Northumberland Triathlon – my first Olympic distance tri

And so the day dawned for this triathlon tiddler to start swimming with the bigger fish and take on a tri that’s double the distances I’ve done so far.

Enjoying the cycle - Photo courtesy of Bob Marshal
Enjoying the cycle – Photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

The Olympic or standard distance triathlon is what all my training has been focused on this year. From building a good base and working on my swim over the winter, to hitting the bike and building up the mileage as the weather improved.

A big challenge. But I was ready for it thanks to a great training plan from Ian and Inspire Fitness.

Kit sorted the night before and a decent night’s sleep, although I really didn’t appreciate the car/house alarm at about 03:45. But up and dressed and making porridge and packed up the car, ready to go.

It was set to be a scorcher, but I was grateful for the clouds that kept the searing sun back a little as I arrived at Druridge Bay Country Park.

This is a great venue for a tri, with the still waters of Ladyburn lake for the swim and the smooth trails of the lakeside path for the run. The bike course is a simple out and back along major roads and is pretty flat. And the organisers Vo2 Max Racing Events put on a great, well organised race. It was a very professional set up with a largish transition area, and everything was very well organised. Marshals all around transition and the course did a brilliant job, being cheerful and helpful on a very long day, when I’m sure many of them would have loved to have been racing.

Immediately I arrived, I saw my friends Bob and Lesley and although I wanted to chat, I was anxious to get set up in transition. That meant a long, nervous wait in 2 different queues to pick up my race pack, then my timing chip before I could go back to the car and get my kit into transition. Thank goodness for Lesley’s help or I’d have forgotten my drinks bottles for the bike

But I was soon set up and able to concentrate on getting myself mentally ready to race. A few shoulder rolls and some arm swings, some deep breaths and listening to the race briefing. Then, after a final round of good lucks, it was off to the lakeside.

I wanted to get in early, to acclimatise and calm my nerves and I did get a few minutes to float about and try to get my head in. But the shallows were weedy and I didn’t quite manage to control a good out breath under water.

With one minute to the start, I moved towards the back of the pack, whereupon someone I think I swim with at QE2 lake said “I think I read your blog the other day.” Quite how they recognised me in wetsuit, cap and goggles, I’m not sure, but hello, and you’re welcome 🙂

Anyway, we were off on the swim and I was determined to crack it. I mixed in with the pack and started okay, but soon became aware I was short breathing. I was breathing out under water, but not fully and fighting the urge to hold my breath. I got a couple of knocks and then someone really scraped down my side and caught my Garmin, tugging at my wrist.

I spluttered to the surface, did some breast stroke to centre myself and tried again. But I was short breathing even doing head up breast stroke, so I needed more time to settle. Part of my game plan was that if I did find myself in an adrenaline fuelled breathing fix, I’d allow myself 10 strokes of breast stroke to settle and try again. I lost that deal before the first buoy, doing more breast stroke and dropping right back off the pack.

The distances seemed huge. I was still being a little harried by swimmers nearby, including some really erratic sighters who basically swam sideways throughout and kept the canoe support busy shouting at them.

I couldn’t get into a nice rhythm. The fear kept holding me back. I kept trying to crawl and then got flustered, splashed with water, or just the demons in my head. I tried thinking of Lesley’s beautiful clear lake and tried to enjoy the warm water and the sunshine, but could only hold it for a while.

I decided to start counting my strokes. Do 12 strokes front crawl, settle, go again, do 15 and repeat, adding more strokes each time. That was quite successful until I hit a weedy patch in the middle of the long stretch. I resorted back to breast stroke to get through it, panicking my breathing even more when I got a long piece tangled around my neck.

Running laps around the lake at Northumberland standard triathlon - photo courtesy of Bob Marshal
Running laps around the lake at Northumberland standard triathlon – photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

Two laps of this seemed a big ask. But I just kept moving forward as best I could, kept trying to get my face in and crawl, but ultimately, I let myself off with a lot. Swimming seems to be the one thing I can’t bully myself into. Or maybe I just need to develop even more mental toughness.

The fast swimmers from the sprint came charging through as I headed towards the end of the first lap, almost lifting the top half of their body completely out of the water with each stroke. I tried to stay out of their way and kept swimming as best I could.

By the second lap I was with the stragglers, a girl and a couple of guys. They were swimming consistent front crawl. When I got my head in and counted strokes, I easily outstripped them, but then I’d go to water polo style or breast stroke and they’d catch up. I must have really cheesed them off. I just wished I could stick with it.

I was more relaxed on the second lap, but having let myself off with the swim, I’d determined how it would go. The patch of weeds once again disrupted my rhythm, but I swam through slowly then struck out for home.

I tried to make more of my leg kick as I approached the shore,  but really it was too little, too late. But, hey, it was my first Oly distance swim and I’d done it. I didn’t look back, but I would have been one of the last out of the lake.

Out of the lake with some welcome helping hands from the VO2 Max Racing crew, and up the grassy slope to transition. My left leg cramped as I ran up the hill and I ended up sitting down to ease my suit over the chip on my left ankle. The rest of the transition was fine and I was soon out and onto the bike.

Easy, easy out through the park entrance, side stepping the speed bumps, then up onto the big ring and out onto the road. I allowed myself to settle, made sure I started drinking my juice early and just relaxed into the ride.

A long out and back, passing by the park entrance twice, it’s a relatively flat ride, so the focus was really about keeping the focus and trying to keep the cadence high. I glanced at my watch a couple of times to see the turnover, pushing myself on, when it felt good.

Me on my bike at the Northumberland standard triathlon
Out of the swim onto the bike course – Photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

At times my thoughts drifted back to the swim and I told myself ‘just be here now’. I couldn’t change what had happened, but I could make sure I had a decent ride. I had a few mantras on that ride, notably Chrissie Wellington’s ‘Keep your head held high and don’t stop’, although I did make sure I kept down on the bike and hit the drops on some of the smoother straights and slight downhills.

I tried not to pay too much attention to the riders passing by on the opposite side of the road, not wanting the distraction. But unbelievably, as I passed over one of the two roundabouts on the course, a group of social cyclists passed across it, including

I can’t say I pushed on the bike. I kept it steady, within myself, unsure how I would handle the challenge to come. I managed to overtake a couple of riders on hybrids, and got quite excited to catch a guy on a road bike, until I saw he had a flat and would soon be out of the race.

I spotted Ian on the bike twice, just as I was setting off and then again on my last lap, when I was starting to lose my focus and feeling a twinge in the lower right of my back. It gave me a boost, just when I needed it. I stretched out my back, moving back on my saddle and focused on getting to the end.

Finally back round to the park entrance and the road seemed a lot shorter than I remembered. A short run into transition and a decent changeover into the run. Heading out on the lakeside path, I got a shout from Lesley and felt good.

My legs were a little stiff and I just kept the stride short and steady until I eased into it. On the first lap I passed and then was passed by a guy from Cramlington who was a lap or two ahead. He had a bit of a chat, which helped me settle and push on, before he found his race legs and outstripped me.

Last lap of the run - photo courtesy of Bob Marshal
Last lap of the run – photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

The run was warm, but with the sun still behind the clouds and a nice section between the shade of wooded trees, I managed really well. Again, I chose to run well within myself. The aim is to finish, I told myself. My other little mantra for this one was “I do 10k before breakfast!”

I really did feel at home here, running round the lake. I kept my focus on my form, trying to bounce along like Alastair Brownlee.

I’ve done some training sessions of 40k cycle 5k run, so I was confident I could get half way comfortably. Being a multi lap course really suited me, getting an encouraging shout from Lesley each time round and walking through the water station to make sure I got a couple of mouthfuls before running on.

Although I’d worn my Garmin, I resisted looking at it, just running to feel, keeping as light and easy as I could on my feet. The lower back ache disappeared as soon as I got off the bike, and although my left knee felt a bit tight, it didn’t upset my rhythm too much.

The field was well spread out and most of the time I ran on my own, grateful for the cheery marshalls who clapped and encouraged on every lap. I looked straight at the guy at the top of the incline every time, imagining he had a rope round his waist and I was pulling myself up it.

On my penultimate lap, I passed a Cleveland tri runner limping quite badly, and told him to keep on trucking. He seemed cheerful enough and kept it going to finish.

Round to lap number four and with Lesley saying “Just half a parkrun to go”, I knew I’d be fine to get to the finish. No bullying needed when it comes to running this kind of distance. I guess I did all that in my earlier running days.

Bouncing over the finish line - photo curtesy of Bob Marshall
Bouncing over the finish line – photo curtesy of Bob Marshall

Just another time through the wooded greenery and onto the gravelly paths. Just once more up the little climb then down again.Just one more time spotting the finish flags only for them to disappear as the path snaked round the lake. Just on more time to thank the cheerful marshals.

And then it was a turn onto the grass for the finish and heard my name as I came in to cross the line. Struck the now traditional tri finish pose of arms aloft and smiled my way across the line.

My first Olympic distance tri – done. And I’m more hooked on tris than ever. I love the challenge and the cameraderie. I love the way I feel when I cross the line.

<pLots of things to think about. Loads to improve. But that doesn't diminish how chuffed I am today. My goal was to finish smiling and I did.

Official race stats:

Swim: 1500m 45:30
T1: 02:02
Bike 40k 1:29:20
T2: 00:57
Run 10.5k 1:03:59
Total time 3:21:45
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Starting to come good

A couple of weeks ago, I was wrestling with some thoughts and expectations ahead of my first race of the season. My training has been noticeably different to previous years, with a firm triathlon focus and I was reflecting that perhaps I ought not to expect too much from my running, as it hasn’t been my sole focus.

But this week has blasted those doubts out of my mind with a brilliant run. I usually train with my PT on Thursday morning, but a change of plans meant there was an option of a Friday session and a chance for us to take on a 10k together.

There had been a shimmer of snow overnight, the ground a frosty white, with a crust of ice over the edges of the Tyne. We ran together along beside the bridges, in casual conversation, watching our footing on the slippery patches. The early morning air was still and bitter cold, but moving in step together, I did not feel it.

Ian’s got me running forefoot and when I started to tire and drop back onto my heels, he got me to think about one of our running drills and suddenly the pace picked up, and I felt light and easy again.

I had not looked at my watch. We ran to feel, but Ian was mindful of the pace I’d told him I’d been doing in training and determined to see me break it.

We turned and ran back towards our start point in the brightening light as the river began to come to life. As the end approached, he asked how I felt, and I answered honestly that the distance was starting to make itself felt in my hips, glutes and calves. “Ease back, then,” he said, “just a little,” and it felt like we just relaxed and I gained my balance again.

Not far to the finish, and we push on, my aching limbs forgotten. I even break into something approaching a sprint as we pick our finishing point, just short of 10K as it turns out, but mere metres. The time on the watch 53:48.

I can barely believe it. I haven’t run a 10K in under an hour this year.

I’d have been delighted with that if I’d raced it. But I didn’t race. I just ran, holding a conversation, dipping in and out of pockets of pace, and never once feeling like quitting, even when the aches hit. Looking at the stats later, we actually got faster every mile apart from the last one, and there was only a 4 second drop off on that one.

So there’s more to come. More to come from the new running style. More to come from the race experience. More to come from my competitive streak. Next Sunday’s race looks a whole lot more exciting. And that’s just the start of my season.

This week has also been swim focused, with three sessions in the pool for me. I almost always see an improvement when I get regular swim sessions in, and this week, I’ve been trying out some drills, paddles and working on my technique.

Today, I had the luxury of the pool to myself as I started and I decided just to get in and swim, no warm up, no drills, just a good endurance swim. I did 4x400m front crawl, with only 10 secs rest between sets, focusing on swimming smoothly, remembering to kick and trying to turn, rather than lift my head to breathe.

Timing each set with my PoolMate, I was very pleased to see I completed each 400m in around 8 mins 30 compared to my recent times of just over 9 minutes. It takes time to see a swim improvement, and there’s still loads to work on, but I’m beginning to see the benefits of the swim coaching and drills.

So, to borrow a phrase from Chrissie Wellington – no limits. Dream big, dream out loud at a high volume. Believe it and achieve it.

A good start to training

This has been the first week of my new exercise plan from my PT, Ian. I do love having a plan and a focus for my training. It stops me fretting over the best thing to do, makes sure I have plenty of variety in my training and pushes me on a bit. It also stops me doing too much. Rest and recovery is just as important as exercise, as that’s when you get the benefits of the workout.

Me at Newcastle parkrun
Both feet off the ground at parkrun. Photo courtesy of Mick Durnion

Anyway, this is a great plan that should help me build a great base to be fit and ready to race some great triathlons next year. As far as running goes, I’m continuing to concentrate on my technique, changing my style to become a more midfoot, forefoot runner.

That’s because I believe it’s a more natural way to run and less likely to cause injuries. But I’m hoping it will help me go faster too. At the moment, I’m just focusing on getting it right and not worrying too much about how fast I’m going. But it’s good to see some improvements there too.

I have to really consciously concentrate on my new running style, thinking about how I place my foot on each step, making sure I’m kicking back, keeping my hips aligned and turning my legs over quickly. But I had a bit of a breakthrough  moment this week on a technique session when I realised I’d been singing one of our choir songs in my head to help me keep a good rhythm. That means I wasn’t consciously thinking about how I was moving.

The same song re-emerged as I returned to parkrun on Saturday morning. Last week, it was a big unknown. I had no clue how fast I would go with my new midfoot style. This week I knew what I was capable of, and that I’d felt I could push it a bit more.

So, into the now familiar routine of saying hello to my friends, and lining up with a couple of hundred runners at 9am on the Town Moor. A bit damper and breezier than last week, but it was still a great day for a run.

It felt great to be racing, even when a surge of runners went past and continued to pass me out on the way towards the first gate. As always, I worried that I’d gone out too fast and tried to settle into my run. A thank you to Malcolm on the gate and I was out alongside the road.

Here I felt I was picking my pace up a bit, almost with a sense of falling forward into each stride. I kept with it, enjoying the sensation and started to pick off a few runners in front.

Through the second gate and onto the muddy path, which wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting. I still felt good here, like I was flying over the ground, and the repetitive tune in my head picked up a beat or two. I just told myself to keep going if I was feeling good.

Kilometre 3-4 is the tester on this course. a couple of turns and some uneven ground, it’s where runners start to fall away a little. I kept my focus by targeting runners ahead and reeling them in one by one. I didn’t even notice I was snapped again at the back of the museum.

There was a man in a yellow top who I played a bit of cat and mouse with as he overtook me, then I caught and overtook him only for him to catch me again. It helped keep me focused, although I found myself very much out on my own over the toughest part of the course.

Here I was starting to feel the pull on my calves from the new running style and a couple more flat footed moves came in as I negotiated the uneven ground. Once I fall away from the forefoot, it takes an effort of will to get back there. But I did it and made it through the final gate, knowing there was just over a kilometre to go.

I’d made my mind up to kick on a bit on the smooth tarmac path as we turned towards the lamp posts. But the guy in yellow made me push on a bit sooner than I planned. He eventually overtook me and made it stick, but I knew I was close to the finish now.

My breathing was becoming a bit more ragged as I tried to stretch out a little more while not losing my style and trying to make my legs turnover more quickly. I was aware the tune in my head had dropped its rhythm slightly. I picked it up before the dog leg to the finish straight and powered on down all the way through the line. I even missed picking up my timing token as I didn’t slow down enough and had to go back to collect it from the volunteer.

I’d deliberately ignored my watch, save for a quick check at the first kilometre which had told me I was on pace with last week’s run. But I was hopeful I’d done better as I felt faster through kms 2-3. I checked at the finish and I was just a few seconds under 28 mins – a whole 30 secs improvement. So, it looks as though my new running drills are working and I’m getting the hang of this new style.

Stats:

5k in 27:57

1) – 0.62m – 5:43(9:13/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:29(8:51/m) – 65cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:24(8:42/m) – 64cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:44(9:15/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:25(8:44/m) – 63cal
6) – 0.03m – 9(5:20/m) – 3cal

New workout, new focus

I’m trying a new approach to my exercise routine at the moment. I think it’s good to make a change, shake up your exercise routine every so often. And after a period devoted to running and getting the miles in for the Great North Run, it’s good to do something a bit different.

The new workout, designed by my PT Ian is designed to blitz fat. It focuses on tabata  or short bursts of high intensity activity, interspersed with short periods of rest. So I do a series of exercises with the kettlebell on a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off  repeat. Then I follow that up with a series of short sprint intervals.

Boy it’s a tough workout that really got my heart rate up and had me sweating.  But I really enjoyed it, and it felt like a great value workout for 40 minutes’ effort.

I haven’t officially set any new goals yet, but this time of year is when I traditionally take a bit of a training review and look ahead to what I want to do next.

I have a few ideas, and triathlon is definitely the focus again for 2013, with the challenge of moving up to standard distance. But it’s off season for triathlon, and while I can do some good base building on my swim and bike fitness, I think I can also afford to have some fun and enjoy winter training.

Another thing I want to focus on is getting my studying done for my Level 2 Gym instructor qualification. I’ve already worked through some of the reading and online sessions and am really enjoying it. But I need to make it a priority to make time to do it properly. I hope to be ready to take one or two of the assessments by Christmas or early in the New Year.

But one thing I have started is to get back on track with healthy eating and to try and lose a few pounds. I put on a bit of weight last year, with the usual post Christmas indulgence. Nothing really noticeable, but after having to ease back on running earlier in the year with plantar fasciitis, I never really shifted it.

It’s not so much the weight I’m bothered about as the bad habits actually. I have a sweet tooth that it’s easy to indulge, especially when training for a half marathon. But the chocolate treats were becoming a daily habit, often fuelled by boredom and inactivity. And that’s not a healthy attitude to food.

So I’m back from a fab holiday where I ate out at every meal, didn’t deny myself anything and enjoyed it all. Which is a much healthier attitude.

But to stop myself falling back into the thoughtless grazing, I’ve drawn a line in the sand, and I’m cutting out as much sugar as possible for the next two weeks. No cakes, biscuits, chocolate or sweeties and even cutting down on the amount of fruit I eat.

So far, so good. I even managed to resist temptation when faced with four types of home made cake at the farm open day on Saturday. Although being given the task of putting warm tray bake onto plates was a test of my resolve.

I’ll still be running (I have plans for that too), but I don’t need the long miles so much, so it will be good to change focus from time and pace and enjoy some shorter runs. And I’m really looking forward to testing myself through the mud and obstacles at the Newcastle Stampede this weekend.

I’ll also be supporting runners, by volunteering at  Newcastle parkrun and cheering on everyone taking part in the Town Moor marathon. It’s great fun cheering runners on in a race, and I know how much I always appreciate a shout out, especially on the Great North Run. And without the help of marshals and volunteers, I wouldn’t have the chance to take part in so many races and fun events.

QE2 sprint triathlon – my first open water tri

When the first people you see as you pitch up in the early hours of the morning to a former colliery site are your best tri buddies down from Scotland for the day, Lesley, Bob and Al, your collywobbles disappear in a mountain of hugs and you know you’re about to have a fantastic day.

I have had this event in my mind for a year. Last year I watched friends and my PT Ian taking part and I thought, “I could do that”. It was once of the first races I entered this year, knowing I wanted to move up in the world of triathlon and to do that I had to tackle the open water and my first true sprint distance event.

In other words, it’s a pretty big deal. As big as my first Great North Run, bigger than my sub 2 half. Basically the only thing that’s been on my mind all week.

And oh boy, do I realise what a step up this was. Like so may wannabe multi-sport athletes, it’s the swim that’s provided my biggest challenge. Getting over the fight or flight response, learning to breathe out under water, building up confidence and endurance and conquering my nerves.

I managed two open water swim sessions before this event and still felt unsure and very nervous.

Lesson 1: Time goes more quickly than you think when you’re setting up

I’d arrived pretty early, registered, got numbered up and set my bike up in a fairly quiet transition. But spotting my PT Ian and one of his other client’s Big Les (about to take part in his first ever triathlon, having done the Edinburgh marathon last week) and having a chat with them, it was suddenly race briefing time and my wetsuit was back at the car.

I start listening to the briefing, doing some deep breathing and roll downs to calm my nerves. But all around me, people are half in wet suits and I start to get anxious. So I have a quick warm up jog back to the car and get into my suit.

Me about to enter the lake for the open water swim
Looking a bit dubious about the swim

As I run back, the crowds are disappearing towards the lake. I tag along with Ian, grateful to see a reassuring face as I wrestle my shoulders into my suit and wriggle into my swim hat. It’s a massed swim start with over 200 competitors taking to the lake at once.

As I make my way to the water, Gary spots me and wishes me good luck. I was so happy to see him. I start training him up as my tri sherpa, passing him the aqua shoes I should have left in transition.

The colour coded caps we’re given are thin and Ian rips his to shreds trying to put it on. I have my regular red swim hat beneath my yellow one and offer it to him. But he goes without.

At the pontoon, the nerves really kick in as I sense this is all going to happen very quickly. I’m not going to have time to get in and calm myself down. Indeed, as I potter about princess-like, they call back those who have started to swim in the warm up area.

Lesson two:
Next time swim more front crawl

I spot Al who makes me feel a bit safer, so I get in and into the water quickly. It’s not cold at all, but it’s murky and dark here with a petrol like sheen on the surface. I spit in my goggles and get set, splashing water on my face, in the hope it will encourage me to get my head it and swim properly.

The hooter goes and we’re off. I’m well to the back and my mission is basically to stay out of the way as much as possible, not to get kicked, punched or pulled. I strike out with a strong heads up front crawl.

The fear quickly strikes me. Those buoys look a long way out and I’m heading for deeper water. My hands brush aside tendrils of weed  and I bump against another swimmer.

Keep the bouys to your right and just swim. I try to calm myself and swim some breast stroke to give myself a breather and make some space. It turns into quite a lot of breast stroke as I seek to calm my breathing and keep moving.

There’s another swimmer just to my left who is breathing heavily and that makes me anxious, so I try some front crawl with my head down and start to make up some ground.

Around the first buoy I allow myself a breast stroke break again and see swimmers nearer the bank who look like they are standing in the shallows and one man getting out and peeling down his wetsuit to give his number to the marshall.

I mustn’t let this get to me. I swim some more heads up front crawl, but still manage to splutter on a mouthful of water. The nearby safety canoe advises me to take a glass of gin tonight to get rid of the taste.

But in truth, the water here is somewhat clearer and less weed-ridden. I am not cold, my legs are still moving and I am keeping my head above the surface. I round the top buoy and make an effort to but my head in and swim. Long slow strokes and give myself time to breathe. I manage it for a while, then take another breast stroke breather and try again.

To the right of the last buoy and just striking for the lakeside now, two sighting markers ahead and I’m finally starting to think I can make it. I’m aiming for the right hand side of these markers just in case, but I see swimmers heading through on either side. One has a very familiar pair of goggles on and I realise it’s Lesley.

I suddenly think I must be having an amazing swim to have caught her up and strike out in full front crawl again, hoping to make it all the way to the shallows. Only the dirty water forces me into a safer stroke as I find my feet and stumble zombie like up the bank.

Helping hands out of the water, finding my legs rather jelly like, and a push and a shove in the right direction. Up the bank and a good long run into transition. I peel down my wetsuit and remove my hat and goggles. My feet are covered in dirt and bits of weeds. Off the grass and into the car park area, they protest at the hard ground.

Lesson 3:
Don’t hang about in transition

Me on the bike course at QE2 sprint triathlon
Heading out on the bike course

I take my usual ‘I don’t care how long I take’ approach to transition, peeling off my suit easily and giving my feet a quick wipe and dry on the corner of my towel. Then it’s a bottom up approach to getting my kit on. Shoes, number belt, helmet, a quick swig of water and a faff to put my Garmin on. Lesley has already gone, by the time I’m finally off clicking over the concrete in my bike shoes.

I don’t even bother with a fancy mount, just get on and go, happy to have swum the swim and feeling right at home on my bike. More water from my bottle as I click up through the gears over the smooth road out of the museum entrance.

And then it’s just me and my bike and the road. I’m feeling good, feeling strong, elated at conquering the swim. I start to turn over quickly and make the most of the adrenaline rush. I am in buoyant mood, imagining I’m Chrissie Wellington out ahead on the bike at Kona.

This really is a lovely bike course on wide flat roads through the former pit and mining areas, where now you’re more likely to see fields of vibrant yellow oil seed rape. I try to keep up a decent cadence, but also enjoy the landscape around me.

We pass through Cresswell, a seaside village with a famous ice-cream shop. A string of pretty coastal cottages where a wagtail flits across my flight path. And to the right a bomber squadron of geese in perfect V formation.  A small hill and you’re out over the top of the cliffs. Black cows on green grass farmed by the blue sea and below and on the road, yellow sand.

Just before the factory at Lynemouth, I’m startled by a noise and a movement in the trees as a huge tethered shire horse comes charging out from the trees beside the main road. I’m glad here’s no traffic here as I instinctively move out of its way.

My scenic admiration is cut short as soon after another small rise, I’m passed by another rider. It’s not the first time I’ve been passed on this course, but the others have had the decency to look like skinny whippet triathletes, and this bloke doesn’t. I wake up and put some effort in, catching and passing him just as another bloke goes by.

In transition, I’d noticed some tasty looking bikes. This really wasn’t a tri for the shopper or the mountain bike. But this guy’s bike looks like it’s just come out of the lake with him. It’s either been stripped back for a respray or is as old and rusty as your favourite park bench. I resolve to try and keep him in my sights and his blue shirt is a marker for the rest of the ride.

A couple of speedy straights and a chance to dip down onto the drops. A couple of nifty corners at roundabouts and I am feeling so at home on my bike. My feet are still a little cramped or cold and I try at times to curl my toes to get some life into them. It proves a useful distraction on any small rises, but really there’s nothing you can’t ride on the big ring here.

I’m back round and heading into the museum again, bumping over the speed reminders in the road and spinning to get the blood flowing into my legs.  And I’m off the bike before the dismount line, running clipped and wobbly legged over the grass and then concrete into transition. Quicker this time to slip out of bike and into running shoes, lose the helmet and go.

Legs and feet protest as I try to shake the bike off. Just keep moving and the feeling will fade I tell myself. Up ahead on the path is Mr Rusty Bike in the blue shirt. Bye, bye fella – you just got chicked on the run!

Lesson four:
Your friends are always there for you

Here I am at home, running in lovely surroundings on a path beneath the trees around a lake. But still it is hard to keep moving as my feet and calves feel stiff and I feel the force of every step.

I had some great messages last night and this morning from my friends, so as my mind starts to fret over the thought there are two laps of this to get through, I draw strength from their support.

‘Relax and enjoy.’ Scotty’s mantra is truly one I am taking to heart for this race. It soothes my fretfulness and reminds me that today, the result really does not matter. It is about the experience and meeting the challenge.

Another Scottish Fetch pal , Katy  said ‘you rock’ and you’d have to be braver than me to let Katy down. So I run for her and her determination to face things head on.

I’m all smiles as I pass by Gary and see Al, finished already as I approach the end of the last lap. A naughty little rise up the tarmac and then a down over some grass and back round towards the colliery museum.  I hear Barry, who ran the  tri training I did earlier this year calling out my name as I pass through and nearly take the turn for the finish instead of heading through for another lap.

A quick dose of support and it’s off along the lonely lanes again. More runners though and I try to offer some encouragement as I pass. I feel like I’ve found my legs a little and can stretch out and run freely, but it’s still hard work. How will I ever be able to face a 10k run for a standard after double that swim and bike?  I’ll just have to get hellish fit for next year won’t I?

me crossing the finish line at the QE2 sprint triathlon
The moment I felt like Chrissie Wellington. Thanks to Bob Marshall for the best finish photo I’ve ever had.

The sun is making an appearance and I am actually starting to enjoy this. It is a lovely place to run, flat and easy underfoot. Back round to my support crew again and the smiles are on, even though I know there’s that ugly little hill and back of the buildings bit to go.

In my head I’ve been saying there’ll be no sprint finish today. My legs have worked hard. But as I hit the last few hundred metres of pale, clean, hard surface, they rocket into action. Race face on, arms working like the pumping pistons. I don’t know where it comes from.

I hear Barry calling my name and Tyne tri club as I cross the line and fall into Lesley and a big hug from her and Al. I could not be happier.

I have barely looked at my watch. Mrs pace and stats took a break today and just went with the flow. No targets, no expectations, just relax and enjoy. And I did. Oh how I did.

But you want to know don’t you? Here are the provisional timings:

Swim 750m (and a decent transition run) 21:27
T1: 03:03
Bike 26k: 1:01:15
T2: 01:14
Run 6k: 38:20
Total 2:05:19

Post tri cake score = 2

I finished 194 out of 201 finishers and 13 out of 15 in my category. Full race results from V02 Max Racing who did a fantastic job of organising, marshalling and supporting this great event.

And I got the best ever race finish photo thanks to Bob Marshall. There’s a full set of race pictures on his Picasa site: https://picasaweb.google.com/113562417702657933373/QE2TRI2012

Triathlon is an amazing challenge and an incredible buzz. I’d encourage anyone to give it a go. It’s friendly and helpful and encouraging. All the marshalls had a ‘well done’ or a ‘looking strong’ or a name check for us. Competitors shared wry groans and encouragement as they went by. And that’s what it’s always like.

Today I was proud to represent Tyne tri club who have helped me improve my swimming a lot. And also to be part of the more informal Team Inspire. My PT, Ian and four of his clients took part in today’s event. It’s thanks to him that I even thought about doing triathlons and also thanks to Ian that I’m fit and ready to give them my best shot. I may be at the back of the field, but that doesn’t dent my enthusiasm or love of triathlon and how I feel to be this fit and healthy and blessed with friends.

So that’s me, fully converted to triathlon. I have a lot of work to do to get to where I’d like to be. But I shall relish that. Just as I relish days like that spent in the best company of the best friends.

Parkrun, a plan and a pork pie

Sorry, I’m a bit behind on my blogging and just catching up with last weekend before i enter into the business that will be this one.

Brrrrr, it was a tad nippy on the Town Moor on Saturday and I was glad of my multiple layers from thermals upwards as I volunteered at Newcastle parkrun. I’d hoped to run it, but in a bid to keep my pace sensible, had offered my services as a pacer, only to be told they had a full set. So I was on registration duties, ready with my barcode scanner.

It meant I had a bit of time to chat before the start and it was nice to be approached by a couple of new people wondering what to do and how it all worked. As always with Newcastle parkrun, you think there’s hardly anyone there and then just a few minutes before the start, you realise runners have been arriving from all directions and there’s quite a crowd.

Soon the runners were away over the silver green grass, a multicoloured stream tracking across the moor. The first finishers were quickly through and then it was busy time, scanning barcodes and numbers and occasionally looking up to see a queue of runners patiently waiting to record their results.

I recognised names, but barely saw any faces as my chilly fingers wrestled barcode, number and scanner. A chorus of thank yous and some very cheery runners who promised they had a PB if only it would scan properly kept me smiling.

I didn’t have time to miss running it, but as the tokens kept coming it looked like we were on for a record turn out and as Fred the tail runner came in, we were up to 366 a very keen turn out on such a cold and frosty morning.

So, back home and de-layered, into another set of kit that would see me drop off something to be mended, take my mountain bike for its service and then allow me to head off for a run. Tasks done, I jogged back home, ditching my cycle helmet and jacket in the hallway, changing the settings on my Garmin and heading out for a run.

My foot’s still playing up a bit, so slow and steady is the aim. And I’ve realised I need to rethink my definition of slow. Slow is not the pace I ran my best half marathon at, not even over a shorter distance. Slow needs to be slower than that. I need to ditch my speed thinking and just do what I can at the moment.

Anyway, I ran a couple of loops locally, giving myself the option of ducking out if I felt anything not right in my foot. It was mainly road, but took in a bit of beach and playing fields too. It was nice just to have the freedom to get out and run and not know how many miles I’d done until I heard the beep of the Garmin.

In the end I managed just over 5 miles and wouldn’t you know it, only started to feel a stiffness in my foot when I was at about the furthest point of my loop, meaning I had to run just over a mile to get home. But I relaxed and tried to remember the form advice, trying not to push off with my toes and keeping my knees bent and I made it without any trouble. Stretches and ice straight away when I got in and it’s okay.

homemade pork pie
Homemade pork pie

On Sunday I tried out a new workout on my plan. You know me, I love a plan. And with needing to be mindful of my foot, but wanting to burn off some of the Christmas excess, Ian’s come up with some interesting variations. I tried some indoor tri cross training with a sort of brick session between the rowing machine and spin bike.

It was pretty tough and I was glad I had some power tunes on my iPod to help me power through the bike section. I’m really not fond of static biking except in a spin class, so I used the music to do some intervals, faster and slower to reach 15km in just under 30 mins. And actually I got a great buzz from doing it.

I cooled down with a bit of a swim. I don’t really have a plan for swimming, but I’d like to improve my 400 and 500m swim time so, after some advice on fetcheveryone.com I swam 4x100m off 2:20 and was amazed that I was swimming 100m in less than 2 mins. A few more focused interval sets and hopefully I’ll be shaving some time off my longer swims ready for sprint tri season.

And after all that exercise, I made my first ever pork pie, courtesy of a recipe and ingredients from our friends at G&S Organics. I’m rather proud of how it turned out.

Total body ache

How I’ve missed you. And my little kettlebell palm blisters.

Okay, so I wasn’t laughing as I started to feel the effects of my early morning PT session on the beach while stretching before bedtime last night. But I do welcome the aches as a sign that I’ve worked hard and I’m getting stronger.

The tide was coming in on Thursday morning, chasing me onto the soft sand, just to make things a bit more challenging. And then, towards the end of the session, a rogue wave caught me unawares, drenching my trainers and leaving me with an embarrassing wet patch. Who says working with a personal trainer is glamorous?

I love these sessions – never two the same. I just get on and get through whatever Ian throws at me. We’ve been sand-blasted, rained on, investigated by curious dogs (and people), but mostly it’s just a great chance to make the most of an empty beach and to start the day with the endorphine buzz of exercise before most people have got out of bed. The time flies by too quickly.

It’s only when I stop to think about it, that I smile to myself at how far I’ve come. Exercises I could barely do when I started are now a regular part of my routine. My balance has improved a lot. And Ian keeps in challenging me with something new.

Harder to measure perhaps, other than counting more reps or tackling heavier weights, but for me it’s always been about all-round fitness, rather than just training for one specific sport. And while my legs get a hammering to make them strong for running, my arms, shoulders, back and core muscles aren’t left out.

I’ve never turned up feeling like I couldn’t be bothered or wasn’t in the mood. I’ve been beaten by something a few times, but always got there eventually. And I firmly believe the strength training has helped me avoid many running niggles and injuries.