The Newcastle Woodhorn triathlon

This is a fabulous triathlon. It was a great race when it was the QE2 triathlon. But this year, when the powers that be decided that an iconic race through the centre of Newcastle was not to be, providing an alternative venue for any race with just four weeks notice was a big ask. Woodhorn Colliery Museum stepped in gracefully. And the guys from V02 Max Racing Events, already well known for their terrific, well organised events in the North East, stepped up, put the disappointment of losing so much of their hard work behind them and made it their best event to date.

When they announced there wouldn’t be a Newcastle based race – no river swim, no closed city roads, no run along the Quayside, they rightly gave competitors the option to get their money back. Or take part in the new race, in the alternative venue and get a partial refund. I think they expected many would drop out.

But we came. Triathletes like me, knowing the course from previous races. Triathletes who travelled from far away. And beginners, who were faced with a 24km bike ride rather than the original 10km. I don’t know what the turn out was compared to the numbers who had booked for the original race, but there were around 600 competitors who took part.

There were four swim starts. I was in the second sprint wave and anxious to get in the water so that I could manage my usual race nerves and calm myself before the start. Lake rules dictate that is a wetsuit compulsory swim, but the water was 18C, so not shockingly cold. I got in and floated on my back, letting water into my suit. Then I splashed my face a couple of times and tried breathing out with it in the water. I was a bit too hyped to get a good clear out breath, but I was okay and ready to get going.

Me on the run at the Newcastle Woodhorn triathlon
Me on the run at the Newcastle Woodhorn triathlon – photo by Tove Elander

The countdown started, the hooter sounded and we were off. I was determined not to be a wuss and hang back too much, but to put myself in the mix, albeit not right up the front. I had been frustrated with my last tri start where a bit of a panic meant I stopped and watched the entire field swim away from me.

I struck out into front crawl. My breathing was a bit ragged, but I knew I could live with that for a bit, until I found a more settled pace. Although there was a good wide starting area, swimmers were bunched together and I found myself swimming a good bit water polo style to avoid too many crashes. At the start, you really couldn’t see other swimmers under the water.

I’d gone maybe 200m and the water was starting to clear, so I could see the plants and weeds at the bottom of the lake and bubbles off the feet of swimmers in front. There was a swimmer to my right side, so I tried to draft a little off their hip. But I soon found myself caught in a bit of a pincer movement as another swimmer cut across me from the left.

And then I got a proper bash on the side of my head. It was a real thump, I guess from a hand, elbow, or possibly a kick. Not deliberate, I’m sure, just that my head was in the wrong pace at the wrong time. It floundered me, sent me gasping and desperately trying not to take in a gob full of water. I trod water and gathered my thoughts.

I knew it was enough to unsettle me if I let it. I knew I hadn’t really given myself enough time to calm down and relax in the water, hoping I could tough it out until the field spread out a little. I turned onto my back and floated, taking a couple of deep breaths, once again, being conscious of the field moving ahead of me.

But I gathered myself more quickly and ploughed back on into front crawl. A bit more heads up than I’d have liked, but gradually regaining confidence, getting my breathing calm and just thinking smooth and steady. The first buoy seemed far distant, but I made it and turned easily across to the second.

I was back among the other white capped swimmers now, but with more space and less jostling. I swam beside another girl who felt like she was at a similar speed for a while. But then sighting back to the bank, I thought she was swimming rather wide, so I adjusted my course.

Smooth and steady, I was in my swimming flow now and starting to overtake swimmers around me. In the last few hundred metres I kicked hard, stayed largely out of the scrum for the bank and headed up the hill to transition, conscious that I was far from the last of my wave out of the water.

I had a great position in the bike rack, near the end of the row. A girl with a beautiful Bianchi racked next to mine came through into transition just after me, so the race was on to make sure I got out ahead of her.

Off onto the bike course and I was feeling good. There’s a bit of a downhill start, so I was up through the gears quickly and out onto the main road. Sure, I always get passed on the bike, but I was able to get a fair way before I started being over taken.

Whether it was because I was further up the swim, or it’s just the nature of this course, but I was never out of sight of other bikes on this course. That’s really nice for a slower cyclist like me. Within ten minutes I was overtaken by my pal Ged from work, another one I recruited to the dark side, taking part in his first open water event.

I managed a few overtakes myself, most likely from the beginners race, but still giving me the impetus to keep the pace up. At Cresswell, the course turns alongside a beautiful stretch of sand dunes, with the sea just metres away. In the last couple of years, it’s been stunning – bright blues and golds. Today, everything was grey and shrouded in a fine sea mist. Still, at least the forecast thunderstorms and torrential down pours had held off.

The girl on the Bianchi passed me just beside the caravan park. But by now I was holding my own and managed to make it through Lynemouth before the first of the speedy standard competitors came roaring past on their carbon and solid wheels.

Michelle NicolI’d been drinking High 5 juice throughout the bike, but hadn’t taken anything to eat, thinking ‘it’s just a sprint’. But actually it’s a long sprint, with a 24km bike and a 6.05km run. I got a sudden rush of cramp in my right leg at one point, totally out of the blue. Just the one crippling jolt and then it was gone, but leaving me wondering if it was going to happen again. I made sure I kept drinking for the rest of the course.

I was starting to fade towards the end. There may have been a little uphill gradient, or it may just have been me getting fed up with it, but it felt like I dropped my cadence and began to pootle a little. Fortunately, it wasn’t far to the final left turn into the museum grounds and along a long road to the dismount point.

No real issues in transition and I was off and away on the run around the paths beside the lake. My legs felt good, not too stiff or wobbly. I went off a bit too fast and had to ease it back a bit to find my rhythm.

I concentrated on my form, counted steps, thought about, feet, knees, hips and shoulders. And I waved and smiled to my parkrun friends who were out on the course marshaling or supporting. Claire was out on the run course, practising for her important role helping out at the triathlon in the Commonwealth Games next week. And my lovely friends Tove and Jules from parkrun were out round by the end of the lap where we run across a small gauge railway line.

Two laps round the lake, up a small slope around the back of the museum buildings, down a grassy slope and sprint to the finish line. I’d finished with a flourish and felt fantastic 🙂 I do love my triathlons.

I cleared my bike and stuff from transition as some of the standard competitors were coming through to start their run. And I was very grateful I wasn’t doing the standard distance. The long sprint was enough for me and my training this time.

There was a massive, well-attended prize giving. I’ve never known so many cups and awards at an event, with lots of age category prizes, as well as a corporate challenge, team challenge and relay races. There were also some amazing spot prizes including tri suits, wet suits and one guy walked away with a brand new Merida bike.

I had such a good race on this course last time I did it, that I hadn’t expected much from my performance. I haven’t done anything like the number of bike miles this year and my running’s not on form either. But I ended up only a minute slower overall than last year, taking 2 mins 30 off my swim, shaving 9 seconds off my bike time and only losing out on transitions and about 3 mins on the run. So I was pretty surprised and pleased about that. I think it shows I can still improve and have something to ficus on next year.

I’d still love this city to have an iconic race – one that would look great against the background of the river and its bridges. But there’s something quite special about a tribe of triathletes descending on a visitor attraction in a country park and taking it over with our carnival for the day. Woodhorn Colliery Museum did a great job of hosting at short notice and ensuring there was an event we could all enjoy. Three cheers, bravo to everyone who made it happen.

Swim: 18:38
T1: 01:47
Bike: 54:41
T2: 1:17
Run: 39:51
Total: 1:56:14




Castles Challenge sprint triathlon

Another weekend and another tri. Sprint distance again, but for me, the added challenge of my first sea swim event. The venue – Bamburgh castle on the beautiful Northumberland coast. It made for one of the most scenic, testing and tough tris I’ve done so far.

Transition area in the grounds of Bamburgh Castle
Transition in the grounds of Bamburgh Castle

I’m in the middle of a roll of back to back race weekends, and in truth, I hadn’t really given this one much thought. Having set my sights on standard tris, a sprint suddenly becomes a more manageable. And I was amazingly relaxed about this one.

But everything was different. The start time for one thing – 5pm. What a great time to start a tri, I thought, a nice summer’s evening on the beach, with the promise of music and food afterwards. But it was weird, waking up at my usual early hour and not rushing to get into tri gear and go.

I didn’t really know what to do with myself for the morning, just pootled about, getting my kit ready, doing some chores around the house, going for a walk into the village – very much aware I was just killing time.

It was hot and sunny. People were out and about enjoying the sunshine, but I wanted to keep off my feet as much as possible and not be wandering aimlessly. Still I went down to my beach to check out the sea conditions, hoping they’d be similar an hour further up the coast. It was dead calm, barely a ripple of a wave.

What to eat, and when? When to leave? I decided to just go as normal with breakfast and lunch and hope for the best. The heat made me reluctant to eat much anyway, and I kept reminding myself ‘it’s only a sprint’.

In the end, as always I was a little later than I wanted to be, as my chain slipped loose as I was loading my bike into the car. And then I got slowed down by roadworks. So that as I was approaching Bamburgh, I started to see cars with bikes on circling for parking.

But I got lucky, as I was doing a 20 point turn to manoeuvre into a tight space, one of the day trippers  left and I drove straight into their spot. I unloaded my bike and gear and made my way over to registration, knowing that my buddy Lesley would be there.

It was a bit chaotic trying to get through to the cricket pavilion, with day trippers, dogs and kids circling round me and my bike and my transition bag, but I made it. I swear I get more anxious about getting to races and registering than I do about racing.

With my race number, chip and attractive pink swim hat, hugs from a rather nervous looking Lesley and my favourite race photographer Bob Marshal, we went to get set up in transition in the field below the castle.

Path down to the beach at Bamburgh
We ran up and down this path three times

Where does the time go when you’re setting up for a tri? I thought I’d been pretty quick and not faffy, getting my bike and shoes sorted, but suddenly it was 4:20pm and race briefing was only minutes away. I had a brief chat to my coach Ian, and his lovely family, there to support and enjoy the sunshine. And then I had to dash off for a last trip to the ladies before I started wriggling into my wetsuit.

Race briefing was on the green in front of the stage and the instructions were pretty straightforward. But I started to realise what a big race this was. Hundreds of people wriggling into wetsuits, standing with their friends and club mates, getting ready to race.

I went through some arm and shoulder warm ups, took some deep breaths and tried to get myself focused for the race. I finally got the message to my brain that I was about to do a race.

We’d been warned that it was a long transition up from the beach to the bikes – about 400m of sandy paths through the dunes and up a bank before hitting the grass and tarmac of the castle green. It was bad enough walking down it to get to the swim start, thinking we’d have to negotiate it 3 times more between the bike and the run.

Once on the beach, any fears about rough seas were demolished. It was about as flat calm as the sea can be. But there were no sign of the swim buoys, still being dragged into place with the race due to start.

The delay worked to my advantage as it gave me plenty of time to get in the water, to get used to the temperature, bob around and try a few strokes to relax and get my breathing sorted. In previous tris, I’ve never felt like I have enough time to settle before the start, but just relaxing in the beautiful clear sea next to Lesley made this my most relaxed swim preparation ever.

The water was a bit chilly, but I didn’t think it was too bad. It was perfectly clear, meaning you could see the sandy bottom as it was reasonably shallow too.

So, it was a bit of a delayed start as we made our way back out of the water to the start flags, ready to run back in off the beach – another first for me. A quick round of good lucks, the hooter sounded and we were off, plodging back into the water and then swimming out towards the first buoy.

Swim start at Castles Challenge sprint tri - photo Bob Marshal
Swim start at Castles Challenge sprint tri – photo Bob Marshal

It was a bit of a scrum, with 300 swimmers taking to the water at once – my biggest mass start to date. I ploughed straight in, high on adrenaline, wanting to attack all my fears and for once to have a good swim.

It was like swimming in a soda stream. I the cool clear waters of the warm up churned into millions of tiny white bubbles as feet and arms and black rubber clad bodies bounced off each other, looking for space. Somehow I managed to survive the worst of it, with just a few knocks and only a kick to my chest that sent me spluttering to the surface for air.

I was breathing every stroke, trying to get a sense of where I was, keeping my head up and trying to stay out of trouble. I tried to get into my full stroke, but struggled with a lack of clear water and my brain starting to take over after the mad rush of the start. There was a lot of head up, water polo style crawl which was tiring me out quickly.

As I approached the first buoy, I was stuck in a mass of bobbing pink heads, no space to strike out into full stroke. I resorted to a mix of breast stroke and treading water to negotiate the melee and gave myself a bit of time out to gather my senses.

Once round the buoy there was something like clear water, but I could hear myself hyperventilating, even with my head above the water, no doubt due to the jumble of the mass start and my subconscious swim fears. So I gave myself some time, broke out the head up breast stroke, keeping moving, but giving myself chance to get my breathing under control.

I settled and calmed and looked ahead. The second buoy was a long way away. Time to get moving. And I broke into front crawl, trying to keep it slow, steady, pull through every stroke and give myself chance to breathe.

I counted strokes again to make myself battle through the temptation just to do breathe easy breast stroke. 15 strokes front crawl, then a breather, 21, then 30. After that I stopped counting and just swam as much front crawl as I could.

Beach and Bamburgh castle
Beach and Bamburgh castle

The second buoy seemed like it was moving further and further away. How could this feel so hard after I’d swum such a ridiculously long leg in the standard? I banished negative thoughts with Chrissie Wellington’s tweet to all weekend racers “Race with all your heart and soul, remember your motivation and smile always!”

Head down and more front crawl. Pulling away from the girl swimming alongside me. In clearer water, swimming my own race, starting to relax and enjoy the feel of the beautiful clear water. Still short breathing a little, but keeping it controllable.

I breast stroked round the second buoy and began the home stretch. With shallower waters and the certainty that it would soon be over, this was the most comfortable and consistent portion of my swim. A couple of times I drew level and passed other swimmers. I even tried latching onto some fast feet for a bit of a pull, but quickly decided I’d rather strike out in clear water, than face the turbulent bubbles.

Round the last buoy and swim for the shore. The shallows came quickly and I was unsteadily onto my feet and ploshing up onto the shore. Another hit of adrenaline and my breathing was quick and heavy. I just kept looking a few feet ahead ploughing through the soft sand, moving relentlessly forward. I walked up the steepest parts of the dunes, giving myself chance to drawn in oxygen and settle my breathing, moving my wetsuit down over my hips.

Once at the top I broke into a rough trot over the grass to my bike. Wetsuit came off quite easily, with a bit of a wrestle to get it over my chip. Then helmet, shoes, bike – off I go running with the bike towards the road.

I stay in a low gear to get my legs turning over and give myself chance to catch my breath. My hands are sandy from taking off my wetsuit, and I can feel bits of grit and sand stuck to my wet feet in my bike shoes.

Me on my bike with Bamburgh castle in the background
Heading off on the bike – photo Bob Marshal

I take a slurp of my drink and change up through the gears, but soon the road starts to climb and I drop back, negotiating the hill. The turnover is slow but steady. I’m trying not to burn too much effort yet, still settling from the swim.

The long up has a correspondingly comforting down. A chance to freewheel, find the drops and actually start enjoying this ride on a beautiful sunny evening on country roads lined with hedgerows and further beyond the blue of the sea.

For once, I’m riding with other racers. They are in front and behind and I’m never really out of sight of any. It makes for interesting racing as I start to catch some on the small inclines only to become aware of faster riders coming from behind.

This is a no drafting race, so I do my best to steer clear, riding out as I pass, but it’s not easy when the faster bikes also come by, especially when road and cycle traffic starts to come the opposite direction on the out and back course.

I keep drinking throughout the ride, with the goal of finishing my bottle as it’s a hot day. I keep the effort steady, but not stupid, feeling strong and enjoying the ride in the sunshine.

There’s a rough bit of road and a bumpy patch that catches my breath about a mile or so before the turn around point. I’ve opted just to wear a simple stop watch for this race, so I have no real idea about time or distance, other than how it feels.

Through a fairly scrappy u-turn and back along the same road in the opposite direction. I tell myself to keep up the effort and put a bit more work in on the return leg. The cyclists ahead of me make it easy as I start to chase them down – not something I usually get chance to do in a race.

Soon after the turn around, a vision in red approaches and waves at me smiling. It’s Lesley, looking fast and furious on the bike. But if she hadn’t spotted me and waved, I’d have missed her.

My legs feel good and strong and I surprise myself overtaking a couple of girls on the slight inclines on the return leg. There’s one in a distinctive red and yellow Northumberland tri suit, number 305 who I pass, and then who overtakes me a couple of times and shouts encouragement as she does.

I seem to catch her on the hills and then she catches me napping on the straights. But the friendly banter really does help me stay focused and I’m grateful, even if I am surprised to find myself climbing so strongly. I cycle pretty flat routes in training and never think of myself as much of a climber.

My lower back is starting to niggle a little as it sometimes does on longer rides (I really do need to get myself a proper bike fit). But it’s manageable and I know it will go once I’m off the bike onto the run. I take advantage of a bit of downhill to drop as flat as I can to stretch it out and whizz past another rider – result!

One last climb and one last descent and the castle approaches swiftly. In fact so swiftly that I forget to change down and spin my gears, but still I manage some sort of dismount and run back to transition. I overshoot my bike place at first, but soon sort myself out, ditching the helmet and slipping into my trainers.

Running on the beach at Bamburgh - photo Bob Marshal
Running on the beach at Bamburgh – photo Bob Marshal

I’ve decided to go sockless for this one. It’s a bit of a risk as the run’s on sand. But I’ve been doing so much more barefoot stuff recently and having run in London on horribly blistered feet, I figure I can just get on with it and save myself a few valuable seconds in transition.

Out across the green and back towards the sand dunes, my legs feel good, quite bouncy and I have to cling onto the fence to round the corner to stop myself going flying down the bank. The soft sand down and up over the sand dunes is a leg sapper though, but I push through it onto the beach, heading for the edge of the sea in the hope of getting the hard packed sand we’d been promised.

It isn’t there. It’s just soft sand. The kind that melts each footfall and sends you slipping and reeling.

My run is a shuffle. Little steps, just moving forward, with no bounce, no spring, no hard fought for forefoot form. Just keep moving I tell myself. It doesn’t matter that your steps are small, you’re still making them. Keep on going with the relentless forward motion.

I spot Bob on the beach and being such a photo tart, smile and pick my feet up into something approaching good form. It doesn’t last much beyond the camera shutter click. Onwards, onwards – it’s only a 5k.

But it’s a hard 5k. As I come to terms with the soft sand and stop looking for firmer ground, settling with myself that this is as good as it gets, it does begin t firm up a little and finally I can start to pick up my feet and try to bounce off my forefoot. But the impact of the shuffle on my hips and my knees is making itself felt.

Running on the beach at Bamburgh
Back up the beach on the home stretch – photo Bob Marshal

Day trippers on the beach shout out to the runners “Come on number 36 – well done”. I don’t know if they are here to support someone or have just stumbled into this strange world where sweaty people stumble through the sand, but I welcome their cheerful encouragement.

Eventually there’s the flag, the turn around point. Just the same run to do again. I push on over the harder packed sand, trying to make the most of it, knowing the softer ground lies ahead.

The return leg is brutal on legs and knees and hips. I jink up the beach in search of firmer footing, but realy it makes no difference and just means I run further. There’s a hot, sore spot on my right foot, where the sand is rubbing against my skin. My face is covered in sweat. I see it through my peripheral vision, dewing up my eyebrows. This is relentless, like some Dantean trial.

And there she is again. My vision in red. Smiling, bouncing and high fiving as we pass on this beautiful stretch of beach. I love racing with Lesley. We always have so much fun. It’s a small high spot that keeps me going.

On the softest sand, I allow myself a little walk on the basis that I’m barely moving any quicker than walking pace anyway. Just 30 paces and then I run, or attempt to run along the rest of the beach, looking for the gap in the dunes which marks the turn back towards the finish.

Sand dunes at Bamburgh
The sandy slope back up from the beach

It is a steepish, sandy slope. I use my arms and power up as far as I can. But I feel a jolt in my left knee which has been nigglesome for a couple of weeks. With another standard tri next weekend, I go easy on myself and walk up the steep slope. Even the encouraging shout from one of my workmates can’t summon up a run just here.

I save my energy for the final flourish at the finish. Sand bank and dunes behind me, my shoes still carry pockets of the soft sand. But my feet fall on short, dried out grass and I can run at last. One lap of the outskirts of the green, bouncing out, finally finding my form. Chasing down the last corner, breaking into a sprint for glory with 20 metres to go, arms aloft over the line, smiling!

I take off my shoes and empty out buckets of sand. I’d been longing to do that. I skirt the green, trying to decide whether to drop them back in transition or keep a look out for Lesley finishing. I spot Bob running up with his camera and he tells me she’s on her way.

And so I run the last leg with her. On the other side of the barrier, carrying my trainers, barefoot across the grass, round the last corner, yelling her on through the finish. That feels good! And even better as we pose for our post race smiley photo.

Me and Lesley - Castles Challenge Sprint triathlon 2013
Me and my best tri buddy Lesley – photo Bob Marshal

That was a hard run. Harder I think that the 10k at the end of my standard. Harder mentally as I couldn’t rely on my form or any of my usual cues. At times it just felt like a relentless slog. Normally the run is my home stretch, the easy section, the one I can rely on. Today I had to dig deep for something special.

But that’s oddly satisfying and I actually enjoy the race more for providing a real challenge, and not necessarily the one I’d expected. I expected to struggle with the swim, and while it wasn’t completely stress free, the favourable weather conditions meant it was one of my better race experiences.

The mass start was a real eye opener and has given me something to prepare for at bigger races. But I’m definitely getting better every time I do an open water event. And my bike was strong, surprising even as I managed to pass a few competitors and I enjoyed it.

This is definitely the most scenic and probably the most challenging tri I’ve done to date. And it’s a good candidate for the list for next year. Post race shower, stretch and clean sheets on the bed never felt so good. And today I ache more than I did after my standard, but it’s a good ache, a worthy one.

With another standard tri at Allerthorpe to look forward to next weekend, I reckon the Castles Challenge sprint has been great preparation.

Swim 750m: 24:42 (was out of the water in 20 mins- rest is long run into T1)

T1: 01:29
Bike 20k: 47:10
T2: 00:54
Run: 00:32:56

Total 01:47:13

My race stats

Great video that gives you an idea of how scenic this event is:


Race results
Race photos – Bob Marshall
Event website

Update: Sadly the Castles Challenge Middle Distance tri which was due to take place the day after the sprint had to be cancelled as heavy rain meant the sea swim and bike course were not safe for competitors.

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.

400m front crawl in the bag

Regular readers will know that I’ve been trying to improve my swimming. I took some lessons in November to learn how to breathe properly when swimming front crawl, with a view to completing a sprint triathlon this year.

It’s been incredibly frustrating at times, unlearning my bad habits and trying to get my body to learn new ones. I also had to fight a panic instinct about breathing out under water, but I had a very patient teacher.

Since my lessons I’ve just been practising and practising. But progress has felt incredibly slow. I could barely string two lengths of a 20m pool together swimming properly, whereas if I stuck my head out of the water, I could pootle up and down all day. Back in November I managed 5 lengths in one go – a whole 100m. And then never managed to do that again…until last night.

Last night I got in the pool and had about 15 minutes before my aqua aerobics class. So I challenged myself to swim 200m – which I did with a set of 4 and 2×3 lengths. Then I did a 45 min class, splashing around in the pool.

After the class, the pool was clear, so I thought I’d have another go. This time I wanted to see if I could swim 200m in one go.

Now here’s the thing… I actually swim better when I’m a bit tired. It means I slow down and don’t thrash my arms so much trying desperately to get to the side of the pool.

So I started nice and slow, giving myself plenty of time for the in-breath. And I just kept going. I did 10 lengths easy and I said to myself, ‘Just see how many more you can do.’ And I kept going, and going until I reached 20 lengths. That’s 400m or the distance I’ll have to swim in a sprint triathlon. And I did it in 10mins 30 secs.

Woohoo! I can’t tell you how fantastic I felt. It was like the day I ran to the roundabout and back without stopping last year. Something just clicked and I’d got it.

And now I’ve done it, I know I can do it again. And maybe I can get a bit faster, a bit smoother through the water too.

There are still challenges to face with my triathlon goal – like getting on a bike for one and then stringing all these separate disciplines together for another. But it’s coming together and I’m starting to have faith in myself that I can do this.

Now all I need to do is pick my event and enter it.