Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ironman Copenhagen - blood, sweat, tears and rain

How could it be August 20 already? I'd spent my entire year training to get to this point but I still didn't feel ready. The days before I'd felt like a fraud, all these fit athletes and then me. I'd been emotional, stressed and walked so far I was exhausted - and yet I had an Ironman to go. The weather prediction was looking awful which didn't help.
The alarm went off at 4am. I did sleep a bit, not particularly well, and picked up my carefully prepared trisuit to change. I tried to force down the cold porridge I'd prepared the day before  (the kitchen was closed that early in the morning) while I got my bottles and myself ready. We got to the metro only to be faced with a fairly full train of athletes and supporters. It only got worse with every station until it felt like the Central line at rush hour, rammed like sardines.

We somehow managed to squeeze off at the right station with everyone else and walked towards the rising sun and a bridge covered in giant green balloons. I sorted my nutrition, gave my white bag in and made my way to the start. Finally I saw Gary, Ric, Tom and Stuart who were waiting for their start. Gary tried to encourage me to go in for a practice swim but I didn't want to get cold. I did test the water and it was warmish.

I waved bye to the guys who were in a wave in front of me and waited my turn. It was just a swim, a bike and a run, right? Soon enough we were called for our wave, I washed my goggles (finally getting them less foggy!) in the bucket of water and then beep, beep, beep we were off! I dove into the water and started swimming. It felt like an age even to get to the first big yellow buoy but then we turned towards the first bridge, which was the one with the green balloons we'd walked over earlier. Each bridge had a distance marked on it which was kind of helpful but also reminded you how much further you had to go. At the bridge you had to scramble for space as we were squashed together and then we were released for the next long age to the next bridge. When we eventually got to the final bridge, hooray there was another big yellow buoy and we could turn around and swim back. On and on the swim went, slowly but surely getting back past the green balloon bridge and then past the exit to the final bridge. Hooray as I saw the distance marker, only an Olympic distance swim to go. Forward and back swimmers were now parallel with each other and some guy came swimming straight towards me on the wrong side of the barrier. I tried to shout a warning to him but I have no idea if he heard me. Onwards I went, feeling a bit tired and wondering how the ladies who went down the Thames managed 14 k of this. Round the last dead turn and now all we have to do is get to the swim out. Weeds getting stuck in my hands, last big yellow buoy and where's the exit? No that's the entry,  there's the exit, no more weeds for me, through transition with the largest glob of chamois cream you ever saw, cycling shorts on over the top, grab my helmet, nutrition and glasses, put my shoes on and off I go to grab my bike.
Did I remember to check my tyres in the morning? Do they feel a bit strange? Ah well I'm cycling now there's nothing I can do about it and it doesn't feel like they are flat. My back aches already, keep an eye on your average speed, don't forget to eat and drink something every 15 minutes when the watch reminds me. The sun comes out and I idly wonder if I should have put some sun cream on. We hit the sea and it's lovely. Not as flat as I'd expected and I suspect the wind is more head on than southwesterly. A guy called Sergio keeps overtaking me then slowing down much to my annoyance, particularly just when a marshall comes past us on their motorbike and I have to slow so it doesn't look likve I'm drafting. I go past him again and keep pedalling. My water bottle has various mantras on it including 'shut up legs' but I'm thinking it should be more 'shut up back' perhaps the long swim has hurt my back. I try to stretch out but it's not easy when you're pedalling. We start to head inland and again it's more rolling than I'd expected. We go past lovely villages and aid stations where I take on water. I have a scrawl on my bike of all the aid stations and where the 'hill' is - about 80 km in. I'm keeping good average speed now where is this hill? Lots of faster cyclists go past, some with the thrub thrub thrub of a disc wheel. We go through a funny little village with chicanes and bored looking young marshalls. Ah here's the hill, people either side, cheering me on. It's not much really and it's lots of fun and then a great downhill the other side. Get to 90 km, where's the split point, feeling pretty good apart from my aching back, should make the first lap cut off without too much bother. We start coming back into town, did I miss the second lap? Finally there it is, off I go for another roll around the Danish countryside. My average speed has slowed a little so I make an effort to try and push harder. I go past some poor soul crashed out on the ground with medics round him. Lots of puncture mending going on as well, thank goodness for my four seasons tyres I think. I feel sorry for those who look particularly forlorn at the side of the road and hope I haven't kaiboshed my tyres being grateful for no punctures. The kilometres tick by and I'm just pedalling. My speed gets lower so I have to push on. Magic beans are round the corner says my bottle, no surrender to the pain or the desire to stop. We start going inland again, over 120 km done only 60 to go. I can do this. Then the sky goes black. Uh oh, I think. Please pass over, please pass over. 5 km later the heavens just open. I have never experienced anything like it. The wind, rain and thunder just hit me like a sledgehammer. Rain turned to hail and I raise my left arm to the sky and say 'Really?!?' It felt like the bit in the Truman Show where he gets stuck on a boat in a massive storm and he says 'Is that the best you can do?!?'. There is nothing I can do but keep going and be very grateful to the poor marshalls who were having to stand in the drenching rain. I was also in some pain by this stage. My right hip - usually the good one - was hurting, my back no longer wanted to crouch over the handlebars and my feet were sore. Where was this blasted hill? Keep your head down and keep pedalling. No surrender. Magic beans are round the corner. Don't be sh@t. I can, I will, end of story. Taiwolf rules. Look Jim, I'm down on the hoods... Oh maybe not! Where's that bloody hill? 50 km to go, that'll take me two hours... No that's not helping! Beep, keep eating even if the rain has turned your protein blocks into wet mush. Ah here's the hill,  much emptier than earlier,  the man saying something about us having pedalled for so long. Whee downhill, we must be getting in to town now, less than an Olympic to go, let's do this. I'm now doing overtake/be overtaken with a guy in a Hong Kong suit on a fancy bike and aero helmet. I reckon he must be suffering too. Yes yes, here's the sign to Copenhagen, here's the split point,  coming up to 180 km, where's T2? Where are the runners? Here they are. Someone shouts 'Go on Hilary!' which is picked up by one runner and then another, who I recognise as Gary as I whizz past. Here's transition and hooray I can finally get off my bike.

Change my shoes and wet socks for dry ones, change nutrition and here I go for my marathon.
My longest run in training was 22km so I knew I'd be in an unknown zone for at least half the race. I'd calculated that to make the 6 hour time I'd have to do a pace of around 8 and a bit (I'd forgotten how much the bit was!) min/km and had set my watch to give me an average speed. I was pretty sure Jim had told me I could walk through every aid station so I did. The course was 4 and a half loops which took in a building site past the library which was very quiet apart from a lady dancing around in a Wonder Woman outfit, then past Stuart and Carsten cheering me on then the canal with bars which was the best bit of the course as had most support, past the theatre and then the finish zone and back out past a massive fountain and a short uphill section which I also walked, the mermaid statue and a very quiet section that seemed to go on forever until finally I got a band. Then back into town, rinse and repeat again and again. I saw Gary on my first and second laps and he stopped and gave me a hug. Stuart and Carsten were doing their very best to cheer me on in town as well. Stuart kept telling me I was doing really well and I'd be fine with the time I had. However, by the second lap I knew I was close to time so I just had to keep running. I was so worried about not making the cut off time. I also knew everyone was watching me via the tracking app. I even raised my hands to the sky and said 'I'm trying!'. I saw Gary on his final few kilometres actually running to the finish. Going past the finish every lap was pure torture, with shouts of 'You are an Ironman!'. Then the rain came again absolutely torrential. There was nothing to it, again, head down, keep going. You can do this. One more step. Just keep running otherwise you'll not hear those words. I'm not an energizer bunny but I have to dig in. Yes, another band, this is the furthest I've ever run, please never make me do this again, it's going to hurt tomorrow. It's getting dark now. I go past the canal and a marshall tells me to watch my step. Two seconds later,  CRASH I'm on my side. Ouch that bloody hurts. Well done I've just added to my list of aches and pains. I pick myself up and start running again, cursing myself. It was at this point I started running with Eliot. Eliot was a lifesaver and really managed to convince me that we were going to do this. Eliot was (originally) a Welshman who was participating in his very first triathlon. To do an Ironman as your very first triathlon is a concept beyond my imagination. We ran/walked in the (very) dark down the lap band loop. Eliot was warning me to be careful over the cobbles. Hooray, final band on and then we can run/walk back to the centre. I start feeling a bit stronger so Eliot lets me run on ahead (maybe he was fed up with my whingeing!) back through the dark. I try and cheer on runners coming the other way but one poor soul doesn't look where he's going and ends up in a massive puddle. I just can't stop, I feel bad but have to keep running. I have an hour to complete 5 k. That's doable, right? Less than a parkrun to go. A marshall starts cycling next to me and I think this is like Edinburgh again but surely I'm not the last runner this time? He chases off a taxi on the wrong side of the road and cycles off. Back into town, nearly there, past the finish line and then back off to the building site. The crazy lady dressed in a Wonderwoman suit has gone. Another crazy guy tries to tell me that I only have 9 minutes to go before the race is finished. I know this is untrue and thankfully Eliot and whoever is running with him tell him off for lying. So close now, less than 2 km to go, we're on the last section. Watch my feet on the cobbles, the trip hazard has gone, round the theatre and there's the finish, YES I can finally go down the finishing straight, damn there's someone right in front of me but I'm not slowing down now.
I've bloody done it! I can't believe it! I get given a silver blanket and someone hangs a medal round my neck. I only find out later that it was the winner of the race giving me the medal.

If you enjoyed this blog I'd love for you to give towards the Stroke Association Thank you!  

Monday, July 03, 2017

Edinburgh 70.3 - Brutal

Back in the winter, they announced that a new 70.3 Ironman race was coming to Edinburgh. Oooh, I thought. I know people up there, let's enter! I didn't even bother to look at the race profile or think about it any further. As the days got closer, stories of a very technical bike course with a 17% descent began to fill me with apprehension...

Race day dawned bright but cold and windy. So windy that the waves had white horses and they had already warned us that the swim might be shortened due to the conditions.
Looking over the swim course with a rainbow
Dark clouds were coming in from Edinburgh but we didn't get any rain, just rainbows. Eventually they told us that they were shortening the swim for both age groupers and pros to 900 m as the water temperature was wavering around 12 degrees and due to safety considerations. Race start was self seeding so I placed myself around 3/4 of the way back as I knew I wouldn't be the fastest out of the water. I was so grateful that Andy was there as well - fellow Greenwich Triton - although swim start was the only time I would see him on the race course that day!
Andy and I at the start... looking remarkably cheery

When we finally got in the water - after being buffeted by the cold wind for a good hour or so - it was cold  but my first concern was the giant waves! I have never seen anything quite like it! I took a couple of mouthfuls of sea water before I realised that I was going to have to do breastroke every few front crawl strokes to a) actually be able to breathe and b) see where I was going. I used to surf in the sea in Cornwall but I've never had to race under such conditions. I can tell you it was a relief to get to the end buoy and turn around to come back. It was absolutely brutal. I could see people hanging on to kayaks and one guy being driven back to shore on a boat and absolutely understood why they didn't feel they could swim any more. I just kept slogging on through the waves, trying not to breathe in too much water and finally made it to the last orange buoy and - what relief - swam into shore. It was only when I started scrambling up the beach did I notice my feet were totally numb... I was told later that 40-60 people started the swim but had to either be rescued or gave up even trying to get to the first buoy.

I ran into transition, trying to get some warmth back into my body, and started faffing with my stuff. I seem to have joined the Gary Shaw Transition Academy because it took me 9 minutes to get through transition to my bike... For next time I think I need a) those compression socks so that I don't have to faff with socks and calf guards (if it's cold again); b) gloves that have velcro instead of being so tight it's a battle to get them on; and c) consider putting any nutrition I don't want in the bento box in my trisuit before I start the swim.
Happy on the bike!
On to the bike then, and the first part was a nice easy flat stretch of road along the sea which put you into a false sense of "well this is nice, let's power on through"... Bad idea, and I knew it, because I'd read the cycle recce that Grace/Silent Wolf had posted and knew that there was a very technical loop coming up. I was looking for Garvald/Gifford and soon enough it appeared... not far after a water stop which I ignored because I was planning on only stopping at one (BAD idea!). We went past all the faster cyclists coming the other way and then started the loop. This is where the ride turned into the bastard (apologies!) love child of the Kentish Killer, the VO2 and Malaga. Those of you who aren't Greenwich Tritons, you may not get these references but essentially it was hilly with some wicked descents and climbs like the Kentish Killer, the views of the VO2 but prettier and the winds - oh the winds - of Malaga. The wind which had whipped up the sea seemed to be deciding it was going to make our lives difficult on the bike as well, and there were a few points where I caught a cross wind and wobbled a little! When the sun came out it was warm but when it went in I did wish I'd packed my arm warmers in the transition bag! I was extremely grateful for all the training rides I'd done in Kent which more than anything made me feel like I could get through this. I saw so many people pushing their bikes up some of the hills - and several more saying, "Not another hill!". About half way through the Gifford/Garvald loop I ran out of water which was bad so next time I am definitely going to stop at the water stop and fill up again. I didn't really understand though why they only half filled the electrolyte bottles... The spectators were amazing and, even though we essentially closed down their villages for the day, they were out cheering even us the slower ones on to the finish. I was particularly amused by the Cockenzie cheerers who appeared to have taken the pots from their trangias and were "playing" them with wooden spoons!
I finally found the second water stop and gratefully took on some water and electrolyte drink. A guy behind me started to voice concerns about the cut off points. I thought, never mind that, let's just get through the next 40 km. They promised it would be downhill from there, but they were lying... We went through someone's estate which was very bizarre but a nice track, before making our way into town. We even ended up on a footpath at one stage, and a very tricky downhill followed by a tight turn into an uphill, which luckily I had changed down for but I think it caught quite a few people out - I'm so used to the inevitability of an uphill after a downhill that I was prepared! I was so glad when my bike computer told me we had 10 km to go and I could see Arthur's Seat looming in the distance. When we got into the park (and once again been falsely told it was all downhill from there!) we could see runners coming the other way who were cheering us on. Once again we had to climb yet ANOTHER hill to get round the back of Arthur's Seat and then finally a sweet downhill to transition. I'd made it in time before the cut off - somehow. I'd half hoped that I might not make the cut off so I didn't have to get running, but once again I'd managed to make it in time.
Suffering on the run
So out on the run and my woes were not behind me. Running is - and always will be - my weakest leg. I had pretty much left my heart out on the bike course and I was exhausted. The first loop was busy, with lots of other runners and people cheering us on. I did quite a lot of walking as for some reason I'd managed to get myself into panic breathing mode and felt like I couldn't breathe at all. So I tried to take some deep breaths and slowed myself down to try and wash some of the panic away. It really didn't help for most of my first lap, and I did just over 6 km in an hour... as I said I'm not a great runner. The run seemed to involve lots of hills, including a trip through a very dark tunnel - the Innocent railway - which had lights and music at the end to help us on our way! There were all these marker boards telling us how far we had got - which was extremely unhelpful when you're on your first lap and it's telling you how far it was on the third lap! The second lap was much quieter and I was aware that if I didn't complete it within an hour I'd be cut off, so I tried harder to run and - thankfully - the panic breathing attacks eased. By this stage it seemed that all the marshalls knew my name so were cheering me on which was a massive boost and helped to spur me on and keep me running as much as I could. My hip started to twinge a bit - during training I've been having such bad hip issues I've had to limp home half way through my run sessions - so I stopped to walk for a bit for that as well. Somehow I managed to make it round the second lap within the cut off time - again! and started out on what was quite a lonely third lap. I say that but on this lap the support was totally off the scale. I'd never seen anything like it in all the races I've been to. Even the marshalls running towards me with water to help me through my race and the lady who'd clearly been standing at the very last turn for hours jiggling around and cheering us on - thank you from the bottom of my heart. From that turning I was the last runner so I was joined by a couple of cyclists and then I became aware of the triathlon official who was also following me. When I ran, he ran, and when my breathing or my hip stopped me, he walked with me. It cheered me up no end - even though I was last - and once I was out of the tunnel I did start to run again and managed to catch a couple of people who had started to struggle. The official stuck with me even though I had overtaken them until he decided that I was definitely on the move and was getting closer to the finish line. Once I knew I was getting closer (it's all downhill from here - yeah right!) I pretty much ran the whole way knowing it was nearly over. Then there was the iconic finishing straight with the red carpet and the Ironman chute... I was so happy I could almost cry. I had done it! I was the last lady but I had finished.

Yay finished!

Afterwards I discovered that around 40 people had not finished their swim, and that over 100 had not finished the race. Several had not made the cutoffs. Apparently some were saying it was the toughest course they had ever raced - even worse than Wimbleball!

I did wake up this morning thinking, well what's next? The answer to this of course is Ironman Copenhagen. Will I be able to sort my breathing issues out before then? I very much hope so. I'll be back on the training and long rides later this week no doubt.

Some (slightly dull) thank yous:
Stuart - thank you to my lovely husband for all your support and help. I don't think I would have made it round the run without your encouragement.

Rebeca - thank you for being a riding buddy and showing me some new routes and especially for my treat ride round Ashdown Forest for my birthday. Also for showing me the "deer park" ride which I have been using and might well be using for quite a lot of my practice rides! I am very grateful that you dragged me out of bed and found some "magic beans" to encourage me to come out for a ride.

Andy - for being a fellow Triton in a strange town and cycling with me to T1, it was great to have a friend at the start and during the Saturday faffing around.

Thea - for being a great swim buddy and waiting for me even though you're a much better swimmer than I.

Lucy - for helping me with my core strength so I could actually feed myself on the bike.

To all my fellow Tritons - I'm going to forget someone but particular thanks to Gary, Scott, Jim (for his coaching help), and of course Coach W.

To the supporters and marshalls on the course - THANK YOU for all of your support and massive cheering - you have no idea how much it helped. Especially to the official who ran with me at the end which really spurred me on to start running to the finish.

The Ironman Edinburgh 70.3 Facebook page - especially Grace and Silent Wolf for all of your recce guides and help and support over the past few months. It really helped me prepare for the race and made me aware of the dangers!

My lovely godfather - who let us stay in his apartment even though he wasn't there for the majority of the weekend.

If you'd like to support me towards my Ironman goal I'd love for you to give towards the Stroke Association Thank you! 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Work, sleep, train, repeat

Note: I "wrote" most of this while doing a 3700 m swim - I had A LOT of time to think!

Ironman. Anything is Possible®

That's what they say. And after watching my friends Lucy, AJ and Rebeca last year I actually believed it. Last year, given that I'd gone up a distance every year since I'd started triathlons, was probably supposed to be my Ironman year, but I'd decided Ironman wasn't for me. Then I saw my friends do it and for some reason I thought, well if they can do it so can I.


At 17 stone, 6'3 I'm not exactly what you would term "athletic"

Plus as much as I love to cycle I hate running and value my free time, especially the precious time I can snatch with my husband who works shifts so I hardly get to see let alone have actual quality interaction with.

I like lie ins. I like "duvet days". I particularly like that we have Sky Movies so I can watch a whole slew of films if I really want to (and the blasted remote works!). None of this is particularly marking me as Ironman material. But, after discussing it with triathlon friends, my husband and even work I decided to enter Ironman Copenhagen.

I still don't know why. Every now and then I remind myself that the first triathlon I ever entered I specifically chose a super sprint with a 2.5 k run "because 5k sounded too far". Now I've entered one that includes A BLOODY MARATHON!
Longest I've ever run is 22 km, the last part through a forest shouting to the trees 'Will this EVER end?!'

I'm going to pause here because I think  (hope!) some of you might be muttering at the screen 'But you don't look like that any more! '. To you I say this:

The story of how I got on my bike and lost a load of weight  (only to put some of it back on again) is one for another day. And yes I do know my saddle is low in this photo.

So I spend my weeks going to work and then going straight out to train in the evening. I come home tired, hungry and often a bit grumpy (hangry!). I am endlessly grateful to my husband for putting up with me and for making me dinner when he can. My weekends seem to involve epic cycling tours of the gorgeous Kent countryside after dragging myself out of bed. I come home in the afternoon, and after a less enjoyable run (read: shuffle) round the local area I finally get to have a wash and a sit down. By this time, it's usually around 4 pm. I am hungry but confused. Is it lunch time? Is it tea time? I have no idea.

So I work, train, sleep (and eat) on repeat. My friends have gone from wanting to go out for a beer and curry on a Friday night to wanting to go out for Parkrun and brunch (or ride and possible cake!) on a Saturday morning. My Friday nights seem to now involve going to the freezing cold docks for a swim... I spend a lot of time exhausted and without my friends I don't think I'd make it out of the door. So thank you Tritons, for getting me prepared for "that endurance thing" that my parents seem to think I'm doing.

On a more personal note, I am raising money for the Stroke Association after a relative had a stroke last year and has had difficulty communicating since. The Stroke Association push for greater awareness of stroke and its warning signs and campaign for better stroke care.

Monday, September 19, 2016

With champs like these, baby we were born to swim/bike/run

My last triathlon of the season was the Greenwich Tritons sprint club championship. This was at Leybourne, a lovely lake and a nice flat-ish course.
Given it was a sprint distance and I'd done two middle distance triathlons this year, I wasn't too nervous in the run up. Mostly I was exhausted having had not much sleep all week. I was fully expecting to come fifth out of the five Triton girls entered and looking forward to a nice short race just for a change. The nerves did eventually kick in on Friday night just as I was unsuccessfully trying to catch up with my lack of sleep!
The day dawned grey, windy and dreary, by which time we were on our way to the lake. I registered and began to rack up, at which point I realized I had left my aero bottle at home. I know at this stage I really should have learnt to drink from a bottle cage but for me this was going to mean a very thirsty bike ride!
Some of the Tritons before the race - I managed to sneak in the back!

The swim: "Where's my lightning bolt Scott, no corkscrew turns either"

I named this because Scott the swim coach had been testing our sighting using letters and images (including lightning) on a piece of paper. He'd also been teaching us different ways of turning round a buoy. The swim was a complete mosh pit, there were people kicking and punching everywhere, despite me putting myself near the back. Someone tried to swim over me so I apologise but I might have kicked them!
I got out the swim after 18 minutes, slower than my previous times. My transition was terrible due to my wetsuit not coming off quickly and I faffed a bit too...

Bike: It's not how it used to be (in a good way)

Once I got on the bike I remembered how I'd brought it down to Leybourne about the second time I'd ridden it and wobbled round the cycle course in a "make or break" test. I've spent so much time on my bike since then I am much more confident and much better balanced (although not so much that I can get my water bottle!). I essentially tried to push the bike as hard as I could as I knew my run leg was going to be poor. Number 90 and I were chasing each other all the way which gave me a great marker to follow. I spotted Lizzie W at the side of the road and hoped she didn't have a puncture after our discussion about whether we would bother to change a puncture earlier! Thankfully she just had a dropped chain so no having to faff with changing tyres...
Number 90 eventually got ahead of me and I miraculously didn't have to stop at any of the roundabouts and I finally got back into transition, only to see one of the other Tritons, James, finishing their race already!

Run: Doing it for the fun of it -What else would we be doing on a dreary Saturday morning?

My transition this time was fast and I actually came out onto the run before number 90 and a couple of others (no idea what they were doing). They of course came past me in no short order soon afterwards while I was struggling with jelly legs (that'll teach me not to do any brick sessions - or in fact any running - recently). My run was the slowest I've done for a long while there, but not too bad relative to my recent 5k times, just seem to have got really slow, something to work on over the winter I guess. I went past this lady who had two dogs, one of was "hopping" or perhaps bounding with its two front feet - very odd! I then ran past the Dartford Whiteoak tri lady who had told us earlier in transition she loved triathlon - so much so she had done a marathon during the week, was off to do another marathon that afternoon, and was due to line up for Thorpe Park triathlon the next day! I absolutely empathised with her and told her she was doing really well as I ran past.
On my run back towards transition on my first lap I saw Coach W who appeared to be bowing to me!
The second lap was almost as eventful. Someone came past me - unusual for the second lap, shouting "Don't worry I'm a lap behind you!". The lady with the hopping dog's other dog managed to stand right in front of me so I had to do some quick weaving! But finally I was on the home run, Coach W telling me to push it all the way to get a good time and it was all over. Last triathlon of the season done and it wasn't even 11 in the morning!
It wasn't fast and I'm sure it wasn't pretty, but I was fourth out of the female Tritons (one pulled out but hey). I have realized that I do this purely because I enjoy it and I really love my triathlon club.
 Anything is possible, right?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Midnightman - a bit of a surprise

This year's Tritons club champs for the standard distance were Bewl and for the middle distance Midnightman. I had a bit of dilemma, because I managed to get a place in Ride London, so could I do Ride London, Bewl and Midnightman on consecutive weekends? After a bit of humming and harring and remembering how much hard work Bewl was the weekend after Ride London and how much I dislike Bewl (a lot!) I decided not to enter Bewl, but put myself into Midnightman.

In the two weeks running up to the event, I realised I really hadn't been doing much running and definitely nothing of distance. I decided to take myself off for a long run on the Sunday before, only to find myself struggling up Shooters Hill, then when I'd finally made it to the top to come crashing down on the way back down the hill. Luckily I wasn't too hurt, mostly bruised both to my skin/muscles and my ego. The week running up to Midnightman I thought, I really need another weekend... but I didn't have one.

The day of the race was very odd. I'm now so used to having to get up at the crack of dawn to get to a race that sleeping in (or attempting to) and having a relatively relaxed morning was very different. We got there relatively early, around 3:30 and I racked up. There were a couple of ladies who had done this race before and were chatting and being very friendly. I discovered this is a very friendly race - everyone is happy to talk to you and later on cheering you through the later stages was just lovely! I had a bit of time before the start of the race, so we sat down. We rapidly discovered there were some particularly vicious mozzies/gnats that particularly love biting - I think I ended up with several bites in minutes!

It was nice to see the other Tritons - AJ, Sophie and Claire were joining me in the middle distance, and I had much joy telling Francois that he was the only Triton man in the middle distance champs, so all he had to do was finish to win!  Eventually we had our race briefing and finally we got into the water, by which stage the cool water was a nice refreshing temperature after overheating slightly in the sunshine!
The swim was a bit of a disaster for me - my goggles kept ever so slightly leaking and I started to panic that I would lose my contact lenses. I had to stop to let the water out, which delayed me. I started to leave it until I got to a buoy but I think I ended up having to stop three or four times, delaying my swim quite badly! The water was nice and the buoys easy to spot so the swim went OK apart from that. Trying to get back in was interesting - I wasn't entirely sure I was going the right way but finally I got in and I could take my blasted goggles off and run into transition. My wetsuit (which due to my nails is starting to look like I've been attacked by a wild animal) was really resisting being taken off but finally I got myself ready and out onto the bike course.

Oh, that bike course. It was essentially an H shape with some really nasty dead turns at the end of each one. As you span down Bob Dunn Way the wind just blew against you making me feel like I was cycling through custard. On the way back it was much better as you had the wind behind. The dead turns were a real trial. I managed to mess several up by not getting round them properly and having to clip out to get round! The sun started to go down and I realised I was going to have to turn my lights on soon - I could reach my light on the front but not on the back. The sun sank deeper and deeper giving us a beautiful sunset and I got to lap five out of ten just as it set - so I decided to stop at the aid station, grab some food and fill up my bottle, and switch on my light at the back. By lap six Thea and Lizzie turned up and were a much needed boost - so much energy and enthusiasm! There was also a lady with pink LED lights and the two ladies that I'd spoken to earlier in the transition that kept me going. The last three laps I also went past a little boy that kept holding his hand out for a high five, which I was actually able to give him - my balance on the bike is a lot better than it used to be! I found out from my Strava that I'd beaten my 90 k time by round about half an hour, mostly because it was so flat a course (which of course meant you ended up pedalling all the time!). I kept checking my watch to see how much further I had left to go, and was so glad when it was my last lap, the last time I had to attempt those dead turns (which I managed!), and I could come into transition.

And out onto the run. Running will never be my best discipline, or my easiest. But there is always a small satisfaction of knowing that you've done two thirds of the race and now all ahead of you is 21 km of (mostly) tarmac. The run course was pretty busy to start with, there were many of the speedier half distancers ahead of me and it was nice that so many of my Triton colleagues took the time to cheer me on as they streaked past. AJ came past me quite soon after I started and asked me how I was feeling. I said, "Ask me again in an hour". People told me I was looking strong but I knew I was really slow. But I kept running. They also kept shouting out my name. I was really confused as to how so many people could know my name until I remembered that it's printed on the back of my trisuit! I hadn't brought my race belt with me that holds two small water bottles, and by the end of my first lap I was really starting to feel the effects of dehydration, as well as a desperate need to find a ladies. By the second lap I was absolutely dry to the bone, but I'd noticed a couple of the other runners running with bottles, so the next time I got to the aid station I asked for a bottle of energy drink. That energy drink saved my run, absolutely no question.  I finished the whole bottle going round the next 5 k. There were many things that I went past on my way around, including a Beefeater (at the start of the run I was desperate for a steak), a taxi cab advertising a bingo club all the way the other side of town in Cricklewood (!), a big party with a BBQ and chalk on the pavement cheering random people on (including one that said "Good job random stranger". On my final lap it got a lot quieter and started to feel a lot more like the other half ironmen that I have been to - apart from instead of some quiet country lane, I was running round a housing estate in the middle of the night in Dartford! I can't tell you how much of relief it was to come round the final corner, after the BBQ party had started to break up, and see the red lights of the bikes winking at me from transition. I speeded up for the last few yards and finally I was finished! I'd completely smashed my previous time and finished in 7 hours and 18 minutes, completely exhausted, worn out and a little spaced out too! I really felt for the full distance entrants who were still cycling around when I had finished and could go home.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Swashbuckler - never say never again

In September last year I did my first ever half ironman/middle distance event in the New Forest. I swore I'd never do another one again. Then, a month or so later, Rhiannon announced that she was going to enter the Swashbuckler middle distance. She was trying to convince the rest of us intermediate riders that we should enter. I wasn't convinced but at some point I must have told Thea that I wouldn't enter unless she entered as well, thinking that she would never enter. Then she surprised me one day and told me she'd entered. Damn it, I thought. So of course I then had to sign up. We were joined by Tamara, Emma D, Harriet, the Lizzies and Lindsay.

The training was inconsistent, and just seemed to involve a lot of activity interspersed with exhaustion, the horrible cough/cold combo and an inability to run further than 14 km and not much faster than around 7 minutes per km. I was tired, slow, aching and was very nervous running up to the event. Everyone kept telling me that I'd done it before, I should be OK, but I wasn't sure whether it made it better, or worse!

The day arrived, one of those beautiful English mornings that start with mist and promise to be nice later. We were all nervous, and there were several hugs exchanged. Six of us were in the second swim, and that was the last I saw of most of them for the rest of the day...

The swim was a lot saltier than I expected. I didn't really think about the fact that it would be high tide, thus the river would be full of sea water. It was extremely buoyant as well, which isn't something I've experenced a lot. It wasn't as much of a moshpit as I'm used to with open water races, which was nice, and I managed to get into a rhythm, even if there was this guy who seemed determined to backstroke across me (it seems backstroke is now allowed). It did start to feel like hard work and the water tasted HORRIBLE (I really thought I'd be sick!) but my overriding issue was the swim cap. Several times it felt like it was about to slip off (the issue is I have a large head and normal caps don't really fit), so I had to stop and tread water at least twice to try and fix it - very annoying! By the time it came to the end of the swim, it was pretty much fallen off... I was happy to be out by 41 minutes, but it seemed that everyone else had made it out. I faffed far too much in transition trying to sort myself out and getting ready for the bike.

On the bike the views were glorious. It occured to me that I should have a race in the New Forest every year, it's such a beautiful area. The ride was quite flat and I enjoyed the majority of it. The only issues I had were that I'd lost the straw to my magic handlebar bottle, so I'd had to improvise with a couple of ordinary straws, which kept floating to the top of my water bottle, not great. I had to keep pushing the straw back into the bottle so that I could have a drink...
There are moments when you cycle that you end up in a dark place, which is full of pain and profanity. This was mostly directed towards my saddle, which felt after a while that I was sat on a metal bar... perhaps it's time to get a new saddle. The marshalls were absolutely brilliant, especially the one near where I'd stayed the night before, who was so full of enthusiasm it really helped keep me going. I was desperate to stop for a rest, but I decided to get to the half way point before stopping. When I got to 45 km, I was in the middle of a village, so of course I didn't want to stop. In the end I didn't stop and kept going through the pain and the annoyance of having to sort out my straw throughout the whole ride. I kept thinking of my difficult climb in Malaga where I just kept going through the pain and the desire to stop. It was so good to finally come round towards Beaulieu for the final time and then into Buckler's Hard. It took me 3 hours and 42 minutes, a PB for me for the bike.

On to the run, and the sun had finally come out, of course. There were loads of people doing their second lap as I started off, after grabbing some water and "energy drink" from the aid station. The energy drink they gave us was a bizarre mixture that tasted weird but did help a little on my run. I essentially ended up running between aid stations and stopping at each one for a bit of a pep talk. Again the marshalls were just lovely and brilliant. I had both Harriet and Lizzie run past me cheering me on, and near the end of the first lap, many people saying "not far to the end". I had to keep telling them that I still had another lap to go, sadly! I had to struggle back up the hill in Buckler's Hard past the finish line and carry on to the aid station at the top. That was tough. I had a nice chat with the aid station marshalls, said "Let's do this" and started on my second lap. I knew this was going to be lonely, and it was. It felt like there was nobody else on the road left, they'd all finished already. I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that I could do this, but at around 14 k I met a dark place again and had to stop to walk for a bit. It didn't help that my hips were absolutely killing me by this stage (what I used to call a "pain party"). I decided that I would walk for a minute and then carry on running. At around this stage a guy with a yellow shirt came past me, and I finally realised it wasn't just me on my own on the second lap. I struggled on, convincing myself that I could do it and slowly getting past the mile markers and on to the next aid station. For some time I followed a guy with a red cap. Earlier on, the faster swimmers were wearing red swim caps and in my slightly beleaguered state I was convinced this guy was still wearing his red swim cap! He was slowing down so I actually ended up going past him and finally found out that he was wearing a red baseball cap as opposed to a swim cap! I made it, somehow, to the last aid station. I was so glad I was almost in tears they were still there, and worried I was going to get cut off. They tried to encourage me that the finish was still there at the end and I was nearly there. The final bit of the run goes through the forest and the trail goes in a straight line. I didn't realise how long this path was from the first trip around and ended up shouting (when nobody was around) "Will this path EVER end?!?" I was having real trouble breathing and had to try and calm myself down so I didn't end up panic breathing. After quite a lot more plodding eventually the masts of the boats at the harbour finally came into view. I was so glad to see these! And so I made it through the marina and the people clapping, actually running up the hill to the finish... I was through to the end!
I couldn't quite believe I'd finished it... again! All that pain and endless training for seven hours and 50 minutes of effort.

Afterwards, I couldn't help but feel a bit low. I don't normally like to talk about this, but I started wondering why I am a triathlete. Why I continue to put myself through these things when I am clearly absolute rubbish at it (3 hour half marathon... some people can finish a whole marathon in that time). Whether I should just give it up as a bad job. Wondering whether I deserve to call myself a Triton, and why nobody has taken me to one side and asked me to leave (like they did at a badminton club I was once a member of). I just thought about the fact that half the Tritons I was with had left by the time I'd finished, and this made me feel unworthy. However, then I got a couple of messages who said that they were so proud of me it helped me feel a bit more proud of what I'd achieved - I'm now a double half ironman!

Now, when's the next one?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pedalling the boards

Out of the three disciplines, cycling is my favourite – I just love to get out on my bike and escape the city to get into the countryside. My only issue is that I suffer from a lack of balance or perhaps confidence in my balance, so I can’t really signal very well or reach for food during a long ride. I don’t ever ride on the drops and my hands are always placed firmly over the brakes!
The only time I’ve ever ridden a fixed wheel was somewhere in Mexico which I didn’t really enjoy and was quite glad to get off the bike at the end. This was an extremely short trip up to the top of the river on a mountain bike with no brakes, only the fixed wheel to stop you.
So the prospect of getting onto a fixed bike with no brake, and having to ride on the drops was extremely daunting. It was only the thought of getting to cycle in the Lee Valley Velodrome (where Olympians have raced!), Thea signing up and several people telling me that if they could do it, so could I that made me change my mind. I guessed I could give it a go and see how I got on.
Having to get up at 5:30 on Sunday morning wasn’t brilliant, as we were due to do another event that morning – my first duathlon. So Sunday was a day of firsts, a duathlon (which I didn’t really enjoy, and I don’t think I’ll be taking up any time soon!) and then the track session in the evening.
Things didn’t start particularly well. I’d been watching a movie at home and thought I still had time to make some lunch for the next day before I left my house. I didn’t, and ended up leaving home a little later than I should have. By the time I got to the station I was starting to panic a little and decided to take the tube where I had to change as opposed to the direct tube, which wasn’t going to arrive for another 10 minutes. I had to change at Canning Town and reckoned that if I caught the Jubilee line I would be faster getting to Stratford. Unfortunately, at Canning Town, I ran down to get the Jubilee train and all I saw was “St” at the front. Jubilee trains going the other (wrong) way go to Stanmore, and I ended up at Canary Wharf before I realised my mistake. Finally I got on the right train and ended up in Stratford, with about 10 minutes to go and about a 15 minute walk to the Velodrome (why is it soo far away from the station?!?). This ended up being a run/fast walk through the dark and gloom (it had been foggy all day) which was a bit scary on my own. I made it, a couple of minutes late, but the lady still let me through. Everyone was still getting ready and getting their bikes from the hire area so it was OK in the end. The guy I hired the bike from even said my shoes were OK, even if I might need to change my thoroughly worn cleats sometime soon! 
I viewed my fixie bike with apprehension while Darren took us through the format of the evening and a few safety notes – we were going to start off with a couple of loops around the track, getting ourselves used to the bikes. We had to alert him if our cleats came out of the pedals at any point – spinning pedals and loose feet not being a good combination! We watched the other riders with a mixture of awe and disbelief – apparently this velodrome has the (if not one of the) steepest banking in the world!
We started off all in line hanging grimly onto the rail that separated the riding area from the central area. Darren was trying to explain to us how to start – get your arm as far ahead of you as possible and pull hard to “launch” yourself out onto the track. I was really unsure about this, and as it came to me I almost got off the bike and walked off without even trying it. But Darren said “come on, miss” and essentially pulled me off the wall and got my momentum going. I spent a couple of laps cycling around the inner loop, trying to get used to the bike, and going nowhere near anything that looked like banking or wood! By the time to come in, I was a bit worried about coming to a halt, but I found stopping a lot easier than starting all the way through, just grabbed the side at a slow pace and it was fine. My heart was going 60 to the dozen and I still really wasn’t sure.
We watched the more advanced riders again, and just as they were ramping up two riders fell on the steeper part of the slope. Everyone on the track was instructed to ride above the blue line until the fallers had been scooped up. There had been a bit of slowing down, and of course when you’re on a fixie you can’t slow down quickly, so you fall off. Luckily both riders were fine and got up and started off again.
We were off sooner than we might have liked, and this time it was time to brave the wood. Darren once again got me moving away from the wall and I took little bites off the flat to move onto the wood and then back onto the safety of the flat, only going onto the wood where it was at its “flattest”. I started to enjoy myself a little more and when Darren told us to go past him on the wood I made the effort to try. I made it past him the first time, when he was just a little off the flat, and got straight back onto the flat blue. The second time around, he was a bit higher up and I just completely missed him. The third time around, he was almost at the top and I just decided to go for it and go past him. What I didn’t realise was he’d positioned himself at a point where I would have to go right round the top of the steepest banking before I could come back down to the flat! I shot past him, and he was shouting at me to keep pedalling round… Suddenly I was on the steepest part of the banking right at the top! I kept pedalling as he told me and I finally made it round to the flatter bit, whereupon I immediately got off the wood and onto the flat. My heart was absolutely off the scale! I think that was the round where I ended up doing the “ride of shame” where if you don’t manage to slow down enough you have to do another loop before you stop. That was the only ride of shame for me.
Thea and I in the velodrome!
 By the third go, I was well and truly on the wood, although Darren was still helping me get started. I did get stuck behind one rider at one point and had to pull off onto the flat to stop myself from riding into the back of them! We were supposed to be doing an exercise where the front person goes higher and the rest of us ride underneath, but as I got closer to the front I wussed out and escaped back onto the flat to slow down again… On the fourth go, I managed to stay on the wood for the majority of the session, even getting enough bravery up to overtake someone (on the flatter bit of the wood, not the steep slope!) and tried my best to keep up with the rest of the line. Lots of riders went past me going “Stay!” – instructing me that they were coming past and not to weave, but it kind of made me feel like some kind of dog! I started to feel the wind coming at me and really got into riding round the track, trying to go faster and then, when we had to slow down, trying to slow my pedalling so that I could come to a smooth stop at the end. I never did manage to keep up with the faster riders but maybe next time when I haven’t been cycling in the morning!

I came off the track for the last time exhilarated and wanting more. I think I went home and signed up for the next session straight away! I never thought I would enjoy it that much and actually not be that bad at it either, although I know I have to at least try to start off myself next time. I spent the next day almost walking on a bed of air (even though it WAS Monday) and as I went past the bike shop I even stopped to look in the window hoping to see a track bike…