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Sunday, 20 February 2022

Tempo Winter 10k Series: Ilmington Hill, Sausages & Hoodies

Today’s run manta was mostly “Don’t get blown off the hill! Don’t get blown off the hill!” as Storm Eunice really tried it’s very best to persuade me to take a shortcut down the hillside to the village. It probably would have been a lot quicker but I do prefer my bones unbroken. Plus I had to actually cross the finish line to get my hoody rather than just get blown in the general direction. 

I DEFINITELY spotted the photographer!
(Pic by OxonRacesPhotos)

Today’s run was the last 10k in the Tempo Winter 10k race series. There are 5 races in the series and the first is in October and the rest are every month until the final one in February. The races are famous for handing out packet of sausages for a completed event rather than a medal. - much more practical and delicious - and for awarding the runners who complete all 5 events a very warm and much coveted hoody! If you do miss a race, you still have a chance at the hoody if you volunteer at one of Tempo’s events to make up for non-appearance

                                                    Woo!! Better than a medal!!                                

The Ilmington 10k races are not just famous for good sausages and hoodies though. They are also notorious for a rather horrible and lengthy climb. This climb, namely Larkstoke Hill is the highest point in Warwickshire and there’s a 2km climb to the summit. Just what you want in the middle of a 10k race. Right? Right? Anyone? *tumbleweed*

I work shifts and I rarely have regular weekends off so it was surprise to me when I checked back in the summer that every single race fell on a rest day from work. It was clearly meant to be so I signed up for all 5 events. 

I then did an Ironman, was incapable of actually staying ON the bike, fell off and broke some ribs. So Race 1 was with broken ribs. Luckily Rich was recovering from surgery so we hobbled, walked and a did a small amount of running for event 1. Enough to get round, get the sausages and tick off race one. Then brunch with Rugby Tri at Lighthorne Pavilion Cafe. Nice. If somewhat fragrant sitting around a table with 8 other runners who had just run the 10k and believed in food before showers. Cake before Cleanliness clearly. 

                                                    Cold and stinky. Good food though!

Race 2 was … a no go. I went to Scotland, promptly got COVID and was isolated in my room with Netflix, the cats and room service for 10 days. It was amazing. Apart from not being able to do the race. I contacted Tempo Events who assured me that I could volunteer at one of their other events  and have that count towards the race so I wouldn’t miss out on the hoody! Phew!

Race 3 … post Christmas, post COVID. I’d like to say I DIDN’T eat all the pies over Christmas but I’d clearly be lying. Totally worth it. Well. On the downhills anyway. Gravity was my friend for the downhills.  Turned up at Ilmington and it appeared that Warwickshire had saved up all the rain for race day. It wasn’t just drizzling or spotting or piddling. It was absolutely pissing it down. And washing all manner of mud, muck, sticks and crap down the road for us to enjoy as we were running. Rich and I ran together again. He’s organised. He knows all his splits and what times he wants to be at certain places. Me? I’m there for the sausages and the hoody at the end. But I’ll tag along for a chat and to annoy Rich. I mean. Keep him company. Met Leah on this run! Super ultrarunner, optimistic and enthusiastic! She spotted my ASICS FrontRunner top and started chatting as she said she said she knew that if I was a FrontRunner I must be friendly! (What a nice thing to be a part of!). She was great company and we ran all the way fro the top of Larkstoke Hill together until she smashed in a fast finish with about half a kilometre to go. Also we found an awesome pub with an open fire, sofas and who weren’t averse to smelly runners coming and eating all the food. 

                                                I spotted the photographer again!
(Pic by OxonRacesPhotos)

Race 4 was run in the opposite direction. Which was confusing and horrific. And meant that the hill was near the end of the run. What a horrible thing to do. Turns out the event goes opposite directions each time but due to me getting the plague for race 2 this was first time I’d ‘enjoyed’ the race this way around. Basically it went ‘well because you have’t tired yourself out going up a 2km hill in the first 4 km, you’ll go too fast for your current level of fitness for the first 6km and then want a nice sit down around 8km’. Rich knew his splits and wasn’t shifting from them despite my whining and wanting a sit down. Luckily Leah was running with us too and distracted me from the misery of ‘Hills In The Wrong Place’. Had a pizza at the awesome pub. Things started looking better once I forget about the hill.  

Race 5 was lovely. The hill was in the right place again at kilometre 1 and I started off running with Rich and Leah but got distracted by MASSIVE WIND. Not the baked beans type but the Storm Eunice type. It was a headwind going up the hill but that didn’t really matter as I was going sloth in treacle speed but at the top, the sidewinds were quite immense. To the extent you were running leaning slightly sideways, but when there was a bit of shelter you’d find yourself at the other side of the road due to overcompensating for the wind … which was suddenly not there. Very odd. There was a tailwind heading down the hill which you you couldn’t feel - just the absence of wind. But by the time the long hill was done, it was just the slog through the village to the sausages. And the hoody! Which was purple, snuggly and earned with 40k of running a days volunteering! 

                    Rugby Tri in the pub with our hard-earned hoodies! (Neal W's photo)

What a horrific hill. I’ll be back. I’m now addicted to sausages and want another hoody. 

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

8 Reasons Why Cats Would Be Good Triathletes

Being a servant to a couple of cats and watching how they conduct themselves, I have come to the conclusion that they would be extremely good at triathlon. Should they be bothered of course. 

My reasoning:

Cats are serious about sleep.
What do my fluffy overlords do when they've got their work* done? Have a snooze. Cats are serious about getting some downtime and can be found in a comfortable place tucked up and dreaming the good dreams at least 75% of their day. After all when you're working hard, sleep is your recovery time and your time for the niggles to mend and to relax those muscles. If you're training hard, put off those less serious chores until another day and get some rest.
(*By work I clearly mean pooping, eating, scratching whichever piece of furniture is my favourite and getting fluff all over whatever I'm wearing to work that day)

Cats get their speedwork done.
Usually at 3am. When I'm trying to sleep, the cats decided it is time to get their sprints done. This also involves cross training which is coach-speak for jumping on my face, stomach or any body part which isn't tucked under the duvet and using it for jumping, scratching or other enthusiastic activities which are done at 90mph. Additional yowling, screeching and weird noises are also apparently important parts of cross training. 

Cats don’t rely on sugary food and get lots of protein.
When was the last time you saw a cat justify a massive slice of cake after a bike ride? Or a cat wearing lycra over his massive belly? Never. Instead they tuck into meat and their favourite food is tuna. If they could operate a can opener they would take over the world. 

Cats don’t stress over their bike splits.
When was the last time you heard a cat bitching about headwind on the bike or the elevation profile of a course? Never. Exactly. Stop overanalysing the data and just get on with it. 

Cats are serious about cleanliness.
If you know anything about cats, you'll know they take their cleanliness very seriously. Have a spare 5 mins? Have a wash. Have you ever seen a cat with a saddle sores? Or blisters? Keeping you and your equipment clean can make a big difference. Getting straight into the shower after a sweaty indoor bike session can reduce the risk of any sore places getting infected and keeping you bike clean can mean that you can spot any damage early on and fix it before it becomes a big problem. Have a wash you smelly git. 

Cats aren’t very keen on swimming.
So they clearly have their triathlon priorities right. I mean swimming is important and all (if you don't survive the swim, you can't get the bike and run done, right?) but it's the shortest part of the triathlon so you have to consider whether knocking 10 minutes off the swim is better than focusing on the bike and taking 30 minutes off that instead. Besides, there are certainly better snacks on the bike.

Cats give zero shits about Strava.
Cats don't spend their time agonising over whether Fluffy from their tri club was being sarcastic when they commented “great session” on their activity. And they don't give their activities titles like “Easy super slow run” when their tempo runs go wrong to justify why they were going slower than a runner after Christmas. Be more like cats. Just crack on, do your own thing and stop comparing yourself to Tiger down the road.

Cats have absolute self belief.
Cats are aware that they are a cat and not only that, that they are the best example of a cat there could be. There is absolutely no doubt in their tiny fluffy heads that they are anything other than they should be. And why should you suggest anything so ridiculous? Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself like a cat believes in itself. 

And these are my solid reasons why I believe a cat would be good at triathlon. Although I haven't seen one ride a bike ...

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Breca Loch Lomond SwimRun - Sheep Chases & a Unique Event

Race Report for Breca Loch Lomond Swimrun - 7th August 2021

As a Breca Ambassador for 2021 I was lucky enough to be gifted this event. 

Some events are all about times, speed and going faster. The wind in your face and the ground under your shoes. And then there are the other ones. The ones where you remember snapshots of windswept hills, of bare rock and scrambling over stones, of ponies silhouetted against the sky. This event was one of the latter. 

This was my very first visit to Scotland and what better way to celebrate visiting a new country than to swim your very furthest distance as part of a 21km swimrun event? Isn’t this what everyone does when they visit somewhere new? Try and die in a new and interesting way?

Well no spoilers, but clearly I survived. I like to believe that trying the Scottish traditional food and drink beforehand helped … haggis washed down with copious amount of Scottish Whiskey.  Granted, this wasn’t IMMEDIATELY before. I do have a small amount of sense. Occasionally. 

I'd remembered to put the distances on in permanent marker this time!

The Loch Lomond swim run is a pretty epic event. It starts at Balloch Castle and then the participants swim to the first island in the loch, run across the island, swim to the next, run across this island and so on until they finish at Luss which is very pretty, fairytale looking village on the far side of the Loch, just across the border in the Scottish Highlands.
What an adventure.

This is not an event if you are focused on time or pace. This is an event for you if you want memorable experiences, to be able to run ‘in the moment’ and to do something that you know you will remember.

Even the start was very special and very unique. As the swim runners stood on the rabbit-nibbled grass, a piper played melodies which echoed between the trees and the stony walls of Balloch Castle. The sky was grey and overcast and it seemed that the storm that was threatened might come in early. 

We were kept updated by Jake on the PA system and the water safety crews had been sent out to the islands but the rougher water conditions had delayed them so the start was later than expected. I didn’t mind this as it meant more time speaking to the new friends I’d made and catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen for a while. 

The event started in a park, but almost immediately turned into beautiful winding trails. I was watching every step as the trails were rocky but the surroundings were gorgeous. Each tree had a moss covering and it felt as though I was about to step into a fairytale. 

Soon, I was at the shores of the Loch, wading into the tea coloured waters and pulling my swim cap on. Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Great Britain at 22 kilometres long and 8 kilometres wide and is known for being quite chilly, but I was pleasantly surprised as the water felt quite warm. I splashed in and started my first swim across to the first island on the course which was Inchmurrin.

Inchmurrin was the site of a 7th century monastery with a chapel dedicated to Saint Mirrin after whom the island was named. It is full of history having been a deer park, has the ruins of a castle, raided by Rob Roy and was also a mental asylum and a place unmarried pregnant women were sent to give birth. It was also the site where the haggis hurling world record was broken. Quite a history for an island which isn’t even a mile square! 

There were 9 swim sections in this 21km event ranging from a distance of 1.4km to s short as 0.1 kilometres. The swim sections were all very different. Some were from mainland shore to island, from island to island, across a cove or in the case of the final one, a wade up a stream bed! I was surprised also at how different the water temperatures felt too as the loch wasn’t one temperature throughout. The run sections also all had their individual charms. Some sections were scrambles, some were feet-picking careful treading between pebbles and some were simply not for running. This is not an event if you are tied to minute/miles and new Personal Bests. This is an event for memories and adventures. 

The second island was Craobh-Innis which means tree island and we skirted the boundary of this one, run-walking on pebbles and stones on the beach. This one felt quite wild and remote and I couldn’t see another soul for a long time which made it feel quite special. The sky was dark and lowered which made it feel quite atmospheric. 

It is a great event for staying in the moment as there is no opportunity to get complacent. I had no chance to think about chores, about plans, about anything other than the section I was swimming or the part of the course I was running.

There are 10 runs and 9 swims, the run totalling 15km and the swim was a distance of 6km. This would be my longest ever swim distance, although it was to be broken up by the island and shoreline runs. I didn’t doubt that I could do it, just aware that as one of the slower swimmers, I was going to be out there a long time. Particularly as I was swimming while wearing trainers!

I did consider carrying my trainers and putting them on after the swims, but the Breca events are deliberately not polished and not everything packaged up for you. They are deliberately wild and rugged and aim to show you the unspoilt parts of the area. As a result, the transitions - the part where the water meets land - is quite difficult terrain. Often cliffs or pebbles or stones. They’re not designed to be easy. They are meant to be natural and wild and exactly how they should be. As such, it’s not practical to have no shoes or feet coverings. The rocks are often sharp.

The swim from Craobh-Innis to Inchcailloch bypasses Torrinch island entirely and this is one of the longest swim sections because of looping around Torrinch. The swim curves around the island, missing it out due to nesting birds and wildlife, and continues onto Inchailloch island.

This swim was quite choppy and as the wind was coming from the East, every time I breathed to the right side, I’d see the water being skimmed off the wave tops by the wind making it look as though it was heavily raining and stormy in this direction. But breathing to the left, the water and conditions seemed calm. It was almost like a film effect, storms and rain one side, calm and serene the other. As a result every time I saw Torrinch island, it appeared stormy and rocky and menacing. 

I very much enjoyed the running sections across the islands. Each island was very unique and had its own distinct character. And each felt like nowhere I had run before. They all had a very individual beauty and each felt very remote which was helped by rarely seeing any other people. I felt as though I was running and swimming my own event and I felt very lucky to be on these beautiful islands and treading these paths.

The final island was Inchailloch which felt much less remote than the others. I passed groups of walkers on the tracks among the trees and there is a church and a graveyard on the island. There have even been white deer seen here as recently as 2003 although I did not see these. 
The event was not without its comical moments though … there were some very rocky transitions and I fell over coming out of one of the swims, straight back into the water, and having once stood upright fell over again. The photographer missed my falls but did manage to spot me chuckling at my absolute lack of balance.

Coming across one of the islands down a farm track, one of the swim runners managed to accidentally join a flock of sheep. She ran a bit quicker which meant she was now in front of the sheep and as the track narrowed, she couldn’t stop or slow down as they’d take her knees out from behind. From behind, it was hilarious, watching this poor girl get chased by the sheep. Probably not for her, but for me watching, gold. 

I was relieved it wasn’t me being chased as I would have been run down and stampeded over. I did however realise, that if the sheep could also swim faster than me (likely) then in a triathlon it would come down to the bike leg. 

It was a day of falling over. I fell over again in front of the photographer … they just missed it again - phew! Straight onto my bum on some rocks. Luckily the wetsuit and the tow float both provided some rather marvellous padding. 

And then I ran into a tree. In my defence, there were a LOT of trees in this windy section and I was looking at my feet. I kind of winded myself a bit and then shook myself and stood up and got back on with it. Tree seemed ok too. 

Having not learned my lesson after the tree, I then tripped over again and landed straight into the sand. This was after the final swim and I was now covered in sand and mud and with no more swims to wash it off. Bother.

However, there was a river wade coming into the last section just past the pretty village of Luss, and I ran and splashed my way along the river, scrambled up the bank and had a bit of a run coming into the finishing field and under the arch. 

What a lovely Scottish adventure. 6 kilometres swimming and some running along remote trails and on islands in a loch. I’d walked hills, swum in. A loch, made new friends, NOT been chased by sheep and had heard bagpipes being played in Scotland. All in a day. 
I loved the uniqueness of this event and if you want something wild and beautiful and entirely memorable, then I can’t recommend this event enough.

For more information, take a look at the event here.

Photos by Route North Photos and included as part of every entry. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Ironman Barcelona: Bike Crashes, Jellyfish & People Soup

Ironman Barcelona

And there I was driving through Barcelona in a van which felt the size of a house, triple wide and on the wrong side of the road. Mopeds were flying past both sides of us on the three-lane carriageway and I was convinced that I would be scraping one out of the wheel arch before long. Simon made a startled cry as one passed close to the van. I turned on him furiously, still clutching the steering wheel. “STOP screaming. NOW you know how I feel when YOU drive!”
We’d arrived in Barcelona airport to pick up our hire car but the chap behind the Budget desk, seeing the vast amount of luggage plus bike box had offered a larger vehicle; a Renault Trafic to be precise. I, only having the haziest idea of what these where like but dimly envisioning a people carrier, agreed. And here I was piloting this enormous thing through Spain, with Simon whimpering in the passenger seat, L asleep in the back and luggage piled up to the roof.

We’d finally arrived in Spain for Ironman Barcelona after a 2-year delay thanks to work and COVID. It hadn’t been an entirely easy trip so far thanks to having to book tests (£260! We’ll have to survive on dust and seawater while over there!) and the rules changing several times while planning the trip. This, culminating in the testing company sending the wrong test for L, meant a rushed trip to Birmingham 2 days before the flight for a last-minute PCR test. Results had arrived about 6 hours before we had to leave for the airport. And then the stress of whether we’d filled in the correct forms and boxes on the new COVID flight app, the Spanish SPTH app and the COVID NHS passport ...
The bike box had been 5kg overweight, but looking at my harassed face, the airport check in clerk had decided it wasn’t worth the mental breakdown and resulting mess me collapsing in a sobbing heap would make in front of his nice clean desk and told me to just drag it over to the oversize luggage gate.

The hoody says 'I do all my own stunts'. Ironic really ..

The hotel which had been booked for a year had been cancelled by the management company about 3 weeks before we flew out. Apparently, the hotel had closed at the end of August but had forgotten to tell us until mid-September. We’d re-booked at another hotel which if you believed TripAdvisor wasn’t quite Skid Row but might be if the rats got their act together and smartened up. But quite frankly, at this point so long as there was parking for this bus, a clean bed and beer then bring it on.
I was done. I just wanted to get to Calella in one piece, race the race and then chill out in the sunshine. The race, despite being called Ironman Barcelona, was held about 45 miles from Barcelona in the pretty coastal town of Calella famous for its lighthouse.
And here I was. Standing in the rain, 45 minutes before the race, looking at the gigantic hole I had just accidentally put in the leg of my wetsuit.
Balls. Well, not much I could do about it now. And if this was the only thing to go wrong in the event, then that wouldn’t be too bad.

I headed towards the swim start just as the rain eased off. The sea yesterday had been warm and calm and clear as glass. Today, the wind was howling and the fronds on the palm trees lining the beach front, were flapping and rattling. The waves were white tipped and higher than my head. Today, it would be an adventure swim. Hopefully not the sort of adventure involving lifeboats and dramatic rescues.

The swim start was delayed due to the conditions and possibly all the safety crews being seasick due to the massive waves. The start of 0830hrs kept getting pushed backwards and I kept looking at the bending palm trees waiting for the wind to drop but it never seemed to.

Finally, at around 0900hrs, there was an announcement that the swim would be shortened to 950m due to safety. It was a huge cut from the original distance of 3800m but judging by how the safety boats were being thrown around, the conditions were even worse than they looked from the shore. It seemed like the extra leg hole in my wetsuit would be the least of my swim concerns.

Chatted to Peter from Mersey Tri and a couple of Irish lads while we were waiting for the swim to start. What I could see of the waves was ridiculous. I couldn’t see the enormous buoys as they kept disappearing behind waves but every now and then I’d see a safety boat being thrown around like a kids’ toy in an enormous bathtub.
Paul Kaye, the Ironman commentator was giving a shout out to all the nationalities at Ironman Barcelona. I was really surprised to hear that Brits were the largest group racing today – even more of us than the Spanish or French! Very relieved that the triathlete contingent was better behaved than the usual football tourists. Although maybe the triathletes were saving their beer for AFTER the race.

Suddenly, Thunderstruck by AC/DC was playing. This song heralds the swim start! Athletes started queuing at the arch and were set off in groups of 6 every 4 seconds. I joined a queue and all of a sudden, I was at the front! I went under the arch and as I ran towards the towering sea, the previous group of 6 were washed back on the beach at my feet by the sheer force of the waves. I started picking people up and helping them back onto their feet.
I ran in and dived through the first wave. I couldn’t see the first buoy at all and had to wait until I was on the crest of the wave and the buoy was also on the crest of a wave to even see it. These things are 8ft high and bright yellow which shows just how high the waves were.
From the beach, you could see that the swimmers were being swept left by the tide meaning some were having to double back to reach the buoy to pass it on their left. I swam far right, almost in a chevron so I’d reach the first buoy at the correct place.
The swim was like people soup. Everyone was getting washed around, there was no drafting opportunities as you’d be next to someone one moment and the next they’d be 10ft away to the left, separated by a wave. People were knocking together, swirling around. It wasn’t cold though so you didn’t have the panic that you’d get if it was in a British sea.
I usually breathe on both sides but because the waves were coming from a diagonal-right direction, I had to breathe on the left only and even then because the waves were breaking far out and had white foamy tips, I’d still occasionally get a face full of water rather than a breath as a wave broke over my head. I took a breath every 2 strokes rather than every 3 and because of the conditions, it wasn’t easy to get into a rhythm however breathing every 2 meant there was less chance of missing a breath. I pushed out to the far right and was coming up to the first buoy before I knew it. In a typical-of-the-day-so-far moment, I got swept by a wave and the wind shifted and I got an 8ft yellow buoy in the face just as I came up to it. Brilliant. Well at least I know I’m taking the corner by the buoy as tight as possible. I was literally swimming UNDER a corner of the buoy and over the rope.
And yes. It probably DID look like I headbutted an 8ft yellow buoy. Take THAT, sea!!
Out onto the back stretch and it was possible to get into a bit more of a rhythm as the swimmers were more stretched out and it was less like a drowning anthill. It still wasn’t easy to sight despite the buoys being 8ft tall but it was easier to swim straight. The sea wasn’t the clear turquoise glass of the day before, but dark and blue-green but looking down between breaths I saw a small jellyfish, about the size of a football, floating just below me. It was bright blue, meaning it was in distress. I decided that if I was a jellyfish and there was a massive storm and thousands of swimmers thrashing around above me, I’d probably be a bit upset too. 
Before I knew it, the back stretch was done, and I was turning at the last buoy, heading in towards the black finish arch which was visible on the beach between waves. The only trick now was to try and swim slightly against the current, so I didn’t overshoot the arch and end up 100m further down the beach. I managed to get it about right and swam into the beach as far as possible, with a few wave-assisted surges and was grabbed by the hand by a female volunteer in a yellow t-shirt who helped me out of the crashing waves.

Due to the shortened swim, everyone was coming out of the water in a clump as there hadn’t been the time to spread out in the swim.  This meant the transition up to the bike was VERY leisurely. No real rush by anyone and there was no space for me to run up to the bike even if I hadn’t been recovering from being swirled around in a food blender of seawater, triathletes and jellyfish. I wasn’t sure if the slow pace was normal for an ironman and everything was a bit more relaxed or just because the sea had been so insane and everyone was still in shock!
I’d hoped to see Simon and L on the beach at the swim exit but because of the shortened swim, they weren’t there.
I peeled off my wetsuit and bundled this, my hat and goggles into my bike bag. I stuck the helmet, tri belt, socks and bike shoes on and grabbed the bag of pick n mix and flapjacks. I made my way to Pinky the Trusty Tri Bike with a bit more speed now the crowds had thinned out. Row 6-7 and in line with the banners … the sighting practise had worked.
I grabbed the bike and ran out of transition like usual … and then ground to a halt stuck behind groups of people walking and clogging up the narrow path. I resigned myself to walking as there was no way past.
I ran past the mount line and jumped onto Pinky but even after the mount line progress was very slow. The first section was on very narrow streets with speed bumps, cobbled sections and potholes and riders weren’t allowed on the tri bars because of the risk. The drafting rules also didn’t apply in this section which was lucky as the short swim meant the streets were very congested. There was no space to get any speed up and it wouldn’t have been safe anyway. I used the time to smash a gel in my face while we were going so slowly.
I turned out onto the main road without any problems and onto the main roundabout just outside Calella. There was a very strong headwind but I soon got into a rhythm. My fuelling strategy was a flapjack and a couple of salt tablets every hour on the hour and drink to requirement. The bottle was mounted on the front of the bike between the tribars so I wouldn’t be able to forget to drink.

Initially everyone was in a tight group after leaving the transition area and the no tribars section but there was soon opportunity to spread out so no excuse to draft. There WERE a lot of people drafting and even working in packs, but I was careful not to. I wanted to have the time I worked for and I definitely didn’t want a penalty or DQ for cheating. There were penalty tents on the course and these were full when I passed. There were marshals on mopeds going backwards and forwards handing out warnings and penalties. There was still a lot of drafting happening despite this, but I just got on with my own race.
The wind was still strong. I’d hoped it would drop for the bike leg but there was a steady headwind going out away from Calella. It was demoralising. I’d cycled this route the day before with Chris and Natalie who were staying in the same hotel and we’d cycled a leisurely and easy 19.5mph along this road and now I was barely hitting 16mph with twice the effort. I just had to hope that the wind would stay the same direction for my way back into Calella, so I’d get a tailwind and an easier ride back. It was hard work though and the route was an out and back with a just couple of shoot-offs away from the coast at two points so no real respite.
I was sorting nutrition with had one hand on the bars and one holding a snack when a gust of wind knocked me sideways into a cone. With my hand full of flapjack, I didn’t have the control I usually have, and I hit it dead on. I caught the bike once but oversteered and the bike bucked. I hit the ground hard and smacked my head on the road. I sat there for a while a bit dazed with blood coming from my hand, left leg and shoulder. I picked up Pinky. She seemed fine, but the knock had jammed the left brake pad onto the wheel. I hadn’t brought tools as I don’t know enough about mechanicals to sort any issues although irritatingly I could have sorted this. A motorcycle marshal pulled up and asked if I was ok. Confirmed I was fine but asked for mechanical to assist me as I didn’t have any tools but realised I could wing it. Released the brakes and headed back into the headwind.
I normally have no issues with refilling the torpedo bottle on the front of the bike on the move and do this at races on the fly regularly with no issues but with the wind it was a struggle. The first time I tried it in Calella, I nearly hit another cone so the next time, I stopped, grabbed the bottle and poured it in while stopped. It wasn’t great for my time but kept the cones and Pinky safe AND meant the fluid actually went into the bottle rather than me wearing it.
I kept seeing the same people over and over. It helped that people had names on their trisuits or on their race numbers which made them memorable. I played leapfrog with ‘Frederic With The Squeaky Bottom Bracket’ for a while – I could hear him coming! And ‘Herron In The Red & White Suit’. Also ‘Bianca’ and ‘Red Specialised Bike’ lady a few times. No-one was particularly chatty though except Frederic, everyone just had their heads down. I was finding that I was leaning the bike to the left side that I’d had the crash on. I wasn’t sure whether it was the wind or whether the crash had knocked something out of alignment – on the bike or me! – but I was definite at a left-leaning angle!
My toes were getting really sore. My ribs were a bit painful and the cuts and grazes were stinging but the bit that hurt the most were my toes! In the end, I couldn’t stand it any longer and stopped the bike and pulled the toes of my socks away from my feet. I think putting socks on wet feet made them shrink and they were compressing my toes. The relief! My shoulders were getting a little stiff, but I was down on the bars the whole time except for roundabouts so this was to be expected after a few hours. But my toes were finally OK!
I needed a wee for the whole bike leg but couldn’t go on the bike. I was quite prepared to channel my inner Chrissie Wellington, particularly if someone decided to draft me but bladder said no. Probably just as well. After the sea, I was pretty sure everyone had had enough of flying water.
It was a long old slog getting to the turnaround point on the coast road. The headwind made it feel much tougher than it should have felt and the 2 spikes off the main route which were both uphill going out had made it all feel a bit of a drag. It was such a shame as it had been so divine yesterday on the recce of the course. Although I HAD managed to stay upright then which had probably helped with my disposition.

I heard a group playing the drums and then it was a slight incline and a sharp u-turn around some cones and I was on the stretch back! Coming back along the coast road towards Calella was a completely different situation with the wind behind me. Rather than having to work for every pedal stroke, it was a joy to cycle and a completely different experience to going the other direction. As I rode, I could see the faces of the cyclists coming the other way, all were bent over the bars of the bikes, fixed grimaces on their faces as they pushed against the wind.
The time coming back flew and I was at the roundabout at Calella before I knew it. I’d arranged with Simon and L to be on the bike route, but they weren’t at the turnaround point. I was so disappointed. The supporters here were fantastic and there was lots of cheering, but I’d fallen off the bike, was covered in sweat, blood and gravel, had been fighting a horrible wind and insane sea conditions and I just wanted to see my family. And I couldn’t.
I cried. Then I turned around the roundabout and headed back into the headwind.
As is usual when you know where you’re going, the second lap felt shorter. The headwind was still bad, but I expected it this time and I knew when to turn for the out and back sections. I also didn’t fall off my bike. Things were looking up for lap two.
While stopped to refill my bottle, I was waiting for a space in the cyclists to pull out when an over-enthusiastic marshal grabbed the back of the saddle and offered to shove me out into the traffic as a ‘help’. No. Really no thanks. He didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Spanish and he didn’t want to take no (or ‘Nop’) for an answer and certainly didn’t want to wait for me to clip in or actually have both hands on the bike. I didn’t need this sort of assistance thanks and shouted “No thank you” in my kindest but firmest manner and Foxtrot Oscar-ed before he tried to throw me out into traffic again.

The route back to Calella felt like flying. I’d been on the bike nearly 6 hours but with the tailwind, I was cruising along quite happily. Swapped places a few times with a few groups but just did my own thing and raced my own race. The sea was on my right the whole way, shining blue and in a few places, I could see the huge waves crashing down on the shore. The swim already felt a long time ago and it felt unreal that I was almost 2 parts done of an Ironman!
The last 10k of the bike was the hilliest section with a few undulations but not anything I needed to get out of the saddle for. The cliffs rose high on the left as I followed the coast road and I kept an eye out for the famous lighthouse at Calella which would signal that I was nearly at the end of the bike course. Coming up to the roundabout which had been the turnaround point on lap one, I spotted two familiar people on the opposite side of the road. I shouted out “Simon! L!” as I passed and heard a responding shout.
Everything slowed right down again coming through town. Off the tribars again as per the rules so just chilled out for this section and enjoyed the fact that it was just the run to go! And even I probably couldn’t crash into a traffic cone on the run!
I hopped off the bike before the dismount line but again there was no space to run the bike back in due to the people walking and blocking the lane, so I took my time. Racked Pinky and trotted to where my run bag was hanging and took my bike shoes and visor out. Took the empty gels packets out of my pockets and put new gels into pockets. Shoved some pick n mix in my mouth and put trainers and visor on. My ASICS trainers felt SO comfy after my bike shoes! I turned my tri belt around and set off. But first a loo stop!
I closed the door of the portaloo and wished I could close my nostrils too. Pulled my trisuit down and one of my new gels went straight into the portaloo loo where it sat nestling on top of the splatty poo someone had thoughtfully left for the next person to appreciate. Bleurgh. Not fishing that gel out. That’s staying in there.
I headed out towards the run route, joining the runners already on the course and headed out towards the lighthouse on the cliffs above the finish line. The route is a 3-lap course of around 8 miles per lap. It’s a long time to run so in my head I split it down rather than think about the full distance. There was a turn by the lighthouse which I had to go past 4 times and a turn at the far end which I had to pass 3 times. I was just going to count the turns down. Every lap I was just going to focus on getting to the next turnaround.
Getting into my run stride, I took a deep breath and I heard a pop followed by a very sharp pain in my top left side under my arm. It was very uncomfortable and I found I was bent over a little to the left trying to reduce the pain. I wasn’t sure what the pain was but I started taking shallower breaths to try and ease it while running. I still had about 25.5 miles left of the marathon … not the time to start breaking down.

About a mile from the lighthouse, I heard a shout and Simon and L were standing cheering behind the barrier with a great big homemade sign and a vuvuzela being blown VERY enthusiastically. It was lovely to see them and great to have a support section! A mile on and I was around the first turn by the finish arch and into lap one properly. There were groups of supporters which were amazing. I had my name on my bib number so people were shouting my name like I was a celebrity! There was a lot of loud cheering and some really excellent support. If you responded, then the support got even better. It really flew me through these sections – it was impossible not to respond.
I’d been heading out for short runs while staying in Calella and my hotel was around 1/3 of a mile from the seafront. The Ironman run route went along my usual run route but at my turnaround point, the Ironman run continued out past the white-walled cemetery and onto sandy paths alongside the sea. This part of the run route had less support than the section towards the lighthouse and it seemed to go on for a long time. There were pockets of supporters and a couple of tents with groups playing music and cheering the runners but it felt quite empty. A couple of runners referred to this section as ‘the desert’ and it did feel quite desolate.
Eventually I could see a hotel in the distance on the right-hand side, but it took a long time to get there. A police car was parked on the left side and an ambulance on the right and the drivers were out watching the runners coming past. Eventually, I passed the hotel and the hotel after that and then I came up to some fir trees and a sign – ‘turnaround point ahead’. The road was broken into two sections for out and back runners and I could see the aid station and the snacks and cups of cola on the table for the runners on the other side – so close! - and then I was around the turnaround point and heading back towards the lighthouse.

My strategy was to grab a cola at every aid station and walk the length of the station while drinking the cola. I was also having a gel and salt tablet every 3 miles, but the goal was to run the rest of the time.  Relentless forward progress. I didn’t care how slow I was running; the goal was just to run. Every time someone overtook me I reminded myself that I was running my own race. The person overtaking me had their goals and I had mine. EVERY time someone overtook me, I had the urge to chase them, but I didn’t know how I was going to feel in a few miles. I didn’t want to come this far to crash and burn near the end. I knew I could keep this pace up almost forever, I just had to keep THIS pace up. But I found I was overtaking more people than were overtaking me.
The supporters really helped with the spirit and atmosphere of the event. There was a lady in a motorised wheelchair who was furiously ringing a cowbell and holding a sign cheering the runners on. There were a British couple sitting by the bar by the park who every time I passed, shouted “Come on Rugby!” after spotting my navy and orange trisuit. An Irish group on the stretch by the finish arch who were hugely enthusiastic and had nailed the Mexican wave! As we had our names on our bibs, the supporters were shouting the names of the runners, so running through the roads, I had lots of “Come on Sarah!” “Good running Sarah!” and even a few random “Come on Susan!”s which confused me slightly. There were some entertaining signs, one of which promised “Nekked cheerleaders and free secks at the finish”. I wasn’t entirely convinced that I’d be in a position to take advantage of any of these offers. But I could certainly go for a ”free shoe removal” or “free food”.
The miles ticked by. My left side was still sore and I couldn’t take deep breaths but it was manageable. Besides I didn’t expect to be feeling 100% by the end of an ironman. Wasn’t I SUPPOSED to feel like hell? It helped that the aid stations were fairly frequent for cola walking breaks and Simon and L were cheering me on every lap so that was something lovely to look forward to. The sun was lowering towards the horizon and the heat was calmer now. Just get it done, Booker.

 My tummy felt a bit dicey and I wasn’t the only one. There were a few squeaky bums among the runners but I wasn’t at the stage of trusting a fart so around mile 16, I nipped into portaloo. Nope … butt still trustworthy. *parp*
There were a lot of people walking on the run now and some runners were so out of it, they were running the wrong ways along the taped sections with a hobble and a thousand yard stare. I just kept on keeping on. Come on legs. It was just getting dark now and the sky was a deep blue.
Out onto the third lap and this was it. One more turnaround and I’d be on the home stretch. Passing Simon and L I told them they needed to make their way to the finish line and I’d see them at the end. I didn’t want them to miss my finish! The last few times I’d made it onto the podium in a triathlon, they’d missed it due to various reasons and while I wasn’t expecting a podium, I definitely wanted them to see my first Ironman finish!
Due to dropping a gel into the portaloo, I’d had to use an on-course gel. The gels I normally use are syrupy and tasty but I squirted this gel into my mouth but instead of the sugary liquid I was expecting, it was solid like blancmange. I had a mouth full of what had the flavour and consistency of one of the jellyfish I’d been swimming over earlier in the day. In what was a heroic effort, I managed to persuade my mouth to swallow it and then my stomach not to vomit it.
I decided I needed to manage my expectations of free gels. I’d passed a few runners bringing up stomach contents in the run but had assumed it was the pressure of the event. I hadn’t considered it might have been a jellyfish flavoured gel.
In preparation for the finish, I moved my number and tri belt around to my front, so the photographer would capture it for my finish photo and the number hole broke … not what I wanted with 1.5 miles to go! I tucked it into my tri belt and hoped for the best.
The last mile was long. I kept saying to myself “it’s only 8 or 9 minutes. Come on legs!” I blew through the aid stations trusting my legs to manage without the cola. Through the inflatable arches over the run route and towards the lighthouse on the cliffs. The palm trees bordered each side, their leaves still rattling in the breeze. The sky was dark now and the finish line was lit up at the end of the run route like a beacon.

As I was coming up to the finish line I got my bounce back. My legs knew the end was almost here! I turned the final corner and rather than turning back onto the run route, I turned right onto the red carpet and towards the finish line. The red carpet and finish straight was so much longer than I expected. The stadium seats were packed, and the noise was unbelievable! It was amazing! It was my turn to cross the line. I ran through, pointing at the finish gantry! And heard “Bravo Sarah! You are an Ironman!“

I was given my medal and told to wait for the engraving ... I was given my medal back and for the first time I saw my Ironman time.
11 hours 10 minutes 6 seconds.

I was done.

One of my biggest adventures ... and it was over.
And then I started my Garmin again. I needed to have run 26.2 miles to claim my London Marathon virtual medal ... and Ironman Barcelona marathon was 26.1.


Update: I visited the hospital when I got back to the UK and it apparently Ironman really shouldn't feel that terrible. Turns out I broke some ribs in the bike crash. 

Seems I really AM too stupid to know when to stop. 

Photo Credits: & FinisherPix & Simon Booker.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Open Water Swimming & Freaking Out About Pike

Have you ever freaked yourself out for no reason? Just me then?

I planned a last swim ahead of Breca Loch Lomond swimrun. I was quite pleased with my organisation too. Didn’t forget any kit … goggles, hat, towfloat all present and I even managed to grab an early morning swim slot before we left for Scotland. Everything was falling into place like a damp version of Tetris.

Look at me being all organised! Like some kind of amazing swimrun pro. 

Rocked up to the lake to an almost empty car park and couldn’t see a single swimmer in the water. There are no safety boats or lifeguards at Stoney Cove. It’s beautiful but at over a kilometre around the edge and over 35 metres deep it can feel quite eerie. The cliffs around it are high and the water is dark and ominous when the sun isn’t shining.

I got myself sorted and climbed down the ladder from the side into the water. I bobbed for a couple of minutes, getting used to the temperature and the feeling of swimming with trainers on (swimrunners swim with trainers on) and I set off towards the far edge of the lake.

I was certainly entirely on my own in the lake – there were no other swimmers and it was quite a lonely feeling. As I swam I kept seeing something blurry out of the corner of my eye keeping pace with me, but when I turned my head it disappeared.

There are pike in the waters of Stoney Cove, reportedly up to 5 feet long. I have to admit I have never seen one here but have heard plenty of stories of swimmers being bitten when rinsing shiny goggles in the water. Was it a pike keeping pace with me? Something more sinister?

My brain then decided to freak me out by reminding me of all of the people who have died in Stoney Cove. LOTS.

Yeah. No.

I decided to swim back to the ladder but as I was already a third of the way around I realised I was swimming back across the deepest and eeriest part of the lake. My brain then did me the massive favour of visualising a hand grabbing my ankle and pulling me under the water. 

I had a WIBBLE. Went proper Blackadder.

Sometimes I despair of myself. I should start writing horror stories or something. Luckily another swimmer came along – appeared as though out of nowhere - and stopped for a chat so I followed him around the lake. And I was fine.

And the weird blurry thing following me? Turns out it was a scratch on my goggles.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Race Report: Breca Coniston SwimRun - Gerbils In The Walls & Drinking The Lakes

Tackling the first climb! (Photo by Route North)

I like to be organised before a race. I like to have my ducks in a line and to know exactly where and when I was going. And how far.

Turns out that instead of ducks-in-a-line. I had gerbils-in-my-walls. Turns out that Coniston Swimrun is in Lake Windermere. And Lake Rydal. And Lake Grasmere. There is no Lake Coniston whatsoever. This moment of epiphany, the evening before the race start made me begin to doubt quite how effective my prep had been, exactly.

I had HOWEVER been organised enough to write all of the swim and run distances on my hand. In biro. Before the race started. 

Organised ... with my biro and my writing ...

These lasted until precisely swim 3 when I tried to read the distance. Might be 0.9km. Or 0.5km. Or is that a 3? 

Biro! Thou Hast Failed Me! (Clutches breast) 

Luckily the organisation of the event was perfect. Registration was super-easy and very welcoming. I was checked in by the organised and enthusiastic Fred (who is the Managing Director and an endurance athlete!) who confirmed I had all of the mandatory kit; wetsuit, tow float, reusable cup, whistle and shoes. There’s always such a lovely welcome at the Breca events, you really know then that you’re part of something special. The shoes are also checked to ensure they’re clean and dry for biosecurity – we don’t want to accidentally introduce any invasive species!

Registration at Grasmere Village Hall

The atmosphere is amazing and even though every participant is very different, everyone is ready to chat and the enthusiasm for the Breca events is so infectious. You can’t help joining in with the excitement. You just KNOW you’re going to have an amazing adventure. 

The coaches picked us up from Grasmere village hall and took us to a village hall in Far Sawrey about a mile from Lake Windermere which was where the race was to start. Even the coach ride was buzzing, everyone was chatty and passing the high hills and still waters of the lakes, I couldn’t quite believe that I’d be climbing and swimming those within the hour.

There was the usual milling about and chatting before the race which was nice. It’s been SO long since an event that I’d forgotten how much I missed the social side. I met Jake, the Event Manager at Breca who was so enthusiastic and kept us all entertained with his microphone chat before the start of the event. Had a chat to Emily Walton — duathlete and cyclist extraordinaire and Kate Milsom — adventurer and bikepacker. Emily and Kate had teamed up and it was to be their first swimrun. They were chilled-out but focused and I had no doubt they’d do well. 

Photo taken by Jake (taken from the Breca instagram feed)

I’m not an amazing swimmer by any stretch of the imagination. I’m thoroughly confident though – a kick in the head doesn’t tend to faze me too much but I do have a big weakness when it comes to swimming. I drink the water. No, not on purpose. But I tend to ‘slosh’ after a long swim. This is particularly gross when I’ve been at a club swim session as I KNOW they pee in the pool. I just don’t know how to stop it. The peeing or the drinking. 

However, I thought I’d play to my strengths – or weakness in this case. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself drinking the lake water, but I may as well use this and not bother taking hydration with me. I’m going to ‘slosh’ anyway so why take extra?

It was a lovely chilled-out start. No pressure and it felt a bit like the start of an ultra when nobody wants to go across the line too fast! Rach and I started together but the trail was so busy for the first section as we had all set off together that you couldn’t really run side by side. The first kilometre or so was up a fairly steep track and I had to keep my eyes on the path as it was pretty stony. It was difficult to see too far ahead as there were so many feet in the way so I had to trust that I could jump over a hole or large stone with a moment’s notice! The trail wound up through sheep-nibbled fields and back down into a wood with a stream running by the path. It was a fun descent with the path twisting between the trees with sharp bends. We all leapt down the trails and the woods were buzzing with chat and people enjoying the trails.  

It was only about 2 and a half kilometres to the first swim but rather than keep the swim cap on, I’d stuck it down the neck of my wetsuit and put my googles around my neck so I couldn’t lose them. I’d gone with a very basic tow float which had a line around my middle which fastened with a clip and I just clipped this onto the float when I wasn’t swimming. About a tenner from PlanetX – bargain! There were a lot of people with pricey tow floats but this one was great and gave me no problems at all.

Hopping into the water, which was a pebbly beach with fairly large slippery stones, I popped the cap and goggles on, unclipped my tow float and span my pull buoy around so instead of being strapped to the outside of my leg, it was now between adding extra buoyancy. As you swim wearing trainers, it’s difficult to get an efficient kick so I use a pull buoy to give my legs some extra buoyancy.

Into the first swim! (Photo by Route North)

This was the longest swim at nearly a kilometre long and I found that it was difficult to sight. My face was warm from the run and the lake water and my goggles cold so they fogged up almost straight away. I couldn’t see the Breca quill flag on the shore – despite it being a bright yellow – so I followed the trail of colourful swim hats and pull buoys in front of me. This swim had been changed slightly. Originally we were swimming between the islands but it had been amended to between the shore and the islands. There were a few boats to swim around and I wasn’t sure when we had to cut in to the shore so I kept sighting on the hats and buoys in front through my steamy goggles.

Rach and I had become a bit separated by the single track trail but as I swam, I caught sight of some familiar star arm tattoos on my left – Rach! It was great to know that my swimrun buddy was shoulder-to-shoulder with me in this unfamiliar lake. 

A cluster of colours from the hats and pull buoys and the Breca quill flag showed on the shore and we cut in and came into the transition area. I started what was to become a familiar ritual over the next couple of hours; hat off, goggles down, spin the pull buoy and re-clip the tow flat behind me. 

The next run was about 3.5km and it was on gravelled trails. Nice to run on and a chance to dry off after the lake! Despite showing as virtually flat on the maps, the trails were constant small inclines and descents through woodlands. Lake Windermere was sparkling between the trees on our right  and it was the perfect temperature for a swimrun adventure. As it had been so warm at Gower Swimrun in 2019, we had to take our wetsuits down to waist height top cool down on the runs and that meant constantly taking the bibs on and off. As it was around 17*c (warm enough!), I kept the wetsuit on and the bib on the whole time and just unzipped a little if I was getting warm. It was a LOT less faffing!

The next swim was 200m across a bay. I licked the inside of my goggles before putting my face in the water and it made a HUGE difference – I could actually sight this time! My sighting point was the dip between 2 high hills and the yellow quill of the Breca transition flag was between these. With the advantage of being able to see, this swim was divine! The lake temperature was about 16*c which was perfect and the quick transitions between the swims and runs kept it interesting. There was no time to get bored of swimming or tired of running … you’d be splashing into a lake or splashing out of one before there was that chance! 

Into the depths! (Photo by Route North)

I waited for Rach out of the water and then headed out onto the next section together. The next run was very short, just over the headland before another dash into a lake and across a bay. The descent into the water was rocky and steep but I managed to get in without tripping, slipping or accidentally pushing someone else into the water.  The distance this time was 0.7km but the sighting was a little more awkward (the dip between the trees) so I set my face towards the yellow quill and set off. I was about halfway across but my sighting kept getting interrupted by a green kayak. Then an airhorn went off and one of the safety boats waved to show I needed to go around them to the right before re-sighting on the quill. I’m not sure why, maybe currents? But you can see on my Garmin map the loop to the right where I went around the safety boat before orienting myself back onto course. 

There were a few supporters on this transition which was lovely – always nice to get a cheer! I got out of the water and up onto the bank where I kept an eye out for Rach, She was number 5 and I was number 4 and she is very distinctive with her bright red hair but I couldn’t see her. I asked the marshal whether she’d been and gone but just then she popped out of the water! Perfect timing! This next run section was the longest 6.5km and it had the large hill of the course right in the middle – 210m of climbing. In a wetsuit! The run out was over trails which were single track and a bit marshy and then over a grassy field. It was lovely and reminded me a bit of one of my local races with the old oak trees and running through the lush tussocky grass. 

The trails so far had been a good mix. There had been stones, pebbles, slates, shale, sand, soil and rocks. And I had been perfectly sure-footed on these. I LOVE a bit of technical trail. However, what I’m not so good at is perfectly flat ground. Without anything to trip over. As I promptly demonstrated when landing flat on my face after tripping over precisely nothing. Absolutely nothing damaged, but now covered in mud, bits of sticks and random crap I carried on running with mucky badges of shame on my knees and both hands. 

Hiking the climb ... but the views! (Photo by Route North)

As we got closer to the ascent, the trail became rockier and single-file. As we ascended, the running became hiking. As I climbed up I started chatting to a chap who was doing his first swimrun. He’d wanted to drop out at the first swim but had pushed through and was glad he’d kept going. The trail narrowed even further and it was narrow single file and there was no opportunity to overtake so we were all caught at the speed of the person at the front of the line. A team running together took the wrong turn at a bend and were called back by the team in front of me. An example of how sociable and lovely this event is. They didn’t think of their placing, preferring to help another pair out.

I couldn’t see Rach now but knew she wasn’t far behind as I could hear her Brummie accent chatting away at a million miles an hour. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but I could hear the twang and the enthusiasm.

Is it another false peak?? (Photo by Route North)

The trail kept climbing and climbing. It was rocky and beautiful and I had a bit of ‘Sarah Moment’ almost falling over backwards … but grabbed some ferns growing at the side of the path to keep me upright! A bit close, that! Up at the top … and it was a false peak! A stony outcropping stretched upwards and a line of runners were moving to up it. I joined the line and at the top managed to scoot past a couple so I could enjoy the descent, rather than have to hike slowly down. I love a bit of downhill running! The path wound through the ferns and around rocky cliffs. It was beautiful and wild and green. Running down a steeper bit of of trail, a black line of mud stretched across the trail and I ended up with both feet in it – nice cool water on hot feet!

Getting to the top of the hill! (Photo by Route North)

The next part was a descent down to Rydal but I was caught up in a line of people picking their way down the steep, stony trail and I wasn’t able to take advantage of the lovely downhill. It was probably just as well as I’d probably have fallen down again at some point but it would have totally been worth it. I might even have bounced back upright with my tow float cushioning my fall and springing me back onto my feet as I was running with it behind me, clipped on, like some gigantic orange arse.

Fighting the Ferns! (Photo by Route North)

At the bottom of the descent, we came out onto a road at Rydal and lots of people walking, hiking and out for the day enjoying themselves. There was even an ice cream van. I didn’t stop but this may only because I didn’t have any cash on me ...! Just after the ice cream van was a Breca aid station and I stopped for a couple of cups of electrolytes. I’d carried a soft cup which squashes up on the inside of my wetsuit and filled it up before carrying on. As I was finishing my 2nd cup, I saw Rach running past. I called out to her but she was clearly In The Zone – I even saw her run up a hill! - and she didn’t respond. It’s so good when you’re that focused on an event! I caught her up after a couple of minutes and we plunged into the water together.

Into the next swim at Rydal Water, hat out of wetsuit neck, goggles up, pull buoy span and tow float unclipped and go! It was a short swim  - but a difficult sight as the sighting point for me was a dark tree above the Breca quill, however it was over before I knew it and I was out and running again. I was a little bit sad that there was only one more swim after this one. Who would have thought that I – the self-proclaimed flailer-in-the-water would be sad that the swims were nearly done?

The next run was just 2km and was mainly dirt trails under trees. My favourite sort of running – I LOVE woodland runs – everything just smells amazing. I’d got the course downloaded onto my run watch but I hadn’t needed to navigate with it as the course was so well marked with the red cardboard Breca arrows and little flags at the main junctions. Even I  - who is capable of getting lost on a staircase – didn’t lose my way. 

Leading the charge! (Photo by Route North)

I passed a team of girls and chatted to them briefly as I passed “Just 2 more miles including the swim!” We were all a bit sad that our lovely adventure was almost over. I ran through a few more trees and up and down a steep dirt incline and met a lovely marshal who informed me that I had only half a mile to swim, then a mile run and I’d be at the finish line. Hopefully with a medal around my neck, a snack in one hand and a pint of something lovely in the other hand. 

I ran down to the stony shore of Lake Grasmere and the transition marshal pointed out the yellow Breca quill on the far shoreline. It was almost hidden as the wind kept turning it. “Just aim for the red tree”. Red tree? I can see 2 purple ones. Maybe he means those? The treeline was quite flat – there was nothing distinct on the horizon to aim for. I went down into the water and struck out for the far shore. It felt as though there was a bit of a current helping me towards the far shore but I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to either of those purple trees. I kept going. The water was divine and I was a bit thirsty after all of that running – and talking – I took a mouthful of fresh lake water. Lovely. It seemed a bit weird to be drinking the lake water as I was swimming but I didn’t care. It tasted good.

I eventually got a bit closer to the shore but I was still a way along from the purple trees. I swam parallel to the shoreline and eventually spotted the yellow quill flag. I swam all the way into the shore, making the most of those last lovely seconds of swimming in Lake Grasmere and ran out, whipping the yellow cap off and setting the braids free. This was it. The final run. I hadn’t seen Rach for ages or heard the Brummie tones but I decided I’d see her at the finish line with a cold drink. Being a good friend and all. 

The last run was up a dusty sandy incline, through a kissing gate and then downhill on nice trails. We popped out onto a quiet country lane and suddenly were faced with a horde of ultrarunners coming the other way. I’m assuming they were ultrarunners. The kit, the numbers and the ‘I will loot your body for snacks if you die nearby’ look said it all. I have the same expression in long events. 

Braids a-flying, tow float a-bobbing! (Photo by Route North)

The lane wound around corners with the occasional car and ultrarunner coming the opposite direction. I began to spot houses and I knew I must be close to the race finish line. Suddenly I heard cowbells being loudly rung and people were clapping. A marshal pointed into a garden of a hotel and it was sprint finish time. Sprinting, with pullbuoy and towfloat bobbing, I made it across the line to the dulcet tones of Breca Jake the Magic MC saying my name. 

Even the medal is made from sustainable materials!

I can’t recommend these events enough – I’m lucky enough to be an ambassador this year – but read anyone’s race reports and you’ll see they’re all saying the same thing. They’re an amazing adventure through some of the most beautiful parts of Britain … and they have races in New Zealand and Canada if you want to treat yourself to one of these! What I do love about them too is that the participation field is so spread out. There’s no pressure to be an amazing swimmer, an amazing runner or an amazing swimrunner! The finishers times were from 2 and a half to around 5 and a bit hours and everyone had the same support and cheers and the same engagement in the event. I really loved this. At some events you can tell who is racing at the sharp end … in swimrun events … not so much. I thought this was brilliant 

Why Breca?
Why not help the environment while you race? Breca’s mission is to become a fully sustainable brand while hosting races in some of the most exciting and beautiful places. Their races have been cup free since 2017 (you have to bring a reusable cup which is checked at kit check!) and you can also do what I dod and instead of have a race tee, you can have a tree planted instead with Trees Not Tees! All medals are created from sustainable sources and unused medals are recycle with Zero Race Medals!

Result: 3hrs 23 and 9th female solo!

Run 1
Swim 1
Run 2
Swim 2
Run 3
Swim 3
Run 4
Swim 4
Run 5
Swim 5
Run 6