Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dedication isn't a word

Dedication implies a certain forced enjoyment.  When people tell me I must be dedicated, I find it hard to agree.  I don't need to be dedicated, I just love riding my bike - sometimes I also love swimming and running.

I watched the video of the Transatlantic Way last weekend.  There's Roland Guillon (a Frenchman) who is featured.  He is the deputy Mayor of Brest.  "Many people will know Brest from the Paris-Brest-Paris" (bike ride).  I find him the most fascinating featured rider.  He is riding with a rack and bag atop it as well as an Apidura.  He is there to "see Ireland".  Riding his bike is just a mode of transport.

He loves cycling because, like life, sometimes bad things happen and then you will find that something good comes along soon after.

13 days 8 hours (Vimeo pic courtesy of Adrian O'Sullivan)

I have thought about this a lot recently.  Particularly on my way home through the darkness on Friday night, right after I had a full-on argument with a senior manager who was mansplaining my job to me - the one I've been doing for 20 years.

I heard something on my tyre scraping against my mudguard through Attercliffe.  Instead of ignoring it and riding on - as I was tempted to do in a dark and seedy end of Sheffield, I stopped and investigated properly.  I pulled a sharp piece of metal about the size of a large paper clip out of my tyre.  Potentially, the tyre may have gone flat then and there - or it might stay up.  One thing is for sure, if I'd continued to ride on it, it would definitely have gone flat.  In between the wrecked cars awaiting scrappage, salvage or repair, the puddles of oil and the rubbish-stoked fires burning to generate heat in the taxi garage workshops of Attercliffe, I let out a little sigh of relief as the tyre stayed up... at least it seemed stable enough to ride on.

I peered in the Garages - still with doors open at 7pm in case more customers come - I like to nosey and see what's what.  There's often Asian men huddled around the fires.  Smoking, drinking, talking, warming themselves, passing the time, keeping away from their women and children, talking shit - or important shit.  This evening, I noseyed in on two guys reaching forwards together into a loving, generous embrace.  Not a bear-hug, a full on brotherly, caring, loving hug.   In my relief for an inflated tyre, my heart glowed warmer than the fires and I rode all the way home without stopping.

Having failed to do any longer rides this week, I wanted to get out today andput at least 80 miles under my belt.  I'm riding 120 miles in December - my first Audax since 2009.  I figure that if I ride 80 miles in OCTober, 90 miles in NOVember, I should be able to hit 120 mile in December - especially since it's a flat one.

My colleague yesterday reminded me about the storm approaching, saying they were only doing a short ride but he planted the idea in my head to ride South and then get pushed home.  Cue last night plotting an 80 mile route that not only took me South then North, it also kept me down out of the windy moors of the Peak District.

TSK and I rarely venture South of Sheffield except on very long rides.  There's nice places South of here but generally, the space around Chesterfield, Alfreton, Derby and Mansfield is pretty urban and sprawling.  The inter-connecting roads tend to be long, straight 60 limit roads (even the minor ones) and full of boy racers in hot-hatches.  They also tend to be largely devoid of cafe's & coffee shops.  Unless you want a pub or an old-lady tea room, "barren" is the word.

I set my alarm for 6am, intending to do as much South (headwind) riding as possible before the Storm arrived.  I left around 7:30 and was in Baslow by 9:00am.  I stopped for a second breakfast since I was feeling hungry but the cafe there wasn't open, despite me wasting time at the toilets faffing with my saddle.

Around Chatsworth, I headed up a hill I normally descend with Norton Wheelers.  At the top I turned right (South) onto new territory and followed this road at height for 10 miles before turning towards Wessington and the edge of Alfreton.  Basically I left the quiet and lonesome high road for something that feels like an extension of Derby.  Then as I pulled off the A615 into town, the familiar feel of a flat tyre.

My stay in Alfreton was a little harrowing.  At first, I struggled to remove my wheel because my hands were colder than I realised and I had no grip.  Thankfully though, the effort of trying to make them work warmed them sufficiently to make them work...

An old man kept walking past me.  He seemed to be trying to find his home.  Clearly he'd been into town to get a paper but didn't seem able to remember where he lived.   I tried to help as best I could but he didn't know his phone number, kept talking about "her" but I couldn't figure out if that was his wife, daughter or carer.  He didn't have a drivers license or pension book with his address on and I really couldn't think of anything else to say.  I didn't want to be patronising enough to offer to take him to the police station.  Eventually he watched me repair my inner tube and then shuffled into town to figure out what to do next.  I didn't see him again.

Alfreton offered me no cafes and I very nearly ended up at KFC or McD's again but resisted and went to the Co-op for a sandwich and banana and stocked up on cake and flapjack.  I made haste to continue my route, worried that I'd struggle to get to Newstead Abbey before the storm arrived and would be battered before I turned to ride with the wind.  I thought 80 miles would be a push today.

Faster than I realised it though, I went from dodgy bike path through reclaimed pit land to Newstead Abbey grounds and suddenly I was on a closed road with no company but pedestrians, taking a picture of the lake and watching the waterfall and finally there was coffee... right up until the point where the wind blew my gloves and sunglasses across the table and onto the stones and I was so busy holding on to my coffee I let them go.

I panicked and drank the coffee and then left, wishing my mountain biking companion fare winds home and leaving him to finish his cake and updating his twitter.

Sadly, eventually I had to leave the park and continue on to Kirkby and Sutton in Ashfield - weaving my way on B-roads through tenuous industrial and housing estates, the B6039 through Tibshelf and into Chesterfield.

On the back lanes of Chesterfield, a car driver passed WAY TOO CLOSE for comfort.  Lord knows what he was doing as he continued to drive in the gutter until finally pulling out into a normal position in the road.  After my first outburst of "WOAH!", I was pleased to catch him up and ask loudly if my fluoro ORANGE coat was not "fucking bright enough?".

There was no way I was going to fuck up this roundabout with his eyes on me so, I bossed it and randomly selected an exit Right - as far away from his left turn as possible.  It was the wrong way but would eventually meet up with my route further along.

Then there it was, part way up a random street  MY OLD VANU!  I could not believe it!.  I was so excited, words can't describe.  I'm no way upset to have sold it - it was a liability I couldn't deal with and have had 3 happy years of not owning my own car (company car doesn't count) but I have always hoped that it lived on and wasn't just taken / sold for parts.  I tried to understand why it meant so much to me to see it (it's just a car after all - even if it is one that we have so many happy memories of) and I believe it's this: even though I'm not enjoying it, I'm really pleased someone else is.  I put so much effort and expense into doing the conversion that the thought of that being torn apart and binned filled me with regret.  But there he was, the Vanu.  He has blue stripes now and I think the partially faded cat curtains are gone but my woodwork remains in situ and in tact.  The same old dents and scratches are still there and it's much much cleaner.

I was so excited I had to phone TSK and then photograph it.

Out of Chesterfield, my tummy started to rumble again.  I had a carrot cake that I bought at lunch burning a hole in my back pocket so all I needed was a good bush shelter to get out of the drizzle and howling wind.  My Garmin came to my aid, showing a + for a Church in Barlow and sure enough, a lovely stone Lych Gate for a person and a bike to shelter in to eat cake amongst the confetti.

It wasn't far to go but that was just enough to see me through to Sheffield again and up the hill from Dore to Eccleshall Road and then on up to Crookes to walk through the door 8 hours and 77 miles later (80 - give or take the occasional failure to press the button on my Garmin).

SO there we go, from Friday foolishness to three days of bad things happening then something great coming along.

Life, I love but cycling is best.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Oh running. I have missed you but I knew you would hurt me.

It's been 2 months to the day, almost, since I did running in a world championships race. I have hardly run since, short of a little slogging a 'cross bike over rocks in the 3 Peaks cyclocross  and mountain bike pushing in the Alps. It's like I knew it was going to hurt.

I took my running kit to Scotland. The optimist was going to get there early and drive to loch Lomond so I could run Ben Lomond. The realist was going to run the path next to the river near Glasgow airport where my hotel was.

In reality I left the office at 18:30 after a 10 hour day and arrived in Scotland at 00:45. Needless to say I had a lie in.

Still, I escaped my meeting by 2pm and by 3.30 it was time for some me time... aka I was bored of driving.

I stopped in a remote layby on the A66 with a clearly sign-posted bridlepath on the horizon.  I dug out my Garmin - which wasn't where it should have been and recalled it was *exactly* where it shouldn't have been - still plugged into the wall at home.  So an out-and-back run then.

I got up the hill OK through two sets of gates and finally onto the open trail.  It felt GREAT to be out there.  Windy, cold but I'd warm up right?

Had to dive into the grass for a pee, no more than 40 feet from the A66 but all traffic was on the other side of the bluffs of grass and no-one could see.  I was warm, tucked away and spied a gun turret on the other side of the valley.  The grass tickled my nose and I had to drag myself away from my quiet spot.

At first I enjoyed my first bit of picking my way through bog, then I was reduced to walking so as not to turn an ankle out there on my own.  I tried to focus on the positives of being out in the fresh air - getting back to running.  Of course it was going to be slow and hurty but it was just about doing it right?

I decided that getting back to running is harder than giving up smoking.  When you're giving up smoking, every second you're not smoking is success.  I have to wait up to 2 days to be successful at this again - to be running again.

But it was better than driving and it was better than just running around the same old places.  To give myself something to go for I picked the top of the nearest hill but just as I started to off-route my way there, I stumbled across a track that I had not realised existed.  It wasn't as much fun but would give me a bit more scope for running.  Besides, the direct route was looking a bit less stable with a gully and fencing around a quarry in my way - I didn't want to fall down a hole out there on my own!

 So I joined the track and to my great surprise and joy, it skirted around the top of the gully's drainage and set off up the hill towards the top I had planned to visit.  Now I was motoring... actually, I was managing good form but was soooo frickin' slow.  Still, I ran as much as I could and walked the rest then arrived at the end of the track.  I picked my way across the summit bog until I finally reached my target.

I had to take my jumper off to take the brown vest top photo.

I turned straight around and headed back down.  Out of the wind, my panic levels dropped and I was able to enjoy the descent for a while.  I stopped at some mountain huts and had a nosey inside and they looked like good bivi huts - if ever I should find myself there.

Through more gates and retracing my steps.  Tired now, struggling to run.  Picking my way back across the bogs and I went up to my ankles in rusty brown mud.  Nowhere between here and the car to wash it off as all the puddles are black.  So I get back to the car and pour an old bottle of water over my shoe to wash it.  The neighbouring trucker looks in horror as I appear to wash a litre of congealed blood out of my shoe.  

Hard as nails me.

I change into civvy clothes and drive home for 90 minutes.  I fall into the house tired and cold and chase a shower.  It's so good to be warm.  So good to dry my feet.  I feel so free.  Like I've ridden my bike but different, harder... much harder.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Transition Phase Over

Transition phase - the technical term for downtime between two seasons.

See, nowadays the Three Peaks Cyclo-cross marks the end of the adventure riding season for me - where I pack away my long distance mountain biking and get out cyclo-cross with its skinny bike and short Sunday bursts.  With such a great, long adventure season of biking this year, I really needed a transition season more than ever.  In past years I've not bothered.  I've just struggled out of the 3 Peaks and into doing my local 'cross race, occasionally a National Trophy (although I can never get excited about Derby).

This year I allowed myself two weeks of doing whatever the devil I liked.  Fortunately I have liked doing some 50-60 miles rides.  Although they don't necessarily count as epic effort, they have been enough to link one season seamlessly to the next with a bit of a break to massage my brain and enough effort to keep the legs alive.

My peak fitness dropped off towards the end of the distance season as the fatigue drained in and the effort drained out... but that's fine, that's what transition periods are for.

We agreed on a 60 mile averagely hilly ride today as a compromise to the (Alpe d'Huez) training monster I was advocating.  Due to dampness and rain and TSK forgetting that its autumn so not bringing appropriate clothing, we cut it a little shorter than we'd planned although ended up winding around some lovely lanes to get home.  That clocked us in at 61.25 mile and a respectable 1500m of climbing.  It was the same length ride we had in our heads anyway (though with half the Up of the AdH route).

We both agreed that this was the limit of our current fitness as we limped our way home.  This gives us an excellent baseline to work on and fortunately just happens to match my training plan.

We talked about our plans for next years events.  I've seen other people get burned and bomb out of big events like this in their first year.  I've been worried about burning out too soon until TSK asked if I wanted to do the Solstice ride again (December 16th ish).  He pointed out that if I do burn out by December I have plenty of time to recover and turn it around in time for the event.  I  realised, all of a sudden, we used to do Audaxes all the time - December, June, March, that's just what life was until Triathlon started to get in the way.  Y'know what? Life can be that way again.

I only took one photo when I got back to the village.  It was a kind of ridey day.  It was also kind of windy which makes me glad I've put narrower bars on my new bike and there won't be a Carradice when I'm in Ireland.  It proves I need to go places, ride more interesting routes, take some pictures of new people.  Rides aren't just about going faster and higher and further.  They're about going further afield - both physically and mentally and I can't wait.

It was a waiting for dinner to be bought photo.  An, "I regret not getting my camera out earlier" kind of photo and also an "insignificance of social media" photo... because the less I twittle the more I ride and that can only be a good thing.  I'm keeping a diary in addition (supplement) to the blog as sometimes it's nicer to write on paper with a fountain pen.  Flylillypad encouraged me to sketch in it too... or doodle - whichever.  It's a great idea that I love.

For the record though, here's what today looked like.

TSK has taken to the bath.  I have a to-do list that looks like this:

  • Pay credit card bill
  • Package ride up into palletable chunks
  • Plan audax season
  • Tidy loft for yoga
  • Clear spare room for Beckster training weekend.
It's the kind of to do list I can totally get achieve... given a week

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Bike build phase 2

Today hasn't all been domestic bliss, cats (on knees) and tea. Oh no there has been some serious bike building going on.

I have already written about this once but not here, kind of as a therapy to make me feel more sound about things. It doesn't need to be in my blog as it wasn't a thoroughly pleasing experience and eventually I dropped the bike into the shop to do some more rigorous installation than I was prepared to tackle myself. As soon as I did, I felt better and picked up the bike on Wednesday, leaving me 2 whole days to recover before tackling stage 2.

Here's the highlights though: whilst most people save for their retirement, I have just bougt mine.  I don't just mean that in some whimsical kind of, "this is a comfy bike that, as mid life crises go, will last me forever" kind of bike I also mean that as in, "at least if I still haven't paid my mortgage I can still ride off into the sunset with a tent" kind of way.  I hope that gives you an idea how precious it therefore is.

I also think that, whilst you get to 'know' a bike by building it, you don't get to love it yet. This is difficult because during a build you can still go through some traumatic times together - especially if you're trying something new.  You have to exercise patience and faith and hope you don't break anything.

Love comes after miles and miles of shared and hopefully comfortable experiences.  All I have for now is a reassuring knowledge that I totally nailed internal cable routing for the first time. I am still waiting for bits for my brakes but my gears are now spinning and hopefully I have mastered the comfortable part.

I have balanced in a doorway and rolled forwards out of control (damn those brakes) and now I will, very sensibly, put it away for another day before I mess something up.

His name might be Dignity (yes as in the Deacon Blue song) and for some reason, yes this bike is a bloke.

This adventure is the beginning of something beautiful (and I didn't even swallow any small parts).

Monday, October 02, 2017


Trying to balance frustration at not finishing my new bike with the to do list in my head so I can get some sleep.

I had to abandon to revert to tinkering with old bikes so I can at least have a decent ride tomorrow... though the more I sit awake, the less likely I am to achieve that too.  It seems there's nothing more unhealthy than a To Do list and an empty bank account.

I have one more half day holiday to fix this thing... possibly before I go nuts.

Wailing... I just want to riiiiiiiiiide.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Convalescence Ride

I'm not sure who we were trying to make feel better but dad definitely appreciated us riding over to Manchester to say hello.

Thornhill, Mam Nick, Rushup, Chapel, Whaley Bridge, Potteries, Wilmslow (how busy?) Manchester Airport.

Despite fancying a ride home, we took the train.  It was late, we were already soggy, I'd had 2 recurring punctures from a folded rim tape and Andrew's headset was clunking. 

We rode back from the station via Chinese food.

A lovely day was had by all and it ticked the "keep riding further" box without wearing us out completely. 

It also reminded me that when going out on a slightly dodgy autumnal day, a few more items of (dry) clothing may be wise.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

3 Peaks Cyclo-cross 2017

The 3 Peaks this year passed by in a blur of: thinking I was doing better, not knowing how I was doing, puncturing, being average, ending with a time gain of 5 minutes over last year.

It was satisfying but a little disappointing, confounded by my dad not finishing due to a frustrating mechanical.  The official refused continuation 12 minutes outside cut off on a glorious sunny day. He worked really hard this year to get back to fitness after illness... not easy when you're 67.

Another one under my belt but no daddy daughter prize this year and no sub-5 hour for me proving that I will have to train specifically for it instead of pricking about with triathlon and mountain biking.  The legs felt slushy this morning. There's no other reason than I am knackered!

It was a beautiful sunny day. My friend Sue fed me flapjack on Whernside and I had great fun throwing stuff into people's cars (with their permission).

I wore old shoes which messed up my downhill running confidence and anyway I haven't done nearly enough of that recently anyway. Sub 5 hours is definitely possible but dedicating August to fine tuning may be required.

With my head in my next project already, it doesn't bother me too much that I didn't break any of my old records today. It matters more what I do tomorrow... or perhaps on Wednesday.
(c) Sue Thackray

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


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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Penticton to Princeton

Hello Lower mainland
Getting home on tired legs.

Not wanting to spend one more moment in the Okanagan.
Good bye Okanagan

Reminded why I left the country.  $27.50 to post my race rucsac home.  It will arrive in "about 2 months".  No insurance.

I was gone by 10am.  Fairly impressive since I had to pack.  I knew my schedule now.  Three 80 mile days and one 40 mile day.  In any order.  There was nothing else to do but get going.  I couldn't face Greenwood Forest Products or Green Mountain Road.  The highway wasn't too busy and I soon realised that the benefit of Twin Lakes was a service station where I could stock up on cold water for my camelbak, iced tea and a muffin.

At Keremeos I started to dream of salad and pulled into the Organic Farm Shop which only offered baked goods so I made do with an over-priced sandwich.  Air con set to high so I had to take my slushy outside to melt it to a drinkable temperature.

Headley came sooner than I expected but as I walked through the door was greeted with, "Hi, you came back!"  Sweet!

I drank tea and iced water.
Bathroom humour

It was still 23 miles to Princeton but the promising old road was still there with its campgrounds and swim pools all the way along and so I ploughed on up the raod keeping one eye open for bears and one ear open for cars.  Thankfully this rewarded me with a bluebird sighting as I neared princeton.

The swim spots were unappealing in my fatigued state and I didn't fancy getting cold and wet, despite the heat.  I had run out of enthusiasm and just wanted to flop into a restaurant for dinner so I set about making the campsite at the edge of town.

Apart from having enjoyed my stay there, I also left my battery and solar charger there on the way out so needed to return to relaim it.  When I walked through the door, the manager proclaimed, "Hey, you came back".  More sweet!

I dropped my bike and took my shoes off and walked straight into the river fully clothed.  Cue, friendly concerned conversations with the local tourists (if you catch my drift).

I had the most awful fish and chips (since when are we asked "one piece or two?").  Beer was nice though.  Walked back to my campsite.  Less impressed to find the Weyerhauser plant running 24 x 7 (did I not notice last time?).

Breakfast was eaten one last time at the cafe where a local wanted to know all about the Penticton race and insisted on getting a photo with me.  We obliged eachother and I promised to visit his place on Wong Way some time - well now I have the picture to prove I'm welcome!
Mr Wong

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Totally distracted

Things I usually do on my ex-wedding anniversary: fret and mope

Things I did on this one:

  • Outdoor shopping
  • Tried a new juice bar and bitched about how Ironman has changed with a complete stranger
  • Met a new friend and had breakfast in her caravan whilst scratching a dopey blonde labrador
  • Waking to the sound of honing geese.
  • 6:30am run in my tri suit then straight in the lake for a swim
  • going back to bed
  • Booked 2 nights in a hotel
  • international race briefing
  • Photographed a woman reclining with a chihuahua on her boobies.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Canada 2017: Day 4 - Riding Into the Smoke

At 9am I left Princeton campsite, joined the highway and cycled down the hill.  After 10 mins I noticed my Garmin telling me I was off course, except the route was just on the other side of the river.  It would join up  "soon", right?

I didn't want to retrace as I was concerned about this cold I'd picked up and went with it for the moment but as the traffic kept coming I longed for that other road.  I checked.  It went on for miles and there were no bridges.

I'd only been riding 15 minutes so I turned around, headed back and justified it with the opportunity to have a second breakfast at a nice-looking cafe in town.

The chocolate croissant was big and the breakfast tea went down with lots of sugar  and two bike packers turned up for a chat - one from Seattle and the other "just finishing off" his Tour Divide South to North ride.

As I struggled to get out the words of a sentence, sputtering out the words over my cold which bit at the back of my throat like a bee-sting, they both nodded and said, "it's something in the air".  I explained my track record of 1 in 1 occurrences of a cold appearing right before an international competition but they both confirmed they were suffering the same condition - "it's the smoke!".

Cue long discussion about how we thought it was over etc. but I set off down the valley again with renewed optimism.  Not for the ride into smoke but for the not being sick part.

The optimism continued as I first followed the trail and then a perfectly surfaced road past some of the most beautiful swim spots I have ever seen.  Campgrounds abounded and kids played and I rolled by, thinking I'd definitely stop for a swim on the way back (note to self: should have sopped because it wasn't nearly as idyllic on the way back).

After not long enough I rejoined the main highway and my joy decreased.  The mumbling of traffic led to the haze of smoke from the wildfires in the interior and the distant peaks gradually turned silver through the haze.  My throat started to itch and I felt the need to somehow protect myself.

The government guideline was to avoid hard physical exercise but I'd been on the road for a few days and all hills were hard by now.  I tried breathing through my nose thinking the nose hairs would filter the particulates but even at an easy gear I couldn't seem to get enough air through my pathetic nasal passages to fuel my muscles.  I tried to breathe out through my mouth to improve flow but I was gradually desiccating, breathing in dry air and breathing out all the moisture.  My head started to sting as I pushed less and less oxygen through the contracted airways until eventually my nose burned intolerably dry and I took my first few tentative mouth-breaths.

Finally relief.

I pulled into Hedley cafe for a rest - a truckstop style caf in a gold mining town where the museum is "temporarily" closed.  Since there was nothing until Keremeos where I would be around 3pm, 11:30 transpired to be lunchtime.  French toast and a plate of chips later and I resumed mouth breathing with sips from my Camelbak, supplemented with ice water.

The route to Keremeos was also supplemented with a few minor (although rewarding) detours off the main road to pass through tiny native villages and then the main crossing over the river via a big red road bridge I had always admired but never crossed when I lived here.  The detour through the fruit trees cheered me up no end, as did the diversion into Keremeos - historically avoided via detour around the "bypass".

The cafe had run out of icecream and soda so my much-anticipated milkshake was downgraded first to fruit soda and then to sprite plus syrup.  Shocking in a town selling fresh fruit from the trees and they still charged me $5.  Added to the list of places NOT to stop on the way back.

When I left town I was pleased to note an alternative organic farm cafe on the way out.  Plan formed.

When I came out, the air felt clearer - or maybe it was the $5 ice cubes.  The first short hill was enough to remind me it wasn't completely clear but I settled back into my routine of going easy on the climbs then standing up on the descents to recover my bruises and let circulation back into my sit bones.  I finally reached the Green Mountain turn off in mid afternoon, having debated this turn all day.

I was looking forward to the picturesque traffic free option but not the climbs, extra distance and lack of anything.  Still, I plunged into instant relief as I realised that the trees which give the mountain its colour and hence its name were filtering out much of the smoke and dryness and the air was relatively normal.

My legs, however were not and as I watched the bear scat roll by I doubted my ability to out sprint a bear, no matter how much adrenaline. I focused on trying not to wobble off the road.

Eventually I passed that familiar turn off to Apex mountain resort, pleased to have avoided the rush hour that would coincide with bumping into my ex-husband (only chance I might see him) and enjoyed the lovely descent through to the reserve.  At one point I thought I'd been sworn at by a motorcyclist which left me dismayed as Canadians tend to respect, not heckle cyclists.  Then I realised he was warning me that the road surface approaching was "feckin awful" and appreciated his words as I skittered across the gravel.

I dropped out at Greenwood forest products completely spent and starving.  The factory was closed and anyway I was heading straight to the donut shop across the road.  Sadly now a Tim Hortons but I could at least get a salad and devour the milkshake I'd been harbouring all day.

For once I shunned the cold, air conditioned indoors and embraced the heat and remaining smoke to enjoy a meal in a familiar environment.  With 8 miles to go it seemed irresponsible to adjust to a different climate.  Besides, even outside was starting to feel "a bit chilly".

I shivered my way back to life and warmed up with a ride along the channel path (still an awful surface) before deciding not to risk the worse lakeshore trail with a fully loaded bike but stick to the highway that I know.

Uphill but at least not as daunting as the precipitous drop to the campsite.  I realised I was going to become familiar with the lakeshore path.

I had no energy left to argue with the campsite steward who stuck me between two roads and the bins.  I tried but sulked off and kept myself to myself.  I spent a good 20 minutes trying to see any flat ground on my pitch then threw up my tent and went to sit in the shower and do my laundry.

I was to suffer this campsite for as little as possible before moving to town.  The lakeshore path was tollerable to ride along and overwhelmingly pleasant to run along.  I hated the campsite but I liked its location.  As soon as I could I moved into town for 1 night then into a hotel before the race.

My deal with Penticton was done by then and my enthusiasm for Canadian lakeshore camping was over.  The Kaleden campsite kept me away from the cryathletes withering around town in self importance and allowed me a quiet swim twice a day away from the crowds of kids but that was it.  I'd never go back there again unless seriously out of season.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Canada: Day 3 - Hope to Princeton

There's more things I forgot to bring - hair bobbles (borrowed one from Tan but it's too loose and I keep losing it); earplugs (I really can't live without them no matter how tired) and suncream (for obvious reasons).

Everything comes in packs of 10 or 15.  I throw away most of the ear plugs and some of the bobbles (though elastic bands are always useful so many stay).  I buy a stick of suncream as it's the only thing in a small bottle so I can colour in my limbs. The nice lady in the shop explains it's "for the face", I rudely point out that it will go wherever I put it, I'm so frustrated about the over-shopping.

It's all delaying that innevitable first climb up Highway 1 to the Crowsnest with its memories of thinking, "are we supposed to be on this" as we scale a 3-lane "freeway"(motorway) section but sure enough there's bike symbols on the hard-shoulder.  It's a relief to turn onto the Crowsnest past and leave the 3 lanes behind and I just focus on mashing the pedals as far as the Hope Slide Memorial which I decide I don't need to revisit.

I'm peckish when I pass Sunshine Valley at 10:30am but I decide not to stop as I'm going downhill, freewheeling and I've already missed the turn.  I ride on nibbling on the supplies I have with me and knowing that Manning Park resort is also ahead.

On and on... to Allison Pass summit where I have a slightly annoyed looking selfie and continue on some more.  I kind of know this doesn't let up but the short shallow downhills followed by more climbing... they're starting to drag on.

There are road signs, boasting of "Canada's 10 year plan" to build roads and keep people in work.  All yay! But they seem to be in the same places they were last time so I just wonder if this is a genuine Forth-Bridge project which needs re-surfacing and rebuilding on a regular 10 year cycle.  I doubt I'll be back in another 10 years to find out.

Finally, I crest a descent to Manning Park and the lodge looms into view.  I lock up DB and head inside to find pasties, chocolate ice cream and coffee with some extras on the side.  I've eaten every bit of food I own except the desiccated emergency food and I'm starving.  I sit in the shade, wilt and look at my lovely lovely bike.  A group of Americans are crowding around her and marvelling at my set up.  One guy refers to her as "Some European thing" and my blood boils but I'm too tired for a conversation so I stay in the shade of the building.

Finally he starts peering at my Apidura wondering, "how does it stay up there?" and I can't resist saying, "by magic".  He asks "Oh, is this yours?" and when I answer "Yes and explain about straps under saddles and harnesses",  that seems to be enough for him and he wanders off.  Great to have some human interaction.

Inside I grab some more food and then head back out into the sunshine.  At least there's a bit of downhill before going back up again.  The forest wanes into Sunday summit where the trees become more spread-out and sparse, giving way to brush, rocky faces and quarries.  It looks like a valley has been dammed for flooding.  The dam in still in construction and looks hideous.  Its surface is like the moon compared to the surrounding pink rock and green trees.  It makes me say, "oh no Trudeau, you di'nnt", but you have to watch "The Last Leg" in England to get that one.

I finally come across the gut-wrenching whoop-dinger of a descent I have been looking for all day.  As I approach it a logging truck pulls out of a truckstop behind me and then its draft whoofs me along upto 40kph as I reach the top of the descent.  I drop into a tuck and just as I've started to really enjoy the wide open road and sweeping bends, the passenger in a camper across the road screams "Yee haw" at me and I whoop down the rest of the descent.  Max speed 68km/hr. (43mph).

The best thing about that descent is Princeton is right at the bottom.  For the first time this trip I am scared by wildlife as a massive red deer, grazing by the road side sees me and is spooked.  Thankfully there's no traffic near me and I pull over to give her room but she bounds off in the opposite direction.  The village is abounding with monk deer so it must be a real thing here.

I rumble up at the nearest campsite to town so I can go and get myself some food and check in, completely spent.

Time: 8h:25m

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Canada Day 2 - Langley to Hope

Pancakes, bacon, maple syrup and love are my send off.  Everyone, including me is excited although - unlike everyone else, I am somewhat daunted.  I ride into Langley to Mountain Equipment Co-op to get a bear scarer (useful for UK motorists?) and stove fuel and to see if the lovely mechanic will cut the lock off my bike frame.  I stupidly locked it there and then brought the wrong key with me.

(c) Tan-Ya

The shop doesn't open for an hour when I arrive and I almost leave to cope or find a hardware store for help but then remember the gas and return to chill out, sit in the sun and banter with the local lonely cyclist (on first name terms with the staff when they arrive). 

90 minutes later and I leave with fuel, an air horn and knees liberated from being knocked by a lock.

I've plotted a route through the burbs.  I have to stop after 1 hour for lunch.  Ignoring the chain restaurants I find a cafe that's only been open 7 weeks and I am their first international customer. 

A delicious salad and properly served tea.  Canada is looking up.

As factories and offices give way to farm holdings and acreages, my options are done.  One last jaunt through Chilliwack's highlands and then into town, briefly crossing highway 1, onto highway 7 and the start of the Hope Road.

There's a headwind all the way which I can just about cope with but dread meeting it on the way back.  It's interrupted by the whistle and rumble of a Canada Pacific train and my thoughts focus on counting the containers its pulling.  238. 

That haunting whistle brings back so many memories and before I know it I am at the campsite at hope.  There's space and I am clean.  I bike into town for dinner.  My new lock keeps the bike safe and it's a successful day.  There's just that haunting wail of trains that keeps me awake late and then the light wakes me up early and it's time to hit the road.

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.


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.


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.