I apologise in advance. I’m not good at brevity at the best of times, but this is going to be long. A cup of tea is probably a good idea……
When we pulled up at the lake on Saturday afternoon to register for the race, it’s fair to say that I was feeling a bit odd. I was highly emotional due to a lovely post that had gone out on “This Mum Runs” earlier in the day which told 70,000 women about my couch to triathlon journey and then hundreds of women sent me messages of support and luck via facebook and Instagram. I had no idea what was going on when my phone suddenly went bananas as I was faffing about trying to cram 7 changes of clothes into a Kitbrixx bag. I sat on my bed reading them in floods of tears. I was now not only worried about letting my daughters down if I didn’t cross the line, but also the ladies (most of whom I have never met) that were all counting on me to get around too. I felt determined yet completely terrified.
But when we arrived at the lake to register, Merida and I started bumping into people we knew who all were smiling and the briefing itself was friendly, reassuring and importantly, very inclusive. Numbers collected, cups of tea drunk and we set off for the hotel, which was a short 10 minute drive away.
Our room was comfortable, even with Han Solo and Shiny Sheena accompanying us (triathlon attracts thieves unfortunately and so we had been strongly advised to take our bikes with us into the room with us.) An early dinner at 6pm was followed by 90 minutes of more faffing, packing and repacking kit ready for the morning. We watched an episode of Killing Eve and lights were off at 10.15pm as the hotel were putting on a triathlete’s breakfast at 4am. There was also a wedding on in the hotel and the guests were noisy and this coupled with my general nerves meant that when the alarm(s) went off at 4am, I felt about as rested as Santa Claus after a busy Christmas Eve.
I had never wanted to eat less and yet it had never been more important, so I forced down some porridge and we were off. Merida was calm and although we both felt tired, we were quite jovial as we arrived in transition and racked our bikes. I tried to look like I had a clue what I was doing, but the cat was already out of the bag with that one as after a week of faffing, I had forgotten to pack something to wear TO the event. I was the only triathlete that arrived with a pair of Levi’s on over my bikini bottoms, but I don’t think anyone noticed as everyone was busy getting their stuff ready so they could change, grab their bike and get out quickly after the swim.
I greased myself up with body glide, used plastic bags to get into my wetsuit, was zipped in, zipped others in, and then we went to watch the first wave set off. I felt sick. I felt like I would see my porridge again any minute and I had to fight tears but managed to keep it together, mainly. Breeder of Boys was there, and she is an extremely experienced triathlete who is currently training for Ironman Barcelona and she gave me a reassuring hug. It was quite chilly at 6am on Sunday and the air temp was about 7-8 degrees. My feet were cold as I waited on the banks of the lake and I was worried about how cold the lake was going to be, but it was actually much warmer than the air temp. I waited at the back of the pack of the “green hats” and as the watching crowd counted down backwards from 10, I tried to steel myself for the what I was about to do. As “go” was shouted and most of the swimmers swam off, I counted to 10, said a little prayer and then set off.
When I swam in the lake on the weekend before, it was beautiful and clear. On Sunday it was churned up and muddy. I tried to do everything that coach George had taught me, relaxed my arms, breathed deeply and just got into a routine. There were lots of fast swimmers that went off like a rocket, but there were plenty of slower swimmers too, some breast stroking, some alternating between front crawl and breaststroke and I felt happy swimming along with them. All was going well and I was trying really hard not to think about the fact that not once, had I actually swam the whole 1900m before today, when the wave that had started after us, the orange hats, caught us up. These guys were taking no prisoners and were very keen to get through. Thankfully nobody swam over me or ducked me as per the horror stories that I had read and panicked about, but I did get kicked in the chest and hit on the head. This lead to some water swallowing and some coughing, but I managed to recover and before I knew it, I could see the big red arch that was at the end of the swim and I could hear Dave (legendary triathlon Marshall who is the most encouraging person you will ever meet) shouting for us to swim to him. I started to kick my legs hard to ready them for the next part of the race. I arrived at the arch and as I tried to get out, I tripped and was almost dragged out by the marshals, but I was out and was relieved.
But no time for celebration now. I ran to transition, taking my wetsuit off and arrived at my bike.
On Friday afternoon, as I was sat at my desk, stressing about the triathlon, I received a message from Merida that floored me. She said she had decided that rather than go for a time herself, she would like to complete it with me on Sunday. Almost the next step in our crazy friendship; 10k, Half Marathon and then half Ironman triathlon. (I never pretended it was a normal friendship!) After some tooing and froing which involved me checking that she was being serious, several times, I quickly agreed. We had to have a plan as there are rules in triathlon which mean, particularly on the bike, you cannot travel too close together or “draft” each other, as you will be disqualified. Drafting is where one rider sits in on the back wheel of the cyclist in front meaning they gain an unfair advantage as they are not being buffeted by the wind and so don’t have to work too hard. With this in mind, we needed to be careful.
So, the plan was that Merida and I would meet in transition after the swim as we are similarly paced (Merida completed the swim in 50 minutes and I in 53) and then we would set off together on the bike but not too closely. We agreed a pace of 15 miles per hour (we both have computers on our bikes that tell us this stuff) and I would keep Merida in my sights. This pretty much worked well over the whole cycle. Merida would be in front and at times I could just see her in the distance, other times I was closer. A couple of times I overtook her and we had a little chat on the way past and a few times we cycled side by side, but always we were careful not to draft.
I found the first 10k of the bike quite tough because I was cold. I was wearing a wet triathlon top, arm warmers and had swapped my bikini bottoms for proper (and padded) cycling shorts because 90k is a long way. In the early part of the bike I struggled to warm up. The air temperature at 7am was around 10c and it felt fresh. I was worried but just dug in thinking about what Merida had given up to race with me and also my daughters who I was going to be seeing later. I remembered the words of Triathlon Mum to me who had contacted me the night before to impart her wisdom, “eat like it’s Christmas Day on the bike” and so I diligently ate protein flapjack and drank my carb drink, regularly. The problem was as I approached 40k, that drinking half the lake after being hit on the head, coupled with plentiful drinking was not good for my bladder so I cycled up to Merida and requested that we stop at the feed station which was approaching for a comfort break. Merida was also in need, so sped off to get there first to minimise queuing and I arrived shortly afterwards.
As I got off my bike, I came over a bit wobbly and lightheaded. The Marshall approached me quickly and suggested that for the next 20k, I ease back a bit as I would need my legs for the run (remember that, it’s important……!) and I agreed. A quick comfort stop in a leaning portaloo, which had liquid on the floor (don’t think about it) was akin to ice skating in bike cleats and so I was quick.
For the following 20k we did ease back a bit, but the sun was out and I was no longer cold. I kept eating and drinking, thanking each volunteer Marshall we passed for giving up their time and before I knew it, were at 80k. My back and bum were beginning to complain after nearly 4 hours on the bike and so I was beginning to look forward to the run.
As we pulled around the corner to the dismount line and then into transition, I saw eldest daughter and Fitbit sister waiting for us. They were cheering and very excited, immediately getting on the phone to tell my other family members that we were back in and would be running past them soon.
At this point I felt quite confused and angry. It’s hard to explain. I was very pleased with how the bike leg had gone and had completed it in 3 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds. This is massively under my target 4 hours with Strava giving me an average speed of 23.9 kph or 14.8 mph. If I could be bothered to work it out, I know that the first 40k would have been much faster than the average speed too, so I had no reason to be feeling negative, but I was.
If the race had ended there, I would have been elated, but of course, I now had to run a half marathon and it was quickly dawning on me that I still had at least another 3 hours ahead of me. But nonetheless, I quickly changed, picked up my electrolyte drink and off Merida and I ran. My family were cheering and although I felt tearful, the presence of my daughters made me hold it together, until we were out of their view at least…
Of course, once they couldn’t see us, I started to cry. I had a banging headache and honestly wasn’t sure I could do another 3 hours of this. Merida, in her famous gold shorts, quickly swung into action and got me going again. I can’t believe it, but with exception of a loo stop (a proper loo, it might have been the best sit down of my life) we pretty much (but not entirely) ran the whole of the first 7k loop. It was very slow and much slower than I had been hoping for, meaning that a 3 hour half marathon wasn’t going to happen, but at this point it was very clear that the goal was simply to finish.
There were 3 water and feed stations on the run which was 3 x 7k loops. The first one, next to the toilets, was for water, the second was water, flat coke and energy gels and the third was a veritable buffet; crisps, pretzels, peanuts, jelly babies, jellybeans, cake you name it, it was all there.
On the first lap, Merida used the feed stations like the proverbial carrot – “come on, run until we get the next station and then we’ll rest”, and I obediently shuffled forwards as best I could. At each station I gulped water, then flat coke, but didn’t really want anything to eat as my stomach had really begun to hurt. I forced a couple of pringles down as I knew I needed the salt and it was hot. I learned many things on Sunday, but one of the most important ones was not wear a black tri suit.
I was boiling and it wasn’t helping my headache. Also peeling myself in and out of a black, damp from sweat, tri suit to use the toilet was horrendous. I seemed to turn into some kind of contortionist as my shoulder seemed to dislocate itself as I tried to get back into it again afterwards and on one of the three visits (one of each loop), I had to be helped back in by a confused looking lady who was queuing with her daughter to use the loo after me.
As we were finishing lap 1, I steeled myself to see my family and promised to hold it together in front of them, but sadly I couldn’t seem to. They were all cheering but I looked into the eyes of Hockey Sister and stated tearfully “this is so hard” as Merida shuffled me through again. My sister has since told me that I scared her at this point and she mentally put all her faith in Merida to get me over the line.
Now this is the point where I hit “The Wall”. I’ve heard about it of course. Apparently, it happens around mile 22 on a marathon when your body has used all of your glycogen supplies and effectively you are running on empty. However, for most marathon runners this is anything from 2-5 hours in and I was in the middle of hour 6 of my triathlon.
I sobbed, my head was killing me, I couldn’t catch my breath, I dry retched being sure I would vomit, but nothing came up. Everything hurt. Everything. My ankle ached and my stomach was suffering severe stabbing pains. Anything I put into it including water, made it worse. I genuinely have no idea how Merida didn’t punch me in the face during that hour as I must have been the most miserable and pathetic run buddy the world had ever seen. But somehow she managed not to. She has since told me, that there were periods of that loop where she had severe doubts that she would get us both over the line, and it is completely down to Merida and her resolve, smiling and general magnificence that she managed it.
I don’t really remember much at all about the final loop to be honest. I was still crying and dry heaving off and on and at certain points had to ask Merida which way we were supposed to be going (as I couldn’t remember) but then, finally, we were at the end. The finish line was in sight and somehow (and I have absolutely no idea how) I broke into a sprint. I could not believe that the end was there, finally, in front of us. Mike, the triathlon Marshall that had dragged me out of the lake earlier, was cheering and so were my family. I saw my daughters grinning and teared up again. Merida took my hand and we powered down the finish line to collect our medal.
I love this photo. Not just because it demonstrates real friendship and support. Not just because it shows we completed it. But most importantly because if you look over my right shoulder, you can see one of my daughters watching me finish. The look on her face makes all the pain worthwhile.
It is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was truly horrendous in parts and overall I was third from last (somehow I beat Merida in the sprint finish so was 0.5 seconds faster than her overall, of which I do have some guilt!) Lap 2 of the run was on a par with childbirth but somehow my friend got me round. Merida you really are a complete marvel. I am so grateful that you are my friend and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I was happy to have finished but me being me, I was also a bit disappointed with how badly the run had gone. But I shouldn’t really have been surprised because as you know, my running suffered a hefty setback this year and so I was in no way run fit and it was really only a couple of weeks ago I decided to do the whole thing. I completed the half marathon in 3 hours and 31 minutes and so my total time for the 113 triathlon was 8 hours and 31 minutes. If Sunday had been Weymouth Half Iron 70.3 (which I am doing in September) I would not have received a medal as I would have missed the cut-off by 60 seconds and this is a sobering thought.
So lots of work to do on my running to come before Weymouth, but first I’ll allow myself a few days off and a few glasses of champagne with my triathlon buddies.