The world’s best tri club

The very best and most unexpected benefit of my decision to get fit five years ago is the friends I have made through races, social runs and through the online forum of Fetch Everyone. Like all online communities, it has its ups and downs and it isn’t right for everyone, but generally I’ve found it very friendly, supportive and useful. And the Fetchies I’ve met in real life are some of the loveliest people I know.

Me and my friends in our Fetch running gear
Ready for a ‘club’ run – pic by Bob Marshall

It’s how I got to know Lesley, my fabulous tri buddy who lives in Scotland. We hit it off instantly, exchanging messages about our swimming progress and keeping track of each other’s training. We eventually met up with a massive hug at Edinburgh parkrun and  have been firm friends ever since.

She very kindly hosts a few tri training days every year, where a few of us meet up at her house and go swim, cycle and run in the lovely countryside around North Berwick. It’s a two hour drive for me, but when you know you’re going to have the best fun and a decent training day, it’s really nothing to make the journey.

I loaded up my car with bike, wetsuit and an assortment of kit for all weathers. My Polo is great for getting in all my tri gear in. I just drop the back seats and take the front wheel off my bike and it all fits perfectly. And yes, I did choose the colour of my car to match my bike! I’d just had it serviced the day before, so we purred along nicely.

The sun was shining and it grew brighter and brighter as I headed north, singing along with the radio, glancing at blue skies, blue seas and bright yellow fields as I escaped to the borders.

Soon I was welcomed with hugs and jaffa cakes and talking ten to the dozen, with Lesley, her son Al, his girlfriend Michelle and Charlie who was about to take the plunge on her first open water swim as we headed to the beach.

Now, I’m spoiled for beaches. I have three beautiful sandy stretches within walking distance of my house, and even more a short bike or car ride away. I got married by the most beautiful beach in the world and can still hear the roar of the waves on the moonlit night before if I close my eyes and listen.

But Gullane is up there in my top ten and after we’d donned wetsuits and posed for a photo to prove how crazy we were, we dived, plodged or just fell into the waves. The shock of the cold took my breath away, but I was laughing and exhilarated, rather than scared and anxious. A few minutes bobbing around, getting used to the movement of the water and I was soon off and swimming.

It was a headfreeze the first couple of times I put my head in and I was thankful of the shallow sandy bay that meant we could stop and gather our breath and regroup at regular intervals. But gradually there was more and more swimming and I was loving it.

Buoyed up by the salt water, buffeted into the shallows, there was no thought of technique or pickiness over swim style, I just felt natural joy moving through the water, aware of the sea playing with me, tossing me back into the shallows or walloping me with a big wave and filling my throat with salt water when I got too cocky.

Was it cold? After the first few minutes, I didn’t feel it. With the sunshine and blue sky, I was buoyant and giddy. With friends around me, I felt safe and happy. I couldn’t have had a better start to my open water season.

After about half an hour in the water we dried off and enjoyed a lengthy transition back to at Lesley’s house to meet Ann and Les, change into cycle gear, eat bananas and jaffa cakes and pose for another group photo with our bikes before the magnificent seven rode out into the sunshine. Lesley’s husband Bob is a fantastic photographer, so it was great to have him capture our sunny day. You can see some pictures on his facebook page.

For once, the bike felt easy, flying through the country lanes, clicking through the gears. Even into the wind, I felt strong, not sapped and defeated. Towards the end of the ride, there was a busier bit of road (though nothing like the traffic I face at home) and we decided to split into two groups to ride single file. I was delighted to be put in the lead group with Al and Ann. I’ve never been in the fast group on the bike before! We got a mini chain-gang going with a few blasts of speed.

A mini sprint for a flying finish and back in for another quick change of shoes and out for a little run around the fields. My legs had already done a good bit of running this week, so I wanted to go easy, but it felt good to be out in shorts and sunglasses, running side by side with Lesley.

As I eased into the change from bike to run, I felt free and easy and without a word we seemed to pick up the pace. Looking at the splits much later, we managed a sub 5 min km – so we were by not dawdling! Lesley’s had a bit of trouble with her achilles recently, so I was really happy that she could run so well without injury.

The short run done,  we turned indoors and descended on bowls of soup, bread and a magnificent choice of cakes like a hoard of hungry triathletes, with plenty of second helpings. Even three or more conversations at once didn’t stop us clearing the table in alarmingly short order.

Too soon, it was time to go and I drove back into darkening clouds and rain showers. But my head was full of happy memories from the best tri club in the world.

Ashington sprint triathlon – take 3

When you rouse from a dream which finds you in a vaguely familiar North East town, getting more and more frustrated because you’re lost and can’t find the start of a triathlon, it’s time to get up, even if there are 30 minutes more before the alarm is due to go off.

Yes, the nerves were pretty palpable today. First tri of the season and time to see what my training could achieve. Hard to believe it’s my third time at this race.

After worrying that I’d be freezing on the bike leg a couple of weeks ago, Northumberland put on its finest triathlon welcoming weather with bright blue skies, a little sunshine and a slight, drying breeze. I arrived in plenty of time to register and get racked up in transition, then did a little warm up run and running drills to calm my nerves before I made my way poolside for the swim.

I took some deep, slow breaths as I was waiting to be called forward to start, and I got chance to do a couple of sinking out breaths in the water before the whistle. I was first off in my lane with two guys behind me. I fully expected to be passed. I didn’t get a great start and on the first length, the first guy swam alongside and got ahead.

My focus was to have a controlled swim. Not to struggle with the panicky breathing I’ve had in the past, just keep it steady and enjoy it. Swimming in the churning waters and through the bubbles didn’t distress me too much and I kept the breathing smooth. I felt a tickle on my foot about 8 lengths in and let the second guy past.

I was just happy to be swimming my own race. I felt good and strong, and made an effort to pick up the pace a little for the last few lengths, spotting the guy ahead of me was running out of steam. I managed to catch onto his feet but didn’t tickle his toes as I thought it unfair to do that on the last length. Instead we raced side by side to the end and I just pipped him out of the pool.

That gave me the incentive to really run into transition to keep him behind me. I think some of my barefoot running drills paid off!

Nice, smooth transition, no mishaps and a sensible mount onto the bike. I kept the gears low and easy through the turns onto the main road and was passed by quite a few on the way out. I pretty much expect that now, as I know cycling is my weakest discipline. Once out onto the main road, I picked up the gears and tried to keep my legs turning over at a decent rate, feeling my heart rate settle after the adrenaline of the swim and transition.

Up to the roundabout and left onto the country roads to pick up some free downhill speed before a left hand turn into the village and the short, steep climb of Bothal Bank. Dropped into the lowest gear and climbed steadily, getting out of the saddle at the turn for the last section and breathing very heavily at the top. But once over the crest, there’s a good long run back round onto the main drag again.

For the second lap, I picked up the effort, taking advantage of the fast rolling start. With this being a multi-lap course, some of the speedier athletes started to come through and I was admiring their sleek carbon machines, but most of the time I was out on my own, just trying to keep focused and actually having a lot of fun.

The second time up Bothal Bank I spotted a rider being overtaken and looking like he was working hard. I controlled my ascent much better this time, just keeping the power on, moving slowly and recovering more quickly at the top to go past the slower rider further along the road.

My bike was running beautifully, the sun was shining and I felt great as I came into the last half lap. Just up to the roundabout and back and I’d be done. A bit of a catch up moment with two speedy riders and then back through to transition, where I managed a moving dismount and was swiftly onto the run.

A shout from parkrunner Tove as I set off kept me moving as I got a quick shot of cramp through first my left calf, then my right. I decided to ignore it and run it off, taking short strides and trying to settle into my new running style. I was soon bouncing along, and as my legs loosened off, I kept thinking of lifting my hips and bounding forwards.

There’s great encouragement from the marshalls on the corners, who give you a shout out by name every time you pass on the three lap course. The first lap I overtook a couple of people, but it’s hard to know if that’s for places or not.

With the sun growing strong, it was a relief to get some shade around the playing field towards the end of the lap and enjoy an encouraging cheer each time round. I felt I’d held back a bit and really tried to push on in the last lap, but in truth there wasn’t much more pace in my legs. Not even when I told myself to run it for katypie because I knew she’d love to be out running and smiling in the sunshine. I did manage a bit of a pick up and a Scribbler sprint finish over the line.

What a great day for a race! Once us back of the packers finished, we soaked up the sunshine, sitting on the grass and cheering on the racing snakes. I caught up with Tove who had been supporting her husband on his first tri and a couple of my PT’s other clients who’d both had great races.

My initial feeling was that I wanted to go and do it again. Three years ago, when I did this race for the first time, I was elated and, to borrow a word from my fine Scottish friends, gubbed. I thought it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Today, I just had a great time and remembered all the reasons why I enjoy this challenge so much.

There are things to work on, sure. I held back a bit. I don’t really know why. I found a groove and stuck there, then found I didn’t have much more to push with when the end approached. I also need to remember the important patches to body glide as I’ve got a nice bit of chafing under my armpit where there’s a seam on my tri suit.

But I gave it a decent shot, and I know there’s more if I’m brave enough to live with a bit of hurt. It’s early days and I have plenty of time to see what I’m really made of.

I had a great day. I scored a massive course PB and was 5th in my age category. With more tris lined up for the summer, I’m looking forward to more great days to come. Open water training starts on Thursday evening at the QE2 lake.

Stats and stuff
400m swim 08:71
T1 01:24
20k bike 48:08
T2 00:55
5k run 26:28

Total 1: 25:15

Ashington triathlon 2013 results

Ashington triathlon 2013 photos

Ready to go

So, my triathlon season starts on Bank Holiday Monday, which means I’m starting to wind down ahead of the race. And I’m already enjoying the familiar flutters of excitement and anticipation.

I’ll be going back to the scene of my very first triathlon and it will be my third time at this event. That thought sends my senses tingling, remembering the smiles, the exhilaration and massive sense of achievement I had from completing it the first time and immediately thinking I had to do another one.

Training’s been good. Ian put together a great plan for me and I’ve been reaping the benefits of his triathlon coaching. This is the first year I’ve really had a solid triathlon focus with a bit of running, rather than in previous years where I’ve run and then added tri stuff in nearer the time.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
My first triathlon where I rode a mountain bike.

As always there are things that could have been better. I haven’t managed to get out on my bike as often as I’d have liked, but I have mopped up more spin and indoor turbo sessions, thanks to Chrissie Wellington’s audio training. There’s nothing like a 4x world champion telling you to imagine you’re racing at Kona to conjure you out of a sweaty gym. So I have spent more time on a bike than in previous years and in the last couple of weekends, getting my road bike out and doing a couple of bike to run sessions (including one on the actual bike route) has perked up my confidence.

I have questioned my sanity as I replaced a couple of spin sessions with pre-breakfast bike rides in the past couple of weeks. But quiet, traffic free roads and knowing I can get out there and survive when it’s freezing cold are quite good training sessions for race day.

My running’s coming good. I’ve done some fast times at parkrun recently and to be honest I know it’s always the part I can manage. Running’s where I started, so it feels like coming home.

My swimming is reliable. I’m swimming consistent times in training and covering much more than the distance I need for a pool based sprint tri. I still have the unknown of how I’ll react to race day nerves and swimming in the churning mass of bodies, but I’ve managed that before and swum well, so it’s just a case of making sure I go through my mental preparation and get myself as ready as I can be.

I swam a 4x400m set at the pool last night, just getting straight in the water without a swim warm up to replicate race conditions. Of course, with no one else in my swim lane I didn’t have the choppy water, but as I started my first set one of the cleaners came round with the machine that looks like a giant hoover. The hum, together with the watery acoustics of the pool made for a really unpleasant kind of white noise and all I could think was that I hoped she would be gone quickly. When she came down the side of the pool where I was swimming, I really wanted to get away from the din and was conscious that my heart and breathing rate had increased a lot. So I used it to simulate the adrenaline rush of the tri swim and battled my way through it. That was the fastest 400m of the four I swam.

In the past I’ve focused on keeping the swim controlled and smooth, often thinking ‘slow down’ to help avoid having to take a time out at the end of each length. But I’ve also managed to pull some quick times out of the swim in competition, when I’ve felt anxious and out of breath. So I should have enough experience to cope with how I feel in the water on race day.

I also did a spot of transition practice with my PT this week. It’s always a balance between keeping moving and managing to stay upright and in one piece, particularly getting on and off the bike. Because I’m a bit of a klutz I usually opt for safety over speed, but even just thinking about getting on the bike and practising putting on all the kit a few times helped me shave a few seconds off.

I can’t do much about the weather, but it is looking like it’s improving. I certainly felt a lot warmer on my bike this morning than I did last week and I know I can battle through some pretty windy conditions. I have the back up option of putting a jacket on before I get on the bike if I really feel like it’s going to be a cold one, but at the moment, I think it’s just Geordie up and get on with it. I’m normally so full of adrenaline I don’t feel the cold anyway.

The sunshine will no doubt taunt me as I take it easy the next couple of days before the race. But I’ll be catching up with my running friends, volunteering at parkrun, and spending time on the farm seeing all the new animals, including a pair of alpacas and two pet lambs I’ve named Bonnie and Clyde.

So that’s it. The training’s done, bar giving the legs a gentle tickover tomorrow. There will no doubt be the usual last minute anxieties, but I’ve coped with them before and know I can again. This isn’t even a target race, but it does feel good to be getting ready to start my multi sport season. Triathlon = 3 x the sport = 3x the fun.