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. 🙂

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

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.

HELLvelyn Triathlon

A bucket list event held on my doorstep – so why ever not? Maybe because the swim is cold, the cycle ride goes up The Struggle which is a climb listed in ’10 of the UK’s toughest climbs’. It lasts for 4.8km and climbs over 1200ft with sections of 24%. There is a flat bit in the middle. The ‘run’ then almost summits Helvellyn – it turns right with about 50 metres of climb to go. It climbs about 3,000ft and goes up Swirral Edge scramble. No reason at all then.

Even more fun when some friends decide to do it as well, and Paddy comes as support – coffee and hugs on tap. I was ridiculously nervous. Maybe because it was the first race of the season and I’m always nervous for that one. Maybe because I haven’t fell run regularly for over ten years so it did feel like a very big challenge.

A field in rural Cumbria contrasted with the presence of a pro-field and Alsitair Brownlee turned up, having raced in Hamburg the day before. Luckily no 14 day isolation required! He went on to break the old course record, which he set when he was 19. Social distance spacing in transition looked suspiciously like a normal cramped transition and I wasn’t about to get the tape measure out. Have to say though the COVID silver lining was the presence of more toilets than normal and quantities of both gel and loo roll.

A beautiful, cold Ullswater (13 degrees) welcomed us and we were supposed to start at 5 second intervals. This rapidly turned into ‘get everyone in: any order and any spacing will do’. So apologies to those who were hoping to spectate, all our timings went straight out the window and my warm up was just a little rushed. We jumped in leaving Paddy surrounded by a big pile of gear. Flat lake, tight course, hop out, run round a buoy, hop back in again. Felt good in the water, if a trifle chilly.

On to the bike, 10% chance of rain and the sun was starting to come out. That lasted for the first ten minutes. By the time we got the the A66 it was henious. So horrible it was quite exhilerating. Poor visibility, greyness, spray, caravans. Coat on. Dunmail was easy, the Struggle wasn’t. No suprise there then. Quick hug with Paddy at the top, it was that kind of race, and an update on how the others were doing. Wet descent. I thought how nice of them to place an ambulance with flashing lights half way down to remind me to slow down. Must have been tired, it was there because someone had gone through the wall. Sluggish with some cramp issues on the bike.

Easy in transition to keep the cramp at bay; also because Alistair was being interviewed so I paused for a listen. First mile easy, settle into things gently, only eight left to go. Then the course went straight up. Postive head – ‘ thank goodness its uphill, thank goodness it’s uphill’, repeat. My legs couldn’t cope with going down at that point. The clouds were now blowing off and the fells were absolutely stunning. Thankfully I hadn’t taken my phone or I’d still be there taking photos. Luckily Stephen took some instead. The main climb finished off up Swirral Edge which was fun – wet rock and lots of people not used to scrambling. Then down, down, down.

Finally through the finish in just under six hours. I was the last of us to finish so I got the biggest welcome reception. With a touch of black humour the organisers had left us one last little Covid challenge – collect your own medal and the medal box was on the floor.

Successes of all kinds – Stephen raised over £1000 for Vision of Adventure ( a local charity supporting visually impaired athletes), he also not only survived but successfully smashed his second ever triathlon. Jack learnt loads to take forward to his ironman next year. I managed a respectable fell run having not done that for a very long time. And fun was had by all, both beforehand and on the day. In fact the crack was so good we may even contemplate doing it again.

Manage my Fear, Strathpuffer 24 hour relay MTB race, Jan 2019

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I was inspired by a blog written by a team of 13 year old girls who completed ‘the Strathpuffer’ last year. This is a 24 hr mountain bike race in a forest in the North of Scotland, held in January. My rationale was that if they could do it so can women who are over 50.  It will be fun, something different and a bit of a challenge. That was July, in the hottest summer for years.

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I needed a  light in a black hole

January 2019 and I have a team of women, and a fear monkey. This is supposed to be a little bit of fun but my head as gone into overdrive and is hiding in a black hole somewhere. It quite often does this before races. Eating gets harder, my head is convinced I’m ill, it’s normally lying. It’s trying to protect me from myself. After a week of this I decided this is ridiculous and we sit down and have a big talk with each other.

What is the issue? There are several – as someone very close to me pointed out I am a lousy mountain biker, I hate being cold and get cold very easily and I can’t function without sleep. Ideal! And all of those mean I might let the team down and that isn’t OK, So how do I get out of this hole? Find the evidence to convince myself these problems aren’t problems….

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World Championships Rotterdam 2017

Rotterdam, what a party, what a blast. Olympic Distance World Championship Triathlon, whooop whooo. I don’t know what it is about the sport. In the days before you complain about all the faff, organising, walking about, difficulty of transport etc. And then you race, and all that tension and pent up energy explodes. Amazing bike course, just screamingly good fun, adrenaline flood. A few weeks later I am still high and still can’t wait to do it again.