Friday, September 22, 2017

Pre 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross

As I prepare for another year somewhere near the mid- to back-of-field listening to one-time bucketlisters moan about the "attrocious" weather and "infuriatingly difficult hills", I ponder that if I was a betting woman and there weren't a massive conflict of interest, I'd put money on myself this weekend... on me finally going sub-5 hours at the 3 Peaks again... after 20 years.

It's a distant wouldn't-it-be-nice which didn't really hold much muster.  More of a pipe dream than a possibility until last year when I got 5h19m after hanging around with my dad for the first road ride out to Ingleborough.  Nothing else went particularly badly to make me believe that it would have been easier to make 5hrs stick but despite finishing with the usual cramp in the last mile - I felt like the day was over too soon last year and I could have done more.

There are a few reasons I shouldn't get a sub-5-hour time.  I haven't run in 3 weeks... 

until this evening when a jog across the valley to retrieve a key went surprisingly easy as I bounced up the 20%hill across the road from us.  I've not done much running but 14 days ago I was probably pushing a (heavily loaded mountain-)bike over the Col de Peas at 2600m.  At that point I swore that it'd be all taper until today... and it pretty much was.

My race bike is filthy.  The last thing I did with it was rode it 564 miles across British Columbia to race it.  Now that we've done two cyclo-cross seasons and bonded over 7 days on the road together she is sufficiently worn in to justify her 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross debut so for the first time ever I will be riding this race on a bike that fits me.  When I was growing up they didn't make race bikes for girls and big bikes then just became what I was used to.  30 years on and my musculoskeletal system can't cope with excessive stretching so all of my limbs will be doing this year's race in the correct position.

I tentatively tugged at my new tubular wheels which might also help me towards sub-5-hour glory.  I thought the glue might, just might, have lasted long enough for this weekend but sadly it was not to be.  I was almost glad they were obviously no good, rather than being maybe good enough to risk.  SO I'm on 3-4 seasons-old tyres, hoping they won't pinch puncture and relying on my old steel steed as backup (yes the big one).  

That's two bikes I have to service tomorrow morning.

On the plus side, in the last 7 weeks I have worked 10 days and spent most of the rest either on my feet, on my bike or recovering from racing/training.  As I have said many times in the last few years, I'll either be exhausted or kick ass.  I can never tell anymore.  After hauling EmVee around the Alps, stepping onto Simon Fell with my cyclo-cross bike is going to be like splashing in the shallows after wrestling with the Kraken.

Whilst the body is heavily protesting with a stiff hip and plenty of impromptu cramps, the mind is at least willing.  And, wouldn't it be lovely to repeat a sub-5-hour finish 20 years since I last did it?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Day 1 of Many

And so one adventure ends and another begins (these two things are related).

I spent my first day sat on my arse on the sofa.  Partly recovering from TNR and also shopping - bikes, lightweight gear, travel.  All I bought was a boat ride.  Everything else is in a spreadsheet.

I don't know if it was the right thing to do but it certainly cheered me up.

I also plotted a route to the start of the TAW (well, two actually) which is half of the freelance course.  So I am now 2.3 of the way to knowing what this event looks like.  Turns out the route between Dublin and Derry is mostly flattish and from what I've seen of google maps, inhabited by the worst of Scottish housing.  I'm therefore optimistic that I will enjoy it more than I expect to.

The important thing is, despite screening till 11pm, I got a fine nights sleep and woke up knowing that I want to move.

Whoever's this image is, I will be using it as frequent motivation over the coming months.



Saturday, September 16, 2017

2017 the 2nd Torino Nice Rally

This year's TNR feels very different to the last for many reasons. Physically it was more - longer, harder, faster, cooler. Mentally it was both more and less challenging.  In some cases we knew what was coming which made life - and planning food - easier. Other times we pushed ourselves to try new extensions and they were new to us and satisfying as we moved faster or harder, were better prepared and we came out of them in one piece.

TSK making new friends early on
On the whole we finished in a better state than we had last year - not so exhausted, still able to move all muscles and all nerve endings, tendons in tact.

What happened to us, or more specifically me, was a personal learning experience - an internal rather than externally influenced outcome. Yes I rode hundreds of miles through beautiful Alpine countryside. I climbed two score vertical kilometres (yes that's 20,000m) and rode back down them again as fast as I could and all in all enjoyed the whole thing more than I even expected to. It turns out you can go back to a race and come away more fulfilled.



What you can also do is be over 16 hours ahead of last year's schedule by day 3. You can use that to tackle one of the hardest hike a bike sections on the entire course when only one other person did and earn kudos from your peers in doing so.




It put us back onto our last-year schedule but then we added in more and the more was so enjoyable, challenging, so enlightening. We were all but alone. We were lucky that we bumped into 3 Italians who helped us along our way at the right time and then they stopped and we continued for 5 more hours. We slept well, ate well, survived happy, breakfasted, reinstated my coffee habit and finished 2 days later than last year, with more of the course complete, more of ourselves stretched and less fucked.

So what did I learn that was so special? That I am ready to race long distance bike rides again and that I am ready to do it on my own, not as a pair. That my own timeline and my own body clock is the most important thing to listen to and that I can organise myself, endure hardships, recover enough, take the right  breaks, adapt my body to life in the saddle and enjoy every moment of it with all my heart. I learned that the sounds of the wilderness keep me going and lull me to sleep when I am ready. I know that unbearable pain can usually go away, given time. Today I know that fatigue from intense effort only really happens after 9 days (at the moment) and even then, only when I stop.

I have seen respect in the form of a knowing nod across  room and it has led me to consider a distance racing future.

I  am more excited than you can know about what is to come. So I am finding it difficult to write about this TNR. it meant so much to me and yet it is just the start of a new chapter in a book, perhaps even a preamble to a sequel.


As I write it is 1am and we have just sat through 1 hr of M1 road works so tomorrow there will be
lie in and laundry and a lot of planning and the  the hard work will start - the prep, organisation, training, bike building and more training.

Things are about to get weird and if you're a friend of mine who lives some way away, you can probably expect a bicycle visit sometime in the next year.

The satisfaction of the finish line

Saturday, September 02, 2017

TNR 2

Things that are exciting me about this ride:


  • It's a holiday with my husband
  • I seem to have learned from last year and will be packing less stuff.
  • Other people are bringing more stuff
  • I have decided to safety blanket my footwear and carry shoecovers.  This should guarantee good weather.
  • Pondering that I'd just like to ride there... from home.  So maybe TSK will get his way and something longer will be in the pipeline next year... I mean, the boat is environmentally appropriate right?  OK not really, but kind of necessary when you live on an island.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Grafham Anglian Water Triathlon 2017 European Triathlon Championships Qualifier

My best result to date in a tri.  When the effects of Alpe d'Huez combined perfectly with a flat, fast course.  It disintegrated quickly into history as my adventures in Penticton, Canada replaced the memories.

It was good for 115% on the ITU Qualifier scale but in retrospect that's not brilliant.  It might still see me in but as it's one week before Alpe d'Huez, might not happen anyway (or at best be inconvenient).  It's good to have options right?

Thoughts on the day:
Swim - Say what now? (awesome!).  Where did it come from?  How can I repeat this next year?
Excellent image from the race photographer
Showing the early signs of athletic palsy



Bike - short, boring but enjoyable flat-out riding.  Having alps in the legs helped with the short climbs.  Would have been faster if I hadn't dropped my chain.

Run - Ow.  Someone collapsed in the heat. Must try harder to get faster times again.
Clearly pleased with myself


Swim: 25:45, 21/31, 107/159, 328/427
T1: 1:48
Bike: 1:09:42 11/31, 61/159, 302/427
T2: 1:23
Run: 50:10 15/31, 85/159, 329/427

Overall: 2:28:50 16/31, 80/159, 160/427

Friday, August 04, 2017

Post Alpine Drizzle

Looking at social media.  All these Athletes getting ready for their big races this weekend.  Oh, I'm so fit.  I've had my last pre race massage.  Eh, all I need to do is rest now.

Bastards.

Here I sit with a resting heart rate 24 bpm higher than it should be and not going down and I'm like. Meh.  Like Sofa.  LIKE FUCK I'M RACING THIS WEEKEND TOO. Like I'm so sitting on the sofa eating plums out of the box but just because there's no nutella.

Yep, that's right.  I'm racing this weekend.

Weeks ago, when I was ill, I gave up coffee.  I hadn't drunk it for days due to the illness and so I'd gone through the worst of cold turkey whilst ill, I thought I'd see it through and just keep on cutting out coffee.  That was 10th June.  I lapsed once - which is unusual for me.  A lapse is usually the end.

I haven't felt any different for giving up coffee but also I haven't been ill and I haven't had any sleepless nights.  I haven't stopped caffeine intake - I still drink tea though more herbal teas get drunk to substitute coffee so I've definitely cut down.

When I'm feeling this bad, I wonder if I should go back to drinking coffee but I won't because I don't miss it as much as this great relief that I permanently feel well, even when I'm feeling rough from recovering from a race.  I'm at home resting today to attempt to recover a bit faster before my race this weekend.  I don't even need the coffee to feel better about my working day... but it would be so nice to have a cup of coffee... but I won't.

I have attempted to qualify for this years world champs twice this year and failed both times.  I don't really mind.  The world champs is in Rotterdam and so not particularly exciting.  It is also on a date that would leave me rushing to get back from the Torino Nice Rally and that is NOT something I want to do.

At both races though, I would have got a Euro's qualifying time... had it been a Euro's qualifying race... but it wasn't.  So this weekend I am going to be attempting to qualify for the european team.  And if I do, I will hang up my bib for the tri season because the other race means me rushing to get TO the Torino Nice Rally - also not really something I want to do.

If I don't qualify, I won't berate myself because I do feel rubbish and I just did a shit hard race which was shittier and harder than most people will realise.  I will glow in the outcome of racing twice in two weeks and pat myself on the back, commit to racing at Bala and try harder next time... but in the meantime, I might also have another day off.

I've read a blog by a blogess who always inspires me.  She writes honestly about how hard it is to train for Ironman as a pro and also about how much she likes beating people when it comes to racing.  Somehow I have lost that connection between the satisfaction of being near the front and racing and a need to train.  I find myself scrambling for ways to remind myself of it - short of reading other people's blogs and occasionally from when I re-read my own posts about past races.  I didn't do a particularly great race at Chester (I mean, it was OK) and Ripon was a bit of a write off because of all the tired from all the Alpine strength training I had been doing and I pushed too hard on the bike to the detriment of the run.

So, despite having a day off, I remind myself that I've promised every race a plan and so here it is for Sunday:

Swim: 30 (but not holding out for this as I've REALLY not done any training except a very steady one last Thursday).
Bike: Another attempt at 1:14 and 19mph but without the headwind at Ripon I might get 20mph for a 1:10
Run: I'd be so chuffed to run a 49 again.  Who knows, it might just be possible on altitude training if I recover in time.  Speed - 7.6mph.

Allowing for 2 min average transitions this would give me a finish time of 2:33. 312/545 (10th FH and 5th FI) at StN Q or 312th/700 in the last qualifier on this course (5th FI 10th FH).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alpe d'HuezTriathlon 2017 - the first in a potentially long list of sequels

Pre race

There are no rides in the UK that can prepare you for the Alpe d'Huez tri. It is possible that only hours of gruelling power sessions on the turbo are the solution. Or if you happen to be particularly keen and rich, 5 weeks in the Alps before the race. I had 3 days.

Tipi in the rain on Sunday and MOnday.
 On the first day I rode 65 miles at a fast pace with a Dutch in line skater called Stephan who was in the Alps with friends from his winter training spin club. Although it wasn't planned, this ride turned out to be a great reminder of how to descend as he shot off down every hill ahead of me.  There are no photos of this ride as parts were rather cold and wet and the rest went down hill with great speed!

On the other 2 days I just spent time at altitude, encouraging the body to adapt by doing short runs and then chilling out and doing chores. You can rock up the day before and do this race but if you want to feel good about the run, some acclimatisation is essential. 
This is me, excitedly acclimatising whilst spotting Emma Pooley's name on the start list near mine.
Before the race, I also met JP – in fact the first person I met on arrival at the beautiful Ferme Nomenie Campsite in Borg des Oisans.  He had been in the Alps for a week already and had been riding in the hills every day.  Jealous.  JP wouldn't listen to me when I told him I wasn't very good, just passionate and he said I was just being modest.  In truth, I had no idea how I would do so modesty didn't come into it.  All I had was a plan to meet the cut-offs and that was it.

There is a lovely outdoor pool at Alpe d'Huez which could have been a lovely way to get altitude low impact training done but I just wasn't that organised. Swimming in the lake is normally a no no due to the large hydroelectric turbines causing trouble with currents and the like.  This brings a feeling of 'what lies beneath ' to the swim in the seemingly bottomless lac du Verney.  So clear you can see your hands but not a lot further in the endless deep.

As a result of my 'altitude training' I got to choose a parking spot for the week. Always empty, surprisingly near to everything. I hoped it would still be there race day and it was. I was still early to set up my T2 and satisfied that my organisation paid off as I calmly unpacked my pile of stuff then headed back to the car to change into my bike kit to descend to the start and T1.

Down the hill again.
On the descent from the Alp to Vallard Reculas
The great advantage to my parking spot was there was still a part of the Alpe d'Huez climb I had not used in the car - the last 3 bends. I watched a steady stream of athletes coming down it and joined them on the way down to T1 and the start.  We then all turned off to Villard Reculas and therefore I had ridden only a short section of Alpe d'Huez - and in reverse too.

There was a lot going on at the approach to the Villard Reculas turn. An English team were fretting about going the wrong way and someone behind was also shouting.  Despite having tried the Reculas road in the car and given up with the traffic, narrow passing places and sometimes upwards incline, every one seemed to be going that way so I followed, knowing it was the shortest route.  I waited to make sure everyone in the English team had seen the turn.

It was a beautiful ride and indeed the shortest route to the start. With my wetsuit in the dry apidura bag on the seat post of my bike, nothing was hindering my body movements down the hill and I descended faster than most around me - not that anyone was racing except two blokes who danced by in close succession like a couple of mating dragonflies.

As I made it through the mass of people suddenly scrabbling for their numbers at check-in I finally got to say hi to one of my idols, Ms Emma Pooley.  I literally gabbled something at her, whilst she was contained enough to calmly wish me a good race.  I didn’t even have the brain to say, “you too”, sorry Emma!

In transition, the organisers had kindly put me and my  (as yet unknown to me) team mate, Justin next to eachoher.

As he is now living in Switzerland, I updated him on all things Sheffield and relaxed. Then JP  (from the campsite) turned up and asked, with some horror if I was Ok! Confused? I had one lens missing from my glasses and he assumed I had already taken a spill.

Shit

I momentarily considered a ride to the campsite to retrieve a different set of  lenses but no, no time. In a moment of genius I decided to resort to taking my goggles with me on the bike just in case I needed that kind of Mediterranean sunshine eye protection for alpine riding.  Justin either thought I was a nonce or a genius.  I didn’t see him again all day so we’ll never know.

And we were heading for the water.
Lake Verney from the barrage.  As you swim back to T1, this is the view.  Stunning.

The Swim 

Queuing to get in, I started my watch as soon as I hit the water to make sure I got it going.  I was still swimming to the start line when the starter horn sounded. Others were still just getting in the water. It was a good 5 minutes swim to the start.  I was about 60 seconds late by the time I started my swim.

I swam direct. Don't know why but some chose to swim wide meaning I mostly felt alone until I reached the buoys and everyone came piling in. Still it wasn't too rough and the first lap was a joy with sighting off the mountains being a real problem as I had to lift my head quite high out of the water. Still, the main buoys were upto 500 m away, so also pointless. The water was crystal clear and the temperature 15.7 degrees so not at all painful for me although I did wear my vest to ensure I was in the best condition coming out.

The second lap passed without incident and I clamoured for the proffered hands of volunteers amongst plenty of other people. The crowds were amazing.

My hands were a bit screwed so transition took time to happen. I chose to do the bike in real bike shorts so stripped out of bikini bottoms under a towel but left my tri top on and added my bike jersey.

The Bike

Going out of transition around the ditherers, I got a cheer from Wakefield tri before joining the road proper and tried not to get caught up in an American arguing with a  French driver that decided the best way to leave site was to do a 3 point turn in the middle of the race.

Longhorn on the bike route
With my Garmin on map, 2 things became clear: l wouldn't need the map because the marshals were excellent; the map was shite and I was almost immediately off route.

Still, I had approximate elevations to ride to.

I realised quickly that goggles around my neck felt un-aerodynamic and made me look like an amateur so I managed to undo them enough to pull off over my helmet and stuff them in my pocket. Then we turned onto the main road and the traffic got serious. I deployed Sheffield riding techniques  to sneak through on the inside of some vehicles and as my bike crashed through a pothole whilst undertaking a huge tipper truck I was instantly chuffed to be riding my cross bike.  I passed plenty more athletes here before turning onto the first climb of the day where they all soon passed me back.

I had a plan. I had set myself some target speeds to ride to on each climb but although they transpired to be ambitious most of the time, I had just proved that descents were closer to 47kph average than my projected 30kph average. So I went with what felt easy rather than struggling to meet an unattainable target and being shafted by the time I reached the AdH.  My Monday ride had taught me that much.
Sweeping bends and camel rolls

I also decided to save my backside a little.  Monday's ride taught me that I am not used to sitting in the saddle for long hours but actually standing on pedals.  There are also more breaks in a Peak district ride, so I stood up occasionally to avoid saddle sores. To my horror I found myself riding to my heart rate monitor, another thing Stephan had reminded me to do.  Whilst training in the UK I'd got away with riding to feel but by hovering around zone 2 with occasional forays into zone 3 I knew I'd definitely see out the distance.  First I had to get over the initial zone 5 warm up burn and later I found myself irreconcilably stuck in zone 1 with no mojo to go any faster.  This is something I can work on for next time.

Quite a few gents were stopping for a wee but, ever conscious of being dqd by an over-zealous official, I was waiting for the portaloo located on a switchback of the climb that I had reccied on Monday.  To my horror it was gone.

Just past wee-gate I witnessed my first drop out of the day. An English speaker, asking the ref about the rest of the climb and then, which was the best way back. I had all the answers and encouragement but by the time they leached to the surface I had moved up the road and his race was no more.

I  zipped my trisuit up to pass the officials, unsure of the french rules.

While the climb pushed my body to reabsorb some of the Lake Verney water in my belly I was bursting by the time I reached the summit.  Seeing bikes parked outside a small building I joined a steady stream of women entering and leaving what is least described as an old-fashioned squat toilet WC and better articulated as 'The Gates of Hell'.

"I don't give a shit right now"… was followed by, "but somebody did". I discovered just how upright I can stand to pee as I grasped the door handle to avoid my lady-bits hovering anywhere near the littoral shit storm that had happened in that room.  The lady outside kindly warned me not to flush for fear of spraying it everywhere. I cut my pee a little shorter and ran!

At once thinking, well, I am going to get sick from this and a second later arriving at the aid station and shovelling oranges and melon into my mouth with *that* hand. Wonders how many sanitary wipes I can justify bringing next year.

The aid station was amazing. All that food and as I left, a boy offered me some cheese. Perfect! I hadn't even needed to bring my own. There seemed to be a lot of people treating it like a sportive aid station. I mean I presume they have cut off times too but there was almost an Audax level of loitering.


Off down the back of the Grand Serre and now I quickly started to pass people I had not already left behind eating whatever it is people were finding time to eat.

There was a rotund kid on a racy bike with insufficient gears and Rachel the English lady, Windmills (a bloke from Cambridge), numerous others I had not yet named and a middle-aged Spanish man who was to become a close comrade.

I passed one guy on the right in an undertaking manoeuvre as he was otherwise hogging the white line.

I was so glad I reccied this descent because when the hill ran out I flew out the last corner in a tuck with all the speed to carry me part way across the flat before leaning on my bars with my wrists and time trialling the rest of the way.

Next climb - Col du Malisol. A little blip on the descent of the Serre but a noticeable one and this time I took a bottle fill of juice. I had some banter with the French marshal, leaving them saying, "not the first time we heard that today and won't be the last either". Yes! My jokes may be predictable but I can deliver them in French!

Beyond the road that Stephan and I took on Monday, the Garmin started to freak out that we were off route again. For a while I panicked. There was no one behind or in front. Did I miss a turn?  Thankfully, checking the notes I had zip tied to my top tube, I remembered that my map distances differed from those published so was slightly reassured that I was riding on the missing part. My Spanish friend caught me in my hesitation and we rode the remainder of the descent playing tic tac toe as each of us had our strengths or lapses in concentration like the beautiful stone bridge that we crossed and the impending Col d'Ornon.

I also caught up with an Irish guy as we passed and marvelled at a club cyclist the other way sporting an amazing handlebar 'tache. Irish was struggling a bit he said and sure enough as the road started to kick up to Valbonais I left him behind again.

The Valbonais control was huge, occupying the whole square in front of the church. More people milling around.  On my approach my main concern was finding my food bag as it was 1pm and the earlier fruit fest didn't make a lunch for me. In the food bag there was a tin of tuna with my name on it... or my racebib number at least.

By the time I had racked my bike alongside English Dave, I turned around to find a nice lady holding out a familiar looking food bag. I snaffled the tuna into my pocket thinking that I wouldn't want to eat it before the top. I then disposed of any crap and, knowing that I wasn't planning to linger, discarded the cheap stuff and kept the expensive biscuits and nougat that I bought on the ferry. I just about squeezed it into pockets and the nose bag I had on the bike, asked English Dave if he was OK (no, struggling a bit) and carried on.

Beyond the aid station the road continued to climb quite steeply. I ate what I had left of earlier food but was still hungry so before I ran out of trees I stopped in the shade and devoured my tuna. A short way down the road I pulled in to bin my tin and plastic fork.

Sidebar: a few people have laughed/balked/gagged at my tin of tuna. I have been accused of being a cat. When I bonked on one of my training rides, I stoked the fire with a baked potato and tuna. Katy Campbell could have sworn that Chrissie told her something about taking potatoes on rides but I suspected I wouldn't want to eat any form of potato that had been in a plastic bag in the back of a van for 4 hours or more in Alpine sun. The tin of tuna, however, seemed much more achievable and so I selected a thyme flavoured dish with a rip-off lid and packed a disposable fork. To save the discussion on tuna going any further, I experienced no cramps or burping as a result and felt fully replenished until Alpe d'Huez.

I set off on the gentle slopes on Ornon pretty much alone. A few touring cyclists to say hello to and eventually, Spanish man danced by. The cliffs above Ornon are part of the Ecrins national park and were enough to get me up the hill. Unlike the other climbs the Ornon doesn't go above 7% grade so I just span up with the occasional gear change to stand up for a bit.

Next stop Perrier. I heard it before I saw it. First the wuwuzella. Then children's voices. Around 7 kids by the roadside shouting. The main man chanting his wares like a London marketseller, "welcome to Perrier on the Col d'Ornon. We are here to offer you water top up to replenish your bidon. Revitalise".

High-fives were requested and given. Then came the aid station where an elderly gentleman gave me exactly the amount of water I wanted whilst ladies spoke encouraging words.

I left very revitalised and with my ears ringing slightly.

The rest of the Col d'Ornon passed in a breeze. The climb was gradual and beautiful but I didn't have much company and was alone at the aid station.

I shovelled down more fruit and took the chance to eat an expensive gluten free chocolate snack I accidentally bought at the supermarket so I could bin my rubbish. Volunteers desperately tried to get me to take powerbar products but I said, "non je veut du fromage parceque le fromage c'est bien pour l'esprit". The circular-shaped woman couldn't argue with that one and I set off down the hill which had been described to me as "horrible"… by someonewho doesn't like descending (JP – who has now changed his mind!).

Mainly because I had it to myself, col d'Ornon descent was the most fun I have had on a bike in a long time. Race rules restricted me to my own side of the road and I wasn't going to get dqd for dangerous riding after all that effort. For a while the turns were engaging and then warm and then the view became familiar and I tucked it out to roll into the Borg des Oisans valley.

I was slightly confused with the route again and instructions for a mandatory stop. My bottle was still full from the top aid station and I had 1 hour left to meet my planned bike time. My Dutch friends  (who were much fitter than me) managed the Alpe d'Huez in 1:15 so I knew I was at least 22 minutes down on my planned schedule (including my 7 minutes delay to my swim time). I rode on through and no-one seemed to try to make me stop. I even threw some litter in the bin to make sure I had been seen so, I happily tapped on through, quietly on my own and the next thing I knew I was registering my start on the timing mat for the great ascent of Alped'Huez.

In all my years on a  bike I have not yet ventured here. I admit I got a little emotional, partly due to respect for the Alpe and partly because I was really chuffed to have made it that far.

The first three slopes are steep at 15% and as instructed I took them easy. There wasn't much else to do, for me. To my surprise though, I seemed to be going better than most of the men I was with who all kept stopping to rest in the shade except for Windmills who caught me up and ribbed me for letting a flatlands bloke beat me up the mountain.

When JP told me he wanted to ride the whole thing in one go, I had looked at him funny. It never actually occurred to me that I might stop and rest. It's not in my mentality to rest on a climb. I just go slower. I was grateful to him for introducing the idea that I might not ride the whole thing in one go - it meant that I wouldn't be heartbroken if I had to stop, I just would.

When I did stop though, it was at the aid station because I was hungry and I decided to ditch my dried fruit and just take the nuts and eat some real fruit. In doing so I found the nougat which carried me forward. Memories of Kielder Forest. Having mostly emptied my bottle already, I also ditched the last down the back of my neck and then down my front before taking another fill.

As I passed the next bend I fist-bumped a swiss rider who was struggling with the heat. The tubby kid on the over-geared bike also came by again. I was surprised but chuffed he was still going. There was also a kiwi and some more British, still hanging out on shady corners. I just kept thinking that the higher i got the cooler it would get.  The Swiss rider's supporters started to cheer for me as well as him as they gradually followed us up the climb in their VW Touran.

I took on more water at Huez crossing but by now I was in the swing of things and had as much food as I needed. In fact, I ditched the last of the nuts. I was looking forward to the as-yet unseen section of uphill and passed back Windmills resting in the shade.

Then panic struck. I got shooting pains through my left foot. I know for sure that the cleat is slightly out but hadn't adjusted it for fear of making it worse. There was no way I could stand on it and worried it wouldn't hold out to the top. It didn't feel like cramp but the beginning of a strain or worse, nerve damage. With marginal relief I found that undoing the shoe helped and I managed to set the ratchet rather loosely without stopping or falling off. Sorted.

A blonde French lady caught me up.  On her tail was a non-race cyclist - a young girl just hugging any wheel she could find. As she passed she almost pushed me into the dirt so I asked for a bit of room.

Without apology she jumped onto my wheel and remained there for the remainder of the climb. It was both annoying and reassuring to have someone there. I thought she was another racer eventually so when we reached bend 1 she had to cope with my outbutst of, "Holy shit, we made it to bend 1".

I  didn't know at this point just how close I came to being timed out. For some reason I hadn't registered the 6pm cut off time and had remembered it as 7pm out of transition.  

As I raced for the line at the top of the hill, wondering to the whereabouts of my rapturous applause from the skater friends I expected to see there, I had no idea the clock was ticking on my race. It's a good job I had the legs on me to sprint because I decided to spin my legs before the run. 

As I reached what I thought was the summit, a voice from the crowd said, "Depeche-toi ils ferment P2 a…" the rest was lost to me but as far as I was aware, P2 closed at 7. I checked my notes but there was no mention of a P2-in cut-off. Still, I sprinted anyway.

I sprung over the line in an atmosphere of frank disinterest from the crowd. My thoughts now are with Irishman, English Dave, Spanish guy, Rachel. At the time my thoughts were for the time I had left in transition. I didn't want to run a half marathon in my Rapha cycling shorts but by god if I had to I would.

Fortunately there was a race official by my spot and I asked how long? "Ah, vous avez plein de temps". Loads of time. Great. Thought nothing of it.

Changed my shorts for something cooler with less padding and with great relief wriggled out of my cycling shoes and into my runners and jogged on. My left foot no longer hurt.

I had crossed the P2-in timing mat with (not that I realised) 5 minutes to spare.

The Run

The first lap I doused myself in water at the first aid station. I had already drunk quite enough on the climb… I mean, better in than carrying it. As I looped around to make the return trip I saw JP running the other way. We high-5'd and he confirmed he was finishing next lap.

Now there was more support. I ran past a lady carrying a sign saying, "go go you're awesome" and made her laugh when I pointed and said, "thanks, I'll take that".

The cheering continued in all languages with plenty of shouts from Brits for the Sheffield Tri kit.

I survived the first down and up, taking the brakes off as I had practised in training runs. I loved the off road section for the flowers, insects, cheering people. I was intensely relieved to find the portaloo still in place here and shut myself in for a good sit down to rid myself of all the excess water weight. Then I got hungry.

The aid station only seemed to be offering sweet stuff so I took what I dared (note to self: tomatoes don't work) and hoped there may be more elsewhere. The out and back was longer than I remembered it but I felt joy upon crossing the timing mat knowing there were 4, potentially 5 or more people in the UK giving a little cheer every time my lap time went up on the intermet.

On the return trip, at a (normally insignificant) hill climb, I came across a man in a Beeston cycles jersey offering encouragement to a bloke in a Bassetlaw Tri club tri suit. I joined in, "is this a local club run? Can anyone join?". Beeston ran with me for a bit, joking that the hill was 'nothing compared to Crookes'.

I left him to manage his other supportees – all of TFN plus around 10 other Brits he’d picked up during the day.

The descent back to town was damn quick. In P2, a gaggle of ladies scrambled to give me a band of the correct colour for my lap. Later JP commented that the amputee marshal had confused him by wearing spare bands on her partial arm and his Alpe addled brain couldn't compute it for a few hundred miliseconds. I know what he meant as a marshal shouted, "non, vous voulez blanc!" At me loudly “(do I?) Ahhhhhh. The white one.”

 Back to the first aid station and to my relief there was a large plateful of crackers and they were so salty it was amazing.  I grasped a huge handful to last me the lap and skipped off.

After I passed a man trying to throw up in a stream, I had a chat with a man from Doncaster and then caught up to Beeston man for more east midlands gossip. He also said, "everyone looks so much better on this hill the last time around" and I scoffed at him. At the time I was pretty sure my first passage would have been the best but damn sure I wouldn't be able to do it faster on the next lap.

I was sorry to see English Dave walking the other way with his bike, a rejection of the cut off. He looked relieved it was over but still disappointed.

That downhill to the finish again. I passed an Irish girl and asked how she was doing. "I'm absolutely dying" was the response but we ran together a short way and as the wind picked up and he cloud drew in I said at least the weather were more British and decided to worry about the political position of that statement later.

A little further along, another competitor was offering encouragement to two women running together.  I only caught the end of the conversation but he had asked if they were going to finish and one was saying, “We’re going to if they let us”.

Through P2 again and a blue band this time, more crackers and more English cheering as well as French. 

A Russian guy passed me on the down and up and we had a nice chat until I diverted to pat a dog - as l do now for good luck. I tried a final few jelly beans then tried to hold on to them as I passed a man on his knees retching into the grass. I tried in 2 languages to ask if he was going to be Ok but all he could do was groan at me.  There were plenty of people to help if he collapsed so I carried on.

Beeston was right. I did feel better up that hill on the last lap. My form was all to pot but as long as I slapped my feet on the ground fast enough they were ticking over quite well. Time for the downhill then reaching the tiny uphill kicker where, yes, the legs were still working. 

Through P2 for the last time and a black band and I can see Russian running with someone else. It's now finally over and I find the strength to pass both men on the uphill. There's one loop of around 100m to go and I see JP walking the other way screaming. I sprint, he sprints outside the barriers. I have no idea what Russian is doing. 

I look at my watch. I may have lost 19 minutes on the bike but I just took 22 minutes off my run time. I am screaming and streaming tears as I run down the finish straight. Something doesn't feel right. I can hear the words 'subject to verification' over the tannoy and am slightly worried but nothing can detract from what I have done. For moment I wonder if I’ve won the prize draw and someone is about to give me the keys to a Renault Clio but I don’t care because I’ve already won the best prize.

I feel like I have made up for Celtman. I have no idea how close I came to missing out. Someone gives me a medal and I momentarily consider the hot tub with a strange but nice Russian before deciding it’s too cold to walk around wet and instead I flop into a fatboy beanbag whilst JP brings me pasta.

Eventually I wrench myself out of said beanbag and head for the wetsuit collection point to retrieve my swim kit (minus goggles, plus half sunglasses) and P2 to retrieve my bike and other random discarded sweaty and unsweaty kit.  There I meet Irish girl who bypasses my British comments and gives me a hug and I get to high 5 Windmills who is setting off on his last lap.

The Aftermath

By the time we had eaten and found the strength to stand again, we were in no mood to find my mobile phone and call the rest of the team down at the campsite who had offered to cook us dinner.  We wanted to take some selfies in front of an alp (with JP’s phone), throw on a dry robe and drive down the hill – with the express instructions to JP that he had to do the gears if I got cramp and shout at me if I drove on the left. 

The passage was smooth (after we let some rushy people past) but we finally rocked into the campsite at 9:45, asking for more time to get changed before dinner.  Linda patiently served us ALL THE FOOD and then asked what had happened.  The story unfolded of the 6pm cut off.  Of competitors being stripped of their numbers and timing chips and forbidden from continuing.  The Dutch team hadn’t seen me come in and couldn’t see me on the run so when they saw the 6pm cut off, they assumed I hadn’t made it.  They watched the broom waggon come in and I wasn’t on it.  They texted me to find out where I was but my phone was buried deep in a kit bag in the car so obviously I hadn’t responded.

This started a conundrum of emotions as I started to fear that I had sneaked under a line and would be somehow disqualified.  I still had no idea if the 6pm rule was valid so frantic result checking ensued. 

Thankfully I had a result and it clearly stated the time that I reached the top of the Alp was 5:55.  As I write this I believe only 10-15 people finished behind me and none of them were in my age group making me last in my AG.   There were 108 DNF/DQs and 117 DNSs.  I don’t know if the women who were going on to complete were acting with or without the official’s blessing.  I hope they did it and I hope they were given a result.  It took me a while to realise that I paced my ride on a route that was 12km short which accounted for 22 of the 19 minutes I went over my pace time on the bike.  I was also 4 minutes late off the swim start as the gun sounded when many competitors were either toeing the water or in-progress of swimming there (it was a good 5 minute swim to the start which I really wasn't prepared for).

It was incredible.  The route is awe inspiring.  Riding through the Parc des Ecrans was my favourite part, followed by the descent of the Ornon.  Alpe d’Huez itself was punishing and fulfilling though not my favourite bit this year, I think that maybe it will be when I smash it another year (he he).

The marshals directions were amazing.  The police support was amazing.  The aid stations were well stocked and enthusiastic to a fault (could have stayed there all day).  The personal service of drop bags all worked.  I couldn’t believe that at transition they had put teams together so I got to meet my only team mate out there.  Not only that but there was a little Sheffield corner with another guy representing Planet-X.  

They seem to have taken on board comments that the swim was too busy with boats and I didn’t experience any choppiness at all.  There wasn’t a moment on the bike that I felt lonely as aid stations were always just a climb or a descent away.  The run was so well supported by aid and spectators that it disappeared in no time.  

At the top of Alpe d’Huez I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself through the training for the race again.  By the time I got up off that beanbag, I was ready for another go.


Yes, this smile does say it all


Final results:
Overall: 10:44:47 15/17, 59/81, 794/1082

Swim:51:17 for 2.2km (and some) - 14/17, 68/81 752/1082
T1: 59:12
Bike: 7:19:52 for 114km and 3500m up - 15/17, 71/81 804/1082
T2: 2:54
Run: 2:21:49 for 21km and 395m up - 11/17, 66/81, 585/1082

Alpe d'Huez 1:50:10 14/17, 69/73 766/1082
Other splits:
Grand Serre - 12.5km/hr (budgeted 12)
Col du Malisol - 9.8km/hr (budgeted 14)
Col d'Ornon - 12.6km/hr (budgeted 14)
Alpe d'Huez - 8.5km/hr (budgeted 9)
General Descents - 34.8km/hr plus Ornon - 42.7 (budgeted 30)

Lessons learned:

  1. Be in the water 5 mins early to start the swim
  2. Get faster on the bike hills sooner
  3. Take less nosebag food.  Tuna still works.  Take some crisps for the run.