Sunday, May 25, 2014

Celtman Recce Weekend Part 3 - The Run

The day dawned loudly and gloomily for our run with guls and clouds passing over the tent but at least they were passing over, meaning that the plague of midges that descended the day before were well and truly seen-off.

We scoffed breakfast and loaded the car up to set off, pausing for a second fill of food en route.  
Goji hobnobbing with the renegade tourists who forget their roofs in Scotland!

By the time we arrived at the Beinne Eighe car park we'd driven through several rain showers and eaten more cake.  We set off in something approaching partial sunshine but then began to ascend into the cloud, finally disappearing from the view of the road at about 250 m elevation.  What was promising about the day was the ease with which we had made it so far.

The first call of duty was to check out the butties I had made to see how digestible they are.  This is, after all, going to be roughly dinner (yes evening-meal) time by the time I get there.  Turns out beef and mustard on brown is quite digestible when I'm really hungry.

The path wound its way up the side of the mountain and with minor checks of the compass / map / distance we made it to the first trig.  Unlike on race day, where safety counts, we diverged right to summit Beinn Eighe and raise our arms in a muted woo hoo.

Then on with business.  We followed the (obvious once you've checked the bearing) path out across the ridge line, now completely obscured by passing cloud.  My next bearing was an obvious saddle.  I was starting to wonder why the distances I had marked up on the map were "out" until I realised I'd marked them in metres and my Garmin was counting miles.

Up the other side of the saddle on a grassy slope, the compass again leading us directly past a group of Scouts trudging through the fog the other way.

We had a short debate at the cairn about whether it really was the Cairn to Ruadh-stac Mor or whether we should continue.  The voices we heard over the breeze and deafening fog confirmed our expectations that it was time to go out that way.

We set off down past our eventual descent route but first continued up of a number of rock bluffs to reach the anti-climax that is Rudha-stac Mor in the cloud.  There's only one thing to do in that situation  and that's eat cake and take the inevitable selfie then we retreated after a brief conversation with walkers about Gary and the Incheril hostel (memories of my last Beinn Eighe expedition with Steve Astley, Mike and Stuart).
It's Rhuda-stac Mohr, honest

The screes, for the first time ever in my life, were fun.  I managed to glissade down those in a mixture of standing and sitting in no time at all, popping out at the bottom with enough time to empty my trainers of grit and re-tie my shoe laces whilst I waited for Mr Rodgers to catch me up.  He had been diligently checking out the non-scree route which might be a safer alternative if there's a lot of other athletes on the the descent.*

*there's unlikely to be any other athletes on the descent by the time I get there.

The downside to being a water baby is I was overcome with a compulsion to take a dip in the aptly named Loch Coire Mhic Fearchair.  Despite the clouds swirling around the base of triple buttress, today was no exception.  I refrained though. I very much doubt I will be overcome by such urges on race day having already taken a dip first thing in the morning.

We launched ourselves full flow into the circumnavigation of the remainder of the hill, first checking out the turn-off point for the low route which I hope not to be doing, then waiting tentatively to see the appearance of the road, signalling the end of our day.  Beinn Eighe doesn't like to give much away and we severely started to doubt our route-finding.  I must remember this on race day - that view of the road is a long time coming!

We discovered that my support runner was going to need different shoes if he is to survive the run without stopping to put blister plasters on.  Fuelled by pork pie and the thought of mini cheddars and cookies back at the car, we descended to the bikes and the car, safely waiting by.  A lovely time in the hills with a lot of time checking the compass bearings in the mist and messing about with route options.

The worst thing we did was jump straight in the car and set off to drive all the way to Fort Augustus.  We stopped there in the hostel there to sleep.  Whilst it gave us the benefit of sleeping in a building, an easy hot shower and cooked breakfast in the morning, it also gave me sore legs for the drive home, most of which I spent wanting to knock off another Munro on the way.  Can't all have been bad then.

It's going to be difficult to keep me off the hills the week before the event.  It's a lesson I learned at Grizedale but not necessarily a skill I have acquired or can promise to apply, even if I master it.

Run stats: 7.4 miles, 6 hours on the hill but an unknown quantity stopped to faff and eat, 1100m climbing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Celtman Recce Weekend Part 2 - The Bike

Overnight in Gairloch, the drizzly rain at least kept the air temperature warm and we had a much better night's sleep.  In the morning the wind had dropped so I cooked calmly amongst the midges whilst Mr Rodgers obeyed instructions to hide in the tent in the avoidance of flailing itchy arms.

Substantial amounts of faffing were involved in getting ready for the ride - finding all the bits of bike that had been squirrelled away in the car for the journey and dressing in the appropriate clothing.

We set off in partial rain though not so bad as to warrant a waterproof, enough to be a bit chilly on the descents. 

The reassuring part of starting in Gairloch is we got all the serious climbing out of the way at the start of the day.  Not so much of a problem for me but Mr Rodgers on his fixie didn't relish the thought of big climbs late in the ride.

The weather improved as we headed for Poolewe.  Much of the hillocks I remembered from years gone by.  A few corners surprised me.  At Poolewe we had coffee and cake courtesy of Maggie's tea shop, the only time I had to push my lightweight, skittery bike was on her steep gravel driveway.  At 11:30 we kept it light in recognition of the approaching 8-mile long ascent.  We passed the Dundonnel Hotel and An Teallach shrouded behind in skirts of cloud.  Andrew stopped to flip his wheel into a lower gear and I removed my baselayer in anticipation of warm Trep. 

The climb was long and there were steep sections.  I planned to drop a gear for race day.  Not in recognition of its difficulty but by way of planning to save my legs for the run later in the day.  I've shaved 3kgs of the weight of my bike this year, I'm not going to gripe about adding a few grams worth of gear teeth.

The climb opens up into the most spectacular summit with the Slioch and the Letterewe Forest to your right and Beinn Dearg and the Inverlael Forest to your left.  
Trepid Explorer in a Wide Open Space
I stretch my arms wide open as best as possible on a twitchy triathlon bike and embrace life before starting the moorland crossing to the Altguish Inn where we stop for a delicious burger and chips #feast of champions.
My gorgeous husband checks out the mountain menu (map) at the Inn
The toughest part of the day is the descent to Garve.  Whether it's the burger, or the draining descent on a really shitty road surface into a head wind, it's tough and we hit the turning and climb back over to Achnasheen with lead in our legs.  Once the climb is done though, the sun is out and we spend a very fruitful 15 miles in full sunshine down to the station where we have to raid the local rail station for more drinking water and less layers.

The bliss continued as the road surface improved all the way to Kinlochewe and the Torridon turn off until I realise this road is not on the course.  I would have turned at Achnasheen to head off for T2.  Oh well.
Google street view demonstrates my point.  It's not what you can do for the EU but what the EU does for Scotland!
(A later inspection of Google maps implies that the road surface might be similar on the race road.  We're heading back to check it out when we arrive the week before race day).

When we get to Kinlochewe again (this time on our bikes) we're back on the beginning of the course and I haul along it admiring the view of the "other sides" of the Torridon mountains.  We're pushing only 12 miles an hour and I can look forwards to proceeding at more impressive pace at the beginning of my ride next time... though still considering that my feet will be numb after the swim.

There's a couple of killer climbs going into Gairloch.  They are preceded by some killer descents too which are really good to ride, especially when there's no cars on them in the early evening.  I stop at the top of the cliffs to take pictures of the fog at sea, partially obscuring the isles of Rona and Raasay.  Later I can see both Black and Red Culin beyond on the Isle of Skye.  My ability to use my camera phone is impaired at this point by my fatigue and the sunshine.  I have a chat with a passing dog-walker whilst I wait for TSK on his fixed wheel machine.  Whilst I've been enjoying the descents he's been churning out more painful pedal revs.
Raining sunshine.  The Isle of Raasay partially obscured by cloud.
Blue skies, yellow sandy beaches, crystal clear ocean.  I love Scotland.
The ride out to the camp site is at least mostly flat but we're too lazy to ride around to the main entrance so hop over the fence with the bikes and ride through from the remote end of the site, apologising to a couple as we pass for disturbing their peace.  They're interested in what we've been doing and tell us that the Applecross sportive was today, explaining all the road bikes we've seen moving the other way along the main road.

Back at the tent there's a scrabble for shower paraphernalia and dinner cooking before crashing out in anticipation for tomorrow's run.  At least the breeze is blowing and the midges are gone.

Ride stats: 185km, 6h:50mins rolling time (with quite a bit of faffing), 1291m climbing.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Celtman Recce Weekend Part 1 - Venue, Transition and Swim Recce.

So this is what it is all about, finding excellent camp sites on the way to the race.  A peaceful first night in the tent (been a while since we've used one of those) given the late-hour dinner of bacon and pesto pasta.  Andrew slept well but I froze occasionally until I woke up enough to wrap myself in a blanket inside my sleeping bag and vowed never to forget my fleecy PJs for camping ever again - even in May.

We stopped off at Kinlochewe for fuel and the best coffee and |French toast ever, made in the oven "with love".

At Torridon we dismissed the soggy camp site, realising why my parents used to choose the one at Shieldaig.

We went over to Shieldaig and had a little walk to buy lunch food and figure out where the swim goes.  Because it's an A-to-B swim, it looks like a helluva long way although I have to say that in a way, it felt less daunting than 3 laps of quite a long way at the Forestman course.

Not a lot has changed since I was here though, for reference, that was when these trees did not exist.  My mum and I used to make a bee-line straight down this hill from the campsite at the top to the toilet block at the bottom.  Just to do our toothypegs at night.

Since my middle name is Eileen, as a child, I always secretly wanted to swim around the Island of Tighe An Eilean.  On raceday I will get to do this and more.  All with the presence of a safety crew of course.

Tigh An Eilean
We drove up to the swim start and went to have a look at where we'll be staying for the week.  It's walkable between the two for my parents (or rather my early-rising mother) if they want to see me off, so that's nice.
Celtman T=0 - the beautiful, grassy swim start
Hopefully Celtman T1=90minutes, the swim exit
We headed back to Torridon to find the finishing point at the village hall and eat our lunch overlooking the sea view.  I'd accepted Gairloch as the accommodation option for this weekend - better facilities and the opportunity for me to do a sea swim without most of Shieldaig village watching.

We drove up there, me enjoying seeing the bike route and enjoying just how many long, flat sections there are - something that doesn't come across on the route profile.  Sadly I also appreciate they will be tough if it is a windy day... but not as tough as they would have been on the old bike.

Open to new things, we went to check out the camp site in Gairloch village.  It seemed to have mediocre facilities but when we enquired at the office, the guy seemed very keen to take our details quickly.  It transpired he was also very keen to take our money quickly and quoted us an extortionate rate to stay.

We made our excuses and left to "check out the other campsite".  He warned us they would probably be full which I knew to be a complete lie since Big Sands is a massive campsite.  Seriously unimpressed we were welcomed with open arms at Big Sands and a price tag less than half and many many more cubicles, hot showers and even baths... (I know, they're for the children...)

We took a while to find a sheltered site to avoid flapping canvas nights then set about squeezing into our wetsuits, thanks mostly to TSK's enthusiasm and excitement.  After all the driving I was less excited about the excruciating cold pains but my mood soon improved when the sun came out and I realised the sea was still there and hadn't retreated a few kms.  So happy indeed.

My boots were a blessing in disguise s TSK's ankles were so cold he almost fell at the first hurdle (waves) I was already trying crawl and playing in the waves when TSK's testicles threw him out of the water for the third time.  Finally he was hit square in the back by a breaking wave and took to mincing along the beach making me feel slightly safer.

I did some body surfing, stared at some seaweed and had a play with it to break my fear.  Stared at a (non-stinging) jelly fish and admired its beauty to try and break that fear but that didn't work and I just swam away very quickly.  It freaked me out a bit and I started to think that every shadow was a Portuguese man o' war.

I had another play in the waves but then, whilst I could have stayed in longer, I decided there was little point in tiring myself out and putting myself off and letting Andrew get cold on the beach.  I'd managed to make the equilibrium of getting a bit wet and getting it warm.  If only I can manage that on race day I'll be sorted.  My head hurt because of the wind that was blowing the cold water everywhere but I took solace in the sheltered location of the swim in Loch Sheildaig as opposed to the open space of Gairloch.

For reference, the water was about 9-10 degrees and I managed about 10-15 minutes in the sea.  It certainly woke me up to just how cold it might still be 5 weeks from now and I will redouble my efforts to do cold water adaptation swims as well as distance over the next few weeks.  That said, I'm glad I took the opportunity to experience it first hand, knowing that it can only really get warmer.  I also discovered a new love for crystal-clear water and found that I didn't have any adverse reaction to the seawater taste.  All good learning experiences & things to look forwards to as well as to address.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Week 6 End

Wow, yes that was some proper ironman running.  I was completely in the zone (pace: slow, heartrate: fast zone).  And my belly button is now pink and chaffey in colour.  In answer to the question, "do 2 x 8 mile runs = 1 x 16 mile run if they have an 8-hour working day in the middle?", I say, "Hell yes"... at least it fucking feels like it.

When I got to the city centre I started to walk since I promised myself a walk up the hill.  Then I checked my watch and realised I'd done a half marathon.  I wanted to do better than that so I started running again.

That kind of stuck until there was too much pedestrian traffic to negotiate and by that I mean, if one more lanky blonde student boy walks straight into me because he's not looking where he's going someone is going to get a black eye and it's not me because I will be lying on top of the student, sleeping.

Once I was past the university the traffic eased and I managed to keep running again.  Just fast enough to keep passing people who were walking and that was very important to me.

By the time I got to Walkley I wasn't really looking forwards to the feeling of that last downhill... and the first downhill in over 12 hours but it all went surprisingly well and I even managed the final struggle over into the Rivelin valley at a reasonable pace and without even a wince.  Time to recover for the next 5 days.

And so endeth week 6 - when it's hard to see past the nose of your goggles to the tips of your tri-bars.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Grizedale Race Report - actual race day 16th March 2014

The story of my race Starts on Friday when I arrive at the Camp site to discover that the cosy shed I have booked for the weekend is just a shed.

Chez moi

There is nothing cosy about it.

I rebel, cook indoors and shiver until I fall asleep in my down sleeping bag. Unfortunately this means I am awake at 2am, sweating and dehydrated.

I head out to meet up with mum and dad on Saturday.  This is my first pre-race rest-up mistake as there's a rather large 1/3 hill between me and them which I repeat in both directions - although it doesn't dent me too much as I'm on my mountain bike.

I stock up on a new tyre on the way back and eat my lunch before I head back out to the bike shop to get some more kit.  It's a 9 mile round-walk filled with elevations and excitement and beauty so beautiful but then again, not great pre-race resting.  Dad comes over for a chat then I settle down to another too cold / too hot night in the shed.

I head out on the race day early and enjoy the fun atmosphere of race registration, the line up.

Sheffield Tri Club colours might look out of place at a mountain bike event but they sure do stand out.
I still don't have my running watch so I settle for pacing by heart rate.  I soon get dropped on the first rise, a line I walked up yesterday, full of the joys.  Still, I'm saving it all for letting rip on the bike.  The second run in this duathlon has been scrapped for co-ordination restraints so it suits me, I don't have to worry about pacing on the bike to save myself for that last run.

Hurt locker
Not sure at which point I actually blacked out.  I didn't really black out, I just don't remember anything of the route except battling with a lady in pink shoes and the descent back to the transition area that I'd walked the day before and a man saying, "You've got two minutes to go".  Music to my ears.  Apparently I don't do too well at pacing myself.

I picked up the bike and headed off again like lightening I thought.

I hate hitting the bike course at the back.  I could see myself threading through the crowds, passing all the slow-coaches and those pushing their bikes.  Unfortunately the legs didn't deliver.  By the third hairpin bend heading up the hillside, the second lady I passed, I already had calf cramp and it wouldn't go away.  Finally I tired of trying to pass people then being passed back when I had to get off and walk to relieve the cramp.

I sat down and got out my food and started having a snack.  I called it my fish and chips.  As folk asked if I was all right I replied, yep, just need to eat, just need to start enjoying this.

Back on the bike, I kept hauling up the paths and finally out on to the stinking wet moors.  I was joined by another rider from November and we talked bikes as we picked our way along the land rover track.  As I watched him go over the handlebars he concurred that we could all use one o' them 29'ers.

A few minutes later I had left him behind.  I headed down the hill and passed four others, then a couple of guys fixing a puncture and a few more.  Hmm, not last.

The last third of the course did go up again but it was very entertaining indeed and all of my cramps had gone.  The final descent put my bike to the test and I was too tired to argue with it but I was on my Scott and it made me feel like I was Nick Craig, even if I wasn't riding like him.  I hurtled around the corner and there was the finish.

116th / 137 starters, 4h:05min:2secs.  Challenge accepted.

Whinlatter Extreme Duathlon - Actual date 6th April 2014

So,  the last one of these dates didn't go too well for me. My plan with much longer and rangier (hillier) Extreme Du was firstly survival followed by setting off at my own slow pace, enjoying the bike ride then finishing off with a slow jog.

With such a small field I was soon jogging along the path with only one other person to keep me company and I soon let him go at the first discernible slope in favour of a walk. I did run the rest of the route... at least until the steep bit which just demanded walking,  even from the front runners who I could see striding along the ridge.  Just before I joined the ridge I stopped to put my coat on to make sure I would have finishers legs by the end.  The change in route meant a great opportunity to wish everyone well travelling in the opposite direction  which was rather nice particularly as some would take it upon themselves to return the favour later.

A cow bell chiming was the first indication of the apex of the first run as there was 10m visibility in the fog. I let them know I was last & set about my descent. I fell on my ass the first time just after I decided consciously not to duplicate someone else's bum-slide... but I did and I laughed about it.  The second time I didn't see it coming.

I passed the man in front who was carefully walking then unceremoniously slid into a full-on wham! onto my ass, landing squarely with my toes bent under my foot and my foot jamming into my thigh.  The first thing that made me yelp was the cramp in my hamstring as I desperately tried to stop myself falling.  The second was the terrifying thought that I had broken something.  I sat for a good long while waiting for the pain to go and to be convinced by the first aider that I was OK. My friend passed by, checking I was all right. I got up and had a walk,  then a gentle run and went to find my bike in transition.

On the way up the hill,  a vision in pink, the first of the retirees walking back to her car.  Not last.
The bike was a relief. My friend was still checking I was OK in transition. We left and I seemed to be able to pedal.  I opted for my Sheffield Tri fleecy jersey,  saving my rain coat for the final run.  I figured I wouldn't get too hot and dehydrate in wet fleece and it probably wouldn't wet out with all the heat I was generating.

I led out my friend into the woods but then let him pass whilst I checked my leg and foot could continue. When he passed I realised he was a dreamer too as he pointed out his favourite bit of the course. "We just go down here and the trees are massive and we just look so tiny". He was right. It was amazing and I watched his yellow coat snaking through the forest into the distance and I relaxed.  Last at last.

At the top of the mountain I started to worry. The rain was driving down and my arms were already wet through.  I swallowed my own virtual balls to descend again and as I did I thought that my tongue felt like it didn't fit in my mouth. Perhaps I was getting ill.  The top of the first mountain is really rocky and I walked a few obstacles just because I am only 2 months away from an Ironman. Other features I just damn well chickened out of. I was getting a bit annoyed at myself for being crap.

I checked the gps and to my disappointment had only done half the distance. Then my lanky figure of a father appeared with the race organiser cheering me into transition. Someone else to ask if I was ok... as if I wasn't doing it enough on my own.  I said,  "not really". Asked if I was going to carry on,  I voiced the plan that had been in my head since I fell, "I'll do the rest of the bike then think about the second run". I was actually thinking of quitting.

Off on the second loop despite a minor navigational fail and a lot of gestures from the marshals.  People were already coming into t2, 12.5km ahead of me and for a moment I mistook the cheers for other people to race against.   There were more members of the public around now but sure enough,  among them was a man sporting a number... even a number from my event. Holy shit! Not last!  For a while he rode with me.

I'd bought new pedals and forgot to ease them off so opted for trying to ride every thing instead of attempting to un-clip. It worked remarkably well and I rode things I never would have expected,  often in a wheelie. It only really fell apart as a plan when my back wheel fell off the edge of a particularly precipitous hairpins and I had to hooft it back on to the trail by the pedal... and still my foot remained engaged.

Boys threw themselves down boulders and crags around me and I just bimbled to the best of my ability, occasionally walking.  This time many climbs were on trails and the familiar switchbacks that I cursed so much in the ice last time were a positive joy to ride. Then it was time for the down bit.

I just about avoided putting my raincoat on.  For every switchback into the wind where I nearly fell off the edge, I got blown downhill in the opposite direction and re-entered the forest for the final descent.  I was shivering by the time I got into transition but I enjoyed the downhill so much I was in a better mood for finishing.  To top off the good feeding I helped myself to a dry woollen baselayer and popped that dry waterproof on over the top of it.

That all made me feel amazing so I set off into the rain.  The runners I'd cheered for earlier were all on their way back to the finish line and one vociferously demonstrated his respect for my tardy slow pace and determination to continue.  The organiser passed the other way on his mountain bike saying, "that's it, just keep that up".  Clearly he appreciated my pacing technique and he reinforced my plan.

I was quite proud of myself not to walk much.  The occasional walk up a steep hill, I was OK with but otherwise I managed a little jog throughout most of the course.  I kept expecting the marshalls on the hill to send me back down out of pity but they respected my ability (insanity?) and I popped out of the forest onto the open fells below Lord's Seat where the wind really picked up.  I walked hunched over to avoid being blown off my feet and grabbed something to eat.  Walkers were highly amused by my running across the hills but we were all in good spirits so I enjoyed my time on the hillside and commenced my descent with some regret to be honest.

I recognised the path down to the finish and the drop-off we'd cycled down back in November last year.  As I looked across the valley, I saw a man walking towards me and to my absolute glee, another runner... no, wait, walker, ahead of me.  I couldn't quite work out if he had a number on but the lanky figure walking towards me was my dad who enthusiastically said, "there's another bloke up there, and he's walking!"

The accelerator pedal went down as far as it could go (not far) and I set off in pursuit of my prey, determined to get to the end of the path before he realised we were nearly finished and sprinted off again.

There was no worry of that for when I reached him he was desperate and accepted the jelly beans I offered him with both hands out-stretched as though they were droplets of liquid gold, accepting "ANYTHING!!"

I hit the main trail and the familiar sight of the sawdust piles which indicate the closing 50m of the race.  I was over the moon not to be last.  The benefits of the experience of pacing and appropriate equipment.  Behind me on the course, my dad was talking the final place finisher off the hillside, getting him to the point where he could see that saw dust pile from where he also started his run in to the finish.

I climbed into the vanu fully clothed, sitting on a blanket to avoid getting the cushions wet and lay back whilst my mum pulled my sodden shoes off my feet.  Not bad pit crew really.

I really enjoyed the Whinlatter Extreme but it totally wiped me out.  I stopped only 30 miles from the race on my way home to have a sleep right next to the A61.  I slept like a baby and didn't want to get up when the alarm went off 25 minutes later.  I limped the vanu home and settled for poor performance from my body for the next two weeks.

What I have to thank the Whinlatter Extreme Duathlon for is excellent stress training.  With the ensuing rest periods I was able to recover and build to strength levels I haven't seen in a while.  I also scared myself regarding my climbing and descending abilities which has led me to do much more hill training over the last few weeks (both off the bike and on the bike) in advance of Celtman.

I like to think this race broke me and re-made me and of all the races I've done this year & previously, this is one I can seriously imagine myself returning to in persuit of those PB thingies everyone seems so keen on.

See you again Whinlatter.