Portishead Sprint Tri. A guide for first timers, by a first timer

I am a triathlete! No, really I am, I completed Portishead Sprint Triathlon this morning and am still all in one piece (and still wearing my medal, truth be told).  After training for my first Tri earlier this year but then having to miss it through illness I knew this was an itch that was going to have to be scratched. I needed to justify having the bike and 18 months of swimming lessons apart from anything else.

Rather than take you through a blow by blow account of the day I’ll give you some lessons as learnt by a first time triathlete.

Faff Time

Triathlon needs serious amounts of stuff. As I was getting everything together the night before I commented that it was like packing for a fortnight away.

Stuff!
Stuff!

Once you arrive at the race venue, all this stuff has to be sorted out and put in your transition area. Not just put, but laid out in the precise order you’ll need it, cycle stuff separate from running stuff, bike correctly racked (i.e. hanging precariously), helmet ready to put on BEFORE YOU EVEN TOUCH YOUR BIKE.

Tidy transition area
Tidy transition area

Then you have to find the toilets. Then you have to escape from your trisuit in order to use the toilet, and then get back into it again. Leave yourself plenty of time to get poolside for your race briefing, and whatever you do, don’t at that point realise you are still wearing your non-waterproof Garmin watch which you were meant to leave with your cycling stuff. If you do, make sure you sprint really fast back UP the hill to transition, and then back down again thus arriving just as your race briefing starts already panting and out of breath.

Race Tattoos

Do not get your tattoo wet until it is on the part of the body it is meant to go on. If you do, you’ll have to join the queue of similarly foolish people waiting to use the special “tattoo pen”. My pre-race prep included having a strange man holding my leg and writing on me, followed by me doing the same to him. How to make friends and influence people.

This is cool
This is cool
This is not
This is not

Swim – 400m

This is seriously confusing. Each person has to start at EXACTLY the right time, which in my case was 8:44:10 am.  The swim was in Portishead Lido, which is a lovely 1960’s 33m pool with 5 lanes. Each swim start had about 6 – 7 people in each lane, all with a different coloured hat* so they could start in the right order, 10 seconds apart.

Do we look like we know what we're doing?
Do we look like we know what we’re doing? The lane marshal is even having to point to the water to show where we should be “IN the water. Start IN the water!”

* I was special, I was “No Hat”. They ran out of colours.

Do not get emotional whilst swimming, even if you often get emotional in races. It is impossible to blub and swim and breathe simultaneously. It is okay if you immediately catch up with the swimmer in front of you, who is doing slow breast stroke, meaning you also have to do slow breast stroke so you can give yourself a quick talking to.

It is perfectly acceptable to feel surprised that you are enjoying the swim and even passing people. Just remember to tell your swimming teacher next time you see her.​​​

​​​Transition T1

If you have laid your transition area out in an orderly fashion, and practised changing from one sport to another, then transition is a breeze and will save you minutes of time. However if you are too full of adrenaline you will end up standing in bare wet feet in the middle of a field, struggling to pull on your brand new cycling jersey with very tight arm elastic over wet arms whilst simultaneously putting on your helmet because you MUST have it on your head before you even think of touching your bike. 4 minutes and 11 seconds is a long time to faff about in transition, but as long as you finally leave with the correct stuff then its fine.

Bike  Section – 25K

Getting on a bike straight from swimming is not as soggy and awful as it sounds. I was convinced this was going to be a dreadful, cold and squelchy experience, but it wasn’t. A tri suit is designed to dry quickly, and even my Aldi bargain did this magnificently.

If it’s a hilly course, then practice cycling up hills. This course had 3 long hills that I only got up because I was too stubborn to stop. My legs are saying “We told you so!” each time I try to go upstairs tonight. Enjoy the downhills, smile at the photographer but if you must cry “woo hoo!” make sure no other cyclists are too close by.

Transition T2

Your legs will feel like lead as you start running after cycling, and the conventional wisdom is to “spin” your legs before you get off the bike to minimise this. Conventional wisdom doesn’t say what to do what the final 50m of the bike course is up a short, steep hill that you have to struggle up.

This changeover should be quicker – just shoes and moving your number (on your tri-belt) from back to front. I wish I’d taken my cycling jersey off, but I was trying to be quick, and I feel self-conscious in my tight fitting trisuit. There was such a huge variety of ages, shapes and sizes I really shouldn’t have worried.

As soon as you’re ready, locate the “Run” exit and plod your heavy legs towards it. Feel encouraged that the other athletes around you are staggering as well.

The Run – 5K

As a novice triathaloner, you will of course have researched the run course as well as the bike route. You won’t have chosen a run with a big hill in it, nor an Off Road section whose uneven surface is really hard work on tired legs. Scoffing 3 Shotbloks as you set off for energy is a good idea but be prepared to have a totally gummed together mouth afterwards (and face if I’m honest). Fortunately there was a drinks station at 1K which we passed again at 4K, although they didn’t have gin & tonic. I even offered to make it easier for them and just have gin, but no luck. Maybe next year.

Legs of lead
Legs of lead

As you head back to the race HQ, smile at the photographer, swear at the steps and hill up to the finish line, then sob quietly at the top as you see you have to run past the finish line further up the hill and around a tree before finally heading towards the finish line. Don’t forget your sprint finish!

This IS my sprint finish
This IS my sprint finish

Smile as you cross the finish line, and try not to buckle under the weight of the medal they distract you with as they remove your timing tab.

Ooh a shiny thing
Ooh a shiny thing

Post Race

Make sure you retire to the nearest cafe for post race nourishment. Medal wearing is compulsory. Remember to thank your faithful significant other who drove you to the tri, helped with your stuff, and has waited patiently to take photos of you as you head back to transition and the finish. Try not to feel emotional in the cafe as you realise you DID IT!!! – there is cake waiting to be eaten, dammit!

Cafe attire
Cafe attire

Notes for the future, my actual timings were:- swim 12:54, T1 4:11, Bike 1:20:34, T2 1:58.8, Run 29:57. Total time 2:09:36 🙂

Oh deer, deer, deer! A tale of 3 races

Three races in recent weeks – it’s all or nothing here! Back at the end of June I wrote about the Great Chalfield 10K, a race I’ll stagger round even if I can’t race it because it’s just such a great event. It was definitely a staggering run this year, and as I wrote in my race report a huge highlight for me was spotting a deer watching us climb the last hill.

I love seeing deer, and I’ve spotted more when running than at any other time. I’m always amazed that a wild animal of such a size can live along side us, relatively invisibly.  I always think if you see a deer, it means it’s a GOOD day.

On 2nd August I ran the Stripped Back Bustard 5 (miles), and wrote about it here. On the longand soggy drive home, in a car that now resembled a sauna on wheels, I thought I saw a deer-shaped thing at the side of the road going down Bowden Hill. It wasn’t moving, so I wondered if it was a model. I slowed right down, eventually stopped, and a fallow deer leapt out and trotted across the road right in front of me. Magical. Another good day!

Last week, I had another race, the last in this season’s Heddington 5K series. I was idly thinking of trotting around at about 9:30 minute mile pace which would get me in under 30 minutes, when I bumped into Nikki. I ran June’s Heddington 5K with Nikki when we were very disciplined and ran at a steady 10 minute mile pace together. (Read about it here). It turned out that she was thinking of running at about 9:30 pace because she was desperate to finally go sub-30 for a 5K. Again we agreed to run together, and started near the back. The first mile was fine (it’s mostly downhill!), the next half mile to the halfway point was still okay, we were passing a few runners and just keeping going.

Still smiling!
Still smiling!

At 2 miles though, the chatter stopped and we were working hard to keep to our pace. At about 2 and a half miles I could sense Nikki starting to drop back slightly, so I nagged and verbally pushed her to just keep her legs moving. We made it to 3 miles. As we came to the “200 metres to go” sign we both glanced at our watches, gave an excited squeak, and Nikki pushed off on her finish line sprint (how do people do that??!) I crossed the line in 29:21 and Nikki in 29:17.  She was so happy – and I’m glad its not just me who cries when they set a new PB that they’ve been wanting to hit for a long time. Well done Nikki – superb gritty running!

I left straight after the prize giving as I’d left my son with cooking instructions and wanted to make sure he hadn’t burnt the house down. As I came back down Bowden Hill again, I thought about the deer and wondered if I’d see it again. I looked and looked, but no such luck. As I headed along the road to Corsham though, I could see something moving at the edge of the road. A cyclist with no lights? A runner ill-advisedly wearing brown at dusk? No, of course on a special day like today it had to be another deer. As I slowed down it cautiously crossed the road in front of me and disappeared through the hedge. I *knew* it had been a good day!

What a Week!

It’s been a week of superhuman effort on one hand, and a very human effort on the other. My husband spent 4 and a half days cycling 1,400 kilometres from London up to Edinburgh and then back again. Wow. With 1,499 other cyclists. Incredible.

I did running, a bit of swimming, and a lot of driving. Not so impressive.
On Saturday we had both volunteered to help at registration for LEL (as it’s known).

Ready to register!
Ready to register!

This was an amazing experience, meeting riders from 53 countries who were due to set off on this amazing event the next day. We saw excitement and nerves, extreme preparation and last minute holdups (a strike in Calais and gridlocked M25 must have been nerve jangling for those stuck). I worried about the Indian  riders who were already feeling cold on what was quite a nice day, loved the noisy camaraderie of the Spanish riders, and was amazed by the man from Leeds who ridden down for the start.

On Sunday I waved my husband off, with prayers that he would be safe. I drove back home to Wiltshire and ran (and walked) a very slow 4 miles on Monday. I went swimming with my Mum on Wednesday morning and apart from the splashy kids I was the youngest by quite a few years. (Apart from the kids I was also the only one that got my face and hair wet!). I then raced 5 miles on Wednesday evening in a race I’d forgotten I’d entered. This was the Stripped Back Bustard 5, a great little race on a night with horizontal rain.

Stripped Back Bustard 5
Final corner

Despite just aiming to finish, I hung onto Dawn’s shirt tails the whole way round and was delighted to finish in under 50 minutes in 49:44. I was also delighted with my cup of tea and two hobnobs. (I’m very easily pleased).

Clutching tea and hobnobs
Spot me still clutching my tea and hobnobs

On Friday I drove up and back from London to bring an exhausted husband and his bike back home. M25 on a Friday. Twice. Lovely!

You might have guessed by now which of us was the superhuman! I’m only human, so can I have a rest now? Oh hang on, I’ve promised to take my son to parkrun so he can raise funds for his NCS charity of choice, Pets as Therapy. I’ll just leave his fund raising link here… Rest after parkrun then please?

Great Chalfield 10K. Sometimes it’s enough to finish

I love the Great Chalfield 10K. Beautiful course with enough undulations to be challenging but not so many that you can’t appreciate your surroundings. Low key organisation, but with accurate timing. Race HQ is the small scout hut on the Common in Broughton Gifford and profits from the race go to the Scouts. Always a medal, weather that varies from torrential rain through to scorching sun. Perfect!

Sometimes a race is run for a PB. Sometimes as a new challenge. Sometimes it feels like you’re taking several steps backward, and just hoping the forward steps will come in time. Last night was one of those, and bearing in mind my lack of recent running I was thinking of this 10K less as a race and more as a little trot with a number pinned to my front.

This year we had rain, and an altered start and finish (we did the ‘running around the common’ at the end rather than the start, but it worked fine and was less onerous than the usual “round a field to make up the distance”). Course was all on quiet roads apart from the tiny bit of field at the end (at least they’d cut the grass this year). Water station marshals promised us cider next year, there was no sign of Poldark at Great Chalfield Manor (it’s used as Killewarren, home of the Penvenens in the BBC drama), but I did spot a deer watching us runners climbing the last incline with a very puzzled expression on its face (“Why??!”)

I had promised myself a little walk up this hill, but actually because I’d been sensible and taken it easy from the start I felt okay and carried on running. I had an interesting chat with a man who’d dragged his son along for his first run. The son was swearing away at his Dad, but made it to the end just behind me. Kudos to him!

I was delighted to see (and hear) my fellow Chippenham Harriers who had waited for me urging me over the finish line (probably so they could go home out of the rain!)

Harriers at the finish line
Bless’em for waiting for me #lastharrierhome

I was also delighted with my medal. Apparently you’re supposed to get fed up of “participation” medals after so many years of running, but this one felt like a real achievement and that I’d really earned it.

Medal!
Medal!

Looking back, I see I ran this race in 2012 (hot and muggy); in 2013 (really really wet but an amazing PB); in 2014 (the disappointing one with the stitch) , AND in 2015 (first one in a Harriers shirt, just not MY Harriers shirt). Rather sad I missed last year now!

Orienteering A.K.A “how to get lost running round somewhere you know”

Tonight I thought I’d try orienteering, seeing as there was an event starting at my children’s school. I obviously knew the area, so what could possibly go wrong?

On a very hot evening the day after a 5K race I went to Chippenham, I got a map and a dibber, and a very nice man explained how it all works. I had to get myself from control point to control point, finding my own way, and blip* my dibber at each control. Easy peasy, right? Erm, no.  I got lost, I got hot, I got thirsty, and I managed to make the 4K route into 5.5 miles. I obviously took the scenic route. 

Photo of orienteering map
Apparently this is a map of Chippenham. I think they lied.

It WAS fun, but I hadn’t appreciated that orienteering maps are a little different to OS maps. On studying the map safely back at home, I realise that a couple of the footpaths I was trying to follow were actually contour lines. Sigh!

* blipping isn’t an official technical term, but dibber is. 

I’m back!

After many weeks of coughing and sniffling, and feeling very sorry for myself (and my poor family who had to put up with me) I’m officially back in the room. 

I ran twice last week, only slow and steady 5K each time with walking breaks and coughing breaks and taking photo breaks. 

Photo taken in a wheat field
“Doing a Theresa May” – an example of a photo break

It came as a bit of a shock to discover I had entered a 5K race for last night. Heddington 5K is run as a series of 3 races over the summer months and sells out in a matter of hours each time. This might be because the course is overall downhill, and thus practically every runner I know has run their 5K PB at this race. 

I wandered over last night, and was met by the vast hordes of Chippenham Harriers who also knew about this race’s magical ability to practically guarantee a PB. With lots of chat, and catching up with running buddies I hadn’t seen for weeks, I didn’t have time to feel my usual pre-race nerves because it didn’t feel like a race. 

As we moved to the start line I conciously kept to the back. The race starts with a mad downhill dash which means after half a kilometre you are already regretting your pace. My simple aim last night was not for a PB, but to have a steady run, with no walking / coughing / photo stops. Ideally I was hoping to try and stick to 10 minute miles but I was flexible on pace (I.e. I had no idea what to aim for!). I found myself next to another Harrier (called Nikki) who was doing exactly the same, we fell into step at the start, and ran together the whole way right up to the point where she managed a sprint finish and I managed a finish. 

Heddington 5K
Heddington 5K. Photo by Rachel Beek.
I was very pleased with my 31:04 time, which looks pretty much like spot on 10 minute miles to me, and with the fact I didn’t have to walk! Well done Calne Running Club for such a brilliant race, and especially for the chocolate at the end!

So looks like I’m back in the game again (well, I will be once my face loses this magnificent shade of puce!)

Still here!

I was very tempted to entitle this post “Still Ill” as a Smiths’ reference and truthful statement, but it’s rather downbeat so I didn’t. Last time I wrote, I was preparing for my first ever triathlon with a combination of nerves and excitement. 

5 weeks on, and I’m sorry to say I never made it to my triathlon. I’ve also missed a 10K race, and a 5K race. The reason? I’ve either been ill or working. Or both. Pah. Nothing serious by the way, just a cold that won’t clear up. And the working wasn’t serious, more “extra” work over in Wales, involving dressing up for hours on end and standing, walking, sitting and even dancing all hours of the day and night. Lots of hanging around, but lots of fun as well. Have a sneaky peak here …

Going forward I’m still recovering from this cold and have moved onto invigilating for work. This still involves lots of waiting and walking, but fortunately not so many costumes. Sticking to the movie theme, I’ll get over this cold, I’ll get running again, and … “I’ll be back”!

Peer Pressure 

“Why did you do that?”

“She told me too”

“What if she’d told you to put your hand in the fire, would you have done that as well??!!!!”

So went many tellings off when I was young, normally after having been egged on to do something by my older sister. The only heinous deed I remember subsequently regretting was letting her cut off a chunk of my hair to make a doll with. A voodoo doll, presumably.

So the moral of this story is that peer pressure is a bad thing, we should stick to our principles, and stand up for what we believe in. We should not be swayed by others’ opinions. … Unless, of course, they’re saying things we really want to hear. Things we’ve been saying to ourself in the dark lonely places when no one else can hear. Seizing the day versus missing golden opportunities. The final clincher :-  telling yourself “it’s my big birthday year – what a good excuse to do it now!”

And that, my friends, is how I came to enter a triathlon. Now I’m not totally mad, it’s about the shortest race you can do, with the shortest swim in a swimming pool. 400m, 16 lengths should be doable, and at least I don’t need armbands anymore.

The 20Km bike course wasn’t worrying me on paper, as although it wouldn’t be fast or pretty and I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t fall off, it was just a bike ride and I’d do it in my own time. Then I looked at the route and saw it goes up the beautifully named “Labour-in-Vain hill”.  Oh.

At least the 5K run should be simple. After the off-road routes I’ve run this winter it could include a section of Mount Everest and I think I’d have a go at it.

So that’s it. I’ve entered a triathlon. No biggie. No sweat. I’ve got this. Oh, did I tell you it’s in 2 weeks time?

Photo of my bike
Ah yes. I remember my bike

Confidence

is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as

.

.

.

parkrun *

After my stunning ** race last week, where I had a goal pace which I managed to stick to (below 9:30 minute miles) and even managed a sprint finish, AND felt strong going up the hill, I decided this morning was the day to try and chip away at this year’s parkrun times.

My parkrun PB is 25:52, which sounds a pie*** in the sky target at the moment and actually dates from May 2015, but if I can keep on chipping away at this year’s times who knows how close I’ll get. Current parkrun times have been around the 29 – 30 minute mark, but with my recent race times I thought SURELY I could run faster than that? Yes the course has been muddy, yes I’ve been doing a lot of chatting, but come on Lucy!

In February I finally managed to get a time under 30 minutes again. Two seconds under, but hey it all counts. 3 weeks ago, I hauled myself under 29 minutes. Three seconds under, but again, who’s counting (apart from the timekeepers and my Garmin). Last night I calculated that if I ran under 9 minutes per mile I should be able to scrape in under 28 minutes. Anything’s possible the night before parkrun!

This morning I told my friend Valerie about my plan, and she immediately said she’d run with me as she’d also love to dip under 28 minutes again. With the pride of the VW50-54 age group resting on our shoulders, we sprinted off from the start with the best of them.

Continually glancing at my pace meant I consciously overtook people when I would usually just drop in behind them (it feels like pushing in – I’m much too British to enjoy this).  Valerie stuck with me, and we even picked up her husband on the way round. Ignore all tales that this meant we forced Valerie down the middle of the path and through the splashy puddles. It was unintentional, but she definitely had the muddiest legs at the end.

As we made it to the straight that leads to the finish, Valerie told me that she was done, and to push on without her. I gasped “okay” and proceeded to overtake another couple of runners. Being so British, and disliking people who actually manage a sprint finish (despite last week’s effort), I shouted “sorry!” as I ran past.   One of them said “You look like you’ve got plenty left in the tank. Go for it!” which has to be one of the most pleasing things anyone has ever said to me when I’m running.

I was overtaken just before the line by a small child, who was being accompanied and coached by a lovely young man called Luke****. The encouragement Luke was giving him was marvellous to hear, particularly as Luke is an amazing runner who was going much more slowly than he usually would in order to pace the boy. I was trying to use some of his advice myself, but as they charged past me I felt like applauding them both! This was heart-warming, parkrun at its best, stuff.

I finally crossed the line in 27:45, with Valerie only 7 seconds behind me, as 1st and 2nd in our age group. Yay – go us! Although I was tired at the end, I was in no way completely shattered. As the nice man said, I think I did have something left in my tank after all. Just maybe this running lark just needs some confidence in your own abilities, as well as training, practise, good shoes and fab running partners (not much to ask for, really).

I was wondering what to aim for next, and then I remembered that next week is a “naked” parkrun (??!!!!!) where you have to predict what time you’ll finish in, and then run technologically naked (i.e. no Garmin!) to see who can finish closest to their predicted time. That could be very interesting!

* Apologies to Blur
** hem hem
*** mmmmm pie
**** yes I know that makes me sound SO old

And so the Road Race season begins

Since my last post, I have been a little busy. There was “that” large birthday to celebrate, a new age category to rise up* into, a parkrun that I dragged family and friends along to, many presents, delicious food, and cake. Much cake. So much cake.

After all that  carb loading I’ve staggered around a few runs, and also managed my first road race of the 2017 road racing season. The Highworth 5 was on Sunday 19th March 2017, and before we go any further I should clarify it was a 5 MILE race, not 5 kilometres. The poor chap I spoke to in the first mile was wishing there’d been some clarification – he’d turned up to his first ever road race, after a longest run of 3 miles, thinking he was in a 5K race. It was a simple loop around the roads and lanes, with a sneaky hill at 4 miles. How the organisers had arranged for gale force headwinds for the last 2 miles (including the uphill section) was a puzzle to all of the runners. I have included an informative slide explaining my pace vs. conditions:-

Love a good mug

What was also a puzzle was why a runner thought it was okay to shadow me all through the windy section, thus using me as a windbreak. I could hear her behind me, and as I glanced behind could just see the red of her top. As we entered the playing field for the hated “rounding up to 5 miles” section. I could still hear her behind me, and had a horrible premonition that she was about to sprint past me and finish in front of me. Now I don’t do fast finishes, I am the runner people love to catch on the line, but the bit was firmly between my teeth now. I was seeing red, not just the red of her top,  and thinking of our club’s Tuesday nights Efforts sessions I sprinted for the line. The satisfaction of beating her by a second will last for quite some time. As will my delight in my race momento.

* I’m choosing to think of it as a promotion