Could You, Would You in the Rain? 2016 Vitruvian Race Report

•September 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Vitruvian Triathlon

10th September 2016

1900m swim/85K bike/21K run

The week before the race, I checked the weather forecast religiously, only to find it growing more and more likely that my first iron-distance race was going to be a wet one.  Great.  By the end of the week, I had just about wrapped my brain around the idea of racing in the rain.  I held onto some small hope that the bike wouldn’t be too soggy, but alas, it was not to be.

The weather for Friday evening registration was lovely, I picked up all of my relevant information, paid for the next day’s parking, racked my bike, and navigated my way to the entrances and exits to and from transition.  In spite of an early bedtime, I didn’t sleep much that night.  We piled into the car in the dark on Saturday morning, and I headed off to set up my transition area.  Nervous, I slowly arranged my towel and sorted out my gear and nutrition.  Somehow, in my distracted state, I managed to misplace a toggle from my fuel belt and couldn’t find it before the race started.  Fortunately, I had a spare, so I carried on getting ready.  It started raining shortly after I arrived, so by the time I needed to get into my wetsuit, both it and I were a bit damp.  Trying to wrestle myself into the suit provided a useful distraction and helped calm my nerves.

After the race briefing, we had a very brief warmup in the water — I managed to get in up to my calves before they called us out again.  What seemed like seconds later, we were off, and it felt positively surreal.  An experienced friend encouraged me to focus only on the swim when I was swimming, the bike as I was cycling and the run as I was running.  Usually, this isn’t too difficult for me, but it took me one lap on the swim to get my mind in the right place: I kept thinking (read: worrying) about the bike leg.  I had a good swim, I found a good rhythm, navigated the Australian exit with less time and trouble than anticipated and even avoided the scrum — tricky on the second lap once the men were filtering through.  Swim time: 36:39.

I stopped my watch but didn’t take in the time.  I jogged, then walked up to transition to get ready for the bike leg.  I wrestled myself out of my wetsuit, strapped on my helmet and dazedly put on my bike socks and shoes.  T1: 5:12.

I was on my bike for a few kilometres when I realised that I hadn’t put on my sunglasses (yellow lenses to enhance visibility) or my cycling gloves.  My bike was pretty wet already, and it was raining steadily, so in my slightly addled state of mind, I figured it would be all right.  It wasn’t as though I had much choice in the matter.  I’d been dreading the bike, partially because of the rain, but also because I simply didn’t know how it would feel.  I’d had a handful of good longer training rides, but I’d also had a handful of less good ones, rides where my nutrition was off or my back cramped up enough to shake my confidence.  I knew that my swim bought me some extra time, so if the proverbial wheels fell off the bus, I stood a good chance of making it back before the time cutoff.  Given the weather on Saturday, I wanted to finish in one piece and avoid any mechanical issues as well.  I made my way through my first lap, finding a sustainable pace, rolling up the hills, trying not to white knuckle my handlebars too much as I hurtled down the wet and treacherous descents.  The course had a good mixture of hills and flat, though as you made the final turn heading back to Whitwell, there were a couple of ascents that were just sharp enough to make you a little extra tired.  My back cramped up toward the end of the first loop, and in order to keep it from complaining too much, I had to drop my gears a bit, slowing my pace slightly on the second.  At this point, my legs were numb, the wind and the rain were up, and I was envying my husband and kids their warm breakfast somewhere dry.  But I was getting across that finish line, whether I had to walk, crawl or bum shuffle, so I carried on, promising myself with each segment that I would never have to do this again.  The pain in my back abated slightly as the second loop went on — it may have faded into the general discomfort, but I didn’t mind.  I checked my watch as we headed back toward Whitwell the second time, and I had at least an hour to spare.  Indescribable relief washed over me as I approached the dismount line.  It wasn’t my best bike, but I was in one piece, without mechanicals and within the time limit.  Bike time: 3:41:46.

If my first transition had felt dazed, this one felt downright distracted.  I heard a voice on the PA system declare several people “Vitruvians” as I headed in and wondered how on earth they’d finished so quickly.  I racked my bike, retrieved my watch, removed my helmet and went to change my shoes.  In spite of my liberal use of bin bags, my transition towel was completely soaked, as was one of my running socks.  While it was slightly disappointing, I knew that most everything was going to get wet anyway.  As I put on my right shoe, something felt a bit strange, but I chalked it up to my sock getting a bit bunched up, so I pulled my foot out and put it in again.  No change.  I didn’t want to lose too much time or momentum, so I staggered out of transition and headed for the run.  T2: 6:09.

About a hundred metres into the run, I realised that the strange feeling in my sock was my missing toggle.  I knew that if I stopped to retrieve it, I may not be able to start again, so I carried on.  (Fortunately, I had room in the toe box of my shoe, and it wasn’t rubbing.)  My first kilometre or so felt like vaguely organised stumbling, but I concentrated on my walk/run intervals, and gradually, the stumbling turned into shuffling.  The run course consisted of two out and back loops around Rutland Water.  On a sunny day (or even an overcast one), I’m sure it would have been lovely.  In the rain, however, it was risky to focus on much more than the path in front of you.  The length of each part of the course meant that each segment felt manageable, so I kept my focus on the current segment, heeding my intervals all the way.  Everyone, even the speedy folks, seemed to be suffering, which made me feel better, though most returned a friendly smile.  In spite of good, consistent training, I have yet to feel great on the run leg of a race, but perhaps no one does.  I knew I needed to keep shuffling along to get to the finish, and so I squelched my way through each out and back.  The race organisers had placed distance markers along the course, mercifully, these were every few kilometres as opposed to every kilometre.  The feeding stations were well placed, though I only managed to pass through one when I was on a walk interval once.  (I shuffled along with cups of water the rest of the time.)  Similar to the bike leg, the second loop felt somehow lighter, even though I was slowing a bit.  Knowing I was passing this wooded area or that group of sheep for the last time made a big psychological difference.  The last few kilometres felt extraordinarily long, but eventually I was shuffling my way to the finish chute.  Run time: 2:29:37.  Finishing time: 6:59:23.

I had no idea how long the race would take, I was imagining somewhere in the neighbourhood of eight hours, so I was really pleased to come in a hair under seven.  My primary goal was to finish the race within the time cutoffs, which I accomplished.  While I was a little disappointed with my slightly slow bike, I did the best I could with what the day brought, crucial in any race.  I still can’t quite wrap my brain around the fact that I ran a half marathon, perhaps it will sink in at some point.  After a few fuelling lessons learned the hard way in training, I sorted myself out in the race and felt much better for it.  This was the first race I have done with other people — I can’t tell you how comforting it is to have people to commiserate with over the awfulness of the weather as you huddle in the rain during the race briefing, to give a kind word as they speed past you on the bike, and to return your exhausted grin as you trudge your way through the run — my massive thanks to Liz and Beth!

In spite of the meteorological challenges, the race ran smoothly, as far as I was concerned. The marshals and volunteers were wonderful and encouraging, in spite of their having to spend hours out in the rain.  I worried slightly that the feed stations on the run might run out by the time I made my way through, but I needn’t have done.  There were even a few Jaffa cakes left by the time I ran my second  lap (not that I had any interest in eating them).  The handful of spectators that braved the wet were very good for the spirits.  Apparently, this race usually has a good turnout on that front, but I certainly don’t begrudge anyone staying in the warm and dry.  In past races, as everyone and their mother drops me on the bike, words of encouragement have only ever come from women, but in this race, both men and women panted kind words as they passed.

For me, training feels much more satisfying than racing.  I like showing up for workouts, feeling the improvement through each training cycle, but mostly I enjoy the routine.  This time, however, I struggled through the last month and a half of workouts.  As the long rides and runs stacked up, I stopped feeling any fulfilment from my consistent efforts.  Fortunately, finishing this race felt enormously and uncharacteristically satisfying. I basked in the glow for a few days — as I sought to eat everything in sight.  Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but I don’t recall ever having experienced hunger that intense.

So, what next?  A few weeks to recuperate, keep my body gently moving without asking too much of it.  I am not planning another race of this magnitude anytime soon.  I remember thinking, “This is a good distance,” as I finished the first lap of the bike course, so I daresay another olympic triathlon is in my future.  I’m also keen to see what a half marathon feels like without swimming and biking, so I’m currently searching for one that won’t see me training through too much of next summer.

This race provided a bigger-than-usual challenge for me.  It forced me to push myself harder in training: ride longer (up hills!), run further (in the heat!), swim in my wetsuit loads (experience wetsuit hickeys!).  Crucially, I had to live with massive uncertainty: how long would it take?  Would I be fast enough to make the cutoffs?  How much would I suffer on the day?  Fortunately, the answers were: less time than I thought; yes, with time to spare; and plenty, but not enough to be completely miserable.  But none of these could be answered before the day itself, which accounts for the fear I felt upon registering.  Under circumstances like that, fear is a good thing.  I needed that fear, that discomfort.  And even though it all felt like too much through those last weeks, I made it.  And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Deer in the Headlights

•August 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have a recurring triathlon dream.  I know how this sounds.  I participate in races for enjoyment, for a challenge.  I shouldn’t be dreaming about triathlon.  But, every so often, I awake in a panic from this triathlon-themed anxiety dream.  It usually goes something like this: I arrive at the race and I realise that I have forgotten my bike.  It is too late, and I am too far away from home to turn around and rectify the situation.  I had this dream a couple of times leading up to the Olympic distance race I did a few months ago.  The other night, I experienced a new variation on the theme.  I finished the swim, headed toward my transition area, only to realise that while my bike was safely racked and ready, I had neglected to bring everything else.  I lay down in the grass somewhere outside the transition area and blacked out, coming to many hours later, long after the race had finished.

Back in January, as my training started and the reality of the task ahead of me started to sink in (or so I thought), I found solace in showing up for each workout, following the plan and trusting that everything would fall into place.  But in the past few weeks, as I have racked up hours on the bike and on the road and in the water, I feel an unnerving combination of doubt and fear, with some lovely underlying questioning of why on Earth am I doing this in the first place on the side.  I know that most anyone who has taken on any kind of scary challenge (and scary is very much defined by the individual) has experienced this state of mind.  I need to turn the ship around and find a better headspace before I hit that starting line, and in spite of my best efforts, I’m not quite managing.

On one hand, I know it’s going to be a long day for me.  All being well, I should be able to finish before the cutoff times, but that’s still a long time on the course.  I’ve gone from not feeling stable enough on the bike to grab my bottle to being able to unwrap Clif bars on the move.  On a recent ride, I was feeling so good that I tackled Chapel Hill in Barrington for a second time.  Unfortunately, about thirty minutes later, I was groaning and shifting in the saddle as my back started cramping up (I should have used my recently acquired unwrapping skills to have another Clif bar after my second climb) and I painfully rolled myself home.

The process has been slightly different than I imagined.  I certainly knew it was going to be challenging, but in my previous training, I’ve had more of a sense of mastery as the distances have increased.  Even through a frustrating and chilly early spring’s worth of cycle rides, I had a couple of outings that really bolstered my confidence before my last race.  This time around, I’ve had rides that started out well but have suffered in one way or another: serious saddle discomfort, mental fatigue, poor fuelling.  My longer runs haven’t quite clicked and have exposed me to some pretty horrendous chafing, in spite of liberal application of appropriate lubrication and experimentation with different kinds of apparel.  (Another day, I will write about my as-yet-unsuccessful search for a supportive sports bra that does not rub me raw.)  Part of me (sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, depending on the day) is really dreading the sufferfest on race day.  And that’s not good.  That’s not why I signed up for this.

On the positive side of things, I have been (touch wood) fit and well through the whole of this cycle of training, so I have showed up for every workout.  Knowing that the bike course features some climbing, I’ve been trying to hit most of the hills available to me on my longer rides (not terribly easy in a place as largely flat as Cambridgeshire).  I’ve been sticking religiously to my four minutes running/one minute walking intervals on every run and have managed to withstand some warm and humid conditions (not as bad as the States, but this is the UK, summer is usually cloudy and slightly cool).  I’ve been fuelling myself reasonably well and making sure I sleep (most of the time).

I signed up for this race because it had been a while since I did something scary, and this scared the crap out of me.  Doing scary things often changes us for the better, and I desperately needed that.  I wanted to find a sense of possibility, something I’d been sorely lacking of late.  And I have.  I signed up for a 50-mile bike ride on a whim and had a great time.  I followed it up with a 3,00 metre open water swim a few months later and the London to Cambridge ride for good measure.  The feeling of accomplishment has stalled in the last couple of months, which is odd, as I’ve been racking up the distance.

Mental fitness is crucial to endurance sports.  Heck, sometimes I need to rely on a heavy measure of mental fitness to get myself out the door in the first place.  I have developed my inner cheerleader through headwinds and hills and trudging along the towpath.  I can go into a sprint workout and stay focussed on the current interval without getting caught up in the number I have left or the meagre amount of time I’ve been at it.  But in the workouts when the wheels start to fall off the bus, the mantras go out the window.  And that’s what has me worried.  I haven’t yet found the thing to pull me out of the spiral.  I know that I am doing a Hard Thing, but I’d like to replace the sense of panic and dread with something else, though I’m still not quite sure what.

I want to finish this race whole and healthy.  I would love to finish in less than eight hours, but that may or may not happen.  I may finish last.  I would like to finish with pride in my accomplishment, with gratitude for the body that withstood all of the work and with enthusiasm for future challenges.  I hope that this can happen.  Maybe that’s enough.

Grafham Water Standard Distance Triathlon, or How Galloway Saved my Bacon

•June 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been beavering away since January, quietly getting on with the business of regular training, gradually increasing my distance, getting more miles (though these days, I’m strictly metric in my measurements) into my body.  And then I hit a bump, or rather, I developed an extraordinarily sharp pain in my hip.  Fortunately, I wasn’t too foolish (there was one 7K run in which I decided to keep going in spite of the obvious), and I was able to nip it in the bud (with some help from a lovely osteopath).  This did mean a little time off from running and cutting down on my mileage leading up to my first race this year, which left me feeling more nervous about taking on a longer distance for the first time. . .

*****

Grafham Water Standard Distance Triathlon (formerly St Neots Standard Distance Triathlon)

8th May 2016

1500m swim/40K bike/10K run

A little over a week before the race, when I wasn’t sure whether I’d be fit to compete (hip joints are not to be messed with, I’d much rather miss a race than risk doing some serious damage), the race director e-mailed to notify us that the venue had changed from St Neots to Grafham Water because the field was too waterlogged to be fit for competition.  I wasn’t too sad about this, as the original run course featured four laps on grass — less strain on the joints, but much more mental fortitude required to avoid growing despondent.  One of my students sails at Grafham Water regularly, and she’d warned me that the water stays pretty cold, even in warm weather, so I did my best to mentally prepare (read: do internet research and buy earplugs).

This race served as a qualifier for the ITU Championships, so there were a fair few folks who looked like they meant business.  I’m an easily intimidated sort, but I tried to stay focused on my goals: enjoying myself and making it around the course in one piece.  Fortunately, as I was setting up my transition area, I got chatting to another lady who was in the same boat.  Always good to find a kindred spirit, as in my experience of races in this region, a lot of people take triathlon pretty seriously.

After a slightly rushed transition set-up (we hit a bit of traffic getting into the venue), I worked my way into my wetsuit, sucked down a gel, and headed for the race briefing.  Because of the timing of the race and the joys of English weather, open water swimming had only just begun in the area, so I had only one session in the wetsuit before the race.  The water was 12 degrees Celsius (53.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  This figure meant nothing to me until I got in.  Even with a wetsuit, it’s jolly cold.  In my haste, I had left my earplugs behind — note to self: don’t do that, cold water in your ears doesn’t feel good.  The first two waves of men started, and then it was the women’s turn.  We had a couple of minutes to enter the water and make our way to the start.  I found a place towards the back and to one side, as I really didn’t feel like getting into the scrum.  And then the horn went.  One of the upsides to cold water is that you have to concentrate really hard on fundamental things like not breathing underwater.  Your body desperately wants you to gasp when it’s that cold.  So rather than being nervous, I was three years old again: face in the water, blow bubbles, face out, breathe, and repeat.  One of the stranger internal dialogues I have had during a race, to be sure.  Even with all of the discomfort, I found myself enjoying the swim.  My shoulders were tired from the wetsuit, but the business of only being able to focus on strokes and breathing made it an oddly meditative experience.  Swim time: 28:09.

Coming out of the water can be a tricky experience on its own, and adding numb feet to the equation makes for some added amusement.  I thought so, anyway.  I laughed as I realised that my numb feet weren’t terribly effective at making it up the hill to transition.  I laughed as I hopped about trying to pull my wetsuit off and take on some water before the bike leg.  I tried not to worry about how slowly my transition was going, and I managed to avoid running over the wetsuit someone had discarded in the middle of the aisle.  T1: 3:15.

The mount line was a little chaotic.  Six or seven people trying to get on bicycles at the same time makes for some potentially dangerous disorder.  I stayed to one side and let the fierce-looking folks go before hopping on myself.  Because of the number of people getting onto the course at the same time, cyclists rode three across for portions of the first few kilometres: folks on the left, folks passing the folks on the left, folks passing the folks in the middle.  Slightly confused as to whether I was unwittingly committing a grave race error, I kept on, doing my best to stay safe.  My bike training through the winter and early spring had been a bit frustrating, the weather posing one of the biggest challenges.  It’s difficult to gauge effort and keep pace when your feet and legs are going numb and you’re periodically being pelted with cold rain.  It’s also much less satisfying.  Fortunately, I’d had a few good rides, even a few longer ones (thanks, Dave!) that boosted my confidence on the bike.  The day was sunny and warm, and the bike course was lovely — a few short, sharp climbs with enough flat sections to establish a good cadence.  I managed to hydrate on the bike without stopping or falling over, a first for me, though I could have done with taking in some calories.  I was dismayed to see gel wrappers littering the bike course, in previous races, there have been penalties for litter, but there was no mention of it in the race materials.  Worries about opening a gel while on a bike and worries about responsibly disposing of the wrapper spurred the purchase of a small bottle and bike mount.  In spite of the crowds at the start, the cyclists behaved sensibly, the cars passed safely, and the only time I felt shaky was when I observed a fellow cyclist come off on one of the short climbs (not quite enough momentum, she said she was all right).  Bike time: 1:26:01.

Back into transition I went, bike racked, water gulped, helmet off, socks and shoes on.  It was pretty warm at this point, and I was feeling the heat of the day and the effort from the bike.  (Definitely should’ve taken in fuel while riding.)  I tried to put my head in a useful place for the run and headed out.  T2: 2:44.

After some careful thought, I had decided earlier in the year to give the Galloway Method a go.  I used it in runs over 5 kilometres and adhered to a 4 minutes run/1 minute walk ratio.  My watch beeped at appropriate times to avoid confusion or error (or conveniently “forgetting” to run).  I wanted to establish and maintain better form over longer distances and mitigate some of the strain from the additional mileage.  I was playing the long game, thinking primarily about surviving the half-marathon at the end of the Vitruvian Man, but as it turns out, Galloway came in handy for this race.  I knew as soon as I got off my bike that it was going to be a long run, especially in the heat and the sun, so I was reminding myself to focus on the current interval rather than worrying about how many more there were to come.  Given my hip troubles, I wasn’t planning on pushing my pace, so I also focused on maintaining good form and staying in one piece.  I learned that walking intervals allow for easier fuelling and hydration (in spite of my efforts, I have yet to be able to run and drink water successfully).  The race organisers put on a couple of extra water stops, and I took full advantage.  Throughout the run, I fantasised about getting back into the 12-degree water.  The terrain on the course was definitely mixed, plenty of rocks and roots about to keep one’s attention fixed, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more shade, but it definitely beat doing four laps around a field in my book.  Given my hip issue and my month without running more than 5K at a time, I was estimating that it would take me between 1:15 and 1:20 to finish the 10K, so I was pleasantly surprised when I made it over the finish line in 1:10:44.  The best part?  No pain, not a single complaint from my hip.

I learned a lot over the course of my training for this event.  A couple of longer bike rides gave my confidence on the bike a much-needed boost after a thankless winter of logging the miles.  I decided that I needed a different approach to running shoes and started experimenting with more cushioning.  I realised that even though I like taking on physical challenges and revelling in the strength and sense of accomplishment that they bring, I am not willing to sacrifice my longer-term health for the sake of ticking off a goal.  I discovered that I enjoy open water swimming and would like to do more (with earplugs!).  I would still like to feel better on the run leg of a race, and I suspect that tweaking my fuelling strategy will only help this.  I have no doubts that run/walking saved my bacon, mentally and physically.  It kept me from going down the mental rabbit hole and slipping into the desolate cycle of wondering when on earth the misery will end.  It meant that my body was better aligned and put less pressure on my vulnerable hip.  It also proved helpful in dealing with the heat and the extra physical effort required.  I am curious to see how I cope with the next few months of training (already started), and I wonder whether I will find a favourite distance — I’m liking standard, will half-iron be too much or just enough?

Gulp.

•January 2, 2016 • 2 Comments

A few months before resolution season, I had a moment of insanity.  Fuelled by peer pressure and a website that claimed that the event sold out quickly, I signed up for the Vitruvian Man 2016: 1900 metre swim, 85K bike, 21K run.  Help me, Rhonda.  After a couple hours of stunned disbelief, mild panic set in.  A race this distance must be filled with super-svelte, super-serious, super-fast folk, right?  A race this distance has cutoff times.  Wait, what?

This brings us to the next stage of my post-crazy-race-signup process: panic over the cutoff times, followed by furious calculation of average speeds required to make said cutoff times.  The third stage followed quickly: planning.  I am not a super control freak, but having a plan in situations like this is a good thing.  Step one: do the Bonfire Burn in November.  Step two: rest for a couple of weeks, maybe do some yoga, give my body a break.  Step three: come December, be back up to swimming, biking and running every week, so that in January, I can start the real training for the crazy race.

So far, so sensible.  Nothing super-stringent, but a sensible plan nonetheless.  Too bad some things got in the way. . .

I finished the Bonfire Burn with a new PB (hooray!), I took a couple weeks off, enjoyed some yoga — and then got the virus that wouldn’t quit.  Five weeks, one lost voice, four days off and a dose of penicillin later, I was free of the darn thing.  Just in time for the holidays.  While a wicked part of me didn’t mind losing some virus weight, I knew that I was also losing hard-earned muscle and crucially, hard-earned fitness.

So here I am, facing down a big, scary race, and I’m not as fit as I’d like to be.  But I’ve had a few good workouts, my body seems to remember how to move, and it’s been a while since I did something that scared the bejeezus out of me.  One workout at a time. . .

The Hard One

•September 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Dunmow in the early hours of the morning for the Dunmow Triathlon.  Last year, this race kicked my tail.  The bike course felt like a relentless series of hills — I must qualify this for those who live in properly hilly areas, this is from the perspective of someone who has done most of her cycling in super flat Cambridge (though we’ve got plenty of headwinds. . .) — and by the time I hit the run, I was exhausted, hungry and really not in the mood.  Not long after finishing, I decided to have another crack at it, and here I am.  At times in the last few weeks, I’ve questioned my decision.  The training this summer has felt like a bit of a slog, and I’ve wondered whether I’m up to it, while the voice in my head has regularly reminded me “It’s only a sprint triathlon.  People do much longer races.  What’s wrong with you?”  Helpful, that one.

Fortunately, I’ve tweaked my nutrition a bit these last few weeks (more on that later), and that has helped loads with my sleep and recovery.  The upshot is that since then my workouts have been more affirming than draining, so the missing piece has been my monkey mind.  I’ve been attempting to deal with that too, though.  With my students, I talk about being very deliberate in building confidence.  Actively reminding themselves of things they’ve done well, week in, week out.  It feels silly at first, but after a while, it works.  My mental work leading up to this week has been trying to embrace the ever-encroaching suck, something along the lines of “it will probably be hard, but then it will be over.”  Uplifting, no?  This week, I’ve been trying to turn the ship a bit.  With each workout, I’m doing what I ask my students to do: I’m acknowledging what’s gone well, reminding myself that I know how to do this, that I can do this.

In an ideal world, I’d hop on the bike and own the course and channel my inner gazelle on the run, but I do realise this is not a movie and there is no guarantee of redemption.  I’m less tired than last year.  I have a couple more races under my belt.  I feel like it could go either way.  But I’m determined to try to enjoy myself a bit more this time around, maybe even smile as I make my way up a hill. . .

Déjà Vu All Over Again — Sort Of (Kimbolton Sprint Triathlon 2015)

•July 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I kind of skipped doing a race report for this year’s East Coast Triathlon back at the end of April, which feels very much like five minutes ago.  I had a good race, if a cold one, and I hopped right back into training straight away, as I was keen to keep the momentum going and stay anchored through the scheduling craziness that ensued (mostly planned, though still bloody exhausting).  I finished up at my part-time office job (I’m still teaching and performing) at the beginning of May and relished fitting in my workouts during the day, though Nicola certainly turned up the intensity.  I managed to keep up (mostly) and have just about found an even keel — in time for the school holidays.  This hopefully means a bit more regular blogging.

So, even though the race was on the — ahem — 19th, I collapsed last week with a combined race/concert (on the 15th, I’m really ace at scheduling sometimes) hangover and spent the weekend travelling and attending a family wedding.  So, without further ado, here is my race report. . .

*****

Kimbolton Sprint Triathlon

Sunday 19 July

400m swim (pool)/20-ishK bike (more on that later)/5K run

We were running a little late.  Given my 9.52 start time and a 9.15 race briefing, I figured we could leave the house at 8, maybe 8.15.  Note to self: allow a little more of a window next time.  As I stopped at the registration tent to collect my numbers and stickers, the helpful volunteer gave me a quick heads-up that the bike course had been changed and ran through the new guidelines.  I gave myself a mental sticker for always attending the race briefings, even when they’re hours before my start time (sorry, lovely husband!).  Bike and kit in tow, I listened attentively to the race briefing, in which the new course was laid out and a foot down at the turning out of the school was mandated.  I then had a few minutes to rack my bike and lay out my things before one final trip to the loo on my way to poolside.

I’d managed to forget the chaos that lay within the narrow, six-lane pool from last year’s race somehow, though as I sat on a bench waiting my turn, it all came back.  The water was positively churning.  I momentarily wondered whether I should have allowed for seasickness — absurd, I know, but it was pretty intense in there.  My nerves were beginning to hum, all the other folks around me (mostly men) were super serious and not especially chatty, which didn’t help with the accelerated heart rate and feelings of queasiness.  Before I knew it, it was time to put on my colour-coded swim cap and hop in the water.  There were a couple of slower women directly ahead of me as I started, and I managed to pass one of them with little extra effort in the first 50 metres.  I tried to keep my focus on keeping count and finding a steady pace, which was tricky with the conditions in the water.  As the next wave started two minutes later, I stalled behind the remaining of the two slower women but didn’t want to spend any extra energy accelerating past her, as my nerves seemed to be burning plenty of it on their own.  I felt something brush my foot and dismissed it as someone not being able to see very well and gently colliding.  I kept going.  Then it was not a brushing, but a grabbing and a pulling.  I kept going, trying to figure out who on earth was trying to hitch a ride — without losing count.  The pulling persisted for a good 100 to 150 metres, at which point whoever it was finally got the memo and went around.  I can understand a bit of aggro in an open water swim as everyone finds their space, but I wasn’t quite sure what this person was hoping to achieve.  I checked my watch as I oh-so-gracefully exited the pool, and it read 7.12, slightly faster than last year’s 7.16.  According to the official results, I crossed the mat in 7:54.

I jogged into transition, aiming to get my bike shoes on as quickly as possible.  (Yes, I finally added shoes and pedals to my kit, more on this in another post, methinks.)  As this was my first race with the new kit, I was keen to make it to the mount line without wiping out, turning an ankle or God knows what else, so I started out aiming for a conservative, somewhat-ginger, fast walk.  This suited me fine, though it did cost me a little time.  T1 time 1:43.

The other unknown part of the race with shoes and pedals was the mounting.  Watching other athletes get off to slightly wobbly bike starts made me feel a little less like a complete amateur, so I gave myself permission to mount in my own time.  (This doesn’t generally translate to dawdling for me, it just seems to keep some of my internal crazy at bay.)  Fortunately, shoes, pedals and adjusted seat — frankly, it was the seat being up at least a centimetre higher than before that was more of the issue than getting clipped in — all worked together, and I was off.  I expertly unclipped and put my foot down at the mandatory spot (thus avoiding disqualification), waited for some traffic, and I was off.  The new course had some gently undulating bits and a small hill or two, which made for a couple of good downhills on the way back.  The wind was up in both directions, so I tried to focus on keeping a good rhythm and not putting too much load on my legs.  This seemed to work, though I think I can still do with a bit of fine tuning with my gearing as I get more familiar with the new setup.  Eventually, I just concentrated on keeping my breathing steady.  The thing I find hardest in races, shoes or no shoes, is gauging my exertion.  So, even with my fancy (yet stingy) GPS watch, I don’t generally register much more than how long I’ve been out and how far I’ve gone in training.  If I did look at it during the race, it didn’t really register.  I passed a few people, which for me is a big deal, as I am generally the one being passed — though plenty of people passed me, too.  I was really feeling it about two-thirds of the way through, after pedalling in the wind, turning around, and pedalling in the wind some more.  Fortunately, there were a couple of gentle downhill portions to help keep the momentum up in the last section.  My bike time was 51:43, slower than last year, but it was a different and slightly longer course, so hard to compare.

I successfully dismounted the bike and jogged it back to my transition area without wiping out.  My T2 time was a little slower than usual, as I had to take one set of shoes off and put another on (with socks), but I didn’t feel like I lingered too long (1:45).
My calves were screaming as I headed for the run course, and I knew it was going to be one to endure.  Most of the running was on grass, and for the first few hundred metres, it felt like sand.  My legs felt like bricks.  In brick workouts, I would classify my legs as feeling more reluctant and less brick-like going from bike to run.  Perhaps I haven’t been doing them right, though on the other hand, I’ve never thought, “Running is exactly what I’d like to do now, let’s go!”  I tried not to get too caught up in the steady stream of people crossing the run course with their bikes and their things, though momentarily (and purely superficially) I hated each one as he/she passed.  I was a little jealous.  I wanted to be finished, too.  I wanted to be one of those smug, fast folks.  I slogged onward, legs still heavy but turning over, passed by (seemingly) numerous folks who were just easily bounding along.  It was hard.  I kept going.  I didn’t hate the three laps as much as last year, but I certainly wasn’t loving them, either.  After what felt like an eternity, I got to head right toward the finish chute and picked up the pace ever so slightly for the last few metres, finishing the run in 29:43, a minute faster than last year.  The run is officially listed as a 5K, though my stingy GPS clocked it at 4.49K.  Regardless of the actual distance, I left it all on the course.
All in all, I’m pleased with how it went: swim and run slightly faster than last year, with slightly slower transitions and a different bike course.  Given the crowded pool conditions, I’m inclined to believe that the swim is a little down to the luck of the draw.  I’m hoping that my cycling and transition times will continue to improve with practice and experience.  5K is a tricky distance for me: not quite long enough to settle into a keep-on-trucking sort of pace and too long to push for an uncomfortable, thank-God-it’s-not-too-long sort of pace.  I would love to get to a run leg and feel strong and ready instead of heavy and exhausted, though I suspect for me this may be more fantasy than potential goal.  I also wouldn’t mind finding a race with some more novices.  I know that my swim times put me among the hard core folks, but those same hard core folks go flying past on the bike and galloping along through the run, which can take its toll on my morale.  I’m much happier around the ones who are just starting out, keen to give it a good go but not overly concerned with where they fall on the leaderboard.
Next up is Dunmow on the 13th September, a mere six and a half weeks away.  Training continues. . .

Be Still

•April 12, 2015 • 2 Comments

So — what happened?  Back in November, I was good and ready for the Bonfire Burn, if for no other reason than it meant a change of pace afterward.  My calendar had been pretty full (still is, though not for too much longer!), and in the final weeks leading up to the race, training had become a source of stress rather than a means of relieving it.

First, the race: the rain began sometime during registration.  I laughed, as it fit my state of mind pretty well.  I wasn’t nervous or excited, no stomach gurgling or urgent bladder requests.  I almost welcomed the idea of slogging along for an hour in a downpour — sometimes running in the rain is downright satisfying.  As it was, we lucked out, as the rain stopped a few minutes after my wave started, though I was already pretty wet.  For the first time ever in a race, I checked my watch at each kilometre mark (I’m afraid I don’t get too wrapped up in how fast I’m going, I prefer to keep an eye on how I’m feeling and work from there), aiming not to drop below a certain pace if possible.  It felt very mathematical, but as my body wasn’t piping up to tell me how it felt or steer me in any kind of direction, that’s how it had to happen.  The sun came out, and on we went.  The bridleway was covered in treacherous mud, the kind that can easily send you sliding and wreak havoc with joints, so I went gingerly, probably losing some time, but I emerged without tearing or spraining anything, so I was pleased.  (For the record, good, squelchy mud is satisfying — not great for PB’s, but fun nonetheless.)  Somewhere between kilometres 8 and 9, I entertained the pipe dream of a sub-hour time, but it would have required some heroic sprinting on my part.  It did help me pick up the pace more than I might have otherwise.  In the end, I shaved five minutes off the previous year’s time and finished in 1 hour 3 minutes.

I was so pleased to be done that I didn’t really register much joy at my improved time.  In the weeks that followed, I kept up with Bootcamp but didn’t do too much else.  I managed some regular yoga, often a couple of short sessions a week to keep me doing something.  I hoped that eventually my body would start to chime in and tell me what it wanted.  I feared that I wouldn’t hear from it again, that I wouldn’t feel that itch to get off my arse and get moving.  I really feared that my trousers would start to strain at the seams.

I needn’t have worried.  Even though my body took a while to wake up and make its needs known, my appetite adjusted with my change in activity level, so I was not compelled to fuel myself as though I was training regularly, and my trousers still fit.  I rely pretty heavily on exercise to reduce stress and to bolster my mental wellbeing, so I kept a close eye on myself to ensure I wasn’t in danger of being overwhelmed.  But what I really needed most at the time was more stillness.

When I came home to the States over Christmas, I did a bit of walking, and it felt satisfying.  I found myself jealous of the cyclists I saw whizzing up and down the roads.  I almost felt moved to run — almost.  And bit by bit, after we got back to the UK and the new year rolled on, I felt more like moving.  There was one week when restorative stillness crossed over into sloth, but fortunately, I started training for another race a few days later so didn’t lose much momentum.

We all need to be still sometimes.  I can sometimes find it hard to tell the difference between the stillness that helps me recharge and the stillness that gets me stuck.  Hopping back into training was humbling.  I felt downright unfit that first week.  But I knew that moving was what I needed, that training and racing was what I needed, so I persisted.  My body snapped out of its funk and started to remember how this whole triathlon lark works.  And I started having those workouts that made me feel like a badass superhero.