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Yesterday morning I got up quite early and set out on my own to head to the VOTWO Eton Dorney Olympic Distance Triathlon. This company also run an evening triathlon series in the summer so I was looking forward to seeing how the events were run with a view to maybe participating in some evening ones next year.
I chose this triathlon in part because no one else I knew was going. This sounds weird, but with it being pretty much the last triathlon of the season (I am struggling to find any later in the year of you know of any please let me know!) I wanted one that wouldn’t scare me and should be a good experience. Having only done one Olympic distance Tri ever before this I am far from an expert!
So I set off on my own, bike racked on the roof as usual and began the 70mile drive to Eton Dorney. 50miles in to my journey my bike decided it didn’t want to come to the event with me and made a bid for freedom on the M25… This was one of the most frightening experiences ever! Driving along concentrating on the road then all of a sudden a massive noise and I can see the handle bars of my bike through my back windscreen… They should be above my head!!! I shrieked, pulled into the slow lane, and panicked!! Called my friend Brett (although I’m not sure what I expected him to do about it) was hysterically crying when his wife my friend Lisa answered the phone, I was convinced my forks had snapped in the rack! Blubbing about my broken bike and being stuck on the M25, poor Brett and Lisa I’m sure that’s not what they wanted to hear at 8am on a Sunday morning! Lisa told me to calm down, pull off the motorway when I could and Brett would come to me. It was 6 miles to the next services so I drove slowly, called Adam, and he said he would come to me with a different bike.
Eventually I pulled off the motorway into the services, as I slowed the loss of momentum obviously meant the bike was less stable, and then rolled sideways round the car when I could see my forks were indeed still attached! As I came to a stop the plastic fastening holding my back wheel to the roof gave up and snapped dumping the bike unceremoniously on the ground, but it was ok, I was stopped and safe!!! After an initial inspection the bike looked OK… I called Brett and Adam to let them know I may not need rescuing, popped the front wheel on my bike and rode round the car park… All ok! (Although I am still planning to put it into Giant Docklands for a check!) So, bike into the back of the car now and I carried on with my journey, albeit now a little behind time!
Registration was quick, easy and well organised, so soon I was in transition setting up. Bike safely racked, shoes laid out, this bit scares me, I’m always convinced il have forgotten something!
I was just about done in time although was still putting on my wetsuit when they called us for the race briefing! Not really the calmest or most organised start to a day but hey ho! The briefing explained the swim route and the transition entrances and exits, then we were on our way into the water… This is my worst bit ever! Although I managed not to cry this time (unlike the London Tri) I was really nervous walking into the water! The water felt really cold, there were a lot of plants near the edge so it was like swimming through serpents to get to the start line! Then we were off! And I made my oh too familiar mistake of panicking as I started swimming, swallowing gulps of air and struggling to get my breathing right, cue being full of air, really uncomfortable and unable to breathe! I ended up doing breastroke for a few minutes to get my breathing back to normal and it was about 300meters before I had settled into a rhythm and was back to freestyle. This had lost me a few minutes of time but I was just happy to be surviving! The issue with gulping air initially in the swim is I then spend the rest of the swim burping uncomfortably!! Yuk!!
Swim over, short run into transition, feet dry, shoes and helmet on, bike ready and out of transition I trotted! I was in a bit of a tizz here and it took me a few moments to get on my bike and get clipped in, then I was off! The bike was 8 laps of the same route which turned out to be a bit soul destroying due to a headwind on the outward side, this meant riding away from transition was slower than I would have liked, also the road surface on this side wasn’t great, the way back towards transition had smoother surface and no headwind so was better but every time you turned onto the next lap you knew the next 5minutes or so were going to be tough.
8 laps done, back in transition, trainers on and off out for the run. I was determined to be a bit more organised in my run as when I did the London Tri my pace was a bit eratic so I started off quite steady at a pace I was sure I could maintain! 2 laps of a 5km course, nice and flat alongside the lake, the run was pretty pleasant as far as running when you are tired goes! I was pleased to take 6mins off my London Tri run time!
Through the finish and it was all over! I was 2mins slower than the London Tri as my swim and my bike sections had been slower than I would have liked but overall all things considered with the trama of the drive etc I don’t think it was that bad! Reasonably happy I headed back to collect my kit from transition! Yes it was that windy even my hair tried to leave me!!
Conveniently the Rat Race Coast to Coast challenge finished in Fort William, a stone’s throw from the base of Ben Nevis, translated to “Venemous Mountain”.Obviously after running, cycling and kayaking the 105 miles (or in our case 91 miles) across Scotland we decided to climb the highest mountain in the British Isles standing at an impressive 1,346 metres ASL. As this mountain will be part of the Three Peak Challenge we will undertake next soon, climbing the highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland within 24 hours, we thought it a good idea to give it a test run.
After a humongous breakfast we assembled our picnic and headed out. The weather forecast wasn’t great so we packed full waterproofs, down jacket, hat, gloves etc. to ensure we didn’t get caught out. Typically we took enough food to feed a small army and some lovely sandwiches Adam had made.
Luckily it’s such a tourist route there was a well-defined path and no reason to consult a map and compass which was fortunate as we were all a little tired from all the travelling and early starts. The route saw a steady ascent along the “Pony Track”, firstly over large rocks and progressing to a shale path which zigzagged to ease the ascent. The views were breath-taking!
Once again the wind was in full force and on some occasions when we weren’t sheltered by the mountain we would literally be blown off our feet! Even the mountain bikers had to walk down with no reward after the gruelling climb carrying their bikes.
Three hours in at a very steady pace, being overtaken by many a fell runner and their dog we arrived at the summit for the obligatory picture.
It was very cold so we put every layer of clothing we had on and settled down for a picnic. In fact we wore pretty much the same kit we wore to summit Kilimanjaro it was that chilly! Never would a flask of hot tea have been more appreciated!
The decent was pretty slow navigating the rocks but we made good time and steadily removed layers as we warmed up. An absolutely stunning way to end our trip to Scotland marvelling at the most beautiful scenery. Had pretty achy legs the day afterwards that’s for sure!
So normally when people talk of Coast to Coast it is usually a bike ride starting at Whitehaven and cycling across the UK to Sunderland.
We didn’t enter any normal Coast to Coast event… Of course we didn’t! Instead we chose to enter Rat Race Coast to Coast! This is a combination of running, cycling and kayaking across Scotland from Nairn to Glencoe! This event appealed to us because of its varied nature, the sections looked fun, the running was trail running through gorgeous countryside and the cycling a mixture of road and off-road cycling.
So on Friday we began our journey to Scotland! I (Helen) left home at 6.30am, with a very full car, and Adam (my boyfriend) and Janet (a friend) came with me too! It is unbelievable how much stuff you need to take to these events! So hard to remember what to pack, needing bike, bike shoes, kit to wear, plenty of snacks, bike spares etc.
Jenni and I had put a lot of consideration into what to take with us but even so I was still on the phone to her on Thursday night in a last minute packing panic!
We settled on hybrid bikes, as the bikes needed to be capable of lengthy road cycles but also in excess of 20miles off-road cycling. I took my Liv/Giant Invite2. We opted for cycle shoes and cleats as despite some advice saying the off-road sections would be difficult with SPD’s we decided it was worth the risk to get the benefit of them on the road sections. I used my SPD SL pedals largely regarded as road only pedals but as these are what I am used to it made sense to not try to change, Jenni had SPD pedals. We both packed appropriate shoes. We decided on wearing Tri-suits for the full event which meant there was no need to change clothing during the day. We opted for road running trainers, but packed our trail shoes as well so a decision could be made on the day when we had assessed the weather and the terrain. We both packed as much food as the bar bags on our bike could take, as the bike sections were quite lengthy it made a lot of sense to do our eating on the bike, as the event is unsupported there would be no food stops en-route. Saddle bags were filled with the obligatory spare inner tubes, CO2 canisters, pump, tyre levers, multi tool etc. Then there was the compulsory kit, you had to carry a thermal layer, waterproofs with taped seams, hat, gloves, first aid kit and a survival blanket, in addition to food and water to sustain you for the day, so for this we both packed in a Camelbak Magic which is a very small but perfectly formed hydration pack with just enough space to carry all the necessary items!
So anyway, car loaded with what looked like all my worldly goods and bike firmly tacked on top of the Thule roof bars and Adam, Janet and I drove up to Southport to collect Jenni! We arrived in Southport about 11am, quick break for brunch (carb-loading is one of our favourite things to do) and we headed onward to Scotland…
Everyone says it always rains in Scotland and they have awful weather but we didn’t think it would genuinely be awful all the time… Unfortunately the weather during the drive was pretty horrendous! With 2 bikes now on the roof the wind howling through them made it feel like the car was about to be lifted off the road, coupled with the poor visibility from the torrential rain the drive was pretty difficult and slower than anticipated! But during one short stop we found Fergus the hairy coo and paused for a picture!
We eventually got to Nairn at about 9.30pm, we had to register, show our mandatory kit and then head on to Cawdor to set up our transition area ready for the morning… When we arrived at transition there were a lot of bikes already set up and it was still wet, and very windy! This was not boding well for our upcoming adventure!
Wet and windswept we headed to our hotel, arriving too late to eat, so made some jam sandwiches (yes Jenni had packed a loaf of bread and jam) then headed to bed for approximately 5hrs sleep before getting up at 5am to be at the start just after 6am!
In the morning the rain had stopped, but the wind was still intent on making sure we didn’t have an easy time! Adam took a picture of us at the start and as you can see from this picture the start sign that should be upright was losing its battle with the wind!
But it was a bright enough morning and we were ready to go! The run was stunning! 7miles of mostly trail running, starting along the seafront and then weaving through woodland and gorgeous countryside up to Cawdor Castle, it was a gentle incline all the way to Cawdor and concious of the long day ahead we took the run quite gently and enjoyed it a lot!
You don’t have to carry all your compulsory kit during the first run so we had left our hydration packs in transition the night before and opted to run just carrying a small bottle of water. Once we arrived at Cawdor we needed to change our shoes, tie our trainers to our bags and head out on the first cycle section.
We were all smiles at the beginning and as we are both strong cyclists had expected this section to pass quickly and pleasantly… But the wind had other ideas!! I know I have moaned about the wind before and it probably sounds like I am using it as an excuse however I promise you a strong headwind can make cycling ridiculously difficult and this was what happened. Our moving speed was often below 10mph (for comparison moving speed on a normal day is often approx 18-20mph on a normal road) so 10mph felt like we were barely moving. It was too difficult to eat and drink as taking your hands off the bike left you vulnerable to the strong gusts of wind, and even if you managed to get some food to your mouth the effort needed to sustain cycling into the wind meant that it was ridiculously difficult to chew or swallow as you couldn’t breathe enough to do this!
Rat Race sent out an email today describing the event as follows:
So I promise I’m not making it up about the weather!!! To add insult to injury I then got a puncture!! On a rear wheel (much harder to change than a front) and I have to admit I had never had a puncture on this bike, it has disc brakes and I wasn’t sure I knew how to get the wheel off and on!! A nice cyclist heading in the opposite direction stopped to help but couldn’t work out how to use my pump so handed it back to me and was on his way so I continued changing the tube myself, scowling and feeling sorry for myself whilst Jenni took photos!
Then the challenge of putting the wheel back on without damaging the brakes, I ended up covered in oil, another cyclist stopped to help but somehow didn’t put the wheel on properly so I did this then we were on our way! We will be practising our ‘how to deal with punctures’ skills prior to our next events for sure!
Convinced we were now last we plodded on, with our steady moving speed, cursing the wind and laughing a little when it got so strong it pretty much stopped us moving forward! This section was a hilly one, it would have been challenging without the wind but the wind was making sure no one has an easy time and we started over taking other cyclists, some who had stopped temporarily to eat, or shelter in bus stops for a few moments respite before continuing! Then after gently climbing for 40miles there was a proper hill!
This was not welcomed by already tired cyclists and as we headed up it we sadly passed a lot of people walking up the hill, we do feel that our SPD’s were an advantage on the climbing and we stopped briefly at the top of the hill for a selfie. Well, I stopped, Jenni had been having some issues unclipping so she cycled to the summit, past a fellow competitor and asked him to grab hold of her to steady her to unclip! Being stuck in your pedals can be very frightening!
From here there was a descent into the next transition, there were signs up to warn us of the steep descent and to be careful with speed however there was no chance of speeding up heading into the wind even the downhill was slow!! We eventually arrived in the transition, racked bikes, trainers on and started running to the kayak stage! Adam and Janet were waiting at the Kayaks to cheer us on, we were so happy to see them, we were exhausted, hungry and starting to feel the toll the last stage had taken on us. We got into our kayak headed off to do our lap, it wasn’t a tough course, but the wind did make it tough and we often had to brake to turn the kayak back on course!
Kayak stage 1 complete we put our shoes back on ready to run back to the bike. We were in pretty good spirits here as you can see!
The next section was one we weren’t looking forward to, the off-road cycling. Off road scares me, we are used to road cycling on reasonable surfaces so heading up and downhill over flinty areas, mud, sand etc was not going to be our strongest stage. It was tough! And scary! Some sharp turns, steep descents, very rocky paths, and it seemed to go on forever… We both thought this section would be 13miles, we obviously hadn’t read the event info properly as it was 20.5miles!! That’s a long way when you are very far out of your comfort zone. We opted to do tha majority of it with one foot unclipped so we could put our foot down in times of extreme difficulty, I have to say I think this approach worked well and I would probably still do it like this next time… Off-road cycling is not quick, it takes a while to cover the miles especially when nervous and as time ticked on we became nervous about the cut off time to start the final run. This had to be started by 4pm for safety reasons as it runs over part of Ben Nevis. We tried our best to catch up on the time, but after the wind and our puncture the odds were against us. We eventually arrived in the Fort William transition at 4.55pm, too late to start the final run and we were not alone… An estimated 100people were not allowed to start the final run due to timing and approximately 40 of those were behind us. We were devestated, we were ready to run and looking forward to the miles but this was not to be. I did ask if we could run around the base of the mountain to the kayak instead which would have been a similar distance but was informed there was not a safe path that could be followed.
So Adam drove us round to the start of the final kayak and the organisers agreed we could take part in this final stage. They said the weather had delayed most participants by 2hrs, this made us realise the strong impact the wind had had, it wasn’t just us who were affected! So we headed out on the kayak anyway.
The final kayak was beautiful, across Loch Ness! It was such an amazing experience! We explained to the staff at the other side that we had missed the final run but they were very supportive and totally understood as there had been a lot of people withdrawn during the day, one girl jogged with us to the finish line congratulating us on our efforts. The staff on the finish line were equally lovely and still gave us a medal (maybe we shouldn’t have taken one but we had completed 91miles of the event and missed the final run through no fault of our own…) so here we are with our medals…
We tried, we managed a lot, but not enough and we will be back next year to try again!! If at first you don’t succeed…
So yesterday I took on my biggest cycling challenge to date; 100 mile Ride of the Roses to raise money for Clatterbridge Cancer Charity. The stunning route through Lancashire to the Trough of Bowland.
I started cycling three months ago when I purchased a road bike via the cycle to work scheme.Having only ever ridden mountain bikes I found the road bike incredibly strange at first and was nervous to go over circa 10mph on the flat thinking I’d hit a stone and my tyres would explode! After a few solitary and boring rides of <20 miles I was invited to join a couple of friends of mine and hit the hills.
Fortunately we have amazing cycle routes on our door step taking in the most incredible countryside and some challenging elevation. Making the most of the long summer evenings we soon established a regular training schedule getting out a couple of nights after work to hit the hills and a longer distance ride of a weekend circa 40-60 miles. Craig and Paul were training for a Triathlon and I needed to get the miles in for the Rat Race Coast to Coast which Helen and I will be taking on this weekend. I soon developed a love for cycling that I’ve never felt for running and we always stop for coffees, ice cream or a well-rewarded G&T afterwards which made it even more enjoyable!
For all the fun aspects, I have, however, had a few problems; learning to use cleats I fell off the bike twice (while stationary) clipped in. One of those times into nettles, although nothing more than my pride was hurt! I also cannot stress the importance of having a bike fit as the first bike I purchased was too large which caused discomfort when riding. The new bike, only a few inches smaller makes all the difference…size really does matter!
Yesterday’s ride was the furthest distance challenge as the max we had done in training was 60mi. We started at 7:45 after registration and set off in waives or circa 15 people to keep everybody safe amongst the traffic on the busy roads. We felt good and were averaging 19mph. I had packed a loaf of jam and peanut butter sandwiches and was using the ride to practice fuelling for Rat Race as I’m still afraid of reaching for the drinks bottle while cycling as I wobble all over the place. Eating and doing cardio is an art for sure and I’m certain I wasn’t looking my best munching on sandwiches with my mouth open while whizzing down the road! The first half was enjoyable, lots of interesting scenery and undulating ground. The guys were setting a fast pace and I tried hard to keep up but often they had to stop and wait. The great thing about these rides is how friendly all the participants are, stopping to help each other with various mechanical issues and generally having a chat and offering words of encouragement. I met so many lovely people and I don’t even know their names!
The halfway point was the biggest climb and although only 868ft, the accumulative mileage and overall elevation gain of 3,918 ft. was starting to take its toll. We were all feeling a bit tired at the fuel stop but several cliff bars and bananas later we had a second wind and were off. The rest of the ride was quite speedy but the final ten miles with a pretty strong headwind felt like an eternity and I had run out of energy at that point. The worst thing for me is the discomfort from the saddle and being sat for so many hours in one position! I tried my friend’s cyclocross bike this evening and had to stand up my bum was so sore…nobody tells you about these problems!!