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Thursday 27 August 2015

Giants Head Marathon: 1 Naked Farmer, 27.5 miles & 1 Enormous Todger

1 giant air mattress. 1 tiny tent bedroom. 1 comfy person (me: on mattress). 1 squashed person (Liz: UNDER mattress).  

2 night time dark toilet trips required. Of course bladder didn’t make this known until was in pyjamas and tucked up warmly in sleeping bag.  2 wellies put on over PJ clad legs and 1 portaloo visited. 

1 dead GPS watch battery at start line = 1 sprint back to tent where other watch was retrieved from boot of the car ...

1 Proposal at start line. Not to any of us. Acceptances: also 1. 

3 happy girls running the hills: Me, Angela, Liz turned into 4 happy girls when we spotted Leila who I’d met at TP100.

1 Naked farmer in 1 tin bathtub ringing 1 bell. Who apparently got stung on his farmer bits (1) by a horse fly (1).

4 watermelons eaten. In slices. Each. Approximate. 

77 photos taken. Yes really. 

3 pints of cider = 1 early night.

2 refills of 2 litre water bladder in running pack. May be related to number of night wees.

1 massive chalk giant on hill. 1 massive club. 0 items of clothing on giant. 

10 hills. All MASSIVE.

1 Love Station ... 12 bottles of champers, multiple glasses of cider and 0 schnapps left by the time us dawdlers at the back got there.

1 race t-shirt with a picture of a naked giant and his massive club on the back. 1 husband asking “You didn’t wear that shirt in public did you?”

Cerne Abbas Giant (source)

1 enormous ice cream with 100s of 100s & 1000s sprinkled on top. And strawberry sauce.

1 hog roast eaten in 3 minutes.

1 barn dance.

27.5 extra value for money miles ... and 1 slightly over distance marathon.

6hrs 32 minutes ... Personal Worst Time = One of the MOST FUN MARATHONS!!

2016 race entry on Christmas list! 

Friday 21 August 2015

Fear of Open Water Swimming: What Lies Beneath?

I am not new to open water. I grew up in Dorset and visiting the seaside and swimming there was a regular occurrence. Equally, I have been able to swim - to a degree, most of my life. But I am new to Open Water. Open Water with capitals. The wetsuit, swimming hat and goggles are new. Likewise the Rules. Being kicked in Open Water swimming or swum over is nothing to blink at. Do not expect an apology. But do expect to chat, during the swim, during changing. Whether you are changing into your wetsuit in a purpose-built changing room – or more likely – by the side of your car, clinging onto the door trying not to fall over as you try to get the tight rubber up over your thighs. Race hats are worn with pride and the few who swim in ‘skins’ – without a wetsuit are the Kings and Queens of the lakes. 

I am a confident swimmer, but arriving for a swim at 6am at a lake new to me I was informed that they operate an ‘honesty box’ policy and that I’d have to post my five pounds swim payment into the equivalent of a metal letterbox and her there would be no safety kayaks on the water. And no other swimmers yet.

This didn’t faze me getting ready. My wetsuit went on the same – with difficulty, my goggles were just as scratched and misty although my hat broke like an omen. My triathlon relays hat. The only hat I own which marks me out as having done something I was proud of doing.  I thought nothing of it and returned to the car and put on a new hat. A white one. 

The water isn’t as cold as I expected, although I always get a shock when it comes in through the zip at the back of my wetsuit and at the neck. I have not yet ‘christened’ my wetsuit yet. The swimmers reading this will know what that means. 

I swim through the clear water slowly towards the first buoy which is floating serenely on the water. I look towards the clear bottom of the lake and I can see a shoal of tiny fish scatter before me. It’s a treat to see them. 

As I get deeper, the water is darker, cloudy. A stripy fish zips away from me. A glimpse of stripes and a tail.  The weed is visible, dark and dusty looking in the still water.  The bottom of the lake is there ... somewhere. 

It is strange swimming without safety kayaks, the silent sentinels that usually float unnoticed and unheeded on the water. And without the splash and chat of other swimmers echoing off the water. The small noises, not noticed until they are missed.  But I am in a wetsuit. A rubber wetsuit. A FLOATY wetsuit. It is almost impossible to sink in one of these. 

No safety kayaks. No problem. I am unable to sink in a wetsuit I tell myself.

I keep my head down towards the bottom of the lake except when I turn to breathe and I get something new. A strange vertigo swimming out here alone. The bottom of the lake is cloudy with distance and silt but every now and then there is a black patch entirely without weed. Is it algae on the bottom? Stones? Silt? A hole? A deep chasm gaping in the bottom of the lake within which anything might lurk. I swim on, maybe I can look ahead when my face is underwater rather than down or close my eyes instead of at the holes gaping black like hungry mouths. It doesn’t help. 

I look ahead to the next buoy floating ahead on the lake. It looks a long way away. I keep swimming. But I swim around the holes. 

The lake is quiet. Quiet and lonely except for the noise of a duck quacking. It sounds harsh against the silence. I look up when I’m sighting the buoys, look for the noise but can’t see anything. No ducks, no water birds at all. The water surface is flat and unbroken. Except for me. The solitary swimmer.

I am at the 3rd buoy now. The furthest point of the lake away from where I started. The bottom of the lake is invisible, shrouded in darkness. Weed stretches upwards out of the depths. It rises from the murkiness in single strands. I swim around them but they cluster around the turn. I mustn’t touch them. Like ringing a bell or touching a strand of spider web. What will rise from the depths? 

I turn around the buoy avoiding the weed and strike out for the next marker. The water is cloudy but not as murky as before and I can see a vague shape on my left keeping pace with me. It is impossible to judge the size. A fish? Otter that wants to bite my feet? Why is something that I can’t see worse than something I can? My imagination goes wild. 

I take a breath.

I’m covered in a big rubber wetsuit. I’m safe. My imagination chips in: But your white paddling feet aren’t. I bet they look like the equivalent of chicken dippers to an otter or a massive pike. The Loch Ness Monster has survived in Loch Ness for years, who knows what’s in these (shallow warm) lakes (in the Cotswolds)?

The thought of the Loch Ness Monster breaks the spell. I realise how ridiculous this train of thought is and as I turn my head to breathe I catch sight of another swimmer splashing between the buoys on the other side of the lake and realise I’m not alone out here.  

As I move my head, I hear the duck again and realise the furious quacking isn’t the Duck of Death but is the rubber swim hat squeaking on the back of my wetsuit. The mystery of the invisible duck is solved, I am no longer alone in the lake and I have managed to complete my swim. The water no longer seems gloomy and friendless but calm and peaceful.  

The sun comes out from behind a cloud and shines rays through the water. My shadow keeps pace with me as I swim, half seen. 

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Pitsford Triathlon Report: Kerb of Death & Why Pina Coladas are NOT a Good Hydration Strategy

Today’s triathlon was either going to go very right ... or very wrong. I’d arrived back from a week in Portugal where I’d been eating ALL the food and refusing to run further than 3.5 miles. I was going to count that as a taper and carb loading. It had also been around 38 degrees and the rumours that had reached me of a UK heatwave had made me think that maybe I could count ‘lying by the pool and occasionally getting up for a cocktail’ could count as heat training. And I was definitely counting the Pina Coladas as hydration. So. A damn good weeks training. 

However despite my exemplary training *cough* it didn’t seem as though race morning was going to be that easy after all. After being woken up by the 6 year old at 3am, an hour before my alarm was due to go off, I’d finally loaded everything into the car and reached down into the passenger footwell for one of the energy drinks I stash there and was smacked hard between the eyes by the massive Turkish Eye charm hanging from my rear view mirror. I wasn’t sure whether that was a lucky omen or whether it just meant I shouldn’t have massive bits of glass hanging off the mirror unless I wanted a headache. 

I had my breakfast of flapjack and anti-diarrhoea tablets in the car. It’s not a standard pre-race breakfast but after a having a dodgy tummy for the last few days in Portugal I thought it safest. I did not want a repeat of TP100 and it wouldn’t be fun spending 3 hours too scared to fart. However missing the tablets WOULD stop people drafting me although it would also mean I’d need to disinfect the bike and my trainers after the race. 

I got myself to registration and was helped with my wrist chip by the lovely Laura from Wellingborough & District AC and after trying to get my brain to understand which way round I needed to rack my bike I got my kit set up and managed to talc the entire area. Jean SV was doing the Getting-Into-Wetsuit-Dance so I left him alone but Loz was setting up too and I stopped for a chat. However it appeared that Loz needed a couple of hours of concentration to get her tri kit set up in a complicated ritual involving floor towels, multiple drinks bottles and snacks so I left her to it. 

The time flew and remembering Mary’s advice (ACTUALLY remembering her cross face when I said I didn’t) I managed to persuade Loz to do a short warm up run around the transition area. I SAY run but I MEAN dance. She danced. She was so concerned about getting duck poo on her toes she riverdanced her way around the field squeaking every time her toes touched something squishy. I didn’t like to remind her she’d have her mouth open in the reservoir shortly in water infused with the stuff.

Allowed into the water, we bobbed around. The reservoir bottom was soft mud (soft duck ‘mud’??) and it was warm, not the freezing cold I’d expected. I bounced around and got my face wet ready to go. Loz was over on my right, I waved and we got on with our own pre-race nerve calming. The 30 second warning was given and we were off. 

I couldn’t even see the first buoy amid the sea of hats but had looked to see whether there was a sighting point on the shore beyond it. There was – a tall tree. I just had to aim for the tall tree. Easier said than done as I kept drifting off to the left and having to correct. I tried to keep on the feet of swimmers in front but kept losing them as they either slowed down too much and started doing breaststroke or were too fast me. I just couldn’t find a rhythm and the swim to the first buoy took forever. I spotted a black and purple wetsuit go past and thought it might be Loz. 

I finally got past the first buoy and waves from the left kept splashing over my face every time I breathed to that side. I kept checking expecting to see a splashy male swimmer (why are the splashy ones always male?) but there was nothing there. I also got a stitch at this point. A stitch?? Is that even a Thing in swimming? Ignore it, head down, get on with it, past the 2nd buoy. I just couldn’t get into a rhythm, just ploughing on. And then as though it was just to emphasise how slow I was going at this point I was overtaken by a lady doing breaststroke. She was probably wearing one of those floral hats and talking loudly to her friend Mabel too.  Just keep going, Sarah. 

Finally I was around the 3rd buoy and swimming towards the ramp. I swam as far as I could towards the bank without beaching myself whale-style before standing and getting out of the water and running as fast as I could to the transition area. I’d decided not to undo my wetsuit until I got there as otherwise I just end up fighting my wetsuit on the move. Like Fight Club but with rubber. Better for me to run as fast as I can and then fight it stand standing still (this gives me an edge in wetsuit wars). But when I got to my carefully remembered transition spot, my kit wasn’t there. I looked around wildly, spotted Loz doing her confused face, gave her a wave, and then spotted my kit on the other side of the transition rail. Some bugger had moved my kit. I found a clear spot on the bar, did an impromptu limbo underneath it and started stripping the suit off and getting my bike kit on. Wetsuit did NOT want to come off my legs. Specifically my right leg. Apparently Baby Oil Gel turns to superglue when mixed with duck poo and lake water. 

Finally extricating my leg from the loving clasp of the wetsuit and getting my helmet on the right way round, I started to put into practise all the hours (*cough* minutes) of transition trials. 

All those times running up and down the car park at Draycote with the bike and leaping onto it smoothly until I’d perfected it. Yep. Run with bike. Sorted – one handed and smooth! Get you, you Proper Triathlete you. I triumphantly crossed the mount line at a run, flying past the people stopped on the line attempting to climb onto their bikes and took a leap at my bike using the method I’d practised diligently. I then skidded noisily and inelegantly, nearly fell over, caught myself on the bike and ground to a halt. Bugger. Try again. ANOTHER run up and a leap, finally making it onto the bike, losing the pedals and riding up the bank. Sigh. Why can I only do this right when no-one is watching? However, I was still in front of the 2 ladies at the mount line. Although this was probably only because they were laughing and watching to see what I would do next. They were probably laying bets. Attempt Wall of Death up the Kerb? Draft a Taxicab? Maybe even *gasp* stay on the bike. Nah ...

Loz demonstrating 'Confused Face' for all those who missed it. (BEST.PHOTO.EVER)
But I was out on the bike and on the course. And I knew the route. Thanks to the recce I’d done with Loz a few weeks ago, I had a vague memory of where the bumpy bits were and where the turny bits were and more importantly which parts were downhill. I enjoy being out on the bike on triathlons. As a weak cyclist, it should be my hardest part but I love it. I’m out of the dark claustrophobia of the water and into the air; my hair and clothes drying as I go and free to eat and drink and not yet on the tired push-push-push of the run. 

I took the opportunity on the flat sections to have a drink and I’d fully stocked my bike bag with jelly blocks which I was throwing into my mouth like sweets and singing in my head: "Alllll the sweeties, so many sweeties" to the tune of Blur's Parklife. I was in the fresh air, eating sweets *cough – I mean fuelling* and away from the dark duck poo laden waters of Pitsford. Life was good. 

The course is undulating. Now Northamptonshire certainly isn’t mountainous but it’s not that easy to find a flat part and this course was 25 miles of bumpy lanes. The main hills were all on the main road which was the first out section and last 6 miles back into the Country Park but there are several interesting inclines to keep you busy in the middle section of the course. The hill that everyone knows though is the one that climbs up past the swan gates of Lamport Hill. There’s a beautiful view to your right but if you’re cycling up the hill you don’t realise this as your vision has blackened until you can only see 5 metres in front of you and you’re busy trying to work out where all the oxygen has gone. 

As a special treat for this triathlon, Northamptonshire County Council decided to erect some temporary traffic lights halfway up this mountain so just as you’re getting your teeth into this hill and gaining momentum you have to stop. And start climbing from a standing start. And hope you’ve remembered to leave your bike in an easy gear.   

I’d prayed to the triathlon gods that the lights would be on green and I’d be able to fly through them, past the Triathlon England official standing there with his clipboard checking that no-one skips the lights and carry on with the climb. And they were green. Until just before I got there. I stopped. And after a minute or so, so did the lady behind me who I’d been chasing for the last 8 miles and had overtaken about half a mile ago. Bother.  

The light turned green and I attacked the hill as did the group of cyclists behind me who had caught up as I’d stopped at the light. I really hoped the England Triathlon official wouldn’t be strict on the drafting rules as we moved in a clump up the hill. Besides surely drafting doesn’t work when you’re going 3mph? I attacked the hill trying to hold off the lady behind me who had caught me up at the lights. I hadn’t been overtaken by any other girls yet on the bike and my aim was to hold this for as long as possible. Then zoooooom. A lady in a Rugby Tri top came past like a rocket. Bother. I kept her in sight for as long as possible but couldn’t catch her. 

The bike section zipped past and I was at the final roundabout with a car coming from the right but the marshal bellowed “Go! Go! GO!!” at me and who am I to argue with a race official? I zipped into the first exit and into the lane to the transition area. I was shouted at to “Slow down!” by another marshal. Huh? Isn’t this a race? And came up to the dismount line where I managed a clumsy dismount to match my elegant mount 80 minutes earlier and ran the bike into transition. I saw 2 ladies heading out onto the run so made sure it was a short sweet transition and got out onto the final leg of the triathlon for some chasing.

I caught up to the lady who had overtaken me on the bike and we exchanged a few encouraging words and I moved onwards. 

I’d been looking forward to the run. The stitch from the swim had eased on the bike and I’d taken the opportunity to drink and eat, suspecting that the original stitch might be down to dehydration from the tummy bug. I knew the run course very well having used it for long training runs for several different marathons so was expecting a good run despite my poor start earlier. But it wasn’t going to plan. My Achilles were sore and tight and while I expected unresponsive legs off of the bike, this didn’t ease as expected after the first kilometre ... or the first mile ... or at all. 

I stopped for a drink at the first water station which is something I usually never do on runs of less than 10 miles and stopped several times to stretch and try and ease out the stitch which had returned with a vengeance. Nope. I was going to have to run through it. My pace was 8 min/miles and I couldn’t go faster than this without blowing up. My last Olympic tri run leg I’d run sub 7 min/miles and I had hoped for faster but today 8s were my limit. Also this run was long at 6.5 miles rather than the usual 6.2. As running is one of my stronger disciplines I’d expected this to give me an edge. But no, not today. Today I was going to have to fight for every step. Every single step hurt.     

It should have been such a good run – I knew every twist and turn of the trail and every slight undulation but I couldn’t up the pace. My body was telling me it was not going to move faster than 8 min/miles and I’d have to fight to stay at that. Right. Change of goal. This run I am just going to try and stay at this pace and try not to get overtaken by any ladies. 

Despite the battle between my head and my legs, the kilometres ticked past fairly quickly and I was soon over the causeway and onto the flatter section of the trail. The lack of hills had been replaced by a headwind but it was cooling and pleasant on my overheated skin. I was just going to have to run this one in. I increased my pace slightly at 8km and tried to hold it steady. It would be gutting to get overtaken here. 

The run actually improved from about 8.5km. Whether it was knowledge that the end was nearly here or because we were out of the headwind I didn’t know but I managed to give it a bit more welly towards the end. However, to get to the finish you had a sharp right off the trail then a sharp left through a narrow gap onto a picnic area and up a short steep grassy hill.

The race organisers ‘Go Beyond’ were very kindly giving us all a free finisher’s photo and the photographer was in prime position to catch us all in the final metres of the sprint finish. However thanks to a headwind, trying hard on the hill and my Sprint-Finish-Face I’m not looking my best. *May be looking insane*. I have mad, rolling eyes and a rigid grimace that even a taxidermist would have thought looked ‘too fixed’. 


The photographer must have feared for his lens and his life with that coming towards him. So thanks very much ‘Go Beyond’ for the free picture but I DON’T think I’ll be hanging this one on the wall. 

Well organised and with an all-you-can-eat fruit stand at the end, this was a nice local triathlon. There were no medals or goody bags but the cafe was open so we finished off the morning with BBQ chips. Who needs medals and goody bags? I have BBQ chips. 

Race achievements:
Loz was 1st lady in our AG out of the water and 4th lady overall in our AG. She couldn’t put her face in the water a year ago through fear of the water. How inspiring is this lady??!!

I managed an achievement of my own. My slowest 10k race ever ... even slower than my first ever timed attempt at the distance. I fought for it but it wasn’t my finest effort. 

Lessons learned: 
Don’t do a race the day after you’ve flown back from holiday, had a stomach bug and used pina coladas as hydration!!

Tuesday 18 August 2015

9 Things I DIDN'T do at Stour Valley Marathon ...

  • I DEFINITELY didn’t lose my race instructions within 3 minutes of receiving them. And only picking up the 1st sheet of instructions, not the 2nd. I don’t do things like this ... Lucky that.
  • Did not get to keep my race number 85 as I’d entered the race 2 years on the trot.  Who likes things like that anyway?
  • And I certainly didn’t get a very obvious tan line from my running watch which involved a white band but with tan lines in the strap holes. And a brown circle around each ankle from suntan where my socks didn’t quite meet my calf guards. I’m FAR too good with remembering sun cream for things like that. 
  • Certainly DIDN’T catch up with old friends and make new friends on the way.
  • Definitely didn’t stick to a strategy and finally realise that I don’t have to race every race.  Did not: Walk all the hills. Eat all the food. *Cough*
  • Certainly didn’t receive a MASSIVE medal that I could use to beat Bling-Burglars to death with should they break into my house in the dead of night intent on stealing marathon medals.
  • Did NOT get a massive plate of delicious food after the race that was included in the very reasonable (under £20!) race entry.
  • Certainly didn’t immediately take shoes off after crossing the line, lie on the grass and cheer everyone in from a prone comfortable position next to the finishing line. And didn’t wait until the very end to cheer everyone in. (The people out there on the course the longest are the ones who are NAILS)

  • And most certainly DID NOT go to the pub and dabble feet in the River Stour while drinking cider after all the finishers were in. Probably did not poison the fish in the river with my marathon toesies.

Lucky that ...

Monday 10 August 2015

RunSocial: Run The World ... On Your Treadmill

RunSocial offered me a free trial of the running app. I wasn't paid to review it and this is my honest opinion. 

The treadmill is the bane of my life. There’s nothing I can do about this but in the winter when the paths are icy and slippery and I need to get the speed sessions done and the long runs done it’s a necessity. 

If only it wasn’t so BORING.

There isn’t much to look at in the gym. I can either look at myself in the mirror getting progressively more sweaty and wild eyed and dishevelled, like the Evolution of Man poster but backwards. Or I’ve got a view of the large sweaty man on the stationary bike’s arse as he checks his phone (I haven’t been brave enough to ask him to pull his tracksuit bottoms up)  and watching the numbers on the treadmill just seems to make them run slower. 

RunSocial have come up with a clever little app which I’m hoping will solve my gym woes (no it’s not the bravery to make me go and pull Bike Man’s shorts up to his chin), but an app which will run on iPhone or iPad and which gives you a run through a beautiful destination of your choice. 

I tried the Swiss Alps. The first thing that struck me was the clarity of the picture and the graphics. Beautiful. 

You can hear the wind and the cowbells and getting immersed in the app makes the pumping gym music and rain on the windows feel a long way away. 

If there’s ever a 3D gym version then I would definitely sign up for that but for now this helps me forget that I’m in a concrete room and takes me away for a brief time to somewhere much nicer. And there are no sweaty arses. 

I found it calming to run to. I prefer running outside and this was the next best thing. Maybe if I can shift some alpine animals into my garage - a couple of goats, Heidi doing some yodelling – then it would complete the experience. 

I’ll find this app useful in the winter when I’m confined indoors due to the weather or conditions and I can’t do my workout outdoors, but in the summer I’m unlikely to use it unless I’m travelling and in a hotel gym. Or unless you challenge me to a running contest in the Alps but also in my garage. Do it. I’m totally up for this! 

Let me know if you fancy a run!

Maybe I’ll never really run the Swiss Alps and hear the wind as it blows across the mountains, but today in my garage I can pretend. 

Buy if:
  • You end up doing a lot of sessions in the gym or your garage
  • You get bored on the treadmill
  • You travel a lot and need something to use on a treadmill.
  • You have a basic treadmill with no TV *gasp*
  • If you want to have a race with friends when you’re miles apart. Can virtually race using the app.
  • Only have whole kilometres as speed options. I like to run about 13.5 but with the app I can only choose 13 or 14 not in between. 
  • You can choose to run where you left off last time, don’t have to see the same thing from the start every time. 
  • Find it motivating to ‘chase’ other runners.
  • You want to run in the Alps, US or elsewhere and don’t want to have to pay a fortune in travel expenses. 

Not for you if:

  • You don’t use a treadmill
  • You don’t get bored on a treadmill
  • Your treadmill workouts are geared towards complex intervals (unless you are ok with app running at a constant speed)
  • You haven’t got much space on your iPad or phone. The app is huge. 
  • You like looking at sweaty arses or yourself in a mirror at the gym. 
  • You already live in the Alps ...
A screenshot of the app as viewed on iPhone
Also you can send a route to your friend and when they join you both get the new route free! You can choose from Death Valley, Tuscany, London Marathon (!!), Sequoia National Forest, Killarney, Ireland and plenty more. 

For more information on the app or for free demos take a look at the RunSocial website here.