A pair of socks in place of the podium. 

You know the drill, it’s early, I get stressed and bar a few minor meltdowns and scrapes along the way, I arrive on time.  All this happened, (of course it did, it always does!) but I can’t be arsed to write it, so if you are not versed in my pre race shenanigans, please revert to my previous post and omit the pyjamas (that’s never going to happen twice) and as for the dry robe, (aka the pinnacle of uber cool Triathlon wear), well, that was only unveiled after the race for this event.

Trentham Lake

So we are racked and ready to go, I’ve saved you 10 minutes of drama already.  I say we, that’s my son in law and I, (or son in law to be, but I’ve referred to him as my son in law to be even before he officially was, but now he is, so it’s even more appropriate a title, which quite frankly was thoughtful on his part when he proposed), we do a couple of events together every year and I think it’s become a competition to out do each other with an entry that includes god awful early starts, awful swim locations and boring bike routes. We’d already knocked off Cardiff which was wet, murky and whilst rapid on the bike, it wasn’t exactly exciting.  I was wasn’t convinced the dullness factor could be beaten, but seemingly the City of Stoke on Trent Triathlon was absolutely a contender here.

Heading into the swim


I’d kind of thought that finally getting a top 10 place at Wirral was probably a good end to a year of triathlon which had been a bit up and down. I was dead chuffed with that race and thought really I should have finished on a high. The week leading up to this triathlon I had a little aquathalon event at Chester on the Monday evening, in which I did decent swim and run times, but felt really tired and the tiredness didn’t really shift as the week progressed. Naturally, the 11 mile run midweek and the 40 mile bike ride the evening before the race weren’t part of my better planning, but, when is it ever where I’m concerned.

I digress. The run up to the event furnished us with an email advising of a change in swim course. Needless to say we weren’t impressed….

Brad to Joni (unimpressed #1)

Joni to Brad – Unimpressed #2



Swim Start

I’ll just cut to the chase and get straight on to the day.  The temperature wasn’t 15 degrees, as promised -,it turned out to be a bit (edit: lot) colder, and mores the pity I didn’t forget my wetsuit. The men were slung in the water at 7:30am, YES, you have totally read that correctly the RACE started at 7:30am, I mean, what the fuck is that even about? Not that it mattered as I’d been up since 4am so my brain thought it was flipping lunchtime anyway. I got 15 minutes grace and started at 7:45, but since I’d joined Brad down to the waters edge (which was fucking miles away from transition – I’ll come back to this) I got a bonus 15 minutes stood in mud freezing my ass off.

We got in, via some floating pontoon, which was a trauma in itself. I considered momentarily reliving my dive from my fateful Australian exit at the Aquathalon on Monday but then remembered how bad it was so chose to slip in unnoticed. I’d been advised that there was terrapins in the lake. I couldn’t decide if they were better or worse than the threat of weaverfish two weeks previously and just decided I needed to be in denial on the matter of turtle based swimming partners.  

Swim exit


Was fucking freezing. Really cold. Not that I had anytime to consider that though as my warm up swim was approx 300m to the start buoy. I stuck my head in the water and swam.  I can hand on heart say it’s the first time that I’ve ever put my head underwater and been met with total black.  I couldn’t even see my hands. That threw me a bit but to be fair it was soon forgotten about when I became acquainted to what the email regarding the weed cutting actually meant in reality. 

The email I quote, advised the following: ‘the weed cutters have now been in the lake to cut all the necessary weed for the designated swim area’ 

What they didn’t follow this up with was something along the lines of ‘but don’t worry we can’t be arsed to clear them out so we might not have bothered’ 

It was weed overload. I might have well as been swimming through a hedge, or a forest or, well, a lake with weeds in that hadn’t been cut. Proper rubbish I’m telling you! Take a stroke, haul shit loads of weeds out the way like a human swimming snowplough, take a breath, get a load of weed in your mouth, kick your legs, get a load of weed in your feet…….. seriously, it was proper vile.  Then, to add insult to injury you had to swim the same area 4 times (presumably cause the reed cutter guy had to go on his lunch and couldn’t be arsed to do the rest of the lake) so it got progressively more shitted up, darker (if this is possible) and smellier. I conceded that on the terrapin front, they’d at least be long gone, if they had any sense.

Brad exiting the swim


Rolled out of the lake on the dogdy pontoon wobbled along there for 200 yards and then found my trainers and managed to get them on to run half a mile to the bike in mud. I didn’t remember signing up to the extra half a mile running.

When I’m running (in my wetsuit) trying not to fall (in the mud) to my bike, all of a sudden some dude pops up next to me with a hand held go pro and asks me how I’m feeling. ‘Awful’ I replied, while pulling the left over weeds out my my hair, wondering what the hell he was doing getting under my feet in what was catergorically a mud bath. I shook him off (cause I was so rapid ~ or he found someone more approachable to bother who knows) and found my bike and got onto the next stage of the mornings ‘fun’.

Down to transition


Bike

I’m not going to write much about this, cripes this course was BORING. 4 laps up and down a dual carriageway which wasn’t hilly but certainly wasn’t flat. Bitch of headwind one way, tail wind the other. Got a decent average and went harder than previously which at the time felt ok, however I paid for it on the run, on reflection I think.  It was raining and I got cold.  It was pretty depressing all in all. Would have quite liked to have done a bit of draughting but it wasn’t allowed, and I naturally played by the rules. Did rather hope for a puncture on lap three but it wasn’t forthcoming so I cracked on and soon enough was skating back to transition over the mud. Not the most exciting 1 hour and 11 minutes of my life it’s fair to say but the fastest on a bike leg to date. Nearly 21 mph.

On the bike


Trying to run

I’ve been quite pleased with my last 3 triathlon runs they’ve been better than expected, I didn’t really have any expectations about this race, it was just something we’d sort of entered on a whim since it’s where Brad lives, so sort of why not? 

More evidence as if it was needed the course was actually cross country


When I got off the bike I was really cold. All the triathlons this year I’ve really tried to work down my transition times as they are, well to be blunt, total crap. Overall they’ve improved, but today after taking my bike shoes off and standing in the cold wet grass and mud I decided I couldn’t take anymore and reached for my socks. Dried off my muddy feet put my socks on and pulled my shoes on.  I can’t say I felt loads better but I decided it was preferable to running with cold wet muddy feet. It was about a minute I shouldn’t have wasted but I decided warmth over time prevailed on this occasion.

On the run


I tugged my tri belt around to the front and caught sight of the worn patch on my left butt cheek as I did. I scolded myself for missing the order for my new club tri suit earlier this year and reminded myself it needed to go in the bin when I got this godforsaken taken 10k out the way and pronto. 

Whilst setting back off up the muddy incline I’d come down earlier from the swim, I was furiously trying to calculate the price per triathlon that the suit had actually cost (at great expense shipped from the US) when that bloody pest with the go pro raised his ugly head again. Running next to me this time UP hill. What did he want this time I wondered, luckily he didn’t ask me how I was feeling this time as I think it would have been definitely enunciated with the word ‘fuck’. 

Settled into the run lakeside overtook one runner and started praying it was flat. Funnily enough my first ever race was at Trentham gardens when I did a race for life about 12 years ago, and then again when I picked up running again 4 years ago. I had a recollection of there bieng a few nasty kicks and hoped that my memories weren’t too accurate – this run was feeling really tough.  I was definitely hanging on today over running well.

The course stretched ahead and I could see the course climbing to the left. Was contemplating walking up a sharp nasty climb ahead when,  as I turn up towards it I see Brad coming up behind me on lap two. Cursing him I run (well attempt to) up the hill and hope I get to the top in one piece when simultaneously some new fucker with a go pro turns up next to me again. Seriously what the fuck is the deal with all these camera? I’m now critically aware that my running is basically shit, he’s (go pro man) on the somewhat worn side of the tri suit and my breathing is so bad it only resembles bad sex noises. Not what I was wanting if I’m honest.

Struggling on the run and cameras


Somehow I got to the top, go pro dude went, I gasped a couple of words to Brad and made my way to the 1:5 mile turnaround. You’d think it couldn’t get worse than this, but then a bike comes alongside me, (yes with a flipping big camera this time) and asks ‘are you running the Olympic?’ I manage to somehow reply ‘yes why can I change down?’ (I was seriously thinking finishing at 5k was the way to go as I was seriously fucked). They didn’t appreciate my humour, which annoyed me slightly, I mean, it wasn’t hilarious granted but I thought under the conditions it was pretty quick witted, all things considered.

‘You’re 3rd’ he says to me. THIRD??? Fuck, I’ve never been third, and all of a sudden my poor tired legs were desperately trying to (and failing) to run uphill faster, whilst my brain in a mortified state was processing the state of affairs presenting itself to me……


I was third (THIRD!!!!!),  I was on an out and back and was critically aware of clearly faster runners (at least 5) coming behind me, I was on camera for some broadcast somewhere, I’d got no makeup on, I was pretty sure I looked beyond fucked, I definitely had a runny nose and messy hair,  my tri suit was see though and I was running like, well, it was barely running and the breathing noises, it didn’t even bear thinking about. Total humiliation. Even when I end up doing well I manage to screw it up good and proper.

I struggled round the second lap, was begrudgingly grateful to the go pro dude on the hill whom without I’d definitely have walked the second time around, threw a cup of water over me in attempt to drink and run and only manged to loose one place on the run before I finished. I finished 4th.  Second again in my age group and about a minute behind 3rd in the end. She was a better runner than me no doubt about that but the minute wasted putting my socks on will forever haunt me! I don’t even remember my feet bieng that warm in the end.

Finished


Still, despite my extreme disappointment I finished for the first time in the top five, and I’ll finish the triathlon season with that on a high. I sincerely hope that my 4th position relagates me out any coverage on Chanel 4 and that I’m spared further humiliation than I’ve already endured. 

That’s another year of triathlon, the suits retired forever and I am for 2017. It was sort of fun.

Next, the winter is coming, and I’m thinking I’ll be amazing at cyclocross, well, relatively.

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When is a lake actually the sea? Wirral Triathlon

 

It’s like 4.30am in the morning and I’m doing my 4th triathlon of the year.  I’ve kept them shorter distances this year than I would have chosen ordinarily, but you know, you take it as it happens, its just the way the year has developed.  I’ve not written about the other 3, but overall they have been alright.  I’ve had a couple of shit runs, some average stuff and 4th places in my age group.  They been that middle ground of not bad enough to be funny (my escapades in the Abersoch triple and the hills have been anything but funny and that still has the grand finale to come, lord help me) and not good enough to rejoice.  The uninteresting liberal middle ground of triathlon.

 

I concluded this weekend, its been a season of early starts this year, I get the long distance stuff, but seriously I don’t get why this ‘before 5am’ shit is really needed on a SPRINT, when I’m over and done with before most sane minded people have had tea and ginger biscuits in bed.  I really need to assess my life choices and stop doing this nonsense.  Today its the Wirral Sprint Triathlon, in West Kirby.  It caught my eye as I thought the mix of a lake swim, a hillier bike course and a flat run might be alright, as far as getting in a lake before 8am on Sunday goes.

 

I’d not really planned very well, so, the night before I was simultaneously looking at the course profile (whilst realising the ‘undulating course’ was perhaps a little bit on the ‘hilly course’ side, glancing at my large glass of red and wondering if it was going to be of benefit, (I concluded it was)), trying to pack my kit for the next day and sorting out my screwdriver collection (not related to the triathlon, that’s just how my rock and roll Saturdays tend to pan out, it was totally spontaneous).  I had done are far less impressive job of multitasking than I’d thought as come 5am the next morning I was turning the house upside down looking for my tracksuit I thought I had packed, and was already 10 minutes late…………. Another 5 minutes has passed, the tracksuit remained illusive and I was on a time critical schedule.  In desperation I pulled on my pink and purple check ‘Tokyo Laundry’ pyjamas as an alternative.  I figured that the Wirral was pretty close to Liverpool, I’m sure round that neck of the woods pyjamas are okay for weddings, never mind triathlons.

 

 

I’m off.  The early morning affords me the most beautiful sunrise, and I have to refuel the van in my pyjamas, which felt a little awkward to be honest, but I acted confidently and assured myself I’d pulled it off.  One hour later I’m in West Kirby.  Turns out that it is by the beach and the lake is actually the sea, just a closed off filthy bit of it, and there’s jellyfish and weaverfish……………

 

 

Maybe one day, I mused, I would rock up to a race and, just maybe, everything would be like, totally perfect, not a Joni style, complete fucking farce where the lake was actually the sea, I was wearing pyjamas (on the busy dog walking promenade) and the pros and their pointy helmets were out in force making me feel inadequate.  Sigh.

 

I hate swimming in the sea.  I can’t stand it.  I always get stung by something, the seaweed gives me the shivers and I seem to swallow twice as much water as I usually would normally and its just disgusting.  Dirty sea ranks even lower on my list of places I’d really love to splash around in for 750 metres, so I can’t say I was really looking forward to this at all.  Anyway I was here.  I took the decision (rather sensibly) that the kilometre walk to the start should take place ‘sans pyjamas’ and added my new birthday ‘Dry robe’ for warmth, oblivious to the fact that it was about 18 air temperature degrees even at 7.00am.

Predictably, I got to registration absolutely boiling from the inside out, but couldn’t take the dry robe off as I couldn’t manoeuvre the bike (from the seat by the way – not the handlebars, honestly I’m like a fucking pro these days) and hold the dry robe and the wetsuit, and noted next time I’d forget the dry robe in such ambient temperatures and just wear my wetsuit around my waist for a bit.  That’s what the pointy helmet brigade seemed to be doing, and why would I argue, since I was in heat meltdown with my current arrangement.

 

I’m registered and racked up and in my wetsuit problem free.  After a minor meltdown about the first wave of swimming being 8-10 minutes (I’m in the first wave and not at that pace) I realised that it was the leading time under discussion not the average time and settled down again waiting to get into the water.  When I started open water swimming I had some huge issues with mass starts and in and amongst the pile of epic failures in my sporting path, overcoming this isn’t one of them.  I don’t really get stressed about this too much anymore.  Bit boring really….

 

Swim

The start is in the water.  I tentatively enter into the lake that is really the sea, but really it is just absolute murk and filth and prepare myself for the swim.  What I don’t prepare myself for is the slime underfoot, which made the river Dee seem more palatable than I could have ever imagined a month earlier.  It really was the most disgusting sensation underfoot.  Was fucking cold too.   I did my little swim routine before hand which seems to work well in acclimatising me to the grim swim ahead and then usually, we are set off. Today, however, there was so many competitors and they got all three waves in together we were languishing in the slimy floored murk for what felt like (and I think actually was) an eternity.  I was freezing.  Then I stepped upon something spiky and naturally screamed, fearful it was a weaverfish and then assessing my surroundings, possibly, I was even more fearful it was a hypodermic needle.  It was neither I suspect, just a bit of stone..

 

I’m probably overly focusing on the sea thing, but it was really horrible.  As the time went on, waiting to start I must have, without realising made my way to the front of the first wave start.  I wasn’t aware of doing this, I must have just gravitated to the orange hats with no clear thought as to where I was standing.  Then we started.  Then I realised that I’d made my first grave error of the day.
Video of swim start
Oh my word, never in all my time have I experienced such a brutal, busy, aggressive start to a swim.  I did think after what felt like an eternity of battling around kicks and punches and more wetsuits than I could imagine in one place, had this been 18 months ago my race would have been over, no way would I have coped with that.  However, now congratulating myself inwardly of being made of stronger stuff, I battled on to the first buoy in the expectation that it would thin out, but it didn’t.  It was still as bad to the second buoy and didn’t show any signs of improvement.

 

 

I’m swimming away, and to be honest if felt like I was going no where, I couldn’t find any sort of rhythm and everyone was on top of one another’s legs, then all of a sudden some dude actually swam OVER me.  This wasn’t funny.  Infact it was less funny than the weaverfish or the slime.  As I felt myself being pushed down into the water, for a moment I wondered if I was going to die in West Kirby Marina.  As I felt myself sinking further towards the slime, the following was racing through my head (all at the same time!)…..
A) Were the counting people really were on the ball and had they counted everyone properly (I would have hoped that they had since they did actually spend an inordinate amount of time doing it, and for me to get cold while they were doing it and THEN die and no one know since they’d miscounted well, that would be quite frankly rubbish)
B) If I died would the weaverfish, like, nibble away at me, like those fish did in those feet shops that were a craze some years ago (I never frequented one, as why the fuck would you ever pay to have your feet eaten? that’s fucking weird) AND if they did would they eat my head first as my wetsuit was protecting my more…… lets say more……meaty parts and finally…..
C) If I did die, no one would ever know why my pyjamas were strewn over the drivers seat of my van……….

 

 

As it happens I didn’t die (I know, who would have known!) and bar a absolutely shite T1 transition time I was on the bike and vowed never to get in that lake/sea thing ever again, and more over never to be so laissez faire about my start position, weaverfish, needle scares or otherwise.

 

Bike

Thankfully the bike was less eventful.  I felt dreadful the first few miles, which was a hangover from the near death, fish eating experience, but soon forgot about that when I had a hill to contend with.  I usually do ok on hills and can get up them quickly (well sort of quickly, not quickly like compared to say Chris Froome but whatever), and today I was alright too, but I did feel a bit more tired than I’d usually like.  I didn’t dwell on it too much and concentrated on the fact it was a 2 lap course and cheered myself up that in a few miles I’d have no surprises ahead.  I rode nearby 2 other woman for pretty much the entire course.  I was fastest on climbs, one was fastest on flat and one was a mean accelerator out of corners.  I concluded I was shit at corners, despite my recent improvement on descending and added to my ‘improvement’ list along with the stupid shoe dismount thing which eludes me still.

 

Dismount aside, somehow I managed to get off my bike in spectacularly bad fashion ahead of them, a fine example of where sheer determination outshone two very graceful dismounts and I was running (in shoes with cleats under) with 2 ladies chasing behind barefoot, them smugly having left their shoes on the pedals.  I wondered which was worse, cleats or barefoot, as they both seemed as ludicrous the run into transition seemed long.  I’d spent the last 4 miles or more convincing myself that these two ladies were both Olympic level 5k runners, so I can’t say I was exactly excited to run around the lake of murk, not once but twice to make up the required distance, whilst watching them streak away from me.

 

Running

Of the two ladies, one sprinted past me, barefoot with bike in one hand (not wobbling about like mine was) to transition and was gone and on her way before I’d got my trainers on.  The other (who was a lovely lady and turned out to be a GB time trailist) left around the same time as me, slightly behind me, and I didn’t see her again.  At the end we agreed it was a mutual pleasure to ride near each and not try and draught each other on the small country roads.

I didn’t have my watch on, I just never have the time to faff with it, and seemingly at the moment for whatever reason I run a lot faster without it.  I think its something to do with I *think* I can’t run a certain pace anymore and if I see it on my watch I don’t know what happens but I totally loose the plot.  Standard Joni stuff really I guess.

 

I ran with the sole intention of not walking, today that’s all I wanted to do.  In all the other triathlons I’ve done I’ve lost places on the run and I’m aware of this as I set off,  I don’t want to see ladies coming past me.  I see the lady who sprinted off with her bike ahead, by quite a way and decide to look at her and run.  I realise she’s getting closer and I realise (after longer than it should have taken) that means I’m running faster than she is.  A lap has passed and I’m almost level with her.  I’m in a dilemma now, and typically start dithering whilst trying to decide, whether I go past and risk overtaking, just to be re-overtaken, that would be rubbish for me, or to stay where I am.  In an unexpected moment of competitiveness (I’ve always been competitive with myself but not really so much with others before) I go past and I run as fast as I can knowing I have 1.5 miles left and I don’t look back.  I run and I run until I get to the finish.

 

I finished about 20 seconds ahead.  That 20 seconds, as it turns out gave me 9th overall, and she was in the end in a battle for 10th and 11th place with someone else I didn’t see on the bike who must have been a faster runner than us.  I’m crap at sprinting and did think fleetingly had I have stayed with her I might not have made my top 10 place that I was so happy to have got.

 

And that’s it.  1 hour 24 minutes of hard work and I was done.  It was bloody hard work aswell.  All before 9.30 on a Sunday morning.

 

Reflection

Reflecting today I am for once, really pleased with my effort yesterday.  I don’t train the most sensibly, I probably do too many miles, try cram too many things in, don’t do enough speedwork blah blah, and perhaps next year as I go back up to the longer distance I’ll have to add more structure.  But I’m happy, I like swimming in the lake, not in the pool (that’s a proper lake not that fucking sea lake thing), I like being outside and seeing amazing new routes on my bike, even if I do way too many miles before a race, I don’t want to sit on a turbo trainer, or a treadmill at the moment, but equally deep down, I want to do well, and that’s always going to be an internal battle, the structure of training to improve, against doing the stuff that makes you happy…………  Its just when knowing you’ve done the best you can, like yesterday also makes you happy, there is a conflict of interest.  But for now I don’t need to worry about that.

Position 9th – AG position 2nd

Swim – 15:20, Bike Including T1 & T2, 46.04, Run – 22:59 (lap one 11:38 – lap two – 11:20).

Turned in the end, I liked Wirral and perhaps the murk will get another visit next year, who knows.

 

 

 

Wales in a Day – “Laissez les bon temps rouler”

 

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Racked up

Friday evening and I clambered into a van with a bunch of blokes I’d never met before to go and sign on for an event I’d no idea whatsoever why I’d entered, and even less idea if I could actually finish.  Wales in a Day.  I don’t need to give you any further details, the title is self explanatory, I basically had to ride from the top of Wales (Caernarfon) to the bottom (Chepstow (I didn’t even know this was in Wales still, but, whatever) in a day.  There was some cut off times, but I didn’t bother looking at them, since they were in the dark, and I’d be fucked if you think I was still going to be cycling by then.

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Registration

Before we go any further, I need to tell you about the highlight of this event.  Somehow (and I’m not sure how myself even) I blagged myself on with a group of riders called the ‘Roundhouse Rouleurs’.  I’m sure that riding with them should have been the accolade of the day, but between you and me , the best thing about the whole run up to the event was realising we had a ‘support van’, I was very excited about this and made a special effort to pretend I was a Tour de France rider (with visions of me being chased around with a Skoda car) with a full support crew and took an extra amount of shit I didn’t need, (4 changes for cycling shorts for a start) which I was certain I’d never use (I didn’t), but nevertheless I thought I’d make full use of the facilities I had managed to somehow get myself involved in.

The week prior to the event, I was duly advised by ‘my’ riding partner (who I told you I stitched up with never ending training rides in my previous blog entry), that a possibility had arisen that I could ride with the ‘Rouleurs’, which naturally I jumped at the chance of doing, cause lets be honest riding 185 miles by yourself is probably going to be a bit shit, however pretty it might be.  The ‘Rouleurs’ (incase you were wondering here is a dictionary reference: A rouleur is a type of racing cyclist considered a good all-rounder.) I soon realised were an outfit of meticulous organisation not to be messed with.   The ‘Roundhouse’ (place of origin for commencing the bike rides I assumed) and also place of pre meeting de brief (yes! for real this actually happened) was not as I had hoped a pub, but an accountancy firm.  Accountancy firms make me shiver even more than hill sprints.

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Start & finish points

I turned up for the ‘debrief’ mid run (probably the first mistake I made, since I looked even more mental than usual in my bright pink Spanish tshirt emblazoned with ‘and now the girls they run’) and was momentarily thrown off kilter when I was ushered into a boardroom (NOT a pub), with a proper massive table and directed to my chair. As I sat there the group assembled themselves.  I decided immediately that they were all amazing cyclists since they all had either flip flops or old race tshirts on, (which was obviously proof of cycling ability).  Luckily for me, as it was a nice day most of them had shorts on too, so I tried to size up their calves for further assessment of their cycling prowess, but I think I got caught out, and since they were probably wondering why I was in running attire and not cycling wear (and had the crazy hair going on) I thought I needed to curb checking out their legs at this early stage.  Hell, I reminded myself I had a good 15 hours coming up to while away the hours doing that.

The meeting was chaired by the owner of the meticulously tidy accountancy firm, (I once again shivered at the thought) and I swiftly decided he was not a man to be getting on the wrong side of.  Referred to as ‘Captain’ throughout the meeting (I wasn’t entirely sure if this was in humour or reverence), I realised that I must not turn up late at ANY point throughout the event timings that were being minuted.  Not a man to be messed with, the Captain frequently used the terminology ‘Roger’ and ‘over and out’ for communications over the telephone too I noted.  I also wished I had a different cycling shirt other than my coveted ‘Do Epic Shit’ jersey for the day, when he expressed his view that swearing showed a lack of intelligence.  Basically, I concurred I might be able to hold off my language for about 2 hours cycling up hills but then I would be up shit creek without a paddle, as he was probably right I DO actually have no other words outside of the odd variations on either side of the word ‘fuck’ when the going gets tough.  As if this challenge wasn’t going to be hard enough, I sighed.

I’ve digressed to be honest, and I’m now back the point where I was going to start this blog post.  This was actually when I was setting my alarm on Friday night to get up at 2.30am on Saturday morning.  I mean, this was earlier than my Ironman start time, how utterly ridiculous.  You can imagine how much sleep I got, probably about 2 hours.  I wasn’t in the mood for French plaiting my hair that’s for sure when I rose, so settled on one single plait, it was dark for fucks sake, even I didn’t care today.

 

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Castle at the start

 

Sure enough, by 3.30am I was in Caernarfon in the pitch black cycling to the start line.  The ‘Rouleurs’ agreed a start position a mile away from the start line and quite frankly I was beyond perplexed as to why an additional mile as required, but the Captain was resolute, so I fell into line.  The rest of the gang seemed quite pleased by the additional mile and were excited that it was going to be probably the only mile of tailwind they’d get that day.  Can’t say I shared their excitement, but I pretended, the best you can at 3.30am.

 

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Starting off

 

It started at Caernarfon castle, I assumed, on the road outside, wrongly, as upon arrival a secret side door to the castle was opened and we were ushered in.  I was really excited by this, even at 3.45am, well, until I realised I had to carry my bike up about 6 flights of medieval stone stairs in my cycling shoes.  That momentarily pissed me off, but I have to say, even in my humour lacking, sleep deprived state it was ace, the castle was all light up in Green and Red, and it was brilliant – lined up in there waiting to be scanned out one by one.

Once scanned we went off on our way, thankfully I managed to clip in and not fall off coming out the castle and got in the front of the group on account of my fear of getting dropped early on.  It was so quiet when we set off, a little chatter but everyone was just settling to the ride.  I was cold too, I didn’t really expect that so I was looking forward to reaching the first climb, up the Pen Y Pass, which is where you start the walk if you are going up Snowdon (or I do at any rate).  I knew the first 50 miles of the course quite well and I’d done it in training a fair few times so that was good.  As we climbed the Pen Y Pass I met Mr Peterborough (I think he was called Dave in the end) who seemed to be in my vicinity throughout nearly all the ride on and off, and he didn’t realise that we were next to Snowdon so we had a little chat (well the best you can when you are killing yourself up a hill in a massive gear, I really need to get my shit together with that little ring) and before I knew it the first climb was out the way.  Then followed a long descent in to Betws Y Coed that I do often.  I can hand on heart say that on that morning it was the most beautiful I’ll ever see Betws and Penmachno (the next section thereafter).  The light was spectacular and even though I was cursing the cold temperature of 4 degrees in summer wear it added to the view with the mist and low clouds.  It will remain to be one of the most breath taking views I have ever seen in my lifetime.

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Morning dawn

50 odd miles in and 2 food stop check points down, we were in Bala.  I knew what I had in store up to this point so the miles had gone by reasonably painlessly.  We saw the support van and the Rouleurs who were not riding (including Captain, so I curbed my language accordingly) and repacked our food bags etc.  What I learned from the next checkpoint on (Newtown), was that there was a map showing the next section ahead and the gradient involved which proved to really help me mentally.  That is in oppose to when I was at Bala, and asking one of the ‘support crew’ where I was going next – here he gave me 2 useless snippets of information (the second incidentally was telling me it wasn’t going to rain between there and the next checkpoint, resulting in me only taking my showerproof jacket, (it pissed it down and I was  soaked before I even got it on, but anyway I digress)).  I was told (I quote) ‘there’s a climb out of Bala’ (correct: it was big and quite horrid, but spectacular scenery and we ate some sweets at the top whilst the men were doing some faux mechanical work on a bike at the top, (an excuse for a rest if you ask me)) ‘and then its pretty much flat all the way to Newtown’ (it absolutely wasn’t, unless 16% climbs are the new flat) and you’ll be there in about an hour (you won’t unless you can average 34 mph).

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Lake Vyrnwy

After the climb out of Bala we were riding fast through Lake Vyrnwy as a group, I knew it was fast but I’d made a decision not to be aware of my average speed as I had decided I’d try and hold on until at least 120 miles come what may so I didn’t have more that 65 miles alone.  Possibly a foolhardy plan, but it was my plan nonetheless.  But in possession of the information (which I now I know to be incorrect) that it was flat to Newtown, I was happy to settle in to the pace.  Needless to say when the climbs I knew nothing of presented themselves for the last 10-15 miles into Newtown, I arrived there, totally destroyed and felt for the first time that I might have paced things a bit stupidly.

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Honestly – I don’t know where, the hills were endless!

After eating some food, and finding a map with the next section information, I felt armed with what was ahead of me better and set off on my way.  And so it carried on for the checkpoints up to about 120 miles.  The route was amazing and what I would say about open cycling is they ran a top quality event, the directions, the support, the photos and the food stations were second to none.   The route was brutally hard and the last final 2 major climbs from 125 miles onwards, close to broke me, and it pissed it down, just as we had to start a hard and horrible descent, but I loved it, I loved it all.  I cried a couple of times briefly (I know, its standard) and from 110 miles my garmin had died so I didn’t know how far I’d got between food stops, but compared to any event I’ve ever done I felt strong all the way through, even towards the end when I was really struggling to get up the climbs respectably, I kept going and once on the flat was surprised that I could still put a decent effort in and make up some of the lost time.

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At the checkpoint.

At the last check point there was 26 miles to go, the group had split up over the Gospel Pass (an epic climb of over 6 miles and it rained too).   We were waiting to reassemble, but by this point the rain was biblical and we were cold and wet.  We all sort of went through a series of emotions of wanting to get on and finish, not want to go back in the pouring rain and wanting to wait for everyone to ride together.  In the end Captain sent us on our way (and who was I to argue), so we didn’t all finish together but we were all within 15 minutes of one another.

I’d managed to eat well at the last station (it was pizza! yay!) and felt decidedly better than I had the 50 miles previously, so we made a good effort for 10 miles or so and even got carried away and overtook a bunch of riders, which turned out to be a bad move as we hit the final hill and most of them went straight past me on the ascent.  Predictably, I got cross and raced them all the way back down the hill and too the finish swearing repeatedly and cheering at the 14 mile to Chepstow road sign, then crying when the next sign to Chepstow which I swear was 3 miles later was still 14 flipping miles.

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Climbing – again!

Finally, 15 hours later we reached Chepstow, we descended into the town with anticipation to finish only to be hit with a last god forsaken climb out of Chepstow to the finish, 100 metres from the finish I passed a sign which said ‘Welcome to England, Gloucestershire’  Wales in a Day, that’s irony right there.  We finished in fucking England.

And we did it.  It has to be one of the hardest and most brilliant things I’ve ever done in equal measures,  Normally I like to bitch and moan about events and how much I hate them, but I can’t, loved it, all of it (I know those who I rode with will wonder what it feels like when I don’t like stuff, but yeah for me I loved it).

 

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Finish in Chepstow

 

An extra bonus was I was the first lady back home,  its a sportive not a race, but even so it was a great feeling, to know that my best effort, was measurably a good do, but I could have been last and I’d have loved it (nearly) as much.

Thanks to the Captain and the ‘Rouleurs’ for letting a grumpy Yorkshire lass tag along with you, it really made the whole day for me, and Phil, he was just brilliant, best riding partner I could have asked for on the day.

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Finish

That’s enough praise and happiness for now.  I’m off to do some more running and remind myself of the magic in misery.

“Laissez les bon temps rouler” – Let the good times roll

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Climbing hills on the bike and mountains by foot – In pursuit of perfection

 

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At Abersoch Triathlon – on the run

Ok, its fair to say that even despite the name of my blog, the level of reluctance towards triathlon has been to a level of non existence.  Some readers who are more observant may well have noticed that this year to date, precisely no triathlons have been going on whatsoever.  I don’t really know why, its taking me a while to get my running form back, but simply put, none have really taken my fancy yet.  Well, until last week when I did Abersoch Sprint triathlon, which actually I really enjoyed and with exception of my predictably shite transition times and a shockingly awful run time (which seems to becoming very predictable aswell these days) I did do OK, and it was a good warm up for Cardiff on Sunday.   I’ve not done this Olympic distance yet, I missed it out somewhere along the line last year, so thought I’d give it a visit this year.  I’m looking forward to it, well sort of, as much as I always do.

 

The Sprint triathlon last week was part of a three part event called the Triple Crown.  It caught my eye as you got a ‘Henri Lloyd’  t-shirt for entering, so I swiftly handed over £95 without a moment’s hesitation and  I’m 2 events down one to go, the last one being the half marathon in September.  So far the results have been:

Event one: 10k Beyond shit for the full 100% of the run Event two:  Sprint Triathlon: 2/3 good 1/3 very shit.

I’d say all in all it’s turning out to be immense value for money.  There has been jellyfish, an inordinate amount in the hills and more beach running than any sane person would choose to do in a lifetime so far.  Oh, and the t-shirt is a heap of crap.

 

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Abersoch at the start with Brad.

 

I’ll possibly reflect back on the 3 events after I’ve endured the half marathon. But if beach running is involved again, don’t expect me to be happy about it.

Hills on the bike

If you were wondering what was taking up my time of late (it’s okay I know you *actually* aren’t wondering, but I’ll tell you anyway) its hills and bikes.  Riding of late has become an obsession of climb gradients, distances and elevation.  Thanks to an event entry (possibly under the influence) called ‘Wales in a Day’.

 

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Wales  in a Day – this I can sense will be a fucking delight already

 

This is, as the name cleverly suggests, offers  an opportunity for the cycling public to pay money to ride the length of Wales in one day, on roads you could actually ride for free yourself, over a leisurely 3 or 4 days if you wanted to even have a nice time.  The website for this event is remarkably sketchy about the event, probably with good reason as, I think if they actually gave you a sensible amount of information no sane minded person would pay to do this.  Instead there is some sort of half arsed ‘relive’ graphic thing, which makes the hills looks pretty acceptable and some dodgy testimonials about how wonderful it is, either written by the organisers themselves or some sado masochists.   This event entry  all came about as I wanted to do the coast to coast which was the traditional West to East, Seascale to Whitby route (ran by the same outfit),  but when I looked on the website it was full and then I just sort of entered something even more vile.  The website basically just says (and I mean there is actually nothing else written, what was I even thinking?)

‘From the picturesque town of Caernarfon to Chepstow, taking in the Llanberis and Gospel Pass this ride is not the easiest on the calendar but will leave you with the biggest smiles.

Best not think about it too hard, if you have the experience then sign up to this great day out’

I mean what exactly does this mean?  If you have the experience then sign up, …….. precisely what experience?  Experience on entering stupid events…… check …………Experience of falling off my bike riding up hill …….. chec k ……….. Experience of being a complete tool………. check.  Experience of riding  196 miles and 16000 foot of climbing,……….. none whatsoever.  I bet they fucking piss themselves laughing every time some unsuspecting fool sends them £100 for the pleasure.  You know, like I did.

(Edit, since inserting the picture above, I’m delighted to see its actually 11 miles less and a few hundred metres of climb less than I was stressing about – I’m literally on the up, oh yes and its a day earlier than I realised too……)

I bet I won’t be fucking smiling.

Anyway it’s not far away now so I’m into big mileage (for me), however unlike last year’s Ironman, its big mileage with hills, sadly no jaunts to Chester this year for me, for my 100 mile rides.   And flipping heck it’s really hard, and I’m not even up to 100 miles yet with these climbs, I’ve got that pleasure this week coming.  8600ft of climbing over 100 miles is next on the agenda, last year I thought doing 3500ft over 112 miles meant I was effectively like the hill climbing champion of the world.  This delusion has over the last 10 days been firmly shattered and I’m under no illusions that I have some serious work to do in the next month.

The weather is an unknown proposition on the day aswell.  10 days ago I rode 85 miles in the most horrific headwind and side winds and had a fucking breakdown about the prospect of the same for a 190 miles.  Well, by that I mean I just decided I couldn’t even contemplate that even being a reality so vowed never to speak of it again.

 

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Beautiful Bedgelert

 

This week, the wind had blown itself away and the ride was 80 plus miles in glorious sunshine.  Sounds wonderful don’t you think?  Well it wasn’t, it was so hot the tarmac was melting on the road and the hills were possibly worse in the heat than in the wind, was this possible I asked?  I conceded that neither were the lesser of two evils.  This week I experienced dehydration and realised my one 500ml bottle of water I was carrying was somewhat lacking.  By Bedgellert approx 50 miles in I was empty of water, and pushed on with the promise of food and cold water in one of the best cafes in North Wales.  I can’t comment on whether it actually was one of the best cafes in our country, as it was closed.

I have found (edit: stitched up) a rather patient riding partner who partially out of concern for my well being (when I flounced to the nearest stream and stuck my head in it complaining bitterly of extreme desert like dehydration) and mainly out of sheer fear of a monumental strop (similar to the week before which nearly ended in tears and a whole dictionary of swearing in one descent) quickly found me some water (after I announced my resignation from the forthcoming event), which despite my horror that it was from a warm mixer tap and even worse a tap of a public men’s toilet, I soon conceded it was my only option and tried to cycle extra fast to (unsuccessfully)  cool it down.

 

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Out riding in the endlessly beautiful North Wales

 

I announced (to try and scrape together some credibility for my shitness) that I wasn’t riding well because I couldn’t cope not knowing the route, so this week some 6 days in advance, I’ve been duly sent 2 options of vileness in advance to choose from.  It remains to see whether I’ll get through these, but if I don’t I’m all out of excuses and might just have to say ‘I’m riding shit today, cause actually, I’m just  REALLY shit’.  The thought of that might just be awful enough to get me through the ride.

Yr Wyddfa, on the top of Wales, surely the best view in the country?

In and amongst the riding I have found time to feed my other fixation this week aswell.  I have an obsession (I know who’d have thought?) with Snowdon.  It’s the obsession of a perfect view.  You know the ones –  that you see on the internet when you Google Snowdon climb where you can see for miles the whole of North Wales in all its glory.

 

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Snowdon, the view I dream of.

Wednesday was my 17th attempt to see this view. Let’s just say, I’ve had some bad ones, but this one has to now rank as the worst so far……. possibly, possibly not, in fairness there’s been a lot of bad ones, complete with scrapes up a mountainside included.  Whether it was or it wasn’t the actual worst, it was right up there for sure.

 

On New Years Day I took a couple of girlfriends up the mountain on what promised to be a crystal clear day of epic proportions, and it was…. for the first 2000 ft and then snow, ice and a wind chill of  factor of -5 set in half way up the steepest part of the last climb and with 2 first timers, 3 dogs and a 10 euro RAB jacket knock off, I conceded, once again, I was woefully ill prepared and predictably as usual  I saw fuck all from the top of the world (or Wales).  Anyway, I digress, but on that freezing day I persuaded my equally freezing intrepid explorers that they should join me for a summer solstice sunrise walk when it was WARM up Snowdon to see a beautiful sunrise.

 

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Snowdon on New Years Day, before the appalling weather

 

I don’t know what I thought walking up Snowdon in the pitch black would be like the day *after* the Summer Solstice (I got the date of the solstice mixed up) but I thought it would be warm, clear skies, no wind, fun and even at one point I thought I could take some nice pictures (on the way up?!?) clearly I wasn’t thinking this through properly at all.  I don’t even think that it figured that it would be actually in the middle of the night, I mean like all night, who goes walking at 1.30am in the morning I ask you?  I’ll tell you who, (aside us,) precisely no one, except 2 chaps we met at the top who had decided it was a good idea to make the walk the evening previously  in Weatherspoons.  Really that tells you all you need to know.

I’d list all the pros and cons of the walk, but really pro wise, I’m clean out of ideas after Gin and company.  Predictably as with many of my adventures, the build up was far more interesting than the event itself, which in short involved a very cold, wet, windy walk in the pitch black which was nothing short of arduous.  Even the dogs were just baffled as to why we were walking in the freezing cold in the dead of night, and arguably looked as unimpressed as us (although Sally dog rather liked her headtorch I’d fashioned for her).  The 10 euro jacket didn’t disappoint for the first 2000 feet but thereafter I’d question its water resistatant properties.

 

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Sally – on the top of Wales

 

And yeah, in short we got up there in advance of the alleged sunrise (cause we were so flipping rapid), to freeze further for an hour to see a gradual lightening of the thickest fog I’ve ever seen.  Walked down and bemoaned the fact I’d traded in a perfectly good night’s sleep for the biggest shower of shit of a view to date.  It was definitely one of the worst.

So climb 18 is in planning for my pursuit of perfection.  I might never get these ladies to ever do the Snowdon walk of madness ever again, but as with all things as one door closes, another door opens and just the very same day, 2 fresh faced mountain climbers took on their first climb I noted on social media.  I’ll easily stitch those pair up and who knows, we might just get that perfect view……………..

And as the week draws to a close I reflect back on yet another week, where I’ve achieved something, even if it wasn’t how I envisaged things would work out, I did some shit which I never thought I would have got my act together to do – and all without crying.  It might have only been walking up a mountain in the middle of the night for no sensible reason whatsoever and might have only been cycling up a hill when all I wanted to do was stop, have a massive flounce and throw my bike over the edge, but I did them.

I did them both and on reflection had fun in some bizarre perverse manner.

 

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Daybreak & the search continues

 

 

A load of miles up a load of hills and mountains, and the week before a triathlon.  Makes total sense.  Next stop Cardiff.

Remembering how to suffer

 

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Post retirement I ended up at a 4 mile run with 32000 woman in Madrid by chance.  It was too random to even blog about……..

I quite fancied the idea of retirement after Boston.  I think it lasted about 3 days though.  I got guilt-ed into running again by @therecklessrunner (blogger www.therecklessrunner.com  (whatever she says I started first) and writer, ‘Recovery Run, Nicky Lopez’ (OK so she’s got the book shit going on and got a more interesting life story but, whatever.)) .  I got sent trainer tags that suggested I was not a quitter and naturally it made me furious and the whole plan worked a treat.  I ran 3 miles upon their surprise arrival, it sort of felt like I *had* to at least make an effort in return, it was shit, but seriously what’s new…….

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I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do with my retirement time, and as with habits, they are hard to break, so 2 weeks later I find myself still trying decide what I’ll do with my time when I don’t run and taking a run to think it through.  The trainer tags clicking annoyingly against the end of the laces every single step, which in turn annoys me extra more as I know that it will delight Nicky no end that the gift is so fucking annoying EVERY. SINGLE. FLIPPING. STEP.  If there was every a reason not to run, that clicking TRULY has to be it.

I won’t go on about my retirement as predictably, it didn’t happen and instead I just got back on it in an effort to get my running shit back together, if indeed it ever was there first place.

So, it’s this morning that I find myself wrestling myself into my sports bra once again, at some god forsaken time to get myself ready to run 13.1 miles in the name of fun.  Today it was the Chester half marathon.  I was kind of hoodwinked into this race as my brother offered me a free transfer, and since it was free, I felt I kinda of had to do it.  I’m from Yorkshire and I love free stuff.  So off I went.

 

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Chester is one of my favourite half marathons and always well supported.

 

Annoyingly, a couple of weeks ago, (yes!  something else that annoyed me) I picked up some niggle on my shin.  I don’t know what this niggle is and I don’t think it is even running related, more related to going on a holiday I couldn’t afford (where the totally enormous and mental Madrid run happened), and walking 40 miles in an incredibly stylish but somewhat impractical pair of jewelled sandals.  Anyway, it sort of hurts a bit, and a bit more after running and then goes away a bit.  I’ve tried resting it for a few days and then it seems better and then it sort of comes back, an annoying injury but not enough of an injury to even get adequate sympathy from anyone.  Literally rubbish.

Nevertheless, I decided to run anyway.  My expectations are low generally with running still, so I thought no serious harm could occur.  I teamed up with my running pal (I’ll tell more as you go along, but we love teaming up with one another if we fear shit running is on the cards and we can live out each other’s shitness vicariously through the run and tell each other repeatedly its totally fine to give up and hope we do, for our own sakes).

We arrived in Chester, parked hassle free, got to the racecourse (it starts on a racecourse by the way, we weren’t placing some random early morning bets), got Lesley’s number hassle free and headed over to the loo to find NO QUEUE.  No queue and a clean fresh port-a-loo for our usage.  We weren’t logging these positive signs that were being offered to us on each and every turn, whilst we queued for very little time to get a fine cup of English breakfast tea.  We drank our hot beverages down and headed back to the tent to drop off our baggage (also, yes hassle free).

A second (and totally unrequired) loo stop, also offered us a VERY small queue and not too much stress in the queuing and not knowing if the next available loo belongs to your queue area or the one to your right (you know, where you sort of glance furtively to the side and wonder whether to gesticulate to them its yours – but then I always feel like I should offer it to them, so I just pray the one DIRECTLY in front of my queue comes free so there is absolutely no question or eye contact required and there is total clarity that the loo is mine).  Today it was straight forward and the whole loo queue process went off really smoothly (I’d say it was definitely in the top 5 of loo experiences to date).

 

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We didn’t steal the medals!

 

We made our way to start and momentarily considered whether we really did need to run the race after all when we walked directly past someone with a whole rook of medals on a rack.  We could have just slipped one off and no one would have noticed.  And after all, as Lesley pointed out, we *totally* knew we could run 13,1 miles, so why did we need to prove ourselves……..

We didn’t steal ourselves a medal in the end and decided on this occasion we would go with the majority and go through the whole rigmarole of running around a city to get it instead. Even though we were like, only about half a mile from where we would be finished, I pushed that thought from my head and off we went, time to crack on.

The race

It was bloody busy and the first mile took us forever to get going.  The half had been re routed through the centre for the first mile to see more of the city, a total waste of time if you ask my opinion (I’m sure Essar Chester half marathon don’t give a shit what the 63rd V40 woman thinks, but incase they do here it is), it was too busy and there was a lot of bollard issues that I nearly fell over, plus I got very stressed and it probably made me think about giving up at least another 55 times in the first 2 miles.  Eventually it joined the route I was more familiar with and it started thinning out, and everything felt a lot better.

 

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The start of the half.  Bit rubbish to be honest.

 

……..Well, then the sun came out and it was flipping hot enough without it.

And then I realised we had been running 8.30 minute miles for 3 miles (after the first rubbish one which was totally the race planners fault) and I was feeling rather tired, but I’d sort of committed now, and even worse, Lesley, wasn’t complaining at all and seemed quite happy.

Fuck.

And there you have it.  By mile 4 the tone had been set.  An unspoken agreement hung between my somewhat laboured breathing and Lesley’s scuffy foot (she has a foot that scuffs every 10 steps and I think she is going to fall over, but unlike me she doesn’t, its just part of her) that we weren’t running as socially as usual and we were going to try and run the best we could possibly manage.

And that, is precisely what happened.  Mile 4 to 5 was grim, and I had to pretend that I was going to only run 10 miles (OK, I’ll come clean, I’m not even sure I was pretending – I think I was really going to only run 10 miles at one point) to maintain my pace.  Mile 6-7 felt ok (cause by 7 I’d only got 3 miles left remember) and then I nearly threw up at mile 8 thanks to my being over ambitious with my attack of a motorway bridge incline (I’ve no idea what happened there).  In the end we managed to sit until mile 12 under 8.30 min miles…..just.

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And I tell you what, if you think training to reach your goals is hard first time around, working your way back to them is at least fifty times harder.  The feelings you get when you race when your chest is burning and your legs are aching and you are pushing to keep up the pace, when it feels as hard as it ever has and you are running 45 seconds a mile slower than a previous point in time, does not help massively on the confidence front.  Not throwing in the towel to keep fighting when a PB isn’t on the card was a monumental effort for me.

But I’m proud to say on this occasion I did it.  I suffered.

 

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We were basically amazing.

 

Earlier this week I posed a question on line asking why people run.  I’m still not sure I’m any further forward to the finer details of why I run, but today, albeit at a slower pace than I would like, I felt that familiar feeling of keeping going when its really bloody tough.  I learnt to suffer again, and I’m actually really glad I did.

The last mile was a write off, half a mile to go and I worried my hip was starting again, it started clunking, but after some momentary panicking (I’m obsessed with being injured again still, it will pass I expect), I figured I could get to the finish and sure enough five minutes after finishing it seemed to sort itself out, so I don’t know what was going on there. However, that aside for 12.5 miles I ran bravely, boldly and truthfully to the best of my abilities.  I couldn’t have run any faster today.  On the one hand I don’t like to admit I couldn’t run any faster today, but on the other, I didn’t feel like a failure today.  I was pleased with what I’d done.

1 hour, 53 minutes, which was the fastest I’ve ran in a year to the day.  It was about 10 minutes faster than my fateful effort in Conwy in November last year and 11 minutes to go to get back to where I was 18 months ago and 13 minutes to get to where I want to be.  I think sub 1.50 is a good target for the next time I decide to suffer again in the name of running.  But this time I’m looking forward to the challenge.  I’m ready to start testing myself again.

 

 

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Wearing my Chicago top turned out to be fitting.  I ran.  I finished. 

 

However, for now the half marathons will have to go on hold temporarily.  Next week its June and I’ve got to get back into the triathlon game, it remains to be seen if it is any less reluctantly than last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Marathon. Fake it until you make it.

 

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Boston is stunning

Flight AEZ236 is coming into land at Boston Logon International Airport.  I’ve been playing spot the marathoner, its actually pretty easy to play along as you have to either, a) look at their feet as they are wearing their trainers (in fear of the airline loosing the baggage), b) watch them eating their airline food (as they assess the calorific content and nutritional health benefits available (here, don’t bother there’s fuck all that’s good for you on a plane)) or c) just turn your ears on, marathoners love talking endlessly about marathons.  You don’t need to ask them if they are running they will tell you in precisely 2 seconds flat…..

 

As we come into land, I watch the world below.  I love doing this, well apart from the constant worry about death by flying, but I push it to onside and look down on the earth below me.  I look at all the cars moving around like ants (or the little cars on the uber app) and imagine all the different people getting on with their lives who have no idea that I’m looking down on them.  I think from up in the air everyone looks exactly the same – a mass of tiny little symmetrical cars and people that cannot be differentiated, and muse that as soon as I get down and in the city how different the reality is and how wonderful all the people are with their uniqueness.

 

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Number collection obligatory picture

 

Or that’s what I thought….. until I landed in Boston.  Then I realised that the weekend of the Boston Marathon everyone was not at all unique in any way whatsoever and acquainted myself to what was the weekend of the Boston Marathon Celebration Jacket.

Here’s the deal.  You run Boston, you buy a jacket to say you run it, and sometimes, hell, you buy one even if you don’t run it (I realised this by mile 17 in Newton when spectators also sported the jacket of celebration of all things expensive), I worked out that however shit I was running, these dudes hadn’t got home and changed since finishing, I mean, they weren’t wearing their medals for a start…..  The jacket, I hasten to add, is $110 dollars (which these days is about the same in pounds) and what it is you ask?  I’ll tell you what, a fucking shell suit top from the 1980’s.  Who in their right mind would buy one of these I asked myself, whilst queuing up for over an hour to pay for mine at the earliest opportunity.

Jacket bought and bags dumped in the house, I set off to explore Boston.  I’ve got the jacket on and I’m in celebratory mood (its a ‘celebration’ jacket did I mention?) – I’m excited to see what the city and this marathon have in store.

 

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Boston Common

 

Boston is another wonderful city.  It’s not so far away from New York, but don’t compare it to New York, that will make the Bostonians mad.  They will go to considerable lengths to explain why they don’t want to be New York and why they are so much better.  In the case of Boston, small is beautiful.  Chicago and New York are comparable on scale, Boston is smaller, and feels well, British in many ways.  It has all the New England red brick houses and the clatterboard housefronts you will have no doubt accustomed yourself with in books and TV programmes and so on.  Its pretty, but also there is a lively city vibe.

I did my research before coming, namely about the weather, its my favourite obsession, and the Boston Marathon weather will elude you almost until the day.  2 weeks before I went it was snowing, but then, the week before I was promised perfect cloudy 15 degrees running conditions and my mind was set to rest.  Au contraire, the day before departing for the states, a change is on the way and along comes the hottest 3 days of the year Boston has had so far.  If you were wondering, it was bloody hot too.

There is so much I could tell you about Boston, but I fear I might be getting a bit dull, so I’m trying to think what the key things are that stood out to me…..

#bostonstrong

 

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Boston Strong Flowers

 

This pretty much encapsulates everything about the marathon post the year of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Truthfully, I can’t say if it has made the spirit of the marathon stronger, as I haven’t been before, but I would assume that if it hasn’t, that is because it was an indomitable spirit in the first place.  What sets Boston apart from any other marathon I have ever been to is this spirit.  In the bigger city marathons, or even the small local marathons, you go to the town or the city and whilst there may be an expo or a clue to the event the next day,  not even at the Great North Run, is a city so dedicated to the marathon the days before.  Boston IS the marathon for this weekend.  Everything is the marathon.  Its a very inclusive feeling, although I wondered how much of this should be attributed to the role of Adidas and the marketing of the celebration jackets.  I considered this point with a little scepticsm, but then decided that since I rather liked my jacket I’d shut the fuck up about it and just get over the jacket thing for once and for all.

The experienced

 

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Final mile

 

The second major difference that dawned on me about half way through my visit was the level of experience that was surrounding me.  This sounds bullshit, I know, but bear with me.  After a while it dawned on me that it was a different level of experience or anticipation about the forthcoming event.  Whilst travelling in on the bus, or queueing at the expo or just sat in the park, the feeling was indeed different, for example I’d not come across really anyone who was running a marathon for the first time, I expect that it is almost impossible to run Boston as your first marathon due to the qualification arrangements surrounding it.  It’s almost classed as a separate distance in itself to other marathons, people talk about the Boston PR (or PB to us Brits) separate to their other marathon PRs, either as a sign of reverence to the event or out of some recognition of the toughness of the course.  Its not like the toughest marathon, for sure there are loads harder, but it is harder than all the other city marathons and world majors I’ve covered to date.  This experience slightly sobered the excitement, it felt like everyone was honoured, proud, I don’t know the words, to be there, but there was a grim reality of the task ahead, more than say NYC or London, where at times if you tried really hard you could almost convince yourself you were at a festival queuing for the loo, not about to flog yourself running a bloody long way.

I didn’t stay in the centre of Boston, simply put, my marathon major budget wouldn’t stretch to it.  I stayed in Revere, which is about 6 miles north of the city. It made evening entertainment a bit light on the ground, but that was offset by the beautiful morning running I was able to do Saturday and Sunday, in addition to the marathon.

 

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Revere Beach

 

I think I’m good at map reading, I’d tell you so if you asked.  The truth is I’m probably OK, but what I am shit at is reading a map and then trying to remember loosely the direction, without getting lost and not remembering the street names.  I got up on Saturday, glanced at google maps and planned a run to the sea front and back which should have been about 5k, but got lost and it was 10k, but nevertheless the beach was so beautiful (and underused), I went back the next day for a second run, albeit a bit shorter as I’d figured out the route by then.  Plus I cut it short when a saw a café selling breakfasts and remembered since I was running 26 miles and some the next day it was a perfect excuse to stuff my face instead of run and walk the last mile home after.

 

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Running in Revere

 

I had a really nice holiday in Boston, and then Sunday evening loomed, and the realisation that the next time I woke up would be to run a marathon.  I wasn’t quite as enamoured as usual with this prospect (and for those of you have read previous entries, this level of being enamoured ranks fairly low on the enamoured scale as it is).  Marathons are not for fun, and I don’t even know why I do them, but I draw the line about getting excited for them.

Marathon Day

Sunday morning arrived and the usual shenanigans fall into full flow.  Today’s involved a slight variation to others, which was, taxi to the city centre to drop the bags off BEFORE getting on the transport to take you to the start. Boston is a point to point marathon for those who don’t know and finishes in the centre, so like New York, you are taken by bus to the start.  I was glad (and this was the only single time I was glad about the heat) that it was warm as I’d not got throw away jumpers as I’d assumed the bag drop would be at the start, in the same way it is in London or New York.  Feeling somewhat like a refugee, I made my way to the bus queue with a free lip balm, a broken phone and a bottle of water.  I’d forgotten, even with 10 marathons or so under my belt, to eat any breakfast but it was too late to be worrying about that now.

 

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Buses to Hopkinton Start

 

The buses were the yellow school buses, they use them to take you to the number pick up in Chicago too and I proper love them.  I settle myself down next to an old boy and continue with my usual routine of simply refusing to accept I have 4 hours running ahead of me.  All around me I listen to the same conversations which go on at any start line, which involve most people getting excuses in as to why the are not going to do the times that they may have hoped, or the injuries they have or how many thousand marathons they have ran in the last year.  I think it is how people deal with their nerves but I (unusually) keep quiet and I enjoy to listen to various rationales being offered up all around me for one thing or another.  The old boy turns to me and says in his American drawl ‘hey, lady, I bought this watch yesterday, I’ve never used one before, do you know how to start it’……… my heart leaps, I’ve found the one person more ill equipped and less deserving to be here than myself.  I’ve not been running so well for a long time and to be honest have felt like a bit of a fraud (yes! even in my celebration jacket), but now I’ve found my partner in crime, someone as shit as me.  Laughing, I look at the watch and since its just a newer version of my watch we figure it out, and I patronisingly remind him to press finish at the end.  We get chatting, not really about the race just day to day shit and I decide I love this guy already, in 5 minutes flat I no longer feel like a complete outcast.

Eventually the conversation does turn to the marathon and he tells me he generally does ultra marathons (here I translate in my head, ‘good this means your slow as anything and you just do ultras on account of this’), ‘yeah’ he says ‘I wasn’t sure if I could ever qualify for this marathon, I don’t really run on the road, but I paced a friend and I got the time so here I am’.  I’m wondering what the qualifying time is for old boys whilst sipping on my water as he follows this up with ‘yeah, I ran 2hours 26 minutes, so I wasn’t too bad’

I spat my water out all over him at this point.  He then moved on to talking about when he was on holiday with Lance Armstrong and we are about 6 miles away from the start of the race, I’m wondering who the fuck I am sat next to, he turns around to look out the window to point out something (which I wasn’t listening to as I was desperately trying to text all this back home to my running partner in disbelief and simultaneously trying to google if he could hold the world record for a sub 2.30 marathon at his age), but as he turns to look outside I clock the Hardrock 100 t-shirt.  100 miles of running and 32,000 feet of climbing.  Now, I’m no expert on ultra running, least of all in the USA but I know what 32,000 feet of climbing is – fucking hilly.

 

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On the bus with Twler

 

Tyler Curiel.  You can google him if you like, winner of the Hardrock 100 I believe, and a thoroughly all round nice guy and a very well regarded and successful oncologist.  It turned out my partner in crime had very much earned his rights to be there and has made it a long time ago in the running world.  I was left still faking it, but at least I knew how to start my watch.

 
The start comes and goes, the sun shone and shone, it was relentless.  Boston wasn’t a good race for me, I was well outside where I was running 12 months ago, and it was savage.  For those of you who do get a place and look at the course map and think its fine as the first 8 miles are down hill….. Don’t, Just, Don’t.  I swear those hills just keep on rolling.  On another day, a better day it would have been a challenge I would have just loved, but not this day.  Not finishing Chicago turned out to affect me in the most unexpected way, it made it easy to give up.   7 miles in I decided I was going to quit, and it was OK, because actually, not finishing wasn’t the worst feeling ever, it had already happened, there was nothing to be frightened of anymore.  I could just walk off.  Well, until I realised my fucking phone was broken and I was like 19 miles away from the city along with where my $30, my mascara and my celebration jacket were waiting for me.  I was in for a long haul.
It was a long haul indeed, and very hard, and very soul destroying.  But, I met the most inspirational people on route, some who took over 8 hours to finish and I had the honour to speak them and realised the personal challenges they had to overcome just to get there, were things, god willing I will never have to experience in my lifetime and indeed I am very privileged.  It didn’t make me feel any better whatsoever on the day, but I think it got me to the finish…….well that and the fact I would look a right twat not finishing a second marathon major within 6 months.
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Finally I finish

And after getting home, licking my wounds and generally feeling sorry for myself, I realise yet again, I’ve learnt something.  Something perhaps I already knew, as I’ve mentioned it before in a slightly different context, but it crystallised it.  I went to Boston and knew I couldn’t get a personal best, so my aim was to finish and enjoy the day.  I realise (and think I probably did know thiw before) aside from running with friends which falls into a different category altogether, I don’t enjoy running.  I mean by that I can’t go and enjoy the day for what it is, not for 5k, 10k or god forbid 100 miles.  I’m motivated to run to beat times I’ve already set, or maybe be completing a run for a reason within part of some other challenge.  Running for the love of running, is pointless, for me.  Don’t judge me on that, its how I feel.  I need to relearn to love running to improve and push myself, currently I just feel dissatisfied.  I think that after all of last year I am in a position to start doing that again.
As for Boston, if you ever get the chance, do it, it is amazing.  I hated every second of the run, but that was my issue not the marathon.  It will go on the list with Paris as one I’ll hopefully return to one day with a score to settle, but I’m in no rush, I still have the best memories, and the awful ones, well they will change me going forward.  That’s a good thing.
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The start

I finished the marathon and walked (of a fashion) into a bar and there must have been 50 people who cheered me like I’d won the fucking thing, not someone who nearly gave up  7 miles in.  There I got it, Boston is the marathon and the marathon is Boston. Bostonians are so incredibly proud of their race, so appreciative of the runners and that was clear from the moment I stepped off the flight. I get it now, I totally get it. Boston is unique and different, it’s unlike any other race.
I still feel like a bit of a failure regarding this race, like I didn’t deserve to be there, but as one of my dear friends said the other week, we all feel like we aren’t really justified to doing all sorts of shit.  Just tell yourself you are and that’s enough.
Just keep faking it……………Fake it until you make it………
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Hangover

Beautiful Llandudno sunset on an evening run


It’s been a while since I blogged. 

I’ve just published my previous post which for some reason I didn’t publish at the time. I’m not sure why but a month ago I finally started recovering, perhaps I was too scared to say ‘hey, I’m good again!’ And then not be. I went to delete it and write again, but decided against it, it was where I was at the time and it’s worthy of keeping.

This is going to be the last post I write about injury cause it’s dull as fuck mainly. But if anyone has been injured to a chronic level before (I don’t actually know what chronic injury is but I’ve decided it’s just a long time and therefore applies to me), if you think that the injury and recovery is bad enough, wait until you get to the next stage. The hangover…….

One of the highlights of this years marathon training was running with these ladies

The hangover is without doubt easily as bad as the injury. I’ve been almost injury free for about a month now. I have a niggle in my knee and a constant aching, which I guess will fade in time. But the hangover is in the head and it’s not shifting anytime soon.

It’s a hangover of tiredness, loss of self confidence and a load of shit running all rolled into one. 

On Sunday I went out to do my last long run for Boston. Its already a week late. Trainings not been at last years level, but I’m ok with that, I realise there’s no place for ego in injury, you just do what you can. What I didn’t plan for was just when my legs were starting to work, I didn’t expect for my head, for from no where have a full scale monumental breakdown. 

Running to Rhyl


So, a fortnight after battling through 20 miles, with some considerable effort, but still making last years training pace I was kind of hoping things were coming together. Nope. Not a chance. On Sunday I decided at about mile 3 I couldn’t run a marathon, or indeed 20 miles, then 16 and then actually, fuck it I couldn’t even manage a half marathon.  So on a glorious Sunday morning I’m sat on a park bench next to a dilapidated pier in Colwyn Bay crying my eyes out for seemingly a reason I don’t even understand, I crashed out of my run at 10 measily miles. It’s not like my pace had changed, or I’d slowed. I’d just decided I couldn’t do it.

Failure in the Bay


The mind is a pain the arse. In January I clearly remember saying to someone, fighting back tears ‘I just want to be able to run Boston, I worked so hard to qualify for it’ and in January I’d have given my right (or left) arm to be in the situation I’m in now. I was on more painkillers than I could imagine, I couldn’t walk properly after running and running at 9:15 minute miles was a struggle even for 5 miles. Today I’ve ran 20 miles at under 9 min miles, I’m finding miles round the 8:30 min mile mark are (sort of) comfortable again and I’m not in pain anymore just discomfort. So why the meltdown?

The answer to this, I’ll never know fully. But I try and think back to what I wanted and what my aims were this time 3 months ago, these were, to get it of bed without limping, to run without pain, to get to the start line in Boston. I remind myself how far I’ve come, when I could have given up. The hangover, I suspect, is my ego, wanting to be faster, wanting to be as good as I was and wanting to be better. The hangover needs to do one.

I’m lucky, I’m generally blessed with good health, I’m fit, I have wonderful friends and family. On Tuesday I went out and did the chaingang cycling training I started towards the end of last year, with my cycling pals. I can do the entire circuit and hold my own, I couldn’t do that last year in September, and that’s testimony to how hard I’ve worked to maintain my fitness in other areas, namely the cycling. To be able to go out a ride hard for 40 miles at such a pace is a privilege, a privilege to have such a level of fitness that this can be done n everyday training. It’s a equally a gift to go out and run (even when its really shit) or dive into the pool and swim a mile without a struggle. It pays to remember these things.

And so ends the injury blogging. Next week I’m off to Boston. It’s going to be ace, whatever happens. 

New kicks


A new pair of trainers were bought as a reaction to the breakdown, they are an absolute delight and a few unplanned last minute miles are needed, in order to be able to run the marathon in them without worry but then I’m done.

Sometimes it feels shit and things don’t work out as you plan, but it pays to embrace as much as you can. It’s time to do epic shit (again)

Oh, and add to the ever increasing essential spring cycling wear collection…

Boston marathoners, I’ll see you at the start.

Boston, let’s have you.

 Be relentless, and you’ll breakthrough.

The Great Orme will always be my favourite place

I have this on my bio on my Strava, and generally it’s what I live by when it comes to all things running, cycling and swimming.  It’s my belief that generally the skill level you need to be of an average standard for any of these three disciplines is quite low, and providing you just keep plugging away you’ll improve. 

Or get injured. 

Perhaps when you get injured it’s a less useful mantra. I tried to stay relentless and got tired and fed up. Plus, I was still injured.  That was actually quite annoying.

I did my strength work and generally did what I was told. When I went to the physio, or the consultant, sometimes in the same way you knock off a few units of your weekly alcohol, I may have knocked down my weekly mileage but generally I did what was asked. I ran less, did my excersices, attending classes for core strength and even attended a weekly yoga class or two. I mean, to be honest, I was like a model pupil. I even thought about giving up bread and wine for lent next week.

I said thought…

After 9 months you sort of expect to be better. It’s almost like my right, or it was in my head. I felt I’d done my time and I was ready for parole on the injury front. 

Sometimes I’d say I was getting a bit better than the week before and then others I’d just admit I was kidding myself when I caught myself taking a concoction of painkillers in order to be able to run a few miles, not that fast even. 

It’s funny how things work out when you look back. But I was just pissed off.  I was sick of running and my leg hurting, and last Sunday, I got up and thought about running 13 miles and I simply just didn’t. I didn’t cycle instead, or swim, or go on a massive walk. I did nothing.  All day long on a Sunday.

Miserable weather to match the mood

If you think I’m going to say I loved the day and I felt refreshed and so on I didn’t. I was miserable, agitated and my leg still hurt. After chastising myself for some considerable time and drinking 2 mohitos and eating a pizza I promised myself I’d run it on Monday instead.

But I didn’t. I did run, but only 5:4 miles and it’s wasn’t that great. 

Then, Tuesday I went cycling, but it was so windy that the ride was abandoned after 20 miles instead of the usual 30.

Then Wednesday, my long ride was cancelled and I slipped and hurt my wrist and couldn’t swim. I think I made a run but it was so early I was actually still asleep.

Then Thursday there was 94 mph winds, my roof blew off the house, no bike riding was possible, my wrist meant I couldn’t swim and I braved the elements for 4 miles instead of 8.

And so it went on. Each day instead of dong what I’d planned to do, I didn’t do it, or I did a shorterened version.  

7 days on, the level of dissatisfaction I have in myself right now is off the scale. I’m so flipping angry wth myself. I kind of think for all my averageness I keep going and put my time in, and that keeps it worthwhile, I’m relentless. But not this week. That’s probably a big tick in the failure box.

And in all the time getting angry, I didn’t notice until Thursday or Friday, that, I wasn’t as sore when I got up. I wasnt limping in the morning,  I wasn’t thinking solely about my hip. In fact, hang on, I can’t really feel anything too much right now…….

I feel okay right now. Tommorow morning I’m running 18 miles. Not fast, but socially, a group of 5 or 6 of us. The weather looks beyond vile, it’s another named storm, when they have a name you know it’s gonna be shite. But for the first time in as long as I can remember, (well I can’t actually remember when), I’m not worried or bothered about the prospect of running. I’m okay about it. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I’m indifferent which, those who know me, know it’s as good as it gets when it comes to running with me!

So tommorow I run. Then I write some more.

******

Sunday circa 9:30am……

Sunday comes and the weather is grim. 

But there’s a gang of girls and we mean 18 miles of business regardless of what storm Ewan has got in store for us (let’s not for the sake of sanity get started on the storm naming irritation). 

The run was good, even fun in places. A mix of us, all with a different reason to want to run with one another to get through the requisite 18 miles of marathon training, that we all had to do for our 26:2 miles in London, Blackpool or  Boston but none fancied doing alone in such god awful weather. Ranging from the lady who was training for her first marathon, to the lady who was tired from racing, to the ladies who were forcing themselves back into the long run after holidays exotic, to myself and the lady returning from illness, hoping it would all work out ok, out we went and soon enough we assembled ourselves and found our groove. 
It was windy. The weather was awful and we were epic. The headwind was tenacious but the rain held off. But above everything the injury wasn’t present….. or Monday, ……. or today, Wednesday. Today is day 5 of tentative recovery. We’ve been here before, but could this finally be the recovery I’ve been waiting for? Only time will tell. In this case it seems patience isn’t the overrated virtue I’ve always had it down as. 

I’m sitting tight.

In the interim:

Today is Thursday and my leg and hip are still okay. I look at flights to Boston, and the bottom line is, they are expensive. Chicago (not finishing) hit me hard and to be honest, it’s an experience which, whilst on the one hand taught me a lot, isn’t one I want to repeat, (that aspect bieng not finishing). As a result there’s been a level of reluctance to commit to Boston. Initially I committed I’d book if I could run 16 miles, then 18 and I’m still sat here with no flights arranged. The price has increased by at least £200 and there’s no direct options. I know it’s time and an hour later I’ve committed.

I’m off to Boston and come hell or high water I’ll finish this one. 


On a high that evening, I went to a speed session at the tri club that night and gave my watch the shock of its life with some intervals back in the 6s and 7s minutes. Not many, but it’s a start. Got up the next day and the injury is still good. I’m hoping my body has finally realised bieng injured is fucking boring and it can’t last forever. That’s what I hope anyway.

Races and getting back on it:

And with a slow improvement comes a confidence to start entering a few races and events.  Maybe not too much conifidence yet to enter anything on the running front, but the itch to scare myself shitless in the name of endurance calls once more……
I see an advert for Wales in a Day, ok, that’s not strictly true, I logged in my onboard filing cabinet in my head last year, a conversation during a horrific sportive (which involved a 22% gradient climb and I fell off my bike twice….. going uphill), a man telling me about a sportive which involved riding a long way in Wales in one day (it’s called Wales in a Day, it’s organisers aren’t that inventive). Anyway, one evening at some point in early 2017 I recalled this conversation from deep inside the filing cabinet and proceeded to google it. I’ll be honest the website isn’t very detailed, about, well anything regarding the day, I suspect there is a good reason for that, bieng that no one would actually enter should they know too much detail. There’s a basic outline which is: Caernarfon to Chepstow ~ 194 miles ~ 16000 ft of elevation and talk of a 4am start. Now I don’t understand why but this sort of shit appeals to me. So I enter.


I don’t even know where Chepstow is but in my head it’s somewhere half way into Wales. Then I watch the weather and it’s bloody miles away (194 to be exact, but on that matter why not make it 200 and be done with it, I mean, no ones going to complain about another 6 for fucks sake). It’s like past Cardiff. That’s going to be a long day in the saddle. But there’s no refunds, so fuck it, I’m committed. 
And then in for a penny in for a pound, if I’m going to cycle a long way, I might as well swim along way too. So Conniston in September calls in the name of Chillswim, which is an end to end 5:25 mile swim. Sounds pretty cold and pretty dull. It can’t be that much further than 2:4 miles surely, well, double and a bit guess….


But it’s all okay, because currently they are both far enough away to sit in denial for a while longer……..

And anyway, I’ve got a flipping marathon to run in 6 weeks…… IN BOSTON !!!!!!!

Ps: I gave up the bread and wine for lent.

Pps: It’s day 3 and it’s utterly shit.

Ppps: The no wine was sacked off after 5 days

Trail runner.

I don’t get Trail running. I just don’t. But here I am persisting for maybe the third or fourth time in a race situation.  Today it is in the shape of the reasonably hardcore  ‘Trail Marathon Wales, Winter Trail’.   Thankfully, despite it’s title I only have to endure 13:1 miles of shit and mud, (all for a ‘Buff’ I kid you not).

Another attempt on the trails

I don’t recall at what point I decided to enter this godforsaken race (but I know it was at a point where the race was full and had to go to considerable lengths to get a bib), but at some point, I thought it was a good idea.

Anyway, here I am, its 6:45am and I’m sat here pondering what to wear. It’s fair to say sartorially I’m put off by trail running, they just wear RUBBISH clothes. They never match and honestly you’d think they were climbing Mount Everest not running for a couple of miles with all the shit they carry around with them, but in an effort not to be judgemental, (well at least not openly), I’m going to blend in with a more subtle pair of blue football socks today.

But, truthfully, the real reason I’m entered is because in some way I feel I’m missing out. People who gravitate to trail running, seem to act as if they have reached some greater place where they quote things like ‘trail running is in my heart’ or ‘I yearn for the trails’ or something equally as toss, it’s almost like some sort of cult that I’m yet to be invited into.  

Entrance to Coed Y Brenin


Throughout all my stages of running and triathlon I can’t tell you the amount of times people come with the same shit statements…… these being examples, like, ‘if you want to live start running’, or ‘if you want to find yourself run a marathon’ or even ‘you’ll never know yourself truly until you’ve done an ironman’. Well, thus far this has been complete bollocks. All I’ve found out is I’m shit at running, even shitter at cycling and can go for a long way cause I’m either brain dead or I have a very dull life. I definitely haven’t found myself. Not in any way whatsoever.
And therefore, perhaps, eager to do so, this is why I’m destined to run 13:1 miles today. I’m thinking that today is the revelation – the that day everything falls into place and I open my heart to running, more specifically trail running, all thanks to a nice view and a load of big hills.

So, with the greatest of antipication I get my kit together (I have to carry a jacket, hat and gloves, the soft bastards, today is vest weather, but I play to the rules) and set off on my journey to find myself.  

I feel like I’m going to join some badly attired cult who like mud. So expectantly, (whilst regretting the homemade Mohitos I had the evening previously), I do a few Hail Marys and set off on an adventure to see what it feels like to find the real me.

                                      ***

It’s 7:45am and I should be in the car, but I’m changing my socks. I put on the jacket (which I’ve never worn, it’s like a badge of honour running in a vest in all conditions all year round, but rules will be rules, and I’m of a compliant disposition today) and I realise it’s got a pink trim. I’m making a last minute change to my headband and socks to pink, then I’m on my way. I don’t feel I need to repeat the Hail Marys, I can roll them over.

                                      ***

It’s a long drive, I think on paper, or ‘as the crow flies’ it’s only about 30 or 40 miles but it takes flipping hours to get there. We pick up a fellow runner on route and I eat my marmite on toast I brought with me whilst he is getting his stuff in the car. We are in a Welsh village which is 10 degrees colder than my seaside location that I call home and I can’t pronounce it. All in all the start of a real road trip adventure.

Freezing Penmachno

The weather is perfect. Cold, crisp, bright blue skies and a winter sun. I’m impressed,  the cult had prepared it perfectly for my maiden voyage. We clambered out the car and went to get our numbers.

Arrival at Coed Y Brenin

It’s fair to say it started well. We had proper toilets, proper tea and somewhere to hang out before the race indoors in the warmth. I thought I might like it after all, whilst trying not to get too horrified about the number of people who were fashioning a hat out of a Buff around me (why not just wear a fucking hat), and feeling even more disconcerted that mostly they (the hat come scarf) were in opposing colours to their t shirts. I gave a little shiver and searched in my rucksack for some hardass painkillers for the creaky hip which seemed like on first impressions, it might be reasonably compliant today.

Race start

The race started directly outside the visitor centre. An assortment of pretend hatwearing it’s really scarf runners swarmed into the start chute. I vaguely heard the race briefing which referred to hypothermia and 27 mountain rescue personnel on site and I wondered what the fuck I’d let myself in for, however since it was 2 minutes to the start time, I figured was going nowhere now. I felt momentarily off kilter, as I had no laces to retie a hundred times before the race ( the trail shoes are some like elastic type arrangement) and no one to moan about how much I didn’t want to do the run as they all looked genuinely happy to be there. This cult was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.

And off!

The race started and within the first few hundred metres, it set the scene pretty accurately for the rest of the event. That being, it was fucking hilly. I’m a lover of hills but with my (everlasting) injury I’ve been banned from running downhill for some considerable time, which invariably, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that as a result not too much up hill has been happening either. And anyway, half of me thought it would have been irrelevant as these were proper hard ass hills over tree roots, stones and mud. After about 11 minutes I’d knocked a mile off and I was still climbing and I wasn’t impressed. 

The climb continued, I don’t know how long for but it felt endless. The jacket had predictibly been tied around my waist within the first half a mile and was driving me as insane as the never ending hills. 

Hills


‘Drink in the views’ someone said, how the fuck you can do this when your legs are burning and you’re about to go into heart failure I don’t know. 
And, if I thought going up was bad, then three miles or so in, we started to go down. The rough terrain underfoot was harsh and everyone could run so damn fast. Furthermore, I still wasn’t able to drink in the views either, the only view available to me was of loose scree that I was trying to not fall over on.  Not what I’d planned if I’m honest.

Descending

Finally, I reach five miles and I’m totally fucked. This is hard. I’m thirsty too, so I hope that there’s some water coming up soon. The feed station presented itself around 6 miles and it had my favourite gels and I felt quite pleased about this. I considered pinching a few since they are my gel of preference, but felt this wouldn’t have been deemed acceptable by the cult. I rather regretted this decision, but I wasn’t turning back.

It took me a while to get going again after a short stop and it was (as was the theme of the day) more uphill. The race moved away from the more established trails that we’d been on and the stupid annoying stones that came with them, and with the second half, came more running through the forest floor. With this change came a rather enjoyable section up until 10 miles which was the closest I’d say I’d get to mindfulness when running. It is true that the miles did pass very quickly and thoughts were very much in the moment and I enjoyed the intense concentration of just focusing on every step and placing it in the right place. I was pleased with the dexterity I had in my hip as well, a little extra bonus and a little ray of hope that it might be repairing itself in and amongst the set backs I get week by week. Mind you, all of this aside, I still felt horrified that the runner infront of me had blue calf guards, orange shorts and a yellow shirt on. No amount of mindfulness could detract from that atrocity.

Through the forest


After a few miles of tricky descending we crossed a beautiful river and after being tricked by another shitty hill we were at the final feed station And into the last 5k.

Over the bridge

Reaching 11 miles I’m dead. So tired. I was woefully unconditioned for this type of running and wondered what on earth I was thinking of taking on such a hard 13 miles so early in my recovery. 

The final climb

The biggest climb presented itself at around 11:5 miles and I was proper pissed off by this point, but I cheered myself up when I reached 13 miles thinking even I could make another 100 yards. But this cult don’t play by the rules and it was about another half mile, which I was furious about,  then, typically to end the whole sorry affair, when I thought I couldn’t take any more the real last 100 yards were, yes, you’ve guessed up a final bastard hill.

Final stretch to finish

Anyway a good few hours later I finished. Knackered, sore feet and a proud owner of a free mug. Extra bonus. 

Did I enjoy it. I don’t know. Do I ever enjoy running? I enjoyed it equally as I do most races, probably not that much but with increasing fondness as it fades into a memory. No doubt in a month or so it will be another wonderful day!

And, whilst perhaps ‘drinking in the views’ was a step too far, you can’t deny Coed Y Brenin is a beautful, special part of (just) North Wales. I enjoyed the challenge and I’ll return for some more of these hill running atrocities. 

But even with all the pure unrivalled beauty, perfect weather and approx 2000ft of hills with those pretty  mountain streams and romantic bridges ….. I’m still looking for me. 

And as for the cult, well they had me ….. until they pretended a scarf was a hat.

A smile amongst strange scarf hat wearers

‘Another year over, a new one just begun….’

It’s 10.30am on the last day of the year and I’m dragging my sorry arse up a god foresaken hill on a pushbike.

Winter training in North Wales


That’s the pushbike (well technically it’s an upgraded version, but whatever….) which I announced I’d throw in Lake Zurich on the 25th of July more than once during my early cycling training, but I find myself precisely 6 months and a week later cursing it still, and our love-hate relationship continues apace.

Why, I don’t even know, well, I do, but the answer to that is that I now enjoy riding in equal measures to running (which in both cases on a scale compared to eating marmite on toast and drinking red wine ranks quite low), and quite frankly, I don’t know how I feel about that. Depressed possibly ….

Chilly Conwy


I dwell on this in between periods of having close to a cardiac arrest whilst climbing one of my most disliked hills. It’s not even that awful, but in my head it’s like fucking Mount Everest. Plus, I’ve made it into some hill that’s it’s not, like a measure of my improvement, as it’s one of the few climbs (or segments for that matter) I hold a cup on Strava for the fastest climb this year. Obviously it’s not an indication of my progress at all, merely and indication of wind direction, red wine consumption and how I feel on that day, but it’s impossible for me to rationalise this whilst killing myself to get to the top in the hope I might creep up from 6th overall position to 5th. Seemingly an annual achievement is not enough. I need the proper crown. 


In April this year sat on a train on the way home from my fateful London Marathon debacle, I was blissfully unaware of Strava Crowns until someone explained the finer details of the whole system. From then on,  I became a Strava wanker and life hasn’t been the same since. Thanks, you know who you are!

Anyway, predictably, today, I reached the top of the climb and I wasn’t faster than my best time, so nothing has changed, roll on 2017….

Hills!


It’s always a good time to reflect on the year when it draws to a close. And it’s been a year of two halves in many ways. A year which started off with running PB’s across all distances, and then swiftly moved on to the matter of half ironman and full ironman.

And despite the set backs I’ve had the second half of this year, a lingering undiagnosed stress fracture to my hip, which is reluctant to heal, not to mention missed and uncompleted races, half marathons and a world major marathon, it’s really been a great year.  A year, that in many ways is changed me forever as a person.  

Ironman Zurich


I think that it’s this I’ll remember this year for more than any of the race times I achieved. That’s not to say that I’m not proud of my times, of course I am,  especially my half and marathon times, both times which 18 months ago I wouldn’t have believed I would have achieved. There has been some incredible highs with my road races, namely my London marathon and the Brass Monkey Half marathon, and the confidence that came with those runs, (well until mile 18 at London, but it’s long enough ago to forget about the end bit and pretend it was all great). 

But the feelings of strength and self belief this year have come from the failures, or what I considered failures at the time. I’ve written about this before, historically, I’ve always been so afraid of failure, not just in running but in a lot of aspects of my life, but as it happens they turned out ok. I’m a better person for them, I’m happier for them, the weight and pressure to perform and always be better than before, or do something bigger, or faster, or go further or longer, has simply been lifted from my shoulders. The delight of this is, I’m sat here designing my 2017 plans and races doing what I want to do, not what perhaps I feel I have to do, or to prove myself in some way. That, In my humble opinion, is a great place to be.

And So, planning 2017, the highs and lows of 2016 will shape my year going forward.

London Marathon


Firstly, my London marathon finishing time qualified me to run the Boston Marathon, the one of the world marathon majors I never thought I’d find a way to participate in. It won’t be my fastest, that I know, my injury and return from it will make running the first half of the coming year slow and steady if I’m going to recover fully and properly. I’m okay with that, I’m grateful that I can (hopefully) just get there and enjoy it. I’d always wanted to finish all my major marathons under 4 hours and I hope I can still, but if I can’t that’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened. I’ll make the most of the experience and with a bit of luck and good fortune, the day will go in my favour. 

Secondly, after Zurich Ironman, there’s been a definite decision to have another crack at this (yes, that’s right the distance I swore I’d never do minutes after finishing, predictably I’ve changed my mind), and try for a sub 12 hour finish time. It’s a massive ask, but I believe it’s doable. But the injury I’ve sustained in 2016, had made me take the decision that this won’t be in 2017. To train this distance again so soon, without more foundation will mean, possibly failure, possibly injury, probably both…… so this will be my goal for 2018.  

2017 will be concentrating on becoming a better triathlete rather than hammering away at the longer distances. I’ve never actually completed a Olympic distance to date, so that’s my focus this year, and I’ve booked my race in a less exotic location than usual, Cardiff (for gods sake it’s in the same damn country). Maybe there will be a middle distance too, and there will definatley be a few sprint distances.

Sportive – what actually is this?

There probably won’t be a second marathon this year, there probably won’t be loads of races. It’s going to be a year of hard work in the background to get to where I want to be. 

That’s not to say there aren’t any races booked. I’ve got a half marathon which I’ve got my eye on for a PB for the second half of the year and a possible 10k in June. 

In non racing type races, I’ve got a place in the Mad Dog 10k which I’ve been wanting to do for years and never have got around to it and I’ve got a possible 2 half marathons where I’m hoping to run with friends and family to help get them sub 2hours. Plus my first half marathon with my brother. It’s all exciting stuff. 

…..Well apart from the tentative start with trail running races in January, I’m concerned about the mud, and poor satorial choices trail runners make, in equal measures…

Running with Al, sub 2h for 2017


Which takes me finally on to cycling. That’s a tricky one. For some inexplicable reason I want to hate cycling. But I don’t, I love it! I also know I’m at least as good a cyclist as I am runner, I feel I have the potential to be a better cyclist than a runner. I’m just struggling with the change in direction. I think eventually that will come, I’m just going through the transition of wanting to do more riding, but trying to do it not at the expense of my running. And getting a bit tired in the process. I’ll work this out on the next year, it’s good to have new focus sometimes.

Riding


It’s good to have new goals and 2017 definitely looks like it has plenty.

Happy New Year everyone. Make it great!

2016 in Short

PB at 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon

Trying to follow a training plan, First Half ironman, First Full ironman, another tattoo, an injury, lots of tears, lots of instagrams, too many trainers, far too much money spent on bikes and travel, first DNF, first DNS, sporfifs, falling off my bike going uphill, twice, open water swimming races, having meltdowns, laughing, throwing out my TT bars, climbing hills, climbing more hills, swearing and swearing some more. 

Saying it’s cold, I’m cold, it’s hot, I’m hot, I’m tired, I hate running, I’m rubbish at running, I hate cycling, I’m rubbish at cycling, I hate wind, I hate swimming, swimming is shit, I hate triathlon, not long now, nearly home, thank fuck that’s over.

Running – 1,417 miles

Cycling – 4,509 miles

Swimming –  98.12 miles

Best Nine 2016


In no order some are of my favourite pictures of the year above
 1) The best run of the year with Alex. 2) The London marathon.  3) My first 100 miler on the bike. 4) 2nd place in the Brutal Swim 2:5k. 5) The Cambrian Sportif, the hills never ended and I fell off going up hill, twice.  6) Manchester half with Gemma. 7) My Half Ironman 8) Themarathon  that never was at Loch Ness with Carla and @Lesley and of course, 9) My Ironman at Zurich.

Bye bye 2016, it’s been a pleasure.