Ironman Exmoor 70.3 UK

This year is different. 2017 is different. My entire life is changing and how that translates into sport is an interesting one. Sport is the steady state in my life, the constant, the known. Or actually is it? Because this year is different. This year I seem to be flying a lot more by the seat of my pants. Letting my racing unfold and making less plans. It’s exciting. It’s unsettling, it’s WORKING.

I’m dealing with a lot of personal stuff. I’m on a rollercoaster of emotion and of life right now and triathlon training and racing is my rock. I’m very up and down, but only those very close to me would know that. Right now I’m trying to juggle what feels like 3 thousand different things in my life. It’s tough. I have incredibly shit days and I have AMAZINGLY GREAT days. So, 2017 is different and was always going to be an experimental year for my sport anyway – just as well.

Wimbleball aka Ironman Exmoor 70.3 UK

This has been the most incredible journey for me.  Ever since I started triathlon 6 years ago, and picked up my first triathlon magazine, I’ve known about Wimbeball, or Wimblebitch as my Tri friends like to call it. This was the first race I read about and I remember reading about the long, uphill run into T1. I also remember thinking why the hell would anyone want to do that? According to this article, the bike was super hilly and incredibly tough and DNFs were aplenty if you hadn’t trained for it. WHY OH WHY would you want to do THAT?  But hey the bitch of Wimbleball didn’t just end her torture on a hilly bike, no she sticks the knife in with a hilly, sometimes off road, multi terrain run.  Dear lord above – WHY would anyone want to do that?

“ME.  I WANT TO DO THAT”

said a little voice from within my head somewhere.

“WTF”

said the sensible one.

“Don’t be daft. That’s for seriously tough, seasoned athletes. Not you. You can’t do that.”

“OH WATCH ME” 

said the little voice who was determined that this would happen one day.

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And every year, I would see Wimbleball (WB) race come and go and I’d laugh. Until 2 years ago, after I’d completed (and recovered from) my first middle distance and decided I was decent at this distance too and wanted to have a crack at WB.  I almost did it last year, but I’d set my sights on Alpe d’huez long course instead and WB had to be parked again. So this year, was the year I was going to do it and in the nick of time too as it was the last running of this race ever.

I’d also never done any Ironman branded event before and I was told that Ironman is a bit of a spectacle and I have to say, I was super impressed with the organisation.

However, 5 weeks before this race, I way lying in a bed, attached to an IV drip in Frimley Park Hospital, pushing fluids and antibiotics. I was there for 3 nights and kept being told by the consultants and senior nurses just how sick I actually was. I didn’t really FEEL ill, but apparently my blood results were showing massively increased infection markers for a kidney infection I seemed to have “picked up” however I did THAT! You know the body/mind is so super powerful, my belief is that I wasn’t able to give myself permission to have a rest from everything in my life, so I created the conditions in order to do so. The body is SO clever.

But it was whilst lying there and being told over and over (till I was fed up hearing it) that I was really quite sick and it takes people months to recover from this, that I began to think WB was over before it begun. Not many athletes that I know of handle this kind of information well and the little voice in my head, the one who DOES NOT GIVE UP, told me:

“ah but you’re not people Momo. You’re Morag. You’re different.”

Oh! How bloody arrogant was THAT! But honestly, only I knew how I was feeling. Only I inhabit my body. And only I was going to get me back. And I did, slowly and surely and listening to my body and building back up. I don’t actually believe I was anywhere as fit as I would have been at WB had I not had the little interlude in a hospital bed.  However the counter argument to that is – I was well rested and recovered and a lot of little niggles that I was harbouring, had gone. So you know what? Maybe it was all good. Part of the plan haha.

The Day Before – Saturday 24th June

I’d travelled on Friday afternoon just to take the stress of the race away and to be able to relax. I also registered and bought some expo items (I’m a sucker for an expo) and had a good look around the race venue. Bumped into a client of mine whose legs I’d gotten ready the week before haha.

I woke up sharp on Sat and left the guest house in the middle of Dunster to arrive at the race venue for the swim familiarisation. It was a wee bit chilly, overcast and drizzly. Having swum earlier in the week in my home lake in skins as the water was 26.7c, I needed to re-acclimatise to this lake temp of 19c. Pretty big diff, so this needed to be done. The day before a race is not about gaining anything fitness or training wise, it’s about acclimatising to the conditions of the venue, familiarising yourself to the race surroundings and to fire up all the bodys systems in readiness to race.

I felt the water a little chilly and thought that 1.9k swim the next day was going to feel cold by the time I was half way round. So it was good to get my head around this after swimming in bath water earlier in the week. It also gave me the chance to walk the long uphill drag towards T1.

After the swim, I wanted to take my bike out for a spin. I wanted to ride the initial few kms out of T1 because again, although undulating, a lot of this was looking uphill when I drove in. It was also raining and as I only had super slick race tyres on, I needed to check that a) my bike was running ok and b) that I felt confident on the descents, in the rain, on my tyres.  Now I won’t lie, I was a little nervey on the descents and as always I’d much rather climb (yeh keep reading – I think I’ve changed my mind in the race haha).  But I could do it and Kolin (race bike) was running smoothly. All good.

So, all I now had to do was rack my bike in transition and put my bike and run bags into the transition tent.

Now I’d never ever, in the 6 years of doing triathlon, used bags and a transition tent. I’m used to having all my gear by my bike and making my clothing decisions around the conditions, on race morning. I had to make my clothing decisions earlier in the day before I left the guest house, and pack those bags accordingly. Would I be cold on the bike? Would it rain on the bike?  The forecast kept changing every time I looked at it. Would I need my famous bike glove to keep my right hand warm and functional.  Oh god, I need to put my run gels into the run bag. The thought process I went through was hilarious on Fri night because I was tired from driving that day and well, just tired. My decision making was below par and I was afraid I’d forget something. So I laid everything out on the bed and did a dry run through the race. But it was still wrecking my head. As soon as those bags were racked in transition, there was apparently no going back, so I had to get this right. Shits sake – WHAT DO I NEED?

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Anyhow, I’ll stop making a short story long. It got done. And the rest of Saturday was spent between being a tourist around Dunster Castle, napping and at the open mic event in the pub next door, where I attracted ever more random people to myself. Well sleep wasn’t going to happen was it? So if you can’t beat em, join em. So I did. Then left the pub and forgot to pay for my dinner  – hilarious when I got a call from the guest house on Monday asking me to call the pub. Woops. And NO I hadn’t been drinking. THAT would NEVER happen the night before a race. I was just distracted and having a laugh with the randoms. They wanted to know inch detail about triathlon and I think they thought I was elite by the end of it. A nice ego boost for me hahahaha.

RACE DAY

Alarm at 0400. I was all set to go and just ate some breakfast and packed the car. Arrived at the race venue by 0530 as per my plan and clipped my bike shoes onto the bike, blew up my tyres and prayed to the triathlon gods to get Kolin and I around in one piece. Ran through transitions in my head again and made my way to the loo queue. Still drizzly.

The race started with a rolling start at 0700, so I made my way to the baggage tent and started putting on my wetsuit when my support crew turned up. OMG that was a welcome sight as I didn’t really know anyone at the race and had no-one to talk to. Well, actually, if I’m honest that never deters me, I’m happy to talk endless rubbish to random strangers on race morning to occupy my over active imagination. But when I saw Grant, I threw my arms around him like a long lost pal (he was) and he introduced me to his partner and kids. Lovely. They were here, I could relax now. I know him from my earliest days of being a newbie at my first ever Tri club, Fleet Tri and we rode bikes together a lot with the rest of the crew.  We reminisced a little bit and he reminded me of when he told me in those early days that he could see my potential and knew I’d be good.  I’m not sure I ever believed him, but we did acknowledge how far I’ve come since then. Thanks so much you guys, was so appreciated when you popped up on the run course when I was in the hurt locker that I’d never really gotten out of all day. And Grant, having done this race three times before, knew EXACTLY the hurt and the “all kinds of trouble” I was in.

THE SWIM: 1.9km, Wimbleball Lake

Another first for today was a rolling start to the swim. Never done one. Hadn’t a clue how it worked. I’m used to deep water starts where it’s a higher state of anxiousness and lots of flailing arms and legs and bumping and pushing. Hannah had walked me through this start in my head and she told me it would be relaxed and actually, it really was. You self seed in time order a bit like at the beginning of a run race.  I looked for the 30-40 mins closest time marker as I’d previously swum 1.9k in around 34mins, and stood there. Nervous chatter. I just breathed. Deeply. Closed my eyes. Visualised the task ahead. Peed in my wetsuit as I stood there – there would be no time as soon as I crossed the timing mat. I have no shame. haha

Then the starting horn went, the queue started to move and the next thing I’m through the gate and over the timing mat and in the water, splashing my face, acclimatising, and I’m off. Wow. Relaxed or what? Now that’s the way to start a triathlon.

Nothing much to say about the swim except that it still felt busy. I still was swum upon, I still had my legs pulled and I still got bumped at the first turning buoy. Maybe not as much as in a World Champs race, but it still happened. I felt super relaxed. This was nice.

When I swim train I breathe bilaterally. When I race, I’m so pumped up on adrenaline, that I can only breath to the right and this is how I started this race. It annoys me because I think I’d be more efficient breathing to both sides in a race. So I dared myself to do it. I don’t know what the actual fear is over breathing to both sides in a race. Perhaps I’m scared to get hit from both sides. I dared and dared and I couldn’t do it.

“Oh FFS Momo, get on and JUST DO IT”

said the driver’s voice in my head (those who read me regularly in race season will know who I’m talking about). So I caved and tried it. OMG what a world of new scenery I was missing! I kinda just laughed at myself. Breathing to the left was beautiful. Breathing to my natural right was full of swimmers. So I kept bilateral going for a bit, until some nut job, who couldn’t sight to save his life (we’ll call him a he as he was a big unit), crossed in front of me, destroying my stroke, my breathing, my rhythm and flow and ease and that was that.  Dunked by the big whale like man in black neoprene. Back to right sided breathing only (and neck ache next day hahaha).

Why is it that when you find a decent set of feet to swim off (by decent I mean just faster than you) and draft behind, they cannot sight to save their lives? huh? Is that another rule to put down to the law of life? That was my main mission for the swim, a strong and relaxed swim but to draft. Oh well.

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Swim was going pretty well really, until the last buoy. DO NOT KNOW where my head was. But I seemed to give it a wide berth and ended up off course and became one of those buggers who can’t sight to save their lives. I think I was having too much fun trying to draft and lost concentration. So I probs swam a little too far tbh by the time I caught sight of the exit gantry and got myself back on course. I was heading way off down the lake. Hysterical.

Overall, was really pleased with my swim and it came out as:  34.38 and second fastest swim of my AG. Pleased with that. Maybe had I not acclimatised at the beginning and just swam and not veered off course, I would’ve had my first sub 34. Maybe. Who knows.

T1

So you drag yourself out of the water, lift your goggles off your face to see and are met with a bloody great hill, in slippy grass in the slurry rain. Turns out it was the best run of the day for me and I left it all out there. Overtook so many people on that hill I think I peaked a little too soon. Stripped off my wetsuit to the waist and felt the cold. I was breathing so heavily, my chest felt so tight that my heart might burst out through it. I felt pretty constricted and felt a little panic set in too.

“Oh bloody hell it’s going to be cold on the bike and I already can’t breathe”

“So slow down Momo you nutter. Take your time. It’s a long day”

Into the tent and run straight past my bag. Yup, hadn’t practised that. But found it. Didn’t even know if it was the red bag or the blue bag and I couldn’t think or see straight in the little panic I was having. Looked around and saw what colour bag everyone else had and did that.

“For gods sake Momo, sit down and chill out”

So I did sit on the school benches that they had laid out and got my wetsuit off and helmet on and thanked the triathlon gods & my inner wisdom that I’d had the foresight to put some arm warmers in the bag at the last minute “just in case”. But no gloves.  Grrrr.

Ran to my bike desperately trying to put my arm warmers on – tricky manoeuvre on wet skin moving at pace. Everyone seemed to be proper racing to their bikes, so I joined in lol. Second fastest run of my day haha.

The Bike

Awesome, shoes were nice and wet on the bike, but the talc in them helped. Took my bike off the rack, fired up my Garmin and headed for the mount line. Pretty narrow road to mount with a crowd of people and I did the scooter motion to get on the bike that is normal for me and had a near heart attack. Swung my leg over and lost my right shoe. Oh FFS. It didn’t actually fall off but was twirling around the pedal and was catching on the floor. Tried to sort it out looking down at my foot whilst moving and I could feel I was going to do a slo mo crash to the floor. Classy Momo, classy.  Somehow managed to dismount again on my wrong side, collected myself, laughed and sorted myself out. HOW MANY TIMES have I mounted like this and NEVER got it wrong?  Arrgrhhhh.

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Anyway finally on the bike, the camera man was cracking up at me (thank god he never took any pics of that!!) and started to focus. At this point I’m wondering if averaging 4 hours sleep the previous two nights was not great for my brain to sort out the mess I seemed to be getting myself in.

Having ridden this first section of the road the day before, I felt confident and pleased I had done that. It was rainy and windy but I was in race mode. My race proper starts on the bike. The red mist has descended. I was off and I was on my bike. I love my bike.

The bike was two loops of sheer and utter HELL. There is NO other way to describe this. It wasn’t even a lovely day for looking at scenery. I was cold. Just plain cold.

“Suck it up buttercup”

“Oh Fuck off, I want to go home”

“Well you chose to be here and do this. You’ve wanted this race for years”

“Not helpful at this point thanks!”

I mean ok, it wasn’t all hell. There were some fast straight bits. And some awesome downhills. However in the wind, the awesomely fast straight bits were just scarey because the wind would whip up through the gates in the breaks in the hedges, catching my front wheels and blowing me over the road. I hate the wind on my TT bike because I’m so small and light and the wind just has a good old laugh with me.  But I’m a determined little madam. I won’t be beaten and hung on.

There was a super stonking cracker of a downhill too that was a no overtaking zone (instant DQ if you did) and it was proper sketchy in the wind and rain. I went down there SO SLOWLY and held up all the boys behind me. I felt really bad about that but I wanted to be safe and not hit the deck. When we turned the tight corner at the bottom, I apologised to each man as he passed by for holding them up. But they were all incredibly gracious and said thanks to me for giving them an excuse not to kill themselves. Phew….

So I’m thinking that this bike course is going ok and really? Its not THAT hilly.  Its windy and rainy, cold and sketchy, but hilly? Its not THAT bad. What was everyone talking about?  And then I saw it. OMFG. I’m already in my lowest gear climbing and I see this electricity pylon ahead and up at the top of  very steep hill.

“oh holy fuckeroony”

THAT is what they were talking about. I began to gather my mind for sucking up some big hurt on this climb.  Out the saddle, in the saddle. Out the saddle, no back in. Oh for goodness sake I thought as I tried to get a grinding rhythm together. Honestly, that climb must’ve been 25%. I was turning my pedals so slowly I thought I’d never get to the top, but kept telling myself that I just needed to keep grinding it out. I so knew I would need to draw upon my ADH experience of last year and this was that moment.

“Come on Momo.  You’ve climbed the alps. This isn’t very far. Just keep going. Just keep going. Just keep going. You WILL get to the top. YOU ARE NOT GETTING OFF

I looked up and saw the top and told myself it was just there and I could do it. Just keep grinding. So I did. And I felt sick. I really honestly thought I was going to puke.  THIS was tough.  And I also had to draw upon past experience of riding Honister Pass. That was a grinder of some 25%.  All these past experiences just come flooding back in.

“Come on. KEEP GOING. You’re mentally bulletproof – remember THAT?”

“Oh god but what if I’m not mentally bulletproof today?”

“Yes you bloody well are. Now KEEP GOING”

“NAILS Momo – you are friction NAILS”

And of course I made it.  Just needed a minute or so to settle again and get my breath back and then the thought of having to do that again entered my head. Oh crikey, my quads were in bad enough shape as it was from the first time.

So I cracked on and overtook a man on another little hilly section and he said “Oh Morag I was waiting for you to come by. You’re so light you’re just skipping up these hills. WTF? I cracked up laughing and told him how much hurt I was in and that I was cold. He then gave me the great news that there was another belter of a climb on its way that I’d get warm on.

I began to silently curse the course designer for sticking these monsters in on the second half of the course, because until then, I thought it was pretty easy. That second hill just kept giving. Just feeling the love of grinding of Jens Voight and “shut up legs” and finding all sorts of mental distraction techniques. At the top of this climb was a feed station and it was fantastic because a mini crowd had lined the top of the climb and were shouting us on (and even running beside you) like in the Tour de France.  For a brief moment I smiled and laughed and felt VERY special. Like I was a pro.

Finally, I was onto the second lap. I looked at the time on my Garmin and saw that there was no way I’d match or beat Brett’s time that Goran had bantered about the day before. He’d done 3.06. I needed to get 3.05. Yup that was already lost. Well done Brett. lol.

I pushed much harder on the front of the course on this second loop and knew what was coming. I thought push hard here, make up some time, you know where the wind is and the corners and hills etc. The second half of the course seemed really lonely. The truly fast people had long gone and the slower people behind. I felt in no mans land. And this is where your mind starts to play tricks.

“oh shit, have I gone off course. I haven’t seen anyone for ages”

But I hadn’t. It was still windy. Still raining but I didn’t seem so cold anymore. I was starting to worry about my lower back. It was getting really sore around the kidney area and the fact I was coldish, was playing tricks with my health and wellbeing in my mind. How were my kidneys coping with all this? But I decided I was just cold and the fact I was now bursting for a wee wasn’t helping the pressure on my lower back and it was just that.  Time to try to pee on the bike. God I hate this! It takes me about 20km to actually do it. The trick was to semi stand on the pedals, bum off the saddle and be going downhill at the same time, so not pedaling. I could finally relax enough to let some go and relieve the pressure on my back.

I know this is TMI but these things never get talked about and they are REAL. Real problems when racing this long people! I never fully emptied my bladder and I had to try again later on. I needed to empty to be able to concentrate on the impending climbs. Three times I tried. No-one would know anyway as I was wet from the rain.

As I approached the climbing section for the second time, I could feel my adrenaline kick. What if I couldn’t make it up this time. Oh the shame I would heap upon myself. And the weird and horrible thing is, as human nature has it, if you see someone else getting off to walk, it kinda gives you permission to do so also.

And half way up to the pylon, I saw someone walking. Oh dear god. NOOOOOOO.

YOU ARE NOT WALKING. YOU DO NOT PUT YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO HILL REPS EVERY SINGLE WINTER TO GET OFF AND WALK. IT IS NOT HAPPENING

“But I can’t do it”

OMG YES YOU CAN. YES. YOU. CAN. END OF.”

That was me told by the driver in my head. What helped was I managed to catch and pass a pretty fit looking male athlete on his TT bike, grinding it out and almost going so slow as to stop. I was going just marginally faster. That helped my head a lot. That even although I felt so bloody sick, I was still able to chick someone else. The other thing I could draw on this time was that I’d been up there before and made it. So I told myself that if I could do it once, I could do it again.

Getting up there the second time was a game changer. I’d dreaded it the entire second lap. But with me, as it gets longer, I just get better (unless I run out of fuel – that’s different). Yes my quads were in all sorts of trouble. My back hurt and now my neck was hurting from battling the wind on the bike and from being in the TT position so long, but I was alive. I was healthy. I was feeling every inch of this testing course. And you know what? Somewhere deep in my being, I was LOVING all these sensations. I love tough. I love getting through tough. In essence, I think I like this because I SURVIVE again and again and again. I am alive and I made it all over again. Something like that.

Ans the rest is just a blur. The TDF moment on the second climb wasn’t as good second time around as the support crews had dwindled a little from there – I expect they’d gone back to see the run.

I made it back and I was so happy to get around safely and without a mechanical. At this point you KNOW you are going to finish this race, even if it’s on your hands and knees. Thank you triathlon gods.

Bike time: 3.39.00 and third bike in AG

T2

I decided to stay safe and not take my feet out of my shoes. Conditions were too sketchy and I was feeling too vacant in my head to negotiate shoes off before dismount. So I just dismounted the bike and had the slippery run along the wet tarmac in bike shoes instead.   I racked my bike, took my shoes off and tested out my run legs on the long run back to the transition tent.

“Oh legs feel pretty good”

I was surprised.

Now to negotiate which colour bag the run kit was in. What colour did I do 3.5 hours ago? All fairly straight forward.

THE RUN

So I come flying out of T2 thinking OMG this is going to be an amazing run. I actually feel fantastic. My run legs are here. Took the first of the three gels I’d loaded in the bag, one for each run lap, and cracked on. Lap one went pretty well. I seemed to run (slowly) up the big hills and was feeling great. Was still needing a pee and my back still hurt.

Then the wheels gradually started to come off. As I popped out of a wooded section, Grant was there cheering me on. He could see in my concentrated, contorted face, how much hurt I was in and I was doing my best to suck it all up. He gave me a cheer and he actually got a big smile out of me. THAT never happens.

The second lap was bloody awful. I was starting to grind to a halt. I can’t pee when running and I had to make the decision to stop and go for a pee at the muddy cross country bit of the course. I’d clocked a gate to a field on lap one. So I stopped there. It really wasn’t secluded and again I congratulated myself on not wearing a one piece trisuit. The two piece is great for these moments. Lots of people saw me, bum out, but I didn’t care. The relief was enormous. Had a couple of girls ask if I was ok. That was nice. I think they were worried a fellow sister was in gastro distress.

I had a new lease of life after that and skipped up that first hill and overtook everyone who had passed by when I was in the gate. I loved the muddy downhill section because everyones quads (the running downhill braking system) were mullered and mine seemed ok.  I had Sarah Cleland (she’s in my running club and an awesome downhill runner) in my head and thought she might be proud of the way I came down there every time.

The end of lap 2 was fab. I was hurting like a bitch. Of course I was. Everyone was. But it was ok.

I kept changing places with a chap called David who’d spoken to me on the bike and with a guy from Ely. On the third lap we walked up the hills together and on the flat tarmac bit, along the dam wall, I decided to make a break for it. What a loony. Like it mattered? But I needed something to make me work for this. To actually, get it over with haha. So I finally left my new pals behind. They found me at the end though and congratulated my awesome last run loop (really? lol).

Coming up the grassy hill that had been part of T1, for the final time, I could feel the emotion welling up inside of me. Uh oh.  Can’t lose it before the actual finish Momo.

To think 5 weeks ago I might not be here. To think that SO MANY PEOPLE had told me not to risk my health and do it. That I was doing too much too soon, and to be coming up the hill the final time and knowing I would finish. To have wanted this race for a number of years and to be finally doing it and almost finished. To be processing ALL the emotions I have had over the last year with many things and people. It was all in the mix. And it was all about to come out. Wow, tearful writing this part.

I decided to enjoy coming into the finish chute and I was the only one on it at the time. I felt like I had won the thing and I ran down there with the biggest smile on my face enjoying my moment.

“Here’s Morag completing her first Ironman 70.3 and what a smile”

Said the finish line announcer. Or words to that effect. I was so full and ripe and juicy and ready to explode my emotions, I’m not sure of the exact words.

My finish chute photos show just how ecstatic I was to finish. I HAD MADE IT.

And I jumped over the finish line like a spring lamb and then it hit. The tidal wave came in and all my emotions erupted. I sobbed like a baby and was guided to a chair at the finish line where they put on my medal, shoved water down my face and checked I was ok.

I don’t know what this is about. It happens a lot when I have had a hard race and have to dig deep. I think it has something to do with survival. That I nearly didn’t make it, but then I actually really did. And something to do with pride. I have finished a lot of races in my time where no-one was there at the end for me and I had to be proud of myself and not hear or feel this from anyone else. I think that has a lot to do with it too. This could get a bit deep, so I’ll keep the rest to myself lol.

Run: an abysmal half marathon by my standards but who cares: 2.00.13

The RESULT

So during this race, all thoughts of an AG podium had disappeared on the bike and I had to keep reminding myself that I was here to finish. Nothing more. So to find out later, that I’d come second in AG and would get a lovely M dot trophy, was just amazing. I had not expected it. I was tired but overjoyed.

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Finish Time: 6.22.06

I hooked up with Kirsty Myles that I know from twitter (good old social media) and she had come 5th female overall (WOW) and third in her category (some days I’m glad I’m an old fart). We ate chips and hung around for a couple of hours watching the last finishers until the presentation was ready. It was bloody awesome to finally stand on a proper podium. THAT was a moment.

Thank you to all my coaches and friends and family who endure one helluva lot with me. I know I test everyones patience at times. I know I frustrate the hell out of you all. I know I push and probe and question and dig my heels in sometimes. But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask questions and filter what I want to hear and do my own things anyway.  I especially want to thank Hannah. My god she has been on a long journey with me the last year. She has lived and breathed every moment of it all. We have had lots of tears and laughter in the gym but she has ALWAYS been by my side, every step of the way. THAT moment I listened to my inner wisdom and came to your lake was an utter game changer.

THANK YOU!

Something happened this weekend!

So, you know when you know something’s different about you? Or your situation? Or just that SOMETHING is DIFFERENT in your life? The vibe is different around you?  Energy is different?  Outlook maybe is different? I’m having a really tough time articulating what I mean because I don’t think there’s vocabulary for this. It happens a lot at work when I’m doing a cranial sacral therapy session with someone. I just know that SOMETHING HAPPENED and there are often no words to explain it. It’s definitely a FEELING.  Well,  THAT!!!

Something happened this past weekend. I did a couple of things that I’d only ever dreamt about before. I’m not even sure one of them was a dream to be honest.  It was just something I never really considered doing.

And well, I think the weekends happenings have changed me. I’m sitting with a BIG feeling of possibilities. Excited for what happens next in my life’s journey as well as my athletic journey. Letting it unfold and not trying to control it or grasp it is pretty unknown to me – but my god it’s exciting!!!

So here’s what happened:

Saturday 8th April – 5km Swimathon

My swim coach Hannah and I talked way back in December about the idea of me swimming a 5k open water swim race this summer. I laughed but in the back of my mind, I wanted to do it. A new challenge in this experimental year of training. Why the heck not? I love to be out of my comfort zone, it’s where the magic of life happens, who knows why I like it, but I do. So that was the plan. Or so I thought.  Because you see, Hannah had another, secret plan. The bugger. She only revealed it to me via messenger the week before it was happening. She suggested I do the 5k swimathon at my local pool the following weekend.  WTF?  What?, why?

Now, I had been wondering why my distance sets in the pool had been increasing to 4.1k already given that we’re not in tri season and that this open water swim was meant to happen in LATE summer.  But I didn’t question it. I was loving my distance sets. They’ve been like a kind of meditation to me.

Anyhoo, I found myself VERY excited and I entered the thing on the spot as we were talking.

“OMFG what did you just do?” said the questioning voice in my head. The alter ego who makes an appearance when I am unsure. When I am scared. I’m sure this persona comes out just to protect me & keep me safe. Who tries to talk me down and tell me I can’t do it. But she didn’t get much airtime. I mean she can be useful, but I think her ideas and fears are completely out of date these days. And considering she’s only about 5 years old, her fears are actually real to her. But, they are not, nor should they be, real to ballsy adult Morag.

“Too late” – said the excited, rebellious teenage voice in my head, who can’t actual wait to get started.

Anyhow – fast forward to the actual day.

I wasn’t due to swim until 3pm, so I went out on the bike in the morning to get some pre-race miles and sprints into my legs and to practise transition (I was racing duathlon next day). That morning, I had a triathlete mate and his 2 best friends swimming the 5k relay in the olympic pool.  I’ve never swam 5k before and I hadn’t a clue what time I could do, although I guesstimated a time (1 hr 40 to 1 hr 45).  I saw the time of the 5k relay come in on Facebook and it completely inspired me for the afternoon and gave me a time to aim at. Thanks Paul, Cassie & Joel (note Joel – you made a blog, you might yet get in the book lol).

I actually felt quite nervous as I got to the pool. I haven’t felt this level of nerves since racking at Alpe d’huez long course triathlon last July.  I actually quite enjoyed feeling nervous, because it made me feel ALIVE.

As I looked around poolside, the swimathon seemed to be just kids.  Eek. But then another adult (but much younger than me) showed up and we started chatting. She was also swimming 5k individual and had never gone that far before either. Instant camaraderie. Loved it.

Time came to enter the pool. Thank goodness we had counters because counting to 6 is usually a challenge for me in the pool, never mind 200 lengths! I just wanted to get going. So I was first to get in and get swimming.


I trusted Hannah. I trusted her belief in me that I could do this. I trusted my training. I trusted my process with the water. I trusted myself.

When I got in the pool and got going, the first thing I noticed was how warm it was. We were swimming in the second pool at the new Hart Leisure Centre. It only has 4 lanes and a moveable floor. The main pool (8 lanes) is usually quite cold. I’m used to swimming with it much colder. So instantly I had a little wobble –

“god sake I’m going to overheat” said that useless voice of woos bagness.

“take it easy and listen to your body and drink when you need” – said the much calmer voice of reason. I like her. She’s calm and relaxed and got a good handle on things.

To cut a long story short and spare you inch detail, 200 lengths was a bloody long way. But I was storming along. I managed to count beyond 6 and in fact surprised myself I could count to 100 unassisted. haha. I was absolutely flying, focused & just loving how strong I felt. 

I was actually a little surprised and concerned (yup there she goes again) that I was going too fast. But I thought – heck, where’s the harm, see how long I can keep this going.

When I hit 130 lengths, and just over 3k, my mind began to wander a little. Up until then, I had been super focused. But I was actually beginning to feel really flushed in my face and really warm. My inner wisdom started to communicate with me:

“ok, let’s get a grip here Momo. You have a duathlon tomorrow, you are swimming in a hot pool and you need to stay hydrated. I know you want to swim 5k without stopping for anything, but you MUST hydrate”

“yeh yeh, I bet I’ll be alright, I want to do this in a oner” said the determined, stubborn voice. The driver. The motivator. The one that cracks the whip.

“ok, let’s bargain. Do another 10 lengths and then stop”

“hmmm, ok”

And so, I ignored my own advice. I decided to get to 160 instead. A nice round 4k before I would stop and nothing and no-one was going to tell me different. Not even my own wisdom.  Apparently when I stopped I was actually at 162 lengths – yup I’ll take that I said. Two lengths more than I thought. Take the early win 😂

I stopped for about a minute, released my goggles from my face (I was getting proper big face ache) had a drink, chatted to my counter and cracked on. Only trouble was, 38 lengths now seemed a bloody long way. And the pool water now felt like treacle and was getting thicker with every length. My gimpy left fin (my weaker arm), was also beginning not to enjoy this too.

Coles words then hit me “in that last kilometre, your grit and resolve will see you through”. She knows my racing instinct and determination too well. lol. I just decided to grind it out and decided to count down from 38 instead of up.

With 2 lengths to go, I briefly paused to check it out with my counter and she said no, I had 4 left. Awwww man – how deflated was I? Anyway, I treated it like doing reps of 100m and when I got to the final turn before the last 25m, I had this HUGE underwater grin to myself, yeh, HAVE THAT and I swam that last 25m like coming into a sprint finish of a run race or triathlon. I absolutely caned it. Proper nailed 5k of swimming.  SMASHED!

I was so pleased and to have smashed a time of 1hr 32mins was waaaaaaaay beyond my expectations, but not Coles. She had predicted 1.5 hours ISH.  Nice one Coles.

I was both elated and tired. But now had to go home, cook dinner for Kai and I and pack my stuff for the duathlon the next day and hydrate hydrate hydrate.


Sunday 9th April – British Duathlon Championships

Alarm set for 4am. Good god, why do I do this to myself. I’d had a great sleep but when I awoke, I immediately was in touch with a banging sinus headache.  Oh deep joy. Needing that like a hole in the head. I messaged Hannah straight away to tell her, but also said I’d get up and see how it felt with food and moving around. But that I honestly didn’t think I should be racing.  This was wobble number 1 of the day.  But I had a good feeling that all would be well and that I really needed to go and race. Odd. But since I’m not one to wimpy out easily, I got up, had breakfast and took some painkillers. The pressure in my head was bloody horrible and I was sneezing and blowing my nose a lot. Was only able to breathe through my mouth 😳

Left the house as planned at 5am and saw my petrol was low. Awesome prep Momo I thought but I thought I could get to the race and worry about it on the way home.

By the time I was halfway up the M3, I was hearing this really bizarre noise coming from my car. In the dark, that early in the morning by yourself, you can make up all sorts of unnerving reasons for random car noises. Oh FFS I thought – another hole in the head I don’t need. But it was bothering and worrying me too much that I pulled over on the motorway, fired up my iPhone torch and got out to have a look. Phew, only a tie from my transition bag, was flapping in the wind. So I poked it back inside the car and carried on.

Before I hit the M1 though, the petrol light was flashing. On a quick calculation, I thought I wouldn’t make it to the race venue without running out of petrol and that it would stress me out too much before racing to risk it. I don’t mind taking a risk, but this one didn’t feel good in my gut. So I asked Siri to tell me where the nearest petrol station was and to direct me there. I have to say I was SERIOUSLY IMPRESSED that Siri diverted me off the motorway and straight to a Shell station, that was open (0530) and I filled up. Phew. I’ll be relying on Siri a bit more I think. Awesome.

ok, now I was feeling very behind schedule and trying not to stress and panic. I like to get to races pretty early, because being at a race venue calms me right down. I started to prepare my head and went through various scenarios of lateness and how I would cope. I need not have worried as everything was fairly close to the car park and all was sorted quickly and easily with time to spare in the end.

Headache had diminished and I was feeling pretty cool, calm and relaxed as I racked my bike. A couple of messages came through from some mates to wish me luck, that was appreciated.

Then I saw the girl who beat me at Dorney a couple of weeks ago. Another wobble.

“Oh pants, why did she have to be here?”

My heart sank. But my head would not waiver (waver, wafer???).  My head was pretty super cool actually. The voice of reason I had had earlier kicked in again:

“So what? It was a close race and today is a different day. You learned an ugly truth about yourself that day that you now get a chance to put right. And that my dear is – how much do you want it?”

“A lot. OMG an actual WHOLE LOT”

“Then DO IT. HAVE IT.  Strategise”

“Strata – who? I just turn up and do my thing. I don’t plan in advance what I’m doing. I just do”

“Well, today, you need a strategy”

So as I warmed up, I went through some “ideas” in my head. ok, I only really had one idea. hmm, maybe two.  Number 1 was DO NOT GIVE UP. Number 2 was the main strategy:

  1. she’s a faster runner, but not by much. Hold onto her on the first 10k and do not let her get away
  2. I’m a slightly better biker and faster in transitions – use that. Make the transitions slick and murder the bike
  3. Hang on for the final 5k. You will have to dig to the depths to find it today my dear, deeper than ever before

Oh boy. I was totally excited about reaching new depths but shit scared at the same time, because, what if I couldn’t? What if I don’t actually have what it takes? WHAT IF I FAIL? 😱

My head wasn’t taking any nonsense though. I had a good feeling about the race. A good feeling that I could do well and I had visualised standing on the top step of the podium. I had seen myself there and felt how it might feel to be there. So I wasn’t about to be derailed by that insecure voice.

I made sure I toed the start line with her so I knew where she was, but in fact, she was keeping me close by too.

The 10k was 4 laps and she began dropping me in lap 2. “Keep your shit together Momo. DO NOT let her get too far away.”

I hung on as long as I could and calculated that so long as I came into transition anything around 30 secs behind her, I could catch a fair percentage of it up in T1 and not be so far behind on the bike. I actually came in about 32 secs down, clocked my time on the race clock (blimey my second fastest 10k EVER, pleased, but not a time to celebrate), and cracked on with my T1. I smiled to myself as she said she’d overshot and lost her bike only to make a school boy error myself. What an absolute idiot. How long have I been doing this? I took my bike off the rack without my helmet on, realised and had to put the bike back on the rack and secure my helmet. Wasting valuable seconds. But as it turned out, compared to the others, my T1 was still lightning fast.


I was inch close to her at the mount line and really wasn’t far behind as we started the bike leg. PERFECT.

8 bike laps were in front of me, and I used lap 1 as a fact finding mission. As it was a car racing circuit there were lots of corners. I’m not great at cornering and soon realised that to get away, I was going to have to be brave and get on with it. I managed to overtake at the beginning of the second lap and passed HARD. I didn’t want her to know I was there so there was little chance she could respond when I passed. My bike legs were there and I felt like I was flying and I was loving the feeling of my new bike setup. I felt super confident. Thanks SOOOOO much to Bianca at Fityourbike fir my fast new setup! AMAZING feeling.


With every lap, at the same point, I’d look for her to see how much I had gained. I was eeking out a nice gap every lap until I couldn’t see her at all. I calculated that I needed at least a minute ahead on the bike to be able to stay in front on the 5k run, knowing she’d be chasing me down and I HATE being chased.

It turns out I had 2 mins up on the bike and I couldn’t see her on the run.

Now the thing is, I was making this race about me and the girl from Dorney. I hadn’t a clue who the others were. But I just had a feeling. A feeling that we were right up there in the mix.

The 5k was evil as it always is and I really had to grind it out. I was chasing down another girl that I didn’t know was in my AG or not. But lesson learned from last year, if she’s female, chase her down because you do not know if she’s your AG or not. Funny thing is, when we are passed or do the passing of another female, first thing you do is look at her face to try to determine how old she is and whether you need to worry about her or not. We all do it as I had a couple of other girls come up to me afterwards telling me the same thing, that apparently they looked at me on the way by to see whether they needed to try to hang onto me or not.


The end result was amazing. I immediately took myself off to the timing tent to print out my splits and see my overall result. I just had a feeling that I had won but tried not to get my hopes up too much. But I had won and Sharon was 1.5mins behind me. BLIMEY!  I felt inwardly elated but still didn’t want to get my hopes up as these results are always provisional. But I quickly got back into transition to get my phone to message a few people to tell them the news. I was amazed. I was thrilled. My dream of standing on top of the podium finally coming true and that I was British Duathlon Champion for my age group and 9th female overall – so also a top ten overall finish.


But my win was short lived. They never called my name as winning at the prize giving and I’ve never felt so deflated. The problem was THE RULES. The administrative kinda rules. The antiquated admin rules. I knew that my British Triathlon membership was due for renewal and that in order to race British Champs your membership has to be up to date. So on the Friday night before the race I renewed online and I had my email confirmation with me just in case.

Alas. The rules state that in order to race on a Sunday, membership has to be up to date by the Weds before. WTAF?? I could not believe that this was happening. Sharon had had to leave early and had already taken her silver medal home. I queried it over and over and kept being quoted the rule book. I know my race rules but to be honest, I don’t know all the admin rules. I am gutted. Or I WAS gutted. I process fairly quickly because I wear my heart on my sleeve and let my emotions take over. By that I mean I had tears. I could not hide my utter disappointment and the lack of human compassion in this circumstance.

I have appealed and I am still waiting to hear.

But I now feel like a fraud calling myself British AG Duathlon Champ. My motivation has been well and truly stoked and I will have to be careful not to overtrain now.

Like I said, something is different. I am different. I FEEL different. My vibe and energy are different. I am moving forward. 

I look forward to whatever is next for me. I only decided to do these champs 6 days beforehand and maybe this is the way to go for me this year. In letting it all unfold, perhaps I relax into it more and therefore do better. Like I said at the start, I am trusting. I am trusting my life’s process and being guided by my gut and moments of synchronicity in all areas of my life and not just racing.  So far, I like it (apart from admin BS).

Roll on the triathlon season!

Winter Training Reflections

It’s been a long time since I ‘penned’ something but given that I’ve just taken myself off to Fuerteventura for some much needed winter sun, I thought that now was as good a time as any. I certainly have time and inclination.

But what to write? What would anyone be interested to read? So as I often do, I write for me and not so much for an audience. This is for me to look back at in the future to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.

In short, winter training is going well. There is a background niggle in my head of “am I doing enough in order to improve over last year”. This is normal athlete angst at this time of year as it’s the end of Feb, time already feels like its running out towards the seasons start. But I know this place. I know it well & to be honest, none of us truly know if its enough or better until racing properly gets underway. For me I think that not having as big a race focus as last year and not having mapped my season out as well, is throwing me a bit. This time last year EVERYTHING I did, thought or dreamed about was Alpe d’Huez Long Course Triathlon. Every training session was fuelled with thoughts of conquering that race. No other thoughts entered my head. I was utterly focused. In the zone. Not much else mattered.

I was never going to do World Champs in Mexico. That came as an after thought when one morning during a long swim set, I asked myself why on earth I wouldn’t do it? When Mexico had been announced a couple of years earlier, it had been a no brainer for me. Of course I would try to qualify to go. I mean what a beautiful location it turned out to be to race in. Listening to my gut that morning was absolutely right. I registered my intent to qualify at the 11th hour before the first qualifier, raced, was second and qualified outright to go. Only finance held me back, but Charlie came to the rescue and going to Mexico all of a sudden became easy. No blocks were in my path. I believe when things are THIS easy, it’s the universes way of sign posting you to go do it. So I did. I had the best time there and raced really well coming 8th in the aquathlon and 11th in the standard distance triathlon. This pre qualified me for the worlds in 2017. So I no longer need to do the qualifying races this season unless I want to. I at least want to do one to guage where I’m at.

So with that and the fact that my personal life is changing a lot too, it’s been tricky to get focused on what to do about racing. In fact if I’m being really honest with myself, I actually haven’t really known what to do. Should I stick with standard distance and get faster or do more middle distance and see if I’m ultimately better at those. Arrrghhhhh. I want to do both. Gomez does right?

I had a meeting with Hannah (all round coach, friend, mentor, nutter and confidante) in Dec and we laid out some longer term goals with this year to be used as my ‘experimental’ year. A year to try some different things in training and racing and allow myself to cock it up or even ‘fail’. Although there is never a failure right? (remind me of that in the season yeh?). But not being brave enough to try something different would be failure in my eyes. What’s the saying?

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”

So time to shake it up a little.

Deploying the shake up

It’s going well but not exactly according to plan. My personal life is kind of upside down and has been for a while. Things happen in life that challenge your emotions and mindset and for a while training has been a place where I could be by myself, a useful distraction, some therapy, a place to hide sometimes and a place to help me feel happy with its fantastic endorphins. Training can also be a time where we sometimes unwittingly punish ourselves when we actually think we are burying ourselves in a session for another reason. The reasons of more more more, better better better and faster faster faster that we tell ourselves are what we need in order to improve. So we continue on. And on. And on. Relentless. Focused. Determined. Driven.

I could debate this long and hard. Of course this needs to happen to improve to a degree. Yes it’s useful as a distraction – up to a point. But when you start to fly on fresh air, it becomes massively detrimental. By fresh air I mean, living on adrenalin permanently. Not enough sleep and therefore not enough rest. Pushing and pushing an already tired body/mind. Having too much holding in the emotional bank overloading the physical stress already being placed on the body. THAT. Eventually you run out. I’ve managed for several months in this vain, and surprisingly, I’ve been getting away with it. I have no idea why I haven’t actually been ill and I can only thank my nutrition for this. Or maybe indeed I truly am bulletproof lol. hmmm.

Unfortunately I am a hugely sensitive being. Actually it’s not unfortunate at all. Being this way allows me to ALWAYS be authentic, and speak from my heart. I wear my damned heart on my sleeve and sometimes that leaves me vulnerable, sometimes gets me in trouble or sometimes when emotions run high, very misunderstood. I feel everything, deeply. I sometimes think it would be much easier to be able to push feelings away into some deep, dark place and not experience them nor confront them. To choose not to engage with them. To pretend they don’t exist. To numb them. To push them away to be able to stay safe and in control. Because not feeling safe or in control is a difficult thing to experience, a difficult thing to sit with and so we push it down so as not to feel it. But I’m not that kind of person at all. I choose to experience everything in the hope that it can be addressed in present time and so that I don’t need to hold it.  Although I have to say, lately I’ve tried really hard to use training not to feel stuff. To keep control. To stay safe. To distract from my thoughts and feelings. Telling myself I am progressing. And I am. I think. I hope.

So the wheels have started to come off. Sleep has been rubbish. Fatigue has built and built. My body’s wonderful early warning system has been kicking in and I recognise the symptoms. It’s why I have taken some time out and come away by myself to Fuerteventura for some recovery in the winter sun. It was a moment of synchronicity between Hannah and me. I’d put in a crap run on the Sunday, rested Monday and then another crap session in the pool on Tues where I was struggling to breathe. I proper battled through this swim but all the time my gut was telling me I needed to step away from training. I was heading for a “crash” and I needed to rescue the situation. All the signs were there. Although I wasn’t over training in the true sense of the word, with everything else in my life stressing me out, and not sleeping well, I wasn’t recovering. And therefore breaking down. So at the bottom of the pool that morning I contemplated how I could possibly take off for a few days. I mean how could I do that? I couldn’t afford to. I had clients booked in. I needed to earn money not spend  it. What was I thinking? But the niggly little voice wouldn’t bugger off. I knew I had to rescue my season right now or I would head back to chronic fatigue and not be fit to even start my season. I will not go back to that place if I can possibly help it. FEAR. Fear of CFS drives me. Drove this decision. Fear often holds us back but in this instance, FEAR has been productive. As I gave my session feedback to Hannah whilst still comtemplating how to take time off, she mirrored my exact words back to me without me even telling her what I was thinking.

“Its a pity you cant just go away for a few days Morag and just be”

“OMG. Can’t actual believe she just said that!”

I had to make it happen – with Hannah saying that and me thinking it, it was like a little signpost. The Law of Attraction in action (oooh I quite like that – it rhymes). My inner wisdom was telling me that I had to be brave and go by myself. A couple of years ago I would never have gone abroad on my own. Too scared. So I see how much I have grown as a person as well as an athlete. By the end of that day I was booked to go to Fuerteventura on the midday flight the very next day. Wow. Spontaneous or what? I had shed loads to do and having also locked myself out the house (that’s a blog in itself!), needing a locksmith, very little time to sort everything. But I made it happen. As I sat down at my laptop I had NO idea where I was going. The only crteria was it had to be hot and sunny. Apart from that it was a magical mystery where I would end up. But I trusted that it would be right. I’d go somewhere I was ultimately meant to be. 🙂

I’ve done a little running, some sleeping and some chillin in the sun. I’m meeting some fun people, gatecrashing posh hotel pools for the “entertainment” and someone to rub suncream into my back lol. I’m just loving the relaxed calm of it all, waking in the morning and seeing what I feel like doing. Letting my days and evenings just unfold. Seeing what the wind blows in. Loving being by myself with no compromises. Going with the flow.

My first run was about exploring. Taking pictures. Sussing out the lay of the land. I adore running for that purpose when away. I never would have found out about half of the places I ran past if I wasn’t a runner. I clocked a few possible restaurants along the way and tucked them in my memory banks to return to later. Definitely a fact finding mission.  And running for another reason. To smell the roses and not to work hard. But hey, a nice wee jog on the way out, became hammer fest with myself on the way back (couldn’t help it, I needed to unleash) – until that is, some music playing from one of the posh hotels drew me in. I ADORE music and dancing and I totally waltzed in like I owned the place to see what was going on. And there I discovered Santa and his little helpers. Such fun. I returned there often lol.

I love to just sit and look. Staring ahead, lost in thought. Some might say “away with the fairies” haha.  Generally I like to do that in places of nature or calm energetic places likes ruins. But mainly by the sea. Soaking it all up. Feeling the power and majesty of the waves and listening to their rhythm as they come in and out again. There’s something very healing about water and I took some selfies to capture my moment. I’m from a seaside town and I have an afinity to water (although the flip side of that is I am actually scared of open water swimming since nearly drowning age 16). Before my exams, aged 17, I drove myself out the coastal road near my town, parked up and got out to calm myself of exam stress by sitting, staring and listening to the waves.  It really works for me. It’s very grounding. Very, very calming. Just contemplating my life. Or maybe it’s called mindfulness these days or being in the present. Whatever you want to label it, as I sat there watching the waves, I allowed my emotions to arise and really let them be heard, felt and acknowledged by the healing power of the sea. I knew who would understand this moment. And I intuitively knew she’d understand it more than anyone else. And so I felt compelled to message Hannah as I sat there allowing my emotions to wash over me. I was right. She “got it”. She resonated with everything I told her. Including my deep desire to get in and swim in this choppy water.  Something about it was comforting to me. Like the waves would envelop me as if to cuddle me, bizarrely to keep me safe. And boy did I feel like I needed a hug in that moment. However, I didn’t swim. I just imagined it.

She messaged back to say she thought I needed to blog. I agreed. Here I am.

So in writing all of this I realise that once again I am writing from the heart and leaving myself hugely bare and vulnerable. This is who I am. I don’t know whether to publish this or not. But if there’s anything in what I’ve written that resonates with anyone and touches them, then maybe always speaking from your heart isn’t such a bad thing. Being this way I think helps difficult things to move through me and helps me to process things fairly quickly & to move on.

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I didn’t know what I would end up writing as I sat down to do so. But I always believe that whatever I am meant to write, will in the end come out. So there you have it.

I think I’ll be stronger mentally for going away and physically for allowing some rest. Only time will tell. We just have to trust that it will all be ok.

Yeh training is going well.  Just a minor blip along the way. Im grateful for all my life’s lessons. People have much worse. Its shit at the time but I’m moving forward and those who want to come with me, come. Those who don’t, well, see you later…

ITU World Championships – the build up & Aquathlon

Wow Wow Wow – what a location for a race!

Cozumel blew me away. What a beautiful place. What a peaceful place. What a deeply relaxing and calming place to visit and race in. Only I didn’t really feel like I was there to race.

Quite a number of the GBR team arrived in Cozumel on Saturday night, 10th Sep. I got to the hotel just in time to run 5k pace to the supermarket before it shut. How hot was that at 2230 at night? And how humid? Pitching up at the supermarket for some supplies such as milk and bananas, I realised just how hot and humid it was as the sweat was absolutely dripping off me.

Think I slept ok that night but woke up around 0610. Having arrived in the dark the night before, I didn’t know what the view from my room would be like.  OMG. LOOK AT THAT I said to myself as I pulled back the curtain and opened the door to the balcony. THAT right there is a MAGNIFICENT view. Actually that’s not really what I said at all. haha. If you know me well, you KNOW what I said.  It was STUNNING.

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A room with a view

I was gasping for a cuppa and as luck would have it, when I looked over my balcony, I saw a woman walking along with two mugs. So I called down to her to see where she got them and so my daily morning routine started – wake up, shower, go get tea downstairs and then sit by the sea, sometimes dangle my feet in the water and stare out to sea. Just sitting quietly, looking, contemplating, enjoying.  Beautiful start to the day. One of my favourite things.

Breakfast started at 0700 and I alternated between omelette and eggs benedict as it’s about all I could have that was gluten free on the menu.  By mid week, the people at breakfast knew that black tea with milk was my beverage of choice first thing in the morning.  I sat at the same table every day with the same view, looking at the horizon (2.7 miles away) and wondered if you could ever get bored of such a view.

Sunday 11th Sep

I had arranged to go riding with Paul and Sam in the morning at 10am, so after breakfast I built my bike and couldn’t wait to get out exploring. This turned out to be THE BEST Sunday ride ever or at least the best cafe stop ever mid ride!  We found a beach cafe (Reggae Bar) and we were so hot, we dumped the bikes on the sand, took off our bike tops and plunged into the sea with just bib shorts on (and a sports bra for me). OMG WHAT FUN! I couldn’t believe we were actually doing that.  The sea was so turquoise and clear and WARM! Just awesome fun.  When we got out, we had a couple of drinks at the bar (water!!!) and then it began to rain, so we sheltered until the worst of it passed. Not sure why we sheltered because we were wet anyway from swimming.

On the way back, the three of us seemed to spontaneously form a mini chain gang and I had to work hard to hold onto the boys. Loved it though.

Later on after the ride, Paul and I tried a swim in the sea by the hotel. I wasn’t sure how I’d get on because I was a little scared to go without a wetsuit (having nearly drowned when I was 16, this fear comes flooding back). But the sea was so salty and warm and buoyant, I had very little fear at all. Awesome. I was pleased I felt good in the sea water and there were many little fishes to look at. I loved it.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and sunbathing.

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So chilled out sunbathing

Mon 12th Sep

Again I met up with Paul and Sam and Sam’s mum to go running. Sam’s mum Nicki was on a bike and carried our water and had the Go Pro attached. I was feeling a little niggle in my left hamstrings during the run and in my ankle. But it wasn’t stopping me running, but I was aware of it and made a note to self to have it addressed when I went for massage that afternoon.

The run was pretty hot but I only really noticed it when I stopped running, when the sweat would pour off, but not actually when I was running, which surprised me.

After the run, Paul and I transitioned into hat and goggles to try the run to swim that we’d experience in the aquathlon on the Weds.  Was kind of ok. Went better than expected. The water was a bit more choppy today, but I was still feeling ok about it.

Again teh remainder of the day was spent chilling out.

This was the evening of thee most amazing sunset!  Just totally beautiful.

Tues 13th Sep

Registration day at the Expo.  Wow – hottest day yet.  Absolutely dripping with sweat whilst we negotiated how to register for the Aquathlon and the Triathlon. How to make an easy process complicated! Anyway, it all worked out in the end and after waiting in the most enormously slow queue, I had also bought some pressies and a new t-shirt for myself.

Maximum hours sunbathing on the deck of the hotel in the afternoon but before the day was out, we rode to the race venue for the swim familiarisation. Again I was really pleased with how I felt about swimming in the open sea with no wetsuit. Swam 1k and got used to the positioning of the buoys. Practised diving in off the pontoon and it was such fun I wanted to stay!

I kept saying to Bloomy and Paul that I really didn’t feel like I was about to race next day and nor did they! This felt like being on holiday. I felt so calm and relaxed about everything.

That night was the GBR Team Briefing and Team Photo at the Team Partner Hotel.

Weds 14th Sep – The Aquathlon World Championships

2.5 k run

1k swim

2.5 k run

Up early to get to the venue and set out transition – felt totally weird without a bike in tow!  After “racking” I had at least two hours to wait around before my race. So I pitched myself up alongside the start and watched the elite races and then lots of pals start their races. I was second last wave to go off so I was waiting around a while.

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Transition Box 

When it came my turn, I had developed a strategy in my head from watching the others. It was also of course very hot. So my plan was to run myself into the race and not completely kill myself from the word go, as I wasn’t sure how my body would cope racing in this intense heat, nor had I done this format of aquathlon before. So I literally had NO idea how this was going to go. But anyway, start slow, build fast, finish strong was my plan.

And that’s how the first 2.5k run went. By the time I was halfway through I had hit my stride and felt strong. I rounded the bend into transition with Rachel Bown (GBR) and a Brazilian girl. I heard Paul shout at this point to have a strong swim. That encouraged me to be brave.

Decent transition and started the long run to the pontoon to dive into the sea. I ran with my swim hat and goggles in my hand and put them on as I ran along. Put my goggles on at the last possible moment and smacked them onto my eyes to ensure they wouldn’t come off when I dived in.

In my dreams I had planned to run down the pontoon and do a running dive, but since this wasn’t my A race of the championships, I decided not to risk a silly injury and stopped at the pontoon edge before doing my dive. Was happy with that though.

And the sea felt LOVELY. Choppy but what a gorgeous place to swim. At the first turning buoy I was surprised to see a deep sea diver on the seabed. He looked about the size of a teeny lego man and I had a slight wobble about how deep this sea was when I hadn’t actually realised it!  But soon forgotten in the mele of the turn with the other girls. I’m afraid I was absolutely caned by the others in the swim. So many people overtook me, but I didn’t care. I was enjoying this experience way too much.  In fact if I could have, I would have smiled whilst swimming.

Before I knew it, the swim was over and I just had a burning desire to tell Hannah how I’d done. I felt ecstatic that I had made it and hadn’t drowned.

A slight wobble in getting out the water and then a run up the ramp and back along into transition. When I took my goggles off I felt that I had a swollen right eye and it was stinging. No idea why as my goggles hadn’t leaked, but I carried on anyway.

The other thing I noticed was hot much salty taste was in my mouth. Yuck.

The second run was awesome. I just tried to run strong right from the start of this 2.5k. I wasn’t feeling too hot having come out the sea and I wanted to try to make up lost ground. So I got my head down and started the hurt. Had a couple of swigs of a drink to clear the taste from my mouth but I didn’t feel a big need to drink on this run as it was so short.

I overtook a few British girls on this run and just kept trying to suck up the competitors in front of me. I then saw Penny Grayson ahead of me and just up the road. We had had a little battle on the aquathlon last year and I wondered if I could reel her in today too. I was getting so close and it was nice that she was there for me to keep chasing & to keep pushing. But I just ran out of road and she beat me. Gave her a massive hug at the end and congratulated her.

I wandered through to the recovery area and had official finishers pictures taken with Penny, Rachel and De Wit. Sat in the ice bath for a brief period before wandering back out and meeting up with friends to talk about our races and get a cab back to the hotel.

Otherwise maximum chilling was had by all.

That night was the Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations – one of the best I’ve actually been at.

Worthing Triathlon 2016

Sunday 28th Aug 2016

Goring Beach

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ETU Qualifier

When I realised that I hadn’t done any qualification races this year for next years Europeans in Kitzbuhel, I stuck this race in the race diary which would serve two purposes – the Europeans Qualifier, but also a good hit out for me post holiday and longer distance races, before Mexico in three weeks time. Mexico is the ITU World Championships this year and I realised that I hadn’t actually raced standard distance since Lisbon at the end of May.  So I really needed this race to see where my performance was at especially post illness and injury.

So I wasn’t really sure what to expect of myself except to go out as usual, do my thing, worry about no-one else but me and smash it up as best I could with what I had in the tank on the day.

So here’s how it went.

Race Morning

Alarm at 0415. First thought – “God I’ve not had enough sleep, those annoying people waking me up coming in late from a wedding – grrrrr”.  Then I remembered that I’ve raced tired a lot all season and it’s been fine.  Up, tea, shower, kit on, tidy up and pack the car.  It was still dark.  I’m not a lover of this time of year.  I don’t like this transition from summer to autumn and losing the light. When we’re firmly in the grip of winter, I love it.  Feeling warm and cosy I like, but the transition – hmmm.

Anyway, I’d booked my hotel late and ended up having to drive 30 mins to the race venue, so I left in the dark.

Arrived and racked up and this was a race where you could rack anywhere within a certain racking area for your age group. Normally we are prescribed an exact place, but today, arriving super early as always, I had the pick of the rack.  So I strategised for a moment and  decided I’d prefer to run a shorter distance with the bike and longer without it, so set myself up accordingly.

And blimey, it was WINDY. Kolin never touches the ground when on the rack and today was no exception, but it meant that he was blowing around a lot and I worried that he’d still be there when I got into T1.

I used the early time to go to the loo without a queue and then to view the swim.  This was a sea swim and with the wind being so up I could also feel my anxiety levels up. I’ve been pretty cool all season with my pre race nerves but this was going to be a tough challenge today.

I wandered down to the beach and looked out to sea.  No-one was about and the buoys weren’t even in the sea yet, so I couldn’t see the route. My intention of coming to the beach had been to observe the route and get my bearings but also to ground myself by the sea. However the more I looked out at sea, the more the knot in my tummy tightened. In fact, I was like a small girl. I wanted my mummy. I wanted someone to re-assure me. In this moment I truly felt like the sea would swallow me up later when I swam in it and I was contemplating pulling out of this race.  I wasn’t feeling safe and I needed to feel safe. I sat down on the exit swim mat and could feel the tears coming.  “Jesus Morag, get a f***ing grip” said my driver voice in my head.  The voice who doesn’t take any crap, drives me hard and doesn’t hear NO or like any sign of weakness.

“It’s ok Momo, you got this” said my kinder voice. “You WILL be ok. What did Hannah say last night?”

So instead of crying, I thought about ALL of the things that Hannah had briefed me on the night before. She loves a tough swim and swimming in the sea and had much to tell me.

So I sat there with my head in my hands, closed my eyes, blanking out everyone and everything and took myself back to the Morag who spoke to Hannah the night before. And I breathed. Slowly, deeply and with a purpose to calm myself. This worked. I felt the fear shifting and was replaced by a more serene self.  The one who had turned up at all my races this year.  She had arrived and I began to believe that if I remained calm that I could do this sea swim.

And so I stood up, looked out to sea once more and agreed with myself that I would do this and it would be what it would be. They wouldn’t put us in a dangerous position in the sea, would they?

I calmly walked back to transition and finished setting up and got ready for the race and the briefing back by the beach. I decided not to think about the swim again until I was ready to start.

The Swim

The sprint waves and a couple of other age group standard distance waves went off before mine and I was able to observe the starts and to see where the best start position would be.

Basically far out to the left of the first buoy looked the best as the current & waves were dragging people to the right, possibly missing the first turning buoy. So I knew where I was starting. Good. And breathe.

My group was called and we wandered down to the beach for our warm up. I decided to do what I’d done with Hannah at the night sea swim – just get in and don’t overthink it.  So I charged into the water and did a little dolphin dive and rode the wave that immediately came at me. Big mouth of sea water – disgusting.  I always forget that sea water is salty. haha.

We were shouted back to shore to assemble for the start.  And again I told myself, no overthinking, just do. Empty your head. Breathe. Heart rate down like Hannah told you. “30 seconds to go” – just breathe. Closed my eyes momentarily, saw myself riding the wave, opened my eyes, long, slow breath and the hooter went.

Charged into the sea again – over some rocks and stones and bobbed along for a bit against the waves.  The waves coming into shore were just crashing in at us and I wondered if I’d ever get to the first turning buoy. And as I had seen, the current was nicely taking me along to the right and towards the buoy. I was relaxed. Surprisingly relaxed. Wow Momo, LOOK AT YOU!

That was short lived. Some man managed to put his entire arm around my neck right up to his armpit and basically held onto me and pulled me under just as a massive wave came crashing down on us. “WTF are you doing ?” I thought and realised he was not going to let me go. Neither of us were in control of ourselves in this stormy sea and he was pulling me under.

“HE WAS ACTUALLY PULLING ME UNDER”

“IN THE SEA”

“IN A STORMY SEA”

“AND NOT LETTING ME GO”

Normally at this stage I would be panicking to the max. I would be hyperventilating. I would be TRYING (and most likely failing) to get my head above the water again to breath.

But this was like slo mo. As soon as I’d felt his arm go around me,  I saw the wave, and I was ready for it.  I remained calm. I just went with it. There was nothing else I could do. I just had to surrender to it and not fight it. And some deep inner wisdom also told me that I would be alright, because I am ALWAYS alright.

And then as if by magic, my head was above the wave again and I could take the next breath, and calmly unwrapped his arm from around my neck and swam away from him.

‘WOW Momo – LOOK AT YOU GIRL” my lovely calm voice said in my head. “You handled that amazingly”.  Actually I think that was Hannah’s voice.

“uh huh I did”, I answered myself.

Then the cautionary voice of reason and safety kicked in

“Yeh alright you two, there’s a long way to go here and much could happen, keep focused”

“Yes I know, I KNOW. I will. Fuck off”.

After the first buoy, sighting became hysterical. Bobbing along on the waves I saw someone next to me breast stroking along at the same speed that I was doing front crawl. I cracked up laughing to myself and didn’t take this seriously. This swim just felt like every man and woman for himself, however you could get round and survive it.

Often I couldn’t see the buoy when I looked up to sight for it and so I just swam along and knew that sooner or later I would see something. And I did. I was on course and starting to overtake some back markers from the wave before. That’s always pleasing.

Before I know it, I hit the last turning buoy and turn 180 degrees and start heading back. Everyone seemed really spread out and I acknowledged how much I was actually enjoying this swim. The sea was pretty rough and I was LOVING it. I couldn’t wait to tell Hannah.

“Keep focused MORAG”

Had to remember to ‘hug’ the buoys on the way back in until the 2nd last buoy, so that I didn’t fight the current and get washed back. At that buoy the race brief had said to start cutting diagonally across for the shore exit. So I did. Couldn’t actually see anyone else. That always makes my heart flutter in anxiety that I’ve got it wrong.  But helpful little voice kicked in:

“And what if my dear, if you are the only one that actually has this right?”

“Yeh good point, well made”

There was no exit gantry to aim for and I wondered where the heck the swim exit was. Nothing to aim for.  Arrghhhh. Then I saw a little quad bike parked on the beach with its lights on and a crowd of people at the exit.  “That must be it” and I headed for that.

Decided I could now get my head down and start swimming hard because I knew I had done it and I would finish the swim and not get pulled out. I could not believe how much I loved the swim when I had been so close to melting down earlier.

Getting out over the stones on the beach was tricky (bruised foot later I found out) and ran up the carpet.  Heard Michelle shout encouragement to me and I shouted back “That was AWESOME” and ran on into T1.

“Don’t much care what happens next, that swim was just so cool”

“Liar – of course you care lol”

T1

Fine. Zone 3 Vanquish wetsuit came off like a dream as usual and off and away on the bike. All good.

BIKE

WOW windy!  Exiting the bike and mounting and getting my feet in my shoes was a mission. I’m so light on my bike, I get blown around a lot and easily. So I had to hang on a lot as I bent down to fasten my bike shoes. But all good.

Nothing much to say about the bike really except that I felt a lot better on the bike than anticipated and was powering my way up the hills. It really was a windy course and the descent I was looking forward to I had to pedal down so that I wasn’t blown back up it!

It rained hard at one point but I was enjoying myself too much to care and happy that I wasn’t cold.

Just enjoying the bike leg in all its toughness and reminding myself  “you did Alpe d’Huez, these bumps are nothing. POWER them”.

Having done my last 2 races as middle distance, all of a sudden this bike leg seemed really short in distance!  What I had forgotten though was how much faster I needed to go and remember how to pace for 40k instead of 80-90k!  A bit different.

But there it was, the promenade – and ready to dismount the bike again for T2.

“SLOWLY Momo – stay on the bike until the right time. No crashing”

T2

Darn it I need to stop sitting on the floor to put my running shoes on, but otherwise, all good.

Run

So with the back problems I had had, I wasn’t sure how the run was going to go because I had missed a lot of run training. Heading out on the prom I felt ok and ‘ran myself into’ the run steadily and tried not to kill myself too soon.  Tried to gauge who else in my AG was out on the run. But I don’t really know all the girls in this AG yet and I won’t stalk their results either like I used to do. That way I stay steady and relaxed with my emotions and haven’t “beaten myself” or “psyched myself out” before I even start the race!

I saw a couple of older girls on the run ahead of me and wondered if they were in my AG. They looked like they were going better and faster than me (they were and they were lol).

The conditions were ok on the out part of the run, but when we turned at the turnaround point at the lido end – OMG the wind hit. It was like turning and trying to run up against a brick wall and all of a sudden the run became a battle and I really felt my lack of run fitness.

“ok Momo – it’s 3 H’s time. Head down, Hurt and HANG ON”

I say hang on because I knew Rachel Bown was on my tail. I had passed her on the bike but I could hear people shouting for her as she entered T2 as I left, so I knew I didn’t have that much of a gap on her. But that was my motivation – I HAD to stay away. And all I could think of was, if I was feeling the wind, that EVERYONE was feeling the wind. So I just kept my head down and kept battling.

At the next turnaround point, I collect the lap band and was pleased to be out of the wind. It was now I decided that I had to maximise my pace here and really get the hammer down and keep a gap and try to catch ANYONE in front, male or female. I cranked up my pace and continuously questioned myself about how much I wanted this.  Wanted what I’m not sure, but a podium maybe if it was up for grabs and because I didn’t know my position, I thought, well maybe. Don’t throw it away, in case.

So this part of the run felt decent. I felt more Mo. Yeh get in. And then the turnaround into the wind again! I found a man to run behind and to shelter from, but to be honest, it was a cross wind mainly and pretty futile. Came to the 8km marker and I remembered reading something once about running the ideal 10k. It was about running yourself in, running at a sustainable pace to 8km and then unleashing and hammering the last 2km.  Yeh it’s only 2km.  Yeh right. Against this wind the hardest 2km I’d put in in a while.

“HEAD DOWN MORAG”.

“RACHEL IS BEHIND YOU”

I’d been watching for Rachel at the turnarounds and thought she might be closing a tiny bit. But I couldn’t give her an inch. I HAD to keep digging in. I HAD to hurt for this and she (and anyone else) was going to have to bleed to pass me.

“My god this hurts.  HANG ON”

And then I got onto the narrow section near the end and could hear the tannoy.

“NOW!”

“WHAT?”

“NOW. Drop the hammer. GET IT DONE” said the driver voice in my head.

And I upped the pace once more as I THOUGHT I was near the end. But you know that thing where you forgot to reccie the route to the finish and it kinda goes on a bit longer than you anticipated?  THAT!

“Ah shits sake really?”

And I had to keep that hammer down for a bit longer than I wanted because this was HURTING. But turning onto the grass for the finish was another female and I had a target in my sight.

“OH YES. SHE IS MINE” said a delighted voice in my head and unleashed my sprint finish. LOVING IT.

And then it was over.

Wow. THAT was tough.

De-brief

The swim was the winner of my day – cannot believe how relaxed I was and how cool about the rough sea I was. Don’t care about the time, my mental approach to it was amazing and I KNOW I will draw on this at some future point.

My bike was still in the ball park and I was pleased I still had bike legs.

Run – there’s work to be done before Mexico. Top end run speed was not there – nor speed endurance, but still a decent wee run.

BUT I’ll cut myself some slack, because running hasn’t featured a lot recently. I am and I will work hard at run club between now and Mexico to get that killer run back I had at Lisbon. There’s enough time right?

I was 4th in my category.  Not too shabby McDowall.

And I heard afterwards that some people didn’t actually start the tri because of the sea conditions and lots were pulled out at the first buoy. So today was a winner really all round. Another fear conquered. YEH.

 

 

 

Alpe d’Huez Long Course – Part 5 – The Run

T2:

T2 was a bit slow compared to what I’m used to. When I dismounted my bike I could feel how sore my lower back/coccyx area was. For whatever reason, I decided not to take further painkillers – what an error! I hate it when I overrule my inner wisdom.

I sat on the floor and put my socks and running shoes on and contemplated the run ahead.

Well whatever happens Momo, you’re definitely going to finish this thing, even if you have to crawl”.

I didn’t really want to crawl though to be honest. There would have to be some serious shit going down for that to happen.

I found out later on facebook that my sister had asked SBF whether I had DNF’d because she had seen a lot of DNFs on the results but hadn’t seen my finish time. I wasn’t actually finished by that time – she’s so used to tracking me at big championships where I’m doing standard distance and taking somewhere in the region of 2.5 hours. So to be out for over 9 hours I think was challenging her somewhat.

It was nice to read SBFs reply to her though which was something like “she’s out on the run and there is NO WAY on this earth that she will DNF now.”  Yeh DAMN RIGHT.

The Run – half marathon, 3 laps

So I jogged out of T2 and as I picked up a little pace to ‘properly run’, I acknowledged to myself that actually, my back might be ok. “Let’s pretend it will be ok anyway shall we?” I cajoled myself along.

And this attitude was fine until I hit the first uphill. Then the intense coughing started.

Oh FFS, leave me alone cough.”

But I had to stop and cough my lungs up again and it hurt my body. That sinking feeling that I had a long way to go and already the pain was now kicking. I literally had to stop and hold my ribs together in order to cough as the pain was too exceptional if I didn’t.

Why did I not take the bloody painkillers. Why did I overule myself?”

I took my first gel. I’d learned from Cowman that I would probably need a gel for each lap. Psychologically, this was a good thing for me. It was something else for me to do. A little distraction from my pain.

I walked up the little hill because I discovered that I did not have glute strength from the pain in my coccyx to push.

“Ok Momo, this is lap 1, this is ok, find your feet and suss out the course, then you can push on laps 2 and 3.”

I saw the aid station and decided I was allowed to have a little walk there in order to get a drink. And mmmmmm – watermelon! Gotta have a bit of THAT. I also lay on the floor here to stretch out my back to many shouts of “Ca va? Ca Va ?”  I know just about enough French to know that they were asking if I was ok and I shouted to them that I was ok.

“I’m just here to provide the entertainment for everyone” I laughed to myself.

The stretch and subsequent crack from my sacrum, loosened things up a bit but my coccyx still wasn’t that happy with life. With each stride, I felt a shearing pain rip through my coccyx into my lower back and it felt like body was splitting in two and ripping apart. I’ve never felt anything like it. But I was determined to carry on. I HAD to finish this. I was so close. I AM DOING THIS.

On the way back in from this first lap, I found some resolve from somewhere and got my head down.

This is going to hurt Morag. Accept it. You will finish. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

The downhill off lap 1 was indescribable with sharp pains and I must’ve been running like I was trying to hold in a poo.  You cannot believe how much I WANTED TO STOP.

But lap 1 see (a hair scrunchy) and before I know it, I’m on lap 2.

Wow – actually, that felt short.

LAP 2 – by now I was hitting some kind of stride. I don’t think it looked pretty. It felt f***ing awful. I actually think I started to have an out of body experience. I kid you not. I think that was happening. I work with people a lot who describe leaving their bodies when a difficult memory comes up for them, and it’s a massive protection mechansim in order not to feel something. I believe that this is what happened for me. Quite an awesome skill to have in moments like these. However it felt like it took 3 or 4 days to return to my body, so maybe not so ideal.

I saw Kai and he was riding his bike and taking pictures. I was pleased to see him and he managed to distract me for a little while. He told me I was looking better than I felt. I even managed to smile for the official photographer too!

Lap 2 was kind of alright. Because I was blanking the pain. I had ‘gone’ somewhere else in my head and my body was just going through the motions.

And all of a sudden, I was finished lap 2.

Lap 3 – I’d taken 2 of the 3 gels. I didn’t feel like I needed the other one. I think this was because I hadn’t been unleashing the run I knew I had and had walked a fair bit. I was frustrated too because even after the ADH climb and 120k on the bike, my legs felt in awesome shape and apart from the pain I was feeling really good and pretty strong. I knew I wanted to run better but the pain was holding me back.

Lap 3 felt the longest of the laps but coming into the closing stages, with some flat bits to run on, I managed to pick up the pace. I was in the most unimaginable pain but I was just wanting it to finish now.

I’d been trying to pour cold water from each of the aid stations over my back to help, like some ice therapy, but it was futile really. Psychologically at least I felt I was trying to help myself.

And there it was, transition for the final time, final lap band, turn left, downhill and then a final push uphill to the finish chute.

And OMG – how I wanted to cry. This pain was going to end soon and I had DONE IT. As I tried to let the emotion be there, I just coughed and the cough hurt my back, so it was pointless. I had to hold the emotion back.

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Finish chute, trying to let the emotions out

And there it was. In all it’s glory, the finish gantry.

I HAD DONE IT.

I HAD SURVIVED.

I HAD TAKE THIS THING PRISONER!  YEH!

Alpe d’Huez Long Course Triathlon – Part 4 – The Bike

T1

The run into T1 wasn’t too long and it was a good chance to feel how my lower back was on running. Frankly I never really felt it at this point, either because I was dosed up on painkillers, the cold water of the lake helped or I actually wasn’t really concentrating on it that much.

Found my bike ok and was surprised at how many bikes were still on the racks. Maybe my swim hadn’t been as woeful as I’d thought.

DSCN3867

T1

I’d made myself a little gluten free roll with jam for T1 as I’m usually starving when I come out of swim training at home and 45 mins of swimming in the cold was going to mean I needed to fuel back up straight away. In fact, if you know me well, I’m ALWAYS hungry so the wee roll was important to have now to make sure my fuelling strategy for the day started as early as possible. Really I had NO CLUE how the nutrition element was going to go.  I was pretty much winging it having never gone long distance before. But the one thing I did know – I wanted REAL food and not chemicals as much as possible.

I was a little more relaxed in T1 than I would normally. That said, my wetsuit came off like a dream as usual but then I struggled to get my arm warmers on amidst eating my roll. But I just laughed and stayed calm. Running out to the dismount line I could hear Kai shouting to me again and guess who was there at the mount line with me?  None other than Marcel that I’d met the day before as we were scoping out T2 and chatted about our race. You see what I meant about meeting up with people………Marcel would pop up again later….it was nice to see him and we had a big smile for each other and said hello. But then he was gone.

 

The Bike – 120k, 3 alpine climbs

And so to the main event of the day.  The Bike. The thing I’d wanted to come here for. I was excited to get on Merida and prayed to the triathlon gods to:

a) get me round

b) safely and

c) without any mechanicals.

The triathlon gods answered. 🙂

So up and away on the bike and initially I was seriously glad of the arm warmers as I was quite cold. About 5 mins up the road the first descent started. It wasn’t a difficult descent and seemed to go on forever! I was still cold but knew that later on I’d be able to take the arm warmers off when the climbing started.

Drafting, as with all my races, is not allowed on the bike. No-one seemed to be paying attention to that though as slower swimmer males, started to overtake me in packs. WTF? So I decided to hook onto the back of a little peloton of boys, and hung off the back for a little while. That was seriously fun going downhill and FAST but they did drop me eventually as I reminded myself that we had a LONG way to go on the bike today and I needed to pace myself and stop getting carried away.

Honestly, that descent went on forever leading you into a false sense of security that a climb was never coming. But a sharp left turn and over a bridge and the climbing started. ok at first, past some beautiful little dwellings with lots of sunshine and flowers (all I remember) and some people clapping us out on the road. The sun was fully out now and I was feeling warm and rolled my arm warmers down. I settled myself into a climbing rhythm and switched my mind into being in this for the long haul.  “Just grind it out Momo and enjoy” said the lovely voice in my head.

I’d been eating bite sized bits of nakd bar or Cliff bar every 20 minutes and that was my strategy – REAL food and no gels until the run. And over time whenever I ate something, I drank something. Good. Going well.

Climb 1

I was getting caned on the bike at this initial stage. SO many boys passing me and some girls too. It was great to have our names and country printed on the back of our numbers and when someone passed, if they were from GB, I’d get a wee shout from them “Come on Morag, well done. Great climbing”. I did really have to reign in my competitive nature whenever a female passed me and remind myself not to chase so that I didn’t blow up.

“Let them go Momo. Ride your race, not theirs”.  And so I let them go.

“Wonder if I’ll see you later” I mused to myself.

Soon a British girl came up behind me and struck up a conversation:

“Hey Morag, I can’t believe it. I need to ask your advice. I don’t know what to do.”

The way she spoke to me was as if I actually knew her. And so I looked to see who knew me so well that I didn’t know was in this race. Anyway, it was just the GB camaraderie coming into play and this girl was a bit angry and worried and had seen I was GB from my number. She had just been given a yellow card to tell her she had incurred a drafting penalty on the descent. We had a quick discussion about how unfair it was as everyone had been drafting in mini pelotons. She asked me what she needed to do, good job I listened to that part of the race brief and told her the penalty box was in T2 and she needed to take it after the bike and before the run. All this chat at 8% average gradient haha.  But I was feeling fine and riding well within my capabilities. She was stronger than me and then rode off. I wished her well with her penalty thinking that she might be glad of a 5 min rest later.

To pass the time on the climb (not that I was bored but this was a 14km climb you understand – it went on a bit), I looked at the names and countries on the numbers as they passed and started making up little stories about the people and assessed their riding style. One girl passed and I caught her again and she was from New Zealand. Good god!  THAT is a long way to come. So I started a chat with her and she was actually Scottish living in NZ. She had been in Europe for 6 weeks doing lots of climbs on a mini training camp with some mates before they came to do ADH.  Awesome! And off she went too. “Just let her go. She must be about 20 years younger than you Morag”.

Riding on my own for a bit, I see a sign that says “Sommet 10km”.  WHAT? OMG. I’ve been riding this climb like FOR AGES and I STILL have 10km to the summit.

“Bloody buggery hell” I thought to myself. Wow. I’ve underestimated this whole thing.

“How the heck am I going to do that?”

“Just keep riding” the little mantra came out. And I set about continuing the grind out and refused to be psyched out by myself at this early stage.

Just after that sign, a familiar voice and rider came by.  It was Brett – hoorah!  So nice to see him and he was riding strong.  He shouted some words of encouragement about how relaxed I was looking and off he went. I shouted to him were his legs feeling this and he shouted back “OMG YES”.  So I was happy that he was feeling this climb too because I consider him to be a good climber. I didn’t expect to see Goran though as he’s a stronger swimmer and was most likely well up the road.

And then I met Nick. Nick was on a hired bike. He was loving it. We chatted about who knows what and can’t remember where he was from or anything now. But I remember he was called Nick.  Nick told me I must have had a good swim to be this far up the field.  REALLY? ok then. Nick would pop up again and again throughout the ride. But he left me before the summit at this point.

FINALLY the summit came and I was so pleased to see a little feed stop at the top. I’d never done a feed stop before on a bike and I wasn’t sure whether I needed to stop or not. But I did. Just to see what to do. I saw that there were Alpe d’Huez water bottles and decided to lose one of mine for one of those babies. Needed to have a water bottle with ADH on it!!!!

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It was at this stop that I saw one of the guys from Merseyside Tri for the first time.  We said a quick hi and I went off to tackle the descent.

Don’t really remember too much about this but I just remember the scenery and how happy I was feeling with everything at this point.  And Merseyside Tri guy came past.

Climb 1.5

I say 1.5 because this was the extra part we had to ride as the normal course was closed due to road works, so the organisers had to re-route us a slightly longer way around and there was an extra climb of about 200m ascent. Didn’t think it would feel like much and I was catching Nick again. As I caught, we rode together for a bit and had another little chat.  We were both feeling this horrid little climb in our legs and as boys passed us, Nick commented that he hoped they were riding too fast and that they would blow up on the ADH climb later. “I just hope it’s not me” he said.  Just remember I said that here……

I decided to let Nick go again as I was pacing myself and didn’t want to get caught up in anyone elses stuff. I was starting to need a pee as well, so I was scoping the landscape for a good place to stop. We’d been riding a little more on the flat again now and I thought it’d be good to stop and stretch my legs too. I think we were about 65km in by this point and it was nice to get off the bike for a few minutes. As I walked into the cover of trees I could feel how sore my lower back was.  Arrghhhh. I couldn’t feel it when riding, but could feel it walking.  Sod. I remembered that I had painkillers in my feed bag and knew that I would definitely have them when I reached the main feed stop.

Main Feed Stop – 71km in

Not long after my little pitstop, I saw the signs for the little village that the main feed stop was at.  And then I saw the stop.  OMG what do I do?  Again having never really done this before, I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was haha.  But I soon sussed it out.  Some people were pulling in and stopping and others were just taking a drink on the way by.

I needed to stop.  I knew I needed painkillers and FOOD. I was starving.  I had a feedbag prepared and I was getting sick of my cliff bars and needed something more savoury. I was looking forward to the gluten free roll with cashew nut butter that I’d stashed in the bag and totally devoured it.  Couldn’t get it in me fast enough. I was ravenous. Then my banana.

As I was eating I looked around and saw Goran.  OMG I NEVER expected to see the boys at the feed station. I thought they’d be too far ahead of me. So this was a pleasant surprise and really raised my spirits. I think it raised his spirits to see me too. We waved and I went over to see him and we had a hug.  So great to see someone here that we knew. I was BUZZING.  He told me about the food from the organisers and I went to have a look.  I came back with handfuls of crisps and watermelon. And then I saw Brett too and we all had a little chat.  Brett wasn’t looking or feeling as in great shape as I felt. And later he told me he’d been a little sick here.

It was around this time that I really became aware of the sound system blasting out some top tunes.  Then the best tune ever that could have come on at that moment, came on. It’s an important song to me and my triathlon mates and it’s our soundtrack for the LEGENDS.    It was Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson.  The biggest beaming smile came on my face and I HAD to start dancing. I must’ve looked like a nutter.  Just dancing around my bike that I’d laid on the floor, completely enjoying myself in the sunshine, feeding my face.  I was having THE BEST TIME of my life.  This was just amazing. Just the timing of that tune to come on when I was there.  Bloody awesome.  LOVING IT. And all around me were people who looked broken already, melting in the heat or totally serious. I was the only person who really looked like they were having the best time.  🙂  I didn’t expect to feel this good at 71km and with seeing the boys and one of my fav songs coming on – this feed stop I knew would stay in my mind forever.  JUST PERFECT.

The boys left the party a few minutes before me and I never expected to see them again.  WRONG.

Climb 2

So when we’d reccied the course in the car, we seemed to think this climb was the easiest of the three and according to the course notes, it was supposed to be.

OMG – I actually think it was the hardest, most gruelling climb of the day.  I think I say this because I was expecting the first climb to be tough and ADH, but this one was meant to be easy.  Good lord. Not at all. This climb wasn’t so much steep but long and drawn out and relentless. We seemed to be in a valley and completely exposed to the sun.  I started to feel how hot I was and I was beginning to struggle physically and mentally. For the first time in this ride, I was beginning to question my ability to climb ADH if I wasn’t even handling this climb. Having had fun in the feed station, the smile was soon wiped off my face and I was in serious hurt locker mode. Enter the alter egos:

“You nutter Morag, you see what you get when you enjoy yourself?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Well this is tough. You shouldn’t have been dancing. Should’ve saved your energy”

“You know that’s not at all helpful, go away. Thanks for joining in, but I really don’t need you here right now”

“OMG this is SO tough. What am I doing? What was I thinking? I’ve so underestimated this climb”

“I seem to be the only one suffering”

“No you’re not – look up the road Momo, no-one is actually getting away from you. EVERYONE, but EVERYONE is feeling this climb.  You are ALL suffering in this heat”

“Ok so you’re struggling. That’s ok.  DISTRACT YOURSELF”

“How the f*** can I distract myself?  THIS HURTS and I want to stop”

“Remember ALL of the hurt locker sessions Momo?  Well THIS MOMENT is what they were for. When you mentally toughed it out in your garage. YOU CAN DO THIS”.

Towards the end of the climb (ok sommet was 2km away still), I saw a Merseyside Tri chap by the side of the road and shouted to him was he ok?  He shouted back to me that he was alright, that the climb was a killer and how strong I was looking.

“Really? Well I’m totally giving it a good old bluff because I am dying here” – I thought to myself. But I’m currently going better than he is.  And drew much needed strength from that.

And there it was – the summit and another feed stop and OMG I needed to stop.  It was SO hot and I was needing to pee again (pleased I was hydrated enough to need to pee). And I was starving again. This ride was taking it out of me and we still had ADH to climb. This stop was at 91km and we still had about 15km to go before the ADH climb.  I knew this was going to be my last stop. I saw Goran and Brett hiding in the shade and eating. Again I was surprised to see them.  They guarded my bike whilst I went off into the woods and then I stuffed my face with crisps and watermelon again and drank some coke.  OMG I DRANK SOME COKE. I was hoping that my tummy would be ok with that as it’s not something I’m used to on a ride. But it was needed. I needed the sugar hit. IT WAS DIVINE!

I didn’t want to hang around for too long as I didn’t want my legs to stiffen up. I knew the most technical descent was next and I just wanted to get on with it. So I said goodbye to Brett and Goran and knew they’d catch me on the descent anyway.

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Concentrating but loving the descent 

I’m usually a rubbish descender and quite nervous. But I was getting tired and I wanted to enjoy it. There was a man in front of me who looked like he knew what he was doing and I followed his line and stuck with him as long as possible. I had Dave Couldridge’s voice in my head about how to ride descents (he was the coach in Majorca who taught me what to do – thanks Dave) and I let it fly.  I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. I was sticking my knee out like Valentino Rossi on his motorbike (ok exaggeration here) and because the road was quiet with cars, we were cornering really wide on the other side of the road. IT WAS AWESOME. The big smile was back on my face and I screamed my way down there in sheer and utter delight (and maybe some terror).

I made it my mission to get as far down this descent as I cold before Gorrie and Brett caught me and I pretty well made it to the bottom before they did.

Another few kms of flat took us to the last feed station before THE CLIMB. Brett and Goran had pulled in again but I just thought that to do so was delaying the inevitable. I would just be delaying the climb and the pain that was coming and I knew I had taken on enough fuel before.

So with a deep breath and a hefty dose of determination, I waved as I passed them and cracked on. Rounded the left hander and there she was.  MASSIVE kick of adrenalin.

“This is it. THIS is what I am here for” and a big wave of emotion hit me and I needed to breath.  I just felt a little overwhelmed that THIS was the moment I had been working all year towards. It was actually here and I was actually going to do the climb. I almost didn’t want to. Not because I was scared, but just to know that soon it would all be over. And I would be sad that I wasn’t still building to it.

I looked at my Garmin and it said 3.31pm. OMG I told Kai that I estimated to be starting the ADH climb at around 3.30pm. Couldn’t have got that more right. Another little smile to myself.

ALPE D’HUEZ – the final climb – THE ONE!! 21 hairpins, 14km of climbing, av gradient for the first 3km of 10%

And so there it was. Through the timing gate and into the climb.  FUCKING HELL. OMG. I’m doing it. I’m on it.

“Suck it up girl and relish every god damned bit of hurt that’s coming your way.  FEEL IT ALL”.

This was the bit I’d dreamt of many times and in those dreams those moments were rehearsals. This was my time – no more rehearsing, no more dreaming. Just reality. Just me and the climb. Just me and my own personal hurt. My time to prove to myself (no-one else, just me) what I was actually truly capable of after 106km of riding in intense heat already. I had to do this by myself, I had to show myself that I was strong enough to do something tough with no-one by my side. This was going to be the time of healing for me that I knew I’d come here for. That I survived something tough on my own – again.

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Gradient on ADH

So I got my head down and I looked up once or twice. But in driving the ascent a few times before, I knew I didn’t need to look so much. I knew what scenery was there. My mission was not to stop. To keep pushing through. To get to the top before falling apart.

I knew the turn at the second hairpin was when I’d meet THE WALL.  But you know, when I rounded the bend and looked, I thought “it looks worse than it is” and it was actually ok. My head was in the right place for this.  But people were already suffering and some had stopped already and others slowing.

I was at the end of all my gears and I kid you not, it took every ounce of guts that I have to keep going. When you see other people stop and you’re hurting to hell, you want to stop too. BUT I WOULD NOT STOP. That was never in the plan.  There was something in my psyche here that was translating as stopping meaning certain death. So I HAD to continue.  I know bizarre but that’s how it was. That’s what drives me.

At about hairpin 4 (could have been 5 who knows – there were 21 of these things), a man and his kids were standing and he offered me a bottle of water he was holding. Normally I would have said no to a random, but I was desperate and took it from him and murmured a thanks.  I took a gulp – it was warm – yuck. So I poured it over my head. And I kept going.

Now it was MY TURN to overtake people. I’d waited all day for that.  People were detonating all over the place on this climb and I was beginning to enjoy the fact that I was in decent physical shape and passing plenty of people.  I don’t class myself as a mountain goat, but I know I can climb. And I laughed to myself as an image of a little billy goat came into my head. Yeh that’s it, not a fully fledged mountain goat, but a wee billy goat.  🙂 I liked that image.

And then I saw Nick. He was off his bike and walking.  “WTF are you doing Nick?” I said on passing and he said it was just easier to walk. His worst fears had come true.  He had bonked.

Was I lucky I hadn’t bonked yet? Or did I get my fuel strategy spot on? I still had about 15 hairpins to go, so decided not to count my chickens just yet.

Passing Dutch Corner, a feed stop. I didn’t stop.  I just took the water bottle from the volunteer and he shouted “bravo bravo” to me as I had refused to stop when everyone else was pulling in.

“You so got this Momo.  Just keep going. Grind it out”.

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One of the final hairpins

I looked up and saw ADH village.  My heart swelled. I was almost there (still tons of hairpins, but this was psychological). I kept on grinding it out and before I knew it, I was nearing the last 3 hairpins where Kai and I had practised the day before.

OMG I’M SO GOING TO DO THIS” I beamed to myself with pride. AND then I saw Kai with his camera and he shouted to me what we had agreed:

“Mum – you look amazing. You’re stronger than you think”.

Oh god, I could have cried.  Not only did this mean my little legend had made his own climb of ADH safely, but that he’d come back down to support me and remembered my mantra.  I was beyond emotional at this point, so proud of him and our road trip together, in the hurt locker and so, so VERY tired. A whole rush of emotions and thoughts and physical hurt and JUST EVERYTHING.  Overwhelm. And I had lost all form on my bike and was finishing this climb any old bloody way I could. Just get up the darned thing.

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Losing form on the bike!

The final hairpin – “fucking actual hell”. The end.  I’VE DONE IT. But finishing the climb wasn’t the finish for the triathlon, I still had to ride another little hill, round some corners, up a side street before I popped out onto the main straight where I could see T2.

I had one last long drink to gear myself up for the run and I heard Victoria Raven’s voice shouting to me and I was chuffed. Not only had I made it, but I had beaten the boys on the bike.  I have never expected that to happen. I thought they’d both come past me on the climb and they never did.

Just awesome.

Just emotional.

Just tired.

Just everything.

Reality hit in T2. I could hardly stand up as my back had stiffened and it smarted a bit.  AND STILL the small matter of a half marathon to run…….blimey, how was THAT going to happen?

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End of the bike coming into T2