A Busy Three Weeks…

Time for a catch-up blog (its a long one… made a cuppa before you start reading!)

My triathlon season was condensed into three weeks and on balance, I have to say a good three weeks.

Week 1

It started off about a month ago, when I was taking part in what was supposed to be my main race of the season the Hever triathlon.

Initially, I had planned to do the middle-distance race, but it soon became apparent that 8 weeks was not going to be anywhere near enough to go from no running at all to 21kms.  I got very stressed about 3 weeks into training and made the decision to drop down to the Olympic distance and concentrate on building my confidence on the 10km run.  I carried on doing long cycle rides and swims and my running stress dropped considerably.

I was slowly building up my running after the 10-month injury lay off.  My knees were not completely pain free, but they were much improved, and Coach Sarah had advised to warm up on the bike before setting off on any run and this did seem to make a difference.  Basically, warming the joints up before starting off.

The week before Hever the weather forecasters started talking about Storm Helene but at that point it didn’t seem to be going to affect the south.  This changed as the week went on until the weather for the Sunday was looking absolutely pants!  Basically, heavy rain all day, temperatures around 7 degrees and windy.  Lovely!  I had my fingers crossed that the forecast was totally wrong.  Hmmm.

To be fair when I got up it wasn’t raining, and it was barely a misty drizzle as I got all my kit out of the car and headed across the two fields to registration.  However, by the time I got to the registration tent the rain was making a real effort to change from a light shower to a steady downpour.   All competitors were given numbered stickers for both their bike and their helmets.  Trying to place a sticker on a wet bike helmet in the rain doesn’t work let me tell you!

The rain was now heavy, and I stood rather glumly trying to keep my kit dry placing it in bags next to my bike.  My hands were already cold, and I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t listened to the hubster and just stayed in bed.

Hever1

I pulled on my wetsuit and put my coat back on until the last possible moment before heading down the muddy track to the lake where the swim would take place.  Everyone huddled close to each other to try to glean some warmth and I was beginning to wish the race brief was over so that we could get going.  Surely the water couldn’t be any colder than standing on wet concrete.

The swim at Hever should be lovely.  It’s a beautiful spot (well it is in the sunshine).  A big lake and then you turn and swim around the river.  Unfortunately, it is very silty, and your feet sink down into the slimy silt.  This makes the water very dirty and it doesn’t smell great.  And it was pretty chilly.

I set off with a kind of grim determination really.  Let’s just get this over with.  Out of the water and quite a long run/walk to where the bikes are racked through the mud.  I was so befuddled that I couldn’t remember which rack my bike was in (a very rookie error).  Eventually located, I struggled with cold hands to get my wetsuit off and a jacket, socks and gloves on, followed by a hat and my bike helmet.  Possible the longest I have spent in transition since Ironman!

Again, another long run/walk to the mount line.  This track really was just a mud bath and my feet were soaked before I even got on my bike.  What can I say about the two-lap 40km bike route.  It’s hilly, the roads are potholed, it was extremely wet, and it was freezing cold.  I couldn’t feel my feet and I seriously thought about jacking the whole thing in after the first lap.  Eventually I was heading back into transition, peeling off sopping jacket and socks and trying to pull on dry socks and my running shoes.  A quick loo stop and I set off on the 10km run (another long transition of nearly 8 minutes!).

I actually felt quite good as I started running, the rain had eased a bit and it (and I) had warmed up a tad.  I hit the first hill and was pleased at how my legs and knees felt.    This little bit of euphoria didn’t last long unfortunately.  The track turned and suddenly became a quagmire of clay and mud.  I found it was impossible to run.  I could barely walk without losing my feet from under me let alone run.  The first stretch of mud went on for the best part of 2km.  Then a stretch of drier stuff and then back onto a hill of mud.  I was getting extremely frustrated.  I had hoped to run the whole 10km and so far, I had walked more than I had run.  The rest of the route alternated between boggy mud and trail until we reached the castle grounds again and ran on grass for the last 3km.   Finally, I could see the finish gantry.

I was handed my medal and got a drink and then picked my way back to transition.   I shoved all my wet kit into a bin bag, got my coat and bag from the luggage area and trudged back to the car shivering from head to foot.  I had some dry kit in the car which I pulled on and drove home.

Hever

Was it worth it?  Probably not.  I didn’t enjoy any of the race and I didn’t feel I had achieved much by it.

Week 2

On a whim I had entered a sprint triathlon which was taking place on the coast at Littlehampton.  A pool based 400m swim, 25km cycle and 5km run.  At the last minute, Scott decided to enter too, and he came home from Manchester on Saturday afternoon ready to race next day.

It was a bit of a ridiculously early start.  I was up around 4:30am and we were in the car heading for the coast at 5:30am.  We arrived at the leisure centre at 6am just in time to watch a guy try to go into the car park which had a low barrier entry.  As he had his bike on top of the car this didn’t end well!  Having made this mistake myself in the past he had my sympathies!  Fortunately for him, he didn’t seem to have done much damage to his bike.

It was still dark as we set up our bikes in the small transition area.  This was a very late season triathlon and only 50 people had signed up for it.   It was a lovely surprise to see Steph from the tri club there too.  Always nice to see a friendly face.

The pool swim turned out to be very quirky indeed.  There were only 4 lanes available and we had to swim up and down each lane in turn then at the end of lane 4 hop out, walk along the pool and drop back into lane 1 and start all over again.  This meant that faster swimmers were getting in with slower swimmers, but I don’t think it held anyone up too much.

Transition couldn’t have been closer to the pool if it had tried.  Literally out of the door and there you were – perfect!  By the time the swim was done the sun was up and the sky was a clear bright blue.  It was however around 6 degrees!  A tad fresh!  I decided on the jacket and gloves approach again but was much quicker this time round.  Scott, being made of much tougher stuff (or just plain daft) opted for no jacket, just gloves.  My legs were stinging from the cold and never really warmed up, but it was a beautiful morning with the mist hanging over the fields.  The bike route was a practically flat out and back route along what would be a very busy road later in the day.  A bit of a convoluted trip around the one-way system back into Littlehampton and then off onto the flat out and back run along the sea front.

My legs took a little while to get moving but the best thing was I wasn’t getting any joint pain at all.  At the first turn around point I passed another lady runner about 500m or so behind me.  I wasn’t 100% sure but I had a feeling I was sitting in 3rd female position at this point.  I lifted the pace a bit and headed back passed the transition area, along the sea front to the second turnaround point.  This seemed to take for ever, round a bend and finally the traffic cone and marshall with a camera.  I noodled around the cone and there was the other lady, now less than 100m behind me.  I kind of knew at this point she would catch me and I just don’t have the speed in my legs yet to respond to her.  She soon pootled off ahead of me and although I kept my pace up there was no way I was going to catch her.  Soon I was crossing the road and onto the grass and under the finish gantry where Scott was waiting for me.

I felt exceptionally good.  It had been a great race and I was fairly buzzing – a feeling I have not had for a good couple of years.

We hung around for the prize giving and found out that Scott had finished 5th overall and I had indeed been 4th woman home.

We packed up and headed to the Sea Lane café for a well-earned breakfast.  It was so good to be racing with Scott again and just such a good feeling to finish a race feeling strong.

Week 3

The same team who organised the Littlehampton tri sent out an email promoting their end of season Open Water Swim Challenge event.  Based at the Chichester Water Sport venue they were hosting an event where you could swim 10km, 5km, 3km or 1km depending on your ability.  As I knew I could comfortably swim 3km I decided to give the 5km challenge a go.  When I signed up we were still in the throes of summer and warm water swims.  Unfortunately, summer is a bit of a distant memory and we have had a bucket load of rain over the past few weeks which means the water temperature has dropped considerably and obviously the air temperature is cooler too.

I have been swimming at Diver’s Cove all summer and have become friendly with another lady swimmer there called Penny.  I was pleasantly surprised to see her there with her hubby.  I had mentioned the swim to her a few weeks back and she had decided to enter at the last minute.

I have managed some decent open water swims at Diver’s Cove over the past couple of months and decided not to put any pressure on myself.  The course was a kilometre lap and I would just take each lap as it came.  Saturday morning was cold and overcast with rain forecast for around 11am.  We were told that the water temperature was around 15 degrees and it certainly felt chilly getting in despite the wetsuit.    The first wave of 11 swimmers were doing 10km.  I was in Wave 2 and we were held just a tad too long in the water before being set off.   The course was marked by big yellow buoys and was more or less oblong in shape.  We turned the first buoy quite quickly and the second buoy looked a long way off in the distance and was not easy to spot.  The first lap went reasonably quickly, and I settled behind a swimmer as we started the second lap.  This helps with resistance and gives you a little bit of a pull along, so you use less energy.  I stuck with him for three turns and then passed him and swam on my own for the rest of that lap.  I was feeling good and seemed to hit turn 3 of lap 3 before I really knew it and then out of nowhere I was hit with cramp in my right calf.  I flexed my foot and tried to stretch out my calf and the cramp eased a bit but came back again within a few minutes.  This pattern continued into lap 4 until the cramp became so bad I honestly thought I was going to have to call over the safety canoe for assistance.

There was a pontoon half way along the back leg of the swim which was supplying water and nutrition, and I decided to head for it.   The lady on there asked if I needed anything and if I was ok and I told her about the cramp.  She handed me a piece of banana and told me to eat that and then to take on some water.  I have to say banana was really the last thing I fancied but decided the potassium might help and the water helped wash it down.  I managed to stretch out my leg long enough to get rid of the cramp, thanked the girl and pushed off again.  The water seemed a lot choppier along the leg back towards the club house.  I certainly hadn’t noticed it before.  Finally, the turn towards the starting buoys and the last lap began.  I was going to get around this one way or another.

Although it was difficult to tell I assume there were very few of us still left swimming by this point.  As I headed up the long 2nd leg I was tracked by two separate canoes.  I couldn’t tell if this was because my swimming looked laboured and they were concerned, or they were just bored and thought they would keep me company.  Across the back leg and passed the pontoon I felt another touch of cramp, but a few kicks seemed to push it away.  The waves were really choppy now and I was losing pace all the time.  I always struggle in heavy water, one of the reasons I avoid sea swims, and I could actually see the waves coming across me now.  One last turn and I could see the finish line.  It seemed to take an age to get to the guy waiting to help me out of the water but finally I was there, standing up and feeling just a tad dizzy.  As I headed towards the steps to the finish line Penny came scooting down and helped me up.  I had honestly expected her to have gone home as she would have finished some 40 minutes before me, but she said she had wanted to see me finish.  That was such a lovely thing from someone I hardly knew.  She was so speedy she was 2nd female finisher so I decided I would wait to see her get her prize.

5km run

It was freezing on the deck even after putting several layers on.  A cup of tea and a mug of hot chocolate helped but I can honestly say I don’t think I warmed up all afternoon.

I am pretty chuffed with my achievement.  I am a little disappointed with the time it took me as I have been swimming faster in training, but I think the cramp, stopping at the pontoon for several minutes and the choppy water in the latter stages all took their toll.  My lap times reflect that to be honest:

Lap 1 – 19:48

Lap 2 – 20:35

Lap 3 – 22:02

Lap 4 – 22:48

Lap 5 – 24:71

 

I actually swam 5.2km in total in a time of 1:58 which is ok, and should I ever decide to swim another 5km open water swim is a good benchmark.

It is a good event which with a few tweaks could be a great event especially if it was a month earlier which would mean it should be a tad warmer.

So that’s everything up to date.  I am currently working on what events to do in the final couple of months of this year and hopefully a proper triathlon season of events next.

Watch this space!

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The long slow road to recovery

Yesterday was a test day.  A ‘Let’s see where we are’ day.

At the beginning of April, the knee specialist gave me the green light to start running again with the warning that I would have to build slowly and temper my expectations.  Eventually I might get back to running two or three times a week or maybe I wouldn’t.  I might only be able to do short distances.  I might need more days off to allow my knees to recover.

So, I started my slow build.  A 30-minute walk/run which was 4.00-minute walk and 1-minute run.  The minute felt very long.  I repeated it on the Sunday but extended the session to 5km.

And this has been the thread over the past two months – slowly increasing the run distance and decreasing the walk distance.  Some sessions felt better than others.  At the start my knees ached like a bitch, but that has worn off as my knees get more used to running.  I have to do lots of rehab exercises and rolling and trigger point stuff just to keep my legs ticking over.

Last week I tried a 30-minute session of run 4 minutes and walk a minute.   It was tough, really tough.  3 minutes run, 2 mins walk seemed much easier.

A few weeks back I took the decision to enter a local triathlon.  I was undecided as to what distance to enter.  They offered a sprint distance which was 400m pool swim, 23km bike and 5km run.  Or a Standard distance which was 800m swim, 46km cycle and 7.5km run.  I kinda wanted a mix – the longer swim and bike with a shorter run.  I could opt for the Aquabike which was swim and cycle and no run but that would be the last resort.

Yesterday morning then, I was up at 4:45am to give myself time to wake up and force some breakfast down before leaving at 6am.  Race brief was at 7:15am and race start 7:30am.  Well that was the plan.  As it turned out the race brief started at 7:40 and by the time I actually entered the water it was 8:35 and I was thinking that I would be hungry again before I finished the bike leg!

The location for the event was Ardingley College, which is a lovely place, loads of green space and old buildings backing onto the local reservoir.  We were blessed with gorgeous weather, blue skies and no wind.

I racked my bike and faffed about for a bit before heading to the pool.  This is a pretty basic affair.  4 lanes in a glorified greenhouse of a building at the bottom of a hill.  This is significant as you have to traverse up this steep hill to get back to transition.  Our bikes were easily 400m away and we were strongly encouraged to have a pair of trainers outside the pool to save our feet from the rough road surface.

The swim marshall was only allowing 3 people in a lane so it was a long drawn out affair waiting to get into the pool and start swimming but I was happy enough to do the swim in 16:24. I walked up to the bike transition – I wasn’t really racing after all – this was a test of my triathlon and running fitness.  So, a leisurely 5 minutes after exiting the pool I was finally mounting my bike and heading out onto the bike course.

This is a reasonably tough bike course by anyone’s standard.  As soon as you turn out of the college gates you are on a hill which drags on at varying degrees of slog all the way to Turner’s Hill which is 8km away.  You then get a 4km respite before the next hill up into Balcombe and then it’s long draggy hills and quick steep downhills (less down than up it feels) before you start the final drag back to the college and if you are doing the Standard distance you do it all over again!

It was already getting pretty warm and I really didn’t enjoy the slog up into Ardingley much at all but overall, I was happy enough with the bike leg.  I was beginning to fret about the run though as my legs were already tiring.

Ardingley college13

Kath had turned up while I was out on the bike to give some much-needed encouragement and support and I changed into my running shoes and set off.  I decided to start off easy with run a minute walk a minute until my knees settled into the run and then try to extend to the 4:1 ratio.  It didn’t really work out though.  I was struggling with my breathing and any inclines seemed to defeat me completely.  I discovered that my knees do not like downhills at all and we had a long downhill at the back of the college to contend with.  Of course, what goes down, goes back up and it sure did with a long hill up into a wooded area which I decided would be quicker to walk up.

First lap done and I set off on the second lap determined to run more and walk less which mostly I think I did but it was such hard work and I seemed to run out of puff really quickly.  There weren’t many people left out on the course now and as Kath cheered me onto the last lap I had the distinct feeling I was the only one left to finish.  Not a pleasant thought at all.  I make a concerted effort to keep moving.  I was hot and bothered and my running gait felt unnatural.  I thought about my pal Glenn who has just completed an 8 day 400km ultra challenge and felt I was being extremely pathetic.  I counted my steps across the meadow telling myself that I wouldn’t walk until I was at the other side.  I started to walk up the long hill.  I could see the marshall at the top and imagined him thinking ‘come on, I would like to get home today if possible!’ and decided I would run 10 steps and walk 10 steps all the way up.  I actually managed to run nearly all the way up before stopping and the marshall complimented me on running up it.  Through the woods and finally onto the playing fields for the final 400m.

I was done.  Bust.  Finished.  The run time was a personal worst.  54 minutes to run 7.5km.  12 months ago, I could have run 10km in that time.  I felt totally defeated and deflated.  I wasn’t quite last out on the course but very nearly.

Ironically, as this was such a small field of competitors it turns out I was the only over 40 female taking part in the Standard race.  This meant I was the winner of my age group and was presented with a trophy!  I must admit to feeling more than a bit embarrassed to accept it but hey ho!  Small triumphs and all that.

Ardingley college2

I would give good money to feel as good about running as I did 18 months ago.  I took so much for granted.  What with late onset asthma affecting most of last years running then the knee issue I feel like a complete beginner.  I am aware of every footstep, worried that one misplaced step will jar my knee, set me back.  Evenings after runs are spent massaging the aching joints like some old biddy with housemaids’ knee.  Post-race I wondered if it was worth the discomfort and effort.  Maybe I should forget running and concentrate on getting better at swimming and cycling, Compete in Aquabike events, sportives and swim events instead.

It might still come to that but after a pep talk from Scott who reminded me that in the bigger scheme of things I haven’t really run much for almost 12 months and to expect to find running 7.5km easy after a few weeks of run/walk was a bit over ambitious.  I will continue as I am at present and try to build my run fitness.  Scott will look at my run gait which is compensating for my left knee even when it doesn’t hurt.

My next race is Holkham Middle Distance.  I have absolutely no hope of completing the 21km run so I have decided I probably won’t even start it but stop after the bike leg.  I would rather do that than set off on a multi-lap course and drop out half way round.  It also removes the pressure of trying to get up to that distance in 4 weeks which isn’t really achievable under normal circumstances.

I am trying not to be downhearted and keep positive and am looking forward to some R&R with a long weekend on the Isle of Skye with Vicki and co.  I was supposed to be running the Skye Half but will be helping out as a marshall instead which should be fun.  It will be good to get away from the normal routine for a few days too.

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Do What You Can – Or Trying To Stay Positive

Next week I start my training plan for my ‘A’ race event of the year.

In a little over 4 months I will hopefully be lining up to take part in the Outlaw Holkham 70.3 triathlon.  Actually, let me rephrase that.  I will be lining up but whether I will be able to complete the whole race is still in some doubt.

I have not been able to run properly since October.  I have what the knee specialist tells me is classic Patellofemoral pain syndrome.  An MRI scan has shown that my kneecap slips out of its cup way too easily because that cup is too shallow and constant running has caused it to slip one way more than the other. It got to the point where it was causing so much friction that it filled with fluid and started hurting (more than usual).  Oh, and there is also some arthritis going on.

A round of physio and a steroid injection didn’t do any good so I was referred to a specialist and he sent me away to do more specific VMO or inner thigh exercises and ‘No running’.

It has all been extremely frustrating and demotivating.  I have never been side-lined with an injury for this long ever.  Nearly six months.  I have my first event in the middle of May and that is looking dodgy too.

I have been swimming and cycling though.  In fact, I have been doing a lot of swimming.  At least 3 times a week and sometimes 4.  I bought a training book from Amazon with 80 swim sets in it.  I have been following one of their plans and have really enjoyed it.  Initially I used the pull buoy for most of the set to save my knee but as time has gone on I have been relying on the pull buoy less and less.  I have slowed my swim stroke down and concentrated on less strokes per length and little by little my swim times have been coming down.

My cycling hasn’t improved a lot but I put that down to the fact that it has been extremely cold and I am using a heavier bike.  At least I have been getting out there apart from the last couple of weeks when it has just been too cold and windy (we are talking -3 to -5 here).

I have been doing my physio exercises at least 3 times a week plus at least one longer gym/stability session too.  I go back to the specialist at the beginning of April for a reassessment.  I have no real idea whether it is improving at all.  Sometimes I think it is and then I was walk upstairs and the pain will return.

It really pees me off not being able to run.  I had great plans to do a good winter of running training especially as last year’s running had been blighted by asthma.  But I am trying to make the best of it.

If it comes to it I will go to Holkham and treat it like an AquaBike event.  I can still try to get a good time for the swim and bike legs.

So, I will be starting my training for 70.3 as planned just without the running element.  Until hopefully my knee is in a fit state to start running again.

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Finishing on a High

It’s been a frustrating season.  I set out  with such high hopes which never really materialised.  I now know that a lot of my issues/problems were due to the development of adult onset asthma.

I remember as far back as last winter during runs around Christmas time, not being able to breathe properly so this has obviously been a long time in the offing as it were.

It has taken numerous visits to the doctor and weeks of blowing into a peak flow monitor but finally I was given a steroid inhaler about 6 weeks ago.  It has had a remarkable effect.  My peak flow readings have risen and levelled out so instead of peaks and troughs they are much more stable.  It took about 3 weeks before my running started to begin to feel less strenuous and less wheezy.

Then two weeks ago I set out on a 6km run and was a good half way through before I realised it actually felt good.  A few days later I got up early and did a 5km run which was, dare I say it, pacey.  I was made up.

A few months ago, I signed up for the Thorpe Park sprint, just as a bit of fun really.  Having done standard distance events all season I thought doing sprint in a theme park would be a bit of a laugh.  Now it was going to be a test event, I would do it to see how my new medication would help and how I would use it mid event if necessary.

I hadn’t done a whole lot of swimming recently especially open water as struggling to breathe had put me off somewhat.  The Tuesday before the race I went along to Southwater to do a test swim.  It did not go well.  The water was a cooler 18 degrees which isn’t that cold by normal standards but the drop seemed to have an adverse effect on my breathing.  It’s only 250m across the lake and I was finding it so hard to breathe that I wondered if I could actually make it across.  I stood at the far side of the lake breathing like I had run 100m flat out.  Kath stood with me and told me to slow everything down and I took her advice and managed to swim back again.  I was disappointed though.  If I couldn’t swim 250m how was I to swim 750m in a race.

On the Friday I went to the pool and did a ‘confidence building’ swim.  I set myself the task of swimming 750m which went incredibly well so I kept going to 1000m and then did 500m worth of intervals.

The weather was looking reasonable for Sunday and apart from the slight worry over the swim I was looking forward to it.

Kath had said she would come with me as she was still struggling with sleeping after coming back from Canada.  It was an early start – leaving just before 6am.  You know it’s late in the season when you put your bike on the car in the dark.

As a venue, Thorpe Park is excellent.  It has a large car park so no queuing to get parked.  Plenty of toilet facilities and on-site catering opened early for the supporters to get coffee and bacon rolls.

Entrance

Race brief over it was time to don the wet suit and get ready for my swim wave.  I used my blue inhaler to give my lungs a boost.  I was in the last group to swim and with Kath’s words of wisdom (get water inside your suit, get your head under the water, take some deep slow breaths and start off slowly) I made the most of the five minutes or so of the warm up.  It was a deep water start and the only way into the water was to jump in from the pontoon.  So, in and over my head – yep that was chilly!  But I certainly got my head under the water!  I swam around getting used to the water and breathing slow and steady and bobbed around the back of the bunch waiting for the 10 second count down.   The hooter went and I set off as slow as I could, concentrating on my breathing.  I was swimming with a small group of women and we soon made the first marker buoy.  I broke free from them and headed toward the next buoy.  On turning I realised that the swim felt pretty normal, normal breathing, it was chilly but I wasn’t struggling at all.  So, I upped the pace and kicked on towards the last two buoys.

Lake

Wading out through the silty water I had a big smile on my face.  It was nearly 400m from lake to the bike transition and I was a bit faffy getting out of my wet suit and getting my cycle shoes on and I felt like I was last leaving transition.  With Kath’s ‘You’ve got this’ ringing in my ears I jumped on my bike and headed off along the park service road.

I honestly don’t think I have ever had such a great cycle leg.  I felt strong from the start and was soon overtaking other riders.  I guess thinking I was at the back of the pack gave me impetus to make up places.  The route was reasonably flat and I felt like I was flying.  I overtook at least 10 competitors and had a bit of cat and mouse with another woman in my age group which I eventually won.

Back into transition I debated whether to use the inhaler again and decided against it, taking it with me just in case.  I set off at a modest pace.  The run course is a two-lap course around the back roads and then through the theme park itself.  The first kilometre ticked by at 5:50 mins.  That was ok.  If I could keep that pace going I would be happy.  Second kilometre was similar 5:45 mins.  We were running passed the main attraction, Colossus, the paying public were now entering the park and the ride was cranking up.   Kath was waiting at the start of the second lap and as I hit 3km my watch bleeped 5:36 min pace.  I was feeling good and gaining on the runner in front of me, passed her and onto the next – 4km – 5:30 pace.  This was more like it – this was how I used to run, was how I was running last season.  Back passed Colossus with its belching steam and screams of the riders, around the bend and over the finish line.  Done – and still feeling good.

Collosus

I was so chuffed.  The race had gone really well.  Better than I could have expected in all honesty.  I finished the race in 1:34 and was 8th out of 14 in my age group.   Not only that but I enjoyed the whole race.

Medal

I had been due to race at Hever Castle this weekend but decided not to race and finish the season on a high note.  Instead I am taking a couple of weeks off regular training and having a bit of down time, eating too much and having the odd glass of wine or two.

We are also just starting to renovate our house and this weekend has seen us boxing everything up and mostly living upstairs, so another reason not to race.

I now feel I can plan for next year with more optimism.  I have a bit of a knee niggle which I need to sort but once that is fixed I am up and running!

 

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A New Challenge

It’s been a hit and miss season so far.

Since competing in Deva, Chester I have taken part in Ripon and Arundel Olympic distance races and just last weekend travelled to Huntingdon to take part in the Anglian Water triathlon.

None of these have been particularly successful.

Ripon was a major trek up north.  I hadn’t really appreciated just how far up north it was, although I really should have as I had taken part in a triathlon in that area a couple of years ago when it took Scott and I the best part of 8 hours to get there with traffic hold ups.  This time it took me 5 hours plus half an hour tea stop.  But it seemed interminable.    The race wasn’t until 1300hrs on Saturday afternoon which put me in a dilemma about when to eat.  I made the wrong decision and had a very late breakfast which really wasn’t enough to fuel me through the race.  The swim was incredibly weedy, weeds right up to the top of the water – I could have pulled myself along by the weeds it was so thick in places.  The cycle was busy, relatively flat and boring.  The run was nice enough except I ran out of steam at 7km and really struggled to finish the final 3km.  Then the long, long journey back to Horsham arriving at about 9pm.

Ripon

I was supposed to go back to the area three weeks later to take part in Castle Howard tri but I just couldn’t face that journey all over again.

Arundel Castle Tri – local race – hooray!  Ridiculously early start to take into account slack tide in the river.  Up at 3:30am – boo!  The swim is quick as you are assisted by the current.  I really like the bike course as it is a good mix of fast flat and challenging hills.  The run is very challenging with a horrid long dragging hill which you do twice – I hate it.  Despite all the hill training I did in the weeks preceding I still couldn’t run all the way up this one.  I was able to sprint down the hill through the town though so silver linings I guess.

Then onto Huntingdon.  I wasn’t really feeling it if you know what I mean.  I could quite easily not have taken part.  I think the run leg on the last 3 races had dented my confidence somewhat.  Also, I was finding trying to qualify for GB Age Group stressful.  I train really hard and have improved on last year particularly on the bike leg but my swimming is not where it should be and I seem to struggle through the run leg.  I am so far off qualifying its depressing.  You have to either finish in the top 4 of your age group or if you are further down the field, be within 115% of the finisher’s time.  The women winning my age group are turning in times of 2:20 to 2:30 at worse.  I am at least 30 mins off that pace.  30 minutes!  Last year I was 15 mins off and I haven’t got that much worse so they have all improved dramatically.  Soul destroying in all honesty.  The only reason I am traipsing up and down the country doing these races is because they are qualifiers.  I am beginning to think it wasn’t worth it.

And now it seems I have a new challenge to conquer.

Back in Soria, at the Duathlon European Age Group Championships I struggled with my breathing during the run.  At the time I put it down to the altitude and I still think in part this was still the case.  A few runs after that I noticed I was struggling to catch my breath properly and having to walk to get my breathing under control.  So I went to the Doctor to see what she thought might be going on.  She put it down to possibly hay fever or exercise induced asthma.  I was advised to take anti histamine every day and gave me an inhaler to use when I felt it necessary.

I have been using it before I run and swim and if I am doing a particularly long bike ride and I have been using it before a race.  Over the past few weeks I have felt the need to use the inhaler more and more especially in the evening when I get a dry cough and can hear my chest wheezing.

On Sunday, I used it at around 6am which was about 2.5hrs before I was due to race.  I enjoyed the swim and got out of the water feeling good.  Set off on the bike leg and it was around 5km in that I started coughing and noticed I was finding it hard to get a deep breath.  I tried not to think about it, thinking it might be in my head but as I approached the turnaround point I was coughing more and more and finding the ride tougher than it should be for a relatively flat route.  I was beginning to rue the fact that as a rookie inhaler user it had not occurred to me to bring my inhaler to the race.  I could even picture it sitting in the hotel room.  Back into transition I set off on the run leg.  The run consisted of one mile out and back along the reservoir wall, then back through transition and another 2 mile out and back along the cycle path.  As soon as I set off I knew I was in trouble.  My lungs felt like they were a third their usual size and I was taking small shallow breaths.  I told myself to run as slow as possible and that might help and eventually I was only one step off walking and still I couldn’t really breathe.  At the turn around point I decided to resort to a run/walk strategy.  One minute run/one minute walk but the walk got longer and the run got shorter and as I approached 2km I stopped running altogether.  I had no energy and no breath and I decided it just wasn’t worth putting myself through this anymore.  I approached the transition area and found a marshall and told him I was stopping.  He asked me three times if I was certain but when I started coughing he said ‘Yep I think you are doing the right thing’.

So my second DNF of the season.  I am not overly disappointed as I think I made the right call in the circumstances.  Imagine the embarrassment of a full on asthma attack where the medic asks you where is your inhaler?  Er in my hotel room!  I am fed up though that for the want of that inhaler sitting in my hotel room I probably would have finished the race.  Rookie error.

I have been back to the doctor and am now keeping a two week peak flow chart where you blow into this contraption that measures how hard you can exhale both before and after using the inhaler.  Generally speaking there is a difference of 100 to 150 units difference.  I have had a chest x-ray and am waiting for a spirometer test which is a fancier machine test of lung capacity both inhaling and exhaling I think.

Once all of these things have been completed I should get a proper diagnosis and medication hopefully.  I currently have a blue inhaler which is what they call a reliever inhaler eg it relieves the symptoms when they strike.  I think what I need is a preventer inhaler which control the symptoms on a daily basis.   I really hope we can get something sorted quickly as even yesterday while doing a 5km recovery run I got to 4km when I got the familiar tightening of the chest and the struggle to get air in.

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In hindsight, if I have been suffering with asthma all summer, or it has been getting progressively worse, then it is not surprising I have been struggling with the run leg of races.  Not getting enough air into my lungs will let affect how much oxygen is getting to my muscles.  Having asthma also causes fatigue and I have definitely been feeling that by the run leg of races to the point at Ripon where I felt I couldn’t finish.  I have also had sore muscles after running despite training regularly and this is another side effect apparently.

I have 3 weeks til my next race and I have been looking forward to this one as it is in North Wales which is so beautiful and on closed roads which is a rare treat.  I really hope I am beginning to get things under control by that time.

This is my new challenge then.  Lots of people manage to exercise successfully with asthma and I am sure I will be able to as well.  I just wish I didn’t have to – especially this late in life.  Ho hum.  These things are sent to try us I guess.

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Deva Triathlon, Chester

A week ago, I drove north to Chester to take part in my first standard distance triathlon of the season.

The race is named after a legionary fortress and town in the Roman province of Britannia. The settlement evolved into Chester. The fortress was built initially in the AD 70s.  You can see evidence of Chester’s Roman past all around the city.

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Leaving relatively early I had a straightforward and stress-free drive and I arrived at the Premier Inn on the outskirts of town just as the heavens opened.  I quickly dumped my kit and bike in the room and headed to The Groves Park to register.  I arrived just in time to join one of the Transition Tours.  I have never been to a race where they have done this before.  It was excellent.  A proper walk through each of the transitions from Swim to Bike (in & out) and run including finishing.  For newbies, the two Chester Tri members explained the rules and regulations surrounding transition and gave course tips like where best to position yourself in the swim.

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I bumped into an old friend and race colleague Miriam who had travelled all the way from Dundee to race.  We had a brief catch up chat before I headed off to pick up my race pack and then back to my hotel room to chill for a bit before dinner.

I was determined not to get as stressed about this race as I had in Soria and to be honest tend to get at most races.  I knew the competition in my age group would be tough so the best thing for me was to relax and just enjoy the race.

The only thing I couldn’t de-stress about was parking.  There was one designated race car park but it was limited to 100 spaces, after that it was try to find a city centre car park without a height restriction (I would have my bike on top of my car).  Because my race didn’t start till 9.30am I knew the main car park would be full by the time I got there.  Not wanting to be driving around a city with road closures in place trying to find a car park I decided the best thing would be to get up early and get parked and then chill and eat breakfast there.  I had milk in a cool box and took museli with me.

Typically, I had panicked for no reason.  The high school headmistress where the car park was had decided that the playing field was fine for parking on and there was an abundance of parking spaces.  Still the sun was shining and I sat at the back of my car happily munching on breakfast totally chilled.

My long time pal Mick was racing today too in the middle-distance race and was setting off at 7am.  I decided to try to get to transition in time to cheer him out onto the bike leg.  He had a really good swim and I was pleased to see him running well into T1.

I then queued up for entry into transition and racked my bike and laid out my kit.

It was soon time to get my wet suit on and make my way down to the river swim start.  It had been recommended to me to try to sit and visualise someone swimming who I would like to emulate and to almost meditate before the race start.  So, I sat by the start with my eyes closed and pictured my son Scott swimming.  He swum competitively throughout his childhood until he was about 16 and has such a laid-back stroke which looks effortless.  I imagined him swimming and then tried to picture myself swimming similarly.  We were called into the water some 5 mins before the start.  The water was 18 degrees but it still makes you take a breath when you first get in especially being a deep water, got to jump in start.  I swam to the start line and then bobbed about treading water and taking long slow deep breaths to steady myself.

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The claxon was sounded and we were off.  I tried to keep my stroke pattern long and steady and let people swim away from me.  As the 800m to the turn point unfolded I found myself overtaking more and more swimmers.  Eventually the turn buoys appeared and it was the 700m swim back and the flow of the river with us.  There were plenty of buoys marking the route and it didn’t seem too long until the ramp out of the river appeared.

The run between the river and T1 was all uphill and included about a dozen steps too!  I decided to conserve energy and walk it!  I know!  Call myself a triathlete!

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The wet suit came off reasonably quickly, helmet on, race number on, socks… on… almost.. yep, on.  Sunglasses on and jog with bike to the mount line.  I don’t normally wear socks but at Eton Dorney I got a couple of blisters on the run and decided that 10K of running without socks was probably not the best idea.

What can I say about the bike leg.  I had a blast.  It wasn’t hilly but the first half was properly undulating.  Me and a couple of other women swapped places again and again.  It’s a shame it wasn’t draft legal as we could have had a great race working together.  Eventually I lost one of the women and the other disappeared off into the distance.  I spent the whole 40km chasing other competitors down and having the ride of my life.  At one point we hit a section of dual carriageway, smooth and dead pan flat, I flew along with the biggest smile on my face.  A quick glance down at my watch and I knew I was riding well.  Nearly 30km and I was just under the hour mark.  It just made me push on even harder.  Into Chester and mostly uphill and a very narrow lane coned off for us.  Into the park and off the bike and onto the run.

Except I needed a comfort break.  No!  Yes, I definitely do.  No way I could run 10k without it.  Darn it!

OK now onto the run leg.  A nice bit through the park and over one of the iconic bridges and into the meadows.  The run was a 3-lap course – relatively flat.  It was warm and I was knackered.  Maybe I had over pushed the bike?  I grabbed a drink as I passed the feed station and plodded round the first lap.  Up over the bridge and onto the second lap, this bridge seems a lot hillier than the first time, another drink and take a gel at the feed station and plod, plod, plod.  Finally, over the bridge for the last time – I glance at my watch and the pace is not quite as bad as it feels.  I push on, only 2km to go and I up the pace for a strong finish.  Medal placed over my head, a bottle of water and a finisher’s towel.

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I recovered quickly and I am pleased with my finishing time of 3:02 – might have made sub 3 if I hadn’t gone for a pee!

I waited by the finish area for Mick who I knew wouldn’t be long.  He finished strong in under 6 hrs looking good for his Ironman challenge in 5 weeks’ time.

I popped off for a shower before having a cuppa and a catch up with Mick and then heading for the car park and the long drive home.

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Overall it was a great race.  Well organised, well marshalled and loads of support around the run course.  Loads of goodies and a nice medal.  The good weather helped of course but I really enjoyed it (well the run was a slog) and if Chester were not 4+ hours away I would do it next year.

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Swim – 32.12

Cycle – 01:26

Run – 56:08

Things to improve – transition, loo breaks(!), and bike to run.

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(Draft) Legal Highs

It was my first triathlon of the season on Sunday and I chose the Eton Dorney Sprint weekend to get my season underway.

Now sprint is not my usual choice of distance as I am not fast enough and generally you are up against a field of racing snakes.  However, I did have a discount code for it (just as well as it was not a cheap event) and if I entered the Age Group qualifying event on the Sunday morning, the cycle leg was draft legal.  This is a rare occurrence for amateur triathlon events and the opportunity to race like the pros was too good to miss out on.  It would also be a good race to get my triathlon racing head back on after the disappointment of Soria.

The venue really lends itself to the triathlon event with paths and a road going right around the Olympic rowing lake.  There is plenty of field space for parking although it did occur to me that had we had much more rain in the preceding weeks the car parking would have been a quagmire resembling that of Windsor last year.

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I arrived early (as I usually do) and walked the kilometre or so to registration.  The first heat was due to start at 8:40 with heats every 20 mins after that so the place was fairly buzzing with activity and anticipation.

With the Rowing Club as the backdrop, bike transition was directly in front of the building with the lake in front of transition.  If I wanted to by hyper critical the space between bike racks was about as tight as it possibly could be and this did cause some issues once the racing was in full flow with people trying to get bikes out and around others hopping around trying to get their feet out of wet suits, but apart from that the layout of transition was straightforward enough.

For the first time in my race experience, the women’s heats were going off first which meant I would be racing at 9:20am instead of usually being the last heat to go off.   This was great as normally I am hanging around until nearly lunchtime to get started and by the time you finish most people have gone home! (Get quicker then!)

The weather was perfect with the sun shining and the odd fluffy cloud floating by.  Outside temperature was already 13 degrees when I arrived.  The water temperature was a bit chilly at 15 degrees but once you were in it wasn’t bad at all.

My open water swimming is definitely a work in progress at the moment and I set off at a steady pace.  I seemed to be stuck in amongst a small gaggle of swimmers and it was difficult to get into a rhythm especially as the woman to my left seemed to have issues swimming in a straight line!  Being a rowing lake there were lines of small buoys up the lake creating ‘lanes’ which I made use of as a means of keeping on target and it saved me having to sight the big orange buoy marking the first turn point too often.  There had obviously been a bit of ‘argy bargy’ at the start as I noticed one woman with blood streaming from her nose just across from me.  Soon we were making the final turn back towards the club house and I found myself making ground (water?) on a group ahead of me.  I felt like I was finishing strong although annoyingly I picked up the woman with no direction awareness again.  The exit from the water was marked by a huge black inflatable arch with a swimmer with its arms in the air on top of it and it was directly in front of us but this woman insisted on heading right and across my path.  In the end I gave an almighty kick and got away from her.

Up a wooden slipway and into transition – yep my bike was exactly where I left it and thankfully my kit still all in one place (I have known for over exuberant early swim finishers to kick the kit all over transition before now).  For once, and quite amazingly considering this was my first race, the wetsuit came off pretty quickly and I managed to get my helmet, shoes and sunglasses on with relative swiftness for me!  Yes, yes 2 minutes is not swift and my transition time needs to improve, don’t nag!

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Onto my bike and I joined the 5km and a bit track around the lake with a frisson of excitement and nervousness.  I didn’t quite know what to expect of a drafting race.  I could see a pack of women about 200m or so ahead and tried my best to narrow the gap with little success until another rider joined me.  We became all professional taking turns at leading and little by little the gap to the group ahead lessened.  The course was almost pan flat, maybe a little rise up at the far end of the lake with a couple of chicanes to negotiate.   As soon as you turned at the bottom end you noticed the wind which was in your face on the return leg.  Great if you were drafting, harder if you were leading.  As we headed towards the club house for the first time another women joined us but that didn’t last long as she was too strong for both of us.

Round the club house and onto the second lap, we caught and overtook another rider and my co rider took over for what was to be the last time.  I took the front again just before the bottom turn and never saw her again unfortunately.  I spent the next lap and a half on my own until another rider over took me and I latched onto her back wheel and caught my breath for a bit.  I can honestly say I have never worked so hard on a bike.  The pace was relentless and I was slightly worried that I had overcooked my legs so that I wouldn’t be able to run.  Anyway, I thought the girl in front must be on her last lap of four judging by her race number and as we got close to the club house I dropped back a bit to allow her space to peel off – only she didn’t!  What a rookie error!  I pedalled like a mad woman but I had given her too much space and just couldn’t get back up to her.

I was now on my last lap and the first of the men were joining the track – I thought I was going fast but this was a whole different league.  As I turned for home for the final time another couple of women caught up with me and I tucked in behind for a bit as we shared the final couple of kilometres out between us.  What a blast!  Without doubt the fastest 21km I have ever ridden!  At one point I hit 36kph!  Boom!

I kind of jog walked into transition – my bike position was way down the far end and running in cleats is no easy task especially on concrete.

I was breathing deeply, pulled off my helmet and shoes and pulled on the running shoes, grabbed my hat and a gel and headed out for the 5km out and back run.  I trotted along nice and steady just getting my breathing right and not thinking about pace too much, this was more about just getting through the run.  My watch buzzed the first kilometre split and I glanced down – 5.24 mins – ooooh!  That’s better than I expected and doesn’t feel too bad at all.  If I could maintain that I would be a very happy bunny.  I saw club colleague Becks on her return leg and we high fived which always gives me a boost.  Next kilometre split 5.24 – that’s consistent.  Only half a kilometre to the turn round point which went round the back of the lake and over a small bridge and back again, passed a water station.  I slowed to a fast walk just before the station and took my gel and a cup of water and then set off again.  Next split 5:33 which with the water stop was fine.  I talk to myself like a loon when running ‘Feeling ok? Right then let’s see if we can up the pace shall we?’  The girl who I had let go on the final lap of the bike was ahead of me ‘target acquired’.  4th km split 5:15 – whoop!  She was right in my sights now and yep cruising right by you Missus!  The first male runner passed me, yes that’s passed me to win the men’s race when I had about 500m to go.  This means he did the swim, bike and run in just under an hour!  Anyways, in my little race I was now pushing towards the finishing gantry at a gallop.  Over the line, medal over my head and timing chip handed back.  Finished.  Two cups of water later and a nice chat to a fellow competitor and I walked off to see if I could find my two race colleagues.

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What a splendid day.  I was well chuffed.  I had finished strong and felt great at the end.  I loved the bike leg and am super happy with how the run went, which far exceeded my expectations.  I guess that is what comes of not setting your sights too high and trying not to be stressed about racing.  When I entered GB qualifying I really didn’t think I had a scooby of getting a place which was probably why I wasn’t stressed.  Turns out I was only 2 mins off being in with a chance of what they call a roll down slot (if anyone who qualifies pulls out later on or they don’t get 20 qualifiers).  2 minutes!  Need to get slicker with those transitions and swim times!

I had a good catch up with Becks and Laura.  Becks had a bit of a nightmare swim when she got pulled under but still managed to finish in a good time and Laura blasted round the course.  We cheered Paul as he passed us on his run – he was 4th in his age group – he is your typical racing snake.

I treated myself to a coffee and bacon roll and wandered around taking in the atmosphere.  I was lucky enough to bump into an old pal, Robbie from the tri camp I did in 2015,  and had a good natter before heading back to the car.

There was a real family afternoon out feel to the place.  Eton Dorney’s venue lends itself to being spectator friendly with the grassy banks and good visibility of the swim and the multi lap bike legs and because it is on all weekend with novices encouraged there were families there sitting in the sun on blankets with picnics.  It was great to see.  Obviously the weather played a huge part in this fact.

Will I do it again?  Almost definitely provided it doesn’t get any more expensive.

Overall time:  1:30:23

Swim:  16:29

T1:  2:14 (too slow)

Bike:  42:14

T2:  1:59 (way too slow – long run in from dismount line, that’s my excuse!)

Run:  27:27

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