AWCC 12 mile TT

After 2 flat 10 mile TTs – and, more importantly, 2 clear losses against friends – we were back for round 3.  The original ‘undulating’ course planned for the night was apparently covered in chuckies, so Bob made the decision to swap to a ‘hilly’ 12 mile route instead.  What he should have told us is that after being lulled into a false sense of security on the first section of the route, the remainder was practically vertical, but he neglected that particular detail.

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Roz, Ny, and I arrived (in regular cycling clothes this time) and were given the choice of starting off first, second, or fifth.  Roz was straight in claiming first, and Ny took second, which meant I had to start with the big boys.  At least it meant, in theory, that I would have someone to follow.  If I could keep up.  The three of us were feeling confident…

As we hit 7pm, I watched Roz set off, chased a minute later by Ny, and then a couple of the Wheeler guys before I parked my front wheel at the line and clipped in for my countdown.  3-2-1-go!

Straight into a headwind.  Amazing.  Motivation to keep going was provided by the fact that I could see the guy who set off fourth up ahead, and I made it my goal to keep him in my sights.  I managed to make it almost to the left hand turnoff at Crathes before I was overtaken, and then there was a quick descent before the beginning of the hills.

Number 4 was still up ahead, but slowing on the hill, and I caught him about 2/3 to the top.  My new mission was obviously to keep him behind me, and it was about here I was firmly in the heart-attack zone.  There was a welcome descent before the rest of the climb began, and I avoided looking at my speed or heart rate, and focused on getting up faster than what felt comfortable.

By the time I reached the final climb, I still hadn’t looked at my watch.  I was too worried I’d look down and discover I still had miles to go, and I’d rather remain oblivious, but I was starting to struggle.  I was overtaken by one of the faster guys, and had a (minimal) burst of speed trying to keep up, but as I saw him fly up into the distance I also noticed the finish!  With a final “sprint”, I rolled over the line, joining the group of finishers and taking alarmingly long to re-catch my breath and await results.

We didn’t have to wait too long, and the times were music to my ears: 40:22 and my first ‘win’ (against friends) in a TT!  Don’t let the photo fool you.  I definitely won.  I was just too busy feeling like I was going to throw up to celebrate.

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AWCC Time Trial – Take Two!

Apparently, the difference between ‘average’ and ‘starting to not be average’ in a 10 mile time trial involves dipping under the 30 minute mark (and maintaining a minimum average speed of 20mph).  After missing this much-coveted benchmark during my debut attempt a few weeks ago, Roz and Ny both assured me that – for a first go – I did well.  I was shy by 33 seconds, and although it was a sustained, puke-inducing effort on my part, I wanted to see if I could do better.

Keen to give myself every possible advantage – and to beat Ny, who became ‘unshit’ during the previous TT – I started to investigate.  I had already removed my bell and the reflectors on my wheels (valuable micro-grams that would slow me down, apparently!), and lacking the funds to invest in a fancy carbon bike, I felt there was only one option to assist my quest for success: the skin suit!

Unfortunately, time constraints (and budget) meant that my options were somewhat limited.  However, being the uber-resourceful person that I am, I simply “up-cycled” my Hallowe’en costume from 2010:

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Although Roz had opted to ditch us for some open water swimming (possibly after seeing photos of our planned outfits), Ny was thankfully game for a skin suit face off!  We parked up, zipped up, and casually cycled to the TT start point, to a mainly bemused reception from some of the regular guys.

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Taking this shit seriously.

Thankfully, Bob (above in red) had left a couple of blank slots at the front, and I was back in position number 1, with Ny chasing me in 2.  Apparently we didn’t need to pin numbers onto ourselves as he would, “recognize who’s who.”  Go figure! The stopwatches were started, I made my way to the start line, and clipped in – ready to go!

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And then I was off!  My goal being to clock a respectable time in a ridiculous outfit, complete with mane.  And to beat Ny.

During the first stretch I became very aware of the high neck on my lycra suit digging into my throat.  Less than pleasant, for sure, and I couldn’t work out whether I had laboured breathing because I was working hard or because my airway was being cut off.  I felt like I wasn’t hurting as much as the last time, though, and my heart sank a little at the possibility of recording a slower time.  Trying not to think too much about it, and trying to ignore the neck on my suit, I focused on keeping a heavy gear and steady pedaling.

I reached the left hand turn and crossed the river before the second left hand turn onto the finishing straight (that happens to be several miles long). Although I felt like I wasn’t giving as much as the last time (despite being able to give no more) I didn’t let that deter my determination!  In fact, it was only about half a mile from the finish line that I was finally overtaken by one of the guys, and I busted a gut trying to keep close to him, even coming out of the saddle to gain some final second speed!

Ny crossed the line uncomfortably soon afterwards, but we cycled back to the waiting spot to find out the damage.  After everyone was finished, Bob came over to read out the results.  The boys might have been chuckling away, but I managed to finish in 29:55!  Ny gave me a solid high five, and then heard her result: 29:10!

Although I didn’t win, I can’t be too upset at my time, and I’m  secretly openly delighted that my first sub-30 came when I was in fancy dress.  Verdict: (fake) skin suits get my vote!

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Midsummer Beer Happening Sportive (Undo)

Time: 4:01:47

Medal: No, but again, we got a commemorative beer glass (and beer token), t-shirt, and goody bag

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2015 and 2016 glass

Having originally signed up to do the redo route for a second time, I had my arm twisted by Ny (top 5 cycling friend) to trade down do the 52 mile, still hilly, route on offer instead.  I then assisted in twisting Roz’s arm  (who is also easily one of my top 5 cycling friends), into dropping to the shorter distance as well.  My need to beat my time from 2015 paled in comparison to my memory of how desperate I felt in the final 20 miles of last year’s monster, and a social Saturday cycle was born!

Saturday morning arrived, and we found ourselves at the train station milling about with several other lycra clad humans.  Before we even got on the train, Ny managed to stumble and fall onto the platform floor, much to the amusement of anyone with a pulse.  Thankfully we safely boarded the train without any further incidents (apart from an unimpressed tutting at the number of bikes being loaded onto it), and found a table.  What could have been an average 15 minute train journey turned into an event in itself when Roz’s husband James, upon hearing the train would be passing by their house, leapt from his slumber to wave us off ceremoniously!

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Train selfie!

Once in Stonehaven, we followed everyone else to the beer tent and queued up to register.  The event was much bigger than it was last year, and registering took a while (but allowed me to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen in a while), and eventually we were kitted out with our numbers and timing chips, and made our way to the sea of cyclists shuffling slowly towards to start line.

We were let off in waves, being briefed as we approached the start.  After clear instructions, we were off.  And, just like last year, up.  Ny shot on ahead a bit, and Roz and I chugged steadily up the first climb.  Eventually, we caught up to Ny, who had tucked in behind a Stonehaven CC rider who was providing a sweet tow. We tucked in behind them and stuck with the group for the first wee while, but eventually we found ourselves climbing the Garrol as a threesome.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this climb felt almost easy, especially considering last year I would climb it – with quite some exertion – in my easiest gear.  This seems like as good a time as any to include the route profile:

MSBH Undo Profile

13407023_10157572092430131_9110925869010679279_nWe stopped at the top of the hill for some flapjack, and bike seat adjustments, and were shortly joined by Katherine.  Then it was flying downhill, past Knockburn Loch, and creeping closer and closer to the AA box that marked the start of the big climb.

And then?  It was upon us.  The grunting started and the chatting stopped as we climbed our first steep section, only to lose all the height we’d just gained before the main climb.  Agreeing to meet at the top for a photo, we all settled into our own rhythm and got stuck in.  Ny made it to the top, with me and Katherine close behind, and Roz just slightly further back.  As if to acknowledge our mighty feat, Mother Nature split the clouds and we basked in sunlight and glory at  the summit of Cairn o’ Mount!

Unfortunately for our legs, this only marked the halfway point, distance-wise, of our cycle, so we began the white-knuckle descent, during which I maxed out at an eye-watering  43.4mph.  As a reward for our efforts, there was an aid station at the bottom, and we filled up on water and snacks before setting off again into an immediate incline that made our thighs question their ability to get us to the beer!

Thankfully the jelly legs were only temporary, and we soldiered on to the Undo turnoff, giving the marshal a little cheer as we began our homeward journey.  Though not exactly hilly in comparison to the first half, the second half was not flat, and we took it in turns drafting off each other as we were all starting to struggle.

I managed to get a second wind, however, when I realized we were on the (old) Stonehaven half marathon route, and I calculated that we only had about 6 miles left, and that they were predominantly downhill.  The second wind gained momentum when I saw female riders up ahead on the Slug Road descent, and I took an extended turn at the front, before Roz eventually took over on the home straight.

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Finish line selfie!

We crossed the line finishing in 7th, 8th, and 9th female, and Katherine was not long behind in 10th.  Not bad for a day’s work!  We parked up our bikes and got our goody bags, beer glasses, t-shirts, and beer token, then parking up at a table with our adult beverages and food van lunch.

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Our original plan was to stick about at the beer tent for a few hours and mingle before cycling back to the train station, but our free drink was pretty much our limit and we had to phone for very much appreciated pick-up assistance.

Overall, the weather was kind, and I’m glad I was talked into the shorter distance.  I was much faster on all the sections I covered than I was last year (and felt much stronger), and more importantly, I wasn’t alone this time, but surrounded by good friends.

Staffordshire Ironman 70.3

Following her amazing achievement at the Staffordshire half Ironman, Eilidh was invited bullied into sharing her experience, which I very much enjoyed living vicariously through.  It just goes to show how much can be achieved in a relatively short space of time with commitment, dedication, and hard work!

***

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12th August, 2015, I spent a lot of the day logging in and out, and in and out again of the Ironman website pondering whether or not to enter the Staffordshire 70.3 race.

Rewinding slightly, I had watched Triathlon at the Olympic and then the Commonwealth Games with no real knowledge of the sport but decided I wanted to give one a go.  I had dabbled in some running, kept generally fit but couldn’t swim (like really couldn’t swim – after a few near-miss drownings as a kid I just never learned so had a fear of water that I couldn’t touch the bottom of and generally steered clear of it), and didn’t own a bike.

I had joined the facebook page of Fleet Feet, the local triathlon club, but just watched from afar for months until I spotted a post about beginner’s bike skills. So off I trotted almost a year to the day of Staffordshire for what was my first outing on my new bike, yes I should probably confess it sat there for a few weeks with me being too scared to get on it.

A few weeks later, I’d been to a running track session and finally plucked up the courage to go along to the first swim session.  I had taken a few private 1-2-1 lessons, basically just to get over my fear of the water, the first of which consisted of me using a kickboard to get as far down the length as I could until I could no longer stand up, then turning and coming back.  By this point, I had signed up to the local Westhill Novice triathlon which included a swim of 400m, a 15k bike and a 3k run.  Easy, right?

Westhill was a disaster, I breast stroked after panicking in the water, got sent on the wrong route on the bike and basically walked the run because I was so disappointed.  This was the extent of my triathlon experience sitting staring at the screen pondering if I’d be able to do a half ironman distance in the 10 months that I had before race-day.

One thing I will say about Fleet Feet, the people there make you feel like you’re 10 feet tall.  Despite not being able to front-crawl more than a length, being one of the slowest people on the track runs (despite actually being a not too bad runner), and not having a clue about anything bike related, they were welcoming and made you feel like anything was possible.  So Fleet Feet: I blame you for making me click on the enter link.  A couple of $$ lighter and I’d entered a half-ironman.

Fully understanding the enormity of what I had just done, I quickly sought out a training coach, I knew myself well enough that if I downloaded a plan from the internet I would make every excuse under the sun not to do it, I’d bimble along until about April then make some sort of excuse and pull out of the race.  I have never really stuck at anything, I dabble in things until I get bored and then find something else to do. I’d quickly gotten to know fellow Fleet-Feeters quite well so armed with my training plan, and some training buddies I was off on my merry way to being a half ironman (not a full ironman).

In the run up to Christmas I started to get fitter on my bike, started to swim better after a video analysis pointing out the very obvious flaws in my stroke, and I had somehow found some real speed and endurance whilst running.  Rachel, Roz and Ny were my faithful weekend warriors, rain, hail or shine they were out with me on a Sunday morning pedalling through icy cold temperatures.  I had signed up to do a few races in the run up to Staffordshire as ‘training’ – 7 in total (Monikie Duathlon, consisting of a series of 3 Duathlons, Balmoral 10k, Baker Hughes 10k, Lumphanan 10k, Turriff Sprint Triathlon and Loch Loman Standard distance triathlon).  I was making steady progress, had a really good race at the first of the Monikie Duathlon series but had done something to my foot/ankle/calf which didn’t quite feel right.  Rachel has talked about my gimpy running in a few previous posts – my gammy foot/ankle/calf put paid to any of the fast running I was becoming accustomed to.  In fact it was pretty much the end of any form of run training for months to come.

Any race distance, 1500m to a marathon to an Iron Distance triathlon has such a focus on the physical aspect of training.  Put the hours and the miles in and you will see results, but no-one really talks too much about the mental aspect of training.  At least not that I saw a huge emphasis on.  This was by far the most challenging for me, training with buddies is good, but when they all start to get faster and fitter and you seem to be getting left behind it is very difficult to stay motivated to do training activities, everything starts to feel like a chore and the fun very quickly gets sapped out of it.  Rachel, Roz and Ny have pretty much listened to me moan, complain and whinge for 8 months about not being able to do anything, I’m getting slower, I can’t swim, my foot hurts, I’m putting on weight, I’m tired.  They deserve a medal for sticking with me in the run up to the race.  They have mopped tears after training and races, and encouraged me to keep going and basically man the f**k up consistently and regularly.

My run training had become such a hit or a miss that the 8 of my training races quickly became 1 DNF due to gammy foot, pulling out of 3 due to gammy foot, completing one but with a massive swollen gammy foot at the end and 1 near death experience (slight exaggeration) swimming in Loch Lomond in freezing temperatures finishing with a swollen foot.  So pretty much – not the easiest of rides in the run up.  Thankfully my swim and bike were making reasonably good progress.  I wasn’t fast in either but I was consistently seeing gains in the distance I could swim or bike without feeling like I’d been battered at the end or without having to stop several times.

Before I knew it, 10 months had flown by and it was race week – having pretty much felt like I would never be able to complete it I somehow sailed through the first few days of the week feeling great.  I was sleeping like a log, very much enjoying the lighter training load and feeling good about the weekend.  I’d taken Thursday and Friday off work to get organised and travel. Packed with a kit-list the army would be proud of, a sports massage to give me a boost and I was off.  Everything seemed to revolve around this weekend, I’ve missed social engagements, not seen nearly as much of friends and family as I should have done and I almost felt a little sad that it was going to be over soon.

My awesome chauffeur, travel companion, race manager and boyfriend was with me for the weekend.  Having raced longer distances more times than he’d care to admit – who better to keep me on the straight and narrow for a few days and calm my nerves on race day?  Travel plans, agendas, etc. had been joint decisions, but when it came to race prep it was pretty much all orders must be obeyed and I was to do as I was told.  Which for anyone who knows me, will find quite hilarious but I took on board the wisdom and set off excited and nervous.  I’d booked us a hotel in Gretna Green for the Thursday night to break up the journey, which I found highly amusing but also very conveniently across the road from a Nike Factory Outlet.  Friday morning, armed with some new sneakers and sports attire from the neighbouring outlet village, but with absolutely no shotgun wedding we made the second part of our journey towards Staffordshire.

At the start of this journey, I was presented with a water bottle and informed that I must fill it up at least 4 times for the day.  Yes sir.  Without knowing when I had signed up, only reading it afterwards, the race was a split transition meaning that Transition 1 (Swim to Bike) and Transition 2 (Bike to Run) were about 15 miles away from each other, so pretty much a logistical nightmare.  Our plan was to go to T2 on Friday, register, go to the race briefing, drop off my run bag in the T2 tent, have a wander round the expo and then not return seemed great.  Arriving in a monsoon and thunder storm quickly changed that however, having to shelter in the expo for around 40 minutes I made a run for the briefing tent and then found Alan making friends with the cake stall (good lad).  I was too flustered to think about my run bag and just wanted to get out of there, get checked into our hotel and sort out my transition bags without the stress of being rained on, struck by lightning and trying to hurry.

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Saturday had a similar theme, I had one final training session to do.  A very easy bike, with a 10 minute run to get my legs moving.  I was awake super early, was up and out of the hotel by 6.30am and back in time to have breakfast by 8am.  There were a few MAMIL’s outside the hotel on my return with very expensive looking TT bikes and pointy TT helmets, feeling sprightly I gave them a ‘MORNING’ and informed them that I had encountered quite a lot of standing water on my outing due to yesterday’s rain so to watch out, I was greeted with a cross between a snigger and a grunt and off they went on their bright shiny steeds.  Oh well then – miserable gits.

Again we had a well laid out plan for the day, go to T1, rack my bike and bike bag, scope out the swim course, head back to T2 to drop off my run bag (which in hindsight I admit was annoying), and then I was under strict instructions that I was to sit down, nap, watch a film, read a book whilst Sergeant Race Manager went out for a cycle.  Deciding that I maybe wanted to go for a walk, the threat of locking me in the room put an end to that so I did as I was told and did chuff all for the best part of 4 hours.  I napped a bit, watched a bit of Game of Thrones but eventually I was relieved of captivity and ready for my debrief of the cycle course which Alan had gone out and cycled.  The jist of it was: it’s rolling, a bit uppy in parts.  General wisdom and advice was take it easier on the ups, push on the downs and the flats.  I am somewhat of a bike wimp however, so pedaling and getting up to any sort of decent speed on downhill’s, especially on corners is a challenge.  If there is a rock, gravel, sand, pot hole, I slam on my brakes and go round them like cycling Miss Daisy or in the case of cattle grids at Loch Loman decide I’ll go over it, change my mind at the last minute and unclip both feet to then trundle over it at low speed praying that I don’t fall over.

We met Chris who was also doing the race, had a champion’s dinner, and I was tucked up in bed by 8.45pm.  Thanks to the 24 degree temperature, and the hotels AC being on the blink our hotel was like a sauna but I did manage to get a good few hours of quality sleep.

A 4.25am alarm call on the Sunday. Race day was finally here.  The hotel breakfast opened at 5am but due to feeling like I was going to puke, breaking out in a sweat at the mugginess and temperature in the hotel I forced down an instant porridge pot and then just moaned and complained until we got in the car and set off.  The car park was around a 15 minute walk to the swim start so we piled onto the courtesy bus (I wasn’t allowed to walk – needed to conserve vital energy sources).  My poor bike was soaked from the rain overnight, so I gave it a good rub down, lubed up the chain, put bottles and my nutrition for the bike on it, and then left to watch the pro swim start and get organised.  Chris was off in the wave before me so we wished him luck and waited until I was called forward for my start.  By this time, I had no chat – my chat is pretty bad at the best of times but even more so when I’m nervous.

I had hoped when I set out on this journey that I would be able to not just complete the distance but do it in a respectable time.  As the race got closer, and my hit or miss run training dragged on my calculations had me finishing somewhere between 6.45 and 7.00.  All being well, if I encountered any problems, I had every chance of taking that well into 7 hours +.  I had wanted to do the swim in around 45 minutes, my target bike was about 3.45 – 4 hours and the run was pretty much survival but I thought if I ran/walked I might be able to do a 2 hour half marathon.

The swim was a 1900m swim, straight line to the first buoy, a sharp left turn, a huge long straight line to a second buoy, and then some navigating round another 2 buoys to make up the total distance.  The swim was a rolling start, not deep water as is traditional in triathlon.  I thought this might work in my favour, as the deep water starts are nothing short of carnage and I tend to panic in the water anyway.  I need my own space and if anyone or anything touches me I freak out, and get angered fairly easily.

You were required to line up along a fence, which had pens based on your estimated swim time, 2.5 minute increments from 25 minutes up to 1 hour.  I put myself at the back of the 42.30 minutes, thinking that I’d be able to draft someone for a while and maybe get pulled along – what an idiot, I can’t swim even remotely close to people or objects so this was a ridiculous plan.  You were shimmied along a jetty to wait for the clock, once the hooter went the fastest swimmers entered the water, crossing a timing mat and that was it, the race had started.

As I gazed around waiting on the jetty, I realised I was the only female, everyone round me was male and pretty big.  Oh sh*t.  I was right to be worried, as I took my turn to ‘walk’ down the jetty the force of people around and behind me in the rush to get in the water was complete carnage.  I tried not to panic, kept my head down and just kept swimming.  This lasted for about 50m before I had to lift my head up and break out some granny breast stroking, the melee of splashing arms and legs meant that I was swallowing water every time I turned to breathe, if I panicked this early on I knew it was game over.  I could get round the distance breast stroking but it was a long old way to go, I likely wouldn’t have made the cut off and it would have sapped a huge amount of energy doing so.  I kept my granny breast stroking going until the first buoy, which was maybe 150-200m.  I needed to compose myself, not panic and throw away months of training.

After I passed the first buoy, I managed to settle my breathing and heart rate and get back into front crawling.  Bubble bubble breathe, bubble bubble sight breathe.  I was ok, I was moving forward and I was comfortable.  I had started to catch up with some people and overtake others.  Open water swimming is a nightmare I’m sure when you’re in a fast pack, but when you’re a weak swimmer and you’re at the back with people who alternate between front crawl, doggy paddle and breast stroking it can be tricky to steer clear of flailing arms and legs.  I got swam into a few times in quick succession by the same person, getting irate I lifted my head to shout at him to get out of my way, and put somewhat of a sprint on to get passed him and clear of his random diagonal swimming.  When I say sprint, I mean a few quicker turns of my arms to propel forward – my sprint swimming is only a few seconds per 100m faster than my endurance swimming.

I’d made the second buoy which you couldn’t even see from the swim start it was so far away in the distance.  The waves were 15 minutes apart, so I knew that at some point I’d be caught by the fastest swimmers of the wave behind me.  It was inevitable.  I managed to hold out for a quite a while, before I was engulfed by a spear head of Michael Phelps-esque swimmers from behind me.  Give them credit though, they parted like the holy sea and went round me without too much bother, so thank you black caps for not swimming over me – courteous swimmers.

There was a sharp right turn to get to the exit which I had scoped out the previous day, but I for some reason thought there would be some sort of arch or bright banner at the exit.  Nope it was a concrete ramp that you couldn’t see particularly well, but eventually I figured out which direction to go in, got to the ramp, found my feet and I was out.  1900m in 48.09 – slower than I had hoped but not by much.

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I tend to get a little motion sick swimming open water, so took a second to determine if my legs were alright and then ‘pranced’ up the carpet towards transition.  I stopped to take a call on route (I dropped an ear plug).  Having raced a few weekends ago at Knockburn I watched a lot of the fast people in transition, and noticed that the trick seemed to be cap and goggles off in one swoop, pull arm of wetsuit off and leave cap and goggles inside, pull wetsuit to waist, do a stampy stampy dance to get the legs off and Bob’s yer uncle!  My wetsuit stripping consisted of cap and goggles off – check.  Pull opposite arm that I’m holding my cap in off – fail.  Pull the other arm out, get it stuck on your watch, drop cap and goggles, try to pick up with one free arm and one stuck in wetsuit, keep running with one arm attached for a while, decide you can’t do it like the pros, walk for a while to rectify arm situation, sit down, roll around on the ground to remove rest of wetsuit, realise you’ve lost ear plugs somewhere on the way.  Wetsuit removal – fail. [Haaaaaaaaaaaaa!!]

Ironman events give you a colour coded bag for your bits and pieces so you have to find your bag on a rack, and then put everything back inside and drop it back off at the exit of the change tent.  Cycle kit on and time for some more prancing to find my bike, my point of reference was the first red skip.  Lovely. There was a bit of congestion at the exit to bike racking but some nice gentlemen held back and let me through first.  Cue my awesome bike mounting skills and I was off.  Garmin on, timer set.

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The first km or so on the bike was to get out of the park, along the dam wall and over some speed bumps.  Here we go: pedal, brake, pedal, brake, oh gravel, brake, pot hole, brake.  Once I got out onto the open road, I took my time to get into a rhythm, ate a power bar, and set on my merry way.  Alan had warned me on his recce that there were some hills and a bit of gravel on the first part of the course, old English houses with giant hedges on either side meant that it was difficult to see round corners, an uneven road surface and steep down hills meant I was in trouble for the first section.

I had set my garmin up so that I had the course elevation on the screen, and my heart rate on my watch, plus a time alert every half an hour to eat.  It was hot, and I drink a lot generally so I was very strict about when I needed to finish a bottle to swap it at the aid stations.  I knew once I had passed this relatively horrid section and joined the main road, it was fast and flat for a while and I could afford to push quite hard until the next steepish hills.  I had Alan’s voice in my head, easy on the ups and push on the downs and flats.

In the run up to the race, coach Ken had me doing the most vile intervals where you pushed until you puked for about an hour and then rode easy for a second hour.  I am quite lucky that my heart rate recovers relatively quickly so I knew I could push pretty hard initially and take it easy later on before pushing again to the finish.  I kept my eye on the elevation graph and the time alerts, but managed to spill more of my first scheduled gel over myself and my hands than I did in my mouth so was clarted in sticky energy gel, snot and sweat as the first hour ticked by.

I was very clear with myself before the race that I was not going to look at the speed or distance I had gone.  I knew the aid stations were approximately 12 miles apart so decided that was how I was going to gauge where I was, or how far I had to go.  When my time alert went off at 1 hour, the screen on my watch changes as well as vibrates when the alert happens, I glanced down and it said 34km. I thought I had looked at it wrong, it must have said 24km.  Curiosity got the better of me and I eventually looked a little while after that and was right – it had said 34km and I quickly realised that at 1.5 hours I was pretty much half way through the bike course.  Where the f*ck had that come from? I can pedal away but I am not fast on my bike, I had been over taking people but mostly on uphill’s, they would catch me again on the downs and people were consistently pushing then easing up to eat or drink so I just figured it was the nature of the race/distance.

This gave me a massive boost of adrenaline and I decided to keep pushing, I felt amazing, my legs felt good, I wasn’t tired so hunkered down and pedaled and pedaled.  My plan had been to take it easy on the ups but to hell with that, I was flying by my standards, so decided to push harder on the hills.  Men don’t like it when they realise they are being passed by a female, they speed up and pedal faster.  Even more so when they are on a flashy TT bike with a pointy hat and dick [not a typo, I changed it] wheels. ‘Oh hi there, I like your disc wheel, yes I’m a girl on a road bike, overtaking you.’ My run was going to be vile regardless so I may as well enjoy this part.

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People had warned me that when you started to race longer distances you inevitably hit a low.  About 2 hours in after I’d had my fun overtaking people the heavens opened and it absolutely bucketed it down.  Oh bugger, it was all going so well until now.  Thankfully it was still pretty warm so the rain didn’t cool you down too much, but it did make my cornering and descending somewhat slower than it had been the previous hour.  I tried not to panic as I passed several people who had obviously been a bit gung-ho in the wet conditions and had come off their bike.  First aiders were out in force and road rash a plenty.  I was slightly worried by the design of my tri shorts that I’d be a bit exposed as I bent over on the bike, displaying a slightly sheer ‘breathable’ panel across the bum, I had nothing to worry about as I passed a victim of road rash who had completely ripped his shorts and was limping round the course with an entire bum cheek of material missing, and a gash on the exposed flesh!

The last out and back loop of the bike had a fairly hefty hill on it, which had people barrelling down the other side of the road.  Oh brilliant – a fast descent in the wet – my favourite.

The spectators on the course were brilliant, I suppose when you’re told you’re confined to your house for the best part of the day so Ironman can close the road what better to do than have a party, and get drunk on your front lawn.  Which is what most people did.  The final climb was pretty relentless, it was long and steep but about half way up there was a little old couple sitting at the end of their drive way shouting ‘Welcome to the Birches Valley – we’re John and Mabel and we welcome you to the Birches Valley’.

I had been playing cat and mouse with a guy in a University of Dublin trisuit for most of the last 20 or so miles, I’d overtake him on the hills, he’d get me on the downs.  He’d overtake me then pull in hard in front of me, so once I was passed the final aid station I decided I was fed up of the back and forth so went full gas on the flat to get past him.  I was coming to the end of the steep down from the loop and I hadn’t seen him again so thought I must have lost him, but just as I turned back in towards Shugburough estate the bugger went flying past me, splashed through a massive puddle and completely soaked me! So my arrival back into T2 I was clarted in mud!

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Even though I said I wouldn’t, after I’d looked at the time and distance in the first half, I kept a close eye on the time the whole way back in.  I had slowed slightly but was pretty consistent.  I passed Alan at the mount line wearing a fetching rain poncho, with a bike time of 3.21.17, total race time of 4.15.39.  Well within my target time.

The run was the bit I was most scared about, I had swim anxiety but the run was where it could all fall apart.  I had run maybe 30 miles in the run up to the race, I had only managed to get up to 9 miles in one training session and I had no idea if my gammy leg was going to hold out.  I had tucked away some paracetemol in my bike bag to take before the run in the hope that it might give me a fighting chance of getting round.  Trying to pop tablets out whilst on your bike ends in them crumbling, and you having white powder stuck to the energy gel which is caked on your face.

I spent a little bit of time in T2, squirting water down my legs and arms to get rid of some of the mud, changing into dry socks, giving my nose a good blow and composing myself for the trauma that was to come.  The run was a three loop half marathon, with a hill in the middle of each lap.  I knew that there was an aid station around about every 1.5 miles so my strategy was to walk the aid stations but run as much as I could in-between.

I hit the first round of the hill and was already struggling, only about 1 mile into 13 long miles.  The aid station was at the top and I was bursting for a pee after a failed attempt to go on my bike.  There is nothing dignified about triathlon, but people very openly talk about peeing on their bike whilst in a race.  I took the rain as perfect opportunity, closed my water bottles in anticipation, but got stage fright and couldn’t go.  So there I stood waiting for a free portaloo, with my gammy foot throbbing, wondering how on earth I was going to get round 3 laps.

It felt like I spent forever in that first aid station.  I had a few cups of water, took a gel, stretched out my legs, calves and feet and gave myself a talking to, and about 2 minutes later I was off.  There was a good fast downhill from there through a village where you passed a pub which was hoaching with drunk people cheering you on in the street.  I continued to run (pretty slow but it was running) high-fiving kids in the street.  I didn’t manage to stick to my aid stations walking, I had to take a few walk breaks in between, but I was limiting myself to only walking for a minute at a time and then running again.  First lap down, I ran passed Alan in the same spot, still sporting his fetching rain poncho.

When you ran through this area, you also got the smell of the bbq in the finishers tent wafting across the run route but it was lined with spectators and I refused to be seen walking in an area that was filled with people! The rain had meant it was muddy, I tentatively stepped around puddles for the first mile or so but after a while I was trundling through puddles and mud so was filthy.

The laps were good because you could pick off milestones: the hill, the pub with the music, lap band station, where Alan was standing.   My second time round, I ran towards him and he was looking down at his phone so I very jokingly shouted ‘PAY ATTENTION’ as I went through which came out as a high pitched shrill shriek to which he looked thoroughly scalded, and the guys around him burst out laughing.  He blamed the girls however, texting him constantly asking for updates! [Guilty]

I’d made it to the third lap but about halfway through I really started to tire; there was more frequent walking and comically an older man caught up to me and said ‘I’ve been chasing you for miles, every time I catch up to you, you start running again,’ which made me laugh.  I had to walk for a fair bit after mile 11 so he sailed passed me, but when I caught him again at the mile 12 marker he gave me a pat on the back and laughed.  When I passed the marker at mile 12, I sneaked a glance at my overall race time.  It was 6.20 by my watch, so if I could do the last mile in less than 10 minutes I would beat my 6.30 goal, this gave me a massive boost and I somehow found enough energy to pick up my pace.  I got my last lap band and turned towards the estate where the route funnelled towards the finish line.  I passed Alan and Chris (who had since finished the race) and barrelled round the corner like a woman possessed.

Much to my dismay I hit the finish chute at the same time as some twit who went down it impersonating a jumbo-jet.  Get the hell out of my way you idiot I want my 10 seconds of fame!  I couldn’t get past his weaving so crossed right behind him which meant the boys couldn’t actually see me finish!  I have no idea where that last mile of speed came from as I crossed the line, I was empty.  My legs were like jelly, I wasn’t sure I was going to puke, faint or cry but I’d bloody done it. Run time of 2.10.14.  I stupidly forgot to stop my watch as I crossed the line, it wasn’t until I’d made a quick trip through the finisher’s tent to join the queue for my t-shirt that I looked down and it was still going so I had no clue if my final sprint had made the difference.  As it turned out, my swim was about a minute slower on my official times than on my watch, the starter timing mat was further back on the jetty whereas I had started the timer once I hit the water, so I was never going to make it in less than 6.30!

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My overall race time was 6.31.08.  Not too shabby for someone who bought a bike, learned to swim and had an injury in the space of just over a year.  In the triathlon community, forums you read, Facebook posts and all there is a certain amount of credibility around longer distance racing.  ‘Oh you only did a HALF ironman’ and ‘what was your time’.  I was concerned by the numbers, I had a target in my head and I thought I would have been disappointed to miss that.  It’s easy to say now that I was well within that target, but I can honestly say on reflection, if I had crossed the line in 5 hours or 8 hours I would feel the same elation as I do now.  I needed a challenge in life, something to set my mind to and every hour of training, sweat and tears was worth it to feel the sense of achievement and accomplishment that I do now.

When training was going badly, when I finished every training race feeling disappointed and deflated, when I was knackered, cold, wet and having to cycle for 3 hours so the training peaks box didn’t go red  – I hated it.  I’m not going to lie about that, but it was all worth it.  I have realised that the challenge was not in the numbers, it was in setting my mind and body to do something that I had not done before, and wasn’t sure if I was capable of doing.  The challenge should not be determined by how it stacks up against other things/events/races, it should be determined based on the individual and the time, effort and road traveled to achieve it. No matter how big or small, a challenge is personal and it may not be challenging to another but it is important to you.

Aberdeen Wheelers 10 mile Time Trial

Though not technically an official event, I feel that the suffering experienced during my first bike TT warranted a short post.  Surely something that leaves you feeling, as Roz delicately puts it, unsure of whether you wanted to, “shit, puke, or orgasm at the end” is worthy of a mention.

The Aberdeen Wheelers host a range of different events, time trials being just one.  They range in length and in elevation, so I was more than happy to choose a flat, short circuit for my TT debut.  Roz and Ny had both done it before, and the idea of just gunning it for half an hour appealed.  Both of them were hoping to dip under 30 minutes for the first time, and my aim, essentially, was to avoid embarrassing myself.

Ny picked me up and we drove out to Drumoak, where Roz was waiting, nice and early.  We parked up, then cycled back to the layby to give our names, get numbers pinned on, and chat to the guys who were already there before a quick warm-up to Drum castle car park and back.

As the start time grew nearer, my nerves started to show, but a very enthusiastic offer to assist me with push-off distracted me in my final moments of rest.

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As soon as I heard go, I was off (to a ripple of cheers from everyone else).  Within seconds I was rapist-breathing, and immediately regretted leaving my water in the car.  Oh well, half an hour or so to go!

Going first, I had nobody to chase, but thankfully Ny had pointed out the route at the weekend so I had a rough idea of where I was going (and it was clearly sign-posted).  Even this did not calm my nerves after the turnoff, and second left turn onto the road back as I was fully expecting to be overtaken by the faster riders.  I was starting to wonder if I’d somehow gone wrong, and I was thrashing myself to go as fast as I could in the wrong direction.

Just as I was about to start checking behind me for signs of life, however, the first of two riders to overtake me came flying past on my right, and I put my head down and pushed on into a headwind until I saw the sign up ahead that signaled the end was nigh!  I picked it up a bit (at least I did in my mind) and crossed the finish line thoroughly spent, pedaling slowly to a point where I could turn around and head back to the drive for a seat on the ground.

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Working so hard even the camera is sweating.

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I’d say I was working reasonably hard

Once all of the riders had finished, the two organisers walked up with the results.  With an average speed of 19.6mph (and an average HR of 182bpm), I’d managed to finish my first 10 mile TT in 30:33, behind Roz, who frustratingly crossed the line in 30:11, and Ny, who totally won in a time of 29:49, which likely explains the smile on her face:

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Me, Ny, Roz – TT professionals 

Scottish Team Relay Championships

Time: 2:01:41

Medal: Yes

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Roz and Eilidh, taking their club responsibilities seriously, had been working behind the scenes for ages to plan not one, but two Fleet Feet organised events on Sunday, May 29th: the Scottish Champs Aquathlon, and the Mixed Team Relay.  It was the least I could do to offer up my services as a marshal not refuse when asked to be a marshal.  Considering Eilidh and Roz had entered themselves, as well as me and Ny as a ‘mixed’ team (without technically seeking our firm approval) I was going to be there anyway, so why not help out?  As it turned out, marshaling was a fun and rewarding job!  Plus you get to wear a super sexy neon marshal bib.

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Ny and I were given the highly important task of registering the athletes and telling them to remove their clothing so we could mark them up with their race numbers.  It was a job we took very seriously…

Don’t let the photo fool you.  We were actually very efficient.  So much so that we have been asked to repeat our duties for the sprint triathlon coming up on Saturday, June 11th (enter HERE before Wednesday!).

Once registration was done with, and everyone had been successfully checked in, we took up our roles as counters for the swim exit for the aquathlon, while Roz and Eilidh assisted swimmers getting out of the loch.

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Once everyone was safely out of the water it was finish funnel duty time, but as a small child army seemed to have the medals, goody bags, and post-race refreshments under control, we cheered on the first finishers before heading back to REGISTRATION 2.0: THE RELAY!

We started handing out race packs and bundles of timing chips, as well as marking up the athletes (some for the second time, requiring some creative penmanship), but as we were both also taking part, with Ny going first and me going second, we eventually abandoned ship, leaving Ny’s husband at the helm, so we could set up in transition.

Our original race order was: Ny, me, Roz, and then Eilidh.  Our entire race was a bit of a comedy, however, and things did not go entirely as planned.  Ny did start (as Eilidh was in charge of race briefing/honking the honker to start the swim), but as soon as she got out of the loch, she tumbled in the most spectacular way:

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None of use could help her for laughing, but thankfully she was fine, and made her way to transition for the bike.

Once everyone was out of the loch, I wetsuited up and luckily had the opportunity to get into the water and fill my wetsuit with the ‘tropical’ 15 degree water before heading to the handover pen.  Official triathlon Scotland rules state that you must touch your teammate somewhere on the body for handover to be official, so we had casually agreed to a friendly bum slap.  As soon as Ny was in view at the end of the run, I presented myself, and once slapped, ran towards the loch.

Thankfully I could get my head into the water straight away without too much bother, and the 300m swim flew by.  My comedy moment, however, came during the bike.

Though short, it was not without drama.  You cycle for about 1.5 miles out to a cone that you are supposed to navigate around before the return leg.  However….  Katherine (responsible for the montage of pain in my previous post) had mentioned she was going to photograph ‘pain faces’ during the race as she was the marshal at the turnaround.   I guess I was focusing too much on posing and not enough on cycling, because next thing I knew my chain wass off and I was falling at embarrassingly low speed towards the asphalt.  Apparently Katherine didn’t have the heart to snap a shot of me laughing flat on my back, but she did catch me getting back on my bike to finish.  Thankfully, it’s blurry enough that you can’t make out the blood running down my leg.  Or on my face.

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It was on the return leg on the bike that Roz’s ‘comedy moment’ came in.  Except not quite comedy, as she flew past me on her bike (she was meant to be going third in our relay…) shouting something about “the ambulance”.  As it turns out, one of our club mates, Tracy, who was at Loman with us doing the middle distance (and training for Celtman), came off her bike in transition and badly hurt her knee.  Roz then had to jump on her bike to notify the marshals at the turnaround that an ambulance was en route.

Arriving back at transition, I slipped into my trainers for the 1.5km run around the loch, not knowing if Eilidh or Roz (or anyone) would be waiting in handover for me.  Still, not wanting to let down the team -because we were totally winning in 3rd from last place –  I pushed on along the course that I fondly remember from the Winter X-country series a few years back.  Being such a short distance, I wasn’t worried about my knee crapping out, and it’s the first time in a year and a half that I’ve been able to just get lost in the moment running without worrying about whether or not I’d be capable of finishing.

I’d managed to overtake the one guy who overtook me in transition before the end, and as I approached the handover pen I saw Eilidh waiting for me in her wetsuit.  As we had agreed, I had a running start to my bum slap effort, and even ended it with a twirl as Eilidh ran out of the pen towards the loch entrance.

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Eilidh, just casually looking photogenic in a swim cap and goggles, no big deal.

Despite being swum over at the swim start, Eilidh left the loch with a smile on her face.  I missed her transition as I was being seen to by one of the jovial paramedics (he basically forced me to sit on the back of his car and get seen to even after I repeatedly told him all my war wounds were superficial).  By the time I was cleaned up, Ny and I went to see Roz in the handover pen and filled her with encouraging words like, “Everything rests on you,” and, “don’t let down the team,” which I’m sure were appreciated.  Soon enough, Eilidh was coming in from her run, delivering a firm bum slap to set Roz on her way.

Having already hammered one lap of the bike course when she had to inform the marshals about the ambulance, Roz finished her swim and then embarked on her second round of the route.

Once back in, despite running being Roz’s least favourite part of triathlon, she powered through the whole course without walking, and Ny and I decided to offer encouragement for the last bit, as Eilidh, after her turn, was straight back to being event organizer extraordinaire.

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200 meters to go!

After seeing how exhausted Roz and Eilidh were after the athletes had finished, prize-giving was over, and only the marshals remained, I have such a huge appreciation for the sheer amount of work that goes on – mostly behind the scenes – for an event (or rather, events) like this.  It really is, for the most part, a thankless task, and overall, considering all of our individual mishaps and events requiring attention from half our team, coming third team from last in a mixed relay as an all female team (beating all other all-female teams) is a laudable achievement.  We totally earned our medals.

 

Loch Lomon Standard Triathlon 2016

Overall Time: 3:44:43

Medal: No

Several months ago, when I really started to get to know Eilidh, Roz, and Ny, I was convinced to enter Loch Lomon standard distance triathlon under the premise that it would be like a group holiday at a lodge with friends, and a little bit of exercise thrown in.  Roz and I were game, and Eilidh wanted to do it as part of her 30 for 30 challenge (and as a training event for her 70.3 next week!).  Ny also agreed to come along to support, and soon there was a small group of ladies signed up and allocated a spot at the lodge.

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Over the next few months, training began in earnest, but not without a hitch: my running remains unreliable, Eilidh’s foot started acting up and causing problems, and Roz’s run training went out of the window because of how painful she found it (and how much she has started loving the bike).  So basically, when it came to running, we were all sort of gimpy.  Thankfully, we were all at least making some progress in the other disciplines.

I can honestly say that this is probably the first race that I have ever properly rested for.  At least physically.  Mentally, I was pretty wiped out.  I’d spent Monday to Friday the week before in Paris with 32 teenagers, and although it was a great experience, I could never fully relax or switch off the entire time I was there.  Apart from teaching a spin class early on the Monday we left, the only real exercise I did – apart from some walking – was climbing the Eiffel Tower.

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Cruising on the Seine

Arriving back late on Friday night, I put on a quick wash, then tried to get a few hours of shut eye  before I had to get up and pack for Lomon.  Trying to remember everything I had forgotten for Turriff was challenging on so little sleep, and I seemingly decided to throw 50% of my sporting paraphernalia into a duffel bag and await my pick up.  Because of course I was going to need 8 thermal tops.

Eilidh’s boyfriend had agreed to lend us his van for the weekend, so around lunchtime there were 4 of us loading bikes, wetsuits, cakes, etc. into the back, with plenty of room to spare.  We set off shortly after, stopping to pick up our fifth passenger, Aude, in Stonehaven, who was also coming along to support (and keep Ny close company while we were all out racing).

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Van selfie

Once we had arrived, we started claiming rooms at the lodge and hauling all of our bags inside.  Realizing we had plenty of time before dinner, and seeing the blue skies and sunshine outside, we opted to walk to the pub and enjoy a couple of drinks.  A bit merrier, we eventually returned for some chicken curry, Persian rice with saffron, and a rhubarb crumble with custard, which all went down a treat.

I decided to go for a walk along the loch, and Ny came along to keep me company, while everyone else started preparing things for the morning and – apparently – getting an early night, as pretty much everyone was in their room with lights out when we got back.  Roz was meant to be sharing with me, but apparently I don’t appeal, so she swapped with Ny and claimed the couch in the living room.  I will say, Eilidh deserves a special mention for the accommodation, as sleeping in a bedroom with an actual window and working door was an absolute treat after our Brighton adventure dungeon, and very conducive to quality pre-race prep.

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RACE DAY

Transition for Lomon opened sometime in the middle of the night, so I was up with the birds on Sunday morning.  All of the lodge dwellers who were racing managed to get themselves and their kit to the bike racks and changing tent without incident, and then it was back to the lodge to use toilets that were thankfully less fragrant than the portaloos on offer.  Again, top marks for accommodation being a stone’s throw from the transition/finish area.  Time was ticking, however, and soon we were all on our way to the lochside for the briefing, and the news that the water temperature was a tropical 10.9 degrees…

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SWIM (34:44)

 

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Apparently I’m in the yellow hat behind the guy standing up

After cheering on the middle distance swimmers who started first, the standard swimmers were instructed to get into the loch and swim out to the starting buoys.  It.  Was.  Fresh.  Neoprene boots, gloves, and swim caps were compulsory, though if there was anyone willing to go without, I would question their sanity.  Eilidh, Roz and I (and some other Fleet Feeters) bobbed about until the countdown, and then we were off.  Having the chance to acclimatize definitely helped, as I could get my face in straight away.  I absorbed a few kicks and elbows from other swimmers, but after about 5 minutes I had settled into a nice rhythm behind a guy who had very distinctive boots, and very decent sighting abilities.  I coasted behind him for the rest of the swim, occasionally having to battle others for my position, and as soon as we were nearing the end of the second lap I overtook him and went for glory!

Except there was obviously more to come.  Starting with a half mile jog from the loch exit to transition, which appears to be included in the overall swim time!

BIKE (1:56:04)

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After a wholly unremarkable transition struggling out of my wetsuit and then trying to get dry clothes over wet body parts, I felt ready to tackle the bike course.  Eilidh and Katherine had cycled it a few weeks back to see what it was like, and the general feedback we received include words like “uppy” and “hills”.  Some of the girls in the lodge had even driven the course the day before to scope it out.  I prefer a bit of mystery, but I can confirm the course was far from flat.  Despite this, I have never felt better on the bike, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I flew down the (few and far between) downhill sections.

Looman Standard Bike

Throughout the bike course I tried to avoid looking at my watch as I wanted to go by feel instead.   Ignoring something right beneath your nose is hard to do, so I did clock that my average heart rate was 176bpm.

Less than 2 hours after the bike began, I could see the end in sight, and all I could think about was how amazing it felt, and how excited I was to peruse my stats over a cold beer once I had finished.  I dismounted, stopped my Garmin, and went about de-layering for the run.  I quickly looked down at my watch which was prompting me to pick an option: red x or green tick.  As soon as I pressed the green tick I saw that I had just confirmed ‘DISCARD RIDE’.  Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  This was when my race went sour.

RUN (1:05:17)

It’s no secret that I have had an unhappy relationship with running for the last 18 months, so it should come as no surprise that the high of my race was on the verge of crashing down.  I left T2 deflated after deleting my bike leg, and my heart sank further after about halfway through the 10k when that familiar pain on the outside of my right knee took hold.  This is when I started being overtaken.  Frequently.  Ny had created some comedy motivational signs that did at least provide some light relief throughout the final, trying discipline.

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The run route consisted of two separate out and backs, and the end of the first one was poorly marked so I ran a bit too far, stopped, chatted to some guys about whether we had passed the turnaround, and then decided we had before turning around.  On the return leg I saw Roz, then Eilidh, who at that point was running and looking strong, though I later found out was suffering with her foot again.  When my knee pain started up I adopted a run/walk technique (.1 mile run, .05 walk), and pretty much attempted to keep that up the rest of the way.  I had to swap to walk .15, run .05 by the end, but at least I was still moving in the right direction.  And at least I was wearing a sports bra!

The second out and back was shorter, but involved going up a hill, then coming back down to finish.  Despite my crappy run, despite the fact that I had aborted my bike stats in a fluster of excitement in transition, I was ecstatic as familiar faces came into view, and I crossed the line of my first standard triathlon.

Once I had grabbed some water and grabbed my phone, I joined Ny, Aude, and the rest of the Fleet Feet gang to cheer everyone else on.  By the end of the run Eilidh had caught Roz and they were running together looking as glad to be done as I was, Eilidh especially as it’s another thing ticked off her list!  Poor Roz was broken though:

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When everyone we knew had finished the Standard, we made our way back to the lodge for something to eat.  Or in my case, a shower and a nap.  The lodge was booked for another night, but some of us had work the next day, so I left my bike in Eilidh’s care, and Ny and I bagged a lift home with Susan.

I’m not really sure where to go from here considering I have made no progress with running.  Maybe I am destined to stick to shorter distances from now on or maybe there is something wrong with my knee that hasn’t been picked up yet.  Whatever it is, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy, even if I’m not cruising the internet for budget flights to European marathon destinations.  At least not right now.  And I’m starting to be a little bit OK with that.

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Special shout out to Katherine for creating this beautiful photo montage capturing us all at our best.

BH5K Naked Run

Time: 31:39 (don’t judge, we were hungover and armless)

Medal: No

Way back at the beginning of the year, there was an event that kept popping up all over facebook: The BH5k Naked Run.  The BH5k is a bi-annual run set in Orpington, Kent, at a naturist reserve hidden away down a quaint English country lane.  Ny (possibly joking) suggested that she we should sign up for it, and not being one to back away from a challenge I told her I would love to.  She is apparently also one to not back away from a challenge, and before we knew it, budget flights were booked, and we were both entered.

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE MORNING AFTER

As the date crept closer, we decided that we would make a weekend out of it, and opted to stay in Brighton the night before, as neither of us had ever been, and if ever there was a weekend for new and unusual experiences, this was it.  Which brings me to our accommodation – essentially a dungeon bedroom in an ‘artist’s studio’ that claims to have been part of a film set (I can only imagine what type of film…).  The room was positively brimming with artistic depictions of a very specific part of the female anatomy, so much so that the nudist run paled in comparison.

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When we arrived we were greeted by our friendly AirBnB host, who informed us she had a ‘private show’ on at 7.  Ny’s face was a picture when we were told we could keep our belongings safe with a padlock for our room (combination 666).  And when we were told the bathroom had no lock so we could stand guard for one another.  And when our room was invaded by the owner’s cats.  And when we realized the ‘shower room’ had no door. And when we discovered the wigs and the whipping paddle hanging from the bedposts.  Considering this is what initially greeted us when we arrived, we decided to venture into Brighton town centre in search of food and alcohol:

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Mainly alcohol

 

We found a decent burger joint and as luck would have it, we arrived during happy hour.  Ny was straight onto the (lethally strong) cocktails, and I started sinking back the beers.  From there, the drinking never really veered off course for the remainder of the night.

After dinner we walked to Brighton Pier, taking a ride on the Haunted House and realizing that our room for the night would put it to shame.  Then we continued drinking.  We started off with a nice little English pub before attempting – unsuccessfully – to locate a karaoke joint, being drawn eventually towards the bright lights of a gay bar.  For men.  Where we were both surprisingly chatted up.  By a man.  It turns out his style of picking up women involves making himself the only available option.  It was not his lucky night.

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Haunted House at Brighton Pier

 

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After a quick drink there, things started getting fuzzier, and we found ourselves throwing some shapes in a club on the dance floor.  Eventually, we had both had enough booze to warrant a return to our dungeon room, and we stumbled into the night to begin our ‘scenic’ route home.

Excellent race day prep.

RACE DAY

Ny and I were both gently roused by the dulcet sounds of my phone alarms a few hours after we’d managed to get to sleep feeling fairly rough.  All normal race day problems were avoided as we had no kit to double check apart from trainers.  After we packed up our stuff, we went through to say goodbye to our host (who was still partying with her friends from the night before), before finding our hire car, taking a moment to reflect, and setting off for a morning of nudity.

Ny had the horrific task of driving us hungover, and after a quick Asda stop to pick up a snack and a courtesy towel for me we found ourselves at the gates of the Naturist reserve being ushered to our parking space by a man who was completely in the buff apart from shoes and a high-viz vest that did little to protect his modesty.  If anything, it drew your eyes to it.

After we had parked we had to queue to show photo ID, and then it was back to the car to undress.  We were both so hungover that being naked was the least of our worries: would we get around the course without puking? Would we be warm enough?  Would running sans sports bra work out for us?  We chatted to some of the other runners, had our numbers marked on us with lipstick, and found ourselves a bit surprised at how many younger runners were there (as it turns out, a local running club had decided to join the naked party).  According to the post-race e-mail, there were 141 runners ranging from 8-81!

A bit later than expected, we were all ushered onto a small field for an informal race briefing.  The course consists of 2 laps around the small field, followed by three laps through the woods.  Ny and I had originally planned to go all out, as previous results indicated that few women took part and we’d have a shot of coming top three, but the hangover won, and we decided to just jog round together.  The fact that 90% of the women had opted to wear a sports bra was mildly concerning, but after the standard 3-2-1 countdown we became – immediately – very aware of our error in judgment in choosing to be purists.

Ny adopted a single arm technique that looked a bit like her arm was in an invisible sling, but I went for the ‘double cup’ chicken wing method.  To whoever invented sports bras, I thank you.  We both underestimated just how much work a simple garment can do, and it was our shoulders that were really starting to burn first.  Every time we passed a crowd of supporters or an official photographer they all offered the same tip, “Next time wear a sports bra!”  We had learnt our lesson.

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About half an hour after we had set off, Ny and I crossed the finish line, essentially groping ourselves.  We were handed a position chip, our numbers were taken, and then we were free to enjoy the facilities for the rest of the morning.  We went for a dip in the heated pool, but when a guy started doing laps WITH GOGGLES ON we took that as our cue to shower.

The showers were communal, and we were chatting away to one of the local guys and a woman who offered us use of her loofah to try and scrub off the lipstick, with minimal success.  We also noticed that the showers had floor to ceiling windows, and we could look out at people sunbathing and enjoying the barbecued food outside.  This all just seemed normal, and it was only when we had put clothes back on that we both felt self-conscious!

Everyone was really friendly, and after picking up a tip for a place to go for lunch, we bid farewell to the sea of naked bodies and left.  Following lunch and a riverside walk, we checked out the Thames estuary, and the final resting place of Pocahontas, before starting our homeward journey.

It was a unique way to spend a Sunday morning (and Saturday night), and everyone was so warm and welcoming that I would recommend doing the 5k to anyone.  Although I had an amazing weekend, I don’t feel the need to shed my clothes for another running event any time soon, and I definitely would not want to repeat that kind of run with a hangover.  I’d say it’s a 10/10 for cementing a friendship though:

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Well rested, feeling fresh!

Etape Caledonia 2016

Time: 5:58:20 [RESULTS]

Medal: Yes

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After Etape Loch Ness – and my fastest ride ever – I was looking forward to seeing further improvements at the Etape Caledonia, an 81 mile cycle starting and finishing in Pitlochry.  Roz and Ny, who had also signed up, were staying near the start, but Ian and I were crashing at his friend Dylan’s flat in Perth, where pizza, beer, and a later-than-we-had-planned night of film watching was the harbinger of ill-fortune.

After a restful 4 hour sleep, and too tired to eat breakfast, Ian and I grumpily got ready, packed up, and set off for Pitlochry, and the field set aside for participant parking.  Without a rack, our bikes had been dismantled and tetris’d into the back of the car, so we  Ian had to assemble them once we had parked.  We then found Bruce and his friend, and Ian chatted to them while I joined the lengthy portaloo queue.  A quick check of my phone saw messages from Roz and Ny who had managed to get into wave B, but with an even quicker check of the time I realized I wouldn’t be joining them.

Following a less-than-pleasant portaloo session, I re-joined Ian, Bruce and his friend, and we set off for the C wave holding pen, joining the swarm of lycra-clad bodies funneling towards the main road, hopping on our bikes, and crossing the start line.  My heart sank as I realized my legs were not feeling fresh.

Even considering how I was feeling from the beginning, it’s hard not to appreciate the views you get along the route, which begins with a few climbs before running alongside Loch Tummel, circling Loch Rannoch, skirting the summit of Schiehallion, descending into Glen Lyon for a quick loop, then heading back to Pitlochry along both the Tay river, and, for the second time, River Tummel.

etape caledonia route

Etape Caledonia route

One of the main differences from the very start between Loch Ness and Caledonia was that everyone seemed to be riding on their own, or in pairs.  There were no larger groups to latch onto and draft, and when we did pick someone to ride behind, the speed was never consistent; one minute we’d be pushing to keep up, the next I’d be braking to make sure I didn’t clip their back wheel.  We soon found that it was much less stressful to go at our own pace, and avoid the other riders.

Before too long we were approaching the first feed station.  Although still not hungry, the portaloo beckoned once again, so towards yet another queue I journeyed while Ian filled up on snacks (I think there were bananas and energy bars).  20 miles down.  61 to go.

The next 20 miles were reasonably flat alongside Loch Rannoch, and went by without incident.  Ian, who had only been out on his bike 3 times this year, was starting to remember the pain that a saddle can bring, and so we stopped at the second feed station for some pressure relief.  Knowing that the climb was beginning soon, I had some dark chocolate covered marzipan and half a banana before re-mounting my trusty steed and setting off again.

I had already been told that Schiehallion was nowhere near as difficult as the climb at Loch Ness, which was just as well considering my legs felt like dead weights.  Crossing the timing chips, I had no energy to try to keep up with Ian, and just decided to rejoin him at the top of the KOM section.  Ten minutes after losing sight of him, I saw him up ahead, waiting at the side of the road, and although the main climb was over, we still had a bit more uphill to go to the feed station at the ‘top’.

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Etape Caledonia elevation profile

As is customary, the bagpipes were playing to mark the summit, and we stopped briefly to fill up our water bottles before the long-anticipated 5 mile descent into Glen Lyon, before a gently undulating loop, where I cycled past Naomi on her mountain bike (!!), then onto the final feed station.  There was one sight that offered a chuckle along this section:

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We stopped at the final feed station to have a stretch, and then gingerly hopped back onto the bikes for the final slog.  The forecast was also finally starting to get things right, as the sun broke through the clouds and things started getting warm enough (23 degrees) that I was regretting my two long-sleeved thermal tops (and waterproof jacket).  By the last 10 miles, everything apart from my legs was in agony, and I just wanted to be finished.  To my utter dismay, the last 10 miles consists of a few nasty climbs, and at one point I was near tears simply because I couldn’t seem to get my water bottle into its cage.

Finally, a caravan site we had noticed when we started came into view and I knew we had nearly finished.  The clock was ticking, and realizing we could still dip under 6 hours, I pushed hard – uphill – for the final stretch, crossing the line with Ian.

We caught Bruce at the finish, but after we got our medal and handed back our timing chips, we decided just to get going, as I was feeling pretty broken.  I even turned down a cold beer in the sunshine for the opportunity to get home, get showered, and get into bed as quickly as possible.

Although the weather was perfect and the course was beautiful, it just wasn’t my day.  Maybe next year?  I also think I could do with a proper bike fit, as I wouldn’t wish the pain I experienced on my worst enemy.

Etape Loch Ness 2016

Time: 4:29:03 [Full results available here]

Medal: Yes

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First of all, what better way to kick start a weekend away cycling than by popping into a new cycling shop and hanging out with British Olympic gold medalist, Sir Chris Hoy?  Lost for an answer?  That’s because there isn’t one.  Roz and I had the pleasure of listening to Hoy answer questions and perch atop his still-substantial thighs before grabbing a few last minute essentials for our journey (including scoring a free goodie bag for being one of the first 100 customers).

Hoy sandwich

Hoy sandwich

Back home, I triple checked I had everything I needed (including every thermal shirt I own) for the Etape Loch Ness, before waiting for Claudia to pick me up.

The journey to Inverness was marred somewhat by tractors and lorries on the single carriageways – not ideal when you’ve got a deadline to register and make 6pm dinner reservations.  There was definitely some backseat (or, more appropriately, passenger seat) driving.  And swearing.  Our mood was not elevated by the snow and hail being blown horizontally across the road by gales.

No.

No.

Finally, we made it to Inverness, and registration.  Picking up race numbers was relatively quick (just find out your number and queue in the appropriate line), and then Claudia dropped me off near my hotel, where I met Roz and Ny, agreeing to meet downstairs for a drink as soon as I’d dumped my stuff in my room.

Quite a few of us were staying up for the ride the following day, so Roz had booked dinner for us all.  Unsurprisingly, we all opted for all three courses, even asking for a trough of extra pasta to be brought out.

Feeding time.

Feeding time.

After dinner, Aynsley and I went to Roz and Ny’s room for some telly and popcorn (and ‘scary’ stories), before we all decided that we should get some sleep.  I went back to my empty room, as Eilidh had turned down my offer to share a double bed (devastating), so I had to starfish all on my lonesome.  Tiny violins.

Sunday morning was a bit of a struggle to get out of bed, partly due to it being ridiculously early, and partly due to the fact I had cracked the window before I went to sleep and my room was freezing.  I used this is a guide when choosing my clothing for the day: thermals, thermal bib shorts, jacket, balaclava, winter gloves, thermal socks, extra socks, windproof socks, plastic bags around my feet, overshoes, extra overshoes…. And sunglasses.

We had agreed to meet – ready to leave – at 5:45, and once ready we cycled to the race start, which was about 1km from registration.  We were in wave D, leaving at 6:21, and we were ushered into a holding pen until all earlier waves had been set free!

Although we had initially planned to take this as a casual ride, Roz and Sarah seemed keen to go all out (skipping the feed stations/cake stop), which Ny was not happy about.  As soon as we crossed the line, Roz and Sarah shot off, followed closely by Ny, as Aynsley and I fell behind.  After a few minutes, however, Ny reappeared, and thus began the Etape Cake Train.

Etape Loch Ness Elevation/route

Etape Loch Ness Elevation/route

The route is relatively flat until you pass 30 or so miles, which is when you hit the one main climb on the course.  Thankfully, we had plenty of time to warm up before then, and we took full advantage of getting pulled along by some of the faster riders when we could.  Although it was dry with little wind, my feet were screaming, and I was looking forward to the first feed station at around 27 miles to check them out.

We made it to the first feed station in about an hour and a half, and while Ny and Aynsley attacked the cakes, I stripped layers off my feet and tried to massaged some life back into them.  Around this time, Claudia, who started in a slightly later wave, arrived at the feed station, and once everyone was fully kitted up, we set off for the hill!

Within about 5 minutes, Claudia had zoomed off into the distance, but the three of us chugged on towards the starting mat for the King of the Mountain.  As the incline hit, Ny told me she’d wait for me at the top (where I believe there was a spread of cakes), and I watched her butt fade into the sea of lycra above.  We had all made a pact not to get off and push our bikes, but I didn’t find the hill too steep, just a slog.  I was quite surprised at just how many people were walking though.

The hill hits you in three stages, with some downhill relief in between.  Thankfully someone had mentioned that already, so I wasn’t too traumatized when the second and third sections came into view.  It was a nice surprise, however, to hear the piper signifying the end of the climb, and the beginning of familiar territory.

It was here in September, 2012, that I started my first marathon (and my third, tugging a husky-laden sled in 2013), and I was a bit emotional reliving one of the most memorable running events in my life.  From here to the end, I knew exactly what to expect.  I saw Ny at the side of the road and we decided I’d wait until feed station 2 to stop for water, so we set off on one of the most enjoyable downhill sections I’ve ridden.  The sun had come out, the hill was over, the views were beautiful, and I was flying!

It was almost criminal to hit the brakes and waste momentum to hit up feed station 2, but we did.  Not long after Ny and I arrived, Aynsley appeared, and just before we set off, Claudia emerged from the crowd.

Feed station 2

Feed station 2

The four of us set off with feed station 3, and the mythical Harry Gow dream ring, on our minds.  Clearly Ny was the most excited, because she set off with a punishing pace.  I managed to catch her once, but couldn’t hold on.  Instead I enjoyed the course, and the fact that on a bike you get enough momentum to ride over the undulations without too much effort – much easier than running!  I passed the layby where I pulled over my sled for lunch at mile 15 of the marathon, and then saw the luminous signs for feed station 3 up ahead.

As sure as the sun rises in the east, Ny was clutching a dream ring with a smile on her face.  She was even taunting the cyclists who were skipping the feed station by waving it around in the air shouting, “WHY ARE YOU SKIPPING THE DREAM RINGS?!”  I tucked into one myself (verdict: they were pretty amazing after 50+ miles of cycling, but maybe a bit much for a light snack), during which time Aynsley, and then Claudia arrived.

Post dream ring sugar high

Post dream ring sugar high

With around 10 miles to go, we left the station.  Ny flew out in front and I tried to tag along.  I’d been pushing a bit to keep up with her ‘leisurely’ pace, but that dream ring must have worked a treat, because I started feeling a bit stronger.  I managed to catch her up by weaving through cyclists on the now somewhat more congested road, and settled into a steady pace.

We passed a sign for Dores, and I knew that another hill was in store for us.  After the hill it was down and flat to the finish, so for the first time all day, I went in front to tow, and managed to grab onto the wheel of a couple of guys who overtook us.  After the Tesco at the roundabout I was on even more familiar ground, and pushed ahead of the two guys, again weaving round other cyclists.  For the last couple of miles I found another person to draft, and I stuck in behind him until the bridge came into sight.  Expecting a surge from Ny, I went nearly flat out from the bridge to the finish, but rather anticlimactically she had been held up behind other cyclists, finishing seconds behind.

Mud freckles.

Mud freckles.

We rolled through the finishers area, picked up our medal and goodie bag, and then waited for Aynsley, and then Claudia to come through.  Not wanting to be in the way, we decided to just head back to the hotel – where Roz, who had destroyed the course in a shade over 3:45, was relaxing – for a shower and see if anyone wanted to grab a beer/lunch.

There was the traditional thawing-out-the-feet-in-the-shower dance, before getting into some warm clothes and watching the elite runners finishing the London marathon.  Roz and Ny had to head back to Aberdeen, so Aynsley and I walked to a local cafe to meet a couple we knew for some lunch.  Eventually, we were joined by Claudia before heading back to the hotel to pack up the car and head home ourselves, taking the ‘scenic route’ (we missed a turn off).

Overall, a very pretty course.  Slightly undulating with one big climb, weather that was very accommodating considering the temperature, and good company.  That and my fastest average speed for any cycle I’ve ever done!  Chris Hoy was merely the cherry on top of a fantastic Etape weekend!