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Saturday 30 August 2014

Kimbolton Triathlon Race Report: Drowning in 4ft of Water

The triathlon was over before it had really begun. I was only three laps in, but I was panicking. The pool water –stinking of chlorine and enclosed spaces - was splashing into my face, I was gasping for air and I’d completely forgotten everything I’d learned in my swimming lessons. My head was telling me I was drowning in 4 feet of water.


It had started well enough. I’d arrived at the venue early and parked my modest Ford up among the Range Rovers and big cars with their racks of expensive bikes. The light was shining off of the sandstone of Kimbolton Castle, making me feel very small in amongst all these people that knew what they were doing, with their shiny bikes and goggles they definitely hadn’t borrowed from their friend.

Maybe triathlon was a bad idea. I have enough adventures with just running. Triathlon meant I’d be able to drown myself, fall off AND fall over all in one race. Maybe, I should just pop the bike back on the car and get home. There would still be time for a pub lunch and a bit of a sit down on the sofa. Sunday would be salvageable.

Except I’d told ALL of twitter I was doing a triathlon today. Sarah, you tit. Let this be a lesson to you. Next time – don’t tell ANYONE.

Getting to the small race village, I found my first problem. So I have the bike, armfuls of kit and I’m weighed down with bags but I need a number. How do I get a number without having to drag everything into the registration tent? And I can’t rack the bike and put my kit down first as I don’t have a number so won’t know where to rack it! This is so confusing.

I obviously looked as though I was suffering from extreme confusion ... or maybe the fact I was standing in the middle of the teeny race village, cuddling a road bike with kit strewn around me gave it away – but a kindly race official took pity on me. “You rack the bike there, bring your bag into registration and we’ll give you your chip and number.”

I registered ... after working out how to get into the tent. Yes really. They made it really complicated although the early morning, lack of coffee and Fear Of Triathlon (yes - a real Thing) might have contributed to this. I managed to squeeze through the barrier before being told I needed to find out my race number. I squeezed back out ... squeezed back in and bashed a board over with my bag. There must be an easier way of doing this.

Finally I had my number and chip. I made my way to the transition area which was rows and rows of empty bars (unfortunately not the sort selling vodka tonics) as I was so early and I racked the bike. ‘Racking the bike’ is basically a triathlon way of saying “I hung it up off a bar by the saddle and it didn’t fall over”. Or off. Huh. Get me. I’ve ‘racked my bike’. Am like a proper triathlete.

Spot the kit that shouldn't be on this pile ...

Stern looking marshal came over and told me my bike was racked the wrong way round. Bugger. Am not proper triathlete at all. I turned bike round hoping no-one had noticed and knocked my neat little pile of kit over. Never mind. I had towel, sports bra, bike shoes (ready talced), rolled down socks also full of talcum powder (Thanks VeggieRunners!), shorts. Helmet with sunglasses on went on the bike handlebars so it would be easy to put these on before getting on the bike as I’d be disqualified for touching the bike without my helmet on. Garmin on bike. I had a tri belt which is a stretchy piece of elastic with a clip and I had a number to attach to it.

Now just to attach the number. I felt a bit smug at having remembered to bring a hole punch so I could clip nice neat holes in my number and attach it to the belt with the minimum of fuss. Get me. Am like PRO triathlete.

Smugly placed hole punch on number and clipped. It jammed. Firmly. Was completely unable to get hole punch off number. Start to panic. Will have to run race with hole punch attached to number. Will look like a tit. Although is nice and heavy so will be able to club anyone who laughs at me.

Resorted to smacking hole punch with a trainer. No luck. Was firmly entrenched. Smacked hole punch harder and with both trainers. Hole punch finally let go spilling small white paper circles on the grass.

Looked up. Have audience of bemused people watching me beat office stationary with running kit.

Realise holes punched in wrong place on number.


Never mind. There are HOLES in it. That will do. I put everything in a neat pile. Very nice. Hope I haven’t forgotten anything crucial.

Right. Kit sorted, race briefing attended, coffee obtained and drunk. Time to visit the portaloos ...

I elbow the side of the portaloo which makes a plastic “thunk” noise. I’ve managed to avoid dropping any clothing into the gaping hole and I haven’t touched anything in here except for with my elbow which I’m counting as a win. Plus there’s a plastic hook on which to hang my clothes. “Thunk” Other elbow hits other the plastic wall. The people in the queue outside are going to think I’m having a fight in here or something. And in one way I am. I am fighting clothing and my swimsuit. And trying desperately to hold my breath and not touch anything at the same time.

I passed the test. The true test of whether you are a newbie swimmer. The complete inability to use a portaloo while wearing a swimsuit.

I gave up and went for the ‘Total Disrobe’. I’ve been toilet trained for approximately 32 years but put me in a swimsuit and give me a toilet situation and I panic. But better to panic than have a soiled swimsuit and a look of humiliation.

Also I was pretty sure you could get disqualified for soiling a pool. I imagine there would be a lifetime ban and some sort of register. And some REALLY unhappy triathletes.

I finally got sorted and emerged from the portaloo triumphant. Borrowed bike was racked next to borrowed bike shoes, I had borrowed goggles in my hand. Now I just needed to borrow some confidence and I would be ready.

We met up with Angela, Craig and Sarah from my running club, Northbrook. Angela and Craig were doing the triathlon (it was also Craig’s first) and Sarah was chief cheerer. She also had the camera. Made a mental note to avoid Sarah during my ‘running in swimsuit’ sections.

The triathlon started with the swim which was set off in waves. Not a pun. Craig was setting off early, then the Mister was due to start and Angela and I would go about 9:30am, a few minutes apart. There were about 5 people in each wave, each setting off at 4 minute intervals.

Hooray!! Familiar voices and Anne and Lozza had arrived! Hugs all round and they told me they’d been practising their ‘loud cheering’ and ‘sitting in the sunshine’ ready for today. Perfect!

We all hung around the swimming pool nervously. I was wandering around in my swimsuit, feeling exposed and wishing I’d invested in a trisuit. Then an “Oh shit” moment. I would be running and cycling in this later ... and I’d forgotten to put my sports bra on. It was in the neat little pile next to the bike in the transition area.

Smacked self in face with hand and ran to get the sports bra from transition. The first few people were coming through from their swim now and leaping onto their bikes I grabbed my top and sprinted back to the pool where a quick change got everything where it should be. At least I realised the sports bra was missing before the run. That could have made for some interesting pictures ...


This is it. Deep breath. I walked through the changing rooms where I got an automatic soaking from the showers (or maybe they’d heard about the portaloo issue ...) and got my first look at the pool.

It was mayhem.

People thrashing up and down, 3 or 4 to a lane and 5 lanes of a tiny pool. The water was choppy and opaque like a mini, murky sea. I’d never seen anything like it. The whole atmosphere was pervaded with a chlorine smell of desperation and damp. And in about 8 minutes I’d be thrashing up and down and trying desperately not to drown myself.

We had a mini briefing: had to overtake by touching toes of person in front and hope they weren’t ticklish otherwise you’d get a reflexive kick in the face. Hat colour denoted the wave you were in – you had to take hats off and leave them at the poolside before you left. Your wave would get called up when it was your turn to start.

There was a bench along the left side opposite the pool and we were all sitting in number – and start time - order. Every few minutes the next 5 would be called and we’d bum-shuffle up the bench getting closer and closer to the end of the bench and the start of our triathlon. And the desperate thrashing around in the pool.

There were different colour hats for each wave of 5 swimmers – we were the silver hat wave. We were called to the poolside and with 30 seconds to go got into the pool. “Go!”

In my enthusiasm, fear and utter desperation I went off far too fast. I got a length and half down the pool with an overtake – and toe tickle – done and thought “This is brilliant – I’m nailing this!”

Approximately 3 seconds later my body shouted at me “No you’re not! You’re not breathing, idiot! What were you thinking overtaking people? Slow the hell down, stupid!!” I didn’t listen ... then the demand for air made itself known.

I panicked and swallowed water. I coughed and the choppy water splashed over my face, I couldn’t breathe. Every time I tried to take a breath, the water splashed over me and I felt as though I was choking. The stink of chlorine in my nostrils and the panting of the swimmers echoing off the walls was pressing in on me. I couldn’t breathe. Try to keep going. I bumped off of the ropes thrashing my arms, a swimmer in my lane overtook someone coming the other way bumping into me. I was drowning in 4 feet of water.

Any minute now a marshal is going to spot me and drag me out of the pool, the end of my triathlon attempt. Over before I’d even got halfway through the swim.

Focus, Sarah. This is a POOL. You are not going to drown in a pool. Think of all those times you’ve been caught up in breaking waves messing about with surf boards and body boards and thought you were going to drown. All the times you’ve held your breath at the bottom of the pool as a game. You didn’t drown then so you’re not going to drown in an oversized paddling pool surrounded by marshals and other people.

I stopped at the end to catch my breath and started another length. I was still gulping at the air in between strokes, but I’d stopped trying to breath water and hadn’t been told off, ‘rescued’ or told to leave the pool. I slowed down and concentrated on finishing the swim, reaching my arms forward and breathing every other stroke. My swim wouldn’t be pretty or quick but I would finish. Or I would sulk and drink the rest of the pool water out of spite.

In all the excitement – or maybe urine poisoning through amount of pool water ingested - I realised I’d lost count of my laps. Crap. I had 16 lengths to do. NO idea what number I was on. I tried to count back. No idea. I reasoned I was probably on lap 5. Or 7? If I did too many it didn’t matter to the marshals - that would be my swim time, too few laps – a 2 minute penalty per lap would be imposed.

At least I was helping the people coming after me. I’d accidentally swallowed so much pool water, the level had probably dropped by 6 inches, sod the swimming, they’d be able to RUN their laps up and down the pool and be finished in 5 minutes.

16 laps... I think. I wibbled out of the pool and legged it for the door, dropping my silver swim cap on the poolside. When I say ‘legged’ I obviously meant ‘run on jelly legs that HATE me’. Also running in a swimsuit? It doesn’t look like Baywatch, not at all. I would have been pleased to carry a red float to cover up all the bits that wibbled along, even a swim cap to cover up the hair which was doing it’s best impression of bogbrush released from loo after it sprung free from the silver swim cap. However, I DO look very happy in the photos. Mainly because I’d escaped from that pool and not died.

Transition 1 (T1)

I pretended I wasn’t wearing just a swimsuit, carried on running and remembered where I’d left Le Bike (she’s French). Shorts on. Standing up, I bent down to dry my feet on the towel and started wobbling, nearly taking down a rack of bikes. Remembered Mary of Inspire2Tri’s advice and sat on the ground to do it. Put rolled down socks on, shoes on. Stand up; tribelt on, helmet on, glasses on. Bike off rack – GO!

I even managed the ‘run holding saddle’ and may even have looked as if I knew what I was doing ... if only I was running towards the exit not the entrance. Sigh. Redirected by a marshal and made it through the right gate. Across the grass and to the ‘Mount Bike’ sign. We are go go go!!


I set off and managed to get the shoes clipped in and was relieved that I'd remembered to put the bike in an easy gear ready for a swift getaway. My Garmin was already switched on and attached to the bike handlebars ready for me to press 'start'. This was my escape from the pressures of the pool and the spectators and I was looking forward to getting out on the country lanes. 

Coming out of the school drive was fine, then I had to stop at the main road to let a herd of road bikes pass. They were fully lycra-ed up and obviously out on their usual Sunday morning ride. I pulled out after them and was concerned about drafting for a brief moment – does it count if they’re not in the triathlon? - but it didn’t matter, there was no way I could keep up with that speed. I couldn’t have drafted them even if I’d wanted to. Unless there was a tow rope involved and I was pretty sure the marshals – and the Sunday cyclists – would frown on that.

I enjoyed being out on the lanes a bit too much and found myself easing off a bit too much at sections as apart from the odd cyclist on the horizon I was mainly alone. I overtook 5 people, most of which were doing the same as me – bumbling along enjoying the views and completely forgetting they were in a race. The photographer caught me coming around a corner, big smile on my face just enjoying it. This was the antithesis to the swim. Relaxed but focused. Out in the fresh air, big grin on my face and no sodding water.

The cycle was 20km and was a loop on mostly B roads and lanes. It was picturesque and mainly flat – the beauty of doing a triathlon in Cambridgeshire. It was all slightly uphill until mile 6 and then you had a gorgeous downhill until the finish apart from 2 small but sharp hills. This was my 2nd time ever on a road bike and I LOVED how fast it was. I was going to have to start saving up for one of these ...

It was a hot day and I drank an entire bottle of water on the bike. I was surprised how thirsty the swim had left me considering how much of that water I had also swallowed.
Whummm ... whum ... Whum ... I was overtaken by a fast bike ridden by a chap with a sperm helmet and aero bars. He had a determined expression, muscular legs and apparently a complete disregard for the national speed limit. He made it look very easy and was past me so fast it was as though I wasn't moving at all. I bet HE hadn't had to run through transition in a swimming costume though. See – he had it easy.

I overtook a couple of people on upright bikes ... if it wasn’t for the fact they had numbers on I would have thought they were out for a pleasant Sunday afternoon ride. They looked dignified and stately and I almost expected a picnic in a basket on the front. Maybe I was doing it wrong. I wonder if they made time allowances for picnics in transition.

I had no idea of my speed as I'd forgotten to change the Garmin to a mph setting after my last run, but I could see that I was coming up to the last mile or so of the cycle. I'd loved this part of the triathlon far more than I'd expected and despite it only being my 2nd time on a road bike I wanted to play more! I came into the Kimbolton village and saw the signs for the school. I spotted a lone cyclist coming round the last corner and overtook him – one last overtake before it was time to surrender the bike to T2. I heard a shout and spotted The Mister disappearing behind me on his bike. Whoops. Hope that doesn't cause a domestic when I get home.


I managed to avoid the thing I had been most worried about … I remembered to unclip the bike shoes before trying to leap off of the bike at the 'Dismount' sign. I ran with the bike through to my number on the rack and hung up Le Bike. Bike shoes off, trainers on. Thank goodness for elastic laces on trainers making it easy! Garmin off bike, onto wrist. Helmet off. Turn belt round so race number is now on my front. Sunglasses adjusted. Go go go!!


Hooray for running!! This is the good bit! The bit I can do … so why does it feel like my legs have been replaced by wooden pegs. I felt as though I was stumping along like a unlucky pirate.

I checked My Garmin and was relieved to find that I was doing my 10k pace despite feeling as though I was waddling. I peg-legged a bit further and checked again. Ah. Marathon pace. So now I really WAS shuffling. I could blame the heat for my pathetic pace but I'm pretty sure it was actually down to being made to swim then cycling for miles before being forced to run. Without snacks.

The run was 3 laps around a playing field looping up around a beautiful buildings onto some strength sapping gravel and back onto the playing field. There was a tiny hill … one so small it wouldn't normally register. Today it was Everest. Everest with gravel. And no snacks.

Pic by Sarah McNaney
I passed an older man wearing teeny tiny neon pink shorts and top. He drew the eyes. It was like a car crash. You couldn't not look. Plenty of people were walking now. It would be so easy to walk … but I would be disappointed. I would have struggled with that swim, pushed through … to give up now?

I'd thought I'd find run the easiest but I couldn't speed up at all. My legs were telling me that 'stumping' was now their 'flat out' pace and they were going no faster. They had gone on strike. Well … on stump. Lozza and Anne were cheering at the bottom of the field, Sarah and Craig at the top. This helped hugely as it meant there were two specific spots I couldn't slow down at.

Faster I go, faster I can stop. Stump right, stump left, c'mon legs!!

Finally … lap 3 after what felt like hours circling that bloody playing field and crunching on that gravel. Past Lozza and Anne, too tired to smile and onto the finishing straight. Under the finish gantry arms in the air, name called out over the tannoy … and I was finished!

Am triathlete!! Very, very tired but happy triathlete.

Pic by Lozza
Although apparently there was one last obstacle ...

I couldn’t find the way out. I'd crossed the line … to be confronted by a metal gate. I walked round the side and ended up back on the run course. Don't want to do another lap, thanks! Two other finishers had followed me and we all stood there looking confused. Do we have to do it all again? Where's the ice creams?

Luckily, we were spotted by a marshal and shown the way out. Phew. That was amazing but not sure I could have done it all over again straightaway. Might have an ice cream first ...

My results:
Swim: 09:03 (400m)
T1: 02:01
Cycle: 38:05 (20km)
T2: 01:13
Run: 21:52 (5km)
Overall: 01:12:16

39 seconds and one place behind the 1st lady in my age group which I was very surprised and pleased about!

Kimbolton Triathlon: 

400m pool swim, 20km cycle, 5km run.

If you want to enter this one I can highly recommend it. It's very beginner friendly and the atmosphere was great. Everyone was friendly and chatty and the marshals were very helpful. Plus it's a bargain at £44 for non-affiliated entries or £39 if you belong to a tri club. More info here.

Friday 29 August 2014

Inspire2Tri: Triathlon Training

Enough was enough. I was sticking two fingers up at Plantar Fasciitis. I might not be able to run mile after mile after mile, but maybe I could swim a bit, cycle a bit, run a bit …?

Although apparently triathlon was a bit more complicated than that. There was something called transitions and all sorts of rules and traditions, some of which involved wee-ing inside wetsuits and not getting draughty. Or drafting. Or something. And it sounded as though could be disqualified for practically everything. I definitely needed some help with this.

So after some advice from Lozza owner of Le Bike and half-iron distance triathlete, I booked a Triathlon Training Half day at Inspire2Tri with Mary.

At least after this, I would know what I was getting disqualified FOR ...

After wrestling the bikes onto the car bike rack, we drove to Rutland Water where Mary has her smart studio and sat down next to two other nervous-looking people.

We filled out our health & safety forms and Mary gave us the schedules for the day … and promptly told us we weren't going to look at those – we were just going to throw ourselves into it. I liked her already. With a great sense of humour and a down to earth attitude, she made us all feel welcome despite our nerves.

There were 4 of us on the course from all different backgrounds. Andrianna was from a swimming background, Cara from mountain biking, The Mister from a bit of all 3 disciplines. And me. Injured runner.

We were to be engaged at all times, either as a participant or a critical observer and were there to help each other as well as ourselves. Apparently there was also no such thing as a 'stupid' question. I didn't want to accidentally prove Mary wrong at such an early stage so kept my mouth shut ... Can always disappoint later.

Endless Pool Technique Analysis

We started with the scariest part – the swimming and made our way to the endless pool. This sounds amazing … and is. It's basically a very small swimming pool with a motor at one end with creates a current against which you swim. As a result you stay in the same place in the pool – despite swimming – which helps with observations and means you can also be videoed. I was slightly concerned about being videoed and committing my 'shark attack' swimming style to film. Plus I couldn't remember if I'd shaved my legs. Fitness … it's all glamour.

Andrianna went first and made swimming look easy. She was smooth and easy in the pool and made swimming look very natural. Mary however made some small suggestions and soon her swimming improved even further – in just the short 30 minutes in the pool, her speed, breathing and stroke improved noticeably as did her speed. Mary videoed before-and-after clips for us which she later emailed. These were hugely helpful.

My turn next … I was more nervous about swimming than anything else in the training day and as Mary increased the motor speed, my windmilling arms and flailing increased as I thought the intention was to get me to swim quicker. Nope … Mary was just trying to move me into the correct position for the cameras. Note to self: Listen properly to instructions, Sarah!

My first learning point was that I had a 'pretty stroke'. It looked nice but didn't do much. My arms were too wide and shoulders tight and I wasn't reaching forward properly. However, Mary was brilliant at demonstrating how one small change could change a whole sequence of events.

I am wearing my 'Magic' swim hat...

I had several things to try:

Relax: Pretend I was lying on a block of polystyrene.
Narrow arms: Use my arms as though I was moving them down narrowing train tracks.
Reach out: Try and touch the motor at the front of the pool and engage whole body. I could pretend I was trying to push a big red button.

These small changes immediately made a big difference.

I had other things to tweak and practise:

  • When I took a breath turn my head as though I was aiming to get my chin above my forehead. This positioned my head in the right place. Lift of arm creates a bow wave so water lower there.
  • I needed to practise constantly blowing bubbles out while swimming. This was achieved by practising sitting on the bottom of the pool and breathing out like Kevin the teenager having a sulky moment.
  • I also wanted to practise my bilateral breathing which means breathing on both sides. I needed to practise taking 3 strokes and then breathe rather than just breathing on the left.
  • I needed to make my arm strokes slower and more powerful, rather than the windmilling I was currently doing.
  • Try and ensure middle finger first into the water not the thumb like it used to be taught as this had caused shoulder problems with people rotating their shoulders.
  • Mary also said that the body position dictates the breath not other way around. A lot of people breathe and then have a mad “oh shit” stroke where their am tries to catch up.
  • Your arms should be rotating in a teardrop shape.
  • A good trick she uses is to focus on breathing when your backwards arm is at it's position, this takes the focus off of your forward arm.

Wattbike Pedalling and Speed Skills

I was feeling more much cheerful at this point. The bit I’d been dreading – the swim – had been and gone, I’d been shown some techniques to improve which had been effective immediately and I had a lot to practise which was exciting.

Then we were shown the Wattbike. It looked smart, but no more scary than a bike in the gym. Then Mary told us it was a super-accurate one and the data would show on the screen as readings. I began to be a bit more impressed.

This isn't me. I have hair.

I was picked to go first, so I readied my rabbit-in-the-headlights face and climbed on. We had the option of cleats or cages. Thanks to Lozza, I’d borrowed her SPD shoes so I was clipped into the pedals on the bike.

We were told we should be working our legs, not moving our bodies from side to side and that the aim was to try and push and pull smoothly on the pedals. The big screen in front showed us the results visually and gave graphs of the power and how smoothly we were pedalling. We had to try and keep the shape on the screen like a big sausage. Food. Always an incentive to make me work a bit harder.

I was told to pedal at 90rpm which is the ideal speed for a sprint triathlon cycle as when we climb off the bike, we need our legs to be moving quickly and be getting ready for the run. I hadn’t done much cycling at all apart from a little bit in the last couple of weeks on the stationary bikes at the gym. I’d kept my rpm then between 65 – 70rpm so it was strange to have to keep a faster rhythm.

I had a warm up and then had to try and spin the pedals as quickly as possible with no resistance. This was training my mind not my legs. Mary also said it is good practise to try and spin with one leg with no resistance and avoiding the ‘clunk’ noise. It’s good brain training to get the legs spinning smoothly.

The important part of the session was the 3 minute aerobic test to give us accurate heart rate zones for training and other bits of interesting information such as power to weight ratio. to keep pedalling steadily at 90rpm for 3 minutes while Mary gradually added resistance. The aim was to keep it at 90rpm despite the feeling of cycling up a cliff.

MMP (watts)    247w
MHR (bpm)     170bpm
V02 Max          50.1 (ml/kg/min)
Power/Wt ratio 4.4 (W/kg)
MET                 14.3
Avg cad of test  5
L/R balance      50:50

Training zones

                     Heart Rate       Power
Recovery      <102                 <86
Basic 1            103-110            87-111
Basic 2            111-128            112-136
Intensive 3      129-139            137-161
Intensive 4      140-151            162-185
Max 5              152-160            186-210
Max 6              161-170             211-247
Supra-max            -                   >247  

Running Technique Session

The aim of this session was to show us how we should be running – practising our form and giving us some exercises to help us to do this. Mary showed us how our legs acted like a spring and how having a purely heel strike can stop this effect and make it all a bit harder work. The trick was a shorter stride length and quicker cadence. We were aiming for 180bpm and we were set an exercise to demonstrate.

Mary set a metronome track (which sounds like the tick of a clock) at 180bpm and we had to match the ‘tick’ to our feet hitting the floor. We then had to speed up while keeping the cadence the same. It was an interesting experiment and emphasised how easy it is to overstride normally.

Another exercise was to stand about a foot away from the wall and lean forward to demonstrate how far we could lean forward without falling. We don't need to be bent at the waists like crones to run, but a lean helps to make good use of gravity. We were told to run and to practise leaning slightly forward … Mary suddenly shouted “stop!”. How long we took to stop demonstrated how well we had been listening. If we stopped immediately we hadn't been leaning enough!

The next Section was a bit more complicated ... Triathlon Rules

Of which there seemed to be a huge amount. The first thing that became apparent was that you could be disqualified in triathlon for virtually everything. Mary gave us a basic list.

You could be disqualified for:
  • Touching your bike before you’d put your helmet on.
  • Cycling in the transition area.
  • Nudity (even accidental towel drops!)
  • Littering.
  • Clothes, helmet or kit outside your zone (the area around your bike).
  • Drafting (which is being too close to other riders usually behind them or beside them) 
  • Not using Highway Code (Mary admitted to being disqualified for going around the inside of a stopped car once!)

I find it hard enough to remember my race pace when running a 5k – how on earth was I going to remember this lot?

Also when you first came out of transition how do you find your bike? Especially when there were rows and rows of them? We were told to count the rows and steps to your bike when you rack it in the morning (or evening) before. Also if you have something easy to sight – for instance a big tree or something you can line up with.

Our first practical transition lesson was running with the bike. When you came out of the swim and were in your bike kit, you would want to get to the exit as soon as possible so you could start your ride. So we practised running with the bike, holding the saddle. There were several reasons for doing it this way rather than holding the handlebars.

  • So you didn’t get a pedal to the back of the calves (ouch!)
  • Because running hunched over can give you a stitch.
  • So you can run with it not walk.

We were also shown the quickest way to get your bike around the corners doing this; picking it up and swinging it round.

We practised dismounts. Using the brakes when mounting and dismounting. It sounds simple but when you’re in a rush it’s easy to forget and you don’t want the bike disappearing as it runs away. Or falling over on you. Note to self: unclip first. Mary told us to practise using a high and wide leg swing when mounting and dismounting and get into the habit of this. With tired legs it would be easy to kick bike accidentally and knock it over and tangle yourself up. Stop this being a problem by practising the wide leg swing.

A very important rule: Keep bike in easy gear so you can start the bike ride smoothly and pedal quickly. It might also be uphill out of transition!

When you go out of transition, don’t try and mount (or dismount) directly on the line. There will be plenty of other people doing this and it may be chaos. You won’t lose any time by going past a bit and getting on out of everyone’s way and you may avoid an accidental kick. You’ll probably save time staying away from that chaos.

But most of all … preparation and good luck!

Wow! Such a lot to remember … but what a brilliant day! I'd known that there were bits about triathlon that I didn't know … but what a lot of information. If you're thinking about having a go at triathlon, I can't recommend Mary's half day triathlon training enough. I'd paid £50 for a half days training but that had lasted from 9am to 3pm and it was worth 3 times the amount I'd paid in the sheer amount of information and things I'd learned.

For more information or if you want to have a go visit Inspire2Tri.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Endure 24 Race Report: 24hr Running & The Diary of a Trampy Camper

Endure24 is a 24hr race which is held from midday Saturday to midday Sunday. The aim is to complete as many 5 mile laps as you can in teams of 8, 5, 3, 2 or on your own depending on how much you want to challenge yourself. The route is 99% on tricky forest trails and has some impressive hills.

What’s that saying? The couple that runs together, stays together?


The couple who runs together, will end up going to a 24hr race together, fall out over who should have checked the tent for leaks and whether the the other should be charged extra petrol money for having to return to the house for forgotten items and end up sulking. With one half of the couple in a car in a puddle of mud, the other one in a tent in a puddle of rainwater.


Diary of Endure 24

I like to be organised for races. I get neurotic, uptight and eventually sulky if things don’t go
my way beforehand. All winning traits I’m sure you’ll agree and ones which make
me an ideal race buddy. (cough)

I needed to pack for Endure 24 which I was to be running as part of a team of 8. However, due to a busy week, I hadn’t had a chance to check the tent, pack kit or sort out the best bit – the food. And snacks are my FAVOURITE thing. Apart from the running of course.

Therefore, I'd relied on The Mister to check the tent and I sorted out the food. I like sorting the food for long races. It involves taste tests and pick’n’mix tends to feature heavily. I’d baked a couple of sweet potatoes and tucked in some Chia Charge flapjacks for a special treat in between the sweets.


9am:              Pack car with running kit, tent and food.

9:15am:        Sit in car honking horn while The Mister runs to and fro between house and car             
                      debating which hat to wear and which pair of running socks he can’t live 

9:20am:         Leave house and drive towards M4.

9:22am:         Return to house for The Mister's headphones.

9:24am:         Leave house and drive towards M4.

9:26am:         Return to house for The Mister's car charger.

9:28am:         Leave house and drive towards M4.

9:26am:         Return to house for The Mister's car trainers.

9:27am:        Resist urge to leave The Mister behind or beat him to death as this will mean I will have to run extra laps at Endure 24. Leave house for final time and drive towards M4. Refuse to stop, turn around or go to drive-thrus. Despite whinging.

11:00am:   Arrive at campsite. In pouring rain. Luckily the other team members have registered the team and have picked up the numbers, chips and race packs so The Mister and I unpack the tent in the sodden field.

11:15am:     Realise The Mister’s idea of ‘checking the tent’ meant he opened the tent bag and went “yep it’s a tent.” We have brought The Leaky Tent with us.

                   Sigh and get on with putting tent up. Might be able to peg it tautly to limit amount of water inside the tent.

Non-Leaky NOT our tent. 

11:20am:       Realise The Mister hasn't packed tent pegs with the tent.

11:21am:      Sit in tent and scoff entire pack of chocolate bananas in panic as the lightning crackles around the tent and the rain drizzles gently down my neck.

11:22am:       Calming soporific effect of chocolate kicks in and I calm down slightly.          
                       Trenchfoot takes longer than 24 hours to develop right ...?

11:50am:     Line up with about 600 other runners for lap 1. Race has grown from 600 last year to 2000 this year but start funnel is same width. Personal space is not an option and spend 10 minutes with nose pressed in armpit of runner beside me and cheek stuck to someone else’s back. Remove someone’s elbow from my buttock and am relieved to hear the starting horn as it means I may be able to draw a breath soon that doesn’t smell of someone else’s nervous farts. However it’s the same old camaraderie and there is chat all around and everyone is discussing races and snacks.

12:07am:       Lap 1: Realise have started too far back when I get hemmed in by a pack of 
                        solo runners who are trotting along at a “I can do this all day and night” pace.  
                        Some are eating snacks already. Have brief moment of snack envy before  
                        deciding stealing a snack from someone capable of running for 24hrs isn’t a 
                     smart move. They may not move fast but they will get you in the end. Would be   
                      like Halloween and Mike Myers but with more lycra and less Jamie Lee Curtis. 

                        Plus I’d have to give the snack back.

I decide to get a move on.

Start dodging and weaving between runners to try and get some space to run in which doesn’t involve treading and being trodden on. It’s the same at the start of every race especially one on narrow trails but I’m aware that the path narrows even further so I run along the grass verge to try and get around some of the slower runners.

12:10am:      Find a nice pace although the course is still congested and footing is tricky due 
                     to the trails. There is a change to the course this year which is an out-and-back 
                     additional section through the woods. The black earth is springy and bouncy to 
                       run on! Boing!

12:15am:       Despite the earlier downpour it’s surprisingly hot in unshaded sections and I’m 
                       grateful for the water dripping off the trees onto me as it cools me down. 
                       However the rain had left big puddles on the trail and each corner had muddy 
                       footprints and a deepening muddy trench around it.

Get a bit carried away with the excitement and run a bit too fast.

12:17am:      Hear noises like gunshots. Come to conclusion that race HQ have 
                      implemented zero tolerance to Al Fresco toilet habits and have given marshals 
                      permission to shoot runners caught short on the trails. Resolve to cross legs 
                       and wait for the portaloo.

 12:28am:     Have forgotten how massive the hills are. Get urge to check lungs not in fact            
                      hanging out of mouth like it feels they are.          

Get caught up in the fun. Lots of people to overtake, friends to see and exciting trails to run. Going too fast to maintain pace over next few laps but will have a long rest in between and it will be fine. Pick’n’mix will make everything better.

12:40:            Coming into the field with the out-and-back sections past the tents, my name 
                      is shouted and I’m cheered on .... waving madly I dashed on. There’s a lady in
                       front of me and I have less than 400m to catch her in ... come on legs!

Caught her! And a sprint finish to the line. Across and I hand the wristband baton to Aurian, the runner after me.

12:42:            Check Garmin: 90 seconds quicker than last year. And about 90 seconds  
                       slower than my 5 mile road PB. Huh ... maybe I didn’t run hard enough in my   
                       last 5 miler.

Or maybe I went too fast on the trails despite having to run another few laps later on ...

Had been cheered over line by awesome teammates and The Mister! Had a good catch up with Simon T, Linda, Glyn, Cath, Rob and Hannah. Lovely to see them and they all seem to be doing triathlons. Have a brief moment of tri envy ...

1pm:             Went back to leaky tent and had Trampy Camper’s bath. This consists of clean clothes and a baby wipe wash.

Didn’t feel too bad about Trampy Camper bath as the amount of water coming in through the tent roof means I'm effectively getting a rinse anyway. If the rain increases I’d probably be able to have a bath. While inside my sleeping bag.

2.30pm:         Get phone call to confirm 5 year old completed her own race of 2 miles. She has a medal and everything and hardly needed to be carried at all. She is very proud of herself and has been telling everyone she won.

3pm:           Spot Zoe Forman in coffee queue. Have a chat in real life after being Twitter buddies for YEARS. She is tiny in real life and strong looking. She is super fit and ready for her Ironman in a few weeks. Resolve to be super polite as she looks very strong and unlikely to take any cheek off a mere marathon runner.

3.30pm:         Chat over coffee with Andy Cooney who says he had been talked into Endure 
                      24 last minute by Yvonne. Don’t believe much ‘talking into’ was required. Andy 
                     is super-fast long distance runner. Much quicker than me. Resolve to push him 
                       in hedge if I can catch him as this will improve my lap ranking.

4pm:              See Michael, Kenilworth Runner and friend from local parkrun and 12 Miles 
                       (and 6 Pubs) of Christmas Run. Lots of exciting plans for him including   
                       triathlons and ultras. He is friendly but am not taken in as know he is quicker  
                       than me. Resolve to push Michael in hedge if I see him on course to improve  
                       lap rankings. Note to self: don’t use same ditch as am pushing Andy into as 
                       they might be able to use teamwork or make a ladder out of trainers to climb 

4:23pm:         Text from little sister at Glastonbury “Currently sat on a plastic bag in the middle of a muddy field in the sun xx”

4:24pm:         Sent text back: “Currently sat in a plastic loo in the middle of a muddy field in  
                        the sun xx”

5pm:               Share a coffee with Jo Ferguson in food tent. Jo and I had done Wolf Run   
                       together. Mud is RIGHT up her street. She is very chilled out about it and not at all fazed at the thought of meeting a sticky end in a bog somewhere in a wood in Berkshire.

6:10pm:          Lap 2. Legs are sulking as I'm forcing them to run despite a hard effort earlier.
                        In attempt to wheedle them into running faster I have my favourite and most  
                     striking pair of compression socks. This was a mistake. Due to the rain and the  
                     massive amounts of runners going through it, course has turned into quagmire.  
                     It is like paddling in a bog. Kit is quickly drenched and turns the same colour as  
                        the rest of the landscape. Poo brown.

6:12pm:          See David who is running in a pair with a friend. He is NOT happy at the mud 
                       and is swearing about ultra running and stupid ideas. Am secretly sure he will 
                        be hooked and resolve to talk him into another ultra ASAP ...

6:15pm:       Tummy is making blurp, blurp noises. This isn't good. I can't stop in a wood with  
                        600 runners on the course. It will end in humiliation. Although … my lycra IS 
                        already brown … Dismiss thought. May be covered in muck but will draw line  
                    at soiling lycra. Tummy blurps again. Think of earlier shotgun noises and ignore 

6:25pm:         Can't get breathing right. The mud is making everything harder and I went out
                    too fast on my first lap for a hilly trail course. I pass solo runners every now and 
                     then. All that training and to be confronted with these conditions … the perils of  
                       English weather ...

6:30pm:        Realise favourite RMR compression socks in pink and orange diamonds are 
                      now covered in mud and completely brown. Sulk as realise they will never be 
                      quite as pretty as they once were.

6:40pm:          Run past tank (yes there's a TANK in a shed) and back into the field with the   
                        tents on the final stretch. Am cheered again by the same man as the first lap: 
                        “Go on Sarah!!” Wish my eyesight was better as I have no idea who it is but 
                        it’s nice to be cheered.

6:47pm:          Hand over the wristband baton to the next team member and that's the 
                    second lap done. Am splattered with mud but decide a cup of coffee is required  
                       before a wash. Well I say wash …

7pm:               Back to the tent, babywipes out again.

7:01pm:          Discover tent is perfectly proportioned to catch maximum amount of rain water  
                        and sprinkle it over the entire area inside tent. Would be ideal for growing  
                        mushrooms in here. Is dark, warm and damp. There is also a significant 
                        amount of bullshit about how “The tent pegs were here last time I looked ...”

Plantar Fasciitis isn’t causing problems although felt a ‘stretch’ a few times. Went to roll ball on sole of foot to ease PF But discover ball has been lost in massive amounts of mud surrounding tent. Improvise and roll foot on can of deodorant instead. Might not do much for the PF but my feet smell lovely.

7:25pm:          Consider taping foot but realise I have forgotten Rock tape.

7:27pm:         Discover I have brought duct tape. Consider taping foot before deciding having 
                       an entire foot silver might be considered bionic bodyparts and ground for 
                       disqualification ...

8:02pm:        Storm keeps storming and rain is heavy. Entire campsite waterlogged and the  
                    mud is rising. Apparently tent has sprung several several more leaks and inside 
                      is a geyser effect.

8:05pm:        One of these geysers is pouring into The Mister’s kit bag. Suspect is karma for 
                      forgetting tent pegs.

8:06pm:        Suspect I may sleep in car.

8:27pm:        The Mister admits he has nipple chafe. Suspect it is karma for forgetting tent 

9:15pm:        Cath has fallen over and hurt herself on the trails. She kept going though and  
                      managed cracking time. Team More Endure 24 doing really well despite 
                      conditions and Glyn and Simon B and Simon T running really well. Aurian is 
                   super fast as usual. Decide he must have rocket-powered trainers. Morale is low 
                      though as mud is making everything more difficult. Hannah who stepped in at 
                      late notice has run 2 laps and Rob manages one lap but is now stepping out. 
                      He has bad quad injury which causes pain on downhills and uphills. There are 
                      no flat sections at Endure 24 except for final half mile on field so it is not fair to 
                      expect more.

10pm:            Hannah and Rob go home. They have done a brilliant job at filling in for the 
                       team despite late notice and injuries.

                       We're down to 6 team members and the mud is rising ...

10:30pm:       Mutiny in Team More Endure 24. Tents are leaking. Team members  
                       campaigning for extra sleep and better running conditions. I have nothing to 

10:31pm:       Retire to car. Expect a picket line and burning oil drums any minute.

10:45pm:       Have brain wave and volunteer self and Aurian for double lap. Luckily Aurian 
                      doesn't kill me for this. Suspect this is only because he doesn't want to have 
                      to run my laps.

11:00pm:       Offer accepted by Team More Endure 24 and mutiny averted. I retire to car to  
                        attempt to dry out self and kit from rain while waiting for next lap.

11:30pm:       Crazy woman comes out of tent and screams at me for having car engine 
                    running as she can’t sleep. Turn car engine off and sit in dark and cold. Wonder why crazy lady wasn't also being stroppy about the loud noise of the generators from main arena 15ft away and think she is just being grumpy and mean spirited. Realise she may be in a damp tent with no car to warm up in. Feel sorry for grumpy woman. I would have let her sit in the warm car if she’d just asked. Would have made her take her shoes off though.

11:49am:    Lap 3: Receive baton from Simon T and set off running. Have new white waterproof jacket on so also have smug face on as will be dry despite rain. However discover that course appears completely different to earlier as road and grass gone and is now slurry and mud. Conditions treacherous and slidy. Is brilliant fun. Headtorch is nice and bright.


00:10am:       Have massive smile on face and am running too fast and enjoying mud too  

00:11am:       Fall into hole in trail.

Manage ninja-like forward roll through mud and jump back to feet. However due to reaction from nearby runners suspect it may have appeared that I fell on my face, rolled over and floundered in mud before staggering upright. I reassure them I am fine despite hole in my leg and brown splatty mud marks on   new no-longer-white jacket. At least it was dark.

00:12am:        Knee hurts. Hand hurts. But takes mind off Plantar Fasciitis in foot which is a 
                        bit sore.

00:14am:        Walk for a bit to test knee. Seems ok. Am able to run again but not smiling so 
                         much as have mud in mouth from falling over. Deciding best strategy to walk 
                         up hills and run rest of it. And stop smiling.

00:20m:           Discover running not possible in latter parts of course as mud is so deep.  
                         Manage to create a sort of trotty-walk. Shall call it a ‘wotty’. Shall be future 
                         claim to fame.

  Wonder if banged head when fell over. Or maybe mud has previously   
  undiscovered drugs in it. That I discovered when the mud got in my mouth.  
  Maybe famous scientist instead.

00:30am:        Mud is ridiculous now. Think may as well have stayed near tent and paddled           
                         in portaloos instead. Although probably less risk of e-coli on course and 
                        getting loo roll caught up in lugs of trail shoes. Decide out on course probably 
                         a bit better.

00:36am:      Lap 4: Go through start gantry and start on 2nd of double lap. Mud is much the 
                         same but headtorch dimmer so it keeps the running … well wotting … 

00:45am:        Tummy a bit dodgy again. Luckily not many people around as solos seem to 
                         have gone to bed and team runners going a bit slower due to dark and mud. 
                         Despite lack of people my belligerent tummy seems to coincide parps with 
                         other runners appearing. Luckily is dark so they can't ID me. No one really 
                         wants a parprise. Is like a surprise but smellier.
01:15am:        Trudge in mud feels like it takes forever. Shoes getting heavier and heavier       
                         and legs look like those of a golem.

01:28am:        Finally finish lap and hand band over to Aurian for his double lap. He sprints  
                        off into the darkness … no one likes a show off Aurian … Slow down. You're  
                        making me look like a slacker.

Food tent ...

01:30am:          Food tent: Have definitely earned a packet of crisps and a can of tango.

01:35am:          Start taking photos of own legs as can't believe the amount of crap I appear  
                           to be wearing. Mud in mouth does strange things to brain.

01:45am:           Had a chat to another muddy runner who turns out to be Chris of Sandhurst 
                           Joggers. He appears nice and quite normal and not at all fazed by the 
                           strange person taking photographs of her own muddy appendages.

01:50am:          Drink can of orange tango and eat crisps. BEST MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT 
                           FOOD EVER.

2:01am:             Decided couldn’t even sleep in car as amount of crap on self horrendous. 
                           Decided to brave camp showers.

2:10am:            Found empty shower. Well was empty of people. Was full of second-hand   
                       Managed to jump over worst of the mud and hang clothes and towel up. Even 
                          managed super fast speed-grab as towel tried to fall into mud. Am like 

2:25am:            Hot water ... mud off ... Best. Shower. Ever.

2:26am:            Reach for clean clothes.

2:26am:           Realise have forgotten to bring clean clothes to shower block and will have to 
                          get back into wet, muddy, sweaty clothes to get back to tent. Cry a bit at 

2:27am:            Realise can rinse revolting clothes in shower and get back into wet but 
                          CLEAN clothes. Do so.

2:30am:            Get to tent. Climb into PJs and dry sleeping bag, warm and sleepy.

6:15am:            Crawl out of sleeping bag after shout outside tent that my next lap is coming 

6:16am:            Inspect feet. Not too bad. Toenail looks a bit dodgy. Wiggle toenail. Should 
                           toenails wiggle? Tie it back on with elastoplast tape and put on dry socks.

                         Trainers are wet but dry socks give illusion of dry feet for 30 seconds.Resign 
                           myself to fact that feet will probably retain their pale, damp, pruney look for 
                           some time.

                          Meh … my feet were never going to win any 'sexy feet' prizes … they never  
                           have enough toenails for that sort of thing. The only place they'd win any        
                           prizes would be on some sort of grotesque specialist website. Where the 
                           users have a fear of toenails. 

6:17am:          Inspect knee. Knee looks grotesque from fall and has an awesome wiggly cut      
                          down the middle. May have a cool new scar. Must try and clean all that mud 
                           out though. Didn't all come out in shower and don't want mud tattoo.

6:25am:            Head to changeover point to get baton wristband from Simon T.

6:45am:           Completely unable to recognise Simon T as he now looks like a bog monster  
                         due to the dramatic amounts of mud he is wearing. Take wristband.

6:50am:            Lap 5: Course is completely unrecognisable from the one I did my first lap 

                          Thick mud drags at my feet and deep puddles fill the course. The mud is 
                          pouring like slurry down the hills and roots are sticking out of the trail where  
                      the dirt has been worn away from the tramping of feet. They're difficult to avoid    
                    and my trainers, weighty and filthy with mud clogging up the treads don't want   
                     to lift to jump over them. Almost every runner has a brown smear from a fall on   
                          the course and a section has turned into a steeplechase-style jump. Once a 
                          dip in the course, now full of brown water.

7:35am:           Complete a slow lap but without any falls and have a chat to a solo runner  
                         who is about to break 100 miles. He is walking the hill but looks quite serene  
                          despite the mud up to his knees. Dread to think what he does when he's not   
                        wading 100 miles through knee-deep bogs and climbing slippery hills … bear  
                          dentistry? Shark fighting?

10am:              Meet Carl and Kelvin Ara, twitter buddies. Have a chat to Kelvin and Carl  
                         strips off immediately. Didn’t realise I had that effect, then realise he had  
                         finished a muddy lap and is cooling off. Not me then.

11am:              Chat to Martin (of Team Bob) for first time in real life. Have immediate hat 
                         envy. Resolve to steal hat if get chance. Do not get chance. Sulk.

11:20am:         Lap 6: Head out for the final lap. I need to get a bit of a move on to ensure 
                          Aurian gets a chance to do a final lap for team More Endure 24. No more 
                          slacking off and walking up the hills and chatting to solos. The trail is better 
                      than it has been and the sun is drying the mud out in a line through the middle 
                         of the trail. There is no place to overtake slower runners but the pace can be 
                          maintained if you stay on this section.

                          All the runners are wearing mud on their legs like tribal tattoos. The dark       
                          patterns bright in the sunshine.

11:50am:         I complete an uneventful lap and pass baton to Aurian for him to complete  
                         final lap for team More Endure 24. He sprints off and I am finished at Endure 
                         24 for another year. It's been unforgettable with the mud and conditions this  
                         year but I've learned not to smile when I fall over (mud in mouth) and not to 
                         wear new white clothes on a muddy trail run (mud everywhere).

11:55am:     Head to food tent for a final cup of coffee with the other members of Team More       
                       Endure 24 except Aurian who is out on course.

                        Discover after final lap that the drinks station in the woods was also a snacks   
                     station. How did I miss that? Snack radar obviously confused by mud. I sulk as   
                         the other team members unload pockets full of protein bars.

11:56am:        Cheer self up by going to Clif Bar stand and eating own bodyweight in peanut  
                         butter bars before heading back to food tent.

12:00:              The horn blows signifying no more runners are allowed to leave for new laps.

12:20pm:         Aurian comes in on final lap.

12:21pm:      We all realise Aurian is due to come in and hustle out of the food tent. We spot   
                       him already finished and make apologetic noises and gesture at the hot dogs  
                          and bacon sarnies we were holding. “We forgot.”

12:30pm:         Meet up with Yvonne and Andy. Yvonne has run her furthest distance ever 
                        and in these muddy conditions on a difficult trail. She is a superstar. A muddy  

1:15pm:           Watch as cars slide around the tents in the mud completely unable to leave  
                          the campsite. Mud is going everywhere and the cars dig deep holes as the 
                          drivers rev the engines and splatter mud up their rear windows. Cars are 
                          queued in great lines trying to leave the campsite … and are slowly sinking 
                          into the mud.

2:00pm:           Decide it's probably time to pack up the tent. Simon B and Simon T decide to      
                         demonstrate how tents should be put down. The wind helps.

2:10pm:            The line of cars trying to leave the campsite is no shorter.

2:15pm::            Go for a walk as can't leave campsite. Discover secret way out of campsite.    
                           Start sprinting back to car before everyone else finds it and we’re in car 
                           queue for 2 hours.

2:16pm:             Everyone sees me sprinting and discovers secret way out of campsite.

2:25pm:             Stuck in queue in car.

3:30pm:             Have finally left campsite. Strange smell in car. Decide it is probably me, 
                           warm mud and melted pick n mix that I left in the car window  Who would 
                           have thought it would turn into a massive dashboard-shaped sweetie? 
                           Seems a shame to waste it …

                         Sit back in car seat and study medal. It was hard-earned this year. But worth  

This was our 3rd year at Endure 24 and we will be back again in 2015. The organisation is always spot on, the portaloos tend to be fairly clean and the showers are hot. I love running trails and even under a foot of mud it's a gorgeous course. Besides next year I'll know where the snacks are ...