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 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!
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.
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.
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…. 😉