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Thursday, 18 April 2019

Open Water Swimming? It's a bit bloody cold ...

so I decided it was time for some open water swimming ... only problem was that it was 9*c.

So I had to dive in.

If I got in by inches it would have given me a chance to wimp out. So I didn't.


Thursday, 28 February 2019

Ironman: Mental Hill Reps

So you know how you’re meant to something every now and then that scares you?

Well I have.

I’ve entered Ironman Barcelona. That’s a 3.8km swim in the sea,112 miles of bike riding and 26.2 miles of running. Or to put it another way, an hour and a half of getting kicked in the face and stung by jellyfish, 6 or 7 hours of getting saddle sores and 4 or 5 hours of putting my legs through further torture, crying and overheating. Fun, right?

I get scared thinking of the event … but then I get happy when I think of the huge amounts of cake I’m going to be able to eat in training. So at the moment my mind is basically going “Argh! PANIC! … Mmmmm cake.” and basically doing that in rotations. It’s like a mental version of hill reps. “Argh! HILL! … Mmmmm downhill.”

Swim is going well. Well for me, that is. Did 20 miles in the pool last month which seems a bonkers distance to someone who swims like me. (Frantic, thrashing, panicky) Bike is good. Apart from some sort of gear issue on the ride out earlier which meant I had the option of 2 gears: really easy and really, really easy. But I’m hoping that won’t happen on the day. I can’t do 112 miles at 150rpm cadence. I’d die. Well … I’d cry. 

And I’m ignoring the run. Marathons are fun, right? Especially after thrashing around in the sea and cycling for 6 hours. I’m just ignoring the run part for now.

**whispers to self** I’m doing an Ironman.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Copper Gloves: Real Benefits or Real Snake Oil?

*I was sent a pair of Copper Clothing semi-compression gloves to try. They sent for free and I don’t get paid for reviewing them but I was asked to pop a review on for them. It’s an unbiased review – I’m saying exactly what I think.*

You know me. I love trying out a bit of snake oil. Anything that might possibly work and means I get to sit down more and not actually work harder in training has to be worth a shot, right? That’s how it works, isn’t it? I spend a fortune on kit and then sit around wearing it waiting to improve?

That being said, I am a proud owner of lucky pants, lucky run tights and a magic magnetic band … so I’m probably not the most unbiased person to ask. “I LOVE something that I can be convinced will give me an edge” she says as swigging her beetroot infused green tea with chia seeds floating in it through a biodegradable straw made from the pubes of a hermit living in a cave in Scotland.

Copper Clothing Company says this about the gloves:
  • 30% Copper fibre
  • Totally skin rejuvenating
  • Can help with dry, itchy skin, self hydrating
  • Anti Inflammatory
  • Promotes blood flow
  • Designed to be worn in / out of bed 24hrs
  • No need to wash as often as other gloves – self cleansing / anti microbial
  • The power of copper will stay with you for the life of the garment

There is a disclaimer though which states ‘There is no evidence to suggest that all the benefits of these products continue whilst not in contact with the skin’.

These are quite big claims just from wearing some gloves! And they’re retailing at 13 euros rather than the 1300 euros you’d expect for a product which has all these benefits. If only they’d make me cycle quicker I’d buy a pair for my feet as well. That would improve my race photos.

Let’s take a look at a couple of the stated benefits: 

Anti-microbial / No need to wash so frequently: Our tests show that Copper destroys 99.9% of bacteria, fungi and viruses within minutes of contact, preventing the risk of infections. Perfect for opening doors.
To me this sounded a little suspect. I’d heard about nurses using copper infused dressings but this sounded a little too convenient. However, a quick look online (Yes I know …) showed multiple sources for the antimicrobial properties of copper including a study fromFebruary 22, 2011 from American Society for Microbiology stating that metallic copper surfaces kill microbes on contact, decimating their populations, according to new research. They do so literally in minutes, by causing massive membrane damage after about a minute's exposure, says the study's corresponding author, Gregor Grass of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.(1) Oh ok. Whether this translates to wool and copper mix gloves having the same effect I don’t know but it’s interesting. 

Also I’m sure not actually touching a door handles with your bare hands stops you getting the germs on your hands. So a tick for the gloves on that point. 

Helps with blood flow / Itchy Skin / Self Hydrating: Promotes blood flow & can help with dry, itchy skin, self hydrating. 
There are plenty of articles online which state the benefits of these but it’s difficult to find many without a conflict of interest. There appears to be alink between dietary copper deficiency and heart disease (2) but I couldn’t find anything compelling about blood flow. I wonder if maybe it works from the same magic which fires my magnetic band …?

Touch Screen: One claim which is important to me and which I could find any evidence for based on my own research is that the gloves work on touch screens. Not on mine they didn’t. No taking photos instead of running for me.

There do seem to be lot of articles stating the benefits of copper online. Whether this translates to wearing it in fibres near and on the skin, I don’t know. I do know that the gloves fit nicely and feel thick and warm. They’re a nice weight and seem fairly strong – I’m not worried about the wool unravelling mid-run or the ends of the fingers getting a hole in. With regards to the evidence, I’m not convinced yet as there seem to be a lot of studies funded by grants which have an interest in promoting the benefits of copper (one study was authored by the Chief Medical Scientist of Cupron Inc., who uses copper oxide as its active ingredient)However, if you’re on the fence about it, it might be worth giving the gloves a try. They’re cheap, might give you some benefits to your skin, circulation and it’ll definitely stop door handle germs getting on your skin. 

Take a look and decide for yourself here

The Copper Clothing Co also have a few social media sites if you're interested in taking a peek and learning a bit more: Facebook Instagram Twitter Pinterest

Sunday, 17 February 2019

ASICS Finish Advantage Tights: Other People Have Lucky Pants

I'm an ASICS frontrunner UK and really proud to be one. One of the definite bonuses of being a FrontRunner is getting some really lovely kit. I get some of this kit for free which is gifted to me as a FrontRunner and when I find something I really like, I like to write a blog about it.

I've written a blog about the ASICS Finish Advantage Tights which are these:

Head on over to ASICS FrontRunner Review to read the full blog!

Dublin Marathon: Elephant Man Running, Portaloo Peril & Runners Renew

So what kind of bloody idiot agrees to do a marathon 2 weeks after a 100 miler.

Just slap me.

Really. Slap me. It might knock the credit card out of my hand and stop me entering any more races.

So it turned out I was running Dublin Marathon precisely 2 weeks after Autumn 100 ended so well. *Cough* On the plus side I would be in Dublin with the ASICS FrontRunners, having fun, having Guinness and having a grand old time. If I was going to have sore legs anywhere, it may as well be somewhere good, right?

Got my number ...

I started my race preparation with a pub quiz and a whisky. And then a whisky and then another one and then another one and then another one. And maybe one more. ASICS were treating us to an evening of whiskey tasting at the Irish Whiskey Museum and who am I to let a little thing like a bit of a run stand in the way of trying some of the best Water of Life? I mean, I’ve run marathons before, right? I just have to keep going. 

Yep. This is DEFINITELY what Mo Farah does before his races too ... 

Waking up the next morning involved a plate of beans, chips, mushrooms, massive whiskey breath and rather a large dose of regret. It may not have been the breakfast of champions, but then the previous night hadn’t been the evening of an elite athlete either. I don’t remember any anecdotes from Mo talking about the joys of chugging whisky while prancing around Dublin looking for clubs. But hey, I’m not going for any time records. I’m just out for a run to see the sights and enjoy all of the atmosphere of a big city marathon. No pressure, no hassle and absolutely no more whiskey.

My race photos weren’t going to be in any brochures any time soon though having suffered an allergic reaction to something I’d touched, eaten or touched the previous night. I wasn’t quite full John Merrick but I certainly wasn’t going to be asked to kiss any babies, either. Meh. 

Walked up to the start of the race with Pete, Holly, Jonathan, Becca and Lotta. Holly and Jonathan were running together and Becca and Lotta also. I decided to set out on my own in case my legs decided that they weren’t going to run after the indignity of having to walk to Reading 2 weeks previously and I didn’t want to have to hold any one up. 

Pete, Lotta, Sarah-Swelled-Head, Becca, Holly, Jonathan 

It was the most CHILLED OUT marathon start ever. No massive pens of people all squished in, no heaving masses of lycra. There was literally a start gantry and I walked over it and started running. I may have been a TAD late but it was totally worth it to pretend I was the first to cross the line. Rather than the last.

It was bliss. Wide, clear roads, no stress, no shoulder barging … and then I turned the corner and there they were. The backs of the 4:30 runners. They were a solid mass, shoulder to shoulder, legs in unison. No room to dodge or weave or move past them to go any other pace. Well it was a decision that I didn’t have to make. I trotted at the back of the pack until around 5km when the road started widening and there was space to go around and make my way through the crowds a little more. EVERYONE hates the runner that dodges and weaves around people. They’re dangerous, they tend to trip people up and they’re a race wanker. I tried not to be a race wanker. However I wasn’t in any danger of tripping people or shoulder barging. I looked like John Merrick and smelled of whiskey fumes. People were moving out of my way of their own accord.

One thing that I both enjoyed and found a little strange was not recognising any of the run club colours. Usually I’ll go to the races and recognise the clubs from their strips, the red and gold of Serpentine, the red and white stripes of Massey Fergusons, the green and red of Spa Striders and of course the green and gold sunburst of Northbrook. But I didn’t recognise any. No words to exchange with a familiar face or familiar club colours. It was strange and a little disconcerting. But all that energy I saved not talking … I’d probably be able to run sub-5 minute miles for the last 3 miles. Because that’s how marathons are always finished, right?

The first few miles of Dublin marathon are pretty flat. IT’S A TRAP.

I actually enjoyed the first hill as it was a change of muscles and a nice change of pace. The other 17 hills not so much. I’m not even joking. There are SEVENTEEN hills. And some of them are nasty. There are pubs on them and you’re not even allowed to stop. Because “It’s a road marathon.” Stupid running. Stupid marathons. 

I was quite surprised though, my legs felt great for first 10k. You know that feeling when you fell all light and bouncy and reckon you could run forever? That. My legs had that.

And then they didn’t.

There wasn’t any gentle “Ooh I’m feeling a bit tired now”, I literally went from bouncy and happy to ‘punctured bouncy castle’ within about half a mile. It was like a sped-up version of my work day. Go in all Mary Poppins and come out Miss Trunchbull. Every step I took, my legs reminded me that they had carried me 100 miles not long ago and even during that there were SNACKS. If I treated a dog like I treated my legs, I’d get bitten. And rightly so. I promised my legs some Pedigree Chum when they got home.

Needless to say when I was feeling sorry for myself and at mile 16 when my stomach started complaining about all of the 7am baked beans and chips, I decided to have a quick stop at one of the on-course portaloos. My stomach wasn’t impressed about the beans, but the rest of me was even less impressed when some bloke either assuming that I’d fallen in or that the door had jammed, forced the door open to reveal me sitting on the bog to all of the passing runners. Yep. Thanks for that, you bloody idiot.

Anyway, I DID feel a lot better after a nice sit down and despite my legs feeling as if they had no springs left I was feeling a lot **cough** lighter after my impromptu stop. 

Dublin marathon is a remarkably pretty course. It goes through parks and past gorgeous houses and gardens. Some houses were decorated for Halloween which was fun and running past orange ribbons and bulbous pumpkins added to the festival atmosphere of the marathon. 

I ran mile 22 for my father-in-law who started running at 60 and really encouraged me into running. He even entered me into my first marathon because I didn’t have the courage to enter it myself. Mile 22 is always the toughest. 

I noticed a few fancy dress runners on the course too including Spider-Man a really ENORMOUS Oompa Loompa and even Sonic the Hedgehog had donned his trainers. The support for the runners was epic too. There weren’t supporters all around the course, and the park was fairly quiet but where there were supporters they were vocal, enthusiastic and really smiley! It was lovely!

Photo by Jack Schofield of Stage Seven Photography

Best of all those was the Cheer Station at Mile 25. The ASICS Frontrunners had set up a cheer station about half a mile down from the hotel on the course and you could hear them almost half a kilometre a way. A marathon is a long way. Sometimes I forget that and it was SO nice to have friends on the course who would cheer for me and give me one last push towards the finish. My legs hurt, I’d had my dignity revealed to half of the field when I was interrupted mid-loo stop and I was tired. So seeing these lovely people at Mile 25 helped. Gazz spotted me having a tough old time and left the cheer station to run with me to almost up to the finish, encouraging me the whole way. Thanks Gazz, appreciated that. 

Finish a marathon and get a hat AND a medal!
Spotted Curtis at the finish running people in and walked back to find Holly and Jonathan. Jonathan who had smashed his PB and was sporting the standard I’ve-Just-Run-a-PB-Hobble. It’s like a smug walk but more painful. Becca and Lotta had also had a great run with Becca smashing a good chunk from her time also so it was a smiley happy group who headed back to the hotel. My head had gone down and I was less Elephant-Man and more deflated-party-balloon so I decided that I would celebrate my shrunken head and my marathon finish with the largest dinner I could find. 

I love meeting up with the FrontRunners, it’s not just about being the fastest but it’s about being your own best whatever that is. We’ve got such a nice group and everyone is so different. I’m really proud to be a part of that. 

Pic by Jevi from when we paced the Parkrun in Dublin

Runners Renew

I don’t know whether you’ve heard of the Runners Renew Programme but my fabulous friend Jevi started it. The idea is to donate second hand running shoes to other people, mainly women, to get them running:
  • They can be any brand (but clean please)
  • Take a photo of the shoes and send it to Jevi 
  • Jevi will send you the address to send the shoes to
  • You will have to pay £3 postage but that will be your good deed for the day and you’ll have helped someone get running!

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Autumn 100: Poo Tourism and REALLY Appalling Knock Knock Jokes

Every time I run 100 miles, I swear it’s the last time. And then I remember the feeling of finishing – of how amazing it feels to be able to stop bloody running – and enter it again. Forgetting, of course, that the reason that stopping running feels so great is because I’ve been running for 24 hours.

Sigh. I never learn. 

The cat bitching about not being allowed my food

So … as a massive surprise to no-one at all, I entered Autumn 100 for the third time. I remembered how gorgeous the trails are on leg 2 – how beautiful it is to run on winding trails and on autumn leaves and fly down the hills … and totally forgot how utterly soul destroying the route is to Reading. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One tradition was eschewed. No M40 Travelodge this year as extremely conveniently my sister and her family had moved recently to Wallingford which is 6 miles from the race start. As a result I got to have lots of cuddles with my 2 year old nephew, read him lots of stories about staying up late and waking up early and then promised him a drum kit for his birthday. My sister LOVES me staying over. 

I didn’t feel nervous for this race. I knew the route, the race start and even where I was going to drink my pre-race coffee and have my pre-race poo … but apparently my brain had decided that I was still going to get pre-race nerves. And my brain’s way of doing this was to stop me being able to read parking ticket signs. Yes really.

I’m a fairly smart girl. I went to uni, I hold down a job, I get through life. And I can read. Well apparently not at the start of Autumn 100 I can’t. 

I mean there was a ticket machine. And I had money. But my brain wouldn’t let me process how much of one to insert into the other. Great. I hope the legs could hold it together today because apparently the brain wasn’t on board.

Luckily there was another runner parking at the same time who advised me that his strategy had been to keep feeding the machine until it spat the ticket out at him. This sounded a reasonable strategy to me so I went with it. Thanks Richard. Stuck the ticket on the dash of the car, picked up my bag and started the walk to the registration at Goring. 

I would later find out that I left the ticket blank side up on the dash. Yep. Can’t brain today, 

Got to registration and saw my lovely Northbrook run buddy, Liz and got a hug. Kit checked, bag dropped off and number picked up. All I needed now was about 3 cups of coffee, 4 poos and a snack. 

The lovely Liz

We’ve all got race strategies. Mine is drink coffee until I’m practically incontinent, use the loo until previous point is no longer an issue, then rely on the legs to keep running. And keep eating. That’s the strategy. All these other people have really complicated race plans: stick to x pace, eat at x miles, drink x gallons of water by x point … I’m all about the ‘don’t poo yourself, don’t get hungry and keep moving’. 

With Richard in the cafe drinking ALL the coffee~!

Holed up in the cafe with Richard and started phase 1 and 2 of the race strategy. I was most impressed that Richard and I had matching, laminated checkpoint cards which obviously made us race buddies so we decided to run Leg 1 together. Saw Alex (Duesbury) and Alan (Li) at the race start which was good. They were a complete contrast. Alan was, as usual, massively chilled out and Alex was flapping. She was so determined to finish this race after having a horrible run at TP100 so she wanted everything to go to plan. I could understand that. I plaited her hair for her and we walked to the race briefing together. I promised Mike  the lend of some running gloves but he’d done a disappearing act so I had a bonus pair of gloves.

Me, Alan and Alex

Leg one - The Thames Path
The start of the race had changed since I last ran it in 2016. Previously we had started on the 10 o’clock chimes from the church tower which seemed quaint and very English. Now the runners walked past this point, further down the Thames Path - parting every now and then for a dog and his walker – and starting on a narrow muddy track listening for the “-8,7,6...” and the countdown to 1. At “1” the race started with a walk, then a shuffle and eventually a half-arsed trot which is a standard ultramarathon race start pace. 

I started the run with Richard as we’d decided in the cafe. It’s nice to have a run buddy on a long run, but the narrow-ness of the Thames Path makes chat difficult and there had been torrential rain an hour before we started which meant the path was very muddy and slippery in places. The road shoes which I’d decided on before the rain fall meant that I was sliding around like I was on rollerskates – and I am a BAD skater – so it wasn’t easy to chat and run as I had to concentrate on which direction I was sliding. 

This section also has a lot of gates with varying degrees of ease to open. It’s like the Krypten Factor for endurance runners. The quicker you are at opening gates, the better chance you have of getting to the checkpoints and getting the good snacks before the other buggers get at it. It’s the human equivalent of rats in mazes. But with trainers. And jam wraps.

Got a shout of “Hello Sarah!” at Wallingford from Pip and his son who were directing runners to the tunnel which goes between houses in Wallingford. It’s an easy section to overshoot and get lost so this was a really nice idea. Grabbed a handful of snacks at the checkpoint and was back out onto the course. 

It was still fairly early in the day, so we weren’t seeing many people except for the occasional dog walker and fisherman. Running over the white bridge which is usually where the turnaround point is, I passed two fishermen with roads and empty tackle boxes. Obviously not used to a horde of runners disturbing their Saturday fishing, one muttered to the other “Huh. Why are they running? Why don’t they just give up?” Cheeky sods. I flashed them a massive smile and said cheerily “If you’re not going to catch any fish, why don’t YOU give up?” I got a wry chuckle out of them.

The turnaround on leg one wasslightly different to the last time I’d run thisandinstead of just after the bridge, it was by thechurch at Little Wittenham and in the back of a horsebox. Luckily no horses in attendance.I had a quick pitstop and filled up my water bottles and headed back out again. 

One of the lovely parts of this event is that I get to see all the race leaders and run buddies at the turnaround points. I spotted a few friendly faces including Jon, Thorners, Sara, Alex and Alan. I look forward to seeing people at this section as there are SO MANY fields before and after you get to the bridge. I have a selective memory as I always forget how many bloody fields there are. At least if I’m busy looking for people, I’m not bitching about the fields. And how many there are. 
When you FINALLY leave the fields, you cross a busy road heading back into Shillingford. 
It’s like Frogger. But if you get squashed by a car, the other ultrarunners loot your kit and snacks.

I was so intent on watching for a space in between the cars, that as I crossed the road, I put my foot into a deep pothole and turned my ankle over. It made a horrible crunching noise and at that point I wondered if that was the end of my race. I was only 14 miles in, I’d crossed all of those bloody fields and now I’d put my foot into a hole. If this was the end of my race why couldn’t I have done it BEFORE all of those fields?? 

As usual, it turned out I was being a little bit dramatic and ankle was actually fine. I mean they’re meant to make crunching noises occasionally aren’t they? It’s good for them. I’m sure it is. Step, crunch, step, crunch...

After the torrential rain earlier in the day, the sun had really come out strong now. It was drying the mud out on the trails, but this was making the mud stick to my trainers so each foot looking like I wearing grey boots. I don’t know whether it was having to concentrate on every step or whether it was the heat hitting 24*c, but it felt like a hard run. This is not good when you’re only 20 miles into 100. I checked my watch and I was hitting my threshold heart rate 171BPM and I was only running 10:30 min/miles. This wasn’t good. Chatted to Richard about it and he was getting a similar reading off his watch. Ok. At least I knew it wasn’t just me, that I wasn’t coming down with something or that I was doing something wrong. But it was going to be a tough day out at this rate. Better eat some more snacks.

Coming back over the dam, I saw 2 red kites in the sky. I love seeing them and it’s amazing to think that a few years ago there were hardly any. A dragon fly zipped by too. It seemed that a lot of creatures were enjoying the last hurrah of summer. I wasn’t. It was too bloody hot. 

Got back under the trees for the last section back in and it was a relief. There isn’t much shade on Leg 1 and it was nice to feel a bit cooler. A quick dash back into the village hall and shoe and sock change as the wet grass and trails had meant wet feet for almost the entirety of this section. Got my socks off and wished I hadn’t. The skin on the bottom of my feet was hanging off. Brilliant. Not had this before but assumed it was due to wet feet from the trails and then the sudden rise in temperature making feet swell. Well. It was what it was. Can’t do anything about it now. The next 80 miles might be a bit uncomfortable but it’s not as if I’m missing a toe or anything. 

Saw Cat and Louise in the checkpoint and was then unceremoniously kicked out by Louise (thank you!) as I was fannying about. Richard had already grabbed his supplies and left and it was time for me to get my arse back on the trails. 

Leg 2 - The Ridgeway
Section 2 on the Ridgeway is my favourite part of this race. It’s hilly, unlike leg 1 which is almost entirely flat, and hills mean there’s a break for your legs and snack and drink breaks as you take the slopes more slowly. It’s also beautiful with shady tree-lined sections and views across the valleys. However, I had forgotten how insanely steep some of those hills are. It’s not helped by the fact you‘ve got a few miles in your legs by this point and you’ve already eaten most of your good snacks. I decided to have an avocado wrap. After carrying it for about 35 miles, it looked like roadkill. Have you seen the film Tremors? Well that bit where the creature throws itself off a cliff? That. My food looked like THAT. 


Yum, bloody yum.

Ate the roadkill food, got really grumpy and did an instagram story about “How I fucking hate fucking running” at mile 35. 

Got to the checkpoint, got a hug from Liz, got some NICE snacks and did an instagram story about “How I like running” at mile 40. 

Seems like there MAY be a little link between food and happiness for me. Possibly a link. A tiny link. Mmmm food.

Hooray I like running again!

Picked up a run buddy and had a good chat with Nigel for a few miles but ran out of the checkpoint on my own. I was a bit worried about my heart rate as it hadn’t really come down from being too high on leg 1 and it was running about 20BPM too high which is a massive amount. However decided I couldn’t do much about it and it was probably the unexpected heat so may as well crack on. Had a chat to Holly and Phil about it who were both amazing and told me just to chill out going up the hills and to slow it down. Love you guys. Good advice. 

I decided to put some music on and stuck in my headphones. I’d made a playlist for A100 in case I was running on my own and it was awesome. However I did get a bit emotional at around 45 miles when the “Lava” song came on and I was all “Awwww he won’t find his volcano wife”. I’m clearly just an emotional mess when I get too hot and hungry.

I ended up with a massive negative split on this leg as it’s mostly downhill on the way back. **I** had a lovely run back singing along to my play list but it was probably horrible for the runners I passed. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t in pain, I was singing. It’s just how I sound. 

I ran the next bit with a lady who was great company and we had a nice chat. There was an amazing sunset painting the sky and I reached the final checkpoint just in time to pop my head-torch on before heading back to Goring again.

Leg 3 - The Ridgeway
I’d been looking forward to this section as I was being paced by the legend that’s Phil Bradburn. I’d promised him knock knock jokes and good snacks in return for the pacing.

I didn’t make a good start though when I shoved the Garmin on charge while getting changed and the bloody thing promptly lost 50 miles of run data. Sweary? Me? Yep. I also lost some snack points when I realised that quite a few of my snacks were slightly past their best before dates. Only a couple of years. That’s fine, right? However the dark chocolate ginger was well within date and I’m sure my tummy would be fine with the rest of it. I mean, it’s not as if I ever have tummy issues on runs, right?

Things started out well and Phil was brilliant company. We did ‘Poo Tourism’ - Phil pointing out all the places he’d taken a shit while doing this race a couple of years ago, ‘Canal Adventures’ (he did the Canal-Slam in 2018!!) and I particularly enjoyed “Shitty Buff” story. And it reminded me never to borrow kit from Phil on a run. 

I’d like to tell you my Knock knock jokes were on point. But I’m not sure Phil would agree with you:

Knock knock...”
Who’s there?`’
Europe who?”
No YOU’RE a poo!”

It started raining cats and dogs coming, but I was fairly warm and in good spirits thanks to Phil, the jokes and the poo tourism. This section is mainly on grassy chalk trails and follows a ridge and you run it almost entirely in the dark with your head torches lighting the way. As we passed through one of the lonelier sections, with the woods on our right, a massive scream rang out. It didn’t sound like a fox (they sometimes sound like a woman screaming) and it didn’t sound like a person. If I had to try and give you an analogy for that scream, it sounded as if Pennywise had stepped on a lego. Phil and I looked at each other and started running UP the hill. 

I was keeping an eye out for the monument that is one of the landmarks along this section. It’s a very tall, marble column with a cross on top, built on top of a barrow and commemorates the service of a local man in the Crimean War. It’s the sort of thing you can’t really miss. But we missed it. Somehow. Probably snacking. Or pooing. 

At the Checkpoint

Along this section, the trail was mostly dry but there were slippery sections and the flinty stones sticking out of the trail meant it was easy to catch your toes and trip if you were distracted by snacks or potential poo spots. I tripped a couple of times but was thoroughly outdone by Phil who managed to not only trip over but fall straight into a bush. Pretty much the only bush on the entire ridgeway which is fairly barren. It probably wasn’t as funny as I found it. But I found it hilarious. Sorry Phil. 

I usually start struggling to eat on leg 3 of this race. My stomach goes on strike and I just can’t get food down, but I was counting it as a win that I was still eating when we got to the Chain Hill turnaround point. I was trying to eat a peanut butter and jam wrap which my stomach really didn’t want, but this was probably because my eyes were telling my stomach that it had been carried for about 12 miles and looked like roadkill. Shitty roadkill. 

My tummy was ok but I wasn’t trusting farts. Fairly standard at about mile 65 in a run I reckon. I like to think I’m just getting my mind ready for when my body hits 80. It did mean however, that I did spend rather a large amount of time on the return leg in and behind bushes. See Phil – all those poo spots you pointed out on the way up came in handy!

I do think that Phil thought I might just have been disappearing for a nice sit down and a rest and was getting a bit impatient. I was tucked in behind a bush – with my head-torch off in case another runner appeared over the top of the hill and my bush wasn’t as bushy as I’d thought it was - when I heard massive rustling from inside the bush. I leapt about 2 feet in the air from a crouching start convinced a weasel was about to leap out of the foliage and attack my nether regions, when from my airbourne vantage point I realised it was Phil about 15 metres away standing on the trail sorting out his snacks in his running vest. 

Apparently rodent-paranoia gives me super-sensitive hearing. And the ability to win high-jump while pooping. 

Thankfully, apart from a few more toilet stops, Leg 3 was uneventful. It was all looking good for final leg and I was on for a sub 24 hour finish with a solid margin. 

Thanks Phil. Looking forward to more poo-tourism and knock-knock jokes another day. 

Leg 4 - The Bloody Thames Path AGAIN
This was the tough section. It’s flat apart from the INSANE section through the woodlands and incredibly boring. I’d asked Simon, my long-suffering husband to run this section with me as if history was anything to go by, I’d probably be moaning and pooping for most of it. I bet he’s glad he married me. 

A quick change at Goring and we ran out of the town and down onto the canal path. I was running well and it was flat in this section. I was slightly concerned about 2 miles in when Simon asked “Are we going to be running this pace the whole way as I’d thought you be tired?” Ah. Better not break the pacer this early in the leg.

We ran the flat section out to the woodland and then walked as the path wove up through the woods. It was raining heavily now without let up and the path was full of deep puddles. I tried to avoid them initially, then there was no point. I already had wet feet and it appeared they were going to stay wet. I tried to avoid thinking about what state the soles of my feet would be in now, 75 miles after the skin had first starting coming off the bottom of my feet.

And then things went wrong. I went from coming off of Leg 3 with a nice margin and in a positive state of mind to rock bottom within the space of 10 minutes. It didn’t help that my jacket despite being the recommended 10,000m and with taped seams leaked. Badly. The rain was just so heavy, it couldn’t cope. Every other runner I saw appeared to be in a similar situation, their hair and wet clothes plastered against their bodies. I was soaking wet, cold and miserable and I still had to get to Reading and back.

And it was going to take FOREVER. My legs wouldn’t run. Just wouldn’t. I can usually force myself to run no matter what. But they wouldn’t. I’ve never had this before. EVERY race ends with a sprint finish, right? No. Today I couldn’t even muster a jog for any distance.

The path was flooded. The fields going towards Reading appeared to be on a dull treadmill – they just never seemed to finish and that bloody towpath lasted FOREVER. Imagine the dullest treadmill session you’ve ever done. Right, got that pictured? Now imagine you are wet to the skin, freezing cold and have 80 miles already in your legs. I couldn’t even muster up the strength to tell an appalling knock knock joke. It was that bad.

On the plus side, my stomach was ok. Had only one wild poo on this leg. No doubt because I had been so organised that I’d actually carried a 20p piece for the public toilets at Reading. Therefore, it wasn’t required. Had I forgotten this no doubt it would have been Shit City.

Finally after the dark and rain and dark and rain we hit the turnaround checkpoint at the Reading Yacht Club. Climbed those steps. And didn’t want to leave. I knew I would have to go back into that cold, into that rain, wading those flooded river banks but I didn’t want to.

And then I did. Because I had to. 

There was no sunrise that morning. Because of the rain, the night just went from black to grey. And then a slightly lighter grey. It was like an accountants wardrobe.

I kept trying to run but there were no springs left in my legs. There was nothing left in any of me. Just a well of misery and drenched skin.

I kept looking for the bridge. The bridge that as you come into Goring from the Thames Path and when you see it, you know you’re done, that it’s nearly over. I couldn’t see the bridge. I kept looking and couldn’t see the bridge.

And then I saw it. I was so relieved I cried. I actually cried. 

Some days you celebrate when you finish. Some days you are just relieved that you did.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Vitruvian Triathlon: Weeing on the Beach & Having Courage

It's not quite sunrise and I'm knee-deep in Rutland Water surrounded by a lot of other triathletes, all with intense looks of concentration on their faces. I'm too het-up to 'go'. And then we're called out of the water for the beach start. Damn it. Missed my chance. I wonder if anyone would notice if I had a wee now, while standing on the beach? I mean the sand is already wet …

2 hours previously, I had driven into a pitch black field with hundreds of other cars. It was properly dark. All I could see were headlights and the occasional flash of hi-viz from the marshals directing the cars into place. I had NO CLUE where in the Rutland Water park I was. I could see headlights. Nothing else. I parked in a dark spot, in a dark field, stuck my tri bag on my back and left. I resigned myself to the fact that I might never find my car again. 

I stumped off, half asleep in the dark, in the direction everyone else seemed to be going. And promptly fell into a hole. A big hole. Maybe this was a separate event before the triathlon. To kill off the weakest. Who will survive to make the start line? I need more bloody coffee for this.

However, transition was well lit, with bright spotlights illuminating the rails and bikes and setting faces into sharp relief. I'd set up Pinky, the borrowed TT bike the night before so she hadn't fallen into the hole with me. Despite the damp grass, I set out my kit on my towel as usual. The towel was for spotting which position was mine, I wouldn't be fannying around drying my feet off. It was my special triathlon towel. Beige and black and enormous with a Paisley pattern. Unsurprisingly no-one else had one like it so it was very easy to spot.  

I was at the furthest point in transition from any of exits so I'd have long transition times today. Luckily though I was at the end of the bike rail so along with my massive towel and bright pink bike, I should have an easy time finding my kit. Every second counts in triathlon as you're on the clock from the start horn to when you cross the finishing line and I didn't want to be running up and down bike racks while crying as I couldn't find my bike while wearing a wetsuit smelling of wee and desperation.  

In the Vitruvian Triathlon, your bike rack position was sorted into age groups so everyone in my area would be in my particular race. There were some very speedy looking people and some very expensive looking bikes. Meh … Pinky could take them. Well, Pinky and I could look at them anyway. As they went past us. Very fast. In the bike section of the triathlon. 

I was chatting to a girl next to me while we set up our kit and we walked from transition to the race briefing together. On our way she mentioned her start time of 06:25 which  surprised me. I'd thought all the ladies started together and my start time was 07:00. I decided to check and I was right. All of the ladies DID start together. At 06:25. Bloody hell, Booker! That was a bit close.

After the briefing, the ladies went into the water to warm up and were then shoo-ed out again. The Vitruvian Triathlon is a beach start so we run down the beach to enter the water and start the swim. This sounds idyllic until you realise the ‘beach’ is not actually a beach but a bank of sharp rocks. It’s a reservoir so the rocks have never been rolled smooth in waves - they’re literally broken quarry rocks. This means rather than a sprint to the water it’s more of a hop and a jog. With some REALLY imaginative swearing. It's like Tourettes meets Riverdance. I learn new words every year.

I needed a wee but missed my chance in the warm up (probably anxiety after realising how close I'd been to missing the start of my A-race!) so had a surreptitious wee in my wetsuit on the beach and hoped no one noticed the puddle around my feet or the look of concentration on my face. Triathletes. We're a classy lot.

I'm well aware that I’m not a great swimmer so I would need a decent run down the beach to get some time back. As luck would have it, a path opened out in front of me (2 triathletes hopping on different feet at the same time?) and I had a straight run in. I stormed towards the start buoys with just a brief moment of panic at how few people were in front of me - I am NEVER at the front in a swim - before the melee started and I was tangling arms and having people swim over my legs. People were whooshing past me which I assumed meant I was having an appalling swim but which I later realised was simply the result of having had a great start. 

I made tight turns around the buoys (the swim was a triangle so you needed to almost u-turn) and was surprised by how many people wasted time here going wide. I couldn’t seem to hold onto any feet for the draft and was swimming on my own in clear water for quite some time. I lost the faster pack but picked up some feet after the second buoy. They had long toenails and were attached to yellow speckled wetsuit and I was surprised to see as we came around the Rutland Belle, one of the sighting points, that they belonged to a man. However I do find men better to draft as they don’t kick their legs so much which makes it much easier to follow their feet! I don’t know whether I looked unsteady or whether he was but he grabbed my arm on the way out and we wobbled up the mat like weebles towards the Australian exit before another plunge into the water. 

On the 2nd lap I stayed on the feet again so had a steady swim on his toes. I thought about putting some harder effort in and moving past him but decided that it would be better to have a steady swim drafting and not have to worry about sighting and save my energy for the bike and run. It's more important for me to have a stress free swim than a speedy and exhausting one as I’m not going to gain much. I decided I'd rather be fresh for the bike and win back the time there.

The speedy younger males came past us after the 2nd turn so I dropped Mr Wobbly and picked up a pair of speedier feet churning up the bubbles and got towed along as though I was holding onto a boat. I came alongside the Rutland Belle before I knew it and had feet on the mat exiting the swim. 

I was pretty sure I’d had a terrible swim. Everyone had gone past me at the start and I wished I'd dropped Mr Wobbly earlier and gone out alone quicker. I took my googles off and started running towards transition thinking “bloody stupid swimming” before I saw a marshal's surprised face and realised I was muttering it aloud. Good work looking like an insane person, Booker.

I then looked at my watch and realised that I'd managed a 7 minute swim PB on this course. My grumpy face suddenly changed into a chimp-grin. Better tone it down in front of the marshals. At this rate I'm going to get pulled off the course and sectioned. 

I then realised how far my bike was away as I spent the next 2 minutes sprinting through transition. Pinky the TT bike was the farthest away it was possible to get from the 'run out' or 'bike out' exits. It was a pleasant surprise though when I saw plenty of bikes still in transition on either side of Pinky rather than the denuded ranks with my poor forlorn bike in the middle like usual. 

I got my wetsuit half off and helmet and glasses and race belt on before I was reminded by the marshal that I still had half my wetsuit on. I reassured politely him that I was aware of this. I was glad he was on the ball with reminding women that they were half-dressed but slightly concerned that he felt like I looked as though I was a likely candidate for dashing out of transition in with half my swim kit on.

I've definitely never tried to leave transition with half kit on before … **cough**

I ran to the mount bike line and across it before doing my flying mount and promptly losing a pedal. Standard Booker. Around the corner and onto the bike course onto the short sharp hill of Bull Brigg Lane. Luckily I’d left Pinky in the small chainring this time and span out of the surprisingly steep hill before hitting the headwind. I turned left onto a steady climb before the relief of a nice long downhill which pops you out onto the Oakham roundabout by the model of the spitfire. The high winds which we'd been warned about made cycling against them hard work and the gusts were nasty, pushing the bike sideways at gateways.

I was overtaking women on the bike but the faster males who started 25 mins after my wave were coming through now, the whim whim whim of disc wheels sounding like an engine as they approached from behind. 

The wind dropped when I passed into the shelter of the trees coming up to the hill at Manton. There was such a difference that it felt as if the road was going downhill but it was just that I was no longer pushing against the wind. It was a welcome rest. 

The hill at Manton is a grind but it's short and over quickly. As I finished the hill I heard a female voice behind me thanking the marshals for their cheering at the top. Hang on - I’m not meant to be caught going up on the hills! She obviously didn’t know that. We had a brief chat as we leapfrogged for most of the first lap and we decided that we probably should train together as our cycling strengths were different. I’d catch her up up on the slow steady hills and the short sharp ones and she would catch me on the downs and flats. Unfortunately I lost my cycling buddy after lap one but it had been nice to have a friendly face and some chat. I was expecting her to come past me on the downhill after Bull Brigg Lane but didn’t see her again. Hope she had a good race! 

On The Dambuster (which is on the same route) and the previous Vitruvian event, the 2nd hill of the Rutland Ripple (the name for the set of 3 hills on the course) up to Preston has been an absolute pain as it’s been full of people grinding up it at different speeds and it’s usually where I catch the faster swimmer & slower cyclists but this year thanks to a better swim I didn’t have the same experience. I had a pretty clear ride up it which made it much, much easier. When it's busy, you end up getting caught behind slower cyclists and you can't overtake them due to the cars and lorries which can be really frustrating when you're racing.

The marshals at the mini roundabout at South Luffenham were brilliant and must have had sore throats by the end as they were cheering SO enthusiastically and telling us all we were legends! I didn't FEEL like a legend as I was slightly damp, had goggle-eyes and was pedalling like a lunatic, but it was nice to be told I was nevertheless.

Most of the cars were courteous and gave us plenty of space but some idiot passed far too close to me and another cyclist - within touching distance, giving us no leeway to avoid potholes or for a wobble if the wind gusted. Luckily that was the only driver who was bad and he didn't hit either of us. 

I was waiting for one of my triathlon buddies, J-S to come blasting past me and when I hadn’t seen him by lap 2 I assumed that he’d either beaten me out of the swim and transition or he’d come past me early on when I was still concentrating on trying to get my legs working. It's always nice to see friends at a race – even when they pass me!

I’m always surprised by how much easier hills feel when I’m racing rather than when I’m training but the second hill of the Rutland Ripple felt tough the second time round. A few faster male cyclists came blasting past every now and then and I couldn’t work out how they could be so far back going that fast. I decided that they’d either stopped for a puncture or a piddle or they’d been doggy paddling during the swim. 

Pinky the TT bike was going like a dream and she’d been serviced a few days before so she was as smooth as silk. I knew that despite feeling like I was going slow I should hit my bike target at that this pace. It was hard work cycling against the wind and there quite a few gusty moments when the cross wind was strong through gaps or gateways but I just needed to keep my head down and keep pushing on. I was 7 minutes up on my time from last year thanks to the swim, so I just needed to keep or widen that margin. 

Coming up the last climb past Sykes Lane just before Whitwell I spotted Lily and Simon and got a big cheer from them. It was nice hearing them both and getting a bit of support especially when I was on a tough bit of the course. A nice cheer to speed me back into transition.

Coming towards transition from Bull Brigg Lane, I couldn't work out where the dismount line was at all. I was either massively confused (likely) or my memory had failed (more likely) because it all looked completely different from this direction. I slowed down and had a good look. Nope, Still couldn't work it out. Sod it. Just keep pedalling until you're either back in Rutland Water or someone tells you to get off the bike. 

Got told and hopped off and was finally got back into transition. Last thing. Just get the run done and you're good. A quick change into my trainers and resisting the urge to keep my helmet on to wind up the marshal and I got out of there. As I left, I noticed my bike water bottle was full ... 

Within the first 50 metres I wanted to stop. My legs felt horrific and there was no way I could imagine running 13 miles with my legs feeling this terrible. I really wanted to stop. I really REALLY wanted to stop. But this was my last chance. If I wanted a shot at the GB trisuit I needed to keep going. I had a 7 minute margin from my swim on my PB, a 2 minute margin from the bike and all I needed to do was hold out on the run. Do it, Booker. This is not the time to be a wimp. Have courage. 

Head down, teeth gritted, I cracked on with it. The Vitruvian run course is out to the Normanton church and back to the transition, then back to the church and back to transition again and over the finish line. I needed to break it down. Just get to the church, Sarah. 

One leg at a time. 

Have courage.

I saw my transition buddy who had told me the right start time. Waved at her as we passed. Got a cheer from Fay and saw Jack, Keith and Carlos from Rugby Tri. Waved at them too. Or gurned a little, anyway.

The run out improved. Slowly. I knew that the outwards leg was mostly downhill to the dam apart from a short sharp hill at the start. I just needed to hold the run at as close to 7:30 min/miles as possible. There were lots of people already out on the run. Ignore that. I just needed to focus on getting to the church. Their races weren’t my race. I could only control my own race. 

The crosswind over the dam was good. It slowed me down but also cooled me down. 
But as soon as I got to the trails towards the church there was a headwind. The trail was mostly downhill but it was a fight towards the church, it was hard running. But I was on my way. I only had to do this section one more time. I got to the turnaround which was a u-turn around a bucket and I grabbed a cup of water and had a Torq gel as I went around. I couldn’t seem to get enough water in today. My thirst was immense.

Going back towards the dam it felt as though the whole trail was downhill. It wasn’t - actually it's a slight inclined but the wind behind me made it feel easier. The only downside was that I could feel the sweat on my skin - the wind behind me wasn’t evaporating it. It was almost a relief to get to the dam for the cool crosswind. 

I passed a man walking up the small path through the trees and gave him a few words of encouragement. No one looked terribly happy on the run today. After the wind on the bike and the hills of the ripple it seemed that a few legs had been blown out, leaving nothing for the run. 13 miles is a long walk.

As I came past the car park at Sykes Lane I spotted a small figure in a stripy jumper and heard a yell of “Mummy!” Lily and Simon were waiting for me and offering high fives which I gratefully accepted. Well … I got Lily's and missed Simon but I carried on towards Whitwell and transition. Lily ran beside me. Last time she’d tried this at the Vitruvian 3 years ago I’d left her behind, crying in disappointment that she couldn’t keep up. This year she ran beside me for half a mile at sub 8 minute miles easily and I had to tell her to stop as we got to the tree lined section so she didn’t leave her Dad too far behind. 

I climbed the trails under the trees and up to the tree at the top. It didn’t feel as uphill as I remembered. I ran the swooping downhill overtaking people steadily and into transition where I retrieved a gel from my trisuit pockets and walked while I squirted it into my mouth and washed it down with a couple of swallows of water. Sib’s voice from the PA system told me to crack on and start running. Ok good point Sibs. Quicker I run, quicker I’m done and can get some beer down me. It's all about the incentives. I ran out of transition, knowing the next time I’d be here I’d be going left for the finishing line. 

I ran past the boats and the sports centre and spotted the stripy jumper standing on top of a tree stump and heard “Mummmmy!” following me as I ran towards the dam and the turnaround point at the church. 

Last time. This is the last time I have to reach the church. The hills felt steeper and the pace harder to hold. My bright plan of smashing in a faster 5km back from the church felt like a silly dream. From someone who hadn't had to do all this swimming and cycling today. I got to the church and rounded the bucket. Final stretch. Final stretch.

Have courage.

I couldn’t face my gel and swapped to high five instead of water which seemed to quench my thirst a little. And even better, my friend Becca was on the aid station! A quick hug and on to the last leg for the finish line. 

As I came up the last hill, there was a loud thunderous sound and the Red Arrows streamed across the sky. Wow ...!! If that's not bringing me home to the finishing line, I didn't know what was. 

One last push to that tree at the top of the hill and then that’s it. Almost there. A swooping downhill, past the tree trunks and the boats and then one last uphill. Overtake a lady ... is she in my age group? Who knows. Stay in front! One very last uphill ... come on legs. You got this. Onto the lumpy grass and past the spectators held back cheering us on. And there - right there! I can see the finish gantry! It’s so bloody far away. At least 40 metres. Come on legs. Ooh and someone just in front of me. Well ... one last overtake. Come on legs. 

And through. And I hear “Sarah Booker. You are a Vitruvian.”

And I found my car at the end.