It’s getting hard to be first-timer at any race in Striders nowadays. There are so many far-travelled adventurers competing in so many events that there’s often nothing new under the sun. I’d intended to do the Club La Santa Duathlon/Half-Marathon/Triathlon triple back in 2016 but I’m pretty sure even then that Neil Sleeman had already got the t-shirt.
Mon 9 Sep 2019 – Duathlon
The duathlon was first. All these events are done and dusted before breakfast before the weather gets too hot so they’re not massively long, but still long enough to wake you up and give you an appetite. I was looking forward this as my previous attempt in 2016 had given me the dubious honour of DNF’ing after the first monster 2.5 km run stage.
Despite being a remote lump of lava just next door to
Africa, Club La Santa events definitely have their regulars. The route isn’t
complicated but you have to be paying attention to the briefing otherwise a
wrong turn may take you into the supermarket or swimming pool rather than on to
the running track. I was disappointed to hear that the bike section no longer
took a long climb up to Tinajo to turn there with a gleeful descent back to
base, but instead went ‘four times round the lagoon’. Well that sounded fun. It
wasn’t surprising though, as the previous route was on busier roads with the
potential for a high-speed encounter with a speed-bump and a local out to buy
their breakfast in the village of La Santa itself.
It’s a good way to start the day and even though it was a
short event I was mindful of going off too fast and too early. I enjoyed the
bike section more than I expected and just had to concentrate on counting the
laps. It had a couple of bumps and troughs enough that it wasn’t a simple
single-gear time-trial. The finish as with all of their events is a lap of the
running track to finish under the timing tower.
Tue 10 Sep 2019 – Half Marathon
I did this event in Mar 2016, and quite a bit faster too. Perhaps it was cooler then but it was pretty hot today. The route is a simple three lap out-and-back to La Santa, and I was pretty comfortable for the first two. On the third lap the sun was well and truly out of bed and things were hot. I’m not a good hot weather runner but I have a sound strategy for dealing with the heat. I slow down and ease up. It’s the only way. I’ve learned from experience how small my margin of error is when it comes to pushing the envelope in hot weather.
It meant I wasn’t as fast as I would’ve liked, but, on the plus side, it also meant not having surreal conversations with palm trees and unpredictable physiological responses. Half Marathons are an interesting beast; very easy to under-estimate. Another hot weather race, not really in my comfort zone, hard going, but not in trouble either. Still in control of the race.
Wed 11 Sep 2019 – Triathlon
And finally, the fun one. I’m continually fascinated by the
fact that I can run ultras, and cycle rather a long way. But try and do a
length or two of freestyle and I’m gasping at the pool-side in weary
bewilderment. A project.
Although my swimming has improved a little it wasn’t enough for me to have the confidence to venture out of the slow lane. And it was busy. Lots of sign-ups for this event and I got chatting at the start to an Ironman vet. I knew this from the tattoo on her leg, and I suspected she might be reassuringly geeky as it was a tattoo of the periodic table entry rather than the more familiar splodge.
She went into one of the faster swim lanes but I bumped into her at transition as she’d had a poor swim. My improvised hybridised breast-stroke-freestyle had worked out quite well and I was feeling fine. I’m also pretty clueless about triathlon dress-code so I just slipped on my shoes and Striders top and off I went, while some people had brought towels and stuff. I’d forgotten a towel so I was relying on the wind-chill drying me off on the bike section. There was no transition policing as such so I just had to imagine Ian Mackenzie shouting about touching the helmet before the bike. My stuff was at the front of the bike (“Everything happens at the front of the bike”) and my practice with the Tri Club Duathlons had helped a lot. There was only one timing mat per transition, but, geek that I am, I was inventing my own. I’d set my Garmin for Triathlon and so I had to be a little creative about where I decided my transitions had begun and ended.
Ironlady caught me after a lap or two, where I sat on her
wheel for a bit, which I rationalised was ok because others were sitting on
mine. Someone had asked about draughting, and, the response had been that it’s
four laps around the lagoon; it’d be impossible to police, so they weren’t
going to get excited about it. Which I think meant that it was ok. The bike
circuit was windy and in a way that was good as it made it more interesting.
There was a modest climb into the wind, then a section back past the centre
where it was possible to get some good tempo going.
I’d been carefully counting the laps as ironlady gradually
edged away from me. I’m not sure if it was guilt that made me decide to
subconsciously drop back, or whether she was just, you know, faster than me.
But either way, as I was about to turn into transition, she kept on going for
I was pretty, pretty sure I was right, and that I’d done
four laps, but I wobbled, dangerously close to choosing a line that was neither
transition nor another lap. I decided that I was right, and veered away from
the line of parked cars that were in the middle position, and headed for
At the finish I was still unsure how many laps I’d done, and she was pretty sure she was right, but, everyone else was pretty sure she wasn’t, and when I checked my garmin later it confirmed I had been able to count to four. But it just goes to show how easy it is lose count. I mean, four isn’t a very big number.
These events are small but unpredictable. You might be rubbing shoulders with serious athletes who are on some serious training as well as first-timers. A bit like turning up for a fell race and standing on the start line next to a national champion. Great fun, exciting, competitive, and sunny.
Writing from the comfort of a DFDS Ferry after transiting mainland Europe in one day, here’s my account of the Iron Man branded Long Distance Triathlon based at Klagenfurt , Austria 07 July 2019. The run bit’s toward the end, but I had to swim and bike to warm up for it, hope it’s of interest.
Jeez that was a bit of a stress head experience – the weather in the weeks leading up to the event was ringing all the wrong bells – record temps in Europe – severe warnings of danger to life – In 21 years of IM Austria there has only ever been one non wet suit swim before but all the warning signs were there that this was going to be another.
For context there are water temperature thresholds which determine whether a race is deemed either ‘wet suit compulsory’, ‘optional’, or ‘forbidden’. I’m a weak swimmer, and wet suits help some people like me (mainly blokes with heavy, sinky legs) to be more efficient and confident in the water. For me a non-wet suit swim is a big deal, without wearing one there’d be a very likely chance that I’d not make the 2h20m cut off time.
I didn’t follow any web forum threads (I never do – a recipe for headspace disaster imo) – but as I suspected that there’d be a good chance of a non wet suit swim I bought a SwimSkin from Wiggle – It’s an uber tight hydrophobic garment which is some sort of cross between a swimming costume and an industrial strength condom. Still I watched the weather forecast from three different web sites AND logged the reported water temperature – it never exceeded 23C and was forecast to go down – that would be OK, just….. except that the break in the weather as forecast kept slipping back, and the temp stayed high. Not till I got to the race venue in Klagenfurt did i start to get unsolicited info about water temp being >26C (24.5C is the non wet suit threshold for age group athletes), & even then one didn’t know whether or not that was competitor hyperbole, or swim wear vendors plying for sales.
I was really miserable – I know how hard it is to navigate this particular swim course – instead of being 3.8k it’s previously been up to 4.2k at worst – the chances of me DNF’ing the swim were huge.
OK so I’ve been doing loads of fresh water swim training recently – but even so the maths are very close sans wetsuit…… and without one I’m even more nervous and afraid of, getting breathless in, open water – it all serves to slow things down. I even thought about shaving my legs!! I mean WTF – is that even a thing????
I also bought some neoprene shorts – I tried them over the Swim Skin (or as it has become known in some quarters: my ‘Body Sheath’! it felt worse than just the Body Sheath (BS) and It really was too warm to swim in the wet suit (a bit like being boiled in a bag) whereas wearing only the BS felt cool and easy BUT the timing – I’m so slow at swimming ….. aargh.
In the race briefing on Saturday when they confirmed it would be a non wet suit swim it was a relief tbh, at least I knew what to prepare for – the organisers made an error and said calf guards were OK but nothing else was to be worn below the knee or elbow.
There was a cheer from a small part of the crowd which I thought was pretty shit – they (the cheerers) were never going to be obliged to wear wet suits themselves, so what was the point of the cheering other than to make already nervous people even more so. Loads of hubbub in the crowded race briefing – so much so that the official intervened and said something like ‘stop – its disrespectful talking over me while I’m trying to do a briefing’.
Questions were invited and I asked them to clarify the ‘calf guard / nothing below the knee’ thing – which they did for those who’d gone to the front to ask, and also for the German briefing which followed. No rubber, no neoprene and nothing below the knee or elbow.
Nevertheless there was a massive rush on neoprene shorts in the expo – the vendors were having a field day!
A guy (a German guy) came up to me in the hotel later that day (after the English and German briefings that he clearly hadn’t attended) and asked me “is wet suit forbidden?” My chance had come – after years and years of ‘entertaining’ folk (!) with my ‘flair for languages’ ! (I reckon to be fluent in any language within an hour of arriving in a country – this usually equates to speaking very poor french at people no matter where I am, and shrugging and mumbling a lot) I was FINALLY able to use my one and only true German phrase (“for you ze var is over” doesn’t count) – and I delivered it with flair and passion……. “Wetsuit ….:.ES IST VERBOTEN” I said.
Perhaps it was the same bloke, who knows, but shortly afterwards someone was observed removing their bike and both transition bags from the transition area. I haven’t looked at the DNS / DNF lists yet – but I’ll bet there was more than one DNS (see epilogue).
Anyhow – once it was confirmed, it was what it was, a Non Wetsuit Swim! – I ignored the chit chat and did my thing – controlled what I could, left the rest to fate and got the bike and run stuff ready and put it in transition. Then I returned to the digs – had dinner and three rounds of pudding and went to bed at 20:00 for a 03:00 alarm (I’d been going to bed and getting up a little earlier each day for a week to try and adjust my body clock, so this was an hour earlier than I’d moved it to).
PRE RACE PLAN:
03:00 • Alarm Denial Ritual • Ablutions (very important – another one week of pre race body clock conditioning) • Smother self in Butt’rrrr • Get into all Tri Suit / swim gear except ‘Body Sheath’, swim hat, and goggles.
04:00 • Breakfast – to be completed no later than 2.5 hours before swim start – needs to be digested before 07:30 swim start
05:00 • Go back to Transition – put food, energy drinks and Garmin on bike. • Blow up the tyres. • Switch on the lights and Garmin
05:30 • Back to Hotel • Breathe
06:00 • Double Espresso • Walk to race start
06:30 • Get into Body Sheath!
OK here we go. I’m wearing white hotel slippers – a Body Sheath – a rubber hat and a pair of tinted goggles – it’s not a good look. I’ve self seeded (yes it’s a thing) into a predicted swim speed pen with 3000 or so other similarly clad peeps, many of whom (at my end of the pen) also look scared witless – non wet suit swims are not a popular pastime.
There’s a bunch of marshals looking out for folk wearing illegal kit and a big pile of confiscated neoprene shorts, socks and calf guards. As I approach the start gate I guesstimate about 5 minutes to go before I get to the front and have an energy gel – any sooner and if I wasn’t active my body would think I didn’t need it and initiate an insulin response which would lower my blood sugar and be counter productive.
We were released into the beautiful turquoise water of Lake Wörthersee in groups of 4 every 5 seconds.
So there I was, where I thought I’d never be, at the start of a NON WET SUIT IM-Triathlon swim!!
So now it really matters – ever since my dad tried to teach me to swim (age 5) by getting me to jump into a pool and then NOT catching me I’ve never liked swimming (!) – Even now, despite the best efforts and advice of many well meaning but occasionally conflicting coaches – I’m pretty sh@t at it. UNLESS I’m absolutely calm, and in total control, swimming to me is a bit like being waterboarded in a hypoxic sensory depravation chamber. To get through a race I have to stay calm, stay aerobic, sight to way-markers one by one, not lose my cool when swam over, kicked in the head or my vision is blocked by a paddle board mounted swim marshal. In this, my first IM distance race without the safety aid of a wet suit, the first section is crowded – I’m getting punched and kicked and swam into – but the sun is behind me and I can see my way – I tick off one yellow route marker buoy at a time – breaking it into manageable chunks. Sooner than expected I (think I) see what the race brief said would be a red triangular 90 degree direction change buoy – it wasn’t – it was a marshal on a paddle board in a red t shirt and he/she was moving – so I’d been heading to a moving object and was off course – CALM – BREATHE – finish every stroke – smile sweetly at the marshals – say “thank you marshal”.
When I eventually reach the YELLOW (not red at all) triangular 1st 90 degree direction change buoy I turn left – I breath to the left – the sun is rising above the mountains to my left – I’m totally blinded to my breathing side; so I close my eyes and only open them every 10 strokes when I want to peek forward to keep on course to the next buoy.
Left again at the next Triangular buoy – this time straight into the rising sun – I can’t see a bl@@dy thing foreword – just occasional silhouettes – this is the worst bit, I’m supposed to be finding the entrance to a canal from the expanse of a lake – I can see the occasional silhouette of a paddle board and some yacht masts – I know there’s a marina near to the canal entrance – blind logic – breath – finish every stroke – stay calm – repeat.
Into the canal – another 1200m or so, there are people lining the side – looking at their watches – looking behind me – I mustn’t be last if they are looking behind me – but I have no idea at all what time it is. I keep on keeping on – reach – stroke – finish it – breath – reach stroke finish it – breath ….. the bank side is moving slowly by – I collide with a tree root – then a patch of lily pads – there are boats moored to the side, their outboard motor oil stinks in the water – I can see the marshals at the swim exit – 100m or so to go – crowds and marshals are screaming at me – I reach the ramp and what seems like a thousand arms descend and drag me out of the water COME ON … What time is it? – It doesn’t matter GO GO GO – FFS I’ve made it with FIVE minutes to spare!!!! I later learn that someone behind me made it with TWO SECONDS to spare!
TRANSITION 1 – SWIM to BIKE
A light touch is required – I’ve got a v short time to get in and through before it too is closed – I strip off the Body Sheath, grab my bike bag, run into the ladies area of the changing tent – nobody cares – there’s no body there – they’re all miles ahead – Slap on some more Butt’rrrr and get my bike kit on – bike shoes – helmet – a quick waz – grab the bike and GO GO GO.
This is my best bit, this is where it all comes together for me, it’s like skiing on freshly groomed motorway width pistes & I LOVE IT. The course had been modified since I last did this race two years ago – I’d driven the (new for this year) Northern Loop in the VW Fun Bus a few days earlier – it seemed to be gently sloping up and down and with largely smooth surfaces (from the comfort of Das Bus that is) – I was really looking forward to it. I came out of transition, got up on the pedals, and off.
Everyone I go past on the bike course in triathlons has been quicker than me in the swim – it’s great for the ego. First one, then another; I need to keep a check here, and not get carried away…then they started coming thick and fast. Rules are ‘no drafting on the bike’ you can’t get close to another rider without then getting past them in a very short time – or you get a five minute time penalty – DQ for repeat offenders. That’s created a problem – it meant that on what had appeared to be gentle, smooth steady paced climbs from Das Bus I kept having to put in bursts of power to get quickly past each successive one time fast swimmer (now slow cyclist) competitors; and the motorcycle mounted draft buster marshals were being a bit zealous in their mission. I got one informal talking to, so after that I was more careful. The effect was that I wasn’t as consistent in the bike as I might have been – much more on and off – a bit of holding back till I got a decent descent and could take a few bikes out at a time. But once the field had thinned out a bit I was off again.
There’s different schools of thought on cycling in Triathlon (Quelle Surprise!) One endorses slow cadence, high torque, low HR – the other fast cadence, low torque, higher HR. Both give you the same net power, but they each rely on different energy systems and related predominant fuel. I’m a fan of the latter, shredding your leg muscles and bruising joints by overloading them for 180k is really bad way to warm up for a marathon. So I get my HR into Zone 4, drink near constant glucose & fructose mix for fuel and hydration, eat Nak’d Bars and Banana and spin it out – flying.
As you approach the end of the new Northern Loop and start to drop back down toward the Wörthersee you can see over the lake to the far side of the Southern Loop and the mountain ranges that form the border with Slovenia – fantastic..that’s where I’m heading now. But first back past the transition area – through the screaming fan zone – up on the pedals to get the carbon wheels singing – and off again … off along the Southern shore of the Wörthersee towards Velden – but what’s this – strange, feels a bit like hard work, feels a bit WINDY, it cant be .. surely …
BOOM – CRASH – KARUMBA – KRACKLE – A bit like the storm that broke the summer of 2018 on the same weekend as The Lakeland 100 and the Outlaw Triathlon – A HYOWJ thunderstorm hit the Karentan area of Austria just as I was mid way between Klagenfurt and Velden on the shore of the Wörthersee. There was washed out soil and tree debris everywhere – The wind was catching my wheels and throwing me about, the rain at lake level (hail in the mountains) soaked the roads and riders. Folk didn’t seem to know what to do. I passed cyclists sheltering under bridges and in barns. I saw at least three who had taken their helmets off (I’ve no idea why) and were heading back toward the race HQ. WTF, I thought, surely to hell they haven’t black flagged the race for a bit of WEATHER – jeez, it was little more than Sunny Sunday TriClub Cycle to Sedgefield. When I arrived at the next aid station it was clear that they’d had a bit of a panic at race HQ, but NO Black Flag (phew) – the storm passed and I shot off West then looped back to the South then East – up over the infamous Rupetisburg Hill Climb – I didn’t even notice it. There were no cow bell dingling spectators on that part of the course this year (no brollies or wellies I guess) which was a shame, but it’s amazing how much harder a hill climb is when there’s shed loads of graffiti on the road and crowds lining the route shouting HOPHOPHOP to tell you that it is one.
The last 20k of the Southern Loop, is mainly downhill and smooth – a guy cycles up beside me (no draft buster marshals survived the thunder storm) and tells me about his recent puncture. ‘Have you got a spare tube?’ ‘Yes sure’ I say. ‘What about CO2?’ ‘That too’, my retort. So he drops back – and I wonder what he’s thinking. Then he cycles up again, ‘I’ll just slip in behind you then’ he says.
I’m wondering if he’s expecting me stop and give him a tube, or perhaps even the full Convoi Exceptionalle / National Breakdown service so – I reach for my easy access CO2 and hand him the canister. ‘Look mate, happy to help but if you want the tube you’ll have to stay ahead of me’.
He slips in behind but despite the massive assistance afforded by slip streaming me he drops back…. and I’m off again.
I know the course, it feels fast – this bike is a joy to ride – mountains turn to pasture, trees to deciduous, I can smell the lake again, hear the hum of the city and then the transition zone, the Pros and young folk with brand new bodies are on the run course – some have even FINISHED it (b@stards). I fly through the suburbs, past the sports stadium, waved through red lights by the police and into T2.
TRANSITION 2 – BIKE to RUN
7 hours for 180k for the bike is slower than envisaged by about 45 mins. Add that to the 45 min excess swim time and I’m running out of contingency time for the run! Another light touch required – no brewing up or making sarnies. Why do I do this again? .. oh well COME ON…. rack the bike, grab my run bag, towel out on the floor, change socks and shoes (all pre prepped with Johnson’s finest baby powder). Helmet, gloves, shoes all in the bag, turn the race number belt around and off, but something doesn’t quite feel right…
…. Something wasn’t right – there was a distinct mass in the undercarriage department – had I followed through with one of those post gel farts ??? Thankfully not, I’d forgotten to take my bike shorts off – the rain and sweat sodden chamois swinging about like a well hung baboon and knocking me off my stride. No worries , I give the crowd a laugh, took them off with a burlesque flourish and flung them to the baying crowd – hilarious.
And off we go, round three, a 42.2k run. It’s so important to get this right and not blow up. We’ve all heard about hitting WALLS in marathons, but that’s really just running out of fuel, esp the carbs / glycogen fuel needed to run in HR zone 4 and above – it’s hard if not impossible to replenish glycogen at the rate it’s consumed over the course of a marathon distance, so we get that WALL thing at c.30k when there’s nothing left. So here I am I’ve just swam for 2h15m and cycled for 7h in a purposeful HR Z4, and despite constant fuelling on the bike I’m already glycogen deficient and now it’s time to do the marathon.
After blowing up early at both Paris and The Northumberland Coastal Marathons earlier in the year due to fuelling anomalies, my strategy for this race was to start and stay well sub threshold for the whole distance – I wanted to start and keep my HR in the Low Zone 3 region and be more reliant on Fats than Glucose for fuel. I’d already stacked up on ham and cheese croissants during the latter part of the bike course and I set out to start each run section slowly allowing my pace to steadilly and sustainably increase so that I never went into an oxygen debt – and if my HR crept up toward Z4 I’d back off. Note: training for that sort of run strategy is best done alone – it’s embarrassing – but it works.
So I shuffled off – past an already busy finish line grandstand – and toward the town of Krumpendorf. Feed stations are every 3k or so, and at each I walked though, swigged flat coke, iso, and a splash of water; ate a slice of melon, a lump of banana and two pretzels – then I’d get on my tip toes, walk tall, reach my hands up high, stretch out and slowly get back to an exaggerated easy shuffle which then morphs into a sustainable easy run.
From Krumpendorf it was back to the Grandstand, collect lap band #1 then out to Klagenfurt City Centre. In Klagenfurt it’s all so very café culture – the bars and restaurants do a great trade while the competitors run through the cobbled streets dinging a charity bell. Back along the canal tow path to the Grandstand and out toward Krumpendorf again.
So by now the Grandstand is in full swing and I’ve still got another half marathon to run. As I left the hum of the Grandstand behind it tended toward dusk, the aid stations were running out of stuff, it’s a quiet part of the course and frankly a little bit mentally taxing to ‘keep on keeping on’ when out Krumpendorf way. It’s time to start to count – 1 & 2 & 3 & 4, fiver, sixer, seven, eight, all the way to 100, then repeat, then repeat, then repeat ….. eventually back to the Grandstand area and collect lap band #2.
By now it’s properly dark, and remember that avoiding the 30k wall thing ? Well this is where it pays off – I keep it going, walk the aid stations, fuel, fluid and caffeine – restart…… But it’s starting to hurt now – I’m still keeping the intended pace and HR zone but my quads are complaining, my hamstrings are tight, and I get a bit of a wobble on when the ground goes uneven. I walk the subway descents and ascents so as not to pull a calf.
As I approach Klagenfurt for the final time I actually begin to wonder if I’m going to make the time cut off – I’ve stopped being able to do basic maths and I can’t work out how long I have left to finish or how far it is – but I take comfort (of sorts) in the fact that there’s no broom waggon in sight and there are still loads of other folk on the course.
Back to the park near the finish line & grandstand – the distance signs say different things (as they do on any multi laps course – Kielder is the worst!) and I can’t recall which signs are relevant and whether they mean distance ‘completed’ or ‘to go’ – I get to one that says 3k – surely it can’t be – and then Boom there’s the ‘turn here to finish sign’.
I turn the corner and it comes upon me a bit quicker than I’d expected – didn’t have time to lose my rabbit caught in the headlights expression …. but the Grandstand is BOUNCING– the finishing shoot resplendent – dancing girls in full swing – cheesey tunes mixed into the best apres ski sound track you’ve ever heard – It’s fantastic. IM is one of the few event companies (of my experience) that know how to do a finish line properly (the other being ‘Challenge’), and this one is no exception – it’s fantastic.
The support for the last finisher is unreal – then when the final cut off of 17 hours ticks over and there’s Fireworks over the Wörthersee.
What a Day – a non wet suit IM Triathlon in the bag – and #5 of 10 (or so!) done.
The results include 8 (web) pages of folk who have dns or dnf against there names and a few dq’s. I don’t know how this compares to previous years but It feels like a lot. As well as the normal collection of finishers in their 60’s and 70’s (occasionally 80’s) who are an absolute inspiration – there was one guy there who at close of play Sunday had completed 252 (two hundred and fifty two) IM distance triathlons – I’m still trying to work that one out!
Eighteen months ago I was sitting on the sofa 3 stone heavier with a cake in one hand and beer in the other and had a sudden realisation that something needed to change. I needed to do a Thing. A Big Thing. I decided I liked the idea of a full ironman-distance triathlon. I think I may have had several beers by this point.
Over the next few weeks I deliberately told many people of my plan, so I couldn’t bottle out. One of these people was Neil Sleeman, whose enthusiasm for the idea was considerable (and who’s help and encouragement was hugely appreciated throughout). After discussing the idea with Neil, and a friend from work, Helen Drinkall from Durham Tri, I settled on the Nottingham Outlaw, regarded as a friendly and well organised event (and a fair few quid less than a well-known alternative). Helen decided to sign up, and Neil’s wife Corrina decided he would sign up too (doubt this would be a welcome surprise in many households!).
The training started slowly – it was a long road ahead. I concentrated on the running for the first few months, to try and regain some basic fitness and lose some weight. Looking back I was amazed to see the sum total of my ‘competitive’ running in 2015 comprised just 2 parkruns. It was here that I began, trying to find the motivation to drag myself out each Saturday morning. I signed up for Raby Castle 10k in May 2016 and managed a respectable 42.26, which lifted my confidence a bit, as did Hamsterley 11M (1hr.24) in the July. A disaster at the Northumberland Coastal Marathon in September was a wake-up call as I collapsed with cramp 4 miles from the end, eventually dragging myself over the line in 4hr.51. I had never suffered from cramp before, but it was a useful lesson in nutrition and hydration.
By the autumn I had shifted a few pounds and was running pretty well. I decided that I would try to use my anticipated fitness to target 2017 to PB in all standard distances 5k-marathon and get into the medium pack for the Harrier League. Over the winter I did manage pretty decent performances in the Harrier League, but not quite good enough – missing out on the medium pack at Thornley 2 by 1 place (and 1 second!). I also managed a handful of fell races (still chuffed to make it 1st strider home at Captain Cook). I had by now actually purchased a bike as well (crucial in triathlons). This was set up on a turbo trainer in the spare room and didn’t actually make it out on to a road until May.
At some point in the spring it was explained to me that there were cut-off times for both the swim and bike. This was a very big oversight as I had been relying on a strong run to get inside the overall cut-off of 17hrs. I realised I might not actually make it as far as the run. The swim cut-off is 2hr, and a further 8hr for the bike. Weekly swim sessions and regular cycling followed. A PB at Druridge Bay Marathon in April (and 1st M40!), a standard Olympic distance triathlon (2hr 52) at the same venue a few weeks later. All felt like it was going well…….
Suddenly it’s 3am on the morning of the Big Thing. I’m in the Premier Inn (very convenient-recommended) 6 miles from the venue at the National Watercourse Centre and it’s time to get up. Gulp.
I meet Helen and Neil in the lobby and we drive across to the centre, having racked our bikes and filled our transition bags the day before. We faffed for a bit and I tried not to think about the fact that I had only lake-swam twice, and only ever managed half the distance in training (even less than half for the bike). The weather forecast had been miserable and I was also concerned about cycling in wet conditions (something else I had avoided in training), but despite a heavy downpour the night before the clouds gradually cleared and the sun shone across the lake.
I necked a gel, a couple of ibuprofen (just in case) and 4 Rennie (I usually feel bloated after a swim from gasping for too much air and swallowing water). Then we were off. The swim course is very straightforward, up the left hand side of the lake, across the top and back down the other side (even I didn’t get lost). I started right at the back and gave everyone 30 seconds head start to give myself some space. There was little breeze and the water was very calm. I knew that when I try to go to fast I mess up my rhythm and panic sets in leading too much spluttering and thrashing about. I set off slow and steady, checked my watch at the turn to make sure I was on time, and knowing I was comfortable, built up the pace a little on the way back. Easy peasy- I actually enjoyed it! Out of the water and there were strippers on hand to drag your wetsuit off, then into the marquee-tented transition. A slow and careful change into my bike kit, another gel and out to the bike rack and on to the next stage.
I did a slowish loop of the lake, getting adjusted to being upright and tried to get comfortable on the seat (impossible for me). The course comprises a mix of open rural roads, closed lanes and a relatively short section on a scary-as-hell busy main road. It was all reasonably flat apart from one hill about 50 miles in, and I managed to keep an average speed of around 16mph. The support on the way round was great. The village green of Car Colston was used by many as a place to picnic while waiting for a fleeting glimpse of their loved ones. The first time through it I saw no one (bit deflated) but second time around I passed Neil coming the other way (1.5-2hr ahead?, never saw him again!). Immediately after I passed both families cheering me on – loved it, what a boost!
Coming in to transition was a huge relief as by now the uncomfortable seat felt like a nail pointing somewhere you really don’t want a nail pointing. I was also very glad to be on to a discipline I felt competent in. A smooth transition and I jogged around the lake feeling surprisingly spritely. Again steady was key, and yet more gels. Feed stations every 1.5miles allowed exhausted competitors to grab whatever, whenever. The route took you around the lake then a double loop (like rabbit ears tying your laces) out passed the City Ground and Trent Bridge. I had many childhood memories from these parts which occupied my thoughts on the last few hours.
I passed Anita Clementson coming the other way, and then Helen. It was nice to see friendly faces after the relative loneliness of the cycle (no drafting rules prevent chatting). The support from the marshals was awesome- Thank you all! After 22miles I could feel my hamstrings getting dangerously tight and decided to walk – I knew I would make it. I walk/jogged the last bit. A guy jogged alongside “we have 15min to get the last 1km done and break 13hr 30. Shall we do it?” Hell yes! So Jim and I ran to the line.
As you reach the last 100m Outlaw allow your children to wait by the track for you, and join you to cross the line. This was one of the best moments of my life, I’m very glad to share it.
Team ‘Ladies That Tri’ were all set for their next adventure! The Team today was Sam Askey, Gayle Forster, Megan Bell and I. Helen Rodgers unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute due to a shoulder injury, but very kindly came along to support us and marshal, as did her daughter Emily.
We set off early from Durham, which turned out to be good as during the drive up the A1 the bikes slipped sideways on the bike rack!.. three times! On the third time Helen had the cunning plan to put one of the bikes inside the car and have only two on the rack. We pulled over, and Sam immediately jumped out and expertly got into action, confidently asking ‘Shall I take the front wheel off?’ Get in! Once all was secure Emily sat next to the bike in the very back of the car with the many bags and the cakes may have been squished by my bike! Emily chatted away happily. We talked about the diving boards at the Stanhope Outdoor pool. I applaud her no-fear attitude. I think I’ll be sticking to the small slide in the baby pool.
And so we arrived bikes intact! Megan met us there and after registering, we all took our cycles and stuff round to transition on the grass outside the pool. I was number 17, straight after Anita Dunseith’s husband. Anita was also there supporting him! Anita wanted to see my bike, ‘Is it that one?’ she said pointing to a rather impressive looking blue machine…ha ha! ‘ No, its this one I said’ ‘Oh! She said, looking at my bike, ‘But where is your water bottle?’ and I pointed out my extra large water bottle standing next to the bike and the box of squished cakes that I had sneaked into transition!
After a thorough and helpful race briefing by Sue Heppell, the race organiser, numbers 1 to 10 lined up ready to get into the pool! Helen kindly sat in the viewing area to take photos! The rest of us waited around the poolside. Megan, Sam and Gayle all had high numbers-in the 40’s, so I bid my good lucks and lined up myself as it was getting near to my turn! Anita’s husband was off, and then it was a shout of ‘10 seconds to go’ from the marshal, and then a ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go!’for me! My plan was to swim the first length slowly, then to increase pace and swim the last length hard. This plan was because you aren’t able to warm up in the pool before the race, and last time I had set off fast and then felt like I could not breath after two metres! So my swim went much better this time, and being more familiar with the pool this time I felt more confident as I knew what the bottom looked like. I got out of the pool, waved to the others and pattered into the transition area!
T1 Attack! Had been the plan. I had planned to start counting -the idea being that I had to be out of transition by 30! But this did not happen as I found I couldn’t count and concentrate at the same time! Instead I just focussed on the task in hand and just went as quick as I could. Got the helmet on the wrong way round at first, ha ha, but other than that all was good!, and I grabbed the bike and ran out!
On mounting my bike the first problem was that my bum slid around on my bike saddle like a penguin on ice! Last time I had worn a swimming costume and the skin-saddle friction had kept my bum in place. But this time I had opted for a swimming costume with short legs, meaning there was only swimming costume in contact with the saddle ! I charged up the hill cranking up the gears whilst sliding about! Getting the speed up was good and it was lovely to be out on a warm summers evening riding along the post rush hour roads of Ponteland. The sun was still up casting long shadows. I was really enjoying it and had to remind myself it was a race, and to keep on it! I caught up two cyclists and over took! Then saw three more in the near distance and was gaining on them! I caught them up, overtook, but then as I changed down gears to go round a roundabout the chain came off my bike! Oh no! I yanked my bike to the side of the road, turned it upside down and in a flash got the chain back on..but not fast enough for the 5 people I had just passed to now pass me! I felt so relived that this mishap had been within my only area of bike expertise! The bike I had before this one was a £50 hunk of iron purchased for it’s ‘strong and stable’ quality. It weighed 50 tonnes. It was so ‘strong and stable’ that it didn’t go up hills, and didn’t go very well down them either as downhill meant chain fall-off. Every trip resulted in oily hands!
I peddled on furiously and was pleased to pass those riders again. Up to the top of the road, left turn and more uphill! I pushed on breathing heavily. I was afraid to change gear on the left side in-case the chain came off again, so stuck to using the gears on the right side and hoped for the best! I was going as fast as I could but one after another four cyclists overtook me! Oh no! I doubted I’d see them again as soon the route would be all downhill, and downhill cycling was not my forte! I saw it as a pure ‘face the fear’ challenge! Soon I was onto that said downhill road, with its areas of lumpy tarmac (filled in potholes). A few turns, waits at roundabouts, onwards and the leisure centre was insight! Yes!
T2 I am extremely proud of ( if I do say myself !) I whizzed in, put down bike, helmet off, top off and ran ! One nano second! Way hay! (OK slight exaggeration but it was sooo much better than last time!) I even forgot about the cakes! I pegged it out and onto the run route.
Great to be running! It seemed so much simpler and easier than swimming or cycling! I ran down the footpath, past quite a few dog walkers this time , and kept going. Then much to my surprise, as I reached the top of the path I saw ahead two of the cyclists that had passed me! Could I possibly be gaining on them? I was! Even better, as I turned the corner on to the road I saw all of the 4 riders who had overtaken me on the bike in a line ahead! No way! Yes way! This gave me a boost and I worked hard and ran past each one! No one ahead in sight now, oh dear, this meant navigation, but actually it was fine as I remembered the route, and I also knew it was not far, so I kept the pace up. As I ran down the hill I spotted Megan, closely followed by Sam, running towards me at the start of their run! Waves and cheers as we passed each other! There was the leisure centre, past the marshals, (bikes and runners everywhere!), round the corner and sprint finish up the finishing funnel! …And collapse and sit down!
After I got my breath back I stood with Emily, handed some squashed cakes, and then Helen came round and we were all there to cheer Megan, Sam and Gayle in! They all had big smiles on their faces! So pleased they had enjoyed it. It had been Sam and Gayles first triathlons! So super well done for them! After celebrations we gathered ourselves and our paraphernalia and retreated to a Costa coffee for recovery!
I really enjoyed this race, just as much as the first time. But this time I felt more confident. It has also made me realise how complicated triathlon can be, so many things can go wrong! One area it highlighted for me is that I would like learn more bike stuff, like taking wheels off and mending punctures, using gears right etc. It could all be very helpful! And I think Sam would be the person to ask!
Eeek! I can see through the window that a big car has pulled up outside my house! With bikes on the back! They’re actually here! Yippee! Quick dash to bathroom to replace toothbrush, dash back to get watch..the kids have already opened the front door and I can hear Helen talking with them. Grabbing many bags of stuff, I rush downstairs to greet Helen and Nina who have come to whisk me away to Ponteland to do my first triathlon!
Let me introduce us! We are team ‘Ladies that Tri’. Comprising Helen and Nina, veterans of the triathlon, and myself, a runner who’s front crawl was recently described by a mystified general public swimming pool user as ‘you look like you are trying to run in the swimming pool.’ I am a recent learner of the front crawl! Having spent years thinking ‘I wish I could do that’ at the start of this year I thought ‘Well why not?’ I joined the Durham Tri club in January and went regularly to the Saturday 5.30pm sessions. I massively thank Bob, Jean, Amanda, Ian and Ellen for their excellent and enjoyable tuition. They are fantastic coaches! I have got much enjoyment from front crawl! I didn’t realise how different to breast stroke it was until now. You only get to see what’s below you for a start! I was now curious to try a triathlon and the Ponteland Go Tri events for beginners seemed a good place to start.
Helen drove up the A1. Our three power machines were attached to the back of the vehicle. I am quite attached to my bike and was pleased to see it travelling in style! I’d like to say our arrival at the Ponteland Leisure Centre was cool and smooth, perhaps even gaining psychological advantage over any fellow competitors arriving at the same time, but it was not as unfortunately I remained locked in the car as Helen and Nina got out and started sorting the bikes as I could not work out how to unlock the door!
Nina and Helen were extremely helpful. It was great going with them! They showed me where everything was (lockers, toilets, registration, transition lines on the ground) and gave me numerous excellent tips such as how to organise my pile of stuff in the transition zone! Before long a crowd of people in active wear were gathered for the briefing before the start. The lady that organises these events was very welcoming. It turned out that quite a few of us were doing our first triathlon! A group photo was taken at the start in celebration which was supportive. My only concern at that moment was that looking around I appeared to be the only person wearing a swimming hat and googles. Hummm. Was anyone else planning to do the swim bit? Ah! It turned out that this was because people get in the pool one at a time in 15 second intervals, so there would still a bit of a wait for most!
There was a call for the first 10 swimmers to line up at the side of the pool! Eeek! That included me! They organise it so the slowest people go into the pool first. When I signed up I had no idea of my time to swim 8 lengths so I had put down 45 minutes to be on the safe side. But this meant that now, I was second person to get into the pool!! Although I was nervous, I was very excited and the pool looked well inviting!
When it was my time to go I got a countdown from 5! By ‘4’ I had changed my mind about a star jump entry. It looked a bit deep. I slid into the pool in a ‘I’m going down a water slide way’ during the ‘3, 2, 1’ and managed to start on the ‘Go!’ And it was great to be swimming again! Also a little scary as to the anticipation of the surge of bodies that would undoubtedly be trying to get past very soon! I kept going as best I could! A little disoriented at times as the bottom of this pool looked different to Freeman’s Quay, so at the end of each length I checked to make sure I was on the correct side of the lane. The course was to swim up and down each lane once, by ducking under the lane ropes to change lanes, thereby finishing at the other side of the pool. I kept going! The first swimmer to pass me gave me a wide berth! Phew! ..I waited for more to pass but no-one did and soon I was climbing up the steps out of the pool!
In trepidation I gingerly walked outside to the transition area on the grass outside the building. Hummm, there were only a few people out. I had a feeling that I ought to be waiting for everyone else? It was a bit strange! I put my trainers and jacket on then waited a bit for Nina who was also out of the pool. I followed another girl who was ready to go and looked like she knew what she was doing. However, once out of the new- to -me -zone- of- transition, I felt more confident. OK, this was a bike ride now! (And very usefully we had arrived early to Ponteland and Helen has driven us around the course! ) So I rode at a pace I thought would be best, which given it was a short course, I decided this should be as fast as I could go! I chased the girl ahead! She was powering up the hill! I followed in hot pursuit, feeling competitive now! But randomly after a few hundred metres some small, long brown things fell out of her bike bag onto the road. They looked like cigars !? Whatever they were, they must have been important as she swore loudly and stopped immediately to pick them up. I asked if she was OK as I passed. She said she was so I carried on.
Goodness, I was now in the lead on the course (although obviously not in time)! I pushed my feet down hard on the peddles continuing up the hill, I needed to do this as fast as possible as I didn’t want anyone to catch me, especially given my head start! I was also determined as I wanted to see how I might fare in this triathlon lark! I made sure I was always out of breath, except for on the down hills where my aim was to go as fast as possible without falling off the bike! Its a very good course. Gradual uphill for the first half, then gradual downhill for the second half. And all left turns bar one! Whizzing back downhill to the Leisure centre I hoped I would not miss the turning, but it was well marshalled! I turned the corner, and Helen’s kids were there cheering me on, bless them! It was a short push-bike -and-run without bashing your ankles into the transition area.
In transition, I had a big fight with my jacket. The zip got stuck! So the hole I was trying to get my head out of was small! I tugged and pulled at it, which made the zip travel further up so the head hole just got smaller and smaller until the zip was stuck right at the top! Aghh! I tore my glasses off and gave a final yank of effort squeezing my head through the hole which felt like removal of half my face skin! After this impromptu facial beauty treatment was over I noticed a guy had caught me up and was just entering transition. I ran out as fast as I could! Back through the taped transition exit, onto the run route! More kind cheers from Helen’s kids as I went past!
The run route headed round the corner, then onto a footpath. My legs didn’t seem to get going as quickly as I wanted them too. Maybe due to a circulation thing from being on the bike? Anyhow I strode on as fast as I could. I couldn’t actually remember how far it was but I knew it was a very short length as it was a mini-triathlon and knew that this meant run as hard as you can. There was no-one on the path for ages then I saw some dog walkers in the distance. Oh dear! My active wear now constituted a swimming costume and, erm, trainers..Ha ha ha! Living on the edge! I ran faster in-case they called the police. Half way down the track, the guy who I’d seen behind me caught me up and overtook. Aghh! I chased his heels! Round a corner and we were now both running down the grass verge of a busy main road in swim wear! At the end of this road, the route went along the pavement of the road straight back to the leisure centre. I recognised this from the bike route so knew it was not far so pushed the pace a bit. Back past transition and I gathered myself for a final effort to sprint to the finish flags! Gasping for breath at the end I was handed a rather nice goodie back containing welcome water, cereal bar and a smart sports bottle! I hadn’t expected anything for a £10 race entry fee! I downed the water then went round the corner to wait for Helen and Nina to cheer them on. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, supportive and friendly event!
I am signed up to do this event again and was interested to compare my times to the lady that came first. My run time was the same as hers. She was 3 minutes quicker on the bike and 1 minute quicker in the swim. She also spent a lot less time in transition. As its such a short event, it seems that every second counts. I think I can easily improve my overall time by being much faster in transition and next time my plan is to start counting in my head when I enter transition, and aim to be out the other side by the time I reach 30! As far as decreasing my time for the other elements maybe there could be different approaches. Perhaps I could just try to do everything faster, or focus on what I am best at, running, and try to decrease my time for that. I can also now give them a more accurate swim time which means I can be more ‘in the midst’ of the action and perhaps get a more realistic race experience? In terms of enjoyment I was surprised to enjoy the bike bit most! The swim and run bits were just a bit too short for me. I look forward to trying this event again with these plans from the experience I have gained!
I had big plans for the week. I was going to do the triple: Half-Marathon, Duathlon, and Mini-Triathlon. Then I saw the Lanzarote Marathon was on the same week, and entered that too. I clearly hadn’t thought this through.
I picked up a calf-strain in the last few kms of the marathon and hoped to shoogle it out by some gentle jogging on the volcanic trails around La Santa. The half-marathon wasn’t going to happen, but the other two were still possible. And with more optimism than sense I turned up for the duathlon. 2.5km run, a bit of cycling, then another run. Should be fine.
I take some pride in bailing out of the first run section of the duathlon. I was fine to the turn, a massive 1.25km into the event, then suddenly my calf kicked off. I walked, hopped, skipped and jogged back to transition, retired before crossing the timing mat, and huffed off to breakfast.
A few days later I was back for the tri. I did this in March and had been indescribably nervous with the leap into the unknown. This is, after all, why we race. This time round I was a bit more relaxed. Roberta got a decent night’s sleep too as I wasn’t up every hour staring aghast out of the window at the massive swimming pool.
For a small field it was acutely diverse – from athletes clearly here on a serious week’s training through to first-timers wanting to give something new a go. For the swim we would self-seed into the appropriate lanes – the “Olympians” in lane 1, through to the “Doggy Paddlers” in lane 8. Lane 8 it was then.
8 lengths of doggy paddling later and out of the pool, where you are positively encouraged to run around the length of the swimming pool across the timing mat and to your bike. I love running beside the swimming pool. It feels so wrong.
I was pretty much at the back of the swimmers but expected to take some positions back on the bike bit. It’s a good bike section – a flat bit along to La Santa, then a steady climb up to the turn at Tinajo. I gained a few places on the outward climb, then a few more on the descent.
Descending is a funny old game. I’d never claim to be the world’s best but it is quite clear, whether it’s cycling or running, that many athletes are not at all comfortable about descending fast. It seems to cut across all abilities. I’ve torn past cyclists and runners who are far faster than I am, but who seem massively uneasy on their going downhill skills. They inevitably storm past me later in a race when they’re back in their comfort zone.
Still, I take what I can get. Even if it’s temporary. Back at transition, then the last bit. A quick out and back running back towards La Santa, round a roundy thing, then home to Club La Santa.
The finish is good. You circle back into the centre then do a quick lap of the track. The ‘Green Team’ are fantastic, cheering you in and making you feel like a proper champion. Even if it is just a little Triathlon to get an appetite before breakfast.
I was so happy to have even made it to the start line of this event after six months of hard training and a knee injury which meant that I hadn’t run for more than six miles since January. For the last week I’ve lived on a diet of ibuprofen and practically bathed in alcohol hand gel so I didn’t pick up any last minute nasties.
This event is logistically complicated in that it’s a split transition. This means that the bike start and the run start are in different locations 12 miles apart and the finish is in a further location in Bolton town centre.
I travelled down 2 days before the event to take my time registering and setting up the two transitions. My Tri club buddy and twice Ironman himself, Tim Matthews, was my domestique for the weekend and was tasked with the challenging job of keeping me calm!!!
After registration and the welcome party on Friday, we spend Saturday setting up the two transitions and I was able to get into the Lake (Pennington Flash) for the practice swim session as luck would have it with my coach Sorell. The lake was much better than I expected – fairly warm and reassuringly murky (I am not remotely interested in knowing what lurks beneath!!). We also managed to meet up with my fellow Durham Tri competitor Bob Hewitson and have a hearty carbo loading breakfast and a nervous chat about the upcoming challenge awaiting us the next day. So off to bed for an early night for an extremely early start but not before applying the ever important race number tattoos (so damned cool!!).
So race day arrives – up for a 3am breakfast in the hotel then onto the shuttle bus to the lake for a 4am and pitch black arrival to the start but thankfully no rain. Wetsuits donned we arranged ourselves in the chute to enter the swim in predicted swim time order. On my way down to the water I spotted my wonderful supporters from Durham Tri club – Tim, Lesley, Amanda and Olivia which gave me a nice little boost. At about 6.25am I was off!! The swim course consists of a 1.9K lap of the lake then an Aussie style exit from the water to run around a channel of about 50m to the roar of the crowd before jumping back in for a second lap. I exited the swim in a satisfactory time for me of 1hr 30mins. Into the T1 tent which unfortunately had a surface underfoot of thick squelshy mud (but made my cross country soul feel rather at home!) On to the bike and off I went to tackle the 112 mile ride.
This bike course is rather challenging featuring over six thousand feet of elevation. The route consists of a 12 mile trip out to the village of Adlington then two 50 mile loops. The two most legendary climbs are entitled ‘Sheephouse Lane’ and ‘Hunters Hill’ which are obviously done twice each. The support of the crowds was fabulous around most of the course but most notable on these two aforementioned climbs. Huge crowds lined both sides of these hills, music was blasting in places and encouragements being shouted – a real Tour de France feel. There is quite honestly nothing like the sight of a man in a mask, cape and mankini dancing to the tune of ‘Uptown funk’ to lift the spirits when the legs are getting tired.
I did find it quite challenging to eat and drink enough to keep well fuelled – very surprising for those who know me well!! The taste of isotonic Powerbar energy drink after 4 litres, chia bars and sweets can become very tedious. I took up the option to have a ‘special needs’ bag available to me at mile 88 and experienced a moment of sheer ecstasy when I extracted and devoured my packet of salt and vinegar square crisps which I had cunningly placed there earlier. I even managed to eat a couple of ham and cheese croissants to make sure I had something in the tank for the ever approaching marathon.
I saw my own family twice on the bike route at the most remote part of the course which was fantastic and the Durham Tri support crew cycled their way to two vantage points to cheer me on. Tri club coach Ian MacKenzie also made two surprise appearances on the bike route which again gave me a great boost. All was going rather well pacing and timing wise until disaster struck at 100 miles – a rear wheel puncture, arrgh! Now to put this into perspective, in 10 years of cycling I have never had a puncture – what a cruel world this is. Thankfully I had practised this in the week before the race so tried to stay calm. I had been introduced to CO2 canisters which inflate the tyre to 100PSI in 3 seconds – a god send. About 20 mins later I was on my merry way again and before long found myself at the finish of the bike leg 8 hours and 20 minutes later in T2 at the Macron Stadium to the welcome cheers of my fans. Unfortunately my Durham teammate Bob had fallen off his bike earlier in the race and fractured his wrist, so his racing day was sadly over.
By this time of the day the sun was well and truly shining so I lathered on the suncream, donned my fresh tri suit and socks, said a quick prayer to the God of injured knees and I was off to face the most challenging part of the event. The run course consists of a six mile run from the Macron Stadium then a hilly six mile loop of Bolton town centre which is completed three times. I set off on a 4 minute run (which very quickly became a shuffle) followed by 1 minute walk strategy with the aim to keep this up throughout. It started well and the route was fairly pretty along a canal path which offered some welcome shade and a blissful stretch of off road surface, yippee! This only lasted for 1km unfortunately before it was back to soul sucking tarmac. I then joined the three loop part of the course where we were rewarded with a different coloured hair scrunchy to proudly wear on our wrist on the completion of each lap.
Again nutrition was a major challenge and my stomach had simply had enough of trying to digest vile food options whilst competing with the muscles for a blood supply to enable this. I managed to get down a few gels, bananas and tortilla crisps washed down with lashings of coke and water. Jules Percival had bought me a packet of polos on the assurance that they were marvellous for warding off nausea in endurance events. Wow was she right and I rewarded myself with one after every 5k of running completed.
By the time I started on the loops I felt absolutely cream crackered and can honestly say the support of the crowd and other competitors got me through. The lovely people of Bolton were out in force for the whole route; their enthusiasm helped no doubt by the sunshine and for some ice cold beers in their hands. My tri family were along the route and also my coach and her colleagues from Tri Training Harder which was wonderful. The real saviours of the day, however, were my Hubby and kids which had positioned themselves half way up the long drag of a hill. They proceeded to take it in turns to run with me for short stretches, hold my hand, give me hugs and encourage me that ‘I had this’. My son Rhys later told me that watching the marathon was like watching an episode of the zombie drama ‘The Walking Dead’. Never was a truer word said as I definitely felt like I was starring in it at some points. On each loop when you hit the town centre part, you are faced with the roar of crowds driving you on and a trip past the finishing shoot which gives you a taste of what’s to come.
At long last and 5 hours and 49 minutes later and a total time of 16 hours and 5 minutes it was my turn to hit the red carpet and do my victory dance to the sound of the yearned for words of the PA “Debs Goddard you are an Ironman” – it was an awesome moment and one I won’t ever forget.
If I’d been nervous for the Half Marathon the nerves were nothing compared to those I felt for the Triathlon. Or ‘MiniTriathlon’, as it was billed. I kept telling myself a mini triathlon was just a bit of fun, and the man who’d sold it to me (zero Euros again) insisted it was ‘beginner friendly’.
I’ve always wanted to give a triathlon a go but never had the courage. Even though I know they’re friendly, informal, and not at all scary, that doesn’t stop them being scary. They remind me, strangely, of orienteering competitions. I know, as someone who has done a lot of orienteering competitions, that they are fun and friendly and suitable for all abilities. But to the first timer they can be daunting beasts and I always have sympathy for people who see them as a bit intimidating.
So there we were, at 730AM (on holiday), for the second day in a row, waiting for the briefing. Roberta had got up (again) to see me off, not that she got much sleep with me pacing about. Our villa overlooked the swimming pools which, on the one hand, were pretty impressive. On the other hand, if ever I glanced out of the window during the night, there they were, in all their floodlit glory, taunting me with their massiveness.
The briefing was pretty straightforward. No cycling in the complex. No running over the timing mats in cycling shoes. But the main thing was to “Make sure the Timing Mat says BEEEEP!” – good advice.
We started in the pool, picking lanes according to our ability. I picked a slow lane and was just beginning to know my lane-mates well before it was time to start. Off we went and I settled into a steady breaststroke. I’m rubbish at the crawl but after a few lengths I was discovering that my breaststroke was a lot faster than some of my lane-mates’ crawl. Not that it mattered. Overtaking was never going to happen, not without implementing some sort of congestion charge. Anyway, the sun was out, and I zoned out, knowing that the swim wasn’t a big part of the event and I wasn’t going to make any real gains here anyway.
Out of the pool and an exciting jog around the poolside before crossing the timing map, making sure it said BEEP! and onto the bike. It may have only been 0830 but there was never any danger of being chilly. The bike section was a long, steady climb up to the neighbouring village of Tinajo, round the roundabout, and a fun descent back to Club La Santa.
I’d passed a few people on the bike section and now I fully expected them to be popping by again on the final run section. I knew I’d be ok on the bike section, terrible on the swim, and indeterminate on the run. The last section was a bit like a handicap – all the time expecting to be pipped on the final approach. It was also a good motivitor and encouraged me to push hard on the final few km of the run. A final push round the track to the finish then across the timing mat, which said BEEP!, and relax. I looked at my watch and it wasn’t even 10AM, and I’d done a triathlon! Time for breakfast.
Rewind back to August 2013 and I decided to bite the bullet and enter the Outlaw iron-distance triathlon. I had done a few triathlons in the past and with my lack of love for the bike, I picked out the Outlaw with a relatively flat bike course. For £285, an undoubted bargain too? Whilst I toyed with the idea of wanting to do an official Ironman branded event, the hilliness of Ironman UK put me off and an overseas event seemed like a lot more could go wrong just getting there!
My only chance of making it to the finish was if I gave the whole preparation thing a good go so I gave up hockey for the season and pretty much gave up any booze at all from January onwards (I was even more dull than normal on nights out). I thought I would get to the day and think I had done nowhere near the training I wanted but I did pretty much what I set out to do. Everything I read about training scared me in terms of the hours they suggested you did. I did train most days but never really got to any more than 12-15 hours a week even at the peak. I would swim on lunchtimes at work and force myself out to cycle at weekends. It was still the cycling I could not seem to love and the furthest I had cycled by race day was 95 miles. I couldn’t swim 1 length 3 years ago but completing the 2 mile Great North Swim in June gave me the confidence that I could do the 2.4 miles on the day. Running was always the most enjoyable part of the training and I entered a few races as it was always great to get encouragement from the Striders. I had worked up to comfortably(ish) running 20 miles by the time July came around.
So the weekend of the 27 July arrived and I made my way to Nottingham after a relaxing week off before hand. I was in a complete panic about getting injured so close to the event and also panicked about my bike malfunctioning, about being ill for the event and of course the weather for the weekend which I checked approximately 25 times a day from a week out! Registration and bike racking was the day before on the Saturday along with a 1 hour 15 minute briefing (all you do is swim a bit, cycle a bit and run a bit eh?) I paid £20 for my bike to be checked at the venue despite having already had it checked twice in the previous 2 weeks! It was all very slick but my nerves were only increased by the procession of fancy bikes and very fit looking people!!
4am on Sunday 27th July and my alarm went off. I forced down a couple of crumpets and a croissant and headed off to the venue with poor Becky who had a very long and boring day ahead of her!! It was a mass start at 6am and they had 4 bays set out – less than 60 mins for the swim, 60-80 mins, 80-100 mins and 100+. I opted for the 80-100 mins bay and got into the relatively warm feeling water which was a tropical 21 degrees. The swim was a simple 1.2 miles up the lake, around the buoys and then back to complete the 2.4 miles. The water tasted pretty rank and there was plenty of weed in there that kept getting caught around my head. It was also very cramped in parts and I got kicked and elbowed in the face which is part of the fun apparently. All said though the swim went pretty well and I was very pleased to be out of the water in 1 hr 18 mins. Unlike other triathlons I have done there were people to help you out your wetsuit and then a changing tent to get changed in – all very civilized.
So the bike was always going to be my worst bit and the wind was up to make matters worse. The bike involved a flat southern loop on quiet roads before heading up a very busy road to complete a northern loop which included the much talked about ‘Oxton Bank’ (which was apparently the only real hill on the course), followed by a final southern loop. By the end of the first southern loop (45 miles) I was feeling pretty OK and was faster than hoped. They had drinks/food stations every 15-20 miles and so it was easy to keep the fluids topped up. I spent the whole time on the way to the Northern loop panicking about Oxton bank. I had intended to get to Nottingham to check out the course before the day but had not managed it. Oxton bank came and was over with in a flash and a whimper – nothing to worry about at all. By the time I got back to the southern loop (80 miles in) I had had enough of cycling and with the wind at its highest was definitely counting down the miles. Becky had headed out to a popular supporting spot and getting a cheer on from her kept me going to the end. When I made it back to the watersports centre I was delighted to hand my bike to one of the volunteers who racked your bike for you (that must be what you get for 285 quid). The bike course had been very flat but I was still pleased to have completed the 112 miles in a little over 7 hours which was faster than expected again.
I now had 8 hours left before the 17 hour cut off to complete the small matter of a marathon. I took my time getting changed for the run and headed out in to the glorious and very hot sunshine! A quick chat with Becky and I felt reasonably OK as I started the first loop around the lake. They had drinks/feed stations every 1.5 miles and the course involved a 5km loop of the lake, an out and back into Nottingham, a loop of the lake, an out and back into Nottingham and then a final 1 ¾ loops of the lake. I felt pretty good for 8 miles or so but then it was more a matter of survival. I tried to run between each feed station and then walk for 1-2 minutes before running again. It was really hot and I was feeling pretty sick by the 13 mile point and struggling to get anything down me other than water. I tried to force down a few crisps at each station as I was conscious my top was getting covered in salt from my sweating. Nice. Becky was great support again and my running speed was highlighted by her running alongside me for a bit in a dress and flip flops. I did the first 13 miles in 2 hrs 20 but knew I was always going to slow down. By the time I made it back to the lake for the final lap and ¾ I knew I was nearly there and was going to make it, despite how sick and exhausted I felt. The support from everyone there was immense and really helped, much like the support you get from Striders at all running events. I had aimed to finish in around 15 hours but realized that if I could hobble around the last 5 miles at 12 min mile pace I would go under 14 hours.
One last push and I passed the 25 mile sign and could hear the finish music in the distance. 200 yards to go, yes I am going to make it…. Owwwwwwww, huge hamstring cramp left me stuck in the middle of the path! A few words of encouragement from passing runners and I managed to start running again and onto the red carpet for the finish. I was looking forward to being greeted over the line with the usual announcement of ‘Richard Hall – you are an Outlaw’ but for some reason the announcer was yapping on about a Commonwealth decathlete who was behind me and so that didn’t quite happen. Anyway, who cares, a high five with Becky and crossed the line in 13 hours and 57 minutes and I had done it. Now, who wants to buy a wetsuit, bike and running shoes, I am off to eat pasties.
So on reflection was I pleased I did it? Definitely yes, for the sense of achievement. Did I enjoy it? Kind of. Would I do it again? No chance!!! Sorry this has gone on a bit. If you are still reading this and had even half thought about trying an ironman one day then go for it. I am no super fit athlete, am not a great swimmer, biker or runner. I sacrificed a bit for 6 months but my training was not ridiculous and I made it. I am now £285 worse off, a stone and a half lighter but I have an Outlaw medal/t-shirt/training t-shirt/key-ring/bike gloves/mints and am most definitely NOT (according to Becky) getting the tattoo…
A 6am alarm call and I staggered out of bed and headed off to Woodhorn QE2 Country Park with my car looking like I was going away for a month! The pre race briefing announced the great news that the lake temperature had tipped over 14 degrees. 150 swimmers gingerly made their way into the lake and I left it as late as possible to dip my face into the water! I hovered at the back and 750m of swimming later I was helped out of the mud and directed on a 200m run up to transition. 18.5 minutes down and now my worst bit, the getting changed! Somehow it took me over 3 minutes to get the wetsuit off and get off on my bike. The winner took 29 seconds.
The bike ride was a very pleasant 15 miles on quiet roads and more importantly, flat roads. There was no wind and I managed to not get overtaken by too many speedy bikers. It was a very scenic ride and I made it back to transition after 53 minutes of pedalling. Fewer clothes to change this time and so I was off out on the run and a lovely 2 lap 4 miles around the lake.
The usual dreaded cramps did not kick in and I managed to pick off a few runners on the first lap and settled in behind two younger looking blokes in their fancy tri-suits. Half way around the second lap and the prospect of my half melted yorkie in the glove box of my car gave me a final push and I managed to pass a few more leading up to the finish. The announcer welcomed me across the finish line in a pleasing 32 minutes for the 4 mile run. Overall 1 hour 47 minutes and 6 minutes quicker than last year. Yes, I was very near the back but passing a few people on the run is what counts for a Strider yes?
Overall a great event and for anyone fancying giving an open water triathlon a go then I would recommend this event. I will return next year to try to get changed in under 3 minutes…