Hello. Sorry I have neglected this running and triathlon blog for a long time. I have done a few races and events since I last wrote, but mainly I’ve been pootling along with no real focus to my running.
That’s already changed as in 2019 I decided that I’d like to run a half-marathon again. So in January I signed up for the Edinburgh Half Marathon and entered the ballot for the Great North Run in Newcastle. This week I found out that I have a place in the Great North Run, so I’ll now be running 2 half marathons in 2019 and I thought it was time to get back to writing about running again.
For those who don’t know, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. It’s likely a wee bit further than your run to the bus stop. And unless you’re a dedicated distance runner, it takes a bit of training to be able to run that distance comfortably.
The last time I ran that distance was in 2015. I didn’t really enjoy the training for it and by that time I was more focused on doing triathlons, so running took a back seat to swimming and cycling.
But I feel like I’ve been drifting along, getting slower and not really doing anything much with my running for a couple of years. So I decided I needed a challenge, to shake things up a bit and to push myself to run at my full potential.
Whether you’re a new runner feeling nervous about calling yourself a ‘runner’ and or an experienced runner who has run hundreds of miles and loads of races, there are always challenges, both physical and mental in the act of running.
Motivation, training, setting goals and expectations, where to run, when to run, how to run, how fast, how far, what to eat, what to wear, where to find a toilet… These can all be thoughts on the mind of any runner at any time.
I’ve been running fairly consistently now since 2009, so I have a few things that I know help me. As a kid I delighted in a smart school timetable with subjects colour coded so I knew where I had to be and when.
It’s the same now that I have a half marathon to focus on. I have a plan of 3 or 4 runs a week of varying distances to help me build up to the big race. The first event I’m doing is Edinburgh half marathon on 26th May, so I’ve got a good few weeks to get ready for it.
So far I’m three weeks in and really enjoying the fact that my runs have a bit more focus to them. It’s really easy, especially over the winter when it’s cold, dark and rainy to decide not to run ‘later’ or find an excuse not to run at all. But so far I have managed to persuade myself to run all my planned sessions, even when that means getting up at 5.30am and running on frosty pavements before work.
How’s it going?
I’m going to use a technique I learned when I did some triathlon coaching to help me keep track of my running progress. It’s a good way to measure more than just time and distance and is based on answering 3 simple questions – what went well? what could be even better? what do I need to pay attention to?
What went well:
Ticking off all the sessions and mileage on my plan
Running in weather (wind/rain) and doing some hill and speed work
Starting slowly (mostly not having much choice) and allowing myself to warm up
Persisting with a run when it felt difficult at first and then feeling like I could have carried on at the end
Being on target for my goal of running 500 miles in 2019
Even better if:
I space my runs out throughout the week to allow recovery time
I increase my effort levels on at least one run by including more faster efforts
I add in another strength training session
Watch out for:
Niggle in my shoulder/neck
Warming up my feet
Do my post-run stretches and get up from my desk regularly at work
Two realisations ran through my head as I caught the metro to take me into Newcastle for the start of the 2017 Blaydon Race. The first, that I hadn’t run anything more than 4 miles since Easter Sunday, and the second, that I’d never worn that particular pair of trainers over that kind of distance before. Not exactly race fit and prepared then.
But it’s the Blaydon Race. My favourite running race, and the one I try hardest not to miss. The race I’ve done every year since I started running in 2009.
I wasn’t expecting it to be fast. I was expecting it to hurt a bit, but I had no doubt, that barring a disaster, I’d have another memorable run.
Why do I love the Blaydon Race?
Why do I love the Blaydon Race so much? It’s not a beautiful or inspiring course. In fact, it takes in some of the dullest and least scenic parts of my adopted home town. But I do like its history, the fact that it takes place on the same date every year. And that, despite being a large event in terms of runners, it maintains a local feel, rather than having been swamped by corporate marketing.
I love seeing runners gather in the city centre, flooding the narrow streets around the Bigg Market with colour and noise. Taking over the usual haunts of pubs and clubs and exchanging stories of other runs, plans for the race, hopes and expectations, and of course, remembering the year there was a deluge. If you were there, you’ll never forget it.
Runners take over the city streets
I spotted the great crew from Newcastle Frontrunners, out in force for this race, and took their team photo before the start. They returned the favour and snapped me, Karen and her mum – a small gang representing Fetch Everyone this year. Sadly some of our regular running pals are injured, so missed this race. It’s always a great excuse to catch up with one another.
The excitement builds as the band plays the Blaydon Races down the street. I’m so far back I can barely hear it, but I sense that we’re almost ready to start. I chat to some of the runners around me, excited nerves starting to bubble.
A secure and reassuring presence
One thing that’s different this year is the visible presence of armed police. There are two standing nearby as we line up. I’m sad, but grateful they are there. A sign that recent events in Manchester and London mean we are all more aware of potential threats.
Personally I feel no fear being among this crowd of runners. Running, racing and being part of this very special, joyous community is one of the touchstones of my life. Running brings me happiness and a feeling of togetherness that has a value that far outshines the darkest fears.
And so, to the race itself. There is the usual walk, then jog, then run over the start line to the sound of the ancient handbell. I wish runners around me ‘Enjoy!’ as I bounce off through streets that are normally sluggish with traffic.
In previous years, I have tanked my way through the first mile, buoyed up by adrenaline and over eager. This time I am more cautious, knowing I really do not have the miles in my legs to go off like a rocket and hope I can hold on.
I run at an easy effort, thinking of how I last ran with my sister at her first ever parkrun, trotting along at a pace not far off my usual speed, but just a little bit more comfortable.
It’s a warm night as the sun sinks low in the sky over the hard concrete and tarmac. After the tight twists and turns of the city centre, the long wide straight of the Scotswood Road offers space to run freely and I settle into a nice rhythm.
Spectators along the side of the road offer welcome support and encouragement. I’ve already had a shout out from Angela Kirtley at the Centre for Life, and continue to drink in the shouts and cheers from the roadside and bridges along the way.
Bands on the run
Familiar landmarks approach and the sound of the band playing at the Fiat Garage on Scotswood Road is always a welcome lift. It’s ‘Honkey Tonk Women’ as I approach and then ‘500 miles’ as I pass by, clapping along in appreciation. There may even have been a bit of singing.
At this point I’m feeling good, strong in my legs, sensible in my pace. I don’t feel the urge to surge onwards, knowing there are couple of climbs to come.
I hit three miles and feel that there’s still more in my legs. I spot Claire from Newcastle parkrun ahead, recognisable from her cap and shout encouragement as I pass. She really does look strong in her running.
There’s a police car at the bottom of Blaydon Bridge, signalling the start of the first climb. Runners ahead start to slow and walk as the sun beats down on the climb. I power on, determined to run every step. I shorten my stride, and use my arms to add a little more effort to ease on up. At the top, as well as the usual cheering spectators, there are two more armed officers. I smile and shout ‘cheers’ and get a nod of recognition. You are here for us tonight.
Down the bank on the other side and watch for runners along the out and back section beside the river. I shout at my friend Karen, miles ahead of me tonight with solid marathon training miles in her legs.
Despite the heat, I dodge the water stop, but relish a refreshing splash on my legs from the discarded cups. I am still running well within myself, enjoying the experience, playing games of catch the runner ahead, spotting familiar club colours and listening to the odd bit of chat and encouragement around me. I hear what I think is thunder, then realise it’s a band of drummers. It feels like miles before I see them, but their beat encourages me onwards.
Towards the finish
At around 5 miles, my lack of distance training starts to tell. There’s a heaviness in my legs now and a weird pull low down in my stomach. In previous races I have really had to dig deep here, after a speedy star, telling myself not to let that hard work go to waste. Tonight I am just focused on keeping moving, staying steady and not dropping too much pace. It is easier mentally, but part of me longs to be really putting myself out there, striving for speed, feeling the exhilaration of the extra effort.
There’s a last little kicker of a rise before the finish, well supported by friends and family. It’s a tough ask at this stage in the race, but it’s over before it really saps my legs and now all I have to do is get to the end.
Around me I feel the sense of excitement, a surge of speed as we know we are close to the finish. The route jinks round an industrial estate so that although you know the finish line is approaching, you really cannot see it until the last few hundred metres.
I get a shout out from Lesley, who would love to be running this and has turned out to support. I’m so grateful I give her dog a shout out – but not her!
And then, there it is, the finish line. I put a bit of a spurt on, sprint over the grass, and smile arms aloft over the finish. Another Blaydon Race completed and thoroughly enjoyed.
The usual brilliant organisation and bevy of marshals sees me through to collect my goody bag and much prized T-shirt. I’m through and out into the crowd of finishers in double quick time, smiling, congratulating finishers and drinking in the great carnival atmosphere.
The Blaydon Race may not be the prettiest or fastest run. For me, in 2017, it’s my slowest time ever over this course. But it retains a charm and atmosphere all of its own. It’s bold and crazy and a little bit anarchic, just like the song that inspired it. And that’s why it remains my favourite race.
How does it feel to marshal rather than compete at a triathlon?
I’ve taken part in enough VO2 Max Racing Events in the north east to know that I’m guaranteed a great day, a safe race and a fantastic sense of encouragement as a triathlete. I’m happy to say that I had the same great experience as a marshal at the Northumberland triathlon.
I’ve raced this event a few times, both at sprint and standard distances, so I know it’s a great location, and with a spot of clear sunny weather forecast predicted that everyone was in for a good day.
It did feel strange with only me and a bag to load into the car for the early drive up the coast. No need to add my bike and wetsuit and all the gear I need to take part in a triathlon. I kept thinking I’d forgotten something.
There were plenty of competitors there already as I arrived in plenty of time for the marshals briefing at 07:30. These guys really look after everyone who races or volunteers.
When I signed up to help out, I got the option of a free entry to another one of their events. On the day, I had all the information I needed, picked up a race T-shirt and was offered snacks, drinks and given a hot meal voucher to use once my marshalling stint was over.
I had a short walk around the lake to my first spot as a swim marshal, backing up the kayak crew, keeping an eye out for any swimmers in difficulty and potentially offering an early exit point from the swim.
My stomach did a nervous flip flop as the first competitors entered the lake, as I imaged my own race nerves and adrenaline building up for the start. With the first wave off, it was amazing to see how quickly the swimmers spread out as they lapped the buoys, with the fastest cutting streamlined wakes through the water. The noise of the splashes as arms hit the water was incredible!
With the second wave off soon after, there was sometimes a bit of congestion, but from my view point everyone seed to be okay. I was surprised and encouraged by how many swimmers I saw doing what I do and taking a little time to settle or switching to breast stroke to keep out of trouble around the buoys. I could even hear a couple of guys chatting to each other and encouraging each other on the way round.
With no problems on the swim, I left the last few competitors with the kayak safety crew and walked a little further around the lake to my marshaling spot for the run. My job for the next couple of hours was generally to shout, encourage and direct runners as they completed two laps of the lake for sprint distance and four for the standard.
The sun had warmed up by now and as runners started to appear, I knew they would be finding it tough, so I did my best to be encouraging. When I could see it, I tried to check their race number against the competitors list and give them a personal shout out. With those doing the standard distance, I started to recognise who was coming up next.
As a triathlete and runner, I know how important a bit of support can be along the route. Even if marshals and spectators are saying nothing more than ‘well done, keep going’, it can be a real boost. And getting your name shouted out is always encouraging.
I got some nice shouts back from those taking part, including one guy who said he was very happy to not see me again on his last lap! I knew exactly what he meant as it’s always a relief to know you’re almost at the end of a big race. I enjoyed all the smiles and waves and thank yous.
There was a brief shower before the final runner came through on his last lap and then I was done with my marshaling for the day. The chief run marshal walked back to check on me and I collected some of the signs on my way round to the finish, where I welcomed a hot pork bun from the catering team.
I’m a big fan of triathlon, both as a competitor and as a supporter and I know that these events just couldn’t happen without willing volunteers. I’ve enjoyed their support in many, many races, so this weekend it felt great to offer something back. I thought I’d feel more disappointed not to be taking part, but I really didn’t. I had a great morning out and will look forward to my next race in July with even more excitement.
The Ashington triathlon was the first triathlon I ever did back in 2011. It now has a new base at the new leisure centre for the 400m pool swim, and a lovely new trail run which I encountered for the first time this year.
I’ve done far less triathlon training than I did for that first event and I feel slower and less fit than when I tackled the course on a heavy old mountain bike. But it has the reputation of being a friendly, local and well organised event and, coming at the start of the season, no one is feeling at their sharpest.
Despite my misgivings, I was surprisingly relaxed and nonchalant about the whole thing. I got my kit ready the day before and checked my bike over. I also spent a bit of time going through race in my mind and trying some positive visualisation of how it would feel to take part.
I slept well and woke just before the alarm. I managed half a bowl of porridge and packed the car for the short drive. I had plenty of time to register and collect my race t-shirt before setting up my bike, helmet and shoes in the transition area.
I had quite a long wait before my heat, so I opted to take some time out and went back to the car to listen to some music and avoid too much hustle and bustle. My mind was running over the last minute preparations before the race, so I headed back to the leisure centre and got ready to race.
With my tri suit on and goggles and hat in hand, I headed to the pool side. After the briefing, I stood to one side to take some deep breaths and stretch to keep my nerves under control.
There was plenty of time to get in the water and do some bubble blowing to get my breath under control. I was first off in my lane, so my first length was into clear water – a lovely way to ease in gently. I heard the whistles go for the others behind me and soon the water was churning.
When I felt a tip on my toes at the end of my 2nd length, I let the other two swimmers go past. It meant I could focus on my own swim without worrying about holding anyone up. I tried to draft off the feet of the man in front of me, but it was obvious they were faster paced swimmers. It wasn’t a fast swim for me, but I always felt in control and even kicked on a bit of pace for the last two lengths. My aim was to have a calm swim and I did.
Swim done, and I was quickly out of the pool, and running around the side of the building into transition. I’ve suffered from cold feet on this bike ride before, so took a few extra seconds to put socks on. My time show I wasn’t much slower than normal.
Off out on the bike and it felt a bit chilly at first, but that encouraged me to get my legs turning over quickly. The route passes the Ashington Archer statue three times over two laps and and out and back section. I kept my gears in a relatively easy effort, only having to make a big change at the foot of Bothal Bank.
In past I have powered up this short sharp hill. Today I was out of the saddle for parts of the lower section, with my breath gasping even though my legs were turning at a very slow speed by the top.
The next section was into the wind and this soon took me round to start my second lap. My back felt a bit niggly as I turned towards the Archer, and by the time I’d climbed the steep bank again, I was trying to stretch it out.
Heading back on the final out and back section, the wind was in my face and the added resistance made this hard work. I could feel myself slowing and kept telling myself to turn my legs over faster so I could get to the end and get off the bike sooner.
I stopped before the dismount line and headed back into transition to rack my bike and do a swift change into my running shoes.
The run course is new to me and follows a good trail path alongside farmers’ fields and through some trees. It takes a long straight road out, then a loop back around towards the start, followed by a shorter loop to the finish.
I felt like my feet were shuffling until I reached the trail paths, where I was able to pick up my feet and to inject a bit more pace. Throughout the whole of the race, the marshals were great, full of encouragement and positivity.
My run pace dropped off a bit as I tackled a barely there rise, but I was able to pick up again soon after. On coming round for the shorter lap I figured I had about a mile to go. Soon the finish line was in sight and with a bit of a kick and arms aloft, I made it.
A bevy of smiling marshals took my timing chip, gave me a bottle of water and presented me with a medal. I wasn’t expecting that – we don’t often get medals from triathlon races and this one was a lovely wooden one in the shape of the county of Northumberland, marked with the stripes of the county flag and featuring cut out figures swimming cycling and running.
This is still a great, friendly triathlon, and in my view has been improved by the move to the new leisure centre. The hill on the bike course makes it challenging, but it’s a great way to start the triathlon season.
Everything was very well organised by Northumberland tri club with help from VO2 Max Racing events. It was particularly well and enthusiastically marshalled by volunteers who were mainly from the club. Marshals and volunteers are so important at these events, not just for safety, but for their encouragement and support, and every one of them did a great job.
I hope to put this race back on the calendar, and return fitter and faster next year.
It’s been a long time since I wrote a race report, but then it’s been a long time since I’ve raced. September last year saw my final triathlon of the season at the Brownlees event at Harewood House and I haven’t done a competitive race since then.
Easter Sunday was to be the day I stuck a number on my shirt, a timing chip on my trainers and ran 10k along the North East coast from North Shields to Whitley Bay in the annual North Tyneside 10k.
This is my most local race and the first one I ever did back in 2009, so it has good memories for me. It’s always on Easter Sunday, which means that the conditions can be very variable. I’ve run it with snow and hailstones lashing down, and then another time got sunburned shoulders and plodged in the sea at the finish. But there’s always the promise of some chocolate indulgence afterwards.
I’ve been focusing on building up Wordstruck, my freelance writing and training business over the past few months, so haven’t done anything like the volume of training that I’ve done in previous years. One or two runs per week, and a weight training session is about all I’ve managed with any kind of consistency. I also hurt my back a few weeks ago, luckily not badly, but it has meant I’ve been easing back into running and other training.
So, those are all my excuses. But really I don’t need to make them, because like everyone else running, I was prepared to get up, get there and give it a go. My aim was to run harder than I would do in training, run every step and to enjoy it. And I did.
In a well practised routine, I dropped my car off near the finish and got a lift to the start at the Parks Leisure Centre in North Shields. There was a great sense of anticipation, seeing lots of running club vests and runners all gathering together for a big race. The air was chilly, and the forecast rain and wind were being kept at bay.
My pal Peter Brooks spotted me and said hello and we had a nice chat before the start. I only saw a couple of other runners I know, which was surprising given the crowds. I remained quite relaxed as we made our way to the start.
Wearing my new Garmin Fenix 5S for its first race, I got set to press start as I stepped over the line, with a chorus of beeps showing our timing chips had been activated. I was off and running! And it felt great.
The first section of the course is pretty crowded as runners find their way through the streets of North Shields and then turn down the hill towards the Fish Quay. I didn’t have any problems running among the crowds though, just finding my own space and really picking up some speed on the down hill.
Along the Fish Quay, it felt quite sheltered and even warm, and there was plenty of space as runners in brightly coloured shirts streamed in a ribbon along beside the river. We all knew there was a hill coming, and as it got closer, there was an almost palpable sense of tension. I focused on shortening my stride and just keeping going, up, then a little left turn and up again, before the road opens out beside Tynemouth Priory and another steep uphill, crowned with supporters.
In a bid to do some training, I will come out and run hill reps up this slope, so I’m not frightened of it. I kept my pace steady, just pushing on, counting the lamposts to emerge at the top, and keep going, knowing there’s a nice easy downhill to help regather your energy.
Now I was on familiar ground, running along the route of many regular runs, the sea on my right, a cool breeze on my face. The only difference from my training runs are the number of other runners and supporters on the course.
Three miles down and I was feeling good, knowing the hardest part of the route was behind me. At this point, I was saying to myself, push on, keep pushing and don’t leave anything in the tank.
Having focused on recovering, I’ve been running at relatively easy effort, with little focus on speed, so I wasn’t too sure how I would feel picking up the pace for a race.
I was still enjoying it and high fiving the occasional supporter along the route. I got a couple of shout outs, but didn’t always see where they came from. One little lad with blond hair was doing a great job of cheering on runners and gave me a good loud “Go on Fetch” (reading my race T-shirt). That gave me at least a half a mile boost.
I deliberately didn’t look at my watch, but felt the buzz as I clocked up another mile. Knowing the route, I also had an innate sense of where I was and how far I still had to go. I glanced at the view a few times, but today was more focused on looking ahead and pushing on. I started to target runners in front to chase down and pass, but I was starting to feel it was taking more of an effort to keep up the pace.
Just before Spanish City, the path narrows sharply, and marshals directed us onto the road for a short section, before we ducked around the new hotel and back onto the footpath beside Whitley Bay links. Somewhere along here I saw a runner I recognised from parkrun, with her distinctive hair braids, and wearing a Newcastle Front Runners shirt. I went to shout her some encouragement, but blanked on her name, so burbled something incomprehensible that she didn’t hear. Sorry Vanessa!
By now I was running along the Links, knowing that there was only just over a mile to go. Nothing hurt, I still felt good, but it felt like I’d started to go backwards as my pace dropped and runners seemed to pass me on both sides. My old work pal Helen Riding gave me a shout as she passed by and I focused on keeping her in my sights as long as I could. But by now there were supporters and runners who had finished beside the paths, and I lost track of her as I absorbed energy from their support.
The signs appear for the last few hundred metres and a runner behind me encourages two girls to push on for the finish. I’m still thinking ‘leave nothing in the tank’ and pick up the pace as I round the final corner with the finish line in sight. After feeling a bit sluggish for the past half mile or so, my legs surprise me with a blast of pace and I manage a sustained sprint for the line. Wow! That felt great.
I have a chat with Helen at the finish. She thinks she’s got close to the hour and my watch tells me I’m just over 1h 1 min. I’m slower than last year when I just scraped in under the hour, but really happy with how I ran and how I felt running and racing again.
It is a glorious thing to be able to do, to just get up and know that I can run 6.2 miles. I’ve run further and faster, but 10k remains my benchmark of a decent but enjoyable challenge and the kind of run that I aim to do regularly, either training or racing.
Running it along a familiar and beautiful piece of coast line with so many fellow runners and friends is a once a year privilege, and one I hope to enjoy for a long time yet.
The Brownlee tri at Harewood House is my special end of the season treat. Having done it for the first time last year, I know it’s well organised, in a good location, friendly, and a fun and challenging course. Plus, if you’re lucky, you can meet a Brownlee or two. I managed to get a snap with both Alistair and Jonny again this year.
There are two distances raced at the event – sprint and super-sprint, with waves going off in age-group order. I was doing the sprint with its slightly long bike and run with a start time of 11:50, meaning I could wake up at a reasonable time and drive down, with plenty of time to set up.
I picked up my race pack, complete with temporary number tattoos (I do like a proper race tat) and hung around registration to see my pal Tove who was racing along with her husband Roger and their friends Jon and Annabel who I had met at the Leeds triathlon.
After racking my bike in transition and enjoying a friendly chat to the other ladies near me in the racks, I went for a look around the ‘Race Village’ and spotted Alistair over at the kids’ triathlon area. There were loads of youngsters running and cycling around a grass track, winning medals and certificates and getting them signed. Alastair was great, chatting to them all, asking how fast they’d gone, if they were having a good day etc.
I held back until there was a break in the stream of youngsters crossing the line and got a photo. I took great pride in shaking Ali’s hand and saying thanks for all the joy they have given me, watching them racing. “And disappointment too,” he deadpanned, obviously referring to Jonny’s stumble into silver in the World Series, but I shook my head. Ali – always the competitor.
After that encounter I got set for my race, wriggling into my wetsuit and walking down to get the briefing by the lake. I took some deep breaths and did some stretches, even though I wasn’t feeling particularly nervous. I really wanted to have a relaxed swim here, after a bit of a mental melt down in my last tri.
The chap doing the race briefing was brilliant. A nice young Yorkshire lad, who gave all the info we needed, with a bit of humour, a smile and loads of encouragement. I didn’t realise at the time, but it was only elite triathlete and Brownlee training partner Mark Buckingham. Just another small thing that adds up to a great event.
Anyway, onto my race. A walk along the wobbly pontoon and then a brief chance to get into the water and acclimatise before the start. The lake temperature was 15C, so I had a bit of a gasp as I went in, but I soon warmed up. The shallow silty water sucked at my feet, so that I felt like I was sinking into slimy carpet.
One hand on the pontoon and the hooter goes to start. Given the state of the water, I opt for a mix of breast stroke and heads-up crawl to reach the first buoy, but after that I knuckle down, get my head in and start counting strokes to keep going.
I manage okay on the swim. At first everyone has struck away from me, but I catch a few stragglers as I round the top of the lake and head back towards the swim exit. I don’t feel fast, but I do feel strong and reasonably calm on my swim. I even bully myself through the thick black water around the buoys and find clearer patches towards the finish.
Up the ramp and off towards transition which is up a grassy hill. I help the girl ahead of me to un-velcro her wetsuit and pull her zip down. “I’m dizzy,” she says. As I reach my bike and step completely out of one leg of my suit, I realise I am too. I stop and grab onto the racking to reset my horizon before tackling the second leg. I should have sat down, as I struggle to get it over my chip.
Helmet on, and away with the bike up to the top of the grass and then a run towards the mount line, which I know, and have been warned, is at the bottom of a hill. It’s a tough push on the first lap, only made slightly easier on subsequent laps because you know it’s coming and can carry a bit of momentum through it. The couple cheering at the Macmillan stand behind Harewood house are a welcome sight to mark the top of the hill on each lap.
I take it easy around the first lap, reminding myself of the route which includes a nice mix of sweeping downhills and some sharp turns together with a couple of straights and a steep climb before you come round to the start and another hill. I am either braver or heavier on the downhill sections, as I close the gaps on some of the women in front of me. But I’m still cautious, not wanting to overtake on some of the sharp bends.
Some walk the steep hill, marked by a gate with a sign saying “It’s Yorkshire. Dig in.” I drop to the lowest gear and take it section by section each time. Push on to the lighter coloured patch of tarmac. Push on under the bridge. Push on again to the top, where Tove and Annabel are cheering me on.
On the second lap my lower back is niggling on the right hand side around hip level. Thankfully with a mix of uphills out of the saddle and downhill cruising I manage it, but it has me gritting my teeth at times on the flatter sections. Then I spot a para-triathlete cycling with a prosthetic leg, and I shut myself up.
Still I’m relieved to climb the steep hill for the last time and enjoy the cowbells and crowds as I peel off back towards transition. I take the dismount gingerly, coming to a stop before dismounting, but once off the bike the pain in my lower back eases off.
Just the run to do now and I’m soon off down the grassy tracks and into the woods. Encouraged by the smiles and shouts of the triathletes heading back saying what a lovely course it is, I try to get my legs moving. My plan had been to run hard, but my legs don’t really want to know, and as there’s a good bit of uphill in the first section, it’s more of a shuffle.
Still, I keep moving forwards, keeping a lady in my sights who I have seen stop and stretch a couple of times. It is a lovely course on trails through the trees with a couple of sharp descents and a ford that I splash through laughing.
On a steep and long uphill, I catch up with the lady I’ve been tracking, who I learn is called Christine and who doesn’t want to be caught by her husband who set off in the wave after hers. We chat and run together a bit, and realising we were in the same wave, I tell her she has to beat me.
But at a steep downhill, I turn off my brain and run down putting a gap between us. My legs finally get the message and from here to the end I feel like I pick up a bit more of my usual pace.
With shouts of encouragement to the other runners heading out as I pass back along towards the race village, I remind myself to enjoy the moment as I surge for the line arms aloft. With medal, water, T-shirt and goody bag swiftly collected from the team of enthusiastic volunteers, I hang on to see Christine finish and offer my congratulations.
Another triathlon completed, and after a funny old year in terms of not really training and feeling the fire in my belly for any events, it’s some satisfaction to be able to do that. I’d been out and active for just under 2 hours and 30 minutes. I hadn’t looked at my times to compare, but when I did, I was slower in every aspect than last year, but I don’t mind. I turned up, did it and enjoyed the whole event – the atmosphere, the race in a lovely location, meeting two sporting legends.
I stayed at the finish and got a massage to ease my back before meeting up with my pals. We all agreed we’d be back again next year. I had a good chat with a guy who had been in Cozumel, supporting his brother in the age group race and watching the thrilling emotional finish of the world series with Alistair helping Jonny over the line. Towards the end of the day, I finally spotted Jonny and managed a stupid grin for a photo just before he was whisked away to present the prizes.
Those boys have been responsible for three of my best days in 2016 – racing on the same course at the Leeds triathlon and then cheering them on to first and second place in the elite race; watching the Olympic triathlon with my best tri buddy after a sunny day cycling at the coast, and today, getting to meet them and say thank you, while taking part in a brilliant race.
As I finally got home and hoiked all my kit back up three flights of stairs, I was still buzzing. I sent a thank you message to my PT who got me started on this road, first to running and then triathlon. Even slow and steady, I’m happy to be part of it and so, so very grateful for the amazing experiences it’s brought me. As I said to Christine as we were running together, I hope I can still do this when I’m 80.
The QE2 triathlon is my most local event – only about 30 mins drive away on a quiet Sunday morning and starting in the lake where I’ve been swimming almost every Thursday evening since the middle of May. It’s the first open water event I did back in 2012, on a memorable day, meeting my best buddy Lesley and family, and finishing with with some of my favourite ever triathlon photos. So, yes, I like this triathlon and its happy associations.
When I first got back to open water swimming at the QE2 lake with the Vo2 Max Racing crew in May this year, the water temperature was about 11C and I didn’t really enjoy my first few swims. I struggled to catch my breath and bullied myself around a couple of laps of the course, doing a lot of self talking and deals about how long I’d stay in or how many laps I’d do.
The most dangerous thought that I had early on in my open water swimming season was ‘I don’t have to do this’. I persisted because I knew I needed the practice and I wanted to be as prepared as possible for the Leeds triathlon.
I wanted to enjoy it. I knew at some level that I have enjoyed open water swims here, and elsewhere, but it felt like a sensation I could no longer grasp.
And then, a few weeks ago, the water had warmed up a little and I spent one session swimming with a new open water swimmer who had plunged in and found herself in a bit of a tizzy with her breathing and confidence, despite being very at home in a pool.
I know that feeling very well, and so I swam my laps in a mixture of breast stroke and very slow front crawl, keeping an eye on her, offering reassurance and open water swimming tips. That was a good swim for me as I forgot about my own swim anxieties and had no expectations of how far or how long I would swim for.
I watched out for her at subsequent sessions but didn’t see her again until she passed me on the bike on Sunday’s triathlon (her first event). I was thrilled to see her as I went to collect my bike after the race and share her joy at becoming a triathlete.
I’ve been less focused on training for any events this year. I figure I’m having a year of just enjoying my sports and taking the pressure off. I appreciate the fact that I have the experience, confidence and fitness to rock up and take on a sprint tri. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before 2009. And I hope I never take that for granted. It’s still a tough ask – even if you’re not racing flat out or in any danger of threatening the sharp end.
Which is all a very long preamble to my race. The only thing I really wanted from it was a good swim. Good being one in which I didn’t stress out and have a mini meltdown and have to do lots of talking to myself to get through it.
I had an excellent swim.
I must have had one or two of these before, but I more easily remember the ones where I’ve really had to battle with my head and felt like I had to take time out to settle down.
I got into the water as soon as I could, and had what felt like a good 10 minutes floating around, getting relaxed and comfortable and doing a few practice strokes. I even lay right back and floated with my eyes closed before positioning myself at the back and out wide of the starting buoys.
I went on the hooter – striking out with a few strokes of heads-up, and then quickly moving into head-down front crawl. It was a bit congested, but I managed to avoid any serious bashing and just struck out towards the first marker. The mass start made the water brownish, silty and churned up for the first few metres, but it soon cleared, although the chop continued for a while.
Shortly before the first buoy I could feel myself starting to thrash my arms a little and boost my heart rate with shallow breathing, so I took a time out, just a few seconds to tread water and reset. While it was hard seeing swimmers pass me, it was the right thing to do, as I struck back out into calmer, clearer water and found a new, more comfortable rhythm in my stroke.
That continued around the rest of the course, momentarily easing up at each turn to sight the next buoy and actually think to myself how much I was enjoying the feel of the water and swimming in the lake.
Towards the finish, as I approached the shallows, I got closer to some feet and legs and almost got swum over by someone striking out for the jetty, but that only slowed me for a fraction of a second and I got up to my feet and out of the water feeling calm but elated with my swim.
During the long run up towards transition, I sneaked a peek at my watch. I’d deliberately avoided checking my overall time for this event, but I knew my best swim time was 18 mins something. So I couldn’t believe it when I saw 15:52 on my watch. Official time, including the run into transition was 17:47, so easily almost a minute faster than I have been before.
Most importantly I felt great. I had enjoyed the swim, hadn’t stressed out and was ready to tackle the bike course.
The terrain makes this a slightly long sprint course with a 24k bike and just under a 6k run. It was warm, but cloudy on Sunday morning, and there had been an early morning shower that left the road damp. The immediate ride out of the park is a nice downhill, so time to settle in and get my legs turning over.
Out onto the road and the cross wind became more apparent. Not enough of a breeze to disturb my balance on the bike, but maybe enough to make me work a bit harder.
I haven’t done enough cycling. I really struggle to fit it in at any other time other than the weekend. And going out on my own, I tend to do the same routes and don’t really get enough mileage in. But I started off enjoying the cycle, even as, as always, I was quickly and speedily passed and after 10k rarely saw another competitor except when they overtook.
I had a couple of mouthfuls of juice and ticked off the sights as I rolled along beside the coastline at Cresswell. There’s a slight inland turn near Lynemouth towards the end of the route. My back was starting to niggle as I cycled along beside the dunes and as I approached a slight long incline, I felt like I had no power in my legs.
I’d tried to keep up my cadence throughout, but from just before 20k onwards, I was definitely dropping, and as I approached Lynemouth I had a distinct loss of energy and power and a bit of a mental dip. I dropped through the gears, moved around to try and stretch out my back and had a gel. It was probably all a bit too late to make any difference, as my back was still a bit troublesome but eased by a bit of coasting downhill.
I managed to get a bit of speed back as I turned into the park, but was soundly overtaken by two or three more riders before I came to a stop. I was worried about jarring my back, so didn’t even attempt a rolling dismount at the line. But as soon as I was out of my cycling position, it felt better. I have had a proper bike fit for this bike, but I would have been considerably lighter at the time. Would that have made a difference?
Onto the run, and my legs weren’t too wobbly as I struck out on the paths around the lake. With two laps for the sprint and three for the standard distance event, I was frequently passing or being passed by runners on my way round.
I was well supported with parkrun buddies Jules and Claire marshalling near transition and the start of each lap, and just before a little climb around the back of Woodhorn Museum buildings towards the end. I made sure I was relaxed and picking my feet up each time I saw them, but generally I felt I ran okay throughout.
My hamstrings felt tight at the start of the run, but oddly not my quads, and the sensation soon eased off. I knew I wasn’t fast and I wasn’t pushing hard, but felt like my efforts were just a notch down from a fast parkrun.
I ran every step, thanked the marshals and gave a high five to two little girls standing in high viz at the bottom of the lake. I managed to pick up a bit of speed down the last bank and raised my arms for another finish with a smile.
So, another really enjoyable race from VO2 Max Racing. Their swim sessions at the QE2 lake have really helped me this year and they always put on a great race for competitors and Woodhorn Colliery Museum grounds provide a great venue for a top event.
Swim 750m: 17:47
Bike 24km: 1:00:51
Run 6k: 41:29