Things like this make me love cycling

September 5, 2010

There are loads of reasons to love road biking.

The opportunity to combine training with catching a few rays (even if a cyclist’s tan does come with some pretty silly tan-lines. Cycling gloves, anyone?)

The thrill of careering down hills at 40mph balancing on two 23mm tyres.

The chance to ride a small, light, beautiful bike, the cycling equivalent of a Lotus Elise.

The peculiar rush you get every time you emerge victorious (ie alive) from the…er…attentions of a motorist.

And, of course, the sights you see from the vantage point of a bike. One of my favourite sights on my local little training loop is this.

I sometimes feel like stopping and asking for a “cockral”. Not just any old one, mind. Only the fattest will do.

Things like this make me love cycling is a post from The Fit Writer blog

Little Woody 2010 race report

August 30, 2010

I’ll try and keep this as short as possible and not let the length of the report match the length of the race! But if you want info about the Little Woody (or for that matter the Big Woody), click on the names.

Little Woody is a middle-distance triathlon (sometimes called a half-Ironman distance): 1.9km swim, 60km bike, 21km run (ish!) But, of course, not all courses are created equal. And this one’s a toughie. Ever been to the Forest of Dean? Yeah, not flat, is it? 😉

I have a terrible habit of playing down sporting achievements. Possibly cos I’ve been doing sport for a long time, possibly because I still don’t really know how to respond to questions like “are you totally mad?!” (I usually assume it’s meant as a compliment and that the questioner just can’t think of another word to use.)

Anyway. No downplaying here. Little Woody is TOUGH. No two ways about it. Massive kudos to anyone who can finish the course (yep, including my good self) and, as for the Big Woody people (double the distances above)….well…consider my swimming hat, cycle helmet and run visor well and truly off.

The Woody races are small, low-key and what you might call loyal to the grassroots feel of triathlon. Well organised but not flashy, small enough to have a real community feel. This is no doubt helped by the fact that the only real option for competitors is overnight camping (on the course) the night before. Big and Little Woody competitors and their support crews, marshalls and organisers felt like one big family, bonded by the crazy challenge we all knew we’d taken on.

Poor Trev (the organiser) had a spanner thrown into his (water)works a couple of days before the event when the original swim venue was shown to have blue-green algae. Blleeee! So he managed to organise a replacement swim at perhaps one of the most stunning places I’ve ever swum.

The National Diving Centre near Chepstow is a very deep, very clear, very beautiful quarry. The only downside for us was that this venue meant a) a long (400m+) run/walk up a stony path from the water to our bikes (you can see it on the right of the pic above), and b) a new bit of the bike route (very hilly and going through Coleford, with two sets of traffic lights). Ah well, it’s the same for everyone and is what it is.

I couldn’t wait for this swim. It was just so beautiful, particularly in the early morning light. And it didn’t disappoint – cool but not cold, lovely clear water and very atmospheric.

I lined up at the front (might as well) and set off surrounded by chaps. The normal bunfight ensued and it took a good while for me to find any clear water. I was practically at the far buoy (of a two-loop course) before I realised that I wasn’t thinking about my swimming stroke at all. I found some clear water and concentrated on how I was swimming. The water was so clear that I was able to see swimmers in front of me, and could identify a pair of feet to draft off, catch him up, and draft. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to do that.

On the second lap, I realised I was taking it a bit easy, so put some power down (remembering the coaching session I’d had a few weeks ago). I pulled away from my little group and found myself alone. For a while I wondered if I’d gone off course, but I soon recognised that all it meant was I’d left one group behind and was catching up with the next.

I just about caught them and then we were turning at the final buoy and heading for the ladders. This wasn’t Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon, and I wasn’t about to queue. I nipped round someone, grabbed the ladder and hauled myself out.

I stripped my wetsuit off at the bottom of the hill, put my shoes on and ran up the steep slope with the wettie over my shoulder. Then I started walking. It was really steep! I ended up next to a woman and asked her what time she’d swum. “About 30 minutes,” she said, looking shocked. There’s no way I can swim 1.9km in 30 minutes, and it sounded like she felt the same way. Short swim? Or the benefits of drafting when you get it right? Who knows!

Finally I was at the top of that hill and in T1. A bit of a silly fumble with my kit and then I was on my way on the bike.

I could go on forever about this bike course but I won’t. Suffice to say that it’s long (for a middle distance tri), and hilly. Have a look at the profile on the website, or the map (if you know the area). Inclines of note include almost all of the first 20k from Chepstow to Coleford (the swim is at sea level and the first aid station is at about 600ft), through Bream, Mitcheldean and the infamous English Bicknor. I reckon the latter is about 12%?

I enjoyed the bike course – yes, it’s challenging, but there’s nothing wrong with a challenge. And it’s so beautiful. And, for every up, there’s a down – some of them very fast (too fast for me!)

Thanks to the Army team chap (Big Woody competitor) with whom I played cat and mouse on the section to Parkend, and the chap on the Boardman bike who chatted and laughed with me up the climb through Bream. It’s stuff like that which makes triathlon such a great sport.

My favourite encounter of the bike course has to be this:

Scene: the A48. Dual carriageway, plenty of traffic.
A voice booms out from somewhere behind my right shoulder: “Now! Are. You. Having. A nice time?” (this to be said in a strong Welsh accent)

“Er, yes thank you! I’m having a lovely time. Are you?”

“Oh, don’t you worry about me! Now! I’ll beeyonest with you, I don’t know the course. It seems OK so far. Does it get hillier?”

I told my nice new Welsh friend that, yes, it did get hillier but that he’d be fine. And off he went, literally bellowing a song in his nice Welsh voice as he pedalled away. Love it!

I tried to eat as much as I could on the bike, knowing I wouldn’t be able to on the run but that I’d need the calories. Just for old times’ sake, I nibbled a jam sandwich at Nibley. And I ate a date going up English Bicknor, just for the hell of it.

About Bicknor. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not that bad. I don’t think it’s the worst bit of the course. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to do it more than once (like the Big Woody people).

It’s tricky, though: you think you’ve got up it, it flattens out…then there’s another, really steep bit, which winds round a corner and is on a camber. Nice! I was in my smallest gear and out of the saddle, going past a few people. “Sorry about the noise from my gear,” I managed to say. “It annoys me!”

“…it’s working, though,” said one guy, as I overtook him. Me, overtaking blokes, on a hill! Wonders will never cease. (My bike is very good, and I did have 39/27 as my lowest gear combined with 650cc wheels).

I’d ridden the main loop before, so knew what was coming, but it still didn’t help my poor legs! Having said that I enjoyed the bike, I was ready for it to be over by about 50 miles in. Shame that, seeing as it’s nearer 60 miles long. The stretch along the Wye, near Kerne Bridge, was fairly miserable for me, with poor road surfaces only serving to make the pain in my lower back much worse.

The Woody races have split transitions (t1 and t2 in different places) which seems hard to get your head round at first. A note to future competitors – don’t worry about it. Just go with it, trust the organisers to have everything where you need it, and just race. It all worked out beautifully.

I could barely get off my bike, but a nice marshall steadied me and took my bike from me. Another marshall gave me my run bag and I sat on the floor to change shoes whilst chatting with my husband, who’d done a sterling job supporting, telling me my times, and telling me where I was in relation to other female Little Woody-ers.

I was feeling a bit out of it at this point but was looking forward to the run as a chance to gently jog that harsh bike ride out of my poor legs.

My aim had been to hold about 8:30/8:45 minute miling, for a sub-2 hour half marathon. I’d thought the run would be a gentle, flattish and soft run through the local woodland paths, perfect for settling into a comfy pace and just jogging all the hill-climbing out of my knees.

HA! I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whether I misunderstood the run course description, or whether it just seemed 1,000 times worse after that bike, I’m not sure. But, honestly, the run nearly killed me. And I don’t say that lightly.

I jogged off down the road section and called out “8:20!” to my husband, referring to my pace. It was the last time I’d see 8:anything on my Garmin for a long time. As soon as the run headed into the woods, I started to struggle. My knees ached, my back was killing me, the slightest incline felt like a mountain. And, worst of all, my head had gone. I felt terrible, had lost any confidence I ever had about finishing, and couldn’t get the thought of DNFing (pulling out) out of my head. I even thought about cutting a corner (it would have been very easy) in order to shorten the run (needless to say I didn’t!)

The first loop was just torture. I had a sharp pain in my hip that I’ve never had before. I didn’t know if I could go on and do a second. I could see dozens and dozens of women, all of whom looked fresher, faster and better than me, and I had no idea if they were a lap in front of me or behind me.

It wasn’t til I got back to HQ/finish to turn round for another lap, and was given a wristband to indicate one lap done, that I realised – all I had to do was look at people’s wrists and I’d know if they were in front or behind. I ate some jelly babies at the aid station and picked up a little bit. I knew that, even if I had to walk it, I would do that second lap. There’s no way I’d done that swim, that ride, and that first lap (not to mention the training!) only to give up now.

Oh, and the first lap made it clear that the run was going to be a bit short of the half-marathon distance. Realising that helped, too 😉 .

On my final lap, I was obsessively looking at every female competitor’s wrist. Red band? No red band? To my utter amazement, few of them had a red band on (and those that did were running amazingly and absolutely deserved to be way ahead of me!) I ran on, walking the hills and some of the narrower sections (which were one-person wide), and knew I’d get there. I actually overtook about three women (sorry, Karen!), although I’ve no idea how.

I had no idea of my overall time. I had three goals: 6:15 (ha), 6:30, finish. I knew the first was long gone. I knew I’d do the final one. But I had no idea about a sub-6:30 finish.

Before long I was near HQ, so desperate to finish. One last lap of the field, and I was finished. Trevor gave me my medal and shook my hand, smiling.

I was desperate for a wee, for a sit-down, for the tupperware of pineapple chunks in our cool-bag. Instead I sat on the ground, gazed about me in a daze and jabbered some nonsense to my husband.

OK, to cut a very long story slightly less long, here’s the final bit:

Finish time: 06:27:45
1.9km (?) swim 00:33:27
60 mile bike 03:58:03
11.7 mile run 01:51:25

16th (of 44) lady
10th (of 28) open-category lady

I was 15th female in the swim, 19th on the bike and 18th on the run.

Would I recommend it? Yes, without a doubt. Fantastic course, a real challenge, and the kind of race which deserves the support of anyone truly interested in triathlon as a community.

Will I do it again? Ha. Yesterday, I said no. Earlier this morning, I was trying to work out how much time I could knock off…. 😉

Did you do Little or Big Woody? Were you there as support?

Little Woody 2010 race report is a post from The Fit Writer blog

The Little Woody in pictures

August 29, 2010

Full report to come 🙂

The Little Woody in pictures is a post from The Fit Writer blog

Swim, bike, swim, run, swim

August 26, 2010

When I saw this week’s 220 Triathlon midweek Sprint in the Human Race calendar, I thought “ah, what a perfectly-timed tune-up ahead of Little Woody. I’ll do it – not race it, just use it as one last brick session and check my bike is OK.”

It might have been handy to check the weather forecast.

As any of you who were in Berkshire yesterday evening will realise, the race became one very long aquathlon. A kind of swim, swim-through-T1, swim-on-the-bike, swim-through-T2, aqua-jog affair. I’ve never done a race in conditions like that (and I did Vitruvian in 2005!)

As I sheltered under a canopy, trying to get my race numbers to stick to my sodden bike frame, I thought about going home. As I shivered, listening to the race briefing and watching people from the previous wave skidding and pitching around a corner on the bike course, I told myself it wasn’t too late.

Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing about disliking the rain, the wet or the cold (lest we forget, I’ve been wet and cold a few times in my life without complaint). No, it was all about not wanting to wipe out on the bike course and damage my bike, my limbs or my skin less than three days ahead of Little Woody.

So I got into the lake (much warmer than the air!) and told myself I could pull out whenever I wanted to, and take it as slowly as I needed to.

Lining up at the front of the swim, I looked around and realised something was amiss. All of these people had, like, stubble and stuff. Oh yeah! I was in a mixed wave! That’s new, it’s been a while since I’ve swum in a wave with men. All good practice, since I think Little Woody is all one big wave.

Ooh those chaps play rough, don’t they? All the way round, I had elbows on my head, fists on my back and someone’s very irritating hand on my ankle. One chap insisted on swimming into me at an angle (I checked, it wasn’t my sighting which was at fault) so I ended up stopping, diving over him and swimming on the other side.

I took a somewhat rakish angle to the final buoy and found myself accompanied by a friendly paddler who had presumably taken it upon herself to get me swimming roughly in the right direction.

Out of the water, it was a very careful walk to T1, down a steep grassy slope which by now had turned to mud. Arriving on the concrete, I was pleased to still be on two feet. Everything was already sodden, but I pulled my bike shoes on and rejected the idea of pulling on an extra layer. Mainly because the extra layer I’d brought was wet through.

The bike course of these midweek Sprints is six laps, with a tight turn at either end. Not ideal in those conditions. I promised myself the slowest 20km bike split I’d ever done, and a return to T2 in one piece. The bike course was littered with people’s numbered stickers, no match for the torrential rain and wind. I passed a few people, got passed by several others, and made it back into T2 just as it was getting prematurely dark.

Took me ages, because my hands were so cold that I couldn’t even tighten my elastic laces. The chap next to me was faring no better with his regular laces. I took a look at my Garmin to see how I was doing. It had drowned at some point during the bike course, so I was racing blind. Probably just as well, since I wasn’t approaching tonight as a race!

Funnily enough, running in a downpour is something I really enjoy. I could have done without the puddles to splash through, and the heavy soaking we got when the rain got even heavier but, for the main part, I loved this run. Conditions were so bad, it was ridiculous, and all you could do was smile. I felt remarkably strong and light on the ol’ feet.

I had to stop to tighten my laces at one point (after my fingers had warmed up a bit) and a Serpie woman passed me. I tried to chase her down for a while but had to remind myself I wasn’t racing. I’d hate to get to 10 miles into the Little Woody run and regret tonight. So, I pulled back, and ran my own pace.

By the time I finished it was gone 8pm and the impending darkness (!) and rain, spray and cloud meant visibility was really poor. I splashed across the line, minced over the mud, collected my bike and legged it. I’d taken a change of clothes and a towel. What a laugh. My transition box was actually filled with water and everything inside was drenched.

I had no idea what my time was, since my Garmin gave up somewhere around 10km into the bike. But Human Race are an efficient lot, so it didn’t take long for results to be online:

Finish 01:24:27 (a PW? 😉 )
750m swim: 00:14:46
T1: …computer says 16 minutes. It wasn’t that slow 😉
20km bike (taking it very easy!): 00:41:49
T2 (with blue fingers): 00:01:58
5km run: 00:24:35

Next stop, Little Woody. Wish me luck! And let me know via a comment below, or on Twitter (@thefitwriter) if you’re racing (Big or Little!) too – see you there!

Swim, bike, swim, run, swim is a post from The Fit Writer blog

How to train any time, anywhere

August 18, 2010

As I might possibly have mentioned, you know, once or twice 😉 I became an Auntie for the first time on Friday. My sister lives in Kent, where we grew up, but I live a couple of hours’ drive away now. Therefore, when I got the call that my nephew was on his way, I packed the car knowing I wouldn’t be back for a few days. Babies being babies, I had no idea how long he’d take to arrive or how long I’d be needed for. (As it turns out, I was right to pack for longer than expected!) But I did know that I was going to be away, and running on a very odd schedule, during my last key training week for the Little Woody.

So what did I do? Write off a week of training? No fear. Give myself a few days off, then promise to cram all the training in when I got back? Erm, no.

I put swim, bike and run kit in the car, along with a coolbag full of necessary eats and drinks, and printed out my training schedule.

And, you know what? Being at my Dad’s for a long weekend, spending lots of time with my sister and nephew at the hospital, and keeping highly questionable hours made for some great R&R. Not rest and relaxation, silly. Running (and riding) and reminiscing.

I didn’t stick to my training plan 100%, I’ll admit. Friday’s morning swim made way for…well, for my nephew actually being born and for me getting to see him at just an hour old. But I got Friday’s evening run in, and it was a good ‘un: high on adrenalin and endorphins, I tackled the Road of Remembrance in Folkestone (it’s a hill) at a good pace. That’s how Aunties roll, you see 😉

Saturday’s long ride made way for a run, because it was pouring with rain. But it turned into one of the nicest runs I’ve done all year.

Devil's Kneading Trough, Wye

I ran from Wye (near the hospital) through beautiful little villages to a village called Stowting where I lived with my sister when we were kids. Then I ran back to Wye, using the North Downs Way byways and paths along which I used to ride my little fat horse when I was younger. Nostalgic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Sunday was blowing a gale, but I absolutely had to get my 3-hour ride (and short brick) in, so I set off from my Dad’s negotiating some hairy dual carriageway before heading into the Kent countryside and following my nose, led mostly by memories of horse-riding, relative-visiting and pub-lunching of yesteryear. I only got lost once. Hilariously, I ended up popping out at a T-junction, looking around to see where I was and realising I was about 100 yards from the hospital. My nephew must be magnetic ;)!

I missed another swim because I wanted to see my “oldest friend in the world” (we’ve known each other for 30 years…!) and meet her baby. I think that’s a good enough excuse. But, all in all, I don’t think I did too badly. I did all the key training sessions over a long weekend at the peak of my training plan.

Just setting a good example for the kids. I’m an Auntie now, after all 😉

How to stick to your training plan when you’re out of your routine:

  • pack everything you think you might need. You don’t know how long you’ll be away for
  • don’t forget things like bottles of sports drink/powder, and a multi-tool
  • don’t leave one set of kit (swim/bike/run) at home. You’ll kick yourself if you find a great local pool or gorgeous run route
  • even if you’ve only got 30 minutes, you can still get some valuable training in
  • use the time away to explore new (or old) routes, rediscover places you’ve forgotten, and see some new sights
  • see it as a challenge – my bike ride was windy, I knew the roads would be busy, and I had no idea where to go. All the more reason to feel dead chuffed once I’d actually done it
  • make it social. I had every intention of persuading my Dad to come swimming with me, had I actually made it to the pool!

PS I didn’t take any pictures, so I googled for images to illustrate this post. I found this lovely blog post about the bit of the NDW I ran on Saturday – the images are from there. Thank you, blogger!

R2 drinks giveaway winner

August 14, 2010

Hi all, I’m currently down in Kent enjoying the first few days of being an Auntie 🙂 but jumped online to pick a winner for the R2 drinks competition as promised.


Congrats Jason C! 🙂

Please send your address to nicola AT nicolajoyce DOT co DOT uk and I’ll get the R2 sampler box in the post to you

(The box will be posted out sometime in the next week, because I’m currently in a different county to it!)

Thanks for all your comments.

Riding the Little Woody course (and R2 giveaway)

August 12, 2010

And the Little Woody looms closer. It’s a half-Ironman/middle distance triathlon in the Forest of Dean and I can’t remember when (or why) I signed up to it, but it’s now only a few weeks away. I’ve done a half-Ironman distance triathlon before, so it’s not a first, but I would like to get a better result than at the Vitruvian in 2005. Although, of course, it’s impossible to compare different races.

Little Woody is a 1900m lake swim, 98km bike and 21km (aka half-marathon) run. The bike is renowned for being somewhat hilly, and the run is a mixture of trails, paths and other surfaces. Good-oh!

I’ve been quietly freaking out about the bike course, despite making great improvements in my bike confidence and performance this year. (You can read some of my sportive reports here, here and here). So, this weekend, whilst we were visiting my inlaws in Wiltshire, we decided to drive over to the Forest of Dean and ride the Little Woody bike course.

I was wibbling before we even got on the bikes. I don’t know why. It was horrible, reminding me of the bad old days when I’d send myself spiralling down into a whirl of negative thought processes about road-riding even on simple sunny jaunts around my local roads. Just outside the carpark, cars were flying past on an A-road, and I remembered some of the hills our car had groaned her way up to get here. I honestly nearly said “let’s not bother”, but then I got over myself.

We set off, joining the course at what will be about the 20km point on the actual race. The busy A-road road almost immediately pitched steeply, sending me careering downhill at more than 25mph before I’d had time to settle into the ride. As a car passed too close, my bike started wobbling crazily. I skidded to a halt, shouted my husband’s name until my throat hurt, and started to walk. Surely there was something wrong with the bike? Maybe I hadn’t put the wheels on properly? That wobbling was terrifying.

Husband arrived back (having had to come all the way back up the hill) and checked my bike carefully, even riding it up and down the hill himself. No wobbles. I must have hit the rumblestrip, or…something. I don’t know. 6 minutes into the ride and I was already close to crying with nerves. So far, so 2003. I had to get on with it.

Once we were off that A-road, things got a thousand times better. A good road surface, much fewer cars and stunning scenery. I was even down on my aero-bars.

From Five Acres, near Coleford, the route took us through Park End and Bream before joining the A48 at Alvington. Then it was a long stretch of the A48, through Blakeney and Newnham, before turning off for Micheldean. I nibbled my jam sandwiches in Nibley and we were buzzed by two buzzards near Flaxley Abbey. I reached 33mph going down a hill.

We got caught in a couple of heavy rainstorms which flooded the roads and filled my shoes with water in a matter of seconds. Passing cars sent waves of water over me, one of which soaked me to the waist, and conditions got a bit hairy.

The final third of the route was a beautiful stretch along the River Wye before a cruel climb up to English Bicknor. I’d heard this was the toughest climb on the course (we have to do it twice in the race!) so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I got up it feeling great. Then I realised there was another bit to do. A sneaky sharp bit, just when you think you’ve done it all.

Just over 75kms of riding, with 841m of climbing and a max elevation of 239m.

I was really glad to have ridden (most of) the course. It wasn’t as tough as I’d imagined, and I coped well, which gave me a massive confidence boost. It’s a hard, hilly course – hardly any of it’s flat – but nothing I can’t do. I’m not sure I could have said the same a few months ago!

Of course, this being triathlon training, I couldn’t stop once I got off the bike. A quick change in the leisure centre (big up Forest Leisure for letting us use the car park and changing rooms) and then I was off on a (very short!) run. I had no idea where the Little Woody run course was so didn’t bother trying to find it. I just ran round the field for a bit, and threw in a couple of chin-ups on the school equipment just for the hell of it.

I arrived back at the car just as husband was laughing his head off at my bike wheels. The rear one had filled with water during the rainstorms and was hugely heavier than the other one. I hadn’t even noticed. I’d just assumed I was getting tired. Training with a wheel full of water: perhaps some new resistance technique that British Cycling could adopt?!

Here’s me stuffing my face after a long ride and a short run. My mother-in-law made us a breakfast cake which was perfect for after a ride (and, er, before it too). Here’s the recipe.


That bottle of drink next to me is grapefruit and orange R2. R2 is a nice choice for rehydrating because it helps replace vitamins, minerals and electrolytes as well as fluid. I wouldn’t rely on it for energy during exercise (although I have used it during pool sessions, and I have used it on the bike – one bottle of R2, one bottle of energy drink), but it’s great for afterwards. I prefer to water it down a bit (R2, please don’t now tell me I’m wrecking the electrolyte balance!), but that’s just how I roll.

The goodly folk at R2 have sent me a nice taster pack of the three R2 flavours (full size bottles, in a nice presentation box). They’re yours for the taking. Just reply in the comments, or send me a message on Twitter (@thefitwriter) using the hashtag #r2comp telling me: what’s your favourite thing to eat or drink during exercise?

Entry closes midnight UK time, Friday 13th August. I’ll number the entries and pick a winner at random. 🙂

1st place in a bike race!

July 26, 2010

I was down in Kent on Saturday, seeing family at the annual Joyce get together. It just so happened that, on the Sunday, there was a 50-mile bike sportive just a few miles away on the Romney Marsh. So I had to do it, right?

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m training for the Little Woody, a half-Ironman distance triathlon in…er…a few weeks time. So what I really need to do is some long bike rides, immediately followed by some long runs. The obvious thing to do, then, was this 50-mile sportive and then a long run, back in the direction of my Dad’s house. Easy…!

The one downside of the sportive in terms of Little Woody training is that (being on the Romney Marsh), it was dead flat (more like a 50 mile time trial really). Whereas the Little Woody course is Not Flat.

So, on Saturday, I took it upon myself to eat at least two Joyce-family-members-worth of party food, loading up on pizza, rice salad and, um, cake in readiness for a hard bike and run the next day. I even steered clear of Uncle Chris’s elderflower champagne.

Next day, husband and I drove to St Mary in the Marsh, west of Dymchurch, for the sportive. It’s a low-key affair, more of a charity ride (with a 10-mile route aimed at families), and we had no idea how many riders would have entered. I actually thought we might be the only people doing the 50 miler. But as we drove along the seafront, we saw groups of club riders all kitted out in their matching jerseys, and I actually felt a bit better knowing that I’d have some competition. Sure enough, as we went to get our numbers, a chap riding a Cervelo slipped in behind us, and the two guys in front of us were busy talking about some sportive they were doing soon near Crystal Palace. As ever at a bike event, there weren’t many women, but I did see plenty, including some riding for cycling clubs.

Me demonstrating by the power of arm-gesture how flat the surroundings are

The plan was to finish as close to 2 hours 30 minutes as possible (that’s 20mph). The course really is completely flat, but the wind out on the Romney Marsh can be brutal because the landscape is so open.

Oh – before I go on – want a laugh?

Here’s the profile of last week’s sportive (maximum elevation – 250 metres)

And here’s the profile of this one I’m on about (maximum elevation – 25 metres)

Off we went, following the circular 50-mile route which took us out towards Dymchurch, through Burmarsh and out to West Hythe, back to Newchurch and then out to Ruckinge and Ham Street. Early on in the race, a group came towards us (going the wrong way) and we stopped to ask what was wrong. They told us we were going the wrong way (we weren’t – for one thing, we were following the arrows which had numbers 1-52 on them, and for another thing, we had a map. As did they, presumably!) We carried on the way we were going, annoyed that we’d stopped at all!

It wasn’t a windy day, but even a bit of wind is a real pain out on the marsh because there’s nothing to shelter you. At points in the race, it was a bit of a slog against a headwind, but we just had to hope that it would turn into a tailwind as the circular route progressed.

We saw the group going the wrong way again – they seemed to be doing the route but backwards. I’ve no idea how they’d managed it. And they were club cyclists! (I’d hate to see them try and do an Audax!)

At a couple of points on the route, the organisers sent us over a busy A-road and insisted we got off and walked across with our bikes…bit of a shame but we had no choice.

Other than that (and stopping to talk to the backwards cyclists!), it was head down and push on like a long time trial.
Husband did a grand job of setting off in front to hold our agreed pace, look out for the route signs, tell me about oncoming traffic and point out poor road surfaces. All I had to do was ride. And I loved it! We were holding 34-35kph quite easily for long stretches and it felt great.

There was an aid station but we flew through it. I wasn’t going to waste time eating a flapjack if I was only going to be riding for about 2 1/2 hours.

The ‘hill’ was nothing, but it was noticeable, if only because I’d been in the same position (down on my aero-bars) and in the same gear for almost all of the race. So, in a way, it was a nice change of pace to actually have to change down a couple of gears, quickly get up out of the saddle and push on.

Otherwise, it was flat, flat, flat. The organisers set the riders off at intervals, and we’d overtaken a few groups who set off before us within the first 10 miles. We hadn’t seen anyone else for ages and I wondered if we were going to be the first riders home. As it turned out, there were two just ahead of us, but we rolled in in 2 hours 42 and I was told I was first lady “by a million miles!” (Enthusiastic, if not strictly accurate)

Of course, just because I was first lady home, I might not have been first lady over all. A female rider who started after me could still be quicker. But, by the time I set off on my run, no other women had finished. I was first female finisher!

I couldn’t hang around long to revel in my little victory, as I had to run. I changed my top and shoes, put my ipod on and totally forgot to have a drink (!) Then I set off, heading for the seafront, determined to keep my pace slow (and my heart-rate slower) as I know this is what I need to do if I’m going to get through the Little Woody.

And I felt fine! 50 miles of caning it on a time trial bike and my legs felt great. 5kms went by without me even noticing it, and then I was on the sea wall at Dymchurch, heading east towards Hythe, sweating my way through the chip-eating Kent holiday makers.

I passed a lovely hour trotting along at 8:30 minute miling, and then I had to get off the seawall/promenade and run along the main road into Hythe, which wasn’t so great. At this point, I started to feel not so great myself. My heart rate started shooting through the roof, and I made myself walk to get it down each time this happened. I was absolutely soaked with sweat, but my arms were goose-bumpy. I’d told husband I’d try to get “to the icecream van” (gotta have a goal!) in Seabrook, but I knew that was too far.

So I stopped, pulled out the trusty iPhone and called him. “I can’t go on!” I claimed. “Please come and get me from Hythe.”

I trotted on for a bit, and bought a lolly in a newsagents. It was only 20p but I dropped £1 into the big freezer. The newsagent man can have it for being nice and not complaining about me coming into his shop looking such a state.

That 20p lolly was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Cold, sugary, lemony. I ate a bit, ran a bit, ate a bit, ran a bit. Someone in a car laughed at me and I wondered how funny they’d find a 20p lolly if they won a 50-mile sportive then ran 9 miles. Idiot.

I just finished my lolly and then there was my knight in shining Renault, brandishing a big bottle of orange juice and water, which I put away in about 10 seconds flat. He told me I looked quite pale. “Drive me to the sea!” I wailed. “I have to jump in the sea!”

So I did, had a quick swim, and felt a lot better.

50 mile sportive, 9.5 mile run. That’s some brick!

Anthony Maynard sportive (hills and headwind!)

July 19, 2010

I’m a bit slow to get going this morning. A bit tired, you see. Yesterday husband and I rode the Anthony Maynard sportive bike event – just the “short” route of 110kms. (Got to love a sport in which 110kms is considered short. A bit like a “sprint triathlon”, which still takes me well over an hour.)

I’m ramping up my training now for the Little Woody triathlon, a half-Ironman/middle distance event with a bike leg of 95kms followed by a run leg of 21kms (ish). It’s around the Forest of Dean hilly. So I need to get some long, tough bike rides in, ideally followed by steady runs of up to two hours. Yeah. I know.

So we made a last-minute decision to ride this local sportive, which is held annually to remember Anthony, a talented young club cyclist killed whilst out training on his bike in July 2008. I knew from the profile that the route would be “lumpy”

but had never ridden any of the route, so had no idea what was in store. I didn’t really mind in any case; it’s all training which needs to be done.

So, yes, 6:30am on a Sunday morning and I was eating breakfast and wishing I’d eaten less BBQ (and drunk less rosé) at yesterday’s 40th birthday party. Oh well! We drove to Theale and – hallelujah – were able to register on the day. Met up with a workmate of husband’s (a real die-hard roadie rider) and lined up for the start.

What a popular event. It took ages to get through the start and frankly it was very touching to see so many local riders coming out so early on a Sunday morning to celebrate and remember Anthony Maynard and raise some funds for his favourite charities.

I’d somewhat randomly pinned my hopes on a silver-standard finishing time of under 4:22 for the 110kms. That would mean holding an average of 25.5kph (I think?) – not tricky. Or so I thought!

Once on our way, the route almost immediately threw us up some draggy hills. It was a really cold morning – I was wearing a stupid choice of jersey which is a bit too short, and my lower back was feeling the wind. I’d put arm-warmers in the car as a last-minute decision, and I was very glad to have them.

Husband’s work-mate, bless him, took it upon himself to be “Team Nic” (as he put it) and try to drag me up the hills by positioning himself in front of me and inviting me to stick onto his backwheel. But I just couldn’t do it – I’m not used to riding in a bunch (age-group triathletes aren’t allowed to draft, so I never get to do it), my legs were sore from yesterday’s run, and I simply don’t have the skills to stay on the wheel of another rider. If you can do it, drafting off someone else (particularly up a hill) really does work. But I just couldn’t. He was only trying to help but I found it increasingly stressful to try and stick with him as well as wake up/breathe/look at the road ahead/eat my Primula sandwiches, so I told husband and work-colleague to do their own thing and leave me to it. What can I say, I like my own company.

The first 40kms of the ride were not nice. I actually started to think that I regretted doing the event at all, and that’s saying something. There seemed to be no breaks between the hills, and the headwind was vicious. There were plenty of downhills, but the headwind made them slow and the sidewind made them risky. I was not enjoying myself.

Just after Wantage, at the 40km rest stop (amazingly well stocked, by the way, with a fantastic range of goodies!), I was ready to drop. I felt like crying. I wasn’t actually that far behind husband and work colleague (or so they said!) but I’d been grinding along at around 12kph at times and just felt demoralised. On the climb up to the rest stop, the views across the ridgeway had been spectacular but I hadn’t been able to get a good look as I was too busy hanging my head and grinding my knees (and teeth).

However, it’s amazing what a flapjack or two can do. After the rest stop, I took off like it was a new day. In fact, I managed to stay with husband and work-colleague for a decent amount of time.

The next stretch of the route went through an area near Lambourn called “Valley of the Racehorse” (because of the sheer amount of training stables in the area) and I was in my element looking at all the beautiful horses out in the fields. The wind seemed to have dropped a (tiny) bit – enough to make a difference – and the hills seemed to flatten out a little bit. It was still a tough ride, but the food station and chance to stretch my legs had given me a second wind.

Before too long, I’d reached the halfway point and, from here, the kms ticked by at a steady rate. Skirting Hungerford, we went through a lot of pretty villages and a rainshower freshened us up. The road surfaces were varied (I think recent rain had washed quite a bit of gravel into the roads) but traffic was quiet and – best of all – courteous. I didn’t encounter or see so much as a near-miss.

The second and final feed stop on this short route was west of Newbury, at a woodland burial ground near Enborne where Anthony Maynard is laid to rest. The feed stop was manned by his family and there was a great atmosphere. Not sad nor sombre, but peaceful and respectful.

From there it was under 40kms to the finish, but the course designers hadn’t finished with us yet. If the first 40kms of the course had almost constantly rolling, draggy hills, this final 40kms had a series of short, sharp climbs which really sapped any energy our legs had left. They were lowest gear, out-of-the-saddle type climbs, the type where you actually wonder if you’ll get up it or if you’ll end up coming to a halt and just toppling over, still clipped in. I tried to remember the profile map (which had hill names on it) and asked one Reading CC rider if this was the final hill. He actually laughed as he said “no” (and cycled past me up the hill). Oh well.

With about 20kms to go I fell in alongside a rider who, being a tall chap, looked to be a good windbreak. We ended up chatting about work (how?!) and he told me he does Slash’s PR. How cool! How on earth I ended up riding the final 20kms of a sportive with Slash’s PR I don’t know, but there you go. Being nosy a journalist, I’ve since googled him and he was actually hiding his light under a bushel – he’s also in a band himself. I didn’t have my autograph-book on me I’m afraid.

Slash’s PR and I bowled along the final 20kms together (it was downhill) chatting and agreeing that the course had been pretty tough. “5km to go!” I shouted when I saw the 5km-to-go sign. “…all uphill!” I added, as a joke. Surely, with just 3 miles to go, they wouldn’t throw any more hills in now? Wouldn’t they’d just let us spin our legs out?

Er, no. Rounding a corner, we faced yet another hill. Only short, but very steep. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d get up it. There were people at the top clapping and one of them said “final hill!” At last! Slash’s PR let out a loud “ouch!” as he pedalled up and I knew exactly how he felt.

From there it really was a short spin to the finish and I rolled over the line in an over all time (including feed stops) of 4:49:94 – bronze finishing standard! My bike computer says 4:29:18.

Anthony Maynard sportive
110km/68.75 miles
Elevation gain: 1,350m

How not to race in hot weather

July 12, 2010

Or “losing my bottle”.

Yesterday was a scorcher, wasn’t it? I was racing at Dorney in the Bananaman triathlon (nothing to do with 29 Acacia Road) and my wave set off at 12:45. If you were in Berkshire yesterday you’d know it was very hot, very sunny and pretty windy. Not ideal for any triathlon but particularly not one taking place in the hottest part of the day.

By the way, my phone ran out of battery so this post contains no pics. To my readers who only come here for the photos (hi Sam), you might want to come back later in the week.

I wanted to do this race because I did it last year, and I think it’s only really relevant to compare race times from the same event. Races can vary so much, particularly with size of transition or distance from the swim exit to your bike, and it kind of makes comparing two random Olympic-distances races a bit silly.

I’ll be honest with you though, I wasn’t really feeling the love yesterday morning. I had such a busy week last week and really enjoyed a Saturday doing not much. As the clock ticked on towards that late race start, I had a hard time getting up off the sofa and packing my bag. But I did, reasoning that if nothing else it’s all good training.

I got to Dorney and looked at the trees bending in the wind. Now, Dorney’s a great venue but it’s completely unsheltered from wind and sun. Six laps round the lake on the bike meant six knee-grinding goes into a headwind and six desperate attempts to make the time up again on the way back. Three loops on the run meant…well…7.5km of harsh running under the glare of the sun.

Bananaman is an 800m swim, 30km bike, 7.5km run. Why? I don’t know. It just is. I did pretty well last year, finishing 8th in my age group with a really strong run (34:25 for the 7.5km). This year, I reckoned I’d have a pretty shoddy swim, a decent bike (despite the wind) and a slower run than last year. I calculated that I might just be able to scrape a faster time over all, but really wasn’t sure.

I was convinced the lake would be 22*C+ and wetsuits would therefore be banned, but evidently they’d found a cool patch somewhere when they went out with the thermometer, because wetties were optional. I racked my bike (had a really nice spot with tons of room) and chatted to the lady next to me who was doing her first open-water swim. In fact we both nearly missed the start because we were talking too much.

I positioned myself right at the front for the swim, up for a bit of a bunfight. I wasn’t disappointed; I was still having my ankles grabbed at the final buoy. The only time I could get clear of people was turning at the buoys, for some reason I seemed to be getting round them with less trouble than the women around me.

A couple of schoolboy errors in T1 and then I was out on my bike, caught up in a big pack leaving transition at the same time. I got into a big gear straightaway and left them behind. Down on the tri-bars, I overtook a few faster swimmers within the first few kms. The headwind was strong but, coming back down the other side of the lake, I was holding 45kph and keeping my average above 30kph which was what I wanted.

At the end of lap one – just 4km into the bike leg – disaster struck. My one drink bottle fell out of its cage, bounced once and rolled to the side of the course. I stared in front of me, brain working overtime, as I spun onwards. OK….I now have no drink. I’ve got 25km of cycling to do. It’s hot, really hot, and I’ve got to ride into that headwind five more times. I’ve then got to get off the bike and run 7.5km and, if I want to even think about placing in my age-group, I need to run well.

I thought about all of this during the next lap and, as I approached my bottle (now propped up by the edge of the road by a marshall), I considered getting off and picking it up. I had no idea what would have more of an impact on my time…changing down into a smaller gear, decelerating, getting off, getting on again (etc) or finishing the race with no fluids.

On each lap, I stared down at the bottle momentarily. On each lap, I couldn’t bear to get off the bike and on again.

I pushed on, thinking I’d allow myself just to get through the run rather than placing any pressure on myself. I had a couple of gels even though you really should take those things with water.

Off the bike, a quick shoe-mishap and I was in T2 gulping my spare bottle of drink. Then it was out onto that hot, flat, unforgiving run course.

Like last week, I used the first lap of the run to count the women in front of me to determine my position. The first woman was miles in front of anyone else, young, rangy and determined. Then came two and three, on each other’s shoulders, fighting their own battle. I counted four, five, six..and stopped counting at 12. Oh well. There was no way in the world I was going to overtake anyone and there was every chance I’d be caught by more than one. I watched my pace hovering around 7:45minute/miling and then dropping.

At each water station I downed a cup and dumped a second one over my head. The road was shimmering in the heat. On the second and third laps, I was overtaking people but I think they were runners on their first lap. As predicted, I was overtaken by two women looking pretty strong.

With 1km to go, I tried my best to pick my pace up. I could see from my watch that I would be cutting it fine to get a PB on the course (a small victory given the circumstances). The thought of the woman brandishing the hosepipe spurred me on and I crossed the line in 1:55:20 – 23seconds faster than last year’s time.

Oh, that hosepipe was nice.

Lesson learned: never, ever carry just one drink bottle. As for the question of what makes you slower: stopping to pick the bottle up, or racing dehydrated…I don’t know.

Bananaman triathlon (800m/30km/7.5m)
Finish time: 1:55:20 (last year 1:55:53)
Swim: 15:09 (15:07)
T1: 1:41 (1:35)
Bike: 59:54 (1:03:27)
T2: 1:15 (1:19)
Run: 37:19 (34:25)

I was 12th female (26th last year) and 5th in my age group (8th last year).

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