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Friday 25 October 2019

Ultimate Triathlon Middle Distance: Choking The Bees & Dreaming of Aliens

I’d raced one of the UK Triathlon events at Stratford and it was well organised so when I heard they did a middle distance I decided to give it a go. Middle Distance is my favourite. None of this rushing around, max heart-rate nonsense … I settle in with some snacks and try not to drown, fall off or fall over. 

I had the usual amount of sleep before a race. None. And the usual quality. Poor with occasional sitting bolt-upright convinced I’d missed the alarm. So I awoke feeling unrested and looking bleary eyed. Standard Morning Sarah. 

However my race plaits were on point so even though my face would look dreadful in race photos, if I could convince the photographer to get the back of my head there might be a salvageable pic in the bunch. 

It was easy to find the car park but while fully laden with bike and tri bag, I couldn’t work out where to register.  It’s so unlike me to get lost, right?  Asked one of athletes milling about for directions and it turned out to be someone I follow on twitter. Thanks for sending me in the right direction despite all the tripe I post on twitter ...

Despite a 0930hrs start, I was ridiculously early for the race. No point sitting in the hotel room faffing when I could be at the event faffing, right? Besides plaits were already perfect...

As Pinky swings gently in the breeze ...

At least being insanely early to the event meant there was lots of space in transition. It was an open transition which meant that numbers weren't allocated on the racking – it was basically first come first served. Sometimes this can be carnage but it all seemed fairly amicable and there were no punch ups over whose sandwiches were overlapping whose bike tyres. I may be small but I’m feisty. I NEED snack space. 

There was a lovely Pinky-The-TT-Bike sized space on the front row so I set up there. Pinky rocked gently in the breeze looking tiny next to all the massive man-bikes and so far she was the only pink bike racked. 

The Ultimate Triathlon was running a mix of distances today: ironman, half-iron and olympic which was going to be interesting and would mean it’d be difficult to tell where I was in the field as wouldn’t know if the females were going long distance or short distance. The races were started at different times and the iron-distance competitors were set off first so I got to cheer them as they started their event. 

I’d left the hotel too early to have enough coffee. I was certainly feeling the lack of caffeine and was pretty sure there was blood in my coffee stream. Needed to remedy that. And fast. I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to remain upright without the proper caffeine saturation levels. 

That would be fine for the swim but a bit difficult on the run clearly.

I can’t find the start of the race without help but my caffeine radar was clearly operating efficiently as I found the cafe without any problem. It was nice sitting in the conservatory and there was a great view of Alderford Lake and the swimmers looping the island in their iron distance swim but I was wondering if I’d been ripped off. I’d paid the cafe £5 to park in a field and had just forked over £3.25 for a coffee so the cafe had made £8.25 off me for basically spooning a teaspoon of instant into a cup and pouring hot water on it. But coffee. Lovely, lovely coffee.

It was lovely to see Gazz and his tri buddy David who were also competing today in the half ironman distance. It was Gazz’s first 70.3 so he was nervous but focused. Cheered them off as they started 30 mins before me and decided that my goal today would be catching them up … if I could! 

Look at me with my race tattoo the right way up ...!

I had time for a final transition check and then it was onto the aerobics of getting into my wetsuit. It’s a hard job getting into the swim wetsuits and if you can imagine a walrus trying to star jump you’ve probably got a fairly good picture of how I look getting into it. But with more grunting. I’m not even joking.

It’s probably why I get given a LOT of space in transition. No-one wants to be near the weird grunty girl. Even if it’s a good space at the front. 

I'm TOTALLY pretending I'm at the Olympics

We were paraded down to the start as a group with a big Union flag being waved in front of us like we were at the Olympics. I felt a bit special until I realised that feeling was actually that I really needed a wee quite badly and probably shouldn’t have drunk all that coffee after all. 

Down at the side of the lake, we were stopped to let the first male competitor come in off his first lap. We all gave him a resounding cheer and wondered if we’d be able to swim quick enough to draft him. 

Inner voice: DON'T DROWN! DON'T DROWN!

The water was divine at 17*c.  It was like the temperature of bath water so practically a bath but with carp and duck poop instead of bubbles. 

There were only 63 females so the pack were pretty spread out. When the horn went I couldn’t find any feet to sit on – my usual tactic so had to splash out on my own. The horror. How was I going to manage without some cheat-feet?

However it was a lovely swim even if I had to actually do some work. It went round an island, back to the bank, out and on my feet and a quick sprint along the shore and back into the warm lake for lap 2. I was swimming along actually thinking “I don't even hate this.” Probably meant that I wasn’t swimming hard enough. 


When I got out of water I saw 33 mins on my Garmin, I was ecstatic. I swim like I’m fighting off bees so had clearly been flailing in the correct direction this time.

I peeled the wetsuit off. Not quite as awful as putting it on – but a close second and if I don’t smack myself in the face while doing it, it’s as good as a win. I stuck helmet, tri belt, socks and bike shoes on myself and was about to take Pinky off the rack when I spotted my timing chip in the grass. It must have dropped off with the wetsuit. Secured it back around my ankle and pegged it out of transition. 

Had a laugh with the marshal on the run out of transition and nearly tripped over the race photographer lying on the ground. He must have taken offence at my clumsiness as he took a BEAUTIFUL shot from floor level which captured all 5 of my chins in motion. 

It was like a Truffle-Shuffle but with chins and a bike.


The path after the mount line was very narrow and there were 2 girls stopped on either side of it blocking it with their bikes and arses so I had no option but to do a static mount. Frustrating. I could have walked out if transition instead of trampling the photographer and stood around picking my trisuit out of my arse and achieved the same time. 

However, I patiently waited behind them and then overtook them in a huff as soon as I got onto the open road. 

The bike course had 4 roundabouts in the first 3 miles but after that it was fast roads where you could put your head down and go. The route was roughly triangular with a tail which was the turnaround point. It was a nice undulating route with no real climbs but a bit of a drag from mile 12 with a 1.5 mile hill but it was nothing horrific. The scenery was nice and the route took you through rural Shropshire with thatched cottages and some really lovely views. The road surfaces were pretty decent apart from a very occasional pothole and traffic was reasonable.

And it should have been a cracking ride. BUT.

I set off and couldn’t quite work out why everybody coming the other way looked so damn miserable. The first leg of the triangle went by quite quickly and I over took a few people and kept an eye out for Ridley which I knew was a village sign that came up before the turn off point. It also gave me a pleasant few moments thinking about the Alien films and how aliens didn’t have to do all this swimming before a nice bike ride ...

However, my nice thoughts about whether aliens would wear helmets on the front or the backs of their heads were rudely interrupted by a bee flying through the vents in my helmet. 

ARRGH! Do I stop, take helmet off and run around shrieking “it’s in my hair! It’s in my hair!” and flailing at my own head or do I just carry on, hope I don’t get stung, hope I’m not allergic to bees and hope it’s not a massive brain eating hornet? I carried on. I decided that I probably smelled of lake water and duck shit so the bee hopefully would just think I was some kind of fast moving algae and not a threat and find its own way out.

Also if it was brain-eating it would probably starve to death in MY helmet ...

The buzzing stopped and I didn’t get stung so it either choked on a chunk of duck poo or escaped. 


The bike course took a left turn and I was immediately into a headwind so brutal I thought I had a flat tyre. I even checked the brakes weren’t jammed.

Ok so this is why everyone coming the other way looked so miserable.  

My plaits flew out behind me like they were on wires. I dug in trying desperately not to use my quads too much but feeling as though the road surface was sticky glue as it certainly didn’t feel like I was moving. Even ‘Pinky The Wonder Bike’ couldn't make me feel as though I was going faster than terminally-ill-snail pace.

And then I hit the caravans. Not literally. Although I may as well have. It was clearly the Sunday that every caravan owner decided that THIS was the weekend to be out on the road. Holding everybody up. Cars were beeping their horns, swerving around like Wacky Racers and driving like they were in an arcade game. The cars pulling the caravans were actually very courteous towards the cyclists but the cars attempting to overtake them were being absolutely awful.

Although only on lap 1, pushing against the tough headwind had made it feel as though I’d already completed the 56 miles. I gurned as I pedalled towards the turnaround point, aware that now it was my turn to look grumpy as the cyclists coming the other way were flying with the wind behind them. The turnaround point was great though with lots of really enthusiastic supporters and some lovely marshals cheering us on and I set on on lap 2 with new determination. And a new fear of caravans.

I was trialling my new hydration system on the bike today and it was a torpedo system with a reservoir tucked between the aero bars. It had been surprisingly easy to fill on the move – lucky really as I’d already removed the bottle cages. However, I’d chosen a black reservoir to match the bike but should have chosen the white one as it would have been easier to see how much liquid was left inside it. 

Lap 2 was delightfully uneventful. No bees, alas no alien dreams but also no psychotic driving. However, as I came towards the end of lap 2, unable to see the fluid levels on the black reservoir, I ran out of water. By my reckoning I only had about 10 miles left but with the headwind and the heat, I was using a lot of liquid.

Oh well. Not much I could do about it now. Except shrivel up like a raisin.

Dehydrated, coming towards the final roundabout and feeling like Gordon Ramsay pre-botox, I saw Gazz going the other way. He was heading back into transition and I reckoned he was about half a kilometre in front of me. Right. Chase Gazz down. I might be feeling as dry as a Methodists wine cellar, but Gazz could be my incentive for a speedy turnaround in transition. 

The bike had been tough but I didn’t think I’d had a bad ride. I’d been overtaken by 2 people only, both of whom were males on TT bikes. 

Right think speed, Booker! Bike on the rack, helmet off, trainers on. Number turned around and OUT!

I'm definitely not looking for dropped snacks. *cough*

Onto the run. The first lap is always the hardest as my legs are slow on the uptake and it takes them a while to realise I’m trying to run instead of cycle. They’re basically me before coffee. 

If some scientist could invent some sort of caffeine for legs, I would be all over that. Think how smug my legs would be. I’d have champion calves, nimble kneecaps and thoroughbred thighs. 

The run laps were 3 laps of just over 4 miles, half of which was and out and back around a wooded trail and around a twisty path across a field and the other half of which was undulating, twisty country lanes. I enjoyed the wooded section. It was all bumpy grass but there were lots of supporters and it was pretty. I saw Gazz in this section at the turnaround. He spotted me and he did a massively confused face at me. It seemed I’d managed to beat him out of transition.

The next little section was a twisty section over a field which added some extra distance and it got the runners out into the lanes. 

The lanes were hell. Utter hell. They were very slightly undulating and a bit twisty and EVERY PART LOOKED THE SAME. It was basically like running on a treadmill but in the heat and when you’re already tired.

I spent lap 1 chasing people down. My legs don’t work properly for a few miles after the bike so I need to keep my head occupied counting people before it realises my legs don’t have a clue what they’re doing. 

The half, full and quarter triathlon runners were all on the field now and it was impossible to tell which race people were doing so had no clue where I was in the field. 

I saw a few Rugby Tri clubmates out on the course which was nice and I managed to give Keith, Russell and his nephew a cheer when I saw them. OK. A thumbs up. I gave them a thumbs up. They all seemed to be making it look much easier than it felt to me. I was tired, dehydrated and was at that point in the race where I was questioning why I did triathlons rather than doing ‘sitting’. Sitting seemed like a really good sport right now. I could really get into doing lots of sitting. Yep. Sitting was definitely the sport for me. After THIS race. I’ll just finish this one off ...


I recognised Marc from twitter who was doing the full iron distance. He looked chilled out and made it look very easy in his bright Swansea Vale Tri kit. C'mon - you're doing TWICE the distance I am. At least make it look tough!

The run was hard and the weather was humid. I’d given up looking at my watch and just ran as hard as I could. I was using racing lines as much as possible - taking corners as tight as possible to avoid running over distance and just keeping going. I was telling myself that I’d done a great swim and a great bike so I just needed to hold out on the run In the words of Meatloaf, 2 out of 3 aint bad. I didn’t need to chase paces, just keep going.

I also had a word with the legs. I told them to stop bitching and that if they could run 100 miles then they could certainly manage 13 without complaining especially since I’d taken them for a nice paddle in the lake and they’ve just had a nice sit down on the bike. Stupid legs.

I followed some pink plaits through the lanes for a while and had brief chat as we passed. I had pink plait envy – my brown braids just weren’t cutting it. I found out later it was Chris - Greenys Punk off twitter.

On each run turnaround, I saw Gazz. Each time he told me he was struggling. I tried to encourage him - and myself - by shouting motivational stuff but it came out as random nonsense. “This is the last time you’ll run this bit until you’re last lap!” Errr what? and “We’re nearly there except for all this running.” I should definitely NOT get a job as a motivational sign maker. 

I would be shit at that. 

Even more shit than I was at running after a paddle and a sit down on a bike.

Finally I was on the last lap. I’d been keeping an eye on the females around me as I was age group hunting and it was keeping me occupied trying to guess everyone’s age groups. Unfortunately I am RUBBISH at this and the further we all ran on that hot day, the more haggard everyone became. 1st lap: every female I passed: “Ah she’s definitely younger than me.” 2nd lap: “She might be in my age group” 3rd lap: “She’s around 60 I reckon”. I can only imagine as they passed me they just assumed I was wearing lycra as leisurewear to collect my pension. 

There were a few girls I kept seeing on the turnarounds who were within a kilometre of me. I kept trying to work out whether I was catching them or they were catching me and whether they were in a position to catch me if they did a good sprint finish.


I couldn’t work it out. I just decided that as soon as I came into the last field and had half a kilometre to go, I just had to run as hard as I could and if anyone caught me up then they totally deserved to kick my arse.


As my legs pinwheeled and dragged me towards the finish line, I realised my number was now back to front. As a result my finishers pics are me messing about with my kit.


Under the finishers arch to hear the announcement that I was 3rd lady.


So that happened. Looks like the Power Plaits worked!


Finish Time 05:26:57
OVERALL 71/275

Fancy a go? You can find the UK Triathlon Whitchurch Middle Distance entry here.

NOTE: I was offered a space as being part of the ASICS FrontRunners but UK Triathlon did not know I was writing a blog about the even nor did they ask me to or ask me to recommend the event so this blog is exactly how I found the event. 

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