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Bowhill long duathlon and mini adventures

I was very remiss last month, as I never got round to writing about the Bowhill long duathlon! It was the last in the series and lived up to all expectations with fun trails, water and lots of mud.

This time I went down with Andy, who took lots of photographs, but only after he had ‘tested out’ the run course and only just made it back in time for us racers to start! I will let the pictures tell the story of a very fun day.

As far as the results go, I had a fantastic bike ride and was leading for 12 minutes on the run! Things went a bit downhill from there, as my run was slower than last year and I was overtaken by both Jo and Caroline. I still came 3rd though – another bottle of beer for Andy, and I was 2nd in the series – another bottle of beer for Glen! He also got lucky with some homemade chocolate marshmallow icing biscuity things I rustled up the night before.

Easy to use space for up to 6 bikes! I am not used to this luxury.

Easy to use space for up to 6 bikes! I am not used to this luxury.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was time for a mini mountain bike adventure. Andreas is a friend of mine who is training to become a ride leader and wanted to get some experience. He had chosen a route and came to me for some company. I willingly obliged and brought along Marie and Elizabeth, who were equally up for some wild fun.

The only downside was my sleep deprivation in the week leading up to it – with two early morning swims, a trip to London and a 5.30am pick up on Saturday morning! We drove up to Taynuilt and had half an hour to wait for the train to Tyndrum, where we would start the ride back again. I was most impressed with the bike carriage provision – easy space to get into for 6 bikes!

The ride was a mix of wide tracks with little tricky bits thrown in and quite a rough crossing over the watershed in Glen Finglass. We had chosen well: we were riding into a strong headwind all the way, with additional rain at several points, just to give us a free facial, as Marie put it! 😀

Whilst Marie and Andreas jostled for position and rode on ahead, I was more than happy to ride further back with Elizabeth chatting about holiday plans, races and life in general. That is, when we could hear each other over the roar of the wind in our ears.

This was another excuse to try out some new portables – on the menu were polenta squares (tasty but turned out a bit squishy), French toast cake (very good, especially with added sultanas), potato and ginger rice balls (surprisingly OK) and my favourite from last time, sweet potato cakes. I also had a few Quorn mini eggs, just for good measure.

Shame I didn’t eat more of them before I nearly bonked an hour in, or wanted to stop, lie down and sleep halfway through. All good Itera training, I told myself. I’d love to go back and enjoy the fantastic scenery and amazing waterfalls another time – though waterfalls are always better when it’s raining! I enjoyed the random bog walk / bridge hunt, which was the only part of the day where we really had to do any navigation. On the second ‘looking for the path’ occasion, right near the end, I asked someone how to get to another bridge, even though the others said that was cheating!

We ended the day in the Real Food Café as we drove back through Tyndrum. I must have been feeling funny, as in addition to my usual soup choice, I found myself ordering a plate of chips and cheese! I am not a big chip fan, preferring spicy potato wedges instead. I found a good spot for these though. Full tummy, warm clean clothes, not too far home and I was definitely ready for my bed!

Finally, this weekend I was in the Lake District for Lucy’s wedding party. She had chosen somewhere close enough to Kendal for us to get to without a car, but not so close we could stagger back there at the end! So I found a gem of a B&B just a mile along a country lane, complete with a genial host and an upstairs lounge with word burning stove and balcony.

Breakfast is served upstairs

Breakfast is served upstairs


Sunny balcony

Sunny balcony


 

We made a weekend of it. Even riding to the B&B on Friday night was interesting, as we picked our way there in the dark, made a turning down the wrong steep hill just as it started sleeting and finally went to three wrong farms before we got the right one …

On Saturday we went for a run to Staveley, to try out Wilf’s cafe. We were supposed to walk back, but ran out of time and had to run instead – suddenly we had covered 26km! Perfect preparation for a night of ceilidh dancing.

On Sunday we took advantage of the sunny weather and went for a 97km road bike ride taking in three counties (Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire) and a huge variety of landscapes. Andy praised me for finding something approaching a flattish route when we were staying in the Lake District, though the one long climb to get into Barbondale did nearly finish him off. Although I almost always talk about MTB adventures, this does prove I sometimes ride a road bike 🙂 . I’ve got half an eye on the Coniston Old Man triathlon coming up in June. This is the only triathlon I’ve entered so far this year, and I want to give it a decent go!

Fantastic bike route!

Fantastic bike route!

Somewhere in the last few weeks we also had our club prize giving evening. Here’s me with the handicap trophy for triathlon. Last year was the first year I raced a lot of triathlon, so my handicap rating was favourable. I also did well in quite a few of the qualifying races (which were all in Scotland), helping me to come out on top. It will be going to someone new next year, but meanwhile I have to find somewhere to keep this rock! (it’s very heavy …)

Club triathlon handicap trophy held aloft = weight training!

Club triathlon handicap trophy held aloft = weight training!

Next report will be from the final Open 5 of the series, where I’ll be back in the Lake District again!

Tri-Trail Foxlake and Bowhill medium duathlon

Two race reports for the price of one!

Tri-Trail Foxlake

I did the tri-trail event at Foxlake a few weeks ago. In some ways it was very good, in other ways it was very disappointing! It was a 14km trail running race along the coast near Dunbar (East Scotland). I entered late but got a lift with Anne in her red sports car 🙂 . Four of us headed over together, nattering and telling stories all the way.

It was a very brisk morning, hard frost everywhere. In short, the race was flat and fast. My disappointment was in coming 11th … my worst result and the only one outside the top 10 in well over a year. Excuses? Hmm … it was too flat, too dry, too short, too … in fact, there were just a lot of faster girls than me there! Not even a mis-navigation by a group in front helped my position – they still beat me even though they ran further!

On the other hand, it was a pretty route and my time was quicker than I thought it would be. The best bit of the day was the camaraderie and banter, and a trip to Mimi’s on the way home for some rather gigantic French toast. Perfect post-race refuelling!

"Four go to Dunbar!"

“Four go to Dunbar!”

I suspect this was a classic case of misalignment in expectations and commitment between my conscious (I want to do well! I always want to do well!) and my sub-conscious (this is a training run, it is practice for bigger things).

Bowhill Medium Duathlon

Fast forward a couple of weeks and it was time for the second event in the Bowhill winter off-road duathlon series. This was the ‘medium’ distance. These races are supposedly short, medium and long, but these terms are all relative. To my mind they are very short, short, and quite short.

Anyway, on race morning it was raining. On the way over, it turned to sleet and the temperature reading from the car thermometer dropped by a couple of degrees. It was also very windy. We arrived later than usual but I was organised and didn’t need or want to hang about in the rain anyway.

After getting ready I stuck to my plan of keeping my waterproof on and riding in my giant lobster gloves. I had a number belt though – couldn’t believe some people were putting pins through their waterproof jackets – surely that can’t be good for them?!

It was a mass start on the bike. I planned to be about row 2 but end up right at the front with Jo (super fast girl) on my left and Chris (super fast guy) on my right, 3 of us from the same club lining up! On the horn, off we went. There were a few wobbles and people were rushing past me. I had to hold my nerve, but was soon heading up the hill in contact with a front group of about 15. Up and up we went.

Mud, what mud? I'm far left, Jo centre. Despite my face, I was having fun!

Mud, what mud? I’m far left, Jo centre. Despite my face, I was having fun!

On the first down a couple of people passed me and Jo disappeared. ‘Usual story’, I thought. Second downhill something took hold of my brain. I kidded myself that the new tyres and tubeless set up would ‘make me go faster’ and started hammering it down a very stony, bumpy fireroad. Rain and sleet were falling from above, whilst mud flew up from below. The occasional coniferous tree branch took a swipe from the side. I couldn’t see a lot and just hung on and hoped for the best. At the bottom I popped round a corner and there was Jo just in front again! I caught up and followed her through the trees. Every time I attempted a pass though, she accelerated, so I just sat in behind all the way to transition. Same situation again, I might try something different! However, this was an awesome bike ride and I knew it would be the highlight of my day.

Even though I faffed a bit changing shoes and getting my coat and big gloves off, I was first lady out of transition!

I have no memory of this! (will upgrade pic when it becomes available)

I have no memory of this pretty scene! (will upgrade pic when it becomes available)

Then reality struck. We were on foot and Jo came past and whizzed off. She is a class runner. I gritted my teeth and got stuck in. The run was much less exciting than the bike. For most of it I could see almost no-one ahead or behind. I just kept going and hoped I wouldn’t be caught. In the end, my cushion from the bike was enough to see me keep 2nd place, though I still have a lot of work to do on that run! I was 21st overall, maybe I can break into the top 20 next time?

Abandoned kit in transition. More mud.

Abandoned kit in transition. More mud.

At prizegiving I managed to collect two beers – one for the Glen (the driver) and one for Andy. Along with the finisher’s (veggie for me) haggis, it wasn’t a bad morning’s work! 😀

Thanks to Bob Marshall and Zupix for most of the photos.

Where did the year go?

2013 in numbers

RaceResultsGraph

LiftsCar

DisciplineDistances

 

Travelling

2013 in words

Best triathlon overall

Trophy
***Trident Tri, Ripon***
Why? For great organisation, reasonable entry fee, free camping and entry to the fancy house and gardens, equitable treatment of the women’s race, fast course, cash prizes, post-race cool-off paddling pool. What more could you ask for?!

Most fun triathlon

Trophy
***Craggy Island Tri, Kerrara***
Why? You get to swim to an island with no roads, race round an interesting off-road course with captive spectators and run over a hill with stunning views.

Biggest disappointment

ThumbsDown
***Slateman triathlon***
I had made this race one of my two target races for the year, but felt I under-performed compared to my capability. I learnt from it though!

Biggest achievements

ThumbsUp

  • Aberfeldy Middle Distance Tri. My second target race of the year. Despite being ill, I gave it all I could. Couldn’t have been prouder of my Scottish Championship bronze!
  • 220 triathlon magazine article published.
  • Shropshire Open 5. The series final racing with Lucy. We had been gradually improving and this was where it all came together in a fantastic performance.

Best new experience

***Dundee half marathon***
Well, I have done a half marathon before, but it was very many years ago! I entered this one at short notice and surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it and how well I did. I even squeaked into the top 10 of a proper running race with a large field!

Top 3 gripes

  • Split female waves in open-water races
  • Drafting in non-drafting races
  • Quality of veggie food options at races! (special mention to Wild Rover Food though)

Best and worst aspects of training

🙂 Mini adventures
😦 5:15am alarms to go swimming

Most under-rated form of training for triathlon

***Adventure Racing!***
I don’t know how I’d keep fit and motivated all winter if I didn’t have an Open 5 to look forward to every month 🙂

Thoughts on prizes

Prizes
I really like purple Haglöfs carry-alls, snugly bodywarmers, Tricentre vouchers, buffs and beer for Andy and excuses to spend cash prizes at the women’s specific triathlon store tent. I am not so keen on free entry to a race in 5 days time, 236km from where I live.

Big Thank Yous

For coaching:
Scott

For fixing my creaking body:
Kirsty, Graham, Ola

For spectating supporters:
Andy K, mum, dad, Chris, Heili, the Weetman clan, Laure

For lifts to and from races in order of first appearance:
Tom, Ian, Glen, dad, Pete, Andy B, Andy M, Lucy, mum, Jon, Stuart, Peter, Chris, Jo, Elizabeth, Chris & Anna, Marc

2013 in pictures

Snowman Triathlon 2013

The new incarnation of this race in Snowdonia is not to be underestimated. By the time I finished, I was exhausted and craving sweets, Pepsi and baked beans.

The water for the 750m swim was on the cold side, but not unbearable. I couldn’t decide where to position myself though. The shoreline on our left jutted out and we had to swim between that and a buoy on our right, before angling left to the next buoy, where we turned right. To the left, and I would get trapped in shallow water against the shore. To the right, and I might get squeezed as we passed the buoys.

_DSC3963

I opted for the middle, which was a mistake! The hooter went, we sprinted, I got mangled, shoved, and pushed under water. I nearly panicked but had to hold my nerve. It was all made harder by the fact we were swimming into a strong headwind. There were lots of white horses making the water even rougher than it already was with the flailing arms and legs. As we turned right I was being physically pushed and elbowed. I got a bit fed up and started fighting back, giving a few elbow shoves of my own. It finally got easier after this and I worked on swimming harder.

Get me out of here!

Get me out of here!

Compared to last year, the bike course had been more than doubled in length to 69km and included some significant hills. We had driven round it the day before, but it didn’t give the same sense of steepness that the legs felt during the race!

The first section was uphill into a headwind. A group of guys came past drafting, but I just tried to ignore them. We were soon on a fast, twisting, almost single lane descent. I was very pleased that no cars tried to come past and I got down safely. The next section was slightly downhill and very fast.

Suddenly two girls came past together, working hard. My competitive urge kicked in and I picked up the pace to stay near them. We turned to go up something described as ‘the wall’ in the briefing notes. I hoped here that my standard road bike compared to their TT bikes might help … but they were strong bikers and halfway up we were still together. I changed gears and heard a funny noise. I glanced down and saw a tough little stick wedged around my rear derailleur. The timing couldn’t be worse! I had to stop, get off, yank it out – and by then they were gone and out of sight. From chatting later to some of the other competitors who also saw them pass, they stayed close for a lot of the ride. In some ways I was glad I wasn’t tempted to tag along and risk falling foul of drafting rules (7m is a big gap). I might also have been too tired to run! On the other hand, I was on my own again and mentally battling to keep my pace.

Hills and high speed!

Hills and high speed!

After a bit of a ‘wobble’ I made sure I ate and drank everything I had on me and it had a good effect. I got up the big long hill past the slate caverns, overtaking a couple of men on the way. Some lovely people in the middle of nowhere were clapping. When I waved I got a fabulous cheer. Most welcome! The descent on the other side was amazingly awesome. I glanced down at my gps a couple of times and saw I was going at over 80km/h! Wowee. A record. 😀

I was feeling good now and fired up the final hill to transition, keeping my average speed well above target.

Setting off on the run I saw Andy, who shouted encouragement at me. We had to run to the top of Moel Siabod and back down again. Climbing the mountain was much harder than last year. I think this was due to the longer, hillier bike. Every time I attempted something faster than a shuffle, my lower back screamed at me to stand up straight – which isn’t helpful when you need to lean into the hill to run! Eventually things got better. The top of the mountain was shrouded in fog and it was blowing a gale. I was cold but didn’t stop to put my jacket on. It did illustrate why there were rules to take full windproof body cover though – which I’m sure many didn’t from what I saw them carrying (or not!).

Just starting the final section

Just starting the final section

Turning at the top I descended quite well – for me. The killer of this run is the final section. You’re almost back where you started, when you have to take a detour through the forest on a fireroad that demands you run fast. My legs were burning but I was determined to finish hard! In the end, my run time was slower than last year, which I was disappointed about. However, I really had nothing left at the end and felt I couldn’t have done much more. I was 5th female (though funnily, first in my age group as I was beaten by 4 veteran ladies!).

Jane Hansom took a well deserved win with a flying run. A natural fell runner in the making?! Rhian, who was in contention for the series had tummy problems on the bike and decided not to run up a mountain. It must have been a tough decision for her. The two fast cyclists, Rebecca Slack and Suzetta Guerrini took the other podium spots. Results.

I'm tired...

I’m tired…

My confidence took a bit of a knock knowing there were a few girls way ahead on the bike. It is usually my best leg of the race. I also thought I might do better with the longer distances. In fact, reviewing the results in context compared to the full field, my bike was good and it was the run which really let me down – as is often the case! I also finished 31st overall, out of 175 (27th fastest bike), which is alright.

Sometimes I find it hard to judge my performance as there are so many variables. I can race and perform well but not place as high because of stronger competition or more depth in the field. Or maybe sometimes I just don’t perform as well as I could. This time, factors could include end of season accumulated fatigue or low motivation.

But in the end, I know I definitely feel ready for a break. Time for a week off work and 4 weeks off racing. 🙂

Post-race relaxation - making marzipan Chelsea buns!

Post-race relaxation – making marzipan Chelsea buns!

Thanks Andy Kirkland for the photos!

Anglesey Sandman 2013

A strong performance from me, but only good enough for 4th place. I have to remind myself that this still counts as a ‘short’ race! Plus, a little discourse on the importance of how the women’s race is managed in a high profile, televised event …

So I was down in Wales at my dad’s house to do the Sandman race again. Last year I had a terrible time; I was fatigued after 5 days of non-stop racing in the Terrex, I had a sore knee, it was wet, windy and cold, and I got a puncture.

Mostly my aim this year was to have a better time of it :-).

Andy was also racing, and I had promised him that this course truly did suit him. He was targeting it, but managing to stay relatively calm beforehand.

After I had set up transition, the TV crew wanted to do an interview. I duly obliged, and then took the opportunity to speak to them about parity of coverage with the men’s race (it had been almost non-existent for the Slateman earlier in the year). They were sympathetic, but said it was hard to get film of everyone on a limited budget.

Hmm, I'm sure I left my bike here somewhere ... (picture Andy Kirkland)

Hmm, I’m sure I left my bike here somewhere …

Into the race, and there were two waves. I have no idea how they were split, but there were a mix of men and women in both. We had a long walk down the beach to the start and I almost left it too late. Just a scrambled dip in the sea to get wet and check my goggles before I had to run out to get onto the start line. It was absolute mayhem swimming out to the first buoy and turning left along the shore, but I survived then concentrated on overtaking people. I would need to be much more aggressive to get a good start!

The transition went well and I was soon out biking. It was lovely and warm this year – so no need for an extra top. It was also much less windy, which meant there were far fewer problems with people drafting (cheating). I got mildly annoyed with a couple of men who kept overtaking me after I had overtaken them … but this is fairly normal.

I worked consistently hard, alternating drinking from my two bottles, one with water and one with Torq solution. I got a bit of a shock when the lid flew off one of them! Miraculously, I somehow kept the bottle in my hand, the lid in my teeth and only some of the drink sloshed all over me. I was also regularly chomping on a Clif bar. I had experimented with opening the wrapper, breaking it into bits and putting it in my trisuit pocket under my wetsuit. This would save hassle later in the race. It worked OK, apart from being slightly soggy on the outside!

No girls overtook me, but I didn’t pass any either. I was very pleased to see that the film crew might have taken on board some of what I said earlier. They came past filming me for a bit, then went up the road, presumably to the two women up ahead and the men. They also filmed me as I did my transition to the run, so I tried hard to play it cool 😎 .

The run started off with some fun on a new boardwalk. I was pleased that only a few men overtook me. But it was very hot, and the sun was scorching. How could we be running through woods but not have any shade?! I remembered from last year that it was flat for a while then climbed uphill to cross a road. That’s where the drinks station would be at 7km. I felt quite slow but kept plugging away. I had eaten two gels and was ready for a cup of water at the drinks zone. Only 3km to go, downhill, but this is where it got all sandy!

Finishing off the run

Finishing off the run

In the end, my run time was much better than last year, but slower than I had hoped. I knew I had worked hard though, as I remember telling one of the marshals that the run was ‘like torture’ and I collapsed onto the floor at the end for a breather. The cameras were there again and the interviewer was pleased with my dramatic finish! The announcer shouted that I was 3rd female. Time for another interview.

But I was keeping my eye on my watch. I knew the second wave had set off 10 minutes behind, and were wearing different coloured numbers. After a few minutes another girl came in with a green number. I was fairly sure that meant she was 3rd and I was 4th. A bit later, they announced that this was the case (at least they didn’t leave it until prize giving this time).

I bumped into the camera crew again and they were disappointed for me. “You were demoted!” they exclaimed. I think now they understood why I was frustrated that the women had been split into two waves.

I was beaten fairly by over 3 minutes. I had a better bike leg and on paper was ahead at the start of the run. Personally, I like the excitement of head-head racing, of knowing where I am in relation to the rest of the field and racing tactically. The psychology of competition helps me produce more than I am ever capable of in training. The best example of this in racing this year was at the Trident Tri in Ripon. I could see the leading and chasing women at every out and back point and remember riding like a crazy woman with fear, thinking I had to get as much of a cushion as I could for the run! It worked.

The organisers here put on a race with a great route and do a good job of attracting all sorts of people from beginners to elite. They are making the sport accessible and many competitors were taking it on as a serious challenge. It is just my opinion that the racing at the front end would be better if they put all the women into one wave. It would also make it much easier for the TV crew to create fair coverage. They now have lots of footage and finishing interviews of places 1, 2, and … 4. This makes it hard for them to put together a good story for the women.

Jane Hansom won, finishing 10th overall and miles ahead of me. Rhian Roxburgh (clear winner at Slateman) was 2nd, and Helen Talbot 3rd. Results. All three will be racing at the Snowman, so I’ll have my work cut out to break my Always Aim High podium duck for the year!

Me before the race. See how sunny it is?!

Me before the race. See how sunny it is?!

I didn’t expect Andy to be much slower than me. He started in wave two, so I ran back out along the beach and eventually saw him coming in. I enthusiastically made a loud noise with a clacking hand and cheered him on. He didn’t seem too happy though … oops. I refrained from running next to him and instead let him get ahead a bit, nipped up the sand dunes and met him at the end. He was a wreck. He hadn’t eaten or drunk nearly enough and seemed to have mild heat exhaustion. I sat him down and got him drinks and bits of orange and biscuits. But he was also bitterly disappointed with his race so it took a while for him to recover his usual buoyant mood. Here’s his report. I think I do deserve several gold stars though. I managed to refrain from saying ‘well, I did try to tell you that one bottle of water on the bike and two gels would not be enough’ …. at least, until a few days later! 😀

If your host is on a water meter and has a septic tank, then you can improvise with post-race wetsuit washing!

If your host is on a water meter and has a septic tank, then you can improvise with post-race wetsuit washing!

Thanks to Andy Kirkland for most of the photos.

Gullane Beach Triathlon

A bonus race with a bonus result!

After Craggy Island I had three weeks in my plan to get my calf sorted and get well before the next race. It seemed feasible.  At the race, Marie had mentioned she was doing the Gullane Beach Tri, which is almost my most local event, and asked if I was too. I wasn’t, but it made me think maybe I could, and I checked the website. Sold out and too late for the entry list.

I mentioned it to my coach, Scott, then forgot about it. A few days later I got an email.

Turn up on the day early – organiser says you will race.

Sure enough, this is also what the website suggested. Suddenly I was interested again! There was a risk to my calf though … so I waited until my first interval training since the half marathon, to see how it went. I was ‘controlled’ with my efforts, and all was well.

Ten perfectly paced intervals, with a special effort on number 9, just to see if I still could!

Ten perfectly paced intervals, with a special effort on number 9, just to see if I still could!

Next mission – getting a lift to the start early enough to get on-the-line entry. Marie offered to pick me up at 7 … too late I thought. I could camp the night before – but left work far too late on Friday to get sorted and get the train over.  Scott was going the night before to set up the swim course. Friday evening I texted Glen … and got the reply … we can pick you up at 6:30!!

I was (hopefully) going to race!

This coincided with my first full week of feeling well, so on race day I was high as a kite and bouncing off the walls.

A beautiful beach

A beautiful beach

After a high speed dash along the coast, we got there very early, I got a spot no problem, and a great position in transition at the end of a row. It was chilly, but I was confident it would warm up when the sun came out.

Hey! They're all following me!

Hey! They’re all following me!

The swim was really tough! I think I always say that, but this time I really mean it :-D. The waves looked tiny from the beach and there was only a bit of a breeze. This was my first ever beach start – we ran into the sea and it was wall to wall bodies. Then we headed into the wind toward the first buoy and I realised how wavy it really was. It made sighting tricky as it was luck whether I got a view of the orange marker, or the side of a wave. It was even harder on the way back as it was quite a long way between the buoys. I was drinking far too much sea water and completely failing to draft, as always! The course was two laps, and we had to run out, round a flagpole and back in again. I was shocked that I could hardly breathe when I launched myself into lap two.

 

Heading in for more

Heading in for more

Blackberry-lined transition run

Blackberry-lined transition run

Still, it was soon done and I was running up the sand dune and along a path back to transition. I was tempted to stop for a few juicy blackberries, but resisted.

The bike course takes in some of the country lanes of East Lothian. I passed teammate Louise, who was the fastest female swimmer. Then I was riding up the hill. I concentrated on keeping my speed up and trying to chase down someone in blue up ahead. He turned out to be a great carrot for me – as he’d get away a bit, I’d re-focus, pull him back a bit – until I finally caught him with just a few km to go.

My favourite bit was overtaking a man on a proper time trial bike with a big disc wheel on lap 2. You can have a fancy bike, but you’ve still got to pedal fast and no free wheeling!!

 

Transition carnage!

Transition carnage!

I hadn’t seen any other girls, but didn’t know what my position was until I started the run. This is when some of the marshals told me I was leading! Yay! My plan had been to have a hard swim and bike, and keep it steady on the run, if I could. This would be a good test of my calf without pushing it too hard. So I kept a decent pace, but took time to thank all the very friendly marshals. I was too out of breath to say much though, so little hand waves had to do.

The course was two laps, with an out and back at one end. I saw the other girls behind. Only one looked close enough to catch me. I kept going and was still in the lead as I set off on the out and back again. There was a little loop in some trees at the far end and as I emerged I couldn’t see ‘the girl in black’ going the other way. Uh-oh, I thought, she’s probably closing in and already on that loop! As I approached the last few hundred metres I looked over my shoulder and could see two people in black approaching. Things were no more defined than that! So I picked the pace up and pushed hard to the end. Good job I did, as Megan Mowbray had a storming run and flew in just 7 seconds behind!

You've been chicked!

You’ve been chicked!

A very exciting finish and a fantastic race for me. Fellow Celtman competitor, Laura Sarkis was third. Full results here. The prize was more than I expected – a £100 voucher for the Tri Centre. The free post race food even included a decent veggie option and I picked up another bottle of speciality beer for Andy.

Lots of the club were out racing and supporting and there was a great atmosphere. Thanks for all the cheers! Whilst we’re on the thanks, Lesley Marshall took some great pictures, Scott always gives good advice, whilst Kirsty works her magic on my legs when I keep abusing them. Finally a special word for Glen and Heili for picking me up so early. Couldn’t have done it without you guys :-).

Craggy Island Off-Road Tri

This triathlon has the best setting and concept of any I’ve done!

When I first planned to do this race, I intended it as a bit of post-Aberfeldy fun, a chance to get back out on my mountain bike and, if I was lucky, maybe my fitness would be enough to carry me through to a championship (Scottish off-road tri) podium.

It turns out I only got two out of three,  but I had a great time anyway!

If you’ve seen my Aberfeldy report you’ll know I got ill the week before. Somehow this one just wasn’t letting go and it was still lingering for this race. And no, I don’t really think the racing made it much worse as plenty of people in the office toiled with it for an extended period too!

Coming up in the car from Glasgow, Elizabeth didn’t sound too good either, but she’s a stalwart and brushed it off.

Here’s an idea of what the race is like. You actually swim to an island with no roads, mountain bike around for a while on some proper single track paths as well as wider gravel tracks. Then you have to ‘run’ to the top of the island. I say ‘run’ because I was using my hands to help me up at one point!

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I was determined to have a good swim, because Aberfeldy had been so bad. In training the week before we had done a drill where we sprinted in a pack for 50m before easing into race pace. That’s what I did in this race – really went for it for a minute or so then settled down. I had to breathe to the right the whole time because the chop was quite bad. Three quarters of the way over I had a minor panic as I couldn’t see anyone, but it turns out I was 7th out of the water (with 6 men in front), which explains the lack of company! Really pleased with this bit of the race.

Thanks to Bob Millar for the photo

Thanks to Bob Millar for the photo

Onto the bike and my friend Caroline was chasing me down right out of transition. When she came past I tried to keep up, but she edged away gradually and then took big leaps away on every technical section. I was actually now in third as the eventual winner had nipped past when I was messing about in transition. My legs weren’t responding enthusiastically to the little uphill digs. I reminded myself that this race wasn’t a target and I was supposed to be here for fun. Then I relaxed and enjoyed the riding a whole lot more! After a while off, I was reminded how mountain biking can really put a smile on my face. The support of the spectators and marshals was great – they cheered and yelled a lot! Even when Marie sped past me on the hardest bit halfway round lap 2 I couldn’t respond, but I didn’t stress.

Thanks to Bob Millar for the photo

Thanks to Bob Millar for the photo

The run was not only a test of fitness but also of my dodgy calf, playing up since the half marathon. Luckily it held up fine. I could see Marie as we climbed and I thought I was gaining ground … that is, until the ground went downwards and she ran away! 😀 I just stuck at a good pace, though it was hard to get past slower people from the shorter race, who were now in front.

A reminder of my day

A reminder of my day

In the end I came 4th. I was a teensy bit disappointed and had all my excuses ready. But to be honest, I was just well and truly beaten and it was great to see friends in positions 2 and 3! Kerry MacPhee was the deserved winner. Results.

We headed to Fort William to stay with Marie for the night, and the next day went mountain biking at the Nevis Range in the drizzle. Marie raced around like an over-excited rabbit, while we tried to keep up. Elizabeth fell out of love with her bike (turned out the frame / suspension was bust!). We enjoyed the company and I headed home satisfied with the weekend :-).

Marie gave me these amazing socks to say thank you for lending her a wetsuit a few weeks ago. Thanks Marie, I love them!

Marie gave me these amazing socks to say thank you for lending her a wetsuit a few weeks ago. Thanks Marie, I love them!

Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon

A Scottish Championship event for which I dragged myself to the start and in which I got a surprise.

This was my main target event for the year. In the run up most things had been going well. I got a pb at my club time trial. I was consistently doing harder swim sessions. Even my running was going OK, except when I slightly pulled a calf muscle ‘practising’ a half marathon.

The race was on Saturday. On Friday 9 days before, I noticed a slight sore throat. I thought nothing of it, though it was still there on Saturday when I went up to Aberfeldy to ride round the bike course. By Sunday I was struck down and barely made it out of the house to get food in. Yes, even when ill I thought the most important thing was to get some food so that I could cook and eat healthily for the rest of the week. How else would I get better?!

Unfortunately, this bug was more like something I’d expect in the first week of January. I got headaches, sore throat, a cough, croaky voice, wheezy, gunk in my chest … hmm … lovely. By Thursday I did feel a bit brighter, though on Friday I felt worse again. By now we were up in the area, sightseeing, but had to abandon plans and go back to the B&B for a lie down. Yikes!

I was determined to race anyway, so I registered and got ready to go. There were some advantages to being ill though.

  1. I was very rested – no training in the previous 7 days!
  2. I stopped worrying about my calf
  3. No energy or enthusiasm to get over-stressed about the race the week before or succumb to negative performance pressure

Race morning began very early. Too early. 5:15am is not my kind of time! We drove the length of Loch Tay to the swim start in Kenmore. By the time I had got kit out of the car, walked half a mile to the transition area and racked my bike, I was short of time. But I needed to go to the toilet and the queue was huge. I waited for a bit then gave up in a panic about getting my timing chip and missing the briefing. I got my chip and found Andy. He insisted I went back to the toilet. He was right, I suffered with tummy craps from at Celtman last year from not going when I needed to and it wouldn’t be good to get that again. Slowly the queue diminished, I went as quick as I could and then raced back down to the start. Andy filled me in on the briefing; “go round those buoys anti-clockwise”. And then I was getting in the water.

Swim start

Swim start

It wasn’t cold, but it was a bit of a swim out to the start line. After waiting a while the hooter went – some people had barely got in and were a long way off the start! Just like some other races I’ve done this year, it was rough and crowded. I was a bit surprised, as the start line was very long and we were heading all the way over to the other side of the loch. I expected to have more space! After the turn west at the first buoy we were going into the wind. It got choppy and harder to breathe, and still it was crowded. My goggles were nearly knocked off and someone else almost pushed me under.

Swim exit: on the right next to the people walking with my head just out of the water!

Swim exit: on the right next to the people walking with my head just out of the water!

On a different day in a more combative frame of my mind, I would have done better on this leg. As it was, I just swam and tried to survive. I could feel I was a long way down the field when I got out. Looking at the results later, this was indeed the case. Times aren’t much to go on as course lengths can be so variable from the quoted distance. In this event, it was definitely short, but my relative position told me I hadn’t had a good day in the water.

Later it turned out neither Andy nor Chris (my two supporters!) had seen me get out and they were having a bit of a panic. The organiser even checked the chip times to confirm I was on my way. On close inspection of Andy’s photos when we got home, we found one with me in it!

I had a slightly slower transition than usual as I ate a banana to keep me going on the long bike. This is the first time I’ve done this length of triathlon so it was a bit of an experiment.

 

I enjoyed the start of the ride and got up the big hill alright. Everyone was sorting out their positions at this stage so about equal numbers overtook me as I overtook. Over the top of the hill and round the back of Schiehallion (a big mountain!) we were suddenly exposed to the wind. Some very strong gusts made me wobble and almost lose control of the bike. Small twigs were flying off the trees and bits of dust were getting my eyes. I slowed down and took the sharp winding descent rather cautiously.

The effort from the climb induced a minor coughing fit, but as soon as we got to the bottom I knew it was time to get my head down and get my average speed up!

Funny shaped course profile

Funny shaped course profile

This section of the race is very long and potentially monotonous. It’s a 35km lap of Loch Rannoch. The road is almost flat. The views consist of trees and water. By now I was riding almost alone. I tried to keep anyone who went past in sight for as long as possible. I also kept looking at my speed. I was consciously trying to keep it at about 34-36km/h. This was taking a lot of concentration as I ‘naturally’ seemed to want to go at about 30km/h!  But I knew it was a test to see if I could make my legs hurt like this and still run afterwards. I managed to drink and eat well here too – chomping on some bars every half hour. That liquorice allsports Mule bar was the business!

Over the final bridge into town

Over the final bridge into town

At the bottom of the return hill my overall average was 30.7km/h. I knew this would drop as I climbed. From my recce I also knew that even though the hill was steep, it was short! Pleasingly, I overtook quite a few people who appeared out of nowhere in front of me on the climb. But it was still blowing a gale and the going was much tougher than the last time I had been this way. At the top I was down to 29.4km/h – I had time to make up!

And so I descended back towards Aberfeldy at speed. The rain was coming down hard now and felt like needles pinging off my face. I scrunched my eyes up and hoped nothing would jump out in front of me! Coming back into town after a fast tailwind assisted run alongside the river, my average was 30.4km/h on a slightly long course. Before I got ill, I had done ‘dream day’, ‘realistic day’ and ‘bad day’ target times. 30km/h was my ‘bad day’ target time so I was pleased to be over that, at least.

And so it was time for the run. I started stiffly, with tight hip muscles and suddenly noticeably cold and numb feet. I tried to keep a rhythm and an eye on my pace. My new watch came in handy here! It bleeped cheerfully after every mile and slowly I could see the distance add up. Lots of things went through my mind on the run. Like: This road is quite dull and I would rather run up a hill. I should keep my arms high and my feet light. Where are the leading women coming the other way? Is it gel time? Where was that drinks station? Hmm, I wouldn’t fancy a marathon like this. Are girls with numbers 600+ in a relay even if their number isn’t red? Ow, my calf is sore again, but it lasted a while. Maybe this distance on a road isn’t so bad after all. Oh, this run suddenly seems so easy (mile 8). I am dying, can I stop yet (mile 9)?…

The finishing straight

The finishing straight

Finally I was back at the road junction where we turned towards town and the end was almost in sight. I had looked over my shoulder a few times and was fairly confident no-one was chasing me down from behind. I still worked hard to the finish. As it turned out, the next girl after me was having a blistering run – so I’m glad I never let up!

In the end, I was disappointed with my swim time, thought the bike was OK and was thoroughly relieved to have survived the run in what for me was a respectable time at an untested distance in a race like this (1:40 – though I measured the route a bit short at 20.3km). My overall time of 5:15 was close to my ‘realistic day’ target.

Waiting at prize giving, I thought I was 5th. So I was very surprised to hear my name being called for a Scottish Championship medal for third! This is because one of the girls I thought was ahead was actually in a relay, and another wasn’t eligible for the champs.

Yay! 🙂 It had definitely been worth taking the risk of racing when not 100% well, even though I felt awful the next day!

If I had had a good run up, I am confident I could have gone a bit quicker. However, the result would have been the same as Eleanor Haresign, Allison Stewart and Jen Stewart are all great athletes and finished in times ranging from 4:41-4:51. Something to aspire to – though first I need to work out how to find 5 minutes on the swim, 15 on the bike and 10 on the run! 😀

One question I had for this year was whether this distance would suit me. In my second year of triathlon I am still working out what I am best at. Well, so far I was definitely better at this than the standard distance and I did quite enjoy it. So there’s a good chance I’ll give it another go.

Next up – another championship race – this time the off-road tri, which I have entered for fun. It will be too short, but we get to swim across to an island devoid of roads for the rest of the race – how cool is that?! One thing is for sure, I will be attacking that swim if nothing else!

Knockburn Standard Distance Tri – Scottish Champs

No pictures … I will keep this race report short and to the point!

I entered on a whim, thinking it would be good race training for Aberfeldy. As it was, I went into it with a dodgy calf after my half marathon / St Mary’s Loch exploits. Being a championship race, most of the fast girls in Scotland had also descended. So my expectations weren’t very high!

Getting there

It was much further away than I imagined when I entered! But the time passed quickly as I chattered away to Jo (also from my club and driving us up there). Most exciting incident was that she had mislaid her cards, so I had to pay for the petrol. Being a non-driver without so much as a single lesson in my life, this felt almost illegal!

Swim

We swam to the start as a warm up, in a small man-made loch. We were all in a single wave, everyone fought for position as we headed for the first buoy, which was quite close to the shore. We squeezed through and then it was round and round for 2.5 laps. I was caught between swimmers at times, but didn’t panic. Fronds of weeds wafted beneath me. My time was OK, but not as good as the previous week.

Bike

Despite it being a course of three laps, it was fun. The roads were very quiet and surfaces were good. I enjoyed riding into the headwind on my tri bars (weird), though I saw people pull away from me on the hill. The descent with a tailwind was fast! I was pleased with an improvement in my average speed.

Run

I was scared of this. Faffed in transition putting my training shoes on (with orthotics inside, rather than my normal race shoes). Plodded out, along a rough track and straight up a road hill. Urgh … what hard work, I was fighting not to walk. It was hot. We got to the drinks station and a loop round the forest – it was about here I started enjoying it a bit more.

Jo caught me up but then had to stop to stretch out a cramp in her hamstrings. We were back on the road and downhill all the way to the finish. Soon we could see the loch inviting us down. I overtook a clubmate who I’d been following all run and then there was just one lap of the loch between me and the finish. My calf was actually sore now, but it was nearly over. I could hear footsteps behind me and they sounded suspiciously female – I didn’t look back but thought it must be Jo. It was, but I held her off by 3 secs as we crossed the line smiling 🙂

Results

I was 8th female. Jo was first female veteran. Penny from our club was first super-vet. Full results here. The race was well organised and had an interesting course. I recommend it. I was just relived to have survived with my calf seemingly no worse than when I started.

Just two weeks to go until Aberfeldy! There I’ll be lining up with Alice, who beat me here by 20 minutes, Eleanor, who took 8 minutes out of me at Trident and Catriona, who just came 3rd in the European 70.3 championships. What illustrious company!

St Mary’s Loch Triathlon

So, I’m still doing pretty well at following ‘the plan’. I had chosen this new standard distance race as prep for Aberfeldy middle distance. It’s well-timed at three weeks before the big one. It’s also organised by Paul McGreal at Durty Events, so I knew it would be fun and scenic! 🙂

Saturday had seen the ‘Durty Tri’  – the off road version of our race at the same location, which I had forgone for more specific training. My friend Marie was competing but had all her kit stolen the day before. Somehow, she managed to get a whole set of everything together (my contribution was the loan of a wetsuit), raced and came second. Another friend of mine, Elizabeth, won – so with mates 1, 2 on the podium on Saturday, I felt anticipation at trying to join them on Sunday!

Although Saturday’s weather forecast looked pretty good, Sunday was dire. Heavy rain all day until 4pm?! At least it wasn’t going to be windy.  Andy was doing this race as well. I had persuaded him to do it instead of a more local race, informing him that it would be fun (true), there were lots of people from the club going (true), and the course was really flat and fast (erm …).

Looking at the route profiles and descriptions on Saturday night, I found it wasn’t so flat on the bike – especially with roadworks meaning we had to do two laps of the first bit, which was up and down a moderately sized hill and back! The run was definitely flat, so that was something.

Doesn't look too hilly to me

Bike course elevation profile – doesn’t look too hilly to me

My good friend Chris picked us up in his “popemobile”, aka a really practical car for going to races in. Both bikes fit in upright without any need to deconstruct, and the back door opens up like a roof for getting changed under in the rain.

At the race HQ, welly boots were a definite advantage. I practised my smug look as I waded right through all the muddy puddles between the car park (a field) and transition (a different bit of field). I wasn’t so smug at forgetting about the possible midge factor.

After the usual nervousness of getting ready, it was time for briefing. I was waving my arms around and practising dry land swimming, whilst everyone else stood stationary. Straight into the water, and some people were oohing and ahhing about how cold it was. I was thinking it was like a warm bath! There wasn’t much time for more warm up before the hooter went and we were off.

I was determined to put in a decent race effort on the swim. I realised a few races back that I’ve just been cruising the swim and losing valuable time. I’ve also been making more of an effort to attend 5:30am swimming sessions with faster people than me, and didn’t want all that hard work / torture to go to waste!

St Mary’s Loch – scene of the swim and run!

St Mary’s Loch – scene of the swim and run

© Copyright Andy Stephenson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

One of the GREAT things about this race from my point of view, was that all the women and super-vet males went in wave 1, with everyone else about 10 minutes behind in wave 2. This meant I was near the front of the pack for the swim. I was doing some great drafting as we rounded the first buoy. I tapped someone’s feet and they sped up, but not for long and I soon struck out away from my little group. There were 3 or 4 people in front but I couldn’t bridge the gap and swam the remaining 1.5 laps on my own.

I was delighted with my time of 24:25, which included the run up to transition.

I was in and out quickly (11th fastest overall), even with putting socks on. After over-taking one or two people on the road, Paul shouted to me that I was second ‘girlie’ at the turn :D. The one up at the front looked very fast though. Since we turned around three times, I could check where everyone was. I was confident of a top 3 finish.

Because we were set off first, we also had clear road up at the front. A few of the supervets passed me, but not many. I didn’t have to worry about drafting, or getting caught up with middle-of-the-pack men who like overtaking and then slowing down. Really, did I mention how great having our own wave was?!

Coming back into transition a car was coming the other way up the rough drive. I hesitated. They stopped for me to pass just next to a big puddle. I went into it with a BANG! Yep, immediate burst tube and flat tyre as the water was hiding a big pothole! Luckily it was right in front of the dismount line, so I jumped off and bumped my way back in.

This transition was more clumsy. Although my average bike speed was disappointingly slow (I need to sort that out) I did feel a bit weebly wobbly standing on one foot trying to get my running shoe on. So I must have worked moderately hard. Eventually I was on my way again.

Andy's lent me his wheels for the next two races. Do wheels which double the value of the bike make you go at double the speed?

Andy’s lent me his race wheels for the next two races. Do wheels which double the value of the bike make you go double the speed?

Looking at the results, I was 4:40 minutes down on the leading lady at this point. I was close to 8 minutes clear of the next person though – I didn’t know I’d got that far away!

What I hadn’t realised about the run was how technical it would be underfoot. Although it was flat, we were soon off camber on narrow paths, sometimes grassy and sometimes stony and uneven. It also twisted this way and that through the trees.

I had been really up for doing this run fast after my half marathon success the week before. But the first thing I was thinking was how heavy my legs were feeling. Then after a couple of kilometres my calf started hurting. Uh-oh! This was the same thing I’d had at the end of the half marathon, but I had thought nothing of it since then. I carried on and it didn’t worsen, but never went away.

A couple of guys overtook and pulled away. Then there was an open gate through a field and what looked like a trodden path across the grass. But we had been following red and white tape markers. I hesitated. There was a stile to the left of the gate. It had tape all over it. There was an orange arrow pointing across it and away from the field. And there was a Southern Upland Way sign (we were told at briefing the route stayed on this path the whole way). I leapt (slid) over the stile and was in woods – still worried, but then I saw more tape and knew I was right. My adventure racing skills extend beyond reading a map and choosing a route – I’m also good at arrow-spotting of all kinds :-D.

People cheered loudly from a boat out on the loch, which was fun!

As the path joined a fire road, the guys who’d overtaken appeared – they knew they’d gone the wrong way but hadn’t lost a lot of time. To my surprise, the lead lady was also just in front. She had also gone the wrong way, but had perhaps spent longer getting back on track. I slowly, slowly started closing and just made contact as we turned at the 5km point. I paused for a cup of water and to eat a gel and she opened the gap back up. All the way back along the fire road, I was making no ground.

Andy (boyfriend) and Tom (clubmate) both passed going the other way and yelled at me to catch up. It was encouraging, but secretly inside I was feeling tired and heavy and my calf was hurting. I couldn’t up the pace. However, Tom told me later that I looked the more comfortable. We got back onto the rougher, uneven section. I suddenly noticed that the girl in front was less at ease on this section and I was doing better on the little downhill slopes. I decided to capitalise on my off-road experience and go for it. I ran past and held my pace.

I was concerned I had seized an opportunity, but too soon. We still had a way to run. I didn’t dare look back until the next stile, but when I did, she had vanished. I couldn’t believe it. I just needed to keep this up until the finish. Another stile, another look. I was on my own, and the finish was in sight about 800m ahead of me! Wow. I made a final effort, Heili (erstwhile support of Glen and I at the Bowhill duathlons) cheered, and I crossed the line.

After the Slateman finishing order debacle, I wouldn’t believe I had won until someone who knew for sure confirmed it. Anne was on finish line duty, taking our timing dibbers off us. “You’re first lady” she said. Woweee!!!

Much excitement, and I loved climbing on the very high finish podium to collect my silver plate. My first Scottish race win of the year! Even Andy had forgiven me for the hills and my course mis-descriptions as he had fun. Full results here.

Car with both bikes and rain cover, me with welly boots and silver plate!

Car with both bikes and rain cover, me with welly boots and silver plate!

The only tarnish to the day was my calf – which immediately seized up after I stopped. The last few days have been a cycle of it getting sore when I sit down, easing off when I walk and generally being a pain. At my pre-booked sports massage with Kirsty, she confirmed it was fatigued, very stiff, but not torn or knotted. Next race only a week later and Aberfeldy (the important one) two weeks after that. She said I would risk injury if I did the weekend, but it was my call ….

And the call (after consultation with my coach and Andy and a full consideration of many factors) is that I will race the Scottish Standard distance champs near Aberdeen. This race wasn’t on the plan and was a late decision a few weeks ago. The competition is likely to be stiff and I may have to alter my usual approach to account for my calf. So I have set my expectations accordingly. The non-stop summer racing continues … but gingerly!

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