Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 1st Trunce (No 2)

I missed the first Trunce of 2012 because of my stoopid job but resolved to do the second, despite the fact that I had done the Hell on Th'Ills Duathlon the day before.

I thought a ride there from Barnsley station would do me good but that only seemed to make my legs stiffer as they were out in the cold.  By the time I got there, I was making deals with myself that if I got there before 6:30 I would run so I didn't have to rush around and risk injury.

I got there at 6:23 and damned myself for doing so.

I jogged up the first hill and talked on the way down.  Because I hadn't brought dry socks or my fell shoes I resorted to the stepping stones for the river crossing which only lost me a few places I quickly regained.

I walked up the steep hill through the woods but ran my normal descent because the going was good under foot.

The second river crossing I did on stepping stones but I enjoyed the flat running sections this time because I managed to keep my place.

The final river crossing was a bit hairy and the ascent even worse as all the other runners had made the surface wet and slippery.

I knew my legs were a mess when I reached the final downhill but I managed to keep my place, in spite of stopping to fasten my shoe laces.

I crossed the line in 42 minutes.  Could do better, but I'm not sure I could with a duathlon in my legs.

The ride home to sheffield took me 1 hour.  For 9 miles.  Atrocious!

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Hell on th'Ills Duathlon

Or... Remembering what it is Like to be a Winner

My goal for this race was nothing more than to still be running after 15km. a) to get my distance up to 15km after last week’s 12k fiasco and b) to still be running after a 40km bike ride in the middle.

On Friday I slept like a log which is a relief because on Saturday night I had the usual collection of pre-race anxiety dreams. From what I remember, I dreamed I was treating Sunday's race like an Audax so at the top of Castle Hill I stopped for tea and cake. Only I got into the wrong queue for tea and ended up waiting an hour to be served. By the time I got to the bike all the marshals had gone and I got lost and when I finished the bike no-one was waiting for me at transition.

When I finally woke up enough to do something about my half-sleeping condition it was that deadly hour of 3:25am again. I went downstairs for a snack to stop the hunger and finally got myself 2.5 hours sleep before the alarm went off at 6.

Daunting view of the hills adjacent to the course.
The race officials were very helpful and went through transition with me as I racked my bike. They had time to be helpful with a field of only 62 starters - some of which were Holme Firth Harriers only doing the 10k run.

I bumped into my friend Rachel Mellor from cyclo-cross who wasn't competing but helping Holme Valley Wheelers and her hubby contribute to the race shop. She was rushing off at 9:30 to go to the velodrome to collect her daughter from the Olympic Programme. I have some amazing friends.

The pre-race briefing included our reports of substantial ice on the descents into New Mill and at the Crossroads in the village. All the competitors hoped it would be gone after 2 hours of racing but judging by the ice on the footy field, we all knew we'd be taking care. I grinned at TSK as the organiser suggested excellent sight-lines on the descent from Holme Moss.

The pre-race chat on the walk / jog over to the school-based start line revolved around, "have you done this before" and "I'm daunted by the small field - obviously there's a lot of people know something we don't".

I eyed the competition. Two ladies from Holmfirth Harriers who were more lanky and muscular than I could imagine for someone alive, huddled together in the cold in their vests as I toyed with the idea of running in my fleece jersey but resigned myself to my STC vest with a woollen tee underneath. My only other competition seemed to be Hillary Booth in a "wiggle" jersey. She looked reasonably slight and fit so I assumed she would also wipe the floor with me. Someone in a red teeshirt, chatted to me before the start and I thought I might be able to stick with him.


The whistle sounded and we started the immediate climb up the hill at a gradient of 10%

Most people ran past me from the start line. I hazarded a glance over my shoulder once as we rounded a bend just to make sure I wasn't the absolute last. I could dimly see two people in black behind me.

Even the sheep were chilled out
With the ankle injury I sustained last week, I didn't want to test the ankle too early in the day.  I had been warned about going too fast in this event so I decided to treat the first run like a pleasant training run and do my own race. The Garmin was buried in a back pocket and I wasn't going to take my gloves off to dig the thing out so I wasn't even pacing myself.

More lovely marshals shouted out encouragement as I rounded the top of the hill onto a flat section of road which circles around the bottom of Castle Hill, offering a superb view - first of the castle atop the hill and then of the runners ahead of me streaming up the flanks of the hill to reach the first summit of the run.

I was relieved not to hear the marshal's voice again, meaning that I had put some substantial ground between me and the couple behind.

At the bottom of the climb to the Castle an elderly gentlemen walked the other way and when I called out a "good morning" to him, he said, "118 steps to the top". Fortunately by then I'd already climbed a few steps so I wasn't condemned to counting my way through the remainder.

I ran up about 60 of them until I was out of breath then resorted to walking up two-at-a-time. Finally, having crossed a flat section (the path around the hill) I summonsed another little jog before bursting onto the summit in the blue sky and gentle breeze spreading my arms wide in a feeling of being alive. I wish I'd had a camera.

As I approached the water station, I reflected on my anxiety dreams from the day before and asked, "is there tea and cake here?

Much to my dismay there was not so I gulped down some water and made do.

The boys at the water station chatted to me as I supped, saying, "that was 'ard". I managed to stutter "No that was beautiful", trying not to cough up a lung or the water I'd just consumed which was being stubborn about settling down. “Wow! Would you like another” he asked. “Nah, you numpty, I meant the view was beautiful, not the water”.

The descent from the castle was more terrifying than the way up. In excess of 1 in 8, the road plummeted in a series of hairpin bends. I attacked it with my usual level of fell running frivolity, letting the legs go, just hoping that there would be a foot there to land on with each careering stride down the hillside. The speed bumps gave sudden unexpected relief to the gradient - making it scarier in its unpredictability. It was only eased by the sight of John Whitworth walking back up the hill complaining of cramp. I smugly thought to myself, "I might not be the fastest competitor on the course but at least I can pace myself."

Finally the gradient eased to a lovely rolling country lane along the bottom of the valley, passing through the village of Almondbury.

It would soon come to an end as the road veered back upwards at 1 in 13 for a few more sharp chicanes. Finally I reached a marshal who directed me along the main road for much more climbing at an easier gradient before two smiling marshals delivered the great news that it was all downhill to transition and I was not allowed to go into the very-tempting Golden Pheasant pub.

The final descent is a retreat along the road that we so cruelly ran up from the start followed, by the ginnel between there and the clubhouse. As I came through the path, I was sure I heard the marshal talking to someone else and had to check with the girl at the other end to make sure there was no-one behind me. I didn't want to have to rush through transition now, after the lovely pleasant run I’d just had.

The hardest part of this race for me was the 4 large and uneven steps over the wall at the end of the lane - coming into each of the run transitions. Cruel.

The race officials stood by as I transitioned, with a little banter about it being “all to play for” with five minutes between me and the person in front with three in front of him. 5 minutes sounded like a lot but then, “this is my thing!” I said, “this is my bit”.

I set out onto the bike course with one shoe undone and still trying to get my Garmin out of my pocket to get it on my bike. I needed to pace this bit better than any to ensure I was meeting my average target over the massive hills. I was 400m down the road when I realised I'd stopped the Garmin and had to restart it for lap 2.

At the end of the only flat 400m on the course, I nearly lost it on the bike as I realised I haven't test-ridden my race-bike since I set it up in its summer configuration. The bars were incredibly weird compared to my commuter bike and although the brakes work, I squeezed them and realised I didn’t have enough purchase on them. Nearly ploughing straight into the curb coming round the corner, I squealed a little before actually finding the back brake and seating myself properly on the hoods. I must've looked a right amateur.

After that corner, the ride continues in the same vain as the rest of the course - a series of sharp, unforgiving climbs. When you discover that your elbow pads smash into your knees within 500m of the start of the ride, it can be a bit dispiriting but as I didn't have my Allen keys with me there was nothing I could do about it anyway except for sit down as much as possible in the climbs. I mashed up the back-roads and finally turned out onto the main climb up Holme Moss, "the hard way". The legs were not feeling good and the opportunities to catch up Richard Farrell, 5 minutes ahead of me felt very dwindled.

Then, there he was, at the first hairpin on the Moss climb – a little red jersey in the distance. The cyclist in me thought I could catch him but that cyclist had also just knackered their legs on a stupidly hilly 10km run.

By the first switchback I'd put around half a straight into him and I dug for a bit more energy - still trying to stay in the saddle as much as possible so I wasn't climbing with my knees sticking out to each side risking injury.
Holme Moss Climb

The next thing I saw, at the top of the hill, was someone in red summiting and setting off on the descent. I couldn't fathom how he'd got back at me but then convinced myself it was a different man as Richard had punctured. Not only that, he'd lost the nut off his quick-release (not sure why he'd removed it) and was scrabbling around in the grass “having a bad day".

A momentary procession of people above us gave me the brief hope that there may be someone else I could catch but sadly no, they were all ripping down the hill. Lucky, lucky people.

Looking slick
I summited alone, drawing food from my pocket for a refuel and "trying" over the top to get that extra competitive advantage. I really thought I'd catch someone on the descent as I'm a ripping descender but as it was, there was no-one there again. Early season competency I suppose… and the very specialist nature of this event (local nut-jobs who know the roads). No wonder it’s organised by Tough-Nut Events.

In all my years in Sheffield / Manchester, I'm not sure I've ever driven Holme Moss and I've certainly never ridden it. The descent down the "easy" side is beautiful. The organiser recalled that his “bottle breaks” at 47mph. I managed the same before twitching on the brakes.

Holme Moss Descent

Several radio cars positioned at the top, middle and bottom of the descent ensure that each rider is clocked (figuratively, not technically) on their way down the hill and hasn't come to a sticky end. At the bottom, the marshal helps spot traffic on the very hairy turn onto the main Woodhead road, leaving the rider free to concentrate on braking and keeping the back wheel on the road as they turn the steep, grubby hairpin corner.

Traffic was reasonably considerate and I saw TSK on the main road, riding the other way - unfortunately a pretty rubbish spot for a photo. I was gutted that, on his fixed gear, he'd managed to do 21km to my 19km. Then he was kind enough to point out that I'd done the difficult bit of the ride and been for a run too.

I whiz by TSK on the Woodhead Road.

From close to the summit of Woodhead, the road back to transition passes across the edge of Windelden reservoir before ambling up and downhill for 8km through the beautiful villages of Dunford Bridge and Carlecotes. I was blessed with a tail-wind up Holme Moss which meant I got the head wind at the point where it was actually possible for me to use the tri bars without fear and when the descents got steeper, to crouch out of the wind on the bars with all the skill of a Tour de France rider (even if only half the confidence).

I suddenly discovered that if I kept my hands on the dropped position of the handlebars on the steeper climbs, it put my body in a position where my knees wouldn't smash into my elbow pads and normal climbing capability was resumed. Combined with my legs suddenly finding some warmth from somewhere (the sun?), I started to eat up kms and before I knew it was turning onto the familiar descent into the valley. I roared past Kevin Page who I'd seen summiting Holme Moss ahead of me and continued into transition with nothing more than a close-call with a land-rover to contend with. Actually, my rage made me faster and I nearly caught the fucker up!

Transition was a mess as I overshot the tape around the entry and completely missed the timing pad, having to retrace my steps. By the time I'd actually got to my running shoes, Kevin Page had also reached transition with me and had got his shoes on a damn-sight easier than I had. I knew he'd pass me on the run as that would be the only reason he was ahead of me in the first place.

One of the finishers, already back in transition said, "Eh up, it's our first lady". "Ha! I don't think so" I said. “There's only two people behind me and I don't think any of them are female".

We got out on the course and sure-enough Kevin led out on the main street and I never saw him again after we set off up Brockholes Lane. A fellow competitor's words rang in my ear as I jogged under the railway tunnel. "If you're still running by the time you get to Brockholes Lane, you're a truly amazing athlete". I was still running - what was going on?

Finally, by the time I reached the farm on Brockholes lane, my lungs were starting to burn so I gave in to “being amazing” and slowed to a walk. As soon as I did, everything in my legs hurt so I soon started to jog again, simply to keep the blood moving around my body and keep the pain at bay.

This little bit of driving forward contributed hugely to me ripping shreds off my expected 5km time.

"All downhill now" said the marshal at the top of the climb. I wept a little. Going downhill makes my stomach come out of my ears.

I unleashed the fell-runners legs on the downhill. I had nothing left to save myself for now so pounded away. Each step flapping against the tarmac as I had nothing left with which to control my running style and besides, the cold meant I couldn’t feel my feet. They were like frozen steaks on the ends of my legs.

Oh god, those bloody steps again. I leapt over with style - blow it if I injure myself. A lap of the boggy field and adulation - still running after 15km. I squealed and shouted, "still running after 15km".

Winning smile

"And first lady" said the race official. "REALLY?" I said. "Confused. What happened to the ladies from Holmfirth Harriers?" They were just doing the 10k run.

Squealing. Squealing some more. Lots of squealing.

Kit collected. Chat to the race officials. Beaming. Shaking hands. A trophy. First multisport win. Smiling. Massage.

I'm happy enough with still running after 15km. Whilst I may not be the fastest person on the tri circuit by a long shot, you have to be in it to win it and if I am the fastest nutter able to get out of bed early on a cold day in April then I take my trophy and I shout from the roofs about it because I am remembering how it feels to win things.

Whilst it may never happen again, I am going to try harder to do it again.

Winning is addictive and it’s been way too long since I’ve had it in my athletic life. So whilst this post is all about my day and this race. It’s also about remembering that winning feeling.

Next time I'm unmotivated to train or travel to an event or enter something, I can think back to the winning feeling and believe that one day, just one day, it might happen again.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Motivation Part 2

Last night I went out on the Sheffield Friday Night Ride.  Fiona Harrison came along.  She's an Olympic bobsleigh racer who, after years of training as a heptathlete, was turned to bobsleigh.  From what I could gather last night, there seems to be a generic athletics programme and those who aren't just groomed or gifted in a particular area are diverted down the various sporting avenues which otherwise present themselves - hence how a girl from Sheffield ends up being an Olympic bobsledder.

I didn't last the whole ride.  I went to the pub with my team mates - largely to have pints and giggles but also to corner my friend and ask if I can borrow his daughter to do wedding pics.

The earlier parts of the SFNR were so good for me though.  We went to the international sports venue where we saw the gym that the Olympic teams and proper athletes use to train.  The plebs gym is next door.

Fiona told us about the lifts that they do and how her strength training contributes to a sport that, essentially, she doesn't get to practice unless she is in the location getting ready to race.

It reminded me that despite all the odds and the way the statistics are stacked in my life, I quite like using weights to train.  I'm not the kind of person who goes out and rides up and down hills in big gears just to get stronger.  I'm the kind of person who goes and rides up and down big hills in normal gears just to enjoy myself but I'm also the kind of person who would rather get strong by lifting an iron bar in my loft.  The outcome is that I am able to ride up the bigger hills faster and in bigger gears.

So now I am motivated to do some weights.  Even more so than last week when I moved my bike out of the loft so that I could actually find the weights and then responded by turning my ankle on my run.

And yet, I haven't done any weights at this point.  I am being responsible.  I am saving myself until after the Hell on th'Ills Duathlon tomorrow because lifting weights is not what I want to be doing the day before a race.  In the theme of being incredibly motivated when I'm not allowed to train, I am now incredibly motivated.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Stupidly Motivated for Someone with a Sore Foot

I have bruised a foot or strained some ligaments or something.  I went over on it yesterday and it hurt to the extreme.  I had to hold on to a tree for five minutes before I could walk on it again.  Tentatively I started making steps towards the road, preparing myself for the indignity of phoning for a ride home.

But it seemed OK to walk on and then to run on so I did just that and started to head for home.  After 9.3km in 1hr 10 minutes, I tutted in disgust at myself and resolved to run all the way back to the house - in theory this should've totalled 12.something kms.  In the end, I resorted to walking and running after 11km as the foot started to hurt again and as a reaction, the hip extensor in the opposite leg started to complain also.

It was a miserable 12.1km when I reached the end of the road, mostly walking.

Since the "injury" - but let's not label it yet - I have done little more than check the details for next week's duathlon, Talk to my dad to persuade myself I can do it. Read my fell-running magazine, put my racing wheels on the bike and become increasingly motivated by the season ahead.

It has led me to set, what some might call "goals" but I prefer the term "targets" for next week.

Let's take Saturday's ride which was much longer than next week's race and let's take the hilliest sections - which will be like next week's race - 2hrs 15minutes for 40km.  I should be able to cut that to 2hrs.

Now let's take yesterday's run.  About the same elevation.  Longer distance by 3km.  I'll take the hill climb section as times for both sections of the course since with race face on I'll go faster but without the 12 hours sleep in between the bike and the run, I'll likely go slower.

So, we're looking for a 1:15" 2:15" 40" result.

That's if I can fix the foot in time.

In other motivation, the bike is out of the loft, as is the turbo trainer which means there is room to swing a cat - or lift some weights so (again) once the foot is fixed, there will be weight training to be done to contribute to making  me a stronger person when the big day comes.  The big day that is now, 12 weeks away.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

March Stats

Swim -Still Nada
Bike - 469.06km, 17.1kph, 6609m el.  Not as far but that's more like it on the speed and the elevation is happy-making.
Run -26.2km, 7.6km/hr, 980m

April's targets:

  • To get some swimming in there.
  • To get the run distance up to 13km per run.
  • To bump the bike speed up.

Being outside.

I am really quite annoyed that I have a stinker of a cold this week.

To be fair, I wished it on myself.  With only 13 days left in the office, I thought I might take some as leave and the rest as sick.

In reality, if I take this week off sick, I'm not sure I can get all the work done that I would like to do in the remaining 5 days of work if I were to take the 4 days annual leave owed to me.  Leaving me with little or no holiday before the new job.

The new job has also inspired me to get out training.  When I start working at BOC I want to be able to ride there - every day - without fail.  I want to be able to start swimming again (this is the point of the move) and run to work from time to time.  Sod the duathlon on the 15th April - I want to get fit for work!

This week I was going to do more running. 

This week I was going to get to the gym to check out the facilities at Hillsborough.

Yesterday I sat indoors all day.  Staring at the computer, staring at my knitting, printing out envelopes and packing wedding invites.  I am rarely deprived of both daylight and fresh air completely.

The results were a devastating headache at 6pm when TSK came home.  He forced me to read the label on the Lemsip packets properly and persuaded me I was allowed one before the one at bedtime.  By 9pm I was feeling better so I collected up the wastepaper baskets around the house and stepped outside to empty them before collection in the morning.  The night air was still springy.  I needed my sweatshirt on but after I hauled the big black bin down the steep garden stairs and through the passageway, I sat in my free plastic chair and stared down the street across my neighbours gardens.  I sat there for about 10 minutes.  Just breathing.  I thought about doing some yoga but my headache was still just there enough to dissuade me.  I breathed some more.

I sorted out the recycling bin and took that out the front door.  In my slippers, I padded up the street to the top.  Ignoring the giggling couple walking home from the pub, I turned and stared out across Sheffield city.  The top five floors of the arts tower glowing back at me from the next valley like an old tungsten lightbulb that time forgot.

I breathed some more.

I realised how much fresh air is an important part of my life.  It's no wonder I have hated my job in Leeds.  The fresh air exposure is limited to 20 minutes per day - 30 if I manage to get out for lunch which I haven't done in over a month.

While Brinsworth isn't a particularly special part of the world and the ride to it is going to involve some fairly depressing town rididng, it has its potential for woodlands and fields access when I am there and swimming pool access on my way home.

If nothing else, this poorly episode has taught me something - that no matter how rubbish anything is, I need to be outside - just for a little while - every day.