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Thursday, 14 February 2019

Autumn 100: Poo Tourism and REALLY Appalling Knock Knock Jokes

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

Sigh. I never learn. 

The cat bitching about not being allowed my food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lovely Liz

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

With Richard in the cafe drinking ALL the coffee~!

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

Me, Alan and Alex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yum, bloody yum.

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

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

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

Hooray I like running again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Checkpoint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I did. Because I had to. 

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Vitruvian Triathlon: Weeing on the Beach & Having Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One leg at a time. 

Have courage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have courage.

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

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

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

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

And I found my car at the end. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Rockay Socks Review: Recycled Waste in the Oceans

Rockay Socks sent me a pair of socks to review. I said exactly what I thought and I wasn't paid to review them ... trust me, I'm a runner :)

Wearing the socks at A100 ...!

Socks are socks, right? They're pretty crucial to running, but I don't really think about them. I know when I'm wearing a decent pair of running socks when I don't realise I've got them on. 

What caught my interest with the Rockay Socks was that the company are in the process of sourcing fabrics made from collected plastic in our oceans. That means that when I buy my socks from them, not only are they made from a recycled product but from a clean up operation that clears up some of the rubbish that's being dumped in the seas. And turns it into something lovely like new socks! 

That's all well and good though but doesn't that make them a silly price? Surprisingly not. Often I find that for products produced in a more sustainable way, there's an additional cost involved – which is usually passed on to the consumer but these socks were pretty much the price of a regular pair of running socks, around £15 a pair. I quite liked the idea of spending the money I'd usually use on socks to buy ones that were a bit more ethically sourced. I could be smug AND have warm feet. Win-win. 

I was a bit concerned about whether they'd perform as well as my 'normal' run socks … that I'd notice I was wearing them but they were snug and comfy with the new sock fluffy feeling. There's a compression band which stretches around the arch of the foot to provide pressure and support there but I liked this as it kept the sock in place and it didn't shift or bunch.  I'm a simple person, I don't want to feel a sock when I run and I don't want it to move around. This does its job. 

The only fault I could find was that the pair of socks were sent to me in a plastic bag which I wasn't convinced was environmentally friendly like their pledge or required … but I couldn't find a fault with the product. 

If you fancy a pair of decent running socks that won't break the bank AND will give you a nice smug glow about helping the environment, you can buy a pair from here or here

Alternatively, if you're fully stocked in running socks, it IS nearly Christmas so you can always buy a pair for me.

They're also guaranteed for life.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Swim Rutland 4k: A bit of chop and a bit of smug

I've taken part in this iconic event twice before with mixed results which have included missing the boat across to the start and rushing across the pebbly beach in my wetsuit like an anxious walrus, doing my fastest 2k swim time after picking up a pair of particularly quick feet and being particularly pleased at being able to warm up my wetsuit for the first time in the traditional swimmer way. My resulting smugness almost resulted in me missing the start.

However, this year instead of the usual 2km swim across Rutland Water and taking the iconic ship The Rutland Belle to the start, I would be swimming there AND back. A 4km swim and my furthest distance to date. Eeek. 

However, it was a great place to do this, I've swam in this reservoir many times including during races such as The Vitruvian and The Dambuster and during the summer open water sessions and I was exciting to do this event in somewhere so familiar. That didn't mean that I wasn't nervous. I was eyeing up swimmers at the start checking out the feet and hoping to attach myself to a particularly non-kicky but draft-friendly pair. I was however a little concerned about the weather.

The skies were a slate grey and the wind, having swirled across from the US hurricanes, was blowing hard and rocking the bright orange buoys that marked the route across to the now deconsecrated St Matthews on the shore at Normanton. Rutland Water is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in Europe and it looked a long way across today. 

At least I didn't have to worry about the organisation. Swim Rutland is run by the same people as the Rutland Marathon and Half-Marathon and everything runs like clockwork. I knew I would be in safe hands for my longest swim distance as there were always plenty of safety crews with kayakers and Stand-up Paddleboarders along the swim route. 

Ok. Deep breath. And in. I followed the crowd of people in yellow swim hats – the mad people doing the 4km swim. And tried not to think about the people doing the 8km swim … Maybe one day. But not today. 

A deep breath and we were in. There is something relaxing about swimming a long distance. There isn't the rush and panic and crush that you get in shorter distances as people jostle for position. There's time to find your pace and find your rhythm. And in my case find a likely pair of feet to draft.

I spotted a likely pair early on and followed on. When I'm a bit nervous about a swim, I find that finding some feet to draft relaxes me further. There is no pressure about pace, about sighting. You can get into your own rhythm and just concentrate on stroke, pull and breathing. If the feet are going quicker than you'd like then you can speed up or let them go. Or if too slow you can pass the swimmer or slow down. No pressure, no stress, just swim. 

Due to the wind, the swim out was tougher than I'd expected. There were some waves halfway across which is unusual for Rutland Water. It was strange going up and down with the waves almost as though I was in the sea but with fresh water. It was tough making headway but everyone was in the same water with the same conditions and the feet I was following stayed in sight so I clung on and followed them through the chop.

Coming in towards the Normanton shore, I could see the abbey when I sighted on the left hand side. It was a striking sight, especially against the dark and stormy skies. About 50m from shore, the stream of swimmers turned around the last buoy to the right and came back around in a u-turn towards Whitwell. 2Km done. 

Coming up to halfway through the chop, I suddenly had cramp in my right calf. My foot jerked up and I stopped swimming and clung onto my tow-float to give my legs a break and a chance for the cramp to ease. Ugh. How frustrating. The lovely feet I had been following disappeared into the distance as I bobbed along with the waves trying to relieve the pain in my calf. I massaged it with my hand and decided to strike out again. 

Just 1 kilometre to go now and I was going with the wind rather than against it this time. My arms were fatigued now as I was swimming twice my usual 1900m distance and I was ready to reach the finish which I could now see on the bank I was swimming towards. Stroke, pull,Stroke, pull, stroke, pull, breathe … and repeat. Coming up to the bank I could feel the soft touch of weed on my legs and could feel it as I pulled my hands through the water like mermaid hair. Pull and stroke. Breathe. 

And I could feel the stones under my hands. 

I stood, realising that I'd finished 4k of swimming and wondering how this girl who had started open water swimming not that long ago had done this. 

And I was proud.

If you fancy having a go at this event the 2019 Rutland Swim is 11/08/2019 and costs £38. Enter here. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Cowman Triathlon: Mono-Boob, The Poo Fairy & Reckless Recceing

Does anything else panic triathletes like no visit from the Poo Fairy on the morning before the race? No-one wants to be that person who halfway through the race is crying and has poo down their legs. NO-ONE.

Despite being chilled out at the start of this one, the Poo Fairy did not visit. I had all the coffee. No visit. At what point do I call the race off? I do not want to be Mrs Soils-Her-Trisuit. 

And then Newport Pagnell Services. NPS I love you. Poo Fairy I love you too. 

ALL THE FILTERS. It's early, ok??

Finally got to the start of The Cowman about 30 mins before the transition closed. I saw another tri buddy, JS and a FrontRunner buddy Raph who was about to complete his first-ever triathlon. Nice to have tri buddies especially if you strike a start line deal that no-one kicks anyone else in the head during the swim.I was wearing 2 hats since nearly losing my goggles at the Vitruvian Triathlon in a previous event due to a head strike by a friend. I don't know why she's doing triathlon as judging by the kick she would be AMAZING at cagefighting. 

Start of Swim
It was a deep water start so I climbed into lake avoiding the floating Carling can at the waters edge. The water was so warm it was almost bath temperature. I'm not sure whether it was due to the heat of the day or the fact that 100 triathletes were already wee-ing in it but it was nice to have a warm start whatever the reason. 

Avoiding the Carling cans
There was a bit of smacking and kicking at the start but there was no panic at all and the bashing didn't even interrupt my breathing rhythm. I picked up a pair of feet early on going the right speed and hung on. It seemed I'd picked a winner, he was a nice consistent swimmer so easy to follow and he was going close to the buoys and sighting well. 

Someone else was trying to draft same pair of feet at one point so I nudged them away. Often if this happens I give way but I was comfortable today so gave them the bugger off cues. Occasionally I felt a touch on my feet so knew someone else was following my toes like a front crawl train. 

It was over quickly and before I knew it the blue gantry was visible on the bank and everyone took off like they had engines, churning the water with their arms and legs. I  cracked on at my own pace and swam right up to the arch and was helped up by the marshals. I stoped my watch for for the swim and was amazed to see it read 32 ... a 6 minute swim Pb. 

I smiled my way out into transition. Knowing that even if everything else went to hell today I’d had a cracking swim. 

Slapped the helmet on and the glasses, glove-free today and ran the bike out of transition grinning like a chimp.  Standard Sarah.

As usual there were the usual group clogging up the mount / dismount line trying in vain to swing their legs over their bikes without smacking each other and attempting to clip in. These are often the fast swimmers to whom cycling is as mysterious as successful DIY is to me. I pushed my bike past the lot of them and did a flying mount about 10 metres past the mount line and got a clap from the marshal. Why thank you. I’ve been practising. Or maybe it was my thighs smacking together as I tried to clip in. Who knows. 

The bike out was along a lane and through a fenced off layby so you had to cycle on a bit of trail and out through a garden gate sized gap at the end. Managed it without any problems except still being far too excited about my swim time which was demonstrated by me bellowing “Wooo! Going cross country!!” at the bemused marshal.

Out onto the familiar roads of Olney that I’d recced previously in preparation for the triathlon. I wanted this race to be a good one so I’d ridden the cycle loops 4 or 5 times. There were no cars queuing along the roads this time which meant the ride through the town was a lot smoother. Overtook a female cyclist going through the town and turned left up the hill.

As I got to the roundabout a Sunday group of 20 cyclists came from the right but cleared just as I went past - perfect timing. I waved at the marshal as I went past. And set out down the hill … where I fumbled my first drinks bottle and heard the thump as it hit the road. Bollocks.  

The road out of Olney is undulating and the surface is a little rough in places but it’s interesting without any proper climbs. Bumpy, lumpy without any standy-uppy. 

After a couple of miles it turns left onto a busier road with a better road surface. A couple of miles towards Denton, under the yellow speed cameras, up the hill and then a left into the lanes for a fast sweeping section … except everyone went on past the turn. Uh … what?

No really. What? Has someone moved the signs?? I had a bit of A Moment. I’d listened to the race briefing. Of course I had. But I didn’t remember anything about a different race route. I could see cyclists on the hill in front of me carrying on ahead. 

Just at my crisis crescendo a yellow arrow appeared on a signpost pointing ahead. The panic died down a little but I’m a suspicious cow. What if some sod had been out changing the arrows?

I carried on following the cyclists ahead expecting there to be a left turn any moment … any moment … any moment now … any moment NOW …. nothing. At this rate the lot of us were going to end up in Northampton. 

I went to grab a drink to calm my nerves about getting on the Northampton dual carriageway and getting mown down by Bounds Taxis and a Travis Perkins lorry when **thump** the second drinks bottle hit the road. I was now lost, with no water and about to meet my imminent death on the A45.

On Pinky the borrowed bike 

But finally a left turn arrow! Up a hill. A bloody hill. I recognised this hill. It was my sweary hill which I used to run when I worked in Northampton. We did nearly end up in bloody Northampton. Bloody hills. Bloody Northampton. AND I'd told my training buddy there was only one hill on the course. She was going to kill. me. I sped up a bit. She'd have to catch me first. 

But I was now lost AND confused. This bike course was meant to be 2 loops  I caught another cyclist up going up the hill. I knew he wanted to talk to me by the way his mouth was open, panting. Just the time for a chat, right? I checked whether this was a 2 lap course. Nope apparently just 1 big lap now. I MUST learn to listen more to race briefings. II did attend but apparently I also took nothing in. Maybe we'd been told about it when I was looking at that duck. 

Coming back out onto the Newport Pagnell Road, I was in familiar territory. The road was quieter here and interesting. It was windy and undulating and felt a bit more like a country road than the busy A428. Except what was that strange noise? 

Nope. Not a duck. Tyres seemed ok. Not a puncture. I took a quick peek between my legs and spotted the toolkit hanging off the back of the saddle and dragging on the rear tyre. No wonder that hill had felt like hard work. I tried to get it back on while moving but it wasn't having it. I slowed down, stopped and ripped it off the saddle and shoved it down the front of my trisuit. Sorted. I now had a massive lump at the front of my trisuit and a mono boob. Not very aero and I looked as though I'd had a boob job mid-race which had gone horribly wrong. And every time I went over a bump my tits jingled.

Needless to say the race photos were interesting. And did not get bought. 


Finally came into transition and racked the bike. And couldn't get the toolkit out of my trisuit. Standing up off the bike had allowed gravity to get involved and I had to stick my hand down the front of my trisuit and have a good old rummage around before I could snag it and pull it out of the neck of the suit. Must have looked like I was doing an impromptu lucky dip and winning a tool kit, Thankfully no-one else asked to have a go.  

And out on the run. Well this went just about as well as the bike. Not only was it baking hot, it turned out I'd recced the wrong direction. This was turning into a bit of theme. 

The run was pretty. Really pretty. And would have been really lovely it was just 1 of the 5km loops. It had hills, narrow trails, farm tracks, hills, cars and combine harvesters and hills. It also had 28*c heat. 

I love a pretty run. When I'm allowed to go slow and stop occasionally to look at ducks and walk up the hills. This was tough. Really tough. The trails were rough underfeet and were rutted farm trails so big holes, stones and quite angled at points. I was overheating and had a moment (don't lie, Sarah, SEVERAL moments) where I thought “At least if I pass out from heat stroke I get a lie down”. It really was THAT tough. 

I stopped at the water station every time and I could have cried as I saw my time slipping away. Despite the toolkit and the bottle problems on the bike, I was hitting some good paces but the heat and the run were taking my margin away. I just wanted to stop. I'd had enough. I was tired, overheating and in pain. 

Coming away from the water station, a man in front of me was obviously suffering from the heat too. I asked him if he wanted to run with me (we were going at similar paces) and we ran together for 2 laps, the chat being a welcome distraction from the pain and the searing heat. He ran off through the finish funnel and I carried on for my final lap, marvelling at how the company of a stranger can help move the miles past. 

Don't cry, don't cry, don't pass out ...

The last lap was a relief and it's amazing how much better you feel when you know you're on the home stretch despite the accumulated miles in your legs. The finish was made better by Simon cheering me through the finish funnel and I was finally allowed to stop bloody running.

Nearly ice cream time!!
A lady was at the finish funnel with sponges sponging the triathletes after their race. I went through 3 times. And told her I loved her. I really did. 

Thank you Sponge Lady.

Total: 5:22:09
Swim 33:51
T1 01:47
Bike 02:44:12 (longer than usual)
T2 01:10
Run 01:51:07 (argh!!)