Saturday sunshine, car packed up and I’m heading north again along the coast, singing along to the radio, stealing glances at the blue sea. Off to race with my best tri buddy, Lesley.
We spend the afternoon exploring the moors, alive with purple heather, swooping buzzards and blackfaced sheep. We stop beside the site of an old iron age fort and look out over Berwick Law, Trapain Law and Bass Rock. As we climb to the top of the fort’s mound, the wind fair blusters and we hope it will blow itself out before the race in the morning.
It’s a very relaxed approach to my last tri of the season. I scarcely feel like I’ll be racing in the morning as I tuck into a mound of pasta for tea. In bed I start to think through the race in my head. I’m asleep before I get in the water.
Up earlyish, to the sound of the dogs pottering around and making porridge. The wind has not abated. If anything, it’s built overnight and it promises to be a rather blustery ride.
It’s a very short drive to the sports centre where we park up and get registered in double quick time. Lesley says hello to lots of local triathletes and I get to meet some really friendly people. The usual faff of getting our bikes set up and then trying to keep warm as we wait for the swim waves to start.
Now I start to get nervous – as I’m standing in the sports centre in my tri suit, goggles in my hand. There’s at least 30 mins to go before my swim start so I do some shoulder rolls and take some deep breaths and have a good chat to Al who has cycled from Edinburgh to support us.
I’d planned to really attack this race, but somehow on the day I just didn’t have the fire in my belly. Usually tri season feels like it goes by in a flash, but to me it’s felt like a long one, this year. Maybe that’s the step up to the standard distance and the fact that I found my last race at Allerthorpe such an endurance test.
But I’d loved doing Haddington triathlon last year, I was with my good friend and top tri girl Lesley and it was my last chance to get out there and enjoy it. So I did.
I watched Lesley swim in her heat – nice controlled and steady, just doing her own thing, not letting the other swimmers phase her at all. I thought – that’s just how I want to do it.
My heat stood by the side of the pool as the others finished their swim. The marshal said one of the swimmers was going over time, so we wouldn’t have much time to warm up. I really wanted to get in and take some breaths, but when I got in and sank down, my first one was a gasp and a flutter back up to the surface. Darn that race adrenaline rush!
Thankfully I had time for another couple of sinks and breaths out and I managed to get my nerves under control, but I didn’t have time to swim even half a length before the race started. I was last to go in my lane, watching the swimmers ahead go off one my one at five second . The whistle blew and it was my turn.
Nice and steady, straight into a smooth breathing rhythm, I was away and feeling good. Not getting too stressed by the churned up water or the bubbles ahead of me, just swimming nice and steady, taking my time to breathe, making sure I completed each stroke.
Within a few lengths I was accidentally touching the toes of the girl ahead of me. I didn’t want to pass, as I wanted to keep it nice and steady and not rush myself into a stressed out swim. She did stop to check at the end of the lane but I let her go. I decided that if I was still getting close to her in another five lengths then I’d pass. I actually made the move after another three and realised maybe she had been slowing me down a bit.
I still managed to find clear water, which kept my swim nice and controlled, but after a few more lengths gained on the next swimmer and overtook her too. By now there were less than 10 lengths to go. I kicked on a bit as I overtook, trying to increase the pace a little but maintain the control. After two lengths she re-passed me again as I took a rather longer turnaround, and I managed to stay on her toes for a bit of a drag for a while.
Somewhere in the passing and re-passing I had miscounted, getting the tap on the head for two more, when I thought I had four to go. I pushed off hard and swam the up and down with a good kick, gaining on the girl ahead of me and getting out of the water only seconds apart.
Dropping my swim cap by the side of the pool, I went out into transition. It wasn’t as cold as I’d feared. And unlike last year, I didn’t stand there looking at my bike like a dunce, having thrashed myself senseless in the swim. Shoes on, helmet on, something I had to do twice – I think it was my number belt – but I was off with the bike to the mount line.
Not my fastest mount as there was a guy stumbling onto his bike next to me, but safely on and away before he got clipped in. Catching my breath and getting into the ride, keeping the gears low and the legs turning over.
As promised at the race briefing, we were straight out and into a head wind, up a slight incline. I stayed in a low gear, giving myself chance to recover my breath. And I kept breaking my mental deals with myself to go up onto the big ring at the top of the incline as ahead there was another stretch and the gusts were rattling my bike from the side too. I ended up in practically my lowest gear, trying to keep my legs turning, battling the wind.
At some point, I thought ‘This is ridiculous,’ powered myself up to the big ring and pushed on through, but it was hard work until the welcome left turn out of the headwind. Then suddenly the road opened up, the bike wasn’t being buffeted and the effort my legs were making finally felt rewarded.
Another left and onto some nice flats and downhills where I really picked up some speed, got down on the drops and up into higher gears. I knew after 8k there was a bit of an incline, so I tried to carry as much speed as I could into it and even managed to overtake another rider who I’d been closing in on. Okay, so they had a flat bar bike, but still, it’s a rarity for me to overtake anyone on the bike leg, and in this race I managed to reel in two riders.
I enjoyed the rest of the ride, managing to stay mostly on the drops, whizzing through the police check point and was allowed to go through a red light! I remembered to dodge both pot holes and speed bumps on the entry back to the sports centre.
Bike racked, helmet off and into my run shoes, I was away without any hassle. My feet had been a little cold on the bike, and I’d tried to keep wriggling my toes, but they warmed up quickly on the run. My calves were very tight though, twinging with threats of cramp through the first few turns, so I shortened my stride as I ran alongside the river.
With Lesley in the heat ahead I’d hoped to see her on the run. And soon here she came, heading for the finish looking strong and smiling with a big high 5 as we passed.
It gave me a nice little boost as I saved my legs, hoping the muscles would soon warm through and I could pick up some pace. It took at least a mile though before I felt I could run with anything like my usual form.
The ground at least was forgiving, as the trail paths were kind to my feet and marshals at every possible way point shouted encouragement or sang and waved and generally really made this a fantastic race. As the run is an out and back, there were lots of shouts from fellow competitors too. It really is a very friendly race.
It’s a good job too, as the final run section is a rather narrow path beside a field, banked by long grass and thistles, barely wide enough for one, let alone two people passing. But I made it through with a couple of jinks and turns and then it was back the way I’d come.
My legs were working well by now and I tried to bound along and pick up the pace a little. Not sure I managed it, but I did enjoy the return leg and was able to shout out to other runners from later swim waves as they passed on their way out, including new ironman Tina and Lesley’s swimming pal Christa (sorry I missed your high 5).
Back over a wee bridge and along beside the river and I knew I was on the home straight. Still I couldn’t rustle up much of an injection of speed. It seemed today I had one pace and I was going to stick with it. Leaving it all to a death or glory sprint round the path at the back of the sports centre across the finish line!
Very efficient marshals directed me to water, bananas and snacks and I soon caught up with Lesley, Al and his girlfriend, Michelle. And after the race, it was lovely to meet Catriona (who I know from Fetch) and Ellem’s tri friends Tina and Glenn who had just completed their first Ironman.
At the start of the race I’d said that it could be a close run contest between me and Lesley. Last year we’d been in the same swim heat and I’d run out of my skin expecting her to catch me at any moment. But my running was stronger then as I’d been dong much longer runs. This year, I knew my swim was likely to be faster, but my bike slower and our runs would probably be very similar.
In the end, there were mere seconds in it and had we been racing in the same heat, I’m sure we would have been chasing each other very strongly. One day I’d love us to finish a race together. But I better get working on my bike skills if I want that to happen.