I was being climbed over. Women were grabbing my legs and pulling themselves over my back. Every time I raised my arm, it knocked into someone, their face, their shoulder, their legs. I was getting hit in the head, people were pushing me down. Worrying, people dressed in rubber and lycra. It was like being in a WWE Smackdown. But with more water. And less rules. And with having to swim 1.9km.
|Like this. But more water. (Source)|
I don’t know what they were all so angry about. I’d done my part with helping to warm the water up at the start. There were 3 people trying to draft off every pair of feet, shoulder barging to get a good position. I was relieved that I’d double-hatted – putting two hats on with the 2nd over the strap of the goggles so if (when) I got kicked in the head I wouldn’t lose my goggles. I’d had the option of new leaky goggles or old non leaky scratched ones. Some people have rose tinted specs. I had London smog goggles. Luckily the buoys we were swimming around were about 15ft high and neon orange or I might have ended up in Normanton.
|Photo by Craig McNaney|
The struggle cleared out slightly then it all went mad again when we were swimming around the first buoy which wasn't helped by a woman in front of me doing breastroke around it. Not sure what her strategy was but if it was ‘hold up 200 angry women swimmers’ then it was definitely working. Hope she got clotheslined.
I spotted a friend’s pink goggles as she moved her head to breathe in the thrashing white water then she was in front of me and gave me a cracking kick to the face. Right. Well she was OFF my ‘Friends-To-Share-Bodyglide-and-Inner-Tubes-With’ list. It felt as though I’d been knocked back 2 foot in the water but at least there was no way the goggles were coming off now. The kick had stuck them on so securely I was going to have to remove them using a pair of pliers in the style of the Operation board game.
|The Operation Board Game (Source)|
I got a move on to avoid any more Karate Kid moves and put a bit of a sprint on to get past. The white water disappeared and I ended up in a patch of clear water. All of a sudden I could take a breath without someone’s foot ending up in my mouth and raise my arm without taking someone’s leg with me. It was a bit weird after all the jostling and shoving. I enjoyed the being-able-to-breathe but without a pack and feet to follow it was easy to fall into ‘pootle pace’.
I managed the Australian exit – a posh way of saying ‘run up a plank and then jump back into the water again’ – without falling over, falling off the plank or looking like a plank and got a move on for the final lap. The water had cleared a bit now as the swimmers had spread out and I concentrated on my swimming form and getting out of this without being exhausted, kicked in the face again or drinking too much urine-infused lake water.
Coming towards the lake exit for the final time I noticed a swimmer beside me with a smooth measured stroke and familiar wetsuit. We swam alongside each other for the final stretch and I thought how nice it was that I got to swim with my friend Loz with whom I’d shared so many training sessions in the last 8 months training for this race. Then I was up the exit ramp and running with my wetsuit on. Another lady tried to turn it into a race but as she struggled to remove her wetsuit on the move, I just ran.
|Think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts ... I've got to ride 50 miles on my bike now. Shit.|
Towards transition ... and hang on ... where? Who’s moved transition?? Coach Mary’s bellow cut through the confusion and she pointed out the entrance to transition which had been previously blocked and I ran through towards the bike.
Last night, I’d dreamed that I had done all my race preparation so I’d woken up this morning confused about what I’d actually done and what I’d needed to do. I hoped I hadn’t dreamt about pumping up the tyres and racking the bike.
Cycle – 50 miles
After doing the usual Stretch Armstrong style fighting with the wetsuit to remove it, I managed a fairly swift transition. I pushed the bike through the melee at the mount line and started running and leapt on. This actually worked for once and there was no ‘missing the bike’, ‘falling over the bike’ or comedy ‘riding kerb of death’ moments. Get me. Am like actual triathlete. If only I could actually clip my shoes in without looking like I was attempting Riverdance on two wheels I would be sorted.
Having left my gloves on my tri bars, I did my best impression of someone extremely hungry for fabric by putting these on using my teeth. In my time-honoured Crap Race Photo tradition this is where the photographer caught me on the bike. Thanks then. It stopped me gurning though I suppose. Even I can’t manage my usual gurn when I’ve got gloves in my mouth. I look as though I’m most of the way through eating a competitor though. Maybe someone who kicked me in the head during the swim ...
|You kicks me, I eats you ...|
I took it steady up the hills out of the park. I had no choice. In the race briefing at the start of the race they told us “if you've left bike in big ring you've got a problem. But too late to sort it as we’re starting the race now ...”
Out on the main road I couldn’t get any speed up. My legs felt weak and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. ‘Please no. Not another Pitsford triathlon...’ I resolved to spin my legs until I’d warmed up and was slightly reassured that everyone appeared to be struggling. Misery definitely likes company. Especially when Misery is doing their very first 70.3 race and wants to know that no-one else’s legs are working properly either.
The thing that the Vitruvian is famous for is the ‘Rutland Ripple’. These are 3 steep hills in the cycle course which come one after the other without giving you much recovery time. I’d been dreading these but knew that once I’d done these, the cycle course was very fast and mainly flat.
I worked my way up these steadily, overtaking others on the up hills and being overtaken on the downs. Although I had to smile when an older gent in his 60s breezed past me, sitting very upright on the 3rd hill of the Ripple and cheerily remarked it was a lovely day for a ride. Git. Chirpy, excellent hill riding git.
The Ripple flew past and going down the 3rd hill – enjoying the wind in my face – I laughed. The hard part of the first lap was already done. This might actually be do-able. I might be able to do this.
|The elevation of the course|
On the longer races, you end up playing leapfrog with other cyclists as your strengths are different but your average speed is the same. I played this with a lady as I overtook her on the up hills and she would always catch me on the down hills. After the 5th time I over took her I apologised and we laughed about getting déjà vu. It’s good though as it means I don’t relax so much on the down hills and flats where I normally would, but kept trying to increase speed so I didn’t get picked up again. I get well huffy about being overtaken. And if I’m huffing I’m not pedalling.
The bike section of a triathlon is the longest part and you end up playing games to keep yourself occupied. My very favourite is Shit Swimmer. I get lots of men flying past me on the bike and I know that the reason they’re flying past me now is because they’ve taken so long on the swim. It makes me feel slightly better about the fact that they’re going AT LEAST 10mph faster than me on the bike and making me look as though I am actually not moving at all. Note: DON’T remember halfway through that a lot of these men will have started their swim at least 10 minutes behind your swim ...
I was ¾ of the way through the first lap and I realised I was enjoying it. I was keeping an eye on the mile times but not worrying about them. Just keeping pushing and concentrating on spinning my legs. “High cadence! High cadence!”
I had to go back into the park by Rutland Water to start my 2nd lap and there was a bottle drop there. I wasn’t ENTIRELY sure how this worked. Apparently I’d throw one of my bottles away and pick up another from people holding them out. What if I missed? Was I allowed to go around again? I’d only brought one bottle with me.
I compromised by NOT dropping my first bottle but managing to snag a 2nd which I stuck into the bottle cage behind my seat. The drink was one that I hadn’t trained with and I’d heard horrible stories about incredibly upset tummies from people who have used a new race drink on race day but I decided that even if I couldn’t trust my farts at least the massive chamois pad in my trisuit would have some use as an adult nappy. It certainly wasn‘t working to shield my arse from the saddle. I was going to have another use for those board game Operation pliers - picking my trisuit out of my bum ...
I headed back out onto the 2nd lap and the landmarks swished past: Roundabout, The Ripple, farmhouse where old woman tried to kill me in March, the cement works, windmill, squished rabbit with its guts hanging out, pub ...
The hills were a lot more difficult on the 2nd lap. I’d done 2 rides of 50 miles before this race but this would be the longest distance I’d ridden when I’d finished and I could tell that I definitely needed some more practise on long, hilly rides. Or an engine on the bike. Or a push up the hill.
The 2nd hill on the Ripple is the toughest and I genuinely wanted to get off and push the bike up the hill. Pretty much the only reason I didn't was because I'd just overtaken a lady and didn't want to be overtaken back. Also there was a race photographer at the top of the hill. Pride before Pushing.
The rest of the bike section flew past and the hills got significantly harder as my legs got more tired but I was pleased that my pace hadn’t dropped too much. I saw the sign for Rutland Water and flew in to the dismount sign and heard some cheering! My friends were all cheering me on and into transition 2 which was wonderful. I hadn’t expected them so it was amazing!
The 2nd transition felt pretty quick (despite no doubt looking as though I was doing the Chariots of Fire slow motion run) and I headed out for the run with 3 gels stuffed in the pockets of my trisuit.
Run – 13.1 miles
The run was 13.1 miles long and it was out to Normanton Abbey along the side of Rutland Water and back. And then the same again.
The thought of doing 13 miles of double backs was horrendous so I decided to turn it into a game. Each time we got to Normanton Abbey and the turnaround point, we would be given a band for our wrists and when we’d collected 2 then we’d be able to pass under the finish arch. Basically I told myself I just needed to pick up a band, get home, pick up another band and then I’d be done. Just needed to think of it like this rather than as a half marathon. A half marathon sounded much further than a game of ‘Collect the Bands’.
I headed out on the run with my usual off-the-bike running style of ‘Oh-God-I’ve-Shit-Myself-And-Then-Wiped-With-Stinging-Nettles’.
Coach Mary bravely ran out to meet me (despite the running style and potential brown-accident-blast-radius) as she’d missed me off the bike as I was 10 minutes under my target time. Lovely to see her as she was supposed to be somewhere else in important meetings not cheering in lost swimmers and early cyclists ...
At about mile 1 on the run, I caught up with another lady and we started chatting. It really helped having some company and it made pacing easier especially on the hilly and grassy sections. We decided which drinks stations to stop at and waited for each other and decided to try and do the whole run together. A man went past us on his last lap and said "Not far now" to us. I’m sure it was meant kindly but with about 9 miles to go, there WAS a long way to go. “I wonder if WE’LL be that smug on our last lap” I wondered. I focused on the band waiting for me at the abbey.
We picked up our bands and had a drink and on the way back I saw my friend Jo coming the other way. Jo had run a blistering race at Dambuster and we high-fived as she went past and she called "I'm gonna catch you!" Always nice to have a bit of friendly competition!
The heat was really building up now and without much shade on the run route there was no respite. My friend told me she was finding it a bit tough and told me to go on without her. I said, “We’ve got this” and we ran a bit further. She struggled to maintain pace and told me to go on. I said no as it was nice to have the company but the 3rd time she asked I checked if it was really ok and went. We agreed to meet at the finish line.
I saw Loz and Liz heading out together looking strong. They were running well and somehow avoiding my Brown-Accident style running. Flash gits.
I came back into the home section and knew that the next time I came in I would be able to run under the finish arch. I would be done. I headed out for the last time, for the last band.
I saw Angela running along, looking strong and waved at her. She was smiling as usual and looking as though she was having a lovely time. I’d spotted Sarah and Linda and I’d been keeping an eye out for Simon and Lily but hadn’t seen them, then on the final stretch home there they were! I got a cheer and then I was past but it was worth it.
I was having a gel at each end point which were 3 miles apart and taking water there and at the one end of the dam. This was how often I’d take gels in a marathon or half marathon and it seemed to be working. Or it was until the last mile when my knees went wobbly. Very strange feeling although probably fairly amusing to watch. It’d felt great up until this point and I certainly wasn’t stopping now. I’d get under that arch even if I had to grab someone’s ankle as they ran past and tether myself to them using a combination of safety pins, leg hair and grass to get them to pull me there.
Coming up to the yacht club and the mini hill, I knew I’d be running past my friends so I mustered everything for do a sprint finish. Or what felt at the time like a sprint finish. But which must have appeared to spectators as a crawl finish. I didn’t care. I was aiming for that finish arch and the medal and the ice cream and pint of beer I would be having as soon as I crossed underneath it.
Between a row of cheering faces and my name on the PA system and I was under the arch and done. I was a Vitruvian. I had completed my first 70.3, my first half ironman and I was done.
- Coach Mary of course. Even when you did ‘Cross Voice’.
- Loz & Liz for being awesome training buddies. Even if you did wee in ALL the lakes I swim in. And probably the swimming pools.
- The lady in transition who untangled me from my own bike when I bent down to put my bike shoes down and got my plait stick in the brakes.
- Cath who took me out for my very first long ride and didn’t complain once even when I was slow and it started raining REALLY hard.
- James thanks to whom I was too terrified to let my cadence drop below 85.
- Andrianna for the hug at the beginning and the hug at the end and for being the first person to say “well done”.
- Random lady on the bike section who wound her car window down and offered me a gel from the car. I didn’t take it though. I can’t cycle in a straight line with BOTH hands on the bike.
- Jo – for getting her toes pulled during the race swim. Amazing. Shouldn’t laugh but this is brilliant.
- Angela, Sarah and Linda for all the smiles and shared training sessions.
- And of course Simon & Lily. For disrupted weekends, evenings and for putting up with me and the piles of kit that have appeared all round the house. And for putting up with the bike which now lives in the house. (The garage is too cold – she gets scared)