Almere, Netherlands, World Long Distance Triathlon Championships Sept 2021

This race was ethereal. There one minute and not the next, appearing through the swirling mists of Covid travel restrictions and then disappearing again. Would we, could we? Three weeks before race date I went to Scotland for a middle distance race in the belief it wasn’t going toPXL_20210909_055600811.MP happen.  Then, suddenly, the mists cleared and WE WERE IN! Well done the powers that be.  Well done Verity, admin at British tri, who worked her socks off to get us the right paperwork. Holland didn’t want us as the UK has high levels of the Delta variant, we are a Red country to them.  Quarantine works as a deterrent. Look at how empty that plane is – lots of space to get the legs up!  Our email says – reason for exemption from quarantine is ‘top level sport’…. that’s a first. I was SO excited.

The first aim for any race, especially long distance, is getting to the start in a condition to race, no mean feat this time. Training for an ironman distance is a big commitment when you are sure it’s going ahead, training for one you think will disappear is considerably harder and many didn’t make it, choosing to drop out of registration earlier on. I felt very privileged to have the opportunity.
Luckily my three weeks tapering was in progress as I was busy at work, people were staying and there was a small mountain of paper to accumulate …flights, letters of exemption, declaration ofPXL_20210906_095222020 health forms, NHS vaccine proof, insurance, hotels, trains, pcr tests, return tests, race waiver, etc. We were all as confused as each other. I printed everything I could find and crossed my fingers.
Finally I set off, only to find that my train from Oxenholme to Manchester Airport was cancelled. Great start. The later replacement had a change at Preston….and steps up to the platform . A bike box and a case and three minutes to go… kettlebell strength wasn’t quite enough for this challenge and only the kindness of strangers got me onto that train. Phew I thought  All will be ok after that….and it was. Just one little hiccup at security when they decided tinned rice pudding in hand luggage was a liquid, and confiscated it.
Almere is a short train trip from Amsterdam and my hotel was five minutes from the station. Perfect. My roomie was ‘Sprinty McGinty’ who is an awesome athlete, and, as a bonus, has raced Almere twice before. I’d met her a couple of times which meant sharing for five nights over a very stressful period would obviously be a breeze, which it was. It’s great to have someone to chill with, to check things with, to laugh and at times cry with and to provide you with everything you’ve forgotten! I knew it would be ok when she promised to bring tea bags.
There are never that many people in long championships, they are somewhat committing. Even less women, who normally make up only 20% of any iron distance race. You have to complete a long distance race well enough to qualify and then want to go through it all again. Many people do one ironman, some do two, Sprinty was going for her tenth!

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Race day crawled nearer..recce, check kit, eat, drink, rest, be anxious, check kit, register, bag kit, rack bike, check kit and so on. This is all spread out over three days and it feels like the race will never arrive, but then, suddenly, it’s in your face. Aaaaaaargh… Two years of prep and training, what if it all goes wrong. OMG.  I wrote in my race plan that I didn’t want to be last, but realised half way round the bike that what I really meant was I didn’t want a terrible race, I SO badly wanted a good race. Even if that meant I was last that would be ok.  I was getting a good race by then.
Anyway, swim was a blinder for me 1:15:59. My pb is ten seconds faster and that was set on a flat lake. This was a bit choppy and everyone’s Garmin’s were saying 4km – we think they forgot toFB_IMG_1631484865181 change the course when the start moved from deep water back to the shore. I just thought about breathing on the first lap, right back to basics. Did a fab corkscrew roll round a buoy, only to collide with a little one hiding behind it. Ooops.  On the second lap I counted strokes, sighting every 20 to avoid bringing my head up too often. I think yoga has helped both my shoulder flexibility and my wrist strength for the swim. I very happily hopped out and found my bike.

Perfect weather, so lucky, the bike course is flat and runs along a dyke so wind speed and direction is critical…low speed, and behind us??? At least for one lap, the Gods were indeed smiling. Just kept thinking ‘What do I need to do right now?’  The answer was usually ’just stay aero.’ More thanks to yoga and kettlebells for giving me the flexibility and strength to hold this. Managed to eat and drink well. Loved the bibs on volunteers at food stations, blue for water, yellow for bananas, and my special needs bag was there with more Beta fuel and, best of all, some crisps. I probably wasn’t that aero as I licked the salt off the bag but that was well worth it.image0

At the only tight ‘s’ bend I was shouted at and overtaken by three french guys in a chain as we zig-zagged from a road to a cycle path. Felt a bit squashed so smiled when the ref pulled them for drafting a few minutes later. Bert, my monkey, came to help me by massaging my shoulders with his paws which eased the tension in them.  Well done Bert, although he often sabotages me outside of races he’s usually on side on the day. My power was down a bit in second lap, damn, but I was hoping for just under 6 hours and my time was 5:47 so delighted.

Could I hold it together on the run? Again weather perfect, dry but not too hot. Finally managed to listen to my coach and set off very slowly for the first two miles despite the cheerful shouts of spectators trying to rouse me to a run. I had a horrendous run on long distance at Eastbourne long distance eight weeks earlier, please not that again. It was round the lake – six times. But the electronic board told you how many laps you’d done which helped. Counting to six by then tends to be a challenge. Eating and drinking were both hard, but gradually the miles ticked by with some great support on the course. Bert did draw the line at putting his tail between my feet and the pavement to act as a cushion when my feet hurt, but he agreed to rub ice cubes on them instead. I should point out that Bert is purely imaginary, but he still causes a lot of trouble at times.  Held pace, with my slowest mile being the second, and my finish time was 4:44:12. Maybe I’m gradually getting the hang of this pacing lark. I thought I was heading for inside 12 hours, but had no idea it was as close as 11 seconds. What a difference 11 seconds makes!  I am so pleased to go sub 12 – 11:59:49

The floor looked a good option at the end.  A volunteer got me a space blanket, scooped me offFB_IMG_1631893508222 the floor and shuffled me inside on a table with another kind stranger. I put my head on the table and cried. Sometimes I just need to. He gave me space to cry, looking only marginally confused, to his credit, when I said I’d had an amazing race. Then fetched me wonderful chicken soup. Friends gradually found me, someone found results- third.

Third?

Third, get up and on that podium.  The icing on the cake, sub 12 and 3rd in the World.
Just occasionally it all comes together.  And I have a ball. 

A wet and happy race

Aberfeldy middle distance triathlon, Perthshire, Scotland. 1.9km swim, 56 miles on the bike and a 13 mile run.

Two very damp nights wild camping, one very good curry, a purple and red pub, no vegetables, one banana, empty supermarket shelves, four ticks to bring home. Scotland in all its glory. Beautiful ….but

This race was maybe more of an adventure than a race. I entered late, looked at the B&B prices and decided to camp. Also decided I didn’t need a campsite. Arrived in the rain and ate a very good curry in a leaking bus shelter to avoid crowded spaces. This took me back in time. Comfortable – yes, I was dry and warm and fed. Don’t need much more than that. 236536216_352894266544576_1138584221228553411_n

I found a quiet forestry car park and had two beautiful red deer as neighbours for a while. Luxury of a different type perhaps. I had bothered to check I had tent pegs but hadn’t checked all the poles – so getting in through a collapsed porch was an extra challenge. Our tent has seen better days which meant my feet received a bath from soft Scottish rain water.

Breakfast was relaxed and smart in Thyme restaurant and delicatessen. So smart that they gave me a free coffee for making too much noise moving tables. Lovely.

The day flowed by, I drove the bike course, which was a good move. Pre-race wet run followed by pre-race wet bike and I then completely avoided pre-race wet swim. Why is it that getting ready to swim in the rain always feels such an effort? You get wet anyway. This had more to do with not having anywhere to get warm or dry anything. Another night in another forestry car park, no deer this time. PXL_20210822_031508727.NIGHT

Up at four for a warm up ride, with lights I’d remembered to pack. Lots of time to faff in transition. They had warned us there might be mist on the lake and it might be a bike/run, but the day dawned clear, and rapidly got worse. Lake water temperature 15.4, really? I’ve never had ice cream head in 15 degrees before.PXL_20210822_033713983.NIGHT Refreshing, I felt I had a good swim but it was very slow, maybe the cold and sighting difficulties. Judged clothing right on the bike though. Some good climbs and I realise I am very out of practice at them, also lacking the confidence. Work to do there next season.  It would have been very beautiful if we had good visibility, but the one view out of the cloud turning onto the edge of Rannoch Loch was spectacular. So spectacular my bike nearly followed my eyes into the Loch. Was looking forward to the descent but lots of marshals waving red flags followed by police and ambulance ensured it was a slow and somewhat nervous decent. We heard later that Nathan from Cardiff had a catastrophic crash which did put a damper on an already damp weekend.

(Loch Tay below)

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On the up side I was cheered by two friends from Kendal cheering me out of T2 who I hadn’t expected to see. That was a great little boost. The main aim of this race was to manage the run well and come back positive. Within this I was trying some new things  a new drinking bottle which worked, increasing my hydration and nutrition, also new shoes which caused no problems.   I managed to go slow for the first couple of miles, always a challenge, then held pace. It was all on road, but very pretty road along the River Tay. For the final third of the run the sun came out and positively baked the wet roads.

Slow swim, very slow bike, adequate run, 8/11th in Scottish and National Championships, good race, well organised, recommend. I had a great adventure.

PXL_20210905_104957955The shuttle buses laid on to take us back to cars at T1 were a little inadequate for the people needing them. Reckoning I wasn’t going to make it home before Christmas using the shuttles I went back in time once more and hitched back to my car in bare feet and a stinking tri suit. 🙂

Eastbourne and the sea.

My husband and I, somewhat to our surprise, liked Eastbourne. Haven’t been to the seaside for ages – friendly people, good service, nice food, ice cream. Didn’t like the ten hours driving time it took to get there with broken air conditioning!

The race was Ironbourne, a full distance triathlon running for the first time.
A beautiful, traditional pier was the start, jumping from about 6ft up into the sea. It was a flat calm beautiful morning. The start of hot, hot, hot and 31 degrees forecast. Loved the swim, enjoyed adjusting for the current. Hard work up the beach against it, fun flying down again being pushed and interesting ferry gliding to make the buoys when swimming across it. No chance to get bored in the hour and a quarter it took me to cover 3.8km.  I do sometimes get bored on the swim, attention span of a gnat.

Then onto the bike, almost flat, almost empty, dual carriageway which should have felt easy but felt quite hard. It took my legs about an hour and a half to really get going. We then went on to little roads. When we drove them it felt like they would be hard and slow but they rode really well. And hats off to the marshals on the food stations, they were amazing all day. I lost my tool bag on a bump despite new Velcro and a strap and spent the second half of the race anxious about puncturing. I was also worried how my neck and shoulders would survive that long on the tt bike but they did ok, had a lot of trouble earlier this year with that. Heat management was definitely part of the game, white helmet, white top to suit and uv protection  arm sleeves. I tipped 14 bottles of water over my head and drank seven, six of solution and one water. Just for the record I drank 310g of carb and ate 4 gels, 4 boiled new potatoes, 1.5 bananas and one muesli bar. So roughly 480g carb, about 70g of carb an hour. I rode slower than I think I would normally aim to, partly due to my power meter breaking the second I put my bike in transition (despite new batteries that week), and partly because of the heat. There were two main hills right at the end, after 110 miles I was dreading them a bit. But I loved the Beachy Head climb, a bit like Dunmail, nice and steady and nearly 4km long. Also like France with poppies and butterflies.
Came into T2 feeling amazing, never managed that before on full distance. Changed into shorts and white t shirt as my tri suit feels hot to run in. Poured a 2 litre bottle of water over my head and stuck on a white run cap, kept the mirrored sun glasses and arm sleeves.  Set off, carrying water…..slow for the first two miles said my race plan. I’m not sure what happened but it sure wasn’t slow enough. Over ambitious? Over optimistic? Optimism is one of my life characteristics. Lacking respect for the race and the conditions? Arrogant? Or all of the above. Or perhaps just the heat was starting to affect my judgement. Went through first 7 miles way too quick, about a minute a mile faster than race pace.  Again the marshals were brilliant, and many of the stations had hoses. My feet were really sore for a lot of the way so I was getting them hosed to cool them off. The course was 4 laps and three laps, minimal shade, along the prom. Lots to look at – jet skis and roller blades, reggae parties and families, sailing boats, dogs. It was really pretty coastal scenery which was fairly rapidly wasted on me. One of my worst moments came when I realised that a marathon was 26 miles and not the 24 that I had in my head!  Despite to my mind totally blowing my run I was 9th female in the run, highest position out of the disciplines, so if I made a mess others made a bigger mess. Maybe running a marathon in 31 degrees is just hard!


What do you do when finishing an Ironman isn’t enough? If it’s me you get really cross with yourself that you can be so stupid and vow to finally learn a very painful lesson about pacing for next time. You forget all the things you did right which got you successfully to the end of an ironman in 13 hours 21 minutes, 18 seconds, 9th out of 26 women. I am lucky enough to  move in a world where amazing people do amazing things all the time and forget that at 57 years old that’s not so bad. Then I gradually recalibrate and celebrate a great adventure and a great few days which has left me with some blisters, probably four toe nails less than I had, a nice plaque for coming second in age group….. and a bizarre urge to do it all again.

When all the puzzle pieces fall together.  Race report for Cotswolds 113, June 6 2021

Cotswold 113 Tri - 6.6.21 - www.113events.com

downloadI have just completed the Costwolds 113 Middle distance triathlon race and LOVED it. It’s very  rare that all the bits of the jigsaw fall into place and when they do it just feels amazing. This was that race.

Things had been good through training with a Covid spin off being the lack of coughs and colds around the place. Taper was relaxed, if slightly short in my eyes, at five days. For once I focused on the last few sessions and did them properly. I am always tempted to skimp these. It’s as if all the hard work is done and what difference will an extra 20 minute spin do? Lists, list and more lists with race plans, kit lists and morning routine all written out numerous times. And I knew the course, having raced it last year. A huge bonus was that my daughter was racing as well.

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The Monkey Race

If anyone thinks racing is just about swim, bike and run think again –

The first race of my season was the Yorkshire Duathlon and I pulled my calf muscle 7 weeks before. It was only a little pull and muscles take between 4 and 6 weeks to heal so I should have been fine. Physio, exercises, stretching, blah, blah. But six weeks later, with virtually no running, it still hurt.

I suspected my Chimp, but he’s quite hard to corner.

cross monkey real

Everyone has a Chimp, it’s the part of us which is irrational, quick, often aggressive or defensive and stops us doing what our rational human brain would like. It’s primary job is to protect us from harm. My rational human brain wanted to run, my Chimp didn’t. My Chimp is male, he is also quite cunning. So it wasn’t until a physio stuck his thumbs in my calf, five days before the race, and declared it psychosomatic pain that I could nail the Chimp. (for lots more on this read The Chimp Paradox, Dr Steven Peters)

The key to this race seemed to be for me to get to grips with my Chimp. OK, so what is the issue here I ask him. Are you scared we have forgotten how to race? Don’t want to get beaten? Worried about times? The answer was that he didn’t want me to get hurt again before racing. He was saving my leg for the race. Here followed some dialogue about how bad a training strategy that was, and all the reasons why my leg had healed.  I wrote him a very polite letter.

‘Dear Chimp

Thank you for trying to protect me. I understand that wish and I am grateful for your care. I have sought help and my leg is fine. I have done the exercises. I should be able to do 20 calf raises off the stair and I can do nearly 20×3 so my leg is strong. I have stretched the neural pathways. They are the same as the other leg. I have wrapped it up with calf sleeves and compression socks. I have used a foam roller on my legs nightly. I have been back to physio. That calf is FINE. There is absolutely NO damage. I am ready to run.

I think you try to protect me so that I can race, which is lovely – BUT when you do that I race slowly because you haven’t given me space to practice. You could support me even better if you let me practice – then we could do better together. Thank you Chimp – we will race will on Sunday.

Love the rest of me.’

cute-monkey-cartoon_146562-7In the following few days we managed to run distances of up to three miles, with my form gradually getting better. 

I’m very visual so my Chimp this time is about the size of a Labrador when he is sitting down, he has a long tail moving from side to side, huge brown eyes and very soft deep chocolate coloured fur. He loves mango and I can clearly see him chewing the flesh off the stone. He remains calm and eating mango all week.

We get to race day and the sun shines. I feel good. We run, we bike and we run again. That’s what a standard duathlon involves – 6 miles running, 24 miles biking and 3 miles running. In the first run I have a completely clear image of my Chimp and I waltzing round a room singing ‘We’ve done it, we’ve done it, we can run’. Which was a kind of nice celebration, if a little strange.

Despite not running for six weeks we held even splits across both runs of about 8.45 min a  mile and came in 4th giving a qualifying performance for the European Championships next year. Not a bad start to the season really.

Great day out, really well organised and masses of lovely marshals. The sun shone and people smiled.

The Chimp Paradox Dr Stephen Peters

It’s all in your Head – Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan

https://youtu.be/gwd-wLdIHjs  and https://www.painrevolution.org/ Lorimer Moseley, Australian pain specialist

How do you plan your own training?

We can and do ride our bikes all year round, but if we wish to train to improve our performance, instead of ride purely for fun, then we need to understand the training process.  Endurance training is cyclical and is composed of periods differing in volume and intensity. Hence the term ‘periodization’ which was originally coined by the Romanian scientist Dr Tudor Bompa.

Before you start to construct your plan you need to know what you are aiming for and when you are starting. That gives you a date and a timescale. Your goal might be an event, a cycling holiday, a race or just being fitter than last year by the start of summer riding in May. It doesn’t matter. You also need to know where you are starting from, which can be hard. The best way perhaps is to look at how you were riding at your fittest this year and start by aiming to do about 60 – 70% of that in base phase.

There are at least five phases to the endurance training cycle as seen in the diagram – base, build, peak, taper, race, recovery. As it is presented here, it is circular so after recovery you start again. Similar to heart rate zone discussions you may find different terms and sub divisions used but the general principle holds good. In each of these phases what you are doing alters. Base is steady, easy stuff, general technique training, endurance rides. Build is where specificity starts to enter the picture and training increases in volume and intensity depending what your aim is. Annual strength training is maximised in Build phase. Time trials, audax events or hilly sportives will all require different approaches at this point. Peak is where the final hard work is done. Taper means everything reduces back so that you arrive at your event fresh, with good form, so that you can perform well. the length of taper will depend on the length of event. This is also true of the length of recovery which may take anything from a day to well over six weeks for a multi-day enduro event.

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The Golden Rules of Training

Training is a complicated puzzle and it is very hard to be objective about one’s own performance. Staying safe and getting the most out of our training process is a constant balancing act.  Here are some guidelines to help –

CONSISTENCY

golden rules

Consistency is key. The route to healthy, sustainable fitness is through the consistent application of the minimum amount of effort to produce the desired adaptations in our bodies. The boom and bust model so many of us find ourselves caught in does not produce long term, sustainable results. We should be aiming to see year on year improvements up to ten years after we start focused training. So if your heart rate is up a bit one morning take a couple of easy days until it balances out again. You could save yourself three weeks out with a chest infection. If you don’t have much time, or can’t be bothered, 20 minutes on the turbo spinning your legs out is better than nothing. Do that twice a week for a month and you have 2 hours forty minutes of training you wouldn’t have had otherwise. As a bonus you may find once you get on the turbo it’s not so bad and you can manage 45 minutes instead.  Just keep chipping away.

Continue reading “The Golden Rules of Training”

What is fitness?

‘I’ve gone to all this effort and I’m not even fit enough to achieve xxx’

This upset statement from one of my athletes on a downer really made me think and question ‘what is fitness?’

How do we measure it? What do we really mean when we think someone has a high level of fitness? Was it rational for the athlete to expect to achieve xxx? 

‘I want to go faster.’ Perhaps this seems a simple enough statement and is probably one of the ones we hear the most often.  But does that mean measuring and working to improve our FTP ( Functional Threshold Power) and successfully time trialling, or practicing VO2 max intervals to improve our ability to go with a break, or doing lots of endurance work to go faster over an ironman bike course. All valid aspirations, all variations on going faster and all need training for in very different ways.  Success at one will mean failure at the others….. so we need to be very clear where we are heading.

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Race Story – Cotswolds 113 Middle Distance Race

Humm, why was I racing a middle distance race on the flatlands of the Cotswolds when my friends were doing a perfectly good standard race in Windermere? Precisely because it is flat and the Lake District isn’t. I entered when the date was in June and it was a preparation race for a flat Ironman in July. The best laid plans, ah well, me and the rest of the world. I realise I am very lucky to get any racing at all; it’s definitely a luxury in today’s world.   

I’m not sure I thought about luxury as I racked. In fact that early in the morning I’m pretty sure I didn’t think anything at all. Paddy’s marshal briefing was at 4.45am so I was the first person into transition which, luckily, had great lights. Something missing off my kit list was a head torch.

It was odd swimming in a small, shallow, WARM pond surrounded by trees. I hadn’t realised how much I look at, and appreciate, the amazing views of space and mountains when I swim at home. Weird watching weed the whole way round, I do like the patterns it makes. The staggered start (Covid safe) and the shallow warm water worked well and I came in in 36:05 which is my fastest time ever in a middle distance apart from river swims with currents. I thought that was really interesting as I haven’t done any focused swim training, or intervals, or fast work. I have purely swum around in the Lakes stopping to look at the view. How does that work then?

It was odd having neutralized transitions. 10 minutes in T1 and 5 minutes in T2. Although having decided to use the loo in T2 I still managed to be late leaving it and ended up with an eleven second penalty. I’ll revert to my normal, less pleasant, practice next time.

It was also odd, and not in such a good way, riding Paddy’s tt bike. For various reasons I have probably only ridden it a handful of times and never for long. My mistake. The bike leg went ok, covering 56 miles in 2:57, averaging approx 18.6 mph and putting out approx 150 watts. Handling could have been better, lack of practice, and the bits into a strong headwind were hard work. I’d love to say the views were good but I had my head down…. The marshals however were fantastic. Hoards of six on every junction, some stopping traffic, illegal or not, others just shouting support.

Then I tried to run….even odder …. my body is not used to being held in a cramped, tucked position for three hours and it complained by refusing to stand up properly and then refusing to pick my feet up properly. So the run was a fairly painful affair – serve me right – but the route was lovely. Three laps and my head was up enough to appreciate a very pretty run route, mostly off road, along ponds, (I guess they are little Lakes really) and through woodland. Lots of tree roots to fall over. The trend in amazing marshals continued and having our names printed on our numbers meant a lot of the support was personalised. A great help. A slow 2:07.

Followed by a slow two days as my hamstrings gradually loosened off.  This is a great, flat, middle distance race. Very well organised with the best marshalling ever. There are two dates for next year coming on line. The early one would be an ideal race for Lakesman entrants and the local Premier Inn has comfy beds and a pub next door. … Club trip?  

Ps apologies for the very poor photos, we were both too busy.