Vätternrundan 2018

This weekend we went on yet another adventure…

Part of our list of challenges is to take part in 4 major cycling sportives and we are searching for ones that aren’t your usual every day challenge. This led us to Sweden to take part in the Vätternrundan.

Even the hedge is cycling

This event started in 1966 with about 300 participants. It has now grown to be the largest recreational cycle event in the world. With almost 23,000 participants from more than 50 nations taking part each year. The statistics for 2018 are not yet available, however in 2017 there were 23,000 entrants, of which 19,487 started and 18,856 finished!

On Thursday we got up very early! We were being picked up by taxi at 2.45am, as we had an early flight from Heathrow, therefore we had packed our bikes and suitcases the night before so we could literally roll out of bed and head out to the car. We arrived at the airport, checked in and had some breakfast before the flight.

The flight was easy and we were soon in Sweden waiting apprehensively for our bikes to arrive at the outsized baggage exit, this is always a nervous moment for some reason, but we have never had an issue with our bikes making it to our destination, for some reason its just always a worry! Bikes arrived safe and sound and we headed to the car hire terminal to collect a car that we weren’t actually sure was big enough. It had proved surprisingly difficult to hire a car as so many people were flying in and also needed large vehicles to transport bikes. There were 3 of us (Adam came with us) so 3 people, 3 bike boxes and luggage was quite a lot to fit into one 7 seater car, but we managed it.

Car filled to the maximum

It was a 2.5hr drive to where we were staying, which in turn was approximately 30mins from the start of the event. But it was the most perfect location, a gorgeous little cottage on a farm with lots of land around it and it immediately felt like a home from home.

Adam set to work building our bikes whilst we napped – we were pretty exhausted after the early start and Adam had managed a little sleep on the flight so was the liveliest out of the 3 of us at this point. We were super grateful that he got our bikes up and running!

Then we headed into Motala to register, pick up our numbers and have some dinner (pasta all round as we were ‘carb loading’) then back to the cottage for an early night.

Start bibs

Friday morning we had a leisurely start not wanting to tire ourselves out before the night ride, we headed into Lingkoping for lunch, which turned out to be amazing, as the local university were graduating and the whole town was filled with people celebrating. Then back to the cottage for a lie down, we were trying to get a few hours sleep before we started, but this is difficult when you are waiting to start a big event. We got up, had some ‘breakfast’ – yes breakfast at 6pm, eggs on toast – we were trying to start a new day really so it seemed a good meal to have. Then bikes into the car and off we went.

We were super lucky to be able to park very close to the start of the event, so we didn’t have far to go to get down to the start.

Lake Vattern start

A few quick photos by the lake and then we were off. The first stage started well, great road surfaces and we had started with a group of cyclists of similar abilities so were working in a group which makes things easier. Then at 13 miles we had our first bit of chaos. A loud snap was heard and then some rattling… Adam had broken a spoke, this meant his wheel was no longer running true and he needed to stop or risk further damage. So we all pulled over at the side of the road and debated what to do. There was a local couple at the side of the road so Adam went over to talk to them and they said that support vehicles usually passed through approximately every 15 mins, so we rode on and Adam waited for the support car.

This left us riding without other cyclists close by and it was pretty windy on this section so we found the next few miles a little tougher than we would have liked, but it was still great to be riding together and a few miles out from the 1st rest stop we saw Adam’s bike go past on a car and knew he had been picked up! When we arrived at the stop the mechanics had been unable to repair his wheel but they had one available for him to purchase which meant we were able to continue as a group. This stop was a real party atmosphere, bands playing, lots going on and it was a great way to lift our spirits.

Back on the bikes, we rode on, it was starting to get quite cold now and none of us had anticipated such a sharp drop in temperature (it wasn’t forecast to get as cold as it did) so it took a few miles to warm up, and by the next check point we were wishing we had worn more clothes. A quick pause for a cup of tea and on we went again, 83km completed, almost 1/3 of the way. At 104km there was a hot food stop in Jönköping, this was a welcome sight after almost 4 hours of cycling we were cold and hungry. They served meatballs and mashed potato and it was amazing.

Swedish Meatballs

Adam was having some issues with his gears just before this stop and put the bike in to be looked at by the mechanics, who discovered one of his cables had snapped and his bike needed re-cabling, so they did this whilst we had something to eat. This did mean that we spent quite a while longer than anticipated at this stop and got very cold. Jenni managed to buy some arm warmers that were just big enough for her to wear on her legs, and whilst this was highly amusing it did help her to warm up a bit on the next stage.

Rest stop in the cold

The next section had a bit more climbing than the previous ones which meant we were occasionally separated as its difficult to maintain identical pace to each other on inclines and declines so this felt a little lonely at times, however we did get to witness a gorgeous sunrise over the lake.

Sunrise over Lake Vattern

Another quick hot drink and we headed on towards Hjo which would be the next stop at 171 km. We managed to find a few cyclists of a similar speed on this section so we joined them for a bit, it felt nice to have some company for a while and we arrived in Hjo to be greeted by smiling hosts serving hot lasange and frosties… Yep we genuinely had lasange and cereal in the same meal at 5am in the morning!

Sunrise over the Harbour

By now the sun was up, it was brighter and felt a little warmer, although we were still cold getting started on this stage, but we were well over halfway and starting to realise that the finish was almost in reach! Fueled by our interesting breakfast/dinner we carried on and thankfully had no further mechanical issues. It started to get warmer and by 250km we had removed some of our extra layers. It had however started to get windy again and the section approaching 250km was quite tough with some open sections on dual carriageways including a few ascents and a ride across a bridge over the water which meant we were working a bit harder to keep our bikes on track! But we were nearly done! A quick top up of our water bottles, arm warmers off and we were heading to the final stages.

Another stage with a bit of elevation meant again we were a little separated over this section but we arrived in Medevi within a few minutes of each other. We had a brief pause, ate buns filled with honey and knew that this epic challenge was almost over. The last 26km was very pleasant, through some wooded areas and passed very quickly. We could hardly believe it when we turned the final bend towards the finish line!

Vatternrundan Finish Photo

We finished the event, collected our medals, ate plenty of food, bought some ice creams and relaxed in the event village hardly believing we had made it.

Post ride refuel

This adventure included 300km of cycling, a lot of food eaten, plenty of shivering, teeth chattering, some mechanical problems, lots of smiles and a great sense of achievement. We absolutely loved it, great event, fantastic experience and we would highly recommend it if you are looking for an endurance cycling adventure.

Lake Vattern in the Sunshine

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Ride the Night 2018

This weekend I was a ‘Ride Angel’ on the first Ride the Night event of 2018.

What’s a Ride Angel? Basically a volunteer cyclist who rides the route with participants offering, support, encouragement and assistance to the event participants.

Women V Cancer Ride the Night is officially the largest female cycling event in the UK. Starting at Windsor Racecourse the participants cycle 100km throughout the night on a circular route. The route heads into London past many famous landmarks including Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace! Funds raised by Women V Cancer Ride the Night support Breast Cancer Care, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Ovarian Cancer Action.

An amazing cause and a brilliant event, with many participants being personally affected by cancer, either having had cancer themselves in the past, currently undergoing treatment or being affected by family members having cancer. The whole event is very emotional and inspiring and I was proud to be able to help out.

The start/finish area is like a mini festival, with a stage, music, food vendors, performers and so much to see, it helped that the weather this weekend was amazing so the atmosphere was very relaxed and social.

I managed to spot one of the lovely ladies – Nadjie, from my cycling club RomfordCC and have a quick catch up ahead of the event. Nadjie has ridden this event before with it being the first big sportive she participated in following a breast cancer diagnosis, it holds a special place in her heart and she keeps coming back to participate year after year. I am so lucky to know some very brave and determined ladies.

I checked in, picking up my event hi-vis and Ride Angel tag to go on the back of my helmet to ensure I could be identified easily by all participants. Once checked in there was a briefing for all the Ride Angels just to let us know what to expect on the course, some changes that had been made since the previous years and ensuring that we had all the emergency contact numbers. Then it was almost time for the start.

There was a mass warm up in front of the stage and some participants were recognised for their significant fundraising efforts. Then the participants were funneled into the start area and I joined the other Ride Angel’s near the start.

The participants set off in waves of 40 – 50 riders at a time and a Ride Angel joined each wave as they went through the start, I was the 3rd Angel to start, so was on the road by about 9.10pm. It had just got dark but the weekend had been so warm it was still quite a pleasant temperature.

I was wearing my Primal Onyx Prisma bib shorts with a long sleeve base layer under my Primal Pixel8 jersey, I had also popped my matching arm warmers into my bar bag, but luckily it didn’t get cold enough for me to need these.

The first few miles passed very quickly heading out of Windsor chatting to various competitors, some of whom had ridden the event before and some who had never even ridden in the dark. For a lot of people this was a huge challenge. I chatted to a lovely lady for a while who has had brain cancer, she was determined to complete the event, and was so inspiring.

After a while one of the participants was cycling next to me and asked if I was cycling alone, her name was Bethan and she had had to defer her participation from 2017 due to surgery on her back, so she was riding alone. I explained that I was a Ride Angel and she was more than welcome to ride with me for a while. Actually Bethan ended up riding to the end with me, cheering on other participants, checking if people were ok, and anyone would have thought she was an experienced sportive rider, little would they have known that this was the first time she was riding this distance, first time in the dark, and had fallen in love with cycling following a horse riding accident that had broken her back. Numerous operations later here she was loving cycling and participating in a great event for a brilliant cause, another very inspiring lady!

One of my favorite parts of the event was as I had reached approximately 40 miles with the riders I was with we could see loads of ladies on their way into London, still on the first half of the ride. Many people were dressed up, fairy lights on their helmets and bikes and it was a lovely sight to see. I cheered all these ladies as we passed paths, they were already doing incredibly well.

Around 2am it started to get a bit colder, but by now the groups I was riding with were almost done. There was a bit of a hill only 4 miles from the end which was tough going for tired participants, however certainly warmed people up a bit.

Then the end was almost in sight. An incredible night time journey was completed around 2.40am. Back into the race course, hard earned medals were handed to all finishers and it was time to be proud of what they had achieved and rest. Cycling 100km is quite a challenge, doing it overnight provides a whole new challenge in the darkness whilst tired.

These participants had done amazingly! There is another ride the night event on the 26th May 2018, and once again I will be back volunteering as a Ride Angel, I am already looking forward to meeting many more inspiring female cyclists.

Training for an endurance cycle event…

So our next big event is the VÄTTERNRUNDAN 300 KM in Sweden. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this it is 180miles of cycling overnight, around Lake Vättern, Sweden in June.

There are 2 challenges here! 1 – cycling 180 miles, 2 – cycling overnight!

So this requires some training. Usually March is a time when spring begins, the sun comes out and miles on your bike become far more pleasant. This year the weather appears to have had other ideas and March was a snow and frost filled month that has eventually given way to a very wet April. Now I’m not talking April showers, I’m witnessing whole roads turning into potential open water swimming venues.

This is making cycling a little less pleasurable than it could be…

I recently took part in the London Phoenix Easter Classic – 72 miles of cycling around the Essex countryside on Easter Monday. Sound lovely hey? The weather had other ideas, it poured with rain in the days preceding the event and then rained even harder overnight just for good measure. This left roads that resembled rivers for the event.

Still, feeling quite hardy I still decided to give the event a go along with a few members of my cycling club Romford CC. 5 of us started, 3 members were doing the short route (35 miles) and myself and my friend Hasan did the long route, the roads were wet, but the weather wasn’t too unpleasant for the first few miles so we were quite optimistic. After the routes split though it was a different story! It rained, the roads were already flooded, we had to do an interesting bike/swim through a rather deep flood in the road at one point filling my shoe covers with water. Shortly afterwards my friend Hasan got a puncture and the with the amount of water that poured out of his tyre we joked that we could have kept pet goldfish in there! 3 punctures between us and a lot of soggy cycling later we eventually got back to the event HQ resolving that the route would have been quite pretty if the weather was good and we would potentially consider riding it ourselves another day. Miles in the legs, but the enjoyment was a little lacking!

I have now received my Primal Europe Ambassador kit and it is gorgeous! Did you know Primal do some great custom clothing. As with most cycling kit designed for spring/summer wear it is a jersey and bib shorts, and I have been desperate to get a chance to wear it! This weekend despite the miserable weather I decided that I would wear my kit regardless, and I love it! I did need to borrow my boyfriends Primal Europe Inertia cycling cap though as it matched my kit so so well… Maybe I need to buy one to match?

I headed out on Sunday with the cycle club and took a few new riders on an intro loop before heading back out on my own to play a strange game of tag, trying to catch the club before they got back into our local area, this gave me a few miles on my own to work on my pace a little.

This week I will be keeping my exercise quite light as I am taking part in Brighton Marathon next weekend. Then the cycling training will begin in earnest.

To help train myself for riding through the night I am volunteering as a Ride Angel on the Ride the Night events on the 5th and the 26th May 2018. I previously volunteered for this role in 2016 and really enjoyed it. These are female only events fundraising for Women V Cancer. Participants ride 100km from Windsor racecourse through central London and Back to Windsor to fund raise for charity. As a Ride Angel I will be riding the route as well, offering support and encouragement and helping anyone who gets into difficulty, repairing punctures etc. It really is a great event and as it has been so popular in recent years this year they are running it twice, so I get 2 sleepless nights in May!

I am holding out hope that the weather will improve soon, but in the meantime I will keep plodding along through the rain, knowing that the rewards of being fit when the weather turns will be great. I have also just ordered some more Primal spring/summer kit, quite optimistic that one day I will get to wear it!

Have you carried on cycling through the winter or have you resorted to the turbo trainer until the weather is warmer and drier?

Being an Ironman – the curse

Nobody told me that once you become an Ironman it follows you round like a curse or a bad smell…

Somehow once you manage this momentous event the worlds perception of you changes… It’s like you are walking around with a banner on your head (and I don’t even have an Ironman tattoo)!

All of a sudden you are no longer considered to be a normal human, people expect you to be better, stronger, more capable than anyone else.

And this is great, and perhaps temporarily for the week following the Ironman event you may feel super strong, on a massive high, this may even last a bit longer than a week. But after that, most people return to normal training levels, or even have a complete break for a few weeks, and guess what, this renders you the same as any other person. Except other people don’t see this.

Every time you have a tough training session, people will say ‘but you can cope, you are an Ironman’ when you go for a long run or bike everyone thinks that that distance isn’t significant to you as ‘you are an Ironman’!

I did my first full distance in Malaysia after a shorter training period than recommended due to my ankle operation, I trained as hard as I could, gave Malaysia my best shot and am proud of my achievements. However I came back to the UK, struggled with the winter, the cold, the inevitable winter flu and colds that plagued most of my friends and family and as a result experienced a huge drop in fitness really quickly! Mid November I raced an Ironman, mid December I struggled with parkrun at what should have been a sociable pace for me, 3miles at over 10 minute per mile pace felt like hell, the longest distance ever and left me flat and exhausted! I don’t mind telling people that after a particularly tough parkrun when I had planned to run home afterwards I got a lift home and cried! I felt like a failure, 4 weeks prior to this day I was running home from work 14miles at a faster pace and bouncing along… or running 9 miles after a 80mile bike ride but now I couldn’t run 3 miles on its own without feeling like my world was ending!

My bike fitness and confidence suffered similarly… Whereas 90mile rides wouldn’t normally phase me I went down to an hour on the bike (approx 15-16 miles) feeling like a huge effort, I couldn’t face riding further than 15 miles or so as I knew I couldn’t cope… But again this Ironman curse follows you round. ‘But you are an Ironman, an hour on the bike is nothing to you’.

A mile is a mile! Regardless of whether it’s your first mile, your last mile, your fastest mile or your slowest mile! It’s a significant distance and whether you can only walk 1 or 50, run 1 or 26.2, cycle 1 or 100, its an achievement! Just because you have previously run a marathon doesn’t make 5km less of an achievement. 112 miles in an Ironman is a crazy amazing distance, but 12 miles on a commute when you are tired and it’s dark is also fab! It’s not ‘only’ 12 miles, it’s 12 miles!!! No only about it!

Iv slowly managed to get my fitness and its accompanying confidence back to some levels that are perhaps more ‘normal’ for me, I am back to running reasonably long distances in training for the Brighton marathon, but just because 16 miles running is now my long training run, doesn’t mean someone else’s 10 mile run isn’t long enough. Yes I have previously run 26.2miles but for now I’m counting every run that doesn’t leave me feeling broken and miserable as an achievement. I took part in the York Leeds York cycle event recently and felt quite happy on the bike, for which I am grateful. But I know that 2 months ago I wouldn’t have managed that distance. My ‘normal’ now was my impossible a few months ago, despite being an ‘Ironman’.

I am an ‘Ironman’ but I am also a human, a normal girl who goes through normal patterns of success and failure, normal levels of enthusiasm and despair, normal fluctuations in fitness. Being an Ironman doesn’t make me invincible, strong or better than anyone else. All it has given me is a sense of achievement and a constant shadow of expectation…

And if you want to be an Ironman that’s great, I will be doing another full in Italy in September but that doesn’t mean because Iv done one before il be fine. In the meantime I’m the same as everyone else, working on myself, improving my fitness, battling with confidence and struggling to live up to the ‘Ironman’ expectations!

We are not all on top of our game every day, our past achievements shouldn’t overshadow the ones we make today. Don’t judge yourself or others based on what they or you have previously achieved, yes it’s great to have an aim, maybe even want to beat a past PB, but if you are putting in the effort today and not reaching the levels you reached a year ago or even a month ago just know that that’s ok! As long as you are trying, keep your eyes on where you want to be but your mind in the moment! Celebrate the victories however small and keep it fun.

I’ve tried to accompany this blog post with pictures that maybe wrongly would possibly not always make it onto my social media, but my world isn’t always flying feet and thumbs up, its grit, sweat, shuffles, tears, effort, failure and success all in equal parts. And it’s far from glamorous!

York Leeds York

Part of my commitment as a Primal Europe Ambassador is to take part in some of the Velo29 events.

Primal Europe are the official clothing sponsors of the Velo29 sportives and they have some amazing custom jerseys for these events – you can check them out here Adam bought the York Leeds York one and its awesome!

At the beginning of the year I looked at the list of events and tried to find some that suited my training plan. This is harder than you would think, especially as I am training for a marathon at the moment so most of my weekends are taken up by long runs. But the York Leeds York event was quite early season and on a Saturday, so meant I could travel up on Friday after work and still be back for a long run on the Sunday!

Friday night we drove up to York (we being me and Adam who had kindly agreed to come along with me). Bikes on the roof of the car, boot packed with tons of kit as the weather had been a little unpredictable, on Thursday it had snowed in both York and Leeds, this could be a very cold event! Luckily the snow had passed, however this was replaced by some quite persistent rain and it rained for the whole drive, poor bikes got very soggy on the roof of the car. We eventually arrived in York at 10.15pm on Friday, checked with the hotel that we were ok to take the bikes up to our rooms, unloaded the car, then ordered a Chinese takeaway (well we can’t do a sportive without fueling). All in all this made for a rather late night.

Up just before 6am the next morning to pack up, have breakfast and check out.

Jenni had also driven over from Southport to ride with us and arrived at the hotel quite late. Unfortunately she was rather ill on Saturday and was then unable to join the event, so this left it with just me and Adam riding together.

We headed to the start at the York Auction Centre and there were already so many people there. The car park was packed solid, and there were so many people around. I hadn’t quite expected such a massive turnout to a sportive so early in the season, especially as the weather was not great. It was raining when we arrived at the start, not too badly but it was destined to be a damp ride!

Adam and I headed in to registration and collected our rider numbers before heading over to the Primal Europe stand to introduce ourselves. This was the first time I had met any of the team in person and it was lovely to finally put faces to names and meet James and Ben. I used this opportunity for a cheeky selfie with James and then it was time to get the bikes and ourselves ready for the ride ahead.

Once ready we joined a queue of riders ready to start, the queue snaked round the outside of the auction centre as the race itself was starting from inside the building. Everyone waiting to start seemed in good spirits and we spoke to quite a few people who had done the event the previous year (its always a good sign when people go back for a 2nd time). One poor gentleman had managed to forget a wheel as he had had to dismantle his bike to pack it in the car and hadn’t remembered to put the wheel in the car. The organisers did call over the tannoy to see if anyone had a spare but unfortunately no one did, so he had to head off to have breakfast and wait for his friends and family to finish.

Quick race briefing and we were off. Almost as soon as we started so did the rain, it was varying in intensity from heavy miserable drizzle, to angry sideways heavy rain. But this didn’t appear to deter any of the riders. Some of the roads were incredibly flooded, at one point I came around a corner at the front of a small group and shouted ‘swimming pool’ there was no other way to describe the large puddle that spanned the entire road. Luckily it was only a few inches deeps and we made it through to drier land! (I do love a triathlon but taking my bike for a swim was not on the agenda!)

After some initial flooded and muddy roads the roads towards the mid point were a bit easier, less mud and surface water but it was colder! As we got towards Leeds the temperature dropped noticeably and there were still patches of snow banked up at the side of the roads. We arrived at Harewood House rather cold and damp. It was an absolutely stunning location and I am sure on a summers day I would have stayed a little longer, sat on the grass and taken pictures of the house, but I was pretty cold and my fingers weren’t too keen on trying to take photographs, I do feel like I might need to go back one day just to appreciate how lovely it really was.

I did however manage to take photos of some participants bikes racked in the snow!

We queued for a very welcome hot drink and I ate a very sweet and tasty flapjack before a mass undress operation to try to go to the bathroom. Cyclists – I am sure you all sympathise. I had to take off layer after layer of clothing to be able to get to my Onyx Thermal bib tights.

Then we set off on the 2nd half, not wanting to hang around too long or get any colder than we needed to be. Once again all cyclists seemed to be in good spirits on the ride back, even a poor lady whose hub in her rear wheel had died, she was cheerfully waiting to be picked up by the mechanics and we stopped to chat to her for a few mins and check she was ok.

I also managed to ride for a while with some ladies from the Yorkshire Lass Cycle Club. They were really lovely and friendly and it was so nice to spend a while chatting to some new people as the miles passed by. One of the ladies husbands was a triathlete and had done Ironman Vichy last year!

65 miles later (we did the medium route) we arrived back in the auction centre to be presented with our medals, have our photo taken and the all important post ride snack – an actual bbq’d sausage in a bun! This is possibly the best post event food idea ever and was most welcome as a warm filling food item after quite a cold event.

Bikes back on the car, quick change in the carpark – thanks to Dryrobes – they really do make post event routines so much easier. Then a quick goodbye to the Primal team and it was time to begin the long journey home. We arrived home approximately 10pm that night. A crazy long weekend, exhausting but fabulous! I loved every minute of it, now where is that Velo29 events list, I need a new target!

Flying through February

February is such a short month, it might only be a few days shorter than most but it seems to pass far quicker than most!

This could be in part due to the fact I spent the first week in Dubai on holiday and taking part in the Ironman 70.3 event – if you want to know how it went you can check out the post here.

It’s finally starting to get a bit brighter, the sun is starting to shine more often and the mornings are brighter. It’s also not pitch black when I leave work in the evenings!

This reminds me that the cycling season will soon arrive and I am a little concerned that I may be underprepared for this!

I only cycled 4 times through December and January! This was not a good total. Therefore I am doing my best to take advantage of sunny weekends and slightly milder evenings!

I’d like to point out that despite my lack of training I did survive the 56mile bike section of the Ironman Dubai 70.3. But with York-Leeds-York sponsored by Primal Europe fast approaching I am not certain I’ll manage to get through this event with the same lack of training?!

I also have the Brighton Marathon in April and marathon training takes a fair amount of time so my Primal Europe Source Women’s Crop Leggings and Graphite Women’s Capri’s are working overtime with all the run training I need to get done!

So when I am not run training I am trying to fit in as many cycle rides as I can! I also like to combine my weekend rides with a chance to be social and have breakfast and/or cake with friends. Although I do confess that one weekend recently this plan almost resulted in no cycling! It was a really cold Saturday morning and I headed to my local parkrun with some friends. Bikes loaded in the car, and the plan was to change after parkrun and drive to an area a little way from home, cycle a loop to a great local bakehouse, stop for cake, cycle a loop back to the cars.

Having got changed and added many layers to combat the cold (Pixel8 thermal arm warmers were added under my neon heavyweight jersey) we drove to our planned start point! It was wet and windy by the time we arrived and the plan changed – drive to the place we had planned to have breakfast. We got out of the cars and the weather was vile, we were all cold and tired after parkrun so we left the bikes in the car and went for breakfast! Luckily breakfast proved to be just the motivation we needed and after breakfast we successfully headed out for an hours ride!

I’m finding that all good rides at the moment start and/or end with a good cup of tea!

But if tea provides me with the motivation I need I think I’m probably not doing that badly! Time to stop typing and get outside again! Preparation for the events I’ve entered is taking up a surprising amount of time! Cross your fingers for me that the training pays off when I get to York for my first cycle Sportive of the year next month!

Ironman 70.3 Dubai 2018

Signing up for this event was almost an accident…

When Adam was put on the waiting list for Ironman Malaysia 70.3 it looked very unlikely that he would get a place, so we started looking for other 70.3 races that he could do as his first middle distance.

I had done 70.3 Dubai in 2017 along with some friends and one of these (Olivia) had decided she wanted to do it again, so we looked at joining Olivia and heading back to Dubai for some winter sun.

The dates for this event were announced really late (announced on 30th September for entry opening 5th October) We spent quite a while holding hotel reservations for the dates we thought it might be based on previous years! Eventually dates were released and I signed up in October. When we signed up I was reasonably fit, almost in the final phase of training for my full distance event in Malaysia, I just presumed I would be able to keep my fitness up between the 2 events. But that wasn’t the case. Winter flu, post Ironman fatigue and then a nasty shoulder injury plus Christmas and New Year excuses meant my training was non existent and my fitness had upped and left me!!

So I headed out to Dubai knowing that I wasn’t ready for this event, far from it. But it was a good excuse for a holiday!

We arrived on the Wednesday, dropped our bags at the hotel and walked down to race registration. We registered but there was some confusion over what swim hats people should be taking, and the event backpacks hadn’t arrived yet! Not the best organisation but nothing too dramatic. We wandered round the expo, bought one of the race tops and headed down to look at the beach.

When we did this event last year the sea was reasonably calm. This year the red flags were up for no swimming, strong winds had made the waves and swell quite dramatic and it didn’t look very welcoming. Later that day it was confirmed there would be no test swimming due to the dangerous conditions. This wasn’t exactly good for confidence.

With no test swimming in the sea allowed we decided that we would just have a little swim in the hotel pool the next morning. I had only swum once since Ironman Malaysia and my shoulder seemed to be getting worse not better. It had been strapped up by my physio but by Thursday morning I couldn’t brush or plait my hair, and couldn’t put my own swim hat on, it was looking highly unlikely that I would be starting the event on Friday morning.

Adam made an attempt at plaiting my hair and Olivia helped me to put my cap on. I got into the pool and decided to give swimming a try, I had to know if I could do it. Verdict, my arm would go over my head under duress but it was very painful and my stroke was quite obviously one sided, after a few short attempts I decided I might be better without the tape. The tape was holding my shoulder correctly, but being in the correct position was more pain than I could cope with. So we took the tape off and I tried again. It was a little easier, not much but I wasn’t in danger of drowning!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and then in the afternoon headed down to rack our bikes and transition bags.

Olivia and I had signed up for the Iron Girl run, we thought a nice social 5km shake out run the night before the event might do us good – plus you got a medal! So we joined this event and ran a lovely 5km together along the beach with quite a few other women, it really was a lovely way to spend the evening and we got a great medal, bag, t-shirt and sweatband for our efforts!

4am Friday morning the alarm went off. Up we got, we had ordered breakfast to the rooms for 5am – yuk! I hate eating in the morning, but it’s a necessary evil on event day. I managed to plait my own hair – progress!!! We had a taxi booked to take us to the start so headed down, checked our bikes over, added water and nutrition to the bikes, then it was time to get into our wetsuits and head to the start!

We got in the warm up area for a quick acclimatisation the water was 22 degrees but it felt cold! Swam a few strokes, my shoulder was coping…

Then we lined up for the start, Olivia, Adam and I made sure that we all started at the same time (it was self seeding and we are normally similarly paced swimmers) we ran down the beach together, shouted a quick good luck and we were off.

The first part of the swim is within a marina, but the safety and stillness of the marina soon gave way to a quite aggressive open sea. It was rough, really rough, I panicked a bit, I wasn’t strong enough with my shoulder injury to swim through the waves as they came towards me and realised this quite quickly, I adopted a weird breast stroke style with my chin on the water, pausing as the biggest waves approached, bobbing over the top and then trying to carry on. The swell was so high I couldn’t see the buoys and I don’t think many of the swimmers could as wherever you looked swimmers were going in all different directions. It took me a really long time to get to the 2nd turn buoy, and by the time I did I was exhausted. I had thought once we turned and swam parallel to the beach that it would be easier, but that wasn’t the case. Depending on the weather report you read the swell and waves were between 3-5ft, that’s not easy to swim through. The next turn point seemed to be getting further away rather than closer and my strange stroke was really tiring me out, I wasn’t sure I was going to make the swim cut off and I have never worried about this before. Eventually the last turn buoy was in sight, surely now it would get easier as we were heading towards the beach? But no! With the sun in my eyes and the tide going out actually this last stretch took way more effort, my attempts at breast stroke were ineffective and I was being carried back every time the current pulled so I had no choice but to attempt a painful front crawl. Eventually I made it to the beach but even standing up and running out was a huge effort as the swell was strongly pulling people back into the water. Volunteers were offering hands to those being dragged back in, I plodded up the beach exhausted, and completely unsure whether I had the energy to attempt the rest of the event.

But I had made the swim cut off so I decided to try! Quick sip of Coke to get the salt out of my mouth, dried off my feet, sunscreen, helmet and bike shoes on. Off I went!

Olivia’s husband Spencer was there cheering me on as I started the bike leg, he said Olivia had mentioned the swim was like a washing machine, so I wasn’t the only person who had suffered!

The bike course is an out and back course through the desert, it’s on a main carriageway and there is a lane coned off for the cyclists. The first half is a gentle incline for the whole 28 miles with a few flyovers and the 2nd half is a gentle decline. In 2017 there was a strong headwind on the way out but a nice tail wind on the return. This year the wind wasn’t quite so predictable. Whilst it wasn’t as strong a headwind on the way out it still felt tough, and a number of other competitors mentioned the wind as I cycled past them. I knew it had been easier on the way back last year so tried to be cheerful. Turns out the wind had other ideas on the way back and actually the last 15 miles or so had a strong headwind which meant no advantage was gained from the slight decline and actually the last few miles were pretty tiring!

By now I was about 25-30mins slower than my event time for the same sections in 2017. I had taken an extra 10mins in the swim and at least 15mins more on the bike. Into transition, one last section to go – 13.1miles to run!

I jogged out of transition trying to loosen my legs up. I had only cycled about 4 times in the last 2 months, not great preparation, especially as the bike leg had been quite tough coming back. After trying to sort out my rhythm and breathing over the first few km’s I adopted a very non scientific walk/run strategy. Walking for 1 minute and running for 2. I saw Olivia running along in the opposite direction she was doing really well and she told me Adam was about 3km ahead of me.

As I came towards the first turnaround point I saw Adam going in the opposite direction, he asked if I would catch him up, but I didn’t think so. He had been about 25mins ahead of me I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make up that much time. But about 6km later I did indeed catch up with Adam. He too had found the swim and the bike tougher than anticipated and was exhausted with sore feet so running wasn’t really on the agenda.

I decided that I would rather finish my race with Adam than a few minutes in front of him, so I walked with Adam for the last 7km. Until the finish was close obviously! We ran down the finish side by side! The first and possibly only time we will finish a race together- turns out my race circumstances weren’t all bad!

Dubai 70.3 2018, you were beautiful, brutal but quite amazing all at the same time. I’m sure il be back one day.

In the meantime you will find me mainly with the physio or at the gym trying to gently repair my broken shoulder and rebuild some strength!

Becoming a Primal Ambassador

So as we have already shared in December I (Helen) was announced as a 2018 Primal Europe Ambassador!

The initial application process took place in October 2017 and was quite simple really, fill in an online form with some information about yourself and links to social media pages. I have to admit I did this section and almost forgot about my application, I didn’t really expect to be taken any further, surely there would be thousands more interesting cyclists that they could choose?!

Then at the end of November I received an email saying I had been selected as a finalist in a 2 stage process. Stage 1 was to create a 1 minute video showing why I would be a good ambassador. Now I don’t mind admitting the thought of this made me a bit uneasy, I’m actually not the most confident person especially on camera and I wasn’t sure I could do it! I had a chat with my boyfriend Adam and he offered to film me and edit the video and we could see from there if I wanted to submit it.

So off we went! Loaded 2 bikes into the car and I rode one across the park to an area we thought would be suitable for filming multiple disciplines, luckily our local park has mountain bike tracks, grass and gravel paths and also road surfaces so we could film lots of different shots in a short space of time with no travelling needed.

With much giggling and quite a few repeated shots (especially off road – that’s not my specialty) we had enough footage of me on the bike. We had also filmed me leaving and re-entering the house so people could see my full journey. The last section was hardest, just sat on the sofa with a cup of tea there was no where to hide from the camera whilst I tried to explain the benefits of cycling and how it can make you feel.

Video submitted, then to wait. Out of all the videos submitted 7 would be chosen for the next stage. Then on the 4th December I was told I was a finalist! All finalists videos would be shared on Primal Europes social media channels for 24hrs, the ones with the most engagement (1 male and 1 female) would become the 2018 ambassadors. They did a draw to decide which video went on which day. Mine was Tuesday… Is Tuesday a good day for social media engagement? It was now!

I am so lucky in that I have the most supportive friends and family, and quickly my video accumulated lots of views, shares and comments. I couldn’t believe the reach that is possible in such a short space of time! Some of the comments left by people I know were truly humbling but encouraging at the same time! They genuinely thought I would make a great ambassador! Then it was time to cross my fingers and wait. With my video being the 2nd of 7 to be released there was plenty of time for someone else to achieve higher levels of engagement.

Then on the 13th December I was announced as one of the 2018 ambassadors! I was genuinely shocked but excited.

Primal are the official sponsor for the Velo29 sportives, so as part of my role I will be attending some of these events. I am already signed up for the York Leeds York Sportive in March – nothing like an early season event to work out where your base fitness is at hey? Jenni will also be riding this event as we start to train for the Vatternrundan and our Ironman events. We need all the cycling training we can possibly fit in! Anyone want to join us on this ride?

Iv already tested out some of the Primal winter kit, and it’s been great, although I have to admit I have done minimal cycling during January as the weather has not been my friend, heavy rain and high winds are not the best cycling weather, however I have made it out a few times and I also bought a new winter bike! I think I could have an addiction to Liv bikes – I blame Giant Docklands for this! Too many pretty bikes in one place!

But with my kit ready, winter bike up and running, I’m ready for the rest of the winter season! Although il be taking a break from the winter next week when I head to Dubai for Ironman 70.3! After minimal training this may not be my best performance at middle distance but I’m looking forward to the warmer weather and a chance to use my Primal kit in another climate!

Il let you know how I get on!

2017 Achievements and 2018 Aspirations

2017 has gone past in a flurry of events and excitement. We have achieved so much more this year than I would have thought possible and yet there is still so much we want to do.

Some of our main achievements this year include: Ironman Dubai 70.3, Tokyo Marathon, recovering from my Ankle Operation, Staffordshire Half Ironman, Swim Serpentine and completing the London Classics, Berlin Marathon, Ironman Malaysia. Alongside many other races, triathlons and sportives it’s been a busy, fast paced but fun year!

There was a noticeable lack of mountains this year as we concentrated on our marathon majors and triathlon goals. Much as we would like to do everything as soon as possible we really do have to balance work, life, family, training and rest to be sure to have a good quality of life and I think we did pretty well at chipping away towards our goals throughout 2017.

Living so far apart provides its own challenges as we aren’t close enough to run and cycle together on a regular basis… Therefore we need to thank the people we have met locally who continue to train with us, challenge us and offer support and motivation! Without these amazing people our challenges would be so much harder! So to these people – you know who you are! Thank you!

Outside of our sporting achievements there have been a few other highlights! We successfully designed our logo, and designed and purchased custom kit. We were added as a featured blogger on Challenge Finder and we were also featured as a 5 page spread in RunDeep Magazine! I’ve also been selected to be a brand ambassador for Primal Europe for 2018, so I’m sure you will hear more about that soon, and hopefully this opportunity should take me on some more adventures!

For 2018 we already have a lot of plans – I’ll be at Ironman Dubai 70.3 and Brighton Marathon. We will both be travelling to Sweden for the Vatternrundan. Jenni will be at Ironman Bolton whilst I am at Spitfire Scramble. Then we will both be at Ironman Italy and the New York marathon! So 2018 will see us moving towards completing our marathon majors, halfway through our ironman goals and making headway on the cycling goal!

As ever we are open to suggestions for other events, we already have a number of runs and sportives in our training calendar, but open to recommendations for other events we should try!

2018 will be another challenge but will hopefully bring amazing experiences, more achievements and we will get to meet even more incredible people along the way!

Ironman Malaysia – the event

The feeling when we stepped off the plane in Langkawi and saw the sign welcoming the athletes is indescribable, somehow it hadn’t really seemed real up until this point, but it was pretty real now…

Ironman – anything is possible… Is it? I was going to find out in a few days!

We dropped our luggage and bike boxes at the hotel and headed straight to athlete registration. Wednesday was the first day of registration so it made sense to register early and get it out of the way.

Registration was a quick and easy process, lined up, got given a bag that contained all my transition bags, an athlete wristband was fastened around my wrist and then I was weighed – this is the first time I have had to do a weigh in at a triathlon… not sure if it is usually standard practise?

I found my name on the athlete wall and took a quick selfie with it – as you do?!

I also bought a vest top with the names of all the participants on it, I wasn’t sure if this was a bad omen but it was a lovely vest and I didn’t want to wait until after the race to buy it as Ironman Merchandise tends to sell out quickly…

Quick wander around the Expo and it was back to the hotel to relax for the evening.

Thursday morning we headed to the start area to take part in a test swim. It’s always a good idea to do this if you can, it gave me a chance to familiarise myself with the beach, the layout of the buoys etc as well as to swim in the exact water I would be in on race day.

The swim course was so clearly marked, big yellow Ironman buoys at the entrance and exit points and big white buoys at the turn points. The course was a big triangle, a 2 lap swim with an Aussie exit (30mtrs run) between laps. There were red flags marking the way on the right hand side spaces approximately 20mtrs apart… It was a very well laid out course, seeing this and doing the test swim put my mind at rest… The swim would be lovely!

We then spent a bit of time on the beach but I was really nervous about overheating or getting sunburnt so we didn’t stay outside for long.

We went out for a little practise ride to test our bikes that afternoon and managed to choose the worst moment of the day as we got caught in torrential rain!! The rain was so heavy it managed to wash one of my contact lenses out of my eye from behind my cycling glasses! Oh dear! I was a bit worried, the rain made the roads like a river, if that happened on the event day the bike would be tougher than I had anticipated!!! Bike ride done, time to prep the transition bags and get everything ready as on Friday we would need to rack our bikes and drop off our transition stuff.

Friday morning we headed to rack our bikes and drop off the transition bags. Again, a quick easy process, super well organised with lots of volunteers on hand to assist!

Then the rest of Friday was spent mostly eating, drinking lots of water and trying to stay rested and hydrated. Easier said than done in quite extreme humidity.

I got a really lovely email from Tailwind who are the company I was using for my nutrition. It’s a dissolvable nutrition that provides all the carbohydrates and electrolytes you need for endurance without the need for additional food. I had started to struggle to eat enough on my long Brick sessions so I swapped to Tailwind as I was pretty sure I wouldn’t manage to eat enough in the heat!

It’s the little touches that make such a difference. I emailed back with a picture of the swim start. Almost time to find out if I could be an Ironman!

Saturday morning was event day. We were up at around 4am, the hotel did a buffet breakfast for the athletes from 5am. I’m not good at eating in the mornings, but I did my best, some cereal and toast, then we headed down to the start!

Pumped up the bike tyres, added nutrition and bottles to the bikes. Then waited for the swim start. Adam started about 40mins before me so once he headed to the start I had a little lie down at the side of the start and dozed until they called the athletes to warm up.

I had a quick swim warm up, testing my goggles as I had positioned them badly on my head during the test swim and they leaked, I didn’t want this to happen during the event. I also managed to slice my toe open on some sharp rocks/coral! I am pretty accident prone and clumsy!

Then I was lined up ready to start the swim and I can genuinely say this was the first time I haven’t been nervous at the start of a mass participation swim!

The first lap went well, approx 44mins, then a little jog along the beach to start the 2nd lap. There were volunteers with cups of water so I rinsed my mouth out quickly and then I was back in the sea. 2nd lap underway! 2nd lap was also quite pleasant and I exited the water after 1hr 34mins. I had expected it to take me about 1hr 30 so factoring in the exit and having to swim round a few groups of people I was doing ok!

Transition1 I decided to do a complete change of clothes so I changed out of my Tri suit and into bib shorts and a jersey, this would make my bike more comfortable and also give me a bit more protection from the sun than my Tri suit. I took my time getting ready, had a few sips from a can of coke I had in my transition bag, applied sunscreen, and walked out to my bike. I wasn’t in a rush, I wanted to take some time and make sure I was settled. 9 minutes in transition was time well spent to be comfortable.

Then it was out onto the bike course. I was worried about the bike section, Iv massively struggled with my cycling this year I seem to be getting weaker and slower rather than stronger and faster. 112 miles was going to be more of a struggle than I wanted it to be!

Here I wish I could show you the course. It was amazing, through the rain forests, alongside the coast line. It really was a beautiful course. However it also had its hazards. The roads aren’t closed, however junctions and major turn points were well marshalled by both volunteers and the police, it’s still a bit daunting to be on open roads at one point a women stopped and did a 3 point turn in front of me… Not ideal.

There are also Monkeys on the course, some of these areas known for monkeys were signposted – again I wish I could show you a photo of the sign. But monkeys don’t tend to stay in their designated zones and there were quite a few wandering along the verges and across the roads, eagerly investigating any drinks bottles that managed to work loose and fall within their vicinity. Quite cute, but the athlete guide had given quite strong directions not to look at the monkeys, show them your teeth or the whites of your eyes and not to eat or drink in front of them. I was worried. I didn’t want to be attacked by a monkey! Luckily they kept their distance!

I quite enjoyed the first lap of the 2 lap bike course but by Lap 2 I was finding it tough. My feet had swollen, I had to pause to loosen off my bike shoes. I got off at an aid station, stamped my feet a bit and refilled my bottles. At 64miles there was the special needs station, I also stopped here and ate a cheese sandwich I had put in my bag, I loosened my shoes a bit more. 50 miles left, but it was going to be far from easy. It’s funny how the first lap didn’t seem too hilly, but I definitely noticed the inclines on lap 2, but so did the other riders I wasn’t alone in my struggle.

Transition 2!!! Bike was done, over, I’d made it! I was so worried about making the bike cut off I couldn’t believe I’d done it, with some time to spare as well! It took me longer than I had hoped at just over 7hrs 30mins, but it was done! 8 mins in T2 and another full change of clothes.

I was off onto the final section – the run.

Now… this is where I made some mistakes. I know that once I have walked once I find it difficult to get moving again, once I have walked for a while my hips stiffen and pretty much refuse to run, so I had planned to carry a bottle of water, jog the first 1/2 of the marathon and then take it from there. What I actually did was jogged 2km to an aid station, had a cup of coco cola, jogged to the next one, walked through again and took another bottle of water and then just couldn’t motivate myself to run… I am quite sure I ran less than 8km of the full 42.2km course… Not ideal, but once I’d walked a bit I couldn’t get my hips to run again so was left with no option but to power walk… Luckily I can walk quite fast, but even so this was going to take a long time!!!

I saw Adam when I was about 24km in, quick hug, apologised for taking so long, off onto my last lap! By now it was dark, they were giving the runners glow sticks at the aid stations which was a nice touch, but some of the paths were very dark, a headtorch would have been beneficial… the run was pretty enough in the daylight but a bit soul destroying in the dark, long dark roads, aren’t very motivating… But the kms passed quickly enough and soon I only had 1km to go, I tried to jog, not fun, jogged 200mtrs, walked 200mtrs, jogged again, started to loosen off – why hadn’t I tried this earlier? I could have shortened my time by loads! Too late now! 400mtrs to go, 200mtrs to go! Adam was at the side cheering me on, I ran (jogged) towards the finish! I had made it!

Ironman Malaysia was done! 15hrs and 28mins later! I had made it!!!

For anyone I didn’t tell about this race before I came out here I hope you can understand my reasons for doing so. For anyone who knowingly or unknowingly helped me train I can not thank you enough!

I am an Ironman, and it’s amazing! I am now enjoying the heat, food and amazing location that is Langkawi! I’m sure there is loads I haven’t said but now it’s time to get back to the beach!