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.

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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.