I am a triathlete

Me on my bike at Ashington triathlon 2011
Heading out on the bike stage of my first triathlon

I have wanted to be able to say that for so long. And now I can.

I had an amazing day, no an amazing weekend. Just the best. Sunshine, friends, icecream. A swim, a cycle and a run. And the best support crew in the world. What more could I ask for?

I was nervous when I woke up. I knew I had to keep it calm and quiet. So I just went and did what I usually do on race day, made my porridge, ate it and had all my kit ready to go. I’m afraid there were several bathroom stops before I left the house, but on the outside I was giving the impression of being cool, calm and under control.

Gary had volunteered to come and support me on this one, so it was great to have his help to lift the bike into the back of his car and to travel up to Ashington in style with some chilled out tunes on the stereo. I practised my pilates breathing just about all the way there.

We’d no sooner parked up than I saw Flip and Anna, with Flip about to rescue a puncture on his bike – something that would have sent me into a tizzy. A quick chat, then over to registration to pick up my timing chip and numbers and then hang around for the race briefing.

I was reassured I knew what I was doing and what to expect. But by now the time was ticking away to my start at 08:53. So back out to rack the bike and set up in my first transition. Some very friendly marshalls showed us where to go and checked my bike was facing the right way and reminded me to put my helmet on before touching the bike.

At some point on my trips back and forth to the pool, I bumped into Ian, off in a later heat than me and looking very relaxed about the whole thing. I felt reassured then. I had friends around me, and it was going to be a good day.

I didn’t want to hang around in a crowd getting nervous so I headed back to the car. I think I lasted about 10 minutes before I went for a jog up and down the grass a couple of times and then some deep breathing and pilates roll downs to get me set.

Finally, back to the pool, heading up to the viewing gallery to see one of the swim heats underway.  There was a small adrenaline spike then, as I looked into the water and saw it packed with swimmers. I couldn’t suppress a small ‘Oh god!’ as I let my swim demon have his moment. Ian said ‘deep breaths’ and that’s what I did.

No more time for socialising – time to head to the pool side. Deep breaths, focus, relax. As soon as I got there, I was called forward for a short briefing alongside Flip and Stuart who were both in my heat. I continued to focus on my breathing, rolling my shoulders and preparing for the swim.

I was a bit panicked when they said we had 9 minutes in the briefing and that after 9 minutes they would blow a whistle and we should get out in order to  give the next heat chance to hit the pool. I usually swim just over 9 mins for 400m in training and I wanted to make sure I swam smooth and easy. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t get to finish my swim.

But Stuart reassured me. It’s actually a 25 yard pool at Ashington, so 16 lengths is a bit shorter than 400m.

Anyway, too late for those sort of worries, more deep breaths and into the water which was surprisingly warm. We had a couple of minutes before our start and I was second to go in my lane. So I took a couple of deep breaths and did a couple of sinking and blowing bubbles. The first was a bit short and panicky, but I brought it under control and by the time the start came, I felt okay.

In fact I missed my start. I didn’t hear the second go and went on the third. I think that cheesed off the guy behind me as he came barrelling past on the right hand side, thrashing like a loon on the first length. I just concentrated on breathing out under water and keeping it steady. And I didn’t have the swim panic. Nerves, yes. A couple of moments where I needed to catch my breath, yes. But that awful, ‘oh goodness I really don’t want to be here’ feeling – no. Swim demon defeated at Ashington.

I was very close to the girl ahead of me, and accidentally caught her a couple of times, but I needed a breather on the turn and let her go ahead. But I was catching her on each lap, and so finally I pulled alongside and overtook on a turn.

Now I was in clear water, just me and my swim.  I eased through the water, enjoying the cool sensation on my cheeks as I swam up to the deep end.

A couple of times I lost count of my laps and was grateful of my poolmate watch which I’d set to go when I started. A couple of times, I swam front crawl with my head out of the water, to give myself chance to catch my breath. And there were even a few strokes of breast stroke on my penultimate length as I came up against two swimmers side by side approaching me on the turn. But I never stopped and it went by in a whirl.

I kicked for the last length and swam breathless to the end. Then up, out of the pool, snatching hat and goggles off and heading out along the path down to the transition area.

Time to try something new – cycling whilst wet through. I didn’t even register running barefoot over the 100m or so down to the bike. I knew my spot, headed straight to it and stood on my towel, surprised to see the black marks off my feet.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
Heading back on the bike leg

A shout from Flip and Stuart also in transition I think, but I barely looked up. Socks, shoes, helmet, number belt, a quick swig from my water bottle. I didn’t rush transition. I allowed myself the time to get it right and relax in the knowledge that I could do the next bit.

Pushed the bike round to the start line, then hopped on and away. Easy, easy at first. Just gather my thoughts and smile to myself that the hardest part was over and I’d swum well. I grabbed a piece of mango stuck to the handle bars as I powered up the road – easy gear for the first lap I told myself.

Thanks so much to Peter and Flip for that course recce last weekend. It meant it held no surprises. I knew where the hill was and how hard it was and that I could take it. The photographer will have a cracking picture of me absolutely blown out near the top on the first lap.

But then I knew it was all downhill or flat and I revelled in the speed through the country lanes and back round to the road again. The marshalls were brilliant, keeping an eye on the traffic and advising us when it was clear to go through.

Round for the second lap and this time I pushed a bit harder. More on the big ring up towards the Pegswood roundabout, keeping my breathing at a level that was hard, but I knew I could sustain.

There’s no pressure for me on the bike. It’s a hybrid. It’s twice as heavy, if not more, than some of the super road bikes, but it’s my legs that are powering it and my legs are strong. Lots went past me on their racing machines, but I got some encouragement too. And each time one did, I tried to stay with them a little longer. No chance of me drafting, but useful to keep spurring me on.

As I came round to approach the hill a second time, I was passed by the girl I passed in the swim, but she didn’t look that fast on her road bike. So I dug in, and kept pushing, down into the lowest gear, crawling up the hill.

There was a big car, a landrover or something behind us, and I thought I’d have to get over to the left hand steeper side to let him past. But he seemed happy to tootle up behind the cyclists, so I went out into the middle of the road to tackle the steepest part of the climb, all the time gaining on the girl on the road bike.

Hill completed, it was down to the rush of speed. I hunched over the handle bars to make myself as aero dynamic as possible and kept the legs going ten to the dozen. And at some point out along the road I passed her. Woohoo!

Now it was a battle to keep her behind me as long as I could. And I managed a good way into the third and final section, until she took me on the flat on the way up to the roundabout and I shouted out a well done.

No hill this time, so I pushed hard, up to the roundabout and then back down towards the bike finish. I kept my eyes open for competitors coming the other way, but am not adept enough at recognising anyone on their bikes just yet. A couple of people said they saw me though – and I was grinning.

I was definitely enjoying the bike ride, imagining I was Lesley on her lovely bike and storming through the finishing stages. A couple of cyclists who’d been watching at the top of the hill were by now on a bench at the side of the road and yelled out a ‘well done’ as I went past. And as I freewheeled down the road the blossoms showered me with pink confetti. It was a tickertape parade to the finish.

Back round to the carpark transition area, dropping through the gears and spinning over the last few hundred yards. Marshalls yelling ‘Off before the yellow line’ – which I did. Then a jog, stamp the feet and jelly legged move into transition.

Me running at Ashington triathlon 2011
Got my determined face on sprinting for the finish

I went the wrong side of the bike rack this time, but luckily I could duck through. Gloves off, quick swig of water, helmet off and away for the run, turning my number belt round as I headed out of transition.

Oh how my legs hurt. My calves were like rock. This will pass, I told myself. Just keep moving. I bumbled on, feeling jelly legged and slow through the narrow footpaths around the school and playing fields. First lap easy, I said to myself. This is your run – you know you can do this. You’re on the home straight.

But it hurt, really hurt. My breathing was good, I felt strong, just my legs felt like I was going to smash them into pieces every time I hit the ground.

Round to the start of the second lap and I get a shout across the field from Gary and there’s Anna with the camera. Crikey, I can’t run like a lump around Anna, I’d better try and pick this up a bit. So I did for a while. But as a handy fence line approached I allowed myself a stop for a stretch. Even if it was psychological, even if it was just 20 seconds, it helped.

But it did mean a girl in a black Durham tri suit gained on me and got past me as I picked up the run again. She’d kindly asked if I was okay and apologised for a slow overtaking manoeuvre, but it really helped as it gave me someone to focus on for the next lap.

By the end of the second lap the run was definitely  coming back to me. I was stretching out a little more and gaining ground on Durham tri. This was about fitness and determination now. And thanks to all my fantastic training, I know I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.  As we came around for the third lap, I stretched ahead.

Now it was about pushing on, keeping her behind me. I could sense she was still there as the marshalls clapped and cheered us on for the last lap. Less than half a mile to go as I thanked the marshalls, especially the one frantically looking down the list of numbers to try and shout out our names, and finally I felt I was running at something like a decent 5k pace.

Back round to the playing field and I was picking my spot for a sprint. But my legs went for it as soon as I thought it and I pushed on hard for a few seconds, then dropped back. But the flags were in sight, push on again. And with a stutter and a stall I found something like a fast finish, arms pumping, breath rasping as I ran over the grass and the finish line.

And I laughed! Laughed out loud because I’d done it. And it felt fantastic just like I knew it would. Even with my head down trying to catch my breath and stop seeing stars. Grateful to the marshall who took my chip from my ankle, I was laughing!

I finished a triathlon. Wow! When can I do it again?

Today was all about finishing. About achieving something new and challenging. About beating that swim demon. And about enjoying it.

But for those who want to know, here are the stats:
Swim 08:44 (400m – but really 360)
T1 01:46
Cycle 53:16 (20k)
T2 00:43
Run 23:55 (either a short 5k or a mega PB)
Total 01:28:24

Race results

I have some great big thank yous to make. Firstly to Gary who was today, as always, the best support crew I could have. He puts up with me flitting off hither and thither for training, talking endlessly about races and plans, and doesn’t seem to mind me meeting up with a bunch of sweaty runners on a weekend. Plus he took pictures and treated me to an ice cream afterwards.

Then there’s all you lot. Thank you for all your messages. I have had so many here and on facebook, twitter, email and text (I’m a social networking junkie). You are an awesome support crew.

I need to pick out two very special friends for a big tri thank you though. Lesley and Alastair, you have been absolutely inspirational and I love that you’re my friends.

Lesley, we have come a long way since 100m front crawl haven’t we? I count myself very lucky to have met you when I did virtually. And extremely happy to have been able to share hugs, cake and triathlon stories with you. You are going to have a great season this year and I will be cheering you on in every race – just like you do for me.

Alastair – my Fetch big bro. What can I say? You know me so well. You’re not afraid to say things I need to hear and tell it like it is. And you’re my go-to guy for bike stuff. The go-faster wheels are a big success. I just hope you won’t mind me picking your brains more often. There was a promise of a road bike at the end of this race.

And to all my running friends, especially Jeff who just keeps encouraging me to go faster (I’m sure that hug I pinched at parkrun on Saturday helped) and Lesley-Anne (I know you were thinking of me).  But also to Penny (for excellent advice when it was most needed. You’re going to love it at Hebburn), Sue (thanks for the tweet),  Kathryn, Steve, and everyone else who has left me a comment or sent me a message.

And finally, to Ian Turrell my personal trainer, who’s responsible for all this madness. The man who started me running, who got me fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. Who changed my life basically. And the person who first put the thought in my head that I could do a triathlon. You really don’t know how brilliant you are. But thank you anyway. I’m so proud to be one of your team.

Adrenaline spike

When Peter announced his race number for Ashington triathlon, I had to go and look for mine didn’t I?

Even just  doing that sent a surge of adrenaline through me. And that’s fine here and now because it translates as excitement. But I can understand how the same unconscious reaction can turn the other way – the fight or flight response.

So I did what I plan to do if I’m hit by the same emotions in the race. Took some deep breaths and got on with it. Arguably slightly easier to do on a walk around the office buildings, than in a pool full of people. But still…it’s a plan.

I’ve had some really nice messages of encouragement this week. And riding the course with Peter and Flip gives me a good idea of what to expect. Someone, whose opinion I trust and value, said I’m ready for this. And I know I am. I have trained as well as I am able. Prepared as well as I can. And now I’m just ticking over, waiting for the moment to prove it.

A round up and a recce

Another great week of training this week and it’s all really starting to come together. After my super weekend brick session last Sunday, I pushed myself through a weights session in my yard on Monday night, then decided sleep was more important than an early morning run on Tuesday.

I did still get the miles in though, running my first 10k since I raced in Blackpool, out along the North East coast on Tuesday evening. I took it easy as my legs were still recovering from the brick and weights sessions. I was actually a little nervous of the distance, as I’ve been concentrating on short and fast. So I just told myself no time pressures, no pace targets, just run it. And it turned into a lovely evening.

When my legs felt slow and leaden, I slowed down and thought about the things that were going well, like my breathing. And I just kept going out along my tried and trusted route, back in time for tea.

Wednesday night, I wasn’t sure what to do. It’s basically my cross training night, so up to me. I had my swim kit in my bag, but had had a bit of a frustrating day and my head was a bit mashed. So I ditched the swim and punched out a fun workout at boxercise.

I had a restless night’s sleep, which is unusual for me, especially after an energetic session. But still managed to bounce up and out early for my PT session on the beach at 06:30. A glorious morning, still and fresh and 1 hour’s worth of whole body training with the med ball. Plus plenty of advice and encouragement from Ian ahead of my first triathlon.

After a busy day at work, Gary’s let me know his Wine School class had been cancelled, so I wasn’t needed as chauffeur. So I took the chance to go to pilates instead. I haven’t done any pilates for a couple of weeks and it was a real welcome relief to stretch out, work the abs hard and shake off a hectic day in my head. I slept like a log that night.

Friday I headed for the pool after work. A chance to tackle my swim monkey again and take on a proper swim session. I wanted to swim at least 1x400m set of front crawl to give me an idea of my time, ready for Ashington. I got in the pool, rehearsing some of my breathing and calming techniques, did a few warm up lengths and then got into the swim.

I tried to take it easy, not worrying too much about arm placement, but getting the breathing smooth and steady. And I gave myself a little rest to catch my breath about 12 lengths in. I was getting close to the end of the set when a couple of lads got in the pool and were mucking about. They were far enough over the side for me not to worry about them too much, or so I thought, when bam! I swam straight into them halfway through a length.

I went straight to bloody fuming. Stopped, shouted at them and then ploughed back to the side, having mucked up my 400m swim. I stopped my watch and saw I only had another 2 lengths to go. But I was shaking. Not so much about messing up the set, but having another uncomfortable experience in the pool when I had been feeling so relaxed. I had a good couple of minutes at the side, doing some deep breathing and calming myself down. Then I ducked under the lane rope into the swim lane and finished off my set.

After another couple of minutes recovery and a couple of lengths breast stroke, I decided to give another 400m set a go. Part way through this one, I could really feel the drag on my arms and sense I was getting tired and splashy. But I kept it going, slowed it down and then kicked hard for the last 2 lengths to swim a 9:15 for 400m. About where I said I’d be for the triathlon.

Now I was back in the groove again, and I actually didn’t want to get out of the pool. I did a couple of 100m sets and then the first signs of cramp in my foot told me I had done enough. But it was a great confidence booster.

Saturday I opted to skip parkrun in favour of another long bike to run brick. I wanted to make sure last weekend’s wasn’t a one off and finish my last hard week of training. So off on the same route as last week, feeling full of beans on the bike and enjoying every minute. I did 20k in about 56 minutes, then off into my hallway transition area, helmet and gloves off and out onto the run.

Hard and heavy legged again, but it eased after the first kilometre and I made it to 5k in just under 27 mins. A tiny bit slower than last week, but it’s all training and experience and I’m not going to fret over 30 seconds or so.

The rest of the day I just pootled around the house, tidying up and doing chores. Then decided to go into town to look for some sunglasses to use on the bike. After trying on some gorgeous Oakley ones that I couldn’t justify the cost of, I got a bargain £25 pair with interchangeable lenses.

And so to Sunday. A bonus day for training as I’d ticked off all the important sessions already this week. But thanks to a very kind offer from Pete Brooks, there was the chance to check out Ashington’s bike route along with Flip.

Another early start and manhandled the bike into the back of the tank, then off up to Ashington to find the Leisure Centre. Met Flip in the car park and began to regret wearing my cycling shorts as it was a bit chilly despite the sunshine. Pete arrived and we admired his lean, mean red, white and black machine. Truly a great looking bike. Makes mine look like a real chubster.

And I was soon to see the real difference between a proper road bike, ridden well and my trusty old hybrid with it’s go faster tyres. I wasn’t pushing hard today, as my legs were still recovering, but Flip and Pete were quickly streets ahead. But I was enjoying the ride and the chance to try out the course. And, kind souls that they are, they waited for me a a couple of rest stops. And we all drooled over that bike some more.

I’d thought I’d only want to do one lap to get an idea of the course. Especially after encountering the hill! That had me struggling in my lowest gear. But in the end, we rode the lot. I was even enjoying myself so much I missed the turning back to the car park at the end.

A rather lengthy transition in the car park as we racked the bikes back into the cars, but we did manage a lap of the run route too. And I even snuck a peek at the pool.

After all that, Flip and I drove to the Rising Sun country park hoping to catch the end of the race. But we were a bit late and it was all over by the time we got there. Nice to see so many runners enjoying the sunshine though and congratulate Jeff and Kev on their runs. And to snaffle a free sausage roll (they were being offered). Seems like a good race and one to consider for next time!

It was a great day for a bike ride and great company. I know I’ll be hammered by the faster bikes, but I don’t care. I will feel so much more confident going into my first tri event now. Thanks for all the tips Pete.

Mon: Weights
Tues: 10k run
Weds: Boxercise
Thurs: PT session / pilates
Fri: Swim
Sat: Bike/run brick
Sun: Bike and run

Write, better, not more and think about your audience

I thought you might enjoy this blog post from a fellow copywriter, Tom Albrighton. He strikes a case for pushing words to their limits. Condensing ideas and thoughts down into a memorable or striking phrase.

That very much resonates with my own thinking, that often short and simple is better. Because it’s easy to take in. Easy to understand. Memorable.

And that often invoves using the language of poetry. Poetry is about the economy of language. The right word in the right place. A word or two that perfectly capture a moment or sensation. It’s powerful stuff.

And it’s hard to do. When I run writing workshops in the company I work for, I often hear people say “But our products are really complicated, it’s hard to make them sound simple and fully explain what they do.”

And yet, over the last few weeks, on television screens across the country, thousands of us have tuned in to hear Professor Brian Cox explain the infinite complexities and mysteries of the universe.

He talks about things we cannot see. Describes things so big we cannot measure them and talks about events that will not happen in our lifetime or a million lifetimes. And there’s nothing overly complicated about the language he uses. The programme lasts an hour, but it’s not a lecture that bombards us with information, statistics and mathematical proof points.

So how does he do it? Explain something as complex and marvellous as the universe?

Quite simply by framing it in terms that we can understand. By bringing it back to tangible objects that we can hold, touch or imagine. In one programme, he explained the second law of thermodynamics and ultimately why time only goes forward, using a sandcastle in a desert. Turning something abstract, into something real.

So if Brian Cox can explain entropy in simple language, I’m quite sure businesses can explain their products using it too.

That’s where real world metaphors, like Brian’s sandcastle can help. To give you an example, I was recently trying to get my head around a feature in one of our software products, desperately trying to figure out why it’s useful for a customer.

It’s about data (something intangible). To help me understand it, the product manager used the metaphor of a car. We build the basis of a car, but then our customers can choose the options they want – for example a bigger engine, different wheels, leather seats etc.

It’s basically about shaping data into something that makes sense for our customers, for example, a list of their 20 most profitable products. It means they can adapt the data to suit them, but we’ve given them a head start by providing the basis (the chassis if you like).

I did smile at the fact that Tom’s blog post about writing better, not writing more is in itself over 1,000 words long – something he acknowledges. And now I’ve added my own sum of words to that.

Could I have worked harder to condense it down into  a pithy quote? Arguably. But I’m still stewing the ideas in my own version of brain soup.

Tom’s thoughts have also been challenged by another copywriter, Ben Locker, who argues the case for the audience saying it’s just as important to know who you’re writing for, what they want and how it’s being delivered.

I believe that too. And it’s certainly given me plenty to think about for my next writing assignment.

If Carlsberg did weekends…

Well, fantastic Friday, lead to super Saturday and smashing Sunday. The sun decided to stick around and, after hearing there were due to be pacers at Saturday’s parkrun, I asked for special dispensation from Ian to go and run. The focus this weekend was on a tri-length brick session, and I wanted to be sure that my desire for a speedy run wasn’t going to tip the balance into doing too much.

A great morning on the town moor, still a little breezy, but the sunshine brought out a bright bevy of Fetchies. I saw and chatted to Jeff, Flip, Penny, Lesley Anne, Clare, and Martyn and Little C. I also bumped into Ewan from work, out for his first taste of parkrun.

At the start I looked for the 25 minute pacer – a guy in a green and white striped vest. The plan was to stick as close to him as possible. Off the start line and into the melee, I put on a spurt over the grass to catch up with him. Through the first kilometre we ran shoulder to shoulder. It felt fast, but I held on, feeling like I was being pulled along the rise.

As we approached the gate, I was aware of a lady runner beside me, pushing on and she nipped ahead of me. But as we turned along Grandstand Road I gained my place back. And she kept coming, and I kept pushing.

Through the second gate and back onto the moor, the heat hit me and the dust was being kicked up over the rough ground. I ran alongside close to the grass and the pacer ran along the opposite side. Somewhere around the straight beside the road I started to drift backwards. The pacer and my little lady racer overtook me and went ahead.

Suddendly it felt like everyone was going past me. A stream of runners, looking good, breathing easy, whereas I was starting to struggle. Ewan, came galloping past with a lovely long lolloping stride.

Stick with the plan, I told myself, don’t think, just run. Relax, breathe and kick in. The pacing group were a few hundred metres ahead, but I resolved to try not to let the gap get any wider. Time and again I had a mini race, overtaking someone only to have them come back at me and pretty soon I was targeting the next runner and the next.

When it felt rough, I told myself to dig harder. And for once the breeze at the 4k gate was a welcome relief. I put on a good turn of pace for pestomum, even though I was feeling far from strong and told myself I had less than 5 minutes to run, so I’d better make the most of it.

I’d lost the pacer by now. I was just into the last kilometre and trying to find another gear. Stretching to make every inch of each stride count, calculating when to push it up a notch. At the turn into the final straight there was a man and a girl running their own battle. They were close enough to catch, so I kicked in and ran right through the middle of them. It was a long way from my usual sprint, but I managed to hold it and keep going, spotting the pacer just ahead.

I thought I’d blown myself out, metres from the line and had to pull back a little, but then grimaced and bullied myself on through to the finish. Stopped the watch and saw those magic numbers 24.53. You beauty!

I’ve run sub 25 on this course once before, but only just, so I was pretty sure it was a new PB, which it is. In fact I’ve only beaten it once before in Edinburgh with Scottynbn pushing me all the way to the line. So to do it again pleased me no end, as it shows I’m running consistently and there’s definitely some improvement in my speed.

Here’s the official blurb:

“Congratulations on completing your 16th parkrun and your 15th at Newcastle today. You finished in 113th place and were the 18th lady out of a field of 190 parkrunners and you came 2nd in your age category VW35-39.
Congratulations on setting a new Personal Best by 00:05 seconds at Newcastle parkrun!”

So how does one celebrate that? By meeting Katherine, a friend I used to work with, up for the weekend from London, and introducing her to the delights of the village chocolate shop.

Smashing Sunday

I woke early again this morning. Gary was off starring in his own version of Lambing Live and helping out on our friends’ farm, so he was up with the lark. After a couple of chapters of my book, I drifted back to sleep again and decided just to wake when I felt like it.

A few weeks ago, my Fetch bike guru, Alastair had recommended I invest in some new tyres to help me go faster. So last weekend I exchanged the nobbly mountain bike tyres for something a bit skinnier and slicker. Today was to be their first outing.

Warm enough for my tri kit with a T-shirt over the top, I was soon setting out on a familiar coastal routes, shades on and the breeze in my face. I hadn’t gone far when I noticed a bit of a problem. My chain guard was loose and wibbling around. I stopped, hopped off and took a look.

Now I am the least mechanically able person I know. In trying to fix things, I inevitably end up making them worse. So at first I thought I’d divert to the bike shop, but then I remembered it was Sunday and they’re closed. Nothing seemed to be broken, it just looked like it needed to be clipped back into place. So I gave it a try. And thankfully, after a couple of goes, I managed to fix it.

So back on the bike and starting the watch again, I set out to conquer 20k in the North East sunshine. A loop of North Shields took me down to the Fish Quay and along and up the tiered banks that runners will be tackling on the North Tyneside 10k.

And I was flying! Out along the straights on the big ring, overtaking mountain bikers down by the quay. Even the big hill was so much easier. Drop a gear or two and keep on peddling. I didn’t have to stand until right by the top. True, I was out of breath with the effort, but it was a huge difference.

Absolutely buzzing, I flew out along the coast towards the lighthouse and carried on up the roads towards Seaton Sluice. Just before the roundabout, a stream of road bikes came whizzing on past, all skinny tyres and lycra. A girl in green bringing up the rear encouraged me to keep pedalling as she passed.

Just after the roundabout I turned back, and had to start pushing a little harder into the wind and slightly uphill. That’s when I reminded myself I still had a run to tackle at the end of this. But I kept the legs turning over, and although I may have dropped down a ring a little more often, I still felt like I was flying.

Despite the odd moment of slowing down for pedestrians on the pathways, I knew I was covering the ground so much faster. I’d barely looked at my watch, but gave it a glance and saw there was just 5k to go. I imagined I was Lesley, racing today on her super-slick bike, and gave it some welly.

20k took me just short of home, and as the clock ticked over I glimpsed a 56:something. It’s always taken me well over an hour to ride that distance until now. Just over another kilometre to get back to transition and I didn’t let myself off. Another uphill and then trying some transition tips, knotching down the gears, spinning the legs, ready to run.

Off the bike on my street and walk it to the door. Racked in the hallway, gloves off, helmet off and a quick swig of water as I reset my Garmin for the run. Then out the door back into the sunshine and off down the street.

Too fast at first and fighting for my breath, so I gave myself a minute or two to settle as I headed out along the front. Again I felt slow and leaden legged. But this is just training, I reminded myself, just do the distance and don’t worry about the time.

I opted to run 3km out then turn back, which meant another uphill, into the wind return leg. But as the milestones clicked by, I found my rhythm and was able to push through my feet and wind up the pace a little.

The beep for the last kilometre and I imagined myself back at the 4k gate for parkrun, eking whatever else I could get out of my legs. I was hot, sweaty, and achy, but I knew in another 5 minutes or so, it would all be over. I can’t say I gave it anything like a sprint finish, but my arbitrary finish marker of the bus stop was just about spot on. I stopped the watch at 26:25.

Oh boy! Two thirds of my first triathlon distance done, back to back. And if I manage anything like those times at Ashington, I’ll be over the moon. Of course, my aim is just to finish it, and I do still have a swim to contend with. But after last week’s doubts and tribulations, that’s a session that’s filled me with confidence. Please can we book today’s weather again ?

Home for a welcome shower and gradually catching up with news from other friends running and tri-ing today. It all sounds good. In fact some of it positively makes me beam with joy. Looks like it’s been a pretty good one all round. Cheers!

One day like this

Scott's Monument, Edinburgh
Scott's Monument, Edinburgh

The sun shines and our eyes turn upwards, a spring in our step and a lightness of heart.

Settling into my seat on the train instead of my office chair and watching the beautiful Northumberland coast tumble past my window. Green and gold with the volume turned up to 11. Then a splash of deepest blue.

Arriving in one of my favourite cities, navigating the scaffolding in the station, to emerge blinking into the sunlight to the sound of the pipes on Princes street and Scott’s monument. You Scottish people know how to honour a writer!

Navigating the busy streets up to the Royal Mile, peering in the brightly painted shop windows, but hurrying on to make a meeting. Passing a Rankin landmark and thinking of Rebus. Spotting the close and venturing into a cool cobbled courtyard, immediately a million miles from the hustle and bustle.

Then up, up, up into the attic space and exposed beams of a writer’s garret. A bolt hole in the city. And hours pass quickly, talking about words and movies and books with someone who gets it. And who will make me work even harder at finding the right ones. Someone to challenge the easy flabbiness and lazy acceptance. Someone who wants to make me write better.

All done and released back into the sunshine to venture back into the crowds and practically sprint the length of Princes Street to greet a vision in pink. Lesley is waiting for me outside the National Gallery and I get a full on hug, almost getting swept up into a hen party in the process. Well they were wearing pink cowboy hats!

Off to a nearby coffee shop for sandwiches and lots of chat about swimming, running, races run and races planned. And before we knew it, Alastair arrived, ready for more coffee, cake and chat.

I have so many great days to look forward to. My first triathlon, new events and old races in wonderful countryside. It’s always good to catch up with good friends and this was a chance to enjoy some time with two of the very best.

Killingworth Aquathlon

My medal from Killingworth aquathlon
My medal from Killingworth aquathlon

The last time I completed this event was in November. Back then I was unexpectedly anxious in the swim section. It happened to me again today and consequently I swam rather more slowly than I would do in training.

I think the rush of adrenaline that comes with the excitement and nervousness about starting a race put me off my stroke. Unlike in a run, where I can use that nervous energy to dash off from the line, in a swim it holds me back, because it makes me breathe faster. And when you’re swimming that starts to feel like you can’t catch your breath.

I did manage to complete the swim, but with a fair bit of breast stroke and a fair bit of clinging onto the side trying to calm my heart rate. I let everyone in my lane go past me, was two lengths behind the next swimmer and, I think, last out of the pool in my wave. So I was quite disappointed. I didn’t even look at the time, but I think it took me about 14 mins to swim 500m. In training I can do it in around 12.

The marshalls and supporters were lovely, checking I was okay. And I got a few ‘well done’s’ as I got out of the pool. It was an absolute relief to put my trainers on and head out on the run.

Now I was in my zone. And luckily I was able to put my swim behind me fairly quickly. I felt strong, breathing easily and sensed I got quicker on each lap. I certainly gave it a good strong finish at the end and stopped my watch after 500m swim and 4.7km run on a time of 43:08 – knocking a good 30 seconds off my time for the same race.

When I did manage to find my rhythm in the swim, I felt strong and quickly gained on the man in front. So it was my head that let me down more than anything physical. It’s a shame, because I love being in the water and have no fear of it. And I enjoy swimming and know I have improved.

I’m already thinking of how I can try and calm down and enjoy my next race. So I won’t let this beat me. And I’m pleased I managed to pull off such a strong run. It does show how I am getting better little by little.

But I think I earned my medal today. And it’s a rather lovely one.

Official results
Swim 500m 13:59
Run 5.7k plus transition 29:07
Total time 43:06