BREAKING NEWS/SPOILER ALERT: I entered a bike event, made it to the start AND FINISHED IT.
The first bike event I entered was Etape Caledonia in 2016. It was 2 weeks after my first London Marathon. I ended up DNSing due to an epic bout of tonsillitis. The second event I entered was Dirty Riever…… and we all know how that went. This HAD to work. I HAD to finish this. And I did!
Now, with that out of the way, allow me to furnish you with some details of this brilliant event:
I decided to enter this as part of 2019’s master plan to get the bike split nailed. With 3 route options to choose from (Blue, Red and Black) I opted for the 68mile/109km Red Route which features 2 gnarly local climbs and totals 1000m of elevation over the 109km.
With the disaster that was Dirty Riever, my confidence was knocked. So the weekend after, while Scotland bathed in 20+ degrees and stunning sunshine, I hit the road on Stella and headed straight for Dunning to attempt the second climb of the Sportive.
What I ended up with was a brilliant adventure that left me filled with excitement for the event. I didn’t die on the climb. I DIDN’T DIE!!! ON THE CLIMB!!!
60kms in the sunshine also gifted me the opportunity to trial nutrition for the day. Veloforte is pricey but, in my opinion, worth the cash. The bars are packed with natural ingredients, don’t cloy or stick in your mouth, and taste incredible. My faves so far are the Chocolate one and the Sea Salt one which is LUSH.
With my cycling tan kickstarted, and my confidence renewed, it was time to plan kit and look forward to 109kms on some brilliant roads.
The weather forecast was typically Scottish. All seasons, one day, no particular order, totally random. Kit required some thought, and with the drop in temperature, and my predicted slow-ass attempt, I went for: Endura pro thermo bibs, Pro SL jersey, FS260Pro armwarmers, Pro SL Primaloft gilet, grip-grab overshoes and Pro Adrenaline race cape. I opted for mitts over gloves as my hands heat up WAY too much on long rides. In the end, the kit was perfect. I didn’t need the waterproof until the last climb when the heavens opened.
We set off from home just before 0830 and pedalled up to the high school to Event HQ and the start. What an absolute treat it was to be able to sleep until normal time and then roll outta bed and eat a good breakfast before leaving at a sociable hour. Beardy was also tackling Red (albeit, WAY quicker than me!) and we got ourselves registered and joined the back of the queue for the start. You’re released in groups of around 20 at 2 minute intervals. Once we got to the front of the queue, and the timer set us off, I was pretty much on my own.
Beardy was immediately off in a group of speedy speedsters, so I just enjoyed the fact that the morning sun was warm and I was picking off some people from previous waves.
The route is as follows:
Kinross-Scotlandwell-Kirkness “bump”-Auchmuirbridge-Leslie-Falkland-Newburgh-Bridge of Earn-Forteviot-Dunning-Yetts’o’Muckart-Crook of Devon-Cleish-Kinross
There are two large climbs on the route: Falkland and Dunning. Falkland feels worse as it’s shorter and arguably steeper, although it has less overall elevation gain. The descent into Falkland is marked as dangerous and for good reason: Narrow roads, tight, blind corners and slippery tarmac from 2 days of rain made for some twitchy bum time on the very fast descent. As I hit the last corner I was met almost head-on by an Ambulance. Ideal, to be fair, but he was on his way to rescue a stricken cyclist, so I somehow managed to avoid him and continue my long, terrifying brush with death!
The other climb comes after 60km, which I’ll get to later, and despite being longer and more challenging on paper, it didn’t feel so bad!
After the nail biting descent into Falkland, its off to navigate the Howe of Fife towards Ladybank and through Lindores. Eventually, you end up at Newburgh and it was time for feed station 1:
My nutrition strategy had been to eat from 30mins in and drink energy drink until the first feed stop when I’d top up with water and continue with food. Over time, I’ve learned that sweet energy drink starts to make me feel rank after a couple of hours. With this in mind, I planned to use mine up and then move to water. With a backup electrolyte tab in my bento box in case I started to sweat more.
The plan was going pretty well. I’d got through about 400ml and half a Veloforte bar (150 kcals ish) when I swung into the feed station to find….. no food. Or water. At all.
Now. I’d set off 2 hours previously. It was only 11am. Sure, a few hundred cyclists had passed through but there were still hundreds more to come. The poor marshals were adamant that more supplies would be along “soon” but for the hundred or so cyclists getting cold, this was not a good situation to be in. I’d now have to eke our 350ml of fluids to get me another 40km. I only have one bottle cage on Stella just now after the seatpost jammed in the down tube, so I was relying on this feed stop.
Hopefully they can plan this stop a little better for next year. After 8 years (this year being the 9th) you’d think Kinross CC would know how to correctly stock a feed station.
Anyway. Rant over. Things were about to get hella fun!
I am a bit of a lone wolf during training. Being a triathlete I’m used to non-draft-legal races. So I NEVER get to play at drafting. Also, being chronically glacial, I tend not to get the chance to keep up with anyone.
Well. That changed today.
I was already pleasantly surprised to see 24kph average on my garmin (yes, cyclists. You read that right. I’m THAT slow and that’s quick for me over distance) so I kept assuming I’d blow up and die on a quiet Perthshire lane somewhere.
Imagine my surprise when I caught a group at some lights, and as I looked back I noticed I’d caught a chain gang who were all now using my draft. After 5 minutes or so, the guy behind me took the lead and I kept to his wheel and immediately discovered why there were so many pelotons swishing by earlier! This was MEGA! Pretty soon we were gliding along at 30kph and it felt effortless. I took turns up front and we chatted and discussed the ride so far.
This lasted all the way to Dunning. It was well timed as the hydration panic had begun to set in so, mentally, I was flagging.
At Dunning, I found the second feed station. And oh MY was it good. There was a fantastic selection of baked goods so I tucked into half a yumyum and refilled my bottle, downing about 500ml extra of water just to be safe.
If you’re on the black route, from Dunning you head for Glenfarg via Rossie Ochil and the aptly name section of road called “The Dragon”. As I’d opted for the slightly tamer Red Route, I began the slow and steady ascent of Dunning Common. It’s a grind, this one. So I just spun it out in as low a gear as possible and tried not to look up too much.
The views on this part of the route are superb and you’re soon winding up between beautiful houses on smooth tarmac.
A strange thing was happening, as well: with this being a sportive with a rolling start, it’s unusually to be totally alone with no one else in sight. But now I was catching cyclists. I was passing other riders on a hill. I’m not used to this!
After what felt like hours of spinning in the granny ring, I made it to the end of the timed hill climb and began the much more gradual, pleasant descent in the pissing rain.
I made my way down to Yetts’o’Muckart and the worlds most complex junction then headed for Rumbling Bridge and Crook of Devon. A brief spell on a busy road with the only shit driving of the day (Audi. Obvs) then a wee wander along a lovely lane towards Lendrick Muir. My average speed was sitting back at 23.4 but was climbing. How was I doing this?!
I wasn’t looking forward to the next stretch. The road from Crook to Cleish has really crap surface that’s tarmac but the tar has all but fucked off so you’re left with the stones that shake your teeth loose. I was on my own again but maintaining between 26-30kph. This road feels like it lasts forever, but I made it to Cleish with my teeth intact, to where the surface becomes smoother and I could maintain pace with greater ease.
A wee climb up past the Fruix and over the motorway and onto the last long drag back to Kinross.
Here, I caught Chris again and we worked together with a guy from Kinross CC to draft back to town. From the 30 sign at the bottom of Kinross, I started my strong finish up the new road, negotiated the Sainsbury’s junction and roundabout, hammered it along Springfield road and when the Marshall at the high street gave me the clear to pull out, I gave it the beans and clocked 45kph coming in to the finish.
I cannot BELIEVE how strong I felt until the last minute. I’ve never been able to sustain that amount of output over distance, so it’s safe to say I’m delighted.
My chip time is 4:48 thanks to a pee stop and a yumyum stop. But my garmin read 4:33 moving time and I am so chuffed with that.
If I can now build on this and work towards a huge PB on the bike split at Aberfeldy, I can hopefully combine that with a decent swim and maybe survive the run with a more respectable time this year!
I’d gone into this battered, with low expectations of myself. Initially thinking I’d be happy with 5hrs30, to come away with 4:33 moving time and legs fresh enough to pedal home after, is a huge victory for me.
Of course, the main incentive for finishing today was the temptation of Chinese food for dinner. The qualifying 100km ride was achieved. It was time for Sesame Beef in Honey Chilli sauce…. and a cuppa in my new Sportive mug!
I definitely rate this event if you’re looking to build confidence on the bike and on some steep climbs and descents.
Now it’s time to focus on the A Race this year and build towards Aberfeldy!
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how I felt after Lakesman.
Newly crowned as IronBean, the initial buzz wore off fast and I was left feeling……. disappointed.
DISAPPOINTED?! I hear you ask…..
Yes. I’ve been racking my brains for two months and that is the best word I have in my vocabulary.
In the end, you can only race the race you’re given. I far surpassed my expectations on the swim, but the bike was my biggest downfall that day. Post-race diagnostics revealed that if I’d just kept adjusting the gear cable (which I was trying to do on the move) I would have restored almost full function on the rear mech. I half wish I didn’t discover this. But alas, I still managed to finish within cutoff. And the extra hour on the bike meant I had to cram far more nutrition in than planned, which scuppered my stomach for the run. I truly got my money’s worth. And finished in the dark, in heroes hour.
Dissection aside, I felt fidgety. I immediately wanted to look at other full distance races and go swimming and running and cycling. But I knew my body needed a rest. I gave it a week before trying anything, but, when I eventually tried Sport, it was as though the pool had been filled with molasses and my trainers had been filled with lead.
My body was wrecked.
I have read articles which discuss the toll an iron distance race takes on the body, even on a cellular level. I mean, I was out there, exercising, for 16 hours and 21 minutes. Now I’m no human biologist, but I’d wager that doing ANYTHING for 16 hours and 21 minutes that is not sleeping, is bad news for your organs and your muscles. But because I hadn’t done “very well” (by my own definition… and yes I know how stupid that sounds….) I didn’t think I deserved to feel fucked.
I wanted to exercise. But I just had no desire to once I actually started. It felt awful.
So. I rested, right? I burned all my kit and just chilled the fuck out, yeah?
No. I entered the GSS 10 fucking kilometre swim.
Now I look back, I realise the bit that needed the most rest was my mind. Back when I trained on a hybrid plan, I pushed and pushed and PUSHED myself. Constantly. I’d usually end up broken. It has taken 2 long, hard years to re-learn how to listen to my body and to train holistically and mindfully. With this constant pushing and shoving going on in my head, I had neglected the fact that I am a normal person. With a stressful job.
But anyway. I had a BIG FUCK OFF SWIM to train for.
Finding my Mojo
After a few weeks of dossing about, I knew I had to get back in the gym. I set about focusing on 2 strength sessions a week, plus 4 swims, maybe a jog and definitely a bike if I felt like it.
This approach seemed to work on a self-care level and I soon rediscovered my mojo, putting in some excellent swim times in the pool.
I started to feel like the athlete I deserve to call myself but don’t because carbs.
I also now had something I was really looking forward to. I was actually going to RACE! In Open Water! I had joined some pals and their team for Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon. I was their pet mermaid. And I was EXCITED.
It’s a competitive race, and it is the exact race where I fell in love with Triathlon back in 2014 while spectating. In 2015 I smashed any target I ever could have given myself. So getting to do the swim and then sit on my bum for the rest of the day, cheering on amazing people taking part in my favourite sport?
A THOUSAND YESSES TO THIS.
My swimming had been getting increasingly good, so I set a target of sub 35 minutes for the 1.2 mile swim. Fairly leisurely given my 1:08 split at Lakesman (still smug about that #secondlady) but quick enough considering I was tired after over a year of training.
The day before the middle distance, the weather was NOT kind. Swimmers at the Sprint Tri were DNFing left, right and centre.
I was nervous.
I can handle chop. But this sounded extreme and I was TIRED.
However, by some miracle, Loch Tay was flat-ass calm on the Sunday Morning. The race was ON.
I waded in, letting the icy waters of Loch Tay find my bum crack (always the worst bit) and moved to the front left of the field. With zero ceremony, the relay wave was released and I successfully avoided the stramash of legs and arms. I soon found my rhythm and my watch hit 500m. 7mins14s. Oh. That is VERY quick…. ok. Maybe too quick. Slow it down a bit. Just let the diesel engine you’ve built kick in and tick over, Bean….
2nd 500 – 7mins48s
I wasn’t out of breath. What the shit?
With less than 900m to go I thought “fuck it”. And just went for it. Strong, calm strokes. I had fully overtaken most of the previous Blue Wave and was now nestled firmly amongst the stronger swimmers in the leading pink wave. I hit the exit ramp at 31mins51s. I was absolutely BUZZING. A few hesitant seconds were spent in a confused state trying to locate my wetsuit zip but I was soon launching myself up the carpet to find Joe, our cyclist. Wetsuit stripped (apparently only flashed half a boob) and chip handed over, Joe was off in the pissing rain. And I was stood shivering in said pissing rain. In my swimming cossie. Dignity on the floor along with my limp wetsuit.
Ella and I eventually found each other and I slipped into the warmth of a DryRobe. I’d also managed to locate my flipflops to rescue my feet from the gravel before cheering the our rival teams swimmer out of the water, and their cyclist on his way.
Joe smashed out a 2hr41 bike split in atrocious conditions, 2 weeks before he heads to SA for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. And then Ella provided the icing to the cake with a brilliant 2 hour half marathon (literally less than a month after a 100km ultra, FYI). Our transition times were unbelievable (under 2 mins for T1 and 35s for T2!!) and our total time was 5hrs16min. 4th mixed relay overall. Amazing.
I felt buoyed (swim joke LOLZ) by the success of our team and, with a week to go until GSS, started to look forward to my long swim.
A bloody long way
10km. 10,000m. Shit.
Such a good idea at the time. At 4am on Saturday August 25th, it was 100% NOT a good idea.
Having arrived in Balloch too early as usual, a van pulled in in front of me, and my nerves evaporated immediately: The Lakesman Watersafety Team had arrived. I shit you not. And they’d parked in front of me.
If I have ever needed a reminder that I’m a badass, it was at that moment. And the Iron Gods delivered.
I forced down breakfast and took a wander to the start. The initial breeze soon died down and the loch looked inviting.
Initial temperature readings had read 17 degrees C at the start of the week. But I know my Great Swims, now. And I knew that would be complete and utter bollocks.
On my wandering, I stumbled upon an Ironman who was swimming the 5k (with like no training…) and we got caught up and speculated about water temp. It had spent a few days hammering down with rain, so it was obviously going to be lower than 17.
“15.6” so wetsuits were optional.
The .6 was totally ambitious. But people still went for it in skins…. nails.
Acclimatisation proved my point. It was cold. Very cold. And I was about to be submerged for 3 hours. Ok, good.
My new Speedo wetsuit felt really good but I was nervous now. The neoprene is thinner across the chest and shoulders for better flexibility, and I was worried that I hadn’t worn an extra layer underneath like last year.
With very little time to worry, we set off.
The Big Yellow Bastard
I always forget how vast the course is at GSS. It’s a mile lap but I’d be swimming it SIX times. To break it up and help me keep count (it never measures accurately and after 2 hours in cold water, YOU try doing distance maths…) I’d stop every 2nd lap for a gel.
To help pass the time, I named the buoys. First there was Pointy Bastard. The Giant Green Prick, then Big Yellow Bastard, then Smaller Orange Pleb, then Pink “Halfway” Bastard, then another Green Prick, then Yellow Fucker, then Turny Green Twat then it was back to the start again.
Big Yellow Bastard was so fucking far away from the start buoy that I wanted to cry every time I started a new lap.
Because I’d done this before, I was in complete denial about how hard it is. Fucking hell it’s SO hard.
I was keeping pace extremely steady, but consistent. I felt ok until about 4km when my left shoulder finally decided that I’ve done far too much swimming this year and gave up. I felt the pop and then the burning sensation spread through my deltoid. With the cold getting deeper into my soft tissues, my hands now felt like a cross between seal flippers and claws.
I could have called it, rolled over and thrown my limp, claw hand up and hailed a water taxi back to shore, but I’d rather have my bloated corpse dredged from the murky depths of a loch. So I pushed on.
“THIS IS THE LAST RACE OF YOUR SEASON, BEAN. YOU DON’T NEED YOUR SHOULDERS ANYMORE. FUCK IT”
So I blocked out the (now agonising) pain and swam faster…. Go figure!
Before long (lie. it took fucking ages) I was playing “next time last time” and was accutely aware of the chafing on my neck, the pins and needles in my left flipper, the fact that my hands were now totally numb and that if I even THOUGHT about kicking, my hamstrings would immediately spasm and I would die right there. In the NOT 15.6 degree waters of Loch Lomond.
There was also now a significant chop to the water at the far end of the course. What I had initially believed was safety boat wake, were actual waves and I was having to fight cramp, a burst shoulder, the urge to cry AND a current. Oh joy.
Happily, the wind direction meant that as I turned into the final straight for the last fucking time I had a wee push to the end. And boy did I use it.
I am extremely proud of my training this year. Especially with swimming. I have really, truly focused my efforts on a solid swim fitness level. I don’t pansy about in the pool with IMs and breastroke warmups. I set targets, hone my technique on front crawl and spent 4-5 hours per week minimum tweaking my diesel engine to make it powerful. With all of this behind me, after 9000m I had enough left in the tank for a strong final 6-800m.
Looking at my watch, I was frustratingly close to last years 2hrs53 (which I had achieved after a solid summer of training sans ironman) and for my sanity I HAD to beat that time.
Happily, on a course measuring 2-300m longer than last year, I was a whole 4 minutes faster. Finishing in 2hrs49mins. 10th lady overall and I’d broken the 2hrs50min barrier.
After initial frustration that I hadn’t gone EVEN FASTER, I realised the magnitude of what I’ve done this year.
Consistency. So. Much. Consistency.
A 140.6 mile race. A sub 32min HIM swim. And now a sub 2:50 10,000m swim.
I have long maintained that the only way to get faster at swimming is to swim. I’ve often been laughed down by so-called “experts” who attempt to teach people about a sport they have never mastered themselves. But my consistency speaks for itself:
The above graphs make me super proud of my arms: 2015 training for HIM = 95809m. 2016 spent rehabbing injuries borne from INconsistency = 63561m.
2017. Where it clicked. and I started to FOCUS on consistency = 211,762m. And then 2018. Where, to date, I’ve swum over 247000m and constantly proved myself (and the haterz) wrong.
I love my sport.
Now that I know the key, I fully intend to apply this to cycling and running. I WILL go back to iron distance. The jury is out on another 10km swim though…….
Warning: this blog contains my standard swears and chat about poop and sharting. It is also 8 years long. So as to do justice to 16hrs21mins of race time. Continue reading at your peril…
The build up
I’m pretty sure that the week before your first iron distance should be spent resting and tapering to prepare for the big day upon a bed of soft things, wrapped in cotton wool, in a safe and hermetically sealed environment.
It probably shouldn’t be spent nervously refreshing tracking info on the emergency Garmin you’ve had to order from Wiggle because your extremely expensive, flashy, all bells and whistles Fenix 5s has DIED.
OH YEAH, GUYS.
DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.
I’d gone for a taper swim on Tuesday and noticed that the watch wasn’t syncing or recording HR. It stubbornly refused to restart but once it did it seemed ok. UNTIL IT TURNED OFF.
Then it would only power up under charge. 100% not impressed. 4 days before Lakesman. NOT IDEAL.
I hit return on wiggle and promptly ordered a 735xt which, ironically, had been my second choice to the Fenix.
It turned up in the nick of time and I’m happy to report that so far it works apart from a brief glitch the evening before the race. (Don’t even go there)
What I probably also could have done without, was a vague text message from Beardy requesting immediate assistance after a MTB-off in Whinlatter forest had bent his handlebars and scraped his knee. THIS WAS NOT A TIME FOR VAGUENESS. The panic was a little much for my heart rate but the run across Keswick carrying all my registration kit was a nice warm up for the main event… (Beardy is fine. If a little bruised and scraped. The bike is also fine)
The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X
We had rented a cottage with our good friends for the weekend. Katherine and I worked together at the shop, and her lovely hubby was tackling the absolutely monstrous Tri X the same weekend. It made perfect sense to base ourselves in Ambleside. Mostly because Greig’s swim start was 4.30am. Yup. You read that right…
They were up and out in the middle of the night, so we had a lazy morning before I headed to Keswick to rack and attend the briefing.
Tracking Greig was virtually impossible thanks to very shoddy signal for the timing guys on the fells. The weather was bad even for the Lake District, with driving rain and unforgiving wind.
Climbing ANY hill in that weather would have been horrific. But Kirkstone, Aira Force, Honiston, Whinlatter, Hardknot, Wrynose, Coniston in that weather? Then a run up Scarfell Pike and back?
Fuck that noise.
But Greig has been chasing this for two years. And having had his training derailed by a horrid injury in 2017, he managed to smash Triathlon X in 14:51.23 placing 13th Overall. Absolutely astonishing and watching him try to walk up and down the stairs in our cottage afterwards was both hilarious and a worrying indicator of how I’d be spending the next few days…
My alarm was set for 0305. Boke. I woke up at 0248 and couldn’t lie in bed for another minute. I got up and made porridge and toast. Dry heaving as I forced myself to eat the only actual meal I’d have that day.
Beardy surprised me at his level of enthusiasm so early in the morning. He was up and dressed and ready to go ahead of schedule. We navigated our way to the car and set off for Keswick.
I was struggling to keep myself from throwing up. I sipped water carefully and only had to stop the car once for an emergency pee (no mean feat in a tri suit)
I was met at T1 by Eilidh, one of my colleagues from Endura, who had travelled down to document my day (amazing) as I debuted my custom tri suit. My mum and dad soon appeared and I had my first cry of the day!
I found Brian and Kate off of facebook/twitter and we shared laughs and hugs. And then it was time to walk down to the swim. Shit. I was actually going to have to do this.
An excited buzz surrounded the crowd of neoprene clad athletes as we filed down to the edge of Derwentwater. The view was breathtaking. I felt ready, scared, excited and not as overwhelmed as I expected.
I had prepared for this moment. I wasn’t emotional as I had expected to be. But extremely calm. It was time to do three things.
I waded in to the warm, slightly choppy water of the lake into a deep swathe of weeds. Like…. hip deep. Gross. Splashed my face and dipped in to get myself ready to go. On the advice of my swimming buddies, I positioned myself toward the front and out wide to the left. We treaded water for about 4 minutes and then the horn was blown. I got my head down and got stuck in. The water temp was perfect and it was so clear! They had laid out 25 buoys for us which was very generous. I had a bit of a Dougal: Small/Far Away situation because the buoys looked like they were small and close. But actually they were very very large indeed. Just far away. Really fecking far away.
I swam straight for about 10 minutes before edging over towards the buoy. (140.6 miles is quite far enough without adding distance, thanks.) I managed to hug the buoys without drama for the full course. Up towards the island, the wind was whipping up some small waves, not big enough to cause problems but big enough to give me a nice lungful of water as I lifted my head to sight. Across the island, there was shelter and then all the way back there was a nice tail wind to give me a push. My splits flashing up every 500m looked good but I really felt like I was struggling to keep a solid pace. I tried not to get too worried and just keep swimming. Eventually I realised that the finish was only about 500m away. I started upping the pace and was promptly kicked in the face by a swimmer who just appeared in front of me. Punch-drunk, I pulled myself onto the exit matt, put my right foot down and felt cramp take hold of my calf.
I was trying to remove goggles, cap and earplugs and run and take off my wetsuit and listen to instructions and felt extremely overwhelmed. Stopped and saved the activity on my 735XT (didn’t even look at the time cause it felt terrible) and then someone shouted “YOU’RE THIRD LADY!”
Wait. WHAT? I wanted to stop and check but I needed to RUUUUUN the 8 miles to T1. Then someone else shouted “YOU’RE SECOND” and then Beardy confirmed this as I ran passed.
WHAAAAT? Shit. That’s serious stuff. I wondered how close I got to my goal time of 1:10.
My friend’s words of advice rung in my ears as I trotted into transition stuck firmly in my suit. “Don’t waste any time.”
I didn’t. An amazing volunteer effortlessly removed my wetsuit while I shoved my helmet on, dried my face and feet, applied chamois cream, threw bike shorts on over my tri suit, and put my gloves on. The same volunteer then helped me put my socks and shoes on my claw-feet. She was my hero. I thanked her and trotted out to T1. I was the first biker into my section!!!!!
I wobbled to the mount line and the girls clapped shouting ” YOU ARE FIRST LADY ”
Oh. My. God.
That is the first and last time that will ever happen in a race. I breezed out of T1 and onto the bike.
Transition 1: 6 mins.
I was pretty much immediately NOT first lady. Or second or even third. But I’ve always been an barely-above-average cyclist and a decent swimmer. The plan was always to just get through the bike. It was the bit that frightened me the most. The possibilities of what could go wrong are pretty limitless. I felt intimidated and not at all confident.
My concerns about retaining my initial crown were almost instantly replaced when I tried to change gear.
Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.
What. The. Fuck.
I’d taken my bike apart to bring it to the race and when I’d put the back wheel back on, I’d run it through the gears but hadn’t made time to ride it and run through the gears under load. It was immediately obvious that the cable tension was off. I adjusted it on the move but no improvement.
This was going to be an issue.
Not to worry. Just find a gear that’s comfortable and quiet and preserve that fucking chain! JUST GET THROUGH THE BIKE.
The roads out to Cockermouth (fnar) were smooth and gently undulating. I was passed by almost everyone. (That’s how it felt) I shouted encouragement at everyone who passed. Unless they were drafting (there was a fair bit of that!)
From Cockermouth we made our way down windy, winding roads to Egremont where we had a short out and back before turning up the coast with the wind behind us. My pace shot from 23kph average to 31 and I was making good time. By Workington and Maryport I was bang on track for a 7hr bike split. I was living my best life. Feeling good, nailing nutrition and in a gear that felt workable and safe for the bike.
There were some long drags up dual carriageways which were arduous and pretty scary, with the apalling driving of some motorists. I was bursting for a pee and had tried several times to pee while cycling but for some reason my brain won’t communicate with my bladder and I cannot do it! I stopped at an aid station, picked up a banana and a fresh bottle of PowerBar isoactive. I didn’t waste any time and quickly made it back onto the road. Still on target. Still ok. Just get through the bike.
I wish I’d made the most of the tail wind. Because life was about to get tough.
At Silloth, an odd wee town on the coast that I could see Scotland from across the Solway Firth (“ha!” I thought, “I’ve basically cycled home”) you turn back and head in a loop to Aspatria before heading back to Silloth. The headwind was constant and unforgiving. With nasty gusts from in front and the side. The terrain had evolved from flat coastal roads to lumpy countryside with some sharp wee kickers. Of course, I couldn’t spin my legs in the granny ring up these because Stella wouldn’t let me select that gear. Instead I had to stomp the pedals. This approach is faster over a shorter distance, in theory, but it saps the legs. I was soon having to take on more fuel to avoid bonking. This would cause problems later…
Around about now I heard the words “ALRIGHT MY LITTLE PASTYYYYYYYY” from behind. KATE!!!! Man was I pleased to see her. She breezed past looking strong as hell. “I HAD AN ABSOLUTE SHITTER OF A SWIM, MATE” she shouted as I dropped back and she moved forwards out of the drafting zone. “ME FUCKIN GOGGLES SNAPPED IN THE SWIM”. I shouted encouragement after her and watched her pedal off into the hills.
It was on this first loop that I executed the perfect bottle swap. Chucked my empty bottle directly into their bin from the bike, shouted “WATER AND A BANANA PLEASE” at the amazing volunteers who duly held these out to me, grabbed a bottle, put it in my teeth, grabbed a banana and shoved it in my pocket, switched my rear bottle to the front cage and put the water bottle in my rear cage, then peeled the banana WITH MY TEETH like and actual PRO and all without losing what little speed I had. That, right there, is winning.
Once the top of the lap is completed, you do 16 miles of it AGAIN before turning towards Cockermouth from Aspatria.
This section took for-fucking-ever.
After about 20 minutes I heard “THERE SHE IS. GINNIE BABE. KEEP GOING YOU’RE DOING AMAZING” and it was Kate again! “Nice work babe. are you on your second lap now?” “NAH MATE. TOOK A WRONG FUCKING TURN LIKE A TWAT. WENT AN EXTRA TWO MILES. FUCK SAKE”
This was the first time I’d laughed all day. It felt good to laugh. Off she went again. Pedalling like the machine that she is. (She did GUCR – all 152 miles of it like 3 weeks ago. And then won an iron distance tri the following weekend. Just in case you weren’t sure how badass she is…)
After another half hour, my good mood had subsided. I had spent the whole day being over-taken and felt like I was dead last. This is when the first Dark Place happened. There was a 3km climb, it was doable in the gear I was in but my quads were in tatters and my calf was beginning to noise itself up after the swim cramp.
I cried. I cried on a very quiet road because no one had passed for a decade and I was certain I’d missed a turning, was last, and was going to miss cut off. My pace had slowed to about 18kph which is really dire. All of a sudden, a man called Carl (I saw his bib) cycled past. “Why are the hills and wind at the end?!” I sobbed. “It’s just life, innit” he said.
Shit. That cut me deep. So simple. Yet so true.
Iron-distance races are designed to weed out the weak and ill-prepared. Maybe I didn’t get as many long rides as I’d have liked. But over the last few years I’ve developed mental fortitude. I’ve had meltdowns on long rides, but I’ve pulled through that to finish every single one. And as Carl so wisely observed, sometimes things get lumpy. You just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Just. Get. Through. The. Bike.
So I did. Save a brief moment at the 150km aid station. I’d literally been falling asleep on bike and the perplexed marshals held my bike while I sat on the kerb with my head in my hands for “just a couple of minutes please”.
Some tough love from the amazing marshals, a few more bits of nutrition collected and half a bottle of powerbar downed and off I went. Into the rain and wind.
“It’s only 15 miles back to Keswick” were the team’s parting words.
I may as well have had another 112 in front of me. Those 15 miles lasted FOREVER.
Eventually, I rolled into Keswick, passed the end of one of the out and back sections to see hundreds of runners on the marathon. Sigh. I had a lot of work still to do.
My earlier smiles had been replaced with a persistent grimace as my body was in absolute bits. My knees were killing me, my feet were numb and my neck was stiff from being so tense. I was so thoroughly fed up and knew that my goal time was now long gone. This was going to require every ounce of grit in my body.
I’d limped a very dodgy mech round 112 miles within a cut off. I’d made it. I’d made it on to the run. I knew now that I would finish. By hell or high water.
Bike: 86 years.
T2 – 6 minutes (including meltdown and pee break. THANK YOU to the incredible volunteer for her “tough love” which told me to harden the fuck up and get the fuck on with it. LOVED her.)
Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20
5 Laps of an 8km course. Sounds totally ok, right?
Well let me be perfectly honest with you. I love everything about Lakesman. The organisers, volunteers, athletes, locals, location. I did NOT love the run route.
I mean, it was great for my support team who positioned themselves at various spots to see me. This helped immeasurably. But starting lap 1 when there were people on laps 3, 4 and 5 was absolutely shite. And turned a seemingly easy and flat course into much more of a test of mental strength and tenacity. There were ample opportunity to miss chunks of out and backs, especially as it became more and more quiet. But I walked and jogged every single meter of the assigned course. And it was brutal.
You start through Hope Park and then out through the woods into the back of the town centre. Then you run along the main road out to a wee path that takes you through fields. Small out and back here before your first aid station. From here you hit the Highway to Hell. a mile(ish) long section of road that you traverse FOUR times per lap. Yup. That’s 20 times in total. After the first up and down, you have two teeny out and back bits with another aid station. Then you’re back to HtH for another two traverses. After which you head back into town, winding your way for about 3km before you’re back at Theatre on the Lake, PASSED THE FINISH LINE (this is SO tough) and back out to the next loop.
Lap 1 passed fairly quickly. I exited T2, entered the park to rapturous applause from the huge crowd and my friends and family and then I see her. SARAH ACTUAL TUCKER!!! “Surprise” she shouts! So I cried. Again. And then I mustered the courage to head off. I spent the lap congratulating my fellow athletes on a hard days graft. I was reassured to hear other grumbles about the bike being such a chore. Not just me, then.
Lap 2 got a bit shit. I still had miles to go. And by this time, my stomach had made me very aware that it did NOT approve of 8 hours on a bike. My legs felt ridiculously good. But every time I tried to jog, I was becoming terrifyingly close to a Code Brown situation. The danger was real. PLEASE not in my custom tri-suit, guts. PLEASE.
There is a saying: “Never trust a fart in an ironman”.
I had the fear.
My guts were heavily protesting and I knew I needed to settle my tummy or the remaining 3 laps would be extremely challenging. I was being chased by cut off.
I knew what was coming. I knew I would need to use a portaloo on an ironman run. I have read things, terrible things, about this. I was more afraid of this than following through in my suit. But I was really, truly going to have to do this because no one wants to be that guy on the red carpet that’s shit themselves.
In a futile attempt to silence the extraordinary tummy cramps, at aid stations I picked up cups of water and coke and sucked ready salted crisps until they dissolved on my tongue. By the end of Lap 2, I was able to hold a jog for a couple of minutes before I experienced any, ahem, rumbling.
I’d noticed a portaloo with the door open on one of the out and backs. “It’s either so awful the door has to be left open, or it won’t be that bad because the door is open….” I thought to myself.
And I was EXTREMELY relieved to discover it was not as bad as expected. Tales of shit up walls and vomit everywhere had me shook. But this was fine!! THERE WAS EVEN TOILET ROLL. This was fucking luxury.
After what can only be described as an “uncomfortable” few minutes, I had to go through the ordeal of getting my tri suit back on my arms. It is the comfiest piece of kit I’ve ever owned, but at this stage my skin had a thin layer of sticky salt and sweat. I must have punched myself in the face 8 times trying to get back into it.
I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.
By now, the field had thinned substantially. Stoic chit chat between athletes and the “chapeau, sir!” banter had been replaced by 1000 yard stares and unapologetic farting. This was the bit I’d been warned about. When it gets really tough and you can do nothing but dig in and just keep moving forwards. All the advice I’d been given, all the hours of boring turbo trainer rides, howling headwinds, bitter cold morning runs and long, early swims culminated in this last few laps of my first ironman distance.
“Just. Keep. Moving. Forwards. Bean. ”
I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good cyclist. I am well used to back of the pack. But after an 8:22 bike split and pushing on for a 6:30hr marathon, I was at rock fucking bottom and I felt utterly defeated. I thought about all the support from my family, friends and colleagues. My work had given me an incredible suit and I felt like I’d let everyone down. I admittedly gave thought to the haters. The ones who would only track me to watch me suffer and debate how soon I’d tap out.
Well fuck that. I’d come this far. I was finishing this. In Hero’s Hour. So maybe it wasn’t the 14 hours I’d wanted. 16+ hours of relentless forward progress is miles more than they are capable of. If anyone thinks for one mere second that I am not going to finish something I set out to do, then sorry, that’s not my style.
As I trudged passed the Crow Park Hotel for the 3rd time, I was greeted by Brian Drought. He’d had an unfortunate swim experience and had to withdraw. He asked how I was. I was quite honest. Something like “shite mate this sucks”. And he offered to chum me on my last two laps which were now going to be in the dark. Alone.
At the start of my 4th Lap, he joined me in his running kit with a spare waterproof for me. The weather had closed in by this time and my body temperature was becoming worryingly low.
He distracted me with chatter and held my cups while I tried to jog (it was definitely faster to walk by now). And we quick marched and tried to keep my pace up.
Beardy had stayed put at the highway to hell and had been clapping and cheering every runner through their final laps. He really seemed to enjoy giving people much needed encouragement in their final hours of The Longest Day. He saw a lot of suffering that day!
Lap 4 passed in a haze of trying not to shit myself and trying to keep up with Brian. Marshals asking if I was on my last lap made me want to cry but by now I knew I was capable of finishing within the final cut off. I had gone into this with no expectations, other than finishing. But it was still a weird feeling to be chasing the 2130 last lap cut off. Following advice, I had wasted as little time as I could. Stopping only when things got really desperate. But I felt panicked and worried. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I really REALLY had to finish this.
As we hobbled through the park to start the final lap, the support was amazing. I got my fifth and final band and we muddled through. I thanked, high fived and hugged every marshal and volunteer that I could. What a long day they’d had.
It’s hard to describe where your head goes at this point in a race. I had been moving for 15 hours. I was SO close to finishing. Yet the looped out and backs were absolute hell on earth. I mean, i knew this would be tough. But this was tough.
One things for sure: I am tougher.
We marched back into town. And I finally let myself think about finishing. After a year of hard work. 3 years of daydreaming of this moment. 6 Months of intense training. A new job. Injury. Stress. 4am starts. Zero social life. Sacrifice. Commitment. And not just from me but from my family and my friends and partner. I had to get there. I had to get there within cut off.
My entire day was spent adjusting my expectations. The goal was now: get to the end. Don’t be shit. And don’t shit.
Brian and I plotted the finish. He’d run through the short cuts to the finish and wait for me. I’d finish the lap solo. With a mile or so to go, he made his way to the finish line. And I hobbled in the dark towards the last aid station. As I was walking up the hill I heard “she’s coming!” “We’ve got another finisher” “come on girl!!!” “Well done Ginnie!!” Hugs, high fives and appreciation administered, I worked up the courage to run my last 200m.
When I met Lucy Charles, and asked her what to expect of my first race, along with some really solid advice on being prepared and soaking it all up, she said “You will only finish your first ironman once.”
With those words ringing in my ears, I ran down the hill towards the finish, the lights of the gantry now flickering through the trees. Loud music, cheering, my mum screaming encouragement, and I finally, after 16 hours and 21 minutes of relentless forward progress, got to turn left and cross the last timing matt and soak up the red carpet. I milked it as much as I could. High fiving and laughing and crying. They held the ribbon over the line for me and I crossed it to the words of “Congratulations, Lakesman”
I had done it. It was done. I laugh-cried as I was photographed by Eilidh and her boyfriend and handed a t shirt and medal. I cheered over the next finisher and then went to find my family and friends who had also had the longest day.
The next few hours are sort of a blur. I was absolutely exhausted but totally buzzing. My head had gone from the lowest low point to the highest high. I couldn’t process anything. The incredible support coming through from friends and family who’d had a worrying day tracking me as I slowly flung myself around the Cumbrian countryside was overwhelming.
I’d been warned that I wouldn’t sleep. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.
I awoke at 5am. Sore and starving. It was time to bum shuffle up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I sat eating cocktail sausages and toast until Katherine and Greig joined me.
I’d earned my iron crown. And now it was time to bask in the sense of achievement. Compounded by the fact that I battled HARD to finish in time. And I truly earned my bling.
“Run”: 6hrs 35mins – my slowest EVER marathon
140.6 miles: 16:21.13 – got my moneys worth!
What a superb event, with an amazing, friendly and supportive team of directors and volunteers. Marie and Paul were there at the start and finish high fiving and meeting everyone.
The setting is beautiful. The swim is stunning. The bike is challenging in it’s own special way. The run is mentally punishing but the support on the way round was unbeatable.
I can’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to earn my iron status.
Lets not forget that I did this for charity. And so far, thanks to my incredibly supportive friends, family and colleagues, my total is sitting at £1600. That is going to help Lymfund in SO many ways.
At this point, I have some very important people to thank:
My mum, dad and sister. For their endless support and love. Lissie made dad facetime her to see my finish live. She cried more than me for the first time EVER. Mum and Dad were up from 4am and stayed on the course cheering everyone all day.
My other family: the Belchamber girls for being an amazing Cheer Squad.
Beardy, who kept me as calm as possible (give or take a few fraught moments……..) and who, over the last year, has helped me balance training and life. Often setting aside his own goals to help me achieve mine.
The Spences for your constant support and help for both me and Beardy.
My friends, who literally haven’t seen me for a year. And if they have seen me, they’ve patiently understood my need for a 9pm bed time.
To Tucker and Daniel who drove all the way down to see me on to the run and over the finish line. Thank you for being the absolute best and for bringing BONBONBONBONS.
IronBuddy. For literally everything. Your advice, patience and help. And your book recommendations. You kept me inspired and motivated. And thoroughly grounded when required.
My Endura family: for the incredible support and enthusiasm for this challenge. For my suit, for introducing me to Lucy Charles and giving me the best kit a girl could ask for.
Brian Drought. Thank you from the bottom of my blistered feet for marching around those two laps with me. Your chat kept me suitably distracted from the pain and you kept me smiling when I just wanted to cry. Your family are amazing and I’m so glad we all finally got to meet!
So about 3 weeks ago, two of my colleagues, who are also mental, decided to convince me to enter the Spartan Sprint race in Edinburgh.
“It’s just a few obstacles and it’s only 6km” turned out to be the two biggest lies I’ve been told in my adult life.
The clues were in the waiver we all had to sign. There was an actual list of things that could kill you or “cause serious illness” such as “ingesting faeces”, “burns” and “animal bites and stings”. Oh tremendous.
On a cloudy Saturday, me and the guys headed to a wee farm just outside Edinburgh and realised we’d be running up a LOT of hills.
After a hilarious warmup and some burpees, we were let loose.
We realised pretty quickly that it was absolutely unquestionably not “only 6km.” Looking at strava routes recorded by people brave enough to use Garmins, it’s sitting between 8.5-10.5km. And 23 obstacles varying from jumping into neck-deep vats of slurry (“GUYS WTF IS THIS SURELY ITS NOT ACTUAL SHIT???” “Mate if it looks like shit and smells like shit… It’s probably shit!”) and carrying 30kg of gravel in a slippy bucket. Fucking brutal.
Lots and lots of climbing, scrambling and literally being dragged up a hill by Owen while shouting Eminem lyrics at each other.
My biggest moment of glory? Throwing a fucking spear at a fucking target and nailing it. Perfectly.
Low points? Getting Actual Shit in my mouth (currently awaiting the onset of diphtheria) Tearing holes in the Arse of my leggings and my back on barbed wire, ending up backwards exiting the barbed wire crawl while pissing myself laughing, getting stuck in a queue on the log carry because the obstacles were so tough to negotiate and everyone was having to take it slowly, having to lug 20-30kg of gravel up a HILL in a fucking bucket which about broke my back, failing a rope climb miserably and having to do 30 burpees. Losing the skin on my heel within the first 3 km.
High points? Rapping Eminem on the side of a Pentland hill, swimming in shit, lots and lots of jumping in freezing streams, getting mud wiped all over my face, throwing actual shit at my mate, helping fellow competitors over and under obstacles, climbing a rope ladder on top of a hill, letting gravity pull me down the hills, getting told where the “girls weights” were and shouting “NAH FUCK IT” while lifting a “boys weight” 40kg kettle bell right up to the top of the frame, Bossing some monkey bars, and finishing it all with my buddy. Who I managed to kick in the face. Soz.
Time is virtually irrelevant in a race like that. 2hrs 7 minutes for us with over 550m of elevation gain and 23 obstacles, a lot of walking and wading through thigh deep mud. And 20 minutes of that 2 hours was spent waiting for the log carry obstacle. I was 75th female out of 373 and 18th out of 82 30-34 year olds. Absolutely chuffed to bits with that and loved the whole experience (sort of).
Owen, former marine, was absolutely the person to get me round the course, giving me the best ways to complete the obstacles and not die. Although I nearly killed him afterwards when he told me he found it easy. I suppose anything is easier if you’re not being shot at!
I managed to get to the penultimate obstacle before throwing a teeny tiny strop. 3 angled wooden ramps angled backwards towards you so that you couldn’t get purchase on them to climb. My arms had literally nothing left. I just. Could. Not. Do it. I had to rely on leg-ups to get me over them and then again for the last 3 wooden walls. It was here I managed to pull myself up so severely that I have bruises in places I didn’t think it was possible to bruise…
The final wee jump was over ACTUAL FIRE! We crossed the line triumphant and while a wifey in a dry robe shouted “YOU. ARE. SPARTANS.” Bloody amazing. You’re handed the most outrageously chunky medal and some SiS stuff to refuel.
After the run, the need to shower was strong. This meant marching into a stream of FREEZING water with a bunch of men shouting “pass the soap, lads” and being watched by those sensible enough not to bother with the whole horrid affair.
The changing tent was a dark, harrowing place. I had to bin everything. Literally everything including my sports bra. It was a brutal retirement for my old, worn out Asics GT1000s. Trying to get my clothes back on to wet skin in a low-ceilinged, dark tent was an experience not for the faint hearted or impatient. I tell thee. I punched myself in the face a few times and there was actual mud in my belly button.
The whole event was bloody brilliant. It was ridiculously expensive when we first entered but you get a LOT for your cash. Free race photography (it remains to be seen how absolutely WRECKED I look in the photos), gels and water at two stations, incredible support from marshals, a bloody amazing medal and t shirt plus the whole thing is run seamlessly. We had a GREAT time.
What did I learn about myself? I’m tougher and stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’m a determined wee fucker when I want to be. And I CAN do difficult things if I really bloody grit my teeth.
I’ve also discovered that I adore the freedom of running off-piste. It’s inspired me to sort myself out with some decent trail shoes and find some hills to crawl up.
In the mean time, I can add SPARTAN to my title. 💪🏻