David Mitchell’s Marathon

I enjoy watching David Mitchell have a good rant about things…

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Recent Triathlon Adventures: Part Two, USN Dorney Lake Tri

Continuing with my round-up of recent goings on in Triathlon-land, this is my race review of the USN Dorney Lake Triathlon on the 24th July (which now seems like the dim and distant past!).  Garnet was itching to do another triathlon after the wash out that was Llandudno, so he found this one, and peer-pressured me into it (not that put up much resistance).

The event is held at Eton College boating lake – and is billed as “the flattest, fastest, traffic free race course in the UK”.  This is, to a certain extent, true.

The swim is in the boating lake, which is shallow, warm and clean (clean as it isn’t actually connected to the Thames, but fed by an underground spring).  It also has the added advantage of having lanes marked in it, so there are ropes beneath the surface which you can use to stay on course. Which, with my history of getting lost, was helpful.   The swim ended up being further than the advertised 1500m (probably due to the wind), but I enjoyed it, so I won’t complain!

The bike consisted of 8 laps around the lake, which got a little monotonous.  The out segment of the bike is mildly uphill and into the wind, which during the course of the race had picked up considerably, at times making the ride laborious – which makes me cast some doubt on the race’s claim to be the fastest in the UK!

Conversely, the in segment of the course was AWESOME.  The wind at my back, going downhill, flying.  Some days I just love racing bikes!  I managed to shave 5 minutes off my previous best over 40km, so happy days!

That’s when everything started to fall apart.  The run was 4 loops of 2.5km on a strip of tarmac next to the lake.  Towards the end of the bike, I started having severe stomach cramps…which resulted in me running the worst 10k I’ve ever run. Ever.  Even when running 10k on it’s own. 1:14:27!  Aside from the stomach cramps and needing to walk, the run was quite fun.  I was befriended by a jolly pensioner from Eastbourne (he’s the one in the picture). Apparently, at age 64, he’s known locally as the “Triathlon Grandad”, and spends quite a lot of his time running up and down the sea front in lycra, much to the amusement of his peers.  He dragged me on, grumbling quietly, him reassuring me I wasn’t going to keel over, until he reached the end of his last lap and he jogged off down the finishing chute – leaving me to complete my last 2 laps alone.

All in all, this was a great race, and I’d definitely come back to race here again.  I really enjoy races with only a few hundred competitors; perhaps because I feel less intimidated by the whole thing.  I was also heartened to find that even in the small field of athletes, I wasn’t the last to finish – one Weekend Warrior was still going after I’d finished, had chance to grab a quick shower in the changing rooms, and grab my bike from transition before making my way back to the car!  After the race, it transpired I was the slowest on the day.  Obviously, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed by this – but what can you do?! Onwards and upwards…

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I, Triathlon Robot

I love this! Panasonic are entering a robot into this year’s Ironman World Championship in Kona.

How cute is he?  Think he might have some issues with rules though – three wheeled bikes aren’t allowed!  I also don’t expect to see him on the podium; it’s expected it will take him 10 times as long as a human competitor to finish the race – so about the same time it would take me to finish an Ironman!

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Recent Triathlon Adventures: Part One, The London Tri

The last 8 weeks have been insane – hence no blogging.  I’ve been up and down the country, done a few tris, looked after some piglets for a weekend and we’ve started the puppy off with his training to become a water rescue dog – look out for him in the safety boat at a triathlon near you soon!  To round up my training and triathlon doings, I’m going to write a few posts over the coming days (fingers crossed I don’t get distracted and trail off mid-seri…).

For some reason, I’ve chosen to start with the London Tri, even though it’s one of the more recent races.  Sod doing things in chronological order.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I won a place in the Olympic + distance race at the London Triathlon.  It turned out the race was the day after a BBQ we’d been invited to months and months ago – this meant driving from ‘oop north (near Manchester) to London the night before the race.  As could be expected, we stayed far too long and didn’t leave the BBQ until gone 6pm.  This meant we arrived in London near midnight and my pre-race nutrition consisted of a cheese and onion sandwich and some MaccyD’s chips at Watford Gap.  Healthy.  We crashed out in the Hotel Ibis for all of 5 hours, then it was time to race!

The London Tri is the biggest triathlon in the world, with 16 000 competitors over two days taking to the streets around the ExCel centre.  The ExCel itself is essentially a massive, empty, hangar-like space located in London’s Docklands, making it a perfect venue for a large scale triathlon.

The swim was in the Royal Victoria Dock at the back of the ExCel, which as you would expect is full of lurrrrvely Thames water.  I’m not going to lie, this is some of the most disgusting water I’ve ever had the privilege to swim in – it was brown, it stank and when actually swimming you couldn’t see further than your elbow.  My wave set off at 6:30 am, along with some of the standard distance competitors.  It was crowded, and some of the competitors were not enjoying the swim.  I stopped to ask a guy if he was OK (he was struggling) – his response was “No! I’ve never done this before!”, to which I (essentially) replied “Put your goggles back on, take a deep breath and get a grip on yourself!”; though I think I phrased it more kindly at the time.  Anyway, I cracked on and once I found myself a good bit of space I got into my rhythm and actually enjoyed the swim.  I was also grateful of the little shower on the way back into transition – I felt a lot less minging after that!

The run into transition was hilariously long, and for some reason we had to run around all the empty racking left by Saturday’s competitors – perhaps the organisers could have opened up a channel through it?  Anyway – I was lucky enough to be on the Westminster route for the race – meaning I got to cycle from the ExCel to the Houses of Parliament and back.  On closed roads.  In beautiful sunshine.  In the middle of London.  That might have been worth the £120-something entry fee alone (had I paid it!).  The course itself was interesting, not too flat, not too hilly with tunnels to keep it interesting.  The long tunnel (not sure of the name – anyone know?) featured a sweeping downhill, where I’m sure I saw my speedo hit 58kph. Exhilarating stuff.  The cycle consisted  of 3 laps so I got to do this 3 times.  I also had to do the climb out of this tunnel 3 times, which proved quite draining by lap 3 – which showed in my times.  I was over 9 minutes slower on the third lap, compared to the first.  I’d like to say this was strategy and I was taking it easy.  I was taking it easy, but only because I was bloody knackered.  All in all, a fantastic ride though.

The run was a little less inspiring scenery-wise, being 4 laps around the Docklands area at the back of the ExCel.  It was, however, jam packed with spectators by the time I got there, which was brilliant.  There had even been a gantry erected across the run course so that people could cross – but it was mostly being used in order to get a better view!  I walked through the aid stations to make sure I took on as much water as I needed as it was very warm, though I wish I hadn’t now as I finished the run in 1:02:23 – I’d have been under an hour if I hadn’t been fannying about.   I also got to run with (read: slowly behind) some of the pro women and junior elites – Jodie Stimpson was absolutely ripping it up, and Sky Draper was charging too.  She looks so graceful when she runs, like she’s floating along on a little cloud.  This makes me very jealous – I’ve mentioned my crazy arm thing in previous posts.

I finished in 5:18:53 – not too shabby.  I had a great day (aside from paying £15 to park the bloody car) – thanks Wiggle – though I’m not sure I’d pay to do this event again. Mainly due to the horrendous water, but also due to the size of the event.  It was so big it felt a little soulless – I think a lot of the first timers may have felt intimidated by the imposing size of the venue (I know I would have, but I am a wuss) and there wasn’t as much chattiness in transition before the race as there tends to be at smaller events. That and it is bloody expensive.  £125 for the Oly+ is steep, as is £87 for the standard Oly.  And you don’t even get a t shirt for that!

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Llandudno Sea Triathlon / Sea Duathlon / Sea 5k

Due to my laissez-faire attitude to blogging, most of you will already know this event was a bit of a washout.  Despite this, you’re getting a full blog-up of my weekend 🙂

We arrived on Friday, and had time to take a little drive around the Great Orme to check out the bike course.  We paid the man in the booth (turns out the Orme is a toll road!) and set off.  The first stage of the bike looked like quite the drag…

…but, in a perverse way, I was looking forward to it.  On our drive, we also learnt that the Welsh word for “triathlon” is “triathlon”.  Funny that.

The descent on the other side of the Great Orme proved to be nothing short of terrifying.  Steep, winding sections of road, peppered liberally with potholes and other road furniture would prove to be quite the challenge come race day.  Combine that with the potential for a tumble over the sheer cliff faces at the side of the road, and a plunge into the depths of the  Irish Sea, and you have one terrifying bike course.  The road markings also seemed to be offering some advice…

We had to go to register at a hotel on the prom in Llandudno on Saturday.  A lot of people were annoyed by having to register the day before the race, but it wasn’t a problem for us and in some ways I prefer it – it’s half an hour extra in bed on race morning in my mind!  You could also register on the Sunday by appointment if you needed to.  We picked up our chips and got our numbers marked on our arms and legs by a lady with the largest Sharpie I’ve ever seen.  This proved a little problematic for me, as I was wearing skin tight jeans I couldn’t roll up – so I scooted off to the loo with a spare Sharpie and marked my own legs.  I ended up looking like I’d been scrawled on by a 6 year old; who’d have thought writing on your own legs would be so difficult?

During registration, Royles were also handing out a free number belt or water bottle for signing up to their mailing list.  As you may have noticed, I like a freebie, so I pocketed a bottle and the boyfriend snaffled up a number belt as he’d forgotten his. The bottle came in handy back at the campsite, as we’d not packed any cups…

Sunday morning soon rolled around, and torrential rain and dense muggy fog threatened to put a damper on proceedings.  Despite this,  the majority of those registered turned up to race and there were only a few empty racking spaces in transition.

I’m not a particularly keen sea swimmer, so Llandudno was going to be a key part of the build up to my 70.3 race in Ireland.  I donned my wetsuit well in advance of my wave start (to keep warm and dry!) and went down to watch the wave ahead of me kick things off.  Everyone queued up on the slipway to begin the swim, and the majority of the people in Llandudno seemed to have turned out on the pebble beach to watch the start.

The sea looked menacing; as the first wave waited to start, the wind changed.  The swell rose, the safety kayakers rising with the waves and disappearing as each one passed.  The first wave waited.  And waited.  And then waited some more.  From my vantage point on the beach, it became obvious that the swim would be cancelled. The swell was tipping the kayaks about like loose change in a washing machine, and eventually the inevitable announcement came: the swim was cancelled and we’d be running 5k instead; it was duathlon time.

I was relieved, to say the least.  I went back to transition and  changed out of my wetsuit and back into my trackies and waterproof coat to wait while the race organisers set out a 5k run course on the promenade.  The wind picked up further, and the rain really started to pound.  In transition, I attempted to fashion some sort of waterproofing for my kit – my bike shoes, run shoes, gels and towel were all getting soaked as we stood around waiting to start, but my shopper bag I use to carry all my gear down in wasn’t going to cut the mustard.  I used my race belt to strap my helmet to my handle bars and hoped it would all still be there when I got back.  It seemed to take forever for the organisers to set out the extra run course, and by the time my wave was called to the start, I was frozen to the bone.

The gun went off and I began my two laps which made up the 5k run.  I went out quite hard in order to get warmed up, which was working for about the first 3k.  Then something went “PING!” in my back.  It was agony.  I didn’t know you could hurt your back running!  I was hunched up like a little old lady as I shuffled into transition.  I looked at my bike shoes.  There was about half an inch of water in the bottom of them.  I looked up at the Great Orme, and couldn’t see the top of the first climb due to the fog.  I stretched out to try to ease the twinge in my back, with little success.  At that point I decided to call it a day and slunk off back to the van, having completed the world’s most expensive 5k run.

In retrospect, the organisers made the correct choice to cancel the swim – the kayakers were struggling, so how would the swimmers have coped?  There was a lot of bravado in transition, but it just would not have been safe to swim.  I was disappointed to see a few people, both competitors and their accompanying spectators, getting mouthy with the organisers.  The organisers had to make a tough decision, considering the abilities of the weakest swimmers, and they did what they thought was right – who are you to question their decision? Add in some quite frankly disgusting language, and you have an ugly scene.  Most people who were annoyed and no longer wanted to race managed to leave without throwing their two-pence in. If you weren’t one of these people, I say “TUT!”.  You know who you are.

Even though I felt like a complete wimp for not toughing it out and getting the job done, there was one saving grace – at least the goody bag was ace.  There was also a delicious Clif Bar in there, but I couldn’t control myself, and ate it before I had chance to snap this piccy!

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3 Mad Things That Have Happened To Me This Week

1) I won an entry to the London Triathlon courtesy of Wiggle.

All I had to do was post a tweet on a hashtag they’d created and a winner was picked at random – that was me! This is the third time I’ve been randomly selected to win something on Twitter.  In the past I’ve won goggles from 220 Triathlon and a High5 nutrition race pack from High5.  The race entry is for an “Olympic Plus” distance – 1500m swim, 80k bike, and 10k run. I suppose it’ll be good practice for Ireland!

2) I’ve entered Country to Capital
For some reason I’ve decided I want to try to see if I can run 45 miles.  I think Tony Audenshaw (of Marathon TalkEmmerdale and Tony’s Trials fame) said that ultra marathons are for show offs and the clinically insane.  Perhaps I’m a bit of both, and as a result on January 15th 2012, I will run from Wendover to London.  We’ll see how that goes.

3) I’ve written 3 blog posts in a week.
You lucky people, you! There’ll also be more to follow as I’m off to Llandudno for the Sea Triathlon tomorrow.

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A Swim For All, even our 4-legged friends

I took part in Jane Tomlinson’s Swim For All at Pugneys Country Park in Wakefield on 10th July.  It’s a new event, but attracted over 500 swimmers, completing (not competing – this was an event for everyone, so there were no winners) 500m and 1500m heats.

The Swim For All will become part of a series of events organised to continue the work of Jane Tomlinson, a Yorkshire woman who raised £1.85 million for charity whilst suffering from terminal cancer.  Jane completed full iron distance triathlons, marathons and long distance bike rides – so what better way to commemorate her memory than by motivating others to get involved with sport?

I also really like the amount of emphasis that is placed on these events being inclusive; I really think self-confidence is one of the main factors that stops people getting into running or swimming or triathlon, or whatever it is they want to do – I know it certainly was for me, I used to worry so much that I’d be last!

On the day of the swim, I would be completing alongside Garnet (the boyfriend) and my good friend Sarah – and this would be her first open-water swimming event.

I was dealing with a seriously bad hair day when this picture was taken – luckily I had a nice orange rubber hat to put on over the top of it.

The organisation of the day was fantastic – the swim was chip timed, and there were lots of kayakers out on the lake for safety – more than I’ve seen at any other triathlon. There was also a strong presence from Wakefield Triathlon Club, helping people in and out of the water – good work guys!

All three of us ended up in the same wave for the swim – the elite 1500m wave.  This resulted in both myself and Sarah looking nervously at each other, her because it was her first time, me because I’m definitely not an elite swimmer.  Garnet just looked a bit pleased with himself.

We collected our orange hats and timing chips from the reception (no queue, that’s organisation for you!) and got our numbers written on our hands in marker pen.  We were due to go off at 10:30.  The lake at Pugneys is shallow and warm, making it a great venue for an event like this.  The swim set off from between two short jetties, which formed a holding pen when a rope was strung between the two.  Our wave had about 40 people in it, and after a thorough warm up from an “activator” from Wakefield City Council, we were checked in and held at the start.

There was plenty of space, so I scooted over to the left hand side of the pen and positioned myself at the front.

It turned out we were in the same wave as Jane Tomlinson’s daughter.  There was quite a lot of photographer attention on her, and Garnet comprehensively photobombed her.  He’s the one with the beard.

The course was marked with buoys which you had to keep on your left hand side all the way round, with larger inflatable buoys at the turn points.  Up to the first turn buoy, Sarah was right up beside me. I noticed she was occasionally breaking into breaststroke, and I tried to get up alongside her to ask if she was OK, but she was going too fast! I rounded the first buoy in her wake and didn’t see her again. Afterwards, she said she had felt a bit panicked at the start but at the first buoy she decided to “have a word with herself” and got into it after that.  Mass starts can be very intimidating – I try to channel the adrenaline into swim speed to get me away from the pack!

I made a bit of a mess of my sighting as I was going around the course and ended up getting lost.  In places around the course there were buoys on the left and the right as you swam and I think I looked up, saw the ones on the right, looked to the left, couldn’t see any buoys, and so headed off to the right.  This turned out to be a mistake, and the buoys on the left were actually behind a safety kayaker.  Ooops.  After I realised I as being shouted at as I was going the wrong way, I got back on to the course – I think I might have swum about an extra 150m.

Must. Learn. To. Sight. PROPERLY.

I made it out of the water in 37:27 – hardly elite pace, but it’ll do – turns out attempting to do endurance sports with a hearty hangover will severely impair your performance. Garnet finished in 31:57 (also hungover) with Sarah just behind him – but without her timing chip!  Think I might start using a safety pin in addition to the Velcro strap on the timing chips just to make sure I still have it at the end of the race.

Just to complete a lovely morning, the sun came out as we finished and we sat in the sunshine to dry off.  We collected our race momentoes – a t-shirt and goody bag with the usual weird squished fruit bars etc.  A pleasing addition to the goody bag was a chocolate Rocky bar – my mum always used to give me one of these after my swimming lessons when I was a kid – ah, nostalgia!  As we were drying out, we all got text messages with our times – it was really good not having to wait until we got home to find out how we’d done.

We also let the puppies have a little swim in the lake after the race – it truly was a Swim For All!

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