Blog Archives

Itera 2014 Part 2: Tuesday

Day 2 Schematic

Day 2 schematic

If you missed day 1, you can read about it here.
The overall view of our race is here.

Stage 4: Paddle + bike (Tan-y-bwlch to Barmouth)

Paul and I paddling

Paul and I paddling

We got down to the river and looked at it, confused. We were fairly sure the sea was to our right and were looking forward to a nice, downstream paddle. But the river appeared to be flowing to our left. We double-checked the maps. Yep, we had to go right. We had not accounted for this being a tidal river, and the tide coming in. We launched anyway, and set off into the teeth of a roaring wind, which was funnelling into the valley shaped by the river and twisted as we did. Each new bend brought new paddling challenges as we occasionally struggled to make any forward progress at all.

I was relieved to get to the portage section as it meant we had got somewhere! The portage turned out to be a nightmare, as James (race director) had warned us at transition. We took the boats to a road one by one; all four of us lifting each one out at another improbable ‘get out’. We used the trolleys to wheel round the railway bridge which was under construction. Then we were faced with a flooded field, not quite deep enough to paddle. We had to pull and shove our boats across, taking care not to lose our feet in the deep and narrow underwater channels.

Then we were battling for Portmeirion. The weather conditions meant this paddle was also shortened, and we all had to be held at another time out until it was safe to cross the bay. However, we arrived relatively late due to the sleeping and hitting the tide at the wrong point. So by the time we had finished the amusing orienteering (Paul: “We have 1cm to go. The scale on this map changes with every step we take from the centre”) and partaken of the Italian gelato / sorbet (mmmm) it was already time to go again.

A short paddle and a long drag across the sands and we were back on the bikes to finish the stage. The team had mixed feelings about this kayak stage. Personally, I enjoyed the feeling of taking on the challenge and succeeding, but it was hard work!

In transition, Paul panicked when he thought he’d lost his skewers (which hold the wheels onto the bike). “I’ve left them in the car park at Ogwen!” he declared, in a state of high stress. We sent him off to enquire whether the marshals had any to spare or could help in any way. Jon, Sam and I wondered how this could have happened (Sam was meticulous at sweeping any area for left behind stuff). I knew how well daft questions went down with Paul … so I saved it and just as the marshals were telling him there was a bike shop in town, I had a little look at the bags next to his kit, ‘just to make sure’. There they were! What a huge sigh of relief! It was just one of those things that can happen when you’re tired and in a hurry.

The main road hugs the coast, but going that way would not be in the spirit of adventure racing. We rode / walked up and over a long road section, which I recognised from a tour I did in 2000. It was very wet then, today was much better weather. As soon as we reached the sea it was time to go up and descend again, this time largely off-road. A lot of this climb was rideable, which was a relief. The view at the top was stunning, and the ride back down technical. This was one of Jon’s favourite sections!

When we got into transition and saw Andy again, I felt quite teary. It had been a tough day so far, the paddle was such hard work and the bike wasn’t easy. I was also navigating on the second half of the bike stage, taking over from Jon as we crossed a page on our maps. I was acutely aware of the need to get it right first time as the team were getting tired and having a little dip.

We had a slow transition. I was naughty and hopped in the shower to wash the salt out of my hair. I felt guilty for holding the team up, but wasn’t really thinking straight. We also went to the chippy and stocked up on huge quantities of food. Paul had 4 cans of fizzy pop lined up! I settled for just one, but also had a veggie burger in a bun plus a jacket potato with beans and cheese.

As it got dusky outside it was time to set off again.

Stage 5: Trek (Barmouth to Machynlleth)

The hills after Barmouth

The hills after Barmouth

By cutting the first trek stage so short and getting a sleep, we had hoped to start this stage with plenty of time and energy to take in the big mountain top of Cadair Idris. However, the trials of the day had almost put paid to this idea, and by the time we had crossed the bridge we had decided to miss it out. As we trekked upwards I started feeling quite ropey. I think the emotions and physical exertions so far had got to me. A common thing we found throughout the week was an inability to keep our body temperature ‘just right’. At this point I was waaay to hot. I was taking off clothes but feeling uncomfortably warm. I took any confusion over the map as a handy excuse for a little sit down. I think this was the trek where we stopped in the woods for a 10 minute rest and snack stop. We all turned our torches off and enjoyed the darkness.

After one steep forest climb, we emerged onto a fire road and I just collapsed to the floor, not wanting to move. I ate and drank, and realised I was probably dehydrated as my body craved the salty Nuun solution I had made up. Eventually I got up again and went on a tow to Jon, who pulled me onwards through the darkness. I was getting some interesting ‘sleepmonsters’ now. I saw things like scary men looming out of the shadows, an imaginary dog that jumped from behind a wall and various buildings that didn’t actually exist. I also heard phones ringing and disembodied footsteps behind us.

As we made our way along a road 2.5h later, the rhythm and lack of technicality lulled me and I found myself falling asleep as we walked. We had to stop at a handy roadside lay-by with a bench and small grass section. I pulled out the small sleeping mat / back support from my bag, put on all my clothes and curled up. 30 minutes later I was awoken by a cold team and we continued. I felt much better though!

Before long we found ourselves stuck in a quarry. There were many other teams all around. We struggled to find the right path out and kept trying every likely looking track, following it until it stopped or turned the wrong way. I did a bit of digging into this after the race – look here if you want to know more! We’d been about an hour and Paul was losing his patience, suggesting we might have to just sit it out until light. Jon kept popping off into the quarry or up little paths to see if they went anywhere, while we stood together waiting for news.

As we walked back to a known spot on the map, Sam pointed to a stile we had in fact seen on the way in. “Look – perhaps if there’s a stile there, then there’s a path behind it?”. She was right, and I launched up it with enthusiasm. The others weren’t so sure, but there was no stopping me now as I marched across a recently deforested area. My headtorch picked out where it went, though it was hard to find in the dark and with the trees down. We were on a path we had seen others on earlier, but not been able to find. It was eventually even in the same place the map said a path would be 😀 . On we went, over a stile and across a bog-fest of a field. Jon announced he definitely knew where we were. Music to our ears!

As dawn broke we were in mists and light rain, contemplating a quick jaunt up a nearby hill for a control. I am still not sure if the suggestion to go up there was a joke or not. We were all pretty tired and wanted to get to transition, but again, in retrospect getting this and possibly another control on this stage might have been a smart move. We made our way down. The last tarmac section was hard on the feet. I think we all felt a bit jaded. It had been a hard day / night and, except for special stages and one that was on the short route, we had not got a single one optional control yet.

Time for another sleep in our tent before we started a “new day”, even though it was 8:30 in the morning!

 

Advertisements

Itera 2014 Part 1: The prologue and Monday

So, the race I have targeted all year has been and gone. I am on a somewhat unpredictable road to recovery. It has taken a while to reflect on the race and let it all sink in. The story of 5 days / 114 hours of racing cannot be told in one report! Instead, you can look forward to reading about each day in instalments this week.

Getting There

The stress of getting to the start line seems so long ago now. After last minute purchases (duct tape, extra box covering, impulse need for trekking trousers etc) I was suddenly packed and ready to go. Jon picked me up on Friday morning and off we drove to Selkirk to meet up with Paul. Despite the detailed instructions we went round in circles a bit until we found his house – was this a sign?

Of course, by the time we had loaded the giant pick up truck with all our stuff and squeezed ourselves in, we were later starting than planned. Cardiff is a jolly long way away, and the journey was made even longer when we hit Friday rush hour holiday traffic on the motorway. Finally we got there and met up with Sam, our fourth team member. Plenty of time for team tentel to bond over a Chinese takeaway and box waterproofing.

The rest of the weekend went by in a blur, as we attended briefings, got kit ready, pored over the maps, laminated them, did the prologue and travelled up to Caernarfon.

Prologue

Full of energy at the start line of the prologue

Full of energy at the start line of the prologue

The prologue was a 10km run around Cardiff Bay, with a short white water section in the middle. In an expedition race, the usual standards of decorum (with respect to changing clothes and wee stops) are eventually thrown to the wind. I didn’t expect to do so this early in the event though. As we walked through the multi-storey car park, I realised that my shorts were on back to front. In the stairwell I hurriedly switched them over, with Sam falling about laughing and pointing at the CCTV camera. Look out for me on some candid camera show soon!

We took the run at a fairly sedate pace. Paul wouldn’t have it any other way! As we got to the white water section, the leading teams were exiting and shouting a lot, which looked a bit stressful. We had to go in pairs, one after the other. Paul and I went first. The plugs came out of the bottom of our barely-inflated boat, water spurted in and we started sinking! After we took evasive action we felt lucky to get round in the boat. By the end, we seemed to be sitting below water level and steering was nigh on impossible.

On the bus on the way to Caernarfon on Sunday, we watched videos of previous adventure races, which just made me stressed. Surely we’re not about to start something like that are we? They were supposed to be inspirational, but the story of two Aussie blokes who went to the South Pole and back unsupported was easier on the mind!

As we tucked ourselves in overnight at the Travelodge, the wind whipped up the waves in the Menai Straits. Sam and I were sharing a room and were chatting away, whilst I’m sure Jon and Paul were sound asleep next door. Eventually I said “I think we should go to sleep now”, to which the response came back “I’m trying to!”. This was the funniest thing I had heard all weekend, as I’m sure I wasn’t the only one initiating the chat 🙂 . So I enquired what she would try next to get to sleep, since the talking wasn’t working. Perhaps a spot of dancing?

Day 1 schematic

Stage 1: Paddle + bike (Caernarfon to Conwy)

Paddling in to Bangor

Paddling in to Bangor

The next day we had an early start. A last minute leader’s briefing brought news that because of the weather we might have a shortened paddle stage. There were a few options, but we were to get out at Bangor Pier and find out which it was to be then. We ran round the castle twice, waved to Jon’s parents (who must have had a very early start), then we were off to the beach.

All we had to do was fit our new seats to sit on top kayaks (the straps go where?!), attach our bags out of the way of our feet and launch! It was still quite choppy, but we had the tide behind us and were whizzing along. I am not normally a kayaker and throughout the race I was bemused by what was counted as a suitable ‘get out’ point. At the pier, we were directed to go past the nice sloping gangway, nose in by some steep jagged slippery rocks and try and haul the heavy kayaks up over them. I got a good dunking here as my foot slipped and I was into deep water!

We rode our bikes for the rest of what would have been a paddle stage to Conwy. I wasn’t sure if I was pleased about this or not – but was probably mostly pleased! After a section on Sustrans route 8 (which I had done in the other direction with Andy last year), we dived off onto a rather pleasant off road section. At the castle, it was hot and sunny as we ran round on top of the town walls and sought out controls hidden inside the castle. What a shame we were in a race and couldn’t stay to run up and down all the spiralling tower staircases! Our tracker wasn’t working, which was confusing people at home, so we swapped for a new one before beginning the first planned bike stage.

Stage 2: Bike + zip wire (Conwy to Ogwen)

Castle!

Castle!

We rode back a different way to the one we had come, passing very close but taking a hillier and more off road route. Sam admitted that our earlier pace was too much for her to maintain, so we experimented with her going on a tow behind me. I love biking and was feeling strong and perky, so actually quite enjoyed this. All the more so when she said what a difference it made to her.

The wind was blowing hard into our faces so we travelled quite slowly at some points. I hoped it wouldn’t stay like this all week! The problem with travelling in lines instead of circles is that you could face a headwind all the way ….

At Bethesda, Paul got a cramp (the team’s first and only all week), but it was perfectly timed just as we got to the zip wire centre. Here we had to serve a time out – the length of which was dictated by our speed in the prologue. We had 53 leisurely minutes to stock up from the fast food hatch (chips, egg roll or bacon rolls, depending on tastes). Throughout the race I think Sam and I carried far more water than the others, filling up from ‘official’ drinking water sources when we saw them. Jon and Paul went for streams and rivers, and Paul batted away my concerns that he had used taps specifically saying ‘not drinking water’. He didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects though! He must have a stomach of iron.

Just before we had to go again, my dad appeared! He had been watching our tracker and only lives just over the hill from where we were. It was lovely to see him even though we couldn’t stop and chat. We had to hike up to the top of an old quarry, where there was another (timed out) wait for the zip wire. People were already sleeping in the cramped space, but I was anxious to stay alert and not miss our spot in the queue! As a Frenchman got kitted out he commented “What is this helmet for? Is it for when I smash into the brick wall at the end?”. We all found this very funny!

Soon enough we were ourselves suspended face forward in a harness overlooking the quarry. It didn’t take long to get back to the bottom when we were going at 100mph, or thereabouts. What a buzz! Quick goodbyes to my dad who had patiently waited, and we pedalled up to Ogwen to say hello to Andy. Oops, no, he was marshalling and we had a job to get on with – time to pack up the bikes in their boxes and start walking!

Stage 3: Trek (Ogwen to Tan-y-bwlch)

Lights in Snowdonia

Lights in Snowdonia

We had already made the decision on Saturday that we would miss some of the controls on this trek and immediately become a ‘short course’ team. Due to the time outs, the wait at the zip wire and our general ‘steady’ speed, it was getting dusky already. Two of the controls had also been removed due to high winds, which meant the penalties for going the shorter route were less.

My map reading duties were on the bike. On the trek, Paul and Jon were in charge, so I hadn’t really appreciated what faced us. Despite going the short way, we still had a significant hill to climb! Halfway up it started raining so we donned coats and got our lights out. Paul’s didn’t work. “I tested them this morning”, he said. I asked: “And they worked then?” Duh – stupid question of the race! Luckily, spares were produced from somewhere and we continued on. The route was hard to pick out over the top, though Jon found it brilliantly. It was quite a sight to see the bright lights of other competitors dancing off Tryfan and the Glyders. At Pen-y-Gwryd whilst I munched on Babybels and oatcakes, we debated whether to head on down or go over Snowdon. We went down. In fact, we went short course for the whole of this leg.

We had a plan. Despite having to switch from the long course white bib to the short course black ‘bib of shame’, we hoped that we could change the moniker to ‘bib of cunning’. We didn’t want to be chasing cut offs and knew that controls later in the race held higher time penalties than those we were missing now. If we played the long game we would have more time and energy to get these controls in the second half of the race.

In retrospect, perhaps we could have been a little more ambitious on this stage, even just going for the two less committing controls with some extra climb near the end. As it was, we trotted down the road. Sam and I stared at the sky wondering if we could see dark clouds or dark sky. We were just discussing the important matter of how a certain cloud definitely looked like a poodle, when we saw the brightest of shooting stars! Amazing.

The maps marked a suggested ‘short route’, but unless otherwise specified these were not mandatory. We thought we were being smart by taking a minor road (‘A’ and ‘B’ class roads were out of bounds) and linking onto a good track via a short section of footpath. The footpath turned out to be very non-existent. In fact, its route traversed The Swamp of Doom. The further we went, the soggier it got. We tested the ground with our poles before committing the next step as we fanned out a bit. I stayed near Sam for moral support and combined safe route finding, though I’m not sure who was going to rescue who. We nearly lost her in a particularly deep wet patch! Just as my patience was wearing extremely thin, we got out of there and made rapid progress into the transition.

Here we had our first access to tents. It was still quite early in the race, but we knew we wouldn’t get them again until after the second big trek stage, in another 24h time. It was either sleep now, or sleep outside somewhere without a tent or warm sleeping bags. After a quick blog, we tucked ourselves up for 2h kip.

 

 

Itera Build Up

Rosemary, Paul, Sam, Jon

Rosemary, Paul, Sam, Jon

As regular readers of my blog might have noticed, I have been getting ready to do my biggest race of the year; the Itera. This is a 5 day adventure race going from top to bottom of Wales in a team of 4. We’ll be kayaking, “running” (more likely, trekking!), mountain biking and probably a few other exciting things along the way. Maximum total distance is 660km with 18,000m of ascent. There are short course options though, which we’re likely to end up taking one or two of. We are called ‘team tentel’. Tentel are a new start up telecommunications company run by cool people who like adventure racing! They sponsored us to get some matching kit, for which we also got a discount from Outside Edge  in Oban.

In the winter, the race seemed a long way away. I found, and wholeheartedly adopted, a great method of taking my mind of what was coming up. This was to enter lots of other races, as I can only concentrate on the next thing coming up and not much further! Some people have asked me if I have done anything different with my training. Well, I changed the type of races I entered (almost no short, fast stuff) and did less interval work and more longer distance things. But I also distracted myself with longer triathlons and the open water swim a couple of weeks ago. If you’re busy thinking ‘when and where can I swim outside again next?’ then you don’t worry so much about ‘how will I last more than 24 hours, let alone 5 days?’.

April and May were good months for mountain biking, when I deliberately entered events such as the Selkirk MTB marathon and three of us got together for an overnight mountain bike / bivvy ride. In the last few months I have panicked slightly about my lack of time spent on foot in the hills. But over June and July I did get out for 5 longer sessions (3 were races!). I don’t normally spend any time kayaking. This isn’t because I don’t like it, but for more practical reasons. Like, where would I keep a kayak? And how would I get it anywhere? I like to tell myself that doing plenty of swimming is good substitute training, as it’s sort of the same arm action … who knows if this is true, but I have a good time all the same! And I have generally done remarkably well on kayak sections in races. All things considered.

My team mates for this race are Paul McGreal, Jon Ellis and Sam Rose. I raced with Paul in a similar event (the Terrex) two years ago. We were still talking to each other at the end of it and he enjoyed himself enough to want to do it again. With a team of two we set about persuading Jon that he really wanted to race with us. I have competed with Jon a couple of times before, but many years ago when we didn’t really know each other. We’ve kept in touch and met up quite a few times since then though. He has loads of expedition event experience and did very well at the Terrex last year with his ‘last minute’ team. When he finally gave in to our pestering, we were three and only needed one more.

Luck would have it that at this point Sam emailed Jon asking if he knew any teams she could join. With a mutual friend’s endorsement (thanks Elizabeth!) we thought she’d be a good match. As soon as we said ‘join us’, she hesitated! Having spent 8 months off work travelling the world, she seemed unsure of her fitness. However, having heard tales such as these, I am feeling confident of her ability and suitability for our team. In fact, she may well be the one waiting for all of us!

“I raced for two days on a broken ankle last time”

“We hunted out Koh Si Chang Island’s only kayak yesterday, which was a 100 year old sit on top and paddled it round the bay for a couple of hours until it sunk”

“I’ve spent the day being kicked to condition my muscles and crawling down steep stone steps head first on hands and feet”

“This week was three days kayaking in the Marlborough sounds and yesterday I biked the queen Charlotte track”

“I’m currently cycling back from Italy to try and get miles in my legs”

Emails are all I’ve had to get to know Sam, as we won’t meet until Friday evening before the race begins. However, this hasn’t been my biggest concern at all! In fact, much more stressful has been trying to organise and coordinate kit requirements, social media and logistics. All made much more difficult by the fact that I lost internet access at a critical time and have been offline for over a week! Many thanks to the various friends who have let me squat at their houses using their facilities (Robert, Hayley, Vicky, Glen). Apart from all that, this week’s training has mostly revolved around getting plenty of sleep and eating good food – kale pizza saved for my last night at home!

I am confident that once we start, I will enjoy it. Before that we have a prologue to do on Saturday (10km run round Cardiff bay, with a white water boating thing in the middle) and much planning and kit re-packing and organising once we get the route maps at registration. Then we will be ‘whisked’ up to Caernarfon on Sunday for an 8am start on Saturday. When I say whisked, I mean we will crawl up north on a 5 hour coach journey with the promise of selected DVDs to entertain us. Hmm!

My dad lives just 20 minutes drive from the start, but won’t be there to wave us off! (he’s away for the weekend). However, it does mean I’m relatively familiar with the area I expect we’ll be in for the first couple of days. We’ve been given an idea of how many stages there are and their length and height gain, but no other clues as to where we’re going. I love to play ‘guess the route’, even if it is only speculation and probably a waste of energy. For me though, it’s part of the fun! I have something in mind for the first 5 ½ stages, but then my knowledge of Wales gets a bit too hazy! One of the pictures in the montage gives you an idea just for the record, but only if I’m right. If I’m wrong, then it’s just a pretty picture. I have made sure to maximise the number of castles en route, so it’s a good one even if it’s not the right one 🙂 .

What seems fairly certain is that we will spend some time paddling round the north coast of Wales, go on a big mountain trek in Snowdonia, paddle again and do a long bike ride across the middle of Wales to get us back down south for some fun on the Brecon Beacons. I might spend half the week saying ‘oh, I’ve been here before’ as we cross and join either the routes from the Trans Wales event I did a few years ago, or my Cardiff-Holyhead Sustrans cycle tour from even further back.

I expect to be providing some blog updates as the race progresses. They won’t be posted here, but on the live race website here. This is also the place where you can track our progress against other teams or leave messages of support. If you’re on facebook you can also like our public team page here. We’re hoping to be able to publish a few updates about how we are. Since we are not allowed access to things like phones, these will come from our supporters interpreting the maps and reading between the blog lines for you, and from my boyfriend, who is working as a volunteer / marshal for the week.

The field for the race is truly international. This is fantastic. It does mean we don’t really have a clue how well we might do. Out of 36 teams I have estimated that top 20 would be an achievement, anything higher a bonus. Before that though, even finishing together still smiling and full of tall tales of derring-do and adventure will make it all worthwhile.

See you all on the other side!

Let's play "guess the route"!

Let’s play “guess the route”!

Howe Bridge Marlins Llyn Padarn swim championship

Andy and I had planned a birthday trip to my dad’s house in North Wales. He was complaining how he was missing out on races that were on at various times we’d be away. After a quick bit of internet searching, I found out that there was going to be an open water swim in the large lake right next to where we’d be with my dad!

There were just a few things to sort out, like the fact that the closing date for entries was only a few days away, and we had to apply by post, with cheques, SAEs and verification from a coach that we were up to the swim! Now, this was a BDLSA (British Long Distance Swimming Association) event. This meant that the rules were very different from those for triathlon. In fact, in some respects they were the complete opposite. Here are a few of the ones we had to take note of:

  • NO wetsuits allowed!
  • Strict rules on how much coverage your swimsuit was allowed to give (nothing on your legs, no top halves for the boys)
  • Only one swim hat allowed, as provided by the organisers (and that turned out to be a thin latex one).

There was not a speck of neoprene in sight at the start and I heard one swimmer at the end of the 4 mile race declaring she couldn’t wait to get her hat off because it was so hot!

Andy and I had entered the 2 mile (3.2km) event. He was much more gung-ho about it than I was. We had 4 weeks to get used to swimming in cold open water without a wetsuit. I am sure I read somewhere that it is actually possible to acclimatise to a useful extent in this period of time.

I began with a 21 minute swim at Threipmuir reservoir in the Pentland Hills. I got out cold in the wind and rain. Next I managed 35 minutes in the sea at Mappleton Sands on the east coast of England, near Hull. This swim was notable for the swarms of invisible somethings that brushed our fingertips. At the time we had no idea what it was we could feel, and the visibility in the water was zero. Imagine my horror when I peeled down my swimming costume to see I had acquired a collection of marble-sized jellies inside! Luckily a post to the OSS facebook page soon revealed their identity as sea gooseberries, also known as comb jellies. Completely harmless to humans.

Comb jelly / sea gooseberry on a stone

Comb jelly / sea gooseberry on a stone

Imagine finding a load of these inside your swimming costume!

Imagine finding a load of these inside your swimming costume!

Next up I lasted 40 minutes in Threipmuir and sunshine. Then it was off to swim with The Wild Ones at Portobello beach. They told me it was 16 degrees, but I think it was nearer 14. I got ice cream head and it took me two attempts to properly get started. We swam with a few jellyfish for 30 minutes, by which time I was purple-lipped, had white hands, couldn’t speak normally and was shaking violently …. moderate hypothermia (and not for the first time)?!

An hour later I was back to normal after putting on excessive layers of clothing for a sunny day at the beach, drinking tea and eating an egg roll with the gang before cycling home.

I was then back at Threipmuir. I was determined to stay in as long as possible. I was feeling a bit cold after just 20 minutes but stuck at it for an hour and it didn’t get any worse. This was a mental game! It was just over 18 degrees and although cold, I wasn’t too bad when I got out. I was more worried about the fact that it seemed to be taking me a good 2 mins to swim each 100m if estimates of the marked course were right, which is much slower than in the pool or in a wetsuit.

Last proper swim was at Ullswater with Marie after our mini mountain marathon. I attached a gps watch to my goggle strap and off we went. The water was ‘really warm’ and we easily did an hour without feeling cold. But the gps does not lie and we had only covered 2.8km.

Get ready ...

Get ready …

The day before the race we were already in Wales and thought we’d test the lake out for 20 minutes. It was lovely, but I was shivering when I got out! Andy seemed totally unperturbed though.

On race morning it wasn’t as scorching hot as it had been the previous few days. It was still a nice summer’s day by British standards though. Registration was the most simple process ever; tick your name off a list, get your number written on your shoulders and hands, and you’re good to go! The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. Quite a few people chatted with us as we waited for the start and watched some of the shorter ‘try it out’ races. Soon it was our turn. We had a roll call as we got in at a little bay which was slatey underfoot. We had a one mile loop marked out and the 1, 2 and 4 mile swimmers all set off at once.

It was a very civilised start, with a much smaller group than in a triathlon, and less thrashing around and aggressiveness. I was going fast and got into a second group of swimmers that formed on the way up to the first buoy. This is where we turned to go across the lake. It was easy to spot where we were going as the marker on the other side was lined up with a distinct change in vegetation. At the next turn, we had a very long leg diagonally back across to the end of the lake near the start. I had no idea where we were going, but found someone good to draft until we reached a weather station halfway over. From there, I could see the orange buoy we were aiming for.

The route

The route

One of the things I had done in practice was trying to get used to a more regular and frequent sighting pattern and this helped on the day. I may too often guilty of swimming in crooked lines – which is just extra distance for the sake of it!

After the third buoy we turned back towards the start / finish. I just lost contact with 3 other swimmers I’d been near at this point. I think I was slightly distracted by looking for my dad on the shore (didn’t see him), trying to wiggle a sudden cramp out of my toes (successfully), figuring who I had to shout my number to for lap counting as we went past (got there eventually) and dealing with a totally numb finger on one hand. I tried clenching and unclenching my fist as my arm cleared the water, but it was making no difference. In the end I just swam with it, even when my thumb joined the numb party!

So as I got back to concentrating properly, we were heading across the lake again. Nice and easy to sight. Then we rounded the buoy and seemed as if the three swimmers disappeared in subtly different directions in front of me, the kayakers were nowhere in my sight line and I had no idea what to aim for! I panicked slightly and paused a couple of times to try and see anything. It is strange how your mind makes you scared in these situations. I couldn’t really go far wrong but I suddenly felt all alone in the middle of a vast expanse of water with no points of reference!

Hit this to finish!

Hit this to finish!

Once I got over being silly, I picked something white that seemed to be in roughly the right direction. As it got closer I was delighted to find it was the weather station! Brilliant. Now I started racing hard to the buoy at the end of the lake, trying to catch one or two people. Round we went and sprint finish for the end. I didn’t quite get them but was delighted to have completed in 53:51 with almost exactly equal lap times. If the course was accurate, this was 1:41 per 100m and the extra speed and a toasty lake (18-19 degrees C) meant there wasn’t even a little shiver on me when I got out.

And ... chillax!!

And … chillax!!

The field was much smaller than normal, which I am sure helped me get 2nd placed lady in the 2 mile freestyle race. What a great day! In another life this type of race might have been my speciality, but I grew up in Birmingham at a time when open water swimming wasn’t as popular as it is now. My mum did make enquiries for me, but there were no clubs or venues near us to do it. I left the race buzzing and thinking I should look out a few more of these events in the future!

This race was a great way to distract me from worrying about Itera, an expedition race I’m doing for 5 days from the 11th August. You can find out more about it here, or like our facebook page here to follow how we’re getting on.

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.

Open Adventure 2 day race – Wales

My adventure started on Wednesday evening with The Packing Challenge. Although I was getting a lift down to Wales, I had a 10km ride to my pick up point and I was catching trains later in the week so I couldn’t sprawl too much. Luckily, by Thursday evening after a hectic day at work, I had a wind-assisted cruise along the coast to meet up with Jon and family. My holiday had started!

All of this ...

All of this …

... into this!

… into this!

Our location was Trawsfynydd, in North Wales. Friday afternoon was spent with my dad investigating old viaducts, coach roads, Roman roads and an amphitheatre on a hill. Then it was time to set up camp and commence battle with the midges :-).

The race started on Saturday with an early morning briefing and handout of the maps for the day. First of all we had to get to the start line – a 45 minute cycle away, over that old coach road my dad had showed me!

The first race stage was a 2h run. I have got used to racing with Lucy, but today I was on my own. I set off confidently, found the path shortcut that most people missed and then took a sort of invisible path to find my first checkpoint. It wasn’t there! I wasted too much time bashing around in dense forest. I could hear voices just the other side of some thick undergrowth, but couldn’t fight my way through. Eventually, covered in scratches, I gave up and came out of the trees the way I had come, set off up a fire road and … found the control. It was later confirmed that it had been misplaced.

Having fun biking on one of the easier trails!

Having fun biking on one of the easier trails!

After that I was more cautious, which slowed me down a bit. The going was tough anyway, with lots of footpaths barely visible on the ground and lots of paths on the ground not on the map. I was careful to use all the clues I could; streams, walls, contours. Things were going OK until near the end, when I crossed a river on an unmapped bridge. I lost more time going the wrong way before I was off again. Running hard now – I had rapidly gone from feeling I had loads of time, to knowing I was likely to be late!

Penalties in this race are harsher than an Open 5. 2 points a minute for 5 minutes, then 5 points a minute for another 5 then it’s straight up to 10 points a minute! I squeezed in just over 5 minutes late = 15 penalties. Not too bad, and some people were caught out much worse.

Hot, tired, but not too midgy at the moment!

Hot, tired, but not too midgy at the moment!

I was looking forward to biking, though a bit apprehensive about how hard the navigation might be in the woods. We had an hour’s break to eat, drink and plan some sort of route. It went very quickly and soon it was time to go again. I settled down into the 5h stage and was loving riding my bike! My legs were feeling fantastic and I was whizzing up the hills. I was a bit slow with the map, but there was a lot of detail to read.

We had to get back to the campsite to finish, backtracking the way we had come in earlier that morning. I wanted to leave 40 minutes for this. About an hour before the end I got lost in the forest when a bridleway I was happily bouncing down disappeared. I righted myself eventually and was faced with a choice. Go the other side of the main road and pick up at least one control, or head straight back.

I made the wrong choice! And I knew it as I was slogging slowly up another fire road on the other side of the road. When I eventually passed the start area I only had about 30 minutes left. I scoffed a gel and got ready to ride as hard and as fast as I could. The last haul into the campsite was into a headwind and not entirely flat. My legs were on fire and I skidded into the finish over 13 minutes late. Darn! 75 penalties!

Just follow that footpath sign to get lost in the dark.

Just follow that footpath sign to get lost in the dark.

Next up was the 1.5h night stage on foot, though we had to wait for it to get dark. I got some route tips from Lucy, who was marshalling as she injured her ankle last week. All that was for nothing though, as I made an elementary mistake at the start. We had to run up a footpath flanked with ‘out of bounds’ areas. I didn’t think in advance how to spot when I came out of that into the open land. I was following other people and not keeping an eye on the map. When they all went through a gap in a wall, I blindly followed.

Although it was soon clear we had gone wrong, I couldn’t work out where exactly I was on the map. It was dark, there were lights everywhere, the midges were biting and I panicked a bit. I backtracked and found team FGS who assuredly said they were on the footpath as they zoomed past. I managed to relocate and from then on doggedly did my own thing, actually used my powerful light and did a little safe loop without futher incident.

Although that went well, I had lost a lot of time and second placed female, Sharon McDonald, was catching up fast! Time for a short sleep and ready for the next day.

Ah, kayaking, a stage that mostly went well somehow!

Ah, kayaking, a stage that mostly went well, somehow!

We had a 1.5h kayak to start with. I haven’t been in a sit on top by myself before, and it was quite hard work! After the first two controls, I had a good idea how fast I was going, and it wasn’t quick enough to go all the way round the lake. I cut across and had another mini panic when I couldn’t work out what the lump of land in front of me was. I had mis-aimed slightly, but once that was sorted I was on my way again.

There were two solo females in front of me and I was trying to catch them up. I also got a little spurt of energy when two teams passed me – first Mountain Hardwear whooping at me to go faster, then FGS suggesting I get in their slipstream. (I tried and failed!). Rounding a point it was all out for the finish. I actually went faster than expected, came back early for the first time all race, and got a really good score compared to the other solos.

Just like last year, I had come into my own on the kayak leg, which just isn’t right, considering I never normally go kayaking!

Final effort was the 17km trail run. I was really looking forward to this. Not much navigating to mess up, no strategy, just go as fast as possible to the end. It would be a good test of my improved running fitness. I started off in a little group with Sharon, the FGS team and a male pair. We kept changing the lead as we worked our way to the top. Despite slipping in bogs I felt good, except when I went over on my ankle. Ow! But the pain was short lived. Phew.

Going downhill another couple of teams came streaking past. When we got to a long road section, myself and Sharon stopped duelling and ran along chatting instead. We steadily made ground on the teams that had overtaken and were all back together again as we turned off road.

Sharon and I on the trail run, before I overheated

Sharon and I on the trail run, before I overheated

As we splashed through a stream some of the others stopped to wet their heads and necks. I thought, nah, why waste time doing that, I’m keeping going … About 5 minutes later I started to feel very bad. I felt sick. Then I started shivering. Hmmm, since it was about 30 degrees C and we were in direct sun, that wasn’t right! I slowed down and Sharon stopped to ask if I was OK. I wasn’t really. She tried to get me to stop, or sit in the shade, or take a tow off her, but I was being stubborn. I wanted to finish, and finish quickly! We had 3km to go.

Still in full race kit. Sent into a lake on medical grounds: there's a first for everything!

Still in full race kit. Sent into a lake on medical grounds: there’s a first for everything!

I tried drinking more and it might have helped a little. Sharon gave up arguing with me and ran on ahead to send the medic. I had had a chance to dip in a couple of streams by the time he met me though, and the route had become a little shadier. I had a tiny revival and made it to the finish line, where I collapsed. For the first time ever, I was sent into the lake on medical grounds suffering from heatstroke! Some time later I seemed to have cooled off to something approaching normal temperature and got out to have a picnic lunch with my dad.

 

I had kept onto my lead in the female solos (results here), but must say a massive thank you to Sharon who looked after me instead of racing away on the final stage. It was a morale boost to have her with me and if things had got worse I’d have needed help.

Overall, the weekend proved that I am fit and fast, but out of practice with strategy and racing solo! That’s what triathlon training does for you.

Many thanks to all the people who helped transport me to and from the tricky-to-get-to race location. Jon, Andrea, dad, Stu, Ian, my brother – epic logistics!! Also to Open Adventure for a great weekend’s racing with plenty of time to catch up with friends in between stages.

Slateman 2013

My first target race of the year.

Slateman 2013

Wave 1 – I must be in there somewhere!

This big event is well organised by Always Aim High events, with great scenery, smooth roads and a tough challenge of a run. I recommend it!

026

Nearly ready

Getting Ready
I was my usual somewhat nervous self as I racked my bike in transition. To add variety, a TV film crew were there and did an interview as I was one of the favourites for the podium. The guy was nice – he has worked with Open Adventure before, filming the Terrex. My transition area looked sparse, but the less stuff there is there, the less there is to go wrong!

Swim in Llyn Padarn 1km: 19:57 / 5th female / 37th overall
Off I went down to the lakeside for the start of the swim. I was a bit apprehensive about the cold water as I hadn’t practiced yet this year. My one chance to do so the week before was scuppered when I sliced through my nail with a chainring. Don’t try this at home – it hurts a LOT 😀

We weren’t allowed in the water until a few minutes before our start time. I was only able to swim to the line, get my face used to the cold and we were off! The swim passed by OK, except when someone randomly veered across my path. It was hard to spot the red turning buoys as I was in the ‘red hat’ wave … As usual, I struggled to find good people to draft and at the end I was crossing open water to a group ahead. My time was merely ‘alright’ – afterwards, I thought I could have done better. Somehow I find it hard to race this part of a triathlon.

031

Running and getting a wetsuit off at the same time is harder than it looks!

Transition 1: 1:34 / 6th female / 38th overall
I did a good transition – much better than last year.

Bike round the edge of some mountains 49km: 1:33:39 /2nd female / 87th overall
I set off enthusiastically on the bike. I knew there were a few other girls ahead, but I had no idea how many. I passed one quickly. I caught the next girl, called Jane (we all had our names on our numbers), halfway up the 5km climb of Pen Y Pass. Then a crazy coach driver decided to overtake just before a narrow bend – only to find a bus was coming down the other way. He pulled in sharply, taking out a cyclist in front of me. I gasped, but he had been aware enough to stop and steady himself against the now stationary coach. A little group of us all had to wait a few seconds until the two vehicles had inched past each other.

After that the cycle was straightforward. On the long downhill I was spinning out of gears. Jane passed me again here. She was on a time trial bike and I suspect she had an advantage on the flatter sections. Without drafting, I kept her in sight until the turn back uphill to the Ogwen valley. I overtook again and was motivated to push as hard as I could on the downhill and flatter bits, taking more risks than I normally do.

As I was in the first wave this year, I had a clear run back into Llanberis. My time was comparable to last year – a couple of minutes quicker, but roadworks had shortened the route. The difference was that last year I had felt invincible, and this year I didn’t.

Transition 2: 56s / 3rd female / 24th overall
Even better than T1 …

Run in slate quarries and wooded trails 11km: 55:37 /6th female / 102nd overall
Onto the run. I was determined not to walk a single step – and I didn’t. Surprisingly, half way up the zigzags in the slate quarry I overtook another girl. I could see she was struggling a bit and gave her some encouragement. I still didn’t know what place I was in – was anyone else still up ahead?

036

Sprinting is a painful business …

I had noted where on the route my halfway point in time had been last year. I got there a couple of minutes quicker and thought I was on for a great run time. My shins started cramping a bit, but I kept on at what I thought was a good pace and I felt relaxed. I kept aiming for the next runner in front (there were quite a lot as our course joined that of the sprint course).

I kept checking back, which I don’t normally do. I wanted to see if anyone was catching me. Last year I was caught 10 minutes from the end and couldn’t make the gap back up. This year, I saw another girl bearing down on me with about 800m to go. I picked up the pace a bit, rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill and crossed the river. 400m to go, but I could hear her footsteps getting closer and closer. I gave it everything I had, but sprinting really isn’t my thing! About 200m to go and she came past – it was Jane again. I was spent, eased up slightly and collapsed over the line just 4 seconds behind her.

Post-Race
The TV crew came over and wanted to interview me. “You’re third!” they said. I was anxious about any girls who might be in later waves with faster times and tried to explain this. We had been asked to email in if we thought we would do a sub-3h:10 race, but I knew not everyone had responded. The lady went to check the situation and came back telling me “you have to be in the first wave to count for the podium, so you’re definitely on” … OK, I thought, and did my interview.

An hour later at prize giving I still had some misgivings. And rightly so. As they announced the results it transpired that someone else from wave three was in third place … as my mind clicked and whirred I realised what this meant. Yes, she had finished in time between me and Jane. In fact, she was just one second ahead of me. The winner of the women’s race, Rhian Roxburgh, stormed round and was over 5 minutes clear of all of us, despite having had a baby just 5 months ago!

Results

Andy was racing too – here’s his report.

024

James and Andy

Reflections
I shall gloss over my mood for the next day or so! I was disappointed I had not done better in my target race. In some ways, thinking I had come 3rd only to find I hadn’t was as hard to deal with as coming 4th by such a tiny margin. However, as I was told by more than one person: the occasional setback will spur me on to improve. And my actual time and overall position wasn’t too bad – 61st out of 660 finishers.

Bad luck cost me those vital seconds, a pause behind the coach here, a fumble with my shoe there, easing up before the line (something I never normally do). But I do not want to leave a race to that sort of luck – if I had been a minute or two ahead it wouldn’t have been an issue!

Reflecting

Reflecting

Now I’ve waited a week and thought about the race, I’ve decided things just didn’t come together on race day. It’s almost like I peaked two weeks early at the Shropshire Open 5 when I felt wonderful!

It has also been a lesson in how what else is going on can affect performance – it’s not just all about the body.

  • My training diary for the week before says ‘tired’, ‘tired’, ‘tired’ … I’m not sure of the cause, but work has been busier than usual and this probably had an impact.
  • The week before the race my back started playing up. On Saturday I was panicking and icing, using Ibuprofen gel, contorting myself on the roller and sleeping on the floor to get things back in shape! Although it was fine on race day, I went from focused on Monday, to distracted and worried by Saturday night.
  • I was disappointed with my run time – only a minute faster than last year despite big gains in speed (2 mins off my 5k time). It’s possible I needed to eat a gel or something on the run (though I didn’t feel it at the time).

What next?
Well, I have already moved onto thinking about my next race! It’s not a target for me and doesn’t particularly play to my strengths. It’s a standard distance tri, so the bike is shorter relative to the run, and it’s flat. So I am not focussing on position, but have a few other ‘process goals’. My mum is going to be supporting me, and I’ve got a role ready for her too! That will be on the 16th June.

In the meantime, I have already cheered myself up by doing hill walks, hunting for vague footpaths, going on my bike club chaingang ride in the sun and pottering down to the beach with friends. I even took a dip in the North Sea without my wetsuit – acclimatisation has happened quickly this year!

Snowman Triathlon

Back to Wales again to finish off the Always Aim High triathlon series. I entered the Slateman back in May as warm-up training for the Celtman. But I did better than expected, so thought why not enter the series, as there was a great prize on offer! I knew that the Sandman would be a challenge, only three weeks after the 5-day Terrex expedition race. And so it proved, but not only because of that – I also got a puncture which cost me many minutes. These things happen though, so I came into the Snowman with nothing to lose. But I wanted to still do well anyway, to make up for last time! 🙂

Properly rested and recovered from previous exertions, I had spent at least two or three weeks feeling human again. This was a good sign! Andy was also doing this race. The fell run at the end wasn’t going to play to his strengths, but he seemed set and it was nice to compete together for once. He was more nervous than I was though and got stressed about not having time at the start to get set up. Goodness knows what else he wanted to do though, as I was hanging around for a while!

Llyn Mymbyr at sunset the evening before when we registered

The swim was in Llyn Mymbyr. It was reportedly 11 degrees C. This didn’t worry me too much as my exploits with the Wild Ones had me splashing about in colder than that the week before, and this time we’d be racing. I was determined to actually push it hard on the swim for a change. It was chaos at the start, with bodies everywhere, people stopping to put goggles back on and arms and legs flailing. I did head up crawl for a while, negotiating a way through. I should have started nearer the front. Anyway, I eventually got moving and remembered to work hard. I couldn’t see too many people in front as I ‘landed’. I was 12th out overall and 3rd female.

My transition was OK. I cunningly left my toasty wetsuit all tangled up round my feet to warm them up a bit whilst I sorted out my top and helmet! Into the bike and I felt good. One thing I had worried about coming into this race was a persistent knee / sartorious muscle problem which came on a few weeks ago and wouldn’t clear up. It was complaining a bit on the bike, but was solved by switching to a lower gear and spinning away like mad. The course was short – only 31km with an easy gradient drag back up to the finish. I had a great ride and came into transition 1st female. My bike leg was also fastest female by some way – I only wish we had had to go round again! 😀

Zoom!

Next up was the fell run. I decided to take my poles with me, partly to protect my knee and ankles and partly because they might make me go faster. I am very used to them, so I felt comfortable. Plenty of people said they wish they’d had some! Up to the summit and I was still in first, but as I descended I saw several girls not far behind. Indeed, halfway down two of them (Sheona Schofield and Helen Pitt) came flying past. This was reflected in their final run times – they did the whole run 10-12 minutes faster than me! However, I held on for third and was delighted to stay on the podium.

Me coming into the last couple of km on fireroad

I ventured back up the course to cheer Andy on, madly ringing the cow bell my dad had acquired at every competitor. Just as we thought Andy might have got lost, he appeared with a smile on his face!

The men’s race saw the fell runners taking a big advantage too. We all spent longer running than we did cycling! It is nice that the series overall plays to different strengths in the different races – it makes the podium less predictable. In the prize bag I got a pair of my favourite goggles from Aquasphere and also some sunglasses from Scott. Nice!

Bethan, who won the Slateman and was second at Sandman put in a solid time and won the series.

Full results here and event report here.

Bad luck aside, I had a great time at these races. They were well organised and I was especially impressed with the course marking and strict transition entry / exit security checks. They are also set in some stunning locations. I haven’t decided on my final race plans for next year, but these will definitely be on the potential list.

Oh, and although my knee hurt on the way up the hill (as it had done on every practice run in the preceding weeks), 3 days later I still can’t feel a thing. It could be masked by the intense pain in my quads preventing me from getting down any steps. Or maybe an 8.5km mountain ascent and descent is the perfect cure?!

Anglesey Sandman

Before I did the Sting in Stirling I decided to enter the Anglesey Sandman. It is part of a series of three which included the Slateman. Because I did so well in that race I thought I’d take the chance on being recovered enough to do this one and get a decent time for the series.

Three weeks after the Sting, I wasn’t really sure I was ready! I’d done what I could to recover, which meant generally eating and sleeping a lot. I’d also done a few gentle rides and short runs to get the legs moving again. I’d had a slight niggle at the back of my knee which I ignored as it seemed like something just settling down.

On the morning of the race the wind was up and it was raining. Usually I relish bad race day conditions, but today I wasn’t so certain! The swim was moved to be more sheltered but still, it was very big and bouncy. I had so much fun, I’d happily have just done the swim leg three times (despite an annoying leaky goggle). Unfortunately for me, the swim move meant an extra 1km run leg back to transition! I jogged through it and got my bike. I dithered about what to wear and in the end put on my long sleeve jersey.

Out on the bike and I was really enjoying it … for a while! I caught one or two girls, including Jen who had won this event last year. But then it started to hurt. Jen (who went on to finish 3rd) came back past me looking strong and jumped across to a group in front. I was left feeling the burn as we went up another short climb. I was still well in the mix, as I had just come past the girl who eventually came first with a storming run. I was hoping that it was only feeling tough because the conditions and course were tough – maybe everyone felt the same!

The bike route, lumpy elevation and my heart rate dropping as I fix the puncture, and rising as I pump it up! We had W / SW winds.

Then disaster struck. About 7km from the end of a 60km ride, I got a puncture. This has never happened to me on my road bike in a race before and I was momentarily stunned. I thought about riding back on the rim but that would have been nuts! So I stopped and set about fixing it. I was in driving rain and a strong crosswind on a nice exposed section at the time – of course! I’d never heard of magic hole sealing foam, and don’t carry CO2 canisters, so it was manual job. Wheel off, tyre out, found source of puncture (a small metal staple), new tube in and start pumping! I now know that the shiny mini pump that Andy got me as a present works a treat, but takes some effort. By this time I was starting to get cold – thank goodness I made the choice to put on a jersey.

I looked this bad and there were still about 4km left to go!

Apart from the time lost fixing the puncture, I lost a bit more as I set off with cold muscles and a little less motivation. I rolled into transition and started the run rather unenthusiastically. Luckily for me, partway round a girl from Chester Tri came past and she was just the right speed for me to sit in behind. I tried not to think about how much this was hurting. Eventually a marshal said ‘1km to go!’ (though I think this could have been a ‘marshals 1km’ 😉 ) and I put an extra effort in. But when we hit the choice of sand or stones on the beach my legs nearly packed up and I was in a sorry state at the end.

Those little niggles turned into enough pain that by the evening I couldn’t bend my knee and ice wasn’t helping. Although it got a lot better very quickly over the following week, I still felt quite down and very tired for several days. I think the effects of the Sting hadn’t quite worked themselves through!

If I hadn’t had to stop, who knows how the race would have gone for me. A good result and a positive mind can make you feel so very different (physically as well as mentally). But bad luck can happen to anyone and it was out of my control, so I have moved on quickly. The series isn’t realistic for me any more – though my dad keeps suggesting that you never know who might get attacked by a peacock on the bike course at the next race. Any potential Snowman competitors out there – you have been warned! 😀

%d bloggers like this: