Friday, June 24, 2016

Days that go by

Life is sometimes a bully. It grabs you by the ear and yanks you into a miasma of days that float by with a thousand things to do.
When that happens, the bike sits, sad, in the garage.

From here. Rocky Mountain Biker
I want  a  break from burying myself but that doesn't mean I want a break from doing things so today I finally got back on my bike.
I needed a break from Brexit and it cheered me up. I felt happy for a few things and found the occasional positive spin and  was able to laugh at it. I have never cared less for politics to be honest.  As a francophile I am all European. A dedicated innie. I just refuse to be sad over  politics life is too short.
But back to life and self absorbed mumbo jumbo. It's all it ever will be since it's mainly my diary on the world. If I ever grow old enough to become somehow immobile I can sit in a chair and read my own story.
Sometimes I do it now and often I learn something that I had forgotten about. 
But the story of how I did my second Ironman will take a little longer to come out because I am so tired of making progress and measuring progress and capturing progress that I forgot to enjoy riding my bike, running and swimming in the lake and god, do I hope I haven't missed summer! ?
I washed my mountain bike on Tuesday. I have been itching to ride it since but I had to wait for my body to catch up with recovery - first physically and then mentally. 
I  feel like I am in much better shape compared to post-Forestman which makes me really happy, given how tough the Kielder course is (and was on the day).
On Wednesday my body had recovered but my head was shot. I jumped at every little thing and swore violently,  like my life depended on it, when I lost something.  I lay awake staring at the wall and then finally got up to sulk at the Internet. You know when you realise that some people are unimportant and undeserving of the stress they cause you.  When you try to face their hatred with love and they throw it back at you?  No?  Oh just me then.
I tried to get to yoga on Thursday but slept in due to the late night. Thankfully a visit from Glyn put me in the right frame of mind to do some light vigorous cleaning and I went to bed moderately exercised, tired and ready for a great sleep on Thursday night. 
My ride home tonight in fading light with no actual attack on my personal space  (mental or physical) from motorists really was the best end to the day. I got slightly mucky on the canal bank, had to climb over a tree and then rode over curbs all the way back to uni, giving my mtb a bit more of the urban experience than she is used to.  I should have had lights on really but judge me on that after we've  nailed this big contract. 
Two hungry hairy faces met me when I got home. The cats are happy not to be left alone tonight and they're going to be allowed in the bedroom. 
There's nothing I have to do this weekend but I am going to have a day to myself and then go and hang out with TSK and his team at the Shenington  24 hr race because for once I am going to amuse myself watching other people suffer then I am going to go  back to work and pick up my job on Monday, EXACTLY  where I left it. While I don't aspire to make that too much of a habit it's one I can  enjoy in the short term. 
I lied, I guess washing the mud off my legs is also kind of a thing I have  to do. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pre-Ironman Ride

The pre-ironman ride was the most terrifying part of this weekend. I haven't ridden my bike in a week and I haven't ridden that bike since it came back from Lisbon 3weeks ago... but mainly because the last time I did a pre-ironman ride, I realised something was wrong with me.

Today I took a  turn out of the drive and under a disused railway bridge then set  off along a lovely quiet bike network route. It was a bit rough on my tt bike but the surface was ok really. Better than Cornish lanes.

I  was only supposed to ride for 20 minutes but as I said I have done nothing on the bike for ages so I gave it 30. Having reached the high point on the lane, The least I could do was drop it down to the river and enjoy the ride back over the hill on my return.

By the time I had ridden a couple of undulations and started worrying about exposure to some magical fatigue I was feeling really happy to be back to riding on small,  beautiful lanes. Well away from the race route and anyone else. It was like just being out for a ride! Can you imagine it?

After 15 minutes, despite not having reached the river, I turned around at a farmhouse and stopped for a moment to appreciate the silence, except there's always someone,  somewhere,  mowing a fucking lawn.

I  was straight back to a hill climb but unlike last time I just powered up it. Sure, with the lack of bike training, it was nothing special and I could feel my swimmers arms more than my bike legs, but I rode up every slope with my breath still in tact. I  also noticed that the massive boil I had on my bum which has prevented me from riding was no longer hurting in the slightest. Phew!

As I crested the final climb I realised where I was.  Right before me was that damn road. The grassy slope before me was the start of the last 10 miles of tomorrow. I took a photo and descended to lunch.

The green slice in the middle is the Dam

Before Ironman

How do I feel about Kielder long distance triathlon?

Trepid.  Pretty much sums it up.  I’m not nervous as such.  I’m not sure I’m confident either.  Confident implies some sort of surety that I am going to finish – but I’m just not sure.  If you ask me if I feel confident – I’ll say yes because I’m so relaxed and I feel like I’ve done most (not all) of the training I planned… but I’m not sure – not sure I’ll finish, not sure I’ll enjoy it.  I’m unsure about many things but mostly they come down to: not being able to finish the swim again (trying not to let history rule my fears) or getting timed out on the bike or getting timed out on the run. 

Most other things can be fixed.  If my bike breaks, I’ll fix it.  If I can’t run, I’ll walk.  Time (or rather speed) and water temperature are my biggest fears.

On a secondary scale – being driven mad by biting midges is also up there but I am confident that I can suffer this better than some others and I have “Smidge” with me.

Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 Ironman Credits

Andrew – Chief support crew, patient of my Iron-moods, chief nutritionalist and sounding-block.

Mum and dad – for their early foundation in sport and ears to listen and the voice of encouragement and criticism when I need it.

Norton Wheelers – the best bike support network I could wish for and the toughest rides on my “easy” weeks.

Team Accellerate – Size 9 womens shoes, Colin for no-nonsense foot beds, Houghboy – shop banter and inspirational stories, Debs – retail and race-head support, Pete – for cruelty (with kindness) to my beaten muscles and the in-massage banter and a new-found enthusiasm for triathlon – you are this year’s pass-it-forward.

Claire Smith – For inspiring me to try.  It’s your fault I’m here.

Becky Loftus – Foundation of Ironman support.  If it’s Claire Smith’s fault I did it once, it’s your fault I did it twice.  Thank you for putting me up in your home as I pass and thereby keeping my training on track.  Thank you for the running company and encouragement.

Vicky Stott – for reminding me that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.  “I can’t run" – my arse!

Lucy Kircher – for making me at home in Brighton where I had a lovely training weekend away and for injecting some intelligence into my recovery.

Genevive Whitson – Lifestyle inspiration.  For inspiring me to follow my dreams.

John, my boss – For attending all those customer meetings when I was on holiday playing triathlon.

Liz Cain – for listening to my swim dramas and understanding the dad / daughter thing.

Mum and dad in law – for understanding my training disappearances during family celebrations and keeping me company at Guildford swimming pool.

Yorkshire and Doncaster Outdoor Swimmers – For being there, making Yorkshire’s lakes accessible, the banter and the cake, tea, chips.

Sport Sheffield / S10 Gym – for being the best, most relaxed, most convenient.

Fiona Kesteven and Cas Kay – For being familiar faces and GB buddies.  I have something to aspire to next year.

Lisbon and Tri England – for the most amazing distraction from Ironman training at the perfect time.

Lynn Bland for introducing me to fell running and to Dark Peak Fell Runners to inspire me to keep coming back.  I might not be an active member but it’s the intention that keeps me going.

Jo Jebb, Helen Elmore, Ruth Marsden, Sarah Harrison and Kate Morris.  What a network.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals – Without them I might not be alive and they put up with a lot of crap and paranoia from me.

To all the mountain bikers, dog walkers, road bikers, runners and occasionally motorists who have made my training that little more enjoyable with encouragement or just a hello.

All the café owners who have been open and therefore, made my day.

All the marshalls, organisers and other volunteers of races.  Without you there is nothing.

The chasers, the being chased.  Fellow competitors.  Without you there’s no racing. 

Iron Spirit

In the absence of the mojo to write about Sunday - or to sleep... at all... this week, I leave you with this photo which encompass everything I feel about Ironman racing.  Captured by the event photographer at the weekend.  I am so glad this is over and yet at the same time I miss it in my life.

Time, Feeding, The Comfort of a Dry Robe & Undying Support
And yet, in a glimmer of hope, I took 4 whole minutes off my marathon run time.

On my way out.  Notice how I'd only taken one glove off!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Coming together

I am 1kg heavier than I have been in a long time and it is all good. I have reached 5 on the scales setting which is muscley, not just average.

Dammn. This tapering lark is working.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Last run of week 19 done on a Monday

It might be late but it is done. 10 miles. Hopefully not too late and I will recover in time but I feel so ready for a sleep it can't be a bad thing and so, tapering... Properly.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Week 19 - "I'm gonna swim as much as possible between now and Keilder"

Taper is here.

It should have started last week but I spent last Sunday convincing myself I have actually done enough training to finish a long distance race - ie. completing an 18 mile run in order to see off a marathon in two weeks time.

After that I talked to my mother on the phone.

"but have you *actually* *done* your swim distance yet?" she asked.

She had a point.

... it hung there like bad news, a bad omen... if you can't make it out of the water properly, there's really no finisher's medal.  I vowed to myself to swim as much as possible between now and race day in order to nail that distance.  I owed it to myself.  I owed it to the last 20 weeks.

First step - no swimming last weekend to put my cold to bed once and for all.  Laying off on Monday too in order to properly rest after that very hot run with some minor sunburn.

Tuesday started with a yoga session where I specifically gentrified any exercises that would tire my swimming muscles.  I also had a long chat with Fiona Kesteven who got silver in Lisbon and manages the gym where I swim.  Our chat only resolved my swim till you drop campaign.

There was the small matter of a run at lunchtime.  An easy 5 miles to persuade my legs I was OK from our 18 miler at the weekend.  It passed with only a minor calf-twinge and I had a good stretch on the lawn afterwards in a newly-discovered shady spot away from prying eyes.

On Tuesday evening the weather was definitely obliging.  I know I can't guarantee weather on race day but race day is a different kettle of fish from trying to churn out 4 kms after a 7 hour day at work.  The water temperature was 21 degrees and the air temperature when I arrived at 5:30pm was 29 degrees.  I did everything I could to ensure success - wrist bands to tie my fingers together when they started to splay and sickness pills to stop me feeling like puking.  I drank a protein shake (slightly counter-productive to the last statement) to make sure I didn't feel hungry.  I stopped short of wearing an extra insulation layer because at those barmy temperatures I'd be more likely to expire from the heat in my wetsuit than get cold.

There was much talk in the changing rooms from people attempting their first skins swim (without wetsuits) and a lot of reluctance from those of us who felt we still needed a wetsuit - whether that was to survive the swim at all or to get around a long distance course.  I would have loved to swim skins but it wasn't to be. There was no way I could do the distance in skins so I struggled my way into my wetsuit, over the sweaty skin from my lunchtime run.

The first lap went well in 17 minutes.  For once the cool patches were welcome relief from the warm water.  I even passed a few people and as more people arrived I was passed back.

A dry sensation in my mouth made me realise I had two choices from the evening - quit because of dehydration or risk a stomach bug from drinking water out of the lake.  I chose the latter.  I was NOT quitting... but I did chose the cleanest parts of the lake with the least weed.

The second lap was nothing special and I forgot to time it so rocked onto the third lap without a glance (it was just under 18 minutes and the third lap 18:21). I knew I could do another and five would be absolutely awesome, taking me up to my distance.

Lap 4 went into 19:17.  I was starting to chill.  My armpits were feeling cool, there was cold water where before there had been none and my little fingers went off on their own.  I started to be grateful for the warm patches of water.  On the back straight, I tied my fingers together and did some breast stroke to fire the leg muscles for a while and burped out the air I had inadvertently swallowed whilst swimming and drinking.

With one lap to go I knew it was in the bag.  I wasn't nearly cold enough to have to stop so pushed through any discomfort to finish.  Feet twinged but I just kicked slower and worked it through.  I headed for shore after 1 hour 25 minutes.  Projected swim time 1hr 30 - though on race day I might manage more through presence of others, there aren't so many others at Kielder.

I was, to put it mildly, elated by my swim.  I was tired but I was on cloud 9.  I tweetered and fafbooked all over the place and ate fish and chips in celebration.

On Wednesday I rode to work.  So nice to get away from the traffic and ride in the sunshine but I was too tired for a long ride home and so I went straight back and relaxed.

It didn't feel like taper was going well.  Taper is normally fraught with anxiety and itchy feet but I was finding it liberating, exciting and relaxing at the same time.  I felt more prepared for this Long Distance race than any I have ever done and I was looking forwards to it.  It feels like the stress of Lisbon has more than displaced any anxiety about Kielder although I am slightly concerned about what happens when I'm half way through the bike and realise that this is actually quite hard and quite a long way.

Back to Thursday yoga and this time eating instead of running at lunchtime, then in the evening it was back into the water at Hatfield with Doncaster swimmers.  Work kept me in till 5:30 which meant I had a fraught fight through the traffic to arrive at 6:15.  I struggled into kit asap and had no sickness pills but still got my elastic bands on and remembered to change in the cool changing rooms before heading out in to the sunshine to be zippered in by Leon.

This time I thought I'd use the ear plugs since there were no anti-sickness pills.  An interesting experiment since the last time I swam with both anti-sickness and ear plugs I'd had to call it a day at 1 mile anyway.  The weather was playing again as I entered the 20 degrees water, I didn't even make any whimpering noises that usually come when the water reaches my zip and pours into my lower back.

"Like Swimming in the Ocean"

Some of the weeds at Hatfield had separated and drifted this week so clumps of flocs hung, suspended in the water before my face - occasionally bouncing off my nose or hanging onto my face like a moist, fluffy moustache.  The water at Hatfield is deep and clear though and weed shapes look something like jelly fish, sea slugs or deformed starfish that had lost a few limbs to a crab.  In this respect it really was like swimming in the ocean but without the waves, salty taste or cold.

Hatfield Swim Your Swim (c) Alistair Beatie

The first lap seemed oh-so-long.  The out, back straight, the third side.  The thing is, with Hatfield though, when you pass the third side, the finish is so close - it's so easy to keep going.  18 minutes for lap 1 (50 metres longer than Harthill).  

On the back straight of lap 2 I suddenly started to feel bad.  More ill than cold but shaky.  I removed my earplugs so I could hear and instantly felt better although a little stiff in the legs.  I had a bit of a back stroke which didn't really help so I tried hitching up the legs on my suit, thinking that might be the reason I was feeling lethargic.  I instantly felt more flexible.  I mustn't have put the suit on properly in my rush to get out.  The back stroke also seemed to have raised my pulse but I taped my fingers for a while and I got going again.  With all the faffing, lap 2 took nearly 21 minutes.

I set off on lap 3 with a renewed sense of vigour.  It was 7:18pm.  If I did lap three in 20 minutes, I would have enough time to complete 4 laps, still over the magic 3km boundary where one more lap seems like a physical possibility. I even took my hand bands off because I was feeling so good and it felt like they were slowing me down and interfering with my stroke.

I have been experimenting with holding my breath during swimming.  All the experts say, "don't do it! Would you hold your breath whilst cycling? Or running?" and I understand the scientific reasoning of CO2 build-up and heavy legs but then yoga has so frequently taken me beyond scientific reasons and there's more strength to be gained from peace and serenity  and that is what I experience when I fly through the water, silent and breathless and then the bubbles come and they thunder through your ears until the next bright, blinking above-the-water-intake of breath and then there is silence again and flight for two strokes.  It works most of the time and I might just stick to it.

So the end of lap 3.  I thought about checking my watch but then I saw a hat swimming off for another lap ahead of me and decided to try and catch it to at least get through my last lap as quickly as possible.  I didn't want to make anyone late but then I could hear Vicky Stott saying, "don't ask permission, beg forgiveness" so I started following the orange hat and no-one was shouting so I kept going.

Along the back straight the sickness returned but again, I flipped over, watched the horizon for a bit then powered on to the third buoy.  That seemed to wake up my body just nicely and I flipped back on to my belly and swam for all I was worth to get in to the jetty.  I got out at 8:05pm.

"I should say 'Sorry' but what I actually mean is 'Thank You'". Leon shrugged his shoulders.  Of all the people who know how important it is to me to get this swim in, Leon and Jane have to listen to my ramblings almost as much as Andrew.  It was too nice an evening to have to complain about standing by a lake.  I discovered that the man I had set out trying to catch was the manager of the pool at ponds forge.  Hardly surprising that I didn't catch him then.

After swimming, about 12 of us went for chips.  It was nice to socialise vertically with a bunch of people I'm more used to splashing about with.

I ate a second meal when I got home then on Friday took Phoenix out for a ride to make sure all of my waterproof clothes still fit me properly.  Unfortunately that resulted in a boil on my bum flaring up and a rather uncomfortable ride home.  As it turns out, not everything is perfect in taper week.

Lessons learned:
Vicky Stott is right.
I need anti-sickness pills to swim long distances.
I can adjust my wetsuit in the water without drowning.
Backstroke and breast stroke work well to get my Heart rate back up and let me burp.
I swim pretty well with a yogic breath.
Temperature is not everything but it helps - a lot.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Week 18 - the biggie (should've been last weekend but had the small matter of an international to worry about)

This isn't a story of the week.  It's the story of the last 18 mile run before Ironman.

I've been here three times before.  One time better prepared, one time so much worse (ill).

Last year in 2014 I ran 0.01miles less than today, climbed 200 m less and yet it took me an extra 40 minutes.

In 2013 I ran 18.29 miles with 300m less climbing but still, 10 minutes slower than today.  That year I finished my Ironman.

Today was a beautiful day to finish intense training.

I ran along the Rivelin Valley then up to Hollow Meadows and down to the path that leads to Stanage

Took the luxury of stopping for some lunch

Photographed a route that I led in my 20's with Rachel James as second.

Then ran along the top of Stanage to Stanage Pole

Checked out the new pole, errected this year with the support of local businesses - mostly by Dark Peak members (I get the impression!)

Then continued along the trail to Redmires Reservoirs and along the other side of the Rivelin Valley to get home.
I am more motivated by long distance running than ever, knowing that I have this wonderful route on my doorstep.

Already thinking twice about my assertions that I'm never going long again.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Lisbon Standard Distance European Triathlon Championships. May 2016 - the extended version

When they say it's bigger and better they mean it, but this was my first ever race abroad too.  The importance of remembering a race belt pales into insignificance compared to remembering one's passport.  Remarkably, a race belt and lock laces (elastic laces which make changing shoes easier) were the only items I forgot.

The yoga mat was left behind due to lack of space though I regretted its absence as I would have used it. Both as a yoga mat and rolled up as a foam roller to massage my muscles.  The most unnecessary items packed - my down coat, in case it was cold post-race; and a few million cold virus bugs that I really didn't want.

The plane journey was the first opportunity I took to plan my race targets and I did all my calculations manually to pass the time. As the flight dragged on my brain faltered at long division and the cold really took hold. We had rented a car to get us to a hotel across town.  1/4 the price of the team hotel which more than covered the cost of the hire car and fuel. It was a good move,  not least because I didn't infect the rest of the team.

After a nervous drive through a foreign city with excellent navigation by Mr Rodgers we checked in to the hotel and went to sleep for a bit then went for a walk before testing out the hotel restaurant.  Budget as it was, the restaurant was more of a bar with small ovens but we got enough stodgy pizza to see us through and ate the fruit of the trip, purchased from our local recce.

On Friday it was time for registration for me and I managed to time it perfectly with catching up with Fiona and Caz before their race. They gave me virtual hugs from a distance to avoid getting the cold, then set off for their start.

I registered,  watched them set off on the bike then fed a few more euros into the parking meter before going to collect Rosie Red.

Thankfully she had arrived in one piece,  ready to go. Thanks Nirvana Europe (although I later revise this sentiment when my bike was returned to Sheffield in a heap with four others, rolling around the back of a transit van).  (Still, at the time, ) A massive stress was lifted. I wasn't in the frame of mind for any last minute panic.

We watched a bit more racing before heading back to the hotel for sleeping then bike fettling. With new shoes I had not yet worn on the bike and a decision to change the position of the tri bars back to their old location, a certain amount of trial was required and I spent a good 45 minutes outside the hotel car park doing transition practice riding around the parking lot that serves some of the less exclusive high rise tower blocks in Lisbon's business district. I got some funny looks from the street yoof and city's cleaning staff returning from a hard day at work.   Then there was sleeping to recover from (the not-so-great exertion) and a longish walk to find dinner - the perfect traditional Portuguese restaurant serving delicious steak and sea food.

On Saturday it was back to town for the pre race briefing with team coach Nick. I had to be there at 10am and there was some concern that I might not make it as we had to stop at the scene of an accident as a scooter rider skidded on diesel right in front of us en-route to the venue.

Once we convinced the rider no one had hit her,  we left our scant details and headed off. Thankfully arriving with time to spare.

It was an amazing race briefing. Nonsense dispensed with.  We had all done plenty of triathlons. The brief focused on the process of registration, everything to get us to the line and employed humour and audience participation.  The only downside is that it made most of us more nervous about different and new rules and counting the run laps which were no longer 2 but 4.

I had 5 hours to kill before I could put my bike in transition so I set off to watch the mens elite racing - first from the road and then from the stadium. I was trying to minimise screaming but it was difficult.  Javier Gomez was impressive and team GB athletes did brilliantly.  The juniors were a pleasure to watch but mostly we ate our lunch - more salad - and slept on a wall then the women were off at 4. I watched the swim which gave me some great tips on things to work on with my own swimming. Then we headed out by the stadium to watch the women cycle and caught up with my friend Al from Sheffield who took Silver in his age group.

Then it was time for the final pre race hurdle - bike racking. It went surprisingly quickly. RosieRedWanderingDragon and I had our private moment before race day. I don't think anyone really wanted to leave transition.  Back at our hotels was the hubbub of pre race faffing and poor nights sleeping to be done.

Swim cap, race number, gloves, timing chip, tool bag, tiger.
If nothing else,  I had at least passed all the pre race checks and was given a timing chip.  I got all remaining kit locked in the car,  having decided that the risk of the car being broken into was outweighed by the risk of me leaving something in the room at 4:30am the next day.

We ate in the classy and over-priced hotel buffet next door although as I carefully chose my food options from the wide and glorious display, I realised that was exactly what I needed. There's a certain satisfaction to knowing exactly what your food looks like before you order it and pasta with salmon was perfect... so was the cheesecake.

I slept remarkably well. The cold was starting to ease and had not yet fully developed the catarrhy hacking cough that TSK had last week. Yoga helped. Every time I noticed my brain going into pre race scenario panic,  I brought it back to the breathing.  Of course I was often half asleep when my mind wandered and true to foreign driver paranoia, my brain developed several multi-lane roundabouts on the swim course where I naturally took the wrong exit.  There is quite a thick line between visualisation and paranoia.

Race day. Ibis, forewarned, were ready with an early breakfast for us and we coasted back to our same venue parking spot. A short walk from the start and free on weekends. The real quiet time started. Everything set up. Ins and outs of transition visualised over and over... again.  The scenery helped...

Sunrise by the Meo Arena Lisboa

Contrary to my plan I left my socks with my bike shoes, knowing I had not yet tried the shoes out for more than 20 minutes and never without socks.  Everything else was as normal with a new white cap (thinner than my cycling cap) to keep the sun off my fair hair head.

I had the perfect start to the warm up. I found a corner of the park overlooking the ocean where a German lady was doing some sun salutations. I joined her then was joined by an Irish lady who just wanted somewhere quiet to get ready - though in the end there was quite a lot of chatter.

Yoga spot by the Targus river with the sun and a heron.

 I got my wetsuit on my legs and met TSK for a zip up before the saunter into transition and another great,  enthusiastic humorous swimming brief by the ITU official.

That's me waving my arms in the air
We were quickly into the water and away on the buzzer. No messing. I was just as quickly spat out the group but my swim was going to be the only un-monitored section of my race. My target was 33 minutes which I knew I could do at a relaxed pace. It was all about nursing the cold through the water. Fortunately the temperature was a barmy 18.8 degrees. I looked left and saw a group so I merged over to them and found some feet to sit on.

They were a bit fast and kicky but I managed to hold on to them to the second turnaround with a lot of sighting to make sure I was still on it.

They caught a lone swimmer and in the pass, someone dropped off the back behind me.  She sat on my feet for a while but my fingers started to splay so I did some breast stroke to get the blood flowing. I might have kicked her once or twice.  It was purely accidental.

The switch worked and when I went back to crawl I sped right up,  dropping my tail but not quite making it up to the two ahead of me. I had one turn to go. Another burst of breast stroke to warm up and this time I made contact with the leader of the next wave coming through -the over 40s men. My kick won me a dunking which was completely uncalled for. Still, I had one job to do - get out and up the ramp, hopefully without getting in anyone's way.

Some blocks of granite had fallen out of the harbour walls and I nearly kicked one which led me to put my foot down as soon as I touched the ramp with my hand. It was a bit slippery but I could see the exit carpet ahead. As soon as I hit it I was reaching for my wetsuit zip and to my surprise I had my arms out by the top of the ramp where the timing mat prompted me to check my watch. Sub 32 minutes. Yes!

My favourite picture from the weekend as I still look strong and my hair is flat.
Hat and goggles off into my basket with the wetsuit. One look at my socks and I thought,  "I'll never get them on" and proceeded to bare foot bike shoes for the first time ever.  Sometimes a gamble pays off and they gave me no bother and a 2 minute transition, though looking back, this was shit compared to everyone else.

My usual flying mount onto the bike where the only bugbear was getting my cleats into the pedals as I bounced over cobbled speed bumps. All the bolts were tight except of course the elbow pads that I played with on Friday and I forgot to tighten. Oh well,  they only had to last 1hr and a bit.

Flying, none of this getting your feet in nonsense.
It took me a wee while to get into the swing of things but mostly the route and road surface were predictable. What I hadn't seen I had been warned about though some of those roundabouts were weird. Because it was a closed road race we were turning left onto them but from the right hand side of the road. Of course when we took the slip road onto the closed motorway,  I couldn't help doing a shoulder check either.

The most dreaded part of the course I had checked on Google earth had shipping containers for miles and was not particularly pleasant. As it was, the view on the other side of the motorway was sunshine,  ocean and the occasional silhouette of a fisherman. Not at all bad.

I am used to a constant stream of asses to chase on the bike due to my competence with pedals and incompetence in the water. But this was the European champs and most were pretty damn good at everything.  I busied myself with the occasional cheer for an older age grouper I passed - mainly British - or Portuguese - because I was so pleased to be there. Also responding to the many encouraging words from the whippet boys passing me on their second laps. Thanks lads.

Then we hit the hill climb. I had tried to plot this route on-line before to figure out the hill-climb and concluded it was nothing to worry about.  Fortunately I didn't change my gear for it because it was more than the off ramp of a motorway,  climbing 120m in 1.5km.  I passed my first Portuguese competition

Everyone bunched up as we tackled it in different ways. There was enough headwind to justify staying on the tri bars but enough steep to justify a leg-saving 26 gear (well for me anyway).

Another story on the way down. A tail wind, sweeping bend and mostly pristine motorway surface. Into tuck position and dropping the men! I had to tell a Swiss man to get going because he couldn't decide if he was making a legal pass or having a rest.

I forgot to check out the turnaround point on the way in to lap 2. Lessons learned point. Some swift cone manoeuvres got me back on course then I remembered to start paying attention to my speeds. First lap I averaged 18.9 mph.  Could I make it stick at over 19?

Hunting Portuguese

Another 2 Portuguese ladies for me to pick off before the climb. Then a Brit as I whooshed past on the descent back onto the flat motorway and then into town.  I was 1 minute behind the next placed rider, an Austrian and lost 20 seconds to her in transition (that'll be the socks then).

I shot off on the run, not knowing what I would do but trying to make a magic 7mph target - higher than the one I set for Stockton.  I ran a whole lap at a blistering pace and reached the first exit ramp from the stadium full of beans.  I went for a fell-runners exit on the slope and powered my way out of the stadium.  At the next corner I clocked 10 mph on my watch but then my cockiness kicked me in the stomach with a massive cramp which I pretty much nursed the rest of the way around the lap.

The only thing that took my mind off the pain was shouting for other runners as and when I passed.  Until finally, that didn't work any more and I stopped for a little walk at one of the water stations.  Williams, who I had just passed and shouted to, was kind enough to pat me on the shoulder as he went by and told me to get a move on.  THANK YOU!

I started running again and although I nursed the stitch for another half a lap, I finally decided to stop drinking and dousing in cold water and just run, like I usually do.  It worked and as the results showed below, I gradually started to pick up my pace again.  I stopped looking at the watch and ran by feel instead.  I waved goodbye to pushing myself against the clock and instead, just focused on going as fast as I bloody felt like.

Feeling better then.
Because we disappeared into the stadium every lap, the Garmin wasn't quite picking up the length of the route so as I came around the fourth time, ready to finish, with TSK already indoors ready to finish, I really wasn't convinced it was my time.  Still, I decided the elastic bands don't lie (I'd been transferring one from my right wrist to my left every lap) and threaded my way into the finishing chute, convinced by following a familiar runner down there.

I picked up a flag from small children offering them and then sprinted for the line to beat a Norwegian bloke, just for kicks (poor fella wasn't even in my race).

I could argue that the sprint finish belies the fact that I wasn't going flat out but then that's not what I am designed for anyway - not at the moment.

The completion was elation itself.  I'd not been convinced I was going to get out of the water alive with the cold drowning me and when I set off on the run, I hadn't been convinced I was going to last the full hour of that.  But I did.  People gave me water and a beautiful young Portuguese man hung a medal around my neck.

I'd like to say I lounged around in the athlete's area but I headed straight for the bathroom to empty my bladder and coughed until a fellow athlete came to ask if I was OK.

After a bottle of water and some recovery drink, I changed into dry clothes then headed outside to find TSK.

Swim - 28/29 - 31:54
T1 - 28th - 2:13
Bike Splits 1, 2, etc - 13th, 24th, 23rd, 21st, 20th - 1:53(0.5km), 20:47 (12.75km), 18:50 (7.25km), 21:04 (12.75km), 19:52 (7.25km)
T2 - 29th - 1:34 (I need a butler!)
Run Splits 1, 2, etc. - 17th, 15th, 15th, 21st (stitch), 20th, 19th, 18th, 22nd - 4:36 (1km), 3:50 (0.95km), 6:32 (1.45km), 3:45 (0.85km), 6:54 (1.45km), 4:00 (0.85km), 6:53 (1.45km), 3:59 (0.85km), 5:24 (1.15km)

Overall time 2:44:02

The end of the day was long - finding my bike again, eating, dropping my bike off with the shipping company, walking back, sleeping in the street waiting for TSK to find me because I got separated from him like a lost child.  We missed out on most of the fanfare of the day and headed back to the hotel so that I could sleep through the snot.  We went for a walk and ended up eating in Pizza Hut because it was the only place serving food at 5:45pm and we could get some vitamins in the form of an over-dressed salad.

Still, I finished, I survived.  I never thought a standard distance race could be so hard.

If you're wondering, yes, I've already signed up for the only qualifying race that I can make this year.  There's more to come.