Training and lead up to the Event

Around 9 months ago, the Cotswold 113 popped up on one of my socials. I can’t remember if it was FB or Insta but the thing that stood out were the words ‘Early Bird Discount.’ I’m not tight or anything but I do like to save the pennies. Having not done any triathlons for about 4 years, I looked at the distance and thought ‘Yeah, I can do this!’ I run longer distances regularly and partake in a lot of long-distance swims, regularly swimming 5k and 10k either in lakes or rivers (although that’s gone off a bit as the Wye got a bit stinky!) The bike was a bit questionable though as my eyesight’s not so good these days so that was, I felt, my biggest obstacle.

And so it began……..

I borrowed a Turbo Trainer from a friend and through the Winter I would plug away on my bike in my outdoor shelter and I have to be honest, I found this mind numbingly boring. I would usually do around 45 minutes of varying efforts and then do a number of short sprints up and down the garden to get the legs used to that ‘wobbly’ feeling.

I increased my run distances and averaged 6 – 8 miles a couple of times a week and included a half marathon once a month. I usually picked Mallards Pike for this as they have measured trails and a café full of cake and other necessities at the end. I also had a lot of run coaching from my Husband John. Most of you won’t know John but he is an awesome runner and will push me to near collapse until I have a tantrum and say ‘enough is enough!’ This has happened a lot over the last few months but we are still together mostly because he is a very patient man and it would be too expensive to divorce me.

I didn’t feel at all concerned about the swim. I’m not the fastest but have no issues with staying horizontal in cold water for a long time. I started attending the TTG Monday evening sessions to help improve my stroke which would in turn improve my time. Charlie gave me lots of pointers which took a while to become habit but eventually I felt a great improvement. I also got a few early morning distance swims in at Lake 32 one of which was really windy and there was actually a current and waves which meant a gob full of water while trying to breathe, what’s that gonna be like on race day with 750 other people flailing about around me? Jon Murgatroyd has been very kind in ferrying me to these sessions on a regular basis even when he didn’t always feel like swimming. I still haven’t given him any petrol money…..big up to Jon!

As the event started to get closer and the weather was improving, I thought it was time to get the bike out on the road but my tyres were shredded after weeks on the turbo and my Liv Avail was always slightly too big with the long reach causing painful ‘smooshing’ in the lady areas, you girls will understand this predicament, so I made the decision to spend all my hard earned savings on a new bike. Off I went to The Bike Chain in Hereford and was sold a Liv Langmar. Now this was going to be the answer to all my biking needs however it wasn’t to be as it was delivered twice and twice it was damaged in transit. I’m panicking now as my event is only 10 weeks away and I haven’t been on the road. Jon, the amazing bloke at The Bike Chain then found me a Trek Emondo, slightly more expensive but so very beautiful that I just had to have it. I had it fitted but decided to not go with clip-ons as I’ve had some bad experiences with these in the past so stuck with normal pedals and toe bracket thingys. This went well, I was out on the road as often as possible and joined TTG for a ride with Jon Murgatroyd once again escorting me there and back along the busy roads to Gloucester and back. That was my longest ride clocking up 48 miles and I didn’t feel any of the discomfort which I had felt in years gone by on my previous bike. I live in Newent which is near May Hill so any rides in this area are bound to be hilly and I reckon that 20 miles on my local roads is worth 30 in flatter areas, this was my mantra when I got tired. I always thought it’s never gonna be as hard as this at the actual event so I never actually completed a 56 mile ride before the big day.

I started experimenting with various nutrition gels and drinks and also eating while on my rides. I went for the SIS gels which I had been using for a few years and introduced the SIS GO electrolyte drink in Lemon and Lime, they only had 3 flavours to choose from and this sounded like the one I would find the most palatable. Got that wrong! It is the most sickly concoction that has passed my lips and made my tummy feel a bit like ‘Is this just a fart or something more?’ I now have a half full tub left over if anyone wants it. I ended up using WOW Hydrate bottles which my hubba gets from Tesco, they’re Electrolytes with Vitamin water and Orange flavour so for me, they were much easier on my tummy, tasted better and had less risk of toileting issues.

Food wise, I went for Peanut Butter sandwiches cut into little pieces in my bike stem bag and a good handful of Jelly babies and sugar snakes. I wanted to make sure I could get those down me in the first half of the bike ride so they were well settled before I started the run and a few brick sessions made this timing easier to work out what was best for my constitution. I found this all easy to consume while riding but the sandwiches are a bit messy and I still have remnants of crusty Peanut Butter stuck around the zip of my bike bag. Note to self: Must clean that up!

3 weeks before the event, I attended a 113 familiarisation day which was the best thing I could have done. We were escorted around one of the bike laps which is 28 miles and then one lap of the run route which is 4.5 miles. We were shown where all the aid stations would be, talked through all the safety measures, shown where the toilets were en route and ended with a questions and answers session because we all had so much more we needed to ask. Graeme who runs the event was brilliant; answering everything in detail and making us all feel much more confident about the whole thing. The café was also open that day and it was fab to see Ruth and Dave Haywood and James Baker having a swim and we spent a few minutes chatting while I filled my face with my veggie sausage bap.

So, I trained for around 7 months. I got my swim time down to approximately 2 mins per 100 metres, I got my bike up to just under 15mph and I got my half marathon time down to 2:15. Piece of cake…….yeah right!

Race Day

It’s 4am, I’m 55 years old and I haven’t slept at all well. What the hell was I thinking entering this?

I adorn my Tri-suit which has got to be at least 10 years old, it’s pretty frayed around the back side and has lost most of its elasticity, I pick up my bags which I packed the night before and checked everything again, I had lists of everything I needed but went through it all again just to be sure it was all there. Had my cup of tea and my Weetabix, got the bike, got my bag, got the dog, got the husband and off we went. There was no talking on this journey!

We arrived just before 6 and it was absolutely packed. A hive of super athletic looking people but also older people, all shapes and sizes of people, gaggles of ladies vowing to stay together throughout the event, children that have been dragged out of bed to support their parents, some amazing looking bikes but also some that looked like they wouldn’t make it to the end of the road. A mish mash of clothing, some expensive looking wetsuits, some very worn out running shoes (that was me!) and most of all every single person was smiling or laughing and excited about the day ahead.

The registration was the day before so it was just a case of racking up, putting on my wetsuit and joining the long queues of people all waiting to get into the lake. I was actually in Wave 3 but that is of no consequence and as you can just get in line where you want. I had a quick dip to acclimatize and made my way to the start line. It was a rolling start and the whistle was blowing every 5 seconds for people to enter the water, then it was my turn!

The lake was just under 18 degrees, the sun was shining and the water was calm, it was pretty much a perfect day for it. I spotted all the buoys in advance to make sure I wouldn’t get lost and that was that. It was a great swim. I felt very comfortable and swam at a consistent pace sometimes overtaking people and sometimes being overtaken. As I swim outdoors a lot, I do pride myself on my spotting however, some people are really bad at it and I was amazed that some managed to swim across me and into me. Luckily, I’m pretty used to that so it didn’t phase me at all, just a small amount of swearing at them under the water so they couldn’t hear me was, I feel, necessary. I completed it quicker than I expected as I had allowed myself 1 hour but I think it was about 50 mins. Believe it or not, I haven’t actually checked the timings so I have no idea.

On exiting the water, I trotted off to my bike and began the massive task of releasing myself from my wetsuit. There should be medals for this! I reckon it took me about 15 minutes to get myself bike ready and that included wetsuit off, bike jacket on, trainers on, tie the hair up, put the helmet on, helmet’s not right, re-tie the hair, helmet back on, gloves on, take a swig, set my watch, find the bike out gate, am I in the right gear?, and we’re off!

There are many things about this ride but on the whole it was a really enjoyable and scenic route. It was incredibly well marshalled and all potholes and nasties were spray painted for our own safety. It is totally flat which I was chuffed about as I could just get my head down and pedal away without having to run through the gears too much. I was overtaken loads by the guys with the fancy bikes and helmets but everyone of them shouted my name and let me know that they were passing. They also shouted a lot of encouragement as they went flying by but to be honest, I cannot believe the speed they were travelling at. I was giving it my all and I felt like I was stationary when they passed. I did overtake a few people myself though which I was pleased about and pulled into the aid station at mile 23 on the first lap for a leg stretch and chat with the marshals. During the first lap I had made a start on my peanut butter sandwiches and was taking regular swigs of my electrolyte drinks. Now the drink business is something I should have practised more, I was OK with the sandwiches as they were right in front of me but the drinks were underneath me and I couldn’t always get my bottle back into the bracket without a wobble. By the time I started lap 2, I’d eaten everything I had and was starting to think about the run which was at least another hour away. The temperature was starting to increase but it wasn’t an issue on the bike. I felt much more confident on the second lap as I memorized where all the rubbish bits of road were and all the marshals remember you from the first time around. I must have shouted ‘last time I’ll see you today’ about 20 times which was, I realise now, a bit tedious but these small interactions kept me going. As I was on the second lap, I realized I was seeing less and less other competitors which can only mean that a lot of them are done with the bike and now on the run. Thing is, I was going as fast as I could and trying really hard to not feel disheartened that I’m very near the back so keep plodding I did and when I finished and got back to the transition area, I actually spoke to some guys that had already finished the whole event. They were about 30 years younger than me, totally athletic looking but most importantly incredibly supportive. Chants like ‘keep it going’ and ‘you’ve got this’ were aimed in my direction and that really went a long way in boosting the old confidence. My aim was to complete the bike section in 4 hours and I managed somewhere around 3:45/50 so, I was pleased with that time.

So far, I felt I was doing pretty well and the transition from bike to run was pretty easy as I already had my running shoes on, all I had to do was relieve myself of my helmet, gloves and bike jacket and replace it with a vest and of course, retie my hair… gotta look cool at every point in an event like this!

I had bought new running shoes a few weeks before this event but they just weren’t feeling quite right so I had my old ones on that have holes in the toes but feel like slippers. I don’t ever wear socks for running so just needed to be comfortable for the long trek ahead and oh my, what a trek it was! I was pretty laid back about the run as I run a lot so didn’t really foresee any issues. Well, to start with it was unbearably hot and secondly, I’ve not done a half marathon straight after a 56 mile bike ride so, the fact that I didn’t do a great job is no surprise. I started off quite well with the bits where you run through the woods being quite pleasant but when you hit the road, you also hit the heat and I really struggled keeping any kind of pace up. I stopped at every aid station for some water as I was feeling a bit dehydrated and also managed to trip over a tree root which pulled my left hamstring, I guess I just wasn’t picking my feet up. But I carried on, plodding away, sometimes running, sometimes walking and the joy of seeing the TTG aid station was the best feeling. Adey Cole gave me a wonderful bear hug on the first lap and I got claps and shouts of encouragement from all the other members present. My aim was to complete the run in a maximum of 2.5 hours but that wasn’t to be, it took 3 hours which is the longest I’ve ever spent running a half marathon. As the run is 3 laps it means you have to run past the finish line twice which can be quite demoralising however, it also means that everyone is shouting your name as you run past and that is a massive boost giving you that extra push to keep on going. On the last lap I gave in to the Jamaican Ginger cake and flat coke that was on offer at the Tri Team station and I have to admit that it was the most delicious of all the snacks that I’d inhaled throughout the event.

I was finally approaching the finish line and was overwhelmed to see some of my buddies had come down to see me. My Chiropractor Laura Morgan, my Sports Therapist Sam Creese from April Rise Therapies and people from my own running club Newent Runners. I was conscious that people were watching and that there would be a photographer there so managed to sprint over the line before receiving my lovely medal which is the size of a small dinner plate. I wore it for the next 24 hours and it now hangs next to my bed so it’s the first thing I see every morning as a reminder that I actually completed the challenge I had set myself.

This whole event has been a massive learning curve;

Firstly, stick to the training plan. I didn’t do this towards the end of my training and feel that I could’ve performed so much better if I had done what was recommended. Training was starting to feel like a chore and I was definitely slacking in the couple of weeks leading up to the event.

Make sure you get the hydration right. I took on loads of fluids but as it was so hot I think that by the time I got to the run I was more dehydrated than I realised.

Check the weather forecast prior to arriving just to make sure you’re well prepared for our unpredictable English weather.

Get clip-ons for the bike. It would have been much easier pulling up as well as pushing down.

Invest in a new Tri suit. No reason apart from mine is knackered.

Forget about time and enjoy the day. This doesn’t apply to everyone but when you’re at my level it really is important.

And finally, a huge thank you to everyone for their amazing support along the way. To my husband John who has been incredibly patient throughout my journey. On event day he ran 11 miles around the bike and run circuit so he could heckle and take photos and my dog Marlon escorted him the whole time, the poor lad was knackered! To Jon Murgatroyd for the constant encouragement and taxi service. To Charlie for helping to improve my swimming, to my little boys (aged 22 and 20 years) for thinking their Mum is ace for doing this and for all the little pep talks from Adey Cole, Pete Jones, Jo Carter and so many other people that I don’t know the name of.

The only question now is ‘What shall I do next?’