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Monday, 8 October 2018

Ride London 100: It was a Bit Damp, Mum

As you know, I'm a REALLY organised person. *cough* Ok. I'm the sort of person who basically has the vaguest idea of when my next event is and I also tend to have a bit of a woolly idea of what day of the week I'm on. I would blame shift work but actually I've always been like this.

Earlier in the year, I'd been ecstatic to find out I had finally got into Ride London 100 after years of being unlucky in the ballot. And then I was also ecstatic about the fact I got to run and party in Manchester with my ASICS buddies. On the same weekend. In Manchester. And Ride London was in … well … London.

That's do-able right? A Friday and Saturday of fun with my run and tri buddies, shovel some dinner down in the evening, leave Manchester at 9pm and then drive 4 hours down to London to pick up my friend Becca at 03.00am. With 2 hours for snacks en route. And plenty of time to be in my start pen for 04:40am.

Easy, right? It would be like The Blues Brothers but with more petrol and less sunglasses and police chases.

Well it should have been easy. Except that Highways England thought that roads that people could actually drive down were boring and thoughtfully closed the M1. And just to mix it up, they then closed the diverted road. 

My panic-reaction to this was to drive in circles for 2 hours trying to work out where the hell I was. This didn't help but neither did the sat nav helpfully telling me to make a U-turn at EVERY available opportunity until I was ready to launch it at the next Highways England worker I saw. Which was none. They appeared to have closed the road, coned it off and then buggered off for 4 hours for a second breakfast. Or maybe they'd all been knocked out by sat navs launched by stressed and dizzy drivers and were lying down unconscious somewhere under the traffic cones. Who knew. 

I drove in loops getting steadily more sweary and worked up. You could tell how many loops I'd done by the volume and obscenity scale of the swearing. For anyone standing at the side of the road as I went past it must have been a little like a gerbil with tourettes in a very large sideways wheel. Doppler swearing. 

I made it to central London 6 hours after I'd left Manchester, hyped up on energy drinks and coffee and with a croaky voice thanks to 'chatting' to the sat nav all the way. I promptly got lost in a construction site and was completely unable to make it to the arranged pick up point to get Becca meaning she had an impromptu mile ride at 3am through London. Sorry, Becca. 

After circling the O2 car parks (spot a theme yet?) Becca and I eventually found our parking spot, retrieved our bikes and even managed to talk our way into the private car park attendant's toilet to dispose of approximately 8 gallons of coffee and energy drink. 

To get to the start point of Ride London 100, we had to take our bikes across the river Thames on the Emirates Skyline which is a cable car system which links Greenwich peninsular to the Royal Victoria dock. I was looking forward to this as I'd never been on the Emirates Skyline and I was excited to get a new view of London … what I DIDN'T know was that the cable car kept moving! As a result, we had to get ourselves and two bikes into a tiny cable car before we ran out of floor space. It was like trying to get some really expensive shopping onto the conveyer belt before you and it fell to a horrible death. However, all the caffeine may have made this seem a little more dramatic than it actually was. 

But once on the cable car, with the bikes stacked, we could relax and enjoy the journey. High above London with the city lights glittering at 4am on a dark morning really made it feel special and a really good way to start the adventure of my first 100 mile ride!

As we arrived at the other side, we managed to get the bikes off the cable car without dropping either or falling to a gruesome death and we carried them down the stairs. A few more cyclists joined us as the cable cars started arriving and we all set off towards the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. More and more cyclists joined us from different directions, their red taillights twinkling in the early morning gloom. We took a couple of wrong turns when the signs to the start disappeared but got there after a bit of discussion and a turn down an alley took us along a dark tarmac path which was lit with lights along the side at ground level like a fairy trail. 

Becca and I were on different starts so we parted with a 'goodbye' and a 'good luck!' as we turned in different directions. 

There was the option to drop a kit bag off in lorries similar to those used by the London Marathon and you could tell that the organisers were the same as the whole process was slick and fast. 

Setting off towards my start with my pockets full of snacks but needing a wee, I spotted a tall man on his own making for the portaloos. I stopped him and said “I’ll look after your bike if you’ll look after mine” and the deal was struck. It felt safer than leaving the bike by the loos (although plenty of people were!) and the tall chap wouldn't have wanted a bike fitted for a short girl so it seemed a good plan. I later heard that someone’s bike had disappeared from outside these toilets. I don't know whether someone had done a swap when they spotted a better bike or had just wandered up in bike kit and picked up one they liked the look off. There didn't appear to be any security at the start so anyone wearing lycra could have come along and picked up a bike without looking out of place. If you're doing the event on your own, it's worth bringing a lock – even a cheap one to stop opportunist thieves. 

The weather forecast which had been emailed out from Ride London had predicted a temperature of 23*c but had warned of hydrating properly in temperatures up to 30*c. After the hot summer we'd had it wouldn't have been surprising to have such high temps but I brought a rain jacket with me as an afterthought. It had been unused for the entire summer but it would be useful if we got a couple of spots of rain. 

As I was using this sportive as training for my 70.3 triathlons, I decided to wear my trisuit. I was aware that I wouldn't look like a proper cyclist *gasp* but I 'd decided to wear what I'd wear for my races. I might get shunned at the cake stops - I mean aid stations *cough* - but I wouldn’t know anyone so even if they went all elitist and 'Velominati Rules' on me I wouldn’t see them again. Unless they overtook me. In which case I'd deserve it.

I was in my Blue area and wave E start pen for about 04:45 as there was an allocated 'load' time of 04:40 – 05:20. Even so I was miles back from the start and everyone from every wave and every pen seemed to be mixed together. The pen and wave areas seemed to be guidelines rather than rules. 

It was also clear that there was a distinct lack of females in my wave – I was surrounded by white, middle-aged men in lycra. I was already wearing the wrong kit. Maybe I was also in the wrong pen. I appeared to have wandered into the MAMIL zone.

It's lucky I don't scare easily as if the smell of Deep Heat, over-tight lycra and expensive bikes was anything to go by I was in the equivalent of the middle aged Tour de France. Yes. I'm including myself in that. According to The Guardian, Ride London 100 2017 was about an 80%-20% male-to-female split but I was struggling to see any other females at all. Maybe we were just hard to spot among the other shaved legs and bright kit.

We were in the pen for over 75 minutes. However, people were reasonably friendly. I took a couple of photos for people and even lent my mobile to someone who had left his wallet and phone at the office and needed someone to pick them up. There was a lot of hanging around so it seemed a shame not to have a chat while we stuck doing it. And while they couldn't get away. 

After inching forward about 6 inches at a time, we finally reached the staggered start and the gantry which arched over the road. Our adrenaline rising to the clock counting down and the sounds of Queen ringing in our ears, with a spin of the pedals we were off. 

How can I describe the first 10 miles? It was group riding at its best, the bikes weaving like an intricate dance. I was lucky enough to be in a group with people who appeared to be reasonably experienced riders so the level of bike handling was fairly decent. There was a lot of movement of bikes and people but most people appeared to be used to group riding apart from a couple who were freewheeling. (No fucking freewheeling up front!) Brilliant high speed, great fun and the closest I've come to riding in a proper peloton. 

That being said, there were a couple of accidents that I saw. The roads were closed and cyclists were using all of the road … which was fine until there was a raised concrete islands separating the lanes. A couple of cyclists came a cropper hitting these. I also saw a cyclist hit another rear wheel of another cyclist and lose control, ending in a horrible crash of metal. With 25,000 cyclists, there were bound to be some accidents especially with high adrenaline and the thrill of some great roads and high-speed group riding. 

After being used to riding in Warwickshire, dodging potholes and avoiding drain covers and cracks in the road, I couldn't believe how smooth the London and Surrey road surfaces were. I still had to keep a keen eye out for unexpected moves by the cyclists around me, but it made cycling less stressful and meant I could have a look at the scenery instead of expecting to drop into a crater the size of a Ford Anglia the moment I looked away. 

Rain had been suggested by the morning forecast – which I sincerely had hoped was wrong - but it had started spitting when I was in the start pen so I had put my rain jacket on. The jacket promptly came off at mile 10 as I overheated but it was back on at mile 25 when the heavens opened and what appeared to half of the Thames poured from the lowered clouds.

Photo from Ride London twitter ... of me!!

The rain really started in earnest and the roads were under a seething and bubbling tide of water. Drafting was no longer possible due to the spray from the wheels in front and the fun of the peloton and thrill of following faster wheels was ended. Even the smoothly fitted drain covers became hazards, especially on corners because of the risk of sliding on them. Bends had to be anticipated tin order to brake accordingly which wasn't always easy in the bends and winds of the Surrey Hills and had to be taken wide. Metal structures at corners were padded with plastic cushions to limit injury but I still didn’t want to hit a lamp post at speed. I like having teeth and wanted to keep them in my head.

Having heard that the route was fast and mainly flat, I had intended to aim for a 20mph average speed, however the high winds, driving rain and amount of surface water meant that I had to change my plan. Corners had to be taken very slowly as the conditions wouldn't forgive any mistakes today. Better to ride a slow 100 miles than do a fast 10 miles and slide across the road on my face.

I genuinely think I’ve been drier swimming in a lake. After an hour on the bike, I was that sodden, drenched wetness where water drips off the end of your nose and your fingers are pruned. The rain was even in my snack bag and bike shoes. Every time I pedalled, a mini wave in my shoes sloshed. The rain was relentless and constant and worst of all, it just didn’t let up. Large puddles hid hazards on the road surface and new rivers ran across the road and and washed debris and sticks into the path of the cyclists. It was a new sport: when mountain biking met open water swimming. 

I was a little disappointed not to see any deer in Richmond Park but they had possibly been washed downriver and were now prowling around Kingston. The first hills on the route were in this park although it was undulating rather than steep. I also had a quick snack stop as due to the early start time I hadn’t had breakfast. I'm not someone who 'forgets' to eat (who even ARE those people??) so I scoffed a Cliff Bar, had a chat to the marshals and headed back onto the river … I mean road. 

At around Hampton Court Green, a lady cycling near me told me that my behind saddle bag was hanging off my bike. This bag is the bane of my cycling life. It's a great size, it tucks in well behind the saddle, stores everything crucial … and then randomly falls off the bike at awkward moments. I'd safety-pinned it on so had thought that it would be secure but it had obviously decided that today was the day to hang sideways off the saddle like a drunk hanging off a lamp post.

Luckily everything was saved before I dropped a cycling breadcrumb trail of kit and I got chatting to the lady who had told me, who introduced herself as Melanie from Surrey. She had ridden the 100 previously but not in such dreadful weather. As we chatted everything sport, it came to light that her friend had recently joined my triathlon club after moving from South England to the Midlands. It's a small world!

The rain wasn't easing up and I made the decision at about mile 35 to ditch my cycling glasses. I hate not wearing glasses on the bike as I'm always worried I'll end up with a bee in the eyeball, but it was a choice between not being able to see anything and likely hitting a tree or being able to see and chancing bug-ball. 

Every time I moved my feet, water sloshed in my shoes and when I took my neoprene gloves off at an aid station the gloves weighed about 5kg each. I'd forgotten about the absorbent properties of neoprene … NOT the best choice for a wet day! At least should I miss a water station, I'd be able to rehydrate using my hands. Actually, I'd probably be able to irrigate my garden in hot weather using the water in just one glove. It was utterly ridiculous.

I got to the 40 mile mark just past Pyrford Village. Not even halfway. I was wet, cold and miserable. I was cycling in appalling conditions and I had a half iron distance race next weekend which I didn't want to ruin by getting too cold today.

Decision time. Would I have more to lose or to gain by completing it? It was a tough one. I was miserable and wet but I would be disappointed if I didn't complete it. My legs felt good, nothing hurt or ached. I currently wasn’t shivering but more importantly there didn’t seem to be any checkpoints nearby offering a nice dry lift home. And waiting around would probably make me colder than carrying on cycling. Decision made. Crack on, Booker. Besides, Melanie was good company and having a cycling buddy makes the miles go quicker. 

I’d been dreading the hills on this course but friends had made them sound bigger than they actually were. If you listen to the descriptions, they sound positively monstrous and snow covered and towering and with the requirement for crampons, ropes and St Bernards with brandy flasks to gain the top. 

But to be honest, I didn’t realise Newlands Corner WAS Newlands Corner until I was near the top and Melanie told me what it was called. I always get a bit nervous when a hill has a name but it wasn't horrific and by the time I realised it was over. We had a quick pit stop at the damp aid station at the top, ironically to fill our water bottles and we were good to go. 

The big hills all come fairly quickly after the first one and Leith Hill was the next. I'd HEARD about this one. Afterwards I found out it's about 1.5 miles long and although it averages only about 6%, it gets worse as it goes on and hits well over 10% before the top. When I finally got there I would be at the highest point in Surrey.

However, I didn't know how long the hill was before I started it. I was chatting to the cyclists around me heading up Leith Hill. I struggle with not knowing a hill. If you've got an end point to aim for, it's a LOT easier. 

Basically the conversation went like this:
Is that chimney the top?”
No. It's a bit further yet.”
Ok. [silence briefly]. Is that tree the top?”
No. A bit more.”
Ok. [thoughtful silence]. What about THAT tree?”
What about-”

It was the hill that kept on giving. More hill. It kept on giving me more hill. I kept thinking I was near the top and then I'd look up and there would be ANOTHER climb stretching up above me. It was like an Everest to my little legs. I was expecting a sherpa any moment. 

Box Hill was pretty and winding. It had been a hill climb during the Olympics and as a result, it had been resurfaced so was smooth and lovely to ride. There were graphics sprayed on the road for the National Trust and trying to read the text as I rolled over it kept me entertained and kept my mind off my legs. It was a bit like climbing Edge Hill which is a local climb near me but Box Hill isn’t as steep. And it’s prettier! It zig zags like an Alpine road and it's a treat to ride it. It's not too steep, it just keeps going and the view is amazing!

Some people were walking the hills. But they were just hills. They weren't monstrous, mountainous, they weren't vertical and they weren't that long despite the horror stories I'd been told. 

However, the descents were another issue. The wet didn't affect the climbs too much but the water on the road and the debris washed into the roads by the constantly moving water made the descents treacherous and dangerous. I usually love descending and reaching speeds over 40mph but on this day, I was on my brakes almost constantly and my hands were cramping from holding them on. It was such a shame. In nice weather, it would have been glorious to fly down the hills but in the wet with brakes half-functioning and steep corners there was no option but to crawl. It was gutting. 

Descending a hill at mile 73, I suddenly started feeling bumps through my front wheel and as I pulled the bike to a stop at the side of the road, I could hear the hissing as the air rushed out of my front tyre. Checking the tyre, there was a deep cut in it. It was a fairly quick tyre change - I knew that turbo tyre changes and all that swearing and crying would come in handy one day - but we couldn't get enough pressure into the tube. The single c02 canister I had failed but even Melanie's trusty hand pump couldn’t get the pressure high enough to ride a further 27 miles safely on it. 

No-one stopped to assist us but I spotted a yellow hi-viz vest up the road, so I popped over to see whether the wearer was a marshal for the event. The chap in the vest didn’t appear to be sure whether he actually WAS a marshal or not answering my question of whether he was with “Yes. No. Kind of.” Alrighty then.

Not trusting him with a hand pump (or even a sharp pencil) I asked him where the nearest aid station was. Apparently it was 'Near.' Ok. Useful.

How far was 'near' I enquired. He was completely unable to elaborate. Half a mile? 2 miles? 10 miles? I tried to prompt a response but he was about as sure about this as he was about being a marshal and was completely unable to even guess. Apparently it was near a hill. Oh. Ok. 

Deciding we'd have to go with it. We slowly trundled up the road with a half inflated tyre. Luckily the hub was about half a mile away and the helpful marshals quickly got some pressure into the tube in with a track pump and were back in the business of cycling a river!

I wouldn't say the sun came out, but the rain seemed to ease off slightly and the last few rolling miles were pleasant. At around 80 miles, we were joined by the riders doing the 46 mile route. It was surprising and we hadn't realised it, but we had been spoiled with the level of cycling of the 100 riders as some of the handling skills of the cyclists doing the 46 miles route were truly appalling and the event became immediately more dangerous.

I guess that it was that the 46 appealed to people ho were less experienced on their bikes but there were some truly appalling manoeuvres including a woman who stopped her bike in the middle of the road without warning and started pulling to the edge presenting the side of the her bike to all of the oncoming riders. Melanie narrowly missed hitting her as the woman gave no warning of her intention to stop at all. Another problem with this kind of behaviour in a busy sportive was that as soon as one cyclist went down, the 3 or 4 cyclists immediately behind would be unable to stop in time and would also go down. There simply wasn't the space to leave 25m between the bike in front in case they did something silly.

After 90 miles, we came up to Wimbledon Hill. The end wasn't far away and the roads had been fast and flat again – a relief after the Surrey Hills but this was a sneaky little hill about half a mile long. 

Back on the level and smooth roads in London, we put our heads down. The roads were busier now and there was a nasty headwind. We were tired, slightly damp and covered in mud from the tyre change but so close to the finish! After the lanes and hills, It was a strange but lovely contrast to cycle around Trafalgar Square and the towering buildings, especially without the roar and danger of the traffic. 

The final stretch was The Mall and what a place to finish your first 100 mile ride! I could see the finish arch from a long way away and decided to give it some welly. I really gave it what I felt was a sprint finish. A vision blacking, oxygen depriving, eyeballs out sprint. 

… Well that was how it felt. When I looked at my speed afterwards, I gave it a slipper. Not a welly, a slipper. One of those granny ones. It was slow. REALLY slow.

And then I passed under the finish arch and that was that. My first hundre- … ninety-eight point three mile bike ride.


Thursday, 16 August 2018

Trionz Magnetic Band: Totally Snake Oil ... but I'm not taking it off.

I got an email from Trionz asking if I wanted to try one of their magnetic bands. I'd get the band for free and would write a blog. I don't get paid for this sort of thing but would get to keep the wristband.

I wasn't sure. So I would wear a rubber band with a magnet in it which would do magical things to my blood? Sounded a bit far fetched. I decided not to decide immediately, had a read up on it and decided that it was probably snake oil … in other words, that it was something that couldn't possibly work and if it did it was only because the person using it, believed that it did. But hey, what's the worst that could happen, right?

I asked for one of the bands and agreed to write a blog but told Trionz that I would (as usual) write it honestly. If the band did nothing – as expected – I'd say that. Easy peasy. 

The band arrived. I'd chosen one of the cheaper ones: a red and black wristband which was made of stretchy rubber and which had some magnets in the larger part at the front which rested against my wrist. It looked very much like a festival band or a charity band – one of the rubber ones that delight children and which you get for donating £2 to a chosen charity. 

I put it on. I didn't magically become an Olympian or a mermaid OR an amazing cyclist. Meh. Nothing lost. I kept the band on and noticed a few other people wearing them too. It was a bit like noticing someone driving the same car as you – you have your own and you notice others. A few athlete friends were wearing them, a paramedic, someone else at tri club ...

Then I realised that I'd been sleeping better than I had for a month. Nothing to do with the band I'm sure. 

Then I had my favourite run for months. And a decent swim. Still nothing to do with the band. I'm almost positive about it. 

It hasn't been the only change I've made to my diet and training this year. I've sorted my nutrition out. I've been training properly after a year off. I'm getting more settled at work.

But the training has been coming on. And on. And on.

And now I'm scared to take the band off. It might be nothing. But then again it might be something. 

And in the meantime, I'll keep my magnetic band on.

Ride London 100, Rugby Challenge, Les Stables ... still scared to take it off ...

If you want to have a look at them they're here:

The Coventry Way: Exploding Bladders & Appalling Navigation

I love the Coventry Way 40 mile run. It’s a circular loop which rings – Surprise! Surprise! -  Coventry and it’s mostly on grassy trails, lumpy fields and tiny hidden paths. I’ve run it three times but I’ve still got only the vaguest idea of the route. My pub-and cake-radar is exemplary. But my trail-memory is truly appalling. 

How smug I was laying this out for the photo while on the kitchen counter, my water bladder was pouring orange water everywhere ...

I didn’t have the finest preparation; finishing work unexpectedly after midnight without having packed or prepared a single item. Meh ... I’ve run ultras before, right? What could go wrong?

Not checking the water bladder I was using and finding I'd used the leaky one I keep meaning to throw out and forgetting about doing it was one of the things I did wrong. Luckily I discovered this BEFORE I left the house but AFTER I’d filled it and packed my ultra vest with snacks leaving me contemplating my cake and bars floating around in a vaguely orangey smelling pool of water on the side in the kitchen. I wasn’t entirely ecstatic upon discovering this and woke up the husband with such foul language that he probably assumed that I was in a kind of swear battle with a sarcasm and profanity fluent sailor with Tourette’s specific to water bladders and ultra running. 

I rushed to try and sort the mess, not realising the sudocrem I had applied to my toes so carefully was leaking through my socks and leaving white (and very difficult to remove) footprints on the carpets around the house. 

After adding some more even more imaginative profanities to the ones current floating in the air around the house, I was discovered by my husband on my hands and knees with white feet furiously scrubbing the carpet with baby wipes while my water bladder was washing bars and snacks along the side in the kitchen in an citrus-scented tidal wave. 

Yeah. Sexy feet. *boke*

Leaving a trail of destruction in my wake and the kitchen in an appalling state, I finally got to the village of Meriden two hours later than I’d wanted and a bit concerned about whether race registration would close before I got there. As mentioned I’d run this event three times previously and the registration was in the same place as it had always been - in the Queens Head pub in Meriden. A village of approximately 100 houses. Could I find this distinctive and very familiar pub? Could I hell. After raging at myself I plugged in the sat nav which promptly directed me onto the 15 second drive to the pub. As I was so late absolutely everyone else had disappeared over the horizon having already started their races.

I set off on my own which was a novelty and actually quite nice as there was no need to justify my run speed – or lack of it. Well … it was nice for about 10 minutes, after which I promptly got bored. 

After a bit of a trot on my own, I finally saw a runner in front of me which was a relief as had thought I might not see another person all day. Often runners often set off two hours before the time I'd started and I'd resigned myself to a bit of a lonely day thanks to my dreadful organisation, leaky water bladder and terrible navigation skills. Caught the other runner up and found out his name was Andy which I promptly forgot and had to be reminded about when I called him Steve (sorry Ste- … Andy) and we appeared to be running around the same speed so we decided to run together for a bit.

I proudly announced that I had run this route three times and DEFINITELY knew the way … and then proceeded to get lost at EVERY junction until it was tactfully decided that I should run BEHIND Andy who would be in control of the race directions. 

In my defence I knew MOST of the way, just not the part 10 miles from the start as I was normally catching up with friends for this bit and listening to all their news so chatting rather than navigating … Yep. I may be rubbish at navigating but I'm brilliant at making up excuses justifying my terrible navigation.

We started coming up to walkers doing the trail at around 12 miles in. It was obvious from the gaiters up to their knees and the massive backpacks that these guys were out for a LONG day. I have a lot of respect to these girls and guys and it’s a long time on your feet walking 40 miles. 

It was a nice sociable run, we leapfrogged a lot with 'Mr Lakeland Red T-shirt ' (who later identified himself as Darren) who was running a cracking pace but having a 'dodgy tummy day' and  having to duck into various bushy bushes along the way. He'd usually zoom past us and then he'd zoom past us AGAIN … having been hidden by a bush at some point as we'd passed. 

We got a bit excited at around 11 o clock as the drizzle stopped briefly and the sun seemed like it was coming out but it was a false alarm, probably the glow from an open pub door … so we settled down to more drizzle. 

Some of the trail went over wooden bridges which were a bit slippery, the wooden planks sodden due to the previous rain and mud trodden into them from other people passing across them. The trail can be tough sometimes as it goes across rough – for Warwickshire! - terrain. However, a plus side of starting later was that the trails across the lumpy ploughed fields had been mashed down by the previous 200 walkers and runners so this  made progress much easier than hopping from clod to clod. 

It was nice to see Claire and her friend Hilary from Lancashire at around mile 20 heading along a stony track coming towards Brandon. We stopped for a brief catch up and the promise of a pint at the end. Always good to have an incentive to finish a race strongly … and with the promise of cider.

Jo Steele, one of the most trail-loving people I know was at the checkpoint in Bulkington and we had a chat and she didn't even pinch the last glass of cola this time. Things were looking up!! (I'd seen Jo last year and she'd been quicker than me in one of the aid stations and had nabbed the last sip of cola …!) I'd been a bit worried this year as I'd started so late and was concerned that the aid stations would be closing up or not replenishing their food as a lot of people would have already come through but my fears were unfounded … every one was still as well stocked as if there were 150 more people behind me in the last stages of starvation. 

I had packed myself some food this time and had gone with peanut butter and avocado wraps. Separately though. Together sounds like a taste sensation but not a good sensation. A retching sensation. They were good and still tasted ok squashed flat in my run vest. Andy was probably grateful too as the peanut butter stuck my teeth together for a while so he had a couple of minutes of quiet. 

The weather last year had been very hot, but coming up to the Coventry Way this year there had been some substantial rain. Up until the start time, there had been several diversions in place due to course flooding and I had been a bit concerned as wouldn't know the way with the diversions … however it appeared I didn't know the way without the diversions so that was ok. And just to get really confusing, the diversions had been cancelled as the water had gone down so now I really, really still didn't know the way. So that was all right then.

However, it was still a bit mushy in sections and I managed to step in pretty every sheep poo in Warwickshire so I wasn't leaving the course with dry feet. Or any sheep dung untrodden. 

I'd asked Simon if he wanted to meet me where the Coventry Way passed onto the canal at about mile 26 by Nettle Farm. Last year this us where I'd started to find the run tough and I'd done the adult equivalent of throwing my toys out of the pram (throwing my handbag out of the car window on the M6?) so I thought it would be nice to have some company at this section. As it was, I was running with Andy and Darren for this part which was nice so we all had a good chat for this section which is usually a bit of a boring drag  after the pretty fields and lanes.

After dreading the canal for so long and actually finding it fine, the next 10 miles flew past. As an additional bonus, I had forgotten about the caravan checkpoint which came as a lovely surprise and I scoffed as much food as I could in delight for having an additional opportunity to. Sweetie-ed up, we set out on the last leg and the final checkpoint which was 3 miles from the end. 

We found Richie at mile 38, who I've previously run 1.5 Coventry Ways with before so that was nice and we spent a happy few minutes having a catch up and before we knew it we were all flying down the final mile to the pub at the end. It sounds lovely having a final downhill mile at the end of an ultra, but actually it's never as nice as it sounds as by that point my legs are all “get me into the pub at the end, dimwit” and I have a hard job persuading them that the best way to get there is by running as they've gone all jellied with excitement as being able to stop shortly. 

One of the great things about the Coventry Way (have I mentioned the pub?) is that it starts and finishes at the Queens Head pub. There's usually a crowd of supporters who cheer you in loudly and with enthusiasm and with their pints in their hands. It's another reason to get there as quick as you can before the support crews drink the pub dry.

Another bonus is getting fed at the end. I get a hot meal and the chance to catch up with the other runners under a nice dry marquee as I scoff a hot potato and cake with my shoes and socks off. Plus it's a local race so there are lots of familiar faces so I get to have a nice catch up and hear about everyone else's exciting races. 

Me, Darren and Andy at the finish. 

I'm lucky to have such a nice race local to me and it's one I look forward to every year. Used it as my last long run for marathon training last year. Might do the same next year. Coventry Way, you're a cracker. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Southam Triathlon: My Garmin is a GIT

I'd had almost an entire year out from triathlon and was concerned that I'd forgotten how. Drown, fall off, fall over was pretty much what I remembered. If I did the first one properly, then I wouldn't even need the second and third disciplines of falling off and falling over. 

I'd not planned to do this event but had recced the bike course with Rich, a friend from Rugby Tri Club a few weeks earlier and had particularly enjoyed beating him up all the hills (only because he was ill but I'll take my wins where I find them). In fact it was something I'd been keen to repeat if Rich could stay ill for another week, so I'd entered Southam Triathlon. 

I don't tend to like sprint triathlons as they're maximum heart rate the whole time which basically means that although you're only racing for just over an hour, they hurt the WHOLE TIME. However, the race is over fairly quickly, the recovery is fairly swift and it's good transition training. Plus they're not a bank-breaking cost and this one was local too.

I didn't however tell anyone I'd entered (particularly not my tri club buddy in case he started hill training) but mainly because I'm a bit pants at short distance races and wanted to keep my crash-and-burn nice and quiet.

As per my usual race prep, I arrived ridiculously early. This is great for finding parking spaces but is terrible for finding coffee and loos open. Luckily on this occasion both toilets and coffee were available so things were already looking up. Particularly as there is a direct correlation between them and I tend to drink more coffee when anxious. And needing a wee makes me REALLY anxious. Wear wellies around me if I look nervous.

I set up my bike in transition early and did my standard 'standing around for 15 minutes just bike staring wondering what I forgot' while familiar faces racked their bikes around me. Despite my nerves it was lovely to see so many friends from Rugby Tri, Cov Tri and Spa Striders around. 

It was an early season race so weather followed suit with rain, cold winds and draughts up the tri suit. I decided I'd had my 'bike staring' time so got into kit and was standing at pool edge 30 minutes early as it was the warmest place in the area. Also I had NO CLUE how the 'swim 100 metres and swim under the rope' thing worked so wanted to watch and get an idea of what to do.

As usual the time was going massively slow, then in the 20 minutes before I had to start I went warp speed. I popped into the pool and told myself it was just 100m to swim, then swap lanes … and another 100m to swim … it all has to be mind games with me. I have to concentrate on the 'here and now' when I'm racing otherwise I start worrying about whats ahead. And that's no good in triathlon otherwise I start 'trying to save my legs for the run' or some such bollocks. I just have to go hard as I can and not be a wimp on the run.

Turbulence of Terror

My whistle went and I quickly overtook 2 people in the swim lane, probably as I went off like a rocket. One that quickly fizzled out, mind. I swapped elbows with someone at the pool end, in an open water kind of a way rather than a Frankenstein way but it's triathlon. I'm sure no-one took it personally.

I enjoyed this way of doing a 400m pool swim. Firstly, because it meant I couldn’t lose count of laps which I always do counting to 16, plus it meant that the lanes were less congested. If someone miscalculated their time, you only had to overtake them once. It was pretty simple and even having to duck the lane rope was very easy as you did it when pushing off the pool edge. 

Every person I overtook caught me up in transition as I was fannying about again. I try hard NOT to do this but cold fingers, trying to find bike shoes which have been booted halfway across transition by the earlier swimmer racked next to me and decisions such as 'spend 10 minutes trying to zip up jacket Vs freezing cold soaking wet on bike in April' take some time.

In case you're wondering, I decided not to bother with the bike jacket. I decided to do the equivalent of blow drying under a freezing cold hairdryer while pedalling like a lunatic. It wasn't quite cold enough for icicle bogies but probably could have had someone's eye out with the goosebumps.  

I enjoyed the bike. I always find it much easier on a course I know as don't subconsciously save something in the tank for any hills that may (or may not!) be in front of me. I set off fairly quickly, relying on a bit of speed to warm up and just concentrating on catching the cyclists in front of me. Southam Triathlon bike course is a lovely route with only two real hills - Snowford hill and Ufton Hill. They're both steady but neither are 'out of the saddle hills', they just slow you down a bit and warm you up. Perfect for a sprint triathlon course. It was a bit of a windy day and as usual I didn't notice the tailwind but the headwind felt like I was trying to claw my way through treacle. The car drivers were really courteous which was brilliant – very different to the usual cars out on a Sunday morning who seem to feel like a Sunday morning isn't complete without a few choice swearwords and a cyclist in the hedge. 

Got back into transition after a small take-off over an unexpected speed-bump, racked the bike, bike shoes off, trainers on and tried to sprint out of transition with helmet and glasses on. Promptly got told by a marshal to go back and take them off again. Just as well really as I hadn't realised and probably wouldn't have realised until I couldn't find my helmet in transition at the end. 

Despite being divested of half my kit, I kept my bright orange bike gloves on. I might have a chilly everything else but I'd have warm hands. Yeah I looked a plonker, but I was a plonker with warm hands. 

Surprisingly, the run felt pretty good. I guess this was because I knew there was only 5k of it. The terrain was wet grass which was sodden and muddy in places especially with the steady rain and 200 people doing 5 laps of 2 playing fields each. Runners had to collect 4 wristbands and then run another loop after this to finish. I miscounted and got confused about having to do a whole another lap after band 4. I thought it was 'collect a fourth band and then run up a finish chute' which was a horrible realisation when I collected my 4th band and realised that the finish chute was 1km away at the other side of 2 playing fields. 

Couldn’t check my Garmin for pace as it was showing me screen which I think it saves for race day which shows me absolutely nothing useful whatsoever. I don't like to affix a personality to my Garmin but it would basically be one of those people on the train who sits next to you and eats a smelly McDonalds and then gets their phone out and talks REALLY LOUDLY. Basically it's a complete git.

Look at this lovely lot! (Photo by Claire Walker)

I did realise that I sped up for the section by the finish funnel though as half of Rugby Tri seemed to be there and I got a nice cheer as I went past. Apparently I was easy to spot in my black and pink tri suit and MASSIVE ORANGE GLOVES. I don't think I help myself with my race photos sometimes.

I did same thing as I did for the bike and concentrated on catching the person in front of me. Whole run felt pretty good. Couldn’t really have gone much faster although could have probably taken time off without the hills and the mushy grass. Was glad with my choice to wear trail shoes for a bit of extra grip and they were really comfy. 

Last band collected, last lap done and I did my best for a sprint finish up the finish funnel which basically involves some gurning at the photographer and some appalling running technique. 

Yeah ... rocking the kit ... I've STILL got the orange gloves on too ...

Relieved to be over the line and even nicer to find out it was a sprint PB! Later found out was also 1st in AG and was 2nd overall as lady in front of me had accidentally missed a lap out of the run. Nice surprise for an early season tri.

Check out THIS bad boy!

Friday, 20 July 2018

10 Lessons I Learned from Triathlon Training Camp Les Stables

1. You’re never too pissed or too nettle-stung to finish a brick session … even if you crashed your bike on the way home.

2. Being able to hum the waltz helps your swim technique … unless you try to sing it and sink.

3. You CAN have too many lentils if that’s the only recipe you can remember away from home … and your room mate will make pointed remarks about air freshener. **Parp**

4. You can always do one more hill rep ... especially if you get told you can have one pint for every hill rep. See Note 1: bike crashes.

5. Sibs is able to turn even the most 'Shark Attack' style swim techniques into something glorious. 

6. You will get told to “Stop fucking freewheeling on the front” by Mark at some point in the group ride … don't argue, just don't freewheel.

7. French drivers don't seem to want to kill all cyclists like British drivers … not with their vehicles anyway. 

8. Get a copy of the bike box key because it WILL hide and panic you … and you'll magically only find it the day before you have to return the box.

9. You can ALWAYS go fastest in the last rep on your run technique session ... especially if you're getting shouted at.

10. Morning swims in the pool at Les Stables with the steam rising from the water will spoil you for any pool or lake ever again … and it's worth it. 

Had the most AMAZING week at Les Stables and can't recommend it enough. The training was hard work but it was fantastic to be able to concentrate on triathlon without having to fit it in between work, chores and coordinating everyday life. I swam like I'd never believed I could, cycled like I wished I could and ran like I was running towards a pub. 

When can I come back? 

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Rawlinson Bracket 2018: THE CLAW

Rich was moaning about being too hot. Granted, we were in the car wearing 5 layers of clothes plus thermal underwear and the heating up to full whack but today was not the day to be moaning about being too warm. 

Outside, temperatures were hovering between -5*c and -2*c, the wind was howling and the roads were covered in a sheet of ice. And we had  60 miles of the Rawlinson Bracket sportive to do on our road bikes. Hooray. Hoo-fucking-ray.  

Last year I'd enjoyed it SO much (link) I'd cried, tamtrumed and made up new swear words before I was rescued by Linda and Fiona. So why on earth had I entered it again? Because in my infinite wisdom, I'd thought it couldn't possibly be as bad as I'd remembered and roped Rich, Paul and Annette into it. At least if it was as dreadful as I remembered I'd have company in my misery and people to stop me entering it again next year. 

We'd all arranged to meet up about a hour before the rolling start closed so we had time to visit the loos multiple times, sort the last minute mechanical problems that always happen when a bike gets thrown into the back of a car and still have time to get to the aid stations before the cakes ran out. It sounded like the perfect plan.

Rich and I travelled down together and we met Paul fairly early on in the registration area. We couldn't find Annette and had had no communication from her apart from one tentative text mentioning the cold. After several calls and texts without a response we came to the conclusion that we had been ditched in favour of a lie-in which was probably a sensible decision. It was now 10 minutes before the start line closed so we made our way over to find Annette waiting there patiently asking us where we'd all been.

We set off into the headwind. It was -5*c and we had massive hills ahead. Oh good.

At least judging by last year we'd have green, unpeelable bananas waiting for us at 35 miles. Oh good.

Well at least I could stick 2 fingers up at the cold. Well a claw. 

I detest being cold so had invested in Crab Claw gloves. And just in case the cold got through those I'd put neoprene gloves on my hands underneath. Frostbite could sod off. I might look like Dr Zoidberg from Futurama but I'd have the last laugh when I had warm fingers. Warm claws.   

On my feet were thick thermal wool socks, fleecey insoles, tin foil inside my shoes, neoprene overshoes over the top and waterproof overshoes over the top of these. I couldn't feel the pedals through this lot. Or my toes. But who would be laughing at the end when everyone else couldn't feel their feet from the cold, hey? I'd just be unable to feel MY feet because of the sheer amount of kit I was wearing. Winner. I think.

It was tough work in the wind and Annette wasn't feeling 100% so she made the decision to head back to the start when we reached about mile 10. It was a wise decision, no point staying out in the cold and hitting the hills if you weren't feeling great. So long as she didn't get to and scoff all the cakes before we got there.

Rich and Paul were good company despite them giving me grief for taking the hills at a steady pace. After the shambles of last year's attempts on the hills I was just making sure I kept an even pace and effort the whole way up. I'd completely cocked up one of the hills last year after attacking too early and had done something I'd never done before …  walk up the hill. The shame. There were mitigating circumstances but even so … This year this was NOT HAPPENING.

I got to the top of Edge Hill which was one of the more challenging hills on the route and proudly said to Paul:

“I didn’t walk up any part of that  hill and even overtook people.” (I may have done Smug Face at this point.)
Paul promptly asked: “Well were THEY walking?” Which of course, both lads thought was hilarious.

Gits. I was also unable to give them the bird due to the aforementioned crab claw gloves and had to be content with motioning threateningly over my shoulder instead in a crabby kind of a way.

Despite Rich moaning about the heat in the car on the way up, every time I even mentioned that it might be a tad chilly I got reminded of Velominati Rule 5. **huff**

Stylish as ever. I was warm, ok. WARM.

I smashed all the hills. In a sedate, non-smashing kind of a way. Read: didn't walk. And spotted a few friends on route too. Lorraine, owner of an identical bike and the fluffiest dog EVER and Jane, a triathlete friend and focused cyclist who was completing the event with her friend Ann. Nice to see friendly faces. Especially ones who didn't tell me I was moving at a sloth speed on the hills. Yes. I'm looking at YOU, Paul and Rich.

The aid station had, similar to last year run out of energy drink, no doubt squandered to the cyclists doing the shorter route, but at least the bananas were peelable this year. 

No those aren't smiles. Those are frostbite gurns.

After the aid station, the last part of the ride goes quickly with just a couple of interesting climbs left. I'd enjoyed the sportive but there's only so long you can cycle in such cold and wind without dreaming mournfully of a time where you had feeling in all of your limbs and icicle bogies weren't a definitive part of your face. We all looked like walruses. Most of all I was looking forward to a hot black coffee. There's nothing like a coffee to keep your spirits up and warm your hands.

After 4 hours of ice, bogies and banshee-winds, we made it back to the finish at the Gaydon Motor Museum where there were tons of cakes waiting for us … and no coffee. No coffee. They had run out of coffee.

So I had to console myself with another 2 cakes instead. 

Fair dos.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Secret Vegan

The problem was that it was my SISTER daring me to do it. My LITTLE sister. And if there’s anything a big sister can’t take, it’s being beaten in something by a little sister. It’s pretty much against the laws of the universe.

However, what she was challenging me to sounded if not impossible, then very nearly so. It sounded miserable, torturous and a downright slog. In fact it sounded a DREADFUL idea. 

But it was my little sister daring me to do it.

Ah crap. I was going to have to give it a go. With 31 days of misery ahead of me, I notified my triathlon coach, organised a nutritional check 3 weeks in (in case I was dying or could bribe her to provide me with a valid excuse to back out), stocked up on things that had never appeared on my grocery list before (what the actual frog is TOFU and is it supposed to taste like a mix of frogspawn and scrambled eggs?) and bought a veritable Holland & Barretts worth of supplements, vitamins and pills.

So what was this awful challenge that I was dreading? Veganuary. Yep, me a self-confessed creme-egg addict and cheese devotee was considering giving up all things animal based for 31 days. There were caveats however; part of my work uniform is leather  (no - I’m NOT some sort of bondage mistress before you even consider asking that) and I was still cooking animal products for my daughter so I wasn’t a ‘proper’ vegan by the strict terms as I was still using some animal products even if I wasn’t eating them. 

So how did I get on?

The Downsides:

  • Farting. Oh my God, the farting. I got away with it for the first few days as no-one could believe that the stench was from an actual person rather than roadkill, a sewage plant or some truly appalling drain problems. I actually had to check that I hadn't inadvertently crapped myself several times. 
  • Eating Out. I was panicking that I wouldn't be able to eat out at all but actually most places I've been to have have offered at least one vegan meal option. And if I was really stuck, then there was always chips. Mmm chips. However one thing I HAVE needed to check was that the place I was going to offered options that were not only vegan but also had no gluten in as should that happen I'd probably dissolve into a puddle of farts and actual manure. 
  • Code Browns. Every single bloody time I've run a speed session in January, l had a code brown. In other words I had a 3 minute warning either during or immediately after that I needed a poo. An urgent poo. However I'm not sure I can blame this entirely on Veganuary as this is a standard January thing for me. No idea why. It's possibly my body complaining about having to run fast after a nice long sit down for the entirety of December. 
  • Meal Planning. Rather than just being able to stick the contents of my freezer drawer into the steamer and press the on-button, I was having to actually plan my meals in advance unless I was prepared to live off tins of baked beans and bourbons (I don’t believe in living off salad - it’s not real food - this was what I was concerned about when my sister first suggested it. I thought my diet would be brown rice and lettuce which sounds joyless and quite frankly shit.) This meant I was having to bulk cook and pot everything up in little plastic pots in the fridge. The microwave was my new best friend.  
  • No Creme Eggs. No cheese. These two alone were almost deal breakers for the 30 days. 

The Upsides:

  • Proper Athletes. There are PROPER athletes who are vegan. Scott Jurek is vegan. He doesn't seem to have any problems smashing out the miles and winning all the things.Rich Roll, ultrarunner and triathlete is vegan and other notable vegan Brits include Fiona Oakes, Sally Eastall and Jack Maitland. Doesn't seem to be holding this lot back at all.
  • I Learned To Cook. I had to learn to make food. Things were no longer as simple as chucking a bit of fish and some veg into the steamer. I went through a phase where I was eating curry for every meal. Actually it’s not a phase. I’m still doing this. It’s fucking awesome. 
  • Eating Less Crap. I didn't realise quite how much shit I ate until I couldn't eat it in January. I almost had a melt down when I realised that there would be crème eggs and no cheese. But then again they're not really top of the list when I think of things likely to improve my triathlon performance. However surprisingly I found out that most dark chocolate was vegan as were doritos, peanut butter, party rings, Fox’s custard, pringles, a lot of the Mr Kipling cakes, several of the haribo (phew!), bourbons and most importantly Aspalls Cider was also vegan. 
  • I Like Animals. And I don't just mean in a sizzling pan. I've always been a bit unsure why my cat dying was a tragedy to me but I was happily eating pigs, cows and sheep without a second thought. I've always avoided watching anything on intensive farming too as it's something I'd rather not know about. At least this month I was actually being the person I probably should be all the time. 
  • Tummy Friendly. I don’t get bloating. Yes I’m farting like a … I’m not quite sure what actually. But my family are appalled at the smell and I’ve become shameless at farting on the treadmill at the gym which means the snow really does need to hurry up and go away as the gym will be charging me for people leaving soon. It was interesting to have a flat tummy for the first time in years though even if that comes at a cost of trumping like a whoopee cushion. 

I kept the fact that I was doing Veganuary quiet as it was a personal challenge for me. Well .. between me and my sister anyway. It was interesting seeing the judgement from both sides - from the vegans who were calling people eating animal products ‘murderers’ and from the omnivores commenting on the vegan posts and getting quite affronted at people eschewing bacon and cheese. It made me see that it wasn’t just a diet choice, but a lifestyle and one that made people feel very strongly on both sides. 

However, what really shocked me was the in-fighting in some of the groups. People asking each other who was the ‘most vegan’ and telling others that they weren’t ‘proper’ vegans. As far as I could see, for whatever reasons people choose to follow a plant-based diet or lifestyle, we should be supporting each other, shouldn’t we? It’s all contributing to less animal deaths and promoting better health, isn’t it? I could see how vegans get given a bad name if this infighting is how they behave towards each other before even starting on people who eat meat.  

However, it was a positive experience for me. I learned how to cook some cracking curries, I cut out a lot of junk food for a month and I’ve discovered I have the ability to simultaneously clear a room and toot a tune with a fart. 

Winner, winner, lentil dinner.