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Slateman

I surpassed my own expectations in this race!

In preparation for the Celtman in June I thought it would be a good idea to practice at least one triathlon. I have done a couple of off-road events recently – by which I mean one last year and one the year before :D. But I haven’t done one with a road ride since about 1999! The setting for the Slateman (Llanberis, Snowdonia) is the place of my childhood holidays and where my dad now lives. It also coincided perfectly with his 70th birthday, which turned into a bit of bash!

The disciplines were:

Open water swim – 750m
Road bike – 51km ca. 590m ascent
Trail run – 11km ca. 330m ascent

The night before I was a bag of nerves. Andy says this is always a good sign, but it didn’t feel like it. My first on-road triathlon in years, no maps, and it was going to be a bit of a sprint!

Swim

We found out at the race briefing that the swim had been shortened from 1000m to 750m because the water was too cold (11.3oC). I thought this was a bit unnecessary, but then I read the British Triathlon rulebook and realised they had to if they were going to comply with the rules!

I practiced windmills and looking foolish on land before hopping into the water about 7 minutes before the start. I wasn’t keen on getting my face wet but it had to be done! The water was lovely and clear but my goggles were totally fogged up, or maybe greasy. I was also trying out open water swimming without contact lenses. I could see the big orange thing we were aiming for – just about.

I got into a good position then swam hard at the start to get clear of slower people. It worked and I soon settled down into a better pace and spent time practicing drafting on someone’s toes and side-side. They both had their difficulties when the person in front would randomly swerve off course!

On the final leg back to shore I couldn’t see a thing because the sun was directly in my eyes, so I didn’t bother sighting and just followed someone else. It seemed to work out OK, as we soon arrived at the beach for a long run across a field to transition.

15m32s (including the field run), 5th female, 52nd overall

T1

This says it all!

2m24s, 16th female, 161st overall

But lots of people were in trisuits, whilst I was messing around putting on a jersey, socks, buff and gloves. I didn’t want to get cold on the descents, but was maybe a little over-cautious.

Bike

The bike started with a lovely long, steady climb up Pen-Y-Pass. I had no idea how many women were in front, but I kept working and caught up with a few, as well as plenty of men! The descent was fast and fun, then we turned at Capel Curig for another long, gentle drag. I rode the route on Friday so knew this wouldn’t be too bad, and we had a slight tailwind.

As I rounded the corner I saw a fast-looking girl up ahead. It took me the next 15km to catch up with her and it was a great incentive to keep working hard! At this point there were at least 3 of us near each other. We then caught another girl on a slight hill. I wasn’t letting up the pressure as I knew the bike would be my strong leg and I think it was about here I finally pulled away as I didn’t see the others again. ‘Hello’ to the friendly guy from Hereford Tri who also kept trying to beat me on this stretch!

The local support was amazing, with people in the little villages coming out to cheer and ring their cowbells. I smiled and waved to them as I went past and realised I was actually having a pretty good time! 🙂

The final descent back into Llanberis was marred slightly by a long queue of cars stuck behind slower riders. I had to ease off a bit but kept calm, realising it would make no more than a few seconds difference. Coming back to transition I saw my dad sitting on a wall. I yelled at him and waved – which made the other spectators laugh! I didn’t realise until I was hooking my bike up that the row of empty racks might mean I was in the lead …

1h35m56s, 1st female, 86th overall

T2

1m5s, 9th female, 115th overall

OK, a little bit better!

Run

As I started the run course a few of the marshals were telling me they thought I was in the lead. I couldn’t believe it! But I wasn’t convinced it could last. Almost none of my run training has been focussed on short or fast. After an easy kilometre, the track rose steeply in a series of zigzags, gaining 200m in height over 2km. At least I am used to hills!

This was really hurting!

Lots of people were stopped at the side with cramps in their legs and I could feel my calves screaming. I kept plodding away. Looking back round the corners I could see the next girl, but she wasn’t right on my heels yet. After a little drop, the track went up again. I was in a world of pain. But then the film crew came up and starting driving just in front of me. I now knew for sure I must be the leading lady! I don’t often do head-head races and it was quite a buzz!

I still pushed on as hard as I could, glad of the downhill respites. Through a tricky, rocky, rooty trail in the woods and onto a steep, short uphill. I was fazed by all the others walking and did the same. I found out later the girl behind me had seen this and it had spurred her on! Oops – I’d have felt the same if our positions had been reversed – I think I’m a better chaser than I am leader.

A kilometre later and she overtook me at speed on a downhill. I tried to stay with her but there was nothing in my legs. Another killer uphill and some uneven steps – it was her turn to walk and I wanted to capitalise but just couldn’t! It was only 8 minutes more running until the finish. All the way I had her pegged at nothing more than 25m but couldn’t do anything about it.

56m45s, 5th female, 133rd overall

Finish

I crossed the line 14seconds behind, but ecstatic to have done so well! I had hoped to finish in the top 10, in under 3.5 hours. In the end, I was 2nd in a time of 2:51:40!! Overall 86th out of 454 finishers.

In 5 weeks time I will have to do four times the distances, but this was a great practice run and made me feel like a real triathlete who can even compete with girls on TT bikes with pointy helmets and skinsuits ;-).

The event was televised and will be shown on Channel 4, S4C and Eurosport. The top 3 were all interviewed at the finish line, so hopefully I’ll make the cut for a few seconds of sweaty TV fame!

I really recommend this event as it was well run, with fantastic scenery, very clearly marked courses and all the marshals and supporters were so enthusiastic! I even got my split times texted to me before I had left the event field. Thanks to the organisers, Always Aim High Events. Full results here.

Top 3 women:

Bethan Hughes – City of Chester Triathlon Club – 2:51:26
Rosemary Byde – Edinburgh RC – 2:51:40
Sarah Rose – Manchester Triathlon Club – 2:54:15

Top 3 men:

Peter Brook – Sixty Nine Cycles – 2:20:23
Paul Mountford – Tri 1st – 2:24:11
Chris Standidge – City of Chester Triathlon Club – 2:24:57

Open Adventure 2-Day Event

A tale of a medium dog and a shire horse on a 2 day adventure together.

Two and a half years ago, two girls raced together in an Open 5 run/mountain bike event in the Peak District. One of them (Kate) was a top endurance runner contemplating the West Highland Way race and riding a singlespeed. The other (me), was still quite an adventure racing novice. We were fairly well matched back then.

Fast forward and I have signed up for the Celtman (a tough triathlon like an Ironman, but with a longer bike and a run over a couple of mountains). Kate has ‘signed up’ to be my buddy runner on the mountain stage of the run for that event. Her job will be to keep me safe and motivated!

We haven’t seen each other since that Open 5 and missed doing the Peak District event in April together because I was chasing the series title. So we decided to do the Open 2-dayer in the Lake District instead. I don’t know if Kate knew what she was letting herself in for!

Pre-race

Me:

Follow structured training plan. Taper the week before. Buy a dog-lead to set up a bike tow.

Man in dog-lead shop:
“I think the tape lead will be better for what you want. Do you need small, medium or large dog size?”
Medium.

Kate:

Have a 6 week running taper. Have a 6 year kayaking taper*. Work and study very hard, don’t worry too much about ‘training’, because this race is just for fun.

* OK, so I hadn’t kayaked since last July either!

Day 1

Stage 1: Run (Loughrigg Fell)

Horse and dog team seemed fairly well matched on the ride to the start of the first stage, though it took a long time to get there. At this point we didn’t even know we were a horse and dog team.

The run was lovely. We took a good route, didn’t make mistakes and enjoyed the scenery and off-road running. Kate even towed me for a while along a nice flat section. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes it was all too much and positions were reversed later as we made a mad dash along the road and got back just a few seconds late! But we actually had the best female pair score.

Stage 2: Bike (Grizedale)

The first hour was traumatic. Kate went into meltdown (“I can’t ride, I’m holding you back, have you created a new loser’s route yet?”). I concentrated on how to rescue the situation. Then it all got better. We changed the planned route, rode some fun trails and agreed that on every road and fireroad Kate was going on the tow. She was now officially a medium dog.

Medium dog, looking perky

Towing is a skill and needless to say, we both got better at it as we had 3.5 hours to practice! Kate rides a singlespeed which makes switching between off-road and road difficult. Partway round I also realised she had no suspension – no wonder it was tricky!

We got into a good rhythm. I felt I was working hard, Kate was not left trailing and we were getting some good chat time. We took in the section of North Face trail early to make sure we didn’t miss it. Then I deliberately made sure we rode one of my favourite routes in the lakes – from Heald Brow Pasture, through Low Parkamoor and down to the end of Coniston Water at High Nibthwaite.

Despite having an hour left we were now short of time. We set off to get one last control up a hill, but on a road. It was slow and the dog was getting quad cramps. We faced one of my hardest ever adventure race decisions, and turned back round to head for home without getting the control. 45 minutes of tow into a headwind along the entire length of Coniston Water. I felt sick when we finished but we had no penalties!

Probably should have gone for the control, but we were Saving Ourselves for the Kayak. Our day 1 motto. We didn’t think it was serious.

Stage 3: Night run (Tarn Hows)

Set off well on a good route. We were having fun. I recognised one path as the place where Andy tried out magic walking poles for the first time, but that’s another story.

Damage limitation. One of us looks crazed, the other looks dead!

We got to the point where we were supposed to check the time and choose a ‘slightly shorter’ or ‘slightly longer’ route. We forgot to check and went the long way. It was getting late, we were getting tired and we started making lots of little mistakes.

  1. Couldn’t work out where we were on the map, spent ages figuring out we were 20m too far east. These things matter in the dark.
  2. Ran past a shiny reflective thing, didn’t think to say ‘hey what’s that?’, overshot and had to backtrack.
  3. Dithered at a footpath by a fence – one of which wasn’t marked on map but we weren’t sure which and couldn’t be decisive about running another 50m to the correct fence.
  4. Ran blindly down a fireroad for ages, I felt panicked and teary, even though we were in the right place.
  5. Checked a hundred streams until we got the right one.

Hit the road at the bottom already 10 minutes late and 2km from home. We pegged it and got back in 8 minutes. The medium dog didn’t trip over her feet and the shire horse was born.

Shire horse. Haircut wasn't until Monday.

We lost 125 points. Killer.

Day 2

Stage 4: Kayak (Coniston Water)

A very early start after not very much sleep. Following some last minute advice from Jon, I went in the back to steer. 10 minutes down the lake and we were knackered! But we stuck to our plan, which seemed sensible. We knew we could miss two controls out at the top of the lake later if we needed to.

Crossing the lake was fine, coming back upwind was a little harder. There were white horses and we were lurching over the waves. Kate got regular cold showers, whilst I whooped and shrieked with delight :-D. Then it was back to work. I found for the first time ever that my attempts at ‘edging’ were actually steering us, and my butt was getting an awesome workout.

We made good time and I decided we could go for the last two controls. Kate must have heard about my risk-taking from somewhere and in a last ditch attempt asked ‘should we head back now?’. I said ‘No’. For once, I was right, we got back under 2 minutes late and had our best scoring stage of the whole event.

Which just goes to show that dogs and horses can make good kayakers, especially when they ‘save themselves’ for it all the previous day ;-).

Stage 5: Trail run (Old Man of Coniston)

There was a complicated scoring system for this stage which also involved decisions about going for a short or long course. We decided we had nothing to lose after the night stage and besides, we wanted our money’s worth. We were doing the long course.

The first climb took an hour, and this is where I got the sort of full leg and glute workout that the physio would approve of. Uphill, pulling Kate as hard as she could take and hoping it wouldn’t break either of us! Despite threats from behind to ‘piss on my leg’, I refused to give up. I knew this is what it could be like in June on Beinn Eighe (without the extra resistance!).

Making our way up the Old Man of Coniston

Then came a blustery run along a ridge before a long descent. Looking at the splits I know where I still need to improve – rough steep descending. Kate was waiting patiently for me as I teetered down. Shire horses just don’t have the dexterity and lightness of foot for this kind of work. We may also have been slightly distracted by other interesting chat topics ;-). As we hit the well-made track in the quarry it was back to sprinting and we charged down the hill to the finish.

Results

Another female pair (Jill and Sharon) had a storming run and won the category – we rescued second place with our efforts on the kayak.

I was very pleased with this race. Our score was not the best and we were only mid-table overall. A teensy part of me was thinking ‘I wonder how I would be doing solo?’. BUT, the much bigger part of me was enjoying the company, the teamwork and the banter! I also got a fantastic training weekend for the Celtman, which has given me a real confidence boost.

A big thank you to Kate for putting up with the torture and coming with me. Also to Jon for the lift down and a space in a totally luxurious tent!

As usual, a well organised and challenging event from the team at Open Adventure.

Next up – the Slateman triathlon. 3 weeks to go!

A walk in the Peak District

One of the best things about going to stay with Andy is that he lives on the edge of the Peak District in a little village called Broadbottom. There are lots of opportunities for interesting runs (even the short ones) and big walks, right on his doorstep. After Christmas I sat down to amuse myself with Andy’s truly enormous 1:25k waterproof map of the area. I call it “Andy’s” rather loosely, as I always seem to find it just where I left it on the previous visit 😀

I came up with the following route, which was perfectly executed.

Doctor's Gate this way

 

Catch a train to Glossop, as early as you can. This involved me getting out of bed, so we set off just before 10am. Walk up “Doctor’s Gate” assessing it for mountain biking suitability on a later date. It’s a bridleway but I fear there would be rather too much pushing for my liking, in both directions! Stop out of the wind for a pleasant first sandwich and piece of homemade fudge brownie.

 

At the top, where this Roman Road joins the modern Snake Pass, turn left and follow the Pennine Way through a peat bog. You go from a rocky little climb to an engineered walking highway, which still has its charms as the path literally bounces, you splash through rivers and stare down into dark little pools.

At Bleaklow Head, bear left into a biting westerly headwind. Stop to put on spare jumper, even if it means taking off two other layers first. Get to where two rivers meet and the path crosses them in a little gorge. Take shelter and eat second sandwich and brownie as quickly as possible. Stop every 10 minutes for the next hour to re-tie shoelaces, because hands are too cold to properly carry out a task requiring such fine motor control!

Trip Trap, Trip Trap!

Locate the left turn-off from The Pennine Way, which starts with an exceedingly deep boggy bit – let someone else find that out first! 😀 The map gives clues to the terrain … all those spidery blue lines on a flat moor! It is wet, but the path is punctuated by helpful wooden bridges and walkways.

Cue your best Billy Goats Gruff impressions; “Trip trap, trip trap! Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?!” Try not to jump too far out of your shoes when someone sneaks up behind and says “Boo”!

 

Descend back towards Glossop on a double-track, taking a shortcut to Swineshaw reservoir that gets you stuck at the top of a small quarry. Really, either the ground did not match up with the map here, or I was too fuddled to figure it all out. Allow Andy to take one last photo – this time of a pig. Get back into town just before dark and grab a sweet hot drink and emergency third sandwich in the café before heading home to tea and curry*.

Different approaches to finding a way across a peat bog ...

* I had made a tasty shepherd’s pie but confused the paprika and chilli powder – oops! Second mealtime around with all the (non-spicy potato) gone, it went well with chickpeas, a tin of coconut milk and plenty of rice!

Making a habit of night riding?

I started out riding my mountain bike off road in the dark when I decided to do the Strathpuffer some years ago – what an introduction! I’ve been out sporadically since, either training for the occasional race, or just for fun. It is possible to get up into the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh from work, ride and get back without a car – though it’s always further home than I expect!

This year Andreas, a friend from work and the bike club, has decided he wants to ride his mountain bike more. The only time to do it is after work, when it just happens to be dark. He has a car and needs someone to go with – I am happily obliging 😀

The trails are almost deserted and are more interesting than they are in the daylight. I have been testing out the head light I won at the Trans Wales event – an Exposure Diablo. It’s an awesome light; bright enough to ride with on its own, providing you’re not out for too long. And a good job too, since my handlebar light detached from the bracket and stayed that way (new part ordered)!

Andreas seems keen on animal spotting. This week we got:

  • Rabbit                          – 5 points
  • Bats                             – 10 points
  • Squirrel (unverified)    – 3 points
  • Small amphibian          – 7 points
  • Large OWL!                  – 20 points
  • Black beetle                 – 6 points
  • 4 other humans            – 0 points

Total: 51 points

We’ve already headed off to Glentress twice recently, so it looks like this might become a regular thing. Fits in very well with my plan to ride my mountain bike more, but not so well with my plan to do the club running sessions more, since the evenings keep clashing! Since one is more fun than the other, I can see which might end up winning 🙂

Lynskey + Andreas and his midget-wheeled bike! A cold, misty and moonlit evening.

* Picked up a team jersey from Ronde today. Very exciting!

Last minute training

I’m facing my last big test of the summer! Next weekend I’ll be heading north to Fort William for the Big Ben Nevis Tri. This is billed as ‘gruelling’ and ‘the UK’s toughest triathlon’. Nothing to worry about then …

With only a week to go I realised there was some essential pre-race training to be done!

SWIM (1.9km). I had only swum in my wetsuit outdoors once this year, and that was in May. So I took my last opportunity to go out with a group on Wednesday night. This was at Threipmuir Reservoir in the Pentlands. Just an 11km uphill pedal away from work, I left a meeting at 6pm and rode up as fast as I could to get there on time. About then, the thought crossed my mind that I really should have brought some water.

The scene of my test swim

3 laps and 2.1km later, I stumbled out, found I couldn’t really speak any more and spent so long getting changed that my feet froze and everyone else had gone home. I was still thirsty – when I had accidentally swallowed some of the murky, peaty water it seemed to taste good! Halfway through the long ride home I hit the metaphorical wall and began staring longingly into takeaways when I was stopped at red lights. I stumbled in at 9.15pm and began emergency re-fuelling!

Oh, I have also been having problems with old leaky goggles which will be no good with contact lenses in. So I ordered a new pair, which arrived on Friday and got a test in the pool today. They leaked a bit but I was checking what 1.9km non-stop would feel like and how long it might take, so I didn’t want to pause and adjust them. I also got an unrelated cracking headache – hmm.

BIKE (90km off-road). Well, I ride to work all the time, so not too many fitness worries with this one. But after the Trans Wales, I couldn’t backpedal in the small rings of the cassette without the chain catching. Cue an emergency trip up to the Bicycleworks for some investigations. The mech hanger was straightened, the (supposedly-long-lasting) cables were lubed a bit and the tension adjuster twiddled. But unfortunately no concrete diagnosis could be made. Ach well, it still seems to go forwards OK. I’ve also added a headset protector and mudsplash thing, as I think some gritty bits got into the bearings and I don’t want it getting any worse! Only one decision left – whether to ‘test out’ the new saddle in a race or stick with what I know?!

This week's running kit - I hope I wasn't spotted by too many people I know!

RUN (21km – up Ben Nevis and back). I’ve been nursing a twisted ankle, which doesn’t bode well for the ascent, or more likely, the descent (!) of Ben Nevis. However, I did want to test out what it would be like to carry all the required kit for the running stage in my hip bag. I set out from work to do a loop round the grounds one lunchtime last week, looking the picture of sartorial elegance. I’m glad I did, because it didn’t go well – the bag was too heavy and bounced up and down, I had to tighten it so much it dug into me and it was generally uncomfortable. Rucksack it is then. I’ve been assured it’s mostly a walk anyway 🙂

Given how all that has gone, I’m changing tack. Between now and the race I’ll be taking it easy and trying to get some decent long nights of sleep. My mum is doing the honours of taking me to the race, cheering me on and looking after me. I think I’ll need it!

There are not many women entered – 8 of us so far – which is more than usual. I have just noticed that the course record holder Hannah Barnes has also signed up, so there’ll certainly be competition! For this race though, I am concentrating on a) finishing and b) getting round in under 10 hours. Anything else will be a bonus.

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