpected. On the way, we figured out a slightly smoother way to get to the controls we were now after, having seen the values (we’d ditched a couple far off on one side of the map). Smooth n silky!

The first big descent was extremely wet. My saddle has a cutaway section and the icy cold water was spraying up right through from underneath … ugh! Then we hit a road in disguise. I got a clod of mud right in the eye and it took some time before it stopped feeling as if someone was sandpapering my eyeball. We were cruising along with a delightful tailwind. I imagined what Andy would have said if I’d planned a road ride along this mud encrusted tarmac 😀

Steep sides…

Although on some of the hills I was dropping Lucy, it was only because my gears don’t go as low as hers – I was happy to let her pull back again. We were making good progress and only really ground to a walk on the final climb back up the Mynd, on a track with deep tractor ruts. It would probably have been ridable if the wind hadn’t been blowing us sideways so hard it was impossible to stay riding on a narrow enough line.

We flew *down* here when it was just soggy grass

Popping back out at the top it was all downhill from here. We laughed as we passed Jon slogging up the wet grassy hill as we flew down! Lucy took a tumble on a short section of boardwalk just as I was thinking it might be slippy. I could tell it was a hard one as she didn’t bounce back up immediately, but little was said and on we went. We both got super cold on this descent, not enough pedalling going on. But soon enough we were back for a slow transition whilst we fumbled the changeovers and rammed our unfeeling feet into running shoes. We were so fuddled we both ran off with our bike helmets still on!

Transition – biking done

As we made our way along the road, my little toe felt as if it was broken under the others! The bike had been good, but now we needed to adjust our run to the shorter time we had left (1h42). The points allocation and our remaining time was making it tricky to decided a good route. I let Lucy consider whilst I did my second wee stop of the day. Most unusual, I must have drink too much tea! Ha. Unfortunately we got disorientated near the start, following a path not on the map and losing the map detail under various other markings.

We righted ourselves and were soon moving at a reasonable and maintainable speed. A chap going the other way warned us it was slippery (?!). We did a hard right and the path headed uphill. One control was cheekily placed on the other side of a stream, forcing us to get wet feet. As we ascended a valley with steep sides I realised this was where Lucy said we’d have to escape from at some point … she was kind, as we carried on up quite a while before cutting cross country up the sides.

Hills for running around

We came out on top and I was worried about time. Half an hour left, the finish seemed a long way off and what was this, why were we running uphill again?! It was an out and back to the top and then we really were descending, with more urgency now. The final control at the reservoir was misplaced vs the map, meaning we lost a little time before turning down a large tourist path back to the town. This was no longer ‘steady’, nothing like it … but we minimised our losses and were only 4 minutes late.

Sprint finish!

Enough to win female pairs and secure the series (which we wanted to do as Lucy really can’t come to the last one), and still tantalisingly close, but not ahead of, the mixed pairs 😉 15th overall. Results. This area is a great place to bike and run in all weathers.

Been finished a few seconds now, must be time to review the map and route choices!!

Thanks to Open Adventure for organising, James Kirby for photos, all the volunteers and to Jon and Andrea for a lift home with inbuilt small child entertainment in the back (just don’t get me started on the female representation in ‘Adventure Stories’…).

Foxtrail Harvest Moon Trail Half Marathon

I had been looking forward to this event, as compared to the 10km, the distance was more to my liking! By Friday night, torrential rain and gale force winds were forecast, I still had DOMS a week after the Open 5, work was nuts so I was tired and the effects of my cold lingered on. On the plus side I had an enormous pizza for dinner, which I thought might cancel everything else out!

Another early start and Izzy and I were heading over towards Tyninghame, where we had done some fabulous swimrun training last year. Leaving the car, it was indeed wet and windy. After registering we were back to sit in the car and put off getting out again. Soon enough we decided it was time for a warm up. I needed the toilet though and queues were such that my ‘warm up’ was done on the spot!

Looking around at the other competitors at the briefing in the marquee I felt slightly over dressed in my knee length socks, 3/4 length tights, long sleeved technical windproof and a buff and gloves! I knew I also looked like I had gone overboard wearing my Camelbak race vest. However, the previous week I had felt very dry throated from the lurgy and I wanted to be able to sip whenever I fancied. So I was carrying a modest amount of water plus a couple of snacks. I resisted using the space to add any unnecessary other gear and assured myself I could stow away any bits and bobs I wanted to take off.

Out in the cold and there was some delay as we shivered waiting to start. Then we were off, and within minutes I was feeling too warm! I soon settled down though as the sweat / wind chill balance evened out. The course was 4 loops of different lengths and shapes, all passing back through the start / finish area. This was great for spectator support. I was worried it would be complex to follow, but the organisation and course markings were excellent. Given my state, I had decided to run entirely on feel and ignore my watch, just doing my best.

I loved the route! A total mix of twisting, turning fire roads, woodland trails, mud, stones, narrow paths on rocky outcrops and a generous helping of beach near the end. No getting bored here. The field thinned out over time and a mini group I had been following disappeared into the distance. I was catching one or two people who were fading though, and soon had a man in a blue gilet to target. Kilometre after kilometre he remained just out of reach.

About halfway round it registered in my mind that it was really only spitting and not raining hard at all. I was vaguely disappointed as I love a tough weather race and had dressed to be wet! However, it was still pretty windy and as we hit the coastal sections we felt the full force of it. The waves looked amazing and I wished we had brought our wetsuits for later after all. Izzy on the other hand said that at the same points she was very relieved not to have them, as she was getting brain freeze just running!

Along the beach, blue gilet man was getting closer. There was also a short out and back section, so I got to see where the next women in front and behind were (we were all spread out). For one moment I was sure I had lost my race number and slowed as I tried to find it. How could it blow off attached to a race belt? In fact, where was the race belt? Eventually I located it tucked under my chest, with the number flapping halfway up my back.

Another racer absolutely flew past and it spurred me on to finally pass and leave behind the person who had been in view for so long! I powered up the final climb and into the finish, where the ‘warmth’ of the marquee set off a coughing fit. I ambled back out, cup of tea in hand, to watch Izzy finish. But she had had a harder time than me, falling twice and losing the will to race as a result!

In the final results, I was 5th female, 25th overall and a time just dipping under 1:42. Pretty pleased with that. I was catching 4th but needed a few more kilometres to do it, and 3rd was well ahead! On checking my watch I found that every km had been under 5 minutes and remarkably consistent until kilometres 17-20 …. If I had known that, maybe I’d have stayed more focused and pushed myself like I did in the 16km event to keep under and save myself a minute or so … Or maybe if I had seen my speed at the start I might have panicked and self-restricted thinking it was too fast. So all in all, a good race!

As for the series, it’s best 4 out of 6 and I’m racing elsewhere on the final weekend. It’s a bit of guesswork looking at the leaderboard, but I think I’m going to finish somewhere between 2nd and 7th – will have to wait and see who races next time and how fast they go 😀

We stuck it out to applaud the podium places before scuttling back to the car, changing in double quick time with no modesty and driving round the corner to the secret café with a fire, soup and cake …

Here’s a wee taster video of the event even featuring ‘blue gilet man’ (aka Paul Barry, the results tell me) – looking forward to seeing the full thing.

In two weeks after this race, I’m doing another trail half marathon but one of a very different nature – up a hill the winding way and back down again more directly, with 750m total ascent compared to the 100m of this event!! I’m intrigued to see how I find it in comparison.

Oh, and we didn’t miss out on the big waves for the weekend after all. With an easterly wind still blowing strong on Sunday, we went down to Portobello for some unusually large waves and super fun times on our doorsteps instead 🙂

Open 5 Reeth

I was beginning to believe it, but apparently I am not invincible after all and despite escaping several rounds of illness at work and at home, last week I succumbed to my first cold of the winter. I couldn’t even see who to blame it on, so it could only be ‘someone on a bus’ 😉 . I’d also had a particularly tough week at work and despite a fantastic ability normally to switch off, I needed something strong this weekend to help me forget it all! Friday and Saturday nights I was getting interrupted sleep with one of those annoying scratchy coughs, but by Sunday I was feeling more human and up for the Open 5. Lucy had done a 20 mile fell race the day before, so I was hoping we might even out.

We prepped and after a couple of puffs on my inhaler my lungs even felt in moderate working order. Off we ran and the pace was OK. Then we turned uphill. I was getting too hot, I could feel the blood thumping in my head, and if I paused to think about it I came over all dizzy. Up and up, stumbling over a stile, dodging round the bases of crags and sweat dripping into my eyes.

I ate as much as I could and kept going. Confusion arose at the cave, which we approached from the top. We were looking for it and Lucy pointed shouting ‘here’, except I did not hear her and thought she meant ‘I’ll look this way and you that’. After going round in a circle down and uphill, there she was standing waiting …

Let's just pop up there ...

Let’s just pop up there …

More running, taking the flatter path instead of the lumpy road. There was a ‘rabbit control’ van parked up, but I hadn’t seen much evidence of control, as I’d spent half the run making sure they didn’t get a bonanza of whole human leg falling into their burrow for dinner.

We caught another female pair, then set off in the wrong direction on an unmarked path. The high point that had a ‘null control’ marked on it winked at us, and I kept repeating to myself ‘at least we’re not going up there’. As Lucy announced we needed to backtrack, I was ready to pass out and decided taking my windproof off might improve matters. It did, but my legs still wobbled beneath me. Come to think of it, I pondered, have I really done much uphill running lately?

Bouncy suspension bridge on the run.

Bouncy suspension bridge on the run.

We dropped down to a river and contemplated a wet crossing and another control. Normally I’d have said yes, but I was cream crackered and wanted to get on the bikes. We ran off, picking up speed as a male pair tried to keep up, breathing hard down my neck. I thought they’d overtake but they never quite did and Lucy was having none of it…

Transition came at 1:58, which was spot on what we had aimed for. A slow changeover as I transferred some kit and tried to eat some more. Then we were off, avoiding a silly mistake and heading straight up the hill. I kept pedalling for quite a while until I was reduced to pushing. ‘Noooo’, my legs screamed! Eventually as I stumbled, Lucy took over with a double bike push, instructing me to eat more, right now. I was forever grateful for fast and easy riding over the top, an easier uphill and a fun descent, even if I should have been less chicken on it.

Ohhh please not up there, I just want to pedal!

Ohhh please not up there, I just want to pedal!

That was more or less all the mountain biking, as the rest of our controls were on the roads. Rolling up and down we still seemed to be pedalling uphill a lot of the time. We debated a few options, eventually plumping for one last hill that had 900m of off road push before a long, long tarmac descent on an empty road. In hindsight with the benefit of other people’s choices, we could have made a different decision here, and earned about 13 more points. Maybe it was worth it though, as on the way we passed Crackpot … if we’re going to make mistakes best to do it passing amusingly named places 😀

One of the many steep roads. Reeth 3 miles ... but we did not go that way!

One of the many steep roads. Reeth 3 miles … but we did not go that way!

We lost time checking the wrong side of an arched bridge for a control, and could still see the hidden cave from the run, mocking us in full and plain sight on the other side of the valley. Other than that and my throat, tummy and generally whole body complaining at me, it was an uneventful and super speedy return to Reeth.

Just under 6 minutes left and we had the transition team laughing and shouting at us to hurry up as we dived off for one more out and back up a small hill on the road. I had estimated this would take 10 minutes. The rain was falling now, but we got there in 7, turned around and got back in 3. For once I had been vaguely accurate, as I had almost been with my ’20km to go’ pronouncement 22km from the end!

We just ticked over 5 mins late, which meant 12 penalty points, but it was worth it for a 25 point control. It turned out it was true that James T wanted to do prize giving at 15.15. We stumbled in to the hall at 15:07 then carried on racing to get changed at the van and back again just in time for the start of the day’s results.

First female pair, 19th overall and a respectable, if not dazzling score. My throat and lungs were burning and I felt weebly, but had survived! Good job Lucy can race 20 miles one day and still keep pushing us along and make sure we have a good race the next. The March Open 5 is in Church Stretton in Shropshire, where I have enjoyed racing a couple of times before.

Podium

Podium

Many thanks to Open Adventure for the race, James Kirby for photos, Lucy for the lifts and my mum for pre-race accommodation!

Dales scenery. We saw a lot of this hill, both from it and looking across at it.

Dales scenery. We saw a lot of this hill, both from it and looking across at it.

Foxtrail 10km Balgone Estate

Frost and early morning mists on the race course (Sandy Wallace)

Frost and early morning mists on the race course (Sandy Wallace)

Having entered three of the other races in this series, I thought I’d get a fourth to qualify for a series result and because, well, why not? Unfortunately, the next 13km clashes with another race and I’d already missed the first one, so it was the 10km or nothing!

North Berwick Law poking up on a perfect morning

North Berwick Law poking up on a perfect morning (Andy Kirkland)

I was lucky to get a waiting list place, as did Izzy. So it was alarm set for 6am (no, no, no) and another early Saturday morning start. The weather was beautiful – mists and sun with a very light breeze and temperatures hovering around zero. We got slightly confused on the way there, but were still fifth to arrive and register. Plenty of time to use the portaloos, listen to the cows’ loud moo-ing and the dogs’ incessant barking, huddle under the heater, watch the mouse and debate going for a warm up!

"Warm" up (Andy Kirkland)

“Warm” up (Andy Kirkland)

After the warm up I could feel a small stone irritating my foot. I decided I had better sort it out now rather than be in pain in the race. I fiddled with the triple knotted laces, gave the shoe a good shoogle and got my hand inside for good measure. Shoe back on. Walk a bit. Darn! Still there! Maybe it is in my sock. Shoe off again, sock off and inside out. Everything shaken and back on. Still there! What a mystery …

Hello! (Andy Kirkland)

Hello! (Andy Kirkland)

We were ready to start in the huge grain store, but it was a bit delayed – cue some jumping up and down and arm waving before the official arm waving warm up.

Then the hooter went and we were off! I flew through the first km, which was on a good surface and downhill. I was aiming for top 10 and had counted at least 7 or 8 girls in front of me. I was going well. The stone irritated my foot as I hit the hard ground. I started wondering if it was something to do with the actual shoe itself…

On a farm track, the puddles can be deceptive as the wheels often cut down to firm ground underneath. I gained ground on people by just going through the edges when others hopped around in the mud on either side. I couldn’t feel the thing in my shoe on the soft ground and soon forgot about it.

This was the easy bit! (Sandy Wallace)

This was the easy bit! (Sandy Wallace)

After 3km something hit me … not literally! The trail got more technical and the group I was with ran away. Then it was up a hill. I mean, the course could hardly by described as ‘hilly’. But it was lumpy enough to feel like hard work. Out of the trees and the sun was dazzling me, which was nice. I kept losing sight of anyone in front as we twisted and turned, but the course was perfectly marked.

Back through some trees and over rough ground, my vision was blurry with sweat and I almost tripped. I knew I was fatigued already and we had barely gone half way. Next followed some tracks round the edges of fields, rough and lumpy and hard to get a rhythm on. My concentration drifted slightly as I found myself musing what would happen next in the audio book I’ve currently got on the go …

In the forest (Andy Kirkland)

In the forest (Andy Kirkland)

I snapped back to attention and told myself to keep working. After 8 km two girls came past me in quick succession. Unfortunately, there was not a thing I could do about it. I kept them in sight and we were all closing on a chap who had appeared in front from nowhere and seemed to be labouring. I was almost on them when we got to the steep downhill. It was short, but I was tentative as I knew I was tired and didn’t want to fall. They all got away! Darn. One final uphill to go. The girls were gone but I was gaining again on the man. Sadly, I ran out of time!

Here are the km by km time splits and blow by blow account:

1) 3:44 (um! it was downhill?)
2) 4:19 (still easy track)
3) 4:31 (getting harder)
4) 4:50 (maybe I went out too hard)
5) 5:14 (small hill, kill me now)
6) 5:10 (vision blurry, stumble in the woods)
7) 4:46 (don’t know where that came from)
8) 5:10 (up and down)
9) 5:13 (overtaken)
10) 5:16 (steep descents)
Extra 230m) 1:04 (why, why?!)

Andy took a photo and I fell over the finish line, heading for the podium blocks just for a sit down to breathe and control the nausea! Shortly after Izzy appeared, and with a cup of tea and a biscuit (custard cream for me), I was feeling a bit better.

Final hill (Sandy Wallace)

Final hill (Sandy Wallace)

It was a wait for the results, but when they came out I saw I had just sneaked into 10th position … yay! (29th overall) . 4 and a bit minutes behind the winner, who got 9th overall. Doesn’t sound that great for me, but this series attracts serious runners, and I’m deciding that 10km is definitely Too Short 😀 Really looking forward to the 21km in February! Many thanks to the race organisers and to Sandy and Andy for photos.

What a morning to go running (Andy Kirkland)

What a morning to go running (Andy Kirkland)

When I got home I gave my shoes a good wash and wondered about that stone. I started inspecting the sole for some structural damage and found a massive thorn poking right through. I could only get it out with my tick removers!! No wonder I didn’t shift it at the race, but good job it was sorted before the next time 🙂

Foxtrail 16km trail run

There was time for one more race before the year was out and it was back to Foxlake for the Foxtrail 16km trail race. It was in the same series as the 10km night run a few weeks ago, though getting closer to a distance I like! Friends Mitch and Berit had informed me they would cycle there (rather them than me!), but Izzy got a waiting list place so I hauled myself out of bed and was on a bus into town to meet her at 7am. On a Saturday. Whose idea was this?

The drive over was quicker than Google had suggested, so we arrived in plenty of time. Meaning, almost first. We registered, walked a bit of the course, chatted, changed. I dealt with an exploding gel and decided I wouldn’t need one mid race anyway. It felt strange to be ready for a race with no kit other than what I was wearing … We did a jog warm up and headed to the start. Mitch and Berit had set off at 7:30, raced over and practically ran to the start line, nicely warmed up.

It felt strange to be there with Izzy but to contemplate racing all alone … no one to talk to or share with?! I suddenly felt apprehensive! After a funny mass warm up, it was time to go and off we raced. My watch buzzed 1km and it was fast, but I decided to keep running on feel. I heard a voice behind saying “ah, it is you!” – Glenn ‘from the internet’* passed, resplendent in a Christmas jumper running vest. Superb. He was flying, so I ‘let’ him go!

Me running near the start. No kit!

Me running near the start. No kit!

My pace was actually holding up well, I was with it enough to chuckle at the decorated Christmas tree, and soon we got to the beach section. I was stuck with a big gap to the runners in front and seemingly a big one behind as well. I didn’t mind the sand, though it was tough going where it had been left rippled by the water. It was 3km long and the hardest part was staying focused. The view was an endless horizon. I’d find my concentration slipping and have to have words with myself to speed back up again.

Eventually we reached the bridge and two other sets of steps up and down, all conveniently bunched into the same km on my watch, so that was the slow one! I was feeling weebly and banged my shin on one when I tried to take them fast. Ouch!

Glenn - check out that running vest!

Glenn – check out that running vest!

We turned and now faced a headwind. I was determined to keep under 5 mins / km, which I think was the only thing that kept me going. A chap in front kept having walking breaks, but when I eventually caught him I couldn’t use him as a wind break because he seemed defeated and stopped again! On we battered and at last I turned into the final winding woodland section.

Keep pushing, keep pushing and remember this trail is awesome. I glanced over my shoulder on the bends but couldn’t see anyone too close. The final lap round the lake was tough but there were cheers .. I fell over the line feeling sick – and was shortly after given a handshake by someone who had been trying to chase me down and was closing fast!

Oooh, flying, and this was quite near the end!

Oooh, flying, and this was quite near the end!

I was pleased to come 5th female / 28th overall / 1h15 (my goal was top 10 females / 1h20) (results here). Izzy was buzzing as she crossed the line knowing she had kept the effort up all the way, and was raring to do more of the series. After a cup of free tea we headed back into town where she looked forward to cat cuddles and relaxation, whilst I faced Christmas shopping before allowing myself to be drawn inexorably to the sofa.

Next up in this series, a 10k, but I am most looking forward to the half marathon in February! These are well organised events almost on our doorstep and lots of fun despite the lack of hills (!) – thanks to all involved and to Bob Marshall for photos.

* I do know two sporty Glen(n)s, and in fact the other one was meant to be here, before they realised they were in Australia … so I have to distinguish between them somehow 😀

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.

Foxtrail 10 km night run

Doing my best to be Saltire-coloured ...

Doing my best to be Saltire-coloured …

Standing on the start line at 20:00 waiting anxiously for the gun to go and not sure how ready I was.

Rewind exactly one week and I was about to ride straight into a trap set on the cyclepath on the way home from work. Someone had tied a rope across at wheel height, which I went straight into, causing the bike to flip over and me to somersault through the air, landing hard on my shoulder.

It could have been worse, much worse. But the physio cleared me to run, carefully, with the proviso that I must not fall over.

The race briefing came through by email:

The terrain will be challenging, please expect; wet slippery conditions with heavy mud in areas. There is also a number of sections with low hanging branches, tree stumps and trip hazards. The route also contains soft mud, rock and some minor drop offs.

Hmm, I’d better be careful! I had been out of sorts all week and preparation was not as I had hoped. I had trouble getting jumpers off and tying my shoelaces, but my legs were working, so all was not lost!

I was distracted by the young piper and then without warning there was a loud horn and the crowd surged forwards out of the large heated marquee. I had positioned myself about right as there weren’t too many people pushing past me or vice versa. In no time at all we were into the woods, lit like a fantasy grotto. I was pleased I had checked this part out as a warm up, because I was concentrating too hard on the ground to admire it much in the race!

On we went, onto a track and a road, looking out for ice (no mud after all). Everything was frozen and the farm tracks had big ruts in them. I was searching for the smoothest lines along the sides and feeling good. The end of the first lap plunged us into the lights and noise of the finish marquee before we headed out into the dark again.

It turned out I was holding my pace quite well, and only a few people changed positions around me. A girl came past, but she was a little stronger or more determined than I was. Despite turning her ankle (meaning I went back past her), she was soon up on me again and powering ahead – well deserved. I was just happy to be here on this occasion!

I loved the final part of the trail, winding on a small path through the trees, twisting and turning until we emerged next to the lake. My foot slipped and I almost went over! Just saved … and on to the finish 🙂 I tried to count the girls already milling around and decided I was probably at least top 10 – and I was, finishing 9th. Lots of proper runners here 😀 Results.

Loads of fun, plenty of signage, free glowstick and cheery marshals. Thanks to the organisers! And to Chris for giving me a lift over and avoiding the need for a mad train dash. Hopefully I’ll have a bit more fighting spirit and speed in my legs by the time we get to the next race in the series in December 🙂

And here’s a funky wee video from the night:

Ötillö Swimrun World Series: 1000 Lakes

We were enticed by the sound of a final swimrun race in October. Our German friends were encouraging us to sign up to the 1000 Lakes – a new Ötillö world series race. It had lots of swimming and not too much running. It was long enough since the world championships to have recovered, and short enough not to take us out for another month afterwards.

So we carried on training, mixing in a few freshwater sessions along with trips to the beach. The water was getting colder by the week, 9 – 11 oC. We had been promised warmer for the race.

We flew to Berlin and drove to the town of Rheinsberg in the area called 1000 Lakes. We took good notice of the signs telling us not to drive into the trees lining the sides of the road. When we arrived we found that no-one spoke English and even my very rusty German was needed. I did find a lovely Italian lady in the pizzeria though, and had a chat telling her all about the race and what we were doing!

Was this a foretelling of what would come? We will sing like mermaids as we emerge from the lakes ...

Was this a foretelling of what would come? We will sing like mermaids as we emerge from the lakes …

We thought Rheinsberg was quiet, but the day before the race we also went to look at the start in Wesenberg and found out what a sleepy town really is – Saturday morning, nothing open and not a soul in sight.

Izzy had a new swimrun suit, the Head Aero, designed for greater comfort and speed when running. She had worn it a few times but had not yet cut the arms and legs. I was entrusted with this nerve-wracking task, then we went off to try out some of the final run, the last swim and the run up to the square. We were gaped at like curiosities!

I was feeling fairly relaxed. We had done the big race of the year. This was for fun, with the opportunity to qualify early for Ötillö next year. But if we didn’t make it there were still other options, so we didn’t pile on the pressure. We thought the long swims would suit us, but I wasn’t so sure about the fast running. I irritated some knee cartilage during Ötillö which enforced some weeks of rest / very easy running. It might have been good for me though, as I was feeling lively and full of energy!

The people of Wesenberg seeing us off in style

The people of Wesenberg seeing us off in style

We had now been warned that the water temperatures were lower than normal, in fact, rather like home. Our test swim confirmed this. OK, we were ready for it. I had also taken careful note of the race schedule and knew there were a couple of sections with long swims and only very short runs in between. It was unlikely we’d warm up on these, so we mentally prepared ourselves to be cold and knew how long it would last and when we’d be able to warm back up.

Race day and it was an early start on coaches in the dark. Wesenberg had woken up and there were many locals out to support and cheer us on. I loved the effort made with traditional dress and the man playing a music box. It took away some nerves! It was funny to meet a couple from Cornwall enthusiastically saying they hoped not to see us on course, as they were the ‘sweepers’ following at the back on their bikes and clearing up trail markers.

The start line. The tops of our heads are visible, but Sebastian and Frank are doing a good job of obscuring us ...

The start line. The tops of our heads are visible in front of yellow paddles man, but Sebastian and Frank are doing a good job of obscuring us …

As we set off through the narrow, cobbled streets, someone gave Izzy a nudge off the main path. ‘How rude’, she thought. She didn’t react as she was focused on the task in hand, but then it happened again! As she turned to speak her mind, she saw it was our friend François being cheeky – he had a lucky escape!

It was a fast start, as we knew it would be. We were ready to get in line for a narrow section. ‘Firm, but strong’ said Izzy, and we did not panic or stress. The pair in front let a gap open and people started overtaking. Eventually we went round too. But other teams still pushed past us, very energetically. We knew to save it, there was still plenty of racing to do.

Early morning mist rising from the water

Early morning mist rising from the water

In the woods, we got to a turn and were heading straight on. Everyone else was streaming left. In hindsight we could tell it was not right. We were familiar with the course marking style and the arrow position was wrong and there was a piece of oddly placed tape.  We also knew this was not the way we had run yesterday – but maybe there had been a last minute course change? We followed.

But markings soon ran out and we saw Maja, a very good racer, running back the other way. We quickly and decisively corrected and lost less than 2.5 mins. Many others waited longer, not being able to decide who to go with, or running on and hoping to re-join the course later.

The first swim was like being in a triathlon. We were still bunched together and faster people who had gone the wrong way were catching up slower teams who had gone the right way. We saw a women’s team in orange speed past.

Serene waters and golden trees

Serene waters and golden trees

Izzy said the second run felt like a cross country, and she was right. I had decided it was short enough not to unzip my suit, but this meant it was hard to breathe easily and we were moving fast. It felt like other teams were swarming all around us and I had no idea how far back we were placed. I found it stressful!

Very soon it was time for the second swim. It was a long one (1.3km) and I was beginning to feel the cold as we neared the end. I saw a women’s team divert to the side to get out early. From the exit we had to run straight up a flight of steps. I could feel the tow rope go tight and Izzy said her calves were cramping but to just carry on. So we did! We saw one of the race directors, Michael, looking distracted on the phone. We smiled and pushed onwards.

The second swim

The second swim

Our German friends ran past and one of them had no shoes! He said later it was a deliberate strategy to keep them off on the short runs so he could kick when swimming and save time changing. We wondered what havoc it would play with his socks! The  support all along the course so far was fantastic, with many spectators to cheer us on.

I felt a bit disorientated. My face had gone numb. But Izzy was unusually talkative (for a race) and ran alongside me, keeping me going and making me feel better. Getting in to swims she was always pushing me to hurry, and on exits was ready to go when I was.

Us getting into a swim!

Us getting into a swim!

For one of the swims, we approached on a slippery boardwalk. We had been warned! We took it easy as a guy played skids in front of us. Then we were into a river, murky, with a lot of vegetation. As we neared the exit, my face was in the water and it was dark and silent, then I would look up to sight and there was noise and light, then down back into the darkness …

I had revived, and we were pushing on. I had memorised the course and knew it was another short run before a long swim and then a chance to properly warm up on the longest run section of the race. As we got to a junction we were met by an organiser. The next long swim was cancelled! At the time we felt a bit disappointed, but we just dealt with it and kept moving. Later we heard it was because so many teams had dropped out due to the cold after the second swim.

Awesome supporters!

Awesome supporters!

We were unsure of what the total length of our run would now be. At first we were told 11km – but was this total or only from when they saw us? Then we got to a feed station and a chap said ‘4km to go!’ Which was confusing, but it turned out he meant until the next feed station. And then there was still another 4km to the swim! Of course, we were nice and toasty by now, I even had sweat running out from under my swim hat.

Atmospheric swims

Atmospheric swims

The further we went the harder and harder it felt. But my watch was beeping every km and I knew from this that our pace was consistent. We even overtook a couple of men’s teams. Someone had said we were second, but we knew there at least 4 fast teams had started and I’d felt so surrounded earlier on, I wasn’t sure whether to believe them. It didn’t change what we were doing anyway. We kept running on and I suddenly took a few seconds to look up and notice how beautiful the woods around us were.

Swimmers from above

Swimmers from above

At one swim entry, a female team suddenly appeared from the other direction. This was strange and threw us into more confusion, especially when they sped off so fast on the swim! It turns out they were the lead team, who had missed a turn and just come back. We also saw François again here, and said hello – though he later accused us of not stopping for a chat. This was a race though?! No wonder we beat him … 😀

A good thing about this event was that there were so many feed stations and they seemed to come up very fast. I was variously taking energy drink, coke, bananas and chocolate biscuit bars. I lugged some water and food around all day for emergencies but wished I hadn’t bothered with so much!

Lakeside huts

Lakeside huts

With three swims to go, my shoulder started hurting. It was a long swim, right across a lake which smelled a bit of boat fuel and was busier than some of the others. I experimented and managed to find a way to alter my stroke and keep going. Maybe it was a good job that earlier swim was cancelled after all.

Later we looked at our speed, and we had slowed down a lot. I don’t think it was just my shoulder, or the fact we almost swam into two guys who suddenly stopped in front of us mid-swim! Maybe we had some fatigue from the cold or our arms were tired from the paddles, which we had hardly used since September.

Obelisk with golden helmets and shields!

Obelisk with golden helmets and shields!

On the runs we were both having calf problems now. They were cramping up when we got out, making us walk / run all bandy-legged. It wasn’t easing off either and they were staying sore as we ran. The surface was packed sand, tarmac and cobbles which were tough on the legs.

The second last swim felt warmer and cleaner and I took a drink. The sun might have come out, because I couldn’t see where I was going. Despite how it felt, my watch says all swims were either 10 or 11 oC.

Final swim towards the castle

Final swim towards the castle

Before we knew it we were on the final section we had already checked. We went past an obelisk with golden shields and down to the lakeside. I was trying to be speedy in transition, got my goggles on early, and nearly tripped over …. but as the supporters’ arms went out to catch me, I just about managed to stay upright. Success!

We swam straight across the lake towards the castle and up a little ramp to exit. We felt like celebrities. There were cheering crowds lining the route and some friends ran alongside, urging us on. We got into the finishing funnel to more cheers and congratulations, the news that we were second placed females and a quick interview.

As vegetarians we weren’t looking for the bratwurst, but our apartment was perfectly situated 100m up the street. We stumbled in, got the hot shower going and tucked into milkshake, tea, crisps and chocolate. My lips were still blue for a while though 😮 .

We were really pleased with how the race had gone. It had been hard work at times but we always knew we would finish. Transitions had a new urgency and we were positive throughout. My knee held up just fine and even after accounting for changes to the swim sections we were 35 mins faster than planned (all gained on the runs).

150 teams started, 101 teams finished. Many had to pull out early due to the cold conditions. I was just glad we had taken our recent cake eating training so seriously …

Otillo 2017 qualifiers

Otillo 2017 qualifiers

At prize giving, Michael commented how we just keep turning up! We met loads of friendly people, so despite the descending chill in the tent, we were having fun. As well as 2nd place females / 30th overall, we also qualified for Ötillö World Championships! So no need to chase it all summer next year. We were asked if it was the toughest race we’d ever done. Ha ha! No. But it goes to show how different people find different things tough. It all depends on circumstances and mental battles as much as the physical conditions.

Podium

Podium

Full results here and a short video here (we flash past at least 3 times!).

I highly recommend this race as a season finisher – it’s fast, not too long, the swims are not technical and the trees are a riot of colour. It’s also cheap. Despite the unfavourable £ / € exchange rate, the total cost was still 40% less than other races we did this year. Check it out!

Ötillö Swimrun World Championships 2016

After what felt like a long summer of racing it was finally time to do Ötillö again. We were coming back and had something to prove to ourselves.

We had made preparations and plans. Although probably no fitter than last year, we had made several trips out to East Lothian to swimrun along the coast. As well as the obvious sea / wave swimming, this included plenty of rocky sections. Arriving on Thursday in Stockholm, we spent some time relaxing, swimming in the beautiful lakes, taking a sauna, eating veggie buffets and relaxing. I was slightly jealous of people who live here!

I also spent some time reading (most unusual for me). My pilates teacher had recommended ‘How Bad Do you Want It?’ – covering the science of mental fitness, illustrated by gripping tales from endurance sport. The general gist is that you always reach your mental limit before your physical limit, and that it is your coping mechanisms that help reduce your perception of effort and get the most from your physical ability. I had to stop reading before the race as it was hyping me up too much to sleep properly 🙂

Approaching Sandhamn

Approaching Sandhamn

The boat ride over to Sandhamn on Sunday was far more relaxed than last time. We sat outside in the sun and chatted to a few people we knew from other races. We were not afraid, and we knew what was coming.

We had a plan:

  1. Conquer the rocks. To this end, we were wearing new, grippier shoes (from Icebug). These had given us great confidence in our training. We had practiced on as similar terrain as we could find despite having barnacles and seaweed instead of slippery slime. We had also decided it was easier to run these most technical sections without the tow, devising a way for me to stow it securely. Finally, we approached it with a positive attitude, bracing ourselves for the worst but knowing we could do it.
  2. Concentrate. Looking at our timings last year, there were two sections where we went much slower than we had planned. They were both a succession of shorter swims and runs, one coming after the hardest swim, and the other after the last cut off. We thought the key here was to stay focussed and keep pushing.
  3. Have target timings. Knowing how fast we went last year over different terrain, using our experience from training and other races and setting ourselves some challenges, I came up with a realistic (but not too easy!) time plan. Key points were written on my paddles so that we knew whether we were ahead or behind target.

We also had goals!

  1. Follow the plan
  2. Go faster than last year
  3. Arrive at the finish early enough to get a women’s t-shirt
  4. Be able to properly pronounce the names of some of the islands we ran over (for me)
  5. Stay positive (for Izzy)

I find early morning starts fairly traumatic, but got through this one and before long the dawn light was on us and we were out on the first swim. We seemed to be way off to the left of the group of competitors, but I thought we were going straight to the strobe light. Our gps track said otherwise, as it seemed we did an elegant curve, adding an extra 100m to the straight line distance.

Dawn swim

Dawn swim

Then we were onto the rocks. The weather had been drier than last year, which probably helped, but we also felt almost ‘at home’. The shoes and the training were paying off. We even overtook one team and certainly didn’t experience the stream of over-takers that we had last time. A few male teams were quite aggressive, pushing past, or bounding in and out of the undergrowth to get round. We had our fun, identifying pairs we thought would crash and burn, paying for their over-exertion later. Unfortunately, there was not enough room in my head to memorise their race numbers and check whether we passed them later on!

We got to the first time cut off 29 mins quicker than before and well ahead of plan. We began thinking what had been our problem last year?! We’d told a few of our friends and other teams how awful this section was – and we thought they would now be wondering what we had been going on about.

Us emerging from the woods

Us emerging from the woods

There is a swim in the next section where we follow the bank as we cannot cross someone’s land. It is murky and smells funny and we slipped in slimy grey mud on our way out. We postulated that the owner puts their compost in there all year, just to discourage us! We saw someone running back along the route, looking for a lost yellow paddle, but we had not seen it.

One of the swims was really rough. I could see the boat carrying spectators, the Silverpilen, when I turned to breathe. Izzy was trying to find the best position to swim, behind or next to me. I knew she was moving about but was not concerned and just kept swimming on. She was on the tow, so I knew I couldn’t lose her. Later she told me her goggles had even come off and she had stopped to put them back on! We had a chuckle imagining what the spectators must have made of all the shenanigans. I had one fall before a timing section. I was sore, but only bruised. Izzy fell several times and days later was covered in blue patches and had a black eye! Maybe it was from a shoe-in-face incident on this swim…

Helicopter! It was sitting on the beach acting as a great sighting object for one of the swims...

Helicopter! It was sitting on the beach acting as a great sighting object for one of the swims…

We trundled on until we got to the second cut off, which has a short out and back to a feed station. I remembered getting cheese sandwiches with dimpled Swedish bread here and wasn’t disappointed. We felt like we were ‘in the race’ this time, seeing lots of teams in both directions. It was so different. We’d also wondered how the other British/Irish women’s teams were getting on, and found out when we saw them both just behind us as we left. We had enough energy to be pleased they were doing OK, but weren’t concerned about positions for this race, only our time and ‘the process’. We stayed focussed on own race.

It felt like we had just started, had maybe done 1 or 2 hours, but I looked at the time and realised we’d done nearly 5h. Oh, I wished I had not done that, because it made me feel tired. However, we were now moving according to our planned pace, and still ahead from our strong start. We had gained another 13 minutes on last year’s time. I guess we were just fresher from having wasted less mental energy.

Entering a swim (yes, it is us in orange!)

Entering a swim (yes, it is us in orange!)

The next section was starting to feel tough, but I tried to buoy the mood with news of the pig swim coming up! Although this is notorious for being the hardest swim of the race, we found it very exciting last year. This year was a bit calmer, but still a challenge. Because of the currents, I did not aim for the landing point, but rather a big piece of land to the right. The new watch gets a bit upset trying to hold onto gps signal when it is choppy and rough, adding lots of little squiggles compared to the smooth straight lines of other swims! But our general direction was straight over, no bending here.

Safely across, Twix in hand, and we had done this section on plan and about the same speed as last year. It was time to focus. We had to keep moving well. Now I could see how we had slowed here last year. It was technical again and we had to find new energy to maintain momentum. We had come off the tow, to reduce stress. I would get ahead a bit and find the route. Over the race I had developed my version of a ‘gripometer’. I’d shout out one of ‘very grippy, quite grippy, grippy enough, slippery’ as I tested each section of rock!

Beautiful islands

Beautiful islands

Izzy didn’t seem best pleased about the terrain, but I asked “what do your paddles say?!” Oh … the motivational sayings she had written on them the day before had washed off. So we had to make them up … I shouted back: “Are you still moving? Are you still smooth? Are you still positive?!” “Yes!!” came the reply! Her attitude was top notch.

We approached the famous garden, where a lady and her family always come out to support. On the way in, we wondered what the skull and cross bones flag hanging above us signified?! But they had the nations flags strung along the fence, they were cheering, tooting, banging a drum and shouting out our names as we came through. A fantastic boost at this point in the race.

Loud and enthusiastic supporters

Loud and enthusiastic supporters

We were passing the time and wondering what the wildlife is on these islands, and why we hadn’t seen much. We spotted several anthills, some harmless purple jellyfish and tiny shoals of fish. Then only some quiet sheep in a field. Izzy had been reading a book before the race too. Hers was called ‘Run or Die’, by Kilian Jornet, a renowned ultrarunner. I joked that we had to keep running else when we sat down, we would die when the crazy sheep came to eat us!

We started going back and forth with team 118 (another pair of girls). We were better swimmers than them, they were better runners than us, especially when it got technical. So we kept on overtaking each other and saying hello as we alternated swims and runs. We only once lost the track where it turned along the shore after the swim, and a mixed team helped us find it. Other times, we were less hesitant than last year and just kept moving forwards.

Soon enough, we got to Ornö. We had gone another 14 minutes faster than last year. The plan was still working.

View across one of the swims

View across one of the swims

Now we had to do the long run. It was hot and I started feeling weary. I decided I had not eaten enough. Darn! This is something I keep forgetting, I need to learn this. It seems a hassle to eat along the way, but the feed stations alone are not enough. I took a gel, a soft flapjack and some Honey Stingers. We only exchanged a few words for a long time. Izzy told me she didn’t want a running commentary, and I got told off when I mentioned how far we’d managed to do! I was playing alphabet A-Z for fruit and veg, then animals. Izzy was singing her way through the Madonna back catalogue. Both of us doing it in our heads.

We’d passed the church, the official aid station, the unofficial aid station, and the cold hose shower. Suddenly I realised I had become totally spaced out. I was reading my paddles but could have been anywhere. I snapped to and made myself eat more, asking Izzy for help to get at it. We did this section a bit slower than last year (4 minutes).

A swim.

A swim.

I couldn’t wait to get in the cool water, and then suddenly I had energy again for the last sections. I must remember to eat more!! This was the second part where we had to pay attention. Last year we were so relieved and tired at the cut off that we slowed down and stumbled our way through the last part. This year we would stay focused.

Team 118 had only caught us at the end of the run, but we had already walked and got our wetsuits zipped back up, so we could set straight off. We did not see them again until the finish.

On some tricky rocks, Izzy had almost her only grump (about the unsuitability of a tow for the trail we were on). This is good going for anyone in such a long race, so I was happy! We laughed about it later 😀 I had a faint recollection that the track got easier again, and I promised we could unclip if it didn’t. But thankfully it did.

Not us, but typical island terrain.

Not us, but typical island terrain.

On the long run we had lost a bit of our earlier advantage compared to the plan, but were now going faster than last year again (another 16 minutes gained). I knew we were still under our target pace for 12h, and we would make it.

We landed for the last run. Izzy asked me “So, what’s this one, 7km?” This might have been the best bit of the race, as I was able to say, “No! Less than 3.5km!!”. We set off at pace (OK, 6 minute kms), readying ourselves for the final hill. It seemed quiet coming into the last few hundred metres (we were spoilt by spectators at Isles of Scilly!), and then there we were at the arch. We danced and whooped as we had done 11h47. 72 minutes faster than last year and 12 minutes under our target time.

The finish - yeeaass!

The finish – yeeaass!

Our time was great, though our placing in the women’s ranking sank and we only moved up 6 spots overall. But this is because of the competition. It is getting better and better every year, and for women especially the quality is going up and deeper into the field. One hope I have is that the women’s teams can keep on getting more slots in the race now.

As for our aims:

  1. Follow the plan: √
  2. Go faster than last year: √
  3. Arrive early enough to get a women’s t-shirt: X – no T-shirts this year!
  4. Be able to properly pronounce the names of some of the islands we ran over (for me): √ (thanks Mårten!)
  5. Stay positive (for Izzy): √

After the finish, we pondered how we could go faster if we go again. This time it is less obvious. We have some ideas, but have time to think for a while. Qualifying to race at all is not easy in the first place! We enjoyed ourselves enough to sign up for 1000 Lakes in Germany though, and get a race per country for the World Series this year 🙂

Many thanks to our sponsors and supporters, especially Head / sportextremeswimrun, Icebug UK and Gococo socks. Also to my coach Scott and everyone else who has helped us and followed progress (Andy, Jim, Helen, Ellie … I can’t list you all, but you know who you are!).

My mum came to look after me for a few days after the race, and brought this handmade jellyfish with her as a well done present!

My mum came to look after me for a few days after the race, and brought this handmade jellyfish with her as a well done present!

 

Ötillö swimrun Engadin

After our adventures in the Isles of Scilly, we were off on our travels again to the Engadin valley in Switzerland for another Ötillö world series event. We entered on the basis it would give us a second chance to qualify if we hadn’t already done so (which it turns out we had). We were also told it would be beautiful and that we should do it anyway!

Prologue

Preparation for this race was less than ideal, especially for Izzy. She managed to pick up big holes in her arm and leg and a cold beforehand. By the time we set off, things were looking better though.

It didn’t take long to start worrying again! In retrospect, it may have been the effects of altitude. I had headaches for a day or two after arriving, plus sniffles. Izzy felt her cold getting worse. As a result we didn’t have any little practice runs or swims as planned – possibly a mistake. We did not know how it might feel. Instead we contented ourselves with viewing the race course from various angles: up on the mountain from the cable car, in the valley from the bus, and a short walk round some of the first run.

I had a race plan and a target time. I wasn’t sure how altitude would affect us, but thought the times were realistic, possibly slightly conservative. It would be enough to get us to about 5th place. If we had a good day we should go faster and maybe even challenge for podium.

The morning of the race. An early start, crammed onto a bus like sardines. We left on time, like all Swiss public transport that we experienced! It was hot though, and as we waited to go into the small drop off area I was feeling claustrophobic. I headed straight for the toilet queue before it could get too long. Already too late. Blokes were going in fully zipped up in their wetsuits and coming out dressed the same, even as Michael, one of the race organisers shouted increasingly urgently to make sure we got our timing chips cleared. I was checking my watch, 4 minutes per person?! Eventually I escaped as Michael had resorted to yelling “quick sh*t, quick sh*t!”.

Never follow an arrow to anywhere with the word 'forno' in its name

Never follow an arrow to anywhere with the word ‘forno’ in its name

The Start (08:00)

We had decided to run with our wetsuit up, but unzipped. It was only 6km to start with, after all. It was a much bigger race than the last one and the crowd bumped and jostled at the start. We took it slow and were soon winding up the hill in a line of competitors. Before long I could feel sweat pouring off my face. I checked my watch. We’d been going 13 minutes.

Mass crowds at the start. We're in the clappers, somewhere ...

Mass crowds at the start. We’re in the clappers, somewhere …

I was also already towing Izzy hard. Hmm, I thought, not sure I could keep this up the whole way. I tried to be sensible, stay in line and not rush to close gaps on the flatter parts – they soon closed again as we hit the ups. We started to descend and I was still towing as we struggled to pass a mixed team who were definitely flagging more than us. After an arduous time where I felt we were silently battling each other, Izzy had a minor strop and unclipped herself. I was dubious, but in fact, without having to worry about the tow as well as her footing, she flew straight off down the hill. At the bottom she was full of fight and we leapt into the beautiful cool water of the lake.

Mass start

Mass start

At the other side though, she got dizzy and fell backwards as we got out. We started the downhill run with her bumping into me. We were at a height of about 2600m.

I tried to encourage and said we’d keep the tow on a gentle tug. This was all too much and before long I was hearing the words “I just don’t think I can do this today”. “Yes you can”, I replied. Not long after, in a moment of stress as people overtook on a narrow path, I tripped and fell hard. Before I had time to think, a fellow competitor had lifted me bodily from the ground! Blood was streaming from my hand and knee. I did my best to wash the grit out with some of our water but my goggles were also full of blood and they had to wait for later. We set off again hobbling.

Izzy’s glutes then cramped up and we had to stop to stretch them out. This was followed by a forlorn “I’m sorry, I know you really wanted to do well today..” I said: “Shut up and don’t worry about that, it is now about survival and finishing this race”.

Our entire plan had to change, we had to set new goals. I have never had a DNF (‘did not finish’) and didn’t want one now. I didn’t say this at the time, but Izzy later admitted she hadn’t had one either and was thinking the same. I resisted panicking as we walked tiny rises so early in the race and carefully pondered what to say. “Izzy, you’re a Scot, right?” “Yes” “Well, you’ve paid a lot of money to enter this race, and a proud Scot would definitely make sure they got their money’s worth” … bingo! Turns out this was true 🙂 .

Izzy had felt like this race was a simple factual physical impossibility on this day. But I thought it was a mind game, and mind games you can always win. We carried on moving.

More scenery

Scenery

The Middle, Part 1 (09:40)

We had been going for less than 2h and got to the second swim behind schedule and in difficulty. The results later showed we were in 120th position out of 157 starters. The water was lovely, though Izzy said later that her arms felt dead.

In all the noise and pre-race chatter about how cold the water would be, I had been oblivious to how hot the air temperature would be (despite a mention of it race briefing). 23 degrees C! OK, not hot by continental Europe standards. But hot by Scottish standards.

Even more scenery

Even more scenery

I started to suffer a bit. I am not good in the heat, but am getting better at noticing the symptoms! I started drinking, drinking – both from my bottle and from the lakes when they were clear and fresh smelling. Despite the hassle, we agreed we had to ‘cab down’ (the term used to mean taking the wetsuit off to the waist) on every run. The wet race bib was bliss. It didn’t seem to dry very well, instead creating a constant cooling effect on our top half. Fortunately, the route dipped in and out of the woods and their delightful shade. I aimed for it at every opportunity, and doused my head from a pipe spilling out cold water on the hillside.

At one point we passed some horses. I am normally wary of them, but these ignored us. We discussed hijacking a couple to take us down the hill, with the string of switchbacks on a tight path. I promise we left them alone though …

Shall we borrow a horse?

Shall we borrow a horse?

I was keeping an eye on my watch. I had memorised the route and had it broken down into sections in my head. I knew we were losing 5-10 minutes per section against plan, which itself only gave us 40 minutes to spare at the first cut off – which was way off at 13:45. I was worried and mentioned this briefly near the start but it had only caused despair, so I kept quiet until the final short swim and long run before the cut off.

The Middle, Part 2 (12:08)

“OK Izzy, we have 97 minutes to do this section. And at current pace, it will likely take us 85-90 minutes. But the second cut off is also very tight, so any minutes to spare, we need”. I thought we could realistically do this now, we just had to keep moving in the same way.

Lovely shady path zig-zagging down the hill

Lovely shady path zig-zagging down the hill

We set off walking up a very steep hill. We knew it was coming, which made it easier. I was towing firmly, but trying to keep exertion below the level which had nearly killed us off earlier. It was as if at altitude, you could go so hard, but no harder without it tipping you over an edge. Little swarms of flies kept appearing round our heads and we batted them away with our hand paddles.

I knew we had to go up the valley alongside a river, then cross over and back down the other side for a flattish run in. Sooner than anticipated, I could see the course turning left. I promised we could walk to the river and that then I thought it was downhill and so maybe we could ‘jog-a-log’? Izzy had coined this phrase earlier and we now used it for any running part. Time to jog-a-log again?

Some shots of the scenery, which we managed to appreciate at least a little bit ...

We did manage to appreciate the views at least a little bit …

Thankfully I was right. Our mood was lifting and there was even some happy chitchat. The sound of cowbells drifted across a field and we imagined they were our rapturous supporters cheering us on.

The sight of kite surfers on the lake near the cut off were welcome. Suddenly we were on the valley floor again, running in the sun. I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe it. A shiver ran through me that normally only comes near the end of epic races. We were going to make it to the end. No doubt about that now. We got to transition with 35 minutes to spare. Not only had we made the cut off, but we had caught up on our schedule by a huge amount. What had happened?

Swimmers and kite surfers (in different lakes!)

Swimmers and kite surfers (in different lakes!)

So now we faced a section we were more than confident about. We were also at ‘only’ 1800m and I think the effect was noticeable. Michael said we had plenty of time, but we leapt straight in the water for the first of two long swims. Remarkably, we were overtaking a string of teams. I wasn’t entirely sure where to aim for, except ‘the end of the lake’. After I had passed everyone we were following, I headed for what looked like a female competitor taking ages to get out. It turned out to be a large orange buoy. Not an enormous lady.

Big orange buoy. Definitely not a girl.

Big orange buoy. Definitely not a girl.

As had been the case throughout the race, we passed a lot of teams at transition despite our occasional clumsiness managing the bibs and equipment as we cabbed up and down on the approach. We were also quick at feed stations as we stopped only to drink, refill bottles and grab bits of bananas or a gel to eat on the move.

Suddenly, it felt like we were ‘in the race’. Previously, it had felt like we were trailing at the back. Whether this was just mental, or also physical I am not sure. But the cheers seemed louder, the smiles of the marshals more confident, and there were more competitors around us. People yelled at us in various languages, some we understood and some we didn’t. Most yelled ‘bravo!’ or ‘super!’ or, even better, ‘super bravo!’ 😀

Who wouldn't want to run around here?

Who wouldn’t want to run around here?

We ran with a group of mixed pairs, then in for another long swim. They had vanished and we were now with some male pairs. A very short run, then we were at the final swim in a warm peaty lake, though I shivered getting in. Maybe my body was going into meltdown. It was short though and we were soon out the other side.

Spectator point with a view

Spectator point with a view

The End (14:45)

Just 8.3km run, 400m swim, 2.7km run to go. We were on my race plan times, even under them! We adopted ‘ultra-running’ style. Walk every hill. Run the flats and downhills. In this way we passed a few more male teams. My legs ached. My left knee hurt from the fall and my right from the downhill impacts. But I switched off my brain and kept the same pace. Just jog-a-log. I was still towing on and off, but much more moderately now, something I could sustain.

We saw Michael again at the final cut off, we had loads of time to spare. “How are you doing?” He asked. “OK!”, we grinned. “In fact, so much better than we were before!” Kids on bikes kept riding past and shouting in French. A group of girls got to us twice and surrounded us on the path cheering more enthusiastically than anyone. Every encouragement gave us a little lift.

The only picture I found of us actually racing! Yes, it us, about to overtake that team, I believe ...

The only picture I found of us actually racing! Yes, it us, about to overtake that team, I believe …

We were confused seeing swimmers in the final lake, but only because I had got muddled up about where the last swim went. We suddenly saw a female pair in front. I reassured Izzy: “Do not stress, I will stick exactly to what we’ve been doing”. She did not want to get into a battle. But we overtook on the swim and out the other side I was true to my word. We ran along the lake and walked up the smallest of inclines.

At a bend I glanced over my shoulder but we were well clear. Final push to the finish.

Now I was pulling hard again. Every muscle was screaming at me but I blanked out my mind. It was not that far. Round the corner, up a small hill, we ran this one, and into the finish arena.

You can stop running now!

You can stop running now!

The Finish (16:12)

We crossed the line and we were 4 mins ahead of original plan! Mats came to give us a hug, but Izzy sort of fell over in his arms and he took her to the shade of the tent. She lay curled up whilst I worried and gave her a pat. Relief and smiles when she sat up!

We placed 4th females, 52nd overall. Results here. That meant we made up 68 positions from our lowest point in the race. We had been to a very difficult place and come back. Not only that, we found ourselves competing again. We had worked together and kept each other going. It is good to have these experiences, if only to know you can do it and come out the other side fighting. Never give up. The free cake and tea at the hotel stops at 17:00 and is not to be missed.

More than a marathon of trail running (47.5km), more than the height of Ben Nevis in ascent (1500m), at altitude, in the heat. 6km of swimming, all beautiful, we’d have loved more!

Finished, and both managing to sit up in the shade!

Finished, and both managing to sit up in the shade!

Thanks to everyone who has helped us – including Head / sportextreme for wetsuits, Gococo for socks and Icebug for shoes. To the organisers Michael and Mats for putting on such a crazy race. To the wonderful people at Conrad’s Mountain Lodge for feeding us early on race day and greeting us like long-lost friends every morning. Also special thanks to Helen, my massage therapist at Physis, who somehow put me back together after the last race and expertly avoids various scrapes, bruises and wetsuit rashes.

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