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Sunday 16 December 2018

Vitruvian Triathlon: Weeing on the Beach & Having Courage

It's not quite sunrise and I'm knee-deep in Rutland Water surrounded by a lot of other triathletes, all with intense looks of concentration on their faces. I'm too het-up to 'go'. And then we're called out of the water for the beach start. Damn it. Missed my chance. I wonder if anyone would notice if I had a wee now, while standing on the beach? I mean the sand is already wet …

2 hours previously, I had driven into a pitch black field with hundreds of other cars. It was properly dark. All I could see were headlights and the occasional flash of hi-viz from the marshals directing the cars into place. I had NO CLUE where in the Rutland Water park I was. I could see headlights. Nothing else. I parked in a dark spot, in a dark field, stuck my tri bag on my back and left. I resigned myself to the fact that I might never find my car again. 

I stumped off, half asleep in the dark, in the direction everyone else seemed to be going. And promptly fell into a hole. A big hole. Maybe this was a separate event before the triathlon. To kill off the weakest. Who will survive to make the start line? I need more bloody coffee for this.

However, transition was well lit, with bright spotlights illuminating the rails and bikes and setting faces into sharp relief. I'd set up Pinky, the borrowed TT bike the night before so she hadn't fallen into the hole with me. Despite the damp grass, I set out my kit on my towel as usual. The towel was for spotting which position was mine, I wouldn't be fannying around drying my feet off. It was my special triathlon towel. Beige and black and enormous with a Paisley pattern. Unsurprisingly no-one else had one like it so it was very easy to spot.  

I was at the furthest point in transition from any of exits so I'd have long transition times today. Luckily though I was at the end of the bike rail so along with my massive towel and bright pink bike, I should have an easy time finding my kit. Every second counts in triathlon as you're on the clock from the start horn to when you cross the finishing line and I didn't want to be running up and down bike racks while crying as I couldn't find my bike while wearing a wetsuit smelling of wee and desperation.  

In the Vitruvian Triathlon, your bike rack position was sorted into age groups so everyone in my area would be in my particular race. There were some very speedy looking people and some very expensive looking bikes. Meh … Pinky could take them. Well, Pinky and I could look at them anyway. As they went past us. Very fast. In the bike section of the triathlon. 

I was chatting to a girl next to me while we set up our kit and we walked from transition to the race briefing together. On our way she mentioned her start time of 06:25 which  surprised me. I'd thought all the ladies started together and my start time was 07:00. I decided to check and I was right. All of the ladies DID start together. At 06:25. Bloody hell, Booker! That was a bit close.

After the briefing, the ladies went into the water to warm up and were then shoo-ed out again. The Vitruvian Triathlon is a beach start so we run down the beach to enter the water and start the swim. This sounds idyllic until you realise the ‘beach’ is not actually a beach but a bank of sharp rocks. It’s a reservoir so the rocks have never been rolled smooth in waves - they’re literally broken quarry rocks. This means rather than a sprint to the water it’s more of a hop and a jog. With some REALLY imaginative swearing. It's like Tourettes meets Riverdance. I learn new words every year.

I needed a wee but missed my chance in the warm up (probably anxiety after realising how close I'd been to missing the start of my A-race!) so had a surreptitious wee in my wetsuit on the beach and hoped no one noticed the puddle around my feet or the look of concentration on my face. Triathletes. We're a classy lot.

I'm well aware that I’m not a great swimmer so I would need a decent run down the beach to get some time back. As luck would have it, a path opened out in front of me (2 triathletes hopping on different feet at the same time?) and I had a straight run in. I stormed towards the start buoys with just a brief moment of panic at how few people were in front of me - I am NEVER at the front in a swim - before the melee started and I was tangling arms and having people swim over my legs. People were whooshing past me which I assumed meant I was having an appalling swim but which I later realised was simply the result of having had a great start. 

I made tight turns around the buoys (the swim was a triangle so you needed to almost u-turn) and was surprised by how many people wasted time here going wide. I couldn’t seem to hold onto any feet for the draft and was swimming on my own in clear water for quite some time. I lost the faster pack but picked up some feet after the second buoy. They had long toenails and were attached to yellow speckled wetsuit and I was surprised to see as we came around the Rutland Belle, one of the sighting points, that they belonged to a man. However I do find men better to draft as they don’t kick their legs so much which makes it much easier to follow their feet! I don’t know whether I looked unsteady or whether he was but he grabbed my arm on the way out and we wobbled up the mat like weebles towards the Australian exit before another plunge into the water. 

On the 2nd lap I stayed on the feet again so had a steady swim on his toes. I thought about putting some harder effort in and moving past him but decided that it would be better to have a steady swim drafting and not have to worry about sighting and save my energy for the bike and run. It's more important for me to have a stress free swim than a speedy and exhausting one as I’m not going to gain much. I decided I'd rather be fresh for the bike and win back the time there.

The speedy younger males came past us after the 2nd turn so I dropped Mr Wobbly and picked up a pair of speedier feet churning up the bubbles and got towed along as though I was holding onto a boat. I came alongside the Rutland Belle before I knew it and had feet on the mat exiting the swim. 

I was pretty sure I’d had a terrible swim. Everyone had gone past me at the start and I wished I'd dropped Mr Wobbly earlier and gone out alone quicker. I took my googles off and started running towards transition thinking “bloody stupid swimming” before I saw a marshal's surprised face and realised I was muttering it aloud. Good work looking like an insane person, Booker.

I then looked at my watch and realised that I'd managed a 7 minute swim PB on this course. My grumpy face suddenly changed into a chimp-grin. Better tone it down in front of the marshals. At this rate I'm going to get pulled off the course and sectioned. 

I then realised how far my bike was away as I spent the next 2 minutes sprinting through transition. Pinky the TT bike was the farthest away it was possible to get from the 'run out' or 'bike out' exits. It was a pleasant surprise though when I saw plenty of bikes still in transition on either side of Pinky rather than the denuded ranks with my poor forlorn bike in the middle like usual. 

I got my wetsuit half off and helmet and glasses and race belt on before I was reminded by the marshal that I still had half my wetsuit on. I reassured politely him that I was aware of this. I was glad he was on the ball with reminding women that they were half-dressed but slightly concerned that he felt like I looked as though I was a likely candidate for dashing out of transition in with half my swim kit on.

I've definitely never tried to leave transition with half kit on before … **cough**

I ran to the mount bike line and across it before doing my flying mount and promptly losing a pedal. Standard Booker. Around the corner and onto the bike course onto the short sharp hill of Bull Brigg Lane. Luckily I’d left Pinky in the small chainring this time and span out of the surprisingly steep hill before hitting the headwind. I turned left onto a steady climb before the relief of a nice long downhill which pops you out onto the Oakham roundabout by the model of the spitfire. The high winds which we'd been warned about made cycling against them hard work and the gusts were nasty, pushing the bike sideways at gateways.

I was overtaking women on the bike but the faster males who started 25 mins after my wave were coming through now, the whim whim whim of disc wheels sounding like an engine as they approached from behind. 

The wind dropped when I passed into the shelter of the trees coming up to the hill at Manton. There was such a difference that it felt as if the road was going downhill but it was just that I was no longer pushing against the wind. It was a welcome rest. 

The hill at Manton is a grind but it's short and over quickly. As I finished the hill I heard a female voice behind me thanking the marshals for their cheering at the top. Hang on - I’m not meant to be caught going up on the hills! She obviously didn’t know that. We had a brief chat as we leapfrogged for most of the first lap and we decided that we probably should train together as our cycling strengths were different. I’d catch her up up on the slow steady hills and the short sharp ones and she would catch me on the downs and flats. Unfortunately I lost my cycling buddy after lap one but it had been nice to have a friendly face and some chat. I was expecting her to come past me on the downhill after Bull Brigg Lane but didn’t see her again. Hope she had a good race! 

On The Dambuster (which is on the same route) and the previous Vitruvian event, the 2nd hill of the Rutland Ripple (the name for the set of 3 hills on the course) up to Preston has been an absolute pain as it’s been full of people grinding up it at different speeds and it’s usually where I catch the faster swimmer & slower cyclists but this year thanks to a better swim I didn’t have the same experience. I had a pretty clear ride up it which made it much, much easier. When it's busy, you end up getting caught behind slower cyclists and you can't overtake them due to the cars and lorries which can be really frustrating when you're racing.

The marshals at the mini roundabout at South Luffenham were brilliant and must have had sore throats by the end as they were cheering SO enthusiastically and telling us all we were legends! I didn't FEEL like a legend as I was slightly damp, had goggle-eyes and was pedalling like a lunatic, but it was nice to be told I was nevertheless.

Most of the cars were courteous and gave us plenty of space but some idiot passed far too close to me and another cyclist - within touching distance, giving us no leeway to avoid potholes or for a wobble if the wind gusted. Luckily that was the only driver who was bad and he didn't hit either of us. 

I was waiting for one of my triathlon buddies, J-S to come blasting past me and when I hadn’t seen him by lap 2 I assumed that he’d either beaten me out of the swim and transition or he’d come past me early on when I was still concentrating on trying to get my legs working. It's always nice to see friends at a race – even when they pass me!

I’m always surprised by how much easier hills feel when I’m racing rather than when I’m training but the second hill of the Rutland Ripple felt tough the second time round. A few faster male cyclists came blasting past every now and then and I couldn’t work out how they could be so far back going that fast. I decided that they’d either stopped for a puncture or a piddle or they’d been doggy paddling during the swim. 

Pinky the TT bike was going like a dream and she’d been serviced a few days before so she was as smooth as silk. I knew that despite feeling like I was going slow I should hit my bike target at that this pace. It was hard work cycling against the wind and there quite a few gusty moments when the cross wind was strong through gaps or gateways but I just needed to keep my head down and keep pushing on. I was 7 minutes up on my time from last year thanks to the swim, so I just needed to keep or widen that margin. 

Coming up the last climb past Sykes Lane just before Whitwell I spotted Lily and Simon and got a big cheer from them. It was nice hearing them both and getting a bit of support especially when I was on a tough bit of the course. A nice cheer to speed me back into transition.

Coming towards transition from Bull Brigg Lane, I couldn't work out where the dismount line was at all. I was either massively confused (likely) or my memory had failed (more likely) because it all looked completely different from this direction. I slowed down and had a good look. Nope, Still couldn't work it out. Sod it. Just keep pedalling until you're either back in Rutland Water or someone tells you to get off the bike. 

Got told and hopped off and was finally got back into transition. Last thing. Just get the run done and you're good. A quick change into my trainers and resisting the urge to keep my helmet on to wind up the marshal and I got out of there. As I left, I noticed my bike water bottle was full ... 

Within the first 50 metres I wanted to stop. My legs felt horrific and there was no way I could imagine running 13 miles with my legs feeling this terrible. I really wanted to stop. I really REALLY wanted to stop. But this was my last chance. If I wanted a shot at the GB trisuit I needed to keep going. I had a 7 minute margin from my swim on my PB, a 2 minute margin from the bike and all I needed to do was hold out on the run. Do it, Booker. This is not the time to be a wimp. Have courage. 

Head down, teeth gritted, I cracked on with it. The Vitruvian run course is out to the Normanton church and back to the transition, then back to the church and back to transition again and over the finish line. I needed to break it down. Just get to the church, Sarah. 

One leg at a time. 

Have courage.

I saw my transition buddy who had told me the right start time. Waved at her as we passed. Got a cheer from Fay and saw Jack, Keith and Carlos from Rugby Tri. Waved at them too. Or gurned a little, anyway.

The run out improved. Slowly. I knew that the outwards leg was mostly downhill to the dam apart from a short sharp hill at the start. I just needed to hold the run at as close to 7:30 min/miles as possible. There were lots of people already out on the run. Ignore that. I just needed to focus on getting to the church. Their races weren’t my race. I could only control my own race. 

The crosswind over the dam was good. It slowed me down but also cooled me down. 
But as soon as I got to the trails towards the church there was a headwind. The trail was mostly downhill but it was a fight towards the church, it was hard running. But I was on my way. I only had to do this section one more time. I got to the turnaround which was a u-turn around a bucket and I grabbed a cup of water and had a Torq gel as I went around. I couldn’t seem to get enough water in today. My thirst was immense.

Going back towards the dam it felt as though the whole trail was downhill. It wasn’t - actually it's a slight inclined but the wind behind me made it feel easier. The only downside was that I could feel the sweat on my skin - the wind behind me wasn’t evaporating it. It was almost a relief to get to the dam for the cool crosswind. 

I passed a man walking up the small path through the trees and gave him a few words of encouragement. No one looked terribly happy on the run today. After the wind on the bike and the hills of the ripple it seemed that a few legs had been blown out, leaving nothing for the run. 13 miles is a long walk.

As I came past the car park at Sykes Lane I spotted a small figure in a stripy jumper and heard a yell of “Mummy!” Lily and Simon were waiting for me and offering high fives which I gratefully accepted. Well … I got Lily's and missed Simon but I carried on towards Whitwell and transition. Lily ran beside me. Last time she’d tried this at the Vitruvian 3 years ago I’d left her behind, crying in disappointment that she couldn’t keep up. This year she ran beside me for half a mile at sub 8 minute miles easily and I had to tell her to stop as we got to the tree lined section so she didn’t leave her Dad too far behind. 

I climbed the trails under the trees and up to the tree at the top. It didn’t feel as uphill as I remembered. I ran the swooping downhill overtaking people steadily and into transition where I retrieved a gel from my trisuit pockets and walked while I squirted it into my mouth and washed it down with a couple of swallows of water. Sib’s voice from the PA system told me to crack on and start running. Ok good point Sibs. Quicker I run, quicker I’m done and can get some beer down me. It's all about the incentives. I ran out of transition, knowing the next time I’d be here I’d be going left for the finishing line. 

I ran past the boats and the sports centre and spotted the stripy jumper standing on top of a tree stump and heard “Mummmmy!” following me as I ran towards the dam and the turnaround point at the church. 

Last time. This is the last time I have to reach the church. The hills felt steeper and the pace harder to hold. My bright plan of smashing in a faster 5km back from the church felt like a silly dream. From someone who hadn't had to do all this swimming and cycling today. I got to the church and rounded the bucket. Final stretch. Final stretch.

Have courage.

I couldn’t face my gel and swapped to high five instead of water which seemed to quench my thirst a little. And even better, my friend Becca was on the aid station! A quick hug and on to the last leg for the finish line. 

As I came up the last hill, there was a loud thunderous sound and the Red Arrows streamed across the sky. Wow ...!! If that's not bringing me home to the finishing line, I didn't know what was. 

One last push to that tree at the top of the hill and then that’s it. Almost there. A swooping downhill, past the tree trunks and the boats and then one last uphill. Overtake a lady ... is she in my age group? Who knows. Stay in front! One very last uphill ... come on legs. You got this. Onto the lumpy grass and past the spectators held back cheering us on. And there - right there! I can see the finish gantry! It’s so bloody far away. At least 40 metres. Come on legs. Ooh and someone just in front of me. Well ... one last overtake. Come on legs. 

And through. And I hear “Sarah Booker. You are a Vitruvian.”

And I found my car at the end. 

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Rockay Socks Review: Recycled Waste in the Oceans

Rockay Socks sent me a pair of socks to review. I said exactly what I thought and I wasn't paid to review them ... trust me, I'm a runner :)

Wearing the socks at A100 ...!

Socks are socks, right? They're pretty crucial to running, but I don't really think about them. I know when I'm wearing a decent pair of running socks when I don't realise I've got them on. 

What caught my interest with the Rockay Socks was that the company are in the process of sourcing fabrics made from collected plastic in our oceans. That means that when I buy my socks from them, not only are they made from a recycled product but from a clean up operation that clears up some of the rubbish that's being dumped in the seas. And turns it into something lovely like new socks! 

That's all well and good though but doesn't that make them a silly price? Surprisingly not. Often I find that for products produced in a more sustainable way, there's an additional cost involved – which is usually passed on to the consumer but these socks were pretty much the price of a regular pair of running socks, around £15 a pair. I quite liked the idea of spending the money I'd usually use on socks to buy ones that were a bit more ethically sourced. I could be smug AND have warm feet. Win-win. 

I was a bit concerned about whether they'd perform as well as my 'normal' run socks … that I'd notice I was wearing them but they were snug and comfy with the new sock fluffy feeling. There's a compression band which stretches around the arch of the foot to provide pressure and support there but I liked this as it kept the sock in place and it didn't shift or bunch.  I'm a simple person, I don't want to feel a sock when I run and I don't want it to move around. This does its job. 

The only fault I could find was that the pair of socks were sent to me in a plastic bag which I wasn't convinced was environmentally friendly like their pledge or required … but I couldn't find a fault with the product. 

If you fancy a pair of decent running socks that won't break the bank AND will give you a nice smug glow about helping the environment, you can buy a pair from here or here

Alternatively, if you're fully stocked in running socks, it IS nearly Christmas so you can always buy a pair for me.

They're also guaranteed for life.

Friday 26 October 2018

Swim Rutland 4k: A bit of chop and a bit of smug

I've taken part in this iconic event twice before with mixed results which have included missing the boat across to the start and rushing across the pebbly beach in my wetsuit like an anxious walrus, doing my fastest 2k swim time after picking up a pair of particularly quick feet and being particularly pleased at being able to warm up my wetsuit for the first time in the traditional swimmer way. My resulting smugness almost resulted in me missing the start.

However, this year instead of the usual 2km swim across Rutland Water and taking the iconic ship The Rutland Belle to the start, I would be swimming there AND back. A 4km swim and my furthest distance to date. Eeek. 

However, it was a great place to do this, I've swam in this reservoir many times including during races such as The Vitruvian and The Dambuster and during the summer open water sessions and I was exciting to do this event in somewhere so familiar. That didn't mean that I wasn't nervous. I was eyeing up swimmers at the start checking out the feet and hoping to attach myself to a particularly non-kicky but draft-friendly pair. I was however a little concerned about the weather.

The skies were a slate grey and the wind, having swirled across from the US hurricanes, was blowing hard and rocking the bright orange buoys that marked the route across to the now deconsecrated St Matthews on the shore at Normanton. Rutland Water is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in Europe and it looked a long way across today. 

At least I didn't have to worry about the organisation. Swim Rutland is run by the same people as the Rutland Marathon and Half-Marathon and everything runs like clockwork. I knew I would be in safe hands for my longest swim distance as there were always plenty of safety crews with kayakers and Stand-up Paddleboarders along the swim route. 

Ok. Deep breath. And in. I followed the crowd of people in yellow swim hats – the mad people doing the 4km swim. And tried not to think about the people doing the 8km swim … Maybe one day. But not today. 

A deep breath and we were in. There is something relaxing about swimming a long distance. There isn't the rush and panic and crush that you get in shorter distances as people jostle for position. There's time to find your pace and find your rhythm. And in my case find a likely pair of feet to draft.

I spotted a likely pair early on and followed on. When I'm a bit nervous about a swim, I find that finding some feet to draft relaxes me further. There is no pressure about pace, about sighting. You can get into your own rhythm and just concentrate on stroke, pull and breathing. If the feet are going quicker than you'd like then you can speed up or let them go. Or if too slow you can pass the swimmer or slow down. No pressure, no stress, just swim. 

Due to the wind, the swim out was tougher than I'd expected. There were some waves halfway across which is unusual for Rutland Water. It was strange going up and down with the waves almost as though I was in the sea but with fresh water. It was tough making headway but everyone was in the same water with the same conditions and the feet I was following stayed in sight so I clung on and followed them through the chop.

Coming in towards the Normanton shore, I could see the abbey when I sighted on the left hand side. It was a striking sight, especially against the dark and stormy skies. About 50m from shore, the stream of swimmers turned around the last buoy to the right and came back around in a u-turn towards Whitwell. 2Km done. 

Coming up to halfway through the chop, I suddenly had cramp in my right calf. My foot jerked up and I stopped swimming and clung onto my tow-float to give my legs a break and a chance for the cramp to ease. Ugh. How frustrating. The lovely feet I had been following disappeared into the distance as I bobbed along with the waves trying to relieve the pain in my calf. I massaged it with my hand and decided to strike out again. 

Just 1 kilometre to go now and I was going with the wind rather than against it this time. My arms were fatigued now as I was swimming twice my usual 1900m distance and I was ready to reach the finish which I could now see on the bank I was swimming towards. Stroke, pull,Stroke, pull, stroke, pull, breathe … and repeat. Coming up to the bank I could feel the soft touch of weed on my legs and could feel it as I pulled my hands through the water like mermaid hair. Pull and stroke. Breathe. 

And I could feel the stones under my hands. 

I stood, realising that I'd finished 4k of swimming and wondering how this girl who had started open water swimming not that long ago had done this. 

And I was proud.

If you fancy having a go at this event the 2019 Rutland Swim is 11/08/2019 and costs £38. Enter here. 

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Cowman Triathlon: Mono-Boob, The Poo Fairy & Reckless Recceing

Does anything else panic triathletes like no visit from the Poo Fairy on the morning before the race? No-one wants to be that person who halfway through the race is crying and has poo down their legs. NO-ONE.

Despite being chilled out at the start of this one, the Poo Fairy did not visit. I had all the coffee. No visit. At what point do I call the race off? I do not want to be Mrs Soils-Her-Trisuit. 

And then Newport Pagnell Services. NPS I love you. Poo Fairy I love you too. 

ALL THE FILTERS. It's early, ok??

Finally got to the start of The Cowman about 30 mins before the transition closed. I saw another tri buddy, JS and a FrontRunner buddy Raph who was about to complete his first-ever triathlon. Nice to have tri buddies especially if you strike a start line deal that no-one kicks anyone else in the head during the swim.I was wearing 2 hats since nearly losing my goggles at the Vitruvian Triathlon in a previous event due to a head strike by a friend. I don't know why she's doing triathlon as judging by the kick she would be AMAZING at cagefighting. 

Start of Swim
It was a deep water start so I climbed into lake avoiding the floating Carling can at the waters edge. The water was so warm it was almost bath temperature. I'm not sure whether it was due to the heat of the day or the fact that 100 triathletes were already wee-ing in it but it was nice to have a warm start whatever the reason. 

Avoiding the Carling cans
There was a bit of smacking and kicking at the start but there was no panic at all and the bashing didn't even interrupt my breathing rhythm. I picked up a pair of feet early on going the right speed and hung on. It seemed I'd picked a winner, he was a nice consistent swimmer so easy to follow and he was going close to the buoys and sighting well. 

Someone else was trying to draft same pair of feet at one point so I nudged them away. Often if this happens I give way but I was comfortable today so gave them the bugger off cues. Occasionally I felt a touch on my feet so knew someone else was following my toes like a front crawl train. 

It was over quickly and before I knew it the blue gantry was visible on the bank and everyone took off like they had engines, churning the water with their arms and legs. I  cracked on at my own pace and swam right up to the arch and was helped up by the marshals. I stoped my watch for for the swim and was amazed to see it read 32 ... a 6 minute swim Pb. 

I smiled my way out into transition. Knowing that even if everything else went to hell today I’d had a cracking swim. 

Slapped the helmet on and the glasses, glove-free today and ran the bike out of transition grinning like a chimp.  Standard Sarah.

As usual there were the usual group clogging up the mount / dismount line trying in vain to swing their legs over their bikes without smacking each other and attempting to clip in. These are often the fast swimmers to whom cycling is as mysterious as successful DIY is to me. I pushed my bike past the lot of them and did a flying mount about 10 metres past the mount line and got a clap from the marshal. Why thank you. I’ve been practising. Or maybe it was my thighs smacking together as I tried to clip in. Who knows. 

The bike out was along a lane and through a fenced off layby so you had to cycle on a bit of trail and out through a garden gate sized gap at the end. Managed it without any problems except still being far too excited about my swim time which was demonstrated by me bellowing “Wooo! Going cross country!!” at the bemused marshal.

Out onto the familiar roads of Olney that I’d recced previously in preparation for the triathlon. I wanted this race to be a good one so I’d ridden the cycle loops 4 or 5 times. There were no cars queuing along the roads this time which meant the ride through the town was a lot smoother. Overtook a female cyclist going through the town and turned left up the hill.

As I got to the roundabout a Sunday group of 20 cyclists came from the right but cleared just as I went past - perfect timing. I waved at the marshal as I went past. And set out down the hill … where I fumbled my first drinks bottle and heard the thump as it hit the road. Bollocks.  

The road out of Olney is undulating and the surface is a little rough in places but it’s interesting without any proper climbs. Bumpy, lumpy without any standy-uppy. 

After a couple of miles it turns left onto a busier road with a better road surface. A couple of miles towards Denton, under the yellow speed cameras, up the hill and then a left into the lanes for a fast sweeping section … except everyone went on past the turn. Uh … what?

No really. What? Has someone moved the signs?? I had a bit of A Moment. I’d listened to the race briefing. Of course I had. But I didn’t remember anything about a different race route. I could see cyclists on the hill in front of me carrying on ahead. 

Just at my crisis crescendo a yellow arrow appeared on a signpost pointing ahead. The panic died down a little but I’m a suspicious cow. What if some sod had been out changing the arrows?

I carried on following the cyclists ahead expecting there to be a left turn any moment … any moment … any moment now … any moment NOW …. nothing. At this rate the lot of us were going to end up in Northampton. 

I went to grab a drink to calm my nerves about getting on the Northampton dual carriageway and getting mown down by Bounds Taxis and a Travis Perkins lorry when **thump** the second drinks bottle hit the road. I was now lost, with no water and about to meet my imminent death on the A45.

On Pinky the borrowed bike 

But finally a left turn arrow! Up a hill. A bloody hill. I recognised this hill. It was my sweary hill which I used to run when I worked in Northampton. We did nearly end up in bloody Northampton. Bloody hills. Bloody Northampton. AND I'd told my training buddy there was only one hill on the course. She was going to kill. me. I sped up a bit. She'd have to catch me first. 

But I was now lost AND confused. This bike course was meant to be 2 loops  I caught another cyclist up going up the hill. I knew he wanted to talk to me by the way his mouth was open, panting. Just the time for a chat, right? I checked whether this was a 2 lap course. Nope apparently just 1 big lap now. I MUST learn to listen more to race briefings. II did attend but apparently I also took nothing in. Maybe we'd been told about it when I was looking at that duck. 

Coming back out onto the Newport Pagnell Road, I was in familiar territory. The road was quieter here and interesting. It was windy and undulating and felt a bit more like a country road than the busy A428. Except what was that strange noise? 

Nope. Not a duck. Tyres seemed ok. Not a puncture. I took a quick peek between my legs and spotted the toolkit hanging off the back of the saddle and dragging on the rear tyre. No wonder that hill had felt like hard work. I tried to get it back on while moving but it wasn't having it. I slowed down, stopped and ripped it off the saddle and shoved it down the front of my trisuit. Sorted. I now had a massive lump at the front of my trisuit and a mono boob. Not very aero and I looked as though I'd had a boob job mid-race which had gone horribly wrong. And every time I went over a bump my tits jingled.

Needless to say the race photos were interesting. And did not get bought. 


Finally came into transition and racked the bike. And couldn't get the toolkit out of my trisuit. Standing up off the bike had allowed gravity to get involved and I had to stick my hand down the front of my trisuit and have a good old rummage around before I could snag it and pull it out of the neck of the suit. Must have looked like I was doing an impromptu lucky dip and winning a tool kit, Thankfully no-one else asked to have a go.  

And out on the run. Well this went just about as well as the bike. Not only was it baking hot, it turned out I'd recced the wrong direction. This was turning into a bit of theme. 

The run was pretty. Really pretty. And would have been really lovely it was just 1 of the 5km loops. It had hills, narrow trails, farm tracks, hills, cars and combine harvesters and hills. It also had 28*c heat. 

I love a pretty run. When I'm allowed to go slow and stop occasionally to look at ducks and walk up the hills. This was tough. Really tough. The trails were rough underfeet and were rutted farm trails so big holes, stones and quite angled at points. I was overheating and had a moment (don't lie, Sarah, SEVERAL moments) where I thought “At least if I pass out from heat stroke I get a lie down”. It really was THAT tough. 

I stopped at the water station every time and I could have cried as I saw my time slipping away. Despite the toolkit and the bottle problems on the bike, I was hitting some good paces but the heat and the run were taking my margin away. I just wanted to stop. I'd had enough. I was tired, overheating and in pain. 

Coming away from the water station, a man in front of me was obviously suffering from the heat too. I asked him if he wanted to run with me (we were going at similar paces) and we ran together for 2 laps, the chat being a welcome distraction from the pain and the searing heat. He ran off through the finish funnel and I carried on for my final lap, marvelling at how the company of a stranger can help move the miles past. 

Don't cry, don't cry, don't pass out ...

The last lap was a relief and it's amazing how much better you feel when you know you're on the home stretch despite the accumulated miles in your legs. The finish was made better by Simon cheering me through the finish funnel and I was finally allowed to stop bloody running.

Nearly ice cream time!!
A lady was at the finish funnel with sponges sponging the triathletes after their race. I went through 3 times. And told her I loved her. I really did. 

Thank you Sponge Lady.

Total: 5:22:09
Swim 33:51
T1 01:47
Bike 02:44:12 (longer than usual)
T2 01:10
Run 01:51:07 (argh!!)

Monday 8 October 2018

Ride London 100: It was a Bit Damp, Mum

As you know, I'm a REALLY organised person. *cough* Ok. I'm the sort of person who basically has the vaguest idea of when my next event is and I also tend to have a bit of a woolly idea of what day of the week I'm on. I would blame shift work but actually I've always been like this.

Earlier in the year, I'd been ecstatic to find out I had finally got into Ride London 100 after years of being unlucky in the ballot. And then I was also ecstatic about the fact I got to run and party in Manchester with my ASICS buddies. On the same weekend. In Manchester. And Ride London was in … well … London.

That's do-able right? A Friday and Saturday of fun with my run and tri buddies, shovel some dinner down in the evening, leave Manchester at 9pm and then drive 4 hours down to London to pick up my friend Becca at 03.00am. With 2 hours for snacks en route. And plenty of time to be in my start pen for 04:40am.

Easy, right? It would be like The Blues Brothers but with more petrol and less sunglasses and police chases.

Well it should have been easy. Except that Highways England thought that roads that people could actually drive down were boring and thoughtfully closed the M1. And just to mix it up, they then closed the diverted road. 

My panic-reaction to this was to drive in circles for 2 hours trying to work out where the hell I was. This didn't help but neither did the sat nav helpfully telling me to make a U-turn at EVERY available opportunity until I was ready to launch it at the next Highways England worker I saw. Which was none. They appeared to have closed the road, coned it off and then buggered off for 4 hours for a second breakfast. Or maybe they'd all been knocked out by sat navs launched by stressed and dizzy drivers and were lying down unconscious somewhere under the traffic cones. Who knew. 

I drove in loops getting steadily more sweary and worked up. You could tell how many loops I'd done by the volume and obscenity scale of the swearing. For anyone standing at the side of the road as I went past it must have been a little like a gerbil with tourettes in a very large sideways wheel. Doppler swearing. 

I made it to central London 6 hours after I'd left Manchester, hyped up on energy drinks and coffee and with a croaky voice thanks to 'chatting' to the sat nav all the way. I promptly got lost in a construction site and was completely unable to make it to the arranged pick up point to get Becca meaning she had an impromptu mile ride at 3am through London. Sorry, Becca. 

After circling the O2 car parks (spot a theme yet?) Becca and I eventually found our parking spot, retrieved our bikes and even managed to talk our way into the private car park attendant's toilet to dispose of approximately 8 gallons of coffee and energy drink. 

To get to the start point of Ride London 100, we had to take our bikes across the river Thames on the Emirates Skyline which is a cable car system which links Greenwich peninsular to the Royal Victoria dock. I was looking forward to this as I'd never been on the Emirates Skyline and I was excited to get a new view of London … what I DIDN'T know was that the cable car kept moving! As a result, we had to get ourselves and two bikes into a tiny cable car before we ran out of floor space. It was like trying to get some really expensive shopping onto the conveyer belt before you and it fell to a horrible death. However, all the caffeine may have made this seem a little more dramatic than it actually was. 

But once on the cable car, with the bikes stacked, we could relax and enjoy the journey. High above London with the city lights glittering at 4am on a dark morning really made it feel special and a really good way to start the adventure of my first 100 mile ride!

As we arrived at the other side, we managed to get the bikes off the cable car without dropping either or falling to a gruesome death and we carried them down the stairs. A few more cyclists joined us as the cable cars started arriving and we all set off towards the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. More and more cyclists joined us from different directions, their red taillights twinkling in the early morning gloom. We took a couple of wrong turns when the signs to the start disappeared but got there after a bit of discussion and a turn down an alley took us along a dark tarmac path which was lit with lights along the side at ground level like a fairy trail. 

Becca and I were on different starts so we parted with a 'goodbye' and a 'good luck!' as we turned in different directions. 

There was the option to drop a kit bag off in lorries similar to those used by the London Marathon and you could tell that the organisers were the same as the whole process was slick and fast. 

Setting off towards my start with my pockets full of snacks but needing a wee, I spotted a tall man on his own making for the portaloos. I stopped him and said “I’ll look after your bike if you’ll look after mine” and the deal was struck. It felt safer than leaving the bike by the loos (although plenty of people were!) and the tall chap wouldn't have wanted a bike fitted for a short girl so it seemed a good plan. I later heard that someone’s bike had disappeared from outside these toilets. I don't know whether someone had done a swap when they spotted a better bike or had just wandered up in bike kit and picked up one they liked the look off. There didn't appear to be any security at the start so anyone wearing lycra could have come along and picked up a bike without looking out of place. If you're doing the event on your own, it's worth bringing a lock – even a cheap one to stop opportunist thieves. 

The weather forecast which had been emailed out from Ride London had predicted a temperature of 23*c but had warned of hydrating properly in temperatures up to 30*c. After the hot summer we'd had it wouldn't have been surprising to have such high temps but I brought a rain jacket with me as an afterthought. It had been unused for the entire summer but it would be useful if we got a couple of spots of rain. 

As I was using this sportive as training for my 70.3 triathlons, I decided to wear my trisuit. I was aware that I wouldn't look like a proper cyclist *gasp* but I 'd decided to wear what I'd wear for my races. I might get shunned at the cake stops - I mean aid stations *cough* - but I wouldn’t know anyone so even if they went all elitist and 'Velominati Rules' on me I wouldn’t see them again. Unless they overtook me. In which case I'd deserve it.

I was in my Blue area and wave E start pen for about 04:45 as there was an allocated 'load' time of 04:40 – 05:20. Even so I was miles back from the start and everyone from every wave and every pen seemed to be mixed together. The pen and wave areas seemed to be guidelines rather than rules. 

It was also clear that there was a distinct lack of females in my wave – I was surrounded by white, middle-aged men in lycra. I was already wearing the wrong kit. Maybe I was also in the wrong pen. I appeared to have wandered into the MAMIL zone.

It's lucky I don't scare easily as if the smell of Deep Heat, over-tight lycra and expensive bikes was anything to go by I was in the equivalent of the middle aged Tour de France. Yes. I'm including myself in that. According to The Guardian, Ride London 100 2017 was about an 80%-20% male-to-female split but I was struggling to see any other females at all. Maybe we were just hard to spot among the other shaved legs and bright kit.

We were in the pen for over 75 minutes. However, people were reasonably friendly. I took a couple of photos for people and even lent my mobile to someone who had left his wallet and phone at the office and needed someone to pick them up. There was a lot of hanging around so it seemed a shame not to have a chat while we stuck doing it. And while they couldn't get away. 

After inching forward about 6 inches at a time, we finally reached the staggered start and the gantry which arched over the road. Our adrenaline rising to the clock counting down and the sounds of Queen ringing in our ears, with a spin of the pedals we were off. 

How can I describe the first 10 miles? It was group riding at its best, the bikes weaving like an intricate dance. I was lucky enough to be in a group with people who appeared to be reasonably experienced riders so the level of bike handling was fairly decent. There was a lot of movement of bikes and people but most people appeared to be used to group riding apart from a couple who were freewheeling. (No fucking freewheeling up front!) Brilliant high speed, great fun and the closest I've come to riding in a proper peloton. 

That being said, there were a couple of accidents that I saw. The roads were closed and cyclists were using all of the road … which was fine until there was a raised concrete islands separating the lanes. A couple of cyclists came a cropper hitting these. I also saw a cyclist hit another rear wheel of another cyclist and lose control, ending in a horrible crash of metal. With 25,000 cyclists, there were bound to be some accidents especially with high adrenaline and the thrill of some great roads and high-speed group riding. 

After being used to riding in Warwickshire, dodging potholes and avoiding drain covers and cracks in the road, I couldn't believe how smooth the London and Surrey road surfaces were. I still had to keep a keen eye out for unexpected moves by the cyclists around me, but it made cycling less stressful and meant I could have a look at the scenery instead of expecting to drop into a crater the size of a Ford Anglia the moment I looked away. 

Rain had been suggested by the morning forecast – which I sincerely had hoped was wrong - but it had started spitting when I was in the start pen so I had put my rain jacket on. The jacket promptly came off at mile 10 as I overheated but it was back on at mile 25 when the heavens opened and what appeared to half of the Thames poured from the lowered clouds.

Photo from Ride London twitter ... of me!!

The rain really started in earnest and the roads were under a seething and bubbling tide of water. Drafting was no longer possible due to the spray from the wheels in front and the fun of the peloton and thrill of following faster wheels was ended. Even the smoothly fitted drain covers became hazards, especially on corners because of the risk of sliding on them. Bends had to be anticipated tin order to brake accordingly which wasn't always easy in the bends and winds of the Surrey Hills and had to be taken wide. Metal structures at corners were padded with plastic cushions to limit injury but I still didn’t want to hit a lamp post at speed. I like having teeth and wanted to keep them in my head.

Having heard that the route was fast and mainly flat, I had intended to aim for a 20mph average speed, however the high winds, driving rain and amount of surface water meant that I had to change my plan. Corners had to be taken very slowly as the conditions wouldn't forgive any mistakes today. Better to ride a slow 100 miles than do a fast 10 miles and slide across the road on my face.

I genuinely think I’ve been drier swimming in a lake. After an hour on the bike, I was that sodden, drenched wetness where water drips off the end of your nose and your fingers are pruned. The rain was even in my snack bag and bike shoes. Every time I pedalled, a mini wave in my shoes sloshed. The rain was relentless and constant and worst of all, it just didn’t let up. Large puddles hid hazards on the road surface and new rivers ran across the road and and washed debris and sticks into the path of the cyclists. It was a new sport: when mountain biking met open water swimming. 

I was a little disappointed not to see any deer in Richmond Park but they had possibly been washed downriver and were now prowling around Kingston. The first hills on the route were in this park although it was undulating rather than steep. I also had a quick snack stop as due to the early start time I hadn’t had breakfast. I'm not someone who 'forgets' to eat (who even ARE those people??) so I scoffed a Cliff Bar, had a chat to the marshals and headed back onto the river … I mean road. 

At around Hampton Court Green, a lady cycling near me told me that my behind saddle bag was hanging off my bike. This bag is the bane of my cycling life. It's a great size, it tucks in well behind the saddle, stores everything crucial … and then randomly falls off the bike at awkward moments. I'd safety-pinned it on so had thought that it would be secure but it had obviously decided that today was the day to hang sideways off the saddle like a drunk hanging off a lamp post.

Luckily everything was saved before I dropped a cycling breadcrumb trail of kit and I got chatting to the lady who had told me, who introduced herself as Melanie from Surrey. She had ridden the 100 previously but not in such dreadful weather. As we chatted everything sport, it came to light that her friend had recently joined my triathlon club after moving from South England to the Midlands. It's a small world!

The rain wasn't easing up and I made the decision at about mile 35 to ditch my cycling glasses. I hate not wearing glasses on the bike as I'm always worried I'll end up with a bee in the eyeball, but it was a choice between not being able to see anything and likely hitting a tree or being able to see and chancing bug-ball. 

Every time I moved my feet, water sloshed in my shoes and when I took my neoprene gloves off at an aid station the gloves weighed about 5kg each. I'd forgotten about the absorbent properties of neoprene … NOT the best choice for a wet day! At least should I miss a water station, I'd be able to rehydrate using my hands. Actually, I'd probably be able to irrigate my garden in hot weather using the water in just one glove. It was utterly ridiculous.

I got to the 40 mile mark just past Pyrford Village. Not even halfway. I was wet, cold and miserable. I was cycling in appalling conditions and I had a half iron distance race next weekend which I didn't want to ruin by getting too cold today.

Decision time. Would I have more to lose or to gain by completing it? It was a tough one. I was miserable and wet but I would be disappointed if I didn't complete it. My legs felt good, nothing hurt or ached. I currently wasn’t shivering but more importantly there didn’t seem to be any checkpoints nearby offering a nice dry lift home. And waiting around would probably make me colder than carrying on cycling. Decision made. Crack on, Booker. Besides, Melanie was good company and having a cycling buddy makes the miles go quicker. 

I’d been dreading the hills on this course but friends had made them sound bigger than they actually were. If you listen to the descriptions, they sound positively monstrous and snow covered and towering and with the requirement for crampons, ropes and St Bernards with brandy flasks to gain the top. 

But to be honest, I didn’t realise Newlands Corner WAS Newlands Corner until I was near the top and Melanie told me what it was called. I always get a bit nervous when a hill has a name but it wasn't horrific and by the time I realised it was over. We had a quick pit stop at the damp aid station at the top, ironically to fill our water bottles and we were good to go. 

The big hills all come fairly quickly after the first one and Leith Hill was the next. I'd HEARD about this one. Afterwards I found out it's about 1.5 miles long and although it averages only about 6%, it gets worse as it goes on and hits well over 10% before the top. When I finally got there I would be at the highest point in Surrey.

However, I didn't know how long the hill was before I started it. I was chatting to the cyclists around me heading up Leith Hill. I struggle with not knowing a hill. If you've got an end point to aim for, it's a LOT easier. 

Basically the conversation went like this:
Is that chimney the top?”
No. It's a bit further yet.”
Ok. [silence briefly]. Is that tree the top?”
No. A bit more.”
Ok. [thoughtful silence]. What about THAT tree?”
What about-”

It was the hill that kept on giving. More hill. It kept on giving me more hill. I kept thinking I was near the top and then I'd look up and there would be ANOTHER climb stretching up above me. It was like an Everest to my little legs. I was expecting a sherpa any moment. 

Box Hill was pretty and winding. It had been a hill climb during the Olympics and as a result, it had been resurfaced so was smooth and lovely to ride. There were graphics sprayed on the road for the National Trust and trying to read the text as I rolled over it kept me entertained and kept my mind off my legs. It was a bit like climbing Edge Hill which is a local climb near me but Box Hill isn’t as steep. And it’s prettier! It zig zags like an Alpine road and it's a treat to ride it. It's not too steep, it just keeps going and the view is amazing!

Some people were walking the hills. But they were just hills. They weren't monstrous, mountainous, they weren't vertical and they weren't that long despite the horror stories I'd been told. 

However, the descents were another issue. The wet didn't affect the climbs too much but the water on the road and the debris washed into the roads by the constantly moving water made the descents treacherous and dangerous. I usually love descending and reaching speeds over 40mph but on this day, I was on my brakes almost constantly and my hands were cramping from holding them on. It was such a shame. In nice weather, it would have been glorious to fly down the hills but in the wet with brakes half-functioning and steep corners there was no option but to crawl. It was gutting. 

Descending a hill at mile 73, I suddenly started feeling bumps through my front wheel and as I pulled the bike to a stop at the side of the road, I could hear the hissing as the air rushed out of my front tyre. Checking the tyre, there was a deep cut in it. It was a fairly quick tyre change - I knew that turbo tyre changes and all that swearing and crying would come in handy one day - but we couldn't get enough pressure into the tube. The single c02 canister I had failed but even Melanie's trusty hand pump couldn’t get the pressure high enough to ride a further 27 miles safely on it. 

No-one stopped to assist us but I spotted a yellow hi-viz vest up the road, so I popped over to see whether the wearer was a marshal for the event. The chap in the vest didn’t appear to be sure whether he actually WAS a marshal or not answering my question of whether he was with “Yes. No. Kind of.” Alrighty then.

Not trusting him with a hand pump (or even a sharp pencil) I asked him where the nearest aid station was. Apparently it was 'Near.' Ok. Useful.

How far was 'near' I enquired. He was completely unable to elaborate. Half a mile? 2 miles? 10 miles? I tried to prompt a response but he was about as sure about this as he was about being a marshal and was completely unable to even guess. Apparently it was near a hill. Oh. Ok. 

Deciding we'd have to go with it. We slowly trundled up the road with a half inflated tyre. Luckily the hub was about half a mile away and the helpful marshals quickly got some pressure into the tube in with a track pump and were back in the business of cycling a river!

I wouldn't say the sun came out, but the rain seemed to ease off slightly and the last few rolling miles were pleasant. At around 80 miles, we were joined by the riders doing the 46 mile route. It was surprising and we hadn't realised it, but we had been spoiled with the level of cycling of the 100 riders as some of the handling skills of the cyclists doing the 46 miles route were truly appalling and the event became immediately more dangerous.

I guess that it was that the 46 appealed to people ho were less experienced on their bikes but there were some truly appalling manoeuvres including a woman who stopped her bike in the middle of the road without warning and started pulling to the edge presenting the side of the her bike to all of the oncoming riders. Melanie narrowly missed hitting her as the woman gave no warning of her intention to stop at all. Another problem with this kind of behaviour in a busy sportive was that as soon as one cyclist went down, the 3 or 4 cyclists immediately behind would be unable to stop in time and would also go down. There simply wasn't the space to leave 25m between the bike in front in case they did something silly.

After 90 miles, we came up to Wimbledon Hill. The end wasn't far away and the roads had been fast and flat again – a relief after the Surrey Hills but this was a sneaky little hill about half a mile long. 

Back on the level and smooth roads in London, we put our heads down. The roads were busier now and there was a nasty headwind. We were tired, slightly damp and covered in mud from the tyre change but so close to the finish! After the lanes and hills, It was a strange but lovely contrast to cycle around Trafalgar Square and the towering buildings, especially without the roar and danger of the traffic. 

The final stretch was The Mall and what a place to finish your first 100 mile ride! I could see the finish arch from a long way away and decided to give it some welly. I really gave it what I felt was a sprint finish. A vision blacking, oxygen depriving, eyeballs out sprint. 

… Well that was how it felt. When I looked at my speed afterwards, I gave it a slipper. Not a welly, a slipper. One of those granny ones. It was slow. REALLY slow.

And then I passed under the finish arch and that was that. My first hundre- … ninety-eight point three mile bike ride.