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?!


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


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.


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.


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…


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.


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…

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?”


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


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?