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Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh

The news was announced at a long-forgotten time back in the winter. Ironman was coming to Scotland for the first time, and the race would be a 70.3 in Edinburgh. 70.3 denotes the total distance in miles, also known as ‘middle distance’: 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21km run.

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

I was immediately tempted because I knew it would be big, I like doing ‘firsts’ and I knew one of the organisers. On the other hand, I normally go for wilder races than this! After some short deliberation, I entered. If it had been a full Ironman (twice the distance) I’d have had to think harder, but as it was I thought I could fit it in.

During the winter and spring I tried to ride my bike more. I did two ‘warm up’ races, a sprint and a standard distance. On both I was disappointed with my bike speed and with only 6 weeks to go I knew I had to make up ground! Turns out it’s harder to fit in all this extra bike riding into my already full swim / run schedule than I imagined. However, fitness was not really the issue. The biggest problem was learning to be comfortable on my time trial bike.

As race day approached, the forum was going into a frenzy with people talking about the race and asking hundreds of questions. I had a lot to do at work and felt a bit stressed by everything! Although the race was on Sunday, it all started on Friday with registering and getting all my kit together. Saturday was spent leaving bags of kit in various places and attending the compulsory briefing.

On my last ride, one of my tri bars had moved a bit when I hit a pothole. Andy wanted me to get it fixed by the mechanic, but the queue at the bike drop just wasn’t moving. I got more and more anxious until I abandoned it and racked anyway; I thought it would be fine. This meant a less meticulous preview of the transition area than I’d have liked, then off to do the practice swim. I was only doing this to try the course for real, but the buoys were in random places in a loop that was very much not 1.9km. Fun waves, but there was already talk of a shortened course.

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

Race day dawned with near perfect conditions for me – strong winds to make it a bit tougher, but no rain to upset my bike handling! Izzy picked up myself, my mum and Glen at the crack of dawn and off we went. Straight into the toilet queue where we learnt that yes, we would only swim 950m. Time dragged on until I did a short warm up and went to get in the right pen. Where was the right pen? In fact, where were the pens?! I am very much unused to such large race fields. There were about 1600 starters.

I found someone else in the club who swims at a similar speed to me and we decided to push our way through. That was, until someone stopped us saying: ‘I’m not letting you through, we’re all trying to get to the same place’. We ducked under the barrier instead and found a gap to get back through further down. There was plenty of room here and people planning to go at our pace.

Running out

As it turns out, I am glad we did this. Others further back had tales of swimmers in front of them doing breaststroke, throwing up and clinging onto kayaks. As it was for me, it was a fairly smooth start straight out to the first buoy. Left turn and I was swallowing a lot of water. Slightly off track, but I corrected, turned and turned again. Now the sun was blinding me and I was still swallowing water. Rather too late, I decided to only breathe to one side (away from the waves) which was a vast improvement. I couldn’t see the final orange turn buoy so I followed feet until I got there and came ashore.

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

There has been a lot of discussion about the swim. Personally, I loved it and would happily have done a second lap. I gained chunks of time on my competitors and it was disappointing that I did not have the fullest opportunity to exploit my strength. However, I understand the decision made and it was right for the competitors and the conditions at the time. I do think there are some inherent issues with the sport where the swim is often seen to be survived, rather than fully integral. If I am a weak on hills or struggle when it’s hot, is it fair to put in hills, or keep a full course when it’s sunny? Yes, of course it is! But safety considerations do come into play more on the swim. I wonder if some compromise could be made with a time-out on lap one, splitting people into short- and long- course options so that most people could take part safely, but allowing the best to race the full distance.

Leaving transition – still a lot of bikes there!

Anyway, it was what it was and I wasn’t troubling myself about it during the race. I was out and into transition, stuffing in a banana, waving at my mum and carefully mounting. Andy shouted out that Louise, a clubmate, was just ahead, but she didn’t appear immediately and I knew she was a strong biker. It was fabby to ride on closed roads and not have to worry about traffic! I had plenty of space and only saw a couple of instances of blatant drafting all the way round.

Part of the route is a loop that goes out and back on the same road for a while. I was just in time to see the pros coming through before I was off up the hilly loop myself. I rode this well and was remembering to eat and drink, and kept an eye on my average speed as a way to stay concentrated. As I returned I saw how it looked further down the field – big crowds of riders out for a long day. I felt privileged to be where I was.

A note on support round the course – it was great! I think I saw three young people playing their bagpipes,  residents out clapping us as we passed, and a chap away out near Garvald with flags, hollering and whooping with me as I went by. I tried to thank them all, when I had the breath to!

After about halfway, I started overtaking people who had passed me in the early stages. It was a good feeling. We had a headwind now, but I didn’t pay it any attention, tucked down on my bars. I did catch up with Louise finally, on the approach to Cousland, and we exchanged a few words. The final part of the course wiggles through town and I might have flagged a bit here, but before long I was over Arthur’s Seat and into transition just in time to hear the first male pro finishing his race!

I had been debating whether to avail myself of the portaloos here and eventually decided I would. I ran into one, skidded in my cleats and nearly came a cropper! However, it was worth it as I left relieved and was soon out running with another banana going down nicely.

I had a positive mindset and started at a good pace. Up the hill, down the other side, turn, back up, down, into tunnel, up it and down it, disco party, up …. ohhh that hill was excruciating, along, up, down, down .. weave past other racers in the narrow bits, try and guess who was ahead or behind, who was fresh or just faster…  You get the idea.

I turned not far off my target time but now it was lap two and I was in trouble. I had supporters and people shouting my name at all sorts of unexpected places on the run course, but I could only grimace at them as I laboured past. I was nauseous, I wanted to stop and I was shivering. I have been here before and knew what it meant – dehydration. I needed a plan, and fast. I’d get to the next feed station and instead of racing through I’d walk. I’d get water, electrolytes, coke, more water. Then repeat at every station, knowing there were three on the lap. All I had to do was get to the next one, up the hill! Somehow I made it, did what I planned and carried on. After doing this three times I was feeling so very much better …

Lap 3 and I almost felt normal again. I smiled at a few people and felt strong. This was my final circuit and I had rescued myself! Up a final drag, turn left, SPRINT!! Collapse on chair.

What a race! The run was brutal but I had got round. Finishing in 5:31, I had just tipped over 5.5h. Looking at the results, my bike leg was still off the pace of the others, but I had achieved my target speed and was faster over double the distance than I had been in my last race. My swim was great, my run was reasonable. I was 6th in my age group, which seemed to have a lot of strength in depth! 25th girl and 234th overall, keeping me in top 15%, which I was pleased about. Full details here.

I must thank my mum, Andy, Izzy and all the other people I know who cheered, supported and took photos!

I had mixed feelings about the result. I did achieve most of my goals and given my main focus is swimrun I probably did as well as I could. A little part of me would have loved to get on the age group podium, but I can’t control the competition and I did my best! I also seemed to recover well. Not too much muscle soreness and after a week I was bouncing up and down hills like my normal self. Which was lucky really, because next up (two weeks later) I had a bonus race in my calendar, and it didn’t look easy!

Post race snacks and literal ‘chilling’ !

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Loch Lo Man standard distance triathlon

After what felt like a long break from racing punctuated by endless hours of training, it was time to toe the start line again. This was my second warm up / practice triathlon before Edinburgh 70.3, chosen primarily for its open water swim and proximity to Edinburgh. Unfortunately, registration was the day before and the start was horrifically early, so it was still a weekend trip!

Glen and I headed over to Loch Lomond and sussed out the swim area, the start of the run and the start and finish of the bike. The transition from swim to bike looked much longer than stated in the manual. I checked it with my watch. 750m, not 300m! I hastily formed alternative transition plans in my head.

It wasn’t so bad to be out west overnight, as we stayed with my pal Douglas and dined at a fine Italian place (burrata with roasted peaches and caramelised almonds with sage, don’t mind if I do). After really not enough sleep (about 5h) I roused myself, got kitted up and off we stumbled, slightly later than planned.

Race information about timings between emails and website was inconsistent. We needn’t have worried though, since we had plenty of time to park, get set up, queue for the toilet and get to briefing on time. Well, Izzy and I did. Glen followed later but still was on time, as it happened.

There had been some delay for the middle distance racers in front of us. They started late, but even then, after a while I was beginning to wonder why no-one had got out. Turns out one of the buoys was slowly drifting, drifting … They moved it as half the people on the last lap were still aiming towards it .. Hilarious to watch from the shore, though perhaps confusing when racing. I heard people say they had done 1000m extra!

Next it was our turn and I was rather hoping for 1000m extra, it might play to my favour. The water was warm-ish and the threatened compulsion to wear gloves, booties and neoprene hat did not materialise. This suited me as I prefer to swim without when I can. It also meant I could change quickly into shoes that I had waiting ready to pull on over my Gococo socks as I left the water.

As we started, my breathing felt laboured and I had to work hard to get in a rhythm. The swim played out as it often does. A front group got away, there was a gap, then there was me passing people on lap 2 until the gaps got too big. Apparently I was 13th out the water, but I was disappointed with my time. I’ve been working a lot on my stroke and being more consistent in training but it doesn’t seem to be paying off yet.

On the other hand, I had a storming transition. 5th overall. Message me if you want tips for next year!!

Fast T1!

Out on the bike and after some kerfuffle with my watch settings (it now thought I was running, but I couldn’t change that), I was off. The course was hilly and I felt like a snail, but not many guys were passing me. I knew at least two girls were in front as I had seen them in transition. I was right not to worry about my gears for the climbs, I got up them all without too much trauma. However, I bottled some of the descents, and Strava plainly shows where the girl behind rapidly made up time on me …

As the bike went on, I remembered to admire the scenery and to practice eating and drinking. But then it started raining. I had not realised that my handlebars became like slippery snakes when wet and not wearing gloves. I could either be safely on the tribars but with no ability to brake, or clinging to the outside bars (bull horns) with a death grip, as my hands slithered and slid. Lesson learnt.

Two girls flew past but I tried to stay calm even as I trundled along behind a tractor. We re-joined the main road and the traffic had got heavier since the morning. After a couple of close passes I made myself ride further out in the lane, trying to hold my nerve.

Overall this was a frustrating ride as my time was well down on my target. This despite a lot of extra biking since the race in Tranent taught me I needed to do some work in this area. I’m still unclear whether this is just technical (in)competence on the TT bike or also fitness coming into play. I lost a 6 minute lead to one of the girls behind me!

Bike to run

Anyway, it was time to run. I left transition just after one of the girls who overtook me. She was in sight for a few km, but was gradually pulling away. Another obviously did not intend to finish and had turned earlier. It was an out and back course, so it was easy to check positions. Emma Lamont, leading lady, was about 3km ahead of me! Then the next two girls fairly close to each other, but with a good gap to me. Round I turned, who was behind me? No-one for a long way, so it was a matter of pride and personal satisfaction to keep pushing on.

My watch beeped every km and although my shins were screaming (why? Another thing to sort out before the big day) and my legs and lungs were bursting, the clock does not lie and my splits were holding up nicely. Only dipped on the first and last km, as the route did a few twists and turns to slow us down. I even had enough energy to grunt some encouragement at Izzy and Glen as they passed going the other way,

Final position .. 4th female, 23rd overall. Results here. If there had been veteran prizes I’d have been first in that class, but there weren’t!! It was a good race, decent course and well organised. I wish my swim and bike had been better, but I still learnt useful things for July. My body was also telling me I had had a good workout as my legs seemed reluctant to hold me up for the rest of the day, even after administering macaroni cheese and chips!!

There’s not much time until Edinburgh 70.3, but somehow we’re squeezing not one, but two, swimrun races on back-to-back weekends before then! Bring on the sunshine, swimming and running.

Tranent Sprint Triathlon

My first triathlon since July 2015! I got sucked into entering the Ironman 70.3 in Edinburgh this year. I’ve never done an Ironman event before, but I couldn’t resist because it will be a massive middle distance race right on my doorstep. But that means remembering how to do triathlon, working out how to ride my TT bike, actually, even just doing some biking might help …

As part of the preparations I entered the Tranent sprint tri this month, and an open water standard distance tri in May. Apart from that, things will have to fit round my swimrun training, which is still a priority!

Photo of heat details. Veteran!!!

I am not a big fan of pool-based triathlons. For one, you have to swim in a pool! I get stressed by the thought of people mis-counting the lengths, or getting caught behind other people, or having to wait to let other people past. Because you have to go off in waves (just to fit everyone in), it also means you’re not head to head racing and, in this case, I had to wait over 3h from briefing / final transition set up until I started! But it was still the only option at this time of year.

Actually, the time passed quickly, checking out the start of the run route, clarifying the transition procedure, watching Glen swim and start his bike ride, meeting Andy who cycled up (and took the photos – thanks!), and generally faffing about.

Glen – finished before I even started, despite a broken spoke

I was in the last heat, by a whisker. My estimated swim time was 11:50 (for 750m) and I was theoretically the slowest person in the fastest heat. The lane set off in reverse order, with me 5th in line. The person who went first was pulling ahead and I was beginning to wonder if I would get lapped. Then I noticed the gap was holding, then reducing. OK, so maybe not. Before long I had in fact closed the gap to starter number 4.

In the briefing and again at the poolside, the instructions were clear. No overtaking in the lane, if someone taps your feet, you must let them past. I tapped the man’s foot a few times down the first length I caught him. He turned and didn’t let me pass. Maybe I had been too polite and he thought I was just drafting. Next length, I was a little more insistent, especially as I neared the end of the length. He still didn’t let me past. I was getting ‘somewhat’ annoyed by this point, but did not want to break the rules by just barging past mid length. So the next length I practically swam on top of him and whacked him on the back of the knee. This was clearly not drafting. FINALLY he let me through. Thank you*.

I caught everyone else in the lane in quick succession and they all let me past with no issues. Final time (by my watch, which I stopped at the end of the lane rather than the timing mat) was 11:33. Incidentally, I was 10th fastest swimmer, so I was in the right heat after all.

Need to work on mounting. Actually, how do I ride this thing?

It was a little chilly outside, so I had worn my swimrun vest with short arms under my trisuit for extra heat. This meant no faffing in transition, just on with helmet and shoes (new ones, testing without socks) and head for the mount line. I had a right wobble getting on, because I still haven’t learnt how to find my pedal with the shoe (and I am not up to flying mounts).

Now, the TT bike has carbon rims on the wheels, and the brakes do not seem that effective in general (at least not compared to the discs on my commuter and mountain bikes!!). It had also been drizzling with rain all morning, which had not been in the forecast. I had never ridden this bike in the wet before … Andy gave me warning that the braking might be unpredictable and to test it out before the first big hill. Yikes.

There was a traffic light as soon as we left the estate. Although the two sets later on the course had provisions made for them (agreed pavement mount and a timeout), this one did not and I and a group of others were caught for 15-20 seconds. Then we were off again, but I was not on full gas. I was riding within myself and making sure I stayed on the bars as much as possible. I got down the big descent then stayed upright on the pavement mount section (this had become covered in a thin film of mud and the marshals were shouting ‘slippery, slippery’ … ). Someone overtook just here but we were going the same speed up the hill and I didn’t want to draft. I practised taking a drink instead.

Oops!

Another downhill, we were over halfway and turn left onto a bigger road. I knew the course and it was straightforward from here. Andy had said to go for it from this point, which I did. I passed the person in front as if they were hardly moving and was enjoying the speed! On reflection, I probably only really started racing from here. My average speed was well down on what it was a few years ago, so it was a bit frustrating. Once upon a time the bike leg was my killer leg and I was always at the sharp end. Not so now, but I must remember I have had other priorities, am not used to the bike and anyway, this race was so short we had hardly started before it was finished! 😉

Back onto the estate and someone in front fell off their bike dismounting! Ouch. I was more cautious and somehow managed to stop at the line. Click-clack into transition and Andy said I was slow … oh? (results suggest he was right, but I am not sure why!) On with my new tri shoes, OK they have been worn for a couple of parkruns, but this time I shoved my feet in no socks. Picked up a gel and set off, trying to get it open, eat it and put the wrapper in my back pocket, which I couldn’t find. Darn, but I knew the suit had one! Eventually I found it and started concentrating on the run.

How do I get this thing open?

It was two laps on pavements round the estate. For once I was actually looking forward to this and was not daunted – run training must be having an effect. The drizzle had started washing off the arrows on the ground but I had a good idea where to go. My shins were screaming, I didn’t know why and I ignored them. Someone fast came past and I wondered how they weren’t in front on the bike – until I realised they were lapping me. Oh, the shame!! I could see club mate Peter up in front and was aiming for him, but after lap one he started pulling away slightly.

Onto lap two and as I rounded one of the final corners to face a draggy uphill, the marshal was packing up and leaving!! Was I that slow? But I knew I was almost last out on the course. Even worse, he was jogging up the hill in jeans with a backpack and I wasn’t catching him up. Stop!!! Eventually he did and clapped me past. Final effort and I threw myself over the finish line. 5.16km in 21:52. Compared to current parkrun times and given the undulations, that was OK.

Um, that is me actually smiling and waving at Andy

A rapid change was in order as prize giving was imminent. I just made it in time. I knew I had passed the other couple of girls from my swim heat, but the contenders were likely to be from the heat before. They did age category classes first and I was laughing when they said “1st Veteran, Rosemary Byde!” … this is my first year racing in the vet class as I will by 40 before the year is out. Overall podiums came next, and I was 2nd female (18th overall), a minute behind the winner. I needed a faster bike leg to do any better! But it had been a good race, well organised and the process will help me for the next two triathlons.

Winners and podiums

Thanks to Edinburgh University Tri Club for putting this on and for all the marshals and sponsors (I need to go spend my Run4It vouchers now 🙂 )

Summary of leg performance – based on timing mats (so slightly different to what I recorded). Full results here.

  Swim T1 Bike T2 Run Overall
  11:51 1:01 37:08 1:04 21:46 1:12:49
Females 4th 3rd 4th 16th 2nd 2nd
Overall 10th 15th 27th 51st 24th 18th

* The guy beat me in this race, but I see he has entered the 70.3. I will be after him!!

 

Isoman Triathlon

Isoman is described as ‘triathlon evolved’. The principle is that each discipline takes about the same amount of elapsed time and therefore, theoretically, each has equal importance. Back in my university days (when I only swam and ran) I might have agreed, but now I’m not so sure!

In any case, Izzy and I entered this race because it fitted well with our Ötillö swimrun training plans. I also like doing new things. There was a full distance event at 11km swimming, 90km biking and 42km running. Despite flirting with that idea, we had both sensibly gone for the half distance instead.

Anyone who knows anything about triathletes will know that many of them dislike the swim and see it as something to get out of the way. In contrast, this event was a swimmer’s race. Despite a very accessible 45km bike leg, and a tough but achievable half marathon run, entrants to the half still had to be up for a 5.6km swim!

Preparation for the race had been far from ideal. Although I had done most of my training, work had been more manic than it has been for years. Lots of late nights, shortened sleeps and extra stress. I also did not target this race and my taper, such as it was, was merely an easy week beforehand. I arrived at the race fit, but not exactly zingy!

And so we found on a sunny morning in Redditch that we were lining up for a four lap, star-shaped swim of the lake in Arrow Valley Country Park. The water was green and murky, which makes a change from the brown and murky that I’m used to. It was also really warm. Although the swim was much longer than usual, the pattern of racing was the same. Some people shot off, I started at a sensible pace, found myself bridging groups and gradually overtaking towards the end. I got into a kind of metronomic state, with my arms swinging over as I counted strokes and sighted every 12th. It was calm and the banks were close, so it was quite easy to swim in straight lines. I saw Izzy as we went under the timing mat for the last lap.

My time was much slower than for the similar length swim race in Manchester, but I had been acutely aware of making sure I could still stand and safely ride a bike afterwards. My last road triathlon had involved a heavy crash off the bike out of transition and I didn’t fancy a repeat! Still, I was more than happy with the consistency of my lap times (24:16, 24:46, 24:46, 25:12).

One unique aspect of this event is that the transitions are timed out for up to 7 minutes (T1) and 5 minutes (T2). So I took my time to go through smoothly and even say hello to Izzy as she came in just after me!

Trying not to suffer too much on the run

Trying not to suffer too much on the run

Out onto the bike leg. I was riding my new time trial bike for the first time in a race. In fact, it was only about the fourth time I had ridden it all, and certainly the furthest I had ever been on it! The first part of the ride was on a dual carriageway. The traffic was very light, but I was too afraid of excessive wobbles to check over my shoulders for cars and was mostly concerned with staying upright! Once we got onto the county lanes I settled down a lot and my next concern was how to drink. I had forgotten to practice this bit … It was wobbly, but I managed it by dint of slowing down. After a while I even found that I was enjoying myself. My average speed was just under 30km/h. I’d be happy with that over double the distance on my road bike, but I’m sure there’s room for improvement there!

A perfectly timed 5 minute transition and I was out on the run. I had really been looking forward to this part. It was to be a test of how much I’ve improved recently. However, after about 5 minutes my shins started screaming at me. They were really painful. I decided the best cure would be to tell them to shut up and keep on running 🙂 It felt like I had to slow to a jog though. Sure enough, after about half an hour whatever the problem was resolved itself and I felt fantastic.

About 10 minutes later I started to melt … The sun was beating down, far more than I am used to ‘up North’. It must have been at least hitting the heady heights of 25 degrees. I took a cup of fluid at every aid station but the tell-tale signs of heat exhaustion / dehydration were kicking in. Shivers, wooziness, swollen hands. I gritted my teeth and kept plugging away, knowing the end was near. As soon as I fell over the line I crawled into the shade of a bouncy castle to drink and cool down.

Izzy at the finish

Izzy at the finish

The facts do not lie, my two times were only 18secs apart. Which is strange as they didn’t feel the same! I was disappointed with my run time (which was 10-15 minutes slower than I had hoped for), but knew I couldn’t have done any more on the day. The race was much harder than I expected. Which is back to this business of being equalised … Compared to a middle distance triathlon, we had basically swapped an hour and a bit of biking for the same of swimming. And I’m fairly sure that biking hard is less tiring than swimming hard. A bit of results analysis also shows that for over two thirds of the field, final positions didn’t vary by more than 5 places from when they exited the water.

Eventually after various revisions of results, I was confirmed as 3rd female / 10th overall. It was a shame podium positions were only given to winners, but it doesn’t change the result. An interesting touch is an award for ‘most equal’ athlete based on time. I placed 6th in this competition and wonder what could have been if I hadn’t been so knocked out on the run! Izzy was 4th / 16th, so it was a good day out.

Overall I had enjoyed the race, despite my body reeling for a couple of days afterwards from the effects of the heat! It was well organised and the marshals were friendly. There was every opportunity for people to take part, with a quarter distance race and options to enter single discipline races as well, which Andy happily availed himself of (beating my half marathon time by 5 minutes!).

isoman 3

Andy found it hot as well!

Next up is the Beast of Ballyhoura, a 72h team adventure race in Ireland, which happens to be the European Championships and somehow slipped into my diary in a moment of inattention 😉

Pentland Solstice Triathlon

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

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

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

Getting ready. Plenty of people to chat to.

Getting ready. Plenty of people to chat to

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

The briefing. Feeling pretty chilly for standing around.

The briefing. Feeling pretty chilly for standing around

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

I must be somewhere near the front-ish

I must be somewhere near the front-ish

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

How do I get this thing off?

How do I get this thing off?

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

Heading out

Heading out

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

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

Into the headwind now, final leg

Into the headwind now, final leg

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

Favourite running photo ever so far!

Favourite running photo ever so far!

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

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

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

Now, back to swimrunning and other endurance adventures …

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

Bowhill Medium Duathlon

The first race of the year! This weekend it was also the Strathpuffer 24h race which I almost got sucked into with a last minute invite … but I resisted.

And so I turned up at Bowhill ready to try and repeat my performance from the short one. Speedy Jo was busy showing everyone how it’s done at the Strathpuffer (winning the female pairs), so I knew I might be the one to beat today.

For some reason I felt more nervous than usual. I do get a bit stressed before the start of such short races! My tummy was playing up a bit and a short warm up ride was needed. I coaxed Glen out of the car and onto his bike – he had had one too many alcoholic beverages at his mum’s birthday party the day before – and off we went. It was cold and when it wasn’t muddy it was frozen and icy.

It was nearly midday and I had timed it quite well, taking off my last two layers sufficiently late not to get cold before the hooter went. I started off to the side because I am nervous in a mass bike start as it is, without all the snow and slidy stuff on the road. I soon found my place, though it was hard overtaking on the climb when there seemed to be just one line through the snow that everyone was following. If you got stuck behind someone going just a bit slower than you wanted, it took too much effort to get off the line and plough through to overtake!

Here we are riding in a line up the hill. I'm just behind German, in red, as I was for a lot of the race!

Here we are riding in a line up the hill. I’m just behind German, in red, as I was for a lot of the race!

A small group of us from the club had come and been round the course the week before. Although some of the tracks were easier to ride because they were now more solid, I knew the first descent was all churned up by heavy forestry machinery. Last week it was just muddy and slidy. Today all the ruts and ridges were frozen and covered over by a layer of snow. I couldn’t see what was going on and caught my wheels, falling off once and nearly repeating the trick further down.

Luckily I escaped and got going again through the woods. As I took a sharp turn onto a slippy looking road I was surprised to see Kirsty McPhee overtake me. At the last race we had played leapfrog during the run but I had been faster on the bike. Yikes – this wasn’t in my plan! I had wanted to get a nice cushion on the bike and see if I could hold it on the run! I accelerated past again and it was just the incentive I needed to work properly hard. I didn’t look back, but as we came into transition, sure enough she was hot on my heels just 3 seconds behind 🙂

Riding

Riding

I had a quick transition, easily spotting my place in the racking thanks to my bright red new shoelaces that were a Christmas present from my mum. I left before Kirsty, praying that all my recent run training would make this part less painful than last year …

The run starts with a long, rough climb with squelchy bits. I was lucky that a club mate was right next to me. It was the motivational pull to keep me going as the path got steeper and I stuck to his heels like glue. I even went past near the top and descended the snow covered track the other side ‘somewhat competently’. At least, it felt like it, and not many people over took me.

Off the tricky bit and although we could catch glimpses of the house through the trees that meant we were physically near the finish, but we still had a big loop round by the lake to do. I concentrated on doing ‘triathlon arms’ rather than ‘adventure race arms’. This means I had them high and pumping, trying to drive me onwards, instead of low and energy conserving!

Easy to spot these shoes in transition!

Easy to spot these shoes in transition!

I hadn’t looked back and every time I heard footsteps and heavy breathing behind I was trying to gauge whether it was a man or a woman. Not far from the end, as we did a sharp turn, I glimpsed over my shoulder and couldn’t see anyone. I couldn’t be sure though and kept pushing on. It was like doing a Parkrun – I was beginning to feel a bit nauseous! I did want to do a strong sprint finish, but my legs weren’t having it. I got to the line, dibbed and turned round.

I was clear. Woohoo! In the end I had in fact won by just over 3 minutes. I was delighted. Kirsty held onto 2nd and my friend Caroline was 3rd.

It’s hard to tell how times compare when course conditions change. So I had a look at the top 10 fastest bike and run times last year and this. Everything was a little bit slower this year, but my run was nearly a minute quicker and I placed much higher. Things are moving in the right direction! Full results here.

I had five goals for this race and met 3.5 of them:

1) Sub 65 minutes. Total time = 1:04:12CHECK

2) Top 25 overall on bike. 12thCHECK

3) 5:15 average per km on run. 5:18just missed it!

4) Enjoy the run. Sort of, it wasn’t total hell anywayHALF!

5) Win. – CHECK

The final of the series is in February and The Adventure Show TV crew will be filming. Just a bit of added pressure!

Thanks to Durty Events for putting on such a fun race again, and to Andy Upton at Zupix for the photos.

The Brutal Half

It’s been oh so quiet … Since Itera I have not been doing much. I learnt my lessons after the last expedition race I did (the Terrex in 2010) and this time I wasn’t getting back into anything too quickly. So I spent 3 whole weeks eating, sleeping, pottering to work on my bike and not much else.

When I did my event planning for the year, I thought perhaps I could combine Itera training with iron-distance triathlon training. So I kept my eye on an event near my dad’s house in Llanberis 5 weeks after Itera, which I could enter at the last minute providing I had recovered well and was feeling fit.

As it turns out, I did recover well, and managed a good strong week of training after my 3 weeks of recovery. But the event I had in mind (the Brutal) wasn’t just normal iron-distance; the run had large chunks off road and finished with a run up and down Snowdon with a buddy. To be honest, I didn’t have the motivation to race that hard for that long and face another few weeks of tiredness. I hadn’t done any specific training and was feeling pretty satisfied with the year from a ‘big race’ perspective. I was also starting to feel good again and had my eye on quite a few events for the rest of the year!

Is it me, or is it still quite dark?!

Is it me, or is it still quite dark?!

So instead I entered the ‘half’. Half the distance, half the laps (I’m not a big fan of laps), half the price and I could run Snowdon at the end by myself. I innocently thought I could just bash this one out, feel good for the rest of the weekend and carry on uninterrupted 🙂 .

On Friday we ended up walking down through the woods to town twice, once to register and once for the briefing and to set up kit in the transition marquee. I managed to get a lift back up the hill twice though, despite my dad’s poorly leg!

The first ‘brutal’ part of the event was the start time. I set off from my dad’s house to pedal down the hill at 05:25. Urgghh! It was still dark and the road was twisty and gravelly. I stayed safe though and had plenty of time to find a space to rack my bike (it was pick your own spot, I went for last rack, second frog from the end) and double check all was still as I left it in the tent. We each had our own chair – very unusual! But this event not only had people out doing the full distance, but also some doing double that again, and not finishing until late on Sunday. OK, I admit, as well as debating between full and half I did also consider the double … but sense got the better of me.

The lake wasn’t cold for the swim, about 16ºC. My main problem was not having worn a wetsuit since my last triathlon on 29th June and having done just three swim sessions since the end of July, 8 weeks before. My arms felt constricted and a bit heavy, but I got on with it. We were confused at the first turn by all the orange buoys – which one was ours?! I swam a bendy line but got back on track. Two laps later and just 2 minutes slower than I had planned I was running across the field into transition.

Getting in. Last time I did this here it was midday, sunny and I was not in a wetsuit!

Getting in. Last time I did this here it was midday, sunny and I was not in a wetsuit!

Me going round the buoy at the end of lap 1 - halfway there

Me going round the buoy at the end of lap 1 – halfway there

A quick changeover and I set off on the bike, with Andy cheering. About 200m later I was still feeling a bit weebly wobbly from the swim, was worrying about whether I should have tucked my jersey under my race belt and noticing I could see the lake on my right and thinking I might be able to glimpse long course swimmers. Next thing, I looked up to see I was heading towards the kerb at high speed. There was a wobble, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I knew I was going down. Smash! I catapulted head first onto the pavement. My immediate thought was ‘I’ve hit my head, I’ll have to stop’, immediately followed by things such as: Is my new jersey ripped? Are my shorts OK? I’ve dropped a bar. There’s blood. No broken bones. Lucky I wore gloves else my hand would be full of holes. I’m not unconscious. Is the bike working?

Transitioning out of the high class event marquee

Transitioning out of the high class marquee

Pretty quickly I was astride my bike, tucking my jersey in (didn’t need that thought distracting me again) and cautiously pedalling along the course, away from transition. My tri bars were a bit askance, but usable. My arm hurt to rest on them, but was bearable. My elbow and knee were bleeding, but moving. There were no holes in my clothes. The brakes and gears were working. I carried on. The next 25 minutes were slightly hesitant. I ate and drank and monitored myself, especially when I saw a few stars. But then I decided, if I’m still doing this, I need to get on with it. I started to watch my speed and keep the power up.

Each lap had a flat bit, a short sharp up and down then a long ride along the beautiful valley from Waunfawr to Beddgelert. Then there followed a long steady climb. As my dad has told me, it was graded for a horse and carriage, so you can ride a lot of it on your tri bars in something other than your lowest gear. Over the top and it’s a fast, twisty descent back to the start. I had to do 2 laps.

At the start of the first long climb I had just caught another girl. I ate a bit and planned to ride past on the climb. But she pulled away!! I lost her somewhere over the descent, but she must have paused as she went round for lap 2, perhaps to pick up a bottle, because she popped out just in front of me again. I came past and opened a gap but then there were traffic lights on red. She caught up and went by on the hill. I decided to just work at my own pace along the valley and keep her in sight. Although the gap between us varied a bit, it was never more than about 100m.

I assumed she would go again on the climb, but I think she had worked harder knowing I was there this time and was perhaps a bit more tired. In fact, the results say we both went faster the second time around! I was holding the distance between us, and then somehow managed to catch her. We exchanged a few amicable words, then I passed and came into transition with a slender 1:20 lead.

Still riding, and upright this time

Still riding, and upright now

The first part of the run was round the lake. It was flat on the first side, then up a steep road and into the woods, with variable gradients and surfaces. Andy jogged next to me for a couple of minutes, which was nice.  I was in a lot of pain as I’d had stomach cramps since the end of the swim. Sometimes this happens and I don’t know why. It wasn’t because I’d eaten gels and bars either! I’d had two bananas, a big square of sticky rice cake, a porridge bite, a mouthful of a bread thing and water and Nuun (electrolyte solution). I could hardly stand upright but eventually it eased as I ran along the lake shore. As I slowed to go through a gate I realised I was quite dizzy … I had another porridge bite and then a bit later a gel. I was gasping for water but expected the feed station as we turned off the road.

The girl I had overtaken on the bike caught me up on the road hill. She was looking bouncy and I was dying! I know running is not my forte, so had expected to be caught given how well she climbed on a bike. I had no choice but to let her go. At the feed station I gulped 2 cups of water and 1 of squash and felt better. Running back to the transition field I was actually feeling OK!

The easy way up, explicitly forbidden at race briefing

The easy way up, explicitly forbidden at race briefing

To go up on the mountain, we had to carry compulsory kit and pass a medical check. As I ran in, I was asked ‘do you need to see the medic?’ I assumed this meant, ‘are you ready to go up the hill?’. I looked confused and said ‘but don’t I need to get my mountain bag first?’ (as this also got a quick check). Back came the reply ‘you’re bleeding!!’. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. But the blood had mostly dried up by now and I was on a mission. I got my bag and went for my official check. The medic asked me more than once … are you sure you don’t want it treated? … But I said no, it had been like that for 4.5 hours already, it could wait a couple more. I was allowed to go!

Tired and bloodied!

Tired and bloodied!

On the lower slopes I was sweating profusely and very glad it was an overcast day. Andy appeared again for a bit and gave me some encouraging words. After he had gone, Kev (another racer) caught up with me and very kindly accompanied me to the top. He had done this event last year and could give me pointers on what was coming up and how fast to expect to do it. He also kept me motivated to move when I felt like stopping (as I didn’t want to slow him down) and checked I was alright in woozy moments. I felt a bit sick but also realised that tripping over my feet and the dizziness when I paused were due to lack of food, so I made myself eat some more.

We overtook crowds of tourists, including someone in a onesie. Really? There were cigarette butts on the floor, and Kev remarked he wasn’t sure if he was impressed or horrified. People kept asking me if I was alright and I kept thinking I must look dreadful, until I remembered the blood all over my leg. We didn’t run for long as it got pretty steep and my legs were tired. My calves were also threatening to cramp and I was extremely grateful that I had taken my poles with me! Given how I felt when I stopped using them to eat I definitely know they were helping.

Ascending into the mists

Ascending into the mists

Because you come back the same way you go up, you can see where everyone else is. After we saw the leading lady going down, it took us 6 minutes to get to the top. It was quite cold and wet, as the cloud and fog were heavy. I told Kev to go down at his own pace. I know my descending isn’t great. I wasn’t giving up though, as visions of being caught in the Coniston race played on my mind and Andy had told me off earlier and said not to settle for ‘third is OK’. 3 minutes after I’d turned, I saw the next lady going up. We said hello, and I wondered how much faster going down was than up!

Now I knew I had to go for it. This was one of my aims for the race. I wanted to remember how it felt running off the Brecon Beacons on a tow behind Sam at Itera. If I could do it then on day 5 with blisters, I could do it now for sure! Off I went and actually kept Kev in sight all the way. I passed the halfway house. I almost got calf cramp again, several times. I almost face-planted, but didn’t. I reached the road. Still only one person had come by.

I allowed myself to check over my shoulder and could see ‘someone’ about 200m behind. I was determined not to give in, and my poles click-clacked on the steep road. We reached the first row of houses and it was maybe only 300m to go. I nearly got cramp again! So I had to moderate my speed and try and work out how to land and pick up my foot not to set it off. Then there was the finish archway, and I was under and I was second. Yay!

Flat out

Flat out

Compared to my target times I had done alright. A couple of minutes down on the swim (due to lack of specific training), and a few more on the bike (due to crash, cramps, lack of ‘fast’ riding recently and fighting a bug the previous week, I think). My lake run lap was spot on target. My mountain run was much slower – but I had underestimated the difficulty! It didn’t stop me being proud of my descent and of holding my time compared to 3rd. Interestingly, my overall placing for the mountain was lower than for the rest of the race, but 10 minutes would have lifted my place for ‘Snowdon only’ by 16 spots. People’s times on this section were close together. My race against 1st was lost on the run, but my race against 3rd was won on the swim.

Everything hurts

Everything hurts

Now I only had the matter of getting up off the floor and seeing the medic. ‘Pouch’ did a fantastic job of checking for broken bones then patiently cleaning and bandaging my wounds before I hobbled home. The next day I could hardly move. This was a combination of all the bumps and bruises (road rash, holes and scratches on my left shin, knee, hip, arm and shoulder and right arm and elbow), stiff tummy muscles from the cramps on the bike and all the usual soreness from running up and down a big mountain! Never has getting dressed and standing up and down been so difficult. Lesson learnt: pay attention to where you’re going on a bike and don’t underestimate the difficulty of a 7.5h long event called ‘Brutal’, even if it is only ‘half’ of something! 😀

Thanks Pouch!

Thanks Pouch!

Many thanks to Brutal Events for putting on an event with such a great atmosphere. Also to Andy Kirkland for the photographs (click on the link for a gory knee close up shot)!

A Day in the Lakes

Have I ever mentioned how much I like cycling?

Have I ever mentioned how much I like cycling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foxlake Triathlon

❗ Warning: too much fun alert!

After the disappointment of the weekend before in Coniston, I had had a slightly gloomy week. By Friday night my legs were still hurting and I feared for my left quad which was verging on painful. However, I had signed up for the Foxlake Tri event – relay and solo.

There was not a lot to suggest this race would suit my strengths – as each full triathlon lasted less than 20 minutes and I’m an endurance athlete! However, there were some twists. And it was organised by Durty Events, which meant there would probably be some mud involved.

Discussing the route and correct dibber usage with Jo

Discussing the route and correct dibber usage with Jo

The first event was a relay in the same format as the Commonwealth Games. Four athletes per team, and you all do the whole race once. The second event was a solo race with multiple rounds.

To prepare, there were a few things I had to do. Firstly, my rear mountain bike tyre was not holding air. A facebook plea produced an explanation, a remedy and an offer of a tutorial on how to fix it (sealant supplied). Huge thanks to Ewan for this, it was easy peasy and I am no longer scared of this job!

Secondly, this race was so short that time in transition needed to be minimised. This meant wearing the same shoes for the bike and run. But I had no decent mountain bike flat pedals! Glen helped me out here, loaning me a set of pedals from his own bike. I collected them from his girlfriend on Friday night and decided the pot of grease also laid out was a hint that I’d better not let them get jammed on! (as if 😉 ).

Other modifications to my usual routine included no socks and no gloves. Fortunately the recent weather and the small size of lake meant the water was lovely and warm, and wetsuits were optional (I opted out)!

Our club (ERC) had targeted this race for the relay teams, all ably organised and coordinated by Alistair. In the end we had 5 teams of 4; 20 people all creating a sea of red around the briefing area. I am not convinced the club trisuit is the most flattering design on me and my women’s specific black number is more comfy, but I wore it anyway to make sure I was identified in the right tribe!

Getting everyone together to register was a bit like herding cats, as we all set off at different times to ride round the bike course and see what it was like. We registered with not much time left before the start – and I was going first! Luckily, with a minimal transition and no wetsuit, there wasn’t a lot to get ready. In the water and I was only just checking my goggles were on properly and wasn’t even at the line when Paul shouted “GO!!!”. Yikes! I quickly got going but had missed the front group!

Getting in (I'm in the red suit)

Getting in (I’m in the red suit)

Not to worry, I was soon out of the water, avoiding falling in the special hole just before the bank, and was through transition and onto my bike. The course was a lot of fun. A fast part by the lake, then a windy bit of singletrack through some trees, with lush green fronds brushing at your legs. Then a very fast double track section with a few big muddy puddles to catch your wheels! Finally, a zigzag up and down a bank 3 times with some technical little bits to watch out for – a tree stump, some loose ground, gravel and a slidy bit on the final turn back into the field. I had overtaken Alistair and Andrew from ERC, and another man I didn’t recognise. One of our guys was claiming ‘he had a mechanical’; to be fair, I did see him off the bike doing something with his chain!

Leading the relay at the end of the bike leg

Leading the relay at the end of the bike leg

I just about remembered to take my helmet off and was soon running. All worries about my legs had been forgotten as I wound through the woods and heard the announcer shouting “you can see the lead person flitting through the trees over there!”. I waved, thinking: are they talking about me?!

Before I knew it, I had tagged my next team mate and was under the finishing arch!

There followed a whole lot of fun cheering and watching the battle between ‘ERC men A” and “ERC ladies 1”. I passed over to Erin, who came back covered in mud from a fall only witnessed by her boyfriend in the other team (we suspected foul play!). Next up was Elise who battled it out with Mitch the whole way despite some navigational mishaps. Finally, we handed over to Andrea who got cold shock but was still gaining fast on Chris as she swam a mix of backstroke and breaststroke – and then overtook him as she took the long route round!

This format was really good for spectating; you hardly had to wait to see people between disciplines. It was also sunny at this point, which made life easier. We were neck and neck until the 4th leg, when sadly the men pulled away. But still, our girls team was 2nd overall and 1st ladies! Awesome. ERC also got 1, 2, 3 and crowded out the podium … cool.

Fastest girls team

Fastest girls team

ERC mob the podium!

ERC mob the podium!

Something I didn’t anticipate was how cold I’d be even after putting a load of clothes on. Mary lent me a jumper for the day even though she was heading off after the relay. “You’re about the same size as me” she said, as I looked at it, dubious that I’d even get it on. Well, turns out I am actually a bit too large for a “Gap Kids” hoody, but I could just about wriggle in and it kept me warm nonetheless! 😀

Onto the solo race after a longer than anticipated wait (should have gone and got food instead of just a snack after all). I think Paul (the organiser) was sort of making this up as he went along. Round 1 was 4 random heats and I was in heat 3. We sploshed into the lake from a pontoon this time and I raced round with a chap called Alan. I just beat him to it, winning the heat.

Swim exit, round 1

Swim exit, round 1

Round 2 (3 heats) and everyone was petitioning to only have 3 rounds instead of 4 (the original email said 5 or 6!). I wasn’t too fussed either way, but rain was forecast, it was all taking quite a long time and people were dropping like flies, so it seemed a sensible option. We set off and I was in a heat with Alan again. This time he just beat me to the line.

Smile for the camera!

Smile for the camera!

Round 3 was the final one and we were sorted into an ‘A’ and ‘B’ final. I was in ‘A’. Alan had promised he was going to really go for it on the swim this time and I should try and draft him. I hastily got into position at the start, and I did try … but then he was off without me! I wonder if I could have hit it harder, but I’m not sure. Anyway, 4 men including Andrew from our club were in front of me as we started biking. By now it was pouring with rain and the course was a bit slipperier. I was annoyed at myself for dabbing on one corner, but it was no big deal. In the end I cruised into the finish a comfortable 4th place, and 1st female.

Since I am a numbers sort of person, I was pleased to see this evidence from the day:

Foxake splits

After all these shenanigans we finished 2 hours early and I was even able to get a lift back to town with Andrew, which meant I could fit in a long-overdue visit to my pals for dinner. It was worth it even though I had already paid for my train ticket back. I can only apologise to his wife for all the mud that went into a pristine looking car …

Full results here (relay) and here (solo) and many thanks to Louise Smith and Andy Upton for the photos.

Coniston Old Man Triathlon

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

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

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

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

Swim – 2km in Coniston Water

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

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

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

Target: 8 mins
Actual: 7:23

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

Bike – 71.5km, 1500m ascent

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

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

Warning! Steep hills await you.

Warning! Steep hills await you.

Hardknott pass, winding up to the horizon

Hardknott pass, winding up to the horizon

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

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

Riding up Wrynose

Riding up Wrynose

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

Transition 2

Target: <1:30
Actual: 1:45

Run – 18km off-road hill run

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

View of what we had to run up and round

View of what we had to run up and round

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

Starting the run, still looks like 'running' here

Starting the run, still looks like ‘running’ here

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

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

Hardly 'running' any more

Hardly running anymore

I've got nothing left in the tank!

I’ve got nothing left in the tank!

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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