Singularity

Tag: tri

Shopping online

by on May.21, 2010, under Miscellany, rambling, Rant

It's really not that hardI don’t review shops, online or otherwise, except in extreme circumstances. My disposable income, as discussed already, is swallowed by sport. Oh. And food. Food and sports kit. I don’t buy clothes, or a lot of music, or go out socialising very much… I’m pretty much a hermit with a carbon fibre and lycra habit.

This means that reviews of online shops aren’t very helpful unless you too are looking for a shop that will sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits. If you are looking for a shop to sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits, because you’re a habitual purchaser of such things, then you’ll already have your favourites and don’t need me to tell you where to go. Your favourites are probably the same as mine, because that’s the nature of the beast.

I, and other people like me who buy from these shops, are looking for an easily defined set of qualities. If you run one of these shops, here is what you should know about what the average recreationally competitive cyclist/triathlete wants from you (other than what you are selling):

  1. Fast turnaroundHacked offWhen we discover or decide that we want that Continental GP4000 in blue in 700x25c we tend to want it now. If not yesterday. And while we comprehend that there’s this thing called ‘the post’ we will be exceedingly happy if it turns up the next day and will definitely come back to your shop and deal with you again. We are competitive. We like things fast. We also like our toys. Ordering something is like setting the calendar to Christmas Eve. Imagine waking up on Christmas Day and being told Santa hadn’t got around to you yet. You would be disappointed.
  2. Shipping costs — Some shops sell the items really cheap and make up the money by charging an inordinate fee for postage. Things don’t cost that much to ship. I can and have sent a fully padded bike bag the size of a small horse by next-day special delivery and it costs about twelve quid. Do not charge me six quid to send me a carbon fibre stem cap, two caffeinated energy gels and a puncture repair kit. Especially if I won’t get them for a week. It will make me angry. I will not come back to your shop. If you charge me anything more than £2 postage and I’m not buying a bike (and if I am, shipping should be free because I’m spending so much already) that thing had better turn up the next morning or, at a pinch, the day after. This is even more especially the case if you have a free delivery option and a priority delivery option. There are shops out there who can get things to me the next day for free, FFS. This is particularly galling if your shop is one of those that charges my credit card upon receiving the order. That means you’ve got my money for far longer than I have my toy. This will also make me angry. I will not come back to your shop.
  3. The ever-awesome XKCD does it againOrder tracking — We order tracking. I love getting the email that says “your order has been dispatched”. Then it’s definitely Christmas Eve. If you offer me order tracking I will make use of it. My shopping experience is made so much better by being able to watch my package, in a virtual sense, as it wings its way to my excited little paws. If you offer me order tracking and a fast turnaround then I will forgive you charging me for postage when there are shops who will send things to me for free because you have just made the entire transaction an order of magnitude more engaging. Order tracking should be thought of as an extra layer of wrapping, and even if you already know what you’re getting, unwrapping packages is so much fun.Order tracking means I am much more likely to come back to your shop.
  4. Range of stock — I know this should probably go without saying, but anyone who is serious about a sport that involves serious kit, such as cycling or triathlon or kiteboarding or whatever, is impressed by a shop that sells things no one else does. I am likely to forgive you many failings if you happen to sell something I want and can’t get anywhere else. Mine!And here’s something else of which to be aware: we know what we want. We will consider all the options carefully and in many instances we will come to your shop because you have turned up in an internet search as having that one thing. You may make an additional sale on the back of that one thing. If you sell that one thing and meet all the above criteria, then you are likely to get a repeat customer. When you consider how much money people like us are prepared to spend, it’s worthwhile giving us a good experience. The corollary to this is: if you claim to have a particular thing and list it on your website and we find your shop because we want that one thing, and order it from you, it had better be there. If it isn’t there, make sure you contact us immediately and explain as much. Which brings me to…
  5. SwapsI'm not sure this is what I ordered As I’ve already said, we know what we want. Do not make a decision for us if what we want isn’t there. Pick up the phone. Email us. Tell us what’s going on and let us decide what to do about it. We gave you our contact details for a reason and thought that was why you wanted them. The only exception to this is if you have a specific section on your order form that asks us what to do in case of the item not being in stock (there is one shop I use that does this).
  6. Customer service — We want to give you our money. We want to give you our money and have you send us objects of delight that will make us happy/go faster/feel lighter/dance up hills/give us shiny bicycles. Just be niceIn other words, what we are doing here is exchanging cash for pleasure. This isn’t life or death. We’re not paying for something that we need and can’t live without. You do not have us over a barrel. Good customer service is therefore part of what you should offer if you want us to come back, because there are plenty of places that offer excellent customer service and we will give them our money instead if you don’t. We like to reward good service. Bad customer service is, more than any other factor, likely to make customers turn away. Not only will they turn away but they will tell all their friends about you, and not in a good way.

And this is why I’m posting today.

When I went across to Ireland to do the Galway Triathlon last year I had to drop into Nigel’s Cycles to pick up some CO2 canisters because I wasn’t allowed to take mine on the plane. While there I had a nose around, as one does in a bike shop, and he had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle in stock, something I had not seen before. I came very close to buying it because it’s exactly the sort of utterly superflous, but dammit so intrinsically useful-looking thing that I find irresistable. At the time I was already over-budget for the trip by some way and couldn’t justify the expenditure.

Then I read a review of one of these things last month and was reminded of how cool it had been, and decided that I’d like one. I hunted on the internet for this item (see point 4) and found a range of places, including Ebay. Most of them had the running version, which I didn’t want. I wanted the bike version (see point 4, again). The three places I looked at initially were good enough to state that it was out of stock (see points 4 and 5). Then I found Pure-Sports, who said they had it in stock. It was a good price, too, notwithstanding the £3.99 postage cost, which set my hackles on end (see point 2).

I duly put in my order. They had order tracking. Excellent (see point 3). By that afternoon my payment had been processed and stock had been allocated, according to the order tracking. The countdown to Christmas had begun.

A week later my bike bottle had not turned up (see point 1). Santa was spurning me. I was disappointed. I called.

My item was not in stock. Not only was it not in stock it had been discontinued. Someone had ordered the replacement model on my behalf and they were waiting for it to turn up (see point 5). Ah, but did the replacement have the gel flask, which is why I wanted it? They couldn’t tell me. Someone would get back to me.

Nobody did. I emailed them. No response (see point 6). A further week later I called again. Apparently the replacement model did not have the gel flask and I was being refunded. Fair enough, but with this level of communication failure the shop had already lost any future custom. At this stage, however, I would merely have crossed them off my list of potential retailers.

Cut to a month later. I still haven’t had my refund. This is why I am moved to post about it. This particular shop has demonstrated complete failure at every one of the things I ask for in a shop. The turnaround was shocking. The shipping costs were excessive. The order tracking was there but it lied. (How can non-existent stock be allocated?) The one item I wanted from them wasn’t there and they did not contact me within seven days, which the website claims they will if there is a problem with an order. They made a decision about what to send me instead of asking me what I wanted and, finally, their customer service has been shockingly poor.

In contrast, I called All Terrain Cycles yesterday because they also had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle on their website. They had three in stock. The nice man checked to make sure it was the bike bottle not the running version and was evidently appreciative that I knew the difference although he didn’t. I placed my order at just past 4pm and did not feel any need to quibble over the postage. This morning I received an email saying that it has been despatched by 24-hour courier, complete with tracking number (>click<). Now, even though I know I won’t get it until Monday because I had it shipped to my work address, I am already in a state of excited anticipation.

Pure-Sports: you’re doing it wrong and I’m telling all my friends.

All Terrain Cycles: you’re doing it exactly right and I’m telling all my friends about that, too.

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A beginner’s guide

by on May.13, 2010, under rambling, Triathlon

avatarSo you’re thinking about doing triathlon.

Maybe you’re a runner, bored of marathons, or a swimmer who fancies doing it in a wetsuit —legally— for a change. Maybe you’re a cyclist and the challenge of PBP or L’Etape isn’t doing it for you any more.

Maybe you’re having a midlife crisis, or looked in the mirror one day and realised that the sleek, youthful figure maintained by partying and late nights is starting to sag around the edges.

Maybe it’s a dare. Maybe it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

Whatever your reasons for taking up multisport, there are a few things you should know before it’s too late. By ‘too late’ I mean preferably before you have pointed your browser at EntryCentral and estimated your 400m swim time for your first novice race, but definitely before you have applied for your race licence from your applicable home nation association.

I’ve been at this for four years now. That’s long enough to have become resigned to it without being so long that I can’t remember there was ever any other way: trust me. I know these things.

  1. Say goodbye to your disposable income

    If you take up this sport seriously, even if you confine yourself to pool-based sprints (and Huntly), you will need a suit, shoes for running, shoes for cycling, a helmet, a bike and various ancillary gubbins including goggles, training devices (kickboard, pull-buoy), number belt, elastic laces… It all adds up. Races cost between £25 and £40, depending on what goodies and facilities the organisers have laid on. Then there’s travelling to races, particularly if you choose to race abroad.

    ObsessionIf you decide to extend yourself to open water and longer distances —and you will— then you will need a wetsuit, anti-chafing creams, specialist sunblock etc etc. Oh, and the race prices go up as well. Entry into the branded races can set you back more than a hundred quid.

    This expenditure assumes that you are not, as in fact most triathletes are, a gadget whore. If you happen to like toys, and any excuse for buying new kit is to be pounced upon like a kitty with a catnip mouse, then the list is almost endless. I have objects in my training kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a BDSM fetish club.

    Fist gloves, anyone?

  2. Say goodbye to your social life

    If you are the sort of person who likes to go out with his or her workmates for a pint on a Friday night, and maybe on a Wednesday; and there’s always curry nights, don’t forget Orange Wednesdays at the movies… forget triathlon. Triathlon means not training for one sport but training for three, so if you currently run for an hour three times a week, or go to four hour-long classes at the gym, assume you’ll end up trebling it.

    Twelve hours of training a week doesn’t leave much room for drinkies and dinner parties.

    Four hours a week

    Yeah. It's the thought that counts.

    There are training programmes out there that claim to get you race fit in four hours a week and if the only race you ever plan on doing is the New Year’s Day, just the once, just for a bet, and all you want to do is finish, then the title probably isn’t too misleading.

    In fact, the New Year’s Day is probably the best race to go for if you only want to do the one. It’s a miserable bloody experience, and should put you off. If it doesn’t put you off, and you get to the end thinking that March sounds like a good time to start your racing season, then you’re exactly the sort of person who needs to pay close attention to every point on this list.

  3. It will hurt

    At my last race I was standing at poolside waiting for the previous heat to finish. It was my second race of the year. Standing next to me was a chap who had been in my lane at the previous race as well. We’d been chatting at that one, and I’d told him that I wasn’t looking for a great performance because I’d been injured and had only been on the bike twice and running three times in the last couple of months or so, all in the last ten days. This time he asked me how I got on. “It was pretty rubbish,” I told him, “But I was expecting that. Looks like I’ve got a stress fracture or something this time.”

    Bike crash

    The face as the 5th ablative braking surface

    He grinned at me. “But you’re racing anyway?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Sounds like a typical triathlete to me. Shouldn’t be racing, doing it anyway.”

    That’s triathlon. Triathlon is topped only by serious adventure racing and ultra-endurance in the “doing it anyway” stakes. A friend of mine wrote something that sums it up eloquently, after successfully completing IronMan Switzerland:

    When it’s cold, and wet, and dark, and windy out, and you still go and train. When work is unbearable and after it’s finished you just want to go to bed, you still go out and train. When someone is having a drink, you say great, I’ll come along later after I’ve trained. When it’s early and the alarm goes at the weekend, and other people are staying in bed, and you’re flying later that day, you get up and train. When you’re exhausted because you’ve been away all weekend, or haven’t slept enough, or ate enough, or have a cold, you go out and train. And no, you don’t “just this once” skip it. You deal with the conflicts with work, and home, and socialising, and family, and everything else that goes with daily life. And you make room to train. How much you give in that year running up to the event is what determines what you get back at the end.

    This is more true for long-distances than short ones, but the last sentence holds true for all events: how much you give in the time running up to the event is what determines what you get back at the end. Triathlon isn’t a fun run. Triathlon isn’t enjoyable if you haven’t put in the work. So if you’re not going to put in the work there’s no point in doing it.

    Add the following to your list of expenses: physiotherapy and sports massage.

  4. People will assume you are some sort of superbeing

    Now don’t get me wrong: for plenty of people this might seem to be a plus point. Some athletes, I’m sure, get a kick out of folk in the staff canteen giving them kudos and respect for running, swimming and biking 3 – 4 times a week (each) and getting out of bed at 5am every few Sundays to spend between 1 and 3 hours beasting themselves under the critical gaze of the race marshals. Personally I get a little tired of the “You must be so fit!” comments. This is mostly because it is, almost without fail, phrased exactly like that. “You must be so fit!”

    No. Rich Roll is fit. Catriona Morrison is fit. I’m a woman in her mid-thirties with early-onset arthritis and a massive case of Lara Croft envy who likes the excuse for buying natty bike gear.

    On the other hand, short of an unlikely encounter with a radioactive spider, a black ops super-soldier project, a childhood spent under the tutelage of a parkour guru or all of the above, it’s pretty much the closest you’re likely to get to being a superhero, funny-coloured lycra suits and everything.

  5. We had fun at the time

And that last point is pretty much the one that makes the rest worthwhile.

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Close to home

by on May.09, 2010, under Miscellany, Triathlon

avatarI laughed so much watching this it made my ribs hurt.

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Midlothian Sprint 2010 race report

by on May.02, 2010, under Race reports, Triathlon

avatar I happily confess I didn’t want to do this race. An extended bout of insomnia, a lupus flare, injury issues and sheer despondency over my training progress this year left me severely lacking in motivation. However, one of the defining characteristics of the institutionalised triathlete is a tendency to get on with it despite a total lack of motivation; indeed, in some cases, when the state of one’s health would preclude it if one were of sound mind.

Six o’clock this morning therefore saw me dragging myself out of bed and turning on the kettle and coffee machine. It wasn’t warm. The wind had changed direction to come from the north and I was concerned about rain. I don’t mind rain on a warm day. On a cold day it puts a serious damper on transition times because squirming into a Gore-Tex jacket with wet arms is not the easiest thing in the world.

Registration was between 7am and 8am and Dalkeith isn’t too far away so we were out the door at 06:50. I’m always amazed at how many people are up and about at that time on a Sunday morning. What are they doing? Why are they there? There’s an entire world that seems to exist in the realm of very early weekend mornings and while it’s incredibly sparsely populated, it is populated, which never ceases to surprise me. The cars with bikes on the back were obviously up to the same mischief as us, but what about the others?

If you know don’t tell me. I prefer the stories I imagine.

We got there about 7:20 and the car park was already looking full, which Frood found remarkable: the last time I did this race we turned up half an hour after registration was due to open and there was no one there except for a couple of other triathletes looking lost and confused.

I made a dash for race registration for body markings and timing chip. The freebie this time was a mug, which pleased Frood no end (not). I’m in my fourth year of triathlon now, and have developed some very strong opinions on what constitutes a good race. One of the criteria is the quality of the freebies, and by quality I mean relevance. It’s not cheap to enter a triathlon — you’re looking at around thirty molluscs for a sprint, fifty to sixty for a standard, and the longer distances go up into three figures — and 95% of the athletes taking part are not competing to win. They don’t expect to go home with a prize and probably never will. All they get for their money is the opportunity to race and whatever freebie is on offer. If I’m stumping up that amount of cash it’s nice to be given a memento that’s a bit more appealing than a mug with a logo on it. Galway last year was great, with a technical t-shirt for every competitor, including some in girlie sizes. Haddington the year before last gave us multi-tools. Even the ubiquitous water bottle is at least something you can use on the bike. I’m hardly going to stop for a cup of tea in transition and, even if I were, we’re not short on mugs at home. I’d prefer to keep my swim hat rather than get a mug, and that would be cheaper for the organisers, too. Just get a bunch of swim caps printed up at about 20p a shot and let us keep them. I like getting to keep my swim cap. It’s very handy to have race caps when training. Wearing one dissuades slow people from getting in the same lane as me.

Being given my own swim cap would also have prevented the horrible, awful moment at the start of the swim when I opened the cap to put it on and found a mass of someone else’s thick, black hair, swarming over the inside like some sort of parasitic worm colony. That I have a phobia about unattached hair is beside the point. Just EW.

I turned it inside out.

I took a chilled attitude in the swim. In past years I’ve become impatient when I’ve been close enough to touch the feet of the swimmer in front, but I’ve learned to relax and take advantage of drafting. I had a slight moment of panic when I was hit in the face by water on an in-breath and it looked like I was going to do a repeat of East Fife. I reacted more quickly this time and could therefore swim through it. I had also made a decision to try to be “in the moment” for this race, and not let how I was feeling at any given time push me into assumptions about what that meant for the rest of the race or even how I was performing. That helped a lot, and when the indication came that I had two lengths to go I was genuinely surprised.

This attempt at triathlon Zen failed on the bike. Dalkeith has the long descent with the vicious surface and sunken manholes that nearly had me off three years ago and gave me the Fear. After Cupar I thought I was over it: sadly not. I couldn’t make myself take my fingers off the brakes on that part, especially as there were some new, very nasty potholes and lacking any depth perception meant I couldn’t see how far away they were. The second lap was better, but even so I was overtaken by athletes who were braver than I was.

Back into T2, which had me struggling to get my running shoes on because I’ve got a gammy foot right now, and then more application of Zen to the run on the back of an article in the latest Runner’s World: concentrating on my breath and on my posture, acknowledging when thoughts about painful feet and tight hip extensors and people overtaking me — not to mention fretting about this year’s Galway — intruded and then focusing on the breath again. Sounds great in practise, but when the breath is laboured it’s also a great way to remind yourself that you’re suffering.

Still, I was in pretty good shape when I crossed the line, not the wheezing heap that I was in Cupar. My times, as dispatched to me by text message while I was still on my way home (which, I have to say, almost makes up for the mug) were:

Total: 01:22’47
Swim: 00:14’33 (including run to mat — I made it 13’36 for a PB)
T1: 00:01’26
Cycle: 00:38’52
T2: 00:01’15
Run: 00:26’39

The cycle and the run are suffering from injury-induced lack of training, but if I’m honest my run hasn’t improved all that much in the four years I’ve been competing and I really don’t know what to do about that. My goals this year, up until I had to take time out, were a sub-13 minute swim, a consistent 35 minute or less bike and a consistent sub-25 minute run. I think I can make my swim goal, but even this early in the season I’m having doubts about the other two because they’re not showing much sign of improvement.

It was a good race though. As it turned out I enjoyed it. The pool was cold, the weather was cool and dry and I didn’t feel under any particular pressure. I suspect that’s the right combination for having an enjoyable race, if not for breaking any records: but then, as I don’t enter to win because I know I’m not fast enough to win, enjoying a triathlon is as much of an achievement as a finishing in a new fastest time.

Now I get beer and home-made pizza. Nom!

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News and updates

by on Apr.30, 2010, under Geekery, Triathlon, website, Writing

For those of you not following along in the social networking arena, my flash piece Big Brother, Little Sister made the top twenty in the Campaign For Real Fear.

That was quite odd, as I was always in two minds about whether to enter or not. Writing has never been a problem for me, as some of you may know. Writing that other people would find intelligible is a different matter entirely. I tend to find that the pieces I write other people enjoy are the pieces I don’t like very much. For this particular piece I tried to write something with a narrative that other people could follow over the top of a different narrative that made me feel like it wasn’t missing something. Whether I succeeded or not I haven’t quite decided but obviously the competition’s organisers and judges, Maura McHugh and Christopher Fowler, liked what I produced. Thanks to them for picking my piece and also for staging the competition in the first place.

All the winning entries will be published in Black Static and they will also be podcast by Action Audio.

This is also going to be (probably) the last ever post I publish to the blog from blogger, as they remove ftp support tomorrow. I guess I’ll be installing WordPress this weekend.

Except I’m racing in the Midlothian Tri, so it might have to wait. Until then you can find me on twitter, LJ, facebook, the Clubhouse — all the usual places. Look around here, you’ll find all the clues you need. I’m not hard to find.

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East Fife 2010 race report

by on Apr.18, 2010, under Race reports, Triathlon

It’s strange to think that this will be my fourth year of triathlon. It started about as badly as a triathlon season can start, with acute ITB syndrome bringing my training to a complete standstill at the beginning of February. I missed Tranent this year, although I had entered and despite the best efforts of my physio (when I suggested going ahead with the race she told me I’d be bloody daft).

So East Fife 2010 was my first race of the season, and it came 10 measly days after getting back into training. I’d been running three times — each of those less than the 5km I’d do in the race — and on the bike twice since the aforementioned knee injury kicked off: I wasn’t expecting a fast race.

It struck me first of all how easily the old rituals came back. Talc in the cycling shoes to make them easier to pull on with wet feet. Talc and vaseline in the running shoes because life’s too short for socks. One spare suit, a spare sports bra (I forgot my bra at East Fife last year, and it was nearly a DNS — Kathy to the rescue), spare number belt… I try to take spares of everything, because that means I can’t possibly have forgotten something. I hadn’t raced in 6 months, but it all came back as if it were still the end of last season.

East Fife always gets good weather. Three years of racing at this event and it was sunny every time. This year was no different. I was so glad I packed my sunscreen.

Registration was at 8am but my swim time has improved since the first year of racing, and this year my heat wasn’t off until 11am. I nommed bananas, drank water, fretted over my transition layout because I was sure I had forgotten something and patted myself on the back for assuming they wouldn’t be allowing boxes in transition. I don’t know why they insist on that — well, I do really. But it’s not in the rules.

At the race briefing the call went out to ask if anyone was racing on a 650cc. No. Nobody was. That’s not strictly true. Somebody was. Somebody who had pumped his tyre to the point of exploding the tube and had neglected to bring a spare. Silly, silly man. I offered a patch, but apparently the tube was well and truly Bunberried. I did manage to help the gentleman who had forgotten his race belt, however.

I was well impressed by the novice race this year. Triathlon is an odd sport: the competitors span a range that goes from “comfortably plump, riding knobblies” at one end to “terrifyingly gaunt, carbon monocoque and sperm hat” at the other. At these regional events I have far more admiration for the novices for whom this is a real challenge than I do for the £5k TT bike semi-pros who are too self-absorbed even to have a good word for the marshals. When they give the spiel in race briefing about not being rude to the marshals, you can bet your arse that the novices are not the ones who need to take heed.

A considerably improved swim time gave me plenty of time to watch the earlier heats — in previous years a slow time and inexperience has seen me in pre-race mental prep mode so early I didn’t get a chance to chill and watch the earlier heats. Sitting on the step watching the novice heat come out I was simultaneously impressed and fascinated at the way they tackled T1. For those of you who don’t do triathlon, T1 is the transition from swim to bike. It’s an often-dizzy, high-pressure effort to get from being wet and horizontal to wearing a helmet, race number and shoes with wheels underneath you. Most sprint athletes do without socks (see above) and a seasoned athlete can get through this quick change in considerably less a minute.

The novices were taking the time to dry themselves off, put on board shorts, shirts, have a drink and a biscuit. Good on them for making the effort, but still, as one guy from the Edinburgh University race team commented, was there no sense of pressure?

Spare a thought for the entrant who had a tube explode while his bike was in transition, after the race had started. We were watching the novice heats when there was an almighty bang. Every single athlete present went on full alert like a swarm of meerkats, each wondering if his was the unruly steed. Note to self: do not pump tyres to very high pressure in the cold of early morning if expecting the rest of the day to get scorching.

Eventually it was time for me to head in and get prepped. Now this is possibly too much information, but my crowning achievement for this year has to be the fact that I was so chilled about the whole affair that I only went to the toilet three times before the race started. Oh, if you had seen me a couple of years ago. I sometimes wonder how big the carbon footprint of my racing career is in terms of toilet paper alone.

Cupar pool is not my favourite venue. The race is a great wee race, but I really don’t like the pool. This year was the worst yet — the water was so murky it was more like an open water race and the sides of the pool so slippy that I gave up on tumble turns after two attempts. Under strict orders from my physio not to try to break any records I let the guy behind me past on the second length (really, though, chaps, you should give people a chance to settle into a rhythm before asking to overtake), then found a nice tempo drafting him.

Until, of course, his pacing failed. Drives me nuts, that does. I try to swim a negative split (finishing faster than starting). Failing that, I swim a steady pace. I have yet to participate in a race where the other swimmers in my lane have not underestimated their swim time and they go off like a rocket, thumping my feet to get past, only to get tired at about 400m, at which point I overtake everyone.

This time I had just got past the traffic at around 500m when I breathed in half the pool. Because it was a busy heat, 6 to a lane, the water was very choppy and I took a wave to the face just as I was breathing in. I can normally swim that off but it was a lot of water and eventually I had to pull up to the side of the pool for half a minute to cough it out. By the time I was fit to go everyone had gone past me and I was furious.

This incident affected the rest of my race much more significantly than I was expecting. Not only was I having to look after my knee, I was limited in how hard I could push because my airways were reacting badly to the chlorine from the pool. Hence I was overtaken by other girls on the bike, for the first time ever in my racing career. Hence the run was so tough, with a point on the third lap when my airways closed off to the point where I was making odd whooping noises when breathing in. I don’t have asthma, but that felt like what I imagine an asthma attack might feel like. It was horrible. Running through that restricted airflow was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

Bike was okay, given the lack of training. Could really do with having that road resurfaced. My bike hates it. The run was harder than I expected, although not sure why I was expecting it to be any easier given the lack of training. Overall, 34 seconds slower than last year which either means that I now have superior base conditioning or last year’s performance was shockingly awful.

I’m not fast enough to justify a sperm hat or a carbon monocoque, but by gods I want both. But then I’d have to shoot myself for being overly pretentious. Still, if anyone fancies sponsoring me, I wouldn’t say no.

Dalkeith next, on the 2nd May. Apparently it’s not continuous wave format this year. If it turns out that it is, however, expect much ranting.

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Avatarlicious

by on Aug.14, 2009, under Triathlon, website

In honour of the latest tri photos and the approaching end of the season — I know it’s only August but the only race left on my calendar is Haddington (I refuse to do Aquathons or Duathlons) — I have created a new avatar for triathlon. The old static one taken from a photo in my first race season is/was rather passé.

Three years of triathlon rendered into one handy avatar. This is the long version that LJ won’t let me have because LJ has a 40k limit.

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More Tri Chonamara photos

by on Aug.14, 2009, under Miscellany, Race reports, Triathlon

Waiting is the hardest partMy dear friend Maura has uploaded some fine photos taken at the Tri Chonamara.

Note that I’m wearing the Speedo Aquasocket goggles in this shot. I have already reviewed those and have no reason to change my opinion. Not only are they a great fit and a great lens colour, they survived being kicked several times in the melee without being knocked off or leaking even a little bit.

For the rest of the set, click here.

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Galway race report

by on Aug.02, 2009, under Race reports, Triathlon

You’d think that, after about three years of competing in triathlon, the idea of doing a standard distance wouldn’t be so horrifying. And yet…

For those of you out there who have better things to do with your spare time, there are basically four distances on the triathlon calendar. The short courses are Sprint, at 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run (my usual distance); and Standard, at 1500m, 40km and 10km. The long courses are Middle, or half-Ironman, at 1900m, 90km, 21.09km (yahrly); and Full, or Ironman, at 3800m, 180km, 42.2km. There are a bunch of others, but of them you only really get the super-sprint or “try-a-tri” distance on the UK circuit, as far as I know.

The Standard distance, compared to a Full, for instance, isn’t very long. But it’s double a Sprint, and I’ve only done Sprints for the last three years. I had intended doing Gullane last year, however I had surgery for a broken tooth a couple of months earlier, which ruined my training; and I had just put a stress fracture in my foot.

What possessed me to enter the Galway Triathlon Club‘s Triathlon Chonamara as my first standard as opposed to something sensible like, say, Gullane, or Strathclyde, I have no idea.

That’s not strictly true, but it’s nothing to do with sports.


I have nothing but good to say about the Irish triathlon scene, don’t get me wrong. It’s just… Travelling with triathlon gear is expensive. Triathlon is, generally, not the cheapest sport in which to participate, especially when you get going on the open water races. Three disciplines add up to a fair amount of kit, and transporting all that kit on a plane turns into an excuse for the airlines to start recouping all that money they lose out on cheap air deals.

I calculated the cost of racing in the Galway tri — flights and entry fee — at around £200. Frood said that’s what credit cards are for. I checked that it would be okay with my dear friend Maura (there’s what possessed me to enter Galway) for me to come and stay with her, and then called the airline.

As it turned out, competing in triathlon abroad is a bit like building your own home. You calculate the cost but you should add at least 50% because it always ends up costing more.

I’m only going on about the cost because it’s important to realise that neither a Did Not Start (DNS) nor a Did Not Finish (DNF) was going to be an option. Counting it all up I reckon the trip cost me about £350, and no way was I going to spend that and not complete the race. In addition, that amount of financial investment is a serious motivator to put in the work. When you’re spending so much you want to make a good account of yourself.

I put in the work.

Over the last two or three months before the race I was training twice or three times most weekdays in at least two disciplines. I went from running two or three times a week to running four or five. My swim training went from an average of 1000 – 2000m each session to a minimum of 2000m and usually 3000m. I took a minute off my 750m time. In fact, I smashed this year’s swim goals and was revising them at each monthly review.

I should have felt confident.

Should.

I borrowed a padded bike bag from Munky and the day before departure Frood and I dismantled my Pinarello and covered him in enough bubble wrap to float a Sherman tank. Frood is one of the people who have better things to do with their spare time and was off to Truck the same day I left for Ireland. I had to take a taxi to the airport.

Full marks to Aer Arann — those tickets weren’t cheap, but they took good care of my bike and I was permitted the full 15kg free baggage allowance in addition to the trusty steed.

I had a day in between arrival and the race itself to get the bike rebuilt and out for a shake-down. I found it amazing that, despite putting tape everywhere I thought possible to indicate where things like the aerobars should be positioned and the level of the handlebars, I still had to make some major tweaks. I seriously recommend, if you’re travelling somewhere that requires dismantling your bike, you leave yourself plenty of time at the other end for sorting it out again.

The race day itself dawned bright and sunny and almost windless. That wasn’t expected. The weather forecast had been for southerly winds, causing me a certain amount of dismay, as that was the only direction that could cause chop. I could cope with just about any weather conditions (so I thought) except for serious chop. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of wind at all. This could be good.

Maura kindly drove me to Chil Chiarain — no further in miles than it is to most of my races back home, but taking a lot longer because the roads are narrow and twisty. It had rained and there were still clouds in the sky. It looked set for squalls, but that was okay. I like racing in the rain. As long as there was no chop.

I had to borrow a track pump from another girl to get my tyres up to full pressure. My Specialized hand pump is light enough to carry on the plane, and very good, but not for race pressure. The only alternative was to waste a newly-purchased CO2 cartridge on pumping up my tyres, and I didn’t want to do that. Although, in hindsight, I might as well have done as I couldn’t bring them home with me anyway.

At registration Maura kept an eye on my bike while I went in for body marking. This was her first triathlon and the first thing she noticed was the way all the passing competitors gave the Pinarello a good ogling. It’s the done thing, isn’t it? There are three main perks to competing: bike pr0n, tri totty and the freebies. There was a decent amount of bike pr0n on offer, the totty was more than adequate and the freebies were great. It’s the only tri I’ve been to where the t-shirt was (a) technical, and therefore useful; and (b) available in a girlie fitting and small size! Respect, Galway. Seriously.

Transition was quite a way from registration, down on the pier. The Irish experience was largely one of late arrivals: in Scotland you turn up earlier rather than later, and you get your kit sorted out in good time before milling around wishing you’d brought another banana. In Ireland they have to put a big warning in capital letters in the briefing pack: TRANSITION CLOSES AT 10:30, SORRY NO EXCEPTIONS!

Only there were, weren’t there?

By race briefing the pre-race nerves had turned to nausea and the shakes. This wasn’t helped by the race director saying it had become choppy out there, nor the fact that, even though I regularly do 3000m in training in the pool, 1500m in open water looks a bloody long way: It’s HOW FAR between those buoys? I can barely see the last one!

Thankfully I didn’t have to spend long feeling sick. Soon enough it was into the water in one vast mass of orange and white caps and before I knew it I was bobbing around trying to find a good position for the off. The countdown came from the pier, the spectators joining in, and then it was into the blender.

Waiting for the off

I’d just read an article about assertive positioning in Triathlon 220, and I think I coped quite well with swimming in the pack. I was kicked in the face three times and it didn’t put me off. Much. In the bright sunshine navigation was fairly easy: just follow the others as long as they look like they’re going in the right direction. I don’t know how I’d have managed if I’d been at the front. I hadn’t been able to get a good look at the relative positions of the buoys, and they were impossible to see until I was quite close, despite being massive, bright pink space hopper things.

Although officially the back leg was the farthest, it was the swim back into shore from the last buoy that took the longest. We must have been against the current. I had to resist the urge to stop and swim down to poke a particularly fine specimen of cauliflower jellyfish, as tempting as it was. Then it was into the shallows where the seaweed was tangling around arms and ankles, before finally my feet could reach bottom and it was a wade to the mat while struggling to get that all-important first arm out.

T1 was a dizzy affair. I couldn’t get my suit off my feet and every time I bent down to try to free myself I nearly fell over. I was no longer swimming but my brain hadn’t stopped yet and very much didn’t like being upside down. Eventually I managed to get free of the neoprene, my helmet already on, pulled on cycling shoes — another fight with the fainting feeling — then it was a run through transition to the bottom of the hill up to the road. I felt nauseous, which could have been the seawater but I think was more likely to be the change from swimming to being upright.

Almost immediately I passed one of the pointy hat brigade, which cheered me up no end. That first bike leg was fast and smooth, and at one point I was churning along at 55km/h wondering when my heart rate was going to drop out of the high 170s but feeling good on it.

Turning left onto the “bog road” the surface deteriorated and the land turned corrugated. I risked falling foul of the blasphemy laws as I hit pothole after pothole. At one point I saw a saddle lying forlornly in the middle of the road. Mechanicals were going to prove a problem for a few people on the bike leg.

I was passed by a number of people on the bike, which at the time was pretty demoralising. The sun was hot — how hot I wouldn’t realise until much later — and on the back straight the headwind turned meaty. The biggest annoyance on the bike section had to be the group of guys chain-ganging it, zipping past like it was a stage on Le Tour and they were escorting their sprinter to the Lanterne Rouge. NEED MOAR DRAFT BUSTERS.

Finishing the bike legInto T2, which was appallingly slow, although I couldn’t tell you for why, and then straight into 3km of tortuous ascent in the blazing sun on the run. I saw the clock reading 02:00.01 and realised I was on track for my goal of 3 hours, managed to keep up the pace until out of sight of the spectators, purely for pride’s sake; then, I confess, I walked. The fast guys were already on their way back to the finish. Despair hit me for the first time. Seeing the 1km sign I was surprised — I couldn’t have reached 1km already, surely? But I had 9 more to go and I wasn’t sure I could. My legs felt like old, brittle rubber bands.

For the first time ever in any race I wondered if I’d DNF.

But thoughts like that aren’t helpful, so I started making deals with myself. Run to that fence post/clump of grass/pothole/pile of rabbit droppings and then we can walk for a bit. We’ll walk this steep bit but then we run for a bit, right? It was incredibly painful, but not in any way that’s easy to describe. I wasn’t particularly out of breath — heart rate in the 170s is higher than I’d like these days, but it’s not a problem. I ran all of Tranent at about 174. I was, fundamentally, overheating. I could feel parts of me shutting down in protest. When I tried to run with no intention of slowing down for a walk, I’d find myself suddenly at a walking pace without having made any conscious decision to walk, simply so I could cool down.

A conscious run-walk-run strategy at least allowed me to determine how much I walked and how much I ran, so on the out leg I walked the steep uphill bits and ran the rest. Up and over the hill, down to the turnaround at about 5.5km. On the way back I took advantage of the water station, because I needed to pour some of the damn stuff over my head. I’d donned a Camelbak Alterra in T2 and was already most of the way through the litre of water in there but there wasn’t far to go.

At 7.5km it was (mostly) downhill to the finish and I told myself: come on. Two and a half is nothing. You do three times that distance most lunchtimes. Let’s at least run the rest of the race.

So I did. I ran the last 2.5km and even managed a sprint finish to cross the line at exactly the same time as the girl trying to overtake me in the last few metres.

Times:

Swim: 00:26’42
T1: 00:02’19
Bike: 01:28’29
T2: 00:02’12
Run: 01:06’56
Overall: 03:06’36

Full results can be found here. I was second joint equal in the F35-39 age group. Overall 146th out of 176, which is less impressive.

Again, it was the run that let me down. That and my complete inability to deal with the heat. Given that I felt absolutely fine within 15 minutes of finishing, when I’d cooled down and got some more water inside me, and I was pretty badly sunburnt, I’d say that my performance suffered from the sunny conditions, although it made everything very pleasant for everyone else. The next day I felt ready for more. Either my recovery is extraordinary or something environmental kept me from pushing as hard as I could. At the end I was literally encrusted with salt from the sweat.

The swim leg was storming, for me: hence being passed on the bike wasn’t so bad. I was 61st out of the water and 133rd on the bike. I knew up front that I hadn’t put enough speed work in on the bike so I can’t really complain about that; and I was holding back for the run, which I was only too aware was going to clobber me with righteous pounding.

Do it again? Afterwards I was 100% convinced I’d never do another standard. Ever. Ever ever ever. That was three hours of horrible as opposed to a sprint distance hour and a half of horrible. Now though? Now I can see where I went wrong in training, how I could improve, how I could get faster, and, dammit, I want to do a race at that distance I can feel generally good about rather than feeling, overall, generally dissatisfied with my performance.

I remember what happened after my first sprint, you see. I hated that, too. And now I do about 6 a year.

Maybe I’ll give it another go next year. After all, I can’t compare any other standard to that one, because they’re all so different. If I do, though, I’ll be doing a helluva lot more hill training. And bricks. Many, many bricks.

Congratulations and thanks to the Galway Triathlon Club for a well-organised, friendly race and incredibly helpful marshals. In terms of set-up, organisation, and all-round make-a-girl-want-to-do-it-again they’re right up there. And, of course, the location is exquisitely beautiful.

Next up: Haddington. Should be interesting to see how a sprint distance feels now.

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Rambling around triathlon

by on Apr.08, 2009, under rambling, Triathlon

Got back from my lunchtime run today, pulled off my socks and discovered my right foot was covered in blood inside my sock.

Arse.

Apparently I missed a bit when trimming my nails and there was a little pointy edge that dug into the next toe along and put a big hole in it. Thankfully something of a similar, but lesser nature happened a couple of weeks ago, so I was aware that the pinpoint pain in my toe when running meant it was happening again and the sight of blood didn’t fill me with panic and horror. Not that the sight of blood usually does. Not when it’s mine, anyway.

There was an article in Runner’s World last year, I think, about how to trim your toenails. At the time I thought it verging on the side of obsessive-compulsive. Not any more. Wish I hadn’t thrown that issue in the recycling.

In other news, I’m racing at Cuper in the East Fife Triathlon on Sunday, and I’ve entered Bishopriggs (closed road circuit, woohoo!) and Peebles. I’ve heard so much about how good the Borders series is from other ladies when hanging out by the pool waiting for our heat to start in other races that I thought I’d try one. Maybe I’ll be sufficiently in shape to do Selkirk next year.

In other other news, I was watching the new series about Wonky Willie’s chocolate last night, and they did a sports test to see how cacao worked as an energy drink. Reduces perceived effort and promotes fat burning rather than carb. Wow. I’m sold, and I don’t normally like chocolate. The stuff that’s sold in the UK as chocolate is too sweet, and dark chocolate has too much tannin taste in it.

Although, having said that, I just bought a small bar of his 70% Peruvian, which I was convinced would be too bitter for me, and it’s really rather scrummy.

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