The Scribbler

15 June 2016

World Triathlon Leeds – watching the elites

I found a spot on the kerb of the Headrow to watch the start of the women’s race on the big screen. I was still sipping my water and recovering from my own race as they dived in off the pontoon.

It’s never easy to keep track of athletes in the swim but it was clear that team GB’s Jessica Learmouth and Lucy Hall were in the leading pack with Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. As they emerged from the second lap of the lake, USA’s Gwen Jorgensen and GB’s Vicky Holland were in the mix for the run to transition and the bike leg.

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Gwen Jorgensen passes Flora Duffy on the run, right in front of me. Picture by Roger Loxley

At this point I went off to see if my bag with my dry clothes had arrived, and tried to meet up with my friends, but with the course being live for racing, it was impossible to cross from one side to the other. It was obvious that my bag wouldn’t arrive for a while, so I made my way to a spot close to Millennium Square to watch the race. By sheer coincidence my friends from Newcastle were across the road, so I could see them, but couldn’t reach them.

Soon I heard a cheer from the bottom of the street and the bikes emerged with two team GB girls in the leading pack. It took until they’d passed to identify Jessica Learmouth and Lucy Hall mixing it up with Flora Duffy up front, but they earned their cheers anyway.

Then there was a pause. It seemed a long gap before the following pack came through with Vicky Holland and Jodie Stimpson getting the yells and cheers for this one. The crowd continued to yell, cheer and clap as the racers came round each time and we soon lost track of the laps, but nothing much changed, with the lead group maintaining around a 1 min 40 second lead.

We knew it was the last lap when they started slipping out of their shoes to approach the dismount line. The pros do this at high speed and make it look really easy. As they turned into transition, they were out of sight.

It was exciting to watch the race in this way, without the benefit of a big screen to show what was going on around the rest of the course, anticipating who would approach the bottom of the street from the roar of the crowds and squinting to see who it would be.

I was really pleased to be able to identify the tall, rangy figure of Gwen Jorgensen as she appeared, like the Terminator at the bottom of the hill. Flora and the team GB girls kept her at bay for a couple of laps, and we wondered if the gap was too much for even this phenomenal runner to close.

But she did, and we saw it coming from the bottom of the road. Gwen had pushed closer and closer to Flora Duffy who had worked so hard to break away on the bike and she eventually overtook her right where I was standing in the crowd.

Gwen is a superb athlete and it was a thrill to see her powerful running style up close. I cheered her on, even though I’d have loved to have seen a GB girl up front.

My heart was with Jodie Stimpson, who had so narrowly missed out on a place in the Olympic team, but I was proud to cheer on any one of them. In the end it was Vicky Holland who took third place on the podium alongside Flora and Gwen and gave the Leeds crowd a home champion.

In the break between the women’s and men’s races I took the opportunity to move around and grab a bite to eat. By chance my pal Jules had found me and fed me a flapjack – the first thing I’d eaten apart from a slice of orange and a piece of banana, since the end of my race.

We watched part of the men’s swim and saw Richard Varga come out of the lake first, swiftly followed by Jonny and then Alistair Brownlee a few places behind. The Leeds lads are always out to do their best, but with a true home race they’d want to win more than ever. The question was, which brother would have the upper hand?

They were soon on their bikes and on their way into the city. I found my way back to my spot ready to spot them as they came into the highly technical, twisting city centre loops.

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Jonny Brownlee getting plenty of crowd support. Picture by Roger Loxley

It seemed no time at all before we heard the cheers and saw the leading group of hometown heroes Jonny and Alistair, with Australian triathlete Aaron Royle and France’s Aurelien Raphael.

There was a gap before the chasing group came through – not so big as that in the women’s race, but enough to make you think that the winners would come from the lead group. We were surprised not to see Mola of Spain racing alongside Gomez, who was in the second group.

Of course, the crowd were pleased that the Brownlee boys were in a great position to dominate this race. With such a technical course through the city there was little change up at the front and as the lead pack came round the last turn for the dismount, it was still a race between the Brownlee boys and Aaron Royle.

The crowd was vocal for the women’s race, but the noise increased on every lap of the men’s. As they were into the run, we heard a surge at the bottom of the hill and looked down to see a lone runner streaking ahead in a team GB tri suit. But which Brownlee was it?

I spotted the distinctive floating running style of Alastair Brownlee and declared it to be him before I could really be sure. And I was right. He bounced past seemingly effortlessly, and sorry Ali, but I couldn’t take my eyes off your legs. How do you run so beautifully?

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Alistair Brownlee acknowledging the crowds on his way to a win. Picture by Roger Loxley

In such commanding form, there’s no betting against Ali, and he continued to pull away from his hard chasing brother on every lap.

We kept our eyes on Gomez among the chasers and cheered every runner through. Some were obviously working hard, the set of their jaw or the look in their eyes showing the effort they were putting in.

They ran unbelievably close to the barriers, with the crowds hanging over with cameras, clapping, cheering and screaming encouragement. You could see every bead of sweat, every nuance of expression. You don’t get that close to world champions at any other event that I know of.

Again we miscounted the laps and were cheering on Ali like he’d won on the penultimate lap. It’s a good job we weren’t running ourselves as we’d have been one short! But there were no such mistakes from the pros and had there been a roof over Leeds City centre. we’d have raised it with our shouts as the brothers came through for the last time, with Alastair taking an unassailable lead.

He smiled and held his arms out, drinking in the crowd support with a thumbs up and a high five or two along the last few metres. The white rose of Yorkshire flags were out as we cheered him home to a gold medal, with brother Jonny taking silver for a very proud Leeds 1,2. Aussie Royle took his third place after remaining strong throughout the run.

It was an incredible thrill to be so close to these superb athletes in action, to see and hear the crowds response to a fantastic race, and to appreciate the efforts of everyone who took part. On the last lap, a Japanese athlete’s legs buckled, cramped up or just ran out of juice and we spurred him on. The final athlete through got almost as big a cheer as the winner as we recognised the effort and challenge involved in taking part in a triathlon in the world series.

5 June 2016

Northumberland Sprint Triathlon 2016

Filed under: triathlon — The Scribbler @ 18:56
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And so to the start of my triathlon season, with a nearly new event for me. The Northumberland triathlon takes place around Druridge Bay country park in Northumberland – a truly lovely part of the world.

I’ve been here before, but raced the standard distance in the past. The sprintis run on the same course, just with fewer laps. It’s a VO2 Max Racing event – which means it’s brilliantly organised, great fun and they always look for improvements. This year, the run, which is on good trails around the lake, was run clockwise, which I really enjoyed.

13344789_1182027298495840_7945418781633612846_nWhile Scotland and the West coast have been enjoying the sun over the last week, it’s been more like winter on the East coast, grey, damp and temperatures around 9C, so I was delighted when we got some sunshine and warmth on Saturday and a good forecast for race day Sunday.

I was up at 5am, kitted up and on the road to pick up my parkrun pal Tove who was marshalling at this event. With traffic free roads we made good time to Druridge and I went to get set up in transition.

I hadn’t really thought much about this race. I usually like to do more mental preparation, thinking through each part of the race, but I was feeling fairly relaxed, and I really felt no pressure to do anything except enjoy it.

I swam my third session of Open Water this year on Thursday evening and really felt the cold and had a few moments with my inner chimp saying “You don’t have to do this”, which was a bit sneaky. But I tussled my way round about 1k’s worth by relaxing and swimming really slowly and counting strokes to take before I gave myself a breather.

As I racked my bike and set out my gear, I kept my eyes open for my friend Lesley on her way down from Scotland to take part in the bike leg of the relay with her friend Krista doing the rest. I got hugs and we were soon ready to start. Time just disappears when you’re getting set for a tri.

It was still chilly and overcast, and knowing that it can take me a while to settle, I got into the water early for a warm up. Temperature was approx 13.5C and it felt a lot warmer than on Thursday night, so I swam a few strokes before setting myself at the back and feeling quite calm.

Even at the back, there was a bit of a thrash and churning of water at the start, so I struck out water polo style and waited for clear water before I got my head down and started swimming properly. I used the tactics from Thursday’s session throughout, taking a quick breather if I felt anxious or like I was getting breathless and focused on counting my strokes and being relaxed in the water.

Although most of the field was far out in front of me, I gained on quite a few of the stragglers who had gone off too hard and fast and just swam my own race.

Everyone was very polite, with lots of sorries if I got an accidental kick or a bash. I just about made it to the last buoy before the fast lads from the standard pack came powering through and even they breathed sorry as they splashed through. I didn’t think it was a particularly fast swim, but it was a really enjoyable and confidence boosting one. Since I’ve looked back a previous race results in open water over the same distance, it’s actually one of my best times!

Out of the water and up the bank with the help of the marshals. And into transition, which wasn’t a particularly fast one as I always struggle to get my wetsuit over my ankles, and given how cold it was, I did opt for socks in my bike shoes. But hey – no pressure, remember. I did the right things in the right order and ran out over the grass with my bike.

Along the road out of the country park and then onto a long straight main road towards Widdrington. I always get passed on the bike, and hardly ever pass anyone, and that was the same today. But I kept pedalling, and maintained a comfortable pace.

The course is nominally flat. There are no real hills, but there a couple of deceptive inclines and I did feel the effort through my legs as my cadence dropped, but there were no real quad screamers. I kept my eyes open for Lesley and my friend Ged doing his first Standard distance and saw them both twice on the out and back bike leg.

As I approached the roundabout turn I saw a fast rider ahead and something dropped off his bike. As I came around the turn he’d gone back to collect it – only his saddle! I don’t know whether he was able to continue or not, but it did make me think of Andy Holgate who relates a similar mishap on an iron distance course in his book Can’t sleep, Can’t train, Can’t Stop.

I could probably have pushed a bit harder on the bike, but I haven’t done much at fast speeds this year and I never was the speediest cyclist anyway. Today was just about getting round and remembering why I enjoy this activity so much. I was glad to see the turn back into the Country Park and even more thankful that I wasn’t doing the Standard and going past for another lap.

A fast descent towards the dismount line and a bit of slowing down before gingerly finding my legs off the bike. As I’d been cycling I’d tried to wiggle some feeling into my toes, but it proved impossible, so I began the run willing some blood flow back into my feet.

13321782_10157121026085294_2090984188901957378_nThe run is a lovely route around the lake on good trails and as the sun started to appear I did eventually warm through. I reckon it took one of the two laps though before I could feel my toes.

Again, I just ran to feel and was spurred on by a band of marshals around the far side of the lake. Each turn or corner brought a familiar face, from parkrun friends Jules and Tove to triathlon pals I haven’t seen in ages, Peter and his wife Lyndsey. I felt like I had my own support team!

With multiple laps for the sprint and standard, there were always runners around, either passing or being passed and I just focused on keeping moving at a nice sustainable pace.

Once again I was glad I was doing the slightly long 5k over two laps, rather than the 4 lap 10k plus, especially as the new run took you past the finish line each lap. But it was great to get a shout out, and I genuinely felt like smiling as I ran in this lovely environment.

13332915_1182027308495839_8787943930879986603_nBack round towards the finish and for me the joy of running down the finish funnel and picking up the pace for a few strides over the line. Greeted by some enthusiastic young marshals who handed me a bottle of water and relieved me of my timing chip

Soon afterwards, I met up with Lesley who had finished her bike leg in a super fast time and together we cheered on Krista and others on the run.

We stayed for the presentations – lots and lots of prizes to give out! And then it was time to get back to our respective homes, but not before promising some more fun days over the summer.

I’ve trained harder and been more competitive at triathlons in previous years, but today’s was very successful in that I genuinely relaxed and enjoyed it. Getting through the swim without a massive adrenaline overload was a big achievement and having enough training in the tank to feel in control throughout made me feel good. Because, as I said to another lady after she finished her race, this is not a small thing to achieve.

I sort of knew I would, once I got racing again, but after a few doubts and nerves and uncertainties in my training and preparation this year, I can can confirm, I do still love triathlon. Even the swimming bit. And given that I’ve arguably the biggest, most complicated race I have ever done coming up next weekend in Leeds – that’s a good thing.

And before that, just the small matter of the annual craziness that is the Blaydon Race on Thursday night. Oh yes!

Stats and stuff:

Swim: 19:00
T1: 2:17
Bike: 52:29
T2: 1:17
Run: 37:35

Total: 1:52:38

Smiles :-) :-) :-)

29 September 2015

Brownlee triathlon 2015, Harewood house

It’s 8am on a Saturday morning and I’m on my way to my last triathlon of the year. I’ve never been so undertrained, and under prepared for an event, and yet it’s the one I’ve most been looking forward to.

It’s the Brownlee triathlon, in the grand setting of the grounds of Harewood house, near Leeds. I have wanted to do this event for the past 3 years, but have always been put off by the cost, travel and timing. This year it was the first event I booked on my racing calendar back in January.

Me and Jonny Brownlee at the Brownlee tri

First Brownlee bagged

I love the Brownlees and the excitement and success they’ve brought to this utterly brilliant sport. I have yelled and screamed at them in races on TV and was glued to the Olympic coverage.

And now I was heading to compete on their Yorkshire turf, to tackle hills and trails like those they train on, in the biggest triathlon event I’ve ever taken part in.

I had to take a break from triathlon training from the beginning of July, making long runs for the half marathon my priority. I barely managed a bike ride in six weeks, let alone a swim. And as the day of the tri got closer, I was trying desperately to shake off a cold. Even as I travelled down, I was throwing back throat sweets and trying desperately not to cough, for fear of being told I wasn’t fit enough to be there.

But I made it to the glorious grounds of Harewood house and the biggest triathlon set up I’ve ever seen. The music was pumping and the announcer commentating as I arrived, racing already underway from about 9am, and I wouldn’t get my chance until almost 1pm.

I made my way to registration to pick up my race pack, number stickers for bike and helmet and proper race number tattoos. Then off to rack my bike in transition, well ahead of time.

As I was faffing about laying out my shoes and helmet ready for the bike and run, the commentator was yelling about Jonny Brownlee leaving everyone behind as he took part in the swim. And then suddenly, there was a slim figure in a wet suit running up the grass, towards the rows of bikes racked at the top of the hill.

I ran to see Jonny pass his chip onto his relay team member who was going to do the bike leg. There were plenty of shouts from the gathered spectators and a few photos, and then, after he changed out of his wetsuit into some warm dry gear, he seemed happy enough to hang around and chat to the competitors and I bagged myself my first Brownlee picture of the day. Brilliant!

Me and Alastair Brownlee at Harewood house

Second Brownlee of the day.

Not long afterwards I got the chance to say hello and shake Alistair’s hand too, as he posed for a picture too. They were both lovely, unassuming and not making a big fuss about being the centre of attention. Alistair is currently recovering from an operation on his foot and was wearing a boot on his left leg. I got the sense that, for all that he’s a World, Olympic and Commonwealth champion, he’d probably have swapped places with an over 40s, slow, but uninjured triathlete so that he could take part today. I wished him well for his recovery.

In the world of British triathlon, Alistair and Jonny are legends. And they’d probably be the first to try and deny that label. But they are champions. Determined, fast, hard-training and more importantly, cracking Yorkshire lads. I was honoured and delighted to shake their hands. It was the best start to a fantastic day.

And so to my race. It was good really that the pressure was off, and I had no expectations other than to enjoy the experience. But still I couldn’t help wishing I was in the same form I was in earlier in the year and that I’d managed to keep up cycling and swimming alongside my running.

The swim

I wriggled into my wetsuit and took one last look at my transition set up, before heading down towards the lake. On registration they’d said the water temperature that morning was 12C. I hoped it had warmed up a little, but was prepared for it to be chilly.

The nerves started to kick in as my time grew closer. I watched some of the swimmers from the previous waves looking decidedly tired and wobbly as they made their way back to the swim exit. I wasn’t close enough to see them emerging with silt covered faces, which was probably just as well.

Race briefing took place by the swim start. Nervous rubber wet-suited ladies gathered beneath their green caps and tried to decide whether to go with the first group or the second. I opted to get it over with.

I turned to look at the water before heading to the pontoon, and there, standing right beside me was Alistair Brownlee. I took that as a good omen, smiled and said hello again, before he was surrounded by the remaining group and posing for photos.

I walked out along the pontoon. A flock of geese flew overhead and the water looked calm. We were invited to get in but hold onto the pontoon. I dunked my head under and gasped. It was cold and silty. I felt like I could almost stand up on the mud that clung round my ankles like weeds. I didn’t have time to catch my breath before the hooter sounded and we were off.

I struck out with front crawl, but knew I was in no state to get my breathing under control, so switched to breast-stroke while I got used to the water temperature. As the rest of the group swam away from me I fought to control my breathing. A couple of times I stuck my head under, only to come up gasping at the pitch black siltiness of the water.

Me at the swim exit of Brownlee triathlon 2015

Happy to be out of the water

I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I don’t always swim in perfectly clear water, but this was the darkest I’ve been in and it really unsettled me. It felt like swimming in a flooded coal mine. The water, thick and soupy, clinging to my face. Each time it was a mental battle to put my head back under the surface.

Eventually, last in my group, I struck clearer water, found a clearer head and began to really swim properly. I made it round the top buoy and saw the next wave of swimmers approaching. Never mind, I know I’m a slow swimmer anyway. At least I’d overcome my initial nerves and was swimming front crawl, trying to relax and enjoy the views of the trees.

I made my way back down the lake much faster thanks to the company of the second wave of swimmers. I even managed to stay out of arms way until I began to approach the pontoon where the water turned murky again and I got bashed by a swimmer alongside me. At this point there was a drone flying very low overhead too, so I carried on as best as I could and kicked out towards the exit ramp. Once again the water was thick and black, but I was close enough to shore to push on.

With a bit of a leg wobble, but a relieved smile, I plodged out of the lake and up the exit ramp, then onto the grass for a long run into transition. Wetsuit off, helmet, shoes and number on and I ran with my bike up the grassy hill, with the longest ever run to the mount line.

The bike

Even with my bike in a low gear, it was a hard push uphill from the start. Tough going when you’re still recovering from an adrenaline busting swim, but I made it and started to settle in and try to enjoy the bike.

It certainly was scenic, and undulating, with a couple of smaller rises and then one long steep climb towards the end of the lap that had a few people off and walking. The ups were suitably compensated for by some spectacular downhills, although these ended in sharp turns, so I needed to take care. I’ve never used my brakes so often in a triathlon, but got braver at each turn.

Me on the bike at the Brownlee triathlon 2015

Passing behind Harewood house on the Brownlee triathlon bike route

The marshals on the route were brilliant, shouting encouragement or instructions at every key point. They must have been a bit bored being out for so long, but no one showed it and they really helped add to the friendly atmosphere. As did the competitors who were good at shouting when they were about to overtake. I even got a ‘well done’ as I pushed up the steep climb, standing in my pedals. Sadly I didn’t have the breath to acknowledge it, but thanks, whoever you were!

I ticked off key landmarks – the field of corn, the black sheep, the steep down hill with the right turn, the bit through the estate buildings, the marshal with the hat, and four laps went by quickly (although not as quickly as I’d estimated based on my time over a similar distance on the flat).

Soon it was up the hill for the last time and round to the right to the sound of cow bells and back to the long run into transition. By now the sun had come out and as always, I knew I could cope with the run.

The run

My legs felt strange as I set off over the grass, but with half marathon miles in my legs I was in no doubts they’d carry me. The run route soon dipped into woodland, with muddy patches underfoot and then soft trails, but for a while I still felt like I was running in bike shoes. I must have been pushing hard on those pedals.

It really was a beautiful run route on quiet trails through the trees. There was a steady climb from about a mile in and then a steep drop round to the right and alongside the river. There was even a ford to cross.

Me at the finish of the Brownlee triathlon 2015

Skipping over the finish line

As the route began to climb back round towards the house, I ran alongside a lady with a soft Scottish accent who had walked a bit of a hilly section, but who I judged to be a faster runner than me. We had a bit of a chat and ended up keeping each other going right back round to the finish.

I could hear the race commentator and the noise of the entertainment village from a long way back, but with a sign saying 500m to go and some more enthusiastic cheering marshals, I really began to smile. Onto the grass and a bit of a spring into something like a sprint finish, arms aloft and a daft grin for the camera.

Time to shake hands with my companion for the last mile or so and then catch up with Tove who had just finished her first triathlon in the super-sprint event. Proudly sporting medals and T-shirts we compared races and Brownlee spotting. And all agreed, we’ll be back again next year.

I’ve done quite a few triathlons now, and enjoyed everyone, but I really wanted this one to be something special, and it didn’t disappoint. Even with the big numbers, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The route was scenic and challenging and the organisation absolutely spot on. The fact that I got to meet a couple of my sporting heroes, who were just as lovely and down to earth as you’d imagine, was the absolute highlight of a fantastic day, enjoying this sport that I love.

17 August 2014

Spanish City Triathlon

This is a brand new event for 2014, brought to us by Total Racing International, the same team behind the popular Castles triathlon that I did last year. Being as it’s just down the road from me, and would be the shortest distance I’ve ever travelled to take part in a triathlon, I signed up early and got number  18.

Spanish City, for those of you who don’t know, is a now abandoned amusement park in Whitley Bay, famous for its building with a white dome, which still stands. It’s mentioned in the Dire Straits Song ‘Tunnel of Love’.  And the lyrics “Girl it looks so pretty to me / Like it always did / Like the Spanish City to me / When we were kids, ” featured on the back of the race T-shirt.

Triathletes enter the water

Warm up before the swim start. Photo by Claire Wynarczyk

I was a little nervous about it being a sea swim. Especially as the weather forecast was full of wind warnings. Now, I don’t mind swimming in the sea, but once it gets a little choppy, I get a bit nervous. And this year I’ve barely managed any sea swimming at all.

The original swim route had been to swim along beside the shore, entering onto the beach near it’s northerly point and exiting at the end beside a ramp and the beach cafe. But it was changed to being an out, along and back from near the ramp.

Having set up in transition, and got my wet suit on, I picked my way gingerly over the rough tarmac down to the beach. The water was clear and calm, barely a ripple of a wave. That was good. The two marker buoys didn’t look that far away. Excellent. I could do this.

I really welcomed the chance to get into the water before the race started. It was alarmingly cold. Much more so than when I’d last been in off Tynemouth Longsands on Tuesday evening. But I did my usual gasp and floated around, getting used to it. Then stuck my head under and blew bubbles and even swam a few strokes to make sure I was warmed up and ready.

Swim start at Spanish City triathlon

The swim start at the spanish City triathlon. Photo by Claire Wynarczyk

We were all called out before the mass beach start. I positioned myself off to the side and at the back, with my main aim being to keep out of the worst of the thrash as we got underway. It was a good move and worked well, as I only got a couple of arms or legs brushing against me.

I started swimming well. The water was clear, although I couldn’t see much beyond the bubbles churned up by 200 other swimmers hitting the sea at the same time. I kept it nice and relaxed and just held my nerve in the dash to the first buoy.

Then something went in my head. I really don’t know what it was. But something about swimming away from land, being out of my depth and feeling the sea start to grow choppy and I felt my chest grow tight and my breathing grow shallow.

I took a moment, swam heads up breast stroke to gather myself and pushed on. As I approached the first buoy, it seemed like the wind had picked up a little, sending little wavelets out over the water and it was spattering up as though rain was falling. I swam a little more breast stroke to get round the buoy.

And then at the turn the chop grew worse, with it hitting the side of my face as the second buoy looked as far away as the first. I tried to break back into front crawl, but I’d lost my rhythm and my confidence. All I could hear was my own shallow breathing echoing back in my ears.

I’d been glad of my neoprene swim cap to keep out the worst of the cold, but covering my ears it blocked out the sound of everything else except my own, panicky sounding breathing.   I kept trying to bring it under control, to lower my heart rate by taking some deep breaths, swimming breast stroke and then getting back into front crawl, but mentally I’d lost it.

And despite the fact that my feeble heads-up breast stroke meant I was getting more splashed in the face by the waves and the chop and when I did swim front crawl I moved quickly and easily through the water, I just couldn’t get it to stick.

I really wish I could get a grip on this mental aspect of swimming. So often in races, something happens and I get a rush of adrenaline and it all goes a bit awry. Today, I should have stopped, given myself a time out, floated on my back and then got on with it. But I just kept on struggling onwards, feeling like the last stretch back to shore was more about floating and surviving than swimming with any kind of style.

The white dome approached at last, and in a desperate effort to save some pride and determined not to be last out of the water with the rest of the breast stroking stragglers, I did manage a spot of decent swimming by counting my strokes and yelling at myself to do another 6 and then another.

I stumbled up among the pebbles and over the sand, totally out of breath and just pleased to have reached dry land. I could not even force myself to run up the long ramp back towards the transition area at first, my feet protesting at the rough ground and my lungs just bursting for air. I  only broke into a trot once I got to the grassy section at the top and started to think about the bike.

With hardly any bikes left in transition, mine was easy to spot as I wriggled out of my wetsuit. Less obvious was my helmet, which wasn’t where I’d left it on top of my shoes. It had blown or been kicked away along on the other side of the rack and I had to duck under and run along to retrieve it. I managed to find all the rest of my kit, including my number belt and headed out to hit the bike course.

Having had such a relatively poor swim, I took a little time to settle into the cycle, focusing on composing myself, getting my breathing back into some kind of order and taking a drink to was the salt water taste from my mouth. By now the sun was out and although it was breezy, I welcomed it as a chance to dry out after the swim.

The bike course was relatively straightforward. After a well marshaled right turn onto the main road it was straight up along the coast towards St Mary’s Lighthouse, then a left turn by the caravan park and up towards Seaton Sluice.

The wind was gusting from inland to offshore, so it was mostly a cross wind, apart from that slight uphill drag by the caravan park. The route is very familiar to me and one I do quite often. I was quickly through lap one and round again, feeling stronger and more settled, so putting more effort in on this lap.

I managed to overtake a couple of people on the slight gradients heading away from transition and again moving along back up the slight drag towards Seaton Delaval Arms. But I was overtaken by many more who came screaming through with aero bars and pointy helmets at the front of the field.

At times I felt the cross wind gust and push the bike sideways and I had to pedal against it even going downhill. But I always felt in control and actually enjoyed the bike course.

Back round to the roundabout near the Rendezvous cafe for the second time and this time it was straight on to transition. I jumped off the bike early at the turn, halting a runner who wasn’t part of the race and was probably wondering where all these people were coming from.

Off the bike and even running into transition, my legs felt wobbly. I managed a fairly quick stop, though I opted to put socks on, as my feet had felt chilly on the bike, so that added a little to my time.

Finally onto the run and I did wonder whose legs I’d picked up in transition as mine felt Bambi-like beneath me. But I knew that feeling would pass. More worrying was the fact that I couldn’t actually feel my feet.

As sensation returned, it felt like I was running on sandpaper as pins and needles burned the whole sole of each foot. I wriggled my toes trying to encourage the blood to flow faster and it was agony. But I’ve been here before and the only way is to keep moving, keep the muscles moving and get that warmth back into my poor feet. I used my arms to push on, thought about my leg muscles carrying me forward, kept my head up and kept moving, helped by shouts of encouragement from the marshals, including regular parkrun volunteer Claire Wynarczyk.

The route took in the coastal paths along the sea front and twisted and turned through some of the Whitley Bay parkrun route, although we ran it in the opposite direction, before dropping down onto the lovely wide promenade along the seafront and past the Rendezvous Cafe.

The ups and downs and turns made me wince as I put more pressure on my feet. But slowly, slowly I started to get the sensation back in them, and by the time I reached the seafront , I’d finally banished the pins and needles. Just in time for the steps…

Oh yes. The course designers took us back up from the promenade towards the War memorial via two flights of steps. A loud and enthusiastic bunch of supporters stood at the turn and encouraged us up. And it was back round for lap two.

By now I was feeling much more like my usual running self, so I pushed on and made an effort to pick up my feet more, now that I could feel them.  I started chasing a guy who had powered past me on the steps and we played cat and mouse, taking and then re-overtaking each other along the route. I finally made my last move to overtake him as we came back round to the promenade for the second time, feeling all the exhilaration that I normally get when sprinting this section on parkrun.

Up the steps again and this time a left turn towards the finish on the newly created plaza area in front of the Spanish City dome. I used the acceleration of the down ramp to power me up the other side and onto something like a sprint, so at least I finished strongly.

Chip removed and water thrust into my had, I sat on the steps to get my breath back and congratulated the guy who came through just behind me, thanking him for playing a key part in keeping me pushing onwards in the later part of the race.

I was just glad to have finished. To have completed my last tri of the season. And a little bit sad that this was my last multi-sport event of the year. Because for all that I find it tough, and for all that I’m frustrated that I’ve not really improved in my tris this year, I do enjoy them.

I know for many people this was their first triathlon, and for others it was their first open water, or sea swim. It is a big challenge and I hope you coped with it better than I did. The sea wasn’t really that choppy and the wind, although challenging, could have made it even more difficult. So I hoped you enjoyed it.

And if you’re reading this, thinking ‘That sounds horrible, why would you want to do that’, it really wasn’t. I finished with a big grin and a huge sense of achievement. It’s true I’ve done tris where I’ve been more relaxed, in control and raced harder. But I’ve never done one I haven’t enjoyed.

So yes, triathlon is a challenge. But it’s still a buzz and a thrill. And as I work out how I deal with all the challenges they throw at me, both mental and physical, I know they’ll help me be stronger, faster and more able to deal with anything. So I’ll keep on tri-ing.

My results:

Swim: 26:41
Bike: 49:42
Run: 30:57

Race results

Race photos by Derek Grant

20 July 2014

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

Results

Photos

8 June 2014

Northumberland Standard triathlon

I hang out with a great bunch of people. The kind of people who do marathons, half and full iron distance triathlons, ultras and more. The kind of people who make you think that doing a standard distance tri on not really enough training will be okay. They are dangerous people, but they do inspire me to dream big and challenge what I think is possible.

I have dithered and debated doing this event. As late as Thursday, I was considering getting in touch with the organisers to see if I could drop back to do the sprint distance over the same course. I have not cycled enough. I have not really swum enough, or not enough in open water. And I’ve had a stressful week and a niggly shoulder.

Bike at Northumberland triathlon

On the bike course. Photo by Bob Marshall

But the weather forecast was fair, the sky was blue and the trip to Druridge Bay was uneventful. I bumped into my best tri buddy Lesley just after registering and then was a bit of a faff getting ready and set up and didn’t even manage to wish her luck.

The ground was sodden after yesterday’s heavy downpour, making transition a splashy, muddy mess and I realised I wouldn’t have time to warm up or do much of a calm down before the start or the race. Still I got myself sorted and headed to watch the sprint distance event start, hoping, but failing to pick out Lesley from the throng.

I took some deep breaths and made sure I got into the water quickly, to give myself as much chance as possible to relax before the swim start. It was warm, and once I’d done the usual gasp of getting it down the back of my neck, I floated around a bit and splashed my face.

I was still catching strands of weed in my fingers as I was treading water, and couldn’t get my face in without spluttering, so I just floated and hoped I’d get my adrenaline surge under control. I’d positioned myself at the back, out of the way, but the start was wide enough to manage the number of swimmers without too much of a bash fest anyway.

The countdown completed and the horns sounded. We were off!

I wish I could say that I got hit, or kicked or splashed, or that something unsettled me for what happened next, but I can’t. It was just my own stupid, adrenaline fuelled nerves that kicked in and let my swim demon say “You’ll never make it”. I stopped in the water and watched everyone swim away from me.

I trod water for a moment and thought, “Now what?” I had a little conversation with myself. “Are you going to turn round and get out?” “Or are you going to carry on?” All the while I had my eyes closed, trying not to cry.

The kayak safety crew shouted over to see if I was okay. I couldn’t answer for a second as I was still trying to get myself under control. “Just having a moment,” I eventually replied and then started to strike out into front crawl. I was at least going to try.

With a clear lake before me, I just focused on swimming smooth and slow. Surprisingly, the breathing rhythm came quickly and I took advantage of the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit to roll to the side to breathe and catch a glimpse of the blue sky.

“Just swim your own race”, I said to myself as I headed for the first marker. There was a bit of a sticky moment when I struck some weeds with my hands and had a few panicky breaths and did some breast stroke, but actually, after that initial upset, I was calm and swam well and consistently.

My sole goal pre-race was not to be last out of the swim. I thought I’d blown that by placing myself well behind the pack. But, as I closed in on the first buoy, I spotted a few other swimmers nearby. I kept my space from them so as not to disturb my swim, but I was able to catch and over take them. By the time I was back round to the start of the second lap, I was confident and happy in the water, swimming in nice straight lines between the buoys.

On the second lap I had company, a girl swimming beside me and then a guy coming up on the other side. Again I tried to keep out of their way, but managed to get past the girl and then get brave and swim in the bubble stream of the guy, hoping to get a bit of a tow. But he kept veering off course, so I let him go.

Remembering to kick when there were only a few hundred metres to go, I swam right into the shallows and was grateful of a hand out. I ran up over the grass into transition, where it was easy to spot my bike among the largely empty racks. I allowed myself an easy transition. I didn’t rush, but didn’t faff either, just got my kit sorted and rolled the bike out to the start line.

Run at Northumberland triathlon

On the run beside Ladyburn Lake – Photo by Bob Marshall

A standing mount well past the line and over the speed hump, low gear, spin the legs and away. The bike leg was my biggest concern for this event. I have not done enough distance on the bike or as many brick sessions as I did to prepare for this race last year when it was my first standard distance. So, as I headed out of the country park onto the road, I told myself I was out for a ride, that it would help dry me out after the swim and give me a chance to drink my juice as it was a sunny day and I still had a run to do.

I probably daisied round most of the two laps. I found myself in my usual position of being passed by the speeding solid wheel brigade and just about everyone else. I just didn’t have the confidence to hammer the bike – 40k is a long way to me.

Still, a couple of girls kept it interesting, passing me and then me re-passing them when I decided to put a bit of a spurt on. They were on their her second lap as I was on my first, so it wasn’t really a place battle, but I was grateful for the a boost.

By my second lap I was in my usual bike zone, out on my own, seeing barely any other riders. I’d counted those behind me as I turned at the roundabout – 4, with only one I thought was close enough to possibly catch me. So I wasn’t last, could I keep it that way?

I had good and bad patches on this part of the ride. I got stomach cramps and aches in my lower back. I wasn’t sure if it was the juice I was drinking (I usually only have water, but I have been okay with High 5 before) or it was just me. I couldn’t seem to get comfortable on the saddle. I’m a bit heavier than I was last year, you would think that would give me extra padding!

Worryingly, I also felt the niggle in my right shoulder. I’ve had it all week. A result of too much time sitting at a keyboard and too much stress. I had an intensive sports massage on it on Tuesday night, which really loosened it off, but there it was again, and I worried it would bite me on the run.

The first rider came past me on the downhill just after the turn. I was really struggling on the bike now, just wanting it to be over. I glanced at my watch – 35k done, just 5 more to go. That was a cheering prospect and helped me keep cheerful as the second rider passed me. I knew as I turned back into the park, there was a good chance I’d be the last to finish this.

Off the bike and out onto the run without too much fuss and not too much of the jelly legs. Still I kept it easy, just focusing on moving forward on the first lap. It was something of a dead man’s shuffle in truth and I could feel my feet hitting the trails hard.

On the first lap there were runners galore, just up ahead and passing me at regular intervals. Once again, I opted to just run my own race, keep my focus. My goal, just to finish, to enjoy this.

Finish at Northumberland triathlon

Heading for a big finish and a course PB – Photo by Bob Marshall

My favourite bit of the course was a shady, leafy path between the trees, where the ground was soft and you couldn’t hear the noise of the tannoy across the water. The shade was very welcome and you could be alone with your thoughts. I tried to pick up the pace a little here, but each time I felt like I was forcing it, so I settled back and just decided to let it come if it would and not fret if it didn’t.

At the end of the path there was a lovely, smiley lady marshalling. All the marshals round the course were great, shouting and clapping and saying well done, but she really lifted my spirits each time.

As you come round towards the start/finish there’s a little rise and then another bit of uphill along the trail. I ran the steep bit and then let myself walk the longer slope, pumping my arms to keep myself moving, not dawdling. It was probably a mistake to walk it on the first lap, as that set a precedent. But it was my little treat to myself and it helped me stick to my goal of relax and enjoy.

First lap done almost done and I spot Bob Marshal taking photographs and then there’s fabLesley, running a little way with me, telling me about her brilliant race.

It’s like my own wee cheering squad as I come round each lap, with Barry from V02 Max Racing Events announcing every lap on the microphone and then Jules and Lottie the dog from parkrun giving me a shout out.

Lap one done and I’m feeling more confident. I know I can do this, my legs are strong and I’ve won my mental battles on the bike and swim. The other runners thin out on lap two and I’m taunted hearing finishers announced as I pass by the opposite side of the lake. Still half way done and I grab a cup of water and walk a couple of steps to make sure I drink it.

Lap three, I’m on my own, and getting the distinct feeling I may be the last runner on the course. But I don’t care. It’s a sunny day and I’m running round a lake in beautiful Northumberland. Still it’s a bit of a mentally tough one and I’m glad to see my cheering crew as I come round for that last lap.

As I come through the shady wood and out onto the lake path, the marshal picks up his sign and starts walking.’Ah, that’s me, last then,’ I think. But I’m still in fair spirits. I have little idea of my time or my pace. I deliberately didn’t look at how well I’d done last year when this was my first event, but I know it was well over 3 hours.

On the last time up the little rise, I pump my arms and ask myself ‘Why do you do this?’ The answer, loud and clear is ‘Because I can.’ And in that moment I think of three people who would love to be here on this day, running in the sunshine round a lake, but who have been taken by cancer. So at the top of the rise, as I pick up my feet and start to run again, I say out loud: “This is for you, Zoe and Alastair and Sue.”

And you know, my heart lifts and my feet lift and I feel every inch of how fortunate I am to be able to do this. And so, those thoughts carry me back round to the finish for the final time.

I’ve picked my spot, the puddle on the path where I’ll sprint from, but I push on even before that. And even though my legs have been complaining, and I’ve been hot and tired and sweaty for over 3 hours now, I power through with a smile and my arms aloft.

I am dead last. And the organisers can finally get on with the prize giving 🙂

Met and congratulated by Lesley and Bob, I grab some water and an orange slice as we listen for the prizes. I’m afraid I barely pay them much attention as it takes me a little while to recover.

I go to rescue my bike and gear from the muddy transition area as they grab a table and we eventually have a bit of a picnic. And lovely, lovely Lesley buys me an ice cream. I sit in the sunshine with my fab friends and reflect on a challenging but terrific race.

Just don’t tell my legs we’re running again tomorrow night at my favourite race- it’s Blaydon!

Swim: 31:36
T1: 2:00
Bike: 1:34:57
T2: 01:21
Run: 1:10:22
TOTAL 3:20:13

 

2 January 2014

2013 – my training year review

Filed under: bike,Parkrun,run,swim,training,triathlon — The Scribbler @ 19:36
Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s been another good year of training and competing in triathlons and road races for me. And it’s good to look back at what I’ve achieved as well as planning for the future.

Let’s start with the numbers:

Swim: 42.1 miles/ 36 hours – only just a bit less than last year’s swim mileage
Bike:956 miles / 86 hours – that’s the most I’ve ever cycled in one year (hours to miles don’t quite add up as there were a lots of indoor bike sessions where I logged time but not distance)
Run: 526 miles / 85 hours – not my biggest yearly run mileage, but I didn’t have a half marathon to train for
Cross training: 76 hours – including boxercise, yoga, weights and PT sessions

That’s a total of 283:48 training or racing hours in 2013. It’s the most I’ve ever trained in one year.

Races
I’ve completed 6 run races of up to 10k distance and enjoyed many more timed runs at parkrun
And I completed 6 triathlons in 2013, including my first two Olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

Qualifications
I studied for and passed two fitness related qualifications – Level 2 Gym instructor in March and Level 1 triathlon coaching in November

Highlights
My swimming improved thanks to some training sessions with my PT early on in the year as he trained for his coaching qualification. I’ve spent more hours and done more miles on my bike than any other year and enjoyed it more than I have before, especially when I’ve had the chance to go riding in Scotland with my tri chums.

I have walloped time off in my second season of triathlons, including a 10 min PB at the QE2 sprint triathlon, with improvement in all three sections. 

There was another memorable day at the Olympic Parkrun. It was an amazing experience to do it the first time, so to go back, post the Olympics, with my expectations high … well they weren’t disappointed.

And the Blaydon race is still my favourite event, particularly as I managed to go under 50 minutes this year.

I’ve enjoyed volunteering at parkrun and I know I’ve inspired a few people to dip their toes into triathlon.

With no races longer than 10k, it’s inevitable my run mileage was down on previous years, but that will change as I take on a half marathon again in 2014.

Reflections and aims for 2014
I wanted to find a better balance in my training and to give myself a season with a true tri focus. It did pay dividends as my tri times improved and I felt more confident swimming in open water and taking on the longer distance events. But, as always, there are areas for improvement.

I did miss taking part in the Great North Run in 2013. It was lovely to see all my friends and shout encouragement from the Tyne Bridge, but I did feel like I was missing out on the party, even on a cold and dreary day.

So I’ll be back in again in 2014. The challenge will be to switch from tri focus at the end of July to get myself in shape to run 13.1 miles by the beginning of September. I’ll see how I feel nearer the time as to whether or not I set myself a time goalIn 2014 I want to maintain a good balance of training hard but not putting too much pressure on myself, and most importantly to enjoy my training. I’ll pick my key races to go hard, and others I’ll do for the experience or the fun. There will be a good mix of challenges, including my first ever river swim in the Tyne.

My first race isn’t until April – and right now that seems a long way away. But it will soon come around. I’ve entered a few popular races already and I’m sure I’ll fill up my calendar with a few more as they open up for entries. I’m looking for another standard triathlon – preferably one that I can easily travel to from the North East of England, so any suggestions are welcome.

I’m also currently on 76 parkruns, so only 24 away from 100. It would be great to achieve that in 2014, but I need to balance them out against other training and races. And of course, I’ll be doing my fair share of volunteering too.

Getting fit, starting to run and then taking on the challenge of triathlon has really changed my life over the past six years. I’m sure I never imagined achieving a fraction of what I’ve done when I first stepped out onto the beach and tried to run a length of the sands. It’s taken me to some great places, given me some amazing experiences and brought me life-long friends. Oh, and made me fitter and healthier too!

So if you’re thinking you want to make some changes to your life, I can thoroughly recommend it. Just remember, start small – I couldn’t run a mile when I first started. Find something you enjoy, but that challenges you. Commit to make it a habit and go out and get moving!

14 September 2013

My 2013 tri season review

So, my 2013 tri season is over. Time to take some time out and reflect on how it’s gone and ponder on what I’d like to achieve next year.

I completed 6 triathlons, including my first two standard/olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

I improved my time massively at two events I’d done the previous year, taking 10 minutes off my time for the QE2 tri which had been my first open water event in 2012.

And although you can’t really compare the two olympic distance events, I did improve on my time by 15 minutes at my second attempt.

So, I reckon that’s a win for my triathlon season. I did what I set out to achieve, stepping up to the longer distance and enjoying the events I entered. Of course, no race is ever perfect and there’s loads I want to improve on for next year.

Let’s look at each discipline:

Swim:
Oh boy, I still do have my moments when I swim in a race. There are times when I hate it, when I swear to myself I am never doing this again. And yet, I’ve finished them all and got back into the water and raced again each time.

So as one of the OW swim coaches advised me, I’m going to look at how far I’ve come and not how far I think I have to go.
And that means the swim is a big win. Each time I get better at handling the panic and the stress. And in my last race swim in the pool at Haddington I had a lovely, controlled and totally non-stressed swim.

I’ve tackled two 1500m open water swims, including one that measured closer to 1800m and survived my first sea swim (which I actually enjoyed). And in training, I have learned to enjoy open water swimming, particularly when the water has been clear and relatively warm. I’m actually sad to put my wetsuit away as I don’t expect to be able to do another open water swim this year.

I’m well on the way to logging more swim time and distance than any previous year.  And I’ve been back in the pool already, working on my technique and speed, which I’ll continue to do over the autumn/winter.

Bike:
I’ve already logged more bike mileage than in previous years, thanks to indoor sessions on the turbo or spinning classes early in the year and more miles on the road thanks to the good weather.

In the two comparable sprint races, I’ve improved my bike time and I’ve gone longer with the standard distance events. But still I’m passed more than I’m passing on the bike and this is the area where I’m most likely to make speed gains.

So the plan is to get myself a proper bike fit, look at aero bars for my road bike next year and get a cyclocross bike to ride through the winter.

The rub is that I don’t LOVE the cycle. I have glimpses of loving it sometimes in training or racing on a nice day, or on the few occasions when I’m out riding with my tri buddies.  Over the winter, I’ll hit the turbo, and spin trainer when I can’t go outside, but it’s really not my favourite session.

I’m toying with the idea of doing a long cycle challenge next year and there will be opportunities to do things like the C2C ride. But, it becomes a commitment in itself and I fear it would detract from other training. If I was out doing 60-100 miles on a bike on a Sunday, I would be expecting too much to be running a training 10k or doing a mile in the pool the following day.

Run:
Hmm… poor old running. I still love it, but it doesn’t get the love and attention it used to. And that was the deal this year. It just had to look after itself.

In comparable tris, I’ve run a little faster than last year, but last year I was coming back from injury, and I haven’t reached the potential of my best year of 2011.

I’ve managed the endurance, confident I can run a 5 or 10k off the back of a swim and cycle. But I haven’t quite got up to speed. I had a freak glimpse of form with a 25:10 run at parkrun when I was building up to my first standard distance tri, but I’ve come nowhere near that again.

But I’ve done what I needed to run for triathlon. Now, over the winter, I can do more speed work and give it a bit of focus again.

Next year, I’d really like to have a go at getting a sub 50 10k and still doing a good number of tris. So I need to think about how best to do that. One thought is to put myself in for a half marathon in the off tri season, to get the miles in and repeat the kind of training that helped me to my previous 10k PB.

But I need to avoid the temptation to take on too many different goals.

Transition:
Mixed and inconsistent – some good, some slow and this is an easy place to sneak some time. So I will aim to make this consistent and faster in 2014.

Mental focus:
I’ve got strategies to combat the race adrenaline nerves and they do work, but I need to make sure I don’t neglect these. Mentally I’ve proved I can stick at a tough long race at Allerthorpe.

Things I do want to do next year:

  • A couple of standard distance tris – it would be great to really target one of these and maybe do a big, or iconic race
  • The new Newcastle triathlon –  a new race in my home town and my first river swim
  • Blaydon Race – just love this one

Things I have to bear in mind:

  • I’ll be doing tri coaching training in September and October so  will need to make time for studying, volunteering and coaching.
  • After limiting the window for possible holiday time this year by booking races, I need to pick my events carefully
  • I can’t do everything 🙂

5 August 2013

Allerthorpe standard triathlon 2013

Encouraged by my coach and feeling great about finishing my first Olympic or standard distance triathlon in July, I entered another to test my training and see if I could improve on my time.

The venue was Allerthorpe near York, a good hour and 45 min drive away. Unfamiliar surroundings, no one I knew doing it or supporting and a lengthy drive there and back. So yes, I was a bit nervous.

But I’ve been training hard, enjoying this year’s triathlon focus and I did want to see what I could do. Volunteering at parkrun on a sunny Saturday morning, I would have loved to have run it. I took that as a good sign, that after a couple of days easing down the training, I was sharp and ready to race.

It was a early start, but I’d got everything ready and all I had to do was cart my kit downstairs, pack up the car and hit the road. It was overcast and a bit rainy as I set off around 5am to make my way to Allerthorpe lake, but the roads were deserted and I made good time.

Me in a wetsuit getting out of a lake

Finally out of the lake

The lake looked lovely as I drove into the car park, relatively small, surrounded by trees, with a cafe and caravan park nearby. As I got out of the car, I overheard a man say to his friend, “It’s warm enough to be a non wetsuit swim.”

My tummy flipped. I hadn’t really thought about that. None of my open water swimming has been without a wetsuit, even though arguably it was warm enough at the last couple of QE2 training sessions. I had a 1500m swim to tackle and it’s the part of the tri that makes me most nervous.

Oh well, I was here now, better go and find out what the score is. I lugged my bike and kit over to registration, where I picked up my timing chip, numbers and a nice tech T-shirt. There I learned the lake temperature was 22C, so it was to be a wetsuit optional swim. Another 0.5 degrees and it would have been non-wetsuit.

I set up in transition, hearing voices around me calling to their friends asking how they had got on in other races. There were a lot of Outlaw race T-shirts and some serious looking carbon fibre TT bikes on the racks. I felt like a real tiddler and racked up near some other road bikes.

It was a really good set up, with plenty of marshals around, a great big start/finish gantry and a simple but clear race briefing. I wriggled into my wetsuit, did a bit of warming up and deep breathing, then took the opportunity to get into the lake for a warm up swim before the starts.

The water was pleasantly warm the smooth sides sloped in gradually, so it never felt very deep. I bobbed around, got my face in and blew bubbles, then swam a few strokes back and forth. You couldn’t see anything below the surface as the water was cloudy, but it felt relatively clean. I stopped when I collided with another swimmer and we both apologised, laughing nervously about our sighting skills.

I actually felt quite relaxed and chatted to a nice girl as we waited on the bank watching the first swim wave do three laps round the circular course. Most had finished as we got back in the water, ready to start our swim. I placed myself off to the side at the back as we started, but it was still a bit of a bundle and I started out swimming head up water polo style to try and avoid crashing into other swimmers.

This was soon pretty tiring and I tried to get into front crawl. But I was constantly biffed and harried, having my goggles knocked a couple of times and another kick in the chest from a breast-stroker.  No one means to get in your way or hit you, but it really doesn’t help me keep calm or find my swim rhythm. Out came the breast stroke to try and regain my composure and calm my pounding heart.

There were fewer swimmers than last week at Bamburgh, but I found it hard to find my place and drifted well back to the end of the field having breaststroked and part crawled round the first lap. It felt endless.  And quite honestly, there was a big part of my brain that was all for chucking it in and getting out.

But I started to find clear water and began counting my strokes. Slow and steady, 12 strokes then sight, then another 12 and keep going. I found something approaching a rhythm and was making progress. And then behind me came the hooter and the crashing sound of the third wave of swimmers piling into the water. Cue another frantic scramble, more kicks, bashes and a real whack in my face. I mullered on through, doggy paddle, breast stroke, anything to keep moving forward.

Once the initial rush was over, they calmed down a little and once again I found clearer water and began counting strokes to get round the second lap. I was well to the back of my swim wave now,  a few straggling yellow caps drifting well off course through erratic sighting or breast stroking their way round.

I told myself it would be over quicker if I actually swam properly, kicked my legs and pulled through the water in something like a decent front crawl. My last lap was definitely my best and having conserved my breath and energy a little when I was struggling, I found I could finish strong, kicking out to over take a couple of yellow caps before hitting the shallows and running up out of the water.

I glanced at my watch which showed 29 mins as I stripped off my wetsuit and found my bike. That gave me a boost and I headed out thinking I was already about 15 mins up on my last standard experience.

Me on my bike

Working hard on the bike leg

Out of the park and onto the main road and almost immediately my bike sounded and felt wrong. There was a metallic sort of squeaking, a whine that hadn’t been there as I’d ridden a couple of minutes round the car park before racking. I sort of convinced myself that one of the brake pads was misaligned and scraping along the wheel.

Stop and sort it, it’s early on the ride I thought. I stopped, looked at front and back wheels and couldn’t see anything obvious, so I hopped back on. But the noise was even worse, and now it was combined with a chain click. I managed to reach down and run my hand over the derailleur, again, nothing obvious.  When I saw a marshal at a junction, I stopped again, turned the bike upside down to check it over and promptly dropped the chain off. He didn’t help me, but just having him there was a reassuring presence as I talked to myself and tried to get myself to calm down and deal with whatever problem I had.

Chain back on, no obvious problems, I determined just to go with the grating noise and hope for the best. My panicked brain was not helped by the realisation that I’d just lost those hard fought for swim places as a handful of other competitors went speeding past. The squeaking noise continued, but lessened and after about 10 minutes of me thinking I was going to have to ignore it for the whole of the ride, it stopped.

Still I smiled to myself as I looked down at my hands, forearm and legs which I’d managed to cover in chain oil. I never manage to touch my bike without getting a chain tattoo, but I really outdid myself. If there was going to be a prize for muckiest triathlete, I was a cert.

The bike was 2 laps of a flat route, along some main roads and through a couple of pretty villages. I noticed fields of corn, a windmill and heard the strange metallic singing of the overhead cables as I passed under the electricity pylons. It should have been lovely, but I found it a bit dull.

The roads were straight and endless. I was rather warm and I made sure I drank plenty of my juice. But the only time I saw anyone else was when they passed me and cycled into the distance. With no hills, there was no variation in pace, nothing to work at, and then enjoy some free speed on the way down. If I hadn’t been in the swim league I was miles off the bike pace.

I held onto the thought that I was only racing my own race and just kept reminding myself to keep pushing, to be the best I could. I’d taken time off my last race on the swim, I just needed to hold on, stick with the bike and then I’d be running.

On  my second lap, I started to see runners coming out on the same road and raised my spirits by giving the odd one a shout of encouragement. It took my mind off the lonely road and the pains I was starting to get in my lower back. It was demoralising when the only other cyclists I saw came past me. I started to wonder how many of the next swim wave had gone by and was glad I wasn’t counting.

I kept drinking, snacked on my malt loaf and not giving in to the mental demons. I’d abandoned my posh Garmin on the basis that it can add to the pressure and I start getting fixated on the numbers. It did mean I had no idea of how far I’d gone, or what my cadence was, but I was wearing a basic stop watch and knew I would be happy if I got the ride done in 90 mins or less.

There, at least I succeeded as I came back round to transition with 01:59 on the watch. But I’ve never been so happy to get off my bike.

With a really spectacular or short 10k, I had a slim chance of going under 3 hours – which would be amazing. As I ran with the bike round towards the racks, I heard a runner yell out, “where’s the finish?” He was less than 200 metres away from the line so I stood aside and let him through.

I had a slow T2 as bikes were racked anywhere and the person next to me had racked theirs facing forward, rather than in reverse as it had been when we started. It meant there was a bit of a battle between the handle bars and I knocked their bike off the rack (sorry). I did re-rack it before dealing with my own T2.

Me running at Allerthorpe classic triathlon

Showing off the chain tattoos on the run!

Right out onto the run, and my legs felt okay, strong, not too wobbly. With no electronic guide to pace, I just kept it steady, focusing on my form, keeping bouncing off my feet. Out along the road with traffic passing by, I didn’t like that much, even though it was a smooth flat surface.

Not knowing how far I’d gone, I broke it down into sections, 20 minutes would be about 4k and there was a promised water station just after that. Spot on, a marshal directed me down the path and there was a guy giving out cups of water. It was a hot day, though clouded over, and although I felt good having drunk about 750ml on the bike, I walked 60m or so and took a couple of gulps before picking up my feet and moving again.

I made an effort to pick up the pace, lift through my hips and push on as the route turned onto a narrower country lane, cutting a corner off the bike route. But even here there was the odd car squeezing past.

At 30 mins I told myself that was a parkrun down and just another parkrun to go. Not knowing the course or the area, it was all I had to go on. Again there was barely ever another runner in sight. Just after the second water station at about 7k I was passed again and I held the male runner in my sights for a good long time, but I could not gain on him.

I started counting down minutes – 50 minutes would be about 5 miles, just one more and a bit to go, push on. My form started to break down a little, less bounce off the forefoot and more roll through the foot as I tired, but I fought to keep it, lifting through the knees, using my arms.

By now I was totally confused about landmarks. The whip like song of the wires that marked about ¾ of a bike lap rang out overhead and I wondered how much longer I had to run. Once again the road seemed endless. Where was the major junction that would bring me back round to within striking distance of the park? I knew sub 3 hours was a distant dream, but how much could I take out of my last standard event?

I started to think there was a good chance I was flat last. But who cared? I was still on for PB and in triathlon you’re only really racing yourself. Just be the best you can be, I kept telling myself. Even though the speed wasn’t there, i knew my endurance would carry me through.

At last there was the end of the road, and the marshal who’d  been a reassuring presence when I flipped my bike. I gave him a thumbs up and a round of applause and pushed on, knowing the finish couldn’t be far away.

As I approached the entrance of the park, I finally saw a runner I could chase down, a guy in a Leeds Bradford tri-suit. As we turned into the caravan park I knew I had the legs to beat him. And even though the twisty turny finish didn’t really lend itself to a Scribbler sprint, there was a brief burst of speed up to the line.

Clock stopped at 3:06:12 and I was done.

My first standard was 3:20:xx – and admittedly had a very long swim and a long run, but I reckon the run at Allerthorpe was longer than 10k too. After a bit of a mental frazzle on the bike, I was happy I kept the focus and kept going. There are couple of easy free minutes to take off that without bike issues or T2 faffing.

I cleaned up the bike oil with wet wipes and packed my gear away, chatting to the Leeds Bradford guy as we laughed at how few bikes were left.

I took advantage of a sports massage before I drove home. A good chance to chill out, and reflect positively on the race as the guy dug into my right soleus (note to self, get this loosened up) and hit my quads and lower back. Quads need more stretching and flexibility.

But I was beat. Really. I drove home, hauled the kit upstairs and was wiped out for the afternoon- capable of nothing more than a bit of social media and TV.

I’m pleased to have two standards under my belt and as ever I learned a lot from this race. Probably the most important thing is to respect the distance. Even with all the training I do, even with all the advances I’ve made this year, it’s still a tough ask.

On my run I’d been thinking of those racing Ironman, and of Tony, running a marathon with a fridge on his back. You remain an inspiration and through my own smaller efforts I do start to understand how much it takes. Respect to you all.

Stats

Swim 1500m 29:59
T1 1:48
Bike 40k 1:28:28
T2 1:55
Run 10k 1:04:01
Total 3:06:11

Race photos

Race results

15 July 2013

To tri or not to tri – my top 5 reasons to do a triathlon

Are you thinking about doing a triathlon? Or is it something you think you could never do? I’ve recently been talking to a lot of people about the challenge and excitement of taking on triathlon. So here are my top 5 reasons to take up triathlon. Plus, my answers to the top 5 excuses people give to avoid it.

1) It’s a challenge.
Triathlon’s a fairly new event, that started in the 1970s in Hawaii and was first included in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. If you’re already quite sporty, it’s something a bit different from the usual marathon, half marathon or fun run. If you’re not already sporty, it’s a great challenge to train and get fit for and you might find you’re really good at it. Four time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington did her first triathlon aged 27 and went professional aged 30.

Me and my friends about to head off on a bike ride

Cycle training with friends

2) It’s fun and friendly.
Triathletes know that everyone starts somewhere and are usually keen to encourage others to give it a try. Going from swim to bike to run might seem like it involves a lot of kit and rules and regulations, but actually it’s all pretty straightforward and if it’s your first event, marshals are there to help you. I’ve had shouts of encouragement from competitors and great support from spectators and volunteers at the triathlons I’ve done, and I know I’m not alone in that.

3) It’s honest.
The only person you’re really competing with in triathlon is yourself. Whether your goal is just to get to the finish line, to beat a time limit or qualify for a World Championship race, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in triathlon. The challenge is to be the best you can be on the day. Often races have staggered start times or lapped courses, so it may not be clear who’s ahead of you. And with the distances involved, you’ll often find you’re out racing on your own. So it’s a mental as well as a physical challenge. At the elite end of the sport, triathlon is trying hard to maintain a clean, no doping image. When drugs cheat Lance Armstrong wanted to play, the authorities said no.

4) It’s great for all round fitness.
A lot of people come to triathlon after injury, particularly runners who are dispatched to the pool or bike to try and maintain fitness without putting pressure on knee and ankle joints. With triathlon, pretty much anything you do counts as training. You need physical and mental fitness, endurance, strength, speed and skill.

5) Three times the sport = three times the buzz.
For an adrenaline junkie like me, a triathlon offers three shots. Each section comes with its own triumphs. A bad swim, doesn’t mean a bad race – make it up on the bike. Tough bike section – hammer the run. And the feeling when you do cross the finish line? It’s amazing.

Excuses people give for not trying triathlon

1) I can’t swim/I only do breaststroke
If you really can’t swim, then learn. It could save your life. Seriously, swimming is a great life skill and it’s great exercise too, easy on the joints but a great workout. And yes, it can be hard to learn, but it’s well worth it. As for those of you who only do breaststroke – there’s no rule that says you have to do front crawl in a tri. Most people do front crawl because it’s faster and less work for your legs which have to cycle and run afterwards, but breaststroke is perfectly acceptable. It’s my chosen stroke if I get into a bit of a fluster in the swim.

Me on my bike at Ashington triathlon

I did my first triathlon on an ancient, heavy mountain bike

2) I don’t have a road bike
Now there are triathletes who will spend a huge amount of money on the latest go faster carbon fibre, streamlined machines that weigh less than a bag of sugar. But you don’t have to. I did my first tris on an ancient old mountain bike. It actually made it really easy for me to ride confidently and I got loads of encouragement from the racers as they sped past. I do now have a lovely road bike, but I guarantee it’ll not be the most expensive piece of kit in transition. My attitude has always been to have a decent bike, but to really put the work in on the engine.

3) It’s expensive
Triathlon can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Like all sports there’s always a new fancy bit of kit, gadget or gizmo that promises to shave seconds off your best time, but really you only need a few basics of a bike, helmet, running shoes and something that you’re comfortable to wear to swim, bike and run in. For open water swimming, you may need a wetsuit, but you can often hire these for a day, week or season. I actually hired my wetsuit for a season with an option to buy at the end.

Entries to triathlon races may cost a bit more than your local club’s 10k run, but that’s because they usually need more people and kit to deal with safety, marshals, transition, timing and sometimes even road closures. Most races are a similar price to some of the big organised run events in the UK, so pick a target event and take up the challenge.  Local clubs are always eager for volunteers to help out on race day, which can be a good way to get involved and see what goes on. You may even get free or reduced price entry to another event as a thank you.

4) I’m too fat/too unfit/ too old/ I’ll come last
If you feel fat and unfit, what better way to change that than to add some exercise to your lifestyle and start training? Having a goal or event to aim for is a great motivator to get out there. You don’t have to start with an Ironman, there are triathlons of varying distances, including novice or super sprint events that give you something to aim for, but ease you in gently.

If you’re worried about how you’ll look –  don’t. The truth is, hardly anyone looks their best  in a tri suit. But no one cares about your flabby bits. Everyone’s too focused on swim, bike, run to give it a second thought. And if you don’t fancy a tri suit, you can throw on a T-shirt and shorts before the bike.

You’re never too old to tri. The world’s oldest triathlete is Arthur Gilbert, still going strong at 91 and showing it’s a great way to stay healthy. There are often a great range of age categories at races and some will even award prizes for different age groups, so getting older doesn’t have to mean you’re at a disadvantage.

If you think you’ll be way behind the rest of the field, remember, the only person you’re really racing in triathlon is yourself. For races with staggered or wave starts, you may not even realise you’re flat last, and even if you are, I can guarantee you’ll get a bigger cheer that the racing snake who came through in first place. So give it a go, what do you have to lose?

5) I’ll ruin my hair/make up/ get dirty
In triathlon, no one cares what you look like (see point 4 above). If you’re a slave to your appearance, and never seen without your hair out of place, then maybe this isn’t the sport for you. But ask yourself this. Would you rather look great or be great? Triathlon is a great way to shape a fit and healthy body from the inside out. You can build speed, stamina and self esteem from challenging yourself to do something amazing and unforgettable.

Thanks to new and wannabe triathletes  HannahGareth and Carrie who inspired me to write this blog post.

Links:
Find out more about triathlon events and clubs in the UK

Triathlon England
Triathlon Scotland
Welsh Triathlon
Triathlon Ireland

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