Monster Middle triathlon: race report

I’d had my eye on the Monster series of races for a while. They’re based in Ely so when I was living in Cambridge it seemed ideal, and even now I live in London, it’s nice to race somewhere that is familiar, and I can combine it with visiting my parents.

Last year I did sprint, olympic and middle distance triathlons. So far this year I’ve done a few running races (including 5 half marathons) but no triathlons, so I jumped straight into a middle distance. Was this to be a big mistake?!

Pre-race

At 04:45 my mum very kindly drove me to Ely, where it was dark and rainy. I registered and stuck the requisite stickers on my bike and helmet, then said goodbye to mum and went into transition. Once I’d laid out my stuff I wriggled half into my wetsuit and queued for the loos, feeling nervous, then walked to the swim start, about a mile downstream.

On the walk I got chatting to a man doing his 59th race. He was super inspirational and good conversation, which helped take my mind off my nerves. We chatted to his club mates and another random they’d picked up along the way, a young guy who’d signed up the night before.

Briefing done, the first wave (inc. me!) were told to get into the water, which wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.

pre swim2

Swim

Although I’m not a terrible swimmer, I’m not confident in open water swims, and I’m also not at all well-trained. This year I have swum five times: 1) with a sprained ankle, just before the marathon, 2) the day after that, 3) one 1km swim a few weeks ago, 4) at a spa with my mum, where I mainly did handstands, and 5) at the lido last week but I decided it was a bit chilly and didn’t stay in long.

I therefore didn’t have high hopes, and when the swim got underway I felt the beginnings of panic. But amazingly, I was able to ignore it! I swam along and felt quite relaxed. I focused on breathing, although I did a lot of breaststroke (my front crawl sighting is pretty bad) swimming towards town.

I have no concept of time when swimming, but knew that the second wave were starting ten minutes behind, so tried to work out when I might get overtaken, hoping that it wouldn’t be until near-ish town. I enjoyed the cheers of people on the river bank and watched a family of swans swimming imperiously through the wetsuit-clad swimmers. People on boats were watching – it must have been surreal for them.

The course went upstream for 1.5km, past the exit, around a buoy and back 400m. By this point I was looking forward to getting out, and although I’d been kicked a few times, I was still calm and happy that I had survived the swim. At the exit, I reached up a hand and a man pulled me out. I then staggered about a bit and another man caught me, and then another, with me ricocheting around the slipway like a pinball, trying to shake the water out of my ears.

T1

There was a walk back to transition from the swim exit and I struggled to get my wetsuit off my arms. Once I had it down to my waist I jogged to transition and then struggled to get the stupid wetsuit off my legs. I chucked it on top of my bag (containing my post-race dry clothes, doh) and toweled myself down. Garmin on, jersey, hat, helmet, gloves, shoes, glug of water and off I went. Somehow this took four minutes? I definitely didn’t feel like I was rushing, maybe I should have been.

Bike

I’m more of a cyclist than a swimmer or runner, and normally, the bike is the thing I don’t worry about in a triathlon. But I was worried about this one. I’ve not ridden my bike much this year – two days in Wales (less than 100km each day), a ride from Bath to Andover, and two trips to Regent’s Park, where I was shocked to discover how slow I am. I have been finding cycling nerve wracking of late, something I’m yet to get to the bottom of.

The forecast was for strong wind – 15-18 mph – and this was correct. We cycled north with massive crosswinds, then west directly into the wind, south with crosswinds from the other side, and then finally a tailwind for the final stretch (the course wasn’t a perfect square so this bit was, of course, the shortest bit). It was really grim. I hate cycling in strong winds, I’m always convinced I’m going to get knocked off. And every time I was overtaken (which was a lot) I lost more confidence and motivation.

My legs had no power and while everyone else sped past, hardly affected by the wind, I was locked in a battle, my (slightly too big) mass against the force of the wind.

Halfway round the first lap I thought I might not do the second lap, partly because I was worried about not making the time cut off (which is incredibly depressing) and also because I was just not enjoying it. I was eventually lapped at the very end of the first lap, which added an extra layer of depression. But I went on to the second lap.

It was slightly better on the second lap but my hands were numb from gripping my handlebars too tightly and I stopped every half hour to shake them out. I managed to eat one peanut butter bar and one gel.

By the end of the bike course my legs felt tired, every pedal stroke had been an effort. The end of the course had a little uphill and a sharp turn around a mini roundabout, which I nearly toppled off at, to the disgust of a motorbike behind me. Then downhill and weaving through traffic to transition, where I could finally ditch the bike…

T2

Again I took my time. Bike racked, helmet, gloves, jersey off. Tshirt, sunglasses, hat, fuel belt on. Bike shoes off and socks and trainers on. Sitting down, because why not. And then off again.

Run

By now it was very warm, although I probably just noticed it more as it was less windy. My legs had felt tired on the bike but when I started running I felt alright; my feet had been sore while cycling but I was surprised that they didn’t really bother me. Could this last?

I set off on a meandering route through parks and woods, eventually joining up with the rest of the route, where we would run laps through the town, picking up a wristband at the end of each lap. In my head I heard “four wristbands” and thought I had to run four laps, so I was a bit put out when I finally worked out that actually there were five laps (one without a wristband, four with increasing numbers of wristbands). Gah.

I had a fuel belt with Shotbloks, two gels and a packet of jelly beans but it was bouncy and annoying, so when I saw my mum (she went home after dropping me off, but came back for the run) outside the cathedral I decided to leave it with her. She didn’t spot me running towards her and eventually I yelled out “HELLO!” so loudly that it made some tourists jump. Then I posed for some pictures and went on my way.

Although my legs felt alright, I walked up the hills and ran everything else – which meant three walks per lap (one of the hills was probably more of a slope, but these were my rules!!). It was a relief to get my first wristband.

The course went past the cathedral twice per lap, which was cool. The people of Ely were all friendly and there were quite a few retired couples who’d stumbled across the race and were enjoying cheering. Lots of confused looking tourists.

Ely is very pretty, with the exception of the bit past Sainsbury’s, which still isn’t that bad. I went past my brother’s old school. I waved to my mum on each lap. I petted a small dog (who looked like a teddy bear!). I got in an argument with a lorry driver who nearly ran over me and the guy I was running with.

By the fourth lap I was starting to feel tired, it was so hot and there were fewer people still running to chat to. I was drinking lots of water but had only eaten a packet of Shotbloks. At one of the water points I picked up a gel but it was horrible, granular and really thick. Mum drove past me as I ran down the hill towards the start of my final lap and heckled me from the car.

Mum thought the run was 4 laps so once she’d parked, she went to the finish. When she didn’t find me there, she thought something must have happened, so got the marshals all looking for me, radioing each other to report on me. Embarrassing – but also quite funny.

I broke my rule of only walking uphill on the final lap as I was knackered, my knees and hips ached. I said thanks to all the marshals and as I jogged down the hill in the final kilometre I thought to myself: wow, you’ve gone and done it, you’ve finished a half ironman with no training and barely any food – you total moron.

I ran into the park, and turned left to the finish line. At last! My running form was totally pants by this point but I had four wristbands and I was coming for my medal!

run finish

Swim (1.9km): 00:45:55

T1: 00:06:49 (including run from swim exit)

Bike (92.8km): 04:06:46

T2: 00:04:06

Run (21km): 02:20:47

TOTAL: 07:24:23

 

A banana and some water later, I got changed in the carpark toilets and went for lunch with my mum – a massive salad with a heap of bread, followed up by a 99 with a flake.

I’m pleased that the swim went better than expected (actually faster than last year, and no panicking!) and I inexplicably ran faster than the last two half marathons I’ve done (Richmond and Ashridge) – I actually felt pretty good on the run, apart from the final 5km and when I thought I might be sick in a bin after eating that gel. But the bike… I’m shocked at how bad I was. As I struggled around, I promised myself that I would cycle more and get my cycling legs back, which I’m determined to do.

I’m glad I did the race, though it was maybe a bit silly to do without training. I would really like to improve on my time. Perhaps I should join another club…

Bank Holiday cycling in Wales

I’ve not been riding my bike much lately, and I’ve missed it. There’s something delightful about zipping through the countryside on a sunny day. It’s the perfect balance of travelling far/fast enough that the scenery changes, but slow enough that you can take it in. I knew it was exactly what I needed, as it’s been a rough few weeks. Work has been incredibly busy and I’ve been getting increasingly stressed, and I still feel the residues of failure after the marathon DNF.

I thought about going to France for the bank holiday but the prospect of ferry timetables and cycling in crappy ports made me more stressed, so I asked around and someone suggested Wales. I’d never been (I know!) and a friend offered to lend me his copy of Lost Lanes Wales, so the decision was made. Not before spraining my ankle AGAIN though.

Bank holiday weekend rolled around and I worked until 1am on Friday night, before spending Saturday in the park and watching the football. However I was up bright and early on Sunday morning to begin my adventure.

Sunday

I always panic about trains so left myself nearly 1.5 hours to cycle 10km to Paddington. I was worried about my carradice rubbing on my rear wheel, which it did the last time I used it, but it must have been packed wrong as it was nowhere near my wheel all weekend, and by the time I got to Paddington I had almost fought the urge to check it at every red light. Paddington itself didn’t relax me, the ticket machine wouldn’t recognise my card and there were no members of staff around to tell me where the bike carriage was, but these problems were almost immediately overcome and before I knew it I was on the 08:07 heading towards Gloucester, eating a homemade flapjack.

It was a little cloudy on the way across the country, but by the time I arrived in Gloucester at about 10 the sun had come out. I set off through a deserted town centre and onto a cycle route by the river, through a nature reserve. The path was a little gravelly in places and there was definitely a bit of boardwalk missing at one point but it was a pleasant route out of town. I saw a couple of runners but otherwise I had the place to myself.
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I passed an equine college and spotted a few nice looking horses, then came to Hartpury Church, which I’d read about as having a bee shelter. I went to check it out, feeling a bit silly clomping through the churchyard in my cycling shoes. At the back of the churchyard was the shelter, a carved sculpture where bees were encouraged to live so that they could pollinate the nearby fields. There were no bees here today, hopefully not because of colony collapse disorder or anything apocalyptic like that.
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I thought I might stop for lunch in Newent but my route went right on by, and so I carried on heading north-west. I was pretty hungry and ran out of energy, getting off my bike a couple of times. It was definitely more of a mental thing as at every hill my mind was defeated well before my legs. I stopped to have a snack on a bench outside a church near Kempley and felt a lot better.
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I crossed over a surprisingly scenic main road, and past what I thought might be a pottery.
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My route went west for a little before turning south at How Caple and along a lovely lane heading towards the River Wye. I stopped to take a picture of the valley and didn’t realise I had three cars behind me – oops.
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There were families out by the river, enjoying the sunshine, and I was tempted to go for a swim, but thought it would probably be extremely cold and not much fun.
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From here it was just a short distance to Ross-on-Wye, where I (finally!) stopped for lunch – a sourdough cheese salad roll and a chocolate crispy cake. In the sunshine. Ah. That felt better!
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Ross-on-Wye had an annoying one way system which meant I did about 50 laps of the town before managing to escape south towards Monmouth. Since Kempley I’d been following a route I’d made up, rather than one recommended anywhere, and was pleasantly surprised at how it wasn’t totally awful. South of Ross-on-Wye wasn’t amazing, but it was still quietish roads. And then… the A40. I don’t mind a dual carriageway, but it wasn’t exactly fun, so when I saw a sign at the next junction to a “hedge maze” I immediately decided that I couldn’t live without seeing the hedge maze and turned off.

The hedge maze was at a butterfly farm, of course, which is something I actually find quite disturbing (I went to one as a child and found the sensation of butterflies landing on me a bit weird) so I had an icecream in the sun instead of looking at the maze or the butterflies. There were loads of kids running around, including one little boy who was being chased by his parent, desperately trying to put a nappy on him. I decided to leave before someone did a poo on the grass.

It was back on the A40 for about 5km, which no one was happy about – I didn’t like it and the drivers didn’t like it either. I passed a sign “Croeso i Gymru” and carried on pedalling down the A40. Not exactly the bucolic welcome to Wales I was hoping for.

Eventually I got to turn off the main road and headed into Monmouth. I rode around for a while and decided it was too early (and sunny) to go to my B&B, so investigated the loud booming voice I could hear all over town. Turns out it was the Monmouth Regatta, and I got down to the river just in time to see the final race.
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Rowers and cyclists appear to wear pretty similar clothes (ie. lycra and garish sunglasses) so I fitted in well, and hung out by the river, watching the rowers be replaced by swans.
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After checking into my B&B, where I was assigned Oliver Cromwell’s old bedroom, I showered and got changed into the dress I’d brought with me (everyone takes dresses cycle touring, right?) while listening to terrible pop music. I went out to explore the town, and wandered through a meadow listening to Fuck Buttons on my ipod.monmouth.png

The owner of the B&B had told me about places to eat in the town, and recommended a Mexican restaurant as serving huge portions. It looked nice and laid back, too, and I had a relaxed evening reading and stuffing myself with chilli and cheese. Then it was back to the B&B, where there was a blues night going on downstairs. I opted for lounging on my bed and was asleep by 11pm.

Monday

I’d said I wanted an early breakfast, saying I’d be down at 7.30 – but didn’t wake up until 7.30! I chucked some clothes on and went downstairs, where I chatted to the lovely owner while eating a (veggie) full english. It’s not what I’d normally eat but I thought it would help fuel me for the day ahead.

I got myself together and got on the road. It was forecast to get warmer so I’d rolled my shorts up so that the tan line would be the same as the day before. Priorities! I had a full change of clothes, which I could have done without but it was nice to not have to put on smelly kit.

Immediately out of Monmouth there were a few hills, but my legs felt a lot happier than the day before. I felt generally in much better spirits than I had the day before, clearly eating proper food is a good thing!

I was cycling parallel to the A40 but a distance from it, but eventually I crossed over and decided that this must be South Wales. There was one very big hill on the agenda for the day and this was immediately after the A40, but I felt a lot more positive and rode up almost all of it, stopping for a quick photo near the top as the views were just so lovely.
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Then I hurtled through some lanes, freaking myself out a bit on the descents. I really hate descending, I have an irrational terror that I can usually keep semi-under control but it will occasionally bubble up into a physical refusal to go on. I went through a farm and round a corner, and faced a 15% descent. And stopped. It was actually kind of difficult to get off my bike as it was so steep but I managed it, sweating coldly and trying/failing to have words with myself.

I could hear voices close by but couldn’t work out where they were coming from. Eventually I managed to get back on my bike and around the corner I saw a car and small sheep transporter in the road. The farmer and his three dogs were rounding up the sheep into the transporter. He was a young guy and we had a brief chat before he had to leg it after one errant sheep who didn’t want to go in the transporter. I was pretty transfixed by the working dogs and the way one corralled the sheep into a field.
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Once the farmer had gone I had a 15% slog up the other side of the little valley, but this turned out be to the final steep hill as after this there were a few km to go before hitting a bigger road into Usk, a further few km on from there.

Usk is pretty small, so small I managed to accidentally cycle through the whole town and miss the high street, and had to do a u-turn outside what I thought was a picturesque castle (but was actually a young offender’s institution). I had lunch in a Sprokwobble’s cafe, enjoying a cup of tea in the sunshine.

Beyond Usk, it got warmer and I headed south, keeping the river to my right before crossing a steep bridge at Newbridge. I stopped to make friends with some cows near the golf course.
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Heading into Caerleon, a village outside Newport, I went past a cemetery and along a lane almost entirely encircled by flowers, before taking a wrong bloody turn and going down an access road for the railway. I turned back and got back onto the right track, a designated cycle way to Newport (how did I miss the signs?!). This was a really lovely route, the path ran alongside the railway and next to the river on a wooden boardwalk. I wish I’d stopped to take pictures as it was so beautiful!

Lots of people were out on bikes and families out walking. A family had left their baby in a pram in the middle of the path but were super polite and apologised to me for getting in their way. Don’t worry about me, I thought! Two young boys cycled past and one wobbled off and into some stinging nettles. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” the other asked, in the most Welsh accent imaginable.

The path continued into Newport, kicking me out onto a main road, which was a bit grim but I managed to get back on the cycle path by the new footbridge. There were some signs up detailing the history of Newport and I had a good old read, before heading along the cycle path hugging the water’s edge..
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I have to admit to being a sucker for bridges and other engineering marvels (eg. my longstanding love for the Falkirk Wheel) so I was very excited to see the transporter bridge. There are only two in the UK! From afar it didn’t look that great, but as I got closer I saw the gondola making the crossing, and when I got closer still I heard that the visitor centre was banging out tunes like Gangnam Style and the Macarena. I stripped down to my vest and shorts and sat by the bridge, watching the bridge in action and eating some quasi-healthy sweets.
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From here I got back on the bike, through an industrial estate and onto a long, flat road to Cardiff. It seemed like the kind of road that might be busy mid-week but on a bank holiday it was fairly deserted. There were a lot of horses by the side of the road and I was a little wary of them. I went down Lamby Way, and past the Lamby Industrial Estate, but there were no signs so no photos, alas.

Once in Cardiff I headed for the centre, then saw a sign to Cardiff Bay and followed that. There were so many people out enjoying the sunshine and there was a great vibe. The Welsh Assembly building is very impressive.
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I begrudgingly headed to the station and got some snacks before getting the train back to London, my phone full of snaps ready for instagramming and my soul salved by two days outside in the sunshine.

Procrastination

Six weeks ago, I was cycling to work at breakneck speed, running slightly late as ever. My commute is about ten minutes by bike, which I know makes me extraordinarily lucky, but it also makes me extraordinarily lazy as I leave the house at exactly 08:50 every morning.

I pulled up at a junction, applied the brake, and… nothing… The brake cable had snapped! Serves me right for neglecting the bike and never checking my cables. I skidded to a stop and checked to see if the cable was in any way salvageable. It didn’t appear to be, so I locked the bike up and walked the rest of the way to the office.

Fast forward six weeks and I still hadn’t mended it, despite buying a new cable and having all the necessary tools. This morning I went to ride my road bike but had a flat tyre, and as I didn’t have time to walk, had to dash inside and grab the brake cable, allen keys and wire cutter and get the bike sorted ASAP.

And you know what, it took exactly three minutes to do the whole thing. WHY DID I NOT DO THIS SOONER?!

And is this perhaps a moral for my life?

St Neots Standard Triathlon

The final race of the season and my very first Olympic distance race!

Swim: 1.5km

I missed the race briefing as I was queuing for one of the few unblocked portaloos, so quizzed my fellow competitors on the water’s edge. “Where do we swim to? Which buoy?” The water was cold but not shockingly so. I tried to let as much water in to my wetsuit as possible before the start and did some comedy shrieking.

St Neots Triathlon

Sceptical on the startline

The horn went and we swam off in a flurry of neoprene arms and white latex hats. I was all over the place, breathing on pretty much every stroke and feeling bad. Everyone swam away. I switched to breaststroke to try to get my breathing more settled and by the time I reached the turnaround point of the first lap I felt a bit better. On the return, the boys from the wave behind started overtaking and this unsettled me. The second lap was less eventful although my goggles filled up twice and I burped a lot underwater, which is a strange sensation. I hauled myself out of the water, with no idea of how long I’d taken (ages).

Time: 00:37:40

St Neots Triathlon

T1

I got my wetsuit stuck on one foot but eventually freed myself without toppling over. It occurred to me afterwards that in transition I am like a newborn horse: staggering about, covered in a weird membrane (wetsuit) and mucus (mine) and poo (swans), until I figure out how my legs work.

Time: 00:03:33

Bike: 45km

I overtook a few people – however there weren’t that many people to overtake as my swim and transition had been so slow. I’d looked up the course briefly and saw that there was a hill at around 10km; however I’d obviously not paid all that much attention as I thought the bike was 40km instead of 45km. The hill was fine, both laps, and while the rest of the course was undulating rather than flat, I thought it made it more interesting.

The weather was perfect for cycling, sunny and clear and neither too hot nor too cold. I saw quite a bit of roadkill (foxes, mice, a stoat) and other than my right hand going numb and my toes going to sleep a little, the time flew by.

Time: 01:38:59

T2

I have no idea what took me so long in T2. I was about to head off when I remembered my Cambridge Triathlon Club vest, but this can’t have lost me all that much time.

Time: 00:02:00

Run: 10km

I set off, feeling leaden-legged, but going too fast. It’s hard to tell what your legs are up to when you get off the bike! I was immediately glad I’d stopped for my Cambridge vest as I was cheered by fellow club members and spectators. Another club mate ran with me for a minute (until I realised I was going unsustainably fast) and we got a few “looking good, Cambridge ladies!”. The first lap went by quickly, and I grabbed some water at the aid station as I began the next lap.

With each lap the number of runners thinned a little, but I could see I wasn’t last and could also see I was doing a reasonable time. I stopped for a little longer at the aid station at the end of the 2nd lap, and again on the 3rd, when I finally finished the gel I’d started at the beginning of the run (my only nutrition throughout the race!). By the 4th lap I felt tired and was moving quite slowly (including a sneaky walk, when a couple on a bench asked me how far I was running), but I was still moving and intended to carry on this way.

I ducked under the bridge, rounded the corner and could see the finish line, semi-hidden behind some weeping willow trees. I passed two dog walkers and heard one ask the other “do you think there’s a race on?”. I reached the end of the lap and into the finishing chute, in the sunshine, spectators clapping, feeling happy – and tripped on a clump of grass and went flying! Luckily I saved it and crossed the line laughing and feeling relieved.

Time: 00:53:30

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Total time: 03:15:44

I wanted to do around 3 hours, but knew that my lack of training wouldn’t allow that. Therefore I can only be pleased with my final time. I could easily shave 3 minutes from transitions; my swim could improve exponentially; and the bike would be faster on a faster bike (ahem) – however I felt comfortable during the run and could have pushed harder (though I didn’t realise at the time), so overall I’m happy. I’ll be back next year to claim my 3 hour time…

Incoming: another triathlon

It’s less than a week until my next triathlon. Having already done a Sprint and Middle distance triathlon this year, next up is Standard distance (also known as Olympic). The race takes place in St Neots, a town about 30km from Cambridge, consisting of:

  • 1500m swim, 2 laps in the River Ouse
  • 40km bike, 2 laps of a course in the countryside to the west of the town
  • 10km run, 4 laps of Riverside Park

I’m a little apprehensive about the race as – as ever – my training hasn’t been ideal. Let’s look at each area:

Swim – since swimming 1800m for the Cotswold 113, I’ve swum a couple (and I mean only a couple) of times. I went to the lido the other week but almost immediately had stabbing pains in my ears and got really dizzy, and had to leave. However, the lido is near my work and I should make more of it. Every time I go to the indoor pool I get really angry with people swimming in the wrong lanes or STANDING in the lanes. Last week I threw a float at someone for swimming into me, so I’ll try to go to the lido between now and the race for a last-minute practice.

Bike – I have every Wednesday off work and I try to go for a bike ride in this time. Normally I do around 40km, but would like to up it a little. I cycled 100km on one of the hottest days of the year, and other than it being over 30 degrees and having to stop to buy a Calippo and put it down my vest, it was fine. And I cycled across Europe last year. I’m pretty sure I can get round the bike… it’s just whether I can do it on my Time Trial bike.

Run – I’m trying to run more and run better. This means running about 30km a week and trying to mix up short fast runs with long slow runs. I’ve even done some intervals! I enjoyed intervals but am yet to see any amazing improvements in my times. I did a 10k recently but had a stomach bug so will discount that (59 mins) and have done 2 parkruns recently, the most recent being 27:30. Running seems to be an entirely mental thing, as ever, as I just don’t believe I can do it. Every time I start a parkrun I think “this could be it!” and then I get halfway round and give up. Cambridge parkrun is quite tricky if you start at the middle of the pack as at least the first 1k is stuck behind people, so you have to be able to get faster as it clears – not get slower because you give up! I set myself the aim of doing a 25:00 5k more than a year ago and I’m still nowhere near, which is depressing.

Despite the obvious problems I am up against, I’m quite looking forward to the weekend and having a go at a new triathlon distance. Now I just need to work out the logistics…

Cotswold113 Middle Distance Triathlon 2015

I’ve previously done 2 pool-based sprint triathlons and decided to venture into middle distance. My brother recommended the Cotswold113, as he’d previously done the Cotswold Classic, and we entered together. Our mum kindly drove us to the Cotswolds on Friday afternoon and we spent a rainy day hanging out eating desserts, driving about in a white van and getting ready for race day.

Swim: 1.9km

It was my second time swimming in open water (and the first time I’d been freaked out by a fish) and I was anxious. My brother (Chris) and I were in the 4th wave, which meant a 6:30am start – we’d been there since 4am. Just before the start I spotted an internet friend, Ewan, and he gave me a few words of encouragement.

Chris and I had a last minute hug and got in the water. We skulled about acclimatising and I could see mum on the edge of the water so goofed about for photos. I was nervous as hell.

The countdown went and we swam off. I felt okay initially and then started panicking. I felt myself hyperventilating and making little progress. Two women in front stopped and a canoe arrived to check on them. I became paranoid that the canoeists were laughing at me, and this gave me the impetus to sort myself out and I settled into a steady stroke, not fast but not exerting myself. I’d never swum 1.9km before so my plan was centred on not drowning.

The swim course was one lap around the lake with a diversion into the middle to make up the distance. I’d miscounted how many buoys there were before this diversion, convincing myself for a while that we didn’t have to do it. I was overtaken by fast swimmers from the wave behind and decided to push on and see whether I could speed up. Turns out I could keep up with the front-of-middle swimmers and for a second in the last 500 metres I felt almost fishlike.

I swam to the jetty where volunteers were pulling people out. Using my arms to drag myself up as high as I could, I looked up to see Loudmouth Dave, one of the most vocal marshals. I put my hand up and he shouted words of encouragement while hauling me out of the water. This is the best thing about triathlon: a strong man pulling you out of a lake.

Time: 00:47:20 – genuinely shocked, I was expecting an hour after such a shaky start

“How do I undo this again?”

T1

I’d forgotten to let water into my wetsuit before getting out but didn’t struggle too much extricating myself. I walked briskly to my bike, concentrating hard on remembering to take off my goggles. I wrestled with a jacket and dropped my helmet putting it on. Socks on, shoes on, mitts on and I trotted through transition to the bike mount line, letting out a substantial burp on the way.

Time: 00:04:34

Bike: 90km

My legs felt fine as I got on the bike, a little tired but I figured they’d warm up. The course was two laps, an out and back with a large loop as the turnaround halfway through each lap, on reasonably quiet roads including some pretty lanes. It was narrow in places, making it difficult to overtake – especially when I came across a man riding in the middle of the road in the other direction, who I may or may not have called a dickhead.

I found it hard to keep my speed up and there didn’t seem to be a reason for it. It wasn’t windy and the course was predominantly flat. I was riding a bike that I normally ride a lot faster when laden with a heavy saddle bag. It was disheartening.

On the loop there was a hill – “the hill” – just after Hanningford. It wasn’t too bad but after descending there were another two rollers. The first was fine, but on the second I was overtaken in a pincer movement by two men, who came to a standstill directly in front of me. I screamed at them to move but I was boxed in. They must have known they didn’t have the momentum to go up the hill so why pass me only to stop, blocking my path? I can only assume they are London bus drivers.

From here I rode back to the start line. My mum was marshalling here and so it was good to see her. I don’t think she spotted the chap who rode into my rear wheel as I slowed to pull back out onto the main road and begrudgingly began my second lap.

By this point I’d eaten 2 bites of a PowerBar Ride bar (a chocolate and peanut concoction) but my hands were numb so I couldn’t eat anything else as I couldn’t pick it up. In the end I stopped to shake some life back into my hands and ate the rest of the bar, which annoyingly let lots of people past me.

One part of the course had subsidence due to a badger sett, and a marshal was positioned here to warn cyclists/scare away badgers. I didn’t see any badgers here BUT later on I saw a dead badger by the side of the road – hopefully there hadn’t been a cyclist-badger incident. My mum saw one rider come down and not get back up, so I hope he was alright. My brother also spoke to a chap who’d ridden into a ditch and cut his face.

My second lap was slow and rubbish. I struggled for power, motivation, speed and confidence. Nothing hurt but nothing felt great. I’d been hoping for 3 hours on the bike and felt very disappointed when this slipped by, but couldn’t do a lot about it.

Time: 03:12:25

113 Cotswold Middle Distance Tri –- Harriet Lamb

T2

I ran to where I’d racked, where the label clearly had my name and number… and could only see other people’s stuff. There were towels and clothes strewn on the floor but none of my belongings. Hmm, I thought, I must have been moved elsewhere. I set off to have a look around before realising this was absurd and looked under the pile of stuff – there were my shoes! I had to rearrange all the bikes to get mine in and root around to find my shoes.

Time: 00:04:01

Run: 21.1km

I planned to walk the first 100m of each kilometre and run the rest. As I set off, a woman on her 2nd lap passed me and commented “it feels like you’re running in bike shoes at first, doesn’t it?!” – I had to check I wasn’t running in my bike shoes. I ducked into a field as I needed the loo, and had cramp in my foot that wouldn’t go away until I took my shoe off to rub my toes.

There was a concentration of cheerers at 3km, where the run crossed the bike course, and I saw mum again (as well as Ewan, well on the way to the finish). At 4km there was an aid station with an array of goodies – I had water, a jaffa cake and a handful of jelly beans, which melted and left brightly coloured sticky streaks on my palm.

I wasn’t feeling great and passing through the finish area to start my second lap (of three!) was depressing. There were people finishing and others with medals around necks.

I felt worse and worse and at 9km I spotted some public toilets so popped in. I wished I hadn’t as I saw my reflection in the mirror – I was deathly white. I stayed there for a few minutes but knew I had to carry on.

Soon afterwards I saw mum and she walked alongside me for a minute, telling me I was doing well. I felt terrible. I asked how Chris was doing and she said she didn’t know. I saw a man on the ground being treated by paramedics and the temptation to climb into their car was enormous.

I passed the aid station and had 2 small cups of coke and more jelly beans. A man grabbed some ginger cake, which I thought was an interesting thing to eat while running. Finally I felt a little better and when I passed through the finish area again I gave Chris a wave.

By this point I’d picked up a new friend, a Welsh girl who was also having a tough time. We stuck together for a while before I headed off, still trying to adhere to my 100m-900m walk-run ratio (although sneaking in extra walks). The lakeside path was quiet as there weren’t many competitors left and I was embarrassed to still be trudging around.

At 17km I saw mum again, this time with Chris. I felt immeasurably better than the last lap and posed for photos. I asked Chris how he’d done and he said he’d tell me later. I wanted to know but there was no point arguing. I set my sights on the aid station: what would I have this time? The answer was, yet again, jelly beans.

With a kilometre to go I polished off the last jelly beans, overtaking people and patting them on the back, saying inane things like “come on champ!”. I turned onto the finishing straight and heard my mum and brother shouting my name – I took off my cap, smiled and sprinted for the line.

Time: 02:40:33

Cotswold113 Harriet Lamb

Total time: 06:48:55

Meanwhile, another story had been unfolding. My brother, the Iron Lamb, had had a reasonable swim and set off on the bike only to hit a pothole about 6km in and pinch flat his front wheel. His race was over in less than an hour. Cotswold 113 Middle Distance Tri - 14.6.15 - Harriet LambAs he waited for race support to pick him up, he hid so that I didn’t see him – he knew I’d be behind him on the bike and that if I’d seen him I would have stopped to try to help. My mum and Chris kept it a secret until I’d finished, as I’d looked so grim halfway through the run and they knew I already felt bad at keeping them waiting. I am impressed at how philosophical my brother has been about it.

I’ve held off writing this as I was waiting for my feelings to settle down. At first I was happy to have finished (especially the swim!). But this turned into guilt: I wished I’d had the mechanical and not Chris, and that I’d been able to put on a better performance for my mum, who’d given up her weekend. And remorse: for not training enough, for not prioritising running over the last few months. And shame: for being so slow – I didn’t come last but I was 152nd out of 171 women. I’m still waiting for self-acceptance (I’m always waiting for this).

I’ve learnt a lot: I need to eat more in races; I need to dedicate more time to running and run better when I do run; I need to keep calm swimming and I need more confidence on the bike. So now, another race?

Shake It Off – a triathlon song

I greased up my limbs
Zipped up my wetsuit
That’s what people say
That’s what people say
I always do front crawl
I’m not a breaststroker
At least that’s what people say
That’s what people say
Bilateral breathing
Can’t sight, won’t stop swimming
It’s like I got these goggles
On my face, and I don’t think they’re watertight
Cause the marshalls gonna shout, shout, shout
And the kayaks gonna float, float, float
Baby I’m just gonna swim, swim, swim
Swim it off

Bikebreakers gonna break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake
Baby I’m just gonna swim, swim, swim
Swim it off, swim it off

I never miss a beat
I’m pedalling with my feet
And that’s what they don’t see
That’s what they don’t see
I’m riding on my own
I never draft, oh no
And that’s what they don’t know
That’s what they don’t know
But I keep riding
Can’t stop, won’t stop cycling
It’s like I’m just so aero
On my bike, saying it’s gonna be alright
Cause the mamils gonna wear lots of rapha
And the hipsters gonna skid, skid, skid
Baby I’m just gonna ride, ride, ride
Bike it off

Bikebreakers gonna break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake
Baby I’m just gonna ride, ride, ride
Bike it off, bike it off

Hey, hey, hey
Just think while you been sleeping in and all warm in duvets
And the comfy pillows in your bed
You could have been getting down to this sick race

My club mate bought a new P5
I’m like oh my god
But I’m just gonna tri
And to the chap over there with the pointy aero hat
Won’t you come on over baby we could tri, tri, tri

Cause the mamils gonna scorn, scorn, scorn
And the hipsters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I’m just gonna run, run, run
Run it off, run it off
Trisuits with no sleeves, sleeves, sleeves
And no socks on my feet, feet, feet
Baby I’m just gonna swim, bike, run
Sleeves are off, sleeves are off
Sleeves are off
Sleeves are off
Sleeves are off
Sleeves are off