I was so busy looking at the massive hill stretching in front of me that I fumbled my one and only drinks bottle as I pulled it out of the bottle cage. I heard it hit the road and then the bike veered and thumped as I ran over it too for good measure. Sarah, you tit.
I remembered myself earlier “Let’s only take one drinks bottle today. It’ll be easy to pick up another from the aid station.” Luckily there had been an aid station shortly after Bottle-gate and it had been easy to pick up two drinks bottles, both from children. One apparently containing isotonic drinks. But which didn’t. I’d initially been incredibly impressed that the isotonic drink was so tasteless before eventually coming to the conclusion that the reason it tasted like water was because it was water.
Yep. Am obviously undiscovered genius.
Sarah, you tit.
|WHY do I drop snacks? WHY?|
I was taking my bike over to Austria to race in the Challenge Walchsee 70.3 European Championships. The race was a 1900m swim, a 90km cycle ride and a 13.1 mile run. And I’d have to get my bike, all my triathlon kit and clothes for 4 days into a box that weighed less than 23kg.
I was pretty sure that I’d done poos that weighed more than that during my deep-fried kebab and chips days.
In fact, there was more chance of me shoving the bike up my arse, wearing my wetsuit onto the plane and pedalling down the boarding queue like the amazing wheeled gimp than managing to keep the bike box under 23kg.
I was pretty sure that the bike and the box alone weighed about 20kg. I wonder how strict the airline was about hand luggage and whether I could fit a couple of wheels and a wetsuit into my handbag.
I spoke to my friend about my fears. “You’ll be fine.” She said confidently. “I was worried about that but managed to get the bike, the box AND all my kit in the box and it was well under the weight.”
4 hours later, there were 2 adults and a 7 year old sitting on the bike box but it still wouldn’t shut. I brandished the allan keys once more, further components were removed from the bike and everyone resumed sitting on the box. It was like a really shit version of sardines but with an expensive bike and a weight limit.
I took careful photos at every stage. I love the idea of being Fix-it-Felix but in reality I’m more like Shit-Job-Sarah. I would have to be REALLY careful when rebuilding it in Austria or it would end up like a Picasso painting.
Despite denying middle-age at every opportunity I’m a proud owner of an estate car but in my defence it’s for bike-and-kit-carrying rather than towing a caravan and moving yellow Labradors around. My husband manhandled the bike box through the house. “There is NO WAY this is less than 30kg” he huffed as he caught his knuckles on the door frame. “Nonsense!” I trilled attempting to nonchalantly lift the massive grey crate into the back of the car. “It hardly weighs anything! Probably not even as much as my handbag.”
I tried to ignore the fact that car’s rear bumper appeared to be dragging on the drive as I pulled away from the house.
|Everything unloaded on the hard shoulder ...|
I was travelling down to Slough to my little sister’s house. I’d decided rather than brave an early morning dash and airport parking I’d get a good night’s sleep (headphones in to block out the screams and sirens (this IS Slough after all) and get an early morning taxi to the airport. Headlights and windscreen wipers on, I stuck my long-drive playlist on and was 70 miles into the M1 when there was a bang, the thump-thump-thump every driver dreads and the car started dragging to the right.
|Bit broken, that ...|
Like a good little driver I got out of the car and positioned myself on the hard shoulder. It was pitch black, windy and bloody freezing. The temperature in Austria was 23*c so I was wearing shorts and a teeshirt and my coat was packed in the bike box. I was NOT undoing the bike box as everything would spring out like a bike-components-and-kit-waterfall-surprise. All over the motorway.
Surprising myself with my own ingenuity. I fashioned myself a plastic skirt out of a green tarp I’d left in the boot after camping and settled myself on the grassy bank for the 2 hour wait for the breakdown company. However, thanks to my little Sister ‘Having a Word’ on twitter, the breakdown company decided a lone woman on the M1 at night was a priority and once the breakdown driver got over his surprise at seeing someone clothed almost entirely in shiny green plastic I was allowed to sit in the warmth of the breakdown truck while he sorted the tyre.
I arrived at Slough at midnight and set the alarm for 4:30am. Sleep was broken and fitful and paranoia was on full alert after hearing imaginary 'car breaking in' noises as I’d left my bike box in the car. Sleep would have to wait until after check-in. I would just have to hope my seatmate on the plane wasn’t offended by copious amounts of drooling and snoring. Or was at least wearing wipe clean clothes.
I could always offer to lend a shiny green tarp.
4:30am came in a flash and I was breakfasted and caffeinated ready for the 5:30am taxi. The taxi driver and I did a brief joint weights session wedging the bike box into back of his people carrier and we were on our way.
Since missing a plane earlier in the year, I have been neurotic about missing a flight so I was settled in by departures well before time. I was however very conscious of the wide circle I was given by passing people and couldn’t work out why until I twigged and realised that the bike box very much resembled a large grey ammo box. Apparently my 5:30am face resembles that of an Arms Dealer. Fine. I’m probably not at my most sociable at this hour anyway.
As soon as check in opened I was in the queue, dragging the grey box with its own gravitational field and really, really hoping I wouldn’t be asked to put it on the scales.
All went well. I tried not to look like an Arms Dealer. My boarding pass was approved. And then I was asked to put my bike box on the scales. It was supposed to be under 23kg.
It was 33.4kg.
And the absolute maximum luggage weight was 32kg.
I had to do Unpack of Shame.
At the check-in desk.
As soon as I opened the box and it was pretty obvious what the problem was. Snacks. All available space in the bike box that wasn’t taken up with bike or kit was packed with snacks. British Airways obviously hire psychic staff as the check-in lady stopped me before I’d even opened the first snack packet and started my ‘reduce-luggage-weight-by-increasing-passenger-weight’ strategy.
Evil eye from check in lady: “Just put it all in hand luggage.” Easy-access-snacks. Fine. However this caused the problem of being unable to lift my hand luggage from the floor.
Drag it, Sarah. Just drag it away. Quickly. Before she asks to weigh it.
Finally on the plane with my housemates for the weekend, Paul and Dana. We took over row 17 and chatted triathlon the whole flight. They both seemed lovely and completely un-axe-murderer-like which always reassuring when you’re staying in a house with people off twitter that you’ve never met before.
|WOW ... they're giving me SO much space ...|
Thankfully the bike box arrived in one piece in Munich, however my bike box as well as being insanely heavy, has the carry strap in a ridiculous place meaning that I had to drag it with both hands behind my back while hunched like Quasimodo. After last night’s sleep deprivation, 2 hours bolt upright in a plane seat and then having to drag this monstrosity miles through a German airport, I had a less-than-attractive appearance and appeared to be attempting to stare up my own nostrils while managing a Walking-Dead-style shuffle. It wasn’t my best look but I got PLENTY of room even through the busy airport crowds.
After a 2 hour queue to pick up the car from Budget despite having booked it in advance (the staff had the air of ‘But you’d MUCH rather be in this lovely airport breathing canned air than getting to your destination, wouldn’t you?’), we end up with the most neurotic car in history. Every time Dana asked it to make a manoeuvre, we were greeted by a series of bleeps, bloops and dramatic pictures on the interior display. It was truly a car with anxiety issues.
|The view from our drive ...|
However after a few miles on the Autobahn, the horizon rose skyward and the mountains came into view. It was extremely beautiful even motorway driving and the roads were as German efficient as expected. Dana navigated well and we were soon arriving in Kossen. A quick loop around the block to make sure and we were parking outside Haus Patricia, our home for the weekend.
Haus Patricia could not possibly have looked more Austrian, with its shutters and window boxes. Possibly the only thing that could have added to the Austrian effect was a weather lady in full national dress shooting around the side of the house when it was sunny. The door key was left for us to retrieve and let ourselves into the cottage and inside it was quaint and charming and entirely not English. Bedrooms was wallpapered with fabric, oil portraits of family members, ancient and beautiful furniture and my room even had a library ... but most disturbingly each room also appeared to have a lifeless body already inhabiting the bed.
|Body in the bed ...|
Thankfully, this was just a most unsettling way of making the bed up with the eiderdown wrapped in blankets, but it did appear that the floral and very kitsch dead were about to rise.
Due to our delay in picking up the car - thanks Budget! - we had to rush out to grab something to eat, rush back in to build our bikes and then rush into town to register for the race. Luckily Paul and Dana were both very competent and practised at putting bikes back together and they were both generous with their time and help getting my bike ready for the bike check I’d booked in Walchsee.
After my bike was deemed roadworthy, I cycled down to transition and had a look. It was very pink. The entire thing was carpeted in pink. It was like being in Miss Piggy’s bedroom if she’d swapped her Kermit obsession for one with bikes and mountains.
Registration at the race expo was straightforward with no queues. I gave my name, showed my race license and was handed a rucksack, a coloured swimming hat, number and chip. I was number 182.
This was it. Registered. I’m actually doing this race. I’m registered for the European Championships. Any minute now they’re going to realise I’m actually very ordinary and insist I take the GB trisuit off and give it to a proper triathlete.
We stopped at the lake on way back to the chalet and dabbled our feet in. This was the lake we’d be swimming in on Sunday – 1900m of furious swimming. It was calm and peaceful now though and the gently lapping water was cool on warm feet. There was the beat of music from a boat on the lake and some muted voices from a temporary stage a bit further down the lakeside but it was all relaxed and tranquil.
The alarms woke us early for a team swim in the lake. It was a glorious bike ride there - mountains towering on either side of the winding roads which were as smooth as a race track. I was relieved that my bike hadn’t developed any strange noises and no parts appeared to be about to fall off after the flight and hasty bike rebuild. We arrived to a cool and still lake. Clouds ringed the lofty mountains surrounding the lake but the water was calm, flat and inviting.
|Mountains ringing the lake|
Despite the coolness of the air, the lake was almost 22*c - practically bathwater temperature but without the bubbles and rubber ducky - so instead of a wetsuit, I went in in just a trisuit and enjoyed the water on my skin. This also had the additional benefit of a of a dry wetsuit on race morning. I had a leisurely swim out to the first buoy but speedy Paul and Dana zipped off and were soon just visible as arms rising out of the water. I took it steady, enjoying the feel of the silky water and headed towards the others who were already waiting, bobbing in the lake chatting, their voices echoing across the water. The lake was cool and fresh and despite disliking the white water of triathlon starts (it’s actually the ‘getting kicked in the face’ I dislike rather than the white water), I started to look forward to swimming here tomorrow.
|Yep. REALLY hate swimming ...|
After a chat to Adam and other athletes, we had a leisurely bike ride home, a quick shower and change and hopped into the car to do a quick recce of the bike course. After some bickering about which direction we were supposed to be going, we worked it out using the ‘those-cyclists-over-there-are-going-that-way’ technique. The bike course had 2 long dragging hills but also a long and fast downhill that sped straight past our chalet. If I forgot to brake, I’d end up in our kitchen. The route had the most amazing scenery, with houses and villages that were so clean and perfect it was as if they had been placed there like the houses of Toytown in a children’s storybook.
Got to the English race briefing and being extra-keen managed to score a seat right at the front. Interesting also slightly concerning when the Team Manager told us we shouldn’t be there unless we could manage a sub-30 minute swim split for the 1.9km course. Coat! Sub-40 would be a PB for me. To manage a sub-30 I’d either need an engine or a proper incentive. Like Jaws.
|At the front of the Race Briefing|
We had the GB Team photos taken which mainly involved threatening people with horrible consequences if they looked the wrong way or got into the wrong group. I grabbed a corner of the Union Jack, slapped on my cheesiest grin and hoped for the best. I might not place in the race, but by God I’d have the most massive, shit-eating grin of the bunch.
|Race Team Photo|
After the photos we had 45 minutes to get back to the house, get the bikes and kit labeled up for the race and head back ready to check the bikes in for the next day. Both Dana and I were extremely impressed with how Paul had managed to get the saddle sticker exactly straight and without any wrinkles whereas mine looked like the arse of a rhino. I had a secret suspicion he’d positioned his seat sticker with a ruler and a hot iron.
There was a massive queue to check the bikes in but we made it through with 15 minutes to spare and with time to walk the transitions and go through the complex run and bag drop procedure. Dana and Paul explained it all to me but I heard it all as “red bag, run that way, blue bag, go that way, purple alien, find your bike, green walls, tent, pink balloons.” I desperately hoped it would make sense on the day because it was sounding like some awful logical problem with added joy of having to race in between. Basically it was like a really shit Krypten Factor. But with getting kicked in the face, getting a sore arse and blisters.
|The pink transition|
I was starting to think that I was going to need a geography degree and some sort of navigation qualification to complete this event. And maybe a homing beacon on the bike.
The opening ceremony involved lots of different national anthems and masses of food and although nice to be there it wasn’t the party I had expected. We didn’t even have time to wander around the expo. Probably just as well as I’d need to save my cash for all those excess baggage charges.
With full tummies, we came back to the chalet and all went straight to our rooms. I was tucked up in bed by 9:30pm. I am SO rock n roll. Instead of drugs and alcohol, I was surrounded by snacks and bike bottles full of isotonic liquid. Even if I couldn’t stay up to 3am, I could snack as though I was.
|This is HALF of the snacks ...|
I was up at 6 and actually bounced out of bed which was very unlike me. I felt well rested although the bags under my eyes said otherwise. Showered and breakfasted and I pulled on the GB trisuit. It felt very unreal. Don’t they realise that I’m just an ordinary person? They’ve let me wear these colours?
|I'm not sure I deserve this ...|
My bike was already in transition so all I had to do was drop of my bags and rubber up at the start. Dana and Paul were so laid back, having done this a hundred times before whereas I was bouncing around like a jittery over-caffeinated jackrabbit. It must have been extremely irritating but they both restrained the urge to tie me up or put me in the boot of the car.
We got to the start an hour before transition closed and while the sky was clear and bright, there was a big white cloud covering the lake like a tablecloth. We checked our bikes, removed our bike helmets, dropped our kit bags off and made our way together with the rest of the lemmings towards the swim start.
|Bags popping up like mushrooms|
We pulled our wetsuits on and separated, moving individually towards our different swim starts. I was standing on my own, nervous and shaking in one of the larger pens but spotted a friend, Juliette who had been on the same flight. We had a chatter and our nerves disappeared as we talked. There was no room to warm up as everyone was so crammed together, but I was totally counting getting into my wetsuit as my warm up. Getting rubbered up is like a full body workout but without the disco music and irritating instructor in lycra.
It was a rolling start so we were set off in groups of 8 swimmers every 5 seconds. 8 starting funnels were blocked by volunteers with 2 inflatable batons and on the count of 5 they lifted their arms allowing entry to the water. It was like the YMCA but for people with short-term-memory-loss.
I RAN into the swim to show willing. I’m a crappy swimmer so any time I can make up, I’m going to take. 1 second? Yep. I’m having that, The swim was a bit chaotic at the start with plenty of overenthusiastic people wanging each other - and me - over the head but I just concentrated on trying to get into my stride and on finding some clear water. An irritating woman seemed to want to swim on top me (maybe she found my wetsuit attractive?) so I spent a bit of time moving away from her especially as she was a bit enthusiastic about smacking me on the head. Got into a rhythm and found some feet going the right speed just as I passed the first buoy. Thought “You’ll do!” and stuck to them. As a result of being able to draft, I could chill out and enjoy the swim which doesn't often happen in triathlon. The feet I was following had violet tips to the wetsuit ankles so just followed ‘Violet' the whole way although I did a bit of doggy paddle going around the turning buoy though. Just to keep my hand in. Yep. Nailing swimming. Sigh.
However, I picked up ‘Violet’ again and her sighting was spot on. It had felt a long way to swim to buoy 1 but we were clearing buoys 2,3 and 4 within moments. I overtook ‘Violet’ at the end (no gratitude, me) and it turned out that my lovely ‘Violet’ was the bashy lady who had been magnetically attracted to my wetsuit at the start. Karma. I swam almost straight up the finish chute, leapt out of the water and myopically grabbed my bike bag from the forest of drop bags.
It was a bit bloody foggy though. Oh no actually, I’ve just left my goggles on by mistake.
I changed from wetsuit to bike kit in the posh tent (somehow taking over 3 minutes in transition - slowest EVER!) and bounced along the pink carpet feeling awesome!
I LOVE running, I thought and was soon at my bike and running with it out of transition. I did however notice that there weren’t many bikes left in the Championship section. One day I’ll manage a swim time quick enough to see other bikes left in transition …
|Running in bike shoes ...|
As is tradition at any triathlon, even apparently the European Championships, there was some arse stopped directly on the mount line blocking it. I sailed past, managing not to insert my front wheel between his buttocks and managed a superb flying mount. I then completely ruined the effect by being completely unable to flip in. Details, details …
I flew up the first hill and then enjoyed the long downhill and the smooth roads. My speed was good and I was enjoying it while I could before the hills and more serious undulations. The drafting rules were quite strict with 12 metres between bikes and once you started an overtake you had to complete it. I was surrounded mainly by Swiss male age groupers at this point although I saw a few Brits in the first few miles including Alison from my triathlon club in Rugby. It was a great atmosphere and I swapped a few encouraging words with most of the GB athletes I saw.
|I'm sure I dropped some snacks around here ...|
The supporters on the course were brilliant and the benefits of a 2-lap course was that you got to see everyone twice. I particularly looked forward to a crowd of beer drinkers outside a house who were having a grand old time and gave each cyclist a cheer and a Mexican wave when we went past! There were lots of supporters enthusiastically ringing cowbells lots of shouts of “Go GB!” when they spotted the GB colours. Coming around a corner I got a bit of a shock as I could have sworn I heard a shout of "Go Evie!" which is the name of my bike, but suspect I was having far too much sugar at this point and misheard ‘Go GB!’!
As I got into my pace for the bike, I was leapfrogging with a few people, mainly men due to good old power-to-weight-ratio. I’d overtake on the uphills and they’d pick me up on the flats. But I spent most of the ride changing places with a lady from Finland. I’d lose her for a while, then up would come up to a hill and I’d pick off Miss Finland only for the favour to be returned on the downhill. I was making up a bit of time on the corners and switchbacks and there were plenty of these. Part of the course was like a velodrome - the corners built up like a track and thanks to the closed roads, you could really have fun!
|Quick - there's a photographer - try and look like a PROPER cyclist!|
I did get a slap on the wrist and a caution as apparently didn’t drop back quickly enough when someone overtook me. I was horrified when I was told and thought I might end up with a penalty and apologised profusely but the marshals said it was fine, they were just letting me know. Phew!
Saw Laura from GB a couple of times - she was having a tough time as her bike chain kept dropping off so she was having to go up all the hills on the big ring. I was using ALL my gears and still wishing I had more … suspect I would have been pushing the bike up the hills and crying if that had been me.
I was having a great old time on the bike. I am very much ‘survive’ the swim but I enjoy the bike and this was a absolutely gorgeous course with the mountains rising all around and the picturesque houses lining the route. The spectators were brilliant and even the cows in the fields appeared to be cheering us onwards, the cowbells around their necks clanging as they grazed. I felt as though I was cycling through a poster for The Sound of Music.
|Chatting away ...|
However, despite the gorgeous scenery, not everything went to plan. I was on the receiving end of a green rather juicy snot rocket from a fellow GB athlete who (as I’m a kind person) I’d like to think hadn’t seen me coming up to overtake. Thanks my darling. I’m not buying YOU a gin & tonic in my round tonight, then.
I wiped the green off and then things got worse. As I came to the foot of one of the longer climbs, I dropped my only isotonic drinks bottle and to rub salt into the wound, I ran over it as well. My bright idea of just carrying one bottle as I knew where all the water station were wasn’t looking quite so bright any more.
Luckily the aid station was fairly close. I got there, slowed down and made sure I confirmed exactly what I wanted;1 isotonic and 1 water bottle. The drinks were in different coloured bottles so I knew I’d picked the right ones. I was super impressed with the isotonic powder they used - it was completely tasteless and I couldn’t distinguish it from the plain water in the other bottle … hang on.
Yep. I’d been given 2 plain water bottles. Bother. Completely my fault for dropping the bottle in the first place but I’d hoped to amend it with a replacement. Never mind … but the run was going to hurt more without the sugar and salt I’d been relying on.
As if to show me exactly how it SHOULD be done, the race leader came past with a vanguard of police motorbikes and media. He was flying and making it all look very very easy. He was in sight for about 10 seconds before he disappeared off around a corner and off to win his race with a fast run.
Huh. bet he didn’t drop his bottle. Or get snot-rocketed on.
|Nope. Not me. *cough*|
However, I then spotted a photographer. I WOULD like to point out that I definitely didn't sit up and do a thumbs up at the race photographer in the quest for a decent race photograph. If my coach sees that picture it must have happened during that time that person who looks like me stole my bike and my trisuit. Before returning it for the rest of the race. *Cough*
Good race photo nailed, I rounded the final corner and into transition, I racked my bike and ran off towards my next kit bag and the changing tent. I passed a lady in GB kit and noticed that her trisuit was torn. Checked if she was ok - she wasn't - she’d come off her bike but managed to get back into transition so grabbed a marshal for her with my stilted German and left her in their capable hands. Shouldn’t moan about bottles and bogies - my bike leg could have been a LOT worse.
Changing from my bike kit into my running kit was frustrating. The marshal was trying to be helpful and this took the form of picking up all my stuff and shoving it into my bag. I had to keep retrieving it from the bag and putting it back out again so I could get changed into it. I didn’t know the German for “Look, just sod off please and stop being so enthusiastic” so had to just politely take my race gels off her twice, retrieve my baseball cap from the bag and my trainers from her grabby, grabby hands.
Escaping from the marshal - I’d expected some sort of round of applause and party poppers for allowing her to finally take all my kit bag off me - and headed out for the run. It felt bloody awful. REALLY bloody awful.
However, the first part of a run after a long bike is usually a bit difficult. It does generally get better though. I spotted Miss Finland in front of me - after all that to-ing and fro-ing on the bike I was going to overtake her on the run and hopefully this time she would STAY overtaken.
500 metres in … nope still feels horrific. Checked Garmin. My pace was right and I was bang on for the mile split but my heart was hammering and the sun was so hot that even under my cap and sunglasses it felt blistering. Ugh - this is horrible. What is going on? I LIKE running!
My legs said otherwise and begged me to drop out there and then. Shut up legs. Here, have some sugar.
|Try and look like you're enjoying this - there's a photographer ...|
Then the hills started. Tiny little slopes that normally would be called ‘inclines’ but not today. What IS going on? I could feel my heart hammering and it felt like I was going at 10k pace not slower-than-half-marathon-pace. Ugh.
I decided my race strategy was going to have to change. I wasn’t going to be able to do the half-marathon splits I’d planned and that I’d done after my last middle distance triathlon. 7:30-7:45 splits were out of the window - I was going to have to run to feel. Well this FEELS awful. I added ‘walk the aid stations’. Still rubbish. Ok legs. Let’s walk hills too. Just get this done.
|Quick! Smile for the photographer!|
I like to think I dig deep when it starts hurting but simply couldn’t go any faster and sustain it. There was nothing there. Nothing to dig on.
Right. Chin up! I ran a bit, walked the station, started running again and went past a lady spectating who was shouting out supportive comments. She paused when she saw me and said “You’re going too slowly.” Thanks then, cowbag. I smiled and did nothing. Mainly because punching her in the fanny would have taken effort I just didn’t have.
|Ugh. I'm dying. I've used up all the smiles.|
However, it wasn't all bad. The support from the GB spectators and other team members was immense. It was like being part of a family, a sweaty, hurty family but one nonetheless. I was wearing my stripy calf guards and was being cheered on for these as well as by the name on my front! “Go Booker!” “Go stripy socks!” It was lovely. One fabulous lady shouted, “Go on Booker! You’re looking smooth!” Smooth. That means slow, right? I took it on the chin. I was definitely not breaking any PBs for the run today.
I was however, sightly surprised to hear “Go on, Booker! Looking good!” Good? Compared to what? Leprosy? Death? I was only moving forwards because the food was at the finish.
Looking at my run data afterwards I was operating at an average of 88% of max heart rate ... for almost 2 hours. No wonder it was a bit painful. Don’t cock up your nutrition, kids – it really bloody hurts.
|It's a hill. I am TOTALLY walking.|
As soon as I came over the MASSIVE HILL footbridge (may have been small incline for everyone else) for the last time, I decided I was going for broke and went as fast as I could. I managed 10k pace for 10 steps, staggered my way along the pink carpet and pipped a German age grouper to the line to bring home the slowest half marathon I’ve ever run.
|Yay!! I can practically SMELL the beer!!!|
I was done. I may not have had the race I would have wanted but I was winning at manky blisters, snot rockets and self pity.
However, Paul and Dana spotted me and showed me the food tent and life instantly got a lot better. It’s always good to have friends with food and beer. Even if it is non-alcoholic …
|No more running! Woo!|
Booker, Sarah (GBR)