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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. 


  1. Another great race Sarah! And you are a legend....x

    1. Thank you. Only 'a legend' as in 'a horrible cautionary tale' ... ;)