Ashington sprint triathlon 2017

Ashington triathlon 2017 – my race experience


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.

The swim

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.

The cycle

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.

Climbing Bothal Bank – picture courtesy of Mark Breeze

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.

The run

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.

The finish

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.

Race stats

Swim: 09:42
T1 01:16
Cycle: 57:16
T2 00:59
Run: 33:02
Total: 01:42:17

Ashington sprint triathlon – take 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total 1: 25:15

Ashington triathlon 2013 results

Ashington triathlon 2013 photos

Ready to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triathlon season starts here

So this is the race that kind of snuck up on me. I’d been so focused on getting my foot fixed (seems to be doing fine) and then thinking ahead to my big challenge open water swim tri, that it was here before I knew it.

And yes, feeling slightly nauseous, hand shaking as I was putting the toothpaste on the brush this morning were the signs I was quite nervous about it. Struggling to finish my porridge was another one. Still I was all sorted, gear packed and off in the car in plenty of time.

I just tried to keep quiet, took some deep breaths as I was driving and think about the race ahead. I’d read through my visualisation that had helped me overcome my nervous adrenaline rush in previous races and a chapter of Chrissie Wellington’s book for good luck before I went to sleep last night. And everything just about went how I imagined it would.

It was nice to get a good luck text from Lesley just as I was setting off. Last year, this race was my first ever tri and there were lots of Fetchies and friends doing it with me. This year I wasn’t sure who I would see.

I’d got set up in transition and made the race briefing. The weather forecast wasn’t so good, with heavy rain predicted at some time, so I was a bit undecided about what to leave out. But the sun was out, and even though it was cold, I decided less stuff was less faff and I’d Geordie up and get on with it.

I pretty much kept to myself, to avoid getting hyped up before the race. Did a little run, and stretches for a warm up, then ditched my hoody and shoes and made my way over to the pool. Had a nice chat poolside with a guy getting ready to compete in my wave and watched those ahead of us in the water. As we got ready to go, I took some more deep slow breaths.

I was first off in my lane. I managed a quick sink to blow bubbles – nice and smooth and controlled – and then I was off. The water was really warm, which I didn’t much like, but I just tried to keep it slow and easy and give myself time to breathe. I’m afraid my other swim techniques such as getting my head low and my elbows high either happened or didn’t happen, as I wasn’t thinking about them, just concentrating on breathing and feeling relieved that I’d managed not to panic and swim like a brick.

I was pleased to be first as I knew I’d have clear water ahead of me, but within a couple of lengths I was tapped on the toes and overtaken twice, once by a guy and once by a girl. I pulled over to let them past and then tried to get a pull off their swim on the way back. They didn’t hold me up for long.

A couple of times, I misjudged the breathing and swam a few strokes with my head out of the water, and I took my time to gasp a good breath or two in on the turns, but mostly I felt nicely in control. I reckon there’s a lot more in my swim if I can get used to pushing myself a bit. For today, I was just happy to do it without feeling the adrenaline fuelled anxiety.

Me on the bike at Ashington sprint triathlon 2012
Heading off on the bike at the start of lap two. Picture by double-i-photography  

About 10 lengths in, the guy in front of me stopped at the side of the pool, saying, “I’m going to do breast stroke,” so I got one of my places back. With 2 to go, I really turned on my kick, powered up and down the pool and then out and off into transition.

A bit of a run down the path to the car park and to see my lovely bike all bright and shiny, racked up and ready to go. Helmet on and I grabbed a piece of mango I’d stuck to the stem. Struggled a bit with my bike shoes, but got them on, unracked the bike and off out to the mount line.

I’m afraid my brain left me and I didn’t do a scoot mount, but I still managed to get on board fairly quickly. I’d left it in low gear so took the first few hundred yards nice and easy, negotiating the couple of turns and grabbing a drink from my bottle. As I turned onto the long straight main road, I clicked up through the gears and then realised I’d made a rookie mistake. Forgotten to pick up my number belt :-O

Thoughts of disqualification popped into my head, but I knew this was a friendly event, and so I resolved just to keep going and make the best of it. As I passed the marshalls at the key points I yelled out my number to them. One even said, “It’s on your helmet – you’re alright’, which was something of a relief. Bet you I don’t do that again!

The bike route at Ashington is two and a bit laps. Out up a main road to a roundabout, then left through some country lanes, then down towards a little village, with a sharp left hand turn and then a steep climb up, with a twist in the middle, so you think you’ve got to the top and there’s a bit more.

On my first lap, I’d been overtaken by quite a few bikes, which I was expecting. With it being a lapped course, you’re never quite sure what lap everyone else is on and there were some fast bikes – lots of tri bars, carbon frames and disc wheels. But as we came to the hill, a guy came past me and then seemed to just putter out on the climb. I was in my lowest gear and towards the middle of the road, which I knew was slightly less steep, so I managed to overtake him on the up and get closer to the girl in front of him.

My breath was coming fit to burst when I reached the top and while I recovered, the guy on a nice Ribble (so I suspect carbon frame) got his place back. “Second lap?” he asked as he sped away. “No, first,” I managed to breathe out.

Breath recovered, it was back on the power and up through the gears and soon round for another go, just taking care at the junction onto the main road. This time I rode all of it on the big ring, putting the power on and dropping a few cogs for the small rise towards the roundabout.

Back round and flying down the down hill in top gear, dropped and tucked, then peeling off the pace for the turn and a quick drop through the gears for the climb. No one to pass this time. Just make it to the top. And boy did it hurt! However did I manage this on a mountain bike last year? Oh yes, I was fitter and lighter then.

Another slow down recovery at the top, then on for the final section, with the relief of knowing I didn’t have to tackle the hill again. Just up to the roundabout and back down the road. I remembered the back down as being all downhill, and I flew dropped and tucked for a while, but there were a couple of slight gradients and with the wind in my face, I was feeling the effort, but the end was approaching.

I’d dried out pretty well in the wind, but my feet were freezing. I tried to curl my toes in my shoes to get the circulation going, but couldn’t feel anything. Back round by the shops and roundabouts and heading into transition. The marshalls were waving a car through as I approached, but he didn’t go. I’d slowed down, being wary, but managed to get around him and thank the marshalls as I headed back into transition.

A moving dismount this time and crunch, my feet hit the tarmac and I kept on running with my bike. Round and racked. Bike shoes off, road shoes on. Helmet balanced on the bars and go!

Ow! Ow! My feet protested. Little steps, little steps, just keep moving I told myself as I stumbled out of transition and onto the pathways. It’s a 3 lap run route, so I’d mentally given myself a lap to warm my legs through and get the muscles used to moving for the run, rather than the bike. But my feet were frozen.

Running off the bike is always a bit weird, and usually reminds me to pay attention to my calf muscles, and knowing it does ease off is the only way to get through it. But this was like nothing I’ve felt before. My feet felt like theywere running between cold iron rails. Like they were being crushed at the sides and hitting something hard beneath. I actually looked down at my shoes to check I hadn’t picked up the wrong ones.

Mind over matter, I kept moving, telling myself it would pass, that my feet would warm up. But all the time I felt like I was barely jogging along. Aerobically, my breathing was easy, my legs just wouldn’t go fast enough to make me breathe any harder. “Relax and enjoy” – I tried Scotty’s mantra.

My running is a long way away from where it was this time last year, so I wasn’t going to make any unreasonable demands of my legs today. Just drop the shoulders and try to pick the knees up.

As I came round to the end of the first lap, I saw Stuart just ahead and he gave me a shout. “You’ll catch me,” he said. “You’re kidding,” I replied, thinking not with my feet feeling like this. It was 3/4 of the way around the second lap before my right foot began to feel anything like normal and my left was still stiff and cold. I’m sure my form was appalling.

Once again, towards the end of the second lap I saw Stuart and I’d gained a few yards on him. So I held him in my sights for the last lap and whether it was having a target to aim for, or just finally thawing out, but at last I started to feel like I was properly running and I caught and passed to some friendly encouragement about half way round.

Onto the final pass of the playing fields and in my mind I’d determined to pick up the pace here, but it was really hard going. I think the wind had picked up a little and my leg muscles were still fighting any turn of pace.

So, in the end I left it all to one of my death or glory finishes. Onto the grass, with the finish arch in sight, power through the arms and a sprint that came out of nowhere. Heard my name being called as I crossed the line. Brilliant!

A lovely lady marshall came over and asked if I was okay, and took my chip off for me. I was fine after gulping a couple of mouthfuls of air. High as a kite for completing my first race of the season and just happy to be back and racing.

I saw Stuart come in just after me (although way ahead on the timings as he was in the swim wave after mine), grabbed a cup of water and an orange segment, then went to get my race times.

I haven’t got accurate splits yet as the bike timings were out and I didn’t wear my Garmin, but here are the preliminary timings:

400m swim 08:19
20k bike 50 mins (approx as timing chip had 3 mins!)
5k run 30:15
total time 01:35:10

Provisional results for Ashington sprint triathlon 2012

It’s not a course best, but I really lost time on the run and probably could have pushed a bit harder on the bike.  But all said and done, it’s my first race back and it went better than I expected.

What’s even more wonderful is that my tri inspiration Lesley raced yesterday and completed her race a minute faster than me and she did a longer swim! Just shows what you can do with focused training and skill. It was fabulous to get a call from her at the end of my race and compare notes.

So, I am about where I thought I was. My swimming is better. The time’s not a big improvement, but the strength and energy I had to spare on that shows I can push harder here. Time to forget I ever had a ‘moment’ or two in the pool. I beat that last season, so now it’s time to get sharp and swim hard.

I still need more bike time. Longer rides, more brick sessions and some hill training. I’m still not sure how hard to push on the bike, and not having any speed or pace references meant I just went with how I felt. And I’m probably still a bit conservative. But I did enjoy it. And I raced clipped in for the first time :-)

The run could be better. I know that. It’s just where I am right now. I’m coming back from injury and I’ve lost some of TheScribbler pace. But I’ve got experience and stamina  and the pace will come back.

This has really made me realise what an absolutely amazing running year I had last year. I was on form and fast. But I was very running focused and a bit lighter then. I don’t want to lose my tri focus right now, so I shall just let my running come back to me in its own time. And another run with no sign of the plantar fasciitis is a brilliant result.

Just remind me how hard that slightly less than 5k was after a bike ride and how I’d have to do all that twice next time I mention a standard tri. Must train harder!

My PT and good friend, Ian, really knew what he was doing when he first put the idea of a triathlon in my mind. It fits so well with my ideas about whole body fitness, training variety, strength, focus and most of all fun. Still such an adrenaline rush!

So, first one down and more to come. Bring it on!

The Scribbler’s 2011 running round up

WARNING: You my need a cuppa and some Christmas chocs to get through this blog post. It’s time to sum up an amazing year.

My focus at the start of the year was to get triathlon fit. And shaking off the festive torpor, I ran a succession of parkruns, enjoying the social side as much of the running. I also got to grips with my swimming, starting to feel more confident about doing the 400m I’d need for my sprint tri.

February marked the official start of my tri training, going from no cycling to building it into my exercise plan week by week. My ancient old mountain bike isn’t the fastest of beasts, but gradually we started to have fun together and braved a wet and muddy track one weekend. The weather was not kind this month as a small, band of fools gathered to run a Fetch Mile on Newcastle’s quayside one wet, dark evening.

I returned to the track where I’d run as a youngster, swapping the 100, 200 and relay for a 10k around the familiar childhood grounds of Stanley Park. I was pushing for a PB, which I didn’t get, but I ran well on the twisty turny course and my family turned out to see me.
Later the same month I ran a new distance and had a great day out at the Hartlepool 5 miler, thanks to two of the loveliest Fetchies you’ll ever meet, Lesley Anne and Jeff. Catching up with Jason and Lisa was a real bonus at this lovely race.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
At my first triathlon


I couldn’t have had a better start to my triathlon experience. I was massively nervous as I stood poolside, but I conquered the swim and jumped on my bike beaming as I knew I could do the next bit. As I sailed down the final stretch back to transition, I got my own ticker tape parade as cherry blossom blew down from the nearby trees. And suddenly I was running for the line. Pounding out a sprint finish to encouraging shouts and feeling the biggest sense of elation and achievement. One of the highlights of my year.

What a busy month I had in May! I met up with a huggle of Fetchies for a Rendezvous Run on a lovely sunshiney day. And just two weeks after my first tri, I completed my second at Darlington. A much tougher, longer bike course and wet conditions meant this was a tough call. But I still finished smiling. And just a few days later, on a warm sunny evening I went and ran a 10k PB. Not the accepted training route for a 10k race – but it worked for me.

And just to round off the month there was a blustery Pier to Pier race and another 10k at Druridge Bay.

A gathering of Fetch runners at the start of Blaydon Race
A gathering of Fetch runners at the start of the Blaydon Race

In June I said hello to my beautiful road bike. Shiny, sleek and gorgeous, she stole my heart and promised lots of good times together, but not before I suffered a few scrapes trying to get used to the clipped in pedals. After I dislocated my finger in a freak non-bike-related accident, I lost a bit of confidence and returned to standard pedals.

Thankfully nothing got in the way of me completing my third run of the Blaydon Race and only my own competitive stubbornness upset me when I failed to beat last year’s time. It was vastly silly to get upset at my favourite race, so that taught me a valuable lesson about tempering my competitive spirit. A 5k PB at parkrun the same week soon proved I did have it in me to run fast and not pile the pressure on too much.

I took a break in Scotland, ate well, explored some beautiful coastlines and generally had a relaxing holiday. But by now I was also building up the run miles and for the first time ever enjoyed the magnificent Northumberland Coastal Run, which marked my 50th race. That was a wonderful day. The rain lifted long enough for me and Penny to enjoy the coastlines and castles and then shift along the last sandy straight as the clouds gathered and the thunder and lightning stormed at the finish.

My new baby brother, Lewis James brought a whole heap of joy to our family. August also marked my third and probably favourite triathlon of the year at Hebburn and the first on my road bike. With another crowd of supporters, including Ian who stood alongside me at the poolside and Peter who cheered me through the finish, this was a great race and a tri PB.

Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011
Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011

September’s always been about one race. Even in the years before I ran I was aware of the Great North Run. And this year I really knew I could finally chase down that elusive sub 2 hour time.

Confident in my pacing with a race pace run at the 10 mile Jelly Tea; relaxed and smiling thanks to meeting up with Al and his pal before the race; and then just running, relaxed, focused and as well as I could. Picking up a bottle of water from Tanni-Grey Thompson again, starting to feel the strain at 9 miles and getting a boost from seeing Jeff and his dad.

Getting to the bottom of the John Reid Road and knowing I was on target as the heavens opened and a refreshing rainfall sped me on. Totally blanking out that long slow uphill slog and suddenly realising I was on Prince Edward Road and then turning onto the last stretch out along the coast, sure and certain I could do it. Scanning the crowd for Gary through the rain. Reminding myself I still needed to get a move on as my focus drifted and then powering on through the line in 1:57:32. Brilliant!

Meeting so many fabulous Fetchies at the finish, including my annual catch up with Mark, spotting Dawn in her fab sailor costume and hearing myself described as a triathlete, congratulating many many on PBS and everyone, but everyone asked if I’d got my sub 2. Well I did, and it was a definite highlight of my year.

Lee, Ian and me at the end of the Stampede
A muddy team Inspire

Time for some fun and some mud. There was plenty of both at two very enjoyable races this month. At the Hellhole 10k I enjoyed a lovely trail run with reminders of last year’s exploration of the woods with Lisa. This was also a memorable run in that I managed to score my first ever race place and a prize for 5th lady veteran. I enjoyed choosing some high viz gear with my vouchers ready for winter running.

Then there was the Newcastle Stampede which saw me diving over hay bales, balancing on tyres and plunging waist deep into cold muddy water. Too much fun!

But the real highlight of October wasn’t a race I ran, but a race I supported – the Town Moor marathon. Another bevy of Scottish Fetchies visiting for the day and plenty of local support at the bandstand. And it was a brilliant day. I think this is another race that will stay firmly in my portfolio, although I still don’t feel the compulsion to run it.

This month saw a significant birthday for me, which I celebrated in style with parkrun and cake and more cake and Fetchies. It wasn’t quite the day I had planned at the beginning of the year, but it was the one that suited me best.
And it was swiftly followed by another fabulous day tri training in Scotland with lovely Lesley and friends and more cake. I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful friends.

Traditionally a month of slowing down, low mileage and an ease off in training. So it has proved this year. A touch of plantar fasciitis has had me running cautiously and festive holidays have meant classes and training sessions cancelled. But I’ve still enjoyed a lovely Quayside training run that got my 10k confidence back. And a memorable parkrun relay where the coldest of cold days didn’t diminish the warm support.

I was sad to miss the Saltwell 10k, but happy that Jeff took my place and I got to cheer on some incredible performances from among others, Claire and Sue who ran amazingly well to PB on that course. And I enjoyed trying my hand as race photographer too.

A Christmas Eve parkrun and a Boxing Day 5k dash have fulfilled my need for speed and burned off some of the festive excess. And there are still a few more days to go before I wish a fond farewell to 2011.

For this has been a grand old year for me. At the beginning, my aims were to complete a triathlon, and go sub 25 at Newcastle parkrun. I did that and more, picking up a 10k PB and finding some new and enjoyable races. And although it only became a goal later in the year, when I felt it was possible, I did run that sub 2 hour half.

There have been ups and downs, good moments and bad. But it’s been my best running year to date. So I look forward to 2012, Olympic year full of hope and excitement for the possibilities ahead. 2011 will take some beating, but I think 2012 may just do it.

I am a triathlete

Me on my bike at Ashington triathlon 2011
Heading out on the bike stage of my first triathlon

I have wanted to be able to say that for so long. And now I can.

I had an amazing day, no an amazing weekend. Just the best. Sunshine, friends, icecream. A swim, a cycle and a run. And the best support crew in the world. What more could I ask for?

I was nervous when I woke up. I knew I had to keep it calm and quiet. So I just went and did what I usually do on race day, made my porridge, ate it and had all my kit ready to go. I’m afraid there were several bathroom stops before I left the house, but on the outside I was giving the impression of being cool, calm and under control.

Gary had volunteered to come and support me on this one, so it was great to have his help to lift the bike into the back of his car and to travel up to Ashington in style with some chilled out tunes on the stereo. I practised my pilates breathing just about all the way there.

We’d no sooner parked up than I saw Flip and Anna, with Flip about to rescue a puncture on his bike – something that would have sent me into a tizzy. A quick chat, then over to registration to pick up my timing chip and numbers and then hang around for the race briefing.

I was reassured I knew what I was doing and what to expect. But by now the time was ticking away to my start at 08:53. So back out to rack the bike and set up in my first transition. Some very friendly marshalls showed us where to go and checked my bike was facing the right way and reminded me to put my helmet on before touching the bike.

At some point on my trips back and forth to the pool, I bumped into Ian, off in a later heat than me and looking very relaxed about the whole thing. I felt reassured then. I had friends around me, and it was going to be a good day.

I didn’t want to hang around in a crowd getting nervous so I headed back to the car. I think I lasted about 10 minutes before I went for a jog up and down the grass a couple of times and then some deep breathing and pilates roll downs to get me set.

Finally, back to the pool, heading up to the viewing gallery to see one of the swim heats underway.  There was a small adrenaline spike then, as I looked into the water and saw it packed with swimmers. I couldn’t suppress a small ‘Oh god!’ as I let my swim demon have his moment. Ian said ‘deep breaths’ and that’s what I did.

No more time for socialising – time to head to the pool side. Deep breaths, focus, relax. As soon as I got there, I was called forward for a short briefing alongside Flip and Stuart who were both in my heat. I continued to focus on my breathing, rolling my shoulders and preparing for the swim.

I was a bit panicked when they said we had 9 minutes in the briefing and that after 9 minutes they would blow a whistle and we should get out in order to  give the next heat chance to hit the pool. I usually swim just over 9 mins for 400m in training and I wanted to make sure I swam smooth and easy. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t get to finish my swim.

But Stuart reassured me. It’s actually a 25 yard pool at Ashington, so 16 lengths is a bit shorter than 400m.

Anyway, too late for those sort of worries, more deep breaths and into the water which was surprisingly warm. We had a couple of minutes before our start and I was second to go in my lane. So I took a couple of deep breaths and did a couple of sinking and blowing bubbles. The first was a bit short and panicky, but I brought it under control and by the time the start came, I felt okay.

In fact I missed my start. I didn’t hear the second go and went on the third. I think that cheesed off the guy behind me as he came barrelling past on the right hand side, thrashing like a loon on the first length. I just concentrated on breathing out under water and keeping it steady. And I didn’t have the swim panic. Nerves, yes. A couple of moments where I needed to catch my breath, yes. But that awful, ‘oh goodness I really don’t want to be here’ feeling – no. Swim demon defeated at Ashington.

I was very close to the girl ahead of me, and accidentally caught her a couple of times, but I needed a breather on the turn and let her go ahead. But I was catching her on each lap, and so finally I pulled alongside and overtook on a turn.

Now I was in clear water, just me and my swim.  I eased through the water, enjoying the cool sensation on my cheeks as I swam up to the deep end.

A couple of times I lost count of my laps and was grateful of my poolmate watch which I’d set to go when I started. A couple of times, I swam front crawl with my head out of the water, to give myself chance to catch my breath. And there were even a few strokes of breast stroke on my penultimate length as I came up against two swimmers side by side approaching me on the turn. But I never stopped and it went by in a whirl.

I kicked for the last length and swam breathless to the end. Then up, out of the pool, snatching hat and goggles off and heading out along the path down to the transition area.

Time to try something new – cycling whilst wet through. I didn’t even register running barefoot over the 100m or so down to the bike. I knew my spot, headed straight to it and stood on my towel, surprised to see the black marks off my feet.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
Heading back on the bike leg

A shout from Flip and Stuart also in transition I think, but I barely looked up. Socks, shoes, helmet, number belt, a quick swig from my water bottle. I didn’t rush transition. I allowed myself the time to get it right and relax in the knowledge that I could do the next bit.

Pushed the bike round to the start line, then hopped on and away. Easy, easy at first. Just gather my thoughts and smile to myself that the hardest part was over and I’d swum well. I grabbed a piece of mango stuck to the handle bars as I powered up the road – easy gear for the first lap I told myself.

Thanks so much to Peter and Flip for that course recce last weekend. It meant it held no surprises. I knew where the hill was and how hard it was and that I could take it. The photographer will have a cracking picture of me absolutely blown out near the top on the first lap.

But then I knew it was all downhill or flat and I revelled in the speed through the country lanes and back round to the road again. The marshalls were brilliant, keeping an eye on the traffic and advising us when it was clear to go through.

Round for the second lap and this time I pushed a bit harder. More on the big ring up towards the Pegswood roundabout, keeping my breathing at a level that was hard, but I knew I could sustain.

There’s no pressure for me on the bike. It’s a hybrid. It’s twice as heavy, if not more, than some of the super road bikes, but it’s my legs that are powering it and my legs are strong. Lots went past me on their racing machines, but I got some encouragement too. And each time one did, I tried to stay with them a little longer. No chance of me drafting, but useful to keep spurring me on.

As I came round to approach the hill a second time, I was passed by the girl I passed in the swim, but she didn’t look that fast on her road bike. So I dug in, and kept pushing, down into the lowest gear, crawling up the hill.

There was a big car, a landrover or something behind us, and I thought I’d have to get over to the left hand steeper side to let him past. But he seemed happy to tootle up behind the cyclists, so I went out into the middle of the road to tackle the steepest part of the climb, all the time gaining on the girl on the road bike.

Hill completed, it was down to the rush of speed. I hunched over the handle bars to make myself as aero dynamic as possible and kept the legs going ten to the dozen. And at some point out along the road I passed her. Woohoo!

Now it was a battle to keep her behind me as long as I could. And I managed a good way into the third and final section, until she took me on the flat on the way up to the roundabout and I shouted out a well done.

No hill this time, so I pushed hard, up to the roundabout and then back down towards the bike finish. I kept my eyes open for competitors coming the other way, but am not adept enough at recognising anyone on their bikes just yet. A couple of people said they saw me though – and I was grinning.

I was definitely enjoying the bike ride, imagining I was Lesley on her lovely bike and storming through the finishing stages. A couple of cyclists who’d been watching at the top of the hill were by now on a bench at the side of the road and yelled out a ‘well done’ as I went past. And as I freewheeled down the road the blossoms showered me with pink confetti. It was a tickertape parade to the finish.

Back round to the carpark transition area, dropping through the gears and spinning over the last few hundred yards. Marshalls yelling ‘Off before the yellow line’ – which I did. Then a jog, stamp the feet and jelly legged move into transition.

Me running at Ashington triathlon 2011
Got my determined face on sprinting for the finish

I went the wrong side of the bike rack this time, but luckily I could duck through. Gloves off, quick swig of water, helmet off and away for the run, turning my number belt round as I headed out of transition.

Oh how my legs hurt. My calves were like rock. This will pass, I told myself. Just keep moving. I bumbled on, feeling jelly legged and slow through the narrow footpaths around the school and playing fields. First lap easy, I said to myself. This is your run – you know you can do this. You’re on the home straight.

But it hurt, really hurt. My breathing was good, I felt strong, just my legs felt like I was going to smash them into pieces every time I hit the ground.

Round to the start of the second lap and I get a shout across the field from Gary and there’s Anna with the camera. Crikey, I can’t run like a lump around Anna, I’d better try and pick this up a bit. So I did for a while. But as a handy fence line approached I allowed myself a stop for a stretch. Even if it was psychological, even if it was just 20 seconds, it helped.

But it did mean a girl in a black Durham tri suit gained on me and got past me as I picked up the run again. She’d kindly asked if I was okay and apologised for a slow overtaking manoeuvre, but it really helped as it gave me someone to focus on for the next lap.

By the end of the second lap the run was definitely  coming back to me. I was stretching out a little more and gaining ground on Durham tri. This was about fitness and determination now. And thanks to all my fantastic training, I know I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.  As we came around for the third lap, I stretched ahead.

Now it was about pushing on, keeping her behind me. I could sense she was still there as the marshalls clapped and cheered us on for the last lap. Less than half a mile to go as I thanked the marshalls, especially the one frantically looking down the list of numbers to try and shout out our names, and finally I felt I was running at something like a decent 5k pace.

Back round to the playing field and I was picking my spot for a sprint. But my legs went for it as soon as I thought it and I pushed on hard for a few seconds, then dropped back. But the flags were in sight, push on again. And with a stutter and a stall I found something like a fast finish, arms pumping, breath rasping as I ran over the grass and the finish line.

And I laughed! Laughed out loud because I’d done it. And it felt fantastic just like I knew it would. Even with my head down trying to catch my breath and stop seeing stars. Grateful to the marshall who took my chip from my ankle, I was laughing!

I finished a triathlon. Wow! When can I do it again?

Today was all about finishing. About achieving something new and challenging. About beating that swim demon. And about enjoying it.

But for those who want to know, here are the stats:
Swim 08:44 (400m – but really 360)
T1 01:46
Cycle 53:16 (20k)
T2 00:43
Run 23:55 (either a short 5k or a mega PB)
Total 01:28:24

Race results

I have some great big thank yous to make. Firstly to Gary who was today, as always, the best support crew I could have. He puts up with me flitting off hither and thither for training, talking endlessly about races and plans, and doesn’t seem to mind me meeting up with a bunch of sweaty runners on a weekend. Plus he took pictures and treated me to an ice cream afterwards.

Then there’s all you lot. Thank you for all your messages. I have had so many here and on facebook, twitter, email and text (I’m a social networking junkie). You are an awesome support crew.

I need to pick out two very special friends for a big tri thank you though. Lesley and Alastair, you have been absolutely inspirational and I love that you’re my friends.

Lesley, we have come a long way since 100m front crawl haven’t we? I count myself very lucky to have met you when I did virtually. And extremely happy to have been able to share hugs, cake and triathlon stories with you. You are going to have a great season this year and I will be cheering you on in every race – just like you do for me.

Alastair – my Fetch big bro. What can I say? You know me so well. You’re not afraid to say things I need to hear and tell it like it is. And you’re my go-to guy for bike stuff. The go-faster wheels are a big success. I just hope you won’t mind me picking your brains more often. There was a promise of a road bike at the end of this race.

And to all my running friends, especially Jeff who just keeps encouraging me to go faster (I’m sure that hug I pinched at parkrun on Saturday helped) and Lesley-Anne (I know you were thinking of me).  But also to Penny (for excellent advice when it was most needed. You’re going to love it at Hebburn), Sue (thanks for the tweet),  Kathryn, Steve, and everyone else who has left me a comment or sent me a message.

And finally, to Ian Turrell my personal trainer, who’s responsible for all this madness. The man who started me running, who got me fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. Who changed my life basically. And the person who first put the thought in my head that I could do a triathlon. You really don’t know how brilliant you are. But thank you anyway. I’m so proud to be one of your team.

Diary of a wannabe triathlete part 3 – bricked

I’ve relaxed my training goals a little this week. I can’t really say I’ve eased up on my training, as I’ve still managed to fit a lot in. But I’ve been guided more by how I felt and what I could manage to do, without pushing myself to tick off distances and times.

After my race last Saturday, Sunday should have been a rest day, but feeling out of sorts I took myself for a slow run and then I cycled to the supermarket for supplies. So, when I felt rather tired and more in need of a relaxed evening on Monday, I ditched my swim and took the night off.

Tuesday I worked from home and was looking forward to getting out for a run all day. But when the time came, it was windy, grey and overcast and I felt low on energy. I still ran, but more to enjoy the experience and shake off some of my worries than to match the time and distance on my plan. Generally I prefer to go for quality over quantity when it comes to training. And in this case you could argue that it was a run that was neither one thing or another – not speedy or especially long. But it was an enjoyable run, that made me relax and 45 minutes in the fresh air did me lots of good – including securing an excellent night’s sleep.

Wednesday I tackled Ema’s spinning class again. Boy it’s a toughie and the sprints absolutely kill me. But I survived and hopefully burned off some of the chocolate mood enhancers that have found their way into my diet this week.

Thursday is my regular early morning PT session which I love. I really do look forward to it. It’s always challenging and it’s always a pleasure to work things out with Ian and get answers to any questions I may have about training. I found it very tough this week. I felt low on energy again, but we tackled some pretty hard complexes with the kettlebell and somehow I kept going.  Ian was really encouraging this week, and I knew I’d worked hard, so it really lightened my mood.

I could have swum on Thursday night, but opted to rest again and take a quieter day on Friday. My pilates session showed how hard I’d worked my core on Thursday and gave me a welcome stretch out for my back and shoulders.

Saturday should have been parkrun and I was very sorry to miss the first paced session and seeing my parkrun buddies, but I had other things to deal with in the morning.

Seeing as the weather stayed reasonable in the afternoon, I opted to complete my first official bike to run brick. Kitted up, tyres pumped up, I was soon speeding away on the roads – so much more confident now. At first I thought my friend Al’s advice on making sure my tyres were well inflated was paying off and I even flattered myself that I’d improved a bit as I felt like I was flying. I even tackled a steep hill that had me completely breathless, but still moving.

When I turned back I realised how the wind had been flattering me and now it was in my face, I had to work much harder. Most of the time, I cycled at a comfortable level. Faster than a commute to the shops or a saunter along the coast, but not flat out as fast as my legs would take me. I wanted to leave myself something for the run.

I had a small stop for a slight wardrobe malfunction as I managed to snag my old run tights on my bike frame somehow. And there were a couple of places I had to slow down for traffic lights or walkers on the cycle paths. But I managed just over 15k in 50 minutes.

Back into the house and a slightly longer than planned transistion, as once again I snagged my tights as I was getting off the bike and this time the seam was well and truly ripped. Not wanting to scare the good folks out along the sea front, I dashed upstairs to change into a pair of capris. A five minute transition isn’t really in my triathlon plan. But then again I bet few transitions have three flights of stairs to negotiate.

Suitably dressed, having shed my helmet, jacket and gloves I headed back out for the run. And super triathlete, Lesley was right, it was a lot easier than the first time I tried it. My legs still felt heavy and weird, but not nearly so soft and wibbly.

Once again the pace felt slow compared to the effort. It felt like 5k effort and barely jogging pace. But I told myself to push on, keep going and not to worry. The aim was to complete 5k off the back of a bike session, the time didn’t really matter.

The route is flat and familiar and I piled on, determined just to keep going. As I counted down the kilometres I tried to mount a bit of a push for the last one, but really any increase in speed came down to the last 800m or so. It was so hard. I felt so tired. Like the end of a long run for half marathon training. It was all I could do to keep going to the end, even though I brightened myself up with an attempt at a sprint in the last few yards. I stopped the watch at just under 27 minutes, which is actually a good 5k for me.

And now I’m zonked. Properly worn out and weary in a good way with achey legs that want to do no more than sit and relax and watch TV. And an appetite that’s roving the cupboards for good things to eat. Lots of stretching tonight and probably a swim tomorrow to shake things out a bit.

Make no mistake, this triathlon is going to be hard. The endurance needed for three back to back events will mean I have to dig deep by the time I get to the run. But I’m beginning to believe I can do it. And actually, I might really enjoy it.

Training this week:
Mon: Rest
Tues: 8k run
Weds: Spinning class plus 1 mile treadmill run
Thurs: PT session (kettlebell and whole body workout)
Fri: Pilates
Sat: 15k bike/5k run brick session