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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Rutland Water Swim: Invasive Piggies & Hitching a Lift on a Lilo

I’m not much of a swimmer. In triathlons, it doesn’t matter how carefully I position myself I ALWAYS seem to be behind someone with wildly flailing legs. Or maybe I just have a face that begs to be kicked. Either way it’s the same result, I end up with my goggles around my ear and someone else’s piggies up one nostril. It’s not pleasant.

I’d been making an effort to enjoy swimming a bit more this year. I’d not had any terrible swims so far and I appeared to no longer be terrified at the prospect of climbing into icy water with massive fish or the intrusive feet of strangers. I’d obviously lost my senses. Or getting smacked in the head with other people’s limbs had become the swimming norm.

By far my most successful swim since I started open water swimming had been last year’s Rutland Water swim. It had been a 2 kilometre swim across Rutland Water after a lovely relaxed crossing on the ship Rutland Belle. I’d had a relaxed start and had drafted a pair of (non-nostril-invading) feet practically the whole way across, completing it in 36 minutes. A time I’ve never been able to replicate and I’m not sure I’ve had a more peaceful or beautiful swim since.

This year’s Rutland Swim didn’t start quite so well. I was up at the arse-crack of dawn to register and I don’t like mornings. I’m not a morning person in the way that Vlad the Impaler wasn’t 'a people person'. Even after 3 cups of coffee I struggle to operate and I only realised something wasn’t quite right when I tried to put my hands in my trouser pockets for the 4th time and failed.  I was wearing my trousers back to front.

Sigh.

Things could only get better, right?

I righted my trousers and for a while things went well. I got to registration in time. Picked up my hat and tow float and even saw the lovely Mary of Inspire2Tri. I stopped for a chatter and after a lovely catch up, Mary reminded me I only had 10 minutes to get my wetsuit on and catch the boat to the start.

10 minutes? Ages!



I started climbing into my wetsuit and then spotted some tri club friends who were doing the longer swim and stopped for a chat with them too.

Checked watch. Ok. 5 minutes. Better get a crack on. Fully rubbered up, I wandered off around the beach and over the headland ... to see the Rutland Belle crammed with people in wetsuits and nautical looking people doing boaty things like throwing ropes back onto the ship.

Now I’m not a boaty person, but even *I* know that this usually means that the boat will be going somewhere fairly shortly. Like the start of a race.

Shit.

I broke into a gallop. Or what would have been a gallop if the beach wasn’t full of sharp pointy stones and shells. It was probably more aptly described as a really-fast mince. Or possibly a more flaily version of riverdance.

I had a vague impression of wetsuit clad people in the boat looking at me with what could best be described as “What the bloody hell is she doing?” expressions as the Rutland Belle pulled smoothly away from the quay and I minced at high speed along the beach.

To be fair they were probably wondering why I was doing my best Michael Flatley instead of trying to catch the boat.

Which incidentally left 2 minutes early.

Crap.

I was left with 2 options. Go back to the other beach and do the 4k swim instead of the 2k swim. Or lie on the dock sulking and clutching my tow float and see if the boat came back.

4k swim? Um no. Just no. That’s almost a parkrun.

Lying on the dock it is then.

I wandered over to see if I could find a good spot for maximum sympathy and get myself into prime position for offers to be rowed over to the start by someone who understands boats. Or at the very least owned a lilo and an oar.

It turned out there were about 20 of us that missed the boat.  It was going to be a very over-subscribed lilo. Rumours were around that the boat was going to come back but no-one was sure who actually said this or to whom. It was like that bit in Children of Men but with more full-body rubber and less bombs. And no babies.

We heard the horn go as the 4k swimmers set off.  Phew. Well at least that option was definitely off of the potentials list. I also discovered that I’d forgotten my boat ticket. Well THAT would have been embarrassing had the boat stopped and come back to me.

Wandered back to kit and retrieved boat ticket and as I came back over the headland, realised that the boat was on its way back. I made an effort to walk a bit quicker. Missing the boat once was stupid. Twice ... probably not something I could blame on anyone else. And I really WASN’T keen on that lilo.

Got thankfully onto boat after NOT being asked for ticket. Or questioned about being ‘that idiot’ who sprinted around the headland dressed in rubber and started dancing on the beach. Phew.



Took a seat on the upper deck and enjoyed just sitting down and not rushing around or worrying about having to sell flip flops for a lift to the race start. As we got going, the safety announcements started on the boat. “The lifebelts are located here, here and ...”

I snickered. A chap opposite quipped: “I  don’t think I’ve EVER been better prepared for a boat to sink.” We looked around. EVERYONE was dressed in wetsuits, with goggles and swim caps on and wearing a tow float. Should the Rutland Belle go under, we’d probably all be ok. Although there would probably be lots of moaning about missing race starts and we’d be demanding medals.

I was even more prepared than usual, wearing a Garmin on each wrist. I wasn’t being extra keen – I’d just promised to lend one to a friend who was on the first trip across the water. I’d hoped she hadn’t already started the swim or she wouldn’t be very happy with me. Although the sight of me sprinting along the beach like a twat probably made up for it.

The boat arrived at the Abbey on the edge of the water. I spotted Rae and handed the Garmin over and apologised for my lateness. The race briefing went smoothly and we all headed into the water in our timed waves. The bottom was slippery but the water wasn’t as cold as I’d expected, although the clumps of weed clutching at my legs were a shock.

We got a few strokes into the water, which was gradually warming up thanks to the rapidly expelling bladders of the swimmers. It’s not unusual of to hear a wail of “Wait ... I haven’t finished yet ...” as the starter horn goes at these races.

We got swimming fairly quickly and there was the usual flailing arms and legs, however goggles stayed on and I didn’t get too bashed although I did get shoved by a couple of aggressive breaststrokers. Swim stroke description there, not molestation report.

I kept a be-goggled eye out for feet going the right speed but couldn’t find any going at a speed that I could hitch a quick lift on. The swim route went towards the tree lined promontory and then zagged across the water towards the beach the 4k swimmers had started from. My goggles quickly misted up which helped a LOT when I realised that the swimming caps were the same colour as the marking buoys.

Luckily a helpful pair of feet came swimming past and I quickly caught them and sat behind. The buoys took a long time to come past. I’d been suffering from a nasty virus recently and I could tell that it hadn’t shifted and was still with me, along for the ride like the way I was following the 10 little piggies in front.

There was a bit of a cross wind resulting in some waves coming in on the last section. I kept thinking it was another swimmer on my left but it was the splash and swell of the waves on that side. It could almost be a swim in a gentle sea except that my mouth wasn’t filled with the taste of rotting seaweed and dead sealife.

Distracted by the waves I accidentally poked the pair of feet I’d been following. They unexpectedly disappeared as the swimmer stopped, presumably to give me a mouthful of abuse for piggy-prodding after the lovely lift I’d had across Rutland Water. I shouted a quick “Sorry!” and headed on towards the beach which actually appeared to receding despite my frantic flailing and kicking.

I put my head down and just cracked on. Just think of the ice cream afterwards. Head down and windmilling my best front crawl stroke, I eventually made it into a massive clump of underwater weeds which marked the start of the beach and the beginning of the end of the swim.

Into the finish funnel, medal around my neck, chafing inspected and baggage retrieved. I got a hug from my speedy friends who had finished well before me despite swimming twice the distance and grinned for a quick photo.  



Swim  - tick!
Medal – tick!

But more importantly I didn't get kicked in the face. Or have toes up my nose. Win. 

All I needed to do now was to get my best smug morning-exercise-done expression on and choose my finishers ice cream flavour.

Winning at mornings.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

My First 10 Mile Timetrial: A Bit Like ‘Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’.

I’d decided to join a Sky Breeze Ride the other week. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Sky Ride and contrary to people I’d seen on the roads on a weekend wearing Team Sky kit, I didn’t need to be a middle aged man in skin tight white lycra pedalling frantically on a ludicrously expensive bike. It was a group of ladies, all normal, all lovely and thankfully there was a distinct lack of skin tight lycra or competitive attitudes. I’d had a fabulous time, made some new friends, had a gorgeous cycle out and had cake. Loved it.




However a couple of them had mentioned that their club was holding a time trial on the Wednesday. I’d expressed a tentative interest but in a ‘it’s something I might like to do when I’m sure I won’t be an actual danger to other road users, people walking on the pavement, cows two fields away or my own bicycle’ kind of a way.


However after exchanging a couple of texts, I realised I’d accidentally agreed to come along and was going to be taking part in my first ever time trial with Coventry CC.


This could be embarrassing. For everyone. I can’t even be relied on to stay upright on a bike. I probably should have mentioned my embarrassing ‘lie-on-floor-with-bike-on-top-of-me’ moment at that major roundabout. Maybe hinted at the’ catapulting-self-into-hedge-after-riding-through-a-puddle’ moment.  Maybe I should text a quick excuse. Surely no-one wants to be the club member that invited along the girl who can’t be 100% relied upon to actually climb onto the bike the right way round every time.  


However I ran out of excuses.


You know when you watch Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on the TV and they show the pony cart races and the camera pans out to show all the cars parked up the verges? It was a bit like that but with carbon bikes instead of ponies and a lot more estate cars. I imagine the locals were all still hiding though.


I parked my car in a space on the verge and hauled out helmet, bike shoes and Evie. Without realising it, I had ALREADY managed my first bike-etiquette-fail. My top didn’t have sleeves. Apparently sleeves are mandatory when cycling. I was also wearing my finest Neapolitan ice cream style tan so no sharp tan lines either. I’m surprised I was even allowed on the verge.


However, I paid my £3 entry and had a look around. Everyone else looked SUPER professional with their time trial bikes, long sleeved race lycra and smooth helmets. And here was me in my running vest, Aldi gloves and road bike with clip on bars.  However, despite looking exactly like I was – a nervous newbie with absolutely no clue - everyone was REALLY friendly.

Julie helped me pump air into my bike tyres as apparently having  tyres at 80 psi isn’t really ideal for a time trial. Thanks Julie, but OUCH, could really feel all the bumps in the road now! Should have packed my padded padded-pants.


Judy, Julie and Tracey all introduced me to their club friends and we went off for a warm up – or in my case a wobble up – around the country lanes nearby which helped calm my nerves and reassure me that I did still know how to ride a bike without stabilisers.


My race number was 13. I was given the option of wearing this upside down as apparently this stops any bad luck from attaching itself to me. But I declined. If I fell off my bike no-one would know which way to put me back on again. Safety first, kids.


We all queued up ready for our starts a minute apart and it was here that I discovered the absolute BEST PART of time trials.


Before you start, you get a nice strong man holding onto your saddle so you can clip your feet in and THEN you get a massive SHOVE to start you off. Brilliant. No feet-waving, wobbles-into-oncoming traffic or spinning pedals as I try desperately to find the clips. I did get flashbacks to my first ever group ride (last year) where I had to get pushed up a hill, but I ignored those and concentrated on trying not to get lost, distracted or overtaken by absolutely everyone else who started behind me.


I had NO idea how to pace a 10 mile time trial so decided that I would pretend it was a running race and take it mile by mile. I secretly wanted to try and get around 30 minutes if possible (although this was a BIG ask) which meant I’d have to have an average speed of 20 mph. Eeek! I was hoping that this was an Escher style-course which was downhill ALL the way despite being a loop.


However my bank-the-laps plan was foiled when I realised I’d forgotten to set laps for the miles. I was just going to have to pedal like hell and try to keep my total average pace up. Or if that failed try and spot a nice soft verge to fall off on when I started throwing up and my eyesight failed.

I enjoyed my hefty shove off, started pedalling and then accidentally caught sight of my speed. Argh. Too fast for me! Just keep pedalling, Sarah! Try and hold on! Everyone else is starting now and you’ll be holding them all up like a fat kid on the slide.


The roads were fairly busy but the cars appeared to be taking pity on my rapidly reddening face and my rapey-sounding breathing and were keeping their distance and giving me plenty of space.  I wasn’t sure whether they were being considerate to me or safeguarding their paintwork by keeping outside the moving potential-vomit-splatter circle.


I flew down the B4453 enjoying a bit of a tailwind and shot out onto the A45 avoiding the potholes, the doddery Nissan Almera drivers and the insane dump truck drivers. The surface was fairly smooth after the slip road and it was nice to get a bit of wind in my face and enjoy the feel of nicely flattened-down roadkill under my tyres. None of this still-alive-and-moving roadkill for the A45. We’re dead posh, here.


Luckily the cars in front of me didn’t slow too much coming up to the Memorial Roundabout and there was nothing coming from the right as I approached so I was able to use my momentum off the slope to whisk over the roundabout, the number 13 pinned to my back flapping in the wind. The miles were ticking past quickly and I was at the point where I was holding my speed ... but running out of familiar road.


As anyone who has done any sort of race knows, it is at least 30% easier on familiar paths. I’m not sure why this is but it’s an irrefutable rule. I knew that once I got past the next roundabout, I was unfamiliar turf. And I had been threatened with a dragging hill somewhere in there.


One girl’s dragging hill is another girl’s misty-peaked-mountain. The cyclists had all looked a bit keen and fit and I remembered the person describing the hill setting off as though they were rocket powered. I suspected what might be a ‘dragging hill’ to them might be a vertical slope for me. I hoped I wouldn’t have to get off and push the bike. I understood that was frowned upon in time trials. Especially when you hadn’t even observed the tan-line rules.

My breathing was heavier now and my legs were reminding me that I’d cycled 8 miles flat out now. Where is this HILL?




I hadn’t seen another cyclist the whole time. Either I’d got lost or I was about to hear the voom-voom-voom of disc wheels on the road behind me any moment. I bent over my clip on tri bars and tried to force my heavy legs into greater effort. We coasted a small rise and flew down the other side. A village sign flashed past – back into familiar territory briefly, then back out again as I passed my usual turning for the Fosse Way. And there was the hill.


In the usual scheme of things it was nothing more than a rise, a small bump, a tiny climb. But with half a mile of a time trial left, my legs were crying tiny sweaty tears that rolled into my socks. With each revolution of the pedals, my legs reminded me that they’d really, really like to cramp up about now. But my heart told me that trying my best would be worth it. That each tiny moment of pain now, would be worth double with the feelings of achievement afterwards.


And is that another cyclist in front of me? It gave me an added boost and I crested the hill and soared down the other side, Evie’s tri bars singing in the cross wind. Last 5 leg pumps and I was done. Past the marshalls, past the cyclist, down the road and coming to a stop.


I’d survived. I’d not fallen off. I’d not got lost.


And there was haribo and hot tea waiting for me at the end.


10 mile time trial: 26:31 Strava

The Paper of POWER


Friday, 9 September 2016

The 10 Best Reasons to Start Running by Emily of WIMI Sports & Fitness

Today's guest post was written by Emily of WIMI Sports & Fitness. Emily is one of the founders of the sports brand and passionately believes that we can all live a healthy life. I asked Emily to write a post for people looking at starting running as this can be quite daunting. 

So why should I start running? Here are the 10 Best Reasons:

A photo by Dave Fawkner at the start of one of our 5k club races

You know you should. Your doctor, your spouse, and all your friends are behind you. It'll improve your quality of life, prevent heart disease, and stabilize your mood. But no matter how you psyche yourself out, you just can't seem to get off the couch to run. What to do?

Here's the good news: starting is the hardest part. If you can get your feet to move a few steps, you'll be on your way. Here's why you ought to start running right after you finish this article.


 1. The Physical Benefits

Well, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. It still bears mentioning because new runners are constantly floored by what happens to their bodies when they commit to fitness. Running is just wonderful for your physical health.

No matter what your natural body shape is, running can bring out the best in it. You’ll feel better and more confident in your skin. If you want to lose some excess weight, this is a great way to do it. It’s also a great way to tune up your entire cardiovascular system, fend off heart disease, make your legs look awesome, and so much more. But those benefits pale in comparison to our next point.


2. Your Mental and Emotional Health

Did you know that a good run can alleviate depression and improve your entire outlook on life? I couldn’t make this up if I tried: running is like taking Prozac without the side effects. Physical exercise prompts your body to pump out endorphins, which are chemicals that tells your brain that it’s doing good. If you have depression, then these counteract the chemicals that tell your brain that it’s doing bad. With regular runs, the good guys win, and you’re all the better for it.


This is our team at Equinox 24 2014 - we'd never met before ...!


3. Meet New People

Runners are the most social people in the world. Whether you’re a new runner or experienced, you’ll almost always get a head nod or a smile from a fellow jogger as you cross paths. Serendipitous crosswalk stops have made many runners fast friends.

This camaraderie is partially because everyone is eager to talk about their routine, but mostly because runners are eager to listen to potential tips and tricks from others. You’ll never get more encouragement than when you lace up your running shoes.


4. Spend Quality Time With Your Dog

Dogs can run all day. Not only do they love it, but they tend to suffer from health problems when they sit around an apartment all day long. Just like people, they need to move around. Most dogs are default rompers with great attitudes about adventure, especially if that adventure involves being with their favorite person. If Mom or Dad is jogging, they just can’t wait to get on the road too.


5. You Love to Eat

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with enjoying a nice croissant. I’m French. You don’t have to tell me that food is delicious. You should be able to eat how you’d like and enjoy your meals. Running is a way to prevent yourself from getting overweight as a result of your indulgence.

It’s also a fine method of preventing yourself from worrying about gaining weight. Let’s be honest: you look great, and you’d look great no matter how much you weighed. But if you’re worrying about every calorie and bite of food, you’ll never be able to relax and enjoy the pleasure of fine cuisine. Run regularly and you’ll be able to let go of that fear.


6. Save Money on Gym Fees

Gyms are great. I love gyms. I can catch up on some TV, stay out of the weather, read a book, and take a shower immediately afterward. But, as I see it, there are two things wrong with gyms. First, they give you nothing that you can’t give yourself by jogging three times a week. Second, they are awfully expensive for what they give you.

Unless you’re a professional athlete training for the Olympics, you’re probably not using the gym to its full potential. You’re losing money and it’s not necessary. Run instead and spend the difference on something that matters to you.


7. Lengthen Your Life (and Your Quality of Life)


As I mentioned before, running vastly improves your cardiovascular health. That means that it enhances the health of your heart and blood vessels. A healthy heart means that the likelihood of heart disease limiting your lifespan is dramatically reduced.

But everyone knows that. What a lot of people don’t know is that regular exercise has also been linked to a lower incidence of degenerative, age-related mental disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease. Your body and your mind will just last longer if you do this one simple thing. At this point, you have to wonder why you wouldn’t run.


8. You were made to do it

What do you think is the greatest human evolutionary advantage? Is it our big brains? Our reversible thumbs? Try this: the reason that human beings are so successful as a species is that we are excellent long-distance runners.

It’s true. A strong theory of human evolution states that early humans, while not necessarily as fast as a cheetah, were so much more capable of steadily running for miles that they were able to tire out bigger prey and evade predators whose energy naturally came in bursts. You may feel like running is hard now, but once your body snaps into its groove, you’ll find that there are a couple million years of evolution behind you.


At the end of Stour Valley Marathon 2014

9. You Really Can Do It All Year

Once the snow starts to fall, (or, depending on where you are in the world, once the rain starts) you can still indulge your running habit. Treadmills are a great investment in your health and a fine way to keep running when nature doesn’t oblige. Remember, when you run, you’re healthier, and when you’re healthier, you save money on doctors’ bills. When I say that treadmills are a great investment, I mean that quite literally. They will pay you back tenfold. Absent a treadmill, look for indoor tracks and arenas where runners are welcome.

If you do run outside in cold weather, you’ll find that you stay warm quite naturally while you’re moving. You may even come to prefer running in the cold: the cooler temperatures can feel good when you’re sweating.


10. Sleep Like a Baby

If you have any kind of sleep problem, then pay extra attention to this point. Running makes you sleep better, deeper, and more dreamlessly. If you wake often in the night, especially after intense or troubling dreams, then running could be a natural, healthy alternative to prescription sleep aids.

Remember how running helps your mental health, too? Some of that mental boost trickles down to your sleep habits. If you’re a runner, your brain is less likely to be anxious. In turn, anxiety is less likely to keep you up all night. It’s a winner all around.

Don’t be fooled: running isn’t easy to start. It’s going to take perseverance and work, and it won’t always be fun. In fact, in the beginning, it’s going to be a pretty significant challenge. But once you reach a point in your physical fitness where you can glide down the road with a minimum of effort, you’ll know why so many people love to run. When you feel your everyday tasks becoming easier, your stamina increasing, and your physical fitness improving, you’ll know that it’s all because of your hard work. So what are you waiting for? Get up off that couch and start running today.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you want to hear more from Emily, head over to WIMI Sports & Fitness awww.WIMI-fitness.com

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Slateman Triathlon Race Report: Finding my 'World-of-Pain' Face

Well this isn’t going well. I’m standing in a closed petrol station in the middle of nowhere at midnight after a long delay on the roads, the car has just reminded me that it has 10 miles before I have to put more petrol in and I’ve just called the hotel to let them know that I’m going to be REALLY late to check-in ... and they can’t find my booking. Oh yes and the hotel is fully booked this weekend.

And then it starts raining.

It’s been one of those days.  I’d started Friday by having to hastily re-write a marketing essay in a short space of time, get a work assignment completed and submitted within an hour, pack for a race and pick up my 7 year old from school and drop her off 70 miles away in Newbury and and then receive a phone call an hour later, while on my way to Wales to say I hadn’t given my parents her clothes. A quick glance over my shoulder confirms that yes – her case is still in the back seat of the car. Bloody hell. 

And now I’m in the rain. In the dark. On my own. I can practically hear the banjos. It’s practically textbook start-of-horror-film. And I bet I’m one of the characters that doesn’t even get a name. Murder Victim 1 or something in the script ...

But then things start to look up. The hotel have found the booking. For TOMORROW but have arranged another hotel to look after me tonight, the petrol station have started dispensing petrol again and I’ve bought about £30 worth of snacks as I missed my dinner about 6 hours ago due to being on the road. 

Things always look better on a full stomach I think with the smugness of something driving a car with a full tank  of petrol while stuffing another crisp in my mouth. 

And then the car starts making a noise that sounds as though at least 3 of its wheels are going to fall off.

*sigh*

It’s 2am. I’m finally in bed at Replacement Hotel. I can see my tri bag with my kit in and my bike Evie is propped up against the wall.  I pull the sheets up around my chin and whisper that now I’m finally here the wheels can fall off the car if necessary. 

Then Husband announces that he has ALSO been charged for the room as well as them charging my card. Whatever. It’s 2am. I’ll sort it out tomorrow.  

The manic eyes of 'Just Take the Photo Already So I Can Eat My Ice Cream'.
The next day dawns blue and beautiful. We’re staying in Caernarfon which is beautiful and we decide to explore the old town. There are cobbles and castles and ice cream. It’s far too exciting a place to be staying in the day before a triathlon as the urge to climb all the castle towers and eat all the ice cream is overwhelming. I limit myself to ONE ice cream (three big scoops) and ONE castle (all the towers) and pat myself on the back for restraint. Or I would have if I’d been more bendy and my hands weren’t full of ice cream.

And then it’s time for registration. The drive is all on winding roads between green fields and blue mountains. It is beautiful. And bumpy. I wondered how much of the ride would actually involve vertical cycling and whether  we’d have to bring our own winches and ropes. I tended to enjoy cycling up hills for the simple reason that an uphill usually meant that there would be a downhill sooner or later and I could have a bit of rest and a flapjack while the world flashed past upwards.

A registration pack and a panicked expression.

We found the registration venue in the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre, Llanberis. It wasn’t easy to miss. The car park was full of estate cars with bikes in the back of the car, on the back of the car and on the car roof. And vans. Obviously people had decided to avoid the hotel problem by bedding down in the van with the bike. Romantic. 

I put ‘van’ on my Christmas list. Santa would have a bugger of a time getting it down the chimney but it would probably save me a fortune on hotel fees. And the bike would like the snuggles. 

I picked up my race pack, got back in the car, put my seatbelt on and went to turn the ignition key ... and paused. After the series of events this weekend, wouldn’t it be a good idea to CHECK the contents of the pack? I laid everything out on the passenger seat. No race tattoos. 

Slap forehead and stagger back into registration. 

There are several spare race tattoos and we manage to make the number 862 with sticky numbers of varying sizes. It’s a win. I make sure I have a black biro just in case of race tattoo cock up-age. I have a history of these things and on more than one occasion have been reduced to drawing my race number on various appendages in black biro to avoid disqualification. 

We start to drive back to hotel – I have a spa to sit in and ice cream to eat – but I decide it would be sensible to drive the cycle route. It’s full of cyclists. “Look at all these Race-Squares recce-ing the route!” I exclaim. The Husband points out WE are ALSO recce-ing the route. I shut up. 

The aim of me recceing the route was for me to learn where the corners and climbs are so I don’t get a nasty surprise on race day but I spend so long bickering with The Husband about where the turns are that we lose our place in the race instructions and are reduced to following cyclists ... “It must be this way as that man wearing all the lycra and the sperm helmet is going this way.”

Finally get back to the hotel and I go and sit in the spa pool. It is cold. 

The start of race day was promising. Not only did I remember to put my sports bra on BEFORE my trisuit (I am ALTERNATIVE superman), the race tattoos went on smoothly and the black biro remained underplayed

Actually got the numbers on without resorting to biro.

I got to the race start which was bathed in quiet sunshine, racked my bike – RIGHT by bike exit! – and laid out all my kit. It was the most serene start to a race ever. The mountain backdrop of Elidir Fawr, the Moel Eilio Ridge and Mount Snowdon edged the world and Llyn Padarn reflected them back, calm and peaceful ready for the swimmers.  The forecast had suggested there might be a light shower but it looked as though it was going to hold off. It was a 40% chance of rain. That's 60% chance of not rain, right?

So early it's only my bike here!
As I was racked so early, I pulled a hoody on over my trisuit and sat down for 45 minutes with a coffee watching the cafe fill up with triathletes and their families. I love people watching when I’m on my own but after half an hour or so and my 2nd coffee I was noticing a bit of a trend. People coming in all wet. REALLY wet. Unless they've all got REALLY keen about the lake swim then it was absolutely bucketing down outside.

Bugger. And just in time for me having to strip off to get my wetsuit on. 

I went outside into torrential rain. PROPER torrential rain. Buckets of water rain. My hoody, trisuit, shoes and hair were soaked through in the 100 metres it took for me to walk from the cafe to transition.

Ah ... perfect tri weather ...
And trying to get a wetsuit on when I’m drenched is actually really difficult. I’m standing on muddy grass, toes sinking into the mud, the rain is pouring down and everything is soaked and seeping water. My skin is cold and clammy as is the wetsuit and I’m slipping around trying to climb into a rubber suit which is flailing around like an out of control octopus. 

I’d cry out of frustration - in fact I might be crying but it’s raining so hard no-one can tell – but I don’t want to start the race dehydrated and I suspect looking at the size of the mountains around me, I’m going to need to keep as much moisture in as possible. 

There is sheep poo on my toes. The prize goes to the Slateman Triathlon for the most Welsh start ever. But despite the poo we’re all wearing on our feet, it is a very friendly start. There is an ‘Elite Women’ start so the 'Rest of Us' wave is small and pretty friendly. We all stood around chatting and trying to surreptitiously stand next to the people who looked least likely to kick you in the face. As we get called forward and start walking towards the swim entry I realise I’ve forgotten to eat my pre-race banana. Never mind.  It would probably have melted in all this rain anyway. 

As I stand on the shore and get counted in, I realise that for the first time ever that I’m not terrified of the swim. 

I started this sport as a runner and running generally involves a lot less elbowing and kicking in the face than triathlon (apart from the National cross country races ). It really IS a contact sport. Although I would like to point out that it isn’t ME that kicks people in the head (except for Loz but that’s purely accidental and in no way connected to her beating me out of the swim at Pitsford last year ). So it was a revelation to realise that I wasn’t scared. 

Despite not being terrified, I was still too nervous to warm my wetsuit up. I have a nervous bladder. Also my tummy had been a bit dodgy recently and I didn’t want to risk my wetsuit being ‘warm with lumps in’. 

As we were standing ready to go in, the first man came in from the first wave. He’d managed a 15 min swim. After all the recent fuss with the cyclocross motorised doping, they should stop checking the BIKES for motors and check that bloke hasn't got an engine up his arse. Wow! Wish I could swim like that. (Fast NOT with intestinal extras)

The water was slate grey in the rain and flatly reflecting the looming storm clouds above. As we were called forward into the lake, the chill of the water seeped through the wetsuit. The temperature had been listed as 14.7 on the race update yesterday but it had been confirmed as 11.4  this morning. This felt like a generous measurement for the icy water and I was aware that if the temperature had been measured as 11 or below, the swim wouldn’t be allowed.  

Maybe the mad kicky ladies went off in the Elite Women start but the start was reasonably sedate. This was helped by the fact the race was started before half the swimmers had reached the starting buoys for the deep water start so maybe the people who usually kick me in the face had gone off with them. They weren’t missed.  

I picked up some feet to draft but moved on past when the girl slowed out of her mad swim start mode and I headed out towards the first buoy mainly on my own. The wave was small so the group spread out fairly early on. Picked up some more feet just past buoy 1 along with someone else and we shared nicely, having a foot each. We caught arms a couple of times but didn't get any bashes - we just got on with it. See open water swimmers – you CAN share – it’s NOT compulsory to smack the other person in the head.

The feet I was chasing slowed down past buoy 2 so left them to my peaceful non-face-smacking swimming buddy and went at it alone. It was difficult to sight on the grey rocky shore so when I was passed by a couple of fast swimmers from the wave after me about 50m from shore, I just aimed for the white water and hoped I wasn't chasing fast feet not an approaching wave of swimmers. 

I kept swimming until it became too shallow and overtook another person trying to wade their way through thigh high water like someone trying to escape soup. For the FIRST TIME EVER in a race I actually remembered the quick release on the wetsuit and managed to get it down to my waist before I found my bike. Not because I'm quick but because the bike was absolutely miles away. 

The bike course elevation.

However this was still quite an achievement as the mixture of mud and rain early appeared to have combined to produce a super strong adhesive. I did what must have appeared to outsiders a kind of King Louis from the Jungle Book, ‘King of the Swingers’ dance to remove the thing as virtually the entire rest of my wave ran past with their bikes. Quick transition show offs. 

Doing my helmet up with cold hands was like trying to use chopsticks with  oven gloves on and I wasted a minute or so bashing my hands together trying to get the buckles done up by luck. Eventually it worked.  

Emptied the rain water out of my shoes, pulled them on and made the mistake of standing on my towel which released a torrent of water, ignored that, pulled bike out of rack and ran towards the exit and narrowly avoided a man in front who stopped directly ON the mount line like a bloody idiot. Managed to avoid ramming bike directly up his lycra-clad arse crack and manoeuvred bike around him like a sweary cold thing, jumped on and started pedalling up the hill. 

The climb starts nice and gently but it gets steep really soon and before you’ve had a chance to warm your legs up and I was thanking Matt in the cafe who’d advised me to leave my bike in the small ring. I was passing people steadily on the bike which is always a nice little boost but rather than showing that I’m awesome on the bike (I’m not) it demonstrates how slow I am on the swim as I usually spend the first half an hour on the bike catching up the people who kicked my arse – and probably my face – in the lake. 

Any time lost climbing the hills was possibly regained on the descents as despite being unable to use the tri bars to take advantage of the downhills as the torrential rain made the road so treacherous, the water stopped the brakes working. Completely.

Due to the lack of brakes I was getting some GREAT speed up. The effect was possibly spoiled by me wailing “I’m going to dieeeeeeeee!” although this probably created an amazing Doppler effect for the spectators who had braved the storm to cheer on the riders. 

I'm enjoying this despite the water. And screaming.
There was good local support and pockets of damp people braving the torrential rain and storm to come out and ring bells and cheer us onwards. It was really lovely. Despite the rain pouring down my face and the hail bouncing off me, I smiled for a huge proportion of the cycle ride. 

A nice touch was that the race numbers had the competitor’s names on so I knew exactly who was overtaking me or who I was trying to chase down. I played leapfrog with ‘Scot’ for a while and passed a few words with ‘Fiona’ as we climbed a hill behind ‘Georgie’ and finally managed to overtake ‘Oliviu’.  However as a late entry I was still poor old 862.

The roads were constantly uphill or downhill. I think I found a flat piece on top of a mountain for a metre or so but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. They also twisted like snakes. It was all incredibly beautiful (through the film of water) but it was difficult to know where to brake and which direction the serpent of road would twist after the next bend. 

I was managing a previous hitherto untried nutrition strategy – waterlogged flapjack and rainwater-dissolved haribo. It was a way of hydrating AND fuelling at the same time.  Basically rainwater soup with floating gummy bears and chia seeds.  Not convinced it’ll be a big seller.

A black Audi came belting past, screeched a halt in a layby in front of me and a phone was brandished out of the window. Bellowed: “SMILE!” ‘Click!’ Ah The Husband has come to support. Thought I recognised the style of driving. 

Mouthful of ALL the food.

I smiled for the camera around a mouthful of gummy bears and fizzy cola bottles. No. Just no. That’s one photo that won’t make it into the race report. 

Riding back into Llanberis on the final straight, there were people lining the roads and clanging cowbells, I felt like a Tour De France rider. Wow!! I may not have a yellow jersey but I’d certainly have fly-specked teeth the amount of smiling I was doing.  It was BRILLIANT!

Belting into transition, leap off and bike racked, trainers on and done up, helmet and gloves off, ready to go. Get me! A smooth transition!

As I started the run I realised I’d forgotten forgot my gels. Bugger. And there I was being all smug about a quick transition. Like a divine drenched angel, a marshal was handing out the High 5 gels on the gate so I begged two from her, gobbled one now and saved the other for halfway through the run. 

Still enjoying the sweet gel, I nearly fell in a hole right next to the exit of T2. Just to make sure the triathletes knew it was going to be a trail run (in case anyone was accidentally wearing racing flats and wanted a quick reminder so they could change), the organisers had directed the racing line through an actual marsh with the following benefits: reeds (which I clambered over), boggy holes (which I stumbled over) and small ponds of water (which I splashed through) and a small steep hillock (which I avoided). After this obstacle course, we were spat out between kissing gates and under a bridge with a railway track passing across it. I was lucky enough to pop out from the bridge just as a steam train came past hooting its horn, with the passengers inside cheering us onwards. I tried to wave down the train and get a lift to the end but the passengers just waved back.  

Up across the field and past a marshal who was chatting , I overshot an exit. As I doubled back a girl came speeding up so I let her go past before me through the narrow gate with a friendly word. She was really working hard and I did wonder if she’d be able to maintain that pace. We hadn’t even got to the bumpy parts yet.

The trail snaked steeply uphill under large dripping trees, the large slate steps steep and slippery, rising upwards sharply. They were hard on the legs after a long bike ride so I hiked and ran up trying not to slip and finally reached the top where the path flattened briefly before hitting a stony road and dropping down again. 

That wasn’t too bad. 

I had been told the hills were very tough. It hadn’t been FUN but it wasn’t half as bad as people had said. The path led onto a pavement, easy on the feet, which wound down and down and down – a lovely long looping downhill. It was easy running and I didn’t have to watch where I placed my feet . This wasn’t too bad at all. 

Then I saw people turning left through a gateway. But there’s no road there ... Oh. And what’s that moving in the distance? Oh crap. Those are people. Running. On what appears to be a mountain.  A grey massive mountain. Made of shifting slate and stones. Oh goody. Lucky me. I managed to survive the swim (wet), the cycling (wetter) and now I have to run up a mountain (wet, high and vertical).  I am going to try and cry and probably die. Probably from being overly dramatic. Or melting from all the water like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.   

Ok. *Deep breath* This isn’t too bad. Just get to that flattish bit. 
*Puff, pant* Relentless forward progress. 
*Puff, pant, puff* Even running at this pace is quicker than walking. 
*Plays violin on own Achilles* Hey at least this is better than the bike – it doesn’t matter how slow I go at least I won’t fall over sideways when I go too slow and have my feet stuck to a bike. 
*Climbs hill* Although if this hill gets any steeper I won’t have my feet stuck to the floor either. 
*Puff* Oh look there’s that speedy lady again. *Huff* Running up hills. Look at her being all speedy and running. 
Oh she’s stopped. *Feel a bit mean about thinking about pushing her over for being all keen and perky* *Offer speedy lady my last gel* Nope apparently gels don’t help when it’s sore feet*

*Running slows down even further due to vertical surface* Ok. I’m hiking this bit. This is insane. My legs can’t run at this angle. I’d have to be a *tries desperately to think of an animal which can stick to things * octopus ...  to run up here.  
*Whiles away a few minutes of hill climbing imagining an octopus trying to run up a hill*. I imagine it’s quite similar to me trying to get my 6 year old daughter dressed for school while she tries to run away to watch TV instead. 

Run Elevation.

After what feels like hours of pain, shifting slate and the most ungainly run / walking style imaginable (probably about 10 minutes), I FINALLY gets to the flattish bit I had spotted from below (flattish = slightly less vertical) and to my horror, it winds around the hill and climbs vertically up the next hill. 

It was like watching the TV channel Dave. Unending repeats of exactly the same thing. I’d climb a massive hill ... *hopeful face* is this the end? Path winds around corner ... oh no, MORE massive hills.  

Everyone around me had developed the same style of climbing the hills, power hike the vertical bits and run when your feet could safely leave the ground. I started chatting to a chap who recognised the socks – who doesn’t like a garish stripe? - who was hoping to see his wife and 3 week old son at the finish line but was concerned that they’d be put off by the torrential rain. Ended up walking in a brief mournful group with Speedy Lady too and we all got overtaken by an even speedier lady with a black and white trisuit and an inspirational slogan on her bum – “Today is your day” or “Dig deep and don’t cry”. Something similar. She powered up the hills and was out of sight around the corner. I’d like to have an inspirational slogan on MY bum but not sure “Try not to follow through” or “ I’m only doing this for the cheese” would have quite the same inspiring effect. 

Finally after power hiking the vertical bits and running the bits where mountain goats wouldn’t fall off, I made it to a gap in the rocks. A photographer was crouched there recording the misery and he cheered me on with a jolly cry of ”You’re at the top now!” At the TOP?? Hooray!! Bloody hooray! I would have danced, but I was saving all my energy for not dying. I sprang through the gap in the rocks, bounced down the hill and ground to a halt at the start of the next uphill. Bloody fibbing photographers. He was only saying that to get me to smile. Bloody photographer. Bloody bloody photographer.

I ground up the hill, thinking of a torment to inflict on a race photographer that was worse than telling a triathlete that they were at the top of a mountain. When they weren’t. I couldn’t think of one so I made up some new swear words instead. 

The trail eventually felt a bit more downhill ... in fact certainly more downhill.  Huh. Well this was nice. My legs were certainly feeling fatigued (posh triathlete word for ‘tired’) by all the ups but they were enjoying this bit of down. Right then Sarah, you slacker. Crack on! Waving a cheery farewell to Speedy Lady and Mr Sock Chaser, I put a bit of speed on and ran down the hill. In fact I ran away from the hill. I never wanted to climb up there again. I flew down the mountainside, past the little knots of supporters, the clanging cowbells ringing in my ears, making my smile wider. 

The trail twisted under trees and wound past houses tucked into valleys and climbed short, sharp uphills and chased the river, winding and diving on wet, rocky steps and over black, wet shoe-sucking mud. My flying feet took me past bluebells, past other runners and under the shade of the trees.  Under rocky bridges, walkers standing to one side letting these wild-eyed triathletes storm past, their shoes kicking up slate and mud, their legs tired but their smiles wide. I could hear the tannoy echoing through the trees but my legs were tiring, then I was running behind the shoulder of the lady with the inspirational slogan on her trisuit and flying past her on a downhill. Don’t look back, just run. Go legs, go! The run distance was 11km but I was already at 6.5 miles and the finish was nowhere in sight. I could see Llanberis lake glittering between gaps in the trees, hundreds of feet below. I still had to get down there, around the lake and find the finish. Just keep going legs. 

Swooping down, through more kissing gates, more mud and then out onto rocky steps past some spectators and another gate and onto a field. I REMEMBER this field! I ran through this field a hundred years ago, before I’d run up mountains and down slate hills and through forests. Runners coming the other way heading out towards their mountain, I am heading home, towards the finish, towards the finish I cannot yet see. Keep running legs, keep breathing lungs. A tunnel of people lining, run through, keep running, children with hands out. I high fived as many as possible without slowing down or spinning them around like tops. People cheering me on in Welsh. Or swearing at me. Or exclaiming that I was about to fall over. Husband in the crowd, turning a corner and the finish gantry! There! Run for the line. Go! Go! And over. 

And done.

Slateman you broke me. Here is my ‘World of Pain face’. (Same time next year?)

World-of-Pain face.


Results
Swim: 00:22:48
T1: 00:02:17
Bike: 01:46:57
T2: 00:01:21
Run: 01:04:28
Total: 03:17:49

19th female / 159 (2nd 35-39)
241 / 822 total

Clambering onto the podium after all the speedier people have vacated it.
Thank you ‘Always Aim High’ for an AMAZING event.