Can we talk about hills?….

It’s 4 and a bit weeks since I rolled over on my ankle and happily, it no longer hurts.

I have diligently been doing my exercises and seeing the Physio every Friday as he helps me strengthen my ankle and get it back up to “running readiness”. I suspect that the Physio thinks I am a little bit bonkers (he is probably right, let’s be honest), but he assures me that his job is to facilitate my madness. However, he will not send me back out to run until I am safe and my foot is ready and he’s said this more than once. In the meantime, I was to focus on swimming and cycling.

Swimming now happens on a Tuesday morning (every week without fail) and then usually on a Thursday also. My swimming lessons have now finished and so from this week I am rejoining the tri-club swimming sessions on a Thursday evening. I’m nervous and excited at the same time but it will be important to get used to swimming with lots of people due to “mass start” at the beginning of open water swims. I have read horror stories about people swimming over the top of others in the sea/lake and people getting shoved and hit in the throng of 200 swimmers all starting at the same time. *note to self, need to fit in some boxing*. Merida has booked myself and her onto an open water swimming course at “Mad Mike’s” lake in North Bristol and this starts early May. I still don’t have a wetsuit, but as the lake is around 11c…..I am motivated to get one soon.

But my main focus since falling, has been my bike. Keeping Triathlon Mum’s words “train for the cycle and you will complete the triathlon” at the forefront of my mind, I was keen to get some miles in. Luckily Dr Crane is a keen cyclist and so 2 of my recent PT sessions have been out on the bike for a loop around Bristol including some hills. Going up hills is hideous and let’s not pretend otherwise, but I do spend a lot of time working on my leg strength and as I learn more about my bike, and how the gears work it is easier. Dr Crane is very patient and has been helping me with the technical understanding bits as well as the general terror I feel at being around cars on the road and I am slowly getting more confident. Going downhill is terrifying. I (almost) close my eyes (*I don’t obviously*) and say out loud for the entirety of the descent “I AM GOING TO DIE”. It is very scary but Dr Crane is adamant that I try not to brake (as long as it’s safe of course) in order to utilise the speed.

I love being on my bike but it isn’t comfortable. 2 weekends ago Merida and I, accompanied by our friend the Tequila Queen, cycled out to Clevedon for a coffee and some cake (this is apparently law within the cycling community. Triathletes and cyclists are not fuelled by protein shakes as people assume, they are fuelled by coffee and cake).


The route was quiet (cycle paths and country lanes – no busy main roads at all much to my relief) and although there were a couple of hills, I coped ok and was awarded a sunburnt nose for my efforts. It was my longest cycle ever at 60k and this was important as the 100k bike ride was looming very close now. It was also a long ride “clipped” into the pedals by my cleats but I didn’t fall and they really do make a difference to your overall power.

Unfortunately, my shoulders hurt so much the week after that swimming was tortuous and so I booked to have, what is called a “bike fit” to improve the comfort on the bike. Whilst it is never going to like sitting on a sofa, it should be bearable and this is what the bike fit would solve.

I cannot recommend 73 Degrees in Keynsham enough. My “bike fit” took 3 and a half hours in total and when I left I knew that my cycling position was correct. It started with me laying down on a physio bed whilst Jon rotated my hips to see how flexible I was and then assessed my back strength and overall flexibility. The idea was to understand if my body could withstand the most aggressive bike position which would give me the most speed (apparently my body could, which was a genuine shock to us all) but as this position has you leaning forward and your back quite flat (to make your body aerodynamic) unfortunately, my boobs are less helpful or understanding about being fast, As I cycled in this position, my knees kept knocking into my boobs which was not so good. Bruised boobs are not something I’m keen on and so we compromised. A tweak of the saddle to lift it,  the handlebars being brought closer to me by 3 centimetres, a new saddle (oh hallelujah), adding washers to the pedals to make my leg rotate more efficiently, nothing was left to chance. It was a bit like an eye test where after a while, I didn’t really know if the “red or green” was clearer, but Jon said it would be obvious when it was too high/far and it was. I left 73 degrees extremely happy and feeling much more confident about the 100k Tour de Bristol which was the following Saturday.

Here is the web-link for 73 Degrees.

I cannot recommend them enough. I like to judge people on how they manage my never-ending stream of stupid questions and Jon was fantastic. (Not an ad by the way).

The day of the 100k arrived and I collected Merida in the car to make the drive up to UWE. I have history in signing up for events (mainly running so far, as you know), I train hard for them, but rarely (ie never) read the information that the race organisers send me beforehand. Just ask Hattie! I rock up and ask “what is it today?!” and then set off. I have learned that cycling is quite different however.

If there is a hill in a running race, whilst it might make you swear a bit, you can walk if you choose to but they are rarely that long or steep. Saturday taught me that this is absolutely NOT the case with cycling and it makes sense to look at the route before you set off. But if I had looked at it, I may well have not signed up for it at all.

The first 20k was fantastic. Quiet roads and glorious weather. It was my first taste of riding in a big group too as there were about 50 or so cyclists that set off at the same time and it took a good 10-15k for us to spread out a bit. All the cyclists were lovely. All enjoying themselves and excited about what the day would bring. We cycled over the old Severn Bridge. This is something I have always wanted to do and it didn’t disappoint. I loved it.

Bikes on bridge

We passed into Wales and then the hills started. Kilometres 20-50 were savage. We went up, and then up, then down a little bit and then up again. It got to the point that I could no longer allow myself to enjoy the downhill for fear about what hill would be waiting for me at the bottom of it. Merida is a very experienced cyclist and she had promised to get me round the course (as has become tradition over the years of our friendship!)

Elevation 100k

When you weigh more than the average triathlete, gravity is your friend when you go down the hills (my top speed on Saturday was 36 miles per hour which feels extremely fast on a pushbike!) and I was faster than Merida, who is so slight I feel a strong gust would flip her over! But on the uphill, there is absolutely no advantage to being overweight and I could feel every extra pound I carry. Going uphill was hard but I didn’t stop. I used my gears (correctly most of the time) and kept going to the top of the hill but everyone passed me. We were all struggling. You’d get into a little routine of passing and then being passed by the same bunch of people. One such lady passed me on the uphill almost crying as she said to me “when will it stop going up?!” and I wondered the same. My thighs were burning and I was wondering what on earth I was doing there but then we arrived at the 50k point where there was a food station. A cup of tea, a couple of mini mars bars, a toilet stop including some reapplication of some cream to my undercarriage and I was feeling better. I asked Merida if there were more hills in a slightly terrified voice but was very happy to hear that the bulk of the elevation was behind us. As we left the 50k point, the following 10-15k was all downhill. Oh how glorious it was. The rest of the ride was good although I was tired, but the sun had come out and we were enjoying ourselves. The hill into Chepstow, that I’d been warned about was more of a “hump” compared with the mountains that we had already climbed earlier that day, but the hill at 93k nearly finished me off. I was shattered and there was nothing in my legs. I am ashamed to tell you that I got off my bike and walked the final 100 yards up that hill but I was spent.

Paula and me at 50k

Nonetheless, we got back to UWE and I received a medal, my first of the year. I was sobbing and enjoyed a tearful hug with Merida, RubyRed and the Baron who had also finished. It felt like a massive achievement. But it has showed me that I have lots of work to do still. Not only on hills, but I do need to keep losing weight. I have lost 16 pounds since Christmas but Saturday showed me that the more I lose, the faster I will climb the hills. Learning from Saturday, I have since looked up the route for Weymouth and it is hilly. Not quite as hilly as last weekend, but not far off. I need to take off 1 hour and 20 minutes from my time to make the cutoff in September, which is no small feat, and I know that losing weight will help this.

I also need to learn to eat on the bike. I did eat quite a bit on Saturday and drank plenty, but I burned 4438 calories on the ride and 6387 over the course of the day. I had a terrible headache until 9pm on Saturday night and couldn’t get my hydration back to what it should be. Now this is alarming as for both triathlons, I need to get straight off the bike and then run/walk 13 miles. If I can’t get the nutrition sorted, I will keel over. So lots to think about and practice but for now, I will enjoy my first medal of 2019 and try not to worry about the rest.

100k medal