The Scribbler

25 May 2014

Edinburgh 10k

It’s thanks to online running site Fetch Everyone that I saw a message offering a free place in the Edinburgh 10k. The same site that introduced me to my great friend Lesley who hosted me for the evening, got me to the start and looked after my bag. And it’s thanks to Fetch that I got hugs and smiles and a local’s low down on the route from the fabulous JaneyM and my old pal Scotty.

I have lot to thank Fetch for, but running this amazing route with views out over one of my favourite cities in the world is definitely among the highlights. I’d go back and run that route in a heartbeat, even with the hills.

I’d taken a half day off work on Friday, rattled through what I needed to do, desperate to get out of the door and on the road north. It pelted it down with rain. I grabbed a sandwich on the go and tried to dissolve the feeling of stress that sits in my chest when the pressure’s on and I feel like I have no time to think and reflect.

Scotty, Janey and me at Edinburgh 10k

Scotty Janey and me at the start of the Edinburgh 10k

The skies had cleared, but were still grey and chilly when I arrived at Lesley’s place, still wired and tired from rushing through my day to get there. She said ‘You’re on holiday now,’ and I was.

We talked ten to the dozen, went for a bit of a drive, ate cake, and hung out. Stress gone. Later I met Danni, a crazy bundle of enthusiastic energy, also taking advantage of Lesley’s hospitality before a mental sounding mountain bike race. Fuelled up for our exploits, it was an early night for all before alarms were set for racing.

I really had no expectations for this 10k. I kept saying I just wanted to go and enjoy it, and I meant it, but sometimes the best made plans get lost in the heat of the moment, chasing for a time. But really I had no excuse not to be relaxed. Lesley drove us up to Edinburgh, knew exactly where to park for a short walk into Holyrood Park.

Walking in was wonderful, getting a close up view of the crags of Arthur’s seat and the yellow gorse on the hills.  Did I draw strength from the volcanic rocks, the tough organic heart of this majestic city? Or from my friends, the amazing Janey fresh from ultra marathon glory, or Scotty who fooled around and made me laugh before the start? A bit of both, I’d say.

Scotty and me fooling about before the start

Having a ‘guns off’ with Scotty

I felt bouncy and fresh as I warmed up. It was overcast and cool, but not windy – perfect running conditions. So when our time came, I bounded off picking through the crowds trying to find space, heading out much too fast for the hill that was to come.

Scotty came through past me as I started to bring my enthusiasm into check just before the 1km marker and the turn to mark the start of the climb. His local knowledge and talking me through the course really helped as I reckon that’s the longest uphill drag I’ve ever run. I knew there was a false top, and then another steep bit and then that would be it as good as over.

I dropped my pace, but tried to keep up the effort. Small steps, breathing easy, not looking too far ahead, just keeping moving, not pushing too hard. There were people walking already. I told myself I was a long way off that and kept going. The steeper section almost got me, but I took some deep breaths and kept on moving, determined to run every step of this one if I could.

The blessed relief of an enthusiastic cheering point at the top and then a good stretch of downhill where I let go and picked off runners by the dozen as I descended, trusting to my feet and my core muscles to keep me upright.

And the views? What views! Even on a grey day, to see the city laid out beneath you, climbing the crags, feeling like you can touch the sky, gave me a very special sense of being connected to the elements of rock, earth, water and air. It was well worth the effort of climbing. As I ran there, I sensed this would be a place I’ll return to in my dreams.

I was running to feel, enjoying the cool air on my skin, pushing on when I felt good, easing back and giving myself space to breathe when it got harder. At 5k I glanced to see 30 minutes on my watch and felt that was fair, given the terrain.

I had a dip in energy levels just after that, feeling the effort in my legs and for a few seconds trying to force more pace from them as a crowd of runners surged past. But then I let it go and just cruised until the feeling came back again and I felt free to run, stretch out and enjoy. Along the flat path of the innocent railway shaded by the trees, I began to play reel them in, latching onto the back of one runner and drawing myself past them, then spotting another and going again. 

At the end of this stretch was another tough rise, steep and unforgiving on tired legs. I started well, controlling the effort, shortening my stride, but it became a shuffle. As others walked I hunkered down, used my arms and determined not to walk a step, even if I was moving at barely more than walking pace.

My calves were tight. I got a twinge in my knee. And I swear I could have accurately placed the tibialis posterior on my right leg. I could feel it spiralling all the way up from the inside of my foot to my knee. If I’d felt like I’d been holding back a little on the run before, I was glad of it now. 

Janey, Scotty and me with our Edinburgh 10k medals

All smiles at the finish with our medals

At Raby Castle 10k last week, I’d talked myself up a stiff climb, then struggled at the top and found myself walking on the flat which was irritating. My legs had more strength or my mind had more staying power this time and I kept on moving, gathering my breath, ready for the much anticipated downhill sweep that would bring me back round towards the finish.

Swooping down and round, overtaking runners as I descended into the last kilometre, feeling my legs flying free and trying to carry that speed into the final straight. Still I was holding on, reminding myself that the finish was further on that the start line, not wanting to blow up completely before the end. Picking a spot to sprint from and going a little early, but powering on as others around me kicked for the finish. Oh how I do love a last minute sprint!

Over the line and stopped the watch. You could tell I hadn’t glanced at it since 5k. My time – 1:00:06. Six seconds over the hour. 

And there’s the real test of how much I enjoyed this run. There was a milli-second of annoyance, so close but not under the hour. And then a laugh at myself, because this was never about time, it was about the experience. 

The experience of testing legs, heart, lungs and brain over ancient rocks and trails. The experience of running in one of my favourite places in the world with some of the best people I know. The experience of being a runner, being able to do this, being alive and well and conscious of every amazing sensation. I’ll take six more seconds of that any day.

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11 May 2014

Alnwick sprint triathlon – first tri of the year

It’s fair to say I was quite nervous about doing my first tri of 2014 at Alnwick. My training’s been a bit inconsistent and mainly run focused and I’ve had very little time on the bike. But, having never done this race before, I had no performance targets to compare myself against and approached it as a good Sunday training session.

I can see now why this event gets booked up so quickly. It’s well organised, very friendly, with top marshaling and a great season opener. I’d definitely do it again.

I arrived quite early, but was glad of extra time as a road closure meant I had to take a diversion to get to the Willowburn sports centre. I registered in the sports hall where there were lots of people sorting out numbers and goody bags, so it was very speedy. I checked my number and swim time on the list on the wall – last but one, in the pool at 09:11:40. That meant a long time to hang around and get nervous.

Bike rack at Alnwick tri

Personalised bike racking space – a nice touch

I knew I had to have my bike racked before the race briefing at 07:25, so collected my kit and set it all out in transition. For once there was plenty of space on the racks, and a nice little touch was having your name marked with your number.

As I made my way back into the building, Stuart, a Fetchie pal, spotted me and said hello. It was really nice to see a familiar face. Although I know quite a lot of people in North East triathlon, not being part of a club can make you feel a bit lost turning up at a race. I also bumped into a couple of people from my tri coaching course, so started to feel more at home.

The race briefing was straightforward and left me enough time to walk back through transition and get my bearings before the elite women were first off in their race at 8am. I still had loads of time for the nerves to build and to wonder what to do with myself, so I checked into social media and got some encouraging good luck messages.

I went to watch the start of the swim, to see how it worked and to familiarise myself with the pool. The first girl was off like a rocket and soon 100m ahead of the next swimmer. Starting people off at 20 second intervals and keeping them moving from one side of the pool to the other, meant there was a continuous stream of swimmers, and not too much overcrowding.

I’d been unsure what to do with my kit, especially my car keys during the race, but discovered the sports centre lockers were big enough to fit my tri bag, which just left me with one of those locker keys in a plastic holder that straps round your wrist.

My nerves were building with the wait and hearing snippets of nervous conversation from others getting ready for their turn, so I took myself off to a quiet area of the car park and ran through some warm up drills. This really helped settle me before I went to strip off my final layers and wait beside the poolside.

I took some more deep breaths and did some stretches, trying to give myself the best shot at a controlled and panic free swim. It was almost all undone when I finally got into the water and ducked below the surface to get my face wet and practice breathing out, only to come up with a splutter, realising I couldn’t touch the bottom. I didn’t think I’d got it under control when I got the 3,2,1 go!

But I was off and swimming and the adrenaline rush was under control. After a real confidence booster open water swim on Thursday night, I resolved to keep it controlled and easy, making the most of rolling to breathe in and pulling right through my stroke. I’m afraid technique gets a bit lost when I’m racing, but I did my best.

Ducking under the lane ropes after 4 lengths was a new one for me, and I thought it would give me a bit more of a breather, but as I moved into the centre lane, I took on a mouthful of water and spluttered. It gave the guy who had been last in, but who was catching me, the chance to duck in front.

With half the swim done, I was annoyed at myself for losing a place I didn’t need to lose, so I kicked on and managed to pass him in the last 100m. Up and out of the pool and round to transition with no hassle.

I was a smidge slower than the girl ahead of me and the guy behind me in transition as I’d opted for bike shoes and they just went with trainers, but it was still a decent changeover and I was off and out onto the bike and into the unknown.

I hadn’t checked out the course, other than the online maps. This was deliberate on my part, as I didn’t want to over complicate and add pressure to my preparation. I’m not the fastest cyclist anyway, so it was just about seeing how I got on. I knew, from talking to a friendly couple before my swim that there were two significant hills, but was reassured, that despite one being called ‘Heartbreak Hill’, it really wasn’t that bad.

I kept the bike in low gear through the first few twists and turns until I got a clear patch of straight road where I felt confident to hit the big ring. The course is undulating, so I was clicking through the gears nicely, trying to keep the cadence up and grateful for my bike service this week, which meant everything felt smooth and easy.

I almost took a wrong turn, despite at least three marshals pointing me to the right, because I’m dozy, and corrected it by making a wide turn behind a lady marshal. I really enjoyed the route, it had enough twists and turns and up and downs to make it interesting and most of the time I could see a rider ahead, which made me feel less lonely.

I’d opted just to ride in my tri suit, leaving my jacket in transistion, gambling that it wouldn’t rain or that any showers would be short. My shoulders were a little cold when the wind picked up, but I’m always amazed at how much warmer I am when racing than when training – must be all that adrenaline.

I managed to catch and pass the lady in front of me, after working hard up the first real incline. Then I think I must have taken my eye off the ball a bit and drifted into ‘hello trees, hello flowers…’ as she passed me a little later on the straight. But she shouted something encouraging as she went buy and I kept her in my sights.

Once again I passed her, working up a bit of an incline, and she shouted, “You know there’s a big hill coming up?” I did sort of, but it was good to know that would be it. I pushed on, dropped down through the gears and told myself I was strong. I was compensated by a really nice stretch of downhill, onto the drops and feeling quite daring, not touching the brakes through a dip and a turn. My bike was handling beautifully.

Unfortunately numpty head was on, and in trying to move the plastic wrist strap holding my locker key so that it didn’t dig into my hand, I managed to undo it. ‘Argh, don’t drop it’ I though as I made a grab for it. But of course I did. Stop the bike, turn round to see a car and cyclist fast approaching; backtrack a few yards pick it up, put it in my back pocket. Back on the bike, but having lost that place. “Bad luck,” she shouted as she passed. Nice lady.

Numpty error number two. There wasn’t going to be a number three. I knew I could catch her, so I put the effort in, gave it a bit of a sprint and pushed on. It was actually a blessing in disguise, as it stopped me drifting into easy cycle mode and made me up my game for parts of the course. Now the aim was to keep her behind me to the finish and see if I could gain ground on the rider ahead.

I never did manage to make up the distance to the one in front, but tried to make sure I put as much between me and the lady behind, before I dropped down the gears coming into the sports centre car park and got ready to dismount. Back round into transition again, bike racked and shoes changed. She was a fraction of a second ahead of me, due to her position in the racks and not changing shoes as we set off for the run.

Out across the road and into the fields. I knew this was an off road run, and was expecting it to be tough, but I hadn’t realised I really needed to do cross country training for it. The first part was pretty much all grass, round the edges of the playing fields. And after the recent rain, wet, soggy and muddy grass. And it was uphill.

Legs still in changeover mode, it was pretty brutal and ‘little steps, little steps’ went through my mind hundreds of times. As we turned onto something more of a trail like path with slightly better grip, but a steeper slope, the woman ahead started to walk. ‘Not walking. Not today’ I said to myself, even though I was barely above walking pace. She gestured me past, no doubt hearing my huffing and puffing, and I checked she was okay, not injured. “No, just shattered,” she replied good naturedly.

The up was relentless and it got steeper as we passed into a farm yard, so although the ground here was firmer, loose pebbles meant you still had to watch your step and keep your eyes upwards. I was convinced that was it, but there was a bit more, a more level path out to the turnaround point at which my running companion passed me.

I kept her in my sights, thinking it’s all downhill from here, and that if I stayed within 20 seconds of her, then that would still gain me a place. I really hadn’t enjoyed the run out and up, but the route back down made it much more bearable. Here, at last I was able to find my legs, stretch out a little and let go. It started to feel like I was running something like my current pace.

I didn’t manage to catch the lady in front, despite a Scribbler style short sprint to the line, but I had the honour of being the last competitor to cross the line and resounding cheers all the way. It felt great. And I remembered why I do this crazy sport. It does make you feel good. It is a friendly and supportive atmosphere. And it is a challenge.

I messed up the Garmin recording (again) so won’t have accurate times until they’re published by Alnwick tri. And I’m pretty confident I won’t actually be last when the results come out as they mixed in a wave of slow swimmers after the elite women. But today wasn’t about times or even feeling self conscious at the back, because I didn’t. It was about getting back into the swing of things, enjoying myself and taking on something I was a bit unsure of.

Yes I made some numpty mistakes, but it really didn’t matter. I’ll confess, I’ve had doubts recently, questioned why triathlon, why not just run? But I do still love it. It does still fill me with a much-needed buzz. And now I’m ready for the rest of my season.

Race results

My times:

Overall 01:37:28

swim +T1 12:02 (estimate 10:30 for swim)
bike + T2 57:08
run 28:18

134th out of 148 (back of the pack)
44 woman out of 56
20th in my age category

 

9 May 2014

First open water swim of the season

Filed under: swim — The Scribbler @ 12:26
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been looking forward to and been anxious about this for a while. Grey skies, rain showers and a generally chilly outlook have not inspired me to get into the water. But knowing I have a couple of open water events coming up later in the year, I need to get the practice in.

So, last night, I was back for the opening of the open water season at QE2 lake in Ashington. Run by the VO2 Max Racing guys, it’s a great way to get used to open water swimming in a safe environment with canoe support and coaching if you want it. 

Me about to enter the lake for the open water swim

I’ve been very nervous about open water swimming

I usually suffer from the shock of the cold and really struggle not to hyperventilate, so my first swim of the season has been a bit of a struggle. But I warmed up a bit on land, then took my time just getting used to the water, splashing it on my face and trying to relax before I swam and I was fine.

It was really nice to feel relaxed and not have to tell myself to calm down all the time. I swam nice controlled front crawl with my head in the water, breathing steadily and managing not to veer too far off course. Previously I’ve counted strokes, aiming for 6 then 12 and building up, but I was straight into swimming between buoys without a rest.

It did help that the air and water temperature were similar about 12C I think and a good deal warmer than my first dip last year. And I tried out my neoprene cap for the first time too.

I swam two loops of the course, roughly 400m with rests at each buoy, and was tempted to do another lap. But I’d decided that 20 minutes would be enough if I was struggling, so I thought it better to get out after 20 minutes and leave with a good experience, than push on and risk tiring myself into a bad one.

Next week, I’ll try swimming with the coached group and plan on staying in longer. But it’s the best start to open water swimming I’ve had in the past two years.

Other posts on open water swimming:
My first open water swim

Making progress with open water swimming

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