When I first got my shiny new road bike, I posted a picture of it with the caption ‘ Say hello to my new adventure machine’. Because that’s what it is.
A bike is a means to freedom and fitness. A cheap form of transport; a means to get a job; an environmentally aware decision.
A bike means rides out to the coast for fish and chips and ice cream. Rides through muddy puddles and ‘Would you look at the state of you!’
A bike is sunny days messing about with friends. Discovering tea shops and garden centres and where you can get really good home-made cake and a refill for your bottles or Camelbacks.
A bike is finally making it to the top of that hill without stopping and free-wheeling down the other side. Or taking a moment to admire the view, when all you can see is mist.
A bike is praying that your skin really is waterproof and that your toes won’t fall off. Or hoping that those weird looking tan lines will eventually join up.
It’s bruises, scrapes and chafing and a permanent chain tattoo on your calf. It’s saddle sores and Sudocrem and realising just how many layers you have to take off to go for a pee.
It’s exploring the countryside or speeding through a city. It’s about finding places you never knew existed. Rediscovering the intimate knowledge you had as a child of your local area with all its secret pathways and shortcuts.
It’s tech talk of carbon, cassettes and chain rings and ‘mine’s better than yours’. It’s le Grand Depart, le maillot jaune et, chapeau to you! It’s about being King of the Road or Queen of the Mountains, imagining you’re on the Champs Elysees or the Queen K Highway.
Chrissie Wellington, four times Ironman World Champion has had her bike stolen. The one she won her 2011 championship on. The one she calls Phoenix, because they rose together.
I’m sure Chrissie could have any bike she wanted – faster, lighter, more expensive, higher spec. But if your bike isn’t there any more, it’s not just a piece of metal that’s gone. There’s a bike shaped hole in your heart. Because a bike’s not just a bike is it? And Chrissie’s not just a World Champion. She’s a girl who wants her bike back.
This is a fabulous triathlon. It was a great race when it was the QE2 triathlon. But this year, when the powers that be decided that an iconic race through the centre of Newcastle was not to be, providing an alternative venue for any race with just four weeks notice was a big ask. Woodhorn Colliery Museum stepped in gracefully. And the guys from V02 Max Racing Events, already well known for their terrific, well organised events in the North East, stepped up, put the disappointment of losing so much of their hard work behind them and made it their best event to date.
When they announced there wouldn’t be a Newcastle based race – no river swim, no closed city roads, no run along the Quayside, they rightly gave competitors the option to get their money back. Or take part in the new race, in the alternative venue and get a partial refund. I think they expected many would drop out.
But we came. Triathletes like me, knowing the course from previous races. Triathletes who travelled from far away. And beginners, who were faced with a 24km bike ride rather than the original 10km. I don’t know what the turn out was compared to the numbers who had booked for the original race, but there were around 600 competitors who took part.
There were four swim starts. I was in the second sprint wave and anxious to get in the water so that I could manage my usual race nerves and calm myself before the start. Lake rules dictate that is a wetsuit compulsory swim, but the water was 18C, so not shockingly cold. I got in and floated on my back, letting water into my suit. Then I splashed my face a couple of times and tried breathing out with it in the water. I was a bit too hyped to get a good clear out breath, but I was okay and ready to get going.
The countdown started, the hooter sounded and we were off. I was determined not to be a wuss and hang back too much, but to put myself in the mix, albeit not right up the front. I had been frustrated with my last tri start where a bit of a panic meant I stopped and watched the entire field swim away from me.
I struck out into front crawl. My breathing was a bit ragged, but I knew I could live with that for a bit, until I found a more settled pace. Although there was a good wide starting area, swimmers were bunched together and I found myself swimming a good bit water polo style to avoid too many crashes. At the start, you really couldn’t see other swimmers under the water.
I’d gone maybe 200m and the water was starting to clear, so I could see the plants and weeds at the bottom of the lake and bubbles off the feet of swimmers in front. There was a swimmer to my right side, so I tried to draft a little off their hip. But I soon found myself caught in a bit of a pincer movement as another swimmer cut across me from the left.
And then I got a proper bash on the side of my head. It was a real thump, I guess from a hand, elbow, or possibly a kick. Not deliberate, I’m sure, just that my head was in the wrong pace at the wrong time. It floundered me, sent me gasping and desperately trying not to take in a gob full of water. I trod water and gathered my thoughts.
I knew it was enough to unsettle me if I let it. I knew I hadn’t really given myself enough time to calm down and relax in the water, hoping I could tough it out until the field spread out a little. I turned onto my back and floated, taking a couple of deep breaths, once again, being conscious of the field moving ahead of me.
But I gathered myself more quickly and ploughed back on into front crawl. A bit more heads up than I’d have liked, but gradually regaining confidence, getting my breathing calm and just thinking smooth and steady. The first buoy seemed far distant, but I made it and turned easily across to the second.
I was back among the other white capped swimmers now, but with more space and less jostling. I swam beside another girl who felt like she was at a similar speed for a while. But then sighting back to the bank, I thought she was swimming rather wide, so I adjusted my course.
Smooth and steady, I was in my swimming flow now and starting to overtake swimmers around me. In the last few hundred metres I kicked hard, stayed largely out of the scrum for the bank and headed up the hill to transition, conscious that I was far from the last of my wave out of the water.
I had a great position in the bike rack, near the end of the row. A girl with a beautiful Bianchi racked next to mine came through into transition just after me, so the race was on to make sure I got out ahead of her.
Off onto the bike course and I was feeling good. There’s a bit of a downhill start, so I was up through the gears quickly and out onto the main road. Sure, I always get passed on the bike, but I was able to get a fair way before I started being over taken.
Whether it was because I was further up the swim, or it’s just the nature of this course, but I was never out of sight of other bikes on this course. That’s really nice for a slower cyclist like me. Within ten minutes I was overtaken by my pal Ged from work, another one I recruited to the dark side, taking part in his first open water event.
I managed a few overtakes myself, most likely from the beginners race, but still giving me the impetus to keep the pace up. At Cresswell, the course turns alongside a beautiful stretch of sand dunes, with the sea just metres away. In the last couple of years, it’s been stunning – bright blues and golds. Today, everything was grey and shrouded in a fine sea mist. Still, at least the forecast thunderstorms and torrential down pours had held off.
The girl on the Bianchi passed me just beside the caravan park. But by now I was holding my own and managed to make it through Lynemouth before the first of the speedy standard competitors came roaring past on their carbon and solid wheels.
I’d been drinking High 5 juice throughout the bike, but hadn’t taken anything to eat, thinking ‘it’s just a sprint’. But actually it’s a long sprint, with a 24km bike and a 6.05km run. I got a sudden rush of cramp in my right leg at one point, totally out of the blue. Just the one crippling jolt and then it was gone, but leaving me wondering if it was going to happen again. I made sure I kept drinking for the rest of the course.
I was starting to fade towards the end. There may have been a little uphill gradient, or it may just have been me getting fed up with it, but it felt like I dropped my cadence and began to pootle a little. Fortunately, it wasn’t far to the final left turn into the museum grounds and along a long road to the dismount point.
No real issues in transition and I was off and away on the run around the paths beside the lake. My legs felt good, not too stiff or wobbly. I went off a bit too fast and had to ease it back a bit to find my rhythm.
I concentrated on my form, counted steps, thought about, feet, knees, hips and shoulders. And I waved and smiled to my parkrun friends who were out on the course marshaling or supporting. Claire was out on the run course, practising for her important role helping out at the triathlon in the Commonwealth Games next week. And my lovely friends Tove and Jules from parkrun were out round by the end of the lap where we run across a small gauge railway line.
Two laps round the lake, up a small slope around the back of the museum buildings, down a grassy slope and sprint to the finish line. I’d finished with a flourish and felt fantastic 🙂 I do love my triathlons.
I cleared my bike and stuff from transition as some of the standard competitors were coming through to start their run. And I was very grateful I wasn’t doing the standard distance. The long sprint was enough for me and my training this time.
There was a massive, well-attended prize giving. I’ve never known so many cups and awards at an event, with lots of age category prizes, as well as a corporate challenge, team challenge and relay races. There were also some amazing spot prizes including tri suits, wet suits and one guy walked away with a brand new Merida bike.
I had such a good race on this course last time I did it, that I hadn’t expected much from my performance. I haven’t done anything like the number of bike miles this year and my running’s not on form either. But I ended up only a minute slower overall than last year, taking 2 mins 30 off my swim, shaving 9 seconds off my bike time and only losing out on transitions and about 3 mins on the run. So I was pretty surprised and pleased about that. I think it shows I can still improve and have something to ficus on next year.
I’d still love this city to have an iconic race – one that would look great against the background of the river and its bridges. But there’s something quite special about a tribe of triathletes descending on a visitor attraction in a country park and taking it over with our carnival for the day. Woodhorn Colliery Museum did a great job of hosting at short notice and ensuring there was an event we could all enjoy. Three cheers, bravo to everyone who made it happen.
I have been away to Barcelona. A few days’ welcome holiday, a break from the usual routine, a chance to enjoy warm sunshine and discover a new part of the world.
I took my notebook, but for once I did not keep a travel journal. It will be a place not easily forgotten. And though the fine detail of what and where and when may slip over time, I did not want to be distracted from the sheer experience of absorbing all I could.
We walked for miles. Used the metro and our feet to find our way around, venturing as far as the shoreline of La Barceloneta and up the mountainside to Montjuic.
We ate spectacularly well. From multi-course tasting menus, to simple chicken and vegetable skewers, we sampled plenty of the local cuisine, fish, fruit, pastries, jamon, tapas, rice, ice cream…
My memories are already a heady salsa of sensations. Sunshine and city streets steaming after a morning thunderstorm. Sunburned legs climbing metro steps and fruit juices all the colours of the rainbow in the market.
Friendly greetings and an international array of accents, French, American, Arabic, Australian. The language of Catalonia itself a beguiling mix of French and Spanish, that I could begin to read but had not the ear to catch more than a few common phrases.
Days spent exploring the sights, the architecture, galleries, museums, parks, squares and twisting streets. We explored the creations of Antoni Gaudi, learning more and more about his masterpiece architecture as we explored the buildings he designed.
I’ve come to a new appreciation of this man’s work; his genius. I had previously thought it was all about the showy facade, using shapes and forms to strike a pose on the city’s streets. But as we looked inside and found out more, it became clear that the design was functional as well as beautiful. The inspiration of nature’s form can be found in every small detail, from the wood carvings and tile designs to the lights and chimney pots.
Barcelona is a place of dreams. Where the chimneys of Casa Mila, or La Pedrera become guardian knights on watch in their roof top battlements. The gingerbread gatehouse of Park Guell becomes an elephant with its trunk raised to the sky.
The cathedral of stone looks like melting candle wax under the city’s heat. Turn a corner and the forms become angular and cubist. Open the door and you’re in the heart of the Tardis.
In Casa Batllo, a trick of the light seen through a dappled glass screen pitches you up through an underwater world to the roof, where a dragon rests, its skin a shimmer of green and browns, while its backbone winds down through the snaking stairwell.
These surreal and dreamlike landscapes make perfect sense when you walk among them. But once out of the sun, my senses shift back to black and white, to the linear realities of basic geometry.
So my Barcelona journal is like the trencardis – the mosaic ceramic fragments Gaudi used to decorate his buildings. Old materials recycled and brought to life as something new. A kaleidoscope of broken pieces, slotted together to fit natural curves and contours.
I’m left clutching slivers of heady sensations. The tapas taste of Barcelona as a tango in a cobbled square, the swirl of arabic poetry and a sharp, minty mojito in a small dark bar, that we enter as strangers and leave as friends.
I’d forgotten I’d signed up to this race way back in March, but it’s a popular event and places are soon snapped up, so I guess I must have got caught up in the enthusiasm and put my name down. I’m very glad I did.
After a morning of thundery downpours, runners may have been expecting a wet race, but by the evening, the sun was out and the air was warm as we gathered at the Tyne bar to pick up our race packs.
Along with race number and timing chip, there was an excellent race goodie bag with a nicely designed tech T-shirt , Natural Hero goodies and money off vouchers for Sweatshop. I’m already a fan of Natural Hero’s hot ginger muscle rub and soak, so it was nice to try their cool peppermint spray – very welcome on hot and tired legs after the race.
I caught up with a few runners I know from parkrun and club members from Durham’s Elvet Striders before the start, but with so many people waiting to pick up their numbers and a good walk to the start line, there really wasn’t too much time to chat.
I found a place towards the back of around 400 runners for the start on the Newcastle Quayside, and soon bounded off at quite a lick, excited to be racing.
I had no expectations or targets for this run. I really didn’t know how I would go after a week of holiday and little training. And for the first few hundred metres I felt good, bouncy and fast.
But it was hot. The air felt thick and I was soon breathing hard to suck in oxygen, feeling like I was chewing on it like a mouthful of marshmallows. I consciously eased up a little, looking for a more reasonable pace that I could sustain.
With marshals at every jink in the out and back route and a chance to spot the faster runners on the return leg, I soon found myself shouting encouragement. I was very happy to spot local running star Aly Dixon, easily first lady and mixing it up with the fast lads and give her a good shout.
And then a little further on, just before the turn around point, I spotted a teddy bear wearing a familiar running vest and then saw my friend Sue poised with camera in hand. Cue a spot of showboating from me, proving I really was relaxed and enjoying the run.
Back along the river, getting encouragement at every marshal point helped keep my legs turning over as the effort began to take its toll. I started to try and chase down runners ahead, reeling in the gap between us, hoping that by easing off a little to find my rhythm at first, I could finish strong.
A little way ahead I spotted Malcolm who volunteers to hold the gate open at Newcastle parkrun almost every week and he became my target to chase down in the last mile and a half. Keeping my focus on the small distance ahead, trying to reduce it, and not letting it increase, was a great way to keep my mind of how hot, tired and achy my legs were, as i could feel my calf muscles tightening.
Just as I was within a couple of strides of my quarry, an encouraging shout from another parkrunner, Sumanth, meant Malcolm knew I was approaching. So, I had to make it stick and I pushed on a little to move past. Encouragingly he shouted that I could make 45 mins if I pushed on.
Now I hadn’t paid much attention to my watch, and felt like I was running way slower than that kind of pace, so it really spurred me on to give it a try. With the finish arch approaching along the quayside, I’d already increased my effort and with a couple of hundred metres to go, really kicked into sprint mode.
With a small crowd of purple clad Elvet striders giving me a good shout in the dying metres, I kept on pushing, found yet another gear and crossed the line in 46:21.
It’s a measure of the quality of the field, that it wasn’t a particularly fast time, and I have run the course faster than that a couple of years ago, but I was really pleased with my efforts.
After a bit of banter and more cheering of the Elvet crew, who were very well represented at this race, I walked back down the course a little way to see my fellow Fetchie Sarah coming in to finish.
Getting a return shout of encouragement from Aly Dixon as we approached the line, and she was completing her warm down, was a really nice bonus. Aly’s a class runner and will be representing team GB n the marathon at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve seen her at a few local races and follow her progress on her blog and she’s always really generous with her support and insights into her training. So good luck Aly – I’ll be cheering for you and all our team GB athletes.