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Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Sarah Attwood: An Interview

SARAH ATTWOOD super runner and all-round speedy triathlete tells us how she juggles working as a doctor, living on the Isle of Skye and smashing in the wins! 

I’ve known Sarah for about 7 years since we met at a Runners World and ASICS event and she has been constantly inspiring me with her relentless training and determination. It’ been really interesting to speak to her about her training and lifestyle and she’s provided some great tips for everyone from experienced triathletes to beginners. 

Where did the love for triathlon come from and what got you into triathlon in the first place? 

I had been a runner for 6 years and fancied doing something different. Lots of people I knew were getting injured so I wanted to try and prevent that by cross training and also have other sports that I could do and enjoy should I ever become injured and unable to run. 

Around this time a friend sold me her old road bike when she immigrated to Cyprus and another friend had represented GB in an age group duathlon so this inspired me to try and do the same. 

How do you fit all the training around work and life? 

Since moving up to Skye I’ve had a much healthier work life balance and have managed to fit training in well around work and home life. I believe in quality over quantity and luckily my coach feels the same which significantly helps. I try and do three sessions of each discipline a week when in peak training, swimming is normally before work on the days when I have a later start or my husband is around to walk the dog. Running is normally in the evenings and biking tends to be on my days off (or in the evenings if it’s on the turbo). I’m lucky to only work 4 days a week. 

Running and triathlon? Do you find one takes over? How do you balance the events? 

As I’ve always been a runner and it’s the most convenient thing to do (you don't have to wait for the pool to open, have decent weather or transport your bike around) running does tend to take over. As it’s my strongest discipline I probably need to focus more on the other two areas but it is difficult when I keep on entering running races! At the end of last year I did two marathons so as soon as I did my middle distance triathlon I just ran for 5-6 weeks. I thought I would have loved it but I actually missed swimming and cycling. 

How do you plan your training? 

I have a coach. I signed up with Performance Edge just under a year ago and I let him do all the hard work. I just do as I’m told on the days I’m told to do it. I send him my work timetable so that he is able to work it around that. It really works for me. I have a rest day when I’m on call (roughly once a week) which I think is important and then the rest is determined by the hours I’m working and the event I have coming up.

If you could be good at any other sport other than triathlon, what would you choose? 

Biking! I’ve really started to enjoy biking especially mountain biking but I needed to get more bike fit and more confident going down hill and cycling in the wind. 

Hydration? How do you manage to balance this? 

I drink loads. I always have done. On a day when I’m not exercising I drink 2.5 - 3 litres of water a day and 2 - 3 coffees. I always take water to the pool with me to sip and I tend to run with water except when it’s really cold or wet or I’m only running up to 10k. If I’m carrying water on a run I tend to have a sip every mile. When biking I do have to remind myself to drink and try to to do so every 5-10 miles. 

Avoiding a Code Brown when racing ...

I’m quite lucky to have a regular body clock so on training days I don't have any problems as long as I don't eat grapes in the day! For races the adrenaline tends to sort out any problems before the race starts!

Do you carb load before and recovery eating afterwards? 

I have carbo loaded before marathons and ultras when I first started doing them however I didn't find it helped that much and it just made me feel a little bloated and sluggish. Now I just eat more calories than usual (roughly 25% more) the day before a big race but as a mixture of proteins and carbs rather than just carbs. That seems to work well for me. I did recently read in 220 Triathlon magazine about carbo loading not working as well for women as men. After a big race or training I use to have a milk shake (Frijj) however since discovering Voom protein recoverfudge I tend to have one of those and then a proper meal within an hour if I can.

Do you have a special diet?

I follow no specific diet at all. I’ve always tended to eat quite healthily, having lots of fruit and veg so I’ve just stuck with that. At times I do crave certain foods e.g. red meat after a busy training week so I try to listen to my body and have that presuming that my iron stores must be low. The rest of the time it tends to be white meats, fish and dairy products where I get my protein from. 

Do you avoid certain foods to aid training?

I don't avoid anything, I think everything in moderation is good for you. The only exception to this is when I’m training for or racing age group triathlon and then I will use food products for fuel rather than gels or other sport drinks/nutrition in case they have anything in them that's banned.

Can you recommend any essential kit for beginners? Is there anything you’d tell a beginner to avoid?

Tri is such an expensive sport, ideally its good to try before you buy some of the expensive kit. My first bike was second hand and my first tri was a pool swim (Bassetlaw Sprint Triathlon) therefore I didn't need to invest in a trisuit or wetsuit to do it. I also just wore running trainers on the bike. Once I discovered that I enjoyed triathlon I started to buy kit then. My first tri suit and wet suit were from a sample sale and cost £15 and £89 respectively. Since then I have bought a better tri suit but I continue to use and love my wetsuit. Once I had been cycling for a year I upgraded my bike using the Bike to Work scheme (saving on tax) and bought proper bike shoes with cleats. 

Most essential piece of kit?

Hmm … for the run it has to be trainers (I don't dare run barefooted), for the swim,  goggles (especially as I wear contacts) and for the bike the bike. 

What bike do you ride? 

My first bike was an aluminium Claud Butler which I still use today on my turbo and in bad weather. My second bike is a Boardman Team Carbon and my latest bike is a Scott Foil which I love.....I’ve also got a Scott mountain bike. 

What trainers do you run in? 

For 10 miles or less I wear New Balance 890, for longer runs Nike Pegasus (or On Cloud) and off road it's Inov8 Mud Claws. I’m just trying out some Trail Talons at the moment as an ultra trainer for when I need an off road trainer with more cushioning as my Mud Claws are not good if there’s too much road involved. 

Any other top kit picks? 

I love my Zoggs Predator goggles. I’ve tried so many that leaked but these have been great 

Any preferred brands and sponsors? 

I like Nike, New Balance, Inov8 and Ron Hill for running. Biking has to be Gore and Scott and Sealskinz. Swimming all my kit is Blue Seventy. I’m a member of Skye and Lochalsh Running Club and Scottish Athletics, British Triathlon and I’m a Voom Champion.

Which element of tri is the most challenging for you? 

I’m petrified of open water so that is the most challenging however it also gives me the most buzz and that's why I’m still doing it rather than moving to duathlon. I love the run bit because I tend to do the best in that bit and pass a lot of other competitors. 

What’s been your best/worse race experience so far? 

I’ve had so many good races im not sure I actually have a best. I’ve enjoyed most of them since starting tri. Worse race experience was probably Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon last year as I wasn't 100% well and on antibiotics, the weather was awful, the waves in the loch panicked me (I thought it was going to be non-tidal with it being a loch but because it was that big and windy it had tides) and I felt nauseous for the last three miles of the run (possibly due to under fuelling on the run or the antibiotics)

Are you better at one than another? 

Compared to other triathletes I’m poor at swimming, ok at biking although probably a little worse than average and good at running. I’m one of the last out of the water, I catch some up on the bike but not many but then pass a lot on the run. I have been slowly improving in the swim and bike catching up with other familiar faces and names in my ages groups and clubs. 

What races would you like to do?

I would like to do a full distance tri soon but I feel that I need to do another middle distance first with Abberfeldy going so wrong. There’s no real reason why I have to do it except that its one of those things to tick off the bucketlist to say I have done. I think the best distance for me will be standard or possibly middle and I think that a full will be too much - but I just need to do one!

What motivation do you use to get through the tough parts of the race? 

I normally need motivation at the start of the swim when I’m feeling nervous and towards the end of the race when I’m exhausted. For the swim it’s usually the money and time spent training and travelling to the event. Telling myself that I can’t back out now as I’ve invested too much into it. Towards the end of the race its normally thoughts of "You've worked so hard to come this far! If you give up now it’s all been a waste of effort!" and that tends to keep me going. 

How does your husband/partner feel about being a running widow? Is he an awesome supporter or is he a bit crap? 

Hahaha a bit of both. He’s supported me well in some of my bigger events e.g. age group races but for others he’s tended to stay at home and out of the way. Initially I don't think he liked me training and racing so much but with time I think he’s realised that it keeps me happy so he tends to not mind as much and lets me get on with it (probably for a quieter life). He gets lots of holidays out of it which I also think he enjoys. 

What support do you need from other people? 

I’ve a few friends that I go biking and open water swimming with...without them I would never open water swim and I wouldn’t have been on as many amazing rides. 

Worst thing ever to happen to you while training? 

A friend fell over whilst running injuring and lacerated his knee. I had to run for help as he was unable to walk. Luckily it was all superficial in the end and he was ok. 

What are the top 3 little things you do top prevent injury? 

Cross train, stretch/pilates, avoid over training. I use to get regular massages but they’re not as easily accessible up in Skye so I rarely have these, having to rely on my foam roller, massage stick, band and pilates instead. 

How are you improving on your past training in order to get faster? 

I’ve just been trying to swim and bike more to get better at these whilst maintaining my running fitness. Previously I use to swim 1-2 a week and bike 1-2 a week. By increasing them to 3 times a week and the sessions being more structured with speed work/efforts in them I have improved in both disciplines.

For further inspiration you can follow Sarah on twitter @Attwood7Sarah or instagram @attwood_s or to see her in action, she’s racing Outlaw X Middle Distance Tri, Clumber Park Standard Distance Duathlon, Sweden ETu sprint tri (although it’s not an A-race for her) and in many of her local road races!

Sunday, 26 January 2020

ISPO Show: Surprise Product - DAHLIE Supreme Wool Jacket

Have you heard of the ISPO show in Munich? I was lucky enough to attend the show a few years ago and stayed in contact as it was such an amazing experience. It’s the largest trade show for sports businesses and has more than 2,800 exhibitors showing the latest sports products from everything from snows ports to health & fitness. As a result, when they asked for testers for some of the products that won awards at the show I jumped at the chance and was chosen to be the ‘female first’ tester.

The product that I was chosen to test was the DAHLIE Supreme Wool Jacket

What Did I Think?
I did an unpack of the jacket on instagram @mia79gbr which you may have seen (if you didn't I've uploaded it to YouTube also here). What I deliberately did was to NOT read up on the jacket. I didn’t want anything to influence my test. It helped that there was very limited information that came with the jacket so I didn’t have to worry about that!

My first impressions
When I opened the box and held up the jacket, I immediately got the impression of good quality. The jacket was a mix of 3 colours; white, orange and grey and the design was very pretty. It wasn’t over-detailed but it was a nice mix of block colours. I felt it would suit both males and females. 

It felt soft to the touch and the fabric felt a decent quality, I didn’t wasn’t rumpled from being in a box for a few days which was a very good start for a running jacket which would be put through it’s paces! I need my running jackets to perform well and take abuse as I need to concentrate on performance and not on how I fold my kit! 

As I looked through the jacket, I noted a few small things that I liked. For instance, there is a  rubber tab on the main zip. This is a small thing but when you’re racing long distances in the cold with gloves on, you don’t want to be fumbling with zips or having to take your gloves off. It’s a small thing but it can make a BIG difference. 

The waistband is adjustable so the wearer can make it a tighter fit. This doesn’t matter so much for me as I prefer my jackets to hang rather than be close fitting around the waist, but it could be good if you’re a runner who prefers a closer fitting jacket or who may be running long distances with temperature variations for instance from day to night. 

The jacket is slightly longer at the back so you don’t get a gap at the waistband between the jacket and your running tights. I like this – and who wants a draught on their back while they’re running? Particularly if it’s cold enough to warrant a jacket.

There are reflective stripes on the upper arms of jacket which are quite small – about 3 inches long and there are 2 on each arm. These are the only reflective sections on the jacket.

There are pinhole sized holes in the back of the jacket – typically where I sweat when I run. These pinholes appeared to increase the breathability of the jacket and to allow the evaporation of the sweat. If I wore a running backpack, these would also help to avoid overheating here which may occur if the jacket was the same thickness here as on the rest of the jacket.

The pockets are a decent size. Big enough for a phone, keys and snacks should I wish to carry these in my pocket. A pocket in each side of the jacket and the same size pocket on each size. 

Something I noticed when I turned the jacket inside out is that the fabric is interestingly textured on the inside in almost a honeycomb pattern. Looking at the fabric more closely, it had a shine indicating a water resistant or water-proofing quality.

There is quite a lot to it for a running jacket. I’m used to lightweight, packable style jackets. This jacket is almost too beautiful to be scrunched up in a pocket if I get too warm halfway through an interval session at the track. 

I also noticed that it is dirt-repellant. Despite having fairly large white blocks of colour on it – they don’t attract the dirt and any marks can easy be wiped off to leave no stain which I was very impressed with.

Challenges … or Opportunities?
About two days after I received the jacket, I went away with work and during a training exercise, I fell and sprained my ankle very badly. This meant that although I had run with the jacket, that I would not be able to do further running tests due to not being able to run. So what did I do …? I tested the jacket as an every day jacket also! No problem … turn the problem into an opportunity.

What do Dahlie say?
After I had tried the jacket and made up my own mind, I had a look at the Dahlie website to see what they had to say:

A technical women's jacket for cross-country skiing, intended for training at moderate to high intensity in colder weather. Made up of a 3-layer softshell material with wind and water-proof front.

Jacket Supreme Wmn with wool is a technical top jacket for cross-country skiing, designed for training at moderate to high intensity in colder weather. Made in a 3-layer softshell material with wind- and water-proof front. Lining of wool blend, with no less than 47% wool, for optimal temperature control on colder days. 

The wool blend material is upgraded with a new composition, which provides a better ventilation as well as improved insulation. Elastic stretch panels made of polyknit mixed with wool under the arms and on the back for good mobility and ventilation. Stretch panel on the back has tiny holes to optimize moisture wicking and venting. Reflective details for increased visibility on the front and back. Tailored sleeves for an ideal fit. Two hand pockets with zippers on the front. Bionic Finish Eco® provides durability to the material both in the form of long-lasting colours and the ability to withstand harsh weather.

  • Fluorine free
  • Water-repellant
  • Dirt-repellant
  • improved colour fastness
  • Quick dry
  • breathable
  • weather proof
  • Possible to reactivate with heat after wash

Would I buy this jacket? What would I change?
I would make larger reflective strips. The strips to be almost only added as a formality. They’re so small as to almost make no difference and it is unlikely that they would make the difference to someone being able to see someone wearing the jacket on low-visibility and not seeing them. 

I would add the rubber zip tabs onto the pockets also. The tab on the main zip is brilliant and means I can undo the zip without removing gloves, but this would be handy to have on the side pockets too. I’d also like a rear pocket. 

I did really like this jacket. I’d be able to use it as a high-performing jacket to wear to long-distance events particularly ultra-marathons and timed distance runs.

It also works as an every day jacket as I found out when wear it while injured. It is smart enough to wear to work or to the office and socially and it is warm enough to wear instead of a light jumper. 

Any Downsides?
A downside, is that it is expensive unless you have the funds to fully prepare for a big event and want a premium jacket but in which case, it is a great quality, high performing jacket and it looks as great as it’s performance.

The jacket can be purchased from the Dahlie Sports website and retails at 299 EURO. 

**I was allowed to keep the jacket after the test but said exactly what I thought of it. I’m not getting paid to write this review.**

Friday, 27 December 2019

Some good news and some pant-wetting terrifying news ...

So some good news and some pant-wetting terrifying news. Same news.

I’ve qualified to represent GB in triathlon in middle distance for 2020.

Not really the start to the year I’d hoped, having tripped over a brick and sprained my ankle so hopping like a hoppy thing at the moment. A kangaroo but a bit more pathetic. Wallaby? Anyway. I’m going to be doing some awesome racing in Austria. Good news is that it’s the same course where I raced before a couple of years ago so I know the route. Bad news I had a really shit race last time. 

But open the plus side so long as I don’t forget to drink, don’t run over my drinks bottle and try not to look like I’m channeling some kind of zombie this year then it has to go better than last time, right? RIGHT? 

And just to cheer you up here’s my photo from the race last time.

Yeah. It really WAS that bad.

If you want to laugh at my misfortune in 2016 full story is here

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Puig de Sant Salvadore: Accidental Mountain Biking in Mallorca

So I cycled up Puig De Sant Salvadore ... by accident. On a mountain bike. Because I wanted to have a look at the cross on the hill.

You know when you’re travelling on a train or bus and you see something interesting, but you can’t stop to look at it? Well I had that this year when I was on holiday in Mallorca. I was on the way back from a market on a bus and there was a cross on a hill. A big cross on a big hill.

I couldn’t see much before it disappeared off to the side as the bus continued its dusty journey back towards Cales de Mallorca. But I marked the place on the map and decided I wanted to try and find it.

The next day, I popped into the town to see if I could hire a bike. I could. There was a choice of precisely two bikes. A mountain bike with flat tyres or a mountain bike with no brakes.

I decided that I’d take a chance on a puncture rather than not being able to stop and chose the bike sitting on the flats. Pumped up the tyres and gave the vendor a tenner and I was off.  Well almost off. There were no bottle cages on the bike so bought a child’s rucksack, so I could pop a drink in it. It would have been hard work cycling in 35*c with no water.

I set a route using google maps which gave me a bike route. It took me out of the town and down a small rutted dirt road. Maybe I had been lucky that there were no road bikes. The road was quiet and dusty with an occasional low residence set back from the road. I cycled past these quickly half-expecting a mean dog to rush out of the open gates and chase me down the track. After a couple of miles, Google Maps directed me up a drive with a padlocked gate. I dithered and finally decided it wasn’t worth the owner chasing me out with previously-mentioned mean dog and turned my mountain bike around.

The bike tyres had stayed pumped up and the bike was comfortable although there was a surreal moment when I heard a violin in the middle of nowhere. I'd stopped on a hill to check the maps and heard someone playing badly and quietly. I listened for a while as couldn't place the direction and realised it was the brakes rubbing. It sounds stupid, but it sounded exactly as if someone was playing the violin badly. It was very eerie.

Cycled on a main road for a while and then maps directed me onto another dirt track. All seemed to be going well until I passed a sign. I had NO CLUE what it meant so dug out Google Translate (as Google was clearly on my side today *cough*) and apparently, I was in a private hunters’ reserve. Oh. Maybe it’s just a road going through a reserve. The road on the map looked ok and Google HAD directed me through here. I carried on, cycling even quicker past the occasional residence than on the previous road in case the owners had mean dogs AND shot guns. Until the road ended up at a massive high fence with barbed wire on. OK then. Another U-turn back to the road.

Decided enough was enough. I decided that I was staying on the tarmac and ignoring Google. Twice was enough. I'd had a free pass on two of the roads but wasn't going to give it a chance to land me in the middle of an ordnance testing zone next time.

The tarmac roads were smooth and hilly and the drivers gave me loads of room and were pretty courteous. I could see the cross on the hill now in the distance. Checking the map I would go past it on the same route as the bus when I had first spotted it and then circle back around. I'd then have a bit of a hill to cycle up to see it. 

I found the turnoff and suddenly the road started climbing. It was a steady incline, past a dry looking field with goats in it. The first corner turned to the left with what looked like a fountain at the corner. I propped the bike up and went to try and fill up my water bottle as it had been a hot, dry ride so far, but I’d been mistaken and it appeared to be a memorial. No water in this stone.

I still had a few inches of water left so no drama. If it was like England, there would probably be a church near the cross and these always had a water tap. I’ve been helped plenty of times by spotting a spire or tower when out running or on my bike in the heat. 

I set off on the trusty mountain bike and the climb intensified and the road became alpine style switchbacks. Divine to cycle and the views were absolutely glorious! I could see the plains spread out below me and with each corner I could see further and further. 

However, I knew I had probably bitten off more than I could chew when a man leant out of his car window and shouted “Allez! Allez!” at me and I started noticing the paint on the road cheering cyclists onwards ...

And there I was on my borrowed mountain bike (which I had to blow up the tyres before I started and reconnect brakes!) and no bottle cages trying to get up this climb.

The climbs kept on coming. They were fun to cycle, and I only had a mouthful of water left in my bottle now. I was pretty sure there would be a water tap or something at the top and I hadn’t passed any shops on my way here, so my only bet was to keep going and see if there was water at the top because I knew for a fact there wasn’t any at the bottom.

An occasional car passed. The road was narrow, but they gave me plenty of room and the views kept me going. It was stunning. With every switchback and every climb, the view got better and better. Mallorca was laid out below me like a patchwork quilt. The climb wasn’t too bad - it was 5km long, but it wasn’t particularly steep, so I could just dig in and enjoy it. And I did.

The climb got steeper as I got closer to the top and I could see the cross above me growing larger and more glorious. The final turn took me around a steep corner with the cross on my left and a tower in front of me.

Was this it? Apparently not. The road carried on climbing towards a monastery and looped around one more time towards the gates. 

Divine views all around me. Stately stonework and stunning buildings.


On the left.

A bar. And the best tasting Coca Cola I have ever tasted.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Coventry Sprint Tri: Stupid Cycling Games & Free Weather

I love my car. It goes well, it’s comfortable and it’s an estate so plenty of room to throw a bike and triathlon kit in the back. And still have plenty of room for snack cheese and the like.

My favourite and very reddest trainers
Downsides: she might be a bit high mileage (230,000 miles …), she might be a bit scratched (some scrote went around her with a screwdriver while parked in Slough … lesson there) and she might be a bit aged (she’s almost old enough to vote). 

However, she’s been incredibly reliable even if the MOT is squeaky bum time, but the age and other bits do mean that things occasionally go wrong.

Like today. Rolling down the M6, the wind volume went up dramatically and it suddenly got a bit drafty inside the car. Turns out that one of the rear windows had decided that it might be nicer INSIDE the door, had fallen down and it wouldn’t go back up again. Yep. Free indoors weather. And free rain, free wind, free roadkill and whatever else the British summertime threw at me today. 

Great. So, the car would be insecure all day while I was racking and racing. Oh well. At least it’s not prime theft material. I couldn’t see any motor thieves with a car-theft shopping-list for an ageing Skoda with less than the usual number of windows and an odometer most of the way to the moon. 

Parked my open-to-the-elements vehicle up at the event and walked up to the start with Anna and Mike from Rugby Tri Club. On the way, we spotted a couple of friends, Rae and Dave and their gorgeous campervan. I had immediate vehicle envy. AND I couldn’t help noticing that Rae and Dave’s vehicle had all its windows. Posh.

I was so overcome with window-envy that I walked straight past the massive ‘TRANSITION’ sign. Which is clearly something that I don’t normally do. Get lost on the way to transition? Me?

Finally got myself through the door and picked up my race pack. Coventry Tri didn’t bother with race tattoos, preferring instead a sharpie and a willing limb.

This would normally be fine however having the attention span of a gerbil, I spotted a tri buddy, Fiona across the room and gave her an enthusiastic wave. Unfortunately, at the same time as the marshal was trying to write my number on my now rapidly waving arm. My race number looked like a tribal tattoo.

I’d forgotten how lovely it was doing a local event. Angela, Richard, Corinna and Guy from run club were all marshalling and lots of Tri Club friends were there too. I’d have lots of people to cheer on and wave to on the course should I have an excess of energy. Or need a distraction from the pain of having to do a short-distance race.

I racked Pinky-The-Amazing-TT-Bike, laid out my kit and sellotaped the gels to her frame. Everything important now sorted so went off to hunt down some caffeine. The coffee shop wasn’t open, but an amazing chap on reception opened the breakfast bar for me specially and got me a free coffee. It’s the little things that make a big difference. And I really need coffee to have a pre-race poo. So there’s that. 

The swim times for me and Anna were only 5 mins apart, so we walked down to the swimming pool and had pre-race nerves together. Even better, we were in the same lane which was lovely as I get quite nervous before a swim and it was a comfort to swim with a friend. As an additional bonus, one of my friends Rae was my lane marshal (yes she of the campervan with all the windows) and was to be counting laps for my lane. She was telling people when they had 2 laps to go so I didn’t even have to worry about over or under-counting my laps. 

There was a choice of hat colours to differentiate the swimmers in the lane, so I chose red to match my trisuit. And to match my terror creeping in at the edges which happens before a race. I would be fine when I started but pre-race is the scariest time.

I put my hat on and was signalled by Rae and I slipped into the water. The swim felt like it went quickly, and I was getting out of the water before I knew it. Had to leave the red hat poolside so I pushed my goggles down around my neck and dropped the hat.

Out of the warmth of the pool and out of the door to transition. Onto the cold tarmac and into the cool air, around the side of the building, into transition and a run towards where Pinky-The-TT-Bike was waiting for me on the front row.

Sunglasses on, helmet on and race belt, socks and bike shoes. And go, go, go …

I didn’t realise until I was already sprinting towards the mount line with Pinky that I’d left my goggles on and they were hanging round my neck like a damp rubber necklace.

Great. Well I’m going to look even more of a twerp in my race pics than usual. It looked as though I was planning to cycle through some REALLY deep floods. Well anything is possible in the British weather … I’d just have to pretend I was being REALLY well prepared. 

I got completely confused by the cones in the car park leading out of transition onto the road. There was a line of cones, but I wasn’t sure which side of them I was supposed to be on. Decided to compromise by winding in and out. So, I’m wearing goggles on my bike and treating the road markings like some sort of dog-agility course. Get a grip, Booker!

Finally, out onto bike course and away from the confusing cones and I got a cheer from Corinna who was marshalling the site access. Although she did ALSO give me a confused look when she spotted the goggles.

I got my head down and concentrated on pedalling. I could see one chap in black and white in the distance, so I concentrated on closing the gap to him. On downhills and flats, he widened the gap and on uphills I started catching him. This could be lap one’s game.

The Coventry Tri bike course consists of one small lap and one big lap. It was a mix of roads and there was some cycling in town but a lot of pretty lanes too. It was undulating, but road surfaces weren’t too bad apart from quite a lot of drain covers. It was a pretty course but as I found when recceing it, it was surprisingly slow.

I overtook a female cyclist early on in lap 1 and wanted to see if I could overtake her again when I went out on my second lap.  Silly games like this keep me occupied on the bike in an event otherwise I get distracted and drift off onto ‘social pace’ and start looking at people’s gardens and singing. My attention span really IS appalling.

Anna my swim lane buddy was clearly smashing the bike as I hadn’t seen her AT ALL despite her saying that she was going to cycle slowly and have lots of fun doing it. I spent the rest of the bike ride trying to catch the chap in the black and white top and as I came around the corner in a lane I was overtaken by a bloke on a disc wheel. Bugger. Back to 1 overtake and 1 overtaken. As I came down the hill, I could see someone flying up the other side! Anna! It was lovely to see her and we exchanged brief words of encouragement.

As we came up to the end of the lane and the only right turn on the course, I had to stop as there was traffic coming down the hill. All that hard work to have to sit and wait at a junction. And of course, setting off, I was in the wrong gear having not been prepared to stop for traffic as it was early on a Sunday morning!

Finally got going again and spotted Mike - a Rugby Tri friend, so cheered him on as I passed on the bike as Mike was already out on the run. He didn’t look like he was enjoying the run. This was a bad sign. Mike always looks strong so he’d either picked up an injury or the run course was a pig!

Due to having to stop, I had completely lost sight of the cyclist in black and white I had been trying to catch but, I did see the female from lap one. Managed to grab a sneaky overtake so that was 3 overtaken and 1 overtook me.

Last little bit and coming up to the turning back into the leisure centre, a car started pulling through in front of me from the opposite side of the road. Corinna-the-hero had practically thrown herself on the bonnet and was shouting at him to stop and get off the race course. I managed to pull the bike in while the car was stopped and - ignoring the confusing cones – was heading back to transition to drop off Pinky – and the goggles - and pull on my trainers.

I heard the announcer shout that Anna of Rugby Tri was coming into transition, so this gave me the impetus to get off my arse and get onto the run. It’s only 3 miles, right? How hard can it be?

Pretty bloody hard when it’s an out and back and the whole first half is uphill.

I didn’t look at my pace but went on feel and went as fast as I could considering it was hot, uphill and I had been neglecting my speedwork. So, about the speed of a really poorly badger then. With 3 legs and ingrown toenails.

It was tough. I was hot, grumpy and was pretty sure I was at max heartrate. I could feel my heart hammering the inside of my chest. And the road kept going up and up. Where was this turnaround point?

And the most irritating thing was that by the time I FINALLY reached the turnaround point, my legs were too battered to make the most of the downhill which I had crawled up with such difficulty on the way out.

It’s never good when you’re on a 3.1 mile run but your watch ticks over 3 miles and you’re not even into the road that the leisure centre is on, let alone the field behind the leisure centre in the middle of which is standing the finish gantry.

BUT … I knew I was close. Come on legs just keep running. Come on Sarah, don’t get overtaken.

Over the crazy paving. (YES – crazy paving!) … Up MORE uphill … onto the grass … up the grass uphill … bloody hell that finish gantry is never getting closer!


Over the line.

And bling.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Ultimate Triathlon Middle Distance: Choking The Bees & Dreaming of Aliens

I’d raced one of the UK Triathlon events at Stratford and it was well organised so when I heard they did a middle distance I decided to give it a go. Middle Distance is my favourite. None of this rushing around, max heart-rate nonsense … I settle in with some snacks and try not to drown, fall off or fall over. 

I had the usual amount of sleep before a race. None. And the usual quality. Poor with occasional sitting bolt-upright convinced I’d missed the alarm. So I awoke feeling unrested and looking bleary eyed. Standard Morning Sarah. 

However my race plaits were on point so even though my face would look dreadful in race photos, if I could convince the photographer to get the back of my head there might be a salvageable pic in the bunch. 

It was easy to find the car park but while fully laden with bike and tri bag, I couldn’t work out where to register.  It’s so unlike me to get lost, right?  Asked one of athletes milling about for directions and it turned out to be someone I follow on twitter. Thanks for sending me in the right direction despite all the tripe I post on twitter ...

Despite a 0930hrs start, I was ridiculously early for the race. No point sitting in the hotel room faffing when I could be at the event faffing, right? Besides plaits were already perfect...

As Pinky swings gently in the breeze ...

At least being insanely early to the event meant there was lots of space in transition. It was an open transition which meant that numbers weren't allocated on the racking – it was basically first come first served. Sometimes this can be carnage but it all seemed fairly amicable and there were no punch ups over whose sandwiches were overlapping whose bike tyres. I may be small but I’m feisty. I NEED snack space. 

There was a lovely Pinky-The-TT-Bike sized space on the front row so I set up there. Pinky rocked gently in the breeze looking tiny next to all the massive man-bikes and so far she was the only pink bike racked. 

The Ultimate Triathlon was running a mix of distances today: ironman, half-iron and olympic which was going to be interesting and would mean it’d be difficult to tell where I was in the field as wouldn’t know if the females were going long distance or short distance. The races were started at different times and the iron-distance competitors were set off first so I got to cheer them as they started their event. 

I’d left the hotel too early to have enough coffee. I was certainly feeling the lack of caffeine and was pretty sure there was blood in my coffee stream. Needed to remedy that. And fast. I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to remain upright without the proper caffeine saturation levels. 

That would be fine for the swim but a bit difficult on the run clearly.

I can’t find the start of the race without help but my caffeine radar was clearly operating efficiently as I found the cafe without any problem. It was nice sitting in the conservatory and there was a great view of Alderford Lake and the swimmers looping the island in their iron distance swim but I was wondering if I’d been ripped off. I’d paid the cafe £5 to park in a field and had just forked over £3.25 for a coffee so the cafe had made £8.25 off me for basically spooning a teaspoon of instant into a cup and pouring hot water on it. But coffee. Lovely, lovely coffee.

It was lovely to see Gazz and his tri buddy David who were also competing today in the half ironman distance. It was Gazz’s first 70.3 so he was nervous but focused. Cheered them off as they started 30 mins before me and decided that my goal today would be catching them up … if I could! 

Look at me with my race tattoo the right way up ...!

I had time for a final transition check and then it was onto the aerobics of getting into my wetsuit. It’s a hard job getting into the swim wetsuits and if you can imagine a walrus trying to star jump you’ve probably got a fairly good picture of how I look getting into it. But with more grunting. I’m not even joking.

It’s probably why I get given a LOT of space in transition. No-one wants to be near the weird grunty girl. Even if it’s a good space at the front. 

I'm TOTALLY pretending I'm at the Olympics

We were paraded down to the start as a group with a big Union flag being waved in front of us like we were at the Olympics. I felt a bit special until I realised that feeling was actually that I really needed a wee quite badly and probably shouldn’t have drunk all that coffee after all. 

Down at the side of the lake, we were stopped to let the first male competitor come in off his first lap. We all gave him a resounding cheer and wondered if we’d be able to swim quick enough to draft him. 

Inner voice: DON'T DROWN! DON'T DROWN!

The water was divine at 17*c.  It was like the temperature of bath water so practically a bath but with carp and duck poop instead of bubbles. 

There were only 63 females so the pack were pretty spread out. When the horn went I couldn’t find any feet to sit on – my usual tactic so had to splash out on my own. The horror. How was I going to manage without some cheat-feet?

However it was a lovely swim even if I had to actually do some work. It went round an island, back to the bank, out and on my feet and a quick sprint along the shore and back into the warm lake for lap 2. I was swimming along actually thinking “I don't even hate this.” Probably meant that I wasn’t swimming hard enough. 


When I got out of water I saw 33 mins on my Garmin, I was ecstatic. I swim like I’m fighting off bees so had clearly been flailing in the correct direction this time.

I peeled the wetsuit off. Not quite as awful as putting it on – but a close second and if I don’t smack myself in the face while doing it, it’s as good as a win. I stuck helmet, tri belt, socks and bike shoes on myself and was about to take Pinky off the rack when I spotted my timing chip in the grass. It must have dropped off with the wetsuit. Secured it back around my ankle and pegged it out of transition. 

Had a laugh with the marshal on the run out of transition and nearly tripped over the race photographer lying on the ground. He must have taken offence at my clumsiness as he took a BEAUTIFUL shot from floor level which captured all 5 of my chins in motion. 

It was like a Truffle-Shuffle but with chins and a bike.


The path after the mount line was very narrow and there were 2 girls stopped on either side of it blocking it with their bikes and arses so I had no option but to do a static mount. Frustrating. I could have walked out if transition instead of trampling the photographer and stood around picking my trisuit out of my arse and achieved the same time. 

However, I patiently waited behind them and then overtook them in a huff as soon as I got onto the open road. 

The bike course had 4 roundabouts in the first 3 miles but after that it was fast roads where you could put your head down and go. The route was roughly triangular with a tail which was the turnaround point. It was a nice undulating route with no real climbs but a bit of a drag from mile 12 with a 1.5 mile hill but it was nothing horrific. The scenery was nice and the route took you through rural Shropshire with thatched cottages and some really lovely views. The road surfaces were pretty decent apart from a very occasional pothole and traffic was reasonable.

And it should have been a cracking ride. BUT.

I set off and couldn’t quite work out why everybody coming the other way looked so damn miserable. The first leg of the triangle went by quite quickly and I over took a few people and kept an eye out for Ridley which I knew was a village sign that came up before the turn off point. It also gave me a pleasant few moments thinking about the Alien films and how aliens didn’t have to do all this swimming before a nice bike ride ...

However, my nice thoughts about whether aliens would wear helmets on the front or the backs of their heads were rudely interrupted by a bee flying through the vents in my helmet. 

ARRGH! Do I stop, take helmet off and run around shrieking “it’s in my hair! It’s in my hair!” and flailing at my own head or do I just carry on, hope I don’t get stung, hope I’m not allergic to bees and hope it’s not a massive brain eating hornet? I carried on. I decided that I probably smelled of lake water and duck shit so the bee hopefully would just think I was some kind of fast moving algae and not a threat and find its own way out.

Also if it was brain-eating it would probably starve to death in MY helmet ...

The buzzing stopped and I didn’t get stung so it either choked on a chunk of duck poo or escaped. 


The bike course took a left turn and I was immediately into a headwind so brutal I thought I had a flat tyre. I even checked the brakes weren’t jammed.

Ok so this is why everyone coming the other way looked so miserable.  

My plaits flew out behind me like they were on wires. I dug in trying desperately not to use my quads too much but feeling as though the road surface was sticky glue as it certainly didn’t feel like I was moving. Even ‘Pinky The Wonder Bike’ couldn't make me feel as though I was going faster than terminally-ill-snail pace.

And then I hit the caravans. Not literally. Although I may as well have. It was clearly the Sunday that every caravan owner decided that THIS was the weekend to be out on the road. Holding everybody up. Cars were beeping their horns, swerving around like Wacky Racers and driving like they were in an arcade game. The cars pulling the caravans were actually very courteous towards the cyclists but the cars attempting to overtake them were being absolutely awful.

Although only on lap 1, pushing against the tough headwind had made it feel as though I’d already completed the 56 miles. I gurned as I pedalled towards the turnaround point, aware that now it was my turn to look grumpy as the cyclists coming the other way were flying with the wind behind them. The turnaround point was great though with lots of really enthusiastic supporters and some lovely marshals cheering us on and I set on on lap 2 with new determination. And a new fear of caravans.

I was trialling my new hydration system on the bike today and it was a torpedo system with a reservoir tucked between the aero bars. It had been surprisingly easy to fill on the move – lucky really as I’d already removed the bottle cages. However, I’d chosen a black reservoir to match the bike but should have chosen the white one as it would have been easier to see how much liquid was left inside it. 

Lap 2 was delightfully uneventful. No bees, alas no alien dreams but also no psychotic driving. However, as I came towards the end of lap 2, unable to see the fluid levels on the black reservoir, I ran out of water. By my reckoning I only had about 10 miles left but with the headwind and the heat, I was using a lot of liquid.

Oh well. Not much I could do about it now. Except shrivel up like a raisin.

Dehydrated, coming towards the final roundabout and feeling like Gordon Ramsay pre-botox, I saw Gazz going the other way. He was heading back into transition and I reckoned he was about half a kilometre in front of me. Right. Chase Gazz down. I might be feeling as dry as a Methodists wine cellar, but Gazz could be my incentive for a speedy turnaround in transition. 

The bike had been tough but I didn’t think I’d had a bad ride. I’d been overtaken by 2 people only, both of whom were males on TT bikes. 

Right think speed, Booker! Bike on the rack, helmet off, trainers on. Number turned around and OUT!

I'm definitely not looking for dropped snacks. *cough*

Onto the run. The first lap is always the hardest as my legs are slow on the uptake and it takes them a while to realise I’m trying to run instead of cycle. They’re basically me before coffee. 

If some scientist could invent some sort of caffeine for legs, I would be all over that. Think how smug my legs would be. I’d have champion calves, nimble kneecaps and thoroughbred thighs. 

The run laps were 3 laps of just over 4 miles, half of which was and out and back around a wooded trail and around a twisty path across a field and the other half of which was undulating, twisty country lanes. I enjoyed the wooded section. It was all bumpy grass but there were lots of supporters and it was pretty. I saw Gazz in this section at the turnaround. He spotted me and he did a massively confused face at me. It seemed I’d managed to beat him out of transition.

The next little section was a twisty section over a field which added some extra distance and it got the runners out into the lanes. 

The lanes were hell. Utter hell. They were very slightly undulating and a bit twisty and EVERY PART LOOKED THE SAME. It was basically like running on a treadmill but in the heat and when you’re already tired.

I spent lap 1 chasing people down. My legs don’t work properly for a few miles after the bike so I need to keep my head occupied counting people before it realises my legs don’t have a clue what they’re doing. 

The half, full and quarter triathlon runners were all on the field now and it was impossible to tell which race people were doing so had no clue where I was in the field. 

I saw a few Rugby Tri clubmates out on the course which was nice and I managed to give Keith, Russell and his nephew a cheer when I saw them. OK. A thumbs up. I gave them a thumbs up. They all seemed to be making it look much easier than it felt to me. I was tired, dehydrated and was at that point in the race where I was questioning why I did triathlons rather than doing ‘sitting’. Sitting seemed like a really good sport right now. I could really get into doing lots of sitting. Yep. Sitting was definitely the sport for me. After THIS race. I’ll just finish this one off ...


I recognised Marc from twitter who was doing the full iron distance. He looked chilled out and made it look very easy in his bright Swansea Vale Tri kit. C'mon - you're doing TWICE the distance I am. At least make it look tough!

The run was hard and the weather was humid. I’d given up looking at my watch and just ran as hard as I could. I was using racing lines as much as possible - taking corners as tight as possible to avoid running over distance and just keeping going. I was telling myself that I’d done a great swim and a great bike so I just needed to hold out on the run In the words of Meatloaf, 2 out of 3 aint bad. I didn’t need to chase paces, just keep going.

I also had a word with the legs. I told them to stop bitching and that if they could run 100 miles then they could certainly manage 13 without complaining especially since I’d taken them for a nice paddle in the lake and they’ve just had a nice sit down on the bike. Stupid legs.

I followed some pink plaits through the lanes for a while and had brief chat as we passed. I had pink plait envy – my brown braids just weren’t cutting it. I found out later it was Chris - Greenys Punk off twitter.

On each run turnaround, I saw Gazz. Each time he told me he was struggling. I tried to encourage him - and myself - by shouting motivational stuff but it came out as random nonsense. “This is the last time you’ll run this bit until you’re last lap!” Errr what? and “We’re nearly there except for all this running.” I should definitely NOT get a job as a motivational sign maker. 

I would be shit at that. 

Even more shit than I was at running after a paddle and a sit down on a bike.

Finally I was on the last lap. I’d been keeping an eye on the females around me as I was age group hunting and it was keeping me occupied trying to guess everyone’s age groups. Unfortunately I am RUBBISH at this and the further we all ran on that hot day, the more haggard everyone became. 1st lap: every female I passed: “Ah she’s definitely younger than me.” 2nd lap: “She might be in my age group” 3rd lap: “She’s around 60 I reckon”. I can only imagine as they passed me they just assumed I was wearing lycra as leisurewear to collect my pension. 

There were a few girls I kept seeing on the turnarounds who were within a kilometre of me. I kept trying to work out whether I was catching them or they were catching me and whether they were in a position to catch me if they did a good sprint finish.


I couldn’t work it out. I just decided that as soon as I came into the last field and had half a kilometre to go, I just had to run as hard as I could and if anyone caught me up then they totally deserved to kick my arse.


As my legs pinwheeled and dragged me towards the finish line, I realised my number was now back to front. As a result my finishers pics are me messing about with my kit.


Under the finishers arch to hear the announcement that I was 3rd lady.


So that happened. Looks like the Power Plaits worked!


Finish Time 05:26:57
OVERALL 71/275

Fancy a go? You can find the UK Triathlon Whitchurch Middle Distance entry here.

NOTE: I was offered a space as being part of the ASICS FrontRunners but UK Triathlon did not know I was writing a blog about the even nor did they ask me to or ask me to recommend the event so this blog is exactly how I found the event.