Race reports

2013, the triathlon comeback year

by on Nov.26, 2013, under Race reports, Triathlon

avatarI injured my foot back in 2010. According to the person posting to Runner’s World social media at the time, what I did wasn’t possible: I’d ruptured my plantar fascia. For 9 months I was reduced to hobbling and limping. I was signed off field work – I couldn’t drive; could barely get from my desk to the staff canteen, never mind walk far enough to do my routine work. I could just about cycle, as long as it wasn’t for more than 30 minutes.

As far as I could tell, my racing career was over. And I’d just bought a TT bike. It wasn’t cheap.


Late that year, while camping, I discovered I was just fine when barefoot. In fact, I was just fine when I was wearing a pair of neoprene booties that formed part of my wetsuit. This got me to thinking, and so, although I did seek the advice of both a private podiatrist (rubbish AND expensive) and the NHS biomechanics specialist (brilliant and FREE), what I ended up with was a set of Vibram Fivefingers.

In 2013, after spending about 2 years re-learning how to run, having suffered swine flu and ended up with exercise-induced asthma (but of course), I went back to racing.

And it has been my most successful year ever.

My first race of the year saw a PB in the run. I DNSed one, because of illness, and completed four. I’ve won prizes worth 40 quid (which isn’t a lot, but is more than I’ve won in all my previous races). In my last race, I suffered a 3D failure, fell flat on my face, and fractured my wrist (which is why the blogs have been lacking in updates of late).

So imagine my surprise when Triathlon Scotland published the rankings (MS Excel spreadsheet) for 2013 and I discovered I’d come top in my age group for the North Region Sprint series. I was more surprised to discover I had the second highest points accumulation at Sprint distance in the whole of Scotland for my age group.

I am, needless to say, chuffed to bits. In 2007 I did my first race, for a bet. In 2013, after a 3 year break for injury and illness, I won my first race. And here’s the joy of triathlon: yes, the elite racers are untouchable by most of us Age Groupers, but that’s no barrier to success. You might think you could never do a tri, that it’s too hard or you’re too unfit. Give it a go. There are plenty of events aimed at beginners, nice and short to give you a taste for it. Or, indeed, any other sport. It’s never too late, you’re never too unfit to start. Everyone starts somewhere, and everyone, ultimately, is competing against themselves. Just taking part, whatever your chosen sport, means you’ve achieved something fantastic.

You never know. You might win something. It might even be a prize.

Knockburn Loch T1

Knockburn Sprint finish line

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Race report – Huntly Sprint Triathlon

by on Oct.04, 2013, under Race reports, Triathlon

avatar I had my last race of the season, Huntly Sprint Triathlon, on the 22nd, almost two weeks ago. Usually the last race of the season imminently precedes a blog post about how the year went, lessons learned, successes and failures, goals for the following year etc. There’s been a bit of a gap this year.

I started racing back in 2007, and I’ve been pretty lucky, in the sense that I haven’t really had much in the way of serious injury in races or training. Other than the foot injury that saw me stop racing for three years, clearly. What I mean is, I haven’t crashed.

Well, until now.

The swim was okay. Not great — I’ve been struggling a bit with asthma recently, and the chlorine can set it off, so I couldn’t turn properly. Back before I injured my foot I was on course for a 13 minute 750m; this year I have been working my way back down from over 15 minutes. It has been hard, and progress slow, not helped by lack of easy access to a gym. I used to be doing somewhere between 12 and 16 hours of training a week. These days I’m lucky to get 6, and that’s including my cycle commute. But my time at Huntly was 14:34 (plus the run to the timing mat), which is better than it was at the start of the year, so not bad considering my eye fell out halfway through and I had to stop to put it back*. There was also a ridiculous amount of cheating going on in the swim. NO OVERTAKING IN THE LANES. It’s not hard to understand. The guy in my lane who overtook three people right down the middle (reported to me by Alibarbarella afterwards — no wonder I was getting hit in the face) should have been penalised.

The bike was a bit of a disaster. The course was beautiful, and I should have taken the Stealth, but I was on the Pinarello because I didn’t know the roads and was worried about surprise descents. I pushed too hard, knowing it was between me and another woman in my age group for the series. We’d competed in the same race in Turriff, in which she was about 3 minutes slower than me in the swim, 4 minutes faster in the run, and we were evenly matched on the bike. The conditions in Turriff were dreadful, and I was sure I could outpace her on the bike leg in Huntly.

But the Turriff conditions, perversely, suited me. I can cope with freezing temperatures and wet, agricultural roads (albeit not on my TT bike). Huntly was baking hot and there was an insane wind in the back leg of the bike course. I swear it blew my eyelids inside out at one point. Despite doing my best to keep my hydration up, I found myself wishing I’d fitted the XLab Torpedo rig to the bike. There was also a fair bit of drafting going on, which is a personal hate of mine in amateur races where there is a no-draft rule. NEED MOAR DRAFTBUSTERS THANKYOU PLEASE.

When I came out of T2, not too shabbily considering I’m running in VFFs these days, my legs were dead. I’d blown my pacing. I couldn’t pick my feet up, I felt numb from the waist down, my posture had collapsed and I was close to tears. One of the things you learn when taking part in endurance sport is that your mood is very closely related to the state of your body. Anyone who thinks they are a being of pure consciousness riding around in a meat vehicle needs to do an overnight century ride or something. When you hit the wall and force yourself to keep going, your body protests by releasing a flood of chemicals in the biochemical equivalent of a temper tantrum. It affects people in different ways, but I’ve learned that my body makes me cry and tries to make me stop by insisting it’s not going to be able to get to the end and I’m going to have to quit eventually, so best get it over with early.

I’ve also learned to ignore it.

Then came the 3D fail. Being in possession of only one eye, I don’t see in stereo like people with two functional ones. This is generally no biggie, but there are some things that are difficult for me, and one of those things is seeing small changes in topography in the immediate vicinity. There was a bus stop with a slightly raised piece of pavement about 1.5km into the run. I failed to see the rise and I had dead legs. My foot caught the pavement and I went down. Hard.

After what felt like an eternity rolling around on the ground, while my body said, “Told you so,” in a cutting-off-its-nose-to-spite-its-face smug kind of way, I got up. I was disorientated, I had major road rash on my knees and I thought I’d probably broken my wrist. I’d lost sight of the people ahead of me and was confused about which way to go. I went back to the last sign to check I was going the right way, then carried on. It was slow and painful, I was bleeding, I was crying; but I was also furious and determined.

By the time I crossed the line, in serious pain and with blood streaming down my shins, I’d lost about 10 minutes. And the series.

Huntly Sprint - crossing the line

My thanks to the lady competitor who paused her bike to check if I was okay and needed any help, and also to the lady in the car who stopped and got out to see if I needed to go to hospital. Your concern, whoever you are, was very much appreciated, although I’m not sure I was appropriately effusive with my gratitude at the time.

Next year? Better training. I can shave oodles of time off both swim and bike. Maybe get me a sperm hat. Lose some weight. More consistent winter training. Get back to the strength work. HILLS. But you know what? I did a PB in the run in Turriff this year, and what I wanted to do more than anything was find out if the permanent damage to my foot spelled the end of my ability to race. I came second in the series overall and was either 1st or 2nd in category in every race this year, including the Inverurie Sprint that was so badly flooded they had to cancel the bike section.

I’d call that a success. In 2014, I think I’m going to go even faster.

My wrist isn’t broken, thankfully. There’s serious soft tissue damage, possibly a hairline fracture in the radius and a little lump that needs further medical attention to find out if it’s a displaced fragment of cartilage or something. It’s still pretty painful, though, and makes typing hard, which is why you’ve had to wait for the race report.

Could have been a lot worse. At least I didn’t fall off the bike.

* No, really. It can happen. It’s why I have a black one for swimming. I don’t understand why it happened for the first time during a race — I’m careful with my goggle choice for races — but I’m guessing it was a straightforward case of This Was Not Meant To Be.

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Return to Triathlon

by on Apr.25, 2013, under Race reports, Triathlon

avatarThis past weekend saw me return to triathlon competition after a nearly three year hiatus. My last race was Dalkeith, May 2010, and it was in that race I ruptured my plantar fascia—a particularly painful injury that left me hobbling for 9 months.

The turning point came during a camping holiday in Wester Ross, which I spent barefoot. Lo and behold, I was able to walk again. After getting hold of some Vibram Fivefingers, and with a suitable time for recovery, I started running. Swine flu was another set-back, but after two years of re-learning how to run, adjusting my biomechanics the hard way, and careful training, I felt able to return to racing.

Turrif triathlon, a sprint, was my first since Dalkeith 2010. It was great to see some familiar faces as well as getting to know some new ones, and absolutely super to discover my absence had been noticed on the race circuit. I had really missed racing—not just the competition, or the challenge, or even the opportunity to drool over some spectacularly nice bikes, but also the camaraderie. No matter how fast or slow you are, fellow triathletes will cheer you on and congratulate you for your effort. That mutual support is one of the biggest happy-making things I know, right up there with puppies with big feet, Maru with a new box, non-Newtonian fluids and scale invariance.

I wasn’t expecting the race to be a fast one, and it wasn’t. At 1 hour 32 minutes and change, it was the slowest sprint race I’ve completed. The swim came in at around 13’45, but I can’t be sure what the time was because my HRM broke. Transition (and the timing mat) was 150m over uneven ground from the pool and we were required to put shoes on to get down there. The conditions were abysmal, the worst I’ve experienced. Serious wind, rain and hail made the cycle leg even more difficult than the steeply undulating terrain, bad road surface and flooding would have made it anyway. When I entered T2, after my slowest cycle leg ever (50 minutes is appalling) my kit was floating. I am not joking. My toes were so cold that it was a struggle to get them into soggy Spyridons, and my transition time seriously suffered— T2 should not take 1’50.

Despite all that, I managed a PB in the run and a second in class for my first ever placing.

turrif finish line


My utter delight and sense of achievement is tempered only slightly by my sense of annoyance that the above picture is the only one in which I think I look reasonably good. Here’s another, in which I don’t think I look good:

Under the Bridge

I look at that and think, “Oh gods, I need to lose weight. My thighs look like a pair of canoodling walruses.”

This is so wrong.

In that picture I have just swum 750m in under 14 minutes and was one of the fastest in my heat, having passed everyone else in my lane bar one. I’ve struggled into my bikilas and run across the car park, down some slippery steps, and am on my way to another car park, where I will jump on my bike, ride 20km in absolute filth, then finish off with a 5k run.

Does it really matter that I weigh 67kg and have thighs that touch? What’s more important? That I don’t conform to socially-acceptable standards of beauty (thin, unblemished skin, cheekbones you could shave with, hair as thick as a bear’s), or that I can come back from injury and severe illness and still run faster than I could 7 years ago despite not having shed the relatively small amount of weight I gained during my time off? Should I devote mental energy to bemoaning the fact I can’t even contemplate running without a decent sports bra, unlike some of the more athletic ladies; or spend it considering all the ways I could shave off the paltry 2 minutes that came between me and third lady overall?

Yeah. I don’t need to spend much time thinking about that. In the grand scheme of things, and despite what Dove would have us believe, function is far more important than appearance. I’ll keep on training, and if I should end up leaner and meaner, great, but if I don’t I’m not going to hate myself for it.

My next confirmed race is St Andrews, but I’m looking for others to enter this year. I’ll probably do Inverurie at the end of July, and maybe Knockburn would be fun. Bearing in mind that I like 3-4 weeks between races and don’t want to travel too far this year, any other suggestions?

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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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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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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.


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.


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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Tranent triathlon race report

by on Mar.29, 2009, under Race reports, Triathlon

As readers of my LJ will know, I was not especially looking forward to Tranent this year. It wasn’t because of anything like lack of motivation: it was, probably, a combination of season’s first race nerves and the weather. Oh yes. The weather.

After a short spell of sunny days and mild breezes, Scotland had decided it had seen its shadow and hopped back into some severely wintry conditions. As of Friday, the weather forecast looked like this:

I had a rough time with injuries last year, including a broken tooth that needed surgical extraction, a stress fracture in my right foot that cancelled the tail end of my racing season, and a nasty head injury that put a severe dent in the start of my winter training. The psychological effect of all this was twofold and paradoxical: I was both dead keen to get stuck into this year and also suffering from a degree of trepidation over my fitness. The thought of having to race in conditions like that, when I was unsure of how fit I was for it, was almost enough to make me decide to DNS on the Friday.

On the other hand, my Mum kindly bought me some private swim coaching for my Christmas, with Zoe (who can be found at the David Lloyd in Newhaven, as her website appears to be fubarred), and I’d just posted a PB for the 750 in training, beating my previous best by more than a minute; and I had been working pretty hard on my running. I wanted to race. Friday night prep came as second nature so I was confident I wouldn’t simply fall on my arse in T1. I’ve done this often enough now that I should be satisfied my base fitness should take me through a sprint distance triathlon — maybe not in a decent time, but I’d get through it.

The first one of the season, in those conditions, is always a matter more of survival than putting in a good time. I do triathlon as an excuse for drinking beer, not to get myself in the ranks of the elite.

When the alarm went off at 06:30 on the Saturday the sun was shining and it didn’t look too windy, so there was really no reason not to go for it. Apart, that is, from being snug and cosy in bed and not having had much sleep.

I was still half asleep when we left, bike in the back and my stuff in its box. Arrived in Tranent about 45 minutes after registration opened and grabbed the last parking space next to the Loch Centre. It was cold. There was the usual crowd, generic triathlete faces fettling with expensive-looking bikes, plus a few familiar faces from the last couple of years. I’m almost used to being recognised now. I suspect the black eye is a dead giveaway (my triathlon race licence is the only piece of ID I own where I’ve got my preferred eye in the photo).

Heat 2, starting at 10:40. It’s the one thing that I always find a bit of a bummer with competing. You have to get there early to secure a parking space, and then there is invariably a period of a good couple of hours at least of sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for things to get going. If you’re in the later heats you can watch the slow coaches before getting going, but in the early heats you don’t get to watch the faster people race because they’re done by the time you get back and you’re getting prepped while the few people slower than you are swimming.

The one thing I have never been able to train for is the pre-race toilet requirement. I swear, if you ever want to weigh yourself and get the lowest possible figure, do it just before getting in the pool at a race. There will be nothing inside your digestive system to add to the overall mass. I wonder if organisers have to advise the facilities to supply even more toilet paper.

I was hanging with a few ladies I recognised from previous years. We were a little confused by the number of men in the female changing room: most of them were watching the swim but one was busy slapping himself with embrocation and making use of our loos. We considered that this was, if not plain rude, at least a little ungentlemanly, given that there was a perfectly good male changing room. A minor distraction from fretting about how cold it was going to be.

(At the end he was back, and with the sort of assertive curiosity for which I am infamous, I simply asked him outright why he was using the female changing room rather than the male. He claimed he hadn’t realised it was the female changing room. Even though it was full of females. Hmm. With a rubbish excuse like that I suspect ulterior motives.)

Then it was our turn.

Ordinarily people underestimate their swim times when entering while I overestimate mine by about 10 seconds. This is partially because I don’t want the ignominy of being the last one in the pool and missing the cut-off. Partially it’s because I like overtaking everyone because then I get around 500m of free water and I’m the first one out, givng me a psychological boost. I’d put down 15’15 on the entrance form, which was about right at the time I entered. Having beaten that by a minute in training I thought I was onto a winner.

As it happened my heat was fairly closely matched. I was overtaken by one chap who was going really well, and then I was into the epileptic tadpole kick of the chap in the yellow hat, who had a very poor grip of pool etiquette. In heat-based triathlon, if you want to overtake you tap the ankle of the person in front of you and he is supposed to wait at the end of the length. This chap didn’t seem to understand that. I had to pull up short a couple of times, reduced to swearing in breaststroke. When he did finally stop, a couple of lengths later, he set off at the same time as me rather than letting me get going again, and spent half a length smacking my feet and tangling around my ankles.

The second time he failed to pull up at the end of the length I grabbed both of his ankles and yanked. Not impressed.

With the frustration and several bursts of intense sprinting, plus being unable to get into a rhythm, I found myself flagging towards the end, and it was a relief when the orange kickboard was waved at me and I knew I only had two more lengths to go. Tired enough to use the steps rather than bouncing out of the pool I staggered down the steps towards the cold outside.

Dear gods it was cold. T1 was slow as I had socks and gloves and a jacket to put on against the chill, but at least I didn’t get lost coming out of transition like I did last year. It was a slow start, feeling the effects of a choppy swim, and I was glad of having other people on the road ahead. In 2008 I was out first and saw no one for the whole of the bike leg, which makes racing difficult.

At first I felt warm enough that I could have done without my jacket, and was pleasantly surprised by how strong I was on the ascents. While other people were up out of the saddle and slowing right down on the hills I didn’t have to get up once, and only had to avail myself of my bottom gears a couple of times. That’s a winter of fixie riding in Edinburgh, for you.

Then we turned a corner and had a vicious crosswind combined with a series of long, steep descents. I got a seriously bad speed wobble in Dalkeith last year, which terrified me. There is something about feeling your bike going out of control underneath you at around 40mph and realising that you’re only wearing a small amount of lycra and a plastic hat. I had hoped that getting the bike serviced, and the rear cones adjusted, would give me the confidence to descend this year but it didn’t. People I’d sailed past on the climbs shot past me on the descents. I couldn’t let the bike have its head on that rough surface. I couldn’t convince myself it would stay stable.

I overtook a couple of the people who’d gone past on the next set of climbs, and then it was into the headwind. I was glad of my jacket. My legs became so cold my skin felt like it was on fire, and there was no power there. My muscles had gone into cryogenic hibernation. I also discovered that putting my Smart gels into the pocket of my jacket rather than my tri suit was a mistake, because I couldn’t get at the zip to retrieve them. I like having a quick boost just before hitting T2 as it gives me a bit of extra energy for the run.

T2 was slow, again, because I was cold and stiff from the ride and couldn’t get my running shoes on. The run was my usual plod, although this year, at least, I had no doubt that I could make it all the way round the course without having to slow down. The run, for me, is always a battle to keep going rather than giving in to the feeling I need to slow down to walk for a few yards. Tranent is a good run: I prefer cold conditions for running, and the marshals are absolutely awesome. They’d been out there since 8am, chalking happy, motivational messages and silly pictures all over the pavement, as well as the more practical arrows and directions.

Towards the end I even started trying to put a bit more speed into it.

You can find the table of provisional results here in Excel format. They’re cumulative — my run did not take me 1:29!

Good: I did the swim in 14’16 (based on my own timekeeping — the chip times include T1), which is a new PB and means I need to revise this season’s swim goal. I beat last year’s overall time by two and a half minutes and was faster in every single section, albeit not by much. The conditions were a lot worse, though.

Bad: Last in category. Ouch. I know you should really run your own race and not worry about everyone else, but my relative performance was pretty poor. I’m still getting severely spanked on the run. My bike leg this year was not as competitive within class as it should have been, and I know that’s partly because of my crappy descending but also because I just didn’t push hard enough. Overall I didn’t push hard enough except in the swim: I need to get out of this mental rut of merely surviving the run and start trying to go faster.

Still, today I feel pretty fit, when I would have expected to feel like death. Might even get the turbo out later. Must be doing something right in training.

Hats off to the marshals and to the Edinburgh University Triathlon Club. Once again they organised a great race, with an excellent team, and their volunteers probably felt the cold even more than the competitors did. After all, they had to stand out there cheering folks on and giving directions from start to finish, not just for one heat, and they didn’t have the benefit of physical exertion to keep them warm. I think that’s what makes Tranent enjoyable despite the ferocious conditions: the people running it are just super. Thanks, guys!

First tri of 2009Only one photo this year: here’s me, 10 minutes after finishing, having retreated indoors, blue with the cold and my special “What do you mean I’m still alive?” face.

East Fife in two weeks. Cupar was cold last year, but I can’t imagine it’ll be as cold as Tranent. After that, who knows? I haven’t entered any more yet, but I’ll have to make a decision soon. If anyone has any favourite May events, I’m open to recommendations.

Don’t say Dalkeith. Not with that crazy zig-zag swim and that long descent with the manhole cover in exactly the wrong place.

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