Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Inaugral "Legend" Half Triathlon at the Snowdonia Triathlon Festival

Plas y Brenin National Mountaineering Centre is truly a wonderful place. With an almost perfect view of Snowdon, a bar, restaurant and £70 a night for comfortable beds and hallways decorated with epic images.  Make it the registration, transition and start line for a triathlon and I am SOLD! Right there! Sign me up!

5.30am is never a sociable hour but it's better than 3.30am Iron-o'clock and thanks to Plas y Brenin I had absolutely nowhere to get to except the bottom of our stairs for registration. I then slipped out to the bike shed to number Rosie Red and check the bolts were tight from the headset changed last week.

I got my number on in my room then returned to the bike lot with my kit, sidestepping officials as the bike shed exited straight onto transition. Set up done it was time to get my wetsuit half-on then walk over a small pedestrian bridge for the race briefing at the start.

Wiping the midges off, we all reassured each other of the viability of the task ahead. I squeezed my vest on under my wetsuit to play it safe in 16 degrees water then got myself in at the last minute as usual. I  was pretty proud of myself for making less girlie noises than some of the men then set about trying to keep up with someone,  anyone, during the swim.

Unfortunately most around me seemed to be really poor sighters… or maybe it was just me? I couldn't bring myself to swim in a massive loop just for the benefit of sitting on someone's feet so I stuck to my line and ploughed on alone… aware that there were always people off to my right.  Maybe they were enjoying the benefits of a lighter current nearer the shore but still, I was keeping pace and not getting left behind as I swam my straight line.

The group came together at the first buoy then they looped out again and I continued on my straight path.  I  did start to doubt that I had the energy for two laps but as I reached the end of the first, I still felt good and actually sped up a bit.

The pattern continued until towards the end of the lap when I started to catch up some big guys.  They were a bit of a distraction and started to put me off getting out of the water... or at least it seemed to take longer than necessary.

Eventually I was there.  I hit the lap button at 47 minutes.  EXACTLY the time I had expected for my first lap at Kielder Ironman. Galling but that's low temperatures for you.

The run into transition was horrible under foot with my feet suffering a combination of numbness brought on by extreme pain (or vice versa). Once back at my bike I stood on my neighbour's towel (long since gone) for some respite from the gravel while I managed a pretty decent exchange of shoes (ahhh the relief), addition of a jersey plus pocketed water proof and grabbed food.

TSK was apparently just setting off out of the bike hut with his ride to see me disappear off down the road.

The first half of the ride passed mostly without incident. The pleasant passing of the climb to the top of the Nant Gwynant Pass then the ride down to Beddgelert. The descent where I was glad I had a dry layer on to keep my shoulders warm in the cool shade. It was, after all, still only 8.30 am.  At Kielder I had only just been getting out of the lake.

Here there will be a picture - paid for but not yet delivered

There were some typical Welsh country lanes and then we slithered down to the coast to make our way around the housing and industrial estates on the edge of Portmaddog before the real climbing started.  Thankfully at Tremadoc I found my perfect race loo and nipped  into the pebbledashed luxury public toilets in the car park. Ample bike parking inside, no people so I could keep an eye on Rosie Red through the open door and most importantly, an adequate supply of paper. As soon as I stopped my glasses fogged without the breeze to clear them leading to a slightly blurred and seedy view of the world.

I rode the very steep hill climb out of Tremadoc with my glasses on the end of my nose, glad I didn't have to stop for a train on the crossing half way up.

It had been a quiet and lonely start to the bike with a few swimmers weaker than me passing early on and then no-one to chase.  A few big climbs started to turn things around though.  When I reached the climb around the back of the Slateman quarry I was joined by Nick from Macclesfield.

I caught him on the climb approaching Maentwrog and then he passed me back saying I would catch him when it got steep.

In fact I caught him on the descent on the other side as he stopped to answer the call.

We exchanged places for a while and had a chat going over the next pass through Ffestiniog as he told me that the hard bit was still to come.  This was just after 30 miles and about the first time I saw TSK riding the other way.  TSK insisted that I had done the hard bit but I was less convinced at the time (we still had 530m to go). I was still pleased to have got more mileage in than him. You can't really compare your performance on any one day to a random selection of competitors but husbands make great benchmarks.

Nick promptly left me for dead after that climb. I had him in my sights  for a while and then he disappeared on the lanes approaching  Capel Curig.  Another roadie followed me for a while after he asked what we were racing, he decided my bike was good for a draft into the next town. He turned left as I went right in Bewtsy Coed, wishing me luck for the rest of the day.

One climb to go - a long steep uninspiring open main (for Wales) road. It was  dual carriageway to give trucks a crawler lane. There was insufficient traffic for it to be a problem though and all motorists passed single file. I'd reccied it the night before in the car but I should've realised how hard it would be after 45 miles of riding on the tt bars.
Here there will be another picture, paid for but not yet delivered

For a moment I panicked when I saw a blue track on my garmin, starting to think I had overshot the race HQ but then realised that it was the river way down in the bottom of the valley.

I returned to transition to a spattering of cheers and happy that there were still a few gaps on the bike racks.  I knew I had been slow though and left transition with the stated intention of catching some people up.  TSK was still out on his bike so I stated my intentions to the young man at the water station. I  don't think he was interested.

I took a  backpack with me for the run. I was still in Ironman mode, not sure how warm it would be, so had plenty of water and I wanted a coat in case it got wet and windy. I doubt I was slower for it and was definitely faster for being able to sip constantly from my water instead of gulp from aid stations then run dry until the next one.  It's personal choice and many would disagree with my approach but some of those people are the the ones I pass gulping water at aid stations or suffering cramps from dehydration.

I hadn't really reccied the run and had only taken a cursory glance at the map.  As far as I was concerned it went up and down a valley. The map showed some kind of a  loop at the end but I assumed this was part of the sprint race happening on the same day.

All I knew was we went out of transition and turned right.  This led to  big flight of around 30 steps all the way up to the road. Argh! Down to walking speed already. An enthusiastic marshal cheered me up the steps as I grumbled about the cruel beginning.

Across the road and onto trail proper.

A beautiful open track. Rocky but solid and suitable for trail shoes rather than fell shoes.  I was glad it was dry because my shoes can be a bit slippy in the wet. I was a little disheartened by the absence of any other people in sight for me to catch and was still feeling a little tired from last week's fell race. I  had another short walk to get used to being on my feet up the first short sharp climb and then started jogging.

The route ran on the opposite side of the river Afon Llugwy up to Llyn Ogwyn below Tryfan.  A beautiful looking road on the other side of the river, I kept one eye out for TSK on his way back from his ride but mostly I was looking where I was going, navigating between the rocks, grassy tufts and occasional cow.

After 1 mile I was properly woken up by the first athlete running back down the hill towards me.  I gave him a high 5. Actually a very British, discreet, low 5. And I wished him good luck. He had a remarkable lead, in fact I started to wonder if everyone else had got lost but eventually second place arrived with a group of around 5 behind including the first woman who got a lot of cheers from me.

I counted the rest of the women in until I forgot where I was counting and chose not to give duff information out.

Across open moorland now. I could see a steady stream of runners coming in towards me but still no one going in my direction. Still, the on-comers were giving me plenty of encouragement if they weren't wearing the face of pain too much.

The route undulated a little then rose to the main road at the Lynn Ogwen. The aid station offered me a drink but I thanked them and kept going. On the road I passed Nick from Macclesfield coming the other way so I knew I was getting near to the turn around point. There were now a stream of people I had recognised off the bike.

I was slightly uncomfortable not knowing where the turnaround point was, reminding me that a little knowledge of the route goes a long way - even for events you're just doing for a giggle because you switched your entry from another event only 5 months earlier and you only chose this event only because its monetary value matched that of the event you withdrew from.

At the top of the hill, the road dropped slightly then the course turned into a carpark for the Tryfan tourist path. A marshal was standing on the wall trying to look as bright yellow as possible guiding us around the wall and hoping that we would be able to run around the masses of hill walkers congregating to tackle Wales's Most Impressive (though not biggest) peak.

Around the wall it was time to retrace my steps, slightly alarmed to find there were more people with me in their sights than I had realised.

I took a glance at my watch. It said 1:02! I was on for a sub 2hr half! Hang on, I thought, that would mean it's short. I decided that the race organiser would have some trick up his sleeve. Still, realising that I was running quite well and was now "on the way back" I could start trying properly. If I had no one to chase I could at least race my own half marathon pb.

Damn that end-of-race heel strike
Back past the water station where I saw Rachel. We'd cheered eachother on when I caught her on the bike. She was stopping for a drink and well on her way to completing her first half Ironman.

Across the moor again then starting the descent. The undulations had been imperceptibly gaining height on the way out and now were opened up before me to view.  Away in the distance I could see two targets running the same way as me.

Brakes off I started a downhill run that many a dark peaker would be proud of, driving up the little hill climbs.  At one point I  thought the lady ahead of me had stopped but in fact she was crossing the stile and had stopped at the top to reverse down climb the steps.  I reached they stile, climbed it, hands on top, swung legs through then vaulted onto the ground and got running. I picked her up just before the campsite then had a momentary panic when I couldn't see any signs and didn't know which strip of tarmac to follow.

Then I recognised a tent that I had been admiring on the way out and carried on the right route being reassured soon after by a piece of striped tape tied to a bush.

Onwards to the next victim who I caught just as the course veered off onto a slightly different approach to the 'village' of Plas y Brenin. This was where the organiser was going to make his distance up, I thought.

Serendipity was shining on me.  I passed a guy walking his bike back to the finish.

He looked at me intently and said, 'straight on the road to the centre, don't turn off!'

I wondered what he could mean.

2 minutes later I knew. There were some red arrows from a previous event pointing down a track to the chapel. I did as instructed, stayed on the road and sure enough was directed by marshals back down those steps to what I thought was going to be the finish. Apparently a few other runners had followed the red sign and, on seeing finishing runners on the other side of the field, had ploughed across the field and a wet river crossing, only to be directed back to the centre, through the car park and back on course, one half mile the worse off.

I didn't check my garmin, I was too busy worrying about a last minute sprint  from someone behind me so it was a big surprise whèn I discovered that I couldn't get to the finish and there was a man offering me a drink. 

By this point they must've had a few confused competitors because his answer to my question, 'where do I finish?' Was, 'you've still got a mile and a half to go'.

Ah. That was the end of my ambition for a sub 2 hour half marathon or even to slip in under 2:06, my time in the Sheffield half marathon last year. Still, I had those other people to stay ahead of, could still get a bloody good time for a hilly off road half marathon and I was facing a massive wall of a climb.

Hands on knees and a spot of yogic breathing. 

A woman and her son cheered me on at the top of the climb. I needed it.

Down the hill on a hard packed trail. The pounding descent ricocheting through my knees but there was someone else plodding along in front, having a little walk.  I passed him. A marshal directed me down a hill to 'do a loop' before getting to the finish. Oh my this race is cruel! For every  downhill I knew I would have to come back up but then there was another person to pass.  Yes! 

A line up of cheery athletes out for a recce  for tomorrow's standard distance cheered me on. 'Thanks I really need that' I said, and meant it. They cheered louder.

Past a sign with a U-turn arrow and the word 'Legend' written on it. The marshal was sitting on the gate cheering.

'I don't know about Legend', i said but I do feel dizzy.  I meant with all the twists and turns but he took me a little too literally and jumped to his feet to administer first aid, as I rapidly explained that I was just kidding and did not need rescuing.

Then that hill climb back out.  I had a few comical exchanges with my fellow runners. It seems many of us were oblivious to the little sting in the tail of this race. I was just relieved, despite the pain, that it wasn't going to be a short race.

I cheerfully waved to the marshal I had just passed  minutes earlier,  knowing it really was all downhill to the finish line now.

As I rounded the corner the standard athletes were there again and cheered at me as I whined, it hurts so much. I was trying to stay ahead of runners I knew were on a blinder, like Ashley who was eating up places. Then I saw the finishing arch.  The big numbers counting down.  Was there some imaginary time line to beat? I hadn't even looked up my last time for a half Ironman. I did slide in under 7 hours but with 10 minutes to spare so no need for a sprint and proving just how annoying my 16:30 time was for Ironman but giving me the satisfaction of actually having raced this distance and not just survived it but enjoyed it .

The array of cakes,energy bars, fruit and drinks available was overwhelming and the little girl giving out teeshirts and momentoes (a rather lovely engraved slate coaster) was struggling to get athletes attention. She was a diligent collector of timing chips and very sweet.

To be able to walk from finish line to bike shed then into my shower in my room was pure bliss. Many other athlete tripped over their shoe laces and fell into the bar, finding themselves drinking a pint of Welsh beer and watching tye sun process across the sky in the late afternoon.

Me, I  had a power nap before checking the results on the off chance I had won a prize. There didn't seem to be many fv40s ahead of me but then we are all pretty young-looking as athletes so I had to cope with a fourth place. I  am extremely proud of that for a race that I wasn't taking that seriously 1 month after Ironman and 1 week after a marathon-esque fell race.

Once I had a chance to recover we joined the bar goers for lunch. Overhearing the winning woman talking about a lady who cheered her on who was wearing a rucksac, I mean, what for??? Shrugs, because we can't all be out there for just 5 hours m'dear. Each to their own.

Can you see Snowdon, just over there, not in the distance in the slightest?
It was a weird twist of events that brought me to do a second half Ironman. Impressive since 4 years ago I said I would never do it again. Looking back at the "Day in the Lakes" I thought I was as fit as I would ever be in my life. 2 Ironman events and 4 years later, though still a back marker, I fared so much better and smashed a splitting 1 hr 25 minutes off my previous time.

It seems that I can't wait until next year's season.

Swim: 42:58 (57th) 1.9 km fair waters. Like swimming in well-brewed (cold) tea.
T1: 5:00
Bike: 3:46:10 (60th!) 56.7 mi, 780m climbing
T2: 2:44
Run: 2:15:56 (52nd) 13.6 mi, 462m climbing

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Holme Moss Fell Race

The stupidest start to a fell race day.

Saturday night: "Yesss, race starts at 11am, so I'm just going to leave this here and prepare in the morning". 

On Sunday morning, through the fog of pre-coffee brain, I spent 30 minutes trying to figure out the route description vs. published map, only to realise I was reading a route description for a race in October.  I found the right route and in doing so, discovered that the event I was about to undertake was my first "AL" event - ie. beastily long and beastily hilly. This was going to feel like a marathon.

Once I'd drafted the right route on to my map and put it into my Garmin course list to check the distance (18 miles not 15-16) I had to scramble everything together quick, sharp.  Unloaded the washing machine and put my race vest on wet to dry it out before packing most of my kit (we won't need hat and gloves, surely?) and jumping into the car.

I put the postcode in the satnav - shit! I was due to arrive 3 minutes before the start!  Me and my stupid faffing around.  Still, I had committed to doing this today so decided to still go in the hope of getting there a bit earlier and the start being delayed.

The roads were thankfully quiet and I only had to overtake one Rover driving at 35 mph on country lanes.  As I drew into Holme I suddenly realised that the post code I put into the Satnav was probably the one for the October race.  

Good news: I was no longer late, because at 10:40, I was almost there!

Bad news: I had no idea where I was going.  

I stopped and got out all the electronics - first my phone before realising that the route was on my Garmin and so I asked it to take me to the start of the course.  As the Garmin loaded satellites I realised I had the old-school version - a Map! and I had marked the course on that.  So I set about trying to figure out which of the tiny lanes out of Holme I should be driving on.

As I drove up the steep and cobbled Washpit lane, my fuel indicator light came on.  Cascade of bloody errors or what>???

My road navigation is useless so I reverted to following the Garmin directions.  To the frustration of other drivers, stopping regularly to get my next instruction.  Finally I pulled up at the end of a row of parked cars with people wearing brightly coloured vests jogging up the road.  I couldn't decide what to bring for a moment and half emptied my bag of stuff I didn't think the organisers would expect us to carry.  I took out my waterproof coat but then put it back in.  Not because I thought they'd make us carry it but because I'd rather have that than a base layer if we were hit by a torrential thunderstorm and high winds - even in July.

I jogged over to the registration point, happy to see that most other people were bringing rucsacs too.  Usually I am the only one when I do and mostly I had brought mine for the camelbak carrying rather than the kit in it.  

As I was second to last to register, I realised that they were doing kit checks for every runner. "Good", I thought... "oh no", I thought, "What have I forgotten?"  Panic set in.  I still registered - I had to in order to borrow some gloves.  I had a hat on my head, even though it was designed to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my fair head, rather than to keep my head warm.

Then I started to panic about my waterproof trousers and in the 30 seconds it took me to register, my brain changed its recollection of them being removed from my bag - not in the car 5 minutes ago but in my house over an hour ago.  Thankfully, the organiser ran over to his house (right next to my car parking space) to fetch me his waterproof trousers.  What an embarrassment!  My apologies to anyone from Dark Peak reading this!

Let me put it here and now that after the race, when I returned the trousers to the organiser, I not only thanked the man but I also explained to him that in my panic I forgot that I had left my pair in the car right there.  I am hoping that just made me sound batty, not an irresponsible numpty.

As I walked to the start chatting with my team mate, Alison Wainwright, she explained that all kit was compulsory for an AL race.  Now things are dawning on me and yes, I probably should have read the rules before setting out.  Perhaps committed to this race a few weeks earlier - rather than on the day, having noticed its existence on Tuesday this week.  Don't get me wrong, I was physically prepared.  Having run a marathon at Kielder a month ago and done a few fell runs since I had both the distance and power in my legs to complete this race (though potentially not one any longer or harder).

We talked to another lady doing her first AL race then all set off down the track at a lovely leisurely marathon-finishing pace.  So pleasant compared to the 5 and 10k races I've been doing recently.  A tractor followed us all of 1.5 miles to the end of the road before turning into a field, the weirdest broom wagon I have ever had the pleasure to be drafted by.

We were soon down the lane and on to open moorland for the first time - relief.  Everyone settled into a place before the wide path ran out and we started to descend like a conga line down an increasingly steep slope which eventually turned into a narrow rabbit warren run of a track through the bilberries.  It was runnable, but just, and only because it was dry.  A few runners stepped to the side to let faster descenders pass then it was goodbye to dry feet as we descended the easier yet sloppier path to the head of the watershed of Ramsden clough where we crossed over a (seemingly pointless by now) bridge.  At least the climb over the other side was not so bad though my neighbour reminded me the we had to retrace our steps on the way back - not a prospect I was looking forwards to!

The path gradually ascended the hillside now towards Holme Moss transmitter station so we could see the top of the hill for some time but most of my attention was focused on what I was doing with my feet through the grasses and heathers and occasional boulder.  One final climb to the road and the lady next to me (Mrs Tod from Todmorden) was complaining she felt rubbish and we'd only done 2 miles.  I corrected her to 3.5 miles so now I knew how far the final run back would be - about 4 by the time we had reached the summit.

In front of me, a lady and (what I presume was her dad) were running a little and walking a little and although I was gradually catching them up, they started running consistently and defensively every time I drew close to the point at which it was getting tedious but hey, that's racing.  A hardy bunch of marshalls and mountain rescuers were waiting to cheer us through, though there was no hardiness required on an ambient and lovely day.

Having started with a slightly less than full camelbak and drunk quite a lot getting to the top, I took on a 500ml top up of water into a small bottle that I keep easily accessible in my rucsac pocket and set off down the next gully into Heyden Brook before Mrs Tod and girlie and her dad. This was almost as steep but this time, merely lined with tussocks which bent under foot when we were least expecting it.  I warned Mrs Tod and she said she was already being careful, having turned an ankle last week.

We crossed the stream safely and let girlie and her dad go ahead yet again up the other side and now the payback started.  For all this hard climbing I realised that about 12 of the next 14 miles had to be flat-ish running to make up the mileage for all these short, sharp ups and downs we had to do.  So long as they weren't desperately hard bog-hopping bracken thrashing, heather slogging miles, I'd be OK.

We caught up a chap who was having a crise de confiance.  He was probably short-sighted and had lost visual on the massive field of runners ahead of us and suddenly couldn't see any flags on the hillside.  Alison had already warned me that sometimes this run wasn't clearly marked and anyway, I could see a massive group of people across the horizon in the distance, all running.  I don't think he believed me though but he had no choice but to follow me, asking if I did the route before, asking if the lady behind us did the route before.  He had so many doubts he was starting to make me wonder but I reassured him (us) that I could see all those runners over there and that there was definitely the crags above Crowden that I used to climb on all those years ago with Jo Simpson and Adam Whale.

Thankfully, we came across a big taped corner and set off from Westend Moss on the right direction and down towards Crowden car park.  As we descended,  Mrs Tod came by and shot off into the distance (clearly feeling better) then girlie and her dad came past me again, only for me to pass them back when she tripped and stumbled on the open path.  No-one laughed because we've all been there but she was fine except for being a bit winded and having a slightly bloody knee.  I checked she didn't need my one plaster and carried on, whereupon they passed me again before following my opinion on the correct route to descend to Crowden instead of carrying on across the hillside and ending up out of the way on the A57.  And so we descended into Crowden valley along with Mrs Tod and three in Orange.  Three in Orange being very fast descenders who passed everyone on the steeps to the carpark.

At Crowden I hadn't drunk enough water to warrant a stop so I continued past the others and on familiar territory of running routes I have taken on sneaky runs after business trips to Manchester.  So much more enjoyable in the daylight wearing shorts and vest than hauling head torch, fleece leggings and five layers around.  We followed a path up to the bottom of the Crowden Crags, girlie and her dad, gradually catching me up but then as I stopped to transfer the water from my bottle to my now, empty camelbak, they also decided to have a rest before the steep ascent and dad, who looked like he was more used to sprinting on roads, set about stretching out his very nice, wiry, strong legs.  For the first time, girlie was looking more relaxed although from her calls of "yay, half way" at 7 miles, I hoped she wasn't going to be disappointed to find out we still had 10 of the almost 10 miles to go.  We specifically, ascended the edge of Ladlow rocks, being glad that I've got long legs and used to be a rock climber.  As I made my way up the hillside I was really pleased to have caught up three of the people in front, feeling like we'd all closed a big gap to the next runners and were no longer a little splinter group at the back.

There were angels at the top.  Nope, just more marshals, mountain rescue and a lady runner with bags of water bottles.  I had plenty of my own but never say no to a free drink and I was quite thirsty enough to down quite a lot of water then more payback on the long path to Black Hill, the main summit at 582m AOD.

We were following flags - gritstone flagstones - across much of the moorland and so it wasn't at all challenging but after that much climbing, the slightest inclines were a bit hard.  I had a long gap to cross but could see that the threesome ahead were walking all the up hill bits.  I resolved to keep running no matter what.  At some times it seemed like I was running slower than their walk but that couldn't be true because it wasn't steep enough for that.  So I trudged on and eventually heard the chatter.  It was the lady I had met on the start line who was doing her first AL race.  I heard her chatter for quite some time as I ploughed on to get gradually closer and closer, eventually catching them up when the flagstones ran out and the boggy moorland began.  We were diverting off the Pennine Way at the request of the RSPB and following a dirt track through the peat bogs.  Not as bad as it sounds, given that the peak has had a few hot weeks to dry out a bit.

I caught up the group of three and had a brief exchange about how well we were doing and what we'd been eating to keep ourselves going.  By now I'd eaten an entire peanut butter sandwich and half an energy bar.  Having spent the morning reading about cases of hypothermia at last year's Edale Skyline from runners not eating enough, I was feeling particularly gifted at being able to run and eat at the same time.  I think it's an ironman thing, or maybe just a hippo thing and works particularly well when you can wash it down with lots of water.

We all got running together, much to my dismay as I like my moorland running quiet and peaceful and the chatter just went on and on. We all got to a water station together and I took a small cup of water as the three passed by.  However, my thirst quenching "Ahhh" must've inspired them and they also stopped for refreshments, giving me a chance to get slightly ahead and focused on chasing down Mrs Tod.  But, the three weren't stopped for long and the chattering followed.  It was a relief when, as I jumped across yet one more bog to hear the words, "I might have to have a little walk again or I won't make it back".  Gradually the words faded into the distance and I put in some effort.  And finally, that bloody transmitter mast was getting closer and closer.

So were other people.  I passed two men togther - one of which (White Boy - white man, white shorts, white hat) came with me.  A black man walking - particularly pleased with passing someone so fit and fast-looking, a pasty white wiry guy who complained he'd had cramp.  I still had a tail reaching Holme Moss for the second time and caught up Mrs Tod who had stopped for some time to drink.  I took a free glass of water (meaning one that I wasn't going to have to carry) and decided that what was left of the 500ml I'd added at the bottom of Ladlow rocks would be enough to get me back to the finish, 4 miles away.

Going across the road I caught a Mr Pennine who let me go ahead (this Dark Peak vest gets you favours I find!).  We slithered down the hill and Pennine was good enough to point out when I missed a flag and started to descend too early into the valley below.  Gratefully I clambered out before I'd lost too much height with him behind and Mrs Tod who had caught me up, ahead.  Whereas White Boy behind me continued someway down, refusing to believe that the three people above - me, Mr Penine and Mrs Tod knew something he didn't.  I guess he eventually made it out.

As we reached the clough again it was me, Wiry, Mr Pennine and Mrs Tod together.  Skirting around the watersheds, we kept getting an earful of chatter from the other side of valleys.  Mrs Tod flew down the hill behind me like a horse so I let her through and she laughed as we'd be back together in moments.  Sure enough as we picked our way through the bog on the climb, I caught and passed her back.  Then was the hellish climb out - back up the rabbit run and this time I felt like the rabbit.  The hill was so steep my nose was in the billberries and it was easier for me to semi-crawl up the hill.  After all my arms were working way better than my legs by now.  I pushed my fingers in to the bilberries and the ground and pushed forward.  The increased speed gained from using my arms forced my legs to move faster too but unfortunately the bizare position meant I couldn't get enough breath in to my lungs and I quickly expired into rasping, nearly asthmatic breathing more familiar with my zone 4 5km runs.  Calfs started to cramp and I realised I had to do something so I slowed down, stood up a bit, went slowly to regain my breath and then set about the technique again - this time slower and with deliberate yogic breaths, pushing all of the CO2 out before refilling my lungs as much as possible with the next breath in.

It felt brilliant, it felt fast, it was cathartic in the way that rhythmic breating is.  I felt expired at the top, red, fast.  Somehow, wiry white man was still with me but the others were well behind.  I took a drink from a very kind man at the top then set off on a run for that bloody road.

There were two ahead.  Wiry white man and another runner who could have been Dark Peak but wasn't, on closer inspection.  I tried to catch them briefly and was making gains on wiry until he heard me coming and sped up.  With my mind on whether I was doing any damage before next week's half Ironman, I backed off and jogged in.  Getting back in time for the prize presentation going ahead which meant I was getting cheered home regardless.

As I crossed the line someone put two drinks in my hand and i found the nearest concrete step to sit on whilst as small dog climbed onto my knee, licked my face and made himself comfy whilst I chatted to the little boy who patiently explained that they weren't his dogs, he was just looking after them.  They were very nice dogs and enjoyed their company until I was able to remove my shoes and socks and go in stearch of my free sandwich, tea and cake.  Ahhhh.

I sat in a cricket pavillion, listening to the prize presentation and looking out over Holmfirth.  It was a glorious day.  I finished my first AL race.  This is why I don't need to do a marathon.

4 hrs 28 minutes.  17.59 miles. 1285m climbing

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

And on Tuesday I went to Switzerland

Castle Run - The BaselTor at the top of the hill from Muttenz

View through the trees from a bench by the BaselTor

Farmland and forests


Basel City Beyond

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Great Hucklow Fell Race and Hugging Strangers

For some time it has been a thing in my head that I'll ride to a fell race, run it and ride home.  Kind of an inverted Duathlon that plays to my bike skills and just brilliant for longer distance triathlon training.  I have so far managed it once, at the Trunce in 2012 where I rode there after work from Barnsley station and then rode home.  It was messy and left me with bad memories - particularly after a long day at work.  It took me over an hour to ride the 9 miles home.

Last week at work, the idea dawned on me again.  I considered doing it on Saturday but Saturday didn't turn into a doing anything day.  Friday night I'd rode into town for a meal with TSK and then rode up the hill, chasing tiger, arriving completely pooped at the front door and juggled the TV until we'd watched the TdF.

The recovery stood me in good stead for a bike-run-bike day today and so I started checking race details.  The slightly more convenient early afternoon race had been cancelled due to waterlogged fields and so I had to get my S**t together and go if I was going to make the 11am start at Great Hucklow.  A quick check of Google said it would take me 2 hours to ride to Gt Hucklow and I knew I could beat that, not being an average pleb cyclist - just a bit of a crappy club cyclist.
Phoneix In Retirement, loaded up for an 8:45 start
I threw my fell running kit in my Carradice, changed into bike clothes and wished TSK a good day at his bike polo tourney.  He was still sitting in a chair recovering a little from yesterday's matches and hoping that the competition would at least be hungover whereas he had a nice quiet evening in front of the TV with his wife and Chinese food.

Habit turned me right out of the ginnel - up the hill towards the A57, not down into the bottom of the valley.  No sooner had I realised I was going "the wrong way" I also realised I'd forgotten my sun glasses because at that particular moment, I didn't need them.

I could have gone home, down the hill, got my glasses, got on the right route but I just couldn't be bothered and I just wanted to get on with it.  It was spitting with rain and a cloudy rainbow streaked fuzzily across the head of the valley.  The air was warm it was beautiful.  Screw glasses, screw the bottom of the valley.  I wanted to ride high.  I wanted to ride in the sun.

I toyed with the idea of riding over Redmires.  It was set in my mind immediately.  I usually ride home that way but rarely ride out that way so it would make a nice change.  We've wiggled around the back lanes on my way home a lot recently and I tried to do the same today but somehow just got lost in Ranmoor and found myself going the wrong way down a street I recognised.  It was a bit embarrassing but I wasn't going to waste half an hour trying to get out of bloody Ranmoor so I stuck the Garmin onto navigate and let it figure me out.  As I rode past The Sportsman pub it was still telling me to do a U-turn.  Not quite getting the concept of me wanting to ride out along the tops and not do a U-turn to descend 200 m back into the bottom of a valley that I'd only have to climb out of again.

Finally, it got on message.

I was having a good ride.  There were a lot of newbie couples out riding in their bright clothes, new bikes and hawking on running shoes and plastic toe-clips and I passed them all.  One lady looked over her shoulder at me as I said, "Good Morning" in passing and witheringly said, "Oh, you make it look so EASY!!".  She MADE MY DAY.  I muttered something about having been practising for 25 years and shot off down the descent.

I couldn't be bothered to turn the Satnav off and I'm glad I didn't because it took me down the Ringinglow instead of surprise view or Scotsman's Pack and I forgot what a nice descent that is (probably it's been resurfaced since I last did it). I rolled through Hathersage, worried about the transition field for Sheffield Tri Club's HH event next weekend as the fairground has made rather a mess of it, then hit the climb for Abney in as low a gear as I dared.  I knew this road is closed to cars due to land slides and checked with a couple of club riders passing to make sure it was passable for bikes.  Yes.

I was caught up by two Rutland Cc riders who stopped to chat, asking if I knew Jo Jebb from their Saturday morning rides... ha ha! busted!  Now I know your secret training Mrs Jebbers.

They disappeared on the climb, leaving me to pace myself, my bike lock, shoes and big water stash over the final climb.  10:20am and I was going OK and getting close to the start.

As I descended the closed part of the road I passed a few runners coming up and, worrying I'd missed the start, checked with a marshal that they were just warming up.  Phew!  Can I go down that Byway to get to the start? I asked.  Sure, excellent.  I bounced my slick roadie tyres through the mud and gravel to the bottom and then slithered into the car park below the school to lock my bike to a handy pik-nic table, just in time to catch the organiser saying, "Registration, just walk up the hill to the school and sign on there".  Bugger, just come from there - still, there was no back way in.

I found a handy shipping container to get changed in, pinned my number on and went to stand around, wait for the start and cheer in the frighteningly fast juniors.  I had a chat to some fellow Dark Peakers who are always intrigued by my sudden appearance from nowhere.  My attendance is sporadic at best.  It's always lovely to meet new people though and we talked of races done and whether kids would have liked it and where we have been and what we've been doing that's kept us away from fell races.  A lady called Claire was nice to talk to and we chatted at the start line until the whistle went and we ran through the village briefly then down a steep steep slope where my brakes came off and I whooshed past a few people, including Claire.  "See you in a minute" I said, convinced that she would catch me up on a climb.

I ran past a few people until I realised we were queueing for a bit of a woodland single track.  It was a welcome recovery for a while.  Then things opened up again and we were running through long grass that had been flattened by the runners ahead.  It was a bit hairy although there were no falls.  It turned out to be pretty grippy.

Then a turn into a field and, "Watch the puddle" shouted a lady.  It was up to my knees and I got my shorts wet with the splashing.  Puddle / small pond, same difference.  I climbed up the slope and Claire caught me up.  Ha ha! Said I'd see you again.  We both walked together for a bit but then I started running again and, really, didn't stop and didn't see Claire again.  I felt a bit guilty for this but apparently my fell running has not suffered too much from 2 seasons of mostly road running.

Finally there was a top to the hill.  A jovial chap standing by the trig point sent us down the hill and over the rolling tops of grassy moorland with some beautiful roller-coaster, moss and bog cushioned downhills to follow.  I ran fast to stay ahead of the guy behind me, who cooed that they were beauuuutiful downhills.  I would have agreed but didn't have the breath.  When we hit the uphill, I let him go ahead, relieved I didn't have him breathing down my neck anymore.

We met with a road, at which point two runners who I'd just easily passed, passed me back.  "Is it tarmac all the way back now?" one guy said.  "I hope so, I like tarmac!".  He ran past me looking easy and comfortable.  Git.  I ran as fast as I could to stay with them and it was hurting.  The pair of them easily ran away from me. I checked my watch.  I was running at 8mph.  This is my max speed pretty much!

We turned off the road and finally, we descended into some vales somewhere.  The path had been obliterated by previous runners and had turned into a sideways slick.  I asked the guy behind if he wanted to pass and he just said, "No, I'll let you find all the mistakes first".  We caught up Mr Tarmac lover sliding sideways and swearing in the darkness.  Apparently the course was "ridiculous".  We checked he'd be OK and recommended he takes a trip to Accelerate next week to get some new shoes.  I'm pretty sure he was wearing the Saucony Perigrines that I have (and love but they are pants in the wet mud).

Eventually, even my Salomon Fell kings were screwed as we slithered down a muddy slope that was too slidey for my shoes but my shoes were too good for me to just ski down it.  So I didn't know if I was running or sliding.  They guy who hadn't wanted to pass me had no choice.  He flew past on my left, completely out of control.  He was around 8 inches taller than me so had been struggling to follow my line under some of the lower branches - my intention being to use them to break my fall if I did take a tumble.

Finally we exited the woods to two hill climbs remaining.  It took me a while to recover from that downhill but once I did, I caught up the lanky guy and passed him and another runner or two.  The only guy to pass me was a Penistone runner who I am sure had started late as he was powering past most of the field, all suffering from 8 km already on the trail.  We flipped onto the descent track and I tried to call out to a bunch of ramblers who were taking up the entire footpath.  To be honest though, shouting at them just made them scatter randomly so I ran through the open space in the middle of them.  Unfortunately, they then started calling at each other and scattering about the place like little bundles of chaos.  I dodged them as best I could and left them grumbling at the back of me as I ran away unable to hear the mutterings about what I am "supposed to do".  Who knew there was a rule-book?  Onto the byway I'd rode down on my bike, now covered in mud from the passing runners.  I skidded around a corner, expecting to enter the course from a different direction and checking with another runner I was going the right way.  (Phew).

At the finish line I met Mikk Murray (and his beard) and more Dark Peakers whose names I will one day eventually remember.

I watched Claire run in and gave her a celebratory hug, jibbering that I'd waited for her and everything... yeah, right.  She was happy to be back, as I was.  She said her fitness had gone and I believe she should have been about 6 ladies places and 26 overall places ahead of me.  Me, I was just happy to finish and have enjoyed myself with enough dignity to ride home.

We had a chat and I filled up on flapjack and orange squash - literally filling my bell;y and then my bottle for the ride home.

Successfully changed, with dignity, into my cycling clothes I pondered riding down the hill to ride up the clean road but instead settled for a short push back up the by way with my bike.  I was glad I did because I got to cheer in the last two finishers, a chap who was of senior years - good on him - and a lady who looked like she was in serious pain but being escorted down by a team mate / partner / husband.  I gave her the good news that she had less than a minute to go which made her smile a little.  The rest of the bike hike was OK and I was able to get on and get riding as soon as the road was clean.  Bottom gear, spinney spinney.  All OK though.  The steep bit was over quickly and then the rest of the ride to Hathersage was down hill most of the way.

I reached the railway line at Hathersage and struggled - really struggled to climb the hill which is only about 100m long.  Time for a rest and probably lunch.  Any excuse to go into the Outside Cafe.  Sure enough, chips and coffee was exactly what I needed.  Two coffees to be precise.  I contemplated my route home quite a lot but in the end, couldn't resist returning on the route I used on the way out this morning.  It was stunning and traffic free.

I was caught on the climb by a man on a Dawes Galaxy - quite a heavy bike - but he usually rides a tandem with his wife on the back so he was enjoying less weight on his ride and I drafted him for as long as I could - also stealing his tail wind.  We chatted for some time when he caught me too after the Burbage climb.  We rode all the way to the Norfolk arms together then I turned off and we shouted "see ya" to each other.

There's nothing more to report except the climbs on the road from Norfolk arms seemed normal.  I even rode through Redmires and past the Sportsman thinking that I wasn't actually destroyed.  Don't get me wrong, I was tired, but considering what I'd done today, I've been a lot worse, like the time I drafted a 12 year old boy, just to get an easy ride (he was in full Langsett Cycles kit, I might add).

I even managed to swing by the Asda in Walkley to stock up on food for dinner.  It's like I'm somehow making it, a little more every day, to being me again.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Post-Ironman Blubber

I'm going to throw it out there an admit it (you can chastise me if you wish)...

"I was disappointed with my Ironman race"

Because I was going to race it.  Because I trained so hard in the early days (OK I got distracted by Lisbon but that's not an excuse). Because I put quite a lot of effort in towards the end.  Although I skipped a few sessions I did some hard weekends.  I thought I would do better but as a friend of the family pointed out (Mr multiple age-group wins retired over 65 git), I just sneaked in inside the cut off times... and this time I didn't have any punctures to use as an excuse.  

People have reminded me that I did an ironman.  I took 6 minutes off my marathon time.  Yada yada... but I would just have liked to be competitive.  I feel like I should have been competitive.

There's every chance I'm in denial - that I'm just not fit enough but actually, I really feel like I was due more from myself whilst I was at Kielder, that somehow the legs weren't doing what they should on the bike, the arms weren't doing what they should on the swim.  Yeah I'm happy with the run but that's about it.  I feel like some time soon, I'll see some payback from all my effort and one of these days, I don't know which one, I'll suddenly be all awesome - just like that.

So, after a week off, I got back on the horse (bike) and managed a few runs from work and a few swims after work - even managing a loop of Hatfield in my shorty wetsuit just for the pleasure of enjoying real swimming.

I've been battling with a busy episode at work and a general lack of motivation.  The first few "training" sessions have left me feeling really tired although I have massively enjoyed them.  Just swimming, riding and running for the hell of it is luxury and it makes me feel like I never want to follow a programme again (is this why I don't like Ironman?).  As the weeks have passed (2 now!) my rides have become more enjoyable and the runs more manageable though still a little infrequent.  I'm struggling with swimming due to a possible ear infection but I'm being positive and doing some pool sessions to work on the swimming weak-spot.

Exploring some new trails in my back-yard for motivation

I seem to thrive on a natural addiction to JFDI.  My best races followed on from last year's Sheffield Half Marathon where I accepted a place just because I could do it and surprised myself by quite enjoying it - although it's not an experience I'd choose to repeat in a rush - or even at a plod.

That said, last week, I did sit down and write a training programme but as I mulled over more and more my success off the back of impromptu events, it turned into a series of targets to be hit rather than a series of scheduled training sessions.  

As a kind of mid-year resolution, it includes all the fell races I feel I can "make" and all of the triathlons I have booked in (a half Iron in July and a standard distance in August) and it goes, conveniently, all the way up to our summer holiday (700km of mountain biking in the Alps) and then on to the 3 Peaks.

So I mess up a few races while doing better in others.  So what?  I'll be surfing on an overwhelming feeling of joy and satisfaction.  

Recovery and resting is for pussies.  Watch this spot for injury news.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Kielder Klosure

I instantly fell in love with the Kielder Ironman when we arrived at the Shepherd's hut we stayed in for the weekend.

We arrived on Friday night and cooked a simple meal on the simple cooker then walked round the corner to the simple pub for a drink.  It was bliss.  It was quiet.  And when we got back it was midgey but we didn't care.

I did the dishes looking out of my tiny galley kitchen window at lambs in the field.  I could hear them bleating.

Before bedtime, we browsed the visitor's guide and a short walk was described from the Hut to the "Damn Wall" (herein to be known as "that damn wall".  With due expressionful hint on the *Damn* - the point of mile 16 in my marathon and location of the first aid station on the run course).

The mattress was a poor fit for the bed frame (only down side), making somewhat banana-shaped so I slept on the floor on good quality child mattresses provided (neatly stashed under the bed in the daytime).

I had the best pre-ironman sleep ever.  On Saturday I'd been out for a gentle spin on my bike and a rewarding short run up to that damn wall and back in glorious sunshine.  Life was good.  We registered, where we met the very nice Paul Dipankar from India who we later discovered had entered the race "in passing" as he and his wife were cycling around the world.

We bought food from the shop.  It turns out the water park shop is better than anything in the local villages - even for fresh food as well as the usual deli boutiquey nutrition.  I packaged it into two separate drop bags, got briefed, had a laugh and headed back to the hut to cook more for dinner.

At bedtime there was a certain amount of staring at the ceiling but I think I'd exercised enough demons during the day for me to get to sleep quite well.

In the morning I did wake up before the alarm, crawled across the floor to the tiny bathroom then brewed up porridge and coffee which went down pretty seamlessly for 3:30am.

On the drive to the start, we saw a beautiful big wild fox.  Not a scrawny city-fox but a well fed, well coated, bushy tailed lithe fox.  He crossed the road then jumped up onto a wall and into the bracken on the other side.  Then another crossed the road.  Then another, another and wow!  All the foxes are out  The wild life count is high, if not a little dull... ... SHIT! DEER!  A massive buck wheeled out from the curb and skipped across the road in front of the focus.  I braked HARD.  Not so hard as to skid - I didn't get time - but just hard enough to clip its heel with the bumper as we passed.  The deer scooted off, we crapped ourselves.  There was nearly a very different outcome to the day.

It was a lonely start in transition.  I was super early, racked, unpacked then hid in the car from the midges for some goodly time. We watched other people doing silly dances including the poor woman who got to the event and bolted her tri-bars on in the clouds of midges.  We had Smidge with us.  We knew to stay in the car for as long as possible.

I also decided to put my wetsuit on in the comfort of the midge-free toilets which the water sports centre had kindly left open over night.  Me and Sarah from Leeds Tri Club had a good chat about the pro/cons of toilet activity before the race over the partition wall then headed out to brave the day.

I've never been so happy to get into 14 degrees C water before.  The midges were crawling over everything and biting.  Who knew they loved neoprene so much?  They were easy to wipe off the wetsuit, less easy to wipe off the face, hands and my bare ankles.  The disadvantage of being tall is that my bare ankles go most of the way up my calfs.  We all milled about in the water anxious to get going.  It was bliss for around 250m as I was around 3rd in the field then I gradually floated backwards as I failed to swim with any finesse. Whatsoever.

It wasn't helpful that the obvious line went too close to the edge of the lake, making me jump as the ground came up to meet me.

It wasn't helpful that I couldn't see the course all the way around as one of the buoys was out of sight of the shore line.  It seemed to take a lot of time to get out of that inlet and a lot of time to get to the buoy that turned us back towards the shore-line.

We were allowed to take a hot drink after the first lap and I grabbed a hot tea off Andrew.  I looked at my watch in hope of being somewhere near my 38 minutes target.  I was dismayed when 52 looked back at me from the screen.  I had a 2 hour cut-off.  I dived back in as quickly as possible.  The tea kept me going through to the inlet but then I started to feel cold again.  I stopped, desperately trying to let a pee go into my wetsuit to add a bit of warmth but I still couldn't manage it.  A lady kayaker waited patiently and offered me the opportunity to rest at her boat but I didn't dare in case I asked her to tow me back.  I told her I was trying to wee and she made me feel better, saying, "at least you can, I'm stuck in this bloody boat and I need to go".  I offered to swap but she said I couldn't have her boat if I was going to pee in it.  She then gave me some privacy but to be honest I was sorry to see her go.  I still didn't pee.  Off I set, swimming again.

I was a bit pissed off at myself now so the final turn-around buoy came along relatively quickly this time.  Then there was that long 800m stretch back to the exit.  With a 2 hour 15 cut off, I didn't dare look at my watch.  I hadn't come all this way to get timed out at the swim again and don't think I could have gone off on the bike this time facing a DNF.  I probably would have stayed around and raced the standard instead but thankfully, that isn't where my brain was thinking.

I started to "sprint" as best I could for the exit.  It was still 800m away and with few buoys in the water it was very difficult to see which one I was heading for when I sighted.  I wasn't sprinting with any finesse and could actually see the desperate splashes of the woman behind me on the opposite side of the course for a while.

My lady canoeist was back and said something to me which I paused to hear again.

"Just follow me", she said.  Ahhh, my own personal escort.

I directed my splashing towards the back of her kayak and carried on.  I don't think I saw her paddle the entire time.  She must've occasionally dipped a paddle into the water but the rest of the time I was lost in my own dark little world of flailing arms, managed calf cramps and trying to control the cool that was seaping down my armpits.  My spine, however, remained average and I had nowhere near the chronic shivvers that beset me at Celtman.  I was going to make it.  I swam as close to the shore as I could and wobbled out.  Thanked my Kayak Angel and then turned to Andrew.

"Good news Darling, we never have to do this again".

A few people tried to tell me I might change my mind but my mind was already made up.  No more cold water Ironman swimming for me ever again.  I guess I'll never do Celtman - until global warming has really taken a turn for the worst and then it won't be Celtman anymore.  It will be some glorious shadow of the race it once was.

I spent a solid 15 minutes undressing and re-dressing as I was handed a cup of hot chocolate.  The Leeds Bradford Triathlete, Sarah got out behind me.  Proof that Yorkshire women do NOT belong in cold water.

I was happy to get onto the bike to warm up and we pedalled out of transition together, swearing about how cold we were.  We left with 4 minutes to go until cut off time.

I passed her on the first descent, then not surprisingly she passed me back on the next climb.  I was relieved she did because I had the privacy of the road to myself.  I really needed a wee and disappeared into a forest track to get full privacy.  Unfortunately just as my rear wheel disappeared into the bushes, Andrew went past in the car so he completely missed me on the road.

He did, however arrive at the first checkpoint after 20km and so began a long debate about the number of competitors in the field.  Paul Dipankar had failed to finish the swim so they thought they should have 14 competitors so it was a surprise to them that Andrew was waiting for me.  He knew I'd stopped for a pee - even though he didn't notice me.  It wasn't a great concern that there were too many competitors - too many is better than too few.  For a while they thought that the additional person was down to the team racing, but then there was only one person on the bike.  One person was only there to do the swim so that must be them right?  Finally, it was matched that Paul had gone on to do the bike (with the organiser's blessing) but a lack of phone signal meant that it took a while for the message to get through.

I was told that Sarah was about 15 minutes ahead so I spent a lonely few hours trying to catch her.  Was I going too fast?  Probably.  Was I enjoying myself?  Hell yes.

There would be a lesson learned here that I can't feel the HRM alarm on my wrist watch and therefore need to do long races with the HRM on my chest so I can see it on the bike computer but since I'm not doing another Ironman, it's irrelevant.

The course had been altered so took us over Steele Road which I thought was incredibly apt for an Ironman course.  Whilst I thought this might involve some extra and steep climbing, it was a beautiful road approximately one-car wide with a good proportion of twists and turns but a relatively good road surface.  It cruised through open lowland fields then the small village of Steele Road before ambling through some woodlands and more fields / stream systems and arriving back on the B6399 to head North to Hermitage.  Before you're horrified by a single track road, know that there were 15 competitors on the course and I didn't see one car on this road the whole time.

Hermitage is a small collection of houses - as it name suggests - and one shop.  It was too close to Newcastleton for us to visit on our recce and it would have made an excellent tea stop - but sadly not for an Ironman race.  I carried on along the B road which climbs up past a railway museum before dropping down to a distinctive limestone quarry.  As I climbed along the river, looking up to the railway line and ageing carriage-stock ahead, I spotted my first "victim" of the day, the lady ahead of me.  Not Sarah from LBT but Kathryn from Salisbury Tri.  It took me an age to catch her (I actually thought I had imagined her) but finally did so on the descent to the quarry.  We checked eachother was OK then I descended ahead, Rosie Red doing her best in the head-wind of the long descent.

The quarry was the only bit of scary road with sharp stones and rubble on the road from the lorries and at that point on a tt bike you're doing 35 miles per hour but I survived it once and only had to survive it again once more.

Post-quarry, the road climbs again into upper moorland.  The "roadworks" were still there.  Two traffic cones in a missing manhole cover (in the verge) and a "road narrows" sign in both directions.  Classic Scotland.

I love the big open climb to the unnamed road which passes from near Stobs Castle to Bonchester Bridge.  Highland coo munched at me from fields the other sides of the stone walls.  There was a van parked in front of the sign and I expected encouragement from a dedicated marshall but actually, the van must've belonged to the farmer and was occupied by nothing more than a bail of silage.

I swept into the turn and continued to climb although this is a deceptive incline and actually I more kind-of "flowed" up it.  Over the top where in May we'd watched an off-the-lead dog worrying sheep in the field on the opposite side of the road proving that even this far into the wilderness, people can be dicks.  Later our spirits had been lifted by a man out for a ride with his young son who had tried to race us for a bit as we passed.
(not on the day)
At Bonchester Bridge I made the turn, down a steep and screechy hill where the proprietors of the pub had claimed they weren't open for business on Easter weekend.  Their car park was still empty and I am not surprised.  Then up the other side - the steepest climb of the day and thanks to the change of course, now on the route twice.

Once that was dispensed with, it was a short ride to the longest climb of the day - the col du Hell's Hole.  Not so bad the first time around.  I had memories of our 12 mile tt back to Newcastleton last time on empty bellies and desperate for food.  This time I was doing the math of how far it was back to Saughtree and TSK and some more water for my bottles.  8 miles.  Bugger, it keeps going up for quite some time past the B&B that the pub-lady sent us to in search of food and then up again until finally the gradient eased and I ripped down the other side, taking care not to come a cropper on the cattle grid that race control had so carefully described.  It sounded HORRIBLE when I passed over it but it was pretty safe.

I filled up at Saughtree and laughed at TSK.  He had managed to procure a clip-board from race control and was now all caught up in race administration.  He still helped me out with water and on I went back to base to start lap 2, telling him that I was probably going to slow down a bit and being warned, as I departed, not to slow down too bloody much!

The road to base was hillier on the way back but there was a bit of a tail wind at least.  I ripped along side the river through the woodland and back into England for around 18 km.  There are a number of climbs over inlets to the reservoir - all bridges I knew I'd be running under later.  I got to see some of the other competitors heading back out on their second lap.  Paul was understandably muted in his cheering as he was effectively riding a DNF but nevertheless gave me a wave from his touring bike as he sped the other way.

I watched the man ahead of me leaving the water park as I was returning but this didn't stop me hanging around a bit too long at race control, deciding what to eat, stocking up and hugging Ruth Marsden who was terribly terribly excited for me and made me feel absolutely wonderful.  It took two people to peel an orange and I stuffed it into my mouth as fast as I could, spitting out pips and washing it down with a cheese roll (trust me, I needed something savory)!!

Off I went again.  This time, climbing a bit slower.  I settled into lap 2 but I was starting to suffer.

The road out of England was much steeper the second time around and it was surreal riding along it at mid day.  It seemed so different to at 8:30.  Now brighter, more lively with people and insects.  The animals were awake and chudding, not just sleeping, covered in dew.

I reached Saughtree again and TSK said he was going to head back to transition to wait for me there but I begged him not to as I felt I might need something before the last 20km.  Maybe even a lift!

Steele Road was just as lovely the second time around.  I exchanged a nod with a man mowing his lawn, probably wondering why we were cycling past his house again.  The climb up to the railway museum was fine really.  My biggest achievement being figuring out how to silence my Garmin that was busy telling me just how much slower I was than the fastest person who has been up this segment.  Bloody IT updates.  They get you everywhere!

This was the first time I saw Simon. Simon is a member of the High Terrain Events team and follows me around at the back of most of their events shouting encouragement at me.  I'm not used to seeing him in a car but there he was, shouting encouragement at me from a little blue VW Golf.  Little did I know that Kathryn had quit at the end of lap 1 and I was now last.  Simon was, effectively, taking the course down behind me.  Still, his encouragement was very welcome and I had a few more hours to go of meeting him yet.

The big open climb over to Bonchester Bridge was even more beautiful this time.  The skylarks were singing and the weather just started to cool a little.  When I got out the water on the swim I had put on my favourite England jersey which is kinda fleecy on the inside and I had been rolling the sleeves up and down all day.

My legs were starting to get stiff now and to keep them spinning and really get the blood moving around my body I sang Christina Aguilerra's "Beautiful", complete with all warbles.  It makes me breathless and gets my heart rate up.  I know, I'm shit at it but no-one was there to hear me except a few moderately moved sheep.  I desperately hoped Simon wouldn't chose that moment to pass me again in the car.  Thankfully, I had the hill to myself and the next time I saw him was on the climb out of Bonchester Bridge where I was also being entertained by a classic car rallye going the other way.

Onto the Hell's hole climb again.  Now I was digging deep and Simon and Helen came past in the car at just the right moment to give me a good 5 minutes of trying to look in possession of my road and my bicycle.  As soon as they were out of eyesight I stopped hamming it up and twiddled my way over the top.

Over that bloody cattle grid again.  This time it dislodged my Torq bottle from the cage.  I wasn't going to lose that one so stopped in the layby to recover it before whooshing on to a max speed of 42mph on the descent and a bottle fill at Saughtree - half of which I then dumped, realising I wouldn't need it all for 20km, especially since it was starting to rain quite persistently now.

What I actually needed was savoury food.  I started raiding my pockets.  Flapjack! Yes! I love Ruth Marsden.  I ate that.  What else was in there?  The rest of the cheese roll Yes!  That went down.

I was all out of food but it wasn't too far to transition and I only had those awful rollers to get over to get back to T2.  I kind of hoped I'd see some runners on the course so at least I'd have someone to cheer but instead there was just Simon, pulling up alongside in the car to remind me to take it easy on the S-bends through Kielder village as the road would be slippery when wet.  Then they backed off and carried on with taking the course down behind me.

Back at T2 10h 24mins into the day.  I had eaten myself another hour before cut-off time.

Well.  Everyone had gone.  My buddies had gone (had to get back home of course) and the other athletes had gone and anyone sensible had gone.

Paul's wife was running the marathon which was a real shame because with the lady who only did the swim, they could have had a team to compete with the one other team registered for the race.

The only people that were there were TSK and a soggy race crew from High Terrain Events.

They fussed around me like a special child, offering me drinks and food but I had my stash and I ploughed through some stuff (can't remember what now) and a real coffee that TSK brought me.  The photographer took some pics and came for a chat.  I sat in my dry robe under the gazebo of food and drink and focused.

I was going to say "sulked" but there really wasn't any question of me not running the marathon.  I knew I could run.  I guess I really had to come to terms with the fact that I'd made it this far.  I wasn't sure I'd finish the swim under my own steam and then after the late start on the bike, I wasn't sure if I'd get around that in time either.  The run actually hadn't appeared on my radar until now.

TSK's legs, ever present in the sidebar.
Could I run all the way?  I didn't know but I wasn't going to go home without finding out.  I knew that.  I wasn't looking forward to the pressure of the cut-off times but I was looking forward to the running bit so eventually I changed in to dry clothes (praise-be!), packed my rucsac (water bladder, rain coat, foodette) and set off, with a smile and a wave to the photographer as I left with the news that the next person ahead left around 10 minutes before I arrived back at base.  There was little point in me chasing what was probably, by now, a 30 minute gap.  I just had to pace myself to a finish.  I had 6 and a half hours to do what I hoped would be sub-six hours and dreamed may be faster than my previous Ironman marathon time of 5 hours 44 at Forestman.

I started off running everything.  I was on familiar territory as I had run this section on my way back from Edinburgh in April.  The gates were open on the footpath which was nice.  My main worry had been stopping to open those gates.  As you know, all triathlon race disciplines include a wee-stop and the Kielder run was no exception.

TSK said he was going to accompany me on the bike around the lake.  He knew I wouldn't want company all the way round as I love the solitude of running alone and so he offered to ride ahead every 5-6km and wait for me to check I was OK.  This meant I had to wait until he had passed then took a perch on a tree to empty my bladder of the spoils of the bike ride.  Of course  that meant I spent the next 5km pulling moss out of my shorts but so be it.  It's amazing where it gets when you run with a mossy bottom!

I walked my first hill climb at Matthew's Inlet.  I knew it was a big one although I still felt like cutting the corners on the downhill.  Andrew waited to watch me cross the bridge but I managed to sneak by him and was too taken by looking at the sculptures in the river to notice him looking down from above anyway.

He cruised on to the viaduct at the Northernmost end of the course and continued my run back under the road and through the woodland back to the carpark where I had parked for my first recce run in minus 4 degrees and clear sunshine, 2 months earlier.

At some point here my watch died.  I was tracking it all on my bike Garmin too although the battery on that died later on in the evening.

(not on the day)
I expected to see TSK playing in some of the buildings and out-looks on the lake shore and my heart rate elevated as I ran by, expecting him to jump out from behind a tree at any moment but he had progressed to the Viaduct to wait for me there and, once I'd passed the water point, used the water to give his bike a quick wash.  There would be no more competitors and it saved the organisers the job of emptying the water containers.

The bit after the viaduct was known to me from our Easter Recce although in the falling rain it was more beautiful than before.  As TSK passed me I muttered some news I remembered from earlier in the day - I extended our wildlife count to an Osprey in a tree and a baby hedgehog on the Steele Road.

He rode on.  I ran on.  I was right.  This was one of the more beautiful sections of the run.  The presence of the artwork like the Silvas Capitalis and the Janus Chairs kept me interested.  I saw TSK again at the Janus chairs as he went to take a seat but, unlike my Easter solo expedition, they were wet and unwelcoming.

The next section beyond where I had run before was undulating along a sandstone hard-packed trail. I had been checking my bike Garmin to monitor my speed progress, convinced that I was keeping a reasonable speed because the average shown on the screen would see me to a 5 hour marathon.  However, I luckily was lucid enough to realise that I wasn't running a consistent 5 hour pace.  Possibly I was on the flats / downhills but on the up hills my Garmin was auto-pausing (a setting I usually use so that my watch doesn't run whilst I sit at traffic lights in the city).  The average speed was skewed on the fast side so actually, my average speed was probably much slower as the Garmin would occasionally see my uphill walking pace as stopped.

I changed the settings and made a concerted effort to start running some of the less-steep climbs.  Sure enough, my average speed tumbled to a more likely number.  Now I had to re-do the maths to check whether I was due to arrive at the cut-off point on time.  In theory I could still make it although I couldn't help cursing a little for being so lazy with my very valuable time.

The undulations of sandstone soon gave way to the forest again.  Truly my favourite bit of the run.  By now, my skin was soaked.  My wet teeshirt nothing like the Magaluf bar legends.  Wool really is an excellent insulator - even when wet, 11 miles into a marathon.  TSK had passed.  The only sound was the hiss of the rain on pine needles and the gentle trickle of streams running down into the reservoir.  It was like a poorly tuned TV sound but the visual was stunning.  Deep greens, vivid brown and intense blacks through the pine with the angry grey skies and waters of the lake.  I dropped my arms and ran with my fingers in Gyan mudra for as long as I could, just soaking up the place.  Its water, its air, its aroma... its fire.

I needed another wee.

I needed a safe place for a wee.  I ran past a few more art installations.  I'd never been this far before.  The cubes are made of different materials - plastic, aluminium, glass.  Cirles, squares, rectangles.  The brass discs jangled in the wind.  The corrugated aluminium hummed in the wind.  I loved it.  Then there was a hut.  A hut with a step.  A step that faced the bracken and heather and nothing else.  It was even far enough away from Leaplish that no-one could focus on me with even the best camera or binoculars.  I sat on the step and had a wee - the rain quickly washing away anything that was landing on the ground.  There was no-one around and there would be no-one until later the next day by all accounts.  I hadn't seen a soul (except Andrew) since I left Leaplish 3 hours ago.  My little widdle turned into gushing masses of wee.  I felt a stone lighter.  Then a small pleasure craft carrying around 6 people chugged around the headland into view followed by aonther small pleasure craft carrying around 5 more people. FFS!  Of all the moments!

It reminds me of the "Day in the Lakes" race two years ago when, "Eventually, a suitable rock outcrop presents itself and I descend into the grass to momentarily flash my bits to the other runners and the Ullswater steamer trundling up the lake 200m below me."

I quickly pulled my shorts back on bringing an abrupt end to my final rest stop of the race.

The next time I caught up TSK he said I had 13 km to go to that *Damn* wall.  He'd wait for me in 5.5km then 6.5km.  Good, I knew he would have chance for some shelter from the toilets there - though in retrospect they probably weren't open at that time of night.  At least he'd have some company.

It was at this point he told me that the organisers had offered to send someone around the reservoir to make sure I was safe - sweep up after me so to speak.  TSK had said I wouldn't like that and that he had been prepared to ride around anyway so that's what he would do.  For all of the pain I had suffered alone, he is right.  I really wouldn't have enjoyed it as much with a stranger chuntering at me all the way around.  Worse still, I might have felt forced to run faster at the beginning and therefore burn myself out before the end.  I would've finished but I would've been in a mess sooner and potentially slower overall.  Most of all, I would have felt more self-conscious about sitting down for a wee in full view of the lake.

I don't recall the 5.5km meet.  I was clearly enjoying myself or more likely I was doing maths.  By now, both Garmins had packed in and I had no idea whatsoever the time was.  I had to make a 9:30pm cut off at the Damn wall.  I calculated the time based on my average and the distance I knew I had left from what TSK told me.  I factored in fatigue and stops and at the same time, had a battle with food.  Unlike Forestman, this time I was craving sweet not savory food so I was raiding my rucsac for gels.  I couldn't find any so the nougat I bought from the Leaplish store came out instead.  Though I had no water to wash it down with as I suddenly seemed to have drunk it all.

Still, I persevered, working out in my head, now, how long it was to get to the *damn* wall for water.  When all that was done, I worked out what I would do if they cut me off at the Damn wall.  I decided I'd just say, "yeah OK".  No arguments, no tears, no plea for a stay of execution.  I'd just accept it, climb in a van and get home.


I wasn't ready to quit.  I wasn't ready to not do this.  I wasn't ready to fight for it... but I wasn't ready to DNF it either.  I'd just have to make sure I ran fast enough to get through the cut off.  It wasn't really because I wanted to finish the race.  It was because this was supposed to be my second and last Ironman.  THIS ONE.  I didn't want to have to do another one!  I had to finish!

I started running.  E V E R Y   F U C K I N G   T H I N G.

I could see the *Damn* wall for about 3 miles before I got there.  Cruelly, you then have to run THE longest inlet known to man and for once it didn't help that I could see TSK riding up the other side and into the distance.  It was a grinding distance.  Finally 1.5 miles later you can't just see the *Damn* wall but you can see the edge of the shoreline all the way up to it and a wall, with happy, smiling people on the other side.

Now, part of my plan for not getting timed out was to look GOOD here.  I figured that at least if they were thinking of timing me out and I show up looking all "WEYHEY!" and bubbly then they might relinquish and let me continue.  (I still was perfectly prepared to crawl in the back of that Van though).

There was whooping from Simon as I rocked up to the food table.

"What time is it?", I screamed.

"Quarter past!" They said.

"Quarter past WHAT?!?!?". 8.  Now 1 hour 15 up on cut-off.  COOL!

The water bladder came out of my rucsac and was half full - mostly it had been blocked by something in the bag.  The food under the table looked soggy.  My own baggie was not really tempting.  My wet wool teeshirt seemed a better option than the dry tech tee in the bag which would be wet again just as quickly and probably chaffe.  Changing my socks really wasn't an option!.  So on I went.  I took the Doritoes though I think partly out of a suspicion I'd need salt and partly I felt responsible for them being stood about in the rain with my stuff for 4 hours.  I ate three and then discarded them in a local waste chute (TSK's mouth).

"I'm going to start waiting every 4km" he said.  This was good news for me.  I enjoyed our little exchanges on the course - they kept me going.

"Mainly because I'm getting cold waiting so long for you", he said.  Now I felt bad.  I better start running a bit more.

So there I was, running across the *Damn* wall.  It was still daylight - Just. It was still raining - so what?  I ran all the way across it, through the park on the other side and back into the woods.  I had 10 miles to go.

All the hills I had walked earlier came to me at a jog now.  I needed to do two things a) finish b) keep TSK  warmer.  He came past me and I told him that if there were any more shelters that weren't on-distance, we was to use them to stay warmer.  He set off ahead.

The next few miles were peppered with encouraging cheers from Simon and the team as they again waited for me to pass at the few little lane-crossings and areas where the path ran through car parks where I might have found myself lost in the fading light.  Then they took the race signs down behind me and finally headed back to base again.

For a while I ran alongside the road, although on the opposite side of a large verge and a few trees.  It was kind of comforting to have it there with a very occasional passing car and it did at least feel like I was nearly back.

I started to pay attention to the signage now as each crossing was marked with distance markers in great detail of kms and fractions thereof.  I knew that the biggest climb of the course was at 20 miles - a killer 275m elevation.  I tried to calculate how long it would take me to get there and anticipated its arrival and then... back to walking.

It did indeed snake up the hillside through the woods in s-bends - more alongside Bull Crag Peninsula than over it - but I stomped at it, swung over the top and then gave myself a break and walked a bit down the other side.  I was so glad I'd memorised this bit of the route on the toppo because I knew that after the downhill there were 4 miles to go and then the hill climb returned again briefly before dropping down again to 3 miles to go.  So when TSK came past me and told me "7 remaining", I had a short panic attack before realising he meant km.  That was only 4 miles.  I was still so spent.

(not on the day)
He went on ahead and I popped out onto a track.  It was set back from the water and quite exposed in that the trees were only small.  A breeze was now racing across the hillside and for the first time in this rain storm, I actually felt cold.  No hesitation, time to put the coat on that I had been carrying since Leaplish and got out the nougat again.  The track, although exposed, was quite enjoyable and then tarmac appeared from somewhere.  Oh no, I couldn't cope with tarmac.  The whole thing had been so damn lovely.  I walked the tarmac.  Surely this next inlet would be it - we would be back.

I got my hopes up when I saw a roof through the trees ahead. Was that Leaplish?

Sadly, no, it was a ski jump at the waterski club.  Looking eerily like a drowned shed in the fading light.  More walking to process my disappointment.

TSK came back to me early.  Did I want him to wait again?  I was nearly back.  No, I said, go ahead and sort yourself and the car out so that when I get back I can just pour myself into the car and go.  He set off down the trail leaving me to battle past Otterstonelee burn alone.  I had run here in April and yet at the time I did not register it all so as I entered the forest for the last time I was having a bit of a panic that I still had to run past the giant toadstool (I mean who wouldn't notice that, right?) and still had to run past the "Squirrel hides" and it was oh so far from there.  Still, it wouldn't be would it because TSK would have said something.

Looking back, at that time, running through "Squirrel hides" was exactly what I was doing with its hide and its squirrels.  What I forgot was that Squirrel hides" is only about half a mile from Leaplish, not 9 miles away (from the car park I used back in April).

So there I was, expecting some kind of big fanfare announcement of the arrival of Leaplish through the trees.  A distant view of the boats bobbing on the lake.  But here I was again, plunged into the depths of the trees.  To darkness.  It was 9:30pm.  Light was good till 10:30pm but in the fading light and the dense forest it was dark so I walked.

I walked to avoid tripping over a tree root in the darkness.  I'd told TSK to go ahead so there would be no-one back to find me for a while if I tripped over a tree root and injured myself and the risk of injury here was incredibly high.  All the muscles I usually use for running were spent some time ago and I'd now over-strained all the minor stability muscles that I never knew I had, just... keeping.... going.  My biceps were like violin strings and they were singing a soul-less G minor note in the passing breeze.  My elbows had been crooked at the same angle for 5 hours.

Eventually a white light came threading through the trees.  Thankfully I realised it wasn't St Peter but TSK coming to provide me some back up lighting.  I had one question for him, "Are we nearly there yet?"

Not far.

There was walking and there was some jogging and when I say jogging I mean, old lady running.  Bent over at 45 degrees to vertical, feet shuffling, arms barely moving but locked at a 40 degree angle.  Head bobbling about on top of a wobbly spine.

With every light that appeared by the side of the path, every man-made strucutre, "Is that it?" no it's a hut.  "Is that it?" No it's a water treatment plant.  "Is that it?"

Yes.  That... is... it.

The first thing I saw were the fairy lights on the trees.  Beautiful.

Just keep going.  Across the carpark, up the slippery grass slope and give the race controller a big soggy hug.  Simon, Paul, Ian. All cheering.  I was home.

Amazingly, no major collapse over the line.  Just business to attend to.  I set off to get my bag then Ian showed up with the most precious thing.  My medal.  My glorious Ironman medal.  I said I was going to get it framed then offer a prize to the person who came up with the best "never again" sign.

They took our picture in rain.  Such a great photo which captures everything about us and also obscures my knobbly knees with a big rain drop.

Dry robe on and checked the kit area for bits then over to the car, wet clothes off and the relaxing drive back to the Hut.  No wildlife this time, thankfully.

In the absence of shoes or any desire to put my sodden feet into any shoes I padded uncomfortably barefoot through the wet grass, over the stone slabs which slooshed in the mud and into the hut.  The earth beneath my feet felt so alive.  I felt alive but similarly, close to death.

TSK put the pizza boxes into the oven to warm and I set myself in the shower.  Gradually moving from standing to sitting with an ironic feeling that I was getting washed down the plug hole as I fought the steady flow of water across the fall of the massive shower tray in that tiny little bathroom.  After all the cool outdoor water, it was nice to be rinsed free of the remaining sweat (mostly in my hair under my hat as my body had been washed clean all evening by the rain).

I mostly crawled out of the shower straight onto my floor matresses and ate my pizza before lying back to sleep soundly.  So so soundly.

Swim: A shocking 1:55:00. 2:11:34 (inc T1)
Bike: 8:46:08 (inc T2)
Run: 5:33:54

Overall 16:31:36