Tuesday, September 27, 2016

End of season ponderings

Although it's the start of the cyclo-cross season, the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross falls more comfortably into the end of the triathlon season than into the beginning of 'cross.  It's a multidiscipline race of riding and running (with weather-dependent swimming) which is definitely an endurance event rather than a speedy 40 minutes of hell.

My warm-down from triathlon was the Torino Nice Rally (more to come) and then the Peaks naturally tagged onto the end of that.  As a result, I now feel like I can declare tri season over.

Before the Peaks I had already planned what I'm aiming for next year (qualification for the worlds team in 2018) and I am also debating whether I can fit another project legitimately into that plan... but that's also for another time...  I have registered for two worlds qualifying races and may sneak a third one in.  I also have registered a Euro's one too just in case but this does clash with the other plan so that's why that's for another time.  I'm trying to avoid planning for next year's tri season too soon so I don't burn out but I'm so looking forwards to it I can hardly help myself.

This has been exascerbated by...

A conversation in the pub last night

How interesting it is working with a coach. An archery coach but still, interesting talking to someone trained in the development of self belief. I am due to spend the next 3 days with the guy in a hazop and after the weekend he has spent at a coaching conference I am about sure that he will spend the rest of this week psycho analysing us.

Tonight after a long discussion about my tri year and targets for next I disclosed that I am not very good at triathlon, I just love it.  He laughed at me and said, "did you just hear yourself?"  Yep, I suppose I have to work on that self-belief thing but to be honest, I'm just not arrogant enough to go around boasting about how good I am and there's plenty of people to point out that I'm regularly beaten by a lot of people who - dont' want to / can't be bothered to / can't afford to / don't see the point in - registering for their national team.  I am just passionate about what I do.

But it's not that I don't think this qualifying year is doable or that I can't get the times, I just know how much effort it will take and that's the bit I am not sure I can sustain.  That prompted an interesting question - Do I fail because I don't try? or do I stop trying because I think I am going to fail and therefore there's no point trying?

An email in my inbox

Tonight an email in my inbox has invited me to write a list of 5 to 12 things that I need to change about next year's training to be successful.  It's a good plan and one that I should take on because things are occurring to me all the time.  It's a tough one because when I do well it's usually down to an unstructured approach and a life filled with wonderful events and experiences - most entered or even just concocted on the spur of the moment.

I know the things that do work and I need to do more of them.  I also have a plan of how to achieve the time that I need to meet and so all this needs to go down on paper. 

This blog is probably the place for it but right now it's a tiny list and it's one  that needs more thought - not scribbling down now on an empty belly but it will be done... probably after I've eaten some food.  One thing that will go on it though is self belief because, in a world where people tell you that what you're doing isn't worthwhile or good enough far too often, it's healthy to have a bit of "I can do this" in your life.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Worthing Standard Triathlon - ITU European Qualifiers 2016


Driving down to Brighton on a bank holiday Friday.  Watching the queuing traffic on the North-bound carriageway as we sailed through all the way to Gatwick before reaching any traffic.  Then we were off again and arrived, partially sweltering at 10:30pm to unload the car into my friend's house as our weekend base.

I had a poor night's sleep - heat, an open window and noisy neighbours, a snoring tiger who slept in the middle of the bed and left me switching between the edge of the mattress and the cat sofa.

Registration was a pleasure as I bumped into a team mate at registration. She wanted to remain nameless as it was her first standard distance race. Still,  a real pleasure to catch up and offer some encouragement though I was a little stuck for advice to give as she is an accomplished sprint racer.  It was however, frighteningly hot.  I sweltered through a walk in town then drove to registration to save my legs and get some time in an air conditioned car.  I yearned for my cool, stone house in Yorkshire.  We drove the bike route to get familiar with it and a slightly complicated turn-around point and also to pass a bit more time in the air conditioning of the car and just about managed to drink enough to stay hydrated before going to bed.

Thankfully, with a single mattress pulled onto the floor of our room and ear plugs, I had a much better night's sleep and was actually ready to get up at 5:15am for breakfast and race packing as the wind battered the windows in the kitchen.  The sky blackened as we drove east and rain spattered the car - or was it sea spray?  Hard to tell.

In Worthing, the weather was very different from registration.  I actually queued for the loo wearing my fleece. Straight to the start line. We were counted into the water and allowed a quick familiarisation swim before being pulled out to do an impressive running start into the crashing waves. They literally were 4 ft tall. On the start line I was laughing. Excited. I would happily have spent all day in there playing on a surf board or just body surfing. I thought the swim was going to be a blast! I rubbed my hands together with glee.

The siren sounded and we threw ourselves at the waves. Belly flopping into the waves seemed more feasible than running and thankfully there was soon enough water to support my weight and I started swimming.

For about 4 minutes I tried to keep with the group but keeping and swimming into are different things and I found my long, slim frame getting buffetted left and right by the waves.  It was almost impossible for me to swim crawl in a straight line and less possible for me to breathe.  I really couldn't time the waves and was either fighting for breath to stay on course or being smacked in the face by a 5 foot wave.

The kayak support were rapidly waving at me to change my line just to stay on the right side of the buoy and once safely around that, things rapidly got worse and I resorted to breast stroke just to keep myself on line and get my breath back.  Every time I stuck my face in the water I got blown inside the buoys towards the shore.  I accidentally swam into another competitor who got quite pissed off with me - justifiably - and when someone started swimming on my feet I just screamed, "oh for fuck's sake, give me some fucking room".  Yeah, it was starting to get a bit tetchy out there.  The woman in front of me didn't seem to be able to believe it and kept treading water, looking around to seek assurance from everyone else that this really was happening, we really were doing this right?  I know how she felt.  I started to wonder if they'd cancel the rest of the races.

Breast stroke it is then.  Possibly my best decision.  I decided a qualifying time was out of the window so I started to relax and just enjoy my day.  Once I'd calmed down I started to swim competitive breast stroke, breathing under the water and properly skimming.  I caught a few people up - still struggling from earlier waves.

I knew I wasn't going to turn around at the first buoy because that had been from the sprint race so looked towards the second buoy.... but then another one appeared!  SHeesh.

I kept going with breast stroke.  Having tried a sneaky crawl and been nearly drowned again I decided it wasn't a good idea and got back to the breast stroke.  At least the return to base was downhill (with a tail wind).  Around the buoy it was hard to see where to go.  A lot of people were cutting a straight line for transition which seemed like a massive short cut to me and I'm still not happy with some of the record-breaking swim times on the results sheet.  I stuck out towards the line of buoys so I wouldn't get dq'd or washed to shore forcing me to swim back out to finish.  At times I had people coming the other way swimming within 2 feet of me as they were being washed inshore.

Finally, I cut the corner when it felt reasonable to do so and clambered out feeling deidedly battered.  A painful run up a rocky beach followed by a gravelly carpark and I could get my cycling kit on.

I decided for a fleece jersey to cover the impending cloud-doom and gusty conditions and don't regret it.  I only felt hot once or twice and the heavens opened briefly on the course.

The ride out of town passed without fail.  Impressive given the potholes and speed bumps.

Out of town the ride was pleasant - undulating and the climbs suited me down to the ground.  Although not steep, I had to put some effort in to the long climbs.  I got passed by a guy on the ups and caught him back up on the flats and downhills.

Looking at my watch and doing a bit of maths I realised that my swim couldn't have actually been that bad.  I must've still managed to pull a 32 minutes swim out of the bag.  I mean it's not great but I've qualified with less.  I was still competitive.  I put a bit of effort in after that.

I got a brief draft of a tesco lorry passing on the best part of the course.  Obviously I immediately backed off to the recommended distance but Tesco lorries don't half pull!

I ground out the bike ride in 1hr 22min.  Pretty pleased.  Not as good as Bala but still competitive.

Coming back into base I knew I could look forwards to seeing Lucy on the run and of course, TSK, who was out with his mountain bike.

I had a good run transition but didn't pick up any gels.  Oh well, I'd have to manage.  What I did know was it was going to be windy - well, half windy!  Tail wind out, head wind in.  With two laps to do, it was on-load, off-load.  I was running well.  A little wobbly but that would go away.  I hammered it down the straight.  I was getting passed by a lot of people but I mostly put this down to much faster runners on their second lap getting ready to finish.  I waved to some of the other 40s girls, well ahead of me going the other way.

Lucy was at the turnaround point offering cheers and shouted, "find someone to run behind" as I turned into the headwind.

A man came past me and I got in behind him and stuck with him as long as I could but the pace was not sustainable and I didn't just want to blow up so I dropped back to my own pace at the pain of running into the headwind.  Then the engineer in me realised that if I couldn't run behind a person I could at least run behind the beach huts.  Genius. That saved me some effort.

Onto lap two and Lucy had headed home to race Steve back to the house from Worthing.  I still thought I was going to see her though which made me keep going - at least keep looking like I knew what I was doing.  Back at the final turnaround point and I caught up a lady with red hair.  I drafted her for a while but she just wasn't going fast enough anymore.  I didn't want to pass her and then die in the wind but I really thought I could do better so I came past and encouraged her to sit behind me for a bit so we could work together to the finish line.

Unfortunately she couldn't keep up with me and I left her behind.  A blonde lady came past me and I sat behind her up to the lap 2 turnaround where she picked up a band and headed out on her second lap leaving me to run into the headwind on my own until the finish.  I was back to drafting beach huts.

Finally the line came into view.  A drop down from the beach promenade into the finishing field and a push for the extra few seconds to finish.  No gels - so a perfectly balanced lead up to the race.  I knew I'd done everything right this time except for a few seconds wasted in transition.  A race I could truly be proud of and one I found incredibly enjoyable with a side order of spending time with great friends over the weekend.

Only one thing remained, did I get a qualifying time for Kitzbuhel or not?  Well, upon initial inspection it appeared that I had, with the winner of my AG finishing in 2:24 and me in 2:50, giving me 118% of the winner's time.  However, a lady moving up into 40-44 AG next year did finish faster in 2:21:38 (20:54, 1:16, 42:14), putting me 0.17% outside a qualifying time.

Am I disappointed?  No, not really.  Unlike last year, I didn't invest this whole year in AG qualifying, it would have been the cherry on a rather tasty cake - a cake largely made from Iron distance, with a thick layer of Half Ironman cream in the middle and a surprising quantity of enjoyable jam underneath.  The icing is having made enough time to prepare for a very enjoyable summer holiday experience on the mountain bike (more to follow) and the coffee that goes with the cake is figuring out just where I feel I might like to otherwise direct my efforts for next year and I'm quite excited about that.

Number of entrants: 522
Number of brave starters: 411
Number of people still competing after the swim: 367
Swim: 32:28 306th, 100/110 19/20
T1: 3:07 352! 345/361 105/110 19/20
Bike: 1:22:24 277th (normality restored) 59/110 10/20
T2: 1:16 298th 81/110 17/20
Run: 50:57 (nowt special but enough) 288th 67/110 10/20

So... swim training it is then!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Positive Anxieties?

Morning running tale Rain, heavy nettles and mud Ouchy midriff fail

I woke up at 4am, worrying that the car had no insurance for its impending trip to Europe.

Got up and ate a banana, hoping I'd fall asleep again but it was no good. Thankfully, work laptop was at home so I logged on, put my mind at rest and set about going back to bed.

Then I started worrying about getting all my kit on my bike for the trip. It all worked last week and I had spare space left in a backpack for dry / clean clothes but since then I've made a long mental list of additional bits to take and now I'm not sure if it will all go. A lot of little things mounts up to more bags. I also received some new kit yesterday which should prove to be more robust than the Restrap stuff I bought initially. That keeps dropping bits - mainly into my wheel - not good!

I got out of bed again at 5am. I still didn't manage to run yesterday so I decided I would run now. It's the best way to ease anxiety - it really is. I've found this when I've been away with work. There's nothing like a sleepless night followed by a 3am run - or staying up late and having a 2am run before bed time. Nothing like it at all.

So I dressed in warm-ish running gear and ate some cereal, fed the cats (I was actually up before the cats got in!!!) and set off up the hill in the rain wearing a thin wind-proof to keep the chill of the rain off. It was insufficient to keep the rain out but I didn't want to get too hot.

By the time I reached the top of the Rivelin Valley, the rain had stopped and I wore my coat open to dry it before stripping it off, bundling it in my palm and running the rest of the run without.

How far? I kept going till I got fed up then turned around and went back. So I turned around at about 4 miles, dithered a little and then ran it back. I put on a burst of speed for the downhill which left me doubled-over trying to manage my digesting breakfast and breathe at the same time. Once I felt better, I did a fast run along the river, just enjoying the flow. When I reached the Rivelin Road, I decided to take a fast turn down the road - since there was still virtually no traffic on the road yet.

Bliss, fast, quiet - being suddenly away from the gurgling noises of the river. 7 miles in total so I treated myself to a walk up the hill.

I got home at 8am and made coffee. What a brilliant start to the day. Why don't I do this more often? (because I hate the bit I always forget about - the bit in the middle where I can't decide which path to take because I'm so bloody tired and I just wish everyone would go away.

Still, maybe another time huh?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Thoughts before Worthing (think Worthers Originals).

Worthers Originals
I can't remember the name of this race I'm going to next week.  It's not a place I know anything about.  I had to look up where it is.  I might have been once, but can't quite be sure.

I have to think of the delicious childhood sweets, to recall the name of the place.  Sometimes "Worthing" gets a "ton" on the end of it but Worthington is in Leicestershire so I'm not going there... at least I hope I'm not going there as I'm staying in Brighton.

Worthing is the only qualifying race I can make for the Europeans next year - Liverpool having been filled before I was ready to enter and the Ellesmere race clashing with this year's Europeans.  So I have one shot at it.

I haven't put nearly as much specific effort into this race as I did when I qualified last year at Bala.  I've done a lot of running but none of it short and fast.  I've done a lot of cycling now to get ready for Torino Nice - but none of it fast and flat.  I've done a bit of very pleasant swimming but I'm not sure how that will see me perform in the sea swim at Worthing.  All I can hope is I fare better than a few others because I am less prone to wobbles of confidence in the waves and more likely to take anti-sickness pills on the basis that I can feel ill on a flat lake in August.  And the yoga!  Let's not forget the yoga which I've done with reasonable regularity, either in classes or at home / work.

I seem to have a brick wall outside my front and back doors today.  I've dressed like a runner but so far have failed to exit the doors.  Possibly I am too lightly dressed like a runner and need my leggings to combat the wind and rain squalls which seem to be abiding.  According to my records, I last ran on Friday last week - 8 days ago - when I achieved only 6.3 miles per hour and it hurt.  I thought the lunchtime run was back.  It has continued to evade me all of this week and so I will be no faster. I may not even qualify.  There's no excuses about resting up.  I'm just going to be slow, but dammit, I'll do my best.

But what can I say about this year other than it has been an absolute blast?  A mixed bundle of insignificant results.  23rd in the European tri champs, 13th in an Ironman - and last, 11th in a half Ironman which I enjoyed immensely.  

Since the Legend Half, I have been working on my cycling.  For once, my bike ride was the slowest - 58th in the swim, 60th on the bike and 52nd in the run.  With a 700km mountain cycle ride for my holidays I decided it was time to get ready for the mountain bike and have ridden no other bike since.  

So what can I do to give my fitness a kick in the proverbial for next week?  I've been sneakily dreaming of turbo sessions.  Something that many of my team mates are currently celebrating completing prior to their Ironman races.  Me?  I can't bring myself to get on the thing whilst the weather is good.  Something to do with being a bit old school and considering myself a real cyclist who rides to work regardless and is therefore too tired for turbo at the end of the day.  Something to do with having to tidy up the kitchen before I do turbo.  So I wonder if I'll manage it today.  Whilst I'm sitting on the sofa covered in cat at the moment, it doesn't seem likely but with autumnal weather and those walls outside the back door and the womens' Olympic triathlon on the TV, who knows what might happen.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Inaugral "Legend" Half Triathlon at the Snowdonia Triathlon Festival

Plas y Brenin National Mountaineering Centre is truly a wonderful place. With an almost perfect view of Snowdon, a bar, restaurant and £70 a night for comfortable beds and hallways decorated with epic images.  Make it the registration, transition and start line for a triathlon and I am SOLD! Right there! Sign me up!

5.30am is never a sociable hour but it's better than 3.30am Iron-o'clock and thanks to Plas y Brenin I had absolutely nowhere to get to except the bottom of our stairs for registration. I then slipped out to the bike shed to number Rosie Red and check the bolts were tight from the headset changed last week.

I got my number on in my room then returned to the bike lot with my kit, sidestepping officials as the bike shed exited straight onto transition. Set up done it was time to get my wetsuit half-on then walk over a small pedestrian bridge for the race briefing at the start.

Wiping the midges off, we all reassured each other of the viability of the task ahead. I squeezed my vest on under my wetsuit to play it safe in 16 degrees water then got myself in at the last minute as usual. I  was pretty proud of myself for making less girlie noises than some of the men then set about trying to keep up with someone,  anyone, during the swim.

Unfortunately most around me seemed to be really poor sighters… or maybe it was just me? I couldn't bring myself to swim in a massive loop just for the benefit of sitting on someone's feet so I stuck to my line and ploughed on alone… aware that there were always people off to my right.  Maybe they were enjoying the benefits of a lighter current nearer the shore but still, I was keeping pace and not getting left behind as I swam my straight line.

The group came together at the first buoy then they looped out again and I continued on my straight path.  I  did start to doubt that I had the energy for two laps but as I reached the end of the first, I still felt good and actually sped up a bit.

The pattern continued until towards the end of the lap when I started to catch up some big guys.  They were a bit of a distraction and started to put me off getting out of the water... or at least it seemed to take longer than necessary.

Eventually I was there.  I hit the lap button at 47 minutes.  EXACTLY the time I had expected for my first lap at Kielder Ironman. Galling but that's low temperatures for you.

The run into transition was horrible under foot with my feet suffering a combination of numbness brought on by extreme pain (or vice versa). Once back at my bike I stood on my neighbour's towel (long since gone) for some respite from the gravel while I managed a pretty decent exchange of shoes (ahhh the relief), addition of a jersey plus pocketed water proof and grabbed food.

TSK was apparently just setting off out of the bike hut with his ride to see me disappear off down the road.

The first half of the ride passed mostly without incident. The pleasant passing of the climb to the top of the Nant Gwynant Pass then the ride down to Beddgelert. The descent where I was glad I had a dry layer on to keep my shoulders warm in the cool shade. It was, after all, still only 8.30 am.  At Kielder I had only just been getting out of the lake.

Here there will be a picture - paid for but not yet delivered

There were some typical Welsh country lanes and then we slithered down to the coast to make our way around the housing and industrial estates on the edge of Portmaddog before the real climbing started.  Thankfully at Tremadoc I found my perfect race loo and nipped  into the pebbledashed luxury public toilets in the car park. Ample bike parking inside, no people so I could keep an eye on Rosie Red through the open door and most importantly, an adequate supply of paper. As soon as I stopped my glasses fogged without the breeze to clear them leading to a slightly blurred and seedy view of the world.

I rode the very steep hill climb out of Tremadoc with my glasses on the end of my nose, glad I didn't have to stop for a train on the crossing half way up.

It had been a quiet and lonely start to the bike with a few swimmers weaker than me passing early on and then no-one to chase.  A few big climbs started to turn things around though.  When I reached the climb around the back of the Slateman quarry I was joined by Nick from Macclesfield.

I caught him on the climb approaching Maentwrog and then he passed me back saying I would catch him when it got steep.

In fact I caught him on the descent on the other side as he stopped to answer the call.

We exchanged places for a while and had a chat going over the next pass through Ffestiniog as he told me that the hard bit was still to come.  This was just after 30 miles and about the first time I saw TSK riding the other way.  TSK insisted that I had done the hard bit but I was less convinced at the time (we still had 530m to go). I was still pleased to have got more mileage in than him. You can't really compare your performance on any one day to a random selection of competitors but husbands make great benchmarks.

Nick promptly left me for dead after that climb. I had him in my sights  for a while and then he disappeared on the lanes approaching  Capel Curig.  Another roadie followed me for a while after he asked what we were racing, he decided my bike was good for a draft into the next town. He turned left as I went right in Bewtsy Coed, wishing me luck for the rest of the day.

One climb to go - a long steep uninspiring open main (for Wales) road. It was  dual carriageway to give trucks a crawler lane. There was insufficient traffic for it to be a problem though and all motorists passed single file. I'd reccied it the night before in the car but I should've realised how hard it would be after 45 miles of riding on the tt bars.
Here there will be another picture, paid for but not yet delivered

For a moment I panicked when I saw a blue track on my garmin, starting to think I had overshot the race HQ but then realised that it was the river way down in the bottom of the valley.

I returned to transition to a spattering of cheers and happy that there were still a few gaps on the bike racks.  I knew I had been slow though and left transition with the stated intention of catching some people up.  TSK was still out on his bike so I stated my intentions to the young man at the water station. I  don't think he was interested.

I took a  backpack with me for the run. I was still in Ironman mode, not sure how warm it would be, so had plenty of water and I wanted a coat in case it got wet and windy. I doubt I was slower for it and was definitely faster for being able to sip constantly from my water instead of gulp from aid stations then run dry until the next one.  It's personal choice and many would disagree with my approach but some of those people are the the ones I pass gulping water at aid stations or suffering cramps from dehydration.

I hadn't really reccied the run and had only taken a cursory glance at the map.  As far as I was concerned it went up and down a valley. The map showed some kind of a  loop at the end but I assumed this was part of the sprint race happening on the same day.

All I knew was we went out of transition and turned right.  This led to  big flight of around 30 steps all the way up to the road. Argh! Down to walking speed already. An enthusiastic marshal cheered me up the steps as I grumbled about the cruel beginning.

Across the road and onto trail proper.

A beautiful open track. Rocky but solid and suitable for trail shoes rather than fell shoes.  I was glad it was dry because my shoes can be a bit slippy in the wet. I was a little disheartened by the absence of any other people in sight for me to catch and was still feeling a little tired from last week's fell race. I  had another short walk to get used to being on my feet up the first short sharp climb and then started jogging.

The route ran on the opposite side of the river Afon Llugwy up to Llyn Ogwyn below Tryfan.  A beautiful looking road on the other side of the river, I kept one eye out for TSK on his way back from his ride but mostly I was looking where I was going, navigating between the rocks, grassy tufts and occasional cow.

After 1 mile I was properly woken up by the first athlete running back down the hill towards me.  I gave him a high 5. Actually a very British, discreet, low 5. And I wished him good luck. He had a remarkable lead, in fact I started to wonder if everyone else had got lost but eventually second place arrived with a group of around 5 behind including the first woman who got a lot of cheers from me.

I counted the rest of the women in until I forgot where I was counting and chose not to give duff information out.

Across open moorland now. I could see a steady stream of runners coming in towards me but still no one going in my direction. Still, the on-comers were giving me plenty of encouragement if they weren't wearing the face of pain too much.

The route undulated a little then rose to the main road at the Lynn Ogwen. The aid station offered me a drink but I thanked them and kept going. On the road I passed Nick from Macclesfield coming the other way so I knew I was getting near to the turn around point. There were now a stream of people I had recognised off the bike.

I was slightly uncomfortable not knowing where the turnaround point was, reminding me that a little knowledge of the route goes a long way - even for events you're just doing for a giggle because you switched your entry from another event only 5 months earlier and you only chose this event only because its monetary value matched that of the event you withdrew from.

At the top of the hill, the road dropped slightly then the course turned into a carpark for the Tryfan tourist path. A marshal was standing on the wall trying to look as bright yellow as possible guiding us around the wall and hoping that we would be able to run around the masses of hill walkers congregating to tackle Wales's Most Impressive (though not biggest) peak.

Around the wall it was time to retrace my steps, slightly alarmed to find there were more people with me in their sights than I had realised.

I took a glance at my watch. It said 1:02! I was on for a sub 2hr half! Hang on, I thought, that would mean it's short. I decided that the race organiser would have some trick up his sleeve. Still, realising that I was running quite well and was now "on the way back" I could start trying properly. If I had no one to chase I could at least race my own half marathon pb.

Damn that end-of-race heel strike
Back past the water station where I saw Rachel. We'd cheered eachother on when I caught her on the bike. She was stopping for a drink and well on her way to completing her first half Ironman.

Across the moor again then starting the descent. The undulations had been imperceptibly gaining height on the way out and now were opened up before me to view.  Away in the distance I could see two targets running the same way as me.

Brakes off I started a downhill run that many a dark peaker would be proud of, driving up the little hill climbs.  At one point I  thought the lady ahead of me had stopped but in fact she was crossing the stile and had stopped at the top to reverse down climb the steps.  I reached they stile, climbed it, hands on top, swung legs through then vaulted onto the ground and got running. I picked her up just before the campsite then had a momentary panic when I couldn't see any signs and didn't know which strip of tarmac to follow.

Then I recognised a tent that I had been admiring on the way out and carried on the right route being reassured soon after by a piece of striped tape tied to a bush.

Onwards to the next victim who I caught just as the course veered off onto a slightly different approach to the 'village' of Plas y Brenin. This was where the organiser was going to make his distance up, I thought.

Serendipity was shining on me.  I passed a guy walking his bike back to the finish.

He looked at me intently and said, 'straight on the road to the centre, don't turn off!'

I wondered what he could mean.

2 minutes later I knew. There were some red arrows from a previous event pointing down a track to the chapel. I did as instructed, stayed on the road and sure enough was directed by marshals back down those steps to what I thought was going to be the finish. Apparently a few other runners had followed the red sign and, on seeing finishing runners on the other side of the field, had ploughed across the field and a wet river crossing, only to be directed back to the centre, through the car park and back on course, one half mile the worse off.

I didn't check my garmin, I was too busy worrying about a last minute sprint  from someone behind me so it was a big surprise whèn I discovered that I couldn't get to the finish and there was a man offering me a drink. 

By this point they must've had a few confused competitors because his answer to my question, 'where do I finish?' Was, 'you've still got a mile and a half to go'.

Ah. That was the end of my ambition for a sub 2 hour half marathon or even to slip in under 2:06, my time in the Sheffield half marathon last year. Still, I had those other people to stay ahead of, could still get a bloody good time for a hilly off road half marathon and I was facing a massive wall of a climb.

Hands on knees and a spot of yogic breathing. 

A woman and her son cheered me on at the top of the climb. I needed it.

Down the hill on a hard packed trail. The pounding descent ricocheting through my knees but there was someone else plodding along in front, having a little walk.  I passed him. A marshal directed me down a hill to 'do a loop' before getting to the finish. Oh my this race is cruel! For every  downhill I knew I would have to come back up but then there was another person to pass.  Yes! 

A line up of cheery athletes out for a recce  for tomorrow's standard distance cheered me on. 'Thanks I really need that' I said, and meant it. They cheered louder.

Past a sign with a U-turn arrow and the word 'Legend' written on it. The marshal was sitting on the gate cheering.

'I don't know about Legend', i said but I do feel dizzy.  I meant with all the twists and turns but he took me a little too literally and jumped to his feet to administer first aid, as I rapidly explained that I was just kidding and did not need rescuing.

Then that hill climb back out.  I had a few comical exchanges with my fellow runners. It seems many of us were oblivious to the little sting in the tail of this race. I was just relieved, despite the pain, that it wasn't going to be a short race.

I cheerfully waved to the marshal I had just passed  minutes earlier,  knowing it really was all downhill to the finish line now.

As I rounded the corner the standard athletes were there again and cheered at me as I whined, it hurts so much. I was trying to stay ahead of runners I knew were on a blinder, like Ashley who was eating up places. Then I saw the finishing arch.  The big numbers counting down.  Was there some imaginary time line to beat? I hadn't even looked up my last time for a half Ironman. I did slide in under 7 hours but with 10 minutes to spare so no need for a sprint and proving just how annoying my 16:30 time was for Ironman but giving me the satisfaction of actually having raced this distance and not just survived it but enjoyed it .

The array of cakes,energy bars, fruit and drinks available was overwhelming and the little girl giving out teeshirts and momentoes (a rather lovely engraved slate coaster) was struggling to get athletes attention. She was a diligent collector of timing chips and very sweet.

To be able to walk from finish line to bike shed then into my shower in my room was pure bliss. Many other athlete tripped over their shoe laces and fell into the bar, finding themselves drinking a pint of Welsh beer and watching tye sun process across the sky in the late afternoon.

Me, I  had a power nap before checking the results on the off chance I had won a prize. There didn't seem to be many fv40s ahead of me but then we are all pretty young-looking as athletes so I had to cope with a fourth place. I  am extremely proud of that for a race that I wasn't taking that seriously 1 month after Ironman and 1 week after a marathon-esque fell race.

Once I had a chance to recover we joined the bar goers for lunch. Overhearing the winning woman talking about a lady who cheered her on who was wearing a rucksac, I mean, what for??? Shrugs, because we can't all be out there for just 5 hours m'dear. Each to their own.

Can you see Snowdon, just over there, not in the distance in the slightest?
It was a weird twist of events that brought me to do a second half Ironman. Impressive since 4 years ago I said I would never do it again. Looking back at the "Day in the Lakes" I thought I was as fit as I would ever be in my life. 2 Ironman events and 4 years later, though still a back marker, I fared so much better and smashed a splitting 1 hr 25 minutes off my previous time.

It seems that I can't wait until next year's season.

Swim: 42:58 (57th) 1.9 km fair waters. Like swimming in well-brewed (cold) tea.
T1: 5:00
Bike: 3:46:10 (60th!) 56.7 mi, 780m climbing
T2: 2:44
Run: 2:15:56 (52nd) 13.6 mi, 462m climbing

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Holme Moss Fell Race

The stupidest start to a fell race day.

Saturday night: "Yesss, race starts at 11am, so I'm just going to leave this here and prepare in the morning". 

On Sunday morning, through the fog of pre-coffee brain, I spent 30 minutes trying to figure out the route description vs. published map, only to realise I was reading a route description for a race in October.  I found the right route and in doing so, discovered that the event I was about to undertake was my first "AL" event - ie. beastily long and beastily hilly. This was going to feel like a marathon.

Once I'd drafted the right route on to my map and put it into my Garmin course list to check the distance (18 miles not 15-16) I had to scramble everything together quick, sharp.  Unloaded the washing machine and put my race vest on wet to dry it out before packing most of my kit (we won't need hat and gloves, surely?) and jumping into the car.

I put the postcode in the satnav - shit! I was due to arrive 3 minutes before the start!  Me and my stupid faffing around.  Still, I had committed to doing this today so decided to still go in the hope of getting there a bit earlier and the start being delayed.

The roads were thankfully quiet and I only had to overtake one Rover driving at 35 mph on country lanes.  As I drew into Holme I suddenly realised that the post code I put into the Satnav was probably the one for the October race.  

Good news: I was no longer late, because at 10:40, I was almost there!

Bad news: I had no idea where I was going.  

I stopped and got out all the electronics - first my phone before realising that the route was on my Garmin and so I asked it to take me to the start of the course.  As the Garmin loaded satellites I realised I had the old-school version - a Map! and I had marked the course on that.  So I set about trying to figure out which of the tiny lanes out of Holme I should be driving on.

As I drove up the steep and cobbled Washpit lane, my fuel indicator light came on.  Cascade of bloody errors or what>???

My road navigation is useless so I reverted to following the Garmin directions.  To the frustration of other drivers, stopping regularly to get my next instruction.  Finally I pulled up at the end of a row of parked cars with people wearing brightly coloured vests jogging up the road.  I couldn't decide what to bring for a moment and half emptied my bag of stuff I didn't think the organisers would expect us to carry.  I took out my waterproof coat but then put it back in.  Not because I thought they'd make us carry it but because I'd rather have that than a base layer if we were hit by a torrential thunderstorm and high winds - even in July.

I jogged over to the registration point, happy to see that most other people were bringing rucsacs too.  Usually I am the only one when I do and mostly I had brought mine for the camelbak carrying rather than the kit in it.  

As I was second to last to register, I realised that they were doing kit checks for every runner. "Good", I thought... "oh no", I thought, "What have I forgotten?"  Panic set in.  I still registered - I had to in order to borrow some gloves.  I had a hat on my head, even though it was designed to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my fair head, rather than to keep my head warm.

Then I started to panic about my waterproof trousers and in the 30 seconds it took me to register, my brain changed its recollection of them being removed from my bag - not in the car 5 minutes ago but in my house over an hour ago.  Thankfully, the organiser ran over to his house (right next to my car parking space) to fetch me his waterproof trousers.  What an embarrassment!  My apologies to anyone from Dark Peak reading this!

Let me put it here and now that after the race, when I returned the trousers to the organiser, I not only thanked the man but I also explained to him that in my panic I forgot that I had left my pair in the car right there.  I am hoping that just made me sound batty, not an irresponsible numpty.

As I walked to the start chatting with my team mate, Alison Wainwright, she explained that all kit was compulsory for an AL race.  Now things are dawning on me and yes, I probably should have read the rules before setting out.  Perhaps committed to this race a few weeks earlier - rather than on the day, having noticed its existence on Tuesday this week.  Don't get me wrong, I was physically prepared.  Having run a marathon at Kielder a month ago and done a few fell runs since I had both the distance and power in my legs to complete this race (though potentially not one any longer or harder).

We talked to another lady doing her first AL race then all set off down the track at a lovely leisurely marathon-finishing pace.  So pleasant compared to the 5 and 10k races I've been doing recently.  A tractor followed us all of 1.5 miles to the end of the road before turning into a field, the weirdest broom wagon I have ever had the pleasure to be drafted by.

We were soon down the lane and on to open moorland for the first time - relief.  Everyone settled into a place before the wide path ran out and we started to descend like a conga line down an increasingly steep slope which eventually turned into a narrow rabbit warren run of a track through the bilberries.  It was runnable, but just, and only because it was dry.  A few runners stepped to the side to let faster descenders pass then it was goodbye to dry feet as we descended the easier yet sloppier path to the head of the watershed of Ramsden clough where we crossed over a (seemingly pointless by now) bridge.  At least the climb over the other side was not so bad though my neighbour reminded me the we had to retrace our steps on the way back - not a prospect I was looking forwards to!

The path gradually ascended the hillside now towards Holme Moss transmitter station so we could see the top of the hill for some time but most of my attention was focused on what I was doing with my feet through the grasses and heathers and occasional boulder.  One final climb to the road and the lady next to me (Mrs Tod from Todmorden) was complaining she felt rubbish and we'd only done 2 miles.  I corrected her to 3.5 miles so now I knew how far the final run back would be - about 4 by the time we had reached the summit.

In front of me, a lady and (what I presume was her dad) were running a little and walking a little and although I was gradually catching them up, they started running consistently and defensively every time I drew close to the point at which it was getting tedious but hey, that's racing.  A hardy bunch of marshalls and mountain rescuers were waiting to cheer us through, though there was no hardiness required on an ambient and lovely day.

Having started with a slightly less than full camelbak and drunk quite a lot getting to the top, I took on a 500ml top up of water into a small bottle that I keep easily accessible in my rucsac pocket and set off down the next gully into Heyden Brook before Mrs Tod and girlie and her dad. This was almost as steep but this time, merely lined with tussocks which bent under foot when we were least expecting it.  I warned Mrs Tod and she said she was already being careful, having turned an ankle last week.

We crossed the stream safely and let girlie and her dad go ahead yet again up the other side and now the payback started.  For all this hard climbing I realised that about 12 of the next 14 miles had to be flat-ish running to make up the mileage for all these short, sharp ups and downs we had to do.  So long as they weren't desperately hard bog-hopping bracken thrashing, heather slogging miles, I'd be OK.

We caught up a chap who was having a crise de confiance.  He was probably short-sighted and had lost visual on the massive field of runners ahead of us and suddenly couldn't see any flags on the hillside.  Alison had already warned me that sometimes this run wasn't clearly marked and anyway, I could see a massive group of people across the horizon in the distance, all running.  I don't think he believed me though but he had no choice but to follow me, asking if I did the route before, asking if the lady behind us did the route before.  He had so many doubts he was starting to make me wonder but I reassured him (us) that I could see all those runners over there and that there was definitely the crags above Crowden that I used to climb on all those years ago with Jo Simpson and Adam Whale.

Thankfully, we came across a big taped corner and set off from Westend Moss on the right direction and down towards Crowden car park.  As we descended,  Mrs Tod came by and shot off into the distance (clearly feeling better) then girlie and her dad came past me again, only for me to pass them back when she tripped and stumbled on the open path.  No-one laughed because we've all been there but she was fine except for being a bit winded and having a slightly bloody knee.  I checked she didn't need my one plaster and carried on, whereupon they passed me again before following my opinion on the correct route to descend to Crowden instead of carrying on across the hillside and ending up out of the way on the A57.  And so we descended into Crowden valley along with Mrs Tod and three in Orange.  Three in Orange being very fast descenders who passed everyone on the steeps to the carpark.

At Crowden I hadn't drunk enough water to warrant a stop so I continued past the others and on familiar territory of running routes I have taken on sneaky runs after business trips to Manchester.  So much more enjoyable in the daylight wearing shorts and vest than hauling head torch, fleece leggings and five layers around.  We followed a path up to the bottom of the Crowden Crags, girlie and her dad, gradually catching me up but then as I stopped to transfer the water from my bottle to my now, empty camelbak, they also decided to have a rest before the steep ascent and dad, who looked like he was more used to sprinting on roads, set about stretching out his very nice, wiry, strong legs.  For the first time, girlie was looking more relaxed although from her calls of "yay, half way" at 7 miles, I hoped she wasn't going to be disappointed to find out we still had 10 of the almost 10 miles to go.  We specifically, ascended the edge of Ladlow rocks, being glad that I've got long legs and used to be a rock climber.  As I made my way up the hillside I was really pleased to have caught up three of the people in front, feeling like we'd all closed a big gap to the next runners and were no longer a little splinter group at the back.

There were angels at the top.  Nope, just more marshals, mountain rescue and a lady runner with bags of water bottles.  I had plenty of my own but never say no to a free drink and I was quite thirsty enough to down quite a lot of water then more payback on the long path to Black Hill, the main summit at 582m AOD.

We were following flags - gritstone flagstones - across much of the moorland and so it wasn't at all challenging but after that much climbing, the slightest inclines were a bit hard.  I had a long gap to cross but could see that the threesome ahead were walking all the up hill bits.  I resolved to keep running no matter what.  At some times it seemed like I was running slower than their walk but that couldn't be true because it wasn't steep enough for that.  So I trudged on and eventually heard the chatter.  It was the lady I had met on the start line who was doing her first AL race.  I heard her chatter for quite some time as I ploughed on to get gradually closer and closer, eventually catching them up when the flagstones ran out and the boggy moorland began.  We were diverting off the Pennine Way at the request of the RSPB and following a dirt track through the peat bogs.  Not as bad as it sounds, given that the peak has had a few hot weeks to dry out a bit.

I caught up the group of three and had a brief exchange about how well we were doing and what we'd been eating to keep ourselves going.  By now I'd eaten an entire peanut butter sandwich and half an energy bar.  Having spent the morning reading about cases of hypothermia at last year's Edale Skyline from runners not eating enough, I was feeling particularly gifted at being able to run and eat at the same time.  I think it's an ironman thing, or maybe just a hippo thing and works particularly well when you can wash it down with lots of water.

We all got running together, much to my dismay as I like my moorland running quiet and peaceful and the chatter just went on and on. We all got to a water station together and I took a small cup of water as the three passed by.  However, my thirst quenching "Ahhh" must've inspired them and they also stopped for refreshments, giving me a chance to get slightly ahead and focused on chasing down Mrs Tod.  But, the three weren't stopped for long and the chattering followed.  It was a relief when, as I jumped across yet one more bog to hear the words, "I might have to have a little walk again or I won't make it back".  Gradually the words faded into the distance and I put in some effort.  And finally, that bloody transmitter mast was getting closer and closer.

So were other people.  I passed two men togther - one of which (White Boy - white man, white shorts, white hat) came with me.  A black man walking - particularly pleased with passing someone so fit and fast-looking, a pasty white wiry guy who complained he'd had cramp.  I still had a tail reaching Holme Moss for the second time and caught up Mrs Tod who had stopped for some time to drink.  I took a free glass of water (meaning one that I wasn't going to have to carry) and decided that what was left of the 500ml I'd added at the bottom of Ladlow rocks would be enough to get me back to the finish, 4 miles away.

Going across the road I caught a Mr Pennine who let me go ahead (this Dark Peak vest gets you favours I find!).  We slithered down the hill and Pennine was good enough to point out when I missed a flag and started to descend too early into the valley below.  Gratefully I clambered out before I'd lost too much height with him behind and Mrs Tod who had caught me up, ahead.  Whereas White Boy behind me continued someway down, refusing to believe that the three people above - me, Mr Penine and Mrs Tod knew something he didn't.  I guess he eventually made it out.

As we reached the clough again it was me, Wiry, Mr Pennine and Mrs Tod together.  Skirting around the watersheds, we kept getting an earful of chatter from the other side of valleys.  Mrs Tod flew down the hill behind me like a horse so I let her through and she laughed as we'd be back together in moments.  Sure enough as we picked our way through the bog on the climb, I caught and passed her back.  Then was the hellish climb out - back up the rabbit run and this time I felt like the rabbit.  The hill was so steep my nose was in the billberries and it was easier for me to semi-crawl up the hill.  After all my arms were working way better than my legs by now.  I pushed my fingers in to the bilberries and the ground and pushed forward.  The increased speed gained from using my arms forced my legs to move faster too but unfortunately the bizare position meant I couldn't get enough breath in to my lungs and I quickly expired into rasping, nearly asthmatic breathing more familiar with my zone 4 5km runs.  Calfs started to cramp and I realised I had to do something so I slowed down, stood up a bit, went slowly to regain my breath and then set about the technique again - this time slower and with deliberate yogic breaths, pushing all of the CO2 out before refilling my lungs as much as possible with the next breath in.

It felt brilliant, it felt fast, it was cathartic in the way that rhythmic breating is.  I felt expired at the top, red, fast.  Somehow, wiry white man was still with me but the others were well behind.  I took a drink from a very kind man at the top then set off on a run for that bloody road.

There were two ahead.  Wiry white man and another runner who could have been Dark Peak but wasn't, on closer inspection.  I tried to catch them briefly and was making gains on wiry until he heard me coming and sped up.  With my mind on whether I was doing any damage before next week's half Ironman, I backed off and jogged in.  Getting back in time for the prize presentation going ahead which meant I was getting cheered home regardless.

As I crossed the line someone put two drinks in my hand and i found the nearest concrete step to sit on whilst as small dog climbed onto my knee, licked my face and made himself comfy whilst I chatted to the little boy who patiently explained that they weren't his dogs, he was just looking after them.  They were very nice dogs and enjoyed their company until I was able to remove my shoes and socks and go in stearch of my free sandwich, tea and cake.  Ahhhh.

I sat in a cricket pavillion, listening to the prize presentation and looking out over Holmfirth.  It was a glorious day.  I finished my first AL race.  This is why I don't need to do a marathon.

4 hrs 28 minutes.  17.59 miles. 1285m climbing

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

And on Tuesday I went to Switzerland

Castle Run - The BaselTor at the top of the hill from Muttenz

View through the trees from a bench by the BaselTor

Farmland and forests


Basel City Beyond

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Great Hucklow Fell Race and Hugging Strangers

For some time it has been a thing in my head that I'll ride to a fell race, run it and ride home.  Kind of an inverted Duathlon that plays to my bike skills and just brilliant for longer distance triathlon training.  I have so far managed it once, at the Trunce in 2012 where I rode there after work from Barnsley station and then rode home.  It was messy and left me with bad memories - particularly after a long day at work.  It took me over an hour to ride the 9 miles home.

Last week at work, the idea dawned on me again.  I considered doing it on Saturday but Saturday didn't turn into a doing anything day.  Friday night I'd rode into town for a meal with TSK and then rode up the hill, chasing tiger, arriving completely pooped at the front door and juggled the TV until we'd watched the TdF.

The recovery stood me in good stead for a bike-run-bike day today and so I started checking race details.  The slightly more convenient early afternoon race had been cancelled due to waterlogged fields and so I had to get my S**t together and go if I was going to make the 11am start at Great Hucklow.  A quick check of Google said it would take me 2 hours to ride to Gt Hucklow and I knew I could beat that, not being an average pleb cyclist - just a bit of a crappy club cyclist.
Phoneix In Retirement, loaded up for an 8:45 start
I threw my fell running kit in my Carradice, changed into bike clothes and wished TSK a good day at his bike polo tourney.  He was still sitting in a chair recovering a little from yesterday's matches and hoping that the competition would at least be hungover whereas he had a nice quiet evening in front of the TV with his wife and Chinese food.

Habit turned me right out of the ginnel - up the hill towards the A57, not down into the bottom of the valley.  No sooner had I realised I was going "the wrong way" I also realised I'd forgotten my sun glasses because at that particular moment, I didn't need them.

I could have gone home, down the hill, got my glasses, got on the right route but I just couldn't be bothered and I just wanted to get on with it.  It was spitting with rain and a cloudy rainbow streaked fuzzily across the head of the valley.  The air was warm it was beautiful.  Screw glasses, screw the bottom of the valley.  I wanted to ride high.  I wanted to ride in the sun.

I toyed with the idea of riding over Redmires.  It was set in my mind immediately.  I usually ride home that way but rarely ride out that way so it would make a nice change.  We've wiggled around the back lanes on my way home a lot recently and I tried to do the same today but somehow just got lost in Ranmoor and found myself going the wrong way down a street I recognised.  It was a bit embarrassing but I wasn't going to waste half an hour trying to get out of bloody Ranmoor so I stuck the Garmin onto navigate and let it figure me out.  As I rode past The Sportsman pub it was still telling me to do a U-turn.  Not quite getting the concept of me wanting to ride out along the tops and not do a U-turn to descend 200 m back into the bottom of a valley that I'd only have to climb out of again.

Finally, it got on message.

I was having a good ride.  There were a lot of newbie couples out riding in their bright clothes, new bikes and hawking on running shoes and plastic toe-clips and I passed them all.  One lady looked over her shoulder at me as I said, "Good Morning" in passing and witheringly said, "Oh, you make it look so EASY!!".  She MADE MY DAY.  I muttered something about having been practising for 25 years and shot off down the descent.

I couldn't be bothered to turn the Satnav off and I'm glad I didn't because it took me down the Ringinglow instead of surprise view or Scotsman's Pack and I forgot what a nice descent that is (probably it's been resurfaced since I last did it). I rolled through Hathersage, worried about the transition field for Sheffield Tri Club's HH event next weekend as the fairground has made rather a mess of it, then hit the climb for Abney in as low a gear as I dared.  I knew this road is closed to cars due to land slides and checked with a couple of club riders passing to make sure it was passable for bikes.  Yes.

I was caught up by two Rutland Cc riders who stopped to chat, asking if I knew Jo Jebb from their Saturday morning rides... ha ha! busted!  Now I know your secret training Mrs Jebbers.

They disappeared on the climb, leaving me to pace myself, my bike lock, shoes and big water stash over the final climb.  10:20am and I was going OK and getting close to the start.

As I descended the closed part of the road I passed a few runners coming up and, worrying I'd missed the start, checked with a marshal that they were just warming up.  Phew!  Can I go down that Byway to get to the start? I asked.  Sure, excellent.  I bounced my slick roadie tyres through the mud and gravel to the bottom and then slithered into the car park below the school to lock my bike to a handy pik-nic table, just in time to catch the organiser saying, "Registration, just walk up the hill to the school and sign on there".  Bugger, just come from there - still, there was no back way in.

I found a handy shipping container to get changed in, pinned my number on and went to stand around, wait for the start and cheer in the frighteningly fast juniors.  I had a chat to some fellow Dark Peakers who are always intrigued by my sudden appearance from nowhere.  My attendance is sporadic at best.  It's always lovely to meet new people though and we talked of races done and whether kids would have liked it and where we have been and what we've been doing that's kept us away from fell races.  A lady called Claire was nice to talk to and we chatted at the start line until the whistle went and we ran through the village briefly then down a steep steep slope where my brakes came off and I whooshed past a few people, including Claire.  "See you in a minute" I said, convinced that she would catch me up on a climb.

I ran past a few people until I realised we were queueing for a bit of a woodland single track.  It was a welcome recovery for a while.  Then things opened up again and we were running through long grass that had been flattened by the runners ahead.  It was a bit hairy although there were no falls.  It turned out to be pretty grippy.

Then a turn into a field and, "Watch the puddle" shouted a lady.  It was up to my knees and I got my shorts wet with the splashing.  Puddle / small pond, same difference.  I climbed up the slope and Claire caught me up.  Ha ha! Said I'd see you again.  We both walked together for a bit but then I started running again and, really, didn't stop and didn't see Claire again.  I felt a bit guilty for this but apparently my fell running has not suffered too much from 2 seasons of mostly road running.

Finally there was a top to the hill.  A jovial chap standing by the trig point sent us down the hill and over the rolling tops of grassy moorland with some beautiful roller-coaster, moss and bog cushioned downhills to follow.  I ran fast to stay ahead of the guy behind me, who cooed that they were beauuuutiful downhills.  I would have agreed but didn't have the breath.  When we hit the uphill, I let him go ahead, relieved I didn't have him breathing down my neck anymore.

We met with a road, at which point two runners who I'd just easily passed, passed me back.  "Is it tarmac all the way back now?" one guy said.  "I hope so, I like tarmac!".  He ran past me looking easy and comfortable.  Git.  I ran as fast as I could to stay with them and it was hurting.  The pair of them easily ran away from me. I checked my watch.  I was running at 8mph.  This is my max speed pretty much!

We turned off the road and finally, we descended into some vales somewhere.  The path had been obliterated by previous runners and had turned into a sideways slick.  I asked the guy behind if he wanted to pass and he just said, "No, I'll let you find all the mistakes first".  We caught up Mr Tarmac lover sliding sideways and swearing in the darkness.  Apparently the course was "ridiculous".  We checked he'd be OK and recommended he takes a trip to Accelerate next week to get some new shoes.  I'm pretty sure he was wearing the Saucony Perigrines that I have (and love but they are pants in the wet mud).

Eventually, even my Salomon Fell kings were screwed as we slithered down a muddy slope that was too slidey for my shoes but my shoes were too good for me to just ski down it.  So I didn't know if I was running or sliding.  They guy who hadn't wanted to pass me had no choice.  He flew past on my left, completely out of control.  He was around 8 inches taller than me so had been struggling to follow my line under some of the lower branches - my intention being to use them to break my fall if I did take a tumble.

Finally we exited the woods to two hill climbs remaining.  It took me a while to recover from that downhill but once I did, I caught up the lanky guy and passed him and another runner or two.  The only guy to pass me was a Penistone runner who I am sure had started late as he was powering past most of the field, all suffering from 8 km already on the trail.  We flipped onto the descent track and I tried to call out to a bunch of ramblers who were taking up the entire footpath.  To be honest though, shouting at them just made them scatter randomly so I ran through the open space in the middle of them.  Unfortunately, they then started calling at each other and scattering about the place like little bundles of chaos.  I dodged them as best I could and left them grumbling at the back of me as I ran away unable to hear the mutterings about what I am "supposed to do".  Who knew there was a rule-book?  Onto the byway I'd rode down on my bike, now covered in mud from the passing runners.  I skidded around a corner, expecting to enter the course from a different direction and checking with another runner I was going the right way.  (Phew).

At the finish line I met Mikk Murray (and his beard) and more Dark Peakers whose names I will one day eventually remember.

I watched Claire run in and gave her a celebratory hug, jibbering that I'd waited for her and everything... yeah, right.  She was happy to be back, as I was.  She said her fitness had gone and I believe she should have been about 6 ladies places and 26 overall places ahead of me.  Me, I was just happy to finish and have enjoyed myself with enough dignity to ride home.

We had a chat and I filled up on flapjack and orange squash - literally filling my bell;y and then my bottle for the ride home.

Successfully changed, with dignity, into my cycling clothes I pondered riding down the hill to ride up the clean road but instead settled for a short push back up the by way with my bike.  I was glad I did because I got to cheer in the last two finishers, a chap who was of senior years - good on him - and a lady who looked like she was in serious pain but being escorted down by a team mate / partner / husband.  I gave her the good news that she had less than a minute to go which made her smile a little.  The rest of the bike hike was OK and I was able to get on and get riding as soon as the road was clean.  Bottom gear, spinney spinney.  All OK though.  The steep bit was over quickly and then the rest of the ride to Hathersage was down hill most of the way.

I reached the railway line at Hathersage and struggled - really struggled to climb the hill which is only about 100m long.  Time for a rest and probably lunch.  Any excuse to go into the Outside Cafe.  Sure enough, chips and coffee was exactly what I needed.  Two coffees to be precise.  I contemplated my route home quite a lot but in the end, couldn't resist returning on the route I used on the way out this morning.  It was stunning and traffic free.

I was caught on the climb by a man on a Dawes Galaxy - quite a heavy bike - but he usually rides a tandem with his wife on the back so he was enjoying less weight on his ride and I drafted him for as long as I could - also stealing his tail wind.  We chatted for some time when he caught me too after the Burbage climb.  We rode all the way to the Norfolk arms together then I turned off and we shouted "see ya" to each other.

There's nothing more to report except the climbs on the road from Norfolk arms seemed normal.  I even rode through Redmires and past the Sportsman thinking that I wasn't actually destroyed.  Don't get me wrong, I was tired, but considering what I'd done today, I've been a lot worse, like the time I drafted a 12 year old boy, just to get an easy ride (he was in full Langsett Cycles kit, I might add).

I even managed to swing by the Asda in Walkley to stock up on food for dinner.  It's like I'm somehow making it, a little more every day, to being me again.