Ok. Let’s cut right to the chase: this was a tough day out.
Going back to last year, after Lakesman I decided to take a step back on distance and have another go at 70.3. Now don’t be fooled, dear reader. Just because it’s half the distance, doesn’t mean it’s half as hard.
Race build up was not ideal. Some late nights and busy days at work meant I was in a sleep deficit for the week and feeling a little run down.
I had been catastrophically and uncharacteristically disorganised with plans and, having made the executive decision never to have to get up at 3am for a race again, I’d wanted to stay in Aberfeldy the night before.
“No chance” said google.
So I reached out to Neil and Beth Scholes (of Performance Edge Coaching. They are total couple goals) and, thanks to a last minute cancellation, they managed to snare me the last room in Feldy for Saturday night at their friends B&B.
Fernbank House is stunning. Tina and Jason are so kind and welcoming. They sorted me out with pre race porridge and basically let me make myself (and all my kit) at home. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to stay to relax and explore the surroundings, I can’t recommend them enough.
I had a chilled morning at home on the Saturday. Until I received a text from a friend doing the sprint tri in Kenmore: “do not go near the carpark”
Since the route changed to not actually really involve Aberfeldy at all (apart from a bit on the bike course), race HQ, T2 and the finish are all in fields outside Taymouth Castle Estate. T1 is still over at the Marina. If you know Kenmore, you’ll know parking is scarce, which means it’s a field for race weekend. And what has it been doing since basically May? Raining.
Last year, with a bone dry summer and a few days of rain pre race, the entrance/exit to the carpark was sketchy. This year, before even midday the day before the 70.3, cars needed towing out. How did Durty Events not see this coming??? On Saturday night they put mats down but it didn’t stop the carpark itself becoming a mud bath.
This had me panicking. I left early to head up to register and go to briefing. In the end this worked out well as traffic was fucking awful!
I managed to snag a space on the road outside the church (where there was a wedding full of very confused looking people. I felt for them. Their photos were probably ruined by hundreds of Triathletes posturing outside their church) and head to registration. I bumped into Rosie (hello fellow Twink) who had a stand showing off beautiful laser cut wood as her charity made the medals for the events. While speaking to her, I met Leanne who follows me on strava. We headed to the tent where I found a lost soul called Leslie. She needed her race number. I found it and we started chatting.
When I’m nervous, I tend to find other nervous people and talk to them. It makes me feel better, especially if I can talk to them about the race and put their minds at ease. I also bumped into Michael who I know from school. With so many friendly faces, it was starting to feel far less intimidating being there on my own.
Briefing had its own drama: a woman standing in the packed hallway outside the main hall had a paddy cause there was no room and started hollering at people to squeeze in. This really wasn’t possible and someone eventually told her to pipe down. Instead she went outside and started banging on windows shouting at people to move back. What a rocket.
We all walked down to the swim start after briefing just to have a look and get some air. Swimmers were coming out of the water from the various swim distance events they had on for the weekend. Dryrobes everywhere. It looked slightly choppy, but beautiful. I was excited.
Soon it was time to head back the the B&B, have some more snacks, lay kit out and rest.
I had packed an array of carb heavy food so tucked into that while fettling with kit and race numbers.
I wandered into town and met Dan and his folks at The Black Watch. Paul (Dan’s father) had taken on and smashed the sprint tri so they were celebrating. It was so nice to catch up with my drinking buddy. I broke with tradition and had lemonade instead of a hundred quids worth of cocktails…. just this once.
After getting pumped at pool, I sourced chips and headed back to the B&B where I had a very leisurely bath and crawled into bed.
I woke very early and dozed. I ate porridge. I applied lube and suncream. I dressed and headed out to the car with all my stuff.
I was scared about parking. But by some incredible luck, I got the last space outside the Kenmore hotel. WINNER.
I pumped my tyres, prepped nutrition and bottle and headed down to T1. A calming voice had appeared in my head and I managed to rack quickly but efficiently and head towards T2 to leave my bag and keys. Gladly, I opted for a waterproof bag. It was still raining and there was mud EVERYWHERE.
Once the faffing was done, I headed to the start. By this time, Ironman had found me. He was up supporting for the weekend and had clocked my nervous face. He was on hand to help me zip up my wetsuit and provide some last minute helpful advice. As well as the usual light mockery.
And with that, it was time to start.
We all piled on to the start ramp and I heard my name. I looked up, and there was Laura and Neil!!!! My Runch buddy and her husband!!! WHAT? BUT ITS YOUR DAD’S BIRTHDAY PARTY TODAY!!!!!!!! All week she’d been telling me about it except it was LIES! She’d made a sign and everything. I was so blown away that she’d come to the swim start to see me!!! I hugged her, had a small cry and headed for the water.
Race nerves are weird. I build things up a LOT in my head, but that’s normal, and whenever the klaxon goes, it stops, goes quiet, and I just do the things. I wanted 35 minutes. I knew I’d never beat last years 31. Given the fact that I wasn’t a relay swimmer this year so I had energy to conserve, and also I’ve had a lot of problems with my neck and shoulder again. Goals aside, I waded in.
The water wasn’t particularly cold. I mean, it was cold, but it felt fine. I had a wee panicky moment at the start but just focused on breathing and treading water. I thought I’d secured myself a nice wee bit of space but as I looked round when the klaxon blew, I realised I’d drifted into a crowd. Damn. Immediately I was in a washing machine. Punches and kicks were thrown. I struggled to get into a rhythm and found myself next to a Huub with no ability to a) sight or b) maintain a set course. I fought to get past them and succeeded just before the first buoy.
Given the strength of the wind, I was amazed that there was relatively little surface chop. Surface chop can destroy your swim time. Punching through waves and having to crane your neck to Sight is very energy sapping. The issue here was swell. I’ve never experienced swell like it in a Loch. We were being lifted a few feet and dropped. This did make sighting hard, but at least I could maintain a steady stroke. The second buoy took FOREVER to appear. My watch was showing increasingly quicker splits averaging about 1:44/100m. Not my best. But not bad at all. Once I was round the second buoy, the swell was behind us pushing us back towards somewhere that was not the Crannog. I struggled a lot here. The last buoy was small and I couldn’t lock eyes on it. Eventually I used the flags at the Marina to sight but in conditions like that, more large buoys would have been great.
Around now, another Huub came from nowhere and swam right over and across me. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE WITH ABSOLUTELY NO ABILITY TO SIGHT AT ALL. He narrowly missed taking my goggles with him but I got a nail full of his ankle skin. Serves him right.
I dragged myself from the depths and crossed the timing mat. 35.45. Nailed it.
Jogging up the mats, I managed to successfully escape my wetsuit. My feet were already numb so I didn’t feel all the stones on the tarmac. It was hosing it down, but I was already wet. So I knuckled down and got on with the business of T1:
- Helmet on.
- Jacket on.
- Tube in pocket (I always carry a spare spare)
- Garmin on
- Race belt on
- Dry feet and face (fucking pointless but feels nice)
- Shoes on
T1 : 04.26
I was almost immediately soaked. It. Was. Hammering down.
I had put my bike in a lower gear than needed so I focused on waking my numb legs up and getting into a rhythm. After a few kms I started eating. Veloforte bars are amazing. Pricey, but tasty and packed with everything you need. They’re also really easy to chew and don’t dry your mouth out. At 240kcals per bar, they keep you going for a good while. Really hard to open with wet hands though and I cursed myself for not cutting the packets in preparation.
The new bike route has given this course about 3-400 more metres of elevation. You now start with a loop out via Fortinghall before starting the Schiehallion climb out of Coshieville.
It poured. The roads were flooded in places and like a river everywhere else. I was mercifully warm in my custom Endura suit and Pro Adrenaline Race Cape. I didn’t opt for gloves but I was doing ok. My feet, however, were not ok hun. I couldn’t feel them. At all. I assumed they were there and just kept pedalling away.
After about 20km, you turn left and literally up the Coshieville climb. 7kms worth of grinding away. I knew I’d need to spin this out to have any chance of surviving the bike, so I got into the easiest gears and spun.
The rain eased and stopped enough to allow some sun to poke through the clouds. Ideal timing, extra warm with a sweaty jacket on is just what I needed.
I’d already started getting passed by almost everyone ever. But I just kept my head down and got on with it.
The thing about being a good swimmer, average cyclist and not-a-natural-runner is that you have to get used to being overtaken all damn day. It’s fun to play “nice TT bike, shame you’re such a shit swimmer” for the first 2 hours but then it just gets annoying. One day I’ll be better on the bike and it won’t be so constantly frustrating. ONE DAY. (I’ll never be a runner. So that’s fine I guess)
The descent into Tummel Bridge was wet but sunny and I was very grateful for disc brakes. They allow you to brake later and more efficiently than calliper brakes so I could be slightly more aggressive without being too careless. I actually enjoyed this bit immensely and smiled the whole way. I even passed some other athletes!
By this point it clocked that my bike computer was drunk. From experience, I know that the Coshieville climb is approx 250m. My Edge was showing 52m of elevation gain. LOL. Wake up, mate. Looks like it woke up eventually though…
Next comes the Trinafour climb. A nasty fucker. It’s not particularly steep other than a couple of wee kickers, but it’s a long grind. More spinning, more food, energy drink and water. I was feeling great!
The descent is short and sharp from this hill, straight into a road round a VERY sharp bend. An ambulance was loading a casualty as I passed. Sobering to see but a good reminder to take it easy.
By now the heavens had opened again. I was glad of my jacket. I saw a lot of very cold athletes in sleeveless tri suits with no extra layers. Brave, I thought.
The sweeping descent down into Kinloch Rannoch was fun. But it really was pissing it down and I was getting bored of the sound of rain. The wind here was totally unforgiving. Pedalling downhill is never a good sign.
I’d continued fuelling because the next climb is the ominous Braes of Foss. The steep KOM stage followed by a lengthy grind. I’ve done it 5 times now through training and racing. It never gets any easier.
The rain was utterly relentless. I was suffering but in denial that I was getting colder. “Just work hard on the hills, girl. You got this” I kept saying.
Again, the rain eased at the top and I got to enjoy the sketchy as fuck descent into Coshieville. This was followed by a fast spin to Aberfeldy with a wonderful tail wind. This used to be the home straight, but with the new route, there’s now one final fucker of a climb over to Kenmore from Feldy. I passed a lot of riders here. It’s a tricky climb that just keeps giving and when you’re 80km into your bike leg, that’s a lot to deal with. Happily, it’s downhill into Kenmore. With a slight lump before turning through the castle gates and down the mudbath hill into T2. …
…. which was a fucking JOKE. It was a total mudbath. Not what you need after 89.5km of riding. My feet and legs were numb. I somehow racked my bike and got my socks and shoes changed and cap on, jogging out in 2.38. My quickest ever transition.
Laura sprinted up to the barrier “you’re doing amazing!!! You smashed the bike!!!!” She shouted. Oh yeah!!! I’d wanted sub 4. That’s all. The hills are plentiful and I’m still working on my bike split. I clocked ironman and was immediately jealous of his umbrella. It was going to be a soggy 13.1 miles.
T2 : 2.38
The first few hundred metres were a fucking slip and slide. Down through muddy woods onto a muddy, flooded trail. My socks were no longer dry. Not that I could feel my feet anyway.
As I jogged along the path I heard my name and looked up. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My Runch gang!!! Robyn, Emma and Josefine!!! They’d driven all this way for me and I was soooo emotional about it. I managed to get round the corner before I had a cry. I felt so loved. It was amazing.
This gave me such a boost.
The first few km felt strong and consistent. I was impressed with how good I felt. Brick training had paid dividends and I sunk into a 6:30/km pace. Comfortable and easy. Things started to go a bit downhill after the 6km feed station. I started to get tummy cramps and had to pee in a bush (good sign that I was hydrated, but energy sapping having to stop and start again) and pretty soon the mind games started.
“You’re last. You’re not getting your sub 7 target time. Give up. Stop. It hurts.”
It did hurt, to be fair. My feet had woken up and my baby toe felt like it was being mashed. I stopped and adjusted my sock but it was too late. I’d have to amputate, I was sure.
I started walking the hills. It’s not a “hilly” route but it’s undulating. And to be honest it felt a lot worse than it was. I was eating ok (salt and vinegar oat cakes for the win) and drinking plenty.
By 12k I switched to water only. My tummy was really not happy. The old Code Brown situation was coming. I could feel it. Somehow I kept jogging and walking the hills. My splits were now shameful and I was beginning to want to quit.
The route is out and back. I knew when I got to the campsite it would only be 2km but it felt like another 10. It felt like SUCH a long course. I felt awful. Every time I tried to run, I ached. When I reached the 20km sign, I started to jog again. And then run. I made it into Kenmore to find my Runch gang armed with the most EPIC signs. I was utterly blown away by their support. Standing in the rain and mud for HOURS.
I felt guilty that I’d taken so long. I knew my sister would have been waiting for ages with baby Rosie and Sean. And Beardy would have been waiting and he’d cycled from Pitlochry so would have had the same weather and he’d be cold.
I got to the last 500m and started walking the hill when Tina (my B&B host who was running the relay) appeared behind me about to finish her run leg. “Come on let’s finish together”, she said. And she basically dragged me through the muddy fields, up the slidy hill and round the last few corners. She saved the day for me. Truly. I crossed the line and can’t really remember much for about 5 minutes. I stumbled around trying not to puke and then my sister scooped me up in a cuddle while I cried cause I was sorry I was late. Beardy appeared too and we all had a family hug. Rosie slept through the whole thing but I’ll let her off. She’s only 12 weeks old.
I cannot thank these girls enough. What a gang. I’m so lucky to get to work with this lot.
I even managed to catch swim pal Dougie for a quick evaluation of the race and then find my poor, muddy, soaked bike and kit before heading for the car.
Overall, my initial disappointment at my time has dissipated and I’m so proud I was able to finish in conditions that many had to bail because of.
I’m tougher than I give myself credit for sometimes. I guess it’s easy to gloss over things in retrospect. I tend to focus on the humour of things instead of actually taking stock of what I’ve achieved in such a short time. I’m proud to be a triathlete. And excited for the next adventure. Which will hopefully involve less mud.